Quiet Water, Still Water
It's all over. The fishmen attack if I make even the slightest noise.
I'd rather have my gums scraped than have to fight those fiends.
A frown regarded the last page of a discarded diary, the tattered, mildew-ridden volume being the only remnants of its dictator for some inane reason.
"Fishmen?" uttered a faintly inquisitive voice, belonging to one who was also peering at the hastily-scribbled entry. The feminine figure assumed a look of perplexity to mirror her tone, and absently flung a tuft of strawberry blonde hair back to its rightful place behind her.
She was a young girl, in her teens from the looks of her, and quite the fair catch as far as humans go. Adorned in fine, yet casual clothing, gold bracelets, and sporting a crossbow neatly settled into a compartment slung over her shoulder, an average, well-to-do young woman she certainly was not. Fetchingly pure emerald eyes sought to catch the glance of the one holding the journal.
"Crono, what do you suppose he means by that?" she let out her question, although it was well obvious that the boy she was addressing hadn't a great clue over what the short passage implied, either.
He, also, appeared to be in his teenage years, as he carried about him that same eager, yet naive air that most of his age always do. A riot of red spikes, barely restricted by a white headband, comprised his hairstyle, and the katana sheath clipped onto his belt spoke well enough of his character. After offering the writing a final, scrutinizing look, the red-haired young man did the only thing he thought appropriate. He shrugged.
"I don't know, but I think we need to be a little more careful around here," a third contributed. The speaker, another girl, treaded back from the upheld diary and stole a wide glance around the cavernous surroundings through her thick glasses. Although no stranger than the other two as far as appearance was concerned, this young lady did bear a rather unusual outfit. The piece most liable to stand out was the old, bulky headset, complete with wire antennae, and shielding from view almost all but the ends of her short-cut purple hair.
The sewer passage was a maze-like network of winding drainage canals and round-a-bout latches and ladders, all navigating the putrid scene in what seemed to be the most inefficient, time-consuming route possible. It was a wonder the responsible architects weren't stoned to death long ago. The light-deprived tunnels were swamped with an impressive diversity of mold and fungi that crawled across the concrete walls and arched over the short ceiling. In some places, unrestricted growth choked pipelines and clogged the flow of waste into the dismal realm from the world above. However, that mattered little. The human cities that once reigned in their technological glory had long been in shambles, and the sewers of their convenience were of no use anymore.
...Except to breed a hoard of mutant creatures that thrive in the dark, rotted conditions.
"Usually 'fishmen' and 'attack' don't go well in the same sentence," the female continued, trying to stress the concept that the last few words of the poor soul who owned that diary should be taken as a warning.
Crono nodded. "We'll be quiet, then. No problem," he provided a simple answer, and carelessly chucked the ominous log back onto the space of floor it was discovered upon. The not-so-subtle smack of the leather cover striking stone pierced the air and reverberated throughout the dank, filthy passages for what seemed like miles ahead, the sound amplifying itself to the sharp crack of a whip as it echoed on and on.
Crono cringed at the racket, and two rebuking glares fell upon the boy.
"Crono!" snapped the blonde.
"Thanks Crono, we were inconspicuous for a whole five seconds there," the one with glasses was quick to deal him a sarcastic remark.
"Sorry," the boy tried to redeem himself in a softer whisper.
"Shh," the other girl summoned silence with a slim finger bisecting her lips, and motioned for the small group to trudge forward. Just as quietly, the two complied, and the trio were soon marching on their way again, seeking the exit to this never-ending underground complex.
They followed the wall of the dimly-lit chamber, cautious not to walk too close to the edge of the walkway, lest they slip into the festering pool of brownish muck just below. Turning a corner, the threesome encountered something one wouldn't quite expect in such a dreary, inhospitable scene.
"Look, it's a cat!" the blonde was quick to inform, albeit in a low voice. Crono blinked, slightly surprised. What such an animal was doing here he didn't know, but his natural fetish for furry creatures of the sort drove him to try and reach for the cat. He paced forward with slow, deliberate steps towards the tabby feline. It remained in its place, perched on the rim of the sidewalk, gazing out at the grungy, watery vista beyond. The cat seemed completely oblivious to the approaching human, until Crono had the nerve to call out to it.
"Here, kitty kitty..." he cooed, just inches away from the animal.
Its head swiveled around in alarm, and the cat promptly treated the boy hovering over it with a startled meow. A meow which, unfortunately, carried in a loud tone up and down the corridor.
Neither cat nor human even had time to blink. A furious gurgling from the sewage depths heralded the eruption of a handful of grotesque monsters into the open. As they emerged, the fish-like fins framing their faces flared out threateningly, and sewage dripped from their blue-scaled, muscular bodies. In spite of their humanesque figures, the menacing jaws lined with fangs and deathly inhuman eyes marked the newcomers as a definite problem.
In the wake of the large splashes announcing their arrival, the pungent stench of raw waste spewed into the air, the intense aroma burning the air passages of any daring to inhale too deeply. Which, unfortunately, was just what the three humans did, as they were compelled to gasp in surprise.
"Oh geez!" cried out one girl, while the other took the measure to arm her crossbow, ready to fight these things off. Crono staggered back, giving himself distance from the bunch of monsters, and quickly gathered enough of his composure to draw his sword.
The nearest "fishman" hissed its agitation, and lashed out at the boy with its claw-armed hand, reaching over the dry ground just to do so. Instead of catching flesh, however, the arm caught a couple of crossbow bolts stabbing deep to the bone. It shrieked and recoiled, outraged and pained both at once, and another beast stepped (or swam, rather) into its place, this time with a prepared magic spell. From its outstretched hands launched an explosive burst of water, one forceful enough to knock the three standing kids right to their rears, and tear a sharp cry from the cat (which had acquired the good sense to get out of dodge long ago, hence its outburst was more of surprise and fright than anguish.)
The first of the trio to regain her bearings was the purple haired one, and the next monster in line to attack had the opportunity to meet a condensed plasma discharge from the girl's weapon, an energy gun salvaged from the dead world above. The hot, flaming ball seared in a streak across the short space the tunnel allowed and impacted with one of the monsters dead on the chest, sending it flying back into the dark murk with the swoosh noise of displaced water.
The last one standing, unknowing (or perhaps uncaring) of its disadvantage in numbers now, performed a daring charge at the humans. It deftly wove around the slashes and swipes of the katana blade Crono utilized, but once it moved in for a determined bite, the raised blade expertly sliced downward, and performed a stunning bisection of the fish-human's skull. The creature immediately plopped to the floor, its tail end dangling into the water, and the intact segment of its tongue lifelessly drooping out of its open mouth.
The boy backpedaled away from the fresh corpse, and heaved a sigh of relief. "That was close," was his immediate observation.
"Pet the cat, huh? That was smart," came another shortly after. "What brilliant stroke of wisdom inspired you to do that, Crono?" Cynicism was a wealthy resource from the glasses-clad girl.
Crono stole a sideways glance at the bearer of that remark, sheathed his weapon, and scowled. "Can it, Lucca."
"You guys," the blonde-haired female's gentle voice intervened, "Quiet. Let's just keep going."
Crono sighed again, trying to vent the built up tension that had accumulated during this whole trip. His friend's smart-alec remarks and facetious comments weren't helping. "Okay," he murmured in response, and continued forward, the two girls following his lead.
The corridor meandered on in much the same manner as it had been; twisting and bending and curving in multiple directions and countless paths. However, the only difference now was that in spite of the turns and sharp angles that dominated the trail, it was very linear in route, consisting of only one walkway. That was fortunate enough, and it spared the group the task of ignorant guesswork at every fork in the road.
For many minutes onward, things were fairly uneventful. So much stillness pervaded the realm, in fact, that it was unnerving, and suspicions began to cultivate in Crono's mind. It was around this point that another obstacle showed itself. Although, it was hardly a threat at all, and barely a hindrance - two tin canisters. One was a crumpled beverage can, and the other was a slightly bigger gas can. They were simply lying near each other, cluttering up the sidewalk.
A sheer lapse of common sense provoked the next move. It was always through a playful intent that the old "kick the can" game had been instituted, and enjoyed, by many kids, Crono being no exception. Seeing such a vulnerable opportunity to "score" lying before him, he just couldn't resist.
He kicked the can.
It bounced off the toe of his boot and sailed into the gas can with a clash. The container jolted from its place and spun across the rough stone, upset by the abrupt entry of the smaller can. Crono, quite pleased with himself and his good aim, had neglected to remember a very vital detail.
From just behind him, the sound of a large object breaking the water's surface greeted his ears. Crono spun on his heels, quick to the threat, and his hand was bearing the curved blade of his katana before his mind caught up with his actions.
His eyes absorbed the view of another gaggle of ghastly fish monsters, ambushing the small party without warning or war cry. One in particular had parted from the murky depths and snaked onto the dry platform, its eyes and jaws intent on the nearest human being.
Once it registered to the boy just who that human was, a surge of panic swept him into a charge.
"Marle!!" he screamed as he raced forward. The young lady whirled at the sound of her name, too late, however, to realize the presence of the monster bearing down on her, as she was already distracted enough with the effort of arming her crossbow. Temporarily forgetting about how much easier the task would have been if he had just used his sword, Crono threw his weight into tackling the unscrupulous being from the side, and both tumbled to the ground in a heap.
Marle gasped. Everything seemed to be moving so quickly, she could hardly think. Once her attacker had been thrown off her scent, however, she made haste to finish equipping her crossbow with another quiver, and proceeded to let loose a volley in the direction of the next beast. Luckily, a few bolts to the eyes was enough to discourage the fish creature, and it toppled over into the muk from whence it came, clutching at its face with a shrill cry.
For Crono, the dizzying spinning his vision underwent thanks to his reckless attack approach had finally rolled into clarity, and the first sight that met him was the hideous grin of the very "fishman" he had tackled. A moment was taken to realize that he was also lying on his back, and his sword had gone... somewhere... beyond his knowledge, much less his reach.
The monster threw open its teeth-filled maw and hissed into the boy's face in a gesture to display superiority, as if having the young lad pinned to the floor under its massive girth wasn't enough. Crono would have gulped, if the thought to do so had occurred to him. Instead, the only quip that flashed up was a question pinching his thoughts.
'This is it?'
It seemed almost ironic, to die here, in the sewers, so far from home and in the middle of nowhere, after having gone through so many narrow escapes already in the past few days, the majority of them far more treacherous and deadly than this.
Luckily for Crono, that was one example of irony that wouldn't be fulfilled just yet. Before the monster could twitch another muscle, the high-pitched tone of plasma energy charging pierced everyone's ears, and following this was the gunshot from Lucca's weapon, splattering across the backside of the aquatic beast.
Its back literally exploded under the impact, bits of singed flesh and scraps of backbone showering in all directions. The mutilated monster could only scream its last before limply dropping onto the boy it was nearly going to devour.
Crono scrambled out from under the deceased creature, panting for breath. His heart was racing, and it wasn't from exertion. That call was a little too close. He glanced to his right and left, trying to digest that the threat was gone, and that he was safe again... for now. Other than a couple of undesirable stains on his tunic that were destined to remain for the rest of the clothing's life span, no permanent damage was done.
He wearily stood and beheld the sight of his two companions, who were equally shaken by the experience.
"That was scary!" Marle exclaimed. Lucca sighed, merely glad for the luxury of being able to relax. She holstered her gun, and turned a frown to Crono. He could barely return more than a blank, bewildered stare.
And then, for some untold reason, a spark of anger set off within the purple-haired one. Her frown developed into a glare, and with tightly balled fists she stomped over to the boy, the exact motive of her behavior shining through with the first words out of her mouth.
"What were you thinking, Crono!? You just had to kick that stupid can, didn't you?? What were you thinking, huh??"
"I, I, er..." he stammered, taken aback by his friend's aggressive tone, and unsure of how to answer such a rhetoric question.
"That's right, you weren't thinking! Geez, what are you, a Neanderthal?? You kick a can, it makes noise. Noise bad! Got it??" Lucca answered for him.
"Lucca..." Marle tried to mediate again, but her hail was ignored.
"Hey!" Crono retaliated, suddenly taking the defensive, "It was a mistake, okay?! We can't all be freak geniuses like you!"
"Well on the genetic side of things I may be the fluke, but you're definitely the defect!!"
This was getting out of hand, Marle noted.
"What's your problem?!"
"What's my problem?? You, idiot!" She gave him a shove, and Crono stumbled backwards a step to keep his balance. "It's thanks to you that we all nearly got killed, twice! What are you, dense?! You can't grasp such a simple concept as being quiet??"
"I know how to be quiet!"
"Apparently you don't!"
"Guys!" Marle gave another attempt at quelling the rising argument, but it was an effort in vain. The frustration levels were held to gunpoint, and Lucca had figuratively pulled the trigger.
"First the book, then the cat, then the can! You just had to kick that stupid can, didn't you, Crono??" she kicked off into a rant. "It was right there, and was all nice and shiny and pretty and your foot was right there..."
Something must have irreversibly snapped in order to promote the next, highly-regrettable question. "Why'd you kick the can, ya stupid bastard!?"
"Hey!!" Crono exploded. Nobody called him that. Ever. And saw a bright future in the aftermath, that is. Not only was Lucca aware of that, but Crono knew she was, too, which only fueled the atrocity. Eyes brimming with rageful tears, he shot back, "Don't call me a bastard! You don't know the first thing about my father!!" to put his friend's insults in check, as well as get the last word over that line of debate.
Lucca wasn't finished, though. She over-dramatically flared her arms outward. "Hey, guess what Crono?? Neither do you!!"
That was the proverbial straw. There wasn't even time for Lucca to take it back. Crono moved like lightning, plowing into the girl with a fierce tackle that would have made that hapless fishman feel lucky, had it still been alive. With an infuriated roar from the boy and a sharp yelp from the girl, both flew from the stone walkway and dropped into the water in a tangled heap of arms and legs.
Marle gasped again, alarmed to this twist in events. She stood back, watching the scene follow through its course with widened eyes.
The water churned and frothed violently as the two thrashing entities kicked up torrents of the filthy liquid. In the confusion, the female bystander was able to distinguish a few vaguely familiar shapes, and a definite yell.
"Ow! Cut that out!"
"Take that back!"
"Take it BACK!"
"Screw you, Crono!!"
"You guys!" Marle cried over the din, "Quit fighting! This is childish!"
There was another sound that Marle picked up, however, and its origin wasn't anywhere near the two fighting kids. Alert to a grim possibility, her head snapped to face the source of the foreign noise, and within the sight Marle was granted was a cruel reminder of just what recklessness can do.
The "fishmen" had heard the fighting, too.