Aguero may be beginning to understand Maria's infatuation with the surface.
Androssi has disappeared, presumably to collect landling lives to feed King Jahad's insatiable appetite, brought on by the moon over the tide. Anaak is probably with her, two sirens standing above the waves in their salt-dresses, hypnotic and beautiful as their song sends landlings stranded at sea to their watery grave.
Shibisu too is missing - Aguero thinks he may have returned to Nettai for a short while to see his old friends, who have been searching for him. Surprisingly, Rak is not hunting turtles. Rak is clearing the sea of plastic bags: he saw a turtle choking on a bag, and in a fit of rage, he saved the turtle, swearing to make the ocean cleaner so his beloved turtles wouldn't poison him when he ate them. Aguero had raised an eyebrow, and the gator had grumbled that bullshït excuse.
Aguero looks up, only to see a monstrous figure swimming down towards him, light haloed around it as it blocks out the sun. It's the gator.
"Your landling is saving turtles!"
Aguero's eyes grow wide. "He's saving turtles?" And belatedly, "he's not my landling, stupid gator!"
Rak roars out a laugh. "I like him. Black Turtle seems trustworthy. He's alone, by the way."
It's a drastic difference from the Rak who had told him not to save the landling. He has even given the landling a nickname - Aguero is Blue Turtle, Androssi Ghost Eye Turtle, Anaak Lizard Turtle and Shibisu Purple Turtle. Before the merman knows it, Rak has Aguero in his claws, tail flipping from side to side as he swims the shark prince to the surface.
Aguero is too busy trying to think of what Rak is implying to notice that the gator has thrown him above the waves in right into the landling's boat.
The prince screams, swearing in rapid angry clicks. His tail is still dipped in the water, but his head is resting on the landling's legs. A turtle nips at his fingers.
The landling stares at him, wide eyed. He whispers something in his own language, brown eyes gazing down at Aguero with a look of awe and wonder.
The merman is starting to feel uncomfortable under the landling's intense brown gaze. Is it his blue hair? The shark's tail?
The landling might have said something else, but Aguero will never know - the boy scoots backwards, unbalancing the boat and sending the two of them tumbling into the water. The turtle peers over the edge at the two of them, the merman disappearing under the water and the landling gasping and floundering at the surface. He doesn't notice the monstrous creature that is Rak lurking under the boat. The turtle might've laughed at them, but Aguero has an even lesser understanding of the turtle language than the landling one.
"What was that for, you stupid gator?" Aguero snaps at Rak. "Didn't you say it was a bad idea to save him?"
The landling climbs back onto his boat and out of sight, only to release the turtle into the water. Rak mournfully watches the turtle glide away into the deep - there is a new landling tracker tag attached to a flipper. Aguero has seen those tags before - he had a conversation with a traumatized dolphin who had a tag punched into her dorsal fin once. This turtle seems satisfied with the landling's treatment of him.
The landling drops something into the water with a clumsy splash. It's attached to something on the boat. It looks a little like a trumpet - Androssi had stolen one from a landling once. She knew how to play, and it sounded like she was blowing air out of a conch.
Much to Aguero and Rak's surprise, the trumpet-thing begins to click. Aguero recognizes the clicking as the dolphin tongue.
"Hello," the trumpet-thing clicks politely, "I know you're there."
"Should I roar at it?" The gator grunts.
Aguero shrugs. He wonders how the landling has managed to translate his own language into dolphin-speak, which is only a few grunts and trills away from merman.
"I know you're there too," the machine clicks. "I know there are two of you. I can see your shape under my boat."
The merman prince approaches the machine warily. "Hello." It's the first landling word Androssi had taught them all, although Rak is still struggling to fit the words in his mouth - the Wraithraiser tongue is much more different than all the other merfolk languages, more violently emotive.
"You speak-!" The landling says a word that doesn't quite translate into dolphin.
"Yes." Landling words feel strange coming out of Aguero's mouth, but perhaps it's because he's simply not used to speaking it. "Some."
"You saved me," the landling says through his machine, "thank you." He sounds sincere, even through the translator. "I owe you my life."
Rak roars in laughter. "Blue Turtle, you're pink!"
Aguero slaps his hands over his cheeks, hissing. "Shut up, stinky gator!"
"Sorry," the landling says mildly, "I didn't quite catch that."
"It's nothing," Aguero answers quickly. "I'd introduce you to my companion, but there are language problems. Besides, he's ugly and annoying. I question why we're friends."
The boat shakes hard, and the two merfolk look up nervously. Cautiously, Aguero swims up to the boat, peering over the side.
The landling is laughing, head thrown back, a hand clutching the side of the boat to balance himself. His whole body shakes with the force of his amusement, and his little boat shakes with it. His eyes are squeezed shut in mirth, midday sunlight slanted over his features.
Aguero's heart goes thump, thump, in his chest, and he ducks out under the surface, a hand pressed to his chest. Is it because he's taking in air in with his mouth instead of his gills? That's never happened before. Aguero prides himself on his intelligence, but right now, he doesn't know what's happening to him and he hates it.
The boat shakes a few more times before it stills. There's a splash on the other side of the boat, and Rak bellows in surprise.
"Black Turtle is swimming!"
True to the gator's word, the newly christened 'Black Turtle' has changed into one of those landling wetsuits, cheeks filled with air and puffed out comically as he dives under the boat. He swims like Androssi and Anaak do - his legs power him through the water in scissoring motions. His eyes are wide open. This is most surprising, considering the fact that he is a landling. Most landlings Aguero has spied on wore strange transparent headgear that covered their eyes, with tubes leading from heavy metallic boxes to their mouths.
The sun shines above him, illuminating the features of his face. In the light, his brown eyes look like molten gold, like the pirate coins Androssi loves so much. Those two golden orbs look strangely familiar, but Aguero cannot remember where he has seen them before.
His legs kick in circles when he reaches the surface, taking another deep gulp of air before swimming towards Aguero.
His golden eyes are wide in wonder, hands reaching towards Aguero's face. The prince knows he should swim away, but he remains anchored to the spot as the landling rubs strands of Aguero's signature silvery blue hair between his fingers, tracing the shape of his pointed ears, the lines of the gills on both sides of his neck. He cups the merman's face with a hand, brushes his fingers across the blue-gray scales painting the merman's cheeks with another in a gentle ghost of a touch.
The landling freezes when Aguero shivers from head to tail, eyes fluttering shut. Merfolk are social creatures, thriving on emotional and physical affection. The disgraced prince has been estranged from his old family for so long, but he is not desperate enough to ask for affection he craves from his new family. The landling's skin feels too good against his own, and he can't help the low, throaty moan that escapes his lips.
Both of them turn pink, the landling choking on bubbles and swimming upwards for another refill of air.
When the landling returns to the world under the waves, Aguero is all too glad when the landling turns his attention to Rak, who is not so pleased with the landling's curious poking and prodding at his thicker armor-like scales. The landling is tall by their standards, his legs nearly as long as Aguero's tail. If he were a mer, his tail would be even longer than the merman's. Rak, however, is roughly five times his size, but the landling is fearless even when the gator snaps his jaws at him.
The gator is pacified when the landling clambers onto his boat, disappearing above the surface. The landling drops a hunk of fish as an offering to Rak, apologizing in dolphin. He sounds unhappy when he says he has to leave, but promises to return the next day.
Rak snaps fish up in an instant. "Black Turtle's got good fish. I give you my blessing if he gives me more fish."
"Blessing for what?" Khun growls.
The gator grins, showing sharp teeth. "Think, Blue Turtle."
The boat sputters away, the landling back to where he belongs.