Wart was thinking a great deal. He was thinking about all of the lessons he had obtained during his escapades as animals. He thought about the hawks, the geese, the ants, and the badger. In particular he thought about the geese, and how Lyo-lyok reacted to the notion of war. Was it really that bad? In Wart's mind, war was a glorious and noble thing. To be in the midst of battle exuberated courage and bravery about one?s self.
There are other factors, Wart realized grimly. The idea bothered him; to even consider the idea that war might be a horrid thing perturbed him. It was completely against his nature to think like that, and it left an undulating feeling of anxiety. Wart felt distinctly alone in his thoughts. He wandered aimlessly through the castle, his mind cracking under the subject of war, and whether it was noble or not.
So involved was he in his thoughts that Merlyn's voice gave him a nasty shock.
"Wart! What are you doing wandering about like that?" Merlyn looked irritated. He was chewing on his beard and his brow was furrowed.
Wart, jumpy from being bounced out of his thoughts, said the first thing that came to mind. "Nothing."
Merlyn 'hmphed.' "'Nothing,' indeed. You look as disturbed as a small child after watching one of those horrid Kool-Aid commercials."
"...what?" Wart was perplexed.
Merlyn chewed on his beard harder and looked away. "Er, nothing." Abruptly his gaze snapped back to Wart. "Now, why are you so mindless today? You've just been wandering around in circles over and over and over again."
Wart stared at the floor, then looked back to Merlyn. "...I've been thinking about war."
Merlyn sniffed. "War, eh? And just what have you been thinking about war?"
"Well," Wart started, "I've been thinking about the time I was a goose. I talked to another goose about war, and she seemed disgusted. But I've always thought that war is a noble thing, Merlyn, and I didn't understand what she thought was so horrid about war until she started to rave about it. It does seem pretty futile, and now I don't get why humans do it."
Merlyn peered at Wart oddly. Then without further word, he turned about and walked away. Wart pouted and crossed his arms, feeling rather persnickety that Merlyn hadn?t continued the discussion.
Later that night, after everyone had gone to sleep, Merlyn crept out of his room and snuck to Wart's. Quietly entering Wart?s quarters, he tip-toed over to the boy's bed and stared down at him. Merlyn noted that Wart's eyes were still under their lids, and therefore hadn't entered REM sleep yet.
Drawing a pouch out of the pocket of his robe, Merlyn took a pinch of magic dust from the pouch, whispered a few choice words, and let the dust fall onto Wart's face. He sneezed in his sleep and rolled onto his side. A few seconds later, Wart began to make small sounds in his sleep, and his eyes moved rapidly.
Merlyn grinned to himself. Let the boy learn his lesson in his sleep.
Can't breathe can't breathe can't breathe GOD I'M COLD what in the world's happening?!
Wart found himself floundering in the depths of some watery domain, panicked beyond mere words. Twisting and turning, he found that his legs appeared bound, for he could not move them apart. Nor could he readily move his arms.
In mounting terror, Wart screamed.
And then abruptly stopped his mad thrashings in confusion.
Since when do I squeak? ...or click?
It was then in shocked calmness that Wart took stock of his surroundings and statis. Wart noticed he wasn't really drowning at all, as he had presumed. In fact, he had plenty of air in his lungs. It would need to be replenished after all that exertion, yes, but he could survive for minutes yet. And after some twisting around, Wart noticed that his legs weren't really tied together - he just had no legs. Just a long tail ending in a fin...or a flipper...or whatever the name was. Wart never knew those sort of things.
Then a face appeared in his vision, and Wart squealed again.
The face, an elongated snout-thing, grinned at him as if this entire predicament was a mere joke. The grinning face split into a sharply-adorned mouth, and a barrage of clicks and squeaks and squeals assaulted his ears.
Or ear-holes. Wart didn't know.
Regardless, the rapid-fire sounds instantly translated in his mind into speech.
"Hello, brother! Why are you dancing underwater?"
Wart backed away from the creature in front of him, and responded. As to how he responded, Wart didn't know. He just did.
"What are you?"
The grin on the stranger became even more pronounced, and the same squeals and clicks reverberated in his mind. "I am a bottle-nosed dolphin, silly! As are you!"
A dolphin? What?s a dolphin?
Wart didn't have a chance to question the dolphin further, as the friendly stranger immediately started babbling in her (it seemed like a her) chirping language. "Hi friend, I am Kerrek of the Kekeke pod and I saw you over here and you were all jiggly and dancing-like and you looked very very silly and I was wondering who you were and why you were here and what pod you belong to and what your name is and do you want to be my friend?"
Wart floated very still for a few minutes, and was about to respond when he noticed his mind was going sort of fuzzy. He didn't recognize the feeling, and when he didn't respond, Kerrek began babbling again.
"Hey why are you just sittin' there why won't you talk to me do you hate me how long have you been underwater?" Wart began to sink. Kerrek looked startled. "Hey friend you need to breathe don't just sit there stupid you need to breathe breathe breathe BREATHE BREEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAATHE!!" And with that she dove beneath Wart and powered both of them to the surface of the water. Wart, by some unknown instinct, blew water out of the top of his head and sucked in precious, precious air. His mind instantly cleared and he found himself pumping his tail to stay upright in the water with his head poking above the surface. Kerrek did the same.
Then, after a minute of silence in which Kerrek began to get very twitchy, her grin stretched to amazing lengths and she once again launched into a tirade of speech.
"So what's your name and why were you just sitting there are you retarded where you ABANDONED that's HORRIBLE and not to mention rude and I can't believe OH by the way what's your naaaaaaaaame?" She cocked her head to the side and waited for a response.
"My name's Wart." He considered it polite to tell her his name. He certainly wasn't expecting the reaction she gave.
"Oh my god oh my god oh my god OH MY GOD you told me your naaaaaaaaaaaaaame are you my friend now? I LOVE FRIENDS I have lots of friends and now you're one of my friends because you told me your name AM I YOUR FRIEND? I told you my name so you better be my friend YOU BETTER haha I'm just kidding it's okay if you're not my friend but if you aren't I'll KILL YOU DEAD I SWEAR I okay I mean no. Okay? Okay. Yeah. Yes."
Wart was getting really, really confused.
Then, with a startling change of subject, the dolphin screeched, "HEY you haven't met my pod yet you really should meet my pod they're very very nice." And with that she dove down underwater, and Wart found himself following her.
He caught up with Kerrek. She was zipping through the water like a racecar on Prozac, yet Wart found he could easily keep pace. Without warning, Kerrek's mouth opened and a lengthy string of high-pitched clicks and squeals that called over a baker's dozen of dolphins. Many were small and spotted and the others were large and gray. Kerrek turned to Wart and grinned hysterically. One by one the dolphins came up to Wart and he felt clicks and chirps - as they were disturbances in the water - hit him and fly back to their creator. The large gray dolphins turned to each other and squeaked amongst themselves. Then they turned to the small speckled ones and squealed a sound of approval. With a roar of clicks, the small dolphins barreled through the water, and upon reaching Wart they nuzzled him with ecstatic warmth. They flew in front of his face with grins plastered all over, and Wart began to feel something somewhere between giddiness and perturbedness.
Besides him, Kerrek let out a peal of squeals that Wart thought might have been laughter. "The children like you Wart ain't that cuuuuute?"
Children? Well, that explained why they were smaller. He didn't understand the spots, but he didn't really care.
Wart then noticed everyone but the children were fidgeting. Kerrek, the elders, even himself ? there was a growing anxiety setting every nerve on fire. One of the elders suddenly said, "Let's move." Unanimously the dolphins silently agreed, and they rushed their way through the water in a jolly jaunt. A few minutes later, Wart began to feel light in the head again, as did everyone else. They seemed to angle higher in the water and go faster, so Wart copied them. Then, with a hysterical rush of playfulness, they were up, up, UP! - and out of the water, flying through the sky. Then, SPLASH!- they were back in, racing toward the distant seabed. Leveling out, they powered off. The playfulness Wart felt was overwhelming. Everyone else seemed unreasonably giddy, as well. They seemed to all be feeding from a giant communal bowl of happiness.
They were angling up again. Wart didn't feel any shortness of
breath, but he wasn't complaining. Those dives (could they even be
called dives?) up through the air were amazing. As they broke
through the surface, felt that same exhilarating rush of joy.
He was soaring up and up and up and getting happier and happier and happier when then...
He was still in the air, midway through a complicated flip, when a phantom fear - a fear he couldn't explain - filled him and chilled his insides. He landed awkwardly on the water and sank. Underwater, he saw the pod surrounding the children the best they could, and all staring at a certain point in the water. The phantom fear curled like a viper in his belly, and a slow, booming word pounded in his head repeatedly.
Shark. Shark. Shark. SHARK.
He slithered through the water over the children and peered the way the pod
was. Wart noticed with a shock that the grins were gone, even from
Kerrek. The elders stood still and serious, while children inside
the sphere of elders protecting them shivered.
Wart followed their gaze until he saw...
...well, he didn't know what he saw.
It was large, its tail moving side to side instead of up and down like a dolphins. Its nose was pointed, and Wart could see jagged rows of teeth in its mouth.
The word boomed angrily in his head.
The phantom fear was gone, replaced with a raging inferno of hatred. Memories that were not his flooded into his mind from the pod's. Memories belonging to the pod he was suddenly experiencing.
Frenzies of sharks attacking hopelessly outnumbered dolphins.
A shark taking on an entire pod.
Sharks attacking baby dolphins.
Sharks attacking sharks.
Cannibals! Wart resisted the urge to retch. The fires of rage licked at his reason, and red began to edge his vision. He found his body tensing and freezing.
The shark continued to advance.
And then it charged.
It picked up speed immediately. First it was a gliding duck and then it was a stampeding torpedo, ravaging through the water with deadly silence. It was within fifteen feet of the pod when an elder screamed, "ATTACK!"
The back of the pod-sphere scattered and regrouped in formation, and met the shark head on. They let out blasts of sonar that addled the shark?s brain, but detrimentally made it angrier. The dolphin-squad realized its mistake immediately, and began to headbutt the shark backwards, but it simply snapped at the dolphins. The dolphins had defenestrated their chance, and now they were going to pay. The shark lunged at the dolphin front and center and hit home. Its teeth found purchase in the dolphin's back and the shark yanked backwards. A good chunk of meat was isolated. Blood filled the water. Wart saw red in more ways than one.
The first squadron squealed, bringing the middle of the sphere forward into battle. Wart found himself screaming through the water toward the shark, vision impaired by hate. The dolphins had the upper advantage now, with two squadrons attacking at once.
Or so they thought.
The blood initiated a vital instinct in the shark. A vital instinct that would ultimately save it from demise.
That instinct was the simple, barbaric instinct to kill.
With blinding stamina and irreversible instinct, and shark powered forward into the group, opening more wounds, shedding more dolphin-blood. The dolphins squealed and attacked the best they could, with head butting and biting. A daunting realization was coming through, however.
They were losing.
Another communal thought sped through Wart?s brain.
Retreat. Use sonar.
The moment Wart finished comprehending the message, the rest of the pod powered backwards. Sharp and loud bullets of sound exploded from the pod, addling the shark?s brain and sending it into frenzied spasms. It could no longer understand input data from its nose and sensory glands, and it twisted every which way, relying on poor eyesight to help.
This chance was not going to be thrown out of the window.
The dolphins turned tail, fleeing with a speed to amaze the gods. Their speed flung them a mile away in a startlingly short amount of time, and then the dolphins rested. They poked their blowholes above water level for fresh air, and then they sunk happily to a comfortable level. An elder clicked out, "Good job, pod. You did well."
Wart was confused. Hadn't we lost, though? He sought out Kerrek for clarification, and voiced his question.
She responded with a strange warmth, as one does for someone blithely stupid. She spoke slowly and with great pride. "We did not lose. We won in what were fighting for - to protect the children. The shark was the one who attacked us to kill, and he failed in that. He is the loser."
Wart would not settle for that. The question he had pondered earlier (it seemed like such a long time ago) bubbled to the surface of his brain. "But isn't that war? Why would the shark war on the dolphins? I thought..." Here he paused ashamedly. "I thought only humans warred."
Kerrek's expression grew somber. "The sharks do not - technically - war. It is how they survive. They need to eat, and they only thing that is healthy for them is meat. And to get meat, they need to kill. And to get the amount of meat they need quickly, they need to kill us. It is the circle of life."
"But why be so angry, if it is only the shark?s natural impulses?"
"It is natural for us to be angry. The anger protects us, as it allows us to fight more efficiantly."
"...So nothing humans do is natural? Because humans certainly don?t eat each other, so they don?t need to kill, and..."
"Maybe it is natural, in a bizarre way."
Wart met her gaze abruptly. "What?"
"Well," she said thoughtfully, "Maybe the thoughts of all human pods are different. This makes the humans enemies to one another, and the first thought on how to get rid of a problem is to destroy it. Or, maybe, the humans are impeding on each other's territories. It makes war seem natural, then."
"But it is bad!"
"True, and from what I hear from seagulls every so often is that it is turning into an illogical affair. I don't know. I only know, from experience, that sometimes, violence - and maybe war - is needed. Afterall, if we had absconded fighting against the shark, we would all be dead." Kerrek, perturbed by the situation, concluded her disturbingly thoughtful tirade with a noncommittal barrel-roll, and sped away.
Wart was about to follow her to continue talking...
...but then he woke up.