Episode 2: Murlocs

It was early in the morning before the Beautiful Gunsmith had finished replacing Naked Boy's horns. By the time he left the Great, Walled City, he could barely keep his eyes open.

Naked Boy longed for his bed, but his hut seemed so very far away. He could barely lift his hooves, and with each slow step the sand seemed to pull him farther and farther back. His strides became shorter and shorter, and soon he was not walking at all.

Naked Boy curled up on the beach, and drifted off to sleep. The warm sun was his blanket and the cool sand his pillow.

Naked Boy slept throughout the day, only waking as the tide began to rise around him.

All was right with the world. The boy had his horns and his ocean. What more could anyone want?

The waves washed him away, into the bay. He floated on his back, and kicked gently with his hooves. He put his hands behind his head and stared up at the clouds. He smiled at the seagulls, and they tipped their wings to him in greeting.

Suddenly, Naked Boy was not alone! Terrible, green figures emerged from the sea, surrounding him, and cutting off any possible escape.

Half fish and half man, and with eyes like dark red, dinner plates, they could only be murlocs. The leader of the murlocs grinned wide with huge, shark teeth, and his friends rattled their bright red spines in approval. The beasts smelled dreadful.

Naked Boy tried to swim away, but the grinning murloc was too quick. He tossed a heavy net over the boy and dragged him down, under the surface.

Panicked, Naked Boy struggled to get free, but there was no hope. His arms were trapped at his sides. He could do nothing but watch as the slimy creatures dragged him farther out to sea.

He held his breath and tried to relax, so that his air would last. Up ahead, he could see a large coral reef. They would have to swim close to the surface to avoid hitting the reef!

He waited and waited, stretching longer than he had ever held his breath before. Then, when for a brief moment the net broke the sea's surface, he sucked in the largest breath of air he could manage.

It would have to last him, for then they were over the reef and diving deeper and deeper into the darkness.

The surface faded away and the water grew cold. His lungs were burning and his head began to spin.

His ears began to roar, and the world disappeared into blackness.

# # #

"King Rask! King Rask!" the leader of the murlocs yelled. "We have brought you a birthday present."

Naked Boy slowly opened his eyes, surprised that he was not drowned.

"What have you brought me, Duke Murglegurgle?" the king's deep, sad voice boomed.

Naked Boy gasped in surprise at the sight of the king! Well, the head of the king, at least. The king's body stretched down into the deep dark, somewhere down past his flowing green beard.

Naked Boy gasped again when he realized that he had gasped in sea water and yet continued to breathe. Everyone knew that was impossible!

"A pet! A pet! We bring you a pet to replace the one that swam away." The murlocs bounced and danced around happily.

"I don't know why you bother," King Rask sighed. "No pet likes me. It will swim away. Just like all of the others..."

"Not this one, your highness!" Murglegurgle chortled with glee. "We have brought you a very special pet. A pet from the surface! If it swims too far away from the orb, then it will not be able to breathe. It will drown."

The murlocs looked at one another and nodded their bulbous heads in agreement.

"As long as you have the magical orb, it will not dare to leave you, sire!"

The king studied Naked Boy with an eye as large as the boy himself. Then he tore open the net with his bright blue fingernails, as if it were red ribboned wrapping paper. "Are you sure this is a pet, my dear friend? It looks like a man. A small man, perhaps, but I think think this is a person."

"No, your highness!"

The murloc's friends echoed a chorus of "No! No!" and "Definitely not!"

"Everyone knows that people wear clothes!" the duke explained. His friends tugged at their sharkskin loincloths and nodded. "Pets don't wear clothes, so it must be a pet."

Naked Boy cried out, "I'm not a pet, I'm a boy!" But despite the magical sphere's power to keep the boy breathing, it did not make it so he could talk under the ocean's depths. "Blurg murg blurgle mablurblegurgle!" was the best he could manage.

"D'aww! He just said, 'mablurblegurgle'. I'm sure of it! That's so adorable." The king grinned wide. "Don't you have an aunt named 'Mablurblegurgle'?"

"My wife's cousin, yes sir!" The duke grinned wide.

"I shall name him Gurgler. Oh thank you, duke!" the king laughed. "This is the finest gift that I have ever received."

"Happy Birthday!" the mulocs gurgled in unison.

When the cheering died down, the duke said, "It's all thanks to my magic sphere." He held the orb out and presented it to the king.

Naked Boy swam over to it and stared in awe.

The orb was a delicate ball of green glass that glowed with power, and illuminated the murky waters. It was about the size of the boy's head. Inside the ball, he could see a few small locks of dark hair that were tied up with festive ribbons. It looked like fine hair, like that from Orcs, not from Tauren. The orb opened at the top with a hole about as wide across as Naked Boy's muzzle.

The boy drew a little closer and tried to press his nose into the hole, so he could sniff the locks.

"Be careful, Gurgler," the duke said as he pulled the orb away. He patted Naked Boy on the head with his clammy, webbed hand. "The orb came from a distant continent. It is very fragile. It was given to my wife and myself as a gift, before you were even born. I could never replace it, if something were to happen to it.

"Let us retire to my villa," the duke boomed. "I have planned a feast in my main hall to celebrate the occasion!"

The king grinned wide and clapped his enormous hands together in joy. The ocean rang with what sounded like a clap of thunder.

Rask took Naked Boy gently in his hand and strolled away across the bottom of the ocean. The water wooshed by so quickly that it pressed the boy flat against the giant's hand. Naked Boy tried to shriek in excitement but it came out as just one long bluuuuuuuurb.

The murlocs swam alongside the king with furious effort. It was amazing to see just how fast they could move. With their arms and spines collapsed sleekly against their bodies, they looked like green sharks with spears and loincloths.

Soon, the party approached a steep-walled plateau in the water that was topped with a castle. The building was carved from a coral reef and surrounded with a beautiful garden. In front of the castle, the garden was mostly decorative; with great kelp mazes and topiaries. To the rear were rows of neatly-tended crops. Rows of sea cucumbers, clams, and even flounder stretched into the dark.

Dozens of murlocs had assembled on the barbican. Musicians and jesters entertained the guests while servants scuttled in and out, seeing to everyone's needs. Out on the grounds, some murlocs - mounted on seahorses - hunted a large cuttlefish.

The duchess - a portly murloc with a fancy conch for a hat - swam over to the duke's side, to greet the guest of honor.

"Duchess Bububurbleburble..." King Rask said with a smile, "you look positively radiant."

"Oh, your highness!" she twittered like a dolphin. "We're so glad you would let us throw you the little party."

# # #

The party lasted for hours, and Naked Boy played with the murloc tadpoles. They laughed and giggled when he tried to talk to them, but it didn't really matter.

They played many games, but regardless of how they began, they usually degenerated into a variant of "fetch" or "tag". The tadpoles were delighted to play with Naked Boy. They patted his head and giggled as he struggled to keep up.

The servants called the tadpoles to dinner. The murlocs sat down at the table and Naked Boy was given a bowl on the floor.

"Bluh ber bluh blurble!" he complained. The servant attending him smiled and kissed her clammy fish lips to his forehead.

# # #

"Wake up, little Gurgler," King Rask's whisper boomed. "The party is over and it's time to go home." He scooped the tiny boy up in his mighty hand.

Naked Boy yawned and stretched.

"Thank you so much for the party, my friend," the king thanked Duke Murglegurgle.

"We hope that it found your heart's every desire." The duke tried put his arm around his wife, and he gave her a squeeze.

"It did! It did. Well..." the king's smile faltered a moment.

"My Lord, is there something else that you wish?" the duchess responded.

The king looked again at the glass sphere he held, "Everything was so wonderful... but I don't suppose that this magic orb of yours could warm my cold feet somehow? I know it's a lot to ask."

"Your feet are cold, my lord?" Bububurbleburble asked.

"I feel silly even mentioning it," the old king said, "but the deep mud on the sea's floor is so frigid, and my feet have grown weary with age..."

"I'm afraid not, m'lord," the duke said sadly as he shook his head. "This bauble controls only the sea, and not the mud beneath it. It can never control the land."

The king frowned and great wrinkles formed on his face.

"Have you ever considered..." the duchess paused, afraid to overstep her station. Her face tightened, hesitantly. "I mean, you could sun them, up on the beach..."

"And walk on land?" The king scowled a foul face.

"Well, no, of course not!" she corrected herself. "I just mean that you could rest with your feet on the beach, where it is warm. And you could lie back, and sleep in the bay. Wouldn't that be nice?"

The duke and his friends nodded to one another, and agreed that it sounded wonderful. "I'd like to do that myself!"

The king smiled, and he drifted into his thoughts for a while, before his scowl returned. "I walked on land once, but there are terrible people that live on the beach; in huts, and in a Great, Walled City.

"They stuck their spears in my toes, and were most unpleasant. I didn't stay long."

The duchess frowned, but the duke's face lit up. "Well now, that's something that my magic orb could fix!"

Eyes of all sizes were upon him. "It could?"

"Well, sure!" he gurgled happily. "This orb controls the ocean. You can use it to summon a mighty tidal wave that will wipe the beaches clean.

"It will wash all the people from their huts and the Great, Walled City. It will suck them out, deep into the ocean, where they will drown." His dark red eyes glinted in the magic orb's light. "Then there won't be anyone there to stick spears in your toes, your highness, and you can rest them safely on the warm beach!"

Everyone was smiling now. Everyone except for Naked Boy, that was. His heart had stopped and his chest felt like it was being crushed.

"You're going to kill everyone? You're going to drown the Great Warrior, and the Beautiful Gunsmith? You want to kill all the Trolls and the poor, hornless Orcs?" Naked Boy shrieked. "How can you even think such things! You're all monsters!"

The king and his murlocs stared silently at the boy.

"He's very... excited," King Rask said, having not understood any of the boy's gurgling.

"Don't you just want to hug him?" Duchess Bububurbleburble replied.

Duke Murglegurgle rubbed his webbed hands together. "Powers of the sea, I command you... Gather! Gather!"

And with those few words, the ocean began to swirl around them. Water began to rush in from both the deep and the bay, to be closer to the orb.

Naked Boy could wait no longer. He swam the short distance to the orb and grabbed it out of the King's palm.

"What are you doing, Gurgler?" the Duke asked. The water stopped swirling.

"I think he's excited. He must want to cast the spell, himself," replied the duchess.

"D'aww," they gaspsed in unison.

"Oh, silly Gurgler, you can't cast a spell." The duke took the orb from him and patted him between the horns.

Once again, the sea began to swirl in time to the duke's words, "Powers of the sea, I command you... Gather! Gather! Form up and gather into a mighty tidal wave!"

Although small and nearly helpless, Naked Boy could not let them do this terrible thing. He sucked in a great breath of seawater and began to beat his arms and legs against the tide.

He swam against the quickly rising current and the world slowed to a crawl. He had to get back to the orb. Only he could stop them and protect everyone back on land.

Closer and closer he drew, and slower and slower time crawled, until the orb was finally within reach...

He lowered his head and the seconds stretched into what seemed like hours. Slower, and slower, until time completely stopped when his truesilver horns touched the green glass.

The moment stretched in silence, and then suddenly, everything snapped back. The orb shattered into a million pieces. The light that glowed inside it blinked out and left them in darkness. The duchess shrieked. And the moving waters snapped still.

Naked Boy peered up through the depths.

Somewhere, far overhead, far up through layers and layers of ocean, there was air.

He wished he could swim up to it.

But his lungs were already full of seawater.

He had drowned the moment the spell was broken, and he knew it.

# # #

Gorrum was sitting upright in his bed, with eyes like saucers. He gripped the edge of the bed covers with both fists.

Ever so slowly, Johnny leaned forward and pressed his top row of teeth against the boy's warm fuzzy forehead, in a ghastly parody of a goodnight kiss.

He turned and snuffed the lantern. An inky blackness fell over the hut in an instant.