Chapter 21

To him the Power to run and ride

To him the Wisdom to sail the tides

To him the Courage to grace the skies

Let he be immortal

The Hero of Time

The Black Nulia formed a neat crowd around Mikau, ushering him along the narrow streets filled with vendors peddling their wares. Every time Mikau tried to get away discreetly, one of the Zoras would block his path or make him look at another item being sold in the kiosks. They didn't act impolite or intimidating to the Zorian Hero. Mikau almost wished they would, because it would give him an excuse to force his escape.

"Hey Mikau!" Wavvern called, beaconing to him. "What do you think of these?" She held a pair of sapphire crystal earrings to her ears and smiled, awaiting Mikau's approval.

"They're nice." The Zorian Hero said absently, sparing her a glance.

"Then you should take them." She held one of Mikau's hands and dropped the gems into his open palm.

"What the...! I can't wear these!" He exclaimed. He held his arm outwards, trying to push the earrings back. "I mean, I don't even have my ears pierced. And these are cut to a woman's style."

Wavvern laughed. "No, I don't expect you to wear them! But at such a great deal, who can resist? Custom cut ocean sapphires, the same material the Zora's Sapphire is made of. Give them to a girlfriend or something; you don't have to wear them. It's a rare find." Her eyes flickered meaningfully. But the Zorian Hero completely missed the gesture.

Mikau shook his head. "No, no. I can never afford them." As soon as the words escaped his lips, he regretted it. If the Black Nulia were interested in his rupees, they may no longer treat him so courteously if they knew he had little money. On the other hand, they might leave him alone.

But none of them seemed to notice his careless words. Wavvern's expression could be described as irritated or bemused. At least she didn't appear hostile. Either way, she took Zorian Hero's wrist and dragged him off to another vendor. Mikau happened to glance over his shoulder, and saw a flash of Zora fin disappearing into the crowd. It was free of any scorch marks. Mikau felt a surge of relief for it must be one of his friends following him. It was good to know that they haven't abandoned him in his hour of need.

Well, that hour turned to several, until the sun began to set over the western mountains and even the other members of the Black Nulia grew tired of Wavvern's shopping spree. After all that time, she only bought an eelspine belt, which she fancied was similar to Mikau's own ancestral one. Mikau himself bought a briquette bake, which tasted like it had rocks in it (which it did, being a Goron dish). So it was a welcome relief for everyone when they decided to stop by the nearest pub for dinner.

The pub was a quaint wooden shack squeezed between two larger buildings, dimly lit with candles of waxfruit. Smells of roasting food, ale and human sweat hung heavily in the air, as well as the smoke from pipes. The pub was crowded with people coming in for a brew after a hard day's work, but they moved aside for the Black Nulia, and the gang easily found a table for their use. Above the shoutings and laughter, a small blues band strummed out a rhythmic tune, subtle and relaxing. Mikau found the music the most pleasant thing in the whole bar, even better than the scrumptious food that was presented to him and his neglected stomach. Pertuous ordered and paid for the meal, which consisted of fish and shellfish that Mikau was familiar with, but cooked in ways that were foreign to him. To have his seafood skinned, boned, gutted, garnished and cooked tender made his mouth water. If it were raw, he'd have to tear at the coarse meat with his canines, and perhaps risk a spine lodged in his throat. But he could probably swallow this fish whole!

He stuffed the entire fish in his mouth and chewed twice before swallowing. Immediately his eyes began watering and he coughed violently, his shoulders spasming. He put both hands over his half-opened mouth, laboring to breathe with both his gills and lungs.

"What the...Mikau! Are you alright?" Wavvern exclaimed, slapping him on the back. "Pertuous! What the hell did you give him?"

The larger Zora smiled in amusement. "I gave him the usual. Cajun flounder with jalapeno spread." He shrugged helplessly. "I can't help it if the Zorian Hero can't stand spicy food."

"Ooohhh!" Wavvern laughed and held a glass mug in front of Mikau. "Silly fish! You're not supposed to eat that sort of stuff in one bite! You'll scorch your tongue! Here, drink this."

The suffering Zora reached for the mug with shaky hands and downed its contents without pausing. He grimaced as he realized that he was drinking some sort of beer, but he didn't stop until the burning sensation in his throat was quenched. Finally, he slammed his hand with the mug on the table and exhaled loudly. The others of the gang were laughing.

"So how did it taste?" Pertuous asked with a wry grin.

"It was..." Mikau stopped and cleared his throat. His voice was hoarse. "It was rather good!" The whole table laughed even louder, and Mikau couldn't help but laugh with them. Someone ordered him another plate of equally spiced food, which he ate more carefully this time. Yes, Mikau liked hot food as much as the next guy, but hadn't seen enough of it in his life to recognize it all the time. He was presented with another mug of beer, and he drank that as well, finding it not quite so bad after chugging down a litre of the stuff before. The band started playing popular jazz beats and some people started dancing. Mikau was watching them, tapping his feet to the music when he suddenly noticed Evan and Japas sitting at a table in a far corner, keeping an eye on him. The absense of his friends hit him hard, and he felt guilty for even attempting to have fun without them. They were probably worried sick about him. He had to get out of here somehow. In a flash of inspiriation, he came up with a brilliant idea of how to escape.

"Hey Wavvern," Mikau said. The female Zora turned from another gangmember whom she had been talking loudly with. She blinked in confusion at the Zorian Hero, her eyes glassy, having consumed a fair amount of alcohol herself. Mikau swallowed. "You wanna, y'know, dance?"

"Oh! Okay!" She grinned ear to ear, clearly delighted. Mikau took her hand and led her to the dance floor. Both of them stood there for a moment in hesitation, neither really familiar with dancing. They started imitating what other people were doing, but then found it easier to just move with the music in whatever way they felt like. They both stumbled several times, not really able to keep their balance. Mikau found the music too loud so close to its source, and it made the small migrane he had been surpressing painful in degree.

The first song ended and the crowd applauded, shouting out requests for more of their favorite music. Mikau bowed and Wavvern did a Zorian curtsy, which involved more of a movement of the arms to display the elegance of a woman's fins rather than the flow of her dress. But Wavvern's fins were burnt and stunted.

"Hey, thanks for a great time today, Wavvern." Mikau said. "But it's getting late. I have to go now."

"What? Wait..." Wavvern looked around and realized that none of her gangmates were around to push this Zorian Hero back in line. She tried to hold his hand but he was already moving away. "Wait..." She watched the Zorian Hero leave, trying to grasp with her half-lucid mind why he wouldn't stay. Once he reached a safe distance, Mikau waved goodbye to her and quickly walked out the door.

Once outside, he ran to hide in the shadows of an alley, webbed feet slapping on the rough cobblestones. Still keeping the light of the pub in his sights, Mikau leaned against a wall, chest heaving, not used to running airside in the harsh, cold air. His head began to throb achingly, as if the cold and the silence were physically pounding at him. He put his hands at his temples.

He heard the sound of a door swinging shut and saw two Zorian figures exit the pub. They exchanged a few muted words then started walking towards him. Mikau shrank deeper into the shadows, too miserable to try and fight but hoping they would overlook him. His fins began expanding anyways in response to his nervousness. But when they came near enough, Mikau could see that the two figures were actually Japas and Evan. He waved at them to come over.

Japas was the first to see him and rushed over. "Hey man, you okay?" He said softly with genuine concern. "You look like crap. What did they do to you?" Mikau's skin was paler than usual; his shoulders sagged as if the strings holding them up had been cut. Japas put Mikau's arm around his shoulders and helped him stand; he appeared to be unable to walk by himself.

Mikau's eyes blurred at the sudden movement and his stomach did a turn. "Ugh... I... think I had too much to drink..."

Japas laughed, the mischievous gleam returning to whatever was visible of his eyes. "Aw, you lightweight! We were watching and you had, what, two mugs? That's enough to take you out?"

Mikau grinned and wacked the side of Japas's head with his tail. "And spicy food. There's none of that underwater."

Japas batted the intrusive tail with his own. "Hey! Quit playing tailsie with me!"

"Lulu and Tijo are waiting." Evan said bluntly. He was looking about nervously, worried about any of the Black Nulia coming from the bar. His fists were slightly curled in case anything comes his way.

Japas nodded mutely and the three of them headed towards the beach. Around the alleys and streets that seemed to stretch out forever, they finally reached the fringe of the ocean. A few blue figures dotted the sandy beach, those being other Zoras that decided to camp out or had no where else to go. Mikau vainly tried to find Tijo and Lulu among the figures, but the latter collided with him before he even saw her.

"Mikau! Are you okay??" Lulu cried, her arms wrapped tightly around Zorian Hero in a vicious hug. If Mikau was feeling sick before, now he was suddenly exceedingly embarrassed. Because Lulu's body felt so...soft! against his skin. He knew he should react somehow, and ended up with both arms akwardly around her waist. He couldn't quite figure out what to say. He felt all the blood rush to his cheeks.

Lulu suddenly backed away to arm's length, frowning in concern. "What happened? You smell like cheap whiskey."

"He had a little too much to drink." Evan reported. "I think he's sick for it."

"Oh!" Lulu's eyes widened in understanding. "No wonder. He's looking a bit purple." At that remark, Mikau blushed even more. "Mikau, why don't you go for a swim? It might clear your head a little. We can talk about what happened tomorrow."

"That's... a good idea." Mikau would absolutely relish a swim right now, after so much time on land. He longed to feel his fins slicing the water.

Evan added, "You should also try to find some sargasso to eat. Yes, it tastes like medicine, but that's because it is."

Mikau grimaced at the very thought of the taste, but obediently stumbled towards the welcoming ocean. He fell facefirst into the surf and let the cool waves refresh him while the tide carried him out to sea. Japas followed him soon after, making sure he wasn't going to be easy prey for a shark or anything. It's not safe to drink and dive, after all. Japas kept a fair distance away, aware that his friend needed some space and didn't feeling like talking. The Zorian Hero instantly felt more relaxed when he began sliding through the water, his gills exhaling the alcohol out of his blood faster than lungs could. He found some of that awful sargasso weed and choked it down, hoping to keep it down while his stomach was contorting in new and innovative ways.

When he was feeling more or less himself again, the Zorain Hero leaped gracefully out of the water and rolled onto his feet. He shook off the sand clinging to his skin, and most of it ended up on a protesting Japas who emerged from the ocean just behind him. The others were already asleep on the beach just below the tideline. Mikau plopped himself beside them and exhaled deeply, feeling as if he could just melt into the sand from exhaustion.

What a day it has been. He felt like he could sleep forever if he simply closed his eyes and let the dreams take him away. But before he did so, he gazed up at the cloudless night and blinked curiously up at the stars far above. They winked back at him, as if they harboured some sort of secret he wasn't aware of. Mikau put his hands behind his tail, pillowing his head, and shuffled slightly so the sand would mold better to his form. He suddenly wondered whether the sky was actually bigger than the sea. What a strange thought. Of course the ocean was bigger! Everyone knows that. But every once in a while, the Zorian Hero would have his doubts...

Mikau woke up with a start and irritably flicked off the sandflea which had been gnawing at his ankle. The offending insect burrowed back into the sand from which it came, disappearing without a trace. The Zorian Hero yawned and stretched out his tail which was sore from supporting the weight of his head for so long. He couldn't even remember falling asleep, but from position of the moon and the tides, it was obviously some time deep into the night. He was pleased that he wasn't experiencing more of a hangover. In fact, he's feeling great. The ocean wind was pleasantly cool to his skin, still warm from the summer but not yet the biting cold of the winter. He heard snippets of conversation muffled by the murmuring of the tides and turned to see the town of Veritora still active at this time of night. Some of the busier streets were lit with lamps of fire or iridescent fish, peddlers were still hawking their wares. Mikau settled down again and closed his eyes. A muted sigh beside him made him open them again and try to locate its source.

He found Lulu sleeping contently to his right, facing him, her lips quivering incomprehensible dreamwords. A foot's distance seperated the two of them. If Mikau tried to roll back even further, he would roll right onto Japas to his left. But he didn't really want to move. He stared at Lulu's face, caressed by the faint light of the moon and shadows ever shifting from the luminescence of the sea. His eyes ran along the pale contours of her face, from her delicate cheekbones to the gentle taper of her chin. Her eyelids flickered from a slight breeze, and Mikau was afraid she would wake up. She only sighed in response and Mikau breathed in the scent of her breath, salty like the sea breeze, but warm. He smiled, eyes dreamily half- closed. He could just stay here forever.

Lulu rolled onto her back and Mikau noticed her ears were pierced. She was wearing glass dewdrop earrings, and the Zorian Hero was momentarily surprised that she wasn't wearing anything more luxurious. After all, her mother is a famous songstress; there ought to be plenty of money in her family to spend on beautiful accessories. Sure, the dewdrops were pretty in their own respect, but not deserving of Lulu's quiet elegance.

Mikau's thoughts turned to the sapphire crystal earrings he saw earlier that day. They would be perfect for her. He could already see her with the sparkling gems hanging from her finned ears. And how happy she would be once he gave them to her! Mikau quietly sat up and opened a hidden compartment in his belt, withdrawing a handful of rupees. He grimaced as he counted the money, realizing that he could buy the earrings only if he sacrificed a good portion of his food cash for this month. As a result, he'll be spending a lot of his free time swimming out to the open sea to catch his dinners. Oh well. Nobody ever said life was easy.

The Zorian Hero got up, careful not to wake any of his friends. The sand helped mute his footsteps as he went back to the alleys full of vendors. He kept his eye out for any reminant Black Nulia, but they were probably sleeping off the effects of whatever they ate last night. He eventually found the booth he and Wavvern visited earlier in the day. It was somewhat difficult to find the vendor which was now illuminated by candles rather than sunlight. A Deku Scrub stood behind the table, calling out in a loud voice, trying to convince pedestrians to examine his wares.

"Ah, young Zora! What brings you to my humble shop on such a fine night?" The Scrub welcomed in a low, squeeky voice, smiling with his tube of a nose. His beady eyes focused on Mikau's belt and neckband. "Perhaps I can interest you in a bone choker? It would nicely replace your leather neckband and it would match your belt as well." He brought out a hoop of bone intricately carved to resemble the jaw of a shark. If Mikau wore it, it would seem as if he had smaller, toothy mouth on his neck. "This choker was sculpted from a single piece of whale bone by a master carver." The Deku purred. "It's guaranteed never to stain yellow or slow down your swimming!"

Mikau smiled but shook his head. "Actually, I'm here for some earrings."

"Earrings, you say?" The Scrub looked skeptically at Mikau's ears, which were floppy and untrimmed and not suited to jewelery. But he certainly wasn't going to point that out to a potential buyer. "Of course! I have wide selection." He dug out an ornate box from his bag and opened it, exposing its dazzling contents to the candlelight. He placed the box on the table and daintily picked up a of glittering, leaf-shaped gems, holding them up to where his ears might be. "These, although appearing to be emerald, are actually crystals dyed green using a process considered a trade secret by those who practice it. They are my personal favorites. I gave a pair to my wife and when she wears it, she seems to have a sparkling, healthy head of foliage!"

"Uh huh." Mikau barely listened, although he was sure the story would be very interesting. His eyes followed his finger as it traced down the rows of earrings. Then with a triumphant "Aha!" he picked up the sapphire gems he had been looking for. "These are the ones I want!"

"Ooooh." The Deku's eyes grew round and he nodded sagely. "You have very good taste." He didn't need to say anything more to promote his item. Mikau held the earrings up to the candle flame and watched the play of lights reflected off the gems' surfaces. They sparkled bits of red and yellow, but primarily green and blue. And the colors changed often with the sapphires hanging easily from their hooks, dangling with each subtle movement and breath of wind. Once could become mesmerized by the earrings' elegance, that is, if Lulu's face and voice didn't captivate you first.

"So how much is it?" The Zora asked.

The Deku rubbed his hands gleefully. "60 rupees for you, sir."

"60...!" Mikau's shoulders sagged. That was much more than what he had originally expected. "Uh... How about 40?"

The salesman put a hand to his heart as if the thought shocked him. "But sir! Can you live with the knowledge that you are robbing an honest working man? 55!"

Mikau sighed. "46. That's as much as I can offer. Because that's all I have." He put the earrings back on the table.

The Deku frowned, stroking his leafy mustache. Then he smiled and picked up the sapphires. "Then 36 it is!" He shook Mikau's hand, exchanging the gems in the process.

"Wait, but..." Mikau began.

"36." The Scrub repeated, cutting him off.

Mikau fumbled to withdraw the rupees and gratefully handed them to the merchant. "Thank you!" He said, not knowing what else to say.

"Don't mention it." The Deku replied cheerfully with a wink. "I was once your age, and I understand how money was tight. But I need to start targeting Zora customers anyways. Remember, tell all your friends about Uku Deku's Awesome Accessories!"

"Yes sir!" Mikau, very happy with his luck, went back to rejoin his friends on the surf. They were probably still sleeping and wouldn't even know he had left. Meanwhile, Uku the Deku took off his merchant cap and wiped his brow. He sighed deeply. He was sure that one of these days, his generosity was going to cause him to go bankrupt.

End of Chapter 21

There has been quite a bit of delay prior to this chapter being posted, and there are a number of reasons contributing to this. The biggest reason is that I have been occupied with another fanfic, which I am more inspired to write. (Stupid me. I knew I shouldn't have started another story before I finished this one...) Then I got the Zelda collector's edition and started playing Majora's Mask again. And then I became re-inspired. Unfortunately, I don't think I can manage a frequent update schedule with this fanfic like I used to, but I will finish it! Even if it kills me, I will one day finish Ocean Eternal!!