“Boo!” The tiny little sea dragon jumped out of the sea fronds, startled from his hiding place.
He let out a squeal as he swam away from her, spiraling through the water with his fins flared out in surprise and alarm. Kia laughed aloud before following after him, the bubbles streaming from her nose and lips tickling her cheeks and neck as they slipped over and around them. She chased him in circles around the towering pillars of seareed, flashing over and around the small rocks supporting the reef.
Ryu bleated happily as he found a crevasse in the coral. He flattened his body and slid into the crack, barely managing to turn and face the entrance in time to meet Kia’s frustrated stare. Kia narrowed her eyes, but a smile on her lips betrayed her mock seriousness.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” Ryu’s tongue flicked forward, a brief flash of metallic blue against the algae-green rock. Kia gasped melodramatically. “You little! Why I oughta!”
The other zora were going about their daily business, slowly trolling along the sea floor with hands skimming through the rippled sand in a search for crabs and little shellfish. Technically, Kia was supposed to be joining them, and her job was marked by the loosely woven bag that floated off her shoulder. They never counted on her to be helping them, though. This time, like all the others, Kia had run into one of her numerous sea creature friends and taken off from her job to go play.
Kia wedged her fingers into the hole, trying to wrap the webbing around Ryu’s little body and pull him from the crack. “Come out, you goof! You’re no fun when you’re hiding in there.” The sea dragon merely laughed, a high-pitched trill accented with a stream of bubbles coming from his mouth, and wriggled from her grasp with one fluid twist of his body.
He shot out of the top of the crack and immediately darted away. Kia paused for a moment with her mouth hanging open and hand still wedged in the crack. She shook herself before crying out happily and following after him, once again beginning to swim frantically around rocks and seareeds and coral in pursuit.
“Where do you think you’re going?!”
Ignoring Kia’s protests, the sea dragon kept going. They chased one another further and further away from the other zora. Kia just kept laughing as she pursued Ryu, kicking up sand from the bottom of the sea and kicking off the sea fronds that wrapped themselves around her limbs in attempts to hold her down.
The terrain was beautiful by any standard; it was a sunny day up above, and they were shallow enough for almost all of the sunlight to filter down into the water, illuminating the brilliant colors of the coral reef. There were, of course, the pale blue-green and grey rocks that formed the foundation of everything. On top of them, however, was the true majesty: a vast forest of corals, from the netlike sea fans and branching plumes to the dish-like plate coral that protruded from the rock like platforms. Tall fronds of the leafy seareeds waved in the current, greeting Kia and Ryu as they zipped past. Over and around they swam, taunting the shell blades and toados, paying little mind to where they were headed.
Eventually they left the reef behind, swimming instead over a blanket of rippled white sand. If she squinted, Kia could have still seen the blurry lumps of blue, green, and orange that marked her fellow zora, but they were far away from them now. Neither of them particularly noticed how far they had gone, however, and just kept swimming.
Suddenly, Kia threw herself upright, stopping her forward motion almost completely with one flick of her fins.
The sea dragon slowed as well, though much less abruptly than his friend. He made a chirruping sound, turning back toward her and canting his head to the side. Why had she stopped?
“We’re on the dropoff,” she said, just a hint of trepidation in her voice. Zora could survive in the deeper, open ocean—one of her neighbors had swum across the whole sea to visit Calatia, or so he said—but Kia had always been warned against it. She was faster than most zora, but even then, they were far from the biggest or meanest creatures swimming in the sea. Kia herself had seen the toadpolis and octoroks on the surface of the water, ready to attack anyone who poked their head above the waves. Even those were far from the most dangerous things out there; she had been told countless stories of dexihands snatching zora and throwing them against rocks or of bari and biri electrocuting anyone who came within reach of their slimy tentacles. And that wasn’t even considering the massive predatory fish that could swallow someone in a single bite and never think anything of it.
It could have been that the terrible stories weren’t true. Or it could have been that Ryu wasn’t smart enough to have stories like that circulating among his family and friends. Regardless, he clearly shared none of Kia’s concerns about the open water. He shook his head and backed away from Kia, coaxing her out slowly.
Kia followed despite her fear, drifting away from the sunny, sandy water foot by foot until she hovered in the open ocean, nothing beneath her webbed feet for miles but open water. Quiet noises drifted up to them from below, deep swooping noises of bubbles and the sharper thudding vibrations of a huge shell slamming shut. Kia swallowed anxiously.
“Ryu… this could be dangerous,” she whispered. The sea dragon shook his head and scooted further away from her. Kia cast a glance back at the dropoff, not moving. “I don’t think we should go out there any more than we already have.”
Ryu tossed his head again, beckoning her once more. With a last glance backward, Kia began following him.
She stopped often on their little journey, but as they continued and nothing jumped out of the depths to kill them, she became more relaxed. She never went back to their playful chasing, but eventually started looking around them with leisure instead of frantically tossing her gaze from side to side as Ryu began guiding her deeper into the water. It was beautiful. The way the sunlight filtered through the deepening water and played on her skin, the ethereal mystery of whatever lay below… She liked it out here more than she had thought she would.
Eventually, she noticed the sea floor beginning to gradually approach them again. First the water gained a strange beige tint, then the patterns on the sand from rocking water became apparent. Kia tilted her head as a dark mass began coming into shape in the distance of the water. Far too curious for her own good, she began swimming more quickly, outpacing Ryu until he caught up.
Slowly, the object came into focus. Bit by bit, Kia realized what it was—a shipwreck! An old one, too, if the amount of algae and seareed growing out of its rotting berms was any indication of age.
“Ryu, is this where you were taking me?” she breathed. She slowed herself to a stop, hovering in the water to gaze at the wreck. It was a rather large ship. She couldn’t tell where it was from, as the flag on the mast had long since rotted away. The ropes were mostly gone, too, all but for a matted mass of them hung by the stern. Its wooden planks had rotted away, leaving gaping holes in the hull big enough for her to swim through.
Ryu squealed in affirmation before darting closer to the wreck. He was too excited this time to make sure Kia followed him, but she didn’t need any encouragement to. She ran her hands over everything, touching the half-disintegrated wheel, tracing the patterns of gilded gold pressed into most of the surfaces, twining her body around the mast and wiping away the limning of mold and algae that was growing over a compass dropped on the deck. She followed the grain of the wood until she had to turn upside down to continue it along the edge of the boat, swimming right alongside the boat’s broken hull until she reached one of the larger gaps and slipped inside.
It hadn’t been a fancy boat, and she ended up in what must have been the kitchen. A huge metal contraption sat opposite her, metal spikes protruding from either end to hold a spit. It must have been where they set the fire to cook their meals. Long, broad wooden boards shelved from all of the walls, and just underneath them were rotting barrels that once would have held all manner of things. Kia shooed a mass of skippyjacks away from one, revealing a handful of bones resting at the bottom of the barrel with a coating of lime on each. Just above her, the rusting blades of knives were haphazardly piled in a corner, waiting for their cook to return to them. Pots, pans, and kettles were also scattered around, many of them already eaten through by rust and metal-consuming fish.
Whoever had cooked in this kitchen had it organized once, she thought. And it all just got thrown around all over the place when they wrecked… Now they’ll never be able to come back and clean it up again.
She was done with the kitchen.
Ryu squealed after her as Kia swam through the open door into the next room. It was big and empty apart from a few more skippyjacks making their way through the empty portholes. There was another door—two doors, actually—but when Kia tried them, the wood had swollen so much that they wouldn’t budge, and it wasn’t rotten enough yet to just give way beneath her hands. She made a loop around the room on her way back to the galley, not intending to find anything.
But lo and behold—settled into a corner of the room was a small metal box, still sealed soundly and mostly without rust. She reached out and carefully picked it up, turning in her hands for inspection.
Ryu finally came in from the other room. He plopped himself down on Kia’s shoulder with a sound of exhaustion, ready to go back to the reef.
“Just a minute. Look at what I found,” Kia breathed. The sea dragon sat up to look at it skeptically, shaking his head and chuffing in exasperation. Apparently, he didn’t think it was worth anything. Kia, on the other hand, was desperately curious. Unlike every other metal thing on the boat, it hadn’t rusted. Even more interesting, it was locked shut by a tiny little padlock snapped around the hinges. Ryu made another noise, clearly annoyed. Kia frowned.
“This is important! And really cool! You should be just as interested as I am.” The sea dragon shook his head pointedly. Nope. He was not interested in the least. Kia sighed. “Fine. We’ll take it back to the reef and look at it there, okay?” Without waiting for his agreement, she slipped the box into her bag. Ryu, too, bubbled off of her shoulder and nestled himself into the soft cloth pouch. She smiled fondly at him before she began swimming away from the shipwreck, headed back to her fellow zora.
Her trip back wasn’t any more eventful than the one they took going toward the shipwreck, though she did pass a school of toona and thought she might have seen a neptuna or a loovar in the distance. She didn’t waste any time in opening her bag, kicking Ryu out of it, and pulling out the box. Ryu had been sleeping, and he made an annoyed trilling sound as he swam out of the bag. After a few minutes of waking up, he started nudging Kia and dancing out of reach of her hands. She wasn’t reacting, though, too busy inspecting the box she had found. He kept trying, even nibbling on her skin and fins to try and get her to come play with him. Still, she ignored him. Fed up with her overzealous interest in the container, Ryu tossed his rays and swam away to go play with other, more fun friends. He didn’t get far before he came back and set himself down on her shoulder again, resigned to watching her figure out the mystery of the box.
Here where there was plenty of sunlight, the box shone brightly. Now she could see that it had a delicate engraving on the top of it, some sort of Hylian she didn’t understand and a picture of what looked like an albatross. It just made less and less sense to her.
She tried opening it without removing the lock, grabbing the top and bottom sections of the box and prying them apart with all her might. But it was closed tight, and her best efforts hadn’t even managed to make the seal budge by a hair. Kia tugged at the lock with her fingers, doing her best to pull it off. It wasn’t made of the same material as the box, and there were small spots of rust dotted across its surface. With enough force, it would surely break.
When her fingers weren’t enough, Kia started banging it against the rocks she was sitting on. Ryu jumped off her shoulder to watch, fins fluttering. After a few good, hard whacks, the lock snapped.
It flew away from the box and from Kia, propelled through the water by the force of the blow that detached it. Ryu jumped to the side just in time to avoid being cleaved in half by the zooming piece of metal, and he showed his agitation quite clearly through a series of loud, sharp chattering sounds and heavily narrowed eyes.
“Great Nayru!” Kia cried when she realized what had almost happened to her friend. She brought her hand up to her mouth, intending to cover her gasp with her palm but instead almost hitting herself in the face with her box. “I’m so sorry, Ryu!”
The sea dragon made a few more angry noises before he settled back down, coming to perch himself on her shoulder again.
“Alright,” Kia breathed, sitting back down on the rocks. “Let’s see what’s inside this thing.”
She flicked the latch open with her finger and began slowly prying the box apart. Something was putting up a good fight on the inside of it to keep the thing closed. A rush of bubbles came when the first crack appeared, and immediately the box flew open the rest of the way. There had been an air seal inside of it, of all things. Even after years and years of being miles underwater, the box had been closed so tightly that no water had entered it at all. For a moment, Kia felt a little ashamed that she had soiled such purity of air. Then her curiosity took over, and regret was replaced by wonder.
Nestled on a soft cloth cushion in the middle of the box was a trio of pearls, one blue, one pink, and one faintly green. Next to them was a handwritten note, scribbled by someone with absolutely awful handwriting. Kia didn’t have long to read it before the water washed all of the ink away, but she thought it said something along the lines of ‘For my Princess. –You Know Who’.