The water world is modeled on the world of Chelestra, the third world in the Death Gate Cycle. In that world, the entire world was a globe of water (no rock core at all, unlike this world) with floating seasuns and seamoons to provide light and heat and a solid place for people to live. A pocket of air surrounded the seamoons, but the water itself of that world was also breathable. The protagonist of that series, when he got dumped into that world, experienced a moment of OMGWTFBBQ similar to Syaoran's. XD
The Missing Worlds - Water World I
Spoilers: This story is set in the uncertain period after Piffle World, but before Recourt; in other words, in the same never-neverland that the second season of the anime mostly took place in. This means that Fai has not yet learned to whistle, Syaoran is still the original Syaoran, and nobody knows anything about Kurogane's childhood.
Summary: Everyone gets very wet, and Syaoran makes a new friend.
They were surrounded by a tunnel of undulating golden light, filled by a rushing sensation of traveling without moving. Colorful images flickered past, too distorted to make out through the thick rippling waves, but Syaoran's attention was not on the by-now familiar magic of transport. Instead, he was preoccupied with thoughts of Sakura.
Despite all of Yuuko's assurances, he was still anxious to be separated from her. Not so much for the worry that she would be in danger while he was gone, but for the persistent fear that he would find the feather, but then lose it before he could get back to give it to her. The moments between when he grasped the feathers and when he was able to return them to her body always filled him with an irrational anxiety, like someone was going to snatch the feather out of his hands at the last moment. That feeling would be ten times worse now; and what if they didn't find a feather in this world at all? He dreaded the thought of returning to Sakura empty-handed. She would forgive him, though. She was so kind. She would smile at him anyway and she would -
He was startled out of his preoccupied daydreams when the strange feeling of vertigo turned abruptly to pure free fall, and then his feet hit something cold and yielding as all four of the travelers hit the water's surface with a massive splash.
The momentum of their fall was enough to push him completely under the surface; it took a moment before he could flail gasping and sputtering to the surface. A wild look around located two pale bobbing heads in the water nearby; Fai and Mokona. It was a few seconds more before Kurogane's dark hair crested the waves, clawing to the surface with a roar like a behemoth from the deep.
"You useless thing!" Kurogane thundered, spitting water and sending splashing arcs everywhere as he flailed for purchase. "What was all that bullshit about how 'transport is a difficult art,' huh? What happened to not landing us in the fucking water?"
"Mokona tries!" the white creature protested. Her small size and light weight at least enabled her to bob on the surface of the water without too much trouble. "But this is where the feather's waves were strongest!"
Syaoran made his way over to his companions with a little effort, treading water in front of Mokona. "But there is definitely a feather in this world?" he asked urgently.
"Definitely!" Mokona nodded in miniature emphasis.
"How far away it is?" Fai prompted her. A stronger wave than the others threatened to toss Mokona away from them; Fai's long hands reached out and deftly plucked the little creature out of the water, placing her on the top of his head like a hat. "There, that should do it," he said cheerily.
"It's close," Mokona said in a hushed voice. "Not very far away at all. But... Mokona isn't sure..."
"Not sure of what?" Syaoran asked.
"Which direction it is," she admitted. "One moment the waves are coming from that direction -" a white ear pointed off in the direction away from the sun - "and then they're coming from over there!" The other ear cocked off at a sixty-degree angle. "It's like the feather flickers."
"Great," Kurogane groaned. "It's never easy, is it? It can never be fucking simple."
"At least we know there is a feather this time," Syaoran said firmly. "So we didn't leave her behind for nothing. At least now we have a place to start."
"Speaking of which," Fai said, "before we do anything else, don't you think we'd better find some place we can get out of the water?"
That gave them all pause. Above them was a blue sky spotted with white clouds; the sun was slanted in the sky, but since they didn't know what time of day they'd arrived it was impossible to gauge the direction. A landscape of silver-capped blue-green waves of water stretched out in every direction, without a rock or a distant shore to break the horizon.
Suddenly, Syaoran reversed his opinion. He was just as happy that Sakura hadn't come to this world after all. "Mokona," he said a touch nervously, "Couldn't you have put us down somewhere closer to shore?"
Mokona's face scrunched up doubtfully. "Mokona can't sense land," she said, "just feathers. But usually it just happens."
Syaoran splashed a little higher, but still couldn't see anything. He took a gulp of air and let himself fall under the surface, opening his eyes under the water and squinting into the distance. The water was surprisingly clear for an ocean, a shimmering jade-green expanse that disappeared gradually into darkness below. But in every direction he looked, he could not see any massive rocks cresting the surface of the water.
"Doesn't anyone live in this world?" he asked when he came up for air, wiping water out of his face. At least it didn't seem too salty, and didn't sting his face or eyes.
"Oh, there's definitely life here," Fai said unexpectedly. "It's just that it's all down."
Mokona nodded solemnly. "The same direction as the feather," she said. "That's down, too."
"Well that's great!" Kurogane groused. "What are we supposed to do? 'Down' is no good for us, and we can't keep swimming like this forever."
Something about the way he said that made Syaoran take a closer look at the warrior. He was treading water, as they were, but much harder and faster with every stroke. Syaoran suddenly realized that the weight of Kurogane's armor, as well as his sword, was dragging him down and making it much more difficult to stay afloat. He was already breathing a little harder than the rest of them.
He exchanged an anxious look with Fai, who tilted his head and narrowed his eyes slightly in acknowledgement. "Hyuu," he said in a musing tone, "what a predicament. Kuro-chama, maybe you should take off your armor? And your sword -"
"No," Kurogane growled in a flat voice.
"But if it's weighing you down -"
"If I take it off now I'll never find it again," Kurogane snapped. "And then what will we do the next time we get into a fight? Don't say stupid things."
"But, Kurogane-san," Syaoran interjected. "There's no land within sight anywhere, which means that even if we can find some quickly, it will be a long swim to safety. Will you really be all right?"
"I'll be fine," Kurogane stressed. "Let's just get started in finding that damn land, okay?"
"So only you get to say stupid things?" Fai snorted. "Really, Kuro-chama, you're only postponing the inevitable. Sooner or later you're going tohave to take off that heavy armor, so why wait and tire yourself out unnecessarily?"
"I wouldn't have to take off anything," Kurogane returned, "if you would just be willing to use your damn magic for a change."
"No," Fai said simply; and although he was smiling when he said it, it was as flat and final as Kurogane's refusal a few minutes before.
"Why the hell not? Armor or no armor, we're all going to drown if we can't find land quickly enough," Kurogane pointed out. "If you could be bothered to make an effort for once, we wouldn't be in trouble at all."
"I already told you I'm not going to use my magic," Fai said.
"Well, I already told you that I'm not going to drop my sword," Kurogane said firmly.
"Kuro-weighty's digging his own grave, then -"
Syaoran rolled his eyes. When the older men got going like this, it could last for hours. "Will you two just stop being so stubborn for once?" he demanded out loud.
The two older men looked at him in astonishment, then shared a glance, both of them raising an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Sorry, I must have gotten water in my ear, did I just hear Syaoran-kun calling us stubborn?"
"Bit of the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?"
Syaoran blushed in embarrassment; he supposed he didn't really have much of a leg to stand on there. "All right," he said hurriedly. "I have an idea. Mokona, you said you feel the feather's waves from two directions, right?"
Mokona nodded solemnly. "It's really hard to pin down," she said.
"Wherever the feather is, the people of this world probably are too," Syaoran reasoned. "So logically, if there's going to be an island or a ship or whatever, it will be in one of those directions that you sense a feather. I'm going to swim in that direction to scout."
"Shouldn't we all go?" Fai asked. "We can reach land sooner that way."
"No," Syaoran said quickly, "because we don't know which is the right direction. I'll just go far enough to find out what's there, then come back. If I find something, we can all go together; if I don't, we can all go in the other direction together." The truth was, it was Kurogane he was worried about. Just treading water was enough of an effort for the big man; swimming long distances would be even worse.
The others raised a few more objections to his plans; but since there was really nothing else for it, they decided to let him go. No sooner had he set off in the direction away from the sun than he heard their voices fall to arguing again.
Syaoran pulled strongly through the waves, the sun at his back and goggles pulled down over his eyes as he swam in the direction Mokona had sensed the feather. He'd left Mokona behind for the same reason he hadn't wanted Kurogane to come with him in the first place; if things got really bad and the warrior completely exhausted himself, Mokona would need to be nearby to pull him to safely. He just hoped that he could find something before he got out of range of Mokona's translating ability, or he wouldn't be able to communicate with anyone even if he could find them.
The goggles over his eyes protected him both from the dazzle of the sun off the waves and the splash of the water when he ducked his head under the waves to look around. Mokona had said the feather was down, but Syaoran couldn't even see the sea floor from here; just the endless expanse of shifting green ocean broken by the drifting, blurry tops of seaweed forests.
The emptiness, the endlessness of the waves and flat horizon were beginning to make Syaoran feel a bit of claustrophobic panic. He was a strong swimmer, and he could keep going for a while, but sooner or later they had to find land or they'd really be in trouble. He wasn't so much in fear for their lives - if it came down to a life or death choice, Mokona could take them out of the world before they drowned. But that would mean abandoning the world without finding the feather; and Mokona might never be able to come back here.
He almost wished he could send the others away with Mokona now, and leave him behind to search for the feathers. It was his own responsibility, anyway - the others shouldn't have to risk themselves in a hopeless situation. But Mokona could only transport out of this world once; then there would be no way to get back to Sakura with the feather once he found it. That thought, more than the burn of fatigue in his muscles or the weight of water against his chest, filled him with choking panic.
Must find it, he thought grimly, arms sweeping around in front of him as he plowed determinedly through the waves. Have to find that feather. It has to be somewhere. He couldn't bear the thought of going back to his princess empty-handed. With the thought of her face firmly in mind, he swam onwards.
On the next duck of his face underneath the surface, he caught sight of a silhouetted figure moving fluidly through the shifting bars of sunlight under the waves. He stopped, flailing his arms back a bit as he tried to steady his position, then took a deep breath and slipped under the water again to try to get a better look. It was some kind of sea animal, sinuous and graceful in its curves - and it was coming right for him.
For a moment he panicked, wondering his odds of fighting off a shark or other hungry sea-creature in its own element - but then he steadied himself. It wasn't like he could run away, after all. If it tried to eat him, he could fight it off; but until then, there was no reason to attack a harmless animal just for being curious.
The animal moved deceptively fast, its powerful finned tail pushing it through the water far faster than he was able to swim. It surged up through the water just a few meters away, and he hastily backstroked and raised his head for a gasp of air just as it breached the surface of the water and arched over his head, landing with a mighty splash behind him.
The sea creature circled him once more, as if wondering whether or not to try for a bite, and Syaoran tensed himself in readiness. It fetched up beside him, and raised a head streaming with shimmering water from the waves to regard him with frank curiosity face-to-face.
Face-to-face. Sakura's face, her familiar sweet features, ginger hair darkened to brown with the wet. But instead of Sakura's leaf-green eyes, these eyes were a brilliant aquamarine color, the lines between pupil and iris and white softened by a translucent membrane. Human head, neck, arms and shoulders, with a torso patterned with copper-colored scales blending into a long, powerful tail like a dolphin's. Delicate, feathery streamers trailed from the ends of the split-finned tail, and more fins trailed gently from her arms and down her back. They moved around her like a dance as she turned in the water, and regarded him with a friendly, curious smile.
"Hello," the mermaid chirped, oblivious to his stunned shock. "What happened to your tail? Didn't it hurt?"
"P-princess?" he sputtered, shock momentarily robbing him of any other words.
The mermaid did another circuit around him, weaving seamlessly above and below the surface while he splashed in a clumsy circle, trying to keep her in his sights. She popped up again to regard him. "I've never seen you here before," she announced in the same high-pitched tone. "And you'revery strange. Where did you come from?"
"I'm - uh - a traveler," Syaoran stuttered. "I come from - from another country." He wasn't quite sure what to offer as an explanation for this trip - they were writing a book? Seeing the sights? Searching for feathers that belonged to, in effect, her? Fortunately, she seemed to accept his surface explanation with goodwill.
"But what happened to your tail?" the mermaid persisted, reaching out under the water to tweak at his foot. "It's all split down the middle. Was it painful?"
Syaoran yanked his foot back, a mortified blush growing on his face as it began to dawn on him that this version of his Princess Sakura was not, in fact, wearing any clothes. The lower half wasn't a problem, since it melded seamlessly into a smooth tail trailing with streaming fins, but her torso and chest - he jerked his eyes away, addressing the mackerel-speckled clouds as he cleared his throat. "No, uh, I never had a tail," he mumbled. "These are legs."
"Legs? Like a crab?" The girl laughed, splashing her tail through the waves and sending droplets in a spattering arc. "That doesn't make any sense! What are you?"
"I promise you I've always had legs - I'm a human," Syaoran said, somewhat nettled. "My name is Syaoran."
She tilted her head to the side, blue-green eyes reflecting puzzlement. "I don't understand. I'm a human, too."
"No, you're -" Syaoran cut himself off before he could correct her, his eyes creeping downwards and then shooting back to the sky once more. The hot blush was creeping down his neck and up his scalp; for the first time, he was gratified by the coolness of the water in this world.
He tried to force himself to think clearly. This was a translation problem, it seemed. Mokona's translation-spell was still working, but since people of every world simply thought of themselves as people, it was only natural that this mermaid wouldn't understand the distinction. "Well, in the place that I come from, we all have legs like this," he said finally. "My friends - my friends look the same as I do. If you want to come meet them, you'll see."
"Oh! Could I meet them?" She sounded delighted by the prospect, as though he had just offered her a real treat.
"Sure," he managed to say. "I'm sure they'd love to meet you too." Her simple, innocent enthusiasm and her squeaky, high-pitched voice were beginning to make him realize - despite his initial panic - that this world's version of Sakura was still only a child. It was hard to tell by the body - the slender, powerful tail was twice the length of the rest of her - but fractured, unavoidable glances at her chest only confirmed the impression; she had a child's body, flat as a board. It didn't make him feel any less uncomfortable at the lack of clothes, but this was obviously normal for her people; at least he didn't feel like his face was going to explode every time their gazes crossed.
"Yay!" In a sudden flurry of excited energy, she dove beneath the surface, powerful sweeps of her tail driving her forward almost blindingly fast. Before Syaoran could react, she suddenly reversed direction, turning on her tail, and came flying back towards him. She broached the surface, arms extended as though she were flying, and seemed to suspended hang in a glittering arc of droplets for a moment before she completed her dive and sliced back into the water. "Let's go! Where are they?"
"U-um - they're back this way, towards the sun," he said, pointing. "But I can't go with them just yet, I need to find -" A sudden thought made him stop. Mokona had sensed vibrations in this direction, and he'd come this way and found a version of Sakura. Didn't it make sense that the waves of the feather and of the feather's owner would be similar? In that case, the feather was probably off in the other direction after all. "Never mind," he mumbled in defeat, dropping his arm. "Okay, let's go."
The swim back along the path he'd come seemed twice as long as the initial journey; partly out of fatigue, made worse by the sun dazzling directly in his eyes, and partly by the presence of his new companion. The mermaid flitted through the water as quickly as a minnow in a stream, attaining effortless speeds and then reversing direction in an instant. Syaoran had always considered himself a strong swimmer, but he felt slow and clumsy and weak when compared to her.
"Princess - wait," he called out as she threatened to vanish out of sight again. He kicked himself for his slip, but he still didn't know her name; at least he hadn't called her 'Princess Sakura.' The last thing he wanted to do was to start confusing them in his mind.
The mermaid swam back to him, her turquoise eyes glowing with concern. "Is something wrong?" she chirped.
"No - yes - I just need a little break," he said. He was panting with the prolonged exertion of swimming, and he was beginning to seriously worry how much longer his endurance could hold out. "I'm sorry. I'm not really meant for swimming all the time. Do you know of somewhere I could get on dry land and rest?"
"Land?" She swirled up beside him, her expression serious and thoughtful. "Dry? I don't understand. What do you mean?"
He groaned; another translation difficulty, and this was going to be a major obstacle. "You know - ground?" he tried a little desperately. "Like the earth - the solid rock that doesn't move?"
"Oh yes, of course!" she said. "But the ground is down there." She pointed off into the emerald darkness. "Do you want to go there?"
"No, definitely not!" he said emphatically, shaking his head. He tried to think of a way to explain it. What would land look like to a creature that lived in the sea? "Look, do you have - mountains? Places where the ground rises up higher than anything else?"
The mermaid nodded. "We have those," she says. "Not right here, though."
"Right, but do you know of any places where the mountains are so high, they break above the surface of the water?" he tried to explain.
Her eyes widened. "You mean, you want ground that floats in the sky?" she exclaimed. "I don't think we have anything like that!"
"No - I mean -" Syaoran struggled to find a way to express the concept, frustrated with the language barrier. He'd always taken Mokona's translation skills for granted; but then, they'd never encountered a people so different from themselves that the concepts simply didn't exist in their vocabulary. "Just a mountain that's really high, as high as we are right now," he explained.
She frowned, her tail swirling up currents of the water as she circled in place. "I don't think so, Syaoran," she said at length. "I don't know everything, but this is my home, and I've never seen anything like what you've described. I've never heard anyone in my family describe anything like that, either, and they've traveled in every direction for many days. I'm sorry."
He groaned. He still wasn't sure he was explaining himself properly, but if she was right, then this whole world might be an ocean, without any landmasses at all. No wonder Mokona hadn't been able to find any solid ground to put them on. Even if there was dry land somewhere in this world, it was so far away that they'd never be able to reach it. "We'd better find the feather fast," he muttered under his breath.
"Sorry?" the girl perked up.
"I said we'd better find my friends fast," he said aloud. "Just give me a moment to catch my breath, and we can start off."
"Would you like me to pull you?" the mermaid offered.
"Er -" Syaoran broke off, flustered. For all the sinuous length of her tail, her childlike frame was small and delicate. "Can you? You're awfully - er -"
"I'm stronger than I look!" she said proudly. "And I swim very fast. I give my little cousins pull-rides all the time. It'll be fine!"
"Well, okay," he muttered, flushing with embarrassment at having to ask for help. But it was true, she could swim much faster than he could; even if she could only pull him along at half-speed, it would still be faster than he could swim on his own.
"Let's go!" Without waiting for any further response, the mermaid seized his outstretched hands and began pushing off with powerful strokes of her tail. Syaoran flailed and sputtered a bit, trying to balance against her unexpectedly forceful pull, before he found a way to relax and let her tow him along.
Unfortunately, while the mermaid had stayed at the surface of the water to talk with him, she seemed to have no such compunction about diving beneath the waves while pulling him along. Syaoran tried to gasp for air the few times he could break above the surface; but as she got into a long, striding speed, the mermaid began to dive further and further below the surface.
At last, Syaoran could hold his straining breath no longer; he had to fight to pull his hand out of hers, and flailed and struggled against the water as he clawed his way to the surface. His lungs were burning, and his eyes watered as he gasped for breath and coughed. A moment later, the mermaid surfaced behind him, her familiar face worried and concerned.
"Syaoran, what's wrong?" she said timorously. "I'm sorry, did I go too fast? Are you motion-sick?"
"No -" he coughed again, and had to take a few deep breaths before he could continue. "It's not - it's not your fault, princess. I need air to breathe, I can't go too deep under the water."
She flipped the surface of the water, huffing out an exasperated breath. "I don't understand," she said.
Syaoran felt suddenly tired, too tired to fight against the cultural barrier. "I don't know how to explain it to you," he said in frustration. "But it's a big problem - me and my friends, we're all in trouble here. We need a place above the water where we can rest, or we can't keep ourselves up. If we get too tired to swim and slip beneath the water, we'll drown."
"I don't understand 'drown,' " the mermaid said. "If you're tired, can't you come to my house and rest? I'm sure my family won't mind. You don't have to stay up here all night."
"No, you don't understand!" Syaoran said, desperation driving anger. "I'm different from you! You can breathe water, but I can't! I need air, or I'll die!"
She blinked at him, and Syaoran felt immediately sorry for yelling at her. This was her world, after all, and he was an intruder here. "Princess - "
"But we're not that different," she interrupted. "We're both human, you and I. I can breathe above the sky and below it. Why can't you?"
"I don't know, I just can't!" he said in frustration.
"Have you tried?"
"What?" He stared at her momentarily shocked speechless. "I - I don't think you understand," he said helplessly. "It's not something I can try. If I breathe water, I'll die."
"I think maybe it's you who doesn't understand," the mermaid said with unexpected firmness. She reached out and took his hands in both her own; the grip of those delicate fingers was astonishingly strong. "Come with me," she said.
"Wait - no!" he said, trying unsuccessfully to free himself from her grip. "Please, don't -"
She met his eyes, her own glowing a vivid blue-green. "Trust me," she said.
He was robbed, momentarily, of speech; in the next moment, she gave a powerful flip of her tail, and pulled them both beneath the surface.
It seemed warmer here beneath the waves, without the cooling breeze above the ocean to steal the heat. More beautiful, too, with the silvery sun fracturing into long, pale bars of sunlight that filtered through blue-green water the color of the mermaid's eyes. He wasn't sinking, but flying. The water's surface was a silvery sky overhead; below them, the waving fronds of seaweed rushed up towards them like treetops tossing in the wind. It was a whole new world, a beautiful world, one he'd never dreamed of before.
Silver bubbles streamed up in front of his eyes as his breath leaked out of him. His lungs were pulsing, red-hot in his chest. This far deep there was no point in struggling; he could only hope that she would be able to get him back to the surface in time before he drowned.
He let out the last of his air, opened his mouth, and breathed.
Water rushed in, and for a moment he panicked under the choking weight. But only for a moment; the cool water seemed to soothe the burning pain of his lungs, and then he found himself breathing in and out, as easily as he could have above the surface. He wasn't - drowning. He was breathing.
~to be continued...