Every shift he just floats off by himself, completely out of formation, daydreaming. Putting us all at risk. If I were Reefguard Ts'idjuŗŗ, I'd swim over there and give him a good tailsmack to the face, make him pull his head in and get back to his post. But Ts'idjuŗŗ just keeps patrolling back and forth, inspecting the line or staring over the Edge into the abyss, acting as if nothing's out of place.
Some of us have been grumbling. Shanz'ched thinks the newcomer's birthqueen must've sent word to our Nest to make sure he got special treatment here. But Chonj'ŗŗa disagrees; he says we'd know it if Zunz'ish were that highborn, and that it's far more likely the puny little scrub is directly related to someone moderately important like a cross-Nest Maarguard. Whoever it is must be collecting on a favor, he says.
It would make sense I guess. Politics between Zunz'ish's birthnest and ours are complex these days, to say the least. If an order has indeed been sent down through the ranks to leave the outsider alone, it would explain why Reefguard Ts'idjuŗŗ has been turning a blind eye to the lazy algaescrub ever since he transferred here.
Whatever the reason, it doesn't give Zunz'ish the right to dilly-dally where he pleases and leave a hole in our defenses. If the Murk launched an attack right now, I reckon it would take Zunz'ish at least twenty seconds to swim over to his spot in the grid and synch up with the rest of us. By then we'd be dead; I've seen attacks come so fast that even a delay of five or six seconds would've cost us our lives. And if even one of us dies, the grid fails, and then the Nest will almost certainly fall.
I wonder if he even has the salt to do the job. They only put elite metasingers like ourselves, the best of the best, here on the Edge. But we're trained for this. If Zunz'ish is just some dandy that has been placed here so that he or someone else can get a fin or two up in his career, then may the Four-Lights help us, 'cause we're doomed.
"Sir? What's that up there?" I hear Shanz'ched say. He's staring toward the surface.
As Reefguard Ts'idjuŗŗ makes his way over, I follow Shanz'ched's gaze. Far overhead I can barely make out wave shapes in the dim moonlight. But something else is there, too. Whatever it is seems to be growing.
The Reefguard watches it awhile. "Flotsam, most likely. Nothing to worry about."
"No sir, I think.. I think it's sinking," Chonj'ŗŗa whistles.
"Nonsense," Ts'idjuŗŗ trills.
But sure enough, the dark mass above us appears to be coming closer. Not only that, it seems to be dividing into sections. A chill ripples down my dorsum, immediately followed by a hollowness in the pit of my stomach.
A trick. We've been duped. No sooner do I look down than the first shockwave comes roiling up from the darkness below.
My voice cracks from panic. "ATTACK!!!"
The others race back to their posts, and we begin tuning up as quickly as we can. Out of the corner of my left eyecluster, however, I can see that Zunz'ish has not budged.
"Sir!!! Zunz'ish!!!" I screech, nodding in the slacker's direction.
The Reefguard simply eyes me and shakes his head. "He'll be fine. Do your job, soldier."
"No time," he warbles. "Form the grid, now."
Outranked, I shut up and do as I'm told.
Our voices coalesce into a protective grid less than a second before the first shockwave hits. We're in too much of a hurry, though, and the concussion nearly knocks us out of sync. Below, rising fast, is the bulk of the Murk, evil and dark and hungry as ever. I shut my eyes in concentration.
The shockwaves always come in threes for some reason. The second buffets us harder than the first, but our makeshift grid holds. Bracing myself for the final assault, I sing as loudly as I can, and can feel my comrades doing the same. We're a soldier down, though. And the Murk is already level with the Edge.
The third shockwave slams into us. The Murk looms immediately behind it, sending out a thousand shadowy tendrils to surround us. Above, the sinking mass from the surface reveals itself to be more of the same. Very clever, I reflect. A distraction tactic, and we were stupid enough to fall for it.
One of the dark tendrils slices perilously close to Shanz'ched's throat, causing him to flinch. We react, and the grid falters.
"HOLD!" yells the Reefguard, but deep down I know it is too late. And that sooner than I ever expected it would be, my death is upon me.
A clear, piercing note rises from off to the left. I open my eyes just in time to see a reddish globe billow outward from Zunz'ish's position. Expanding as it travels, the strange sphere heads straight for the bulk of the Murk, tearing through the reaching tendrils and leaving fragments in its wake.
It strikes the Murk square in the face. A great bellowing rumbles around the Edge, snapping coral and stirring up a swirling storm of sand and dead fish. The dark beast writhes, vomiting forth a cataract of black mud from its terrible maw.
When the debris finally clears, I peer over the Edge just in time to catch a glimpse of the wrecked mass of the Murk as it plummets into the blackness below.
I can't believe it. We're alive, and the nest is safe. And there's Zunz'ish, still floating off by himself, still daydreaming as if nothing happened.