Approaching a creature fifty times their height, John and Matayal were reasonably cautious. With a single flap of its tail it could crush them, should it have cause to do so. While they could expect it to not have fine control over its energy, their ability to defend themselves against it would be limited at best. And that was if it didn’t decide they were food.
In this case, their small size was an advantage. So far they had only seen the hundred meter long whale eat giant squid rivalling itself in size, so two tiny humans were probably not targets for it. They had a difficult choice as they approached- to conceal themselves and potentially surprise it with their presence, with unknown consequences… or try to approach it as they were and hope it was uninterested in them.
They settled on the latter, since if things went as predicted they would find themselves pressed up against the creature sooner or later. Even if they were small, suddenly having something on its back might cause the creature to act unpredictably.
They approached at an angle, closer to the back but not directly over the tail. The creature was casually swimming along, though given its size even a casual speed was rather quick. They had to streamline their way through the water as they approached to keep up.
The whale’s body undulated up and down in a slow pattern, but they knew it could speed up the process when it was intending to attack and move with surprising rapidity. When they were less than fifty meters away- nearly as close to the creature as its middle was to either end- it turned slightly to the side. An eye the size of a small house turned to regard them for a moment before the creature continued forward on its same path.
The two cultivators continued to approach slowly, not making any sudden movements. Then they were suddenly sucked downward a dozen meters, as if the water fell away from them. The whale dropped the same distance, but they were still disoriented for a moment.
Whatever was happening in the depths, whether the actions of a sea god or simply some sort of natural process of an ocean with condensed water energy, it was about to begin. The two of them picked up their pace, swimming forward to catch up to the whale and swimming over the center of its back. It had several large protrusions on its back to the rear of the middle where they placed themselves.
John looked around below them, searching for something. As his energy extended forward he finally found it, quite far from where he thought it would be. “We shouldn’t have to worry about the blowhole. It’s almost on its nose. I always thought of them as closer to the middle of its back.”
“It is different by species, I believe,” Matayal commented. “I have seen them along the spine behind the head, but this is a different type than around Pualani. The lower jaw is too flat.”
Any further conversation was cut off as they dropped through the water again. Due to different rates of deceleration, they ended up impacting the back of the whale. Not quickly or with much force, but their feet were firmly planted on its back. They waited for a few tense moments, but not much happened. Then the water dropped once more.
John and Matayal held onto each other’s hands. If they were going to be dragged deeper into the depths, at least they would be together. There were several more stuttering drops through the water… and then they felt great pressure from below, the whale pressing into them.
With little reference around them but the relative position of other swimming creatures, it was difficult to tell how quickly they were moving as they suddenly rocketed upward, but the whale was pressing against them from below. Its back was slippery, but John and Matayal had both spent time on Cyclone Island, and Matayal had the experience of being a water cultivator all her life. They continued to hold on to each other as they pressed towards the surface.
It appeared the water was moving unevenly. They were able to pick out ‘jets’ of water, if a jet could be ten to a hundred meters across. Perhaps pillars was more correct. Either way, the whale they were riding was directly above one. Its bulk limited how much of the flow passed it on either side, and thus it moved up more quickly than everything above it. In short, they soon began to pass through the most vicious layers of the depth with things crashing down on them.
The back of the whale was a reasonably sized arena for them to dash around, avoiding impacts of the creatures. Every creature that struck the back of the whale was immediately provoked, and those who didn’t get pushed off the sides by the sweep of water in both directions thrashed around wildly.
There was some advantage to being humans with legs at the moment. The whale was moving upwards and creating something much like gravity pressing them to its back, so they could almost move normally except for the friction of the water. Most of the swimming creatures didn’t do so well while pressed against the back of the whale or tumbled about by the impacts. But there were enough teeth and other weapons that even if they didn’t intentionally target the two cultivators, they had to defend themselves.
Teeth were one thing, but those didn’t extend far or flail wildly. The handful of sharks around John and Matayal were one of the smaller concerns. More dangerous were the startled electric eels, indiscriminately shocking around them as they found themselves in danger. The energy was easily negated by the whale, but John had to repeatedly redirect flows of energy around himself and Matayal while the two of them dodged teeth and flailing tentacles.
The two of them dodged forward to avoid being under a school of jellies, not wanting to contend with toxic stingers. While their defensive energy could prevent them from being touched, that only worked until they exhausted their energy. Without proper rest they were still in a weakened state, and had to conserve their efforts.
The whole time they were dodging and weaving their way through the creatures around them, the whale on whose back they were riding seemed wholly unconcerned. If it wanted to, it could get out of the upwards jet of water with a few flaps of its tail, but it basically didn’t move a muscle the whole time. Until a squid appeared in front of it.
The whole whale lurched forward as it lunged for a tasty mouthful of food, destabilizing everything on its back and sending John and Matayal flying into its hump. Matayal stabbed out with her spear, stabbing into the protrusion to stop them. She was aware that it risked angering the creature, but being flung into its flapping tail would be far worse anyway. John yanked on her grip as she suddenly stopped, but the two of them held firm, their energy intertwining to make them more connected than ever.
Though her spear was driven into the whale the full length of its head, the whale didn’t seem to notice. After all, what was a twenty or thirty centimeter hole to something of that size? Or perhaps its hump simply didn’t have any feeling to it. Regardless, its energy still wanted to cover the whole of its back, and it statically pressed inward around where Matayal’s spear had pierced through a small section. John had experience with something similar in the stone forest, and sustaining a solid defense would work well enough, as long as the creature wasn’t intentionally targeting a specific point. They could handle the small portion of its energy dedicated to the spot they were standing.
With her spear being used to anchor them, it became John’s job to twist around the two of them and fight off approaching creatures. Those that had no intention to attack them he simply deflected when he could. He avoided piercing his sword deep into anything, afraid he wouldn’t be able to withdraw it. Instead, he settled for a thrust along a creature’s side.
The next thing that struck was a whole school of fish- neither side wished to meet each other at the speeds they were going, but they had little choice. John wrapped himself around Matayal and made use of the Unbreakable Boulder technique to protect the two of them with earth energy as they endured the impacts. Light began to be visible around them once more.
Then a tangle of giant kelp wrapped over the top of the whale, starting at the head and sweeping towards the tail where John and Matayal stood. Even with only a moment to react, they coordinated their efforts to meet the incoming danger. Being dragged off or entangled themselves would leave them in an unknown state, but the mess of plants was too big for them to swim over- and they would have to leave behind Matayal’s spear if they tried.
John took a two-handed stance with his sword, Matayal supporting him with her free hand from behind. The water in front of him parted through the power of Matayal’s water energy while he slashed forward with his reserves of air energy, making his blade as sharp as he could possibly manage. For a moment he caught on the mess of leaves and the thick core of the plant, but he managed to slash through it, though he staggered backwards.
He realized that he needed to refresh their air. He had only just begun to make the attempt when suddenly they were hit with a rushing wind. Not the press of water, but of air. John squinted as he saw the sunny sky, and coughed up a mouthful of water as he subconsciously took a breath.
He turned to Matayal with a grin, but before he could say anything his face fell. The water below them was rapidly falling away, except for the jet underneath them. For some reason, he’d thought they would stop when they reached the surface of the water. “Should we jump…?”
John’s words were dragged away by the wind, and speaking in a way meant to be heard in air instead of water was suddenly odd, but Matayal seemed to understand regardless. “After the waterspout ends. And I’d really like to retrieve my spear… this is my good one.”
John nodded. He was already splitting the air above them, threatening to push them off the whale just as surely as the water before, but he redoubled his efforts as they took a low stance, then pulled together on the spear. It took two yanks before it pulled free, but the whale didn’t seem to react in any way. Just when John was wondering if it had somehow died, a spray of water came out of the front end of the creature, the blowhole where he would expect a nose to be.
The jet of water was suddenly no longer beneath them and they felt weightless, but they were still moving upwards. John was about to suggest they jump when his vision was suddenly obscured by the clouds. “After we get below the cloud layer!” John was half-yelling to be heard clearly through the whipping wind. “We’ll look for a safe landing spot! Until then, the whale should slow down more due to drag!”
It was a beautiful sight, seeing the clouds from up above. It would have been peaceful if they were flying in an airplane above it… or flying at all, instead of simply having been launched into the sky. At least the sea creatures had all tumbled off the whale and nothing was attacking them at the moment.
They hung in the air for a moment, then the whale tilted forward as if it were getting ready for a dive. John and Matayal gripped each other’s hands as their feet disconnected from the top of the whale, and they were falling.
Creating a parachute with the tools available in this world wouldn’t be difficult. Strong, light cloth and string were absolutely something he could have obtained. But neither John nor Matayal would have thought they would find themselves falling out of the sky when they went on an expedition to the Kelp Spire Forest, at least not more than the hundred meters or so the spires stuck out of the water.
Either a few moments or an eternity later and they were once more below the cloud line. As they looked down, they could see that in many places the water had withdrawn, leaving two or even three hundred meters of stone spire sticking up. It also left some patches where there was almost dry land… which was certainly not where either of them wanted to land. John knew that hitting water at terminal velocity was similar to hitting concrete, but with water element energy that could be mitigated somewhat. And he hoped they could slow themselves down somewhat before the impact. John and Matayal looked at each other and nodded before picking a target and letting the wind carry themselves away from whatever small shelter the whale provided.