The tides in the Kelp Spire Forest rose and fell in a regular pattern, with the high tides generally leaving a hundred meters of stone above the water and the low tides revealing at least twice that much with kelp wrapped tightly around the spires. During the high tides resting on the surface grew more difficult as the various fisher birds were more likely to harass anyone that came too close to them. During that time, unless they specifically wanted to hunt any of the seabirds, time was generally spent underwater or holed up in one of the constructed ‘caves’.
During a high tide creatures from deeper often rose closer to the surface, even rising to higher relative depths than they normally stayed at. This also changed the ecosystem around certain parts of the kelp and grasses that grew along the stone spires. Some of the creatures were purely defensive with no desire to attack humans- but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t defend whatever they thought of as their territory. In some cases that included the spikefish with pike length spikes that it was difficult to reach past even with a spear, and the best option was to just retreat as quickly as possible to avoid becoming a pincushion.
The most important creatures were the ones that sought out spirit water to devour. They were competitors with cultivators but were also useful. They could find hidden stores of spirit water that it was hard for a cultivator to detect, and they didn’t necessarily absorb the spirit water in the same way. Some stored it inside of them for various reasons, while those that did absorb it generally used it to enhance their flesh- making it beneficial to consume them.
Their current target was the toothtongued sparkleback. Its name made its features quite clear- it had luminescent scales on its back, creating small motes of light to attract creatures towards it without revealing its full size. As for how it looked, like many deep sea creatures it was just a lumpy, ugly fish- but that didn’t stop it from being dangerous. It had fewer and smaller spines than the spikefish, but it had enough to make it difficult to approach from most angles. Its tongue was long and flexible, with spikes coming out of it meant to impale a creature and drag it into its mouth.
Even with his ability to see in the dark John found it difficult to parse the creatures, as the motes of light could briefly disrupt his darkvision unless he was ready for it. He wouldn’t suddenly lose track of the creature but being even a little bit off on the location of a spine was quite an issue.
Currently Matayal was fending off one from the front, using her spear to catch the darting tongue and keeping it at bay. John was swimming up from below where its defenses were the weakest. With a quick thrust of his sword he stabbed into its belly, slicing it along to cause the most damage possible. At the same moment, the tonguetoothed sparkleback had wrapped its tongue around Mayatal’s hands and spear, unable to stab into her flesh through her defensive energy but locking its tongue around her just the same.
There was a constant motion of the tides, so when the water pushed up slightly on the two cultivators they thought little of it. The sparkleback was barely alive but kept a solid grip on Matayal, so John was moving to help her with its tongue which was almost like a knot. He couldn’t just take a big swing with his sword since the slippery tongue might deflect it to her more vulnerable fingers. When the water began to pull downward it also seemed like normal motion for the first moment, until it accelerated.
Even as John sliced through the tongue from the inside, cutting away from Matayal’s hands and freeing her spear, the water around them accelerated downward. Without having experienced anything like it before, the two of them grabbed onto each other and started swimming as they could, pushing the water out of the way with air and sliding through it with the help of water energy. They had, for a brief moment, tried to swim up and away from the pull of water- but they soon realized that was futile as they accelerated downward ever more quickly and began to be pulled into a vortex.
Both of them heightened their efforts as they swam to the side to leave the area of the whirlpool around them. But of course, they were not the only ones affected. Their guards had been more than a dozen meters away but the other sea creatures around them were pulled towards the center of an underwater vortex with them. Even as they tried to move away they had to push their way past swimming creatures who weren’t necessarily happy to have humans close in on them.
Even as they shoved creatures out of the way with their weapons the press of bodies and various sharp teeth, fins, and extraneous spikes tore through their defensive energy as they were pulled ever deeper into the darkness below. Eventually John and Matayal were battered back into the center of the area and had to accept that they wouldn’t be able to pull away, holding onto each other and combining their defensive energy in layers around the two of them, water and air cushioning them from the outside with harder earth in the middle.
When the downward pull stopped, a frenzied battle began. None of the various sea creatures were happy about being suddenly pulled into each other, and they just wanted to attack everything around them. That included John and Matayal, who fought back as one entity. When possible they directed gnashing teeth and spines at the surrounding sea creatures. Blood and various unpleasant substances filled the water, obscuring their vision and energy senses. They didn’t even have time to think about the great pressure bearing down on them, doing their best to minimize the wounds they took.
After a few minutes, a handful of victors emerged from the battle. A ten meter long shark swam off with a dozen other monstrous sea creatures in its maw, slowly swallowing them two or three at a time. Another portion of the creatures were carried away by something that seemed to be only a mass of tentacles or perhaps a large group of squirming eels with no central body visible. John and Matayal came out with only a selection of relatively smaller gashes and holes in them, at least compared to the dead creatures. The wounds stung, and at least a few spines were stuck in them. Either those or some of the fluids or both were poisoned, and they had to circulate what remained of their energy to try to cleanse themselves while also resisting the pressure bearing down on them.
John almost began to swim upward, intending to angle away from where they ended up- but he caught sight of a myriad of creatures circling above, waiting for bodies to float to them. He knew he wasn’t in a state to get in more combat, and Matayal wasn’t any better than him.
“This way,” Matayal intoned through the water. John held onto her hand as they overlapped energy, helping each other expunge the various toxins inside them as best they could. They should bind their wounds, but they couldn’t really afford to sit still for that, and they needed their hands on their weapons.
It soon became clear that there was a layer of creatures that they had been dragged past- along with several other vortexes around them- a layer that didn’t seem likely to disperse any time soon. Without knowing if they could find their way around them, they had to instead look for somewhere to shelter. John could continuously cleanse their air, but while they were active they recovered energy more slowly.
A few minutes later John noticed a bigger problem than the constant pressure around them that would surely kill a normal human. It was cold. A cultivator could stand about in freezing cold weather or even a storm without too much issue, but the amount of heat that was sapped by the chilling water was much greater than a bit of cold wind or even rain. The tiny bit of fire inside him did little good to fend of the freezing water. “It’s too cold…” John looked down. He was sensitive to different types of energy, and he felt just a little bit of fire. “There. We’ll have to go deeper.”
Matayal looked at him like he was crazy, but went along with him without complaint. Soon enough she was able to pick out the same thing he had- wavering black clouds filled the water surrounded by strange growths and a number of small creatures. John just hoped that nothing around the hydrothermal vent was aggressive… or at least not too many things. More likely something would approach to try to eat the various goodies there. But as they approached, nothing happened- except they soon began to feel overly warm. But a little bit too warm was better than the feeling of their fingers and toes beginning to freeze from the outside in.
“I didn’t expect there to be fire element deep in the sea,” Matayal said.
“Someone has to have seen these before,” John said, “Though I suppose any water cultivators might hesitate upon seeing the large number of creatures along the way.” He didn’t have a good control over water energy, so he imagined some of his words were lost as they talked, but Matayal seemed to get the gist of things. “But hydrothermal vents are warmed by the heat towards the planet’s core. Well, probably just the mantle.”
“There is fire element under the ground? I thought that was just near volcanoes.”
John shrugged slightly, wincing as the bandages he was wrapping pulled on a wound that was barely stitched up. At least he’d been able to mostly keep the saltwater out of it with his energy, but it wasn’t fully possible when wrapping a soaked bandage around it. “Unless things are fundamentally different than on Earth- which they might be- the core heats up for a variety of reasons I admit to not having studied carefully. But volcanoes and the like merely form where the crust is broken through. Even around here, the spires-” he gestured towards the nearest one they could see, which had no kelp wrapping it at the same depth as them. “They had to have been caused by volcanic activity of some sort. Maybe they even formed from the vents?” John shook his head. “Though there would have to be a bit more to it than that.” He looked around, “Do you know what could have pulled us down?”
“That’s not a phenomenon that was described for this area. So it must be quite irregular.” She looked at the ground below them, “Are those strange wriggling things eating the black gas clouds?”
“Probably the microorganisms in it. Though there should also be minerals…”
“Interesting. As for what actually pulled us down…” she looked vaguely in the direction they came from- John was fairly certain he couldn’t place it precisely. “Perhaps it was the breath of a sea god. That is one of the explanations for vortexes.”
If they were on Earth, John would have directly rejected that explanation. But here, there could certainly be something fitting the description. “A sea god being…?”
“Some sort of ocean dwelling spirit beast of gargantuan size. A leviathan, they are sometimes called. Nobody knows how many varieties there are, since they are generally avoided like any extremely powerful beast. Nobody would dare to hunt a beast with a cultivation at the peak of the world.”
“I don’t feel a powerful cultivation like that,” John said. “Just the smaller beasts and the less concentrated elements. Water, earth, fire, darkness, a little bit of air, and the tiniest bit of light.”
“Perhaps it is not a sea god. It could have been caused by some strange tidal fluctuation we do not understand,” Matayal said. “Or perhaps the spirit beast is so vast we cannot comprehend it with our senses.”
John really didn’t like how plausible the latter option was. He knew the density of energy he would expect for a human at the peak, somewhere at an order of magnitude or two greater than Johannes Dalen of the Amber Heart. But if it were a spirit beast of vast size, who could say that it wouldn’t feel like the ocean itself? The stronger water energy in the area could be the cause of it living nearby, or the byproduct of its presence. If there really was such a beast, being dragged down below was merely a result of something else it was doing. He would hate to draw its ire. He sighed as much as he allowed himself to do underwater, then looked upwards. “We’ll have to find a way back to the surface. Preferably with minimal new bite marks. What should we do first?”