With every new encounter on our journey, it was impossible not to notice the diversity of the areas in which the various sea creatures lived.
However, since leaving Paul the Seal, the environment changed rapidly, and we were in a completely strange world.
It started with a handful of seaweed floating on the surface.
There was an increasing number of green seaweed, until it became almost an impenetrable maze of plants.
We were working our way through it, when suddenly a small nimble body zoomed past. And another one. And three more.
“These are Otters,” Margot explained to us. “We must be in one of their forests. The old Turtle told me about them. Hurry up, let’s follow them.”
Following the Otters, we swam into their forest. There were long leaves floating everywhere, illuminated by the sun as yellow shadows. They were growing from something that looked like the long ropes of those bipeds ... As if they reached from the surface to the bottom.
But even more striking was the number of fish and various creatures. Otter Forest was full of life. Huge shoals of fish swimming from side to side. The sandy bottom was covered in Starfish, shells, Octopuses and Crabs. And above them, individuals were fighting for either territory or food.
Seeing a sight like that, all the ideas about the end of the world seemed foolish.
“Welcome,” an Otter zoomed by.
“Welcome, wanderers,” another Otter followed.
“Swim, swim with us!” a third one said, followed by a fourth: “Come on, we’ll introduce you to our Otter Chief.”
“Hurry up!” they all urged us.
We glanced at each other.
The girls looked curious and excited.
So, we followed them.
On our way to the old Chief, the milling intensified.
Otters, both big and small, were frolicking in the wild waves, racing one another. They were swimming through the forest, hunting sea urchins on the seabed.
I looked up and saw an irregular dark spot on the surface.
“Watch out!” I cried. “There’s a ship above us.”
There were no depths, so we had to hide among the thick leaves.
I noticed that Margot wasn’t with us.
The dark spot suddenly started to fall apart. Piece by piece. As if it was melting. And each of the pieces was approaching us.
“That’s not a ship, Lupin,” Atli stared at the surface. “Those are ...”
“Otters,” I whispered. “And there’s ...”
“Our Margot with them.”
“Yes, look! She’s playing with them.”
“Hey, you two!” she called.
“What are you doing down there?”
“Well ... we’re ... hiding.”
“I can see your bodies perfectly ... swim here, it’s great fun.”
We swam up to them and realised that the ‘ship’ was nothing but a large group of Otters enjoying the sunshine. One next to another, they let the waves carry them with delight.
“Hello, wanderers,” we heard behind us.
“I’m Marlene, the Chief of these Otters and the guardian of the Forest. You’re my guests. Welcome.”
“Thank you, Marlene. You’re very kind. My name is ... “
“Lupin. I know,” she winked at Margot. “And Atli, your girlfriend. Your friend told me everything.”
“Well, just your names, to be correct. That’s all we managed to talk about,” she gave a laugh.
“Alright, guys, get up!” Marlene commanded. “The Forest won’t clear itself. Get your hands dirty. And don’t eat everything in your path again.”
Some Otters stretched in exhaustion and others swiftly dived under the water.
“Hurry up, you lazy group! I want to see you hunting at the bottom.”
The rest of them got lost and we remained alone with her.
“How do you like my Forest, wanderers?”
“It’s beautiful!” Atli exclaimed.
“Really wonderful. I’ve never seen so much life in one place.”
“Wait until you see Coral City,” Margot said.
“I’m glad you like it,” the Chief said contentedly. “You know, if we didn’t take care of the Forest, there would not be one. And all the life would disappear with it.”
“That’s really good of you,” I remarked.
“But it wasn’t always like this. My kind went through difficult times. There was no time to look after the Forest, since we had to take care of ourselves.”
“Here’s one, Chief, take it,” one Otter suddenly emerged.
“Well done, Laila. Thank you.”
Marlene grasped the sea urchin in her paws and started to nibble at it.
“Would you like some, wanderers?”
We refused and she continued with her story.
“This delicacy is the cause of the destruction of the Forest. They do nothing but graze on our home and procreate. That’s why we go hunting regularly to reduce their number a bit.
As I already said, our Forest didn’t always look this good,” she looked around proudly.
“And what happened?” we were curious.
“Well, when I was born, my parents and I hid wherever we could. Our aim was to avoid the shore. But we weren’t safe in the sea either. The bipeds came on ships and hunted us on a large scale.”
“Oh, them again ...” Margot sighed.
“You know them?”
“Of course. They’re behind everything. Everyone has some experience with them. Mostly bad ... Except for Paul the Seal.”
“I wouldn’t think they hunt out on the far ocean as well.”
“Yes, they do,” I recalled my mom, “but they do us other harm as well.”
“Really? They just hunted us. Well, just sounds stupid. They took all my family when I was young. Those were hard times. They especially loved our skin. I never found out what they did with it. The state of our population was so bad that I didn’t see a single Otter for several full moons.
“The water was dominated by greedy sea urchins and forests were replaced by a bare ocean floor. And then, the ships suddenly disappeared. Even the shores were safe. But it took a long time before any Otter dared approach the mainland.
The massacre stopped, the sea grew silent and my kind was near extinction. Maybe they didn’t like it that the undersea forests were vanishing. But they could have realised that without the endless bloodshed.”
“My dad used to say that we always learn when it’s too late. Perhaps it applies to the bipeds, too. And it seems,” I looked around, Otters were frolicking, playing and hunting, “that they managed to stop the destruction in the nick of time.”
“I hope it stays this way. My grandma once told me about her youth – Otters were so numerous that there was not even space to swim. I didn’t believe it, but lately I do. I’m convinced that we can all live in harmony.”
“That would be wonderful, Marlene,” I said. “It’s great that you are prospering.”
“Where are you actually going?” the Chief asked us when all the Otters began to escort us from the bay out to the open sea.
“To Coral City,” Atli smiled. “It’s our mythical goal.”
“I’ve never heard of it, but Dolphins live close by. You’ll surely meet them.”
“Excellent. Dolphins are always good fun,” I was excited. “Shall we give them a message?”
“Just pass my greetings to them. From old Marlene. And that we’d love to go hunting with them.”
“Take care, wanderers.”
“You too, guardians of the lush forests. It was our pleasure.”