The Captain stood on the beige sands as he had every dawn for a fortnight. Rising above the land behind, the hazy morning sun sparkled on the waves before him. His gaze, however, fell upon a distant island which had been the recent object of his fascination and motive for this seaside ritual.
He checked his pocketwatch, raised his looking glass to observe the island in greater detail, and bid his apprentice to do the same. “Yuki, I don’t know from which side it will begin today, but as sure as the tide the disturbance will come. It is a sight to behold, as the entire island comes alive with activity. Almost as if it is a creature waking from a floating slumber,” the Captain spoke with anxious excitement and just a trace of doubt that today might be different. He picked distractedly at his wiry beard, and noted a forgotten point, “It always starts with the geyser.”
A few tense moments passed between them in silence, absorbed by the rhythmic crashing of waves. The shore was a picture of peace. But then Yuki saw, “There it is, to the north!” An eruption of sea spray had begun to billow up from one end of the island. With it, a small rounded mountain seemed to rise anew from the depths of the sea. Toward the island’s center, the scattered domed buildings of its inhabitants were doused by windblown mist. The air sparkled with the unmistakable pattern of Magic.
“Next, the sound,” noted the Captain right on time. A low, single tone stretched across the water to reach them and continued for perhaps a minute as the pair stood frozen in awe. Gradually, the mountain lowered back into the water, the sound faded away, and the world became still again.
“Magnificent, simply magnificent!” the Captain raved, pleased to finally share his observations. “I have many suspicions to discuss with you now that you’ve seen for yourself, Yuki,” he continued. He pulled a large notebook from his satchel, “Look here now, I’ve been tracking its location. I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t making the observations myself, but I’m quite certain this island is not anchored to the sea floor. Its movements must be slow, drifting with the sea perhaps? But every morning it has been in a different location. Even seeming more near or far.”
The Captain rambled on, frantically flipping through pages of notes. “And you should see the glow at night! Particles of Magic seem to be drawn toward the island, and gather together in broad currents near the surface of the water. Can you imagine what power would come if we can understand how to harvest Magic from the seas?”
“Sir,” Yuki politely attempted to interrupt the Captain’s monologue, to no avail. And again, with greater urgency, “Sir! Please, look!”
“Yes, yes what is–” the Captain lost his words as he looked up from his notes toward the sea. The island had grown larger. Or closer, rather. And it was growing closer still.
The Captain raised his looking glass again for better observation. The small mountain that had previously appeared at its northern end now appeared to be facing their direction, only slightly above the surface of the water. Atop the island, the visible arrangement of the buildings had changed as well. It had surely rotated since last they looked.
With surprising swiftness, it doubled, and then tripled in apparent size as Yuki and the Captain watched in awe. Eager to observe its features in more detail, the Captain noticed almost too late as it turned again to move southward. With its motion, a great wave began to rise and speed toward the shore. “Yuki, we must get to higher ground with haste!” the Captain called as he stashed his things within his satchel and turned to run toward the cliffs behind them.
They scrambled up a rocky slope with desperate urgency as the wave hit shore. Panting, the Captain stumbled once and caught himself, but his satchel slipped from his shoulder and tumbled down toward the beach. With no time to spare, he left it to its fate and climbed finally atop the cliff to safety. Yuki, arriving a moment sooner, extended an arm to help the Captain up.
The unnatural tide consumed the beach and crashed against the bluff. The Captain watched with silent intensity as the island continued to cut through the sea, like a galley with the power of a thousand seafaring Legions. He looked toward the south, where the cliffs extended out to protect the cove beyond. The island had again turned landward, and looked as if it had set a course to crash into the shore. Gradually, though, it slowed as if satisfied with something found in the shallower waters. Yuki remembered that the kelp forest ran parallel to the cliffs here.
“It’s coming,” the Captain almost whispered, as if trying not to break a spell with his words. Changing course once more, the island kept its distance now but cruised lazily north in their direction.
As it grew nearer and passed directly in their line of sight to the horizon, the impossible truth of things became clear. The island was no island at all, but a creature of the sea, large beyond imagination. Beneath the buildings and the vegetation, the “ground” was made of stone scales, layered and linked. They rose and fell slowly with its movement. Its rounded back was like the shell of a turtle protecting a hidden underbelly.
Just above the surface of the water, an eerie eye peered out from the side of what Yuki had thought of as a small mountain. A whirlpool formed ahead of it as it drew water into its cavernous mouth. Barely visible walking about amongst the buildings, inhabitants of the creature-island went about their tasks unimpressed by the morning activity.
Yuki’s mind raced with the flood of new information. “Who are these people and where did they come from? Have they really tamed this incredible creature, or do they simply manage to inhabit its back without disturbing it? Even so, to what end?”
The Captain, though, was already thinking of possibilities. “Perhaps,” he began with feigned uncertainty, “we should attempt to capture it.”