[Trade] The Beautiful Danger of Rivers
"Undertow; noun: a current of water below the surface and moving in a different direction from any surface current."
The changing of the seasons was a predictable sort of change, a measurable passage of time with which to determine the length of one’s own life. Though the death and renewal of foliage was far from the only change the years caused, between the world growing more accustomed to the presence of Vitalus, and Vitalus growing more accustomed to the world.
Two young vayrons also changed as they grew older, mostly in the expected changes as the two pups went from stubby, wobbling legs and overlarge heads to the start of the gangliness of very early adolescence. The size difference between their breeds was becoming much more apparent as well, for despite one being somewhat older than the other, it was the younger who was notably taller and overall larger.
The larger individual, a female with a pelt of variegated amber hue and bright purple paws, was a puller - though her breed’s greater muscle was not quite evident yet in her, her growth spurts outpacing her body’s ability to fill out. Energetic and spontaneous, the young lass, named Autumn after the season she’d been born in, was often seen rushing about town, whether cheerfully running errands or playing one game or another with her various friends.
One such friend was the somewhat smaller individual, a male whose pelt was reminiscent of a fire in the nighttime sky, all fiery oranges and black. A fairly decent size for a runner of his age, his growth was nonetheless unable to keep up with that of his slightly-younger friend’s. Though he was native to Thedale, he and his parents often came to Vitalus, for as he grew older, his magic was outpacing his body’s ability to adjust, and so his parents sought the advice and expertise of the Vitalian experts on magic.
The treatments helped, but young Sunder seemed destined to have to cope with chronic pain.
Sunder had become a familiar face to the town Autumn lived near, for his parents had decided that they would stay there whenever waiting on one of his appointments. This decision had been rooted in the fateful day when Autumn had found the lost Sunder, the two of them then having been very young pups, and her parents had decided to help him find his. Sunder’s parents had been beyond grateful to know that their son was safe, and the two families had hit it off.
“Come on, Sunder!” Autumn was as energetic now as she’d been when they met, if not moreso, and Sunder found himself amused at how she practically danced across the growing grass and melting snow in her excitement. “It won’t last forever, and then you’ll miss it!”
“I doubt a difference of a few seconds will count for much,” Sunder replied drily, but hurried his pace - a trot that became a stretched-out run to keep up with his friend as she bolted across the forest floor. He still wasn’t entirely sure what, exactly, it was that Autumn wanted to show him, just that it was apparently very perishable.
Two blurs - one black and orange, the other amber - sped across snow and grass, leaving clumps of sodden slush flying in their wake. The snow melted entirely where Sunder’s paws hit the ground, his inner fire radiating enough heat to flash-melt frozen water and flash-dry the grass underneath. As he was a safe distance from Autumn, he did not feel too worried, and so relaxed his hold on his fire enough to allow the element to dance within him.
On looking back to check that her friend was still following, Autumn hid a grin when she saw the exhilarated, happy expression on Sunder’s normally reserved face. Mission accomplished, she thought.
She’d noticed her friend hurt more the longer he had to restrain his flame, and that he often withheld himself from activities he enjoyed. When Autumn had asked him why he held himself back so much, his response had been to the effect of him worrying that his fire could hurt others if he were too exuberant. She didn’t remember his exact words, just the meaning they’d held (she was really bad with exact words, but she figured that didn’t matter so long as she understood their content - words were just noise, after all, meaning was more important).
It made Autumn feel bad for Sunder, really - in order to not hurt others, he ended up hurting himself instead. So during one of the times his family had gone back to Thedale, she had researched what sort of activities they could do together that would still leave enough space between them that Sunder wouldn’t have to worry. In her reading, Autumn had found that the runner breed was very aptly named, and it had reminded her that Sunder was no exception to his breed in that regard.
Then it was just finding something to use as an end objective and Operation: Get Sunder To Have Fun was a go.
It should be almost…there! Autumn grinned, spotting their destination ahead. She began to slow down, and Sunder flew past her in a midnight-and-fire blur before he realized the change in pace, and quickly slowed down to match her. As the two went from a run to a trot, they took a few moments to catch their breath - neither was particularly tired, but moving at great speed still forced one to breathe more quickly than one otherwise would.
Sunder caught his breath first, though his words were still slightly breathless, the shadow of his grin still lingering on his face from the run. “So, what’s this thing that couldn’t wait?”
It took Autumn a few moments longer before she could speak - the difference between their breeds, even when they’d matched pace with each other. “It’s just up ahead, come on!”
Autumn sped up just a bit - enough to pull ahead, not enough to prompt Sunder to bolt after her. It was a few moments of weaving between trees and underbrush, paying due heed to thorn bushes, before they came upon a lovely sight: A tall, half-frozen, half-liquid waterfall, with the sun’s rays causing rainbows to scatter across the myriad ice crystals and pale mist.
Sunder was silent for a few minutes, admiring the play of light, ice, and water, a brilliant display of natural elemental beauty. He then looked at Autumn and raised an eyebrow, tail slowly swishing behind him. “It is very pretty, but it probably would’ve survived a least a few more hours.”
“So? Running’s fun!” Autumn replied with a grin, internally thrilled with her success. Of course, she hadn’t planned further than this (early adolescents not tending to have the best of planning skills), so now she was trying to think of what next to do. She could just sit there with Sunder and admire the view for a few hours, but she still had a bunch of energy, and pretty as the waterfall was, it wasn’t very exciting.
“We should learn to swim!” she blurted out, the idea coming to her the very moment she spoke it. “The pool’s only deep near the waterfall, it’s really shallow here!”
“Autumn? We should really have more than just the two of us here, for that,” Sunder told her, taking his gaze away from the pretty sight of the waterfall to watch his sometimes-unpredictable friend with mild concern. “It’s…not the safest to try to learn that without having someone who already can present.”
“Oh, come on, we’ll be fine if we stay in the shallows!” Autumn replied, but looked around for something that might help reassure her cautious friend. Then she pointed with a purple paw at a haphazard clutter of rocks and logs that had fallen over and into half the small river. “If we keep those between us and the downstream, then even if we slip and can’t fight the current, we won’t go down far and can easily get back out. And you have elementalist magic, we’ll be fine!”
“My water control still isn’t that great…” Sunder muttered, but realized Autumn would not be dissuaded. With an exasperated, yet fond, sigh, he gave in. “Alright. But we stay well away from the deeper end, alright? Keep near to the riverbank.”
“Yep!” With nothing more than that, Autumn threw herself into the shallows, making a fair-sized splash that accidentally drenched Sunder. “Oops. But the water’s not bad!”
I suppose at least she waited for me to give the green light this time, Sunder thought, shaking his head. “I don’t know where you find this endless enthusiasm, Autumn.”
“You’re not gonna learn swimming by staying on dry land!” Was Autumn’s response, the younger vayron already moving to where it was just deep enough for her to try swimming.
While his friend’s statement was true, Sunder - still sodden - continued to have his reservations. Yet, Autumn had made some fair points in how they could manage if anything did go wrong, and he didn’t want to leave her feeling like he didn’t want anything to do with the matter. With a sigh, Sunder calmly walked into the water, and carefully waded his way to be reasonably close to Autumn - just in case his water magic was needed.
After making sure he was standing on a stable part of the riverbed, Sunder looked over to see how Autumn was doing…and sighed again, with a fond, yet exasperated, smile upon his face. His dear friend was inelegantly flailing about in the water, clearly having the time of her life, but just as clearly not really achieving much aside from making the water go flying everywhere. It was admittedly rather funny, and Sunder had to murder a chuckle - he really shouldn’t laugh at her fun, even if she did look utterly ridiculous.
So it was the two spent quite a bit of time in the river near the waterfall, Autumn splashing about in her attempts at “swimming,” while Sunder more stood in the water and watched her have fun. Once the young mage of the two was sure his friend wouldn’t be having any issues anytime soon, Sunder turned his attention away from Autumn and to the water itself. Remembering his lessons about the element, he closed his eyes and felt for the current with his magic.
Fire was the element he had greatest aptitude for, a flame burning in his soul so strongly that Sunder could vividly feel it even when he wasn’t looking for it. Water, meanwhile, took more of his focus to find, as his fire was so blinding it nearly engulfed the other elements when he reached for them. This resulted in some steam forming around him, as Sunder was far enough from Autumn that he didn’t feel the need to entirely hold his flames in check, but soon enough he found the liquid element.
The change from ice and snow to water, the gentle ripples giving way to the far stronger current within the river’s centre, was a scene of its own to behold - one best felt, rather than seen. With more surety about where the current and its pull lay, Sunder opened his eyes and finally struck off of the riverbed himself. Careful motions and attentive heed to instinct had his first attempt at swimming be far more graceful than Autumn’s, though it was clear that he too was quite inexperienced.
A yelp drew his attention, and alarm ran through Sunder when he saw Autumn - who had managed to get far deeper than he’d thought she would - flailing under the water. Though his friend was struggling for the surface, her amber-hued pelt helping him pick her out amongst the glare of the sun on the water, she was continuing to be pulled towards the river’s centre - where their safety of logs and rocks wouldn’t buffer her.
She’s caught in the undertow, he realized, recalling a warning he’d heard from those who lived in the ocean harbours he’d visited.
Without hesitation, Sunder threw himself into the water, using his magic to help propel himself towards her - in his panic, it didn’t occur to him to simply freeze a section of the river so that Autumn could have something to catch her. Later on, he would berate himself, but in the heat of the moment, his sole thought was saving her.
Autumn was not sure how it was that she had found herself stuck underwater, but it did not seem to want to let her go - no matter how hard she fought, the pull of the water was greater than her strength, and in her panic, she couldn’t think of a way out of the mess. Later, she’d realize that she had wandered too far from the riverbank, and would make note to pay closer attention next time (nearly drowning was not enough to make her fear water).
Within the heat of the moment, however, Autumn’s only thought had been to try to survive.
With lungs burning from the lack of air, she refused to give up her fight for the surface - and was so invested in her struggle that she almost didn’t notice the sudden temperature change of the water around her. It went from cold, to cool, to warm, to hot in short order, and moments later, she felt a solid form brace against her and shove. Sparing a glance back, Autumn was both startled and grateful to see Sunder there, though also worried that he might get caught in the current, too.
A worry that was soon assuaged, however, as Sunder pushed her onwards towards the surface, and the river’s pull slackened as the water cooled slightly - still warm, but it was clear that Sunder was paying more attention to his magic now. The two fought their way for the surface, and upon breaching into the air Autumn took great, coughing gulps, glad to ease the burning in her lungs.
Sunder coughed alongside her for a few moments, but then gently began to push her towards the shore. Catching the hint, Autumn swam for the riverbank alongside him, and found herself thankful when her paws could finally reach the riverbed again. It took Sunder a few moments longer, but then he, too, was able to stand firmly on the smooth pebbles.
The two collapsed on the soft grass near the riverbank to rest, silent aside from their panting, but glad they had both made it out alive. Autumn looked out to the waterfall, and found she had a new respect for the natural elements - and a greater respect for Sunder’s command of them.
I never thought water could be so strong, she thought, and wondered what else about the world she had underestimated.
“Let’s not train in something like that again,” Sunder requested from beside her, his normally-soft voice rough and weary from recent events. “Not without someone who knows how to handle a snowmelt-engorged river. You’re lucky I know how to recognize when someone’s caught in the undertow.”
“How did you know?” Autumn asked, more curious than frightened about what could have happened to her. Her own voice sounded scratchy to her, and she realized her throat was sore. “I thought Thedale was pure desert.”
Sunder huffed a laugh. “Thedale isn’t pure desert, though a good chunk of it is. But both Thedale and Vitalus have harbours. People who live there warn of what to look for when it comes to large amounts of moving water. I paid attention.”
“You have good ears, Sunny,” Autumn wasn’t sure where the nickname came from, but she was gonna run with it. Sunder didn’t seem to mind it, though he blinked at her in surprise.
“Let’s…let’s go home,” Sunder replied, after a few moments. “This was a fun trip, aside from you almost drowning, but I’m pretty worn out now.”
Autumn gathered her legs underneath her and stood up, Sunder soon doing the same. She looked to him, a smile on her face. “Sure. And hey, now we can swim!”
“Badly, but yes,” Sunder agreed tiredly, then nudged her to start the long trek back home, the two dripping water as they walked.
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