Joey was lying on the grass. The sun was sinking. He dozed off, and now he’s falling into a sea of darkness, unable to breathe. Flailing and panicking should be the staple, but he had had this kind of dream before. Screaming wouldn’t help, either. He’d probably live through this bad dream. It’s not like someone was sitting on his stomach or something. Like… please.
Wait. He tried to open his eyes but couldn’t. For the first time, he waved his arms, flailing shyly to test the waters. He laughed at that pun. Right. He couldn’t breathe. He seemed to be too calm about this. He clicked his tongue. Salty. It might be an ocean this time around, but it was different. His dreams had been tasteless before. It felt like it’s…
His eyes shot wide. It’s real. Wait, it couldn’t be. He couldn’t see anything. Right. Seeing anything other than the darkness would make it a bit easier. He would need to know where he’s at. But if it was real, then he’d die in a minute. He had to admit that he couldn’t breathe, and it didn’t seem like it’s affecting him at all.
His vision blurred.
It should not even be possible.
He couldn’t even open his eyes.
So this was real.
Joey flailed around, baring his mouth, screaming and forming bubbles as he combed through the water to drag himself upwards. It was dumb. He was dumb. He shouldn’t have panicked. He couldn’t breathe. Oh god. His eyes had been open ever since he had awakened. It was just that this blanket of darkness was embracing him. Right. He didn’t even know which way was up.
He’s fucked, not in the good kind he had always dreamed of.
He scoffed at those swimming lessons for being a tad too expensive for organisms living on land, but who’s laughing now? No one. He couldn’t. He’s physically incapable of even shedding a tear. And those people who ran that business didn’t even know about him.
It was a bad time to monologue. He’s drowning. He could feel the saltwater burn as it violated his throat and rammed itself into his stomach and lungs. It hurt. He’s going to burst. He’s getting crushed. His body stiffened.
The darkness blurred again.
It was as if he could differentiate this abyss from the darkness that he’s used to. He saw it twisting, turning, like it’s breathing, like a mouth baring its teeth to swallow his existence.
Then something came.
A roar came, and the crushing darkness shivered. Rattling water filled his ears. The direction he’s facing didn’t matter. All he knew was that whatever it was beyond him looked back, and its silver, jagged teeth ripped through the darkness like a curtain. Holy shit, those teeth were big. Its golden eyes glowed.
It was the Bakunawa, the sea’s leviathan—the dragon who devoured the moon.
“Good,” it bellowed.
Joey choked and finally blacked out.
“You have recognized your place. You may now breathe.”
Light flashed Joey’s eyes open, having him wake up gagging on his knees and wheezing into his next breath. He’s kneeling. Coughing. It took a while before his vision recovered from all of that brightness, but it bought him enough time to look around and realize the deep blue throne set in front of him.
The huge woman that this seat beheld slowly clapped. “Welcome. I have deemed you worthy of my audience.” Her golden eyes narrowed as she grinned. “Joey.”
Joey tried to raise his head to meet her gaze, but he couldn’t. On that note, he couldn’t move either. This was a bitch of a situation that he got himself into. But this was a situation where people like him would shine. To make things better, his boss was a beautiful-sounding, huge, domineering woman this time.
“I’m pleased that you have found me worthy…”
“Sinaya. I am the Goddess of the Sea. Everything beyond these lands is mine. Every sip of water. Every drop of rain. Every dew that would wet the leaves upon a cold night experiencing the dawn finally breaks… That is me.”
“Then, allow me to refer to you as the Empress, to encapsulate how your dominion matters into this world as a foreigner that had been humbled by your sheer presence.” Joey’s lips perked into a confident smile.
Sinaya chuckled, leaned back in her chair, and placed her thick, scaled leg over the other. “Keep talking.”
“I’m afraid that I cannot.”
“Why is that?”
“I simply know far too little,” he took a sharp breath to conjure an anguished tone. “I might have already proven how well-versed I am with my tongue, but I simply cannot dare to give you more based on your voice alone in fear of sullying your beautiful image. As someone that you have given the right to even feel your presence directly, I cannot have that.”
Sinaya scoffed. “Very well.” She moved her arm slightly, probably to twirl a finger. “You have gained the right to raise your head.”
“Thank you, your highness—”
Holy shit. She’s hot.
Her bare feet reminded him of her authority, as she allowed the ground to hold her soles. Her indigo scales stretched and glittered over her long legs and thick thighs. She wore no dresses. Her wide hips rested near the back of her chair, bringing up her straight torso that reminded him more of an hourglass as it firmed her supple chest draped in the same luminescent scales. It led him to her well-defined collarbone and lined neck, where her silky short brown hair quivered in fear of a cold touch. His gaze stopped at her deep blue lips, wet and parted by her domineering smile.
Sinaya chuckled again. “Your silence amuses me, foreigner.”
“I…” Joey lowered his head, begging for his nose not to bleed. “I’m glad that you allowed me of such privilege. I cannot seem to collect the right words to perfectly describe your beauty other than listing them according to my bare and savage thoughts.”
“If I had to be brave, one word that I could think of to describe my savage thoughts is that you’re one bombastic dynamite gal.”
“I see.” Sinaya kept her smile. “Interesting. But back to the matter at hand.” She tucked a bit of her hair behind her ear. “You have heard your friend, Uncle, say the name of… dare I say… that bitch.” She looked to the side, confused. “Tell me, Joey, am I using that word correctly?”
“Bitch? Definitely. Your capacity to learn our tongue is exemplary.”
“That bitch, Apolaki.” Sinaya smiled to herself. “It rolls off the tongue, nicely, don’t you think?”
“Very much so. Do you hate him?”
“I wish he would choke on his own narcissistic thoughts, but a Goddess like me can dream.”
“Then you’re using it in the best possible way.”
“Great.” Sinaya snapped her fingers. “I’ll allow you to get on one knee to talk. I don’t want to stare at you like you’re some sort of beast.” Joey was forced to follow and set his gaze upon her deep golden eyes. “Gods, even dead ones who call themselves Anitos, unlike me, have their respective domains and authorities. Sometimes, we would allow people to serve as our champions to let the world know that we’re still relevant, and probably because we’re bored—I’m the bored one. To make it easier for you, Uncle, your friend, is the bitch of that bitch, Apolaki, the Dead God of the Sun. Do you have any questions?”
“Just one.” Joey smiled. “I do not mean to offend you, but I want to know why I’m here.”
“A good question. Don’t worry. It makes you seem more than a bug, and it pleases me that one of the few beings that I’ve allowed to use my authority knows how to think. Be proud of this.” Sinaya chuckled, leaned to her side, and propped her chin with the back of her palm. “You don’t know it. But you desire power. We Gods cannot establish contact with beings that desire something that would ask for a miracle. You have gained my audience. You will be allowed to use my authority, but that looming question of desire would be for you to answer alone.”
“You have the authority to heal any living creature and command water to move according to your will because I will feel that you’ll amuse me.”
“You dare mock—”
“I’ll be that powerful, huh?”
“Thank you, Empress.” Joey followed, grinning but bringing up the utmost respect that he could muster through his tone. He raised his chin and tested his determination against her golden eyes. “I happen to know the best way to make my enemies and allies alike respect your name. And it’s not just by drowning.” Joey twisted his lips into a mischievous grin. He didn’t know what allowed him to do so. “You seemed to have brought me the greatest gift ever.”
Sinaya chuckled. “I’ll watch you closely.”
“Thank you very much.”
“But before all that, I shall let you go; you have matters to attend to. You’ll have to do something for me. That bitch has begged for my assistance.” Her eyes narrowed. “I want you to punch Uncle in the face and knock him out.”
Joey nodded and laughed. “Yes, ma’am!”
Sinaya graced him with a small laugh before snapping her fingers.
He woke up in the same spot and looked around as the humid wind blew. He saw the flickers of torches slowly moving into their front gate. There were no guards. Shit. There was no room for thought. He ran and followed the small glint of candlelight inside the largest house of the compound.
Lucy was clinging onto Uncle’s arm. Jonathan was arguing with them. The rest of their crew were hugging the shadows of the wall. Enteng was nowhere to be found. Enang was nowhere to be seen.