Reshfen, Seafaes Territory | Mid-winter
Ondes Aequitas’s recollection of the day he accidentally became a father was jumbled at best.
In the destruction that struck the Seafaesi city of Reshfen that day, no one that survived dared to leave the shelter they had, any shelter still standing. They stayed out of fear of the ordeal not being over or perhaps out of fear someone else would try to force their way in.
Reshfen was naturally craggy and porous, made of a hive of natural canals and tunnels carved into a basalt mountain. Decorated by white marble bridges, worn by time, imported by the various nereid peoples who eventually came to call it home.
Ondes remembered the currents that morning being particularly strong.
He usually tried to keep to his rural home, his healer’s den hidden just beyond the start of the kelp forest outside the city. When the currents outside had started to swell - making the kelp twist and shudder unnaturally - and the stream of patients had suddenly died, he knew he didn’t have more than an hour. He threw on a heavy seafoam cloak that matched his scales and messily shoved the essentials into his satchel before racing out the door.
Pulling his cloak’s hood over his sun-golden locks, Ondes planned to appear like so many other Seafaesi nereids that fled to the craggy, porous canals of Reshfen that morning. A leviathan tide was coming. He knew no one would be turned away at the city gates. He could blend in with the other rural mer looking to get in.
Leviathan tides were strong, horrible currents that signaled the arrival of a great beast known as the Lotan, usually preceding by a day or so out. Being so far north, Reshfen had never been a haunt of the Lotan before - and never before had it struck so soon after its forebearing tides signaled its arrival.
Ondes remembered entering the city.
He remembered passing through the main gate, white marble carved with images of waves and statues of the trimurative goddesses. Ondes silently hoped the statues wouldn't survive the tides; their blank eyes felt heavy on him from their sleek, unmoving faces. Hardly anyone worshipped the trimuratives anymore, not so far away from their native Pasiphi waters. It had been over a century since the mother of their pantheon had commanded the oceans to swallow the land and they hadn’t done much since, in Ondes’s opinion.
Light filtered down in weak beams from above the restless waves - impossible to tell what time of day it was, or how many hours had passed.
It was in a clouded canal that Ondes woke under a heavy layer of sand. He sat up with a horrid cough to clear out his mouth, running his fingers quickly over his neck gills to dislodge the grains.
And it was quiet.
And it was so very quiet, save for the lone, faint cry echoing through the streets.
Ondes sat in the sand a moment longer, trying to process it all: the slow morning giving way to the chaos of the tides, the Lotan’s sudden assault of Reshfen that bounced around in his head like a jellyfish in a jar, the baby crying-
The baby crying?
Ondes turned his head towards the sound, managing to wiggle out of where he was buried by debris. His long, sleek tail was the color of seafoam; he had dark, almost-frilly pelvic and pectoral fins, his dorsal and tail fins trailed slightly. The black, mottled spots around his abdomen trailed around to and along his his back to mantle his shoulders, and gave way to pale skin underneath. Sharp, angular features graced his mermish face, his eyes a sandy color and his hair golden like the sun. He found himself scraped, bruised, and sore - but otherwise uninjured. Which was good - he wouldn't need to waste his talents as a healer on himself.
Not when there would be so many more in need of his services soon enough.
Following the cry through the murky water, he had to take care not to lose the sound as, finally, other surviving mer and syren started to wake to the devastation and their own wailing began.
As he quickly swam under a crumbling marble bridge, the crying grew louder. There, nestled in the sand and stones like he had been, was an overturned basket - half propped against a wall, half stuck in fine sand. Carefully, Ondes cleared the sand away and removed the basket, revealing a lone infant.
“Hello there, little one,” Ondes cooed assuringly, gently scooping up the child in his arms. “Shh, it's okay. Everything's going to be okay.”
A black tail with tiny white spots; soft, golden fins; a silky head of hazel hair, pulled up into the tiniest of twin tails. Large, alien amber eyes peeked out from a light, sleek little face. The baby appeared mermish… for the most part.
Ondes looked the child over further. Aside from what appeared to be a birth defect in the eyes, (the child’s irises were much too large and seemed to take up almost the entire eye), they were healthy and unharmed. A little on the shy side, though, as Ondes couldn’t tell whether they were a boy, girl, or born midphase.
The child, however, miserably protested at the examination, only calming when Ondes held covered them with his cloak, held them close to his chest, and bounced gently. The child couldn’t have been more than six months old and wouldn’t survive the winter waters without warmth for long. “Where are your parents?”
He swam in a small circle, trying to peer through the dust to see signs of anyone being in the immediate area. A few mer slinked out of a nearby hole in what had been a home, and a lone syren swam by - clawed fingers curled to her palms and wings tucked away as she, too, searched for survivors - but none of them looked remotely like the child.
Leaving the infant alone with complete strangers didn’t swim well with him. Ondes was a healer, and so he reasoned that in the Lotan’s aftermath he would eventually run into the child’s parents - or at least someone who knew them.
He would carry the child with him until then.
The first two weeks after the Lotan’s assault on Reshfen saw Ondes bring the baby with him from field hospital to field hospital. He never found or saw any other nereids that looked like they could have been even distantly related to the child.
But, his mind would nag him. (Maybe it was the dim light of the luminescent algae orbs they used during the emergency. Maybe it was the stress.) What if, after everything, he had seen the child’s parents and blanked it from his mind?
Ondes would catch himself, shake his head to clear his thoughts. Despite being a much-needed healer at the time, a mer like him couldn’t afford to spiral in his own thoughts. Not now.
His Will had been powerful growing up. Yet outside of the healing arts his Will waned, or came in burning bursts that erupted from under his scales. It had cut his options short when it came to learning how to best use it.
Unstable mer weren’t allowed to be soldiers or guards; weren’t allowed to study law or merchantry; weren’t allowed to serve the trimurative or live in the cities. It wasn’t illegal for them to have families - but they were encouraged to keep any unstable progeny out of proper society.
The only ones who still kicked up a fuss about it were the nobles, but Ondes couldn’t be bothered to care what they thought.
Though it did explain a few of the stares he received toting around the child. The majority of the nereids he tended to at the field hospitals didn’t recognize him; but the other healers were another story. They knew of him. They knew he was self-taught and ran a clinic outside the city. But they couldn’t afford to dismiss a spare healer, so they let him assist. And they leered.
The child, for the most part, wasn’t bad as far as babies went. Content to be nearby Ondes and held regularly. At six months most mer would be starting on oysters and mussels, Ondes could only guess that the stress of the past few days made the child want a simpler meal of dolphin’s milk, (and nothing else, the picky little thing). Only kicked up a fuss when Ondes had to tend to the more painful, severe injuries, but at those times Ondes left them in the basket in the corner until he could pick them up. When the child was the most upset, it felt like all the lights in the room would dim and flicker, it was strange but Ondes chalked it up to stress.
As if a baby could make light flicker.
Occasionally a kinder, usually female, relative of someone he was tending to would offer to help soothe the child, and Ondes would breathe a sigh of relief. He was a healer, he knew how to deliver babies but beyond that was an entirely uncharted ocean for him.
Some would lament how sad it was that he was a single father; how they knew of a nice, single girl somewhere for him. Knowing they meant well in a dark time, Ondes would try not to scoff at them.
He was certainly not the child’s father, nor was he looking for a relationship. Least of all with a woman.
Reshfen Kelp Forest, Seafaes
Things eventually calmed as much as they could after the Lotan and Ondes decided to leave the city before he was asked to by the guards.
It had been three weeks and Ondes still hadn’t found the child’s parents. Though now the issue was that with everyone he had tended to… most people thought that he was the child’s father, even if he didn’t look a thing like the kid.
And he hated to admit that maybe, just maybe, he had become attached. The little thing in the basket that he had carried all over Reshfen, and now back his home in the kelp, had grown on him. It was getting harder to think of not having to spend his spare time coddling the baby or being sneezed on in a tiny burst of bubbles after a feeding.
Again, his mind nagged him. He was an unstable, self-taught mer who ran a rural clinic. What kind of life would that be for a child?
Ondes was so caught up in his own thoughts that he almost didn’t notice the note stuck to his door. Embedded into the door was a slip of frond paper, stuck fast by a pearl dagger. The dagger was ornate, and looked like someone had tried to copy a type of overlander design; it looked like something a high-ranking warrior or temple attendant would use in ceremonies. Based on the weathering of the paper, it had been stuck there for a while - around the Lotan’s attack, if Ondes had to guess.
Healer Aequitas -
His name is Naoto. Take care of him as you have been, please. I tried to keep him safe, but the best place for him is far away from me.
The letters were thin and scratchy, like whoever had written it was unfamiliar with the language and in a great hurry.
His sandy eyes scanned the paper a few more times before he glanced around. No one watched from the stalks of kelp, nothing blocked the light coming down through the waters above. Whoever had left the note had been watching him and the baby and they were likely long gone. Ondes hoped so, anyways.
“Naoto?” Ondes sounded the name out, glancing down to the little face peering up at him from the basket lined with blankets. It wasn’t a Seafaesi name, it almost sounded Lemiryan or Pasiphi. Ondes shook his head.
“Who goes on holiday to abandon their baby,” he snorted as he opened the door to their home.