It was - as always - a beautiful day at the Ralios Resort. The sun shone brightly across the beaches and sea, a gentle breeze being enough to keep the humidity from being stifling, the sunbeams dancing and bouncing off the surface of a sea that looked to clear and clean to even be real. It was still quite early in the day, with most of the girls still filling up on complimentary breakfast, but Annie and Mi?ara had wanted to get out early to avoid the rush. Their hired boat bobbed along the sea, with Annie at the helm, sailing them both to their destination.
It wasn?t long before Annie killed the engine, looking around at the sea, the beach only a spot on the horizon now. ``Hmm...this is where the guy said to go...'' She walked to the edge of the boat, looking over the side, scanning for what she?d been led too - and smiled when she saw it, the faint outline of a cave entrance on the floor of the sea. ``Okay, Mi?ara,'' she called, ``we?re here, this is it!''
Mi?ara had been perched on the bow of the ship, loving the feel of the sea breeze against her as they cut through the water, but now they had arrived, she clambered down to the deck of the ship, smiling at Annie as she did. ``Neat!'' She looked over the edge too, seeing the cave. ``Oooh, looks kinda...spooky...'' She giggled, before moving to the small bench on the deck, grabbing the mermaid tail she had left there. ``Thanks for taking me out here, Annie, this?ll be great for practice!''
``It?s no problem Mi?ara, I go diving in caves for fun anyways! Although...'' she fiddled with the blue bikini top around her modest breasts, her brow furrowing in discomfort. ``...I still hate having this on. Honestly, how do any of the girls swim anywhere with one of these?''
Mi?ara giggled again. ``Well if we?re practising for the show, it makes sense to wear our outfits, doesn?t it? Unless you?re gonna try and convince people it?s a topless show...''
``Hey, I still think it?s a more natural mermaid if it?s topless. The ones from the legends were!''
``Yeah, well I don?t want people seeing...that. And I don?t think it?s all that uncomfortable anyway!''
Annie sniggered, nodding towards Mi?ara?s flat chest. ``It?s not quite the same problem for you, Mi?ara - trust me, in a few years you?ll be complaining as much as I am.''
Mi?ara blushed. ``I- ah- w-well, I guess we?ll see...'' she stammered, lying down on the bench and starting to wiggle into her blue mermaid tail, Annie grabbing her?s too, and simply lying on the floor of the deck to wiggle into her matching one. ``You?re sure we?ll definitely be safe down here, right? I don?t wanna end up trapped...''
Annie smiled at her comfortingly. ``Don?t worry, Mi?ara, you?ve more than got the lungs for this. The guy at the dock said people have been in and out in less than a minute, so you?ll have air to spare! And if you get into trouble, I?ll be right next to you, okay?''
Mi?ara smiled at her friend, nodding, continuing to wiggle into her tail. She?d asked Annie about any caves out in the sea to help practice for the mermaid show they?d both volunteered for, and while Annie did know plenty, she?d said they?d all be a bit too dangerous for Mi?ara. But a few well placed questions at the docks had led them here, a much shorter and simpler cave - perfect to practice for the show.
They?d spared no expense this time round at the resort. They?d built an entire artificial cave, rocks and all, bordered with glass all the way, so the audience could see. The mermaids would swim it all in one breath - quite a challenge for the average swimmer, but something that should be do-able by anyone who had been practising. While Mi?ara?s breathhold was already surprisingly good for someone of only 11 years, it was the swimming through the cave she wanted to practise more, to be able to swim in the constricted space while keeping her tail from snagging on the rocks. However, the cave was still mid-way through being built, and hadn?t been filled with water yet, meaning they had to find something more natural - leading them to now, ready to dive to a real life undersea cave.
Soon, both Annie and Mi?ara were in their tails, and hopped around the edge of the ship, grabbing it for support, before they were both looking down at the cave entrance below them. ``Okay, everything good? You got your necklace?'' Annie said.
``Yep!'' Mi?ara replied, with a smile, holding it on her neck proudly as it gave a slight glow. ``Come on, come on, let?s go! I wanna see what?s down there!'' She closed her eyes and started to take deep breaths, her chest rising and falling as she did so, and Annie couldn?t help but smile at her enthusiasm. She?d be, by far, the youngest mermaid in the show, and Annie had great respect for the young girl for being able to keep on the same level as some seasoned swimmers. She was still a far way away from the 4-minute breathholds that Annie could do, but 2 minutes at her age was almost unheard of. Annie didn?t doubt she?d be giving her a run for her money in a few years. She joined Mi?ara in taking some deep breaths, still disliking the foreign feeling of the bikini clasped on her breasts, turning to Mi?ara when she was ready.
``Okay, you ready?''
They dived, perfectly synchronised, over the edge of the ship, splashing into the water, and kicking their tails strongly and confidently, heading towards the cave entrance, the surface rippling and eventually going calm.
A few seconds later, the ships radio buzzed into life.
``Er, hi Annie, listen, I screwed up and gave you the wrong directions, you should be, like a mile more west than where I told you. There is a cave where I sent you but, well, I really wouldn?t recommend going down there without scuba gear, DEFINITELY not wearing tails. Anyway, that?s my bad, I?ll knock a bit off the boat rental for the inconvenience, okay?''
There was no response, the ship bobbing in the water.
Annie and Mi?ara both kicked their tails confidently towards the cave entrance, Annie giving Mi?ara quick glances to make sure they were in sync - while it wasn?t the purpose of the dive, they would have to learn to match their strokes to make for a better show, and it was good to see that their joint practise so far had made it so they stayed in step with each other even without trying - in fact, they both reached the cave entrance almost simultaneously, both of them grabbing the edge of the entrance and peering in.
Obviously, it was much darker in there, but Mi?ara?s necklace would be enough to keep their sight. Annie looked over to Mi?ara, giving her a thumbs up, asking if she was good to go - Mi?ara nodded quickly, smiling, before swimming straight into the cave. Annie smiled - again, she couldn?t fault the girl?s confidence, as she swam in after her.
The cave was wider than she?d thought, and her and Mi?ara could easily swim side by side, their tails not even coming close to snagging on any rocks. Mi?ara?s eyes were wide, her necklace lighting the path and showing the rocky walls of the cave. She?d thought that it might be a bit claustrophobic swimming in an enclosed space, but she had plenty of room to move about, and the inside of the cave was almost beautiful, in a way. Her darting eyes were taking in little sparkles from the rocks, and the occassional fish she had never seen before, clearly species that preferred to stay in the caves. She was really tempted to stop, to have a proper look at this new underwater world she?d never truly experienced...but this was training after all, and she had to focus - she could always come back later. She kept swimming with a confident mermaid?s kick, her arms barely involved at all as her slim body cut through the water.
Annie was still learning to swim with a tail, so she was adding a strong breaststroke to her kicks. She?d practised enough without, and this whole event was more for Mi?ara?s sake anyway, Annie wanting to make sure she wasn?t expending any extra energy in case Mi?ara needed help, or panicked in the cave. But there was no evidence of that yet, the young girl looking like she was having the time of her life, her eyes taking in every inch of the cave. Annie smiled, relieved that she was having no trouble. She had to admit, while Mi?ara was a confident swimmer, anyone could sometimes panic in the more constricted space of a cave, especially someone of her young age. But she seemed completely in her element. She?d always said she felt like a mermaid at heart, and Annie was seeing nothing to refute that so far.
Thirty seconds into their dive, the cave started to incline downwards, going deeper. Annie frowned, but kept on going alongside Mi?ara. The guy at the dock had said the cave was short and stayed close to the surface, so Annie hadn?t expected it to go down...but she figured some dock guy couldn?t know every twist, turn and slope of a cave. She looked at Mi?ara again, but she hadn?t seemed to notice, still seeming to be quite excited at being in the cave at all. But as the dive kept going, the cave kept going down deeper, now much deeper than the entrance.
Mi?ara hadn?t noticed at all the way the cave was going, still just having a whale of a time swimming through it. The cave kept going, second after second, and it wasn?t long until Mi?ara felt the tiniest bit of discomfort in her chest. She didn?t panic, letting loose a small stream of air to relieve the pressure, just as she?d trained, and soon the discomfort passed, though a red blush was starting to form on her face. The cave was starting to get more narrow as they went, and Mi?ara reached out a hand to grab protruding rocks from the cave walls, tugging herself along as well as kicking her tail. Soon, the cave started to rise up again, and Annie breathed a figurative sigh of relief - if that had gone any lower, she probably would?ve grabbed Mi?ara and pointed to turn back.
But still, the cave continued, starting to twist left and right, as the girls continued their swim, both now feeling a little less confident. By the words of the dock guy, they should?ve been already out the other side and swimming to the surface by now, almost a minute having passed since they started - but neither of them could even see the exit to the cave, the dark tunnel still stretching before them. The discomfort started again in Mi?ara?s chest, and she kept letting loose a small trail of bubbles, though this time the effect was limited. She?d stopped scanning the cave now, focusing entirely on keeping her kicks fast and strong, a look of worry starting to enter her face. ``It was supposed to be done by now...'' she thought.
Annie had given up all pretence of practising her mermaid kick, and was going full stretch with her breaststroke now. It had been more than a minute - past the point of no return for Mi?ara to be able to make it back the way they came. She kept swimming on, constantly glancing at Mi?ara to make sure she was okay, seeing the red blush start to grow on her face and her cheeks start to bulge slightly. The cave was still going up, giving Annie hope that the exit was soon, but that hope quickly disappeared with what came next.
After a sharp right turn, Annie stopped, her eyes widening, holding out an arm to stop Mi?ara too. The cave split here - one tunnel going left, one tunnel going right. Annie knew now, without a doubt, that this was definitely not the cave she had been expecting. Mi?ara looked at the split path with apprehension, her cheeks starting to bulge properly now, the trickle of air becoming more of a column as the burning in her lungs increased. She quickly glanced back at the tunnel behind her, but she knew she?d never be able to make it back in time, they had to push on. But which way to take? Did either of them even go to the surface? Mi?ara?s worried face was starting to be replaced with true fear, and suddenly the cave felt a lot more imposing than it had.
Annie was looking left to right, right to left. There was no way to know which way to go. But the wrong choice might be the death of both of them. She was wracked with indecision, as Mi?ara swam towards her, putting a hand on her shoulder and looking at her in fear for what to do. Annie tried to give her a comforting smile, but even she was starting to feel the effects of the long dive now, having to let a trickle of bubbles loose to ease the discomfort in her own chest - though she could stay at this state a lot longer than Mi?ara could.
Mi?ara though, was long past that state, feeling the burn properly now, and it wasn?t long before she felt her chest start to make small heaves, little clouds of bubbles appearing from her lips with every one. ``Mmmph....mmm...'' She moaned in discomfort, putting a hand over her mouth to keep the air in, looking at Annie with apprehension. Annie had to make a choice, and she pointed to the right path, Mi?ara nodding and kicking her way down it, keeping a hand on her face, her mermaid kick a little less disciplined now, and her free arm clawing through the water, Annie staying close by in case she needed help.
But still, the tunnel loomed ahead of them, showing no signs of stopping. Annie kept letting out a stream of bubbles, still in control, but Mi?ara was starting to truly struggle, the heaves of her chest pushing bubbles out from behind her hand, her puffy cheeks deflating as the air leaked out of them. She kept kicking as best she could, but it wasn?t long until she felt twitches in her stomach, holding her hand there as she switched back to a mermaid kick, her eyes now going wide with panic as she felt her air running low. ``Mmmmph....MMMPH!''
Annie kept a close eye on her. If worst came to worst, she could easily share some air with her - but she needed to make sure she had enough to get them both out, especially if Mi?ara started to panic, which, from the look in her eyes, she clearly was. Unfortunately, the lack of air was starting to tire Mi?ara out, and her speed was slowing, forcing Annie to slow down too - and still the tunnel stretched ahead of them, showing no sign of ending yet...but it was still sloping upwards, a silver lining at least.
Ten seconds later though, the silver lining vanished, as another heave of Mi?ara?s chest, coupled with a convulsion of her stomach, brought her to a grinding halt. ``MMMMPH! Glblblb!'' A plume of bubbles burst from behind her hand as her face suddenly flashed with a painful expression, Mi?ara doubling over and clutching at her stomach, before another quick heave forced it to join the other hand on her face. Annie stopped and tried to catch Mi?ara?s eyes, but her eyes were shut tight as she shook her head, the clouds of bubbles coming from her getting smaller and smaller.
Annie grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, and she opened her eyes, looking at her in fear as her body heaved and trembled, expelling the last of her air. Annie quickly pointed at her own mouth, and then to Mi?ara?s. She wanted to share air, but she couldn?t while she had it covered. Mi?ara shook her head no, too scared to take the hands from her mouth, worried her body might make a bad decision on her behalf, but another painful contraction caused her to curl in pain again, the tiniest bit of blue entering her face, tears starting to form in her eyes. She looked back at Annie and gave a weak nod, removing her hands, causing all of her remaining air to bubble quickly out of her mouth, starting as a column, then turning to a trickle, her body begging at her to breathe.
Annie quickly put a hand on the back of Mi?ara?s head, and brought her face to her?s, locking lips with her and breathing a steady stream of air into Mi?ara?s lungs, their mermaid-tailed bodies pressing against each other. Even though the situation demanded it, Mi?ara blushed intensely - she?d never been kissed by another girl before. But as nice as it was, the air flowing into her lungs was even nicer, as it filled her lungs and her heaves and contractions started to slow, then stop. After a while, Annie broke the kiss, giving Mi?ara a smile, which Mi?ara returned with a thumbs up, but it turned to a frown when she saw the red blush now hitting Annie?s face, a trickle of bubbles leaking from her as her cheeks started to bulge slightly. With renewed determination, she pointed down the tunnel, and started swimming down it, clasping onto Annie?s hand, Annie swimming along with her - now the sync training was coming in handy, as they swum hand in hand down the tunnel.
...but still it went on, and with the long dive and the shared air, Annie was starting to feel the pressure too. Air was leaking from her pursed lips as she tried to keep her swim strong, knowing that if they were going to stay hand in hand, she might have to start dragging Mi?ara along. She definitely didn?t have enough air to share, and she squeezed Mi?ara?s hand, hoping that the shared air would be able to sustain her.
Mi?ara squeezed the hand back, but shared air was still no replacement for a fresh breath, and it wasn?t long before it started leaking out of her again, the familiar burn starting in her chest, the stale air bulging out her cheeks again. ``Mmmph...'' She could feel the symptoms coming on quicker now, already bracing herself for her first chest heave, as she tried her best to keep up with Annie - but her body was getting tired now.
Annie could feel Mi?ara starting to slow, but they couldn?t slow now, so she kept her hand held tightly, trying to drag her along, glancing back every now and again to give her a motivating look. But her own expression was getting panicked now, her cheeks bulging and air leaking out of her faster, as the cave turned left, right, left, left, right, still with no sight of the exit...until, finally, after another turn, the cave sloped up further, and Annie could see some light. The open sea was right before them! She turned to Mi?ara and pointed, hoping the sight would inspire her and drive her on...
...but that strategy was instantly ruined, when it was Annie?s turn to have her chest heave. ``Mmmph! Glblb!'' It had taken her by surprise, and a cloud of bubbles exploded from her, forcing her to clamp her hand over her mouth. Almost identically (their synchronisity training clearly going deeper than they?d ever though), Mi?ara did the same, curling up in pain as the stale air started forcing itself from her lungs, causing her to cover her mouth too. They both looked at each other with pained expressions, before starting to kick again, hand in hand, both with their free hands covering their mouths as they frantically swam for the exit to the cave.
They reached it quickly enough, but not before Mi?ara had heaved most of her air away through her clamped hand, her stomach pulsing and jerking as they exited the cave. Annie could feel her own stomach starting to twitch too, but she tried to keep it under control, knowing she might still have to help Mi?ara reach the surface. She squeezed her hand as they exited the cave, pointing to the surface, before looking up, her face falling in dismay.
It was far up. VERY far up. Much further than the distance they had dived. Clearly, the cave itself had gone more down than up, and the surface twinkled far above them, the life giving air feeling like it what miles away. Mi?ara looked up too, and her look of panic turned into a look of defeat - she?d never make it up in time. As if to agree with her, her body gave another heave and convulsion, a massive cloud of air leaving her as she clamped a second hand over her mouth, curling and writhing in the water, only a trickle of air appearing from her now. She weakly looked at Annie, shaking her head slowly...but Annie wasn?t accepting defeat. She?d brought Mi?ara down here, she?d gone to the wrong cave - she wasn?t going to let her drown!
With new energy, she wrapped her arms around Mi?ara?s waist, and started kicking hard, carrying her towards the surface, feeling her body heave and convulse against her, Mi?ara?s face starting to get a tinge of blue again. Mi?ara tried to kick too, but it was less a swimming kick, and more a kick of discomfort, as the last of her air trickled from her lungs, leaving them completely empty, her stomach and chest starting to suck in as her body demanded she breathe, even if it was water. She looked up longingly at the surface, but it still seemed so far away.
Annie could feel Mi?ara struggling against her, and knew she was running out of time. Gritting her teeth, she wrenched her hand from her face, using it to claw to the surface, trying to get any extra speed she could, even though her heaving chest was pushing air out of her in clouds. Eventually, her stomach started to twitch too, the clouds becoming a long column as she grunted and groaned in discomfort, her whole body aching from the ordeal she was putting it through.
The two girls steadily rose to the surface, their bodies heaving and pulsing against one another, Mi?ara still looking at the surface, begging to be above it soon, but her vision was blurring, her kicks getting weaker, all energy devoted to keeping her hands on her mouth and keeping the sea out. Annie felt her going limp in her arms, and tried to speed up more, but eventually, Mi?ara was too weak to even keep her hands on her face, and as they lazily fell to her sides, her mouth filled with the sea, and a heave of her chest brought it into her lungs.
``ARGLBLBLB! GLB.....blb......hng....'' Her eyes snapped open as the adrenaline from breathing water kicked her, and she flailed in Annie?s grasp, choking and spluttering on the water, her eyes wide as her arms clawed uselessly for the surface. Annie felt the jerks and looked at Mi?ara in terror, kicking even harder still - she couldn?t believe she was drowning, but she could still be saved if she got her to the air quick. Mi?ara?s face had turned completely blue, her mouth gaping open like a fish, as a further heave of her chest brought the water properly into her lungs with a painful gurgle.
Annie could feel Mi?ara getting heavier in her grip, slowing her swim, as well as her own dwindling air starting to get to her, the column from her hips turning into a trickle as her body expelled all the stale air from her. She clenched her jaw, trying to lock her lips shut, kicking as hard as she could, the surface maybe 10, 15 seconds away. She turned to look at Mi?ara, though she wished she hadn?t, her eyes going glassy and emotionless as she breathed the water in and out like it was air, her ``breaths'' getting shallower and shallower each time, her eyelids fluttering as her vision started to fade. Mi?ara could still see the surface, but it was getting hazier as she started to pass out, and with one final heave of her chest, her lungs filled full and her body went limp in Annie?s arms, her arms and tail going still, and her eyes falling shut.
Annie closed her eyes, and with another burst of determination, she kicked as hard as she could, her lungs pretty much empty now too, her body heaving and convulsing heavily against Mi?ara?s limp form. She could feel the heat of the sun now, could hear the sounds of the seagulls above the water. Without a hand to stop it, her own mouth opened, the sea filling it too, as she tried to spit it out, keep it from her lungs, her own face turning blue. They were seconds away now, but her stomach was sucking in, her own body demanding she breathe, and eventually, she lost the battle, opening her mouth and taking in a deep breath of the....
``GAHHHHHHHHHHH!'' Air! She?d just managed to breach the surface before breathing in the water, and she kicked her tail to keep herself up, taking a massive greedy breath and pulling Mi?ara?s head over the surface. ``Mi?ara! Mi?ara! We made it!''
Mi?ara didn?t answer, her head hangining loosely to the side, water leaking from her mouth. ``No...Mi?ara, you gotta wake up, we made it!'' Annie shook her friend by the shoulders, but she stayed limp in her arms, her body not taking the breath it needed. ``Nonononono...Mi?ara, I?m so sorry, I shouldn?t have brought you down there...I shouldn?t....'' She shook her head, quickly scanning around for the boat. She could still be saved if she could get her back there, fast.
But then, Annie felt a little stir from Mi?ara?s body. Startled, she turned to look at her, as Mi?ara?s eyes snapped open, and she weakly coughed out some water, taking a deep ragged breath. Annie was almost crying with joy to see her friend awake, wrapping her arms around her to keep her from sinking, letting her cough the water out over her shoulder.
``Oh Mi?ara, I?m so glad you?re safe!'' Annie said, still shaking a little from the experience. ``I?m so so sorry, this wasn?t the right cave, even I could barely do it!''
Mi?ara kept coughing up water, taking breaths where she could, before leaning back and looking at Annie with a smile. ``W-well...I d-don?t think the show will be as...hard as that...do you?''
Annie couldn?t help but burst out laughing, the girl still so brash and confident even having nearly died. ``No, Mi?ara, I doubt it. I guess we can call this training for the ``worst case scenario'', yeah?''
Mi?ara nodded, the colour slowly starting to return to her face as she took her deep breaths. ``Well...mermaids breathe water...it?s only right we try it out for ourselves...''
``Yeah I guess but...maybe not again for a while, right?''
``Right. It probably wasn?t all that flattering a look to have. Probably would be more embarassing to drown on stage than be topless, wouldn?t it?''
Annie smiled. ``Hey, stop making jokes, you?re making me regret worrying about you so much!''
They laughed together, waiting in the water for Mi?ara to recover, before slowly swimming back to their boat, seeing that another boat had joined it, a nervous looking man scanning the water as the girls hauled themselves back onto the deck.
Annie was first to react, yanking her tail off herself and angrily storming to the edge of the ship. ``DUDE! Not so deep? Pretty much a straight shot? TWO MINUTES TOPS? I dunno what kinda cave you were describing, but that wasn?t what we saw!''
The dock guy looked at the girls incredulously. ``Well, I radio?d you, that?s why I came out here, I thought...wait, did you ACTUALLY swim through it?''
Mi?ara had slipped out of her tail too, joining Annie in an angry stare at the dock guy. ``Of COURSE we did, what do you think we are, amateurs?'' Annie shot Mi?ara a look, raising an eyebrow. ``Okay...maybe we kinda...almost drowned, but still!'' she admitted, with a blush.
``I?ve...no-one?s ever swam that cave without air...the last guy who went in there said it took him twenty minutes to find his way out!''
Annie sighed, going back to the helm of the ship. ``Tell the next one to go right at the first fork. You?ll be in and out in 4 minutes.'' Without another word, she started up the ships engine, spinning it around and directing it back to shore, Mi?ara perching on the bow again.
``Oh, and we expect a FULL refund!'' she yelled as they passed, heading back towards the beach.