"Did you feel it?"
They stood alone on the grey reef at the heart of the world, the light from the shining one casting light over the reef and making it look even more bleached and sickly. His companion, by contrast, seemed to be shrouded in shadows, the only lights from his massive form was his burning yellow eyes. Around them, the crushing darkness seemed to strangle everything.
"Yes," his dark companion growled. "The last of the Mantles is active. Have you determined where it is?"
"I am close," the shimmering being responded. Its interior light dimmed, as if in expression of its frustration. "It's in Ijo, close to the Golden Reefs."
"Do we know who activated it?"
The light dimmed again. "No," he responded. "I can't pinpoint it. Something's. . .blocking me."
"That's never happened before."
"I'm not certain."
The dark man bristled with a combination of annoyance and amusement. On one level, it pleased him to hear his companion struggle with anythingâ€”so much of their dealings seemed to consist largely of him lording his omniscience over him that it grated on his nerves.
On the other hand, he'd bet very heavily on that omniscience, and the idea that it could be thwarted at all made him wonder if their alliance was all that wise.
"So what do we do?" The dark man asked. Time enough for the reconsiderations later. "Are we just going to keep an eye on it, like we've done with the last three? Wait and see?"
The light dimmed, pulsed, and then gradually shimmered again. The confidence had returned.
"No," the shining one said. "We need to know why this one can disrupt my insight. Perhaps if we shadow it, study it, we might learn why."
The dark man's eyes narrowed. He had the creeping feeling he was about to be volunteered for the task, and he had no interest in it. While the activation of the last Mantle concerned him, he had priorities of his own, and none of them involved him spending long hours swimming greenward.
So he elected to volunteer someone else.
"Couldn't we get Vatoz to do it?"
"Vatoz is ill tempered for this task," his bright companion countered. "You'd never get him away from his kingdom, in any case."
"He owes us that kingdom," the dark man shot back. "We won it for him. I don't see any reason not to call that bill due."
"Because he fancies himself a king," the bright one said, throwing sinister refractions off the coral walls. "And how would a king abandoning his throne for a menial task look?"
"He owes us," the dark one sneered, his body tensing. "What's the point of banking favors if we never use them?"
"Vatoz has to be handled," the bright one pulsed. "He's not reliable. This is a task of some delicacy, and it has to be done with care."
The dark man clenched his clawed hands into fists. His companion wasn't wrong—Vatoz was difficult. He was, in many ways, a shadow of his companion, only far less powerful and far more convinced of his own grandeur.
He didn't even bother suggesting his partner go himself—he knew the answer to that already. Lots of long ponderous talk about how it wasn't the right time, and how they had to proceed carefully, and on and on.
He weighed whether he wanted to hear a conversation he already knew how it would play out, and decided he'd rather not.
"I suppose I'll have to go, then."
"It makes the most sense," the bright man responded, his light brighter and steadier now. "You can be discreet, and you're smart enough to determine whether this new player can be turned to our cause."
"And if they aren't?"
"You're also strong enough to beat them into line," the shining one said. His inner light threw a silhouette of his winged shape on the walls of the reef. "As you did with Vatoz."
The dark man swam away a small distance.
"We're coming to a different stage in our plan, my friend," the bright shape called to him. "Your role is now more important than ever. I'm depending on your power, Kraken."
Heard that before, the Kraken thought.
The four arms mounted on his shoulders spread wide and he rose through the depths. As he pulled away from his cohort, the light shrank under him, swallowed up by the black depths.