Moomomi Jilaji’ik, Sixth Floret’s muscles ached as they swam through the dark. Their serpentine body slithered through the chill water of the abyss with only a headlamp to light the way. A headlamp that illuminated nothing but small particles of debris floating almost motionless in the water as though they were trapped in stasis. Moomomi had no point of reference for directionality, there was no up or down or anything but water infinitely in every direction. Their nose was alight with a familiar smell, the stink serving as a tinder lighting the fire of fear in their chest. It was the stench of a predator hunting its prey. A thick, sweaty scent like an acidic chemical reacting with the water. The smell was accented by the sharp metallic aroma of fresh blood. It wasn’t Moomomi’s blood, thank the stars— not yet at least.
A rocky gray outcropping came into view faster than Moomomi could strafe to avoid it. The Xa'a-ackétøth smashed into it face-first, almost knocking the headlamp from their crown. They floated limp in the water for a moment, clenching their teeth and closing their eyes to numb the pain. When they opened their eyes again, the xeno noticed a red stream of blood dispersing into the water around their right nostril. Moomomi groaned and let out a whimper. Stars, how unlucky could they be?
An all-encompassing bassy rumble resounded from behind Moomomi, and they scanned the rock face for a hole to hide in, spotting one a ways down. The Xa'a-ackétøth darted for the entrance and crammed their small body into the hidey-hole. The rocks were jagged and uncomfortable, but it would have to do. The serpentine xeno curled their body and tried to hide their face from the entrance before shutting off their headlamp. Moomomi was unable to hold back a few horrified whimpers. They shivered, fins and barbels flattened against their smooth form.
There was no follow-up to the low rumble, no indication that the source was approaching or retreating. The only thing accompanying the Xa'a-ackétøth was the sound of blood pumping in their veins and the popping that resonated through their otoliths when their gills opened. Was the beast hiding as well? Did it go away? What was it thinking? Was it still hunting? Moomomi tried to still their shivering body, staring out into the darkness though they did not expect to spy anything in the abyss.
Moomomi waited for what felt like half an hour. The shivering never stopped, and the whimpers still managed to squeak through. Not a sound was heard from the void outside for the entire 30 minutes. Moomomi worked up the courage to reach their tail up to the headlamp and turn it back on.
Harsh light illuminated the hole's edges and the water beyond. Nothing new. The same debris hung like ghosts in the water. The hum of the batteries powering the headlamp joined the chorus of sounds— now a trio— within the small cavern. Moomomi’s body was numbed from the half-hour of non-activity. They flexed their tail and let out a groan.
Their headlamp must have rubbed against a rock. Moomomi reached their tail up to their device and flicked the power switch.
Nothing. Well, it was in the ‘on’ position before the most recent click. Maybe it needed to be cycled. Moomomi’s shivering began again.
A chill ran down Moomomi’s spine. The Xaa-ackétøth's teeth began chattering before they let loose a long whine. They reached a barbel around to the front of their headlamp to find that the glass had been shattered. They reached through the wreckage and placed the tip of their barbel against the empty socket where a bulb was supposed to be. Moomomi’s heart began to beat faster, gills fluttering to cycle oxygen into their bloodstream. They were so tired already.
Light bloomed in the darkness. Blues and reds and pinks scattered in the water and onto the rocks. Moomomi slinked their body deeper into the crevice before being caught around the tail, snagged by something. The culprit was a soft vine wrapped around their lower body curling up their midsection. It had a tight grip on them. So tight that they could barely even wiggle.
“No, no—” A voice said as it wrenched Moomomi from their hiding space, whipping their head around in the process.
Moomomi was yanked back into the open waters of the Cladophor, light flooding their vision yet again. The Xa'a-ackétøth’s skull throbbed in pain, and the xeno closed their eyes in response, allowing themselves a moment to get accustomed to the light.
The source of the light was a great beast composed of vines and petals. Their body was serpentine, green with a red accent crawling up their spine that bled around the edges of their chest. The beast’s body ended in a neck frill made of petals. The coloring of these petals was the inverse of their body, red with green vascular tissue-like veins creeping across the surface. Their pistil consisted of an enormous mouth made of jagged coral, each tooth bigger than Moomomi’s entire body. The mouth was contorted into a smile, three luminous eyes hanging above it. From the being’s body floated numerous bioluminescent vines, the source of the light shining on Moomomi.
The smell of the beast was unmistakable. The musk of an exhilarated hunter on the prowl, a warm, sweet scent that carried a sharp bite. And the scent of blood was even more powerful the closer Moomomi was dragged to the beast’s mouth.
“Hello~” The beast cooed. Its voice boomed through the empty space, kicking up dust from the rock wall adjacent to the pair. Moomomi shivered.
“W-what are you going to do to me?” The Xa'a-ackétøth whimpered, shutting their eyes to avoid the monster’s gaze.
“Straight to the point, are we? Don’t you want to ask how my day was?” The beast laughed, “Oh, you have to hear about this delicious dinner I just had.”
Moomomi winced, fear exploding through their system. Their head went fuzzy and the corners of their vision began to gray. Their heart was beating faster than they even thought was possible and everything was getting blurry and their chest hurt and—
A sharp pinch in Moomomi’s neck and everything slowed down. Moomomi’s vision returned, their heart rate slowed, and their mind unclouded. The Xa'a-ackétøth was still horrified, however, but their body seemed to not reflect this emotion. Hell, it was beginning to become hard to move their body at all.
“No, no no— I need you to be awake for this,” The beast said, bringing Moomomi’s body close to their mouth. The Xa'a-ackétøth could feel the monster’s heat and smell the stink of death every inch closer they got to that maw. “Can you smell it?”
“You know what.”
Moomomi’s chest sank. They felt like they were choking on their tongue. “Y-yes,” They croaked.
“What do you smell, little fish?” The beast asked, almost cutting Moomomi off.
“Blood! Blood, I smell blood!” Moomomi squeaked.
The beast wrapped a vine around Moomomi’s head, keeping the other around their tail. Moomomi strained as the monster pulled their body taught like a piece of rope, laughing as their new toy whimpered in pain. A burning ache shot through the Xa'a-ackétøth’s spine. Moomomi cried out and attempted to writhe free, but it only prompted the monster to stretch their body more. The strain caused Moomomi’s nose to leak even more blood into the water.
“Fuh— fuck— stop!” Moomomi cried.
“Shut up. I ate all your little friends and lucky for you I’m nice and full,” The monster began, “I’m going to use you to pick those sorry little welts out of my teeth. If you make for good enough floss, maybe I’ll keep you as a toy to pleasure myself instead of cramming you down my throat.”
Moomomi didn’t have time to react before the beast pulled them close to their gaping maw. The monster’s spiked coral teeth parted to reveal yet another abyss of hot, humid darkness. Moomomi kicked and screamed against their viny bondage to no avail. They were forced to watch as they inched closer to a pair of jagged white teeth, each second feeling like an eternity.
Moomomi’s body pressed against the cold surface of a tooth. Their serpentine form was wrapped around the side of the coral denticulation. Moomomi’s spine contorted against the side of the fang, the beast bending their body into a half-moon akin to a fossilized death pose. The beast pulled Moomomi taught, slipping them between two teeth. The fangs pressed Moomomi from both sides, squeezing their body like a tube of toothpaste. The beast began raking the xeno's body forward and backward between their teeth. Moomomi could feel each notch in their spine strain with every push and pull across through the pair of teeth, not to mention the pressure bearing down on their chest. The guts in Moomomi’s body struggled to push through the tight space between the teeth, eliciting a wave of pain every time the serpent was pulled forward through the beast’s jaws. Moomomi couldn’t muster up the energy to squeak out a whine, let alone protest their hellish treatment. They wheezed and croaked while being used like a piece of living dental floss. Moomomi’s slim body was ground until deep purple bruises covered every inch of their body, each one only worsened by the monster’s continuous tugging.
Bits of gunk and grime from whatever the beast’s last meal was were knocked loose by Moomomi’s body. This was the least of Moomomi’s concerns at the moment, given their immense pain, but the lack of gore was strange. Didn’t this monster say they just ate Xa'a-ackétøth? They implied it, at least.
A vine was removed from Moomomi’s tail, leaving the one wrapped around their face. The beast pulled on it, stretching the Xa'a-ackétøth’s body before it popped out from between their jaws. Moomomi didn’t have the energy to whimper, their brain had been fried by the humiliating display and their body ached in places they didn’t even know could ache.
“Oh Moomomi, how I love seeing Xa'a-ackétøth bruised and battered. You look so beautiful in purple, you know.” The beast cooed.
Stars everything hurt. Moomomi tried to reply but only let loose a cacophony of pained wheezes and rattling groans. Groans that only made their battered body ache even more.
How did this monster know Moomomi’s name? She 'loved seeing Moomomi bruised and battered'? How the hell did this thing know who they were? And for that matter, how did Moomomi know this thing was a she?
“M-mistress?” Moomomi squeaked
“Oh, dirt. Did I break your trance?” Raksala Jilaji’ik, Eighteenth Bloom said, “Stars, I haven’t accidentally broken a trance in blooms!”
“Mistress n-no! You did so well! I was s-so scared— there for a while. You really got me!” Moomomi said, wrapping their tail around one of Raksala’s loose vines, “That was really lovely, I can s-still feel my heart racing!” Moomomi grit their teeth. Just spitting out a sentence was using up more energy than they would have liked to admit.
“I’m glad you had fun, petal,” Raksala said with a smile, petting their floret’s head with a vine. “I know we said we were going to try a xenodrug-free run, but you almost passed out from fear when I picked you up, so I dosed you with a Class-E.”
“P-passed out? That’s, uh— hot.”
“Oh, it was extremely hot. You should’ve seen the look on your cute little face!”
“That’s probably w-why I’m so sleepy now, too,” Moomomi said.
Raksala hugged her precious floret close to her enormous body, squeezing them against her soft abdomen. Moomomi whimpered. Not a scared whimper, this time, but a pleasured one. Mistress’s touch sent waves of pleasure through their body, seeming to almost numb the bruises scattered across their skin. Vines massaged Moomomi’s body, starting at their neck and stroking to their tailfins. The Xa'a-ackétøth’s fins and barbels fluttered with delight.
“M-mistress—” Moomomi squeaked.
“Shhh shh— you’ve got a poewai game later, petal. Let’s rest.”
An amphitheater of stony walls and gel sand surrounded a rectangular field marked in white chalk. Morning light lit the water, making the poewai field at 400m depth seem like it was mere meters below the surface. On the field itself, players from opposing teams lined up in front of each other, one of them grasping a spherical ball. The field was defined by pipes covered in foam boxing in the playing area vertically and horizontally. The ball was made of a soft material but seemed to be heavy according to the way the players were handling it. One end of the ball had a foam handle to allow Xa'a-ackétøth to grasp it with their barbels or mouth. One of the teams wore red foam helmets, the other yellow. The red team was the “Lily Peppers”, a term that was a bit hard to translate into Terran languages. A Lily Pepper was a group of flowering plants that grew edible bulbs similar in taste to Terran peppers. The yellow team was the “Thorns”, a common team name similar to the vast number of Terran teams named the “Bulldogs” or the “Eagles”.
The play started; a Thorn Mielyu handed the ball off to another as the opposing players crashed into each other. Pairs grappled each other at various depths as the Mielyu with the ball began swimming to one end zone. A Xa'a-ackétøth smashed into them 5 meters into their run, coiling their body around the Mielyu’s. The Mielyu chucked the ball to another Thorn, who was swimming upwards. The heft of the object meant it could be passed a decent distance, but not rocketed down the playing field like a football. Unfortunately for this Mielyu, a Xa'a-ackétøth was predicting this exact move, grappling the Mielyu by their tail, causing them to tumble through the water, dropping the ball.
Another Mielyu from the Lily Peppers retrieved the ball and swam to the endzone. A small wooden basket sat halfway buried in the sand. In front of it was a Xa'a-ackétøth serving as the goalkeeper. The pair collided with each other, the Mielyu wrapping their arms around the serpent’s neck in a loose headlock. The Xa'a-ackétøth thrashed their tail, reaching around to grab the ball from the Mielyu’s hand with a deft barbel. Unfortunately, they reached for the wrong appendage, allowing the Mielyu to stretch their body and slip the ball into the basket.
The crowd cheered, wiggling their fins and tails in response to the goal. The crowd was composed of majority Affini, some with their florets. The odd one out was Amida, a Terran covered in feathers, watching by herself. The woman was entranced by the game, analyzing every movement of the xenos’ bodies. The locking of their joints, collisions, and quick, snappy movements through the water. Poewai was a dance of swimming, grappling, and passing, the slim bodies of the players allowing for amazing jukes and dodges only possible underwater. Amida leaned forward. She was thinking about her own body and how it could move. She was smaller than most of the players, but not quite as agile. She knew she could overpower them, but would it be easy for their slim bodies to slip from her grasp?
“Amida!” Said a voice Amida knew well. The Terran smiled and turned to see Gortha, her tail entwined with Halophele’s, the two closer to each other than Amida had ever seen them before. Halophele was wearing the goofiest smile the Terran had ever seen, her head resting on the nape of Gortha’s neck.
“Hey, you two!” Amida said, swimming from her position on the stands to hug the pair. Her arms barely fit around Gortha’s body, let alone Halophele’s. Amida pressed her face into a cozy nook between the pair, feeling both of their soft bodies at once. “How are you two doing?”
“I am just wonderful, Amida. Gortha and I are officially unified,” Halophele cooed, kissing her companion on the cheek.
“Wait, what? Just like that?” Amida said, furrowing her brow.
“I told you unification is more casual than Terran weddings or ‘dating’,” Halophele said.
Amida crossed her arms, “Yeah, but— like, iunno. That’s so anticlimactic!”
“Was there supposed to be a climax, cutie?” Gortha piped up. Halophele smirked.
Amida sighed and smiled. They’re happy, that’s what matters. “Did you decide on your names?”
“Alarit,” Halophele said.
"I love it!" Amida said. She did love it. It was beautiful, and far superior to her own surname, in her opinion.
“And I reset my floret count!” Gortha appended.
“Florets? Aren’t you only third bloom?” Amida asked.
“I was very lucky, I had a floret in my first bloom! She was such a precious little cutie, Telichu was her name,” Gortha said.
“Can I ask what species she was?”
“Lumari! She was the prettiest thing in the universe, stars, such wonderful memories,” Gortha said with a smile. Gortha pressed her cheek against Halophele’s. The pair of Affini were being more affectionate than Amida had ever seen them be, and for good reason. Amida was jealous. Jealous of the kisses and hugs and touches and the genuine love that flowed like water between the pair. They were just as affectionate with each other as most Affini were with their florets. The two were entwined with each other like tight paracord.
Cheers resounded from behind Amida. She spun around, free-floating in the water. A score from the away team, the Thorns. They seemed to be on track to lose, but there were no losers when all the players would end the game swimming into the arms of their adoring owners.
“How are you liking poewai?” Gortha asked, settling into a sandy outcropping beside Halophele and Amida.
Amida floated to the platform and sat crisscross on the edge of an outcropping. “It’s been interesting. It’s a lot like a Terran sport called rugby. There’s an underwater version of it— it’s kinda like that. But it seems like there’s forward pitching and running assists. No knock-ons, either.”
“Have you played?” Halophele asked.
“Poewai? No. Underwater rugby? We used to do something sorta like it for fun during swim practice. We changed the rules around.”
“Would you like to try poewai?”
“Mm— I’m not sure I could compete with these guys,” Amida said, looking up at Gortha and Halophele. The pair smiled at her. That was enough encouragement. “But I can try! I think I’m gonna talk to a Lily Pepper after this game. They’re our half of the ring’s team.”
“Are they good?” Gortha asked.
“Honestly all the teams on the Cladophor are,” Amida said, turning her attention back to the game, “But yeah, they’re great! Ranked like— 3rd this season?”
A Lily Pepper Xa'a-ackétøth juked the goalkeeper by wrapping their body around their opponent and using some quick mouth-to-barbel movement to dunk the ball. The crowd cheered. The Xa'a-ackétøth in question was shorter than the rest, their smooth skin was a pleasant dark salmon tone, almost bordering on orange. Their fins and barbels, however, were oversized and currently flapping back and forth as a wide smile adorned their face.
“That’s Moomomi Jilaji’ik,” Amida said, “They’re really good.”
“They’re a cutie, too!” Gortha said, looking over at her partner, who nodded in response. Gortha reached a vine over and ran it through Amida’s hair. Aah. That’s what Amida was missing. Something had been off for a moment, and Amida couldn’t tell what. Now it was obvious. Neither Halophele nor Gortha had touched her a single time up until this point. Now everything was right with the world. Amida cooed, her muscles decompressing. Halophele’s vine joined in, petting Amida’s feathers. Stars, Halophele was getting good at feather massages. She always scratched nice and deep, getting at the skin around the base of Amida’s feathers.
“Mm— yeah.” Amida hummed. The Terran scooted closer to the pair of Affini, allowing them easier access to her body for pets and scratches.
Another play and another score for the Lily Peppers. The score was up 35 - 5 in favor of the home team. A final play was started, but couldn’t be finished in time for the horn to sound as the game ended. At the sound the florets and their owners alike swam towards each other, colliding on the edges of the field. The Affini squeezed their pets close. Every sophont on the field was at once being doted on by their loving caretakers, Xa'a-ackétøth and Mielyu alike. That was except for the star player, Moomomi, who swam past the crowd and up the stands. Amida watched as the orange serpent collided with an enormous flowering plant that the Terran thought was decorative, but was now wrapping its vines around the small creature. The flower’s petals fluttered in the water, a smile across the mouth adorning its center. The massive Affini cradled their minuscule Xa'a-ackétøth pet like a beloved doll. Amida only noticed she was staring when the huge flower smiled at her and waved a petal
“Ah— hey, you two, I’m gonna go talk to Moomomi. I’ll be right back,” Amida said.
“We will be here,” Halophele said.
“Don’t be gone too long, cutie!” Gortha said.
Amida nodded and swam over to Moomomi and her Affini. The water warmed the closer Amida came to the pair. Moomomi herself didn’t notice Amida, being rocked back and forth in her owner’s vines. The Affini, however, noticed and gestured with a vine for her to come closer.
“Hello there, cutie. Not every day you see a Terran on the Cladophor,” The Affini said. She talked through a vine with a wooden beak held near the Terran’s head, but the eyes on her massive face were still trained on Amida. “I am Raksala Jilaji’ik, Eighteenth Bloom, she/her” Raksala said, bouncing her floret in her arms, “ This is Moomomi Jilaji’ik, Sixth Floret, they/she”
“Nice to meet you ma’am,” Amida said, dipping her head down for a light bow, “I’m Amida Lother, I wanted to ask about the poewai league if you don’t mind.”
“You’ll have to ask my little Moomomi about that. The poewai leagues are floret-run.” Raksala bounced her floret one last time before placing them down in front of Amida. Moomomi’s glassy floret eyes focused yet again, freed from her daze.
“Hey there, miss,” Moomomi said. their voice was slow and sleepy, not what Amida was expecting. Moomomi reached a barbel out for a Xa'a-ackétøth handshake. Amida reached out her hand and shook it. The typical greeting was to squish barbels together, but that was an appendage Amida lacked. The traditional Terran handshake and a light bow got the point across well enough.
“Nice to meet you, Moomomi!”
“Same to you, Amida,” Moomomi almost cooed.
“May I ask when poewai tryouts are? If I’m even qualified to play, I mean.”
Moomomi eyed Amida up, a smile creeping across their face, “Mm— you’re in. Practices are Mondays through Thursdays at 6, come to at least two a week. Text our equipment manager your head dimensions, his name’s Bokulu Erdrom.”
Amida was taken aback, her face twisting into an expression of confusion. “Just like that?”
“Mhm,” Moomomi said.
“W-well thank you! You won’t regret it!” Amida said, flapping her hands.
“I know I won’t.”
“Now then, I think you deserve a reward, toothpick,” Raksala boomed, using her large primary mouth. The Affini wrapped her vines around her blushing pet, pulling Moomomi into her body.
“Oh— stars, not in front of everyone, mistress!” Moomomi whimpered before being wrenched into the viny depths of Raksala’s chest. Amida wanted more than anything to know what the “reward” Moomomi was receiving within Raksala’s chest was. A warm feeling erupted in Amida’s chest, and a blush spread across her face.
“We’ll be taking our leave. Nice to meet you, Amida,” Raksala said, twisting her massive body and swimming away. Water rushed past Amida as Raksala rocketed into the depths. For a moment the Terran thought she was going to be sucked into a whirlpool of warm water, but she managed to kick her legs away just in time to not be pulled into the depths with the gargantuan plant.
Halophele and Gortha swam over to Amida, flanking her. The pair swam over each other’s bodies, crossing behind Amida before smooching both of her cheeks on opposite sides. Amida blushed and smiled, shutting her eyes tight. Gortha’s fruity, sharp scent combined with the warm, sweet aroma of Halophele to create a wonderful concoction of smells. Amida leaned back into the pair’s embrace, feeling their warm bodies squeeze her from both sides. The two Affini giggled, running vines over their favorite Terran. Amida collapsed into a limp sack of bones and feathers. In that moment the Terran would have let the two aliens do whatever they wanted with her.
“Would you accompany us to our hab? Our joint unit should be completed, now,” Halophele whispered in Amida’s ear.
“Halophele suggested we get a special room you’re just going to love!” Gortha said.
Amida nodded her head, brain so lost in pleasure that any word she tried to squeak out would have become a mere whimper.