Omi felt the cold air deep in her bones. It hurt to move, to think and breathe. The blanket she carried from her home was not thick. It was soft and sleek, perfect for the warm underground cove she used to live in. She grabbed the edges and pulled the fabric tighter. Her sharp nails had dug in deep enough to cause a slight rip. With great effort she eased on her grip.
Eight days ago, she traveled alone to the mating-cliffs by sleeping during the warmest part of the day and traveling at night. Omi had found the day walkers camp early yesterday evening. The night was long and bitter because if she didn’t get up and walk around every so often it felt like her heart would stop pumping. She wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but getting up helped keep her warmer than sitting and succumbing to the chill.
Night had passed and the sky was changing as the sun rose in the distant horizon. This is where she would stay until the blue fog came. That’s when mating ceremony would begin.
The blue fog was a natural occurrence that happened for three weeks once a year. The whole thing started with Nanikinns. They were massive tentacled ocean beasts that mated in the shallow waters near the cliffs. Nanikinss females released a smelly blue gas that attracted eager males.
The gas was thick and rose up on the sheer cliffs expanding over the black rocks.
Two females walked over to the large rock she sat on pulling her attention from the warm rays. One waved her yellow hand. “Hi, can we wait with you?”
“Sure,” she said not moving over because there was plenty of room.
The yellow female pulled her thick blanket tightly around her as she lowered to her rump. “Are you scared?”
Was she? “No.” Her mother had prepared her for what to expect.
The same female said, “I was scared when I started, but I prayed to Seth that my mate will have kind eyes. I’ve always wanted a mate with unique eyes.”
The second female sat down. She had green hair pulled back in a single braid. “I prayed to Seth that my mate will want lots of children. I love children.”
Omi internally shook her head at the females. If there was such a male, surely, they wouldn’t be lucky enough to be caught by them. Her mother had constantly reminded her to go to the cliffs with no expectations.
“What do you hope for?”
“I hope I don’t hit any rocks and die.”
“That doesn’t happen, if there were rocks under the water, they wouldn’t have us jump,” said the green-haired female.
“Did you not see the big boulders down there?” Omi asked thinking back on the first time she peered down.
“I saw them, but they are far from the water directly below.”
Arguing was not worth the effort. She was too cold, and either Omi was right or wrong, and they would find out, sooner than later.
On the horizon the sun was rising, and the temperature was warming. Omi knew the best place to warm was directly in the sun’s rays, on the flat rock. As soon as the ache in her toes and fingers left, she would lie down and finally sleep.
She was beyond tired and her stomach grumbled with the lack of food. Fresh water was available on the trek, but no sacks of food. Omi was not a hunter, but she found a few grubs along the way. It wasn’t enough to keep her full, but it was better than starving.
“Look!” the yellow female said rising to her feet and pointing at the cliff.
Blue fog. Omi’s stomach twisted at the sight.
Both females beside her left their blankets as they rushed to the far edge. Omi saw most of the females dashing towards the same spot. Five females stayed in their blankets, not getting up to join. Each one with the same expression. Dread.
Omi wondered if they were scared because they didn’t know what would happen, or if they had mothers like hers. A mother who took the time to explain in detail, what would happen.
Her mother told her the water would be so cold it would strike against her skin, as if being pricked by a thousand needles. If she didn’t hit her head on any rocks, then the males below would pull her out of the water. If the male was smart, he would have brought his own blanket to warm her. Her mother told her she would be so cold; she wouldn’t care who had her. It wouldn’t be until she was warmed and feed that Omi would care about her savior and mate.
Her new mate would take her back to his home wherever that was.
The unmated males from her village had left a month before her. She wanted to return to her home village, but she knew all the males that were seeking mates, and none of them would be good mates.
“I can see boats, they’re here!” the yellow female yelled from her spot. Her face was bright and her smile covered half her face.
Omi watched the female turn around and step off the cliff. She didn’t jump, or leap which was something her mother told her to do. The small gasps from the surrounding females by the blue fog gasped, covering their mouths.
Omi’s muscles stiffed as she imagined what happened.
The excitement in the group was gone, and Omi watched the group carefully seeing how they would deal with the reality that the mating cliffs weren’t as safe as they imagined.
The group of females spoke to each other in harsh voices. In a matter of minutes they were yelling. Omi looked over the five other women that remained in their spots. No one moved.
One young female turned to looked back the way they came, as if she wanted to go home.
Omi thought about waiting like them. But then she thought about the men below. The men who were closer would get their choice of women. The males at the back would take whoever was left. And who was left would be the five women too afraid to move.
Omi didn’t want the male who waited for the scraps.
Removing her blanket, the cold air rushed over her skin, making her hiss. She thought about leaving it on the rock, but decided she wanted one thing from home. So rolled the soft material tightly. Her fingers moved sluggishly, not because she wanted to, but because her muscles were slow to respond.
She took several braids to use the leather strings to tie the ends and then another to tie the ends together. Pulling the handle over her shoulder and tucked the blanket behind her back. Then she walked purposefully to the cliff.
The green-haired female saw her coming. The stranger’s eyes were full of tears and if Omi saw correct, a little anger as well. Omi walked along the edge scanning the water, and the rocks below. Then she backed up and took a running start.
Her stomach protested, her legs were slow, but she pumped her arms hard and jumped as far as she could off the edge and prayed to Seth that she didn’t die.
The decline was not fast. Omi’s heart hurt in her chest as her fears from falling at such a height took it’s toll.
There were no boats nearby, but she saw a few males standing on the boulders sticking out of the dark ocean. She hit the water on the left side first. Her screams were swallowed by the surrounding obscurity.
The ache in her bones turned to searing pain. She kicked her feet and struggled to get back up to the top. Her mother didn’t know how to swim, and there were no lakes to learn from. Omi’s father died when she was young, so she had no idea if the males would know how to swim either.
No one came to her rescue.
Scrambling back up she barely got a head above water when she was pushed back down by a black wave.
A loud scream echoed in her ears and she worried another female died. Under the water she felt something hard hit her shoulder. She reached looking for anything to dig her claws into.
Something pulled at her blanket, tugging her back direction.
Two hands grabbed her wrist and pulled her the opposite way.
Strung tight she kicked out, needing air more than she cared who caught her. Another wave knocked all of them over and she was able to hold on to a rock. A strong hand grabbed her ass and pushed her further up the boulder. Sharp round things clung to the edges of the boulder, making the climb difficult.
Slimy silver looking something also made ascending to the top a ridiculous feat.
When she looked down, she saw his red eyes, and sharp teeth growling something at her.
Omi kept climbing, shaking and shivering. When she reached the top, the male wrapped his arms around her. He was wet and shuddering too, but his naked chest was warm and she leaned back into his heat. The male held her tighter and she was able to catch her breath and her thoughts.
There was a light scream and Omi looked up to see another female jump from the cliffs. The male behind her didn’t look. He had taken one of her hands in his, inspecting her nails. Afterward he rubbed the small wounds and huffed a sad sound.
A gush of wind blew over her skin, making her teeth chatter. Reminding her and him, that they weren’t done.
The male, that was her new mate, let her hands drop. He took her chin and pulled it to a boat near the far back. Stretching is arm out he made odd noises as he pointed to the rocks that they would have to cross to get there.
“Okay,” she said worried that he was using noises because he spoke a different language.
The male huffed and urged her to go first. When she didn’t move fast enough, he grabbed her around her hips to pull her up. It felt too intimate and she wasn’t ready for that part of the mating to happen.
Leaning out of his grip, she shimmied over the edge, ready to jump to the next peak.
But stopped when she saw what he was holding. “That’s my blanket.”
He held it up and huffed again.
Omi held out her hand waiting for him to hand over. The male narrowed his glowing red eyes peering between her and the blanket. Instead of handing it back right away, he tucked it under his arm and tied the broken tethers together. When he finished, he dropped it over her shoulders. Making it seem as though he was giving to her a gift.
The sopping wet cloth touched her skin and she wished she would have thought the moment through. The small curl at the side of his lips made her consider he noticed.
“It’ll be fine,” she told him.
He looked at her mouth but didn’t respond.
“You don’t speak Universal, do you?”
His index finger tapped her lips then he shook his head.
Did he just tell her to stop talking? Rude.
Her mate pointed to the beach just as another female leapt off the cliff. Her mate tapped her nose and pointed again.
“I’m going,” she snapped and moved further down the rock and jumped to the next cliff. She misjudged and stumbled, almost falling back in the water.
Above her, her mate snapped a series of noises.
“I’m fine,” she yelled back.
He made more noises as she pulled herself up. “Yeah I hear you. It’s not like I did it on purpose. I’m tired of being cold and wet.”
When she was back up, the male jumped expertly to the small spot beside her.
He huffed in her face and pointed to the next rock.
Each time she jumped he made a noise. But the noise changed if she jumped wrong. It was cold, and her whole body was jerking uncontrollably, when they reached his boat. Her mate picked up a thick blanket and then pointed at her and moved his finger to the ocean.
“I have no idea what you’re saying.”
Her mate pointed to her and grunted. Getting closer he pinched her shirt and made a gesture to take it off and throw it in the ocean.
“You’ve lost your mind.”
He snapped his teeth, and she snapped the same sharp teeth back. “I said no.”
Minutes later she was naked and shuddering in a boat heading to who knows where. The cold wasn’t as bad with the sun warming the air but she continued to shiver. Omi wasn’t sure if it was from a lingering cold, or if she was uneasy about what was going to happen next.