Ever since she had hatched, she was covered in iridescent spots that sparkled as they caught the light.
And sure, perhaps much of her family did that too, that was just how Bigfin Reef Squid inklings tended to be, but there was something enchanting about a child that shimmered more than any constellation overhead!
And perhaps it wasn't just her spots that sparkled, but her personality, too: always excited, always enthusiastic, always curious.
Her parents, hesitant and not quite sure how to handle their first child, were often left far behind for far more interesting things, like chasing grasshoppers or whistling back at the sparrows.
So what kind of a mismatch was it when her closest companion was her quiet, more thoughtful cousin, Hotaru?
Family circumstances brought them to live quite close together, leaving the entire family all huddled up in a sleepy neighborhood. They hadn't many aunts or uncles, and very few other children lived on the block: and so on quiet days, it was just the two of them.
They agreed on very little. Aori would rather play outside than read a book, and Hotaru far preferred subtle tastes to sharp or sweet ones; fights, complete with hissing and ink-flinging, weren't uncommon. Their natural colors and markings, too, were very different: Aori was patterned with magenta spots while Hotaru was all subtle green speckles, glowing lightly in the dark.
But something clicked: even with their differences, they were as close as could be, and when they agreed, the whole world seemed wonderful. Shared was a fascination with song and dance, a love blooming for everything melodic in sound and motion. Even with the rickety old television only working half the time, musicals and shows were the popular favorites. There were only a few movie-disks, some "borrowed" from here and there, but soon these were repeated over and over--
The brilliant colors, the outfits, the twirling moves and the elegant songs. A couple such disks were of stories from far away, the other side of the sprawling ocean, in languages they barely knew: but both of them knew each and every word.
What a wonderful sort of world that would be!
It was a tiny school, really, with too many cephalopods and sea-folk in a small space-- but that was what made this night so special. The night of the talent show held so much promise, some chance to finally act on a fascination that had persisted for so long.
And as they walked up on stage, decked out in their evening's best yukatas, everyone could see them! A little bit exciting, a little bit nervewracking, it all depended on which of them you asked.
But this was their moment, their time to shine.
A long breath in, microphones clutched close and their song began.
"Iya, wh'ni, wh'na, nira'kira, hira, judi, ya miru sa . . ."
Immediately the faces of the crowd lit up: it was a very old folk song, a rallying call of delight and celebration among inklings everywhere. It rung on the whistles of farmers and veterans, its distinct opening notes incorporated into the jingles of local businesses: everyone knew this song, even the jellyfish and horseshoe crabs that lived at the edges of the community.
But there was something beautiful about it being reinvented by two children, barely 10 and 11 respectively; where their voices met in melodic unity, despite all their differences, there was a trilling wonder and excitement.
Here and there, they stumbled: not remembering a word, falling off-tune, even almost bumping into each other at one point... but the crowd, family and friends alike, was utterly captivated.
Minutes later, the lights fell to a dim as their voices did, and soon Hotaru's gentle green glow was the only light left in the dark--
A first, cheering note rang out, only to be followed again and again. One figure in the front row soon rose to their feet amid the applause (someone easily recognized as their grandfather), and in a wave, the whole crowd followed. Even unfamiliar faces were cheering for them, and that was almost frightening.. but it was wonderful, too!
Still clutching her microphone in a pink-clawed hand, Aori couldn't help but giggle as she clung to her cousin, nuzzling her face into pale tentacles.
"We did it! We did it, Hotaru!"
It was all in the middle of nowhere, and a forgettable place perhaps, but word and video traveled quickly.
Excited relatives somehow managed to get a clip on-air, and soon newscasters from here and there were showing snippets of the performance. Some oohed, others aahed, and a few even awwed, finding the two just too cute to resist! In moments, the talent agencies were stirring alive, watching with keen gaze: there was always a place on the urban stage for a few more.
First the incitement came in prize money from the talent show: a hefty 150,000 gold pieces, generously divided up into savings for the future. Of course, that came with loud complaint from Aori, who insisted it at least a little be handed to them now! 50,000, that was enough for a cool new video game or a nice dress imported from the capital.
That was just the beginning, however, as soon came along an interviewer. An interviewer! All the way from central Inkopolis! They had to have been on the inkline for hours just to get out here.
"You two are very talented! Where did you get your inspiration?"
"Old videos! And stories! And--" "Mostly thinking about how cool it is to make new stuff from the old."
"Have you ever thought about going to the city so more people can see you two sing?"
"I mean, it was just once! I dunno if we'll do it again!" "Maybe if the chance comes up..."
"Your performance is very popular in the city, though! You've even been on the news a few times."
That was something a bit hard for Aori to truly fathom: so there were tons and tons of people, all over the place, who thought their song had been super cool? How many people? What kinds of people?
What was the city even like?
It sounded like just too much fun.
What an anxious thought it was, "no parents". Eight years since they had come here, and they were finally old enough to fend for themselves, being fully able to change shape and wield a weapon now. But, still, all the way out here, in the heart of the big city.. it was a little frightening, wasn't it?
The past few years had been an interesting crash course, though.
The first few journeys out here were simply to see what there was, to see the lights and the sights and the frights, to take in all the culture... not to mention the sports. That was one of the best parts, taking a night off to go turfing together.
But that wasn't even the highest point of it all: backed eagerly by one of Inkopolis's best talent agencies, the two of them found an exciting life and a lively paycheck for their singing and dancing at a lovely local theater.
Keen golden eyes watched for inspiration in every moment, and when everything quieted down, Aori would find herself throwing half-baked lyrics Hotaru's way to see what stuck. Take the stereo set and microphones out on the balcony and sing, and sometimes the world echoed back.
It was frightening, either way, to stand and watch as their family leaped onto the inkrail and began to swim away. This was their first test: for a long time now, their parents or other relatives would come out and stay with them for months on end.
And that was all a ton of fun, because between attending school, performing at little theaters or cafes, and inking it up on the turf war field, it was never boring. Or.. almost: there was one year that it was really hard to find musical gigs, so they were left with brief jobs at an assembly line, and that was something they were never doing again. Ever.
But now here they were.
"You think we should call home tomorrow, or something?"
Aori tilted her head at this thought, eventually blowing a magenta-stained raspberry at her cousin's words.
"Nah. That's what texting's for.
Besides, this isn't super sudden or whatever. Super sudden is them just leaving us here when we were, like, 12.
Can you imagine?!"
A genuine smile crept onto Hotaru's face, her fangs showing in a big grin.
"Fffhehe.. yeah, that would've sucked."
Of course, it wasn't just their first night truly free, but also one of the last nights before their first big-time performance. This time, it was going to be at a charity event, all fun food with a large turfing arena rented out.
"You wanna go rehearse again?"
Hotaru took a moment to check the time on her phone-- only 6:25 PM, there was plenty of time before dinner. Aori almost immediately leaned over to see exactly what it was her cousin was looking at, giggling all the while.
"Yeah, sure. Outside?"
"Where the heck else?"
And it was going to take awhile, she knew that; and it was going to be hard, she knew that too. But Aori couldn't bring herself to be stopped by that-- it was all just too much fun! It was going to be awesome, up there on a lit stage, being watched by hundreds!
It was going to be really awesome to be a star.
But even better that she had her very best friend with her on this crazy adventure.
Aori / Callie, Hotaru / Marie, and the world of Splatoon are by Nintendo.Various art on this profile is from Splatoon, too!
Profile, overlay, pet and story by Marine.