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A Centaur's Passing

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Himeno Kimihara’s thick, waist-length chestnut hair swayed gently in the everpresent sea breeze, as she and her friends hiked on a hiking trail along the windswept cliffs of the Jougasaki Coast of Ito as part of their educational school trip. In front of Hime, as she was also affectionately called, Manami’s white hair and even the feather of her wings were similarly fluttered and ruffled in the breeze while she steadfastly kept track of her classmates as part of her duties as the class rep. Ahead of them, Nozomi and Kyouko walked ahead discussing something Hime couldn’t quite hear over the wind, so she briefly hastened her gait to keep up with them, her horseshoes audibly clapping on the rocks beneath her hooves with an even rhythm.

“See, there’s the Kadowaki Lighthouse. We can see quite a bit of the coastline from there.” Kyouko the satyress said, pointing ahead to the distant structure that peeked above the treeline.

“Race you all to it then!” Nozomi yelled at the top of her lungs as she broke into a run with her impish wings flapping behind her, much to Kyouko and Manami’s exasperation. “Last one there is a rotten egg!” She hollered as she disappeared around the corner.

“Nozomi! Stop running or you’ll slip and fall or something!” Manami shouted while chasing after the imp girl. Hime, feeling a little mischievous herself and interested in the lighthouse ahead, broke into a faster trot to participate in the impromptu race. Fortunately there weren't that many people on the trail ahead of them to slow them down, so Nozomi ran unhindered while the others were not far behind.

As such, Nozomi was first to reach the suspension bridge that connected the main headland to the rocky outcrop rising out of the sea where the lighthouse stood. Hime, though unused to running on the uneven hiking path, managed to keep pace with her friend that she was second to arrive at the bridge. Seeing her centaur friend close behind her, Nozomi kept running straight onto the bridge which shook under her light, rapid steps.

Not wanting to lose still, Hime followed suit galloping over the bridge. What started at first as light rumbling of wood and steel when her hooves stepped on the seemingly sturdy bridge soon rose into a deafening cacophony of horrendous groaning and screeching as the bridge shook and collapsed downwards, sending it and everything standing on it moments earlier down into the sea below with a resounding splash. Kyouko and Manami who were not far behind, saw this with utter shock and awe that it took them a few seconds of silent staring with bewilderment at what just transpired, before Kyouko ran towards the edge of the cliff and looked down into the water below and shouted for her friends’ names.

“HIME! NOZOMI!” There was no sight of them on the surface, and Kyouko feared the worst. “I’m going to get help!” She exclaimed hurriedly before turning to run back down the path. Manami, still in relative shock, could only nod in agreement before turning to look down once more at the disaster before her. While the two girls who fell eluded Kyouko earlier, Manami saw a speck of black in the water below bobbing on the surface: it was Nozomi, seemingly alive and well.

“Nozomi!” Manami cried out to her classmate below who managed to pick up her voice over the roaring waves and looked up. She looked as if she was trying to shout back something while motioning down into the water, but from her vantage point, Manami could hear nothing at all, and before she could shout back something else, Nozomi disappeared down into the water once more without care.

Moments before the bridge completely collapsed, Nozomi ran back towards Hime who stopped in her tracks and was visibly shaken, frightened by the sudden groaning sound echoing around them. After they and the bridge plunged into the sea, and after she managed to orient herself underwater, Nozomi saw Hime not far from her and immediately swam towards her so they can get to the surface together. Much to her dismay however, Nozomi saw up close that her friend was pulling and tugging at several lengths of suspension cables that had coiled and tangled around her body. Try as the centaur girl might while trying to kick off the rocks under her, the cables around her body were taut and kept her anchored to the rocks and wreckage. Nozomi turned to swim up to the surface, not daring to look back at whatever expression Hime would have made at seeing her seemingly abandoning her friend.

When she finally broke the surface gasping for air, Nozomi saw someone up above the cliffs looking down but wasn’t sure who it was. “Help! Hime’s stuck underwater! Help!” She cried out, sputtering over the waves that drowned her voice. Whether the person heard her or not she couldn’t wait long to confirm, and after taking a deep breath, she jackknifed down into the water and dove straight back to a waiting Hime.

Despite the initial shock at her dire predicament, Hime remained calm and collected still as she searched and patted all over her equine body for where the cables were probably tied and knotted that kept her tightly bound to the sea bed. But the rolling waves above churned and swirled the murky water and even her hair around her, obstructing her view at times and making her task difficult, not to mention she was confounded by the deep, burning insistence in her lungs that she needed air soon and fast.

Nozomi joined Hime soon after her brief swim to the surface and seeing and understanding right away what Hime was trying to do, likewise did the same with the benefit of being able to squint closer to Hime’s body to search. Seeing as Hime got the top part of herself covered somewhat, Nozomi pulled herself down instead, using the taut cables as handhold and squeezing herself into the space under Hime’s torso.

As Hime continued to search to no avail, her thick hair once more got in the way of her view and she was forced to push them aside with both her hands hurriedly. As her view was cleared, she was taken aback by the sudden appearance of a blurry white figure in front of her, causing her to incoherently scream and gasp in an oxygen deprivation induced panic while rearing up and reflexively kicking at the blurry white figure. Her front hooves connected with it, and Hime saw the figure reel back and suddenly bursting with bubbles of air. But as she sucked and choked on sea water that she inadvertently swallowed in her momentary daze, she didn’t realise as she started to drown that she had just kicked Manami who dove down to help, who was now drowning before her from Hime’s sudden kick into her stomach.

Underneath Hime, Nozomi thought at first Hime finally got herself free as she reared up so she instinctively pushed herself off the rocks underneath her to swim upwards, but she didn’t make it far as Hime came down just as fast, and slammed her lower torso into Nozomi’s face and causing her to bounce back down and slam her back onto the rocks underneath her which knocked the air out of her. Reeling with pain that shot through her, Nozomi couldn’t help but gasp with shock, before she too swallowed and gurgled on seawater and started to drown as well.

Nozomi writhed and trashed about trying to get out from under Hime, even scratching and kicking against her friend above her who was in her way. Hime felt none of her friend’s struggle as she madly bucked and kicked her legs in place in her drowning throes which kept Nozomi firmly pinned down under her. Hime’s motion seemingly looked like how she was galloping on the surface earlier, while her arms uselessly flailed about trying to pull herself up towards the surface. So focused was Hime in trying to survive that it didn’t register on her that she was not alone in her perilous last moments. A lifeless Manami was still slightly quivering from a few scant impulses, floating bent over in front of Hime which kept her terrified to no end. Nozomi had just coughed up the last of her air and finally went completely still under her. As Nozomi’s eyes glazed over, it occurred to her regretfully that maybe she shouldn’t have raced with Hime onto the bridge.

As Hime’s vision grew dim, a few more violent convulsions shook Hime’s entire body as she yearningly looked up at the surface, causing a few more trickles of air to escape her parted lips. With a final conscious shudder, her eyes soon glazed over, and she did not see the last of her air from her now flooded lungs reach the surface. Her arms splayed on either side, Hime’s body spasmed some more before going limp, her knees bending and her body rested heavily on top of Nozomi’s and seemingly hid her from view.

This was how rescue mermaids came upon the scene much later, a macabre yet disheartening sight that they did not share in detail with the friends and family of the victims, leaving them to speculate how they met their end until a written report was publicly released later. Meanwhile, city officials were under scrutiny by the government and the public for failing to maintain the bridge that led to the tragedy. A new bridge was eventually built in place of the old one too little too late, but a stone plaque with three names on it became a reminder to others of what had transpired to bring it about…