In the warm salty waters of the great blue sea, little orange and white fish called clown fish played their favorite game: chasing each other round and round, swimming as fast as they could go. Yet always they stayed close to their sea anemone home. Their sea anemone had thousands of soft white tendrils all over her body, and the tendrils were just perfect to hide in.
Aliq was following his brother Twyl. His bright orange and white stripes, outlined with black, flashed as he swam through the forest of tendrils. The sea anemone's tendrils tickled when they touched Aliq. He liked watching the tendrils sway back and forth as the water moved.
"Look," Twyl called suddenly. His side fins were going in little circles, holding him steady in one place. "Here come Mother Fish and Father Fish!"
Aliq and Twyl and their other brothers watched as Mother Fish and Father Fish slowly glided by. Their side fins touched each other as they swam.
Suddenly, Mother Fish flicked her tail and zipped on past. Father Fish went, too. A yellow striped fish with a pointy mouth was eating a tendril of the sea anemone, taking big bites. Mother and Father Fish headed right at that strange fish and started biting at it. The yellow fish swam away, and Mother and Father swam after it.
"What's happening?" Aliq asked.
Zorn, one of his older brothers, answered. "They're protecting our sea anemone. They'll be back soon."
When Mother and Father came home, a shrimp was following them and swam into the anemone. As soon as it touched the tendrils, the shrimp went still.
"What happened?" Twyl asked.
"Our sea anemone killed the shrimp with the poison on her tendrils," Zorn said.
"But we swim in her tendrils every day," Aliq said. "The poison doesn't kill us."
"That's because we're her friends," Zorn said. "We have a special covering on our scales that keeps us safe. Now watch!"
The soft white tendrils shimmered and waved. The shrimp was tossed to the middle of the sea anemone, right to the circle of her open mouth. The sea anemone swallowed the shrimp whole.
"She was hungry," Zorn said then swam away. Mother and Father Fish began gliding again. Their tails brushed against the sea anemone's tendrils, soft and gentle on their skin.
"Mother and Father Fish are so big and so brave!" Aliq said.
"I can't wait until I'm big like them, but right now, I'm hungry!" Twyl said.
They began nibbling the tiny bits of plants that clung to their sea anemone's tendrils. Twyl found a crunchy isopod, and Aliq found another shrimp. But that was all, and they were still hungry. "We could leave our sea anemone," Aliq said.
Twyl and Aliq looked out into the great blue sea. Sting rays lived out there. Sharks did too. Huge dark fish with double rows of teeth lurked in the deep water. But there were also tasty things to eat.
"Come on!" Aliq said to Twyl. "Let's explore!" With a flick of his tail he was off, swimming away from their sea anemone home. Twyl followed him, and they swam side by side, their side fins touching each other as they glided along.
Farther and farther they went, away from their family, and away from their sea anemone home. Aliq and Twyl had never left the forest of tendrils before. They had never swum without the soft touch of their sea anemone on their fins. But Aliq found another shrimp to eat, small and tasty. Twyl found plankton, little bits of green floating by. Aliq and Twyl kept eating and swimming and eating some more.
Then Aliq stopped swimming. He looked around. Far off in the water, a dark shadow appeared. "Twyl," Aliq whispered. "What's that?"
Twyl stopped eating and looked at the shadow. It was coming closer, weaving slowly back and forth. "Shark!" Twyl yelled. "Swim! Go back home!"
Aliq and Twyl turned around and flicked their tails, zipping through the water as fast as they could go, heading for their sea anemone home. Aliq didn't want to look behind him. He didn't want to know how close the shark was. But he could feel the rippling of the water. He could hear the shark getting near. Aliq twitched his tail faster. Beside him, Twyl was swimming just as hard.
The tendrils of their sea anemone shimmered ahead of them, soft and white and warm. They were almost home.
"Swim, swim, swim," Aliq chanted to himself. "Swim! Swim! SWIM!" The water swirled around them; it smelled and tasted like shark—oily and dark and cold. Aliq and Twyl flicked their tails extra hard.
Finally! Aliq and Twyl reached their sea anemone home just in time, hiding in the soft white tendrils. The water exploded around them in bubbles as the shark turned to go. The poison of the sea anemone was keeping it away.
Twyl and Aliq peeked between the tendrils to look at each other. Both of them were still scared. Both of them were very glad to be home, safe with Mother Fish and Father Fish and all their brothers. Both of them were very, very glad they had a sea anemone to protect them and to be their home. And both of them knew it was their job as clown fish to take care of her. They would chase away any fish that tried to eat her tendrils. They would bring her food. And she would take care of them.
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