The Ocean’s Teeth – (Story for a Flashfiction Challenge)

This was written for a flashfiction challenge from Chuck Wendig; it was inspired by this picture.

It is precisely 1,000 words, hitting the challenge limit.

Summary: It has been a long time since war split sea and land asunder. . .

The Ocean’s Teeth

Malea poured more energy into the strokes of her tail, angling higher, and laughed as she breached the surface by flying into the air, body twisting gracefully between the shipwreck-teeth of the ruined pier.

She splashed down almost in the centre of them, curling her tail and slowing, fins waving absently against the current. The sea looked like it was on fire as the sun sank a little further below the horizon, and she loved it.

“Malea!”

Malea groaned and flicked her tailfin at Sebastian as he edged tentatively through the water, pausing by the furthest of the weathered wooden posts. “If you didn’t want to see, you didn’t have to come.” she said, stretching and sliding her hands under her hair.

It felt strange, to be out of the water, but the lightness of the air was . . . curious. Malea was glad she didn’t have to live in it, but it was fun to explore.

“I did have to come, because you came and I’m not letting you come here alone.” Sebastian said, eyeing the shore warily – really, it was over twenty lengths away – and then weaving between the posts towards her. His sunset-orange tail flashed just beneath the water as he rounded the ruins of the pier, inspecting. “You know they don’t remember us.” he chided.

“Maybe someone should remind them.” Malea tossed back, baring sharp teeth. “We had a good alliance once.” She rolled, slipping back beneath the waves, letting the water soothe the ache in her gills. She hadn’t prepared for spending long in the dry. “We could have one again.” she said as Sebastian followed.

“They feared us, and now they have forgotten us.” Sebastian shook his head. “You think reminding them we are here would change that? There would only be fear again. Do you not remember the stories?” He reached out.

“The fire lancing through our waters?” Malea said sharply; she remembered. Her grandparents had been part of the alliance, many currents ago. “The razored nets soaked with choking oils? The weights that crushed our homes and our corals, and burned even deep under the surface?” She hissed, bubbles flowing between her teeth and from her gills. “I remember the stories, Sebastian. I know.”

“Then why-”

“What of their children, stolen into dark deeps and smothering?” Malea asked, her voice cutting through his. “What of storms sung from the heart of the ocean and sent to crush their villages? What of our hunters penning away the fish they rely on, or killing them and leaving them to rot? The broken alliance lies not on one people, but two.”

Sebastian’s tail coiled on itself uncomfortably. Malea scoffed disgustedly, turning and diving deeper, fingers trailing over the bases of the nearest posts. The workings here were from mer and human; the metal bore the harsh edges of human forges, but also the soft contours that mers knew would last.

“We have both contributed to our ruin, and we all suffer for it.” Malea said sadly, her hand curling around the post. “Horrors were visited on both sides, but we were stronger together. How long should we bear those fears?” she asked sharply, bending backwards and cutting away with a vicious stroke of her tail as Sebastian approached her.

She understood his fear – the fear carried to some degree by of all her kin, including herself – but . . . they could not allow fear to be all that was within them.

Malea spiralled upwards around the slimmest post of the ruined ring. She pushed her fingertips through her hair, the heavy mass weighing against the webs between her fingers as she rose into the dry.

She froze, even her tail stilling, and she began to sink. There was a boat across the water; small, but already within the bounds of the pier. As she realised it, she purposely drifted lower. There were two men in the boat.

“Mechi, we don’t have to go so far. . .” The low voice carried easily across the water.

“You expect me to send a message without actually venturing over sea?” The other man replied, and Malea’s tail jerked with startlement. A wizard? He shook his head, turning towards his companion.

Malea tensed – she was too far above the waves to be missed, not this close – not diving but ready to disappear with a flick of her tail. It mightn’t be swift enough, if he was truly a wizard, one capable of casting a message over the waves.

His eyes locked with hers and went wide, and Malea’s tail twitched. He bit his lip, then gestured in invitation, otherwise staying very still. Malea cautiously approached his tiny boat – she was still a mer in the sea, even so close to shore, she told herself, and there were only the two of them. She could protect herself.

Sebastian surfaced beside her with a soft hiss, and Malea shook her head, still moving closer.

“The Ocean’s Teeth. . .” Mechi spoke softly.

Malea smiled slightly, wary. “The Flame’s Hands.” she identified in return.

The other man turned, shocked, and then cursed, bringing up-

Malea flinched away and Sebastian let out a sharp, warning cry, but Mechi wrestled away the heavy crossbow. “Teutrich no.” he snapped. “I have hoped for years to speak with one of them, that their kind and ours-” He groaned and let the water take the crossbow.

Malea’s fins prickled with curiosity. She paused at the boat, rising with a powerful stroke of her tail and resting her forearms tentatively on the boat.

“Malea, they’re dangerous.” Sebastian cautioned, his hand brushing her hip.

“So are we.” Malea said, eyes locked with the wizard’s. “But once we were allies. All but kin. I would we return to those days.”

Mechi smiled. “As would I.” he said, offering a hand slowly – a gesture she knew was meaningful to humans, though it was odd to try and return. Still, Malea clasped his hand, and he didn’t flinch. “May we speak?”

Malea smiled back and nodded.

It was a beginning.

~Fin~

 

Story also posted to AO3 with my others.

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One thought on “The Ocean’s Teeth – (Story for a Flashfiction Challenge)

  1. Michelle says:

    This was great!! I love the part where Malea reminds Sebastian of how they’re both responsible for the broken treaty, and meeting the wizard and shaking hands at the end just…ahhh!! ❤

    And the last line was SUCH a lovely way to end the story, with a glimpse that this is not the end, but it still feels so self-contained. Excellent work, and thank you for sharing it!

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