Category: image prompt

(IP) Hunger

(IP) Hunger

              He wasn’t supposed to be here; it was forbidden. It belonged exclusively to the royal family. It was one of the most sacred places in the country. But with all this opulence and wealth, there had to be food somewhere. And death seemed too high a price to pay for something as inevitable as hunger.

               The boy crept along the shadowed path, using the shade provided by the trees to hide. The heat of the late summer day made his threadbare clothing stick to his skin, and he shuddered, making a note to take a trip to the river for a long, cool bath later.

               If he made it out of here, anyway. He shook the thought away like a particularly bothersome fly. He couldn’t think like that, not when his ailing mother and his smaller siblings were depending on him. Gods knew that he knew better than to steal, but the hunger pangs had gotten to him, and his sisters seemed to shrink more with every passing day.

               A hot flame of rage and resentment burst to life inside of his chest, and if his self-preservation instinct wasn’t so strong, he would steal into the palace of the widowed Empress and burn it to the ground. For what ruler was happy while her people were starving to death?

               The death toll continued to climb, people dying quietly in their sleep, begging for the slightest morsel, anything to save them from the cracked lips and empty stomachs. Some didn’t bother to wait for death, choosing to take the lives of their families instead of waiting for the goddess of Death, Kasmira, to bring them peace. The thought made him ill.

               The Empress had all but sentenced the peasants in her prospering country to death, choosing to keep all of the profits for herself and her household, all the while, her people were dying. The bitterness that coated his mouth and throat was an all-too familiar sensation, and with thoughts of his family and village spurring him onward, he at last made it inside of the temple.

               The stone temple was silent and dark, surprisingly cool after the immense heat he’d just come out of. Statues of gods, goddesses, and idols adorned pedestals around the room; there was the cool scent of stone and the spicy aroma of incense. The boy felt a slight twinge of fear and regret; he wouldn’t have dared defile the temples of The Old Ones if he’d had any other choice.

               But he couldn’t just let what family he had left die. Perhaps the gods would forgive his transgressions, he thought as he knelt in front of Lapis, The Blue Lady, murmuring thanks for offerings that were not his to take in the first place. But he could not resist the bounty of jewel-bright fruit resting in her lap: mangoes that looked like bright, round sunsets, tiny orange goji berries, bloodred pomegranate seeds spilling out of a juicy melon, tiny buns filled with ground meat, thin strips of beef and vegetables layered over rice, scarlet cubes of tofu in a spicy, black bean sauce tiny squares of glistening coconut ice candy; it was all a veritable feast, and everyone knew that the gods did not eat, not unless they had taken a vessel on this plane, and that hadn’t happened in more than five hundred years.

               He got as much food as he could carry in a small, makeshift bundle crafted from an old, clean work smock, and he began to creep out of the temple, hoping that no one saw him.

               When he reached the door, he just barely avoided crashing into a tall figure with glowing sapphire eyes.

               “And just where do you think you’re going with my offering, child?” A musical voice broke the silence of the empty building, accusatory though not raised.

               He’d been caught with the offering of a goddess. And, so it seemed, that same figure from all the stories had somehow descended from the sky to confront him for his theft.

**  

(IP) Star Patrol

(IP) Star Patrol

               The vast expanse of the galaxy spread out beyond them like the most colorful painting, the bright, dazzling sky belying the dark mission that lie ahead.

               The pilot sat at the front of the ship, thin lips set in a white, grim line. Her voice streamed out in a garbled sentence.

               “I don’t know about this, Captain. Something seems fishy to me. It seems… too quiet.”

               “We have our orders, Pilot McKeene,” The captain’s sharp, quiet voice broke the stale silence of the ship. “And they were to go on until the light disappears.” Her tone brooked no argument, but it did nothing to silence the sudden chorus of unease firing in the back of McKeene’s mind.

               Orders or not, this felt wrong. They weren’t allowed, by law of the Galactic Peace Union, to go past the Celestial Fields, into Dark Space and beyond. But their mysterious benefactor had offered quite a hefty sum in exchange for what the Captain called ‘a quick trip across the universe, nothing out of the ordinary’.

               McKeene had known that was a lie; the captain had been grinning at her over a neat whiskey, challenge gleaming in her bright amber eyes. Her Captain never took a job that wasn’t difficult; anything too easy tended to bore her and send her packing. But, what with the need to eat and survive and all that, even on the fringes of society, she’d ignored her misgivings and gone along with the Captain.

               Never mind that they’d hired a bunch of green new recruits, for medical purposes and protection; it was clear that none of them had ever been on an actually functioning spaceship, but McKeene was certain that the Captain had taken them on out of sheer desperation, not that she’d ever admit it.

               The doctor stood at one of the wide windows, hands clasped behind her back, eyes narrowed against the many pastel lights of the sky.

               “It’s so beautiful,” She breathed, raising one hand and putting it to the glass.

               “Enjoy the view while you can,” The Captain growled quietly, and McKeene bit back a sigh. This was exactly why she hadn’t wanted to hire a couple of greenies, but regardless of her opinion, the Captain was going to make her own choices. It was what had drawn McKeene to her in the first place; she hadn’t wanted a life where she could not choose her own path.

               Space had offered many things for her, but freedom had been most effective in swaying her. She had little use for the gilded trappings of her family’s nobility. And the Captain had offered her a way out.

               ‘It won’t be easy, kid, and it’s nothing like anything you’ve experienced before. You gotta be willing to get your hands dirty, to go for what you really want. And you’re a great pilot; haven’t seen anyone fly like you in years. So, you coming or not?’

The young chef, the only man on their ship, came up front, leaving the galley to see how close they were to the boundaries. His apron and toque were already, somehow, stained, and he’d brought with him the fragrance of coffee and fresh bread.

“How close are we, Captain?” He asked, eyes on the windows, a toothpick between his lips. In his gaze, McKeene saw the wonder, that shocking punch that always came, sooner or later, that accompanied living this far into the star systems.

“Nearly there, as long as we don’t have any problems,” She replied, shooting McKeene a sharp look.

Something was still bothering her; normally, by now, they’d be running into something dangerous: asteroids, scavengers, space debris, hostile humans or aliens; that feeling of unease clamped down on the back of her neck, and she inhaled sharply.

“Someone should be watching the back of the ship,” She said, not daring to take her eyes off of the darkening landscape in front of her.

As if in response to her words, the ship rocked, and there was a high, crunching sound of metal meeting metal. Alarms began to blare warning in high, keening peals, and the chef clapped his hands over his ears, eyes screwed shut tightly against the sound.

“What in the universe is going on?!” The mechanic came running out of the cockpit, hair pulled back in a bun and a smudge of grease on one of her cheekbones.

“I think something hit us!” The Captain snapped, and she walked to the seat next to McKeene, eyes narrowed.

“There’s another ship, we bumped into it.” She said, her voice hushed even under all of the distress sounds.

Behind them, the door opened, and a tall figure stepped through it: A young woman with a shaved head, half of her blue locks shaved close to the scalp, and she was wearing an eyepatch.

               “Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Captain Georgina Delalo, and my fine crew and I will be taking over this fine vessel. Surrender everything, or die.”

**

(IP) An Invitation

(IP) An Invitation

               The
young woman knelt before her, one hand held out in invitation, long silver
tresses turning pink in the dying evening light. The sacred symbol inked onto
her forehead glowed faintly, pointed ears twitching.

               “Isn’t
this what you wanted?” She inquired, tilting her head to the side. “An escape from
everything you’ve never wanted? I can’t promise that this will be easy. But
surely it’s better than not having a choice.”

               The
other girl stared up at her, brow crinkling slightly. “You can’t be serious.”

               At
first, she’d thought that this young woman—this sly, beautiful fey girl with
pointed ears, a secretive smile, and the most impossible of it all, a way out—had
been a dream, a figment of an overtaxed mind after a long day of working in the
village. She’d been sitting on the riverbank, resting her hands in the cool
water. Then she heard twigs snapping behind her. She’d whirled, only to find a
lovely girl staring at her, a basket of herbs in her arms.

               Immediately,
Matilda had been entranced; she hadn’t had a chance. And it appeared that the
girl, whose name was Rin, was just as fascinated with Matilda. After that, they’d
met in that same spot, every night, to share their days, or at least their
evenings.

               Rin
hailed from a land that for Matilda only existed in stories and fairy tales,
and even in her own language, it was practically forbidden to discuss. But for everything
she’d heard, Rin was nothing like she’d imagined, and now here they were, with
Rin inviting her into her world.

               Rin
blinked, and she smiled, her whole face glowing when it stretched across her
face.

“Why would I not be, Matilda?”

“I couldn’t,” She replied, shaking
her head and pulling away before she could think through her response. “I… I
should stay here.”

“Is that what you want, Mattie?”
Rin asked, and Matilda’s heart fluttered at the nickname. “Do you wish to stay
here? I’ll support your decision. It’s just that… You seemed so unhappy.”

Matilda’s eyes filled with tears,
and she put her head in her hands; she could not deny the truth of that
statement, not to herself or her only friend. Her first friend.

What awaited her if she stayed
here? A life of drudgery, a miserable marriage to one of the men in the
village, inevitably followed by offspring, and then working until she was old,
and finally died. The bleakness of the future that lay ahead of her made her
heart weep.

She might not have known what lay
ahead, but Rin was offering a way out, an escape she hadn’t dared to dream of.
A future in which she had a choice, and had a chance to make her life into
something that she was proud of. She would never get something like this again.

When she turned around, Rin was
beginning to walk away, the faint rose glow of the portal painting her in soft
pastels.

“Rin! Wait!” Matilda cried, and she
ran after the other girl. She grabbed Rin’s hand and clasped it tight; Rin
smiled, delighted, and kissed her fingers.

“Come, my love. Come home.”

**

(IP) Journey Through the Dark

(IP) Journey Through the Dark

               They’d
reached the ruined abbey just as the sun had begun to set and turn everything a
bloody scarlet.

               The
party was made up of three people, a woman holding a lantern astride a horse,
and two men walking in front of her, one holding a bow and arrow and the other
leaning heavily on a twisted yew staff.

The abbey was so quiet that only
their footsteps and the horse’s feet clop
clop clopping
on the stone floor broke the silence, each one crashing down
like a rockslide onto a hill.

The woman frowned, one hand wrapped
in her mount’s long, dark mane. She wasn’t sure why, but it felt as though
something was hiding in the dark shadows. She shook herself mentally; she wasn’t
a child in a brick and thatch hut anymore, sitting in front of a fire while her
grandmother told stories of the past. She was far too old for such fear to be
sitting upon her shoulders.

Her companions, meanwhile, were
keeping ahead of the horse, silent and watchful.

The archer crept through the
shadows, blinking as he passed through the light of the dying sun, hands poised
on his bow, his ears perked up for any out of ordinary sounds. They weren’t
expecting anyone; this abbey had been falling apart for years. In fact, no one
in the ragtag little group knew just why they’d been sent here.

The man with the staff was trying
to match the archer step for step, but he was impaired by a deep limp. He said
nothing, but his teeth were clenched, sweat beading up on his brow like tiny,
liquid salt crystals.

As they moved further into the
building, a chill formed in the air, freezing the sweat on the mage’s brow, and
the archer shuddered, caught by surprise.

A breeze chased the sudden dip in
temperature, making the golden flame within the lantern gutter and dance,
painting sinuous shadows upon the stone walls.

“What’s going on?” The woman
gasped, and her horse spooked, rearing and bucking her off; she landed on the
stone floor with a nasty crunch, and
there was a flash of white light in her vision; the pain was such that it felt
like her rib cage had imploded.

For one terrible fraction of a second,
she thought that she was dying.

But the spell was broken by the
horse turning and fleeing, its frightened cries magnified so that it felt like
there was a whole herd of them running out of this haunted place.

“Are you all right?” The mage
asked, limping over to her and gracelessly kneeling beside her, as best he
could.

The archer stood in front of them, fitting
an arrow on the drawstring of his bow and pulling it quickly taut.

The woman nodded, though she had
quickly grown pale, and she was holding her ankle, her lips drawn into a thin
line; her companions suspected that she was biting back a scream.

“Don’t worry, we’re going to get
you help, somehow,” The mage murmured, gently smoothing back her hair.

The cold that surrounded them only
intensified, and a mocking, high laugh sounded, echoing off of the abbey’s
stone walls.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,
foolish little mortals, for you have trespassed in my territory. Bid each other
goodbye, for you will not leave this place alive.”

**

(IP) Shaman

(IP) Shaman

The forest was a riot of sound, and it and all of its creatures welcomed her.

A distant smile touched her full, lush lips, painted as violet as flower petals, and she reached out her long, bejeweled fingers to feel the viridian velvet of the plants.

Here, more than anywhere else, was home, and the rightness of it settled into her bones. The skull headdress upon her proud forehead gave her a look that was almost menacing, but her aura spoke of something else: peace, and magic; it hung like a rosy-pink veil around her body, casting her pale skin in warm light.

One by one, animals melted out of the trees and foliage, brushing the shaman’s fingers, hips, any part of her skin that they could reach, and she let out a quiet, musical laugh that seemed to stir the woods into full waking.

She lifted her head and spoke to the sky, to the world that had welcomed her as its own.

“Thank you, Mother Earth and Father Sky, for your endless bounty! I cannot express in mere words how pleased I am.”

Revered though she was in the village, she could not quiet the voice inside of her that simply demanded: more.

More of what, she did not know. When she was busy in the village, healing, midwifing, giving advice, overseeing marriages and separations, it was quiet, but not silenced.

And how could she run to chase phantom desires, when so many people actually needed her?

But that could not stop her dreams, the endless visions of running with her feet to the earth, feeling the wind stroke cool fingers through her long hair, the trees parting for her, freeing her from her duties…

The conflict was a storm inside of her heart, one she feared would build into something she could not suppress.

Part of her belonged to the village, and the other belonged to the great unknown, and she could not even begin to know what it was she really wanted.

She walked until she came to a clearing, a meadow full of bright flowers and a small, bright pool of water. She sat down at the edge of the pool, then sank into it, fully clothed, and she sighed, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

Here, she could pretend that nothing awaited her; that she was an entity of the gods and the world they ruled.

She had no idea that in the trees, undetected, someone was watching her.

**

(IP) Many Are the Dead

(IP) Many are the Dead

The sky was bloodred, painting the new snow on the ground a rusty cinnamon.

The warrior and his familiar, a painted steed with a white mane, stood in the center of the wreckage, the only sound breaking the heavy silence the huffing of the beasts no one had bothered to pillage.

Gone were the sounds of marching, the beating of drums and the screams of the dying.

When they’d been sent here by their general, they’d been expecting slaughter and bloodshed. But everyone was gone, down to the last man, woman, and child. The only thing left now was the heavy, carrion stench of death and vengeance.

The warrior’s stomach turned. Though he was used to war, he could not fathom just how senseless this all was. The general had demanded that he travel to the mountains and find the battleground, and to scavenge what they could from it.

“I hate to do this,” She’d said, in a quiet, raspy voice that bespoke of years of tobacco and other vices, “But loss is necessary, and we must make of it what we will.”

She’d set a cup of tea in front of him, and he’d nodded to her in thanks.

“Go to the mountains with your familiar and see what happened there. Please. Those people deserve the truth, the gods see them home safely. Of course, I will give you supplies. Be careful. You never know who may be watching.” Her already thin lips flattened into a grim, white line, and he knew she was thinking of The Devourer.

It was a black shadow that had descended over their land, able to hide in plain sight and work deadly magic; its presence was both omnipotent and unknowable, even to those who worked their whole lives to dismantle its iron grip on the country.

The horse tossed her head, her hooves meeting the ground with terrible force, and she turned to look at the warrior, dark eyes glistening with human knowledge.

I can smell The Devourer here. But I’m certain that it did not come itself.

“So it was working through someone,” Her companion replied, more statement than question, and the horse nodded, whickering as her head bobbed up and down.

“I was afraid of that,” He sighed, running a hand through his hair, his breath forming a white cloud in the cold, crystalline air.

How did one catch something that constantly changed forms, that hid everywhere, was impossible to detect? It was as impossible as trying to catch smoke, or hold water in one’s cupped hands.

“Come,” He bade at last, taking the horse’s reins. He would have to send word that he required help after all—there was no way that his horse could transport the buffalo that had somehow survived the onslaught.

“Let’s get this over with,” He murmured; the cold had seeped down to his marrow, his heart a frozen block of ice in his chest.

All of this wasted, another wave in The Devourer’s reign of terror.

With the military’s resources shrinking daily, it seemed impossible to hold on to the humanity, or, what was left of it. But the General, and every soldier under her, was depending on him.

Giving up simply was not an option.

(IP) The Great Escape

thestorychaser:

(IP) The Great Escape

Darkness descended upon the land, blanketing it under the cover of dark, swirling storm clouds.

The snow-capped mountains ringed the crumbling stone fortress, a gray stone barrier that protected it and the mines that went down deep into the mountains, built on the backs of the broken and downtrodden. Still, the castle is a buzzing hive of activity, even this close to evening. Servants traveled the halls inside, often in pairs and small groups, heads close together as they whispered to one another; if one looked closely, they’d see dark, red-rimmed eyes, pale faces, bitten lips and torn clothing.

A hooded figure slipped through the crowded hallways, unnoticed, head lowered in deference, heading toward the dungeons. The chaos of the castle is such that no one even gives the figure a sideways glance. That was good; the interloper intended it that way.

She’d come all this way for a reason, and it would not do to stand out. She needed to blend in, though it took everything in her power to stay quiet. The rage inside of her chest burned bright, a flame that would not be doused by anything but vengeance, retribution. If she could, she would burn this building down to the foundations. It had been built on the backs of her people, and many others, people that weren’t rich and privileged and able to hide their darkest secrets: anything to hold their positions. To profit from every immoral thing that they’d ever committed. She had to swallow to prevent her gorge from rising, to hold in the screams of frustration that were building inside of her throat, longing to be loosed. But none of that mattered now; she’d come to free the prisoners that were rotting in the dungeons.

Her priority now had to be to get them out of the castle alive, for fear that the Queen’s Guard would spot them and murder them where they stood. She forced herself to take a deep breath; she had to stay calm. If she slipped up, if she made even the smallest error, it wouldn’t just be her life at risk.

And she hadn’t taken on this mission to lose it. She’d sacrificed everything to become a member of the Resistance; her station, her lover, her family, and almost her sanity. She’d come too far to turn tail and run now.

She found the staircase that led down into the dungeons and quickly but carefully made the descent, the stench of mold and mildew hitting her face like a blow. She put one arm over her face and used her free hand to guide her way down the steps, wincing when her fingers met wet moss. Her eyes streamed; the awful smell of rotting flesh seemed to sink into her cloak, hair, and skin, and she swallowed, resisting the urge to gag.

At last, she reached the bottom floor, and she hurried to the cells, noticing more than one shadow curled up in the eerie light of the torches on the walls, tucked into sconces. She heard someone coughing, hacking as though they were choking, and she approached slowly, looking for a cap of bright red hair.

When she found the right cell, she knelt in front of the door, shoving the key into the lock with trembling hands.

A wasted little girl sat against the stone wall, arms wrapped around her knees. Her fine gown had once been white, but now it was black with sick and other filth. Her face was deathly pale, her eyes bright amber hollows in the dim light, and her long hair was matted and tangled, full of sticks, blood, and leaves. She looked up at the hooded figure, full lips parted.

“Who are you?”

“I’m a friend. We’ll talk later, when I get you out of here, Princess.”

**

Hey, guys! My latest short story, The Great Escape, inspired by an image prompt on Reddit! I hope you like it! Feedback is encouraged and appreciated! Feel free to like and reblog, just make sure you credit me as the original source! I love you all, thanks for your support! <3

(IP) The Great Escape

(IP) The Great Escape

Darkness descended upon the land, blanketing it under the cover of dark, swirling storm clouds.

The snow-capped mountains ringed the crumbling stone fortress, a gray stone barrier that protected it and the mines that went down deep into the mountains, built on the backs of the broken and downtrodden. Still, the castle is a buzzing hive of activity, even this close to evening. Servants traveled the halls inside, often in pairs and small groups, heads close together as they whispered to one another; if one looked closely, they’d see dark, red-rimmed eyes, pale faces, bitten lips and torn clothing.

A hooded figure slipped through the crowded hallways, unnoticed, head lowered in deference, heading toward the dungeons. The chaos of the castle is such that no one even gives the figure a sideways glance. That was good; the interloper intended it that way.

She’d come all this way for a reason, and it would not do to stand out. She needed to blend in, though it took everything in her power to stay quiet. The rage inside of her chest burned bright, a flame that would not be doused by anything but vengeance, retribution. If she could, she would burn this building down to the foundations. It had been built on the backs of her people, and many others, people that weren’t rich and privileged and able to hide their darkest secrets: anything to hold their positions. To profit from every immoral thing that they’d ever committed. She had to swallow to prevent her gorge from rising, to hold in the screams of frustration that were building inside of her throat, longing to be loosed. But none of that mattered now; she’d come to free the prisoners that were rotting in the dungeons.

Her priority now had to be to get them out of the castle alive, for fear that the Queen’s Guard would spot them and murder them where they stood. She forced herself to take a deep breath; she had to stay calm. If she slipped up, if she made even the smallest error, it wouldn’t just be her life at risk.

And she hadn’t taken on this mission to lose it. She’d sacrificed everything to become a member of the Resistance; her station, her lover, her family, and almost her sanity. She’d come too far to turn tail and run now.

She found the staircase that led down into the dungeons and quickly but carefully made the descent, the stench of mold and mildew hitting her face like a blow. She put one arm over her face and used her free hand to guide her way down the steps, wincing when her fingers met wet moss. Her eyes streamed; the awful smell of rotting flesh seemed to sink into her cloak, hair, and skin, and she swallowed, resisting the urge to gag.

At last, she reached the bottom floor, and she hurried to the cells, noticing more than one shadow curled up in the eerie light of the torches on the walls, tucked into sconces. She heard someone coughing, hacking as though they were choking, and she approached slowly, looking for a cap of bright red hair.

When she found the right cell, she knelt in front of the door, shoving the key into the lock with trembling hands.

A wasted little girl sat against the stone wall, arms wrapped around her knees. Her fine gown had once been white, but now it was black with sick and other filth. Her face was deathly pale, her eyes bright amber hollows in the dim light, and her long hair was matted and tangled, full of sticks, blood, and leaves. She looked up at the hooded figure, full lips parted.

“Who are you?”

"I’m a friend. We’ll talk later, when I get you out of here, Princess.”

**

(IP) Ocean Voices

thestorychaser:

Somewhere along the line, she had somehow gotten lost. Maybe she’d gotten caught by a current and pushed in the wrong direction. She put down the oar, holding it across her lap, looking around, trying to see if anything looked familiar. Nothing.

Her heart began to pound in her chest, and the oar she was holding became slick with sweat. How was she going to find her way back to the beach? She had nothing with her except a few bottles of water, some snacks, and a bottle of sunscreen.

And then she spied the dark shapes moving in and out, under her boat. She clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a shriek of panic and fear. Her vision spotted, and soon every breath that she took in was a labor, her chest seemingly wrapped in tight iron bands that made breathing all but impossible.

Okay, okay, she thought to herself. Don’t let your panic get the best of you. She took a few deep breaths, and after a few moments, her vision cleared. She gathered her wits and looked ahead; she had to get to land, and then she would focus on what to do next. She put the oar back into the water and began to row, trying to ignore the way that the sun was beginning to set, and the way her arms screamed in protest at the movement.

She never should’ve stormed off after they’d fought. But she hadn’t been thinking clearly, too blinded by the need to get away, her throat still hurting from crying and screaming. She had no idea just how long she’d been out here, and she wiped a hand across her face, crusted with sand and sweat. She needed to go back, to make things right, but the bitterness that built up in her throat prevented it; she just wanted to find her way home and go to sleep.

“I think she’s lost,” A voice murmured from behind her, soft, hesitant. “Should we help her?”

“You know the rules. We aren’t supposed to interfere, not for any reason. Besides, she’s a human,” Another voice responded, aloof and gruff. “And it wouldn’t matter anyway; one less of them to worry about.”

“How could you be so callous? She’s been out here for hours.”

“We’re only supposed to watch, and you know it! Besides, this wouldn’t be the first time someone invaded our home.”

“I’d hardly say that she’s invading. You can stay here, but I’m going to help her–”

Thalia wondered if she was hallucinating, if she’d been out on the waves so long that she was beginning to lose her mind from lack of sleep. Where were those voices coming from? They were muffled, as if they were creatures speaking from underwater.

But that was impossible. Wasn’t it?

There was the flowing of water, and then a sleek black head popped up, coming to the side of the tiny skiff. “I can help you get back home.”

The speaker was male, and Thalia saw through the clear blue water that though he was human on his top half, with sun-drenched skin, tattoos, and brown eyes so dark they looked nearly black, his lower one ended in a sleek black seal tail.

“Who are you?” Thalia asked, and the creature smiled at her, speaking in a language that she did not understand.

“Let’s get you to shore and then we’ll talk. Deal?”

“Deal.”

**

Hey, guys! My latest short story, courtesy of an image prompt on Reddit! As always, feedback is encouraged and appreciated! I hope you enjoy it! Thank you so much for your support, I love you all! <3 <3 <3

(IP) Storms and Stories

The storm was here at last. He stood on the shore, eyes on the sky, which was darkening with every passing moment.

The ocean had always been a source of comfort throughout his life; it been one of his only constants, so until now, it simply hadn’t occurred to him to be afraid of it.

The adults had been talking about the incoming disaster for days, stockpiling provisions, for the sea was far too treacherous to navigate now, with the storm so close. He’d wanted to leave, to pack up the family and sail away, ahead of it, but his parents and big sister wouldn’t hear of it, saying that it was too dangerous, even for people like them.

He knew that he should leave, should return to the hut and help prepare, but something compelled him to stay, watching the violent waves turn the water into a dark bubbling soup, his feet buried in the damp sand.

“Kai!” A voice called from behind, and he turned toward it; a young woman was racing toward him, arms pumping at her sides, her dark curls flying behind her like a black flag, gleaming even in the darkness. “What are you doing?” She asked when she skidded to a stop beside him. “Shouldn’t you be helping your family with preparations?”

“I just wanted to see if it was all true this time, or if the adults just were overreacting,” He answered, shrugging, eyes drawn against his will to the blood-red tattoos that adorned her arms, clavicle, and neck that marked her as a daughter of one of the Elders. He pointed to the clouds, thick and black and ominous. “Looks like it’s actually happening this time.”

She nodded, taking a band of thin rope and winding it around her hair, tucking it all into a bun at the nape of her neck.

“Your mother and uncle have been looking for you. I figured I’d find you out here.”

“What makes this storm any different, Kalani?” He asked his friend, reaching for her hand instinctively. “Aren’t they an occupational hazard on an island like this one?”

She squeezed his hand lightly. “You know the story, Kai. One day a storm will come and send the ocean into a frenzy, and it will devour the island. You know, like that story of the land of… At.. Atlan… I can’t remember.”

“Atlantis?” He asked, and she nodded, her eyes on the horizon, biting her lip worriedly.

“But it’s just a story, isn’t it? Like all of our tales and myths? Surely they aren’t all true.”

“The adults of our tribe seem to think differently,” Kalani replied, shrugging her slim shoulders. “Come on, your parents are worried about you, and besides, it’s almost dinnertime.”

As if in reply, Kai’s stomach grumbled angrily, and he reluctantly turned away from the ocean, and the pair began the long trek back to the village.

**

The hut glowed with weak, golden lantern light, and Kai’s mother came to the door, hands on her hips.

“And just where have you been, son?” She asked, sparing a smile of thanks for his childhood friend. “The storm is nearly here, and you’re out wandering! You should be ashamed!”

“I’m sorry, Mother. I just… I wanted to see if the rumors were true this time. There have been false alarms before, after all.”

“Why would the Elders lie to us? The gods give them their powers for a reason. Now, come inside and have some dinner. She looked at Kalani. "Would you like to stay for dinner, dear? Fish stew and taro mash. We’ve got plenty, and you’re looking awfully peaky.”

“No, thank you, ma’am, my parents are expecting me. Have a nice night!” She smiled at Kai and waved, then disappeared, walking back to her own hut further down the street.

Kai walked inside, his stomach grumbling angrily as he caught the scent of garlic, ginger, and chili.

“I didn’t mean to worry you, Mother. I’m sorry.”

“Your mind is always elsewhere,” His mother replied; though the words were sharp, her voice was soft, exasperated. “Ever since your father died, your feet have led you back to the ocean, never mind that is one of the most powerful forces in this world. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I know, Mother,” He said, washing his hands and sitting at the table. As usual, there were three seats, and three bowls, though it had been years since his father’s passing; his mother just couldn’t bear to clear away his seat at the head of the table. Kai knew how she felt; he missed his father too, and it had been the ocean that had taken him, on a routine trip out on the waves to bring back fish and other seafood back to the village, some to sell, and some of it to feed them.

And still he couldn’t bring himself to be afraid of it, to not love it, even after seeing all the destruction it had wrought, upon the island and his own family. It was as much a part of him as the sun, the moon, and their children, the stars, and the bright blue blanket that was the sky.

He just couldn’t bring himself to listen to the Elders’ warnings, even though he knew they meant well. He didn’t want to leave, either, even on pain of death.

This was the only home he’d ever known.

**