Hello and welcome back! As we continue amidst the global quarantine, I find myself still trying to adjust to a new normal. And with this new normal, trying to find my creativity. It's been a struggle, to say the least. So... this past Wednesday I thought it would be fun to try something a bit different. A writing prompt exercise.
The following short story has nothing to do with my current work in progress, The Lost Queen. This is just a short story that popped into my head when I read the word list.
(See if you're able to spot the words listed above 😉)
Thunder rolled across the sky, and I grasped the railing before me. Rough wood scraped my palms as the ship's prow raised on a cresting wave before slamming down hard. My legs buckled, and my feet slid out from under me. I clutched harder at the railing. The deck was too slippery from the onslaught of rain to keep my footing steady.
A piercing scream broke through the persistent thunder. "Dahlia!"
I twisted, my heart jumping into my throat. "Mari! Get back in the cabin!"
She wiped long hanks of wet hair from her eyes. Her eyes, large and round, darted past my shoulder. I turned back to the railing and got a renewed grip and saw what Mari had seen. At the stern of the ship, a long grey fleshed tentacle rose out of the crashing waves and slammed it onto the ship's deck.
Mari screamed. I pulled with all my might until I pulled one leg under me, then the other. Another tentacle burst out of the churning water and slammed to the deck only feet in front of me. The smooth grey skin, modeled with black streaks, took hold of the floor with its large head-sized suction cups lined the thick arm.
The ship lurched again, and I fell, sliding away from the tentacle and into the doorway where Mari braced her skinny matchstick arms to either side, shaking with the effort.
I blinked away the rain and saltwater, my eyes burning. I got to my hands and knees and saw Mari.
"Get back in the cabin!" I screamed. She didn't hear me, her full attention on the monster. I grabbed her leg, and she flinched back.
"I… I can help," she shouted and disappeared into the cabin, returning with a loaded crossbow.
A tentacle slammed down, then another slammed down. I flinched at each impact. From over my head, an arrow, fletched with red and white shot towards the closest tentacle, sinking in the flesh. Thick, purple blood oozed out of the wound and mixed with the water on the deck. An arrow found its way beside the other one, but didn't have any effect.
I stood and pushed Mari and the crossbow inside, slamming the door.
Two women, one tall with broad shoulders and leather kilt and the other medium height with skin as dark as ebony hacked at one of the tentacles with swords. The suction cups that lined the underside of each appendage flexed and gripped the deck. Swords flashed, catching the light of the morning sun, peeking over the horizon. It let its hold go, retracting briefly, before it shot forward, knocking into the taller woman. She fell and rolled, crashing into the far railing, her sword sliding from her grip.
"Lena!" Shouted the other woman and dodged, twisting away as another tentacle swooped down, aiming for her.
I pulled my sword still strapped to my back. Avalon… why did we leave Avalon on the start of a Blood Moon? It was a bad omen, an omen that my captain didn't believe or heed. Visions of Avalon flashed; A vast island made of green grass fields, and crystal blue lakes just waiting to enfold a daughter of the realm in its safe embrace.
Europa, Captain of the Flying Serpent, ducked again and again as the tentacle whipped back and forth, swinging blindly.
I ran, gripping the hilt of my sword, feeling the corded leather worn, so my fingers fell into familiar divots. With both hands and swung down with all my strength. My thin double-sided blade bit into the grey flesh as I pressed hard until my sword met the decking. A four-foot section of tentacle flopped around the deck, independent of the retreating stump. I jumped over it and ran to my captain's side.
"Dahlia, where's the orphan?" She shouted, her voice so low one could mistake it for a man's.
The Orphan, the name we had given Mari when we found her aboard, hidden in one of the empty barrels strapped to the main deck. The Orphan, who kept secrets and a mysterious list of constellations and coordinates. The Orphan, who was the reason why our ship was under attack by a sea monster.
"She's in the cabin," I panted and hacked at another tentacle that slithered across the deck, aiming at my legs.
Before I could raise my sword again, a burst of blue light flared on the deck above us. The ship vibrated, and the fine hairs on the back of my neck lifted. To the left, the ship dipped down, waves sloshing over the side. A scream caught in my throat as a liquid black eye the sized of a wagon wheel rose out of the waves.
The creature blinked, its elongated pupil contracted and focused on us. I saw a distorted reflection of a distorted woman— my reflection.
"To the upper deck," shouted Europa and grabbed my arm, pushing me in the direction on the short flight of stairs. We scrambled up them to see Moira, her flame-orange hair whipping around her face.
She turned to us, the blue tattoo swirls on her cheeks creased as she smiled and laughed. "When I joined your crew of knights and listened to your flowery words of protecting the innocent, I never thought I'd be defending an orphan from an entire empire who has the magic to control nasty beasties," she said in a lilting voice. She turned back and thrust both hands out palms up. Searing blue light flared, and I shaded my eyes from the flash. The magic fire too bright to look at directly.
A deep rolling grunt broke through the air. I turned to see the creature's fleshy bulbous head rise and a bloody hole the size of my head bloomed as a residual arch of blue magic licked over its body. The monster faltered, its enormous body shuttering as it swiped at the hole in its head, causing gelatinous purple blood rained down and mixed with the rain.
"This creature is a disgraceful excuse for an executioner," snarled Moira. She let loose another burst of magic searing through one tentacle, leaving bloody tracks from the narrow tip to the base where it was attached to the meaty body as the creature tried to pull itself onto the deck.
Europa pulled two daggers from the holster slung crossed her chest. She charged, light on her toes as if the rolling ship was flat earth and leaped, flicking the daggers as fast as the lightning above our heads. Both blades found their mark, sinking into its ink-black eye to the hilt. The creature reared, bellowing and flailing long limbs like whips before crashing into the sea.
I leaned over the railing, my sword still raised. Bubbles boiled up, disrupting the thick coating of blood floated across the surface of the water like oil. There was no sign of the monster, nothing other than the blood and the piece of tentacle that bobbed like a grey blubbery blob. My stomach roiled, the stench of rotting eggs permitted the air from the gelatinous blood streaking the decks.
Europa snatched a long spear that slid across the deck. It was Moira's. She must have dropped it to work her magic. The blade, a foot long and spade-shaped, glowed softly in the darkness. She handed it to the witch.
"I need a headcount!" Shouted Europa. Her voice rang out over the calming sea. Thunder still boomed off in the distance, and the rain had softened to a light mist.
I sheathed my sword and ran to the prow of the ship. All around the boat, objects floated in the water. Barrels, shredded sailcloth, broken bits of railing and lengths of rope tangled through the mess like a snake, floated on the surface. Off in the distance, a figure splashed. I squinted and saw a pale shining head bobbing up then disappearing.
"Misha! I see Misha, dead ahead," I called out.
Lena limped to my side; a long pole tipped with a large hook in her hands. Blood still ran down her leg, and her dark hair was matted with blood from a cut on her head.
Misha swam one-armed over to the hook, keeping her other arm close to her chest. She loop the hook around her waist and, with all of us heaving, pulled her up to the railing. Misha reached out and took the strong arm of Europa.
"Thank the Gods you saw me, comrades," she said through chattering teeth.
"And Britt?" Asked Europa.
Misha paled. "She was caught up in the monster's arms as I was. The last I saw her, she fought as it dragged her beneath the waves."
My stomach dropped. Before Mari showed up, Britt was the youngest and the baby of the crew at nearly seventeen summers.
Europa closed her eyes. I knew she thought of the young girl as a daughter.
"We'll stay the day," Europa whispered, the barest break in her voice. "We'll gather up what we can and wait…"
"And what of Erin and Phillipa," I asked.
Misha shook her head. "The last I saw them, they were still below decks, when the ship was first hit, I ran upstairs, but didn't see if they followed."
The top of the once ornately carved mast was blocking the door, wedged into the frame, and I could hear the now faint pounding on the door.
"On the count of three," Europa commanded, and we heaved until the mast with the crows nest still partially attached rolled to the side enough to open the door. A short woman braced herself in the doorway, gasping for breath.
"Are you all right, Erin?" I asked as Moira slid an arm around her waist helping her sit on the deck. "Where is Phillipa?"
"I'm here," called a voice from the darkness. "What… in all the gods… was that?" A woman, twin to Erin, staggered out and into the arms of Europa.
"I'm sorry," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. She wrapped her thin arms around her impossibly small waist. "I never thought they would do this."
"Who are they exactly, Mari," said Europa. Despite her seemingly relaxed air, she was strung tight as a bow. I wanted nothing more than to grab hold of the girl and shake her until her teeth rattled in her head. "All you said was they are after you, and they will kill you for that papyrus you guard so savagely."
The young girl swallowed, shuffling her feet. "The Priests of Amun," her lip quivered, and a tear slid down her cheek. She sniffled, and I was reminded of how young the girl was. At twelve years old, she was a pampered child in a royal court of a kingdom far to the South.
Mari licked her lips, cracked from days out on the deck in the sun and wind. "They are the true power behind the king. My father is only a puppet that plays to their desires."
"Corruption is an ugly thing," I said. I caught Europa's eyes and knew she remembered Avalon's inner workings of the Elders and the Round table. It was why we left and vowed an oath to protect the realm of Avalon, even though our realm turned their backs on their people.
"Land? Land off the port side," shouted Erin, her voice light as bells. Her pixie face lit up as she pointed across the water. We ran, careful not to get too close to the damaged railing. Off in the distance, a thin strip of green, topped by thick fog bobbed in and out of sight.
Europa pulled out her glass and extended it out and peered through it.
"What is it? I know that frown, Europa."
She turned to me; her black eyebrows pulled together. "The root we are sailing… we aren't supposed to see land for at least five more days…"
I hope you enjoyed this short story! And let me know if you like this sort of impromptu writings. Also, join in with your own interpretation of the story prompt and tag me wherever you decide to post it so I can read it.
Safe safe, stay healthy, and be well!