The Blue Stone – A Flash Fiction Piece
Chuck Wendig sets challenges via his blog. Sometimes, people take up those challenges. Today, I did just that. Admittedly, I went over the word limit, but I think this is the first time I’ve done that. I won’t tell you what objects I picked to go into my story; I’m sure you’ll be able to pick them out after taking a peek at Chuck’s blog.
The Blue Stone
A great beast dwells in the depths of the Great Sea. We call her Ashala, the Deep Serpent, and from her, all others come. When she is angry she lashes her tail, sending waves to batter the Islands. In her fury she can destroy harbours and sink boats. But we, too, are her children. We prove this when we come of age, and take a piece of her heart into ourselves.
The small fishing boat rocked as Peval shifted his weight. His hands gripped the whalebone spear, fingernails biting into the lightwood shaft. He would never be able to face his tribe if he dropped his spear into the sea. Only children fumbled their spears, and once he had made his first kill, Peval would prove he was no longer a child.
A shoal of quickfin darted by; Peval ignored them. A white-tailed seal followed them, performing its aquatic acrobatics as it snatched a quickfin in its strong jaws. This too Peval ignored.
The Sun-Father climbed to his temple in the sky. The heat he cast over the Earth-Mother made sweat coat Peval’s body. The glare, reflected from the sea, caused his eyes to go weak and his head to go dizzy, but still he clung to the spear, altering his grip only when the wood began to soak up his sweat.
The Sun-Father’s reign was short, and soon the yellow orb was carrying him down from his temple. Peval’s legs shook, his thighs aching from standing for so long, balancing himself against the waves which rocked his small craft.
Just as the Sun-Father was preparing to kiss the curves of the Earth-Mother, Peval spotted his prey. It lurked beneath his boat, its sinuous body undulating in the gentle current. Peval’s heart skipped a beat, and he almost dropped his spear in his excitement. The creature was long; longer than he had been expecting. Clearly this was no yearling. A challenge, then.
As he lifted his spear for the thrust, he sent a silent prayer to the spirits of his ancestors. He had never known his mother or his father; his mother’s brother had raised him, after the Fire Mountain had taken the lives of his parents. Peval was certain their spirits were watching over him.
He thrust his spear into the water, adjusting for the bend of the waves, but the Serpent’s reflexes were faster. With one great swish of her tail she struck the boat and sent Peval toppling over the side. He held his breath as the wetness of the ocean met him. His fingers splayed and the spear fell from his hands, sinking down to the ocean floor.
Breaching the surface, Peval shook his head, flicking his dark hair from his face, blinking rapidly to clear his eyes of the salty sea-tears which blurred his vision. Then he wished he couldn’t see; his boat was only a short swim away, but there was a long scar down one side, and it was taking on water too quickly. As Peval watched, it sank along with the spear. The wind picked up, bringing with it the sound of laughter. Ashala was chuckling at the misfortune her sea-child had caused.
He had lost his boat, but perhaps it was not too late to reclaim his spear. It had been his father’s spear, and it held special meaning for Peval. Taking a deep breath, he dove beneath the waves once more and kicked his legs furiously, powering himself down, into the dark depths of the sea. He sensed it before he saw it, and sent his hands groping down amongst the sandy silt and soft-edged seaweed. His lungs began to burn with the fire that comes when the life-breath is held, and just as he was about to give up and surface, he felt his fingers close around something hard.
Kicking his way up, he dragged the object with him, and gasped deeply as he was greeted by the Sun-Father. Lifting the object from the water, dismay crept into his heart. It was not his spear that he had grasped, but a round pot made of clay. Being in the water had not damaged it, and it felt oddly warm to his hands.
A small island lay not far away, barely more than a mound of sand in the archipelago chain. Peval set off towards it, knowing in his heart of hearts that the spear which had been handed down through the family since the time of his father’s great-father was gone forever.
The beach welcomed him, the land-child of Ashala, and he crawled up its golden shore, dragging his exhausted body past the purple foxgloves and golden buttercups which had somehow colonised the small strip of beach. There he set the pot on the sand, and lay panting for a while, recovering his life-breath.
Exhaustion finally left him, and as the Sun-Father was swallowed by the Earth-Mother, he turned onto his belly and picked up the pot. He could see symbols etched into the surface, so he used a corner of his long shirt to brush away the grains of sand obscuring the picture.
The pot began to shake. With a cry of alarm, Peval dropped it, and jumped back. Smoke began to pour from the lid of the pot, and he made the sign with his hands to ward off evil spirits. Still the pot shook, and the sand around it began to make popping sounds. Then, just when Peval was preparing to run back to the safety of the sea, the smoke began to swirl, and a tall man stepped out from the billowing grey.
He was a strange man, with pale skin and eyes which were so dark they were like the deep sea at night. The clothes he wore were as strange as he, all sorts of colours which shimmered in the failing light of the Sun-Father.
“Mortal,” the man said, in the tongue of the Islanders, “you have freed me.”
Peval’s mouth worked, and he finally found his voice. “Freed you from what? Who are you?”
“Who I am does not matter.” The man smiled, showing sharp teeth. Like a seal’s teeth, Peval thought, all pointy and pin-like. “All that matters is that I have been imprisoned for a very long time. I have it within my power to grant you a single wish before I depart this plane. Tell me your heart’s desire, and I shall grant it.”
Peval gave the statement the consideration it deserved. He didn’t know if he was dreaming—what else could explain this strange series of events? Or perhaps he was dead, his soul still clinging to the Earth-Mother. Had his body been claimed by Ashala? Was it forever beyond the reach of his soul?
Then, the stranger’s words truly sank in. He was being granted a request for freeing this… man?… from his pot. His heart’s desire? A thousand thoughts passed through his mind; the almost-forgotten faces of his parents; The smile of Kirra, who had promised she would one day wed him—if he could first prove himself worthy; His father’s spear in his hand once more; The beating heart of a Serpent, warm in his hand.
The breath of the wind, whispering in his ear, brought back a memory. It was night, and the hearth-fire was large. Ganor, the wise-one, was telling the youngsters a tale of Ashala. Peval listened just as closely as the other children of the tribe. Ashala is the ruler of the Ocean, but she sees more than she controls. Her eyes are large, and far-seeing. When the Fire Mountain growls, Ashala knows. When the Great Winds sweep in from the far-away lands, Ashala knows. When the quickfin shoals stay deep and our people go hungry, Ashala knows.
If he had the eyes of Ashala, Peval would not need a Serpent’s heart to prove his maturity. He would not need to hunt like the other men of the tribe. If he could see disasters coming from far-away, then he would be the wise-one, and the whole tribe would follow him. His tribe would become the strongest of all the Islands.
He turned to the stranger. “What I would like will not be easy to get.”
The stranger gave that same disconcerting smile. “What may be difficult for you, is not necessarily so far me.”
“I would like the power to foresee disasters,” said Peval. “I would like… one of Ashala’s eyes.”
The stranger blinked his dark eyes, which made Peval shiver. “Who is Ashala?”
“The Deep Serpent. Ruler of the Below.” He gave the stranger a sceptical look. “How is it you do not know of her?” He felt his eyes narrow. “Are you some sort of evil demon spirit?”
The stranger laughed, a hissing noise, like the wind sighing through the trees. “Of course not, boy. But tell me; are you sure about your request? I can grant anything.”
The man disappeared—one moment he was there, and the next he was not. Peval waited. The Sun-Father’s light disappeared. The buttercups and foxgloves swayed in the evening breeze.
In a puff of smoke the man reappeared, and in his hands he carried a blue gemstone so large that it took both of his long-nailed hands to cup it. Peval stared, his mouth open. He had seen gemstones before; his tribe traded with the Kelp-Tribe for precious stones. But never before had he seen one so large and perfect. Each face of the topaz was without flaw or inclusion. Just the sight of it made Peval’s breath catch in his throat.
“Here you are,” the stranger said, handing over the gem which was probably worth more than all of the wealth of the Islands combined. Peval accepted it, tentatively holding it to his chest, as a mother holds her newborn child. “You should have asked me to blind Ashala’s other eye,” he man continued. “She won’t be pleased about what you’ve done.”
Peval looked up from the gem and opened his mouth, to tell him that he wasn’t the one who had taken the Deep Serpent’s eye, but the man was gone. So was the pot, which had lain in the sand. With another shiver, Peval realised there were no tracks, to show where the stranger had stood. Only his own footprints marred the pristine gold of the beach.
He turned to face the ocean, his own island a mere speck in the distance. Tomorrow he would have to light a signal fire, to tell his mother’s brother to come and get him. And then… then, he would become wise. He would lead his tribe, and warn them of disasters. The Fire Mountain would make no more orphans.