Generous and Wrathful Gods
Gentle tremors traveled along the seafloor, up the pylons, and onto Kalei’s platform with every step the giant took. Kalei dangled her feet over the edge of her platform as she watched the giant slowly sink over the horizon, trailing a wake of whitecapped swells behind it.
When it was gone, she sighed. One could never tell if the gods would bring clumps of iron ore from the depths of the ocean or if they would dash the floating city to bits. Kalei and her people did not see the giants often, but she had witnessed them generous and wrathful in her short lifetime. The gods were unpredictable. Even for a seer. A witch.
She wrinkled her dark brow and picked at the bamboo platform with her fingernail. Her eyes flicked to the iron gong that hung from her rafters.
Kalei didn’t know why the visions came to her, and she couldn't decipher any meaning from them most of the time. This didn’t keep the villagers from exiling her to the edge of the floating city, between the rest of the villagers and the mangrove forest.
Swinging her feet, Kalei turned to the so-called floating city. Besides several boathouses and floating bamboo gardens, most of the structures stood on tall stilt-like pylons, like Kalei’s house. It was called the floating city because there was not a speck of dry land beneath it. The entire city sat atop an ancient volcano that the gods had struck down and sunk beneath the waves in ancient times.
The ominous mangrove forest lay in the other direction. Chills slithered up Kalei’s spine. The villagers put her here so that she could predict the next attack and warn the others, but Kalei had no way of telling when her visions would come. How could she know when the Maero would send another raid? Still, it was her duty to ring the gong.
Her stomach grumbled.
Kalei Jumped to her feet and thumped across the bamboo planking to the fish trap tethers. She uncoiled one from its stay and pulled hand over hand. Below her, the trap lifted from the ocean floor and rose to the surface. As it drew nearer, Kalei’s hopes dimmed. The trap was far too light, and no large shadows dashed back and forth inside.
The trap broke the surface, and Kalei’s shoulders slumped. A small lobster clung to the bottom of the trap, and several minnows flopped and flipped around it. Kalei huffed, setting the trap aside to untie the second. She pulled this one hand over hand, but it had snagged on something. Mindful not to break the line, Kalei gently tugged and let the line slack, but it would not come loose.
She stood with her feet on the edge of the platform, peering into the shimmering blue depths. Gentle swells swirled between the pylons. A turtle lazily flapped, dragging its algae-covered shell through the water. A gull swooped down and snagged something tiny from just under the surface.
Kalei breathed deeply in through her nose and out her mouth, inflating her lungs to their max before expelling every bit of air from them. The water was not exceptionally deep here, but she would need to stay down for a long while. She curled her toes over the edge of the platform, poised to dive.
Several more deep breaths and she was ready. She aimed for where the line broke the surface and kicked off of the platform. Warm air rushed in her ears as she flew down to the water. Kalei sliced into the water like a spear, and she allowed her momentum to carry her into cooler depths.
The saltwater stung her eyes as she looked for the fish trap. She scooped her waving cloud of dark hair out of her eyes and scanned below her. Flashes of color darted between bulbous lumps of coral. A gnarled eel retracted back into its hole. Kalei kicked deeper, following the fish trap rope. She swam between two jagged ridges of coral and found it lodged between them. When she swam closer, several colorful fish flicked inside, unable to escape.
A jitter of excitement spread from her belly. She would eat tonight. One more powerful kick and she grabbed the bamboo cage, gently jiggling it free from where it was wedged. She grinned down at her bountiful catch.
A shadow swept over her and she flinched. Spinning, she searched the water above her. The silhouette of a shark weaved in and out of her pylons. She made herself relax again, willing her shoulders to fall slack and her heart to slow.
She carefully reached into the trap and grasped the slippery body of her largest fish. She thrust her thumb into its gills so it could not wriggle free and brought it to her mouth. Kalei bit into the fish, severing its spine before she kicked off the bottom. She rose lazily to the surface with the shark circling overhead.
The shark turned to intercept her on its own lazy course. Kalei held the dead fish to the beast, flicking it away at the last moment to keep her fingers. The shark snatched the fish and turned away.
Watch over me tonight, brother.
Gasping, Kalei broke the surface and pulled herself to her ladder.
“Hello, Kalei,” her father called from his small outrigger. His cordy muscles worked under his leathery dark skin with every stroke of the oar.
Kalei waved and then climbed. She tossed the bamboo cage onto the platform, fish thrashing inside. Her father paddled closer, but not too close. He lifted his bushy eyebrows and smiled at his daughter, showing the dark gaps where several teeth were missing. Though he lived only a stone’s throw from Kalei, she hardly saw him. And she never saw her mother or her brothers except from afar.
“There is a storm.” He pointed to the horizon. Ominous clouds darkened the horizon. A zap of blue light flickered. “I’ve brought you a gull. Do you have nails?”
“Yes, papa. Thank you.”
“They must be iron,” He said.
“I know, papa.”
Kalei’s father gripped the dead bird by the neck and threw it onto her platform.
“Do you have food and water?” he asked.
“Yes, papa.” Kalei lifted the trap to show him. “I collected last night’s rain and I caught these fish. I’ve already made my offering to the ancestors.”
“Good.” Her father gave her a sad smile, showing his missing teeth again. “We miss you, Kalei.”
“Then why put me here?” Kalei snapped. It felt wrong to speak to her father that way, but living in exile, so close to home had drawn Kalei’s patience thin.
“Your mother and I could not go against the council of elders.”
Mother wanted me gone as much as any of the elders.
“Don’t lie to me, papa. Mother is afraid of me.”
Kalei’s father bowed his dark head. He did not deny it.
“I am sorry, Kalei.” He did not lift his eyes to meet her.
“If you were truly sorry, you would bring me home, papa.” Tears welled up in Kalei’s eyes, blurring her vision.
“Nail the bird up,” her father said. “Be mindful tonight.”
With that, he turned his boat and paddled back to the village. Kalei kicked the fish trap, cracking it open. One of the fish wriggled out and nearly flopped off the platform. Kalei scooped it up at the last moment. She slipped a thumb into its gills as she searched for her knife. She found it hanging from its hook, dull iron glinting sunlight, and quickly dispatched the fish with a cut behind its head. She did the same to the other.
She then scooped up the dead gull and palmed two rusted iron nails and her hammer stone from a basket inside her hut. Kalei spat curses at the counsel of enders as she pressed the nails through the gull's wings. She held the carcass up above her door and hammered the nails into the beam.
Once the gull was secured above her door, she stepped back to admire her work. Her offering had been made to the sharks. The gull would protect her from the storm. She should be safe tonight.
Kalei spun and launched her hammer stone out into the waves with a wordless shriek.
With a full belly, Kalei laid down on her sleeping matt, but she could not make herself comfortable. The dark clouds rolled over the sea, blotting out the moon. Distant thunder rumbled. The wind picked up, causing waves to crash against her pylons noisily. Her hut swayed with each wave.
Kalei rolled to her back as the rain began to pitter-patter on her roof. She listened to it for some time. Listened to it all. The waves, the wind, the thunder, the rain. A song of the sea that most feared. Kalei didn’t though. She found storms exciting.
The wind changed, blowing the chilling rain in through the window over Kalei’s head. She rolled to her knees and shuffled to the window. She began to untie the blinds to roll them down when a bolt of lightning lit the sea outside. Four silhouetted outriggers bobbed in the turbulent waves.
Squinting into the dark, Kalei prayed she had not seen what she thought she saw. Then another crack of lightning tore through the sky. Six long outriggers paddled towards the floating city. Maero.
Kalei sunk under the windowsill and pressed her back to the wall. The cannibals were attacking. The gong. But what then? If she rang the gong, those boats might turn towards her. I’m helpless out here.
Then her thoughts turned to her brothers, her mother, papa. Kalei scrubbed her fingertips through her dark hair and took a deep breath. She scrambled on her hands and knees to her door and peered out to where the gong hung.
Someone gripped her by her hair and lifted. Kalei screamed and scrambled her feet beneath her take the strain off of her scalp. The attacker drew her close to him and wrapped an unrelenting arm around her waist.
Stinking breath spewed from a snarling face in the dark. Two black eyes glinted blue lightning at Kalei and she screamed again. A strong hand struck her jaw and she fell to the bamboo platform. She scrambled back into her hut fingers searching for a weapon in the dark.
The Maero followed her into the dark hut. Kalei rolled over to her back and willed herself to hold still. The dark figure searched for her. A flash of lightning lit the hut for an instant and the Maero locked his eyes on Kalei with a hungry grin. Iron glinted behind him.
Gritting her teeth, Kalei rolled into the Maero’s legs, tripping him over her. The large man fell hard, shaking the whole platform.
She stood and snatched the knife from its hook. Kalei flattened herself against the wall and willed herself to keep still. The Maero grunted, picking himself up off of the floor. A flash of lightning lit the hut again, but the Maero had his back to Kalei.
Shaking breaths hissed out of Kalei’s mouth and she tried to silence them. She cupped a hand over her mouth, breathing through her nose, but that wasn’t much better. The man stood in the middle of the hut but she couldn’t tell if he faced her or if he faced away.
Kalei’s hand shook, gripping her knife tightly. She lunged out into the center of the room and slashed. The Maero screamed. She put up her other hand to hold the Maero away and slashed again. She missed him and drew a stinging cut on her own arm. A strong hand gripped her wrist and whipped her all the way around, knocking over her belongings in the dark.
Kalei stabbed at the Maero’s head and the blade met flesh once more. Hot blood washed over her hand. A lot of blood. The Mearo shoved Kalei causing her to trip over something and fall to her backside. The man staggered around the hut, gurgling moans bubbling out of his mouth.
Lightning flashed, and the Maero stood there, holding a hand to his neck. A river of black blood flowed from under his hand and down his bare chest. The man lurched toward her and she snarled, slashing wildly. The Maero backed away and gurgled some more, standing in the dark.
Just, go down.
A thump shook the whole hut and the gurgling stopped. Kalei tentatively rose to her feet and crept toward the Mearo. She poked him with her foot. There was no movement. Rushing outside, Kalei scooped up the mallet and struck the gong as hard as she could over and over.
“Wake up!” She yelled to the floating city until her throat burned. A distant boom like thunder shook the seafloor, up the pylons, and rattled the platform.
She fell to her knees, trying to catch her breath around heaving sobs. Breathless, she sat in silence, listening to the city come to life. Shouts and screams. Kalei prayed she wasn’t too late. Another boom filled the night. Not thunder.
A rustling inside the hut drew her attention behind her. A choking groan made her stomach twist upon itself. Boom. She Crept back inside, holding her knife in front of her with both hands. Strong fingertips grasped her ankle and she screamed.
She dived onto the Mearo, stabbing downward over and over. Squelching sounds and specs of warm blood filled the hut. When the fingers released her ankle and the groans stopped again. Kalei stood and staggered away from the man once more.
The booms grew louder and the shaking more violent. A rhythm of booming footsteps.
Shivering sobs wracked Kalei’s entire body and she knew she must drop the Mearo into the sea, or he would regenerate again. Boom. Boom. Boom.
She grabbed the dead man’s ankles and tugged as hard as she could. He was so heavy. Boom. Boom. Boom, Boom. Again she tugged, pulling him another few feet. She dragged him to the edge of the platform and rolled him over with a grunt.
The body flopped down into the black water below and disappeared with a splash.
“Come and eat, brother,” Kalei panted.
Lightning streaked through the sky, lighting an outrigger tied to one of the pylons below. Several dark figures crawled to the ladder. One Maero had already begun to climb when Kalei saw him.
“Go away!” she screamed, sawing at the lashing that held the ladder to her platform.
Still, the grinning Maero climbed.
Kalei roared at the man, slashing down across his fingers as he grabbed the next rung up. The Maero cried out and dropped down a step. He snarled at Kalei and continued to climb. A massive black object dropped from the sky and snatched the Maero away, taking the ladder with him in splinters.
Lightning streaked across the sky, lighting the Maero pinched between two fingers of a massive black hand. The man thrashed and screamed. His shrieks pierced Kalei’s soul and she pressed her blood slick palms to her ears.
With a crunch, the man stopped screaming. His dark body dropped from the sky, spinning as it fell into the Maero outrigger below. The men shouted to each other frantically, pushing off from the pylon and paddling back to the mangrove forest.
When they had made it away from Kalei’s hut, the giant’s hand chopped down on their boat, breaking it in half and throwing the men this way and that. Fine ocean spray washed against Kalei with enough force to knock her over. The ocean swallowed up the Maeros’ cries.
The giant crouched in the sea, bending low. A swell of dark water rolled out from his body, foamy caps breaking against Kalei’s platform, nearly washing her into the sea. He brought his massive face close to the hut. His flesh was blackened stone and veins of pulsating orange magma flowed in the cracks. Two black eyes glinted wetly in the storm.
A nervous flutter rose up in Kalei’s belly and her tears were lost in the rain. The god stood. Its massive body stirring the water under it to foam. The other Mearo boats had begun their mad dash back to the mangroves from the floating city, but the giant stepped between them and their home.
Kalei tried to look away, but she couldn’t.
The god lifted a massive foot from the ocean and stomped down on two of the boats. It smashed two more boats between its gargantuan hands, dashing the boats and the Maero inside to bits. The last two boats paddled frantically between the giant’s legs on the exceptionally turbulent water.
The giant allowed them to go. It turned back to face them, to watch them go. When the Maero were gone, the giant glanced at Kalei again. Those black eyes pierced into her, stripping her to bone. She lifted her hand to her massive savior.
Slowly, the giant turned out to sea and walked away. Boom. Boom. Boom. A wake of white water wedged into the night behind it as the sea grew deeper and deeper. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Its thunderous footsteps trailed off into the night, and Kalei collapsed to the floor. She finally dropped the knife and allowed heaving sobs to take control.
“Kalei!” a voice called from the dark sea.
Kalei squinted into the black. Lightning webbed across the sky, and there stood her father at the head of an outrigger rowed by several other villagers.
“Papa,” Kalei whispered.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the story. I enjoyed writing it. Feel free to explore the blog and read my other short stories if you haven’t already.
Be sure to pick up a copy of my novel and part one of The Forgotten Ways trilogy, Well of Bones, by clicking here. Join the adventure soon because part two of The Forgotten Ways trilogy is on track for a late November release. You won’t want to miss it.
In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that my time would be uncertain for the foreseeable future, so I will not be able to promise a short story next week. However, I will post something, so be sure to stop by around next Friday for more content.
Until next week,