Another terribleminds flash fiction challenge. 1000 words. A choice of five settings. I picked: On the battlefield during a war between two races of mythological creature.
Lan thrust the trident into the serpents tail and sending up a froth of blood and bubbles. The serpent screamed, sending out a spray of venom that darkened the water to a poisonous purple. Lan, already darting upwards, felt the acid sting as droplets splashed across her tail.
A memory came to her as she swam frantically for the surface. Her father, scooping her up into his arms and tickling her stomach. She giggled and shrieked, twisting to try and escape. After a few moments her father let her go and she fled, laughing as he chased her.
She crested out of the water and into the waiting boat as the venom clouded behind her. The sailors pulled hard on the oars. Lan huffed for breath, her gills flapping uselessly.
“Nice job, Djullanar.” The sailor that spoke had a voice hardened by years of shouted commands.
Lan didn’t bother to answer, but pulled herself into a sitting position and looked for the other boats. Her fellow merlings dove to attack the serpents as they writhed on the sea floor and then raced upwards to the safety of the boat. Some didn’t make it. The serpents were fast and vicious, their teeth closing on tails at the last minute and dragging the merlings back down into the cloud of venom. In a face to face fight, the merlings had as much chance as a human did against a dragon. That is to say, none.
“Where is my father?” Lan pushed her red hair back from her face and examined her tail. The once shining red and gold scales were pockmarked with acid burns. Scales had been torn away in patches to reveal the flesh below, white as a cod’s belly. Two years ago she would have wept at the thought of her tail being so hideously ruined. Today she simply wiped the remaining acid away with a cloth and threw it overboard.
The sailor shook his head. “Haven’t seen him. Back to the command ship?”
Lan nodded. The serpents were awake now. The water churned. Soon they would start to nose the boats from beneath in a bid to overturn them. They were lucky that the serpents could not leave the water, but the angry lizards could still do damage.
The command ship could withstand a serpent attack. The hull glittered with steel spikes that lined the bottom of the ship in every direction. Lan’s smaller boat drew as close as it could, and two ropes with hooks were lowered from one of the winches that overhung the edge of the ship. The sailors hooked them into the metal rings, once each side, and the entire boat lifted into the air.
“How many are yet to return?” Lan asked the man who lifted her out of the boat. He placed her on the deck and shrugged. “About eight boats left to return. Six have come back, no injuries. One boat wrecked.”
Lan pulled herself along the deck of the ship, towards the merling tank. It was not comfortable. Space was limited, and the water quickly became brackish with so many bodies close together. Still, it was preferable to wriggling around on the deck like a seal.
They were a ragged and tired looking group. Hair cut short, and brittle with dried salt. Gills yellowed with disuse. One missing an arm, his shoulder bandaged but little purple lines running towards his neck showing that infection had set in.
Lan watched the humans winching up the boats and pulling the merlings aboard. Undignified. They had once been the rulers of the waves, fast and beautiful and worshipped by sea creatures and men alike. Now they were less than barnacles, clinging to ships, desperate to survive.
Not all boats returned with a full complement. One had been knocked by a serpent, sending a sailor overboard into the jaws of death. The boat had been splintered by the impact, and the humans and merling alike had been stuck in the venom-filled water. The merlings tail was a melted mess, the human’s legs no better. They cried out in agony as the sailors pulled them from the ruined boat.
“We should surrender,” the merling who had lost his arm said. His eyes glittered with fever. “We can never win.”
“Shut up!” Lan snapped. She scanned anxiously for her father. Only one boat left to return. She found herself praying, the way the sailors did.
“They’re bigger, stronger, what hope do we have? Surrender means we can at least go back into the ocean.”
“We all want to go home, Erl.” Another merman spoke, his voice tired. “But we can’t surrender.”
“Not yet, anyway, Let them kill off a few more of us first, right?” A mermaid laughed bitterly.
Lan compressed her lips into a flat line, and waited for the final boat. A streak of milky light appeared on the horizon. The merlings shifted restlessly. The sailors ran about the ship, hitching ropes.
The captain of the ship made a gesture.
Boat lost. Return to shore.
Lan watched the sun creep above the horizon, turning the sea to gold. Her throat burned. The other merlings turned away from her. Grief turned to fury, sharp and clean as a blade.
She wrenched herself out of the tank. Humans looked toward her, shocked. Lan grabbed the nearest trident and yanked herself towards the ship’s rail. The captain shouted something. A human reached for her but she slammed her tail into him, sending him flying across the deck.
Lan raised the trident, the rising sun catching the gold and making it glow. “We will turn the seas to blood!” she shrieked and then pulled herself onto the edge. The water rippled around the ship, each spike creating its own wake.
“The sea is teeming with serpents you fool!” the captain shouted. Lan ignored him and plunged off the side of the ship. The sea parted around her and then rolled back in. The team of serpents chasing the ship, just beyond the reach of the metal spikes, saw her. Their poison sacs flexed. Lan rushed forward, her trident cleaving through one serpents jaw and into its brain. She ripped it free, leaving the serpent screaming in madness and pain and turned to slash at another. Venom surrounded her, burning, but Lan just laughed, thrusting and jabbing, her trident trailing blood.
She killed eight serpents before the poison turned her gills to confetti and she drowned.