Hello, Internet! Sera Kane joins us here today for Flash Fiction Friday. She brings us a beautiful piece of a Phoenix and a goddess, and the recounting of the day the ocean turned to blood.
Worthy Offering by Sera Kane
Vengeance is a terrible reason to live, and a worse reason to die. I have watched the cycle through time immortal, through peace and war and, now, captivity. I saw the Phoenixes as they lived so lovingly with each other, I saw how they died together—mother cloaked in the flames of the father—I saw the birth of their child. In that child, I see only hatred. Zir anger burns hotter than zir parents’ sacrifice.
The day of reckoning is coming.
The ogre who owns us rattles his way into our tent, muttering to himself. He tosses bread into my lap and reaches out a hand to touch my hair, but I simply duck from the touch. No one may touch me anywhere but my feet. He laughs, a raucous, vicious sound, certain of my captivity despite the lack of bars surrounding me..
This body will not be Kumari forever. Right now, however, I am a living goddess of my people, far from them as I may be. I cannot speak to anyone but the family I was stolen from. My feet may not touch the ground. I watch my painted nails as I gently pull apart the bread, and I listen instead of watching.
‘Stupid bird,’ the ogre says because he knows not his mortality. ‘Stupid boy. I should sell you to the Mer, they’d love to have your type.’
The Phoenix says nothing, because ze has learned, finally, to keep zir beak shut. Coal black eyes, though, they speak of what shall come. The ogre takes time for his chants, to be certain that the cage of water remains strong in the face of the Phoenix’s flame. He does not feed zir yet, for as idiotic as it is for an ogre to cage a Phoenix, he’s not so stupid as to give zir the strength to break free.
Muttering, muttering, the ogre takes his leave and now I look up through my lashes to watch him go. I feel my third eye opening wide, the feeling scratchy and familiar beneath the symbols painted on my skin. I see the world on fire. I see ashes. I see the ocean.
“I will make him burn.”
I tilt my head to look at zir, chin still tucked down. I cannot speak to zir. However, I am a goddess.
When I rise above my painted throne, my feet do not touch the ground. The goddess moves in me who is also she and I go to my fellow prisoner. Between the liquid bars, I hold out piece after piece of bread, which ze accepts with zir head held high. Ze is royalty by blood, and ze knows it.
“You know what I am,” ze says. Our black eyes meet each other and I can feel the tears trailing down my cheeks. “Oh.” Zir eyes unfocus, seeing past the cage, past me. “Oh,” ze says softly. “Yes.”
I feed zir the rest of the bread and float back to my chair. I arrange myself gently, the tears falling to the red silk of my dress, soaking in. It is nearly time, and I am as saddened as I am relieved.
Salt soaked breezes open the day of Ends. I awaken and rub my eyes, then look to my fellow captive. Ze is staring at the tent entrance. I remember zir birth, I remember zir awakening, when ze realized who and what ze was. Not the abandoned child of peasants, as the ogre once claimed. Not the boy who deserved to be beaten, as the ogre tried to insist. Ze was more than what the ogre tried to define zir as and today was the day of reckoning.
Only one person knows what truly happened the day the ocean turned to blood. That person is me.
The ogre comes for the Phoenix’s cage, drives it forward with pulses of water magic. The Phoenix, ze waits. I follow, as though a ghost, for my part in the coming story.
The Mer hover at the edge of the ocean, chittering excitedly as the ogre’s burden comes into view. They jostle each other, a small, swift fight breaking out and just as quickly is finished through a knife to the heart. A kindly race, the Mer are not.
The ogre boasts of his prize, hands waving, and the Mer cluster closer. Some with their own small magics poke through the bars to stab at the Phoenix with blades of water. Ze smokes and sizzles and does not react.
The Mer are displeased, and the ogre begins to gesticulate wildly. I don’t need to hear the words to know what they are.
Then the screaming begins.
The closest Mer simply char to ash as the Phoenix’s rage burns through zir bonds. The scene is obscured by a wall of steam, the Mer’s cries full of their fear. I draw closer, knowing what is to come.
A slow burning flame takes over the air, no more quick deaths allowed. Skin blackens, flaking off, desperate screams for mercy, for water, for life. They do not stop for there is no mercy here, the water is filled with blood, and death is the final destination for all.
The Mer are nothing to the Phoenix. Now that ze is free, now that zir wings are unbound, zir hand closed tightly around the ogre’s throat. Zir mouth opens and zir shriek is full, righteous, and agony. Zir words make no sense, just anger and pain. Ze has doused the flames on zir hand so the ogre cannot die quickly, so he must face what he has done.
The Phoenix screams and sobs and shakes and nothing can remove the terrible weight on zir shoulders.
“Why, why, why,” ze mumbles, again and again, as though somehow the next question will answer the litany. The ogre cannot speak, his vocal chords seared in the Phoenix’s initial pulse of rage.
Of course it’s not enough, it can never be enough once tragedy has visited. The words grow louder, angrier, and more powerful, and now ze is an inferno, zir flames glow blue, then black.
I reach zir then as the ashes of zir enemy fall like snow between darkened fingers, drifting atop the reddened waters below. I open my arms and ze shakes zir head, afraid. Perhaps of hurting me, perhaps of the cost of my offering. I must wait because redemption cannot be forced. It is zir choice to seek out peace.
My arms are full of feathers, flame, and fear. Zir tears are flecks of lava against my skin, and I draw zir closer, resting my cheek atop zir head. It is my blood that washes over zir, that cleanses away the black, returning zir to zir former glory. My tears are red, dripping with the rest down my body, until it looks as though my dress is the one bleeding, until it looks as though I and my dress are the same thing. Until even that small defense is gone and I am still dressed in red and ze shrinks as ze burns away. I hold zir as ze becomes smaller and smaller, harder and harder. Until there is only a hardened black stone where once a proud creature lived.
And I am tired, so tired. I am falling, the egg held close to my chest, and the ocean is red below, tainted or cleansed by the blood of a goddess. Sand against my feet is a strange sensation, sand on my whole body is sharp shards of pain. I am no longer as I was; there is only me within my skin, but it hurts and I am weeping and where are you, where are you—
Here. Her touch is upon my head. I do not have to be a worthy vessel if I am a worthy offering. Hope is a difficult reason to die, and it is a wonderful reason to live.