This is the story I submitted for Week 7 of The Great Challenge. A 52 week challenge put on by Dean Wesley Smith at WMG Publishing in which I must submit a short story of 2,000 to 15,000 words every week. I will leave this story up until about Friday, then likely take it down and make it available as an eBook on Amazon.
Some of the stories from previous weeks are also available for purchase on Amazon:
It was a tiny brown bear, with a red ribbon tied in a bow around its neck. It fit in her father’s hand, and if he closed his fist it was small enough to disappear. The bear, which she’d named TéTé, was well-loved.
His fur was ragged, rubbed almost bare in some places. His eyes were worn off from little fingers stroking his face over and over. The red ribbon was darkened from the oil of her skin and the dust of day-to-day life. In places, the seam had unraveled and some of the stuffing escaped, but her father had taken out his needle and thread and repaired each hole with expert stitches.
Her father could mend anything, he spent many days sitting and mending sails, he always said a ship was only as good as its sails. And her father’s ship was a good ship. It was a blessed ship. A ship rumored to be built by Ya-Beresh himself and given to his faithful servant, the most powerful Ruakh-Weaver the Iskan people ever knew.
In fact, her father was such a good servant to Ya-Beresh, that it attracted a lot of attention, the bad kind of attention. Attention from the dark forces of their world that always targeted anyone who fought on Ya-Beresh’s behalf. That’s why they had to leave their mountain home, and now their home was at sea.
Fei had spent her childhood on her father’s ship, with the large wood boards of the deck under her bare feet. The wind kissing her ears and the ocean spray leaving the taste of salt on her tongue. Alongside her brother she’d learned to scale up the masts and dance across the yards. Her father would stand at the wheel laughing, his bright blue eyes sparkling in the afternoon sun.
Lately though, Fei hadn’t felt like dancing. The wind only made her cry. And the brine on her lips was an irritant.
Her father and brother were powerful Ruakhin, or Wind-Weavers, as non-Iskans called them. Yet, with such a glorious family heritage, Fei was magicless. She was not blessed by Ya-Beresh with the power to bend the wind to her will and use it to sail her father’s ship, or drive off the flocks of migrating birds that wreaked havoc on the rigging if they were allowed to roost.
Little Fei, with fine platinum hair and crystal-blue eyes, had to sit and watch while they worked. Her brother took on more and more responsibilities on the ship, while she became more and more of a nuisance.
Her laughter no longer rang across the deck. She no longer followed her brother around or asked her father to let her ride on his shoulders. Instead, she sat in her father’s cabin, staring out the porthole nestled to the left of the figure head, and she watched the waves and the undulating horizon.
Some days she cried, other days she sat in silence, rubbing TéTé against her cheek.
“TéTé, why can’t I be special like Aither and daddy?”
“Oh, Fei.” Her father’s voice rumbled from the doorway. For weeks he’d watched her withdraw into herself, her bright innocence dimming under a lack of purpose. She had deflated like a set of sails without wind.
“Papa, why didn’t Ya-Beresh give me a gift like yours and Aither’s?” she was embarrassed that her father had found her like this, but now she needed to know. A tear slipped down her cheek, cold and lonely as it hung off her chin.
Her father reached out and his fingers brushed the tear away. His grey-green eyes were full of compassion as he scooped her into his arms and held her against his chest. She pressed an ear against his shoulder and reached up to bury her fingers in his beard.
“Fei, Ya-Beresh didn’t give you a gift like mine and Aither’s because he had a different gift for you.”
“But where is it? Why don’t I have it to use?”
“When you were a small baby, while I was away driving the ogres out of our mountains, an evil shadow, called a Khoet, came into our home. It attacked your mother while she tried to protect you and Aither. Aither used his gift for the first time that day, he cried for Ya-Beresh and a great wind swept through our home and the Khoet fled.”
“I’ve heard this story daddy, but why didn’t I have a gift to use? Maybe I could have saved momma.”
“You’ve never heard the entire story, Fei, you see when that great wind rushed in to scare away the Khoet it whisked you away with it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were just a little baby, but when you felt that wind tugging on your swaddle you went with it. You rode it up into the air, and all over Chalcedonai. I returned home and thought you dead, devoured by a vile Khos creature.”
Fei knew what Khos was, the dark force of King Cronan that attempted to destroy everything good and right in the world. She shuddered; she’d hate to be devoured by one of its creatures.
“So, what really happened to me? How did you find me?”
“I prayed to Ya-Beresh. I cried out to him about the loss of my wife and child. He said my wife was sleeping until he resurrected his children after the war on Khos was won. However, he said you were alive, and that you were riding on the back of one of his winds.”
Fei’s little heart leapt. She’d done something magical and grand like riding the wind, and not only that, but Ya-Beresh himself had watched her flight.
“Ya-Beresh sent me a small piece of the wind, said I should go to the coast and wait on a certain cliff for three days and three nights. He gave me some other instructions too. I thought them quite strange.”
“What were they?” she felt alive now, with a refreshed interest in life that she hadn’t felt in months.
“He told me to take your momma’s sewing kit and the little teddy bear she had made for you before you were born.”
“What did you do with him?”
“While I waited on the cliff, the waves crashing beneath me and the warm winds rushing off the ocean towards me, I learned to sew. Taking the piece of wind Ya-Beresh gave me I twisted it and threaded a needle with it. Then I used the needle to stitch through each seam on little TéTé.
After three days of working on it, waiting for you, I felt something familiar. The wind you were riding, that was identical to the wind I stitched with, brushed against me. I grabbed hold of one corner. It fought me, I think because you were still scared, and the wind wanted to whisk you away to safety again.
But I didn’t let go and I tethered it to that little bear. I pulled it in, and I stuffed it all inside of little TéTé. Then I put the last stitch into his side to seal the wind inside.”
Fei looked down at her teddy bear. He didn’t feel like he contained a mighty wind. Like a force that had traveled their world, with a baby on its back, was now contained inside along with the stuffing and numerous memories of her childhood.
Her father continued, “When the final breath of wind was sealed inside and I tied the last knot. You reappeared, still in your swaddle. You cried until I cuddled you and gave you some milk.”
Fei’s eyes rounded. She searched her father’s face. The lines in his skin were deep, like the grooves in the wood of the mast. His beard was a tangle of wiry brown and grey whiskers. Her favourite thing about his face, though, were the crow’s feet at either side of his eyes, the memories of all the times he’d laughed and smiled.
“I rode the wind…” she said. “But why can’t I anymore?”
“Because that day, when I sealed that wind in here, Ya-Beresh also sealed in your ability.”
“Because it wasn’t safe. I couldn’t handle losing you again.” His voice sounded tight, and she frowned at the glassy tears perched on his bottom lashes.
“I’m older now, maybe I can try again? Maybe I’ll be able to find my way back to you?”
Her father nodded, but his brow furrowed, and it looked so permanent, like the thought of his little girl flying up into the air where he could never be to protect her, was too much. Ya-Beresh had given her this gift though, her father couldn’t keep her from using it.
“Please daddy,” she placed a hand on his cheek, “I will be careful, and you can teach me about the wind.”
He swallowed and looked away for a breath, a tear escaped and fell into his beard though. His arms wrapped tighter around her. Nodding he turned back to her.
“We will start right now. But you will have to say goodbye to TéTé.”
She looked down at the little bear. “Forever?” she asked.
“Yes, our gifts are wonderful things, but using them means taking risks, it means untying ourselves from security and venturing out in faith.”
Now tears welled in Fei’s eyes. For years her brother had teased her about carrying the little bear around. Yet here it was the only thing keeping her from flying away into the wild blue sky. She rubbed the velvety red ribbon between her thumb and forefinger. Then with one succinct nod she handed him to her dad.
Her dad lifted his hand in a familiar gesture, he always did it when he sent a wind to do his bidding. The cabin door shut. Sitting in her father’s lap, with her back against his chest and his arms wrapped around her she watched his deft fingers pull at TéTé’s stitches.
Her chest tightened and she breathed in small puffs as the threads holding TéTé together unravelled, and his seams parted. Every part of her hummed with energy and excitement. She fidgeted in her father’s lap and closed her eyes intuitively.
Gasping she felt her breaths become one with the wind and air moving around the cabin. It wasn’t that she heard it, or saw it, but that she felt like it was part of her, a part of her she’d long missed, and it was calling her back. Back to herself.
Her skin began to tingle, and the tingling sank into her muscles and her bones. A lightness took the place where her solid body had been and, unable to contain her anticipation any longer she leapt from her father’s lap.
There was no floor when she landed though, instead there was a stream that caught her and swept her into its twirling embrace. Her cheeks flushed, but it was only the sensation of it because her body had dissolved into the wind rushing around her father’s cabin.
It was the same wind that saved her from the Khoet. It was the same wind that carried her back to her father. And it was the same wind that had lived on in TéTé, keeping her grounded and at home. Safe on her father’s ship.
She didn’t want to stop dancing, here in the air, without form. It felt good to simply be energy that went where it pleased, with its best friend, the wind, holding her up.
Her father, though, and the fear in his eyes that she might fly away and never be seen again.
The wind that TéTé had held for so many years felt her longing, and it swirled in place. She felt something, within the wind, a warmth and a familiarity. She reached for it and felt herself growing heavy again.
Opening her eyes, she saw her father. Tears were streaming down his face, leaving glistening tracks that got lost in the forest of his whiskers. When she reached out of the wind towards him he’d reached up and caught her.
She settled back into his lap and placed her hands on either side of his face.
“Thank you, daddy.” She whispered. Still in awe.
“What is it like, Fei?”
“It is how a ship feels when the anchor is hoisted. It is how the sails feel when they are filled with air and pulling us across the sea. It is how the ocean spray feels when it escapes the hold of the wave to splash into a sailor’s face.”
“Like a ship untethered from the pier after too long in port?” he asked.
“Yes daddy, exactly like that—untethered.” With a contented sigh she leaned her head against his chest and fell asleep.
Fei panted and spun. She was in a strange place. And she was back to the age she’d been when her father unravelled TéTé, and she began to learn wind-dancing. The air around her was charged with power, swirling with wind and shadows.
The wind howled, calling to her, and it tugged at her when it went past, but no matter how she tried she couldn’t break free to leap from the ground and join it as it danced up into the night and away from the cold rock beneath her feet.
She gulped and choked on the sob that lodged in her throat.
“Hello?” she called into the shadowy land. Where had she found herself?
Then a figure walked out of the shadows. A little boy with golden hair and sky-blue eyes. His skin was pale and he glimmered in the dark. He smiled, his little teeth looked like pearls in a neat line.
“Hello.” He said.
“Please, help me. I need to get home but I don’t know how I got here.”
“You can’t go.”
“Why not?” she asked. Sweat poured down her face.
“Because, you have to stay here and play with me.”
Terror gripped her. She shivered all over, but she couldn’t move her feet. Then she noticed something in his hand. Looking down at it she clenched her fists. It was TéTé, like he had been before her father unravelled his stitches and untethered her.
Except now, his eyes hadn’t been worn off, or maybe they had been worn off and then replaced with something. Because now where brown fur had been, were two black pits. They stared at her. Instead of wind keeping TéTé stuffed, it was the Vohu-Khos, the Pit, the birthplace of Khos itself.
She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out. The little boy laughed at her. His pearly teeth glistened with ravenous hunger.
Fei shot up in bed, drenched in sweat. Her hair was plastered to her forehead and her nightgown clung to her skin. She lunged across her cabin belowdecks on her father’s ship.
Splashing her face with water, she fought back the urge to vomit into the privy pot. Nausea left by the dream twisted at her stomach. Looking through her porthole, dawn was a thin line of light on the ocean horizon. Her eyes fuzzed and she shifted her focus to her reflection in the glass.
Her platinum hair was pulled into a long, rope-like twist that ended at the small of her back. She’d grown to Aither’s shoulder height, which meant she was a small woman, but her arms and legs rippled with muscle beneath her tanned skin. Her hands were just as callused as her father’s and brother’s.
She’d been trained right alongside Aither. They served Ya-Beresh as a family, hunting down Khos-Yth and Khosekim alike. They provided haven and safe passage to anyone oppressed by Khos.
Sometimes Fei wondered if other eighteen-year-old maidens threw knives and had faced down more monsters than they could remember. But there wasn’t much point in considering it because any other life would feel like a prison next to this one.
Pulling her hair over her shoulder Fei ran her hands down the length of the twist and she rubbed the red ribbon that held it in place between her thumb and forefinger. Her smile was wistful, recalling the little bear that used to wear it, and what he’d meant to her.
Then she frowned, but what was that little bear, lost to her long ago, now doing in her dreams? Dressing she pulled on an extra layer; a well-oiled leather cloak lined with sheepskin. She shoved her feet into her boots, it felt cramped with her multiple pairs of wool socks on.
Once she was out in the crisp dawn air, with the ocean roaring around her and the wind singing to her to come and dance, she’d know what the dream meant. It wasn’t the first dream she’d had where Khos and Rhua (the supernatural power of Ya-Beresh in wind-form) clashed. Always those dreams came as a signal to her, that a great adventure was starting. That someone needed help.
She pushed down the gnawing feeling that this dream indicated she was the one that would need help.