As they walked to school, Meleena recounted to her brother the lively dinner discussion of last night. They passed the wood- and onion-shaped cottages of the town, enclosed by sapling trees forming fence posts, entangled with strings of kitten’s ear ivy. She made a mental note to draw that later, when she’d gotten her journal back.
“Well, it sounds like you really should go visit Kelrick in Dlawn’Edo. I know he can be… difficult, but there’s more to the Council than just him.”
She made a face. “Why didn’t you follow Dad and Kelrick’s footsteps and join the Meruyan government?”
“I’ve seen their world, but I’m happy right here. Plus, I have a wife and daughter of my own whose future I must protect, but if adventure interests you, I wouldn’t write off the Council so quickly.” He adjusted his glasses.
They passed the main square, where the day’s bustle had already begun, with Meruyan holding baskets to collect fresh foods from the marketplace; sea-beast drawn wooden carts traversed the streets, led by farmers bringing fruit from farm to shops.
They rounded a corner leading down the lane to the old schoolhouse, built like a conjoined ring of wooden onions—an onion-cake, frosted with moss from years of exposure to the moist coastal air. Other teens were visible from all directions down the stony lanes.
They approached the doors and Tomiyan opened them to let her in. “Just ask Dad for a tour of his study tonight,” he said and left it at that.
School went as expected. Talla, the only overachiever of the class, shot her hand up and answered every question with ease, while Meleena and the rest of the students sighed, groaned, threw paper birds, sometimes at Talla’s head, and did everything else bored students do. Everyone except Joru, Talla’s twin brother. He sat beside Meleena, always looking at her.
A gill breather. What a hokey place this was. Meleena tried to ignore him, leaning on her elbow and facing away from his batting eyes.
He was shy, but his intentions were clear. She had already told him it would never happen. For this, Talla especially despised Meleena. “You broke his heart, you flirt!” she would howl at any occasion.
But Meleena couldn’t make herself love the guy, or blame herself for existing. And that was that. Whatever. Just one more year putting up with this and she’d be free, but free to do what? Her family was right, there were no options anyway.
After school, she slunk home, hands in pockets with nothing to draw and no ideas for an apprenticeship. In her room, she dropped her backpack on the floor, flopped onto the bed, heart sinking. No journal to scribble her thoughts, or her way through problems.
A knock startled her and she uttered a noise muffled by a face-full of bedsheets.
Her father spoke through the door, “Meleena, I wanted to show you something. I spoke to Tomiyan, he said you seemed down.”
She sat up. “I’m fine.”
“Well, he suggested I show you my study.”
“I’ve seen it.”
“I just thought…” His voice trailed off. “I could help you pick an apprenticeship.”
The wooden floor creaked as he stood outside the door. Her heart sank further at the thought of his judgment.
“—Maybe I can convince your mother to give your journal back sooner…”
Meleena opened the door. Shadows danced on his face from the luminous worm-shell candles that lit the hallway at night.
“Sounds like a deal.”
She followed her father to the room she scarcely visited. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and glass cases pillared the middle. He lit the worm-shell candles and led her to one particularly large case to the left of his desk.
“This is where I keep the most precious artifacts.”
Meleena lifted her glasses and inspected rolls of parchment, metal-plated shells, dusty leather-bound books, broken copper gadgetry, and inscribed parcels.
Her father opened a dusty book titled Gifts of the Warix: The End of the Wet Ages. “This book contains everything the Meruyan have learned from the Warix about how to live on land. Everything wooden, from homes to paper, land-farming, fire for heating and cooking. Wouldn’t you like to meet a Warix someday?”
Meleena ignored him. He was trying to get her to apprentice for the Council, but it wasn’t going to work. But she was running out of time and ideas.
“There’s more to the council than you think…” Her father handed her a scroll to read:
Legend of Peoples.
1–Meruyan: Aquatic people of the Water Spirit. Government: Meruyan Nation, Run by the Council. Capital: Dlawn’Edo
2–Warix: Forest people of the Earth Spirit. Government: Two Enemy Nations.
Sen’Drorn Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the state.” Centuries old, run by Emperor Ryogrim and advisors. Capital: Sen’Drorn City.
Sen’Prin Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the people.” Small, split-off nation, run by Governess Arenay. Capital: Sen’Prin City.
3–Hyish: Reptilian people of the Fire Spirit. Government: many clans, trading-based hierarchy, Mayfee clan most prominent. Capital: none, nomadic.
“What is this?” Meleena ran her fingers over the waxy scroll. It appeared there was more going on outside her village than she realized. “A Hyish?” She’d never even heard of that.
“Yes—reptilian people who live in tribes all over the world—be it forest, grasslands, or desert. They invented glass, you know, like those in your glasses.”
The thought of sketching and documenting their culture piqued Meleena’s interest. She’d love to meet a reptilian person one day. Outwardly, she merely shrugged and returned the scroll.
Maybe the council idea wasn’t so bad, after all. Not like she had any better ideas.
“What else is here?”
Her father handed her a horn. Turning it over, she ran her finger over the etched markings running along its surface. “I’ve never seen a horn like this… it’s like the farmers brand on pon-urchin spines, but this seems… daintier?”
“A Warix horn. Far away in the Arctic City, where both Warix and Meruyans live, it has become trendy to brandish Meruyan symbols. You could visit if you joined the council’s apprenticeship. There is a reason your mother and I raised you here, it’s safe. But there is more to the Meruyan nation than fishing villages. I promise it.”
As Meleena took the horn into her hands, a tangible part of a creature from a distant land, the world outside the village felt real for the first time. She wasn’t excited about the idea of working for the council, but it was starting to look like the best option at least as an apprenticeship. A chance to leave the town, at least she could sketch wildlife, and quit later, maybe run away to live in the forest… yes, great ideas were forming.
“Fine, I’ll sign up the council apprenticeship.”
She helped herself to an object. A small box with a golden frame caught her eye. She held it flat in her palm, opening it to find… a wooden bauble, shaped like a droplet.
“Well, you can’t simply join. The council is the hardest apprenticeship. You will need recommendations and diligence in your final year of school.”
He almost had her there.
“Maybe it’s not worth it then; I’ll just clean out pon-urchin carcasses. Why was this junk in here?” Meleena turned over the trinket. It was crudely whittled into the shape of a ram’s head, with gleaming white eye holes. The light seemed to be emanating, curiously, from within.
Before her father could answer, a deep rumbling began. Rolling thunder. They looked up, startled. A baby cried somewhere in the distance.
Hurried footsteps pounded, getting louder—Vivia and Tomiyan appeared in the doorway. Vivia gripped the doorposts, panting. “A flash storm has broken out!”
“There’s an evacuation to the underwater community already underway,” said Tomiyan through bated breath from the hall. “My family is waiting in the kitchen. We have to go, now!”
The rumbling continued.
Loroh furrowed his brow. “That’s strange, it seemed so clear earlier this evening.”
“Does that matter?” Tomiyan said. “A tornado has sprung up and has already smashed some cottages at the edge of town!”
Meleena’s heart pounded as she ran behind her parents and Tomiyan down the hall. She had forgotten to return the carving and had absent-mindedly shoved it into her pocket. I guess I’ll return this when the storm passes. Can’t exactly go back now.
Tomiyan’s wife held a restless infant and stood as they entered the kitchen. Something crashed on the roof.
Meleena and her family ran through the village towards the beach, their straw shoes slapping the stone pavement. The wind pushed them, though there weren’t any storm clouds above. Stars winked at her against the boundless darkness.
As they reached the beach, they saw other Meruyans wading into the ocean. As the waves lapped at their bodies, fins sprouted on forearms and calves. Some plunged in headfirst, arms extended. Meleena had experience with this: a steep drop not far offshore.
Still, there hadn’t been a night evacuation in years. She barely remembered the last time. Storms this bad didn’t come along every season. Meleena spotted their village elders who ran the community. She spotted Talla and Joru. Joru blushed, then faced away from her, and Talla scowled in her direction.
Meleena shivered in the cold night air. More Meruyans dove straight into the crashing waves and out of sight. Meleena, like most, stashed her glasses in a pocket: she wouldn’t need them again until life on land resumed.
Trembling under the weight of her world falling apart, Meleena stole a blurry glance toward her village being torn asunder. At least this bought her some time to decide on apprenticeships. Then she, alongside her family, dove into the dark waves.
J.B. Lesel is a fantasy writer living in California and sometimes in the forests of Germany. When she’s not writing or lounging like a cat, she has an unusual hobby of volunteering abroad with strange wildlife. She has a Master of Science in Psychology, working in content writing and data analytics. BORN OF WIND is her debut novel.
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