“The Diver”: My Round One, Challenge One Piece in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2019

Trystan squeezed the chilly water from his hair and pulled it from his face, wishing he’d worn more clothing. Thirty feet above, in the boat with Gwyn, it had been balmy; down here away from the sun, his fishing clothes did little to protect him from the cold.

Blind, he reached down in the darkness to a wrapped leather pouch tied around his waist, out of which he extracted a charm. He whispered into his palm, activating the spell he’d borrowed from his cousin that morning.

Light filled the cave, and Trystan’s heart sank. Other than the rocks in the cave he’d just risked his life swimming down to, there was nothing there.

He reached back into the bag and pulled out a piece of paper:

Where the two sisters meet

Over the place where leviathan rests

In the heart of the sea

The fervent diver will call to the first man

Rouse him from his sleep

And be rewarded for all time

Trystan detested prophecies. Each time a new one surfaced, people lost their senses. Almost everyone he knew believed them, and they were all vague enough to mean anything to anybody: riches, fame, romance, power, magic.

Real magic, not tricks purchased in the marketplace from retired conjurers. Anyone could have that magic, provided they had the money to buy it. To gain real magic, people left their families and sold all they owned.

Some even said, in certain circumstances, that one could be rewarded with real magic.

Trystan stood as high as the ceiling would allow, looking around at the empty cave. He’d been certain this was the place in the prophecy.

Despite his dislike of prophecies, Trystan had thought this latest plainly written. The explorers who found it claimed it was ancient, but its contents—two sisters, leviathan, heart of the sea—seemed directed at Trystan.

There was a story behind the currents that inhabited the waters above him during half the year: Two daughters of a king fell in love with a man, though the man had no regard for either of them; the man went to war with a ship full of sailors, and the women, fearing he’d sailed away to his death, set out after him, only to drown in a storm.

Distraught, the king ordered his conjurer to grant his daughters vengeance. The magician brought the sisters back, but they returned as oceanic spirits, wreaking revenge not just on the man they’d loved, but any mariner foolish enough to stray into their domain. 

Half of Trystan was too old to believe such tales, but the other half knew some magic existed—both real and mundane—and natural things couldn’t always be explained by philosophers.

That first part of the prophecy—where the two sisters meet—made sense but even moreso when Trystan remembered his grandfather’s sea stories, one about a shipbuilding marvel, still one of the largest ever built, a vessel old-timers called Behemoth.

He stopped, pulled his hair back again, and re-read the prophecy: In the heart of the sea.

This cave, beneath the sisters, near the resting place of Behemoth—which, Trystan now knew, was another name for Leviathan—was a place generations of his family had jokingly called The Heart. Divers brave enough to explore it had returned with breathless stories of how it resembled a human heart. It had to be the place.

A thought occurred to him. The cave wasn’t well-travelled, but some of his forbears had come here, so if the first man—or the key to his magic, whatever that was—was in the open, someone would’ve noticed.

The fervent diver will call to the first man.

He drew in a sharp breath and after a few seconds spoke: “Adoreil!”

He felt foolish, though there was no one to have heard him call, but even as the echoes faded, something in the air changed. Across the cave, where a moment ago there had been jagged rocks, there stood a person, a bearded man pale as death. Even his clothing was ash white.

Against his mounting fear and excitement, Trystan stepped forward. Though he hadn’t known what he’d find here, he hadn’t expected an actual person. As he neared the man and the light from the charm illuminated that part of the cave, a realization came.

He stopped, hands shaking, and sat on the floor of the cave, taking in the sight before him. 

Adoreil, the first man, was a legend but one everyone seemed to believe regardless of their modern views. The first child of the gods, he had repaid their kindness by stealing their magic and giving it to his own children.

But this wasn’t Adoreil. This was a statue, valuable to scholars but not to Trystan, at least not that he could tell. After all the trouble he’d gone to, stealing his father’s boat and talking Gwyneth into sailing out here and waiting for him while he dove, to find a statue.

Where was the magic in a statue?

At the edge of Trystan’s vision, nearly above his line of sight, he thought he saw the statue move. Looking back up, he realized the face was transforming, becoming younger, gaining color. The clothing was changing as well. Trystan looked back down at his own clothing and then up at the statue, whose face now looked familiar.

Trystan felt the chill of the cave leaving his body. He wanted—needed—to stand, but his legs wouldn’t obey. His limbs began to stiffen, and he felt he weighed as much as a mountain. He tried to call out but had no voice.

Now he knew. The prophecy was real and so was Adoreil. Trystan had called out and roused him, and now he was being rewarded for all time.

As Trystan’s vision faded, he saw the statue becoming a man who wore Trystan’s face and clothing, who moved his fingers and stretched his limbs.

There was magic here after all.

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