A crab boat mostly. That’s what they were. Year in year out, through cold rain and driving cold rain. They brought up the crabs with nets, with chains, with cages, with hooks and bait. The things would scrabble against the metal and wood relentlessly, for the waters they fished were so relentlessly rainy that the crabs thought they were still under water.
It was raining again that day, and each drop had a sharp snowflake inside. Botir was on deck, manning the chains. He was an old man, he’d lost track of just how old, but his hands were still mighty leather. A tentacled horror could try to pull one of their lines and steal their catch, but Botir would yank it up to the deck, harpoon it, and eat out its eyes so it stopped struggling.
All three men aboard had mastered the dark rainy seas off the coast of their homeland: Tyghis. They thought it better to contend with the crabs, even the giant vengeful ones that sometimes stabbed their claws through the bottom of the boat, than remain ashore with the nagging women and their gold-dressed lords. At least out there they could be treated like the animals they were.
“Come,” Rhotin called from inside the boat. Botir left the chains and descended the stairs. Rhotin was the youngest, but had lost the most body parts: one eye with a knitted scratch across the white of the other, four fingers, three toes, and the end of one elbow. He rested his gnawed feet on their one table, alongside Murd. Murd was the quietest, but had the loudest snore. His filthy black hair covered his eyes at all times. Botir joined them for their evening meal: bread and raw shrimp. Sucking the eyes out of the still-scrabbling red things was the closest they came to enjoying themselves.
“Waters are rich,” Botir grunted. He picked up a shrimp. Shlup. He dropped the blind thing back into the cage serving as their bowl.
“Aye,” Rhotin agreed. Murd nodded.
“Someone best say it,” Botir added after a few minutes of silence. Shlup. “We’re dragged off course.”
“The Shraos is around these waters.” Shlup.
All three knew what that meant. The Shraos was the most vicious creature of the sea. They could do nothing against it, and it always took a victim from a boat it spied. They nodded to each other. It was settled then. Whoever it took, it took. It was good knowing each other, somewhat.
Krrrrnk They all turned their heads and dropped their shrimp. Those lucky bugs scrambled under the table and hid there. The three crabbers headed up to the deck to see what one of their chains had snagged. Botir and Murd pulled it up, hand over hand. Up came a crystal, the chain knotted around it. What slippery hands could do such a thing so far below they had no idea, but it was a shipman’s knot.
They hauled the stone aboard and let it hit the deck. It was nearly the size of them, but much lighter than its sapphire appearance would suggest. They stared. Usually, things that didn’t try to immediately kill them came with explanations. They were not left without answers for long. Bubbles burst all around the ship. Out of the froth rose the language of Dephon: god of the black bottom of the sea.
“Loyal you have been, eaters of crab,” Dephon told them. “You pay tribute every voyage, one sixth your catch, and I have not forgotten. Take this gift. The Shraos will accept it as food. You will pass unharmed.” With that the bubbles ceased, and they were left with the water at its most tepid, that is to say, raging only mildly.
They tied up the crystal and headed below decks to sleep for the night. They would live. So be it. They had no dreams to celebrate it, just minds rocking along with their vessel. They were not disturbed until another sound came in the middle of the night. Glass breaking. There was no glass aboard. Glass was just a chance to lose another eye when a hail stone struck.
Again they ascended to the deck and found something strange. The sapphire had shattered into eight pieces, revealing the hollow inside. A girl stood on the ship’s railing, facing away from them, thinking about whether she should toss herself into the sea.
“You,” Rhotin addressed. She turned, but did not step down. “Dephon sent you. You’re to be our sacrifice.”
“Where’d he get you?” Botir asked.
“I was stolen,” she said, voice far too soft for something this far out to sea. “Taken by gilled demons. Dragged away. Kept in air-filled crystal as Dephon’s trophy. I suppose he has tired of me.”
“You’ve hatched into death,” Rhotir said. He picked up a piece of crystal and examined it. “You’ll accept it.” the girl nodded. She stepped down. They took her by the arms, careful not to muss her simple but clean clothing, and took her below decks.
They slept again, but Botir kept one eye open. The girl simply sat and stared at the floor. Come morning, they went to the deck and found their boat in the grip of the Shraos. Its serpentine body had curled around five times and its toothy lizard’s head rose far above them. Its mouth dripped a mix of drool and seawater. Its foggy bulging eyes stared in all directions. It voiced its desire with a deep moan; they could hear its stomach acid churning.
Botir turned to grab the girl, but she had stepped back. Her face was changed, full of fury and anguish. She wielded a piece of her own crystal egg.
“You said you’d accepted!’ Rhotir said with one of his few remaining fingers pointed at her heart. Botir knew the gesture was pointless. Whatever heart she had left, after however long in the deep dark below, it wasn’t for them.
“I watched you go by for years,” she spat. “I watched you drag the crabs away, chains splitting limb from body. They were my only friends. The only ones who would tap on my glass that whole time. You eat them as Dephon eats our praise. You’re all disgusting.” She used the crystal piece as a hammer to break open several cages on the deck.
Giant pale green crabs poured out, scuttling to the men and attacking for a chance to escape. They had no choice but to back up to the railing. The shadow of the Shraos hung over them, its teeth falling. The girl curled her lower lip in, this gesture insufficient to quell her anger.
“Enjoy it!” she roared. “Enjoy it as the Shraos eats your precious stones!”
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by xenonquark996 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!