PROLOGUE: THE SHORE

CW: drowning, fascist implications, sexism

bay frosch, 1915

It was well past sunset on Bay Frosch, and if Thaumatist-Major Scheffen had been anywhere other than storming across the salt-swept, slick sand with a curse on her lips, the boy on the shore would have died before the sun rose.

She wasn’t, strictly speaking, supposed to be out. Her job had been to inspect the lighthouse. And she’d done so, despite the vile comments from the lighthouse-keeper. They always thought they were being so clever and subtle – and then one of the comments had finally struck her temper the wrong way, and she’d excused herself for a smoke. If she’d been farther from the shoreline, in fact, she would have taken him for a log of driftwood, dark against the white sand. But –

But, well, she hadn’t.

Sylvia knelt by the figure on the sand, her heart thudding against her ribs. He didn’t look alive; but when she reached forward to push his grey hair out of his face, she started with surprise at the ghost of breath against her hand. She pressed her fingers against his throat. There was a pulse – thready, and vague, but there nonetheless.

“Good lord,” she muttered to herself, then – “Can you hear me? Are you alright?”

He moved slightly, his ragged clothes so drenched in saltwater they were practically glued to his skin. Then, with tremendous effort, his eyes opened. It was only a crack, his eyelashes so heavy with salt crystals that it was a wonder he’d managed it at all, and even the little that Sylvia could see made her wonder if he was blind. His irises were a pale grey, hardly visible at all – but no, his gaze fixed on her faze, focusing bit by bit.

“Do you know where you are?”

No response. He still wasn’t all the way here, which seemed reasonable. He couldn’t be more than, what, eleven or twelve?

“You’re in – well – You’ve been -” Shit. What did she say? She glanced out at the ocean. The lighthouse’s purpose was to watch for danger; but nobody willingly sailed out into the Bay Frosch. Whatever lay on or across the ocean belonged to fairytales – or horror stories. “You nearly drowned,” she settled on. True enough, at least.

“Oh,” came his quiet rasp. His voice was lighter than she expected, raw and exhausted. Then – his eyes sharpened, opening the rest of the way, looking at her with sudden fear as he pulled away. He put his hand up in what should have just been a defensive gesture – and she felt the twist of magic, heat building in the air around her-

She slapped him. Not because she wanted to. It was all she could think of, and instantly, the heat went away, replaced with a shocked, almost hurt look. Then she grasped his chin firmly in her fingers.

“You can’t do that,” she said urgently. “Who are you?”

“…I don’t… I don’t know.”

He shook his head. The way he was colored, his skin almost translucent-pale with ash-grey hair and corpselight in his eyes… Sylvia chewed on her lip nervously. She was going to have to report it, one way or another. And that hadn’t been thaumaturgy, the magic he’d tried to summon against her. It had been feral magic, wild and just as likely to spin out of control as anything else.

“…Do you know what you were doing, just there?” she asked again, trying to sound non-threatening. It didn’t come particularly easily to her.

He shook his head again. Then he said, voice still haggard and creaky, “…Protection.”

Oh, the poor thing. She’d scared him. “I see. You don’t know who I am.”

“No.”

“My name is Thaumatist-Major Sylvia Christadocht Scheffen.” When he blinked, half glazed over, she chuckled a little and added, “You can call me Sylvia for now.”

“Ssss. Sylvia.” He didn’t seem to know what he was doing with his mouth. She wondered what language he’d spoken before; certainly he seemed to know Elessan, but it didn’t seem to come easily.

“I’ll make sure you’re taken care of. But you have to promise me something.” It hurt her so much to say it. Because she knew what he was, didn’t she? Or at least, she suspected. “But you have to not do that anymore. Otherwise you’ll get in trouble, and I won’t be able to help you.”

He glanced down at his hand. “…Okay.” He accepted it so quickly. “I don’t know my name.”

“Maybe you’ll remember later.”

He was shivering. For all that he was talking, he’d still been half-submerged for – god, she didn’t know how long. She took off her military jacket and draped it over his shoulders, suppressing a smile as he pulled the grey jacket closer around him. Then she pulled her radio from her waist, and hesitated only a moment before pressing the call button. “This is Thaumatist-Major Scheffen, on the Bay Frosch, requesting medical. I’ve got a juvenile John Doe on the coast, over.”

Copy that. Any signs of irregularity? Over.

“None, sir. He’s just a kid. I’m taking him to the lighthouse now. Over.”

Sylvia turned off her radio. The kid had been listening with an unreadable expression, but once she was done, he practically collapsed against her, the cold and exhaustion taking the last out of him. She wrapped an arm around him carefully, feeling how thin he was, divots in his ribs that might have been cracks, scrapes and abrasions on the exposed parts of his skin…

A rook landed on the beach in front of her, hopping closer when she started to pick him up. Sylvia gazed at it curiously. She couldn’t do any of her thaumaturgy on short notice, and certainly not in the dark with no light source, but, well, thaumaturgy and magic weren’t so distantly related. And she could feel the magic on the bird, woven into it, like static off of a radio transmitter. “And who are you?” she asked, not expecting an answer as she straightened up with the boy in her arms.

The rook flapped up and landed on the boy’s legs, staring at her with its beady corvid eyes. Well. It wasn’t helping the boy’s case towards being entirely human, but Sylvia knew a protective warning when she saw one. It was still possible it was a normal bird, upset at being deprived of a meal, but you couldn’t be too careful.

“I’ll keep him safe. I mean it.”

The rook seemed satisfied at that, and took off – but all the way back to the lighthouse, Sylvia was aware of its presence in the sky above her, standing guard. Rook. Until his memory came back, she supposed it’d do.

Comments

I’m not entirely sure where the lighthouse imagery came from here – I’ve been pretty open about my influences, but this image of the lighthouse and the cold, poisonous sea I suspect dates back to England. I know there’s a Famous Five book about shipwreckers on the Cornwall coast that was pretty influential on my young brain, as well as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the Nightwish video for the Islander, not to mention books like Mariel of Redwall. I suspect for a lot of American readers (at least south of Ottawa) the desolate feeling of Bay Frosch will feel a bit strange. For Northern Europeans, Brits and Northern Canadians, though, it should feel pretty familiar.

SONG: “DEPARTED” – AS I LAY DYING

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4 thoughts on “PROLOGUE: THE SHORE

  1. In “when she reached forward to push his grey hair out of his face, she started with surprise at the ghost of breath against her head”, is that final “head” supposed to be “hand”?

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  2. Sorry if this is a duplicate – I tried replying on the site, and it didn’t seem to work.

    I spotted a possible typo. In the paragraph, “Sylvia knelt by the figure on the sand, her heart thudding against her ribs. He didn’t *look *alive; but when she reached forward to push his grey hair out of his face, she started with surprise at the ghost of breath against her head. She pressed her fingers against his throat. There was a pulse – thready, and vague, but there nonetheless.” should it be “the ghost of breath against her HAND”, not her against her head?

    On Sat, Aug 14, 2021 at 11:17 PM Elliott Dunstan wrote:

    > elliottdunstan posted: ” CW: drowning, fascist implications, sexism bay > frosch, 1915 It was well past sunset on Bay Frosch, and if Thaumatist-Major > Scheffen had been anywhere other than storming across the salt-swept, slick > sand with a curse on her lips, the boy on the sho” >

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