“I’m trying to save you,” the pirate screamed, or sighed, exasperated. Roaring around him, a crowd of tomato-skinned Summerans chanted a murky auditory bloodbath of native curses and broken English commands. Spunk knew they wanted him, a Springley, off their island and out of the way of their sun-rousing ceremony. But his feet wouldn’t budge, as the opalescent mermaid in the center of it all laughed, her fingers teasing azure butterflies out of her black-gold tangles.
“Why are you doing this?” Spunk knelt beside the giant leaf where Jazmet, this year’s Sun Priestess, sat in a small pool of water. “I know you, and-”
“You’ve known me for five moonrises, landling,” the mermaid reminded him. Her eyes were brown as the earth but swam with pale violet flecks like seabirds. She was far too beautiful to waste in the pit of a volcano.
“This is barbaric,” Spunk spat, as much at the crowd around them as at its central gem. “Aren’t your people evolved enough to know the sun is going to rise no matter how many virgins they dump into the depths? All that’s gonna happen is your bones will shatter, and your skin will become a worm metropolis, and your scales will send the bitter salt of wasted fish-meat to the surface.” He had met many beautiful women on his travels around Wholeworld, but this was the only time since his mother’s death that he could recall crying over one.
Spunk flinched instinctively as Jazmet’s fist flew up to his jawline. But she didn’t punch him; her hand gripped a bone spear waiting to slice into his neck. Its holder, an impatient islander, glared at her but returned to the semicircular crowd.
“There’s not much time,” Jazmet warned Spunk. “The moment the four stars sink to the tree line-”
“Come with me. I still have a ride. We can go to Spring, or anywhere you want really-”
“Stop interrupting me. Don’t you agree that this year, of all years, is the one the Summerans should do everything they can to keep the sunny season alive?”
“We’re working on that. There’s an army-”
“Your people are such barbarians. Do you think your flower-cannons could ever stop Whiled? Really? Savage, I say.”
With that, his lips were on hers, clasping tightly. This was more effective than yelling “shut up!!!”, he remarked to himself as her pearl-smooth arms twined around his bare back, caressing the ridges of the map carved in his skin and sending starlit chills rippling into his soul.
Just as it was getting good, he found himself lifted into the air amidst a sea of chants. Looking down, he realized the crowd of Summerans had advanced around them as he’d been occupied. With their sharp-tendoned arms, they had lifted the leaf with the mermaid and the man in it, toting it the way waiter at a restaurant would carry a fancy dish to a table.
“Where in the Underverse are we going?” Spunk snapped at no one in particular. The volcano bounced on the horizon as the crowd marched eastward.
Jazmet’s thumb and forefinger, pinched around the nape of his burly neck, kept him from lunging off the dinner plate. A voice like the sea in a dream whispered in his ear, “Come with me.”
Two Corners away, a tar-bound Springley whimpered in her bindings as a resolute bell sound rang out from the model map she’d watched Whiled tweak on the coal desk, adding a lanky male doll shaped in ice. She couldn’t close her eyes; tiny tar threads bound her eyelashes to her brow bone, forcing her to watch as Spunk’s figurine dissolved into a white flurry.
“It appears I advised you rightly,” Whiled’s voice pierced the room from the bell-pipe in the corner. “Spring and Summer are made of life’s breath, and therefore easy to blow away. You might as well quit wasting your energy and join me now.”
“You know you could have Dyed me Winter with your horrible machine the first moment you saw me,” Yessi murmured. “There must be some reason…”
A chill hit her in the face, as if invisible needles were trying to cut off her nose.
“He can’t be dead,” Yessi said to herself. “He can’t be.” She’d seen Spunk die before, and it hadn’t seemed to stop him from leaping to his feet for another pirating excursion the next day.
In the empty throne box, Whiled cut off his microphone in case his prisoner could hear the apprehension in his breath. Winter never falters, he reminded himself. A tiny chip of icy porcelain flaked off his trembling fingertip and hit the ground. He smiled, then snorted, glancing at the severed forefinger. Springleys and their optimism! Nothing more than a dream, insubstantial to the campaign. But still his hands trembled in the cold air.
Image credits in order of appearance:
By Colin Trainor (Colin Trainor) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
By Landsat images were purchased by US Geological Survey – http://www.hawaiireef.noaa.gov/imagery/rpa.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2094808
By Morburre – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35067451
By Teemu Vehkaoja (TeVe) – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=633993
By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Frosty Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48410633