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The self-styled Lord of the Undersea grasped my shoulders and pressed his cheek against mine. There could be no kiss of greeting through the mask that covered his lower face. He stepped back, but did not let go.

“I would never have guessed you would have grown up so pretty,” he said. His grip pinched my arm. “You were quite the awkward child.” He brushed a strand of hair back from my face with his coarse fingers before he released me. A memory flashed: my father, in his dress uniform; my mother in a gown. A handsome older man bending down to kiss my cheek. My ten-year-old heart fluttering with excitement. I stepped back, reaching blindly for Jonath. My skin tingled where the Prophet’s hand had rested on my arm.

He’s just a man, I reminded myself, and a ruined one at that. But when Jonath pulled me close, I let myself lean in, just a little.

“And your mother? Is she well?”

I swallowed. “She died. Six months ago.”

The Prophet shook his head. “Of course. I should have remembered. She was a lovely woman. I knew your parents well, you see, in the Before.”

“Thank you,” I said automatically. The string of pleasantries did nothing to settle my nerves. The phantom of safety retreated with each word.

“You have the Dragon,” said the Prophet to Jonath. It was not a question. “And the crew to fly her?”

Jonath nodded. “The Captain may be a problem. She is… reluctant.” He gestured toward Belyn Morrow. If not for the ropes binding her arms, she could have been standing at attention on the bridge of her ship.

“Is she?” The Prophet regarded her thoughtfully. “Shoot her Second.”

A dark shape streaked across the cavern. A crossbow sang out and a man shrieked. Lieutenant Nioben writhed on the ground, clutching his leg.

“That, my dear,” said the Prophet to the Captain, “was a warning shot. I have medics camped just outside Verdure. I suggest you fly us there.”

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This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on. This particular piece is probably less self-contained than most, and for that I apologize! I hope you find it interesting anyway, or that it inspires you to read the whole series.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge weekly prompt:

You should write a creative response using the third definition of the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

PHANTOM (noun)
1 a : something apparent to sense but with no substantial existence : APPARITION
b : something elusive or visionary
c : an object of continual dread or abhorrence
2 : something existing in appearance only
3 : a representation of something abstract, ideal, or incorporeal

33 thoughts on “Phantoms

  1. Ivy (Mommy Dourest) says:

    I’m not familiar with the Jade Dragon series … yet. This installment definitely piques my interest. I will have to read the previous entries. You have a real talent for storytelling. I always look forward to reading your work. Oh, and I loved your use of phantom. 🙂


  2. Annabelle says:

    Yikes, what a guy. I love the fact that he calls himself Lord of the Undersea; the sea link is really interesting given the dustiness of the planet and all of the rest of the context. Looking forward to seeing where that goes!


    • Christine says:

      I find myself returning over and over to the theme of water throughout these – probably because there is so little of it. I read somewhere that humans are drawn to water on an innate, visceral level – that’s why the sound of rushing water is so soothing, for example. I think it would be true even on a desert world.


  3. Kir Piccini says:

    it doesn’t really matter what you write, you have me hook, line and sinker from the first sentence.

    I loved reading about her flashback to her 10 yr old self, how those memories flood us when we least expect it.

    really enjoying the series.


  4. KymmInBarcelona says:

    Great post, Christine!
    I always read everything as stand-alone pieces, and this one works perfectly.
    The bit of flashback, the kinda creepy tension between her and the Prophet (self-styled Lord!), the crossbow singing all work together as a story melding power plays, old and new alliances, romances and rivalries.


  5. trifectawriting says:

    I do hope you have plans of shopping this around when you’re done with it. It’s such an interesting read. I enjoyed, and was a little creeped out by, the opening scene of ‘growing up pretty.’ A great description of power. Thanks for linking up.


    • Christine says:

      Wow – I am flattered! I’ve received such amazing support from people who have read it that I might just see what I can do with it. Right now, though, it feels a little like careening downhill on a skateboard with no helmet on. I have no idea where I will end up, if I’ll stop with a flourish or a crash. 🙂


  6. Valerie says:

    “The phantom of safety retreated with each word.”

    One of the best uses of the prompt yet! I loved this part of the story-and I will be waiting eagerly for more as well!


  7. steph says:

    I love ‘self-styled’ Lord. That says so much in one phrase. Your lyrical, descriptive style though you might find it challenging, as readers we find it mesmerizing. You have the perfect blend of action and description. And that warning shot will bring us back for more. I love everything about it.


  8. jannatwrites says:

    Whoa, that warning shot got my attention. I’m sure it might be persuasive for Belyn, too! I liked the touch of history with her flashback at her greeting the prophet. Nicely done (again/still!)


    • Christine says:

      I’m finding that it’s hard not to get sucked into writing flashback after flashback, and memory after memory. I struggle sometimes with keeping the action going. I think I lean towards a more lyrical, descriptive style, so moving forward is sometimes a challenge. Thanks for the comment, Janna!


  9. Lance says:

    My favorite part: The Prophet shook his head. “Of course. I should have remembered. She was a lovely woman. I knew your parents well, you see, in the Before.”

    I like where this is going…more please


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