Teeth and Tattoos – a Fantasy Flash Story

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution“You will be the greatest tattoo fairy that ever lived.” The words echoed in Grindlespit’s mind as she twinkled into the mortal world, teeth bared, hovering on hair-thin wings over the writer’s bed. Those words had grated at her since the prophecy was first made, filling her belly with a feeling like barbed wire.

She loved her art, adored every second of biting patterns into the skin of sleeping humans. But being destined to be great felt like cheating. Worse, it felt like she had been cheated, robbed of the opportunity to become something on her own terms.

Pulling a pot of graveyard grey ink from her belt, she sank her needle thin teeth through its seal. As colour filled the tubes in her teeth she contemplated how best to execute this job. The writer had wished for some obscure superhero, and then left her shoulder exposed as she slept. A heroic stance near the top of the arm was the obvious use of the space, but Grindlespit wasn’t great because she did obvious. Something more dynamic was called for.

She floated down onto the duvet, light as a feather. A sprinkle of pixy dust anaesthetised the sleeper – there was nothing worse for art than a wriggling canvas – and then Grindlespit set to work.

The vision in her head was flowing, vibrant, full of life and energy. It should have been a delight to create, each bite a tiny addition to her body of work. But instead she felt more miserable each time her teeth sank into flesh. She wanted to create art, not to be trapped and defined by the visions of others.

Missing the seal, her teeth ground against a pot of scab brown ink. She sank into the duvet, head in hands, wings fluttering, and sobbed. Was she only doing this because it had been destined? Or was she doing what she loved? Was it both, and she could never have satisfaction without giving in to the will of the universe?

The agitated twitching of her wings turned into a frantic buzz. She hurtled into the air, unable to think straight, flapping from place to place. She landed on a desk in the corner of the room, kicked an eraser into the waste bin, flung a pencil on the floor. Picking up a pile of the writer’s chaotic notes, she gnashed at it with her teeth, staining the paper with hundreds of tiny bitemarks.

At last her rage subsided and she sank back down, the paper trembling in her hands. The mess she had made was almost beautiful, a jumble of shapes and colour. Not a tattoo, but still art, a work for which she had never been destined.

The smallest of smiles fluttered in Grindlespit’s heart. This was the way. She could still create without bowing to prophecy. She could be her own artist.

The air twinkled as she faded from the room.

*

The writer woke groggily and looked down at her arm. Half a face had appeared on the skin. It looked vaguely familiar.

“What the hell?” she gasped.

 

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This story was inspired by regular reader Glenatron, who suggested I should write something about destiny, and by a brief conversation on Twitter with Jennifer Williams. Its weirdness is all my own.

And if you enjoyed this, my collection of short fantasy stories By Sword, Stave or Stylus is free on the Kindle this weekend, starting on Saturday. Why not try some stories that Writerbees Book Reviews said ‘take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’

The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay – Inevitability and Endings

Guy Gavriel Kay is surely one of the greatest storytellers working in fantasy. The vividness of his prose and the power of his imagination is staggering. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the Fionavar Tapestry, one of his earlier works, was good but slightly less impressive in its first volume, becoming awesome in book two. But one of the marks of a great writer is how they end things, which brings us to The Darkest Road, the third and final Fionavar book.

Myth and Destiny

The mythical scope and texture of this series brought in ideas of fate from the very start, and much of The Darkest Road is occupied with paying off the destinies of its characters, exploring just how inevitable their fates are. In many ways it’s an exploration of freedom, and how free anyone can be in a world of active gods and complex relationships between different eras in time.

This adds a sense of weight to events, as the characters struggle with inevitability. Kay strikes a fascinating balance between fulfilling and denying destiny, giving his characters logical fates. There is a sense of inevitability even when they break with destiny, as Prince Diarmuid does in one of the most dramatic moments of the book. Such is the necessity to foreshadow and build momentum behind events, that this character’s act of defiant free will feels as much a foregone conclusion as anything that has actually been pre-ordained. His destiny lies in his personality, not the weaving of the world, something that reinforced my love of Diarmuid as one of the best characters in the series.

In a very real sense, this book was the most fitting way possible to end this series.

No, Not Freedom

But by fitting the tone of the series, and coming back to the issues raised in the first book, this left me feeling less satisfied than I hoped. This is a matter of personal taste. The grandiosely mythic seldom suits me, and I balk against the use of destiny to drive a story forward. I prefer to see characters making their own choices, not having them thrust upon them, and such was the sense of inevitability here, with even the moments of freedom permitted because of mythic forces, that I seldom felt like the characters were choosing, so much as they were following the path laid out for them.

There’s also a sense of distance that comes with this mythic sort of writing. I didn’t feel drawn into the inner lives of the characters to the extent I have with Kay’s other books, and that, together with the inevitability, made me care less.

Don’t Get Me Wrong…

Despite all those reservations, I enjoyed this book. It’s a reflection of just what a great writer Kay is that, even when he’s writing something that’s not to my tastes, he executes it so magnificently that I’m drawn along through every single page. I loved seeing the bond of friendship forged between Dave, Torc and Levon. It pained me when I thought terrible things were about to happen to Jennifer. I was left pondering questions of inevitability.

Is this Kay’s best book? No. It’s not even the best book in this series, which was the magnificent The Wandering Fire. But is it worth reading? Oh yes.

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On an unrelated note, my science fiction collection Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is free on Kindle for one last day today – why not go grab a copy?