Night of Teeth

Night of Teeth is a short story I wrote to release on January 27th, 2023. It was my twentieth birthday and I wanted to give myself a reason to be excited. It's set in the same world as The Ones with Gilded Bones, my debut fantasy novella. 

If you're interested in listening to some of the music that inspired it, I have a link to the Spotify playlist.

Night of Teeth - Spotify Playlist

My arms burn from holding onto the rocks. The rocks are wedged together at the mouth of the tunnel and there's just enough space for me to get past them. Water rushes past me, eager to join the ocean. I've followed this vein very carefully. It leads from beneath the cliffs to the salty wetlands that stretch out across the island, and the only way for me to get through is by battling the strong current.

     I'm almost at the top. My fingers wrap around the next stone and I pull myself up. There's more space around my arms now. I can push against the outside of the tunnel, where my hands dig into the dirt. The water running past nearly tugs me back out to sea. I pull myself one last time, my tail pumping furiously, and leave the current. The sudden change sends me careening into the stony ground before I slip back into the water.

     Laughter bubbles up within me.

     I spin, holding my hands out on either side to feel for more currents. The last thing I want is to get sucked into another one. I don't have the strength to make it back up again in time for tonight.

     It's the Night of Teeth. I don't care for most human rituals, but this is one that I enjoy watching. The wetland tribes hold a special place in my heart; I find them much more interesting than the people that inhabit the villages near the sea. The wetland peoples go through their days with more freedom, and their souls seem rooted in their land. It reminds me of the way the merfolk live. Like the tide, ebbing and flowing, we rise and fall with the ocean's mood.

     I keep to the shadows along the edge of the water. The people here are not very accepting of merfolk. My father has a scar on his shoulder from a spear that nearly took his life.

     Lifting my head above the water, I hear someone coming closer. A man stands on a board, his body wavering to keep balance on the rippling surface as he paddles around a patch of tall grass. At his feet lie a spear and a basket.

     He's hunting jellyfish.

     I duck back under the water. The jellyfish prefer the shade. When they're out in the open sun, their skin grows tough and they have to fight to stay afloat. I know that the man will come to the shadows first.

     Tingling sensations run through my body as I swim through the jellyfish. They fill the water with pale green, pink, yellow, and blue. Their small bodies pulsate and their tentacles trail out behind them. They aren't dangerous to merfolk, unlike humans. Some of us even use them to bind wounds because the shock is said to help stop the flow of blood. I just like the way it feels when they brush against me. It's like life coursing through me.

     I dart into the brush surrounding the wetlands. The trees along the edge feed on salt water, and their thick, gnarly roots extend into the shallows. I press myself between the roots and watch as the paddle comes closer. A spear runs through the water. It leaves bubbles in its wake and pierces right through the balloon of a jellyfish. It's a big red one and it deflates around the spearhead. Little hooks along the end hold the creature in place as the man draws it from the water.

     One thing I've noticed is that humans are rougher than we are. They do things more violently. That's what the Night of Teeth is all about. As scared as I am of them, I find their violence so interesting. They live together in harmony, yet hold this taste for blood in their souls.

     The spear comes through the water again, fast and precise, and another jellyfish falls prey to its hooks. When he has caught five, the man paddles away from the shadows. He sits and tucks his legs under his board. After a few minutes, a bundle of tentacles fall into the water. They drift down lazily, pulled every which way by the current's edges.

     Once the paddle is out of sight, I dart out and swim to the remains left behind. The humans only like the fleshy bodies of the jellyfish. My favourite part is the insides. Their tentacles and soft stomachs make for great snacks.

     I feast on them before retreating back to the tree roots. At night, I will take on a different form and join the humans.


Night falls quickly. Shadows extend from the trees, spreading over the surface of the wetlands, bringing the jellyfish to the top. The sun sinks beneath the horizon, draining the sky of its rich hues of yellow and pink, and the waning moon takes her place. In the soft light, the jellyfish begin to glow.

     I rise up with them, welcoming the cool air on my face as my body begins to change shape. It hurts at first. My tail splits and the scales sink into my skin. They are still there, but they're less prominent. The only way to tell a merfolk apart from a human are the patches of scales that remain.

     I'm lucky because my patches stay around my thighs; they are easier to keep out of sight. I climb up the gnarled roots and onto the land. My feet sink into the ground, mud clinging to my skin. Moss covers the space around the trees. It creeps up the thick trunks and drapes off the branches. I have hidden a small leather satchel beneath the moss. It holds clothes that I stole long ago, when my thirst for land began to grow strong. I slide my tender legs into the loose pants. The first pants I stole were tighter, but my skin wasn't used to the constant chafing and my legs started bleeding. Without the scales, I am vulnerable.

     Flames suddenly light up the night sky. They thrust against the darkness, contrasting with the gentle light emitting from the jellyfish. I knew from experience that tribes begin to burn torches all around their small villages a half hour before the actual event starts. It gives me enough time to find a way through the water and immerse myself in the night without standing out.

     I slid back into the stream and begin the slow swim over. I stay as close to the surface as possible. Each kick is gentle, cautiously feeling for any potentially dangerous currents, and yet I am never happier than when swimming through the wetlands. The moon is soft, the wind is sweet, and the water is warm.

     Other tribes gather for the Night of Teeth. They ride out on their boards and paddle around, their excited chatter filling the air. Two of them stray and head toward me. One is a girl. She radiates confidence. Her dark hair is tied back and her skin shines in the dim light. Even though she's coming toward me, she can't stop looking at the boy who's following right behind her. He's not very large, but he looks strong. When he speaks, he tilts his head back to keep his hair out of his eyes. He laughs at something she says, and then they both close in on me.

     "Evening!" she calls. "You really shouldn't be in the water alone."

     "I'm all right." I clear my throat. It's hard to speak while swimming. Especially since I'm used to the water-talk of the merfolk.

     "No, you're not. Come on. You can sit on the back. I don't want you getting caught in a current." She turns her board around. "Besides, it's starting soon."

     I fight the urge to shift back into a merfolk. I shouldn't be speaking to them. I'm supposed to stay in the shadows and not get myself involved. I grab onto the board and pull myself up. It tilts beneath me, but it's wide enough to support the both of us. An inch of water now covers the top of it. I reach out with my palms and balance while she paddles.

     "Which tribe are you from?" She looks back at me.

     I freeze. " of them." Inwardly, I'm screaming. This is it. She's going to dump me off and leave me behind. She'll see right through my ruse.

     The boy laughs. "You're not much for talking, are you?"

     She glares at him. "That's alright, we're almost there anyways."

     We round the tall weeds and enter the main basin of the wetlands. The tribes have all gathered, filling the water. There are men and women of all ages. Some are scattered on the island, while others stand knee-deep in the water or paddle on boards. There are torches everywhere, the flames lapping eagerly at the cold air.

     "You'd better hope you're on a team with one of us. This Night of Teeth is going to end with one of us as the champions." The boy pumps his fist in the air and wobbles on his board as his balance shifts.

     "It'll be me. You know it." She says it with a lot of confidence, and in that moment, I hope she wins. "Okay. You're good to swim now. We have nets around this place so the currents won't be able to pull you anywhere."

     I get off the board. I see the net now. In some places, it sits above the water. "Thank you."

     "No problem. Have fun tonight." She turns and begins paddling toward a group of others. The boy looks at me strangely before following her, almost as if he suspects what I truly am.

     I swim to one of the piles of weeds. I clamber up, the sharp grass threatening to cut through my skin, and gently flatten the ones in the center. In the dark, no one will even see me. I have interacted enough for one night.

     Nerves build up and I start to shake. I have never held a conversation before. I always find a way to get out of it. Now I'm a memory in one of their heads. I have left an imprint, and I might not be able to return.


     It's silly, but I've always dreamed of eventually partaking in the Night of Teeth. The prize is a necklace adorned with the teeth of a scychern, a vicious sea beast with remarkably sharp incisors. Now, I don't know if I can ever risk coming back.

     The tribes gather at the main island. Their leaders stand there, speaking in tones too low for me to hear. I fold my legs beneath me and lean forward. The grass rustles with every moment I make.

     A cheer rings out and the contestants jump into the water. The Night of Teeth is a competition. The different tribes send out their young to the netted pool, which stretches from around the main huts to all the small weed islands. It gives them an arena to battle in. It also keeps the jellyfish out, though they rarely venture to this part of the wetlands. The creatures gather along the edge of the net, sending an eerie glow across the water.

     With a shout, the contesting teams begin paddling toward each other and the Night of Teeth begins. I notice that the two from earlier are on the same team. I keep my eyes on the girl. She raises up her paddle and knocks someone from their board. Another opponent swoops in, ready to deliver a blow, but she ducks and lays down on her board, diving under her opponent and hitting him from behind. He falls into the water with a great splash.

     I watch her do this again and again, outmaneuvering until her team is declared the winner of the first round. They all head back to the huts. The losers climb out of the water and take a seat along the edge. There is a mixture of anger and good fun in their eyes. The leaders separate the winning team into two. This time, the girl is on the other side of the pool. The boy is on her team again, too.

     When it starts, she comes in with a sort of collected fury that I've never seen before among her kind. It's almost as if her life is at stake. She uses her paddle as a knife, letting the water be her battlefield. She conquers again, and again, and again. It comes to the point where no one is a stranger to her harsh blows. Beside her, her friend watches her back. He delivers strong blows and they clear the other team without much help from the others.

     I smirk when I see the red marks on the losers' chests and shoulders. They will wake up sore and bruised tomorrow and remember the faces that made them that way.

     At the end, it is her against the boy. At this point, there is no one sitting. All of the spectators stand as close to the water as possible. A couple are sitting on their boards, floating near the island to stop from getting in the way. Between their jeers and the flames, the intensity of the night is too much.

     I turn and slip back into the water. It's colder under the moon, more refreshing. I inhale the salt and dive under. I keep my eyes open. I can see where the net lies purely by the amount of jellyfish waiting on the other side.

     A strong current touches my hand and I pull away from it. Rising back to the surface, I grab onto the top of the net and pull myself over. The electricity on the other side is rejuvenating. I will always prefer wild water over that which has been tamed. All around me, the jellyfish congregate.

     Howls and cheers ring out after me. I turn and listen for a splash, a sign that one of them has won.

     But instead, someone screams. Several people shout, but I can't understand them. I hear a lot of people jump into the water. I swim around the outside of the net. I go faster as the sounds of terror get louder. Something has gone wrong.

     The torches appear first. A group of people stands on one of the small islands. They're crowded at the edge, holding their flames above the water's surface. Several people are paddling over. In the water, face down, is the boy. He's sinking, though his arms move a little. He's trying to swim, but it's a weak battle.

     The jellyfish fill the water around him. I flinch at seeing how many come into contact with his skin. The loudest screams come from the girl he'd been fighting. No doubt she pushed him with her paddle and didn't realize they were so close to the edge of the net.

     I dive under the water. I have to save him. It will mean revealing what I am, but I don't have much of a choice. My tail begins to take shape and my clothes rip, floating off in the water. For the first time, I feel like I can't breathe. The water has never felt more suffocating.

     I come up under the boy, pushing on his chest and throwing him over my shoulder. Shouts and gasps meet my ears as I break the surface. I cast a wary eye to the onlookers. They have stopped approaching. They can't touch the jellyfish for fear of venom, but the sight of me seems to repulse them.

     "I will bring him to shore, but you have to promise not to hurt me. I mean you no harm." My voice shakes. Whether from it's fear of them or fear of his death, I can't tell.

     "It's you." The girl can't look away from me. She's shocked that she let a merfolk touch her board.

     I take advantage of their stunned appearances and swim closer. The boy moans as I move him. I can't stop him from touching more jellyfish. I push him forward, hoisting him onto the land. Instantly, hands are pushing me away, grabbing at him and pulling him out of my reach. I hang on as long as I can, praying that some water deity will save him.

     "Thank you." The girl tilts her head to me. "Now go, before they change their minds about not hurting you."

     I nod gratefully and sink back into the water. I'm just out of reach when the first spear crashes in behind me. It doesn't matter that I saved one of them. It doesn't matter that I showed them grace. They hold to their ways because that's what's in their blood.

     I don't hate them for it, but I know that my bond with the wetlands is broken.

     A current snatches me and I follow it toward the vein that will bring me home.

Nathaniel Luscombe - Author Website
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