What's in the Sea
C sat on a towel, protecting him, his trousers, and the ends of his light jacket from the sand. He’d ambled down the rocks, following Mem, just to watch her comb the sandbar for seashells, looking for anything that might be interesting, potentially even important, on the beach. It was bright outside but completely overcast, with a few drops of grey darkness in the sky to give anyone who’d normally hang out at the beach pause.
“Found anything yet?”
“I have found a large number of seashells, twenty-one in all, but none of them meet any of the criteria I’ve set.”
“So what’s your criteria?”
“Seashells containing magical power, exceptional levels of foreign materials such as metal, or living presences.”
“Demon seashells, huh? Wouldn’t want to step on one of those.”
“Correct, that is what I am trying to prevent. But they are not a real risk to humans.”
C waved a hand, then scratched the bridge of his nose. The air near the beach was briny, and with the weather, very cool. He felt a sneeze coming on.
“Oh,” he began, “so it’s one of those situations where it’s for the demon’s protection.”
“Yes. Spirits can be trapped in small objects like seashells or flowers. Only very weak demons attempting to enter our world fall prey to this most of the time.”
“So what happens when the seashell gets broken?”
Mem bent down to carefully inspect one of the seashells, the circular edges of her eye rotating forward and jutting out of her head for just a moment. Once her camera-eye retracted, she looked back to C, her usual placid smile on her face.
“There are several possible results. If someone nearby is very ill or weak-willed, they may become possessed, acting as a vessel for the spirit in the seashell’s place. But it is more likely the spirit will wander, purposeless, before fading entirely.”
“Ah, it’s one of those situations.” C nodded vigorously and then began to scan the coastline for seashells himself. “You know, I once talked to Mora, the big turtle. He mentioned that loose spirits can be a headache for him too.”
Mem considered that, thinking back through memories that she had potentially never referenced before -- they certainly weren’t cached. She wasn’t expected to, or supposed to, travel across the sea, and that’s where Mora would be relevant. But she was also expected to know basically everything she could handle, and she had storage media to spare.
There was a dull click from her neck, nearly engulfed by the sound of the waves, gentle as they were.
“Despite common misconceptions, will-o’-the-wisps are not only found in swamps on land. It is likely that Mora has encountered these weak, forgotten demons as lights on the water in foggy weather. That would cause problems for both him and anyone he is ferrying across the water as a passenger. I can say with ninety-percent certainty that that is what he meant!”
“You know,” C mused, “maybe it’s like that because no humans live out at sea. The weaker demons, the ones who can’t get by in those, uh, literally hellish other dimensions, who can’t even deal with humans half the time, I bet they like the ocean. Just like good old Mora and the rusalkae do.” With his palm facing up, C waved a hand at the ocean, gesturing towards its breadth.
There was a sequence of noises like dozens of tiny, staticky pops per second. They came from Mem, and were barely audible. Then, her smile widened by exactly one inch on either side of her face.
“That is a very good point, and one I had not considered! I was intending to give any spirit-infested seashells to Eleanor or to you for handling, but I have determined that it may be better to cast them out to sea, where they will be able to drift around and relax.”
C laughed, then patted his chest just below the collar. “Well, don’t just ask me first, alright? Make sure to ask Mora too. I try to solve peoples’ headaches, not cause more of them.”