Lost at Sea, book 2: Drifters, chapter 19

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“You think he’s still down here?” Jack asked.“I can feel him,” Bella explained. They were in the ship’s hold. It felt like a tomb. Everything was still, and quiet, and lifeless. Bella slowly wandered down the hallway and found herself in front of the Quartermaster’s hold. The bars blocked her way.“He’s in there?” Jack asked. Bella nodded. “I’m honestly surprised he didn’t run off into the jungle as soon as we got here.”“Maybe we can get Mister North to give us the key,” Jack said, looking at the sturdy lock.“He’s busy and I’m worried,” Bella said. “Something isn’t right. Do you have a hairpin? Or something like that?”“When have I ever used hairpins?” Jack raised an eyebrow. Bella gave her a terse look. “Anything long, straight, and metal.”Jack pursed her lips in thought. Bella smiled at how attractive she found that expression. It was exactly what she needed. She let her eyes trail down Jack’s body, enjoying where the shoulder belt of her weapon harness pulled her shirt tight and emphasized the shape of her breasts. Bella’s eyes travel the curve of Jack’s body where she leaned against the wooden wall, her weight on one foot, throwing her hip into a pronounced curve. Jack caught Bella staring and raised an eyebrow. “Yes?” she asked.“Nothing,” Bella smiled. “Just getting ready.”Jack gave her a knowing look and walked away abruptly. Bella watched her butt sway as she walked. She’d always loved how Jack’s trousers fit her. Jack knew she was being watched and was putting a little extra strut into her step just for Bella. Bella let her mind wander, fantasizing about Jack pressing her against the wall right there in the small hallway, kissing her, sliding her knee in-between Bella’s, and lifting until her thigh was pressing tight against the witch’s pubic bone. She squeezed her thighs together, enjoying the mounting frustration.Jack came back a few moments later with a small leather sack. Bella recognized it as the bags that usually hung from the mast in the hold. Jack pulled a nail out of it. “Perfect,” Bella smiled. “Give me one more,” She pulled a grease pencil out of her bag and very carefully drew a small sigil on the heads of the nails. Then she held them by the tips between two fingers and stared at it, pouring the sexual energy she’d been gathering with her fantasies into a small ritual. “Flow,” she whispered. Slowly, the metal began to feel like wax in her hand. Bella slowly twisted them together, then put them into the lock. She kept concentrating. It took about a minute, but finally she exhaled and released the energy. The metal hardened again. With a bit of effort, she turned the nails in the lock.With a heavy clunk the door opened. With a bit of effort, Bella pulled her makeshift key out of the lock and gave the now useless chunk of metal to Jack. They’d been twisted together about halfway down their length and fused together into an ugly but apparently functional key. “Well that is a useful trick,” Jack said, impressed.“It’s a shaping ritual. Only works on things like glass, or metal, that flow when heated up. It takes a tremendous amount of energy. I wasn’t sure I had enough left.”“So that’s why you were ogling me,” Jack teased.Bella gave her a guilty shrug. “I needed every bit I could muster. I’m really not very good at that one. My mother used to use it to make gorgeous ornaments and fixtures to sell at markets. I can only do rough shapes, and they usually aren’t very strong. I was afraid this would break.”“Good thing Mister North keeps his lock well oiled,” Jack said, pocketing the makeshift key.They slipped into the quartermaster’s hold, ignoring the crates, chests, and stacks of haphazardly strewn papers. The door at the back of the hold was decorated with a brass compass rose and a fancy letter N.“He’s in their room?” Jack asked.Bella sighed. “Apparently, yes.” She tried the door. It was unlocked. As soon as it swung open, her tiny red and white monkey exploded into her arms, chittering and touching her face and hair with its hands.Bella laughed and scratched the distraught animal. “Aw, did you get shut in? How long have you been in there?”Jack rolled her eyes, amused and exasperated. “What was he doing there in the first place?”“No idea. Think we should ask the Norths?” Bella asked. “Only if you want them to ask what you were doing in their quarters, behind a locked and barred door,” Jack mused.“Good point,” Bella agreed. They walked back out, Bella stroking her slowly calming pet. “Lock the door, please?”Jack pulled the nail key back out and locked the hold. “Now what?” she asked, catching back up to Bella.“Well, he doesn’t look hurt. He’s probably just hungry,” Bella shrugged.“I thought you said something was wrong,” Jack asked.“I could feel his anxiety and thought he was in danger,” Bella explained. “Do you have anything to eat on you?”“I thought witches could talk to their familiars?” Jack asked as she opened one of her utility pouches and pulled out a wad of jerky wrapped in wax paper. “Sort of,” Bella said, scratching the monkey under the chin. “We can feel each other’s emotions, and he has a pretty good grasp of what I want him to do. It’s like having a really well-trained pet, I guess.” Jack handed a strip to the monkey, who grabbed it greedily and shoved the treat into its mouth. “You’re welcome,” Jack said flatly. “He said thank you,” Bella nodded sagely.“No he did not,” Jack scoffed. “Alright, I did,” Bella smiled over her shoulder. Jack tried not to laugh, but didn’t quite manage. “You’re incorrigible.”Bella grinned. “You know what they say about pets and their owners.” Returning the favor, she put an extra swish in her step just for Jack as she walked up the stairs.They reached the gangplank and the monkey wriggled out of Bella’s arms and sprinted down to the sands, heading straight for the series of fires and cook pots Stewpot had set up near the shore. “Oh this will be good,” Jack laughed. “The cook might kill your monkey.”Bella sighed, watching as Stewpot began shaking a ladle in the monkey’s direction. “Why does everyone hate monkeys?”“Because they’re dirty little thieves,” Jack said with a shrug. “Yes, but they’re so cute!” Bella threw up her hands in surrendered acknowledgement.“You couldn’t have gone with a cat?” Jack asked.“Too cliche,” Bella said. “Besides, cats make lousy pickpockets.”The pair stifled laughs as Stewpot started waving his arms and yelling, threatening the monkey with his ladle. “Witch! Come get your beast!” the cook bellowed.“Wait, you picked a monkey because they’re thieves?” bahis şirketleri Jack blinked, taken aback. Bella grinned wider and nodded. “Yup.”“And then you named it after me?” Jack’s eyes narrowed. “Uh, gotta run, things to do!” Bella laughed, waving and quickly skipping away across the sands towards the cook fires. “Just toss him something Stew, he’s been stuck in the ship since last night!”Jack let out a long sigh, and shook her head slowly, then she smiled in spite of herself.  _______________________ “Wonderful,” Caine deadpanned, staring down at his own corpse, watching Tonya panic and shake. “You know this is your fault, right?”“Yes, yes,” his glowing twin sighed, rolling his golden eyes. “You might as well say it.”The pair watched from the other side of the veil, their twin souls ejected harshly into the Ways Between by their unexpected death.“I told you so,” Caine obliged.“Yes, you did,” his golden counterpart admitted begrudgingly. “Again,” Caine said flatly. “You’re complete shit at learning from your mistakes, you know that?”“I’m an optimist,” the other Caine shrugged. “Besides, you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences, not me.” He grinned happily.“You just enjoy watching me suffer,” Caine grumbled. “I do not!” his double huffed. “I enjoy watching you overcome your suffering. I only want to help. The difference is important.”“Right. So the important part is the suffering,” Caine nodded.“No! Well alright, yes,” his spiritual twin said thoughtfully. “I don’t like the way you frame it, but I can’t deny that without suffering I wouldn’t have much of a reason to exist.” “Glad we cleared that up,” Caine deadpanned. He shook his head sadly, watching Tonya’s breakdown. Her form was ephemeral to them, a black and white shadow of herself, like everything else in the mortal world when viewed from the Ways. She was sobbing against Caine’s still and lifeless chest. Her entire body shook, and it looked like she was pleading. He couldn’t hear her, but he hardly needed to. Even with the muted, grey, indistinct view of the physical world, he could tell exactly what she was feeling. She collapsed onto her side, no longer able to hold herself up. She gripped his lifeless hand in both of hers. Her whole body shook with wracking sobs. She was starting to hyperventilate. Caine’s heart hurt for her. He knelt next to his own body, reaching out to stroke Tonya’s head with a hand she couldn’t see or hear, but stopped. He caught a faint glow from her chest, only barely visible from the way she was curled on her side. He couldn’t see all of it, but he recognized it immediately. It was a portion of a circle of faintly glowing sigils, right against her skin, like a mystic tattoo that could only be seen from the spirit realm. He looked down at his own chest. The same mark sat there, beneath the lattice of other mystic runes that slowly orbited him like floating chains. “You see that?” he asked his other half. The glowing figure knelt as well, looking between them. “Strange. Do you know what it is?”“No,” Caine shook his head. He leaned in close to his twin, shielding his eyes and squinting hard at his other half’s glowing chest. There, he could faintly see the mark. It was hard to make out, but the sigils were a fainter light. “You have one too.”His twin looked down at himself. His golden brows shot up. “I didn’t know that was possible.”“We need answers,” Caine said, suddenly very concerned. “Can you do your thing?”There was a pause, then his twin nodded. “Yes, earlier today I couldn’t have, but your… erm… activities with the young witch somehow managed to empower me. It was similar to earlier, but this time when she… ah… finished… I managed to keep her from draining me so much. I will be quite tired after this.”“Good enough,” Caine nodded. “I’ll try to stay out of trouble while you’re sleeping.”“Without me convincing you to ignore your instinctive caution, it should be easy,” his twin smiled, and reached for their body.Caine hated the next part. He always felt like he was falling into oblivion.  _______________________ Lace chewed her last bite of peach cobbler and nodded to herself, satisfied with the morning’s work. Her riggers had hung ropes between many of the trees and used sailcloth to make tents. The swabs had gotten all the supplies off the ground and set up on logs, and were working on digging a latrine trench a ways away. Morant’s porters had set up a massive pavilion tent in a gap between the trees at the edge of their makeshift camp. It looked like the infirmary was established. The progress was helpful to morale. The crew was still tired, hurt, and feeling the weight of the horror and defeat from last night, but soon they’d be able to get some rest and start repairing the ship.Mister Reeve hauled a sailor over to her, holding the smaller woman by the back of the neck, half-dragging her along. “Found a shirker,” the giant man growled. Lace recognized Price, one of her riggers. She gave Reeve an incredulous, judgemental stare. “I don’t know what things are like on your ship, Reeve, but on the Kestrel we don’t manhandle our crew.”“Maybe you should,” Reeve shrugged, not letting go of the rigger. “Might keep ‘em from hiding in the supplies and taking a nap while everyone else works.”“Seems like I wasn’t clear. Get your paws off my sailor,” Lace said flatly. Reeve gave Price a shove. Lace caught her and stood her up straight while she rubbed her neck. Reeve crossed his arms over his massive mottled chest. “That’s why I brought her to you. She’s yours. If she’d been one of mine she’d already be building herself a sweatbox to spend tomorrow in.”Lace ignored Reeve and turned her attention to her rigger. “What happened?”Price looked guilty and chagrined through her anger. “I had just hauled another fifty-pound coil down from the ship, and was out of breath. I just meant to sit down for a minute. I was sitting on the crates, closed my eyes, and the next thing I knew I was being dragged over here.”Lace gave Reeve a flat look that spoke volumes and gave Price’s shoulder a comforting squeeze. “You’re exhausted.”“Couldn’t sleep after we landed. Nightmares,” Price shrugged. “I can’t get it out of my head.”“You should have said something,” Lace admonished her gently.“I made it through with only a few scrapes,” Price said, still sounding angry and guilty. “I can work better than most, so I should.”“You’re damn right,” Reeve grunted.“If you’re falling asleep on your feet, that’s not better than most,” Lace pointed out. Price nodded, too bahis firmaları tired and angry to come up with a retort. Lace gestured to the medical tent. “Go tell Mister North what happened, then go see the doc.”Price nodded and walked away without looking at Reeve. He eyed her as she left, looking unsatisfied. Lace watched him and waited. Reeve grunted and turned back to Lace. “No wonder your crew got so worked over last night. Fucking soft.”“Don’t you have a latrine to dig?’ Lace asked. Reeve snorted and walked away.  _________________________________ His head was splitting. Everything was shades of blistering white. He took a breath through his teeth, his longs shaking as they remembered how to work again.As his vision slowly focused, he saw Tonya’s eyes slowly widen in horror. She crab-walked backwards away from him, frantically scooting herself backwards as quickly as she could. She toppled into the mostly empty hot spring with a yelp and a splash. Caine slowly sat up. Tonya’s fingers and head rose over the lip of the spring and her eyes peeked out at him. “You alright?” Caine asked“Fuck,” Tonya whispered. “What? Fuck! What is… fuck!?” Her breath was quickening and her face was white.“Easy,” Caine said quietly, trying to ignore the throbbing in his head. “Breathe slow.”“Zombie!” Tonya shouted, looking around for anything to defend herself with. She ducked out of sight for a moment, then stood up to her full height, brandishing a wooden bucket.Caine started laughing, and immediately regretted it as pain lanced through his head. Wincing he ran his hands over his scalp and felt the new scar. It puckered and raised from above his left ear, curving around to the center of the back of his head. His entire back and most of his left arm were slick with blood and brains still. He sighed. “I’m not a zombie.”“Zombie!” Tonya shouted louder.“Tonya, zombies can’t talk,” Caine said with a small shake of his head.“Ghoul! Ghost!? I don’t fucking know, something! You’re dead!” Tonya shrieked, her mouth running away with what was left of her senses.“Alright, yes. I was dead,” Caine rubbed his head, trying to figure out the right thing to say. “I’m, uh, not… now.”Tonya’s mouth hung open and her head shook fast enough that she looked like she might be having a seizure. “What?”The door burst in and a pair of blond working girls practically fell over themselves as they rushed in. “What was that?” One asked, as the other talked over her. “Are you alright?”They abruptly stopped talking as they took in the room. The spring was more than half empty, and everything was wet. The benches, chairs, tables, cabinets, toiletries, and towels were all strewn to the outsides of the room, and Caine was slumped and surrounded by blood.“We’re fine,” Caine said.“We are not fine!” Tonya snapped, her eyes wide.The girls hesitantly stepped into the room. A slender gigolo rushed in behind them and skidded to a halt, his mouth agape as he took in the scene. “What happened?”“Caine, what did you do?!” the other blond demanded.“Me,” Caine blinked.“She’s terrified!” the blond admonished. “Wait, why are you bloody?’Caine rubbed his head again. “I’m fine. It’s fine, really.”“That’s a lot of blood,” the other girl said. The gigolo didn’t wait for an answer to his earlier question. He’d seen enough. He rushed back out the door shouting for Chance and Cerise. “Dammit,” Caine muttered. “Did you blow up again?” one of the blonds asked Tonya. “What?” Tonya snapped. “Why is this about me? Caine’s a zombie!”“I just hit my head,” Caine said.“You died!” Tonya shrieked, panicked tears starting down her face again. “He’s sure active for a dead guy,’ the other blond said with a shrug. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”Tonya allowed herself to be helped out of the spring and wrapped in a wet towel, never taking her eyes off of Caine. He gave her a small, apologetic smile and propped himself up against the wall. Cerise came in, took only a moment to assess the room before kneeling next to Caine. “Where are you wounded?” she asked. “Probably a lot of places,’ Caine shrugged. “Hard to tell exactly. Everything hurts. Mostly my head.”Cerise quickly checked his scalp and neck, then cleaned the blood off him, looking for gashes. “Hmm,” she said, “There’s a few smaller cuts, but nothing major. Where did all this blood come from?”“Head wounds, you know?” Caine shrugged.Cerise had him track her finger with his eyes and checked his spine, prodded his organs clinically, and helped him stand. “You’re fine.”“Not a zombie?” he asked, glancing at Tonya, who was still staring at him while the blonds started trying to pick up the mess. Cerise gave him an unamused look. “No.”“Thanks. I’ll clean up,” Caine said with a small smile. “Caine,” Cerise said flatly. “I don’t know what is going on, but I’m not an idiot. This the second room this week to look like it was hit by a cannonball, and that is far more blood than any minor head wound would cause.”“It’s a magic thing,” Caine nodded.Cerise eyed the young witch, then nodded. “If you feel nauseous or dizzy later, come see me.” Without another word she left, passing Chance as he came in.Chance stopped a few steps in, his face reddening as he took it all in. He rubbed his face and focused on Tonya. “Pack your things. You’re out in the morning.”“Chance!” Caine snapped.Chance whirled on him. “Shut. The fuck. Up. My brothel has become a war zone lately! One of the most dangerous pirates in the whole fucking ocean was stabbed in the face in my lounge! You damn near killed a customer in the brawl, I have a rumor going around that Bella summoned a fucking demon, I’m harboring a fugitive, and now Tonya’s damn near blown the place up, twice! I can’t run a business under these conditions!”“Chance,” Caine cautioned.“No!” the short proprietor snapped. “Your bleeding heart isn’t going to convince me this time, it keeps getting worse, and you’re in the middle of it! She’s gone, and as soon as the other one wakes up, she’s gone too!”Caine eyed him coldly for a few moments, the pain in his head making it hard to think quickly. Still, he knew exactly what he needed to do. It had been coming for a while now. “I’ll be going with them.”“Fine!” Chance threw his hands up.“I want my pay,” Caine said. “All of it.”Chance’s face slid from anger, to confusion, and finally to fear. His entire demeanor changed. “What? No, you can’t…”“I can,” Caine corrected.“You’ve never wanted to be paid,” Chance shook his head frantically. “What was our agreement? The contract?” Caine slowly took a few kaçak bahis siteleri steps, not caring that he was naked and half covered in blood. “A room, and as much beer as you could drink!” Chance snapped. “And five crowns a week,” Caine added. “Cheapest bouncer anywhere.”“You never took the money! You’ve just been taking your pay stubs and not collecting!” Chance was starting to look sick.“I asked you to hang onto it for me,’ Caine nodded. “Did you?”Chance’s mouth moved, but no words came out.“Should be a pretty good chunk of change by now. I’m not sure how much exactly, but I kept all those pay stubs,” Caine shrugged. “A-all?” Chance blinked. “Yup,” Caine smiled. “How’s it work again? I’m supposed to sign the slip to show you’ve given me the money, and you keep them for your expense records so the counting-house knows you aren’t skimming? You wouldn’t want Miss Mary to think you were stealing from her, right? So you go get the money, and I’ll start signing the slips.”“Mary? How do you know…” A deeper horror slowly crawled across Chance’s face. “You can stay. They can stay!”“Don’t want to,” Caine shook his head. “You’re right, it’s too dangerous.”“Caine, I… don’t…. Please,’ Chance was looking unsteady on his feet.Caine groaned as he picked up an overturned chair and righted it, sliding it behind Chane’s legs. The shorter man sat down and put his head in his hands. Then he slowly started laughing mirthlessly. “You’re ruthless. I’d never have guessed you had this in you. Fuck.”Caine shrugged. “I’m nothing. You did this to yourself, Chance. I knew you were cooking the books. Hell, we all know. I just didn’t care until now. So, get me my money, I’ll keep this to myself, and I’ll be on my way.”“I don’t have it. Not all of it,” Chance said, defeated.“Hmm. I bet we could set up some kind of payment arrangement through the counting-house,” Caine suggested. “No,” Chance said quickly. “No, that won’t work.”“Why not, Caine asked. He knew exactly why but enjoyed watching Chance squirm.“They’ll… they’ll notice the numbers don’t make sense,” Chance admitted. “So you’ll just have to owe me?” Caine suggested. “Call it a private loan? We just need a notary.”Chance looked up at him like he was watching Caine transform before his eyes. “You’re a loan shark now?”“No, a loan shark would charge interest.” Caine’s eyes were benign, but his smile was full of teeth. “I’m only going to blackmail you.” _______________________ “I am ashamed tae say that some of them, I dinnae even know,” Captain Vex said solemnly. “But I want tae.”The crew was gathered around the rows of graves the swabs had dug. The fallen had been laid into them, wrapped in old sailcloth and partially covered in earth to hide the horrific injuries that had killed them. Only the faces were visible. The crew all held their cups and their words while the captain did her best to eulogize more than a dozen deaths. “What I want,” Captain Vex continued, “Is tae hear their stories before we lay them tae rest. I want us all tae know who died so that we could survive.” She stepped up to the first grave in the row. “This is Camilla Craff. We all called her Cammy. She was with the Kestrel for two years. I recruited her outtae the Camberly isles. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a crab fisherman. She was a deft hand with a needle or a rope, and she was never without a smile.” The Captain swallowed back the tears that were forming in her eyes. “She always wanted children, but she was barren. She made up for it by trying tae mother everyone around her.” Captain Vex smiled wistfully. “She’d only been aboard for three weeks when she decided tae bring me a blanket while I was at the helm when the winds picked up. I could tell she was nervous tae approach her Captain for the first time, but it dinnae stop her. She’d made up her mind tae be sure I stayed warm. After that, she decided it was her job. Any time the winds picked up, I knew she’d come around.” Captain Vex wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s always going tae be colder at the helm now.” She raised her cup, and the crew raised theirs. Then she stepped to the next grave as Cammy’s friends began their work with shovels and sad eyes. “I dinnae know him,” she admitted, looking down into the next hole. A children’s storybook lay on the chest of the cloth-wrapped body at the bottom.  “I think his name was… Jacob?” Captain Vex said. “Who knew him?” Only one hand in the crowd raised. “Tell me about him,” Belita said, gesturing the dark-skinned sailor forward. “Uh, Jodi be my name,” the fallen man’s friend said, looking around at the crew, feeling out of place. “Jake and I, joined up with the Kestrel in Barcola, we. Grew up there, we. Were born in the mountains, we, during the war. Spent our early years running messages and scouting. Scouts always ran in pairs, and made a good team, we. Jake, he made up hand signs so could talk, we, without giving away our positions. Loved stories, he. Never did learn to read, he, but loved being read to. Wanted to see the world, he. Was the one who convinced me to become a sailor, he. Took to it like a duck to water, he. Still can’t even tie a mooring hitch, I. Don’t know what I’m going to do without him to fix my knots. Never stopped using those hand signs we’d made up to talk to each other. It was our own private language. Guess I’m the only one who knows it now.” Jodi ran out of words. His hands shook on his cup. The Captain raised hers. The crew echoed the motion and the Captain squeezed Jodi’s shoulder. “My father spoke with his hands too. I want tae learn Jacob’s language. Tell me more, later.” Jodi nodded, and took a shovel from a nearby swab. As the Captain moved on to the next grave, Jodi filled the grave of his oldest friend.Down the rows Captain Vex went, listening to the stories of her crew, telling as many as she could about those she knew well. Tears fell without shame. The rum flowed. Everyone was beyond tired from the terrible night before and the day’s work, but no one was going to leave until the last grave was filled and the last story told. Something about the ritual of burial and grieving seemed to break the damn of numbness and horror that had held the crew in it’s grim since the battle against the Grindylow. The Captain could feel it. The sadness was there, but the hollow despair was lifting. The crew was feeling the loss of their comrades, and bonding through the heartache and communal pain. As the drinks and tears flowed, some glimmer of hope began to take root in her exhausted crew. She was glad for it, and gave them exactly the Captain they needed to help them through this, but she did not feel what they felt. Her heart was still a hollow pit, and she felt like it would never be filled again.

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