The last glimmers of daylight faded over the waters which bore their telling scene. Bodies and wreckage dotted the sea, yet amidst the cluttered waves, the Anchor’s Bane remained tall, gently bobbing against the twighlight sky.
Red sails swallowed by water, the Red Revenge had gone down in a flurry of cannonfire, remnants of its carcass still floating visibly on the surface. Magda’s tyranny was no more.
Still, the cost had been high. Battered and exhausted, first mate Jehremi Chaeffer staggered slightly, limping from a minor gash on his left calf, slowly yet determinedly. Glancing about the upper deck, he could see many a shipmate strewn about the wooden floor. Too many familiar faces; their eyes cold and lifeless, yet he seemed to feel their pain and fear as if it yet remained. One body in particular pained him deeply. His arcane mentor, Lannin, whom he had learned so much from in the month since they’d been introduced, had dashed to the helm position at Chaeffer’s command… and was now lying under a makeshift shroud of sailcloth.
So much death. The stars were beginning to shine through now, peeking from the final sunstreaked clouds that dotted the horizon. Their beauty defied the chaos that filled the scene, imparting a measure of serenity over the broken vessel. It was all just too much.
“When you live serving others, you must also be ready to die serving others,” he’d intoned to sailmaster Ulvari earlier that day. Many had given their lives in the name of duty on this day. For all of his pretended wisdom on leadership, Chaeffer still wondered if he could actually live up to the post he’d won. Shaking off his doubts, he wandered hazily toward the officers’ quarters. Eventually his hands found the door of his chambers, although his feet didn’t remember the journey.
Oddly… or, as remembrance suddenly overtook him, perhaps not so oddly, he found that his door was already unlatched. As he stepped inside, the melodic voice of Veronica du Bray was not entirely unexpected. “Well, well,” she greeted him. “It appears your desire to live was as strong as… well, as mine.” She smiled, a wondrous gesture that somehow was both wicked and kind, a gambling smile that almost took his breath. Admittedly, she looked a fetching creature indeed, sharply sillhouetted beneath that… wait. The captain’s hat? It had been on his own head earlier, part of the ruse intended to draw the schardic wench from her vessel. “How did..?” he began.
“Oh, this? You dropped it, sailor boy,” she informed him, flashing that grin that could melt steel with its warm, wondrous mirth. “You looked so dashing, leaping from the helm like that. Such strong legs…” With a flex of her own, she stood gracefully up from the casual position she had taken, leaned against the foot of his bed. “My, you look so tired. I hope you’ve saved some of your strength. The day may be won, but the night…” she stepped closer, dangerously near.
He finished her thought. “…Is just beginning.” With a shrug and a slow, wary smile, he allowed his gaze to meet hers. Removing the gauntlet from his right hand, he gently lifted her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Fear not. By now, you must already know that I take my debts, and my duties, quite seriously.” His gaze held hers for a long moment. So much emotion swirled inside his mind. There was longing, deep and true… yet there was also bitterness. Needing a moment to sweep it aside, he released her and made his way to the cupboard where the bottle of wine gifted to him by Captain Essex was still hidden.
He undid his breastplate as he walked, slowly and methodically, allowing it to clatter to the floor with little ceremony. As he reached for a glass and began to pour her a drink, a warmth washed over his skin. Her arms had found their way around his chest, and she held him tightly, standing behind him. “So stern,” she complained, ever so sweetly. “Always the soldier in the darkly stained armor.” She pressed her face luxuriously against his bare shoulder. “You know, it isn’t just the obvious price I’ve come to acquire from you.” She bit his arm, playfully. “If that was all I wanted, why, I could have any man on this ship.” Her breath on his flesh was exquisite, inviting and intimidating all at once.
He closed his eyes, allowing memory and regret to fall away. For a moment, there was just the dark, and the warmth. He set the bottle gently back onto the surface of the cupboard. Without turning to face her, he softly asked, “What price, then? Surely, I am powerless to stop you.” He sighed, genuinely fatigued from the world, body and soul weary in a bone-deep sense.
She paused a moment, carefully tasting each syllable of her next words. Leaning up on her toes, she whispered into his ear. “Curiosity. I want to see and taste and feel you, to find out for myself whether there just might be flesh and blood underneath all that dark mystery.” Giggling suddenly, she pushed away from him and pressed herself against the nearby wall.
He turned to face her, still half-armored. It was difficult not to stare, her lips pursed ever so slightly, as if she might taunt him again at any moment. She was tantalizing and tormenting, beautiful and terrifying. He steeled himself, stepping closer to her. “You have your work cut out for you, then,” he managed steadily. "It is not in my nature to surrender easily. Yet you may not like what you find underneath. A man I am, yet a monster as well; you have surely seen — "
She put a finger to his lips, tenderly smothering his excuses. “I am not afraid.” She tousled his hair, almost affectionately, as if it was something she had intended to do for a long time. “My dark, foreboding knight. The beast who leaps headfirst into the ocean when men are drowning, and risks everything to save a child from the evils of the world.” She moved her face very close to his, until their noses were almost touching. “The villain who gives the ship’s cook a bath. I’m not afraid of you…”
And she smiled that golden smile.
Something inside of him bubbled to the surface then. He wanted this. He could forget his bloody revenge, his fears, his wretched childhood. The friends and companions he’d lost, and the vile rites he’d had to perform in order to survive. The countless faces of the souls he’d torn from Caen. For one blessed night, he just wanted to be alive.
For One. Blessed. Night.
“Besides, you sh —” He kissed her then, rough and deeply, ending whatever thought she’d been about to say. Her knees trembled, and she wrapped her arms around him to keep from falling. “Oh…” she quietly mused. “Perhaps there’s some fight in you after all.”
“I hope you’ve saved your strength as well,” he taunted back, teasing her now. " You’re going to need it." His smile was… gods, he was smiling. How long had it been? Years, perhaps.
Pulling her off the wall suddenly, he reached his arms around the small of her back. With a single, knightly tug, he ripped her bodice cleanly apart, discarding the ruined cloth on the floor next to his breastplate. Cupping his hands gently under her thighs, he threw her onto his cot as she chuckled with anticipation. With a predatory look in his eyes and a rare grin, he reached for the lone candle that lay on the cupboard beside his bed… and raggedly snuffed it out.
(stop previous music, and begin this one. Then continue)
Somewhere on dark seas, a black ship made its way with terrifying speed through a horrendous storm. Dark figures lurked against the gloom, illuminated every so often by the sharp crack of lightning. The illumination did not dispel their foreboding, but rather amplified it. Dead, they were, and terrible to behold. A young boy of only eleven years sat, chained to many other slaves, aboard this wretched barge. Their captors strode confidently about the deck despite the storm, rasping and shouting their harsh, draconic language at the hapless people they’d claimed. People from his hometown village, once proud and free. Now merely sheep, awaiting processing… awaiting the slaughter.
A girl called out to the boy. His childhood friend, and his betrothed since they were very small. She and her sister had also been taken. Her sister… where was she? The girl was screaming out her name. Frantically he looked around; surely she could not have gotten out of her chains. If they found her, they’d —
“BACK TO YOUR ROWING, MEAT.” A grey, decayed hand grabbed his face and thrust it back at his duty. He did as he was bid, the rancid stink of flesh-rot still filling his nose. Monsters. The fact that the bosun spoke Ordic did not make it less true. They were abominations, with spidery legs forged of a dark metal, and bodies stitched from the remains of the dead. They killed at a whim, and cared little for the well-being of their cargo. Those they killed, and those who died, they harvested for materials. If they find her….
A church was under siege. He’d been here, before; where was this place? He’d seen it, he knew… a woman was nearby. She looked like she might need his help; he raced towards her, only… wait. NO. She was a monster, another abomination. A necrosurgeon. Why was she missing her arms? They lay at his feet, Cryxian ichor draining from his blade. He didn’t remember drawing it.
Her face, it was so familiar, even in undeath. He nearly remembered, only suddenly a large, dark harpoon plunged into her from behind, and ripped her twisted body away into the darkness. It was the second time he’d seen her die.
The second time he’d seen her sister die.
Chaeffer awoke with a start, an unfamiliar sensation against his naked flesh. An arm was wrapped delicately over his chest. A woman’s arm, soft and slender and delicate. It should not have been unpleasant, but his dreams had not been kind.
They rarely were.
Whispering alone in the darkness, he confessed a deep secret to the cold, ocean breeze. “You… look so much like her. That’s why it hurts me to look upon you sometimes. Forgive me.” Miss du Bray remained still, and quiet. He could not know whether she had even heard him; perhaps he hoped she had not. He lay awake there, for what seemed an eternity, before the darkness of slumber found him once more.
Somewhere, on dark seas.