Sev looked positively wrong covered in the heavy leather barding he dug out of his stuff. Half imposing, half fluff, he looked like a sheep pretending to be a war dog. He shook and shuddered in the armor, constantly squirming in it. The Captain had gone from scrambled to sure of herself over the course of an hour, and the professor even had a sword at his side.
“How’d you know I was ex military?” he wondered aloud.
“The way you carried yourself,” The Captain said. “And that way you knew me.” She paused. “You used to know me under a different name, before I made the trade, and for a moment, your mind slipped across it. I can tell.”
“How’s your throat?” I asked Irony, nudging her slightly.
“It’s better,” Irony said. “But I shouldn’t try that for a bit. Maybe one more, and then I’ll be voiceless for months.”
“If it comes down to it,” The Captain said, looking over at her. “I’ll order you, you know that.”
Irony straightened. “If it means getting everyone back… then I’ll do it.”
“Good,” The Captain said. “Let them take you. When we’re on the other side, prepared, and not bullied into it, then we strike.”
“This seems like an utterly stupid plan,” The professor said.
“I am your Captain,” she reminded, grimly.
“You are not my commanding officer,” The professor reminded.
“For the purposes of this mission,” The Captain said, looking over the edge of the ship. “I am.”
“Did you leave a note for the crew?” I asked.
“I did. Sampson will have to navigate with the map in my room, if worse comes to worse.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Sev said, quietly. “Thyn would-”
“This isn’t about what Thyn would want,” The Captain scowled. “This is about what I goddamn want. And I want Thyn back. I dove into the sea of souls for less. Some goddamn reapers aren’t going to get in the way of what I want, no matter what god they serve.”
It was night, and we were lit by my heart and the lantern. Sev wriggled and squirmed in his armor at every opportunity, clearly uncomfortable. “Captain…”
“Do it for Thyn,” The Captain asked. “Please. He would do the same for you under my command.”
Sev opened his mouth.
“He thinks of you as a friend,” The Captain said, and Sev’s jaws snapped closed with a guilty click. “And I refuse to leave a man behind.”
Past the vale where we’d rescued the professor, and up the slope where we’d found his students clinging to life, and then forward, into the temple.
The Captain sat at the mouth of the temple, threw down a line of lantern oil, and lit it with her lantern.
The reapers were thick as bats in the opening room. Their skulls clicked and clattered with one another. The Captain sat, lit entirely by the flames before her, and pointed at them.
They descended upon us like flies, bones rattling and cloaks dragging across one another. I felt them like a heavy weight on my shoulders, and soon, they were entirely around me. The sabre at my hip was useless, the knife at my breast was pointless, and all I could do was feel the buzz of my heart, and the distant thumping of my companions.
And the siren song of the Captain’s soul, still audible even through the layers of cloth.
And then they dragged us off.
There was a sensation of pain, and a sensation like passing into a warm room, and then something wet, and then the sound of swords being drawn.
And then the sun was on us. Fabric ripped open. Beside us, the stinking corpses of the dead, hot blood frothed across the loamy sand of the island, throats torn open without a care for the damned. I was bound and gagged.
She stood over top of me, blood spattered across her armor, an avenging angel with a pike as long as she was. The tip was sharp enough to puncture steel. Her eyes swept over mine, and the blue clouded with confusion.
“You’re not a siren.”
Heavy hands, covered in thick gauntlets groped across my form, searching me until she pulled out the necklace. She squinted at it in confusion, and it twinkled faintly in the light.
Then she threw it back down at my neck and lifted the pike. “A shame. This is war, so I can’t suffer a human to live.”
My eyes went wide, and my lips parted. The gag prevented anything more than a muffled noise as the grank pike came down, hurtling towards my neck.
“Atalanta!” A voice called, and the siren twisted her arms so the pike slammed into the earth next to my head. “Leave him.”
“Harley,” Atalanta huffed, twisting the pike out of the ground. “It’s another human.”
“A human that we found bound with the others,” Harley corrected, stalking over. Her blue feathers were half windswept across her head, and a heavy bow sat at her side, a massive span of wood. The arrows were overbuilt and individual engraved, clinking against each other in the quiver on her back.
“So he should die,” Atalanta said. No, no no no no, I couldn’t die here, I had to get home, I had to.
“No,” Harley said. “We can use him.” She leaned forward and lifted up my necklace, rubbing two massive fingers across the orb. I could feel her eyes, keen, too intelligent, sweeping across my features.
“Th-thnk yo,” I muffled, slurred around the ropes in my mouth. Her eyes flashed with understanding.
Her eyes settled on mine. “I wouldn’t thank me. You’re going to help us quite a bit kid.”
“So that is what I think it is?” Atalanta asked.
Harley laughed, squeezing my heart between her hands, and then tossed it back down into the folds of the robes I was clad in. “Good luck, kid.”
Atalanta scowled, lifting her pike, and turned to the others in their heavy armor. “Take the others and run,” She barked out orders. “Those fucks’ll be back soon.”
The bag I knew to contain the Captain thrashed as she was picked up, carried like a sack of wheat between several of the warrior birds, and piece by piece, the others were picked up and carried.
Harley knelt down, lazily ruffled my hair, then watched the others leave. “Between the two of us, I think we’ll take this island again.”
Her lips curled into a smile that wasn’t quite human, and was very quite forced, like she didn’t quite understand how the gesture was supposed to work with her features, then sauntered off to join the rest of her.
They left me there. The sun baked down on me like a fine furnace, and slowly, I schooled myself. Took account of the situation.
The trees were different. They were younger, and what little I could see of the paths, they were more kept, far less overgrown. The sun was out, and it had been night far too short of a time ago. I was bound, and surrounded by the dead and dying.
The dead and dying wore the cloaks of the reapers.
Everyone else had been taken by Sirens.
I breathed in, wishing my mouth was free, and felt the burn, felt the heat roll down my skin, and then I released it. What now?
What was I supposed to do? I had to-
I had to catch up with the Captain, and the other members of the crew. They were my best bet to get out of this alive. Otherwise…
I’d nearly died before in a ghost ship. I wasn’t going to die-
Hooves in the distance. Thundering hooves, quiet, then louder and louder and louder. The shouts of men, accents I couldn’t quite place, but were uncomfortably familiar.
And then they stopped, and boots stepped onto the ground.
“They got our scavenging party,” A man said, his voice tired. Like a lead weight had been pressed against his chest. “Fan out and check the bodies. See if they left anyone alive.”
Bound as I was, it wasn’t for a few more minutes before cloaks were in front of me. Thick, black, leather, it parted as it leaned forward.
And a human head stared down at me, his eyes brown, his hair black, his skin dark, and his hair trimmed with grey. “One,” the man said. “Where’d you come from, kid?”
The gag saved me, because I didn’t have to answer.
“It’s this island,” a man complained, sweeping over. “Two more heavily injured to the side. One of them’s the Colonel’s kid.”
The grey haired man turned at that. “Good. I don’t want to see what harebrained scheme the Colonel’ll put us through if-” he shook his head. “Men, carry the wounded.”
“What’s this one?” the complainer said. His hair was streaked with red, and a scar twisted across his neck, up through the mottle bits of his tan skin, and up across a jagged and torn ear. “Another breather?”
“Looks like he was being round up for transport. But I don’t recall anyone being missing from the ships… Think he’s a slave?”
I squirmed in my bondage. This was bad. This was very bad.
“Must be,” the red haired man said. “Take him back to the ship. Might be something we can get out of him, if we’re lucky.”
“Why don’t you do it, Jacob?” the grey haired man asked. “I’m already tired of carrying your mistakes for the Colonel.”
“Ah, Henry,” Jacob said. “And deprive you of the opportunity? You know I’m not that cruel.”
Jacob and Henry settled on either side of me and lifted up.
The scurried the opposite way that the sirens had left.
With nothing better to do, I felt and listened through my heart for anything, anything at all. On the opposite side of the island, three heart beat louder than the others. Navigators.
And only one beat in the direction we were coming, but it beat louder and brighter than any of the others by far.
The far side of Outpost 5 had been turned into a war camp. Heavy wooden walls had been constructed, and archers sat on top of the walls. Large cannons sat on heavy platforms, based upon the larger rocks on the more stable ground.
More importantly, every soldier who swept through were humans. Man and woman alike stirred and did their business in the middle of camp, armorers frantically did repairs from makeshift forges. A thick black cloud billowed from the symbols of industry.
“There,” Henry said, setting me down on my feet. He drew a knife, and sawed through the thick cords that kept me bound, and for once, I could move.
Then he stole the robes off of my body. After several weeks keeping my skin covered, I felt the wind across my skin and felt vulnerable. Deeply and utterly vulnerable, like I’d slid out of a second skin. “Others might get ideas if they see you in robes,” Jacob said. “Just as well. We don’t know anything about you.”
Henry tilted his head, something conflicted in his gaze, and then he gestured forward. “Come on. Let’s get you where you need to go.”
The last of the ropes fell, and I could breath, at last, without the half toxic taste of rope hovering in my mouth.
“What’s your name?”
I hesitated for a moment. Which name should I give? Which was more appropriate? I was- I was still on the Living Seas.
“Charm,” I said. The two of them whistled, shaking their head.
“Let’s get you to a room, Charm,” Jacob said. The rest of the men filed off to report to their proper places, from what I could tell, while the two injured men were taken into a thick branch of tents and overgrown encampments that smelled like alcohol and blood.
I, however, was led away from those, and down the fortress city, moving smoothly toward the ships lining the distant beaches. The gates opened, and they led me past the high tide mark. A boat was called over, and they slipped me inside, then hauled us up into the ship proper. It was older, more primitive, and in a completely different style from the ones I’d been used to. Three masts, and the air was rank with fresh tar and iron polish.
Jacob and Henry were joined by guards, and then very very shortly, I was dropped, unceremoniously, in a heavy room with no lights.
Henry looked me over, shook his head, and then shut the door.
The door locked.
Then there was just inky blackness, and myself, in a strange world.