I clenched my fists over the splintering wood. “Where are the rest?” 

The man sitting across from me cowered, shrinking into himself. “I- I don’t know! That piece is the only one I have, I swear to you-”

“And you never once attempted to patch the rest of the map together and find the treasure for yourself? Or even sell other seekers a scribbled copy of this same shred? Do not lie to me. I know I am not the only one to come here seeking this piece of the map.” 

He went silent, subconsciously curling into himself. The low lighting flickered over the small room, casting shadows over his cowardly face. My partner stilled at my side.

He shrank away from me. “Of course I tried,” he said, offering a panicked, saccharine smile, “but none as talented as you-”

I shoved off the table, moving out of the tent and into the dark night in one swift move. 

Harper followed me, watching. 

“Do you want to pay him?” 

I waved my hand through the air, not caring how he interpreted it. Behind me went silent, and he started back to the tent, probably much to its owner’s chagrin.

I stepped onto the dock, a crinkle of paper tucked in my hand. The cold air wisped around me as I walked, sprinkled with stars and mingling with the sea. Under my feet groaned the wood with every step, quietly adding to the music of the night. 

No one else was on the dock, my ship the only one tied up on this side of the island. A rowdy laugh echoed from the tavern far up on the hill, cutting through the solace of the night. The only sign of movement were the gentle bobs of my ship floating above the waters, tethered snugly against the dock.

In two strides, I was stepping onto my ship, moving down the stairs into the map room. From behind me, Harper’s quiet footsteps landed onto the wood. 

I ignored him, more important things on my mind. 


The burns of warm cobbles, and then a splash of white and mingled reds. 

Bracing against the roar of memories, I tightened my jaw, smoothing the paper scrap out onto the table. Spread across the wooden surface, a patchwork map fit almost completely together. It was overlapping and messy, pinned in places and sketched in others, but it was complete all the same. Finally whole. I curled my fist.

Asceythia, run- Run to the castle, don’t return- I will be right there. Just go-!

I smoothed my hand over the newest addition to the map, letting out a terse, practiced breath. 

The last piece.

The key to my freedom.

I will find you soon. I swear it.

“Harper,” I ordered suddenly, glancing over my shoulder at the silhouette in the doorway, “go wake the crew. We have a job.” 


The tailwind seemed to urge us on, pushing us forwards with every surge of the waves. In spite of the growing wind and the crash and tumble of the sea, I could feel it.

The gods were on my side.

And if they weren’t, that meant nothing in the way of determination. 

“Hoist the sails!” I ordered, gripping the helm and bracing my feet, glimpsing a dark shape rising in front of us. My crewmates grasped for the tielines, tired eyes quickly awoken in the night air. “Release the anchor!” 

The ship slowed to a stop, a gust of wind riffling over the deck.

I strapped my flintlock pistol to my side, raising my eyes. “Stay here,” I ordered Harper. “I will be back before sunrise.” He watched me silently, something questioning flitting through his eyes. Once more, I ignored him.

I have been searching for this legend since the day I had become a pirate. I will not let anyone distract me from what I need to do.

Starting down the stairs, I stepped onto the deck. I pushed past my slightly befuddled crew, ignoring them until I made it to the ladder. 

I made it about halfway down before I jumped. 

I landed in about knee deep water, wading towards the land, my cutlass swinging with every step. The cold water sloshed around my knees, awakening my senses to the bite of the dark side of the sea.

From far behind me on my ship rose a hush of quieted murmurs, but I shoved on. Lingering stares traveled with me onto the beach. To be a female pirate, and to rise to Captain, it took grit and more than the glint of a sword. Some people are born leaders. Some rise to the challenge. And some give up, deciding true effort far too difficult.

If I was anything, I refused to be the last. 

I’m coming, Ember.

My heart seized. The crackle of flames flickered over my memories, a dark irony that seemed hand crafted by the god of pity. 

The moon was full, thoroughly illuminating the small island surrounding me. Sand shifted to dirt and luscious grass, soon overshadowed by zealous fronds.  The murmurs of my ship faded away, leaving me with only the stirring leaves and the peace of rustling sand. Thick palm trees stretched over my head, intermingled with brush and thick splayed ferns. In the daylight, it would be a cacophony of exuberant and vibrant colors, luscious greens and glimpses of oranges and ochres and pinks- but at night, it was simply all muted to shades of simple darkness, brushed with a faint glimmer of moonlight.

I stepped up, pulling myself over a steep bank. 

The sand leveled out around me, sloping vines and low calls of slumbering birds filling the full silence on my small platform. To my right was the entrance of a cave, blocked by barred planks of hammered wood. I had gazed at the painted image on the map so many times, I didn’t have to look twice for confirmation. 

Ducking underneath a thin crack in between the planks, I stepped into the dark cave. 

My night vision had already adjusted to the dark outside, but the moonlight had played its fair part. Few, thin beams of light streamed through the cracks to scatter against the dirt floor, but they were quickly quenched in pure darkness. 

I pulled a single match out of my pocket. Scraping it against the wall, I lit my carried torch, flicking out the match. I walked down the narrow cave, one hand pressed firmly to my cutlass. 

A small sparkle in the walls glinted as I moved, whispers of secrets calling after me as I passed them. 

Something caught my light at the end of the cave. A small, ornate silver chest glowed in the light from my torch. A simple hook latch was the only protection. Instantly, I knelt, the sudden spike of adrenaline and hope- darn the hope- surging through me. 

I turned the latch and pushed back the top in one move.

Instantly, the glow nearly knocked me back. I rested my forgotten torch against the wall, unable to look away from the blinding shine.

Inside of the chest laid a copious spill of silver coins, round and shining and glittering. I gave them little notice. Set right on top of the coins were two things. One, a small, brittle map, half buried in the spill of coins. The other was a golden chain. On the end of it was a large golden pendant inlaid with the image of a curled skull made of diamonds that glittered as if they’d never seen the light. 

I picked it up, silver gems sliding through my fingers as I closed them around the pendant.

Then three things happened at once.

First, my torch fell from where I’d leaned it against the wall, igniting the twisted dead vines lying against the cavern corners, sending a wall of red and flickering yellows roaring in front of me. 

The pendant in my hand burned white hot, searing into my palm. 

And last, a long, low scream echoed from the woods from where I’d come.

Flames singed my knees, licking for my hair. I shoved up from the ground, sprinting for the entrance as white hot fire consumed the cave.

I lunged as hard as I could, smashing into the planks and staggering through them. My heart slamming through my chest, I craned my head, glimpsing-

A dark figure moved to my right. The very ground before me splintered, falling in as if being dug out from the inside. 

A white, long object stuck up through the hole, unfurling to reveal a bony, ancient hand clinging with rotten tufts of decayed flesh. It grasped the ground, and heaved, pulling a skeletal, ancient body up from the ground. 

I stepped backwards, my head snapping to barely catch the breaking ground to my far left. I didn’t see the third, or the fourth or the fifth breaking of the ground, or when the fire from the cave behind me stretched into the small, wet forest and burned with the fury of proper anguish, screaming into the cold night.

I didn’t see any of this.

I was already sprinting, chasing downhill to the ship. 


I jumped over a log, my hat toppling off into the shadow of a bush, right before it caught on fire. 


Something shot past my head, embedding into a tree trunk and promptly catching it on fire. I threw the few coins I had snatched from my hands, scattering them across the beach. 


I ran into the waves, fighting hard against them as I slogged to the ladder. “SET SAIL!” 

A small voice called from above the deck, a young face peering down at me from the railing.



I reached up, pulling myself higher. 

The ship swung, the sails toppling down and catching the wind in one motion. The ship lurched, sailing forwards and catching the wind right as the whole island caught on fire. 

I heaved myself onto the deck, boots slopping full of water as I staggered for the helm. Wind ripped around me, roaring through our ship, but in our favor or not was objective in nearly every way. “Steer for Calcious Island, full sail!” 

I took my place at the wheel, my first mate quickly moving out of the way and slipping back into the shadows, but still present if I needed him. I measured my breathing.

Slowly, I opened my fist, the hidden glint of gold and diamonds sparkling in the sunlight. The pendant grew burning hot.

Holding the helm steady with one hand, I clasped it tighter, feeling the weight grow heavy in my palm.  

“Did you find it?” a low voice asked from beside me. “What you’ve been looking for?” 

I locked eyes onto the constellations I had studied thousands of times, the familiar surge of the waves below the ship mingling with the spray of the cool night. “I hope so,” I said quietly, keeping my eyes locked onto the horizon as far behind me bled the crackle of fire fading from the swash of a crimson island left to burn. 



The very last thing I could remember. Then his dark eyes, pleading with me as he drew a sword, lunging into the night to battle the pirates.

Despicable, dirty creatures.

And I had become one. 

To avenge both him and the bit of myself that had died with him that night.

I had no qualms about anything I’d done.

Following flitting, hopeful legends had been the very thing starting me on my path to piracy, and my crew, and my life. I had never believed in their truth, but could not stop chasing after them.

And now a legend itself was pressed into my hand. 

Now, I stood on the deck alone, the subtle energy pulsing from the pendant like a beacon of adrenaline. 

We were anchored a bit of ways off the coast of Portelle Isle, sheltered from the most violent rocking of the waves.

The storm inside my head was of a different kind.

Was this right? 

I had given up on right and wrong long ago.

A breeze lifted across the deck, and I took a deep breath.

“I thee summon Ember Charles to be returned to me,” I said quickly, and slammed my eyes shut. I squeezed the pendant, clenching my jaw till it hurt, a pure spike of energy stabbing through me. My knuckles turned white, feeling it go cold beneath my touch. 

I opened my eyes, seeing absolutely nothing had changed. The cool air was biting, nipping through the change of boots I had fetched, the familiar gentle toss of the waters an insult to my bleeding heart.

A shift of wind rifled through my coats, and then I heard it.

Slowly, I turned around.

Standing before me was a dream and a nightmare.

He looked exactly like I remembered, mussed dark hair cresting over golden brown eyes. His tall collared coat was perfectly straight, and he wasn’t a day older than I had last seen him, pulled from his pocket of time. 

But there was a difference. His color had been drained, leaving him to a shell of what he had been before. Where his dark golden skin had glowed with beautiful light now was only left a pale gray. His dark shock of curls were reduced to muted ash, his dark coat bleached completely to a faded white. My eyes fell to his neck, slit with a jagged, ugly crusted scar.

Because of me.

He had been trying to give me time to get to safety.

Sacrificing his life for my own.

He stumbled forwards, staring at me with wide, once-brown eyes. Slowly, he took in the cutlass strapped to my hip, my flexible pants, the leather boots. His eyes fell over my heavy overcoat stitched with our emblem, the tilt of my hat and the wild state of my dark hair. 


I clenched my jaw, staring at him as a cascade of emotions shattered over me. I had learned to control them long, long ago, to mask my expressions and not let my anger drive me. Spite was a much better motivator.

Ember casted his eyes to the deck with a wrench of a twisted expression that drove a stake through my heart. “Asceythia. It- it hurts.”

I stepped forwards, suddenly reaching out a hand and cupping his cheek. His skin pressed against my palm, burning hot and feverish. Still, I did not let go. 

He slowly shut his eyes, an ashen tear brimming beneath his dark eyelashes. 

“Ember,” I said softly. My words spilled over themselves, struggling to fight their way out of me- “I’m so sorry, Ember. You were trying to give me time to escape-”

He grimaced, although I did not believe it was because of me. A tear slid down his cheek, but I doubted this too. “I didn’t die because of you Asceythia. I could never- keep from fighting. As long as you are safe- it’s worth my life.” He bit down on his lips, tipping his head back in a pained grimace. 

“Asceythia…. It burns. Like fire. Worse than the fire.”

He raised his red eyes to me. “Why am I here?” 

For me. Not for you. To give myself some selfish hope of closure, to see you one last time. 

I love you, Ember.

To say goodbye.

“I’m sorry. I brought you back- I found the pendant, Ember.” He fought to a smile, watching me, breaking as another tear tracked down his face.

“Please, Asceythia. Stop it.” 

I’m so sorry.

Another tear built at his eyes, his face twisting in pain, and I slowly stepped back, drawing my hand from his face. My torment of love and warring sorrow quieted, stilling as something thick dissolved from my throat. The eruption of pain rippled over his features, and I closed my hand over the locket. 

“Be free, my love.” 

I shut my eyes, feeling the burn of his anguish wash over me, and then nothing else. Silently, I opened them to see an empty deck and the press of an inanimate pendant in my hand. I let it fall to the deck, grasping the railings as I lowered my head.  

I was not sure how long I stood there, gazing out at the shifting waters. 

I felt Harper’s presence more than saw him, feeling his shadow in the darkness of the night. Slowly, I picked up the pendant, the cold almost painfully so. I tilted my palm, watching wordlessly as it slid from my hand and fell into the dark sea.  


Harper stepped against the railing- 

Then he stilled. He raised his head, watching me quietly.  

I took a step back from the railing, eyes locked firmly on the waves. I took a long breath, a slow bud of peace resting inside of me. The horizon tinged with the smallest hint of a golden light, casting the faintest glow over the sea far, far away. 

I took one last breath, and with it, one last farewell.

I love you my Ember. And one day, I’ll see you again.

 “Harper,” I said, straightening my coat as the faintest brush of pink painted the clouds far overhead, “ready the crew.” I raised my head to the morning light, my smile deepening with the sight of a familiar stretch of islands and a brush of danger. I turned away from him, raising my head as I headed for the helm. “We have a job.”

November 13, 2020 18:33

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