The wall of water crashed down upon the bow of my faithful Man-O-War as if it were a punch thrown by Poseidon himself. The unforgiving winds bellowed with such force that even the veteran crewmates aboard the Annabelle Lee were left quivering in their rain-soaked boots as we navigated the Strait of Hades. We were an unwelcome presence in those unholy waters. The sudden appearance of that powerful storm had made that fact perfectly clear.
As the determined Mr. Fredricks, my trusted sailing master, fought against sea’s pull on the double wheel to maintain our heading, I stood beside of him, braced against the thick oak railing that lined the uppermost deck. I couldn’t help but scowl at our odds as I surveyed the path ahead with my brass telescope, searching for some kind of reprieve from the storm.
I didn’t understand how it happened, but we’d somehow been surrounded on all sides by massive walls of water. It was as if we’d plunged directly into the eye of some invisible storm without knowing it.
In my heart, I knew something wasn’t right. We’d had clear blue skies just a half hour ago. I winced at the cacophonous thunderclap that followed the blinding flashes of lightning. It reverberated off of those wild waves before joining the wind’s own ominous symphony. Their frightful chorus travelled deep into my guts.
I was usually at home on the open ocean, but not that day. I was unsettled by the sheer force of nature on display, but only momentarily. That horrid storm was no coincidence. It was a sign that we were closing in on our prize.
Below us, Miss Margo, my quartermaster screamed out orders over the howling wind as the crew struggled to regroup from the hit and continue heaving the storm sails so that the crew could hunker down. A strong second-in-command, it wasn’t long before Miss Margo had the crew back to the task. Their shanties echoed hauntingly on the wind as they struggled to raise those crucial sails.
Most sailors wouldn’t have dared to take to the seas with a woman aboard their vessel. It was widely believed that the very presence of the fairer sex aboard one’s ship would cause misfortune to befall the entire voyage. I thought that line of thinking was a load of pure tommy-rot and made that fact clear to any potential prospects when we’d come to port.
The fact of the matter was that the moment you set your sails on the mythical booty that lined our pockets and greased our cannons, you were cursed with misfortune before you ever left home. You did get used to it. You didn’t have another choice besides meeting a gruesome demise. To be honest, it was basically a job requirement for pirates like us.
After spotting no hope on the horizon, I was met by a stark reality: of the options lying before us, there was no clear way out of this. Perseverance was our only option, and that realization almost made me shit on the poop deck. Was this horrific storm part of the trial to access the island? Was there some tribute that needed to be paid? There was only one way to be certain... I had to check the Sacred Tome.
I gave Mr. Fredricks shoulder a pat as I passed him for keeping us alive as long as he had, then took the slick, steep wooden stairway down to the next deck. Once I passed a stack of mead and salt barrels, I eyed the gleaming red set of doors that led to my quarters. The sizable ‘war room’ contained maps, plans, as well as my own personal cabin that was tucked away further inside. With a stiff shoulder, I plowed through the wedged door before quickly spinning around and slamming it shut behind me in one surprisingly fluid motion.
Besides the doors, which never seemed to want to open, the room was a wonder to behold. A metric ton of finery, paintings of random wealthy Spaniards who’d commissioned the voyages of the ill-fated Galleons, and gold adornment covered each of the gleaming mahogany walls. The many shiny treasures I’d curated throughout my adventures glistened like stars in the light of the nearby fireplace. Even with everything off center from the relentless rocking of the ship, it was glorious.
I didn’t want to catch my death just yet, so I stripped off my soggy leather trousers as well as my soaked purple doublet. I was tossed a fresh towel by my cabin boy. Toby, who’d already been cleaning up the room before our abrupt battle with the sea had begun.
The boy was a coward we’d collected during one of our many raids along the coast of Ireland. The son of a son of some minorly important Lord or Lady, it seemed wiser to keep alive for insurance, in case that dog ever came back to bite us.
Toby was an unpleasant person to be around in general. A single glance into his vacant, wide-set eyes was all it really took to irk my nerves, but he was as effective at his job as he was at annoying me. His small, dainty fingers helped him to polish the chests of gold and silver more efficiently than other crewmates, so I always stifled the urge to slit his throat.
I quickly gave myself a once-over with the rag before tossing it behind me with the rest of the clothes. Shivering, I trotted over to the warmth of the freshly stoked fire and began to defrost my bollocks, which had been frozen to my thigh along with my dingy after being out in that weather for so long.
Another hit from a rogue wave almost caused me to nearly roast my Jolly Rodger in the flames. Instead of testing the fates further, I backed away from the fireplace and plopped down in the regal armchair near my desk.
“It looks like it’s coming down pretty hard out there, is everything alright?” the young Toby asked, his voice bland and unpleasant.
“Shut up, Toby. I’m trying to figure something out,” I said with an annoyed tone as I began rummaging through my desk drawers.
“Okay, Cap’n,” Toby said. For some reason his apathetic acceptance of my dislike for him aggravated me to no end.
“Aha!” I exclaimed as I pulled out a weathered leather tome from the drawer and slammed it onto the top of my desk with a loud thunk!
My ink well toppled over, sending a small flood of black liquid pouring out onto the surrounding piles of documents until it began to pool around the feet of my golden dagger’s little display stand. I glanced up for a moment, and surveyed the damage, but quickly returned to the task at hand. I felt my heart racing in my chest as I opened the book, causing its spine to crack and crinkle like an old man’s back.
As ancient as that cursed book was, I’m surprised the damn thing hadn’t fallen apart by that point. I guess the group of monks who bound the book knew what they were doing when they opted with human flesh instead of going with your typical papyrus. For the longest time I had always just assumed they were a little kooky, but maybe they were on to something after all.
Flipping through its yellowed fleshy pages, I froze on the ancient drawing of the mythic treasure I so desperately sought. It was a massive pink diamond, about the size of a small watermelon. Even though it was just a sketch, it called to me. I felt it.
“The Heart of Lucifer,” I read aloud to myself. My calloused fingers lingered over the carefully inked lines before glancing over to the wall of flowing cursive text next to it.
"The stone of the Fallen hides on an island with no name. It is protected by the Tears of God, an inescapable tower of waves and wind. The blood of the innocent shifts His gaze to the wounded lamb, dispersing the waves and revealing the Devil’s Island.”
I frowned as I ran my fingers over the ink drawing. Who the hell is innocent on board the Annabelle Lee?
Determined? Most definitely.
But Innocent? That was a quality we all seemed to sorely lack.
I thought on it as quickly as my rum-addled brain would allow.
Frederick’s a slag, Margo was a gambling fiend, everyone else were a bunch of whoring drunks. Who could possibly--?
I paused my thinking and glanced over at Toby. A smile began to blossom upon my ugly, bearded face as a plot was quickly formed.
“Oi! C’mere boy. I got a new job for you,” I said, still smiling. I could feel my eyes grow wide and wild as the prospect of finally capturing that glorious gem overcame me.
“Uh, nah. I’m good. Thanks anyway,” Toby said, walking backwards towards the exit.
“I wasn’t asking, I was telling!” I yelled as I lunged for the cabin boy.
“No!” Toby screamed as he slammed into the doors, but they didn’t budge.
“Sorry there, lad,” I said as I scooped him up by the scruff of his neck and slammed him into my velvet chair, which squelched in response to the weight of his sizable posterior.
“The Annabelle Lee serves her Captain, as you will, one way or another.”
“No, please Cap’n Noche, I’m begging you. I know you hate me, hell I hate me too, but I don’t want to die!” Toby said, tears pouring down his fat cheeks.
I snatched a golden dagger from off of the stand on my desk and held it against the side of his neck, the point poked into the crest of frightened boy’s second chin. Toby shuddered in response. He wasn’t the fool I made him out to be, the cabin boy knew good and well I’d kill him as soon as the notion really tickled my fancy. He was right, of course. Not that it made a difference.
“What say we make an accord, eh? You come over here to me, right now, and let me do what I need to do, and I don’t shove this knife up your bum. How’s that for a deal?”
Toby gulped as the color drained from his cheeks.
“Alright, let’s go,” I said as I kicked the doors open before walking bare-assed down the main deck with Toby in tow.
“Captain Noche, please! Have I not been loyal? Have I not done everything you’ve ever asked of me?”
“I need the stone, lad, and none of that drivel that spews out of your face is going to change that fact! Come along now, Toby.”
The high winds continued their relentless bombardment of our vessel. It slammed the sheets of rainfall straight into my body, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t feel a damn bit of it. I guess I was just in the moment.
“Captain on...deck?” Margo said, looking over at me with confused green eyes.
“As you were, Miss Margo! I’m just fixing the weather!” I called back with a wave.
Margo slowly waved back and I continued towards the bowsprit with a moaning Toby in tow.
“Okay, cabin boy. It’s time to become a cabin man,” I said as I pushed Toby against the railing.
“Please, Captain...please, God-- no!” Toby said, fear rising in his voice.
I grabbed Toby’s arm and wrenched it out. To his credit, he tried to resist, but c’mon. He’s Toby. After forcing his arm straight, I seized his wrist and began to gently slit open his palm.
“Agh!” he screamed. It wasn’t a Toby scream either, that scream was pure vitriol, the kind of scream that makes a man respect his foe.
Keeping a tight grip on his wrist, I forced his arm over the railing and squeezed his hand closed. A small droplet of gleaming red blood welled up from the wound before running down Toby’s wrist and dripping down into the murky waves of the ocean below. All of a sudden, as if on command, the winds abruptly relented.
That great circle of waves that had surrounded us on all sides began to meld back into the surrounding water. The black mass of clouds that clung overhead like the pitch black of the night sky was whisked away by the sun’s golden rays. That must’ve been what it felt like to have God’s favor.
“Wait, that—that's it?” Toby asked, his sentences stammered.
“You’re not going to kill me?”
“Aye, cabin man, that was it. You really didn’t need to be such a wanker about it, though I can’t say I really blame you.”
"Why didn’t you just tell me that’s what you were going to do?”
I smiled, displaying my gold-capped teeth and put an arm around his shoulder.
“Because, I needed to know there was a fire hiding beneath all that blubber. You did good, Toby. You’re going to make a fearsome pirate someday.”
“Th--thank you Cap’n. If it’s not too much to ask, my real name is Antonio--.”
“Don’t ruin the moment, Toby?”
“Sorry,” Toby said.
“Good, now fetch me some clothes if you don’t mind. It’s cold on this deck and I’m feeling rather exposed, savvy?”
As Toby skittered away, I walked to the bow of the Annabelle Lee and leaned against the railing. I allowed myself to take in the gentle rocking of the waves. As I gazed out at that big beautiful blue sky in front of me, the outline of a faraway island seemed to manifest right before my yellowed eyes.
“Yo, ho,” I said with a grin, looking forward to the adventure that awaited us just over the horizon.