Striding into his quarters, Morgan paused just before passing the threshold. Elena stood across the small space, her figure illuminated by the swaying lantern hanging from the low ceiling. She leaned over the top of his small wooden desk, fists supporting her weight on either side of an old piece of parchment sprawled across the desk's surface and held in place by rocks of varying sizes. Her features were obscured by her long black curls, which had slid over her shoulders and nearly brushed the surface of his desk. Though he couldn’t see her face, her stiff posture told him all he needed to know about the approaching conversation. He had hoped to put this off for as long as possible but knew it would have to happen at some point.

Morgan took a deep breath and held it for the count of four before slowly releasing it. He finally passed the threshold and let the door click closed behind him. Elena didn’t so much as startle.

“Good evening, Elena.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

He took his time crossing the small space, each step measured yet casual, as though he was approaching a predator instead of his childhood friend. “I don’t know what you mean.” He braced, preparing for the storm that was her fury.

“I mean, this!” Having pulled a hidden dagger from her waist, she slammed the blade down point first into the parchment. “I have known you to be many things, Morgan, but never a fool.”

Morgan pulled the dagger from the map and rolled the parchment in on itself. Though he kept his head high and his posture composed, he couldn’t bring himself to look the woman in the eye.

“This is no different from any other voyage.” Before he could tuck the rolled map safely inside his coat, Elena snatched the parchment from his hands. “Give that back.”

She waved the rolled map to emphasize her steadily rising voice. “No! This is different. Every voyage we’ve done before was achievable. Realistic. Voyages that didn’t involve sending everyone on this ship to their deaths!” Morgan crossed his arms and faced her fully. Anger was quickly replacing his trepidation. “This,” Elena continued, waving the rolled map a foot from his face. “This is not real. Even if it were, it is not worth risking the lives of everyone onboard for some myth.”

Morgan snatched the map back and returned it to the desk. He smoothed the parchment flat, using rocks to keep the map from rolling back in on itself. “Just think of it, Elena.” He focused on the map, his eyes tracing the depiction of islands and ocean currents. “If we find the Scarlet Isles, imagine the untold riches we could find! Land left untouched since the fall of Captain Scarlet, Lord of the Pirates. They say he stashed hundreds of unforetold treasures there for safekeeping.”

“Do you hear yourself, Morgan? You sound like either a starstruck child or a madman. Where did you even find that map?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He turned his attention back to Elena. He knew admitting he’d filched it off a drunkard during their last port visit would only worsen the situation. “I am the Captain, and I say we follow this course. Now carry out the order, Lieutenant.”

All expression dropped from Elena’s face, a sign that no one besides Morgan recognized. She was fighting to control her anger. He could only hope that she won the internal struggle. “Are you trying to pull rank on me?”

Though his blood chilled at the quiet tone of her voice, a drastic change from her shouting, Morgan refused to back down. “I shouldn’t have to pull rank. I am your Captain, and you will follow my orders. Otherwise, you can take your leave at the next port.”

Elena took one small step forward. “Ever since we were children, I have followed your lead. When you decided to shirk your responsibilities at home and sneak out to sail in my grandfather’s boat, I followed you. When you decided to run away from your duties to play pirate,” her voice began to rise as she took another step toward him. Morgan took an involuntary step back. “I followed you. I followed when you, Captain, decided to make a living off of robbing and pilfering shipping lane transports. But this? Chasing after fantasy treasure that may or may not exist, surrounded by turbulent seas and unknown dangers?”

“I never asked for you to come with me.” Morgan wished he could take the words back the moment they left him. Shock, hurt, and then sadness battled across her features.

“And you have no idea why I did, do you?”

He wasn’t sure what confused him more. Her question, or the soft tone he had never heard her use. Before he could formulate any response, Elena retreated. He hadn’t realized until then that she had stalked him across the room, his back now flush against the wall.

“You may be a fool, but so am I.” Without another word or glance, she left the cabin.


When Morgan addressed the crew of Liberty’s Fortune the following morning, he feared they would respond similarly to Elena. Disbelieving and convinced he was a fool. The crowd of 15 sailors was initially silent, absorbing everything Morgan had claimed. They would traverse the Southern Ocean, heading directly into the center of the unknown. Such a voyage was insane on its own. One of the largest bodies of water in the known world, few dared to sail from one landmass to another, cutting directly through the center. The voyage would take nearly three months, even if they were blessed with calm seas and mild weather.

If the time at sea alone didn’t drive the crew mad, they would perish from starvation before ever reaching landfall on the other side. If they were to attempt such a feat, they would have to choose between loading as little cargo as possible to allow for quicker travel and risk starvation or stocking up on as many supplies as possible to survive, which would significantly slow their progress.

When the silence had pressed on long enough for Morgan to begin admitting defeat, a voice rose to break the silence.

“Not like we got anything better to do.” Boats, his boatswain and third in command, shrugged as all eyes turned to him. After a second of consideration, the rest of the crew nodded or shrugged. The conversation then turned toward speculation of what kind of riches this hidden island chain might have stashed away.

Triumphant, Morgan searched for Elena in the crowd. He found her toward the aft end of the ship. She shook her head once their gazes connected. Panic gripped him as he feared she might voice her dissent in front of the crew. To his relief, the crew jumped into action as she began barking orders to prepare the ship to set sail—their destination: Scarlet Isle.


Six weeks later, Morgan stood at the starboard railing of the deck. He was surrounded by his crew, all silent as they stared across the water with a mix of awe and terror. Elena stood at his side, a scowl firmly in place as she considered their predicament.

The previous three days saw still waters and calm skies. The crew believed at first that their journey had been blessed by whatever deities ruled the seas. However, the still waters seemed just as unnatural as the massive wall of mist blocking their way forward. The swirling mist of vapors stretched for miles in either direction. Circumventing the phenomenon was out of the question.

“What are your orders, Captain?” Liza’s soft voice came from behind Elena's other side, but he didn’t turn his focus away from the swirling wall. “According to the map, the Scarlet Isles lie at least four days past that…” Her voice faltered for a moment. “And that is assuming the weather and seas continue to work in our favor.”

“We wouldn’t be able to see an attack coming in there.” Fredrick had pushed through the crowd to stand beside his twin sister, Liza. They were identical twins, though their personalities could not be further apart. While Liza was soft-spoken and intelligent, making an exceptional strategist and navigator, Fredrick was boisterous and often the center of attention, especially when rum was involved. Though he had little concept of strategies or star-navigating, he was unmatched in sea warfare. Though difficult to handle when under the influence, Morgan couldn’t hope for a better Master Gunner in his crew. The gunner wrapped his arm around his shaking sister’s shoulders.

Several others in the crowd murmured their opinions. A few suggested turning back; others were curious to see what horrors the swirling mists contained. Morgan longed to hear Elena’s opinion, as she was often the one he turned to when indecision gnawed at him. For the first time in the the eight years since they had stolen one of his father’s naval vessels and headed for open water, he was too afraid to ask her for help.

The past six weeks of travel had caused a strain on their relationship. As the sole daughter of his family governess, Elena had practically grown up alongside Morgan. With his father’s sole focus on running the Royal Navy as Admiral, household management fell to his mother, Adriana. Her family was new to the gentry, having made their fortune in trade and raising their status. Her betrothal to his father had been one of politics, not love. Once Morgan was born and the line of succession was secured, his father became a mysterious figure who rarely appeared in his own home. At least, not until Morgan was old enough to begin training to eventually inherit his father's position as Admiral of the Fleet.

“Captain?” Elena broke Morgan's train of thought. The familiar tightening in his chest from thinking of his mother was released as he turned his focus back to the present, only to be replaced by a less familiar sour pit in his stomach. Though he was the Captain of Liberty’s Fortune, Elena had refused to call him anything other than Morgan. Her use of his title had appeared over the past few weeks, and he had never hated the title more than he did when it came from her mouth. 

“Take us in, Lieutenant.” The murmuring behind him raised in volume, but no one defied his order. Before long, the Liberty’s Fortune dived nose-first into the wall of mist.


“Captain, we can’t hold on much longer!”

Morgan massaged the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, stifling a sigh of frustration. Jackson, the ship’s carpenter, stood before his desk. The vast man braced himself on the bulkhead, trying to keep his feet beneath him as the ship rocked violently. Since crossing the misty border, all signs of a temperate voyage had been lost. Wind battered at their sails and caused hundred-foot swells to crash upon the deck as if in the throws of a great storm. Try as the helmsman might, he could not get the ship under control and stay the course, not that anyone could navigate under these conditions even if they could point the bow in any direction. The only blessing shown upon the crew was the lack of rain.

“What is it you expect me to do, Jackson? Have you managed to fix the tiller?” The steering mechanism had snapped within the first few hours after passing into the churning sea two days ago. Jackson’s face went red with anger. Morgan knew the question was unfair. Regardless of skill level, no carpenter could fix an internal mechanism under these conditions.

Morgan sighed and stood, grasping the desk for support, grateful the piece was bolted to the deck. “I understand your concern, Jackson. I really do. But until this blasted wind calms or we manage to drift out, there is nothing I nor anyone else on this ship can do.”

The large man grunted and stomped out of his quarters as best he could. Before the door swung shut, Elena stepped in and closed the door behind her. Morgan bit back a groan of frustration. He did not feel like fighting with her today; his patience was wearing thin as it was. He knew he wasn’t the only one. Everyone on board was exhausted from lack of sleep, the constant repairs to keep the battered ship afloat, and the ever-present anxiety that came with drifting through the sea at the mercy of the wind.

“I don’t want to hear it.” He growled at her before she could utter a word. “You were right. Is that what you want me to say? You’re always right. I am a fool.” He snatched the rolled map from under a heavy metal weight holding it in place. He crinkled the old paper into a ball and moved to throw it across his small space. Just as his balance shifted to throw, the ship lurched violently to the side. Already off balance, Morgan felt the deck shift beneath his feet as he fell to the floor.

Elena was instantly at his side, trying to help him to stand. He violently pushed her away. Eight years' worth of self-doubt bubbled up as she stumbled. Backed against the wall, he curled his knees against his chest and buried his head in his arms. He was absently thankful that no one besides Elena would see him like this.

“I don’t know what I am doing, Elena. What is this all for?” Morgan’s chest tightened violently as he battled with himself, trying to force his emotions back down. The last of his control slipped at the gentle touch of Elena’s hand on his back. “This is all my fault. It’s because of me that we are all going to die. Sailing to the Scarlet Isles was my idea. Every voyage we’ve gone on that almost ended in disaster was the one I decided on. Running away, the piracy, you leaving your home to follow me… Running from my father and his expectations. It’s all my fault.”

“You never forced me to leave, Morgan.” He felt some of the tightness in his chest loosen at the sound of his name instead of his title.

“I’m sorry, Elena. You were right. About everything. I should never have left.”

“No one can blame you for leaving. I may not have been at the end of your father's switch, but I was always there. I saw the way he treated you. The way he treated Adriana.” Her hand rubbed comforting circles on his back, and her voice drifted off in thought.

His mother’s passing had been the catalyst. He hadn’t realized until he was older everything she had done to shield him from his father’s wrath. The man hadn’t even attended his own wife’s funeral. The following morning, Morgan had received a summons to his father’s office to discuss his move to the officer’s barracks. That night, he told Elena his plan to leave. As he planned his escape, she had appeared in the foyer of his childhood home with a handful of others, including Liz and Fredrick. He had never asked her where she had found fellow defectors. She had done so much for him throughout their lives, and he’d never realized how much until now. Guilt and remorse chewed at his stomach.

“Why did you follow me?” Her hand stopped and he felt her stiffen beside him. Silence stretched for a few uncomfortable minutes before she finally spoke.

“We aren’t moving.” Morgan lifted his head to stare at her, confused. Her gaze was focused on the deck.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No,” she swatted his shoulder, then moved to stand. “We aren’t moving. The ship…”

Morgan rose as he noticed the deck no longer lurched beneath his feet. They shared a concerned glance before sprinting out of his quarters and up the narrow stairwell to the deck. Sunlight blinded them, and they shielded their eyes as they moved to the front of the ship, where a crowd had amassed. Morgan’s eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, and he heard Elena gasp as she gripped his arm.

Two miles off the bow stood a smattering of islands. Most were nothing more than white sandbanks, while others contained miniature mountain ranges and dense jungles. Tropical birds in nearly every color flocked between the islands, while even more wildlife could be heard from the depth of the trees. Morgan had laid eyes upon hundreds of islands and shorelines throughout his life, both in service to the Royal Navy and as Pirate Captain of his own ship. Never before had he seen land that seemed so… untamed. There were no piers where a vessel might dock and no refuse or debris lining the sandy beaches.

Morgan turned to see the wall of mist looming behind them. They had made it. At the mercy of the wind, they had found the Scarlet Isles. Someone on the deck, most likely Fredrick, broke into a cheer, and the rest of the crew immediately joined in. Elena clapped him on the back, causing him to stumble a step forward.

“It looks like this time, you were right. Congratulations, Captain.” The way she used his title caused a shiver to run down his spine. For once, it didn’t sound like an insult. He couldn’t have stopped his grin from spreading if he had wanted to.

“Lieutenant!” He shouted to gain the attention of the celebrating crew. He tore his gaze from Elena to fix on the distant shores. “Prepare to go ashore.”

March 09, 2024 04:25

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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