CW: mention of self harm and suicide
The jagged surface of the sea had darkened to near black. Only with her ship’s light could Scarlet make out the peaks of waves and the indentations of ripples. It was mesmerizing, the way that the ripples swayed back and forth until they crested into waves. She used to obsess over those tiny singular motions and how they mingled with others to become great tides.
Cool wetness pricked at the outer corner of Scarlet’s eye. She brought her fingers to her cheek as it dripped down her chin. She almost thought she was crying. But she knew better. She hadn’t cried in years. The sting in her eyes was from sailing two days without rest. And the wetness--
Another droplet splashed on the bridge of her nose. It followed the groove of the scar that ran from her temple to her chin, crossing through her left eye. Then the rest of the rain came, drenching her hair, her clothes, and her ship. The clouds above blocked the sky; it could have been day or night and she wouldn’t have known. Not that she cared. Ahead, lightning struck the horizon, goading the thrashing waves. Already, her ship was rocking like a fearful child, but Scarlet paid it no mind.
“Captain!” one of her crew members shouted, clinging to a rope. His eyes were wide as he called her again. “Scar, you’ve got to be kidding, right?!”
A laugh was ripped from her throat as the wind tore past her, yanking a chunk of her dark hair to the side. “Aren’t I always?” She would have felt bad that this man was afraid and she was putting him through this anyway. But she had quit caring when she quit crying. “We are riding this straight to Dalmar!”
Thunder cracked, sending a tremor through her crew, but Scarlet only felt more alive as the rumble met the quake in her chest. The storm only brought more energy into her bones, the kind that buzzed live and meant something exciting was about to happen.
Her crew ceased questioning and complaining once they realized her mind was made. It was only them and her between survival and shipwreck. Or more importantly, between immediate success and delayed success. As far as Scarlet was concerned, she just needed to reach that ship, and she would before they could leave Dalmar.
She left on this voyage only two days ago, pursuing the carnival ship that had a day’s lead on her. It all began when she visited home for a day--a rare occasion--to see her sister before she returned to the other side of the world. Her home, a port city, had the misty cast of a place that had just lost its latest excitement. The carnival had been to visit for a week, complete with a circus, exciting foods, and games.
Scarlet had always been one for those games. There was something about triumphing over something when it was rigged against your favor that she loved. Her younger sister was a little different.
Talia was sixteen years her junior and had just reached an age old enough to be considerate of others. She had told Scarlet about a shooting game with a kitten as its prize. Tears welled up in her eyes when she detailed a little black kitten with a single orange stripe across his face.
“He was the last one. Nobody wanted him because he kept hissing,” Talia said, tugging at her dark hair in a nervous habit. She wound a long strip around her thumb so tightly her fingertip went purple. “He mewled at me though. Looked me right in the eye and just meowed.”
Scarlet knew in an instant that Talia didn’t even try the game. Her little sister was like that. She wouldn’t take her chances against rigged games, wouldn’t waste her parents’ money, especially not on a prize that would cost even more in the long term.
Scarlet had heard the spiel before. Pets were a waste that made more waste for you to clean. But she could tell Talia was lonely, and that she had a connection with that one kitten, the only one that wasn’t taken home. And Scarlet would be damned if she didn’t bring that happiness to her sister. Hell, she’d bring back a jungle cat or the entire circus if it made her sister happy.
For Talia, she bore the brunt of the beastly storm. Her crew followed faithfully. Despite her risky decisions, she always came through a victor with plenty of spoils to share. And she always found it in herself to care just enough to keep them and their families well-provided for.
Together, they braved the wild waters. Torrents battered the body of the ship until the wood groaned. Over the side of the ship, the sea swelled, rising up and over, crashing down on the deck and further drenching the crew as they grappled with the slippery equipment.
Scarlet found herself shivering after embracing a wave that rose to meet her. Chills coursed down her back, chasing the rivulets that ran off her hair. The cold was welcome and the streams of water along her skin were a soothing presence in the battle against the storm. Though it felt more like wrestling and roughhousing with an old friend to her.
After hours with only the clouds and tumultuous waves for company, they reached the edge of the storm. Clouds stretched further from one another, making way for sheer sunlight to filter through to the sea’s surface. Land marked the horizon ahead. It wouldn't be long to reach Dalmar, but they wouldn't need to dock. Against the clear blue sky, Scarlet saw the red body and the golden lettering of the carnival ship lazily gliding on the waters.
She approached them calmly, and pulled her ship mere feet from theirs. They slowed and went stationary. Her scarlet flag billowed in the wind, the three slashes through the center proclaiming her identity.
Scarlet called out to the other ship. “I must speak with the captain and the head of the carnival. It’s an urgent matter.”
A man with a booming voice seemed to elect himself as the ship’s spokesperson. From the distance, he took in her sopping clothes and rain-matted hair with distaste. He bellowed a laugh. “What business do you have with them? What waste of time is so urgent that you must inconvenience them?”
A grin curled at the corners of her mouth. “Shall I make it more urgent?”
There was a time that that man would deter her. His words would have sunken her day to the depths of despair. Now, she took a few steps to the side where a cannon was already preloaded. It was her favorite toy. She very simply lit the fuse.
The explosion sent a thrill through her. She was careful. It had only taken off the very tip of the ship. After all, she didn’t want to hurt her sister’s kitten.
“Are you crazy?!”
Scarlet watched the corner of the ship go up in flames. The crew rushed to put it out. The passengers--performers, vendors, and managers--fled the deck screaming. Through the chaos she shrugged. If anyone was crazy, it was them. They were the ones traipsing through the seas without fear of the Captain of Scars. They were the ones crazy enough to deny her audience.
She made dramatic work of shucking off her still-soaked coat, revealing her sea-weathered skin marked with scars. If they hadn’t recognized her by her banner, they surely would now. With the same overexaggerated motions, she loaded the cannon again.
“I heard you could win a kitten in a shooting game,” she called over.
The obnoxious spokesperson shouted a string of expletives. The others moved more frantically around each other. Some dropped to the ground. They got louder, yelling about her flag and her scars. She caught the words mad, pirate, insane.
“Hit the target, win a kitten,” she crooned. “Hit the target, win a little black kitten with an orange stripe.”
Her crew perked up at her signal, streaming to her side of the ship. They whipped out their weapons and aimed the cannon while one leveled a plank for her to cross.
Her own gun in hand, Scarlet crossed. Her boots thudded hard on the wood and the waves rushed in below her. Salty air nipped at her arms, brushing against her scars and lifting her dark hair into the sunlight. She hopped neatly onto the enemy ship. “Now what target do I need to hit to win that kitten?”
The threat was all she needed for the flustered captain to magically appear and for the head of the carnival to produce a little black kitten. He was the length of her two palms lined up, with perfect green eyes, glossy black fur, and an orange stripe crossing through his left eye from ear to chin. The stripe was a deep, rusty orange so dark it almost seemed red--the same color her hair turned against sunlight.
“Lovely,” Scarlet murmured. She took an immediate liking to the hissing kitten and the claws that grazed her arm. After crossing back to her own ship, her crew redirected them back to her hometown while she waved goodbye to the damaged ship. “Safe travels!”
She was almost a little sad that there hadn’t been a real scuffle. Only the little scratches from the kitten’s claws marked this occasion onto her body, though it would not scar and not a drop of blood left the wound. It was mildly disappointing.
Nevertheless, she had gotten what she came for. She would have done it again, even set the entire ship on fire, to ensure that her sister never again shed tears or found a reason to need scars. Anything to keep her sister away from that feeling. Anything to keep her from growing into a girl like she had been.
Scarlet had been a girl who cried over everything under the shelter of her blanket. Every breath was a pang as the cauldron in her chest began to boil over, filling her chest cavity, her lungs, and rising up her throat to choke her sobs before they spilled over her eyes. It was the kind of painful crying that made her head pound and nose pour. It made her feel like her wretched insides wanted to come out.
At a point in her life, that happened daily. She was a waste of space, a burden, a disappointment. Because everyday she made some mistake or impacted someone’s life negatively. That was all she thought about--how her actions rippled to touch other’s lives. It would hurt so much that it felt like she would die if she didn’t stop.
But nobody cared to help a crying girl. They scorned her for being over-emotional, called her over-sensitive and weak for caring about them and what they thought. So Scarlet did the only thing her aching mind could think to do. She took a knife and slashed it on the back of her arm. The physical pain distracted from the emotional pain, just enough to pull through. It became a ritual. It was the only way she could seem to stop crying.
It was marvelous, how differently people treated her when it was blood dripping from her skin instead of tears. Where tear stains brought only disdain, the blood stains and the scars brought her respect, fear, and even the concern she never got for crying.
It had taken until then for Scarlet to realize that nobody gave a damn about others, not like she did. Things that kept her up for nights were forgotten in instances by others. Nobody else was cautious about what they did or what they said, nevermind the havoc it wreaked on the people around them. So why should Scarlet care?
The seas welcomed her attitude and her newfound apathy. It accepted her blood as she rose in power as a merchant; or a pirate, depending on who you asked. It turned out that life was a lot easier when you didn’t care who bled.
Before Scarlet had earned her name and title, she would have obsessed over the little ripples a drop of blood or a tear could make in life. Every little ripple added up. Just one could meet with others and build into life-wrecking waves. One never knew if someone was contemplating suicide or just considering what to eat for dinner.
Nobody knew which she was doing for all those years. She kept everything in, not wanting to make a hard life harder for anyone. It flooded her insides until she was wading through her days, haunted by the little things. She sank. She nearly drowned in her own sorrow.
But now and forevermore, she was happy to make waves. And she didn’t care who got caught in the storm.