Calak slammed to the deck, covering his head as a barrel splintered over him. Water splashed across the deck as he scrambled to his feet. Glancing over his shoulder, he lunged for his sword that lay a few feet from him. As his fingers closed around the hilt, another shot rang through the air. The sword flung from Calak’s grasp, clattering to the deck. Calak shook out his hand, firing a glare at Scarlett.
“Watch it! I still need that hand.”
“Please, that shot wasn’t anywhere near ye.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a training exercise, not some murderous plot to sever me hand.”
Calak ducked under Scarlett’s swinging sword and tumbled into the mast. Sedge looked down at him from her perch on a barrel.
“Don’t be so dramatic, runt.” She chuckled. “We’d only maime ye a little. The realscars come from enemy combat. Ye need the tale to get free grog at every port from here to Farren Cross.”
“She’s right.” Jagger chuckled, his deep voice echoing across the water. “And the ladies all love a good tale too.”
“I don’t think Avila would be impressed with any story I tell. Not after today, any way,” Calak muttered.
“You’re still dreaming ’bout that dainty damsel?”
“Avila is anything but dainty, Marshall.” Scarlett laughed, flipping her pistol into its place on her belt. “She can land a blow harder than a shark in the shallows. Bet Calak here’s been thinking of her ever since yesterday.”
“I have not!”
“Then what’s this?” Sedge asked, holding up a worn leather journal. Calak’s eyes grew wide. The boy lunged for the book, but Sedge swiped it out of reach, flipping it open. “The sea and sky could never compare to the radiance of her hair.”
“Stop!” Calak shouted, lunging again. Sedge laughed as she hopped off the barrel and waved the journal in front of Calak as he crashed to the deck.
“Avila, the queen of my heart and beauty of the morning sun. Shine your light upon my lonely ocean and rise as my only love,” Sedge read. Calak jumped to his feet, blocking Sedge from another escape. He jumped for the journal, snatching it from her hand. He ducked into a somersualt as he landed, then leapt to his feet. He held the journal away from Sedge and kicked his sword up into his free hand.
“Come and get it,” he challenged. He held the sword up, swishing it back and forth as the rest of the crew stared at him. None of them moved. “Come on, then. I thought you wanted this. To read my secrets!”
“Easy there, Calak. No one wants to take your journal,” Scarlett said.
“I wouldn’t say that.” Sedge snorted. She pushed Scarlett aside, drawing her own sword. “It’s time the runt learned from me.”
She started to circle Calak, but he continued to face her, crossing one foot over the other. He kept his sword up in one hand and his journal clenched in the other. Sedge smirked at him and struck the first blow. Calak ducked under the blade and countered with a swipe of his own. It connected with Sedge’s upper arm, slicing her sleeve. The woman chuckled, twirling her blade with her fingers.
“Not bad, runt. But not good enough一ha!”
Sedge swept her blade toward him, but Calak parried and knocked it aside. The sword clattered to the deck. Sedge jumped back from his following swing, brandishing two knives from her belt. She threw them both. They caught Calak’s sleeve, pinning the boy to the mast. His sword fell to the deck, and she tore the journal from his hand. Calak ripped the knives from his sleeve and staggered forward, ready to drive one into Sedge’s arm. But Scarlett grabbed the back of his collar and pulled him back. Sedge laughed and tossed the journal to Jett, who tucked it under his arm.
“Let go of me!”
Calak jabbed a foot between Scarlett’s legs and tore himself free. She let him go, and Jett tossed him the journal.
“Now that’s some real fighting, runt,” the second mate said. “All ye need is the proper motivation.”
Scarlett ruffled the lad’s hair and gave him a light punch in the shoulder.
“You’ve got the first watch with Jagger, runt,” she said, handing him his sword. “Don’t let ’im drink all the ale. We only just brought back the barrel.”
“It’s not like we can’t buy another,” Jagger replied, his laugh thundering across the harbor. “Garents Pass ain’t runnin’ out any time soon.”
“But the valuables need to stay where they are. Captain’s orders,” Jett replied. “Yer cut ain’t distributed yet, and we still need to keep our wits about us. After Bastain’s stunt in the Rusty Anchor tonight, we all need to be alert.”
“That old man don’t scare me,” Sedge replied.
“That’s cuz yer only a fourth his age and haven’t gone up against ’im and his crew on yer own. We’re no match for a full scale attack. Ye knows that,” Marshall told her flatly.
“Even so, not much scares me.” Sedge sniffed. “But you lads can worry yer pretty heads over it on yer own. I’m gettin’ some shut-eye.”
She headed below. Marshall, Scarlett, and Jett followed, leaving Calak and Jagger to make their rounds. Calak lit a few lanterns as the last of the sun’s rays sank below the horizon. Soft music drifted across the harbor from the city, drawing Calak’s attention to the docks. There was very little movement as crews settled in for the night and townspeople started closing up their stores. But the bustle remained just down the docks at the slew of taverns. The doors remained open, and drunken laughter echoed through the nearly empty streets.
“We shouldn’t have any trouble tonight, runt,” Jagger said, clapping a monstrous hand on Calak’s shoulder.
“But what about Old Fox?”
Calak thought he saw hesitation dim the giant’s eyes.
“Just keep an eye out.”
Jagger left him to scout the other end of the ship. Calak settled on a barrel near the gangplank, surveying the dim view he had of the city. He played with his journal, running his hand over the cover. After contemplating for a moment, he hid the book among several piles of rope just a few yards from his barrel. As he was tucking the journal out of sight, he heard a scream. He straightened and rested a hand on the hilt of his cutlass as he looked out at the city. Jagger appeared beside him just as a shadow moved along the docks. Calak jumped onto the gangplank, straining for a better look.
“It might be nothing,” Jagger said.
A second scream split the air.
“Stop! Let go!”
“That sounds like Avila,” Calak said, his face turning white. He lunged forward as Jagger grabbed the back of his collar and dragged him back onto the ship. “Hey! Let me go!”
“Avila is none of our concern, runt. Our job is to guard the ship.”
“I wasn’t raised to stand by and leave a woman in distress,” Calak spat back. He ripped free of Jagger’s grip and sprinted down the gangplank. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Calak!” Jagger thundered, but the teenager was already gone. Calak skidded to a halt at the end of the dock, ducking below some crates as he tried to figure out where Avila had been taken. He saw movement to his left. He followed, finally catching a glimpse of the situation.
“Leave me alone, Bastain! I told you no!”
Bastain clamped a hand over the maiden’s mouth, continuing to drag her along.
“Have you forgotten so quickly? Escape, and yer old man dies. Now, all Old Fox wants is to have a word with ya. Cooperate, and no one will get hurt.”
Avila stopped struggling, and Calak clenched his teeth at the sight. He continued to follow them down the docks. He stopped just behind some barrels as Bastain and Avila boarded a ship. Calak studied the vessel, swallowing hard at its size and dark presence. The charcoal shade of the wood made the Siren’s Ghost almost invisible in the night. Lanterns flickered an eerie light up on deck, illuminating the ship’s tattered sails and flag. And from the sound of it, there were at least thirty pirate aboard. Calak swallowed hard, but he managed to put one foot in front of the other as he snuck closer. Just as he was reaching the gangplank, a hand grabbed his shoulder.
He held in a scream, his heart plummeting into his stomach. Jett clapped his hand over his mouth, dragging him back into the shadows.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed in his ear. Calak ripped his hand off his mouth.
“I’m going to save Avila.”
“All on yer own? You can’t take on the whole crew of Siren’s Ghost. They’ll kill ya,” Jett whispered back. “Even Sedge wouldn’t do anything that stupid.”
“But I can’t just leave her there.”
“This ain’t any of our business,” Jett argued. “Fenix can get her on his own. Come back to the Tempest before we get our throats cut.”
Calak stepped away from Jett.
“No. I’m going to help Avila,” he replied. He glared at Jett, who sighed.
“Fine,” he whispered. “Just stay quiet and do exactly as I say. And don’t ever tell yer uncle I let you do this.”
Calak nodded and followed Jett closer to the Siren’s Ghost. They climbed up the side of the ship, using the shadows to stay out of sight. Aboard the vessel, Avila stood next to Bastain, who slung his arm around her waist. Two dozen scarred men surrounded them but parted as a tall man with a flowing black cloak appeared. His fiery hair and dark searching eyes were sheltered by a worn, dark hat that displayed the Siren’s Ghostcrest. The steady clop of his peg leg struck silencing fear among the crew, but Avila kept her head high as the captain approached her.
“Welcome aboard, lass,” the man said in a low, raspy voice. “I’m pleased to finally welcome you.”
“I wish I could say I was pleased to be here,” Avila replied coolly. “My father won’t be pleased with you breaking our deal.”
“I promised not to take back the Rusty Anchor. There was nothing in our deal about you. And after your little stunt with Silver’s boy, you’re right where I want you,” Old Fox said, giving her a sinister smile. She shuddered at the sight of his rotten teeth. “You’re a genuine treasure, lass. But don’t forget where treasure often ends up.”
Avila fell silent.
Calak gripped the hilt of his cutlass, ready to charge in. Jett held him back as they hid behind several crates.
“How long do we have to wait, Cap’n?” Bastain asked.
“Not too much longer, I’d wager. Isn’t that right, Jett?” Old Fox called. Calak’s face paled as his heart dropped into his stomach. Jett gave the teenager a stern look to stay put and then stood up. Calak pressed his back into the crate, biting his lower lip as Jett walked out from behind the crates.
“Let the lady go, Old Fox. She’s worth nothing to ye,” Jett said, leveling his cutlass at any who stepped within three feet of him. But the crew of the Siren’s Ghost closed in around him, blocking any escape.
“Quite the opposite, old friend,” Old Fox replied with a sneer. “She’s worth plenty just by bringing you here. Though I’m surprised ye were so daft as to come alone.”
“Who ever said I came alone?” Jett replied. A shot rang out as cackling laughter filled the air. Calak looked up to see Sedge, Jagger, Marshall, and Scarlett swing down to the deck from the rigging. Sedge threw a knife that connected with Bastain’s arm. The first mate staggered away from Avila, and Jagger flattened two more men with one sweep of his blade. Calak stared at the scene, frozen with shock.
“CALAK! DON’T JUST STAND THERE!” Marshall shouted, kicking a pirate away from Avila. “GET THE LADY!”
Calak snapped back to reality and jumped up. He vaulted over the crates, sprinting to where Avila was standing. As he reached her, Old Fox grabbed her arm and pulled her behind him.
“Ha, I’m going to enjoy this.” Old Fox laughed. Calak drew his sword, blocking the captain’s first attack. Old Fox kicked Calak in the gut, knocking him backward. His sword clattered to the deck. The captain lifted his cutlass, but Calak managed to roll out of the way. He scrambled for his sword, but Old Fox kicked it away. It landed at Avila’s feet.
Calak jumped up and ducked under the captain’s next swipe.
“Give up, boy. I’m going to take this lass and the Tempest. Ha!”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Calak replied. He ducked under the blade again and jabbed his foot between the man’s legs. He shoved with all his might, and Old Fox staggered backward.
Calak reached out and grabbed his sword from the air as it sailed toward him.
“Thanks, Avila!” he called, immediately jabbing at Old Fox. “Run!”
Avila dashed toward the gangplank. Calak swiped at Old Fox, connecting a blow to the captain’s shoulder before running after Avila. The teenagers sprinted off the Siren’s Ghost and toward theTempest. They ran up the gangplank, realizing that the rest of the crew was right behind them with Old Fox’s men on their heels.
“Hoist the anchor, runt!” Jett shouted. Calak and Avila ran to the capstan to do so while Scarlett swung up onto the ropes, still firing her pistol. But every time one pirate fell, two more took his place. Sedge kicked the gangplank off the deck, sending several into the dark water below. Captain Silverius emerged from below deck, brandishing his own sword.
“Why are Fox’s men on me ship?” he thundered, slamming into one. He grabbed the pirate by the throat, throwing him over the side. He then saw Avila next to Calak and shook his head. “Oh no! Why is shehere?”
“We’ll explain when we’re not fighting for our lives,” Marshall replied. Scarlett unfurled the sails, and the Tempest began to drift away from the port.
“Fair enough, but there’d better be a mighty good explanation,” the captain replied, firing a glare at Calak. He shrugged and threw up his sword as a pirate lunged for Avila. Calak knocked him back and threw him over the side of the ship. As the last pirates were thrown overboard, the Tempest found the current to the open sea.
“What if Old Fox tries to follow?” Avila asked, gripping Calak’s arm. Captain Silverius sheathed his sword.
“He can’t. With so many of his crew swimming with the sharks, he could never sail his ship fast enough. No ship is as fast as the Tempest. Now, who’s head is rolling for putting us in this situation? Jett?”
“It was me,” Calak said. “Jett and Jagger tried to keep me from going. But I couldn’t let them get away with Avila like that.”
Captain Silverius eyed his nephew with a sigh.
“You’d better be glad we already stocked the supplies. We aren’t going back to Garents Pass any time soon.”
“You mean I’m stuck here?” Avila asked.
“I’m afraid so, lass.”
“But what about my father?”
“He’ll be fine. We’ll get you home as soon as we can. But that might be a while,” Jett said. “So you might as well get comfortable. Yer a pirate now, lass.”
Avila shook her head, her face scrunching up as she ran below deck. Calak was about to follow when Sedge punched him in the shoulder.
“What’d I tell ye? Ye got ’er after all.”
“Lay off, Sedge. I don’t have her. She’s probably hating my guts for getting her involved in this in the first place.”
“Well, you’re probably right. Just don’t let her see that journal of yours. Where is it, anyway?”
“I hid it,” Calak replied quickly. “Don’t go looking for it.”
“Heh, a little late for that, runt.” Sedge laughed, waving the book in front of his face. He reached for it, but she jerked it away and ran for the stairs. “Avila, guess what I have!” she shouted.
“Don’t!” Calak exclaimed, running after her. He lunged for Sedge, grabbing her by the ankle as he crashed to the deck. She fell, and the journal flew out of her hand. It sailed through the air, landing in the captain’s hands. Silverius walked over to his nephew and pulled him to his feet. He pushed the journal into his hands with a small smile.
“Only one loss today, son,” he said quietly. Calak offered a smile of thanks as Sedge’s cackling laughter echoed across the moonlit sea.