It was the wind that drew Anya awake that dreary day, whipping against the small glass windows of their shared cabin. She rose from the soft bed, the silky covers falling away from her tattooed body, the air cold even within the cabin, sending goosebumps across her darkly tanned skin. She took a second to look over her shoulder, smiling at the figure that still slept soundly beneath the mound of blankets.
Going to the vanity pressed against the far wall, Anya pulled a comb through her thick crow black hair, smoothing the waves before working them into a thick braid. A stray lock of hair fell into her round face as she made her way to the wardrobe, pulling out a set of clothes. Within a few minutes, she wore dark leather pants tucked into tall black boots, with a loose white top mostly covered by a leather underbust corset. She took just a second more to pull a necklace over her head, tucking the bone fish hook pendant beneath her shirt.
Going back over to the bed, Anya knelt on the mattress, putting a hand on her lover’s shoulder. A fair-haired head poked sleepily out from beneath a blanket, giving a tired moan of annoyance. “Come on, love. We’ve got duties to tend.” Anya breathed quietly, letting a finger trail down the soft bit of neck she could find. “As well, I need your help.”
“We can worry about it later, Anya.” The woman complained, trying to pull the covers over her head.
“Or we can do it now, Leila. There’s a storm rolling in and we’ve got heavy ice on deck.” Anya urged, reaching beneath the blanket and giving Leila’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’ll go get the crew while you get dressed.” With a kiss to Leila’s forehead, Anya left the cabin and stepped out on deck, rubbing her arms a bit to warm them up.
It was far colder than she’d thought it would be, with very strong wind and powerful waves buffeting the ship. Stepping into the cold sea spray, Anya looked over her shoulder, smiling when she saw the ship’s navigator and her first mate, Marceau, standing at the helm, his dark blue eyes trained on the horizon. He glanced down when Anya gave a small wave of her hand before hugging her arms and climbing the steps to join him.
“How long has this wind been up?” Anya called.
“Since sundown.” He replied in his usual deep voice. “It’s gotten worse in the past few hours.”
“Hmm.” Anya hummed, frowning a bit. “I’ll get the others up to secure the ship for this storm.”
Marceau turned his dark blue eyes up to her, looking more nervous than Anya had ever seen.
“What is it, Marceau?”
“It’s… It’s the crew. They’ve been acting strangely.” He commented.
Anya frowned. She’d noticed it too, but hadn’t mentioned it to Marceau or Leila. She put on a smile, instead, and gave his shoulder a knock. “They’re just ready to get back on land. We’ve been out for a while now. There’s nothing to worry about.” She said, turning and making her way down below the deck, into the crew’s quarters. All the crew slept in one area, with rows and rows of hammocks lining the two walls. Anya took a small breath and called out. “Come on you guys! There’s a hell of a storm on the way!” Her voice was soft but held authority, enough that about ten men stirred from their sleep, rolling from their cots to pull some warm clothes on before venturing outside
Satisfied, Anya bound back up the steps and went to fetch a coat from her cabin, smiling when she saw that Leila had gotten up and was getting dressed. Going back on deck, Anya went about directing the others to secure the sails and the rest of the deck. Then the rain began, completely soaking everybody to their skin. Marceau came down from the helm- Leila had taken his place at the helm – instructing everybody to secure themselves with a length of rope to a mast as they brought down the sails and secured some of the barrels and crates on the deck.
From that point on, the weather turned very bad, very quickly, with twenty foot waves tossing their ship, the Ocean Bandit, around like a toy boat in a child’s bath. A wave came over the bow, pouring water across the deck, sweeping half the crew off their feet and making the rest shout angrily. Anya winced, shoving hair out of her face. “Alright, I want everybody below deck!” She called above the howling wind. Most of the deck was secure and taking care of the rest wasn’t worth the safety of her crew.
The weather, though, had other plans. Another wave, some forty or fifty feet tall, rammed into the bow of the ship, sending much of the crew scrambling for something to grab hold of. Before anybody had a chance to recover, a massive wave crashed against the starboard side, throwing the ship completely on its side. Anya was slammed against the rail, the wood cracking beneath her screaming ribs and eliciting a cry from her throat.
“Man overboard!” A deep voice screamed just off the port side as the ship struggled to right itself. Anya’s head snapped up at the sound of Marceau’s voice calling out from the water. Without really noticing what she was doing, Anya got to her feet, pulled the knife from her boot, sliced through her safety line, and raced to the side of the ship. The deck was still at about a forty-five degree angle when Anya grabbed a rope, secured it to the railing with the fastest bowline knot of her life, and dove off the portside rail. The last thing she heard before hitting the icy water was Leila, screaming her name. Then, all she heard was the sound of bubbles racing past her ears.
Freezing needles shot across her skin, making her gasp and inhale half a mouthful of sea water before she surfaced again, nearly losing her hold on the rope, sputtering and trying to get some air back to her lungs. “Marceau!” She screamed as soon as she could breathe.
“Over here!” Marceau called weakly just a little ways off. Anya whipped around in his direction and started swimming. Almost as soon as she moved, though, her limbs started to slow, her fingers going numb as she swam. She caught sight of Marceau’s dark haired head, ice starting to form on his dreadlocks. It was so cold – they both needed to get out of the water now. Anya started towards him, hesitating only for a moment when she saw something just above and behind him.
The figure was illuminated just enough to make out features – it was a woman, with long, blue black hair and eyes the color of seaweed. She looked down on Anya with serious eyes, one pale hand holding on to Marceau’s shoulder, keeping his head just above the icy waves. Wordlessly, she beckoned Anya forward, until the pirate captain had her arms wrapped around her first mate. With a small nod, the woman vanished with a gust of sea spray. Turning her attention to Marceau, she lashed the rope around his chest and gave it a tug. Someone up on deck started pulling them back to the boat, jerking them painfully through waves with each tug.
By the time they were hauled up on deck, Anya could barely even let go of Marceau – her arms so cold and stiff they didn’t want to release his body. Leila hurried forward, pulling Anya’s arms from around his chest and helping her to her feet. “I want everybody below deck, now! Strip Marceau of his clothes and get him under a blanket! Do not take your eyes off of him!” Leila commanded. “Dimitri, you’re with me!”
Another man, with olive skin and a golden ring in one ear, stepped up to Anya and put a stiff arm around her waist. While the others all went below deck with Marceau, Dimitri helped Leila get Anya into their cabin. Inside, Leila dismissed Dimitri and rushed to get Anya undressed, not quite catching the look that crossed his face before he left the cabin. “Come on, love, you need to get those clothes off.” Leila worried, pulling her out of her boots and corset, then her shirt and pants.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Anya said quietly, trying to get her shaky hands to work.
Once she was finally undressed and wrapped in a blanket, Leila hugged her, kissing her forehead with wet cheeks. “Don’t scare me like that again.” She warned with a small laugh, holding Anya tight. She took a breath and leaned back, untying Anya’s soaked hair form its braid and trying to dry it with a towel.
“I wasn’t going to leave him in that water.” Anya breathed shakily, letting her love hold her, warm her up.
Leila swore quietly in her native tongue, running a finger across a bit of tattooed skin she could see just beneath Anya’s collarbone, dark blue ink that read ‘Ocean Bandit’. “I’m going to get Dimitri to take us to the nearest port.” Leila said, starting for the doorway again. “The weather looks like it’s just going to get worse.”
“But the treasure! We’ve gotten so close already!” Anya started, trying to stand and succeeding only in collapsing, her knees completely giving way beneath her body.
Leila sighed quietly and returned to Anya, helping her back into bed. “You need to stay in bed and get warm. That bloody treasure will wait.”
“Alright.” Anya conceded tiredly, laying down and closing her eyes. Just a minute later, she was sound asleep.
The voice was familiar but hoarse, and quite angry. Only after they shouted again did Anya start to stir from sleep. Then a hand wrapped up in her hair, making her cry out. Looking up with bloodshot brown eyes, she saw Dimitri standing above her, his face twisted with malice.
“I said, get up!” He growled, throwing Anya to the ground.
“What do you think you’re doing, Dimitri?” Anya demanded, stumbling up to her feet, trying to keep the blanket around her shoulders.
“This is my boat now, bitch. Get dressed, quietly, or you can go out with just that blanket.” He warned, slicking back dark hair, showing off stormy black eyes.
Color rose in her face as Anya stood and went to her wardrobe. Dimitri watched her with eagle eyes as she dressed, pulling on underclothes, then a black shirt and black leather pants. She made sure to pull on a dark red corset, the inside of which had several small knives tucked away. Only after she’d pulled on a pair of boots – hiding at least two more small knives – and a heavy coat did Dimitri speak again. “Get up on deck.” He ordered.
“What do you plan on doing with me?” Anya glared at Dimitri, not obeying at first.
“Go up on deck and find out.” With a shove, he spun Anya around and started her up the stairs.
Up on deck, where a moderately thick fog had started to roll in, Anya felt her blood run cold when she saw Leila and Marceau on their knees by the rail, a great purple bruise blossoming across the young woman’s jawline. They both had their hands tied behind their back
“You’ll pay for this, Dimitri. The lot of you will.” Anya warned.
“You won’t be alive to carry that threat out.” Dimitri chuckled, grabbing her by the arms and trying a rough rope around her wrists, knotting them together before shoving the captain forward, nearly into Leila. Two men came forward, hauling each of them to their feet and shoving them towards a small lifeboat that hung against the side of the ship, smacking against the rail with each bob of the ship. Once the three prisoners were inside the tiny dinghy, the two men started lowering the ship into the sea. As the boat was lowered, Anya looked between her two companions. Marceau was pale and shivering, wearing only a pair of dark trousers and a thin shirt, but was red with flush, though whether that was from anger or fever Anya couldn’t be sure. Leila, too, was pale but didn’t seem as cold. She looked on the verge of tears, though, from fear and anger alike.
Their little boat landed in the water and they started to drift away as even Dimitri stepped forward with two men at his side. They had long guns in their hands and greedy expressions on their faces. “Thanks for the ship, Captain Anya.” Dimitri sneered, raising his gun. “Don’t worry, though. We won’t let you die in the cold.” The other men raised their guns and took aim, followed by a cocky Dimitri.
“You’ll regret this, Dimitri. Don’t get comfortable. As long as I breathe, that’s my ship.” Anya called back, standing up, trying to inch her fingers toward the nearest knife she could reach. If she could just get her hands free-
Three cracking shots rang out and Anya fell back into the boat, pain shooting out from her shoulder. She heard Leila cry out and a small grunt from Marceau. At first, she couldn’t move, could only listen to the cheering and cackling from the ship, orders from Dimitri to drop the sails and head towards the nearest port, and the quiet whimpering from Leila.
Things had quieted on the water when Anya jerked at the sound of Leila coughing. Moaning, Anya rolled onto her side and then her front, finally pushing up to her knees. Working her tied hands lower, she fought for the knife in her boot. She caught it just around the hilt and worked it around so she could saw at the rope around her wrists. Free, she went to help her friends.
She saw Marceau first, on her left, with a bullet hole in his throat. His eyes were open and glassy – dead eyes. A lump rose in her throat and she took just a second to reach a shaky hand out to close her dead friend’s eyes. Only when she had done so did Anya turn to assess the condition of her co-captain. Leila, her beautiful love, had a similar bullet wound near the center of her chest, burbling with blood. She lay flat on her back, blood trickling down her cheek each time she coughed. Her eyes had already started to glaze over.
Anya’s stomach dropped and any concern for her own injuries went to the wayside. Desperately, Anya cut the ropes off of Leila’s wrists and scooped the slightly smaller girl into her arms.
Frantically, Anya ripped Leila’s shirt open at the neck to look at her wound. It was bad, really very bad, bleeding everywhere and staining the bottom of the small boat red. “No. No, no, no! Talk to me, Leila!” Anya cried, the lump in her throat threatening to make her voice break. “I will not lose you both! I won’t!”
Thick fog had moved in quickly, collecting in cold droplets on Anya’s skin. The captain cupped her hands around Leila’s face. The co-captain’s eyes fluttered open for a moment, a tiny smile showing on her pale lips. “It’s alright, love.” She breathed, so quietly Anya could scarcely hear her.
“Don’t talk like that! You’ll be fine. You’re not going anywhere!” Anya’s voice was high even to her own ears, tears just on the verge of falling. She leaned over Leila and put pressure on her wound, earning a pained grunt in return.
“Anya. Anya, I want you to look at me.” Leila looked up with clearer eyes. “It’s alright, Anya. This isn’t your fault.”
“I should have seen it. I should have known!” Anya wept, tears falling down her cheeks as rain started coming down. It was gentle rain, not like before. Like the sky was crying for Leila.
“Don’t do that to yourself, Anya. Don’t you dare. You can survive this, so you better take care of yourself. If you don’t, I’ll haunt your ghost.” Leila chuckled, the noise ending with a hacking cough. “You need to live. Find another boat and sail. Sail for the both of us.”
“I can’t sail without you.” Anya sobbed, pulling Leila against her chest. “It won’t be the same.”
“No, it won’t. But the sea is your home. It’s as much…a part of you, as you are of it.” She breathed, reaching up and pulling a necklace from around her neck. Anya looked down and a sob caught in her throat when Leila opened her hand, revealing the necklace the captain had given her lover several years before, right after they’d met. It was a piece of carved ivory, rectangular in shape and smooth, carved with the shape of some hoof print, like from a deer. Leila, who had grown up in the mountains and hadn’t taken too well to life on the ocean, had loved it and she’d never taken it off.
Anya closed her hand around it and pulled it, along with Leila’s hand, to her chest. “You always were sentimental.” She choked out, pressing her forehead to Leila’s. She’d already grown so cold.
“Ah, but that’s why you fell in love with me.” Her words were fading with each breath, her eyes glassing over.
Anya gave her a long kiss, salty tears and that metallic taste of blood filling her mouth. “I’m so sorry.”
“I know, love.” She gave one more smile and turned her eyes up, looking at the cloudy sky. “I wish I could see the stars. But… It’s time to go, I think.”
“No, no please!” Anya begged, holding Leila tightly. “I need you!”
“It’ll be alright, love. Find another ship. Find a family and love them. And let them love you.” Her words came on an exhale. When her body sagged, Anya waited for another inhale. She waited and waited, but it never came.
In that moment, she was more alone than she’d been in years. Marceau was dead and Leila was gone, and she sat alone, covered in blood and bleeding from her own wound that throbbed with pain, the cold rain freezing her skin. She started to rock, holding the cold, still body that had once been so beautifully warm. That misery started to engulf her completely, like a black wave putting out whatever light she had in her soul. It was then that Anya glanced down and caught sight of the knife she’d dropped earlier.
She reached for the blade, muttering terrible words. One quick stab would be all it took, and she wouldn’t be alone. Just one quick thrust and she’d be with Leila. The pain would be gone… It would be so easy…
Something bumped the boat and Anya banged into the side of the boat. The knife slipped from her hand, clattering against the wooden boat. When she went to reach for the knife again, she realized she was reaching over Leila’s body. In a heartbeat, Anya realized just what she’d been considering and immediately hated herself. Leila had asked her only one thing and she’s almost done the exact opposite of that wish.
Anya leaned forward, taking the knife up in her hand. Not allowing her a second of hesitation, the captain hurled the knife away with a savage cry, the glittering knife tumbling over and over until it struck the water, taking her darkest thoughts with it. Only when she’s stopped gasping for air, the bullet wound in her shoulder absolutely shrieking with agony, did Anya take the time to try and figure out what it was they had hit.
The tiny dinghy had bumped into some bit of driftwood, a huge chunk of wood that had jolted the whole boat. Turning her eyes up, Anya could see the sky – growing ever darker with black clouds, the air crackling with thunder. Looking ahead, she saw a tiny speak. Whether it was land or her vision starting to fail, she had no idea.
Tiredly, Anya sat back and carefully peeled out of her coat. The pain in her shoulder starting to radiate down, the entirety of her torso pulsing in agony with every move. Beneath the coat, blood continued to soak her shirt, plastering it against her skin. Pulling out of her shirt, Anya washed it quickly over the side, then ripped it into one long, ragged ribbon and wrapped it around her shoulder as securely as possible. Definitely a poor job, but it would have to do.
Leaning against the flat edge of the boat’s stern, Anya closed her eyes, forcing her body to relax as the wind picked up. It felt odd, going from her beauty, from the Ocean Bandit, to such a small and unstable boat. It rolled and pitched so much more, driving Anya near the point seasickness. Somehow, she manage to let darkness take over, letting her slip into something that wasn’t quite sleep, nor unconsciousness.
Freezing cold water and a deafening crack of thunder jerked Anya awake, pulling a pained groan when she sat up too quickly. Another band of storms had rolled in but the rain hadn’t quite started back up, despite the strong wind buffeting Anya from what felt like all sides. Looking up, she saw what had been a tiny speck on the horizon before, was now a great big island looming ahead, still far off in the distance. And near that island was a ship.
At first, Anya felt a cold fury. The ship looked almost like the Ocean Bandit with her black hull gilded with gold and white sails, and she considered using every last bit of her own strength to find Dimitri, to watch the light leave those evil eyes of his. Then she noticed slight differences between her ship and the one at the beach – this ship had a shorter bowsprit with some kind of glittering figurehead at the bow. A majority of the fury fled her body, taking much of her remaining strength with it.
It took Anya a moment to realize she was being towed toward the island by the tide or wind, she wasn’t sure which. Weakly, she looked between Leila and Marceau, the pool of blood they all lay in, her own bloodied clothes. Provided whoever was on the island didn’t kill her outright to see what valuables she had on her if any at all, surely they would be concerned about whatever they imagined she had done to her companions.
Rain started to pour as Anya’s tiny boat got within about two miles of the island, coming down harder and harder the closer she got to the beach. It was a maelstrom by the time she could roll herself over the side and into the water, dragging the boat behind her as she made for the beach. Finally making it to dry sand, Anya strained to bring the boat far enough inland to keep it from being swept away. She couldn’t bear if that happened. Leila and Marceau deserved a proper funeral if she could only give them it.
On the beach, Anya let herself fall, half on wet sand and half still in the waves, the strength draining from her body with each passing second. Lightning cracked across the sky in hot branches, letting Anya see, for a split second, just how bad of shape she was in – blood and rain soaked clothes, wind-mucked hair and terribly pale skin. Taking her chances, Anya forced her feet beneath her and started towards the flickering light of a fire near the ship.
Blood loss made the mile-and-a-half walk absolute torture and Anya actually felt relieved when she saw the small camp near the fire, with someone sitting up, on watch. His head was tilted down, reading from some sort of book or journal. To his right, she could see the glittering iron of the ship’s figurehead - a spread-wing eagle, its beak open in a silent but fierce scream. Something in the sand made Anya stumble, the movement catching the man’s attention. He looked up, the alert look on his face giving way to an array of emotions – surprise, confusion, some mix of concern and distrust.
He stood and stepped around his sleeping crewmembers, making his way nearer to Anya. She stopped in the sand, holding her shoulder with one hand and putting the other against a palm tree, trying to keep from falling over as her vision swam. She took in the man’s appearance and that of his crew quickly – he looked middle-aged, with graying black hair and a full beard, dark eyes full of life. He, as well as his crew, were all healthy-looking, with clean clothes and full faces.
“Are you alright?” The man asked, his rich baritone voice warmly accented.
Dozens of thoughts ran through Anya’s head, the first and foremost centered on whether or not she should trust this man. She’d trusted Dimitri and he’d…destroyed everything she’d loved, taken the few things in the world she owned. Anya didn’t know this man, just knew he was as likely to kill her as help her. But looking at him, with no weapons in his hand and a warm look in his eyes, she realized she no longer cared. If he helped her, she’d be grateful. If he wanted to kill her, she wouldn’t stop him.
“Please… Help me.” Anya said by way of answer, taking a small step forward. That one step made her knees buckle and she fell, landing hard in the sand. The last thing she heard was the man calling for something – maybe help, maybe a knife, she didn’t know – and the sound of the ocean, waves breaking against the shore in a rhythm. Thunder rippled across the sky, and the rain started to ease.