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Duality

Summary

Amaryllis was looking for a change when she stepped on the HMS Mindfulness. She never expected pirates. Only, there was more to the pirates than met the eye. The blind first mate was only half of it.
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Minerva had served under Admiral Memoria for four years, supporting her, if a little odd, rivalry with the Fleet of Illusion. When an old face reappeared from a striker's past, she came with a message that shook Minerva to her core.

the mindfulness

This was the last thing Amaryllis wanted. Yes, she’d wanted change, but not this one. (Although, who in their right mind would want this one?)

Fate didn’t always play out the way one wanted it to, though, that’s what her grandmother would say. Not that it helped.

The underbelly of the ship was cold and damp  and crowded. She could feel every slap of the waves against the ship.

The attackers had come out of nowhere. One moment, there were clear skies and empty water. Then, dark clouds had rolled over the sky, blotting out the sun, uncharacteristic May weather, and a great ship had just appeared next to them, and hundreds of people had poured off it, all wearing matching golden emblems, grinning widely and slashing. Bright red blood had scrawled angrily through the air.

Amaryllis, along with other the women and children, had begun to be herded away. Then a second ship had anchored on the opposite side of them, a crossboned flag flying high. More people had leapt off the new ship. Dread had filled Amaryllis’s stomach, but the door had shut before she could see anything else. She could still hear the sound of fighting for several minutes, until it stopped, and she had dared hoped the crew had won.

She had managed to hold onto hope until the door to the hiding place was flung open, and several men, all wounded, were shoved in.

That was fifteen minutes ago.

Now there some of their attackers on the deck above were talking, discussing something. Amaryllis could just make out the words.

“...children the usual,” one was saying. “Nothing’s changed...same ship doesn’t mean our...able to win. Memory should get first pick.”

“We got here first. We should get to...we know about your...used her abilities to find...”

“We have never cheated! Illusion is known for...1699?”

“...responsible for that incident is no longer...has made sure of that...are baseless. You’ve gotten...”

It sounded like they were debating something, but she couldn’t think of what.

It had taken forever to convince her father she should to the New World, and now it was likely for nothing. There was no way they were going to make it when all members of the crew were injured or worse, and their attackers didn’t seem to care about them.

Amaryllis closed her eyes and fought back tears.

Around five minutes later, light flooded through the dark. Amaryllis squinted upward. Someone, a woman, maybe, was silhouetted against the bright sun.

“Alright,” she said. “Come on out.”

One by one, the crew and passengers of the HMS Mindfulness crawled out of the underbelly. Once Amaryllis’s eyes adjusted to the light, she saw the sky was clear. There was scarcely a hint of carnage. The ship that had originally attacked was not as big as it had seemed. There weren’t as many as she’d initially thought, but still a sizable amount. 

Two groups of their attackers had formed—one wearing yellow emblems, the other wearing blue.

“Children and mothers, step forward,” someone wearing a blue emblem said.

No one moved.

Children mothers, step forward!

Slowly, a small group of people, formed out of women and children only, shuffled forward, eyes wide.

Amaryllis realized, with a jolt, their attackers were made out of both women and men, and some didn’t look like either. Their skin tones ranged from very dark to very light.

“Good.” The person, a woman a scar running down her face, connecting her temple and cheek, turned to a very tall woman with dark hair. “Serqet, take them to the nearest land mass. Quickly.”

“‘Course, Boatswain,” the tall woman said, drawing out the last word. Amaryllis assumed Boatswain was a title, or at least a nickname.

Serqet guided—more like herded—the group to a boat suspended by ropes. The group was small, but she thought there was no way they would fit, but, somehow they did. They dropped into the water, and Amaryllis had to bite her lip to keep herself from crying out for no reason. She didn’t know why it bothered her so much. She had no friends, no relatives on this ship.

“Ila,” Boatswain said, sounding tired, “as we agreed, you get first pick.”

“Thank you, Boatswain Minerva,” a large woman who must’ve been Ila said. She was wearing a gold emblem, had skin the color of the earth and oddly bright green eyes.

“I’ll take that one.” She pointed at stocky woman in a plain blue dress.

“I-I’m sorry?” the woman stuttered.

“Come here,” Ila said, her voice low and forceful.

Confused, the woman stepped forward until they were face to face with Ila. Annoyance flashed through Ila’s eyes, dying as quickly as it came.

“Do I have to spell everything out for you?” she asked through gritted teeth. Minerva chuckled quietly.

“Get behind me. Join the others.”

The woman stumbled, doing as Ila said. A smile was crinkling at Minerva’s eyes.

“My turn.”

She scanned the group, gray eyes unreadable. Amaryllis wondered where she got her scar. It was long and ugly, and didn’t look accidental.

“That one.” She pointed at a redhead. “My side. Now.”

The woman joined the group of people with blue emblems without complaint. Amaryllis realized they were dividing them up, like children in the street picking teams. Her stomach heaved a little at the image. As if this were some sort of twisted game.

This went on for awhile, and the group of the HMS Mindfulness had dwindled to half of what it started at when Ila pointed at Amaryllis. “You.”

She looked up in shock.

“Yes. You.”

A tight pressure building in her chest and the back of her throat, Amaryllis walked, trancelike, behind Ila.

This was, perhaps needless to say, not a good situation.

the tranquil

Minerva glanced at the haul. Karayan’s crew and greenies had left, boarding onto the Symmetry.

“You’re coming with us,” she said simply to her fleet’s greenies.

“And if we refuse?” someone said, one of the men.

Minerva turned around and smile with false sweetness. Without looking, she tapped on Lani’s shoulder and signed, Lani, show them what happens if they refuse. The actual signs were: Lani, show, if, them, refuse. Interpretation, however, was something Lina was very skilled at.

Gladly, Lani signed back gleefully. With a grin, she made an upwards flicking motion with her wrist. Immediately, a gust of wind swooped down and then up, bringing the man about a prăjină above the ship. He stayed there, suspended for a moment, then dropped down suddenly.

Don’t kill him, Minerva signed quickly. Lani rolled her eyes, but made a quick movement with her hand, and the man hit a cushion of air a pas mare above the ground, stayed there for less than a second, then hit the ground.

“Witchcraft,” someone gasped.

“That and more,” Minerva assured them. “Get used to it. Come along, now, unless you want to die. Which is always an option.”

No one stayed behind. No one ever did, not in her entire four year career.

***

The Memory was a fine ship. It had three great masts, towering over them. It was sleek, its build crafted to cut through the waves. The figure was carefully carved to resemble the nymph of Lethe. It was truly fit for a flagship.

Unfortunately, they were not on the Memory. They were on the Tranquil. (Not to speak ill of the Tranquil, of course.) The Admiral considered herself above reviewing new recruits. Minerva was too—she was just here to give them the standard talk everyone recruited was given.

She turned to the group with a practiced, false smile, made out of all teeth. It had an unnerving effect. She knew from personal experience—she’d learned it from imitating someone on Karayan’s side. Minerva wasn’t as good as the one she’d learned it from, but it was still was effective.

“I’m sure you think your king will save you, or the military will come to rescue you. They won’t.” She let that sink in. “They never have. I’ve been in this fleet for four years. They never have come to rescue their citizens. Of course, you can always leave though. Jump straight overboard into Davy Jones' arms. Or, you know, we can behead you.”

“I’d rather take that fate than stay on a ship with people like you!”

There was always one.

Dropping the smile—it always hurt her face—she took a step towards the man who’d called out. Plus, she’d often been told she looked more intimidating with a glare.

His eyes widened and he took a step back.

“What kind of people are you talking about?” she asked, gray eyes locking on his dark ones.

“W-Witches! Women in men’s clothing! Criminals! Traitors to the throne!” he sputtered, eyes growing wide and frantic, no doubt of due to the effect the shift of her disposition.

There was always one, wasn’t there.

Without breaking eye contact, Minerva said, “Kill him. I don’t care who.”

Apparently, someone passed the message to Lina, because she stepped forward, and threw her battleaxe with devastating accuracy. It struck the man in the left half of his face, and Minerva winced as it did.

There was silence from the recruits, presumably in shock. Lina broke this silence by twisting her wrist, and the ax dislodged from the corpse’s face with a sickening noise, then flew back to her hand.

“I’m sure some of you have your objections to that,” Minerva said boredly. “I’ve heard them all before. It’s not humane. He did have a point. Loyalty on the fear of death is no loyalty at all.” She ran her tongue over her teeth. “I recommend you keep them to yourself for…” she glanced at the body meaningfully. “…obvious reasons. I’d say only about three out of four of you will survive to swear fealty to our Admiral. Even fewer will actually swear. The rest will die.” She shrugged. “I’ll see some of you at the Admiral’s side.” She turned away and stalked towards where the captain’s quarters would be.

No one objected. Admiral Memoria’s system of respect went by how long they served, not by rank. Minerva was one of the oldest living members of the crew.

There was a knock at the door, and she cleared her throat. “Come in.”

Serqet slipped in, ducking her head to get through the doorway. Minerva would probably never get over just how tall she was, which was more than anyone Minerva had met in her lifetime. She was strong too. Strong enough to snap a man’s neck with her bare hands.

Serqet was a witch too, which was why she’d gotten to the mainland and back so fast.

“Boatswain Minerva,” she said, dipping her head, dark eyes glittering.

“What is it?”

“We’re on trajectory with one of Karayan’s ships, the Fracture. What do you advise?”

Minerva swore in Romanian.

“We don’t want a fight. Raise Tango.”

“Minerva.”

That took her by surprise—Serqet almost always referred to her highers as their title. Even if the higher in question had been her friend for over three years.

“What?”

“Don’t you remember who always is on board when we cross paths with the Fracture?”

“No…?” Minerva hadn’t heard from the Fracture in over a year.

“Rebecca.”

“Rebecca. Fuck.”

Lina barged in, signing, They’re flying Lima.

“Fuck!” Minerva said, louder.

Fuck is a good word for this situation, Lina agreed.

Minerva pinched the bridge of her nose. “Comply.”

Have you lost your mind?

“Do you want to die?!” Minerva snapped. “This is Rebecca we’re talking about.”

“She wouldn’t attack us,” Serqet said, though she sounded unconvinced.

“As I said before, this is Rebecca. We don’t know what she’ll do. Remember 1699?” Minvera pointed to her scar.

Lina pursed her lips. She has a point.

Minerva sighed. Rebecca had a knack for showing up at the most inopportune times. There was no way everyone would get out alive

the symmetry

Ila scanned them with her unnerving green gaze. Amaryllis felt as if all of her secrets were exposed, laid bare for Ila to see.

“I’m sure someone has an objection,” she said. Her voice was deep and loud and bored.

“I do!” a woman said, stepping forward, head held high.

Ila smiled quietly, just enough to expose white teeth. “And what are they?”

“You people are criminals. You scorn the law and everything it stands for. One day, you will all rot in jail for your crimes,” she spat with impressive bravado.

Ila did not seem fazed in the least. “You know, there’s someone on the ship that’s a bit like you,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell her that though. She doesn’t respond well to flattery. I only say because she’ll be the one deciding your punishment for speaking out against the Fleet of Illusion.” All the while, she was wearing that quiet smile, which seemed to say, I could take you apart, but it’s not worth my energy.

The woman’s eyes were wide in was probably fear. Amaryllis own heart was pounding, mouth dry.

“I’m afraid that I can’t provide any knowledge for what it’ll be. For outbursts against the Fleet, it’s been everything from scrubbing the decks for a month straight to public flogging to death, although that last one only happened once, and because they publicly assaulted the Admiral.” Ila shook her head, then addressed the group as if nothing had happened. “If you were paying attention yesterday, you know my name. Congratulations if you do, but forget it right now. My rank under Admiral Karayan is sailing master, which is far above yours—nonexistent. Now it’s time for you to get to work.”

Ila delegated quickly, easily, and unforgivingly. There always seemed to be something more for you to do. Mopping the deck. Taking stock of the gunpowder. Checking the sails (or learning how to check the sails). There was no break until sundown.

There was no way Amaryllis was going to stay here. She was going to run the first chance she hit dry land. Even pirates have to restock eventually, right? Plus, what kind of admiral or captain or whatever treated their new crewmates like this?

She didn’t expect to get much sleep. The cot was stiff and her muscles ached. She’d been kidnapped by pirates. And yet, somehow, sleep came quickly and deeply and dreamlessly.

***

Apparently, Admiral Karayan had arrived during the night.

Separately, all of Admiral Karayan traits would not be considered attractive, but, somehow, when put together, were striking, if not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, at the very least.

Admiral Karayan wore grin sharper than the rapier hanging at her thigh. Somehow, Amaryllis felt the thin blade was more for show than anything, though. She was tall, above most of the men and Il—the sailing master. She had golden eyes (not yellow, gold), odd enough by themselves, and contrasted even more by her dark brown skin. Her scalp was mostly hairless, except for a thin layer of hair too fresh for its color to be determined.

Going from the bottom up, she wore worn leather boots that laced up. The tops of them were lost in the folds of her clothing. On her hands, tens of golden rings glittered on her fingers, so many Amaryllis was sure it would be hard to move her hands. Around her shoulders, a long cloak was drawn, reaching to her knees. It was buttoned over her abdomen, opening up in a v-shape at her waist and chest. What Amaryllis could see of her shirt was dark brown, but most of it was cut into a wide arc, revealing cleavage. All of her outfit was accented with gold—golden buckles, golden buttons, golden laces. Even her hands and the area around her eyes seemed to glisten with the color.

The effect was somehow terrifying and attractive at the same time.

“So.” She clasped her hands together. “You little kids are the new recruits, huh?” When she spoke, she revealed gold jewels implants between her teeth. Amaryllis winced when she thought of how she could’ve gotten them.

“How many of you are sailors?.”

About ten of the men raised their hands. Admiral Karayan smiled. “What are your names?”

One by one, the men introduced themselves. She nodded along. Normally, Amaryllis would question why they were complying without a fight, but the Admiral exuded something powerful, something that would make anyone think twice about lying to her.

The Admiral nodded along as the man listed off their names. When they were finished, she turned her head to the right, opening her mouth as if to tell someone something, but no one was there. The movement was so fast, Amaryllis almost missed it, and she guessed most of the other people on the ship did too.

She cleared her throat. “By the time I’m through with you, all of you of will be considered sailors, or, you know,” she shrugged. “Dead.”

A ripple went through the group. Ila had informed them of this yesterday, but the way Admiral Karayan delivered it made it seem much more real and much heavier. The Admiral grinned. “We’re goddamn pirates. What did you expect?”

She started to count on her fingers, mouthing words silently. “I think we’ve covered everything!” she said with a grin. “Except, you know, Admiral Memoria and all of her people in that joke she calls the Fleet of Memory are fucking trash and I pray they all burn!” Her voice was deceptively cheerful not matching her words, although a deep fire burnt in her golden eyes.

She started to walk away, then turned on her heel to face them.

“Oh, yes, we’re magically inclined too. I myself am a demon, but I can assure you that I’m nothing like that old book would tell you,” she said with a wink, then turned away again. “And you can toss yourself overboard if you’ve got a problem with that!” And then, quieter, “…and I’m sure some of you will take that literally.

the tranquil

Let’s not go back.

Let’s not go back to Minvera. Let’s not go back to the Tranquil. Let’s just stay with the Symmetry and Admiral Karayan and Amaryllis’s blissful ignorance of what transpired.

We could.

But we’re not. We can’t, for many reasons. Narrative and characterizations and plot ones, mostly.

So let’s return to Lina, to Serqet, to Minerva, to Rebecca.

***

“Is she boarding or we?” Serqet asked.

“She’s coming to us,” Minerva said, eyeing the flag the Fracture was flying in the distance. “Honestly, I’m not sure which situation is worse.”

Both suck, Lina agreed.

“Right,” Minerva said, shaking her head. She couldn’t let Rebecca get in her head when they weren’t even on the same ship. In the distance, a rowboat was dropped down. Rebecca was undoubtedly on it.

“Okay. Get the recruits into a safe place, or at least a hidden one. But make sure they can experience at least part of the nightmare that is Rebecca,” Minerva said, looking at Lina.

The wind mage nodded, and darted off. Minerva hoped she wouldn’t scare them too much.

“Alright,” she said to Serqet. “Do you want to deal with her?”

“I’d prefer not to,” the witch replied flatly.

Minerva laughed hollowly. “Yeah, I don’t blame you. Just stand in the back and look intimidating. If she starts slicing…”.

“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”

“Good.” She patted the striker’s forearm.

“You should make sure Gunner Lina doesn’t maul the recruits, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ma’am. We’ve been friends for years. And I’m sure she knows how to deal with them.”

“Didn’t mean to doubt you.” There was an apology in her voice.

“It’s fine.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “What’s coming has us all on edge.”

***

The rowboat was hoisted upwards, and Minerva swallowed. Lina and Serqet stood at your right and left respectively, just in case Rebecca tried anything.

Inside the rowboat were only two people. One was the rower, a hunched over young man with bright blue eyes, the other was Rebecca herself.

She was as striking (see: odd) as ever, with chestnut-brown skin covered with small thin pale scars. Her nose had been broken and incorrectly reset at least once. She was all sharp angles, from the shape of jaw to her elbows. Rebecca was as tall as Minerva herself, but narrower. The only indication of her rank was her emblem was more elaborate than any other member of Karayan’s fleet and the cane she carried, although it could turn into a weapon with a flick of the wrist. Minerva had seen it in person a few times, but only once up close.

Probably Rebecca’s most recognizable feature was the brown blindfold, or rather, blindfolds, wrapped around her the upper half of her head, forming an x across her eyes, the upper half on her forehead, the lower half crossing her just below her cheekbones.

“Hello,” she said, approaching Minerva with a tilted head.

“Rebecca,” Minerva said tightly. “I’d say it’s good to see you again, but…” She shrugged. “It’s really not.”

Rebecca grinned, all teeth. This was the grin Minerva had given to tens of recruits, and yet could not deliver as well as the original owner. She didn’t remember how many times she’d seen this smile, but each time she did, it was somehow even more disconcerting than the last.

“Likewise!” she agreed, voice too cheery for Minerva’s liking. “However, as I am Admiral Karayan’s go-to negotiator, I’m afraid this conversation is necessary, if only by my superior’s wishes.”

“Negotiator?” Minerva scoffed. “Since when are you the least bit diplomatic?”

Rebecca took a step forward. The cane made a hard tapping sound as it connected with the planks of the the Tranquil. She didn’t need the cane, though. She’d moved with devastating speeds without it. Minerva had seen it herself.

I am not diplomatic. I am simply serving out the will of my admiral.”

“Let me rephrase—since when does Kar—Admiral Karayan send negotiators?” Not using an Admiral’s title was fine if one was not in presence of a member of their fleet. Especially a high-ranking one.

Rebecca drubbed her fingers on her cane. “Since today.” She shrugged. “Believe me, this came as much as a surprise to me as it is to you.”

“You expect me to believe that? Please, you’re on Admiral Karayan’s side all hours of the day.”

Rebecca snorted. “Look around. Does it look like she’s here right now?”

Minerva gritted her teeth. “I was being hyperbolic.”

“And I was being sarcastic!” Rebecca’s face was innocent. It was amazing how much expression she could convey with no visible eyes.

“You’re uncharacteristically dodging the subject, First Mate Rebecca.” Minerva made sure to keep her voice mockingly sweet.

“Fine. Admiral Karayan has come into possession of several…powerful artifacts. We would like to exchange them for the return of Marcella.”

A bolt of lightning went through Minerva’s spine. “No.”

“You haven’t even heard what they are yet.”

Minerva balled her hands into fists. “Admiral Memoria has made something very clear—she will not give up Marcella Alecto.”

“I don’t think I’ve made myself clear.”

With startling speed, Rebecca was upon Minerva, grabbing her collar and dragging her until they were sharing the same breaths, all facades of diplomacy gone. Their bodies connected with a faint thud. Her cane was now a sword, one at Minerva’s neck. She swallowed, feeling her pulse in her neck. Behind her, the was shifting noise.

“If you do not put your weapons away,” Rebecca said, her voice amused and calm and—and—and happy, “then I will slit your boatswain’s throat. I assure you, I am the one with the quicker draw.” The blade was cold and sharp against Minerva’s neck. She tried not to imagine it jugulating her.

There was another rustle behind them. Rebecca’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Minerva. Tell your admiral she will release Marcella Alecto, or my admiral will reverse the deal Admiral Memoria made with Serqet. Tell her we have the Coin of Moneta.”

“What…” Minerva swallowed, keeping her voice quiet. “What deal with Serqet?”

She could practically hear the grin. Rebecca tilted the sword so it just bit into her neck, drawing a swallow line of blood. “That is none of your concern. Just pass along the message.”

Rebecca unceremoniously shoved Minerva away. Minerva staggered backwards into Serqet, hand cupping her throat.

The blind woman tipped her head and grinned. “Do I need to elaborate further?” she called. “To be honest, I’d rather not.” She turned and started to walk away. Then she paused, and called over her shoulder. “By the way, Serq, I think you should renew your contract.”

With that final statement, she walked, using the assistance of her cane, back to the rowboat. She hopped into it, and was lowered down back into the water.

As she disappeared beneath the port side, Minerva turned to where to recruits were being held, letting out a shaky breath. “That was your first taste of the nightmare going by the name of Rebecca. Pray you’ll never have to go through it again. Fortunately, the rest of the Fleet of Illusion isn’t as bad as her, although some come close.

the symmetry

There was a ranking system, one through fifty two, for the recruits. Some ships in Admiral Karayan’s ranked higher than others, with the Illusion, the flagship, being the highest. Your rank here would determine where you would initially go. You gained ranks through events the superiors set up, which were mostly fights, where outside interference was only permitted if the higher ups thought someone was going to die. No one had died yet, but the woman would had spoken out had been sentenced to mopping the deck for the next week. Amaryllis had overheard that conversation. (“Admiral Karayan, while you’re here, the was a woman who spoke out—” “Ila, Ila, Ila. There’s always damn greenie who speaks out.” “Yes, I know, but what do y—” “Oh my god, Ila! What you want me to say?! I’m not Rebecca, I don’t go all out with investigating what happened! Did she hurt anyone?” “No, Admiral.” “Then just dock her ranking or make her mop the for the week or something.” “Yes, Admiral.”

Amaryllis intended to come out on top. (Listen, if she was going to a pirate, she was going to be one with power, goddammit.)

Naturally, it took a lot of effort. She had fifty one competitors. Still, she was determined to be significant.

She circled the other woman, fists up. Her heart pounded in her chest.

Amaryllis struck first. She rammed into the other woman, twisting her body so her shoulder connected with her sternum.

She staggered backwards several steps, and a faint cheer went up from the circle gathered around them. Amaryllis aimed a punch at her face, but she ducked away. Their fight felt stiff and awkward, but they engaged in a brief grapple, more to burn time than anything. Amaryllis could feel the circle slowly closing in on them, shrinking their space to move around.

Amaryllis dug her elbow into the woman’s stomach, and, again, she stumbled backwards, but still was on her feet. Gritting her teeth, Amaryllis grabbed her arm, digging her nails into her flesh. The woman let out a muffled shriek. Drawing back her free hand, Amaryllis made a fist and solidly struck her chin with it. Her head snapped back, and she fell to the ground. Amaryllis stood above her, skin tingling with in odd heat.

The sailing master clapped twice, stepping through the crows and into the circle, and lifted up her hand. “Amaryllis—winner. Maria—loser.”

She barely registered the words, and blinked twice, hard. She mumbled something like, I have to go, and staggered away.

She reached the side, leaned partway over, and threw up into the water below. Dizzy, she leaned back to an upright position and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Hopefully, no one had seen her.

“They won’t like that,” someone behind her commented.

Dammit.

Il—the sailing master joined her, leaning over the rail beside her. “Are you just seasick or is it something else?”

“I—I’m not sure.” Amaryllis swallowed.

“Hmm.” The sailing master tilted her head in the ocean breeze, closing her eyes. Her hair had been cropped short, reaching just above her ears.

“Who’s—who’s they?” Amaryllis asked, trying (and failing) to keep her voice steady.

“The mermaids.”

Amaryllis scoffed. “I’m not a child.”

“I’m serious.” The sailing master opened her brilliant green eyes—seriously, though, her eyes looked as if they had been crafted from emeralds—and pointed to a few dark shapes below the water.

They looked vaguely humanoid, if Amaryllis squinted, but she was still doubtful. “They could be anything.”

“Alright.” The sailing master turned to look at Amaryllis, who began feeling uncomfortably hot again, although this was a different kind of heat, one did not recognize. “I’ll leave you here. Maybe they’ll come up and you’ll see I’m not kidding.” With that, she straightened and walked back to the circle, presumably to oversee the next fight.

Amaryllis swallowed, following the sailing master for a few seconds, and returned her attention back to the water.

She had hurt someone.

She had fought and hurt someone and she had liked it. Enjoyed it. Was the influence of the pirates setting in so soon? Or had she been harboring this…sadistic pleasure her entire life?

She was not sure which was worse, or which scared her more.

Amaryllis brought her fingertips to her lips and began gnawing on her nails. It was an old, bad habit, one she had not indulged in for a long time.

Underneath her, the dark shapes began to grow larger and their forms more distinct. The large hump of a scaly red body of what she assumed to be some sea creature. broke the surface. Amaryllis watched it, curious. Several feet away from where the crimson body, a mop of dark hair emerged. Then a dark forehead, and then a pair of gray eyes. Amaryllis’s jaw dropped in shock as the naked torso of a large dark-skinned woman rose from the ocean, water sliding off of her skin. She looked at Amaryllis and opened her mouth, letting out laughter the sound of rushing water.

She dove back under the waves gracefully, the rest of her body lifting above the water, and Amaryllis saw her torso gave way to the red body, which was disproportionately large compared to her body.

Amaryllis blinked several times in rapid succession. The entire exchange happened in under a minute. “Jesus Christ,” she breathed. “Mermaids are real.

the memory

Minerva had not told anyone what Rebecca had said to her. Only Rebecca herself knew if there was any truth to it. Her thought process would still be a mystery if the most brilliant minds of the century studied it for millenia. Plus, Serqet didn’t seem like type to strike a deal with Admiral Memoria. Minerva knew many things about her admiral, and one of them was only the desperate made deals with her, and none of them ended well.

This was what Minerva was thinking about when Tranquil pulled up to the Memory. She dug her nails into the palms of her hands, letting the pain focus her and chase the thoughts from her mind.

“Are we clear to board?” she managed to choke out, focusing on keeping her voice steady and glancing down at the cabin girl standing near to her.

“Yes, m’,” she said, nodding solemnly.

“Good. Lower the rowboats.”

“Yes, m’.” She ran off, and Minerva returned her gaze to the Memory. She was torn between the euphoria of returning to Admiral Memoria’s side and knowing she would have to deliver Rebecca’s unsettling message to her.

Minerva inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. Whatever happened, at least she’d be near her Admiral.

***

Minerva stepped onto the Memory with her two friends at her side, Lina and Serqet.

“I have tell the Admiral something,” she said shortly.

Lina made a sound that was almost a laugh. So soon? she asked.

Minerva scoffed. “It’s important.”

Sure it is.

“Serqet, please tell Lina to stop.”

“Oh, I’m not going to.” Serqet’s eyes rounded innocently. “She scares me.”

“I’m sorry, have you seen yourself?” It was hard to believe—Serqet was nearly a pas mic taller than the pale mage. She could probably crush her like a bug.

“I’m serious.” She looked down at Lina. “I would not like to be on the bad side of your ax.”

“No one wants to get on the bad side of her axe.”

And yet people are always receiving it! Lina’s dark blue eyes shined with joy and pride.

“True. But, seriously, I have to go.”

Minerva left them to their conversation and headed towards the helmswoman. Behind her, Lina signed something, and Serqet roared with laughter.

“Helmswoman Galiba. Where’s the admiral?”

“Discussing course,” she said, not taking her eyes off the horizon.

“Thank you.”

“Of course, Boatswain Minerva.”

Minerva turned and headed below decks, sick with anxiety. She threw open the doors, and all eyes turned to her.

“Admiral Memoria,” she said, forcing her voice to be steady and emotionless. “I have something very important to tell you. In private.”

From the head of the table, Memoria rose. “Of course,” she said, the edges of her mouth twitching down in concern. “Excuse me.”

She swept out of the room, fingers closing around Minerva’s elbow as she passed her.

Minerva let the admiral take her towards her quarters. When the door shut, Admiral Memoria turned around, genuine concern showing in her odd eyes. “What’s wrong?” She reached up to touch Minerva’s face, but she took a step back.

“Admiral Memoria,” she said, shakily. “I come to you not as your lover—” she forced her lips around the word. It still felt foreign in her mouth, still caused lightning to crack through her body— “but as your boatswain.”

“Of course.” Her demeanor shifted into someone harder. Her voice dropped into a deeper tone. “What is it?”

“While the Tranquil was on course to drop of its senior members, we encountered a ship belonging to the Fleet of Illusion, the Fracture. Captain of the Fracture and first mate of the Illusion, Rebecca—” It occurred to her she did not know Rebecca’s last name. She was not usually the one giving the reports, after all. “—demanded to be let on the Tranquil. We agreed. She arrived alone, save for someone to staff the rowboat. She claimed she was here to propose a deal—several ‘powerful artifacts’, the nature of which she did not disclose, for Marcella Alecto. She claimed the Coin of Moneta was among them, and Admiral Karayan would reverse the deal you made with Serqet. I told her you had made it clear you would not give up Alecto. She left without further elaborating or incident.”

“You have a cut on your neck.”

“There may have been blades drawn during her…visit.”

“No major causalities?”

“The only blood drawn was what you have already noticed, Admiral.”

Memoria closed her eyes. “I will meet and discuss this matter with Admiral Karayan privately.”

“Of course.”

Memoria reopened her eyes. “Was there anything else you needed to discuss?”

Minerva stepped forward and tucked a stray strand of Memoria’s hair behind her hair. “Don’t overwork yourself.”

A smile lifted the corners of Memoria’s mouth. “Minerva, if anything, you’re the who overworks herself.”

Minerva laughed. “Sure. As if you don’t stay up until well past midnight, going over charts and plans.”

It was easy being with Memoria. She was happy with Memoria.

Minerva shifted her weight to the tips of her toes in order to kiss Memoria’s forehead. “I think you should go back to your course planners. Make sure they don’t do anything rash.”

Memoria laughed. A genuine laugh was a rarity coming from her. “I think they will be fine.” She knotted her hands through Minerva’s hair. “Tell me about your day.”

A laugh pulled from Minerva throat. She took a step towards Memoria. “My friends are beginning to talk, and it won’t be long before the rest of the ship does too.” She tilted her head up as she felt Memoria’s lips on her neck.

“This is a cliche, but let them talk. I enjoy your company too much too care.”

Minerva pulled the taller woman into a hug, closing her eyes and burying her face into her neck. “Okay,” she breathed. “Okay."