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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 (new)

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.