The captain traced a long lacquered nail down her quarry’s spine. He shuddered involuntarily, but bound as he was to the anchor, there was no way for him to dodge her touch.
“You may have his face, but it will earn you no mercy. When you reach the sandy bottom, make sure to thank your demonic brethren.” Her voice was soft yet sharp, the breathy words honed by her menacing tone.
He grit his teeth, both out of frustration and in response to the chilly mist swarming the deck. The ship bowed again, the waves slamming against the hull with increasing urgency.
“A storm be sweeping the bay, milady. Best ye toss the lad tomorrow, else we’ll be swinging like the jowls of The Endless King on Horning Day,” interrupted a hunched figure.
The captain pivoted, her heel boring a dent into the wood as she turned on her first mate. Her eyes glinted like steel in the luminous moonlight. Without words or motion, she forced the greying man back.
With his face away from the captain and his ankles and wrists bound to rough metal, the boy could not sense his surroundings. Metal interfered with his sight, but somehow, every move the captain made was clear to him as if… as if he was her. Or a part of her.
The realization of his mistake struck him numb. He sought the Cobalt Queen merely expecting to find his twin’s captor, but the strength of her aura made this woman kin, perhaps more.
“Wait!” He shouted, but a raging wind whittled the masts, causing an otherworldy creak to shudder through the ship.
“There is no stalling for a Selkie cutthroat. Your kind has plagued my waters for long enough. Your body will serve as a warning for any others attempting to board my ship.” The lady captain lifted her hand, signaling to raise the anchor. The boy hung from it limply, unable to conjure strength as it sapped him of energy.
“You are of the Seablood as well, captain. I sense it in you. I sense we are kin.”
“Throw him port-side. May the bottom feeders suck him dry and avenge my son.”
“I am your son, captain! The other lives!” The Selkie boy moaned weakly. The noise and the sway of the ship drowned his plea and diverted his voice as the anchor lurched overboard.
“Stradia del Varina, bride—” the water swallowed him and his words. He struggled to grow his gills, but the metal inhibited all magic. The cruelest fate awaited him: drowning a Seablood trapped in human form. He could feel bubbles gurgling upward, rolling along his body and drifting away like pearls of life. The darkness and the cold never inspired fear before, but human as he was, the old traits of home became threats of death anew. He closed his eyes and hugged the anchor close.
After an eternity of darkness, light and warmth began to permeate the fringes of his conscious. Warmth was not expected in the afterlife for those of the Seablood. The boy felt his eyes were crusted shut, and the battle of breathing air harrowed him.
He was not dead.
“You have many lives, boyo. That I’ve taken more than one is a testament to your will to survive.” The captain crooned into his ear. She flicked the sharp point with her gloved hand. “Stradia is no longer my name. I had forsaken it centuries ago. If we are blood as you claim…” At this, his eyes slowly peeled apart, revealing opalescent irises.
“The other lives,” he croaked. Iron manacles were clasped firmly about his limbs, but his head was supported by a soft pillow and a bed of straw.
“I saw you slit his throat.”
“Illusion. I cast him into the sea, unharmed.”
“That close to The Stray means he is as good as dead. Yet you live. Where is the justice in that?” She spat. With her ungloved hand, she unbuckled a crystal rapier and pointed at his neck.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Sorry doesn’t bring Adren back,” the captain tightened her grip, her eyes narrowing into dagger-like slits. “Why? Why did you infiltrate this ship and what is your true identity?”
“My father has him. The Ember Prince.” At the mention of her former lover, the captain dropped her weapon in disbelief. He waited for her to digest the information. Instead, she dissolved into a sort of sobbing laughter. It was hard to tell which.
“He exiles me, then steals one of the cursed children and trains him to kidnap and fake-assassinate the other? My life has been nothing but pain and sorrow at his hand. I should send him your corpse and return the favor.”
“No. He chose mercy. This protects you.”
“The Ember Prince is a thief, a twisted sadist, a cruel shadow in my life. I will not fall prey to the broken Selkie logic. You keep your lies and ill notions of mercy and honor. I want Adren back. I want him back and the whole Selkie court dead and boiling in the bowels of hell.”
“As my mother-”
“NO! I am not your mother and you are not my son,” a tear streaked down her cheek and her jaw shook. “He took you despite casting me aside.” She drew a long breath. “Twins. For birthing twins. He stole you in the night and bred you with lies and greed. And now he has Adren. Is he trading you? Were you suddenly deemed unworthy and forced to hunt for your brother as a replacement?”
“I… I do not know. Adren, as you call him, is needed to restore us,” the boy’s words began to fade. The metal and weight of breathing pressed him with fatigue. “I was told not to return.”
“Cruel. Cruelty is the only way he knows,” the captain shook her head and removed her hat. Her ears were uneven, one sharp with the Selkie point and the other, clipped and rounded as a human’s. It was not a natural curve.