“Shana,” Reina said, firm but not unkind. “This won’t always be this hard. I believe you have the strength in you to figure out the power that slumbers inside of you. Magic is, at its best and to the wisest of men, a complex and endless unknown.” She hummed. “Like the sea, in a way."
“Why are you here?” he asked, barely audible over the storm. His voice cracked, groaning like the ship, like the tension of speaking was just as much a burden as the rough, angry seas were on their small, hapless, wooden vessel.She dug her nails into palm and flexed her fingers. The weight of the question Cailean was unknowingly asking pushed against her shoulders, crushing her. She turned her head and spit out the blood onto the deck. It was washed instantly away by the rain. Maeve wiped her mouth and stared back at Cailean. “Why are you?”
The captain’s quarters were spacious and well-decorated. There were badges and medals dedicated to her father’s service in the Royal Navy and to his special accommodations as a pirate hunter, one of the few who were not blatantly mercenaries hired by the crown. There were bearings of his trophies in glass cases of varying sizes: a broken silver tooth; a medallion with the crest of an osprey; a dagger covered it rust that made it look blood-stained.The newest hung on a bull’s skull on the left wall: a bloodstone ring that dangled off a scarlet stained chain. The blood still looked fresh.
“I’m sure you’ve seen a cat before.” Her father swung it around in his hands, the leather tassels slicing the air as if trying to cut it apart and rip the oxygen out of the room to drown them. Then he came back to her, and to her horror, held the butt of the whip out to her.Her mouth went dry and her mind blank. “Father?”He narrowed his eyes. Then he leaned down until she could feel his hot breath on her ear. It felt like a worm wriggling inside her brain and she held herself perfectly still.“Prove yourself to me,” he whispered. “Prove you’re strong enough and loyal enough. To me. For me.” He pulled away, placing the cat of nine tails in her hand, and then his hands on her shoulders. “I know you can do this. I know you can do right by me.”
Fiona whistled as the sign came rushing towards them. “Welcome home,” she said.And then it was past them. Her stomach felt like lead. They had crossed the boundary line, though it felt more like stepping into Charon’s ferry to cross the Styx.Her sister’s voice grated in her ears and she closed her eyes to drown out the buzzing in her head. It did nothing. We were home, she didn’t say. This place hasn’t been home in years.There was a tickle at the edge of her conscious. Her magic prickled, not unlike the sensation of touching a low voltage, exposed wire. It disappeared as soon as it had come.By the time they had gotten to the first line of commercial buildings, her eyelids were half-shuttered, lashes hazing her vision. Maybe if she looked at it through a veil, a filter, it wouldn’t hurt as bad.The nostalgia was about as useful and vile as food poisoning. It coiled in her stomach, and as she looked out at the corner gas station, she was too hot despite the frost seeping in through the windows. The saliva in her mouth was thick and warm and tasted like blood.None of it felt real.Colonia Heights was the same, soft-hued town she remembered. The snow blanketing the ground and reflected the sun—bright enough to hurt her eyes—gentled it even more. It was quiet right now, only a car in the gas station and one on the road ahead of them, and next to nothing else.It was almost lifeless.
"I promise."But there was no ship on the horizon. If she turned away from the ocean, she could see the yellow-gold spectrum marring the blue of the sky behind her. There were patches of powder blue still clinging to the sky like an optical illusion, as though if it tried hard enough, the sky could trick one into thinking it was still day. Morning, even. Morning with the suggestion of rain, rather than the ushering of the night and the direct threat of a storm.Somewhere that was muffled from her came a crackling noise. The hair loose from her sweat-damp neck rose, sending thrills through her body. Electricity thrummed in the air. She stared back at the distant thunderclouds, but they were still miles away. And she could see no lightning splitting them apart.She stared down at her own hands and the bottle clenched under a white-knuckled grip. Pinpricks of blue-silver light glittered over her arms and down to her hands. Sparks popped off her and landed fizzling on the docks beside her. The glass whined in her hand as the storm began to sing in her head.There was really nothing stopping her from calling it. She turned back to the gloomy horizon. If she really wanted, if she pushed herself to every limit she could possibly conceive, she could call it here and swell it. Putting all of her into it, she could will a storm so massive it could utterly ruin Cheshunt and the next several coastal settlements to its north and south.She took another deep gulp of the rum and as she let her arm fall back to her side, a bolt of lightning arced from her shoulder and hit the bottle. It exploded, shattering into a thousand shards of glass that sprayed the docks around her, like crystal rain.
Her magic was growing more insistent, as the siren song at the docks had, but she kept swallowing it back, forcing it to stay quiet. Better to keep your enemy in the unknown. Force them to adjust to you, not the other way around. Her father had told her that.There was enough light, and her eyes had adjusted enough, that as she skidded into the common room, she saw Reina almost immediately.Her aunt was face up on the floor, the whites of her eyes glistening in the dim, hollow light. She stared sightless up at the ceiling, hair undone from its usual composure to spill over the floor like overturned paints. Her skin was whiter than bone, her face gaunt and hollow. The only disturbance in her otherwise still composure was a tear in the pale fabric of her tunic. As Shana stared at it, mind blank and cold, she realised it was a gaping wound. Except there was no blood.Blood witch. She felt like she was falling. She felt like she wasn’t even in her own body. Blood witch.
Her hand stung like thousands of needles pierced into her skin. There was no blood to warm the pinpricks that sprung up through her arm. The whip was already warm under her touch, solid and leathery. The tails dangled still as she made sure not to shiver. She couldn’t, or she would be a coward for her fear. No child of Gareth’s was a coward.She met Cailean’s gaze once more. He had a searching, curious expression. And yet, there was none of the hatred she had expected. He looked like a man, a bloodied and beaten man. He was no scourge, nor devil, nor lurking menace of the deep, as her father so often emphasised upon. He had brown, weathered skin from exposure to sunlight, the onset of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and mouth. He had blue eyes that looked black in the low light, and hair drenched with sweat and with blood.“Maeve,” Gareth said, the edging of impatience creeping into his tone.
Maeve’s favourite task on the ship was lookout in the crow’s nest. It was the one time she felt at peace, save for the dregs of sleep. Up here, it was just her, the endless stretch of the sky and sea and the place they met on the horizon. The only time they could touch in a place no one could see them. It was beautiful, in a way.And it was a delusion, in another. They weren’t really coming together; it was only an imitation. Lovers parted by circumstance, or those who had never loved each other in the first place.
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