Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Azrael sat on the bed with the captain’s hat on her lap, and listened to the loud buzz inside her head.
How did this happen?
One moment, she was Rosie, hanging off the side of the ship, thinking about clouds, following orders. The next — or what felt like it, at least — she was sitting there planning a mutiny, and then— She bent over and buried her face in the hat. It still smelled like the Captain, and his Isdia-imported cologne that he used to add to water when he bathed. She closed her eyes and gripped it between her fingers, pain flashing through her hands as the fabric dug into the cuts on her palms. She pulled back and let go, blankly staring at the bandages that the doctor had wrapped her hands in. Blood was showing through; she could imagine his reaction when she tells him she got the scab opened again.
They’re all dead, she thought, her mind still slow. She looked to her right, where a notebook lay open on the bed, a quill and inkpot readily waiting on top of it. It was the same notebook: she’d rewritten Ranye’s tea-stained notes into it not even a week ago, and now it waited for her, pages empty and blank and terrifying, to write her name down as the new ship’s captain, and note what had happened before naming the bos’n to succeed Ranye.
A hysterical laugh escaped her lips.
Replace Ranye. The notion itself was ridiculous, as much so as it would’ve been to suggest she could just replace the morning, or her skin… or Reiner.
“Never, little sister.”
“Get out of my head!” She threw the notebook across the room, not caring that the ink spilled over the bed, that the papers fell out like feathers off a bird being plucked. It was enough. After years, after everything the Palace had taken from her, after everything he’d taken from her, he had no place in her mind. Not now. Not while she was mourning her friend, herself—
“You are weak.” She shook her head and covered her ears, but he continued. “Vane was the Palace’s Captain. We will send the Captors; we will find you. Weakness will kill you.”
She bit down a sob. He was right. He was always right— but what choice did she have? She could disappear, but they’d keep looking for The Dancer, and then? Missy and the others wouldn’t want to leave, not after everything they’d given to keep their home. How readily would they point in direction she left, once the Palace ships would catch up with them?
I’d have to kill them all.
The thought sent her to her feet, jumping away from the bed as if sitting there had made her think it. It wasn’t Reiner, this time. The thought, raw and direct and terrifyingly calm, was no one’s but her own. She pressed the soles of her hands to her eyes.
She let her hands drop. Missy. Standing at the door, still addressing her by the name she’d given him back when they met; the false name, the name of a girl who no longer existed. She bit her lip not to tell him that Rosie was dead.
“It’s time,” he said quietly. His thin figure barely filled a third of the doorframe. He waited there as she picked up the Captain’s hat, and she followed him out.
The bodies were laid on the deck, grey fabric against dark silentwood. Ranye. Captain. Quartermaster. Two other cabin boys, and eight of Vane’s men. Other than by slight differences in sizes, she couldn’t tell them apart.
By the Order your soul was given, and the Order may protect it. The words snaked through Azrael’s mind, and for a moment she saw the fires in the courtyard of the Palace, smelled the burnt flesh and ash in the air, felt the heat on her cheeks.
Ranye and the others were gone, and their bodies were to be reduced to ashes: like heretics, they’d go on without a single piece of possession, nothing but the clothes they’d died in, nothing to give them name or identity. The thought brought a smile onto Azrael’s face, one she couldn’t fight off despite the circumstances. They died fighting the Palace. Order be damned.
She looked to her right, where the three remaining members of Vane’s crew stood. None of them had weapons, and all three looked down at the bodies. One of the men twisted his hands behind his back and pressed his lips tightly together; the other two, if they wanted to object to how their ex-crewmates were departing this world, kept it from showing. Azrael curled and uncurled her fists, and nodded to the others.
“The Dancer has seen more death and blood than she deserves,” she said, as Missy and the doctor lit a match each. Azrael watched as Missy’s tiny flame touched one of the bodies: the fabric caught fire instantly, and soon — so soon her mind had no time to even think about it — only dark ash remained.
“Mourn the losses of our friends,” she continued, her voice sounding foreign in her ears. Calm, commanding; the voice of an Apprentice and future Captor, not a hint of the cabin girl she’d pretended to be for so long. “Remember what happened, but also remember that we must go on from here.” She looked between her own crew and the three other sailors. “The Dancer needs a crew united under the same code: anyone not willing to swear to it is welcome to follow Vane’s route off the ship.”
“Aye, Captain,” Missy said, and Azrael’s world spun.
Everyone was looking; everyone was listening. Just like that, without a ceremony or a speech, without an oath or a promise, faiths of The Dancer and its crew rested on her shoulders. Her eyes automatically, irrationally, fled to where Ranye’s body had laid just moments ago: but there was nothing there anymore. Not even ashes, swept away by the wind she hadn’t even felt.
Captain, she thought idly. Of all people, she hadn’t expected Missy — who was standing right there when she told the truth of who she was, and yet still called her Rosie barely quarter of an hour earlier — to be the one to call her that first.
“But he wasn’t the first,” Reiner’s echo whispered, sending shivers down her spine and knotting her stomach.
He was right again, of course. She turned her attention past the crew and the deck still darkened by blood. A door and a ladder away, in the warm darkness below deck, the practitioner waited for Azrael to come and talk to her.
The practitioner who had called her the nickname only one person before ever used, and who’d addressed her as Captain before Azrael even knew that the man she’d known by the name was gone.