I felt nothing at first. My senses comprised solely of hearing my own heart beat, thumping through my ribs, trying desperately to pump blood through my arms and to my hands. Like it could make up for what I’d lost.
I heard my hand hit the ground, the shink of Peter sheathing his dagger.
I glanced down.
And I felt it.
I staggered back and a scream ripped its way out of my throat. It was fire and ice, hot and cold, the intense pain boiling up my entire left arm. My throat was raw with screaming, but I couldn’t seem to stop. My blood was a dark, blackish red, spewing from the emptiness of where my hand used to be. It was hotter than lava. Hotter than the sun. I fell to my knees, my arms slick with the bleeding, dimly seeing Peter rise up and soar out of Skull Rock and into the night sky.
In that moment, I realized he had taken my hand.
I clutched my arm to my chest, shouting in pain. The blood quickly soaked into my dress, saturating it in violent red. The blood on the floor ran through the fabric, wetting my knees. It was warm, sickening. Bile rose up my throat and I keeled to the side, emptying my stomach on the unforgiving stone floor.
I hunched into myself, as if shrinking away were a possibility. Maybe, if I were small enough, I could disappear and end my misery. My chest heaved, and I sobbed, holding my bloody arm to my chest. The cavern echoed back at me, as if taunting.
I lost time. I couldn’t move or think rationally. The only thing I could feel other than the pain was searing rage. It consumed me.
I gently rocked myself, back and forth, back and forth, like a mother soothing a crying child. I was lost in the sounds of my own despair, and I let it stay that way.
At least I could comprehend one thing.
I had almost lost consciousness when I heard footsteps.
“Kat! Oh my- what happened?” someone exclaimed. Two hands came down on my shoulders, and I stopped swaying. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I never should have left you.”
I cried, choking on my own tears. “Smee-” My voice broke off, a mere whisper from all the screaming.
“You need to stand, okay? We have to get back to the ship.” He gently heaved me up to my feet. I stumbled, and he draped my uninjured arm over his shoulders for support.
Spots flew across my vision and I leaned heavily into him. “Wait…” I mumbled, words slurring. The prisoner. “There’s someone else here.”
We stopped walking and Smee gave the room a cursory glance. He frowned. “There’s no one else here. They must have left.” He started walking again and I stumbled into him. His arms were corded with lean muscle. He really had gotten stronger since I had last seen him.
I felt a laugh bubble up in my throat. My small, scrawny Smee. So strong!
Smee gave me an odd look, then quickened his pace.
The world tilted as I glanced down at my arm. It was still bleeding too much, flowing steadily like a river. That might explain the rushing in my ears. In all honesty, I was surprised I hadn’t passed out yet. My heart pounding in my throat. It took me a second, but I realized I couldn’t feel my arm anymore. Nothing but a cold, vacant feeling. I could have sworn I could wiggle my fingers, flex them, bend them. But of course nothing was there. My heart thudded in my head as I remembered Peter flying off.
Yes. My hand was gone.
“I-I can’t feel my arm,” I heard myself say.
Smee frowned in concern. “It’s probably just shock. Please, don’t worry about it. I have a medical kit on the ship.”
“It’s cold,” I whispered.
Smee said nothing.
A minute later, we reached the tiny ship. Smee stepped aboard, then lifted me in behind him. Immediately, I slumped forward, almost with no warning at all. My forehead was pressed against the wood and my bleeding arm was still clutched against my chest. I heard Smee scuffling around, searching for his medical supplies. Blood slid down my arm like a cursed waterfall, slowly, so slowly, until it
A stream of my blood trickled into the wood.
And then the entire ship was flooded with yellow light.
I sat up so fast my head spun.
Like liquid sunshine, the light spread in ripples across the surface of Smee’s ship. Sparks of gold engulfed us, turning the weathered wood into polished ash. Shimmering trails lined the water a few feet out on every side, thickening and solidifying until the sparkles drifted away, fading out like embers from a dying fire. Underneath, more ashwood. Our ship was growing. The small, sheet-like sail was smothered, and I reached out a hand to touch it. Flecks of gold scattered at my fingertips. In its place were now great, billowing black sails, a crow’s nest atop the mast, towering into the night sky. The gold lights were fading, flickering out of sight. A pearly white skull and crossbones was stitched onto the main sail, menacing and curious.
The ship- it was a true ship now- creaked and groaned underneath me. It was now at least five times its original size. Massive, even for a normal ship. All black wood and midnight sails, its railing was lined in tarnished silver, like dirty strips of moonlight. The helm of the ship greeted me, a mere few feet away. Almost in a trance, I walked over and reached out my hand, touching the wheel.
Smee came up behind me, huffing like he was out of breath. “What-what’s going on? What is this?” he gasped. His hands were fisted in his hair, his eyes wide as dinner plates. “Katherine, you’re seeing this too, right?”
So I wasn’t hallucinating from blood loss, then. “I see it,” I say. My voice comes out breathless and awed. My hand rests on the ship’s giant black wheel. With a start, I glance at my other arm, surprised to find that it’s not bleeding anymore. I hold it up, heart pounding. In fact, it was completely healed. Nothing but smooth tissue where my hand used to be.
Peter’s face flashes through my mind. The gleam of his dagger.
I can be merciful.
“The sacrifice,” I choke out.
Smee gave me a sharp look. “What?”
“The legends…” I catch my breath. “They say that the only way to leave Neverland is through a sacrifice.”
Understanding lit up his features. “So Peter just… let us leave?”
I nodded slowly. It certainly seemed that way. As I kept thinking, I found I couldn’t come up with a catch. I knew there was one. There always was.
“Well…” I trailed off, gingerly folding my arms. “I don’t suppose you know how to sail a ship, do you?”
Smee scoffed. “You don’t?”
I glared at him. “I didn’t think I’d need to escape with my life any time soon.”
“Fine, fine.” He stepped up beside me, bracing his hands against the wheel. “I’ll take us to-” He paused. “Where are we going anyway?”
“We’re going to the mortal world, Smee. I need to find my family.”
“Your family? Where would we even start, Kat?” he said, exasperated. “It’s been six years. Would they even remember you?”
“Of course they would-”
I’m cut off by a raucous groaning, a symphony of creaking wood all around us. The ship jerked forward, and Smee and I stumbled backward. I caught myself on the silver railing, face to face with the dark sea. Ripples radiated out from us, and slowly I realized the stern was rising. Higher and higher, and for a moment I feared we were about to flip over, head over heels. A cruel twist of fate, perhaps. Supplies began to roll across the deck, tumbling to my feet. I gripped the rail.
“Smee!” I called out. He was across from me, grasping the other side of the railing. His face was the color of parchment. He gave me a tight nod. All we could do was hold on.
My own feet decided to start slipping, scraping against the wood. My arms burned as I tried to hold myself in place. Turns out, losing a hand really hendered your ability to hold onto things. I awkwardly hugged the railing to my chest, arms wrapped around it. I grunted, bracing one foot against the deck, the other dangling without purchase as we lifted higher and higher. I scowled at whatever faerie magic had made this. Miracle of miracles, we were on a crooked flying ship.
So much for a valuable sacrifice. As if I wasn’t angry enough at the day’s events.
“Do you want me to chop off the other hand, then?” I shouted, heart thudding. I knew I was being ridiculous. It’s just the rage was building. Blinding. Call me sheltered, but I hadn’t ever had to deal with anger much before. Seems like I couldn’t control it as well as I should.
Abruptly, the back end of the ship soared out of the water, straightening the entire vessel.
With a shout, I lost my grip and somersaulted across the deck. If you could really call it somersaulting. More like face-planting at breakneck speeds. I groaned, stars orbiting my vision. Eventually, I could make out a blurry face above me, frowning in concern.
He gripped my hand and jerked me into a sitting position. The world spun.
“Woah,” I muttered, rubbing my eyes. “I guess the ship wanted me to keep at least one of my hands.” I gave him a half-grin.
He didn’t smile back. Kneeling in front of me, he got to work checking for wounds. He bent my arms, wiggled my wrists. “Does anything hurt?” he asked.
Shockingly, no. “I’m fine.”
“You sure?” Reaching in one of his pockets, he withdrew a small glass cylinder. He tapped the back of it, and a bright light began to show from within. I winced as Smee held the light up to each of my eyes in turn. “No concussion, then. That’s good.” He put the cylinder away.
“What was that?”
“A flashlight,” he replied. “I found it while I was… gone.”
At the war. I nodded, intrigued. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Maybe glowworms, or stones that pixies enchanted to reflect light, but never like this. It looked like it contained a small, white fire.
“They’re very common out there. Everyone has one.”
We stood up together, brushing ourselves off. The ship had hovered away from Neverland, so far that it looked only like a small dot in the distance. It had risen higher as well, and I could only assume that it was taking us in the right direction.
“It looks like it doesn’t need us to steer,” I commented.
Smee nodded. “You scared it into submission.”
I coughed a laugh. Laughing felt wrong, somehow, after all that had just happened. I still felt that burning inside me, in my chest, but at least it had died down some. “I think it appreciated my audacity,” I said, smirking.
“That’s one way to put it.”