Lia opened her eyes to find herself in a dimly lit room. She felt confused and disoriented. She could see there was some light emitting from small clear prisms in the ceiling above her. A lantern was hanging on a hinge on the wall across from her next to the doorway. As she noticed the lantern swaying, she got nauseous and had to close her eyes. There was a strong and musty smell of damp wood and pitch in the air. There was a small round portal above her. She looked to see sprays of water rushing against the thick glass, obscuring the light of day. Although she could see light coming through the window, she wasn't sure whether it was sunlight or moonlight; the light was too dim to tell. As the fogginess in her mind started to clear, she realized that she was on a ship. Then everything flooded back to her mind. Madame D, the werewolf, the fall. She could remember the sting of the cold water, her vision growing fuzzy, and then… nothing. . She tried to sit up, but a sharp pain and a rush of dizziness flooded her head. She fell back to her bed. Her vision became fuzzy again and static noise rushed through her ears. Her vision blackened as she passed out.
* * *
This time she didn’t open her eyes. She would listen to her surroundings. She could feel the light rocking of the ship and hear the creaks of the wooden hull fall in unison with the gentle swaying. It still made her feel nauseous, but it wasn’t as bad this time. Her body ached and she thought she could feel the wounds on her back from the werewolf. Even though they weren’t there, she could still feel his claws digging into her back. It was then she peaked under the blanket covering her, and noticed she had a white night gown on. She began to wonder where her clothes were, but decided she was more concerned with who had changed her clothes. At that moment there was a knock on her door.
A woman entered the room. Although she was quite beautiful, her face was thin, rough, and wind burned from being out on the sea. Her long, wavy, and fiery red hair was tied back into a ponytail. Her body was athletic in build, and yet curvy. She wore a red and black vest that covered a dark gray blouse. It was long sleeved and loose fitting for mobility and looked warm enough for sea weather. She also wore loose, black trousers and black leather boots. She had a friendly smile and carried a tray of food.
“Oh, good. I was hoping you’d be awake. It’s dark in here, isn’t it?” She set the food on the table next to Lia’s bed, and then turned the lantern up to brighten the room.
“We were a little worried that you weren’t going to make it. Your fever was quite high and your skin was blue. We weren’t sure what to make of you.” Lia pulled herself up with the woman’s help, glancing at the tray of food. There were dried meats and cheese. There were also green crackers, but Lia didn’t think she was ready to try them yet. She was nauseous as it was, and she didn’t think green crackers would help.
“I’m Sinead. I was the one who changed your clothing, in case you were wondering. I wouldn’t let those men touch you.” Seeing the look on Lia’s face, she hurried to add, “Oh, they’re not bad. I just told the capt’n that it wouldn’t be proper. Your clothes were wet, and your wounds looked pretty bad. So, Capt’n ordered me to put you in these quarters and to take care of ya’. So… here we are. “ Sinead handed Lia the mug of tea for her to drink.
Lia was surprised at how sore she was. To think of it, she couldn’t remember ever having been unconscious before. Or even sick at all, as a matter of fact. The exhaustion was familiar, though, and she wanted to sleep. But more so than that, she wanted to know how she got here. She sipped the tea again and thought how warm it felt and how friendly Sinead seemed to be. In fact, Lia thought Sinead was almost too friendly. Her voice seemed to carry an overly sugary tone that would normally make Lia feel wary. Lia paused in her thinking to laugh at how cynical she had become; she couldn’t even seem to trust a helping hand.
“So, how long have I been here? How did you find me? What--” She had just wanted to ask one question, but then the floodgates opened and she couldn’t stop herself.
“Hold up there, girl.” Sinead interrupted. Motioning Lia to wait a minute, Sinead walked to the corner of the room, grabbed a chair, and sat next to the bed. Sinead took a breath and started.
“Well, we found you on some debris floating a few hundred feet from the cliffs of Tyrenyth. It was my turn on the crows perch. We had been following the coastline and were about to take off, cause we’re flyers as well as sea goers. We’re the Xanthippe. We hunt for dragons, mostly, but not exclusively.” Sinead spoke to Lia as if she would understand . Of course, Lia didn’t know anything about dragon hunting or sea faring, but she let Sinead talk.
“Anyway I saw your cloak, and well... it was practically a beacon.We brought you aboard. I saw the gashes on your back, and thought you were dead. Your skin was so blue.” Sinead paused a moment seemingly caught in her thought. To Lia she looked like she was about to say something else, but then Sinead shook her head slightly.
“You’ve only been out for three days; you heal really fast.” Sinead looked around and took something from her pants pocket. She then leaned forward and lowered her voice.
“I was mending the tears in your cloak when this fell out.” Sinead waited for Lia to put her hand out before handing her the object.
It was a ring. It had a wide band with three stones set into it. One deep blue sapphire, one deep red ruby, and one clear diamond. All three were cut in the shape of hearts. There were three bands of rose, white, and yellow gold. All were knotted in a weave and the stones encased in the weaves. The ring seemed very large, but when Lia slipped it on to admire it, it shrunk to fit her finger.
“Hey! It fits! “ Sinead sounded surprised. She continued,
“I tried it on my finger, but it was too big. Sorry, I was jus’ curious.” Sinead smiled apologetically, and quickly changed the subject. Lia wondered if Sinead noticed the ring change sizes.
“Capt’n says we’ll take you back to Tyrenyth when we finish this hunt. For now though, you're going to have to earn your keep.” Lia started to speak, startled, but Sinead rushed to reassure her. “Oh, don’t worry. Capt’n says you can rest first and get your strength. After that you and I can be shipmates.” Sinead said this last part with much enthusiasm.
Lia wasn’t sure about being so chummy with someone she had only just met. And even though she felt obligated, the sour look on her face didn’t hide her initial thoughts on that prospect. She reasoned with herself that this was one of the many adventures she had imagined for herself from the rooftop of Madame’s Bordello. She forced a smile and, with a little uncertainty, nodded.
Sinead could see Lia’s mental struggle as she tried to adjust to the situation. She touched Lia consolingly on the arm and said,
“Don’t worry. Capt’n is tough, but fair.” She lowered her voice to say the next part. “And when you get to know him he’s a big, soft, cuddly bear.”
Sinead could see Lia’s eyes were dark and droopy and figured this was a lot to take in. Before Lia could say anything, Sinead continued “You need to rest, and I’ll answer any questions you have later.”
Lia tried to say something, but Sinead promptly interrupted again.
“Don’t talk. Later.” And she briskly stepped out the door before Lia could say another peep.
After Sinead left Lia alone with her thoughts, a smile formed across her face. She realized that no one knew who she was, and she felt a new sense of freedom. She had a chance to start over.
* * * * *
It had been several weeks now, and Lia was adjusting to life on the ship. Just as Sinead said, the captain was a bit rough, but was indeed fair. She didn't see him much. Infact, he only came to her once and, with a handshake and a smile, introduced himself as Captain Marrow Steel. He was tall with a quiet and cautious look about him. His hair was short and black and his face was clean shaven. He was young looking and thin, but also seemed to be very strong. Lia would often see him share duties with his crew. His blue-gray eyes were bright and piercing, but when he smiled his face would soften and she could feel herself blushing.
After her first talk with Sinead, it had taken Lia a few more days of rest before she was healthy enough to be of much use. As she was resting in bed, Sinead would come visit Lia and explain the nomenclature of the ship. She learned that the front of the ship is called the stern, and aft is the middle or so. Afore is back of the ship and so on.
When Lia was well enough to work, Sinead had moved from teaching her names, to giving her hands on experience. Some of the many things she learned was how to repair sails and mend ropes. At first, Lia was clumsy and felt awkward about working. Her first work was so shoddy that she had wanted to give up, feeling she would only blunder everything she attempted. Sinead kept encouraging her, though, and Lia persevered, slowly becoming better.
The men of the boat were burly, hairy, and obnoxious. Still, they tried their best to be gentlemanly around Lia. She was their guest, and they tried to remember that. But they still slipped up occasionally, and Sinead was there to reprimand them.
Today she was repairing sails, while Sinead repaired their netting. The captain said there were signs of Sea Wyrms in the area. So he alerted the crew that they were staying to the sea.
Sinead and Lia were discussing much about sea wyrms and dragons. Sea Wyrms were as large as dragons, roughly on average about thirty to fifty feet in length as an adult. Although they swim and don’t fly like dragons, they can bring as much profit as a dragon. Their eggs, when harvested at the right time, can produce energy like a power cell. The seaworthy Xanthippe often used these eggs for powering it’s flying engine so they could capture dragons. Even though a dragon egg is much the same as a wyrm, it is much larger and can last up to a hundred years before losing it’s power. A large drawback is that dragons only lay two eggs a year. A wyrm can lay up to fifty a year. They’re often small and last maybe a few months to year at a time, depending on what they are powering. It wasn’t dragon season this time of the year, so wyrms were on the itinerary instead.
Lia was quite engrossed in her work when James, a crew member and a twin, called wyrm sign from the crow’s perch. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing, scurrying to the nettings and harpoons. Some of them were already wearing gear, and others ran to get their own gear. Wyrms were like eels; they can put off an electrical charge when they are under stress or in danger. To prevent anyone from getting injured, the entire crew wore pants and bibs made of wyrm or dragon skin. Lia watched the crew work together like a well oiled machine, but she was unsure where she fit in, or who she should be helping. Sinead had already alerted the captain of the news, and was walking back toward Lia with a spare gear. She threw it in Lia’s lap.
“ Hurry up and get it on, and head on up to the quarter deck!” Sinead barked.
“.. and Lia, stay out of the way and out of standing water!” she continued as she rushed off to help the rest of the crew prep for the catch.
Lia was getting excited, and, even though she wanted to be involved in the hunt, she felt staying out of the way would be wise. Everyone else was scurrying around in a mad rush, setting up for the capture. As Lia climbed the stairs to the quarter deck, the Captain came out of his quarters to greet her. Lia felt self-conscious as she always did when he was near.
“Well Miss Lia, will you accompany me to the wheel?” She jumped a little as he addressed her.
She really wasn't sure why she felt nervous, but she eagerly followed. As the captain approached the helm, he relieved the man on hand. As soon as Jordan, James’ twin brother, was relieved, he ran down to help the rest of the crew.
As the captain took to the wheel he bellowed, “Mr. James! I need direction!”
“Aye, captain! Starboard side, two hundred yards!” James yelled in return.
Lia followed the captain's gaze. She saw a very large serpent-like creature break the surface of the water. As it arched back into the water, Lia could see black and yellow stripes. It was evidently a long creature, for it took a long time to disappear. Periodically jolts of electricity crackled along the surface of the water and into the air around the beast.
The captain looked over to Lia. “See the jolts of electricity dancing above the water?” Lia looked back at him and nodded.
“That’s wyrm sign and the further it spreads out above the water the bigger the wyrm is. If you can count the stripes, you’ll be able to tell how old they are.”
Lia looked back toward where she thought the wyrm was located.
“Location mister James?” The captain bellowed again.
“ It’s bearing straight, sir! Port side... one hundred yards!”
The captain yelled to the crew. “Ready, port side!”
Lia watched Sinead echo the captain's orders and hustle the men and gear toward the side of the boat. Lia could see some of the men carrying large buckets of a black, liquid ooze along the edges of the railing. The men positioned themselves to dump the black ooze into the water below.
“Drop the sails, and let down anchor!” the captain yawped.
Lia’s eyes were following the crewmen along the railing when she saw two men at the very front of the bow. They had a very large barrel which it took both to lift to the top of the railing. Lia could feel the boat slowing and becoming adrift.
“Dump the bait!” Bellowed the captain once more.
Lia could hear everyone echo the captain's orders toward the bow of the ship. Lia watched the two men pour the contents of the barrel, and could see a fine red powder glistening in the sun as it descended to the watery surface. As soon as the powder hit the water it began to glow. Before she knew it, she had rushed toward the side of the boat. As she was leaning over the railing to see what the powder was doing, she was startled to feel the captain reach around her and put a waist harness on.
“You need this girl.” He spoke to her firmly. “You don’t want to fall in that soup. It will kill you.”
She turned to look at him. He met her eyes and nodded toward the water below, then proceeded to take the tether attached to her harness and tied it to a cleat. She felt herself turning flush and immediately turned to look at the red powder which was now a cloud of glowing green that trailed along the boat. She could hear a crackling coming from the water, even with the sound of the waves and the wind rushing in her ears. The crackling kept growing even louder.
“This is our secret to lure the wyrms.” the captain yelled over the crackling.
He stepped closer toward her and leaned in so as not to yell so loudly.
“It is called Cerise. It’s a stone that we harvest from….” he caught himself. He found himself wanting to tell her. He felt she was trustworthy, but…
“Well… I’m not ready to share that yet. Let’s just say we do not mine it conventionally. Anyhow, we use it to mimic the clicker fish. When the male is carrying these eggs, he becomes ravenous for these fish. Here’s the best part, that ooze the crew is holding reacts with the water.” … he waited for Lia to turn his direction. When she didn’t turn to look at him, he continued anyway. “That ooze is a tree sap that becomes rubbery when mixed with the wa…”
One of the crew interrupted the captain’s explanation. “ Wyrm sign, Captain!”
The captain returned his attention to his crew. “Alright then, time for the ooze! Sinead, have ’em ready for the next sign!”
Lia turned from the water, watching Sinead stand and raise her arm. As she did this, she could see the crew lift the barrels of ooze to the top of the railing. Lia looked back at the water to see the cerise foaming along the surface of the water as it continued to crackle. When the wyrm shot up through the middle of the soup, it seemed to be encased in electrical web. Fingers of electricity seemed to dance from the leviathans’ web, jumping out and cracking in the air.
“NOW!” Screamed Sinead.
The crew holding the barrels quickly dumped the ooze into the water. Lia could see that everywhere the ooze hit the water, it would bubble and spread rapidly outward. It spread so fast that it seemed unreal. Even before the wyrm could drop back into the water, the ooze had surrounded the area in which it had surfaced. As it fell back toward the water, the black ooze began to creep toward the wyrm and blanket it. The crackling that the cerise had made stopped, along with the electricity that the wyrm had generated. Lia watched the Leviathan float along the surface encased in the black ooze. It seemed to struggle for a bit before finally calming down and quick as a blink, the wyrm lay still.
“Alright guys! It’s not over yet….” Sinead proceeded to bark orders, when the captain interrupted Lia’s attention.
“He’s not dead.” said Marrow softly.
Lia turned toward him, startled by how close his voice was. She’d forgotten he was there, being so engrossed by what was happening in the water.
“At least not yet... the ooze puts him asleep.” he continued
“We are trying to find ways to spare them, but for now this seems the most merciful.”
Lia looked confused. “That’s a male?”
Marrow smiled “Yes, the male carries the eggs in his stomach until--”
Marrow was interrupted by the screams of “man overboard.” Lia watched as Sinead ran toward the railing with the rest of the crew. Some of the crew already had ropes in their hands, and were throwing them at the man in the water. The ooze had not set in yet, so that the wyrm was not completely sedated. The crewman was between the boat and the wyrm. As creatures of the wild often do, it was still fighting for freedom. In a last ditch effort, it tried to twist itself free. The thrashing motion of it’s twist crushed the man against the boat, and he let out an audible yelp. It was then Lia realized who crewman in the water was. James rushed toward the railing, trying to tie one of the ropes around his waist...
“I have to save my brother! Help me you idiots! Help me!” His voice was shaky and filled with terror.
But before he could jump or lower himself down, Sinead had already lowered herself above Jordan. James was following close behind. They both reached Jordan and started pulling him from the water. From what Lia could see, Jordan looked unconscious and was covered in ooze from head to toe. His body was still; he wasn’t breathing. Sinead and James pulled Jordan on to the deck. Lia lost sight of them when the crew began to huddle over them.
“You should go to your quarters, Lia. This doesn’t look good…..” The captain started to explain why and how the ooze could kill a person.
Lia had simply zoned him out. She felt she could save Jordan, and that was what she intended to do. She forced herself through the circle of crewman, and saw Jordan lying there, still not breathing. She knelt down next to Sinead who was pushing on James chest at an angle. Lia had never seen anything like that before and wondered what she was doing.
Lia crept closer to Jordan's head, and, reaching out, she placed her hand on his forehead. She couldn’t feel anything at first, not like it used to feel. Then, in a surge, the energy came in a flood. Instead of the blue hue that would emit from her body, it was red and growing brighter. She became startled, and felt something wasn’t right. She started to pull away from Jordan, but her body would not respond.
Her body grew still brighter as she felt an itching under her skin. It then turned into pulsing pain. Everyone, including Sinead, moved away from Lia and Jordan at that point. Then the light that was emitting from Lia transferred into Jordan, causing him to glow as well. At first the light between them both seemed to soften, but then they both became blindingly bright. Sinead turned her eyes from them; she noticed some of the other crew were doing the same. Then Lia let out a piercing scream, causing Sinead to look back.
They were still glowing, but starting to dim. Lia was still crouched over Jordan with her palm on his forehead. Her hair hung over her face like a shroud. Sinead thought it seemed very eerie and surreal. Lia screamed again, and Sinead thought she could hear Lia sob the words sorry over and over. Then Lia collapsed, falling toward the side of Jordan’s body. Everything seemed so quiet all of sudden; even the creaking of the boat and sea had halted for a moment. Sinead was confused for a moment, not sure if she should go to Lia or Jordan. James had made the decision for her when he fell next to his brother, putting his ear to his chest, and hoping to hear the sound of his heart. Sinead crouched next to Lia, and, like James, she checked to see if Lia was alive. Lia suddenly grabbed Sinead and pulled her close so that Sinead could hear her whisper.
“I’m sorry…. I... I didn’t mean to kill him..”
Sinead could feel Lia’s hand loosen its grip and slip away, and, after watching her eyes flutter back into unconsciousness, she looked up at James. After seeing the pain in his eyes, she knew it was true.