18. All or Nothing

Chapter 18

All or Nothing

            I eventually found myself back on The Cruel Whore, after Cyirlie so ‘kindly’ told us to leave. Now that I had fulfilled my reading and returned Elati’s voice, I was worthless in the dragon’s eyes. I still had no clue what went on with the Blessing of Knowledge, but Cyirlie insisted that the rite had been performed without any complications. In all technicality, I was Lord of the Sea.

But I didn’t receive ‘knowledge’, nor did I get the truth I was promised. Satel was quick to attack the dragon priestess with questions, but Cegil held him back. No matter what we asked, she would just tell us to find Elati ourselves. The one thing she did tell me was that if I received anything at all, then it was how to find the goddess.

All I could think about were those visions in my head- if they were somehow maps, then I needed to piece them together and figure out how it was connected. For now, all I could assume was that since I was not my father (or a man), I didn’t get any knowledge out of the ritual because I wasn’t meant to have it.

It was supposed to be a rite of passage for the true Lord of the Sea where he also received the full blessings of the goddess. I got those ‘blessings’ in the form of protections of the sea, but…

…How did I know that? Did I get something from all of this after all?

Maybe the knowledge part didn’t come immediately- it could be just sitting in the back of my mind until I was ready to accept it or something. Either way, I still didn’t have enough to know what in five hells I was going to do.

If it weren’t for the fact that Cyirlie’s parting words to Seikram involved ‘ne’er come back here and ne’er lose the lass again’, I would probably be in the homestead now- not because that I cared about him, but because it gave us a reason to get on the ship to leave instead of teleporting right away. I suppose out of the kindness in our hearts, we wanted to make it appear to Cyirlie as if I were leaving with the pirates- that way, if I left later, then they wouldn’t get in trouble… at least not immediately. I wasn’t sure how well the priestess would take the technicality that they didn’t ‘lose’ me so long as I told them where I was going.

I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to leave yet, though. I lost my voice and I didn’t know why or how it was even possible. Something in me knew that if it was that easy to lose it, then there must be some way to get it back. I was sure the crew didn’t have any answers, but then, neither would the elders of the clan. I needed to stay with the sea, the element that is supposed to protect me, in order to find what I wanted- but I couldn’t exactly tell that to Satel or Cegil.

Satel wanted to go home and process what happened. Now that everything was over, he didn’t want me to stay another moment longer here, but Cegil convinced him not to be hasty. The tall man knew that going home now without enough information would be too hectic. The elders were on the edge of their seats waiting for our report and we – he and Satel anyway- had no idea what to tell them.

I couldn’t say a word to them even if I wanted to- and I was the one they wanted to talk to the most. Elit, I could just see Didra in my mind getting excited over what she might think is a ‘medical’ condition. She’d want to perform perhaps millions of painful tests on me until she figures out that there is nothing she could do. At least, I didn’t think she could do anything- as far as I knew, Didra didn’t have the power to trump a goddess.

“Even so, we don’t have to stay here- we could go elsewhere,” Satel argued with his arms crossed. As the ship was leaving the enclave, Satel had long since dried the both of us with his magicks so that we wouldn’t freeze in our wet clothes. But even though we were dry, the temperatures seemed to have dropped significantly since that sudden storm system passed. I was shivering slightly, too, though he was doing a better job at hiding it from the others.

“I’m not sure what Elati was trying to say as she left, but apparently she has no need for us. I think we can go where we please,” he added as an afterthought.

Apparently during that short time I was knocked out, Elati (in my voice) said something to Satel as he was trying to pull me out of the water. It was something about a contract being fulfilled and that she had no more need for the ‘both of us’. I’m not sure what the exact wording was, but both Cegil and Satel seemed to believe that she was talking to my mate as well.

…And that just left even more questions unanswered. The goddess seemed to know Satel on a personal level, and yet he didn’t know how. Even with the little bits of information I was getting, I had a feeling that Satel wasn’t connected to me in the least. Yet, we both seemed to be in the same position- we both must’ve upset or angered the goddess enough for her to take what she wanted and then toss us aside like garbage.

We should have been grateful for that and just let sleeping gods lie, but I wasn’t sure if I could really live with the aftermath. How could I cope without a voice? I know there are some people out there that had a similar condition as me and found other ways to communicate, but could I adapt at all? I had a hard time with dyslexia, so wouldn’t I also have difficulty learning the hand language of the deaf and dumb?

However, Satel could move on without having to worry about it. He was still more or less the same, but with a clean slate for his alleged crimes. It was easy for him to say ‘lets go home and think about it later’- not that I believed he was simply thinking about himself.

“Yes, I suppose there are much quieter, and warmer, places we can go to- if Tia wishes to leave,” Cegil said, only half agreeing. He then glanced over to me and inquired, “Do you not still have business with the crew?”

“Oh, that’s right- she hasn’t secured her rightful property yet,” Satel muttered as he picked up what his brother was trying to point out.

Sadly, I had completely forgotten why I was working on the ship for the past few days. This was all so that I could earn back my father’s skull and give him a seafarer’s funeral. According to my contract with Seikram, I fulfilled my end of the deal, so Pappy’s skull was rightfully mine to take with me.

…Well, to be honest, I hadn’t really forgotten Pappy– it was more like I had forgotten my ire. With Seikram making the crew salute to Pappy every morning, I had constant reminders of his presence. But not once in the past few days did I need to remind myself why I was here- I still enjoyed being in the company of the crew, so my stay here wasn’t awkward or unpleasant.

“Perhaps you should make them aware of your intentions and try to give a farewell,” the lavender-haired man prodded with a rather meaningful look. I soon realized that he was subtly hinting to me to make sure I wanted to truly leave. Satel was still none the wiser about my possibility of staying on board, but I had no real need to stay at the moment.

I could leave with no problem as long as I had the ability to see them again when I wanted. I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of going home, though, as the idea of eventually settling down to my dull life was unappealing. Add to the fact that I couldn’t verbally express myself, I was soon going to have to resort to ‘physical communication’ where I’d end up punching others the more frustrated I became. …At least, that’s what I felt like doing right now.

I wanted to suggest going somewhere near a coast for a while, but once again, I had no way of letting them know that or where specifically I wanted to go. I actually had my own idea of what to do, but there was no way I could get either man to understand. I had the clues to find Elati somewhere in my head- I just needed to piece them together and go see her.

Maybe if I confronted her myself, she would grant me a new blessing or give me a new voice. After all, she took it away, so why couldn’t she give me another? It didn’t have to be hers– I just want to be able to speak to others, so it didn’t really matter to me what I sounded like… well, as long as it was something feminine. I didn’t want to sound like a man or anything.

…But then how would I get there? I doubt Cegil or Satel could teleport me there without knowing what the place looked like- and it wasn’t like I could describe it to them. I might need the services of The Cruel Whore eventually.

“Uh… are you okay, ‘Tia-dear?” the über hat man asked as he bent down slightly to stare straight into my eyes. I had been standing unresponsive for a while with my hand gripping my opposite arm in a near nervous gesture.

I snapped out of my thoughts to nod at him, wishing I could explain what was running through my mind. I believed there was something I knew that could give them a lead on what to do but… damn! It’s so frustrating not being able to talk…

I let out a sigh, since forcing air out of my mouth was the only sound I could make. I didn’t mean to sound depressed, but I felt it was the only way to let everyone know I was still alive in here- well, other than punching someone. I turned on my heel and began walking towards the forecastle area of the main deck where Seikram and most of the crew were.

I suppose at the very least, I could live with leaving for the time being. Eventually Cegil will work out something for me to communicate with- he was good at thinking up useful stuff. So long as the crew was willing to welcome me back, this didn’t have to be the final good-bye. But…

There were dark looks in everyone’s eyes as they watched me approach. There was definitely something wrong- if not for their appearance, then because of the vibes they were giving me. It almost reminded me of the day of the mutiny. I paused for only a second as a brief thought of Seikram wanting to kill me now flitted past my mind.

Now that I held my pappy’s title as a temporary Lord of the Sea, perhaps now I was a worthy target for him. Maybe it was the snake’s goal all along to eliminate what could be the very last Lord, should I be unable to bear a child. But if I, the last Hels Meyuun, disappeared, would that allow him to become captain?

At least I knew what the term meant now. Hels Meyuun was literally ‘first blood’, but it was referring to ‘blood of the original’. But while I knew that, the part as to what that meant in context to me was still lost. I get that I was the last living descendant of that Eternal King, but what was so important that I had to keep the cycle going?

I continued my steps as I dismissed it all. Seikram learned first hand what happened when Pappy died- just imagine the punishment if harm should befall me. The bastard wouldn’t just die- I bet they would torture him for eons before letting him ‘go’.

When I reached the dickless wonder, I simply pointed upwards at the forecastle deck where the skull was and hoped that he understood what I was after.

“Aye, ye have earned the skull,” he agreed, his voice unusually rough. But he then revealed his true colors when he added, “But ye cannot leave the ship wit’ it. Yer stayin’ here, wit’ us.”

This again… I rolled my eyes before I glanced back to my mate and brother-in-law to signal that I needed their aid. If Seikram wanted a fight, then I was more than happy to beat his face in. I wasn’t sure what the crew was planning though, as I had no idea what the snake had told them. They appeared ready for a fight as well, but I wasn’t getting the impression that they were going to take me on.

I didn’t call Satel and Cegil over for their protection- I just wanted them ready to get me out of here the moment I had Pappy’s skull. I had always planned to use their magicks to leave- and I was sure Seikram suspected that and knew he didn’t have a chance in hell in stopping me. This must’ve been his last ditch effort to keep me here.

“Ye can’t change the terms o’ the contract, and ye can’t keep ‘Tia here if she don’t want ta stay,” Satel said as they arrived, saying what I wanted to tell the rat.

I spared a light grin to the blond as a show that I approved of what he said on my behalf, but as I did so, I accidentally lowered my guard. Seikram was close enough to grab me, and before I knew it, my back was pressed against his chest and his arm was over my neck to keep me in place. My hands instinctually rose to grip it and ensure he wasn’t going to choke me.

“Don’t move,” he ordered as he pilfered my revolver and aimed it at the falucite. Satel and Cegil had only moved a step in our direction before the order, but they stopped instantly, fearing more that the gun could be turned on me at any second.

Falucite weren’t immune to bullets, but it was hard to hit them if they saw it coming. Their magicks could easily mess with the trajectory in a split second, making the gunner miss his target.

“Ah am the quartermaster o’ this ship, an’ until we have a capt’n, ah say who stays an’ who goes. Elati’s been a member o’ the crew e’er since she was a babe, an’ we ain’t lettin’ her leave us again!”

“Aye!” the men behind us roared in agreement. So this was a coup- but not one to eliminate a man. They were fighting because they wanted me to stay no matter what. Seikram managed to convince everyone that Satel and Cegil were the ones controlling me and convincing me to leave them. They believed if they stood up to the falucite, I would be freed from their ‘spell’ and come to my senses as a pirate.

But Seikram knew that wasn’t true- he knew how I felt about those two and how I wanted nothing to do with him. He was just seeking to make it difficult for me to go. Maybe he was hoping to pull off what Cyirlie did to me by somehow trapping me. Whatever he was planning, I knew it wasn’t going to work. No one told me what to do- not when I knew what I wanted.

“I know not of your customs, but I believe any man has the freedom to choose their path. You have no right to order someone who holds no loyalty or obligation towards you,” Cegil responded in his usual calm manner. It was almost the total opposite of how he handled Cyirlie hours earlier. Before, he didn’t hide his emotions, but he did keep his voice down to maintain order.

“That’s right- a land creature doesn’t know nothin’ o’ the seafarers an’ our traditions. ‘Round here, ye don’t jus’ leave the family- yer always part o’ it no matter where ye go,” Seikram declared, “Elati’s young an’ impressionable- she don’t know wot she wants in life yet, but she needs ta know that she belongs here wit’ her real family. She’s a seafarer- not a falucite!”

For a moment, I almost broke and forgot why I hated him- for him to break down and declare me family and insist that I ‘belonged’ with them was what I wanted to hear back when I was little and alone. But things were different- maybe I wasn’t abandoned, but I couldn’t just get rid of the falucite family that saved me.

I also had to remind myself that I wouldn’t have ‘left’ in the first place if he hadn’t killed Pappy- most of his speech was touching, but it was nothing more than a manipulation tactic to confuse me. He was right, though, I didn’t know what I wanted in life, but I sure as hell didn’t need him to forcibly tell me what I should do!

“We know she’s not a falucite, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be a seafarer wit’ us. If she really is family ta ye, then let her live her life- she’ll still be part o’ yer family accordin’ ta yer logic,” Satel replied, using his seafarer accent to prove that at least he adopted some of my traditions and accepted me for who I was.

I must’ve been making a face, because Cegil and Satel had relaxed their stance as if they weren’t worried anymore- they knew what I was about to do. Seikram seemed to have forgotten that Spearhead taught me how to escape holds. He wasn’t keeping up his guard since he was so sure I wouldn’t move.

But, then that idiot had to make one final mistake- I was content with the idea of just beating him up and go, but he continued to run his mouth. He had to say something that struck a nerve with me.

“Ah have no hard feelin’s against ye lot- ah do appreciate wot ye done ta protect her, but ye need ta face facts. She is the daughter o’ the Lord o’ the Sea, an’ it’s wrong ta take her away from her duties. She’s got ta take up her pappy’s work- it’s wot he would’ve wanted. If ye have any sense o’ common decency, ye’d let her alone an’ leave now.”

He’s the last person who should talk of ‘common decency’! How dare he imply to know what my father wanted for me! And how dare he insinuate that I should take responsibility for his mistake!

Rage rolled off me in waves, much like how I felt when I had first found Pappy’s skull. If Seikram showed any sign of remorse or regret for what he had done, I probably wouldn’t be driven to feel this way. I just couldn’t take it anymore! He has no right to go on thinking that he could get away from his crimes unpunished. If he can’t learn to respect the lives of others or understand why he was in the wrong, then he had no right to live- he’d just go on to kill another man to satisfy his selfish desires.

I acted so fast that I barely registered that I had moved at all. Since my arms were free, I simply rammed my elbow into his gut as hard as I could so that he would release me. Then, fueled by my anger, I punched him across the face and pushed him back against the foremast before I pinned him there with one hand. The crew moved out of the way as it happened, too stunned to stop me.

Somehow, my gun was back in my hands and before I could realize what I was doing, I had the barrel pressed against the underside of his chin. I wanted to kill him right then- there was nothing stopping me this time, as I was too furious to listen to the rational part in my mind. I envisioned blowing brains out and felt that I would be happy to see it.

But once again, my fingers were locked in place- they wouldn’t respond to me even though I truly desired to pull the trigger.

“Cegil, please! Quit interfering! She made her choice- let her finish it,” Satel growled, displeased with his brother’s actions. It wasn’t until then that I figured out that Cegil had once again stopped me from exacting my revenge. Why was he doing this!? Of all people, he should understand how important this was for me! I needed closure and this was the only way to get it- I’ll never heal otherwise!

The ocean wasn’t loud enough to drown out the sounds of his large shoes as they crossed the wooden deck. I could practically feel Cegil’s presence as he stopped behind me, then bowed so that his head could reach my ear.

“I apologize once again for stopping you, but I feel I would have done a great disservice to you if I did not give you one last chance to think through your actions. Simply hear my words, and if you still think this is the correct path to take afterwards, then I will no longer interfere,” he pleaded with me, even though I didn’t have the capacity to answer him.

Even though he was no longer my guardian, he was still looking out for me and only wished for my happiness. He was making sure that I would have no regrets with what I chose- because he knew what it was like to have them. Though, I was afraid that the longer he made me stall, the less resolve I would have. I wanted to use this drive while I had the chance- so that Satel wouldn’t have to train me to be a killer, and so that I could finally move on.

“Remember well of what I had said about the price of revenge. Will his death truly make you whole? Are you certain you have nothing left to lose? Are you prepared to take responsibility for your actions should there be repercussions? If you are not certain, then I implore you to seek another path.”

He had been telling me about this ever since he decided to reveal his past to me. Revenge was never about getting even- you end up losing more than you would gain. Thinking back on Cegil’s past, he’d lost his mate, his standing in the clan, his territories, his powers, and eventually his daughter due to seeking revenge on the clan who only sacrificed his parents.

Maybe his story was a bit on the extreme side of unfair trade, but it seemed to ring true with every other story out there. So what did I have to lose? Practically everything. I’d lose Cegil’s respect, perhaps support from my mate, and my freedom to be wherever I wanted. Hell, maybe some members of the crew might rise up against me to avenge the man that they followed.

I thought about this before- I knew ridding the world of this bilge rat would end up leaving the crew without someone to guide them, but in the heat of the moment I didn’t care. Seikram dealt a cruel hand to me, and there was no way I could find it in myself to forgive any of it. This rage and anguish wasn’t just going to go away- what other ‘path’ was there to take?

It was then when I noticed I could move again- the hand that was holding up the revolver was shaking. The momentum was gone and the rational side of me took over- I couldn’t do it yet, at least not until there was a replacement for the snake.

I then, perhaps, made a huge mistake when I finally looked up at Seikram- I mean I really looked at him. He didn’t quiver or make a sound, but I could see the fear in his eyes. He had no idea what I was going to do next, but there was a good chance that I could end his life. All at once I felt sick to my stomach- what was I doing?

With a shaky breath, I backed away and let both arms hang limply at my sides- that gun suddenly felt heavier than I remembered. Satel was right- I didn’t have the capacity to kill, at least not out of malice. I loathed that power to decide life and death far more than I did Seikram. Even he didn’t deserve death… I only wished he looked at Pappy before he killed him- if there was a shred of moral integrity in that man, then maybe he wouldn’t have done it.

This is the sacrifice I choose- I was just going to have to live with my anger and accept that Pappy’s murderer is going to live. I didn’t have to like it, but it was more important to keep the people and concepts I held dear, rather than strain my relationships due to petty choices. I had absolutely nothing to gain, but everything to lose if I had pulled that trigger- I knew that, and I didn’t want to risk it.

However, if I didn’t at least do something about my ire with Seikram, then I could end up in this position again. …And I had an idea of how to do that. Maybe I didn’t have the heart to end his life, but I wasn’t against beating him to a pulp. Lioa likely wouldn’t agree with me on this, but pummeling him might just make me feel better. Talking things through should just be for the people I love and respect, anyway.

‘Article eight,’ I mouthed as I raised my head. I repeated the phrase over and over, hoping that somehow I could get the message across.

I had actually forgotten that Seikram could read lips, so he was the one who ended up responding. A look of resignation came across his features as he bowed his head.

“Article eight? Ah understand,” he said with a sigh before he turned to the crew, “Seek out land! We must take this off the ship!”

The crew did as they were told, but with much less enthusiasm as usual. They dispersed quickly on the main deck and began manning their posts to either seek land to maintain the ship. Seikram then quietly left me and headed over to the quarterdeck to man the helm.

It felt as though everything became gloomy, even the now cloudy sky was reflecting that…

“What is ‘article eight’?” I heard Cegil inquire behind me, unfamiliar with the Code of Conduct.

“Hmm…Let’s see…” Satel muttered as he thought back on it. Since he has been around pirates, he should be familiar with the Code. “I believe that’s the one where no man can strike another out of a grudge- they must fight it out on land.”

“So then she is calling for a duel…” the giant man replied with an unidentifiable tone. I didn’t want to look back to see what he was expressing, so I could only guess what he was feeling. He probably thought I was going to let Seikram off the hook completely, but I just couldn’t do that. Though I couldn’t reassure him, at least I knew that I wasn’t out for blood anymore.

“Aye, the lass wishes to end her grievance wit’ Seikram. The duel can be accomplished in three ways: by pistol, cutlass, or hand,” Spearhead explained as he walked by. He then stopped beside me and decided to add further, “Since she called for it, she can decide how it’s done. They can be done ta the death, ta whoe’er draws first blood, or until the grievance is resolved.”

By the third choice, it meant that it was possible to talk it out while fighting and end it peacefully. I already knew the path I was taking, so I didn’t need any advice Spearhead had to offer.

But it wasn’t advice he was giving. “Elati, please don’t leave us. Ah get why ye hate Seikram- we all miss the capt’n an’ we didn’t like how it all happened, but he did wot he thought was right. If ye should be mad at anyone, it should be the goddess. Had we known yer readin’ didn’t have to end wit’ yer death, then Seikram wouldn’t have rallied us ‘gainst the capt’n.”

What Spearhead didn’t know was that Seikram didn’t kill Pappy just to ‘save my life’. All he was told was that it was a choice between Pappy and I, and he was convinced that Pappy would rather have me live on. Even if the truth had been known, that snake would’ve found some other way to eliminate the captain. However, without the backing of my reading, Seikram probably wouldn’t have been able to get the crew on his side that day.

But what exactly was the skinny pirate hoping to accomplish? Was he asking me to spare Seikram? Or was he asking that I consider staying no matter the outcome of the duel? So far, no one really knew my intent- hell, even I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing. I wasn’t even positive beating the man would really help- I just wanted something done that I knew I could accomplish on my own.

“Ah don’t care about the blessin’s that the capt’n brought- all ah want is ta bring back the glory days. We can’t bring back the capt’n, but ye can certainly fill his boots. Wit’ ye, ah think we can be the pirates we once was,” the curly haired man finished before he walked off.

Oh Spearhead… why did you have to say that? Coming from him, that was a plea I couldn’t ignore. His desire to relive the past was just as self-serving as what Seikram wanted, but some part of me wanted that too. At least he wanted me around because he liked me- I couldn’t shake the feeling that Seikram just wanted me for the benefits that came with the Lord of the Sea.

I couldn’t let the crew down… but at the same time, I didn’t want to be confined to the ship until I had the next heir or whatever. I gave up my revenge, so how could I work it out to where I could both maintain a friendly and consistent relationship with the crew while also staying within Satel’s life? It was possible now that I could come and go as I pleased.

I suppose it was just more thinking I was going to have to do while waiting for my duel…

********************

After a few hours, someone spotted a small deserted island and we began to sail towards it. The island was roughly thirty or forty miles Northwest of the enclave, though I couldn’t tell the true distance since the winds were pushing us faster than norm.

“Right, we’re takin’ the boats ta get there,” Seikram announced before he glanced over to me. “Ye comin’ Elati? Or are ye backin’ down?”

‘Don’t confuse me wit’ yerself, woman,’ I mouthed to him as I strode over to the nearest rowboat.

“Who’s a ‘woman’!?” he snarled indignantly before he stormed over to the second boat.

By tradition, the duelists had to travel to land in two separate boats. I jumped over to my boat, not caring that my team of rowers were already onboard. My actions caused them to cling to the sides as the small vessel swung, then fell to the sea as the ropes holding it up loosened. Thankfully, no one fell over, and I managed to look cool as I was still standing after that- the odds of that happening again were very slim.

Still, it looks like Blood-Knot had some work to do, since it seemed the boat davits were not in top shape.

Seikram and I both stood at our respective bows as the others rowed us to the shore. For some reason, Satel and Cegil decided not to join me- instead they teleported over to the beach as soon as I was in the water. Some part of me was surprised that my mate hadn’t said a word to me yet. I thought for sure he’d badger me about how he would step in for me if needed, or renew his vow that he would save me if I appeared to be losing.

I was admittedly scared with his behavior lately. It seemed as if he was becoming distant ever since I lost my voice… but it was too soon to say that for sure. I’d only become mute a few hours ago, and I refused to believe that his reaction was permanent. He was probably going through some of his own shock- or maybe he was over thinking my situation and was stressing himself out trying to find a way to help me.

Despite the situation, I thought that above all he’d have my back in this. Or maybe he was supporting me, but didn’t know what to say. It’s not as if I could respond…

Halfway to the shore, I felt eyes on me and glanced over to the other boat. Seikram was staring at me, appearing both grim and serious. I glared back at him before I turned up my nose and faced the front again. I suppose he had nothing to be happy about, but I was a little surprised he wasn’t already throwing taunts and insults at me. I guess he was smart enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a pushover despite my gender.

When we got to the beach, I was approached by Satel. He pulled me aside and stood in a way so that Seikram couldn’t see him talking. While he had his hands on my shoulders and me held out at arm’s length as if he was going to coach me (which I didn’t need), I was just relieved that he was finally breaking the silence.

“If you’re doing this just to settle things quickly, then don’t. There’s plenty of time to train you, and we can come back and visit anytime you like. It doesn’t have to be a ‘now or never’ situation,” he told me before he bowed his head down for a second and then inquired, “…Or are you fighting him to the death?”

I shook my head to answer his question and his expression soon betrayed his relief. What- did he not want me to kill him? Or was he just happy that I wasn’t doing it right now? Surely he knew I wouldn’t let someone like Seikram take my life so easily- and I trusted my mate to save me if the rat did try to do so.

“Ah, in that case, I know you’ll win this. Your opponent is pretty strong, but you’re not an average human. Though I doubt you’ll have problems, I’ll be ready to heal any wounds you might sustain.”

This is what I wanted to hear- I felt real smile creep up on my lips as I looked up at my mate. He wasn’t worried about me losing or having trouble facing a man in a fight- he knew I wasn’t weak.

He then sent me off with a quick kiss on my cheek, presumably for luck. I was sure he wanted to put it on my lips, but he respected the fact that I got too flustered over intimate gestures in public.

As I headed over to Seikram, I wondered about what Satel had said about me not being ‘average’. Was he implying that I had some extra strength through him because we were mates? Though, it could be due to the fact that since I aged very slowly, my muscles never had time to weaken over the years, despite my not using them as much as I did before.

Someone had drawn a large circle in the sand to signify where Seikram and I were fighting and I headed into the boundary. This was the part where I was supposed to announce what kind of fight I wanted, but I was going to have to settle for gestures instead.

I turned to Cegil and Satel and tried to beckon one of them over. Because I wasn’t clear as to who I wanted, both came over, but Cegil ended up being the closest to me. I reached into my sleeveless trench coat and pulled out my revolver, then I handed it over to the lavender haired man as a sign that I didn’t want to use it.

Seikram copied my move, showing me that he had a one-shot pistol hidden in his trench coat, before he gave his piece to the nearest corsair. I took a few steps forward as I drew my rapier sword, and was soon mirrored by the bilge rat as he unsheathed his cutlass. No sooner than when he held his blade in position for a fight, I caught him off guard when I stuck my weapon in the sand to show that I wanted a fist only battle.

Since Seikram was the quartermaster, he still had to call for the fight to begin even though he was part of it. I didn’t waste time, rushing over to him and landing a hit to his jaw while he was distracted. The man backed a few steps before he raised his fist and swung at me, but I dodged.

“When will ye get it through yer thick skull that all ah did was fer ye!” he shouted after avoiding one of my attacks. I huffed as I used my other fist for a second blow and managed to get him in the arm. Was this really his attempt at resolving this peacefully? Lioa taught me that one should never start a conversation with an accusation, and I could see why- all it did was piss me off and made me want to hurt him more.

‘How is taking away someone dear to me good fer me? It don’t mean anythin’ ta ye, but that was me pappy ye killed!’ I mouthed to him, as he backed off to recover. I wasn’t even sure if he could read my lips while trying to concentrate on the battle, but I wanted to get my point across as well.

Before I knew it, I felt a blow under my chin and realized that he was probably using conversation to lower my guard. I backed away to lessen the force of his punch, but I soon found that it didn’t hurt as much as I was anticipating. Sure, it hurt a little from the slap of his knuckles against my skin, but there should have been more damage from the force. Could this have been a side effect of my modified body?

I rubbed my jaw with the back of my hand and ran my tongue along the inside of my teeth to make sure nothing was bleeding. Seikram was gracious enough to give me that chance, but soon regretted it when I snapped back into action and side kicked him in the stomach.

‘Ye can’t hide behind that readin’ anymore- had Pappy lived, he would’ve found another way!’ I argued, feeling odd speaking without my voice. It wasn’t until he replied to me when I discovered that he could understand me just fine.

“It’s more than jus’ the readin’! An’ yer not the only one who grieved! Rutan was me friend- how do ye think ah felt havin’ ta kill him!? Ye lasses jus’ don’t understand- sometimes a man has ta prove their worth by succeedin’ o’er their master. It’s natural law!” he countered between rasping breaths while holding his arms over his belly.

Natural law? What a vial of kwiad rue! I was too angry at that moment to recognize the fact that there was some validity in his claim- even falucite had a natural law where the weak must be spared and the strong must be challenged. But that had nothing to do with humans, let alone pirates. The only reason one had to challenge a captain was to take command of the crew. What other reason could Seikram possibly have that would validate his cause for the mutiny?

‘Liar! Ye don’t feel sorry at all!’ I mouthed, this time keeping my fists ready in case he wanted to surprise me with another attack. I chose to focus on his lack of remorse than on his claims of law. Perhaps as a girl I didn’t understand some stupid concept that gave men reason to kill others, but that wasn’t something I could counter to justify my reasons for being upset. I didn’t give a damn about what Seikram wanted or needed to accomplish for his own ego- I cared about the man who was ripped out of my life.

We weren’t really fighting anymore, just holding our positions to talk out a little more. We were both on guard and saw it pointless to strike until the other lowered it somehow.

‘Ye don’t understand the bond between parent an’ child. Mebbe he was yer capt’n, but he was me pappy- he was the man who first loved me, raised me, an’ believed in me. An’ when ye took him away, ah was left with nothin’! Ah lived five years all alone, surrounded by people who treated me like a monster, an’ hurt me when they made mistakes! Ah had ta live outdoors an’ rob others ta survive ‘cause that’s all ah knew, an’ nobody would help me! Ah starved some days, others ah was blue from cold, an’ ah had no one ta care fer me- and ah would’ve become a slave if that tall falucite back there hadn’t saved me! He became me new pappy an’ filled the void made by yer betrayal!’

My throat was beginning to hurt from the emotions I was feeling in having to explain my past. I believed the pain was from the fact that I almost felt like crying- it couldn’t have been from raising my voice since I had nothing to strain in my neck. This was actually the true root of my hatred- it wasn’t just about my father, but also the pain I felt afterwards as a direct result of his actions. Seikram hurt me, too, through betrayal and abandonment, though the latter was supposedly unintentional.

‘This pain and hatred ah feel is all because o’ ye!’ I finished as the pirate slowly looked up at me with an astonished look on his face. I wasn’t sure if he was able to read me now that I was speaking so fast, but I did seem to get through to him. For the first time, I saw guilt flash through his grey eyes before he stood up his full height.

“Ah see… then this can’t be solved by words alone,” he muttered almost too quietly. He then held out his arms at his sides and added, “Come at me wit’ all ye got, lass. Let’s settle this.”

It didn’t take much for me to resume exchanging blows with him as the crew and falucite silently watched. Normal fights had cheering, but no one was sure whom to cheer for or if the outcome was going to be good no matter the victor. The pirates were worried about my leaving, it seemed, but they didn’t want to lose Seikram as well. Hence why it was important for me not to kill him.

I had thought we were having a real fight of convictions- that we were fighting to prove who was more right and who should be punished for being selfish, but… After I had sustained a third hit to my shoulder, I realized that it wasn’t my body that was absorbing the hits- it was Seikram holding back.

He may have appeared to be fighting back, but he wasn’t trying very hard to block against me, and his attacks were too weak. In that instant, I thought he was going easy on me because I was a girl, and that angered me. I clasped my hands together to strengthen my next attack and knock him to the ground. That’ll show him who’s weak!

He continued to stay down, acting as if he couldn’t get up. I knew that wasn’t true since I had barely hurt him that much- yet. I kicked him in the side to remind him where he was, but he just groaned and waited for my next move. So the snake not only killed my father and ruined my life, but he was also determined to deny me a fair battle as well. My fingers curled into tight fists and my jaw tightened from fury- I would’ve growled if I could.

How could I restore my father’s honor and seek restitution for the pain I felt if he refused to act like the antagonist I wanted to beat up? All his actions were doing was making me feel as if I was bullying a helpless man, and that just ticked me off further. If he wasn’t going to fight back, then fine! I hope he was prepared to feel some of the pain I had to endure as the ‘monster’ of Port Sibest! If I had to look like said monster while doing it, then so be it- I wasn’t falling for his lies or pitiful acts!

I kicked him several times and even stomped down on his limbs, hearing a crunch- not once did he cry out or beg for mercy. After a while, I began to have my doubts that this was an act. Even if he was trying to make himself look good, no one was that committed to the role if it involved torture. It was then when I figured out what he had really meant when he had told me not to hold back. Seikram wanted me to beat him- this was his way to apologize for everything.

He really was trying to make it up to me by letting me do this- somewhere in that cocky attitude was actual remorse, and he wanted to bear the pain he’d inflicted upon me…

DAMN HIM TO FIVE HELLS!

I sharply kicked him one last time. Everything was just so confusing- after all these years, after all that suffering, and Seikram wasn’t the evil mastermind I viewed him to be. I’ll never understand what happened that day, but as much as I wanted to hate him, he truly wasn’t a bad person. This was so damned unfair!

I stood over his body, still tense from what I was feeling, and I was breathing heavily as I tried to calm down and recover. I suppose this made my decision to let him live easier, but what would have Pappy thought about this? Would he have understood? Or would he have been disappointed in my inability to avenge him?

In the end, I had to face facts- everything that had happened wasn’t even my fault to begin with. It wasn’t my responsibility to correct the mistakes of others, and there was no real need for me to carry on a path of vengeance when I had no real idea if that was what Pappy would’ve wanted. For all I knew, maybe he did accept his death, thinking that it would spare me.

I think the only reason I wanted to do this was because I didn’t want to be a victim of the Fates. Even though I didn’t know if I would ever see Seikram again after the incident, I still wanted vengeance in some way. I endured the people of Port Sibest- I took their blows and distanced myself from humanity just to survive. Some part of me hoped that I would see the day when I faced that snake and claimed his life. As a child, it was easy for me to talk about killing someone, but I long ago found out how hard it was to actually do it.

…But as the thought occurred to me, I realized that even now I didn’t have to be a victim. All because I couldn’t get revenge didn’t mean I had to give up everything and just shut down. In a move that surprised even me, I bent down and plucked the tri-cornered hat from Seikram’s head and placed it on mine. The hat was a symbol of leadership, though it didn’t quite specify as to what kind. Either way, I had just made a very clear statement- I was staying to lead them, just as how Pappy likely would’ve wanted me to.

I wasn’t sure why I decided to cave in- perhaps I finally felt sorry for the bilge rate, or maybe I felt that this was the only thing I could do for my father’s memory. Regardless of my reasoning, I wasn’t just going to run away with Satel and just leave them to fend for themselves. I didn’t like it when I thought they had done so to me, so why should I do it to them?

“Uhh… are we maroonin’ him?” someone inquired, off to my side. Everyone wasn’t sure what to make of my actions, or who to obey now.

I shook my head and then gave my first order without thinking about it. Unfortunately, it seemed Seikram was the only one who could read lips, which gave all the more reason to keep him around. Until I somehow got my voice back, I wasn’t going to be able to lead properly without him.

“She said ta take me ta Needles an’ get the box. We’re shovin’ off wit’in the hour,” he relayed for me, his voice rasping from pain.

All in all, Seikram was probably going to develop a lot of bruises and welts, and perhaps a broken arm, but otherwise he should be fine in a few days. Needles was pretty much the doctor of the ship, though he only specialized in amputations and stitching up open wounds. He was nothing like Didra in terms of medicine, but he should be able to set a broken bone and patch the snake up.

“An’ wot is ta become o’ me?” Seikram asked, curious as to what was going to happen now. Usually, when a man was bested by another, he’d lose his title and become an average corsair. However, I wasn’t a ‘man’, and I still had use for him as he was.

‘Ye’ll still be the quartermaster. Ah expect ye ta be back ta yer duties in a few days,’ I told him as I stared down at him. Strange as it was, I was starting to get used to mouthing my words… though I still hoped that I wouldn’t have to live with it for the rest of my life.

“Does that mean ye forgive this ol’ pirate fer wot he’s done?” he inquired, appearing relieved at my decision.

‘No, not really,’ I replied, ‘But I do hate you a little less.’

I couldn’t possibly forgive him overnight, but I was taking the step towards it. Someday I might find it in myself to understand and forgive what he did, though it was definitely a long way off. Seikram accepted that for now- at least my anger at him quieted to the point where I was just greatly annoyed with him. It was much better than the undying hatred I felt not too long before.

We headed back to the boats and on the way I stopped to glance at Cegil and Satel. I was sure my sudden decision confused Cegil, but my mate seemed to have understood what was going on. There was a hurt and confused look in his cinnamon eyes, and I wanted to clear up what I was intending as soon as I could.

Yes, I was choosing to keep a strong connection with the crew, but I was still free to have a life with him so long as Seikram was around to take over for me. I just …hoped that I would be able to convey that to him in my current state. He might take my decision the wrong way and assume that I wanted to leave him- I had to prevent that at all costs.

I gave them what I hoped was a pleading look, asking them to come back to the ship and stay long enough for me to explain myself. Cegil seemed to catch on, nodding once before announcing that he would see me there. But Satel stood in place, maintaining that saddened look long after his brother disappeared.

“Do you know what you’re doing, ‘Tia?” he inquired solemnly, leaving me to wonder what was going through his mind right then.

I decided to be honest with him and shook my head. I was fully aware of what I was doing, but I wasn’t sure if I really knew what to do about it. I was actually just jumping head first into what could potentially be a huge mistake. But it was the first decision I made after days of going in circles over the same difficult issue- it was something being done.

Satel appeared astonished at my answer for a second before he slowly shook his head and allowed a tiny smirk to appear on his lips. “I knew ‘reckless’ was your maiden name…”

I huffed before I good-naturedly punched him in the arm. I then held out my hand, beckoning for him to take it. I wanted to show to him that I still wanted him by my side, and it gave me hope that things could work out when he did grab my hand. I led him to the boat to ride with me, even though it was full enough as it was. I kept my grip on him the entire trip, making sure that he understood that I didn’t want him to teleport away, even if it was just to get on the deck of the ship.

Once we were back on the main deck, those left behind were anxious to know the outcome, especially after seeing a wounded Seikram being carried on board. Nothing was said as one of the younger members rushed off to retrieved what we simply called ‘the box’. The box was just a small treasure chest that contained the earrings that marked rank on the ship.

When it was brought before me, the lad opened the top and held it up for me. I glanced the contents, seeking for what I was looking for while the other pirates seemed to hold their breaths in anticipation. Even at this point, they had no clue what I was going to do. I could just take off my ear hugger and close the chest- a sign that I was permanently leaving them.

But instead, I fished out a gold coin earring- the same that my father once wore. I then closed the box and backed away before I walked up to the quarterdeck. Everyone watched me as I headed over to the helm and stood beside the wheel in plain sight.

For the first time in roughly twenty-five years, I removed my ear hugger and instead pinned the coin earring to my lobe. I placed my old one away in a pocket for safe keeping, since I wasn’t quite ready to part with it yet. I then grabbed a spoke of the wheel before I glanced down at the others to see if there were any objections.

One by one, every man raised their hands in salute, even Seikram from his reclining position near the main mast. They all quietly pledged their acceptance and their loyalty to me until death. And with that, it was official…

My name is Tia, and like my father before me, I command The Cruel Whore.

To the Next Chapter

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