The Wrecking Witch
It was raining on Pendrake Island. The little spit of dark rock and soil, jabbing out of the cold waters of the North Atlantic like the tip of a submerged spear, was washed with rain and the sea around it churned and writhed in white fury. The rain swept down onto the dirt street of Pendrake Island's little harbor settlement, turning them into lanes of mud. The gambrel roofs of the few wooden structures rattled under the rainfall and the ships in the harbor swayed and danced in the growing waves. The sign of the town's only alehouse, a small establishment named the Prancing Piglet, danced and waved in the battering wind. Sebastian Foxfire watched the sign dance for several seconds, almost mesmerized by its waving, before he pushed open the doors and trudged inside.
Sebastian looked up at the empty public house, and walked over the cobblestone floor to the little counter. It was dark, with candles dripping on the tables and a lantern swinging above the bar. Sebastian stuck to the shadow as he tossed a golden coin to the fellow behind the bar, and then settled at one of the tables. Sebastian was drenched from the rain and the cold of Pendrake seemed to cling to his bones.
"Rum, my good fellow," Sebastian demanded, his voice delicate and with the refined tones of New England aristocracy. "And enough to provide suitable warmth to my bones from the ferocity of that downpour." He was a sprightly fellow, and a brilliant crimson frock coat and golden waistcoat appeared after he removed his dark traveling cloak and sank into the seat. He had a pleasant face, with a pinched nose and very bright eyes in a pale face. A powdered wig sat, half-askew, under a tricorne set with peacock feathers. His clothes marked him a dandy. The long, slightly curved sword at his waist and pistol handles poking out from his coat marked him as something else.
The barman regarded Sebastian coolly. He was a portly man, completely hairless, and with thick arms that could easily belong on a bear. He nodded to the barmaid seated next to him, and she hurried out with a jug of rum and a metal tankard in hand. Sebastian's eyes followed her as she approached and poured, tracing the gently curve of her body under her simple gray dress and the blonde ringlets of her hair, which gleamed in the low lantern light.
He was quiet until she had poured him his drink. Sebastian lifted it slowly to his lips and drunk deeply, still staying to the shadows. The rum boiled pleasantly down his throat, seeping into his belly with a warm glow. He licked his lips. "A lovely drink," he said, with an even smile. "But the hand that pours it is lovelier still."He set the mug down. "Have you a name, my dear?"
"Katrina, sir," she said, with a shy smile.
"Katrina," Sebastian repeated. "It is like the wind through a wood, is it not? Joyous as an infant's first breath. Katrina." He reclined in his chair. "My name is Sebastian. Fine enough, I suppose, but greatly lacking the beauty of your name."
"And why have you come to Pendrake Island, Sebastian?" Katrina asked. "Surely, a great man like yourself, with such finery for clothes, would have little to do with our small and lonely town."
"Oh, your island has its charms – endless rain aside. I have come to it but lately, from the hold of a merchantman bound for England and I already find its beauty stark and striking." Sebastian picked up the mug again. His eyes darted to Katrina over its rim. "But I am not here to savor the sights. There's a story I have heard, spoken in hushed whispers in taverns and back alleys from here to Port Royale – the story of Pendrake Island and the Wrecking Witch."
The barman and Katrina exchanged a glance. They stayed silent until Sebastian had his drink. Katrina grabbed a chair and sat down next to him. "Those tales are true, sir," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Abishag Williams is her name and she lives just off the coast, in a half-submerged ship of her own wrecking. She's sold her soul to the devil, sir, in return for power over the storm and seas. And every ship that goes by risks falling victim to her endless rage. She calls down storms and sinks them all."
"Indeed," Sebastian agreed. "That is the legend I have heard. Of course, you failed to mention that this Wrecking Witch's actions have doubtlessly yielded her a vast fortune. Many of those ships she sunk were bearing the wealth of the colonies home to Europe. And all that wealth must be with her, ripe as a low-hanging fruit for the proper plucking." He licked his lips. "And I think it is my hand that shall snatch it up."
"But she'll destroy you, sir!" Katrina cried. "She's got black magic on her side and—"
"Well, my dear." Sebastian leaned closer. "I am something of an expert on the matters of black magic." His face edged into the light, revealing more of his face. Katrina recoiled when she saw it. Etched into the pale skin of his cheek, dark as sin and glaring as a hateful eye, was a branded pentagram, circled and with the point facing down.
With a low growl, the barman walked out from behind the counter. "You're a Foxfire," he muttered darkly. Sebastian knew the barman had heard of the Foxfires. Their names were legend all along the Atlantic coast. "One of them devil-worshippers, who got rich in shipping until their fortunes faded so they used their ships to bring in arcane relics and evil things from all over the world. But when others found out, they fled from England and came out here, so they could keep their satanic ways strong."
Sebastian sighed. "Yes," he replied. "I suppose that is a truthful accounting of my family history, though it is quite rude and ill-informed." His father had indeed taken their family to the New World, when Sebastian was still a boy. He grew up in their manor of New Foxgate, secluded deep in the wild woods near Salem village. He had learned everything there, from skill with a sword to knowledge of black magic and demonology. But he had left New Foxgate, never to return. "But I am no servant of Satan. I do not walk in the devil's path – or anyone's path but my own."
"So you say – but Lucifer speaks with a forked tongue!" The barman grabbed Katrina's arm and pulled her away. "We'll take your coin, Foxfire. Even gold earned in the devil's service spends well enough. But you'll find no friendly conversation from us – or from any godly men!" Katrina looked back at Sebastian and her eyes were pleading – but she made no protest.
"Very well," Sebastian agreed. He rested his head on his hand, letting his fingers cover the pentagram on his cheek. "As you say, sir." He was well-used to the hatred and distaste that others had for him, as soon as they spotted his pentagram and connected him to his family. The injury caused by those insults and dirty looks had long ceased to pain him – though it did throb from time to time. Sebastian looked back to the rum, now half-gone. He gave it another slurp.
Before he could finish it, the door to the Prancing Piglet slammed open again. This time, it was a barrel-chested ruffian in a dark great coat, tricorne cocked on his head and a bristly black beard sinking down nearly to his waist. He had a cutlass thrust through his scarlet sash, along with a stout musketoon, and he strode in like he was the master of the place, coming home after a short absence.
"Let the ale flow, my good man!" he bellowed, with a harsh Bristol accent. "Let it flow like the pouring rain, into the throat of Captain Curwood Horne and his mates, the fine crew of the Red Joke!" Half a dozen of his men walked in after him. They were rough sorts, with scarred faces and the occasional missing eye or nose, all armed with blades and flintlocks. Captain Curwood Horne stumbled into one of the chairs and slammed his boots on the table. "Aye, the crew of Red Joke – the finest pack of worthies as ever stormed the Caribbean under the black banner of King Death!" He slammed his fist on the table. "And hurry, man! My thirst ain't vanishing with the passage of time alone, damn your eyes!"
The bartender and Katrina scurried to ready tankards of ale. Sebastian remained at his seat, watching Captain Horne and his crew with half-closed eyes. They were raucous and uncouth, swallowing down the rum as soon as it was poured. Captain Horne spilled the rum across his face and it seeped into his beard. They were pirates, of that Sebastian was certain. But what were the pack of cutthroats and sea rats doing here? There were no major forts or merchant ships to loot - unless they were after the same goal as he.
It was only a matter of time until Captain Horne noticed him. The pirate captain's eyes darted to Sebastian Foxfire in the shadows. He leaned closer to Sebastian, grinning widely. His teeth were yellow as aged bone. "Well, what have we hear, lads?" he asked. "A dandy, if I'm not mistaken. What you doing here, dandy? I see no opera houses or balls a-waiting for you attendance!" He chortled at his joke.
Sebastian came quickly to his feet. His hand fell to the handle of his sword. He took a step across the bar, approaching Captain Horne, allowing for all the pirates to see his pentagram scar. "I've come for the Wrecking Witch's treasure," Sebastian announced. "And why are you present?"
"The Wrecking Witch's…treasure?" Horne's merriment suddenly left him. His men ceased their drinking and silence reigned in the tavern. "Why, that's the reason we're here, you macaroni cuttlefish!" He walked closer to Sebastian, drawing his cutlass free. He raised the glittering blade. "That's our score and no mistake. And if you seek to steal from us…"
"I'm sure there is treasure enough to satisfy both of us," Sebastian replied. "Let us work together and split the proceeds. Half for your crew and half for me. Fair enough, I think." He reached down for his mug and raised it to his lips. "Is that not equitable, my good captain?"
In answer, Captain Horne swung his cutlass towards Sebastian's skull. The blade cut through the air in a gray blur. Sebastian had seconds to act. He stepped back, letting the humming steel pass inches from his nose and then flicked his wrist and tossed the content of his mug into Captain Horne's face.
Horne sputtered and closed his eyes as he was soaked in rum. His sword arm paused, giving Sebastian vital time. In the blink of an eye, Sebastian let the mug fall to the ground with a clatter and drew his own blade. It was a scimitar, in the Arabian style, with a shining silver blade. An Arabic verse was inlaid across the length of the blade. Sebastian crashed his steel against Horne's cutlass, forcing the pirate's blade down. He raised his own sword, settling the point at Captain Horne's throat. Sebastian's father, the patriarch of the Foxfire Family, had ensured that his son knew the complexities of dueling – and the difference between a duel for honor and a fight to the death.
"Captain!" One of Horne's pirates, a swarthy salt with a curling scar on his cheek, raised his musket, but Sebastian was prepared. With his free hand, he pulled a flintlock from his coat and aimed it at the crewman, cocking the pistol as he took aim. The pirate froze.
Captain Horne glared at Sebastian. He still held his cutlass. "You pull that trigger or tense your hand, dandy," Horne hissed. "And you'll find your innards on the floor of this public house before the night is out."
"I don't doubt it," Sebastian replied. "And my offer still stands."
"To blazes with your offer!" Horne roared.
"By the Black Crown of Hades, why are they always such dullards?" Sebastian whispered to himself. "Listen to me, Captain Horne – what hope have you or your men of succeeding against the Wrecking Witch? She's a conjurer, remember? No matter how many cannons or muskets you have, she'll still triumph against you." Sebastian smiled. "But not against me."
"And why not?" Captain Horne demanded.
"Because I am Sebastian Foxfire. My father read to me the Satanic verses beside my childhood bed. I trafficked with demons before my thirteenth birthday and summoned the princes of Hell into my presence. My blade was given to me by my father for that birthday, and it is laced with electrum and enchanted by the sages of Lost Iram of the Pillars, so that I can slaughter a supernatural foe. You provide the manpower and the ship. I provide the occult knowledge. We divide the Wrecking Witch's treasure trove between us. What is your answer?"
For a few seconds, Captain Horne stared at Sebastian in thought. The pirate didn't seem to notice the blade at his throat, or the rum soaking his face and beard. His dark eyes half-closed and his lips pursed. "Forty for your and fifty for me," he finally said. "I have my mates after all."
Sebastian pulled back his scimitar. "And I respect a man who cares for his own." He held out his hand. "To the Wrecking Witch, then, before this storm worsens?"
"Aye!" Captain Horne took Sebastian's hand. He then pulled Sebastian close and wrapped him in a jolly hug. He laughed as he patted Sebastian's back. "To the Wrecking Witch, Sebastian Foxfire – and all the lucre that Satanic strumpet has!" He turned about, calling to his men as he raised his voice. "Come along, lads! The tide's a-waiting!"
They hurried out of the Prancing Piglet, Sebastian following them. For some reason, Sebastian didn't share Captain Horne's merriment. He sheathed his scimitar carefully and wondered what else the night had in store for him.
After leaving the public house, Horne and his crew boarded the Red Joke and sailed from the little harbor, hugging Pendrake Island's rocky coast. Sebastian stood on the quarterdeck of Captain Horne's sturdy sloop, staring out at the gray sea, which was growing fiercer. A storm was coming. Sebastian was certain of that. The wind howled down along the rocky coast of Pendrake Island, whistling through the jagged rocks slick with sea-spray. Sebastian shivered a little in the sudden cold and looked ahead into the mist. The Wrecking Witch's home had to be somewhere ahead.
Heavy footsteps sounded behind Sebastian. He turned around and saw Captain Horne approaching, a spyglass at his side. "Standing watch, my dandy?" Horne asked, as he took his place next to Sebastian. "Aye, as eager to please as the cabin lad, you are!" He pulled a pipe from the pocket of his coat and began to prepare it. "Do you smoke, sir?" he wondered.
"Not tobacco of that poor quality," Sebastian replied evenly. "It is no insult to you, my dear captain, but part of my very nature – and one inherited from my family. My father, you see, only approved of the finest of all amenities."
"But I'll bet his disapproved of most practices that god-fearing Englishman engage in, by thunder!" Horne chuckled. "Tell me, what it was like to grow up surrounded by that kind of wealth, wrapped in the evil of demon-worship?"
"It was a fine childhood. My father cared for me deeply." Sebastian thought back to New Foxgate, where he had spent his boyhood. He remembered the high-vaulted mansion and the dark woods beyond, along with the silent servants and his father's kind words. He remembered his father's kind words most of all – but there were only a few memories of them.
"Most parents do. I never knew my father, mind you. Born to a dockside tart, I was, but she raised me right enough, I'll wager." Horne shrugged. "Still, if I may ask, what are you doing out here searching for treasure, instead of by your family's side? After all, they must have a fortune if you can fetch you Arabic steel for your presents. Why look for treasure from the Wrecking Witch? And your garments, fine as they are, don't seem like they'd belong on some magician."
"I have left hearth and home," Sebastian replied. "And I will take nothing more from my family. I desire good drink, good food, good clothes of the latest fashions and good company and that requires an excess of funds. That is the reason why I have set this task for myself. I desire money for I need the good living that money brings."
"I'm with you there, Sebastian," Captain Horne agreed. "But may I ask what drove you from your family?"
"You may not," Sebastian replied, keeping his voice calm and even.
"Fair enough, my dandy friend. Fair enough." Captain Horne puffed on his pipe, a thick stinking cloud seeping from between his lips. Sebastian noted that he still hadn't wiped the whiskey from his face and beard. "We've all demons in our pasts. Some just have more than others. But what can we do but face the demons alongside our friends and comrades, eh, Sebastian?"
Sebastian smiled back at Captain Horne. "Yes, of course, captain," he agreed. "You must forgive my moods. This weather makes me pensive, I believe." He looked out at the sea, trying to peer through the mist and crashing waves. He saw something solid, stretched out by the dark rocks and moving with the even motion of the tide. Orange light gleamed from somewhere on its length. Perhaps it was a boat. "Captain," Sebastian asked. "I think that might be—"
A bolt of lightning interrupted his sentence. It struck down into the center of the Red Joke's deck, blackening the wood and sending splinters spraying through the cold air. The boat heaved into the air and crashed down, the aged wood creaking like a wounded beast's screams. More lightning forked through the sky above them. The wind howled and the sloop veered sharply to the side, drawing closer to the jagged rocks. The storm had arrived.
The ship rocked to the side, and the deck shifted under Sebastian's feet. He stumbled against the railing, the wood ramming into his guts. The wind left Sebastian, but he grabbed the railing and held on. The Red Joke was rocking back and forth. The mast heaved and swung. Sebastian could hear men shouting over the storm, as they tried to keep the ship afloat.
"Move, my mates!" Captain Horne roared. "Pull the lines tight! Furl up the sails so we ain't driven onto those rocks! And don't you let the mast crumble! Don't you let my ship sink or by God or I'll pull myself up from Davy Jones and drown you all myself!"
The ship twisted again. Sebastian was hurled back, falling hard onto the deck. The blow rippled through his body. His bones felt like they were bending. Sebastian struggled to keep his grip and then he looked up at the sky. It was black as pitch, flecked with burning stars and flashes of lightning. Sebastian could feel the energy, crackling inside his veins like his blood was boiling. There was magic at work. He rolled over and came to his feet, gripping the rail to haul himself up. Sebastian glanced down, into the raging sea.
The lightning struck down again. It gouged into the mast above Sebastian's head. Sebastian looked up as he felt the sudden heat from the lightning, almost comfortably warm against his soaked skin. Then he looked up. The lightning had shattered one of the spars from the mast above him. It came hurtling down like a shot from a cannon.
"Sebastian!" Captain Horne cried, but it was too late.
The chunk of wood slammed down. Sebastian felt a blinding pain in the back of his head. He crashed against the rail against he was falling, the frenzied waves leaping up to capture him. The waters seemed to burn black and then white. Sebastian never felt the splash.
His mouth opened with a gasp and sucked in cold air. Sebastian breathed deeply and it felt wonderful. There was something soft under his back and welcome warmth against his skin. He blinked open his eyes and found himself lying in a cot of the corner of some officer's cabin overlooking a quarterdeck. He was in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves, his wig removed to reveal his closely-cropped black hair. Rain pattered regularly against a glass window above him, and the sound was somehow comforting, like the beating of a heart.
The cabin was adorned with arcane imagery and decorations. A flickering lantern hung in the corner, casting shadows over the skulls – both animal and human – hanging from the walls. Diamonds and other geometric shapes had been carved into the table and floors, and bags of gris-gris – the magical powder of African slaves – were knotted and swung from the ceiling. There was treasure too, strewn about the floor or resting on the tables, like it was so much rubbish that had long since been cast aside. Piles of doubloons, golden bars and chests overflowing with gold all gleamed in the low light of the lantern. Sebastian saw his pistols – still dry in their oilskin case – and his sword resting on the table as well.
With a groan, he reached over and gripped the handle of his scimitar. He tightened his grip when he heard footsteps and then the squeak of the door's hinges. "Ah!" A woman's voice, strangely young, filled the cabin. "It seems my sleeping prince is awake!"
Sebastian released his hold on his sword and looked at the figure standing in the doorway. There were a few strands of gray in her long dark hair and the skin of her face was smooth, if tanned from the elements. Her nose was slightly upturned, and she seemed always to be smiling, like she was remembering a private joke. A strange necklace hung over her shoulders, set with jagged fish bones. A ragged gray gown clung to her thin frame. She was the Wrecking Witch. Sebastian knew it just by looking at her.
"I am indeed awake," Sebastian agreed, remembering his manners. "Sebastian Foxfire, my good woman, at your service." He sat up in his bed and felt a rush of pain run over him. He smiled weakly. "I apologize, my dear. You find me somewhat inconvenienced."
The Wrecking Witch ran to him. She grabbed a tin cup from her table and pressed it to Sebastian's lips. "Drink deeply, Sebastian," she said, upending the cup. "This should see to your wounds. You must live, at least to assuage my curiosity as to the scar on your face." Her fingers reached down and brushed across the pentagram brand. "My master's symbol."
"It does not repulse you?" Sebastian wondered, his voice low. He finished drinking. The amber liquid settled in his body and he felt a little better. He knew not to ask what the healing potion was.
"Of course not." The Wrecking Witch stood back and set down the cup. "My name is Abishag Williams and I have embraced the ways of the devil – for I am tired of the ways of man." She stared out the window, overlooking her ships. "They led to the death of the only man I loved. I came from a respectable family, you see, one of the greatest in old Boston. As I grew into womanhood, it seemed that every rake with a rich father and a tricorne wanted my hand in marriage. But they were all such stupid wretches."
"I know the type," Sebastian agreed.
Abishag smiled to herself. "And then I met Bill – Black Bill Bailey, you'll know him as, the notorious pirate. He was everything I was not: poor, uneducated, and brave enough to battle all the injustice that civilized men revel in. His captain was cruel and vicious, so he mutinied. He realized the inequality between the rich and the poor, so he robbed and plundered for his crew. He saw the condition of slaves dying in the holds of their ships, so he captured and freed them. And he saw how unhappy a rich maiden of respectable society was, so he showed her his love."
Sebastian said nothing. He knew what it was to love, to truly find someone else that finally proved the terrible world good by their sheer existence – and then to have that love stolen away.
"But they caught him, Mr. Foxfire. They caught my Bill – and they had him swing from the gallows. Then they hung his body from the rocks until it fell into the sea." Abishag looked back to Sebastian. "I pled for him and my family first ignored and then abandoned me. I became an embarrassment so I fled into the woods and they didn't bother to give chase. There I learned the dark arts and declared war against all nations and men. And now I stay here, smashing every ship I care to, for the memory of Black Bill Bailey." She pointed out of the window. "Have a look, Sebastian Foxfire. Gaze at my kingdom."
Slowly, Sebastian turned his head and looked out of the glass window. He saw the tilted deck of their ship and beyond it, a great conglomeration of other vessels, all wrecked and smashed and half-sunk in the writhing sea. There were French caravels and Spanish galleons, as well as English ships-of-the-line, all smashed into each other with rigging and masts tangled into one mass. Sebastian could see bodies there, unfortunate seamen who had drowned in the wrath of Abishag's storms. The corpses were wrapped in the rigging or simply lay in the scuppers, moving back and forth with the slow roll of the waves. The Pendrake Island coast was in the distance, but the wrecks seemed perched on some rocky reef, so that there was dark water all around.
"By the Black Crown of Hades…" Sebastian whispered.
Abishag smiled. "I do not know when I told you all of this," she said. "Perhaps I like your face – or rather, the symbol upon it." She reached out once again and touched the pentagram. "Tell me how you acquired it, Mr. Foxfire. You must be a bold man indeed, to wear this hated symbol in the civilized, Christian world."
"It was not put there willingly," Sebastian explained. He came suddenly to his feet, and walked away from Abishag. "No, not willingly at all." He pressed his hands on the table to steady himself, staring down at the worn wood. "A woman put it there. Her name was Elizabeth Mulberry and I suppose she did for me what your Bill did for you."
"And what's that?"
"Taught you how to love. Taught you that there is kindness and goodness in this world." Sebastian looked back at Abishag. "But my father disapproved – as I'm sure you did. Elizabeth was a good girl from a good Christian family of considerable means, but that was the problem. The Foxfires had long ago sworn a war on the godly world, after my father believed that God had turned his back on us. He could not countenance such a lover for me. We fled to her father – but he knew of my family and refused us both. Then my father caught us. He saw my love for Elizabeth as a betrayal of him – and our family."
Sebastian rested his hand on his cheek. "I don't know. I was young and foolish." His fingers stroked the scar. "My father became enraged. He killed Elizabeth, before my eyes. He would have killed me, but my mother begged for my life. So he simply marked me, with a burning brand, so I would be known as a traitor to my very blood for the rest of my days. I turned against him and his demonic masters and I've been battling them whenever I get the chance – beyond acquiring treasure for a comfortable life, that is." He sat down on the bed and sighed. "We are a sorry pair, are we not? Abandoned by our families and cut off from the ones we love. Utterly alone in the world."
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Abishag standing above him. "We needn't be alone," she said, tightening her grip. She pulled Sebastian to his feet. "We have each other. Stay with me, Sebastian. Live with me on the wrecks, for the glory of the devil and the downfall of man. You have reason enough to hate God." They locked eyes. "And more than enough to love me."
They embraced and then their lips met. Sebastian listened to the pounding rain striking the cabin's window, and felt how terribly warm Abishag was. He looked into her deep eyes and then he was pulling away, coming to his senses and stumbling back.
"No," he said. "You've murdered hundreds with your storms. You're a servant of the devil."
"Hush." Abishag Williams raised her hand, open-palmed, like she was about to cuff him. "Hush, you foolish little man." Then her eyes turned to the window. "Wait…" she muttered. "Something is coming to my submerged kingdom."
Sebastian followed her eyes. He stared through the glass, at the pounding rains and the expanse of crumbling ships. Then a flash of lightning brought illumination to the cold sea and Sebastian saw them – clear as pockmarks on a pale face. There were half a dozen jolly boats, long rowboats loaded with crewmen. Sebastian saw Captain Curwood Horne, standing tall in the prow of the foremost jolly boat. When the watercraft drew closer, they sent up a stream of grappling hooks and ropes, which snagged on the tangled rigging and broken railing of the conglomeration of wrecks.
"Sea rats!" Abishag hissed their name. "They've come to kill me – I know it!"
"They'll do nothing of the sort, my good woman," Sebastian said quickly. "Provided you give them what they want. I know these rapscallions and they are riotous and uncouth – but not evil." He extended a hand to the assembled treasure. "They simply want a little of this loot. I see no reason why you should not hand them a portion. After all, you're not going to waltz out of your aquatic abode and spend any of it on a fine gown or feathered cap, are you?"
Abishag stared at Sebastian. "Greed," she said. "That's why you came here, isn't it?"
"Yes," Sebastian replied. "And nothing more."
"You're a sea rat like the rest of them." Abishag's eyes flashed. She raised her hands. "I know how to deal with rats." The wind increased in volume. More lightning flashed down and Sebastian felt the deck rising under his feet. A tempest was coming and Abishag was bringing it down.
Outside, Captain Horne's crew struggled along the decks, bent down under the wind and rain. One unlucky pirate was swept overboard by a sudden wave, hurled into the crashing sea below to be swallowed up before he had a chance to scream. Water rose in black fountains from cracks in the decks, splashing down on the pirates.
"But that's not enough," Abishag explained. She reached up and plucked one of the bags of gris-gris from the ceiling. "No storm alone will stop an invading army. That's fine though. I have soldiers of my own to call upon."
"No!" Sebastian cried, but Abishag had already hurled the bag of powder through the open door. It vanished into the storm, falling over the side and going into the sea. Sebastian couldn't even hear the splash. But as soon as the bag struck down, a change seemed to come over the sea. Sebastian could smell something beyond salt and spray, which was acrid and fierce within his nose. It was rot – the scent of death.
As Sebastian and Abishag watched, the drowned men all along the wrecks began to stir. At first it seemed that their dead limbs were moved by the wind or the motion of the ships, but then they rose up from wherever they lay and began walked towards Captain Horne's crew. They were terrible to look at, their flesh sodden and swollen, falling off in many places to reveal soaked bones and rotting flesh. The dead men walked towards the pirates in jerky, uneven movements.
A musket flashed out, blasting into one of the drowned men. Sebastian saw chunks of rotting flesh spewing from the wound, but then the living corpse walked on, ignoring the bloody hole in the center of its chest. Sebastian looked back up at Horne's crew. He knew that they would never reach Abishag's ship. They wouldn't even last long.
In a single quick movement, Sebastian snatched up one of his flintlock pistols from the table. He aimed it at Abishag. "End this storm! Let the dead rest!" he ordered. "I have known Captain Horne and his men but little, but they don't deserve this death! Especially not at your hands, wet as they are with seawater and blood!" He cocked the pistol.
"You'd turn against me?" Abishag asked. She didn't even look in Sebastian's direction as she spoke. "For the sake of a few lives?"
"End this storm, I say!" Sebastian reached for the trigger. "End it!" His finger tightened on the trigger. He pulled it. Nothing happened. Sebastian stared at his pistol, realizing what had happened.
"I unloaded them," Abishag explained. "While you slumbered." She raised her hand. "You see, Sebastian, I didn't trust you either."
Wind struck into Sebastian. It came from nowhere, with all the force and fury of a roaring gale. Sebastian's feet left the ground. He had time to grip his sword before he was thrown back, away from Abishag. He looked up into her face as he flew back, and then he was sprawling towards the wall - straight into the cabin's wide glass window. Sebastian struck into the glass and it shattered. He flew down and hit the deck, bouncing once on the soggy wood before rising again and flying towards the railing. Abishag meant to drown him.
He reached out and grabbed the railing. His arm wrapped around the crumbling, rough wood. It felt jagged and sharp, like he was trying to grab hold of a giant shark's tooth. Sebastian was bleeding and beaten, still light-headed from falling off the Red Joke, but he held on and forced himself to slam both boots down on the slick deck. He glanced up to get his bearings.
He was far from Abishag's cabin. At least two ship lengths were between him and the vessel where she resided, a veritable wasteland of smashed decks, tangled sections of rigging, collapsed masts and broken wood, all swarming with the drowned dead. The storm was making the entire formation of wrecks shift and change, making any navigation even more difficult.
Sebastian realized, with the grim certainty which all fighters know, that if he was to live, Abishag Williams must die. Already, a score of the drowned men were coming for him, shambling over the tilted deck with hands outstretched. Some of them carried rusty cutlasses, sabers or chipped belaying pins, which they had wielding in life. Abishag must have thought his weapons would be useless against the unquiet dead. She wanted Sebastian to join them.
"Then so be it," he muttered to himself and drew his scimitar. "She'll not find me easy prey!" His scimitar gleamed with inner light as it reached the air. Each one of the Arabic letters, blessed as they were by desert sages, shone with pale blue light as Sebastian raised his sword. His blade was like some deep sea phosphorescent fish, bright and living against the dark, stormy air.
Sebastian charged to meet them. His scimitar lashed out, striking into the skull of the nearest corpse and shearing apart rotting bone and flesh until the head had been hacked neatly in two. The drowned man sank down, blackish gore spraying from its head as the unholy excuse for life left it. It collapsed at Sebastian's feet. The corpse did not move again. The scimitar's magic worked well.
But even as the first of the drowned went down, another dead man swung his belaying pin towards Sebastian's chest. Sebastian's blade sang through the air, cutting through the wooden belaying pin and half of the drowned man's arm.
He stabbed out at the dead man, driving his blade straight into the belly of the living corpse. It sank easily into the rotten flesh, but when Sebastian Foxfire jerked his arm, the sword remained stuck. "Sink me," Sebastian cursed. He kicked out, slamming his boot into the cadaver's midsection to help him free the blade. "The cursed sword's stuck!"
As he tried to free the sword, another dead hand gripped Sebastian's arm. Sebastian was weakened from the night's battles. The arm tensed and pulled him back and he nearly let go of his scimitar. He was trapped and the dead were closing in. If Sebastian could not free his scimitar, he knew that he would die under their blades and arms and what was left of him would wash out to sea and feed the crabs and gulls – while his soul went straight to Satan.
"Ahoy, Sebastian Foxfire!" Captain Horne's bellicose voice reached Sebastian's ears. Sebastian looked up and saw the pirate captain and his few remaining sailors further down the deck. Horne leveled his musketoon with one hand, his cutlass clutched in the other. The musketoon fired, spitting fire and ball at Sebastian's attackers. Even a corpse was taken aback by a musket ball to the face.
The sodden corpse about to slash at Sebastian reeled back, his face a bloody cave. Sebastian used the opportunity and freed his sword. He spun around, swinging the blade in a flurry of singing steel. Dead limbs and corpses fell back, as blackish gore sprayed to the deck. Sebastian stumbled towards Captain Horne. The pirate had just a handful of his men left, and the drowned corpses were closing in. The storm continued to wail, and even as Sebastian approached, another pirate was struck by a falling piece of mast and knocked, screaming, over the side.
"Captain Horne!" Sebastian cried. "I thought you had perished!"
"Ah, it'll take more than a few waterlogged rotters to scuttle Captain Horne!" Horne looked back at what was left of his crew. "Though I don't know how long we can last in this storm, Sebastian. It'll sink us all, if we give it the chance." He pointed to his scimitar. "That pig sticker of yours works as you said it would. Does your cunning mind have a similar alacrity?"
"It does," Sebastian replied. "And it tells me that this entire venture was a mistake." He pointed ahead, to the cabin on a far ship. The lengths of nearly two wrecked decks were between them and the cabin. "Abishag is within. If she dies, maybe this storm and the dead men will fall with her." He gripped his sword. "I'll be the one to do it."
"Oh, a bit of bloodthirst in you, my dandy friend!" Horne laughed. "And what of the treasure?"
"Forget the damn treasure!" Sebastian roared. "Ready a jolly boat. Keep what remains of your crew breathing. Their lives are not worth this." He looked back at the cabin. He could still see the lantern light there, though it seemed as far away as the stars in heaven. He had to go there. He had to see Abishag. "Leave with your life, Horne – and be glad of it."
"And what will you do?" Captain Horne asked, his bluster finally leaving him. "You can't possibly make it to that far-off ship! In Neptune's name, flee with us while you still can! I won't leave you to your death, Sebastian. You may be a dandy, but you're a mate of mine now!"
"I will go and see the Wrecking Witch."
"So she can use her ghastly winds to rip the flesh from your bones?" Horne demanded. "By Satan, that is a foolish course you're plotting, dandy!"
Sebastian bit his lip. He was drenched from the driving rain, his shirtsleeves and waistcoat serving as poor protection against the cold. He had been battered and bruised and even the Wrecking Witch's healing potion hadn't helped end his pain. But for only a second, he had loved Abishag – just like he loved Elizabeth. He knew that nothing good would come of their meeting again, that he should run away and sail for the horizon without looking back at these wrecks. But he knew that he couldn't. If he left, Abishag would continue sinking ships and killing men. It was the same callous, petty evil that his father had – that was shared by all who cursed men and embraced the ways of devils.
"I can convince her to stop this madness," Sebastian muttered. He doubted his words even as he said them. "At least, I have to try." He turned away from Captain Horne, before he could say another word. Sebastian darted across the deck, his feet pounding under him and carrying him over the wrecked boards. Behind him, Captain Horne raised his voice in protest, but a rush of wind struck down and the pirate's words were lost.
The rain pelted down on him. His eyes ached and everyone was blurry and indistinct, like Sebastian was running underwater. He looked ahead and saw a small army of drowned dead coming to stop him, armed with long boarding pikes and hatchets. Sebastian reached them in seconds, his scimitar out and slashing through the air. He hacked a head from a dead body, lopped off a desiccated arm and sliced a corpse nearly in half, while forcing his pace not to slow. He raced past the dead men, and they shambled after him. The cabin drew nearer.
He saw a gap between the ships, with the white frothing sea below. It was too big to jump. Sebastian looked up and then he saw it – a low hanging strand of rigging, swinging wildly in the wind and just within grasp. He grabbed it. The ropes were soggy and rough to the touch, but Sebastian held on. He could only hope that it would hold his weight. The dead were coming after him, closing in.
"I apologize, gentlemen, but you will not have the pleasure of my company," Sebastian called to the dead men, steadying himself on the tilting deck as he sheathed his scimitar. Without the glow of the enchanted letters, the deck seemed strangely dark. "I must bid you fine rotting fellows adieu." He kicked out and lifted into the air, swinging up on the rigging.
The gap passed under his feet. Sebastian clung to the rigging and tried his best to hang on – but the ropes were wet and weak. He looked up and saw them already ripping, with a noise like a shrill roar. Sebastian stifled a curse as they gave way and then he was falling, the crashing waves seemingly reaching up to capture him. He had one chance.
He lunged forward. His arms gripped the edge of the deck and his fingers dug into the crevices of the splintery wood. Sebastian groaned as he pulled himself onto the deck, finally hefting up his legs and planting them on the shifting, splintering wood. Sebastian only allowed himself a single second of rest. He forced himself to stand and drew his scimitar once again. The cabin – and Abishag – was close now.
Sebastian started again, walking along the tilted deck. A drowned man came at from behind, a boarding axe raised high. Sebastian stabbed his scimitar behind, gutting the dead man without a glance. He had eyes only for Abishag's cabin. He crossed the deck in just a few easy strides.
There was one more gap between ships. This time, it was short enough to jump. Sebastian leapt into the air, clattering hard on the opposite deck. He stood up, hardly feeling the weariness of his bones and the clinging cold on his skin. He glanced up at the sky. It was split by lighting and looked like the heavens were lost in a great cosmic battle, complete with cannonades and explosions. It was fitting, in a way. Sebastian walked easily across the deck of the shipwreck. His scimitar was drawn and glowing at his side.
The cabin door swung open, seemingly on its own hinges. Sebastian stepped inside, the blade at the ready. Abishag stood by the table, her hands folded. "My, Sebastian," she said. "You are a keen hand at surviving."
"Indeed," Sebastian replied. "I've found that true. I survive – whether I want to or not." He pointed out the shattered window, at the raging storm. "Is this really necessary? Not just hurling me outside like I was some beggar's boy barging into your manor house, but your entire means of life – pledging yourself to the devil, destroying all men, and so on. Is it necessary?"
"It is revenge for Black Bill," Abishag explained.
"No, it isn't." Sebastian took a quick step towards her. His sword was at his side. He looked over at the table, next to Abishag. A curved billhook rested there, almost casually, next to Abishag Williams' hand. It could have been set there by coincidence, a tool carelessly misplaced – but Sebastian didn't think so. "It's for your own petty war on man. Black Bill never slaughtered innocent along with guilty as he sailed against king and country. But you do, just as my father did. It does not matter that your cause is just, not when you fill the sea with the bodies of the innocent. I cannot allow that to continue. Not after what happened to the love my own life."
"That is a pity." Abishag's hand reached out. It touched Sebastian's cheek – the fingers moving over the pentagram. "Yes," Abishag repeated. "A right pity." She drew him closer. Their lips met once again.
For an instant, Sebastian couldn't hear the storm roaring outside, or the wailing wind or the groan and creak of the wrecks. He heard only the beating of his own heart, and saw only the sad, beautiful face of Abishag. In that moment, she was not the Wrecking Witch. She was just a woman then, scared and alone and in need of his comfort.
But then he saw her hand tensing on the handle of the billhook. She was bringing it up. Sebastian stepped neatly back and his scimitar lashed out, stabbing deeply into the gut of Abishag. He still held her as he drove the blade home. Abishag gasped. She leaned on him, blood seeping in her dress. Outside, the storm roared.
"Oh…" Abishag whispered. "Sebastian…you…."
"Yes," Sebastian replied. "Hush now, my dear."
"Give me to the sea…" Abishag's voice was little more than a breath. "So I can be with Bill."
"Of course," Sebastian agreed. "It would be an honor."
She died in his arms, not a second later. Sebastian drew out his blade and cleaned away the blood with a flick of his wrist. Then he wrapped his arm around Abishag Williams and dragged her to the cabin door. He barged through and they stepped out into the storm. It had not stopped with her death – it only seemed to worsen.
Sebastian looked up to see the wrecks going down, each one slowly falling into the roaring waves. They sunk quickly, the water reach up like sets of clutching hands and dragging it down. He didn't know how long the ship he stood on would last – but it was already sinking.
He carried Abishag to the edge and hurled her overboard. He sank down, the strength finally leaving him, and didn't hear the splash. The ship was sinking now. Seawater crept up through holes in the deck. The waves battered the sides and spray settled on Sebastian, the salt striking his wounds and making him feel like he was burning even as he was drenched. He gripped his scimitar tightly. The ship tilted under him, going down slowly.
"Ahoy, dandy!" It was Captain Horne's voice. Sebastian grabbed the railing and looked down into the sea. He saw Horne, and a trio of his remaining crew, all in a jolly boat floating under the wrecks. "I took your advice, Sebastian!" Captain Horne roared, struggling to be heard over the tempest. "Now take mine! Jump down and join me and we'll sail easily from this graveyard of vessels!"
In a second, Sebastian made up his mind. He vaulted over the railing and dropped down, straight into the sea. The water wrapped around him. Sebastian gasped and struggled, kicking and flailing as he swam madly towards the jolly boat. He was only submerged for a few seconds and then strong hands caught his arms and vest, and he was hauled aboard.
He collapsed in the jolly boat, gasping for breath. Captain Horne handed him a flask of warm rum and laughed as Sebastian sucked it back. Horne turned to his crew. "Quit you gawking, you bilge-bellies!" he roared. "Row like the devil, I tell you! Row us out here, before one of them sinking ships drags us down with it!"
The pirates grabbed their oars and dug in. Sebastian looked up into the cold sky, still split with lightning bolts. Behind him, he could hear the groan of the sinking ships. Pendrake Island would finally be free of shipwrecks – and the Wrecking Witch. He wasn't happy about it.
"So you dealt with the witch, eh?" Captain Horne asked. "And didn't get any of her treasure?"
"Not a single coin," Sebastian replied. "And I dealt with the Wrecking Witch. She's at the ocean floor now."
"What a wretched turn of events!" Horne muttered. "Think of it – all that fine loot lost on the ocean's floor, along with the Wrecking Witch herself! And it'll do her no good there, by thunder!"
"It did her no good anyway," Sebastian explained sitting up with a groan and leaning against the edge of the jolly boat. "She craved a different kind of treasure, which she could never find." He sighed as he looked back at the sky. The dark clouds were beginning to finally fade. The storm was ending.
Sebastian closed his eyes and breathed deeply, listening to the roll and crash of the waves, as they rowed back to Pendrake Island.