Pirates, Zombies, and Colonialists, Oh My!

Hello lovelies, and happy Thursday! Today I bring you an excerpt from Warriors, book two of the Shard Trilogy, as well as this super-duper exciting announcement: the release date! Yes indeedy, come March 15th you’ll be able to hold Warriors in your hands…er, on your phone/Kindle/tablet. Get excited!! Ahem. Anyway, here it is.

And remember, you can grab Pirates, book one of the Shard Trilogy, on Amazon Kindle, or read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Two weeks is just enough time to finish book one before book two is released, so get yo’self over there, friend!

It was a warm, summer evening in Lagos, Nigeria. Most people were settling down for the night and the only real clamor was aboard two ships that lay in port, filled with slaves who were to be shipped off the following morning. The trade was at its peak and had in fact reached a near-frenzy since talk of abolishing slavery had begin to spring up in England. But for the moment, the business of slavery was quite safe, still flourishing and in high demand.

Outside of Lagos, two bedraggled figures—a mother and her teenage son—hurried away from the port city, the shackles that bound their wrists clinking as they moved. They were sweating and their faces were tear-stained, but they were also determined to get away before their absence was noticed.

Iya,” the young man said to his struggling mother, “we must hurry. If they notice we’re gone—“

“Go then, Siju. I cannot keep up with you. You must save yourself.”

He gripped his mother’s arm, pulling her with him. “No. I will not leave you. We’ve come this far—you can do it. Come on.”

For a while they continued on like this, but after another hour, his mother collapsed onto the sandy ground. Siju sighed deeply, feeling his mother’s weariness but able to carry it better because of his youth. His physical youth, at least—he was only fifteen, but he felt fifty. He knelt beside her and rubbed her back soothingly, deciding that they could afford a short rest. Besides, there was no way that she could take another step in this state.

He looked around them, trying to see if there was a place that they could hide for a while. Perhaps he was overestimating the slavers’ desire and ability to come after them, but then again, he had an idea of how much slaves were worth. He doubted that they would let two such valuable pieces of merchandise get away. At that thought, he clenched his teeth. Merchandise. That’s all we are to them.

They had been running just inside the trees that grew along the shore. He could see through their trunks to the vast ocean, lit up by the moon and stars like a rippling galaxy. There would be no hiding there, obviously. On his left were the trees, which grew thicker and thicker further away from the shore. He supposed that they could go in among the trees to hide, but that would only be temporary, and they would leave an easy-to-follow trail of trampled undergrowth behind them. No, they would simply have to keep going.

Iya,” he said softly, stroking his mother’s hair, “we need to go. We can rest again a little further along.”

“Go without me, Siju,” she said again, her voice ragged. “I got you out, and that’s all I wanted to do. You can be free.”

“Stop saying that,” he said firmly. “Either we both get away, or we both get caught. I’m not leaving you. I—“ he broke off as a sudden splashing sound reached his ears, and his head snapped toward the ocean, instantly alert.

Out of the waters, like some kind of mystical apparition, came a man, stumbling along and fighting against the current. Siju watched as the man’s shoulders emerged, then his waist, then his knees. A foul stench came with him, like a body that has been without life for three or four days, and the man looked bloated and pale, like a corpse. Siju’s breath caught in his throat and he could taste bile, a reaction to the repulsive odor.

His mother, too, was staring at the thing, her eyes wide and terrified. “A fumbi,” she said breathlessly, so quiet that Siju could barely hear her. “An undead spirit. Loa help us. Siju, get away from here, now.” Her voice was frantic and high-pitched, so unlike the calm, soothing voice he knew.

Siju’s thoughts scrambled around his brain, trying to order themselves. Was this really an undead man? It certainly looked that way, and he supposed his mother, a Vodun mambo, would know. The bloated, chalky-skinned creature continued to walk towards them, strange, gurgling sounds coming from its throat. It seemed to be trying to talk to them, but all that came out was slurred gibberish, marred by seawater. Siju’s horror nearly overcame both him and his familial protectiveness, and it was all he could do not to bolt in the opposite direction, with or without his mother.

But he refused to leave her. Accessing strength he never knew he had, he dragged his mother to her feet and pulled her along with him through the underbrush, trying to put as much distance between them and the fumbi as possible. He blundered on through the thinner layer of trees, pushing branches out of the way and hoping against hope that they weren’t leaving too much of a trail, though he knew a blind man could follow the clues they were leaving. But he had to try, for his mother’s sake and for his own, and so her pushed on.

It seemed like an eternity passed before the sun finally rose. Both Siju and his mother were long past exhaustion, and they trembled as they staggered along, sweat dripping from their bodies as though they’d been in the water. Every now and then, Siju glanced behind them, making sure that the fumbi was not following them.

He could not see the creature any longer, but he also couldn’t relax about it. He had been a private skeptic of Vodun until now, despite his mother’s firm belief in it, but he could not shake the terror he’d felt upon seeing the undead spirit—nor could he get the thing’s stench out of his nose. It was a pure abomination of nature that such a thing was allowed to walk the earth.

But he slowly became aware of other sounds—harsh, animalistic sounds that made his mouth go even drier than it already was and that made his heart race. Dogs. They’re coming for us, and they have dogs. Siju wiped sweat from his forehead and looked down at his mother. She was breathing heavily and her eyes were closed, and her whole body was shaking.

This is it, Siju realized with the sudden calm that comes with accepting one’s fate. We can go no further. They’ll find us. No one can escape dogs. Trembling, he fell to his knees in the cool, white sand. If he had it in him, he might have wept, but as it was he could only stare numbly in the direction of the sound of dogs barking and men shouting.

What would happen to him and his mother now? He’d heard stories of escaped slaves being whipped to within an inch of their lives, or even being beheaded on the spot when they were found. At best they would be dragged back to the ships and then taken to some faraway land, forced to work like animals beneath the hot sun.

He shuddered and laid himself protectively over his mother’s shaking body, gritting his teeth. They would have to kill him before they could get to her. Siju had promised his father Bandele when he was dying three years ago that he would look after her, and he was determined to keep that promise. Let them come, he thought. I’ll rip them to shreds with my bare hands if I have to.

***If you enjoyed the excerpt, grab Pirates now so you’ll be all ready when Warriors comes out on March 15th!

Refugees

An excerpt from Pirates, available on Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Kindle! Thank you all for your support, you have been absolutely incredible.
xxx
-Veronique

At the very top of the tallest guard tower in the Crystal City, surveying the vast lands that lay about the protected realm, stood a woman with raven black hair and skin as smooth and white as ivory. Small black jewels tipped two little fangs that reached slightly over her bottom lip, and a smooth black staff crowned with a mist-enveloped copper orb was in her right hand. Her dark robes, deep turquoise and amber, were in sharp contrast to the brightness of the city and its people.

In ages past, fear had surrounded her and her people, the Darkdwellers—or, as they had once been known, the Dragons, now ill and forced to dwell in human form. Since recent events, however, everyone knew Chiasa for who she really was: the immortal Dragon Queen, the leader of the purest race ever to have lived in Kirael.

And not only that, but she had proved over and over again her strength in battle, her bravery, and above all, her loyalty. The people of the Crystal City and of all the free kingdoms loved their own kings, but they loved and trusted her, too.

Now she stood and watched the main gate far down below, open wide and letting in a nearly constant trickle of all manner of people. Refugees. Most had come from far and wide, and some—more disturbingly—had come from not so very far at all.

Her eyes, deep aqua with flecks of gold and emerald, the only part of her once fair appearance that still remained, looked on with foreboding and sadness as more and more people entered the city. They carried small bundles, hurriedly packed, telling of what sort of attack had driven them from their homes.

Then a fragile, delicate looking figure sitting tall and straight on a great black steed caught her eye, riding at the head of some two hundred people, all on horseback, and a great many unsaddled horses who followed without leads or bridles.

At the sight of Adyah and her people, a stab of pain went through Chiasa’s heart. She had felt the battle in her spirit and had known that many of them had died, but to see them riding to the Crystal City under such a clear banner of defeat, when they had for thousands of years been nearly impossible to reach in their home in the mountains, brought it home to her that the evil they all faced was far greater than anything they had faced before.

“My lady,” said the Tower Captain behind her.

She turned to face him. “What is it?”

“Where will we tell the people to go? So many have come over the last few days that we have little room left to spare. Captain Eldaroth has not returned yet and we are not sure what to do.”

She looked back down at the river of refugees. “Have whoever is able take them into their homes. And open the palace to them as well—the King would gladly have done so, were he at home, and there are hundreds of empty chambers.”

“And what of the horses?”

Despite the gravity of the situation, Chiasa smiled a little. “Leave the horses and their people to Lady Adyah. They will not abide staying within the city walls, I am sure. They are far too wild for that.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said, bowing.

Not long after, Chiasa walked into the great throne room in the palace. It had been missing its King for a long time now, but the great crystal throne had not been empty. She, Adyah, and Adyah’s sister, Cahmeelle, had been taking turns ruling in his stead while he was off on his important mission. It was a bright room at the top of the shining spire that was the palace.

The walls were great glass windows, clear but strong as steel, reinforced with ancient spells, and from here Chiasa could see the whole city and the Barrier Plains all around it.
She found Adyah sitting on the edge of the long glass table which was used for councils and diplomatic meetings. There was a heavy air about her and she stared out at nothing in particular, watching the clouds go by, her face set in a hard, anguished expression.

Chiasa said nothing but simply went to sit beside her, waiting.

“It’s all gone,” Adyah said finally, in a broken voice which Chiasa had never heard from her before. “Everything is gone. My mountains—“ she broke off and swallowed her tears.
There was nothing else to say, or else too much, and so they sat in silence staring at the blue sky outside, as yet untouched by the shadow that threatened everything they held dear.

A Bit of Stuff

Since a) everything to talk about has been talked about, b) I am currently taking a break before doing more school, and b) I’ve been writing in Shard, I thought it was about time to post another excerpt. Note, if you please, that the previous one I posted ages ago has been tweaked [read: forget everything you’ve already read]. And now, voila.

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The world was still. It was like everything had frozen, everything had just…just stopped, just ceased to be, to breathe, Was I even breathing? Things were happening so quickly, and they had been for months, and now it all had simply…ceased. And I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at the crystal glass window with the soft white drapes hanging around it.

My father was dead. My father who had been my last truly close relative was dead. I hadn’t known him, but it felt like bullets ripping through my chest. My last blood, gone.

I was now entirely dependent on Lord Frederick and Lady Georgia, and if they had ever made any pretense that they loved me (which they hadn’t), that was all finished now.

By their decision, by their will, it was arranged that I would be married to a man who was, in my and many others’ opinions, one of the most loathsome humans alive. But he was rich. Lord Edward Wellington was rich and handsome, and would produce children with pretty faces, and my guardians didn’t care about my desires, and so that was that.

Rain was falling on the windows, like the glass was cracking noiselessly and moving like water.
Where I sat on my bed in the seventh black gown I’d worn in seven days, where time had stopped since morning and it was now evening, I felt the beginnings of waking up. First the numbness turned to heat, then to needles, then to pain. I waited. I stopped breathing as I awoke, and I took a deep breath when it was over, a deep gasp, like someone who’d been drowning.

And then I stood and took my black cloak, and I left. There was nothing and no one to stop me, because I was Elizabeth. Elizabeth who never did anything. But now I was doing something, and I felt no fear as I rode Lord Frederick’s black steed towards town.

The fear came later. It came when I reached the outskirts of London and it was early morning – so early that the only people about were rich Lords and Ladies coming back from the theater or from gambling, and night walkers, criminals. Pirates. I did not know any of this first hand, as my guardians had kept me from the city for the ten years since my mother’s death, but I’d heard Lord Frederick and his friends discussing these people like they were stray, rabid dogs.

At the first possible place I dismounted and tied the reigns of Lord Frederick’s horse to a post. I knew he would get it back; the saddle had the man’s crest on it, and everyone knew him. I hid myself and my gown as well as I could with the cloak and large hood, and I hunched over to give the appearance of an old lady. I had no idea whether or not it worked, but I didn’t know what else to do. And that was when the fear came again. I had no idea where to go. It suddenly occurred to me how incredibly idiotic it was to have left my home, however unhomely it might be, with no plan, no weapons, and no street sense.

I counted to ten with my eyes closed and pushed the fear to one side of my mind. From what I’d heard from Lord Frederick, I decided that these people, the strays, might let me join them – or whatever it was called – if I made it clear I wanted to be one of them. With this naive but hopeful assessment, I headed toward the closest dark alley and proceeded to walk through it.

Before long I found myself lost, but I saw that there was a tavern ahead, so I ran through the puddled street and hurried inside. The minute I did, at least twenty pairs of disinterested eyes fixed onto me. I kept my head down and my hood covering my hair, and I walked to the counter, where a dazed old man was drying mugs. I sat down and tried to be nonchalant, but I couldn’t help but notice that as I walked it grew quieter inside the building. The hair on my neck raised as their stares grew more interested and harder. The old man filled a mug with some kind of strong smelling drink and slid it to me across the counter without me asking for it, and I held it tightly with both hands as if it was a anchor that would save me.

Another man, smelling like old ale and a very great quantity of new rum, came and sat by my elbow. He was not so old, but there was a hardness about him that made him seem seventy. I ignored him but my heart was pounding so hard and fast that I was sure he must hear it.

“Are ye dressed in mourning garb because ye lost a lover?” he asked with fake sympathy.

I said nothing. He pounded his fist on the counter and I jumped before I could help myself. He chuckled, as did several others in the room.

“We can help ye with the mourning,” he said ruggedly, his voice rasping through a hungry throat.

My insides shuddered, and adrenaline – the small amount I had – glided into the spaces of my body it could fill before it ran out. But it was enough to hold me together, and I took a large gulp of whatever mix of grog was in the mug to show him I was not afraid.

Words and Breathing

Breathing is a good thing to do, don’t you think? I think so. Which is partly why the working-title-that-will-possibly-be-the-actual-title of the book from which this excerpt hails is called Taking Breaths. Poetic, yes?
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ONE: DISCONTENT
5 Years Ago

We are at a concert. None of us came for the music, and none of us had even thought about it, but it’s a nice bonus after the conference. Focus on God, revamp your life, then go to a concert. All eight of us, most in 11th or 12th grade, are going crazy, like everyone else in the audience. Confetti and silly string is shot at us out of nowhere, out of everywhere. We are all screaming, jumping, waving our arms. Bright lights, the sound of guitars and drums, neon paint splattering; what else can we do?

Soon I’m breathless, and I go outside, elbowing my way out. I’m sorry to miss even a minute, but my throat is dry and I’m thirsty; I’ve never been this loud in my life. I get a drink at the water fountain in the girls’ bathroom, then look in the mirror and smile. I’m glowing with sweat and I’m covered in neon green, orange, and pink paint. But I haven’t looked this healthy and excited in a long time. This group has been good for me. Church has never been my thing, but this is different. Eight teens, loving life, unafraid, and passionate. I’m not very good friends with any of them, but I love being with them and being a part of their lives; for some reason, the feeling appears to be mutual.

When I leave the bathroom I decide to wait until the next band comes on, and I wander over to the kiosk. The guy working it is reading a magazine but looks up and grins at me; he seems friendly. I smile back and look at the merchandise. It’s the usual; t-shirts, wristbands, hats…but then my eyes touch on something else. The sticks are long and sleek, pale polished wood; no embellishments, just the sticks. A shiver runs through my body at the sight of them. Without really noticing I lean in, examining – no, admiring – them up close.

“Now, this is shocking.”

I straighten, startled, and let out an embarrassed laugh when I see a guy from the group, Michael, standing beside me. “Oh,” is all I can manage.

“I never pegged you as the drummer type,” Michael says. We are standing shoulder to shoulder, and I notice that he is taller than me. His eyes are vivid dark green and his hair is a shade of very dark chocolate, almost black. He always looks so friendly, and I suddenly find myself wondering whether we would be friends if I wasn’t so quiet; it’s a nice thought. After a moment I shrug.

“Well, I’ve never played. I’ve never so much as looked at drum sticks.”

“Before tonight.”

I nod. He studies my face for a moment, and despite my shyness I laugh at his serious expression.

“I can see it,” he says finally, grinning.

“See what?” I ask, sincerely baffled.

“In reply he simply fishes out a wad of five dollar bills and hands it to the magazine reader. “Is this enough for the sticks?” he asks.

The guy counts it, then gives Michael a dollar change. He unlocks a door behind the kiosk, pulls out a long black box with the words “Fearless Drumm, Inc.” written on it in neon green, and hands it to Michael. “Enjoy. These are really good quality,” he adds seriously, his eyebrows raised.

“Thanks,” Michael says, then turns to me, holding out the box.

I am staring at Michael openmouthed. “No,” I say hoarsely. “You don’t even know me.”

Michael laughs and I feel my face getting red. I’m not asking you to marry me, Angela.” Then, in a more quiet voice and with a compelling expression in his eyes, “Just take the sticks.”

Present

“Angela, have you finished the wedding plans yet?”

I frowned. I’d been in a mood this week anyway, and although it was nearly impossible for me to get annoyed with Eric or anyone else, I now found myself irritated that he was doubting my nearly unprecedented organizational skills. “I’ve finalized all the plans that can be finalized this early on,” I said, my tone a little harder than usual. “The invitations haven’t been sent out yet and the caterers haven’t gotten back to me.” As I said this I unlocked my car, got in, and put the phone in the holder, then put it on speaker. My car was warm, having baked for three hours in the afternoon sun.

“You sound stressed, sweetheart. Long day?”

I rolled my eyes and turned the key in the ignition. “You have no idea. I have to drive now, so I’ll call you later, okay?”

After hanging up, I pulled out of the university parking lot. It was Friday and lots of students were rushing out for the weekend, but I’d made sure to get out early. It meant shaving five minutes off of my math class, but I honestly had no remorse about that.

I drove with the windows down and the radio just loud enough to give me a sensation of flying, but not so loud that the car next to me would start vibrating. It was a warm May afternoon, and sun streamed in through every window. Suddenly I realized that, ironically, a song by Mayday Parade was playing. I can live without you, but without you I’ll be miserable at best. I adored those lyrics; once upon a time, this had been my favorite song.

Before I could help myself, tears were running down my cheeks. I hadn’t cried in such a very long time.

Hacking Words

So I’ve started editing my book, Shard, again. I can’t seem to be able to leave this thing alone. Here’s hoping this is the final draft, so that I can send it off to be published. I comfort myself with the fact that it took Pasternak 10 years to write Doctor Zhivago. Not that this is anywhere near as good, but still. Anywho, that said, here’s an excerpt.
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She was beautiful. She was so beautiful that I felt as if I’d had the breath knocked out of me, and I could do nothing but stare, clutching at the wood with my dirty, jagged fingernails. It took all of my effort to keep my breathing quiet so that they would not notice my presence. Shard’s face was grim, his eyes like flames, and the veins in his neck stood out as a show of just how much he had to concentrate to restrain himself.

“What is it you want?” he asked evenly. The firelight, the only glow in the room, played with their features and made Shard’s eyes seem even more fiery. Her own eyes – beautiful and grotesque all at once, burning and sulfurous, as yellow as a cat’s – watched him almost with amusement, almost mockingly. Although his frame was twice as large as hers and he loomed over her, there was some cold strength in her pale face, some steely invincibility in the way she carried herself.

“Jack,” she said in a whispery, smoky voice that somehow filled the room even though she spoke fairly quietly. “I haven’t come for a confrontation. After all, until the warrior who is to kill me is found, there isn’t anything to discuss.” She gave him a deep smile and walked to his desk, where a crystal decanter and two goblets waited.

Shard, I could see, was utterly in shock about what she had said. He whirled around, his frame becoming even larger as his chest heaved with breathlessness, and in a blur he had unsheathed a dagger and held it against the tight, pale skin of her neck, his other arm around her waist. Instead of panicking, she chuckled softly and put the decanter back on the desk.

“How did you find out?” he demanded, pressing the blade harder against her neck. I winced as a trickle of dark blood ran down the knife and dripped off the edge, landing in a sticky pool on the wooden floorboards. “How?”

“You did not think I would sit and wait to be destroyed,” she replied, and now there was an edge of hatred, of sulfur, to her voice. My skin felt cold at the sound of it and chills ran up and down my spine, raising goosebumps and tickling my scalp. “You cannot seriously think me so naive. Of course I know about him.”

Shard pressed the blade even harder against her neck, and now he drew out a faint gasp from her as more blood trickled to the floor. “Perhaps you are more prepared, then,” he growled, his lips close to her ear, his teeth clenched. “But you will be destroyed, and if your own conscience fails to do the job, the warrior will certainly step in. Do not overestimate yourself, Morgala. You are not as powerful as you think.” With that he released her, shoving her forward with such force that anyone, especially someone so slender as she, would have fallen over onto the desk. But she whipped around and steadied herself with surprising grace, her back to the desk and her palms on its edge.

“We shall see, Jack.” She took one finger and wiped the blood from her neck, then smeared it over her palm, looking at it with a somewhat fascinated expression. “But I did not come here for this.” She raised her gaze to his face again. “I came to tell you, if your sisters have not, that I have taken the last free city. Cristalia is all that remains. And it is not too late, Jack, to change your mind. Even now I will offer you freedom and riches – I will even spare your sisters – if you stop your search for the man and return with me. But,” she said, her eyes flickering fiercely, “if you do not come now, there will be no more chances. I will destroy you and all that you love.”

“I told you before, witch. I don’t negotiate with evil.”

Her smile returned. “Very well. For the sake of your mother I extend you these graces, but if you wish to spurn them, there is nothing I can do.”

“My mother!” He took a step towards her and his hand went to the hilt of his sword; his shoulders became stooped and every spring in his body seemed coiled and ready to release; instinctively I hunched my shoulders in a protective posture. “You destroyed my mother,” he bellowed, his voice rasping. “That you even dare to keep her appearance is utter cruelty. You caged her and reduced her to a whimpering mess, and now you say you extend me graces for her sake? No. No, I will not be coming with you.”

She shrugged, apparently unruffled by his outburst. “Very well. You have made your choice. In that case, I give you one final warning.” A grin spread on her lips, and it carried so much mockery, so much seething evil, that I suddenly thought she couldn’t be human. No human face could contort in this way and still be so strikingly, perfectly beautiful. “If you find the man, and he kills me, I won’t be going alone.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Do you understand?”

Shard did not reply, but realization washed over his features, followed by a flicker of fear in his dark eyes.

“Good.” She began walking towards the door and I backed away from the frame, pressing myself tightly against the wall in the shadows beside his bookcase. If she saw me, or if he saw me, one of them would kill me. I was sure of that. I watched her as she moved gracefully across the little entryway and opened the door, then exited into the cool night. I only had a moment to wonder how she would get off the ship – for that matter, how she had gotten onto it – when a bright flash of light accompanied a forceful gust of wind; then darkness but for the firelight.

I remained in my place, my eyes on the frame where I had been listening. After a moment Shard came out, walking slowly, wearily. He shut the door quietly and turned to go back to the room – but his dark, fierce gaze landed on me, and a malicious, wild expression bled into his features as he walked haggardly towards me. My heart raced and I cowered against the wall.

“No, no, I’m sorry! Wait, please-”


“Silence, you bloody nuisance!” he growled, clutching my shirt and pulling me out of the corner. “How long have you been here?” he demanded.

“I-”

“How much did you hear?”

“Not…I…”

Without waiting for me to gather enough courage to answer him, he dragged me out of the room, kicking open the door. I clutched at his arm as he pulled me across the deck to the railing and pressed me against it, threatening to push me over.

“Wait, please!” I shouted desperately. “I’m sorry. I heard everything, but I swear I won’t tell a soul,” I pleaded. “Please, I’m sorry!”

He seemed about to shout at me again, but slowly the wildness left his face and his expression softened a little. Abruptly he let go of me and stepped back, breathing heavily, his eyes on his hands. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He looked up at me. “Did I hurt you?”

I shook my head a little, my hand on my chest. “No.” But he had frightened me.

He nodded and walked towards the railing again. I put a little more distance between us as he placed both hands on the railing and looked out at the black sea, but I was fairly certain he wouldn’t do anything more. Little flecks of diamond dotted the black expanse where light from the slender, crescent moon was reflected. I was unsure whether he wanted me to leave, but as he hadn’t said anything I decided to stay. There was no chance I would be able to sleep now, anyway.

“Elizabeth,” he said after several long, quiet moments, using my name for once. “Since you have heard this, there are some things I should explain to you. I normally wouldn’t, but you’re quite clever, and I’d rather tell you the truth myself than have you find out some twisted version of it on your own.” He turned to face me, sliding one of his hands closer, and leaned towards me in an earnest gesture. “But you must swear,” he said, his voice suddenly grave, “that you will never, as long as you live, tell another soul what I am about to say. No one else on the ship knows; no other human on Earth knows.” He exhaled. “Can I trust you?”

The question hung in the air, floated in a mass of resounding, sudden silence. Even the ocean seemed to be holding its breath. I stared at him, unnerved by the change in his demeanor, suddenly feeling as though I was not speaking to a pirate captain at all, but to some sort of ambassador or general. I had never seen him like this before; even his face looked different. And what choice did I have? What would he say if I replied that he could not trust me? I closed my eyes for a brief moment and inhaled, then breathed out, “Yes. Yes, you can trust me.” I opened my eyes.

“I know,” he said, then straightened. “Come with me.”