Short Story – Spectral Tides

Spectral Tides
A Tale by Rhianna DeAngelo


White wisps of clouds floated across the pale blue sky, a calm contrast to the dark, raging sea beneath them.  The crests of the waves slapped across the figurehead on the hull of the old wooden ship. The details of the wooden carving were eroded by years of piercing through the water, and barnacles now adorned most of what was once likely the scantily clad body of a young woman covering her eyes with her palms. When Cassandra had first boarded, the crew delighted in recounting the meaning of their beloved ship’s mistress and praising her appearance. Cassandra could only say with certainty that the figurehead was either weeping, sneezing, or had once seen a barrel-bellied crew member stark naked on the bow of the ship and never quite recovered. She theorized a more practical purpose, as practical observations were her greatest attribute: that the figure was simply carved in a position that allowed her to keep the spray of the ocean from her eyes. Cassandra wrote the musing down in her leather-bound journal, and idly scribbled a drawing of the figure on the worn parchment.

Aboard the Broken Oath for a fortnight at least, Cassandra and Edmond had their share of stories from the band of old pirates, who did not like that term. They referred to themselves as masterful sailors who just happened to take involuntarily or unknowingly offered compensation from various sources for their years of service navigating the seas. Edmond was reluctant at first to join the crew given the nature of their dealings, but Cassandra quickly assessed they were a seemingly harmless group of elderly travelers whose days of plundering ships were likely behind them. Edmond had also rightfully questioned whether they could trust anyone on a ship named the Broken Oath, but to hear the Captain explain the name, “we promised our wives we’d be right back… And it’s been about thirty-seven years.”

Cassandra chuckled to herself at the memory as she glanced at her sketch, which was far from her most steady work as the waves were particularly unkind. The figurehead was clearly not meant to be imposing, as it was about her size, and looked as if it were carved from life. Her slight smile faded as she wondered if the wooden woman was made in the likeness of an abandoned wife, frozen in time, and indeed weeping after all.

“It’s going to be difficult predicting the weather if you’re looking down,” said Edmond as he approached his traveling companion. Perhaps “travel companion” was not the right word, but he did not know what else to consider her. His compass—perhaps—sounded most appropriate. Cassandra was his compass, and he would follow in whatever direction she pointed. She, despite all her power of observation, was not aware of this fact.

Cassandra’s slight frown turned into a playful look of indignation as Edmond approached her place at the bow of the ship. She tucked a thick strand of her wildly curly hair helplessly behind her ear, as there seemed no hope of tethering it enough to keep the wind from whipping it back into her face.

“I will have you know I have been diligently observing the tides,” she said, flipping through the previous entries in her journal. And I have concluded…” She paused, counting some unknown number on her fingers, slightly chewing on her lip, and closing her eyes in concentration.  Edmond waited quietly, occupying himself by watching her windswept hair smacking her dark olive skin with each passing breeze.

“Aha!” she exclaimed, closing her book confidently and holding it to her chest.  “It is going to rain.”

Edmund arched his neck back to stare up at the white wispy clouds, then looked back at Cassandra, smirked, and slowly arched an eyebrow.  Her confident smile faded, and she hit his shoulder with her book. He laughed, so she did it again. Cassandra’s frustration at any miscalculation on her part was palpable to anyone present, but she knew that Edmond was the authority on all matters related to weather. The crew knew him only as a traveling scholar. He was young and tall, with an angular unshaven face and unkempt chestnut-colored hair. His dark blue robes and trousers were mud-stained and frayed. He did not appear to be a powerful wizard, capable of manipulating the atmosphere like a sculptor molds and bends clay to his whims, which was precisely how Edmond insisted he should be perceived.  Eternally fair winds, clear skies, and conjuring storms at will to sink their foes would make a weather wizard a pirate’s greatest prize at sea, and Edmond had no desire to be tied to a ship mast forever if his powers were discovered.

Cassandra looked back at her previous notes in frustration and began muttering. The star positions from the previous night, the shape and size of the moon, the frequency of the waves… she was sure it was supposed to rain as she’d recorded. Edmond ducked his head down to try and meet her gaze. “You should be relieved it’s fair weather for our journey,” he said gently, and even more softly whispered, “and this wasn’t my doing, it’s just the nature of the skies today.” She still did not change her expression, appearing not to hear him as she continued trying to discover where she had gone wrong. He straightened up and sighed, casually leaning against the rail of the wooden bow, while he stirred within him an imperceptible bit of magic. A single raindrop fell from the sky, bounced off the slope of Casandra’s nose, and made a slight splattering on the ink of her notebook. She looked up with a gasp in excitement, and quickly realized by the look on Edmond’s face that she was being teased.

“Edmond,” she said through gritted teeth, “need I remind you that you are in serious danger of getting tossed overboard if you think for one moment I will allow what happened in Winthrop to happen again.”

He instantly had the look of a scolded child, though in reality he was a few years older than Cassandra, and they were both well into their twenties. In the small coastal town of Winthrop, before their companionship began, he had become enthralled with Cassandra and amused himself with secretly ensuring all her weather predictions were accurate with his magic, no matter how inaccurate they truly would be.  He did so only to see her smile, but she did not know that, and he was content to let her think that he simply enjoyed manipulating people the same way he did the atmosphere. He continued leaning, unbothered by her threatening tone. As much as Edmond enjoyed when Cassandra was delighted—and she never smiled more than when she was right—he also enjoyed the attention he received when she was cross with him.

”You mean to say that the townspeople did not enjoy falling asleep in a heatwave and waking up in a blizzard?” he asked innocently.  “Or the sandstorm followed by the monsoon? Or…“

She held her leather book threateningly overhead and he fell silent. Cassandra jumped slightly as a raspy, cheerful voice sounded from behind.

“Sounds to me like the town was cursed!” yelled an old man with small tufts of white hair seemingly everywhere but on top of his head. He was shorter than Cassandra and awkwardly built, with skinny legs and arms and boney shoulders, but a large middle and round rosy cheeks. He thoughtfully stroked the white beard hair that grew more on his sides of his face than under his chin. Wrinkles weighed down his eyelids, but his eyes were bright blue and friendly, and he flashed a smile that was missing a few teeth.

“You listen to ol’ Felix. Being cursed and being unlucky are one in the same. That’s why you always want to carry some extra,” he said thoughtfully. Edmond and Cassandra stared for a moment, and when he didn’t continue, Edmond prompted him. “Carry some extra…what?”

“What?” Asked Felix, just as confused.

“You said you always want to carry some extra.  Extra what?” asked Edmond again.

“Oh! Luck!” Said Felix, who suddenly plunged his hand into the neckline of his ill-fitting shirt.

“Shh,” Felix hushed loudly, looking around at the busy deck of crewmates. Cassandra observed some of them shaking their heads, as if used to the man’s antics. Felix then pulled out a small silver talisman on a long leather cord tied around his neck, with unrecognizable symbols etched across its flat round surface.

“This here is lucky. We set anchor on a rocky shore said to be haunted a few years back, and I pulled it off a dead man that got himself squashed by a boulder.”

Edmund squinted his eyes at the man in disbelief. “Why would you think it’s lucky if the previous owner was killed by a boulder?”

Felix shrugged. “The dead man had new boots too, and I was barefoot on a rocky shore. I don’t care what you say, that’s lucky for me!”

Cassandra giggled as Edmund shook his head. Felix’s lips thinned in frustration at their reactions, but Cassandra placed a hand on his shoulder and said it’s a fine talisman, and she’s sure it’s lucky. He nodded firmly, letting out a harrumph in Edmond’s general direction before swiftly turning on his heel and walking away.

A shout from atop the crow’s nest alerted the crew to land in the distance, and Cassandra turned her attention back to the horizon. The blur of shadow and mist occupying the line between sky and sea hardly qualified as land from that vantage, Cassandra thought, but felt a well of excitement within her at the prospect of soon reaching their destination. She noticed Edmond still staring at the crow’s nest, or rather at the large metal contraction affixed to the mast above it. It was one of Cassandra’s inventions that she insisted would help chart their course, assuming it worked as she predicted. The rings of the large spherical device crudely hammered to the top of the mast swirled and swayed with each passing breeze. Cassandra said it would help them navigate by detecting electrical patterns in the clouds—theoretically combining science and magic. The captain of the Broken Oath was a stubborn and singular man, with no interest in either of those studies. However, Cassandra had spent the first three days of their journey asking him if various pieces of scrap metal on the ship were needed and pleading her case for the experiment. The morning of the fourth day, as soon as she opened her mouth to speak, he simply said “do as you like and say nothing more about it.”

Edmond chuckled at the memory as he looked up at the device. The captain had later lamented to Edmond that if only he had been blessed with bad hearing in his old age, he wouldn’t have agreed to the confounded contraption. Cassandra called her invention the Gyroscopic Multidirectional Trans-Nimbus Spirometer. The captain called it a reminder of the limits of his tolerance. Still, Captain Gideon Castor seemed a fair man with a sense of adventure, otherwise he would surely not have agreed to follow Cassandra’s map to uncertain treasures. When the Broken Oath had first landed in the Winthrop Port, a young woman with wild hair and arms full of parchment shouting “I need your boat” was the last thing Captain Castor expected. The captain had raised his eyebrows and said nothing for a moment, then simply replied, “and I’ll be needing a drink.”

At the tavern, Cassandra had presented her findings to the reluctant captain and littered the table with countless maps and notations. The lost treasure of the Blind Baron had been one which Captain Castor, as most pirates, had heard countless times in their journeys. According to legend, the Baron could barely see out of one eye, and in the other he was completely blind. The Baron was a cruel man from a wealthy upbringing, yet never satisfied with the luxuries of land ownership. The tenants would hide in fear as he made a sport of hunting them down and killing them in all sorts of gruesome ways. As years passed, the family lost much of their riches as more of their people fled in fear. The Baron sold what worldly possessions remained to buy a crew and a ship, named the Ravager. It was unknown what became of the family; some accounts said he slaughtered them, others said they were among the sold items, but most said he hung them from the masts so that all who beheld their corpses knew that the Ravager was hungry for blood and death.

He became known as the Blind Baron as his vision in the only good eye began to dim more and more, and with more darkness came more cruelty. He indiscriminately attacked anyone who crossed their path, and the crew—who grew to relish in their bloody conquests—followed his command without hesitation.  The Baron again grew unsatisfied, as he longed to clearly see the look of terror on his victims once again and wanted to ensure he could navigate the ship to lead his crew. So, he commissioned an elaborate spyglass that enhanced the vision in his faded eye.

One night, the Ravager set its sights on a prisoner ship. The crew boarded, murdered the guards, and offered a few of the prisoners an opportunity to join the Ravager. Some of the prisoners volunteered eagerly, and those that hesitated were slain. Those that joined gave warning that a dangerous witch was chained below deck, and they should not risk sparing her life. In those days it was believed that any woman aboard brought misfortune, so a witch would surely bring destruction. The Baron was curious about her power, however, and personally boarded the ship to grant her the opportunity to join his crew or suffer death. The witch spit in his sighted eye. He ordered the crew, new and old, to tie her tightly to the mast, and he returned to the Ravager. Looking through his spyglass, he gave the command to fire flaming arrows at the ship. The witch stared at him, unblinking and muttering something inaudible as the flames consumed her.

The Baron would see her staring at him every day thereafter whenever he would look through the spyglass. As the legend went, he would see every lost soul that surrounded him whenever he gazed through it and would forever see the vengeful faces of his victims. The Blind Baron was driven mad with the knowledge that even when they could not be seen, the dead were always watching, and in his mind, he would forever see the ghostly, vengeful eyes of the witch.

Until that point, Casandra and Captain Castor had agreed on the order of events. In the captain’s version, the former prisoners in the Baron’s crew mutinied, hurled the cursed captain into the sea along with his spyglass, and sailed off with the riches aboard the Ravager. But in Cassandra’s research, it was the Baron that threw the prisoners into the sea, for they were the ones that cautioned him the witch ought not be spared. And worse, in a fit of madness, the Baron held a flaming poker to the eyes of his loyal crew, so that they would have to live as he lived, and only when necessary would he peer through the cursed spyglass in order to chart their course.  Some of the crew abandoned the ship rather than be blinded, and those few that survived told the tale.

Cassandra’s parchments all mentioned the same rocky cove in the middle of the Sindariel Sea. It was a stretch of dark water that most modern maps simply indicated as dangerous with a small depiction of a sea serpent, as often, maps exaggerated the perils within certain inhospitable regions. In the accounts, the Baron succumbed to his madness and tried to hide from the constant haunting, for many thousands of souls died at sea, and an ocean of specters was more than he could bear. He grew paranoid that they were always being followed, and he wanted to protect the treasures within the ship. He sailed the Ravager and its crew into a cave within the darkened waters, and they were never seen again.

Recalling the memory, Edmond saw the captain’s eyes gleam at the prospect of the Ravager’s treasure ripe for the plucking. They soon learned what kind of man the captain was from the countless stories from the crew. Gideon Castor was indeed a life-long pirate, but they were a jolly crew of scavengers rather than a robbing sort. Their preference for easy pickings at sea intensified as they grew older, and it was difficult to recruit young blood when it was more aimless sailing and respites ashore than pirating. But Gideon would never confess any of it aloud. He spoke grandiosely of their exploits, barked orders with impassioned rhetoric, and always kept his crew’s morale at heart. If another pirate ship crossed their path looking for a fight, the captain would quietly order the ship around and announce, “the winds aren’t with us today lads, but the scurvy dogs better stay out of our way!” And the crew would hoot a “yar” in reply, thankful for their captain’s deception. It was clear to all that Gideon wanted the treasure so he and the crew could put their days at sea behind them in their old age.

“The waves are calmer here,” said Cassandra idly as she peered over the bow, noticing how the figurehead of the woman on the ship was more visible than she had been their entire journey. Edmond furrowed his eyebrows, realizing the change in the tide as well. A prickling sensation on the back of his neck crept up to his head, but his unease was interrupted as the Captain’s voice boomed behind them.

“There’s the cove, according to the lady’s map,” said Gideon, looking past them to the now visible rocky mass jutting out of the ocean. He was a broad man with a thick, dark grey beard that was lined with silver streaks. His skin was weather worn and tanned, and his square jaw suggested a handsome face is his youth. “Remember our deal: I get the treasure; you get your trinket.”

Cassandra pursed her lips at his calling the cursed spyglass a “trinket.” “It is not a trinket,” she replied. “It is quite possibly a cross dimensional, ocular apparatus proving the existence of specters and bridging the gap between worlds.”

“And you want to be driven madder than you already are, do you?” Gideon said with a playful huff.  Edmond chuckled despite his better judgement, which earned him a pointed look from Cassandra.

“Do as you like,” said the captain. “I’ll be taking my share of the treasure and buying some land. Maybe home will have me again” he said wistfully.

“I’ll be buying new boots!” piped Felix, startling the captain so much that both his feet seemed to leave the deck at once.

“Don’t do that, ya blasted imbecile” yelled the captain, clearly embarrassed by his own reaction. Felix smiled sheepishly, knowing the threats of being thrown to the sharks were empty.

As the captain continued berating the still-grinning Felix, Edmond felt a shift in the air. Cassandra hushed the captain and Felix as the sunny skies turned stormy grey and the waters went still. It was as if the ship passed through a lifeless veil, where no gulls cried, no fish swam, the winds disappeared, and the sun stayed hidden behind the clouds. The crew fell silent as everyone felt the cold chill shaking their bones.

The captain broke the silence with a command. He did not need to speak loudly, for the only other sound heard was the creaking of the old wooden ship.

“Alright lads: get to the oars. Slow and steady toward the cove.” He turned to a group of older men on the deck, who previously had been checking the rigging. “You lot, weapons at the ready, we don’t know what’s out there.” The men’s wrinkled eyes narrowed in determination as they replied with a firm “aye Captain.” Clearly, they had not used those weapons for many years, but were prepared to face any dangers. He ordered the rest toward the center of the ship, and to keep their eyes on all sides of the surrounding seas to warn against any threat.

Cassandra and Edmond were ushered to the main mast as the crew diligently performed their orders. Felix stood nearby, gazing out at the starboard side of the ship. He glanced at Cassandra, noticing her breath become heavier with unease.

“Don’t worry,” said Felix softly. He pulled the talisman from under his shirt and grasped it firmly over his heart. He spared a look in her direction to give her a nod and wink as if to insist they’d be fine.

Cassandra’s eyes drifted up to the metal spire at the top of the mast. The rings that had spun and swayed with each passing gust of wind the entire journey were motionless. She looked at Edmond, whose jaw was clenched tightly in concentration. Cassandra dared not whisper to him to ask what he could sense in the atmosphere, since anything they said would be overheard in the eerie silence. She instead placed her hand on his forearm and gently squeezed. To her surprise, his other hand pulled her wrist and removed the hand from his arm. He then placed her hand in his open palm, and tightly laced their fingers together.

A scream ripped through the air from the back of the ship, followed by a heavy splash that rocked them forward toward the rocky cove with enough force to unsteady their feet.

“What was it, lads?” asked the captain, addressing the crew that were facing that direction. Their eyes were wide in shock and their mouths hung open. The captain shook one of the men as he stuttered his reply.

“It got Weston, Captain. Snatched him and…and the oar right out of his… He… It’s a monster Captain.  A…a…”

“Kraken!” yelled the other man, pointing to the long, slimy arm slowly rising over the wooden rails, like a cobra ready to strike. It was sleek black with tentacles the color of decaying flesh, speckled with grey and purple hues. They gazed upon the sight in horror as the limb continued to rise overhead. Suddenly, another crewman at the oars screamed when a tentacle on the other side of the ship swiftly ensnared his neck and plunged him into the depths. Another soon emerged from the water and snaked along the ship’s deck, as if hunting for prey.

Captain Castor lunged toward the slinking arm of the beast and brought his sword down hard against it. It was not enough to cut through its dense and slimy flesh, but it was enough for it to recoil momentarily. They were near enough to the cove that the jutting rocks threatened to tear the ship apart, if the kraken did not see to it first. The old pirates drew their swords and readied for another onslaught by the beast. The wooden planks groaned beneath them as the kraken tightened its grip, pulling the Broken Oath downward as the beast began ascending above the water. A bulbous mass broke the surface of the sea. The head of the creature slinked over the bow of the ship as more tentacles began consuming the deck.

Brandishing their weapons, the crew furiously struck at the limbs invading the ship. It seemed as though the creature was toying with them, as some tentacles struck so swiftly that they were impossible to deter, while others hovered menacingly over their next victim before attacking.  Another shrill scream sounded as a third crewman was slowly crushed in the kraken’s grasp, while his crew mates hacked at the beast, weeping in rage. It was futile. Cassandra squeezed Edmond’s hand tightly.

“Do something!” she said through gritted teeth. Edmond looked as horrified as the rest.

“I, I don’t know what to do. I can’t use the winds or the tide to pull us away. With its grip on us, it will rip the ship apart.”

“Summon a storm then!” Cassandra shouted, no longer caring if they were overheard.

“That won’t hurt the kraken, it would hurt us,” he said in panicked frustration. Cassandra thought a moment, and pushed her forehead against his shoulder, trying to ignore the sounds of anguish around her. An idea occurred to her in that moment, and she looked up at Edmond sharply. However, Edmond was staring just past her in fear. Cassandra followed his gaze.

Felix stood unmoving near their position, looking down at his waist. The black tentacle coiled around his waist and squeezed. Felix’s eyes met Cassandra’s, and a slow, sad smile spread across his face.

He was in arms reach. Cassandra jutted forward to grab for him, not caring in that instant that she could do nothing against the strength of the kraken. But Edmond still held tightly to her other hand, and Felix was whipped forcefully away. Cassandra’s hand had caught the talisman rather than Felix, and the cord had snapped from around his neck.  After a splash, he was gone.

Edmond yanked her back toward him and pulled her tightly into his arms. She stood in shock for only a moment, and tears began to well in her eyes. She pulled back to look at Edmond with determination.

“We’re dead anyway. Summon the storm. You’ve summoned lighting before; I know you can.”  Edmond looked at her, mouth agape.

”I can, but I can’t tell it exactly where to go. Lighting is wild, and the ship is wood.”

Cassandra looked down at the silver of Felix’s talisman in her hands, then up to the metal spire of her apparatus atop the mast.

Edmond followed her gaze and understood immediately. Only in that moment did he release her hand, close his eyes, and center himself. For Edmond, the world around him grew still and distant as he tapped into the magic within, willing it to flow outward and into the air. It rose higher and higher, as he stretched his power to the sky.

Small gusts of wind, dispelling a cloud to reveal the sun, turning raindrops to snowflakes; these were as easy and familiar as reading a book he knew by heart.  To summon storms, and lighting at that, was no instant task. It also seemed to Edmond that the veil of unnaturally still water the ship had entered possessed a dark magic that fought against his own. It was like trying to swim quickly through thick mud.

He stretched his palms upward, fingers outstretched, his hands shaking with the effort.

Cassandra gripped the mast tightly as the ship continued to rock beneath the kraken’s grasp. The crewmen continued hacking at the beast, making cuts here and there but still not enough to sever the limbs. The sky grew dark, thick clouds rolled in, and sheets of rain began pouring down. The beast was unbothered by the change in atmosphere, but the pirates began losing their footing as the warm rain trampled the deck. Cassandra looked at Edmond in wonder, as his whole being seemed to pulse with energy that reverberated through the raindrops surrounding him.

A deep rumbling in the clouds echoed over the sound of yet another screaming victim dragged below by the kraken. The sky was illuminated with the crackling of clouds clashing, as lighting threatened to strike the waters surrounding the ship. Edmond had indeed summoned lightning in the past, and knew its nature was violent and unpredictable. He tried everything in his power to prevent it from striking the ship or the sea, holding it aloft. With all his might, he willed the air around him to form a pathway between the storm clouds above and the metal device atop the mass. His outstretched arms mirrored the arc of the path between the clouds, the apparatus, and the creature’s head looming over the ship. If someone were to look closely, the pathway could be seen swirling through the rain. Once Edmond felt the path was stable, he exhaled slowly, and released the surges of lighting he had been holding back. In an instant, the bolt flashed brightly through the darkened sky, slicing through the channel of magic, through Cassandra’s apparatus, and directly to the kraken’s head. When it struck with such sustained force, it ripped and branched through the creature’s flesh, from its head to its limbs, which still clung to the ship. It shook the Broken Oath as it convulsed. The arc of lightning stopped as suddenly as it began. The harsh rain began to lighten. The creature’s limbs went limp, and its massive body sunk into the waters below.

The waves rocked the ship as the Broken Oath was released, and most of the crewman fell to their knees in exhaustion. Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief, before she heard Edmond’s body collapse to the floor of the deck. He lied unmoving on his back, and his head fell to the side. She ran to him and shook his body, lightly slapping his face as she noticed his eyes were closed. He opened them after a moment and flashed a weary grin.

“Stop hitting me. I’m just tired,” he said groaned.

Her smile widened as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, which still tightly clenched Felix’s talisman. She looked around at the crew, who all sat upon the deck or leaned along the rails, allowing exhaustion and grief to overtake them. The captain was the first to stand.

“Who have we lost, lads?”

Whoever had witnessed their horrifying deaths spoke their names in soft, solemn voices. Cassandra spoke for Felix. She noticed his name caused the captain eyes to widen for a moment, and then he looked out into the distance at the sea. Cassandra held the talisman by the cord and held it out for Captain Gideon to take.

“I don’t want the stupid thing. Not so lucky is it? Stupid, stupid superstitious nonsense,” said the captain as a tear threatened to fall despite his best efforts.

Cassandra looked around at the crew, their heads all bowed in silent remembrance. She placed the talisman around her neck.

Clearing his throat, the Captain addressed his crew. “Stand up lads. Get up, everyone, up! We came this far.  We owe it to the brothers we lost to finish this quest. Get up! That’s an order!” He barked at the men, who were shaking, and sad, but determined to listen to their captain.

“What about him, Captain?” asked one of the crew, loud enough for the rest of them to hear. His eyes fell on Edmond, who was still weak and now leaning his tall frame on Cassandra’s shoulder for support.

“What about him?” asked the captain shortly.

“We all saw it,” said another, suspiciously. “We’ve never seen magic like it. They led us here. Might have bewitched the creature to attack in the first place.” The old man was angry, and tired, and wanted someone to hate through his grief.

“I saw it too, with my own eyes,” said the captain, decidedly. “I saw him get seasick. And I saw that metal contraption do what it was supposed to do.”

The man looked at his captain in disbelief but said nothing.

The captain continued loudly. “You think I would have allowed this…this lunatic woman to put that eyesore on the ship if I didn’t know it would do something useful? That’s what a gyroscopey tranibus spirominobile is supposed to do! That’s what happened. Anyone want to tell it differently?”

The crew clearly did not believe him, and the captain did not intend for them to. It was stated as a challenge, to see if anyone dared to contradict him. No one did. They gave him an “aye Captain,” as he instructed them to get the ship in sailing order once again.

Captain Gideon whispered an order to one of his crew, who retreated to the captain’s quarters, emerging moments later with an armful of tattered fleece blankets. The captain used one to dry himself off, as his clothes had been soaked through from the rain, and one was given to Edmond and Cassandra to share. She used it first to wipe down her leather-bound journal rather than herself. The ink had smeared in some places from the storm, but that was hardly her concern then. Standing on her toes, she reached up to wrap the blanket around Edmond’s shoulders. The captain approached Edmond and spoke quietly.

“I don’t suppose you can clear up some of these clouds so the sun can dry us off a bit faster?” Edmond shook his head. “I used everything I had to bring the lightning. This place…there’s something wrong with it. The water is too still, the air feels cold and thick, there’s no wind. It’s…”

“Unnatural,” finished Gideon, giving Edmond a pointed look.

“Thank you, Captain” interrupted Cassandra, “for not letting them think to blame Edmond. I’m sorry for the deception but…”

Gideon put his hand up to stop her, “I understand well enough, it’s not a thing to go shouting about. But listen well, you got us…” he paused, “…most of us, out of danger, sure enough. I expect smooth sailing from here on out, if you understand my meaning.”

Edmond looked at him warily. “Here on out, until we reach a shore to return to,” Edmond corrected, worried the captain meant to try and imprison him aboard.

Gideon looked aghast at the suggestion. “Yes of course!” he said indignantly. “You think I want to keep you both here? I’ll be glad to be rid of you!” Cassandra and Edmond grinned at his annoyed tone.

“I’m keeping that thing though, it may come in handy again” he said, pointing up at the metal contraption atop the mast.

“Now, let’s hope there’s treasure in there worth the lives of five of my crew, or I may feed you to the next sea creature we encounter.” The smiles faded from their faces as his tone shifted, reminding them that they were not yet out of danger.

The crew’s labored breaths could be heard throughout the ship as they navigated through the cove. No wind blew, but the water still seemed to fight against them. As they struggled onward, a large rock formation came into view, with a cavernous entrance more than large enough for the ship to pass through. Cassandra moved toward the bow and peered into the darkness of the cave. The still waters below seemed to mirror the blackness. Flipping through the pages of her still dampened journal, she consulted the notes she had taken from the Winthrop library. The accounts did not describe navigating through the caves, or whether the Ravager truly sought solace there. But there was a mention of the cove, and the ship’s disappearance. Entering the cave was the most logical path. Unbeknownst to Cassandra, she muttered that last part out loud.

“Logical?” scoffed the captain, taking a place at her side. “Not one thing about this whole venture has been logical.” Turning to address the crew, he dared not yell his orders in case some other creature lurked within the cave.

“Alright lads, light the lanterns and keep them lit. We don’t know what we’re facing, but we can only hope it’s shiny, eh?”

The crew nodded in affirmation, getting the hint not to raise their voices in the eerie silence. The Broken Oath crossed into the threshold of the cave, and Edmond pulled the woolen blanket tighter around his shoulders.

“You’re shivering,” said Cassandra, feeling his body shuddering by her side. Edmond eyed her up and down and furrowed his brow. “You’re not.” Cassandra looked back at the crew, and it seemed all but her felt the chill in the air. Their heavy breath formed puffs of smoke that danced in the lantern light. She did not consider how strange that was, as she was occupied, watching the shadows dancing along the cavern’s slick walls. The cave itself was smooth and black like volcanic rock. There was no seeing ahead, only the glow of yellow light that surrounded the ship as it waded through the still water.

A single glimmer of light flashed in the distance like a single star in a black sky. Something reflective, Cassandra determined. Another soon followed, then another, as the shimmering objects dotted what they soon discovered was a sandy shore within the cave. The Broken Oath waded into the shallow waters and cast anchor. The crew descended their wooden ramp, most with bronze and glass lanterns in hand. Cassandra held hers down to the nearest glittering item and freed it from the wet sand. It was a single gold piece etched with ancient writing and symbols. She held it close to the light for the pirates to see, and chattering with relief and excitement, they began digging.

As they followed the trail of gold, trinkets and jewels, they began stuffing their pockets with the riches, uncovering more and more as they clawed their way across the sand. There was a catharsis to their discovery, knowing the journey was not in vain. The captain did not dig as the rest. He walked straight and determined, nearer to the cave wall, holding the lantern high above his head. Edmond and Cassandra joined him, as they were not interested in any treasure except one. Cassandra held her lantern up as close to the captain’s as she could reach, and he gave her a nod of acknowledgment. A loud crunch echoed through the cave where they stood as Edmond stepped on something brittle. Cassandra held the lantern to the floor, revealing a broken arm bone of a skeleton. The skull’s jaw was separated from the head, as if he died wide mouthed from screaming. Assessing the body position, Cassandra thought he looked abnormally stretched, as if he were being dragged by the ankle toward the water while he clawed at the shore.

Edmond’s breath became heavier. Cassandra could see the white puff from his lungs through the chill in the air, but not her own. She did not feel the cold as the others did and could not understand why.

“This place is wrong,” said Edmond, looking at the skeleton and at the pirates rummaging around in the darkness. “My magic is connected to forces that guide the natural world. I feel nothing natural here. The sea is wrong, the air is wrong, Cassandra don’t you feel it?”

She looked at him concerned, never having seen him in this state of unease. She placed a hand on his shoulder.  “You didn’t have to come, you know.” He looked hurt, and she quickly corrected herself. “I’m very glad you did, but you didn’t have to join me on this journey. What made you do it?” she asked, tilting her head slightly.

Edmond did not have a chance to respond as they were interrupted by the captain’s voice calling, “here, quickly, with the lanterns.”

Cassandra took off in the direction of the captain’s call, and Edmond remained in the dark, slightly kicking the bones below his feet and mentally apologizing for the irreverence.

As Cassandra, the captain, and two other crewmen combined their lantern light, they found themselves at the base of a massive ship. The Ravager, worn from battle and splintered with age, stretched out past where their eyes could see in the dim light. A hole was ripped through the hull, it seemed. Perhaps they too battled with the kraken that guarded the cove by the look of the damage. Cassandra spared a glance at the captain, whose eyes glistened and his bearded jaw set firm. The captain suddenly broke the silence.

“Felix would have hated it here. Would have called it cursed, unlucky, always made a point to say they were one in the same.”

“I know,” said Cassandra, clutching the talisman around her neck. “That’s the first thing he said to me.”

The captain hmphed. “Couldn’t spare a hello, eh? Ah well. None of us are strangers to loss at sea. We’re old. We’ve said goodbye to many of our men over the years. Storms, disease, battles, just old age. Felix though, he never joined in the fights. He just…well…wished us luck. I think that’s why he gave himself that name. It means lucky.”

Cassandra looked at him inquisitively, wondering why he was speaking of Felix when the Ravager, the murderous ship of legend, was right before his eyes.  “That wasn’t his real name?” she asked instead of inquiring about the old boat.

“No. I’ve forgotten his real name; I think he did as well. Chauncey? Chester? Something of the like. Anyway, I suppose we ought to go in. The real treasure is probably inside,” said the captain, looking at the battered opening in the hull. Cassandra understood that he had been stalling, if not for his own sake than for the sake of the uneasy crewmen by his side.

The captain told her to wait there until they returned, assuming there would be many more skeletons within. The crew had clearly found a few within the sand, for every so often she heard disgust and fear ringing out behind her. Cassandra used her time alone in the darkness to look at the silver talisman around her neck. The symbols etched into it looked familiar, although in a written language she simply did not understand. The symbols were crudely engraved but encircled by an intricately carved design. It was as if someone took an ordinary piece of jewelry and defaced it with a message of some kind. She sat down on the cool sand below and quickly etched its likeness in her journal next to her rendering of the wooden figurehead of the ship. The ink bled slightly on the still damp page, and the dim light made it difficult to determine her accuracy. The morning, when she idly drew in her book on the clear and sunny day, seemed like a lifetime ago.  She suddenly felt Edmond’s absence, realizing this was a rare moment since they began their journey that he wasn’t by her side.

The captain and his crewman emerged, covered in dust and decay, and together carrying a large heavy chest studded with gold. Gideon approached Cassandra with a genuine smile.

“A deal is a deal. I’ll be taking the treasure, and you…you can have this.” In his hand was the Blind Baron’s spyglass. He handed it over and turned his attention to the treasure.

The spyglass was dulled with age, with tarnished silver and bronze accents. Its hard wooden surface was carved to mimic scales, perhaps of a dragon, thought Cassandra. The glass lens was covered in a layer of dust, but it was intact. Anticipation welled within her at the prospect of testing the legend. Of seeing if she could truly peer into the realm of the dead.

Cassandra took her sleeve and began cleaning the lens. She looked around for Edmond to share in the moment but could not see him. In fact, she noticed the echoes of the pirates rummaging along the cave floor had faded. The lanterns dotting the darkness where they stood were still lit, but unmoving. Cassandra felt a tightness in her throat, filled with an anxiety she had not felt since the kraken attacked.

“I’ll have that back now,” said the captain, in a voice deeper than his own.

Holding the lantern to his face, she could see his eyes looked unfocused and unblinking. He stood rigid and had an emotionless expression on his face. He looked empty.

Cassandra took a step backward, holding the lantern in one hand and the spyglass in the other.  Against her better judgment, she dared to look through it. The glass revealed a white, wispy aura surrounding the captain, with the faint image of a gaunt, cruel face overshadowing his own. The apparition had one eye focused on her, and one pale eye unmoving in its socket. He was possessed, she assumed, by the Blind Baron himself.

“Give it to me,” he barked again in the deep raspy voice, striking his hand out to grab the spyglass from her. His hand collided with something, but not her body, as if he were pushed back by an invisible force.

Cassandra took that opportunity and fled, the spyglass still clutched in her hand. As she ran through the blackness of the cave, she collided with a wall in the darkness that pushed her enough to fall on her backside.

“Edmond!” she cried. “The captain is possessed. I saw it—I saw it through the glass,” she said, standing and holding it out to him.

He did not reply.

She held the lantern up to his face and saw something cold and expressionless staring back.

“No,” she said.

Edmond, or whatever had possessed him, gripped the spyglass where she offered it, and Cassandra hung on tightly to the other end. “Captain’s orders,” hissed a sinister voice from Edmond’s mouth.

“No!” she cried again, dropping the lantern and using both hands to hang onto the spyglass. She kicked him hard in the abdomen, losing her balance in the process but striking with enough force to break the object free from his grip as he stumbled backward. She quickly realized it wasn’t her kick that did the damage, but whatever force had prevented the Baron from striking her before.

Holding the spyglass tightly to her chest, she ran to the ship, whose glimmering lights offered hope of some respite to think and form a plan. She did not see in the darkness if they pursued her, and Cassandra dared not stop to look, but from the corner of her eye she saw the slow-moving lanterns approaching, swaying as they came closer. Her feet splashed in the cold, shallow water, and she felt around, searching for the wooden ramp to the ship. Upon finding it, she scrambled along and made her way to the bow. Around her she heard the groaning sounds of the pirates, as if they were testing their voices for the first time.  She inhaled, exhaled and looked through the spyglass at her surroundings.

She screamed.

Apparitions with enraged expressions surrounded her on all sides. Their floating bodies collided with whatever barrier protected her from their grip, but that did not deter them from trying. She was swarmed by the dead. Through their translucent bodies she saw the sea itself was thick with the souls of the departed. Some appeared to have lost their humanly shape, some were not human at all, and some were mangled in grotesque positions. They all trampled over one another, overflowing as though the sea itself was not large enough to contain their numbers.

She peered through the glass to the shore, where she could see that each member of the crew had a specter within them, struggling to smoothly control their movements as if they were puppets being pulled by their strings. While she could not see Captain Castor in the darkness, she could clearly see the Baron through the spyglass as he made his way to the ship.

The swarm of ghosts surrounding her pulled her focus from the approaching crew. Putting the spyglass down, she resisted the urge to vomit over the bow. Her mind raced with the information she gathered in a very short time. She steadied herself a moment and imagined what she would have noted in her journal, were her life not in danger.

First: ghosts were very real and could be seen with the bewitched spyglass. Second: the ghosts couldn’t touch her, and she had no explanations for why.  Third: she was alone, and the crew was possessed by a band of bloodthirsty pirates, with Edmond unfortunately joining their ranks. The last revelation strengthened her resolve to once again assess her surroundings and try to find answers—as well as some means to bring Edmond back.

The knocking of the wood planks on the ramp echoed around her as the possessed pirates reached the ship.

Bringing the glass to her eye, she noticed one among the swarming ghosts did not move, and instead stood nearby, waving his thin arms overhead. Cassandra noticed his round cheeks, bald head, and unruly beard immediately.

It was Felix.

His sad smile brightened as she recognized him, as if he were trying to get her attention for a long while. He held a translucent hand to his heart, where his talisman used to hang. Cassandra mirrored the motion and gripped the talisman tightly.

“This?” she asked softly, though he was unable to reply.

He nodded firmly and winked.

“It’s lucky…” Cassandra said, more to herself than to anyone else. She remembered the captain musing over Felix’s habit of saying cursed and unlucky were the same. The lucky talisman, then, must have been some form of protection, but clearly not from physical harm. The original owner was crushed by a boulder, Felix had said. And Felix was killed by the kraken. The talisman, perhaps, did not offer protection from death—it offered protection from the dead.

She muttered a thank you to Felix and he smiled, but it soon faded to an expression of worry as the captain’s body, controlled by the Baron, spoke to Cassandra in a strained and ghostly voice. “So, we can’t touch you? No matter. There are other ways to kill the living. All it takes is rope around the neck and a firm tug.”

The possessed crew cheered, before their captain, the Baron continued

Cassandra backed up further to grip the railing at the bow as the Baron spoke.

“Long have we waited to feel the blood rushing through our veins. These eyes are old, but they see clear enough. We will escape this wretched place and end this witch’s ceaseless torment!”

The crew cheered again in the same garbled sound.

Cassandra removed the spyglass from her eye and saw Edmond shouting with the crowd. That was not the expression she knew, and that was not his voice. He was speaking with the voice of the dead.

She wept at the loss of him, bringing her hands to her eyes as she cried, tired of seeing the horrors surrounding her. She looked at her palms covered in tears.

Suddenly, her head jerked back as a theory crept its way into her mind. If she were correct, it would surely save the crew. If she were wrong…she would most certainly lose herself to possession. Cassandra once again placed the spyglass to her eye and looked out at the stretch of sand where the pirates once dug joyously for treasure. She saw nothing. It seemed they were all aboard the Broken Oath.

“Perfect!” she said aloud and began muttering to herself as she paced back and forth, running through a few scenarios, probabilities, and consequences.

The voice of the Baron startled her from her frantic musings. “If we can’t possess you, we’ll be rid of you. Besides, having a woman aboard is bad luck,” said the Baron sinisterly as the crew jeered. Cassandra hopped up on the rail of the bow, hooking her legs through the wooden rungs and leaning back as far as she dared without risking falling over.

“There’s a problem, then,” Cassandra replied with a smirk, staring at the Baron’s confused expression through the glass. “I am not the only woman aboard.”

As quickly as she could, she turned, took her free hand and lifted the cord from around her neck, and draped the talisman over the wooden figurehead of the weeping woman. In an instant, Cassandra’s breath went cold as she finally felt the haunting chill of the cave. But as soon as the talisman hung from the ship, the pirates let out an ear shattering cry in the voices of the crew. Through the spyglass, she could see Felix once again smile sadly as he faded away. The ghosts once swarming her dispelled quickly, like birds taking flight to the sky. The crew of pirates convulsed as the specters were ripped from their bodies and forced by the invisible power to abandon the ship.

Cassandra let out a breath she did not realize she had been holding in. In her theory, the talisman protected the wearer from the dead.  Since the figurehead of the woman was part of the ship, the talisman would protect the ship and everyone aboard. There were hundreds of ways things could have gone wrong, but she reasoned it certainly would not have gone right if she did nothing.

“Cassandra?” said Edmond, as he became oriented with his surroundings once again. The confused chatter of the crew reverberated through the caves. Edmond felt as if his body had been ripped apart and stitched back together, and his mind felt clouded as he only remembered having stood in darkness. He called out for her again.

Through the dim light, he saw her wild hair bouncing as she ran to him. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, stood up on her toes, and crashed her lips into his. He pulled back, looked at her a moment, confused, delighted, and in a world of pain.

“Ow,” he wheezed in discomfort as he pulled away to rub his abdomen, which felt bruised and swollen to the touch. Cassandra placed a hand over her mouth as she realized she just assaulted where she had kicked him before. “Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to… Are you okay? Do you need help?” she asked, placing a hand on his chest, which was just as sore.

“No, no, no, stop helping me, I’m okay.” he said, pulling away.

They smiled at each other, and the captain—the real captain—interrupted the moment with a booming command. “Someone mind explaining what in the seven hells is going on?” Gideon shouted in frustration.

Cassandra’s expression turned serious once again as she looked through the spyglass. The Blind Baron and his crew were ashore, enraged at being expelled from their hosts. They looked like a pack of wild dogs waiting for their prey to make a mistake and come within an inch of their clutches. Some specters floated overhead, well above the apparatus atop the highest point of the ship. In the sea, the ghosts clamoring over each other pressed more firmly against one another as they avoided proximity to the hull.

“We have to leave. Now,” said Cassandra.

“Leave?” asked the captain, looking around at the darkness and the quiet around them. “I don’t know what happened, but as far as I can tell, my treasure isn’t on this ship, is that right?”

“Yes,” replied Cassandra, “but we cannot leave the ship. I will explain later, but we need to get out of here now!” she repeated. She did not know enough about the talisman’s power to know if it would protect a ship full of the living from the thousands of apparitions surrounding them, but she knew enough of magic to know it had limits that she was not prepared to test.

The captain blinked at her in confusion.

“Now listen here little lady. Last I remember, I was still the captain of this ship. And I say we’re not leaving without that treasure!”

Cassandra stomped toward him with the spyglass outstretched. She did not hand it to him, as she had learned her lesson before, but held it at eye level for him to look through. The captain eyed her up and down in frustration, but finally peered into the glass. He abruptly pulled back.

“You heard the lady: hoist anchor! Man the oars! Turn the ship around!”

“But, Captain!” complained one daring member of the crew.

“I said turn the blasted ship around! Get us the blazes out of here!”

Edmond approached Cassandra as the crew busied themselves with their tasks.

“It’s all true,” she said quietly, holding the spyglass out for him as well.

He looked around in silent horror. The apparitions in the water startled Edmond the most. “The water is no longer fighting back,” Edmond said. “The ship felt as though it were being pushed back when we first entered this place. I’ve moved the tides enough to know when there’s a force at hand. I just didn’t understand it at the time.”

Cassandra theorized that perhaps the dead were trying to keep them out, or rather, to keep the Baron and his crew in. The Baron’s ghostly white facade appeared both enraged and frightened upon the shore, as the other apparitions crowded him and his crew, pushing them violently back to the Ravager.

Appearing to float above the sea of spectral bodies was a woman—long haired, with broken shackles on her wrists and ropes tied around her body. The ghost of the woman turned to face Cassandra and stared at her, unblinking through the spyglass. The witch who cursed the spyglass, she thought.

Cassandra hesitated, not knowing if she should return the bit of treasure to the water below or take it with her. The witch had no particular expression she could read, but the fact that she turned her attention back to the Baron, who was silently screaming at the ghosts surrounding him, was invitation enough to keep it. If the Baron wanted it, the witch’s intention was clearly to make him suffer. Cassandra wondered if the bodies at sea were his victims, who would spend their eternity committed to trapping him between worlds. Or, perhaps they were the victims of the kraken; treasure-hungry souls attempting to take his legendary riches even in death. In any case, it seemed the dead were haunting the dead.

As they approached the entrance of the cave, and the light of day once again touched their skin, and with the unearthly chill no longer reaching their bones, the crew was filled with an odd sense of contentment.  The captain sighed as he looked around at his weary crew. Some were emptying their pockets of the sandy baubles and bits of gold they dug up on the cave floor. They had gathered some treasure, but certainly not enough to live on in luxury for the rest of their days. The captain cleared his throat, and addressed his men, determined to raise their spirits.

“We’re alive lads… We’re alive. And that’s enough. I don’t know about you lot, but I don’t want to shrivel in the sun relaxing on some shore like an old dried prune! I could use a few more years of adventure!”

A chorus of unenthusiastic cheers rang out from the crew, who still did not fully understand the happenings in the cave, though they felt grateful to be alive, nonetheless.

The captain spoke again after the crew’s reaction. “Alright, maybe a few weeks of adventure, then a short respite ashore.”

Their “aye captain” in response was more enthusiastic that time around.

A gust of wind flapped the sail, signaling a return to the land of the living and away from the ghostly veil of the cove. Sure enough, the ghosts were mostly encircling only the cove, though a few lost souls drifted far below the surface of the water as the pirates sailed away, for many had lost their lives to the sea.

The captain left his men and approached Edmond. “The wind is blowing east, and we’re headed south,” he said expectantly. Edmond said nothing. “Could use some sunshine too,” he pressed again, this time with a wink for emphasis.

A chuckle cracked through Edmond’s serious expression as he relented. “I need a night’s sleep after today, but I can manage some sunlight for now and you’ll have your winds in the morning.” Edmond turned his attention to the sky, and soon after, the clouds began drifting away to reveal the late afternoon light.

“We could use someone like you on the crew,” said the captain with another wink. “Not so much you,” he said, addressing Cassandra. It was said in the same tone of annoyance and affection he used to address Felix.

She grinned at him and reminded him that they had much to discuss about what transpired in the cave.

“Yes, but first, a drink. Maybe two,” he said, retiring to his quarters.

Cassandra braved another look through the spyglass again, the concentration of ghosts becoming more and more distant. She spoke aloud to Edmond, evoking the sad thoughts within her. “My whole life, I just wanted to understand the world’s mysteries, but I think some things in this world aren’t meant to be explored.”

He gently pulled the spyglass away from her eye, and he turned her head up to face him. He kissed her then, gently, and warmly. Looking up at him, then down at the spyglass in her hand, she tossed it into the sea.  The spyglass bobbed up and down in the water for a moment before it drifted away in the tide.

“Why did you do that?” he asked, amused.

She kissed him again in reply. “After today, I prefer to focus on living.”

He smiled down at her, and they spent a moment looking into each other’s eyes. She smiled back, but he noticed the expression in her eyes shift and grow distant. He sighed. “You want it back, don’t you?”

Her knees bounced and she clasped her hands together.  “Yes please,” she whispered, a sheepish look upon her face.

He laughed as she peered out to sea where she threw it, muttering about all the scientific implications of a cross dimensional ocular device, and wondering what she could have possibly been thinking about throwing it away.

Edmond summoned his magic to pull upon the tide. The waves rose, and she reached down to retrieve the spyglass from the sea.

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Michael DeAngelo

Michael is the creator of the Tellest brand of fantasy novels and stories. He is actively seeking to expand the world of Tellest to be accessible to everyone.

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