Jonathan had a strange feeling about the large box the ship picked up that night. They had brought unmarked cargo aboard many times but never quite such a large container, and never so late.
Finishing up his work on the next day’s charts, Jonathan found himself overly distracted by the crew as they carefully loaded the crate below decks. Once it was stowed out of his sight, he felt more at ease. However, a lingering curiosity burned in his mind.
The Persephone’s scheduled course was relatively simple but every month or so she’d take a detour. Whenever they picked up one of these strange parcels, their next destination would always be somewhere–exotic. Jonathan had grown accustomed to this unspoken ritual, but the delivery of the previous package had led the Persephone and her crew to the base of a volcano inhabited by pygmies. The parcel before that had taken them to a glacier the size of a small island run by strange ice creatures. He had thought the ice creatures merely small humans in strange garb, but upon seeing their eyes, he knew they were something—else.
These stops never failed to send a strange thrill of excitement up Jonathan’s spine. He even found himself looking forward to the next adventure the detours were sure to bring.
Unlike the other packages, however, this one exuded an energy all its own, causing Jonathan to worry about their next destination.
“Mr. Maritime,” Captain McBane called from the door to the navigation room. "We have our heading. I trust you will be able to decipher this map?”
The captain handed him a dark cloth slashed with deep red markings. The legend of this oddly embroidered map was written in a language he did not understand; yet there were many similarities between those markings and a standard navigational chart. The first word that sprang to his mind was demonic. The compass rose even bore a strong resemblance to a pentagram. Though it still depicted north-south directional markings. “I’ll get it drawn up as soon as I can, Moira,” he replied, continuing to study the strange map.
Instead of leaving, the captain stood silent. Jonathan immediately realized he had accidentally used her first name. Moira sighed, closed the door to the cabin, and leaned against Jonathan’s desk.
“I’m sorry,” Jonathan apologized. “I should not have used your first name.”
“No, I am sorry,” she replied to his surprise. "When I brought you aboard this ship all those months ago, I thought twice about it.” Jonathan’s heart sank. Did she regret hiring him? “It’s not because of you,” she assured him. “It is our mutual past. I hoped I could ignore it, that in time it would be forgotten, but I see now that this is an impossibility. It frustrates us, and in our line of work we need to have clear heads. I still have no desire to discuss the past with you, nor will I elaborate on my journey between then and now. It is my business and my business alone.”
“I apologize again, Captain,” Jonathan replied sadly.
“However, when not in front of the other crewmen, you may refer to me as you like, as long as it is respectful. In memory of your sacrifice in that time. I have not forgotten my debt to you.”
“You owe me nothing.”
“I may have died in that forest if not for your help and direction. That is not a debt I take lightly. This ship is your home as long as you wish it. And though I know this is not the sort of heart-to-heart you were looking for, it is the only one I am able to offer you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jonathan replied. It was the most she had opened up to him. Unfortunately, he had the feeling it would be the last time in a long while.
“It is just the two of us. Call me Moira,” the captain corrected.
“Thank you, Moira.”
With that she stood and headed to the door. “I await your coordinates,” she called over her shoulder and was gone.
With a somewhat lighter heart, Jonathan set to work on a basic heading before retiring for the night.
The oddities of the strange cloth map haunted Jonathan’s dreams, along with the crooning of an alluring voice.
It was still dark when he awoke to the sound of his name.
He sat up in his bed. "Who's there?"
No one answered.
Sure it must have been a dream, he laid back down, only to be awoken again. Reluctantly Jonathan pulled on his breaches and made his way to the door of the cabin. He peeked out to the deck. Only the lookout high up in the crow’s nest was about. He turned to the navigation room to discover a faint glowing upon his desk. In the dim moonlight, the scarlet markings of the dark map glimmered with an eerie light.
“Jonathan,” the voice called to him again, louder now.
It was definitely coming from outside the room.
Jonathan pulled on his overcoat and followed the voice onto the deck and to the stairs of the hold. The calling led him down into the hull. Once there, he wondered if he should wake Knox, or perhaps even Moira. But Jonathan walked on as though in a dream. He meandered down into the galley, not really knowing where he was going until he stood in the cargo hold, staring at the cargo they had brought aboard that evening.
Suddenly, the atmosphere around him tightened. His breath hitched in his chest as the air around him grew dense. He flinched as this denseness was suddenly torn with a shrill squeal, followed by a bang and a resonating crack. He wanted to run, more than anything, but he was rooted to the dank planks beneath his feet.
With a shudder, the lid to the crate lifted then gently slid to the side and onto the floor where it landed with a thud. He gaped at the gently swirling fog which lingered within the box. However, the next thing he saw astonished him more than anything he’d ever seen: more than the pygmies of the volcano or the creatures of the iceberg.
A lady’s hand, ghostly pale with long curling fingernails, emerged from the fog to grip the side of the wooden crate. Slowly, the figure of a dark-haired woman rose. Another excited thrill ran down Jonathan’s spine as the specter, shrouded in a cryptic loveliness, slowly turned toward him. Her face was porcelain white and impossibly smooth, her neck long and delicate. Her shoulders were nearly bare, covered only by the shreds of a musty linen undergarment. The woman’s eyes were a deep amber. Try as he might, Jonathan could not turn away.
“Who are you?” he managed. “A friend,” she replied, her husky voice dark yet sweet.
ʺI wish to know you. Come closer, Jonathan.” She raised one perfectly formed leg and placed her foot upon the crate'ʹs edge.
He felt himself compelled forward. “How do you know me?”
“I hear you above, I feel your presence, sense your essence. You were close to a piece of my home land. I miss it.”
“The map, you mean?”
Suddenly he found himself next to the crate, leaning toward the woman who lightly dragged her fingers across his cheek, around his jawline, and back into his hair, gently pulling him into her embrace. Jonathan’s heart pounded with excitement. He was blind to all but the simmering of her gilded amber eyes.
He dared not even breathe as he stared on, enchanted by the perfect lips poised inches from his. Mesmerized, he did not notice the long piece of sharp steel until it was over his shoulder.
“Your fangs break skin and I will personally throw you off this vessel. Consequences be damned,” Captain McBane warned the woman in Jonathan’s arms.
The creature loosened its grip just enough for Jonathan to pull back and see the viciously sharp fangs protruding from the woman’s lips.
“But I’m so hungry.” Her mouth was still just inches from the blood—now pounding fiercely—in Jonathan’s jugular.
“You have nourishment enough. Let the boy loose or I’ll slice you from femoral to fang.”
Jonathan stared at the creature in surprise. She was pretty, but not nearly as alluring as she had been a moment before. The mist about her had all but disappeared and he could see the bed of dirt on which she sat, surrounded by animal carcasses. His stomach rolled at the sight, and he grew appalled that he had been so taken by her.
With a petulant sigh the once beautiful creature released her grip on Jonathan, who darted to Moira’s side.
“How do you expect me to survive this trip?” Her question was a whining moan, somewhat blurred by her still-protruding fangs.
“It will only be a few days’ time, provided you do not eat our navigator."
“I was only wanting a midnight snack. I would not have drained him.”
“That was not the agreement with your master.”
“Yes, well. He doesn’t have to lie here in a crate full of dirt for days on end.”
“You have plenty of food in there with you.”
“Rotting animals with stale blood. The reek is positively awful. How would you like to be locked up in a box with dead things?”
“Now you have lost your roaming privileges.”
“What roaming privileges? I’m not even allowed to leave the crate! I’m barely allowed to sit up and stretch my arms.”
“Don’t punish her on my account,” Jonathan told Moira, surprising even himself. Somehow he felt sorry for her.
“You would defend your attacker?”
“She was just hungry.”
“Mr. Maritime, come here please,” Moira called, stepping away from the boxed woman. Jonathan reluctantly joined her. “Has this creature addled your brain? You were almost bitten!”
“Well, I think any of us would resort to unpleasant deeds when trapped as such. She is a coherent creature. Have compassion. If you remember, we have been in similar situations.”
“I asked you not to speak of such things,” Moira nearly hissed.
“I only mean to make a point. No human should be treated so. I wouldn’t wish that kind of captivity on my worst enemy."
“Just because it is sentient does not mean it is human,” she replied, but it was clear she had seen Jonathan’s point of view.
Moira turned back to the creature. “You may roam the cargo hold, as long as there are no other crew members about. However, if I hear of any attacks, or if I discover any of my crew with so much as a scratch on them, you will be jettisoned from my ship. I do not care if we’re in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Understood?”
“I don’t think your benefactor would appreciate that.”
“I said, do you understand me?”
“Yes,” the dark haired woman grudgingly replied.
“Yes, captain.” Her response was a low, animal-like, hiss that sent chills down Jonathan'ʹs spine. How he had thought her human, he could not fathom. Her eyes seemed to glow in the half-light, her skin was beyond pale—she was the shade of white reserved for bloodless corpses.
Satisfied with the creature’s answer, Moira headed out.
Not waiting for an invitation, Jonathan hurried up the stairs after her.
“What is that creature?” he asked, stopping her at the entrance to the galley.
“A sanguine beast. It feeds off humans.”
“Why is it aboard this ship?”
“These creatures are sensitive to the light of day. To travel long distances, they must be kept in a dark place. We have been charged with seeing it reaches its destination.”
“Have you transported other such creatures?”
“While I have been aboard?” he asked, not entirely sure he wished to know the answer.
“Yes,” Moira replied, her face hard and devoid of emotion.
“And you do not feel the need to warn the crew of such potentially dangerous creatures?”
Moira sighed deeply. “How do you think a lot of superstitious sailors would react to monsters in the hold? It is bad enough my being a woman; I’m already a token of bad luck to many."
Jonathan wanted to argue, but he understood her position. It was a difficult situation to be in. Yet it still seemed strange and wrong.
“I see what you are saying,” he replied and she turned on her heel to leave. "One more question, if I may!” he called. She turned back, impatient and ready to be rid of his presence. "Who is this benefactor we make all these deliveries for?”
Moira bowed her head a little. “I think...that is a conversation for another day.”
Jonathan watched as she walked up the stairs and out of sight.
Considering the frightening cargo, he again wondered if he really wanted to learn the answers to his own questions.
The water-logged bit of crate peeled away until just a few pulpy flakes remained. These too, soon wavered into nonexistence.
The smoke cleared from Banon’s eye as he turned to look at his brothers.
“How have we not heard of your crew’s interactions with the supernatural?” Angus asked.
“We see much, but very few of us ever leave the ship to spread tales,” Banon told them.
“Where did you say these events occurred?” Killian asked.
Banon smirked. “I didn’t.”
“Is it a big secret?” Patrick laughed slightly.
“No, not at all. They occurred here,” Banon replied to their surprise.
“Here?” Patrick asked.
“These are old stories by Vacant Realm standards,” Banon replied. "You don’t remember when I used to sail here?”
“I do,” Angus muttered.
“It was a rebellious time for me." Banon continued. "Who knew it would lead to my life’s calling?”
“Where you hardly watch your own land,” Angus challenged.
“I am rarely needed down there,” Banon scoffed. "Besides, their cities are so spread out I can better serve by being mobile. Anyway, these stories took place right before the gods were banished.”
“Oh yes, I remember. That was when Olympus became Gods’ Grace,” Killian replied.
“It was growing a bit crowded here,” Angus groaned. "And don’t get me started on the cult of the one true god.”
“Oh yes, the Masons.” Banon nodded, thinking on the bad memories.
“They have many names, and many factions,” Killian commented. "Anyway, this land had two more witchdoctors than needed.”
“Yes well, now that you have Gods’ Grace, Killian, it has been quite manageable.” Angus sighed.
“I’ve always been curious,” Patrick interrupted. “How do you travel so easily between the worlds, Banon? Especially the Vacant Realm. I nearly end up in the Arctic every time I come here.”
“Well, we do not make the trip often,” Banon confessed. "Our benefactor makes the transition easier.”
“The Bermuda Triangle is not an easy path, even with the appropriate magic,” Killian commented. “You should not be so blasé about it."
“I’m not. We just have a...less difficult way. A back door of sorts.” Banon smirked.
“This is all fascinating, Banon, but perhaps we should let someone else have the floor,” Angus called. "Killian, perhaps you have another to share?”
“I have one last tale,” he told them and removed a long, thin object from his pocket. “I offer this tale of a dismal life doomed to end in bloodshed,” he announced as he placed it upon the table where it sprang to life becoming a small creature that slithered and flopped in a disoriented circle.