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As usual, Moira woke before the sun had even the slightest inclination to rise. She had always been an early riser. This had been a positive attribute aboard the Persephone, but thanks to her new shipmates, the habit had become more of an annoyance.

The captain silently cursed her new charges. It was madness to force the entire crew to sail at night and sleep during the day for the sake of a passenger. Unfortunately, this decision was beyond her control— as was the direction in which they headed. The Arabian Desert was an unpleasant land awash with pirates, like themselves, but she did not much care for their dealings or demeanor.

What use was being captain if Moira could not control the destination of her own ship, or even the times in which it operated? She had become a hired hand to the underworld, and though she was grateful for the favors she’d been granted, the cost had proven to be quite high.

It had been a while since their benefactor, who insisted on being referred to as such, had called upon them. She should have known the lull was too good to be true. Contacting her out of the blue, he had demanded she and her crew immediately assist some wayward adventures. And at the Ithirian conference too, what timing. How could he possibly think she and her crew could be prepared for such a venture?

Still unable to sleep, Moira made her way to the deck. It was a beautiful day, the sea sparkled brightly and not a single cloud marred the sky. At this time, the deck should have been awash with sailors, readying for the day’s voyage. Now it was practically a ghost ship. Only the day-watch lingered, half asleep from trying to rest during a night of rowdy announcements.

It was dangerous to have the crew sleep during the day. True, some pirates attacked at night, but most battles took place in the daylight hours. And while they were renowned in the pirating world, there were still those who either sought to hunt the Persephone or didn’t know any better. The last thing she needed was some amateur getting a lucky strike and losing half her cargo because her crew was asleep at the helm. That was one aspect on which their benefactor showed no leniency. No cargo was ever to be lost; if it was, they must go to any means to retrieve it. A happening she vowed never to encounter again.

Moira felt slightly more at ease now that she was looking out on the ocean. She had seen many strange things in her life, but no matter where she went, the ocean was the same, as constant and unchanging as the sky. This offered her a simple comfort. The sea could be a brutal mistress, but if you abided her laws, she would take you to the ends of the world, absolute freedom.

With a sigh, Moira headed back to her cabin. She was nearly at the door when she heard a ruckus below deck.

The clanging continued as Moira descended the stair into the galley. There, to her surprise, she found the very charge she had just been cursing.

The girl crouched, struggling to pick up a slew of metal pots and dishes scattered across the floor. As far as vampires went, this was the strangest Moira had ever come across. She was pale, as most were, but her hair was so black it almost seemed no color at all. Her eyes, likewise, were so dark they appeared as two voids in a porcelain mask. Looking into them was like looking into the depths of Tartarus. She very much reminded Moira of their benefactor in that respect.

The Persephone had transported zombies, mummies, even werewolves. But vampires were her least favorite. Being that one of their benefactor’s favors was eternal life, they did not have to worry much about passengers killing crew; however, that protection did not expand to virus immunity. More than once a supernatural passenger had insisted on treating one of the crew as a midnight snack. Now Moira had several infected crew members, ranging from vampires to were-men, of both land and sea varieties. She was beyond exasperation.

The girl looked up at her in surprise. “I’m sorry, I’ll clean it up.”

“What are you doing down here?" Moira enquired. "It is almost daylight and I'm to understand your people have a strong aversion to the sun."

"Midnight snack," she replied continuing to fuss with the pots.

"Let the steward do it,” Moira replied as the girl awkwardly stacked the toppled pots.

“And have him hate me forever?” she scoffed. "The last person I’d want to piss off on this ship is the one who controls the food.”

“Fair enough,” Moira replied dryly. "Just place them in the wash tub. You’ll wake the rest of the crew if you continue with this banging about. They are having a hard enough time keeping this schedule.”

“Oh, yeah.” The girl bowed her head a little. Did she actually feel bad about putting them out? "You know, you don’t have to do that for me.”

“I am doing it because our benefactor wishes it.”

The benefactor had promised there would be no more passenger details. Now, here she was, leading yet another voyage of the damned to who knows where. He insisted this was somehow different. Moira did not see how. She was still stuck with a new vampire and several other undead creatures—who were at this moment napping in the hold.

Moira much preferred cargo runs. They were simply required to pick up an item in one destination and drop it off in another. However, being forced to ferry passengers was irritating at best. Hardly a single one of them had any sea experience, and they always required some sort of special accommodation or dietary need. And now, not only did the Persephone have to transport passengers, she and her crew were expected to escort them around while turning the entire ship upside down to accommodate their exotic demands.

Even worse, instead of a simple week-long endeavor, they were on the hunt for something, and Moira would be stuck carting these creatures around until they found it—a task she was whole-heartedly committed to. The sooner they found what they were searching for, the sooner they would be off her ship.

“Benefactor?” the vampire girl asked. Then her eyes went wide in realization. "Oh, right. Well, I could try to speak to him about it. I don’t mind if people work during the day.”

“He is not in the habit of listening to anyone. Why would he listen to you?” Moira asked suspiciously.

“Uh, never mind that, but if you did want to switch back, it’s alright by me.”

“I was under the impression you and your kind slept during these hours,” Moira continued, hoping to inspire the girl to return to her cabin.

“Usually, yeah. But I can’t sleep. All this rocking makes me queasy.”

“Some find it soothing.”

“Well I am clearly not one of those.” She laughed. "You got anything to eat around here?”

Moira stood perturbed; she would have to speak to their new second who had clearly neglected to show the girl where her food was kept. “I believe your provisions are located in a cold storage near your cabin,” Moira replied, surprised the vampire hadn’t smelled out the blood.

“No, no, I mean real food,” she replied.

Moira paused, staring at the vampire curiously. “Am I to understand you would like some...human food?”

“Yes, Red Vines if you got ‘em.”

Moira stood at a loss. She had never encountered anything as strange as this creature. “We have a cupboard just there.” She pointed to an old, wooden cupboard which somewhat resembled an ice box. “Think of what it is you wish to eat and it will accommodate you.”

The vampire gave Moira a crooked look and went to the door where she took the handle and said aloud, “Red Vines.”

“There is no need to speak to it, the apparatus senses your desire,” she corrected, but the girl just looked even more confused and opened the cupboard.

“Hells yeah!” the vampire cried, pulling a little plastic-wrapped package of red candy ropes from the cupboard. Moira turned to leave as the girl tore open the package and began gnawing happily on a piece of rope. “Hey, so when is this love boat going to port?”

“When we reach our destination,” Moira replied, pausing at the stair.

“Which is when?”

“A month’s time.”

“A m-month?” the girl stammered. “No shore leave, or whatever you call it, for that long?”

“As you can see we are well-stocked. No need to make unnecessary detours.”

“How about stopping for the sake of our sanity?”

“I am afraid looking after your sanity is not part of my job description. However, you may speak with our physician, Banon if you are having—mental issues," she replied, curiously staring at the girl as she ate the red ropes.

“I’m sorry, did you want one?” the vampire asked, offering one of the oddly shining ropes to Moira.

“No, I am quite alright. Eating before sleep does not agree with me.”

“Oh yeah, my brother’s the same way. He gets all ‘ooh, brains’ night of the living dead, ya know?”

“Not as such. I do hope you enjoy your snack and find the inspiration to rest. I will take my leave. Good day.”

“Yeah, you too,” the vampire replied, opening and re-shutting the food cupboard to collect more of the red colored vines.

Moira walked up the stairs, perplexed. The girl was strange, yet somehow amusing. So unlike the other damned creatures she had been charged to sail with.

Moira had a growing feeling this trip might not be like the others.

Just then she heard another loud clamoring from the galley. A chill ran up her spine and she forced herself to continue to her bed. Yes, this voyage may prove more interesting than any other. Unfortunately, interesting did not always mean good.

The barnacle glowed with dark energy but did not dissipate as the other items had. It remained lit with the bright green energy as the swirling vortex emanating from the dark eye whipped at their hair and clothes. The miniature cyclone twisted in tighter and tighter until finally disappearing into the brothers entirely.

Slowly, the green of their eyes died away and the men sat rejuvenated. Their skin appeared brighter, their eyes alight, their hair fuller. Though energized, the brothers sat stunned and confused as Banon retrieved the black barnacle from the old tree.

“My story was rejected?” he muttered in confusion.

“What do you mean? Is that not what we just saw?” Conner asked.

“It had to be the story,” Killian added. ʺWe received the blessings.”

“I know my story,” Banon replied. "That was something else.”

“It was the future,” Angus sighed dismally. "Your story must have triggered it.”

“I think you’re right,” Banon muttered, clearly unnerved. “That dark-haired vampire has never been aboard my ship.”

“So, is it a vision from the Fates or the oak itself?” Killian asked seriously. “We have received its power once more.”

“I would assume the oak,” Angus sighed. “The Fates are strong but not strong enough to do more than interrupt our ritual. They could not bypass it altogether like this. Which means this is not something we can wait to let happen. This must happen.”

“You say you know this girl?” Banon asked Angus. "What would she want aboard my ship?”

“I was to help her find someone. I had a vague idea of where he might be but was unsure how to get her there. Now I think the issue has been resolved.”

Banon stared at him, stunned. “You do know I am not the captain of the ship. I cannot decide who does and does not board. Captain McBane has never taken kindly to carting around passengers. She will not be easily persuaded.”

“Then I believe your benefactor might have some say in the matter, since we have seen it come to pass. You must speak with him at the ball.”

“Me?” Banon sputtered. “What makes you think he will listen to anything I have to say? Killian, you seem to like him, you talk to him.”

“I am not opposed to asking,” Killian replied calmly.

“I have a feeling he will not protest in this matter,” Angus told them.

“What makes you so sure?” Banon scoffed.

“Just a hunch,” Angus replied, staring at the eye thoughtfully. "Well, it looks as though we have our work cut out for us. Shall we adjourn?”

“Agreed,” Killian called as the others nodded in acceptance.

All stood and left the great oak table, filing into the long twisting earth walkway back to the front of Angus’s strange home.

“Do any of you require a place to stay for the evening?” Angus asked as they came into the entry room.

“No, no. I couldn’t think to intrude,” Killian called. “I will go catch up with Ferdinand. The King offered me one of his rooms for the days of the ball. He arrives tomorrow.”

“It will be nice to see life in these vacant homes again,” Angus replied. "Conner? Are you sure I cannot offer you accommodations?”

“No, but who can sleep with the Ball around the corner?” Conner mused. "I have so much shopping and trading to do with the blanketed men of the streets.”

“Blanketed men of the streets?” Angus inquired in confusion.

“Yes, the ones with the wire carts.”

“The transients. I see. Well, this explains your last few formal outfits."

“And you, Banon? Ready for what’s ahead?”

“I think we can manage one young girl.” He chuckled. "My captain will be displeased, but she often is when matters are out of her hands.”

“Are you truly interested in traveling?” Banon asked Patrick then.

“Oh, I have too many responsibilities to get lost with the likes of your crew.” He laughed.

“I suppose not, but our former navigator has taken a captain’s position in your Old World, running some learning programs across the lands,” Banon informed him.

“The Extension Program?”

“Yes, I believe that’s what he called it. You should join him. Jonathan could use someone to look out for him. They only spend a limited time in each land, so you wouldn't be gone too long, maybe even make some new contacts along the way. Besides, with taking on this girl I might not be able to get all the blessings to our brothers. Here, take some of them.” Banon smiled, offering his hand.

Patrick thought a moment before accepting his hand. Their eyes momentarily lit with green as Banon passed on their shares of their covenant.

“You have a place to stay then?” Angus called after Banon.

“On my ship. I don’t sleep well on land. As much as I would love to stay here and listen to rousing stories of your antique collecting, I have a new navigator to drink under the deck."

“Go on then,” Angus replied, trying to hide a smirk. "I’ll see you at the Ball tomorrow. Try not to be too hung over."

“Hung over? I haven’t had a hangover in centuries.” Banon laughed. “The trick is to never stop drinking.” He chuckled heartily, pulling a tarnished flask from his jacket pocket and raising it in a salute before imbibing.

"Iʹll see you all at the ball," Angus called as Conner, Killian, and Banon waved, making their way out into the night.

“How about you?” Angus called as Patrick moved to pass him.

“I have a room at the hotels, but if you don’t mind, I might take you up on your offer. It is late. I can just curl up in one of your snake baskets." He smiled.

“Believe it or not, my home does possess guest chambers.”

“Excellent.” Patrick smiled and followed Angus through a hallway on the opposite side of the room which led to a large dining room with several other hallways leading from it.

"This place reminds me of Darla’s cave,” Patrick mused.

“I know my house-keeping abilities are poor, but surely I am better than a dragon.”

“Not by much.” Patrick chuckled. Then, taking a calming breath, he became serious. "Angus, I have a question.”

“Yes?” Angus turned to him.

“About the visions earlier. I see how the second and third visions are linked by the black-haired young woman, but what of the first?" Patrick asked. "It was a titan, wasn’t it? The prophecies are coming true.”

“I cannot pretend to know, but that girl’s future is in some way entwined with their coming,” Angus answered.

“If that is true, are you sure it is wise to aid her?”

“The old oak is not in the habit of giving visions. If it is interfering, it means our assistance is needed in some way.”

Patrick sighed in heavy contemplation.

“Enough of prophecy, Brother." Angus insisted. "Let’s think of the now."

“Like tomorrow’s ball?”

“Like catching up with a nightcap. I have a wonderful fire jewel honeyed wine I’ve been saving since the early seventeen hundreds. I fear it might soon turn. Help me drink it?"

“How could I pass on such a gracious offer?” Patrick smiled, taking a seat at the large dining table.

“Excellent,” Angus called as he went to a large cupboard filled to the brim with exotic decanters.

He pulled out a gold-colored bottle, two glasses, and brought them to the dining table. The two sat as he cracked open the bottle which emitted a sudden and brief burst of flame.

“Now,” Angus called giving Patrick'ʹs glass an overly full pour. “Tell me more about this situation with Beaux.”

“We’re going to need a second bottle for that.”

The End

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