Alana's face was set in stone as she made her way through the winding streets of Mourijmo. Her cape fluttered in the wind, causing her to hold it tightly against her body. She hurried along stone pathways, determined to reach her destination before the heavy clouds decided to empty their contents upon the earth.
Her mind was racing. She knew if she was caught, punitive action would be taken against her. They could lower her rank or completely dismiss her from the ship, but those were just tasteful merciful options. She could see her very own crew throwing her overboard, marooning her on an island, or possibly inflicting the punishment of keelhauling. Alana imagined her death, tied to a rope as she gets dragged under the kneel of her very own ship. The barnacles eating away at her flesh as she drowned.
Yet all of these scenarios could only play out if she survived the unauthorised endeavour she was about to embark on.
Alana stopped in her tracks, her thoughts halted with the same abruptness, while her right hand gripped the cutlass in her sheath. She listened to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, and to the vociferous sound of the wind that howled as if mourning the death of a beloved. Fierce, angry thunder roared in the sky and a rat squeaked, frightened. She listened with stilled carefulness, all her senses on alert. She heard the fluttering of a cape in the distance, the thudding of shoes against the cobblestones.
''Hold up!'' a voice shouted from behind her.
Alana loosened her grip on her cutlass but did not remove her hand from the weapon.
''I thought ye were on the ship?'' Alana inquired with dubiety.
She turned around in the still, dark street and ambled towards the single illuminated torchlight. A shadow stepped into the light, and the darkness clinging around the figure banished.
''I was, but then I decided I was in need of your company,'' the person answered.
Alana glanced at Marina's half-covered face, her hard expression softening.
Marina looked up at Alana, a smile playing at her lips. ''You cannot chase me back to the Warrior now. I came too far, and heavy rain is on its way.''
She rolled her eyes at her best friend, knowing her tricks all too well. ''Ye know it is dangerous for ye to walk freely upon such lands, but ye refuse to listen to me.''
''When will you stop worrying about me? I can take care of myself,'' replied Marina with playful amusement.
''I know, but I will never stop worrying about ye, ye are treading dangerously in hot water. This is not Mock Bay, this is a land filled with ignorant men.'' When Marina said nothing, Alana continued."They lash out at the things that they deem anomalous. They are a ruthless nation.''
Marina's smile widened. ''You talk as if I am some witch.''
''No, just that ye existence goes against their orthodox ideologies.''
''So,'' Alana drawled with mockery a sigh following in suit.
''Look, ye deserve to be here as much as these callous people do, but they think differently. I beg of ye, turn around and go back to the Warrior where ye will be safe.'' Alana's voice was jaded, her exhausted eyes pleading.
Marina rolled her eyes dismissively. ''I do not fear these people, and staying on the ship won't guarantee my safety.'' She stood with confidence, her bright smile lighting up her beautiful features.
''Besides, I am here to fulfil my duty.''
''Oh?" Alana raised a brow questioningly. "And what is that?''
''Ensuring your safety,'' she said, removing her hood.
Marina's eyes glowed underneath the torchlight, a bright, unnatural glow that made Alana wince.
''Put ye hood back up.''
Marina chuckled with disbelief but complied.''Come back to the warrior where it is safe. Do not proceed with this foolishness.''
Alana scoffed and then chuckled. Marina just mentioned how staying on the ship wouldn't guarantee safety. She turned away from Marina and started walking away, deeming it tedious to linger for such a barmy chat. She wasn't going to change her mind about this; she hadn't done so since she was fourteen.
She heard a loud huff and sensed Marina following her. She fastened her pace, not intending to lose her but to outrun the coming storm.
Marina's footsteps were heavy as it thudded against the cobblestones. She stood in front of Alana and gripped her shoulders.
''You are not avoiding this conversation.'' Her voice was stern, her teeth clenched.
She tightened her grip on her shoulders and then let go, stepping back.
Alana extracted a dagger from her boot. She brought it forward and then threw it in the air catching it with expert precision without looking up. She gripped the dagger once more and twirled it between her fingers.
''Will ye hasten on then?'' she almost shouted, annoyed.
''You told the crew that you are going to embark on a quest that will get them riches beyond their wildest desires. Yet, only ten members can accompany you as this treasure is held in a heavily guarded location where the only way to obtain it would be through trickery and being invisible. By being agile and stealthy, and more than ten people will weigh down this operation.'' Marina's tone was laced with mockery, her hands gesticulating in derision.
''And what of it?'' Alana asked
''And what of it?" Marina echoed disbelievingly.''You lied to them, and worse, they trusted that shite without a second thought.''
''Their foolishness is none of my concern.''
''Foolishness? Is that the new term for having loyalty and confidence in you? Their captain?''
Alana stopped her twirling and looked down at her dusty boots. She struggled to find the right words to say, but she knew that there were no right words. Not when she wasn't going to give up her odyssey. She had come too far, she was finally making a breakthrough and she wasn't going to give that up.
Alana froze when Marina unexpectedly hugged her. She was warm, and her grip tight. Before Alana could return her embrace, she let go.
''I know that no matter what I say, I won't convince you. I also know how much this means to you, and I assure you that I am with you and so is the crew. You just need to tell them what's really going on.''
''Ye don't understand. I am hiding the truth to protect them.''
'' You are right, I don't understand, so explain it to me.''
Alana didn't reply; she just looked at Marina, her mouth slightly apart. She didn't know how to explain the situation. How could she, when she didn't understand it herself?
''Oi, what have we got hier?'' a gruff voice spoke, breaking the staring contest between the two girls. They looked up at a stout figure.
A man stood in front of them. He was a foot shorter than Alana, and a wicked smile donned his creased face. A thick moustache laid atop thin lips, his bushy eyebrows were raised, causing his dark eyes to bulge out unpleasantly. In his hand he held an empty tin cup, the smell of cheap beer filling the salty air.
Alana glanced at Marina, her expression turned dangerous. How had she not sensed such a repugnant presence?
''Move on, old man. Ye have no business here.'' Alana's tone was viperous, her hands balled into fists.
''A tough one, ai, but nothing me men and I can't -'' The man stopped speaking abruptly as his gaze fell upon Marina.
A fierce wind passed them, causing Marina's hood to fly off of her half-covered face. Her face was now fully revealed under the moonlight. The man gasped and took a few steps forward, scrutinizing her with a harsh gaze.
''That's enough, ye crooked man. One more step and I will cut off ye limbs one by one, and make ye eat it, while ye slowly bleed to death,'' Alana said and moved to stand in front of him, blocking his view from Marina.
''People like her should be tied by chains, and locked in dungeons. We don't like her filthy kind in these parts. You ought to know that.''
Alana growled and sped towards the man, holding her dagger against his throat.
He grinned. ''Me ship crew are inside the tavern we're standing outside of. One shout from me, and yer'll pieces of useless meat will be pounced on by them like hungry dogs,'' his voice was confident, dripping with bitter arrogance.
''Aaah,'' she smirked with wickedness.
''Ye a pirate then, ay? So ye'll know who I am.'' Alana sneered and looked the man dead in the eyes, speaking with the same authority of a high king. ''In these lands, I go by Captain Alana. I am sure ye have heard of my ship, The Ocean's Warrior.'' It wasn't a question, rather a decisive statement.
The man looked taken aback and then shook his head. ''Shiver me timbers! It can't be! The daughter of the Oceans Warrior wouldn't be in the company of rats scum,'' the man affronted in impudence.
Alana gripped the man's head, digging her fingers into his oily hair, and pulled him backwards, pressing her dagger deeper against his throat. Blood started oozing out from under the blade and the man let out a sob.
''I dare ye to deny me my identity again,'' she whispered into the man's ear, applying more pressure to his throat.
The man choked, tears streamed down his face. ''I hold thee in high esteem and would never intend to dishonour my lady,'' the man breathed out with a painful moan.
With a grudging smile, she removed her dagger from the man's throat. She pushed his head further down, her grip on his hair tightening.
''My sweet, ignorant bucko. Remember that times have changed. The lady of the ship is dead. I, a young damsel, is in charge now, and the 'rats scum' ye are referring to is my quartermaster. Ye are bound to show some regard.''
Alana let the man go, and pushed him backwards. She sent him a smile laced with pity, inwardly glad to see his panicked expression.
''I'll be on my way now. Ye will not bother me or my companion. If ye choose to follow me or to call upon ye men, then be prepared to feel the wrath of Oceans Warrior. I do not give second chances, and my crew do not deal with mercy.''
The man's face paled. He nodded and stepped aside, gripping his throat and leaving a clear path for her. Droplets of blood trickled down his neck, but it was nothing detrimental. If Alana wanted him dead, he would be.
She walked forward and heard the familiar footsteps of her best friend following her. The two walked in silence, the only sounds emitting from the occasional roars of thunder erupting from the anxious sky.
''I could have taken care of myself, you know,'' Marina stated, her voice soft yet firm. She glanced at the floor as they walked, her hood back up.
''I know,'' was all Alana could bring herself to say, thinking it futile to argue with her.
Marina was one of the strongest people she knew, but she was also very tender-hearted and permissive. Not conventional qualities of a pirate's quartermaster.
''Ye heard what he said, he had an entire crew. If they caught a hold of you...'' Alana trailed off.
They continued walking in silence, the events that played out unspoken, a mutual understanding settled between them.
They reached a big, grey stone building. Alana knocked on a wooden door and looked up at the sky. It started drizzling.
''Thank you, for having my back.''
''Always,'' Alana replied with a sad smile.
The door opened and a lady dressed in a long grey cotton dress stood in the doorway, a smile plastered on her middle-aged face. She had the same emerald green eyes as Alana. Her hair was the same dark shade as Alana's, only much shorter.
''Oh, come in, come in, before you get soaked in the rain.'' The lady ushered them into her house, casting a worried glance at the sky.
''Aunt Zelda.'' Alana sent a half-smile to her aunt and was grabbed into a tight hug as soon as they were in the house.
''It has been too long,'' Aunt Zelda said after their embrace.
Alana nodded and glanced at her surroundings. Nothing had changed since the last time she had been here, years ago. A long wooden table was situated in the middle of the room. Various unmatched chairs stood around the table. Placed in the middle of the table was a huge brass plate, the symbols of piracy engraved in entwining circles.
''And you must be Marina,'' Aunt Zelda said, glancing at Marina's multi-coloured eyes wearily, which she quickly masked with a grin.''I've heard various incredible things about you. Is it true that you single-handedly took out three pirates who managed to climb onto the warrior during the night?''
Marina raised her eyebrows, sending an inquiring look towards Alana. ''It wasn't anything special-''
''Oh, she was incredible, ye should have seen her,'' Alana interrupted with a proud smile.
''Well I learned from the best,'' Marina chirped, with a broad grin.
Aunt Zelda's thin lips--the only feature she and Alana didn't share--pulled into a tight smile.''I can't imagine the last time you had a proper home-cooked meal. Come sit, sit while I bring the food from the kitchen,'' she said.
She didn't wait for a reply as she disappeared into a connecting room.
''She seems nice,'' said Marina genuinely as she took a seat on a steel chair.
Alana sat across from her on a wooden stool, propping her chin on her hands and glanced at her best friend thoughtfully.''Do ye think she will have enough space for our entire crew?''
Marina bit her lip.''I still don't see why you aren't taking them with us on this journey. We are a family, we all belong together. On every voyage.''
Alana sighed in reply, pursing her lips.
Aunt Zelda walked into the room carrying a tray laden with food and placed it onto the table. Steam emitted from the dishes and the aroma made Alana's mouth water. There were every one of her favourite dishes from roasted chicken to steamed corn.
Aunt Zelda went back to the kitchen and came back with a jug of wine and two plates and two tin cups.
''Thank ye, Aunt Zelda, I can't wait to dig in.''
''The food looks lovely,'' said Marina as she reached for a plate.
Aunt Zelda smiled in response, her green eyes glinting in the candlelight.
''Are you not going to eat?'' Marina asked.
Aunt Zelda leaned against the wall and shook her head. ''Oh, no dear I ate already. Now tell me, Alana,'' she said, folding her arms and looking thoughtful, she peered towards the ceiling.
''What do you hope to achieve with this mission of yours? Leaving your crew behind, with only ten pirates sailing alone across the open seas? It's simply unrealistic and uncalled for, and most importantly incredibly dangerous.''
Alana grit her teeth in annoyance. Not this, not again. She glanced at her food, picking away at it, taking her time to chew so she had an excuse not to answer right away. She swallowed harder than necessary and sighed before answering. ''I had no idea what happened for years. Having had to mourn their deaths without any closure. I had to watch them get murdered brutally and mercilessly on my fourteenth birthday. Finally, I have a clue as to what could have happened, as to who took their lives. I have to grab at the opportunity. My parent's murderers are out there somewhere. I have to find them.''
''It's been seven years Alana, seven years! It's time you move on from your obsession for vengeance." Zelda's voice vibrated throughout the room and bounced off of the frozen walls.
Alana swallowed and chose not to reply, which gave her aunt the cue to continue with her tantrum; "And then what? What will happen if by some miracle you happen to come across these nameless murderers? What happens next?''
Alana looked up from her plate and looked at her Aunt dead in the eye without blinking.''And then I kill them,'' she said with a coldness that was fiercer than glaciers.
''Oh, listen to yourself, child!'' Aunt Zelda went red, her entire demeanour changing as she gesticulated with an exasperated expression.''You are just a small lass, not a bloody murderer! And what? Do you expect to go on a suicide mission to God knows where without any help? Just you, a small, dimwitted crew with a sailing master and some unknown girl?''
Alana scowled. She thought it was quite ironic for her aunt to call her a small lass when it was she that was going on like a child. ''I am not some helpless girl with no knowledge.'' Alana raised her voice, her grip on the fork tightening. ''I am the captain of one of the most well known pirate ships to ever exist, I am the unsheathed dagger. I can take care of myself without having my crew for back-up. I have Marina and James and that's enough. If ye and ye husband cannot cater for my crew, just say it.''
Marina's eyes held worry as it darted from Alana's deathly expression to Aunt Zelda, who held the same look.
''Those are just terms given by your adoring sail mates, you stupid lass! It has no actual meaning. Just because your parents were the most feared pirates that the seven seas have ever witnessed, does not mean that you hold the same status as them! It does not mean you are as strong and daring as them!'' Heavy breathing emitted from Zelda, her body shaking with rage.
Alana slammed her fist onto the table with a hard bang, rattling the dishes. Marina flinched.
''I have heard enough Aunt Zelda,'' she gritted her teeth,'' before I say something I will regret, answer me. Will ye cater for my crew? Will ye husband allow my men and women to use his ship for their own expeditions? Is the gold not enough?'' Alana forced her voice to be soft and calm, despite the anger burning within.
''Our contract is still intact. Our ship will be loaned to your pirates as well as my house and all their basic needs will be seen to, but I under no circumstances agree to what you are doing.'' Aunt Zelda replied softly this time, having given up.
''Well, it's a good thing I don't need ye approval,'' she murmured.
Her aunt shook her head and disappeared into the kitchen. Alana could sense Marina staring at her, but pretended like she didn't notice, and kept on eating in silence. When Alana was done eating, she pushed the plate away from her and finally looked Marina's way.
''Just say it,'' she said.
Marina looked apprehensive and gripped her cup tightly. ''I think this is a bad idea.'' She went straight to the point.
''Of course, ye do, but once again, please enlighten me as to which part exactly?'' Alana narrowed her eyes at her and took a sip of wine.
''All of it, Alana. Going after God knows what, leaving the crew behind. Such few people can't sail and maintain an entire ship, especially if we are going to sail such a far distance,'' she sighed and looked at her plate.
''I see,'' was all Alana said. She poured herself another cup of wine and took a long, noisy sip.
''Look. What will happen if we clash with a thunderstorm? We'll need the crew to take position at their stations to help us out of the situation. Or if our ship gets attacked? We will need all the help we can get.'' She sighed again. ''What if something breaks? Or if there's a leak?''
''Then I'll fix it,'' Alana replied in a bored, uncaring tone, as she played with the handle of her dagger.
Alana acted like she was uninterested, but in reality, as much as she hated to admit it, she thought Marina was right. But she knew that this was a journey she needed to undertake on her own.
''I grew up on that ship. I know the ins and outs. I know every plank, every screw, I'll be perfectly fine, and I can take perfectly good care of myself on my own.'' Alana continued playing with her dagger, not even sparing her best friend a glance.
''There is no I. Only we. Do not speak as if you are undertaking this dangerous voyage by yourself.'' Marina's voice was tenacious as she looked up at Alana with fierceness, her soft composure evaporated.
''Oh, but I am, mate. The sailing master and the rest of the voted crew. Ye do not seem so keen on the idea, and I do not want to drag ye into something ye so strongly disagree on.'' Alana spoke with haste, a bitter edge tainted her voice.
Marina looked at Alana intently, and a while passed before she replied. ''Today is the anniversary of their deaths.'' Her voice was soft, her statement filled with realisation.
Alana grimaced with a nod and got up. "Stay here tonight, ye will be safe under my uncle's protection." Alana walked out of the front door not waiting to hear her reply.
Going on a voyage without Marina was inconceivable, but Alana did not want to drag her into her problems. Not when her problems were so messed up, and her solution was so unplanned. The thoughts of the various outcomes of this voyage were appalling and she was prepared to leave Marina behind if it meant that she was perfectly safe. But no, Marina would not be safe. Not here in Mourijmo.
Alana's journey to her vessel was cut short when she spotted a sign leading to a tavern. She looked ahead at the cobblestoned pathway that led to the harbour and then again towards the sign. She bit her lip and turned left.
Alana walked into the tavern ready to do what she did best in these types of situations. Drink.