The Fallen Crown

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ONE

~ RAENA ~

A lantern flickered lazily in the corner of the almost-empty room.

At one point, the room had been the home to mountains of supplies all stacked on top of each other up to the ceiling. Now, after months of them slowly disappearing to reveal the entirety of the spacious storage area, all that remained were a few crates and a single barrel in the corner beneath the singular and quite pathetic source of light.

Above us, the thumps of quick feet and hisses of chatter from the ship’s dozens of restless crew members acted as sources of liveliness of a sort for me. But even those began sounding disheartening after a while, their steps dragging and their voices growing almost as dull as the lantern ahead of me.

Every dip and rise of the ship over the unpredictable waves caused the lantern’s rusted cage to spring back and forth between the two walls that made up the corner where it resided. Each collision of metal against wood was like a heightened version of a large clock’s hourly bell, the throbbing sensation in my head increasing in intensity with each movement from the inanimate object.

I stared at the flame coldly, watching it bounce in the corner so lazily and yet so noisily—so uncaringly—and my heart settled in the center of my chest as a mere heavy void.

The lantern’s thin, white candle’s golden flame barely did anything to give any sort of illumination, the dim atmosphere enhancing the lingering reek of mold and urine. I wondered why the pirates ever bothered to nail it up at all.

I twisted my eyes shut when the sound of retching commenced again and I turned my head to the side, resting my temple on the wall and trying to imagine that I was somewhere else—anywhere else.

Apprehensively, once the gagging stopped and there was a few moments of silence, I spared a peek out of the corner of my eye to look at Oriana, my childhood best friend and who perhaps had the most sensitive stomach I’d ever encountered for a newly turned eighteen year old.

Oriana was chained to the wall across from mine with only her ankles bound to the floor by short iron chains that were as thick and heavy as bricks. Her bony, scarred, ebony arms encircled a wooden bucket as if she was embracing it. Her hair, which had grown quite a few inches, hung in tight, short ringlets that hid most of her face from my view.

My eyes flickered downward and I breathed in deeply.

The sight of her naked wrists had me instinctively—almost like a twitch—pulling down on my own, only to be met with a familiar resistance from the chains the pirates put me in just a few weeks prior. They said I had fought back too much and so they ensured the chains my forearms and ankles kept my limbs stretched out so I was in the position of a sitting ‘x’, leaving the majority of my body stiff, immobile, and utterly useless.

The agony of being trapped in the same position for so long was such an unbearable feeling, one that only grew as each second passed. I could almost feel every drop of blood slowly be possessed by gravity, leave my fingertips, and trail down my arms. My toes had long since become cold and numb.

It was a nightmare.

The sound of the storage room’s door suddenly opening had me stiffening, my head raising in the direction of the familiar, hair-raising noise. When it shut, the creaking of someone descending the small staircase paired with the dull clanks of boots made my skin crawl.

I hissed when I made the mistake of accidentally tugging down on my chained arms, the metal biting into the skin there and no doubt bruising it again.

A shadow emerged from around the corner, two wooden cups in his tattooed hands. He was tall and broad, the top of his tattered wide hat less than a foot away from the ceiling, and his clothes were basically scraps of different cloths sewn together to make an oversized shirt and pants which were stuffed into uglier looking leather boots.

Even from a distance, I could tell he was drunk. It wasn’t the way he struggled to balance on the tipping floor—It was the glazed, unfeeling look in his eyes, the kind where you just knew he couldn’t comprehend enough to care about himself let alone other people.

It made me almost as sick as Oriana to look at him.

“Hello, rats,” the pirate slurred, his feet crossing as he stumbled over to my side of the room. ‘Rats’ had perhaps become the pirates’ favorite nickname that they’d bestowed on Oriana and I, although I didn’t know why since there were plenty of the actual animal aboard the ship as it was. “Having a nice—” he hiccuped with the hint of a belch at the end “—day?”

Oriana didn’t lift her head from her bucket, reminding me of an animal playing dead as to not gain the interest of a predator.

I glared at the pirate and he only smiled, his crooked white teeth ironically glowing brighter than the lantern ever had. He held up the wooden cup in his right hand mockingly as he hovered over me. Then he dropped down next to me, perhaps only a couple inches from my right hip, and my eyes watched the familiar liquid inside the cup slosh back and forth from his violent movements.

My stomach gave a violent twist in anticipation of its foul taste.

The hazy, yellow-tinted drink that seemed to get worse every time I drank it was a concoction of alcohol and a large variety of citrus fruits that should’ve never been paired together. Oriana and I were given it at least once a day. The captain explained at some point that it would keep us healthy, saying that we could die after we docked at our final destination. A part of me wondered if he just said that to create an excuse to add on to our torture.

“Drink up,” the pirate sang in a high-pitched voice that made me cringe. He brought the cup in his right hand to his lips, the one originally meant for Oriana, and chugged it down while he held the other up to mine.

Watching his throat bob up and down with each dramatic gulp brought me physical pain, grimacing when some of the liquid bubbled out of the corner of his mouth.

I apprehensively pried my lips apart, closed my eyes, and nearly gagged when the warm liquid flooded my mouth when he tipped it back quicker than I was expecting. My eyes watered and my whole mouth burned, chunks of pulp from the fruit floating between my teeth. It took every ounce of my strength to finally force it down into my stomach, which desperately wanted to throw it right back up immediately.

I gave a pitiful cough, the slight sound of my voice taking me by surprise. It had been so long since I’d had a real conversation, both Oriana and I having given into the silence long ago.

“Your friend goin’ at it again, huh?” The pirate turned his empty eyes over to Oriana, who’d turned her face away to rest her cheek on her bicep, her back as stiff as a board. He scooted closer to me and my eyes flickered over to him warily, unconsciously tugging at my arms’ confinements again. “The rumors are pickin’ up around here, you know. Some say you’re the You-Know-What Queen,” he whispered over the sound of roaring winds and crashing waves, his voice almost seeming to mix with their chaos to create a single tune of horror. “Is tha’ true?”

My eyes snapped over to Oriana, relieved to see her still unmoving.

I moved my gaze upwards and glared straight ahead at the wooden wall, listening to the pounding feet overhead.

Don’t let him get inside your head, I told myself. Even in chains, you are in control. You are in control. I breathed in and then out, feeling every muscle in my face harden into a stubborn glare. I am in control.

“Wha’? Not gonna answer me?” he said, his voice showing his annoyance. He scoffed and took off his hat, the points of his Fae ears sticking out harshly against dark curls. “Well, wha’ an almigh’y queen,” he sneered the word, “you are.” He leaned in closer, his hot breath that reeked of alcohol fanning my neck and making me cringe. “Well, I know you’re a prisoner now an’ all but I can’t see what a three-century year old prude would see in you anyway. I’m sure the Cursed King is glad to be rid of you.”

I gritted my teeth and balled my hands until my nails broke through the skin of my palms, my eyes igniting with a violent type of fire. Had he had been smart enough, he would’ve been silenced by its burn.

I am in control. I am in control.

I am in control.

Seeing my reaction, the pirate grinned giddily. “He’s probably balls-deep in some whore right—”

I reared my head back and slammed my forehead against his nose. I could feel every single crack against my skin, every piece of his cartilage break away and surrender to my force. The satisfying crunching sound reverberated off the walls and gave me the largest sensation of contentment that I’d felt in a very long time, momentarily dimming the flames within me.

“You bitch!” the pirate squealed in surprised anguish and clutched his face as he tossed himself backwards onto the floor, two empty cups flying in the air and landing randomly in the dark room.

The commotion was loud enough to knock consciousness into Oriana, whose red, swollen eyes shot over at me with concern, her seasickness forgotten.

He rolled on the floor for a couple minutes until his head snapped up, his eyes wild and crazed with a drunken hatred. A single stream of the darkest shade of blood I’d ever seen leaked from what was already a crooked nose but now looked entirely mutilated—one side noticeably higher than the other.

With a speed that only an immortal could master, the Fae pirate lunged at me and my eyes widened when his large, calloused hands wrapped around my throat and squeezed. My mouth opened in an attempt at a scream but only a choked sound emerged and my hips bucked upwards, desperately trying to throw him off of me.

But it was useless.

My legs and arms were bound and the strange forces of magic that I’d been cursed with before had decided to abandon me ever since the pirate captain knocked me out. No matter how much I despised it, I wished to feel that rush again just one more time just so I could at least get the pirate’s grimy hands away from me.

“You’re gonna pay!” he shouted, a drop of blood from his ruined nose landing onto my shirt. His fingernails dug into the skin at the base of my neck, too close to my mark and making me more squeamish than I already was. He brought his face so close to mine that I could smell his days-worth of drinking, his breath stale and warm. “Do you hear me?—You will pay!"

I thrashed harder, realizing with a strange fear that I could potentially die in his hands. The chains on my wrists and ankles rattled against the floor and wall, my watery eyes nearly bulging out of my skull. It wasn’t long until my head felt like it would burst from the pressure of my blood becoming stagnant in my head.

“Stop it!” Oriana shouted, her own chains clanking against the floor as she tugged on them. Through blurry vision, I watched her over the pirate’s shoulder grab onto the two thick pieces of iron and deliberately bang them against the floor, snot and tears running down her face. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop i—!"

A loud bang interrupted her, the sound making my ears ring.

Oriana screamed my name.

A mix between a gasp and a scream was what left my lips when a warm, thick liquid splattered on the lower half of my face at the same moment the grip on my neck slackened. My attacker’s body slumped forward onto me, his facial hair scratching my forehead, and I squealed like a young child, pushing him back with the little movement I possessed in my upper body.

It wasn’t until I heard the hollow thump of him hitting the floor and I saw his eyes staring unfocused at the ceiling that I realized that the pirate was dead.

His mouth a pool of overflowing blood, his chin and beard quickly became saturated in an ever thickening layer of crimson. I was paralyzed until finally I looked away and into the weak candlelight, my lower lip wobbling as my strength waned.

I could feel every trickle of his blood slither down my skin and drip heavily onto my clothes, into my lap and on top of my breasts. The bitter metallic scent of it intruded my nostrils and I screwed my eyes together when they began to burn.

I am in control.

“I hate males who can’t take orders.” The pirate with one arm placed his gun back in his holster on his hip and rolled his eyes as he walked forward, leaning over to gaze at the the corpse’s face as if he didn’t already know he was dead. “Two days. Two fucking days left and the bastard couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Do you know how upset the captain will be to hear we lost our cabin boy?” Oriana and I both stayed silent. I could hear her harsh, uneven breathing while I did everything to press my lips close together in fear that a drop of blood would slip past them. “No? No response? And here I thought we’d become friends.”

Fuck you! I wanted to shout and perhaps if it wasn’t for the blood on my face, I would’ve. Instead, I kept staring forward with a blurry vision and the pathetic goal to remain alive.

“Well, alright then.” His footsteps retreated after he sighed and ran his only hand through his damp blond hair. As the stairs creaked with his ascension, he called back a, “Sleep tight, girls!”

It had my blood boiling and my wrists and shoulders aching, begging him silently to unlock their confinements so I could lower them. Sleep would be the farthest thing that we’d be doing that night and he knew it.

I shivered and stared at the body, a puddle of blood now surrounding his head in a dark sort of halo. The pirates wouldn’t bother moving him until it was convenient for them to dump him overboard. By then, he would probably already begin to smell—

"Raena, are you okay?” Oriana asked, her voice barely above a whisper. She stared at me with horror, her gaze flickering back and forth between my eyes and to the pirate’s blood on my face, which had already begun to dry.

I looked over at her.

There was a brief pause where we just stayed there staring at each other, an acknowledgment of something unspoken passing between us.

“No,” I said. My eyes swayed back to the flickering lantern, whose golden glow made my heart lurch and a single tear escape my eye. A blood-matted strand of hair fell away from my face. I am in control. “No I am not.”

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