I watched from this lonely spit of sand, still drenched in seawater, as the last of the Queen Anne’s Revenge departed from the horizon. The blighted vessel took not just our ship, but most of our entourage with it. I was alone on this rock with none other than three Navy guards who’d managed to swim away from certain death. They walked up out of the sea one after the other, still shivering in fear and from the cold. The food and water supplies would be soon to follow after them along with, as I’d hoped, the item that I was looking for while onboard before the attack.
Behind us was a small patch of forest, beyond which grew a plume of smoke from a point that might have been as many clicks away from us as the Revenge was at that time. The forest and the rising smoke were almost laid out there for my convenience. The smoke was undoubtedly from the caldera of my beloved home volcano, Padres del Fuego. The smoke was definitely making its way out of one of its periodic eruptions. The forest gave me some time to collect my thoughts and throw away that oppressive corset that I had to wear for most of the prior journey.
I sat beneath the shade of a tree and began to meditate on the events that had transpired in the last few hours. But everything that had happened so far only drew my mind back to an earlier point in my life - my first taste of war.
I was a child when we’d traveled for the first time out of Padres. I might have been around seven back then. I was enamoured with the sea and the exciting tales of adventurous buccaneers that I grew up with, and I’d dearly hoped that this crossing would introduce me to them. And it did. It was on the fourth night of our journey that we found ourselves enveloped in an unnatural fog, with the only source of light being that from our lanterns and the moon.
I have only vague memories of the incident. A ship with torn black sails… cannon fire… swords clanging. But what still stands out to this day was the pirate standing in the doorway with an axe. I thought he was just a man, but the moonlight revealed his true form as he approached us - he was a walking skeleton. It took two guards to overpower the horrid beast with the help of a rope, as the usage of lethal weapons was evidently futile. The marauder was thrown overboard along with the last of his boarding party, and we somehow managed to escape the clutches of the demonic ship.
The memory of the skeletal figure aiming to finish us off would haunt my nightmares for the rest of childhood, forming my ideas of what pirates and the sea truly were. It was only after growing up in Padres and witnessing various horrors - both human and inhuman - that I began to realize that the Navy aren’t always our benevolent protectors, pirates aren’t always evil, England isn’t really the best country in the world, and monsters aren’t always cruel.
I’d awoken from my sleep some hours later, thanks to a nightmare. The same one as always - the skeletal man standing in the doorway and calling out my name as I stood alone in the cabin. I could have sworn that he was a jumbee for the first half of my dream. Night had fallen, but I could make out my surroundings thanks to a torch that was placed by my side by one of the gentlemen from my surviving entourage, and the light from the full moon. The men were all were soundly asleep. I groggily dragged myself out of my slumber towards the beach. Some crates were clearly dragged back into the forest by our party. Our food, most likely. I’d have to go back and wake them up to ask them for it after I’d found what I was looking for.
There lay one partially unopened crate on the beach, however. I spent some time examining the contents, and finally found the item - the EITC report from the week of my departure from Port Royal. It took me at least an hour to peruse the report and find something of value.
The cargo has been rerouted to one of the three ports under our control in this side of the Caribbean. Kingshead is currently too heavily surrounded by the enemy’s presence to transfer the cargo without a high risk of loss. This is the last piece of the overall item, and the ones able to manipulate it in our employ have been summoned to this location. The fleets intended for our off-the-books locations have been besieged by either pirates or the enemy.
And this was the valuable information I was looking for. The last piece of the Hollowed Woods shrine under their control was in one of Port Royal, Padres del Fuego, and one more island. Tortuga? That isn’t really controlled by them aside from some of the caves and an office in the main town. I can understand why they’d like to state that it is theirs though. What would be concerning, however, is if any piece of the shrine were to fall into Jolly Roger’s hands. There’s no telling what he’d be able to do to the seas if he were able to pull the strings of the Watcher.
“It is nice to see that you have woken up, my lady”, announced a voice from behind me. I’d turned around to face him, and could only make out that it was of the Navy entourage. I had to put the light of my torch against his face to see its features.
“You don’t seem to recognize me”, he stated coolly. “You’d convinced me to step aside so that you could look inside the room of officer Winston Piper. I’d noticed you looking through one of the folders on his desk, and thought nothing of it. But here I find you with our reports yet again, which seems rather odd to be frank.”
I was caught off-guard and was too dumbfounded to come up with a response to the soldier’s remarks, but I tried my best to act oblivious. “Oh why hello there! How nice of you to keep tabs on me and ensure my safety, guard. I was merely looking for food over here and I stumbled across these items.”
“That doesn’t seem to explain why you were reading that report for the past half hour or so, my lady. Nor does it explain why there was this battle dagger with your name engraved on it where you were sleeping. You’d dropped it after you got up. I will be reporting these findings to my seniors in Los Padres when we arrive there. All evidence so far seems to show that you’re the spy we’re looking for.”
It was then that my countenance became aggressive. I stared at him with a grit that would have ruffled even Edward Graves, but this guard was as obstinate as the last time I’d faced him.
It took me a few more hours to wash the bloodstains off my clothes. The other two members of the party were most likely still sound asleep, unaware that I’d ended the life of one who was in all likelihood their friend. It wasn’t the first time that I’d taken an assailant’s life, but it wasn’t too easy to subdue him either. I’d endured a few cuts across my arm, but his neck ended up having most of the brunt of the sharp end of my dagger. The tough part was only yet to begin. I’d decided to throw his body into the sea, but the currents around this island weren’t strong enough to pull his corpse away. It would end up on the beach, and I would be one of the suspects for his death, depending on whether the others were soundly asleep when my attacker chased after me. In that case, they’d most likely have to blame each other for his death, and I’d have to stow my dagger away. But otherwise, I can only claim that I’d reacted in self-defense against his unwanted advances, and hurriedly grabbed an item from his pocket to use against him. But what was even more difficult to get over was taking the life of a man who was only doing his duty. As far as I could tell, I had made the better choice of two terrible choices - getting caught and being sent to the gallows by the Navy, or sentencing a dutiful man to his end, and living with the memory of his terrified face as his blood faded from it. This would no doubt haunt my nightmares until the beautiful sea behind me someday claims my life.
It was then that I’d heard a deep raspy voice call my name.
“Lady… Grace… Anderson”, it uttered with a muffled intonation. I glanced back to look at where it was coming from - was it the sea?
A figure stood on the beach with its skin and uniform being slowly peeled off by a cloud of green fog. The moonlight highlighted the bony face of what was once the Navy cadet who’d confronted me not too many hours ago, and I knew my dagger wouldn’t stop him this time.