The clash of steel and the roar of the cannon all but drowned out the sound of thunder as lightning crackled across the darkening horizon. A rising wind swirled through the acrid smoke that billowed up from a pair of sailing ships: a lumbering Spanish galleon locked into close combat with a smaller pirate vessel. By weight of numbers, the sides would seem to be evenly matched, but the red-haired woman leading the assault on the galleon cut a bloody swath through the the Spanish crew.
A rallying battle cry howled over the waves, as the red-haired demoness -- the pirate queen, Nicole Tissot -- pierced another foe. Her rapier went right through sailor's heart, while the dagger in her left hand averted the victim's final blow. With a disrespectful kick, the body was sent to the sea where a slew of sharks already waited for their next treat.
As the waves turned crimson from blood, storm became stronger. Clouds grew heavy and black, but it wouldn't rain. Waves raged more and more, and, finally, a lightning struck the sloop's mast.
Another dead body with a stump instead of the head fell into the raging waters. It was quickly torn to pieces by sharks. The clouds burst in a drenching rain. Heavy pour diluted the blood, but the sea surface still boiled as sharks challenged each other for corpses.
Veil of rain blurred the sight in two arms reach.
In all her years at sea, Nicole had never seen a squall hit so hard so fast. She known she'd been playing things close to continue pursuit of the galleon, but the prize had been to big, and the storm had seemed so far off. Now barely able to see, and having to shout to be heard above the howling wind by even her closest ally, it was already too late to call for any sort of organized retreat.
Out of the darkness, a shadow loomed. Nicole just managed to duck under the slashing saber, but before she could deliver her counterstrike, a wave crashing over the rail of the galleon had already carried the Spaniard away.
But the sloop's crew wasn't helpless kittens, half of them was hardened seadogs, and as whole they was drilled by Nicole to work as a team. The man at the sloop's wheel made a hard turn to follow the galleon against the elements. Two ship's boys took all effort to rearrange the sails to make it possible.
As the two ships and their crews battled the raging storm, the armed conflict devolved into a struggle for survival against the elements. Nicole clung desperately to a ladder just to keep from being swept away by the next great wave to come crashing over the railing, then staggered across the deck toward the nearest door in search of shelter. She ducked inside, only to find three Spaniards who'd beat her below deck grabbing for their pistols to level them at her. She slammed the door again between them and her, the balls narrowly missing her as they splintered little holes in the wood. As Nicole spun to look for another source of shelter, she felt the next wave slam into her. It knocked the breath from her lungs, spun her about dizzyingly, and tossed her like a rag doll. The next thing she knew, she had landed in water, desperately stroking for what she hoped was the surface...
In the next moment, Nicole felt a beat of rain on her skin and breathed in a dose of reviving air. Suddenly, the waves weren’t so large that they could overthrow a ship, but Nicole almost didn’t notice that. The situation dictated that survival is the top priority: she remembered too clearly of what happens to a body, alive or otherwise, fallen in the middle of sharks’ feast. With the rain washing all sight beyond several feet, even her strong spirit cowered before the fearful doubts.
Nicole jerked reflexively awake as something beneath the water brushed against her foot. Thoughts of the sharks caused her to squirm as far away as she could manage to get from whatever it had been, loosening her hold on the barrel that had carried her through the night. She spluttered as she took in a mouth full of sea water, and the barrel spun away as she scrabbled to get hold of it again, but before she had time to panic, her feet made contact again and she found herself standing chest-deep in the water.
Looking around, Nicole found herself in an inlet along a tropical shoreline, a few dozen yards from the beach, surrounded by flotsam from the battle. The passing of the night had obliterated all trace of the storm from the sky. Only a few white streaks of cloud marred the clear expanse of azure overhead. Nicole started to swim for the shore, but after some protest from the kinks in her arm, she settled on a wading instead, finally crawling up to collapse in the sand and stare up at the morning sun. Exhausted and aching from the battering her body had taken, she just lay there for a long time, her mind empty as she let the sun warm and soothe her, until thirst prodded her to her feet and she stumbled unsteadily off in search of fresh water.
Thirst and pain clouded Nicole's mind leaving only overwhelming survival instinct. Such suffering turns a man into a beast, and if healthy, rested Nicole would see this limping husk of a person, she'd refuse to recognize herself. Subconsciously, she felt this shame even now, and it fueled her struggle.
There was a patch of palm trees inward the land, not far from the shore. Nicole got there in what felt like ages, but just in time for a bit of hope: a large black crab (likes of which sailors called "palm thieves") was indulging in a succulent coconut.
Santiago Ramon y Lucientes had given thanks to Santa Maria de Cervello for the twin miracles of his freedom and his survival. He had slept on the wet sand for but an hour, a restless disturbed sleep, full of sinister figures and shapeless anxiety. He woke with a start, panicked and full of foreboding but no imminent threat presented itself. Rather, the clear light of morning brought with it an understanding of the fragility of his situation.
Seemingly the lone survivor among those washed up by the storm, he had picked his way along the shoreline, inspecting bodies and other flotsam for anything that may help. After an hour’s searching he had salvaged a saber and a wineskin and was starting to feel more optimistic.
“Santiago”, he muttered to himself, “you will be as a king-among-men should you survive to tell this tale!”
A moment later he saw movement on the beach ahead and recent experience of betrayal caused him to fall flat on his stomach and observe with caution. He watched the woman limp up the beach toward the tree line and after a moment of hesitation decided to follow stealthily. He was certain she had not been on the galleon, even secured in the brig as he was, he had come to know the composition of the crew. That made her a pirate. He saw her pause just in front of a patch of palm trees, a little way in from the shore. Santiago shook his head in an effort to shake the still-present sense of foreboding as he tried to decide how to react to her presence.
Meanwhile, a couple of miles away, Will Bowyer was having trouble convincing his men to moor the small rowboat in the quiet inlet.“Curse you blasted cowards! I don’t care if this is the cursed home of Lucifer and his host of Demons. You will follow orders and land this boat or I’ll drown each and every one of you like the rats you are!”
Uttering “Deus, adiuva nos!” (God, help us!) and with many fearful signs-of-the-cross, the crew pull hard against the waves, maneuver the boat up to the rocks and secure the bowline. The men clamber out and take stock of the lush island surroundings.
Will pointed to the high cliffs overlooking the ocean to the East. “We’ll make for that outcropping, tend a watch fire and wait for rescue. A couple of days at most by my estimation and we’ll see another merchant ship. Don’t you lads worry yerselves. Those stories are naught but wives-tales told to frighten children.”
As he lead his small band of men into the forest, Will sought to reassure himself. He too had heard the sinister tales about the “Isle of Teeth”, named for the vicious reefs and rocks lurking just below sea level on most sides of the island. All of his considerable skill had been needed to safely pilot the boat through those teeth on on to dry land. The stories were superstition and fear and easily dismissed in the bright light of day, but a small doubt gnawed away in his mind.
The sun rose high in the sky as the men forged further inland, seeking a clear path around to the top of the cliffs. They moved in single-file, at times struggling against the close vegetation.
Alano had been having trouble keeping up all morning. The gash in his thigh ached and the strip of cloth he had wrapped around it was now soaked with the deep crimson colour of his blood. Will pursued a relentless pace and Alano fell farther and farther behind…
Not accustomed to a life of danger, Alano had enough trouble keeping from what sailors would call "whining". He knew that compared to them he was a weakling, they knew it as well, but at least the facade of mutual respect held things together. He paused once more to give his leg a rest and promised that this time he will ignore the pain, catch up with sailors, keep pace...
When a hairy, dog-like head appeared from one of the trees, he didn't believe his eyes. A part of his brain decided that it's too much, and so Alano stood breathless and motionless while a grinning beast silently approached him.
A loud bang of a pistol freed him from this stasis. The dog creature was lying a few yards away; its left eye, where the bullet entered the skull, was a bloody mess. A scent of burned powder spread in the air. Sudden rush of thoughts swarmed Alano's mind, as if trying to dominate his will: "What species is that thing? The powder got wet, it wouldn't have ignited. I think I screamed. Is it canidae or felidae? Is it even carnivora? Did I almost die? Is it edible?"
Scowling fiercely, Will strode over to where Alano lay prone. *Smack* The backhanded blow struck Alano squarely on the cheek. "Come to your senses man! Next time you fall out of file like that I'll feed you to the beasts myself. Now get on your feet and march."
Shaking his head at Will took his place at the head of the line and ordered the men to move out. The sailors cast uneasy glances between themselves and gave a wide berth to the still warm corpse of the unknown creature as they fell into line behind Will.
Nicole moved on up the beach, satisfied that she didn't want to tangle with a beast the size of that crab in her present condition, and that the coconut trees would still be there if she couldn't find an easier source of fresh water soon. Best, for the moment, to follow the coast -- get out from this inlet, maybe find a promontory to climb, and look for any signs of a stream or even a settlement.
Behind her, as Santiago continued to follow quietly along, he couldn't help but feel that his luck in the light of this new day had continued to hold. If he was going to be shipwrecked, better to be shipwrecked with someone. And if he was going to be shipwrecked with someone, well... despite her bedraggled condition, there was no mistaking, this was a fine figure of a woman. Dangerous, too, to be sure -- not some damosel who'd been held captive on the sloop; her attire and movements, even the determined set to her jaw, clearly marked her as a full member of the crew -- but he hadn't set out for the New World because he liked to play things safe. No matter how things played out from here, she would certainly provide an interesting twist to this latest adventure.
Rounding the mouth of the inlet, Nicole did indeed spy high ground up ahead. Catching a second wind at the sight of it, she moved on with a renewed sense of purpose.
The way to the cliff's top was a gentle slope, easy enough for aching legs. It was a sure walk. Then, the wind has turned, and Nicole noticed a strange smell. After a few steps, it became more evident, and grew overwhelming another few steps later: a rotting stench with a hint of sweat. It obviously came from a pile at the surf. Casting her tired eyes to the shoreline, Nicole noticed a busy movement...
The pile turned out a decomposing corpse of some hairy creature. Two black crabs, smaller than the last one, was nipping its crimson flesh. The only eye, the color of gold, was staring back at Nicole, and uneven teeth grinned in a crazy smile.
"Tough luck, pooch," Nicole muttered, unmoved by the gruesome sight, but happy to put more distance between herself and the stench as she headed on toward the high ground.
From the high point, Nicole could see a long beach lining the land she was washed to. The bleached color of sand was spoiled here and there with dark spots: flotsam, coconuts, seaweed, the late pooch... And one more at the other side of the cliff... And what might have been several corpses piled together, considering the number of crabs feasting there... Something took lives of these beasts, easily a plague.
Santiago continued to follow the woman, admiring her fine form even more now that he knew it was not subject to a womanly aversion to death.
His rumbling stomach gave him pause for a moment as he recalled the large crab recently left behind. A sharp thrust of the saber would be child's play and it would be fresh seafood for lunch. Perhaps she would dine with him....
Pushing fantasy out of his mind he focused his attention on the woman and chose his steps carefully to avoid detection. He would reveal himself to this woman when it suited him. And when it favoured him.