The echoing sound of footsteps knocking against the tiles shook the seemingly abandoned Victorian mansion. You could hear every little noise, every move made. The kind of tranquility only you could break; a place truly to yourself. Of course, sometimes some very silent outer noises came through the thick walls. Wolves howling under the moonlight, an orchestra of crickets performing, or my favorite: a smaller storm brewing in a distance. I always loved living here.
“Good evening, Martina.” I yawned, my cold hands rubbing against my eyelids. No response. She must have still been sleeping in some other room then. With a flick of my wrist and a snap of my fingers, I lit up one of the magic candles on the shelf next to my bed.
That melodramatic violin I heard by the river yesterday still played in my head. I could not help but hum it along as I made my way towards my large pine wardrobe, getting ready for the day… or, night in my case. ‘Nothing special for tonight’, I thought, taking out one my everyday plum purple gowns. It reached from up my neck, all the way down almost to the floor. Nothing as fancy as those city vampires of course; no frills, no huge bows, no beads hanging around. Just some charcoal colored accents here and there, and small ribbons tying the white, inner layer against my wrist at its end plus a couple of pockets at the vest, if for the keys and such. It was the golden middle road I desired, not as fancy as the high-class ladies of the city, but not as simple as the ones living in the village. Fitting for someone whose home is literally midway both of them.
Crawling into my dress with another big yawn leaving my mouth, I turned my attention to the window of my room, as if something would have just hit it. I could hear a short bang; a bird, perhaps? The lining of light under the thick, red curtain was of a glowing orange color, meaning it was early in the sunset still. Nevertheless, for the sake of good measure, I drew them away from the side for a moment, letting just a corner of my room bask in its colors before dropping it back. A faint sound of withheld laughter hit my ears from the outside. How odd.
I took the brush off the shelf - same, simple pine - that was right next to the window, collapsed down on my bed with a loud sigh, and started giving some sort of shape for that brown bird’s nest on top of my head. Eyes closed, counting, waiting with nothing but a coy smile on my face. I knew the day would come again. After what it felt like a minute or so, my hair slowly started looking like an actual bob cut. Then, in a blink of an eye, everything changed.
Small clings of swords and powerful knocks of bullets, all hacking away at my home pierced into my ears. It was as if someone was trying to punch a hole into the wall of my own room.
“Come out vam-pirate! You are outnumbered!” they shouted in repeat, chanted almost. It was that time of the week.
A soft, short laugh left my mouth. Oh, I was to come out. Do they really think they can take on me? Mel Syreth? The Nightmare of the Seas? Fools! I had a very specific weapon stashed near me to deal with such pesky, mortal landlubbers. Right between my desk and wardrobe, it laid: my trusty saber I had made in the city. A smooth hilt and ornate loop guard made of willow, and a flat-sided blade with a neat curve made of… willow.
“You will never take me!” I screamed at the top of my lungs out the window. Then, I ‘charged’ towards the door at my own moderate pace, listening to the excited laughter and squealing coming from outside as a response. Before leaving though, I squeezed three of my free fingers together, thus shutting off the candlelight. I hated when these happened, but I must admit, there was a certain charm to it. I suppose I needed a little bit of this in my life.
The mansion had a considerable size but in no way I’d claim it as a labyrinth of any sort; not for me, at least. More or less every room - my bedroom included - ended up in the same great hall. Marble tiled floor, uncountable amounts maroon fleur-de-lis on the one shade lighter wallpaper, some couches and desks here and there of a similar fashion. I snapped my fingers, another candle on the shelf on my right coming to life. I extinguished it like the one before entering the tiny foyer. I took one last deep breath before slowly opening up the door.
“Okay everyone, you know the rules. No throwing-”
“En Garde!” the little Tommy interrupted, whacking away at me with his little wooden sword. His repeated overhead strikes alone would have been easy to parry off, should he have actually been by himself. Instead, he was accompanied by two others just as eager to get a slice of me… and they were all shouting ‘En garde!’. Grabbing the two ends of my fake blade, I pushed back Tommy as he tried crushing through my block, giving a little room for me to step to the side. Anita was up next, a bit shorter and meeker than the others were but not one refusing an adventure; she tried aiming at my legs from the side to tackle me, forcing me to take a step back. David was more observant than the others, he waited for them to strike so he can join, thinking I wouldn’t be able to parry two of them at the same time. With another ‘en garde’ and a lunging step, as well as yet another overhand strike from Tommy, I needed to react, and fast. I grabbed the hilt of my sword with both of my hands, smashing against Tommy’s with a force enough to knock it out of his grasp. David’s stab just barely missed my side. What I didn’t see was Anita, ready to give her tripping technique another try. At that point, there wasn’t too much I could do, I accepted my demise. After the ‘nearly decapitating’ blow to my right leg, I tripped and landed on the dusty ground (on purpose of course). Was I glad my dress wasn’t so fancy and fragile.
“Stop! I surrender alright.” I begged for mercy, turning on my back. The moment Tommy was about to deliver the last blow with his now reclaimed weapon, David stopped him.
“Enough! We need her alive, remember?” he said, grabbing his arm and lowering it by force “The Captain wants to speak to you.” he continued, this time, turning to me instead. Role-play was all fun and games until one becomes hurt, that was an unwritten first rule between us.
“Yeah, I figured as much.” I sighed, getting up from the dirt and sweeping the brown dust that coated my dress off.
“You’re no fun.” grumbled Tommy. The little Tommy Barwick was the town mischief. The street urchin in the jeans with patches all over, ragged shirt and sweater, and the brown newboy cap got quite the reputation for the constant trouble he was making. In fact, at one point it got so far that even things he didn’t do got chalked up to his name, he learned his lesson after that… somewhat.
“I hope it didn’t hurt.” Anita asked, to which I shook my head. She was short and sweet, and a passionate gardener with a tiny bit of magic inside her. She had a shoulder long orange hair, and wore a cute, plain green-white dress with a pouch on the front. The same one she wears in the shop when she is helping her mother there. She’ll likely get a scolding for that when getting home, I thought.
“No, no of course of.” I lied; actually, it rather did given she hit me at the shin “Is the Sun down yet?”
“It was when we last checked.” Dave responded, taking out a rope from his backpack and tying my hands with a tight knot, the usual procedure. David McKawen, son of the local handyman and one handsome fellow in the circle of youngsters. He was the oldest and most mature of the bunch. He also wore a lot of brown, had light brown hair, beige shirt with chestnut waistcoat and leggings of a shade somewhere in between.
“At least let me lock the mansion, though?” I asked in disbelief. Not that anybody wanted to come near to the thing given its reputation as a haunted house but still.
“Ah, don’t worry, I can do that.” Tommy responded, already eyeing my clothes for the pockets. I knew he wanted to get in, little reckless.
“Oh no, you won’t.” I lashed back at him, turning to the girl in the squad “Anita, come lock the doors for me, will you? The keys are right up here.”
Anita, the obedient maiden she was, reached into the small pocket left of my chest, finding a small iron key within. No keychain, no wooden tags with names, just a large piece of cast-iron with a huge circle on its end almost black from the rust. A moment later, I heard her quick footsteps behind me, and then, her struggle with twisting it for it to lock. After what seemed like fifteen or so seconds of desperate moans and metal parts scraping against each other, I could finally hear that signature, loud snapping sound of the lock. Relieved she didn’t break the key into it, I released an audible sigh.
“Should I put it back where it was?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you.” I replied.
Once a weekend, every week, the Captain would send the ‘first mates’ of his ‘crew’ to me with something in his mind. Whether it was to answer a question, tell a story or in rare (worst) cases like these, come and get me to him. With my hands tied, the end of the rope in his hands, and the two others standing behind me as if it was an actual arrest, we began heading down the hill, into the woods ahead of us.
~ ~ ~
The Evera Forest got the name after the village it belonged to, Evera. The scent of lush evergreens never failed to mesmerize me when walking down this little path zigzagging between the trees. Not to mention the thick flora filtering most of the direct sunlight, perfect for early (or late) strolls outside. Looking back, the mansion vanished in the sea of green after twenty or so steps. Without a large roof to make it stand out on top of the smaller hill, it was pretty much camouflaged.
After a couple minutes, we reached the main road that split in two opposite directions. To the west laid the fairy settlement of Villa Feya, as well as the capital of the island, Belleport, inhabited by the vampires for the most part. To the east, the small rural village of Evera, where most of the humans lived was found. The road connecting the two was still dirt, but much wider than the little path leading to my home. The two continuous ditches near its edges and the rough middle filled with small bumps showed why. The Sun have indeed disappeared behind the horizon by then, and the gradient above changed from the warm orange to a cold, dark blue at a slow but noticeable pace. That was usually the closest thing I would see to a sunset. One of the banes of vampirism was that one couldn’t see it but from mere paintings. Looking straight at the Sun - even a mere fragment of it - was blinding for us.
After minutes upon minutes of walking, the silence was getting to me. I wanted to break it so bad, but I always had trouble with starting conversations. Worse yet they were doing this on purpose, I could see it. They just didn’t as much as look at me, probably smugly waiting for me to snap into the awkwardness.
“So, how was school?” I asked.
“It’s Saturnday, actually.” Anita replied with a small giggle. If my hands weren’t tied, I’d have smacked my face with one. “But yesterday, Penny burned one of her books.” she added.
“She did?” I asked, leaving out the ‘again’ from the back for my own convenience. Penny was - how should I put it - a fiery girl in the most literal sense of the word possible. Powerful, angry, and sometimes, out of control. She also had a gift for fire magic. Her case was… an entirely different story for a different time.
“It was the math book, though, so I guess no loss there.” Tommy added from behind, with a smug tone in his voice. Oh, I found the subject he hated the most. Of course in reality those books worth quite a lot out here regardless if they were used or outdated. They were books after all, brought all the way from Belleport.
A strange creaking noise with repeated knocks cut my train of thoughts. A carriage was coming towards us, and as such, I was dragged off to the side of the road to give it some way. It was an old one with wooden planks as sides so the goods won’t fall off, a couple of them missing. Same with the spokes on the wheels, only some loose chunks remaining of the ones that broke off. It wasn’t carrying logs or stone though, but props, chairs, tables, sacks and boxes filled with things unknown. Oh yes, Saturday! Was it going towards the Feast’s site, I wondered. I’ve always guessed they set those up in the morning, not the evening the day before. After it was gone, we climbed back to the road from the sides, continuing with our way. That reminded me….
“By the way, if today is Saturnday then you-”
“Oh no! Not this.” Tommy shouted, slamming his palms against his ears.
“Yes, yes we know, we have to wake up early. ‘Before the sun even comes up’ kind of early.” Dave added, his tone showing he was at the end of his nerve about the matter.
“Your parents hammered into your head not to go home late, didn’t they?” I asked with a coy grin, to which I got but a large, collective groan from all of them.
Of course they did, because even after hundred times they still didn’t listen, and still had to be dragged into the Feast next morning on the ground. Like every child. It was a sign of excellent behavior for one not to show up as a zombie at the feast. Anita giggled in herself, she knew, because she was one of those few. The boys were always the one rebelling against going to bed early, then wake up with their blood stiller than a frozen lake. I’m glad that was brought up nonetheless. The days have melted together to the point I’ve been having trouble keeping track of it.
After a couple more minutes of silent walking, the evergreens from our left side have become more and more sparse, leading into a gorgeous landscape down a slope. Fields as far as the eye could see, lying across the vast grassy plains of the land, each separated by a fence or a wall of either wood or white stone. Tiny dirt paths ran between these gigantic brown shapes, connecting them in a web of roads. Usually, the smell of freshly cut wheat and other plants would linger in the winds, but this late in the year, the fields were all barren and empty. When snowing, the children would usually carry their sleighs up here and slide down this hill. It was always filling my heart with joy, hearing their excited screams through the woods during an early evening stroll. Less so while trying to sleep. Yet past the trench on the other side of the road, the woods were growing just as much thicker and darker.
As we were reaching the outskirts of the town, I could already overhear the humans chatting, laughing, and minding their business; the sounds of a lively place. I’d be lying if I’d say Evera was my favorite place on the Island. Truth is, every little settlement across was so different and wonderful it was hard to choose. Each had their own unique charm to them. For instance, the smell of fresh laundry hanging in the air as the household wives gave them a good shake before taking them back inside their loam homes. You couldn't sense that in Belleport, let alone at the northern villages. The town’s structure was reminiscent of a spider web, each street leading to the town square where a small stone fountain was found. On the outer edge, a tall brick wall kept the wildlife away. Like at more or less everywhere, Evera was most active at sunset. Dusk was when not all the mortal humans were going inside just yet but the few kindred already were awake; vice versa when the sun was coming up.
The Captain’s house was on the other end of the town, by the beach. Luckily, for me, the shortest way there wasn’t through the crowded main street but rather the outermost side street between the old stone wall and the houses. Occasionally, a friendly smile and wave greeted me here and there, which I only responded with a small wiggle of my palms and a nod. I didn’t know most people here, even in spite of the whole village being rather tiny, and they didn’t know me back either. They did know the kids, however. All they saw was the odd sight of a woman being taken somewhere by a couple of the Captain’s mischiefs. A couple smiled back as we passed by their backyards, one baffled old woman just scratched her head, but we haven’t come across many people and I liked it more that way. It wasn’t much of a secret.
A few minutes later, the small, dark side street opened up into a gorgeous gold-tinted beach. The Captain’s house was one of the few scattered cabins out next to the sea. They built it right before the grass reached into sand, a small path of dirt leading up to it. Its colors have been nearly drained from the salt on the side facing towards it. Next to his house was his trusty old boat, a fish out of the water waiting to be pushed back, which is what exactly he was trying to accomplish, all alone.
“Need any help Captain?” Dave shouted as we came closer to him.
“Wha’?” he shouted “What did I tell you, you little- Oh, it’s you three again!” he lashed back out.
Enter ‘Captain’ William Jenkins, retired sailor. He was always like that, acting like a grump who’s annoyed to the core with these so-called ‘landlubbers’ around him. He was a good and charitable soul in his heart of hearts, though. He was old, chubby, slow, couldn’t see or hear well, had like one teeth left, and worst of all, was more stubborn than a mule, but you’d get a good beating should you say it all to him. Especially if you pointed out to him how he never actually was a captain of anything. The kids loved him, though, even if that was shown in the form of constant pranks and teasing.
“We got the pirate, Captain.” Tommy saluted, eagerly awaiting some sort of reward from him. Of course, he wasn’t to get any. ‘The adventure is its own reward’ as Jenkins would say, peppered with some old man’s insults at its ends. As for me, I was waiting for the classical berating part. How I have became so weak that a bunch of kids can take care of me, et cetera.
“I see that myself, I’m not blind yet!” he shouted back. Tommy (and Anita) shuddered at his thundering voice. Fake intimidation of course, it was obvious he was a dog that could bark but not bite.
“What’s the problem, Mel? These little kids can tie you down this easily” he laughed, making his way back towards the house with his limp “these, eh, these... good-for-nothings?” It wasn’t long until the laughter turned into coughing.
“You don’t look like you’ve been sparring a lot either.” I remarked, keeping it short and clean.
“That’s what you think. Fancy clothes and jewelry got you all weak. Some good pirate captain you are. What do you think your mates would say seeing you now?” he continued, falling down on one of the tree-stumps that served as a chair outside his house. I rolled my eyes behind his back; let him have his fun. We always had a sort of rivalry with each other, and I guess you can see now why. He was a former quartermaster on a naval cruiser; I was a former pirate captain of my own ship. He was sticking to the rough life - if not on, but at the least by the sea with tooth and nails, and I left it for that of the land. Similarly, while his stories of the what life was on the sea were often exaggerated telltales about hordes of sharks and ten feet tall octopus attacks, mine were a bit more rational and insightful. After a while, this split the youth with interest into two groups as well who also began competing and ‘fighting’ against each other in our names. Needless to say, everybody flocked to him rather than me, but it was better this way I would say.
“Is there any real reason you got me brought here?” I asked, growing impatient and rather annoyed at all this nonsensical salting of old wounds.
“What’s the rush? Ya’ll youngsters hurry everywhere so fast all the time I bet you can’t even see where you’re going!” he roared, as per usual taking out his old pipe from his pocket and polishing its lip “Yes, yes I did. It’s about the Piratoforte. You! Release her!”
David nodded, quick to untie my by that time numb hands from the grasp of the ropes. Shaking and massaging some blood back into them, I sat down into the stump-circle on one facing against him.
“What’s the Piratoforte?” the curious Anita interrupted, sitting down a log on my left side. I knew she’d ask that. In the end, it really turned out every child in town had to know about it. I suppose sooner or later they’d find it out, either.
“Doesn’t Rose have a ‘minding your own business’ class in school?” the captain lashed out at her, with a short grumble afterwards “But if you really want to know, it’s that thing over there.”
He pointed at the where the distant mountain range, the forest of evergreens and the sea met. A bit off due to his vision but one could still see some of it: a small basket-shaped thing, seemingly put on the top of one of the pine trees.
“I can’t see it.” Tommy said, squinting and leaning left and right.
“I can, come up here.” replied Anita, standing on the top of the log “See, that, over there!” she added, pointing over her friend’s shoulder.
“It looks like a crow’s nest.” David added. He was tall enough that he didn’t need to stand on anything to see it.
“I don’t think a crow needs something that big though.” the girl pointed out.
Jenkins couldn’t help but laugh, “That’s just a metaphor, kid. It’s a small basket used on ships as a lookout point, namely this here fellow’s ship.” he said, pointing towards me with his pipe “Oh curse it, I left the snuff inside.”
With that, he pushed himself up from the stump in the midst of some groaning and struggling. Turning around, he then headed towards his cabin with that slow, lame walk he had. Something told me he intended to cut me off like this. I played along for now, but I knew all too well I had to explain to these three by me later anyway.
“You coming? I won’t be making this trip twice.” he told me. I was close to put another snarky remark back there but I chose hold it in myself this time. I just followed him in a painstaking pace. Keeping my temper around the Captain was more and more difficult as time passed, regardless of the fact it was just more or less poking at each other out of fun.
“Ship? As in a pirate ship? Can we come inside as well?” Tommy asked in excitement, leaving the others behind and making a rush for the door of the cabin.
“Oh no, you don’t! I done enough cleaning for today without you already.” the captain shouted back. While he wasn’t a pirate himself, if there was one thing that he did better than them, was being very defensive about his treasure… or his house in this case. I couldn’t blame him.
“Just tell us some more about the Piratoforte. Mel, please?”
“Sorry guys, I’m afraid it’s not something you need to hear. Scoot along now!” I replied, hushing them away as I closed the door behind. Still, even afterwards I’ve heard the muffled sound of an angry Tommy saying something like “I’ll check it out myself then.”
“Don’t even think about it!” I thundered back, almost ripping the door out “That place is unstable and dangerous, especially in the dark. Home, now!”
Upset and disappointed, the three of them turned around and walked away back to the village. I only lowered my finger when they got a good dozen meters of distance from us. Even then, I stared at them disappearing behind the town’s stone wall, lest they’d just turn back towards the shores and run down the sandy beach to the ship. It worked. If there was one thing I didn’t want is the blame of these kids getting hurt messing around in my property.
“They gone?” asked the captain from the back of the room, as he was rummaging through the shelves of his cabin.
“Yeah.” I sighed, “Let us hope they won’t do anything silly.”
The door creaked as I closed it behind my back. I dropped down on one of the dark blue armchairs by the window; my feet were in agony. I took a couple of seconds to take in the atmosphere of the room, the light-green plank walls filled with fishes of all kind. Some were big, some smaller but more colorful, and some had very interesting looking head shapes. Where there weren’t fishes, there were shelves with little paintings on them. Portraits of friends and family who have long passed away, many bearing the same unrecognizable scribble on the bottom right corner that was supposed to be the artist's’ name.
Captain Jenkins came back a couple seconds later, hobbling out from his bedroom with a small box in his hand. He yanked out the other armchair towards him to spare a few steps, then collapsed on it himself with a loud moan.
“Here it is. Is this what you were looking for?” he asked, handing it over to me. A good dozen medallions filled the box, many circular, some star shaped. While most of them were gold, there were a couple silver ones shining up between them and the ribbons of all sorts of colors. I closed the box, nodding with a hum.
“I ain’t keen on parting with them but it’s better than letting it rot here forever, I guess.” he sighed, leaning back into the hold of the furniture “Speaking of which…”
“Yeah, I’m not parting with the Piratoforte, William.” I replied.
“Then you’re not parting with my kids either, pirate girl.” he laughed, coughing once again afterwards. He never understood how much that ship meant to me, no matter how bad in a state it was. I stood up. We both got what we wanted anyway.
“Going so soon, where are you rushing again?” groaned the captain.
“Tomorrow is Sunday.”
“I don’t care about the Feast, you already know that.” he replied, flinging his wrinkled hand around “Nobody would want me, and by the time I’d get there with this leg, it’d be over. Stay a bit; share some stories with this old dog.”
I sighed; it couldn’t be helped. Every week I hope he would change his mind about it, that he would come out and surprise everyone by doing what they thought is impossible; even without fulfilling the contract the Feast meant. I wanted to stay out of courtesy but I’ve seen the rings under his eyes, almost indistinguishable from all the other wrinkles. He needed sleep.
“Alright fine, but I don’t know what I could tell you about, honestly.” I gave in, resting my head on my right hand.
“That’s because you lock yourself up in that stupid fancy mansion of yours. What good you’ll be doing tonight?”
“Well if you really want to know, Lisa will be coming over to her usual, then I’ll getting myself ready for the Feast. Afterwards whatever I’d fancy doing.”