The Moon Serpent’s prow rose almost vertically in the ocean, and Rose swung back on the rope to reach the jutting serpent figurehead, holstering her empty pistol. Her booted feet jolted onto the silver fangs, and she managed to remain upright as the ship slowly sank into the ocean. She saw the stern half of the boat was almost entirely underwater, with only a few sailors crowded onto the topmost railing, so close she could likely have swung over to reach them. One of the survivors was Petyr Harker, and she felt nauseating hatred rise in her throat.
‘I did tell you I was just the sorta fellow to seek dramatic revenge in some stupidly elaborate scheme,’ Petyr chuckled. ‘Admittedly I didn’t quite see it turning out like this, but at least—’
Rose didn’t grant him a chance to finish, throwing the rope loop toward him like a lasso, and no harpooner had ever cast so perfect a toss. The loop snagged around Petyr’s neck like a hangman’s noose, but before he could lift it clear, Rose drew her cutlass and swung it high.
‘Say hello to Morrigan for me, Petyr,’ she snarled, and slashed down.
Her keen-bladed steel sliced clean through the block and tackle straining against the cannon’s enormous weight, and it immediately plummeted into the ocean. Rose had a brief second to savour the flash of horror in Petyr’s eyes before the towrope snapped taut and wrenched him from his lofty perch. His scream was cut short as he smashed into the water and vanished into the depths as the cannon dragged him all the way down.
Standing atop the serpent figurehead, Rose watched the Moon Serpent’s stern finally vanish underwater in a swirl of foaming waves and cracking timbers. The few sailors still clinging to the wreckage paddled frantically on the surface before the hungry suction of the shipwreck finally pulled them down with it, their pitiful cries swallowed by the merciless black depths. Looking down, she reckoned she had a few scant seconds at best before the sinking prow sucked her down too.
‘Shame to send summat so beautiful to the deeps,’ muttered a voice behind her, and Rose smiled.
She looked over her shoulder to see Jonny hunched over the oars of their approaching rowboat, soaked to the skin and covered in cuts, bruises, and bites. The storm lamp on the prow bobbed like a welcoming beacon of safety.
‘Thankee kindly, old man,’ she laughed.
‘I means the cannon,’ Jonny grumbled, rowing toward her. ‘A finer thirty pounder I’s yet to see.’
‘Aye,’ agreed Rose, ‘but it’s tradition, and you don’t go messing with traditions, right?’
‘Right indeed,’ Jonny grunted.
Rose clamped a hand to her aching ribs. ‘So where in the name o’ the Bearded Lady did you crawl off to? I needed you up on the damn deck when everything went to shit.’
Jonny shrugged. ‘Went below to fetch another bottle of rum. Ran into Morrigan’s crew fixing to get a-murderin’. They didn’t take kindly to being discovered and tried to cut my damn head off, but they was only measly sailors and I still had me bootknife. Managed to gut a few but had to jump out a gunport afore they shanked me good. Swam around to get our boat, getting feasted on by all nibblin’ beasties lurking ’neath the waves, thankee very much. But I’m here now, so d’you wanna come aboard or you planning to go down with the ship?’
‘This ship’s captain’s already gone with her,’ said Rose, stepping casually from the figurehead to the rowboat. She dropped into the bilges with a groan of relief as her knees crumpled under her. With her safely aboard, Jonny rowed them away from the doomed Moon Serpent as the figurehead and its topmost mast finally sank in a swirl of bubbles, rope, and broken spars.
Rose crawled to the rowboat’s stern, her breath hitching as she saw she wasn’t the only flotsam Jonny had recovered. A bloodied body in a lacerated coat of pale blue, golden cuffs and frayed bronze epaulettes lay slumped against the stern, barely wheezing.
‘Blaxton?’ Rose gasped. ‘She still alive?’
Jonny nodded. ‘Aye. Just about. She’s a blowhard, but she didn’t deserve to go down with scum like Morrigan. Didn’t feel right to just leave her to drown, right?’
Rose said nothing, too exhausted to do more than nod.
‘So you gonna tell me what in the eight seas happened up there?’ asked Jonny.
‘You’d never believe me,’ said Rose.
‘I’m guessing it was you that sank the ship firing the damn cannon into the deck?’ said Jonny.
‘Wasn’t me. What happened up there was all Morrigan’s doing,’ said Rose, with a flinty glare that told him not to ask anymore damn questions.
‘Though I did manage to retrieve this.’ She opened her clenched fist to reveal a disc stamped with three intertwined serpents of silver and brass.
‘Morrigan’s sigil,’ said Jonny.
‘Might not mean much these days, but we’ll see what happens when I show it to the rest of his crew once they’ve sobered up.’
Jonny grinned. ‘Well, at least this trip wasn’t a total waste of time.’
Rose slumped in the back of the boat and watched as the rearing crag of Moonshard Reef began to fade into the mist. She narrowed her eyes as she saw a lone figure crawl ashore and shake itself dry like a drenched dog, before shambling off over the jagged rocks. A hunched wretch in an expensive kraken-skin coat.
‘Thorne,’ she whispered. ‘Always the damn rats that survive a sinking ship.’
‘Eh?’ grunted Jonny mid-row. ‘Someone else made it out?’
‘No,’ said Rose, turning away. ‘No one worth saving.’
‘Huh,’ he bent back over the oars. ‘Like them old legends you’d hear: God creates Man. God creates Monsters. Man destroys God. Man rules the waves.’
‘Man wakes Monsters,’ Rose interjected, taking Blaxton’s clammy hand which tightened around her fingers. She smiled – two sisters-in-arms broken and battered, but still alive and kicking. ‘Monsters eat Man … Woman inherits the earth.’
© 2021 | Tom Burton