Wood snapped and splintered as the remains of Sanctuary wedged into the ice. Shaky hands extended to the fallen, and able men took knives to the tangled sails until the deck mirrored the frozen wasteland ahead.
Bernardo emerged from beneath and grabbed the rail-edge, scanning the shore: There was no sign of life. Nowhere to run. His grip tightened as the two lunatics struggled behind him.
“Constance, leave me to my business. I know it was him.”
“Creedy, please,” she said, her words punctuated by an attempt to stop him. “Bernard, go back to the hold.”
Bernardo turned. “We had a deal–”
Creedy yanked him up by his linen shirt, nearly ripping it off.
Foul breath melted the chill off Bernardo’s face, leaving it moist.
“You destroyed my ship, you Pisador son of a bitch.”
“Let him go,” Constance said, moving between them, but the drunkard had a firm grip. With a two-handed thrust, she sent him stumbling back.
“Go to the quarterdeck,” she ordered.
The old man stood still, his empty eyes searching for her as if the girl he once knew had suddenly disappeared.
Creedy’s mouth opened, but closed without another sound. He shook his head and reached for the crew, feeling a path out through the crowd.
Bernardo yanked his shirt back into place, glaring at Creedy’s back. If that old man knew anything about Pisadors, he would know their powers were governed by night. Even if the stars lit the sky, few Pisadors could cut a halyard without some sort of sharp edge.
Constance shoved a finger into his chest. “You were to stay in the hold,” she said. “That was the deal.”
“You said stay out of his sight— I did.”
Her indignant look set him on fire. She had tied and left him in the hold since their departure from France. Sea sickness kept him crumpled in a puddle of his own vomit until, every third day or so, a raven-haired boy ventured below to strip Bernardo’s clothes and wipe him down.
“Captain.” A man poked his weathered head out from the hold. “Water’s bleeding through the hull.”
Constance looked at Creedy, as usual, but the old man offered no advice as their only doctor wrapped a blanket around him.
“Salvage whatever supplies you can and lower the gangplank,” she said, and the crew, without further spectacle to watch, dispersed.
Constance snapped her gaze back to Bernardo. “Do not touch anything,” she said.
Bernardo clenched his jaw as he watched her walk away.
She knows this isn’t my fault, he thought. She knew some Pisador well enough for them to give her the pendant around her neck– she knew their limitations… but she was gone before he could argue.
He breathed in the crisp, arctic-summer air to cool his temper. He had to stay calm; Luz would never take him back as angry as he was now. Not that he would ever see her again.
The gangplank smacked against the ground. The crew shuffled across the deck with loaded carpet bags in hand, eager to flee the sinking vessel. Bernardo turned, spotting the captain as she emerged from her quarters– no luggage, no supplies, just a rolled piece of parchment in hand. She strode toward him with rigid shoulders and pressed it into his palm.
Bernardo stepped ahead, merging with the crew as they descended the gangplank. With her eyes at his back, he risked a glance at the blank scroll; she expected him to chart a map to la vara de centurias… Even if he could remember the meaning of the marks on her pendant and construct a map, they were still searching for a fairytale Pisadors told children when their clan was killed.
He looked ahead at the narrow pass, guarded by snow-capped mountains, which seemed the only route leading deeper into Greenland from their makeshift port. The raven-haired boy slipped beside him, offering his brother’s capote. The boy said his brother wouldn’t need it anymore because he died amidst the journey.
The naturalist hauled his empty display case along, eyes darting to and fro as they reached the mouth of the pass.
“I hope we get where we’re going soon,” he said. “The sky grows dark too quickly.”
“Not quick enough,” Bernardo said.
The naturalist scrunched his eyebrows. “Are you mad? There are beasts out here– horrible green creatures that would kill the both of us, just like that,” he said, managing a snap of his fingers.
“Orrdyr…” Creedy said. “So they claim.”
Bernardo gripped the scroll in his hand. Even if there were no Orrdyr, they all knew there were plenty of other dangers. The naturalist shivered as if he could hear Bernardo’s thoughts.
Creedy scoffed. “Perhaps you’ll catch one of their cubs for your display.”
The naturalist hugged his case to his chest. “That wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I signed up for this counterfeit study tour.”
“At least you got to sign…” Bernardo’s voice failed him as movement caught his eye: a row of lithe, green bodies lined the mountain peaks. ” …up,” Bernardo said.
The naturalist looked up. His face blanched.
The Orrdyr raised their bows and Bernardo turned away, but an arrow sank deep into his bicep.
The raven-haired boy gasped as an arrow found rest in the forehead of a man beside him. He stepped back as wooden shafts peppered the snow at his feet.
Wild limbs knocked Bernardo off balance as the crew reached for their weapons or fled, pushing him back and away from the boy.
“Steady!” Constance shouted from behind. He could see her struggling just to keep her ground as the mass of bodies threatened to swallow her.
Above, the line of archers thinned out, only for the gaps to be filled with Orrdyr that descended the mountains like an avalanche, clouds of snow rising from their feet and making it near impossible to see them in detail. A wave of robed Orrdyr replaced them, raising their hands, synchronized.
With most of the crew turning tail, Bernardo could no longer struggle against them and turned toward the entrance of the pass. The raven-haired boy was stepping backward, eyes transfixed on the approaching nightmare. Ice formed and rose at his feet, trailing up his legs as it built a wall that blocked the mouth of the pass, encapsulating the horror on his face.
The fleeing crew stopped short of the ice wall, trapped. Bernardo looked over his shoulder, but the other side of the narrow pass was blocked in the same fashion. The Orrdyr reached the foot of the mountain, crashing into the pass and overwhelming those on the front lines.
Blood streaked the snow as a bludgeon found its mark. A man fell to the ground beside him. He chanced a look at the sky: the sun took shelter behind the mountains, turning the sky a deep purple. Night approached.
A force pushed Bernardo back, knocking the wind out of him. He looked into a pair of eyes overwhelmed by black, set in the leathery face of an Orrdyr. It pulled a blade from his gut. As the Orrdyr left him for dead, he caught sight of Constance, whose gaze he met by chance. Creedy pulled her back, saving her from a beheading. Bodies obscured his view as the fight went on, but as he stood there, he would never forget the look of loss in her eyes… not for his life, but for the map he would never make.
He fell to his knees as he struggled to breathe, but he could only stare at the ground, as if it somehow surprised him. He watched his blood seep down and melt the ice beneath him, turning the snow red.
He crawled forward– he had to keep moving– but fell to the ground, another body for the count. He rolled onto his back, sucking in air, but gained nothing. He lifted his head, but that was all he could move before the world grew dark.
A star pierced the sky like a mourning tear.
“Ra…sala…uge,” he whispered.
A green face appeared over him, nostrils flaring as it bent close, let out a guttural snort and snatched him up by his coat. As his vision flickered, he was remotely aware that he was being dragged through the pass. Orrdyr warriors followed behind, clutching limbs of mottled corpses.
As he watched the pass entrance shrink and disappear, one thing was certain: wherever they were going, alive or dead, they were all going to the same place.
Coming Soon: Grundlehide