It was a cool autumn day. The sun just peaked over the horizon as light splashed across the waves, reflecting again and again in shades of gold. The tips of the trees on the shore were burnished bronze, the leaves shimmering between shades of crimson and orange and yellow. It was the sort of morning that came only rarely near Old York—the sort of morning that you wished you could capture in your pocket and take out to look at again and again when the usual fog rolled back over the waters and the sky turned from cobalt blue to grey.
Alexa breathed in the morning air, tucking her short blonde hair back beneath the dark hat she was wearing. The small boat rocked beneath her as the man in front of her rowed quietly across the waves. The muscles of his thick arms tensed and relaxed again, moving beneath the tattooed skin. A stubbly beard covered his strong jawline, and his dark eyes focused on something behind her. She knew that he was probably listening for something—but all was quiet in the early morning. Hell, even the birds had finally shut up. Thank fucking saints.
They had flipped a ring to see who got to row. Mickey had lost, so Alexa got to sit while he worked. Normally, she would have teased him. And normally, he would have set down the oars and refused to go any further. And normally, they would have gotten into some kind of contest that would have wound up with at least one of them overboard and soaking wet. But this time, they were quiet.
Alexa raised a hand and, as discussed before they embarked, Mickey very gently placed the oars into the boat, allowing them to glide across the water silently for a few more feet. Water dripped off the wood, puddling in the bottom of the small craft as Alexa’s green eyes remained fixed on the object in front of them.
It was a ship, dark in color with furled sails. It gently bobbed in the water, its anchor weighing it to the bottom. Barnacles coated it near the waterline, and Alexa could see where the engine was likely located on the stern. Mickey put one scarred finger to his lips and then reached out an arm, placing a hand on the port side of the ship to prevent their boat from knocking into it.
The problem with ships was that they were pretty high up from the water line. Fortunately, there was the anchor line. Alexa grabbed the thick chain as Mickey began the climb, curling his legs around it to pull himself upward toward the ship. They had decided he would go first for a few different reasons—mostly that he wouldn’t have to scramble for a weapon when he boarded. He was simply better at punching people than Alexa was—and also more familiar with ship-to-ship combat. That, and Mickey was heavier. Alexa could keep the chain from rattling as he boarded and then follow after.
As Mickey climbed upward and she kept the chain steady, Alexa glanced at the weapons at her belt to make sure that they were secure. Knife? Swords? Drugs? Check, check, and check. She held the chain as Mickey boarded, and then quickly began the climb herself. The metal dug into her palms, scraping against her callouses as she swarmed upward. Her ab muscles strained as she turned herself over when she reached the top, then dragged herself over the side and slid onto the ship.
Mickey was already standing, arms up, brass knuckles glinting hard on his hands. Alexa unsheathed one blade and then the other from her belt, glancing around. It was obviously a cargo ship. Barrels and crates were piled high on deck and likely in the hold below. It was strangely quiet on deck—which wasn’t all that surprising. The two of them had made sure that an extra barrel of hooch “accidentally” wound up in the hands of the crewmembers last night. Most of them would be sleeping in or nursing a headache. (Mickey had said it was overcomplicated, but Alexa was paranoid. And besides, they’d only be out some hooch if they didn’t drink it).
Mickey jerked his head toward the ship cabin and Alexa nodded, moving forward. She eased open the metal door and stepped inside, quietly moving down the stairs. Everything seemed to echo, but she hoped that the noise they made was something that the crew would be used to—or that she was just being hypersensitive. For the moment, no one seemed to give a shit. Whether it was because the crew was hungover or just lazy—it didn’t matter.
They went straight toward the captain’s cabin. Mickey had gone over the general layout of the ship with her beforehand. Useful that he was a ship’s engineer. They checked the door and then swung it open.
The room was small and cramped, but relatively clean. A bottle was set on a small table on one side of the room. A few pictures hung along the walls—papers clearly drawn by a child’s hand. He probably had a son or daughter waiting at home. A tiny bed was shoved against one corner. It clearly belonged to a captain who wasn’t the richest man in the world, but made do.
The captain himself had just begun to sit up in bed. He was about thirty or so with a dark, scruffy beard and bleary eyes. He was heavier set—obviously a Yorker with his broader face, “What the f…”
Before he could say anything more, Alexa surged forward, punching him once in the wind pipe with the hilt of her blade. The man made a strangled, choking noise, one hand scrambling toward his pillow. Mickey followed after and simply grabbed the man’s arm, pinning it to one side.
“None of that now,” Mickey reached beneath the pillow and pulled out a gun, throwing it across the room casually. The captain’s eyes followed it before staring toward Mickey. The eyes then narrowed as recognition flickered across his features.
Alexa grinned. She knew her grin unsettled people—something about the eyes, apparently. Either way, it was useful, “So we tried to pay you to get passage on your ship…you remember us, right? The two from Hayven? You stopped in our port briefly.”
The man grimaced and looked like he was about to talk, but Mickey raised one hand and he fell silent. Alexa continued, “So we offered to pay more. And when that didn’t work and you called us…what was it, Mickey?”
“Oh, I think it was ‘filthy pocket fuckers.’”
“Yeah, that. And you said you wouldn’t let us on your ship for any price. Now, we’re a smart bunch. Normally we’d just get another ship. Unfortunately, you’re the last ship that was going anywhere near Hayven, so we had to improvise.”
Mickey leaned forward, “So this is what’re yer gonna do, Rust Monkey. Yer gonna get tied up here and we’re gonna have yer crew sail the ship. Anyone who says otherwise gets killed real quick. If you don’t do as we ask? We kill you. If you tell your crew to rebel, we kill you and them. And if you try anything stupid. We kill you. Understand?”
The captain stared at them for a moment and then croaked, “But this is my ship.”
Alexa grinned widely as Mickey spoke, “You mean our ship.”
Alexa glanced out onto the waves as the sun faded from the sky. The plan was to stick around the coast and then eventually come into the port once everyone returned to Hayven from Devil’s Den. The Yorkers would be a few weeks late on their shipping—but that was about it. And after they’d killed the first crewmember, the rest had pretty much fallen in line. No one wanted to come out of Hayven’s morgue right now.
She heard footsteps behind her and her hand quickly went to the hilt of her blade. She glanced behind only to see Mickey, who cautiously stepped beside her and looked toward the shore with her. He was wearing his armor, thick black plates shifting over one another. His kilt was a dark green in the fading light. He didn’t look at her, but instead stared at the shore.
Their relationship was far from romantic. Shit. She was pretty sure that one of them will kill the other one day. And love was pretty much off the table. You needed to love yourself before you could love someone else—at least that’s what most people told her. And Alexa was pretty sure they both hated themselves equally. But they worked well together—so it was a relationship of convenience if nothing else.
Mickey spoke, his voice soft, “It’s glowing.”
Alexa turned to look back at the shore. From here, they could barely see where Hayven was—the wooden structures mostly covered by trees. She squinted for a moment before her green eyes widened and she responded, “No…it’s burning.”