Amongst the vast blue of the ocean, as far as the eye can see, there floats gently a single ship. Wind whips about her prow, flicking the bound sails back and forth as easily as one would move their eyes. The hot sun beats down upon the polished deck, casting glimmers of light onto the rail and bulwark. A British flag waves excitedly in the breeze, freshly-sewn and anxious to be broken in. The ship is fairly new, and proven by her own merit to be the fastest of her fleet—if not the fastest of the British Navy.
But she won’t be fast enough.
Unseen to the happily buoying naval ship is another, darker ship. Sails yellowed with wear are tied to their respective yards with rope likely older than the ship herself. The deck planking is weather- and shoe-beaten, and reflects none of the sun’s rays joyously over the rail, or the bulwark, or even the waterway. The entire ship is dull black-brown, and floats quietly along the sparkling water, completely unnoticed. Her crew is nowhere to be seen, save for a few men.
At the stern of the ship, at the highest landed point possible, stands a long, sinewy man with a spyglass to his eye. His black coat swirls about his knees as the wind rifles past him, and he lowers the glass from his eye. He blinks them open to reveal startlingly green irises framing soulless pupils.
“Jefferson,” he calls, and a man who had been sitting amongst barrels on the quarterdeck scrambles to his feet and up the stairs to the taller man. The man pointed at the ship in the distance with his telescope. “Do you see that ship?”
Jefferson nods, unable to speak even though he’s not being looked at.
“We’re going to attack it.” The man lowers his telescope-holding arm and stares at the tiny ship resolutely.
“Um, Captain, sir,” Jefferson stutters, “why?”
He smirks. “Because they have something that I want.”
Mere minutes later, the entire crew is rushing about on the deck of the ship, and the long-coated man is barking orders.
“Draw the mainsail! Yes and the foresail! Draw all the sails, you blubbering buffoons, and move smartly about it!” He spins around, black coat flaring out and boots squeaking against the slick wood of the deck.The whole ship is a flurry of motion, every crew member moving quickly and effectively to obey the orders of their captain.
“We are going to catch that ship,” the captain calls, grinning sadistically in the direction the ship in the distance, “because that ship is under the command of Captain Donovan, and won’t he be pleased to see us?”
By the time Donovan’s ship catches sight of the Skull, it’s already too late. She’s closing in on them, sails fully drawn and billowing, and within eight kilometers—far too close for escape, unless the crew of the HMS Anne can move fast and sail faster.
Donovan, a wide, proud man, calmly tells his right-hand man to relay to everyone that an unidentified ship is approaching and that they must outrun her if they are to survive with their cargo intact.
Suddenly, the stark-white sails of the HMS Anne are open and full of wind, propelling them forward.
The dark-haired captain of the Skull frowns. “Damn,” he mutters, then raises his voice once more to shout: “they’ve spotted us! Prepare for a shaky boarding!”
The men on the deck all nod and hum back into motion, some going below deck to grab supplies and some rushing about to maximize speed. The captain stands completely still in spite of the moving ship, critically watching over his limited crew. His acidic gaze rakes across the working backs of his men, always studying, never stopping. By now his study is unnecessary, but it’s always useful to know who is plotting against whom—especially if they’re plotting against him. For now they seem stable and loyal, and he should hope so considering the important battle rapidly approaching.
As the gap between HMS Anne and the Skull closes, the captain of the Skull tells his men what they are looking for. “It’s a map,” he yells, “no pathways, no big red Xs, just a map with words, namely riddles. I should be able to get it from Donovan, but should I not it’s up to you lot.”
Murmurs of consent go through the crew, every one looking prepared and confident. A few of them stand at attention at the sails’ ropes, prepared to loosen or tighten them at a moment’s notice. Others are hidden away below deck, preparing the cannons and waiting for their captain’s command to fire.
The Anne comes into range, and with a shout of “Fire!” the Skull’s cannons shoot their projectiles into the other ship. It is a flurry of sounds and damages between the two ships, and eventually the two come close enough for the prepared men on from the Skull to swing over to the naval ship. From there it is a cacophony of swords and guns and shouts.
Among the boarding men is the captain of the Skull, who cuts his way expertly through Donovan’s men with a kind of feline grace. His movements are calculated and precise, doing only what is necessary to kill his adversary, all without bloodying his own clothes. He flips around one of the men who lunge at him, and quickly severs the man’s jugular elegantly with his sabre. Jade eyes scan the riots for Donovan, who seems to have hidden. He scoffs. Coward.
Captain Donovan rifles through his desk drawers in a panic, searching for what he knows the Skull is here for. Finding a small scroll in the depths of his desk, he unrolls it and smiles, before re-rolling it. He pulls open his jacket to tuck the scroll safely away, but finds himself with the cold steel of a sword against his neck.
“Don’t move,” a deep voice growls. A thin, pale hand plucks the desired item from Captain Donovan’s grasp. “Thank you,” the Skull’s captain purrs, and then decapitates Donovan.
Donovan’s murderer waltzes out of the Anne’s Captain’s quarters, holding a small scroll—what they had come for. He gives a sideways glance and raises an eyebrow at his crew, who have rounded up what is left of the Anne’s men. He rakes his eyes over the captured men impassively, then glances over his shoulder before making a quick judgment.
“These ones can live.” He tucks the map away into his coat pocket. “Well, for the time being at least.” He returns his cold gaze to the group. “You are to leave these men here,” he states, “and we are going to destroy the Anne and leave them to die or be saved by that ship.” Without looking, the captain points at the horizon, where a mast has just poked above the water. “They are approximately eight kilometers away shall find you soon enough.”
The remaining crew of the HMS Anne watches helplessly as the Skull’s cannons fire the last shots, cracking the hull of the ship irreparably and letting it sink slowly into the depths of the Atlantic.
When the HMS Georgiana reaches the wreckage, the Skull is already long out of sight. Captain Anderson’s crew pulls the living men out of the water, carefully questioning them.
“He’s dead,” one of the men blubbers, “Captain’s dead.”
“Who killed him?” Captain Anderson asks. The man keeps rocking, completely in shock.
“Pirates,” another blurts out.
Anderson directs his attention to the coherent one. “Yes, I gathered as much.” He sighs impatiently, tapping his foot. “But which ones?”
The man looks pleadingly up at the captain, whose gaze is unrelenting. “It was the Skull,” he mumbles. “It was Sherlock Holmes.”