Music boomed and lights twinkled. Strands of magic floated effortlessly through the air, only to be soaked up by the ancient stone walls now festooned with tensile and evergreen.
The Christmas Dance.
The one Magik Prep Academy function I’d been dreaming of for weeks. Tonight was the night Tyler Crawson would notice me.
I’d had a crush on him for ages but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Not tonight.
With my best friend Aida next to me and her pep talk still ringing in my ears, I gulped, trying to calm my frantic heartbeat.
“You’ve got this, Girl.” Aida winked at me. The flashing red and green lights bounced off her caramel-colored skin. Her ebony hair, curled tight like tiny springs, absorbed the lights and shadows alike. I wished it would absorb my anxiety.
“Breathe, Lainie.” She looked me over once more and nodded in satisfaction. “That red sequin dress is perfect. You sparkle like fairy dust.” Her lips pursed and she reached behind me and plucked a thread of opalescent magic from the air and swished it around the bottom of my dress. “There. Now you’re radiant.”
A bronze head bobbed on the other side of the room. My heart seized.
My knees knocked and sweat ghosted my palms.
“I’m going to go make sure the werewolves haven’t spiked the punch.” Aida was on the social committee. The werewolves generally liked to party…alternatively to committee plans. With a final squeeze to my shoulder she was off, and I was left staring at Tyler’s head as it dipped and weaved about the crowd.
The music was loud. Too loud. It vibrated up my legs.
I swept up a handful of my shimmery skirt so my feet wouldn’t tangle in the hem. The opalescent string of magic soaked into my dress, straightening my back and giving me confidence.
I’d only gone a few bodies deep into the crowd when a hand reached out and snatched mine.
“Kieran!” I gasped as my other best friend released me.
“Lainie. Wow. You look…” he trailed off as his eyebrows rose to his dark hairline. I couldn’t tell if it was the red lights or if the points of his ears colored slightly.
Searching the crowd again, I found Tyler’s head. He was only a few yards to my right.
“Looking for Tyler?” Kieran’s broke in dryly.
“Yes. Tonight he’s finally going to see me as more than the smart girl in math class,” I practically hissed between my teeth.
Kieran’s expression soured.
“You don’t want him, Lainie. You really don’t.”
Anger and the sting of unintended betrayal crept into my belly. I glared at Kieran.
“Laine? Wow, looking hot, babe!”
The voice froze my blood and Kieran could probably see the whites of my eyes.
Plastering a smile on my face that I hoped didn’t look deranged, I turned.
“Hey, Tyler.” My voice came out higher than it should have. Maybe he didn’t notice over the rumble of the music.
Without any preamble, Tyler grabbed my hand and put his other low on my waist and swung me onto the dance floor.
We danced for long glorious moments. I was in ecstasy. The song wasn’t particularly slow, but it wasn’t fast. We moved together, faster than a slow dance, but no weird gyrating. Which was fine, because it let me savor every second of Tyler’s hands on my waist.
When the song ended, Tyler’s copper-colored eyes gazed into mine. My hand fisted into his lapel without my permission. A smile crooked his lips as his eyes roved over my face and one eyebrow rose.
Slowly he leaned down and his lips caressed my cheek and sent figurative fireworks shooting out my ears.
“Don’t go anywhere,” he whispered huskily against my ear. “I’ll be back in a few.”
I’m pretty sure I grew roots right there on the parquet floor.
I don’t know how long I stood there like an idiot in the middle of the room, but I came to when Kieran tugged on my hand.
“Kieran, did you see?” I sighed. “He’s glorious.”
Kieran snorted, his dark elf side showing in his pessimism.
“You need to see something,” he muttered as he pulled me through the throng of students and out the arched doorway into the quiet corridor.
Kieran stopped us beside one of the heavy tapestries that lined the hallways outside the ballroom.
“Look. I…” he trailed off and ran a hand through his black hair. “I don’t want to show you this but consider the truth my Christmas gift to you this year.”
My eyebrows drew together as he pulled me down the passageway. We crept to the end where it was deserted. He motioned with his head for me to look around the corner.
Unsure, I peeked out just enough to get an eyeful.
My hand flew to my silent mouth.
There was the boy who’d kissed me moments before. Who had looked at me like I was the center of the world. The boy on whom I’d hung my hopes.
He was necking a gorgeous red-head. And his hands…were not in appropriate places. My eyes burned.
I sagged to a stone bench once we were far away from the snogging couple. Kieran sat beside me.
“I’m sorry, Lainie. He doesn’t see you. Doesn’t know how special you are.” He hesitated. “Maybe you should look at someone who has seen you all along.”
The sincerity in his tone jerked my gaze to his. His chocolate brown eyes swam with vulnerability, and I felt my heart lurch painfully in my chest.
Because he did see me.
Kieran had always seen me. He’d seen me when I was all awkward limbs and angles. When I won the science award. When I burned my bangs off with a spell gone wrong. When I dropped chocolate frosting all down my shirt. When my Gran passed away. He’d seen me.
And for the first time, I saw him, too.
Check in again next week to see what happens to Aida when she goes to check on the punch…
Happy Thanksgiving! 2020 has been a year unlike any other. For many, it’s been pretty poopy. For all of us, it’s brought unexpected changes. And yet, there is always something to be thankful for.
This year, I’m thankful for all of YOU. You all have been so encouraging on this writing journey, and I can’t wait to share my story with you next year. Thank you for reading, for encouraging, for commenting, for sharing. It’s so appreciated.
There won’t be a short story this week as I’m taking some time for family this week. I’ll be back in December with one more Magik Prep Christmas story, and we’ll have one other guest writer.
Until then, enjoy this week, and count your blessings.
“So there really was a ghost on your ship?” Sabra set a dainty teacup and saucer
in front of Captain Hale, then filled it with steaming amber tea. Captain Hale shifted slightly, and the spindly chair underneath him groaned in protest. “Yes, unfortunately. It would seem I have to break some sort of curse in order to get rid of the bas– ah, the uninvited guest.”
Sabra tucked a stray curl of black hair behind her ear and sat at the table across from him, and her gray eyes met his. Captain Hale had to remind himself, very firmly, to focus.
“I don’t see how I can help you, Captain Hale. I don’t know anything about curses.”
“Actually, I think you can. Or at least, your grandmother can. You see, like your grandmother, this ghost assumed I was Corsan. Any idea why that might be?”
Sabra’s brow furrowed slightly and she sipped at her tea. “I’m not sure, Captain Hale. Maybe because you’re the captain of a pirate ship, like my grandfather was?”
Hale doubted that was the case, but somehow he couldn’t find reason to argue with Sabra. “Please, call me Rylan. And that’s a distinct possibility, but it still doesn’t get the ghost off my ship.” You’re an idiot, Hale. Pull yourself together.
Sabra smiled softly and set her teacup down with a soft clink. “Very well, Rylan. I think I have an idea. My Gran kept some of my grandfather’s old things. I’ll go get them; maybe something in there will give us a clue as to how to rid you of your phantom.” She stood from the table and slipped into another room. Captain Hale watched her go, then sighed heavily when she was out of sight. Then silently berated himself for acting like a schoolboy.
Footsteps sounded from the hall and Captain Hale sat up straight in his chair, but it was only Sabra’s grandmother tottering into the room. Neela seemed to take no notice of him, just ambled around the room softly humming to herself. Sabra appeared in the doorway a moment later carrying a small chest.
“Here,” she said, setting the chest on the table. “Feel free to look while I get Gran some tea.”
Hale pried the rusted metal clasp on the chest open and lifted the lid; the hinges shrieked from years of neglect. Inside was a random assortment of objects: seashells, gold and silver coins, loose papers. Hale lifted a stack of papers from the chest and rifled through them. There were a couple of old manifests and crew logs, nothing that really caught Hale’s attention, until he spotted what appeared to be a letter, dated nearly 70 years ago. His eyes quickly scanned the letter, and suddenly details started to snap into place.
“Does the name Morgan Trask mean anything to you, by chance?” Hale looked over at Sabra, who was currently busy balancing a cup and saucer in her hand while ushering Neela into a chair.
“My grandfather’s first mate. They were best friends. Why? Did you find something?”
Neela eased into her chair, now singing softly to herself.
Hale glanced back down at the letter still clutched in his hand. “Maybe. But even if I’m correct I still don’t know…” Hale grew still, his gaze fixed on Neela as she sang.
“From the north the sea winds blow, North to the Jagged Teeth they go, The Siren’s Song one did know, While the other knew only woe. From the north the sea winds sigh, Around the Jagged Teeth they fly, But then the waves tossed too high,
And both were cursed to never die.”
“So that’s it,” Hale whispered as a chill ran the length of his spine and the hairs on his arms stood up. He went to place the papers back in the chest when his gaze snapped to a portrait sitting on top of the scattered items. Sea-gray eyes stared at him from above a tangled mane of black beard, and Hale knew at once he’d seen Corsan before.
Or his head, at least.
“I still don’t understand why we’re taking a rowboat C aptain. Couldn’t we have hired a bigger boat?” Henry Bosan tugged on the oars, his face screwed up in a scowl. Captain Hale, standing at the front of the little boat with one foot up on the prow, rolled his eyes skyward. “I’m a captain H enry. Hiring out another boat while we have a perfectly good one would injure my pride.”
“But the Teeth are dangerous, Captain. What if we get caught in a tide and get smashed between the rocks?”
Hale sighed heavily and turned to glower at his first mate. “Well I suppose you’d better steer carefully then, Henry.” The wind howled around them, tearing at Hale’s coat and sending cold spray up to hit him in the face. Hale just squinted his eyes against the stinging salt water and wind and scanned the horizon while Henry coaxed their boat around the rocks known as “The Teeth.”
The boat dipped precariously as Henry hauled on the oars, narrowly avoiding one of the Teeth. When the ship righted itself, Hale saw what he’d been looking for.
“Henry! Aim for the shore over there!” A groan came from behind him. “You mean the one with an eerie green glow?” “Yes, Henry. We’re trying to get a ghost off my ship – did you expect kittens? Rainbows maybe?”
Henry guided the boat to shore, and the bow scraped onto the deserted, rocky beach. Hale jumped from the boat and pulled it the rest of the way onto the rocks, careful to keep his footing on the slippery rocks below him.
Hale glanced up at Henry, who was making a strangled noise in the back of his throat. Henry’s face was deathly pale in the moonlight; his eyes were riveted to a point over Hale’s shoulder, and he lifted a shaking finger to point.
Hale turned, his heart hammering against his ribs. High on a hill stood a figure; bathed in the eerie green glow Hale saw from the boat, the figure was holding a lantern aloft. The ghost – for Hale was sure it was a ghost – had no head.
“Hello Corsan,” Hale whispered.
The ghost lifted a hand and beckoned to Hale, then disappeared down the other side of the hill.
“Captain. Don’t tell me you’re about to follow that thing?”
Hale took a deep breath. “Yes, Henry, I believe I am. Stay here with the boat. If I don’t happen to return, I leave all my worldly goods to your mother.”
Hale marched up the beach, leaving a dumbstruck Henry behind. He followed the light from the specter’s lantern deeper into the island until it finally came to a stop. The ghost held its lantern up, bathing a nearby tree in sickly green light, and pointed.
Leaning against the tree was a skeleton missing its skull.
“Ah,” Hale said. “Your body, I presume. And what exactly am I supposed to do now?”
The ghost of Corsan remained, still pointing at its skeleton.
Captain Hale sighed. “Look, I’m sorry you are dead and all, but your first mate’s ghost is running around my ship. Any chance you had something to do with it?”
The ghost didn’t move. Hale nearly screamed in frustration.
“Are you the one that cursed Morgan? Look, I get it. Good help is hard to find. But I need to remove the curse and get his spectral carcass off my ship.”
The ghost lowered its lantern and patted its chest, right over where its heart would have been, then pointed back at the skeleton.
Hale frowned. “You want me to check your body?”
The ghost leaned forward slightly, in what Hale assumed was a sign of assent. Hale cautiously approached the skeleton; most of the clothing had long since rotted away, but parts of what looked like a leather vest still clung to the bones in ragged tatters. Hale squinted at the skeleton’s chest; a piece of leather clinging to the ribs right above where Corsan’s heart should have been had a perfect, round hole punched through it.
“You were shot,” Hale said. He turned back to Corsan’s ghost. “Morgan?” The ghost bowed forward again. Hale rocked back on his heels, thinking. “So your first mate betrayed you, which is why I assume you’re still hanging around. But why is Morgan’s ghost still lingering? Who cursed him? You?”
Corsan’s ghost raised a pointed finger again and lifted his lantern higher. Hale looked back at the skeleton and noticed something glinting from within the bones. A gold chain hung around the skeleton’s neck, and whatever was on the end of it had slipped underneath the sternum.
Hale gingerly lifted the chain over the remaining neck bones. It was a locket. Hale pried it open; inside was a portrait of a woman with a halo of auburn hair framing her face and the deepest blue eyes that seemed to pierce Hale to his soul. Neela.
He closed the locket with a soft snick and glanced at Corsan’s ghost. “I’ll take your bones to the sea, Captain,” he said gently. “And I’ll tell her what happened.”
A soft breeze rustled the leaves above Hale, carrying the briny smell of the ocean with it. The ghost bowed from the waist, then disappeared as the wind carried him away in wisps.
Captain Hale found Sabra and her grandmother walking the cliffs near the shore.
Sabra smiled when she saw him, and Hale’s knees became noticeably weaker. He clutched the locket more tightly in his fist and forced himself to keep walking.
“Rylan! Have you made any progress with your ghost?”
Hale smiled at her. “Yes, I believe I’ll have things straightened out soon. May I have a word with your grandmother? Alone?”
Sabra frowned slightly. “Alone? I don’t know how well Gran will understand…”
Hale opened his mouth to insist, but Neela reached up and patted Sabra’s cheek. “It’s fine, dear. I feel quite clear today.”
Sabra still looked unsure, but she finally nodded and looked at Hale. “Will you bring her to the Albatross when you’re finished? We were going to get some lunch.”
Hale placed his hand over his heart. “On my honor.”
Sabra gave him a slight smile and made her way back along the path toward town.
Neela turned and watched her go. She remained still, even when she surely heard the click of the hammer on Hale’s pistol.
“How long have you suspected?” Neela’s voice was clear, no hint of confusion or the creaks of old age.
“After I read Corsan’s letter to you. At first, I didn’t understand. No pirate in his right mind would give up a life at sea. But then your song confirmed my suspicions.”
Neela turned to face him then, and the smile on her face nearly made Hale’s blood run cold. He gripped the pistol until his knuckles turned white.
“The song was a bit heavy-handed, wasn’t it?” She glanced cooly at the pistol, the smile never leaving her face. “You really don’t plan to shoot me, do you Captain Hale?”
Hale almost lowered the gun; it was as if an outside force was compelling him to drop it. His hand shook.
“Give me one good reason not to. I’m a pirate – your kind have killed sailors for eons.”
Her blue eyes hardened, darkening to the near-black of the deep ocean churning in a storm. “I’ve only ever killed one man in my life, Captain Hale. And believe me when I say he deserved it.”
She nodded, her eyes still dangerous. “He killed my Corsan. He and my husband left together, and only he returned. I don’t know why Morgan killed him, but it didn’t matter.” She paused, seemingly daring Hale to disagree with her. “I sang to him, Captain Hale. I sang his fate into existence – that he would never rest until I found my Corsan – and it drove him mad. He drowned himself in Candlekeep harbor to escape my song.”
Hale could feel his resolve waver slightly. “Why didn’t you look for Corsan’s body? His soul, and Morgan’s, have been lingering here for decades. Why not put them to rest?”
For the first time the smile wavered. “You don’t know much about my kind, do you Captain Hale? I’m bound here, to Candlekeep – I cannot leave the shore. A siren may lure as many sailors to her island as she wishes, but she cannot leave it. It is our curse – to forever feel the call to the sea, but never be able to sail it.”
Neela’s voice was so filled with sadness and longing, Hale lowered the pistol, but kept it in his hand. He held out the locket.
“I found Corsan,” he said gently. “I returned his bones to the sea.”
Neela cradled the locket in her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. “Thank you,” she whispered. She fixed Hale with her blue eyes again. “Morgan Trask will no longer haunt your ship. My Corsan is at rest, so Morgan is also.”
Hale inclined his head. But one more question burned in his mind.
“Why was Corsan giving up his ship? Did you sing to him, too? Convince him to stay on land with you?”
Neela’s eyes glittered and she arched an eyebrow. “Believe it or not, Captain Hale, I loved Corsan. And he loved me. I never sang to him, not once.” She paused, and gazed out to sea. “Corsan loved the sea. I understood that when I agreed to marry him.”
Neela smiled sadly. “I told him I was pregnant.”
Hale’s mind drifted, unbidden, to Sabra. Her gray eyes and easy smile, and for a moment, Hale thought he understood. Hale quietly slipped his pistol back in his waistband and he and Neela stood silently, both gazing out to sea. Eventually Neela’s hand slipped into the crook of his elbow, and without a word they turned and walked down the path.
Facts, Fantasy, & Fascinations is delighted to welcome fellow writer, M. E. Lebron this week. “The Curse of Candlekeep” is a super spooky read that will keep you on your toes and rushing to read more. It will be a two part feature. Next week will be the final installment. Did I mention there were pirates???
Captain Rylan Hale took one look around Candlekeep and decided he hated the town and everyone in it.
Maybe the pirate wouldn’t be so touchy if his ship was in good repair and he was standing on the deck of said ship with the salt breeze caressing his face. But as it was, Queen Hera’s Revenge had barely limped its way into port, and now Captain Hale found himself stranded.
Really, the storm he could have handled. The damage to the Revenge wasn’t the worst of it either. His bad mood had actually started with the Harbormaster.
“Welcome to Candlekeep, my good man!”
Captain Hale barely had one toe on the pier before a foppish man in a tri-corner hat accosted him.
“My name is Simon Culpepper. I’m the Harbormaster here in Candlekeep. Are you here on merchant business, or simply passing through?”
Good lord, even his name offends the senses, Hale thought. The Captain blinked at the harbormaster, then turned and glanced back at his ship. There on the mainmast, snapping in the breeze, flew a black flag – the mark of a pirate vessel. Hale fixed Simon Culpepper with a pointed stare; the harbormaster’s eyes slowly traveled up to the flag and his mouth formed an “o” of surprise.
Yes, that’s it. Scuttle away from the fearsome pirate and leave me and my crew alone.
“I see,” said the harbormaster.
Captain Hale smirked in satisfaction.
“Well, Captain. I hope you enjoy your stay in Candlekeep. But try not to have too much fun, eh?” Simon Culpepper gently elbowed Hale in the ribs, winked conspiratorially, then turned and went on his merry way, whistling as he went.
Captain Hale had stood rooted to the pier, trying to decide if he wanted to shoot at Culpepper’s retreating back, or throw up. In the end, he settled for being grumpier than usual.
Now, sitting at the bar in the disgustingly picturesque Albatross Inn, Hale could feel his mood going from sour to rancid. Everyone in Candlekeep was so nice. The men tipped their hats to him in the streets. The women smiled and bobbed their heads. The barkeeper even tried to make small talk.
“It’s not natural,” Hale muttered into his tankard of beer.
The door to the inn squeaked open and two women shuffled inside. A young woman with dark hair gently ushered the oldest woman Hale had ever seen into the inn; the young woman was clearly distressed – and clearly attractive, Hale noticed – but the old woman held his attention. Though the crone looked quite frail, she put up a valiant struggle to get away, the entire time weeping and muttering to herself.
Captain Hale sat up a little straighter in his chair. Something interesting might happen in this sleepy little town after all.
The bartender hurried out from behind the bar and took the old woman by the hand, steering her gently toward a table.
“I’m so sorry, Ned. I don’t know what’s come over Gran. She’s been like this ever since we spotted a ship in the harbor while we were walking the pier.”
“It’s alright, Sabra dear. Let’s get Neela to a table and I’ll make a cup of tea.” The old woman lifted her head and fixed her eyes on Captain Hale. “My Corsan,” she said, her voice trembling. “You’ve come home to me at last.” Every head in the bar swiveled in his direction.
Just great, he thought sourly.
The young woman – Sabra, apparently – made her way over to him. As Captain Hale took in her velvet black hair and sea-gray eyes, he decided his bad mood might be improving slightly.
“I’m sorry about my grandmother.” Sabra’s voice was sweet, almost melodic. “Her mind is… not what it used to be. She gets confused.”
Alright Hale, just tell the girl there’s no harm done and go back to your beer.
“Who exactly does your grandmother think I am?”
Drat it, man!
“Corsan, my grandfather. He… was a pirate. Like you.” Interesting. “ And what happened to him?” “He sailed away seventy years ago and never returned. I guess my Gran just saw your ship and thought…” Captain Hale adjusted his hat to a more rakish angle and gave Sabra what he hoped was a roguish smile. “Well, no harm done. Tell your Gran –” The door flew open and hit the wall behind it with a teeth-jarring bang. Henry
Bosan, Hale’s first mate, tore into the inn yelling and waving his arms. “Captain! Come quick!”
Hale rolled his eyes to the ceiling and stood from his stool. “Henry, this had better be good because if not –” “Captain sir, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. But I swear on my mother’s grave, sir. There’s a ghost on our ship.”
“Henry Bosan, if you dragged me away from a perfectly good mug of beer for nothing, I’m going to tie you to the prow and let the gulls eat you.”
Captain Hale had been standing in the belly of his ship for nearly twenty minutes, impatiently tapping his boot against the deck boards. A solitary oil lantern pierced the gloom, swinging gently with the slight rocking of the ship.
“Sir, there was a ghost. I swear on –”
“Your mother’s grave, yes I know,” Hale snapped. “I also know your mother is alive and well and living in Raven’s Hollow. She’s quite flexible for her age.” Hale tapped his boot a few more times, then turned toward the ladder leading to the upper deck. “I’m leaving, Henry. Don’t bother me again unless something is sinking or on fire.”
He placed his boot on the bottom rung when the air went suddenly frigid. Hale’s breath came out of his mouth in a puff of white vapor, and he clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering.
“It’s the ghost, Captain! I told you!” Hale slowly turned, his hand reaching for the pistol tucked into his belt. A figure, pale and translucent, materialized from out of the shadows. Dressed in pirate’s clothes, the phantom held a bloody dagger in one hand, and tucked underneath the opposite elbow was a severed head.
The phantom turned and fixed its milky-white eyes on Captain Hale.
“Corsan,” the phantom hissed.
The hairs on Hale’s neck and arms stood up and goosebumps prickled along his back.
“I knew you would come for me in the end, Corsan! I should have tossed your bones into the sea.” The phantom raised the knife and lunged for Hale. Hale drew his pistol and fired off a shot – the lead ball passed straight through the ghost and punched a hole through the wall behind it. The ghost bore down on Hale, then passed through him. Hale shuddered, feeling as if he’d been dropped into ice water. With a howl that nearly turned Hale’s blood to ice, the phantom disappeared.
Hale stood for a moment, staring at the spot where the ghost vanished. Then he stuffed the pistol back in his belt and turned to Henry.
“Bosan, my apologies.” Then the Captain swept up the ladder, across the deck, and down the gangplank.
That was the second time he’d been mistaken for Corsan in one day. But Captain Hale wasn’t the type to investigate. All he cared about was that there was a ghost on his ship, and if he couldn’t blast it to pieces, he needed some other method to get rid of it.
Pirates are superstitious creatures. They have to be when dealing with something as wild and unpredictable as the ocean. Superstitions gave a man the illusion of control over his circumstances. But Captain Hale knew of another profession where one needed to be more superstitious than a pirate. And lucky for him, Candlelkeep employed just such a person.
Captain Hale made his way through the neat little town graveyard to the small church and cottage on top of the hill. The ever-so-helpful barkeep assured him Father Basil Barnes, resident cleric, would be at his cottage this time of evening. Hale rapped on the door and waited.
A few muffled thumps followed by a “Just a minute!” preceded the opening of the door to reveal a squat, balding man wearing brown robes. Father Basil blinked owlishly at Captain Hale. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, Father, I believe you can. See, I’m having a bit of a problem with a ghost and I –”
The cleric rolled his eyes heavenward and shoved his head out the door to peek around the cottage.
“Dolores, you hateful old hag! I told you last week if I had to banish you one more time, I’d dig up your miserable bones and bury you next to your ex-husband!” The cleric turned to look at Hale. “Give me just a minute. I’ll get the herbs and candles. Tell the townsfolk I’ll fix Dolores real good this time.”
Hale grabbed the cleric by the back of the robes as the little man tried to retreat back into his cottage.
“Uh, Father, as interesting as Dolores sounds, she’s not the ghost in question.”
The cleric whirled around, his eyebrows shooting up. “Not Dolores? Oh, thank the gods. She’s really mean, you know.”
“No, not Dolores. A different ghost. A pirate. He’s taken up residence on my ship and I want him gone.”
The cleric scratched his chin and frowned. “A pirate, you say? Interesting. And he didn’t appear until you came here to Candlekeep?” Hale nodded.
“I see. Well, considering this ghost just appeared, I don’t think the spirit is bound to your ship. I’d say your arrival here triggered the ghost somehow. Considering it’s the ghost of a pirate, maybe you activated a curse of some sort.”
Hale resisted the urge to sigh in exasperation. “Fascinating. Truly. That still doesn’t tell me how to get the thing off my ship.”
“Oh, well, you’d need to break the curse, obviously.” “Obviously.” The cleric waved his hand dismissively. “Just find out who put the curse on your ghost and they can tell you how to lift it. Should be simple.”
Captain Hale turned and stalked back down the hill. Looks like he’d have to do some investigating after all.
Colin “Hunter” Abreen was my brother’s best friend, the best basilisk hunter instructor at Magik Prep, and definitely off limits. My treacherous heart needed more persuasion on this last part.
On a stupid whim I’d signed myself up for Colin’s 401 basilisk hunter course as my senior elective. Because I was a glutton for punishment. And a hopeless basilisk hunter. I’d been sent to the infirmary with punctures in various places more times than anyone else. Ever. More times than anyone who had ever taken the class.
It didn’t matter how hard I tried, how much I practiced my technique, how much I wanted to excel and impress Colin. I just couldn’t see the stupid creatures. But they always saw me. And then they bit me.
My pointed ears twitched, my blonde hair pulled up and out of the way so nothing would hinder my ability to hear their soft slithering. My ears were more reliable than my eyesight in picking out their inconspicuous bodies in the dense underbrush of the academy’s forested park where class was held. Even using my enhanced vision goggles that protected me from the dangerous stare of the loathsome beasts, my ears were a better bet.
My fingers gripped my net and my hooked stick. I would catch this basilisk if it was the last thing I did. We’d been stalking each other in circles for the past 78 increments. I was done stalking. I was ready to conquer.
A slither to the right!
No, there, in the bush!
I silently raised my net and hook, ready to scoop up a smarmy, slithery, insufferable creature. Crouching as Colin had instructed, I crept forward with the grace of a sleek-bodied water ghost.
A slight movement!
I howled and dropped my net that had snared a terribly dangerous patch of wildflowers and clutched my hand. My whole arm smarted as the creature’s mild venom spread needle-like tingles up to my shoulder. Glancing at the bushy fronds in front of me, I just made out the basilisk’s disappearing tail.
Biting back a curse, I glanced at my hand. It wasn’t a bad bite. But it was a bite. And I’d failed yet again to capture a reptilian fiend.
I ripped off my goggles and stomped towards the tent at the opening of the woods that served as headquarters.
Colin looked up from his desk and I swear a smile flitted across his face as I came crashing out of the underbrush.
My shoulders slumped in defeat. “Again.”
“Let me see.”
I held out my hand to him and he took it carefully in his large rough ones. I suppressed a shiver. He turned my palm over and then back to the marred skin by my knuckles.
“Come on. These are just scratches. I can patch these up with the first aid kit here.”
He led me over to a stump where I sagged like a bag of bones. I felt like a child. A child who wanted desperately to gain their teacher’s approval. Except I wanted more than Colin’s approval. I wanted him to look at me the way I looked at him. A heavy sigh escaped my lungs.
“Cheer up Kaebre. Basilisk hunting isn’t for everyone. So long as you capture one before the term ends, you’ll have passed the course.”
Mortification slid through me and I clenched my teeth to keep my chin from quivering. I was humiliated. I was pathetic. I was the only student in the course not to have netted a basilisk. Fresh worry for my grade slid over the humiliation.
“How did you become so good so quickly?” I asked him quietly. “You broke every basilisk catching record within six weeks of starting the course, and now that you’re the instructor, even top universities have started trying to recruit you for their basilisk programs. Col, how did you do it?”
He was still a minute, his broad shoulders moving slowly as he took a breath. His shaggy thatch of bronze hair grazed over his forehead in the slight breeze. His head was bent, fingers carefully tying off the gauze around my hand. He stilled even more; his body chiseled marble bowed over my hand.
Slowly he tipped his head so that his blue eyes met mine. My breath caught and my heart sped up as he locked gazes with me. His hands still engulfed mine.
“Kaebre,” he started then paused.
My eyebrows rose, encouraging him as my fingers squeezed his lightly before I could stop them.
“I’m about to tell you something that is not common knowledge. I’d like to keep it that way.”
I nodded. He was trusting me with sensitive information? Was it possible I’d worked my way up from best friend’s little sister to reliable student?
He glanced around, ensuring we were alone before meeting my eyes again.
“I’m color blind. Completely.”
I cocked my head, the full weight of his words slowly registering. Color blind? It was a rare genetic trait. Rare, undesired, and dangerous in a world filled with colored magic. Use the wrong color and you could kill yourself or somebody else.
But how did that help him catch basilisks?
The corner of his mouth tipped at my confusion.
“Their camouflage isn’t camouflage to me. I see everything in black, white, and grey. Without their colors to blend in, it’s easy to spot their markings between the leaves and the underbrush.”
I was stunned as my thoughts caught up.
“You’ve hid it your whole life.”
“I can’t see colors, but I can still see other things.” He ran his thumb over my knuckles and my face flamed.
“I’ll make a deal with you. You catch a basilisk, pass the course, and once you graduate in a month, we’ll talk about the becoming shade of grey on your face right now.”
He squeezed my hands as my eyes sparkled.
I would catch a basilisk if I had to do it with my teeth.