Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)

(Previously: Lottie found the pirates and, seeing an opportunity that wouldn’t come again, seized the only chance to reclaim Fyre)

She cast about her. Here, away from the firelight and below the reach of its glow, she could barely see. She felt around frantically with her hands and feet, crawling further into the ship than she was sure the pirate had gone. Her hand brushed leather and she snatched it up, peering at it in the dim light. It was the satchel. She opened it to make sure. The fragments of Fyre winked brightly up at her. She turned and ran back.

Shouts. Angry voices. Tears of women. Steps on the gangplank. Lottie shrank into the shadows. Pirates with most of the women among them came into view, parading down into the bowels of the ship. Miraculously, they had missed her. Cold, trembling fingers clutching the satchel, she scurried forward to the gangplank. Hawk stood at the foot. He stared at her in slack-jawed amazement. She stared back in numb terror. With a shout, he sprang towards her. Frightened and in the confusion of the moment, Lottie dropped the satchel and ran a few steps inward. In a panic, realizing what she’d done, she spun and scrabbled for the shards that had scattered on the deck. Tip, hilt, three pieces of the blade…

Hands clamped on her, voices bellowed in anger and confusion, someone was snatching at her hands to take the pieces of the sword away. She let fall the hilt and shards, clinging only to the tip, the fragment small enough to conceal in her clenched fist. She didn’t even feel the pain of the cuts.

Hawk grabbed her hair and jerked her head back. Pirates held her firmly on all sides.

“What the gale do you think you were doing?” he demanded, fuming anger in every line of his body.

“The gale?” Lottie tried to be calm and focused, suaving her way out like Elad had with the Witch. “Is that supposed to be nautical cursing or something?”

Hawk’s eyes narrowed to slits. “You know, I don’t even care what you hoped to accomplish, because you’ve failed. And now I’ve caught you trying to thief my best prize yet. So I think I’ll just kill you and toss you in the sea like the others.”

“And I suppose the curiosity of what I really hoped to do won’t kill you?” Lottie asked, her mind racing. At any moment, he could draw his sword and run her through. Then the battle would be over, just like that. There had to be a way out. And she had to find it! If only she could think clearly!

Lottie had always heard that people staring death in the face watched their lives flash before them in a moment. She hadn’t given it much thought until just now, when staring into the raging eyes of Captain Vladimir Hawk, her mind suddenly slipped back in time to when she found herself staring, terrified, into the eyes of a gray wolf, certain he was going to eat her. But then… She just might have a chance.

Captain Hawk drew his sword slowly, eyes locked on hers with a look of deranged relish. “Do you see your death in my eyes?” he hissed. Then he stopped, hesitating. “But…” His eyes lit with a wicked gleam and he sheathed his sword. “Cast off, boys. Just tie her up till we’re well out.”

Rough rope cinched tightly around Lottie’s arms, pinning them to her sides, and she was shoved against some barrels as the crew scrambled to get the ship underway. Hawk leaned in, his face inches from hers, his eyes scattering sparks.

“Imagine floundering helpless in the depths of the sea, dying slowly, cold and alone. Horrible, isn’t it? Ha! You won’t have to imagine for long. As soon as we’re at sea, you will walk my plank!”

Lottie bit her lip, hope and fear warring within her. He leered at her, stalking away, his maniacal laugh ringing over the ship and the water.

“You fool! You little fool!”

Lottie squeezed her eyes shut against it all: his scorn, her fear, the nausea threatening her, the fine line she was trying to walk. Shaping minds, fooling pirates, escaping death… it would soon be over, for better or worse.

Feet clattered toward her. She was pulled up and hauled to the stern of the ship, where a long wooden board stretched out over foaming waves. She kicked, wriggled, and struggled, all in vain, she knew, but she wanted to distract from the clenched fist that still gripped the shard of Fyre as much as possible. She had to keep it, or everything would be useless. Then she felt cold steel against the back of her neck and she stilled.

“That’s right,” Hawk smirked. “Now, steel behind, water before; walk.”

Unsteadily, stomach churning, Lottie stepped out onto the plank. She looked out back where they had come. Land was still close – he hadn’t waited long, just like she’d tried to make him. She should be able to make it. She edged out further, unable to use her arms to balance.

The ship pitched, and she fell to the water, only just catching a deep breath before the waves closed over her.

Captain Vladimir Hawk peered down at the water, waiting for the inevitable resurfacing, the struggling, the slow failing, and eventual drowning. No head reappeared. He leaned a little farther out, frowning. Then he smelled smoke. A rustle passed through the pirates that quickly blossomed into panic. The ship was burning!


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