Lost at Sea, Book 2: Drifters, Chapter 22, Part 2

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Belita’s vision swam and her consciousness bobbed like a drowning man struggling to stay above water. The last of the notes of music had finally died, and the last of her crew had retired to their hammocks or passed out near the dying bonfire, leaving her alone with her thoughts. No matter how hard she had tried to banish them tonight, they had stayed with her. Between every laugh, every dance, and every shared story, her pain and guilt flowed back in. It was like trying to bail water with her bare hands.She trudged through the sand aimlessly, muttering under her breath. She realized something was in her hand and lifted it, squinting through her double vision. It was her jeweled flask, the one she’d won from Captain Rhasp in a game of cut-throat cards that had nearly lived up to its name. She lifted it to her lips but found only drops. With a sneer of disgust she tossed it over her shoulder.Lost in her grief she trudged aimlessly. When she remembered to focus her eyes she found herself standing on the shore, looking up at the Kestrel and the night sky.She stared at the ship for a while, marveling at it the same way she did every time she saw it. She still couldn’t believe the ship was hers. Most of the time it felt like a dream. Tonight, it felt like a nightmare. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the ship. The gaping crack in the prow looked to her like an axe wound. Sometime later she had another moment of lucidity, coming to her senses by catching her balance halfway up the gangplank. She bent her knees and dropped to all fours to avoid pitching into the shallow water. After a moment to steady herself, she continued, half-crawling the rest of the way up. As she wandered the ship her hands touched the masts and slid along the ropes and railings as much for emotional support as for balance. She could see the dark stains on the deck where the battle had been thickest and the rain hadn’t been enough. Her breath shuddered in her chest and she choked back a sob. For a while, she just leaned against the middle mast and cried.Her cabin door was open. Something about that seemed odd, but the thought was fleeting. She weaved her way over and pushed the door open, steadying herself against the doorframe. She was almost glad for the darkness inside, but something compelled her. She fished her trench lighter out of her inner coat pocket and fumbled to unscrew the metal match. It took all the focus she had to light the oil-soaked rope that served as the lighter’s wick. In the dim light, she looked around at the mess. There was still a pile of bloody rags in the corner. Some of them had once been her Malaharan sheets. The rug was ruined. The bed had been stripped bare, but it was still badly stained from all the blood that had soaked through. Most of her things had been brought down to the shore and put into her tent. The room looked like she felt. Empty, save for the aftermath of horror.She only dropped her lighter once while she lit the wall lantern, adding a new tiny scorch mark to the floor. Once it was lit she pulled the rope to extinguish the lighter and absently pocketed it again as her eyes continued to wander hopelessly around her bedroom.Her collection of Kami relics still sat on their narrow shelves, held in place by delicate netting and tacks. The graceful white pottery was a stark contrast to the bleakness of the rest of the room. The small cups and plates fascinated her. She knew nothing about them. Not even what they were made of. They weren’t glass. They weren’t stone. They seemed like pottery, but they were too light smooth to be any kind of clay she’d ever seen elsewhere. The chipped ones showed that their pure white color was not a glaze. She’d asked sages, historians, potters, explorers, and merchants, and gotten a dozen different theories, but no one knew what they were made of, or how. The only people who could have told her were centuries gone. The cups and plates she’d collected were some of the only things that proved that the people who made them had ever existed.She slumped down the wall and kept staring at those shelves. Everything on them had a story. The first small plate, the one with the faint crack marring the pink flowers painted on its face, had been a gift from her father. She was amazed that it had never fully broken in all the years she’d had it. The delicate matching cup with the missing handle had been a random find on one of her first voyages as a mercantile captain.After the first two, more had trickled into her possession. The sixth had been a gift from Danica. After the penny dreadfuls had begun circulating she’d become famous. The adventures of the bold and beautiful Captain Vex had spread like wildfire through the Imperial ports. The first few were mostly true, other aspiring authors had decided to capitalize on her popularity by writing more and more outlandish tales.For no reason she could understand, her love of Kami dishes was a popular detail that had remained true regardless of how absurd the stories had gotten. After that, enterprising merchants in every port tried to sell them to bahis şirketleri her. Most were fake, or too broken, but there were enough genuine articles that she had nearly fifty pieces now. She hadn’t really meant to acquire so many, but like her literary counterpart she’d somehow become obsessed. The tears came again unexpectedly. She wanted to slip away, to vanish like the Kami had, leaving behind only trinkets and tall tales, but Danica was right. She couldn’t. There was nowhere to go. She had to keep up the facade a little longer. Her hand slammed against the wall and she screamed out her pain until sweet blackness took her.____________________________________Will had first awakened when the light had risen over the treeline and started warming the top of the tent. He wasn’t as used to getting up early as he used to be so he’d been dozing in and out while he waited for others to stir. The tent was large, but with four people in it they’d been squeezed together all night. He had slept between Friday and Bella, who both had their backs pressed against him.Friday preferred to scoot low and curl up, so Will’s left arm was resting against the top edge of her pillow. Friday’s braided hair smelled like sweet spices that reminded him of rum. Bella was in a similar position, but she had put her pillow directly on top of his shoulder. She was holding onto his arm like a stuffed animal. At first, it had been endearing, but now his shoulder ached and his arm was numb. Still, he didn’t have the heart to wake Bella and free himself.Jack was on Bella’s other side. Her tent would have been fairly easy to set right again, but at the time they had all been exhausted. He’d been the one to invite Jack and Quinn to sleep in his tent. It was big enough for all of them if they squeezed a bit. After a private conversation, Jack joined them but Quinn didn’t. All Jack would say about it was that his people didn’t actually need sleep. Under normal circumstances, he’d have been more than a little curious about that statement, but he’d been too tired to care.Morning had come far too fast. He’d slept like a rock but was still tired. He felt like he could easily sleep another three or four hours, but with the sun coming up and four bodies in the tent, it was already starting to get uncomfortably warm. He sighed in resignation. There was a lot to do today and they were losing daylight. He slowly reached across his body with his free arm and gently shook Bella’s shoulder. She made a small sound of unhappiness, curled up a bit more, and turned her face into the pillow. “Time to get up, Bella,” Will said quietly, trying to shift his arm out from under her.“Hmm-urm,” she shook her head into the pillow. She rolled over and wrapped her arm around his waist, pulling him close like she was trying to burrow into him for warmth.He kissed the top of her head and smiled, then blinked in confusion as he realized someone was still holding his mostly numb hand. His eyes focused on Jack. She was still peacefully asleep. A surge of complex feelings rose in his chest. Happiness, sadness, confusion, frustration, bitterness, and worry all tangled up. He rubbed his face with his other hand and stared at the canvas above him for a while, trying to sort himself out. Friday touched his shoulder. He rolled his head to the side and met her concerned eyes.“Alright, you?” she whispered.He shrugged.“Bad dream?” she asked.He shook his head. “No. Kinda feels like it though.”“Don’t dwell,” she said with a gentle smile.“Yeah. It’s time to get up anyway,” he agreed. “Thanks.”He kissed the top of Bella’s head again and whispered into her hair. “I have to get up. You can stay here as long as you want. I’m going to need my arm though.”“No,” Bella’s muffled voice said. She squeezed his arm again. “S’mine now. You c’n leave it here.”On the other side of him, Friday propped her head upon her hand and stifled a laugh.Will rolled his. “She hates mornings.”“See that, I,” Friday said, her voice full of overly exaggerated sympathy.Will slowly started pulling his arm out of Bella’s grasp. She made a noise of protest but didn’t fight him. As soon as his arm was free he sat up with a groan, accidentally pulling some of the blankets with him. Bella whined and rolled again, cocooning herself in the blanket. Her arm snaked out, stole Will’s pillow, and dragged it over her head. Friday put her hand over her mouth, physically stopping herself from laughing and sat up into a cross-legged position, pulling her blanket around her waist like a skirt. The warm glow of the morning sun filtered through the canvas, giving Will his first look at Friday’s bare body in full light. Her dark coffee skin looked as smooth as it had felt. Her breasts were large and spilled to the outside of her ribcage rather than pulling straight downward. Her nipples were the color of chocolate, and smaller than he’d expected. She gave him an amused smirk and raised an eyebrow at him. He realized he’d been staring and gave her a shameless smile. She folded her arms beneath her breasts, but seemed content to let him look. bahis firmaları The pair of white serpents tattooed on her arms framed her spectacular breasts like art.As he let his gaze wander over Friday’s body, he opened and closed his hand while pumping his arm, slowly working feeling back into it. Blood flow returned unhappily and a deep ache set in. Pins and needles sprang into his hand as the nerves woke up again. He hated that feeling.Seeing his uncomfortable expression as he flexed his arm,  Friday reached out to him and beckoned with her hands. A bit confused, he offered her his hand. She pulled him a little closer and reached up, circling her long, slender fingers around his bicep, just below the shoulder. His eyes widened and he stifled a noise as her fingers found a cluster of nerves. She quickly pulsed her fingertips, squeezing and releasing rapidly, moving her hands slowly lower, stimulating the muscle bed and forcing his sluggish blood to move. He’d never felt anything like it. Each press of her fingers was uncomfortably sharp, but lasted only a moment before they were somewhere else. His whole arm twitched as she squeezed and jabbed. What she was doing in his upper arm he could feel in his fingertips. When she reached his elbow he unexpectedly sat up straighter as she firmly poked his funny bone, but before he could react further she’d already moved on. His fingers started curling and tensing involuntarily as she played the tendons in his forearm like harp strings. By the time she reached his hand it felt like she had pushed all the numbness down his arm and forced it to concentrate in his fingers. His hand felt strangely swollen. He could feel his heartbeat in them. She took his hand in both of hers and her technique changed to steady kneading pressure across his palm and knuckles. After a few long squeezes, she grabbed his wrist in one hand and his pinky in the other and squeezed hard, slowly pulling downward until his fingertip was uncomfortable from the pressure. Her grip finally slipped off the end of his finger in sudden release, and she grabbed another finger, repeating the process until each digit had been squeezed and pulled. When she finished, his whole arm felt like it had been beaten with a meat tenderizer and worked with a rolling pin. It had been a surprisingly uncomfortable experience that had sometimes crossed all the way into pain, but now that it was over he was awed by the warm feeling of pleasure and relaxation that had been left in its wake.He stared at his hand, moving it like it was new and unfamiliar. “How?” She winked at him.“Thank you,” he said, still awed by what the doctor had done. “You’re going to have to teach me how to do that.” “Happily,” she said with a sensual stretch.He turned again and saw Jack was awake. She was sitting similar to Friday, but with her blanket tucked modestly beneath her arms. She had obviously been watching Friday work his arm. He caught the interest and curiosity just before it changed to uncertainty as their eyes met. She gave him a small smile. “Good morning.”“Morning,” he replied. “Ready for a fun day in the jungle?”“No,” Jack said. “I feel like I need about six cups of tea.”“I don’t think Stewpot brought tea,” Will said sympathetically.“I brought my own,” Jack said.“Of course you did,” Will chuckled. “Tea and explosives are the only things you consistently bring anywhere.”Jack shrugged. “A lady has to provide her own amenities when traveling with brutes.”Someone cleared their throat outside the tent. Jack waited for Friday to pull her blanket up, then opened the tent flap. Quinn ducked through the entrance and took a knee. He had four steaming wooden mugs in his hands.“Oh, you’re a godsend,” Jack said, taking two of the mugs from him and offering them to Will and Friday. As Will reached to take them, Bella rolled again, burrowing tighter into her mess of blankets and pillows, inadvertently tugging on the blanket she’d been sharing with Jack. Jack and Will froze, holding two scalding cups over Bella’s head as the blanket wrapped across Jack’s chest pulled free, revealing her breasts like a magician’s trick.Jack and Will’s eyes locked. Jack’s face turned red. Will forced his face to remain blank and slowly, carefully took the mugs and turned away, passing a mug to Friday and making sure that Jack was outside of his peripheral vision. Meanwhile, Jack tried to pull the blanket back from Bella, but it was rolled beneath her. Bella made a noise of protest and pulled back, rolling the blankets tighter around her. Jack sighed and rolled her eyes, defeated.Quinn passed Jack the other two mugs and began to untie his sarong to give Jack something to cover herself with. After a moment, she shook her head and Quinn stopped.Will kept his back turned and took a sip of his tea, barely tasting it as thoughts swam through his head. He had a feeling Jack expected him to look. He’d never been the type to hide when he was looking at someone, or to look away when he was caught. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with acknowledging or indulging in attraction. kaçak bahis siteleri He’d found that as long as he was respectful about it, women enjoyed that sort of thing. This was a different situation though. This wasn’t getting caught admiring someone. This was an accident. Jack hadn’t meant to be uncovered. In that situation, looking away seemed like the right thing to do. He gave her long enough to figure out a way to cover herself, then slowly turned back like nothing had happened.When he saw she was still nude from the waist up he started to turn again, but stopped when she sighed in exasperation. “It’s fine, Will,” Jack said, rolling her eyes and giving a small glare to the pile of blankets Bella hid under.Will gave her a small, questioning look. She shrugged. “It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Besides, modesty seems a little pointless after last night.”“True,” he said, taking another sip of his tea. As he drank, he finally let himself look at Jack. He’d seen her last night too, but the surprise and the dark made it hard to think about what he’d seen. Now, she was right in front of him in warm daylight. She was so familiar, so every difference from what he remembered was a surprise. She looked leaner. Harder. Her breasts were smaller, and her muscles were more clearly defined. The line down the center of her torso was deeper and accentuated her stomach muscles more than it used to. He could see the faint protrusions of her sternum, and the curves of her ribs. Now that he thought of it, her face was narrower too. He met her eyes again. She raised an eyebrow in challenge. “That didn’t mean ogle,’ she said flatly.“Would you prefer a gawk?” he asked.“Yes, actually,” Jack smirked. “You look particularly foolish when you gawk. If you’re going to stare, you might as well amuse me while you’re at it.”“Did someone say ogle?” Bella said, pushing the pile of pillows off her face and blinking sleepily. “Oh, hello,” she grinned as her eyes sleepily focused on Jack’s nudity.Jack looked pained, but cracked a smile. “Good morning, blanket thief.”Bella rubbed her eyes and blinked, focusing on the cups in Jack’s hands. “Did I hear tea?”Jack’s demeanor changed instantly. “Yes,” she said, handing Bella a mug and then offering her a hand.“Sit up.” Bella took it, and let Jack help pull her up to a seated position. She yawned and stretched with a small squeak, completely unashamed of her nakedness as the blankets fell away. Looking down at herself, she started picking at what was left of the sigils she’d drawn the night before. She rolled her breasts from one side to the other, moving them and lifting them to get a better look at how much of the sigils had survived the night.Will, Jack, and Friday all watched appreciatively, and exchanged glances with each other, sharing a quick round of quiet amusement. Whatever residual awkwardness there had been between Jack and Will, it faded with Bella between them. Somehow, she made sitting around naked together feel normal.“This new recipe is certainly durable,” Bella said, starting to peel away a strip of dried body paint. “We’re all going to need a bath.” Giving up for the moment, put both hands on her mug and brought it to her face, inhaling deeply and enjoying the warmth of the cup. “Oh, that smells amazing. What is it?”“My father’s latest blend. It’s his usual fermenting and drying process, but now he’s added orange peel from his orchards,” Jack said. She took another sip and smiled at Quinn. “It’s perfect.”Quinn gave her a small nod. “I have your things prepared.”“Thank you,” Jack smiled at him.Quinn began to stand and leave, but Jack put a hand on his thigh. He stopped, and knelt again, this time going to both knees and sitting on his haunches next to her. Jack leaned over and kissed his bare shoulder. His normally stoic face softened to affection as he looked back at her.Will wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but the hint of orange was nice, and this morning he would take any kind of pick-me-up he could get. “I have never had tea,” Friday said. “It is very nice.”Jack looked aghast. “You have never had tea?”“I hadn’t had tea when you met me either,” Bella reminded her.“Tea is a rich person’s vice,” Will shrugged. “Oh it is not,” Jack rolled her eyes.“Expected it to be sweeter, I,” Friday said.“It can be,” Jack said. “I usually take mine with sugar.”“Lots of sugar,” Will chuckled.“My people prefer coffee,” Friday said.Jack shook her head. “Too bitter for my taste.”“Only had it the Imperial way, you. Black, and over-steeped. Much better is the Barcolan way, with Cacao, cinnamon, and goat’s milk.”“Oh, that sounds divine,” Jack said longingly.Jack’s sweet tooth always amused Will. She seemed like such a serious and dignified person most of the time, but she melted for sugary confections of any kind. Particularly chocolate.“Get me back to civilization, I will make you the best coffee in the world,” Friday said.“Deal,” Jack smiled. “I suppose we should get started then,” Bella said, shoving her nest of blankets away so she could tuck her cup in between her thighs. Then she rooted around beneath her pillows and dragged out her multicolored satchel. After a bit of digging,  she pulled out the small bag that held her cards. “Everyone circle up,” she said as she started shuffling. “Let’s see what the future holds today.”

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