When Samantha was young, her uncle would arrive on his merchant air ship, and teach her the mysteries of navigation. He told her stories of the endless seas, limitless skies, sparkling cities, and finally about the pirates: the thieves and bandits of the sky and sea alike. Above all else, there was the tale of a ship that conquered them all – that flew and sailed and left nothing but destruction and death in its wake. The Red Nightmare, sailors of the tavern claimed, painted in the very blood of its countless victims.
Samantha would beg her uncle to take her with him, but there was no room for a child on the ship. “You’ll be safer at home,” he would claim. Then, around the time her mother had disappeared one stormy night in the direction of the cliff, her uncle stopped coming. Even so, she would sit at the top of the cliff where he would land his merchant ship, waiting.
On one particularly gloomy day, Samantha sat near the edge of the cliff where she could overlook the great ocean. The flying islands were gone from view, leaving her to look down at the docks and imagine herself among the masts and riggings. Without hesitation she would gladly join the ranks of a ship, any ship, so long as it went somewhere. Sadly no airships ever visited the small sea port, and no sea vessel would easily employ a woman. Old superstitions never disappear completely.
With a sigh she looked down at the beach directly below her perch. The sand was gray beneath the hovering clouds, while the sea unhappily churned like a child with a stomach ache. Then, a splash of color caught her attention. Dark emerald dropped against the rocks, too big and solid to be any kind of seaweed. The docks and port were too far along the beach for anyone to take notice of whatever it was.
Happy for anything to postpone her return to her father’s house, Samantha hurried past the abandoned terra hopper that had crashed there over a year ago. Down the hill and to the beach, her bare feet kicked up sand as her dress flapped in the movement. It was a simple dress that fell about her knees, cheaper than buying both pants and a shirt and not as easily outgrown.
Climbing up onto the rocks she spotted the color and nimbly skipped along the tops until she could get a clear view. The rocks were a ways from the tide’s highest reach. Unwashed sand showed signs of something dragged from the water. The smooth, reddened track led up to the rocks and ended beneath a bundle of emerald green cloth with dark crimson accents – a coat. Dark leather boots lay uncovered by the coat’s limited material.
Samantha lowered herself to the ground and slowly approached. She grabbed the coat to pull it aside, but stumbled back as it moved. The boots shifted and fell still. Samantha tightened her wits and lifted the coat, where she found a body. It was a woman, a few years older than her seventeen. A tangled mess of black hair obscured her face. The coat resembled that of a sailor of rank, but the well fitted shirt and pants resembled more a pilot, all soaked with blood. Her clothes were ripped, body covered in deep cuts and bruises.
Samantha dropped to her knees, her own black hair pushed behind an ear. “Hello?” Her hands hovered, unsure what to do. She touched a shoulder and fell back when the body moved again. A crimson eye opened. “You’re alive!” Samantha exclaimed in astonishment, getting back on her knees. The bloodied right arm attempted to jerk out, but cringed halfway through the movement with a sharp gasp of pain. A short knife dropped uselessly to the sand.
The woman groaned, right shoulder tightly gripped. “Get done what you will… then leave,” she rasped through cracked lips.
“All this blood, you’re dying.” Samantha eyed the knife.
“Fully… aware…” The woman coughed, squinted up at the sky, and appeared to pass out.
“Just wait, I’ll go get help,” Samantha decided and began to get up.
“No,” the woman snapped, the level of managed authority a shock. Pushing on the ground, she struggled to sit up, revealing a large patch of blood soaked sand. The fact she still lived was both astonishing, and proof that she had not been there long, and could not remain much longer. “Just… go. Don’t come back.”
Samantha stared before she stood and let the woman sit against the rocks. Racing across the beach, she dodged between the first set of buildings. The streets were simple, mostly dirt. Her path twisted around salt encrusted sailors and market stalls that tried to convince every passerby that life was incomplete without their wares.
The Patel residence was shoved into the rest of the houses, falling apart from funds spent on Henry Patel’s various mistresses. Samantha pushed into the empty house, her father no doubt down at the tavern. Accustomed to nursing her father after various bar fights, she had a good number of basic medical supplies and knowledge. The most commonly used tools pushed into a sack, she hurried back to the beach.
At the rocks the woman appeared unmoved, though she now clutched a single, bloody bullet. “Leave.” Even in the hoarse rasp, her voice held the ability to command.
“You’ll die out here like this,” Samantha told her with no intention of being turned away so easily. “Let me help you.”
“Do you know… who I am?”
“Do you?” Samantha asked back. It was common for the shipwrecked to suffer amnesia of various degrees. “You have the eyes of the flying islands, but beyond that…” She brushed the woman’s hair from her face and froze. Even beneath the dried blood that had flowed from a cut above the eye, the face was unmistakable, straight from the wanted posters. Startled, Samantha fell back from the glare of Bloody Anne Cash, pirate captain of The Red Nightmare.