The beating of his heart was deafening, pounding in his ears like an accursed drum, but he dare not stop. It was only a matter of time before the massacre above them came below deck. He had to get them to safety before then. He had to find them sanctuary before it was too late.
“We’re going to die, aren’t we?”
Turning, he stared at the little girl to his left, one whose hand was clenching his like a vice. The terror in her eyes was raw. He turned to the others behind him. They were all terrified.
“Listen to me,” he said, stopping and lowering his voice to little above a whisper. “We have to keep moving. We still have a chance, but we have to get there before he sees us.”
“You sure he won’t find us?” one of them asked.
He stared at the cowering little boy. Was he sure? No. For all he knew, he was marching them to their tomb. But what choice did he have? What other option was there?
“Keep moving,” he whispered instead, and before any could object, he turned and resumed their hurried march. They carried on in silence, a silence punctuated by the screams of another poor soul caught by their hunters, screams that pierced the silence and froze the hearts of all who heard before fading into the night. But onward they marched, until at last he caught sight of their destination.
With a deep sigh, he hurried to the barrels propped against the hull, and after a brief scan, leant against four in particular before whispering words in a tongue none of the children understood. Grinning, he turned.
“Help me,” he whispered.
Frowning, two of the taller children stepped forward, and, with a nod from him, they steadied themselves and lifted. Surprise flitted across the pair’s faces as they stumbled backwards. Exchanging glances, the two boys placed their barrels down before opening them. Both were full to the brim, one with sugar, the other, salt.
“Hurry!” he whispered as he rummaged through his pockets. As he fished out a small square etched stone, the last of the barrels was moved aside, revealing the hull behind.
“Don’t see anything,” one of the children whispered.
Grinning, he winked as he pressed the stone against the hull. As he did so, runes began to glow one by one upon the hull, forming a circle before the children’s eyes, a circle the stone completed. Then, when the circle was fully lit, the hull gave way, revealing a cabin lit by a single enchanted torch.
“Quickly now,” he whispered as the runic circle faded, stepping aside as he shoved the stone back into his pocket.
As one, the children stared into the dimly lit cabin with eyes bright, grinning from ear to ear.
“He’ll never find us in there!” one of the children whispered as they hurried in.
As he watched the children enter the hidden room, he found himself wishing it to be true. Once the last child was in, he too entered the hidden room, whispering words of arcane as he put the barrels back into place before closing the door and hurrying over to join the children at the far end of the cabin. It was there they sat, amongst the barrels of spice and mist, waiting in silence for the coming storm, wishing for it to pass them by.
How long they waited, he did not know, but wait they did. Soon, sleep began to claim the children, but he remained vigilant, and it was not long before he was the only one awake. Then, just as he was about to allow himself hope, he heard it.
It was faint, but unmistakable. Claws dragging briefly over wood. Then another. And then another. Eight claws…two hounds. Their hunters. With his heart in his throat, he clasped the stone in his pocket tightly as he whispered a prayer to every deity he knew, and in that dimly lit cabin, he prayed and listened as the hounds came closer, and closer, and closer still. Then, as his breath came in snatches, he heard the hounds walk past and continue on.
The elation that washed over him was indescribable. They’d done it, they’d actually done it! With a grin as wide as could be, he turned to stare at the sleeping children, but it was at that moment of triumph that fate dealt its cruellest blow of the night.
“I must say, you smugglers never cease to amaze me.”
Startled, he turned his gaze towards the door, and what he saw sank his heart to a depth he’d never known before. The boy, the monster, he stood before them, smirking. Quivering, the old pirate rose before taking an unsteady step forward, then another. In the dim light, he could not see the boy’s eyes, a fact he was grateful for, for he had stared into that abyss once before, and he would choose death of any kind to not do so again.
“H-how did you—?” he began.
“The door? Please, such toys are beneath me.”
“Just because you mortals can no longer sense the arcane like in the old days, doesn’t mean I no longer can. You would have to be brain-addled not to sense the magic of those wards. Or mortal, I suppose.”
Once again his words were cut short, except this time it was by the swirling smoke that spun to life on either side of the boy, smoke that formed into two vicious hounds. A startled gasp came from behind him.
“What do you want from us?” he demanded, fighting the urge to turn to the children.
“What do I want?” the boy asked, his brow furrowing.
“Yes! What do you want from us?”
The boy smiled. “Oh, my dear pirate, can’t you guess?”
The old pirate finally turned to the children, and as he gazed at their terrified faces, his heart wept. Shaking his head, he turned back to the boy.
“Please,” he begged. “They’re only children.”
With his smile turning to a grin, the boy chuckled.
“I know,” he said at last.
Then the hounds lunged forth.
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