Authors: Emily Thompson
The party lights grew dim when the sun began to rise. The costumed masses drifted out into the shadowy jungle around the house, like the ghosts of dreams. Helen vanished long before daybreak, leaving Jonas firmly convinced that fairies—wood nymph ballerinas especially—never led to any good. Twist and his companions eventually drifted away as well. The streets were much quieter in the soft, rusty glow of dawn, but they were littered with empty bottles, trash, and drunken, sleeping forms. Arabel gave the world a disapproving sigh as the cab carried them back to the docks.
“It's all fun in the dark, but this place is awful in the daylight.”
“The city is just hungover,” Jonas said fondly. “Give it a couple of hours, maybe splash a little cold water on it, and the place will be good as new. You watch. By noon, the whole city will be bustling, and they'll all start getting ready for tonight.”
“So, it's like this all the time?” Twist asked. “I thought yesterday was a holiday or something.”
“Nope, just a Tuesday,” Jonas said, shaking his head. “You should see Saturday.”
“What happens when there
a holiday?” Myra asked.
Jonas looked to her with a flash of fear in his eyes. “You don't want to know. That's too much party, even for me.”
“That's not possible,” Arabel said, grinning at him.
“I have limits,” Jonas said, sounding hurt. “They're just … rather far apart.”
Arabel looked as if she wanted to say something back, but she only smiled and shook her head. Twist wondered if something Storm had told her was now holding her tongue. Glancing back to Jonas, Twist found him still in a fairly good mood. Maybe it really was working. Either that, or the night out had released the pent-up tensions that Jonas had collected. Either way, he seemed drastically more stable now.
They found the
still docked where they had left it, hanging out from the old stone ramparts, but there was almost no one out in the thin morning light. There were only two people on the airship docks, and they were standing together at the end of the jetty that led onto the deck of the
. Twist recognized them both far too late, and he shivered against his own shock. He came to a stop a few feet away, and pushed Myra behind him.
“Good morning,” the sky pirate Adair Quay said brightly.
He looked almost exactly the same as he had when Twist had last seen him, on the day the Royal British Navy had taken him away to prison. He was tall and well built, with smooth brown skin, dark but gleaming eyes, and a mane of thick black hair tied into a mess of short ropes. The jewelry was all still in place: bracelets, rings, a long string of silver round his neck, a number of metal pieces pierced through his ears, and one through his right nostril. The thick black lines of the tattoo that wound a pattern in the gently wrinkled skin around his left eye were almost invisible in the low light. There was no sign at all that he had missed a single day of freedom.
Vane stood beside him, smiling at Twist and his friends with a wicked glint in his somehow inhuman eyes. Just as he had been the first time they had met, Twist noticed that Vane's human face didn't look quite right. His ears were a little too pointed, nestled in his thick, fur-like black hair. His nose was just a little too long, and his black eyes were just a little too big. Then, of course, there was the fluffy, white-tipped, black fox tail that hung behind him. He was still dressed in loose-fitting black trousers and a long purple tunic with a wide black belt in the style of a samurai, as he had been in Hong Kong.
“What are you doing here?” Jonas asked coldly.
“Hello, Jon, nice to see you too,” Quay said with a smile.
“Where are the others?” Arabel asked, glancing past Quay to the ship and its empty open deck.
“Have you seen this?” Quay asked, holding up a piece of paper. “
” he read from it, “
one girl made of clockwork, and one young boy with pink eyes. Both to be brought, unharmed, to Lord Loki of the Cyphers with a reward of two thousand British pounds each. Anyone traveling with them is to be killed, and their heads brought along for an additional reward of five hundred pounds each.
” Quay looked back at them, still smiling. “Imagine my surprise when I saw the clockwork princess sneak off the very same ship I was planning to steal, to go off partying all night. Too bad there aren't any little boys with pink eyes about. That would be too easy.”
Twist focused on keeping his face still as he heard that Storm wasn't on board. How the boy could have escaped without being seen was beyond him. “So, you're going to sell our heads to Loki, then, are you?” he asked, taking a better grip of his walking stick. He kept his eyes on Vane, knowing he was the faster of the two.
“I haven't decided yet,” Quay said thoughtfully. “Can you make me a better offer?”
“What would you want?” Jonas asked on a heavy sigh.
Quay looked at him unkindly, then glanced back to the
, behind him. “Nice ship, this,” he said. “I've blasted more holes in it than I can count, over the years, but it's still solid as a rock. A flying rock, of course. I could use a new ship.” Beside him, Vane gave a derisive sort of laugh.
“I'd rather be shot dead than give you my ship,” Arabel said proudly.
Quay smiled as he drew a pistol. “If you insist.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold on!” Jonas said, raising his hands and stepping forward, his eyes on the mouth of Quay's pistol. “All right, so she threw you in jail,” he said with a flippant nod to Arabel. “It obviously didn't have that much of an impact on you. Has this friendly little rivalry really escalated to killing?”
“I had a djinn,” Quay growled bitterly. “Do you even know what I went through to get him in the first place? I haven't got any idea where he is now.”
Myra began to speak, but Jonas cut her off before a word left her mouth. “Yes, and a shape-shifter,” he said with a gesture to Vane, “and me with my future sight. Two out of three isn't too bad, you know.”
“Jonas...” Quay said, shaking his head. “When have you ever known me to settle for good enough?”
“You always make the most of what you have,” Jonas said quickly. “Arabel's Sight can find anything, anywhere in the world.”
“Jon!” Arabel gasped. “Don't tell him that! I'd never—“
“How do you think the
always got to the goods before you did?” Jonas asked Quay before she could continue. “She always knew the quickest route.”
“Are you seriously offering me your sister?” Quay asked.
“I'm trying to get you stop threatening everything in sight so that we can have a reasonable conversation like adults.”
Arabel stopped protesting then, but stared at Jonas in surprise. He was actually trying to protect her. Twist guessed that it must have been a very long time since Jonas had done anything of the sort. Quay, however, didn't look nearly as touched.
“And I suppose that next you'll explain to me how letting your friend and his pretty little toy remain free is going to help me as well. I'm sorry, Jonas, but you're too good of a pirate. Your words aren't even as trustworthy as those of a politician,” Quay said. Vane gave another laugh.
Jonas's shoulders sagged slightly and Twist felt the hint of fear in the buzz at his neck. Twist's thoughts rushed to find a way to save them from being sold—in pieces—to Loki. He could take Myra and run, and maybe get away if Arabel and Jonas put up a fight. But that wouldn't save them all, nor anyone who might be locked away inside the ship already. Quay would have more of a crew by now than just Vane, and they could be lurking anywhere in the dim shadows. He knew he might be able to fight off one or two, but only if he had surprise on his side. Even then, he didn't have another way off of this island. He looked to the paper in Quay's hand. This place was full of pirates. Quay had simply been the first to find them.
“Let him have the ship,” Twist said softly. Arabel looked to him in shock. “Let us rejoin your crew,” he said to Quay, who was watching him curiously now. “Arabel and I are Sighted. You can use us. You can simply tell Loki that you found Myra alone.”
Twist flinched against the rush of horror and fear that exploded over his Sight from Myra's touch, her hand holding his tightly. She had always trusted him before. Even when she hardly knew him, she had trusted him when he needed her to. He could only pray that she would trust him now. His heart ached to do it, but he tugged his hand free of Myra's quietly. He needed his mind clear if he was going to have the slightest chance of fooling the pirate.
“I see,” Quay said. “And then, naturally, once we're in the air and on our way to the Cyphers, you'll all mount some kind of rebellion, I assume.”
“Have you killed anyone yet?” Twist asked with as little emotion as he could, and a vague gesture to the ship.
“The crew is under guard,” Quay said flippantly. Twist saw Arabel's relief out of the corner of his eye.
“Then you've already accepted the risk of a rebellion,” Twist said. “But remember,” he added, placing the point of his walking stick between his toes and leaning both hands on the hilt comfortably, “you took care of me, once. I only left you when I did because it was better for me. Right now, I don't particularly want to be killed.”
Quay stared at him quietly for a moment, as if considering his offer. “Then, when the time comes, you'll give up your precious little toy?” he asked, glancing to Myra over Twist's shoulder.
Twist wanted to look back to her, to reach out and touch her, to reassure her somehow. Anything of the sort would give him away. He gathered his strength and forced his face calm, pulling himself perfectly still. He gave a nod to Quay.
“If that's what it takes to ensure my own safety.”
He heard her gasp behind him, a tiny sound, but the sharpness and betrayal in it stung to his core. Quay's eyes held Twist in place, forcing him to hold his mask for agonizing moments. They finally shifted off of him, moving to Jonas and Arabel.
“What about you two?”
Jonas gave an easy shrug. “I ran away to join your crew before. Nothing's changed.”
“No, this is insane,” Arabel said when Quay looked to her expectantly. “You're both insane! I'm not going to turn around and join the very same man who has hunted, tormented, and stolen from my family for years!” Her voice grew louder and her tone more hysterical with every word.
Quay sighed. “Vane? If you would.”
“It's about time,” Vane said. He pulled a length of rope from the empty air behind him, and advanced on her.
“Stay away from me!” Arabel screamed, raising her fists.
“Jonas, now's a good time to prove yourself,” Quay said.
When Arabel shot him a warning look, Jonas took hold of her wrists, pulling them behind her back. Arabel struggled and wailed in frustration as Vane tied her hands together, and then tied a black cloth over her mouth to muffle her screams.
Vane threw Arabel into the hold, while Quay took Jonas, Twist, and Myra to the dining room. He told them all to sit. Twist and Myra sat beside each other, while Jonas sat across the table from Twist. Myra never said a word, or looked at Twist, until she sat down and Quay cuffed her wrist to the armrest.
“What are you doing?” she gasped.
“Just keeping you in one place,” Quay said, petting her arm. “I don't want you to get damaged before I deliver you.”
Twist felt a flash of rage at seeing Quay's hand on Myra's copper skin, but he swallowed the feeling as best he could without drawing attention to himself. Myra jerked away from the pirate's touch with a disgusted expression on her face. “Don't touch me, you filthy pirate!”
“Temper, temper,” Quay said, looking more entertained than insulted. “No wonder you don't mind getting rid of her,” he added to Twist. Myra fell silent.
“What happens now?” Twist asked, his voice cold on his tongue.
“Now? Tea, I think,” Quay said, taking the seat at the head of the table, where one of the
pots already sat, steaming slightly.
As he poured himself a cup of tea, Twist glanced to Myra. She looked up to him with confusion, fear, and pain evident on her face. Twist's chest tightened so quickly, so painfully, that his hand moved to it unconsciously. Myra reached out and put her free hand on his arm. The moment her hand fell on him, her metal skin vanished into flesh. Twist looked to her face to find it human once again. He was so stunned by the speed of the change that it took him an instant to realize that nothing else in the world was moving. The tea hung still in the air, halfway to Quay's cup. Dust motes hung perfectly still, suspended in the sunlight.
“What's happening?” he asked, finding a strange, tight, echo on the air.
“Exactly,” Myra said, her voice tight as well. “What is happening, Twist?” He looked back to her to find her looking at him sternly. He glanced nervously to Quay, but the pirate still hadn't moved a muscle. “They can't hear us,” Myra said impatiently. “But I can't hold us like this for long. Now, what are you doing?” The last of her words sounded difficult for her to voice.
“I'm lying to him to buy time,” Twist said quickly, taking her cool hand and looking into her eyes. “I couldn't think of any way to run or fight, while we were on the docks. Obviously, Jonas couldn't either or he never would have let us get on board. But as long as we're together, and Jonas and I are free, we have a chance.”
“You're lying to him?” Myra asked, her expression cautious.
“Of course,” Twist said. “You didn't believe me, did you?”
“I didn't want to,” she said softly, looking away. “But you sounded so certain. He believed you,” she added, gesturing to Quay. Twist was confused for a moment until he realized that her spirit wasn't handcuffed.
“That's because I was trying very hard to make sure he did,” Twist said, drawing her attention back. “It's not easy for me to lie. I have to give it all I have. And I had to make him believe me. If he tied me up too, then I might not be able to protect you.”
“Then...” she began slowly, new sunlight glinting in her doe-like, dark eyes, “you're not going to give me to Loki? Even if it means he'll try to have you killed?”
Twist gave her a smile and sighed. “My dear, I would gladly give my life if it would keep you safe and happy. I'll never give you to anyone. Not for any price.”
Bliss washed over her face, cleansing it of every dark thought. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, nestling her nose in the crook of his neck. “I'm sorry,” she whispered against the bare skin of his throat. “I'll trust you.”
Relief crashed over Twist like a cool, sparkling wave, and he wrapped her in his arms. He bent his lips closer to her ear.
“Thank you, my love.”
Myra pulled back enough to look at his face. “What?”
“What?” Twist asked back, startled.
“What did you say?”
“Thank you?” Twist tried, slowly.
“No, after that.”
Twist narrowed his eyes in thought. “How could you possibly not know that I love you?”
Her pale cheeks flushed a vibrant pink and she glanced away. “You've never said it before...” she said softly. Twist's confusion shifted into a smile.
“That's a rather minor detail,” he said gently. “A trifle, really. Haven't I shown you?”
Myra nodded, not looking back to him. “But you never said it.”
Twist slipped a finger under her chin and brought her eyes back to his. “I love you, Myra. I always have.”
The words left him easily, but sent a chill down his spine. He realized that he'd long ago given up hope that he would ever get to say such a thing to anyone. Myra soaked in the sentiment with quiet satisfaction, smiling warmly at him now. A strange sound—stuttering, deep, and haunting—murmured somehow from the whole world at once.
“Oh no!” Myra said suddenly, looking to Quay.
The tea was beginning to move slowly. The dust slid gently on the air. In an instant, the world shuddered into a different orientation around Twist, and he found himself sitting as he had been before, facing the table instead of Myra, in exactly the same position he had been in before. Even though he had only moved slightly, the change was so sudden, so sharp and unexpected, that it was highly unnerving. Twist jerked and sucked in a startled breath.
Quay looked up at him sharply, the tea now flowing easily into his cup. “Are you all right, there?” Across the table, Jonas gave Twist a quietly curious look.
“Almost sneezed,” Twist muttered, rubbing at his entirely unaffected nose. While Jonas didn't look convinced in the least, Quay turned his attention back to his tea.
“So tell me,” Quay said brightly as he held his cup up to his lips. “Whatever did you do to Loki? He never pays that much for a head.”
“Twist almost killed him,” Jonas said with a shrug.
“Really?” Quay asked, looking at Twist sharply. “What, by accident?”
“No,” Twist said, feeling somehow offended.
“Really...” Quay toned, taking a sip of his tea. “This is a day for surprises. First, my arch-nemesis flies right over my head and docks nearby, without posting a guard. Then, I find that there is a valuable bounty on board,” he added with a gesture to Myra. “And now, I'm told that the meek little clockmaker I picked up in Nepal has become a proper ruffian!” He smiled happy. “What
Twist caught Jonas's eyes across the table, and saw exactly the same sentiment in them that he felt himself. As the ship rose into the air over Santiago, he knew it would only be a matter of time before he and Jonas found a way to secure their freedom. Quay was right to be suspicious.