I stood at the bow of the Aegean Star as we plowed through the swells. The wind had risen, and the waves became more pronounced the closer we got to the last reported location of the Azure Sea. A few quick calls had gotten us the last reported Differential GPS signal from the doomed ship, and the Greek Coast Guard had dispatched a cutter, but I knew we’d arrive long before they did.
“Are you feeling all right, Mr. Korias?” Captain Dellis asked as he joined me at the bow.
The winds rose as I thought of what awaited us, but I physically calmed myself and the weather before I turned to face him. “I…no, I am not all right. There are few things I hate in this world more than pirates. Every time I think we’ve cleared the Aegean of them, another group thinks it’s a fresh opportunity to make their mark. I especially resent it when they decide to prey on my fishing vessels. I know damn near every man who sails for their families and me. This is not going to be an easy thing to deal with when we get back to Mykonos.”
“Can I assist you with…”
“No!” I snapped and then turned to face him, my voice softening. “I’m sorry, Captain. You didn’t deserve that. No, it’s my responsibility and my duty. You’re responsible for every man and woman on this ship. I’m responsible for every man and woman working for Bounty of the Sea. I hired them, and I trained most of them. By the Abyss, I taught many of their parents to sail and fish. No, this one feels personal to me.”
The captain’s face softened as he glimpsed the weight sitting on my shoulders. “Understood, sir. Is there anything I can do?”
I felt my shoulders lift and straighten as I imagined what waited ahead. “Have this ship ready to respond to whatever we find at the site. Sometimes they lurk at the horizon, waiting to pounce on any rescue ships. If they don’t put in an appearance, we’ll see if they left any clues to where they fled to.”
A fierce gleam appeared in his eyes. “Please, please, let them be lurking there. I want to return the favor to them.”
I took a deep breath and turned my eyes back to the horizon, trying to will the Azure Sea into view. “I appreciate your sentiment, Captain, but honestly, I hope they’re gone. I don’t want to risk a single soul on this ship. If we can find their home, I think our four passengers and I can deal with them.”
He glanced toward the stairs leading below decks, and an involuntary shudder ran through him. “I’ve dealt with some of the best soldiers and sailors in the world, but those four…are you sure you can trust them?”
“They’re a little hard to stop once they get going, but yes. I couldn’t ask for a more loyal group than them. Do not worry, Captain. No one on this ship has anything to worry about.”
The captain lifted his binoculars to scan the horizon. “If they’re not there, how will you find them? They could have gone anywhere.”
I laughed. “Captain, have you not noticed the sea and I hide nothing from each other? No, if they are not there, there will be a trail, and I will find it. Once we know where we’re going, you will take us close but stay over the horizon from wherever they have gone to hide. We’ll use the Zodiac to get to shore and come back. That way, if something goes horribly wrong, you’re far enough away for plausible deniability, I believe they call it these days.”
The captain and I spotted the small smudge on the horizon almost simultaneously. He called out commands to come about to a new heading, and I fought down the urge to leap into the sea. I knew I could reach the wounded ship faster than the yacht. But that would only increase questions I wasn’t quite ready to answer to my crew and, ultimately, the world. My fingers clenched instinctively, and I could feel my trident calling to me from my stateroom, but I tried to relax. Whatever waited up ahead had already happened. There was nothing I could do to change things at this point. All I could do was offer vengeance.
A half-hour later, the Aegean Star pulled up to the smoking derelict that once was the Azure Sea. We maneuvered the yacht close to the fishing vessel and got a couple of sailors over the side with rope lines to tie it off. The captain armed his men and assigned some to maintain a close watch, while others slid down the lines to secure the vessel. Several nerve-wracking moments later, they reappeared on deck and gave the all-clear signal. Once the ladder was lowered, I climbed aboard to view the damage.
There are bloodstains everywhere and splintered wood where high-velocity bullets ripped through the ship. I looked at one of the men, but he shook his head sadly and then started directing the sailors to man the pumps. I moved on to the main cabin where I found more of the same…blood, bullet holes, but no bodies. I had a feeling whoever had done this had dumped the crew overboard. If they didn’t die from blood loss or drowning, there was enough blood in the water to draw scavengers to the site. No, there would have been no survivors.
I inspected the cabin closer to find the door to the small safe had been blown off its hinges. It wasn’t a huge thing, just somewhere for the men to store their valuables while on the ship. There wouldn’t have been anything truly valuable in there. Mostly their papers, perhaps a few mementos from home, and some cash for the cards or dice in the evenings when not on watch.
“Mr. Korias, come quick!”
I sensed no movement on the sea, so I knew we weren’t under attack, but there was an undeniable urgency in the man’s voice. I hurried out of the cabin and saw someone waving me to the crew’s quarters below deck. Taking the rails in both hands, I leapt down the gangway, using the railing to guide me to the ground. I saw a small gaggle of men near the door leading to the engine room. “Gangway!” I roared and pushed through them into the darkened room.
I heard a low moan and turned back toward the sailors hanging around the door. “Don’t just stand there like a bunch of ninnies! Rig us up a light. Run a line to the Star if need be. And get the damn doctor over here. Now!”
You’d have thought a bomb had gone off in their midst. Within a few seconds, the area was empty except for two sailors and myself. I let my divinity assert itself for a moment, and my eyes shifted. After all, one can’t really call themselves a sea god if you can’t see in the ocean below where the light shines, now can they?
In the shattered remains of the engine room, I saw a man trapped beneath some rubble. I could tell by the way the water was rising in this room that there was no saving the ship. It wouldn’t surprise me to find the pirates had attempted to scuttle the ship to hide the evidence of their attack.
I heard the sound of rushing feet, and the ship’s doctor came in, along with two other seamen who were carrying a mobile spotlight. Moving quickly, the doctor directed them to shift the rubble, and they eased the man out. Another sailor arrived carrying the stretcher, and they carefully lifted the man into it. I felt the ship shift slightly and urged everyone to hurry. I knew we were running out of time, and I didn’t want to lose anyone else.
Ten minutes later, we’d cut the lines to the Azure Sea and watched it slowly settle at her stern. A few minutes after that, her bow rose into the air, and the entire ship disappeared into the depths. I stood at the rail watching until the only things remaining of that proud vessel were a few pieces of wood and a small slick as the fuel from the auxiliary engine slowly escaped. An anger burned in me, one that would not be easily quenched.
I turned to find Captain Dellis standing there. “The doctor says it’s not looking good, but if you want to speak to the man, he’s barely conscious. Doc says he’ll update you soon as he knows something for certain.”
“Yes, I’ll swing by Sickbay, then I’m going to my stateroom, Captain. Please pass the word that I am not to be disturbed.”
“As you wish, sir.”
The Aegean Star wasn’t designed with a full ship’s surgery, but there’s more than enough room for the ship’s doctor, the patient, and myself. I moved quietly to the bed and waited until the patient opened his eyes.
“How’re you holding up, John?”
The weathered face looked up at me, trying to hide the obvious pain. “It’s not so bad. I’ve had worse when Gino hooked me with a fishing line once.”
I smiled and pretended not to notice the faint bluing at his lips. “What can you tell me?”
“Not much, sir. I don’t know how they got in so close before anyone noticed. I was working in the engine room, doing some maintenance, when I heard the firing. I didn’t have anything other than a hammer and a shovel, so I waited for one of them to come in. I guess I wasn’t as quiet as I’d hoped. Still, he’s gonna be wearing that scar for a while.”
His body spasmed from coughing, and a little blood came up. “You wanna know the worst part, boss?”
“What’s that, John?”
“They were Greeks. Who’d a thought they’d turn on their own?”
John’s eyes closed, and his breathing got very soft. The doc moved in quickly and put a stethoscope on his chest. “He’s going fast, sir. All I can do is make him comfortable.”
“Do your best. That’s all anyone can ask.”
I stormed from the Sickbay and went directly to my stateroom. With a passion I hadn’t felt in years, I carefully shuttered all the windows. Once secured from any inquisitive eyes, I opened a hidden panel on one wall and withdrew a five-foot-long weathered staff. Summoning a small pool of water, I suspended it in mid-air and carefully set the staff down on it. Once I was satisfied it was bobbing freely, I allowed myself to fall into a trance.
The room faded into shadows and fog, then John’s face floated out of the murk. He’s hiding in the engine room, frightened by whatever’s going on around him. I felt more than saw him pressed against the wall, waiting by the door, and then he lashed out with a shovel. I felt the strike, but it’s not a clean blow. The invader bounced against a wall and then rose, lifting a gun. There were multiple flashes from the muzzle, and John fell back, pain erupting from two different places in his chest before a pile of equipment fell atop him.
John stared up at his executioner, and I saw the man’s face. It’s as clear to me as if I had been in the engine room. The fog swirled around me, and when it cleared, the scene had shifted. A boat pulled into a quay on a small island. The man helped unload cargo from a ship. After a bit, he walked along the shore to a wharf and a bar out on the end. He was greeted by people he knew well, people he’d hunted with this day. They celebrated without a second thought of the doomed ship or the men aboard it.
My eyes snapped open, and the staff swung around in the water, pointing to the northeast. I pushed against it, and it refused to move. It was moving, though. It shifted almost imperceptibly as the Aegean Star made way, pointing at an unknown destination. A destination I intend to find. Taking a compass from my desk, I noted the heading and plotted the course on a map. Once I knew what our goal was, I recovered my staff and thanked my father for this gift before securing it in the hidden locker.
I found the captain on the bridge and moved quickly toward him. Still feeling what John felt, I barely trusted myself to speak, but I did get out two sentences. “Patitiri on Alonnisos. Tell Gia we hunt at sunset.”