The muse and I hid behind a mountain of crates that would eventually be put on the ship. I scoped out the vessel and nodded to Clio.
“Is that the boat you saw?”
She looked over at the boat, her eyes narrowing in the darkness. “Yes. That is it.”
I stood, not taking my eyes away from the ship. “Alright, you stay here then.” I looked down as I towered over her and pointed to a spot on the ground.
“Why?” she frowned.
I stood back on my heels, assessing the possibilities of what would unfold. “This isn’t exactly safe, you know?”
Clio seemed to be deep in thought. Her mouth opening and closing as words tried to spill out. All she could come up with was, “So?”
“I don’t want that on my conscience…you know, if something were to happen to you.”
“So, you like me?” Clio picked that moment to be cute by poking me in the ribs. It had been a long time since I had a friend.
“No. You’re impossible.” My lips twitched until they formed a smile.
She smiled back at me. “Uh-huh.” She stood up, patting the dust off her robes. “I am coming with you.”
“Fine, but stay by my side,” I rolled my eyes and started to walk, “and for heaven’s sake, try to be quieter. You’re like a bull in a china bowl shop.”
We walked slowly toward the ship, my shadows stretching out far in front of us, searching for the orb. We stepped aboard, and from all appearances, the ship seemed to be unoccupied. Not even the crew was present.
“Are you sure this is right?”
Something seemed wrong. We walked around the top deck, searching for the orb.
Clio stepped closer to me. “I’m right, but I don’t think we are alone.”
I looked at her suspiciously, my brow arched. “Why would you say that?”
All of a sudden, her eyes flickered to a different colour.
“I…I can sense…”
But before she could get the words out, a large man barrelled through a door off to the right. My shadows circled him, trapping him. I reached out, grabbed Clio, and pushed her behind me, shielding her. I could feel her body tensing.
“There are more,” she whispered.
Five more men jumped out from their hiding spots within the ship. I retracted my shadows from the large man, circling them around the muse and me, protecting us in a dark bubble.
“Where’s the orb?” I yelled.
The large man stepped forward, swinging a small dagger. His hands got lost inside my shadows, the blackness swallowing them up.
“I’m not going to ask again, where is the orb?” I was preparing for battle.
Clio waved her hand at me to stop, her eyes still glowing. “Wait!”
I turned on her, snarling, “What is it now, Muse?”
“If you kill them, I won’t be able to figure out where it is.”
An evil smile spread across my lips.
“Well, you hear that? The muse here wants me to spare you?” My shadows break off, slowly wrapping around each man. “But, I have other plans. I have ways of making you speak.”
Dark shadows spread over the large man, and his eyes turned black as I filled his head, rendering him useless. I looked over to the other men as terror filled their eyes.
“Shall I give the muse a chance? Are you going to tell us where it is, or should I move onto the next?”
My shadows squeezed on the closest man to us, his legs buckling underneath him.
Clio grabbed my arm, pleading, “Please, stop.”
My shadows snapped a finger back on one of the men. “But this is more fun?” I said sadistically. I focused on the man closest to us. “Should I let her help?”
The man whimpered frantically. I loved seeing grown men become sniveling babies, but as I looked over at Clio, something inside me changed.
“Fine.” I took a step aside and let Clio try it her way.
She let out a breath before walking over to the closest man, her eyes glowing. “This won’t hurt.” Her hands reached out, and she held the man’s head. Her eyes began to flutter. She had done the same thing earlier to the people in the shack. She was looking through his recent history and muttering under her breath.
“Man. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Scar on cheek…has it.”
I looked around but didn’t see the man she described. “Where is he? Where is my orb?” I demanded as I broke another finger of the man in front of me.
“Is this what you seek?” A man with a gruesomely large scar materialized from behind a closed door. He casually strode forward, holding the orb on his palm.
Clio dropped her hands to her sides and moved towards me. She appeared to be on edge as she observed the man. She whispered to me, “Evil.”
My head whipped so fast between the man and the little muse that I almost gave myself whiplash.
“What?” I mutter.
The man with the scar smirked. “I believe she said I was evil.” He took another step forward. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure. The name is Jack.”
I heard an audible gulp come from Clio, her eyes still glowing.
“B-black. All I see is b-black.”
Jack’s eyes flickered to Clio. He looked at her like she was a piece of meat, and I instantly felt territorial.
“Now, why should you have all the pretty things?” He plays with the orb in his hand, rolling it over back and forth. His eyes cut to me in thin slits. “Want to trade?”
Before I could answer, Jack threw the orb into the air, catching me off guard. I reached forward with my hands and shadows, not wanting to lose my precious gift after all these years of searching. I instantly knew I had messed up. The man whose fingers I had been snapping took advantage of his freedom. He grabbed hold of Clio and quickly passed her to Jack. I was caught off guard and hadn’t had to deal with this sort of distraction in a long time.
“Erebus!” Clio screamed.
I held the orb in my hands, taking in my win. I stared down at the treasured gift. I had been searching for it for as long as I could remember. Maybe even longer than my search for Melisseus. I felt the swell of emotion build in my chest, and I momentarily forgot about Clio. Her screams broke my concentration, bringing me back to the here and now. My shadows spread out, but I was too late. Jack had taken my new friend, disappearing into my dark shadows. Her screams became muffled and then cut off abruptly. She had been gagged.
I looked at the glowing orb in my hand. A gift that meant the world to me, I knew some might think it was silly. I stepped forward, tucking the orb into my jacket, my shadows quick on Jack’s tail.
Clio was tougher than I gave her credit for. Even though she was gagged, she continued to scream. She kicked and tried to push away from the men who laughed at her struggles.
My shadows caught up to them, grabbing one of the men at the back of the pack and snapping his neck. He hit the ground dead, and the darkness reached for the next in the group. As my shadows continued to grab men, Clio was able to get her left arm free and punch the man holding her. He loses his grip on her, but it doesn’t matter. Jack was quick and came up behind her, pressing his dagger against her throat.
That’s enough messing around. I threw all my shadows at Jack and stopped short in shock when they bounced off him.
“I have tricks of my own.” He pressed the dagger hard to her throat, blood trickling down her neck. With his free hand, Jack pulled out a vial of dark liquid from his jacket.
Recognizing the Hind’s blood, I yelled, “What do you want?”
Jack’s eyes were black. I had seen this time and time again. Something evil lived inside of him. I knew if I didn’t get Clio away from him soon, there would be one less muse in the world.
Tears slid down Clio’s face.
“Such a pretty immortal. It’s a pity she won’t be around much longer.”
Anger building in the pit of my stomach. I tried my shadows again, but they were unable to reach Jack. He must have some ward or spell protecting him. I decided to go with a different strategy.
“I don’t even know her.” I wanted to see if he was bluffing. “I met her today in the market.”
“I know, it was quite the show you two put on.” He removed the dagger from her neck to scratch his forehead with it, his hold still firmly wrapped around Clio. “An awful lot of money for a pig, if you ask me. But then again, you immortals love to flaunt your riches.”
I smiled. “Is that what you want? Money?”
Jack jostled Clio. “I have what I want right here. A pretty immortal. Oh, imagine all the fun we can have.” He ran his hand down her side, squeezing her breast. “This is much better than the witch.”
I snarled, not liking what he was insinuating.
“Of course, eternal light is always nice.”
My ears perked. I knew what I had to do. I knew how to finish this. It was going to mean losing something dear to me. I looked at the fear in Clio’s eyes and felt an unfamiliar pang. “You’d better be worth it, little piglet.” I pulled the orb from my jacket, and Jack’s smile grew wider. I knew he was just as tired of running from me as I was of chasing him. He wanted the orb but knew he would never be able to rest with me on his trail. I looked at Clio. “Close your eyes.”
“What?” Jack was confused.
I smashed the glowing orb onto the ground, a million pieces of glass and eternal light spraying everywhere. Jack let go of Clio as he tried to protect his eyes, the eternal light blinding him. Clio stumbled forward and into my arms, gripping my robes. Her little body shook in my arms.
The last of the men in Jack’s group fell, the light consuming their eyes and burning their flesh, until nothing was left but ash.
Clio still had her eyes squeezed shut, waiting for me to give her the okay to open them. When the light had finally died out, I reached down and pushed the hair from her face. “You can open your eyes now.”
I studied her, making sure she wasn’t injured. “Are you okay?”
She nods, still shaking slightly. “I-I think so…” She looked behind her and saw what I had done.
I looked at what little remained of the orb and frowned. “Yeah…Oh well.” I shrugged. “It was a nice thought. But it’s just a material possession.” I tried concealing how bummed I was, but I knew Clio could tell. “But do you know how hard it is to find good friends?” I winked at Clio.
Her face broke into a bright smile. “I am so sorry. I promise to make it up to you!” she said, wrapping her arms around me.
I tensed, feeling awkward from Clio’s hug. “Alright, enough,” I said just as my stomach grumbled.
Clio giggled and pulled away. “Dinner?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m famished.” The intimate moment between us had passed.
She laughed again, nodding. “I will make us something good.”
“Pork cutlet?” I cocked my head.
The little muse smacked me in the chest, seeming to have recovered from her brush with death.
“I did lose two things to you today. It’s only fair.” I smirked.
She rolled her eyes, “I am not giving you my pig, buuutt…” she dragged the word out, “I will make you some good fish?”
“Blech, fine. I suppose that’s better than nothing.”
Clio giggled, looping her arm with mine as we walked off the ship.