Terra Vonnel and her sailing master, Coven Breckrill, looked on from the quarterdeck of the Aspen. They had risked their lives countless times and lost several good men along the way. In the end, they had what they had come for, the Orb of Time. Now they would rewrite history, change their fortunes, and conquer the world. But most of all, Terra would have her mother back.
Mount Aries was no more, and in its place, a shell of a mountain engulfed in a blaze of emerald flames.
“I think I like the view from here much better,” Coven said, looking over at Terra.
She smiled as she looked down at the crimson-colored Orb and began to turn its brass dials.
“Yes, I would have to agree.”
Coven leaned forward, placing his hands on the helm.
“So where to now?” he asked with a grin. Even though Coven knew the answer to that question, it felt good to ask.
Terra looked up and stared into the sunrise, its ginger red swirls intertwined with shards of violet, stretching across the horizon. It was beautiful, she thought, almost perfect… but not perfect enough.
“I’m thinking Florida… July… around 1715. I hear it’s quite nice that time of the year,” she replied, sliding the last digit into place.
“Now, Vixen, I’ve seen that look before. Would ye be wantin’ t’steal something?” Coven asked in his best pirate voice.
Terra grinned. “Coven, my friend, a good quest always needs funding.”
They laughed as the sky above the great charcoal ship began to thunder, and in a flash of emerald green, the Aspen vanished.
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The Orb of Time
Terra looked over at Coven, who wore a bewildered look.
“All right, well… that looked painful,” Coven said. I didn’t see that coming!”
“I did,” Terra replied. “Coven, quickly… in my rucksack there is a rope!”
Not sure of what she had in mind, Coven quickly retrieved the rope and threw it to Terra, who stood waiting in the stream. She fashioned the rope together using a series of knots into what looked like a lasso. Swinging the large circle once, then twice, she tossed the rope onto the small podium and pulled it forward. The crimson Orb fell into the water with a splash, and the force of the current sent the Orb rushing toward Terra. With a sweep of her hand, she retrieved the Orb and stepped out of the stream.
“Finally!” she said, holding it up to take a better look.
The Orb itself seemed rather simplistic in its functionality. There were three brass dials that ran across the surface, one for the day, one for the month, and one for the year. As the story goes, one would simply set the time period they wished to travel to, and the orb would activate, sending you there. Simple enough, she thought.
Terra grabbed her rucksack and placed the Orb inside. “It’s time go!”
Coven smiled just as the ground began to shake. Quickly his smile faded into a look of fright.
“Now what?” he asked, sounding defeated.
Above them large onyx rocks that looked more like boulders began to fall from the ceiling as the cave began to crumble from within.
“Now we run!” Terra yelled.
Terra turned to leave the way she had come in, but the rock face had deteriorated to the point that it was impassable. Large cracks began to spread like lightning beneath their feet, emitting small green flames.
“Coven, we’ll need to jump!” she yelled.
“What… jump where?”
Terra ran back into the stream with Coven close behind. Large boulders fell all around them as they reached the edge of the waterfall.
Terra turned to the Sea Ghouls, who stood at attention as the debris rained down.
“Retreat!” she cried out. Their heads shifted as one to regard Terra, then they vanished into the chaos.
Terra turned and fixed her eyes on Coven.
“For the record, Vixen, this is not a good plan!” Coven complained.
“It’s our only chance!” she replied, and with that said she grabbed Coven’s arm and leaped over the edge.
**I will post one Chapter each week, so this may take a while. If you just can’t wait, you can the complete book at Amazon for FREE.
Gate of Monticule
It was a tall, sweeping gate, similar in shape to a teardrop and embedded in the face of the rock. Water rushed through the bottom and over the edge, cascading down into the beautiful twin waterfalls they had seen earlier.
The gate had been meticulously crafted in gold and inlaid with silver ivy tracery that ran like lace across its outer edges. It was everything she had imagined, but what made the gate so remarkable was it had no point of entry, unlike most gates, which had a latch, to one side or the other, or a swing gate that opened in the middle.
The Gate of Monticule instead had, near the top corners of the gate, two small openings, each shaped in the form of a small skull, which served as its locking mechanism.
In the distance, beyond the gate, a small golden podium stood in the center of the rushing stream. Hovering in the center of the podium was a crimson-colored orb–the Orb of Time.
Terra eyed the Orb through the golden gate as if in a trance. To see it with her own eyes after all this time was a dream come true. She had waited, planned, and fought so hard for this moment, and finally here it was. She would soon possess the power to control her destiny and change the past as well as her future. The world would no longer know her as just a thief. It would know her as the most powerful woman in the world!
Terra quickly pulled off the rucksack strapped to her back and removed the twin Skulls of Aries. Holding a skull in each hand, she walked over to the rushing stream and stepped into the water. The water was cold, and the current fast–so fast she almost lost her footing. Slowly she moved forward, inching herself closer to the gate.
“Careful, Vixen,” Coven said as he watched in anticipation.
Marcus, on the other hand, stood as if he were ready to advance. His eyes fixed on Terra as she moved closer to the gate. He knew the first person to touch the Orb of Time would become the keeper, and he had every intention of that person being him!
Now standing just inches away, Terra placed the first skull in the top right corner of the gate. The silver skull slid into place perfectly. There was a slight humming sound before the emerald eyes of the skull illuminated. Holding steady, Terra placed the remaining skull in the top left corner of the gate and stepped back as the emerald eyes came to life in a brilliant flash of light.
Terra watched as the gold gate began to glow a bright green. The top right skull burst into purple flames, followed by the second skull. Slowly the gate began to disappear, taking with it each of the flaming skulls. Terra took one step back, as did Coven, while Marcus took one step forward.
“Marcus, what are you doing?” Coven asked.
Marcus turned and smirked at Coven. “Sorry, old friend, but I need that orb!”
Marcus leaped into the water, sloshing his way past Terra and toward the entrance.
“Vixen!” Coven shouted, but it was too late. Marcus had already reached the entrance.
“Marcus… NO!” Terra shouted.
Marcus was not listening. He entered with his hands outstretched, reaching for the floating orb just as three razor sharp scimitar blades swung out from each side of the entrance. He never stood a chance. In an instant, the blades reduced Marcus to three separate pieces–head, torso, and legs.
The rushing white water turned scarlet as what remained of Marcus floated past Terra and over the edge to the pool below.
**I will post one Chapter each week, so this may take a while. If you just can’t wait, you can the complete book at Amazon for FREE.
With the Vanquisher leading the way and her men behind her, Terra Vonnel was officially scared. The long passageway finally opened up into a vast cavern with twin waterfalls that funneled down like white, snowy curtains into a pool of crystal clear water.
The view was spectacular, with long, lush ivy and beautiful green ferns that protruded from small crevasses in the cavern walls. A water rainbow lay visible in the thin mist just above the falls where she finally saw the golden gates of Monticule.
Overwhelmed, they took in the magnificent sight. Nowhere in all their travels had they encountered such a tranquil oasis.
“Heaven…” Coven whispered. “Vixen, we must be in heaven.”
If it were not heaven, Terra thought, it was close enough for her. The men stood gazing up at the extraordinary beauty they had stumbled upon. They were so engulfed for that brief moment they had forgotten about the passageway and the loss of Vallenbore. They had forgotten about the danger that was now slithering up behind them in the form of a dark shadow.
Moving like a snake, inching its way closer to the party, the dark force crept slowly behind the first of its prey.
Rip was a tall, gangly man. He weighed a hundred pounds, if that. Like the rest of the men, Rip stood mesmerized by the breathtaking scene and was in no way aware of the danger looming behind him.
The dark shadow moved closer, rolling over the jagged terrain before stopping behind Rip. Suddenly a body sprung from the shadow, with a long scorpion-like shape and the head of a dragon.
The barbed stinger exploded through Rip’s chest from behind, sending blood and flesh flying in every direction! Rip screamed in agonizing pain as his body flew high into the air and thrashed aimlessly around.
Startled, Terra spun quickly, withdrawing the Diablo 9 Shooter, and in one swift motion, she fired a shot into the demon’s face.
The three silver bullets ripped through the thick exoskeleton of the dragon’s head. The creature let out an ear- piercing shriek before bursting into green flames and charring the body of Rip.
The remains fell from a height of at least twenty feet. Upon impact, the body shattered like glass.
“This is no heaven, Coven, this is the devil’s lair!” Quinn said, his lip quivering and hands shaking.
“Vixen, what have we done, what evil have we unleashed? I… I… think we should leave and never return to this place!” Marcus said, his wide eyes peering from side to side, searching for the devil beast.
“Enough!” Terra said. “We are here for one thing and one thing only. I suggest you remember that! We stay close to one another, and we move as one.” Terra stared into Marcus’ eyes. “And do not let me hear another word about leaving or I will kill you myself! Do I make myself clear?”
The three remaining men looked at one another then back to Terra. Scared and worried, they acknowledged the Sea Vixen with a simple nod of their heads.
They were all expendable except for Coven. She would miss them, of course, but there was nothing more important than reaching the gate and retrieving the Orb of Time.
“We need to make our way up the rock face to the top of the waterfalls,” she said, pointing the Vanquisher in the direction of the rushing water. “From there, we open the gate, take what we came for, and leave!”
She stared into the eyes of each of the men as she spoke. Quinn and Marcus still looked frightened, but Coven smiled back, nodding his head in agreement.
“Lead the way, Vixen!” Coven said.
Terra turned and made her way to the right side of the rock face. Holstering the Diablo 9 shooter and sheathing the Vanquisher, she began to climb.
Coven, Marcus, and Quinn sheathed and holstered their weapons and followed close behind. The rock face was extremely slippery due to the humidity from the waterfalls and the texture of the onyx-type stone.
As they ascended, Quinn was the first to notice an oval- shaped shadow moving from the cavern floor onto the wall in a sweeping motion.
“Vixen, look… look below!” Quinn yelled.
Terra stopped, her hands and feet placed firmly in the crevices of the cavern wall. She looked down to see what Quinn was squawking about and at first saw nothing. Then a dark shadow crept over the glimmering stone surface, inching its way up behind them.
“Quickly!” she yelled. “To the ledge!”
Terra turned and began to climb as fast as she could. The higher they climbed, the more treacherous it became. The mist had grown thicker, and the rock face dripped with condensation.
Terra was less than twenty feet away when she heard Quinn cry out, “HELP me!” followed by the loud roar of the devil beast.
Terra did not look back. She climbed faster and faster with no time to waste. She knew she had to reach the ledge if she were to stand a fighting chance.
Coven and Marcus were close behind, placing one hand in front of the other as fast as they could. The beast roared behind them as it approached, its heavy breathing just inches away from them now.
“Faster, Coven, faster. The devil is almost on me!” Marcus yelled.
The beast roared once more. The sound of its massive jaws snapping together rang out as Marcus reached the edge of the rock face and heaved himself over.
The beast cleared the edge only to see the Sea Vixen standing before it. With another blast to the face from the Diablo 9 shooter, the beast howled in agony! Quickly she withdrew the Vanquisher from its sheath. Its brilliant blue flame ignited in a blaze of fury. With all her might, Terra Vonnel swung the mighty sword, slashed through the neck of the devil beast, and sent the head and its scorpion torso back to the depths of the onyx cavern.
Coven, on his back, and Marcus, face down, lay gasping for air. Terra was not about to take any more chances; she had already lost more than half her men to the protector of the gate. So to be on the safe side, she called in reinforcements.
Once again she reached for the amulet and summoned her Sea Ghouls. Within minutes, the Ghouls were at Terra’s side.
“Guard!” she commanded. The ghouls turned an about-face and withdrew their swords.
Coven and Marcus slowly got to their feet, their faces still white and drenched in sweat.
“Glad you guys could join us,” Coven said panting.
Terra turned, and for the first time, she was able to see the mysterious Gate of Monticule in its entirety.
**I will post one Chapter each week, so this may take a while. If you just can’t wait, you can the complete book at Amazon for FREE.
The full moon hung high in the night sky like a shining beacon, guiding her through the vast sea to the shoreline of Mount Aries.
In no time Terra and five of her crewmen made their way to shore in a small wooden boat as the Aspen lay anchored in the distance. Terra was the first to step ashore, her black boots sinking deep into the soft sand as she made her way out of the boat and up the beach toward the cavern.
The cave entrance was narrow and damp, and the smell of natural sediments lingered in the warm air. Jagged cavern walls glimmered like onyx as they made their way over and around the sharp stalactites that hung from the ceiling.
“Vixen, we need light,” Coven whispered.
Terra stopped and looked back at the men that trailed behind her. Hunkered down, scared, and with only the whites of their eyes visible, she knew Coven was right. It was too dark and treacherous to continue like this. Each man carried a sword and a pack of supplies. She knew this would be the most dangerous part of the journey, so they had prepared for the worst.
Terra reached for the Vanquisher and unsheathed it. Its blue flame ignited, casting a warm glow throughout the cold, dark cavern, and for the first time, Terra felt her skin crawl.
The cave walls shimmered like diamonds. Emerald-colored water lay stagnant in small pools at their feet, filled by the slow, continuous drip of water from the stalactites above.
Terra lifted the Vanquisher high into the air, so she could survey the area more closely. Now visible were hundreds of human bones that littered the ground, scattered into the far corners of the cave and down the passageway they would need to travel.
It was just fear, she told herself, fear of the unknown, fear as she had faced many times before. It was the devastation surrounding her that gave her good reason to fear the unknown. Whatever was protecting the gate was deadly, perhaps so deadly they might not escape.
Terra made her way up the rock face and back down into the passageway with her men close behind. Coven was closest to her, followed by Rip, Quinn, Marcus, and Vallenbore. Her men could take care of themselves, and she knew that. They were all capable seamen and notorious pirates in their own right. Terra also knew if they were going to survive they would need to stay together and alert. This was going to be dangerous, possibly more dangerous than any of them could conceive. She knew something was here lurking, waiting for an opportunity to strike, but she told herself that was not going to happen.
As Terra made her way deeper into the passageway, she thought she heard a faint whisper. She stopped, turned, and signaled for her men to stop.
“What is it, Vixen?” whispered Coven.
Terra’s wide eyes scanned the passageway as if she were searching for something she could not see. “I… I thought I heard something,” she whispered back.
They stood in silence. Only the echoing of heavy breathing from the men could be heard now.
“Maybe it was nothing, maybe the wind,” Coven said.
“Maybe…” she replied.
Terra turned and started down the passageway once more when the voice whispered again.
“W-w-w-why do you come with six souls?”
The voice was coming from behind them. Terra turned, raising and pointing the Vanquisher back down the narrow passageway as the men shifted and turned to get a better look. The pale blue flame illuminated the passageway, but there was nothing to be seen but darkness.
“Vixen, we need to leave. It is the devil!” Quinn said, terrified.
“We are not leaving. Stand your ground, Quinn,” she snapped back. “And arm yourselves, because whatever is here wants us dead. I will not let anything stop me from reaching that gate!”
Terra turned around and hastened down the passageway. All four crewmen drew their swords; Coven drew both of his revolvers and scurried behind her. The passageway grew higher and wider as they moved forward. Suddenly a piercing cry rang out behind them, and the clank of a sword hitting the ground echoed through the dark passageway.
Terra turned, shining the Vanquisher behind her, to find only four of her men remaining. Vallenbore had vanished.
“Quickly,” she said. “Follow me and do not look back!”
The men did not argue. Their eyes shifted from side to side in panic, a shroud of fear covering their faces as they moved quickly through the passageway, hoping to survive.
A New Heading
Terra reached for the first skull, lifting it from the table and turning the base so it was facing her. There, carved in a foreign language, was half of the incantation, just as her father had claimed.
Just great, Terra thought. I risk my life for a skull with writing I can’t read. Terra turned when she heard a loud knock on her cabin door.
“Vixen, the Mont Delia is below the sea, and it looks like the storm has passed. Do we have a heading yet or should we head to Tortuga again?”
It was Coven. Maybe he knew what the writings said. He was, after all, fluent in several languages. He had been to every port she had heard of and a few she had not. As a pirate he had been just about everywhere and seen just about everything. After all, he had been her father’s sailing master ever since he was Terra’s age. Her father had always said, “I trust few in this world, and that’s why I have stayed alive so long. But if there is one person I trust with my life, it’s Coven.”
“Come in,” she replied.
Coven entered, displaying his typical swagger and boyish grin, then stopped, looking at the skulls and then Terra.
“Well, from the look on your face I can see you haven’t made much progress. Although you are sitting in front of them now so I guess that’s a start.”
Terra rolled her eyes and turned back around. “Yeah, I’m having a bit of a problem.”
She knew Coven was smiling at his own humor, but she was not about to give any indication she thought it was funny. Even though it was probably something she would have said to him.
There was a brief moment of silence as she waited for Coven to give in to curiosity. Finally he cleared his throat and asked, “Okay, I give. What sort of problem?”
Terra began to grin but quickly composed herself as Coven moved to her side.
“I can’t read the stupid thing. The incantation is split between the two skulls, and according to my father I need to recite the entire thing in order to get the map.”
“Hmmm, well, John was seldom wrong, especially when it came to treasure. But it does sound like a bit of a problem for you there, Vixen.”
Terra turned and looked at Coven. “I don’t suppose you know what it says.”
Coven pulled out a pair of thin bifocals from his vest pocket and placed them on the bridge of his nose.
“Let me see.”
Coven took the skull in his hand and brought the base of the skull close to his face, almost touching his nose.
Terra couldn’t help but grin. “Are you sure those things work? Because I have some Night Hag Elixir on the shelf over there that might do the trick!”
Coven’s eyes shifted from the skull to Terra. “I can see just fine, Vixen, but thank you for your concern.” Then he placed the skull back on the table, removed his glasses, and placed them neatly in his pocket.
“Well?” she said. You could hear the excitement in her voice now.
“Well what?” he replied.
Terra’s head tilted slightly to one side. “Can you read it or not?”
“Yes, I can read it,” he said with a smirk then turned and walked away.
“Coven!” she proclaimed.
Coven stopped, turned, and faced Terra.
“Take it back?” he said.
Terra looked puzzled. “Take what back?”
“The eye thing. Take it back or I will not read your silly little skull!” he replied with one eyebrow raised.
Coven was more than a little sensitive about his eyesight. He was only twenty-three and hated the fact he needed bifocals to read. The two revolvers strapped to his chest lost a lot of their intimidation factor when he was wearing bifocals. Besides, who wanted to be known as the four-eyed pirate? Terra understood this, and she almost laughed out loud just thinking about it.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry about the eye joke, but I hear the elixir does wonders for the old. Why do you think I got it?”
Coven didn’t say a thing. He just turned again and headed for the door.
“Coven, stop. I’m sorry. I won’t say another word. I’ll be nice.” Coven sighed, and turned again to face her. This time Terra stuck out her bottom lip and batted her eyelashes.
Coven rolled his eyes. “Please stop. You look pathetic!”
Coven walked back to the skull, putting on his bifocals. He picked it up once more, holding it to the tip of his nose.
“It’s written in Vendelli,” he said.
Terra sighed. “That much I know.”
Coven peered down at her through his glasses again and signed.
“Sorry,” she said, looking like a scolded child.
Coven cleared his throat and continued. “Blocked is the way unless you posses my mate. She is my soul and she is my fate.”
Terra reached for the other skull and handed it to Coven. He took the skull and read on. “Separate we are nothing and hold no answers. But together we are one and shall show you the gate.”
They stared at each other for a moment, waiting for something to happen.
“Now what?” Coven asked.
Terra shot him a frustrated look.
“You’re asking me?” she replied.
Coven stared into the emerald green eyes. “Hmmm, maybe we should put them down next to one another and say it.”
Terra nodded her head. “Why not!”
Coven placed the two Skulls of Aries back on the table facing one another. Then he grabbed a piece of parchment and a pen from the table and lifted each skull, writing down its portion of the incantation. Once he was done he turned to look over at Terra one last time.
“Ready?” he asked.
Terra stood up slowly and grabbed the Diablo from the table and strapped it on. Next she took the Vanquisher and unsheathed it. The light blue flame ignited, and Terra took one step back.
“I am now.”
Coven took a deep breath and began to recite the incantation.
“Blocked is the way unless you posses my mate. She is my soul and she is my fate. Separate we are nothing and hold no answers. But together we are one and shall show you the gate.”
Terra and Coven held their breath, their eyes fixated on the silver skulls. A soft hum began to resonate from each skull, and the emerald eyes began to glow.
Terra slowly pulled the Diablo from its holster and targeted the closest skull just to be on the safe side.
With each passing moment the glow became brighter. Coven took one step back and placed his hand on Terra’s shoulder.
Terra was about to join him when two streams of green light burst from each of the skulls, connecting in the space between them. There was a quick flash, and Terra and Coven shielded their eyes.
The humming grew louder. They could feel the vibration in the floor beneath their feet. It was as if they were in an earthquake in the middle of the ocean. Terra heard the mug of tea fall from the table, followed by the sounds of other objects crashing all around them. She felt Coven’s hand grip her shoulder, then just as quickly as it had started the sound suddenly stopped.
Terra’s body felt numb. She could still hear the humming sound coming from somewhere in front of her.
Slowly she opened one eye and then the other.
“Will you look at that!” she said in astonishment.
Still standing next to Terra, Coven dropped his arm from his face and opened his eyes.
There floating in mid air a few feet away was a map made of emerald light.
“And I thought I had seen everything,” he whispered and pulled off his bifocals.
Terra lowered the Diablo and Vanquisher at the same time and took one step forward. Coven followed.
“I know this place,” Coven said, his eyes moving rapidly over the map now. “It’s beyond Dead Man’s Lair. It’s uncharted. No one has ever been out that far.”
Terra took another step forward, running her hand underneath the map as if expecting to find something.
“Well, apparently the Vendelli have,” she said, looking over at Coven.
“Yeah, looks that way,” he replied, still staring at the floating image.
Terra holstered the Diablo and sheathed the Vanquisher.
“It looks like we have our heading now,” she said.
Coven looked down at his glasses, folded them neatly together, and placed them back in his vest pocket. Then he turned to Terra and with his boyish grin replied, “Yes, I think we do.”
This was a long time coming, and she hoped her father had been right… that apart from being gate keys, the skulls also contained a hidden map to Mount Aries.
No one knew the true location of Mount Aries. There were plenty of stories of pirates that had run across it, but every story ended the same way. No pirate that ever found Mount Aries had lived to tell about it.
Terra had her own theories about the legendary island, and hers were based on fact, not fabricated stories. After all, her father had met one of the ancient descendants that actually hid the Skulls of Aries to protect its treasure–a treasure thought to be too powerful for humankind. The race was called the Vendelli. Its members were human for the most part, but at the same time they possessed reptilian features. Their eyes were like those of a snake, with slits for pupils and no eyelashes. Their tongues were said to be forked under close inspection, and their skin had patches of scales visible only in the moonlight. Her father claimed they wore veils and long robes to hide their features. Legend had it they walked among us as diplomats and infiltrators, pretending to be humans.
It was this Vendelli that her father had saved more than thirteen years ago in a battle in the Caribbean. Before succumbing to injuries sustained in battle, he told her father of the Skulls of Aries and the treasure they protected. It wasn’t until after Terra’s mother’s death that her father became obsessed with finding it. If the Skulls of Aries protected a treasure that could go back in time, then perhaps he could save his wife before the killer got to her. That was his plan anyway.
Terra’s mother was his one true treasure. Piracy came naturally for her father, but his love for her mother was like no treasure he had ever found or would ever find again. It was a little over two years ago that Terra had taken her father’s place in searching for the Skulls of Aries. He had fallen ill, and from what she heard, he was not getting any better.
The Skulls were just the first step to finding and saving her mother. They still needed to narrow down the date and, of course, find the killer. The date was a problem because her father had been away on a hunt as usual and Terra was only five at the time. Her mother was murdered in her sleep and not discovered until weeks later when her father had returned.
As for the killer… there was a long list of suspects—even spanning different races–who wanted to see her father in shanks… or better yet, dead! The Goblins were at the very top of that list and with good reason. Terra’s father had been wanted by the Goblin race for as long as she could remember. In his youth, he had stolen their sacred artifact known as the Vanquisher, which in time he had given to his daughter.
The magical weapon was forged as a gift for the Goblin king, Talon Kor, by a race known as the Nitra. Terra’s father discovered its location the night before the ceremony and stole it from Nitra’s forge. Once King Talon received word the one of a kind sword was stolen he was outraged. In retribution for their carelessness the king ordered his armies of Goblins to destroy Nitra city. He spared no one, and for several years after the massacre the Goblins hunted down the remaining Nitra like animals until every last one was dead. They never did find Terra’s father, but somehow they managed to find her mother–or so Terra thought. There was still something that burned in her mind. Why would they kill her mother and leave Terra alive? Why not wait for her father to return and kill him, too? After all, he was the one that had stolen the sword. These were questions Terra would have answers to someday, she thought.
Terra had survived on bread and water left in the house at the time. She still remembered crying at the foot of her mother’s bedroom door, hoping and praying that it would open. Those prayers were never answered. Her mother had been killed by someone, or something, leaving Terra alone.
It was at the age of five that Terra knew one day she would find this person, this thing, and put an end to its life. She had the Skulls of Aries now, but she needed the Orb of Time if she was to go back and save her mother.
Terra was a natural when it came to piracy. She had learned from the best, most notorious pirate that had ever lived. His family had remained a secret because he wanted them protected, kept safe from the people that hunted him. In the end, there was no place safe enough for the man she called father and the world called Bartholomew Roberts.
Terra carefully opened the rucksack and removed one skull at a time, placing them carefully on the table facing her. The skulls were made of silver, with small horns that curled down and extended outward on both ends. The emerald eyes, made from some kind of jewel Terra had never seen, were set deep in the sockets.
The Vendelli were afraid that the Orb of Time would be used to change the outcome of battles, thereby changing the fate of the world. Being a pirate, Terra had different plans. Once she had stolen the Orb of Time, time, as it were, would be on her side. She would need funding for her quest, and that meant stealing a little something here and there. She liked treasure in general, but she loved the rare, one-of-a-kind treasures the most. What woman doesn’t like to collect a little something for herself? she thought. Terra planned to become the richest woman in the world while at the same time seeking out her mother’s killer. She would like to have taken credit for that brilliant plan, but it was in fact her father’s idea. “A quest needs funding,” he liked to say, and funding they would have. They would also find the answers they were looking for if it was the last thing Terra ever did.
Terra reached for the chair near the map desk and pulled it over to the table. She slowly sat back in the chair, her gaze fixed on the pair of emerald eyes staring back at her.
She found their penetrating stare more than a little creepy. It was as if they were staring into her soul.
Her father had told her that not only did she need both skulls to unlock the Gate of Monticule, but she would need both skulls to even find Mount Aries. According to her father, inscribed at the base of each skull was one piece of the incantation. When read aloud together they would activate the skulls, displaying a secret map that would reveal the location of Mount Aries.
Once aboard the Aspen, Terra removed her weapons and placed them on the small table in her cabin. Cannon fire rang out as the Sea Ghouls lay waste to the Mont Delia, sending her and the remains of her crew to Davey Jones’ Locker.
The flicker of soft candlelight illuminated the dark walls of the captain’s quarters. After years at sea, the Aspen had become more than just a ship to Terra; it had become her home. The Aspen was a rare, magical vessel. It was the only ship known to man to have been built by witches. The Witches of Montoria had built the Aspen back in the late 1700s. A period referred to as the “Burning Times” had led to the execution of about half a million witches throughout Europe. This battle raged on from the 1400s until 1792, when the last of the witches had been destroyed. In a last ditch effort, High Priestess Ersilia Aspentainia commanded the Witches of Montoria to build their first and only battleship. It was said that Ersilia had given her power of healing to the great ship, a transfer of magic that in the end cost Ersilia her life. Bearing the name of her creator, the Aspen set sail. Quickly it became known as “the ship of a thousand lives.” Whenever it was damaged in battle, the ship was known to miraculously heal itself as if it were alive. The ship itself was responsible for destroying several hundred armadas during the war. It became the most notorious ship on the high seas and feared by all. In the end, not even the Aspen could save the witches from complete annihilation. Only a handful of Montoria Witches remained as a crew when they set sail into the unknown, never to be seen again. Some say the witches committed suicide; some say they joined Ersilia, giving their souls to the ship. No one knows what really happened. The Aspen was never heard of again–until two years ago, when Terra discovered her adrift in a fog bank near the city of Tunis in the Mediterranean. To this day, Terra was unable to explain what drew her to the coastal waters. Part of it stemmed from a dream she’d had the night before. In the morning, she gave Coven the coordinates for Tunis, not knowing why she should go, knowing only that she must.
Two years later the Aspen had become as famous as she was back then. Nothing about her appearance had changed except for her sails, which no longer carried the insignia of the Montoria coven. Instead, the Aspen was fitted with blood-red sails and the crest of the Sea Vixen, which consisted of the sun, the initials S V, two dragons, two revolvers, and the Vanquisher.
Terra stood as if in a trance. She was tired now, and even with the Skulls of Aries in her possession there was still more work to be done. The bright moon that had finally emerged from the once billowing clouds poured through the four large windows on the port side of her cabin. Just under the windows was a map table, a red-cushioned chair, and a half-bookshelf with a large Victorian oval washbasin. The floor and walls were the same charcoal gray as the rest of the Aspen, with accents of red in the form of pillows, rugs, and drapes. A short, winding staircase set in the center back wall led up to the top loft, where her bed, clothes, and a small writing desk were. Small artifacts littered the shelves on the starboard side of the room. It was Terra’s private treasure collection, which had been acquired during past adventures.
“Where would you like this, Vixen?” a voice asked from behind. Terra turned to see Coven standing there holding a rucksack in one hand and a mug in the other.
Coven was a tall, thin pirate with neck-length brown hair and hazel eyes. He wore a white collared shirt and burgundy vest inlaid with Asian embroidery, black pants, and boots. His weapons of choice were two Italian revolvers given to him by her father for his eighteenth birthday. They were strapped to him at all times in crisscrossing holsters around his chest.
“On the table is fine,” she said and moved her weapons to the side to make more room.
Coven placed the rucksack on the table and handed her the mug.
“You best drink it while it’s still hot,” he said.
“Tea?” she asked.
“Yes, the green kind you’re so fond of.”
Terra smiled. Coven’s innocence was at times charming. He was a pirate through and through so the finer things often escaped him. He was not one to appreciate the robust flavor of a good imported tea, or the comforts of a cabin that reminded her of home. For Coven his home had always been the sea, and his comforts consisted solely of his pistols.
“It’s not really green, silly.”
Coven smirked and stared back at Terra as if waiting to see if she were going to drink it.
She looked at Coven for a minute and then turned the mug and peered inside.
“It’s not green, is it?” Terra asked, a little worried now.
When Terra looked back at Coven, the corners of his mouth began to curl upwards. “Will that be all, Vixen? I do have a ship to run, you know?” Before Terra could answer, Coven turned and walked out of her cabin, closing the door behind him.
Terra looked back down at the mug and sniffed it just to make sure. To her relief she could smell the bittersweet combination of leaves and flowers with hints of citrus that she recognized as being from her father’s private collection back home. He had secretly packed it away for her before she left more than two years ago. She was just fifteen back then when she left home to complete the quest her father had become too ill to finish.
Terra took a small sip of tea and realized Coven was right. It was hot, but it felt good on the back of her throat, especially now that it was still sore from the vampire’s chokehold on her neck.
Terra sat the mug down next to the rucksack on the table. Now to find out the secret location of Mount Aries, she thought.
Still on her knees, she looked up at the vampire. His right hand gripped his silver cutlass, and in the left hand was the Skull of Aries.
Long black hair fell like a curtain around his face, and his violet, cat-like eyes pierced through the shiny black veil. Dragos wore a black vest with matching trousers, tall black boots, and a cloak. Dangling from his left ear was a long earring that resembled a shark tooth. He wore four rings on each hand, the facets of the various jewels reflecting the flame of the Vanquisher as he approached.
“Is this what you were looking for?” he asked smugly.
Terra could not respond at first. Her hands were trembling, and she could barely keep her grasp on the Vanquisher.
“Dragos… Funny finding you here,” she gasped. “Looks like you could really use some sun there, big boy.”
Dragos smiled, his long white canines visible now. “Surely you didn’t think you could win? That you could outsmart me, little girl?”
Terra lowered her head to the floor of the hull and screamed out in agony. The throbbing pain had reached the top of her spine and began numbing its way down. She knew it was only a matter of minutes before complete paralysis set in. She had to do something and do it quickly.
“You know this is no way to treat a lady,” she said, panting. “I might have to gut you for this!”
She was obviously in no position to do anything of the sort; it was more of a ploy to keep him distracted. Dragos was a vampire, but first and foremost he was a man, and all men love to boast, especially egotistical maniacs like Dragos.
“Yes, quite painful, isn’t it?” he asked mockingly.
“How… how are you doing this?” she cried out, her head rolling from side to side. She did not care how he was doing it; she just needed it to stop.
As Terra gasped in pain, she slowly reached for the Amulet of Demons. She grasped it in her fist and through gritted teeth spoke the incantation.
“You see, Vixen, you are just a frail child–a mortal child at that.”
Pain and anger intertwined, fusing into rage just as the bow hatch behind him burst open and the Sea Ghouls emerged. Dragos turned just in time as the first Ghoul approached. With pallid skin and bloodshot eyes, the mutilated corpse stabbed at Dragos, filled with an eerie vengeance.
Dragos parried the sword downward and countered with a vicious swing to the neck. The Sea Ghoul’s head flew into the air and onto the floor as three more engaged.
Now was the time to attack, Terra thought. With the pain still swirling around in her head, she leaped forward, thrusting the Vanquisher deep into Dragos’ back.
Dragos screamed in pain, arching backward with both arms held wide. The Vanquisher’s blazing blue tip protruded from the vampire’s chest. Dragos’ sword fell from his hand, but he continued to grasp the Skull of Aries.
Terra withdrew the Vanquisher from behind as the three swords of the Sea Ghouls simultaneously impaled Dragos’ chest. Again Dragos screamed out in pain as he fell to his knees.
“Stop!” Terra yelled.
The three Sea Ghouls froze, their swords embedded deep in the chest of Dragos. Their heads turned in unison, staring at Terra, their long, blood-stained teeth visible now. They were hungry. They needed to feed and they wanted Dragos badly.
“Withdraw,” she commanded.
The Ghouls withdrew their swords, sheathed them, and took one step back as if they were soldiers. Terra moved to the side of Dragos, who was panting and spitting up blood now. Once in front of him, she began to smile.
“I think you have something that belongs to me,” she said casually.
Dragos’ pale face was blue from the reflection of the Vanquisher. A small, fleshy hole lay smoldering in his chest where she had impaled him from behind.
“How… how are you able to control them…” he grunted. “What sorcery have you done?”
Still smiling, Terra stepped closer to Dragos. She wanted to look him in the eye. He seemed scared now and in pain. Just the way she liked her vampires.
“It’s not sorcery, Dragos. It’s the Vonnel charm. Some men just can’t resist.”
She raised the Vanquisher so he could feel the heat of the flame on his face. “This is going to sting a little, handsome.”
With a quick downward stroke, Terra severed Dragos’ arm, which held the Skull of Aries. Dragos screamed, his body cringing as the arm fell to the floor with a thud.
“You see, you hurt me, Dragos,” she said, staring into his violet eyes. “I told you that was no way to treat a lady, and I meant it.”
Suddenly she could feel her head beginning to tingle with another twinge of pain. He was doing it again, trying to get into her mind. He was not as strong this time, she thought. He was too weak now; the pain was causing him to lose focus.
Terra moved the Vanquisher’s tip to his throat. The flame singed his skin. She leaned in closer and whispered, “You disappoint me, Dragos.”
She reached down, her eyes fixed on his, and removed the skull from the hand of the severed arm. Gradually, with the Vanquisher still at his throat, she moved backward between the Sea Ghouls.
She paused, giving Dragos one final look.
“There is something you should know about me, Dragos. I don’t like head games. No girl does.” She grinned. “Kill him!”
In an instant, the Ghouls had Dragos surrounded. His screams rang out, loud and agonizing at first, but gradually they faded away into the carnivorous consumption of the bloodthirsty Sea Ghouls.
Terra turned and walked back through the dark hull, stepping over the dead bodies, her eyes fixated on the silver skull with horns and emerald eyes.
The battle was over, and she had won. Finally, she had retrieved the missing piece to unlock her destiny. She was one step away from having everything she ever wanted, and there would be nothing to stand in her way.
The bowels of the Mont Delia were almost unbearable. On the hull floor the decaying flesh of past victims sent up an ungodly odor. Unmanned cannons lined the sides, with several crates and treasure chests scattered at each end of the ship. The moonlight seeped through the cannon portholes as Terra raised the Vanquisher once again.
Her shadow flickered around the room as she slowly made her way past the rotting corpses. Their cold gray eyes stared up into nothingness, their faces frozen with their dying expressions.
Then from the shadows, like a hiss from a slithering serpent, Count Dragos’ voice cut through the darkness.
“You should not have come, Vixen.”
His voice was more than a hiss, she thought, more than just the crude tongue of a vampire. It was smooth, elegant, almost intoxicating.
For a moment, Terra felt her mind begin to drift as she lost focus on what she was doing. She felt calm, the tense feeling leaving her body. What was happening? What was he doing? Quickly Terra snapped out of it as if splashed in the face with cold water. She immediately swung the Vanquisher in the direction of the voice.
“Well, give me the skull and I’ll be on my way,” she replied, her eyes still scouring the room.
For a moment, there was silence, nothing but the sound of the storm and the crashing waves above. The fighting had stopped, and she had assumed her Sea Ghouls by now were sitting down to a nice dinner of the undead.
Then he spoke again. “I’m sorry, Nina, but I cannot do that.”
Terra felt her heart skip a beat and the blood drain from her face. That name… How did he know? There was only one person in Terra’s life who had ever called her by her middle name, and that was her father.
“What… what did you say?” she stammered.
Then again from the shadows the smooth voice echoed the name, this time more slowly and more precise. “Nina.”
Her mind was racing now. How did he know her father? Did he find him? Had he tracked him down looking for the skulls?
Dragos spoke again as if reading her thoughts.
“Yesss,” he said. “Now you see what this has cost you, don’t you?”
No, please, please not that, she thought. He was all she had left. He had raised Terra almost singlehandedly since the age of five following her mother’s death.
It was in that moment Terra remembered something her father once told her. In one of his many tales of his adventures, he had mentioned a rare breed of vampires that possessed remarkable abilities. They were unlike most of the bloodthirsty hunters Terra had encountered over the years. These vampires her father spoke of had psychic abilities with which they could probe their victims’ minds. Although rare–and perhaps more folklore than anything–the idea was not entirely beyond the realm of possibility.
Psychic vampires dig deep into the mind, soul, and emotions of their victims, as well as their mental processes, he said. Processes that take place within the individual are not visible or measurable in the physical world.
Is this what Dragos was doing? Was he looking into her mind, digging deep to find out what haunts her, what she values, what she holds sacred? Was he trying to kill her from within?
Then her answer came in a surge of relentless pain, sending Terra to her knees as waves of uncontrollable pressure came crashing into her mind.
It was at that moment Dragos emerged from the shadows. His movements were slow, methodical, and agonizingly graceful. The vampire’s shadow stretched across the wooden hull, creeping toward Terra.