The sun had just begun to sink down on the horizon when the cool breezes of the night started to blow across the decks of the small merchant vessel, the Lotus. The upper decks were all but abandon, save for a man at the helm and another in the crow’s nest. On the lower deck, the rest of the crew had gathered for the evening meal. Most had finished and moved onto drinking, all in high spirits as they chatted and gambled. Only one person sat away from the loud rabble. Reagan sat in the corner of the room, as far removed from the others as possible. She still picked at her dinner, finding trouble keeping down the half-rotted stew they’d been eating for nearly a month now. If they weren’t so close to their destination, she’d have considered throwing herself over the side just to end her misery. “Weigh-hay and up she rises!” Reagan glared over to the group of men who had broken into song, all swaying and laughing at their pathetic attempt at music. As if it was not hard enough to keep her food down with how hot and humid it was in the room, now it seemed impossible. She pushed the bowl away from herself and stood to go. It would be much quieter outside. “What do we do with a drunken sailor?” Reagan doubted they’d like her answer to that. She headed toward the door, sticking to the walls to avoid detection. Most of the men ignored her as a rule, but they were less predictable when they drank. All it would take was one trying to be friendly for her cover to blown. She slipped out of the room and headed for the upper decks. It seemed with each passing day it was becoming harder and harder to hide herself. For now, the crew believed that they had picked up some poor boy in the last port looking for money and a way to travel the world. None of them knew they had taken a woman instead. She had begun disguising herself as a boy to work on ships many years ago. All it took was baggy clothing and an old hat to cover her long hair. She was short and thin as well, which added to her act. Recently, though, people had begun to question just how mature she appeared. Time on the open sea had begun to show on her skin and face. She feared it would not be long before she had to give up this life and move on to something else. She stopped when she reached the upper deck, sighing with relief as she sat down by the ship’s edge. It was nice to just listen to the sound of the waves. She reached up and pulled her tattered hat off, allowing her dark brown waves to come down for a moment. She touched the ends with her fingertips for a moment, her hazel eyes growing distant as a memory surfaced. It was of her mother’s soft hair as she held Reagan close after returning home from her work. A much simpler time; one she tried not to dwell on too often. Her gaze shifted to look out over the ocean. The only light to be seen now was that of the moon and stars. It was almost peaceful, save for the occasional muted chorus from below. She let her eyes close, losing herself in the moment. _______________________________________________________________________________________ What the small vessel did not realize was that they were being watched. About a league away, another ship was sailing. On the bow of the ship, a man stood alone. His crystal blue gaze was fixed on the other ship, a sight only he could see. Squall was always the first to see other ships, which was why he often stood as watch despite his position as first mate. His “abilities” allowed him to sea for miles if he so chose. It was one of the few uses for his curse. A low growl escaped his throat as he closed his eyes. His hand went to his head as he fought for control of himself, pushing back the beast within that fought to escape. After a moment of struggle, he opened his eyes once more. They had returned to their natural deep blue shade, though pain still lingered in them. He panted as he ran his fingers through his pale blond hair, waiting for his mind to fully clear once more so he could think. A sigh escaped his lips as he looked up again, his usual scowl in place once more. This ship would not be difficult to take down. From what he could make out, the crew was barely bothering to keep an eye out. The pirates would be on them before they even knew another ship was in range. Squall looked back to the deck, searching for the nearest crewman. “Williams,” he growled when he spotted the man a few feet away, “Get over here.” The man glanced around nervously, but complied. He came closer though, he still left a good foot of space between himself and the first mate, “Need something?” “Tell the captain we’ll reach the ship by sunrise.” “Aye, aye,” Williams replied before backing up toward the lower deck. Squall turned back toward the sea, ignoring the other man. Most of the crew feared him. Once it had been for his temper and reputation to punish any who questioned the captain. Now they feared him for what the curse had made him; a wild animal with the skin of a man. He glared at the horizon. It was better not to think of it. He needed to focus on the task at hand. His eyes grew lighter as he resumed his watch. It would not be long now.