Excerpt, Chapter 1
Kyros – July
Caracas was a city on top of itself. Adobe homes stacked together as the hills rolled away from the shore and spiked suddenly into cliff-side. There was cheer here, and good food, but the very language reminded Kyros that he was failing.
Wedged into a corner of the tavern, Kyros held his blond hair back and drained his third cup of mead. The quick conversation washed over him. He didn’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, that was always Araceli’s purview. Without her it was all he could do to pantomime another drink out of the woman taking his money.
Kyros let his head thump against the wall and carefully assessed his level of drunkenness. It was far lower than he desired. His fingers found nothing left in his coin purse. That was happening far too often lately. Kyros pushed the mug to the edge of his table and fished a crumpled letter out of his jacket pocket. The paper still crackled- he only received the notice this morning.
I cannot provide the sort of information you’re seeking and, frankly, I find this turn in our conversation alarming. Whatever you want with the spirits of this world, leave me out of it. I’m sure there are witches a-plenty who will take your coin—
Kyros crumpled the letter again in one fist and swallowed his anger. It was a pair of witch twins that got him into this mess, cursing him to lose one life in exchange for another. Without a medium or some religious man to help, Kyros had exactly one option left. He was still reluctant to suggest it.
After seven months of dead ends, much of the crew wondered why the captain of the Trovita still followed Kyros around. He’d heard the whispers. He could only hope to be as expert a lover as the rumors painted him to be. Eric’s dog-like loyalty would be strange to see from outside, he supposed. But Kyros had paid those witches in more than blood and Eric was a reminder of what he’d lost more than he was a comfort. With two ships, most of the trade in these waters didn’t stand a chance against them. So, of course, Kyros spent every waking moment hopping from port to port instead, looking for an expert in spirits who was willing to crack a jar holding one back.
And after seven months Araceli’s spirit was still trapped in the jar with Ghalil, a monster that desired only blood.
Kyros tore apart the letter in his hands. It was useless. He lunged out of his chair, the anger in his blood pushing him to action. He was pissed at himself for failing Araceli, pissed at the world for failing her, livid that nothing had come of over half a year of research.
He blinked in the afternoon sun. A crow cawed. Kyros flinched. He didn’t need that reminder either. He moved away from the tavern in huge strides. His dull, patchwork jacket clashed with the white-washed beauty that was Caracas city. Women in sun-bright skirts flowed through the streets while men shaded themselves with wide hats during their work on the docks.
They parted before him, a Greek stranger in their bronze company. At the dock, Eric’s pale cheekbones stood out as easily. Kyros watched him negotiate with the local shipsmith, long arms wide in emphasis. They hadn’t come to an agreement by the time Kyros strode up the dock. Eric dismissed the man with an impatient sneer. Kyros had put that expression on his face more than once in the last year. It used to excite him, Eric used to excite him, now all he felt was frustration.
He and the shipsmith passed each other on the dock and shared a sympathetic look.
“Vindex, we’re going pirating or we’re penniless.” Oh, the last name was not a good sign. Eric made a rude gesture down the dock, “The smiths think they can charge us double, I can either restock on pork or rum, but not both, and for all the island hopping we haven’t caught a single rumor on this quest of yours.” He poked Kyros’ chest, bending so his dreadlocks fell across his shoulders. “Something needs to change.”
Eric straightened and pulled a hand down his face. “We need some better luck around here.”
Kyros grabbed Eric’s shoulder, “I agree. I think it’s time for a different tactic. We haven’t made any progress and we’re only irritating the crew.”
Eric’s tension seemed to melt away under Kyros’ hand. Kyros regretted putting that kind of burden on Eric, but he didn’t have a choice. Araceli was waiting for them to figure this out. Eric’s eyebrows fell with his shoulders, like a sigh. “You think so? Good. Finally. I’ll let the crew know.” His eyes unfocused, already planning the route, “Where do you want to start? Saint Kitts? Guadeloupe?”
Kyros took a fortifying breath, “Lamar’s Plantation up north.”
Eric’s eyes refocused on him with the slow intensity of a panther. Kyros had time enough to watch them darken with his anger. Philippe Lamar wasn’t a topic Kyros brought up lightly, but he’d run out of options. Eric had to know this was coming sooner or later. Araceli was trapped with a spirit Eric had stolen from Lamar over six years ago. It was Lamar who could help them now.
Eric crossed his arms. Kyros ran a hand through his hair and fought to maintain eye contact.
Eric – A Minute Later
Eric clenched his teeth and hugged his arms tightly against his chest. His vision blurred, sending colors of Kyros in different directions. If Eric never saw Lamar again it would be too soon. He was free, finally untethered from the spirit Lamar had bound to him, and Kyros expected him to go back? Did Kyros not think years of that demon’s torture was enough? Eric wanted to put this all behind him. He thought he finally had that chance…
Of course, nothing stood in the way of Vindex and his quartermaster.
“No,” he said. It was past time Kyros let this go. The woman was a spitfire, sure, but there was nothing left of her in that jar. Ghalil would have already seen to that. “No,” he said again, and blinked his eyes open. “You need to sail out and drop that jar into the ocean. You need to forget that it ever existed.”
“Excuse me?” As Kyros’ eyebrows came together in offense, Eric burned with anger. Kyros knew what he thought of this venture. Surely this wasn’t any kind of surprise.
And to ask him to sail back to Lamar? A third time? Was no trauma off limits? “Six years, Kyros.” Eric grabbed a handful of his own shirt. “I had that monster in my skin for six years and Lamar put it there. I slaughtered people in the hundreds. And you want me to go back?” He scoffed.
Eric paced away, then spun back on his toes. “No. There’s no discussion about this. You’re going to drop that jar off the side and we’re going to demolish a trade ship to… to get your mind off of this. It’s time you start caring for your ship and crew. The crew that are still alive.” Eric swung his arm toward the Hawk bobbing quietly offshore.
Kyros stalked closer, his shorter stature irrelevant in his fury. “Get my mind off of it? Are you daft? Araceli is stuck in that jar with a beast trying to kill her. You of all people should know what tortures she’s enduring—”
“I do know!” Eric yelled, his eyes a little wide, his breath a little desperate. His heart raced. “She’s dead. The first thing Ghalil did was skin her soul to ribbons and now it’s dancing in her blood.” Kyros flinched away from him and Eric pressed the advantage, “When you open that jar you won’t find anything but that monster’s laughter.”
Kyros paled. He pushed past Eric and ran for a dinghy. Eric stood on the dock and watched him row away, too angry to admit he may have gone too far. Kyros’ loyalty was admirable but it was going to kill them all. They should have dropped that jar in the middle of the ocean the second it sealed. With every day they came closer to Ghalil finding a way to crack the seal and escape. A year, the witches said. Maybe two. Eric refused to risk it any longer.
He took a calming breath and shoved his hands into his coat pockets. Kyros would see reason in the morning.
Eric paced the dock for much of the afternoon, making alternate plans for when Kyros came to his senses. They could make the short hop up to Saint Kitts without too much trouble. That port was popular this season, offering high prices for raw sugar cane. And the Trovita Eric sailed was equipped with two cannonades in addition to her fifty guns; it was likely they could intimidate most targets into surrendering.
Even if Kyros decided to stay and forfeit his life for his foolish mission.
A crow perched on a post and cawed at him as he paced by. When Rutger and Stefano returned from their walkabout, Eric took a dinghy back to the Trovita with them.
The mood on his ship was dull—had been falling for weeks now. Eric’s simmering anger didn’t help. He barked for Sven on his way down to the first gundeck. His quartermaster came up from below. “Sir?”
“Make sure we’re ready to go at first light. Anyone not on board is left behind.” Eric yanked his private door open.
“Where are we headed?”
“North, to Saint Kitts. It’s time we had a spot of real pirating around here.” Eric closed the door, trusting his second in command to handle preparations. He dug out his roll of charts and thumbed through until he found their local waters. Irritation boiled under his skin. Kyros was a good man, and a good pirate, but his sense of honor was blinding him to the truth. Araceli was long dead. Nothing and no one could survive close quarters with Ghalil. Eric was convinced he only lived thanks to regular sacrifices of blood. Rivers of blood.
Eric coughed to clear the sense-memory from his throat and grit his teeth. Why was he still here, following Kyros to the brink of poverty? His men wouldn’t tolerate this for much longer—it was something of a miracle he hadn’t been voted out of position already.
If Kyros wasn’t going to see sense, Eric had to break free of him. For the sanity of his own crew. Maybe it was time he cleared his head. Kyros was loyal and commanded loyalty, but if he couldn’t bend to see to Eric’s crew as well…
Eric dug into his trunk. He’d stolen it once from Lamar years ago, ignorant of what it contained, how it would change him. A three-prong star was branded into the top of the box, E. I. Co. He didn’t know what it stood for. Eric pulled out a large book he and Kyros had snatched from Lamar last year. It contained every detail the man had ever discovered about spirits, many gleaned from experiments he’d performed on his slaves at the plantation. It was gruesome, but the book had helped them manage Ghalil until they could put it away in a jar for good.
Kyros had done that. He’d taken Eric’s burden as his own, fought tooth and nail for a solution, and when Eric had lost all hope, Kyros had come charging in with a sunstone—who even knew where he’d found one—and freed Eric from the monster that had dictated his life for six years.
Eric let the book thump onto his table. He owed Kyros his life. And likely the lives of his current crew. Eric pressed his lips into a line. He had to think of his crew, no matter what his heart desired.
He drafted a letter to Kyros.
Araceli – Date Unknown
Araceli breathed. It was the only thing she was absolutely sure of. She felt thinly spread—smoke-like—and her heart raced. She sensed confinement. Most of the time it was large, a distant concern, but in moments like this the curved walls pressed in close and reminded her she wasn’t alone.
Something else moved. Something wet and muscled. She shuddered to touch it. It whispered to her but Araceli couldn’t make sense of the words.
Then her enclosed walls sprung back into the wide open and Araceli had room to exist. Room to see. Room to remember.
She lunged to her feet and scrambled away from Ghalil. Her heart thumped and breath came and went too quickly. Her surroundings were dream-like in logic. Araceli found herself passing from crowded marketplace, to dense jungle, and back again without warning. It made sense to find acres of wild places inside the smallest market huts.
Araceli dodged into the forest and remembered this was a mistake. Vines caught her sword and belt. Ferns grew too densely to plow through. Araceli heard Ghalil smash through the wild just behind her. She dared to look back but couldn’t see it. The forest stilled.
Araceli doubled back on her path. There was no time to second-guess her instincts. She sprinted for the diminishing exit of the marketplace. It shrunk to nothing when she reached it. Ghalil snarled in the forest. Araceli pulled both of her long knives from her wrists and spread her feet. She breathed harsh, humid air through her nose and readied. Ghalil wouldn’t find her an easy meal. Too tough. Too spiky. Too stubborn.
Ghalil burst through the forest, tearing a hole back into the marketplace. Araceli screamed at it. She rushed the red-bodied creature with more bluster than courage. She feinted left, hopped right, dove through the tear in the marketplace and tumbled cleanly into a crowd of ignorant people.
Araceli ran through the busy market, for once lamenting her stand-out dark skin and size. She couldn’t get away by browsing for a trinket while Ghalil stormed about.
She needed to escape. There had to be a way out.
Araceli crashed flat into an invisible wall. She grunted, stumbled, and caught herself. Her knee screamed. Her nose agreed. Hobbling, she put her hand flat on the edge of her cage and followed it to the left. It pushed her in.
She tried to push back, to go farther out, but the walls began to shrink. They collapsed from all sides, dragging her closer to Ghalil. The forest and marketplace merged, plants passing through stalls and people passing through stone. She scratched at the wall, finding nothing but smoothness. No way out.
Ghalil spotted her and opened its arms. Come to me. Araceli screamed as their existence compressed into mist and she fought to remember who she was.
Tami Veldura is a writer, reader, lover and artist. She currently resides in Ventura, CA. She writes science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and queer fiction.
About Ruin and Will:
To change his fate, Kyros Vindex made a deal with witches: Eric’s heart for anything in the world. But the cost of love was too high. His quartermaster and best friend Araceli Cross is trapped with the spirit Ghalil. Driven by his guilt, Kyros becomes obsessed with the impossible. To get Araceli back, he’ll have to renege on the witches’ blood pact.
Finally free of the demon that possessed him for seven years, Eric Deumont is ready to chase the horizon. Try as he might, he can’t convince his lover Kyros to move on. And Kyros expects him to return to the plantation, and the man, where it all started; as if there was a chance Philippe could pull Araceli out of the jar. But Eric won’t risk unleashing Ghalil, not for anyone. It’s time to cut and run.
Araceli fights Ghalil with everything she has but when the demon merges their souls, they break the seal of their cage. However, physical freedom doesn’t change the fight for dominance. Ghalil’s demand for blood shackles her, and Araceli is nobody’s slave.
With Ghalil free, time is a luxury that no one has. And all the while, the witch crows watch…