The coffin smelled of death, and fish.
Vrell shifted in the suffocating confines of the box, nose wrinkling in disgust as her hair tangled and pulled with the splinters of rough Trine wood. It would be a miracle straight from the gods if she ever managed to scrub the stench off her skin once she got out. If she ever got out.
At the rate the hearse was rolling through the streets of Icarus she was actually going to need the coffin when they finally reached their destination.
Damn you, Bash.
She should have known that the young and incredibly handsome pirate captain would put her through Hell. Somehow the yearlong furlough she’d taken from his life and their shared life of crime had erased his sadistic sense of humor from her mind. But it was all coming back now.
Thrashing against the hard sides of the human-sized box, Vrell hissed through her bared teeth. She could already feel a dozen splinters embedded in the flesh of her hands, arms, legs, and back. If I survive this, gods help you, Bash.
The hearse’s rear left wheel hit a rut on the dirt road winding through the port city, bouncing her upward. Vrell swore vehemently when her nose slammed into the lid of the coffin and then continued to curse after her body crashed back down. She was going to kill Bash—if she survived the insufferable ride to him.
What seemed like hours later, the hearse rolled to a loping halt. Horses whinnied and then muffled male voices could be heard outside of her wooden cage. Vrell strained her ears, trying to decipher if Bash was among the speakers or not. With no way of knowing where she was, she felt a slight twinge of worry. Icarus was a city completely occupied by pirates—the only one like it in all of Seraign—full of criminals, thieves, and murderers. She didn’t doubt for one second that even the dead were safe from such people.
Fingers inching down along her sides, she lay in wait, listening. The daggers sheathed at her hips were within reach if she stretched sideways. A few tense moments later the voices faded and the hearse began moving again.
That’s odd. In his letter, Bash had clearly stated that the driver was one of the trusted members of his crew and had been instructed not to stop for anything. Why had he stopped? Goosebumps prickled along her aching skin as she cursed her situation again and again.
Her eyes and ears were her best defenses against danger—a lesson learned the hard way many times over—but with only one of those senses available, and seriously handicapped, she felt trapped. Dead.
How fitting. She was in a coffin after all.
She must have dozed off because three sharp raps on the lid of the box startled her awake an unknown amount of time later. Sitting upright in surprise, her nose received a second encounter with the hard Trine wood and she grunted in pain. Lying back down gently, she waited, muscles knotted in anxiety.
Metallic shrieks filled the unnerving silence a moment later as someone used a metal pry bar to leverage the coffin’s lid, ripping nails out of the wood. There was no flash of sudden light, no sudden relief of sound or air or even a gentle breeze on her face as the lid was fully removed.
Vrell sat up slowly, emerging halfway out of the coffin to look around the dark hearse, eyes narrowed.
“That is quite possibly the most haunting thing I have ever seen,” a voice said from the shadows of the hearse, “Has anyone ever told you that the clothes of the dead are your color?”
“I hate you,” Vrell spat, locating Bash to her right and glaring at him.
He chuckled, leaning forward so that in the dim light of a single lantern swinging from the front of the wagon his facial features could be seen.
“Hello to you too.” He winked.
“A coffin? Really, Bash? Was this entirely necessary?” she demanded as he offered a hand. “I will never feel clean again!”
“You’ll have to ask Zaharah for all of her extra lavender soap. You smell like fish.” Bash wrinkled his nose, earning a quick swat upside the head.
“All right, all right! I’m sorry!” He held up both hands in surrender. “The coffin was Grayson’s idea, honestly.”
Vrell drew back her hand again and the pirate captain flinched away.
“I swear on my mother’s grave!”
“He’s telling the truth, Vrell,” a new voice interrupted, backing up Bash’s feeble defense. Slowly lowering his hands with a weary look at Vrell, the pirate captain gestured towards a man coming round the hearse from the driver’s seat.
“Master Grayson,” she greeted as the man’s greying temple came into view. “I’m not sure if it’s a pleasure to see you again or not.”
He nodded to her in greeting, lips curling ever so slightly at the corners. “The captain asked me to bring you here in the most inconspicuous way possible.”
“And a hearse was your immediate response?” Vrell’s eyebrows lifted in mild surprise, “Here I was thinking that I was the only morbid assassin among your crew, Bash.”
“Grayson’s threatened to kill me in my sleep many times,” Bash laughed, hopping down from the back of the hearse nimbly. Vrell followed, accepting the hand Grayson offered even though she didn’t need the help.
“That’s only when you choose the wrong heading, sir.” Grayson defended himself as they began walking down the street together.
“Do you see what I am up against, Vrell? I wear the captain’s hat even though it is stifling in the summer heat. But my second-in-command threatens to kill me if I make the wrong heading choice. Am I the captain or aren’t I?” Bash threw his hands into the air in exasperation as Vrell laughed lightly.
“Seems to me that you weren’t even the captain when I was still onboard. Your men answer to me whether you like it or not.” She winked.
“That’s because you’re scarier than him,” Grayson said.
“Why do I even bother?” Bash grumbled, turning into a dark alley.
Her boots crunching on some broken glass that littered the mouth of the alley, Vrell kept pace with the two pirates as they hurried through the night. Grayson stayed a step behind her, hand on his sheathed cutlass, while Bash took the lead.
Despite her rather disgusting ride, she had missed her life in Icarus more than originally thought. They turned onto another street—a familiar one.
“Where are we going?” she asked, elongating her strides to come along side Bash. He beamed at her, mischief and merriment glinting in his eyes.
“The Drunken Dragon,” he said. “Where else is a pirate supposed to get a bottle of rum worth dying for?”
“I’m not getting into another coffin so you’d better be the one dying for the rum this time, Octopus-breath.” Vrell scoffed, sharing a conspirator’s grin with Grayson.