Emptiness. It followed them; haunted them, like they haunted these waters.
The air was thick, eerie and still. They were guided by their own ghostly breeze, pushing slowly through the dark waters. The bow cut through the fog allowing the blanket of mist to sweep over the ships deck. The solid grey blanket against the harsh black of the sails was terrifying. It was this, men now wrote stories of and what children had nightmares about.
In the calm waters, timid waves silently lapped against the hull. The rigging creaked, the holds below rumbled and the lamps squeaked as they swayed.
It didn't cause the crew to grow anxious anymore, after two years this was the normal. They were the predator, sweeping the ocean for the desired prey; following the golds calling and all the while hoping it was not a figment of their imagination.
At the beginning it never happened, their gut was always right and the gold never failed them. But recently, with each passing day, each man forgot what instinct felt like and confusing it with desperation. It was rare but mistakes were starting to happen. The winds would carry them for days and then disappear all too suddenly, they would ransack entire towns and find nothing but livestock and silver. No gold.
Could the dead loose their minds? Or was life truly beginning to float too far away from them?
"We should douse the lamps Captain." The First Mate spoke softly, looking back over her shoulder but only enough to see the faint outline of the Captain. Her face was was hidden, veiled by the darkness of the night.
The Captain made no sign that he had heard her for a long while as he continued to watch out of the deserted deck and calm waters, but then, with a small nod, he gestured for the Bo'sun to follow through with her suggestion.
Nicolette only then turned her head forward again, pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes as the flames were slowly extinguished. Now, facing the moonlight, the cream cascade of light picked out her main features; the rusted silver coins twisted into her hair and pale white of her right pupil. Another story.
Her clothes sagged in places, hanging only over bone, and her rings threatened to slip from her fingers completely. She had wished she had been falling into madness when curse began to show itself to them visibly. It hadn't claimed her all yet, her face was still young, still living, but it was growing just like their hunger.
Clutching her fist, Nicolette moved it to rest behind her back and lifted her chin; out of sight out of mind. She had move important worries tonight than her melting skin.
"Sail ho!" The long awaited call was carried down from the crows nest.
"Keep her on course." Barbossa grumbled, keeping his eyes focused on the small dot of light as it appeared over the horizon, far in the distance. Nicolette heard the helm rattle as it adjusted by a notch before she heard his footsteps.
Their pet sat balanced on her left shoulder, picking at the bronze beads and peacock feathers tied into her hair and grooming the knotted tats. Barbossa took one look at the menacing smirk which graced the thin corner of her mouth and narrowed his eyes. Her expression, it caused the long scar which sliced through her right eye to become crooked on the apple of her cheek. She used to be a beauty, of course she still was, but of a much fiercer kind. But the marking didn't concern him, her smile did, for it was a rare and unnatural sight these days.
"What's plaguing your mind girl?" Hector spoke harshly but quietly, not wishing for the words to stray further than between the two of them.
The woman grinned now, a sinister quirk belonging to the expression, with darkening eyes. "We're catching up."
There was a spark in her eyes which had been missing for months, Hector knew for he had missed it. He had missed the way she held her breath as she grew anxious and stood up on the tips of her toes, the closer the chase became. Nicolette had been sinking, drowning in the curse which now consumed her, because of him.
Hector followed her eyes to the only light in their path, they could see the sails now, white and drooped. They would be on them within the hour. "We can't be sure the medallion lies there." He whispered but Nicolette kept her face set dead ahead as she sighed and rolled her eyes to glance at her husband with low enthusiasm.
He was merely trying to prepare her for the worst should it happen. The gods knew their fortune had not been the best and he, along with the crew, did not need to suffer through another of her hot headed breakdowns should things turn sour.
"You must keep a level head in these circumstances, my love." Barbossa lifted his hand, the skin fading to bone as it met the moonlight, and gently grazed the back of his fingers against her cheek.
She couldn't feel it, the cold sensation of bone and death against her skin, all feeling had been taken from her long ago now. Though, Nicolette did not know if she would have wanted to feel it. Had she have been able to feel, for her skin to pimple and ripple as his warmth met with her, she might have needed to turn away. But this way, as a ghost, she was able to cope.
The tide rocked the ship softly and Nicolette smiled through all that was lost, tilting her head up towards Hector. "I'll try my very best." Jack jumped from her shoulder to his, making her chuckle softly.
"You are a true sight when your mood is bright." His praise made her swallow hard and she finally relaxed into his touch as his presence came closer. "To feel your warmth once more would be a fine thing."
The line struck though her eye was long and deep, running from her temple down to her cheek. What he would do, just to feel the imperfection carved into her skin under his touch…but, like Nicolette's spirit, the sensation was absent. All he could feel was an icy numbness, a phantom's tickle.
"Two years..." Upon hearing his words, Nicolette smiled sadly, her lips quivering. Hector lowered his face to hers ever so slightly, his lips dropping closer towards hers. They could not feel, but that did not mean the temptation was absent, and she was still as addictive to him as she had been the day they had met.
They both jumped apart. Nicolette returned to her dutiful stance, glaring at the wimp with the wooden eye and his podgy moronic friend first before she turned away. However Barbossa growled lovely before turning on the two, now trembling, imbeciles who had interrupted them.
"Gentlemen..." They both appeared to be shivering on the spot, inaudibly fighting over who had to speak through a series of shrugs and nudges. This irrational behaviour went on for a good minute or so, though she was surprised Hector allowed it to continue for even that before he groaned; "What is it?"
"Should we ready the cannons?" Hector let the silence settle. "That be all..."
Nicolette had spent the best part of the past two years trying to work out just how they had been left with such a useless crew. In the end, she concluded the standards of their previous Captain had been overwhelmingly pathetic, even in her opinion.
Hector didn't loose his patience, he didn't even speak. Instead, Barbossa turned his back on Master Pintel and Master Ragetti and instead addressed his wife.
"Go below." He mumbled. "I want no mistakes." And he nodded towards the damp wooden steps leading down to the main deck.
With dignity, Nicolette bowed her head. "Aye Captain." The stern, stone faced expression had returned, masking the emotions she had allowed to show, no matter how briefly, only moments ago. She pushed passed the pair of blithering idiots, knowing they would follow on her heals with a disgruntled, "Move."
Ragetti stumbled, awkwardly fighting to regain his balance with a high pitched squeal. "Yes Mrs Barbossa."
The other joining shortly after. "Sorry, Mrs Barbossa."
Nicolette rolled her eyes again, jaw tightening as she snarled.
'Shine your boots Mrs Barbossa? Here's your pointless tasteless wine Mrs Barbossa.'
They made her sick. Sick to the very depth of her stomach. Granted, it was flattering in the beginning. But after becoming trapped on a cursed vessel against her will…some things begin to get a little grating. One small factor she was grateful for, was the fact she could shoot them however many times she wished without actually having to live with the consequences of their death. Though she doubted there would be many of them.
However, there was another side to it. The sadistic, and admittedly egotistical, part of her which was coincidentally a stronger element of her soul, liked it. She enjoyed the way they scuttles around like beetles in her presence, hoping about like toads. Nikki enjoyed, at times, seeing the fear in their eyes as she turned her temper upon them. She was the Captains wife, she was their First Mate, they couldn't lay a hand on her even if they wished to…oh and she know just how many of them wanted to.
Just a shy of three years ago, they didn't take her seriously. Nicolette Barker had been nothing but the silly little cabin girl, scrambling around the deck and obeying the Captains orders with an embarrassing amount of obedience. Most of the men laughed at her. The taunted her and tripped her on the deck when they knew he was looking. She was the entertainment aboard the Black Pearl, the jester and the centre of gossip; at least until Hector changed that.
Barbossa was one of very few others, now absent, who actually showed an element of care for her. Not just that, but he had respected her. From her very first night aboard, when she had slept under the leaking corner of the crews quarters, on the floor below another's of the men's hammocks, Hector had wanted her to succeed. He had wanted her to better herself and he worked to turn her into something more than just the cabin boy and a nameless sailor; even if that 'something' turned out to be his wife.
Barbossa invested the time to train her, tutor her and enlightened her as to the ways of the pirate code. If it was not for him, she would have nothing to her name. Nicolette would still be the lowest of the lower class, possibly even dead. She certainly wouldn't be the woman who walked the Black Pearl on this night.
Though sometimes she wondered whether that was a good thing after all...
The thoughts were shunned from her mind as she rushed down the stairs to the gun deck, yelling as she entered the pitch black hold. "All men to their stations! Prepare the guns!" In an instant, the crew woke, some leaping fresh from their slumber, and began to scuttle across the wood like rats.
They responded with as much respect as could be expected from such a motley crew but they were not acting quick enough. With the unnatural, spirited wind, they did not have time to dawdle.
"Act lively, men!" Her shriek pierced their ears in the most intrusive way, some of the men groaned and others placed their hands over their ears as they passed. "Master Twigg, see to the armoury and prepare to lead the men aboard."
"Aye Ma'am." The thin plank of a man nodded obediently, then left to climb up to the deck above.
He was one of the ones who liked her...or better said tolerated her. He did not mind her presence aboard the Pearl. That alone was a rarity amongst the crew seeing as many of them would throw her overboard should anything happen to Barbossa. Not for any particular reason, she wasn't too harsh or too silly, she simply suspected these free breed of men just simply didn't like being ordered around by a woman.
As the chase became closer and they sailed into the waves left as a path behind their target, the still waters grew rough. The crew started to become unsteady and Nicolette clung to an overhead beam as the Pearl rocked. Suddenly, her smugness reappeared. "Let's go get us that medallion!"
To show their support, the men cried out as swords waved high in the air and they gathered by their cannons. Nikki watched, eyes narrowed, as the stern of the other ship came into view through the gunport. Her view was restricted from where she perched, her breathing was silent. "Hold your fire." Calmness, that's what they needed now. They needed to listen to her until the perfect opportune moment.
Suddenly, with the grace of of a cat, Nicolette swung down to hover by the first cannon and get a better view. She gave Koehler a side glance to remain patient as he anxiously fidgeted with the fuse, and she sighed.
They could already hear the screams of men on the small boat. Nothing more than a small merchant ship. However they weren't looking for a certain type of ship; it just had to carry the right cargo.
"Mrs Barbossa?" Pintel looked on nervously as they came side by side with the ship and she still had yet to give the command.
"Hush." The snap was harsh enough to remove all eyes from her and a moment later, she saw the bow finally peek into her sight. The perfect moment. "Fire."
"Fire!" Her quite snarl was repeated once, twice and then thrice until the men were screaming and the whole deck roared to life like an explosion.
In the end, it didn't take much to bring the enemy down. A couple of cannons, a couple of ropes and they had brought out their flag of truce, raising it high on the mast in innocent surrender.
They obviously weren't familiar with the stories. They left no survivors.
After taking a moment to praise the men, Nicolette left Koehler in charge of the gun deck and retreated back up to the main deck. Barbossa was thick in the middle of taking change, ordering the men to prepare to board.
"Miss Barker! Man the helm!" He gave the order without so much as a glance her way, too preoccupied with the crew and the way they messily threw their grappling hooks.
"Aye Captain." The true honour would have been if Hector had allowed her to go in search for the treasure with them. What she would give to be the first to hold that trinket in her hands and shackle up the boy who had been the cause of all their trouble. But Hector always kept her close; what did not fall behind could not be left behind. And although they could not die, there were a few men they had lost, for lack of a better term.
But at least from the helm, on this clear and crisp night, Nicolette was able to watch their men, her men, as they slashed down all those in their path. The throats of men were cut once questioned and searched, while others were thrown into the corner and rounded up like cattle awaiting the slaughter. For each crew member to reemerge from the ships hold, Nicolette waited to hear the gleeful cries as they swung the trinket in the air...but one by one they returned to the ship empty handed. There was nothing on them but the odd bottle of rum or silver.
"Nothing Captain." The voice of Twigg captured her attention, drawing Nikki's eyes back to her husband, who was waiting outside his cabin. She could just see the top of his feather hat blowing in the wind. "T'was nothing but a fishing boat." He must have felt her gaze as Hector looked up to her with a hard, frustrated stare. It was only after her eyes broke contact with his, that Barbossa start relaying the orders to dispose of the ship and its remaining crew.
She could not believe it, much like she hadn't believed the side effects of the curse as they had crept up on her over the long weeks they carelessly spent their prize. The medallion was gone.
It couldn't have been gone. It had to have been there. The wind. The gold called to them. But it was gone.
Barbossa's boots thumped loudly against the deck as he climbed the stairs, the wood stretching and moaning as he went. Nicolette heard them approaching before she noticed his sudden presence by her side and she turned to him, their eyes piercing into one another's like an aim on a target.
She tried not to look weak, honestly she did. Nicolette wished for the disappointment to not be shown so clearly across her features but it was too difficult and she had grown far too tired.
Hector took a breath, biding his time, and then spoke in a hushed whisper, with a short sigh. "My love-" His arm curled around her slim waist, wrapped tightly in an ornate burgundy and black corset, and he tried to draw her into him. "We must be close."
Caught between pulling away to retire to her cabin and allowing Hector to paw at her, she chose the easier, and undoubtedly more peaceful option, and allowed her head to fall on to his shoulder. The breath hitched at the back of her throat against her will and her hand shook. She wasn't weak. She wasn't. No longer was she the little girl who would go crying to the Captain when she scuffed her knee or nicked herself during sword practice. She was not beaten and she certainly was not defeated. But she was tired.
"It called to us. The gold called to us." She repeated the words, chanting them in some form of weak sullen ritual, which Hector himself had spoken years ago, back when finding the coins had been easy. Back when it had still been a chase to enjoy. "When..."
Hector hushed her, placing a single finger against her cold, dry lips with a featherlight touch. "Soon, you have my word." He ran his hand over her cheek, pushing it through her hair, thinning in the moonlight, and pressed his lips to her temple in a soft kiss. "Damn him to the depths who-"
"You already damned him yourself." Nicolette snapped, her temper getting the best of her. She felt the pull in her chest as she said it but ignored it. It wasn't fair for her unconscious to still harbour such soft feelings for a man who had made them loose so much. A man who had sentenced her to life of death without being able to die. She had lost all of her respect for Bill Turner the day he sent off that medallion to his no good bastard child.
Barbossa didn't scold her in retaliation, he didn't correct her as he had been quick to do on numerous other occasions in the past, but instead his chest rumbled with amusement and he held her back at arms length, taking in her figure. "Aye…I did." He chuckled, low and deep, the sound fading as she failed to make a sound.
Behind him, she could see the wreckage beginning to burn, flames rising and claiming the ship, turning into nothing but ash and cloth.
She would have done anything to watch over the destruction and feel the heat on her face, to smell the intense burning of flesh and be turned sick, for it would be a welcomed sensation in comparison to her numbness. Nicolette wanted to feel the ocean around her, just for a second, just one fleeting second.
She felt Hector's grip tighten around her arms and he eyes swept across the ocean over his shoulder. That's when she seen it.
Nikki's eyes caught sight of something, something not quite right. Amongst the illuminated fog, camouflaged, were sails. There was a ship. White sails, the hull almost invisible but dark in colour, the traits of a military vessel.
It looked like a ghost and for a moment, Nicolette believed that's all it was; just her mind playing tricks again. But as it started to fade, and the Pearl turned away in the opposite direction, she realised the lamps on board were burning and the flag was flying. Even her mind would not think of painting such fine details of a hallucination.
"Over there." Nicolette pulled away and walked forward to climb the rail and hung over the side of the ship by its rigging. "There's a ship…another ship!" Some of the crew paused and gathered on the main deck to watch her, some leaning over the side of the Pearl to get a look. However, as her eyes searched the waters behind them, there was no trace. There wasn't even a ripple in the waves.
Nicolette frowned, then laughed and shook her head. In the time it had taken for her to blink and for Hector to let her go, it had gone. "There was a ship…there were sails over there! We need to turn around!" She turned back to Hector with a hand pointing back towards their trail, but once she saw his eyes she knew they would not be turning back.
"Nikki?" His voice caused her arm to fall. Hector was calm but his eyes held a level of sympathy as he began to walk towards her. "There is nothing there." He took her chin, pinched between his fingers, and forced their eyes to meet. "It's in your mind, my love."
But it couldn't have been. It…something, had been there…as clear as day...had it not?
Nicolette sighed while forcing herself to smile. Her shoulders sagged and she removed herself out of Barbossa's reach. "I need rest." It was a lie and she was stupid to think he thought it to be truth. They didn't need rest, no one needed sleep when they were dead.
"Nikki…" Hector called for her, but she had already turned her back on him. She did however, halt and glance, ever so timidly, back over her shoulder. "We're close."
Close? Was he hoping to amuse her, because she was currently sporting the most honest smile in years.
"Close." Nikki repeated before silently walking away.
Close...had she of known she would have scoffed. 'Close' would turn into months...months would turn into years. And those years...those years would rip her body and soul apart.