Zero (5/7)

Maria Gloria-Fernandez, Unknown

“Pirates!” the man cried as he dragged himself across the forecaster deck. The sun beat down on his brow like a whip, and he gagged on the heaviness of the saturated, salty air. His words, however, were lost to the slap of ocean waves against the hull and the thump, thump, thump of rubber shoes against the hollow, wooden floorboards.

“Pirates?” She laughed as she walked alongside him. “My darling, we are adventurers not pirates!”

The man paused in his scramble and craned his neck up at her. He was sweating quite a bit and stains were beginning to seep into his elegantly red overcoat. His dark gray hair had fallen loose from its ponytail and strands now clung to his pallid face. “You’re not adventurers or pirates. You’re a monster!” He spoke with a thick accent she couldn’t quite place.

She pulled back and glanced at the woman who stood behind her.  The woman merely shrugged and offered the man a sympathetic look. Nothing to be said, it seemed. With that, Maria threw her head back with a loud and musical laugh that rang across the ship. The sound bounced off of the torn sails of the ship, twirled around the mast, before sinking down into the main deck below.

She skipped forward past the man and towards the railings just behind him. She peered over them and down into the main deck. There right before her was a battle for the ages. Blade clashing against blade. Fist against face. Someone was even throwing barrels around. 

There did not seem to be a Conductor on this ship, however, which was quite a downer.

Regardless…

Maria hopped up onto the railings, spread her arms wide, and took in a deep breath.

There was ash in her hair, the dried crumblings of black and red caked onto her face, and icy droplets dripping down her arms. The sky—once a clear and blemishless stretch of endless blue—was scarred by a pillar of black that blossomed from a mountain of flames and ashes. This burning pyre as well as clusters of wood, metal, and cloth littered the stretch of sea that unfolded endlessly into the horizon.

Maria took in the entire scene with a wide smile. From here, the view was wondrous. Every detail, every flickering ember, every lapping wave was laid out right before her eyes!

“Such a shame. It really was a pretty ship.”

With that, she reached for her sheathed blade hanging at her side and drew it out into the light.

“Wait, Captain―” The woman behind her began.

But it was too late. Down Maria dropped right onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting man below her. The man barely had time to register her before she kicked him in the face with the back of her boot and launched herself at another. She knocked this next man in the face with the hilt of her blade, before reaching for his shoulders and lifting herself up in the air while using his body as an axle.  She swung her legs forward and used the force of her fall to bring the man up over her shoulders. For a moment, he was in the air. In the next, his body was crashing into that of another.

Several onlookers gazed at her in horror while others only offered expressions of exasperation. Some, admiration. But she did not dwell on these changes of face. Instead, she tore through the ones she deemed her enemies. Relentlessly, with a smile of exhilaration gracing her face. 

She paused in her almost manic stampede only to wipe the blood from her blade and the sweat from her brow. It was then that a movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention. It was a boy. Amidst the chaos of clashing blades and colliding fists, a boy stood there huddling a cylindrical object close to his chest. His eyes ― they glowed with an inhuman red-orange light.

A Conductor?

How amazing―

Maria barely had the time to finish the thought before the boy came rushing at her. The object in his hand gave out an unearthly red-orange glow that expanded outwards and consumed his body ― and then her body.

She heard it more than felt. A large resounding boom that drowned out the chaos of battle and the calm of lapping waves. It rang so loudly in her ears that for a moment she almost thought it was the only sound that ever existed.

When the sound faded, she found that she was in the air. Falling in the air with the ocean opening up below her.

“Captain!”

She did not hear the rest of the exclamation because she broke through the barrier of the ocean water below her. The cold gripped her tightly and dragged out from her a trail of blood which smokily rose up to the surface alongside little air bubbles.

A minor injury, surely, Maria thought to herself as she sank deeper and deeper into the frigid dark. All she needed to do was kick her legs a bit, and she’d break through the surface to rejoin her men. Surely, this would be an exciting tale. And then onto the next adventure they would go.

An intrusive thought suddenly invaded her mind as black dots began to prick her vision:

Was this—

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