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Connor and Grace Tempest each have important roles to play in the war – he as a pirate warrior at the heart of the fight; she as a powerful healer working with the war-wounded. As the twins face their greatest challenges to date, old allies and foes return to play their part in the ultimate battle of Pirate versus Vampirate.
In this – the conclusion of this sequence of VAMPIRATES novels, the stakes are higher than ever. Relationships will change. An army of the dead will return to fight. There will be new threats and new alliances and characters will die before the ending which will see Grace and Connor poised to start momentous new journeys. In the words of Obsidian Darke, “So it ends, so it begins.”
Table of Contents
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The ancient offices of Mizzen, Mainbrace, Windvane, and Splice, "lawyers to the pirate community, by appointment to the Pirate Federation, since 2015," were at the top of a cliff and took the form of the upper three decks of a pirate galleon, which had been braced directly onto the rock itself. The impression was of a ship sailing—indeed flying—right off the peak into the bay far below. The main conference room of the famous maritime firm of solicitors had once been a pirate captain's cabin and possessed floor-to-ceiling windows. Once these windows had looked out onto a seeming infinity of ocean; now they afforded a queasily vertiginous view down the cliffs.
It was before these windows that old Mr. Mizzen currently stood, his back turned—though with no intention of rudeness—to the other inhabitants of the room. Mr. Mizzen's still-keen aquamarine eyes traveled from the similarly colored waters of the bay below up to the ticking clock on the conference-room wall. There was reassurance to be found in the tick and the tock, but also a warning. Old Mr. Mizzen was under no illusion—the clock was always ticking. Whether fate decreed that one was gently eased out of this life by natural means or snatched from it in the cruelest terms possible—as Molucco Wrathe had been—it was advisable to make the necessary preparations for that final voyage.
A not entirely discreet cough sounded close by Mr. Mizzen's right ear. A sudden arctic chill caused the profusion of white hairs protruding from said ear to stand on end. Turning away from the window, Mr. Mizzen saw that he had been joined by Trofie Wrathe. The glamorously intimidating deputy captain of The Typhon was dressed from head to toe in black. A lace veil—patterned with skulls—covered her face, while her legendary golden hand was, for the moment at least, encased in a long black glove, as was her other, regular, hand. It was not uncommon for visitors to wear black to attend these offices—but though de rigeur for funerals, it was not required for the reading of a will. Even through her veil, Trofie Wrathe's penetrating stare caused Mr. Mizzen's old eyes to smart a little. She raised an eyebrow inquisitively before asking in her distinctive accent, "Must we wait any longer?"
"I'm afraid we must, Madam Wrathe. It is a matter of some importance that we do not begin the reading of your brother-in-law's will until all the beneficiaries have arrived."
"Whom exactly are we waiting for?" she asked. "Don't they know that time is short? There's a war on, in case you'd forgotten!"
Mr. Mizzen heard her words but chose, as he sometimes did, to feign deafness. Instead, he surveyed the others, who were also waiting in the room, with varying degrees of irritation, for the formalities to begin.
In the front row, on either side of the chair temporarily vacated by Trofie, sat her husband Captain Barbarro Wrathe and her teenage son Moonshine. Barbarro looked solemn. He was the last Wrathe brother standing—the Vampirates having claimed his younger brother Porfirio's life before finally closing in on Molucco.
Moonshine Wrathe had yet to prove himself worthy of the family name. Still, Mr. Mizzen noted there had been some improvements since last they'd met at his uncle's funeral. Moonshine's skin was now clear and his hair tied back from his face. His locks were as long and black as his father's but without the lightning strike of silver shooting through them. He was neither handsome nor otherwise, and it was hard to believe the young pirate was heir to such fame and fortune as came with the Wrathe name.
On the other side of Barbarro—separated by another empty chair—sat Matilda Kettle, owner of the eponymous tavern, which had been drawing in the pirate hordes for as long as anyone could remember. Once, "Ma" Kettle's beauty had been the feverish talk of the oceans. She was still attractive, granted Mr. Mizzen, but tick-tock… He smiled ruefully. No, he thought, it was not the tick and the tock that had stolen away Ma Kettle's looks. Molucco's exit had done that. It was no secret that Ma Kettle had been close to the rebellious captain for many a year, and Wrathe's sudden death seemed—if a maritime metaphor might be forgiven under the circumstances—to have taken all the wind from her sails.
Where once she might have worn a fur stole or a feather boa, now Ma Kettle sported something equally colorful but rather more unusual. Wrapped about her sinewy neck was Scrimshaw, the dead captain's beloved pet snake. Ma had taken the snake into her keeping since the captain's demise. The reptile's glassy eyes were like two mirrors, reflecting the woman's lost expression back at her.
Mr. Mizzen's own eyes migrated to Matilda Kettle's traveling companion—a decidedly exotic creature who went by the name of Sugar Pie. Some kind of barmaid-cum-burlesque artist, according to the notes young Mr. Splice had prepared for him. Faced with the general mood, Mr. Mizzen found Sugar Pie to be a veritable oasis in the desert. True, her face was solemn—her eyes darting frequently to her aged companion—but a dazzlingly pure light seemed to emanate from those eyes. It seemed to Mr. Mizzen as much a cause for hope and celebration as sunlight.
To Sugar Pie's side was another empty chair. Seeing this, Mr. Mizzen was brought back to the matter at hand. His smile faded. He glanced again at Trofie Wrathe, who was still pacing back and forth. Catching his glance, her eyebrow lifted inquiringly once again. Tick-tock, he heard, tick-tock. Perhaps he would have to start after all.
Just then, there was the sound of footsteps out in the corridor. Trofie stopped pacing and turned toward the door. Mr. Mizzen's eyes traveled in the same direction as the door opened and the young and breathless Mr. Splice entered the room, nodding reassuringly at his superior while holding open the door and addressing someone in the vestibule.
"Please, come this way. The others are waiting in here."
All eyes turned toward the open doorway.
A figure stepped into the room, then paused, turning to face the others.
"I'm so sorry we kept you waiting," said Catherine Morgan, Molucco's deputy captain, most often known as Cutlass Cate. Her trademark russet hair brought to mind a dramatic sunset.
"It's good to see you again, Cate," boomed Barbarro Wrathe, rising to greet her. Taking her arm, his fingers briefly brushed the black armband she had sported for the past several months. She was a woman in mourning, too, but not, primarily, for Captain Molucco Wrathe.
Releasing Cate's hand, Barbarro indicated the vacant chair between himself and Ma Kettle. Nodding and smiling politely at the others, Cate took her seat, as Trofie sighed with relief. But, as the captain's wife adjusted her skirt, she had a sudden realization. Cate had said, "Sorry we kept you waiting…"
As she thought this, a young man strode through the door. A man of equal years to her own son but whose journey had been charted across far different waters. It was Connor Tempest—the shipwreck victim who had become a pirate but, more than that, the closest thing Molucco had had to a son. Their relationship, like so many of Molucco's, had hit the rocks and ended when Molucco burned Connor's articles. Yet here he was, as dependable as the tide, come to take his seat beside the others. Smiling minimally, Trofie turned to face the front.
"Connor." It was Ma Kettle who spoke first. "Of course. We should have guessed you'd be here."
Connor looked awkward as he stepped into the room, hovering before the others as if recognizing that he was the last and least welcome guest.
"Mister Tempest," said Mr. Mizzen, lifting his eyes from Mr. Splice's excellent notes. "I believe there is a spare chair for you, to the right of Miss, er, Pie. Please sit down and we will commence our business."
"About time," hissed Trofie to her husband.
Yes, thought old Mr. Mizzen, once more attuned to the merciless rhythm of the tick and the tock. When all is said and done, it's always about time.
"I, Molucco Osborne Mortimer Wrathe, being of sound mind and disposition…"
A cackle from Ma Kettle caused Mr. Mizzen to pause and glance up from the scroll of paper in his hands. "Sound mind and disposition! That doesn't sound like the man I knew these past forty years."
Mr. Mizzen smiled indulgently then began again. "I, Molucco Osborne…"
"Wait!" Trofie Wrathe raised her right hand and, as Mr. Mizzen glanced up once more, she removed her black glove. The solicitor found himself momentarily dazzled by the sight of her burnished gold fingers and shimmering ruby fingernails. Seizing her advantage, Trofie spoke. "I'm sure no one would mind if you skipped some of the unnecessary formalities and cut to the chase." A row of shocked faces turned toward her, but Trofie was unabashed. "As I said before, there is a war on."
"War or no war," answered Mr. Mizzen, "certain ceremonies must be observed."
Now Barbarro entered the fray. "My wife has a point," he said. "We are somewhat late beginning and several of us are due at the Pirate Academy for a Council of War this evening." Barbarro glanced carefully at Cate, then back to Mr. Mizzen. "I think we all want to ensure that we leave here in good sailing time."
"Very well," said Mr. Mizzen with a sigh. "I shall, as you say, cut to the chase." He observed his audience through his spectacles with cool detachment. "Who gets what. Of course, that's what you all came to find out."
There was a moment or two of uncomfortable silence while Mr. Mizzen glanced down the scroll and then began to read once more.
"To my dear Ma Kettle, the most beautiful and exciting siren I ever had the good fortune to know across the Seven Seas. A goddess, who has been more of a comfort and balm to me over the years than she will ever know. To you, I leave the sum of five million…"
"Five million!" Trofie exclaimed loudly. To her exasperation, Barbarro was beaming broadly, as was Sugar Pie. Ma herself was speechless, her moist eyes trained on Mr. Mizzen as he continued.
"It was," he read, "my hope that we would spend this money and our twilight years together but, if circumstances have decreed otherwise, then I see no reason why you, darling Ma, should not enjoy such comfort and pleasure as I can offer you. It is my one regret that I cannot be here to toast our future in oyster champagne."
"Mine too," said Ma, gratefully accepting the handkerchief proffered by Sugar Pie.
Mr. Mizzen reddened as he continued. "The very best of my days and nights—ahem—were those I spent with you. Remember to spend this money as recklessly as you know I would!"
This last sentiment prompted a throaty chuckle from Ma. She nodded, smiling. Sugar Pie reached out and clasped Ma's hand in her own. "I knew he'd take care of you," she said.
"He always did," answered Ma, with a squeeze of her hand. "In his way."
Mr. Mizzen's tone now grew more businesslike. "Molucco did not specify whom he wished to look after his beloved pet, Scrimshaw, after his demise, but it seems, Madam Kettle, that you have taken this upon yourself?"
"Oh, yes," said Ma with a nod. "Scrimshaw will always have a home at the tavern." Her free hand stroked the snake's scales tenderly. "We have a connection, me and Scrim. I, too, have shed many a skin in my time."
"Well," said Mr. Mizzen. "Molucco set aside a further ten thousand to cover Scrimshaw's rather particular gastronomic tastes."
"Ten thousand?" Trofie mouthed to Moonshine. "For pet food!" Moonshine grinned at his mother's disbelief, then glanced over at Ma, who was nodding once more.
"Scrim shall never go short of honeyed dates or rosewater-dipped pistachios as long as he's in my care," she assured Mr. Mizzen.
The solicitor scanned Molucco's will once more, then resumed reading with renewed vigor. Barbarro wondered whether he was imagining it or if Mr. Mizzen was actually trying to impersonate his dear departed brother.
"My ship, The Diablo, has been my home for many years—one of the few constants in my life. I have thought long and hard as to who should be the heir to my ship and I have decided to entrust it to my nephew, Moonshine Wrathe."
All three attendant Wrathes listened carefully as Mr. Mizzen forged on. "Moonshine, I hope this ship is the making of you as a pirate captain. If rigging and cannon and old deck boards could talk, this old galleon would have plenty of tales to tell under my captaincy and—I've no doubt—under yours, too! Take good care of her, my boy. I trust you will make me proud."
"Thanks, Uncle Luck," said Moonshine breezily. "Though I'd have preferred a ship that wasn't in Vampirate hands…"
"Presumably," Trofie interrupted, lifting her veil as she addressed Mr. Mizzen, "the ship comes with a significant financial bequest?" Her ice-blue eyes bore into the lawyer's.
"No doubt all will be revealed as we proceed," said Mr. Mizzen firmly, turning from her. He was enjoying himself now, back in his stride.
"To Cate Morgan, who has served with me in varying capacities for the majority of her maritime career and proved herself to be one of the finest piratical minds of her generation. To Cate, I leave five million…"
"Another five million…?" Trofie's golden hand gripped her husband's arm. "Are you doing the math here? I don't like the way this is stacking up…"
"To Cate," Mr. Mizzen resumed more loudly, "I leave five million, but with a small condition attached. I have gifted The Diablo to my nephew Moonshine, and it is my hope that this ship will be the making of him—but timber and sailcloth alone cannot accomplish a task of this magnitude. Cate, I had the great privilege to know you as my deputy aboard The Diablo. Now I ask you to resume that position, as deputy to Moonshine, for a period of three years. That should be sufficient to give him the support and grounding he needs. I hope you might stay on for longer than that, but, even if you choose not to, at the end of the three years, my gift of five million will be yours."
Barbarro laughed. "I'm sorry, Cate," he said. "I'm not laughing at you. Just thinking how my brother was an inveterate deal-maker to the very end."
"And beyond," Cate said. She could feel both Trofie's and Moonshine's eyes upon her. No doubt, they were trying to read her thoughts and emotions. She studiously avoided glancing their way, looking instead directly at Mr. Mizzen.
"May I take some time to consider this proposition?" she asked.
Mr. Mizzen nodded. "Captain Wrathe allowed for that. He knew that you would want to weigh the pros and cons."
"Pros and cons!" snapped Trofie with irritation. She felt her husband's warning touch. It drew out some of her sting. "Well, really! He's given her a fortune and all she has to do is mentor our son." Barbarro was silent but reflected that, in Molucco's position, he might have upped the ante still further to sweeten the deal.
"To my dear brother Barbarro," Mr. Mizzen continued, "I leave you… nothing."
Nothing. The word seemed to ricochet around the conference room. The tension and surprise were almost audible.
"I leave you nothing," repeated Mr. Mizzen, "because you are as wealthy as me in your own right, and there are others who will benefit far more from a leg up. I trust you will not think ill of me on this account. Brother Barbarro, it was one of the deepest sadnesses of my life to lose our brother Porfirio. And one of the greatest joys to be reunited with you in the twilight of my days. We wasted so much time. I learned the lesson, but a little late, that blood is thicker than all the oceans."
As Mr. Mizzen paused to draw breath, Trofie inquired, "Is there a personal message to me?"
"Only this," said Mr. Mizzen pointedly, as he cleared his throat and found his place once more. "My precious family, my dear, dear friends, if you have been doing your sums—and knowing certain amongst you, no doubt you have—you will know that there is still the whale's share of my fortune to apportion. My accountants can confirm the total sum, though I estimate it to be in the region of…"
"Twenty-eight million!" Trofie finished the sentence for him.
"Twenty-eight million, eight hundred thousand," corrected Mr. Mizzen with a smile. "And I am passing on this wealth, which I have built over many years and all seven of the oceans, to my friend, Connor Tempest."
All eyes turned to Connor. Both Moonshine's and Barbarro's faces registered surprise. Trofie looked in urgent need of medical help. Ma Kettle was smiling, as was Sugar Pie. Cate's expression was harder to decipher. As for Connor himself, he had no idea how to respond to what he had just been told. When he'd been asked to come to this office, he had expected to leave with a token gift—if that. His last meetings with Molucco had been awkward, and the captain had left him in no doubt that any relationship they had once enjoyed was now over. Yet, according to Mr. Mizzen, he was about to inherit nearly thirty million. The figure was so far beyond his reality that his brain was simply numb.
"Connor," read Mr. Mizzen, "I'm sure this comes as a surprise to you. To be honest, it's something of a surprise to me. You came into my life by chance and soon became a valued member of my crew. But, more than that, my lad, you became the son I never had. Because of the deep affection I felt for you, you had the power very few others ever possessed—the power to hurt me. And you did. When you asked to be released from my command, you might as well have run your rapier through my heart. I responded, as I often did, with anger. I burned your articles and vowed to eradicate every trace of you from my life." Mr. Mizzen paused and took a sip of water, gratified to know all eyes were fixed on him.
"I couldn't cut you out of my life, Connor, any more than I could cut you out of my heart. I know why you did what you did. I saw your confusion and guilt—more clearly, I daresay, than you did yourself. So now, I reach out from my grave and ask to shake your hand…"
"I've heard enough," Trofie barked, rising to her feet, eyes flashing fire. "This will is a travesty—the rantings of a sick, deluded man who, in his decrepitude, became vulnerable to the worst kind of strumpets and con men and…"
As she sought out the next insult, Mr. Mizzen cut her off. "I can assure you, Madam Wrathe, that your brother-in-law was of sound mind and disposition when, in my presence and that of Messrs Mainbrace, Windvane, and Splice, he signed this last and final testament."
"Spare me," snorted Trofie derisively. "My husband and I will challenge this farce in every court on the land and oceans."
"No." It was Barbarro who spoke, rising to stand alongside his wife. "No, we will not. It was my brother's fortune to distribute as he thought fit. He has made his choices and, though we may not agree with all of them, we must respect them." He extended his hand toward Mr. Mizzen. "Thank you, sir. And now, we really must get going. We have a war to win—and a ship to reclaim." Barbarro looked at Moonshine, who obediently rose to his feet.
Trofie stood, still shaking her head in disbelief. Barbarro grabbed hold tightly of his wife's hand and escorted her briskly toward the door. "Come, min elskling. We must make haste for Pirate Academy."
Moonshine hesitated, grinning at the others. Then he, too, headed for the door, pausing before Connor for a moment.
"Well, old sport, looks like you scooped the jackpot today." Moonshine grinned. "Congratulations, Connor. Mazel tov! For a shipwrecked slumdog, you've made out like a bandit."
He paused to give Sugar Pie a wink, then, smirking, strode off after his parents.
Three ships coursed through the dark ocean, like a school of killer whales on the hunt. The Blood Captain was a nose ahead, flanked on its port side by The Redeemer and, on starboard, by The Diablo. The three Vampirate vessels were closing in on a pirate galleon.
Sidorio stood at the helm of his ship, hands on hips, surveying the figures racing back and forth across the target deck. Mortal eyes would have required night-vision goggles and an optical zoom to zero in on the scene. Sidorio's visual acuity was such that he could see far across the ocean, his ocean, with crystal clarity.
"Can't you get us there any faster?" he asked the man at his side.
His question was met by a shake of the head. "Regretfully, no, Captain. We're making good speed but ours is a large ship. Besides, you wanted The Redeemer and The Diablo to keep pace with us."
The mention of the other two ships made Sidorio instantly nostalgic for their captains—Stukeley and Johnny Desperado. One of the few drawbacks of the ultra-rapid expansion of the Vampirate fleet was having to release his trusted deputies and bring up others from the ranks—like this babbo at his side.
Well, thought Sidorio, Stukeley and Johnny might have their own ships now, but they remained his joint deputies within the empire.
Turning away from the imbecile at the wheel, Sidorio's fiery eyes sought out Stukeley, standing poised at the helm of The Redeemer. The always reliable Stukeley turned and saluted his commander in chief, awaiting instructions.
Smiling with satisfaction, Sidorio turned to his other side and found the reciprocal gaze of Johnny Desperado, captain of The Diablo. He, too, was ready to do his master's bidding.
"Follow me!" Sidorio commanded.
"What?" The man at his side jumped nervously and glanced at him in confusion.
"Not you, Lieutenant Jewell!" Sidorio said, venting his impatience.
"Sorry, Captain!" Lt. Jewell lifted one hand from the wheel to make a salute. With only one of his shaky hands on the wheel, the vast ship began to reel. They were never going to catch the pirate ship at this rate!
Sidorio pushed the trembling lieutenant away from the wheel and took over. Immediately, the ship steadied itself, like a wanton horse brought under control by an expert rider. The captain turned and shouted over his shoulder. "Is there anyone here capable of steering while I attend to business?"
"Yes, Captain!" A young-looking Vampirate—all ripped muscle and attitude—eagerly strode across the deck.
"What's your name?" Sidorio inquired.
"Caleb McDade," the Vampirate replied, saluting him. "At your service!"
Sidorio smiled at the young man's eagerness. "You've just been promoted, Caleb McDade," he said. "Take over from me."
As he stepped aside, Sidorio bashed into the lately demoted Lt. Jewell. The captain surveyed the useless excuse for a Vampirate.
"With regret," Sidorio said, "you're fired!"
He lifted the bewildered lieutenant up by his armpits and stepped toward the very edge of the ship. Sidorio released his hands, and Lt. Jewell made a hasty descent into the briny waters below.
At the wheel, Caleb McDade grinned from ear to ear.
"I see we share a sense of humor," Sidorio said. "Righto, time I was going. Keep your eyes on the ocean and your hands on the wheel, capisci?"
Sidorio felt satisfied that this one was up to the job.
He glanced back to Stukeley, on board The Redeemer, then to Johnny, at the helm of The Diablo. "On the count of three!" he said. "One… Two… Three."
He propelled himself up into the air, flying high above the deck and next the dark, churning ocean itself. It was as if he were drawing the target ship effortlessly toward him, like a kite. Glancing swiftly to either side, he spied Stukeley and Johnny soaring through the night air in the same direction.
Sidorio let out a satisfied roar. Game on!
On the deck of the pirate ship, Captain Jack Fallico was held fast in the clutches of Mimma and Holly, two of the feistiest Vampirates on Lola Lockwood-Sidorio's crew. Captain Fallico was the only pirate left standing. The others lay scattered across the deck like so much flotsam and jetsam, their prostrate bodies silvery-gray in the meager light of the ship's lanterns. Lola's crew—dark-cloaked shadows—was busy at work, harvesting the blood of the newly dead.
The pirate captain had put up a fight for a time, lashing and spitting at his captors. Now, at last, he seemed reconciled to his fate. His eyes gave a final flash of fire at the deliverer of his doom. Lady Lola Lockwood-Sidorio.
"If you're going to kill me, just kill me," said the pirate captain bravely.
Lola arched an eyebrow, giving nothing away. Feeling pleasantly giddy, she sniffed the air. The aroma of different blood types commingling on the deck was utterly intoxicating. She was already contemplating the intriguing blends she could create from tonight's harvest.
"Look here," Captain Fallico snarled, "I've had enough of this! You've massacred my crew and taken my ship. You're obviously going to kill me, too, so stop playing games and just get on with it, you vile, bloated vampire!"
"Bloated?" Lady Lola stepped closer to her prey, the heels of her thigh-high sharkskin boots drumming on the bloodstained deck. "Bloated? How dare you! I'm not bloated, you mortal fool. I'm eight and a half months pregnant!" She lifted her cloak and proudly displayed her belly, snug under her maternity suit. Rubbing it proudly, she stepped forward and seized Captain Fallico's rapier from where it had fallen onto the deck in front of him.
"Live by the sword…" Lola began.
"Captain!" exclaimed Mimma.
Seeing the look in her deputy's eyes, Lola paused. Killing a captain was a moment to savor—like uncorking a bottle long stored in the cellar and breathing in its heady perfume. Mimma must have good reason to interrupt her at a moment like this.
Behind her, Lola now heard the whistling of air, followed by a thud.
Turning, she saw her husband land on the deck, a few meters from her. Her face froze in dismay as Stukeley and Johnny dropped down on either side of him.
Rapier still poised, Lola frowned at Sidorio. "What are you doing here?" she asked, no trace of warmth in her cut-glass voice.
Sidorio's jaw hung open. "What are you doing here? It's almost your due date. You're supposed to be taking it easy." His eyes glanced protectively at his wife's bulge.
Lola rolled her eyes. "Must we have this conversation again
- On Sale
- Jan 15, 2013
- Page Count
- 512 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers