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Chapter I: What Comes With Darkness


Ever since I was a child, I've been told stories about evil Trolls lurking in the mountains and forests come nightfall. The scariest of all is that these stories are true and reflect our history.

The Trolls have always brought much destruction to the outlying villages. It is why most choose to live in the inner cities—for safety.

These things are large in height, with sinewy muscles and jutting tusks like teeth. Their entire demeanor is terrifying. They have been known to eat us, the humans, if we are out and about during the twenty-four hours that our night lasts here. So, most of us hide away and seek shelter.

The fatter we are, the higher are our chances of getting eaten. That is what everyone in the village says. So, I better watch out and not linger outside so close to sundown. Because it is said that the Trolls have a preference for young girls like me, tender and not lacking any meat on the bones.

The villagers, for once, are right in that aspect—I can't deny it any longer. I used to lie to myself about my size and assure my mind that I was 'normal' or just 'big-boned,' all the while trying to hide my belly by wearing tight corsets—that was until all the corsets broke a few years back.

But the truth is, since I was a little girl, I've been bigger in size than the other children due to my love for food. Even now, I'm larger than most of the adults. It is sad and probably the only reason why I haven't found a husband yet, as most men are deterred from loving me by my size and stay away.

That or perhaps I'm just ugly. Maybe both.

I stare at my reflection in the pond water and pull at my braids, annoyed with my appearance—more so today—wanting to look like a ‘normal’ woman like Everly or Anna. Or at least what my village decides is ‘normal.’ This need increases with each passing day.

I want to be desired and held by a man at least once. It has always been a secret wish of mine. All my friends are now wives, and I want to be like them. But none of the village men would accept me even if I were the last woman alive. They’re somehow frightened of me as if I’m some sort of Night Dweller.

I sigh heavily and turn around when I hear the village bells ring in the distance. It means night is approaching fast, and it is time to get inside. I can see the shadows getting longer as darkness begins to encroach on the space around me. I can see the forest getting shrouded in darkness, and the daylight is almost gone, barring a few streaks. The late afternoon skies are getting dimmer by the second, giving way to the inky black night.

I think I can almost hear a screech echoing from the already darkened forests. I think I best hurry since the village is still far away, and I have quite a distance to travel. I start to move faster, pulling the cart behind me, something that would have normally been Grandfather’s job, but these days he is getting too ill and weak to even move out of bed. Now this job falls to me.

I hate to think such morbid thoughts, but once he is gone, I will have no one to talk to. It will really be lonely without him. Every morning and night, we share a meal together and talk about our day. But soon all those will be memories.

He is all I have.

The only one I have known since childhood. I didn't know my mother or father. The information I have about them is whatever little Grandfather has told me. He said they were good people and very good parents. And they were killed and eaten by Trolls, and their belongings were found scattered throughout the Northeast Gorge but not their bodies. My parents’ graves are empty.

It makes me sad and angry at these things that have taken so much from me, but thankfully enough, I have never encountered them so far. If it weren’t for them, I would still have my parents around me, and I wouldn't have been so lonely. I would have grown up normally, without being picked on by the other village children for being an orphan.

Which Troll tribe was responsible for my parents’ deaths is unknown. There are many of them scattered throughout the forest and the twin mountains together called the Troll Valley. If only I knew which tribe did it, I would gladly attempt to hunt every single one of them down—that is if I could.

It is suspected it was either the Snowfire tribe, which can be found on the peaks of Lasher Mountain, or the Vonkill tribe found at the base of that mountain.

Regardless, neither tribe is to be messed with. They are highly territorial, meaning they are very dangerous and do not take kindly to trespassers. Rumors from those brave enough to go out at night, despite multiple warnings in every village, say the Trolls fight and even kill each other.

These valiant yet dumb people are always at risk of ending up like my parents. Maybe my parents too were not so intelligent to roam in the forest at night, and that is why they were killed in the first place. I won't ever know. Grandfather wants to keep the reason a secret. He will probably take it to his grave.

It is a bittersweet reminder of what Trolls can do, and it makes me move faster along the beaten-down path. Sweat glistens on my forehead and makes the strands of hair that have long since escaped from my braids stick to my skin. Wiping this sweat, I realize I am filthy and probably stink too.

I can’t wait to go home and bathe, eat a warm meal, and get some rest. It sounds like a dream, especially to someone who has been out all day in this horrible summer heat. I am not exactly used to this much of exercise either, so I feel more tired than usual. I hope I am not coming down with something, or it could just be the weight I have put on.

I hear a squeak from somewhere behind me, but I ignore it. I just want to go home, so I hurry forward. I hear it again, this time louder. It is a recurring screech coming from the right wheel at the back, and it grows worse with every bump on the road as my cart traverses the uneven surface. I try my best to ignore it as I pull faster, hoping it will go away or just wait until I reach home, but one large bump in the road causes the wheel to loosen just enough for it to fall off.

The stuff in my cart lurches to one side, and the corner from where the wheel is missing collides harshly with the ground. A loud crack then resonates in the still air. The runaway wheel spins and tumbles down a steep hill. It gains momentum, its speed increasing as it rolls out of control. I let go of my cart, my eyes widening as the wheel finally disappears from my view.

I look back at my cart and see the crack in the old wooden body. It is just a small one and will not affect the goods it carries. However, looking at the axel, I realize I will be unable to pull the cart back to the village without it.

I pinch my lips tightly as I think of the solutions to the problem, but none of them are good.

I can’t abandon all my grandfather’s things here. I need that wheel in order to continue further… but it will be dark soon. I don’t want to encounter any Trolls and invite the possibility of getting killed or, much worse, eaten.

"Shit," I curse out loud as I lean my hand on the rough bark of the tree and peer down to where the wheel has disappeared.

If I'm fast enough at retrieving the wheel and getting it back on the cart, I can save both myself and all of Grandfather's stuff.

I can do this. I think of words of encouragement in my mind as I lift my skirt and slip and carefully make my way down the hill. Each tree I find, I hold on to it for dear life, fearing I would fall and, much like the wheel, end up somewhere at the bottom hurt.

I don't have anyone to save me either if things get bad. Grandfather will notice me gone if I don’t return, but he is too frail and will not be able to rouse a search party until daybreak. It is almost dark, and I'm all by myself. A bad combination.

I really should lose some weight and find a husband, so I will always have a backup if things go badly, but these are just wishes. Not real. Besides, I'm not changing anytime soon, so that means I have to find a man who loves me for who I am. Not possible from my village.

The bark of the frail tree crumbles away under my grip, making me almost fall forward. I suck in my breath and grasp the tree in one quick, single motion before I can fall.

When my balance is stabilized, I sigh deeply.

I really should be holding on to the entire tree instead of its bark.

I continue forward, reaching more than halfway until eventually, I find it hard to stand on the slope, the incline too sharp. I decide it will be easier to slide down carefully. I sit carefully down and dig my nails into the soft earth. Very slowly, I nudge closer to the bottom of the hill with each slide.

I use the roots sticking out to keep myself from skidding forward quickly. The dirt I sink my fingers in will not catch me. It gives away easily. I must be careful. One bad move and I will twist my ankle or worse. I continue to search for the wheel, praying it has been snagged by the bushes or roots or anything at all.

Though I suppose it must have rolled all the way to the bottom. I do not see it, but it is dark here. It must be hiding in the bushes at the bottom.

Almost there… Come on.

A couple more scoots down and I finally reach the bottom of the hill. The first thing I do is search the bushes frantically. I finally find it and grab one cog of the wheel, pulling it out of the bushes. I am relieved to finally have it back in my grasp.

Judging from the way the wheel isn’t broken, I guess it was just loose, which is an extremely good thing. I would have had no choice but to leave most of Grandfather’s stuff behind. I might have been able to save a couple of things by making a sling out of my skirt and carrying them in it, but it still would have been a major loss. If I had to tell my Grandfather I had abandoned most of the things from the shop midway on the road just because of a broken wheel that I couldn’t figure out how to repair, he would have definitely been upset with me, if not angry.

Good, now the trouble is over. I just need to find my way back up. That, I believe, will be more difficult than getting down, especially with this wheel in tow.

Holding firm to the tree roots, I begin to pull myself up one foothold at a time. My eyes stay focused on the next footing with each climb up. Nothing else matters right now more than getting myself to my cart and fixing this wheel.

But that is easier said than done. I pant heavily, and my throat feels parched. Wetting my lips, I motivate myself to think that with each steep step up the hill, I am closer to going home. That is my only mantra.

By the time I can see the top of the hill, I am drenched in sweat, and my clothes are dirty, as if I have spent the day rolling in mud. It is much darker too, the sun almost gone from my view. It seems I have spent more time than I realize in retrieving the wheel. I still have to fix it too before I can drag my cart home. I grasp at the long grass and start to lift myself up to stable ground. It is just the last couple of meters. But suddenly, the root on which I had placed my entire weight breaks, and I begin to fall backward.

No!

Even when I slide down, I still hold on tightly to the wheel and try my best to grab onto anything that might stop the fall. My palm is scratched, and blood oozes from the cuts. But I don’t give up. I latch onto a root, but the force of my fall and the gravity rips it from the earth. It becomes a rope that swings me to the left. I can’t hold on any longer, and it slips from my fingers. There is nothing I can do. The other trees and their branches are too far away. And I keep sliding down, tossed like a leaf in the wind.

My heart clenches, expecting pain from the brutal fall. I roll back, and much like the wheel when it got detached from the cart, I too tumble down the hill, increasingly gaining speed, until I don’t even know where I am and how far I am away from my cart.

The world around me is spinning, and every stone or bump on the hill, even the roots, bruises my body until everything hurts, and my tight grip on the wheel loosens, and it too is lost in the darkness.

On my way to the bottom of this valley, a large rock hits my head sharply. And spots begin to dance in front of my eyes along with flashes of light intermittently, blurring the colors, until I finally succumb to complete and utter darkness.

Darkness, no matter what, is never good.

Never...

Especially when I know what comes with darkness.


Chapter II: Night Dwellers


When I wake up, I am groggy and have trouble opening my eyes. I squeeze them once, twice, thrice, my eyelids fluttering, and even that pains me. Each time I open my eyes, even a little, I find the world in front of me blurry. My head hurts, throbbing with each breath, until I can’t seem to think anymore.

Gradually, my eyes adjust to the darkness around me. I see the vague outlines of trees, their branches swaying back and forth. A soft summer breeze blows by, and it is almost lulling as I lie there on the ground. This sound has always been soothing to me, but not so much today.

Dark. The night is inky black. I process this information slowly.

I feel my heart drop to my stomach, and I sit up as quickly as I can. I am dizzy, and everything around me is spinning.

Shit. This isn’t good. I bite my lip harshly, waiting for the stab of pain to wake me up further. A few slow breaths, and I wait until everything stops moving then force myself off the ground. I still feel a little off-kilter even now.

Where exactly am I?

Everything looks so different at night. I feel kind of lost here, having never been out this late. Usually, I am always back home by the time the second warning bell tolls in my village.

The last thing I remember is going down the hill to find the wheel of my cart and falling. I am drawing a complete blank of what happened after that. Everything is dark. I must have hit my head and passed out unconscious. Looking at the night that has settled around me, I think a lot of time must have gone by.

I feel panic settling deep in my bones, and my frown deepens.

At this moment, all I can think about is my parents and visions of their being torn apart and eaten by Trolls. I assume their screams must have pierced the stillness of the night. Of course, I never saw them dying, but I can only imagine something like this happening that night.

This is not good.

I begin to move forward, trying to be as quiet as I possibly can, with the trees being my only guide. I think I am going North, in the direction of my home, or at least I think I am. My compass is back in my cart, but by now I’m sure all the stuff in the cart has been raided by the Night Dwellers. Everything is lost.

I swallow painfully, my throat constricting in fear. I’m lucky they didn't follow my scent down the hill and I didn't wake up to something gnawing at my bones or dragging me back to one of their caves.

Maybe I am lucky.

I’ve heard horrifying stories from animal hunters who have stayed out past evening. That sometimes happens when they happen to run behind. They swore that each time, they felt they were followed and stalked by Night Dwellers the second the sun disappeared. And they barely managed to survive that ordeal.

At the end of their stories, they always said when they reached the safety of their cellars, the screams of the Night Dwellers shook the walls of their cabins, going right down to their very souls. The breaths of these beings were so rancid that the smell of it crawled through the walls and down to the floors to the place where they were holed up, turning their stomachs sour for the rest of the night.

But what haunted them the most come morning were the furrows that were left by the claws of these Night Dwellers outside their homes, the grooves so deep that it looked as if a scythe had done it.

Maybe these Night Dwellers were still lurking on the trails, looking for straggling humans more than hunting for things in the woods. Hopefully, for my sake. But in all my life, I’ve never been that lucky. Never.

Each step I take, I think of it to be my last as I peer into the darkness. I see nothing moving, but I can’t be sure. My heart drops deeper into my stomach with its every beat. I feel ill with fear; my breaths have hastened in panic, even though I’ve not heard or seen anything so far. I continue forward, having no other option. Just the anticipation of something bad waiting to happen is killing me. Something really bad.

My mouth becomes dry as I smell the scent of smoke carried toward me by the breeze. Someone has lit a fire, and they are close by. Maybe they aren’t humans but something else.

I think of Trolls and other things—things with sharp teeth that would want to eat me in different ways.

One wrong move and I am dead.

I can feel the dread slowly seeping into me as sweat begins to roll down my forehead. Suddenly, I hear the shuffling of feet and laughter coming from somewhere around me. My body trembles, and I rush to hide behind a tree, away from the trail I was walking on, despite my better judgment.

I pray I have not spotted. I cover my mouth with my hand, hoping to conceal my breaths as these voices grow louder, and they seem to be moving nearer. I hear a language not of my own and swallow hard.

Night Dwellers.

Trolls or Daemons, maybe.

Their treads grow louder, leading me to believe they are bigger than I have imagined them to be, not smaller. I watch as two tall and large bodies move along the trail. Their silhouettes constantly waver as the trees between us don’t allow a direct vision.

To me, it looks like they are carrying weapons, just as huge as their bodies, and I wonder how many humans have been pummeled to death by them. One suddenly stops walking and becomes still, making the other one halt too. I push my palm tight against my mouth, nearly suffocating myself.

The one who stopped first lifts his nose as if sniffing the air and says some words not understood by me, but I can surmise them. “Do you smell that?”

The other one too takes a big whiff of the air and nods. I am sure of his response. “Yes. A human.”

They look at each other and start shuffling and grinning manically. “A female human.”

I hear a grunt followed by a growl as their eyes dart in different directions. “She’s close.”

I am nearly one with the tree bark as I don’t want even my shadow to fall on the path they are on. I can hear them moving, and to my shock, instead of moving away, they are growing closer to where I am hiding. The branches snap, and the leaves rustle as the foliage is moved to allow their passage. Now I know they are no longer walking on the trail but are on the course to hunt me directly in the forest. I can see the shadows of their bodies getting bigger, the closer they get to me. My heart thuds loudly in my chest, I hope they can’t hear that. Even my lungs seem to have stopped breathing completely.

Run or stay…run or stay…run or stay…

What do I do? I fight against my instincts to remain hiding and lift my foot to run, but it is right at the very moment that I am grabbed by the scruff of my neck not by them, but by another. A giggle rings through the dark night, but I can understand the words spoken by this one just fine, unlike the talks of the other two presumably male Trolls. “She’s mine. I found her first!”

I can’t make out if this being is male or female or what species it is other than its thin, small, and bony body—not something I would associate with a Troll. But with such a diminutive body, I wouldn’t think that it would challenge a Troll. But it did. Maybe the intelligence of this Night Dweller is low.

I don’t want to die! What do I do? I am surrounded by three of the Night Dwellers, and one of them has me. I can’t fight either. I don’t know how.

And if I scream, no one will hear me. It will only attract more of these things, and the situation will only worsen. I breathe heavily through my mouth. One of the bigger Trolls laughs heartily and steps forward, now directly in my view. “Not only are you puny, but you’re a dumb Skeller. Go back to your cave and leave us the woman. What use will you have for her?”

I can understand the Troll now; although, his face is still in the shadows, and I cannot get a good look. His eyes, however, shine golden in this darkness, unlike the tales that said their eyes were dull and scary dark red.

I had no idea that these beings, the Night Dwellers or even the Trolls, could speak our language. That is even more frightening.

And a Skeller…what is a Skeller? I have never heard of their kind. No stories or anything. Has anyone, even the hunters, ever encountered them?

“And you! What use would you have for this fat cow other than using her for your main dish? You’re just a dumb Troll from the Vonkill tribe!” hisses the thing behind me, its claws pressing against my neck.

“I’m just a dumb Troll from the Vonkill tribe, huh?” the man…no, Troll…grumbles.

The other Troll beside him, with the same golden eyes, narrows his gaze. “We’re the twin chieftains...not just any Trolls, thing. Give us the girl now, and you won’t be killed.”

The Skeller cackles behind me, seeming to not believe they are the chieftains of the Vonkill tribe. “Then I’m the Queen of caves and mines. Get lost, damn petty Trolls! This one’s bones are mine.”

One of the Trolls sighs deeply while glancing at the other. “Kill her?”

A weapon shifts off the taller Troll’s shoulder as their eyes focus dangerously on the Skeller behind me. “Couldn’t agree more.”

My heart sinks, as without regard for my safety and uncaring about my standing in front of them, they swing their weapon toward us. I barely manage to duck, and when I do, the Skeller’s claws scratch my neck. Luckily, they are surface wounds and not deep enough to cause me terrible pain.

A resounding crack followed by a smash echo throughout the night air, and the body behind me collapses to the ground.

One of the Trolls sighs again. “The females are a lot weaker and easier to kill. Maybe we should use her bones for decorating. It’s not every day a Skeller emerges from their caves. What do you think?”

The other laughs evilly. “No, perhaps we can use her insides. Her cunt…I think...would make a good pouch to carry around and show off to the others.”

They both snigger in agreement as they think of ways they can use the Skeller’s body. I am still shocked at the sight of what I am facing. Two Trolls standing in front of me. One Skeller dead behind me. My eyes round in fear as my legs refuse to move. I take a deep breath in, hoping it will help me collect myself.

I need to run now! Or else my ‘cunt’ will be used as some pouch too.

My feet start shuffling forward before my mind can agree with me or make any other cohesive plans. I hear the two laugh louder, now making fun of me after they are done mocking the dead Skeller. I sprint ahead, trying to put as much distance between us, their voices muffled with each step. Yet I can still hear them.

“I wonder how fast she can run with those plump, little legs.”

“Not far. Humans can’t see well in the dark like we can.”

“Should we chase her now?”

“Yes, but let's give her a head start. It’s only fair. And it will make the hunt interesting.”

“A game. I like it already.”

That is the last I hear from the two chieftains as I continue running aimlessly deep into the forest, my eyes constantly darting in all directions and keeping a lookout for the Night Dwellers or Trolls that I may run into.

I see a flicker of light in between the trees, and from an instinct born out of my need to survive, I run toward that light. I can smell it now. A campfire. I know that smell very well.

It is small, but I am hopeful it belongs to a human dwelling as it is in the North. I hope it is a human hunter who can help me escape these beings and get back to my village.

Please…just please…let me get to the humans in time before either of these Trolls find me.

Branches slap my face, and I trip over my own two feet as I continue to run in the dark. My mind is focused on my escape, and nothing else matters. My body aches from all the bruises and scrapes that batter it, but no matter what, I keep pushing forward to increase the distance between me and the Trolls.

The light in the distance grows brighter as I near it, and I begin to feel happy, my feet rushing forward with inner speed. My joy wanes when my eyes take in the bones and a half-eaten carcass lying around it. I try to slow down and change directions, but by then I am already at the campsite. Great. Now I am out in the open, as if inviting the Trolls to eat me.

I should have known. I’m so stupid!

I feel tears running down my face when I hear one of the Trolls from earlier call out to me from my left, “Where’d ya go, fatty?”

The other screeches from the right, “The fatty has surprised me, though. She managed to run faster than I imagined.”

They have surrounded me.

They begin to cackle as the first one counters, “But not as fast as she hoped.”

“Unlucky she is.”

I swallow hard again and am about to start running, when I hear a gruff voice stop me in my tracks. “I wouldn’t run if I were you.”

I don’t even have time to gasp as something comes barreling from the trees in the direction I came running from. It drops down behind me with a loud thud, dirt kicking up in the air, but I don’t dare to move.

A large hand falls roughly on my shoulder, and the man or the being says, “You run to the twins, and they will strip you down to the bone, alive and all. Stay here, and I will not do anything like that to you. You have my word, lassie.”

His fingers sink into my flesh, the dull nails marking my skin, and I am struck by a second wave of fear. And indecisiveness.

What should I do?

I stand rooted to my spot, unable to see his face, but chills traverse down my spine on listening to his next words.

“You came just in time for dinner. I’m hungry.”

My heart drops right down to my feet, wanting to escape my body, as chains of cold dread wrap around me. Because of my selfish reasons for not wanting to leave my stuff behind, I seem to have encountered a set of hungry Night Dwellers, many or all of whom are set on eating me, including the one I have just run into.

What the hell, Journee!

Chapter III: Rabbit


Silent tremors shake my body, but not a single sound manages to find its way out of my throat, struck close by panic. A Night Dweller is behind me, its presence looming over me. He is waiting for something, the muscles of his arm still tense as I can see from the corner of my eye. He too is still in the same position.

But what is he waiting for?

I want him to let go of me. I want to fight, do something. But I know this will only anger him. He is, after all, a Night Dweller, and they're all the same. Terrible, cruel, hideous monsters. And I’m just a human.

A dark thought flashes through my mind. Will I end up like my mom and dad? With pieces of me scattered through the Troll lands.

My eyes widen when I hear the voices of the twins from the depths of the forest in front of me. They are still searching for me.

Are they the ones who this Troll or being is waiting for? Are these his friends? What have I done?

I have led them directly to me, making my situation much worse.

Eventually, the twins find us. They come from the dark woods and into the orange glow of the fire. Their steps vibrate the ground they walk on, and fear continues to quicken my pulse.

They scowl at me and then at the man behind me. I shudder when I see them in the light. The twins are huge, with muscular bodies, almost seven feet in height. I know that any human who dares to confront them would be dead with one swing from their fists.

They're even scarier in the light.

Staring at them, they’re almost identical. They have the same golden eyes and blond hair. Even their skin tone and body structure are similar. The only difference is one of them is slightly smaller, with a double set of tusks and missing an eye, but his hair covers the sunken orbit. The other is just a tad bigger with his hair styled in a flashy ponytail, and unlike his twin, he is missing a tusk.

I can only wonder in these moments which Night Dweller had caused those injuries. They look to be old wounds… It had to be something bigger and stronger than a Troll. Or maybe one of their own had done it.

Do they fight amongst themselves?

Golden tattoos dot their skin, the same color as their eyes and hair, but the markings seem to glow, especially in the flames of the fire.

The larger one is more daring and gets closer, but the smaller twin pushes his brother back with his arm. "Don't. He is not from our clan. Look at his markings. Orange. Take in the fact that we are also at our land’s border and the beginning of the Snowfire's territory."

The larger Troll doesn’t give up. He squints his eyes, examining the man or Troll behind me, while growling the words, "But we found her first. She is ours."

“She is on my land, so this woman is mine. She is no longer what you can deem as yours,” the Troll behind me states sternly. “Come any closer, and I will have every right to kill you, Vonkill or not.” The man then fists my hair and roughly pulls my head back so much that I am staring up at his dark red eyes. "And she is staying for dinner."

The twin with a missing tusk scoffs, "Fine. Keep her, but you're only causing more shit between our turfs. If we ever find you on our land, you're dead, Snowfire fuck. I mean it!"

“Likewise,” the man says, letting go of my hair. “But I am curious. Why start another war over just one simple, overfed human woman? She is not even that pretty or eye-catching.”

Overfed woman...? Not pretty? So, that is how they're labeling me now. I'd rather be just called fat and plain.

“The same can be asked about you,” the immature, hot-headed twin growls. “Why do you want this overfed villager? Why fuck with us and our hunt?”

“She is on my land,” the Troll behind me retorts. “Anything, even a rabbit, is mine if it crosses over to the Snowfire territory. And she, like a rabbit, just so happened to fall into the arms of another one hunting her.”

The twins both sneer before the older one turns around, leaving behind his parting words. “If she's still alive the next time we see her, she's ours for sure. Whether she is on our or your land.”

The other shortly follows, having a nastier temper. “And we're ripping your tongue out. Fuckhead.”

“Good luck with that,” the man hums nonchalantly, watching the twins slowly slink off into the darkness, their bodies disappearing into the thick greenery surrounding us.

The Troll behind me loosens his grip as he ponders, “Now, what to do with you, lassie? It's not every day a human girl comes running to me. Not in a long time anyway.”

A long time? Another human girl has run to him before? Or did he mean he has captured or hunted another human girl in the past?

He grips my face squishing my cheeks as he turns my face toward him. This time, I get a direct view of him, now that he is not yanking my head back.

His eyes remind me of the rich summer wines served at the autumn equinox banquets, and his hair is long and white but not due to age like the elders of the village, but more silvery. He, like the twins, has markings, but his are of burnt orange.

Three of these tattoos are lines, and they run vertically over one eye. And the more I stare at him, the greater I begin to realize something is wrong with the eye. Its color is somewhat duller, and the light of fire doesn't reflect well off it either. He is probably blind on his right side.

All the trolls I have seen so far have some terrible injuries.

Was there a great battle fought that we humans were unaware of, or was something attacking them?

They did mention a war because of turfs, but it is scary to think of other Night Dwellers bigger than a Troll or something with equal strength. I doubt we humans would have been the ones to cause these injuries if we had attacked them.

I swallow hard, the longer I stare at him. His eyes are unkind and dark, as if he was having a very bad night. There is no mercy or remorse in them for me or for anything around him.

He will probably kill me. Eat me, more likely.

I look down at his tusks, large and jutting upward. They are as sharp as the sickles human hunters use. He is not as tall as the twin Trolls, slightly smaller in height. I find it surprising he is only a few inches taller than me. Six feet, if I were to guess.

“I am curious about something, lassie,” he says seriously. Though, it is to be admitted that never has his mood wavered to anything else so far. "You humans all scurry into your homes when night falls, but here you are, running like a lost rabbit with wolves on your tail. What are you doing? Are you one of those foolish hunters? You don't look the part."

His eyebrows furrow, trying to figure me out. I can see he refers to me as a rabbit quite a bit. I am nothing like one. Rabbits are cute, but I suppose he thinks of them as nothing but food like how he currently sees me.

He loosens his grip on my cheeks in order for me to speak, and I reply, my voice wavering, "I was injured from a fall, and when I woke up, it was night. I am no hunter. I'm just a villager. I travel to deliver goods, and that is how I ended up here. That’s all I am. I promise!"

He narrows his eyes at me, his face scrunching up as if trying to determine whether I am lying or not. I would be foolish to lie to him in my current situation.

The Troll finally lets go of me, but I do not run away from him, as I know the twins are lingering in the woods elsewhere, angry about losing me to him.

"So just a merchant then. You have a nasty head wound," he informs me. “But, for a second, I thought you were a hunter and that maybe you were with the other guys.”

Other guys?

From the throbbing in my head, I think I know I have a head injury. The adrenaline from my run has blocked out the pain mostly, but I am sure it will eventually hurt me. And if I live till the morning, I will have quite a headache, that is if the other injuries scattered all over my body don’t kill me until then.

I am quiet as I watch him back away, snatching a bag off the ground, and he throws it toward me.

I automatically flinch, covering my face, expecting heavy rocks to crash against me, but it lands just a few inches away from my shoes with a clattering noise.

"Use whatever you see fit for your wound. The bag belonged to the corpse over there—one of your people, a hunter. I'm sure he had stuff for injuries." He curls his lip to reveal not sharp teeth but normal human ones, except for his bottom tusks. "He was stupid to think I wouldn't notice him cross into our land. But he just ended up as another dinner."

I look at the bag in confusion and then at the nameless troll.

Is he...helping me?

My eyes glance back at the corpse he was talking about. The man's leg is missing, and his belly is opened. His insides have also been removed. My stomach lurches and threatens to throw its contents through my mouth.

This Troll was eating him! Had to be. Something that could eat a human like this would not help me without wanting to take something from me. What does he want? Does he not want his food to be injured unless he is the one who has caused the injury? Or is there something I'm missing?

I turn my head and bring my attention back to the bag he threw at me. I kneel down, shuffling through it. There is nothing useful besides a tin of ointment. I take it out, and recognize it to be the one from my village, just by looking at it.

"Why are you helping me?" I ask him hesitantly.

What will he say? Night Dwellers can't be trusted.

He walks around me to stand on the other side of me. "I can't help a woman in need?" He then stops upon reaching the fire a few feet away from the corpse. "You are my guest for dinner. Did I not tell you this already? Or were you not listening?"

Guest.

I slide my finger into the tin and rub the ointment where my head throbs the most, and also all over my gashes. I wince as I dab at all my wounds but continue to speak, "I am a human. Trolls do not help humans."

"You're right. We do not help humans." He sits down on a large log, placing his elbows on his knees. "But who says I'm helping you?"

"You gave me something for my wound, and you're calling me a guest," I murmur. "Why aren't you trying to attack me or eat me?"

"I have food." He reaches for a chunk of unidentifiable meat that was placed around a stick over the fire and grins at me. "I am not that much of a glutton like yourself to want to eat two things in one night. So, you're a guest for tonight, not on my menu."

He tears into the stretchy meat with his teeth, and I pale as I cross my arms over my middle, pushing the tin into my apron.

I feel sick to my stomach to think he is eating that poor man. The human was a hunter who was only trying to do us villagers some good.

Tomorrow or the day after that would be me over that fire. The Hunter’s body will not last the Troll forever. He will be hungry again, perhaps sooner than later. I don’t even know if Trolls eat anything other than meat.

He licks his fingers when he finishes the cooked meat, and his eyes narrow darkly at me once he is done. "A guest shouldn't be so rude to stare at me like that. You act as if I'm disgusting. It's only a rabbit, you know, something you eat. It…she…trespassed here onto my land."

Rabbit?

I cast my gaze down to the ground and murmur an apology, "I'm sorry." I sound wimpy right now, but my death will come faster if I say anything other than that.

"Come here," he orders suddenly.

My eyes return to him, and I do not want to move, so I don't. Instead, I only stare. I like being this far away from him. I feel safer this way even though it is a false sense of security.

"I'm not going to ask again," he warns. "Do you want me coming to you?"

I shake my head before slowly stepping forward but keeping him at arm's length.

"Sit." That is his next order. And when I start to sit on the ground, he 'tsks' and growls, "Not on the ground."

"T-there is nowhere else to sit." I stumble over my words, my heart pounding, as I do not want him angry. That is the last thing I need.

My eyes look around, finding nowhere but the ground.

"I was right to call you simple. You're a dumb thing, lass. When a man asks you to sit, you sit on his fucking lap." He grabs my wrist and violently pulls me toward him, forcing me to sit on him.

I immediately stiffen as now he has a hold around my waist, and I can feel the heat of his legs under my thighs and also the fanning of his breath on my nape.

"It's going to be a dull night if you just sit here," he hums as his fingers trace the seam of my lips before pulling the lower one down. My heart clenches as my mind wonders about what he is going to do to me.

Is he going to…? No, not that, of all things. When I prayed for a man's embrace, I did not want this!

He then reaches over to the fire, shifting my body with his but still having a firm grip on me, and he plucks another strip of meat from the fire before he pushes it to my lips, ultimately surprising me.

"Eat with me." His words are more like a command than a suggestion.

I am not even given time to nod or reply when he pushes the meat forcefully past my lips. It's hot, burning my tongue.

So, this is his torture for now. A glimpse of what is to come.

I breathe in sharply, chewing just a little and swallowing the rest, but he doesn't seem to believe I have swallowed everything as he forcefully shoves his fingers past my lips and into my mouth, checking every last crevice of it.

"You have a soft mouth," he comments. "But I'm sure the only thing that's been in here is food. Right?" He laughs at his own comment, belittling and torturing me.

Damn Troll…if you were a human.

"Do you want to try something different?" he asks suddenly, interrupting my thoughts.

I vigorously shake my head in a “No,” my eyes watering as he pushes his fingers all the way to the back of my throat, making me choke after a while.

"Not bad," he says next, commenting on something I don't understand at the moment. "And that is a shame...we could have had some unusual excitement tonight." He takes his fingers out of my mouth, shaking the salvia from them and wiping the rest on my clothes. "Perhaps another time then."

Another time?

He shoves me off his lap forcefully, and I fall onto the ground with a thud.

"Now we go home," he grunts as he stands, and before I can even fix myself, he lifts me off the ground and throws me over his shoulder.

I am surprised he could lift me in one movement as he has. I am no small woman, as everyone is well aware, and not many have ever attempted to lift me. But to be carried like this with ease, I know he has to be strong, possibly ten times stronger than a human man.

He walks forward, and hanging from his back, I can see the campsite getting smaller with each of his strides. I have no choice but to remain slumped over his shoulder.

What is next to come for me?

I'm unsure of my fate. But I know one thing is certainly on my mind. And that is an escape.

I will find my way out.


TO BE CONTINUED IN A TROLL'S HUNGER (DARK TASTE 1)


DECEMBER 10, 2023


















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It's officially been a year since the release of The Siren's Mistress (Water Brides 1) and now the second book is complete and ready to be published October 16, 2023 after many delays since August (the original release date)! I do apologize for this but I wanted to make sure the best version of the book was being released- meaning fully edited and read over carefully.


Each book can be read as a standalone but I do encourage reading others in the series as characters make guest appearances and more!


I hope everyone who has preordered, supported my books on Patreon, and are fans of my writing enjoys my newest release The Ocean's Star on the 16th! It will also be available to read on Kindle Unlimited alongside the first book for those yet to have read TSM!


Water Brides 3 characters and setting has already been decided and chapters will be posted by the end of this year on my Patreon alongside other books within the universe. Some characters seen in book 1 and 2 will have their own story to tell! I can't wait to delve deeper within the Water Bride series!



You would think Captain Star's problems would never be anything more than finding new land to call her home or keeping her crew members safe but things become much more complicated when two deadly Sirens enter the picture and desire her as their bride. They won't let anything get in their way including shut doors, humans, and beating hearts. Will she escape these two relentless monsters or will she be seduced by the beings in the water who become more beautiful with each passing day? Find out now in this dark and spicy read "The Ocean's Star"!

Release date: October 16th, 2023




FIND NSFW ART OF THE OCEAN'S STAR ON MY PATREON: https://www.patreon.com/dollynightmare


PREORDER THE OCEAN'S STAR: https://books2read.com/theoceansstar


The year is also not over for publishing! A Troll's Hunger is releasing December 10th, 2023! It is a BBW monster romance featuring a troll! More information and previews will soon be posted on the blog and my social media! Keep a look out! Preorders are available on Amazon HERE!


Thank you guys for your support & happy readings,

Dolly Nightmare


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Prologue: Myths of the Ocean

92 Days till Autumn

Day 5 At Sea

What is a home? Is it the one we’re born in or the one we make for ourselves?

In the water, the upswept bow and the flared sides break the waves, and the ocean spray crests the boat’s body, misting us with her salty droplets. No clouds in the sky and no land in sight, just a canvas of blue in front of us and behind.

On days like these, even the ocean winds and her waters are hot. The sun is not a friend, just a scorching foe for all sailors alike. But our worst nightmare is the vacant cry of the seagulls when land is our destination. It is then the unseen horizon that can break even the strongest of men.

And here I stand, looking out upon her vastness. Five days out and the excitement of a new life has ebbed. But we had all agreed to take sail and keep drifting further, not knowing if the ocean was never-ending or if the map I had was authentic. But that is how three boats amassing 250 passengers and 74 crew members have come to be a reality.

And it would have never been so if it weren’t for him. He is the one bringing everyone together. The first to give me this idea. That man…although currently, I don’t know where he is. Probably off napping somewhere or drinking.

My boat is the lesser beauty of the three, but as my father used to say, any boat that sailed well is a good boat. I just hope she holds in the storms.

I sigh silently, tapping my finger against the side of the boat, when I hear someone come crashing from the bunks below deck and running to the edge, while covering his mouth. One of my newest crew members – Eagan. A dark-haired man I have gotten to know well since he arrived on this boat a couple of days ago. He had one friend with him, a little blonde girl, traveling to this unknown destination that we seemed to be heading to.

We all share one dream, to find a new land that is kind and plentiful. A new world free of the monsters lurking back home. Whether they wear uniforms or not.

We had no idea if this entire journey would just be a folly when we started out. But, even now, we have hope and a burning desire to start a new life. One where we could find love and start families of our own and grow old.

Everyone in our world dies young, including most of the parents of the people on this ship. It is the same for Eagen, who, at this moment, is hurling his breakfast off the side of the vessel. I have heard from the blonde girl his parents died most horribly, though she didn't share all the details. It is a shame, but it is our new normal now.

From the rumors circulating in the ship, Eagen’s parents took an experimental drug to cure their ailments, given to them by the royal Prince Kenneth, who is nothing but a scheming bastard. Never trust any of the blues. Each one is worse than the other.

Poverty, sickness, monsters… human and not. They all kill you before you reach 40. Maybe sooner.

I play with a strand of my blonde hair that is being tossed by the ocean winds. It was barely touching my shoulders when we started on this journey. Now it has grown. I turn around, leaning my back against the ledge, and watch Eagan as he continues to barf over the side. I smirk, my lips twisting. “Still haven’t found your sea legs, even after five days, have you? Even that little girl with you and Wilder seem to handle it well. Though…I have seen her in the bunks vomiting into a bucket in the first two days of our travel.”

My eyes drift over to the girl as I peruse her from head to toe.

She doesn’t look too good either. And to think, she had just started to recover from her earlier illness. Out of everyone on the ship, she and Eagan seem to have gotten the worst of it.

He glares at me after his bout of heaving, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His green orbs, dark and eerie, seem to look deep into me. At times, I wonder what horrors he had been subjected to in the past.

He sneers, “Oh, shut up… I must have eaten something bad. On this ship.”

“Oh sure, you ate something bad. Then why aren’t we all getting sick? Huh? We ate the same thing,” chimes a good-looking blond man from where he sat on a barrel, sweat dripping from his forehead as he shines the boots his mother gave him before our departure.

My eyes turn toward his voice. The blond man, whom I have come to know as Camber, is too pretty to be out at sea. Not originally from our coastal town but further inland, he just wanted a journey to put his stamp on.

He seeks publicity to take it back home. I’m sure he will find some pretty little wife after he is done with the voyage. Eagan’s glare shifts to this blond, and he grits his teeth. “Huh? Did you say something, shit face? I’m not the one worrying about my damn looks when we all could be in danger. Fucking pretty boy.”

He shouldn’t be here is what Eagan is trying to say…and what many others think.

Camber narrows his eyes and tosses the wet cloth he was using to shine his boots at Eagan’s chest. The impact makes a wet flop sound as it hits his chest and then onto the deck. "Shut the fuck up, you smelly bastard! I'm just as worried as you are about being surrounded by nothing but water, but at least, I groom myself. And try not to think about it."

I look at them. “Wait. What are you guys scared of? Not finding land?”

I can’t believe it. We all knew there was a possibility we would find nothing. Either be lost at sea or trapped. We knew the risks, yet these grown men are now squabbling about it.

Shit! I’m not that confident about finding land either, but I am their captain, even though I may be leading them to their deaths, not the bright future we have all desired. Regardless, I need to think of something to say, to ease everyone’s nerves.

A chubby woman with rounded cheeks and curly hair, whose father I took on as the head cook butts in, “Miss, truth be told, they aren’t afraid of not finding land. They are scared silly about what is in the water. We all are. Thanks to that girl.” She points to the blonde girl next to Eagan, who has just arrived to check in on him. “She has been telling us all these stories since the night prior about the things called Sirens. Beings that are half-fish and half-human. They are said to lure men and women with their songs and then go on to devour their flesh.”

I start snorting in an attempt to hold my laughter in, but I can’t. Camber becomes flustered as a result, his cheeks gaining a ruddy tinge on them, while Eagan’s glower is shared between us.

Camber yells in response, “It isn’t true. Only this idiot Eagan believes in them.”

Eagan grumbles back. “I am not scared, but it is nothing to laugh about, regardless. It can be true.”

My laughter dies down to a chuckle. “Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. This story is a new one for me. I have heard of mermaids back at home, but not these Sirens. Come on. Tell me more about these creatures. I am intrigued.”

Eagan replies with a frown, “You probably have never listened well to the story of Gimgar as a child. I don’t know why I should be telling you this if you are only going to mock it. Have this fucking shit-face tell it to you.” He then walked away, dragging the blonde girl with him.

The story of Gimgar… I want to ask him more, but he is already gone below deck. I purse my lips and frown slightly before turning my attention to the blond boy. I whisper. Gimgar… I like the way it sounds out loud. A place where myths are made.

I sigh. “I think he means you, shit-face,” I tease Camber, giving him a smirk. “So, are you willing to share with your captain the story that has all of you spooked?”

“Captain, I will have y’know my name is Camber,” he corrects me formally before slumping his shoulders and crossing one leg over the other. “Anyway, it was her grandfather’s story, who supposedly had watched one of his closest friends walk into the sea, one day, for no apparent reason. When the grandfather went to stop him, a naked woman, sinfully beautiful, arose from the waters and started to touch his friend intimately, singing a haunting melody like no other. He had to stop in his tracks. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she smiled widely at them both, her mouth full of sharp teeth, then proceeded to rip into his friend, tearing his body into pieces.”

I gain the complete picture from his words. And, as much as the storytelling is good, I don’t think it’s true. But I do see the addictive appeal to the whole tale, another story to pass the time with. “Sounds like her grandfather had quite the imagination. Don’t you think so?” I ask, turning to the plump woman.

She gives me a sheepish look. “I don’t think Rose is the sort to lie or her grandfather.”

I scoff, flicking her with my finger, then put a hand on my hip as I walk away. “I haven’t seen any such creatures, and I have been traveling up and down the coast with my father for a long time. The only matter we have to worry about is how things are back home.”

She grows quiet on hearing my words, so also Camber, not saying anything more. I can’t believe these idiots have placed their faith in such myths and tall tales. The blonde girl Rose, or whatever is her name, is probably seeking attention on this long trip with such stories. All our lives, we have been told the ocean is evil and that the waters are just as bad as the lands we live on. We have been warned if we ever left home, we would be damned forever.

I think they are full of shit. I am not blinding myself to the danger the sea offers, and I do know there are worse things than these Sirens. Things like starvation and dehydration. If we don’t find land soon. I fear that it is these things that will take our lives, not the stupid tales or myths. Mermaids and Sirens do not exist. They are only told to make us fearful. I know that for sure.


Chapter One: Forests are Dark, Seas are Darker

91 Days till Autumn

Day 6 At Sea

I sit at my desk with my arms folded across my chest as the oil lantern burns strongly. I strum my fingers across the wood, continuing to stare vacantly at the map before me, given to me by my lovely friend Marcus. Supposedly, there is an unnamed island to the east of Eversly, our home in the west.

I trace my fingers over the markings, with an intense desire for it to be real. If we don’t find land soon, we will all be doomed.

Please be real. You have to be.

Lost in my thoughts and not wanting to feel the depths of my yearning, I grab a bottle before twisting the cork off. It comes off with a pop. I don’t bother with a glass but drink straight from the amber bottle. All I want is for the liquid to fill my belly and for my head to go numb. Bringing peace.

Sometimes, I don’t even have to eat. Alcohol is the best substitute. Maybe, that is how I have stayed thin and lithe all these years. I know this behavior is not healthy. I have more of a relationship with alcohol than I have with anyone else. I just hope I don’t run out.

I stand up and approach the open window, looking at a distance through it. The winds are steady, and the stars twinkle brightly in the skies, clearer than ever. It seems we’re still on track. Good. I should probably do my rounds and head off to bed. That way, I can get an early start in the morning.

A few more chugs from the bottle and I find my way back up to the deck. Everyone is sleeping, except for Charlie, who is sitting cross-legged, staring out at the night. A brown-haired boy is he with curly tresses and a soft belly pushing against the buttons of his shirt.

“Can’t sleep?” I ask softly, checking in on him, as I often do, finding him here like clockwork every time.

He looks at me solemnly with those big brown eyes, then speaks with a slight accent. “No, Captain. Most nights, I can’t. I keep feeling uneasy. Like something bad is about to happen. My mether has always said the forests are dark, but the seas are darker.”

He is obviously not from the coastline like the lot of us but further up north. Only the animal hunters who came to trade pelts or meats spoke with the same drawl he had.

I laugh. “They’re both scary, but they both also provide adventure. Why did you decide to join us?”

“I am not much of a hunter, too awkward and much of a clod, and the north doesn’t raise no losers.” He shakes his head ruefully, his action speaking for itself.

I know the northerners are harsh, so it makes perfect sense why he is here. But I worry about how he will fare in the future. For some reason, deep down, not even admitting fully to myself, I worry about this boy’s safety. “Well, when we get to land, you can be anything. Remember that.” I smile before continuing on my rounds while holding the lantern out. “Try to get some sleep. Don’t let these pitiful seas be the last thing you see.”

“Yes, Captain.” He nods, then gets up, seeming to take my advice for the night. I walk around the deck, seeing only a few men about, those who are standing guard, but even they have to stifle a yawn or two. Bowing in acknowledgment of their waves, I walk on.

Before I can check the bunks and the inventory, I almost trip on a pair of long legs that are in my way, belonging to the man lying there with his hat pulled over his face. Sleeping in such an odd position on the stairs leading down will strain his neck.

I make a face while having to shift my body awkwardly and skip a step. A chill suddenly runs down my spine as I sense a set of eyes upon me, and I freeze on the spot. The body behind me is shifting his hat to take a peek at me.

Marcus.

I have my reasons to feel as I do now. But the more I am at sea with him, the more I can feel his aura growing darker. I can’t explain my reasons, but I get the creeps at night, especially around him.

Just ignore him, Star. I try my best to do that as I walk around quietly. Making sure everyone is comfortable, showing no sign of plague or any other problems that can arise from cramped spaces. I must be well prepared for this long journey with my crew if I wish to keep all of them alive.

But that is easier said than done.

As I walk down the narrow aisles, I see Wilder drooling on himself, not a care in this world, while Camber sleeps with his mouth wide open, snoring quite loudly, which makes me smirk.

They’re good men.

I lose my smile when I flash my lantern on the empty bed next to them. Eagan is missing. I wonder if he has gone to take a piss. I pay it no mind. But then, I see him coming out from a supply closet, shoving something into his pocket and away from my view as soon as he sees me. He narrows his eyes at me, in anger or fear, I don’t know. I am about to say something when Rose too comes out of the closet, looking like she has been up to no good.

I glance at her, then sigh softly as he walks past me and back to his bed.

I see. I knew they were close but not that close.

Just like the peacefulness of the night, all seems to be well here too. We’re off to a decent start. Inventory seems to be good too, with no one stealing or taking more than they should. When I turn back to go up the stairs, I expect to see Marcus, but he is no longer there.

Such a strange man. He never sleeps with the rest. Always in odd places. Who knows where I will find him tomorrow or the day after?

I make my way up the steps and jump when I hear a splash in the water. I turn my lantern toward the sound, though the dull light seems to not illuminate much. I can’t see anything. I stay still and wait for long moments, but nothing shows itself.

I walk back to my room, and after setting the lantern down, I turn it off, the light from the stars through the window my only source. I sit on my bed, taking off my boots and throwing them. Some soreness in my feet from standing too long.

I lie down, letting my eyes close.

Must have been a fish. A big one, though.


Chapter Two: Locket

82 Days till Autumn

Day 15 At Sea

More days have passed, and I feel nothing has changed. Just another day at sea. Relentless and monotonous. Soft waves crash against the sides of the boat in a repeated fashion, lulling us into a false sense of security. The water is midnight black, and trying to peer into its depths is impossible. Just the reflection of the full moon on its rippling surface is the only thing that can be seen.

It's pretty eerie, if not scary…

When I think about it, I realize we, as humans, will never truly know what sorts of things hide just beneath the calm exteriors of the ocean surface. We sail blissfully over her waters, unaware of the dangers that lurk in the depths. And then, even a darker thought looms over me.

What about the things that lie in wait, ready to eat us? Sea creatures, things the size of the boat itself.

I’m instantly reminded of Rose’s tall tale about creatures called Sirens, who sing sweet songs and drown grown men and feast on their flesh. Rose’s grandfather is said to have witnessed everything, and if he wasn’t some crazy old fool or drunk…

They couldn’t really exist, could they?

Shivers run down my spine at the thought of such things being real, despite knowing they are stories meant to scare children or make drunken men ponder for a moment about what calls the ocean home. I mean, my imagination is running wild. I’m pretty drunk myself right now.

But if they existed, they could pose to be a deadly threat since all around us there is water. What will I do if such a situation arises? Accept a watery grave?

It’s stupid to even imagine them, a being with the upper half as a human and lower half, a fish. I wave a hand in front of my face to dispel this foolish notion. Bahh. It sounds silly, if not preposterous.

I’m sure some drunk came up with it, perhaps after eyeing a beautiful woman, then a fish, and somehow letting his mind wander to dirtier and more unruly thoughts. Though I wonder…a man…how will he look as half fish.

I start laughing, gripping my stomach and leaning against the railing. The old man definitely had a vivid imagination…Rose’s grandfather…I give him that. But where did he come up with the idea of these things eating human flesh for dinner and then having supernatural strength, enough to tear a human body to shreds, where it ended up looking like chum?

Can it be true? My laughter dies down, and I turn my head on hearing the crew’s boisterous singing and dancing in the distance. They are partying and hollering drunkenly as usual, loud enough to beckon these Sirens, if they are somewhere close to our boat. But I don’t blame my men. Parties are the only things that keep us occupied and away from thoughts such as mine.

I can pick out a couple of the voices distinctly. Camber and the other one is Eagan. It sounds like they are becoming good friends despite their yelling at each other. I’m sure it is something dumb they are arguing about. As usual.

I mute out their drunken fight. In the beginning days of this voyage, it was amusing and entertaining, but now I’m sick of hearing the same things every day, every second. The same old shit. They never change their lines, whatever be the topic.

I’m also secretly sick of being around men, and the few women on the ship, Rose and the plump girl whose name I’ve yet to catch, have already called it a night.

My vision begins to blur slightly. I shouldn’t have drunk so much with them either. That is pretty stupid of me. I should have a clear mind as their captain, but I can’t honestly say I do, with or without these drinks.

But what’s more embarrassing is I nearly kissed Camber, thinking he has a pretty face. Luckily, no one noticed my cringeworthy moment at all, as the rest were even more drunk than me. Even Camber himself. When I went in to kiss him, he had turned to the edge of the boat to vomit. Ruining the mood.

Even now, I feel my cheeks burn. Camber is another odd crush of mine. I suppose I have always liked weird things. He is the last person I would expect someone like me to like, out of all the men and sailors here. I guess my mind, and my body, thinks he is charming after being on this ship with him for over two weeks now.

It is fortunate that he or any of the others, for that matter, never noticed my drunken misdemeanor, else I will never hear the end of it. Never. I will just be laughed at and mocked.

I’m their captain, for God’s sake, one of the very first female ones on these waters. In fact, I can’t afford to be looked down upon by them for having a crush on one of my crew members in my first two weeks here. There is no love while at sea, and certainly none for a captain.

I sigh and stare at the locket in my hand. My skin has started to get a nice, healthy tan from being out in the sun each and every day. And to think I used to have the palest hand before all this. Well, not anymore.

I rub at the surface of the gold locket with my thumb, feeling the grooves and ridges of the design. Much of it has been worn down with how often I rub it and also due to its usage by the previous owner.

My fingernails are short and ragged, dirty too. Like the paleness of my skin, my cleanliness has all but disappeared. I probably smell more of sweat and booze. Not the romantic combination of smells.

How I yearn for a nice hot bath, but the sailors don’t dare to bathe in the ocean or even go near it to collect water, including me. The water supply on the ship is running low even as I speak. I suppose we can go on with this water for two and a half more months. But at what point do we go back if we could?

Where exactly is the nearest island or land? We’ve heard just rumors of there being places on the east, north, and south of us, but our main destination is this island in particular, which we don’t even know if it exists. I worry more and more every day.

If only it would rain. It’s been nothing but clear skies so far. I know how dangerous a storm is, but if we can fill our reservoir again with more drinking water, then maybe we can go farther. Everyone here is scared the day will soon come when we will drink the last drops of water.

Another sigh leaves me. I can’t believe we all actually agreed to this craziness just so, on the off chance, we can find better land and make it our own. If we did find it, I doubt it will be better. I’m sure there are monsters there too. Why wouldn’t there be? It will be too easy. There would have also been rumors before us of Westerners traveling further out.

Maybe it would have been better if we had just stayed put. We could have been safer in our homeland even though the monsters roamed the night and royalty controlled us in the day and pinched us of every coin we had. Safe or free was the question. That is why we did it. To be free.

Though how much longer will we be? Truly?

Some like Camber and others are beginning to doubt if we will ever see land again, despite us barely making it a month. They are also thinking that we may be sailing forever, and our final days will be spent looking upon the vast blueness surrounding us as we take our last breaths, our mouths painfully dry from dehydration.

While some like Eagan stay in the middle, not knowing what our futures hold for us. Then there are other sailors who are eternally optimistic, like Rose, assuring that there has to be land besides our own and we would happen upon it soon. Any day now, she says.

That is the only time I have sided with the little blonde girl. I am also optimistic and have never spoken my worries out loud. A captain can’t put fear in her passengers and crew. And what’s more, this voyage can’t be all for naught.

As these thoughts ruminate in my mind, I start playing with my locket, running it over and under my fingers. Probably not my best idea when my hands are hanging off the sides of the ship and the drinks have made me fuzzy-brained. I like the feel of the cold metal against my hot skin. I know I shouldn’t, but my mind is enveloped in a fog.

I start to feel the necklace slip through my fingers, and my heart stops. I try to snatch it from mid-air, but the effect of gravity is too fast, and before I know it, I hear a ‘plop’ in the calm waters.

“No!” I scream as my eyes widen in horror. That necklace is a memento of my mother’s. I cannot lose it. It is all I have had of her.

I look into the dark waters and swallow hard. I might still have a chance to grab it, though my plan is risky.

The waves are calm tonight, and my necklace could have already sunk to that depth where I will never be able to reach it. Or perhaps I still have time. I have to give it one try. My eyes glance at the rope attached to the pole hanging off the side of the boat.

I can do this. I have to do this. I don’t allow sanity to reach my brain when I kick off my boots and climb up on the ledge. Without thinking, I dive into the water to retrieve my necklace.

The salt of the ocean immediately stings my eyes, and I can’t see a thing once I am underneath the surface.

Of course, I can't! I am so dumb! It's dark. How will I find it?

Out of the corner of my eyes, I see a glint of silver, and I follow the quick flash of color.

This must be it!

I feel excited as I stretch my arm out, my fingers reaching for it. But my instincts nag at me. Something isn’t right. Why is it not sinking further into the water? Is it caught on something? But what?

We are in the middle of nothing but water all around. My mind is slow to ponder why my locket has stopped its descent to the bottom of the ocean. I blindly try to grab it and pull it toward me, but there is resistance and a tug. As if someone else too has grabbed onto it.

What on earth can…?

My eyes focus hard in that direction, and I swim closer, going far below the surface of the water. It is then, in the darkness, I see two piercing gray eyes looking back at me. Narrowed and dangerous.

What the fuck! What the actual fuck!

I open my mouth to scream, forgetting where I was. Instead of producing a shrill noise, bubbles rush out of my mouth instead. And then comes my need to breathe. I forget all about my necklace when I start to choke on the water. Salt burns the lining of my throat. I flail my arms violently at the same time, reaching up toward the surface and kicking my feet in a blind panic.

In the end, with such violent movements, I manage to startle the creature. It draws back, then leans forward, showing me its razor-sharp teeth, pulling back its lips and hissing. In a flash, it swims away.

I flail to the surface once the being is gone, gasping and coughing. I can’t believe my eyes even now. There was something there. In the waters. I saw it. A living thing…a living human-like thing…in the ocean with a human set of eyes, mouth, and hands. And the sharp teeth.

And now it has my necklace too. Stupid.

I swim toward the boat, which is some distance away, as fast as I can and grab hold of the rope and start climbing quickly, in fear for my life, now remembering the story about Sirens. Midway in my ascent, I turn my head, feeling the burning stare at my back, my wet tresses sticking to my forehead and water dripping into my eyes, obscuring my vision just a little more.

Something is still out there. Looks like a fishtail. It suddenly slaps the water with a loud splash, and I grip the rope a little tighter than before.

Sirens…

It couldn’t be, could it?

I scamper up the rest of the way, my heart pounding crazily. Upon reaching the deck, I flop down against the sturdy railing. My breaths are quick and intense as my mind replays the entire encounter. I look off the side of the boat again, the ocean now seemingly peaceful. When, in reality, I know it is not. Especially not now.

My mind must surely be playing tricks on me! I mean...I mean... I'm not a hundred percent sober here.

Is it possible I have seen something else, and since I am secretly scared of the Sirens, my mind conjured it up?

I continue to stare out into the ocean. The only logical thought is that my mind has made up this 'Siren' creature.

I suddenly feel a drop in my chest as sadness hits me. Even if that creature is a product of my active imagination, I have still lost the necklace. I feel ashamed. And lost without it.

I grip the side of my boat. My drunken state has gotten me into trouble once again. This time I have lost something very important to me, that I will never get it back. A piece of my heart.

An angry wail is suddenly heard over the partying of the sailors on deck, then there is another, followed by two more.

What is that if the creature is just my imagination then?


Chapter Three: A Captain


I rush past everything, including that man Marcus, who is slumped against the wall, not far from my office. His hat, pulled low, shields his face, but I swear I see a tiny grin when he tilts his head on hearing me rush forward and a devilish glint in his dark blue eyes. That is the last I see of him in my hurry. Probably more of my imagination on this hellish drunken night, I am sure.

Still, I can’t seem to get inside fast enough.

I slam shut the door and slump against it, my body slowly sliding down it as adrenaline still courses in my blood. My throat burns, and with my lungs tight, my heart is hammering in my chest.

WHAT THE FUCK!

The lock. I must get to the lock. I stretch my body and reach up, my fingers clumsy. But eventually, I am able to bolt it. I put my hand over my chest and squeeze. It hurts. I can’t get a full breath of air.

FUCK!

I couldn’t have imagined that. No amount of rum will make you see what I saw and hear those screeches. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I need my gun. And some dry clothes. Being wet is weighing me down. I can’t seem to walk straight on my two feet.

I scramble across the floor to the bureau next to my bed. My gun is supposed to be there, and I yank open the drawer, flinging my undergarments onto the floor.

Where is it? Has someone stolen it? Who? One of my crew?

WHO? Who will dare to steal my gun?

Wait…wait!

I remember now. I used it as a paperweight on my desk the other day. It must be there even now, right? I glance all over the surface, taking in the map fluttering, not yet blown off, in the breeze from the ajar window. The curtains flutter too, creating shadows across the room. I crawl to my desk, patting the top before ripping the gun down into my hand. I check the chamber, double check it, to see if it is full.

I refuse to be that idiot who does not have a loaded gun in the face of the possible threats looming around. Thankfully, all six chambers are filled, and I close it shut.

Another gust of wind blows in, sending my map airborne and slapping it against the opposing wall by the door. I gasp and nearly jump out of my skin like some alley cat.

Fuck. My heart can't take much more of this.

That window needs to be closed now. I scramble to it, continuing to stay low to the floor. I slam it shut and latch it as well before scooting back until my rear hits the wall next to my bed. I need to remove these wet clothes so that I can move easily when danger closes in. With one hand, I remove my top, while holding firm the gun with the other. My eyes feel like they will bulge right out of my head as they dart from the window to the door, making sure my room is secure. I still can't get my breathing under control. My wet top lands on the floor with a heavy slap.

A hundred thoughts rush to my brain all at the same time, bringing with them fear and apprehension.

What if they attack my ship? Crawl onto it like in the stories that Rose spoke of? Those screeches too! There is more than one far-off in the distance.

I unbutton my pants and shove them down, kicking them away from me, leaving me nude. Then I crawl up to my bed, swinging my gun from left to right, window to door, and then back again.

I lie down on my bed and pull the blanket over me as I think back to the thing I encountered in the waters while keeping my ears peeled for more screeches or weird sounds closing in on my ship.

I can only hear the sailors partying and having a good time, clowning around and dancing to the raucous music. How had they not heard those screeches? Were they too intoxicated to hear them?

Fucking morons! They are going to get themselves killed fast if they are lucky. Being eaten alive is not the best way to die. I continue to hear them have a grand time.

They have no way of protecting themselves, though. Should I warn them? They will probably laugh at me if I tell them what I heard or saw. It probably won’t do me much good. They will just say it’s all in my head. Hell, even I won't believe me if I hear this story.

My hand holding the gun is trembling, and I wish I could steady it.

It’s not like I will be a big help if danger decides to visit us tonight. Not with this gun, anyway. I can probably use the six bullets to defend myself. But what about my crew?

I am the captain. If I die, they die too. They’re bigger idiots than me. Most of them have no idea how to read, let alone navigate using a map. Luckily, I learned everything from my father, though I have no idea who taught him. He never shared. I never asked. The rest of the crew will perish if I am gone.

That is a terrible thought, and I do not wish to ponder it again.

I’m being selfish, aren’t I?

I should have warned them or screamed for help when I climbed aboard. Something. Anything. But I didn’t do it. Why not?

My crew will be eaten or something worse if the Sirens decide to attack now. There is not a single sober person left awake above deck. I pull the blanket tighter around me, drawing my knees up to my chest. Instead of alerting everyone, I ran into my cabin like a coward. I am fucking pathetic.

Is this how a captain acts? Running to the bed and hiding under the blankets like some stupid snot-nosed little kid?

I should be out there on the decks, sobering up my crew and sending signals to other ships that are miles ahead of us. Though what happens if I am just really drunk and hallucinating? Maybe I saw some things and mistook them to be Sirens in my head.

My thoughts go round and round until my head feels heavy. Whichever way I look at it, I am sure I did see a creature. Even now when I close my lids, I can see the flash of the creature’s narrowed eyes. Gray and hollow-looking.

I have never once seen eyes like that. Void of life, nevertheless, human. Or perhaps not. The pupils didn’t look right. They reminded me more of an eel if anything. Like those of the dead ones that used to wash ashore every now and then on our land.

There is a sudden creak coming from the boat. Is this the boat settling or something else? I tense, putting my finger on the trigger.

What the hell is it? One of them?

As time passes, there are no more sounds. I am able to relax just a little. It must have really been the boat settling. I clench my chest again, another stabbing pain that makes breathing difficult. I feel cold too. I didn’t feel it at first, but now I do. I can't stop trembling. A delayed reaction or something else?

I shouldn’t have left the window open post-sunset. I am used to the summer heat during the day, but at night, the seawater carries its own chill in the breeze. As a result, my cabin is freezing, and I am also soaking wet, to add to it. The ends of my hair drip down my back and shoulders, cold wet droplets making my teeth chatter.

In times like this, I could use a nice man to keep my bed warm. I would feel a lot safer in a man’s embrace, but I need to be tough. A captain does not need a lover. Not at all. And I definitely don’t need a man to keep me warm, either. A blanket or two can do that. I certainly don’t need anyone to sleep with or to keep me safe or to protect me. I learned my lesson the last time.

A man would be the first one to throw me to the monsters, Sirens, or whatever they are to save his own fucking worthless ass. I lift my hand to reach for my necklace, patting my neck. But I soon realize it is not there. I hate this. I already feel lost without it, especially the weight of it hanging from my neck. I can't believe I have been stupid enough to play around with it and drop it in the sea, where it will be lost forever.

I sigh deeply, reflecting on my actions. I shouldn’t be cowering like this or blaming myself for the loss of my locket. I have so much to do as a captain. But at the moment, my courage has left me. I am too shaken. I make a list of all the things I need to do.

Inventory is one of the many things on the list. I should have been doing that now. But there are other things, more important things I should be doing right now, such as braving the upper deck alone. But fear keeps me hostage, and I move not a muscle. As time passes by, my eyelids feel heavy. My crew too begins to quiet down, perhaps falling asleep one by one in a drunken stupor.

I want to rest too…but that thing, or others like it, might be lurking in the water, waiting for the right opportunity.

My head too doesn’t feel right or like myself. The encounter today and the shock of seeing the creature have drained me completely. I feel so tired. But how can I sleep, knowing those things are lurking in the waters?

As the silence of the night reins in, I close my eyes, thinking of my father and how he would have been a far better captain than I ever will be in my lifetime. A true and brave man. He would have never done this. Never. Crow under the blankets and shiver.

I feel like I am a mess, far worse than any man.

I can barely control any of my men. That too can be blamed on me. I don’t act much like a captain most times. I feel the only thing I know is how to get drunk, set sail, course a chart, and complete inventory. Unfortunately, it is no secret the men have no respect for me, due to the older rumors. I can’t blame them for that.

I know once I take inventory, the rationing of liquor will begin. Which means I won't have any to ease me off to sleep every night. I sigh, my hand getting tired of holding the gun in this position. My fingers start to tingle. What I miss right now are the days when I was just a defiant young girl, thinking I was being a rebel by wearing pants, hanging out with the sailors, messing around on my father’s boat, getting certain favors, and enjoying the attention of a handsome and strapping older man. I touch my lips with the back of the gun as I recall the sailor. Despite my lack of womanly appeal or being feminine, he treated me like a princess. Rather like a queen. He used to tuck flowers behind my ear, make cute flower rings, promise me the world and my own ring as soon as he saved up some money.

The sweet words he called me…beautiful and cute… The way we used to kiss on the beaches… Or how we made love here in this very bed…

Everything was like a dream. Until the day it shattered. When I found out he was already a husband and a father. I had never felt so betrayed as I did that day. The man was all I had left after the loss of my parents. My mother had been long gone from illness, and it seemed not shortly after my father joined her, dying of heartache.

My once true love was a father of two children with a third on the way. His wife had been pregnant at the time. When I found out and confronted him, his eyes changed. He stood his ground and called me a whore, saying I had been the one who had always wanted to get into his pants. He accused me of seducing him, despite his telling me on many occasions that he was married.

Many believed him. I didn’t do anything to defend myself. That was my nature. So, he outcasted me from everyone. I lost all my friends, and eventually, I came to be known as an easy woman and a homewrecker, as his life left him shortly after. And the people made sure that my life was a living hell. Wherever I went, men would call me a ‘whore.’ Even offered me naqks, sometimes flicking them at me for my services as they chuckled and sneered like boys. Even people who knew me from my father’s years of captaincy.

Little did anyone know the sailor had been my first everything. And he was the one who came on to me, kissed me, all the while saying he was a free man.

He knew I was innocent and vulnerable yet decided to deceive me with those words. It’s my fault. I should have decked him, stood up for myself, done something when he accused me of loose morals. But I didn’t. I did nothing. Stood there and took all the abuse. Just like I am doing now.

Being here on this ship with men who knew my father, I know all of them whisper behind my back, calling me the same ugly word. The only reason they have not called me so to my face is out of respect. Not for me. But for my father. Knowing I am his daughter.

I don’t get it.

If I were a man, I would have been praised for getting into another woman’s pants despite being married. But as a woman, I am looked down upon. That is the way it has been and will always be.

Maybe I should have been born a man. I would have probably become a better leader too.

That sailor not only ruined my womanhood and destroyed every ounce of pride as a lady, but also ruined my position as captain. I know this for certain. He will not affect my life here as he did back home.

I will work on being a better captain from now on. I must. Men are vile and evil creatures, all of them, so I don’t need their love.

My eyes drift shut, and deep sleep overcomes me, but my hold on the gun does not ease. Not even once.

During this time, I fail to hear a scream from a certain sailor above. A blood-curdling one as something is dragged violently across the deck.

The screams suddenly stop, and like me, no one else hears them, as all of us are sound asleep the very night of our first attack.


TO BE CONTINUED IN THE OCEAN'S STAR (WATER BRIDES 2)

OCTOBER 16, 2023



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