Make sure to read the other chapters in this order to get the full story: Antiquarian, Bohemian, Libertine, Avant Garde.
Scent Notes: A dark 'n stormy cocktail with a dash of mint in a copper mug, a worn leather scabbard, on an old wooden ship with the salty ocean misting all around.
Compass Rose sighed, dumping out her pipe for fresh tobacco for what felt like the third time in three minutes. After weeks of searching, she’d finally found out where her long-lost friend Julia had gone: to the opium dens. They’d been on their way to chase after Carmen when a man approached Julia saying he needed her urgently, and swooped her away. Rose had lost track of them due to several horse-and-buggies getting in the way. She hadn’t heard from her since, but, using her underground connections, she’d discovered that Julia had gotten hooked on opium. Well, Rose was here now to stop that nonsense and get this show back on the road. She’d heard Carmen’s ship was in port but leaving in the next few days, and if ever there was a shot to get Julia in undercover, it was now. But that would be impossible to do with her friend stuck in an opium stupor. She didn’t dare set foot into the underground labyrinth of opium dens, but she’d sent in a friend who knew both the maze and Julia to snag her away from this horrible place. He’d been gone for longer than Rose was comfortable with, but she had faith he’d be out soon. She had finished her fourth pipe and was about to try and traverse the place herself when her friend finally emerged, physically dragging Julia outside by her arms, her legs kicking. “I am untethered, and my rage knows NO BOUNDS!” she screamed at the man dragging her outside. She then started yelling some nonsense about time travel, needing to just have a little more opium, and something about a deranged clown. Nothing made sense to Rose, who walked over, slipped the guy some money for his troubles, and scooped Julia up from the ground like she was going to carry her over their marital threshold. “Hey! That’s enough of that now,” she yelled at Julia, holding her tightly against her torso. “It’s me, Rose. You need to calm down and let me take care of you.” Julia stopped yelling and looked tearily into her friend’s eyes. Then she promptly passed out.
She awoke what seemed like several hours later, but was likely only a few minutes, to Rose carrying her up the stairs to Rose’s lodging quarters. It was a small room with one bed, which Julia gratefully collapsed into. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I don’t even know how it happened, but that first time, I swear I went into the future, and Carmen was there, and the man who took me to the den was there too, and it was some place called New York, and I’ve been trying to get back there ever since.” Rose just nodded as Julia was clearly still very high, and rambling about impossible things the drugs had made her “see.” Sure, time travel is totally real, Rose thought to herself. To Julia she said, “I think you should sleep for a while. I’m going to go get some food and some clothes for you. Just rest for now, okay? I’ll be back soon.” Rose smiled at her friend. Julia was too weak and seriously into withdrawals now to do anything other than vaguely nod. Rose put a bucket next to the bed in case Julia needed to throw up (this was a smart decision), and left her to shiver and sweat herself into a fitful sleep.
Three days went by with Julia detoxing before Rose could finally see her old friend coming back to some semblance of life. But they were running out of time to get her onboard Carmen’s ship, and Rose knew she couldn’t go with since she had her own crew to command. She could, however, get her friend properly outfitted to pass as a lowly crew member aboard the ship. She was certain Carmen didn’t keep crewmen for long, nor did she particularly know each and every person onboard her ship, unlike Rose, who handpicked her crew and got to know each one personally. Most of her crew members had been with her for years, but Carmen wasn’t exactly the type to inspire loyalty or trust in anyone. In the time Julia had been recovering, Rose had procured a passable set of rags for Julia to disguise herself with, and hunted down her famous swordcane which had been lost in the opium den and sold among local thieves. Thankfully, Rose’s connections were able to get it back quickly. It really did pay off to be a swashbuckler. The only problem being, of course, that the cane was recognizable as Julia’s if you knew she had it, and Carmen certainly knew about it. Some quick paint work and it looked nearly like a normal cane. Of course, most pirates didn’t use a cane, so they devised an alibi: Julia was recovering from a bad bout of scurvy, which explained her poor physical appearance and general malaise, or so they hoped. Rose roughly chopped off Julia’s hair, which, combined with the clothing, the eye patch, and Julia’s gaunt appearance, made her look nearly unrecognizable. It was eerie, and Rose was proud of herself for hatching this plan, and getting her friend clean.
Julia, however, was less than thrilled. While she was beginning to feel better, she absolutely knew she was not up for confronting Carmen anytime soon. She was sure Carmen wouldn’t recognize her, and she trusted Rose’s judgment, but she was still trying to figure out what she saw in those opium dreams. She was certain that she’d time traveled to the future, and Carmen was there, but how? For now, though, she realized she had to focus on being present and not getting caught. She had no idea where they were setting sail for definitively; but, it was clear Carmen wanted a crew for a long-haul trip. They wouldn’t be back in port in a week’s time; no, this would be several weeks to months on the ocean with Carmen close by. Plenty of time to recover and confront her once she felt better, as long as no one caught on.
The next morning, after some lessons from Rose on how to act more masculine and to remember to deepen her voice, the women walked down to the docks, where they met one of Rose’s crew members, Jackson. “He knows the first mate of the ship, and he happens to owe Jackson a lot of money because he’s a terrible gambler. He’s going to look the other way while you two board.” Julia tried to insist that this was her own personal vendetta. She’d made it this far in her quest to hunt down Carmen, and she could, and should, do this alone. “But do you know anything about ships or the seafarin’ life besides what ol’ Rose here has told you?” Jackson asked. Julia opened her mouth, then closed it. They were right; she needed his help to get aboard and stay hidden until she felt well enough to confront Carmen. “He’s one of my best men, even if he is a bit of a drunk and a swindler,” said Rose. “What else is there to do when you’re at sea for months at a time?” Jackson replied, which Julia honestly thought was a good point. The walk across the city had left her very tired, and she was leaning heavily on her cane. She certainly looked the part of a pirate recovering from scurvy today. Rose gave her a hug and promised they’d get together once this vendetta was over, and she left to go to her own ship.
Julia wasn’t sure if she was going to make it to the ship, but between her cane and Jackson, she was able to walk up the gangplank. She certainly hoped she wouldn’t be walking a different plank anytime soon. While she knew this was Carmen’s ship, she didn’t see Carmen anywhere. Julia had assumed she would at least be around to see the crew as they boarded the ship, but that was apparently beneath her. The first mate, however, dutifully turned his back and pretended to be interested in creatively swearing at a flock of seagulls as he saw them walking up. Jackson nodded at him and mumbled something about a game of cards that night. She and Jackson were able to secure two side-by-side hammocks down in the crew’s quarters. There was little privacy or security, but they hadn’t packed much to bring onboard with them anyway. At least, Jackson’s appeared to mostly just be bottles of booze. Yo ho ho, indeed. “Don’t worry about making an appearance any time soon,” Jackson said. “I’ll bring you provisions. Just lay low. I think you’re going to be feeling rough the first few weeks at sea. It’s hard enough to adjust when you aren’t in withdrawal. Sea legs are hard to establish.” He wasn’t kidding.
She spent the next week in the hammock, lying as still as possible, trying to adjust to the neverending rocking motion of the boat, not keeping down much food at all. Jackson clearly felt terrible that she felt so terrible, and generally left her alone, leaving the hammock next to hers empty unless there was nowhere else for him to sleep, and even then he didn’t stay too long. He was great at gathering intel on Carmen, though. Apparently she was pretending to not even be Carmen at all, and had somehow procured a fake peg leg. Julia was worried she had somehow boarded the wrong ship, until the following night when Carmen came through the crew’s quarters unannounced, apparently looking for Jackson, who had snuck down to bring Julia some bread. She kept herself small and semi-hidden, her face turned away, feigning another bout of sickness so Carmen wouldn’t stay too long by her hammock. She did have a peg leg, but there was no doubt it was Carmen. The sight of Julia in the hammock clearly made her uncomfortable, and she left quickly with a comment about the one sailor being “not much of a swashbuckler, he might get the cat.” After Carmen left, she turned to Jackson. “What’s the cat?” “If you’re doing a shit job at bashing rats or swabbin’ the poop deck or you’re being insolent to the captain, you might get whipped with a cat o’ nine tails. We just call ‘em cats. We keep them in the walls of the ship, so they’re always within reach. There’s cats in all of these walls if you know where to look. You don’t know shit about cats.” Well, that might be true, Julia thought, but she would certainly prove her worth as a crew member.
Over the next few days, her strength improved. She could keep down food. Her sea legs found themselves. One bright morning she woke up, and headed up to the deck. All the crew members were shocked to see her walking around. True, she still had the cane for balance, but it was like an entirely different person had appeared in front of their very eyes. “Aye, where’s the captain?” Julia asked in her gruffest voice. “She’s in her quarters; she doesn’t usually appear until nightfall,” Jackson answered. “Well, someone will have to tell her that Swashbuckler is ready for duty.” And indeed, over the next few weeks, “Swashbuckler” started to make herself invaluable. More rats were bashed on Swashbuckler’s watch than any other. The rest of the crew, even Jackson himself, was impressed in her ability to handle nearly any task that was thrown her way. (Though still nobody except Jackson knew she was anything other than a man recovering from scurvy and particularly bad seasickness who called himself Swashbuckler.) As it turned out, socializing with the crew had its benefits, as most of them couldn’t keep a secret when they were smashed, and most of them were drunk all the time. That’s how she discovered that they were on route to Carmen’s secret evil lair, an island that Julia knew existed, but wasn’t quite sure how to get to on her own. She hadn’t seen Carmen since her walk through the crew’s quarters, as working on the ship all day, followed by a hearty dinner full of rum and little food, meant she fell asleep before Carmen roamed the ship. But that was fine with Julia; it gave her more time to plan.
After a few weeks, word of Julia’s work ethic finally reached Carmen, who asked, via Jackson, to meet Swashbuckler at midnight on the bow of the ship. This is it, Julia thought. Tonight’s the night. I’m going to confront her, finally, after weeks secretly stowed away on her very own ship. She had no idea I was even here! Who’s the crappy swashbuckler now? Julia busied herself with various ship tasks throughout the afternoon, then quietly went to hide in her hammock until it was nearly midnight, thinking of what she’d say when she finally confronted Carmen. Her adrenaline was going berserk. But, finally, the time came, and Julia went up to the deck, then walked slowly to the bow, being as quiet as possible with her cane by her side. There she was, in all her moonlit glory: Carmen, with a peg leg, glowingly backlit by the moon. Her red vest matched her red lips, and a flutter went through Julia’s heart.
“Aha, Swashbuckler appears,” Carmen said with a grin. “You can take off the eye patch, Julia; I know it’s you.” Julia’s triumphant smile flew off her face, replaced by a look of pure fury. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! The name is Swashbuckler,” she said, before Carmen waved her hand in front of her face as if she was flicking the words away. “No, no, honey; there’s no need for that. Plus, if we’re going to fight, you should be able to use both of your eyes. It’s only fair.” “How long have you known?!” Julia cried, ripping off the eye patch. Carmen was just a few yards ahead of her and yet Julia couldn’t move. Her whole plan; all the hard work; all of Rose’s hard work, for nought.
“She’s known the whole time,” a voice boomed out behind Julia, who slowly turned her head to see Jackson walking towards her. “No! Not you! You’re on her side?!” Julia cried out. “I’m playing both sides, so I always come out on top,” Jackson retorted with a smirk. “You really shouldn’t say that information out loud,” Carmen said with an eyeroll. Jackson just continued to look smug. “This is where I’ve been staying most nights: with Carmen in the captain’s quarters.” He appeared the most sober Julia had ever seen him, and that alone was startling, but combined with all this new information, she felt her head begin pounding, and her sea legs were weak. “I thought you were my friend,” she said in a meek voice to Jackson, but Carmen was the one who answered: “And I thought you were mine, Julia.”
Julia let out a primal scream, unsheathed her swordcane, and ran towards Carmen. Jackson ran after her, while Carmen removed her peg leg and pulled a scimitar out of it. “Wow, we both had hidden stabbing weapons on our persons. That’s some quality writing,” Carmen said with an eyeroll.
She threw the peg leg to Jackson, who caught it, and attempted to hit Julia over the head with it. Except, apparently Jackson was a little drunker than he’d seemed, as he completely missed and smashed the leg down into the deck, then fell forward and smacked his head, knocking himself unconscious. Julia and Carmen were battling, scimitar to sword, but they both paused and muttered, “Stupid man,” and shook their heads when they saw what Jackson had done. Then they continued their fight. Grunting and thrusting and fighting around the deck, they were equally matched. Neither seemed to be able to gain on the other. This went on for some time, with neither one getting anything more than a light scratch to their clothing. “It seems to me,” Julia said through panting breaths, “That neither one of us wants to hurt the other one badly.” “I never wanted to hurt you!” Carmen yelled. “You just didn’t want to join me!” “No, you wanted to become a villain instead of fighting evil, and you broke my heart!” Julia yelled with a stab that would have impaled right through Carmen had she not taken several steps back. Carmen put down her scimitar. “I’m sorry I broke your heart. But whoever said crime doesn’t pay was a damn liar, and I wanted some of that for myself. Is that so wrong?” She looked at Julia, pleading with sad puppy dog eyes. Julia lowered her sword. “Well, yeah, it is, especially since you have used your illegal gains for further illegal purposes and also a secret volcano lair and probably some plans for world domination I don’t even know about. I didn’t want any of this. You’re the one who stole my journal in the first place!” Carmen looked down. “I just missed you, Julia. Is that so wrong?” She walked towards the starboard side of the ship, and looked down over the water. They were in the middle of nowhere; nothing to be seen for miles anywhere you gazed. “It’s embarrassing to say, but I missed spending time with you. I thought you could use the adventure, the excitement. Didn’t you miss me? Isn’t this what you wanted?” Carmen’s voice broke, and she started crying. Julia was overcome with emotion, dropped her swordcane, and walked over to hug her. Sure, she’d become her archnemesis, but they used to be friends. More than friends. Carmen embraced her, and the two stood there, crying and hugging for a solid minute. Julia lifted her head off Carmen’s shoulder to kiss her, to feel like it used to feel, and instead she felt the tip of the scimitar pressing into her side. “Oh, you sweet thing,” Carmen said in a menacing tone. “It can never be like that again.”
Julia was overcome with rage, but before she even had the chance to act, she heard Jackson yelling, “Wildcard, bitches!” as he ran up and shoved them both overboard. Carmen and Julia were screaming, falling down into the open ocean. They landed, hard, in the freezing cold water. It took a minute, but they both resurfaced and clung to each other. “Who wants a wildcard on their side, anyway?” Carmen sputtered. Julia was trying not to panic. “What do now?!” she asked, her terror so real she couldn’t form a full sentence. Indeed: what happens now?
Scent Notes: A dark 'n stormy cocktail with a dash of mint in a copper mug, a worn leather scabbard, on an old wooden ship with the salty ocean misting all around.