Chapter no 22

Daughter of the Siren Queen

THE DRAGON’S SKULL IS over three times the size of the Ava-lee. While my ship was designed for stealth, my father’s was made for the complete opposite. Kalligan wants his victims to see him coming. He wants to invoke fear, to start attacking sailors’ minds long before he reaches them.

His flag bears a dragon skull with its jaws open wide, readying to breathe fire on its enemies. Men on the sea have learned to fear that flag.

My father no doubt thinks of himself as the dragon—the biggest and most powerful creature of all. Dragons, however, are myths. My father is very real.

He is the dragon I must slay.

Everything about the ship is a message to those on board. As I take the steps up the companionway, I can’t help but stare at the skulls skewered through the pegs in the railing. Each of them is a man my father killed. Not a single peg on this ship is empty. The ropes are spotted with red, whether paint or actual blood, I couldn’t say.

When I take the final step, a strangled cry interrupts the quiet, and a body falls from above. Sorinda must have killed another one of the night watches—someone up in the rigging. It’s unlike Sorinda to allow her kills to be so loud, but everyone makes mistakes. Thank the stars no one aboard can hear.

I freeze with my hand on the door to my father’s rooms. The reality of what I’m about to do hits me again.


No. Not that. Kalligan is a father in blood alone. What he’s done—to me and my mother—that does not earn him such a title. He is only a name. Kalligan. A nobody.

There are different kinds of fathers, Riden once said. I ignored his words then. I didn’t want to hear them. Kalligan was all I’d ever known. I didn’t realize things could be different.

Or did I?

The image of little Roslyn’s blood-streaked hair washes over me, a flare of pain and anger spreading through my otherwise numb limbs. I’ve seen Wallov with Roslyn hundreds of times. His kindness and compassion. His support and friendship. Yet his gentle discipline and direction.

I never realized that was what I should have had.

And because of Kalligan, Roslyn is fighting for her life back on my ship.

I meet no resistance when I push against the door latch. He must be inside if his rooms are unlocked. He always locks up when he leaves.

I shut the door gently behind me. I can’t help but keep my steps light, my breathing soft, even though I know no matter how I approach, he won’t hear me.

My pounding heart is the loudest sound as I walk through his sitting room. Chairs gather around a table. A storage of rum fills the wall with the finest vintages. His rooms are the only places on the ship that don’t scream of death.

The study contains a neat desk with map pieces and notes on the journey next to them. I move past it all to hover outside his bed chamber.

Pressing my ear to the door, I hold my breath.

His deep breaths carry to me like beating wings on the wind.

I reach down and pause for a moment, wondering what my instrument of death will be. The cutlass? As tempting as shooting him from a distance is, the pistol can’t be an option. I don’t dare use something so loud. What if that could push through the wax-covered ears of the sleeping men below? Besides, this is personal. I should be right with him when I end his life.

I slide a hand into my boot, brushing my leggings, and pull out the dagger there. The hilt is small in my hands, but sturdy, the blade wickedly sharp. My fist closes over the smooth metal handle.

Everything is ready. Everything except me.

I think of my crew once more for strength and open the door.

* * *

First, I spot my mother.

She is strapped to a chair with ropes. They bind her shoulders to the chair’s back, her thighs to the seat, her ankles to the chair’s legs. Her wrists are bound together behind her back. Her mouth is gagged, and her face is lightly swollen, starting to show the signs of the beating Kalligan no doubt gave her.

She looks up at my entrance, and her eyes widen.

I raise a finger to my lips, even though she’s gagged.

She nods and watches me while I turn my attention to the bed. Kill him first. Then free her.

Kalligan lies on his stomach, his head twisted so it faces the door. And me. But his eyes are shut in slumber. One arm is tucked under his pillow. I know it grips a large dagger. He never sleeps without one near. Like a dangerous child with his doll.

I can give him no more thought. There is no time or room for guilt and indecision to set in. No emotion. Just action.

I tiptoe to the bed.

One quick swipe.


My wrist flicks outward. I force my eyes to remain open the whole time.

No chance for error.

I tense just before the metal sinks into flesh— Except it doesn’t.

It meets metal.

The hand under the pillow arcs outward, catching the blow on the blade it holds.

“You should have gone with a pistol,” he says. That much is clear now.

He pushes back against my blade and rises in the same motion. Somehow, him standing makes everything easier. It’s not difficult to fight someone who is also trying to take my life.

This changes everything. It’s not about stealth anymore. It’s about beating an opponent I lose to at swordplay as often as I win. Kalligan is immune to my song. We’re matched in strength. I have him beat in speed, but he’s trained me all my life. No one can anticipate my moves like he can. “Put down your weapon, Alosa,” he says. “Beg for my forgiveness. I

might give it. After I’m satisfied with your punishment.” “I am not the one who needs forgiving.”

“You would judge me? Because you’re so pure? You’re just like me.

There isn’t anything you wouldn’t do to get what I have.” “That’s not true. I wouldn’t hurt innocents. I wouldn’t…” “Kill your own father?”

I switch the dagger to my left hand and draw my sword. “What we’re about to do has nothing to do with power. It’s about making things right.” I have lost crew members because of this man.

He reaches for his own cutlass, a look of indifference upon his face. “You will accomplish nothing. I can assure you of that.”

The ship rocks at the same time the boom of a cannon ignites on the air.

The motion is slight, not enough to knock over either of us.

But it’s surely enough to wake everyone on the ship.

Someone in his crew must have spotted the girls and fired a cannon to wake the rest.

“You’re not as careful as you think,” Kalligan says. “Everything you do, I am always one step ahead.”

I realize then that we’re conversing, which means he doesn’t have his ears covered. Not like the rest of his men. He must have heard the dying call of the man Sorinda killed. It would have been slight in here, but enough to wake my father.

“The sirens will have you,” I tell him, trying to hide my rage. I’ve doomed my whole crew. They can’t have killed enough of Kalligan’s sleeping men. If they even made it that far.

He grins, something born of triumph and greed. “The sirens can’t touch me. I am immune.”

I blink. I’ve always known my song doesn’t affect him because of the blood we share, but he can’t be immune to all sirens. But what does he gain by lying?


Shouts interrupt the quiet outside. Night is over. I can see the sun rising out the window now.

Our final battle has begun.

He makes the first move, a swipe meant to take off my head. I duck it and thrust at his gut. He tries to dodge it, but my sword catches him in the side. The tip of my sword comes back bloodied, like a spotted dog’s tail.

I know better than to relish over the victory. My father does not weaken like a normal man after being struck. Pain fuels him, makes him stronger.

Makes him charge me.

I’ve already begun backing up, slamming the door to his bedroom in front of me. I do not turn my back to him. Never give your back to an opponent. Even now his training directs my movements.


My arms barely shield my face in time. Wood splinters dig into my skin as the shattered door explodes in my direction. The blood lust is upon my father. His battle rage makes him forget pain. Forget reason. Rather than opening his door, he punched his weight through it.

It’s a move meant to scare, intimidate. And it works.

I falter a step, but manage to get the door to the deck open. I don’t want to be enclosed in his quarters with him. Can’t be. I need the dawning light from outside to capture him. To remind me he is only a man. If I avoid looking too hard at his face, I can forget it’s one I’ve grown up seeing my whole life. One I actually loved.

I press my back into the outside wall to his rooms, right next to the door opening, and spare a glance at the scene below.

The girls are keeping themselves busy on the deck of the Dragon’s Skull. They’ve come above from the sleeping quarters and are bottlenecking my

father’s men as they come up through the hatches.

Mandsy, you brilliant, brilliant woman.

Such a large ship has two hatches, one on either end, but she’s already divided up the crew, half at each hatch, and they’re cutting away my father’s men before they can surround them and use their superior numbers to overpower.

I register this all in less than a second.

My cutlass is poised beside me, waiting to strike my father when he exposes his back by rushing through the door opening.

I lose my breath and sword when a bullet streaks through my right arm.

The muscle burns as I lower my arm, spreading fire all the way down to the tips of my fingers. I grit my teeth at the pain and my own folly.

Kalligan has once again predicted what I would do. He couldn’t know exactly where I was standing, so he took his best guess. Maybe he’s not as out of control as I originally thought. He only wanted to give off the appearance of having lost all reason. This was a calculated shot.

Though it’s not lethal, it’s cost me my sword arm and—very likely—the fight.

Part of Kalligan’s endurance tests were making me practice fighting him with my left. I wonder if he’s regretting how well he trained me now.

As I bend down to retrieve my sword with my left hand, Kalligan’s boot comes careening around the corner, colliding with my chin, and sending me flying backward. I lose the dagger, now, too.

My eyes roll back into my head from the force of the kick. The pain is so maddening, I wonder if I were human if the kick would have taken my head clean off. My throat is stretched tight from the thick ache, my teeth are still ringing, and the ship wobbles for just a moment before I can collect myself, right my vision.

I make the mistake of attempting to use my injured arm to right myself. The slickness of my blood-drenched hand and the sharp pain lacing through my arm cause me to crumple to the deck.

Kalligan shouts something. I can’t make out the words, but I think they’re orders to his men. The words are much too loud to be meant for me. He’s momentarily forgotten his men can’t hear a thing.

Fortunately, his orders give me a chance to collect myself. I rise. But Kalligan still stands between me and my sword. I reach for my pistol, cock it back. Kalligan recognizes what I’m about to do and throws himself over the helm and off the aftercastle.

I miss the shot. The ball lodges into the deck, and I curse the stars in my vision, the unsteadiness of my left hand. But with him out of the way, I streak for my sword, grasp it firmly.

He waits for me on the main deck. As I jump the steps of the companionway, I spot Kalligan’s pirates climbing onto the deck from over the sides of the ship. Some of them must have finally gotten the sense to haul themselves through the gun ports.

“Mandsy!” I shout when I land. “They’re coming from the sides.”

She turns and spots them, then shouts orders to the rest of the crew. Bodies are layered next to the hatches. The men shove through their fallen companions to try and reach my crew. I see one fallen girl, her hair covering her face. It’s Deshel, I think. Radita’s gotten herself caught in a hold by one of the enemy. She brings her heel down hard on his instep before slamming a closed fist into his groin. Sorinda is already at the starboard side of the ship, slicing off the fingers of men trying to get a grip on the railing. Athella’s perched up in the netting, launching herself at men who break through the forces of the girls at the stern hatch.

I see a flash of Riden before I have to return my attention to the pirate king.

Kalligan is bolting toward me again. I can’t continue to let him take the offensive. I won’t kill him that way. My right arm hangs uselessly against my side. I try not to jostle it as I deflect the king’s next blow.

“You’ve already lost this fight,” he says as he sends a volley of slashes at me.

“Not yet.” As I block the next strike, I send my injured arm sailing toward his head, gritting my teeth at the murderous pain. I almost lose consciousness as black spots corner my vision.

It’s worth it. He doesn’t expect it, and I take my chance to fling my own strikes.

Nothing I do is light. With each swing I put forth all the force I have, all the speed I can muster. My arm throbs with agony. My ears are still ringing from the kick to the head I took.

One of my girls cries out. The men are gathering their forces. Superior numbers are encroaching on the deck. I need to finish this fight so I can help them.

Nothing I do gives me the advantage. The slice at my father’s side barely bleeds. He fights as though he feels no pain. We will hammer and hack at each other until one of us collapses from exhaustion or makes a foolish mistake. Since I am the most injured, it will likely be me.

I don’t let the fear of losing have any effect on me. I will see this fight through to the end, no matter the outcome.

Death pours into the air, a stench unique unto itself. I nearly trip over a fallen body, as Kalligan tries to press me back toward the stern of the ship. Shots no longer penetrate the air. Everyone has emptied their pistols. There’s nothing but a stumbling of limbs and swords. Athella no longer sits up in the netting. She’s on the ground trying to even out the odds. An enemy pirate comes up behind her and—

I look away before she goes down. A new urgency and rage fuels my fight with Kalligan.

“Surrender,” he says.

“Getting tired?” I say through a heavy breath.

His chest heaves as well. I know better than to think he wants me to quit because he thinks he’ll lose the fight. He wants to beat me. Both my body and mind. My giving up is as much of a victory for him. But by the way he pounds his sword and swings his fist, I know he wants to take my betrayal right out of my skin.

Surrendering is not an option.

“I’m tired of you,” he answers. “Tired of your insolence and your weakness. I’m ready to be rid of you. But I’ll save you for last. You can watch your crew suffer first.”

“I will kill you before you can touch them,” I bite out.

“They’re being crushed like rodents underfoot now. My men might not spare any. Then I’ll have only you to unleash my rage on.”

“I’m not afraid of you.”

“And what of your crew? Do you fear for them?” He sweeps his arms off to the side, and I dare to look.

Many have lost their weapons. They’re being herded off to the side, tied with ropes. Mandsy and Sorinda are back-to-back fighting. I know neither will stop until they’re dead. Riden, too, is still striking down opponents. He’s drawing himself closer to me, trying to reach me.

I kick at empty air as Kalligan dodges.

“You think killing me will stop this?” he asks. “Look around you.” I know he means for me to think of all the ships in his fleet. “Even if I were to die, you and your crew won’t make it out alive. My men will finish what I started.”

“They’ll be too busy fighting each other to take your place to pay attention to me. They won’t give your body a second glance. Your name will be forgotten. It will fade from memory, and any scrap of glory you’ve attained will be forgotten. No one will remember you. I certainly won’t.”

He doubles his efforts. He slices my already injured arm, bruises my ribs, swings my legs out from under me. I roll and roll and roll away from him. I don’t stop until my back hits the railing at the starboard side. I come up on my feet, feebly hold my sword out in front of me.

I’m losing too much blood now that there are two openings.

He advances slowly. He knows I’m beaten. My crew is completely subdued. A third of them paint the deck red and lie at unnatural angles, unmoving. The rest are cowed into a corner.

And Riden—he’s nearly upon me when three of my father’s men tackle him to the deck and wrest his sword from him.

I look around for something—anything—to help me beat Kalligan. I’m useless. There’s nothing Riden can do. There’s nothing my crew can do. My mother is helpless back in my father’s rooms. And the sirens—

What of the sirens?

They’ve already been beaten, have lost the fight in them now that their queen has been captured once again. They’ve probably already abandoned the area.

But what if they haven’t? What if they are stirring below, just waiting for their queen to come to them?

I am not her, but I am the queen’s daughter. They looked on me as an outsider, but could I call to them? Would they even listen?

Because it is the only option left to me, I sing. The song is a cloud of desperation and pleading. A cry for help, wrestling the wind, dropping into the water, searching its depths for anyone who can hear.

I can feel them, now that I’m calling to them. Hundreds and hundreds of them. They cry beneath the waves. Fearing for their queen, weeping for their fallen, trembling for their lives. It’s so …

Human of them.

Some quiet at my own song, listening. I can feel their attention shift to me. I am part of the royal line. It flows through my veins, rides on my song. They don’t have listen to me, but if I can just say the right words …

I am Alosa-lina, daughter of Ava-lee. My mother is alive, but a prisoner on this ship. Will you not help? Will you fight against the pirates who have dared to breach your waters and steal what is yours?

They murmur among themselves. I feel it in their songs, in the way the water trembles around them.

The reply is faint, but one answers me. Are you not one of the pirate scum? Did you not refuse the queen’s call when she bid you home? Even now you stay on solid ground, refusing to join your sisters below.

My father stares at me all the while, halting in front of me. “You’re calling on the sirens? They fled, shrieking into the deep. You are a stranger to them. I made sure of that.”

You outnumber the pirates, I explain. My loyalty is not with them. I will help you beat them.

Doubt sings to me from below. Emotions are songs of their own, pouring out of them without any effort, as if their voices cannot keep quiet.

No one will talk with me now. The sirens resume their wailing grief until my voice leaves me, and I can no longer hear them.

“Drop your sword,” Kalligan says. His tone is clipped, final. He will not ask me again. His next strike will take a life.

“Alosa.” This voice is quiet. It is from Riden. He stands so close by, all his limbs subdued.

I drop my sword as my father bids and turn toward Riden. With just a few well-aimed jabs from me, his captors release him.

I grab him, and the two of us leap from the ship.

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