Chapter Three

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The woman slapped her palms on the table, throwing the quill to the ground. As she snatched the ink-soaked map into her hands, the door burst open.

"What the hell is going on?" the man exclaimed. His amber eyes were wide — anger was not the cause.

For a few seconds, the room stilled. Nobody dared shatter the delicate silence that had formed, for fear it would never be found again.

"Najia." The woman shoved the yellowed paper back down and fell on the chair beside her. "Najia, look at me."

"Leave me alone," she spat.

The man blew out a breath. The sympathy in his eyes was foreign, forming thin layers of moisture he was used to wiping off. He would let it show this time. Maybe, just maybe, it would save her.

The trees outside trembled with the force of relentless wind. "I'm scared," she murmured, her eyes tightly shut and her brows knitted. "What have we done, Erhan?"

For what seemed like the fifth time that day, I shivered awake.

The sun had sunk beneath the skyline, giving the stars their chance to dazzle. The bizarre dream still soared around my mind; its protagonists were so familiar, yet as the seconds ticked by, their faces blurred.

I rolled on my back to stare at the bottom of the deck's floorboards. Atulaji had thought it best to give the captain's cabin to Erhan, which meant I was now exiled to the hold with the rest of his silent crew. What have you done? a voice shrilled in my mind. I couldn't avoid it anymore. Any justification I had conjured up to console myself seemed laughable before the dull throb in my chest, the sick taste in my mouth.

Maybe there was still time to save myself. Look at me, Najia. The remnants of the fading dream persisted; a last chance disguised as a meaningless vision.

"Are you awake?" I whispered. It was a vague question; Atulaji was great at answering those.

"How could I sleep?" he hissed. I turned to glance at him. He lay against a barrel, his eyes wide and red-stricken. "I'm never doing charity again. Going wherever the wind takes him, he told me. Two-faced bastard!"

I sat up, my head filled with terrible ideas. "I'm going to talk to him."

The old sailor raised his chest and glared at me. "No! I don't want my ship in shreds. You stay where you are."

The wood creaked beneath my feet, accompanied by the scolding whispers Atulaji flung my way. I didn't listen; when did I ever? The chorus of hushed murmurs served as a funeral march as I ascended the stairs.

A few hours ago, my head was buzzing with wonder. Now all I could think was run away.

My pride wasn't that frail; I wouldn't allow myself to scramble back to the hold with nothing to appetize Atulaji's anxious queries. And, for better or worse, I stood outside the door to the captain's chamber before sense arrived to me. I raised a hesitant fist and tapped the oak. Swallowing down my reluctance, I announced, "It's me."

I heard a low shuffling from the other side. My pulse stirred and I stepped back, readjusting my posture to a more assertive one. It was hopeless. He would scoff at me anyway.

Yet the shuffling soon ceased, and the thick silence resumed its reign.

I inhaled slowly, leaning against the door. My lips trembled as I spoke, as if my body was trying to shake me back into sanity before I revealed my final card. "Who is Najia?"

I pressed my ear on the wood, scouring for a breath, a grunt, a sign Erhan was still conscious. Nothing. Not even the old bed frame made its usual obnoxious sound.

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