Chapter Eleven

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Had I been blindfolded, shackled, deprived of my hearing and subsequently brought there, I was confident that I would be able to recognize Tortuga by smell alone.

The aromas were such a distinct blend of sweat, alcohol, debauchery and depravity that no other place on Earth could compare.

I had heard of Tortuga before, in some of the raunchier discussions amongst the crewmen. While to them it was a lawless paradise for sinners, I thought it sounded more like a tale of mythology.

It was if a god had gathered all the dregs of humanity together and heaped them upon a bleak rock in the middle of the ocean to waste away. Instead, the inhabitants had reveled in their separation from civilization and celebrated their anarchistic ways.

I walked closely beside Dark as we made our way down the cramped, twisting excuses for streets. Being bigger than I was, he made an effective shield whenever a drunk stumbled into our way or sour beer—or worse—was tossed into the road.

We wove our way through the sludge of people, moving slowly but with purpose. Dark had sent Raoul, Keith and Johnny with half the crew to sell our remaining goods. Kaspar, Mute and the other were tasked with collecting information. Dark had unanswered questions about the fate of our old nemesis Captain Worthington, among other things. He also wanted to be sure that Barton had not been the one to tip Kent off about our location.

Dark and I were on a very different mission: finding out more about the mysterious chart. Having been to the rock a few times before, Dark had told me he knew of someone who might be able to help. We'd set off to find this mysterious individual without delay.

He halted suddenly and pulled me back, stopping me from walking straight into an unconscious pub-goer lying in the gutter. I stepped over him with a frown.

"Charming," I muttered, sweeping my cloak over the man.

Dark shrugged. "A word of caution," he said to me, leaning close. "They're a bit peculiar."

"The one we're meeting?" I glanced at Dark. "I've met worse."

For some reason, he chuckled but offered no further explanation. He stopped us at the mouth of a dank alley—more a crack between two buildings. We squeezed in, and I read the sign propped in the grimy window: La Merveille.

"What is this place?" I wondered aloud.

Dark pushed at the door, which had shifted so far to the right I was shocked it could open, and ushered me inside. I found myself in a cramped and pitch-black room. Dark bumped into my back when I didn't move forward.

His hands gripped my shoulders and guided me through the room. My hands brushed what felt like glass before they trailed into thin air.

Reaching our unseen destination, we stopped.

"What now?" I hissed. Dark's hands squeezed my arms in silent reassurance.

A soft crack preceded a light blossoming somewhere a few feet in front of me. A single candle flame burned in the darkness before hopping to the left, igniting another candle, then another. The original flame continued to bounce around the room's perimeter until all the candles were lit.

A circular room was revealed, its space choked with bookshelves, tables, various machines and instruments I didn't know the purpose of. Most of the shelves contained clay and glass jars and other containers dispersed among still more candles. Very few contained books or papers of any kind. Sconces were mounted on the last available wall space.

Dark stood close behind me, one hand brushing my elbow. Turning in a circle, I startled when I saw a stooped figure behind me, now illuminated by the light. Long silver hair had been tied back into braids that cascaded down her shawl-covered back.

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