Somewhere on the East Coast...
Silence hung like a heavy blanket in the darkened room. Only the faint yellow glow of an oil lamp centered on the massive mahogany table lit their way. One by one, they entered. Large, tough looking men, all sporting heavy beards and eighteenth-century clothing, surrounded the table and sat.
Periodically, one could hear the mumbled whispers as they discussed the ceremony to come. A bystander, listening very carefully, might even distinguish a lingering Elizabethan inflection in their voices, a remnant of another place, another time.
One of the men rose and turned to two younger, less hardened men and gestured.
“Place your hands on the Bible,” his voice boomed with an otherworldly lilt.
The young men did so. The older man continued. “Under the penalty of death, do you solemnly swear that you will not reveal a solitary thing that happens between these walls this night for at least forty-five years to come?”
“I swear,” the weak voices of the younger men answered, apprehension filling their faces.
With a howl eerie enough to raise the hackles of the dead, a giant of a man entered the room. The neophytes silently stepped back, their calves bumping against their chairs, nearly falling into their seats.
He stood solidly in the center of the room; the other men shifted positions to accommodate the massive male. He was an astonishing looking fellow, with braids in his beard and a ring of smoke curling around his head. In his hands he held a shallow cup, somewhat larger than a normal mug or chalice.
He handed it to the man sitting at the head of the table and then sat. The man holding the cup rose, thrust it high toward the ceiling, and chanted a resounding phrase: “Death to Spotswood.” Then lowering the cup to his lips, he drank deeply from it, passed it on to the next man, and sat among his comrades.
From hand to hand the cup passed. Each time the chant repeated, “Death to Spotswood! Death to Spotswood!” And in turn, each member swallowed a long draught of the scarlet liquid from the grail and passed it to another, until at last it fell into the hands of the young initiates.
Almost reverently, the first young man took of the cup, repeated the chant, and then choked on the liquid fire. With blurred eyes and shaking hands, he passed the cup to his companion.
Hungry eyes gazed at the flicker of the oil flame reflected against the silver plate of the cup. Licking his parched lips, the young man rose. As if savoring each sensation of the feel and every second of his possession of the cup in his hands, he lifted it high into the air.
“Death to Spotswood!” he chanted with a resonance unlike the others. “Death to Spotswood and eternal life to Edward Teach! I drink of thee!”
Lowering the coveted cup to his lips, he threw back the scarlet liquid and drank heartily with an ease that startled not only his companion but the seasoned veterans as well. Then respectfully, he turned to the giant.
Their eyes met.
The monstrous man grinned.
Rick Gentry was possessed. He knew that from the moment he held the coveted cup made from Blackbeard’s skull in his hands. His pulse prickled at the feel of the silver-plated chalice. His chest swelled. Being here, and experiencing this rather occult bit of historical theatrics was possibly the most uncharacteristic thing he’d ever done in his life.
And he reveled in it.
He was tired.
Tired of playing to Claire’s whims. Tired of waiting for her to realize her own innate powers. Tired of waiting for her to show him the way.
Holding a piece of the rogue pirate’s skull filled him with the spirit long denied. Already he felt the transformation. Already, he knew and sensed the time was coming. He could feel Blackbeard’s spirit in his hands. Oh, to be like the infamous pirate. To ride the open seas, taking what he wanted, when he wanted it, pillaging without a care. The freedom, the adventure.
The riches, the women. And the power.
Yes, the power.
By destiny. By family. By some sheer quirk of fate. His.
Rick grinned, the taste of Blackbeard’s blood still stinging his lips. He ran his tongue hungrily over them. Claire would give him what he wanted soon enough.
He’d waited all his life to assume the power of his fate. His mother had tried to quell it since his birth, fearful of the wanderlust herself, knowing all too well the power of the legend. When he’d stumbled upon their family secret and learned that Claire’s family shared that secret as well, he’d known she was his hope. He’d latched on to her when they were children.
Even then, he knew she was different, special. She just didn’t know it herself. Even then, he knew he was different, too.
Now, at last, the power was within him and there was no looking back.
He stared into the liquid, said to still hold a trace of the infamous pirate’s own blood, thinned over time with the blood of others so ordained, diluted with the grape of the Mother Vine, and saw his own reflection. The reflection of the man he was now. Mingled with the man he used to be.
He was...hardened, reckless, determined. He was the Devil incarnate himself.
The spittin’ image.
A rogue pirate. Temporarily lost in time.
Ready and willing to do anything to find his way back.
So he drank, hungrily, again, letting the blood of Edward Teach roll down his chin and soak into his starched white cotton shirt.
Aye. And then he was Rick Gentry no more.