The fire devastated her island. It took weeks for them to find all the dead, to drag them
from the spots they’d been burnt into, to collect every piece of the ruined bodies and find them
all in the thick layers of ash covering the island. They’re lucky, of the many islands and towns
ravaged by the Blaze they are one of the few that had any survivors.

Her parents are gone, buried deep within the earth of the set-aside land for their fallen,
their bodies unrecognizable to her, just another black, crumbling, thing of what was once human.

Nai, her baby sister, still hasn’t spoken since the day she realized they weren’t coming

Imani falls into the days work, brushing away her dark thoughts and hefting branches and
logs in her arms as best she can, taking them to the section all wood is to go for building later.

A thoughtless calm blankets over her as she works, lift and drop, lift and drop, all she
knows for these few hours of mindless bliss. She forgets the weight of death that hangs on her
shoulders, forgets the soundless nights devoid of Nai’s childish ramblings, forgets the chill of
rain and ocean water swallowing her whole for days. She forgets, in these moments of nothing
but work, what she’s working for. The houses turned to ash that still need to be rebuilt, the hall
where she first sang to her newborn baby sister alongside her father decimated and
unrecognizable. It’s easy to fall away from the reality of life, too easy, and as she treks down the
hillside slope and her eyes fall to the docks, she remembers.

She feels the log in her arms bite into her skin and pinch harshly enough that she drops it
suddenly, and doesn’t move to pick it up again. She leaves the log behind and stumbles down the
barren burnt hill, eyes tracing the silhouette of her tribe’s haphazard ships in the bay as they sway
with the tide.

She pushes through the crowds and feels as if she’s fighting a current, arms dragging
against her and slowing her down, kids hopping in her way as she fights forward.

She crosses onto the flimsy old dock and strides to the very end where she meets Cacoak
where he stands. She stands before him and realizes they are the same height. She meets his eyes
straight on and feels herself come back.

“I’d like to come with you on your next trip to the mainland. I want to enlist in the King’s

Cacoak, a thin old man she’s known since birth, looks at her as if seeing her for the first
time, and nods. He nods and hands her the parchment he has tucked under his arm.

It’s a manifest for the ship and has space at the bottom to write the names of crew
members. He hands her the quill from behind his ear. She flattens the parchment to her hand and
presses the quill to it. She scrawls her name on the line and hands Cacoak the items back, quick
as she can.

“We leave in one week,” a man behind Cacoak says. He smiles at her and it’s not
reassuring but it doesn’t make her uneasy. It settles her stomach and grounds her to this flimsy
dock that creaks under her weight.

She doesn’t spare Cacoak a glance as she leaves, and when she passes back on to land she
feels his gaze on her skin.

The air on the mainland tastes different than that of her island’s, the busy port full of new
and old ships alike and people from all over running this way and that. She steps on land for the
first time in weeks, the feeling of the rough pavement under her thin sandals grounding.

She walks down the line of the dock placing one foot in front of the other precariously,
reveling in the solidity of the earth. The sights of towering buildings and the crimson flag of the
King hanging from every shop are brand new to her eyes.

She follows the ruby red line of them down a side street until a stark white building
bigger than anything she’s ever seen stands before her. The King’s insignia stains every wall of
the building, draping blood-red off every nook and cranny of pristine bleached stone.

What catches her eye, other than the bright contrast meant to strike fear in the hearts of
those who oppose the crown, is a group of uniformed officers standing in a cluster off to the side
of the building.

She moves forward and plasters herself to the side of the Army Headquarters, ear turned
towards the group.

“Stealing from a King’s Guard, huh? That’s grounds for imprisonment to the highest
order,” a gruff voice says, rumbling snickers following from his entourage.

“Please, Sir, we are starving,” a terrified, watery voice responds. The small voice doesn’t
sound a day over 10 years old.

Imani peaks around the corner and is met with the sight of two young children, one in
front of the other standing at attention, surrounded by what looks like six fully grown King’s

She rears back, breath coming heavy as her heart pounds away in her chest. If that is how
Guard Officers treat the misfortunate then she wants nothing to do with them. She can’t listen
anymore so she turns and runs back the way she came, but the streets all look the same, pale
buildings lined with red leading off in one direction and in the other and in the other. She
squeezes down a dark and dusty side road that spits her out near the water’s edge.

She cries out in triumph and runs, feet pounding against the pavement with each jolt
running up her body with a shock. She skids to a stop as she approaches the docks, eyes flying
across the skyline trying to seek out her tribe’s flag fluttering in the wind.

But the comforting indigo blue curves of her homeland’s crest is absent from the many
wavering insignia. Her ship is gone.

She freezes where she stands, ice filling her veins and stilling her breath. The crowds
around her continue to move and bustle about, passerby bumping into her prone form.

She jolts out of her unmoving state and looks about in terror. She stands alone within the
masses as tears fill her eyes and she stumbles away from them and into the comfort of a nearby

She finds herself in a tavern across the street from the docks, folded over herself at the
bar, a line of empty drinks surrounding her arms.

“You’re not looking too good, Guppy,” a rough voice says to her right.

Imani raises her head just slightly and meets the eyes of a monstrously tall woman.

The booze running through her veins is to blame for the words that tumble out of her
mouth, the rational part of her brain surmounts.

“I’ve come to the startling realization that the world outside my island is much more
corrupt than I could have imagined. And I’ve come to the less startling realization that the King
and his Guard care not about anyone but themselves,” her eyelids feel unnaturally heavy and her
words slur together in her inebriated state.

The tall woman before her throws her head back and lets out a booming bout of laughter
and claps Imani on the back jarringly.

“Well, you’re ahead of most people out there, I’ll tell you that. The lot of ‘em usually
don’t realize there’s anything wrong until late in life, if ever!” she laughs some more and smiles
crookedly at Imani. “And hey, you ever feel like doing something about it you could always join
up with some mangy old pirates!”

Imani laughs at this and lets her head fall onto the bartop with a clunk.

I came here to get revenge on the Blaze, but I won’t compromise my morality and join the
corrupt state,” she picks up her nearly empty bottle and downs the rest of the bitter liquid. “And
I’d surely get myself killed day one on any pirate ship I could find.”

“Oh, you never know, you could find a damn good captain to teach you the ropes.”

Imani looks to the woman and notices for the first time the coat of arms embroidered to
her jacket’s beast, a looping crest that could only be that of said ‘damn good’ pirate captain.

By Kaitlyn Ludlow, Contributor

Ludlow writes that her mom is her inspiration as she created her own business at 45. Ludlow also wants to be a teacher and author when she is older.

Featured photo by Cady Russell

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