My Bible has all but fallen to pieces, its pages ravaged by the damp tropical air, the water that beat against its spine after I shoved it between the lid and base of Syrena's prison, and the jagged pieces of wood and glass that scattered everywhere after it shattered against the forest floor.
It has fallen to pieces, but I find I understand its contents better now, outside the confines of the paper and ink, in a place where so few seem to know and appreciate its wisdom. The same way I have come to understand Syrena, outside the sea, outside the confines of mermaid lore and its savage history. The way I feel she understands me.
Still, I feel she distrusts me, and as the twilight creeps under the jungle canopy and envelops us in darkness, Syrena retreats once more into silence, the light from our makeshift lanterns accentuating the tension on her face.
She offers me a hint at a smile as I try to reassure her by squeezing her arm, but just as I swallow a sigh of relief, I catch Blackbeard's subtle nod to the quartermaster and my stomach clenches in trepidation.
Before I can even react, the quartermaster is upon me. He seizes Syrena from my arms and shoves a cloth sack over her face, muffling her shrieks and hisses.
"Let her go!" I shout, nearly convulsing in horror.
But they all ignore me, save Angelica. She gazes at me with a silent rebuke that seems to say I have become far too attached to this creature, that there are boundaries that must be set—and kept.
Though my heart is racing and my face is flushed, I decide to heed her warning. Perhaps my acquiescence will preserve Syrena's life. As we continue walking, we enter a swath of mangrove trees surrounded by deep pools, and Blackbeard's eyes widen in anticipation. It is clear he has been here before.
He turns left and ventures forward three steps before he kneels down, pointing his torch at the base of the tree, where a dark form lies. The light from the fire illuminates the grisly truth—a tightly bound skeleton, half-submerged in the water.
The crew stands motionless, waiting for Blackbeard to give further direction. The air is tight with tension.
"Mermaids," Blackbeard announces, his voice low and ominous. My stomach sinks and I glance back at Syrena, who lies limp and motionless in the quartermaster's arms.
Blackbeard follows my gaze and smiles mirthlessly. "Come along, bring the creature," he barks.
The quartermaster leans down and shoves Syrena against the same tree, binding her arms against the rough bark. I stare in shock as I slowly realize Blackbeard's intent. Not only does he intend to wrench a tear from her eyes, he intends to kill her.
I clench my fists in frustration and mutter that Satan himself would not be so callous. Angelica cuts her eyes at me, but I don't care. Her father's work goes beyond that of the devil. His soul is on perilous ground.
"Be careful, these pools run deep," Blackbeard cautions. "If she escapes, all will be lost."
No, I think as I watch the quartermaster coil the thick rope around her slender wrists. All will be gained.