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Emmi Lawrence

“He tells the same bloody story every night to whoever listens. ‘Bout crows in the crow’s nest. Birds normally found in forests taking over the sea, says he. Wouldn’t listen ta a word that comes out of his mouth.”

I thanked the bartender, but ignored the advice and moved to sit next to the young sailor.

“What crows are these?” I asked. “Out in the Serene? In the middle of the ocean?”

The young man snorted into his pint. “Fuck off with ya. I’ve had enough raggin’ for the day.”

But I persisted, opening my satchel and pulling free a crinkled paper with a crude drawing. “Can you tell me how many there were? Did they appear during the night? Did they come down close enough for you to see exactly what they looked like? Anything like this?” I tapped the sketch.

The sailor pulled the mug from his lips. “Ya draw that?”

“Not me. Another who’d been on board a ship that had to skirt a spring storm and saw a few of these birds.”

He dragged the sketch closer, wetting the edges as it landed in a puddle of spilled beer. “Aye, it’s a right likeness, it is. Close enough. There’s that ridge right there along its spine that I’ve never seen on a crow before or since. And it’s got that bright beak and fuzzy gullet. He pushed the paper back and took a large swallow from his mug before continuing. “It’s real, right enough, but what is it?”

I stared at the sketch with a sense of satisfaction. “It’s a moonlit rook.”

“Not a crow?”

“Not quite. Did you say—had you seen it during the day at all, at any time?”

Slowly, the young sailor shook his head. “Only saw when I was on third watch. They’d come before the dawn and perch on the stays and caw like crazy men.”

“But once the sun came up—”

“They’d be gone.” He blew through his fingers to indicate the birds disappearing into the wind. “Could never see where. Never saw ‘em fly off, though I’d look. They’d just up and disappear by the time first watch climbed up to relieve me.”

I could not contain an excited laugh. “Can you tell me the position you were at when they showed up?”

“The long and lat? No one believed me. Thought I were making the crows up, called me stupid. Slow. Crazy.”

“You’re not. Most certainly not.”

“Ya weren’t there. How do ya suppose ya know?”

I ignored the question as I unfurled a detailed map of the Serene I’d been working on all season, this time more careful not to land the parchment in the wet rings on the bar. “Can you pinpoint your ship’s path?”

“It’s been a while.”

“A guesstimate then. You have to remember your destination at least. The general course.”

The sailor ran a finger over a wide area to the northeast of the continent. “Somewhere thereabouts. Had been halfway toward the Verdant Towers we were. Closer we got, the less I saw the blasted things.”

I began to take furious notes. “Your ship? It’s cargo? Time of year you’d set out? Was the weather clear?”

The sailor answered quick and short to the flurried questions, then sighed into his pint in exasperation. “These moonlit buggers, where’d they’d go? Why was I the only one to keep seein’ ’em?”

I finished my notes and began rolling up the map. “There’re invisible during the day, of course. Thus, their name, moonlit. Can only be seen when lit up by the moon.”

The sailor sat with a confused expression as I gathered the rest of my things.

“Thank you. You’ve been a great help.”

As I stood, the young sailor turned back to his pint with a huff and a mumbled, “Lit up by the moon…hah. Yer crazier than I am.”

This is a teaser for the novel Lost Isle: The Ocean’s Aviary I, on pre-order at Amazon now.