The Wicked Bargain
El Diablo is in the details in this Latinx pirate fantasy starring a transmasculine nonbinary teen with a mission of revenge, redemption, and revolution.
On Mar León de la Rosa's sixteenth birthday, el Diablo comes calling. Mar is a transmasculine nonbinary teen pirate hiding a magical ability to manipulate fire and ice. But their magic isn't enough to reverse a wicked bargain made by their father, and now el Diablo has come to collect his payment: the soul of Mar's father and the entire crew of their ship.
When Mar is miraculously rescued by the sole remaining pirate crew in the Caribbean, el Diablo returns to give them a choice: give up their soul to save their father by the harvest moon, or never see him again. The task is impossible--Mar refuses to make a bargain, and there's no way their magic is a match for el Diablo. Then Mar finds the most unlikely allies: Bas, an infuriatingly arrogant and handsome pirate--and the captain's son; and Dami, a gender-fluid demonio whose motives are never quite clear. For the first time in their life, Mar may have the courage to use their magic. It could be their only redemption--or it could mean certain death.
An Excerpt fromThe Wicked Bargain
August 3, 1820
Papá says water speaks to those willing to listen.
On the night Mar arrived silently in the world, the ocean danced and clapped in time with the roaring thunder and unrelenting rain. Mar’s parents named them after the sea because the water had celebrated so fiercely, it nearly sank La Catalina when Mar took their first breath.
Of course, Mar has no memory of their birth, but they imagine it was probably a night like tonight: dark as ink and so wet that they can barely keep their eyes open against the downpour. Fitting, as today’s their sixteenth birthday.
Mar leans against the rail of the crow’s nest, squinting into the storm. The warm rain pelts their face and paints their lips, seeping into their mouth and soaking their clothes until their black linen shirt clings to their brown skin. Thunder like an army running through the tempest rolls through them. The rain is heavy and feels like drumming on their skin; though it’s hard to separate the rain’s embrace from the uneasy magia humming in their bones.
Mar presses their hands down their rain-slick arms, trying to ignore the fact that the edges of their black markings are glowing orange. The “birthmark” weaves over their arms and chest and down their legs like thick, black mazes. At least now Mar is old enough to pretend their markings are tattoos.
Mar shakes their head and takes a deep breath. They can argue with their magia later. Leo, the quartermaster, sent them up here to peer through the blurry, endless sheet of rain to the raging waters. La Catalina is supposed to be nearing Isla Mujeres, off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s where Mar grew up, and Papá’s crew frequently returns to deliver most of the treasures and resources they’ve taken from the Spaniards. It isn’t really stealing—more like returning, since the Spaniards stole it from those living around the Caribbean Sea in the first place. Out of the Spaniards’ hands and back to the people.
After five successful raids, the crew’s haul is one of their biggest yet, but this storm is throwing them off course. If Mar’s magia were useful, it might point them in the right direction, like a compass. But no, all Mar’s magia ever does is cause them grief. It’s a lesson they’ve had to learn the hard way, and one they don’t intend to forget.
Mar swiftly climbs down the rigging, gripping the rope with their toes, careful not to slip on the water-slick holdings. They’ve climbed up to and down from the crow’s nest on La Catalina so often, they could do it in their sleep. And a good thing, too, because it’s dark tonight, Mar might as well be blindfolded.
Their bare feet have scarcely touched the soaked wooden slats of the deck when a crack of lightning slices through the night, followed by a rumble Mar can feel in their chest. Papá isn’t navigating—not that Mar is surprised; navigating through a storm like this is like looking for fresh water in the ocean. Still, if anyone can navigate out of this storm, it’s Papá. But as Mar squints through the storm, Papá doesn’t seem to be on deck with most of the crew. So, then. He’s inside.
Coño, you’d better not be doing what I think you’re doing. Mar marches up the steps to the quarterdeck, bracing themself against the railing as a wall of wind slams into them. Mar leans into the wind, cursing under their breath as they grip the rail so tightly their fingers hurt. Still, they slip back inches at a time over the slick steps anyway. Flames burst from their fingertips and Mar yelps, clamping down on their magia abruptly, pain lancing through their chest. Their shaking arms burn with effort; it’s all they can do to hang on without letting their magia slip again and incinerate the rail.
Mar glares at their orange markings. It’s always the fire ready to explode out of them the moment their guard slips. Where fire always demands space and attention, their ice magia is quieter, steadier.
“¿Por qué no puedes comportarte como el hielo?” Mar grits out. Ice magia never causes problems, but the fire is wild, demanding. Deadly.
A wave of heat washes over them in protest, so hot Mar sweats in the rain. But then the wind lets up just long enough for Mar to rush up the remaining stairs, to the back of the quarterdeck, and through the gilded double doors into el Capitán’s quarters, slamming the doors behind them before the wind can catch them.
It takes all of a second for Mar to adjust to the dim golden candlelight of the cabin and register the thick smell of rum in the air. Two empty bottles lie on their sides on the floor beside the table strewn with maps, illustrations, and trinkets scavenged from various raids. Papá’s favorite gun—which once belonged to the cabrón Manuel Ramón García López, the Spanish capitán who has made it his mission to hunt down the last of the Caribbean’s pirates—teeters at the edge of the table.
Mar touches their own holstered flintlock pistol tucked under their soaked shirt at the small of their back. They run their thumb over the slick wax waterproof coating and onto their rope belt as they peer into the dim cabin. Not because it’s likely anyone dangerous is here, but with the endless humming in their bones, the reminder that the pistol is still there is . . . reassuring.
“Mar!” The call comes from the far end of the room, doused in shadow, where Papá’s bed is. Papá stumbles out of the darkness, his rail-thin frame leaning on Leo’s large torso. Papá grins widely as he waves around a third bottle of rum, this one half-empty. Some of the amber liquid sloshes out of the thin bottle neck onto his stained white shirt, slapping the deck like the rain outside. Papá must be really drunk. He’d never let even a drop of precious rum go to waste unless he was neck-deep in, well, three bottles.
La Catalina’s quartermaster grimaces as he gently helps Papá to the table, looking at Mar with something like disappointment. “¿Viste algo?” he asks softly. Leo sounds utterly exhausted, and it takes Mar half a second to recognize he’s talking to them.
“Oh.” Mar rips their gaze away from their completely drunk Papá. “No, it’s impossible to see anything through this storm,” they answer in Spanish.
Leo steadies Papá and releases him, watching as Papá balances on his own. Satisfied he won’t fall over, Leo sighs deeply, gently cups Papá’s cheek for a moment, then bites his lip and walks over to Mar. He rests his hand on Mar’s shoulder and squeezes lightly. “I need to get back out there with the crew. Can you . . . ?”
“I can handle him,” Mar says. “Let me know if you need help out there.”
Leo nods. “Still the long night.”
They meet his steady gaze. “Still the long night.”
Leo takes two quick strides to the hatch, then hesitates, his hand on the door. He looks back to Papá. The pain in his face is raw—it hits Mar in the chest. “Te amo, Juan.”
The smile that warms Papá’s face makes him look ten years younger. “Y yo también te amo, mi corazón.”
Leo smiles softly, then steps out into the roaring storm.
Mar sighs and turns back to Papá, not sure where to begin.
“¿Qué tal, mi tesoro?” Papá slams the bottle on the table so hard, it’s a miracle it doesn’t crack. He stumbles forward, and his rings scratch the table as his hand trails on it for balance.
Mar isn’t feeling especially treasured.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a storm this bad—at least not while sailing,” Mar says.
Papá gets close enough for the mixed stink of alcohol and sweat to flood Mar’s nose, but they resist the urge to step back. The man may smell, but he’s still Mar’s papá. Besides, it isn’t the first time they’ve found him borracho like this in his quarters. Still, when Papá clasps Mar’s face in his hands, the reek is so strong, Mar tries not to breathe. They focus instead on Papá’s rough hands on their cheeks. On the raised line around Papá’s thumb where García López tried—and almost succeeded in—cutting off his finger. On the crinkles around Papá’s smiling eyes in his brown skin; on the gray hair just barely speckling his mustache, even though Papá is still too young for gray.
“Just look at you,” Papá whispers. He takes Mar’s hands and runs his fingers over their still-glowing markings. “Incredible.” Papá’s gaze unfocuses, and a small smile carves his lips while he traces the lines on Mar’s shoulder. Like he’s looking at some paradise far away. Magia.
Easy to worship magia if you’re not forced to hide it all the time, Mar thinks. They glance at their arms and groan aloud; their dark sleeves are rolled up, and their markings are glowing fully bright orange, which seems unfair because they haven’t even used magia.
“¡Basta!” Mar hisses, shaking their arm as though they were trying to put out a match. It doesn’t do a thing, of course; Mar’s magia has been stubborn all day, bursting from them unprompted in sparks, demanding attention. Before it started raining they even accidentally set a rope on fire, a slipup they haven’t made in months. All night their magic has buzzed uneasily under their skin, a never-ending hum, their bones vibrating like tuning forks. It swirls around Mar’s stomach and collects—hot—around their heart. A warning, whispering—something. Refusing to be ignored.
Mostly it just makes Mar nervous. And a little angry. Life would be so much easier if they could just pretend their magia didn’t exist.
Mar scowls and rubs their still-glowing arms, trying not to think about how they must look like some kind of demonio, glowing from collarbones to wrists to toes. At least on La Catalina they don’t have to hide until their magia calms down. The schooner isn’t just their home; it’s their haven. The only place they don’t have to worry about being executed for brujería.
They stuff their hands into their soaked trouser pockets. “Magia only brings trouble and death,” they mutter.
But Papá shakes his head and takes Mar’s face in his rough hands. “Your magia is a gift, tesoro. You need to stop fighting it and accept it—it’s a part of you. A beautiful part of—”