Xaphine flew between the lines, narrowly avoiding getting hit by a fireball. The two armies were now completely meshed together in combat. The angels pushed against the imps, and managed to get them back away from the ship for a few moments, but the imps kept on coming. Gilles was forced to pull the Black Vengeance out of the fray to regroup and take stock of the battle damage. The ship was already covered with Imps and they would need to deal with those ones before doing anything else.
Ariel approached Xaphine as their lines met up, “General, this isn’t looking good, there are just too many of them, we need to fall back!”
Xaphine shook her head, “If we fall back now, Aralyn is as good as dead. No, we keep fighting and if anyone tries to pull back, I will kill them myself. Are we clear?”
Ariel looked at Xaphine for a moment with a shocked expression, “I’ll rally our forces, general.”
She left Xaphine to try to organize a counter attack while she rallied her own squadron.
Gilles fought hard to clear the imps from the deck of his ship. Gavreel remained onboard and fought by his side. Once the Black Vengeance was out of the battle, the group focused on getting rid of the imps that were still on the ship. The crew had been driven back into groups and was being forced into corners of the ship. Gilles braced the helm and turned to help the rest of the men.
Gilles jumped off the aft castle into the middle of a group fighting imps. He brought his sword down on an imp that had its back turned. The sword struck its neck, which immediately turned to dust. After a few minutes of fighting, Gilles managed to free the group, “Come on men, let’s get these disgusting creatures off our ship!”
The men cheered and followed Gilles as he attempted to rescue a second group of crewmen trapped by the imps. Gilles moved in to attack and stabbed another imp in the back. The creature screamed and burst into smoke. Once it was gone, Gilles turned to attack another creature, when he saw a third one charging at him. Gilles had been caught off guard and there was no way for him to react in time.
Suddenly, Gavreel appeared between them. The spike that was intended for Gilles, plunged through her chest and emerged from her back. The creature let out a high pitched laugh and it slid the spike out of her body. Gilles felt as though he had a cannon in his chest that was about of go off, “You bastard!”
Gilles dove at the imp and drove his sword through its chest. As with all of the other imps, this one’s body vanished once it had been killed. Gilles dropped his sword and knelt down next to Gavreel. She had blood pouring out of her wound and was coughing badly. He tore a rag from his already shredded shirt and placed it on her wound, trying to stop the bleeding.
As he pressed down, he looked into her eyes, “You saved my life…”
Gavreel smiled, “It was… the right thing to do. You humans… you are so much like children. I…”
She began to cough again. Gilles pressed harder, trying to stop blood from flowing out both sides, “Stop, don’t talk, we’ll get you patched up in no time.”
“You are sweet,” Gavreel replied, “But you can’t save me. The injury is fatal.”
“This is not right,” Gilles said in an angry tone.
She shrugged weakly, “Angels are responsible for guiding and watching over humans. As far as I’m concerned, I have done the job I was created to do… do not mourn for me…”
Without another word, Gavreel closed her eyes and the light left her body. Seconds later, she lost all color and disintegrated into dust, which was then swept away by the wind.
Gilles watched her disappear with a tear in his eye. He looked down at his hands which were still covered in blood. To his amazement, all the cuts and bruises he’d received during this battle instantly healed. Older scars also began to disappear as Gilles wiped the blood from his hands. After seeing that his body had somehow fully regenerated, he looked up to the sky and crossed himself, “Thank you, my friend.”
“Gilles,” Morgan cried out from across the deck, “Look!”
As the crew finished off the remaining imps on deck, Gilles looked up in the clouds to where the battle was taking place. To his horror, the Choirs were getting overrun. Gilles shook his head, “No…”
Without another thought, he ran to the wheel, removed the brace and brought the ship about, heading back into battle, “All hands, run up the guns and prepare to fire!”
Morgan stood next to him on the aft castle with the spyglass, “Is this wise? The Black Vengeance be badly damaged. I don’t know that she be in suited condition to take another beating.”
Gilles never looked away from the battle, “Those angels are fighting and dying for our existence. If they lose, it won’t matter if this ship survives or not.”
Once Gilles had the ship pointed straight at Paeles, he called up into the masts, “Full sail!”
The ship pulled hard on the wind and managed to get within gun range in a matter of minutes. Gilles counted out a few seconds and then turned the wheel hard to starboard bringing the port guns to bear. It took him a few moments to get them into position, but once the guns were aligned, Gilles nodded, “All port guns fire!”
The ship responded with loud booms and a cloud of smoke. Cannon balls littered the air and ripped through the clouds of imps. Baltazar had trained his crew well as they were able to avoid hitting any angels. The crew’s efforts paid off as their cannons cut enough of a hole in the imp’s lines for the angels to break through and regroup.
Their victory was short-lived as the imps turned their attention back to the human ship. This time, more than half of the remaining imps shot down toward the ship. There were enough of them to completely blanket the Black Vengeance and choke any light from their eyes.
Gilles saw them coming and didn’t even bother turning the ship, “My God… this be it.”
Morgan nodded, “Stand fast, maybe we can take a few of them with us… it’s been good knowing ye Mr. Gilles.”
“Aye,” Gilles replied, “It’s been an honor sailing with ye.”
The deck crew raised their swords and waited for their incoming doom.
Suddenly, another group of dark creatures appeared out of nowhere. Large beasts, dragons, and what looked like demons filled the sky and attacked the imps. Gilles looked up in shock, “What the… where did those come from?”
Xaphine also saw what was going on from her side of the line. She turned to her squadron, “Fight on, let’s see what this is about!”
Xaphine’s group ripped through the imps in an attempt to reach this new demonic force. She knew she may wind up fighting two enemies, but she had to know what was going on. As her forces approached the demons, one of them recognized her, broke off from the fight, and came out to meet her. The dark creature resembled an imp, but it was much larger and its body was that of a human. It smiled at her with sharp, jagged teeth, “Xaphan, my dear friend… it has been a long time.”
Xaphine narrowed her eyes, “Baʿal Zəbûb… what are you doing here?”
Baʿal Zəbûb put out his hand to her, “Lucifer sends his compliments, and we offer our assistance in this fight.”
Xaphine could not believe what she was hearing, “And what does Lucifer want in exchange?”
The demon shrugged, “I would guess that he would want to eliminate this threat so that he can safely hang on to his kingdom. He has not instructed me to ask for anything in exchange.”
Xaphine’s jaw was almost on the ground, “Given our history, Baʿal Zəbûb, I am disinclined to believe anything that Lucifer says… however at the moment, I see no choice but for us to join forces if we are to prevail. Your help is most timely.”
Baʿal Zəbûb bowed, “Come, let us get to work!”
The two groups fought side by side and managed to punch a massive hole in the imp lines with help from the cannons of the Black Vengeance. Roselyn appeared next to Xaphine on her right side, “It looks like we’ve got them scattered, we need to keep them that way!”
Aralyn had a hard time looking Baltazar in the eyes after what happened. They passed through another block of city and into another area that resembled a brothel. When they entered the building, just trying to get through, the entire room went black. Baltazar found himself alone as the blackness around him began to fade to color. The brothel was now full of deformed people, all naked, all looking at Baltazar oddly.
In the center of the room stood a man clad only in lavish jewelry. He stretched his hand out Baltazar, “Join us, my friend… tell me that endless pleasures and debauchery are not what you always secretly desired.”
Baltazar shook his head, “I was blind and stupid during those days. I never realized what I was missing out on while using people. That is not what I want anymore.”
“Then what do you want?” a familiar voice appeared from behind.
Baltazar turned to see Aralyn standing behind. She was completely naked, her wings were folded behind her, and the contours of her body had been decorated with paint. Baltazar took a step back, “Aralyn I…”
She stepped forward with her hands at her side, “What do you really want?”
“I… I want you,” he replied, “I’ve always wanted you. You made me see the whole world in a different light.”
She took another step towards him, “Well I’m here… take me.”
Baltazar thought about it for a moment before shaking his head, “No way… this can’t be real. The Aralyn I know would never be like this. You’re not her, and she’s not here!”
“Maybe,” Aralyn said playfully, “Maybe not… does it matter? She’ll never know…”
“I’ll know,” Baltazar replied sternly, “Get away foul creature. I am not doing something so indecent!”
The image of Aralyn moved closer, “Are you sure?”
Baltazar pulled a knife out from under his jacket, “I’m not so much the scoundrel to hit a woman… even if I’m sure she’s not really one. But if you don’t leave me be, I will make an exception!”
The imposter frowned, “You have no idea what you’ve started here!”
The scene quickly dissolved back into the ruined building that Baltazar had originally walked into. Aralyn was standing there next to Lailah with tears in her eyes. He turned and looked at her oddly as he wiped sweat from his brow, “What’s the matter?”
Aralyn smiled, “The spirits made me watch you. They made me watch what you were doing. I think they were so certain that you would jump on an opportunity like that.”
Baltazar grimaced, “Bastards…”
“But you didn’t!” She said joyfully as she threw her arms around him, “You remained honorable even when there appeared to be no consequence. You knew my feelings and respected them, even when it seemed like I did not. There may be hope for you yet.”
“I know,” Baltazar replied with a grin, “What can I say, I’m just that kind of guy.”
Aralyn rolled her eyes and sighed, “You have the biggest ego of anyone I have ever met in my life… but I love you…”
Baltazar smiled, “You don’t know how much it warmed my heart when I first heard you say that. It still remains one of my fondest memories. I love you too, very much.”
The two kissed while Lailah stood off to the side, “Well done Baltazar, bravo.”
The ground began to rumble, interrupting what might have been their last moment together. Aralyn looked forward towards the whirlwind, “He knows we’re here and he’s waiting for us.”
“How can you tell?” Baltazar asked.
“I can hear him,” Aralyn replied, “His voice calls to me somehow.”
Lailah nodded, “We’d better be careful then.”
The group moved through the building and out to the other side. It took some time to find a way out of the ancient building, but once they reached the other side, a second field of smashed ruins. This one was considerably larger and appeared to be a large crated. Located at the deepest point, was a bright aura which appeared to be generating the massive whirlwind.
Aralyn folded her wings back and rubbed her arms. Baltazar could see she looked cold so he stood behind her and put his arms around her. He could feel the goose bumps covering her body and white mist appeared from her lips. Baltazar looked at her oddly because he didn’t feel cold at all.
Aralyn’s eyes glazed over as they continued to walk, “I’m coming for you…”
She sounded almost mesmerized as she spoke. Lailah stood behind her and kept a close watch. Baltazar allowed Aralyn to walk ahead slightly and turned to Lailah, “What is going on with her?”
“It’s Legion,” she replied, “His power draws in those sensitive to such things. I can feel its pull too, but I was trained to be able to resist it.”
“Is this going to be a problem?” Baltazar asked nervously.
“It shouldn’t be,” Lailah replied, “The pull of his power will only draw her closer, but it shouldn’t be able to dominate her mind. She hasn’t had the training for this, but her mental fortitude should be strong enough to hold out.”
“That’s the plan,” Baltazar scoffed, “Why didn’t you spend our voyage training her… what happens if you’re wrong?”
“Fending off the lure of power can’t be taught,” Lailah replied, “It can only be built up over time through experience and wisdom, and we simply didn’t have the time to wait. To your second question, if I am wrong and his power does lure her in, well that’s why you’re here. Normally I wouldn’t have allowed a normal human to come along on such a journey, but you and her have a connection that is stronger than even his power.”
“And what is that?” Baltazar asked glumly.
“Love,” Lailah replied, “Love is the strongest and most wonderful gift the Most High ever gave anyone. He even allowed the angels to know and understand it as our reward for steadfast loyalty.”
“The power of love…” Baltazar said in a sarcastic tone, “Sounds like a fairy tale.”
Lailah smiled, “Yes well, all fairy tales, all myths, and all legends have some basis in reality. The stories had to come from somewhere.”
Aralyn overheard them and turned back, still in a haze, but able to communicate, “I’ve always believed that the fairy tales of old had in some ways actually happened.”
She turned back and looked at the bright light at the bottom of the whirlwind, “It’s what I’m hoping will be the case here…”
Baltazar left Lailah and turned to Aralyn, “Once all of this is over, I’ll take you anywhere you wish to go. All you have to do is ask, and we will go.”
Aralyn smiled, “That sounds nice, but there will be at least one place that I will have to take you.”
“Where is that?” He asked.
“Into the clouds,” Aralyn replied, “I have wings now and have barely been able to use them. I want to see the wonders of the sky, and to share them with you.”
Lailah frowned and backed away slightly. There was something she kept hidden in the back of her mind. It pained her to hide it from Aralyn, given everything that had already happened, but giving her information that might jeopardize her chances at victory wasn’t a good idea at this point, so she kept her mouth shut.
Baltazar looked at the whirlwind, “It sounds like a deal to me.”
“Good,” Aralyn replied, “Once this is over.”
The two looked ahead of them and walked slowly towards the massive whirlwind.
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