Lailah’s wings were extremely sore almost to the point of paralysis. Even a slight flap to keep herself level was agonizing. She struggled to stay airborne, not wanting to crash into the water. In her thousands of years, she had never learned how to swim, and doubted even the best swimmer would fair well in harsh seas with another person as dead weight.
Gilles saw her coming in. At first, he was relieved, but then he saw her erratic flying and the fact that she was not slowing down. His eyes widened as she got closer, “Men, clear the deck, look out!”
Lailah flew over the port side, dropping Aralyn’s body before crashing down herself. Gilles grabbed Aralyn and handed her to two nearby crewmen, “Get her into the cabin, make sure she is comfortable.”
The two crewmen picked her up and did as Gilles had ordered. As they disappeared from sight, Lailah hit the deck hard and rolled a couple of times until she was able to use her wings to stop herself. She lay on the deck for a few moments, badly hurt, but still conscious. Then she remembered that Baltazar was still in Paeles waiting for her.
Lailah quickly stood up, took a moment to regain her balance, and tried to spread her wings to fly back to the ruins. She began flapping and tried to run, but her legs gave out underneath her. She tried a second time, but Gilles grabbed her, “Sorry lass, I don’t think ye’ll be flying again for a while.”
“I have to,” she insisted, “Baltazar is still over there!”
Gilles quickly turned back to look at Paeles, “The captain didn’t make it out?”
“He’s still waiting for me,” Lailah yelled with tears in her eyes, “I promised him I’d come back for him. I have to go!”
Morgan looked out toward Paeles as the massive whirlwinds sucked in what was left of the city. Whole buildings had been ripped from their foundation and were now spinning in the air as they broke apart. He frowned and shook his head, “Don’t think there be anyone left for you to be keeping that promise to lass… that I don’t.”
Lailah watched helplessly as the whirlwind turned the entire area into a crater. Gilles crossed himself, “Captain…”
Tears streamed down Lailah’s cheeks, “This isn’t right. He did so much for us… too much to allow him to die this. I promised him…”
“You did everything you could,” Morgan replied, “I’m sure he doesn’t blame you. You managed to get Aralyn back here safely.”
Morgan nodded, “Aye, we’ll miss the Captain dearly, he be the best man I ever did serve under, but he loved Aralyn, and she was what was important.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” A familiar voice piped in from behind, “But then again, enough people Aralyn loves have already been lost to us. For her to accept another loss would be too much to ask.”
The entire crew looked in disbelief as a waterlogged Baltazar De La Fuente climbed over the railing on the starboard side. Gilles smiled, “Captain!”
“But how,” Lailah asked in disbelief, “I left you in the middle of the city, how were you able to escape so quickly?”
Baltazar shrugged, “Demonic creatures, haunted cities, massive whirlwinds… and even the devious mind of one Aralyn Patrisi are nothing I cannot find a way to overcome.”
Lailah chuckled a little, but still frowned, “I’m sorry Baltazar, I told you I’d come back and I didn’t.”
“It’s okay Lailah,” Baltazar replied, “I saw the way the city was collapsing around me. I knew when I handed Aralyn to you that there was no way you were going to be able to keep that promise.”
Morgan cheered, “We all should have known better! He’s Captain del la Fuente, nothing can kill him!”
Baltazar turned to Lailah, “How is Aralyn?”
“She’s fine,” Lailah replied, “She hasn’t regained consciousness, last I had seen, but she is resting comfortably in the cabin.”
As a look of relief came over Baltazar’s face, Lailah smiled, “Don’t worry, your love is much more durable than you think.”
“I know,” Baltazar replied, “In many ways, more durable than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
As the crew celebrated their captain’s return with cheers of joy, Baltazar inspected his ship now that the battle was over. There were burn marks everywhere, much of the deck railing was gone, and even a few cannons had been turned over. There was even a large hole in the deck, and one of the cabin windows has been shattered. To Baltazar’s surprise, the sails were still intact, but they were pretty much the only part of this once proud ship that had remained intact.
Baltazar shook his head and glared at his crew, “Mr. Gilles, where are you?”
Gilles stepped out of the crowd of cheering crew with a nervous look on his face, “Captain?”
Baltazar had an angry look on his face, “Mr. Gilles I did give you an order to take care of this ship did I not?”
Gilles gulped, “Yes sir…”
“Excuse me, Captain,” Morgan interjected, “But Gilles did the best he could under the circumstances…”
“I don’t believe I asked for your opinion, Mr. Morgan.” Baltazar replied.
Morgan nodded apologetically, “Aye Captain…”
“Now, Mr. Gilles,” Baltazar turned his attention back to his first mate, “What do you have to say for yourself? The condition of this ship is absolutely deplorable!”
Gilles nodded, “Aye sir, I know… I did my best, but we were under heavy fire from our enemies.”
“I see.” Baltazar replied thoughtfully, “So in other words it could have been a lot worse?”
“Aye that be true,” Gilles replied.
“So then what you are saying is that you actually did a really good job under the circumstances and because of your fine work, the Black Vengeance lives to sail another day… is that what you’re saying, Mr. Gilles?” Baltazar demanded.
“Well I wouldn’t be putting it quite that way sir,” Gilles replied, “The entire crew played a part in this adventure and I be saying that because of all of our efforts, the ship was saved.”
Baltazar’s eyes looked even more enraged, “Mr. Gilles, are you now blaming the rest of the crew for this mess?”
Gilles shrugged, “Well Captain, I…”
“I should grant you all shore leave!” Baltazar yelled, “Yes, I think a few weeks of shore leave along with pain of booze and wenches should teach you a lesson about ever doing such a good job of keeping my ship afloat again! What do you think?”
Gilles scratched his head with a confused look, “Captain?”
“In fact,” Baltazar said, turning to his crew with a nearly enraged look, “Shore leave for all of you men, just to show you how much I appreciate your hard work.”
The men looked at each other not sure what to make of Baltazar’s words. After a few moments, Baltazar’s expression changed from an angry scowl to an overjoyed smile, “You men did very well today and I am very proud to be serving with the lot of you. Because of your sacrifices, Aralyn is finally safe, Legion has been defeated, and now life can finally go on!”
Baltazar turned back to Gilles, “Mr. Gilles, set course for Venice… get us to the old Patrisi residence. Once we’re there, let’s partake of the beautiful Venetian countryside before we get to work repairing the ship.”
Gilles nodded, “Venice, very good Captain!”
“Captain,” Morgan piped up from behind, “What about after the Black Vengeance be repaired?”
Baltazar looked at every crewman and smiled widely, “Then it’ll back to plundering Spanish ships!”
The entire crew cheered even louder than before as the captain crossed his arms and smiled, “On deck you worthless rats, all watches, prepare to make way, shorten and cable. Men to the yards, aloft with you! Set topsails, hands to the braces, weigh anchor, let fall the sails!”
The men scattered to follow their captain’s orders. Within minutes, the sails came down as the anchor began to break the surface. The ship slowly began to move forward as Baltazar watched from the aft castle. He took one last look at the barren area where the ruins of Paeles once stood before turning to Gilles, “Five degrees starboard then hold your course, Mr. Gilles.”
Gilles nodded, “No problem, Captain.”
“Mr. Morgan,” Baltazar called out to the main deck as the wheel began to turn, “Full sail, if you please!”
“Aye sir,” Morgan replied and turned to the men who were still aloft, “You men, full sail, get the lead out!”
The remaining sails came down and the ship picked up speed. Baltazar nodded, “Let’s get to Venetian waters.”
Gilles smiled, “Aye sir, as long as the winds hold out, it shouldn’t take too long.”
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