**THREE MONTHS LATER**
The war against the Travian Empire was over soon after the fall of Arret to the Requian forces. The Royal Requian Navy didn't land port in Lilia as planned, but returned to Requia in good condition, having wiped out a good majority of the Empire's navy. Now it was time for a follow-up plan. A week after the initial battle, King Apollo's army went into battle again – his navy went out across seas while his land army kept building up their forces in the Medwin province. With their main trade route cut off, Malisis had trouble gathering necessary supplies. It was now not a question of if the Empire lost, but when. On their second attempt the Royal Navy decimated the Empire's, smashing through their boats and landing in Lilia. At the same time, some of Requia's Medwin forces marched southwest, into the Empire's capital province. This two-pronged attack was too much for Malisis to handle. Many of his soldiers surrendered, more interested in staying alive instead of fighting a losing battle. Those that battled on died in vain. Lilia became Requia's new staging ground for subsequent battles. Within a week of the fall of Lilia, the Requians had penetrated into the heart of the Empire and entered Malisis Keep – the dark home of the Emperor himself. Many black-armored knights awaited them inside, but they pushed through only to find – nothing. When they reached the throne room, Malisis himself was nowhere to be found. There was this note though:
I trust you have enjoyed the accomadations of my home, bandits. Enjoy it while you can. One day I will return, and you thieves will pay in full what you have taken from me.
~His Greatness, Emperor Malisis
It was impossible to tell whether or not it really was Malisis who had written the letter, but it didn't matter. The Empire was dead. The threat of an invasion was over. Requia had won.
"Three cheers for the Death Raiders!"
Loud shouting echoed through the entire tavern as the pirate crew sat around the tables, drinking to the success of the Requian crusade. The work for the Requian soldiers wasn't done; they were sending soldiers over daily to secure their position in the former Empire's provinces and prevent any rebellions from arising. The Death Raiders were officially finished their duties, though not without reward. Each of them had been rewarded a healthy sum of wealth for their services, and many of them were putting it to good use tonight – buying drinks in celebration of Requia's victory.
"And three cheers for Requia, and its hard-working soldiers!" Garth boomed, standing up with drink in hand. Somehow he'd gotten the night off to celebrate with the others. He touched his bottle with Bruno's in a toast, and both man tipped back their bottles, taking large swigs as other pirates goaded them on.
In one corner of the tavern, closer to the fire, sat Zale with Caitlyn in front of him, encased in his arms. She leaned back against him, her head resting underneath his chin, and basked in the warm loving embrace. Zale had recovered quickly from his wounds, but true to the doctor's word, he was placed on medical leave immediately. He was a little annoyed, but soon after found himself enjoying the freedom from a strict soldier's life, a break from the routine of guard patrol. He and Caitlyn had been almost inseparable in the past few months, and were acknowledged by everyone now as a couple. And it wasn't exactly like the two were trying to keep it a secret.
Caitlyn looked back at Zale, gave his hand a gentle squeeze, then stood up atop a table.
"Alright everyone, listen up! I've got an announcement to make!"
Her shout didn't drown out the noise of the entire tavern, but those closest to her passed the message on until everyone had quieted down and all eyes were on her.
"We've done a great thing in assisting Requia in its conquest of the Empire. We played our part and it's over. Now it's back to piracy."
There was a general lack of enthusiasm. Piracy, in light of the previous weeks' activities, seemed to have lost its appeal.
"Which brings me to the point: when you get back on the ship and set sail, I won't be coming with you. I'm formally resigning my position as captain."
There was another awkward silence. If the previous news had been quieting, this left the entire audience stunned. Kidd spoke up.
"But Caitlyn, we need you."
"You kept us together after Roth passed away." One spoke up.
"We want you to be our captain!" Another shouted.
Other protests started to arise, but Caitlyn raised a hand to quiet them.
"Thank you all… …that really means so much to me, but my decision stands. When Roth left us, I did what I had to do to keep the Death Raiders alive. I was keeping Roth's dream alive… …the dream of poor, vandalized villages rebuilt and safe from harm. Now I continue that dream, but in a different way. My place is here, in Requia. I'm sorry for saying it so suddenly, but I feel this is truly the right decision. As Zayne, I slowly lost sight of our objectives, and our situation changed. I don't want to lose sight of the dream again. So I leave Zayne behind, and move on as Caitlyn. Don't worry; you all still have a strong leader to follow." She smiled down on Bruno.
"Caitlyn, are you sure?" He asked, flushing slightly. She grinned; it was unlike the tough, burly pirate to be embarrassed.
"You proved yourself at Arret. You followed me all those years as first mate; you have everything you need to carry on as captain. I believe in you." She took her sword, and passed on to Bruno. Still embarrassed, he nonetheless, lifted the sword above his head, a sign of accepting the position. The tavern exploded with cheers and salutes as the pirates supported the decision. Clearly Bruno was the obvious choice for becoming their new captain.
Bruno smiled, his face showing a bright glow of determination. "Thank you Caitlyn… …and everyone else! I promise I'll live up to what you need a captain to be!"
After the roaring of the Death Raiders had died down, Zale stood up to move next to Caitlyn.
"I'd also like to make an announcement here tonight."
Caitlyn turned to take a seat as the crowd settled down again, but Zale gently took her arm. "Caitlyn.."
She stopped and turned back, looking at him curiously. "Yes?"
He smiled warmly at her, running a hand through her hair. "I remember the first time we met… …even though we were on different sides, I knew… …I could see things about you in myself, and me in you… …though I didn't realize it then, we are kindred spirits."
She nodded slowly, listening intently. So was everyone in the tavern.
"We haven't known each other for that long, but during our time together, I've come to know you more than any other person in my life. I appreciate everything about you, and I love you with all my heart."
She nodded again, her heart beating quicker. He couldn't possibly… …
Her doubts vanished a moment later. Caitlyn gasped as Zale brought out a diamond ring, the biggest gem she'd ever laid eyes on. Her heartbeat was echoing in her head as Zale dropped to one knee, and she fought down a wave of dizziness. Was that fire blazing out of control? Her cheeks were burning hot.
"Caitlyn… …would you spend the rest of your life with me as my wife?"
Her mouth was wide open, but no sound came out from it. She seemed to be in a state of shock. He was PROPOSING! She blinked; she had to say something. "I…I…."
"Marry me… …please… …" He said in almost a whisper, but it was so quiet in the tavern one could hear a pin drop. All mouths were closed – except for Caitlyn's – and all eyes were glued on the pair.
As her brain started to recover from the shock, the words played over again in her mind. Spend the rest of her life with him… …as his wife… …She smiled, tears forming in her eyes.
"Zale…of course I will!" She threw her arms around his neck as he stood, and the two drew close together for a passionate kiss. The tavern once again exploded with cheering, applause, and laughter, but the two lovers barely noticed, both enthralled by their devotion to each other.
In their minds, it was an indeterminate amount of time before their lips parted. Caitlyn looked into Zale's eyes, tears of joy rolling down her cheeks. "I couldn't want anything more than this… …oh Zale, I love you so much."
"And I love you. You've made me the happiest man in the world right now!"
He twirled her in his arms, and they both laughed before he brought her in for another kiss.
AN: And that's the end, boys and girls! Of course, I really don't want to 'end' a story this good, so the possibility of a sequel is quite high! I'm going to concentrate on some of my other story ideas for a while, but I have a few thoughts for continuing this! It might even turn into a series! Who knows? Keep checking back and keep those reviews coming! It's your input that determines what I write! ^_-