Soldiers raced back and forth across the port, trying to repair the damage from the pirate attack. Lilia had suffered heavy losses, not only in manpower but also in resources as well. The pirates had not penetrated far into the city, but there had been plenty of plunder for the thieves to take right there at the port. Their supply losses were minimal, but with the pirates attacking supply ships, they couldn't afford much more loss.
Garth helped some of the others carry the injured to a nearby hospital, but he couldn't focus on his present tasks. He remembered Zale being carried off as a prisoner.
Garth wanted to believe Zale was alright, but the odds weren't good. Skilled though he was, Zale simply couldn't fend off twenty pirates by himself. That had been the number of pirates that survived the battle. Would they kill him? It was possible, but unlikely. During the fight, the pirates had been aiming to cripple, not kill. Only a few of their soldiers had died, though many sustained heavy wounds. Despite their name, the Death Raiders weren't as cold-blooded in reality as the rumors stated. In fact, the whole attack seemed strange. The pirates had lifted a few supplies from the docks, but for them it was a mediocre salvage at best. That group of pirates that Zale went after must have had something to do with it. Garth recalled seeing one of the pirates carrying someone else. .someone who hadn't been part of the original group. That had to be the reason for their arrival in the port.
A jailbreak. The answer dawned on Garth at that moment. The Death Raiders hadn't attacked Lilia for supplies. They used the battle at the port as a diversion to bust out an inmate. Garth grimaced again, then strode swiftly to speak to his commander. If the pirates had stirred up any disorder in the prison, the guards had to get it back under control quickly. He found his commander engaged in conversation with another superior officer. He boldly interrupted and gave a salute.
"Forgive my intrusion sir, but this is an emergency."
The commander turned from the other officer, looking weary from the ordeal.
"Make it quick Garth, we've got plenty to do."
The older man nodded, then continued. "Sir, I have reason to believe that a small group of pirates might have infiltrated the prison, and freed an inmate."
The commander swore. "Were there any more freed, or just the one?"
"Just the one to my knowledge; I know not for certain."
The other commander nodded. "I'll get my men on it right away. We'll take care of it." Saluting Garth's commander, the officer rushed off.
"Thanks for the report. How did your squad do?"
"Two of our men were injured badly, and the third received only slight wounds."
"And where's your squad leader?"
Garth paused, his face concealing emotional pain. "I'm afraid that Zale is aboard the pirate ship. Most likely he's been captured or killed by now."
His commander swore again. "Damn those pirates! He was a good man. A tough loss for us."
Garth was afraid to speak his next thought, but decided it was worth a try.
"Sir, we may not need speak of Zale in the past tense. He might still be alive. We could. ." An uplifted hand stopped him.
"Don't say it, Garth." His commander said, shaking his head. "Zale was. .is a valuable asset, but there is no way we're sending a ship after one man, especially if we can't be certain he's alive. Even if we were to consider it, we don't have the men or a ship to spare right now. To top it off, a storm's fast approaching. We've got our hands full just prepared the port for the storm, and can't send a poorly equipped vessel out on a blind gamble. If Zale is alive, all we can do is hope he can escape on his own. I'm sorry."
Garth hated to admit it, but the commander was right. He had been prepared for this. He saluted.
"Understood, sir. I'll continue with the clean-up and storm prep."
His commander saluted him back. "Dismissed."
Before returning to his duties, Garth looked out over the sea where the ship had gone. It was already out of sight, but dark clouds loomed in that direction. Lightning sporadically flashed between the ebony clouds, and a haze rested on the horizon beneath it. It's probably raining over there right now, Garth thought to himself.
((Zale, just don't make any stupid moves, understand? No matter what, you can't die the same way your father did.))
Zale woke up with a groan, rubbing his head. He felt a bit better than he had before, but he still felt hot. He hoped whatever they had injected into him wasn't lethal.
The world was rocking back and forth slightly. At first Zale thought it was due to the poison, but then he realized the pirate ship was out at sea. That wasn't good. Zale had no idea of how long he'd been unconscious. He tried to get up, but his arms wouldn't move. Zale finally opened his eyes to take stock of his surroundings.
He was on the deck of the ship, tied to the mast in a sitting position. That explained why his arms wouldn't move. Zale tried pulling against the rope, but it was tied fast to the mast. He soon stopped, breathing hard. Then he heard mocking laughter.
"No use struggling 'gainst those knots, sonny. They got ya tied up good an' tight, an' you're gonna stay that way too, I reckon."
Zale looked up to see an old man with a cane sitting on a crate, watching him. One leg hung limp over the crate's edge.
"You're the outlaw the pirates freed." Zale spoke, surprised at the raspy sound of his own voice. His throat was dry after the battle and being tied to the mast in the hot sun.
The old man slid off the crate and hobbled over to Zale. He bent down and offered a bowl of water to the young man. Zale swallowed too quickly and coughed.
"Take it easy, younging. Drink it slow and easy-like."
The old man titled the bowl again, and Zale drank the water more slowly this time, the cool liquid refreshing. He closed his eyes as he drank, and when he opened them he saw the old man watching him curiously.
"What is it?" Zale asked.
"You're quite the fighter, ain't ya? I ain't seen Zayne this shaken since. .well, since I got caught and thrown in prison."
"Shaken? What are you talking about?"
"Back in the city, lad? Remember the poison dart that stung ya?"
Zale grimaced. It wasn't likely he'd soon forget. He was still feeling weak and dizzy from the poison, but the drink had helped a lot.
"Not many men have bested Zayne in a fight. But to disarm her while poisoned!? That's unheard of!"
Zale shrugged, best he could while tied up.
"Spare me the praise. What's going to happen to me? You've gotten clear of the city. Why keep me alive?"
The elderly man shrugged.
"I dunno. Zayne's orders were to keep you alive and even help ya recover. Don't know why, but I follow her orders nonetheless."
Zale frowned. That sure didn't sound like the fearsome Zayne he'd heard about. But then again, he himself had dismissed such rumors.
"Where are we headed?"
"To Requia, the country across the sea. We may have to port at that island first though, with the storm quickly approaching."
Zale looked out to see the island off starboard bow. Dark clouds quickly come across the sky, and the waves were getting stronger.
The giant pirate with the red bandana, the one who had been in the city, called out to the old man. Merlin looked up.
"What is it, Bruno?"
"Zayne wants to see you." The large man informed him.
Merlin grabbed his cane for support. "I'll be right there." Bruno nodded and went below decks.
"Well we'll hopefully talk later, lad. It may sound strange, but. .try not to feel too hostile towards Zayne. The young lady's got few options these days."
The old man hobbled away before Zale could ask what he meant by that.
Zayne sat in a large room that roughly resembled a mess hall. Wooden tables and benches were set up everywhere, and pirates sat around laughing and drinking. The atmosphere was generally merry, but at the table where she sat with a group of six, the conversation was much more serious. Zayne looked up as Merlin took a seat.
"How is he?"
"The poison seems to have run its course, and he seems well enough. He'll be right by time we port for the storm."
Bruno looked at the young girl sitting next to him. "Zayne, why are we keeping him around? I mean, just offing him would be cruel, but keeping an Imperial soldier captive? We'll have the entire Imperial army down our necks."
"We may need to pry some information out of him." The young girl responded, steepling her fingers while her elbows rested on the table. "Besides, his amazing fighting skills are a sight to witness. It would be a shame to kill him now."
"It would be even a greater shame if he kills our crew with those 'amazing fighting skills.'"
Zayne sighed. That voice belonged to Snare, one of the more recent members of their crew. He was thin, with long legs and arms, with dark short hair and dark, deep-set facial features. He was good in a fight, and he was a talented thief, but Zayne couldn't bring herself to like him. He was the type of person that always seemed invisible, then all the sudden you found him looking over your shoulder. ((He gives me the creeps sometimes,)) Zayne thought, fighting down a shudder.
"We should kill him now, before he becomes more trouble than he's worth." The man continued.
"Enough, Snare. He came willingly and he's given us his word he won't try to escape. We need him right now, and that means he gets to stay alive, understand?"
"No, I don't. That soldier can't tell us anything our intelligence network doesn't already know. He's only a burden on us." At Zayne's stormy glance, he held up a hand. "Hear me out. I'm not alone on this. A lot of the guys are nervous with an Imperial soldier onboard. I don't trust the word of some Imperial scum; consider what happens if he escapes. He's seen our ship, our faces, and he knows the size of our forces. And now we're taking him to our hideout. It's madness. If he gets away, he'll sic the Imperial army on us and we'll hang in the city squares as examples for robbing from the empire. Keeping him alive is a mistake."
Zayne stood up and glared at him fiercely. "Your opinion is noted Snare, but I am captain of this ship and her crew, and I will decide the prisoner's fate, understood?"
Snare's jaw muscles were tight with tension, but he nodded. "Aye, captain." He walked away and started talking with a few of his buddies. She sighed, exasperated by the man's questioning.
Before she was able to think further on the subject, a pirate ran down into the mess hall, his clothes soaked with sea spray and rain. "The storm, she's upon us fast! We're drifting off course!"
Zayne stood up, the air of authority immediately about her. "Look alive, you dogs! Man the oars and secure the deck! Move!"
The pirates reacted quickly, the ship already rocking heavily. Zayne ran up the stairs to the deck, an arm raised to shield against the rain. Her first mate Bruno was right behind her.
"Bruno, take the rudder!" She yelled over the noise of the drenching rain.
"Where are you going?" He asked his captain.
"I'll be right there. Go!"
The ship was lurching from side to side as large waves washed over the deck. The pirates had been able to keep the vessel on course so far, but it was laborious work both rowing the oars and holding the rudder steady. Pirates ran around, securing cargo and rigging while hanging on to dear life. As they went about their tasks, no one thought to free Zale from the mast.
"Hey you -!" Zale called out as a frantic pirate ran past. He didn't get much further before a wave crashed over the deck. Due to his sitting position, the wave was well above his head, submerging him in water. He gasped for air as the wave passed. He was going to drown if he stayed tied down, but everyone was too busy taking care of the ship to even notice him. He tugged with all his might against the ropes binding him. The poison had mostly worn off now, but even with his full strength the knots held firm. He held his breath as another giant wave swept over him.
"Someone untie me!" He yelled as loud as he could, but he couldn't even see anyone through the blinding rain.
Then suddenly a figure appeared at his side, one arm holding on the mast for dear life, while the other cut through the ropes with a knife. With a small amount of surprise, Zale saw it was Zayne.
"Can't have you drowning on us, now." She spoke over the noise of the storm. "Go below decks to the mess hall and stay there. Remember, you gave me your word."
Despite himself, the corners of Zale's mouth twitched upwards. "I doubt I'd get very far swimming."
The two made their way towards the front of the ship, gripping onto rigging whenever the ship lurched. As Zayne passed the staircase below decks, suddenly a huge wave rose up and slammed into her. She managed to grab the rail and hold on as it passed. She sat there, coughing and gasping for air, sopping wet.
"Zayne, look out!"
Bruno's warning made Zayne snap her head up. Dislodged barrels rolled and bounced down the deck towards her. She clutched the rail in fear, fighting down a scream.
"Zayne!" Bruno left the rudder in the care of other pirates to rush to her aid, but already knew he wouldn't get there fast enough. And she was cornered with nowhere to run..
Suddenly, a strong arm reached down from above and pulled her up as the barrels bounced underneath her. They either crashed against the rail or bounced over it into the sea. Zayne looked up to see Zale clinging to the rigging, and she stared at him in surprise.
((He saved me. .after being poisoned and captured, he saves me? Why did he do that?))