It was the first kiss in her life to which every fiber of her being responded. She cherished it all the more because this kiss had not been one that a man had forced on her. Though Em continued to grapple internally with the prejudice instilled in her since childhood, her passion was very willing to turn her the other way and direct her tongue in an expedition through the cavern of his mouth. Roger seemed also to have put away any reservations or second-guesses about giving himself wholly to another human being as he had never before in his life. One arm held her possessively, and he hungered for every taste, every smell and touch that she offered eagerly to him.

When they resurfaced for air, Em's shoulders shook with silent laughter. Seeing the confusion in his eyes, she rose up again and pecked him on the lips. "That felt incredible. I desire to kiss you again," she whispered.

Her candor and enthusiasm sent electricity coursing through his veins. The corners of his lips twitched upward as he murmured, "Nothing's stopping you." Roger dipped his head to meet her waiting mouth but then froze midway. He heard a noise which her human senses couldn't pick up. In a split second, he covered his entire body over hers at the same time a cannonball broke the surface of the water close to The Jolly Roger's starboard side. Water rained over the lovers, and the ship rocked violently from the misfire's aftermath. Roger strained his ears in anticipation for another attack. In the distance, he heard a man's harsh voice barking incomprehensible words. The other ship must be very near to have almost hit its target.

"Who's doing this?"

After making sure that she hadn't been harmed, Dread Pirate Robin answered, "I don't know yet, but I intend to return the favor." He released her. "Go down below, wake up everyone, and tell them that I want all hands on deck and at their stations immediately."

Em flew over to the hatch and threw open its square door. Before descending the winding staircase, her last glimpse of Roger was of him throwing off the cables that secured one of the deck cannon to the starboard side of the ship.

She was overtaken on the stairs by Michael and the Twins in the second deck. The three males were still fully dressed. Before either group could speak a word, the ship rocked again. It was followed closely by the sounds of cannon fire coming from the main deck. Knowing time was very short, Em pushed past and hurried down to the third deck. In the crew's quarters, the majority was wide awake and demanding answers.

"The ship is under attack! The captain wants all hands on deck and at their stations!" She had finished barely relaying the Pirate King's message when a mad scramble broke out as the men hastened to get ready for battle. She heard the Twins give each other a high-five before disappearing up the stairs.

"Em! Em!" Michael called above the disorder. She looked up the stairs. He pointed to the floor. "Hide in the galley!" Without another word, he turned around and followed after the Twins.

Em stamped her foot down hard. "No!" she said. Roger was up there with only a cannon to defend himself while the enemy approached quickly. She moved out of the way as the men began pouring onto the staircase with faces grimly set and eyes blazing with revenge. "I won't stand back while you and he risk your lives," Em muttered.

The ship that had initiated hostilities had paralleled itself next to The Jolly Roger by the time Em burst through the hatch. Black, jagged letters forming the name Reaper appeared across the red flag that flapped at the top of the ship's main mast. Every man on The Jolly Roger was abuzz with chaotic preparation on the main deck. The crew scrambled to complete the first mate's orders. Michael had taken the reins of responsibility at the captain's curious absence from the helm and was at that particular moment directing retaliation against the Reaper's gunfire.

"Show those bloody cowards the taste of real men's guns, boys!"

Em sensed Roger approaching her from the direction of the stern before she had turned to face him. His pale face was harsh and inscrutable, but in his black eyes she saw something that caused the hair on the back of her neck to rise as he looked at her: smoldering anger. He seized her by the wrist and began to drag her to the double doors.

"You will hide," he commanded, but Em protested, even as he pulled open one of the doors and forced her inside. "You won't be of help to anyone dead," he said harshly.

Em pressed her hands against the door. "Please," she begged. "Don't leave me here. I can't stand the thought of not knowing what's happening to you. I want to fight by your side."

Roger's left hand slipped through the crack in the door and tilted her chin up; he gave a hard kiss. "You're too valuable for me to lose," he told her when they parted. He pushed her away and slammed the door shut. A series of clicks from the other side indicated he was locking her in from the outside. Em rushed up to the doors. She heard Roger ordering Briggen and another man named James to stand guard in front of the doors and to not let anyone inside on pain of death by his bare hands. The two men muttered their understandings. In the silence that followed, Em assumed Roger had walked away.

She took a few steps back, pressing her hands over her face and venting silently her anger and frustration into them. For weeks she'd practiced with the most talented of swordsmen alive. He'd taught her to fight her own battles and to fear none but him. Here she was now, willing to brave danger at his side, but instead he was treating her again like a frail princess. Why did he want her hidden? Hadn't he declared while on Silvertide Island that she was a ready duelist?

Em jumped as she heard his deep voice shouting from the helm above her head.

"For whom do you come?"

Em thought this question bewildering. It seemed quite obvious that the captain of the Reaper wanted to be the next Pirate King. The voice that answered sounded like it came from the depths of a raging storm. A deathly chill settled in her bones when she recognized the owner's voice. Unconsciously, as curses were first heaped upon Dread Pirate Robin, Em envisioned the voice coming from a mouth full of sores and the words created by teeth rotted a disgusting yellow. Though it felt like many lifetimes since she heard him speak, he had never ceased to haunt her dreams.

"I've come to reclaim the bitch ye stole ferm me," said Pontius.

There was a short pause. "Are you corporeal or a specter?"

"Be it solid or as thick as air, I vow to be the one to take revenge on ye and drag me slave back to where she belongs!"

Em's knees grew weak. She drew her cutlass and pressed its tip into the floor, leaning on it like a crutch while the sea battle began outside of the captain's quarters. The cursed fiend was back from the depths of the underworld and was coming for her. Em forced herself to take deep breaths to calm her stomach before she straightened up, lifting her head up high with jaw clenched. The thin walls muffled the sounds of men boarding the ship, the clang of swords meeting each other in midair, and the cannon and gunshots that ripped apart the peace in which she and Roger had basked an ocean's journey ago.

"Oi! Git away!" said James suddenly. A scuffle followed before a guttural moan. Em raised her cutlass and took a few steps back as Briggen let out a scream of fury that grew faint in the subsequent seconds. She jumped when a loud bang came from the doors. There was another loud bang. The doors jumped in their frames. Someone was trying to kick down the doors.

"Cap'n said to look in 'ere," said a coarse voice. "No, no! I be lookin' 'ere, ye bilge rat. Git rid o' the others! Orders be to leave nuthin breathin'." A tremor passed over Em at these words. The wood at the hinges cracked. The doors began to bend inwards, but the lock still held. These efforts stopped for a moment. Em flinched as two gunshots were fired at the keyhole. She spun around. There was a narrow closet on the left side of the bay windows. She hid inside before finally the double doors gave way with a resounding crash.

Through the tiny crack in the door, Em watched as the intruder crept into the room. He held a smoking pistol aloft. It was the standard model that held only three shots. His yellowing eyes swept over the room, resting finally on Dread Pirate Robin's writing table. More people entered the captain's quarters, but by the sounds of objects being rummaged through and shifted, and the subsequent exclamations of glee, these men were no friends to her. She suppressed the urge to jump when she heard the pirates smashing the glass cabinet. Only the first pirate stayed in her range of vision. He worked his way past the table and toward her hiding spot. The fear of exposure deafened the exchange between him and the others. All but the first pirate soon left the room with at least one of Dread Robin's possessions in hand; he and she remained. Careful not to make a noise, Em adjusted her arms so her cutlass pointed forward. As the pirate stepped in front of the closet, she burst outside with a yell. She flinched as she felt the blade slide into flesh, through the ribcage. She turned her head away and resisted the urge to throw up as she pulled her cutlass out of the body, which fell at her feet. Em avoided looking at the corpse as she picked her way around it.

When she ran outside, an adversary overtook her almost immediately. She ducked low and then thrust her cutlass upward. Her blade went through his chest. Adrenaline and fear numbed the thoughts of these men dying by her hands. Worry, too, for Roger and Michael drove her to keep fighting despite the stench of blood and smoke hanging in the air. The rain that fell like a thin veil over the battlefield couldn't make death a less harsh reality. As she spun away from a blow that could have split her down the middle, she spotted the first mate near the bow. He was back to back with the captain, and in tandem they carved a deep hole in the melee.

Suddenly, there came a particularly loud bang from the Reaper that rocked The Jolly Roger dangerously. A cannonball had hit the railing of the starboard side. Em covered her head as pieces of wood flew through the air. She heard a man's gut-wrenching cries as he was thrown into the air. This distraction allowed thick arms to wrap themselves around her entire torso, pinning her arms to the sides. Em screamed and thrashed about. Her captor lifted her and turned her to face the Reaper's helm. The cruel features that had given her an enduring embodiment of how terrible pirates could be were blurred by the blanket of grey smoke and the thin sheet of rain that suffocated the air, but she knew by the way her stomach roiled with fear and her scar-less wrists burned with memory that the gigantic, wide-set man behind the steering wheel was Pontius.

Em screamed again as her captor began to carry her over to the edge of The Jolly Roger. Two men waited for him on the ledge with rope, one of which would bring him and Em back onto their ship. They would the ropes tightly around her torso. She shrieked Roger's name, but the din made by the fighting drowned out her calls for help. She continued screaming when her captor got onto the ledge beside her, took up the last length of rope left, and swung himself and Em off the ship unnoticed.

An ear-splitting whistle ceased all action. The crewmembers of the Reaper knew the signal: time to jump ship. Fighting resumed in a blink of an eye, but now these men were on the retreat. One by one, survivors took up their abandoned ropes and swung back onto their ship. Those men from The Jolly Roger who'd managed to get onboard the Reaper were killed, thrown overboard, or managed to swing back. The Jolly Roger's crew sent up a cheer, believing victory was theirs as the other ship weighed anchor and began to sail away.

Roger lowered his bloody cutlass and shook his head in disgust. Bloodshed for nothing. Pontius hadn't even dared to challenge him. He turned to his first mate. Michael looked as weary as he felt. The rain was clearing away the smoke made by the firearms. "Regroup everyone and dump the bodies," he ordered. "I want a head count and a report on the state of my ship. Then see if Joshua is still alive."

Michael nodded as he wiped his red face with his grungy sleeve. His fair hair hung limply. "Aye, Captain," he called as Roger walked away.

The captain headed swiftly toward the helm, dodging various obstacles on the way. The floorboards were dangerously slippery with saltwater and rain and blood. Wood blown off the ship lay on the ground. There was always a body, dead or dying, to be spotted. The Jolly Roger itself hadn't taken many serious damages as far as the captain could tell. All three masts were there, though their canvases were torn in some places. There were replacement sails in the storage. He will be waiting impatiently for Michael's report. Roger knew the decks below had sustained the worst damage.

Halfway down the main deck, a trembling voice called for his attention. He stopped and turned toward it. Barely supporting himself against the main mast was Briggen. Godsworth assisted him by holding him firmly around the waist. The tall, reedy man was covered from the hips down with blood. Roger could see the gaping wound which Godsworth's wide arm barely hid. Briggen, however, was more concerned about pleading with Dread Pirate Robin, trying to explain.

"They killed James, Cap'n. I 'ad no choice. P-Please, I'm sorry I failed—"

Roger raised his eyebrow. "Mr. Briggen, you fought valiantly for James. Now get you to Joshua immediately before an infection sets in that wound."

"See, matey, I told ye so—"

"But Cap'n!" Briggen wailed as Roger walked away.

The reason for the appeal for mercy was made clear at the sight of the double doors hanging barely onto their hinges. Roger stopped dead in his tracks. For the first time since his painful childhood, cold fear gripped his heart. He stepped inside. Furniture was tipped over; lids and cupboard doors had been thrown open; entire chests which had been filled with his accumulated treasure were missing; the papers that had been lying on his writing desk were scattered all over the floor. Blood stained the pages of many. A pool of life's liquid had formed next to his desk and seeped into the carpet as well. A body lay in front of an open closet next to the bay windows. There was a gaping wound above its heart.

Slowly, Roger clenched and unclenched his fists. His eyes burned as he stared hard at the corpse. Turning mechanically to the left, he walked over to a cabinet that had once been locked. Its glass door had been smashed in. The metal lockbox inside for which only he possessed the key had been forcibly opened by a sharp knife. The Mermaid's Tear was gone. They had taken it and Em.

As the Reaper's sudden surrender clicked in his mind, Roger turned sharply on his heel and strode out of the room. Dark clouds in the sky hung threateningly with more rain. It was past midnight. The time of the pirate's hour would begin in three hours. Rage inflamed every surface of Roger's pale skin. Bloodlust and revenge flashed in his black eyes. The faces that greeted him on the main deck took one look at him before they melted away from his fury. His hand shot out and grabbed the shirt of a man who, like the others, tried to get away from Dread Pirate Robin.

"Where is the first mate?" demanded the captain. When the man pointed a trembling finger up at the helm, Roger released him and went over to the stairs, taking three at a time. When he spotted the young blond man pouring over the ship's schematics, he said harshly, "Those bloody dragon-fuckers stole the Mermaid's Tear and Emelia!"

The schematics fell to the floor. Michael's mouth gaped like a fish out of water. "How?" he uttered finally.

"Briggen left his post to revenge James," said Dread Pirate Robin bitterly. "There will be an abundance of time later to dole out his punishment. Tell the men to prepare to chase down the Reaper," he ordered.

"And the Mermaid's Tear?"

Roger gave him a glare that could have melted diamonds. "Mermaid's Tear or not, I'm personally making sure that son of a dragon's whore pays terribly for ever crossing me. By Calypso's exalted name, he will never smell the ocean salt again."

As Michael began to rouse the men, Roger stepped behind the great steering wheel and gripped its wooden spokes tightly. The words of the unknown goddess, which he realized now belonged to the Tarymian goddess Helena, pricked at his conscience. Roger tilted his head to the melancholic sky. "I can't fathom why she patrons You," he sneered, daring the Tarymian goddess to hit him with a thunderbolt for his insolence. "But by my stars, I'll show You my worth."