Eastern Mountain Range, The Revenge
Dark blood stained the deck as Captain Mai Li waded through the mess of bodies. One lad, not a day over fifteen, was shaking violently, a pool of red soaking the deck beneath him. Stopping in her tracks, the Captain crouched down to inspect the young fighter’s wounds.
“Mortal,” she commented as if labeling a haul of unmarked crates rather than a living, breathing elf.
The boy tried to clutch her arm. “Please, please!”
His gasping pleas fell on deaf ears as the captain stood and headed towards the next body.
Silence followed the gunshot and it took every ounce of fortitude Mai Li had not to turn around. Her crew expected her to be unfeeling, even to the point of being cruel. She had no choice but to keep up the pretense that nothing, not even the death of her own crew, bothered her. Her father had told her “captains are like the tall spires of mountains—impassible and unyielding.” So she pushed from her mind any dwelling thoughts of remorse and focused on the unconscious elf before her.
Her head was throbbing as she examined the next fighter. His light purple skin had a pallor tinge, but there were no visible wounds anywhere on his body. Pulling back the elf’s torn shirt, she looked for signs of injury. His pale purple flesh was unmarked, save for a few nicks and bruises.
Strange, she thought.
Leaning forward, she pressed her ear to the elf’s chest. His heartbeat steadily thumped beneath her ear; his breathing consistent with signs of struggle.
“He’s alive. Nothing wrong with him that I can see.” She said matter-of-factly. “Place him below decks for Isha. Tell him I want a daily checkup.”
“How long should he give him?”
As she turned to face her 1st Lieutenant, Katsamoya, her long braid of jet black hair swung around her neck like a whip. “A week. If he doesn’t wake by then, he won’t wake at all.”
The older elf, tall and thin, gave a nod of understanding, jotting down her instructions and the crewman’s name. She couldn’t remember it herself; she only knew that this elf had recently joined the ship in Port Alliuna.
It was a shame, she thought as she looked the elf over. He was broad shouldered and muscular, just the kind of warriors she needed on-board The Revenge. He would have made a good air pirate.
Just as she had to with the others, Mai Li didn’t dwell on her thoughts for long before moving on to the next injured elf. It was quick work. Of the handful that remained, two sustained mortal wounds. When the dirty job was done, she ordered the remaining crew members to prepare the bodies for the long drop.
“Captain, what of the enemies dead?” One of the crewmen dared to ask.
“They get no ceremony. Drop them into the mountain range and let the wolves have what’s left.”
She headed towards her quarters leaving the deckhands to their grisly task.
Her blood-splattered hands were shaking as she pulled the doors to her quarters closed. “Thirteen,” she muttered under her breath.
Mai didn’t want to focus on the loss, but every death was a blow to her pride. She learned early on from her father that the death of a crewman would weigh heavy on a captain. Even if they could never show it, the loss would always be remembered. It was a heavy link on the chain that surrounded her soul. She would owe those dead recompense in the afterlife, a thought that haunted her.
She went to the basin nearest her bunk, splashing her hands in the clean water. The white towel was a mottled mix of pinks and reds after she had finished wiping off the mess from her face and hands. Her shoulders ached and she realized that she had been injured as well. She removed her outer coat and pulled back her tunic so that she could inspect the wound more closely. A bullet had gone through the muscle, but she couldn’t tell if there was an exit wound. A soft rap on the door stole her attention away.
Katsamoya frowned when he saw the bullet wound.
“You are hurt? Let me go get Isha.”
“No, I’m fine.” She motioned to the bottle of liquor on her desk. “Just grab that and a clean towel. Check to see if the bullet exited or not. I can’t tell.”
Her head felt groggy as if she was floating off the ground. Her 1st Lieutenant did as she requested, splashing the clear spirits onto a clean cloth. He noticed the far-off look in her eyes and forced her to sit.
“Now,” he said in a fatherly voice. “Press this to the front.”
She bit her lip as the alcohol touched the open wound. As gently as he could, Katsamoya wiped away the blood from the back of her shoulder. “There is an exit wound. But this will need to be cleaned properly and stitched.”
She took a swig of the liquor and handed the bottle back to him. “There is silk thread in the drawer of my desk and a fine needle. I have more spirits in the wardrobe. More towels too, I think.”
Katsamoya expression soured. “You want me to do it?”
“Isha has his hands full with other things and the men are hard at work preparing our dead. The least we can do is take care of our own wounds without worrying the others.”
His silence was deafening.
“I know you have done this before, Katsa. I watched you patch my father up a hundred times.”
“This is different.” His voice was shaky and she heard him take a gulp of the Dra’karan Rum.
“Don’t worry. We can talk about other things while you sew me up. Then you will forget it is me.”
She knew why he hesitated. He was like a second father to her. Having been raised on The Revenge, many of the old crewmembers felt fatherly affections towards her. They respected the she-elf she had grown into and ensured the others treated her with the respect they felt she deserved. Yet, she didn’t always enjoy the extra attention, especially from her loyal, right-hand elf.
“Katsa, I order you to stitch me up.”
He took another swig and handed her the bottle. She heard him fumble around in her desk drawer and return with the things he would need to sew her wound. “I’ll need a poultice as well,” he said dryly.
“In the wardrobe. Don’t forget the towels and more rum. Oh, and bring me the reports you put on my desk.”
His laughed insincerely at her one-track mind but obeyed her commands.
While he cleaned the wound, she read through the names of those they had lost in the skirmish. Thirteen elves had been killed in battle, three female and ten male. She shook her head in disbelief.
“Thirteen is too many.”
“We have had more before.”
She scowled. “We should have had none.”
He paused and laughed quietly. She felt the silken thread go taut and it tugged her flesh forcing her to suck in her breath as the pain jolted down her back.
“I’m sorry, Mai, but even your father had losses in battle.”
Heat rushed over her cheeks as he spoke her name so casually. It made her feel short-tempered. “I must be better than him.”
She didn’t answer. She knew she didn’t have to. “What of the captives?”
The change of subject only darkened the mood in the room.
“I was able to get most of their names.”
The Lieutenant’s brows scrunched together. “Some refused to talk.”
Mai Li placed the list of her dead down on the short table in front of her covered in blood tinged towels.
“Did you spot him amongst the ones we killed?”
Katsamoya shook his head. “He isn’t part of the ones we captured either, even of the ones who refused to name themselves. I would know him anywhere.” He added quickly before Mai could retort. “He might have escaped.”
“More than likely he left the ship at the last port.”
A stretch of silence followed her response as she contemplated her next move. The captain of the other ship, her sworn enemy, had out-maneuvered her again. She pounded her fist into her leg as she thought of the last time she had seen Captain Hebi, his face draped in a leering smile.
“I suppose this means we start from square one again.”
She grimaced as he tugged on the string again to finish off the stitch. There were already dark bruises forming around the wound, her pale purple flesh looking more like blueberries than the usual soft lavender. She took some of the herbal poultice from the jar and handed some to Katsa. When the mixture was slathered on, he dressed the wound with a bandage and helped her to put on a fresh shirt.
When they finished, they sat and drank what was left of the liquor. Katsa quietly offered his advice. “Before we go on the chase, you should heal and let us bury our dead.”
Katsamoya’s wisdom was not lost on Mai Li. She knew the traditions of sky sailors and to make light of them would be foolish.
“We will see to the ceremonies. But, first we should take care of the dead weight.” She finished her drink and handed Katsa her glass before taking the sheet of names from him. She took the paper to her desk and placed it revently on the top of her missives. The list of captives was still in her hands as she returned to her seat across from Katsa.
“Rig the enemy ship with explosives and dismantle the steering controls. Tie our captives up onboard, except for those who haven’t been willing to talk.”
She gave him a knowing look, her eyes gleaming with fury. “Then set the ship on a course towards the Shadow Peaks and let them reap the harvest of their efforts. They failed to shoot us out of the sky and this is their judgment. Maybe this will loosen the tongues of those who’ve refused to talk. Better still, maybe it will force the weasel from his hiding place.”
Katsamoya nodded with his eyes downcast. She knew what he was thinking, but Mai Li didn’t care. This hunt was personal and she didn’t like being made to look like a fool. Somehow her adversary had figured out her plans and avoided capture again. This was the fourth ship Captain Hebi had abandoned to her wrath.
Mai studied the names of captives in front of her, attempting to avoid the disappointed stare of her 1st Lieutenant. When he cleared his throat to speak, she gave him a look that would have shattered rock. He thought better of it and left in silence.
A gnawing feeling ground away at her insides as she thought of her failed mission. How did Hebi know what her plans were? Would he anticipate her next move or did he have spies amongst her crew?
She crumpled the paper in her hands and threw it across the room in frustration. She wondered if her father had been right to tell her to not seek revenge. Yet, how could she not? The Revenge had been her only home and she wasn’t going to blaspheme its name.
She would find that rat and send him burning into the deep forever.
But first, she would bury his dead in fire and ash.