The flames licked the night sky. Orange embers, like ghosts of the fallen, stirred on the cold Scottish winds and rose toward the stars. Below them, the Revenge lay: a burnt and twisted wreck embedded in the pit of the Fomorian warren. It was a metal-shod tombstone shrouded by a toxic cloud of mustard gas. A memorial to the fallen and a somber warning for the future.
Hunter sighed heavily, the firelight reflecting in his eyes. He leaned on the Brass Griffin’s charred wooden railing, dressed in his battered leather long coat, watching the former battlefield. Each ember tore at him as each was a person he knew, fought against, or an innocent soul that he failed to save. The captain lowered his head and closed his eyes, both in prayer and remorse.
Krumer Whitehorse stopped a few paces away, rebuttoning his jacket against the cold wind. “Seeking solace from the spirits? Or is it advice?”
Anthony blinked, still looking out into the night. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “absolution.”
The first mate nodded sagely, brushed a braided length of his black dreadlocks away from his face, then joined the captain at the railing. “Same as always, not that you need it. You did what the spirits required: protected those in need.” Krumer took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Nonetheless, have you found it?”
“Not yet,” the captain replied.
Krumer knew his captain. He wisely changed the subject. “I would think you’d be haunting the medical frigate ever since Moira, Thorias, and the others were admitted.”
Captain Hunter gave Krumer a weak, wry smile, “I was until they shooed me away.” He glanced out into the night again, watching one of the Royal Navy ships fly slowly by. “Doctors armed with nearly unpronounceable synonyms for ‘sedative’ usually incite me to make a quick march in the other direction.”
“I trust they are in good hands?” Krumer asked after a moment.
Hunter nodded. “Quite. Thorias – while being the very model of why doctors make for the worst patients – knows the chief of medical aboard the HMS Reynolds. Moira and the others are recovering quite nicely. However, Moira’s electrical burns have left her with an unpleasant scarring. The doctors are using Thorias’ technique with regards to the gas,” the captain hesitated in thought, “what did he call it… ah yes, the mustard gas. That is, when they aren’t treating the bullet and burn wounds that are aplenty. Fortunately, we have been given a tentative mark of health. Though they want us within arm’s reach for a few days … just in case. Moira already has begun to make it known quite loudly that she’s been away from her workshop far too long.”
“What of Ian?” Krumer prodded.
Hunter looked away towards the flames. “They say, if he survives the night, it may be a miracle. If he does, he’ll not be fit to crew a ship again. Even with a cane.”
The first mate hung his head sadly a moment, then nodded in understanding.
“And the Fomorians?” the orc asked curiously.
“Those that survived are being treated as having ‘extreme toxicity’,” Hunter replied, “I trust that means they are dealing with them as they take the brutal path off their Hellgate elixir. There again, Thorias’ particular bit of alchemic knowledge is spreading among the fleet to assist. If they survive, they’ll stand accused at the inquiry along with John Clark and myself.”
“What?” the first mate protested.
The captain held up a hand to forestall the orc’s protests. “Let me finish. There must be an inquiry by the Navy, old friend,” Hunter explained, watching the flames again. “John wanted it, and I agree. It will bring to light everything he suffered under, everything you and I experienced. Even things Arcady discovered inside the ruin about the gas and torture chambers below ground. The victims of the Fair Winds deserve this, need this small bit of justice for the memory of those lost. We owe it to their memory. I agree with John. I’ll stand by him and see they get that.”
Krumer nodded then looked out over the night. Silently, the two, slim white forms of Royal Navy destroyers came into view. Smaller longskiffs, one of which was marked with a red cross, buzzed quickly by the larger ships. Each was busy ferrying personnel to and from the ruined hillside below.
“What about his son?” the first mate asked quietly.
“He said he’ll speak for us. Captain Wilhelm has already sent word to one of the best barristers in London to defend us,” Anthony replied, then smiled. “I am truly not surprised the old weasel has a man on the ready for that. I’m glad he’s willing to help.” Hunter sighed. “I only wished it was more. So many lives lost … so many. I honestly feel overwhelmed … where do you begin making things right?”
The first mate let out a slow breath, then looked up at the stars. From the corner of his eye he watched the lithe form of Angela Von Patterson cross the deck quietly. The young girl was in her human form and clothed in a proper clean green dress, wrap, and bonnet. Without a word, she crossed to a section of the railing alone and watched the flames below, a look of abject sadness on her face.
“You ask,” Krumer replied and tapped Anthony lightly on the shoulder to point out Angela, “and the spirits reply. This time I believe they are trying to tell you: ‘one innocent at a time’.”
Anthony looked where Krumer pointed. On seeing Angela, he frowned, then glanced to his first mate.
“Go,” Krumer said with a wry smile; “you asked, the spirits answered. What more do you need?”
Anthony’s eyes turned back to the distraught girl standing alone. Straightening from the railing, he put a firm hand on the orc’s shoulder for a moment in thanks. Without another word, he walked across the deck towards Angela.
The young werewolf looked towards the Captain as he approached. Her eyes were puffy and filled with tears. The wind caught her green dress and stirred it around her ankles while she hastily wiped her eyes on a kerchief.
Hunter made to speak, but found not a single word. Instead he stood silently next to her and watched the inferno below slowly consume the bulk of the Revenge.
“I saw Mr. Wilkerson,” Angela said in a tiny voice, barely heard over the light wind. “I heard what they were saying. He’s going to die… all because of me.”
“What?” Hunter replied, surprised. “No, I doubt that’s the case at all.”
She nodded, fighting back sobs. “It is. It so is. I wanted to stay with him. I could have snuck away from Mother to find him. I know I could have helped him. If I had, maybe he wouldn’t be about to die.”
Slowly, hesitantly, Anthony put a hand on her shoulder, patting her gently. Without another word, she turned and buried her face in his side. Her shoulders shook while she sobbed into his coat.
“I just don’t understand,” Angela said in a muffled voice, thick with exhaustion. “Why? People dying, being hurt, being killed. Why? I close my eyes and can still hear the people aboard the Fair Winds. All those people who will never be home. I see the Fomorians trying to hurt them, hurt me, hurt Mother. Why?”
Hunter closed his eyes. “Angela, I,” he began then let out a slow breath to steady his thoughts, “I really don’t know. In your life, you will find there are those in this life that revel in the misery of others. They crave what they think is power. A sense of control. They lie, cheat, steal, and even kill for it.”
“I hurt people, I clawed several Fomorians. Some fell into the flames and died. I saw it,” Angela replied with a thick voice. “That means I’m a monster? I’m like them?”
Hunter knelt by the young werewolf. He held her firmly but gently by the shoulders. For a moment he looked searchingly in her eyes. He shook his head.
“Never,” the Captain said firmly. “You mark me on this, young lady. You are not a monster. You never will be. When those real monsters stood up and spoke with one foul voice, you stood up against them. You had the courage to write that note we found. You struck out on your own to find your mother, and you did. For every innocent voice that was silenced, you stood up to make sure those innocents would be heard.”
“But …” Angela replied, confused, pointing at the burning wreck of the Revenge.
Hunter interrupted her. “The Fomorians made their choice long before you did. They chose the easy path to destroy. You took the harder choice and spoke up against their villainy. You risked your life to make people know something was wrong, as best you could.” The captain paused, holding the girl’s gaze. “What you did, what we did, saved hundreds of lives. We held the Fomorians here long enough that the proper authorities could be told.”
Angela sniffled. “So the church, the one Mr. Wilkerson told me about in Edinburgh, is safe?”
Anthony nodded. “Yes. They caught the only shipment of bombs before it even entered the city. You see,” the captain hesitated, his words catching in his throat. “That is all any of us can do. It’s what Dr. Llwellyn did, Moira did,” a tear stained the captain’s eye. “It’s what Ian did. They stood by their honor, and spoke up for what’s right. Do you understand?”
The girl sniffled again, and nodded. “Yes, I think so,” she replied with a quivering voice. “But, how do I make the pain go away?”
Hunter smiled sadly, “Simple. Live well, right, and full, Angela. Guard your honor, and protect what’s right. The rest will have to fall as it may. Remember, you’re among friends. We’ll always help you carry the painful burden, until it fades in time.”
Angela glanced over her shoulder at the flaming wreck. “What now, Captain?”
Hunter gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Now? Now we take them home. I’d be ever so honored to have you help me, if you’re able?”
Angela looked back at Hunter and managed a weak smile amid the tears. “Yes, Captain.”
“Brilliant,” Anthony said with the first, genuine heart-felt smile in many days, “now begins the hardest part of all: recovering the pieces of what the Fomorians have smashed, and starting the rebuilding of all the lives they have shattered. It will take time, but we’ll find a way. And then, perhaps, a bit of peace.”