Chapter 19 fully edited
|The crew of the Stormlight was only an hour away from exiting Pirate Alley and they went above several large clusters of clouds to avoid being spotted by sky pirates. Ronan came out of the cabin with Blake and he walked upstairs to issue commands to the pilot. He then walked over to the back when he saw Katelyn standing at the back. "Blake wants to be dropped off at the country of Kern. It's down south of Sardon," he said to her. "I figured he wanted to be dropped off somewhere. For some reason, I kept thinking he might want to join us and become a crew member." Katelyn said. Ronan chuckled. "I doubt military life would suit him well." "But still, I don't think it would hurt if he decided to change his mind and join us. I mean, we could use an extra pilot and maybe have them both take shifts." Katelyn suggested. Ronan shook his head. "That's entirely up to him. If he wants to, I'll just recruit him on the spot and we'll make a trip to Sardon and get him enlisted and have him waived off from training because I imagine he has enough experience."
Katelyn nodded in agreement. "I was also thinking that--" she stopped as a large black airship rose out from the sea of clouds and maneuvered around the Stormlight. On the front of the airship was a blackened skeleton attached to the bow in a crucified position. "ARM YOURSELVES!" Katelyn hollered to the baffled crew and the crew immediately began to issue out weapons and ammunition. After the cannons were loaded, Katelyn unsheathed her sword. "PREPARE TO FIRE!" she said. "BELAY THAT!" Ronan shouted. Surprised Katelyn and the crew looked at him. "They're not here to fight," he said. "But captain..." Katelyn began. "Trust me," Ronan said. He then turned to the crew. "When they come close to us, bring out the boardwalk." They looked at each other then back at Ronan in confusion. "Just trust me on this," he said.
When the airship came close, a boardwalk extended out to it from the Stormlight. A man walked across and boarded the Stormlight. He had a hardened face, shaved head, and a long scar running down the side of his face. He wore two bandoleers across his bare chest, a black vest with a small series of revolvers strapped top to bottom of his vest, and a belt with a sword sheath and a dagger. "I am Adrian Kyte of the Nightmare," he said in a dark tone. "I am Ronan--" Ronan began. "We know who you are, Ronan Barkman of the Stormlight. Your reputation precedes you." Adrian interrupted. Knowing now that former introductions will no longer be needed, Ronan went straight down to business. "So what do you want with us?" he asked. "You have something that belongs to the Phantom." "Well, why didn't the Phantom come aboard and ask for it?" Ronan asked. "How do you know you're not talking to the Phantom right now?" Adrian asked slyly. "Because I see him standing there." Ronan pointed behind Adrian. Adrian slowly turned to look behind him.
Onboard the Nightmare stood a dark silhouette with arms folded, long dark hair flowing gently in the breeze. The silhouette's face couldn't be seen as the moon was directly behind it nor could its body shape be identified as either male or female as it wore a hat and, judging by size, a large coat. The silhouette nodded its head towards Adrian, who then turned back to Ronan. "Very observant," he said. "Now you said we have something belonging to the Phantom?" Ronan asked. "The Phantom knows that you have it because we found the thieves who took it and after interrogating them, we've learned that it was delivered to you." Ronan pondered for a second, knowing now who Adrian was talking about. "And what became of the thieves?" he asked. "No one steals from the Phantom and expects to live," Adrian stated. Ronan shook his head. "Now that's a mistake; killing a Sardonan," he said. "It's one we will gladly make again and again until we retrieve what's ours," Adrian said sternly. Ronan folded his arms. "What if I refuse to deliver it? Better yet, what if I said that we no longer have it?" he asked cunningly. "Then we will destroy this ship and leave no survivors," Adrian answered in a dark, menacing tone. "And risk destroying what you've been seeking if we were to have it?" Ronan asked. "We're willing to take that risk. Better it be destroyed than be in the hands of a Sardonan." Adrian replied.
Ronan looked at the crew then back at Adrian. "And how do I know you're not going to attack us if we give it to you?" he asked, concerned for the crew. "We have no interest in fighting you as we know you have more than enough problems of your own already. You have our word." Adrian said. Though he felt suspicious about all this, Ronan spoke to Katelyn without looking away. "Bring it up here." Katelyn went down to the lower decks and, moments later, she came back up with a small box with the Phantom's symbol on it. She handed it to Ronan. He then passed the box over to Adrian, who took it. "You made a wise decision, Sardonan." he said darkly, "Today is your lucky day. I hope we don't have to hunt you down again." "We'll be ready," Ronan replied. Adrian turned and crossed the boardwalk again onto the Nightmare. After Ronan's crewmen removed the boardwalk, the Nightmare descended into the sea of clouds, barely making a sound as it disappeared.
Ronan then spoke to Katelyn, "Tell the pilot to put the ship at full speed. We need to put some distance between us and them." "Aye, captain," Katelyn said and she walked away. Ronan looked out at the clear sky for a moment before he turned and walked down to the lower decks. When Kyle and the platoons he gathered arrived at a tent, Christopher walked out. He handed out to Kyle small pieces of paper. "Hand these out to the platoon leaders. These are the towns they will be assigned to defend," he said to Kyle before turning to the platoons. "No one is to know of this. If anything, just tell them you're on patrol duty. Is that clear?" "Yes, sir." the platoons answered and after looking at the paper, Kyle nodded. "Yes, sir," he said. "What about the ones further out?" he then asked Christopher. "Right now, the battalions will remain here so that the Prallans will believe we haven't moved an inch out of here. Use the cover of darkness to sneak out." Christopher instructed. Kyle then saluted. "Yes, sir," he said. Christopher nodded. "Good luck, men." he said and when the men left, he muttered, "God be with them." before he went back into the tent.
Luther sat in his study room next to an open window reading a book when he heard a knock on the door. "Enter," he said. Thomas entered the room and closed the door behind him. "My lord, I've been thinking," he said, "the war starts tomorrow at first light. That means we still have plenty of time to call it off before it even begins. There really is no need for bloodshed." "My decision is final, Thomas. We will strike at dawn." "But haven't the Sardonans suffered enough? I mean, I know you dream of expanding your empire but rather than focusing on them, why not expand somewhere else? If the Sardonan empire falls, why not let it fall on its own accord?" Luther chuckled and closed his book, shaking his head. "Thomas, Thomas, Thomas." he said, "You still don't understand, do you? The Sardonan Empire is falling apart and it has been for some time. Waiting for it to collapse on its own will take a long time and time is something I do not have the patience for. This war will help speed things up and bring them down quicker, despite the resistance they will put up. They have been weakened by that virus as well as starvation and all those wildfires. Even their economy is dropping. Can't you see? This is our opportunity and we must take it while it's still ripe for the taking. Only one empire will rule and it will be the Prallan Empire."
"But my lord, to be honest with you, Emperor Martinek has his own reasons as to why he doesn't want you to take over for him. You could have stopped and looked elsewhere when he first told you no, but instead, you continue to harass him. I know what your father said to you, but I believe you may have misinterpreted what he was really trying to say and I--"
"I MISINTERPRETED NOTHING!" Luther yelled, silencing Thomas. He calmed down before he continued. "Thomas... ever since my father died and I became emperor, I have allowed you and only you to speak your mind on things where others are not allowed to speak of. But speaking of my father is a line even you shouldn't cross. I know what he said, for I was there with him the day he died. I am simply following a dream that father himself never dreamt. For future references, Thomas, leave father out of this."
Thomas cleared his throat. "Then at least let me say this; Going to war with the Sardonans is a mistake. If you remembered in history their bloodied war with the Acharians, you should know that they will fight with everything they have at their disposal, regardless of what they suffered."
"That's exactly what I want, Thomas. I want them to give me everything they got. Exhausting all their resources just to keep our forces at bay will be their downfall. I know what I am doing. I cannot be mistaken."
Thomas lowered his head, feeling defeated. "I understand, my lord," he said. "Good. I'm glad we had this talk." Luther said.
Thomas bowed and left the room. Luther then stood up and walked over to the window and stared out.
Ronan was typing in his report after he and his crew left Pirate Alley when he heard a commotion outside all of a sudden. He removed his glasses and got up to go and investigate. He left the cabin only to see the crew gathered around the center, laughing. Some of them were sitting on crates, some were on barrels, and the rest were standing. Music could be heard and Ronan saw that two of the crewmen were playing instruments; one was playing a tin whistle and the other was playing a pan flute. As the music was playing, Jonathan stepped into the center of the circle and began dancing a jig. He twirled as he kicked his feet out and began leaping as he did so. The crew clapped and laughed as he danced. Ronan walked over to a laughing Katelyn. "What's going on?" he asked her. "I just thought the crew needed a break and have some fun after having a few rough days." she said and looked at Ronan, "You should join us, captain." Ronan shook his head. "I can't. I have to finish my report and furthermore--" "The report can wait, with all due respect, captain. You need a break more than any of us." Ronan looked at her for a long moment and she smiled as she stared at him with her pleading eyes. He then put his hands up, shaking his head. "All right, you win," he said. At that moment, the crew cheered as the music came to an end and Jonathan bowed as he stopped dancing. "Didn't I tell you?" he asked James, laughing, "Didn't I tell you?"
A third crewman brought out a set of percussion drums and sat on the rail and propped his feet onto a barrel while the two that played the tin whistle and pan flute put them away and took out a brass recorder and a quena flute. The crewman with the percussion drums began to be a rhythm into the drums. The crewmen, sitting and standing, began stomping their feet and clapping their hands in unison, creating an additional rhythm. The crewman with the brass recorder began to play out a merry tune and began leaping about as he played. After playing out a set of notes, the crewman stopped and the other one began playing the same notes with the quena flute and began leaping about as well. When he began the notes again, the crewman with the brass recorder joined in, playing the same notes, and the two leap and twirled about as the crew, stomping, and clapping still, began humming in unison to the tune. Katelyn, feeling moved by the music along with the humming and the stomping and clapping, jumped into the center of the circle and several of the crewmen cheered as she began to dance while the two, still playing their instruments, danced their way to the side and kicked their feet out sideways.
Ronan chuckled as she twirled, kicked, leap, and clap her hands before putting them back on her sides. She then began dancing her way over to Ronan. "No, I'm fine." he chuckled, knowing what she's about to do. Katelyn ignored him and danced towards him still. She then grabbed him by his arms and began pulling him into the circle, while he was laughing and saying, "No." before he began dancing with her as the crew cheered for a moment before going back to humming. Ronan and Katelyn locked arms and began kicking their feet out in a fluent motion before they let go and twirled around in the circle, leaping and clapping, before they went back to each other, linked arms again, and spun around. Lurking nearby undetected was the Dreadnought.
Rydar observed the dance through his spyglass. As he lowered and collapsed the spyglass, amused to the fact that Ronan and the others were enjoying themselves and not keeping watch, Markus spoke. "We have the element of surprise, captain. We should attack them while we have the chance." Rydar shook his head. "Why should we rush it? I can't find a reason to not let them have their last night. They've had a few rough days so it won't hurt to let them enjoy themselves." "But captain," Markus protested, "if we take them out now, we won't have to worry about them when the war begins. You yourself have said that Ronan will be a problem during the war." "I know what I said, Markus." Rydar replied in an irritated tone. "I will have you know that I am the captain of this ship and that the task of taking out Barkman is strictly left to me and I say we will wait." He then chuckled. "Besides, there's really no harm in waiting. I've been looking forward to this moment for a very long time and I believe I can wait a little longer. We will attack them at dawn while they sleep. For now, let them have their night. After all, shouldn't we all be entitled to enjoy ourselves one last time on the eve of war?" "Yes, sir." Markus replied sullenly. When the music came to an end, Ronan bowed to Katelyn who then responded with a curtsy as the crew cheered. Ronan laughed as he got out of the circle with Kaitlyn and stood at the rail, staring out at the peaceful night sky. "I don't think I've had that much fun in a while." he said. "It's good to see you so relaxed if you don't mind my say so, sir." Katelyn said. Ronan nodded in agreement. "I cannot begin to explain how much I needed this." he said. "Well," Katelyn began, "If nothing happens tomorrow, maybe we will do it again." Ronan nodded and patted her hand. "I hope so." he said. After having their fill of fun for the night, the crew went down to the lower decks and Ronan went back into his cabin for bed. Katelyn stared at the sky one last time before she went to bed herself.