Gilles took the helm as Baltazar was lifted off the deck, “Alright men, you heard the general! Our people need a diversion to get them to Paeles, it’s up to us to make sure they get it. Mr. Morgan, run up the guns and be ready to fire as soon as we’re in range!”
Morgan nodded and ran to the gun deck while Gilles turned the ship to port and brought it closer to land. The wrecked city grew in the distance and the waved became choppy as they drew closer. Gilles held the Black Vengeance steady as she rocked him back and forth. The crew could hear the screams of the imps flying through the air as they drew closer.
Finally, when Gilles couldn’t stand their shrill screams anymore, he called to Morgan, “High elevation!”
Morgan responded, “Already done…”
Gilles nodded, “Good… ready on my mark…”
He pulled the helm to starboard to bring the guns to bear. As the ship turned, Gilles kept one hand steady on the helm and raised the other one above his head to signal the deck gun crew. After a few seconds, he dropped it to the wheel, “Fire all!”
Morgan turned quickly to his gun crews, “Fire!”
The port side cannons unleashed their loads with a mighty boom with simultaneous flashes of light that resembled lighting. The shots flew into the massive black cloud of imps. The shots cut massive holes in the cloud, vaporizing several imps in the process.
An imp on the edge of the cloud pointed down at the ship and screeched. A sudden black wave shot out from the cloud and poured down toward the Black Vengeance. Gilles nodded, “Here they come, reload!”
He turned the wheel hard to starboard to bring the ship around to starboard while the port guns crews worked quickly to reload. There was also a man on each swivel gun on the fore and aft castles. They provided only a small caliber shot, but it was still enough to knock a few of the leading imps out of the sky. Gilles kept the wheel turned over as much as he could until the starboard broadside cannons were ready to fire. He looked up nervously at the approaching wave of imps, “Fire, fire, fire!”
Once again, the entire deck was covered in smoke as the starboard battery unleashed its payload. More imps were vaporized by the cannon fire, but the overall horde kept coming. Gilles nervously put a brace on the wheel and picked up his sword and pistol, “Hands, to arms, prepare to repel borders!”
As soon as he gave the order, out of the clouds came multiple glowing entities that shot through the massive black wave slicing apart countless numbers of imps. Once the glowing spheres emerged from the other side, they took shape. Gilles recognized Xaphine, along with Ariel and Roselyn at the head of a large army coming out of the clouds. The Choirs had kept their word and were now cutting down the numbers of imps attempting to attack the Black Vengeance.
The crew of the ship cheered when they saw thousands of angels drop from the clouds and join the fight. They were all the Choirs could put together to fight. Most of them were wearing bright silvery armor that shined even with the lack of sun. They came out brandishing swords, spears, and staves of flame. Xaphine twirled her sword around, severing the head of one of the imps, when she heard a whispering on the wind, “Xaphan…”
Xaphine turned and faced the whirlwind. She could hear Legions voice echoing in her mind as the battle raged on, “I remember you well… I have you to thank for everything. The time we spent in the cave together… the pain, the violation, and the violence… it was all so stimulating.”
Xaphine shook her head, “You already failed to kill me. You’re voice no longer troubles me, and soon, your words will cease to echo in my head. I will see to it you meet your end.”
She was suddenly startled by a voice behind her, “General Xaphine!”
Xaphine turned, “Yes Ariel, what is it?”
“The plan isn’t working,” Ariel replied, “The imps are still trying to attack the ship.”
Xaphine clenched her jaw, “Stupid beasts… they probably think Aralyn is still on the ship.”
She watched the formations of angels come down from the clouds and continue to hammer the waves of imps as they neared the Black Vengeance. Xaphine scoffed, “I knew this wasn’t a good idea. Okay, Ariel take two battalions and attack the main force head on. Try to split their forces so that they will be unable to bring anyone else against the ship.”
Ariel nodded, “Understood.”
She turned back and disappeared into the clouds. Xaphine turned back to her own forces, “Form ranks, defend the Black Vengeance!”
The angels did the best they could to prevent the imps from reaching the ship, but it proved to be inevitable. There were just too many imps for the angels to handle and they were eventually overwhelmed. The imps touched down on the deck and attacked the crew. Gilles raised his sword, “Everyone to arms!”
Much to the surprise of the imps, the human crew of the Black Vengeance fought back with great skill to defend their ship. The imps weren’t impervious to their blades and pistols resulting in them taking heavy casualties.
Gilles stayed near the helm and fought to protect it. The moment an imp came flying down at him, Gilles aimed his pistol and shot the creature in the face, causing it to explode in a cloud of black smoke. A second one dropped down and attacked him with a black spike. Gilles fought back and drove the creature off the edge with a sword. He then looked around to see his crew fighting for their lives. They were putting up an impressive defense, but they were slowing getting beaten back. Even after being joined by several angels, Gilles could see that they stood a good chance of losing the ship.
Gilles fought down to the main deck where he joined his men. Within a few moments, he was surrounded by imps that seemed determined for him not to make it to the main group of pirates. Gilles waved his sword around to fend off any imp foolish enough to attack, but he fully expected to be dead within a matter of minutes.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light behind him followed by a loud thud. Gilles watched in amazement as three of his attackers dissolved. He turned to see an angel standing behind him wielding a flame staff. She looked like an eastern flame dancer as the staff spun in her hands.
Once all of the imps had been destroyed, the angel stopped spinning her staff, nodded and smiled. She turned to face Gilles as she brushed her light brown hair out of her face and back behind her shoulders. She was unbelievably beautiful, like nothing Gilles had ever seen before. He returned her smile with a relieved look, “Thank ye, didn’t know how much longer I could have held out.”
She laughed, “My pleasure, I don’t know whether to consider you rogues brave or foolish, but either way, we stand with you.”
Gilles nodded and extended his hand, “First mate, my name be Gilles.”
“Gavreel,” she replied, “Pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Gilles said, “That be some swift moves ye did.”
Gavreel shrugged, “War isn’t really my thing, but all angels are taught how to defend themselves.”
“Still,” Gilles insisted, “With fighting like that on our side, this should be over with before we know it.”
The wind began to pick up as Aralyn touched down and released Baltazar. Lailah landed next to them as Baltazar looked back at his ship. Aralyn saw the glum expression on his face, “What is it?”
“I have a bad feeling that I won’t be seeing my ship or crew again,” Baltazar said quietly, “I just hope they’ll be alright.”
“They’ll be fine,” Lailah replied, “Don’t worry, Xaphine is the best general the Most High has. She’ll keep them safe.”
Baltazar wasn’t totally convinced, but decided that there were more important matters at the moment. He turned back to look at Paeles. The city was pitch-black and there was an eerie mist on the ground. Faint sounds of wailing could be heard in the distance, and a sense of dread came over Baltazar. He felt chills travel down his spine and the speed of his breathing increased slightly.
Baltazar did the best he could to ignore it as he knew that his love’s safety was dependent on him. It became easier to bear when he felt Aralyn’s gentle touch on his arm. It was as though her touch sent the chills fleeing from his body. There was a heavy wind emanating from the streets of the city. Lailah raised her hand over her eyes for protection, “We dare not try to fly any further, the wind is too much.”
Aralyn nodded, “Agreed.”
Baltazar drew his sword and stepped forward. Lailah placed her hand on his and shook her head, “Put it away, you’ll do more damage to yourself in there then you would to anything attacking us.”
“Then how do we defend ourselves,” Baltazar asked.
Lailah frowned, “Where we’re going, the creatures will attack our minds, not our bodies. They will draw upon your memories, your desires, and your love. Once they have what they want, they will turn everything against you. You can’t really hope to defend yourself. Your only hope is to resist the temptations and try to keep a clear head.”
“And if you fail,” Aralyn added, “I will be here to pull you back.”
Lailah nodded, “That will be absolutely essential to our survival. Baltazar, the two of you must be there for each other, and I will be there for the two of you.”
“And we’ll be there for you,” Baltazar replied.
“Stay close,” Lailah said softly as the wind picked up, “It only takes a few feet of separation for them to isolate us.”
The three friends proceeded down the first street. Buildings had been smashed, blood was spattered everywhere, and any sign of life was long since gone. In his mind, Baltazar could still here the sorrowful voices in this place, they grew louder as the group kept moving. Baltazar looked around, “Where is that coming from…”
Aralyn nodded, “I hear it too… there are people here… and they’re in trouble.”
“They are the trapped souls of those who built this city,” Lailah replied, “Even in death they refused to give up their hedonistic ways. The Most High forced them to remain here. At first, it didn’t seem to bother them much, but after a few thousand years… they’ve become tormented and bitter.”
“Great…” Aralyn replied, “So we’ll have to face off against spirits with a grudge against our creator.”
Lailah took point and lead the group even further down the path. Within minutes, the group came to a clearing that appeared out from behind the buildings. It looked as though something had completely leveled any structure that had once still in this large area that now took on the appearance of a courtyard. Aralyn stepped away from the group and saw naked bodies frozen in perverted poses as well as heads, limbs and internal organs strewn about the area.
She covered her mouth with her hand, “This… what in all of creation?”
“This was one of their pits,” Lailah replied, “I wasn’t speaking falsely when I said that these people were hedonistic, but even Sodom and Gomorrah could not compare to this wicked land. These people would ritualistically participate in group encounters… that were of a sexual nature… but more grotesque then most people could even imagine. They would tear each other apart, violate one another, and desecrate each other’s bodies for sport, for pleasure, and because they believed that it would lead them to immortality.”
Aralyn nodded, “I see now why God chose to destroy them… this is sickening.”
There was silence behind her. Aralyn turned to see that her comrades were not moving. She turned to Baltazar and waved her hand in front of his face, “Hello?”
It was like he was frozen in time. Aralyn breathed frantically and turned to Lailah, “Hello?”
A distorted voice that was barely a whisper appeared behind her, “Aralyn…”
She turned quickly and scanned her surrounding, “Who was that? Who calls me by name?”
Suddenly, the bodies came to life and began their grotesque rituals. Aralyn stepped back, startled, “What is this?”
White spirits began to rise out of the mist and surround her, “Join us Aralyn… come, partake.”
Aralyn drew her sword, even though she knew it would most likely do her no good, “Never, stay back!”
The spirits ignored her and flew around her. They wrapped ghostly tentacles around her arms. The sensation caused her to drop her sword, “Get away from me…”
More spirits approached her, flying through her legs, “Join us…”
Waves of emotion and sensation rushed over her body, “I… I…”
Aralyn’s eyes began to turn black. Her skin broke out in sweat and her breathing became labored. The spirits sounded joyous, “Yes… join us.”
Aralyn’s mind was filled with confusing images of eroticism. They mesmerized her and made it difficult to focus. She stretched out her mind and reached out for something, anything, which could break this hold on her.
Suddenly, the image of Baltazar’s face appeared in her mind. Her eyes blinked and the blackness disappeared. In its place was a white glow. She clenched her jaw as her body once again resisted these evil creatures. She could feel her entire being begin to vibrate as her power built up inside of her, “I said get back!”
She unleashed a loud cry as a wave of energy shot from her body, knocking back any spirit that came near her. A large one attempted to connect with her again. She saw it come and thrust her hand forward, “Get back!”
A white hot beam of light shot from her fingertips and vaporized the demonic entity, “Back!”
Once the threat was gone, Aralyn’s eyes returned to their original color and she collapsed. Lailah and Baltazar suddenly reanimated. Baltazar’s eyes narrowed and he turned to Aralyn, “What happened…”
Then he realized that Aralyn had fallen, “Oh my God, Aralyn, are you okay?”
Baltazar reached for her, but she slapped his hand away, “Don’t… please don’t touch me.”
“Wha…” Baltazar was very confused, he had no idea about what she had just experienced, “Aralyn, what is it? What ‘s wrong?”
“Don’t,” she replied.
Lailah knelt down next to her, “What happened, what did you see?”
“They violated me,” Aralyn said in tears, “I felt their power flowing throughout my body and…”
She looked up at Baltazar and placed her hands between her legs, “I’m so sorry Baltazar…”
Baltazar looked at Lailah, “What is she talking about?”
Lailah shook her head, “The spirits of this place are perverted, even in death they still take pleasure in the most extreme of emotions. They could have done any number of sickening things to her.”
Baltazar placed his hand on her arm. She winced and backed away as though his touch caused her pain, “Don’t!”
“I won’t hurt you,” Baltazar replied, “Please trust me.”
She stopped trying to back away, but was still unable to look at him in the eyes, “I know you won’t, you never would… but I fear I have betrayed you.”
“What happened was not your fault,” he replied, “Those spirits drew you into an illusion, nothing more.”
“How do you know,” she demanded.
“Because it’s the only way I can explain how they succeeded,” He replied, “You are much stronger than that.”
“It was real, Baltazar,” she insisted, “I felt the waves of pleasure overwhelm me. It drew me in…”
“Enough,” Baltazar said, cutting her off, “You didn’t do anything wrong. What was forced on you is not your fault. I know it’s difficult, but just try to put it out of your head.”
Baltazar lowered himself under her left arm and helped stand her up. She looked at him with a nervous expression, “How can you forgive me so easily.”
Once she was on her feet, he looked her in the eyes, “One, because I don’t see that you did anything wrong, and two, because I love you. That’s what people who love each other do, they learn to forgive.”
Lailah nodded, “It’s one of the greatest gift you humans were ever given. You can forgive so easily if you so decide to.”
Aralyn threw her arms around Baltazar and held him tight. Baltazar closed his eyes and squeezed as well. Lailah allowed them a few moments of tranquility before speaking up again, “I hate to break this up, but we are not safe here, we need to keep moving.”
Aralyn nodded, “Of course, you are right, let’s go.”
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