The wooden planks of the floor dug into Phillip’s cheek. His skull ached, his head swam, and he was dimly aware that he was lying in something wet. The world rocked around him, and silently he swore off rum. Practiced words.
As consciousness crept over him, the steady rocking persisted. From somewhere far away, he heard the lap of waves. Summoning his strength, Phillip forced his eyes open.
His eyes struggled to focus. The smells hit him then, all at once. Blood. Burnt wood. Smoke. Salt water.
He realized his mouth was open and tried to close it. He tasted brine, gagged, and spat. There was something wrong about the water. He strained his neck, lifting his face from the pool. Glancing around, his eyes met those of the Mel. Phillip blinked. Mel did not.
The memories came rushing back. The ship on the horizon. Far at first, but gaining fast. The ringing of the bell. The boatswain’s whistle. The call to arms. He was belowdecks when the first cannonball struck.
Mel didn’t move. From where he lay, Phillip could see a trickle of water running from Mel’s mouth. The same wrong water Phillip was lying in.
Fear spiked through Phillip, and he willed himself to stand. As he moved, lightning seared through his arm; Phillip screamed. He thrashed, swinging his head and looking desperately for the source of the pain. He found it where his right arm disappeared below a heavy wooden beam.
Gritting his teeth, Phillip pulled his left arm up alongside him. He drew his knees toward him, flexed his back, and pushed. The pain came, stronger than before. Phillip screamed again, sweat and tears running down his face. The beam resisted, then tipped, and slowly slid sideways.
Phillip fell back panting, his ruined arm lying limply beside him. An eternity later, he struggled to his feet. He pushed the pain to the back of his mind as he scanned the room. He saw the hole where the cannonball had entered, and where it had left. Wooden splinters littered the floor, and the door to the room lay thrown open. There were other bodies. He recognized the faces of his fellow crewmembers: Smeb, Fabio, Charlie…
Mel’s hollow eyes seemed to follow him as he limped out of the room.
In the halls of the ship he saw more of the same. Bodies littered the ground. Crates lay open, overflowing with copper ingots. The limp body of Cullen lay crushed beneath them.
Phillip mounted the main deck and beheld the carnage before him. One of the Songbird’s masts had splintered. The port railing was blackened, and Phillip saw Alan’s rusted frame still smoldering with heat. The bodies of the crew were piled to the side, save for one: the body of the Avinnia stood lashed to the splintered mast, her wings broken and deformed. The fear of the enemy’s presence left him then, replaced by the cold realization that Phillip was completely alone.
Phillip staggered to the mast. Lifting a discarded cutlass with his functional arm, he slashed at the ropes holding Avi upright. He caught the body and guided it to the deck. As he did, a small flask dropped from her belt. Phillip knelt painfully, retrieved the flask, and slumped against the base of the mast. He uncorked it with his teeth and tipped it into his mouth.
A sharp pain cut through his abdomen. As the flask dropped from his hand, he looked up to see Farrah. The small knife in her hand was slick with his blood. Phillip’s vision began to darken.
“For Al-Azar,” she whispered with a sneer.
Phillip woke with a start, one hand clutching at his stomach. His breath came in gasps, and his brow was soaked with sweat. In his outstretched arm, his pistol was cocked, menacing a figure that was not there.
After a time, his breathing steadied. He dropped the gun to the desk, retrieved a bottle of rum, and drank greedily. His eyes scanned the dark room, and fell upon the sleeping form of Farrah Al-Azar. After all that they had been through, what reason did he have not to trust her? She wasn’t a threat. She was part of his crew, just as the others were. It was his job to keep them all safe. He wouldn’t take that responsibility lightly.