The GodsBane was burning.
Gannon had blood in his eyes, on his tunic and leggings, every inch of the man was soaked in gore; its crimson hue tured black as the flames that engulfed the ship danced across his face. Before him, an Imperial sailor grasped a broadsword; one hand over the other, with sweat dripping between them. It was as clumsy as it was stupid. With little effort, the captain swatted the blade from the solders hands, and before it fell noiselessly into the sea, Gannon had grasped the boy by the shoulder and run him clean through. Spinning on his heel, he sent his elbow into the face of another man, and felt his nose break.
As the man crumbled, Gannon drew his sword from its human sheath, and sent it cleaving into the skull of another standing behind him. The bone split, and blood gushed down the frightened face. More men appeared before him, as if they had been birthed by the flames.
Gannon screamed, and the bloodlust took him wholly. Like man possessed by a the war Gods themselves he cut through the air, filling it with the red mist of battle, and only the roar of the flames drown the cries of the dead and dying. As he felled his enemies, Gannon tired to look out to sea; find out how the other ships were faring, but it was in vain. A wall of fire prevented him from seeing anything beyond his deck.
Before long, only the bloodied visage of Blackheart remained and the wood around him soaked through with crimson, as the flames greedily consumed his victims. Gannon felt the deck shift and groan, as barrels of pitch exploded in the hold, and the pressure burst the hull, sending a river of fire spilling out to sea. The ship was lost.
The pirate climbed the nearest rope that hung from the main mast, it burned and scorched his hands, but he cared no longer about the pain; Gannon knew in his heart that death had finally found him.
Higher onto the blazing mast he climbed, smoke scorching his lungs, but he did not need breath. Fire seared his flesh, but he did not need to feel; he needed only to see the savage ocean. As he reached the cows nest, his clothing and skin were ablaze; and he was a human pyre, gazing at long last at the raging battle. He could see them all; GreyCut, the Blighted Sea, Duggards Damned, and the rest, they all burned in the starlight. Between them, Imperial warships sank, or burned themselves to cinder; but not all of them were doomed.
A united force, both Zhûrascan and Imperial had met him in the still waters north of Brea Halak. After hours of maneuver and stratagem, they were finally joined in battle. At first, it seemed as if the Nations would sweep up the Black Flag Fleet without a fight, but the old mercenary captains knew these waters well and soon went about their bloody work.
Hook and line set sail, swords clashed, and on both sides of the conflict, men died. Who had first started the fire it was unknown; but the Fleet carried barrels of pitch and oil, enough to set a city alight, and it was not long before the flames spread from ship to ship, and the seas became an ocean of fire.
Seeing it now, Gannon felt an overwhelming sadness fall on him. He had come close with Bellock Blackheart to fulfilling the oath he had made all those years ago; to take destiny by the throat, and to strangle the courage out of her.
You feel this pain even now, young ‘Turncloak.’ Perhaps you are not wholly lost.
“No, I feel the guilt maybe, but there is nothing to salvage in me.” The flames now had the mast and its sails engulfed, and Gannon found it hard to speak, as his flesh boiled as oozed down his face.
You don’t believe that. After all, they said you killed the Khaja back in Bagalon, but they do not know the real story. Why feed the legend?
“Because I know the value of a story, be it true or not. Because Gannon ‘Warborn’ died that night, and he could take any punishment. Because deep down, maybe I should have killed him. Maybe.”
No man is beyond redemption, Gannon.
“Redemption? Ah-” But Gannon had lost so much of his flesh and muscle, that he could no longer manipulate his mouth, and was as a burning skeleton, standing atop his own funeral pyre. As he looked up, Gannon saw that there was no moon in the smokey sky, and suddenly burst into wild laugher. He screamed and wailed at the life he had led, and with every piece of skin that boiled off his bones and fell into the fire bellow, he felt Bellock Blackheart die; and it made him laugh.
The Ship began to slip below the waves, and the last thing he saw before darkness enclosed him was the black sea rushing up to meet him.
Gannon screamed. He swam and kicked but realized he was not drowning. Slowly, feeling came to him. Wearily, he sat up, the hard chains that bound his hands chimed in the darkness. His bare back was cold, and the cell was damp. He didn’t know if his eyes were open, or close; all was inky black.
Suddenly, Gannon saw a dim light flicker through the crack at the bottom of the wooden door, as it was wrenched open by the guard. “Shut it in there, Devil! I won’t have you rile the rest of these demons! One more outburst and I will come in there at beat some silence into that mouth of yours!” he bellowed, his thick accent biting the smooth Imperial speech.
The small bit of light the flooded into the room was like a flash, and stung his eyes. The guard spoke again “Here is your priest, pirate. Say kind words to the Gods; tomorrow morning I am rid of you, and they will design your punishment.” Gannon felt someone enter the room, but he was too weak to even sit up. The prison guard handed the priest the torch, and he walked back to his post saying “5 minutes father; and then he can speak with the Gods on his own.”
“The sad story of Bellock Blackheart.” The stranger said. Gannon’s eyes were still near shut, the torch in the man’s hand was so bright, he could barely see. “The ‘Ghostand’ is sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. A murderer, a criminal, a traitor, and a pirate. I should have seen this on the day we met. I was in a similar situation, if you remember.”
Gannon hadn’t the strength to be surprised, but his weak heart skipped a beat, and the first familiar voice he had heard in 3 months sounded to him like a far off memory. He forced his eyes open, and saw that Festus was smiling.
His voice was gruff, not even a whisper “Festus. What- how are you here?” Gannon tried to stand, but collapsed despite himself. Festus kneeled before him, trying to support his weight. “It may surprise you, young buccaneer, but your friend Belkin and I have gotten into places even harder to breach than this dungeon built by men. In this case, a few coins, and a rather intimate knowledge of the Shaladrian religion did the trick.”
Festus pulled out a vial from his robes, a black ichor that smelled of sweet berries and alcohol filled it. “I cannot tell you how shocked I was when we arrived here; the city is abuzz with Blackhearts imprisonment. It may please you to learn that the Emperor offered the Khaja 50 thousand gold pieces for the right to hang you in Masagar, so they say. Evidently the King said that even a single drop of your blood was worth 10 times that to him, but here,” Festus held the vial to Gannon’s lips “drink this.” Gannon did so without question, hoping it was poison.
Quite the opposite, Gannon felt the sugary delight fill his belly with a warm fire, and quickly the blaze spread to his limbs and even to his mind. He blinked rapidly as the poultice took effect, and strength returned to his now wiry frame. Then, In the back of his skull, he felt the slight poison burn his brainstem; something he had felt before: Greystone. As if he could read his thoughts, Festus spoke:
“Yes, it has a bit of Greystone in it, but no more than a few grains; a little something I have whipped up for Belkin and young Scase, but I don’ think they would begrudge an old friend partaking in his hour of need. Indeed, in his last hours alive, as I have come to find.”
“50 thousand gold, eh?” Gannon balked, letting the poultice take effect.
Festus only shrugged “You always seem to have some absurd story buzzing around your name. You know why I am here, my friend?”
Gannon shook his head that he didn’t. Truth be told, he was beyond shocked to see the old wodin, and the years had taken a strange revenge on the man; he seemed more wizened, and his once inquisitively bright eyes were dulled and world weary. His robes clinked and chimed as he moved, vials and flasks; leather and bone knocking against each other.
“I had your dream, Gannon.”
“You’re welcome.” He replied, not knowing what he was talking about.
Festus chuckled. “It is not every man who dreams of fire. That is a telling sign.”
“Every soldier dreams of fire, blood and steel; of all manner of destruction.”
“But you are not every soldier, are you?”
Gannon looked down, he felt refreshed, and for the first time since he was dragged out of the ocean all those months ago, he could think straight. He looked at Festus square in the eyes “It doesn’t matter who I am, or who I was; I am doomed to die, and truth be told, Festus, I am glad of it. This life I have led, these… lives…” He trailed off, lost in a storm of thought. “Wait, you had my dream? What are you playing at?”
“When we arrived in the city, I felt a strange presence; and as I wandered the strange pathways of the Aether I heard your name echo in the distance. It took me some time, but I made my way to you. You are filled with hate, Gannon; anger fills your heart. Why?”
“Because someone locked me in here; what do you want, Festus?”
The wodin ignored the question and continued “Your mind is like a trap, I tried to delve into it with some difficulty, and suddenly I was swallowed up but your dream; dreams of fire. It was there that I spoke to you.”
“Ah, so that was you. I had never spoken in that dream before.” He sat up and rested his back against the cold stone wall. “Well, this has been a great trip down memory lane; I hope you and Belkin are well but I have an early day tomorrow, and then I think after that we shant see each other again.” Suddenly, Gannon’s eyes got wide “Oh Gods, that stuff I drank… I won’t get lost in the Aether or anything when I am gone will I?”
Festus smiled “No, Gannon; you will be fine. Whatever the Gods have in store for you, my little drink wont interfere with. What do you think they have waiting for you?”
A grim smile crossed the traitors face. “That’s between me and Gods.”
“What if there were another alternative? I came here tonight to make sure that it was the real Bellock Blackheart they caught; honestly I assumed you had given them the slip. Now that I know it’s you, I am overjoyed; we need you Gannon.”
Gannon bowed his head saying “No, no no no; this is it for me, Festus. Let me die here, I am ready and it is long past my time.”
“Bellock is dead, has that dream taught you nothing? You must listen with your mind, boy; the Aether is trying to-”
“Enough!” Gannon cried out “Enough about the dammed Aether, Gods I am so tired of old men and their ambitions. GUARD!” He rose his voice “I would like to be hung now if I can please!”
Festus stood, and a sad smile crossed his face. “We need you, Gannon. We have business here, and none of us knows this land like you. Isn’t it time you stopped running? You have been a hundred different people in your lifetime, but have you ever once stopped to think who Gannon might be? I think you knew him in Fallen Oak; I think you drowned him in Winedark, and I think you know that Belkin Brinx would never aid an evil man. When we saw you on the sea last year, and Duggard took us to the Ledge, do you know what he told me? He said that Gannon ‘Turncloak’ has always had a hatred for the natural state of things; that every war he fights is suicide, because he is ever at war with himself.”
Gannon did not speak for a moment. “To be fair, Duggard is something of an idiot.”
Festus shook his head. “You know, I don’t imagine that in the long and sad history of this dungeon, these prison walls they have ever heard a tenant be offered freedom, and beg to be allowed to stay.”
“I am a rarity.”
“And we have need of you.”
Gannon thought it over for a moment. “I don’t really have much choice in this do I?”
“You have always had a choice, boy” Festus said lightly “You have just always been too frightened to make it.”
The prisoner smiled. “It would be nice to have a bit of pipe.”
Festus laughed, and patted him on the shoulder “Indeed so! Now, I have to be off to inform Belkin that it is indeed you in this cell. Then I suppose it will be up to him to on how to proceed. Really, this argument may have been academic, as I have no idea how he plans to get you out.”
“I am sure he will think of something; there is nothing half so dangerous as a truly good man.” He said with a shrug.
As Festus exited, Gannon stood proud, his arms and legs shackled but defiant against the world of men that such a spirit as his could be caged in this stone hell. “There is no saving me, Festus. You release a monster, if you succeed.”
“No man is beyond redemption.” He said, as the wooden door shut, the torchlight went out, and Gannon was left alone, once again, in darkness.