There had been some fuss made over us all leaving and I could tell that her guards were not happy about the situation. It had been the second strange occurrence to happen in a short space of time and I could tell that they thought something was up with their captain. They couldn’t just go against her orders there and then, however, and Virgo managed to convince them to let us all leave with her and discuss business.
Her excuse was that we needed to go back onto land and go through some arrangements with the town – a weak excuse, for the most part, but real enough to let her go for the time being. I had a feeling that they might take up their concerns with the authorities but it would be too late. With any luck we would be setting off in the next hour.
We passed the crew members on the way out who eyed us all suspiciously and looked at the captain with such disdain that I almost felt sorry for him. He didn’t seem to mind, though, and a part of me wondered if he was even enjoying the attention as we moved through the corridors.
Virgo managed to put on a front and led us all through with her head held high and her shoulders rolled back – to such an extent that I got an impression of how she must’ve been during her time as leader. She emanated an authority that only someone with her title could give.
Finally we were on land and Virgo took her key out to unlock the captain’s cuffs. She seemed to hesitate slightly as she kneeled down to let him free and I guessed she was worried about how he might react despite our reassurances. In her position I’d likely feel the same. We had moved far enough from the ship to be out of sight and then Sagittarius was freed. He touched his wrists and squinted slightly at the pain before turning his attention to Virgo.
“I ought to shoot you myself,” Sagittarius growled with such venom that I thought he might do it. “Fortunately for you, some of us actually honour our words. There are plenty of boats in the docking area that you will be able to take with you along with some supplies. Go on, get out of here!”
She moved backwards and looked at us all with a mixture of fear, resentment and hopelessness. My eyes met hers briefly and I felt sympathetic for the longest time while we waited. A part of me wanted to help in some way but I knew there was nothing I could do. She had enough time to get away and would survive but there was nothing certain about what might happen next.
“My father. Do you know where he is?” she said.
“We can’t tell you, Isabelle,” Aiden said. He’d put away his gun and was standing over the captain, helping him to get on his feet. I could see the joy on his face now that they were reunited. “You will have to come to your own conclusions and find him yourself. It’s too dangerous for you both to meet right now. Give it time, and I’m sure he will come to find you himself.”
“If there is any decency left in him he will,” Virgo said. She had put her gun back in its holster and started to move in a North West direction, far enough away from our own ship but not miles apart. There was a brief silence and then she began to walk away, leaving us without saying another word. In truth, there was nothing else left to say. None of us were likely to apologise for what had happened.
The Captain was on his feet now and looked at me with such a curious expression that I felt myself reddening a little with embarrassment. His mouth curled into the same toothy smile he had given before and then he embraced both Aiden and Ollie. Soon after he shook my hand and as I moved to pull away, he dragged me in closer.
“You went against my instructions, kid,” the Captain said. He still had his smile but I could tell his eyes were brimming with intensity. I was getting an idea of what it was like to try and cross him. “If you hadn’t, I might’ve died. So this time around I’ll congratulate you. Remember what I said about every man making his own choices? You’re an adult now. So I’m going to start treating you like one. You won’t be stepping back into the kitchen to do your duties, do ya here?”
I nodded and felt an overwhelming sense of pride rush through me as the other two clapped me on the back and wished me well done. The captain laughed at this and then turned to business. He said that we didn’t have much time and needed to leave straight away. We moved off in the direction of our ship and talked about the reason why I had come onto land. When we told him about the shooting, the captain stopped in his tracks.
“That doesn’t sound right,” he said. “I’m not aware of Virgo sending any men out on an attack. If that had been her intention she would have been more careful. This sounds like an inside job.”
There was no other explanation for it and as we walked back to the ship there was a sense of foreboding hanging around us that filled me with dread. I still hadn’t been able to shake off the feeling that I had before today’s events and I could see my reservations mirrored within the Captain’s expression.
If there was any chance of a mutiny we hoped that it had died with the man who tried to kill Aiden. I brooded on these worries for some time while we made our way towards the ship, and it didn’t escape my attention that the last blotches of daylight were beginning to sink and give way to night-time.
We finally arrived outside. As we moved towards the ship we saw a disturbance at the entrance and watched as some men emerged from the opening. There was an eerie silence as I turned to my companions and saw Aiden looking distressed. His cheeks were red with cold and his brow burrowed with tension. He showed no sign of fear, something which I didn’t think I’d ever seen from him, but I did see a strange sense of resignation on his face. He looked at me in the eye for a minute and gave a wry smile, as if acknowledging that the end had come.
I would never forget that look on his face. In that moment it was as if he had happened upon some special knowledge that the rest of us at the time hadn’t shared. There was such warmth coming from him that I thought he might’ve stumbled upon some kind of inner peace – the next moment, though, he was lunging forwards in my direction and shielding me against a rain of bullets.
Knowing Aiden I think he was stepping out to protect me as he must’ve realised before the rest of us what was about to happen. As for myself I was too slow and didn’t cotton on until it was too late.
There were bullets flying all over the place and it didn’t take long for the shootings to end. Chris must’ve known that there was no going back and he wouldn’t be able to let us back on the ship, so he’d chosen to try and kill us all instead. The Captain twigged just in time and with his great skill rolled onto the ground and fired at the man next to Chris, who fell into the water without having time to take aim.
There was another gunshot and I could see that Aiden fired into the air and grazed Chris’s right arm, but all of his focus had gone into protecting me – so when the bullets came flying towards him, there was no time to dodge. He let out a sad laugh, still smiling as he fell limply to the ground, and fired aimlessly into the night. Several bullets lodged into his chest in that moment.
I screamed and rushed to Aiden’s side without thinking about trying to shoot the others. Ollie was a good shot and managed to fire a bullet into Chris’s skull, revenging his friend. Then I saw Ollie fall backwards after being shot in the neck and looking back at me listlessly. He struggled a little on the ground and I wanted to comfort him but I didn’t want to leave Aiden. The next moment his eyes had closed and he was dead.
The Captain hadn’t stopped shooting during the entire fight and despite his wounds managed to finish off the other men with relative ease. Blood hung over his eye and I could tell he was badly wounded, but he refused to give in until getting the very last one. Soon after he knelt onto the ground – flustered and bewildered, pawing away at his wounds. In the meantime I tended to Aiden while feeling a sense of powerlessness that I had only gotten away with a grazed shoulder.
Almost as quickly as the bullets had come there was a horrible, lingering silence with no other sound than the leaves pattering against the ground. Aiden was still in numb shock with his eyes half open and droplets of blood dribbling from his mouth. He seemed dazed and not quite all there while tears streamed down my face.
“Kid, what’s happenin’?” Sagittarius called over to Aiden with a loud growl. “What’re you playing at? Come on, they’re all dead! We’ve got this.” Even as he said this I could see that he didn’t look very hopeful and was just trying to put some life back into his loyal crewmate. Aiden’s eyes flickered slightly to show he’d understood the captain and then after a long intake of breath tried to say something.
“All…packed in, capt,” Aiden said, trying to smile and not quite getting there. He kept changing from looking peaceful to having sudden contortions of pain and I could do nothing to stop it. He looked up at me and, as if reading my mind tried to put my mind at ease. “It doesn’t…hurt. I’m okay. I…I…how is Ollie?”
I shook my head and then Aiden’s face dropped.
“We should ne-never have trust..” Aiden said. It hurt to hear just how fragile he sounded. The Captain didn’t look to be in much better shape after seeing his soaked shirt. He was still holding up. Then, from out of nowhere, I heard a gunshot from overhead. When I looked around Antoine walked towards us, his cap covering most of his face. There was another figure crawling across the ground who screamed before another gunshot.
It must’ve been the snake in the grass who’d let Chris know we were coming.
“Good timing,” Sagittarius said, grinning widely. I could see blood coming through the gaps of his teeth. “You wanted to stick around a while, then?”
“I couldn’t leave until I knew you’d gotten away. It’s fortunate I did stop by else you’d have gotten another nasty surprise.” Antoine said. He made his way next to the Captain and tried to help him up, but his old friend simply pushed him away.
“You won’t be getting me back on my feet sonny,” he said while laying one hand on the ground for support. Antoine looked with concern and crouched down next to him to have a look at his wound. When he looked back up the truth was written all over his face. “Yeah, I thought as much. I should already be dead. Now then, I’ve got one final request.”
“What is it?” Antoine said placidly. For a moment his eyes laid on me and he seemed relieved that I wasn’t hurt.
“This boy ’ere, I want him alive. He can’t go back on the ship. Not safe. Will you take him?”
“I was going to say the same thing,” Antoine said. “I can’t keep him long, but I’ll sort out a life for him somewhere.”
I looked around and wondered why they were making such a fuss. Then I turned my attention back to Aiden who still had the faint signs of a smile but most of the colour had drained from his face. Every time I’d tried to have a look at his wound he gently pushed me away. Then he began to talk again.
“My pocket…” Aiden said. He coughed loudly. “Take it. Take it…and start again. Live a good life, my friend. You…you are special, Jack. Real special. I want you to make som-something of yourself.” I could barely say anything it hurt so much to talk. I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of my eyes. Finally I pulled together long enough to take out a crab’s shell from his jacket and with searching eyes looked back at him. He smiled one last time. “Jack. Do good, Jack.”
His eyes had been opening and closing for some time but that was the end of it as his head drew back to the ground. He looked like he wanted to say more, as if there was something else he wanted me to know, but had finally settled on those last words. His wish in the end was for me to do good. Soon after there was no pulse and I knew that he had passed on. I had lost my only real friend.
It took a long time for me to look back up but finally I did, though the tears were still running down my cheeks. By now Sagittarius lay collapsed on the ground and barely conscious. He peered up at me with inquisitive eyes and didn’t seem to be the least bit worried about the fact that he was dying. He looked happy to be letting go of everything. I stooped lower towards the ground and held him by the shoulder. Antoine watched from a distance.
“I never did trust Chris,” Sagittarius said. “He was always…a little shit. He must’ve panicked. Must’ve known…I’d find out what he’d been up to…in a heartbeat. You should’ve died, kid. You know that, don’t you?” I nodded. This time his mouth curled into a shark’s grin. “Too bad Aiden has bigger balls than all of us put together, eh? So, kid… You know what? Don’t die. I reckon the world’s got some plans for you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. By now my tears would not stop.
“Ah…you’ll have to find out for yourself. But I’ll tell you one thing,” he paused for a moment and took in a long breath. I knew he was getting ready for the end. “I knew about you before anyone else. Remember that, Jack. Remember that I knew.”
Moments later the Captain’s eyes closed and he was dead, too. There was still a faint smile on his lips as if he had taken delight in leaving me with one final mystery and then there was no one else left but Antoine. I noticed his eyes were red and didn’t say anything. He looked at me and for the longest time we just stood there like two lonely figures with nowhere else to go. My whole life had just been taken away from me. Now there was nothing for me except to follow the Captain’s instructions as I had done when he was still alive. I was to go with Antoine and then do what Aiden had suggested.
It took some time for me to realise that the crab’s shell my friend had given me had more meaning to it than just a fancy keepsake. In his own way he had been trying to tell me why he had loved the captain so much.
They both belonged to the same tribe. He had been Cancer’s descendant. That day I remembered crying again after it hit me that I had not only lost those closest to me but that two of the most important people in the world had been snatched away.