Author's Note: Yes, I know it's been as long as the Hundred-Year Winter since I last updated... and I apologize. In my defense, writing a superhero novel with my three sisters has been a blast, and highly distracting.

=Chapter 22: Delusions=

Silence and shadows, that was the trick.

If they didn't hear him, and didn't see him, they'd never know what sliced them. And they certainly wouldn't feel it.

This one was easy. Bare ankles. With bated breath, Will Turner hid behind the stairs to the galley, peering through the shadowy steps, gripping the hilt of his newly-stolen sword snugly. The footsteps on the stairs creaked closer, lower, down and down... and just as the pirate's ankles were right in front of his eyes, Will darted his sword through the narrow space between the steps, and nicked the dirty skin of the pirate- who just kept right on walking, oblivious to his new cut, then disappeared down the hatch to the orlop.

Thank you, evil, sense-blunting, Aztecian nightmare curse, Will thought semi-sarcastically, tugging the sword back delicately. Eyes and ears were Will's only vivid senses now. Smell, taste, touch- those were blotted out, erased. Cautiously, he dipped the blade's point down into the spout of the rum bottle in his other hand, and watched the garnet drops of blood streak down the blade, and drip into the murky glass bottle. Nineteen down, twenty-eight to go,he thought, corking the rum-bottle, and tying it back onto his belt with a short piece of twine.

Will had been making these cut-and-run sneak attacks on Barbossa's pirates for the past half-hour, intent on getting at least a few drops of each of their blood into the bottle, and then to smash the bottle into the Aztec chest. Save the day.

Will waited three more minutes, but no other pirates came down or up the stairs, so, getting bored, Will stumbled over to one of the cannons, the farthest one to the stern. From what he could gather, it sounded like most of the pirates were up on the topdeck- but he couldn't very well just waltz up there through the hatch, and get himself caught. I can't even waltz, Will added to himself dizzily. Dipping his head past a dirty rope above the hatch, and straining to see past the cannon blocking his view, Will peered out, and up, at the Dauntless. It had been grappled and pulled close beside the Pearl by now, so all Will could see was the navy-blue and sunbeam-yellow paint on the hull, and not a bit of what was occurring up on the Dauntless' deck.

Backing away to behind the cannon, Will leaned down and thrust his weight into his shoulders, pushing the cannon-muzzle out through the hatch as far as it would go. Then, moving on to the next cannon, Will unhooked the restraining ropes from the mooring rings, moved to the front of that cannon, and kicked it backwards, away from the hatch.

Next, Will slipped his sword snugly into his belt, crawled out of the hatch, holding onto the ropes just inside it for stability, and reached one foot out, stepping it atop the protruding muzzle of the first cannon he had pushed out. Hoisting himself atop it, Will next made a lung to the left, and grabbed onto the fin of one of the wooden mermaid supports overhead.

But as Will slipped an arm around the mermaid's waist, and hoisted his chest up behind her curved spine, he heard a suspicious noise coming from around the back corner of the ship's stern. So, Will cautiously crawled along behind the row of four identical mermaids, with their outstretched arms holding up the ledge of the Captain's Cabin, until he came to the corner. Holding onto the mermaid's waist with one hand, Will pulled out his cutlass silently, and peered around the corner-

"Elizabeth?" Will exclaimed in gleeful confusion.

"Will?" she replied, blinking back at him in surprise, from where she was dangling, her fingers gripped tightly onto a scarlet curtain. Looking up, Will saw that the curtain was tied to something inside the captain's cabin's window, which Elizabeth had apparently just climbed out of. "Goodness Will, what are you doing?" she gasped quietly, stepping one foot on the head of the wooden mermaid below her to catch her balance, and then slipping again, and skidding uncontrollably down the curtain.

Catching her elbow, Will helped her crawl behind the wooden mermaid right in front of him, so now they were both behind corner mermaids.

"I'm saving the day. Maybe the afternoon," Will said, squinting at the sun's position on the horizon. "Does starting now count as saving the whole day?"

"I rather doubt it," Elizabeth sighed.

Will stared, mesmerized at her high cheekbones, her bold jawline, her almondy eyes... There was a small scratch-line down her neck, she was still wearing her chalk-white undergown, & she had a long belt wrapped twice around her waist and buckled, which she'd stuck a nice pair of dueling pistols in, & tied some extra packets of ammo to. But even guns looked angelic when Elizabeth wore them.

"Will, what's that?" Elizabeth asked, catching sight of the rum-bottle tied to his waist, and eying the quarter-inch of blood drippings inside the bottle. "Oh," she added, as Will tried to rearrange his scattered thoughts enough to explain his brilliant plan to her, "Oh no, that shan't work Will," she rattled on, "See, I have a theory- what I first figured was that Barbossa already put in all the blood and coins but his own coin, so he could break the curse in a blink if he wished- but I got that wrong, since Barbossa was wearing the medallion coin around his neck last I saw him, so probably he just got his blood in, and all the rest of his crew's blood too, and their coins, and he's just waiting to put his coin in. So, come to think of it, my plan of just slipping Barbossa's bloody table knife into the chest wouldn't have worked even if I'd been bold enough to attempt it. Especially after poor Edmund stole a coin and vanished, rendering it all pretty moot. But I still have Barbossa's knife!" she said, tugging up her sleeve to show a small, bloody table knife she'd tucked up there. "For... whatever that's worth."

"...Who's Edmund?" Will asked distractedly, not following Elizabeth's line of logic very clearly.

"Edmund is the brother of Queen Lucy, also royalty," Elizabeth explained in her rapid, hushed tone. "He's not much more than a lad, dark hair, about my height. Presently, Captain Barbossa is sailing both these ships back to the spit-of-an-island Jack and I were marooned at- isn't that a disgusting turn of phrase, 'spit of an island?'. Anyhow, that's where we first found the Narnian strangers, and where Barbossa hopes to find the passage back to Narnia. We must find King Edmund before Barbossa does, or I fear he shall get his throat slit. Anyway, there's really no point in holding onto that bloody rum bottle there," Elizabeth added.

Will nodded politely, not really understanding or listening to most of what his dearest Elizabeth was saying. He was just glad to have her close. "Hey- wait," he realized suddenly, "didn't I swing you safely to the Dauntless?"

"The Dauntless is taken, Will," Elizabeth sighed bitterly.

"We'll take it back?" Will suggested hopefully, glancing over at the brightly-painted Navy ship.

Pursing her lips crossly, Elizabeth said, "No, Will."

"But I'm immortal," Will insisted, confused.

"As are all of Barbossa's crew. All one hundred and fifty of them!"

"I only counted forty-seven," Will corrected.

"Lets just stay uncaptured, shall we?" Elizabeth insisted, forcing a quick, nervous, not very encouraging smile.

"But Norrington- Grassroot- the crew- we must rescue them."

"Gracious Will, no, not now. We can't. Not yet. Listen to me Will," Elizabeth persisted firmly, grabbing his arms to calm him as he started fidgeting in agitation and glancing up at the deck, "The only sensible thing to do is to save Edmund, and return his blood to the chest before Barbossa does it his way. Too many good people have died already. We can't risk heroics, not now. Barbossa's pirates are drunk and vicious and oh yes, undead... and they may well hack the measly remainder of our allies to small bloody bits, till you can't tell what was an ear and what was an elbow. Please do listen, Will."

A sudden gunshot jolted the air.

"What was that?" Will asked uneasily.

"Once again you scurvy Brits," growled a voice that sounded unnervingly like Grapple, where's little Missy Swann?"

"I should like to know the same thing, blaggards!" retorted a stiff, wavering voice that was unmistakably Governor Swann's. "Where the deuce is my daughter, you reprehensible fiends?"

"You'd be smart ta keep a civil tongue in yer mouth, gov'nor, if ya want it ta stay there," snapped another pirate.

Elizabeth jerked up, and began crawling up her curtain rope again, then carefully sidestepped on the mermaids, rounding the corner of the captain's cabin's window-ledge, past Will, shimmying around the rim of the mermaid taffrail, and finally yanking herself up to a small platform supporting a strip of ratlines.

Will managed to catch up with her, and grabbed her ankle just before she clambered over the cannon-splintered balustrades, onto the Black Pearl's deck. "Don't, Elizabeth!" Will hissed, suddenly realizing that the last place he wanted to see her right now was being grabbled and groped by filthy pirates again. "Stay down here, stay safe, I'll fight them!"

"But Grapple just shot someone on my account!" she whispered back harshly. "My father could be next!"

Will sprung up beside her on the platform, accidentally dropping his bottle of blood, and tugged her down to her knees, wrapping an elbow around her mouth. She glared at him briefly, but her eyes quickly shot back to the scene on the deck, and she craned her neck to see through the bars on the railing.

Will peeked up too. From down here at the corner of the rails, the pirates looked absurdly tall and threatening, with their coattails and bandanna-flaps flickering in the whip-like breeze, and leery smirks pasted on their jaws. It only took a brief glance at the red coats littering the deck of the Pearl, to see that the battle was over, and the pirates had won. The most recent casualty was lying at Grapple's feet, with a bloody, bone-flecked hole blasted through his cheek. Grapple's gun was still smoking, and was currently aimed at Elizabeth's father. Will could feel Elizabeth gulp nervously as her throat throbbed against the side of his arm.

"Throw down yer weapons, swabs!" Pintel hollered at Governor Swann and the few remaining navymen- surprisingly few.

Only seven. Only Groves, Gillete, Martin Tweak, Cummings, Murtagg, Mullroy, and Wylder. Will recognized them all- he'd often seen them up at Fort Charles- seen them, idolized them, and wished he could break free of the legal constraints of his blacksmith's indentures, to join their ranks, and fight piracy and villainy on the high seas. Oh no, wait, there's eight, Will corrected, as he spotted Commodore Norrington's storm-blue commodore coat. Norrington was face-first on the deck, and looked mostly dazed senseless, except for the fact that he was shifting an elbow slightly.

Seeing this slight motion, one of the pirates seized Norrington by the collar, and started hoisting him towards the mainmast.

The skinny, wooden-eyed pirate swiped Norrington's fancy feathered commodore hat off his wig with a childish grin. "Now that Captain Barbossa's a commodore an awl," the pirate speculated cheerily, "he'll be needin' a new hat, he will- an' maybe he'll give me his old hat, tee-hee!"

The last seven navymen, seeing that they were unfairly outnumbered and outgunned, started reluctantly throwing down their weapons. But just to make sure they didn't have any concealed switchknifes or valuable items on their persons, the pirates searched them anyways.
"Hey!" the wooden-eyed one– Ragetti, if Will remembered correctly- yapped suddenly, as he pulled a shiny yellow, metallic item out of Mr. Tweak's coat pocket, "This counts as a weapon! Yo-yo's were used as deadly Phillipine 'unting weapons, they were!"

"How d'ya know all this stuff?" the balding, yellow-eyed Mr. Pintel asked Ragetti with a baffled twist of his eyebrows. "Yo-yos and fauns an' all?"

Ragetti shrugged.

"Still haven't found Turner and the wench?" Barbossa sourly asked a handful of pirates to his left, as he paced into sight from behind the mizzen-mast near the helm, with Jack tagging behind him, saying,

"-Now be reasonable, mate-"

Regetti jumped nervously, and took his stolen commodore hat off quickly, fidgetingly fingering its rim.

"We looked everywhere imaginable, Cap'n!" Dogear insisted earnestly. "Every cranny an' nook!"

"I saw a girl vanish!" piped up the skinny, dreadlocked Jamaican, Mr. Koehler, who Will vaguely remembered being kicked in the head by earlier that morning, during his nightmarish introduction to pirate torture methods. "Inta thin air!" Koehler added importantly.

"Was she Swann?" Grapple demanded, swinging his pistol away from the governor, as he turned to confront his crewmate.

"Naw," Koehler admitted eerily. "Not sure what she was..."

"Want this hat, Commodore?" Ragetti asked meekly, sticking out his twiggy arm, with Norrington's hat balanced on his nutpick-thin fingertips.

"Now see here," Jack interjected as soon as he got a chance, pushing aside the hat and getting in Barbossa's face to make him pay attention, "I know ya've got a fancy fer hollering 'toss em in the brig!', and torturin' folk, but honestly- ye've already slaughtered most of my poor crew- it's only Anamaria, Marty, Cotton, Gibbs, Moises and that faun thingamakid whom are left, and yes, they tried ta raid yer armoury and blow ya ta smithereens, granted- but that just shows what crafty and capable and able-bodied men... and woman, and faun- they are, right? So why not just let em go, an' let em join?"

Barbossa just gave Jack a cynical glance, obviously thinking the question was too stupid to answer.

"Well someone is just so communicative today," Jack muttered.

"This is a severely thorny and alarming situation," Governor Swann muttered as a pirate slammed his back against the mast, and another pirate started dragging a thick rope in front of his chest, pinning him and the remaining eight navymen to the mast.

Elizabeth relaxed a little in Will's grip when she saw that the pirates weren't shooting her father immediately, anyways.

"You know Murtagg," Officer Mullroy began conversationally as he was tied to the mast too, "when I joined the navy, nobody told me I'd be facing undead pirates. It's really bad form. I mean to say, you'd think they'd tell people these things."

"I told you there were undead pirates," the less-stout officer pointed out crossly.

"Yes, but you could've tried sounding a smidgen less addled," Mullroy scolded.

"Would any level of vocal sanity have made you believe me?"


"Then, why are we having this conversation?" Officer Murtagg retorted, clearly annoyed at the way his afternoon was turning out.

"I don't know, it's actually rather pointless, upon analysis," Jack put in cynically, sinking his elbows back atop a rail, and leaning back with a false carefree attitude.

"So mates," Barbossa asked his crew devilishly, glancing at the trussed-up Brits, "what say you we give our navy friends a proper welcome party? Inventive suggestions are welcome, but I'm thinkin- massacred, cut to kebabs, thrown ta the sharks, the whole shebang."

"Or you could let em live," Jack suggested offhandedly.

"Because that's so very like what I'd be inclined to do," Barbossa drawled, dripping sarcasm, and scowling in Jack's direction.

"At least it'd be original," Jack pointed out.

"As well as no fun whatever."

"But consider, mate-" Jack persisted, "why not keep 'em on as slaves; live like kings! Make em row the sweeps, swab the decks, do all the nastiest chores! That'd be fun, yes? I mean, the lobsters order everyone in the Caribbean around- haven't ya ever, just once, wished ta order them around?"

"I'd rather watch the sharks squabble over their dismembered corpses, pers'nally," Barbossa retorted lazily.

"Wewl- they could join my crew aboard the Pearl, if they bother ya so!" Jack suggested, sounding a bit desperate.

"Oh, aye, an' mutiny on ya to boot, an' then the King's Navy's got the fastest ship in the Caribee. Brilliant,matey."Barbossa scoffed, as he pried his babbling monkey off his chin, and re-positioned it on his shoulder. "Just shiny. Besides, ya fore'er forfeited yer chance at captaincy of the Pearl when ya mutinee'd on me, Jack."

"You started it," Jack shot back.

Just then, Norrington shook his disheveled head an inch, and blinked around in a hyper-critical matter, first down at the thick rope biting into his chest and clamping his back to the mast, then up at the black sails, and finally at scrappy pirates, particularly Ragetti, who was still fidgeting with his stolen Commodore hat. "What the deuce is going on, Groves?" Norrington asked finally.

"The ship is taken, certain persons have inexplicably vanished, we have surrendered, and the pirates are discussing the merits of gullying us into shark kibble, versus letting us join their ghastly crew," Groves reported crisply. "That is all, sir."

"Oh, what rot," Norrington muttered dizzily, sounding defeated, but not broken. "As if any of my officers would sully their honor in such a fashion. Them, pirates? The very notion is laughable."

"Well, lets put that ta the trial, shall we?" Barbossa drawled challengingly, apparently changing his mind. Just to prove the annoying Brit wrong, it seemed, the pirate commodore turned to Norrington's navymen, and asked congenially, "Care ta join my illustrious crew, gents?"

There was an indecisive pause. Lieutenant Groves glanced at Norrington, seeking guidance and finding only sarcasm and exasperation.

"You, Navy dogs!" The Islander pirate yapped out. "Jine up or die!"

"They don't get the choice of jine up, do they?" Dogear snapped back. "Navy puddle-scum like them?"

"Just die, then!" The Islander corrected.

"Course they get the chance of jining, they're good seamen, ain't they?" Barbossa went on sleekly. "They just get no share of the plunder from our previous voyages, is all. Oh- and they'll work without shares, nat'chrally."

"Oy. Fair enough," the Islander conceded with a bony shrug.

"You may as well save your breath," Norrington scoffed, "my men would far rather perish, and gladly too, rather than serve scum such as yourselves, not even if you begged them on hands and knees."
"He says we concede to your conditions, and humbly forfeit our freedom, to be your willing servitors," Groves corrected quickly, obviously trying to keep a level head, and speak for his dazed commodore.

Norrington gave Groves an angry, weak glare.

"Provided you don't kill or maim any more of our crew," Groves added rapidly. "Mark my words, next navyman killed, and we shall all mutiny, regardless of consequence."

"Done," Barbossa agreed cordially, glancing smugly at the irked-looking Commodore.

"Groves, you sap," Norrington groaned dejectedly. "You idiot. Well, I for one shall never sail under a skull-and-swords ensign."

"Aye," Barbossa agreed sinisterly, "I don't bank on ye stayin' 'ere long either."

Looking concerned for his commodore's wellbeing, Groves warned, "Now see here, Mr. Barbossa, if you dareharm a hair on his wig, I'll-"

"Pipe down, lad," Barbossa scolded, "all I'm sayin' is that the Commodore thar's got ta have his enemies- friends an' folks of blokes he's hung- who'd be all too cheerful ta swap us nigh any price I could name for him. And mark you, I could name any price."

"But-" Groves stammered, "-surely they'd kill him!"

Barbossa merely smirked his classic evil smirk.

"Oh, for the love of crumpets, how greedy can one get?" Elizabeth whispered to Will, making him realize his hand had slipped off her mouth. "A mountain of gold and gems and priceless baubles, and bloody Barbossa still wants to go to all the trouble of bartering a navy commodore on the pirate black market, ransoming him to pirates who'd pay?"

"Quite despicable," Will agreed quietly.

"Unless you swear you shall not compromise the Commodore's safety in any matter, we shan't join your band!" Groves clarified sternly to the smirking pirate captain.

"Then ye'll be shark kibble," Barbossa shot back.

"Then so be it!" Officer Murtagg piped up.

Barbossa sighed irritably, giving his monkey a beleaguered look. "See, this is why I hate bein' merciful. No gratitude, not a smidge." Shrugging, Barbossa added flippantly, "Right then, wise choice lads, ye'll simply adore yer new pirates life, I'll guarantee it. Untie them, mates," he added to the nearby clustered pirates.

"But-" Pintel began.


The pirates obeyed their captain reluctantly, with many a scowl.

"But we just refused to join!" Officer Cummings protested, as the rope was unwound from his chest. "We absolutely refused!"

"Oh- now was it ye were ya thinkin' refusal was an option?" Barbossa asked him darkly, followed by a low snicker, and a sarcastic glance at his real crew. "I say ya join, then by Neptune ye'll join, even the high-an'-mighty Commodore there."

"I bloody will not-" Norrington began, "in fact, you scurrilous, arrogant sea-rat, I-"

"Gag him, if ya please, Scratch, 'afore I succumb to the nagging temptation ta gully his throat out," Barbossa exasperatedly snapped at a scraggle-dreadlocked blond pirate to his left.

Once all the navymen were freed, with coils of rope at their feet, and a bandanna tied in Norrington's mouth as a gag, Barbossa crisply ordered his captives, "First assignment of the day, Lobsters- ye'll be rowin' the sweeps, so as ta make the ship sail faster. It'll be much like rowin' an ordinary rowboat; really a piece of cake- only scads more grueling an' not quite as sticky an' sweet. Off ya go. Maccabee, Scurvy Joe, Hawksmore, Katracho, Nipperkin- do escort our fine prestigious new crewmates to the sweeps, and chain 'em there secure."

"Aye aye, Cap'n Barbossa," the pirates grumbled, as they dejectedly exited down the hatches, tugging the navymen captives along.

Jack abandoned the rail and wandered over again, just in time to shrug, and comment to the exiting navymen, "On the bright side, you're alive. Huzzah, right?"

"An now, as ta final the matter- captaincy..." Barbossa declared, obviously in love with that word. "I'll be commandeerin' the Dauntless, as aforementioned. Have ye voted amongst yerself which of ye is to now captain the Pearl?"

"Grapple there, by reason of he's a bully," Twigg grunted.

"And knows how to bake cake," Ragetti added brightly.

"So... let, me get, this straight-" Jack began in slow disbelief, "had I just been a cake-baking bully, you would not have mutinied on me, and would gladly have let me be captain?"

"Naw, cuz we don' like you," Pintel snapped back.

"But you like Grapple?" Jack asked huffily.

"Naw." But shooting a nervous glance at Grapple's anger-scrunched face, Pintel hastily stammered, "Er, yeah, absolutely, love the guy. Best chap in the world."

"An' don't ya forget it!" Grapple snarled, hoisting up his giant fishhook menacingly.

"Right then, now that that's settled, you on the port deck stay here on the Pearl, the rest of ye- an' Jack, ye too- follow me to the Dauntless," Barbossa ordered.

"But what about my crew?" Jack persisted doggedly, as he tagged after Barbossa. "Gettin' back ta me previous point, we have reached no satisfactorial accord about their fates. Anamaria, Marty, Cotton, Gibbs, Moises, the faun-beastie, and Miss Swann, and Turner, once we find 'em, what of them? I mean, surely not the plank, right? They could all be excellent crew, ya know. Really, really excellent crew. Only a scatterbrained addle-skull would waste such obvious talent- and, I mean, ya let the navy join. Just saying."

"If I wanted yer lot dead," Barbossa drawled back lazily, "they'd be dead now, yeh know that, Jack."

"Yes, but there's not to be any more torture, is there?" Jack went on between a cautious sliver of silver and gold teeth.

"Stop pesterin' me, or there may be," Barbossa snapped lightly.

Getting the message, Jack sunk sullenly back into the background with the rest of the pirates crossing the gangplank onto the deserted deck of the Dauntless.

Just as the last of them made it over, a tall, bald pirate with a tattooed head suddenly jerked up from one of the Dauntless' hatches. "Hoy, I found somebody!" the straggler crowed, hoisting a young Arabian kid forward by the back of his black, slightly red-stained hair. "Not a girl though. Fights like one, though. He were down in the Dauntless' brig."

There, in the tattoo-skulled pirate's grip, was an Arabic boy Will had never seen before, whose posture was prouder than a sultan's, despite the fact that his arms were twisted behind his back. There were faint streaks of red die in his sleek black hair, and he was smirking uneasily, looking smug yet scared.

"Who's that?" Will whisper-asked Elizabeth.

"Um- I think a robber prince or something," she replied quietly, stressfully tugging three fingers through the taffy-brown hair drooping by her cheek.

"Name?" Barbossa asked the robber prince.

"Locust," the Arabic boy answered imperiously, holding his chin high.

"And how came ye ta be a captive of the King's Navy, Locust?" Barbossa asked congenially, pacing up in front of him. "Why'd they see fit ta brig and fetter ye, eh?"

"Because they are narrow-minded centipedes," Locust replied smoothly, and entirely matter-of-fact.
"I like him," Barbossa said brightly. "Ever considered piracy, boy?"

"I am a Prince of Robbers," Locust answered proudly and pointedly, casting a short, furious glare back at the bald pirate still wrenching his arms behind his back.

At a nod from Barbossa, the bald pirate let Locust go.

"Care ta join my crew?" Barbossa re-phrased to the young prince.

Rolling his shoulders back to their usual stiff posture, and granting the pirate another supercilious, condescending smirk, Locust retorted, "Never would I deign to abase myself in such a fashion, yet you ruffians may join my band, if you so wish. I am Tisroc of my world, howsoever, my advisors and viziers of state bore and stifle me, so I have detached myself from their bulldog-brained pedantry, and absconded to the Calormen wilderness, free of their restringent entrammelments. A formidable assembly of daemon-creatures and monstrous outcasts now call me lord. We prey upon the resplendent capitol Tashbaan, reclaiming the immeasurable wealth that, in justice, is rightfully my own. I am nearly become a legend in my world. Were you to choose wisely, you might achieve legend-hood as well."

"Oh, I plan to," Barbossa assured him, with a glimmer in his candlewax-colored eyes.

"So you consent to bow to my every whim and command, forsake your former life and loyalties, pledge your wits and weapons in my behalf, and loyally abide my codes of conducts and deportment?" Locust concluded hopefully.

"Nah," Barbossa replied after pretending to think it over. "Can't say I'm inclined."

"You shall regret your jestful refusal of my magnanimous offer!" Composing himself, Locust added, "Ere you foolishly seal your minds against the prospect of endeavoring under my rule, be forewarned and ponder that I have minions skilled in the summoning of Deepest Magic."

"An' I'm an immortal outcast of Hell, yer point being?" Barbossa shot back.

"You truly refuse outright?" Locust snapped, with the slightest quaver of rage slipping through his lazy, arrogant attitude.

"Oh, don' get me wrong- yer whole 'I am a runaway puppet ruler tryin' ta pilfer back my rightful loot story is touching, no doubt, and might strike a chord with lesser thugs. But see, they call me captain," Barbossa clarified, nodding his hatted head toward his crew, "and I call no one 'my liege'." "Clubba," Barbossa added, now talking to the bald pirate behind Locust, "put that pompous cock ta work swabbing."

As Locust was dragged off, protesting savagely, to learn his first swabbing lesson, the gangplank was pulled back onto the deck of the Pearl, the grapples between ships were cut, the Dauntless & the Pearl swung apart, and both ships glided on again towards the spit-of-an-island on the edge of the horizon.

Will clamped one hand around the balustrade bars & one around Elizabeth's shoulders as the Pearl started bobbing rapidly through the waves again, holding her tightly to keep her from falling. Glancing down below where he and Elizabeth stood, Will could see that their shadows were leaking out across the hull now. Judging from the length of the shadows, it was at least an hour past high noon.

"I changed my mind Will," Elizabeth said suddenly, "We should risk everything. We should save everyone. We should sneak in, unlock Norrington and the rest, and take the Dauntless back. Never mind the blood and gore!"

"Alright," Will agreed amiably, "yes, lets!"

"I changed my mind again," Elizabeth muttered just as rapidly, sinking back down onto her knees dejectedly, & shivering slightly. "Oh, I don't know, I just really don't..."

"Alright," Will agreed again, disappointed. He squinted off at the murky horizon for the next half-hour, watching Jack's spit-off an island getting slowly closer and more detailed.

"Land, ahoy!" Ragetti finally yelped, jerking Will out of his staring trance.

The Pearl shuddered as she and The Dauntless dropped anchor just offshore of Jack's tiny island. Will watched pensively as Barbossa's men prepared to debark. From what Will could hear from across ships, Barbossa was taking no chances this time. He insisted that his crew drag along the heavy Aztec chest in a wheelbarrow, just in case the portal Jack mentioned happened to shut again, leaving them stuck in the fairy otherworld with Edmund's blood- but no chest to put it in.

"Wait, why ah' we takin' Jack along?" a pirate with shark-tooth earrings asked Barbossa edgily. "An' shouldn' we leave someone ta guard the ships?"

"Jack, I'm takin' cause he's an untrustworthy weasel; the rest of ye, just in case we ALL need ta be present, an' in the same world, for the uncursing of our Aztec bane ta work." Barbossa answered impatiently. "Ya never know with ancient hexes like ours."

"But whad-a-bout Sparrow's crew of seven, the nine navy lubbers, an' mysteriously missing Missy Swann, an' Daft Turner?" Grapple protested uneasily. "Seems an awful lotta people we don't like much ta abandon our prized ships to. An' the Swann girl did set fire ta the Pearl once 'afore, let's keep in mind."

"Already thought of, already done, Deputy Commander," Barbossa assured Grapple. "Just in case any of those swabs be entertainin' thoughts of escapin', I've assigned the men ta filch all the handspikes for turning the capstan, so's the anchor can't be raised, and ta remove both ships' rudder chains, sails, an' all navigational instruments on board. So even if, perchance, our fine pris'ners do manage ta escape their cells an' military shackles, an' even if they manage to cut the anchor-chains or raise anchors somehow, they won't be able ta sail anywheres without the highly likely chance of hitting into one of the numerous reefs hereabouts, and foundering. Watery graves and feasts for the fishes."

"Yep, seems like you've annoyingly thought out every variable," said Jack flatly. "You look a mite impatient."

"A decade is a long time," Barbossa said simply, staring out towards the nearby palm trees as his crew hurriedly carried out their last tasks before departure.

Creeped out by the prospect of getting stuck in the other world, some of the pirates decided to bring along some of their favorite stuff, in case they got stuck there; including FOOD, guns, swords, hats, cards, dice, and Anamaria. It wasn't a huge surprise that Simbakka had to chain the Tortugan warrior-woman's wrists behind her back, and even then, her vicious kicking, struggling, and bashing her shoulders and elbows into the pirates made some of them jump back a few steps. She was shouting loudly in Haitian Creole- and from her barracuda tone, Will assumed she was cursing.

Will's natural impulse was to leap up and save the damsel in distress, but Elizabeth again tugged him down by his collar, like he was an unruly puppy.

"No Will, think. We can use this distraction," Elizabeth whispered. She nodded wordlessly towards the lowered rowboats that the pirates were prepping for their trip to the island. "No one's looking."

"Why don't we just swim?" Will whispered back, eagerly eying the swishing blue waves below. "We can make it."

"Not without getting the powder in these guns wet!" Elizabeth argued, holding up the dueling pistols, then sticking them back in her belt.

Pondering this predicament, Will finally replied, "We could wrap them in waterproof sealskin and duck feathers."

"We don't have waterproof sealskin and duck feathers."

"Excellent point," Will replied admiringly. Elizabeth was so clever sometimes.

Rolling her amazing brassy eyes, Elizabeth crept up on deck, keeping her back bent low, and tossed a loose rope over the side of the ship, letting the end thump quietly into one of the rowboats, which was filled with confiscated sails and suchlike. She then beckoned Will over sharply.

Will saw Jack glance their way, spot them. Will froze, fearing they were done for. But unpredictably as always, Jack instead immediately distracted the attention of his fellow pirates by pulling the monkey Jack's tail, which sent the critter into a shrieking frenzy.

As Barbossa snapped at Jack for pestering Jack; first Elizabeth, and then Will, quickly slid down their rope, right into the jollyboat below. Elizabeth quickly ducked under the rowboat's seats with Will, and tugged a large swathe of black sailcloth over their heads.

"Owww... I should have known better then to just slide down the rope like that, like a duncecap," Elizabeth muttered almost-silently, in the dark. "I think I practically skinned my palms..."

Will nodded, even though Elizabeth couldn't see him in the dark. His rough hands had probably also been scraped- but if so, he couldn't tell. The curse had its good points.

At first, Will was concerned that this whole hiding in rowboats thing was a uninspired idea. I mean, the pirates will pile in, they'll step on our heads or hands, they'll say something irritating with bad grammar, like, 'Oy' lookit' 'ere mateys, it be the two runerways we was figurin' on torturin ta death!', and then Elizabeth and I get tortured and shot. Pretty rotten ending.

But luckily, the oars were gone. So the pirates simply walked underwater, tugging along the jollyboats by ropes.

Will and his dearest waited antsily under the fresh white sailcloth and black, tattery, rat-bitten sailcloth, and finally, Will risked a peek up over the rowboat-rim. The supply-stuffed jollyboats were all swishing up through the peacock-blue water now, and thumping gently onto the sandy shore. Will ducked down an inch, keeping his eyes low and shadowed under the moldy, moth-bitten, black sailcloth, as the pirates approached the boats to collect their knicknacks and portmanteaus.

Locust was chained in the same boat as Anamaria, who was singing a catchy ditty to herself that had something to do with acid, boiling oil, and grinding off pirate fingers to feed to pet piranhas.

"I commend you on your most fitting song choice," Locust commented dryly over his shoulder to his fellow captive, as they were both hauled out of the boat by Simbakka and Clubba.

Anamaria gave a catty smirk, and kept on singing loudly as she and Locust were dragged across the beach.

"Wait," Barbossa said, as his crew approached the rum-cellar. "Him first," he added, shoving Locust towards the hatch. "Just in case there be a nasty trap down there."

Locust haughtily strode down the hatch, looking as lofty as a person with tied wrists could look.

"I've only a two-shots chance of nailing that monkey-loving cur..." Elizabeth muttered to herself, glaring at Barbossa, and absently fidgeting her fingertips over the pistols in her belt. "Just as soon as the curse is lifted..."

Personally, Will liked monkeys, but he decided maybe now wasn't the best thing to mention it a girl with a grudge against the tiny primates.

A few moments passed, and no screams of agony came from down in the cellar, so finally, the pirates figured it was safe to go, and finally, last of them were scurrying down through the rum-cellar hatch.

"Now," Will whispered to Elizabeth.

The two of them scuttled across the beach like nervous crabs, with hunched shoulders and hunted eyes. They hid behind palms trees every now and then.

"Oh- ow-" Elizabeth gasped quietly.

"What?" Will asked suddenly, stopping short and staring at Elizabeth, concern written in large print all over his face.

"Nothing- the sand's hot and there are shells- oh just come on!" she hissed quietly back.

Looking down, Will saw that Elizabeth had cut her bare feet on the beach shells- and he'd cut his feet too, but hadn't even noticed. Odd.

Will lost his balance and tripped twice on their way to the cellar- a frustrating reminder that he was still drunk. Elizabeth helped him up again, and together, they made it the final few yards, then snuck down the creaky, water-warped, palm-wood steps, into the dark.

As they crept along the passageway, Will painlessly stubbed his toes on strewn, empty rum-bottles, then tripped over a crossbow, loaded with a heavy-duty brass bolt. He almost picked it up, then decided he was a better aim with sword-throwing then crossbows. His hand wrapped tightly around the hilt of the blade stuck in his belt. Walking, walking...stumbling, dizzy, more walking... after what seemed like much too long, they approached the cave mouth, where murky, green-tinged moonlight shone in. Will could hear metal clanging on metal, and raised voices beyond...

"I say- Arnald Macready?" a girl's voice exclaimed. "Aren't you the twit who knocked into me at the train station? How'd you get here?!"

"Bad luck, gardening, and some stupid rings," a boy's voice replied dourly.

"Sssurrender, pathetic Pevensies!" hissed something that didn't sound even remotely human.

Keeping Elizabeth safely behind him, Will peered out into the other world.

Teal moonlight glistered everywhere, piercing the grey fog.

And there, there were the pirates, bewildered and amazed, behind a semi-circle of mossy boulders, peeking out at what sounded like a gargantuan, clashy fight. Will couldn't see exactly what was going on, due to three raggedy pirates standing in his line of sight. They were skeletons now, all of them, even Jack, transformed by the moonlight.

"Well, now we all know how ye survived maroonin' the first time, Jack..." Barbossa muttered, gawking around at the lush Narnian landscape, obviously impressed with the place.

But skeleton Jack wasn't listening- he was glancing over at a strange hunk of stone, carved in the shape of a long-limbed, slightly reptilian creature in an apron. "Charming statuary they've got 'ere," he muttered. "Wonder what all the sword-swinging yonder's about?"

"This place is 'mazing!" another one of the skeletons added, looking around in wonderment.

"Insane, dat's what it be," another one argued. "Barmy, preposterous! Deranged! How can ya just walk inta another world? It don't make sense!"

"Makes 'bout as much sense as you all bein' zombified skull-faces," Anamaria put in sourly.

"There, that's the boy-" Barbossa exclaimed sharply, pointing. "Edmund Pevensie- that ratty little skeleton with the striped necktie round his skull, who's stabbin' that harpoon at that wolf-woman."

"You say that as if wolf-women were normal," Jack commented.

"Hey, spiffy!" Regetti crowed, "da kid's right there, we din' even hafta search anywheres or nuffin!"

"Wait in the tunnel," Will whispered over his shoulder to Elizabeth.

"No- Will!" she hissed, but he was already on the move, stepping out into the open.

As the aqua moonlight hit him, the blacksmith's damaged flesh rotted and dissolved, curling back into dessicated strands, exposing bones and joints, and revealing the graveyard creature he'd become. Will snuck forward and to the side of the cluster of cursed pirates, seeing if he could catch sight of the skeleton boy-king.

Remarkable! Will thought, as he glanced out into the melee of sword-swinging, scrapping, dodging, beings. A centaur! Goblins! Actual goblins! Talking animals! Giant armadillo! Other odd creatures! Wer-wolf in a dress! Will shook his head slightly, wondering if it was all just a drunken mirage. Nope, still there. Will spotted a blue skirt and whirling brown hair- it was young Queen Lucy, swinging a broken lantern into the snout of a giant black snake. There were three other weapon-wielding young people near Lucy- a dark-haired lass in a red navy jacket, a sandy-haired boy in his teens, and a slightly taller, dark-haired boy with a metal glove, and a wiry skeleton, all desperately fighting off fairytale beasts.

"Oh gosh-" Lucy moaned suddenly, "I was so busy organizing and prepping a big grand rescue party back at Cair Paravel, I forgot to actually tell them where to go. So we've got no backup. Argh, why am I so gosh-darn stupid sometimes!?"

"Hey, don't fret it, Lu," the skeleton zombie next to Lucy, who Will assumed must be Edmund, said brightly, "you couldn't have known the Witch would summon us right to her. I mean, who could predict that?"

Hey wait, I should help! Will thought suddenly, realizing he'd been too mesmerized watching the fight to realize there were children in danger. I should save them! Will rushed forward, sword in hand, bravely charging out to join the fight- but something hit into his ankle, and he tripped flat onto his ribcage and skull-face. There was a jingle of gold earrings, as the boot that tripped Will over him kicked him over onto his side, then someone was yanking him up to his feet by his arm. Oh right, the pirates, Will remembered too late, staring into Grapples ugly, hollow-eyed, nose-less skull. Urgh, stupid Grapple's got me pinned. Stupid new boyfriend of Elizabeth's. I hate him. Now the royal Narnian children are fighting that scary wer-wolf lady and those odd fairytale creatures all on their own, whilst I sulk and mope and fidget on the sidelines, wishing Grapple and his tree-trunk arms would drop dead.

"Found Turner, Captain!" Grapple exclaimed victoriously.

"Excellent, Deputy-commander," Barbossa replied. "Now William, lad, do be congenial, and do tell- where be that chit gov'nor's daughter what tags after ya?" he asked, glancing back at the tunnel.

"She was devoured by an aquatic jaguar," Will lied swiftly.

"Sure she were," Pintel scoffed.

"Tell me, Edmund, where did you find this new magic?" Will heard a purring voice rasp in the background, followed by a high-pitched yowl, shrieking, "Why won't you die!"

All eyes briefly turned back towards the battlefield.

The wer-woman was grabbing a chunk of king Edmund's black hair in her clawed fist, and plunging a sword through his chest at an upwards angle. "Reveal to me your secret to your undying corpsified state, and I may not turn you to stone," she rasped.

"Wow, you don't get an offer like that every day," Edmund retorted sarcastically, looking pretty darn exasperated.

"Yer ladyship," Barbossa interjected chivalrously, finally sauntering out towards the fight, "if I might be so bold as ta interject a note here- that there boy cannot die until we un-curse him."

While still gripping the back of Edmund's hair, and clutching the bloody hilt of the sword she was brutally running him through with, the wer-woman threw what seemed like her entire arsenal of sarcasm into three words, and said, "Explain, pitiful mortal."

"Oh, that's just it, milady," Barbossa countered, still pretending he was the master of pleasantry. "I'm not mortal, and neither be he."

"Who are you?" the wer-woman demanded in a voice like strychnine, cocking her fuzzy-eared head to the side as she stared Barbossa and his crew down. "Telmarines? Archenlanders?"

"Nay, milady, we hail from the other side of the veil."

"Ghosts?" the wer-woman accused sharply.

"If ya believe in ghost stories."

"Ardently," the wer-woman replied, smiling into Edmund's annoyed face. Glancing back with withering scrutiny at Barbossa, she rasped, "Cursed, you say?" she added, "And how, pray, do you mean to lift this boy's... curse?"

"All I need is his blood. A few drops'll do."

"All you require is his blood?" the wer-woman repeated in bewildered bemusement.

"Aye. Just his blood, and this coin," Barbossa explained, twirling the skull-faced medallion hung around his weather-scarred neck.

A dark smile glimmered around the corner of her canine mouth, as the wer-woman yanked the bloody sword out of Edmund's chest, and deftly tossed it to Barbossa.

Barbossa caught the sword expertly, yanked the tip through the thin, fragile, gold chain-links of his coin necklace, scraped the coin over the flat of the bloody blade with a long, flourished movement, and drops the coin. It twirled over itself twice, and landed in the wheelbarrow, in the chest.

Will became mortal again, he could feel again. He could feel everything, every gash, every scar, every stitch.

His mind couldn't take it.

Blackness was the best retreat.

As his face hit the fleecy, damp moss, the last thing Will heard was Elizabeth's screams.