Mai fumbled with the hilt of her rapier. Above her she heard the sound of metal swinging through air- her crewmates were not keen to lose another member either. While in a normal battle they would scarcely have given her second thought, this unusual threat had forced them to band together. A loss to the Dutchman was a loss felt by all. But their efforts were in vain. Their weapons hadn't been effective even when the skeletons were visible.
"Nothing we can do!" she could dimly hear Maccus shouting. "Legs, grab a rope and swing over to the Dutchman! Bring more grenades…"
The captain's frown deepened. He recalled something about different souls having different values to the ship. When he first started ferrying the dead, Calypso had explained to him that the ship drew strength from those it carried and the nature of their souls could affect it. She'd warned him that if his own soul were ever to be tainted, then the ship and everyone on it would feel the effect. And that had proved to be far too true…
She'd also said that the Flying Dutchman could host both corrupted souls and pure ones. Both were among the dead that he'd transported. But like a flower turning towards the sun, the ship would always reach for balance. Calypso had insisted that it was important for the Dutchman to have at least some pure souls on board, as they provided a different depth of power than the corrupted ones…
Davy felt a deep, unsettling mental vibration coming from the core of his ship. He tuned in, trying to decipher what the Dutchman was trying to tell him. It had been a long time since he'd had this sort of communication issue. But now something was holding him back from understanding.
Concentrating, he forced all of his own thoughts and emotions to the back of his mind and reached deeper into the Dutchman.
He felt the ship screaming with protest as Mai's soul was pried, inch by inch, from its grasp. The realization hit him like a tidal wave. His own hatred of the girl had made him blind to what the Dutchman had been trying to tell him all along. For years now the ship had been fuelled by corrupted souls only. The unexpected purity of Mai's soul had provided it with a different kind of power, like a fresh burst of clear water among all the mud. It had wolfed up the girl's soul eagerly, firmly setting her amongst its foundations. Despite all it had been tainted by over the years, the ship was still naturally inclined to seek balance. So losing her soul now would be a huge upset to the ship's already fragile equilibrium. Davy could not afford to let his vessel suffer such a blow.
Mai could no longer see anything. Or feel anything. There was only the cold. Only the ice that gnawed at her bones. It was as if her insides had frozen solid. Her lungs ached as though each breath caused icicles within them to break.
The ice was spreading. The seconds seemed to stretch into hours, though she'd only been in the skeleton's grip for a few moments. A void seemed to open in her arm, at the point of contact between her and the skeleton. The feeling spread until even the cold began to fade away. Mai was suddenly very aware of how the numbness crawled up her limbs and sunk into her spine. This empty nothingness spreading through her body was even worse than the cold; it was the void of death. Her very life force was falling through that gap, being channelled into the unnatural bony fingers that gripped her arms.
The crewmen were scrambling to find an intact line with which they could swing over to the Dutchman. Most of the ropes crumbled to dust within their hands. Suddenly Davy Jones materialized in the middle of the deck next to Mai and the two invisible skeletons. Evidently, the barriers preventing his crewmen from teleporting weren't powerful enough to work on him.
Two pointed grenades rested in the captain's hand. Like Wyvern, he did not throw, but rather swung his arm around until the business ends of the explosives came into contact with one of the invisible skeletons. With a loud explosion, a cloud of bone-dust rose up to obscure the scene. The crewmen, frozen, stared at it in shock. But as the air cleared it became evident the blast had not affected Davy like it did Wyvern. In fact, his throwing arm was no worse for wear and he had swiftly retrieved another grenade from his pocket.
The second skeleton had been knocked back by the shock wave of the double blast, releasing Mai. Still invisible, it ducked under Davy's arm and seized his shoulders.
It felt as if he'd just crashed into an iceberg. Wave upon wave of paralysing, bitter cold emanated from where the skeleton gripped him. Davy was acutely aware of it draining him. Not his life force, but his power. Around him, the crewmen began to collapse. Jimmylegs fell to the ground clutching his chest. He could barely breathe. Maccus was down as well, suddenly too weak to move. Mai lay where she had fallen, the pallor in her cheeks rising.
The timbers holding the Dutchman's hull together snapped one by one. The ship tilted onto its side and began to sink.
Davy fumbled in his pocket for another grenade. With the last of his strength, he grabbed one and smashed it into the skeleton. Another explosion resonated throughout the ship. His head cleared almost instantly; the captain irritably brushed the bone fragments from his jacket.
Around him, his crewmen began to stir groggily. Davy looked past them, at his ship. The Dutchman had stopped sinking, but it still lay on its side, half-covered by water. He frowned; his ship was so weakened by all the souls lost that it could not right itself. The damage needed to be repaired manually.
Davy returned his gaze to the skeletons' ship. If it was indeed powered by Zambia, then her power would have some sort of physical anchor. He just had to find it. Then, perhaps, he could use it to repair the Dutchman.
He stepped over Mai and headed into the hold. It seemed like the logical place to look. And indeed, Davy could feel a peculiar sort of humming coming from the bottom of the ship. It got stronger with every step that he took down the stairs. By the time he got to the end, the entire floor seemed to vibrate beneath him.
But his search of the hold ended up yielding nothing.
He stopped. Something wasn't quite right here. The hold was empty, yet he could clearly sense a source of power nearby. Davy walked back towards the starboard side, stopping at the spot where he could feel it most clearly. An image came to mind from the battle between the ships, of how a blow from his triple guns had torn a huge hole in the enemy's hull. But water was not filling it as it naturally should; it was being repelled by something.
"Of course…" Davy muttered. He slid his sword from his sheath.
Maccus raised his head. Everything still seemed fuzzy and his head spun as he struggled to his feet. Through a daze he'd seen Davy walk down to the hold, and this was where the first mate went now, still tripping over his own feet as he went down the stairs. There were unsteady footfalls behind him; Mai had also risen and was following him down.
They arrived just in time to see their captain plunge his sword through the floor.
"What on earth-?" Mai decided that she was probably hallucinating. Why would Davy try to sink this ship when the Dutchman itself was half-sunk?
"C-captain?" Maccus stammered.
"What?" Davy turned to them irritably. "Can't ye see that I'm in the middle of something-uh?"
"The Dutchman is sinking, sir."
"I'm aware of that. Now get back out there, first mate! Grab the crew and take them back to the ship. Gather anyone who fell overboard when the Dutchman started to sink."
"Er…" Maccus was about to comment on the obvious problem of boarding and operating a sinking ship but thought better of it. "Aye, captain." He turned and stumbled up the stairs. Mai followed him, but stopped at the top and crouched down. She wanted to see what unusual plan Davy had in mind.
The captain did not notice her. He turned back to his broadsword, which was impaled in the wooden floor. He grabbed the hilt and pulled, slicing through the rotten wood easily. The blade carved a gap several feet wide.
Mai watched in awe. The hole went right through the hull, exposing the swirling sea beneath. But the water did not enter the hold. It frothed and writhed beneath Davy's sword, kept at bay by an invisible wall. Mai caught a glimpse of something glowing at the edge of the gap. As he cut away one last piece, the object came into view: wedged on the underside of the hull between the wood and the water was a glowing crystal. It shone with an eerie, unnatural light.
The captain extended his blade towards it. Mai tore her eyes away from the shimmering glow and got to her feet. Davy looked like he was going to cut it out and she realized that she did not want to be around when that happened; if the crystal was what was repelling the water, then the ship might start sinking once he removed it. As she headed out onto the deck and began searching for a line, Mai realized that she had seen that kind of glow before: the sphere on the island.
His broadsword connected with the crystal amidst a shower of sparks. With a jerk, Davy wrenched the crystal free and grabbed it with his crab claw. A torrent of water exploded into the hold, knocking him back. But Davy hardly noticed. He was looking at the crystal in his claw. There had not been any protective barriers on it, as Zambia assumed him to be dead. He felt the familiar aura of its power- a taste of what he had missed out on when she beat him to the sphere.
Davy tightened his hold on the crystal. He would still lay claim to that power- he just had to kill her first.
The deck lurched beneath Mai's feet. Her fingers almost slipping, she grabbed onto the rope and swung over to the Flying Dutchman. It lay on its side, its hull cracked. Crewmen were scattered about the ship- some on it, some in the water around it. Maccus was rounding up the men, throwing ropes to the ones overboard.
"I don't see how we're gettin' her out of this," said a gruff voice to her left. Mai turned to see Jimmylegs perched on the upturned hull next to Koleniko. "Ship's in no condition to sail and we're in no condition to be doin' serious repairs."
"Aye," said the coxswain. "But captain Jones raises sunken ships all the time. I don't think he'll have trouble with this. She's not even completely under."
"That's different," Maccus overheard the conversation and joined in. He spoke gloomily. "The cap'n has power over the sea, so he can raise ships that have been claimed by it. But the Dutchman hasn't been taken by the ocean, she's been damaged by those skeletal abominations destroying her souls."
Mai listened silently. That made sense- if Davy could fix the Dutchman that easily, he probably wouldn't resort to whatever it is he was doing with that crystal. She wondered what his plan was.
Davy teleported to the top of the sinking skeleton ship. Then he snapped the crystal with his claw. It shattered into many sparkling fragments, falling to the deck around him. Power flowed into him. He pulled it from the broken crystal with his will, sucking it into his soul. He channelled it through his connection to the Dutchman. Nothing could substitute for the souls his ship had lost, but the crystal's power should be enough to give it a boost and help it heal.
"In that case," said Jimmylegs. "Unless he can magically fix the hull and set her upright, she's not going anywhere…"
The words were hardly out of his mouth when the hull's broken timbers began to glow. With loud snaps, the shattered ends joined. Something was weaving the wooden fibers back together. A creaking moan rose up from the depths of the ship, but this time it was one of relief.
A large wave crashed into the Dutchman. Shouts of surprise came from the crew- the wave had come out of nowhere. It swept most of the crew overboard, but when it passed, the ship was floating right-side up again.
Davy appeared on his ship's deck. The majority of his crew was overboard, but the current here was weak so he was not concerned. He put a hand onto the Dutchman's railing. It needed to get more souls. And soon. Davy couldn't fight Zambia while his ship was in a weakened state.
"Maccus, gather the crew and set a north eastern course," Davy said to his first mate. Then he turned and walked to his cabin.
Koleniko looked cheerfully at Jimmylegs as they bobbed next to the Dutchman's newly-repaired hull. "You owe me a case of rum, Legs."
The bosun scowled. "Darn…"