UNCHARTED: Drake's Demise

UNCHARTED: Drake's Demise

Greetings, readers.  This story is set in the universe of the Uncharted video game series.  Though it does not feature the characters of those games, it does tell of the events leading up to the first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  However, a familiarity with the video game is not at all needed to fully enjoy and appreciate this story, though fans of the game will find some Easter Eggs hidden within the text.  I had a lot of fun writing this story, and I hope you enjoy it.  As always, feedback and comments are welcome and appreciated, positive, negative, or otherwise.  Thanks for reading!

 

UNCHARTED: Drake’s Demise

“Keep on ‘em, men!  Do not let those Spanish dogs escape!”

Standing at the helm of his beloved ship, Sir Francis Drake sailed with the skills and determination befitting the most seasoned veteran of the British Navy.  The Spanish galleon he now trailed was fast, faster than most, but was still no match for the legendary Golden Hind.  As the winds remained in his favor, Drake was easily able to keep his ship directly on course, constantly gaining ground on the Spaniards.  All the while, his men fired their cannons, peppering the water around the opposing ship with gunfire.

“Mr. Hawkins, report!” Drake called out, seeing their target slow.

“Direct hit, Captain!” John Hawkins replied.  “Their rudder has been disabled.  It shall not be long now!”

“Well done, First Mate!” Drake said with a smile.  “I’ll bring us alongside; prepare the boarding party!”

“Aye sir!”

Now closing the distance between the two ships, Drake could now make out the name of the ship they pursued: Esperanza.  He barked out orders to his crew, ensuring the broadside gunners were ready for the chaos that would certainly ensue in mere moments.  Still, he was not worried; these were strong, intelligent men, and this was far from their first plunder.  It was the primary means of employment for a privateer crew, after all.  Now approaching the Esperanza, Drake prepared for the impact of their retaliation.

“FIRE!!!” he shouted to his men.

Almost simultaneously, the two ships fired upon each other, inflicting heavy damage with their broadside shots.  Still, it became immediately clear that the Golden Hind possessed the superior firepower.  As the Spaniards struggled to defend against the assault of gunfire, Drake’s elite men assembled on deck, grappling hooks at the ready.  In near unison, the twelve sailors latched their hooks onto the opposing ship and swung over, taking the Spanish crew completely by surprise.  While ten of the men began tearing into the sailors spread across the deck, two of Drake’s men made immediately for the Esperanza’s mast, beginning to slice into it with a two-person saw.  After a minute or two, the structure began to creak and splinter, finally toppling down and landing partly on the Golden Hind, creating a bridge for Drake and the rest of his crew.  The English poured onto the ship, restraining the downed Spaniards in record time.  Finally, Sir Francis Drake himself boarded, approaching their prisoners.

“Greetings!  I am Sir Francis Drake, loyal servant of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.  Who among you is captain?”

“I.  Captain Alejandro Montoya,” said a man of about thirty.

The man and his crew seemed petrified with terror, as Drake’s reputation was feared throughout the oceans of the world.  After fifty-four years, he was easily the most successful privateer Queen Elizabeth had ever employed, which came as no surprise, considering the trouble he gave her navy in his days as a pirate.  Still, Drake was not without a soul, and always prided himself on granting mercy to his beaten opponents.

“Greetings, Captain Montoya.  I thank you for graciously allowing me permission to come aboard,” Drake said jovially, his crew laughing all the while.

“Cease your taunting, English scum,” Montoya seethed.  “You are here to kill us, so be done with it.  We go into the hands of God.”  Montoya and most of his crew bowed their heads and traced the cross with their hands.

“Very well.  Gentlemen, give ‘em the usual treatment!” Drake said to his crew.  Before they could react, Alejandro Montoya and his men found themselves bound and their faces blinded by burlap sacks.

*****

“Welcome to the Golden Hind, and my grand feast!” Drake said, removing the sack from Captain Montoya’s face.

“I… do not understand?” the man stammered.  He suddenly found himself cut free of his bonds and seated at a grand dining table with his top officers, a spread of succulent food adorning the table.

“Oh, my dear Captain Montoya, I may be a privateer bent on looting you of your treasure store, but we English remain civilized gentlemen, even to the Spanish,” Drake replied, taking a seat at the head of the table.  “After all, I have no desire to murder my fellow Christians in cold blood, even if you are Catholic.”  This elicited a murmur of laughter from Drake’s men guarding the room.

Smiling, Montoya replied, “That is exceedingly generous of you, El Draque.”  Raising a glass, Montoya indicated to his men to do the same, which they reluctantly did.  “I suppose I should thank you for granting my officers the courtesy of life, though I must also confirm the safety of the rest of my crew.”

“They are perfectly safe,” Drake answered.  “They got a bit rowdy, so we had to lock them in the brig, but they are all unharmed… well, at least the ones who survived our boarding, you understand.”

“Of course, of course.  Occupational hazard.”  Taking a sip of the delectable wine in front of him, Montoya realized now that Drake was indeed a man of exquisite taste.  “Sir Francis Drake, what will you do now?” he asked.  “We were followed not even a day prior by another of my countrymen’s ships.  You know they will find us, sooner or later.”

“And that is our full intent, Captain Montoya,” Drake replied.  “Once our feast has concluded, you and your crew shall be escorted back to the Esperanza.  Obviously, you will be unable to travel anywhere, what with that unfortunate accident involving your mast, but your countrymen should easily find you before long.  We shall leave you a week’s worth of food and supplies, just to be certain.  Now, as for your treasure, it shall be returning to England with me, for it is being loaded onto my ship as we speak.”

“Once a pirate, always a pirate,” Montoya mused.

“Privateer, if you please,” Drake corrected him.  “I am, of course, fully sanctioned by Her Majesty.”  Standing from his chair, Drake slowly walked the length of the table towards his honored guest, seated at the foot.  “Still, in all my years of sailing, I have long learned that, if a treasure is truly of the utmost importance… it is to be kept on one’s person, not in some treasure vault.  This, for instance.”

As Drake withdrew a piece of paper from his coat pocket, Montoya suddenly stood in anger.  “Where did you get that?!”

“From your coat pocket, of course.  Fascinating document, I must say.”

“Give it back!  That is for King Phillip’s eyes only!”  Montoya’s officers rose to back him, but were quickly silenced by the sound of Drake’s guards drawing their swords.

“Not anymore,” Drake replied calmly with a grin.  Placing the paper on the table and taking a seat next to Montoya, Drake began to inspect it, showing it to be a map of a portion of Brazil.  “I do not pretend to be an expert in translating your Spanish language, but I have picked up just enough over the years.  Of course, some words translate across all manner of tongues… such as this.”  Pointing at a spot on the map, it was accompanied by only two words.

El Dorado.

“You know not of which you speak,” Montoya sneered defiantly.  “I believe you are too confident in your translation capabilities.”

“Really?  Because, if I am not mistaken, this appears to be a map of the wilds of Brazil, leading to perhaps the greatest treasure the world has ever known: the mythical City of Gold.”

“Filthy English pig!” Montoya spat.  “You are unworthy of El Dorado!  We shall find it, for we are destined to rule this world!  God Himself has decreed it!”

“Ah… so you are saying that you have not yet found it?” Drake asked knowingly.

Montoya’s eyes went wide, his mouth wordlessly moving.  He knew he had given away their secret mission, not just to an Englishman, but also to the best sailor in the entire world.

“You needn’t say anything more, my good boy,” Drake assured him.  “It is now time for you and your crew to depart back to your ship.  My first mate, John Hawkins, shall escort you.”

*****

Sitting alone in his cabin, Francis excitedly worked in his journal, a small, leather-bound book.  Though unassuming, he had carried it throughout all of his journeys and noted all of his most incredible discoveries within it.  In truth, that book likely contained information on all of the most valuable secrets the world over, and it now included a map to the legendary El Dorado, sketched by Sir Francis Drake himself.  As he continued to study the map, a knock came at his door.

“Come.”

As the door opened, a man near Drake’s age entered, similar in appearance, though more balding.  “Good evening, Sir Francis.”

“Good evening, John.  Are we away?”

“Indeed we are, the Spaniards are safely back on their ship… or what’s left of it, anyway.  Damn, we did a number on it!”

“Splendid!  Now then, I think we should focus on this incredible discovery we have unearthed from Captain Montoya, don’t you?” Drake replied.

“Sir… as much as I would love to, we have been given strict orders from Her Majesty.  We are to return to England within a week’s time from now.  I have already instructed the helmsman as such,” John replied tentatively.

“Are you daft, man?!  We are on the verge of the discovery of a lifetime!” Drake replied, showing him the map.  “It is all laid out for us!”

“Be that as it may, Francis, we are short on supplies, and a mission of this sort would certainly require Her Majesty’s permission.  I wish to find El Dorado just as much as you do, but we must first return to England.”

“Meanwhile, those damned Spaniards remain one step ahead of us… but you are correct.  We will need Queen Elizabeth’s funding for an expedition of this magnitude.  Very well, keep our heading the same.”

“Aye, sir.  Goodnight, Francis,” John said, closing the door behind him as he left.

Alone once more, Francis sat alone with his thoughts, reminiscing to himself of his friend and cousin John Hawkins, likely the only man on Earth who could get away with speaking to Sir Francis Drake in such a manner without reproach.  They had been friends for almost their entire lives, both growing up in Devon, England, and had started their first pirate crew together, Drake as Captain and Hawkins as First Mate.  Since then, they had been inseparable.  As he thought, Francis twirled his favorite silver ring between his fingers, as he frequently did.  Though simple in appearance, it was one of his most treasured possessions, a gift from Her Majesty when he had returned from his circumnavigation of the globe in 1581, over fourteen years ago.  On that great day, he had been knighted, and Queen Elizabeth had presented him with the ring, inscribed with his life’s motto: Sic Parvis Magna.

“Greatness from small beginnings,” Francis said with a grin.  “Perhaps… that greatness is finally within my grasp.”

*****

“Certainly not, it is out of the question, Sir Francis!”

“Your Highness, do you realize what this is?  What we are so close to uncovering?”

“Realize what?” Queen Elizabeth replied.  “What true proof do you have other than a tiny map?  For all we know, the Spaniards are playing us for fools, tempting us with the legend of El Dorado, hoping we shall spend our time and resources chasing that which does not exist.”

“El Dorado does exist,” Francis insisted.  “I saw it in Captain Montoya’s eyes.”

“Which brings me to my second reason for denying your request.  The Spanish fleet is in disarray, thanks in no small part to your efforts, Sir Francis.  The Crown is eternally grateful to you for this.  As such, King Philip is exceedingly close to acquiescing to our demands of territory and trade, in the hopes of forming a peace treaty.  Such a peace would truly be the crowning achievement of my reign, forcing the Spanish to admit our superiority.  I’ll not squander that legacy on the phantoms you would have me chase.  This matter is closed, Sir Francis Drake.”

“I… understand, Your Majesty.”

“I am glad,” Queen Elizabeth said, her tone softening.  “I know we have had our differences through the years, and even still today.  However, know that there is not a sailor in the world I trust more than you.  I do have a mission for you, one of vital importance.  You must sail to the New World, and assail the Spanish fortress of San Juan de Puerto Rico.  It is one of their few remaining strongholds with ease of access to our burgeoning colonies, and driving them from that island would certainly back King Philip into a corner, forcing him to heed our demands.  Attack them there, and push their ships southward.  When you reach the coast of Panama, you will surely find a damaged ship that my spies have gotten word of.  Plunder it if you can, but most importantly of all, send those Spaniards scurrying back to their holes like rats.  Sir Francis Drake, the people of England are depending on you.”

“Yes, Your Highness.  I shall not fail.”

*****

One week later, Drake had arrived at his home in Plymouth, England.  As his primary port to the Atlantic, it was the natural place for him to lay his head during the times he was not at sea.  Those days would be spent rather quietly, reading books and spending time with his wife, Elizabeth.  She was an exceedingly kind woman, and very quiet, though this conservative exterior belied the sharp intellect contained within.  She was highly adept at debating all manner of philosophical topics with Francis, and though she was not as verbose as he typically was, she was no less successful in her assertions.

“You are leaving again soon, are you not?” she asked quietly, picking at the chicken on her plate.

With a small sigh, Francis replied, “Indeed.”

“Where are you off to this time?”

“The New World, once more.  Her Majesty believes it is time to drive the Spanish from San Juan once and for all.”

Eying her husband longingly, Elizabeth asked, “And what does Sir Francis Drake believe?”

With a laugh, he answered, “Officially?  I am her Majesty’s loyal servant.”

“And unofficially?”

“Her Majesty… has denied my request of the true mission I must embark on.”

“What mission is that, Francis?”

“I cannot say,” he replied.  “My entire crew and I have been sworn to silence, on pain of death, and all our records on the matter confiscated.  Still, I must say that I am… disappointed… by her inflexibility.”

“Dear, are you alright?” Elizabeth asked, staring into Francis’ eyes.  “You appear as though you have watched a loved one die.”

“I might as well have.  As a reminder not to disagree so forcefully, Her Majesty has… stripped the Golden Hind from me.”

“Can she do that?!”

“She is my queen, and my benefactor.  It is her right.  She will, of course, spare me the public shame, and state that my ship is to be moored at a place of honor in Deptford.  Still, I have sailed on my beloved Golden Hind for the last time.”

“I am so very sorry, Francis,” Elizabeth said softly.

After momentarily choking back a tear, Francis brightened up.  “But enough talk of unpleasantness.  I depart tomorrow for the New World, and I should like very much to spend one last pleasant evening in the arms of my true love.”

“I will love that very much too.  But please, Francis, you need not lie to me.  I know very well that your true love… shall always be your first love.”

Mary, Francis thought.

Elizabeth stood and walked over to her husband’s chair.  Kissing his forehead sweetly, she said, “Forgive me, I did not mean to bring up more painful memories.  I simply wish you to always know that I bear you no ill will for loving her so.”

“Thank you, my dear,” Francis replied, kissing her lips tenderly.

Taking her hand, he led her up the stairs to their bedchambers, dimly lit by a pair of candles in the windows.  Elizabeth excused herself to her wardrobe, while Francis began to disrobe, tossing off his shirt, pants, and undergarments.  As he waited for his wife, no doubt prettying herself up, Francis stood next to his mirror inspecting what he saw.  For a man of fifty-four, he was still in excellent shape, thanks in no small part to his active life at sea.  His body was quite muscular, primarily in the legs and arms, and his light brown hair had begun to show some streaks of grey around his temples.  This, combined with his authoritative-looking beard gave him a look that could only be described as “commanding.”

Francis soon felt the presence of his wife approaching behind him.  Elizabeth slid her arms around his waist, massaging his skin with her soft, supple hands.  He turned as she did so, facing his wife and wrapping her in his arms.  After several long moments, he stepped back to admire her lovely naked form.  Though short, Elizabeth was wonderfully shaped, with curvy hips and beautifully firm breasts highlighting her petite frame.  Her skin was white as snow, and her lips a natural shade of pink, even with no makeup.  Kissing her tenderly, Francis gazed into her soft, brown eyes, framed by her raven hair, and could hardly believe that a woman of such beauty could be thirty-three years of age.

Elizabeth grinned at her husband’s admirations, kissing his hand sweetly as he took her in.  Turning her back to him, she threw a sweet smile over her shoulder as she walked towards their bed, her glorious posterior jiggling with every step she took.  Francis followed her, cupping her ass cheek playfully as she hopped onto the bed.  As she rolled onto her back, Francis was right behind her, gently placing his weight on top of her, his hardening member pressing against her thigh.

“Why, Sir Francis, are you becoming aroused by me?” she asked in mock surprise.

“It is a symptom of life on the seas, my dear lady,” he played along.  “I do not see beautiful women all that often, so opportunity must be taken when presented.”

“Oh, my!  You think I am beautiful?”

Kissing her longingly, Francis finally replied, “No.”  Seeing her confusion, he continued, “I know you to be… divine.”

Elizabeth felt the familiar swooning her husband managed to send through her heart once more.  “Ah… my mother always warned me to be wary of silver-tongued sailors.  But then, she also wanted me to become a nun, so what does that old girl know, God rest her soul.”

“I shall show you a silver tongue,” Francis said with a chuckle.

He immediately began to attack her neck, coating Elizabeth’s soft skin with his kisses.  Beginning high, around her jawline, he slowly worked his way down to her shoulders, her upper chest, and finally to her breasts.  She began to squirm as Francis began to tweak her hard nipples with his tongue, resulting in him gently pinning her arms to the bed by the wrists.  This, in turn, only heightened her sensations and moans of pleasure.  As Francis could begin to smell the delightful aroma of her womanhood becoming ready for him, he finally released her and aligned his face with hers once more.

“Ohhhhhh yesssss…” Francis hissed as he slipped his length into her beckoning tunnel.

Elizabeth gasped in genuine surprise; with her husband often away at sea, she sometimes forgot just how much she loved feeling him inside of her.  Spreading her legs a bit more, she gave him the room he needed to fully engulf his appendage within her.  As he began to slowly thrust, her juices squished and seeped out of her entrance, filling the room with their scent.

“I love you… Francis,” Elizabeth panted.

“And I you, Elizabeth.”

They made love for what seemed like years, each not wanting the night to end.  As Francis grew weary, Elizabeth took her turn to straddle him, playfully running her fingers along his strong chest all the while.  She began her pace slowly, just as he had with her, but soon found that she was unable to hold back her passions, and allowed them to break free.  Elizabeth rode him like a woman possessed, for she knew not when they would be together again.

As her unbridled passions increased, Elizabeth removed herself from on top of Francis and began begging her husband to take her from behind.  Francis had occasionally seen this side of his wife, but it never got old.  She was a true lady for all the world to see, yet a complete temptress for his eyes only.  Standing beside their bed, he bent her over and thrust his length back inside her slick tunnel.  As he continued to love her, Francis had a perfect view of her magnificent backside, watching it jiggle every which way as his thrusting became more frenzied.  Wrapping his hands around her slim waist, Francis began to pound her for everything he was worth, feeling his climax fast approaching.  He plunged deep into her womanhood, his throbbing member near bursting, and finally thrust his last as he expelled his seed into her womb, their cries of pleasure echoing throughout the room.

Collapsing together on the bed, the couple lazily cuddled together throughout the night, dozing in and out of consciousness.  Francis savored the warmth of Elizabeth’s supple skin, and she the strength of his powerful body.  As the sun finally began to rise in the distance, she laid her head on his chest, sighing contentedly.

“You will have to leave soon,” she said softly.

“Yes,” he said with slight resignation.

“When… will I see you again?”

Francis kissed his wife’s forehead, replying, “Elizabeth… I do not believe we will see each other again.  Though perhaps, you can expect some correspondence from our mutual friend, Mr. Francis James.”

“So… you will do what you must, then?”

“Indeed.  John is in agreement.”

“Then see it through, until it be thoroughly completed, my love.  That yields the true glory, after all.”

Laughing, Francis replied, “You have been reading my writings again!”

“But of course!  They are my greatest comfort while you are away.”

Rolling out of bed, Francis began to dress for the day, retrieving his sailor’s uniform from his wardrobe.  The rest of his clothes were already onboard his new ship in the harbor.

“Francis, if we do not see each other again until we are beyond the gates of Heaven, I do wish you to know that I have but one regret.  I… am so sorry that I was unable to give you any heirs,” Elizabeth said from the bed.

Pausing, Francis gave her a warm smile.  “Do not fret over it, my dear.  After all, poor Mary was barren as well, God rest her soul.  Perhaps it simply is not God’s will for my line to continue.”  Sitting beside her, he continued, “Still, this does bring about an excellent point I wish to make.  I wish for you to have no regrets from this day forward.  If we are never reunited, my only desire for you is to find love once more, as I have with you.  Promise me, Elizabeth.”

Smiling into her husband’s eyes, she replied, “I promise, Francis.”

*****

The wind at his back, the spray of ocean water in his face; it was a true blessing for Sir Francis Drake to be back at sea.  His new ship, the Pelican, was quite impressive, being named for the Golden Hind’s original name.  It was nothing compared to its predecessor in his mind, but truthfully, Drake loved the sea itself far more than any individual ship.

“How does she feel, Captain?”

“Quite right, John, quite right,” Drake replied.  “Even with our beloved Golden Hind moored, it is wonderful to be on the ocean once more.”

“Could not agree with ye more, Sir Francis,” John said, joining him at the bow of their galleon.  Lowering his voice, he asked, “Are you certain of the plan?  You believe it will work?”

“Without a doubt,” Francis replied with a grin.  “I have arranged for false news reports to circulate through Europe of a supposed bout of Dysentery that I am battling.  This, combined with the fierce resistance we will endure at San Juan will make reports of my demise exceedingly believable.  Finally, look here.”

Francis showed John his favorite ring.  Taking it in his hand, John now noticed that there were additional engravings next to Drake’s motto.  “What are these numbers?” he asked.

“Nautical coordinates, off the coast of Panama,” Francis said.  “Once my demise has been completed, those coordinates will be our hiding spot for anything we discover of value in our race against the Spaniards.  Also, do you notice the remaining part of plain silver in the band?”

“I do.”

“Once we complete the deception, we shall engrave that section with the date after my supposed death, the beginning of my life anew.”

Shaking his head, John marveled at his friend’s cunning.  “You are certainly a crafty old devil.”

“Am I?  Then what does that make you?” Francis shot back in laughter.

“The devil’s spawn, most likely,” John conceded.

“You may well be right about that, my old friend.”  Lowering his voice, Francis asked, “Now as to our other matter of business… did you manage to procure it?”

Sighing, John replied, “It was quite a feat, and I had to go through much of my fortune to facilitate the necessary bribes, but… here it is.”  From within his jacket, he withdrew a small, leather journal, lifted from the secure archives of Queen Elizabeth herself.

“Excellent.  Thank you very much, John,” Francis replied, taking his journal in hand.  “Once we disappear from Her Majesty’s wandering eye, the treasure we find shall compensate you ten-fold, that I promise you.”

As they sailed on, Francis turned about in every direction, inspecting the fleet he now commanded.  Twenty-seven ships strong, it would surely be more than enough to lay siege to any Spanish fortress.  Of course, Sir Francis Drake had other plans…

*****

“We’re hit!  Damage report!” John bellowed.

“A direct broadside, sir,” a crewman responded.  “Deck two, starboard side.  I believe that… the captain was on that level.”

“Oh, Christ!  I’ll go and fetch him, just stay on the guns!” John ordered as he bounded down the stairs.

Though Drake’s fleet was an impressive show of English might, the Spanish had fought against the grizzled privateer for decades now, and were able to better anticipate his tactics.  Thus, the siege at San Juan did not progress well for the English; most captains of the other ships believed that retreat was eminent.

“Captain?!  Captain, are you here?!” John called out, reaching the lower deck.

“I am fine, John,” Drake replied, picking himself up from the floor.  “Our fair Pelican, however, is not so fine.”

The pair immediately inspected the enormous hole now blown in the ship’s hull.  Thankfully, the hit had been high enough that the ship did not risk taking on water, provided it evaded further damage.

“What are your orders, sir?”

Sighing, Francis replied, “Signal retreat.”

“Right.”  Shouting up the stairs to the crew, John said, “Send word to the helmsman: we retreat at once!”

“John, I believe this broadside provides us the prime opportunity to put our plan into action, do you agree?” Francis mused.

“Francis, you are a bloody genius!  Ok, are you ready?”

“I am.  Do you have what we require?”

“Kept it on my person, ready at a moment’s notice,” John replied.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a pouch full of animal blood of some sort.  Moving Francis to sit on the floor, John began to apply the blood to his limbs, giving him the appearance of sustaining a grave injury from the broadside.  “Alright, that should do it.  Now, let us get you to your cabin.”

Wrapping his arm around his shoulder, John drug Francis up the stairs and to the main deck.  The crew were immediately worried for the captain, but they were waved off and instructed to continue with their duties.  Along the way, Francis gave a few moans and groans of pain, further convincing the crew of his injuries.  Finally arriving, John locked the door behind them and sat Francis in his desk chair.

“Well, well, you are one convincing actor, my friend!”

Chuckling, Francis replied, “It is necessary.  As we retreat and pursue the small group of ships that escaped towards Panama, news will spread that the Pelican is heavily damaged and the legendary Sir Francis Drake may well be near death, battling his injuries and his worsening bout of Dysentery.”

“Very good, sir.  Rest up.  I shall keep the crew engaged and set our bearings.”

Returning to the deck, John informed the crew of the captain’s temporary incapacitation, and instructed the helmsman to bear south, chasing after the fleeing Spanish ships.  The remaining ten ships of the fleet followed suit, though they were heavily damaged and had difficulty keeping up.  For nearly four weeks they pursued the Spaniards, though never managing to catch up completely.  Finally, as they neared Panama, a dense fog blanketed the seas as the fleet sailed into the night.  Most of the ships slowed and clustered together in waiting for conditions to change, but the Pelican pressed on, as John Hawkins knew that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for.

“All hands on deck!” Hawkins ordered.  Addressing the assembled crew, he spoke with authority.  “As you well know, our captain’s condition has worsened in the days since the Battle of San Juan.  I have just visited him in his chambers… he spoke to me of all of you, admiring your courage and resolve.  With his final breath, he wished me to convey to you that sailing the seas with this fine group of men has been the greatest adventure he could have ever hoped for.”

The crew immediately dropped to their knees, bowing their heads and reciting prayers for Sir Francis Drake and his immortal soul.

“Tomorrow morning we reach Panama,” Hawkins continued.  “There, we shall drop anchor and pay tribute to our fallen captain.  He shall be buried beneath the waves, and become one with the seas he so loved.”

The next day, the Pelican dropped anchor off the coast of Panama, just as John Hawkins instructed.  The shrouded body was brought out, weighted down with large stones, and tossed into the seas.  All the crew mourned their fallen captain, and prayed that his courage would remain with them.

“Weigh anchor.  Set our course southward,” Hawkins instructed.

“Sir?  What of the fleet?” the helmsman asked.

“Weigh anchor.  Set our course southward.  Full sail.”

“Aye… aye, sir.”

Confused as to the instructions, the helmsman did as he was told and directed the ship southward, intentionally avoiding the multitude of Spanish ships along the way, as per John Hawkins’ instructions.  As they found themselves alone at sea once more, most of the crew began to wonder amongst themselves the reason for their change in course.

“Why indeed?” a voice asked jovially.

Looking up, the crew thought they were in the presence of a spirit, as it appeared that Sir Francis Drake now stood before them on the deck.

“Do not be alarmed, gentlemen, for I am no specter,” Drake assured them.  “I am very sorry to have deceived you, but it was necessary for the world to think me dead.  We are no longer privateers, gentlemen, for we now sail on a mission unsanctioned by Her Majesty.  We make way for the wilds of Brazil, whereupon we shall follow a map I acquired from the Spaniards.  This map will lead us… to El Dorado.”

The crew gasped in amazement at the mention of the mythical City of Gold.

“You now understand, gentlemen, why my deception was necessary.  Such a treasure would truly tip the balance in the world, either for England or for Spain.  We must endeavor that England finds the treasure first, lest your children and grandchildren fall under the thumb of King Philip.  From this moment forward, the entire crew of the Pelican is to be considered dead, lost at sea.  This will give us the element of surprise we need in order to best the Spaniards.  Are you ready, men?  We sail for Brazil!”

*****

For hours, Drake, Hawkins, and a team of five crewmen hacked their way through the dense jungles of Brazil.  They had found nothing so far, despite everything the map said, and some of the men were beginning to grumble.  However, Drake refused to give up.  Clad in his best battle armor, he was prepared for anything that could be thrown at them, be it by the Spanish or the jungle itself.  Just as the men were beginning to strongly protest and beg to head back to the ship to resupply, the group finally reached a clearing containing a cluster of ancient stone pillars and the entrance to a temple of some sort.

“Ye of little faith,” Drake said jovially to his men, who immediately apologized for doubting him.

“Let us see what secrets are hidden here,” John said with anticipation.

The crew entered the temple doors with swords at the ready, expecting to encounter heavy resistance.  Instead, they found nothing but an empty room and some dead Spanish soldiers.  Drake immediately began to inspect the bodies.

“John, look at this.  These men were not killed by sword; they seem to have been mauled by an animal of some sort.”

“The jungle is a dangerous place,” John mused, his stomach turning from the gruesome sight before them.

“Indeed… let us keep moving,” Francis agreed.

Continuing to explore the temple, the explorers found it to be incredibly advanced in technology, considering that it had to have been built centuries before.  Each room they entered appeared to be a dead-end, yet a mechanism or puzzle of some sort always revealed a secret exit.  In one such room, a large brazier had to be lit with a torch, revealing a false wall.  In another, four strange symbols adorned the walls, and, when pushed in the correct order, opened a pathway in the floor.  In every instance, Francis made detailed notes in his journal.  Still, as impressive as the temple was, it was far from the golden city the English had envisioned.

“Francis, I do not know what you expected to find here, but we have yet to see any sign of treasure,” John said as they entered another empty room.

“Ah ha!  John, come look at this!” Francis called from the other side of the room.  “Look here, this indention in the wall appeared to hold something quite large… until very recently.”

“Amazing… oh my, look here, on the ground.  This residue, it appears to be… gold!” John exclaimed.

Inspecting the carvings on the wall, Francis said, “It appears that this temple was built around a statue that stood here… but why?”  Racking his brain, Francis finally remembered one of his Spanish translation studies.  “Of course!  ‘El Dorado’ is most commonly referred to as the City of Gold, but there are other translations as well.  One of which is ‘The Golden Man’.  The statue that stood here, it must be El Dorado!”

“Based on this gold dust, I believe you may be right, my friend,” John agreed.

“Sir!  We found tracks, and an exit!” one of the crewmen said.

Inspecting the area his crew had found, Francis immediately saw what the Spaniards had done.  “It seems they removed the El Dorado statue from this place, drug it out on logs.  They must have another ship moored through here.  Gentlemen, follow me!”

The team followed the tracks, ending back up in the jungle.  Passing by a magnificent waterfall, they soon found themselves traveling downhill, back towards the shoreline.  Finally, they reached a beach, still littered with Spanish supplies, along with an entire crew of dead bodies.

“My God… what the bloody hell happened here?” John wondered.

“A massacre,” Francis replied.

The group inspected the area, looking for any clue as to the whereabouts of El Dorado, yet seemed to find none.  The bodies of the Spanish soldiers were, like the ones found in the temple, mauled and torn, apparently by a wild beast.

“I can understand the men in the temple being ripped apart, for they may have accidentally stumbled upon an animal’s lair,” John observed.  “This, however, defies explanation.  These men were elite Spanish soldiers, and would certainly have been able to defend themselves from wild animals when out in the open like this.  Do you think they were attacked by a pack?”

“Doubtful,” Francis replied.  “No tracks save for the human footprints left by us and the Spaniards.  Perhaps their commander will be able to lend us some aid.”

Approaching the most heavily decorated body, Francis began to inspect his pockets, finally procuring a folded piece of paper from within the breast of his jacket.  Opening it, Francis was amazed to see that it was a map of an island, perhaps a secret colony completely unknown to the English.

“John, I know where it is.  I know where they have taken El Dorado.”

“Where?!”

“Here, to this island,” Francis said excitedly, showing him the map.  “There appear to be coordinates at the top of the page.  Can you decipher them?”

“Absolutely, once we are back on the Pelican,” John replied.

“Then we’ve not a moment to lose,” Francis said with a smile.

*****

February 15th, 1597

My Dear Elizabeth,

News recently reached me, however belated, of the death of your husband, Sir Francis Drake.  I wish to express my deepest sorrow for your loss.  I have met your husband on a few occasions, as you are well aware.  We spoke at length about his past adventures and his hopes for the future.  He once told me of a wonderful dream he had of exploring the wilds of Brazil and finding a map leading to a legendary treasure.  From there, he would circle around the tip of South America and travel up the coast, whereupon he would send word to you of his journey before sailing into the Pacific Ocean, bound for an uncharted island containing immeasurable wealth.  But alas, it was merely a dream.  He had many wonderful adventures in his years on Earth, but it seems that the one he described to me is meant for another life.  I do hope you will take great care of yourself, my dear lady, and that you find support in the arms of your friends and family in these trying times.

Most sincerely yours, F. James.

*****

“Are we ready to depart?” Francis asked.

“Very nearly,” John replied.  “One boat is returning from town as we speak.”

“They did take my letter to be mailed, yes?”

“Of course.  It will take some time to reach even our colonies on the other side of the continent, but it shall be delivered.”

Once the final lifeboat had returned from shore, the Pelican shoved off from the western coast of the New World, making way for the Pacific Ocean.  Their journey was extremely perilous, as they were sailing for an uncharted island, relying only on the coordinates from the map Drake had found in Brazil.  In addition, none of the known islands along their route were near enough to the coordinates to be of any help, forcing the explorers to rely primarily on the stars to keep their bearings.  Though their progress was slow and methodical, as would be the case for any ship attempting to cross the Pacific Ocean on its own, they finally began to near the location indicated on the map.

“How close would you say we are, John?” Francis asked.

“We should be in the area within a day or two, I would wager.”

“CAPTAIN!  SMOKE ON THE WATER, STARBOARD BOW!” came a yell from the crow’s nest.

Rushing to the front of the ship, Francis drew his spyglass and peered out over the waters.  Confirming a cloud of smoke in the distance, he indicated for his helmsman to approach the area.  As they drew close, it became clear from the markings on the vessel that the smoke was billowing from the wreckage of a recently attacked English ship.

“Ready the lifeboats, men!” Francis commanded.  “There may yet be survivors, as this carnage appears quite recent.”

A pair of lifeboats began to be lowered into the water.  Francis decided to accompany his men to the wreckage, while John stayed behind to ready the medical supplies for any injured they might find.  As they approached the wreckage, the men cursed in disgust at seeing the damage the done.  At first it appeared that none could have survived, but Francis soon spied a figure floating amongst the debris, clinging to a piece of the mast.

“There!  Man overboard!” he shouted, pointing to the survivor.  The lifeboat immediately made for the debris, and Francis could now see that this survivor was a woman.  “Hang on, young lady!  We are here to rescue you!”

“Thank… God…” she managed to croak as the men approached, but her strength was rapidly failing her, as Francis could tell.

“Hurry, or the ocean will take her!” he urged his men.  One crewman, a boy of about twenty-three, immediately dove from the lifeboat and started towards her, showing his incredible swimming skill.

“I’ve got her!” he called back, helping the girl remain steady on the debris.

“Excellent work!  Stay there, we shall come to you!” Francis replied.  Finally, after fighting the waves for a minute more, they were able to drag the pair onto the lifeboat.

“Easy there, girl, easy,” Francis said reassuringly.  “She has passed out, but still breathing.  Get us back onboard at once; we must warm her up to save her life!”

The men rowed with such strength and determination, knowing that an innocent life depended on their actions.  Francis could not have been more proud of them and their efforts, as they reached the Pelican far more quickly than he could have hoped.  They were immediately pulled onboard, whereupon Francis turned his attentions to the young woman in his arms.

“John, a blanket at once!”

Francis immediately wrapped her in the wool sheet, drying her as best he could and trying desperately to keep her warm.  After several agonizing minutes, her eyes finally began to flutter open.

“Am… am I dead?” she heaved.

“No, young lady.  You are onboard the Pelican.  Can you tell us what happened?  Who are you?”

Sitting up slowly, she began to speak, “My name… is Cassandra Norrington.  My father, Richard Norrington, was captain of the Dauntless.  He… he had gotten word of a massive continent south and east of the East Indies, in uncharted waters.  But, as we explored, a gale force wind blew us well off course.  We were trying to correct, when… we encountered a Spanish vessel.”

“The Spaniards did this to you?” Francis asked.

“Yes.  They attacked with ferocity, and without warning.  They cared not who we were, and ignored all our pleas for quarter or parlay.  They… slaughtered the entire crew.  I only managed to survive by hiding in a secret chamber hidden in my father’s cabin.  When they blew the ship to pieces, that debris was all that remained.  I’ve been hanging on for several days now, just trying to stay near the wreckage in hopes of being rescued.”

“The ship that attacked you, do you know the name of it?”

Thinking a few moments, she finally replied, “The Esperanza.”

Swearing, Francis muttered, “Captain Alejandro Montoya… you heartless bastard.”  Turning his attentions back to the girl, he said, “Young lady, you need not be afraid any longer.  You now travel with the most feared sailors England has ever produced.  I am their captain, Sir Francis Drake.”

Sir Francis Drake?!” she exclaimed.  “But, we received word of your death!”

Chuckling, Francis replied, “A ruse, all to lull the Spaniards into a false sense of security.  Unfortunately, we will not be able to return you home until after our mission is complete, as we are tracking the Spanish to an uncharted island, on which we believe is a treasure of immeasurable value, one that would prove disastrous should King Philip get his hands on it.  For the time being, you are our honored guest, and my cabin is yours.”

“T-thank you… sir,” she said, still shivering a bit.

Seeing the sun begin to set on the horizon, Francis said, “It is late, and you need to regain your strength.  Come, to bed with you.”  No sooner had he finished speaking, and she had already passed out once more.

As he carried the girl in his arms, Francis could not help but admire her beauty, even in her disheveled state.  She appeared to be not much older than twenty, twenty-two at the very most.  Her blonde hair traveled past her shoulders and down her back, and would have been exceedingly luxurious, had it not been drenched by the Pacific.  Her gorgeous white skin was smooth and soft in spite of the harsh climate they had rescued her from, and possessed a slight tan, indicating that she was not a complete stranger to sailing.  This was not a surprise to Sir Francis, considering what she had told him of her father.

Her Father!

Francis suddenly grew concerned for the poor girl’s emotional state.  For all he knew, she was now an orphan, which would certainly hit her full force once she regained her strength.  To make matters worse, she now sailed with strangers, a crew of scallywags, though none would so much as dare to look at her with the explicit orders Francis planned to give.  Poor Cassandra had been through quite enough without the constant leers from his crew.

Arriving in his cabin, Francis was about to lay her down into bed when he realized just how wet her clothes were.  Torn between removing them to ensure she evaded sickness and leaving them on to remain a gentleman, Francis ultimately decided that she could not afford to become ill so far out at sea.  Her dress was already ripped in the back, and slid off without any effort at all, but her undergarments were quite heavy, still dripping with seawater, and it took a bit of working to untie them.  Finally, Francis managed to slip off the last of her garments, leaving her completely naked before him.  Averting his eyes, he instantly wrapped her back in the blanket and laid her on his bed, covering her and ensuring she was comfortable before departing, closing the door behind him.

“Now hear this!” Francis announced to his crew.  “I meant what I said when I told that girl that she is our honored guest.  Any of you who would so much as look at Cassandra Norrington lustfully, be assured that the only thrusting that shall come of it will be my cutlass thrusting into your bellies.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Aye, Captain!” the crew replied in unison.

“Excellent!  Now, back to work all of you, make preparations for nightfall.  Except… you,” Francis said, pointing at the young man from the lifeboat.

“M-me, sir?” the boy asked tentatively.

“Yes, you.  With me, please.”

The boy approached his captain, a look of fear and uncertainty in his eyes.

“What is your name, boy?” Francis asked.

“Fletcher Morgan, sir.”

Studying him a moment, Francis stuck out his hand, saying, “I wish to thank you for your courage earlier.  That was quite a daring rescue you made.”

“T-thank you, Captain,” Fletcher replied, shaking Francis’ hand.  His grip was surprisingly strong for one who had just been fished out of the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean.  Despite his meek demeanor, boyish face, and flowing brown hair, Francis could tell that this was a young man with incredible potential.

“Tell me, Fletcher.  If you were in charge of this crew, how would you handle a dispute amongst the men in the event of a quarrel over the division of our spoils?”

Thinking a moment, Fletcher replied with confidence, “First, I would admonish them for fighting amongst themselves over any matter.  Such petty actions are befitting of our Spanish rivals, not us.  We are English, and thus must endeavor to be the perennial gentlemen.  After that, I would remind them that any fears they have about the fair division of treasure amount to questioning the judgment of their captain, who in this scenario would be me.  I as captain have every reason to ensure that my crew is compensated fairly for their efforts, and any doubts as to that from the crew could be seen as an attempt at mutiny.  This would certainly remind them of the importance of our continued unity, for without it, we are surely marked for death at the hands of the Spaniards.”

“Quite right,” Francis said with a smile.  “I like you, Mr. Morgan.  I shall be keeping a close eye on you and your career, as I see it blossoming into wonderful things in the future.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“You are quite welcome.  Now, I hereby order you to retire below deck for the evening, take an extra helping of food at supper, and spend a relaxing evening regaining your strength.  God knows we shall need that strength once we reach this island… wherever it may be.”

“Aye, sir!” Fletcher replied, grinning as he turned and made his way below deck.

As Francis stood alone for a few moments, a low voice came from behind him.  “Very clever, Francis.  I can tell exactly what is in your head.  Second Mate material, yes?”

Chuckling, he replied, “You know me all to well, John.”

“Well, for what it is worth, I happen to agree with you.  The boy has tremendous leadership potential, and is highly respected amongst the crew.  When shall we make the announcement?”

“In the morning, for we should be close to our destination by then,” Francis answered.  “We will likely need a third authority figure for our expedition onto the island.  But for now, it is quite late, and I do not wish that poor girl to awaken alone.  I think I shall retire for the evening.  You have the ship, First Mate Hawkins.”

“Aye.  Good evening, Captain.”

Returning to his cabin, Francis was pleased to see that Cassandra was now sleeping peacefully.  Feeling her forehead momentarily, she had also begun to warm considerably, giving him additional comfort.  After changing into his sleeping clothes, he sat at his desk and lit a candle, flipping through his notes and sketches from his journal.  Studying each page at length, he suddenly remembered one of the books he had lifted from Montoya’s ship, and began perusing it.  Though much of it was information he already knew, one section on concealing treasure was of particular interest.  However, before he could investigate further, Cassandra suddenly gasped, scaring herself awake.

“W-where am I?!”

“Easy, my dear, do not panic.  You are onboard the Pelican, remember?”

“Of… of course.  Sir Francis Drake, yes?”

“Indeed.  How are you feeling, young lady?”

Breathing deeply, she replied, “Physically?  Much better, thank you.  Spiritually?  Lost… and confused.”

Moving his chair to sit next to the bed, Francis said, “It is only natural.  I cannot imagine the hurt you are experiencing, with the loss of your father.  Tell me, do you have family back home?”

“No,” she replied sadly.  “My mother died in childbirth, and I have no siblings.  Father and I went everywhere together.  He was… my world, and I his.”

“I am so sorry.  I did not know your father, but by the reverence you mention him with, I feel very certain that he now lives in a far better place, and that he and your mother have finally been reunited.”

Cassandra smiled for the first time all day.  “I very much like the thought of that.”  She shifted in bed, and suddenly realized that she was without clothes.  “Wait… what is this?!  Why am I naked?!”

“I apologize, Ms. Norrington, but it was necessary for your health.  Your clothes were soaking wet, and you would have certainly come down with an illness had you remained in them.  Please be assured that I did not gaze upon you; this I swear on my solemn honor.”

Eying him warily, she asked, “You swear?”

“On my life.”

A cheeky grin began to spread across her face.  “Well, as you are supposed to be dead, how strong an oath is that really, Sir Francis?”

Laughing, Francis said, “My, my, you are a sharp one.  I am glad that you seem to be in better spirits.  Do you wish to sleep more?  I can leave you in peace, if you so desire.”

“No, thank you.  I doubt I would be able to sleep for very long, what with today’s excitement.”  Glancing behind him, she saw Francis’ papers and books spread out on his desk, intriguing her.  “May I ask what you are working on?”

Somewhat surprised at her interest, Francis asked, “Would you like to see?”

“Absolutely!” she said with a radiant smile.  “One of my favorite pastimes as a little girl was reading of your adventures.  An experience such as this is truly beyond my wildest dreams.”

“Splendid!”  Standing, Francis first retrieved a silk robe from his closet, one that he had shared with several of his female guests over the years.  “Will this be comfortable for you?”

“I should think so, yes.  Thank you.”

Francis turned his attentions to his desk as Cassandra covered herself, soon hearing her pull a chair up next to his.

“Is this… your journal?” she asked in wonderment.

“Indeed it is.  All the most fantastic secrets I have encountered over the years are contained within this book.  The greatest secret of all is one that I only recently acquired, and from the Esperanza, no less.”  Turning to the map he had sketched, Francis watched as Cassandra excitedly began to inspect it.

“Incredible… it appears to be a section of Brazil.  Wait, does this say what I think it says?”

“Indeed, my dear Cassandra.  El Dorado.  We followed this map into the jungle, coming upon a great temple built centuries ago.  My men and I braved the treacherous traps and puzzles laden throughout the structure, until we finally discovered the room of El Dorado itself.”

“Was it a city of gold, as the legends describe?”

“Not precisely, no,” Francis explained.  “The term ‘El Dorado’ has several translations into English.  One translation describes it not as a city, but as an enormous golden statue.  Examining the place where we believe it was kept before the Spaniards took it, we estimated that said statue would be several hundred pounds of solid gold.”

“And that is why you chase the Spaniards into the Pacific?”

“Indeed.  During our Brazil expedition, we also found this map,” he replied, showing her the map of the uncharted island.  “It was held by a deceased Spanish officer, and we believe it is a secret colony that they are using to hide their greatest treasures from England.  These coordinates at the top are what we now follow to locate the island.”

“What will you do when you do locate the it?” Cassandra inquired.

“I am very glad you asked.”  Flipping through the book on his desk, Francis paused at a page and laid the book flat.  “This symbol, which appears to be a heart with a pair of keys crossing it, is a recurring symbol for the Spanish.  According to this book, it is used to mark the pathways to their treasure vaults.”

“Fascinating,” Cassandra marveled, examining the symbol.  “Would you mind if I sketched it in your journal?  I have some experience with drawings.”

“By all means.”

For the next several minutes, Cassandra carefully transferred every detail of the symbol into the journal.  Nothing was left out, and her sketch was not only accurate, but quite aesthetically pleasing as well, containing a few flourished pen strokes and some shading on the body of the image.

“Beautiful,” Francis said, examining her sketch.  “Such great care and accuracy… I must say, my dear, you have a true talent for-”

Before he could finish, Cassandra drew Francis’ face to hers and planted a strong kiss upon his lips.  She breathed heavily, her emotions fueled by raw passion and desire for the man she had admired ever since she was a child.  Finally, she withdrew, her cheeks flushed and her hands trembling.

“I… forgive me, please,” she managed to say, beginning to feel very ashamed.  “That was not my place, I don’t know what came over me.  I just… have always looked up to you and admired your courage.  I always dreamed of marrying a man like you.  Oh God, you must think me a whore now…”

As the girl began to sob, Francis stroked her blonde hair gently.  Now that it had dried, he could tell that it was indeed luxurious.  Tilting her face up with his hand, Francis said, “I certainly do not think you a whore.  You are beautiful, kind, and have a rather inquisitive streak about you.  If I may say so, you remind me so much of my Mary.”

“Mary?”

“My first wife, before her passing,” Francis said with a sad smile.  “Ah, she was a special one.  Beautiful and kind, just as you are, and oh how she loved to hear the tales of my adventures.  Some nights, we would stay awake constantly, conversing of the sights and experiences I encountered across this world.”

“She sounds wonderful,” Cassandra replied, kissing him sweetly on the cheek.

“Cassandra, please,” Francis cautioned.  “Your affections are incredibly flattering, however I fear that I would be taking undue advantage of you.”

“Sir Francis, fear not,” she answered.  “You saved my life today.  In my darkest hour, with my father and his crew dead, you appeared and fended off the cold grip of death.  As strange as it sounds, I feel as if I have known you my whole life, and I would gladly give myself to you, my savior.”

Cassandra again kissed Francis’ lips. This time her affections were more measured and deliberate, rather than raw and passionate.  As she explored his lips with hers, her fingers began to run through the man’s greying hair, traveling up the sides of his beard and to his head.  Francis was quite tentative at first and afraid of responding too powerfully, but slowly became more receptive to her adoration, beginning to kiss her back.  After several minutes, he felt her tongue probing at his lips, to which he allowed her entry.

Their tongues began to intertwine, and Cassandra sat in Francis’ lap to get better leverage on him.  He wrapped her tightly in his arms as they continued to savor each other, lightly stroking the small of her back.  Her breathing deepened in reply, and she began to involuntarily thrust her chest against him.  This, in turn, resulted in an awakening within Francis’ loins, which was immediately noticed by a very aroused Cassandra.

“Oh my, Sir Francis.  Did I do that to you?” she asked playfully.

“Well it certainly wasn’t my crew,” he replied with a grin.

Cassandra giggled sweetly and kissed his forehead once more before standing and making her way to the bed.  Facing Francis, she slowly untied the sash of her robe and slipped the silky garment over her shoulders, allowing it to fall to the floor.  Francis was in awe of her beauty.  Though life at sea was harsh, and practically any woman would be a welcome sight, he still recognized that Cassandra was easily the most stunning vision of loveliness he had ever encountered.  Her body was slim and fit, no doubt from her time spent sailing with her father.  The golden locks of her hair, though matted and rumpled from the ocean, framed her face brilliantly and extended down her back.  Gazing at her breasts, he could tell that they were firm and perky, not overly large, but likely the perfect size for his hands… or perhaps his mouth.  Francis made a mental note to conduct further investigation on this matter.

Joining Cassandra beside the bed, Francis discarded his sleep shirt and pants, leaving him completely bare before her.  He took her hand gently and lay on his back, inviting her to join him.  Sliding under the covers with him, Cassandra leisurely kissed his cheek and neck, running her hands down his chiseled chest and powerful arms.  She was taken a bit by surprise at how strong he seemed in his old age, and yet every time he touched her, he was always so gentle and tender.  Continuing her worshipping of his body, one of Cassandra’s hands slipped lower, tickling his balls slightly as she inspected his hardening appendage.

“Oh my,” she whispered before drawing back the covers to inspect it visually.  Francis was distinctly average in his size, extending about six to seven inches in length, but to Cassandra, he was absolutely perfect.  As she sat up and pressed her entrance against his head, Cassandra stopped momentarily, feeling a twinge of pain.

“Cassandra, you have never known man, have you?” Francis asked gently.  She only shook her head no in reply.  “Well then, there are a few things for you to remember, my dear.  The first and most important is that we can always cease our activities, even now.  I assure you that I will not be slighted or insulted.  Do you still wish to continue?”  Biting her lower lip with arousal, she nodded in the affirmative.  “Very well, then.  The second thing to remember is that there will be some pain.  However, the more wet you become, the more this pain should decrease.”

As he finished speaking, Francis slipped a finger down to her beckoning entrance, feeling that it was already quite slick.  Running his finger along her outer lips, Cassandra moaned with pleasure at his touch, her eyes rolling back in her head.  As he reached her clit, however, her eyes popped open again, and she gasped at the sudden wave of pleasure she felt.

“Oh, dear God!  That… is… amazing!” she heaved.

Francis could tell that she was becoming wetter by the second, both in feeling her stickiness and by its heavenly aroma.  He continued his flicking of her clit, while simultaneously slipping a finger down to her entrance, gently stretching it out a bit.  He surmised that this would make the initial penetration go easier as well; Lord knows this poor girl had experienced enough disappointment in her life.  After several minutes of this stimulation, Cassandra could stand no more.

“Francis… I need you… I need to make love to you,” she moaned.

“I am at your disposal, fair lady,” he said with a grin.

Placing her hands firmly on his strong chest, Cassandra once again moved her entrance to the head of his member.  She again felt the twinge of pain in pressing him against her, though it was substantially less this time, and she pressed onward, slowly beginning her descent down his length.  Though she did gasp at first, feeling her virginity rip, that sensation was soon replaced with a feeling of extreme arousal as her lover filled her up.  She paused about halfway down before returning back up, allowing her body to adjust to the welcome invasion, then reversed course to slowly take him in once more.  After another twenty seconds, she finally had managed to engulf his entire manhood.  Francis was nearly incoherent with pleasure, feeling her squeezing him in all the best ways.  She was exceptionally tight, as was befitting for a virgin, yet the look on her face indicated that the pain had dissipated; all he saw in her eyes was enjoyment and desire.

“What now?” Cassandra asked softly.

Grinning, Francis replied, “Whatever you wish.  Do as it feels natural to you; I shall enjoy every moment of it.”

Cassandra seemed hesitant at first, as she was working to figure out exactly what felt natural to her.  She first ground herself in circles, which was moderately pleasurable, though did little for Francis.  More success was found when she placed her hands firmly on his chest and began to rhythmically raise and lower herself from his member.  Cassandra’s tunnel immediately began to twitch and convulse at her movements as she explored every inch of Francis’ length.  Through it all, Francis was exceedingly kind and patient, never rushing her and only providing gentle advice when she asked for it.  Truthfully, it was an incredibly arousing experience for him, being able to watch a virgin dip her toes in the water, as it were, and slowly discover the joys of lovemaking.

All too soon, Cassandra was engulfed in her passions, flexing her legs to bounce smoothly atop Francis.  Her golden hair followed wherever she went, creating a stunningly erotic vision for him as she rode him.  She threw her head back in ecstasy, thrusting out her perky breasts in the process and causing them to jiggle with every movement she made.  This reminded Francis of his mental note from earlier.  Getting a wonderful idea, he tapped her shoulder to ask her to slow momentarily and propped his pillow up on the headboard behind him.  He gently slid back, sitting up straight against the headboard, and allowed Cassandra to mount him once more.  She immediately took a liking to this change in position, as she was now able to intimately kiss her lover all the while.  As she continued to grind against him, Francis lowered his face to begin his inspections of her wonderfully nubile chest.  Merely brushing his fingers lightly along her puffy nipples caused her to gasp in surprise and pleasure.

“My, we are sensitive, are we not?” he said with pride.

“Hah… oh, god… that… is… very nice…” she heaved in reply.

Determined to gauge just how sensitive she was, Francis took one of her nipples in his mouth, flicking it with his tongue as he suckled her.  Cassandra breathed in sharply, stunned by this new sensation, and immediately increased the ferocity of her grinding.  A strange new feeling accompanied this, almost as if her loins were going to explode.  A part of her was worried, but something told her that this was something to be embraced, not fought.  As she continued in her frenzy, Francis seemed to know exactly what was going on.

“Do not fight it, Cassandra,” he whispered.  “Women are able to experience the same wave of pleasure that men are, and I wish for you to have this feeling.”

His encouragement was all she needed.  Redoubling her efforts, Cassandra threw her arms around Francis’ neck as he continued worshipping her incredible breasts.  The more he pleasured her, the more passionately she loved on him, and the more passionately she loved on him, the closer both came to their final destinations.  Cassandra could soon feel Francis growing larger and harder within her slick tunnel.  As he then stopped suckling her and laid his head back with eyes closed, she surmised that he was experiencing the same feelings that she was.  Kissing his neck, she never once slowed her actions, and began to whisper into his ear.

“I cannot thank you enough… for saving my life.  You are so brave… so strong… I could not feel safer anywhere in the world than here.  I wish you to love me… I wish you to give me… all… your… love…”

Her words were driving Francis nearly insane, as evidenced by his increasingly labored breathing.  Gazing into her eyes, he spoke not a word, but nodded in affirmation.  Understanding his meaning, Cassandra placed her hands firmly on his shoulders and began to pound his manhood with every ounce of strength she had.  After merely a minute of this action, her body was finally rocked by the first orgasm the girl had ever experienced in her life.  She twitched, shook, and convulsed, savoring every moment of the wondrous sensation.  As her womanhood began to clinch, milking Francis in the process, her reactions finally triggered his climax.  He grunted and gripped the bed sheets tightly as he finally exploded, filling the girl’s womb with his hot seed.

The couple needed to say nothing in the moments following; their heavy breathing and gentle caresses said everything for them.  For quite some time, they simply relaxed in each other’s arms, lightly kissing and embracing every so often.  Finally feeling exhaustion approaching, Francis adjusted the pillow so that he could lie comfortably on his bed and took Cassandra in his arms, laying her head on his chest.  Within mere moments, both had passed into unconsciousness.

*****

Cassandra slowly awoke the next morning, finding herself alone in bed.  Though she was momentarily worried, her fears were soon quieted in seeing one of the doors in the cabin open.  Wrapping herself in a robe, she stepped through the door, finding herself on a private balcony overlooking the stern of the ship.  Francis stood at the railing, gazing out over the water.

“Good morning,” Cassandra said sweetly, moving to stand beside him.

“Good morning,” Francis replied, a hint of sadness in his voice.

Sensing his hesitation, she wrapped her arms around his waist.  “Are you alright, Francis?”

Sighing, he replied, “I… must apologize for my actions last night.  I behaved… most inappropriately.”

“What do you mean?  Francis, last night was wonderful!  You were so gentle, and loving-”

“Stop!  Please,” he interrupted.  “I am glad to know that I caused you no emotional distress.  However the fact remains that everything you had of value has been taken from you.  The Spaniards took from you your father, and his fortune.  But I… took from you the most valuable thing a woman possesses: her chastity.”

“Francis, I gave it freely… to you,” Cassandra said, trying to ease his mind.

“Be that as it may, I have still devalued you in the eyes of any potential suitor in the future.  It was incredibly selfish and shortsighted of me.”

“Are you saying… you do not wish me to stay with you?”  Stroking his hand gently, she continued, “Because if you will have me, nothing would please me more than to make you as happy as possible… for the rest of your days.”

“You are too kind, Cassandra.  As much as I would love that… it would not be fair to you.  After all, you deserve a husband who has not falsified his own death!”  She giggled sweetly at this.  “But really, Cassandra, you deserve a young, strong man to be your husband, one who can give you a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment.  As wonderful as last night was… I realize that I am not that man.”

“If you are certain…” she answered somberly.

Francis kissed her forehead, saying, “That, however, does not mean that I shall not endeavor to find you such a man.”

“You would do that for me?” she asked in surprise.

“But of course!  It is the least I can do, what with my actions last night.”

Kissing his lips sweetly, she replied, “It is no wonder that I never believed the many who would call you merely a pirate.”

“Privateer, my lady,” Francis said with a wink.  As they made their way back into the cabin proper, a knock came at Francis’ door.  Cassandra shuffled into the closet to dress while Francis moved to answer the door.

“Yes?”

“Good morning, Captain,” Fletcher said as the door opened.  “Mr. Hawkins wanted me to inform you that we are nearly on top of the coordinates indicated on the map.  We have three men aloft, spying for any sign of land.  You shall know the moment we know.”

“Excellent, Mr. Morgan.  Carry on, and I shall join you shortly.”

“Aye.”

After closing the door, Francis began to dress in his uniform, joining Cassandra in the closet.  She had chosen a sky-blue dress to wear for the day.

“Most beautiful,” Francis mused.

“Why thank you, Sir Francis.  I do believe it fits perfectly.  Did you know my size, or have you merely brought other beautiful women onboard?” she asked mischievously.

Chuckling, he replied, “A valiant effort, but it will take more than that, dear girl.  A good sailor never discloses the individuals with whom he shares his bed.”

“Individuals?  So that includes both women… and men?”

“Haha!  You are a crafty one, Cassandra!  Though for me personally, I can state with confidence that only women have shared my bed over the years.”

“That is not surprising to me.  Shall we go on deck?”

“Erm, no.  I actually think it best for you to remain in my cabin.  This island we are traveling towards is likely to be crawling with Spanish soldiers, and considering the great lengths they have gone through to keep this location hidden, I am anticipating heavy resistance.  I’ll not risk your safety, Cassandra.”

Sighing in both frustration and understanding, she replied, “Very well, Captain.”

Strapping on his armor, Francis said, “Do not fear.  When we go ashore, I shall leave behind some of my best men.  They will guard the ship, and you, with their lives.”

“Or suffer your wrath?”

“Precisely,” he grinned, heading out on deck.  As he glanced around, observing the crew working on their morning duties, he was soon greeted by his First Mate.

“Good morning, Francis.  I do hope you slept restfully last evening,” John said.

“Quite.  Now, what is our status Mr. Hawkins?”

“We are on top of the coordinates as we speak.  The three aloft are keeping an eye in all directions for any sign of land, but nothing so far.”

“LAND HO!  OFF THE PORT BOW!  LAND HO!” came an ear splitting scream.

“It seems I have perfect timing, John,” Francis mused.

“As per usual, my friend.”

As the ship adjusted course, Francis made his way to the bow, producing his spyglass to inspect their destination.  He at first wondered if this was the correct island, but a report from the crow’s nest indicating that no other land had been seen all morning, combined with John’s confidence in the coordinates quickly put his concerns at ease.  Turning his attention back to the ship, Francis blew his whistle, summoning the entire crew to the deck of the ship within minutes.  His instructions were brief, but clear.

“Gentlemen, within the hour we shall make landfall.  This island we approach is a complete mystery to us; we know not what awaits us there, but we are quite certain that it is where the Spaniards have taken El Dorado.  Expect extreme resistance from the moment they sight us, gentlemen.  As you will remember, each of you was assigned a platoon number when we first embarked from England.  You shall divide into these platoons for our landing.  I shall lead platoon one myself, and platoon two shall be lead by Mr. Hawkins.  Platoon four, lead by the helmsman, shall remain on the ship and will guard it, along with Miss Cassandra Norrington, with their lives.  As for platoon three, you men shall be lead by our Second Mate.”

The men rumbled momentarily, knowing that a Second Mate had never been appointed for this voyage.

“Patience, gentlemen, this is my next order of business,” Francis said, raising his hands to quiet the crew.  “Mr. Hawkins and I have been monitoring you men throughout our voyage, and have come to know your strengths and weaknesses intimately.  All of you are certainly men of courage and honor, but there is one among you who not only possesses such courage and honor, but also commands an immense respect from his fellow crewmen.  Such a natural leader cannot be overlooked.  As such, we are at this time awarding the position of Second Mate to Mr. Fletcher Morgan!”

The crew immediately erupted in cheers, congratulating Fletcher and patting him on the back in celebration.  The young man was blown away by the news, barely even able to speak as his friends gathered around him.  At their urging, he finally gathered the strength to step forward and shake the hand of Sir Francis Drake.  The veteran said nothing, simply smiling and nodding at the young man before motioning for him to join Mr. Hawkins to the side.

“Now then, this morning’s business is concluded.  You men shall now divide into your platoons and begin preparing your armor and weapons.  Platoon four shall continue the normal operations of the ship and make the cannons ready for any seafaring resistance we may encounter.  That is all, gentlemen.  Dismissed!”

As the crew immediately scattered to begin their assignments, Francis turned his attention to his officers.

“Congratulations, Mr. Morgan.  I know we shall be able to depend on you,” he said to his new Second Mate.

“Captain, this is truly an honor.  I swear that I will not let you down.”

“We know you will not,” John chimed in.  “Sir Francis and I have great faith in your potential, boy.  Believe in yourself, and these men will follow you without question.”

*****

An hour later, the Pelican was beginning its final approach to the Spanish island, guns at the ready.  Francis had located a fortress in his spyglass, and was certain that they would be under heavy fire.  However, even as they came close to the island, there seemed to be not a single defense to repel them.

“Mr. Hawkins, what do you make of this?” he asked.

“It is most peculiar,” John replied.  “There is clearly a fortress with all indications of being recently inhabited.  The cannons are strewn about the area in precisely the manner of an optimal defense, yet there is no crew.  Across the entire structure, I have not seen a single person whatsoever.”

“Peculiar indeed,” Francis mused.  “Keep an eye out, Mr. Hawkins.  There may be a trap of some sort waiting for us.  Still, we cannot pass up such an easy opportunity to establish ourselves on dry land.  Continue the approach.”

“Aye, sir.”

As they drew close to land, John’s observations held true, and the ship came under no resistance of any kind during its approach.  Finally dropping anchor, the crew readied the lifeboats to take them to shore.  Francis took the opportunity to analyze the fortress as his men rowed them from the ship, and noticed three clear entry points: the main gate, a high window to the side, and a tunnel underneath the structure.  As John and Fletcher were riding on either side of his boat, he signaled each of them to take one of the entries, John’s team the window and Fletcher’s the tunnel.  Francis himself would assail the main gate.  Gathering his men on shore upon arrival, they immediately made for the massive doors sealing the structure, preparing to batter them open.

“Hold here,” Francis said.  Inspecting the doors, he found that they were unsecured, and easily opened with the assistance of two of his men.

“Prepare yourselves, gentlemen, for this may be a trap,” Francis cautioned them, drawing his sword.

The group charged into the courtyard, preparing to lay waste to any Spaniards present, but was met with nothing but silence.  The entire courtyard was deserted, yet still contained various supplies strewn about, showing recent usage and inhabitance.  Francis mulled this sight in confusion until a voice from above broke his concentration.

“Francis!  Have you found anything?”

“Nothing here, Mr. Hawkins!” he called back.  “The entire fortress seems abandoned, and quite recently.”

“Aye, we found more of the same up top.  Come join us, we shall figure out our next move.”

“On my way!”

As the crew spread out throughout the fortress, looking for anything of value, Francis made his way into a nearby building to find the stairs to the upper level.  He soon found himself in a dining area, empty bowls and plates still sitting on the long table.  Confused once more, he drew his sword when he heard footsteps coming from the nearby stairway, but relaxed upon seeing that it was merely John.

“Easy there, Francis.  There are none here but us.”

“With all due respect, I shall believe that when Mr. Morgan reports in.”

“Aye, sir.  What do you make of all of this?” John asked.

“As to the abandoned fortress, I am as lost as you, my friend.  None of this makes any sense.  Yet, from the supplies we have discovered, it is clear that this is the correct island.  Further, for the Spaniards to build a fortress, there clearly must be something on this island worth protecting.”

“I agree.  We have a map of the island itself, though we should probably search for a vantage point to see better where everything is.”

“Ah, very good, John.  A moment, please, and I shall leave a message for Mr. Morgan to join us.”

Looking outside, Francis spied an ornate tower in the corner of the fortress, easily the highest point.  Returning to the dining room, he took his dagger from his belt and carved out a rough image of the tower, along with a message.

Fletcher, we have gone to the great tower.  I pray that you will meet us there.  Francis Drake.

As Francis and John departed, they climbed the large staircase leading up to the second level of the fortress.  Several more sets of stairs stood between them and the massive tower, but the climb seemed as nothing to the pair.  The experience of the incredible island they had found and the treasures that surely awaited them were more than enough motivation to stave off any weariness.  Finally reaching the tower, Francis brought out his spyglass, peering out over the edge.

“Fascinating… it appears that this island was inhabited by more than soldiers.  Look down below us, John.  There seems to be a thriving city down there, exactly the sort that a group of colonists would build, yes?”

“Indeed.  Most interesting, Francis.  It was built right along the bay, and it seems that the city leads directly to that grand building on the other side of the harbor.”

Adjusting his view, Francis found the building John had mentioned.  “Ah yes, quite an impressive structure.  Wide… with an enormous dome at the center.  It seems to be an administrative area of some sort.  But for what purpose?”

“Captain!  We found something!” a voice called from the stairs.

Absentmindedly dropping his spyglass in his excitement, Francis bounded down the steps to find Fletcher waiting for him at the bottom, a piece of paper in hand.

“What have you found, Mr. Morgan?”

“This, sir.  Orders for the guards in this fortress to move immediately to the Customs House in preparation for the arrival of a special shipment.”

“Special shipment?  That must be El Dorado!  Does it say anything else?” John inquired.

“Nothing more.  Only for all troops to make preparations to move without delay.”

“Very well, then.  It seems we have our next destination,” Francis said.  “The note mentions the Customs House, which I believe John and I were able to spy up at the top of this tower.  We will need to travel through a city along the bay to reach it first, so let us gather the crew.”

Before departing, Francis pulled all of his men together, totaling about sixty strong, and apprised them of their next move.  Fletcher’s platoon, minus Fletcher himself, was instructed to return to the lifeboats and bring them around to the other side of the bay, lest they needed them to make a quick escape.  The rest of the group then moved out enthusiastically, leaving the fortress behind them as the traversed to the city at the foot of the hills.  Along the way, the jungle scenery was quite exotic, yet no dangers appeared to threaten them.  Francis speculated that the Spanish had already driven off the most threatening of pests when they first arrived.  Soon, they arrived at the entrance to the Spanish colony.

The city, though not massive by any means, appeared to have been quite thriving very recently.  Yet, like the fortress before, the crew found it to be empty and abandoned, almost as if the colonists had fled on short notice from a threat of some sort.  As before, supplies were plentiful, strewn throughout the streets and shops as if it were a normal business day.

“Sir, far be it for me to question our mission, but are we certain that the Spanish did not abandon this island of their own accord?” Fletcher asked.  “After all, it would not surprise me if the soldiers immediately departed with the El Dorado statue upon its arrival to transport it back to Spain.”

“I understand your concern, Mr. Morgan, but there are two flaws in your theory,” Francis replied.  “First, if the Spanish intended to take El Dorado directly back to Spain, they would not have come all the way into the Pacific to do so.  It is too expensive and too risky.  Even with English ships patrolling the Atlantic, it would be a far safer route for them.  Second, even if they were to have brought El Dorado here, only to leave with it once more, that still does not explain this abandoned city.  These colonists had made their lives here, and they would not have fled except for something of tremendous personal importance.”

“I agree sir.  Still, that does leave us with more questions than answers.”

“Unfortunately, that it does.  Wait, what was that?!”

Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream from one of his men who had ventured with a partner into one of the buildings to explore.  All immediately drew their swords, preparing for a vicious onslaught from the Spanish.  Soon, one of the men burst out of the building, unharmed but with a look of sheer terror in his eyes, gasping for air.

“David!” Fletcher exclaimed, recognizing the man.  “Easy there, man.  What happened?”

“P… P… Peter!  He… he has been… devoured!” the man barely managed to say.

“Devoured?!  By what?!”

“T-THAT!” the man cried pointing towards the building.

The entire crew stepped back a few paces as a figure emerged from the door of the building.  It was human, in that its body contained human-like appendages and a human-like head.  That, however, was where the similarities ended.  The figure could only be described as a creature of some sort, having ghostly-white skin, walking around of all fours, and possessing a mouth full of pointed, carnivorous teeth.  The eyes of the creature were black as tar, containing not even the slightest hint of a soul, and only a simple loincloth at the waist covered its hairless body.

The crew gasped in horror at the sight of this thing, readying their swords as it hissed at them.  From behind the creature, they could make out the mangled body of Peter, who lay lifeless on the floor of the building.  After a few tense moments, the creature lunged forward, but Fletcher was ready, twirling his sword as he evaded the attack and running the creature through from behind.  It growled and cried a horrifying shriek as it finally breathed its last, falling dead to the ground.

“What in God’s name IS this… THING?!” John exclaimed.

“I know not,” Fletcher said, turning his attention to the nearby building.  “But poor Peter never stood a chance.”

Seeking to quiet the frightened murmurs of his men, Francis stated confidently, “We knew to expect resistance men.  Push forward.  We must not be reckless, but neither should we move lazily.  Onward.”  The men agreed and resumed their trek through the city streets.

“Francis,” John whispered, “I could not help but notice Peter’s body.  The damage that had been done to him… it was not unlike that of the Spanish soldiers we found in Brazil.  Do you think there could be a connection of some sort?”

“It is too early to say, John, but I certainly cannot dismiss the possibility.  It is quite plausible that one of the creatures that slaughtered the Spaniards in Brazil snuck aboard the Esperanza as it made its way here.  In any case, we are likely to discover more answers in the Customs House.”

The group now neared their destination, approaching the massive administrative building and finding it sealed by a pair of enormous doors.  Beginning to look for a way inside, the group was made nervous once more by a familiar hissing sound approaching them.

“Oh God… get that gate open, NOW!” Francis ordered.

As a team of ten men worked frantically on the doors, the rest of the group readied their weapons.  They were soon confronted with more of the creatures, a group easily numbering ten to fifteen strong.  The things began their attack, leaping from the roofs of the nearby colony buildings and assaulting the crew with their strong, wiry bodies and sharp claws and teeth.  Francis and John defended well, being seasoned veterans, and Fletcher’s immense natural talent kept him alive throughout, but several others were not as lucky.  By the time the doors were pried open, at least a dozen men had fallen to the creatures.

“The doors are open!  Go!” Francis ordered, covering his men as they piled into the building.  When he was certain that all who could be saved were inside, Francis joined his officers in rushing through the door, helping to slam them shut just as the creatures began to fight their way in.

“There!” Fletcher said, latching the doors shut.  “They are secure… I do not believe those things will be able to penetrate.”

“Very good,” Francis replied.

He gave no immediate orders, allowing his surviving crew to rest and catch their breath.  The men were worried, understandably so.  Thus, Francis, John, and Fletcher made their rounds, comforting them and offering words of encouragement, brightening their spirits ever so slightly.  As his men rested, Francis began to inspect the administrative building they now found themselves in, soon coming across the manifests of all arriving ships.

“Over here, John.  I have found something.”

“What is it, Francis?”

“Logbooks of all arrivals to this island.  Look here, the most recent arrival was only a week previous,” he said, skimming the pages.  “Ah, it was indeed the Esperanza, captained by our old rival, Alejandro Montoya.  Let us see their cargo… 800 gold bars, 1200 silver, emeralds, golden masks and ornaments… as well as a single statue; weight: 20 arrobas.  If my calculations prove correct, that would be well over 500 pounds.  That must be El Dorado!”

Turning the page, they now found that the last page of the log entry was devoted entirely to El Dorado, now proven to be, in fact, a singular statue.  The drawings on the page showed its incredible craftsmanship, being somewhat human-shaped and standing easily over ten feet tall, according to the notes.  The “face” of the statue appeared quite demonic, with a snarling expression and a pair of deadly fangs carved into the mouth.  All across the surface, the statue was adorned with various jewels and stones, along with carvings and images consistent with treasures previously found in the jungles of Brazil.  For all of its beauty, the statue still gave the pair a very unsettling feeling.

“So, this is our goal…” John said quietly.

“Indeed it is.  You see now why this mission is so vital.  Whichever nation possesses this statue would suddenly gain a tremendous advantage over the other in riches, being able to finance a fleet greater than the world has ever seen.  We cannot allow the Spanish to gain such an advantage.”

“Agreed.”

“Captain!”

“Ah, Fletcher.  We have found our next clue.  Anything from your rounds?” Francis asked.

“Nothing, sir.  As with the fortress and the colony, the entire building seems to have been abandoned.”

“Understood.  Come, look here.”

Fletcher began to inspect the logbook, with Francis translating for him the various cargo items, as well as the notes on El Dorado itself.

“Incredible… could the statue still be here in the Customs House?” Fletcher asked.

“Doubtful,” John replied.  “This building would be a highly-traversed area with numerous administrators and officials coming and going on a daily basis.  Such traffic would not make for the most secure hiding place for such a precious treasure.  No, I believe they would have taken El Dorado to a more secluded location.”

Pulling out his map of the island, Francis said, “You may be correct, John.  The map details a monastery north of here, in the mountains.  That would seem to be an ideal hiding spot, and it is the only major section of the island we have yet to explore.”

“Good.  Now to the problem at hand.  How do we reach the monastery safely?” John asked.  “Those creatures are still lurking outside, most likely, and it would take us at least an hour or two to make our way to the monastery.  They would likely slaughter us before we even got close.”

“Only if we travel by land,” Fletcher said with a grin.  “We have found a back door to this place that leads directly to the water.  Our boats should be here by now.”

“Ah, nicely done, Fletcher!  Indeed, there is a small stream leading from the sea to the monastery,” Francis said, inspecting the map.  “That shall be our entry point.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” John asked excitedly.

*****

For the next hour, the crew rowed carefully around the island, searching for the inlet leading to the monastery.  Along the way, they noticed a group of Spanish ships docked in the bay between the fortress and the Customs House, apparently deserted as well.  Francis made a note to check them for supplies before they departed the island.  Soon, the stream had been located, and the remaining crew of about forty-five began their approach to the monastery.

Their hike up into the mountains was a tense one, as they remained on constant alert for any sign of the creatures from before.  None appeared, however, and the crew soon found themselves in a massive courtyard surrounded by three buildings: a church, a library, and a mausoleum.  The mausoleum did not appear to have an entrance, and the front doors to the church were firmly barricaded shut, denying them access.  Thus, they began their explorations in the library.

“Well now, what do you make of this, Francis?” John asked.

The main floor of the library contained four pillars arranged in a circle, each with a statue of some sort on top, resembling a lion, a goat, a bird, and a human-like angel.

“I am unsure.  Let us have a closer look.”

Climbing up one of the pillars, Francis began to inspect the statue, quickly making a couple of discoveries.

“They appear to be named!  This one is named ‘Matthew’.  What do the others say?” Francis asked.

Several crewmen climbed up to the other statues, finding them labeled “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John.”

“The books of the gospel?  What could this mean?” Fletcher wondered.

“Perhaps it has something to do with… this,” Francis replied, showing that the statues were able to rotate on their pedestals.  As he adjusted his, he suddenly noticed a large compass engraved on the floor at the center of the four pillars.  “We must have to make the statues face specific directions,” Francis called to his men.  After several minutes of trying different combinations, they finally managed to place the statues in the proper order, causing a bookcase on the ground to move aside and reveal a secret passage.

“Well done men!”  Francis noted the solution in his journal before proceeding cautiously through the newly discovered opening.  The room they now found themselves in appeared to be merely a section of hidden books, but groups of torches lined the wall as well.  Moreover, some were facing straight up, while others had been turned upside-down, prompting Francis to try turning all of them straight up, and when this produced no results, upside-down.  This finally revealed a set of stairs appearing to lead underground.

“Now this looks promising,” Francis said, making a note in his journal.

The inverted torch leads to the land of the dead.

“Alright, John and Fletcher with me, the rest of you men shall secure the library, and ensure that none of those creatures find their way in,” Francis instructed.

The trio proceeded carefully through the catacombs, expecting death to appear around each and every corner.  Thankfully, they remained alone to the best of their knowledge, and proceeded through a large cavern, scaling the walls to make it to the other side.  This eventually led to a set of stairs, ascending into the ceiling.  At the top, they encountered a trap door of some sort, requiring them to push upward with all their might to finally force it open.

“DIABLOS!” a voice screamed as they emerged.

Francis immediately saw a trio of robed figures approaching them, swords in hand.  Thinking quickly, he shouted, “No!  No Diablos!”

His message was apparently received, as the trio stopped just short of the trap door they had emerged from.

“You… are English?” one of the men asked tentatively.

“We are.  Do not worry, we are not those creatures from outside.”  Seeing that their robes bore crosses, Francis asked, “Are you the keepers of this monastery?”

“Indeed, my son.  I am Father Diego Santiago,” the oldest man said, his white beard protruding from his brown cloak.

Rising from the floor, Francis shook his hand in friendship.  “Sir Francis Drake.”

“Drake?  Fascinating… either you are the Son of God reborn, or you have lied to the entire world,” Father Santiago said with a grin.

“And I can assure you that I am not the Son of God,” Drake replied with a chuckle.  “Father, what has happened on this island?  We found the fortress, the city, and the Customs House, but all were deserted.”

“Those demons.  That is what has happened.  Allow me to explain.  Initially, this island was a simple colony that my brothers and I founded, establishing this monastery, followed by the city not long after.  We lived a peaceful, secluded existence for several years, and never once encountered those creatures.  Then, the Spanish Navy saw this island as a suitable hideout for their ships, and in particular their most valuable treasures.  We did not object, so long as they promised to give protection in the event our island was attacked.  Thus, they erected the fortress to guard against invading enemies.  However, when a ship arrived one week ago, it was carrying a massive cargo of treasures, the most notable of which was an enormous gold statue.”

“El Dorado…” Francis mused.

“Yes, that is what they called it!  The captain of the ship said that it was the most valuable thing in the world, and that they needed to fully inspect it before transporting it back to Spain, under heavy guard, of course.  They hid the statue somewhere underneath this monastery so that they could evaluate it in privacy.  That, however, was when those monsters began to appear on the island.  At first, it was only one or two.  Now, however, their numbers are too great, and as they seemed to multiply, the colonists and soldiers began disappearing in droves, no doubt taken by the creatures as food.  As far as we know, we three holy men are all that remain.”

Touched by his tragic story, Francis said, “Father, my crew and I have come to find the same treasure that the Spaniards brought here.  However, your story is one that pierces my soul, and I would be remiss if I did not offer you aid.  Therefore, when we leave this island, we shall take you and your brothers with us, granting you safe passage back to Spain, or wherever it is you need to go.”

“That is most generous of you, Sir Francis.  However, if you intend to take that statue with you, we cannot accompany you.  I do not fully understand everything that has happened here, but I am certain that there must be some connection to El Dorado.”

“But Father, regardless of what happens to that statue, those creatures still roam this island!  Your group will not survive another week if you remain here!” Francis protested.

“Be that as it may, we are resolute in this.  If the statue leaves with you, we stay.”

Seeing that his mind was made up, Francis nodded in understanding.  “Would you at least be willing to show us where the statue is hidden?”

“If only we knew.  The captain of the Esperanza would not trust anyone with that knowledge, save for his top officers.  However, I think you would be most interested to inspect the bells near the altar of this room.”

“Thank you, Father.  I will look into them.  If you would temporarily open the doors of the church, I shall instruct my men to stay here with you for your protection, at least until we depart.  Are you agreeable to that?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Good.  Mr. Morgan, see to that, will you?” Francis said.

“Aye,” Fletcher replied.

As they moved to the church doors to allow the rest of the crew in, Francis and John walked up the center aisle towards the altar.  It was nothing more than a simple wooden table, adorned with numerous candles.  On either side of the altar extended a pair of walkways, each leading to a large bell the size of a man.  Considering what Father Santiago had told him, Francis surmised that these bells had to reveal the path forward.  They at first tried ringing each bell on its own, but to no avail.  Only when they rang the pair at precisely the same moment did a secret door slide open in the back of the church.

“Incredible,” Francis marveled, marking a note in his journal.

Two bells resound in perfect unison.

“Alright, that is our way forward.  Mr. Morgan, is the church secure?” Francis called out.

“Aye, sir.  The last of the crew is accounted for.”

“Very good.  Have them barricade the doors once more, then you shall accompany Mr. Hawkins and me.”

Following the secret passageway, the trio wound their way up to the roof of the church, giving them a bird’s-eye view of the monastery.  They were at first confused as to where they needed to go next, but John soon found a rope hanging over the edge and leading to a window in the side of the church.  Upon following it, they found themselves in a gallery above the sanctuary, looking down on their crew below.

“Father Santiago!  Did you know of this gallery?” Francis called out.

“We knew of it, but not how to reach it!” came the reply.

From their vantage point, Francis could see that, in the altar area across the room, there was a section in the wall containing a stained-glass window.  He studied it for several moments, before finally realizing why the image in the glass seemed so familiar to him.  Checking his journal, he found that the image was nearly identical to the heart and keys symbol that Cassandra had sketched into the pages.

“That must be it!”

The trio made their way carefully across the sanctuary by way of the rafters and chandeliers.   As they drew close to the far wall, they noticed a pair of platforms on either side of the stained-glass window, each placed under a stone carving resembling a key.  John and Fletcher split up to inspect these carvings, which when pulled, opened the stained-glass window, revealing an area behind the altar.  With a careful swing from a rope, the men leaped through the opening and onto solid ground once more.

Inside this hidden area, they found another window marked with the same symbol as the previous one.  Opening it, they found themselves at the top of a wall overlooking a large graveyard, leading to the back entrance of mausoleum they had seen earlier, also marked with the heart and keys symbol.  Knowing they were close, Francis barely managed to contain his excitement as they scaled down the wall to the graveyard below.  All the while, John and Fletcher remained on guard, anticipating an attack by the monsters at any time, yet they remained alone.

Upon entering the mausoleum, the small room appeared completely empty at first, but Francis soon noticed a collection of symbols along the wall, each placed on a circular plate.  Surmising that they must hold the key to the path forward, the group began to fiddle with them, finding that they could be rotated individually.  It took quite a while of trial-and-error, but the solution was finally found when each of the emblems were turned right-side-up, save for one of the symbols that needed to be upside-down.  After noting the solution in his journal, Francis watched in amazement as the wall opened before their eyes.  Now moving underground once more, the trio found a massive underground cavern, filled with treacherous walkways and a bottomless drop into a pool of water below them.

“What is this place?!” Fletcher marveled.

“We are close.  This must be the final safety measure the Spaniards designed,” Francis replied.

“Francis, look here!” John called.  “On the floor, Roman numerals.”

“Indeed.”  Remembering seeing Roman Numerals very recently, Francis pulled out the map of the island.  “Look here!  The numerals II, V, and VII, written in the corner by the Spanish… this must be the key,” Francis said, turning his attention back to the walkways before them.

“There are all manner of numerals on the ground,” Fletcher noticed.  “You suppose that we are only meant to follow those three?”

“It is the best theory we have,” Francis replied.

They proceeded carefully through the room, being certain to only follow the designated numerals.  Along the way, they encountered a water wheel which, when activated, adjusted the platforms and walkways, allowing for a new path forward.  Unfortunately, it also activated several traps, as quite a few chandeliers with spikes on them began swinging across the remaining walkways.  It took careful timing, but the men managed to brave these dangers and make it to the other side of the room, riding a wooden elevator back down to ground level, which opened the gate leading deeper into the maze.  They continued into another room of twisting staircases, continuing to follow the same Roman numerals, before they finally reached a single wooden door at the very top of the room.  Opening it, they entered a small, circular room that had to be the heart of the Spaniards’ treasure vault.  In the center stood the massive statue of El Dorado.

“There it is!” Fletcher exclaimed in joy.

“I cannot believe we found it so easily!” John marveled.

“Yes… quite easily indeed,” Francis pondered.  As they were about to approach the statue, a door on the other side of the room opened, revealing a group of figures.

“Congratulations, El Draque,” one of the figures said.  “You managed to find our hidden treasure store.”  As the trio began to draw their swords, the men immediately silenced them with their own blades at the ready.  “Sheathe your weapons, if you please.”

“Captain Alejandro Montoya, if I am not mistaken,” Francis said.

“You remember me!  What an honor!”

Montoya and his group of seven soldiers poured into the room, surrounding the three Englishmen.  No retaliation was possible, as they were completely outnumbered with swords pointed directly at them.  Francis knew that bargaining would be their only chance at this point.

“It seems that you are the one to be congratulated, Captain Montoya,” Francis said.  “No ordinary sailor could manage to evade my pursuits for as long as you did.  Most impressive.”

“Thank you, but please save your flattery.  It will do nothing to spare your lives.”

“Really?  After the consideration I gave you and your crew during our last encounter?” Francis asked.

“I have not forgotten,” Montoya replied.  “This is why… I have decided to allow you the opportunity to inspect El Dorado, so that you may see and know its true beauty for yourself.”

Francis was immediately perplexed by Montoya’s reply.  He certainly did not intend to spare their lives, as Francis had done with him, yet the consideration of allowing them to inspect El Dorado was both generous and meaningless at the same time, allowing them to see the world’s greatest treasure, yet die knowing that the Spanish had taken it from them.  Still wary of his intentions, Francis made no move whatsoever, neither of retaliation nor acceptance.

“I shall inspect it, Francis,” John said quietly.

“Very well,” he replied.

John slowly approached the statue, admiring its brilliant craftsmanship by the torches lit in the room.  The entire piece appeared to be solid gold, expertly cut and carved into the shape of a man.  Inlays of small emeralds and rubies were scattered throughout the statue on all sides, further attributing to its stunning beauty.  Inspecting the face, it was indeed sinister, as John had surmised from the drawings they had found in the Customs House, and gave him the sense that they might be in the presence of something exceedingly unholy.  As he continued his evaluation of the piece, his hand suddenly slipped into a tiny crack in the side of the statue.

“Captain, it appears that it can open!” John called to Francis.

Francis was exceedingly confused by the revelation, unsure of how to instruct John to proceed.  However, Captain Montoya did that for him.

“Then open it!” he instructed John harshly.

Standing up straight, he replied defiantly, “I take orders from MY captain!”

Placing his sword at Francis’ throat, Montoya calmly said, “Open it, or your captain dies this instant.”

Francis dared not move, nor even breathe.  He was not afraid to die, but he still suspected that something else was in play.  In resignation, he nodded, indicating for John to follow Montoya’s instructions.  As he began to pry at the statue, Montoya lowered his sword, allowing Francis to relax momentarily.  John had finally figured out that the front of the statue was actually a hinged lid, intended to swing out like a door.  As he began to pry it open, Montoya and his men immediately took several large steps back, alerting Francis to immediate danger.

“Wait, John!  DON’T!” he cried.

It was too late.  El Dorado stood fully open now, revealed to be not a statue at all, but a sarcophagus.  Inside it was a disgusting, decaying corpse, still preserved by the container it was kept in.  Francis, Fletcher, and John immediately felt their stomachs turn at the sight of it.

“What is this?” John wondered.

Before any could react, a cloud of dust suddenly sprung forth from the corpse, enveloping John’s face.  He coughed and hacked as it invaded his lungs, having just enough reaction time to slam the door of El Dorado shut to prevent the spread further.  Seeing his friend struggling to breathe, Francis immediately rushed to his side.

“John… John, speak to me!  Are you alright?”

“F… Francis,” came the labored reply.

“Do not give in, my friend.  Whatever this may be, fight it!”

Francis gazed into the eyes of his best friend, watching as he slowly succumbed to whatever it was that was afflicting him.  His face slowly became more twisted, his hair began to fall to the ground before his very eyes, and his voice started to become barbaric, almost animalistic.  Finally, John’s eyes, once bright blue with hope and confidence, glazed over and became black as tar.

“No…” Francis whispered.  He feared his best friend dead, but soon began to realize that it was worse than that.  John soon grabbed Francis by the collar, beginning to strangle him with seemingly superhuman strength.  He hissed and snarled terribly at Francis, and it was those dreadful sounds that finally understood exactly what had happened.

“Dear God… those creatures!” Francis gasped, finally realizing that John was now one of the monsters that had chased them before.

“Hang on, Francis!” Fletcher shouted, rushing to free his captain from John’s grasp.  “Unhand him!”

At first attempting to kick and punch at John, Fletcher’s attacks were merely shrugged off as he was slapped backward by John’s sharp claws.  Still, this gave Francis just enough leverage to break free and draw his sword.  As he circled the room, eying his friend warily, his blood boiled with rage at hearing the laughs and wagers being made by the Spaniards.  His rage was soon abated by John’s incoming onslaught.  Francis continually sidestepped, doing all he could to try and subdue his friend without hurting him, but it was no use.  Fletcher was still on the ground, trying to catch his wits, and Francis knew he was on his own.  Evading another attack, he took the chance to charge his friend and tackle him, pinning him to the stone floor of the vault.

“John, please!  It is I, Francis!  You must remember me!” he desperately cried, but to no avail.  John continued to hiss and snarl, struggling to break out of Francis’ grip to attack him.  Finally seeing nothing left to convince him that his friend’s soul still lived in the body below him, Francis decided he had no other choice.

“I am so sorry… John.  Please forgive me.”

Taking his sword in one hand, Francis raised it overhead and stabbed John directly in the throat.  As he continued to struggle, Francis stabbed him twice more, first in the mouth, and finally square in the chest.  After that, there was nothing but silence.  John Hawkins was dead.

Francis breathed heavily, dropping his sword on the ground as he came to grips with what he had done.  Before he could regain himself, he found that he was restrained by two of Montoya’s men.

“Most impressive.  You still fight with the spirit of a young man,” Montoya sneered.

“What hell have you unleashed here, Montoya?” Francis asked defiantly.

“The true power of El Dorado, that is what.  True, when we first discovered it in Brazil, we thought it was merely a golden statue, its value immeasurable.  We brought it here to be kept safe until we could inform King Philip of our discovery and decide how best to use it.  However, we soon discovered, as you now have, that there is far more to this treasure than meets the eye.

“It started innocently enough.  We brought the treasure down here for safekeeping, thinking none would be able to find our hideaway.  As we first placed it in this very room, I left a group my men alone for a few moments while I delivered a message to the rest of my crew.  Upon my return, my men were gone, and had been replaced with those things.  I knew not what had happened to them, but fled for my life, returning later with my entire crew.  By that time, the creatures had gone, fleeing deeper into the caverns somewhere.  However, as we gave chase, we eventually found ourselves back in this same room once more, as several of the passageways in here are circular.  As before, we found that monsters had also replaced the men that had stayed behind as guards.

“After slaying the creatures, I began to have my suspicions about the statue.  I ordered my best men to fully inspect it as I watched.  They eventually discovered that the statue opened, and were transformed just as your friend was.  I knew now that the gold of El Dorado had to bear a curse of some sort, one that immediately afflicted any man who discovered its secret.  However, I soon realized that this curse could end up being of great help to the future causes of Spain.  I… experimented with this power, using the remaining soldiers on the island, to see how potent the statue’s effects were, and how far they could reach.  The results were quite impressive, if I may say so myself.”

“You sacrificed your own men?!  You cold, callous bastard!” Fletcher roared, struggling against Montoya’s men.

“Those men pledged their lives to the service of Spain, and they gave their existences willingly to further our standing in this world.  They are heroes, martyrs,” Montoya said calmly.  “Unfortunately, the monsters soon managed to escape these caverns and began to roam the island proper, slaughtering the entire population of the colony below.  An unfortunate side effect, though it did demonstrate the full power of this curse if used properly.  When we use this power to afflict even a small portion of an enemy population, England for instance, that small group will be more than enough to exterminate all in such a nation who would dare to oppose us!”

“You… are… insane,” Francis said.  “And I pity your immortal soul, for you are surely destined for the clutches of the devil himself.”

“Do not lecture me, you filthy pirate!” Montoya spat.  “You have plundered our riches, sunk our ships, and brought shame to the great kingdom of Spain!  You know NOTHING of what God the Almighty wants!  He has delivered this power to us so that we may finally achieve victory against you and all of your traitorous brethren!”

Before Montoya could end Francis’ life, the group heard the faint sounds of a familiar hissing in the distance.

“Ah hah!  It seems my former soldiers are near,” Montoya mused happily.  “Sir Francis, we must leave you, for we are now to depart for Spain and inform King Philip of our discovery.  I do wish the two of you the best of luck.”

After his men had piled out the door Francis had entered through, Montoya slammed the door shut, barring it from the other side.

“No!” Fletcher screamed, banging against the door.

“Save your anger, Fletcher.  We have greater problems,” Francis advised, hearing the hissing grow closer from the gratings in the floor.

“We cannot just sit here and wait!” Fletcher argued.

“The find a way to open the door, boy!  I’ll cover you!”

Fletcher scanned the room frantically, trying to find anything that could give them enough leverage to pry the door open.  Just as he was about to lose hope, he suddenly had a brilliant, if disgusting idea, and walked over to the body of John Hawkins.

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Hawkins, but I need your help one last time,” he said, drawing his sword.

In one swift motion, he sliced off the arm of his former superior, shaking off the blood before taking the arm in his hands.  Fletcher then carefully slipped the arm through the bars, attempting to use it to undo the bar securing the exit door from the other side.  In the meantime, three of the creatures had entered the room, breaking through the gratings in the floor and beginning to surround Francis.

“Mr. Morgan, are you almost finished?!” Francis shouted, beginning to fend them off with his cutlass.

“I’m… trying!  It just keeps slipping!”

“Well try harder!  We haven’t much time!”

Francis tore into the creatures, driving them back with a flurry of precision slashes and inflicting heavy damage upon them.  However, they were more resilient than John had been, and were completely in control of their thin, powerful bodies.  One charged for Francis, knocking him off his feet and attempting to claw at him.  Francis managed to keep his wits about him, however, and beat the creature senseless with the basket of his sword, finally managing to roll away from it as the other two were approaching.

“Got it!” Fletcher shouted, opening the door.

“Then go!  I’ll be right behind you!”

Another flurry of strikes to stun the creatures, and Francis turned to flee for his life.  Fletcher slammed the door shut the instant Francis was clear, locking the bar back in place as the creatures began to pound and claw at it.

“I think… we are safe, for the time being,” Fletcher heaved.

“No time to waste then!  We must stop Montoya!” Francis urged him.  “He intends to unleash this curse upon the world, and we cannot allow that to happen!”

“Right!” Fletcher agreed as they sprinted through the maze of walkways towards the mausoleum.  “Do you think the rest of our crew would be able to stop him?”

“They would, but I think it more likely that Montoya and his men would be able to avoid them altogether.  Montoya is no fool; he knows that I brought more than two men with me onto this island.  Additionally, he and his soldiers know the area far better than we do, so they would easily be able to avoid detection if they wished.  We must gather our crew and make for the harbor.”

The pair rushed through the caverns as fast as they were able, soon reaching the graveyard once more.  After scaling the wall and reentering the church, they were greeted by a rousing cheer from the crew, glad to see that they were alive and well.  However, the crew’s celebration quickly died down when they saw that John Hawkins was not with them.  After climbing down the elevated stained glass window by way of a rope, Francis was greeted by Father Santiago.

“Sir Francis, what did you find?” he inquired.

“Hell,” Francis replied simply.

Moving to his crew, he began to address them.  “Gentlemen, we have been given a sacred duty this day.  John Hawkins has perished.  He has perished because the gold of El Dorado is not the glorious treasure we believed it to be, for within it lays a terrible curse.  This curse afflicted our beloved Mr. Hawkins, driving him mad and forcing me… to end his suffering.  The creatures we have encountered are not native to this island, they are former Spanish soldiers, twisted and transformed by El Dorado!  Captain Alejandro Montoya now flees for his ship, intent on returning with an army.  They will then take El Dorado with them to be used as a weapon against all who would oppose King Philip of Spain.  We cannot allow this to happen, gentlemen!  Make no mistake, we shall certainly die here today, but we shall die having given our final breaths to prevent the evils contained on this island from ever being unleashed upon Humanity!  Now, to the boats!”

Francis had feared that his brutal honesty about their survival chances would dampen his crew’s spirits and efforts, but they quickly proved him wrong when they erupted into thunderous applause.  Fletcher led them out of the church and towards the riverbank where their dinghies were moored.  Francis then turned once more to Father Santiago.

“Father, as we shall not be removing El Dorado from this island, will you now accept my offer of safe passage away from this awful place?” Francis asked.

“We will,” he replied with a smile.  “I pray that God will give your brave crew strength in the battle to come, Sir Francis.”

“Thank you, Father.”

*****

As the men began to board the boats, Fletcher and Francis divided them into two teams.  The first would go with Francis to the city along the bay, intending to fill the harbor with gunpowder and blow it open, flooding the cursed home of the monsters.  The second team would make for the fortress and turn the cannons within upon the three Spanish ships still moored in the harbor, sinking them all and preventing Captain Montoya from escaping.  Additionally, they would provide Francis’ team cover from the creatures, which would surely be attacking them in the midst of all of this.  As the final boats were loaded, Fletcher was preparing to join the men headed for the fortress when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Fletcher,” Francis said.  “You will not be participating in this battle.”

“What?  But Captain, you need me!” he protested.

“Indeed, I do need you.”  Motioning to the lifeboat containing the three priests from the church, he said, “These men are good, holy men.  They do not deserve any of this.  They are your charges, now.  I place them in your care.  Return with them to the Pelican.  Set sail immediately, do not look back.  You are responsible for their safety… as well as Cassandra’s.”

“I… I understand, sir,” Fletcher said sadly.

“Good.”  Taking a deep breath, Francis continued, “Fletcher, I know I do not have long to live, so I must confess my final sin at this time, and I pray that you will listen.  Last night, I did a terrible thing.  I shared my bed with Cassandra, and took her virginity.  She gave it freely, but I still should have known better.  As such, she would be deemed worthless to any potential suitor, lacking both her chastity and her dowry.  I swore to her that I would find a good, honest man to be her husband in penance for my actions.  Fletcher, you are a good and honest man, to be sure.  There is none that I would trust with her future more than you.  Will you, as my friend and countryman, look after her all the days of your life?”

Taking a moment of silence to comprehend everything that he had been told, Fletcher finally replied, “Sir Francis Drake, it would be my genuine pleasure.”

“Thank you,” Francis said with a smile.  “Take these: my journal, the map of this island, and my ring.  They must be separated and hidden away, as they are the only record of the evil secrets this island holds.  They must not be discovered, lest the curse of El Dorado be unleashed upon the world.  I am depending on you, Fletcher.”

“I shall not let you down, Francis.”

Wrapping Fletcher in a tight hug, Francis whispered, “Thank you, my friend.  Now, be gone with you.  Away from this accursed place.”

Without a word, Fletcher joined the priests in the lifeboat and took the oars, rowing them upstream towards the ocean.  From there, they would circle the island undetected and board the Pelican, setting sail for the nearest safe port.  As the group rowed off into the fog, Francis smiled proudly, waving a final goodbye to the brave young man.

“What are your orders, Captain?” one of the crewmen asked, snapping Francis back to reality.

“Onward,” he replied, boarding the small boat.  “We row downstream, for this river shall take us directly to the Customs House.  From there, we shall begin our assault of the harbor.”

“Aye, sir!”

The voyage downstream was a rough one, as the boats had to navigate several sets of rapids and small waterfalls.  Thanks to the skilled navigating of Francis’ crew, however, they soon arrived at the Customs house without any large issues.  Francis and his team departed onto land, making directly for the harbor along the bay, while the second team rowed across the bay towards the fortress.  Within the buildings of the colony, thankfully, were plentiful amounts of gunpowder barrels, which the crew made good use of, spreading them across the protective barrier damming the water from the colony.  As they rushed to prepare the blast, Francis could see the three remaining Spanish ships out on the water.  The largest, the Esperanza, was being made ready to sail by Montoya and the last of his crew.

Just as Francis feared that they might escape, a volley of cannon fire erupted from the fortress, peppering the water surrounding the ship.  Montoya’s men tried to retaliate, but their numbers were too few to be able to fire their cannons in reply and continue their preparations to sail, slowing the ship down to a crawl.  After taking four broadside shots in a row, the Esperanza began to take on water, slowly sinking into the waters of the bay.  Montoya and his crew had no choice but to abandon ship, making for one of the other ships moored in the harbor in a lifeboat.  Francis’ men were ready, however, and turned their fire on those ships before the Spaniards could even come close to climbing aboard, causing them to begin to capsize as they were still anchored at port.

“Where do we stand?” Francis asked one of his crewmen.

“The barrels are in place, Captain!  However, they will need to be set off nearly simultaneously in order to flood this area.”

“Very well, I shall set the gunpowder trail.  Keep me covered, both from those creatures as well as the Spaniards,” Francis replied.

“Aye!”

As Francis’ men formed a perimeter around the center of the harbor where they had placed the gunpowder, Francis took the last barrel and began running trails back from the dam’s edge.  These trails would eventually converge, allowing him to set off the explosions all at once, flooding the colony completely.  As he worked frantically, his men began to defend against the expected onslaught from the creatures, bravely fending them off from every direction.  This bought Francis just enough time to complete the gunpowder trails.  As the battle raged around him, he took a torch in hand and prepared to light the powder.

“El Draque!”

Drake turned to find Captain Montoya, his eyes filled with rage and fury.

“Montoya, this island is an accursed place.  It must be destroyed,” Francis said.

“You are so pathetic!  Do you think it will end here?!  El Dorado will find its way back to Spain, this I promise you.  We are destined to rule this world with its power.”

“We shall see about that,” Francis said quietly.  With a smug grin, he dropped the torch on the powder, beginning the countdown to the explosion.

“Fine.  I shall do now what I should have done when we first met,” Montoya replied, drawing his sword.

With cutlass in hand, Francis prepared for Montoya’s onslaught.  Parrying his first couple of slashes, he immediately saw that, despite his youth, Montoya was no greenhorn.  Every movement he made was extremely precise, in spite of his rage at the situation at hand.  Additionally, Francis knew that his youth and energy would far exceed his own.  Thus, Francis would have to win this fight quickly, or risk being slowly overpowered by his tenacity.

As the two men clashed, Francis’ men began to be overwhelmed by the monsters attacking from all sides.  For a few moments, it seemed as though the creatures would devour them all.  In the nick of time, however, Francis’ remaining crew arrived from the fortress, strengthening their side and taking the monsters by surprise.  Montoya’s remaining seven soldiers attempted to kill the Englishmen where they could, but were completely unsuccessful, overwhelmed by Francis’ men and thrown into the crowd of monsters, whereupon they were ripped limb-from-limb.

“Your men have fallen, Montoya,” Francis sneered.  “It is now you, and you alone.”

“And what is your point?” Montoya asked, his blade deadlocked with Francis’.

“That we are all destined to die this day.  However, you still have a chance to save your soul.  Join me in ending this madness; assist me in drowning this city and destroying the cursed El Dorado.  Please, Alejandro.”

“I would sooner burn in Hell than assist a disgusting ENGLISHMAN!” he spat in anger.

Sighing in resignation, Francis knew that all hope was lost for Montoya.  Disengaging from his rival, he spun around and attempted to attack his left side, as it was not as well protected.  Montoya was ready, however, and easily defended against his blow.  The Spaniard then took Francis by surprise with a ferocious offensive, driving the veteran backwards for several feet until he finally managed to trip him up, landing Francis squarely on his ass.

“This is the end for you, Sir Francis Drake,” Montoya jeered, raising his sword to strike the killing blow.

Around them, Francis’ men had finally been overrun, the monsters now ripping them to shreds as they screamed in agony.  Though his heart broke for them, Francis silently praised God for blessing him with such a courageous group of compatriots.  Hearing their final sacrifice gave him just the amount of strength and determination he needed, managing to roll out of the way of Montoya’s attack just in time, grabbing his cutlass as he rose back to his feet.  As the two men were about to continue their fight, a massive explosion suddenly rocked the entire area, as the lit powder trail had finally reached the stacks of gunpowder along the harbor.

The pair was thrown completely off balance, as were the creatures slowly advancing on them.  Francis was able to gain his footing quickly, though, and immediately began to climb up a nearby building to avoid the impending flood as best as he was able.  Montoya attempted to follow, but was not nearly as skilled a climber as Francis was, in spite of his youth.  As the Spaniard hung for his life on the edge of a balcony, Francis cursed himself for having a heart of gold.

“Montoya, give me your hand!” he said, reaching out for the man.

The Spaniard thrashed about, desperately trying to grab onto Francis, but was just out of reach.  As he stretched with all his might, he suddenly felt something grab him by the ankles.  Looking down, he was horrified to find one of the creatures latched onto him, digging its claws into his boots.

“No, no, NOOOOOOO!” Montoya screamed in terror, trying desperately to shake the creature off, but it was no use.  Another two monsters soon grabbed onto him as well, dragging him back to the ground where he began to be beaten and clawed, his cries of agony echoing throughout the island.

“God have mercy on your soul, Captain Montoya…” Francis mused quietly.

Gazing down on the destruction as the bay flooded the cursed city, Francis immediately sought to put as much distance between him and those monsters as he could.  For a fleeting moment, he had the idea to find one of the lifeboats in the hopes of being rescued at sea, but he quickly pushed those thoughts from his mind.  He resolved that, as long as he still had breath, he would expend it to the cause of attempting to destroy El Dorado.

Francis leaped from rooftop to rooftop, making his way back towards the jungles while avoiding the attention of the creatures.  He soon was able to make his way through the brush back towards the mountains, arriving at the monastery after about an hour.  Though the creatures were not in his immediate vicinity, he knew it would not be long before they found him, thus he would have to work quickly.  Again traveling through the church, the mausoleum, and the maze-like treasure vault, he finally arrived once more at the statue of El Dorado.

Trying with all his might, Francis sought a way to move the statue, thinking he could drown it in the deep waters below the maze-like vault he had come in through, but to no avail.  The statue was simply too much for one man to move alone.  Breathing heavily, he sat on the stone floor, his back pressed against the cursed statue, and began to hear the familiar hissing of the creatures making their way up from below him.  Taking a small slip of paper from his pocket, Francis began to pen his final message to the world, in the event his body should ever be discovered.

My end is near.  The devils hunt for me in the darkness.  The gold of El Dorado bears a terrible curse.  The Spaniards have unleashed hell, and become as demons.  My men have all been murdered, leaving the task to me alone.  No ship will depart this island.  I destroyed them all.  Drowned the cursed city.  A thing of such great evil must never leave these shores.  In my final hour, I commend my soul to God.  May He have mercy on this unholy place.  Francis Drake.

Satisfied and content with his life, Francis folded the paper and placed it underneath his armor, protected against the violence he was sure to endure in the coming moments.  As the hissing sounds drew closer, he stood and drew his cutlass, praying to God for forgiveness of his shortcomings while rekindling his courage with the words that had brought him so much comfort throughout his days on Earth.

“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until to be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”

As the creatures began crawling up through the gratings on the floor, Francis faced them defiantly, readying his weapon and shouting his life’s motto as he charged.

“SIC PARVIS MAGNA!”

*****

Cassandra slowly awoke in bed, looking around her room.  She smiled warmly as she noticed Fletcher, asleep in the rocking chair in the corner.  Carefully exiting the bed, as she was still weak on her feet, she strolled over to him and kissed his forehead lovingly.

“Good morning, my love,” she whispered.

“Mmm… good morning, Cassandra,” he said sleepily.  “How are you feeling?”

“Quite well, considering I gave birth only three days ago,” she said with a sweet giggle.

Smiling, Fletcher rose to his feet and kissed his wife’s lips tenderly.  “And how did our little man sleep?” he asked.

“Completely.  He never stirred even once.”

The couple walked over to the crib in which their son was laid, still fast asleep.  Fletcher was so in awe of him… even if he knew it was not truly his son.

“Cassandra… I know I have said this before, but I wish to say it again.  I bear you no grudge in knowing whose son this truly is.”

“I know, Fletcher.  His father chose wisely when he made you promise to look after me,” Cassandra replied.  “Though I must admit, you really do move very slowly!”

Chuckling, Fletcher replied, “I simply wanted to insure you were in a receptive mindset!  You had just lost your father, your home, and the man who took your virginity, so I had to proceed slowly!”

“But three months, Fletcher?  It took you three months to tell me of your promise to Francis and propose marriage?  Admit it, you were scared,” she teased.

“I certainly was not!”

“You were as frightened as I was floating on that debris!  The great, brave sailor afraid of professing his love to a woman, how quaint,” she continued.

“Oh, really?” he said, grabbing her playfully by the waist.  “Perhaps I shall have to show you how scared I truly am.”

“I would enjoy that very much, my love,” she replied.  Cassandra’s face softened, as she remembered something important.  “Fletcher, have you decided what we should name our son?”

Grinning, he answered, “I have.  I’ve always dreamed of naming my firstborn after my father, Nathan.  Additionally, I think it only fitting that his name includes the name of the brave man that saved both of our lives.  How does Nathan Francis Morgan sound to you?”

Turning her eyes to their infant son, Cassandra said, “It is perfect.”  She took her son in her arms, rocking him gently and cooing, “Oh, how I love you.  My little Nathan…”

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