We are lost, thought Merlwyb Bloefhiswyn. Immured for eons and free at last, the primal Bahamut laid waste to the Carteneau Flats, burning Eorzeans and Garleans alike. But I will find a way. Tearing her gaze away from the bloody churn, she bit down gently on her tongue—an old commanders’ trick—and despite the ash-laden air, the voice that issued from her throat was as clear as compass wind.
“Belay previous orders! All Maelstrom units are commanded to fall back, effective immediately!” In the distance, the Admiral caught a glimpse of Archon Louisoix’s resolute silhouette, arms raised in the rite of summoning. Not even the Twelve can help us now, she thought with something like despair as she swung herself into the saddle. Dalamud has hatched, and no man can unbreak an egg. “Give the Foreign Levy priority! Let the main host cover their retreat, and bring up the rear!”
Eynzahr Slafyrsyn let go the bridle as Merlwyb took hold of the reins. A shard of the false moon had pierced the mail under his right arm, she saw. Blood rilled, dark and steady. Her adjutant would likely not survive a hard ride. “Get those adventurers to safety,” she repeated. “I shall send you stragglers. We must regroup—see to it!”
“At once, Admiral,” Eynzahr snapped a salute. He knows me too well to waste time arguing, Merlwyb reflected as she urged her faithful bird to a gallop. And he knows most of our runners are dead or near as damn it. A sharp “Kweh!” brought her back to the present. “Good girl, Vicki,” she murmured as the chocobo sped onward through a blur of death and ruin.
“Fall back! Fall back to the main host!” Merlwyb called again and again until the rout became a stream, then a river, flowing towards Eynzahr and—she hoped—safety. But there was a knot in the crowd, fighting its way against the tide until it emerged at the rear, then pushing on towards the Garlean position. Always, Merlwyb thought without rancor and spurred her chocobo forward. Always there are those who put glory before victory.
“Save yer breath, Admiral. I mean to make those Garlean curs pay—an’ pay they will!” Rhoswen spat, and Merlwyb was reminded of the old saying—pirates weep with their swords, and their tears are red. “So many Sirens… Spleeny Ebrill won’t sing no more, nor Annest Blackeye, nor— There you are, ye liverless, tin-pot bastards!” A savage joy blazed in Rhoswen’s eyes at the sight of something behind Merlwyb, and the Maelstrom commander touched her spur to Victory’s left flank as she unholstered her pistols in one smooth motion. Death Penalty barked, and a Garlean legionnaire tumbled backwards. Two sharp coughs from Annihilator, and more men fell—to reveal the beetle-black gleam of magitek armor cresting the rise. It has a beak, Merlwyb thought with strange calm, her legs squeezing Victory’s flanks of their own accord. The chocobo sprang as the magitek cannon roared. Then Merlwyb was falling, the world drowning in blood and feathers, and she knew no more.
“…The most rest you’ve had in years, I’ll wager.” Merlwyb awoke to a familiar sight: her quarters on the Triumph, and Eynzahr, his face graven with fatigue, but alive and on his feet.
“How long?” she demanded. “Present course and speed?”
“Two days, Limsa, eight knots.” he answered. “The Alliance regrouped in Thanalan where the alchemists saw to our hurts. They meant to keep you abed in Ul’dah, but I assured them that would not be necessary. We are crossing the Strait of Merlthor for home.”
“The Sirens? Rhoswen?”
Eynzahr laughed. Merlwyb could almost hear the rust in it. Command, especially the command of a retreating force, was a somber business. “The Bloody Executioners hauled you from the front like pullers with a bulging net, but they had no luck coaxing Captain Rhoswen to join the retreat. Then came the last of the dread pirate crews three, the Kraken’s Arms, and Carvallain swept her up onto the saddle like a bloody knight of Ishgard. Last I saw, they were trading curses.”
“Good.” Merlwyb willed her eyes to stay open. She was suddenly very tired, and could not bring to mind the names of the others who had been present. No matter. Eynzahr would know. “The retreat from Carteneau—I ordered a unit be given priority. Did you get them to safety?”
Eynzahr looked at her, his brow furrowed. “Beg pardon, Admiral? My orders were to bring up the rear as the main host retreated, gathering any stragglers you directed towards us, then begin regrouping. You did not order that any be given priority over another.”
The coming days were too full for Merlwyb or Eynzahr to fret overmuch about her odd lapse. She had taken a blow to her head, after all, and it was a trifle compared to what awaited them in Vylbrand. As the Triumph neared home, they saw livid crystals bursting from Pharos Sirius, flaunting their corruption for all to see. Galadion Bay was a floating Carteneau, the sea strewn with bodies, debris and hollow-eyed survivors of the tidal wave that had scoured the coastline. Eynzahr was lucky, Merlwyb thought as she surveyed the destruction. What size these shards, to make an eighth hell of this fair anchorage? And what of we who have been spared? How can we go on, when so much has been lost?
I will find a way.
Merlwyb ordered that the Maelstrom’s temporary command be established at the Moraby Drydocks, sheltered from the worst of the great wave by the Gods’ Grip. From there, the remains of Limsa Lominsa’s great armada sailed with food and supplies, aid and succor, women of strength and men of compassion. Admiral Merlwyb slept little, but when she did, it was always one of two dreams that she dreamed. In one, she bit down on her tongue, then called out, Give them priority. Let the main host cover their retreat. In the other, she rode a destrier in the cool night, the bird crooning contentedly and the rider murmuring, “Good girl, Vicki.”
Time passed. Some wounds healed, others did not. The fishing boats returned to sea, and the merchants, stowadores and cutpurses to the docks. The new Maelstrom Command took shape on the Upper Decks, the ships of the armada returned to their proper anchorage, and the Moraby Drydocks were recommissioned as a shipyard.
During those turbulent days, those who knew Merlwyb best—and they were not many—remarked that she had been changed by Carteneau. To the scores that came to the Admiral for help, she gave no false comfort, but neither was she as hard as once she had been. She spoke instead of hope, courage, and the lost warriors who stood with the Archon on the Carteneau Flats. For this Merlwyb won the love of her people, yet struggled to accept it. So unsettling did the thought seem to her that one night, unable to sleep, she wandered the city, finding herself at length outside an Ishgardian’s stable as young birds murmured drowsily within.
When Naldiq & Vymelli’s began work on the first of the thalassocracy’s new warships, there was no question as to whom the honor of naming it would go. One fine day soon after, half the city turned out to see the Victory’s keel laid. When the Admiral of Limsa Lominsa inscribed her name upon the oak with a great flourish, the cheers rolled like thunder across the tranquil waters of Galadion Bay, and set the gulls and ravens flapping from every mast.