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"All right, get in there. We'll be back in the morning to check on you two." Hannah winked at Gilder as she and the other Ixa'Ness turned to leave. Gilder stood staring after them in surprise. Did they do this sort of thing often? When he turned back he found Kokyrie's gaze upon him. She smiled at his obvious discomfort.

"What's wrong? Never seen a woman before?" Kokyrie laughed. Still grinning fiercely, she grabbed Gilder by the collar of his dark red jacket and dragged him into the cabin slamming the door behind him. As the dead bolt slid home with a click Gilder began to feel nervous and giddy at the same time. This was going to be one heck of an evening. But it was the morning after that he had to worry over.

Gilder briefly considered overpowering his captor and escaping, but decided against it. As long as his crew was being held under guard he had little chance of freeing them without help. And Kokyrie didn't strike him as a pushover. The noise of their scuffle would no doubt alert her comrades. Even if he managed to escape then, they would be watchful for his return, making the rescue of his crew all the more difficult. Gilder decided to play along for the moment.

Besides, running away from a romantic situation like this just went against his nature. His crew would be fine for now, so why not wait and see what happened? No need to jump the gun and get them in worse trouble right? Yeah, it was in the best interest of his friends that he spend the night with Kokyrie.

"So, you wanted to question me then?" Gilder purred in his best come-hither voice. "Exactly what was it that you wanted to know?"

"Oh, I was just curious to know if….." Kokyrie sauntered to his side and bent his neck down to whisper into his ear. Gilder's eyes went wide and he actually blushed at her remark. Seeing his reaction Kokyrie began to laugh again.

"I, I had know idea a looper could be used in such a way." Gilder stammered. Wow! What a woman this Kokyrie was. Gilder had encountered many ladies in his time, some reserved and some rowdy, but this Ixa'Ness was by far the most uninhibited and straight forward person he had ever met. Not to mention drop dead gorgeous. Had he finally met his match?

"Well enough of this banter. Let's get down to the important question." Kokyrie continued.

"And what might that be?" Gilder asked. Kokyrie answered him by bending his neck again, only this time it wasn't to whisper into his ear. She crushed her lips against his in a passionate kiss, which he returned with equal gusto. Arms around his waist, Kokyrie maneuvered them towards a small cot in the corner of the room. Gilder allowed himself to be led there, all thoughts of his crew and escaping forgotten for the moment. He was thrown forcefully onto the bed with Kokyrie following closely behind him. Gilder was then swept away by the heat of passion, which kept him warm well into the night.

As the dawn approached Gilder woke to an empty bed. That was certainly a reversal of roles for him. He lay back, a broad grin of satisfaction upon his face. Kokyrie's brand of interrogation was enough to make him wish he'd be captured a little more often. In fact she had "interrogated" him three times last night before he finally satisfied her curiosity.

Now she had left him here to sleep it off and Gilder realized that his fate would be decided by the very woman he had spent the evening with. If what Hannah had said about how these things were decided then Gilder knew that he and his crew were home free.

Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever the door to the cabin was pulled open and an armed group of Ixa'Ness raiders hustled in. Gilder threw a blanket over his body as the pushy young women surrounded the cot.

"Hey!! You ever hear of knocking before?" Gilder fumed, his voice taut with surprise. Hannah allowed her eyes to play across his form, a knowing smile crossing her lips. But that smile soon faded and was replaced by a cool business like stare.

"Okay, parties over. It's time for you to get up sleeping beauty." Hannah motioned for him to follow her outside with the tip of her crossbow. Gilder looked towards his clothes, still piled up on the floor beside the cot with a question in his eyes.

"You mind if I make myself presentable first?" He asked. Hannah nodded slowly and motioned the raiders out of the room giving him one last appreciative glance before she too left. The door was pulled closed but Gilder could still hear them milling around outside. He rose from the cot and quickly dressed, all the while scanning the room for some means of escape. His eyes lit on a shuttered window near the back of the cabin as he slid the end of his belt into its buckle.

Gilder crossed the room in hurried strides and quietly opened the shutters and peered out. The window opened towards the jungle behind the village. It was almost too perfect. Gilder squirmed through the opening and lowered himself silently to the ground.

"Nice try. You seem to have done this sort of thing before." Kokyrie's jovial voice coming from behind him caused him to jump. Slamming his head against the windowsill, he sheepishly turned to face her. He was busted.

"A time or two." He responded. Kokyrie just shook her head and motioned him towards the center of the village with the end of her bow. Hannah and the other raiders joined them as they came around the side of the cabin. None of them seemed the least bit surprised by his attempted escape. Apparently they did do this sort of thing often.

Royce, Alan and Vic were being held in the village center, surrounded by a large group of raiders and villagers armed with an assortment of spears and crossbows. Gilder was shoved to the ground next to them. Kokyrie came to stand before them then. It was time to find out their fates.

Gilder began retracing his steps back to the Claudia in his mind, looking for any avenue of escape. Any sort of plan would have to be thought up on the fly when Kokyrie's intentions were made clear. Getting back to the Claudia and making for Horteka at top speed was the best course of action if things got dicey but exactly how to go about doing this while being chased by a group of angry savages was going to be the tricky part.

"After careful deliberation, we have decided to spare your lives." Kokyrie began. Seeing the looks of surprise on the faces of her prisoners she continued. "We told you, we are unlike any Black Pirates you might have dealt with before. We aren't murderers."

"Instead you will all be taken to the island just south of here where you will be left to fend for yourselves. The island is uninhabited but sailors from Horteka pass through the area all the time. You see, we can't have you telling anyone about the location of our little operation. But by the time you find your way back to civilization we'll be long gone from here. That is IF you survive long enough to be rescued."

"Hey!! That's not fair!! Marooning us in the middle of the jungle with no supplies is practically a death sentence. We're sailors, not savages. We don't know anything about surviving in these lands." Royce exploded, rising into a crouch. One of the women guarding him cuffed him in the back of the head with the butt of her spear and forced him back to his knees.

"Like I said, WE aren't murderers. But if you die after we release you it's not our problem." Kokyrie returned unconcerned. "Besides, you're big strong men. You should be okay out in the scary old woods. We poor little girls have been living out here for years and we're fine."

This prompted a fit of laughter from the entire assembly of Ixa'Ness women. But the laughter died as Kokyrie ordered the men to their feet. Gilder and his crew rose sullenly and moved to follow the raiders back to the cove where they would be shipped off to their probable doom.

"Just follow her for now. We'll make our move once we hit open sky. We'll take the ship when we have the home court advantage." Gilder whispered to Royce as the Ixa'Ness formed a protective circle around them. Gilder knew that there were just too many of them to deal with, but if they were going to face them it was better to do so on familiar territory. And the jungle was no place to die.

The crew of the Claudia was led through the trees by the Ixa'Ness raiders with Kokyrie in the lead. Gilder began feeling tense as they grew closer to the cove. He was worried about his crew, his ship and himself. All pleasant memories of last night were washed away by a sense of dread.

He was lulled from his dark musings by a sudden commotion in the front ranks of their escort party. Gilder tried to peer through the armed crowd to see what was going on. He heard the voice of an unknown raider speaking in alarmed tones to Kokyrie. There was something being said about a stranger on the path ahead. Gilder was curious as to who could be all the way out here and felt sorry for them.

Even as Kokyrie listened to the hurried report of her scout the sound of gentle footfalls rustling through the bushes came to the group. As the intruder came into view through the foliage Gilder suddenly felt sorry for himself instead.

There, standing on the path no more than a few dozen feet from him was a vision straight from a nightmare. It seemed to Gilder that Clara, his ever-loving stalker had found him once again. She stood before Kokyrie and a heavily armed group of Black Pirates with a serene smile on her face and her hands folded demurely across her waist as if she were simply walking into the home of an old friend.

"Oh, hello there. I'm Clara and I was just looking for a friend of mine." Clara began cheerfully. "He's got short brown hair and dreamy eyes and……oh, never mind. I see him. HELLO GILDY-POO!!"

Clara elbowed her way through the group of raiders and threw her arms around his neck paying no heed to the dozen or so crossbows being aimed at her. She nuzzled and fussed over Gilder all the while ignoring the murderous looks Kokyrie was giving her. Gilder stood frozen in shock as Clara cuddled him for a few moments until Kokyrie decided to break up their awkward reunion.

"Alright, that's enough!! Who in the six moons are you?!" Kokyrie thundered. She was absolutely livid and the Ixa'Ness were clearly ready to fill Clara full of arrows. The tension in the group was as tight as their bowstrings but Clara continued to smile that same serene smile. Gilder looked from Clara to Kokyrie and wondered which one of them was the lesser of two evils.

"Well you see, I am Gilder's beloved. And I've come to take him home." Clara answered. Gilder flinched as if mortally wounded by those words. "If you ladies will excuse us now, we really must be going. Ta-ta."

"Hold it. I don't know how you got here, but you'll be leaving with 'Gildy-Poo' all right. Just not in the way you're thinking." Kokyrie grinned maliciously as she turned to her crew. "Will one of you please tie Little Miss Perky here up? She'll be joining her sweetie on a nice romantic getaway in the tropics."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you deary." Clara warned. "Unless you'd like my crew to fill you all full of lead."

"What?! You're bluffing." Kokyrie thundered, her eyes going wide at the prospect of being surrounded. They were the Ixa'Ness after all. The jungle was their home and the thought of some town faring sailors being able to sneak up on them in their own territory was absolutely preposterous.

Clara raised her arm and the sound of thunder echoed through the trees as a pistol was fired from an unseen location. The shot struck the ground only inches away from Kokyrie's foot. She leapt back in surprise, all doubt of Clara's threat being removed from her mind. The other raiders pointed their crossbows into the forest but were unable to find any targets to shoot at, while they were clearly at the mercy of the unseen snipers.

"They surrounded you while I kept you distracted." Clara's smile had an edge to it now that Gilder had never seen before. "And now we'll be taking our leave. Goodbye ladies."

Kokyrie and her crew could only watch helplessly as Clara led Gilder and his crew off of the path and into the forest. A few of the Primrose's crew members met them as they entered the tree line while several others kept the Ixa'Ness in the sights of their weapons to cover the escape.

"Clara? Don't get me wrong, since I'm actually happy to see you this time, but HOW did you find me?" Gilder asked now that he had the chance. "I mean, do you have a crystal ball or something?"

"No silly. I just followed my heart, same as always." Clara giggled. "Actually it was Willy that led us to you. We found him flying around just outside of Horteka and he led us back to this area. Poor little thing was exhausted. He's resting now onboard my ship."

Good old Willy. Gilder grinned to himself. That bird had gotten him out of many scrapes in the past and this time was definitely above and beyond the call of duty. Clara continued to lead them through the jungle until the came to an area where the trees thinned out a little. Through a hole in the foliage Gilder could see the gaudy pink underbelly of the Primrose hovering above them.

"Okay, lets all get aboard now." Clara ordered as the rest of her crew came into the clearing. "Those awful savages will be after us soon and we need to get away from here."

Gilder was hustled aboard the ship as the crew made ready to sail. Royce joined him at the rail grinning like an idiot. Clara had moved away to issue orders to the crew but kept her eyes on Gilder the whole time, smiling and waving almost constantly. Gilder was about to leap the rail and run back to the Ixa'Ness when Royce stopped him.

"You have to admit, you owe her one now." Royce snickered. Gilder sighed and waved back at Clara. Dinner and a trip to the market should be enough to pay off his debt. But he was a little more worried now about getting the Claudia back. He was still pondering this when to Primrose lifted off and made for the cove to head Kokyrie off before the Viper got airborne.

They were too late. The sight of green sails moving towards them at a high rate of speed from the dead ahead sent Gilder to the helm of the ship. Clara was a Blue Rogue but he had never considered her to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. She'd need all the help she could get in dealing with the raiders.

"Oh don't you fret now sweetheart. Just let me handle those naughty pirates for now." Clara gently reassured him. "Then we'll see to getting your ship back for you."

Gilder smiled weakly at her. He actually found himself worrying about her now. She was annoying at times but her heart was in the right place. And, Gilder admitted, he was a hard target to resist. But as much as he avoided her Gilder didn't want to see Clara hurt or worse. His worries were put on hold as the sound of cannon fire echoed in the distance. The battle had begun.

A pair of cannonballs collided with the side of the Primrose in a shower of pink hued splinters. The ship's gunner, a girl Gilder knew as Belle, answered back with a return volley that came nowhere near the rapidly closing Viper. She grinned sheepishly back at Clara, a look of apology on her face.

This exchange was repeated twice more with the Primrose being bombarded by the smaller and more maneuverable Viper. Belle's aim was terrible at best and the Ixa'Ness vessel took no damage at all.

"It's okay dear. We'll just have to give you an easier target to hit." Clara consoled the young sailor who had begun to cry loudly. "Okay girls!! Prepare for the Dainty Maid maneuver!!"

"The….what?" Gilder asked but Clara and her crew were already moving to carry out the order. The sails were let out and the Primrose began to pick up speed. The deck lurched under his feet as the Clara gave the wheel a sharp turn to the left. The Primrose began a tight turn to its port side.

"Seems like they've had enough. Those town girls are no match for real women." Kokyrie scoffed from the Viper's deck. "Hard to starboard!! Line us up for a run at them. Full speed ahead!!"

"They're going to ram us!!" Gilder screeched, remembering the brass ram attached to Kokyrie's ship. Sure enough the Primroses wide turn had been matched by the Viper whose tighter turning radius had lined the ship up for a collision course with their port stern where there were no cannons, only the ships moonstone engine.

"Steady as we go ladies." Clara's tone was cool and even. "Get those cannons ready Belle. The rest of you prepare to Curtsey."

What was she talking about? Curtsey? Gilder was confused but Clara seemed to have something in mind. The Viper had built up speed and was set to drive its ram straight into the Primrose's engine. With the ship crippled Kokyrie and her band would swarm the deck and things would get bloody. Gilder hoped fervently that there was method to Clara's madness.

"Okay, Now!! Let's give them a bow!!" Clara threw her weight into the wheel and the ship suddenly put on a burst of speed and began to turn sharply to the starboard. Kokyrie continued on her collision course but now found the skies if front of her empty. The pirate ship slid past so close that Gilder could see the look of anger burning on Kokyrie's face. Clara had narrowly avoided the Viper's lethal strike and was now poised to take the victory.

"Belle, if you please." Clara stated calmly as the Primroses cannons were fired in unison. At such close range every shot hit its mark much to Belles delight. She began to cheer wildly as the Viper shuddered under the impact and began to smoke violently. The Ixa'Ness boarding party that had been poised at the ships railing were now scattering to put out fires and bring the badly damaged ship under control.

Through all the commotion Kokyrie stood unmoving at the helm of her ship staring intently at the Primrose. Clara gazed smugly back and a kind of mutual respect seemed to be established between the two women. And Gilder could almost swear that Kokyrie had smiled at him. Thoughts of their night together made him flush and he was secretly glad that things had ended this way.

"Well that was fun. Now lets head back and pick up the Claudia while they're too busy to stop us." Clara said as the Viper began to limp off towards the uninhabited island that Gilder and his men were to have been marooned on. Despite all that had happened he wished Kokyrie and her crew better luck than they would have had there.

In less than an hour Gilder was back at the helm of his own ship with Willy perched on his shoulder and Clara hanging onto his arm. Two out of three wasn't bad. He thought.

"I guess I owe you my thanks Clara. You really hauled my bacon out of the fire this time." Gilder confessed. Clara smiled broadly up at him and gave his arm a squeeze that threatened to cut off the flow of blood to his hand.

"I'll settle for your love instead Gildy-poo." Clara tittered. "But we can start with you buying me dinner at Gordo's Bistro."

"It's…….a date then." Gilder conceded. Clara threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. She ecstatically agreed to meet him at the restaurant for a romantic candlelit meal before heading back to the Primrose. Anchors were weighed and the two ships headed towards Horteka and the north ocean beyond leaving the Ixa'Ness and their jungle behind.

"Are you actually going out with her?" Royce asked incredulously. "I noticed that you've been acting a little differently towards her since she rescued us. Maybe you should start taking her a little more seriously. Be a little nicer to her maybe? You're not getting any younger. Maybe its time for you to settle down."

Gilder thought about the prospect for a moment. It was true that he wasn't a spring cocketta anymore. And he did feel a certain affection for Clara now. Maybe Royce's suggestion had some merit. Gilder pondered the situation for a few moments more.

"Have you gone completely insane?!" Gilder shrieked as his hand lashed out to smack his first mate on the back of the head. The thought of giving up his womanizing and settling down with Clara was a horrid vision that had wormed its way into his mind thanks to Royce.

As the Primrose continued to sail serenely into the north ocean the Claudia made a hard turn and moved away from Clara's ship as fast as the winds would carry it.

"Gilder!! Where are you going sweetie?!" Clara called as she brought her ship around to give chase. "Oh that man. When will he give up this silly game of hard-to-get and just confess his undying love for me? I'm coming dear!! Wait up!!"

The Claudia sailed off into the distance with the Primrose giving chase. Gilder had nearly been killed by Kokyrie and her band but being in Clara's company was no walk on the beach either.

"Oh well. It was just another adventure and we lived to tell the tale." Gilder sighed. "But there will be another sunrise to wake up to, and another girl to greet it with."

Gilder sincerely hoped that the next girl he met would be less troublesome than these last two had been.