When did this change? No going back.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Not all plans are successful. However a select few, reflected Niccolo, were too successful - and so this one had been. They had taken off like a shot, racing past the ship that had been assigned to pin them back, and had then coursed towards the main fleet, and now found themselves in the midst of a tangle of ships, which were sprawled out irregularly around them. Of course, the admiral was no fool, when he saw a multi-colored winged vessel under four masts careening past his fleet at full sail, he prepared chain and grapple shot, and had every ship blast away.
While it was near impossible for anyone to fire a considered shot, and several slashed through their own fleet, enough tore through sails and masts of their vessel to form a growing tangle of spars and chains, ropes and hooks. Boarders took knives in their teeth and began swinging across. However the cannon fire stopped, clearly someone had decided that this vessel was too important as a prize to smash to bits.
Albrecht tried walking on the mast, and then crawling, finally reaching a leather strap that went down to the hammer that Higar still gripped, chanting his one word over and over again. With a quick grab, there was nothing more to it than to ride along the leather, and put feet up to use the massive torso of the giant to break the slide. Higar shook his head and startled as if waking from a dream. Albrecht waved around, showing that they were surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned.
Higar stood up with a creak, and then jumped fore to grab his maul. Albrecht pulled his rapier, and several smaller assorted throwing dirks, along with a main-gauche. He was back on the left mast just as the first sallies were upon it swinging and swaggering down the spire at him. He had to sweat and climb upwards. Viewed from the deck it seemed as if a slow and clumsy man was about to be overwhelmed by an elite guard, so smooth the dropping boarders were.
One by one the fell victim to knives. Each throw seemed painful, as Albrecht arched his back and twisted his torso to unloose a small cross-shaped stiletto. Somehow as Albrecht closed, the attackers seemed to lose their footing or their grip, easy swings missed their mark, and then became ghastly failures. Each face a mask of horror as its wearer flew into brisk space, convulsed as he hit the pure ether and coughed up blood, lungs and guts. Foot by foot the leather clad defender crawled upwards, knocking off their grip those that still held on, stabbing others in the hands, and finally shafting the few left as they fell down into his rapier, almost comically spinning off into space once skewered.
The starboard side the scene was a more direct carnage, as Higar's maul simply spattered and crushed. However, at the same time the hooks and spars were tearing apart the sails. Within minutes the vessel was no longer under sail but was a scribble of lines and shredded canvas.
At this point a small group of helmeted men gathered on the side of one nearby vessel. They were armed with tridents, and their great helms had mesh masks, they wore plates that covered much above their waists, and had additional protection along the front of their legs. These were members of a feared company of freebooters, found on the worst pirate vessels, and the most brutal and rapacious looting expeditions. They were called the Dragon's Company, and it was said they would take their sworn enemies to be fed to waiting wyrms, their souls to be tormented for a thousand years before being allowed to depart, or so the stories went.
They pushed off and slung tridents to stick in the side of the brutalized small ship. Behind each was a wrapped wire that the freebooters slid down, swinging around and around in a remorseless and relentless descent.
One reached the aft, and began hacking at the lanterns. However, he neglected the chubby robed priestess who unlatched one of the wheellock hackbuts on the rack that in earlier hours she had carefully loaded. With an easy air, she placed the stock against her shoulder and fired at point-blank range. A huge hole gaped in the attacker's mask and blood spattered in every direction, as the helmet tore away and slowly tumbled, along with the remains of a head, into the distance. She gingerly pulled one hackbut after another off the rack and with a practiced ease, drew a bead down the trident. She blasted each off, taking two or even three attackers with each charge, as the first would tumble backwards into his comrades. A great haze of sulphur and consumed charcoal grew around her and then flooded down along the deck, covering everyone up to knee height in green. Phlogiston began to foul the air. It was left to the old astrologer to have the presence of mind to take out his small wire clippers and begin snapping the bonds.
The waves were relentless. On port Albrecht was being forced backwards as the attackers finally realized not to use any flourishes, but instead grip hard and lunge fast. On starboard Higar had been ripped by two hackbut balls, and looked as if he were unravelling on the spot, with blood starting to seep from earlier wounds. A small boat filled with boarders had latched on to the jibe and began throwing grappling lines over the front.
Through all of this the princess had watched. She was disappointed in Albrecht's fighting, she had expected something as fine as his drawings, something as noble as his face, instead of a tortured beast straining. At every moment her heart had sunk, as she was sure that he was doomed. And yet with each escape there was only time for one breath of relief before he was beset again. However, she could do nothing effective to aid in the melée. She carried no sharp weapons, nor did she use firearms, large or small. Even packing the powder seemed beyond her strength. Her arms were truly royally delicate and thin, her wrists refined.
However she was not with resource, in her hands sat a finely wrought tetrahedral stand, within which a jade ball hung from a wire. On closer inspection, it could be seen that the surface of the ball was carved a celestial dragon, not the winged clawed ether beast, but one of the creatures that according to what she had been taught bound this cosmos together. It was tracing a figure as it moved along its course. She concentrated.
A summoner would have been calling dragons by name, forcing, or cajoling them to his or her will, bending their minds, or yanking their substance from nether realms intertwined with theirs. Her magic was not of this kind. Instead, she knew that wyrms and dragons often feasted on the ether near the bowshock of ships or spheres, far enough from the sister's reach, and obscured from the son's gaze to avoid being knocked away, and yet close enough to allow the waves of energy sluice over them, there to gather bits of substance with which they could, over time, cast a scale of the essence of either sphere or sun, as their purpose was.
She could not aid the captain in his desperate saber hacking, the astrologer in his cutting, Albrecht in his fencing, Morwethe in her shooting, or Higar in his smashing. But she was not inactive. She noted the swings of the pendulum and then fished out from her belt a piece of metal that was shaped like a “U.” with a handle. On it was a small number incised in red markings. She dodged the fire, walked down into the hold, and stood over the center of the oval, where the small model of the ship was embedded. She tapped the metal to the amber, and then set it down directly on the center of the amber. There was first a moderate hum, it then grew to an overwhelming vibration, that was heard and felt throughout the ship, and outwards into the ether.
What she had done was sent forth an etheral din, maddening the wyrms and dragons that hunted in the bowshock, until they were like sharks where there was blood in the water. Even as another wave of boarders readied a new onslaught, and a flag was run up from the admiral's ship, the black flag that said no quarter given or asked for, even as Albrecht was knocked by a chunk of wood dropped on him, even as Higar was knelt in pain under another shock, even as a new round of tridents slammed aft, finding Morwethe without another hackbut, there came over all a gigantic buzzing sound. It did not grow gradually, but turned in steps from a sound like a thousand beehives to a massive grinding and then like the roar of a giant river cataract, or the conflagration of a city aflame, engulfed all else.
The attacking fleet's sailors and commanders turned and look. They could not cut the lines fast enough to escape and bear off. Even so, one of the pickets was dashed as a tail sliced through its hull as if it were butter left to stand on a sullen hot day. There were four, they grabbed and snatched bodies sucking the forms into a liquid slush and allowing them to pour down elongated throats. The movements of these wyrms were not fast, they could not help but be like the twisting of ropes on the water: looping and lashing, but taking minutes do to so. These were not even the calculating and conniving dragon lords, who lived brief bright lives of power, but the equivalent of serpents in space, roving appetites that might subsist for a millennia or more in only a half awareness of their possible power. Their maws were lined with teeth, they had only two eyes, and behind their claws and bat like wings trailed long streamers that ended in a brutal stinger as large a harpoon head. There sides blazed with circles of red cold light, and the edges of their wings glowed yellow, converting the ether into ayre for their use and consumption.
The other ships were scattering, leaving a nearly wrecked small craft in their midst, with a few boarders making last desperate charges: anything was better than to be swallowed by a wyrm and become a scale for however long it lasted, often beyond the life of the dragon itself. Higar grabbed a chunk of mast and skewered five men, before a wyrm's claw passed by and sprayed the others in every direction, as water flies from a dog.
At the same time, the same wyrm, at least 10 times as long as the small craft slashed with its tale. But instead of the expected cleaving of its target, the timbers held, there was a singing from the blue heart and the hull held. However, the result was almost as ominous for the crew: they were knocked far from the bowshock, and were somersaulting end over end off the ecliptic where all the known spheres, moons, and other moving bodies abided.
All were bumped and bruised by the tumbling of the vessel. However at one moment, Albrecht's grip loosened and he slid several times across the deck, until, it seemed, some miraculous stroke of fortune wedged him against a mast. Blood was seeping from several of his wounds, and he seemed like a doll made of corn silk: almost without bones, and held together by slender bindings.