Rowan of Lockey bared his teeth in a fierce display of bravado as he worked the wrench with all his might together with the rest of the ballista crew.
The dark grey silhouette of the demon ship appeared to be charging directing at him with its dagger shaped bow at a speed that was mind boggling to him.
Over the course of the past two days, he had witnessed how it ambushed a flotilla of seven Imperial fighting barges each at least ten times its size! Not only did it disabled two of the barges, but it had also ran away while tricking them by releasing a large cloud of smelly black smoke.
Next came the reports that it had destroyed the pursuers sent after it before briefly disappearing somewhere in the vast river channels. Following that, reports from the patroling dragons spotted it and it managed to break out of the river blockade and now it was heading straight at him!
Rowan had stared in awe and shock when he first saw how its mage weaponry tore up the side of the Imperial barge unlucky enough to be in its sights.
He prayed as he squeezed every ounce of his strength, cranking the loading wrench of the ballista's arms as fast as he could. He flinched as he heard the telltale thunderous roar of its weapons and shut his eyes, mentally bracing himself for the destructive magic that was surely coming to claim his soul.
Only to get a whip across his sweaty bareback from the screaming ballista crew leader, "WHY ARE YOU STOPPING? KEEP WORKING THOSE ARMS!"
Rowan blinked back the tears from eyes in surprise and took a quick peek out of the firing slot. "I'm still alive?"
He ignored the stares of the rest of the crew as he patted himself before he turned to help wind the ballista. Rowan let out a relieved sigh as he realized that the demon cursed ship was attacking the other Imperial vessel first.
Finally, with a loud click, the arms of the ballista were locked back and two hoisted a spear that was as thick as his thigh and as tall as Rowan onto the slider.
"Stand clear!" The senior most ballista crew yelled at the rest and everyone backed away from the weapon to prevent getting injured when the weapon was fired.
Rowan stood at the side with the rest, the pain from the whip mark on his back forgotten as he nervously peered out the firing slot at the demon ship rushing to kill them all.
"TAKE AIM!" The beefy artillery commander strolled down the deck and roared out at the ballista men who tried their best to sight their weapons at the fast approaching ship.
"WHO FIRED THAT?" He screamed as some fool panicked and released the ballista bolt early, wasting the shot. "Drag them out and give them twenty lashes of the whip!"
"Mercy, my lord! MERCY!" The frightened artillerymen pleaded and begged as they dragged off by the soldiers. "Noooooo!"
"Hurry up and reload that weapon!" The commander yelled at the stunned crew. "And someone else takes over as the shooter!"
Suddenly, the hull of the barge shooked and loud cracking sounds and snaps could be heard. Someone gave a cry of pain and collapsed down with a puddle of blood that grew larger as Rowan stared in shock.
The crew became restless and frightened as the loud cracking noises appeared to be something powerful slamming against the hull. Once in a while, someone dropped down from where they stood either with a cry of pain or silently as if they had fallen asleep on the spot.
"Stood your ground you imbeciles!" The commander roared at the spooked crew. "Get ready to lose the ballistae!"
He bent over to view the coming demon ship and raised his hand high, he chopped it down suddenly and yelled, "LOO- URKKK?!!"
The commander jerked back and clutched his throat, fruitlessly trying to stem the squirting blood from the sudden wound in his neck.
The men panicked at seeing their commander injured, froze at their stations and for a second everyone looked at each in confusion.
Rowan jumped into action quickly and pushed the stunned crew member away from the ballista. He quickly used the simple notches carved into the beam of the ballista to sight in at the approaching ship and pulled the release bar of the ballista.
Instantly there was a whoosh, followed by a slap of air against his body and a loud snap as the arms of the ballista snapped forward. The man length bolt flew out of the slider and whizzed out into the air.
The loud snap of the ballista jolted the rest out of their surprise and they quickly re-aim their weapons and let loose the bolts.
Rowan kept his eyes on his bolt and watched it wobble in the air before it slammed tip down directly into the body of the demon ship!
"YESH!" He cried out in elation and all his pent up fear disappeared as he saw the demon ship swerved away sharply. "I KILLED IT!"
"THERE.. There... there's another one of those demon cursed boats coming!" Suddenly a cry of alarm came from the open hatch. "It's coming from behind!"
Rowan tore his eyes away from the scene of the demon ship floundering in the water and raced to the other side of the barge and stared out from the firing slot.
He could barely see a speck in the distance, but it was obvious that it was another demon ship as it appeared to be moving at a very fast speed on the water.
Everyone's attention was focused on the new enemy and the commander choking in his own blood was forgotten by all.
"What are you all doing?" Someone yelled from the hatch. "Why are none of you manning your stations! Where is Commander Rick?"
The men pointed to the body spasming gently in his death throes and the person who asked cursed. "Man the ballistas! Make ready to fire once that enemy ship is in range!"
Rowan stood there dumbstruck as he watched the newcomer approaching at a speed that was way faster than the demon ship he just killed. "We won't make it -!!!"
The hull where he stood next to disintegrate into flames and splinters. The high explosive loads of the 20 mm shells detonated as they slammed into the hull, turning Rowan into steaming bloody pulp.
FAC - 10, Havoc, flew across the water as the pilot put it on full speed. The forward 20 mm guns kept pounding away at the two Imperial barges at a distance way beyond that of a ballista while the 50 cals threw white tracers at the top decks of the ships, knocking down tiny man shaped figures.
"Oh Niner, come in!" The skipper of the Havoc called out over the radio. "Daisy! Come in! Over."
"Damn it!" Havoc's skipper slapped the radio handset back to its cradle and cursed. "Are we too late to save them?"
"Keep the fire up!" Havoc's skipper growled. "Kill them all!"
Quartz moaned in pain as his vision slowly cleared. He winched in pain and saw a piece of shrapnel sticking out from his left shoulder. He struggled to his feet and slowly crawled up from where he had being knocked off his feet.
He noticed that the boat was dead in the water and being dragged by the river current towards the Imperial blockade. The sudden impact of the ballista bolt had thrown him off the flying boat and he had landed at the aft of the boat and hit his head against the rear 20 mm gun mount.
Luckily he was wearing his helmet and he removed it with great difficulting, seeing the helmet had a crack across half of its dome surface, which most likely saved his life.
"Skipper! You alright?" Asked one of the 50 cal gunners at the side.
"What's the situation?" He asked the gunner.
"We lost the XO and the pilot!" The gunner replied in a low voice. "We got another two men overboard but we can't get to them due to current."
"Shit!" Quartz cursed and shooking his ringing head. "What happened?"
The gunner gestured to the wheelhouse and said, "Damn unlucky ballista bolt hit the wheelhouse directly and... Johnny is gone."
"The bolt wrecked the controls and caused the boat to stall," The gunner continued his report. "The impact threw everyone not secured off their feet."
"The XO and you fell off the flying bridge and... he didn't make it, Sir..." The gunner said. "And we are out of ammo for all the guns too."
"Shit!" Quartz repeated again. "Wait a minute! What are the Imperials doing all this time?"
"I am not sure, Skip," The gunner gave a shrug. "We only heard some explosions going on onboard those two ships but other than that, they are not bothering us..."
"Explosions?" Quartz made his way unsteadily to the side and stared at the two smoking Imperial barges. He got briefly make out some figures scrambling on the top decks of the vessels but that was it.
"And the Imperial Dragons?" Quartz asked as he squirmed his eyes at the skies.
"Gone too," The gunner replied. "I don't know what is going on, but... we are still alive so far!"
Quartz slowly made his way into the wrecked wheelhouse, where the internal bulkhead was painted in the blood of the pilot. The ballista bolt had directly slammed right into the pilot and the force of the bolt had turned the pilot into a bloody mess.
He swallowed his gorge and stepped back out and check on the remaining of his crew. He started off with fourteen brave young men, and now two were dead, two more being carried away by the river current, one unconscious and the rest all had varied degrees of wounds.
"Grab your personnel arms!" Quartz ordered the gathered crew. "And whatever ammunition we have left. Carry only necessities, like food and water!"
"We are going to abandon ship!" Quartz said to his crew. "I want all the twenty mikes and fifties destroyed! Whatever guns we can't bring toss them overboard!"
"Use the remaining fuel and burn the ship down!" Quartz ordered the mechanics. "I do not want anything salvageable by the Imperials! They must not get their hands on these techs!"
"Aye, aye, Skipper!" The men quickly obeyed his commands and started to sabotage the Daisy.
Quartz tenderly rubbed the hull of the Daisy and whispered, "Thank you for fighting this long with us! You are a great ship! I am proud to serve onboard you! Thank you!"
Sounds of hammering came from the aft as the men started to wreck the onboard weapons. "Make it quick! We don't know when the Imperials will come!"
Quartz leaned out from the side of the Daisy and gestured to two of his crew that had fallen overboard, indicating to them to swim to the shore. Both men wearing their life vest waved acknowledgment and headed toward the shore.
He turned back into the wheelhouse where they had placed the body of the XO who had broken his neck in the fall. He gave a quick prayer to both fallen men, "See you, my friends. You have fought bravely and died gloriously. Wait for us in the Hall of Warriors!"
"Skip!" One of the mechanics climbed up from the Engine room. "I dumped the fuel out already. Just need to set the timer for the explosives and we can go!"
Quartz nodded and checked on the rest who had wrecked the guns, leaving the Imperial no chance to study them. "Ready? It's gonna be a cold swim!"
The remaining crew laughed and secured their gear before jumping off the boat. Quartz remained behind till everyone had jumped off before he took out a grenade from his pouch and pulled the pin.
"See ya, Daisy!"