The bright morning sun had climbed nearly to its zenith.
Caleb sat on the quarterdeck’s rail, feeling its warmth on his face. The mainsail bellied out in the breeze with a ruffle of canvas. The salty scents of the open ocean filled his nose as he looked over the sloop’s main deck.
Donal remained nearby at the helm, while a couple of crewmen wearing as much Sea Viper blue as Sienna could scrounge up went about their chores. The cannon remained in their stowed position, no jib sails had been put out, and no extra personnel lounged on deck. Everything aboard the Spitfire suggested a laid-back, uneventful voyage to the casual observer.
It was, of course, a complete lie.
Sienna and a dozen of the best-armed Arrenmar remained below decks, crouched in the shade of the timber-framed aft passageway. Tavia and a similar number of crew members stood ready to go at the forward passageway. All they needed was the signal to go.
And Caleb was going to provide that signal.
The ketch drew near on the steerboard quarter. She was roughly as long as the Spitfire, but broader across the beam. This made her look tubbier, but the larger hold would be appropriate for an island-hopping trading ship.
Crates covered by tarpaulin sheets to protect against rain crowded the deck. Caleb made out two figures standing on the ketch’s forecastle. One was tall, gaunt, and had shifty dark eyes. The man’s pallid complexion contrasted with the black, silver-trimmed clothing that marked him as a Komtur.
The other man was shorter, and more stoutly built. He wore the dark blue-and-silver outfit marking him as a Komtur with the Sea Vipers.
Caleb stood, waved, and pointed towards the man in blue. Then he cupped his hands around his mouth to help project his voice.
I hope the sailor’s conventions in Jaladri are close to what I know on Earth, he thought. Sometimes that’s not the case.
“Ahoy the ketch!” he called. “Who are you, and where be you from?”
“Ahoy the sloop!” the blue-clad man replied. His voice was high-pitched and tinny over the distance. “This is Captain Campion, of the Taipan. Three days out of Gilarska. Who are you, and where be you from?”
“Captain Ledger, of the Spitfire. Four days out of Deephold Port. We’re–”
The taller man in black stepped forward and grabbed Campion’s shoulder. The two men traded what looked like angry words. Caleb couldn’t make out what was being said, but he decided to take advantage of the distraction.
He cast Wind Shift, Minor to bring the breeze around to favor their sloop. The mainsail bellied out taut, while that of the ketch faltered.
“Bring us two points steerboard,” he instructed Donal, getting a quiet Yezzir in response. The two bowsprits pointed closer to each other and the distance between the ships began to rapidly shrink.
Finally, the black-clad Komtur shoved his way into the conversation.
“If you’re claiming to be the captain, then you’re a damned liar!” he spat. “This is Komtur Ozul, and I’ve served with that ship’s squadron. I know that sloop, and she’s always been under the command of Captain Adamos!”
“He’s not the captain right now,” Caleb shot back, though he didn’t have to yell anymore. “Allow me to explain the situation to you.”
Then he goosed the breeze by activating the Wind Cast spell. He boosted it with a quick drop of thirty experience points for good measure.
“Hard to steerboard,” Caleb ordered. “Now!”
Donal spun the wheel. Immediately, the deck tilted under their feet as the sloop heeled over to the right. Ozul and Campion traded a glance, then both men began shouting orders. Campion headed down towards the main deck, while Ozul remained on the forecastle, his dark eyes gleaming with anticipation.
Wait a minute. They didn’t act surprised or panicked, not exactly. Did they expect this move? Well, we’re committed now.
The two bowsprits slipped past one another. The ribbon of blue water measuring the distance between the ships quickly shrank to mere feet. Then to nothing at all.
With a KA-WHAM! and the rough screech of wood grinding against wood, the Spitfire and Taipan rubbed hull-to-hull. Their motion slowed in a cacophony of spine-tingling creaks, squeaks and an accompanying fountain of wood shavings. Each ship finally shuddered and ground to a halt.
That rough bang and scrape was all the signal that Caleb needed to provide.
An ear-splitting Hurrah! came from both rear and forward passageways. The two leading men from each boarding party ran forward, improvised gaffing or grappling hooks in hand. They dug their tools’ points into the Taipan’s hull and wound the lines against the Spitfire’s capstan, mainmast, or gun carriages. In seconds, the enemy’s vessel was well and truly locked in place.
Even though the helmsman aboard the ketch desperately spun his wheel, the two boats were locked for now. Sienna and her group leapt from the aft passage’s enclosure and charged towards the enemy ship, intending to board her en masse. With a clatter of hooves, Tavia led the forward section out with the same intent.
Suddenly, the tarpaulin sheets on the ketch’s main deck were thrown back. Around twenty Sea Vipers emerged from their hiding places. Cutlasses came out of scabbards in an instant, gleaming in the noonday sun.
The oncoming Arrenmar didn’t hesitate. In an instant, Sienna’s people leaped over the junction between the two ships and crossed blades with them. The air filled with the clangs! and schlings! as cutlasses clashed against each other.
The Myrkur may have had more experience with their weapons. But the Arrenmar fought with the fury of freed slaves, and the bitterness of vengeance. Far from having it easy, the cultists found themselves being pushed slowly back by the savagery of the attack.
A few of the combatants on both sides managed to pull their flintlocks. Caleb heard a scattering of cracks from pistol fire. A shot ricocheted off the mainsail’s boom as he descended the stairs to join the boarding party.
One of the stay lines from the mainsail parted with a twang. The loose end swung around so that he had to catch it before it hit him in the face. A second pistol shot dug itself into the wood railing next to his hand, throwing up splinters and making him duck.
Caleb looked across the way to see Ozul’s scowling face. The man tossed aside his smoking pistol and pulled a second one from his belt. He hesitated as one of the Spitfire’s crewmen fought his way up the stairs to the forecastle.
“Dammit, no!” Caleb shouted, though his voice was lost in the din of battle.
The sailor made it no further than three steps onto the forward deck before the Komtur drew down on him. Ozul calmly took aim and discharged his pistol with a crack! A greasy cloud of black powder smoke obscured the view for a moment.
When it cleared, the crewman lay flat on his back, a bloody hole where one eye had been.
The same red rage that had consumed Caleb on Irongrasp flickered to life once more. He’d done everything in his power to get the Arrenmar this far. And now this Komtur would slaughter as many as he could if he didn’t take matters into his own hands.
“You son of a bitch,” Caleb gritted. “Just wait till I get my hands on you.”
He blinked as he realized that he still had the stay line from the mainsail in one hand. His mind immediately flitted back to one of the key components of his new Corsair class.
Piratical Flair: This ability gives you an automatic bonus to complete any action taken during combat or in service of a Quest, so long as it is done with a certain level of flair.
Caleb’s next thoughts flickered through his mind in little static bursts.
Wait, does this mean...
This can’t be serious...
How is this even going to work?
The hell with this, I’m going for it!
He grabbed the line firmly with one hand and ran back up the steps to the quarterdeck. He pulled a pistol with his other hand and cocked it. Donal looked over from the helm, his eyes wide.
“Gods preserve us!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing, Captain?”
“What am I doing?” Caleb chuckled grimly. “What Lir and Danu are hoping for, I’m guessing.”
Without another word, he got up on the rail. Heart pounding in his ears, he swayed as he fought to keep his balance. All the while, his brain continued to shriek: Get down, this is insane!
Caleb leaped from the steerboard side rail over the side of the ship.
He swung across the gap separating the Spitfire from the Taipan.
For one timeless moment, Caleb saw everything slide by beneath him. Glints of steel blades striking each other. A flash of black powder as a pistol went off.
Combat raged all along the length of the ketch. Sienna and two others were locked in a cutlass-to-cutlass fight with Campion and a pair of the man’s officers. On the aft quarter of the Taipan, Tavia cut down one enemy swordsman with a slash of her horn, helping her group of boarders to push the Sea Vipers back.
The moment passed, and Caleb looked ahead to the forecastle. Ozul had turned, spotting him. The man dropped his second pistol. His hand went to his belt and pulled his last firearm. The barrel came up as the Komtur cocked the weapon.
Caleb brought his own firearm up and beat the man to the draw.
A crack! as he pulled the trigger. The ball flew the short distance and blew the pistol right out of the Komtur’s hand. Ozul let out a howl as he held up a palm punctured by splinters.
That howl was cut off as Caleb swung onto the forecastle, planting the heel of one boot firmly in the man’s face. The Komtur fell back three paces and slammed into the far side of the foredeck’s rail with a pained wheeze.
Caleb let go of the rope, landing squarely on the foredeck. He drew his cutlass and advanced on the cultist. His voice had a grimness that brooked no discussion.
“My crew’s trouncing your men, Komtur. You’ve lost. Surrender the ship.”
Ozul backed away from Caleb’s blade. His shifty eyes narrowed. Blood poured from one nostril, turning his black shirt even darker.
“I’ve lost?” he said with a laugh. “You still don’t understand. The trap’s just sprung.”
The Komtur’s hand moved in a blur. But not to his sword. Instead, he grabbed at a pendant hanging from a chain around his neck. Before Caleb could stop him, the man brought it to his mouth and blew on it.
A single, mournful note rang through the air, cutting through the clangs, bangs, and curses of the men and women fighting on deck.
It was followed by a rumble from deep within the bowels of the ship. Caleb stumbled back a half step as the deck moved under his feet. Ozul moved to blow into the pendant a second time.
Caleb lunged forward and clubbed the Komtur with his cutlass’ cup-shaped handguard. Ozul went down with a groan. That task completed, he ran to foredeck’s rail, looking back over the ketch’s long main deck.
A trio of windows popped up in Caleb’s Quest Screen. His pulse jumped as he skimmed through each one.
|Adventurer’s-Level Quest:||Attack and board target ship as a Corsair for the first time. Quest difficulty has subsequently been increased by 150% due to the next two subsequent quests. STATUS: IN PROGRESS|
|New Adventurer’s-Level Quest:||Attempt to escape or win through the trap set by the Myrkur’s Naval Arm, the Sea Vipers.|
|New Adventurer’s-Level Quest:||Attempt to survive the creature unleased by the Myrkur.|
The fighting stopped as sailors on both sides drew back. A hideous roar came from the ketch’s hold. Then the rustle and crack of wood snapping. The deck aft of the second mast humped up and bulged out as a plume of smoke spouted from the aft passageway.
On the far side of the ketch, Tavia backed off. She shouted at her companions to retreat. Iridescent red scales glittered in the sunlight as a reptilian-looking head emerged from below.
Caleb’s breath whistled out in amazement and horror.
Lir and Danu protect my crew. They’ve turned loose a damned dragon on us!