Chapter 15 – Skirmish

Selera stood at the forecastle railing, watching the frigate as it moved to head them off. The call of the eyes from overhead reporting the change in course. She waited for the order in anticipation, seconds passing slowly. The sound of the ballista crews to her sides, winding the cranks, the ratchets clicking harshly as the great bows were drawn.


‘Selera, fill our sails.’ she heard the Captain’s order reach her over the wind.


She smiled, her eyes glowing, leaving ghostly blue trails as she moved. The dwarves nearby quickly grabbed handholds, bracing themselves. She smiled to them and nodded before gesturing to the sails, her leading hand outstretched. Her eyes flaring brightly as she breathed out, closing her fist over the air. Grabbing at it and punching in a swift motion towards the bow, as if she were dragging the wind along. Almost instantly, the sails strained harder, the masts groaning under the increase in load and the ship pulled forward, drawing a rousing cry from the crew.


She looked starboard, her eyes still glowing to see the sloop was now alongside, just out of bow range. Looking further back, the sloop to their aft was now coming within range. A volley of arrows rained down over the rear of the ship, burning up with Sialin’s blue flame as they flew into range. She heard the calls of the rear ballista crew as they readied their shot, awaiting the order of the Captain. Selera steadied herself as the ship lurched to port, away from the closing frigate and putting distance between the sloop alongside and the Fiddle, denying it an opportunity.


Selera watched the smaller ship alongside, noticing a change as they maintained their gap. She shielded her eyes from the glare, noting a shimmer on the other’s sails.


‘Sloop abeam, caster sighted.’ she called out.


‘Caster sighted mid-ship, grey robes.’ was heard from the eyes above.


She quickly looked back to the frigate ahead as it adjusted its course, changing to suit the arc of the Lychen’s Fiddle. She saw a red flash from the deck of the still distant, but closing frigate and a sudden trail of smoke. Her eyes narrowed as she observed the long, thin projectile lance out and over the water.


‘By the gods!’ she cried out in surprise as a shrill whistling sound approached.


She leaned over the railing, trying to keep an eye on the tight trail of smoke and the projectile ahead of it.


‘Captain! Hard starboard! Track starboard!’ she screamed as she started to run towards the helm, darting between the crew amidships as they loaded the cannons.


Catching sight of it again as she neared the main mast, she invoked her power. Her hand and arm glowing and trailing a blazing blue light, she leapt forward. She slid to her knees and planted her opened hand onto the deck beside the mast, the ship suddenly lurching heavily towards starboard. She braced herself as the deck heaved, looking up, catching the trail of smoke as it is closed with them. Selera released the light into the deck, a deep resounding rumble shuddered through the ship as her spell took hold.


Sialin reached her side, her eyes flaming as she looked up, following Selera’s line of sight. Sialin saw it the moment before the projectile impacted, exploding in a shower of fire and shrapnel as it hit Selera’s rapidly erected shield, deflecting the fire and flames away from the ship. The shock wave from the explosion penetrated, blowing the wind momentarily out of the sails.


Selera rolled onto her side, grabbing at the rigging around the mast. She watched other crew members being torn from their feet as the ship floundered. She heard Sialin’s shocked yell of outrage, a split second before she felt rather than heard the deafening sound of timber splitting and cracking. Scrambling to her feet, she ran towards the helm, time slowing as riggers and nearby crew attacked the main mast, cutting the sail leads and ropes with hatchets and axes. Releasing pressure off the top of the mast.


Sialin strained, pressing her hands against the main mast, the words of spell craft spilling from her as she reinforced the cracking timber. She looked up, her amber eyes spitting flames as she saw the crack working its way down as the remaining sails once again caught the wind, causing the mast to twist. Finishing the spell, webbing started to grow and tendrils knitted themselves into the wood, drawing the crack closed, strengthening it for the moment.


‘Sialin, how long?’ screamed the chief rigger, his hearing half gone.


‘Until it fails? Ten, maybe more.’ she said, running past him for the helm.


She covered her ears with her hands as the whole starboard side of dwarven cannons roared to life, spitting fire and hurling their lead shot at the once trailing sloop that was suddenly alongside and struggling to pull parallel. The enemy crew caught off guard when the Fiddle had rapidly changed direction to avoid the explosion and floundered. Splinters of wood exploded along the enemy sloop’s exposed broadside, the screams of the crew caught unaware by the efficiency of the dwarven guns and ballista.


While the heavily wounded enemy ship pulled to the starboard in an attempt to put distance between them, arrows and crossbow bolts were being fired haphazardly towards the Fiddle. Thudding into the deck and catching some of the Fiddle’s crew unaware. Sialin looked around, her eyes seeking wounded crewmen. Rushing to the nearest while she summoned her flames, she grabbed and pinned the hurt crewman to the deck with overwhelming physical force, tearing the crossbow bolt clear of his shoulder and healing the wound rapidly with her fire. She left him on his back, screaming in shock and writhing in pain, his shoulder ablaze but mending fast as she searched out the next patient with rugged and ruthless efficiency. Such was her concentration that she barely noticed as a second volley of dwarven lead tore into the stern of the fleeing sloop, obliterating the helm of the vessel and rendering it rudderless and at the mercy of the wind.


The Captain stood at the helm, his eyes steeled as he watched the brief moments of mayhem unfold. The first mate, Darius barking orders to the crew as the Captain manned the wheel, guiding the ship as it righted and pulled with the wind. He smiled grimly, the sloop that was originally tailing them since sunrise was severely wounded above the waistline, listing to starboard and rudderless. The frigate ahead was closing but no longer at a favourable angle.


He smile grew as he pulled on the wheel, whispering to himself, ‘Feed, my beauty.’ as he aimed the Fiddle directly at its prey.


Selera reached the helm as the Captain roared, ‘Brace for impact.’


She turned, looking ahead. The Fiddle’s sudden change in direction immediately before the explosion had placed it favourably, to attack not just one, but both sloops. The second, with caster aboard was caught directly in line with its port broadside vulnerably exposed to the leading edge o of the Fiddle’s steel reinforced and wedged keel. Selera grabbed for the railing, the Fiddle acted as an axe, its bulk, speed and angle sheering into the side of the stricken vessel effortlessly. With barely a shudder, it splintered timbers and cleaved through the smaller vessel, the axe-like bow of the Fiddle did its work, splitting the sloop and pushing the rear third along and under the keel, breaking it up and leaving a trail of broken timbers, rigging and bodies behind. The remaining two thirds now on its side, masts in the water, acting as an island as its’ sailors scrambled out of the water and onto the raised bulge of the keel. Selera shared a look with the Captain as he glanced behind at the wreckage.


‘What in the depths of hell’s name was that thing that flew at us?’ he said loudly over the sounds of the crew at work.


She shared a look with him, ‘It shouldn’t be here, it is a wonder it even worked. I have seen a number of them at the Enclave. They are a weapon, similar to a firework. They can be extremely deadly.’


‘A rocket?’ he asked.


She nodded, ‘Similar, some were so large and powerful they could destroy whole cities.’


‘Hopefully they had only one that worked. The mast?’ he asked earnestly.


She shook her head as Darius returned.


The first mate speaking, ‘The main mast? Its finished. The men are working on cutting it clear one third the way up. Its length is cracked through. We can only have the lowest sail. Sialin’s magic is holding it together for now. We’ll be going into the next fight limping.’ he said as he looked forward, the crew clearing the deck and readying for meeting the enemy frigate and the dropping of the mast.


A member of the crew ran up, ‘Captain, readying to drop the mast at your command.’


The Captain looked to Selera, ‘List her portside.’ he said.


He yelled out to the crew, ‘Brace yourselves, dropping the main mast, listing portside on my mark.’ he waited a moment before nodding to Selera, ‘Ho, listing portside!’ he yelled out.


She grasped the railing, her eyes glowing and flaring as she concentrated. The water started to swirl and eddy on the portside of the ship as she drew on one of her most base elemental skills. Manipulating the sea around them she forced the Lychen’s Fiddle to list, slowly tipping the vessel on a wave. Sweat broke out on her brow as she willed the sea to do her bidding. She no longer saw the ship or anything around her as her eyes streamed blue light, her power bleeding from her as she awaited the Captain’s signal while holding the ship. Faintly through the roaring in her head she heard the damaged mast hit the water, then a hand on her shoulder. She started to relax her hold on the sea, letting the Fiddle right itself. Selera dropped to her knees, shaking, her eyes trailing wisps of power as she gathered herself.


‘Well done, my dear.’ she heard in her ear, the Captain’s voice husky and deep as he helped her to stand, her vision returning to normal.


Sialin caught Selera’s eye on deck, waving, they heard her voice faintly, ‘Six wounded, and recovering.’


Sialin gestured to the Captain’s cabin and ran swiftly, disappearing below them. The Captain guided the wheel, keeping the enemy dead ahead as they tried to come out wide. Selera felt a strange vibration underfoot, as if the deck were the plucked string of a harp. But before she could consider the thought, another flash of red flame and another rocket was in the air, arcing out into the sky, leaving a trail of smoke as it approached. Selera readied herself, a deep blue glow simmering under her hands. Without warning, in mid-flight, it changed course, its stability lost and exploded mid-air, a dull concussive booming tearing through the wind.


She looked at the Captain, ‘They won’t risk firing another. We are closing too quickly.’ Selera said, shaking off her temporary fatigue and answering his unasked question.


Releasing the railing, the sudden tension left her shoulders. She looked down as Sialin burst out from the Captain’s quarters below them.


Sialin looked up at her, fear etched on her face, ‘Selera!’


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