My left arm bristles with tension but I try not to move in my hammock to avoid alarming them. What are they doing, ambushing me in my sleep? Idali should have been gone by now and he is wielding that flow torch like a weapon.
As I start assembling a lightning construct, the Captain makes a slow half step towards me, eyes on Idali. She moves in-between me and him, extending her spearhead towards his chest, leaving no doubt about her intentions.
“Go ahead. I really don’t have much left to lose.” She whispers.
“I do not know what you’re talking about.” George mutters.
“Sure.” Idali replies sarcastically. Her tone is low, likely to avoid waking me. “It’s just a coincidence that your sailors are surrounding the Rykz outside with whatever piece of wood they could find.”
“We didn’t volunteer to fight this war!” He blurts out.
“So you’ll kill the woman who ended it for the Izla?” Idali angrily spits out.
Their voices are now loud enough that I would have woken up if I hadn’t already but neither seems to realize it. Idali threatens the captain by making small circles with her weapon.
“She’s wanted by the Order and by Nobility! We just want to hand her over. It’s the only way to make it out safely.” George argues.
“Even I’m not that stupid.” Idali chuckles darkly. “You think Odo will just let you go after finding you on Duke Meria’s galley?”
The dozen warriors guarding the cabin outside switched their shields from their backs to their left claws at some point in the night, other claw laid on their saber’s spherical handles. No doubt because, beyond my field of detection, sailors are facing them.
“It’ll be a massacre if you try this.” I utter coldly.
Idali and George jump in surprise. She keeps her cool, her spear remains trained on the man, but he drops the small wooden torch, clack, and steps back in fear. He throws a quick glance at the door, contemplating running away.
“You wouldn’t be able to kill them in one blow and the Rykz don’t stop on account on injuries, however grave.” I tell him, rising and hopping out of the rope net.
“You have no right to drag us into this!” Captain George exclaims.
“Didn’t plan to.” I grunt, picking up my hammer. “Whatever you had planned, it was stupid and more likely to get you killed than fighting Odo would be.”
I throw a glance out the window to make my point, expecting to find rafts filled with warriors, yet all I find are waves void of any Rykz. Fuck. Of course he left them behind before trying to kill me. I notice, only now, that Aisha is there, hidden outside beside the door frame. To warn me? I keep the information in store for later.
“You idiot.” I growl at the captain.
George moves away from me, not quickly enough. I rush up to him and, with a flick of my left wrist, lay the bladed part of my hammer flat on his shoulder. He freezes, pale and fearful. The white of his cheeks contrasts heavily with his thick red beard.
“Where are they?” I question him.
“A few lunges behind us.” Idali responds instead.
I make my way out of the cabin, using my weapon to drag the captain along. He tries to resist, instinctively, making the sharp edge bites into his shoulder. He yelps in pain, I ignore that to glare at the sailors who are facing the Rykz with improvised weapons like crowbars and chunks of wood that appear to have come from a barrel.
“Put those away, they’ll only get you killed!” I urge them. Their lack of reaction annoys me so I force the captain to move in front of me, edging my hammer’s blade towards his neck. “Now!”
My shout affects the warriors who unsheathe their sabers all at once. The sailors drop their weapons and step away, scared. I climb up to the bridge, finding the second nervously holding the steering wheel as she watches me approach.
“Name?” I coolly ask the second.
“Dana.” She replies.
“Do you want to be a captain, Dana?” I say while throwing a meaningful glance at the captain.
“N, no.” She stutters, shaken by the implication behind my question.
“Then order them back to their posts and link back with the Rykz.” I tell her sharply. “And get a rowboat down at sea.” I add, looking at Idali.
“I’m not going.” She tells me.
“I am grateful for your help, but you need to leave.” I explain.
“I won’t.” Idali stubbornly says. “They can’t be trusted to watch your back.”
“And you are?” I scoff.
“I always hold my end of the deal.” She frowns, offended by the insinuation.
“You said you would deliver the message, keep that word.” I tell her.
“Correction, you said I would.” Idali deadpans. I glare at her and she sighs. “You can send someone else, it’s just a letter.”
“I’ll go!” A sailor, perched on the mast, exclaims.
Most of the sailors on the upper deck join their voices to ask for the chance to escape. I ponder for a moment and remove my hammer from the captain’s throat to lay it back on my shoulder.
“Silence!” I shout. “You, and you.” I point at two adolescents, the youngest.
There are many grumbles of disagreement and arguments that the rowboat can hold at least a dozen but I ignore them, focusing on the sea. The Rykz rafts are maybe five hundred meters behind us, barely visible as the sun is just now beginning to poke over the horizon.
The three black sailed galleys are three times as far but much quicker and on a course to intercept us rather than the Rykz. I throw a glance at Idali and she nods, leaving to talk to the two young sailors who are already removing an oiled tarp from the rowboat they plan to take.
“They’ll reach us a lot sooner if we slow down.” Captain George tells me.
“Consider yourself lucky I haven’t killed you.” I reply sharply.
“It wasn’t personal.” The second, Dana, intervenes.
“We still have a chance if we ditch the cargo!” He insists.
“Answer this for me.” I turn to George. “Why are they this close despite you changing direction?”
“They probably burned all their flow to catch up.” He says hesitantly.
“Before a battle? No, I don’t think so. There is a Count on one of these ships, at the very least.” I note calmly.
“That’s even more reason to evade them!” George exclaims, swearing.
“I’m going to get ready. What you’re going to do is retreat to the center of the rafts when they catch up.” I tell him. “I don’t need you to fight but I won’t let you get in my way either.” The man holds his silence. “Understood?”
“Understood.” He says between grit teeth.
I storm back to the cabin, caring none about shoving aside those sailors who unintentionally block my path. I’m sick of having to watch my back for this shit every step of the way. A consequence of being Elizabeth Vil.
I walk up to my hammock and fit my hard leather armor on. I hesitate to put the chain-mail on but decide that the protection it offers is worth the risk. Lastly, I tie my mask to my belt and set my helmet over my head. Idali arrives and settles against the door-frame.
“You’ll sink like a stone.” She comments.
“Better that than end up captured.” I shrug.
I adjust my left hand’s grip on my hammer and walk past her to go out. I walk up to my warrior escort and grab one of their shields. The Rykz opens his claws and releases the spherical handle. I turn it around and strap it to my right arm. I take a second one and hand it over to Idali.
“They’re likely going to volley us with arrows or constructs.” I explain.
“Thanks.” She says, putting it on her left arm. “Handle is a bit finicky.”
“It takes some getting used to, grab the claw grooves.” I reply.
“Ah.” She nods.
The upper deck is almost empty now, only a few sailors remain to take care of the sail while the rest went down to the rower’s deck. I detect them taking seats on benches and opening hatches to slide the oars out.
I climb the stairs to the bridge with Idali, finding that Captain George took the helm, his second is watching the three enemy galleys and giving him updates on their speed.
I lay back against the guardrail, biding my time. A few workers climb the stairs up to the upper deck from the cargo bay, carrying baskets of one-meter long spear projectiles. They use strings to attach them to the available cleats, those that the sailors aren’t using to secure the sail.
The dexterity demonstrated by these workers never ceases to surprise me. It seems obvious that they would be considering the wide range of tools employed by the Rykz civilization but their three-fingered hands look so different from mine that it is difficult to comprehend, even when seeing it with my own eyes.
“The lead ship is falling to the rear.” Dana informs her captain who looks over his shoulder.
“Reverse ‘V’ formation. They’ll board right after the others two clear out our flanks.” He comments with frustration.
“How would they ‘clear’ that many rafts?” I ask.
“They’ll navigate past us and ram the floating planks that get in their way, obviously.” He groans. “Full stop!” He calls out.
The rowers beneath us lower their oar into the water and the sailors on the upper deck pull the sail completely down. The galley slows down so abruptly that I stumble despite holding the guardrail.
The rafts meet up with us within a dozen minutes, during which the three galleys inexorably close the distance. There are small figures on the deck, most of them wield short bows and protected by hard leather armors. I make use of an eyesight enhancing construct and catch sight of swords at their waists.
The captain gives the order to pivot the ship to face them, without explaining. My best guess is that he hopes they’ll get bogged down fighting the Rykz and that would allow him to go full speed ahead, forcing them to make a full turn in a sea of debris to chase us down.
“No, stupid creatures! Don’t do that!” George shouts in distress.
The Rykz are bringing their rafts side to side, forming a wide platform with the rudimentary embarkations. Warriors are even grabbing our hull with their claws to keep the improvised structure connected to our ship.
“They’re blocking our oars! Tell them to stop!” He yells at me.
“Why?” I ask calmly. He takes a moment to calm down before answering.
“We can’t move if they’re clinging to us and they’ll get smashed once these galleys get to ramming speed.” He says.
I nod, that makes sense. I try to get the Rykz to split by signaling with my hands, to no effect. I slam my hammer on the deck but the very few that notice what I’m doing up here react by either starting to climb the hull to join me or bring the rafts even closer together.
“It’s not like I can talk to them.” I tell Idali who is raising an eyebrow.
“Well, they sure took that for them.” She comments as the dozen warriors climb up to the bridge.
“They might have orders for this kind of situation.” I tell the captain. I omit to mention the fact that it’s doubtful the Rykz even know that enemy galleys are approaching since they’re so far away, they might be able to smell out the fact that we’re getting ready for battle though. “I can’t think of a way to get them to spread out.”
“Can’t you get them to do what these are doing?” He asks me.
In response to my confused glance, he points at rafts carrying four scouts and two rowing workers each who are patrolling around the edge of the large floating platform the Rykz are putting together.
“I don’t have that kind of precise control, no.” I admit.
As far as I call tell, they’re reading my limb’s pheromone cues as much as my signals. Loud regular drum beats are carried over to us by the sea wind. Shortly after, the rhythm at which the galley-slaves are rowing accelerates, making the three galleys drastically pick up in speed.
“Too late.” Captain George grunts, clasping to the steering wheel’s handles.
Three volleys of arrows are suddenly released from the enemy ships. They climb in the dawn sky and, once they reach past their peak, rain down on us. I raise my Vuskyt shield and cover the captain’s back while Idali protects Dana.
“Duck behind me!” I yell, kneeling.
I intercept four projectiles with the shield while my helmet diverts a fifth. The three sailors tending to the sail aren’t so lucky and two of them fall dead, arrows impaling their chests.
“By the fiery Lake! At least they’re not flaming arrows.” Dana exclaims.
“Well, that confirms my suspicion that this is a trap.” I comment, preparing for another volley.
“Or they want to capture the ship intact.” George counters, crawling behind the helm for cover.
As their archers release their arrows, I hear wood shattering with a loud crack. I throw a glance over my round shield and find desolation. The platform that the Rykz formed with their rafts shattered under the enemy galley’s reinforced bows.
Those in their direct line were directly cracked in two while the impact shook the warrior’s claws from their grips and the entire structure is being dismantled by waves.
Most tragic is the large number of Rykz who fell or were thrown into the water, only to sink and drown because their limbs are unable to find enough purchase in the liquid to float.
Even the workers don’t fare well despite having hands and the lack of any metallic gear. It simply takes them a little longer to go under, which prolongs their suffering.
Like George predicted, the two galleys head straight for our flanks while destroying the rafts in their way. They aim to brush to either side of us to allow the last galley, that is just now hitting the remains of the dismantled platform, to board us. There are soldiers on its port side with coiled ropes that end with grappling hooks in hand.
The workers raise their atlatls, placing one of their spear projectiles in the socket, aligned with the stick’s groove. My warrior escort forms a shield wall along the guardrails to protect us four. Twenty more, who climbed the hull from their rafts, form up on the deck.
Wish I had harvesters. I switch my left hand’s grip on my hammer and bring it closer to the head because it’ll be easier to swing the weapon like this while I have a shield.
The two galleys rush at us, their oars pulled back inside just before they brush the flanks of our hull. They shatter the few rafts still clinging to our ship, and make it violently pitch.
The soldiers on both ships release a third volley of arrows that is mostly intercepted by the warriors despite the trouble they’re having to maintain their footing and the difficulty of handling such crossfire.
The few projectiles that make it past them either fly over their flat heads or hit the back of those on the other side only to be diverted from vital areas by their sturdy Vuskyt chest-plates.
A handful of warriors suffer from puncture wounds to their unprotected arms, and two die from lucky shots that find the hinges between the plates protecting their upper and lower trunks. All things considered, I expected many more losses than this.
The forty workers retaliate with their atlatls, propelling their spears towards the ship on starboard. They fly over the short distance and impale several soldiers who are too slow to crouch behind the hull.
That flank taken care of, for now, I throw a look on port-side. Standing on that galley’s bridge is a tall woman with a veteran’s hardened traits and an intense light blue glare. Her hard leather armor is practical and without embellishment but a golden glow betrays the presence of runes hidden within its many layers.
That face is definitely familiar to me but our ships pass each other so quickly that I don’t manage to put my finger on who that could be while she remains in sight.
I don’t even have time to search my memory because the third galley, the one aiming to board us, is approaching us at full speed making use of the clear path created by the other two.
“These crazy bastards aren’t slowing down!” Captain George yells in panic.
The soldiers on the top deck are spinning their grappling hooks above their heads. They release them just as our two ships cross paths. As their galley doesn’t slow down, the hooks are immediately pulled back and find purchase in the hull or guardrail.
The soldiers hurriedly wrap the tail of their ropes around their ship’s cleats, just in time as the ropes are soon pulled taut because the enemy galley continues along its course, trying to drag us along.
The two ships, one immobile and one quick, find themselves suddenly attached to each other from bow to stern. The ropes make both of them tip to port, their hulls squeaking and creaking in protest, they end up drifting sideways, a small distance apart. A lot of their momentum was transferred to our heavier galley.
The sudden pitching spares none, humans and Rykz fall down, some flat on their faces. I manage to recover quickly by rolling along with it so I get on my knees and almost manage to stand. Yet, the pitch of our ship reverses and the deck dips to starboard, destroying my balance once again.
I plant my hammer’s spike in the bridge and use it as a crutch to rise. The two other galleys are changing course to circle around us like sharks, destroying any and all Rykz raft attempting to rescue us.
“Well, fuck.” I swear.
I tear my weapon out of the wooden planks and assemble lion’s steps. I step back and break into a full run, leaping over the small stretch of sea separating both ships. I land next to a still dazed armed woman and break her leg with a quick swipe of my hammer. She directly faints.
The galley’s contingent of soldiers responds like bees whose beehive I just kicked. A dozen of them rush to the cleats and pull on the ropes tying both ships together. The rest gathers around me, drawing their swords.
I turn to put the guardrail on my back and raise my shield in a defensive stance. No reason to hinder them since they want to help my warriors get aboard. The thought makes me chuckle.
My opponents glare at me and I gleefully return it. Not one is wearing a chain-mail, which is a disappointment considering that those don’t do a thing to protect them from my hammer and would slow them down.
Two Lords step out of the cabin, under the ship’s bridge, one wields a mace while the other holds a large-headed spear. I squint my eyes and assemble lion strikes. One of the soldiers on my right attempts to slash my leg by using the blind spot created by my shield. I lower it and casually block the blade.
“I am Elizabeth Vil.” I utter, wanting to intimidate them. “Bare your swords against me and find no mercy!”