The soldiers exchange uneasy looks but my words don’t shake them nearly as much as I’d hoped. It does buy me a few seconds and I make a rough count. There are to four dozen on the deck, the last of them are back on their feet now. Our two ships slam together, wooden hulls groaning. The soldiers secure the ropes.
“Red Dwarf?! More like a Mad Midget!” A kid scoffs, looking down from the bridge. “Bring me her head!” He orders.
The four soldiers facing me directly immediately attack. I avoid the jab to my left and block the slash on my right, the other two throw overhead blows a split second later. Their similar angles of attack allow me to divert both at once with my hammer’s long handle.
Before I can bring my weapon around to retaliate, the first two are attacking again. I squint my eyes and activate one of my prepared lion strikes, that I modified to last longer at the expense of power, boosting my entire upper body.
I bash the soldier of my right with the shield and side-step the other’s sword. Which means that I’m free to swing my hammer, held mid-grip in my right hand to allow for faster reactions.
Instead of taking down those on my flanks, who won’t pose a threat for another handful of seconds, I focus on the two men facing me. I bend backward to dodge a lion strike at the last second and swipe my hammer at my last opponent, who is still in mid-swing.
Our weapons graze, producing a metallic sound, his is diverted to the right and is stopped by the edge of my shield. Mine remains on its trajectory and collides with the soldier’s right side, breaking bones.
My warriors finish climbing over the hull’s rail and throw themselves at the soldiers. Out of twenty, only fourteen land alive on the deck. The soldiers were ready for them, and inflicted heavy losses, but they apparently weren’t prepared to be literally jumped on.
They keep using the fact that they’re a bit larger and heavier than humans to their advantage, charging in. I fall behind the Rykz’ shield wall, making use of it to fight while preserving my flow. The battle is likely to last a long while and I still have an Odo to deal with.
“Don’t waver!” The kid shouts from the bridge.
I take the time to take a good look at him, my warriors can hold their ground and I need to know what they have in reserve. The kid is about twenty with shiny brown hair, obviously a Noble. His traits, as expected, bear a family resemblance to the Odo whose head I cut off. To either side of him are a Lord and Lady of about the same age.
“Odo!” I scathingly utter. “Did you bring your entire family? It’ll save me the trouble of hunting you down.”
“You flatter yourself, peasant! You are of little import to us, your execution is merely a formality.” The young Count Odo replies, aloof.
The workers release a volley of spears that shoot past our right flank and catch the soldiers by surprise, they were too focused on me and my warriors. More than a dozen fall, each of them impaled by several projectiles.
I almost rush into the breach, but stop short as four of my warriors drop in close succession. The soldiers are throwing lion strikes without counting and I suspect that they’re also using strengthening constructs to manage to overpower this many Rykz so swiftly.
Ten left, three to one before even engaging the Nobles. Fuck. I assemble a lightning construct and operate the segments to charge the air around my enemies’ back-line. I overcharge the construct, using two people’s worth of flow, and activate it.
The blinding bolt curves over the front-line, almost grazing my warrior’s flat heads. The lightning splinters to hit the entirety of its target area. Five soldiers directly drop while another three are stunned. I assemble lion’s steps and propel myself forward, making use of a Rykz’ lower trunk as a stepping stone.
I land in the middle of the enemy and immediately go on the offensive. Doing away with subtlety, I wield my shield and hammer like clubs, battering soldiers down with all my strength. I kill those I can but don’t overextend to do it. The point is to disrupt their formation, my warriors can finish off those I put down.
Craaack. The loud noise of splintering wood startles me and, after smacking a soldier aside with a heavy hammer blow, I switch to a defensive stance to throw a glance over my shoulder.
A third of the workers are dead, sliced apart by what had to be a construct, one so powerful, it even tore through the planks of the deck they stood on. The angle of the cut informs me that the air-blade construct came from one of the other two galleys.
We’re losing this, badly. I snap around and smack my shield across a soldier’s face, breaking nose and cheekbone. I then let go of it to seize my hammer in both hands and head towards the small flight of stairs leading up to the bridge, ripping my opposition apart one lion strike at a time.
Only six warriors left behind me and the soldiers are keeping them boxed in. My assault on the enemy’s center didn’t achieve nearly enough. When the Rykz fall, and that won’t be long considering the lion strikes unleashed on them, my situation will change for the worst as I’ll find myself encircled.
Now’s the time to take a risk. I make a wide swing with my hammer, forcing the humans blocking my way back and break into a run. Three swords hit my wide open back, two on my left shoulder who do little more than break a few of my chain-mail’s links while the third cuts through my leather armor and leaves a burning skin-deep wound on the back of my right thigh.
My equipment saved me once again. I don’t waste time and climb the stairs two steps at a time. Through my other sense, I detect the three Nobles awaiting to ambush me as soon as I emerge.
“Die!” Odo shouts.
He attacks me first, a stabbing lion strike with his golden glowing sword. I spin around the weapon, already propelling my hammer in an arc aimed at his two companions. It forces the Lady to jump away while the Lord has to bring his mace up to block. The impact almost tears it out of his hand but not quite.
I pass my hammer behind my back, preserving its momentum. Odo slashes at my helmet with his blade, making use of the opening, which is extremely dangerous as the weapon is enhanced by an armor-piercing construct.
I don’t let fear overtake me and angle my head back. The sword cuts through the Vuskyt extending under my chin, slicing too close to my flesh for comfort. The golden glow fades, Odo’s eyes widen in surprise but not for long. My hammer slams into his left shoulder, crushing bone and projecting the Count aside.
Clack. A small part of my mind registers when a small piece of my helmet hits the deck, cut off by Odo. The Lord and Lady take half-steps back, covering for the Count. Their stances indicate their intention to fight me in tandem.
As I activate my last prepared lion strike to make my hammer spin around my back, I notice that I’ve already used a third of my available energy. That fact added to the soldiers already rushing up the staircase makes me panic a little, just as the Lord takes a swipe at me with his mace.
I frantically angle away from its trajectory which leaves me wide open, the Lady doesn’t hesitate to slash at my right calf, leaving a deep cut despite the hard leather protecting me. I barely think to tell my limb that it needs to fight for survival that it already injects the cool substance.
I swing my weapon at the Lord, quicker than he can recover his stance after missing me. It smashes the side of his face, splattering bloody bits of bone and brain-matter all over the other two Nobles. His skull turns to be an insufficient obstacle to my hammer and so I direct it to arc around my back once again.
The Rykz’ synchronized breathing cry is weaker, few of them must remain. No time for that. I assemble and activate a lion strike, a breath before the current one runs out of energy. A soldier with long blond hair reaches the top of the stairs, aiming to stab me from behind.
I focus on her, directing my hammer’s spikes towards her throat. She hastily raises her sword defensively, clipping my weapon. The last-second measure is enough to alter the trajectory of my attack but not enough to save her as the spikes catch her chin, ripping her jaw off.
The soldier falls, impacting her comrades behind her on the stairs. The two immediately behind her fall, caught as much by surprise as she was, and they tumble down the stairs.
The Lady lands a lion strike on my left flank, shattering more of my chain-mail’s links and bruising my stomach. Thankfully, my hard leather armor stopped the blade. I swing my hammer at her, expecting to catch her off-guard, but she ducks under it.
Odo is on his ass, dragging himself back to escape my reach. Behind him is a helmsman, hiding behind the steering wheel. There are several small spear projectiles embed into the wood.
The Lady catches me looking away and throws a swift swing at my throat, which is somewhat exposed because Odo cut a portion of my lower helmet. I casually lean back, avoiding the sharp blade, and front kick her stomach.
She stumbles back but her move created enough space for the young Odo to get back on his feet, his left arm hanging limply to his side. Having regained control, I rush the Lady, letting go of my hammer with my left hand to quickly smack her aside with it using my right.
Odo tries to avoid me but I manage to seize his left forearm, pulling him it for a headbutt. A galley’s bow enters the edge of my field of detection, moving fast. It is passing very close to the bridge of this galley, located at the stern.
My eyes turn to it, yet the danger isn’t coming from them but from the young Count. With his teeth grit because of the pain from his shoulder and the fact that I’m holding it, he still manages to assemble a needle construct.
The projectile is thin and coming from below. Its low speed makes it unlikely that it would pierce my chain-mail, hard leather armor, and body. But I still do all I can to block it, which in this case means using Odo as a shield against his own construct.
I abruptly pull him closer to me, placing him in the way. The golden needle changes direction, but he doesn’t react quickly enough to prevent it from slicing his right flank, leather and flesh alike. The projectile explodes in the air behind me, affecting no one.
I chuckle and let go of Odo‘s wrist, focusing entirely on my Rykz sense to observe my surroundings. There are four people in hard leather armor standing on the bridge of the galley passing by this one, three of them seem to be about to jump over.
The Lady tries to slash at me to force me to separate from Odo. A swift swing of my hammer keeps her at bay. Odo, reeling from the new wound, fails to notice my left hand plunging towards it. My limb’s fingers dig into the injury and seize one side with a full grip.
His eyes grow hazy and his cheeks blank as I start tearing the meat off. Something snaps and I am left with a bloody fistful of flesh in my fist. Odo staggers back a few steps before dropping on his back, looking sick. The Lady retches, the contents of her stomach fighting up her throat.
“How faint-hearted, it’s just meat.” I comment with a smirk.
“I’ll make you suffer for that.” Odo seethes, pressing on the open wound with his right hand.
“I’m about to do much…” I interrupt myself.
The three people who were preparing to jump, now have. They gracefully land a few meters to my left with their swords in hand, already rushing me without even a pause. I flip around, throwing a wide hammer swing to keep them away.
They slow down a fraction, just enough to avoid it but without breaking their charge. My eyes fall on the leader, the tall woman with light blue eyes and short black hair I caught a glimpse of earlier, Vikiana. Her again. The two accompanying her are no doubt also Templars. I don’t want to fight my Emperor’s Order.
“Let’s see how you do when facing overwhelming strength.” Vikiana declares.
Her words along with the fact that they’re here are distracting enough that I notice her attack too late to avoid it entirely. Her sword arcs up from a down-left angle, cutting through my chain-mail and leaving a painful cut along my torso.
I manage to avoid the other two Templars’ blows that follow-up on hers, a blink of an eye later, but only thanks to my limb’s extra sense. I snap around and run away, heading to the bridge’s guardrail to jump down to the ship’s deck.
The movement leaves my back wide open and Exemplar Vikiana doesn’t miss the opening. She brings her sword down, once again dazzling swift and in a moment where I can’t quite react. The weapon slices through my chain-mail again, creating another gaping hole in my defense and leaving me with a painful gash along my spine.
I leap over the rail, a corner of my mind noting that Vikiana’s sword lit up with flow but only for the precise split seconds during both attacks when it cut through my armor. I heavily impact the wooden deck, buckling to my knees rather than landing.
“Don’t! We need the flow to deal with our primary target!” Vikiana barks.
I ignore my many surface wounds, stretching my skin and radiating pain muted by the cool substance, and get to my feet. A dozen soldiers on starboard are fighting three-clawed hands wielding sabers and preventing Rykz from climbing in. There are too few of them to deal with that many soldiers, they won’t succeed.
To port-side, the warriors I left behind are still battling soldiers except now there is a dozen, which is more than there were earlier. I catch sight of Idali within the shield wall, using a short grip on her spear to compensate for the shield in her left hand.
I run to them, smashing through the soldier’s thin back-line. The three temple guards land on the deck a second after I leave. They luckily seem more preoccupied with scrutinizing the battlefield than with stopping me.
“Elizabeth! They’re boarding us!” Idali calls out.
The galley that rushed by has slowed down to allow its contingent of a dozen Templars, recognizable because of the silver lions ornamenting their chests, to jump aboard our ship.
“Can’t do a thing about it!” I growl.
The short exchange with Vikiana clearly showed the difference in our skill, there is no way for me to beat so many of them back. My warriors open their shield wall to let me enter and join Idali.
I desperately try to think of a solution, knowing that my Rykz will get slaughtered as soon as the Exemplar deigns to deal with them. Finding none, I decide to move nonetheless at staying still would be a death sentence. I signal Idali to follow towards the stern, the warriors try to follow me but the soldiers reform their ranks to stop them.
“What do we do?!” Idali exclaims in panic.
“I told you to leave!” I reply in spite.
We rush down the staircase leading to the rowers’ deck. I almost lose my footing, hurrying without caution and paying too much attention to the rear, expecting to find Vikiana hot on my tail. Yet, she doesn’t even spare me a glance as she rips through my warriors.
“Bringing that up now isn’t helping!” Idali rebukes me.
At the bottom of the stairs, we find rows and rows of people in poor shape, holding retracted oars. They are chained to their rowing benches, many have bloody hands and suffer from open wounds to their backs.
There are two soldiers at the end of the corridor running through the middle, a man and a woman. They unsheathe their swords and run at us. I assemble a standard lion strike and meet them, killing one with a single swing while Idali blocks the other with her shield.
I reverse my grip on my hammer and brutally plant the spike in his chest. I then grab a large iron hoop serving to secure slave chains to the deck and jam my weapon’s handle in it, breaking it with one abrupt jolt. Idali watches with wide eyes.
“They’re criminals!” She says.
“So are we.” I counter before turning to the galley-slaves. “Fight for your freedom!”
They watch me, lost and afraid. Their expressions soon brighten and, with mumbled thanks, they stand. I grab another iron hoop and shatter it, going through the benches one by one. Idali starts helping me once the third row is liberated and the slaves start breaking their oars, improvising some weapons for themselves.
The criminals don’t waste my time arguing, once freed, they head towards the upper deck with their clubs in hand, apparently more than ready to kill. It doesn’t take long until I hear them shouting insults at the soldiers, sounds of intense battle reaching my ears soon after.
Understandable, a sentence of more than a few years as a galley-slave pretty much guarantees that they won’t make it out alive, and even those with shorter condemnations are often given more time to serve under various pretexts.
“What do we do now?” Idali asks, looking at the deserted deck.
“You tell me, I’m fucking improvising.” I answer, furious at myself more than at her.
I didn’t think the Rykz would be this incompetent at sea warfare, I should have known since they rarely settle near water and can’t swim. I try to kick an oar hatch open but fail, realizing a bit too late that this side is the one our ship is pressed against. I cross the alley and open one on starboard.
The water near the galley has a dark orange color from the floating corpses’ blood. I look away, searching for the third enemy ship. I find it bogged down in the middle of fifty or more rafts, unable to row its way out as many oars are broken and those that weren’t can’t reach the sea as the rudimentary Rykz embarkations are blocking them.
Some of the galley-slaves in that ship are using their oars to knock Rykz overboard. The scouts and workers, unable to climb up the hull, are setting fire to it with black fog constructs.
Not that useless after all, I’ll have to thank Fenyz for that if I make it. I start closing the hatch but, just before I do, I catch sight of some movement underwater near this galley. I enhance my eyes and scrutinize the sea.
There is a twelve-meter long serpent with yellow-blue scales beneath the surface, it has thin fins running along the length of its spine and belly. The animal looks a lot like an eel, except a lot bigger and aggressive but not towards things that are as large, or larger, than itself.
“There’s a damn Tianeel.” I utter.
“That’s not good.” Idali says.
The Tianeel picks this moment to emerge and swallow one of the floating corpses in one bite of its wide triangular teeth before plunging back down. I close the hatch and abandon the thought of scuttling this ship. I would rather take my chances with the Templars.