“Tel’Quessir,” Captain Yvoleth began as he paced the Castle Deck, rounding the catapult turret, while the First Mate, whose name was Solahlyn Aelorothi, lurked by the hatchway with his arms folded, “I have just received orders from the Admiralty. Strange ships have been sighted in the rings of Glyth. They may be Scorpions.”
Shaundar let out a low whistle. Well, that would complicate things. Glyth was known to be a colony of illithids – squid-faced aliens who ate only brains – who kept humanoids of all sorts as “cattle” on the burnt out surface of the planet. They were also known to patrol local space to add to their collection, despite the efforts of the Navy to curtail this. Furthermore, the rings of Glyth were made up almost entirely of several small rocks and ice blocks, dangerous to navigate and often difficult to see.
“As the closest Navy ship, we have been ordered to investigate,” the Captain continued. “If there are enemy ships present, we have been authorized to engage them.”
The blood started pounding through Shaundar’s veins. Was this going to be it at last?
“So I’m sorry, leave is cancelled for now. We need to see what’s there before they have a chance to move or hide. We’re three days to Glyth from our present orbit. Etriel Sylria, plot us a course.”
Sylria, Second Helmsman but Primary Navigator, saluted. “Av, quessir. I’ll head to the Chart Room now, sir, with your permission.” The Captain nodded and she climbed down the hatch.
“Many of you have never seen combat before,” the Captain went on, fixing each of them with his kind but dark hazel eyes, which came to rest on Shaundar and Yathar. “If this turns out to be the opening gambit of the War in Realmspace, keep calm, do the jobs you have been trained to do, and trust your crewmates, and all will be well.” He smiled at them encouragingly.
“Av, quessir!” they chorused. Eyes glittered and the smiles were jovial. They were ready to fight.
“Mr. Yathar, you are also certified as a battlepoet, are you not?” the Captain inquired.
“Av, quessir,” Yathar affirmed.
He grinned. “I’m sure you know a few rousing battle ballads in addition to all those bawdy tunes you sing at the tavern. Let’s hear one; that should put us all in the proper frame of mind.”
Yathar beamed. “I’ll fetch my lute, sir!” Yvoleth nodded and Yathar went to do so.
“Mr. Sunfall,” the Captain said.
“Sir!” Shaundar replied, immediately at attention again.
The Captain smiled knowingly. “I’m sure reverie will not come easily to you with a hot head to match your hot blood, but do your best. We’ll be running full jamming shifts until we reach the rings of Glyth.”
“Av, quessir,” Shaundar nodded.
The Captain returned his nod sharply. “All right then. All hands to stations.”
The boatswain piped the order and the crew fell in as commanded.
Their first sight of the rings of Glyth came just before shift change in the helm. The outer ring, from a distance, looked like spokes in a wheel, oddly enough. Beyond it, Shaundar could see a shimmery band that might have been a ring or a trick of the light through Queenie’s air envelope, and then something that looked like a band of twisted coloured ribbon, like the end result of a maypole. According to the charts, there was a fourth ring beyond that, but Shaundar couldn’t see it. He did, however, make out the rolling balls of two of Glyth’s three moons, one of which, Polluter, was a pock-marked moon of another moon, Mingabwe, a bright white orb covered in ice. The third, Haven, was not currently visible from their approach, so he assumed it must be orbiting the far side. That was just as well, as far as he was concerned, since it was supposed to be neutral trading ground for warring illithid factions; nothing they needed to get involved with. The planet itself was an odd purplish colour and there was a bright band rolling across its surface. As they approached, Shaundar realized that it was an enormous wildfire.
“Mr. Sunfall!” called the Captain. “Stand to the helm, if you please.”
“Av, quessir,” Shaundar replied. Sightseeing was over; time to go to work. He made for the helm room with a side trip to the head on the way.
“Lieutenant,” he nodded, coming in. “I am ready to relieve you.”
“Av,” Lieutenant Sylria returned, closing up her book. She looked weary. “I am ready to be relieved. We’re on approach to Glyth, right?”
“That’s right,” confirmed Shaundar, squatting down to the starboard of the helm.
“Well, other than that I have nothing to report. Do you want me to give you a chance to go to the head first?”
“Right then. Three, two, one, switch!”
Shaundar fell into the helm with the ease of long practice and reached out his consciousness to join with the Nikym d’Quex Etrielle, affectionately known now amongst her crew as “Etriellyth,” or “Queenie.” He sensed her warm welcome as he began to feel his arms as her wings, his torso as her thorax, his legs and groin as her abdomen. He could see the crew moving about the decks and he could sense the rings in front of him.
“Has the transfer been made?” the Captain asked through the speaking-tube.
“Av, Captain!” Shaundar replied. “I have the helm!”
“All right, Mr. Sunfall. Begin a cautious approach to Glyth. Pitch forty-five down, yaw ten o’clock. Bring ‘er in as close to the edge of the ring as you can.”
“Pitch forty-five, yaw three-thirty, av,” he responded, and began a rapid approach along the edge of the ring. It didn’t take long for Queenie to slow to tactical speed. Shaundar guessed at what the Captain was up to. He was hoping that if there were Scorpion ships hiding in Glyth’s rings, approaching along the edge of the wheel would disguise them enough that they might not be noticed. They ended up closing in on the outer ring in a tight counter-clockwise spiral. They did a complete circle, a process which took about an hour, and found nothing.
“Very well; if they’re here, they’re deep inside the rings,” the Captain observed. “Let’s start an approach to the second ring in. Yaw ten degrees larboard. Stay as close to one of those spokes as you can, Mr. Sunfall.”
“Av, quessir,” was Shaundar’s reply. He skimmed the edge of the spoke, realizing through Queenie’s senses that it was actually composed of several tiny asteroids about the size of snowballs that had just somehow lined up in this unusual manner. He wondered vaguely if it had anything to do with magnetics. “Sir, should I go into the second ring or travel underneath it?”
“Good question, Mr. Sunfall. How do you feel about it?” the Captain asked.
Not at all used to being asked his opinion on such things, Shaundar considered it. Travelling beneath it would give them a better overall view of what was going on in the ring, at least from a distance, and they were likely to notice ship movements and the like, even if they were too far away from the ships to make out their configuration. The ring was anywhere from a hundred fifty hex to maybe three hundred fifty hex wide, though, according to the charts, so they would certainly not see everything from that vantage point. Going into the ring would provide them with more concealment should there be an enemy force, but they might not notice the enemy’s ships until they were right on top of them. Shaundar felt that going directly in would be the better course. He wasn’t sure why; it was just a hunch.
“I think we should go in, Cap’n,” he answered.
“All right, make it so, Mr. Sunfall,” Captain Yvoleth commanded. “Fly ‘er as you will, but let the sail crew know which way to turn. I understand they train you to do that at Aces High.”
“Av, quessir, they do,” he replied. It was a difficult exercise; essentially, it meant taking command of the sail crew to aid in the manoeuvring of the ship so that they would turn when the spelljammer needed them to, rather than going through the Captain. It increased response time considerably, but the spelljammer really had to know what he was doing. It was kind of like playing a chess match entirely in your head. He hoped he was up to the task.
“All right, Mr. Sunfall has the helm and the deck!” Shaundar could hear the call echoing up and down the ship through the brass speaking-tube. “Stand by for his commands!”
Shaundar drew near to the second ring. He sensed the rolling asteroids. They were tiny, no more than twice the size of the Queen’s Dirk at the most. “Slowing to tactical two!” he called out. The Captain repeated this and it was taken up throughout the ship while he did so. “Entering the ring field!” he bellowed. “Roll fifteen down, yaw ten larboard!”
The Captain repeated his directions and Queenie began to roll and turn accordingly.
They traversed the asteroid field slowly. Shaundar did not find it nearly as challenging as Selune’s Tears. He took his time so that the Captain, First Mate and lookout could comb the field with their spyglasses. A couple of hours went by as Shaundar directed Queenie up and down the thickness of the ring, negotiating its circumference at a crawl. Eventually they started edging cautiously closer to Haven, since they weren’t finding anything on their side of Glyth.
About two and a quarter hours into the search, Shaundar sensed something. He wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, but he knew that several small bodies, each maybe less than a hundred feet in length, were clustered too close together near to one of the larger three hundred foot long asteroids. Asteroids would naturally separate if they were that close to one another, he figured. They would collide and bounce off of one another, forcing them apart.
“Captain!” he bellowed. “Eight degrees off the port bow, ten up; what do you see, sir?”
There was a long moment of silence as the Captain trained his glass in that direction; then abruptly he roared, “Full reverse! NOW, Mr. Sunfall!”
Shaundar willed Queenie to jump backwards as far as she would go. As he did so, he sensed the objects moving. They moved like ships, not rocks. One came around the large rock on their portside, another on the starboard, a third above and a fourth below. Shaundar kept moving Queenie backwards to keep them at a distance. Still more emerged from behind other nearby rocks.
“Captain!” Shaundar heard Yathar’s voice, sounding almost panicked. “I count ten sail! They’re all Scorpions, sir!”
Oh dear gods. Shaundar felt the blood in his veins turn to ice. Ten Scorpions! All man-o-war class ships, every last one of them. It was a whole blasted fleet!
“They’re hailing us, sir,” the Yeoman announced. She hesitated and then declared, “They want us to strike our colours, Captain.”
A long moment of silence fell. Shaundar held his breath. He continued to move backwards as the fleet of Scorpions advanced. The legs of the insectoid goblin ships flexed and contracted in a sinister fashion, but it created thrust, like oars. One Scorpion started creeping around behind them, to prevent their escape. On the forward deck, Shaundar could see the Captain standing with his head lowered and his hands in the pockets of his coat, contemplating. Matey Aelorothi looked very grim. They conferred quietly for a few moments; then the Captain raised his head and addressed the crew on deck with eyes blazing so brightly that the dark hazel had become a bright emerald shade.
“Well, what say you, lads?” Captain Yvoleth asked. “Do we want to surrender to a bunch of pig-faces?”
The resounding “NO, QUESSIR!” reverberated through the ship. Shaundar’s heart answered in kind before his head could say no. He could swear that he even felt Queenie’s agreement.
“All right then! All stop on my mark . . . let’s make them think we’re thinking about it . . .”
Shaundar waited, continuing to backpedal. He gleaned the Captain’s intent. Vastly outnumbered, he was making it look as though they were considering surrender to draw the goblin fleet in closer, giving them less time to react and making them more vulnerable to weapon strikes. Shaundar could sense that the Scorpion ship that had moved in behind them was very close.
“All right, all stop, Mr. Sunfall!”
“Av, quessir! All stop!” he called back, and Queenie floated obediently.
“Yeoman, start pulling down our colours. Do it slowly, and leave them about half-mast. It’s very important that they not be entirely down.” Shaundar smiled. It was considered to be very dishonourable to strike your colours and then attack, so the hesitancy was imperative. “Weapons crews, stand to your armaments discretely. Marines, if you’re not already on the fo’c’sle, stand to the hatchway and prepare to fire crossbows on the enemy crew. Wait for my order before firing anything. Mr. Sunfall!”
“Sir!” Shaundar yelled back.
“On my mark, dive at full tactical,” the savvy Captain commanded, “and then you’ll have command of the sail crew again. Understood?”
“Av, quessir!’ Shaundar returned. He took a deep breath to steady his body. He was vibrating with the adrenaline. “Sir, are we fighting or fleeing?”
The Captain grinned ferociously. “Word must reach the Realmspace Fleet,” he said, “but we can’t lead this fleet back to base, either. We must lose them or slay as many as we can. So Mr. Oakheart, stand by the Iolaa in the Lower Cargo Deck.”
Shaundar heard Garan distantly calling back his affirmative.
“When the fight begins,” Captain Yvoleth continued, “stand by ‘er helm. Your orders are to launch if the Etrielle takes significant damage, lose the orcs and make it back to base. Understood?”
Garan agreed and saluted, then scurried down into the Lower Deck, located on the underside of Queenie’s thorax and on the opposite side of the gravity plane. The Iolaa, their flitter, was perched on the roof of the deck like some odd kind of baby at Queenie’s belly, if butterflies hatched smaller butterflies instead of caterpillars, accessible via a trap door in the ceiling.
All the while, the Scorpion ships drew nearer.
“Steady, Tel’Quessir,” the Captain told his crew. Shaundar tensed like a spring and prepared to fly for their lives.
The Scorpion ship behind them began to extend the great grappling rams that resembled large scorpion’s claws, for which the vessel was named. Shaundar knew that if they fastened onto the Queen’s Dirk, all was lost.
“Yeoman, run up the colours!” the Captain commanded. “All hands; fire at will!”
The Yeoman yanked their flags back up the mainmast. The rear doors in the abdomen burst open to reveal the aft ballista, which launched a bolt directly into the belly of the Scorpion extending its claws. The catapult on the Castle Deck launched a stone at point blank range. Shaundar felt the vibration of the recoil like a slap between his shoulder blades. At the same time, the topside ballista shot a bolt directly into the Scorpion’s bridge with the terrible shriek of tearing metal and the crash of smashing glass, and the light ballistae concealed in the eye ports each put a bolt into the ships flanking them on the port and starboard bow. Then the Marines and all spare hands aimed their crossbows at the orcs and goblins who were preparing to board them on the deck of the wounded Scorpion to their aft. A dozen strings twanged in unison and several of the goblin crew cried out and fell back. Shaundar could even hear their cries because they were close enough to Queenie’s abdomen that their air envelope was intersecting hers.
“DIVE, Mr. Sunfall!” roared the Captain.
Shaundar pitched Queenie’s nose down and peeled out at the best speed he could muster. Belatedly all three of the Scorpions that had directly surrounded them fired ballistae and catapults. One of the stones passed closely enough to Queenie’s tail that Shaundar felt it graze just slightly, but the rest careened uselessly into space; except for a catapult stone fired from the portside Scorpion ship, which scraped and damaged one of the claws of the wounded Scorpion that had been at their aft. The goblin ship listed to the port and began to drift aimlessly. Shaundar realized that they had taken out its helm with their topside ballista.
The crew cheered and the Captain called, “Well done, Tel’Quessir! Reload!” Shaundar fled into the ring. By the time that the fleet had sorted itself out to begin pursuit in earnest, he had put a good lead between them.
“Outrun them if you can, Mr. Sunfall,” the Captain commanded. And Shaundar ran. “Roll larboard twenty,” he cried as he skimmed around one of the larger asteroids. “Pitch down twenty-five,” he called as he dodged another. But he sensed the pursuing ships drawing nearer. “They’re gaining, Cap’n!” he yelled.
The Captain peered through his glass. “Not all of them,” he clarified, “but some of them are, av.” He grinned in that fierce, almost predatory way again. “So you’ll just have to out-fly them, Mr. Sunfall. See if you can separate them into two groups. And stay within the ring.”
“Av, quessir!” Shaundar answered, and he continued to flee. “Roll starboard fifteen!” he called as he dodged a large rock. “Yaw larboard fifteen!” He skimmed around the edge of a chunk of ice. He knew the Captain was right. Elven ships were legendary for being more manoeuvrable than anything that anyone else flew, save perhaps the spawn of the Spelljammer itself, and Shaundar knew that his training made them even more dexterous still. If they could not outrun the enemy, keeping them busy trying to dodge asteroids was definitely their best chance.
Four of the Scorpions drew away from the others and began to close the distance to the Queen’s Dirk. One helmsman was amazingly fast and he was soon on their tail. “Weapons to the aft; fire!” the Captain shouted, and both the ballistae mounted on the top and bottom of the abdomen, along with the catapult on its swivelling turret and their “stinger” behind the aft doors, launched their missiles at the pursuing Scorpion. Shaundar shuddered with the recoil, but all four made contact. The catapult stone bounced off of the Scorpion’s deck and shattered the ladder that led up to the stinger, which was raised above the goblin ship’s Battle Deck and served as a platform for two heavy catapults. The ballista bolts punched holes in the bow.
The Scorpion ship returned fire. “Brace for impact!” bellowed the Captain. An enormous catapult stone bounced off of the edge of the ballista mount on the abdomen topside. A piece of the wall that protected it broke off. Shaundar felt Queenie’s pain like a sharp stab in the back of his knees and he yelped as she shuddered. The second stone collided with their larboard wing, which felt to Shaundar that he’d been punched in the left shoulder, and while the pain lingered, indicating a large bruise, nothing cracked. Their foe also fired a ballista bolt from its bow, but the bolt skimmed across the top of the Castle Deck just slightly to the left of center, and it missed everything.
“Reload!” the Captain called, and the ballistae crews lifted more bolts into place and cranked back the firing mechanisms, while the catapult crew levered the beam and spoon down to fill its cup with another boulder.
Shaundar wasn’t going to give them another chance if he could avoid it. He was just waiting for a suitable stone, one of unusual size . . . ah, there!
“Cap’n! I’m bringing ‘er about!” Shaundar called. He shifted sideways in the chair and braced his feet against the port arm and his rear against the starboard arm so that he was firmly wedged in place.
“Forward weapons crews! Prepare to fire!” Captain Yvoleth commanded.
“Sail crew!” directed Shaundar. “On one, pitch down fifteen; on two, pitch ninety up and follow the curve of the asteroid. All hands brace for impact as the gravity shifts.”
“When we come around the asteroid, fire at will,” the Captain said.
“Av, quessir!” the weapons crews acknowledged.
Shaundar barrelled towards the large meteor, which was a strange mixture of rock, metal and ice tumbling through space towards them. “Ready for my mark . . . one!” he called, and the sail crew dipped the sails so that they skirted underneath the tumbling stone. He directed Queenie along this trajectory for a few moments, and then he called out “Two!” and the crew floated the sails to billow out and the Queen’s Dirk swung up and around the curve of the asteroid. Gravity shifted towards the ceiling but Shaundar tensed his thigh muscles to bracket himself in place and he did not budge. Shaundar noted that the Captain had wrapped his hand up in a line and he barely moved either, though the Matey staggered. The catapult crew swivelled the turret around to aim their weapon forward.
They came around the curvature of the asteroid and found themselves facing the Scorpion that had pursued them head-on. “Fire!” cried the Captain, and the ballista on the thorax just before the fo’c’sle, along with the catapult and the two light ballistae located in the eye ports, all fired at once.
The Scorpion was not expecting this sudden turn of the tables and it had no way of avoiding the attack. The ballistae punched holes between the ship’s mandibles; and better yet, the catapult stone landed with perfect soaring aim directly on to one of the enemy’s catapults, smashing the mechanism. Humanoids scattered along the decks, variously taking cover and aiming crossbows, which missed due to the sudden burst of speed from the asteroid’s gravity slingshot.
As they rocketed past, the Captain cried, “Aft weapons, fire!” The three abdomen-mounted ballistae let loose, and all the bolts found purchase. “Reload!” roared the Captain immediately.
Shaundar now found Queenie facing the other three Scorpions in the leading group; one each to the port and starboard bows and one approaching them head-on that had obviously intended to try to overtake them from above. “Dive!” yelled Shaundar. The sail crew yanked the topsails in and Shaundar drove Queenie downward at the steepest possible angle. A ballista bolt from the Scorpion they had just about rammed tore the mizzensail, but it still functioned. Both the port and starboard Scorpions put on a sudden burst of speed to catch the elven Man-o-War, and Shaundar laughed out loud as the claw ram of the portside one got just a little too close and clipped the starboard ship’s claw ram right off at the pincer. To add insult to injury, the catapult stones that had been fired at Queenie continued their trajectory through space. One of them took out some of the port ship’s rigging, and the other scraped the deck of the starboard ship, smearing one of their crew over the surface like a streak of red paint. Shaundar shuddered.
“Nicely done,” the Captain praised them cheerfully.
But the Scorpion ship that had just about collided with them turned sharply starboard and was right on their tail within seconds. Shaundar swore as they fired off a ballista bolt which caught Queenie in her rear door, causing a corresponding sharp pain in Shaundar’s left buttock. Their catapults, however, were fortunately far less accurate. The stones they fired sailed clear over their heads, and Shaundar waggled Queenie’s wings and avoided them entirely.
“Return fire!” the Captain commanded, and the three ballistae to the aft fired. The topside ballista bolt shaved a line down the top deck of their pursuer, while the other two punched into their underside somewhere. Slower than the ballistae to reload, the catapult fired next, bouncing off of the deck and taking some rigging and a couple of humanoids with it. But the Scorpion returned fire with its ballista again. This time Shaundar was ready for them, and he managed to wiggle in such a way that it only scuffed Queenie’s smooth surface a little to the starboard side of her abdomen. “Reload!” demanded the Captain.
But Shaundar could sense the lead ship of the second flotilla up ahead, just on the other side of a large asteroid in his path. He had an idea.
“On my first mark, pitch up forty-five,” Shaundar bellowed. “On my second mark, climb for all we’re worth.”
“Av, quessir!” the sail crew called back.
He made a direct beeline for the asteroid. “Ready? . . . Now!” Shaundar cried, and just as it seemed that they would crash into the great rock, they pulled up and came around its topside, their pursuer still firmly at six o’clock. Then that second flotilla’s lead ship filled his forward senses. “CLIMB!” he howled, and they pulled up as hard as they possibly could. Queenie’s wings groaned under the strain and all the sails filled. They passed closely enough to the oncoming ship that Shaundar could hear swearing in what he assumed was Orcish. Then there was a tremendous crash behind them and a sound like fingernails on a slate board, only magnified about a thousand times. It was exactly as Shaundar had hoped. Their hunter, following too close to stop and not as manoeuvrable as they, had collided head-on with the lead ship of the second flotilla and impaled itself completely on the lead ship’s claws. Neither was going anywhere for a while. Cheering rolled through the Queen’s Dirk.
“Three down, Tel’Quessir!” Captain Yvoleth announced. “Well done!”
The three Scorpions that they had left behind had regrouped and were now bearing down on them again, and they were still on a direct collision course with the second flotilla. But none of the pursuing ships were undamaged; one was missing a grappling ram, the second had damaged rigging and was turning laboriously, and the third had taken a brutal beating and was missing a catapult. Still, when all three of them fired on the elven Man-o-War, it was almost a disaster. Five catapult stones and three ballistae bolts came at them from the aft firing arc. There was no way to avoid them all. Shaundar dipped low as he bellowed “Hard down!” figuring that the bolts would be less damaging. The stones all miraculously missed, save one which clipped the lantern off of their mizzenmast, but all three of the bolts made contact. One thrust into the glassteeled window along Queenie’s starboard abdomen, one into the roof of the cargo hold and one clipped off of the topside ballista mount. This translated to Shaundar as an excruciating sciatic pain all up and down his right leg. He gasped and clutched his upper thigh as though it would help. And the hit was not without at least one casualty; someone in the abdomen was screaming.
But he had no time to contemplate it. They were just about on top of the rest of the fleet. “Captain!” panted Shaundar, “I’m going to buzz the leader!”
“Av, Mr. Sunfall!” acknowledged Captain Yvoleth. “Ahk’Faerna to the decks and prepare for crew strikes! Aft weapons; return fire on the Scorpion directly on our six only!”
Shaundar felt the pounding of boots on his decks as the mages of their crew ran for the topside. He could hear them beginning their incantations, preparing their spells. In the meantime, the artillery crews with rear-facing weaponry returned fire, save the catapult which was still facing the bow; though the “stinger” ballista was a little slow on the draw. Two of the three connected, but they only dented the hull.
“Sail crew!” the Captain called. “Prepare to roll one-eighty larboard on Mr. Sunfall’s mark.”
“Av, quessir!” they cried in answer.
“Wizards! When you see the deck of the enemy ship above you, fire your evocations!”
“Av, quessir!” they replied. Shaundar could hear Yathar’s voice amongst the responses.
The lead ship was closing fast. The Captain bellowed, “Forward weapons; fire!” The ballistae in the eyes, the forward-facing ballista and the catapult let loose. However, their enemy must have fired at exactly the same moment. Miraculously, their catapult stone and one of those fired from the Scorpion collided and sprayed debris everywhere, but neither found purchase. Shaundar bellowed, “Roll!” and the sail crew supported his will to initiate the manoeuvre. The second stone clipped nothing more significant than the railing surrounding the fo’c’sle, and the bolt that their enemy had fired missed entirely as they rolled around its trajectory. Then they were upside down in relation to the other ship and passing over it as their bolts punctured its mandibles and bridge with the groaning of torn metal, and the Captain called, “Wizards FIRE!” Lightning bolts and fireballs, along with something oily, slammed into the upper deck of the Scorpion ship, and for a moment, the eyes of the orcish and elven crews met as they stared up at each other. Then one of the fireballs ignited the oily substance and the Scorpion ship caught fire. As they finished the pass, they could see that plumes of thick black smoke were already fouling their air, and the flames were spreading to the sails.
“Nicely done, and kudos to whoever cast that grease spell!” the Captain complimented them.
Yathar grinned. “Thank you, sir!”
The ship directly on their tail managed to barely pull up in time, but since the burning Scorpion was on a head-on collision course and unable to see due to the smoke, it was not able to avoid disaster entirely. Some of the now-burning rigging got caught on the tail of the other ship and the smoke began to foul their air as well.
Then they were almost on top of the last three ships, the ones that had been the slowest in the initial pursuit. “Hard to starboard! Roll starboard ninety!” Shaundar directed as he banked sharply right and passed between two of them. “Fire at will!” the Captain called out. The abdomen-mounted ballistae each took a pot-shot at the two ships they passed between, while the catapult swivelled to the aft and fired on their smouldering pursuer in synchronization with the “stinger.” None of the forward-facing weapons had a good target, so they held their fire. Shaundar couldn’t tell whether or not the ships they’d passed between had taken any damage, and the stinger missed, but with amazing good fortune, the catapult stone carried the burning rigging with it into the hole it punched in their pursuer’s cargo hold and something inside exploded. The entire topside weapon deck flew into space in the form of flak and splinters, completely destroying their ballista and setting the ship merrily ablaze.
The two ships they had passed between returned fire but they could each only bring a single catapult to bear. One missed, but the other rolled along the bottom of the hull and smashed the landing gear out from underneath the Iolaa. She fell against Queenie’s belly with a crash. “You and you; help Mr. Oakheart tie that down!” commanded the Captain and they went to it.
“Captain!” the Yeoman yelled out. “The two burning ships have struck their colours!”
Queenie’s crew shouted their approval.
“Good work!” Captain Yvoleth called. “Now let’s worry about the ones that are left. Hard to port, Mr. Sunfall.”
“Hard to port, av!” he replied, and he veered sharply to the portside as the sail crew spun the sails accordingly. “Port weapons, fire!” cried the Captain as they swung around the hindmost of the Scorpion ships trying to jam itself into reverse. The top and bottom ballistae on the abdomen and the light ballista in the portside eye all let loose as they passed by. They didn’t seem to do any appreciable damage to the ship, but they did scatter the weapons crews on the tail platform and the main deck, preventing return fire. Shaundar could see that their previous ballista bolt had indeed made a small hole as well.
Rolling naturally to the port, they passed over one of the ships of the second flotilla that had not been damaged yet, once again facing deck to deck. “Mages, fire!” Captain Yvoleth commanded, but Sylria was already bellowing the same order, and once again a magical holocaust rained down upon the beleaguered goblinoids. One of the catapults went up as though someone had covered it in smoke powder. Queenie’s catapult and forward ballista also let them have it as they went by. Both missiles scoured the weapons deck and scraped off a couple of orcs.
“Finish the roll, Mr. Sunfall!” the Captain ordered, and Shaundar did so, feeling the gravity plane shift as they passed over the other ship. This brought their starboard weapons to bear on another ship which was almost on top of the one they were blowing up with magic. Shaundar realized this was the heavily damaged one that they had pounded on earlier with the missing catapult, no ladder and several ballista punctures. “Starboard weapons, fire!” the Captain cried, and the forward facing ballista punched another bolt into it, while the light one in the starboard eye tore sails and knocked down an orc. This proved to be the nail in the coffin, so to speak. The larger bolt struck the tail where it connected to the aft of the ship, sheering it off, and the Ssorpion began to break up after that.
“Fire the stinger!” cried the Captain, and the stinger ballista fired, directly into the ship they had passed over and fireballed. Within seconds it was striking its colours as well.
Out of nowhere came another Scorpion ship, which made an attempt to ram them. “Evasive manoeuvres!” the Captain directed, and Shaundar was already moving, spinning out of its path. One of the claws, which had been gored with several long marks, sheared off part of their rigging. Shaundar realized that this ship was the one that had accidently rammed its fellow, which had finally managed to pull itself free.
“Hard to port!” Captain Yvoleth commanded. The sail crew had a little more difficulty responding with part of their sails tattered, but they managed to get Queenie turned around to come up on their attacker’s stern.
“Bring ‘er up on their starboard side,” the Captain told Shaundar. “Marines, prepare to board!”
“Av, quessir!” Shaundar, the Marines and the sail crew all acknowledged in unison. Yathar drew his long sword and perched at the ready, his other hand curled into a ball and forming a spot of light in it. The other wizards also began their incantations and the warrior Marines readied crossbows in one hand and boarding axes in the other. Other crewmates prepared boarding pikes or grapples and stood prepared beside them.
Shaundar managed to pilot his way gingerly through the debris of the shattered ship to come up slightly beneath their attacker’s gravity plane. None of its armaments were in any position to fire on them as they made their approach. When they aligned their gravity planes they found several orcs standing on the Weapons Deck with crossbows aimed down at them. The elves let fly with their spells and crossbows and several orcs grunted or howled and fell from view. The orcs also let fly and three elves screamed in pain, struck with bolts, though it didn’t look like anything was instantly lethal. Yathar released a lightning bolt from his glowing palm, which exploded on the deck and electrocuted three or four of their foes. Without even waiting for the grapples to finish connecting he yelled, “Follow me!” and leaped onto one of the legs that served as oars. Crossbow bolts fell all around him as he ran up the leg with a cat’s grace and vaulted onto the Scorpion ship with a leap and a tumble that only a trained bladesinger could match. Then he began to dance and move on the deck of the enemy ship, a song in his throat and his sword making a graceful blur, and orcs and goblins began to die around him. To his credit, the First Mate was right behind Yathar. They were quickly joined by more Marines, and as swords and spells began to fly, Shaundar lost sight of them. “Hold position, Mr. Sunfall!” the Captain directed, and Shaundar did. He waited for the three remaining ships to attack them; but the attack never came.
After only a few minutes, the colours were struck on the boarded Scorpion.
“I count three surrendered, three sunk, one boarded!” the Captain said. “That leaves three more. Where are they?”
It was Garan who replied. “Captain, I think they’re routing!” He had his spyglass pointed towards the edge of the ring. Captain Yvoleth peered through his own glass. “Confirmed!” he agreed with a smile. “Mr. Sunfall, do you think you can catch them?”
“Are they out of the ring yet, sir?” Shaundar asked.
“Av, Mr. Sunfall, they just reached the outer edge,” the Captain answered.
“Then no, sir, I don’t think I can,” he admitted.
The Captain nodded once. “All right, all hands not otherwise engaged, board the enemy ship and help the marines take prisoners. Etriel Naliatha, see to the butcher’s bill. Mr. Oakheart, I need a damage report; see that the Ship’s Druid gets it so that we can start repairs immediately.” He smiled broadly and clapped the shoulder of the Yeoman, who happened to be the nearest member of the crew to him. “Congratulations, Tel’Quessir; we have won the day!”
– from A Few Good Elves (Toy Soldier Saga book 1).
Diane Morrison (Sable Aradia) is a non-fiction and speculative fiction author. Her first National Novel Writing Month project was the Spelljammer novel A Few Good Elves (self-published to e-book format 2012). Her related short story, “Survivor,” was published in the August 2013 issue of Separate Worlds magazine, and her first non-fiction book, The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power will be published by Red Wheel / Weiser in September of this year. Catch up on her ongoing Spelljammer novel series, the Toy Soldier Saga, at her website.