"Got us between Hell and high water again, Captain!" Giant ducked spray and shot a glare to her captain. She didn't have to duck much; even standing on a box step, the halfling was barely tall enough to see over the ship's wheel.
Devrin Arlos just laughed and eyed the six Chelish warships closing in on them. They'd chased Nightwave all the way from the Arch of Aroden, along the coast of Rahadoum, and through the treacherous Jagged Reach. They weren't likely to give up now. Ahead loomed the Eye of Abendego.
"Wouldn't have it any other way. Don't worry! Nightwave can take it!"
She struggled with the wheel. "Maybe time to put a reef in the forecourse?"
"Long past time, but I was hoping—" A crack louder than a ballista shot pierced the howl of the wind, drawing his attention back to their nearest pursuer. "Hoping for that."
The foremost Corentine frigate's foretopmast shattered, falling with yards of shredded canvas and a mile of tangled cordage. Sailors scrambled to hack the wreckage away, but the ship slewed off course, and jibed her mizzen boom, ripping yet more canvas.
"Payback's a bitch!" Vulmia Manux, Devrin's navigator and general fix-it go-to, shook an ebony fist at the struggling ship. The Mwangi half-elf was still sore that Nightwave had been damaged by the Corentines’ hell-spawned minions. The Corentines were out of devils now, and clearly intended to overpower the Firebrand ship with brute force.
"Reef the forecourse and tops'ls." Devrin squinted forward. "Take her a point to starboard, Giant. Batten down and rig lifelines! We're going in!"
The crew responded without question. The outer wall of the perpetual storm towered in a burgeoning barrier of torrential rain and wind, mountainous seas, and deadly currents. A glance back confirmed that their pursuers were also shortening sail, but hadn't broken off the chase.
"Come and get me, you bastards!" Devrin shouted.
"You taking this personal, Captain?" Nightwave's bosun, Gaspiya, dropped down from the mizzen shrouds, eyeing him with concern, her lip curled back from her short tusks.
"No, but somebody's got to teach them that they don't own the whole damned sea!" He clapped Vulmia on her shoulder and grinned. "Don't worry. We've got them right where we want them."
"Sorry, sir." Vulmia nodded and squinted into the screaming wind. "I just think we might have bit off more than we can chew. Six to one?"
"I said, don't worry! That's my job, right?" Devrin flashed a rakish smile and pointed to the impending wall of the storm. "Give Giant a hand at the helm and hold fast! We're in for a trouncing!"
The storm hit them like a charging bull, with rain so thick he could barely see their nearest pursuer slashing hard enough to sting exposed skin. The seas mounted to vertical walls higher than Nightwave's topsails, their plunging tops threatening to overwhelm them. Nightwave staggered as a wave broke over the ship’s stern, and Devrin struggled to stay put in the waist-deep deluge. Lightning lit the sky in sheets, but the captain howled and laughed into the teeth of the storm.
"Captain!" Devrin's cabin boy, a stout young man from Katapesh, pointed abeam. "They're trying to cut us off!"
Devrin shielded his eyes and squinted at the Corentine frigate, Helldawn, plunging down a towering wave. "How in bloody blue blazes did they—" Then he spotted the tornado of animate water at the ship's bow, pulling on two thick ropes like a massive draft horse. "They've summoned an elemental!"
A webbed hand closed on Devrin's shoulder. "It's time, Captain."
He turned to look into the blue-on-blue features of Ris, an undine and recent addition to his crew. It had been Ris who had told him about the Chelish plan to dump tons of toxic mine tailings onto a submarine merfolk city in the Hellmouth Gulf. At his behest, she had delved the depths to warn the merfolk. With no way to forestall the Chelish, the merfolk had evacuated their city, saving tens of thousands of lives. Now was the time for retribution.
"You're sure, Ris? The seas—"
Another wave buried Nightwave's quarterdeck, but while the rest of them struggled to stay upright, Ris reveled in the torrent, her lips curving from pearly teeth in glee. The deluge flowed off her blue skin and sharkskin leathers, lending strength to her slim frame.
"I'm sure, my captain." Ris lifted a willowy arm to point to a towering swell, a hundred feet of sheer water. Lightning lit the sky behind the wave, illuminating thousands of sinuous shapes within.
Devrin's mouth dropped open at the sight. A vast school of merfolk, tridents in hand, their marine minions swimming along with them, shapes enormous and terrible, yet beautiful.
"Sing them a song, Ris!"
"I will, my captain." She pulled the lyre from her back, an enchanted instrument crafted from shell, narwhal horn, and mother of pearl. A wave crested to break against the ship's quarter, and Ris dove straight into the tortuous sea.
"Hope she hurries up!" Vulmia shouted over the roar of wind and water. "They're getting close!"
Indeed, Helldawn was closing fast. At the peak of a swell, the ship yawed, and ballistae cracked. The deadly bolts flew at Nightwave with unerring accuracy, holing sails, smashing into the hull, and impaling flesh. Devrin bellowed for the ship's cleric, Rikkan, to see to the injured, even as the holed sails tore to shreds in the hurricane winds. Vulma, Gaspiya, and the top-crews clambered up the ratlines like spiders to cut away the torn canvas, but the damage was done. Nightwave slewed with the uneven strain and nearly broached on a towering wave.
"Captain!" Giant screamed, fighting the wheel with all her strength. "She'll roll on the next one if we don't get some sail aloft!"
Devrin fought his way to the binnacle and flung open the hatch beneath the compass. There, in a golden frame, sat an apple-sized emerald glowing with an inner light, Nightwave's heart.
The captain placed a hand on the gem and spoke low. "Spirits of the deep, hear my call. Claim your places at my side! Make sail!"
The spirits of a hundred and one sailors lost at sea surged from the gem in a translucent torrent, racing aloft, untouched by the hurricane winds. Ethereal canvas billowed on ghostly winds to pull Nightwave upright. Her bow pointed down the next towering swell, and they raced forth. The ghostly sails faded away quickly, but they had saved the ship.
The burst of speed had taken them out of range of Helldawn's ballistae, but for how long? The peak of a wave blocked their view of Helldawn, but then both ships rose, and Devrin saw their salvation surging from the depths.
"She rises!" he bellowed, as the behemoth surged from the sea, an orca of such massive size that it dwarfed the leviathans of the deep.
The monstrous whale breeched to the height of Helldawn's main crosstrees, and came down amidships. Timbers snapped like kindling, planks exploding with the horrific impact. The ship's keel snapped with a report that Devrin felt through the soles of his boots. The ship foundered, broken in half, two hundred sailors, gone in one moment of vengeance.
"Payback!" Vulmia screamed from aloft, and the captain and crew of Nightwave cheered.
In a moment of eerie clarity, the torrential rains ceased. The remaining Corentine ships stood there, stark against the raging storm.
Then, from the sea, vengeance rose like a plague of demons from the abyss.
Tentacles ensnared one ship, tearing at wood and flesh, while the jaws of a megalodon ripped at the hull of another. Thousands of merfolk surged up the sides of a third, their tridents crackling with electricity, torrents of water blasting Chelish sailors and marines off the deck. A fourth ship surged upward as a vast shape thrust up from beneath. The dragon turtle's spiked shell smashed through the deck of the ship, and the beast thrashed, splintering wood and crushing sailors. The last ship in the armada tried to flee, but the sea behind them frothed with the fury of the merfolk. In their haste, the Corentine captain must have forgotten about the storm. A breaking sea took them on the beam, and the ship capsized, masts snapping like felled trees. When the wave rolled past, there was nothing left but flotsam.
Devrin stared in silent shock for a long moment. Six ships, twelve hundred sailors...gone.
"Captain." Ris touched her captain's shoulder, and he turned to see the undine's sorrow. "I'm sorry. I sang the song of vengeance to them. They needed no such encouragement."
"I wish we could have let that last ship go, just to take the message back to Cheliax." He scanned the sea, but it was clear that there would be no survivors. "Maybe it would have prevented another incident like this."
"Perhaps." Ris shook her head. "But the sea is a harsh mistress, and even Hell lacks the wrath to thwart her will."
Chris A. Jackson
Tales of Lost Omens: The Sea's Vengeance
Wednesday, June 27, 2019