By Paul Smith.
Old Friend, Fresh Face (To Walk the Path 22)
Copyright 2014 Paul Smith
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people, places or events is purely coincidental, and bears no malicious intent.
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‘Playing the ace’
To Walk the Path is the final instalment in my cyber-fantasy series The Star Plague Journals. Anyone who enjoys this chapter and wants to keep up to date on future releases (or who fancies trying some of my other work) should check out my galleries on Shakespir or DeviantART:
The Captain of the Baracudae lowered his telescope, eyes narrowing. “What are they playing at?”
“I don’t know sir.” His lieutenant bobbed unctuously. “Orders?”
“Ready the batteries. If they’ve had enough then we had best oblige them with the killing blow.”
“Aye aye Captain.”
The lieutenant scurried away across the aft castle, heading for the ladder down to the main deck, and the scorpions that dominated this end of the huge ship. The trebuchet would be more devastating but it took longer to calibrate them for the required distance and they needed to be quick. The pertinent point being of course that they had (as yet) failed to score any sort of significant hit on the much smaller, but therefore far more manoeuvrable, craft they currently faced off against.
He slid to the base of the ladder and was setting off across the main deck when the ship pitched suddenly beneath him, the whole thing groaning dangerously.
“What the?!” Gazing back, he found the Captain at the rail above. The man’s gaze was frightened, though he hid his shock quickly, waving the lieutenant on. He complied, but his mind was already starting to bubble away in pent up panic.
I was sure we’d accounted for all the Drakes…
The Maw were all above and, in any case, an ally (as much as you could trust that these days…). Baelmont and the twins helping to harry the enemy ships still mobile, whilst Malorae kept Michka occupied. Tusonc had been thrown from the sky by the big man himself, they had all seen it. And those wounds had looked pretty fatal. Surely he couldn’t have recovered…
The deck shook again, knocking those around him to their knees. He looked about, seeing panic on the faces of the assembled.
Then an ear splitting bellow turned all eyes towards the port bow.
His head snapping round, he looked in horror at the monster rising above the rail there. It was a Drake, but like none he’d ever seen…
“What the shitting hell…?!”
“By the sea’s salty lips!?”
“We’re all going to die…!!”
This last from a cabin boy sprinting for the rail seemed to sum up his own thoughts. The lieutenant looked on in horror at the thing heaving itself up the side of his ship. Some distracted part of his mind noted the lack of apparent limbs, though it seemed possessed of a number of fan-like fins and an obscene array of suckered tentacles with which it was dragging itself aboard, shoving men and siege engines to either side with casual abandon. One enterprising scorpion crew at the end of the row turned their machine the beast’s way, launching their shaft at its gaping jaws. They missed their target, striking it in the neck instead as it swung to bellow challenge at the sky. The shaft hit home, turning the Drake’s cry into a screech of rage. One of those tentacles snaked up to snatch the projectile out, drawing a gout of steaming blood in its wake. Others snapped out to assail the scorpion’s crew, pummelling the weapon itself to splinters before plucking the operators from the wreckage.
A rising whine made anyone who wasn’t already run for cover.
The lieutenant took shelter beneath the lip of a lifeboat, peering out as the whine rose. The Drake began to glow from within, it’s fins unfurling like a society lady’s fan…
There was a staggering crash like lightning directly overhead and the beast discharged, its innards briefly visible in stark relief as the energies it had spooled within were thrown outward, racking the deck about it with chaos. The scorpion’s crew screamed, smoke rising from their charring corpses. Lightning walked the deck, striding amongst the crew as it made for the rail to ground out in the ocean beyond. The lieutenant reached up to feel his own hair standing on end, forced his teeth to stop chattering as he dragged himself from concealment and began shouting, rallying any who would listen to abandon ship.
Grifarne exchanged a look with Enrico, who whistled softly, shaking his head. They were stood at the rail, watching the chaos playing out across the water. The new comer had made short order of the vast Imperial vessel, quickly dispatching anything that resembled resistance before concentrating on dismantling the ship itself with an enthusiasm that was almost unseemly.
“Someone has some pent up frustration to channel.”
Grifarne chuckled humourlessly. “Don’t forget she’s been shut up in an underground cavern for the last few centuries thanks to them.”
Enrico nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, that would do it.” He glanced back as a rending crack announced the first of the masts going down, its impact on deck prompting renewed efforts amongst the crew to abandon ship. “Guessing it’ll be our job to go fish people out.”
Grifarne grunted non-committally. “Best wait until she’s finished, I think.”
There was a loud crack as the Baracudae’s prow split away from the rest of the vessel.
“Probably a good idea,” Enrico agreed, as the enormous ship began to list dangerously in the water. All about it, lifeboats were spreading out across the surrounding swell, their coral lanterns like fireflies in the crisp night air.
Throughout the entire affair the other Drakes were conspicuous in their absence, vanishing from the skies above the sea battle. When the Captain of the Wench commented on it as they drifted in to collect survivors Enrico had shrugged.
“Probably the shock of a new face,” he’d suggested, eyes darting down to the constellation of lights beneath the surface between their ships that marked the Drake’s lingering presence. And he was not the only one thus preoccupied: as they moved in amongst the school of lifeboats it was to find their occupants torn between peering overboard at the ominous (and yet bewitchingly beautiful, he thought) display below or huddling as far from the water as their craft permitted, gibbering about the horrors they’d just witnessed.
She really is quite arresting, Enrico decided, dragging his own gaze away from the twinning coils below, whose eerie markings lit the waters like the phosphorescent blooms you got off the coast of Isklar during the summer months.
Sighing, he turned to the matter at hand, namely rescuing hysterical Imperials from his mistress’ icy grasp.
The fight for Incarnate continues in earnest, and things are looking grim for those still out to sea. The lose of the Drake Tusonc has left the Orphans woefully outgunned. But Wraethi has an ace up his sleeve and his northern sorcerer has decided its time to play their hand. 'Old Friend, Fresh Face' is chapter 22 of the book 'To Walk the Path'. Time to hold on now, the end is in sight.