masterghandalf: (Default)
[personal profile] masterghandalf


Chapter 9: Running the Blockade

Len gathered her team near the helm as Stormchaser raced towards the blockade, resting one hand on the hilt of her sword and flexing the fingers of the other as she called to mind the spell she planned to use if needed, one well-suited for combat against wooden ships. Yhani stood on one side, gaze forward and unblinking as she recited a blessing from the Undying Court under her breath; from the corner of their eyes she and Len shared a wordless moment of connection. Ghazaan stood at her other side, seeming to loom even larger than usual, all trace of his usual affable demeanor gone; he seemed less a friend now and more a vision of some mighty Dhakaani warrior of ages past, but right now, that’s what the team needed. Behind them stood Havaktri and Thyra back to back, their faces set in concentration as they prepared their magic, while Rinnean toyed idly with a his knifes. Harsk had already climbed atop one of the masts and crouched far above with his bow at the ready, preparing to fire.

The distant Adaran coast was growing larger, grey mountains rising high above the ways, but before it were the ships of the Riedran blockade, visible with the naked eye now and coming into closer view.

Meren’s eyes narrowed as he stood at the wheel, and he nodded once as if in decision. “Brace yourselves, everyone,” he called. “Things are about to get a little rough.”

Len dropped into a crouch, her team doing the same, Thyra a few seconds later than the others. No sooner had they done so than Meren raised his left arm, holding tight to the wheel with his right. Something gleamed on his shoulder with a brightness that shown through the white cloth of his shirt, a complex pattern that resembled a tattoo but that Len knew was no creation of ink. Meren was an heir of House Lyrandar; of course he bore the Mark of Storms, though Len had never bothered to pry about it. Now was the time to see if the fabled magic of the Dragonmarked Houses was all it was made out to be.

“Now!” Meren called, and his mark flashed brightly before going dark again. Len could feel the air shift around them, and then suddenly the sails inflated, stretched to their full capacity by a sudden gust of conjured wind that no other vessel could feel. Now, they were moving at such a clip that Len was sure she’d have been knocked over if she’d still been standing; they were coming up rapidly on the blockade now, and the captain clutched the wheel tightly as he prepared to steer between two of the massive dark ships.

He had a gleeful, half-mad look on his face, and here it seemed was the passion for excitement and danger that had led him to take such a risky job in the first place; Len had not misjudged him. “You see why my ship is called Stormchaser now?” he shouted to be heard above the wind. “See how she runs with a Lyrandar at the helm!”

“Very impressive, but we’re about to have other problems,” Len shouted back. “Look!” she pointed beside Meren, and the captain turned his head slightly, one eye still on the path ahead, to see a shimmer in the air announce the reappearance of Captain Tulchasar’s phantasm.

“Are you mad?” the Riedran officer called, his decorum strained to the breaking point by this unexpected turn of events.

“Quite possibly, yes!” Meren responded, laughing. “You didn’t leave me a lot of options, friend. But I’m a free captain of House Lyrandar, and I have no intention of showing my belly to anyone on the seas, even the Inspired!”

“Fool!” Tulchasar snapped, “your House may be a power in your barbarian land, but in Riedra, your connections will not protect you. It would have been so much simpler if you had submitted peacefully, and then you could have left unharmed…” his gaze drifted to the mercenaries, and when he saw Havaktri, his eyes widened. “But of course; the kalashtar has warped your mind. His Excellency warned us one was coming from Khorvaire. No matter, Captain d’Lyrandar; we will take you alive and free you from her – “

As Tulchasar was speaking, Meren quickly gestured for one of his crew, who hurried over and seized the wheel tightly. The captain reached down to his thigh and pulled a thin piece of wood and metal from a holster that hung there; raising it carefully, he scanned the approaching blockade until he seemed to find what he was speaking, and spoke a trigger word. A bolt of lightning lanced from the wand and impacted the deck of one of the ships; Tulchasar’s exhortations were cut off in a surprised shout; the Riedran raised his hands as if to ward off a blow, and his image wavered and vanished. Len smiled, impressed. “Nice shooting,” she said.

“Glad that’s over with,” Meren muttered as he took back the helm. “That man was getting annoying. Well, if they didn’t know our intentions before, they do know. Steel yourselves, everyone. We’re about to pass between them, and while the wind is on our side I doubt they’ll leave our passage uncontested.”

“Don’t worry,” Len said. “We’re ready.”

///

Thyra could see mechanisms shifting on the deck of the nearest Riedran ship, something very large with backwards-bent arms that might have been a ballista taking careful aim. She barely had time to shout a warning before it fired; a massive harpoon linked to a heavy chain shot towards Stormchaser. No sooner had it done so, however, than Havaktri stood, an expression of intense concentration on her face as she raised a hand in a gesture of warding; the harpoon seemed to slam into an invisible wall in midair and rebounded a short distance before falling harmlessly into the sea. Havaktri fell to her knees, her expression strained.

“I don’t have very many of those in the me,” she said, with a faint echo of one of her hissing laughs. “That was… rather heavy.”

“Let’s not give them another chance, shall we?” Len asked, standing and gesturing for Thyra. “Come on, kid. Let’s give ‘em something a bit closer to home to worry about – light ‘em up.”

Thyra looked over at the captain and nodded, and then they both began to cast their spells. Len pulled one arm back and then made a throwing motion, launching a tiny sphere of golden light; Thyra levelled two of her fingers and released a thin white bar of blinding energy. Both projectiles struck the ship and burst into flames as they did so, Len’s in the sail and Thyra’s on the deck. Thyra could hear the panicke shouts of the Riedran crew; she couldn’t understand their language, but she was certain they were calling for water.

“That’ll distract them,” Len said, but Ghazaan seized her arm and gestured towards the ship that was no approaching Stormchaser from the other side.

“Let’s not celebrate yet, boss,” he said. “We’re about to have company!”

The other ship’s captain, having apparently noticed the fate of Tulchasar and his crew, had decided other methods were in order. This Riedran vessel was coming up quickly, and Thyra could see that its sails too were stretched taut by a wind that blew exactly perpendicular to the one that Meren had summoned; they must have a psion on board who could move their air telekinetically. For a moment, she was afraid the larger ship was going to ram them, but then it turned suddenly to the side and several figures leapt over the side, clinging to ropes as they swung towards Stormchaser.

“Prepare to rebel boarders!” Meren called, pulling hard on the wheel. Stormchaser swung out and several of the Riedrans missed their target, falling into the sea, but a number of them made it close enough, grabbing hold of the Lyrandar ship’s side and clambering over the rail.

“Come on!” Len called, drawing her sword and setting it ablaze in a single fluid motion. Yhani, Ghazaan, and Rinnean did the same, while Thyra helped Havaktri up, the two of them keeping to the back – their abilities would be more useful if they could stay out of the melee.

The boarders fanned out, facing the crew and the mercenaries with long, slightly curved swords in their hands. It was the first time Thyra had seen Riedran commoners up close, and she thought they were a surprisingly diverse group in appearance; there was a great variation among their skin and eye colors, though most had the same angular features and almond-shaped eyes as Havaktri or Tulchasar. Riedra had conquered almost the entirety of Sarlona, and drew its troops from what must have been a dozen former nationalities, now all united under the banner of the Inspired.

In the back, however, stood one figure who was different from the others; he bore no weapon and wore a small crystal on a chain around his neck, and regarded both sides with a cool, calculating stare. “Their psion,” Havaktri whispered. “Maybe an Empty Vessel, but more likely a regular human, I think – a favored pet of the Inspired they’ve seen fit to reward with initiation into their least mysteries. I think I can defeat him, but I need you to keep me safe.”

“I will,” Thyra said, and no sooner had the words left her mouth than the boarders leapt forward at some unspoken command. The mercenaries met and held them, flanked by Stormchaser’s crew; Len and Yhani’s swords flashed as they fought back to back, the changeling’s blade encased in fire, the elf’s gleaming with silver light. Ghazaan laid about himself with his great blade, holding several of the Riedrans at bay while Rinnean struck them from behind with his knives. From the mast, arrows whistled, one striking a Riedran in the neck and sending him sprawling to the wood as Harsk carefully picked another target.

The psion, too, chose his targets carefully. Safe behind his men, his eyes scanned the ship’s defenders until they lighted on Havaktri, and then they narrowed dangerously. He raised a hand and a bolt of lightning lanced from it; Havaktri stepped forward and raised her own hand, catching the bolt and dispersing it into a burst of harmless light. Her eyes narrowed, and suddenly the deck rocked beneath the enemy psion’s feet as he collapsed to his knees, clutching his head. Struggling to stand, he stretched out a hand and clenched his eyes tightly shut; Havaktri suddenly gave a pained cry and collapsed to one knee, shaking.

Thyra’s eyes went from one psion to the other in confusion and growing fear. Wizards had their spells and clerics had their prayers, but the two psions dueled in near-complete silence, and it was all-but impossible for someone with only a poor grasp of their art to tell what might happen next- or who was winning. But Thyra was not – would never be again – a helpless bystander, and now she knew it was time to act. Levelling her fingers at the Riedran psion, still occupied with whatever pain he was inflicting on Havaktri, she muttered an incantation under her breath and launched a bolt of silver-blue light that struck his torso. The man cried out in pain and stumbled back; the spell had done little lasting damage, but it had broken his concentration.

Havaktri looked up and smiled. “Good-bye,” she said, and made a shoving motion with one hand. The Riedra psion was forced back, eyes wide as he slammed into the rail and then toppled over the side. The kalashtar watched him fall with satisfaction. “That hurt,” she said.

“Are you all right now?” Thyra asked, looking up warily to see the Riedran ship coming about for another pass – the psion who’d boarded must not have been the one working the winds after all. When Havaktri nodded once, she stood and turned towards the enemy vessel. “Then I think it’s time we rid ourselves of them.”

Slowly, carefully, she raised her hands and focused her will on the Riedran ship. Under her breath, she spoke the words of an incantation that sounded harsh and strange to her own ears, and then she cast. To her eyes, nothing changed, but she could feel that the spell had worked – and the screams that echoed from the enemy vessel confirmed that knowledge. The ship’s movement slowed, and then it began to drift, as if no one aboard was even bothering trying to steer, and Stormchaser left it behind.

“What did you do?” Havaktri breathed.

“I cast an illusion on their deck,” Thyra replied, “warping it into some nightmare vision. I don’t know what they’re seeing, but it’s nothing good. They’ll get better, but it should buy us some time.” That they’d recover was a pity, a small part of her whispered. They’d tried to take the ship and kill her friends, and they deserved their fate. Thyra quickly quashed it into her subconscious, but it was there nonetheless.

And there was another, darker part of Thyra that enjoyed the knowledge that she could cause such fear.

///

Len swore angrily as the Riedran she was fighting managed to slip his blade through her guard; she leaned back just before his strike hit her face and spared herself from serious damage, though left a long cut along her cheek that hurt like Khyber. The Riedran pressed his advantage, using his greater size and strength to force her back, but there was no gleam of triumph on his face, just cold determination. The Riedrans seemed to be like Karrns in that respect, but if possible even creepier. Damn all stoic, hierarchical nations to Dolurrh, and whoever thought up the idea with them.

Bringing up her free hand behind her, Len hissed an incantation and stabbed it forward, striking her opponent’s side with two stiffened fingers. There was a burst of lightning, the smell of ozone, and the Riedran was blasted backwards over the side, his clothes still smoking. Len watched him drop out of sight with satisfaction, then reached up and touched her cheek, wincing as her fingers came away bloody.

Looking around, she saw that most of the boarders appeared to be dead, though based on moving shapes in the water it seemed some had chosen to jump overboard rather than risk death or capture. Several of the enemy corpses has Harsk’s arrows sticking out of them, and Rinnean was casually pulling his dagger from one who was still twitching slightly. Len frowned at the sight; there was always a part of her that enjoyed the actual fight, the thrill of testing her skill against an opponent, but the aftermath, when it was time to face the bloody consequences of what had happened – that was different. This sight was something she hated, though it was all-too familiar, and in her opinion any soldier who didn’t had lost some essential part of herself along the way.

“Let me look at that,” a soft voice said at her side, and Len turned to see Yhani. The Aereni priestess raised two fingers and placed them lightly on Len’s cheek, and murmured a blessing under her breath; there was a faint tingle in the captain’s skin that she was fairly sure wasn’t entirely due to the healing magic, and the gash closed.

“Thanks, ‘Hani,” Len said with a relieved smile. “What would I ever do without you?”

“Die, probably,” Yhani said, with a faintly mischievous twinkle in her serene eyes; she leaned forward and gave Len a quick kiss on the cheek where the wound had been. The captain felt herself blush slightly, but willed the color away as Yhani pulled back; being a changeling, after all, had certain advantages. “Is it over, then?”

“Not quite!” Harsk called from his perch in the mast. “Look out!” Len spun to face the direction he was pointing, and saw the first Riedran ship, the fires aboard seemingly put out. Something metal flashed from its deck, and she barely had time to register that it was another harpoon before it slammed into Stormchaser’s stern and sunk deep, chain trailing behind. There was a great groan of metal, and then it began to slowly pull the Lyrandar vessel back.

“She’s reeling us in!” Meren called. “Somebody get that thing off of us, Khyber damn you, or this was all for nothing!”

“I’ve got it!” Len called, hurrying up the deck past the helm and towards the stern. Taking a quick look at where the harpoon must be embedded, she ran into the captain’s cabin and threw open the back window; sticking her torso out, she saw the harpoon and chain stuck just below. Muttering angrily under her breath, she drew her sword and ignited it again, letting it build to a reasonable heat before slashing down hard. The chain was sheared off, and Stormchaser’s backwards movement ceased. Len grinned to herself, but then she looked back up and her eyes widened in horror. They hadn’t been stuck long, but it had been enough – more Riedran ships were now closing in on their position, far more than they could fight.

Racing back outside, she hurried to Meren. “We’re about to have a whole lot of company!” she called.

“Damn,” Meren growled. “Well, they’re not getting my ship without a fight – I’d never hear the end of it.”

“Wait!” another voice called – Havaktri. The kalashtar looked weary, but she was pointing towards the Adaran coast – and what looked like several rapidly-approaching plumes of white water. “What is that?”

Len shielded her gaze, and then her eyes widened. A half-dozne small boats, each carrying a handful of crew, sped up by Stormchaser’s side; each of them had one person sitting near its stern, apparently in deep meditation – no doubt the psion whose telekinetic power was propelling it at such speed. In the front of each boat, two of its crew stood and raised their hands; no sooner had they done so than the ocean itself seemed to twist at their command, a wall of water rising several hundred feet in the air between the Lyrandar ship and the Reidrans.

“Huh,” Ghazaan said, coming up to stand beside Len. “Never seen that before.”

“Yes, truly a wonder for the ages,” said Rinnean who followed close behind with a profoundly irritated expression on his face. “Now will someone please explain to me exactly what is going on?”

Len looked at the closest of the small boats and regarded its crew; they appeared human and were all dressed in plain brown robes, but there was something about them that couldn’t be put down to any one feature that seemed to speak to another, more alien nature. It reminded her of Tulchasar – or Havaktri. “I think they’re kalashtar,” she said.

“Yes,” Havaktri said as she too approached. “They are kalashtar; my people have found us. They’re speaking into my mind, and wish me to relay their words to you. We are close to Adar, and their clairvoyants saw us doing battle with the Riedran navy; they were dispatched to assist. They are satisfied we are not friends of Riedra, though some still fear an Inspired trick.” She looked at Len with her dark eyes wide. “They do wish to know just who we are – and what is our business in their land.”

///

Well, this chapter was mostly action scene, and therefore mostly self-explanatory. We get to see Meren use his dragonmark, our heroes do battle, Havaktri have a psion fight, and the Adaran kalashtar save the day, so all told it worked out fairly well, except for the hole in Stormchaser. Thyra also got to stretch her wings in magical combat a bit, and also come to the unpleasant realization that there’s a part of her that likes having her dangerous magical abilities. I’m sure that’s not going to be at all troubling…

-MasterGhandalf


Profile

masterghandalf: (Default)
masterghandalf

May 2017

S M T W T F S
  1234 56
7 891011 1213
14 15161718 1920
21 22232425 2627
28293031   

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 25th, 2017 04:27 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios