Chapter 5: Into the Fire
Location: The battlefield
"Sky ship dead ahead captain!" called the eager lookout.
"Another one? How many of the Nautikos Guard must we defeat today?" replied Captain Jack Stallion of the Sky Tiger, his attention still on the sinking remains of the last ship they had defeated. The sculpted man was adjusting his hat atop his freshly woven dreadlocks.
"This isn't an Elladian battleship, captain!" cried the lookout. "It's no military vessel that I recognise!"
The new lookout was young, but he knew his sky ships, which is why Stallion had brought him aboard. If this wasn't a military sky ship then perhaps it was a merchant vessel, and that would mean plunder. The captain strode to the forecastle and peered out over the giant iron ram. From within his black overcoat he produced a bizarre looking telescope, covered in cogs and gears, and peered into the distance. "It's the Steamhawke" he said under his breath. "It's the Steamhawke!" he repeated with voice raised. When Jack Stallion shouted, everybody listened. "Full steam ahead!" he shouted even louder.
Lost in thought, Daenelia stared ahead, not really seeing the Sky Tiger at all. Her heart was beating twice as fast and as hard, the blood whispering as it rushed through her. There was nowhere to turn, nowhere to run. Her head whipped around, to scan the faces of the people on deck. Laudine, Kanya, Grey... they look flustered, scared, but innocent. Daenelia was leading them into a battle that wasn't theirs, and that did not negate the danger they faced.
The rest of the crew were not as young, but Daenelia had never seen them tested by a fight. Was she doing the right thing? Before the day was over she might have lost some of the familiar faces. Or worse. The ones to whom she could not put a name. It was not helping her calm down, at all.
She took the telescope from Ashrieda and folded it in. "We have to get some of these people to relative safety," she said in a low voice to Ashrieda. The woman nodded, understanding exactly what the Captain was talking about. She quickly ordered two deckhands to take the young women below, close to the engine room: the best-protected deck on the ship.
Slowly Daenelia looked ahead again, as the Sky Tiger manouvred towards them. She thought she could see the tiny figure of Jack standing near the mizzen-mast, at the back of the ship. She thought she could see him grin in bloodlust. She thought she could hear him whisper her name. Her heart nearly stopped.
Brem came bursting out of the forward hatch, wondering what why his men had been so rudely awoken for emergency coal-shovelling duty. It broke the spell, and Daenelia shook off her fear and was ready to deal with the situation. Brem stumbled towards Ashrieda and the captain as the former was handing a telescope to the latter. "I've seen enough. Let's get started" said Ashrieda.
"What in the blazes!" Brem started before he looked out over the deck, "Oh" he muttered. More patiently he walked over to the captain and asked, "friend or foe?"
Daenellia looked over her shoulder "Foe, do you think you should go and oversee your crew and get ready for battle?"
"In a minute, lemmie get a look at that ship, see if they'd give us any salvage."
"What do you think they could be using as a secondary power source?" Ashrieda chimed in. It wasn't the most timely or even the most intelligent question, but she seemed to think it was worth considering. "And in what part of the ship would it be located? If we could figure that out, it'd be a weakness that's worth exploiting."
Brem took the telescope and takes a look at the ship, "Hmmm, shiney." After a few moments of looking he handed it back and headed towards the engine room.
"I think that our resident engineer will work on that mystery," came the Captain's voice. "If we can survive the first pass we might be able to get some distance in between the two ships, perhaps give us enough time to put a plan together."
"Brem!" Daenelia shouted down the engineering communication tube, "If you're down there already, we need more power, and we need it now! Pirates!" she then turned around to face the crew, "Open the sails as far as they'll go. I want us at top speed when the Sky Tiger passes us! Gunners!" she yelled down a second tube, "we're about to make a first pass at the enemy. Fire at will!"
Coal was shovelled, sails were spread open, and cannons were readied. The Steamhawke promptly reached a speed that it had never flown before, and Daenelia hung onto her hat with one hand while pointing forwards with the other.
The Sky Tiger was upon them.
"Take cover! Brace yourselves!"
Daenelia hung onto the railing and waited for the cannons to fire. The captain wouldn't be hiding behind any crates, or running below decks. This was battle, and that meant she'd be standing on the deck of her sky ship like any good captain would.
The gunners let loose with a deafening chorus of explosions. Daenelia watched the cannonballs sail towards their target, a series of gunpowder flashes indicating the Sky Tiger returning fire. The sound of the enemy fire caught up with her ears half a second later, and then the cannonballs caught up with her ship. The Steamhawke was knocked a dozen degrees off course through the sheer weight of the impacts, and the sounds of her crew screaming echoed though the captain's head. The last of cannonballs struck the deck close enough to knock Daenelia flying in a cloud of wooden debris. A long piece of metal railing span through the air and impaled itself mere inches from the captain's face.
"Captain, are you okay?" asked Ashrieda as she helped Daenelia to her feet. First Blood to Jack, thought the Captain as the scratches on her face dripped onto the deck. The side of the ship was on fire, and it was difficult to see through the smoke, but she spotted the Sky Tiger growing smaller in the distance as it struggled to turn about. It would be a few minutes before it could catch up with the more manouverable Steamhawke.
"Quench that fire!" yelled Daenelia, her strength quickly returning to her. "And I want to see my War Dogs, now!"