Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A job that needed doing



The Pius had reached the highest reaches of the troposphere. Above was only the darkness of the Void. Below and to her aft, arching north and westwards, lay the unnatural storm-front that blocked the approach to Cora. From this perspective it looked like a fat, black snake on the dark waters of the Straits of Ahriman. Somewhere down there, beneath the waves, the demon of the cauldron was fighting the Kraken. Hidden beneath the tumultuous clouds were also the combined fleets of the Hannumen and the Wolf Lords, as well as the Armada of Forlorn Hope  that would be a great battle. None of these things concerned Commander Spearhawk.



"All magicians below deck!"

Spearhawk knew that this was the defining moment of his life. He was miles above ground, in an oak-built ship, and the Bansl Apparatus, the arcane engine that had allowed the Pius to fly through both air and Void, was about to be dismantled. The magicians, who's craft had facilitated almost all the wonders accredited to the vessel, would leave the ship, and they would take the apparatus with them. Spearhawk's orders were to deliver an OUT-constructed bomb directly into the city of Borgen on Cora. To do this, he would have to get the ship close, and fast unless the demons down there ripped her apart. He also had a mind to save the Pius and her crew.

"Secure all hatches! Free-watch below decks! Check lifelines!"

As the orders were given, a shudder went through the hull. The apparatus had been removed. The Pius was now at the mercy of nature and the crew. The bow dipped downwards, and far below and ahead, the island of Cora came into view. Spearhawk checked his bearings, but before he could relay his instructions to the helmsman, the ship suddenly gained speed. The magicians must have made some final adjustments to the plan. Instead of free-falling, the Pius now shot towards it's target. Flames began licking the bow, the wind screamed, and had it not been for the goggles most of the crew wore, none would have been able to see much at all.

She was a fine ship, and there was no better crew anywhere on Argos. Spearhawk was well aware of this, but how do you defy reality if you have no hard magic? He felt a pang of regret over not having Adeptus Rupertus beside him, but immediately dismissed this as useless sentimentality. Blast all magicians and their hubris!

"Trim the ventral sails, and secure the main balloon."

Crewmen jumped to their tasks without question. They all knew that their chances were slim at best, but to a man they trusted their commander and their ship. In the rigging, men worked frantically, and little by little, some control was established over the tons of timber shooting down towards the rocky island.

The trick, Spearhawk knew, was not how to deliver the bomb, but to somehow avoid crushing the ship to toothpicks in the process. He checked his vector and made some adjustments. His plan was to come in just a little bit short, then pull up. The bomb would be cut loose as the bow rose, and then it was just a simple matter of aeronautics. At least that was the plan. The extra speed had not been part of the plan.

Seconds passed, and with each the island seemed to grow. Now it appeared as nothing less than Argos itself, rising up to punish man's insolence in believing he could escape it's bonds.

"Deploy main cloud-anchor!"

The large sail-like contraption was rolled over the aft railing. It fluttered, then it caught air with a loud clap. The ship shook itself like a whale fighting the harpoon, then it steadied.

"Helm two points starboard, altitude rudders three points down. Deploy forward balloon!"

By the gods, he loved this. The ship reacted to his commands, and he could feel the Pius fightning to stay alive. Like everyone who had been on board for a while, Spearhawk did not doubt that the Pius was somehow alive. Now she was fightning for her survival, just as her crew.

The city of Borgen was now clearly visible ahead. It's once proud temples and towers had been reduced to sharp, broken ruins, half obscured by a dark mist. Things that did not belong in this world could be seen in the air, but for some reason, they did not attack the ship. It was like the defenses had been paralysed by indecision.

"Deploy port and starboard cloud-anchors! Full inflation of forward balloon! Ready the bomb!"

The crew jumped to their tasks, and the speed decreased a little. As the forward balloon filled up, the bow drew up just enough that Spearhawk allowed himself a second of hope. Still, they were falling fast, and whatever measure of control they had over the ship was not at all enough to call this anything but falling with a plan.

On the fore-deck, the lieutenant in charge of the bomb gave his orders. Four sailors swung the net containing the bomb over the railing, and lowered it down so that it hung below the ship.

"Cut main cloud-anchor, altitude rudders twelve points up. Full inflation of all balloons! Drop the bomb!"

As the bomb fell and the balloons filled to capacity, the bow rose, and with the main anchor cut, the Pius gained some speed again. Something slammed into the hull on the starboard side, causing the ship to list to port. The hideous thing tore at the timbers of the hull, and from the gun-ports marines fired their muskets. Calls for men to repel this enemy rose from below decks.

They were now low enough that as they flew above the ruins of Borgen, they were below the few remaining towers. Behind the Pius, the atom-crusher detonated with a blinding white flash that eradicated walls, demons, and men alike. A scorching wind filled the sails, and the starboard cloud-anchor burst into flames.

The blast, and the loss of one anchor, made the Pius list further. She was now almost on her side, and Spearhawk knew that he no longer had any effective control over her. Their only hope was in the deals he'd made, and in Pius' will to survive. The crew all knew this, still they did all they could to save their home. Sails were adjusted in an attempt to catch some air, the every balloon on board was inflated. Despite the demon tearing at the hull, every free hand ran to the starboard side in the hope of righting the all but helpless vessel.

Just yards below, the jagged teeth of the broken city flashed by like hungry reefs in an ocean of nightmares. Scattered musket-fire barked inefficiently towards the ship as it sped above. In front, the western wall of the city came rushing towards it. If only they could gain a few yards of altitude, they might clear it. Then there would only be the dangers of landing in the bay – not without risk in any case, but almost certainly catastrophic if the ship was on it's side.

At that moment, when it seemed certain that the Pius would never sail again, Spearhawk had a moment of clarity.

"Haul port cloud-anchor full to port! Set all sails! Helm full to port!"

The Pius turned reluctantly, and bore down on the squat, scarred, and scorched Castel Vigilus. At that moment the fortress seemed to heave, as if drawing it's breath. Then it erupted. A bright orange flame shot up from the main keep, then something deep inside the dying fort seemed to draw every rock in the structure towards it. The ship was now heading straight towards one of the remaining towers, and only yards below, a fiery vortex ate through the fortifications at an alarming speed. The heat was so intense that those sails without alchemical treatment caught fire.

"Blow, you witch-spawned contraption! Blow, or to the Deep with you!"

As if on cue, the inferno below erupted. A massive ball of flame spread outwards, covering the remains of Castel Vigilus in the blink of an eye. The Pius, now less than a musket-shot from the ugly tower that promised to rip her open, bow to stern, was caught in the mighty wave of fire. The blast washed over her hull, lifting her just enough to clear the tower. The scorching air made her sails billow for a few vital seconds, before they caught fire. Both the main and the aft balloon ruptured. The cloud-anchor, now almost flying like a kite, shielded from the worst heat of the blast by the listing ship, barely managed to pull her upright as she hurtled out over the Bay of St. Invictus. Behind her, a massive inferno raged.

Without sails, and with little or no lift, but luckily with her keel beneath her, the Pius hit the water hard. The bow cut deep, and a mighty wave washed over her decks, putting out the fires that threatened to take hold. The fore-mast snapped in the impact and took seven men with it into the murky bay. Rising like a drunken whale from the water, the Pius got air under her once more, before she landed hard again. Something broke inside her, and as the speed carried her forward, she started to list. The helm was unresponsive, and Spearhawk could do nothing but watch as the rocks on the western side of the bay came closer. They had no anchors to drop – everything of weight had been stripped before they set out.

"Brace for impact!"

~o~

The ship lay on her side, half-way out of the water. Her masts were broken, and there was a gaping hole in her starboard side. A hundred yards north on the beach, beneath a large rock, a group of men had set up camp. The many wounded were seen to by the ageing surgeon, Dr. Toombs, and a dozen ragged marines stood watch. Commander Spearhawk lay unconscious in a makeshift tent at the back of the group. Toombs had had to take his left leg, five inches above the knee.

On the other side of the bay the flames were still burning, and someone swore they had seen a dragon flying across the island further north. It had been a strange and graceful creature, long and snake-like, seemingly swimming through the air. On it's back there had been what looked like a small boy in bright yellow robes.  


Above the stranded ship and her harrowed crew, another flying creature circled watchfully. The cannons on it's back had already deterred a small unit of cavalry that had become too curious.




Storyteller's note: This is on of the wrap-up posts that will follow after the end of the Pius Chronicles, this one focussing on the cabal's ship, and an important NPC.  I really didn't know the fate of Spearhawk or the Pius before I started writing this piece. Actually, must confess I doubted their survival. As for the writing, I'm not all impressed with the prose, and it may well have ended up a tad lengthy, but it had to be written. Its all part of the process of tidying up and tying up the loose ends.


As for Gala the space-whale, the crew didn't want her to have to go up against the demons of Cora, so she was kept away from the mad flight. Her and her crew stayed clear until the Pius beached, then they swooped down to watch over the ship and the stranded men.




[Picture source unknown]

4 comments:

  1. Cool. Is there any lingering radiation associated with an atom-crusher?

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  2. According to Bombmaster Bansl's field-notes, the lingering taint is negligible.

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  3. Wooha! I liked it! More of this please Harald. Nice flowing action I thought. Hopefully you will write more prose on argos now that we have left.

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  4. I'm really glad you liked it. It may well be an-'in-piece', it needed doing. The title actually has that meta-significance as well ;)

    There will most likely be more. After all, there're a few lines that must be resolved one way or another.

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