Story IV: By Sea

It was the start of the waking hours on the calm and temperate waters of the Trader’s Bay. The great sailing warship Merciful’s Jeshan Shifter was crouched on a short platform projected over the port side as the bow carved the swell with a hissing spray. Clasping a vein of Stream in his hand firmly, he maintained his hold as the ribbon of light disappeared far underwater once it was outside of his fist. Atop the mast, the ship’s Bessan Shifter was scouting in the crow’s nest; scouring the horizon through his hand lens. The sun’s endless light blasted proudly in the blue sky while the deckhands relayed the order to proceed ahead at full speed on their patrol.

 

The Jeshan held the Stream constantly while on duty and used his Shifting abilities to send a separate branch of it up the mast, within snapping range of the Bessan. The intense labor of maintaining a hold on the Stream was essential to the operations onboard their warship. Soon, the sails were flush with a wind that was being empowered by the Bessan and the vessel raced through the water of the Bay with unnatural quickness. The Jeshan breathed in the salty air screaming past him as he parted the rolling swell with his Shifting; easing the passage of the bow through the water. The Stream tugged on his closed fist as the ship sailed smoothly, itching to be released back to its natural place on the floor of the Bay. He had to keep his mind focused on holding it or else it would be lost. If the Stream was to return to where it would normally be on the seafloor, it would be too far away for any Shifter to call back. The ship would need to return to shallower water under its own power so that the Stream could be retrieved, which would be a catastrophic loss of time and function. Aware of those things, the Jeshan continued concentrating and passed the wooden ship through the sea with haste as the Merciful searched on the open Bay.

 

The stern and well-constructed warship Merciful was a member of the Blue Fleet, under the jurisdiction of the Last Knights of Realm. The Knights operated an elite peacekeeping armada on the central and east Bay to stifle the flagrant criminality and piracy which are often a peril of living in the Trader’s Fold. Since Realm had long ago vacated the lands and waters outside of their Southern Spiral, the Blue Fleet kept the peace at sea and provided rescue to those caught by the powerful storms that come out of the south.

 

The mast alarm of the Merciful rang out as the ship raced through the open sea. “Column of smoke, zero nine zero!” Shouted the Bessan as he stared at the horizon, pointing over the starboard side.

“Make your heading zero nine zero.” The Captain on the bridge said, and the ship turned. “Ahead flanking speed!”

 

The call went out to sail at full speed and the Jeshan Shifter poured his energy into parting the waves for the ship to slide through smoothly to its target. The Bessan blasted the wind into the sails and accelerated the ship with a torrent of charged air. The Merciful’s mast and sails groaned under the intense forces and it charged across the Bay to the distant column of smoke with remarkable alacrity as the deckhands scrambled to lash down ropes and prepare for possible combat.

As they approached, they could see what remained of a burning passenger vessel slowly sinking into the sea. The Merciful decelerated and sent out the lifeboats to rescue those already in the water. They took the crew and passengers they were able to save below deck as the stranded ship broke apart and disappeared into the depths. The crew of the now destroyed passenger ship confirmed they had been attacked and boarded by a much smaller, faster ship with a Shifter on board.

“That pirate galleon moved around us easily while their archers fired on our sails. Once we were ablaze, they took some distance and washed my crew overboard with waves created by their Shifter.” The leader of the surviving crew conveyed. “Then he split our hull and they left to the south.”

“We are sorry for your loss,” the Captain began. “we will set out after these pirates immediately. They can’t have gone far. We will keep you, your crew and passengers safe until we reach port at Teayl.”

 

The sailors hurried about climbing the mast again and setting the rigging for fast travel. Men darted about on different jobs, all working to bring the ship to full readiness. Having come to a complete stop to collect survivors from the attacked vessel, the Merciful pivoted about and waited for a course.

“Mast sighted bearing one-eight-five!” The Bessan signaled down from the nest while holding the Stream.

“Is that them?” The Captain shouted from the deck.

The Bessan in the crow’s nest could feel the Stream being tugged in the direction of the ship, but he could not feel or see anything more. “That one probably has a Shifter on board! I can sense his power.”

“Understood.” The Captain said. “Let’s go have a look, shall we?” The Captain shouted, and his crew let out a hearty roar in agreement. “All ahead flank!”

 

From the crow’s nest of the small pirate ship heading south, the lookouts spotted the Merciful coming up from the north and the warship was gaining speed rapidly as it approached. They sounded the alarm and the pirate crew began to scramble about the deck of the ship preparing to set the sails. Some of the sailors took their bows and their quivers and lined up on the sides of the ship, readying their torches; hoping to get a chance to set their enemy ablaze.

 

The pirate Captain looked wildly up at the sailor in the nest. “Blue Fleet?” He shouted. The sailor atop the mast nodded in agreement.

“Scum,” The pirate captain grunted angrily to himself. “We’ll show these Knights how we do things in the Trader’s Bay! We will not run today men! It’s them, or us!” A great cheer went up amongst the crusty criminals gathered on the deck. The pirate Jeshan Shifter turned their small vessel about and the men at the helm began to charge straight at the Merciful. The pirate Captain had a smile on his face which grew larger as the two ships settled into a collision course. He pulled his fancy Captain’s hat lower on his brow and glared forward menacingly. The pirate Jeshan could not bring the ship close to the same speed as the Merciful but could ease their journey through the water while the favorable wind pushed from behind.

 

“They are charging us Captain!” A deckhand of the Merciful at the bow shouted.

“Good.” The Captain said confidently. “This should be over quickly.”

He looked up at the crow’s nest and shouted, “do they have a Shifter?”

“Yes,” the Bessan said. “One Jeshan. On the port side. Its surely them sir.”

“Okay then.” The Captain looked out across the deck with iron in his gaze. “All hands to battle positions, and ahead ramming speed! Prepare for port side attack! We turn on my orders! They have a Jeshan so men, be ready!”

 

The pirate Captain’s grin was changing to a snarl as the Merciful continued on a collision heading at full speed. He noticed the distance between the two ships was closing rapidly.  The pirate Captain then entertained the possibility that this might be his very last battle. I will break this man. He thought to himself, twisted up in a false sense of boldness mingled with fear.

He turned to face his crew and bellowed, “Notch your arrows sea-rats and prepare to fire port side! Turn the ship to starboard on my signal! Let’s burn these fools! Ready the oil at the railing and cast it on them as we pass! Drench them in burning death!” The crew lit their braziers, readied the oil to be cast and notched their incendiary arrows, preparing to fire.

 

“Ready yourself for what they may do Jeshan and react,” the Captain of the Merciful shouted. “Bessan, once we pull broadside, light them up. All hands ready… Now! Hard to starboard! Turn!”

 

The Merciful broke from its ramming course and so did the pirate ship, just as they began to come perilously close to colliding. The Bessan in the nest struck his flint and ignited some frayed paper as he huddled, shielded from the wind, with the Stream in his hand. As both vessels began to turn and expose their port-side flanks to each other, he Shifted his spark into a small, contained flame in his palm.

The Bessan arose as the ships came broadside and channeled his power through the crackling flame in his clutches. The archers on the pirate ship fired a volley ahead of the oil with hopes of setting the mast and sails ablaze. The Bessan unleashed a blast of fire into the space between the two ships in a violent, expanding plume. The scalding surge of burning, devouring death incinerated the arrows in-flight before the ships were fully beside each other. The colossal wave of fire enveloped the railing of the pirate ship, rendering some archers to ash while others not directly hit fell overboard screaming as they burned. The oil ignited in the cauldrons and exploded in a devastating, concussive blast, sending wood splinters and human shrapnel across the deck. The top of the port hull was gone, and the breach extended below the waterline. Fire was spreading all over the ship as oil splattered from the initial blast set the sails ablaze. Men were cast about in the fray, pulverized by wood fragments and many more were thrown in the water, escaping death by fire. The power of the ignited oil had blown the pirate Captain’s hat overboard, which he took as a bad sign.

 

The Jeshan on the pirate ship acted quickly and used his Shifting to splash a wave of water up and over the side and across the sails, washing some of the remaining crew overboard in the effort to preserve the ship. However, the damage was done; the pirate ship did not sink immediately, but it could not escape and now drifted away from the Merciful helplessly. Its sails were little more than singed tatters and many of the crew were dead or no longer aboard. The opportunity to strike back was fading rapidly for the pirate Jeshan and with what he had left of his strength, he Shifted the water underneath the stern of the Merciful upward, breaching the ship with a powerful displacement and destroying the rudder entirely. The gaping wound in the Blue Fleet ship began to fill with water, and the Merciful listed idly without the ability to control its course.

 

“We will not have much time before we too are sunk, sir” one of the deck crew of the Merciful said. The captain looked forward at the closing distance between the two ships, both crippled.

“How much time?” He said.

“Five minutes or less before the stern is too far underwater to be saved, sir.”

“Try to move us closer,” The Captain leaned forward. “Once we are within firing range, Jeshan, you snap that ship in two on my order.”

 

The somewhat stunned and crisped remaining crew of the pirate ship took to the stern of their dying vessel and fired more arrows at the Merciful as their enemy coasted within range. The pirate Captain on the deck of his charred ship rallied his men to fight. “Stand with me and we will take that ship right now!” He screamed desperately, having become less inspiring since he lost his hat. The Captain truly had nothing left to lose as he shouted, “give them a volley!” To what was left of his crew.

 

“We are within range Captain!” The Bessan in the nest of the Merciful shouted.

The Captain turned to the Jeshan on his platform extending over the side of the ship, “do it!” The Jeshan used his Shifting to whip the Stream in his hand across the surface of the water like a white-hot rope of sparkling, raw energy which sizzled and hissed as it rippled out towards the pirate ship. The Stream collided with the hull in a thunderous crack, disemboweling the vessel with a sparkling explosion of energy. The burst sent wood fragments flying as water surged into the gaping chasm amidships. The pirate ship sank violently, folding into two sections and crumpling beneath the surface of the sea.

 

The Merciful itself began to sink further as the stern continued to fill with water. The Jeshan worked quickly to Shift the wood back into place on the broken hull so the Merciful would stay afloat. They would not be able to sail again until the water in the hold had been removed and would have no rudder as they limped to port in Teayl.

 

The crew of the Blue Fleet warship rounded up the survivors who were swimming in the water where the pirate ship went down and shackled them below decks to be taken back to port. They did not locate the pirate Shifter once the ship had sunk, but the Captain was confident the danger was over having seen the violence of the blast that tore the pirate’s galleon in two. “All hands stand down,” he shouted, marveling at the fine captain’s hat his men pulled out of the flotsam. “We sail for Teayl where these criminals will be brought to justice. You all performed admirably today. We are going to be rotating in new duties this afternoon until we empty the hold of seawater. Let’s work together and get ourselves ready to sail as soon as possible.”

 

The Jeshan used what was left of his stamina just to hold onto the Stream as his relief came in to take over and the crew of the ship started to form a line to pass buckets. He handed the Stream vein to the second Jeshan, who would assist in the removal of the water from the hold as well. The Bessan in the Crow’s Nest was also relieved of duty and would need to rest before he could render his Shifting again.

 

As both exhausted Shifters came back to their quarters, the Jeshan looked out of his cabin window at the ceaseless sun shining down on the glistening sea; with the midday hour almost upon them. Just another day on the Trader’s Bay. He thought to himself.

 

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