Story 4: By Sea

It was dawn on the calm and temperate waters of the Trader’s Bay. The Merciful’s Jeshan Shifter was crouched on a short platform projected over the port side of the ship. He was clasping a vein of Stream in his hand firmly, held over the deep ocean and the vein disappeared far underwater once it was outside of his control. Atop the mast, the Bessan scouting in the Crow’s Nest was silent and watching the horizon through his hand lens. The sun’s light was beginning to fill the sky with an orange glow as the deck bell rang out one chime and a sailor yelled “Ahead full speed!”

 

The Jeshan held the Stream constantly while on duty and maintained a branch of it to grow up the mast, within range of the Bessan. This task alone required a fundamental commitment of mental energy, not to mention his additional responsibilities and requirements. The two Shifters fell into their morning duties and the Jeshan opened the water and pulled the ship through it with the power of the Stream. Soon, the sails were flush with a wind that was being empowered by the Bessan in the Nest and the vessel raced through the water of the Bay with unnatural quickness. The Jeshan, sprayed with hissing water as he parted the low swell to ease the passage of the bow, felt the Stream tugging on him 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 snap away and he would not be able to retrieve it again. If the Stream was to return to where it would normally be on the seafloor, it would be too far away to call back. The ship would need to return to shallower water under its own power so that the Stream could be grabbed again. Aware of those things, the Jeshan continued concentrating and passed the wooden ship through the sea with haste as the Merciful patrolled on the open Bay.

 

Their ship was a member of the Blue Fleet, an extension of the Last Knights of Realm. They operated an elite peacekeeping armada on the middle and east Bay to stifle some of the flagrant criminality and piracy. Their home port is located at Naruna, but they also have well-established presences at Cheed, Greenwall Port and Teayl. It was essential for the land and sea to both be secure in the free and independent region of the Fold, as this too was a part of their Old Way. They and their seafaring counterparts in the south (the Royal Navy of Realm), patrol the waters of the Trader’s Bay and secure it from rampant danger.

 

The mast alarm of the Merciful rang out as the ship raced through the open sea. “Column of smoke, zero nine zero!” He shouted, pointing over the starboard side to the distant horizon with his hand lens. The Jeshan turned due east but saw nothing. Clearly scouting not being his strongest skill.

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

 

The call went out 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 air. The Merciful raced across the Bay to the column of smoke with remarkable alacrity. Once their ship got close, they could see what remained of the burned passenger vessel slowly sinking into the sea. The Merciful slowed and began to rescue those already in the water. They took the crew and passengers they saved below deck as the stranded ship sank. The sailors confirmed they had been viciously attacked and boarded by a much smaller, faster ship which flew a black flag and may have had a Shifter helping them.

 

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 readiness. Having come to a complete stop to collect survivors from the attacked vessel, the Merciful turned itself about.

“Mast sighted bearing zero nine zero!” The Bessan signaled down from the Nest while holding the Stream.

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

The Bessan in the Crow’s Nest could feel the Stream being tugged in the direction of the ship, but he could not see anything more. “That one probably has a Shifter on board!”

“Understood.” The Captain said. A Shifter at sea is a dangerous weapon, not to be abused.  “Let’s hunt these pirates down!” The Captain shouted, and his crew let out a hearty roar in agreement.

 

As the pirates sailed out into the open eastern ocean, the Merciful began her chase. The Blue Fleet vessel lurched forward, then gathered speed rapidly as the Shifters and crew labored. The Jeshan Shifter held the Stream firmly and concentrated as the crew unfurled the sails. He opened the path for the ship to be guided through with little resistance. The Bessan churned the wind fiercely as the wood groaned against the strain and the Merciful surged towards the horizon.

 

From the Crow’s Nest of the pirate ship, the lookouts spotted the Merciful coming up from the west and gaining speed rapidly. He sounded the alarm and men began to scramble about the deck of the ship readying themselves for potential combat. Some of the sailors took their bows and their quivers and lined up on the sides of the ship, igniting 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?”

The sailor nodded.

“Scum,” He 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. 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 headings would bring them hull to hull. He pulled his fancy Captain’s hat lower on his head and stared forward menacingly. The Jeshan could not bring the ship close to the same speed as the Merciful, but could ease its journey through the water while the wind carried it, and at least that was in their favor.

 

“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.”

“Okay then.” The Captain looked out across the deck with steel in his gaze. “All hands to battle positions, and ahead ramming speed! Prepare for starboard 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 ramming 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 mistake at sea. I will break this man. He thought to himself in a bold sort of delusion.

He turned to face his crew and bellowed, “Notch your arrows sea rats and prepare to fire starboard side! Turn the ship to port on my signal! Let’s burn these fools! Ready the oil at the railing! Drench them in burning death!”

 

“Prepare 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 brace! Hard to port!”

 

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 with the Stream in his hand. Both vessels turned and exposed their starboard flanks to each other for a few moments as he rapidly created a small fire in his palm. The Bessan stood up as the ships came broadside and channeled the raw power of his ethereal elemental mastery. The archers on the enemy ship fired a volley of arrows with perfect placement and timing, while they readied the hot oil to be launched on their next pass. The Bessan unleashed his fire into the air between the two ships at the same time in a violent, expanding blast wave. He cast forth a scalding arc of devouring death which incinerated the arrows before they found their targets. The colossal burst of flames lashed the pirate ship, burning men on the rails, who died instantly or fell overboard screaming. The oil ignited and exploded in a devastating, concussive blast. The starboard deck was gone and the hull had been breached. Fire was spreading all over the ship as flung oil set the sails ablaze. Men were cast about in the blast, pulverized by splintered wood and many more threw themselves in the water to escape burning to death. 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 splashed water up and over the starboard side and the sails, but the damage was done. The ship did not sink, but it could not escape and now coasted 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 blasted the stern and rudder of the Merciful with a column of displaced water. The powerful blast split the hull below the sealine and shattered the rudder and the Merciful pivoted away, wounded and hobbling.

 

The ship was rapidly taking on water in the lower stern hold as sailors ran up from below decks to deliver the news. “We have enough time to abandon ship sir” one of the deck crew said. The captain looked forward at the closing distance between his ship and the pirates’.

“How much time?” He said.

“Five minutes or less before the stern is underwater sir.”

“Ahead full.” The Captain leaned forward. “Move to the ship to firing position. Jeshan, you snap that ship in two on my order.”

 

The indignant and crisped remaining crew of the pirate ship took to the stern of their crippled vessel and fired more arrows as 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 men!” To what was left of his crew.

 

“We are within range Captain!” The Bessan in the Nest shouted.

The Captain of the Merciful turned to the Jeshan on the port side of the ship, “do it!”

 

The Jeshan used his power to whip the Stream in his hand across the surface of the water like a white hot rope of raw energy which sizzled and hissed as it raced towards the pirate ship. The Stream collided with the hull, which disemboweled the ship in a ferocious blast that sent splintered wood fragments flying out in all directions. Water rapidly poured into the gaping chasm amidships and it sank violently, folding into two sections.  Archers on the rapidly listing stern deck continued to fire on the Merciful, but soon fell into the sea, unable to hold on. Within a matter of moments, the pirate vessel had vanished beneath the surface of the Trader’s Bay.

 

The Merciful itself listed heavily as the stern of the ship sank. The Jeshan worked quickly to mend the broken hull and repair the wood so the Merciful no longer took on water. They were disabled for the foreseeable future and it was going to take them many hours to empty the lower sections of the ship. They would have no rudder as they limped to port in Teayl because that was something even a Shifter could not repair at sea.

 

The Merciful rounded up the survivors who were swimming in the water where the pirate ship went down and shackled them below decks in the bow to be taken back to the port. They did not locate the pirate Shifter once the ship had sunk, but the Captain was confident the danger was over.  “All hands stand down,”  he shouted, marveling at the fine hat his men had given him that they pulled out of the wreckage. “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 duty 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 they came back to their quarters, the Jeshan looked out of his cabin window at the sun now climbing high into the sky and the midday hour nearly upon them. Just another day on the Trader’s Bay. He thought to himself.

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