Again gunshots echoed through the rain. There at the bow, Captain Hunter stood rooted to the deck, smoking pistols aimed at the monstrous form of a lightning drake which had materialized out of the clouds.
Thirty feet in length, nearly half the length of the Griffin herself, the blue-gray scaled behemoth roared in defiance as it turned to sail dangerously close to the flying schooner’s gas bag. Claws flexed and tensed, but only brushed the reinforced material, leaving it undamaged. Eyes as black as obsidian scanned the crew with a predatory glare. With a sharp pop, its leathery wings snapped against the wind, flapping to keep the beast steady on its new perch. Hot steam, wrapped in the pungent odor of overcooked fish, coiled from its mouth in ghostly tendrils. Scars lined the beast’s neck and side, old wounds from battles won long ago.
Hunter fired twice more, his shots skimming just past the glistening blue gray scales of the beast. Its black-rimmed, red maw opened in a roaring reply, and Hunter dove to safety as a bolt of deep red lightning scarred the deck where he’d stood. Wood exploded in a shower of splinters while fire erupted where the bolt struck the deck. Taking a sharp turn on the high winds, the drake dipped out of view past the stern.
Quickly, the crew scrambled for their weapons. Some appeared with pistols and knives, others with rifles. O’Fallon handed a revolver to Krumer, who nodded his thanks, then checked the cylinder. Satisfied, the first mate raised his voice.
“Watch sharp! It will make another pass.”
Wind tossed loose rigging, tugging at the oilcloth slickers of the crew as a nearby lightning from the storm danced between clouds, arcing across the port side netting with a crackle. Still, no sign of the drake appeared. After a moment, Hunter stirred from the bow and eased towards the railing while flexing his grip on the pistols. Krumer walked up beside him. Below them both, the clouds boiled, with blue-white bolts of lightning leaping between cloud banks like mischievous imps. All the while, the ship plunged ahead, cutting through the gray mists of storm clouds like a knife.
“Bad Omen. You’ll ruin a good pistol grip that way,” Krumer said casually.
Hunter smiled grimly, realizing he was clenching his clockwork hand again. “It’ll be back.”
“Of that I’ve no doubt. It’s been stung, but not enough to send it away.” Krumer’s eyes searched the rolling clouds while lighting danced frantically through the sky. “Are you feeling well?”
“I’m fine, just … remembering.” Hunter replied.
“About the one that took your hand?” Krumer asked, giving the captain a quizzical glance.
“Yes.” The captain sighed heavily, wiping rain from his eyes. “Hard memory, that.”
“Be wary of this one. I would hate for you to gain another bad omen,” the first mate warned, while turning his eyes back to the furious clouds surrounding the ship.
Hunter barked a short laugh. “Point taken!”
The two chuckled, then returned to scanning the storm. Beyond the railing, gray clouds coiled and swirled thickly like a gray soup being constantly churned in a bowl. Rain fell in alternating sheets, drenching ship and crew alike. The wind howled and tugged at the rigging, making the rope twist and crackle as it stretched. However, despite the enthusiasm of the weather, nothing else moved in the clouds.
“It should have struck by now.” Krumer said warily.
Hunter frowned. “Something’s wrong about this, all of this. It’s angry, but why I’ll be bloody well damned if I know.”
Whitehorse pointed towards a massive shape moving in the soupy clouds, “There! I saw a wing! To arms!”
Almost in reply a shadow broke through the clouds, obscuring the deck. In the next moment an ear-splitting roar muffled any peals of thunder. Through the clouds, the drake dove for the deck, tearing through a few lines of rigging as it landed on the coil of steel mesh stowed on the Griffin’s starboard side.
Hunter backed a few steps away from the beast, being already at point blank range for his sidearms. In a blur, he raised his brace of pistols and fired. His shots were too hasty and the bullets glanced off the drake’s tough hide, skidding along the thicker scales layered at the top of its shoulder. Angered, it swiped a large claw at the captain, tossing him up and back across the deck. He came to a sudden, hard stop against the main mast.
“So much for that idea,” he muttered while he flipped open the pistols, dumped the spent shells, and reloaded.