Captain Anthony Hunter kept a death grip on the ship’s railing. A few feet to his right, wood exploded in a burnt cloud of charred splinters that rained down across the quarterdeck. Hunter glared at the dented and scorched shape of the Revenge off the Griffin’s port side. The Fomorian ship – clad in sturdy steel and a long, reinforced gas bag – bled smoke and fire in her wake despite her protections. Beyond the Fomorian, flying a bit higher, was the Whirling Strumpet, just recently arrived. She fared no better than her opponent, as she, too, bled smoke tinged with orange flames from her deck.
Cannons at the ready, the Griffin and Strumpet circled the Revenge like a pair of tired wolves, searching for a weakness in their prey’s formidable defense.
Anthony hammered his mechanical left fist against the Griffin’s railing in frustration. As if to punctuate his mood, his ship’s weapons thundered a volley towards its nemesis. Highly pressurized electrified water scoured the hull of the Revenge; lightning coursed over her surface, stunning a few of the Fomorian crew who were caught on deck unprepared. Black scars marked each hit, however the Revenge doggedly remained aloft.
The Griffin shook as if hit by a giant fist.
“Captain, unexploded shell embedded in one of the starboard lightning cannon,” Krumer called out over the storm of artillery fire. “O’Fallon has a crew clearing it out.”
Hunter glanced back at the ship’s wheel, where Krumer had braced himself against its frame.
“Have a fire crew there! It might still explode, no matter how gentle O’Fallon is,” Hunter shouted. “Where is William? We’ll need him there!”
Suddenly, a commotion rose from the main deck! Conrad O’Fallon, who had just reached the unexploded shell that sat buried in the ruined lightning cannon, was bodily knocked to the deck by a figure on fire: William Falke! The quartermaster rolled, slightly dazed more from the surprise attack from a flaming man than any sort of damage from being thrown down. Behind the burning figure, a sailor with a firefighting pack dashed over to extinguish the flames. Conrad joined them a moment later and quickly stripped the still-smoldering coat from William’s back. Immediately, William grabbed the quartermaster by the arm, hastily relaying what he had been told by Angela.
Hunter ran over to stand next to Krumer and Noel at the ship’s wheel. A sharp crackle filled the air as the Griffin roared another volley at the Revenge. “What the devil?” Hunter bellowed, his deep voice echoing over the noise and distance.
Conrad hurled the burning coat over the railing, then snatched up a nearby opti speaking tube, since the ever present smoke had temporarily robbed the quartermaster of any ability to shout all the way to the quarterdeck. “Message from the ground, Cap’n: Doc Llwellyn be sayin’ the Fomorians be using that gas like before, just be more refined this time. They be firin’ it at us! Take longer before we feel any effects with this batch.” The quartermaster hesitated a moment before he completed his thought. “Good chance if they be true, we’ve been breathin’ it for a few minutes at least! Dependin’ on the wind, a’course.”
“Blood and sand,” Hunter swore, rubbing his eyes wearily.
Krumer lifted the nearby black speaking horn to reply. “What of Mr. Falke? How badly is he burnt?”
“He be a lucky bastirt,” O’Fallon replied. “His coat be takin’ the brunt of it. Fire crew’s got him good and doused. Wrappin’ him in a blanket and lookin’ over him for any wee burns that need seein’ to.”
He glanced over where two of the Griffin’s crew had wrapped William in a blanket and were helping him to his feet. William, however was babbling frantically and pointing at the unexploded munition. The quartermaster lifted the speaking horn again.
“What do ye want me doin’ about the shell, Cap’n?” he asked. “We could be leavin’ it where it be an’ hope there’s no crack in it. It be the only one so far.”
Hunter considered that a moment when suddenly a blast from the Revenge sent ruined wood and metal flying through the air! Hunter and Krumer ducked, Noel dodged sideways, putting the ship’s wheel between himself and the debris.
The Griffin roared again in concert with the Whirling Strumpet. Lightning played over the armored skin of the Revenge. The Fomorian ship threw open a set of her gunports and let loose a barrage of both cannon shells and streams of electrified high-pressure water. Wood exploded near the bow and the Griffin shuddered, like a thing in pain.
“Captain, if it is cracked, it would be already trailing out a fine cloud of it now,” Krumer explained, “if we even could see it.”
“Provided we have not been breathing it the entire time, non?” Noel added, turning the wheel to stabilize their course.
“If we shove it over the side, it will land on the people we’re trying to save,” Hunter said, thinking aloud. “Worse is that the Revenge likely has her stores full of that ammunition.”
“So taking her down unleashes the gas,” Krumer commented morbidly.
“Yes,” Hunter replied, rubbing the back of his neck.
“What then, mon Capitaine?” Noel asked anxiously. “We cannot take much more of this!”
Hunter glanced past the railing towards the orange glow still rising from the pit in the hillside. “The ‘what’ is that we plant her where she does the least amount of harm.”
“Captain?” Krumer asked, confused.
“That pit! If we pull ahead, she can’t train her main weapons at us. If her engines are out, we lock lines on her and haul her to that pit. Once there we cut her free and concentrate on her gas bag.” Hunter ran for the stairs leading from the quarterdeck to the main deck. “While I roust some men to handle the tow lines, send word to Wilhelm! I’ve no doubt that wily pirate has more than one means to disable a ship’s engines!”
Krumer, still uncertain, nodded while he tapped up the code on the opti for the Whirling Strumpet. “Aye, Captain.”
Noel was not quite as stoic. “Mon Capitaine! Just how do we break her once she is there?”
Hunter paused at the top of the stairs. “”I’m not positive, Mr. St. Claire. Not yet. We’ll burn that bridge when we land on it.”
The pilot’s ebony face broke into a wide, bemused grin, “I do love this ship! It is always exciting!”
Krumer shook his head with a sigh, then placed the call to the Strumpet.