Battle Report: Aboard the Kemosiri

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Battle Report: Aboard the Kemosiri

Written by Craig Gallant | Tags:

Day 7265, Aboard the Kemosiri, Just North of the Cauldron

I hate the cold. I do everything I can to stay within the more temperate climes of the New World, avoiding the Northern Wastes, the Shrouded Isles, and the other northern regions that lie clasped in winter’s cruel grasp for the greater part of each year. Unfortunately, when one deals with the Thaniras Elves of the Uncharted Seas, one must learn to deal with the cold in more than one sense.

Aboard the elven Viper Cruiser, ‘Kemosiri’, I have spent most of my days huddled around the tiny brassier within the small cabin Captain-Mage Phoskis allowed me when we transferred to the much smaller ship. Whenever I venture out onto the pitching decks of the ship I must bundle up in the cloak I bartered from one of the sailors when I boarded.

The ship is much smaller than the Celestial Dawn, but correspondingly faster and more nimble. I had overheard from various sailors that the captains of the Thaniras had driven their scouting squadrons towards the centre of the Cauldron. The region seems to have more than its fair share of treacherous terrain, and more than one elf wondered aloud how a raiding force of such power could be manoeuvring effortlessly through such a region.

I wonder myself.

Captain-Mage Phoskis has been kind enough to allow me total access to the ship and its crew, and I have wandered the wind decks, the weapon decks with their enormous magical spheres, and across the insectile frameworks that hold them in place. I have spoken with the gunner-mages that maintain the arcane weapons and the black crews that work the pumps and other esoteric machinery of the lower decks. The strangest thing about the ship, however, is its sail.

The sails of Thaniras Elf ships are never lowered no matter the weather or circumstance, and I had always wondered idly why and how that might be. This sojourn with the elves of the Kemosiri has allowed me to scrutinize the sails at my leisure, and I find I am more confused and impressed than ever. The sails themselves appear to be a hard, brittle substance, rather than the cloth used by all other races. The cold northern sun shines through the sails as if through stained glass, casting colourful shadows that chase each other across the deck. Speaking with the topmen of the crew I gather that the sails not only catch wind, but some form of magical force and even – if some of the more talkative sailors are to be believed – light itself, propelling the ship forward while recharging the array of orb weapons.

The Captain-Mage’s force is made up of the Kemosiri’s sister ship, the Falling Leaf, as well as a small squadron of the fascinating Thunderbird Cruisers. The outriders of the small fleet are a squadron of Raven Frigates and a mixed squadron comprising a pair of Crow Destroyers being shadowed by another Raven. The Destroyers are particularly fascinating, as they bear no sails at all, rather surging low across the water much like the loud and smoking monsters of the Iron Dwarves or the Shroud Mages. But this ship was completely silent, giant spheres of glowing yellow energy embedded upon the after-sides of their birdlike structures. Behind each orb a churning wake stretched back away from the ships, and I knew, not knowing how, that the orbs were propelling the ships forward. I had heard of some of the newer Thaniras constructions using this method of propulsion, including the massive new Chimera Flagship, but I had never before seen such a ship in action. They seemed nearly as fast as the frigates, and being freed from the constraints of the wind could prove a great tactical advantage should the fickle gods shift them against the elves.

It has been growing steadily warmer now as we leave the ice flows and barren islands behind. We should be entering the Cauldron soon, and can begin our final attempts to chart a passage through the unknown terrain for the main elven force. Should we find the pirates I am hoping the Mage-Captain’s temperance is equal to the challenge, for even with the manoeuvrability of the Crows and the terrifying power of the Thunderbirds, I have been developing an eerie sentiment that these mysterious pirates are more than they at first appeared.

Day 7268, Within The Cauldron of Silence

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

We were sailing through a light mist, the violent collision of the cold air that had followed us south and the warm, still air of the Cauldron wreaking havoc with local weather. We approached a region Phoskis believed would allow his heaviest ships to pass through into the inner Cauldron. A passage between two small islands, with a very narrow channel, was guarded by a treacherous reef, seldom visible above the low waves of the region. The Captain-Mage felt certain the high draft of the ships with us would allow them to pass unharmed, seeking a clear path for the heavier ships that followed.

Moving towards the uncharted area, Phoskis sent the Crow Destroyers with their frigate escort drifting off to the west as we plunged down upon the target area. The Thunderbird Cruisers dove for the centre of the region, assuming that any enemy scouting vessels would be small, and ripe for the power of their harnessed lightning. The Kemosiri and her sister ship kept to the east of a small island on the outskirts of the channel, while the large squadron of frigates swung to the west of the island, taking soundings across the mouth of the channel in search of a safe passage.

Through the clinging fog I could not discern any dangers for the fleet beyond the shadowy bulk of the island rising from the still, oily waters. I was impressed, therefore, at the discipline and focus of the elven crew all around me; standing as still as statues peering into the swirling mist, shallow creases of concentration on their smooth foreheads. There is nothing like travelling with elves to make one feel ones’ age despite, or perhaps even because of, the fact that one is the youngest creature aboard. I glanced behind me at Captain-Mage Thevan Phoskis. If I was looking for a sign of tension in his eyes or bearing I was doomed to disappointment. The old elf was slouched down into his command throne, one claw-like hand held relaxed at chin level as if concentrating on something only he could see.

We had been blessed by the gods of the wind on our approach to the channel, as there was a gentle following breeze pushing us smoothly along; enough to make the most of the sleek elven hulls, but not enough to hamper any efforts to come about should we encounter trouble within the channel. Were there foes approaching through the fog, however, they would be struggling against the wind, finding navigation within the confines of the bracketing islands difficult. I almost made a comment along those lines to the Captain-Mage when he sat up straighter, his hand snapping down, and a slight gasp of discovery escaping his now predatory grin.

“Ah—” he gripped the arms of his throne and leaned forward, eyes fever bright in their dark sockets, “Hunter or prey, my strange friends?”

The Captain-Mage allowed his eyes to drift closed as he sat back into his throne, grip not slacking on the gilded arms. A look of vague strain came across the wizard’s face and his body tensed for a moment. I wanted to ask one of the command crew what was happening but I feared their reaction if I interrupted whatever it was. The answer came moments later anyway when the wind sliding along the sail overhead strengthened and shifted a point to the south, now driving straight into the teeth of the channel.

Phoskis snapped his eyes open with a victorious snarl. “Now we shall see who hunts whom, my young friends.”

There was still no sign of enemies within the channel. But even as I stood, peering into the fog being stirred by the freshening breeze, the crew reacted to the captain’s intentions by calmly hoisting open the golden covers that guarded the orbs. Vague shadows moved off the western shoulder of the larger island ahead of us, and the entire line of elven ships began to hurl balls of coruscating energy into the mist, illuminating tunnels of swirling fog, before falling in dazzling splashes into the dark water. By the light of the magical ordnance two enormous shapes floating above the island became momentarily clear before disappearing again into the gloom.

Phoskis snarled. “Send the Crows around the western island to chart that passage, followed by the Ravens. I do not wish them to engage any foe they find. Have them push as far into the channel as possible and then withdraw back to this point before awaiting further instruction. I want the Thunderbirds down the throat of the channel at their best speed, while we skirt the large island ahead and swing into them from the rear.” His face was twisted into the cold visage of a bird of prey preparing to stoop upon easy pickings.

I wasn’t sure how the captain knew anyone was out there beyond whatever those hulking shapes in the sky had been. Was it possible that Garrik had forces in the area? Could those have been guardian Harrier Assault Balloons, tethered over the channel to watch for an approaching enemy? That would be unfortunate. It would be hard to explain my presence aboard an elven command vessel, when the last time I had seen the old nobleman, I had been a guest of Captain Jasomir aboard the Kuraga Kumpana. I didn’t imagine that Jasomir had returned to the fleet, and I knew that I must be assumed lost with the rest of that ill-fated squadron. Appearing now, with this aggressive elven fleet, would require some quick work on my part.

But as we moved through the fog, the dark islands gliding by along the starboard rails, I ran through the brief glimpses of the airborne objects over and over in my mind. The lines had appeared wrong. They seemed to lack the launching decks of the Harriers, and to carry more weight, somehow, than those light, portable assault platforms only now catching favour among captains of the Imperial fleets. But if not a Harrier, then what could they have been? Some dwarven machines, defying gravity to hang above the island and guard it against infiltrators? Perhaps an invention of the Shroud Mages? I was unaware of other factions active in the area with such large flyers. There was no way the objects could have been dragons, not of any species I had heard of.

As I continued to try to puzzle out the identity of the vessels awaiting us, an acolyte in heavy white robes shuffled up to the captain’s command throne, hands clasped within deep sleeves, and bowed his head, his mumbling voice giving a report in a monotone voice. The captain nodded, and then rattled off a few commands of his own and the acolyte moved away. The old wizard turned his gleeful eyes back to me.

“It appears the winds have bottled up the foe in the neck of the channel. A squadron of small ships founders on the windward side of the island ahead, while the balloons overhead struggle to make any headway into the channel. There may be larger ships to the west, but I am confident in my outriders’ ability to fulfil their tasks and escape unscathed.”

I nodded, attempting to appear respectful and at ease. “Do you have any idea who they might be, my lord? Do your captains recognize the craftsmanship or the lines of the vessels facing us?”

He grunted, resting back into his chair and clutching his pointed chin with one thin hand. “They do not. Which is almost a certain identifier in and of itself. There is but one race new to this region that fields balloons the size of those floating before us. The alien Ralgard are still rare, and no one truly knows their purpose in moving into the New World from wherever they come from. But I cannot imagine we face anyone other than them today.”

He gestured with his chin to the west as we began to move past the second eastern island. “Today should prove quiet interesting to a Chronicler, human. Accounts of the Ralgard are few and far between.”

I watched as the shadowy bulk of the island slipped towards our stern, still incapable of seeing anything in the fog. The starboard orbs flashed again, sending globes of destructive power arching into the gloom, but again to no avail. I despaired of being able to see anything, never mind these alien Ralgard, when the captain again stiffened. This time, however, the discomfort was clear on his face. Droplets of sweat soon tracked down from beneath the beaded ceremonial headdress. The wind did not shift, it still moved through the channel, pushing the elven vessels southward. But the wind seemed to pick up speed and strength. The fog began to swirl and shift before the wind, piling up against the islands and streaming away to the south, revealing two massive balloons. Gondolas shaped like sailing ships hung beneath them, as they moved over the channel. Four squat, square-rigged frigates moved towards the channel, fleeing our approaching cruisers, but – if the Thunderbirds were in position – directly towards Phoskis’ prepared trap.

But the balloons and the frigates were not alone scouting out the channel. A large squadron of lateen-rigged cruisers beat against the wind to the west, desperately trying to manoeuvre into a position to protect the frigates struggling towards their doom. Even I could see, however, that against the rising wind they would be far too late.

The Kemosiri and the Falling Leaf came around the island just as the war balloons swept in low to take a sounding along the flank of the channel. Both ships illuminated the sea with their magical attacks as glowing spheres of energy rose gently up into the sky, impacting one after another upon the fragile hull of the gondola. Wreckage and flame rained down upon the shadowed water below, and the balloon gave a violent jerk to port and then drifted lazily into a flat arc, its empty windows staring down like dead eyes upon the approaching elven fleet.

Our position on the flank of the channel gave us a clear view of the enemy frigate squadron and the Thunderbird bearing down upon them. I had no time to process what I was seeing before the globe of lightning flared and arcs of fulgent power reached out in all directions. Only one of the frigates escaped unscathed as the brilliant streamers of fire writhed across the nearest three ships, electrocuting the distant crew as they stood at their stations. The elves watched two of the three affected frigates swing into the current, the survivors insufficient to effectively crew the ships and they began to push towards the sandy beaches of the island.

Far to the west, the enemy cruiser squadron swung first towards us, and then away. Somewhere behind the far island, on the other side of the channel, the two outrider squadrons must have been spotted. Return fire in the form of tiny orbs of glowing light arced back towards the imposing cruisers but either came up short or cascaded off heavy armour.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

The undamaged balloon began to struggle against the wind, trying to come around to bring its broadsides to bear against the Thunderbirds below. Gun ports along the starboard flank of the gondola opened up to reveal clustered barrels of cannon glaring down. Before the ship could fire, however, the Viper Cruisers fired again, lobbing their magical ammunition into the dangling target. The first balloon, seeming to drift along with the wind without guidance, slid in front of the target, but not before we saw another spill of wreckage and fire dropping into the water. There were the sharp reports of cannon fire, but the Thunderbirds surged ahead unharmed, armoured prows cutting through waves and ignoring the occasional plumes of plunging fire.

The two enemy frigates still in command tried to swing to the east to escape from the Thunderbirds, bringing their broadsides to bear against the elven cruisers. For the first time while among the elves I felt the fear of impending violence, as the muzzles of the tri-barrel cannons along the flanks of the frigates opened up, spitting smoke and defiance into the Captain-Mage’s ship. The deck beneath gave a slight shudder as an inordinate weight of metal slammed into the elven ship, shredding the command tower’s face and shattering several orbs in catastrophic arcane recoil.

The frigates’ glory was short lived, however, as this time both of the Thunderbird cruisers were in range and their electrical energy pulsed out in all directions, clutching all four frigates in their radiant grasp. Another frigate joined the first two in their lackadaisical journey towards the lethal shore. There was now only a single frigate under command, and it swung around trying to escape the brutal fate of its brothers.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Far off to the west I could just make out the Crows and Ravens swinging back around the far island, struggling against the same wind that had clapped the Ralgard fleet in irons for the entire battle. Phoskis smiled as another acolyte reported that the smaller ships had found a passage around the west side of the channel. They were retreating now, easily having the speed of the heavy ships that were moving in pursuit. In fact, with his forces in disarray, the Ralgard commander was in an unenviable position, never having penetrated very far into the channel at all. He seemed to see that himself as the cruisers once gain came about, driving into the channel with renewed focus.

The Kemosiri and the Falling Leaf slowed their forward movement, sails flashing in the renewed sunlight. Magical energy once again flared out, spheres slamming into the damaged balloon and the sole remaining frigate at the same time. Both craft disintegrated under the hellish barrage, leaving nothing but smoking wreckage floating upon the oily water of the Cauldron.

There was now no way the Ralgard could outmanoeuvre the nimble elves, who had acquired the information they needed to plunge their full strength into the heart of the Cauldron. Phoskis had not lost a single ship, and in fact the only damage he had sustained was at the hands of the feisty frigates who had been erased moments ago. With a snide grin the Captain-Mage began to order his forces to come about into the wind and return to the main body of the fleet.

Disaster struck, as it almost always does, when no one was paying attention. One of the enemy frigates, either through sheer bad luck or the bravery of a skeleton crew, had drifted directly into the path of one of the Thunderbirds. The cruiser was much larger, undamaged, and in full control of its movement. The ship should have been able to avoid the derelict bearing down upon it. And even when that did not happen, there was no reason to assume more than superficial damage would occur, while the frigate would be driven beneath the waves and crushed to flinders by the armoured prow of the elven ship.

Phoskis was cursing the incompetence of his Thunderbird captain when the blunt bow of the frigate crashed into the cruiser, stoving in the prow of the larger ship. Every elf within my sight had come to a sudden, still halt and was staring incredulously at the cruiser floating off the small island. Before anyone could comment, the Thunderbird was illuminated from within as if a miniature sun had risen within the hull of the vessel. Every plank and rib was starkly outlined against the ghostly radiance, and then, where the ship had been floating only a moment before, an expanding dome of blue-streaked light flashed out, erasing the cruiser and the frigate that had killed her.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

As small pieces of the Thunderbird drifted back down to the churned surface of the channel the elves just stared in wonder at the scene of unimagined slaughter in their moment of victory.

Phoskis shook his head in silent awe, muttering something about fate under his breath, and then gestured for Lord Awan to marshal the elves back towards the rendezvous point. Off the starboard rails as we came about, I watched as boat crews from the remaining Thunderbird put out in what had to be a fruitless search for survivors.

I squinted into the setting sun at the towering forms of the approaching Ralgard cruisers, who were calmly ignoring the harassing fire being cast at them by the retreating elven vessels. I had never before travelled upon a Ralgard ship. Never even met a Ralgard, in fact.

I began to wonder how I might go about arranging for that to happen, and if the Ralgard culture even allowed for the concept of Chroniclers. Did they suffer from the same weaknesses of ego that all of the other races of the Uncharted Seas laboured under?

There was only one way to find out, I supposed, and I watched speculatively as the large ships disappeared behind the eastern island.