Battle Report: Deep Within

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Battle Report: Deep Within

Written by Craig Gallant | Tags:

Day 7279, Deep Within the Cauldron of Silence

My days among the Dragon Lords have been enlightening. There are very few actual Dragon Lords present, but far more than I would have expected. Prince Azsraan san Nar seems to be surrounded by an elite group of military and arcane advisors who are with him day and night. Given the rigid, almost desiccated texture of their skin it is hard to judge age, but several of the advisors move without the quick, sinuous elegance of most of their kind. And then, of course, there are the Dragon Riders. Subasha are allowed to care for the Nogdra, but are never permitted to mount one under any circumstances.

Meals have been hearty but plain. This is very much a vessel of war, and very little by way of amenities or comforts have been provided. Aside from the intricate decorations of the ship itself, the warrior’s armour, and the beautiful workmanship of the vast windows of the flight deck, there is a sparse, Spartan aura to the entire endeavour.

I have been given complete freedom to wander the ship at will, although the demeanour of the crew and the frighteningly violent aspect of the Nogdra on the flight deck make such wanderings less enjoyable than similar situations in my past. Although I must admit that the sheer scale of the Winged Fury is intriguing in and of itself. The wood of the vessel has a faintly oily texture, almost like a hard, rigid flesh. I have seen Subasha crewmen polishing the decks, bulkheads, and flanks of the ships with a dark oil that is quickly absorbed into the wood as if evaporating before my eyes. I was told, at length, how foolish the Patuljaak were to spend so much time and effort polishing the gilding on their ships. I nodded politely and moved away. No need to place myself any closer to the Thaniras than these sailors already thought me.

Despite my fear and discomfort, I made it my duty to witness as much as possible of the care and launching of the Nogdra. The enormous beasts are fed raw meat from stained buckets that are emptied before them by calm Subasha. Each creature is assigned to its own stall along the bulkheads, but is free to leave at any time. In front of each stall is a pile of stone and dirt, pushed into a variety of shapes and configurations. The purpose of this was unclear to me, until I saw a Nogdra basking in one of the nest-like shapes, the afternoon light spilling through the deep azure glass high overhead.

The dragons are led out, through the enormous timber doors to the bow of the great ship, to launch into the wind from the wide forecastle. I believe there are around to six dragons calling the ship their home, and from the exercises I have witnessed I believe they fight in formations of three dragons, though they also have a great deal of experience fighting as a single unified whole. Given the fierce burning fire each creature is capable of spewing from its mouth, I have nothing but pity for the ship that must eventually face these Dragons in combat.

We have been sailing into the Cauldron region for several days now, the Dragons ranging ahead of us looking for any sign of the Thaniras Elves of Captain-Mage Phoskis that I had left so recently. Although I owe the old tyrant no loyalty, I cannot help but hope Prince Azsraan and his dragons have no luck tracking them down. I know the Prince and his warriors are not the pirates that began the violence, but likewise I know Phoskis and his elves were innocent of those crimes as well. All of this combat was only allowing the true criminals to escape the punishment all of them were so eager to inflict. I have made several attempts to persuade the Prince to tell me who he believed the pirates were, but he only smiled and changed the subject. I am not entirely sure he does, in fact, know who they are, but he certainly seems confident.

Looking out of the long windows of my cabin at the dark seas of the Cauldron racing by, I can only hope the Nogdra will once again return without news of the elves. I—

The sound of returning Dragon Riders distracted me from my writing. There are cries of victory and fierce celebration coming from the forecastle, and the screams of excited Dragons. I fear Phoskis has been found, and battle will be joined before much longer.

Day 7280, Within the Cauldron of Silence

Deployment

Deployment

When the two fleets approached each other it was obvious that Phoskis and his captains were attaching special significance to a pair of islands off to our north and south, and a strange, oily patch of sea undulating unnervingly between them. The quarterdeck of the Winged Fury was packed with the Prince’s advisors and the Subasha that would actually fight during the battle. There seemed to be much consternation regarding the elves’ apparent ability to evade a trap the Prince had laid for them. Another slick of the greasy green water stretched away to the south on our starboard side, and the angry teeth of a jagged reef were just visible off our starboard bow.

It appeared that, not only had the elves refused to manoeuvre according to Prince Azsraan’s plans, but they had arrived before the Dragon Lord forces. A long spear of green and gold glittering striped sails, rigid and transparent as glass, could only be Phoskis’ Celestial Dawn, thrust ahead of the rest of his fleet and coming around the small island just to the north. Behind the sleek battleship, approaching in line abreast was a squadron of Viper Cruisers supported by a pair of Griffon Heavy Cruiser, with a pair of Crow Destroyers lost in the distance beyond the southern island. I felt a cold finger run down my spine as I saw two huge shapes hovering over the island ahead. They could only be Elven War Dragons, and I was glad that the Prince’s Elder Dragon had returned to Traal the day before.

Looking down the Dragon Lord line I saw that the Prince had anchored his southern flank with a squadron of Twilight Heavy Cruisers accompanied by a heavy ship I had referred to as an Invoker, which bode poorly for the elves along that flank. A trio of Shadow Cruisers approached the large southern island from behind the slick green waters, while a pair of Moonbeam Destroyers was nestled into the southern edge of the reef. Off the port side of the Winged Fury was a large squadron of four Sunset Frigates, eagerly pulling away from the rest of the fleet, looking to get to grips with elven Ravens that were surely hidden behind the low island.

The battle opened when the Winged Fury suddenly lurched beneath me as the sail above us rippled violently, slowing the large ship almost to a standstill. I had never witnessed the entire Nogdra compliment take off at once, and the sight took my breath away as flights of the mighty creatures rose skyward on flapping wings, maintaining a tight formation as they sailed up towards the clouds overhead. The beauty of their graceful movements took me out of the violence of impending battle for a moment, but I was dragged back as the shouts of alarmed Subasha rang across the deck, echoing off the massive sail. Many of the human servants rushed to the forward railing and even the Dragon Lords were fixated, eyes suddenly wider if I was any judge, as the elven battleship soared out from behind the island. White water was foaming up around her bow, as the following wind seemed to push the ship faster than it was ever meant to move. In a matter of moments it had grown as it sped towards us, heeling off to our starboard side at the last moment. The magical orbs arrayed along the ship’s starboard flared in unison and launched a devastating barrage in the opening moments of the battle.

Seldom have I ever seen such an audacious and brutal attack so early in a battle, and I knew then that Phoskis had decided that he would end this battle by taking the Prince and his ship out of the equation as early as possible. It would have been a telling blow, possibly even as demoralizing as intended, had it not been for the Prince himself.

Even as the Celestial Dawn had unmasked itself and rushed towards us, the Prince had begun to bellow orders. The Winged Fury groaned beneath us as she came over onto a port tack that saw the vast majority of the elven broadside sail harmlessly past, quenching its arcane fury in hissing gouts of steam, drenching the decks and glass dome of the carrier.

Far to the south the bellow of the bronze bow chasers of the Dragon Lord Heavy Cruisers echoed over the water, having surged forward behind the large southern island. Far off in the distance a curtain of white water rose up to obscure one of the low Crow Destroyers, and several flashes of arcane orbs glared, releasing their power into the mist and fog around the ship. The two elven destroyers flew from the churning waters, one trailing yellow and orange smoke. They swept northward, seeking shelter from the heavy squadron behind the island.

As the Crows came around the island the two Dragon Lord Moonbeams pounced upon them, unleashing a barrage of ballista bolts that thudded home into the leading elven vessel, shattering one of the starboard orbs. Before the cloud of supernatural energy had dissipated, the elven Heavy Cruiser slid forward against the advancing Dragon Lord Destroyers. The huge ships slewed to starboard, skirting the green stain on the water, and unleashed their combined magical broadside against the northernmost destroyer. When the mist and fire had cleared only a single Moonbeam remained, trailing steam and mist from her high mast.

The elven frigates came sailing gracefully out from behind the northern island, approaching their Dragon Lord equivalents while the Nogdra Dragons sailed high up into the sky and circled around the island at a safe height. The elven War Dragons swept forward, over the island and into the surprised Dragon Lord Frigates. The two dragons unleashed torrents of acid from their gaping maws, bathing the deck of one of the small ships in corrosive fluid and killing countless Subasha, but not completely destroying the vessel.

The Forces Collide

The Forces Collide

I had to hide a surge of elation for my most recent hosts as I watched the War Dragons swoop upon the frigates, when a whoop from the forward deck rose to the skies. I looked higher, above the circling elven dragons to where tiny specks of darkness were falling from the sky.

The Nogdra Dragons of one assault wing fell upon the elven dragon to the south and I could hear the echoing screams and roars over the intervening distance. Lances of flame struck out from the smaller dragons into the larger beast. Its pain was evident as it tried to defend itself from three different directions at once, losing altitude as its thrashing wings and tail drove it closer to the small island. The Nogdra followed the majestic beast down to its fiery death as it struck the island with a thunderous impact.

I glanced surreptitiously at several of the Dragon Lords around me, trying to gauge their reactions to the death of such a creature. As always, their expressions were impossible for me to decipher, even as they watched the plume of smoke rise into the sky from where the still-burning carcass smouldered on shore.

The elven cruiser squadron surged forward, too late to save their ally, but desperate to avenge the creature. Spheres of magical energy lofted skyward, one lucky shot falling through a formation of small dragons and scorching them in passing. Several tiny bodies fell from the sky to accompany their larger foe into the afterlife. Other spheres, arcing past their own battleship, struck the rearmost Dragon Lord Frigate a glancing blow that tossed living timber and screaming Subasha into the sea.

I was still feeling relatively numb from watching the large, intimidating dragon destroyed by its smaller cousins when another roar from the flight deck drew my attention back up into the clouds, and I followed the stooping Nogdras with dread. Sure enough, the second assault wing fell upon the second War Dragon. The creature gave a pitiful cry as it plummeted into the sea in a colossal shower of white water and red blood.

To the south, before the elves could recover from this terrible blow, the heavy Dragon Lord squadron came sweeping around the southern island in pursuit of the Crow Destroyers and hurtled right into the churned wakes of the elven Griffons. Bronze cannons and magically-enhanced ballistae launched towards both the small ships and the larger. The glowing barbs fell all about the burning Crows but with no effect. However, the salvo of iron shot smashed into the command tower of the rear-most Griffon and the entire ship stuttered in its travel. The tall, graceful tower was shattered and the vessel tilted to starboard trailing smoke and flames behind it.

Cat and Mouse

Cat and Mouse

The heavy squadron halted their rush to the north, unable to escape the following Dragon Lord heavies and instead flashed their defiance into the teeth of the approaching Dragon Lord cruiser squadron pulling towards the green slick. Again the savage balls of magical lightning fell all about their target, sending steam and water dashing up into the sky, but leaving their intended victims completely unscathed.

Closer to my vantage point the frigate battle devolved further as the two squadrons interpenetrated, firing their respective weapons in all possible directions. At one point an elven frigate exploded in light and heat and I believed it must have suffered some sort of catastrophic magical failure, until I saw the energy blasting off the little ship grounding into the surrounding Dragon Lord Frigates. One of the ships staggered from the impact, but the others seemed to ignore the display completely. It was not so easy to ignore the combined broadside of two of the other ships, however, which riddled a Dragon Lord Frigate and sent it to the bottom of the sea.

Under my feet the Winged Fury surged forward once again, cutting between the Celestial Dawn and her frigate escorts. Huge ballistae batteries along the ships flanks lashed out in both directions. One of the elven frigates found itself brisling with barbs which exploded into an eerie green flame. I moved quickly down one of the passages and through the base of the vane sail, to watch the impact of the starboard weapons against the elven battleship, and was gratified to see the barbs bounce harmlessly off the sleek hull of the large ship.

Now that the Winged Fury was in the middle of the battle it became more difficult to gauge the entire event from one side of the quarterdeck, requiring even the Dragon Lords to move from one side to the other to follow the unfolding events.

To the south it was obvious that repair crews on the severely wounded elven Griffon were doing yeoman’s work, as the smoke from several fires had ceased pouring from the rents in her hull. I was watching the smoke trails disappear above the ship when the movement of the Celestial Dawn below drew my attention to where the elven battleship had slipped up beside us, exposing her entire broadside in a direct, point blank attack. I braced myself, crouching down beneath the balustrade, preparing to be obliterated by Captain-Mage Thevan Phoskis.

Beyond the vantage of my crouching position the Celestial Dawn seemed to be flaring in a pure white light. Against my better judgement I rose slowly, grasping the railing to brace myself. The elven battleship was indeed glowing, each of its many magical orbs flaring brighter than miniature suns. Magical energy was arcing from those oriented to the fore and off the ship’s port side, pumping energy and power into the orbs along the starboard flank, pointing directly at the Winged Fury.

When the orbs finally released their power, the attack washed over the dragon carrier like a tidal wave of heat and light. The vane sail shrivelled under the impact, the wood beneath my hands dried and crumbled, while the crew caught in the open screamed in pain as they burst into flames. I was sure Phoskis had succeeded in beheading the Dragon Lord fleet when, as soon as it had begun, the attack was over. The sail was still in terrible shape, smouldering and crooked within its smooth wooden framework, but the skin fabric smoothed itself out in a peculiar approximation of a living creature, while the damage to the rest of the giant ship seemed minimal, other than the loss of life around me.

The Noose Tightens

The Noose Tightens

The Winged Fury came about to follow the fleeing elven battleship with its broadside, launching another fusillade of barbed shafts after the ship while launching a similar salvo off the port side into the threatening Thaniras cruiser squadron. On that side the barbs found purchase upon the fore-most ship’s outrigger, shattering it and slowing the ship down as it attempted to lead the rest of its squadron behind us. In a well-executed classical naval tactic the elven ships swept behind us and unleashed their full fury, raking the carrier with their arcane spheres. Again, however, the gods of this New World seemed to smile down upon their chosen overlords, and only minor damage was suffered on the stern of the ship.

To the south the elven Heavy Cruisers again fired into the approaching cruisers while attempting to escape the approaching Dragon Lord heavies. The barrage of magical energy smashed through the quarterdeck of the lead ship and it slewed into the sludgy green water, almost immediately coming to a halt as whatever was in the water pulled at the hull with a hungry intensity. The following cruisers moved around their trapped and burning sister and launched a rain of steel shafts after the retreating heavy cruisers, striking the undamaged ship with a line of magical barbs that detonated in a string of ripping explosions along its tall flank, sending gilded wood spiralling out into the surrounding water.

Off our port flank the frigates swirled around each other trading arcane blows. The surviving elven ships seemed to gain the upper hand, sweeping around for a devastating attack that failed to land. The returning salvo then exploded within the last elven frigate and it shivered apart, glass sails shattering into a million scintillating shards that struck the water all around in a shower of coloured death.

Further deep-throated bellows called my attention back to the Dragon Lord Heavy Cruisers. Apparently feeling that the elven heavies were being dealt with, these massive ships had again begun to pursue the elven Crow Destroyers, and this time their bow chasers proved more effective, as one of the wounded ships shattered under the repeated impacts of cannon shot. The surviving destroyer attempted to move behind the low stones of the reef for what little protection they might provide.

Overhead the Nogdras fell out of the sky upon the heavy cruisers and the Vipers attacking the stern of their carrier. The heavier hull of the Griffon shrugged off the fiery attacks of the diminished assault wing, but their Viper brethren were not as lucky. Flaming spears fell upon the thinner wood, piercing into the depths of the ship and igniting the superstructures that held the magical orbs in place. Freed from their chains, the orbs exploded with unleashed energy. The ship was suddenly reduced to its component parts and its crew immolated where they stood. I hoped it had not been the Golden Bough, but as it had been the lead cruiser, I was afraid it might have been.

Repair crews aloft had straightened our sail and soothed the glittering fabric nearly back to its original position, but before they were able to return to the pitching deck the ship was surging forward again in an attempt to escape the elven battleship coming about behind us. The ballistae of the Winged Fury again flung their deadly payloads out over the waves. Another of the elven cruisers fell out of formation as she began to take on water through several holes. Far off to the south the final Crow, attempting to hide from the heavy cruisers, flew into range of the dragon carrier and was peppered with burning bolts. She stopped dead in the water as the survivors of her crew desperately put out boats before they could be washed into the reefs nearby.

These successes were short-lived, however, as Celestial Dawn had come about, into the unnaturally shifting wind, and was once again in a position to rake us. This time the attack was with much stronger weapons. The magical orbs slammed into the stern of the big ship, tearing through the length of her and doing terrible damage beneath me. Clearly the dragon carrier was severely wounded, and I again feared for my ability to escape with my life.

The Nogdras, seeing the true danger to their home, fell upon the Celestial Dawn in two waves, but were unable to damage the large vessel with their burning breath. The elven heavy cruisers, sensing our plight, lofted their deadly orbs against us and a rending crash echoed from the bow launching areas. Again the deck beneath me shuddered. Columns of smoke from several fires were now rising into the sky as the ship I was on burned.

The Dragon Lord Cruisers, still pursuing the elven Griffons, finally manoeuvred themselves into an ideal position for full combined broadsides. The leading heavy cruiser staggered under the rippling impact of countless exploding missiles that ignited the entire port side of the ship in raging fires.

Before the large ship could burn completely, however, the wind shifted unnaturally again, this time with a bitter edge to it, as it blew directly out of the north. The fires were extinguished by this strange fire and a new life seemed to enter the surviving elven ships. Their flagship still circled us nearly unscathed, despite the pummelling the rest of the elven fleet had suffered. In the hectic melee of the close battle, the Winged Fury found itself precariously close to the shallows around the small island and desperately trying to beat off the surf before running aground. If there was a moment when Phoskis’ elves could turn the tides, it had arrived.

Only moments after that thought had crossed my mind the Dragon Lord Cruisers again launched a vicious attack against the two elven Heavy Cruisers. This time not even magical wind could save them, and the rear-most ship lurched and slowed to a drifting halt as raging fires and furious explosions ate the ship from the inside. Its sister ship surged forward, running the last surviving frigate beneath its gilded prow while its crew fired into the Nogdra circling the Celestial Dawn, bringing one of the creatures spiralling down into the surf.

The Turning Tide

The Turning Tide

With battle raging all around me and both sides in the conflict struggling to mutual destruction, I was caught completely by surprise when another broadside from the Celestial Dawn struck the port aft quarter of the dragon carrier a savage blow. The deck beneath me lurched like a wounded beast, tossing me against the railing. For a desperate moment I felt myself balanced on the edge of death, and then I tipped over, dropping an impossibly long way, into the cold waters waiting for me far below.