Battle Report: Once More…

Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Battle Report: Once More…

Written by Craig Gallant | Tags:

Day 7280, as best I can tell, Once More Entering the Cauldron of Silence

Establishing Shot

Establishing Shot

I believe the only creature on this entire massive ship that speaks any language with which I am familiar is the Blood Reaver, and he has been largely unavailable for the last three days, unwilling to speak at length on any particular subject. I gather from those brief conversations I have been able to steal that the Thaniras forces of the Captain-Mage were driven off by the Prince of Traal and his returning heavy cruisers. I knew neither of the larger ships had sunk or I would have seen evidence of it from my island prison, but it was reassuring to hear that the Azsraan san Nar and captain Phoskis most likely survived the encounter.

I have been allowed to wander the Ralgard flagship freely, but none of the warriors or crew deigns to notice my presence. Thus, I have learned little. Earlier today the entire fleet came about, tacking northwards against a fitful breeze that set the battens of the junk-rigs cracking against the masts with unnerving reports. A request for an audience with the Blood Reaver was ignored, but I believe Dar’Vok must have received decisive information as to the location of their Kelpor prey.

I took to haunting the massive quarterdeck, out the way of rushing sailors and drilling warriors, keeping my distance from the strange pillar bases sprouting up from the deck. I stared out over the Broad Blue at the fleet that surged through the rolling waves around us. It was easily the largest fleet I had seen in quite a while. There was a second battleship off our aft starboard quarter that looked like an enormous mobile fortress. There were two squadrons of cruisers, one off each fore quarter. The vessels looked similar, but two off our starboard bow looked larger, with alarming metal rams jutting from their prows. Towards the rear of the fleet sailed two small formations of what I assumed to be frigates. Overhead soared three balloonships; I could attest personally to the speed of those craft, and I knew they would make excellent scouts as we pushed into the centre of the Cauldron of Silence.

I was gazing back at the phosphorescent glow of our wake when one of the Bal’Nak gunners strode up to me and barked “Dar’Vok”. I jumped to my feet, writing case bouncing against my side, and immediately walked towards the command palace without waiting for my escort. As I came around the forward walls to the large doorways I saw an island heaving up over the horizon. I wanted to look more closely, to see if it was inhabited, perhaps harbouring a base for the pirates who had began this entire sequence of events, but I knew the Blood Reaver would not be kept waiting.

My eyes slowly adjusted to the dark throne room, but I could tell by the movement and the noise that a large crowd of Ralgard warriors and crewmen were milling about purposefully, while Dar’Vok calmly threw commands into the chaos from his golden throne. The giant strode towards me, hopping off his dais without pause.

“The Prey has been run to ground, tale teller. Your chronicle of the Azure Hunt begins now. You shall see the Kelpor for what they are, and you shall see us claim our first true trophies in your waters. Before the sun sets there will be no doubts as to my right to the title ‘Blood Reaver’.”

I was nonplussed, both by his words and the manic energy of his every movement and expression. His excitement was making it even harder to understand his words through the brutal accent. I settled upon a slight nod and bow combination that has hidden my confusion before distracted rulers in the past. He moved past me, still grinding out orders to his mighty warriors.

As we came out onto the quarterdeck and into the glaring sunlight, I saw that each of the ships around us was alive with crewmen and warriors preparing for battle. The muzzle coverings were being pulled off from tri-barrel cannons. Powder and shot were being prepared by the Bal’Nak gun crews, and the warriors were readying their weapons and checking their armour. The four massive objects I had taken for pillar bases were approached by elaborately robed Ralgard I had not seen before, and the bases were opened up and removed to reveal enormous drums set into the deck. Behind each drum, four shrouded warriors assumed positions of readiness, placing vials of a viscous, red fluid onto the drum skin and lofting huge mallets high into the air.

Blood Reaver Dar’Vok barked out a single syllable of command and the four drummers began to hammer on the drums. The first blow shattered the vials, soaking drum and drummer alike in a deep red liquid and fierce explosions of sound washed out over the entire ship in a strange, syncopated rhythm. The drumming seemed to feed the frenzy of movement and energy from the crew, and Dar’Vok grinned around intimidating tusks.

The fitful breeze we had been fighting against all day seemed to freshen with the music of the drums, pushing us towards the island with greater speed. As the land grew ahead of us I moved to the railing, looking down upon the spinal gun deck and the crowd of giants preparing for battle. As I was scanning the controlled chaos below, however, a shout arose from the forecastle and the attention of the entire ship, like a ripple of wind over a field of wheat, caused every head to shift towards the island in the distance.

They were staring hungrily at an object drifting in the sky off the shoulder of land to the east. It was just a gleam of metal, and at first I thought it must be one of the Ralgard balloonships, gone ahead to scout out the enemy positions. But there were two of them, and they were longer than the Ralgard airships. Purple and gold balloons were not supporting the wooden frames of ships bur rather surrounding them as one single shape.

Signal flags flew to the tops of our ship’s mast, and the fleet split off into several components. Both battleships surged forward while the cruiser squadrons moved west, one to circle around the island, accompanied by the warballons, whereas the Raknarl heavy cruisers took up station off our port flanks. The frigate squadrons were holding back, sheltering behind the larger ships. I could not discern why, but thought it might have something to do with the prestige of first blood among these hunt-oriented warriors.

But as we came around the island, warriors in the forecastle screaming for blood as the gargantuan brass bow chasers were readied by frothing Bal’Nak crews, the day suddenly seemed to freeze. The first thing I noticed was a single large ship in the same livery as the balloonships overhead, skimming along the waves ahead of us, lifted half out of the water by balloons of its own. But beyond the large warship was the sight of a vast human fleet bearing directly down upon us, the white and turquoise sails of the Arkos billowing fitfully on their tack.

I looked fearfully towards the Blood Reaver, not sure if he meant to continue the attack seeing that we were now faced with such a dangerous fleet. But his grin widened even further and he glared down at me. “Mark what you see this day, Chronicler, for it will shake empires!”

I nodded and gripped the railing more tightly before me. We had the weather gauge in our favour, and would find it quite easy to outmanoeuvre the Imperial ships as they struggled against the wind. There was a single column of white steam rising up into the sky over the human fleet, probably marking the presence of the new Condor Flagship Garrick had been hoping for. But that single ship, freed from the wind, would not be enough to turn the tide of battle.

I had come to this conclusion only moments before a cry rose up from the four robed drummers. Their beat faltered, the music stumbled, and the sails above us gave a fitful start as the wind blew into our faces. The entire Ralgard fleet staggered against the sudden onslaught, and my confidence in my current hosts’ chances waivered as I realized the weather gauge had turned about and now clapped the Ralgard fleet in irons of air and misfortune.

Dar’Vok growled in frustration, barking out a curt series of commands. The growling syllables were repeated down on the spinal gun deck and to the forecastle where the Bal’Nak crews bent to the enormous bow chasers which erupted in smoke and fire. Huge round shot flew up into the air and struck the foreign battleship a glancing blow across the aft port quarter, raining wreckage and hull fragments down into the water below.

Garrick’s flagship surged forward before the newly turned wind, its own bow chasers flashing out a reply, but the cannonballs fell short, throwing great gouts of spray up onto our forecastle. It clearly had no aft-firing weapons, as its broadside crashed, firing upon the approaching Imperials. As it moved it unmasked the two cruiser-sized balloonships. The Blood Reaver’s second battleship inched forward against the wind, struggling to bring its broadside to bear against the gliding battleship.

The Fleeing Prey

The Fleeing Prey

Behind the Imperial flagship I could see several cruisers, both Hawks and the heavier Vultures, now flashing forwards off to port, while the sails of Kestrel Destroyers moved behind a short island to starboard, most likely making a move to flank the tight Ralgard formation that seemed fixated on the pirate battleship and cruisers before us. The smaller ships moving close to shore along the leeward side of the little island made my skin crawl as I realized I could very well be on the receiving end of the damned Martyr Frigates before day was out. I almost warned Dar’Vok of their danger, but a sense of loyalty to my own people stopped me, and I just hoped they would not target this vessel.

The Imperial fleet was moving out, and occasional cannon fire echoed over the water. All of their attention was on the second Ralgard battleship, ignoring the flying ships and the rest of the Ralgard fleet. Looking over at the large ship slowly moving away from us, I could see smoke columns rising from several severe hits, and an entire section of the ship’s starboard side was reduced to chaos by a particularly effective salvo.

Dar’Vok maintained his fire discipline, and his ships continued to throw their full weight of metal up into the air at the battleship as it skimmed across the water attempting to escape to the east of the Imperial fleet closing in. His balloonships and cruisers fired long-range salvos into the retreating stranger and scored several minor hits against the ship’s flank, but the vessel did not slow down as it continued to struggle to break away.

The Ralgard Approach

The Ralgard Approach

Dar’Vok pounded upon the railing before him and growled something under his breath. Then he turned, a dark grin twisting his alien features, and muttered “Enough of this cat and mouse, human. Witness the true power of the Blood Oath.” He shouted a single curt command to the Shaman working behind the drums, and pointed to the escaping battleship. The rhythm of the drumbeats intensified and seemed to grow deeper and more powerful as the giants wielding the mallets started to chant in counterpoint. Then they each drew a short, keen-bladed dagger and in one synchronised motion, split a long cut down their scarred forearms. Moments after the first droplets of blood sizzled against the surface of the enchanted drums, the pirate battleship seemed to halt, water from its latest skim gleaming in the sunshine as it washed down into the sea, and a strange, crimson glow suffused the ship.

Suddenly, it was as if the Ralgard Bal’Nak could not miss their target, as if the pirate battleship was a magnet attracting every iron ball into its loving embrace. Salvo after salvo struck home, the large ship shuddering with the impact as wood, canvas, cordage, and crewmen were thrown in a wide arc away from the stunned ship. One final broadside from Dar’Vok’s second battleship broke the flying ship’s spine and the entire mess fell back into the waves, slowly settling beneath the surface.

Overhead the floating pirates moved to veer between the two Ralgard battleships, their broadsides slashing out to either side and inflicting minor damage upon the two larger ships. To the west a small squadron of human frigates had jumped ahead of the rest of their fleet, taking advantage of the following wind, to engage the Ralgard balloonships in a long-range duel. The small surface vessels were faring poorly, but the balloons were damaged, trailing wreckage and tattered sails behind them. The massive wall of approaching human ships was daunting as they rushed towards the fallen pirate battleship, intent to claim whatever treasure may still be afloat.

Battlelines

Battlelines

The first major setback for my Ralgard hosts came when the Martyr Frigates flew before the wind and sailed directly under the shadow of the second battleship. Before the Ralgard knew they were in danger the little vessels detonated, engulfing the larger ship in a furious explosion. Before the smoke and flame could even blow back, the human Kestrel Destroyers, their iron prows gleaming dully in the sun, came storming up the flank and crashed into the staggering ship. The Ralgard warriors roared their defiance and rushed to the railings, but they were overwhelmed under a tide of human marines. Soon the huge ship was turning away, towards a small shoal, as a prize crew brought it close to the wind and away. One of the Kestrels was left with too few men aboard to fight her properly, but the other two ships, resupplied with crew, turned towards the Ralgard reserve of frigates, throwing cannonades into their slight hulls.

The Kestrel's Strike

The Kestrel's Strike

As the human fleet approached there seemed to be a great deal of commotion on their decks that I did not understand. Dar’Vok was furious that the humans were closer to claiming his prize and was lashing his crew to greater efforts, barely sparing the disappearing battleship a second glance as his claws dug deeper into the gilded wood of the railing. The human flagship and battleship approached, their bow chasers throwing smoke and shot into the forecastle of the Blood Reaver’s ship. When large ungainly balloons began to drift off the quarterdecks of the human ships, I knew what was happening. I did not know if Dar’Vok or his captains understood the imminent threat, but again I held my tongue. When those balloons launched their glider-borne marines, the Ralgard ship they landed on would be hard-pressed indeed.

The sails above us snapped and shivered as the wind began to shift once again, and with a furious gleam in his eye the Blood Reaver grabbed one of the Bal’Nak responsible for running signals and shouted a series of terse commands at the towering creature. Flags then began to flash towards the Raknarl cruisers off our port bow. Directed by their commander and Oathmaster, the massive cruisers leapt forward before the shifting wind, driving for the human cruisers already collecting their scattered small craft.

The Ralgard Engulfed

The Ralgard Engulfed

I shifted my position to the port side rail of the quarterdeck, giving wide berth to the furiously drumming Shaman on my way. I kept one eye on the assault balloons that had just been released, but I was curious to watch the exchange between the cruisers brewing in the centre of the battlefield. The approaching human flagship was burning, its prow smashed to kindling by the oncoming Ralgard fire, but it was limping forward, driving towards the ship I was on with a dogged determination. With the mysterious pirate skyships off our starboard side, I was beginning to feel trapped.

The first Raknarl struck the leading human cruiser with a crashing roar that echoed back over the waves and off the surrounding islands. A terrible tearing sound followed the crash as the gilded ram crushed the flank of the human ship, the bulk of the heavy cruiser pushing the slightly smaller ship beneath the waves as her masts tumbled down across her killer.

The Charge of the Raknarl

The Charge of the Raknarl

A light brighter than the sun rose up around the Raknarl, swallowing up the heavy cruiser and blotting out the ruined ship beneath. A furious blast wave roared out in the ever-expanding circle, hiding the centre of the battlefield from view. When the flare died down I looked back again, my ears ringing with the sound of the explosion, to see a downpour of torn wood, rope, and men falling back to the sea. The blasts continued as secondary fires swarmed over the ships still afloat. The human cruisers were all but gone. The flagship was limping, listing to starboard with fires raging all along that side. The two Vulture Heavy Cruisers in the rear of the human fleet formation had been pushed back by the force of the blast.

One of the heavy cruisers erupted in a great ball of furious power, plunging the centre of both fleets in a cauldron of flames. This time I was blown away from the railing by the blast wave, struggling to maintain my footing on the pitching deck. A single Ralgard heavy cruiser remained, while the last human heavy limped out of the swirling smoke and flame behind the surviving cruiser. A lone Ralgard frigate surged away; none of the ships escaped in any shape to fight. The human flagship was dead in the water, boats making for the smaller island to the east.

After the Devastation

After the Devastation

The Ralgard ship, however, was not out of danger yet. The human balloons suddenly surged forward one at a time, launching their deadly cargo, and gliders full of human marines fell upon the stunned battleship, attacking from several locations at once. The first wave was seen off successfully, but at the cost of many Ralgard warriors. The second wave saw a swirling melee sweeping across the entire ship, right up to the broad steps leading up to the palatial quarterdeck. A final, furious assault pushed the last defenders back to the palace itself. I ran for the starboard rail, hoping to hide behind the palace until the fighting lust of my fellows subsided. My last view of Blood Reaver Dor’Vak was of him holding off an entire squad of human marines, killing with each sweeping blow of his massive halberd.

Safety was not to be mine. I staggered against the starboard rail, looking back over my shoulder and paying no attention to my immediate surroundings. Suddenly I was caught up in a soft net that dropped down from above. I looked up in terror to see one of the strange purple and tan airships sailing directly above me. It was pouring fire into the surviving Ralgard ships, but had swooped in close enough to scoop me up in a huge net. It hoisted me up into the air and I spun wildly, desperately trying to keep my bearings.

The human Kestrels were hounded off to the east by the surviving Ralgard frigates. The balloonships moved off towards the west, followed by two remaining cruisers. The human battleship seemed to be coming about, heading back towards the smaller island to pick up survivors as a lone Kestrel, bereft of its crew, glided onward towards the large island.

Aftermath

Aftermath

It was hard to tell, swooping and spinning above the sea, but it appeared that the humans were in retreat, and somehow the Blood Reaver had seized the day. Whether he had survived to enjoy his victory, however, I did not know.

I was eventually dragged through a cargo door in the ship’s keel. I was dumped unceremoniously onto the decking where I stayed on my hands and knees. I looked up and found myself staring into a completely alien face, with a single haunting eye.