Captain’s report: We have embarked on our maiden tour and are en route to meet the El-Fax, a friendly culture being considered for acceptance into the Pantheon. This voyage will also serve as the shake-down cruise for our ship the ‘Phoenix’. Three days’ sail out of Mytertown, the voyage has been mostly uneventful to this point and we are preparing for our first submersion, heading to the Mytar-Swivox portal.
“I’m surprised you’re out on deck Captain, there hasn’t been much interest in supervising submersion on previous trips where I’ve been the elementalist,” Radiance observed, cocking his head as his water and air sprites darted around the ship and kept reporting back to him. At seven feet tall and bright orange, he towered over the captain and his scrawny apprentice, who was frantically observing the preparations through a crystal.
“Not supervising, just enjoying the show,” Captain Baxtor responded. His mane of curly, dark brown hair fell around his shoulders and his bushy, full beard obscured his lower face. “The new sail design seems to have paid off, we’ve shaved 37 minutes off of the best time for an Inquisition class ship to get to the submersion point. Any feedback from the air sprites?”
“Nothing specific to the sails, Captain,” Radiance responded. “We’re about to begin submersion.”
Clangs sounded, as one of the earth sprites struck the submersion gong three times. The sprites danced around the ship as a bubble began to form and dipped into the water. Continuing to cut forward, the ship angled downwards slightly as the surrounding bubble lowered further into the ocean. Water surrounded the ship above and on all sides as they sailed under the surface.
“My compliments to your sprites, Radiance,” Joseph Baxtor said, glancing around the ship. “That’s a nice, firm bubble they’ve made. I’ve known elementalists who frightened the crew that the bubble was going to break, it wobbled so much.”
“Any compliments belong to me, Captain, but your sentiment is appreciated. My apprentice needs to review the submersion procedure and ensure he took note of everything important,” Radiance responded. “If you’ll excuse us.”
With a nod, Captain Baxtor started heading to the stairway below deck. Two men burst through from below, the one in the lead had his hands bound behind his back.
“Captain,” Third Captain Reeves greeted him as he pushed his stocky prisoner in front of him. His black hair was closely cropped and a neat, oiled goatee was the most prominent feature on his face. “Marine Sherman here just killed marine Green after a dispute over ‘Matches’…”
Joseph Baxtor glanced at the blood splatter on Marine Sherman’s sleeves.
“That son of a bitch was cheating!” Sherman growled, uselessly attempting to shrug off Albert Reeves. “He cheated me out of a week and a half wages!”
“So you admit that you murdered him over a game of dice, Marine?” asked the Captain. “While I appreciate your fighting spirit, you know we can’t have you killing one another. Certainly not over a gambling dispute.”
“Yeah, I did it. If you’re going to punish me, put me over the side and at least give me a chance.” Marine Sherman demanded, eyeing the Captain with a surly look.
“An excellent suggestion and exactly what I was thinking. Mr. Reeves, put him over the side,” the Captain ordered, resuming his walk towards the staircase.
“Not while we’re submerged!” shouted Sherman in horror. “At least wait until we resurface!”
His struggling and objection increased as Third Captain Reeves pushed him to the edge of the deck, then overboard. Disappearing into the water at the bubble’s boundary, the marine was gone.
* * *
Walking along the cobblestone street together, a neat, well-dressed Sinclair Foran noticed an apothecary shop and made a beeline towards it. Also leaving the group, Quartermaster Nickerson began slipping off on his own down the street, when Third Captain Reeves called after him.
“Mr. Nickerson, don’t forget to take apprentice Hudson with you,” he said.
With a glower, Charles Nickerson turned to him and said, “I don’t need a babysitter Third Captain!” The Quartermaster’s rough, broad face flushed.
“Captain’s order, Mister,” Reeves responded, calmly meeting the Quartermaster’s glare. “If you’re not staying with us, Hudson is going with you.”
With an irritated gesture to follow him, the Quartermaster and the thin apprentice departed.
A group of locals walked past them and the men from the ship curiously examined their scaly skin and extended snouts. They were beginning to get a sense of the range of coloration and features the locals possessed.
Lowering his voice so the marines wouldn’t overhear, Reeves asked Radiance, “Any idea why the Captain’s standing order is for Mr. Nickerson to be accompanied, Mr. Radiance?”
Matching his soft tone, Radiance responded, “It’s just Radiance, no mister. Apparently, Mr. Nickerson has had issues with gambling in the past and the standing policy is not to leave him alone when he’s shopping for supplies.”
“That’s quite generous of our Captain to overlook a gambling problem with his quartermaster!” responded Reeves.
“Almost as generous as hiring a former pirate for his third captain?” asked Radiance, looking at Reeves appraisingly.
Reeves grunted at the elementalist and ordered two of the marines to accompany Foran into the apothecary shop. Continuing along the street, Reeves observed, “It’s quite a neat little port town they have here, wouldn’t you agree.”
“Certainly,” agreed Radiance, “and surprisingly well-stocked for its size. The elementalist shop at the docks had supplies you’d be hard-pressed to find in a city five times as large.”
“The chieftain has come to town to meet us, which is awfully accommodating of him. With our gifts being delivered to their reception center, I’m leaning towards advising the captain that it’s safe for him to come ashore and meet the chieftain in person. I think I’ll even grant the marines rotating leave. They’ll need to blow off some steam after that ‘Matches’ unpleasantness.”
“You’d know best, I’m sure,” Radiance responded, carefully observing their surroundings. “What do you think of the weapons the city guards have?”
“Very high quality,” Reeves responded. “Definitely naval quality. And every one of them has a rapier and a hand cannon. You wouldn’t often see that, even back in Mytertown.”
“No, you would not,” agreed Radiance.
* * *
After knocking a third time, the steward pushed open the second captain’s door a couple of inches. Pitch blackness awaited him. The stuffy room had a surprisingly ripe smell, given the short duration of the voyage to date.
A growl came from the dark cabin and a hoarse voice within demanded, “What do you want?” The light from the corridor lit the back of a head of dirty blonde hair belonging to a body resting in a bunk.
“Second Captain Ward, sir,” the steward stammered, “I’ve brought you your lunch.”
“Leave it outside the door and don’t come in here again,” the voice said. The steward would observe to the galley crew later that day that he couldn’t tell if the tone was rage or despair.
* * *
“… and seven silver-laced, tracium infused poultices,” said Foran, completing his order. “Deliver it to the Phoenix and Quartermaster Nickerson will provide payment. Your supplies are really top notch. Do you trade for them or where are they produced?”
“Myself and my assistants produce everything we sell ourselves,” the store owner responded proudly. His eye ridges had a slight pink tinge that Sinclair hadn’t seen on other Faxians.
“Yourselves!” Healer Foran replied, incredulously. “In the Pantheon each of these items would be the product of a specialist who devoted themselves to producing that one item. That’s amazing that you’ve mastered each of them and run a shop on top of it!”
Suddenly looking guarded, the store owner replied, “We Faxians place a high value on expertise and mastery.”
“I see you have myellum cream, which is the standard inhibitor for flesh-rot. Do you have anything else to manage its symptoms?” Sinclair asked.
“We don’t, unfortunately,” the store owner replied. “We’ve actually never had an outbreak of flesh-rot. We made the cream based on recipes we traded for. I’m certain if we had a patient we’d be able to develop a cure.”
“A cure!” Sinclair said, astounded. “No one can cure flesh-rot.”
“Well, as I said, we’re quite capable,” the owner replied with false modesty. “I’m sure we could come up with something.”
Wrapping up with some final pleasantries, the healer made his way back towards the dock, stopping at a bakery to purchase some sweet buns.
* * *
“Nice job, Henry,” Captain Baxtor said approvingly as the two inspected the ship. “The main sail handled the extra stress the air sprites were putting on it?”
“Easily, Joseph,” Henry Cook responded, after glancing around to make sure no crew were nearby. The young man’s face easily broke with enthusiasm and he smiled often when discussing the ship with his captain. “With the reinforcements we’ve had them make, I can’t imagine Radiance could put out enough force to crack them. She’s a hell of a ship!”
“That she is, son,” Joseph Baxtor agreed.
“I haven’t met second captain Ward yet. Shouldn’t the second captain be more engaged with the crew, sir?” asked Henry. “You didn’t hide away in your cabin when you were the second captain on our last posting.”
“Every deck officer does things his own way, and it’s important to give them enough slack to do the job as well as they can. Have you needed anything from Mr. Ward that you haven’t received?” asked the captain.
“No, sir,” the earnest young man replied. “He’s left sheets with protocols on them for all of us. Nothing has come up yet that isn’t covered on them. It just seems strange that I haven’t met him.”
“You will, Frank’s a good man. If something comes up that isn’t covered by the protocols he’s set up, go to his cabin and I’m sure he’ll sort it out. Are you sure you don’t want to go ashore and have a look around? I’m expecting Mr. Reeves to give us the all clear when he gets back.”
“Head ashore? Why would I want to do that? We just finally cast off! The bilge pump is an improvement, but didn’t work quite as well as we’d hoped. I held off on the pumping so that you could have a look if you’re interested.”
The two men headed to the lower decks.
* * *
Gathered around the table in the Captain’s mess, the deck officers related their observations over the day.
“… really, unbelievably broad range of goods. The owner assured me he makes them himself, but I can’t imagine that’s true. He claimed that, if they had access to a patient, they’d be able to develop a cure for flesh-rot, which no one can do!” reported Healer Sinclair, signaling completion of his report by biting into a hard roll.
“Flesh-rot?” Captain Baxtor said thoughtfully. “That is something.”
“Similarly, every merchant I talked to went to lengths to stress that it was genuine, Faxian goods they were selling,” Quartermaster Nickerson reported. “As you ordered, I didn’t haggle very hard, but I got some of the best prices I’ve ever seen. The Faxians are going to be one of our best trading partners if this isn’t all a show to win us over! I can’t understand how a culture their size could possibly be producing such a variety of goods at such a high quality and value.”
“We couldn’t find out the origins, but the weaponry on the city watch was top notch. The ships in harbor alone would indicate that it’s punching way above its class. They couldn’t stand up to the Pantheon, certainly, but I can’t imagine any culture of a similar size being able to match them,” Reeves reported.
Looking at the Captain, Radiance summarized, “Something is going on here. Either we’re being deceived or there’s more to the El-Fax than has been reported.”
“We’ve been invited to meet Chieftain Yupi tomorrow evening. Mr. Reeves, Radiance and an appropriate retinue of marines will accompany me. We’ll get to the bottom of this,” said Captain Baxtor.
* * *
“You were only supposed to hound me when I was shopping for supplies for the ship, leave me alone!” Quartermaster Nickerson said peevishly to the skinny trailing apprentice Hudson.
“I’m supposed to keep you away from any gambling, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Adam Hudson replied doggedly, trailing after the red-faced quartermaster.
“The Captain gave me twenty denarii to ‘test my luck’, as thanks for the good prices I got on the supplies, kid. I’m going to find some action with his blessing,” the Quartermaster replied.
“Well, I’m sticking with you until they tell me to stop,” Adam said, with less confidence.
* * *
“Chieftain Yupi, my crew have all been greatly impressed with your port. Especially given its size, we can’t get over the splendid array of facilities you have,” Captain Baxton said to the chieftain, sipping wine in his formal uniform. Reeves, Radiance and the marines were similarly attired and chatting with members of the chieftain’s staff.
“Thank you Captain,” Yupi responded. The chieftain’s light green scales were set off by the cream colored, ceremonial robes he wore. A multitude of beads in varieties of color and complicated patterns made his clothes the richest they had seen. “We are very excited to enhance our relationship with the Pantheon and are eager for your endorsement for our membership to be expedited. We have sent gifts for your leaders and gods, which have been delivered to your ship, but this gift is something I wanted to give to you directly.” A servant entered and walked up to Captain Baxtor with a gleaming, gold-plated hand cannon on a pillow.
Yupi raised his voice so the entire gathering could hear the presentation. “This is a prototype of what we plan to begin mass production of. It is a hand cannon that we have bound an earth sprite to. Rather than being reloaded, the sprite forms a new ball and flash powder and it can be fired again, roughly 30 seconds after it’s been shot.” The marines began babbling to one another until silenced by a look from Captain Baxtor.
Captain Baxtor picked up the hand cannon with both hands and examined it with exaggerated care. “This is a princely gift, Chieftain Yupi. Your people are miracle workers.”
Chieftain Yupi continued, “When we first made contact with outsiders a year and a half ago, it was a shock to our population to discover that we weren’t the only people in existence, which is what our belief was before that. When we learned about the Pantheon and the other major empires, we grew concerned that it was a matter of time before we were forcibly swept up into conflicts between them. After much deliberation, we’ve decided that the Pantheon is the best fit for our values and ambitions.”
“You hadn’t ever met any other cultures before a year and a half ago?” Captain Baxtor asked. “That’s really quite astounding. It makes your accomplishments even more impressive.”
“Our people have always placed a high value on expertise and accomplishment. We like to rise to challenges and this was just another challenge for us to take on,” the chieftain said, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s been an exciting time, rapidly adopting and mastering foreign crafts and customs. In spite of bumps along the way, we are optimistic our efforts will pay off long term.”
“Indeed,” agreed the captain. “My quartermaster, elementalist, and healer have all commented on how impressed they are with your products. Your new hand cannon is a marvel! I’m certain that there will be a huge demand from other cultures to invite your citizens to come teach them your techniques, or let them come and study from you here.”
A dark look passed over the chieftain’s face as he responded, “My people are still adapting to being a member of a choir instead of a single voice in the darkness. The people in our port have steeled themselves to deal with outsiders in limited transactions. It would be inconceivable to us to leave here and live elsewhere or to have foreigners come and live with us. This small, cultural preference can surely be overlooked when we have so much else to offer.”
“We aren’t here to dictate how you should live, chieftain,” Baxtor responded. “If that is the preference of your people, we will certainly respect it. Your people didn’t seem as insular as you suggest. One of the apothecaries my healer dealt with encouraged us to bring a patient with flesh-rot to them in order to develop a cure.”
“Such an offer should not have been made to you, Captain. I will make sure the apothecary is corrected and that similar offers are not made in the future,” the chieftain replied.
“We will, of course, respect your preferences,” Captain Baxtor replied. Changing the topic, he said, “We’ve been quite curious about the El-Fax religious traditions. Our scouting mission that made contact with you didn’t provide any information on the topic. None of us have felt the effect of your god’s aura while we’ve been here.”
“We have none, Captain,” responded the chieftain.
“You don’t have a god?” asked Baxtor, louder than expected as the other members of the deck crew fell silent in their conversations and looked over to the two leaders.
“We’ve never had any such mystical concepts. The idea and the dangers involved were explained to us when we first met the trading vessel a year and a half ago. We aren’t really that interested.”
“Mytar and other gods in the Pantheon will certainly want to send missionaries to make their case to you,” Baxtor replied. Reeves and Radiance moved over to join the captain in his conversation.
“As I said, we find the idea somewhat silly, no offense gentlemen. No missionaries would be welcome,” replied chieftain Yupi.
“There are a great many benefits to worshiping gods of our Pantheon,” Captain Baxtor suggested. “And definite dangers to having a population of non-believers. The missionaries would just be making their case for the benefits available to you. No one would be forced to worship.”
“Again, we aren’t interested. If this is a sticking point with the Pantheon, then perhaps we need to begin negotiations with other empires, such as Zith,” said the chieftain, irritably.
“You’re free to talk to anyone you want, chieftain. The Zith are as likely to round up your population to sacrifice to their god as they are to protect you or conduct trade with you,” said Baxtor firmly, controlling his emotions.
“I can’t understand this,” third captain Reeves broke in. “You use elementals. You make medicinal products. How do you explain these things without believing in gods?”
“Our tradition has been one of philosophical inquiry,” Yupi explained. “When we encountered these items, we studied them, determined the principles behind how they operate, then applied these principles ourselves. We’ve studied the world about us in much the same way through our recorded history. There’s no necessity for, nor evidence of, divine beings.”
“I hope the traders explained to you the dangers involved in inventing new beings to worship,” Radiance said. “The creation of new gods is a deeply dangerous undertaking which, almost without fail, ends in tragedy. It would be perilous if your recent advances were the result of belief in a new god.”
“Yes, yes, this has been explained to us,” chieftain Yupi waved away Radiance’s caution. “Everyone we meet warns us against this. We wouldn’t worship a god of our own creation, as we’d have even less reason to believe in an invented god’s existence than gods invented by others.”
“Well then,” Captain Baxtor gestured to Radiance, “let me introduce you to your first divine being. Radiance here is the son of our god Mytar.”
* * *
Looking at the seventeen dice, all showing a six, Quartermaster Nickerson swallowed. “Well, that certainly seems like a lucky roll. You fellas learned this game quickly. That’s the last of my coin. What kind of credit can you offer me?”
“No credit!” howled apprentice Hudson. “We’re leaving!”
As he began dragging the Quartermaster away, Nickerson muttered, “Their luck has to be dry after a roll like that. I’ve never seen anything like it.” The Faxians smiled at them, their horizontal, slit-shaped eyes blinking in amusement, as the two men headed out the door into the street.
“They’re using some sort of ability,” the apprentice hissed at him. “That wasn’t a natural roll. Be thankful that you’re getting away without losing the Phoenix to them!”
“Yes, perhaps you’re right,” muttered Nickerson as they walked in the dark towards the docks. “That didn’t seem like random chance. I would have liked to win back my denarii though.”
* * *
Bursting through the door, an imposing form entered the reception hall. Looking like a large, idealized version of a Faxian, his forest green scales emitted a glow and when he opened his snout, extra rows of longer serrated teeth filled his maw.
“Behold my radiance, I am revealed! The crew of the Phoenix will carry the message of my arrival throughout the known worlds!” the figure proclaimed.
The Faxians in attendance moved protectively around the new arrival. Two of them began disarming the marines and Reeves. When they approached him, Captain Baxtor removed his belt and handed it to them without reservation along with the attached sheathed rapier.
Now that the god was in the room with them, Baxtor and his crew felt the faint stir of a newly arisen god’s aura. It made them feel the slightest bit arrogant.
“My lord Rex, we adore you and are enlightened by your presence. My meager mind struggles to understand why we are abandoning our planned course of patience and caution,” said chieftain Yupi in greeting, as he bowed deeply and remained in a position of supplication to the god.
“My brilliance can not be contained, high priest Yupi. We are past the need of any pretenses. I shall fill the newcomers with my glory like I’ve filled all Faxians. Together we shall re-make the world!” Rex announced, voice raising as he continued. “Bow to me, my newest worshipers!”
“We greet you warmly and with friendship, Lord Rex,” began captain Baxtor, without bowing. “My crew and I are not well equipped to deal with your divine glory. A delegation of priests and some of our own gods would have come to you, had we been aware of your majesty. I assume you are newly arisen, as high priest Yupi told us the Faxians had no gods before they first met outsiders?”
“They found me, through an effort of pure reason, after learning about the divine from the traders and wisely ignoring the fear mongering of lesser minds. Through me, they have exceeded their limits and rise towards my greatness. We push the boundaries of their limited, secular existence. As you will come to experience yourselves!” Rex proclaimed.
“My lord, I assure you that we are unworthy to interact with you. If you will excuse my crew and me, we will promptly depart and have an appropriate delegation sent,” Captain Baxtor suggested.
“You will swear yourselves to my service or be ripped apart and devoured,” Rex responded with a sudden fury. “I will consume your pretender gods and any who refuse me!”
“Lord Rex, I understand your desire,” Captain Baxtor replied. “We have a long history of cultures creating gods. This is a very dangerous activity and is universally abhorred. Almost all newly created gods are damaged things that explode dangerously. Our priests and the gods of our Pantheon can help you navigate this critical time and survive it. History is full of gods who turned on their followers and eventually were left alone as monstrous remnants of their former selves, unknown and unworshipped. I have devoted myself fully to my lord Mytar and would be unable to forsake him. You’ll find most of my crew feels similarly. I implore you, please let us help you navigate these treacherous waters.”
“My lord Rex,” began Yupi, “your greatness has been too much to bear for some of the Faxians, even though we are your most devoted servants. The Captain’s advice has merit. Perhaps a more measured pace will get us to our destination sooner.”
Extending a claw towards Yupi, the high priest’s body disintegrated and was drawn into the god’s outstretched arm. “I shall consume the weak and dominate the worthy. All will come to me, one way or another!”
Captain Baxtor exchanged a significant look with Radiance then moved towards Rex and gave a low bow, “In that case my lord, we are unable to refuse your will. If it is new servants you need….” Standing upright he cradled the gold plated hand cannon in his right arm and held the muzzle within inches of Rex’s face. Radiance summoned a fire sprite at the hand cannon’s touch hole. A loud boom sounded and smoke spread around the two figures. As the god’s body slumped to the ground and the smoke cleared, a chunk of Rex’s head was missing and purple god’s blood was splattered behind him.
“We must decline,” finished Captain Baxtor. Throwing the gold plated hand cannon to Reeves, he announced, “Retrieve your weapons gentleman, we’re headed for the docks. Quickly now, please.”
Staring in horror at their fallen deity, the remaining Faxians’ skin began to ripple and grow. In a rabid fury, they fell on one another and began tearing each other to shreds as the captain buckled his belt and drew his rapier. The last of the Faxians remained standing, the victor of their vicious melee, with bleeding gouges in his flesh and his clothes in tatters. He turned to the crew and roared, stretching his enlarged and bulging frame, maw opened unnaturally wide displaying bloody teeth.
Aiming the gold hand cannon and touching his match cord to it, Reeves shot the creature in the chest and it collapsed on the other bodies. “It really does fire without reloading. Amazing!”
* * *
Staring at the mutating dock workers in front of them, Hudson and Nickerson looked in horror as bulges moved underneath their skin and they began howling like beasts. “Should we get Healer Foran to help them?” asked Hudson .“I don’t know any way we can.”
“No lad,” Nickerson replied, staring at the Faxians in horror. “We run for the Phoenix and tell Second Captain Ward that Captain Baxtor is in trouble.”
* * *
Moving along the street, the marines had surrounded Reeves, Baxtor, and Radiance and, having previously discharged their hand cannons, were using rapiers to deal with any Faxians that noticed them and attacked.
“If Rex is dead, why is this happening to them?” asked Reeves. “Should we have ripped apart the corpse or something?”
“Rex isn’t dead,” Radiance answered. “A shot to the face will just slow him down. He’s reforming back there behind us. Hopefully we can depart before he’s regained his sense of self. This is all a result of his incoherent rage.”
“How do you kill a god if blowing apart their head doesn’t do it?” asked Reeves as they moved carefully along the street. Having worked out the rhythm of the hand cannon prototype, he fired it at the nearest Faxian each time it was ready to be shot again.
“As long as they have worshipers, you can’t. Gods can kill one another, but mortals can’t kill a god. The more worshipers, the sooner they’ll reform themselves. A husk god, without worshipers, exists as a dangerous monster that can be permanently killed – at great risk.” Radiance replied.
A group of enlarged Faxians blocked the street ahead of the group, charging at them with snarls and roars. After Reeves shot the closest one, the marines took position, and let the remaining attackers impale themselves on the sailors’ rapiers.
“If we can shelter somewhere for five minutes, my men can reload,” suggested Reeves.
“They’re becoming less bestial, which seems to indicate a speedy recovery by Rex. I would recommend we continue to the ship in all haste,” Radiance said.
“Keep moving forward,” ordered Captain Baxtor. Leaning down, he picked up the rapier and hand cannon from one of the corpses, who had been a member of the city watch. “If they regain the sense to use their weaponry, we’re in trouble.”
* * *
With groups attacking from all sides, Captain Baxtor and his men were exhausted and reaching their limit. Most of them had broken their rapiers and claimed replacements. Any seized hand cannons were quickly spent, then discarded. In order to best cover all sides, the marines and officers were meeting charges with their rapiers, which had remained an effective defense against the enraged attackers.
With the dock in sight, they saw a group ahead of them, led by a city watchman. Although they were snapping their maws at the approaching sailors, they weren’t charging. In an inhuman voice, the leader raised his hand cannon at the group and hissed, “Drop your weapons and return to Rex with us!”
“Mytar damn them,” muttered Reeves, then glancing at Radiance he said,“Sorry.”
“Damn all them and Mytar too. Give me a few seconds Captain,” responded Radiance. Muttering softly while the two groups glared at one another, the weapon of the Faxians’ leader exploded in his hand.
“Forward to the ship,” ordered Baxtor as the group resumed their progress. Groups of Faxians formed on all sides of them and closed in. A number of hand cannons presented themselves in the mob.
“I can’t take them all out at once, Captain. If I start, the others might fire,” Radiance said. At that moment an inhuman howl could be heard from the docks.
“Hold on until they’re distracted, then start taking out the hand cannons,” ordered Captain Baxtor. “Everyone, put your purple sashes on.”
“I didn’t bother bringing mine, Captain” said marine Hamilton as the others pulled out their sashes and put them on. “I didn’t see the point.”
“Stay behind us no matter what, Hamilton,” ordered the Captain. “Mr. Reeves will assign you a punishment when we’re back on board.”
The mob ringing them looked towards the dock as high pitched screams of pain and surprise replaced the chorus of growls from that direction. Breaking through, the muscular form of a madman plunged into the mob of Faxians. Holding a broken rapier in each hand, he ripped and shredded every Faxian who came within reach of him. Faxian blood splattered over him, staining his dirty blonde hair and mixed with red blood from the countless scratches across his body. His foaming mouth grunted and howled as he moved like a demon through the enemy ranks.
“Now would be an excellent time to start removing those hand cannons, Radiance” ordered Captain Baxtor. “Stay behind us, Hamilton.”
Hand cannons started going off, some exploded by Radiance’s fire sprites and others shooting at the berserk Frank Ward. One shot tore a chunk of flesh out of his arm. Undeterred, the second captain leaped onto one of the few remaining Faxians in the group he had attacked and wrenched its neck at a painful angle. As Captain Baxtor’s group reached him, he turned to growl at them. The Faxian mob seemed to have regained enough of their sense to keep their distance.
“Very good Frank, we’re withdrawing to the ship now. Please,” Baxtor instructed, “Everyone sheath your weapons, there’s no more need for them.”
Ward growled and looked at the mob behind them with hunger. “Frank, we’re needed back at the ship now,” the Captain said again.
The muscular form alternated between following the Captain’s group and attacking the Faxians, then finally collapsed to the ground. “Hamilton, help me carry him back to the ship,” Captain Baxtor ordered, grabbing the prone body.
* * *
Casting off, the Phoenix unfurled its sail and began moving away from the dock as Radiance’s sprites filled the sails with wind.
“Captain, there’s activity on most of the other ships docked in port. We’re going to have an armada coming after us shortly,” announced Reeves, scanning the dock with a farscope.
“Radiance, any chance we can outrun them?” asked Captain Baxtor.
“I can get us moving faster than any Inquisition class ship, but they have ships that will be able to catch us,” Radiance replied. “And to answer your next question, no we can’t submerge. This port was located here because of the shallow shoals to prevent exactly that.”
“Man the cannons. If you have a shot, take it. We aren’t looking for a stand up fight, but we want to discourage them from getting too close,” the Captain ordered. “Hamilton, get someone to help you move Mr. Ward down to the healer.”
Pulling away from the port and heading towards the open sea, they saw dozens of ships leaving the dock in pursuit.
“Radiance, have your apprentice send off a report of our recent activities. If you have any ‘experimental approaches’, this might be the time,” the Captain suggested.
Joining Reeves at the stern, Captain Baxtor asked for his thoughts. Passing over the spyglass, Reeves said, “They know their business. I wouldn’t have expected they could have gotten themselves ready and launched so quickly, especially with all the turmoil. I’d give them seven or eight minutes until they catch up with us. Maybe another two or three after that before they can get into position to board. From the charts I’d estimate about fifteen minutes before we’re out of the shallows and able to submerge.”
“Any thoughts on repelling boarders?’ Baxtor asked.
“We’ll do our best, of course. Against this many it’s just a matter of time before they overwhelm us,” replied Reeves. “Would you consider raising the white flag, Captain?”
“It seems a little premature for that!” replied Baxtor, clapping the third officer on his arm. “Get your men ready to repel boarders.”
Henry Cook was ordering one of the crewmen through cannon preparations, often taking over and doing it himself part way through the procedure. “”Good work, men,” Baxtor said. “Mr. Cook, a quick word if you have time.” Leading him away, Captain Baxtor leaned in and whispered to the chief engineer. “Henry, does that crewman know how to prepare a cannon to fire?” asked Captain Baxtor.
“Yes, sir, Captain. I just want to make sure it’s done right,” replied Henry. Distracted, he frantically looked around the deck at the preparations being made.
“Your job is to teach them how to do it right, then trust them to do it. Get him to prepare that cannon and move on to your next task. You have dozens of things that need your attention right now, you won’t be able to get to all of them, and anything that one of your men can be doing is something you shouldn’t be doing. Right?” Captain Baxtor instructed in a hurried whisper.
“Right,” agreed Henry, and hurried on to the next cannon.
Walking up to Radiance, Captain Baxtor said, “Well, this is looking like it might be more exciting than usual.”
“Yes, Captain,” Radiance responded. “The update is away back to the Pantheon. Adam and I are doing everything we can to coax a little more out of the air sprites.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the loud boom of cannon fire behind them. Glancing over his shoulder, Captain Baxtor saw seven ships bearing down on them.
“Could my creativity exceed standard constraints?” asked Radiance.
“What do you mean?” asked Baxtor.
“In the past you’ve said not to do anything that could damage the ship. The only idea I have is pretty risky overall, but is just about guaranteed to damage the ship,” explained Radiance. “I wouldn’t normally push things, but, as you say, this does seem more exciting than usual.”
“No constraints,” said Captain Baxtor with a grimace. “Perhaps sounding the ‘Brace for Impact’ gong would make sense.”
“Grab hold of something,” suggested Radiance, as he began muttering to his sprites. The ‘Brace for Impact’ gong sounded three times.
The Faxians, hanging off the side of their ship, screeching in a bestial manner as they shook weapons at the fleeing ship. Another volley of cannon fire pushed the pursuing ship back slightly. Third captain Reeves gave hurried instructions as the marines broke into port and starboard groups.
A submerging bubble began forming around them. Rather than holding back the seawater, spouts of water poured in from the sides as the bubble wasn’t holding back all the water. Rushing fore, Captain Baxtor saw that the bubble had pressed back not just the water, but earth sprites were pushing back the seabed itself and forming a trough that was filling in with water pouring through the bubble.
Just as he was observing that the water level on the hull seemed quite low compared to the sea level they were leaving, the ship’s hull hit the carved trough and with a grating noise the crew were knocked to the deck. A loud splintering noise could be heard, which Baxtor assumed, with a wince, was the keel running aground. The Phoenix slid along the trough, submerging below the sea’s surface.
The water volume entering the bubble increased to raise the ship in the trough as Radiance bent the course to move the ship away from the path the pursuers were following. Water passing through the porous bubble showered the ship and crew. Crew members looked around themselves uncertainly, unsure how to handle the situation they found themselves in.
“Move any wounded to the infirmary,” shouted the captain. “Crewmen, assist Mr. Cook with damage assessment and hull repairs. Mr. Reeves, your marines can stand down, we don’t have a fight for you today apparently.”
* * *
Seated in the captain’s mess, Reeves suggested, “We’d best assist in preparing an invasion fleet against El-Fax. They’ll certainly retaliate after that.”
Baxtor glanced at Radiance, who responded, “It’s unlikely they’ll be any trouble. They’ve proven that the god they created for themselves is unstable. Our arrival set off this chaos, but it will take less of a trigger next time, and less each time after that. Within a few months this will be a deserted island with a very angry husk god roaming it.”
“It seems like they created a god that helped them maximize their own potential. Strange that that backfired on them,” observed Foran.
“It’s a dangerous game to try to outsmart the divine,” observed Radiance. “They made a god in their own image, and he shared their arrogance.”
“Mr. Cook, when do you expect the hull repairs to be complete?” asked Captain Baxtor.
“With the pitch and wood Radiance has summoned for us, along with the repairs that should be finished by the time we’re done eating, we’re taking on water as slowly as we’re likely to manage,” answered Henry. “The bilge pump is working, but we should get to a dry dock within two days, three at the most.”
“You didn’t think it was worthwhile to supervise its completion?” asked the Captain.
“I trust my men to do the work they’ve been trained for. Once I’ve set them on a task, there are more important things for me to work on than hovering over top of them. That being said, after dinner I’m going to go have a look and make sure everything was done properly,” answered the chief engineer.
Captain Joseph Baxtor said, “Pretty clever for a junior officer, Mr. Cook. That’s a hard lesson for many men to learn. Unless everyone has had their fill of grog, this seems like a night that deserves a round of sherries. Hamilton, please fetch a bottle of sherry from my private stores and eight glasses.”