Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
By Sean M. Kozma
Weaver unfurled a large banner of black cloth, emblazoned with a fork of lightning splitting the Tower of the Crown in white, and hauled it to the top of the mainmast. Behind them, the Sea Wolf and the Witch’s Promise flew their own banners of unadorned black.
Wycke looked back at the gunships gaining on them from behind. He wondered how Pike and William had found them. Both were experienced captains, but neither one had struck him as particularly creative or insightful. More importantly, neither one had been assigned a patrol anywhere near the Skate, let alone together.
Something had drawn them here, he thought. He wondered if it was something on the ship, or if the princess had signaled them somehow. He realized it had to be on the Skate for them to have found them all the way out here. Some spell or device on board had alerted the other captains and drawn them straight here. He wondered if they even knew where Aurora was, or if she was still alive.
“Attempting to determine if a rescue might be part of their plans?” asked Phaedra.
He hadn’t heard her rejoin him at the aft rail.
“Actually, Your Majesty, I was thinking about your sister.”
“Wondering if they know or care whether she’s aboard?”
“Wondering why you broke her nose. She was quite intent on a peaceful resolution.”
“Which is why she was given command of a warship.”
“An interesting point, although not a direct answer.”
“Ah, but then neither did you ask me a direct question,” she said.
“I would not presume, Your Majesty.”
She gave him her cryptic smile again.
“And what of Masters William and Pike. Were they on board with my sister’s peaceful intentions?”
“I had only limited interaction with either man before our launch, but they voiced no reservations that I heard.”
“Nor would they, if they value their necks.”
“However, if I were forced to speculate as to their temperaments, I would say they were not convinced that the Princess’ plan would work. In that, at least, I suppose they can take some comfort in having been correct.”
“They can at that.”
Wycke tried to read her expression as she watched their pursuers drawing nearer, but her face betrayed no hint of her thoughts.
“Your rebellion is the subject of much speculation at court, Your Majesty.”
“Rebellion,” she said, sounding surprised. He wondered if it was genuine. “Is that what they’re calling it?”
“Everyone has an opinion or theory, but no one seems to know for certain. Although that does not prevent their expression in any way.”
“No, I imagine not. A lack of anything to say poses no impediment to the chatter of monkeys now does it, Mister Wycke?”
“Indeed, Your Majesty.”
“And my mother? She says nothing?”
“Her Grace has not seen fit to take me into her counsel, Your Majesty. But my understanding is that, despite the popularity of the topic in Queensport, it somehow never manages to arise in Her Grace’s presence.”
“I would imagine not,” she said. She looked at him again with those piercing green eyes. “And what of you? Have you no thoughts on the subject?”
Before he could answer, large puffs of smoke appeared at the bows of the ships chasing after them. A few moments later, a concussive thud reached their ears, followed by a screaming sound that ripped through the air above their heads. A pair of fireballs erupted in the seas ahead of the Skate.
“I believe you have an answer about that rescue, Mister Wycke.”
“Indeed, Your Majesty.”
Two more shots tore overhead and exploded in front of them, closer this time.
“Your clever little inventions seem to be performing nicely,” said Phaedra.
“Indeed. I’m feeling particularly proud, at the moment. Warning shots, or bad aim, I wonder.”
Rain began pelting down on them in thick sheets, and soon even the Sea Wolf and Witch’s Promise were difficult to make out behind them.
“Either way, they’ll need to be much closer to target us now. If you would light your boilers please, Mister Wycke, and then man your station.”
“Aye, Admiral,” he said, and headed below decks.
As he descended from the quarterdeck, a wave broke over the bow, washing past the galvanic cannon and down the deck at chest height. It slammed into him like a wall of stone, lifting him off his feet and knocking him back into the ladder. He thought the wave was about to sweep him overboard until he felt a thick hand grasp his wrist, holding him fast until the water washed past.
“You die when the Admiral say you die,” Kahoor said, laughing. “Not before.”
Kahoor set him back on his feet and let go. Wycke descended the narrow companionway, through the gun deck and the berth to the orlop, where his bottled daemon engine lay. Two tank-like bulges, one on either side of the ship, were attached to the inner hull. Outside, twin vents in the hull below the waterline allowed the sea to pass through the tanks, and then flow out the aft end, passing over the rudder.
Wycke put his fingertips to tanks and began tracing out runes on the surface, speaking the words of an Itascan summoning as he did. His missing finger made drawing the containment runes difficult, but as he finished the spell he felt the water daemons he’d called forth pop into existence.
Trapped within the tanks by the runes, the daemons quickly boiled themselves into a fury, feeding on the seawater flowing in through the forward vents and ejecting it as high-pressure steam out the aft vents, producing thrust. Through the design of the tanks, and the energy of the containment runes, Wycke could now control the speed of the ship. As there was one on either side, he could conceivably control the direction as well, but he was not ready to try and wrest control of the ship from Phaedra yet.
To work, the engines required elementals of a minimum size and power. Wycke felt them throb against their imprisonment as they heated up. These were especially powerful, and he felt the Skate accelerate as they engaged. He hoped his runes would hold as well. He said a quick prayer to that effect, and headed back up.
As he passed through the gun deck, he realized the starboard gun ports were open just as the deck sergeant ordered the crews to fire. The concussion of all twenty guns firing simultaneously hammered into his chest nearly as hard as the bow wave had hit. He continued up to the weather deck just in time to see a blinding flash of lightning split the sky.
He gasped to see the size of the beast next to them, a hundred yards off the starboard rail, illuminated in the flash. The breeching hump of the sea dragon dwarfed the Skate. The finned crest of the creature reared almost to the height of the mainmast, yet only part of it was exposed above the waterline. If the cannonade had injured the Leviathan, he saw no sign.
He felt more than heard Phaedra’s sea voice shouting at him from the helm to man his post. Near the mainmast, Kahoor pointed toward the forecastle and moved his lips as though speaking, but all Wycke could hear was the ringing of the guns and the thunder. He struggled toward the bow, rain lashing at his face.
Mounting the forecastle, he ran for the galvanic cannon and strapped himself into the turret seat. Another lightning bolt, this one sickly green, lit the sky ahead, and he reeled as he began to comprehend the Leviathan’s true size. Three more massive humps of the creature crested through the sea before them. The great storm serpent rolled through the water with a corkscrew motion, generating massive waves.
He heard the starboard guns fire again and realized the ringing was receding. This time he saw the barrage strike the creature, penetrating the flesh, though to what depth he could not tell. If it felt the shots, it gave no indication.
“Charge your weapon and fire, Mister Wycke,” shouted Phaedra, her voice loud and nearby. “Let’s get its attention.”
She had come ahead to join him at the gun.
“Aye, Admiral,” he said, his voice almost lost in the howl of the storm.
The broadside cannon were powder guns capable of firing shells and shot of various types, propelled by a high-powered mix of alchemical powders in pre-measured bags. Developing the recipe for the powders was nowhere near as difficult or dangerous as refining the metal of the guns themselves. They represented the height of technology out of the Arsenal’s foundry.
His galvanic cannon was of an altogether different design. Six elemental daemons, permanently fused into the body of the weapon, powered the gun. It fired bolts of magical energy, and it too was capable of different kinds of shot for various purposes. He had intended it to be the primary weapon for bringing Phaedra’s rebellion to a peaceful resolution, though it could be quite deadly at need.
Now it and he were in the hands of a madwoman attempting to kill a god. Wycke spoke a brief incantation to charge the gun before aiming it at the creature and pulling the firing lever.
A crackling burst of energy leapt from the muzzle of the gun to strike the Leviathan, penetrating deep into its hide. The thick flesh of the creature erupted, boiling and sizzling and lit from within by an actinic glow. This time the serpentine body reacted, thrashing away and diving below the surface.
“I think it noticed that one,” shouted Phaedra, as a series of massive waves, generated in the creature’s wake, crashed into the ship.
She threw herself around him as the water broke over the rail, clinging to him and the turret chair in a tight embrace to keep from being washed away. For a moment, he thought they might swamp and capsize. Indeed, the Skate heeled hard and was almost submerged, but she soon righted herself. As the water surged over them, all he could think about was the pressure of her body wrapped around his as she clung to him, her face pressed to his neck.
“Come about, hard to port,” she shouted back to the helm, releasing him and stepping away.
As the ship began to turn, he gave it an assist as a test of his own ability to control the ship. He increased power to the starboard daemon bottle, adding thrust to that side of the ship. The Skate wheeled about in a tight arc, reversing direction.
As they turned, Wycke saw the enormous beaked head of the sea dragon emerge from water and rise into the air to regard them. Most of the elders at the Conclave had agreed that the Leviathan was a mindless beast, a wild and uncontrolled force of nature. What Wycke saw was instead a terrible intelligence, alien, and unfathomable. And they had caused it pain.
Ahead, a brilliant red flash blossomed. The Typhon had found them in the storm and was firing upon the Sea Wolf. The larger, triple-decked gunship was struggling in the maelstrom, riding low and running on storm sails. The smaller, faster clipper had come alongside her and was firing at her broadside. A deadly fireball from their deck gun had missed and exploded in the sea beside her.
Only the Skate was outfitted with the galvanic cannon. The Typhon and the Borea had been given different weapons, to grant a decisive edge should combat be unavoidable. Their main guns used alchemical propellant like other cannon, but they fired magical charged primed for maximum effect.
He could see the thaumaturgist in the turret seat correcting his aim as the gun crew reloaded the weapon. He wondered why the Sea Wolf wasn’t returning fire. The Typhon‘s deck gun fired again and hit, striking the Sea Wolf amidships. The resulting fireball was far bigger than it was supposed to be, entirely consuming the gunship in an explosion that engulfed the Typhon as well.
Wycke realized Phaedra was using the Wolf and the Promise as fire ships. That’s why they were riding so low. That was how she’d intended to kill the Leviathan. And now one of them had been destroyed. Whatever she had packed them with, the force of the resulting explosion shattered the Sea Wolf into splinters in a fiery instant.
Behind them, the head of the Leviathan crashed into sea, close to the ship, and dove beneath the ship.
“Full speed, Mister Wycke,” said Phaedra. “Give me everything you can.”
With a thought, Wycke turned up the heat on both daemon bottles and the ship accelerated forward, crashing through the waves. Ahead, the Typhon emerged from the dwindling fireball with her deck still aflame. The rigging, rails, and stowed sails had caught fire, along with most of the crew above deck. Men leap into the sea, screaming, to douse themselves. The thaumaturgist burned while strapped to the turret chair.
This is suicide, Wycke thought. This madness will kill us all.
He had to get them away from this chaos. Surely Her Grace would prefer her daughter brought in alive. Perhaps even enough to reward her captor generously. He pushed the engines as hard as he could, hoping to take them far away from here.
As they sped forward, another fireball bloomed off their starboard side. The Borea had engaged the Witch’s Promise.
“Intercept them,” Phaedra shouted toward the helm. “We can’t lose the Promise.”
The helmsman spun the wheel to adjust their course, but Wycke reduced the thrust on one of the daemons to counteract the turn. He felt the elementals fighting against their magical bonds. He could sense the runes on the portside bottle, the ones he’d traced with his maimed left hand, were flawed and were weakening under the strain.
Steering the ship under strain, fighting against the rudder, was difficult. He overcorrected against the turn, and the Skate began to circle around the other direction. The helmsman looked baffled by the ship’s failure to respond to his commands.
“No, toward the Promise,” Phaedra shouted. When she saw his confusion, she turned to face Wycke.
“What are you doing,” she said, drawing her sword. “Let go of my ship.”
He tried to concentrate on correcting the ship’s course as he unstrapped himself from the turret seat.
“We have to get out of here, Your Majesty, before we all die.”
“Traitor,” she said, charging him.
He rolled out of the way as she thrust her blade at him, the point of her sword missing him by inches. He spun around in time to catch her wrist as raised her sword to slash at him. As he grappled with her, her strength surprised him. Outmuscling him, she slammed him against the deck rail and began forcing her blade closer to his throat.
With all the strength he could muster, he managed to roll over and gain the upper hand. With her now pinned against the rail, he tried to slam her hand against the rail to knock the sword out of her grip, but her resistance was too much to overcome. Amidships, he saw Kahoor running for the forecastle to come to her aid.
Something sharp punched into the back of his shoulder, knocking his breath from him. The strength ran out of his limbs and he collapsed to the deck, reeling with the pain. Piper stood over him, a bloody dagger in her hand.
Kahoor mounted the foredeck as Phaedra placed the point of her sword against his chest. The Sunlander looked ready to twist his Wycke’s head off with his bare hands. In his mind, he felt the containment runes failing as his control was overwhelmed by pain.
“No, you don’t understand,” he tried to say, but he couldn’t draw a breath.
Kahoor’s expression turned from anger to confusion as a bloody cutlass blade sprouted from his belly and then withdrew. His face turned ashen and he collapsed to the deck. Behind, Thrumm stood with a sword in his hand, and a look of anger twisted on his face.
Piper screamed and charged, dagger upraised. Thrumm drew a pistol with his free hand and fired at her point blank, striking her in the chest. She fell to the deck on top of Kahoor. Thrumm turned to face Phaedra.
“Die, Harridan,” he shouted, and attacked.
She raised her blade in time to parry his slash, but she found herself backing away under the savagery of his blows. Her foot caught on the turret mounting and she fell backward. Thrumm raised his sword and was about to deliver a killing blow when a shock wave ran through the ship and knocked him off his feet.
The ocean swelled around them and the hull creaked as it was lifted from the water. The Leviathan was breaching underneath them. The Skate heeled hard to one side and began sliding down the creature’s side, back toward the water.
They hit hard enough to crack the keel. Wycke could sense the magic in the hull unwinding. In his mind, he felt the containment runes on the engine fail and the elementals burst free from their tanks. Water rushed into the hold of the ship.
Thrumm stood up on the canted deck over the still stunned Phaedra and drew his small-bladed knife. She reached for her sword lying on the deck, but before she could grab it, Thrumm slashed out at her face, tracing a ragged red line along her right cheek. She gasped in shock as blood poured out of her face.
Wycke summoned what strength he could and staggered to his feet. Thrumm reached down and grabbed her hair, pulling her head back to reveal her throat.
“For the Queen,” he said, and raised his knife.
Wycke grabbed his wrist and said a quick incantation, marking Thrumm and drawing the elementals near. He let go and backed away as the twin steam clouds swarmed over the surgeon. He screamed as the daemons blistered his skin, seared his lungs, and boiled him alive. Spent, Wycke fell back to the deck.
His breath ragged and shallow, he felt himself slipping toward unconsciousness. High above, the Leviathan’s head reared over them, its cavernous, beaked jaw open wide as it descended toward the sinking ship. He was wondering what his death would be like when he felt Phaedra dragging him to his feet and toward the aft rail.
The last thing he saw before she plunged over the rail, dragging him with her, was the Witch’s Promise sailing straight for them, her crew abandoning ship off the quarterdeck. The Leviathan’s jaws closed around the Skate as the Promise rammed them broadside.
The concussion blast hit them as they hit the water, driving them deep below the waves. The glow of the fireball lit the waves above him, and he felt himself slip from Phaedra’s grasp and sink into the darkness.
His next sensation, much to his surprise, was a burning itch where Piper had stabbed him. Sunlight warmed his face, and he heard the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Groaning, he tried to sit up, but found himself to weak yet to do so.
“Welcome back, Mister Wycke,” said Phaedra. “I didn’t want to leave you here unconscious and unattended.”
“I’m alive,” he said, his voice croaking.
“Yes, you’re alive, though there was some doubt, briefly, on that matter.”
He opened his eyes, squinting against the sun, and found the strength to sit up slowly. They were on a long stretch of sandy beach on some unknown coastline. Offshore, the Exocet sat at anchor in the lagoon. Just up the beach, dense underbrush grew quickly to a thick tangle of jungle that spread into the distance. The trees were alive with the chatter of monkeys, birds, and all manner of other animals.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“Unknown,” she said. “We found it after we exited the storm.”
As he looked around, he saw that the surviving crew had built a large bonfire. The burnt skeleton of another sat beside it.
“How long was I unconscious?”
“A couple of days. Between the stab wound and almost drowning, we nearly lost you.”
He looked closely at her face. A line of stitching ran down the slash in her cheek where someone had tended the wound.
“What about the Leviathan? Did we kill it?”
Phaedra shook her head and grinned, wincing at the pain in her cheek.
“I think we only gave it a bad day. Apparently even legendary pirate princesses sometimes fail to slay the dragon.
“Can you stand,” she asked, holding out a hand for him.
“I think so,” he said, taking it as he stood.
At the waterline, the crew that had come ashore were loading into rowboats and casting off into the lagoon. Further out, the Queen’s Lament was pulling crew and provisions aboard form a second rowboat.
“Did you say something about leaving me here,” he asked as they walked toward the beach. A small pile of supplies and provisions had been piled up near the fire.
“Yes Mister Wycke, the punishment for attempted mutiny is usually severe. However, seeing as you did save my life, I thought marooning was more appropriate.”
“That is very generous of you, Your Majesty. I’d hoped to escape with you as my prisoner, so you are not the only one who failed in their plans.”
“Indeed,” she said, wading out to the rowboat and climbing aboard. “I’m leaving you in better straights than I left my sister.”
“For which I am grateful.”
“Cheer up, Mister Wycke,” she said, as the boat rowed away. “There’s a whole new land to explore. I may do a bit myself, while we’re here. Who knows, we may see each other again.
“Besides, I’ve left you with a whole flock of courtiers with which to gossip about me.”
The chattering of monkeys filled the air.
To Be Continued…
Sean Kozma has spent the last decade working in theater and live sound in Los Angeles. He has been developing his voice as a writer for several years with the Eclectic Voices writer’s group, and he has written several short fiction pieces for the Eclectic Voices online magazine. He is working on a handful of short stories for publication, as well as his first novel.