Chapter 6Mature

Sun's Radiance
Light Interceptor
Currently engaged in Pirate Hunting along the Northern Maw

2 Weeks prior to the Summer Solstice

Engines roared in a hymn of steam and churning metal as another knife shaped dirigible plowed through the rough canyon currents. Cracks broke the silence as two artillery turrets fired out into the crags of basalt. The prey, a nimble smuggler ship, danced between rows of black spikes as it desperately tried to evade the powerful Auto-Cannon fire. It was a beaten little thing, splintered wooden gondola with two battered engines hanging beneath a worn canvas balloon stained with crude floral designs. A single hit from the hunter's artillery pieces would send it hurtling into the misty abyss.

Sun's Radiance, the contraband transport's pursuer, was a powerful, if somewhat outdated, warship. It's streamlined metal hull marred by the touch of age and disrepair did not take from it's performance. Capable of near unrivaled speeds at low altitude, coupled with a crew that could manage the maneuverability such a ship provided made for a powerful group. As such, Sun's Radiance was frequently patrolling the Northern maw, a great networks of black rock chasms stretching hundreds of miles. A famed hiding spot for thieves and rogues of all sorts.

“Damn. We're too fast to get a good shot off. The eyes of a Doomhawk couldn't keep up in these conditions.” The captain of the hunter, a Mr. Webworth, muttered as he lowered his silver spyglass back to his pocket.

The captain was a large man, standing six foot in almost every direction it seemed. His plain blue naval coat stuck out over his huge frame, and his ornate bicorn captain's hat madly tried to take flight in the wind, but was tethered by a thick strap pulled taught across his grizzled neck. His eyes were bloodshot, irritated from the stinging rain that beat down against them.

“If we prepare the broadsides, we can catch them in the bend! The rocks are too treacherous; they'll have to come out into the open or get dashed along teeth!”

This advice was nearly drowned in the wind, as was the speaker. He held on tightly to the quarter-deck railing with one bruised hand, and his leather-bound maps with the other. He was about the same height as his superior, but much thinner around the waist. He had thick, greasy brown-black hair that was fastened into a ponytail. His deep green eyes shone partially over the great silvery spectacles that were hooked over his ears, the rims of which pushed into his surprisingly neat sideburns. His coat was the same as most of the others, but a winged spyglass on his collar singled him as the navigator.

“Death comes for bravery or cowardice!” He smirked, and the captain laughed along with him.

“Aye! No vessel can hide from fate!”

Another crewman chuckled as he dashed over to the small swivel cannons, adding, “careful whatcha say Cap'n! Could be us that are struck down!”

The ship buckled as an air pocket crashed into them, sending some the crew airborne. They were used to it, but it was indeed an exceptionally rough afternoon. The smuggler ship wasn't doing much better, twice she had sheared planks off the outer hull off on the rocks, and one of the engines was billowing smoke. They weren't going to make it much longer.

“Rudder hard to port, get as close to the side as we can on the next bend!” The captain commanded.

The pilots complied, hugging the far wall as much as they dared to. The navigator sheathed his maps back into the brass container hanging from his belt.

“We're taking the corner! Brace for maneuver!”

The metal shafts of the three back rudders groaned as they hurtled about the canyon. Everybody not grabbing on to something was thrown to their knees or flat on their face if they were clumsy enough. The Navigator and Captain seemed to take it with grace, swaying just enough to keep upright.

The skill of the rival ship was sub-par. They managed to break away from the walls, but the sheer pressure of the tight turns literally tore part of the balloon off. The ship was a ragdoll for the wind in that state. But their problems didn't seem to be over just yet.

“Incoming! Warship dead ahead!” Roared one of the fresh marines on the bow, pointing at a murky shape in the fog just beyond the sputtering Smuggler ship.

“Valkyries Bust! It's the Devil's Lair!” Captain Webworth exclaimed.

“It seems we've found our target!”

It was true, the crew had only been hunting the small contraband ships in the hope of bringing out the greater vessel. They had known the infamous barbarian-captured Ironclad Devil's Lair had been in the area, but had never suspected that it had been at fault for sacking random passersby and selling their goods through smaller trading vessels.

The ship's aft turrets growled as they took aim, not at the Sun's Radiance, but rather the little vessel that had led the hunter to it's mother. The a twin linked multibarrled gun emplacement exploded with repeater fire, the first shots missing, but just one singular round was enough to literally blow open the balloon and send the ship plummeting in a hellish blaze.

“Oh fuck us.” One of the officers lamented as he watched the torch of a ship silently descend into she ravenous clouds below.

“We're outgunned, and we can't run! We'll have to get above them and board her, it's the only place we'll have the advantage!” The navigator said while quickly moving to the control panels to plot their ascent.

“Damn, let's hope that we get there before they shred us.” The captain grimaced, putting his foot on the directional pedals below the control main wheel.

The dark shape ahead was slowly moving to get more guns on the encroaching ship. The Navigator scowled at the giant Averidan warship. He knew what they looked like, but had never seen one up close. A giant ovular doughnut of metal wrapped around an armoured balloon in the center. It was the antithesis to the Sun's Radiance; trading any kind of maneuverability for sheer durability and bristling firepower. But since it's capture, it had been severely undermanned, the only upside to facing such a monstrosity.

A volley of iron rounds pounded in the distance, and the Navigator quelled any desire to look. He continued barking orders to the engineers, commanding them to shift the engines to 'as damn near vertical as you can make them'.

An explosion rocked the vessel sending the Navigator flying against his controls. He cursed and slammed his fist against the brass plates.

“Get those bilge rat marines on deck as soon as they've got skivvies and grenades!” The captain bellowed at a quivering recruit who inched slightly back into the cabin.

“The Lieutenant sir, he has a concussion from that last impact!”

“Who's next in command?” The Navigator replied.

“I'm not sure sir, the rest of us are fresh off the docks!”

The captain and the Navigator looked to each other.

“Arcebus? I know it's been a couple years since.......but are you willing?”

Arcebus, the Navigator paused for a second, grabbing his glasses and cleaning the scarlet drops from them methodically.

“If these cowards can't do anything yet, then gladly.”

The End

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