Golden Sails, Part 4
Stanor staggered to his feet, bleeding badly from multiple cuts caused by flying chunks of the deck and pieces that had broken off from the sphere. There was a large, jagged hole in the front of the deck roughly twice as wide as he was tall, but that was nothing compared to the devastation on the lower decks. The hole was twice as wide on the second deck, more than four times the size on the third, and more than a third of the hull had been turned into a huge network of fist-sized holes. The Nortrad already had a definite forward tilt, and even Stanor knew it was doomed.
The blip he had seen on the horizon must have been an elven ship of some sort, though how it had managed to fire on them from that distance, and that destructively, was a mystery to him. It seemed to have fled, although why it would have done so was a mystery. It had seemed to move just before the loud noise had reached him, moving upwards, impossible as that was.
He had to get to a different ship. The deck of the Nortrad was already beginning to tip, signaling the imminent plunge to the depths that awaited it. Stanor looked around, spotting two small boats that he would have been hard-pressed to lower over the side. Unfortunately, even if he had managed to get the boats onto the water, they would sink in seconds. Both had more than a dozen holes from flying pieces of the deck and the projectile. They were even less seaworthy than the rapidly sinking Nortrad.
Stanor realized how lucky he had been to escape with mere scratches. He was bleeding, but not in danger of bleeding out, and nearly everything around him looked like it had been ravaged by hungry beasts. The mast tottered dangerously, with the half a dozen holes that had been punched through the massive beam. Stanor had been flung into the rail when the projectile hit, being badly bruised in the process, but he had been lucky there too, as almost none of the other sections of railing near the front of the flagship had survived the debris from the impact.
When the Daveen fired his weapon, a massive amount of kinetic energy was imparted to the projectile. Due to Morzor’s law¹, an equal and opposite amount of kinetic energy was imparted to the Daveen. As a result, a massive jerk ran the length of the ship, knocking every elf forward. The actual acceleration of the Daveen was minimal, due to the large mass discrepancy between him and the projectile, but the speed with which the projectile was launched meant that the acceleration was applied very quickly. Several elves suffered broken bones during the firing, or when the ship crashed back to the surface of the water.
Vanor, who had been temporarily deafened by the noise and badly bruised due to the kick of the projectile and the ship’s landing, staggered to her feet. She immediately untied herself and ran to the sensitive patch of skin on the top of the ship’s head, one of the several control patches that were arrayed along him. She began tapping and prodding it, turning the ship and getting it moving again at full speed. He rapidly left the dwarven fleet behind, as the other ships had stopped to assist their beleaguered comrade.
1: Morzor’s law is a physical law developed by the dwarf Morzor about thirty years after the leaving of the gods. The typical formulation of the law is: “Kan laghad a zamae arorzagort nator, kan laghad laeghor arorzagort saorzae harorna kaursun ra soodatoohor namook.”, or, as a rough translation: “When a force is imparted to an object, a force possessing identical magnitude and 180 degrees away in direction is applied to the object that imparted the force.”
Stanor looked over the rail, and saw that the Tordor², the ship to the port side of the Nortrad, was sailing closer, and launching boats. Several dozen dwarven sailors, some more injured than others, had staggered up onto the deck by this time, and Stanor began signaling to the boats, waving his hands frantically in the air, and the rescue party responded in kind. When the boats reached the side of the Nortrad, Stanor and the second in command of the Tordor conducted a shouted conversation and worked out a plan. All survivors from the Nortrad would be lowered into the mostly empty boats using the device typically used to lower the ship’s boats, which were useless now, and put into the largely empty boats the Tordor had sent. If the boats became too full to take additional passengers, they would return to the Tordor before coming back to rescue the remaining dwarves. Stanor insisted on going last, knowing that everyone would be rescued long before the ship sunk. He then assigned two of the strongest and least injured dwarves to the task of lowering the survivors, had the most wounded lowered first and went below with another group to find additional survivors and any equipment that could be salvaged. They managed to rescue more than a dozen additional dwarves, and saved a not insignificant amount of food, weapons, and navigational instruments. Stanor managed to have everything they found carried off the ship, and he and the last few dwarves he’d had with him left the ship as the second deck was beginning to flood. The ship was sinking rapidly at that point, dragged down by its iron-plated hull.
2: Tordor means “earthquake” in dwarven, but can be colloquially used in reference to any destructive event, which is the sense it is used in the name of this ship.
Gasord had survived and was one of the least injured on the ship, having been sleeping in his cabin, which was almost as far from the impact as it was possible to be, and had only gotten a few scratches on his way up to the deck. He and Stanor ended up in the same boat, the last to leave the doomed ship. He was deep in his mental calculations, refactoring his plan to include the existence of the elven ship that Stanor had thought he saw, and, more importantly, the loss of the Nortrad. It took him the majority of the rest of the night to finish, but when he finally looked up, sitting on the deck of the Tordor, he said: “The plan is slightly less likely to work, but, provided that that elven ship doesn’t show up again, we should be fine. If it does, we need to know more about its capabilities, limitations, strengths, and weaknesses to defeat it. I want more information on that thing.”
Vanor was in the clicker room. The dwarves had apparently stayed in roughly the same location, probably attempting to save the ship the Daveen had hit. Vanor had seen the accuracy of the beast before now and knew that the ship was doomed. The glue that secured the projectile, which was secreted by the Daveen himself, had been designed to create breaking points at specific intervals, meaning that the projectile had shattered into a cloud of debris when it impacted the deck, with most of the debris continuing downward, and spreading out. A significant portion of the hull would have completely disappeared, or, at best, be so riddled with holes as to be completely unrepairable.
Stanor and his fleet left the place where the Nortrad had sunk about mid-morning, after having distributed the survivors to the remaining ships. The fleet was sailing now at full power, with most of their speed coming from the massive underwater propellers. They wanted to get back to the shoreline as quickly as possible, wary of another attack like the one that had destroyed the Nortrad.
Vanor strode back up from the clicker room. The dwarves were on the move again, and much faster than they had been before. They were obviously using as much power as they could. It would take the Daveen some time to catch up to them. She reached the top deck, which was perched on the ship’s head, and stroked the control patch there. The Daveen immediately began powering his long, broad tail up and down, each stroke accelerating the ship until he was going at top speed, a little faster than the dwarven fleet. Vanor would chase them down, although they would probably be almost a third of the way to the coastline when he caught them.
The Daveen opened his cavernous maw as he swam forward, filling his mouth with water, and then closed his baleen, using his tongue to expel the water from his mouth, leaving large amounts of krill behind. He swallowed, allowing the krill to pass into a specially designed chamber inside of his flesh, where an efficient team of crablike formbeasts began to shell the krill. They placed the freshly shelled food in the back of the chamber, where slowly gyrating muscles led it down into the beast’s stomach. The krill shells, on the other hand, were placed in a separate area, where they were shuttled quickly and efficiently to the fatty upper back of the Daveen, to begin replenishing his depleted ammunition stores. The beginnings of a new projectile sat beside three full-sized ones, which were ready to be fired at any time.
Three days after the attack, Stanor could still not rest easy, and not because of seasickness. He had gotten over that completely following the attack, possibly because of the shock. He was worried about the elven ship that had been able to attack them from such a distance. If the elves had weapons like that, how could they hope to take the port, let alone hold it? If the elves could pound the city from that kind of range, it would be less than a day before the walls were completely destroyed and the elves were able to pour into the city, overwhelm Stanor’s dwarves, retake the docks, and be back to resupplying ships within a couple of weeks, buying the dwarven fleet no respite at all. Stanor simply had to hope that that ship was one-of-a-kind, and that the elves would not have additional ships like it for a long period of time. A few dozen shots like the one that had sunk the Nortrad could destroy an entire battleship. If the elves could mass-produce ships like the Nortradmaktor³, they would almost certainly win the war. However, if they only had one, the dwarves were not necessarily doomed. Therefore, he would act like they had only one, as, if he was wrong, there was no chance anyway.
3: “Maktor” means “destroyer” in dwarven, and it is usually prefixed by the thing destroyed and used as a title of address for someone who has killed someone else, or a ship that has sunk another ship. Therefore, “Nortradmaktor” means “destroyer of the Nortrad” or “Nortrad destroyer”.
The Daveen swam on, undetected by the dwarven fleet. He was almost within firing range now, but the dwarves were moving fast, and had been lucky enough to get a stiff tailwind for most of the day. In full sail, they were able to outpace him slightly, and he was very slowly falling behind.
Stanor had ordered men with the new telescopes to watch for any signs of the elven ship. They had made excellent time, and the gods had gifted them with a swift tailwind. Still, it never hurt to be too cautious. The men had not spotted anything, but Stanor had barely seen it before the shot had come. He wasn’t even sure what his orders would be if it was spotted. If it was able to catch up to them like this, ordering his ships to chase it down would be futile. Scattering would be useless, as the elves would simply destroy his ships one by one, and enclosing the troop carriers in the center of the formation would also be useless, as the weapon was obviously able to smash through the iron-plated hulls of the warships.
Vanor was furious at the tailwind, cursing and belaboring it for its very existence. The dwarves were getting away. She had almost got to within firing range, almost close enough to destroy another dwarven ship, and then this tailwind had blown them from her grasp, given them enough speed to actually begin gaining on the Daveen. She was cursing and railing at the demons that the dwarves worshiped, and on her knees in supplication to Falis a moment later. Give her a good, stiff headwind. The Daveen would barely care, and the dwarven ships would not only lose their speed advantage due to the tailwind, but also be slowed by the headwind until they were able to get their sails down. By then it would be far too late, and Vanor would have destroyed another of the iron-clad monstrosities they called ships. Ships were living creatures, companions. The dwarves made a mockery of the natural way of things. Vanor’s thoughts had been running in this vain for at least a tenth⁵ now, and she was almost as exhausted as the Daveen. They were more than halfway to shore, far past the point where Vanor had expected to catch them, and the great ship’s tail was tiring quickly. It had not been designed to travel at such high speeds for so long, and soon they would have to abandon the chase to rest.
5: Elves measure time solely in days, and in multiples and fractions of days. A tenth is a bit less than two and a half hours.
Stanor’s fleet raced onward as he paced the deck, still worried about the Nortradmaktor. He was almost constantly scanning the horizon with the telescope he carried with him at all times. He was not getting enough sleep, even now that he was no longer seasick, and the constant worry was beginning to take its effect.
Norkazor, a sailor in Stanor’s flotilla, stared intently through his telescope. He had some of the best eyes in the fleet, and was often chosen for crews simply on his merits as a watcher. He had scrimped and saved to buy his own telescope, and, as a result of owning it, he was being paid double what most sailors were. He had used it so much over the few years since he had bought it that he had a permanent ring around his left eye from the repeated pressure against it. He scanned the water wearily, looking for the Nortradmaktor. He wasn’t sure if he believed that it even existed. They said that the Chief Merchant was the only one who had seen it, and it might have just been some water in his eye. Norkazor had experienced that sort of thing many times himself.
He was so caught up in his thoughts he nearly missed it. There was a small blip on the horizon, just a tiny place where the sea seemed to jut up into the sky. It was far too large to be a wave. Norkazor cried out in excitement. The other watchman, who had been halfway across the deck scanning a different part of the horizon sprinted to where he was. Norkazor pointed wordlessly to the tiny speck. The other watchman also trained his telescope on the speck, as Norkazor began switching lenses. The speck was still there when he finished, and, with his telescope operating at a higher power, Norkazor could make out the whale-like shape that indicated the presence of an elven ship. It appeared to be matching their pace, an impressive feat with the wind behind them and the ships moving at full speed. Norkazor plucked his signal horn from his belt and blew three short blasts, the agreed-upon signal for any sighting of the Nortradmaktor.
Stanor paced his cabin restlessly. They had used several telescopes to get a rough estimate of the distance to the Nortradmaktor using triangulation, and were repeating the process regularly. It was obviously out of range, as it had not fired upon them again, but Stanor had no clue how far out of range it was. The ship seemed to be slowly falling back, but what had Stanor puzzled was its size. There seemed to be no possible way for a ship as small as the Nortradmaktor to fire a shot as large as the one that had sunk the Nortrad, let alone at the speed and distance it had done so at. The ship was less than half the size of the Nortrad, roughly the size of one of his smaller merchant vessels.
Vanor was not happy with the situation. They were nearing shore, and the wind had not even faltered. The dwarven ships were now only detectable using the clicker. They would be able to land their troops, and sail off down the coastline. She might be able to destroy one or two of the ships as they sailed back around the elven naval lines if she followed them, but she knew that she would not be able to do so. She had almost no chance of catching the ships. Reluctantly, she began to give the order to adjust their heading, sailing back towards Kalmorn to alert her superiors of the dwarven incursion.
Stanor was alerted the moment the Nortradmaktor changed course, beginning to sail off at an angle. He realized its new destination almost immediately. If the ship arrived in Kalmorn with news of a flotilla of dwarven warships, the city would increase its watchfulness substantially. That could spell disaster for the proposed mission. He immediately sent for Gasord, and they consulted for several hours.
The dwarven flotilla reached shore early in the morning. It took less than an hour for the troops to disembark and unload their equipment. The moment this was finished, the ships quietly sailed away from the shore, following the Daveen in the direction of Kalmorn and staying out of sight of shore, attempting to avoid detection as much as possible.
The first dwarves to land had quietly taken the occupants of the few farmhouses within eyesight of the landing point captive, and the army was now preparing to move quietly along the coastline towards the city. They hoped to reach it within a couple days, before word of their presence alerted the city guard. If they could take the city by surprise, it would both increase the number of troops that remained to guard it against counterattack, and the integrity of the defenses. If the city was warned, and they had to take it by siege or assault, rather than by surprise, reinforcements would arrive, and they would be near certain to fail.
The Daveen moved slowly towards one of the few free docks in Kalmorn harbor, avoiding small fishing craft and navigating around the areas where the water grew too shallow for his bulk. Vanor strode back and forth across the top of his massive, flat head, impatient to submit her report and debrief. At least she actually had something to report, she thought, even if she had only been able to sink a single ship. She had already signaled that she had medium-priority information, and she could already see a party forming on the end of the dock, ready to take both her and her report to the military authorities of the port as quickly as possible. A medium-priority report meant a major threat of some kind, and if a full dwarven fleet in elvish waters didn’t constitute a major threat, Vanor didn’t know what would. The Daveen finally pulled into the dock, and a man, likely an aide of some sort, and Vanor were hustled onto a formbeast, one obviously built for speed. The others in the party also mounted up, and led the way through the streets of the city to the citadel, the military command center of the port. Vanor was exhaustively debriefed on every possible detail she could recall over the entire day, as her commanders attempted to discern the purpose of the fleet.