Ten minutes later, Taniel and Levi were in one of the courtyards of Senusa, a makeshift firing range. What they expected to find were targets, perhaps bottles, to fire upon alongside the infantry of the Faloran Republic. Instead they found a pile of corpses, and a gradual stream of prisoners brought to stand amidst the dirt and sand of the courtyard with blindfolds on.
"What in the pits?" Levi spat. "They're using prisoners for target practice? This goes against everything-"
"Does it, though?" Taniel wondered out loud. "We don't even know half the story here."
One of the people practising on the range was Ensign Wilson, likely having wandered off after Taniel went to meet Mathias. He was dull-eyed and grim, like an emotionless golem. "Ah, Taniel. You got your brother to set us up good?"
"What are you talking about?" Then Taniel looked at the prisoners quivering and moaning out in the courtyard. "What's going on here, Wilson?"
"Some raiders they caught trying to sabotage Senusa. And some turncoats too." Wilson took a deep swig of wine, then threw the empty bottle onto a nearby pile of corpses. "Bloody savages. So, you here to practice your aim?"
Taniel scowls at Ensign Wilson. "No I am not here to practice my aim on people. You don't treat prisoners as targets. You kill them! You don't torture them. Torture just puts you on their level. You kill them." Taniel is firm on this point and glances at Levi for support.
Levi nods. "If you aren't getting information out of them. Then kill them." The newly promoted commander nods. "Torture is not something the Republic sinks to."
Taniel turns to the man who brought the prisoners in. "Who ordered this?" He asked annoyed.
The man was in the army glanced at the single silver bar on Taniel's collar and snorted. "None of your business, Ensign."
Taniel grinded his teeth slightly, about to retort hotly until Levi came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. "That is actually Leftenant now. The Admiral just promoted him." Levi said with an amused smirk.
The Army Sergeant looked extremely uncomfortable now. "Umm, I am just following orders?" He says glancing between the two.
Finally, the sergeant stuck his arms into the air, and shook his palms around. "Alright, alright. General Mathias has been letting us do this. But I'm not going to be responsible for starting a row with the navy. Tell you what, Leftenant. If you want, you can kill these men yourself, cleanly, in private. And we'll take up practice here with less tricky targets."
Taniel was no longer sure what to believe. Mathias was always daddy's boy, the perfect son, the smiling poster-boy for the Republic. Now he was condoning psychological torture? Taniel understood that enemy combatants deserved death, but there were certain lines he was not sure he was willing to cross. He had left the academy as one of the most ruthless cadets, often accused by his comrades of having no humanity. Now he found himself on the opposite side of the fence.
"I'm sending for Mathias."
While they waited, some of the prisoners in the square began to weep, uncertain of why they were still alive, discomforted more by the silence than they were by their own deaths. Some had soiled themselves, adding the stink of urine and faeces to the smell of the sea and military life. Eventually Mathias showed up, adjusting his jacket and looking perturbed.
"Brother? What seems to be the problem?"
"I don't need to say it, Mathias." Taniel said, coming to a halt just in front of his brother. "This isn't the Faloran way."
"What are you talking about?" Mathias answered with his golden poster-boy smile. His eyes were cold. "Don't be silly, little brother."
Taniel was not impressed. "Silly, Mathias? Really?"
"Let me explain." Mathias said, motioning to one of the prisoners with his chin. "Those people want to destroy our way of life. They hate liberty, and humanity. They hate themselves, and they hate us. Their masters are malevolent spirits. You were there on the Aras Isles, Taniel. You saw what these people do."
As Mathias was speaking, he was getting angrier and angrier, his face turning an uncharacteristic red. Taniel had rarely seen his brother so enraged. "What's happened to you here in Senusa, Mathias?" Taniel wondered out loud, almost afraid.
Then all of a sudden, Mathias was all smiles and boyish charm again. "How foolish of me. I'm sorry, Taniel. Sergeant, release the prisoners."
The sergeant moved to cut the prisoners' bonds with his knife, one by one. Then the prisoners were herded into the centre of the square. There were two streets leading to the square. Mathias, Taniel and the republicans stood in one street, and the prisoners were left facing the empty street opposite - the street to freedom.
"Moving targets are more of a fucking challenge." Mathias said, still smiling. He pulled his pistol free, and shot one of the prisoners in the head. The others screamed and panicked, breaking for an escape. Ensign Wilson, the sergeant and the rest of the company opened fire, toppling most of the prisoners in a single volley. One of the prisoners, however, surprised everyone, and darted in the opposite direction.
"My brother! You animals!"
While Mathias was reaching for another pistol, the prisoner smashed into him, taking them both down to the ground.
Unable to react, Taniel is left speechless and motionless as his brother is tackled to the ground. He was drawing his own sword to help his brother when Mathias' second pistol discharged. Mathias's mouth opened once in a single grimace of pain before he went limp.
The world around him went silent as Taniel looked down at the body of his older brother. The prisoner was getting to his feet with a smile on his face. "I did it! I killed him!" He said through ragged teeth. His celebration was cut short as Taniel let out a scream of fury and ran his sword through the man's stomach.
Yanking the sword out, he kicked the now dying man to his knees. "You killed my BROTHER!" He screamed before drawing a pistol and executing him with a headshot. There was the thunder of the pistol firing and the man's head exploded into gore. The body slumping to the now bloody paving stones. Tossing the pistol to the ground, Taniel drew his spare and walked towards the Sergeant. Sword in his right hand and pistol in his left.
Decking the man with his sword hand, he had him driven to the ground and cocked his spare pistol, aiming it at his head. "Your incompetence just caused the death of your General." Taniel said, his voice cold with anger. Taniel's hand tightened on the pistol even as the other soldiers surrounded him, bayonets on their muskets nearly jabbing into his body.
Levi had been helping dispatch the older prisoners and was now looking at Taniel, aiming a loaded pistol at the Sergeant surrounded by soldiers. "Kid, calm down!" Levi shouted as he moved over to the mess.
Taniel looked too calm, his gun to the Sergeant's temple. "This man caused my brother's death through incompetence." Taniel said. "I am debating whether shooting him is too quick of a death."
Levi frowned and held his hand up to Taniel. "No, he didn't. He was following orders. He doesn't deserve a bullet to the head. And you don't want to die today." Levi was speaking calmly and carefully as he tried to talk Taniel down.
Taniel was silent for a good half minute, his eyes never leading the tear filled Sergeant's. Finally he aimed the pistol up and decocked it. He was immediately grabbed and shoved to the ground. All the soldiers looking at him somewhat fearfully. The courtyard was a scene of utter carnage.
Levi shook his head and waded into the mess. "I will take him. See to the injured. Execute the rest of the prisoners." Levi orders. "Make sure the General's body is properly cared for."
Taniel let his sword slip out of his hand, utterly blank faced as he looked at the fallen body of his brother. He barely felt Levi's hand on his shoulder as he was urged to his feet and walked back into the Governor's building.
As Taniel Corso walked into the Governor's residence, he felt the weight of many eyes falling upon him. He dared to look up, and it felt like he was trying to lift a mountain. Samuel Corso stood before him, one hand on his sabre. The old man had the desperate look of a cornered animal, his moustache hiding what was no doubt a thin line of outrage, where there had once a mouth.
"I must have misheard."
Taniel Corso could not think of how to respond to his father's denial.
Samuel's face was icy, unmoving. Not a muscle twitched on that proud, lined face. "Taniel. Tell me what happened."
"Mathias." Taniel managed, his heart beating fast enough that he feared it giving out. "A prisoner - Mathias was executing the prisoners. But one of them-"
"And you did nothing? Your pistols were loaded, son!" Samuel was shouting, though his face was still emotionless. "Who is going to tell Sarah, or help her raise little Darius? Certainly not you!"
"It wasn't my fault!" Taniel shouted suddenly. "I tried!"
"You hesitated is what you did." Samuel screamed, backhanding Taniel and sending him toppling onto the ground. "And you, Commander Levi. Your career, sir, is over! You'll die a Commander. And I don't give half a damn what ONI has to say about it. I swear this to you, braggart. You were in the same position as Taniel, but unlike this little boy, you have experience. You should have been able to act quickly."
Taniel straddled the line between having an emotional collapse, or an emotional outburst. Somehow, he remained between the two, keeping as calm as was able in the circumstances. He hobbled to his feet, trying to look professional. "Nobody here is to blame except the prisoner. And maybe Mathias. He was murdering the prisoners in cold blood. Psychological torture, sir!"
"You dare speak against your dead brother?" Samuel was red, veins protruding across his face, spittle flying from his mouth. "If you weren't my son, I'd deal with you through a court martial. The sergeant is going to take the fall for this. He will be executed. And you, Leftenant, are going to keep a low profile, and when this blows over, you are going to pick up the slack and maintain the good name of our family. You are dismissed."
His entire being throbbing with rage and despair, Taniel Corso bowed slightly, and made as if to leave alongside Levi.
Taniel stopped and turned to regard his father angrily. "I will want Commander Levi with me on the Dauntless!" Taniel says firmly. "He knows the ship and crew well, we will need him during the battle."
Samuel Corso turns towards his son. "You think to order me around boy?" He asks, his voice dangerously low.
Taniel stands firm. "No sir, I am trying to make a reasonable argument to keep the chain of command functional before a major battle." He says meeting his father's eyes.
Samuel glances at Levi, who is doing his best to inspect the floor. "Fine. Take him. He is worthless now. Let him rot as a Commander babysitting you." He glances at Taniel. "Since you still obviously need it."
Digging his fingers into the palm of his hand gave Taniel enough control to not snarl at his father. He snapped a quick salute and turned to leave the room before he said something he would regret.
Samuel turned and looked at Levi in silence for a few minutes. Letting the poor man suffer and sweat. "Get out of here and back to your ship." Samuel said finally. "Before I change my mind."
Levi snapped a salute and headed for the door as fast as he could without being rude. He paused when Samuel spoke up. "One thing Commander. I have already lost one son. If I lose another... well, you would be amazed what a man can live through." Samuel said to Levi with a smile that never touched his eyes.
Levi paled and ran out of the room. All propriety forgotten at this point.
The new day dawned with Taniel Corso leaning over the bow rail of the Dauntless as he contemplated the rising sun. Levi came up and clapped him on the shoulder. "You look terrible Leftenant." He said, voice somewhat wistful. "I take it you didn't sleep?"
Taniel snorted. "I couldn't. Every time I closed my eyes... his face was there. Did I really know my brother? Was he a hero or a monster?" Shaking his head, Taniel kept watching the rising sun. "Does it matter now that he is dead? His grave will proclaim a hero. Faloran will honor him as a hero." He glances at Levi. "We know the truth, or some of it. Do we gainsay his death and paint a different picture. Or do we carry it to our graves?"
Levi groaned and rubbed his face. "It is far too early for me to be contemplating that sort of talk." He complained. He leaned on the rail next to him. "So, you want to talk about it?"
Glancing over at Levi, Taniel's expression is too neutral to read. "Which bit? The fact that my indecision killed my brother? That my father is a colossal asshole? That I have ruined your career just by associating with you?" Taniel asked, his voice ice cold. He took a breath and glanced back out over the water. "The damn hell of it is... I can't even feel anything right now. Nothing. I just feel... cold." Taniel exhaled. "No, I don't want to talk about it right now." Levi nodded and the two watched the sun rise together. "Maybe later I will. But not now." Taniel said quietly.
Taniel Corso awoke sometime early in the morning to the sound of slop, like a wet mop digging into a dead man's entrails, or a man choking on a bowl of gruel. It was an oddly specific sound, and it was disturbing. When Taniel rubbed at his eyes and scanned his surroundings, fear began to creep inside of him along with the feeling that he was not alone.
What he saw illuminated by moonlight was a round and elongated white shape. As his eyes adjusted, he realised it was a giant worm, the tip of which was covered in spines and teeth. It made horrific squelching noises as it squirmed towards Taniel's bed. Taniel reached for his bedside, fumbling for his pistol, sweat forcing itself out of him along with terrified pants. The worm laughed at him. It literally issued a devilish cackle, before launching itself onto his bed.
Taniel screamed, taking hurried aim and firing at the worm. A bullet either hit it directly or at least grazed it, because the laughter turned to angry howling. Rolling out of bed, Taniel dodged the worm just in time, as it sank its corrosive fangs into his pillow, setting green fire to the bed.
His shouts had not gone unheard. The door swung open, one of the sentries standing there with pistol and cutlass in hand. Seconds later, the worm threw itself onto the man, burrowing into his chest.
Taniel leapt over the man's corpse, seeing the worm squeeze what looked to be eggs out of its mouth, and into the man's open corpse. Someone wanted him dead.
Taniel is still panting as he watches the scene, then anger seizes control. Growling, he heads back into his room and grabs the powder horn he kept for reloading his pistols. He unstoppered it and poured the entire horn worth of gunpowder onto the worm and its victim's chest. "Purge it with fire. Seems like a logical option." Taniel says coldly as he grabs the lit lantern and smashes it on the body.
The open flame catches on the gunpowder and it burns quickly and violently. Reducing the worm and its eggs to ash. It also takes a large part of the unfortunate sailor's chest with it. The other men who responded to the attack jerk back as the fire consumes it. Taniel glares at the others present. "Get back to your duties." He barks to them. He points at the other sentry. "You, see to a proper burial of your comrade."
Without checking to see if anyone had listened to him, Taniel stomps back into his room, shutting the door.
The sun was slowly rising as Taniel re-emerged from his room. The body was gone but the blood and ash stains remained on the floor. Taniel tucked his long coat around himself, the two silver bars on the collar signifying his new rank shining in the light as he headed for the ship's armory.
Levi came up beside him as he walked. "Care to explain what happened last night Black Jack?" Levi asked Taniel casually as he walked beside him.
That made Taniel stop and exhale sharply, he turned to look at Levi. "What do you mean by that?" Taniel asks sharply, but Levi can see the fatigue rimming his eyes. Taniel hadn't slept and was clearly stressed out. Yet he was doing an admirable job of hiding it.
Levi smiled at Taniel and shrugged. "Its what the sailors are calling you now. The Black Jack. A man who can watch his comrade get killed and burn the body to ash not a breath later. Only the Blackest of Jacks can be so cold." Levi gently punched his shoulder. "The men are impressed."
Taniel sighed and rubbed his face. "You can thank shock and sheer surprise." He muttered to Levi before he kept walking. "I didn't know what to think. That thing was trying to kill me... and it almost did. Next time, I might not be so lucky." He opened his coat and patted his two pistols tucked in. "I trust in good steel and a gun. But more guns are better."
Levi raised an eyebrow. "So you intend to arm yourself to deter would be assassins?" He asks Taniel amused. "If I was going to kill you, I would go for you while you were asleep again."
Frowning, Taniel shakes his head. "Assassins you can't stop by being armed... but more overt attempts you can. The spirit tainted heretics are... impatient. They tried something subtle. If they keep to their usual patterns, the next one will be overt." levi didn't offer any disagreement to that statement.
Reaching the ships armory, Taniel didn't spare anymore words as he grabbed an extra pistol harness. He shucked his long coat and belted this one backwards. He grabbed two more pistols, made sure they were loaded and tucked them into the small of his back.
Shaking his head, Levi leaned against the wall and watched Taniel arm himself. "Going with four?" He asks dryly as he watches Taniel continue.
"No, six." Taniel replies as he belts another harness on across his chest and tucks two more loaded pistols in. "We are heading into battle. I don't have time to be reloading." He glares at Levi. "A Leftenant is allowed a bit more freedom to access the ship stores, isn't he commander?" Taniel asks respectfully, but his eyes clearly said he didn't care what Levi said at this point.
Shrugging, Levi didn't object as Taniel put his long coat back on. "Then lets get ready for battle. The fleet should be sailing out soon. The wind and tides are in our favor."
Location: Faloran Fleet, Frigate Dauntless. Ten miles north of Senusa Harbor.
The Faloran fleet was making good speed as Senusa Harbor fell behind them. Intending to meet the Dominion force that had been spotted approaching them in open water rather than the confined bay, the fleet had sailed almost immediately. A total of 16 ships were part of the formation. Unfortunately most of the ships were Schooners and not Frigates. Still, they had a lot of firepower and unless the Dominion had pulled out all the stops could likely handle whatever they were going to encounter.
Taniel was in the crow’s nest of the Dauntless with a spyglass scanning the northern horizon. Levi had entrusted him with this important task and he wasn’t going to disappoint the man. He had already caused enough trouble for the poor bastard as it stood.
The fleet stretched out nearly a mile behind Victory as the flagship led the procession of ships. The smaller Schooners sailing alongside the Frigates and ahead, keeping a warning buffer for the rest of the fleet. Aiming his spyglass down at the flagship, he could barely make out the figures standing at her helm. Likely Father with his flag captain. Taniel snorted and aimed his spyglass back at the horizon.
Dauntless was third in the formation, whoever was on the lookout in Victory or one of the forward Schooners would likely see the enemy first. They didn’t excuse him from not doing his job. Vigilance was required, so he kept an occasional sweep of the entire horizon part of his routine.
He likely had a long wait before action was had. The Schooner Dart had spotted enemy sails and a few galleys under a hundred miles from the Senusa Harbor, she had immediately made for port to inform the Admiral. No Galleys were left in the Faloran navy. If someone still insisted on using them, it was likely the Dominion.
Taniel snorted. “I don’t know why they insist on using those sluggish death traps.” He muttered to himself as he kept scanning. “But they do make good target practice.”
Location: Dominion Fleet, Galley Reconquest. Seventy miles north of Senusa Harbor.
Navarch Shakpash leaned over the map in his cabin. The Captains of every ship in the fleet were gathered into the room, leaving it somewhat cramped. “The Falorans will be heading out to intercept us. They won’t wait for us to come to them. They likely have already sailed. One of their smaller ships saw us and immediately broke South with the Wind.” The tall man pointed at the map, a point roughly forty miles away from the Harbor. “This is where we will likely come to blows with them.” One of the Galley captains spoke up. “Is the plan still the same?” He asked. “Send the Caravels and Cogs forward first, then close with the Galleys to board?”
Shakpash nodded. “Yes. The Pacters know their duty.” He looks at the Caravel Captains, sweeping them. “Your job is to get as close to the larger Faloran Ships as possible. Every one we sink is a blow to them.” He pauses. “The same goes for the Cogs, but they are... expendable.” No one argued with that statement, the dregs of the Navy had been selected to crew the Cogs. None of them would be missed. Though the one Pacter aboard each might.
He narrowed his eyes before he continued. “Send those heathens to the bottom of the ocean. Ram them if you can. If our intelligence is accurate, their ‘Fleet Admiral’ Corso is in command. Yet the bulk of their fleet is still dispersed. Most of their ships are still defending their homeland. Corso likely has under 20 ships. And most of them are going to be their smaller ‘Schooner’ types.”
He pointed at the map again. “The Cogs and the Caravels will take position in the front. As soon as the enemy is spotted, you will make best speed to engage.” He focuses on the Galleys. “Save your rowers until we get closer, but make best speed as soon as the enemy is in sight. Once you think you can close to board, go to full oars and sails. Hold nothing back.”
Shakpash took a deep breath. “May the Blessed Archons be with us today as we smite these heretics. Let none survive and let all who die do so with GLORY!” He finished with a shout, his fist clenched and upraised.
The rest of the room joined him a fearsome cheer at the proclamation.
Location: Faloran Fleet, Frigate Victory. Forty miles north of Senusa Harbor.
“SAILS HO!” Came the cry from the lookout in the crow’s nest. “Many sails to the North!”
Fleet Admiral Samuel Corso nodded. “That confirms what Dart just signalled us.” He said with a bored tone. He walked over to the railing and raised his own glass. “Still can’t see them from here... another hour and they will be visible.”
Samuel collapsed his spyglass before turning back to his flag Captain. “Master Traynor, see to it the men have a hot meal in them and tea before the battle.” He started heading down the stairs. “I will be back up after I have eaten myself.”
Captain Traynor saluted. “Yes sir!” He said briskly before calling for his Commander to relay the Admiral’s orders.
Location: Faloran Fleet, Frigate Dauntless. Fifty miles north of Senusa Harbor.
Taniel let a lot whistle as he surveyed the enemy fleet through his spyglass. “That is a lot of ships...” He muttered to himself frowning. He looked for another minute, counting the enemy ships before he collapsed the spy glass and started making his way down from the crow’s nest.
As he descended, he could see the long line the Frigates had formed behind Victory. The flagship had turned to the East, dragging out the time to engagement and letting the fleet present its long line to the enemy.
A few more minutes saw Taniel back on the deck of Dauntless. He made his way to the stern, where Commander Levi and Captain Geary stood. Taniel snapped a salute to the two men before speaking. “Sirs, I make the enemy fleet at least 30 ships strong. They are bearing right down at us. The smaller ships are out in front and are making best sail possible. The larger galleys are following behind them.”
Geary glanced at Levi. “They will be in range in the next ten minutes.” The Captain says after a moment of thinking. “Clear the ship for action.”
Levi nodded to the Captain before he stood forward and shouted to the ship. “LOAD AND RUN OUT THE GUNS! CLEAR THE SHIP FOR ACTION!” Levi’s voice echoed over the ship as the crew all started moving in a swirl of activity. To the untrained eye, it looked like chaos. But to a Naval officer, it was smooth and disciplined action.
Taniel headed down a hatch to the gundeck. “Get those powder charges ready!” He shouted as he stalked down the line, watching the swirl as the gun crews readied their cannons. The gun carts were pulled back and wooden spikes were used to hold them in place as a cloth bag of powder was shoved the barrel with the ram rod. Next came the cloth wrapped shell, the cloth was to keep it in place if the barrel was depressed.
That too was loaded and then rammed home with the rod. The gun captain stuck a fine goose feather down the breach, the feather itself was lined with gun powder. When lit, it would burn through nearly instantly and set off the main charge. Next, the gun port was raised and the cannon barrel was shoved through and ready to fire.
Taniel oversaw it all, making sure no mistakes were made as he walked down his half of the guns. Leftenant Jackson had the bow half as his area of responsibility.
Glancing around at the gun crews, Taniel nodded. “Good work! Now steady men. We make our shots count, wait for the order to fire!” The words might have been unneeded, but the men did relax at having the words of a Superior Officer remind them of the situation. The gun captains had their firing sticks, with the slow burn matches smoking slightly as they burned.
“Now you bastards... just keep coming.” Taniel said under his breath as he glanced out the gun port at the approaching ships.
Location: Dominion Fleet, Caravel Righteousness. One mile from Faloran fleet.
The Captain of the Caravel Righteousness watched the Faloran fleet as they closed in. The two Pacters at the front had assured him and his crew they could stop the infernal cannon fire of the Faloran’s from smashing his ship to kindling until they could close. He was still doubtful... and such thoughts were not the healthiest to be having. But he had been in battle against the Faloran’s before. Their ship Captains knew what they were doing and wouldn’t be easy to kill even if they didn’t expect so many Pacters.
He glanced ahead, one of the Cogs was about to enter firing range of one of the Faloran ships unless he missed his guess. It was under full sail and the stiff breeze was making the little ship unsteady as she did her best to close.
The Cog kept going, he could just make out the Pacter on the front. Waving his arms and somehow staying standing on the pitching deck.
Then the side of the Faloran ship erupted into white smoke.
Taniel was waiting for the order to fire. The small little ship was straining under full sail as she closed in on Dauntless’ port side. She was in range now, but the Captain obviously wanted the shots to count.
“FIRE!” Came the cry from the top deck.
Taniel shouted a second later. “FIRE! FIRE ALL!” Right before he clapped his hands over his ears. Every gun Captain put the slow burn match to his cannon in unison. Twelve 9 pound cannons fired as one with a deafening roar right into the bow of the approaching ship.
The Pacter on the deck didn’t even have a chance to realize what was going on before the 9 pound ball of iron that went right through his chest stopped him from ever wondering what all that white smoke was. The ball continued and smashed right through the central mast, causing it to crack and start to fall. Two of the shells managed to miss, even at the range they had been fired. The other 9 though crashed into the Cog. A few went in on sharp angles and punched holes below the waterline. Most though went through the thin hull like it wasn’t even there. Blood and splinters filled the air as the screams of dying men echoed through the doomed ship.
The central mast fell down, crushing a few of the unfortunate men still on the deck before it slid off into the water. The ship immediately pitched to the side as the mass of wood and sail acted as a sea anchor that threatened to capsize the entire ship.
The few men left alive didn’t care though, most had already abandoned ship and were trying to tread water as they watched Dauntless sailing along a good 400 yards away. Elsewhere along the line, the other Cogs had met similar fates. One had even caught fire somehow, the ship starting to go up in flames as it drifted off course. Its helmsman dead and the ship itself taking on water.
The Faloran ships sailed on through the clouds of gunsmoke as the Cogs were removed from the equation.
Location: Dominion Fleet, Galley Reconquest. Two miles from the Faloran fleet.
Navarch Shakpash swore as he observed the distant carnage. None of the Cogs had made it through. The larger Faloran ships were sailing away from the carnage they had left in their wake.
The smaller ones were firing into any of the Cogs that will looked like they could move as they followed. His Caravels were turning to intercept the Faloran fleet. His Galleys were angling to follow. So far, he had lost 5 ships and not even inflicted casualties on the enemy.
Still, he managed to smile grimly. “Let us see how you handle the true edge of our sword...” He said quietly. The Caravels would be closing in soon.
“FIRE!” Taniel screamed before the cannon he was standing over shot again. The round shot went flying out towards the Caravel closing on them and once again seemed to hit a wall in mid air. This time though, the shell didn’t stop, it kept going before it lodged into the bow of the enemy ship. The impact wasn’t much, but it was the first hit they had scored on this ship.
“THE PIT DAMN THEM!” Taniel screamed as more cannons along the deck fired. The caravels had been engaging the fleet for twenty minutes now. Right at the start, Valiant had been caught by five of them and the Pacters had ripped the Frigate apart. Valiant had gone done firing and at least two of the Caravels had paid the price for getting too close.
Yet that didn’t change the fact the fleet had lost Valiant. Not to mention the four Schooners who had gone to Valiant’s aid and been sunk in turn. That was nearly a third of the fleet lost already.
And Victory wasn’t doing too well either. She was still at the head of the fleet but her speed had dropped and she had started listing to port. Dauntless, Courageous, Intrepid and Renown were holding their own still. Though Courageous and Renown had taken minor hits when the Pacters managed to break through their fire and close into range.
“Load chain shot and aim for the mast!” Taniel barked to the rest of the gun crews. They looked surprised for a moment before the crews bent to it. They were tired, they had been firing continuously for too long. But the Faloran crews were well drilled and managed to complete the loading in just under a minute.
The two Caravels were still closing straight towards Dauntless. “Wait for the down roll!” Taniel ordered as he held his hand up. The gun captains all looking to him. Peering through the port, Taniel watched as Dauntless hit the bottom of her current wave. “FIRE!” Came the order as his hand swept down.
The Twelve cannons all fired, six aimed at each ship. The chain shot whirling through the air like bolos as they smashed through the weakened barriers the Pacters were trying to hold. Smashing mast, spar and sail, the two Caravels started drifting as their main masts fell down along their decks. A few crew members were crushed and the Pacters on the left ship jumped into the water to avoid meeting the same fate.
“Reload! RELOAD! Double shotted round shot! Send them to the bottom!” Taniel ordered as he swept down the line, keeping an eye on the men as they loaded double powder charges and two rounds into each cannon.
The two Caravels, drifting without their mainsail to push them forward floated slowly forwards. The two Pacters left on the right ship desperately waiting for it to get into range. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get a chance as Dauntless fired again. The double shot managed to punch through the barrier they hastily tried to erect. The splinters and blood flew as twelve spheres of iron punched through the ship.
Dauntless sailed on, slowly catching up with Victory. A few more broadsides sank the last two Caravels the Dominion Fleet had. The ten galleys they had left were rowing towards the remaining Faloran ships though.
Taniel made his way up the main deck and then aft. “Sirs.” He said snapping a salute to Captain Geary and Commander Levi. “Unfortunately I must report that we are running low on both ammo and powder.” He says to the two. “The damn spirit shields made us shoot at least three times as many shots if not more to sink every ship.”
Captain Geary nodded unhappily. “Those Galleys won’t go down easy... and they are aiming to board.” He glances at Levi. “Commander, break out the weapons and ready the crew to repel boarders.”
Levi nodded. “Sir.” He said calmly giving a salute of his own before he headed off to organize the crew.
Captain Geary turned to Taniel. “Leftenent, you are in charge of our Marines.” He said to the younger man. “I heard how you handled yourself on the island. I expect the same here.”
Taniel snapped a salute. “Sir!” He said before he headed down to find the Marine Brigadier in charge of Dauntless’ marine contingent.
The galley was under full oars, over 300 men working in unison to drive the large ship through the water. The Faloran Flagship was firing at them, but it was inaccurate, slow fire and the galley had a thick hull.
Shakpash could make out the name on the rear of the ship now. It said Victory. “Prepare to board!” He yelled out as the larger galley swept up beside the Faloran ship. “Now take the bastards!”
Just as the ships were about to slide together, Victory fired her full broadside across the enemy deck. Shakpash realized what happened instantly as he watched his lined up crew cut down like wheat before a scythe from the massed canister shell. “Their gun crews were fine!” He swore pounding the rail.
Then an angry roar came from the survivors as the ships crashed together. Lines were tossed across to secure the ship as men went scrambling up the side of the enemy ship. Armed men appeared on the rails and there was the bark of rifles firing as more of his men died.
Yet it didn’t help as the rowers started streaming up onto the deck to join the attack. The enemy ship only had a small contingent to resist boarding. Shakpash had nearly 400 men on his ship to assault them with. He might have lost a good chunk of them to that dirty trick, but he had enough left to take the ship.
Shakpash grinned as he watched his men starting to make some headway on the assault, then it widened as he watched the other Galley, Faith sweeping in to come along on the Faloran’s other side. And he still had one other trump card in reserve...
Samuel Corso fired his pistol over the side of his ship, watching the Dominion sailor fall back as it caught him in the chest. He calmly handed it back to the Ensign standing beside him. “Reload please.” He said as he took the other pistol the Ensign had already reloaded.
The Marines and Sailors aboard Victory were somehow managing to keep the enemy from climbing up to the higher ship. It was a slim advantage that was going to fade as soon as they managed to make it to the top.
His ship was doomed, Samuel realized. Him along with it in all likelihood. Still, he would go down fighting. Not whimpering like a child.
Then he heard a cry and watched as the second Dominion galley slipped along their other side. His eye’s widened for the barest moment. The crew were all looking to him as the realization of how bad the situation truly was hit them.
“Come on lads, today is a good day to die!” He yelled before he grabbed the last pistol he had and shot one more Dominion sailor off. He then drew his sword. “Victory won’t go quietly into the night!”
There came a ragged cheer from the rest of the crew as they all redoubled their efforts to keep their deck free of invaders. The reserves had already gone to the other side to repel the newest force that was attacking them.
Samuel looked and frowned as he spotted Dauntless coming towards them under full sail. The galleys had them drifting and their port side was towards the other Frigate’s bow. “Oh they can’t be serious...” He muttered before he had to give his full attention to the man trying to climb up the rail.
Dauntless and her two Schooner escorts, Dagger and Dart were bearing down on the entangled ships.
Taniel and the Marines were all in the bow. They had gotten lucky and the broadsides from the three ships had disabled the two Galleys that had been trying to close with them. They were still active and dangerous, but incapable of catching them with so many of their sweeps destroyed by round shot.
Captain Geary had spotted the trouble Victory was having and had them under full sails as they moved to help.
Taniel frowned as he brought his spyglass up. Victory had been boarded by two of the Galleys and though the Falorans still held the deck, they wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer.
“All hands, brace for impact!” The Captain shouted.
Taniel whirled to look at the Captain. Then he turned back to look at tangle of ships that they were rapidly approaching with no chance of slowing down. “Oh fuck.” He said before he grabbed the rail and knelt down to be ready for the impact. The Marines around him doing the same.
The crew on the Galley Faith that had slid along Victory’s port side were in the process of trying to assault the higher Faloran ship. The ship had plenty of handholds to climb on, but the men on the top were just as determined to keep them off as they were to get up.
One of the men waiting to climb up suddenly gave a cry. “Oh shit!” He said before he ran away from the ocean side rail. Other men turned to see what was going on. Just in time to see the bow of the Frigate Dauntless slam into the side of their ship. The Galley’s side hull was not as thick as the bow and nowhere near up to stopping the several thousand tons of wood doing nearly 9 knots that slammed into it.
The Galley’s side crumpled in with the screech of wood buckling and snapping as the Frigate essentially ran over the Galley. Many men were unfortunate enough to be directly in the path of the Frigate and were crushed between the unforgiving timbers of the two ships. More of the deck crumpled and cracked before Dauntless finally came to a stop as she nudged up against Victory’s side.
The Galley was already taking on a lot of water and starting to slip beneath the waves. A good chunk of her crew was dead and more were added to the reaper’s tally as Dauntless depressed her broadside cannons and put a load of grapeshot across the deck to either side.
No one could blame the survivors for abandoning ship at that point. And there weren’t any officers left alive to try and bring order to the confusion.
Taniel was on his feet and vaulting onto the deck of the flagship as soon as he regained his balance. He heard the sharp impacts of boots on deck as the Marines followed him.
He led the charge to Victory’s starboard side and quickly drew one of his pistols and shot down to hit one of the Dominion sailors. He was vaguely aware of the fact that he was standing next to his father. “Sir.” He managed after a moment, giving his father a salute.
Samuel Corso nodded. “I see you brought reinforcements Leftenant.” He paused and was about to say something else when there was an explosion of fire 20 feet away from them.
Everyone was knocked flat as the blast of flame killed a good ten men outright and licked at the deck. Thankfully the ship itself didn’t catch fire, though a few sailors near to the blast were not as lucky.
“Pacter.” Samuel snarled. He turned to look at his son and was shocked when Taniel grabbed the pistol out of his hand and shoved it into his gun belt.
“With me men! We need to kill that pacter!” Taniel shouted to the Marines he had brought from Dauntless. The crew on the galley had swarmed to the area of the explosion, hoping to get aboard with the distraction.
With that, he leapt over the rail and fell the 8 feet to the Galley’s deck below. Taniel rolled with the impact and came to his feet drawing two pistols as he did. The two pistols barked death and smoke as Taniel gunned down the nearest men trying to rush him.
Tossing the spent pistols aside, Taniel drew two more as the Marines came down behind him. They quickly lined up and each man armed with a bayoneted rifle fired into the mass of men. At this range, the bullets punched through as many as two or three men before finally coming to a stop.
Taniel was heading for the aft of the galley, where he could see a man standing and making gestures with his harms. The tattoos and fine clothes marked him as a powerful pacter. He aimed the pistol in his right hand and fired at the man.
The bullet whizzed off an invisible section of air and buried itself in the deck. Not deterred, Taniel aimed with the pistol in his left hand and fired again. This one also whizzed off. The majority of his 40 Marines were focused on keeping the galley crew busy, but he had a few men at his back.
Taniel tossed both pistols away, the two gunbelts visible across his chest empty now as he drew his sword and charged at the pacter. He and the marines immediately got involved in a melee with the few sailors in range to intercept them. With cries of “Death to the heretics!” They charged to keep their Pacter safe until he could turn the battle to their favor.
Shakpash stood behind Pacter Shirkash. The man was actually related to him, a cousin on his Mother’s side. He had asked the Pacter to stay his hand until the boarding had happened. Figuring it would be the nasty surprise that would break the Faloran’s spirit and allow him to take their flagship.
It had almost worked, then that one young man had led a charge that had the deck turned into a swirling melee. Where the well trained and musket armed Faloran Marines were proving to be deserving of their reputation as skilled fighters.
Taniel’s sword cut down another man and the three marines still standing behind finished off the rest of the attackers.
They headed up the stairs to the aft deck and stopped when the pacter was standing there. He flicked his hand at them and a rush of wind tried to knock them off the ship. Taniel and two of the marines fell down against the rail.
The third man went over the rail with a scream that ended with a splash of water. Taniel slowly got to his feet, the two marines groaning as they did the same.
He froze as the Pacter looked at them with his head tilted to the side. “Persistent...” He said with a low growl of annoyance. He raised his hand again but wasn’t able to get anything off before the three men yelled and charged at him.
Unfortunately for the two marines, they got attacked from the rear as the Navarch came up from the stern cabin. The first marine went down and suddenly it was an even fight. Taniel and the marine turned and put the railing at their back as they aimed their sword and rifle at the two men.
Navarch Shakpash finished off the downed marine with a quick thrust. He looked at the two remaining men and then towards the swirling melee that had consumed the rest of the deck. "Well come on then, get on with it. The usual destiny and honor speech!" Pacter Shirkash said to Taniel.
Taniel glances at the one Marine still with him and tries to decide what to do next.
"Can you swim, sir?" the marine inquired, peering backwards at the waves below.
"Uh, no." Taniel mumbled, pointing his pistol between the various enemies converging on them.
"Shame on you, sir." the marine added, before firing his pistol towards the Pacter.
The Pacter gestured with his hand, and the bullet exploded against an invisible shield, as predicted. Taniel took a shot at the enemy Navarch, who saw him aiming and tried to duck out of the way. The Navarch took a hit, but how severe the wound was, Taniel could not tell. Either way, the Navarch smashed into the deck, depriving his galley of its leader. Outraged Dominion soldiers rushed at them.
"Any ideas, marine?"
"Name's Jean, sir." Then the marine grabbed Taniel by the collar and pushed him over the edge of the boat. Taniel screamed, flailing miserably as he fell. He hit the water with a shocking thud and splash, his head vanishing under the water. Water rushed his open mouth and burned his eyes, and he tried to punch his way back above the water. Seconds later, a white explosion reverberated under the water before his eyes. The bubbles cleared, revealing the marine, Jean. Jean pulled him above the water.
"Damn you, Jean!" Taniel managed, before swallowing some water.
"Don't panic, sir." Jean said. "I'm going to teach you how to swim."
Within ten minutes, they were clinging on to some loose rope flopping through the water, which trailed down from the Dauntless. Sailors eventually noticed Taniel and Jean during a lull in the fighting, and tried to help them clamber back up on deck.
By the time Taniel crawled onto the deck, the fight was dying down. The enemy galley was sinking, and the Dauntless had managed to disengage. A few marines had been forsaken aboard the galley, but it was a necessary sacrifice.
Time: The day after the battle of Senusa Location: Senusa Harbor
The Dauntless sailed back into port, followed by the limping ships of what remained of the fleet. Victory was still floating, though barely. After her, Courageous was the only other frigate to return from the battle. Though she had some fairly heavy damage as well. Not as bad as Victory though. Following in the wake of their larger brothers, the Schooners had taken just as bad losses. Of the ten that had sailed, only five returned. And two were so beat up they might have be retired if not rebuilt from scratch.
The fleet was victorious, but the mood was dour among the crew. This was the worst battle in recent history for losses on the Faloran side. They had suffered over 50% casualties. While they had inflicted nearly 80% casualties on the enemy. Yet even that rate of exchange was in the Dominion's favor. They had more ships and more men to keep throwing at the Faloran's until they simply fell under an onslaught.
Taniel reflected on all this as he helped get Dauntless secured to the dock. Even after ramming the enemy galley, Dauntless was the least damaged Frigate left. Courageous had lost nearly her entire port broadside and a chunk of her hull due to boarding and powder charges going off. Victory had pumps going all the time to keep her from going under. It would take a drydock to repair her hull. If they even bothered to. She was an older Furious class Frigate after all.
Trotting down the ramp, Taniel looked around at what remained of the once proud fleet. The battle had broken more than their ships, it had taken their morale and fighting spirit as well. "Well, no one ever said a battle for survival would be easy." Taniel said shaking his head. He watched Levi approaching him.
"Its not all bad boy." Levi said with a slight grin that wasn't able to reach his eyes. "The tale of a certain 'Black Jack' is growing with every retelling. A man crazy enough to lead a charger onto an enemy galley against a Pacter? Cold enough to go toe to toe with one? Who has already survived more than one trying to kill him?" Levi laughed. "You will be held up as an example as much as the Invictus was."
Taniel frowned at him. "I did what I needed to do. I didn't save the Marines with me the first time. Another man died instead of me. I am no hero. Just the salamander that can survive the fire where its hottest." He said bitterly. "But I suppose that doesn't help does it?"
Levi shook his head, his mood turning grave as well. "People want heroes. Men larger than life. Who don't fail. Who do the impossible. They want to know its possible to win. And they will love you. Until you fail. Then they will tear you apart like sharks with the scent of blood." Levi said before clapping him on the shoulder. "Just make sure you never disappoint your own legend."
Taniel just nodded. He turned when he heard footsteps coming down the dock. Both Levi and Taniel snapped to attention and saluted when they saw who it was. "Sir!" They said in unison.
Fleet Admiral Corso looked them both over for a moment. "At ease." He said, watching them both relax into a more comfortable but still respectable attention. "The battle is over. You both did fine jobs." He looked at Taniel, no trace of fatherly affection there. "I expect a great career out of you Leftenant."
With that, he kept going. Taniel broke all discipline and just stared after him, fists clenched and anger evident. But he didn't say a word. Just turned and walked away. From the man he doubted he would ever call Father again.
While the Faloran navy had fought off the Dominion the previous day, the Kutandan army had struck at Senusa that very same night. The Dominion had poured its all into the assault, its forces swarming past the walls. Senusa had nearly fallen, but the city buildings had been turned into places from which Falorans could snipe and use hit and run tactics. Eventually, the enemy had been pushed back out of the city, onto the plains, where the artillery finished them off.
Taniel began to head back towards the Dauntless, glad that for the time being, the war was over. The Dominion would take a few months to lick its wounds, and by then, Senusa could be reinforced. Taniel would probably be assigned elsewhere by then.
Things were finally starting to look up.
He braced himself for disaster to strike, because fate tended to have a cruel humour when people are optimistic, but nothing happened. With a sigh of relief, he approached the docks, seeing the Dauntless swaying casually on the waves. With a shout of delight, he broke into a jog, glad to leave Senusa behind him.
Then the ship exploded.
The ensuing wave of heat and the blast that followed sent Taniel to the ground, all noise dying in his ears.
When the smoke cleared, and his ears stopped ringing, Taniel stuttered to his feet. People were shouting and screaming, figures moving through his field of vision. Whether it was towards the ruins of the Dauntless or away from it, he could not tell.
He awoke in a bed, in one of the gutted out buildings of Senusa. That was his guess, anyway. Outside, the sun was going down. Taniel's body ached.
Something was pressing down on him - despair? It certainly was not just the pain.
Struggling to right himself, Taniel sat up in his bed, eyes wild. Someone pushed him back down, and he managed a muffled scream.
Taniel stopped fighting. He focused his eyes - it was Levi, sitting at his bed.
"We were lucky."
"What? What happened?" Taniel rasped.
"Dominion sabotage is the common guess around here." Then Levi's expression darkened. "But I'm not so sure. I was just in a meeting with my superiors about a seemingly unrelated matter, which is how I escaped the blast."
Leftenant Levi nodded darkly, a gleam in his eye. "I'm secretly with the Office of Naval Intelligence. Last night, during the siege, a party of spies working for the Republic stole into the city after sabotaging the enemy positions. Then chaos broke out. We found the general murdered, and a stranger assassinated one of the Lord Magisters, Nikodimus."
"Yes. We took him prisoner, and were about to interrogate him, only our guards found him missing this morning. Mercus Vitina was gone as well. So whoever the rescued prisoner is, it seems that he has friends in the city. Friends who may be the ones responsible for destroying the Dauntless."
"But why the Dauntless?" Taniel had to fight back a sudden wave of nausea.
"It may be related to the Aras Isles, Taniel. That's my guess. There was already an attempt on your life, specifically. And now Mercus Vitina is gone. The Office of Naval Intelligence has some suspicions. And the supposed spies who stole into the city last night bore remarkable runed blades, some of which we are now studying. We would question Nikodimus, but he is dead. We suspected the College of Binders might be behind all of this, but if it was, they would not have killed Nikodimus."
Taniel's attention broke away from the exposition, because all he could think of was the Dauntless. It was an absolute outrage, it was insulting, it was disgusting, it was dishonourable - it was murder. His fists clenched, his temper boiled, his injuries ached. He swore that whoever had done this would pay. If they were still in the city, he would find them, somehow. "What of the others, Levi?"
Levi blinked and realised what was being asked of him. He bore a sudden sad and wistful look. "Captain Geary is dead, along with most of the crew. Wilson was out drinking, so he escaped, and Carter is grievously injured. I'm sorry, Taniel."
Taniel just collapses onto his bed and looks up at the ceiling. He takes a deep breath and releases it. "Well, then what happens now?" He asks after a good minute of silence.
Levi shrugs. "That is up to you kid. Your father is likely to fast track your career. You won't get a say in the matter. Give it a few years and you will have your own ship to command." Levi looks pensive. "Assuming you survive that long, someone clearly wants to kill you."
Shaking his head, Taniel glances at Levi. "And what happens to you?" He asks carefully.
"I get to babysit you for the rest of my now static career. Your father made that quite clear." Levi replies with just a hint of anger.
Taniel swears creatively. "Well, I promise I will do my best not to make it any worse for you." He says to Levi, his tone falling flat at how hollow of an offer that is.
Levi just shakes his head and gets up to leave. "Get some rest. Mourn your dead." He says to Taniel. "Tomorrow will come whether we like it or not." Then he walked out of the room.
Taniel was awoken at night by something being thrown over his head. He panicked, certain that this time, his death had come, that his assassin had caught up with him, that his luck had run out.
Mumbling and swinging, Taniel was lifted out of his bed. "You'll never take me alive!"
"Silence, sweet prince. No more pain, only dreams."
After about five minutes, the bag was lifted from Taniel's head and he was sat down somewhere. He found himself staring up into the face of a muscled thug. Beside him stood Levi. "We're pretending that we're both dead. Are you willing to keep a low profile for a while? Enough time to get us out of Senusa, get ourselves in a better position to defend ourselves?"
"Well, I'm not about to say no, am I? Did you really have to kidnap me, by the way?"
Levi put a finger to his lips. "Silence. I've had it arranged. You're on the list of soldiers killed in action. We leave Senusa... tonight!"
Location: Classified Republic Shipyard Time: One month later
Taniel got off the Schooner Dart and stepped onto the dock. Levi was quick to hop off after him. "Schooners are fast... but they don't make for the most comfortable of rides." Levi said as he stretched and looked around. The area was bustling with activity as men carried things here and there. Their schooner was the smallest ship there and was dwarfed by some of the cargo galleons docked as well.
Taniel looked around and let out a low whistle. "This place puts the Midium port to shame. Yet... I don't ever remember seeing this on the maps. What the hell is this Levi?" Taniel asked. "And why do I get the feeling that asking is going to get me killed?" He quirked an eyebrow, amused more than frightened.
Levi gestured grandly. "This is the Bolt Hole Shipyards and Naval base. The Republic's best kept secret." He grins at Taniel. "And yes, you will be staying here for the immediate future."
Taniel nodded to Levi and looked around. "And what will I be doing here?" He asks warily.
Levi grinned. "Why training of course. We are going to need plenty of new officers for the... project we have in mind." He gestures to one of the building slips. "Take a look, the very first of the new class of ships."
Taniel let out a low whistle as he grasped how big the wooden framework in that shipyard was. "That has to be at least twice the size of an Invictus class..." Then his eyes widened as he noticed two more building slips with hulls exactly the same size. "This isn't just a normal buildup is it?"
"No Mr. Corso, it isn't." A familiar voice came from behind Taniel and he whirled. "No, we are working on something big here."
Taniel couldn't hide the grin that appeared on his face, though he still managed to snap a salute. "Sir! It is good to see you again."
"No need for that Leftenant right now." Admiral Jack Timbale said with a small smile of his own. He turned his attention to Levi. "Commander, I hear you have been looking after Mr. Corso here since I let him out from under my wing at the Academy. I must thank you for that." He gave Levi a small bow of respect.
Levi flushed with embarrassment, after Samuel Corso there was no one more decorated in the Faloran Navy than Jack Timbale. "I tried Sir... he can be a bit hard to run herd on considering how prone he is to throwing himself into combat." He gave Taniel a mock glare.
Admiral Timbale chuckled. "I am sure he did." He said amused. Then he turned back to Taniel. "As it stands Taniel, I am going to be needing a Flag Leftenant to be my assistant for the foreseeable future. I heard about what happened to your old ship... Shame about that. Captain Geary was an old friend of mine." His eyes turned hard for a moment. "We don't forget our dead. I already signed the paperwork, one of our new ships built here will be named Dauntless."
Both Levi and Taniel had similar expressions of grief and anger. "I am sure she will pay back the Dominion tenfold for their actions." Taniel said harshly. Levi gave a sharp nod of agreement.
Admiral Timbale smiled wolfishly. "Oh, I hope we do more than that... Let me give you the ten pence tour and then explain what it is we are trying to accomplish." He waved for Taniel to walk ahead of him. "Commander Levi, Commodore Sevren wants to debrief you. You will find him at the main headquarters."
Taniel and Jack walked off towards the building slips while Levi headed for the headquarters building.