It was difficult to say whether the decision to return to the Island of Empty Eyes to rally the defense was a wise one, but Harrigan’s fleet was spotted early on the 20th of Abadius by the keen eyes of Morgus the Manticore, who also gave them a general outline of Harrigan’s attack formation and the location of the much-hated Wormwood.
“Watcher think?” Chopper asked. “Try to pierce the heart?”
“It should be our responsibility to deal with Harrigan,” Feruzi said. “Their alliance will probably fall apart without him.”
“Aye,” Chopper said thoughtfully.
“I have no doubt our allies can handle most of this riffraff, anyway.”
“Right. LISTEN UP, YE SWABS!” Chopper bellowed, rather startling everyone, “We mean ta cut a bloody path ta Captain Harrigan! I need every sailor givin’ their utmost all! All hands on the bleedin’ deck! YAAAAAAAARRRRGH!”
The crew gave a hearty cheer.
“LOAD THEM UP, ROSIE!” Ezikial ordered. “Make sure you use chain bolts for the ballistae and the barrels are ready for the catapult.”
“Er, Captain,” Sandara said as the cannons and ballistae were loaded, “Do we mean ter sink, or ter board?”:
“Board. Wouldn’t do ta caount a sunk ship as a confirmed kill,” Chopper told her, winking.
“More glory innit too, I wager,” she replied, winking back.
Reiko sighed. “Right, then.” She took her position behind the wheel as the first ships engaged. In the hazy distance one of Harrigan’s ships collided with a Hell Harbor warship in a shower of splinters. Within moments both ships were heavily embattled and on fire. The Salty Flagon, Pierce Jerrell’s ship, closed with another and seemed to sprout a forest of flashing blades. The Sated Satyr intercepted a warship before it could reach the Crisis. The Wormwood was visible now, deep in the center of the enemy fleet. Behind the Crisis there was a horrendous crash as the Satyr rammed the warship, effectively taking both ships out of the fight. Ezikial, watching the carnage with an avid expression, began to sing, Sandara joining him vigorously. Only one defender remained, and the Strife managed to force it off course, giving Crisis free room to ply her guns.
“Time to make ourselves truly offensive to Harrigan,” Feruzi said.
“That’s the spirit!” Chopper told her. “Now, Ezikial!”
The cannons thundered, fully restored after their removal from the Black Marlin; the ballistae and catapults fired with less drama but equal effectiveness, chain bolts and fire barrels reducing the Wormwood’s aft rigging to flaming splinters. One of her ballistae was also shattered.
“RELOAD THAT!!” Ezikial bellowed. Reiko steered the Crisis into the void left by the shattered ballista as the boarding crews hurled grapnels onto the Wormwood, hauling the ships together. Planks were thrown across and a general surge of armed-pirates swept toward Harrigan’s flagship. “BESMARA!!!” Ezikial howled, a cry that was taken up by many.
Harrigan and his first mate Peppery Longfarthing were nowhere to be seen, but Riaris Krine and Patch Patchsalt seemed to be leading the action. Patchsalt seemed to run over the top of the crowd and viciously attacked Ezikial with a magical blade.
“Besmara’s come calling for you!” Ezikial spat at the little gnome.
“Norgorber’ll take ye first!” she shrieked in reply.
Reiko left the wheel and drew her sword, cleaving a path through the mass of enemy pirates with a placid, intent expression on her face. Body parts thumped to the deck before her. “Stand down or you taste my blade as well,” she told the pirates, and they recoiled from her.
The aft ballista fired, the bolt slamming into Ezikial and tearing a great hole through his side. Kipper, manning the ballista, shrieked with laughter. Chopper rushed forward, clearing a space around the wounded Ezikial, while Feruzi’s eye sought out Kipper. A flurry of arrows dropped him before he could take cover. Riaris Krine, bellowing every foul oath she knew, attacked Reiko with her magical boarding pike. Ezikial, somehow still on his feet, pulled out his pistols and began firing while Sandara attempted to heal his wounds. Patchsalt went down, leaving only Krine to rally the enemy pirates.
“Where’s Harrigan?” Chopper demanded.
“Like I’d tell ye ball-grabbin’ bastards!”
Shrugging, Chopper aimed his cutlass and a surge of magical water hurled Krine overboard, still swearing. “So, were IS the ruddy bastard?” Chopper demanded of the now-surrendering enemy.
“Wait, let me guess,” Feruzi grunted, “he had a headache so he stayed home in bed.”
“He ain’t here,” one of the lesser officers announced. “Doloruso’s in charge here.”
“Interesting,” Chopper said. “Let’s say hello.” He booted the door to the Captain’s quarters and bellowed, “Oy! Officer on deck!” He caught a fleeting glimpse of an unfamiliar Mwangi woman who hissed in surprise before she vanished from sight in a crackle of magical energy.
“Bloody witchcraft! Gods take the entire damned school o’ conjuration!”
“Er, may I be of service, Captain?” A timid voice asked. Chopper turned around to regard one of the surviving Wormwood officers.
“Mebbe you can.”