“Commander, vessel off the starboard bow! She looks like the Maiden!”
For weeks, Commander Ridgebon, of the I.A.S. Interceptor, had been hunting the Maiden of the Sea, a pirate ship infamous for its ruthlessness in dealing with any and all it encountered. Lieutenant Anne Cash had been straining her eyes on the horizon for days, praying that she was not simply imagining the ship in the distance. Extending her spyglass, she was greeted by the sight of the grisly masthead on the distant vessel: A young woman, nude from the waist up; her face twisted in pain; a sword held in her hand, its blade extending into her abdomen. This was the Maiden of the Sea, to be sure.
“You heard her, boys! Sails to full! Bring us in close! She’s not getting away from me this time!” Commander Ridgebon stared intently towards the horizon, focusing on his quarry. Four times had the Interceptor come up on the Maiden, and each time did the pirate vessel manage to escape. Wanted for raiding dozens of merchant vessels, and not known for leaving survivors, Captain Anthony Newall was a clever foe, and knew when to run. This time, though, there would be no escape. The Interceptor was fast enough and close enough that the Maiden would not have time to flee.
“Get ready to board, boys! Anne! When she’s in range, light up some arrows and aim for her sails!” The Commander was fueled by his fury at being bested time and time again by a mere pirate. His crew would not be outdone this time.
As the Interceptor drew near to her target, the crew noticed something was amiss. There was no movement on deck, no flags of surrender flew. A single young woman stood, bound to the main mast, her hands pinned to her sides and a rag in her mouth keeping her muffled cries quiet. Something was off, but sailors are often quick to leap to the rescue of a fair young lady. Before any of the officers could shout a warning, five men were setting the gangplanks to board the sitting vessel, racing across to be the woman’s savior.
Anne’s bow, her oldest possession, slid into her hand, an arrow quickly finding its rest on the string. Her eyes scanned the ship, looking for any movement which could mean trouble. As the sailors reached the deck of the Maiden, a sudden shout sounded from the hull. Four men emerged from trapdoors in the deck brandishing swords, another two wielded bows. Lieutenant Cash drew and fired, her arrow biting deep into the chest of one of the archers, dropping him instantly. The second archer, however, had time to ensure his arrow also struck true, protruding from the neck of one of the sailors. More sailors boarded, and more pirates emerged from their hiding place, quickly turning the battle bloody.
Amidst the combat, one of the sailors, guarded by his allies, drew his knife and began sawing at the bonds imprisoning the young woman on the mast. As her arms fell free, a sinister smile drew her lips upwards, almost laughing as her hands began to move in a strange manner, conjuring the latent energy around her. Before he had time to react, the sailor who had freed the woman was hurtling through the air, clear over the guardrails and into the waiting ocean. Soon enough, another sailor was flung into the rear mast in a similar fashion, knocking him out cold. Unaccustomed to battling against forces they could not see, the sailors did their best to avoid this new threat, giving the mage a wide berth and favoring combat against the steel swords of the pirates, instead.
Commander Ridgebon had been surveying the melee from the deck of the Interceptor, waiting for his chance to strike, shouting orders to his troops. Captain Newall was still nowhere to be seen, though, so the Commander stayed his hand.
Anne was not so patient. With two arrows left, she drew and fired at the mage. If her allies would not engage her, then Anne would have to do it herself; as they say, never send a man to do a woman’s job. As the arrow screamed towards it’s target, eager to pierce a limb, it collided with the thin air around the mage with a faint wave of blue energy and fell to the ground, wasted.
Not used to fighting against magic, Anne stood in shock for a moment before nocking another arrow and releasing it as the mage began channeling another spell. As she muttered the final incantation, the arrow struck her leg, lodging itself deep in the mage’s thigh just a moment before another warding spell was completed. The annoyance on the mage’s face was matched only by the pain in her eyes, clearly a stranger to injury.
The sailors, despite their training, were hard-pressed to hold their position on the ship. They had rallied since the ambush and had maneuvered into a defensive formation to shield those wounded in the original attack. They were outnumbered, and many were distracted by the mage, fearful of being thrown overboard or worse.
During the chaos, a figure had emerged from the hull of the ship, a wiry man with a sharpened black hook where his right hand should have been and a grand red coat, one ill-suited to a life at sea. “Come on, ye salty dogs! I’ll not have me ship fall to a bunch of do-gooders!” Captain Newall shouted over his crew.
With no more arrows, Anne slid down the rigging to the deck of the Interceptor, drew her sword, and ran across the gangplank to confront the mage. Two orbs of deep blue energy appeared in the mages hands, which flew at the lieutenant. Dropping to her knees, the first bolt flew past Anne’s ear, although the second struck her leg as she went to stand again, knocking her leg out from under her, tearing a small hole in her armored skirt.
Unfazed, Anne found her footing again and charged the mage, once again being met by the strange shield. Her second strike was more successful, however, sinking itself into the mage’s left arm. Before her third blow could connect, Anne was flung through the air, landing gracelessly on her back, once again surprised by the power within this young girl. Soon enough, Anne was back on her feet and approaching the mage once more, preparing herself for another blast.
Seeing his foe on deck, Commander Ridgebon drew his sword and issued a challenge. “Captain Anthony Newall!” He shouted, his booming voice clearly audible even over the battle raging in front of him. “I, Commander Jackston Ridgebon, on behalf of the King and People of Aldoria, order you and your crew to stand down. Surrender, and justice will be brought upon you as dictated by Aldorian law. Resist, and the fury of the I.A.S. Interceptor will rain down until you beg for death! What say you?”
“I think we’ll take our chances!” Retorted Captain Newall. “We’re at an impasse, but my men are patient! We’ve got two men for each of yours. It’s only a matter of time!”
“Then let’s settle this the old way, Captain: a duel to the death. Captain to Commander. No tricks, no interference. Or have you been spending too much time with the fairies to remember what honor is?”
“If any of ye lay a finger on him before I’m through, you’ll suffer a fate worse than death! Commander, I accept! Now, draw!”
Focusing the arcane power within her, the mage produced a scintillating ball of energy and hurled it at the lieutenant, striking her in the stomach. Anne fell to her knees, feeling as though someone had punched the air out of her lungs. She stood to attack the mage again, but found herself blinded. Stumbling around, struggling to gain her bearings, Anne knew she was at the mercy of the mage. She heard the shuffling of feet approaching her head on, the dragging of the leg she had shot. It was no use, Anne’s mind was alert, but her body was sluggish at best. She tried to brace herself for what was to come, only to have the sense knocked back into her as she once again was sent flying, this time both backwards and upwards, carried aloft on a wave of concussive force. The lieutenant crashed into the deck, her sword torn from her hand as she began her flight, her pauldron knocked askew by the impact. The mage, giving the same sinister grin she flashed at the first sailor she sent reeling, kicked Anne’s sword through a grate, into the hull. Out of reach, out of the fight.
The two men circled each other, each taking minor swipes at the other. The attacks were meant to test the opponent, not to inflict any damage. For what seemed like an hour, the duel progressed, neither side making any effort to strike. With a quick lunge, Captain Newall ended the game, aiming straight for the Commander’s heart. Far too experienced to be taken by surprise, the Commander raised his blade, deflecting the Captain’s cutlass harmlessly to the left. A number of cuts and thrusts followed from the Commander, each expertly blocked by his opponent. Back and forth they went, nothing more than a few minor scrapes on each.
“I grow bored with this game.” Captain Newall declared. “Hansel! Fransel! Now!”
At his command, two hulking brutes stepped out of the crowd, grabbing Commander Ridgebon by the arms and hoisting him from the ground.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, Jackston. Expecting a pirate to fight fair? I’m disappointed in you,” Newall scolded, pacing back and forth between his captive. The Commander made no effort to respond. Even his face remained stoic, almost amused. “Well, we might as well end this!” Captain Newall drew his arm back to strike deep into Commander Ridgebon’s heart. In a flash, the Commander’s foot shot up, connecting with the Captain’s groin, sending him reeling on the floor, his sword clattering to the deck. Several sailors descended upon the men holding their Commander, quickly dispatching them and forming a barrier around the two officers.
“To the death, Newall.” Commander Ridgebon slowly walked up to the Captain, who was just starting to regain his footing, his fist clenched. A man of many tricks, however, Captain Newall quickly drew a dagger from his boot and lunged at the Commander, taking him by surprise, leaving the knife lodged in the Commander’s hip before falling to his knees. The Commander, born and raised a sailor, had grown accustomed to such pain, however: with a small groan, he drew the dagger from his own flesh, driving it down into his opponent’s back. “Now,” Ridgebon announced, addressing the pirate crew, “Get the hell off my ship.”
Anne and the mage paid no mind to the fight between the officers. They were both more worried with staying alive. As Anne recovered from the previous blast, she reached for her father’s dagger, always in her belt. Once again she charged the mage, who was visibly exhausted, physically and mentally, by this fight. Once again, two glowing blue orbs appeared in the mage’s hands, prepared to throw at her target. The first bolt struck the lieutenant’s right shoulder, sending her stumbling to the ground and knocking the dagger from her grip. With too much momentum to turn and grab the weapon, Anne resumed her charge, tackling the mage to the ground. Raining down blows with her leather-bound fist, Anne saw the mage’s hand, still holding the second orb, just as it was about to strike her. Not sure what to expect, the lieutenant grabbed the mage’s wrist with both hands, forcing her body weight down upon her young foe, inching the magical orb closer and closer to the mage’s chest.
In a final, desperate gambit, the mage forced the bolt from her hand, striking Anne just below her ribs. Without her armor to absorb the blow, Anne was taken aback by the force with which she was hit. She felt a rib crack, and fell to the ground, laying beside her magical opponent, who was unnaturally still. Her face bloody and swollen, the mage had summoned every last ounce of strength left in her body to throw her final spell, praying for a miracle. None came for her that day.
The day had been won. Captain Newall was dead, the Maiden of the Sea was in Aldorian custody, and losses were minimized on both sides. After getting patched up with the ship’s surgeon, Anne returned to her normal perch in the crow’s nest. She did not keep watch this night. She was too concerned with her fight against the mage, and how unprepared she was for such power. Silently, Anne prayed. She prayed for the souls of her crew mates who had been lost during the fight. She prayed for the pain in her ribs to stop. Mostly, though, she prayed to never have to fight another mage like that again.