The two sailors looked at the drenched half-elf in disbelief, as though he were a spectre in the night. Not sure why one of the passengers was out here in the rain and gloom asking odd questions, one of the sailors shouted back over the driving rain, ‘How far are who off?’
Kireth scowled back, about to admonish the impudent young sailor for his flippant reply when he suddenly realised that the crew had no idea that a ship was heading directly towards them. Thoughts flashed through his mind, then he turned and looked up towards the top of the main sail, his hand sheltering his eyes from the downpour.
Zero was the last to leave the common room, allowing everyone to pass before him. As he stepped onto the deck and into the rain and wind his fears about the journey flooded back to him. ‘I knew this was all a bad idea,’ he muttered to himself. ‘I could be in bed with Meredith Kilner right now. She bloody well told me I was welcome any time.’
He slipped over, crashing his arm into the floor near the fo’c’s’le stairs and continued his grumbling, ‘But no, I had to go with my friends instead, didn’t I? And now I’m soaked through, freezing, and about to be chopped up by some bloody pirates of all things!’
He steadied himself before another lurch of the ship took his feet from under him and he was thrown face-first towards the main mast, grabbing hold of the ropes at the base just too late. ‘Bloody pirates!’ he repeated, spitting out blood from his split lip.
Khalin brought him out of his reverie, barking orders in his booming dwarven voice. It seemed louder than the roar of the storm and could be heard clearly across the night.
‘By Moradin’s beard, why are none of your crew out here, Abrahams?’ Khalin bellowed across the deck searching the night. He looked up to the Crow’s Nest to see what the watchmen were doing, his keen dwarven sight making out the Nest easily in the gloom.
Both Kireth and Khalin saw the two slouched figures at the same time, one inside the Nest pinned to the mast, the other hanging out of the Nest, dangling by the very rope that was there to tie him into the small lookout point. Their silhouettes against the lightning filled sky revealing a crossbow bolt or arrow sticking out in mockery from their necks.
The dwarf reacted first, his combat and tactical training coming to the fore. ‘Tradden,’ he commanded, ‘strike that bell there for your life!’ and pointed his warhammer at the great bell strapped to the base of the mast. ‘Tradden. Get on with it. Tradden?’ he repeated, looking around for the lithe youth, nowhere to be seen.
Celestia picked up quickly on the dwarf’s urgency and skipped lightly across the deck to the bell and rang it furiously, alerting the crew to their previously unknown peril.
‘We need advantage,’ continued Khalin, booming out instructions. ‘Get thee to the quarterdeck, Master Zero, and you m’lady Celestia. Where is that damn boy?’
Celestia clasped her amulet in her fist and whispered a silent prayer to Melora before removing the morningstar from her belt, comforted by its weight in her hands. She peered into the gloom, still trying to locate Kassar, the treacherous vermin, but only shadows greeted her gaze.
Hatches and doors began to open as the trio headed towards Kireth and his vantage point, and some of the crew came out to see what the alarm was for. Captain Abrahams seemed to be the best prepared, a sharp cutlass held ready in one hand.
As Abrahams quizzed Khalin and Celestia for the cause of the commotion, a great flash of light erupted in the sky as a lightning bolt fizzed down and struck the top of the main sail followed by a deafening boom. In the brief moment of illumination the party all saw as one the giant black sail mere yards from their own ship and began to hear a rhythmic clash of spear on shield, almost mocking the echo of the thunderbolt.
Zero’s thoughts sobered in that instant and a calm and focus came over him. He unclipped his crossbow from his belt and took up position at the top of the stairs on the quarterdeck.
‘Prepare to repel boarders!’ he shouted, his voice clear and true, as sailors darted about frantically, setting rigging and pulling out knives and belaying pins ready for action.