The Far Side of Tears, Part Two
In Part Two of this series, the L.M.S. Assault, a warship of Freeport during the Age of War, is pursued from Kaladim through the Ocean of Tears by a mysterious ship.
The captain shouted orders, running the length of the Assault, nearly colliding with several unwary sailors who heard him but did not know from which direction he was coming. We were used to the captain dashing about excitedly, often forgetting to shave one half of his face when a sudden thought arrested his morning ritual. Sometimes we smothered a grin in our hands when the captain wandered the deck, waving his shaving brush instead of his saber. This time, however, he was in deadly earnest and so were we.
Fortunately for us, we were already outside the relatively sheltered waters of the port. It would take some time for the mysterious twin ship to make it far enough into the Tears to feel the full benefit of the wind. Our sails were already full and we made good time into the Tears. The captain's goal was obviously to meet this ship where it would not have the advantage of support from the Deathfist naval vessels already surrounding Kaladim.
The Ocean of Tears could prove tricky to navigate, even under the best of circumstances. Our crew was used to the quick turns needed to dodge some of the most hazardous points in the Tears. We had run this course many times together, although usually not with a ship in pursuit. Due to our unusual design, the Assault was generally the aggressor. Other ships who attempted to out maneuver us were destroyed.
This time, however, though we were confident in the Assault's abilities, the knowledge that another ship like her was pursuing us made more than one sailor glance aft to check on her progress. She cleared the harbor easily and her sails filled with the same wind that gave us our speed. Though the mystery ship was still quite distant, we all imagined she was gaining on the Assault.
Soon it became all too apparent that the other ship was indeed gaining on the Assault, which took us by surprise. If that ship were the twin of the Assault, how could it be going fast enough to catch us when the wind favored us as much as them? The captain let loose a string of epithets he had never used before, checking the other ship's progress then bellowing orders.
One of the newest sailors, a young lad pressed into the naval service, spent much of his time heaving over the side of the ship. In one of his journeys about the deck, the captain paused to give the boy a few encouraging words before continuing his pacing. The lad wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked after the captain. That's the man the captain was, to stop and speak to someone ill despite the gyrations of his mind.
We were in the midst of the Tears, Freeport still quite a ways distant. The sun was setting beyond Antonica, tinting the sky copper and gold. This time of day was always the trickiest for us, for winds would change, rushing off the mountains and pushing across the sea. All hands had to be aware of every hint of a change in the wind's direction, and quickly adjust to it.
The twin ship did not pause in its pursuit. It continued its advance upon the Assault, like the tide. Sometimes it seemed we were outrunning it, and other times it seemed to be ever closer. A fresh slew of amazing profanity brought everyone's attention to the captain again. We followed his line of sight and to our amazement, saw that before us, between the Assault and Antonica, the sea was dotted with ships.
"Dam n them all!" the captain cried. "If those are not ships from our navy, then it would seem Freeport is taken! Avast! Change the course now; we will need to approach more cautiously." "What of the twin ship?" someone asked. The captain snorted, "We can hope those ships before us are ours, but we know the twin ship is not. Do as I say and keep up our speed."
The crew scurried to do as the captain ordered. Instead of turning ourselves to aim at Freeport, we instead turned northward to continue our journey parallel to Antonica. The gold of the sunset faded rapidly to dark blue. The black waters of the Tears slapped up against the Assault's hull as we cut through the water. Behind us, gaining with every minute, the twin ship pursued us.