Thursday, 15 May 2014

The False Moon War: Chapter 7

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to Chapter 6

Chapter 7.  The Dark Fleet

By the following morning it was clear that the Maw's Jaws could not outpace the dark fleet which ringed the western horizon behind her. Even with the entire ogre force bending their backs and heaving on oars close to splintering, she would be overhauled by the next moonrise.

Welhung shook his head.  The fleet was clearly of Naggarothii origin. "Ship oars!  Save your strength and look to your weapons!"

He would rather rest his rowers and face his hated foes sooner than exhaust the ogres in a futile race.

"Argsplat!" he addressed his trusted Irongut captain, "Get the lead belchers!  Wait, where the 'ell's your 'and?"

Argsplat was sporting a shiny bladed hook where his right hand should have been.  This was the work of the ship's smith. In addition he had two elegantly carved wooden legs, fashioned in Queen Anne style, and a jaunty eye patch. He looked somewhere between "pirate-y" and "over stuffed furniture-y."

Argsplat squinted at the hook. "I was 'aving a bet with the lads about 'ow 'igh a shark could jump out the water if you 'eld a piece of meat. I lost. You want me to get the lead belchers?"

Welhung nodded in disbelief.

Argsplat saluted crisply with the hook and lopped off his fleshy right ear. 

"Argh!" grunted the ogre. 

"Splat!" went the ear as it fell to the deck. 

He spun on his wooden heel to relay his leader's orders to the ogre party's marksmen.

Welhung had sent many individual Druchii ships into the inky darkness in the past. At the first sign of a black sail the captain would order sheets slackened until the ship wallowed slower than a mud bound rhinox. His crew he would order below decks where they would cram to one side, listing the vessel close to the point of foundering.

The sleek Dark Elf wolf-ship would approach the lowered beam and rake the exposed main deck with crossbow bolts. One they were confident that resistance would be feeble, the cruel Druchii would hurl grapnels and lash their boat to the beam of the seemingly crippled ogre ship as the crew of corsairs swarmed aboard.

At this moment the ogres would boil up from below decks and the Maw's Jaws would right itself. This would lift the sleek wolf ship clear of the water. The doomed boarders would find no escape that way, and nor would captives survive to be sold as slaves at the next port. The surprise tactic would be spoiled if the secret were revealed.

The ogres have a saying, "Jellied tongues tell no tales. And they taste delightful!"

The flotilla, which was closing around Welhung's ship like a wolf's jaws, was composed of scores of low sloops.  The traditional tactics would not work against these numbers.  Nor would efforts to ram or employ the iron toothed figure head.  This was effective against fat Tilean traders, but the wolf ships would be far too nimble.  The only sensible course of action would be to use the Maw's Jaws' elevated deck as a fire platform for the ogre lead belchers. If the Druchii were denied access to the hulk's deck, they would not be able to bring their superior numbers and martial prowess to bear.

At around the middle watch of the afternoon the Dark Elf ships were harassing the ogre vessel like a pack of wild sabretusks might harry an isolated rhinox.  Individual sloops would slice in for a close pass, release a hail of crossbow bolts and dart back out of range. This posed no great threat to the ogres protected by the high gunwales, but it prevented the gnoblar riggers from venturing aloft to maintain the sails and tack.

The Lead Belchers in their turn would unleash thunder from their hand held cannons, but little of the flying lead and scrap would find its mark on the nimble wolf ships.

The Druchii raids would come from any quarter at any time, and the ogre artillery men found themselves running from starboard to port, and from stem to stern, in response to each threat. Finally, as the lead belchers crowded the prow to impotently blast at another taunting boat, the elves attacked their real target. Another raider swept in under the aft deck and released a storm of "Y" tipped quarrels which severed the ropes which connected the great rudder to the captain's wheel above.

Under the shadow of the aft deck, the Druchii crew drove iron spikes into the rudder and adjacent hull.  These were connected by heavy rope which was drawn tight and secured such that the ogre ship's rudder was bound hard to the port side. The Maw's Jaws swung her ponderous nose to port until she was side on to the South Westerly wind. Her sails fluttered like the wings of a stricken moth.  She was dead in the water.

The devious dark elf captain and his crew did not celebrate their victory for long, tucked, as they were, under the after deck. Not for nothing is this called the "Poop Deck."

The Lead belchers may not have been able to bring their weapons to bear, but several tons of refuse from cess tanks and bilges pouring from the outlets under the aft deck can sink a ship as surely as black powder and lead.

The ogre hulk could not flee and the Dark Elf fighters could not approach close enough to board. The stalemate continued for some hours until, close to dusk, the black hearted Nagarothii prince who commanded the dark fleet chose to act.

He was a despot among despots, second only to the Druchii overlord, Malekith, in malevolence and infamy.  He had terrorised all the oceans of the world and his cruelty was legend.  He wore about his shoulders the impenetrable Sea Dragon Cloak, and about his neck the dark magic Pendant of Khaeleth.  Together these sorcerous items made him the Unkillable Dreadlord.

His name was Chuck-Norrith.

When he tired of the game of cat and mouse he turned his flagship to approach the Maw's Jaws bow on.  The predictable ogres fired a fusillade of scrap metal his way.  This caused some messy casualties on his vessel, but any shrapnel which struck him ricocheted in a brilliant shower of black sparks.  The ward of dark magic emanating from the pendant deflected them harmlessly away.

Once his ship had drifted close enough for boarding grapnels to be hurled, he raised his arms and muttered an incantation. From his outstretched hands, waves of coruscating black light poured forth and flooded the ogre's deck.

By the time the inky darkness had cleared, the ogres were confronted by the sight of Dark Elf corsairs perched on their forward deck and rails with repeating crossbows and vicious hook bladed halberds at the ready. The battle for the deck had begun.

A single ogre would easily crush a dark elven opponent, although he may later succumb to his wounds.  In open terrain, where the Druchii could move freely and fight in groups, their superior speed, initiative and skill at arms would eventually prevail over the clumsy ogres. This was doubly the case where the Dark elves were supported by marksmen, such as the crossbowmen who had now occupied the forecastle. The ogres were pushed inexorably back until only pockets remained around the hatches and clustered under the after deck.

The rest of the dark elven sloops had lashed their vessels to their flagship in a great raft which swarmed with more of the cruel brigands.

Finally, Chuck-Norrith himself stepped aboard the Maw's Jaws.

"What ith the thituation, thailor?" he demanded of a Naggarothii fighter.

"We have thecured the... secured the main deck, Sire.  The Lizardman Sorcerer is on the after deck."

The Dreadlord nodded to his subordinate. "Thee to it that the ogre tholdierth are thafely imprithoned below deckth."

At this moment a mighty ogre maneater burst from a hatch on the deck and hurtled towards the dark elf leader.  With an ear shattering howl he brought his two handed axe down upon Chuck-Norrith's head. There was a sun-burst of black light and the axe splintered into a thousand fragments.

The ogre hero stared dumbly at the elven prince who had plunged his hand into the brute's chest and now cradled the ogre's mighty heart in his spidery fingers.

"You thilly, thilly thauthage," the dreadlord intoned as he stopped the ogre's heart with a flash of dark magic. The ogre champion slumped lifelessly to the deck as Chuck-Norrith withdrew his bloody hand.

The Dark Elven prince picked his way along the gore smeared boards until he was confronted by a knot of heavily armoured defenders who were making a stand below the after deck. "Thubmit or thuffer the conthequenthes!" he called.

"What?" an exceptionally ugly and mishapen ogre raised a hook as if cupping it to a missing ear.

"Thubmit or thuffer the conthequenthes!" the Dreadlord repeated, a little louder.

"What?" the ogre captain reiterated.

"Other ear," suggested another of the ogre troopers.

"Yaa, right." The ugly ogre cleared his throat and cupped his other hand to his last remaining ear.


"Thurrender!" screamed Chuck-Norrith.

"Thurr...What?" replied the puzzled ogre.

Chuck-Norrith howled with frustration and thrust out a clenched fist.  With a thingle thortherous thyllable of thummoning he releathed..... (oops, that should be single sorcerous syllable of summoning. Thorry) he released a hammer stroke of dark force which smashed the ogre troop through the bulkhead which stood behind them.

The Dark Lord mounted the stair to the after deck and was confronted by a gaggle of gnoblars armed with frypans, rolling pins and the like.  He scattered them with a dismissive gesture.  He barely noted a small green figure slither under the ship's wheel.  He only had eyes for the cascades of magical energy streaming through a slann mage priest who was slumbering by the starboard rail.

" 'Ave a 'arpoon, 'ellion!" A mighty ogre was crouched behind a ballista of generous proportions.  "I'll 'ang your 'ead on my 'alyard!"

"I'm thorry, what did you thay?"

"I said, ' 'Ave a 'arpoon, 'ellion!  I'll I'll 'ang your 'ead on my 'alyard!' "

"Thorry, thtill didn't get it"

The ogre tyrant muttered an oath, then pantomimed the action of releasing his projectile.

"Oh I thee!  ....That ith to thay:  You may thmite me, but I cannot be thlain!  Mwah ha ha ha!"

The ogre unleashed his massive iron harpoon. The projectile deflected off the dreadlord's shimmering magical ward and zinged away to stick, quivering, into the lashing which secured the main spar to the centre mast.

Chuck-Norrith absently smote the ogre tyrant with a bludgeon of dark force, knocking him senseless against the aft rail.

The Dreadlord's only remaining concern was his prize.  He tried to touch the torrent of power pouring from the geomantic web only to be barred by a shower of silver sparks.  He pressed his hand longer against the column of magic and was showered with sparks again.  There was a tooth jarring sound like a blade being scraped on glass.

"What ith thith?" he howled in frustration.

"Your pendant," a weak voice rasped from beneath the ship's wheel.

"Thpeak, thkink!" the elf commanded the puny green reptile.

"The dark magic. It won't mix with the geomantic power. They are like oil and water. Your ward... You must remove your pendant!"  Caneghem suggested.

"Yeth, of courthe!  Then I will potheth thith power!" Chuck-Norrith tore the Pendant of Khaeleth from his neck and cast it carelessly on the deck.

With a wordless shriek of triumph he plunged both hands into the shimmering aura of power surrounding the slann.  As he let the strands of raw power run through his fingers he imagined all that he would achieve, all that he would become.

With a thought he would extinguish the life of every ogre on this vessel.  With the tiniest gesture he would plunge hated Ulthuan back under the waves.  Upon his triumphal return to Naggaroth, his Druchii would depose Malekith and raise Chuck-Norrith up to be their dark god.  From thence his dominion would spread over the whole world.

"Mwah ha ha ha ha ha!"  he howled with manic glee, "Mwah ha ha Clang!....."

Chuck-Norrith's eyes rolled back in their sockets and he slumped slowly to the deck.  Behind him stood Caneghem clutching an ogre frypan in both hands like it was a great weapon. The utensil was still reverberating like a dinner gong.  At that same moment, the quivering harpoon severed the last fibres which lashed the main spar to the mast. The mainsail fluttered down to smother the deck like a heavy blanket.

The speed and skill at arms with which the Druchii corsairs had been besting the ogres was neutralized. Their marksmen could find no targets, their halberds snagged in the rime stiffened sailcloth and their feet tangled in the loose lines and rigging on the deck. The advantage shifted to proponents of brute force and hammering fists. For most of the elven boarders, the blanketing sail became their death shroud.

The ogres soon regained control of their deck. With the benefit of their elevated position they could pound the rafted dark elf vessels with shot while remaining impervious to the renewed hail of quarrels from below.

Now it was the ogres turn to fling their grapnels into the rigging of the sloops to prevent any breaking away.  The battle was essentially over when the ogres finally wrestled one of their heavy iron blaster cannons onto the deck and gleefully punched holes into the hull of every last wolf ship.

On the after deck, Rodekhil Offaleater removed the frypan from Caneghem's vibrating fingers.

" 'E's our lucky chef, alright!" The ogre clapped the skink on the back and sent him sprawling to his knees. "Come on lads! Let's 'ave some appreciation for our lucky chef!"

Caneghem could predict what would happen next as the ogres formed a long queue to take it in turns heaping praise and affection on him.

He spied an object glimmering blackly on the deck and hurriedly put on the Pendant of Khaeleth before his admirers could congratulate him senseless.

One by one the crew slapped him on the back, or playfully boxed his... where his ears should be.  The Unkillable Skinklord smiled serenely as each crushing blow was deflected in an incandescent shower of black sparks.

to Chapter 8:  The Citadel - coming soon

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