The wind rose clear and strong the day the Sacred Star sailed into its home port of Constantos, pulling the two masted schooner through the water with effortless grace and speed even with its mainsail unrigged in preparation to dock. It carried them towards the docks more quickly than they really wanted, but the crew were seasoned veterans of the seas and knew their trade well… the helm kept the ship carefully under control as the officer on watch shouted calls to the sailors working the smaller sails, adjusting their speed and heading as the ship sailed past two merchant schooners on their way out, creeping slowly against the same breeze that carried the Sacred Star into port, as if the wind was eager to get home as well.
That suited Eliana just fine. The ship’s captain stood against the rail on the read of the castle, the wind tossing her red hair over her shoulder as she waited with barely concealed anticipation. Her was resplendent in her navy blue uniform, in full dress in preparation for her return home. It itched horribly… she hated it, but the formalities had to be observed, and a captain of the Empire couldn’t be seen coming into port looking sloppy no matter how much she wished she could. Three weeks… They had been gone three damned weeks and for nothing. Whatever pirate ship the schooner had reported encountering had vanished without a trace, if it had ever existed at all. More likely, the captain had offloaded his cargo at some smuggler’s den on a nearby island and claimed piracy to have his company insurance cover the goods… it would hardly be the first time. This close to the Empire’s Mainland, piracy was not a common problem like it was further to the south or the east… most of her duties as the garrison captain of Constantos had to do with tracking down and intercepting smugglers and making sure taxes were paid than it did with preventing piracy. She already had a report written suggesting an investigation of the merchant’s story, but as far as she was concerned her role in the unfolding story was over… it was a bureaucrat’s problem now.
Eliana watched her crew work with quiet pride. She didn’t command what the navy would consider its elite… she didn’t serve on a warship or in a more dangerous area, but she would believe in her crew to best any of those serving about an Imperial Man-o-War any day. They required no instructions from the captain to do their jobs now, working efficiently to bring the ship into port… just a hundred feet away now. She heaved up from the rail, her polished boots clicking against the well-waxed deck. She nodded at the Bosun as she passed, adjusting her cap slightly. “First watch stays behind,” she instructed him. “Second watch, shore leave for 24 hours then they are back here, and first watch is free to go. Everyone else, 3 days leave. You don’t leave until we have food and water ready to go, understood?”
The balding man gave her a salute. “Yes Captain. Consider it done.” Then he relaxed his formal pose and winked at her. “Eager to get to the Garrison, are we?”
Eliana gave him a tight smile before turning her gaze back to the approaching dock. Fifty feet. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said primly, a glitter in her eyes that the Bosun couldn’t see but knew was there.
“Course you don’t. Have fun. I’ll have the ship stocked up by the time you get back.”
Twenty feet to the dock. “See to it you do, sir. Never know when we’ll have to set sail again.”
He groaned. “You don’t think they’ll send us out again so soon do you? Then men deserve a break.”
Five feet. Eliana shrugged. “Never know,” she said, and climbed up over the rail and leaped the ten feet down to the dock just before the ship bumped into it, not willing to wait for the crew to finish tying the Sacred Star up and for the gangplank. The Bosun was managing the watch for now… her duty was discharged, and she had better things to do… and people to do them with. She strode down the dock, returning salutes from the soldiers and sailors both that offered them, but her eyes never left the fortress keep build into the side of the island overlooking the docks. Eliana tried to keep her pace even and calm, but despite her best efforts she found herself a hundred paces ahead of where she should be, moving slightly faster with each one.
The captain stepped off of the docks and onto solid land with an unconscious grace that didn’t desert her even when the ground no longer swayed beneath her feet, solid in a way the veteran sailor was rarely accustomed to. As she approached the keep a guard half rose in challenge, then waved her past before she could even identify herself, knowing her by face. She swept past him and through the keep’s courtyard in record time, reaching the stairs that would lead up to the upper levels in a smooth trot. She couldn’t help herself… she went up the stairs two at a time, smiling in self deprication as she thought about how it must make her look, but she didn’t care enough to control herself better… Eliana was in a hurry.
She hadn’t quite reached the door at the end of the hallway before it opened, and a beautiful girl stood in the doorway. Her blonde hair shined with light coming in the windows behind her, making the stark white of her officer’s uniform seem almost blinding as it clung close to her skin. She was young, twenty five summers, just a few years younger than Eliana herself, but the smile she broke into when the red haired captain broke into a jog was anything but mature… closer to a teen at seeing her first crush. Celia was slightly taller than the captain was, slightly wider at the shoulders with stronger curves that betrayed the corded muscle hidden beneath her white uniform.. But to Eliana she looked as inviting as possible. She pulled the blonde woman into an embrace, twined her arms around her neck and buried her face into the space between Celia’s throat and shoulders shoulder, holding tight. She smelled like cinnamon and roses, like satin sheets and fleshly cleaned clothing.
Celia pressed her lips against Eliana’s ear as they embraced. “Welcome home lover,” she whispered, pulling her backwards into her office before kicking the door shut behind them. She promptly gathered her face between her hands and captured her, kissing her mouth thoroughly, luxuriating in the little gift she had missed while her loved had been at sea. Eliana returned it with slowly building heat for several moments, her tongue teasing against the other woman’s teeth and lips for a second before breaking it off, softly catching the blonde woman’s lip between her teeth before pulling backward and releasing.
In theory, the Empire didn’t approve of couples within its military. In practice, it just didn’t want to know about them… as long as they kept it out of public and did their duty, no one cared. Celia ran the islands military Garrison, which made her technically Eliana’s superior when in times of peace, but neither of them cared about that right now… it could cause problems for them if they were too open and they gave the Empire’s military command no choice but to address them, but as long as they were at least a little bit subtle… even a little bit… there should be no problems for them. Still, Eliana sometimes wished she could more openly show off the beautiful girl that she loved. Her gaze went to the large, open bank of windows behind her woman’s desk. “Think anyone can see us down there?” she asked, playfully.
There was a hungry growl in Celia’s voice when she answered. “I don’t think…” she said softly, “that I much care.” Her hand gripped the edge of her jacket and began to pull it off the redheaded woman, her other hand flying to the buttons on her white blouse and beginning to unfasten them one at a time. It brushed her hand over Eliana’s breast, and she bit her lip against the moan just the slight touch wanted to bring out. “No one’s watching us now, far as I’m concerned.”
Eliana couldn’t disagree, even if she wanted to, because Celia’s moth abruptly covered her again in a scorching kiss that silenced her as her blouse came off with her jacket, falling to the floor with her bare breasts exposed to her lover’s touch. One of her strong hands was at the small of her back, all but pushing her to arch her body against her lover’s touch and as her mouth dropped to play quickly over her large, sensitive tits she lost any thought but need, the sweet, sharp little agony of want robbing her of the ability to speak save a gasp of pleasure. She found herself squirming against him, her leg wrapped around Celia’s thigh as her own hands went to work undressing the blond girl, even as Celia picked her up and sat her down on the desk.
Her eyes met Celia’s, sea green into sky blue, and Eliana was quietly stunned at the depth of adoration and desire in the blond woman’s gaze, the fact that she wanted her so very badly. It sparked an answering desire every bit as fierce as her fingers finally found the clasps holding Celia’s shirt on, unfastening them. She didn’t get to finish before Celia was kissing her again, hands and mouth roaming over her until she thought she was going to scream, giving into the pleasure and her desires. This is what her life was about… her duties seemed like little but an intermission between the life she was slowly building but the woman she loved. Nothing mattered to her now but what she could taste, hear, feel, smell… and the exhausted captain embraced it with everything she had, surrendering to perfect abandon.
Neither of them were going to be doing anything else tonight.
The sign of a good raid was that it was boring. In the line of work of a pirate, excitement usually meant you were in danger of getting killed. Most ships gave up their cargoes without a fight, preferring to keep their ship and crew intact since their cargo rarely belonged to them anyway. Boring. Treasures were frequently found completely abandoned, their keepers long dead. Boring. Even a true raid, like this one, was best kept as boring as possible. The longer it went before anyone noticed they were here, the better it would go.
Still, Raudur hated boring.
The pirate snapped his head to the side as one of the men on his packed rowboat dipped his oar too loudly, splashing it against the wave hard. The sound was mostly swallowed by the ocean surf, but he still growled at the man, drawing his hand silently across his throat in warning. They were inside the harbor now, and this town had a garrison… and therefor a watch. If they were spotted out here they were sitting ducks for the cannons of the fort, and they were an awfully long way from the relative safety of the Banshee’s Wail. If the pirate strained, he thought he could make out the ship’s crimson sails in the dark ocean behind them, but he was probably imagining it… the helmsmen would be keeping the ship out of sight until they gave the signal to attack the fort.
He made himself turn his head from the ship behind them… she was going to do them little good here. Instead he looked around him, ensuring the other rowboats were in good order. Twelve in all, every small boat the Banshee’s Wail had at its disposal, packed with nearly a hundred souls. He was pretty sure he could make out Captain Damara’s form standing at the front of the lead boat, staring forward at the fort they were approaching. As first mate, Raudur was theoretically in charge of the landing and raid, but Damara herself had insisted on coming, leading a small party of her own. Raudur didn’t like that… it spoke that she had other priorities here, something he had suspected but not voiced since she proposed the attack. Attacking a fortified city, garrisoned by one of the empire’s ships, was asking for trouble even in as peaceful an area of the sea at this. There was certain to be plunder here enough to make it worth their time, but there were riches aplenty to be found elsewhere without so directly arousing the empire’s Navy.
It wasn’t that Raudur minded taking the risk, far from it. He just wanted to know why they were taking it… but Captain Damara had been acting strangely for a few months now, gathering information at least as often as treasure on her raids, picking targets that Raudur wouldn’t have expected her to. He and the crew both were content for now… the treasure was flowing… but he disliked having secrets kept from him.
Oh well. At least this wouldn’t be boring.
The moon had long ago risen by the time Eliana woke, hours later. She lay with her lover on the couch of her office, her long, slender limbs twined with hers. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember precisely when they had moved here, but the pale light coming from the wide set of windows told her that the moon had already peaked and probably begun its descent already, beginning the long, slow spiral back towards dawn. Eliana was naked save for a silver necklace around her neck, glinting in the wane light, partially covered by one of Celia’s arms, holding her against her while she slept, relaxed, an easy smile on her sleeping face.
Eliana lay there, sleepy and pleased, idly stroking one of her own small hands over the slender cords of muscle in her lover’s arm. Tall for a woman, Celia had trained tirelessly in her role as a soldier for many years, and while she had rarely had an opportunity to fight a foe of the Empire there wasn’t a man in this fortress that would bet against her in a fight against any. She had seen Celia spar and train recruits before, and her swordwork was dazzling… practically an extension of her limb. Eliana had seen more fights that Celia had, but she acknowledged that to this point her lover had probably forgotten more about the blade than she knew, and she was proud of the blonde woman’s expertise.
“I missed you Ellie,” she murmured, apparently awake, her voice pitched in a low, sleepy growl.
She smiled back at her. “And I you, Lia.”
“You’ve been away too long.” Celia was rising now, slowly unfolding her cramped body from that of her lovers, coming to her feet in a boneless, undignified wobble of the extremely sexually satisfied. “Much too long.”
Inwardly, Eliana agreed, but there was no reason not to tease the woman. “Only three weeks. Not such a long time after all.”
“Much. Too. Long.” She rose her arms above her head in a stretch. Eliana’s breath caught at the fascinating things the stretch did to the tall woman’s breasts, feeling the stirring of lust yet again, even so soon after she had exhausted herself quenching that flame. “And fruitless, I assume, given that you stayed out until you had burned through your stores. You found nothing?”
“Not a thing.” Eliana allowed some of her frustration to seep through her tone. “Pirates… this far north, this close to the empire, having the temerity to raid a Galleon? I think not. More likely the captain stole his own cargo and stashed it on one of the nearby islands. I’ve prepared a letter to command about it…” The fire haired captain drifted off as she realized Celia wasn’t listening, but instead gazing intently out the large bay of windows, the moonlight casting softly down onto her naked curves. “What’s wrong?”
The blonde girl was silent a moment, her eyes unblinking as she stared down from the fort to the dark ocean. “I thought I saw…” she let her voice trail off before shaking her head in frustration. “Trick of the light. Sorry Ellie. You were saying?”
Eliana smiled, walking up to the nude woman and placed a hand softly on her chin and cheek, cupping her lover’s face. “Nothing important. No pirates here.”
Annabelle impatiently tapped her fingers against the deck railing, her eyes never leaving the lights of the town. As the gunnery officer, with the captain gone she was in command of the ship for combat. It was rare that Damara left anyone else in command of her ship, and when she did it was usually the Water Warden Elizabeth or that brute Raudur. The last thing Annabelle wanted to do was disappoint, especially as one of only thee women on the crew… the captain would be furious with her if she screwed this up.
All she really needed to do was wait for the signal before ordering the Banshee’s Wail to open fire on the fort. When Raudur landed, he would send up a the flare and that would be the sign to begin. Until then, she just needed to keep the ship invisible, drifting softly just out of sight of the island’s garrison, barely visible in the reflection of the moon on the calm seas. Any minute now… any minute now… It had to be soon. “Ready on guns,” she commanded. The order was echoed by crewmen down the sides of the schooner as her gunners pushed the eight starboard guns into position, winding the ropes that would brace them against the recoil even as men came forward with the power magazine, loading the cannons.
The blonde woman leaned over the side, her pretty features wrinkled in consternation as she glared at the docks as if she had to power to make the signal come by sheer force of will. It would come any second now. They had left more than a turn of the glass ago and they had to be landing soon and what in the name of the dark dwellers was taking so damned long?
A bright red light blazed to life on the dock, a chloride torch ignited by the landing pirates. Annabelle straightened, a wicked grin coming to the beautiful woman’s face. “All guns!” she yelled. “Make your target the fort. Torches ready! Three! Two…”
Eliana’s eyes widened as the crimson light suddenly blazed to life on the docks. “What is..”
She didn’t have time to finish before she heard a series of rapid pops, and it took only a second longer for the sound to trigger the warning memories. Celia clearly needed no further reminder… she dove to the ground just as Eliana did, a few second before the huge stone fortress shook as cannonballs slammed into its foundation. Someone below, a horn started blowing a rapid series of dashs and bleets, a general alarm.
“You were saying?” Celia cocked an eyebrow at her before pushing herself up, moving quickly towards her pile of clothing, taking only the undershirt before walking to the arming doll in corner and beginning to dress, in proper armor rather than a dress uniform. Eliana wished she could follow suit, but she had no armor, and it wasn’t likely much in the armory would fit her… females weren’t common in the military off of the mainland, and sailors had little reason to wear armor on board when they represented a likely death sentence with a trip. She had only her clothing to slip into, and did it as quickly as possible, beating her lover to readiness by a considerable bit. Two more volleys had rocked the fortress in the time, and a series of popping told her that a fourth was on the way. “I need to find my people!” She yelled over the rumble of impact and shaking stood as the shots hit home.
“Be careful,” Celia yelled back, pulling her breast plate into position.
A careful nod back to her lover, a brief farewell, was all the tenderness Eliana could spare. She had to rally her crew back together and have them help fight back this raid. She dashed out of the room, boots pounding on the stone as she made her way back to the courtyard at a sprint.
The sound of the muskets was deafening, the smoke from their barrels sickening but Celia was well used to that. A couple of approaching silhouettes fell to the ground, writhing in pre-mortem spasms but there were more coming. Some of her soldiers tossed their muskets to the ground, drawing their sabers, while others just attached bayonets, hoping to draw those attacking pirates for long enough to have time to reload. Celia herself drew her own blade and looked for the closest opponent.
She didn’t have to look hard.
While due to the surprise nature of the attack, confusion, the bombardment of the fort, she could gather only a mere two dozen soldiers, fortifying themselves near the armoury, there were many, many more attackers.
As battle cries and shouts of her man filled the air, she lunged towards the nearest two pirates. The first one, a brutish thug with a heavy cutlass tried to cut her but she dodged his blow, fast and graceful despite the armour. His comrade came in with a thrust of his thin blade but Celia didn’t even bother to parry, letting the weapon slide down her armour. She knew that majority of the sailors did not wear any protective gear from fear of drowning in it and this pirate apparently wasn’t used to fighting armoured enemies. Her first blow took of his hand, the second one cut through his throat. The thuggish pirate attacked again and this time Celia parried his blade with her own. She could see his surprise, he evidently wasn’t expecting her to have enough strength to block his attack. Strong her was, but not enough and Celia pushed his blade aside and pierced his torso.
Warned by her instinct she suddenly lunged forward as an axe cut the air behind her. Immediately she turned, the momentum of the movement transformed into a powerful blow that slashed the chest of another pirate. Another pirate jumped at her, but he didn’t fare any better and quickly fell dead to the ground.
For a moment there was no one attacking her and she quickly looked around. The city was burning, the night lit red with all the fires, shadows dancing all around her. Everywhere around her she could hear screams, cries, voices both panicked, furious and cruel. As much as she wanted to protect Constantos, she knew she had to focus on the men around her and on defending this stand.
And one look at her soldiers told her that it would be hard if downright impossible. Barely half of her men remained standing and although their faces were grim, she could see the determination in their eyes as they were reloading their weapons or binding the wounds of their comrades. Many more pirates were on the ground, a testament to the garrison’s training. This would however not be enough and she knew it. Still, there was nothing more to be done than fight to the bitter end. She just wished she had kissed Eliana goodbye…
There was another pirate battle cry and they were surrounded again. Firearms were shot but this time pirates were sporting guns and arquebuses of their own. She could see some of her soldiers fall and then, mildly surprised that no bullet hit her, she had to focus on parrying and dealing blow.
Dodge, slash, slash. One pirate down. Parry, dodge, parry, parry! Slash. Another one down. Parry, slash. That one went quickly. Parry, dodge…
Too late. One blow hit her side, the cutlass bouncing off her armour but the strength of the blow enough to make her fall to her knees. The pirate raised his hand again… and was cut by one of her man, a young black-haired sailor. She didn’t have time to thank him, as he fell to his knees and then to his face, an axe buried in his back. She quickly got on her feet and slashed his killer. That would be the end, she knew that. They were outnumbered by too many…
Raudur had chosen to delay the attack long enough after landing to get some of his men onto the warship in port, making sure she wouldn’t be joining the fight. He would have liked to steal the ship, but while they had enough men to spare to crew it, he doubted they would get her ready to make way and get out of the harbor before the fortresses guns would shatter her. He had to settle for disabling her, and instructed his men as such.
More annoying to the first mate, Damara hadn’t been since since she landed. She and a few of her chosen raiders had disappeared almost immediately, gone off to do dark dwellers knew what. He knew he shouldn’t be making it his problem, but curiosity had always been his weakness… that and adventure. Nothing for it. Raudur struck the torch against the ground, having the red flare blaze to life as he dropped it to the ground, drawing his sword, a long hanger, from his belt. “Caine, Thomas, Baldeg, take your men and go into the town. Take what you can and bring it back here. Remember, we’re light on room… think small and valuable. Make a mess while your at it, keep the soldiers busy. Reshet, take those guns,” Raudur instructed, pointing at the cannons on the ramparts of the dock walls rather than in the keep itself. “Make sure they can’t turn us to splinters as we leave. Blow them up, sink them, Do what you want. The rest of you cockroaches, you’re with me… we make for the fort. MOVE!”
Eliana ran through the hallways, pounding on doors as she went. Her blade was already stained red, the blood splashed across her pristine uniform, evidence of the pirates she had already run across. The islands garrison is total was more than a match for any ship, but Constantos was peaceful… they had been caught utterly unaware. Most of her marines were on leave, scattered throughout town or elsewhere on the island. More than half of the local garrison wasn’t on duty, with their families on the island or passed out drunk at various holes. The town bells were ringing, clear as daylight to her even within the fort walls, and each second that passed was bringing more soldiers back into the fight… but Eliana knew that most had no chance to arrive before it was too late. Time would inevitably tell against the invaders, but the pirates could take all the plunder they could carry and be gone before there was sufficient force to repel them… and most of the soldiers on duty would be dead by then.
She had already roused a dozen soldiers, sending them into the battle, and a few of her own crew as well… the few sailors or marines who were on station in the keep. The watch crew would no doubt be fighting on the ship… she longed to get to them, but she was needed here. The captain rounded the corner and all but skidded to a stop. The fortresses library door was broken down before her, and she could hear voices inside. What were they doing there? There would be no soldiers there, no riches to plunder that a filthy pirate would be interested in. No matter… they wouldn’t be expecting her.
Her pistol was held in her hand as she came around the corner of the door, and she was caught with an instant impression a ransacked room and four pirates, walking back towards the door. They saw her in the same moment she saw them, three men and and a dark haired woman. The woman was already reacting, her hand pulling a pistol from her own belt Eliana fired, saw blood well from one of the men’s chest even as she dashed to the side, the wooden frame of the door exploding outward as the pirate’s shot missed her by inches.
Eliana’s saber was in her hand by the time the next pirate rounded the corner, screaming a charge. She parried high, slamming his sword against the doorframe and trapping it there as she stepped inside his reach, slamming her elbow into his throat. The pirate’s were savage, but they were raiders, not soldiers… they were used to fighting helpless, unprepared victims, not Imperial Marines. He staggered backward, gripping his crushed windpipe… it might have been a lethal blow, but Eliana made sure of it by slashing her sword across his gut a second later. Two down.
Even as he fell, the third pirate came on, the woman just a heartbeat behind him, two cutlasses swinging. Eliana slid backward, one sword cutting just inches in front of her waist, and struck back. She caught the woman’s sword, driving it the right and directly into her fellow’s cutlass on the backswing. The pirates had no idea how to fight as a group, merely as a mob, and against a competent swordsman a mob wasn’t enough… they were getting in their own way, their numbers working against them in the tight space. The red haired captain shouted as she counter attacked, a swing for the woman’s head. She jerked back just in time, but Eliana felt her cut score, saw the crimson line tear across the woman’s face from forehead to cheek, making her scream as blood covered her eye.
“Captain!” the fourth pirate yelled as he stepped between them, swinging. He was the one that had almost got her, probably the most competent swordsman of the three she crossed blades with… but she wasn’t Eliana’s equal. She stepped left as she blocked the first attack, stepped again at the second, then took three rapid steps towards him in a charge. He backed up, one foot sliding behind him to brace against the attack… and stepped on the body of the man with the slashed throat. He got his weight back beneath him before he actually tripped, but the hesitation fouled his block. Eliana’s saber took his sword hand at the wrist, and the next attack was a thrust into his heart. A quick twist of the blade, a shove, and she was turning back to where the female pirate was… or had been. Eliana caught just a glimpse of her back as she fled around the corner.
“MARINES!” she shouted. “To me! Captain fleeing toward the armory!” She ran pass several battling soldiers, pausing only briefly to assist them in their fights as she ran towards the sounds of fighting.
“For the Empire!” a shout pierced even the sounds of the battle as from the flank dozens of hastily armed sailors and marines came, jumping at the pirates. Celia smiled as she saw her lover’s fiery red hair in the midst of the fight. The retort of a half dozen pistols or rifles filled the air, the scent of gunsmoke making it hard to breath, and pirates fell. It was hard to tell the precise numbers in the pitched battle, but they suddenly seemed much closer, the momentum of Eliana’s sudden assault pushing the pirates back. Maybe they could actually hold… if they could take back the main doors, they could fortify there, hold the portal while they had time to reload their rifles. The numbers would tell against them eventually.
“Push them back!” Celia called, a rallying cry to her troops. “Hold them at the door! Drag the wounded to the back!” Her soldiers moved to obey her, crying out in rage as they lifted weapons and charged. Those too wounded to fight any further but still able to move dragged their bleeding friends to the relative safety of the prison cells back behind the armory. “Lia, take them!”
“Get it together you barnacle licking scum!” Raudur roared over the gunfire. He punched one of the pirate brutes in the face, and when he staggered grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him back towards the fight. “They’re just a few marines. Are you pirates or putrid maggots?” He lead by example, drawing his pistol as he waded forward.
Raudur sighthed along the barrel, aiming into the thickest of the fighting… and paused, watching the battle… and more specifically, the combatants. The marines were ragged, but fighting with stony determination, pressing forward, their efforts focused around two of the most beautiful women he had ever seen… enough so that he had to pause for a moment to stare.
The first one, the one who kept shouting orders, was a tall blonde, wearing heavy armor… but it did almost nothing to hide the body she had to have beneath it to fit into it. Her face was like an angel, more like one of the carved faces of a figurehead on a ship than anything a real woman should have… innocent and smooth and pristine, untouched by the battle around her. Her eyes were bright and intelligent, and whatever she said men rushed to do… she was the anchor point of this battle, a natural leader. Raudur watched as she cut down a pair of pirates barely twice as many seconds, moving with technical perfection… at a glance, he estimated her one of the more dangerous fighters he had ever opposed.
The second was almost her opposite. No less beautiful, woman’s red hair flew wild as she fought among the thick of a mob of marines and sailors, pushing forward. She wasn’t armored, wearing the blue of a Navy officer, but she fought with an utter lack of caution anyway. Where the blonde woman’s movements were graceful, hers were primal, savage… a result of passion and natural talent as opposed to carefully practiced skill. She lead the marines as they surged forward toward the door… directly towards him.
His pistol wavered between the two of them for a few moments, taking aim at each as he considered. Then, slowly, a smile snuck onto the pirate’s face. He had opposed this raid, hating it for the secrets Captain Demara was keeping, for the lack of wealth on this far off island, for how pathetically easy it would be to raid. These two were changing his mind. They were beautiful, and not just in body… their fighting was poetry in motion, their skill enough to turn this simple attack into a challenge. Slowly he lowered his pistol. He didn’t want to shoot either of them… it would be like smashing a stained-glass window with a hammer, ruining something beautiful for no profit.
“Kill them!” Damara scream from just a few feet away, pressing forward with some of the sailors. He hadn’t seen the captain arrive, but he couldn’t miss the way blood was streaming down her face, a savage cut marring her pretty features. “Kill them all! No quarter! Shoot that red whore!”
Raudur’s eyes narrowed. He had already decided he had to have them. The captains orders were going to force his hand. As a matter of policy, Raudur avoided fair fights… they were too easy to lose. He had a few ideas how to make this work, however… “Push forward!” he shouted to the men. “Charge the marines… drive them back and the fort is ours!” He was sending some of the scum to their deaths, but they were replaceable… these women weren’t. They would keep the blonde girl busy, for he had no wish to cross blades with her without some advantage. Instead, he rushed in against the redhead, flourishing his in a series of eyecatching loops as he sidestepped, moving himself between the redhead and Damara… cutting off any shot she might take.
As he had hoped, he caught her eye. “Swashbuckling, really?” She asked with a sneer, taking the bait of stepped into him and completely removing herself from the press, isolating Raudur with her against the edge of the room. Her eyes narrowed in the instant before she thrust forward, her sabre leading in a feint, the slash turning into a lightning fast thrust as she tried to end the fight before it started.
He let her think that this surprised him and in the last instant he pushed the blade away with a dagger that appeared in his left hand. Surprised, she lost his balance and Raudur with certain sadness thought that he overestimated her. She was not as interesting of an opponent as he thought and thus had nothing to offer besides her beautiful body… but admiring or using her beauty was of secondary priority while in combat.
With regret Raudur brought his blade towards the woman, aiming to finish the battle… and was quickly reminded of an old wisdom that said to never celebrate a victory before the fight was over. There was a sound of metal hitting metal as the redhead somehow managed to block his blade. It did throw her off-balance and he pushed hard but, nimble as a dancer, she jumped away and immediately attacked back.
Raudur realized that a smile appeared on his lips. He couldn’t help it – finally he did find a worthy opponent. He dodged her blade and attacked in a frenzy of lightning-fast blows. His strikes were raining on the woman from right and left, interrupted only when he decided for a sneaky thrust… but even though his assault did push his opponent on the defensive, no blow of his could penetrate her defenses. The woman’s blade always appeared in the way, deflecting every strike, even those that he was certain were unblockable. It was as if she was in a steel cage, protecting her from all harm. Finally he saw an opening and he used it… but it turned out to be a feint as the redhead dodged his blow. Her own strike would have pierced his throat if he didn’t have the dagger to parry it.
The redheaded warrior was fierce… but reckless. The attack had left her open… in Raudur’s opinion, the Empire’s fighting style had never made sufficient allowances for brawling. The pirate stepped forward, inside her attack, and without any finesse he kicked the side of her leg, forcing her to fall to her knees and, pushing her blade with his dagger he brought the handle of his weapon on her head stunning her. He didn’t even have time to subdue her securely when he heard a fierce battle cry and saw the blonde beauty jumping towards him with her face a mixture of anger, determination and… fear?
Raudur however had no time to wander about it as he soon found himself pushed back by a flurry of blows. Even with all the fencing skills he could muster he found himself focusing all of his attention on protecting himself. Never before he thought with someone so fast and so skilled. It was as if his opponent had six hands and six blades. Yes, he was stronger than she was, but it didn’t help him much with no chance to strike a blow against her. He used all his tricks, parried with both his blade and his dagger, used his cloak to distract her but she kept attacking, kept pushing. Now, as they were further from the redhead fear completely left the female soldier’s face and the anger was subdued leaving only fierce determination and cold confidence – confidence that she would win and end his life.
Only once did he manage to land a blow on her but he was forced to strike from such an awkward angle that the blade slid down her armour. Amazingly, the armour she was wearing didn’t seem to be slowing her down in the slightest way.
Finally, he threw his dagger at her. She dodged it effortlessly but this second was what Raudur needed to launch an offense of his own. His frenzied attack managed to push her back but even as Raudur was striking a blow after blow he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep this pace for long… and none of his blow seemed get close enough to threaten her.
For a second he had a thought that his time did come and he at least had the consolation that he would be beaten by the best. But such thinking was alien to Raudur. Even this battle was a game and as long as he was playing, there was still chance.
At this moment, the blonde saw something to her left and stiffened for a moment. Raudur reflexively looked there and cursed his naivety – it could have been a trick.
But it wasn’t.
What he and the blonde saw was Damara twisting the redhead’s arm and raising a dagger to deliver the final blow.
“No!” the blonde screamed. Ignoring Raudur completely, she turned and she threw her sword at Damara.
A lot of things happened at once.
Damara’s head snapped to the side at the girl’s shout, her dark eyes wide as she saw the sword flying for her. The pirate captain threw herself backward. The sword had been hurled well, but swords weren’t meant to be thrown… it didn’t fly through the air nearly as quickly as his knife had earlier, and missed both of them.
The defeated redhead fell limply to the ground as Damara released her, dropping the few inches back down to the ground… apparently unconscious.
His own sword snapped upward, finding the exposed of the suddenly disarmed woman, the tip of his long hanger resting in the hollow of her throat. The blonde went absolutely still, feeling the sharp edge, but her terrified blue eyes never left the woman on the floor.
Ruaudur roared out “Enough!”
And the fighting in the room stopped. All eyes went to him, both pirate and marine focusing on his blade against the blonde woman.
The pirate’s knuckles were white on the handle of his sword, so tightly was he squeezing it to stop it from trembling with his rage. “What is your name, Imperial dog?” Raudur seethed behind his calm face, quietly furious at the interruption. He hadn’t fought anyone worth his time in a decade… this woman was the best swordsman he had ever seen. He had burned through his entire repertoire of feints, tricks, and blade tactics and hadn’t even come close to landing a decisive blow on her. True, he had been on the offensive… there was a chance he could have found a way to beat down her defenses… now he wasn’t going to get to find out.
Words couldn’t quite express how frustrating that was.
Celia didn’t dare to move, barely dared to breath. She could feel the cold kiss of steel against her bared through, but her true fear wasn’t for her own life, but rather for her men, and the helpless lover on the floor before her. That bloody-faced woman wanted to kill her, had already tried once… the next few seconds would decide if she lived or not.
“Celia,” she answered the pirate, forcing her gaze back onto him, staring into his face along the length of his sword. “Commander Celia, Marine, first class.”
The pirate wasn’t a handsome man. Perhaps he had been once… certainly he was fit enough, but the left side of his face was a mass of burn scars, and a black eyepatch coving the eye on that side. His longer hair was dirty and matted, and he smelled like every other pirate she had ever met, like he hadn’t had a bath in weeks. His clothing was ratty, his arms covered in black tattoos, and she couldn’t focus on any of those features for the look in his eyes… furious, but gleaming with more intelligence than she would have credited most pirates.
Perhaps not a surprise. He had fought well, after all.
Celia watched as the pirate’s eyes flicked quickly to where Eliana lay on the floor. The dark haired pirate woman was starting to move forward again. Celia closed her eyes and slowly took a deep breath. She would die before she stood here and let her murder Eliana, blade to her neck be damned. When she opened her eyes again, the pirate had an odd look on his face, the beginning of a smile.
“She’s special to you, I take it?” He asked, a bit quietly… the voice might not carry all the way around the room. “Tell your men to stand down. Surrender the keep, or she dies.”
Celia’s blue eyes narrowed as she looked intently at the pirate. “So you can kill us all without a fight? I think not.” She paused a breath, then continued even as he opened his mouth to speak. “Reinforcements are coming. I have more than five hundred marines on the island right now… you won’t make it off. Tell me, sir… do you follow Serena’s Code?”
The question was a loaded one, and she knew it… Serena’s code was almost a thousand years old, a standard of negotiation used by the first Pirate Queen before the rise even of the Empire. Antique though it may be, it was the only universally agreed standard of negotiation on the seas… at least a basis to work from. The pirate paused a moment before nodding at her.
“Then I offer you a bargain. I will order my men to stand down, so you can leave. My men are not to be harmed… you’ll leave them here. They will be permitted to retreat to the cells behind us.” Celia took a deep breath. “I will remain with you as a hostage to their good behavior.”
“Captain, no!” One of her marines yelled, slowly inching his hand down to his belt, where his spare powder was kept for his pistol.
“Stow it Kev!” She ordered, keeping her glare on the pirate holding her captive. She lowered her voice, barely more than a whisper. “If Eliana dies, we have no deal.”
The man didn’t think very long before he nodded. “Cap’n Damara, check on Red over there. We need her breathing.”
The woman turned her head to glare at him. “Raudur, this bitch slashed away half of my face. I’m taking her blood as payment.”
Raudur narrowed his one good eye. “We have an accord,” he said to her. Then, raising his voice. “Men, to me. Leave the marines.”
Celia raised her voice an instant later. “Marines, stand down! Wounded to the back, fall back to the brig!
Raudur took his sword from Celia’s neck… with the marines moving back and his own men moving toward him, she was in no position to hurt him even if she were in a betraying state of mind. He whirled on his captain, sheathing the sword as he went.
“We have an accord, under Serena’s code captain. The woman lives. We leave her men alive. We leave the island.” He kept walking towards the furious woman as he spoke. “You put me in command of this landing, cap’n. The command is mine to give, as is the bargain. You mean to make me a liar?”
He let those final words, spoken low, hang between them for long seconds of silence. It was a threat, and one that Damara knew damn well wasn’t hollow… Raudur was unwilling to break an oath given, and he was correct in that it was his privilege to make the promise to her. If Damara forced his hand, he would fight her to keep his word.
In truth, right now he hoped she would object. He was furious at her intervention in his duel… if she hadn’t gone after the red-haired girl, Eliana, he would have been able to finish fighting Celia. The anti-climax of having her disarm herself was… deeply disappointing.
At length, she gave a sign of disgust, turning and sheathing her sword. “Tie her up ye gobs,” she snarled, turning and striding out of the room… though to where Raudur didn’t know, and at the moment didn’t care.
All around him, the marines were vanishing into the fortified doors behind them, deeper into the fort and down, where the prison was. His own sailors were gathering themselves and making for the door themselves. He passed one the second signal torch with instructions to light it… the signal for the other pirates to make for the boats, and for the Banshee’s Wail to prepare to receive them. “Take the girls. We’re leaving.”
“What!” Celia spat, shock in her voice. “That’s not what we agreed! I go with you, not her!”
Raudur turned his eye back to her and grinned. “But it is, miss. Your men,” he said, stressing the word, “are being left behind to be safe. You are going with me as a hostage to their good behavior. And she is going with me as a hostage to yours. If you wanted her to stay behind, you should have asked.”
Celia’s glare was venomous as the unarmed woman took a step forward, angrily. “You poisonous insect,” she started.
Raudur reached out and grabbed her by the long braid, pulling her head backward. “Life’s a game miss, and all games have a winner and a loser. This time, you lost.” He wrenched her to the side, tossing her into the arms of a few of his men, even as others lifted the bound Eliana into the air. “Let’s go!”
When Eliana opened her eyes, she thought it must be full dawn for how bright it was… she winced awfully at the glare. Her head ached… she tried to raise a hand to her head, but her arms couldn’t move… it took her a few moments to realize they were bound behind her back.
Memories of the last few hours came rushing back to Eliana, and she winced again, remembering how her fight had ended. After that, it was a surprise to be alive at all. The ground was moving beneath her… at first she thought she was merely woozy, and the captain was slow to realize that she was back on the water… on a small boat, by the feel of it. Her eyes narrowed against the glare, it took her a bit to realize that it was just the dim light of fire’s in the night. Parts of Constantos were burning. “What is…”
“Hush Lia.” Celia’s voice caught her ear almost immediately. The blonde woman wasn’t wearing her armor anymore… she was in just the paper-thin shirt and pants she had pulled on before slipping her armor over them when they were attacked. And they weren’t alone. The boat was full of pirates… manning it. The pirate that had defeated her was at the front of the craft, giving orders.
“What happened?” Eliana whispered.
Celia didn’t take her eyes off the pirate at the lead of the boat, her glare intense. “We lost, apparently,” she said, anger in her tone.
A blast echoed over the water, loud enough to rattle Eliana’s brain in her skull. She turned her head in time to watch the Sacred Star, her command, detonate in a brilliant fireball, its powder magazine exploding. Green eyes wide despite the flash, Eliana watched her ship, the ship that had been her true home for years, her ship be reduced to splinters sailing through the air to crash, one by one, back down into the sea. She stared, unbelieving, as the ship fell into two flaming sections with about twenty feet of ship just missing between them, and sank into the bay, disappearing beneath the black water.
Tears cut down her cheek as she watched her life go up in flames. “Yes,” she choked out. “Yes we did.”