Out of Exile
The cold ocean night was still, blanketed by a thick impermeable fog that deepened the darkness over the sea. Lights flickered in the misty depths, as the deep bass of a foghorn blast rumbled over the waters. A lone vessel sailed slowly forth, its prow cutting the waters with a gentle slosh as oars propelled the ship forward. Sailors on board busied themselves tying down lines, coiling rope and keeping a lookout. Land was not far now, and all eyes searched for the guiding beam of the port lighthouse. All eyes, save for one pair.
A solitary figure leaned against the mast, a thick cloak wrapped tightly around her slender form to keep out the wet and cold. Violet hues roved over the parchment, re-reading the letter that had summoned her forth.
Ahai, Ranger Maelstrom,
It has been sometime since I have last seen you, longer still since we have spoken. Tales of your exploits in the Battle Isles have reached my ears and it is my hope that this letter finds you in good health and favor with the gods.
The reader gave a small snort, brow furrowing for a moment before she read on.
Trust me my friend when I say that were the danger less imminent and the hour less dire I should not dare write to you in such a manner. But times being as they are I find myself in need of mighty allies and valiant comrades. Our island home, Istan, is under siege. Corsairs have launched a full-scale invasion and they come with a ferocity and in numbers the likes of which our order has never seen. Though we fight to drive them back, I cannot banish the feelings of a deeper and more malevolent purpose behind their assault. But the written word is no way to speak of such things.
I ask that you would meet me in Kamadan, The Jewel of Istan, there I will explain all to you. We were friends once, let us be comrades once more.
By Dwanya, and the Five True Gods,
Kormir, Grand Spearmarshal of the Order of the Sunspears
The ranger rolled the letter, and raised her eyes to the foggy seas. It had been long since she had last seen Elonian shores. The Battle Isles had provided her with all the distraction she would ever need. New challengers stepped forth everyday, new foes seeking glory… new prey for her to hunt. This would be different, these battles would not be for renown and glory, but for home and country. The woman pushed away from the mast, striding towards the ship's port bow. Perhaps it would not be so different, these corsairs would be prey, just like any other. And if Kormir was to be believed there would be many of them. Perhaps… perhaps among one of them there would be one who could…
"Hoooo!" came a baritone call from the crows nest, "Merchant vessel off the starboard bow!"
The ships bell clanged as sailors peered into the fog at a myriad of lights that approached. A flag bearing trader's colors could be seen flickering in the firelight as the ship drew closer. A hiss sounded at the ranger's side and she glanced down at the sinuous scaled form of her crocodile companion. The beast poked its snout over the rail, giving another angry hiss… something was amiss. Beneath her cloak the woman's hands unsnapped the sling that carried her bow as one hand slipped to the quiver that hung from her hips.
"Hooo there!" the first mate called to the ship as it pulled along side them, its lights flaring in the deep fog, "We search for land. From whence come ye that we may put in to port?"
No answer came from the ship, nothing other than the creak of wood and the slosh of waves. Purple eyes narrowed as her ears caught the faint clink of metal… and then a strange whooshing noise. From out of the fog emerged a volley of metal hooks, their points biting into the ship's masts and yard arms with heavy thunks. A roaring cry came from the merchant ship as red swathed figures swung from out of the fog.
"Pirates!!" the mate shouted, drawing his cutlass as the corsairs hit the deck.
The crew was up in arms, raising harpoons, swords and axes against the corsair party. The woman's arms whipped up, the arrow notching to her string before whizzing into a swinging marauder. Corsairs landed about her, raising swords and spears against her. The crocodile hissed and snapped, its mighty jaws taking a man's sword arm with a single bite. The huntress ducked a spear jab and punctured the man's liver with a swift thrust of her arrow. A moment later the shaft notched to her bow and she released it into the head of a corsair doctor, ending the pirate's attempt to heal his injured companion.
A flare of light caught her eye and she back flipped, legs splaying gracefully in the air as a bolt of lightning struck the spot she once stood. Her animal companion was upon the pirate scribe in an instant, the corsair woman shrieking as the crocodile's jaws closed on her head. A deep breath imbued her with a burst of speed as reflexes took over. A failed sword strike was rewarded with a hard kick that crushed her assailant's teeth, as she blocked a wand strike with her bow. Retaliation was swift as she rammed her arrow point through the offending mage's throat, and then fired the bolt into the heart of an oncoming scythe wielder.
"Arm the catapults! Ready the fire barrels!" the first mate ordered as his men fought back.
"But sir, we'll never hit them this close!" a sailor protested.
"Load them!" the huntress broke in, giving the sailor a shove towards the catapult, "And fire on my command."
The sailor hesitated then nodded and did as he was bidden. The ranger turned, just in time to catch an enemy archer taking aim at her. The woman dove forward, rolling under the fired shaft and sprang from the ground, catching the enemy's torso between her legs and straddling him as she bore him to the ground. An arrow came to her hand and with a swift plunge she drove the shaft into his heart.
"Loaded n' ready sah!" the sailor shouted.
"Hold!" the ranger commanded, as she drew an arrow from her quiver. With a quick swipe she struck the arrow's head against the rough stripe that ran down the back of her right glove. Sparks flew and immediately the arrow's head caught fire, flaring with burning brilliance. Kneeling to the deck, she notched the shaft to her bow and drew back, aiming skywards.
"Pull!" she shouted.
With a heave the sailor tugged on the lever, releasing the catapult which flung the red barrel aloft. Her eyes narrowed, in this fog her target would be almost impossible to see… but she would not allow her precision to fail. Mentally she counted down the mili-seconds, corded muscles in her arms flexing as she drew back further on the bow. With a quick exhale she let fly, the kindled arrow arching into the foggy dark. For a moment there was only the noise of battle. The next the night lit up as an explosion erupted above the main mast of the pirate vessel.
The flaming arrow had struck its mark, detonating the barrel and releasing a rain of burning oil on the ship. Screams could be heard in the dark as corsairs burned alive, the oil's fire consuming them with hungry tongues of flame. On deck panic rose among the pirates as they saw their ship destroyed. Those who did not make it overboard in time were slain by the sailor's as a cheer went up from the ship's crew.
"That was a fair bit of shootin' miss," the first mate congratulated her with a heft smack on her back, "Ah thanks ye."
"Hmph, hardly a challenge…" the woman muttered as she flung back her cloak to re-sling her bow, "If we could land quickly, I'd be much obliged," she added.
The mate nodded in response and turned to begin barking orders at his crew. The ranger rearranged her cloak and returned to her spot at the mast, contemplating her position as her crocodile returned to doze at her feet.
"You called in the heavy arms Kormir," the huntress muttered as she slowly closed her eyes, "This'd better be a lot more than just a handful of pirates."