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start of week one.

Prologue: The Battle of Merith Cove

by Admin (Vlad)

The normally bustling port town of Merith Cove was even more of a hive of activity than usual. Where usually the docks would be playing host to a few merchants and local fishing vessels, today it seemed like the entire Imperial fleet had dropped anchor. This was, of course, not actually the case. In fact, merely three quarters of the Imperial fleet had dropped anchor.

Admiral Jelliko stood on the quarterdeck of his flagship, the fearsome galleon Lady Freemont, watching the commotion in the town. Naval recruiting parties had been busy drumming up new crewbeasts for the fleet all day and the streets were ringing with the sound of drums and cymbals, the blare of bugles rising over it all. Anchored in the cove around him were the other large galleons of the fleet, comprising fifteen massive men of war. The escorting frigates and sloops patrolled the entrance to the cove, while others were actually docked and taking on supplies and recruits. There seemed to be a never ending stream of longboats being rowed back and forth between the galleons and the shore. The whole island of Magh was being mobilised for war.

The fox felt his heart swell with pride as he watched one of the longboats filled with cheering recruits pass by towards the galleon Malachite's Folly. The ship had been renamed for the upstart that now threatened the Imperium, in a move which had won the Admiral significant political points, but caused some discontented mutterings from the more experienced sailors to the tune that it was unlucky to rename ships like that. Jelliko dismissed such superstitious nonsense.

As the Admiral smiled and waved his tricorn hat at the recruits, he was interrupted by the Captain of the Lady Freemont, a rather dashing wildcat by the name of Louis Jaufrisard. The wealthy young aristocrat had bought his commission years before during peacetime, it was widely assumed that the main reason had been that he thought he looked fetching in the uniform.

"Admiral, sir. The latest dispatches from the Ministry of War have arrived."

The wildcat handed them over with a flourish. The Admiral sliced open the wax seal with a claw and quickly scanned the contents.

To Admiral Jelliko, from Lord Baltsar, Minister of War, greetings!

I trust this message finds you in good health, and well prepared for the trials that are to come. The Emperor has let it be known that He places all faith in His Admiral of the Fleet to utterly destroy His enemies and to drive them from the seas.

Further intelligence has been handed to me by the office of the Minister of Misanthropy, Lady Akilina, that confirms reports that the enemy fleet left Resolution some days ago and is making sail for Magh via Voil Village, with the intention of wresting the island from Imperial control. This is our opportunity to deal a crushing blow, to destroy their rabble at sea before they can make further mischief.

The fleet is thereby ordered to seek out and engage the enemy at the earliest possible opportunity.

I, and all the Imperium wish you luck, and may the blessings of His Grace the Emperor tumble down upon you like a golden fog.

Signed, this day of Primary 8th, 1793

Jelliko looked up to find Captain Jaufrisard staring at him expectantly. The Admiral gave a jovial laugh and brandished the papers triumphantly.

"Well Captain, this is it! We have them now, with the force we have assembled here the scum won't know what hit them."

"Good show, sir!" Captain Jaufrisard grinned. "The crew can't wait to get at... I say, what do you suppose is that?"

Admiral Jelliko followed the direction of the wildcat's outstretched paw. One of the frigates on the outskirts of the cove was running up a flag signal. As the flags reached the top of the mast, the faint sounds of a ship's bell could be heard over the noise of the fleet. The fox snatched his spyglass from his belt, snapped it open and scanned the signal.

Enemy Squadron Sighted.

The fire that had been welling up inside Jelliko suddenly turned to ice. The enemy were here already. With the Imperial fleet at anchor in the cove, the situation could be disastrous. Captain Jaufrisard hesitated, seeing the ashen expression on the Admiral's face.

"Admiral, sir? Do you have any orders?"

Jelliko slowly lowered his spyglass. "Captain, beat to quarters. I want the fleet at sea within the hour." The Admiral's expression became one of grim determination. "Well, jump to it, Captain! The Emperor expects us all to do our duty, and so we shall. Battle stations, at once!"

"At once Admiral!" Jaufrisard flashed one of his most dashing salutes, and darted across the quarterdeck. "I say, you beasts!" He called to the collection of crewbeasts busy on deck, "Whichever one of you is the drummer, sound beat to quarters this instant!"

Instantly the deck erupted as beasts rushed to clear the deck for combat. The drum roll drifted across the fleet, quickly picked up by the other ships. Some were already unfurling their sails in preparation to head out into open waters. The longboats rushed back to their galleons, whatever was left on the dockside was going to have to be left behind. As the lumbering warships began to move, the citizens of Merith Cove began to pour out of their houses, drawn by the sudden commotion. As the wind filled the Lady Freemont's sails, the town's bells were starting to ring the alarm.

The fleet straggled out of the cove with little chance to make any meaningful formation. Already the sails of the enemy ships were close. Even with the hurried departure, there was still going to be limited room for maneuver between the enemy fleet and the coastline of Magh.

Admiral Jelliko scanned the enemy fleet with his spyglass. It was strange, but there didn't seem to be as many of them as he had been informed. Perhaps a storm had blown up during their voyage? "The fleet will move in to close range with the enemy and engage them face to face," he ordered, his Aide taking notes to prepare the necessary signals. "We will see how their rabble deal with true Imperial steel."

The tension aboard the ship mounted as the fleets drew closer. The ballistas were run out and ready to launch their deadly missiles. A hush fell over the fleet, with only the sounds of water lapping against creaking wood to be heard. One of the crewbeasts broke the sombre silence, striking up an old naval shanty. Gradually, more of the crew joined in, causing a glare from Jaufrisard before Jelliko stopped him from intervening.

They were close now, almost in range. Suddenly a call came down from the crow's nest. One of the Lieutenants took the report, then hurried up to the quarterdeck to Captain Jaufrisard.

"Captain, lookout reports that the first wave of enemy ships appear only lightly crewed. Several others are holding back from the engagement."

Jaufrisard laughed loudly. "HA! They're so scared by the sight of us that they've run away and cowered below decks! Victory is ours! Three cheers for His Grace lads, huzzah! Huzz..."

The second cheer was cut off midway through as the first of the enemy ships burst into flames.

It was quickly followed by the rest of the enemy ships, each on a collision course with the lumbering Imperial galleons. The Malachite's Folly had been one of the first ships out of the cove, and it was struck square on the starboard side, flames leaping across the gap and igniting the sails and rigging before spreading rapidly down to the deck. Several other ships were also hit, some by the enemy fireships and others by friendly vessels just trying to get out of the way.

Soon the air was thick with smoke, and the water starting to fill with burning chunks of broken wood and longboats filled to overflowing with confused and panicked sailors doing their best to avoid being mown down by drifting hulks. Admiral Jelliko surveyed the chaos grimly. The second wave of enemy ships was starting to move closer to the scattered and shocked Imperial fleet. There was little that could be salvaged from the situation. At least four of the Imperial galleons were on fire and drifting, having been abandoned by their crews, several others had already struck their colours. With the arrival of the main enemy force the rest of the broken fleet would quickly follow.

Suddenly, with a loud squawk, an exhausted looking Missertross Poste gull crashed down onto the quarterdeck, its flying goggles pulled down tightly over its eyes and several arrows embedded in its leather pouch. Jelliko quickly opened the pouch and removed the hurriedly scrawled message.

Admiral,

We are undone. Enemy ships have been sighted rounding Kenny's Bunk Pointe. If this message finds you, the enemy's main invasion force is concentrated against Vulpininsula, not Magh. Already there are reports of scouting parties coming ashore. The Imperial army is withdrawing to establish defences at Amarone, and the Imperial Ministers are evacuating with them. Defence of the city has been left to the Captain of the Stoatorian Guard.

You must return with all haste to relieve us. The enemy are many.

Baltsar

Jelliko hung his head. Outmaneuvered twice. Somebeast must know more about this than they were letting on. Looking across the scattered fleet to see which ships were still fighting. One of the newer frigates, the Stormchaser was the closest, one of the only ships nearby that hadn't struck its colours.

The Admiral beckoned his Aide. "Signal Stormchaser, order them to make full sail for Bully Harbour at once to aid in the defence of the city and to secure the Imperial Palace. The rest of the fleet will break off from the engagement and regroup at the island of Urk."

The Aide hurried away and soon the orders were flying from the masthead. Stormchaser signaled 'Acknowledged', and broke away from the battle, putting on as much sail as she could to evade the oncoming enemy ships.

"Do you think she'll make it sir?" Captain Jaufrisard asked, his once pristine uniform stained with soot and blood. "Will we?"

"Stormchaser is one of the fastest ships in the fleet, Captain," Jelliko assured him. "She will make it. She has to, or all is lost."

The Admiral dug his claws into the guardrail as the fleet scattered away from Magh, and the island began to fall away in the distance. Soon all that could be seen was the rising column of smoke.