Caradin laughed heartily spinning the wheel of the large airship deftly, another powerful fire spell barely missing the bow of his ship as it lulled impossibly to the left. This was when the wild dwarf was the most alive, and he always had the briefest feelings of invulnerability. And why not, he asked himself? The Wild Orchid had never been defeated in combat, and was one of the most wanted ships on the Sea of Clouds. Yet, it still hadn’t been brought down, and none of its crew had ever seen a day in an Imperial prison. As his dark red hair flew behind him, caught up in the dangerous winds that now buffeted the ship, he guffawed again loudly yelling to the elf currently gripping the rail. The poor lad was looking as if he was contemplating leaping from the ship and taking his chances with the fall.
“Sinta you wanna’ get off? Your looking a lil’ green around the edges.” the dwarf yelled over the winds howling. Sinta glared at him before straightening his scarlet robes in a regal looking manner, doing his best to appear unshaken. The elf couldn’t have been an odder fit to be on this airship as he absolutely despised flying, and often vomited over the side of the airship, even in calm winds.
“If I did, you ignorant dwarf, you wouldn’t be much more than a smear on the side of the canyon wall now, would you?” The elf said rather arrogantly. Caradin laughed again as he spun the wheel, barely missing a large boulder as he lowered himself into the canyon. The large Imperial ship bravely followed him down into the much narrower space.
“Ah, I could do without you always emptying your belly on my ship. And that’s Captain ignorant dwarf to you elf!” The dwarf knew though the elf was right, even if he had said it mostly in jest. Sinta may have his qualms, such as being such a dainty fellow, but he was also the best ship mage this side of the Tear. He could bring his magic to bear on other ships in spectacular fashion, and was the only mage Caradin had ever employed that could keep up with his crazy flying. The dwarf captain wouldn’t last long without his long time friend.
A voice yelled up from below the deck before a human female covered in soot and oil popped up from below, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and an irritated look on her face.
“Gods above Caradin, your pushing the Orchid to the edge of her endurance. Much more of this flying and we’ll end up out of power. We haven’t recharged since Dunn port. The rune stones are pushing out all the power they can and if you aren’t careful we’re going to blow another engine.”
Caradin looked back and smiled at his rune keeper Iyani, the kind of smile that seldom meant anything good.
“Alright I’ll make this quick then,” he said before an abrupt dive downward that sent Iyani spilling down below, and caused Sinta to grip the rail. The Wild Orchid was heavily modified and had all the power of a larger ship in a small skiff like body, but with maneuvers like these it drained large amounts of power from the ancient ruin stones that powered the ship.
“Sinta, they’ll try to bring that behemoth lower and when they do I want you to drop somethin’ heavy on em!” he shouted to the elven mage.
“We’ll bury ourselves you damn crazy dwarf!” The elf shouted back incredously even as he readied his magic.
“Ah, trust me elf.”
Sinta grumbled back without missing a beat, “Yeah that’s the same thing you said when we were flying against the pirates in the Broken Flowers. Look how that turned out.”
“Bah…you worry too much.” Caradin said.
“And you don’t worry enough. One of these days Caradin we won’t be so lucky.”
The wild dwarf laughed as he expertly dodged rocks and outcroppings in the canyon. “Aye but not today lad. Not today. Just do as I tell ya and we’ll be fine.”\
Moments after his statement, the ship mage on the War of the Roses behind them let a spell lose that tore into their sails, the large panels that gathered energy from the sun, and sometimes lightning storms, and channeled them to the runes below.
The dwarf roared at the damage to his ship, and pulled up hard on his ship’s wheel sending it in another rise dodging a outcropping below and then yelled to Sinta.
“Now!” he cried, and seconds after the elf released the spell he had been holding, sending a large bolt of energy crashing into the canyon directly above them. The dwarf had the ship practically dancing through the falling debris with all the grace of a cat, albeit a large cat that was flying and also on fire. The War of the Roses behind them wasn’t so lucky. The large Imperial ship took a large boulder to their deck and the rest of the rubble tore through the side of their ship and the valuable ley lines directly beneath the siding that channeled the rune’s energy to the rest of the ship, balancing the entire thing. It lulled oddly to the side as its Captain struggled to keep it between the canyon walls. He had to be damned skilled, Caradin thought to himself. But, he had made a mistake of bringing that Imperial monster of a ship down here where the Wild Orchid had the benefit of its speed and the experience of its crew.
Moments later both ships burst from the end of the canyon as the War of the Roses crashed again into the side it arched slowly downward, its Captain still struggling to keep the nose of the ship upright. It crashed into the ground, the bottom of the ship tearing nearly completely off. They would be right ticked, but they would live. Caradin whooped in triumph and pointed his ship towards the port city of Alanda.
“See what’d I tell ya elf?” the dwarf proclaimed proudly.
Sinta just glared at him, and promptly threw up.
Iyani shook her head in sorrow at the damage done to the ship as she came up on deck. Most rune keepers grew very much attached to the ships they served on, and the Wild Orchid was no exception for her. It took a lot of dedication from a person to both repair these flying marvels, and manage the unpredictable and strong magic of the runes, coaxing from them always more power. It was something that she took great pride in. After all, she was probably the youngest person aboard most of the pirate crews that roamed the area, and she didn’t just take care of the ship but the rune stones as well; on most ships that was left to two separate crew members. She looked up in anguish at the sails above. Caradin had long since had Sinta cast a spell on them, drenching them in water and putting out the flames, but the damage was extensive and would be hell to fix.
Good thing they were headed to the port of Alanda. Even as she thought of it the city seemed to materialize from below, as the ship lowered through the clouds. Iyani was from Alanda, and she always found it one of the most beautiful cities they visited. Built high above the plains below on the width of a giant plateau the city had docks that stretched out from the walls of the rock to accommodate the ships that frequented the place. It was one of the few places beyond Imperial rule, and one of the ports they could dare to visit. That was mostly due to the number of pirate and rebel groups that visited the place. It had everything one needed to stay on the run. Good ale, warm beds, and plenty of parts for repair. It was even outfitted with a ley charger: the large magically infused artifacts that charged the rune stones. It was rare for cities not of Imperial rule to own these, which made sense as they were outlawed in any except Imperial cities. Still, somehow the sky pirates and rebels that flew these ships found a way to keep in the sky.
Caradin banked toward the city and lowered into one of the docks there. With help from Iyani he quickly had the Orchid tied down, and lowered the plank to let them exit. The dock attendant rushed forward and Caradin placed a few silver pieces in his hands as he passed him. Nobody would be foolish enough to try and touch their ship, but if they were, there were plenty surprises aboard for would be thieves. Caradin stroked his beard and turned to Iyani and Sinta, addressing them both.
“Well I guess first order of business will be getting the sails repaired. After a bit of ale of course.”
Iyani rolled her eyes and Sinta shook his head. He looked horribly weighed down by the large leather bag strapped to his back that held the rune stones of their ship. The huge stones weighed tons even as small as they were, and though the elf had undoubtedly placed a spell upon them to make them weigh much less, they were still heavy.
“I’m going to visit the ley charger. All we need is for the Orchid to end up plowed into the ground somewhere because we neglected the runes.” He shook his head at the dwarf and headed off in that direction. Doubtlessly, Caradin thought to himself, the grumpy elf wanted to also stop to browse the magic wares of the marketplace and study at the large library ship mages were so fond of that also lay in that direction; a direction that Iyani seemed to be headed as well.
“Ah where ya going Iyani love? Your not going to make an old dwarf drink alone are ya?”
“Gotta get the sails repaired if we plan on not having to stop every few days to charge the ruin stones.” She yelled back over her shoulder without turning.
The dwarf watched them go for a while longer then waved his hand dismissively at them as they left. “Bah….fine. I’ll go have all the fun.”
Soon he was heading in the direction of the White Oleander, the best bar he’d ever visited on this side of the Tear; or either side of the Tear for that matter. As he entered, the large half Giant bartender yelled out to him.
“Caradin old friend! How the hell are ya? Still giving those Imps a run for their money?” The large man said as he slapped the dwarf on the back almost sending him sprawling to the floor.
Caradin smiled broadly and took the hand offered, shaking it firmly. “Aye I am. That’s exactly what I’m running them for: their money. Just took down the War of the Roses.” He said with a large grin.
The man’s smile faded a bit.
“Caradin that isn’t some little ship from the outer regions that the Imps control. That’s one of their prized galleons from the capital itself.” the giant man looked around as if he expected the Imperials to show up any moment.
“Ah relax Bron. For a man that used to be one of the best Seekers I’ve known, you sure seem scared of a couple Imps. Besides I wasn’t flying a flag, they shouldn’t know it was me. I’m not that famous yet am I?” he stated with another broad smile. Noticing his friend didn’t relax much, he balked.
“Bah it’ll be fine. Now come keep me company with a drink or two and some of your crazy stories. How about that one from the time when we took that 2nd generation rune stone right out from under that whole company of Orc Seekers, ‘ey?”
Bron smiled and seemed to relax lowering his large bulk into a chair and began chatting with his old friend settling into reminiscing.
In the corner of the bar another man looked up from a drink he seemed to be nursing, and fixed a stare directly on Bron and his drinking companion. He had found them at last, one of the most notorious bounties out there now. It was a different time than it once had been, and bounties were caught much more swiftly by the Imperial forces. Caradin was a relic from times gone by, before the occupation, and as such was a rousing challenge to the hunter. He wished he could confront him now, have real combat with the dwarf. The hunter knew that the twin double edged hand axes that hung on Caradin’s back were not just for show, and heard he could put them to frightening use. Even better his pet mage and his rune gun slinging keeper weren’t around. It would be a one on one fight, a challenge of skill rather than brute strength.
Taltheir clucked to himself in disappointment, his orders were clear. No matter how much he wanted the challenge, he wanted to get paid even more, and people that disobeyed Imperial lords didn’t last long in this world. Rising from the table he grabbed the wide brim hat from the chair behind him, and fixed it on his head, pulling the large duster about him covering his twin knives and heading for the exit. He made his way out the bar and into a dirty back alley, there he rubbed the contact crystal.
“Your Imperial Highness, I have them. They’ve dropped in the port of Alanda.”
The voice on the other end of the crystal was like oily water in its consistency. Smooth yet somehow not quite right.
“Excellent. Don’t let them leave. I’m sending the Black Narcissus right away.”
The contact crystal went dull as the conversation was dropped. Taltheir whistled low as he realized how much they must really want Caradin. The Black Narcissus was something pirates whispered about to one another like children telling a ghost story. Crewed by some of Imperial’s best Warders and rumored to even employ hunters exclusively aligned with the Imperials, it was a feared massive galleon with scores of ship mages. For a moment Taltheir felt almost sorry for Caradin. Then he shook his head, and headed back towards the docks to book travel on a passenger ship. He wouldn’t want to be here once the Black Narcissus arrived, that much was sure. It was a shame such a warrior had to go like this, but Taltheir was a man of common sense, and nobody tangled with the Warders.