Lord Pan of Eden, William Baley, emerged from the captain’s quarters to face the Unionist witch who was ripping apart his mages on The Sumter’s bloody deck. Casting lightning bolts and flashes of ice, the Unionist shielded herself from alliance counterattacks and used an air blast to knock an Edenon mage overboard.
You silly ass! chimed a golden fairy as she bolted from the dark room behind William around to his blood-smeared face. You’re already exhausted from the last three attacks. We can’t lose you! You need to get back-
“You’ll lose me anyway if this ship goes down,” William replied and moved past her and the alliance mages shielding the doorway. He glanced at the Swinnen ship bound to his own with a spiked boarding ramp before facing the witch.
I- can’t help you, William! Tinker Belle chimed as he stepped out into the cloud-mottled midday sun. Moist, tepid air reeked of the sharp iron of blood and foul scat from dead men. William!
“Finally!” The witch smiled at his approach and gathered her power in a flush of smoky blue light before firing three entwined arcs of lightning. William raised his left hand to catch all three arcs and channeled them out of his right hand upward as a web of energy across the enemy ship. In seconds, every sheet of canvas, rope line, and mast burst into flame. Dozens of sailors dropped from electrical burns. Those unharmed rushed to put out the fires spreading across the ship. The witch’s face faltered when she realized her lightning had set her own ship ablaze.
William drew up his power and fired a spread of yellow-red balls of fire through his open palms. She twisted out of the way as shock painted her yellow-skinned face, angled eyes, and full lips.
“You son of a bitch!” she countered with a powerful blast of wind.
William braced a magical shield with both arms just in time to divert the gusts, then dove aside as she cast a binding spell. A sailor behind him crumpled to the deck when the spell landed on him instead.
“Back!” William barked at the crew.
Dressed in Unionist red and blue, the midnight-haired witch matched him to prevent him flanking her. Arrows fired by marines slowed and fell lifeless to the deck when they struck her magical shields.
The witch unleashed an attack of ice to drive him back. He diverted it off-ship and countered with broiling gusts of air, which she cooled before the wind struck her. Advancing, she cast quick flashes of light to blind him before unleashing more arcs of lightning.
He allowed the energy to land just above his person upon a robe-like mantle, creating a brilliant shimmer of auroric light over a golden lattice. The witch flinched as William’s mantle — the magic that defined the pan — flared with the flush of power, giving him the chance to counterstrike, doubled with his own magic.
She hesitated between shielding herself and rechanneling the energy outward as William had. Her hesitation created a notch in her defense. Energy pierced her body. Her trunk ripped open in a muted explosion that flailed out, her two halves connected only by her spine, before slapping to the deck. Her anchored shields flickered out.
William stumbled to a knee and snatched the starboard rail as his energy bottomed.
You can’t keep fighting! Tinker Belle flew across the deck. You’re exhausted. You need to be where it’s safe!
“What do you want me to do, Belle?” William glanced at the enemy ship and motioned to one of his surviving mages who rushed to destroy the ramp in an explosion of fire and wood before helping the sailor bound by the witch’s spell. Powerless without lines or sails, the enemy ship drifted away as its crew scrambled to save themselves from fire. “Those selfdamn Swinnens are already ripping us apart. Our mages, no matter how skilled, aren’t powerful enough to deal with the sheer number of theirs.”
You’re to lead from the rear so you remain protected, Tinker Belle growled. You keep stepping out here and you’re gonna get killed. Stay behind and safe! We should fall back to Admiral Liston’s ship so he can better protect us!
Sailors around him policed the dead from the blood-smeared deck. Spelled arrows bristled the corpses of alliance mages and had set sections of wood on fire. William ran his fingers through his thick brown hair and forced himself to his feet. A striking man with broad shoulders, straight nose and full chin, William dominated the deck standing akimbo in his hunter green long coat, open over a voluminous white blouse tucked into forest green trousers, belted and booted in amber brown leather. His high, straight collar framed his shaking head as he took in his decimated crew. “If they all die, I will, too.”
“Lord Pan!” Captain Larimund Shelley approached with Leftenant Rupert Dennison on his heels. A stout Alderlander with charcoal skin and broad curly hair, Shelley moved across the deck with the grace of his decades of experience at sea. “Well done, my lord. I think we lost fewer of our own than we feared.”
“Admiral Liston signals to regroup,” Shelley said. “We plan to move on their center now that we’ve split their right flank. Of all nations to denounce our alliance and throw in with the Unionists, why Swinne!? They do not go down easily.”
“Among other reasons, Nailata, Tarnia and Gemria forge the strength of the alliance’s maritime forces,” William growled. “The opportunity to take out their greatest maritime competition is something Swinne would never pass up.”
Shelley grimaced. “They may match our numbers, but I have faith in alliance captains. We are the finest in Pangea. The Unionists can be fervent and dead, for all I care.”
“Regrouping is wise,” William said. “My family?”
“Rupert, here, checked on them personally.” Shelley motioned to Dennison, a tall man with pale brown skin and a broad nose under a mop of sun-brightened curly brown hair.
“They are well, my lord,” said Leftenant Rupert Dennison.
“Good,” William said. “Bring me a-”
“Captain!” the pilot cried. “Ahead!”
William and Shelley raced to the bridge with Tinker Belle in tow for a better view. A forest of inky smoke columns billowed from a field of burning vessels.
“Report.” Shelley scanned the battle.
“There!” The pilot pointed just right of the bow.
A lone ship wove among his own fleet with alarming speed as if carried by the water itself.
“What is it?” Shelley asked as William leaned forward. “We need to retreat, Lord Pan, not fight another ship.”
“Wait.” With his mantle-powered eyes, William watched magic erupt from the lone vessel toward an alliance craft in its path. An ocean wave carrying the enemy ship flushed forward, grew by a mast’s height, and crashed into the ship, which buckled under the immense power and twisted onto its side.
The ohna marina, Tinker Belle gasped.
“What is it?” Shelley extended his spyglass. “Oh … no.”
When a second alliance ship in the enemy’s path sank in two breaths, a cry rose among the crew.
William gripped the railing.
Shelley paled. “Great Self save us.”
“What?” Rupert gaped. “Wh- what’s happening?”
“Blasphemers!” Shelley snapped. “A first power! An ohna!” Sailors kissed their knuckles and ducked their heads.
As a third alliance ship attempted to block the on-comer’s path, a humpback exploded from the surface and crashed upon its side. Sailors on William’s ship gasped when a second whale appeared and repeated the attack from another point. More whales breached to batter the alliance corvette. A pale beluga managed to fall on the ship’s deck, scattering what sailors it didn’t crush.
The ohna makara, Tinker Belle growled. She scanned the field of ships and pointed. There’s a second ohna bearer over there by at least a mile. He’s got amazing control to push whales this far across the battlefield.
“How are they doing that?” Rupert asked.
“There’s another ohna,” William growled.
“Another first power?” Shelley asked.
With its path cleared, the enemy ship darted into view with a fresh wave building from beneath its keel.
“So fast,” Rupert said.
“Turn toward them.” William’s level voice cut the tension. “Now.”
Shelley barked orders to get the ship moving again, echoed by his officers. Expert crew darted into action as William raced across the deck and out onto the bowsprit with one hand on a forward line to steady himself.
As the gap closed between the Unionist vessel and The Sumter, William locked onto the ohna bearer on their forecastle — a midnight-haired woman with dark khaki skin and a bold, hooked nose, clad in light, crimson armor. From the woman’s right fist danced light visible to the pan and the haraven, alone. She raised the ohna.
“Athyka Bonduquoy.” William grit his teeth and reassured himself that while he stood at the fore of The Sumter, her powers would fail. A wave of water climbed from under the hull of her ship but disintegrated two ship spans away from his own.
Athyka scowled when the ohna’s power failed on approach. She tried again with a different weave. The ohna’s power crossed the waters to open the ocean beneath his ship. Again, the power failed and left a faint ripple across the choppy waves.
The Sumter gained speed, but at William’s hand signal, the ship’s attentive pilot guided the vessel a bit to lee to avoid hitting them head on.
William held out his hand. “Bow.”
One of marines behind him offered their bow and quiver.
William took it, plucked an arrow and used one swift pull to loose an arrow at the enemy ship. Athyka screamed a warning too late. William’s arrow took the enemy captain through the eye. As the enemy crew erupted in surprise, their mages threw up tardy shields from their positions at the forecastle.
William loosed two more arrows, knowing they would burn up in the enemy’s shields. He then signaled The Sumter’s pilot, who angled the ship more to lee as William raced atop the starboard rail and prepared to leap across to the passing enemy ship. Once upon the enemy deck, he could rip them apart.
Before he could leap, the water beneath the vessels welled and drove the enemy’s ship away from The Sumter and out of his reach. William snatched a line to keep himself from falling into the water. Several alliance sailors cried a momentary victory while Unionist mages unleashed bolts of fire, lightning and spelled arrows that flared on shields raised by alliance mages.
As Athyka used the ohna to speed her ship away, her ship’s exposed aft revealed its name — Unity’s Light.
“Is they runnin’?” asked a nearby sailor when Unity’s Light avoided the next alliance vessel.
“No.” William clenched his jaw and the line in his left fist. Unable to match the enemy’s speed or maneuverability, he could do nothing but watch Unity’s Light dance around his ships with impunity. He rubbed his face. “Selfdamn it. Richter’s Deep, Shelley. I should have seen it. The largest pod spawning waters in Pangea. With the ohnas marina and makara, they can master all water and sea life. We-” He exhaled. “Great Self, we don’t stand a chance here.”
“Is it really an ohna? A first power? A holy power of creation?” Rupert breathed. “I didn’t want to believe.”
“How does it look?” William asked.
Counting ships, Shelley sighed. “What we have now will … we’re down by about fifty of our original three hundred, but so are they. Out of their original two hundred and fifty or so, that’s a bigger hit on them.” Unity’s Light avoided ships attempting to block its path as it moved deeper into the alliance fleet. “If they can get out of range of that thing. How far can they wield it?”
“Not far,” William growled, “but Athyka can dance out of our reach until she’s picked off who she wants. We can’t fight all that by ourselves.” He grimaced and spat. “It doesn’t matter if we have superior numbers and captains if they have the ohnas. It’s the same selfdamn tactic they’ve used since taking those fucking ohnas from their seats. Self damnit.”
“What tactic?” Rupert glanced at Shelley.
“The Unionists enticed larger forces into a seemingly easy victory due to the Unionists’ small numbers,” Shelley offered with a frown. “Then they used the powers of creation to create a bloody rout.”
“But … you’re the pan,” Rupert said. “Can’t you do something? We’re a fleet of nations! Surely, they cannot hope to stand against our alliance. Not with captains and admirals like Liston, Dubair and Afgunati! Not with you! They say the first powers are as nothing to you! My lord.”
“Were I alone…” William looked downward where belowdecks his wife, son, and two guards awaited the battle’s end. Fear passed through him at the thought of his family coming to danger before he tamped it to focus on the moment. “But as it stands, even I cannot stop an entire fleet, even a small one. Not when they can do that.” He pointed at Unity’s Light avoiding alliance efforts to attack and slow it.
“She’s going for Admiral Liston,” Shelley breathed as Unity’s Light turned on the Nailatan flagship. He leaned onto the bannister when Liston’s vessel, identifiable by the colors flying above the center mast, sank in moments. Shelley’s eyes closed.
“She won’t need to take us all out, Shelley,” William whispered. “All she needs is to take our finest — the very ones we need most. The rest will crumble.”
Moans of alarm died across deck when it became apparent a balance of power had shifted.
“Swinne has made their choice. The Unionists …” William’s breath faded as the situation’s gravity settled on him. He flexed his hands and let his eyelids sink. “They have won, Shelley.”
“But she’s only taken a few more of ours!” cried Rupert. “Surely, if we gang up on her …!? We can take her!”
Everyone on the bridge blanched in the following silence.
William hesitated once, then twice. “Signal the fleet.”
Hatred and despair fought dominance in his chest. Swinne had sided with the Unionists. Eden, his home, was laid bare before the insurgents. He and his family had no place in the civilized world to retreat. Unionist-whipped mobs raged across the continent — there was no safe place to hide from the sway of angry, ignorant masses, incited by quiet political actors. The world burned in a fire fabricated by opportunistic nobles, corporatist merchants and true-believing sheep.
“The message, my lord?” Shelley straightened.
“Disperse,” he said. “No rally point. … Survive.”
Shelley relayed orders to the signalman. “How did they know we would be here?” Shelley fisted his thick hands. “Intelligence said they were far to the north. How did they know our route to flank them?”
“Betrayal,” Rupert breathed.
“Never!” Shelley snapped.
“No, he’s right.” William slicked more water from his hair. “We’ve been betrayed by someone in Eden.”
“Eden? Who would betray us in Eden?” Rupert asked.
“Our plans were known only by a few,” William said. “I fear my sister has been taken.”
“Councilor Baley?” Shelley asked.
“You mean she betrayed us?” Rupert asked.
Mixed feelings passed over William’s face. “She was not part of our planning meetings. We were betrayed in Eden. That is all we need know. And more importantly, it means Eden-” He didn’t want to say it. “Eden has fallen. And my sister, regardless of her role, is likely dead. All Baleys are a target to the Unionists.”
“Because we were betrayed?” Rupert asked.
“Because if they knew we escaped,” Shelley growled, “Eden would be vulnerable. So much for sneaking you out of the city, Lord Pan. I’m so sorry.”
“But what will we do?” asked Rupert.
William scowled. “I don’t know.”
A silence fell on the bridge. William soaked in the tang of salty air, heat of the sun and the gentle rock of deep open waves rolling beneath their hull while the faint cry of sailors on nearby vessels drifted over the sparkling waters.
“Ere it comes, the days long past, we danced across the waters.” Shelley’s quiet voice drew every eye but William’s. “Fight the fight, fulfill our vows, and go to meet our fathers.”
“Aye, away to Eden,” said the pilot.
“Aye, away to Eden,” echoed the bosun.
“Orders, Lord Pan?” Shelley prompted.
Where do we go, Will? Tinker Belle chimed.
Glancing at the pixie, William used the sun to calculate time and distance in his head. With a final glance toward Unity’s Light and his own fleet in flight, he sighed. After escaping Eden under the cover of night, racing for weeks across Pangea to meet up with the alliance fleet, and weeks more asea before finding failure, yet again, he felt void of choices.
“We’re in the Far West Pangean Sea? Make for south by southeast.” He looked across the waves at a point upon the horizon he could find without sun, map, or compass from anywhere in any weather, a place that ever tugged on his soul. “We make for Algueda.” He focused on that distant point. “We make for Neverland.”
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