(1310-10-26) Black Sails
Summary: Amidst an autumnal squall off the coast of Kriti, The Dancer clashes against its quarry, The Ariadne, a heavy three-masted frigate, with every intent to capture it as a prize despite the devastating risks present in fighting a vessel above its class. As Captain Athene Lesse and Alcibiades Rousse lead their crew to battle, unforeseen consequences surface in the form of an unexpected complication. It might very well be that their carefully devised ruse in Phaistos might've worked a little too well when a third ship decides to say hello, trapping The Dancer between a rock and a hard place…
RL Date: October 26, 2018
Related: Everything in this page.
isabelle alcibiades 

Open Waters

Just miles and miles and miles of ocean.


OPEN WATERS
SEVERAL HUNDRED NAUTICAL MILES OFF THE COAST OF KRITI

Perhaps not too unexpectedly, as it fell well within Alcibiades' calculations as to just how tricky this entire enterprise will be, the weather that assails The Dancer today is rough and abysmal. Torrents of rain pour in sheets from dark-gray skies, soaking into hull and stern and leaving it difficult for even the most experienced seafarers to clamber around the deck and rigging without slipping or falling in some way. Waves buoy the vessel in steep dips and inclines, though it manages to hold without doing anything so far as capsizing or worse - nothing disastrous has happened yet.

With so much water assailing them, it makes it difficult for anyone to see much of anything, but whoever is on watch would be able to catch, at the moment, movement above the water, several miles off the vessel's starboard bow. The lookout turns his head towards the rest of those on deck, his warning lost within the whipping winds. But two words will, at least, be apparent from the man's attempt to pass on some vital information:

"…BLACK SAILS…!"

Isabelle de Valais, who most of them know (somewhat inaccurately) as the financier of the present expedition, is nowhere on the topdeck. She has elected to remove herself from the path of the more experienced crew members who need to be on alert and ready to follow the orders of their captain and first mate, in the event that the bait they've left on Kriti's shores has finally attracted their chosen quarry. But she is ready and she is prepared - she had been glimpsed earlier clad in the black, nondescript outfit that she prefers whenever she knows that she is about to get in a fight; something similar to what they had seen on her two years ago when they took the slaver that attempted to carry off someone important to her.

She did not hear the lookout's warning, but the frenetic activity that thrums from the topdecks to the belowdecks is one that she detects easily - there isn't much privacy or room on a ship, and she eventually emerges, tilting her face towards rain and wind. Precipitation soaks into the secure bind her hair is in almost immediately, the deluge bleeding through the scarf that keeps most of it covered and the spare lengths draped over neck and shoulder. A leather corset with light chainmaille lining has been laced over a fitted long-sleeved shirt and while there is a leather jacket to keep her warm, it has no fur - not in this weather. Breeches, sensible boots. Slender forearms are bound in a pair of archer's gauntlets and there's a bandolier of smaller blades strapped diagonally over her chest and her black recurve bow, well-used, well-loved, is clutched on her right hand.

All of her gear for a fight is black, given her personal preferences to perform whatever eradications she deems necessary under the cover of night. An autumnal storm is nothing compared to total darkness, but given the rain and terrible visibility, it would serve. Silent as a shadow, she finds the displaced Rousse lord in the chaos, slipping over towards him.

"What is it?" she asks; she practically has to yell it through the wind.

<FS3> Isabelle rolls Subterfuge: Good Success. (5 5 3 8 8 6 3)

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Seafaring+2: Great Success. (8 5 2 7 5 7 1 4 6 8 7 3 3)

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Perception: Success. (5 5 6 4 3 8 4)

"They've found us," Alcibiades replies, roaring over the wind.

He stands tall, his ponytail whipping straight out behind him, bare-headed in the rain as he turns to stare off into the banks of rain to their stern. Hands on his hips, he takes in the situation. The Ariadne is clearly larger, but it's hard to make out much detail in this weather. She slips in and out of the squalls, not firing yet, attempting to use her greater ballast to bull through the massive waves.

After a few moments, Alcibiades begins to bellow orders. "There is to be no beating to quarters! No beating the drums! Starboard watch into the rigging! Stow the topgallants and maintops, but lubberly, lubberly! Make it sloppy. Show 'em we're a bunch of milksop merchants, lads." The bosun begins directing men into the rigging, but very little instruction is needed. Even in these wild seas, even with a foe at their rear and with the weather-gauge, the crewmen swarm up the rigging with a deft grace that might leave a landsman queasy and heartsick.

Alcibiades turns to Jaime. "Get your Marines down to the gundeck. Load with grape — double-shotted. When she comes up on us, I intend to spill our wind and take her across their bows. We'll rake them stem to stern, then come up on their portside quarter and board her in the smoke."

It's a risky maneuver — if Alcibiades miscalculates even by an instant, the pirate might ram them amidships and drive them down beneath its greater weight. But far, far, riskier would be to allow the other ship use of its far-heavier cannon. By raking them — firing down the length of the ship — they're also refusing the enemy the opportunity to use her full broadside.

Jaime nods once, his seamed face alight and ten years younger. He slaps Alcibiades on the arm and then, discreetly, presses a letter into his hand. Alcibiades reaches inside his jacket and pockets it, exchanging it with one of his own. A keen observer might see that it is addressed to Isabelle de Valais. The two grip hands for a moment, and then part. They may never see each other alive again.

Alcibiades turns toward Isabelle next. "She's coming up on us fast. She has the weather gauge, which means she can force an engagement whenever she pleases simply by falling off the wind a bit, and this storm favors her. She has the weather gauge…" He grins suddenly, and there is a terrible joy on his bony face, "But we have the weather gods. It's going to start soon. When it does, can I ask you to climb to the tops and rain hell down with that bow? If you cannot see a target, you won't go wrong in shooting at their quarterdeck."

There is no time for sentiment or affection now. Alcibiades seems big — bigger than before, as though he is more fully alive than he has ever been. He turns to another man, a seaman tasked to act as his servant. "My cutlass, and the storm-cup. I would like a cup of coffee before boarding."

The storm-cup arrives, steam rising out of its lid. Now that orders are given, Alcibiades assumes an air of insouciance, standing just behind his wheelmen. The ship is visibly slowing as sails are brought up and furled. Even Isabelle would see that it is being done terribly slowly, and with nowhere near the precision she is used to. But eventually, men begin returning to deck.

"It's vital she doesn't know we've smoked her, lads," Alcibiades explains to his officers. "Every few minutes, send a few more down to the gundeck. Nothing dramatic. Nothing obvious. Keep them down, keep them armed, and wait for the word."

She does not know enough about how life is at sea - she is a visitor, not an inhabitant, but she is perceptive enough, and a better hand at understanding people and the motivations that drive them than most. As both men exchange letters before the action begins, the winds and water conspire to keep her from glimpsing any notations that may indicate who the addressees are, a hand lifting to rake over her eyes in an effort to clear them from the rain. But Isabelle does favor him a look, after, genuine curiosity there.

"So what happens if you both fall?" she wonders, never one to resist jabbing at him with the sharper end of her humor, but her lips are turned up in a smile, eyes burning with exhilaration….and apprehension. The woman is capable of many things, he knows that better than most, but the glaring reality of it is that she is a spy and not a soldier. The risk to her is greater when thrown in the middle of a chaotic skirmish like the one they're busily preparing for, and on a ship? There is barely any room to maneuver and even less room to hide.

…but we have the weather gods.

"Well, hopefully they're not fickle enough today to switch sides," Isabelle remarks, faint resignation on her features, sunkissed complexion beaded by persistent rainwater, but she shows nothing less than the confidence she exudes in all things, a black, calm silhouette in the midst of the chaos churned out by battle preparations. She does observe the changes in him in the midst of it, mired in his element, the thing, most say, that he is born to do. Despite herself, her mouth twists upwards in a smile.

Dark eyes track upwards towards the rigging, and while she could protest and accuse him for placing her there to keep her out of the heart of the action, she doesn't, and it doesn't even register in her conscious thoughts. She is not meant for face-to-face engagements, too pragmatic in the end to even tolerate any assertions of her own insurmountable vanity, and climbing upwards in this weather is a risky position enough as it is. "I can't guarantee my aim from that high up," she tells him. "Not with these winds." She rolls her head back languidly; deceptive, that, when every nerve is lit and ready for the worst, her heart hammering against her bones, giving him a sidelong look. "But I'll adjust."

He gets his coffee, and she takes a step to the side and down on the main deck, looking over her shoulder and her expression hidden by the way she has tilted herself - ever the crafty bint. He would only be able to see the profile her nose makes, and a single dark eye shot with gold trained on his face.

"I'll see you when this is all over."

It could be hope, or supreme overconfidence that they will make it out of this alive. It could also be her faith - that breathtaking, towering inner construct that enables her to cling to her course without wavering.

With that, she slips through the throng of milling bodies, and just as suddenly as she appeared on deck, she is gone.

<FS3> Isabelle rolls 8: Good Success. (7 2 5 7 6 7 4 3)

<FS3> Isabelle rolls 10: Great Success. (3 5 7 7 5 7 6 5 4 7)

When the pirate ship is actually visible, they would be afforded their first glimpse of The Ariadne.

It cuts through the rain like an obsidian dagger and just by taking in the lines and shape of her, one would be able to fully understand as to just why this vessel, in particular, had been chosen in its prior life as the Etoille du Soir to ferry the once-future sovereign duc of Kusheth into international waters…and why it so easily attracted the predations of pirates, with or without the aid of the mysterious agent, Jean-Louis. It is a heavy three-masted frigate, fitted with thirty-two guns and twelve-pound brass cannons - the lower end of a standard naval array. Its hull is solid oak and even through the frigid slicing of wind and water, its very distinctive figurehead can be spotted even from this distance - a golden mermaid holding a star aloft with both hands, its color and paint dulled by wear and weather, peeling around the face, bust and tail and giving it the look of something once beautiful in a forlorn state of dessication.

Distant figures flit now and then across its topdecks. The colors of House Morhban are nowhere among the sea of canvas sheets that flutter from its masts, but the sails are black, indicative of what kind of masters are behind the wheel of the beast that is bearing down upon The Dancer. With its lesser firepower, smaller crew and four-pound guns, it is fated and primed, at present, to fight outside of its class.

Alcibiades watches his woman - his woman, the thought makes him thrill - disappear into the gale above him. Wind whistles through the rigging and, indeed, bows may be nearly useless in this battle. Cold steel at close range is what will decide it — that, and if all goes well, Alcibiades' gamble. He draws in a breath and draws himself back to the matter at hand. This is no time to introduce self-doubt to his mounting arena of emotions.

Standing there, feet planted on the deck, one hand reaching out to touch a stay and test its tautness, Alcibiades' mind is in three places — he is a part of his ship, and he is acutely aware of the ship approaching on his stern with its black sails and its black flag, and he is constantly doing the calculations of force, of exactly when to act, exactly how long it is feasible to pretend not to know one is being pursued. How long before The Ariadne grows suspicious and opens fire, gives up her chance of leaving The Dancer undamaged? Renee is aboard. He knows what The Dancer is capable of. How long until he realizes the trap?

Not yet. Not yet. He mustn't lose his nerve and blow the gaffe. He has one chance at this. Stepping up to the helm, Alcibiades takes the spokes in his hands, feels the life of his ship through the massive oaken wheel, feels her beautiful responsiveness, her thoroughbred willingness, even in such a swell. The time is now.

"Hard over!" And Alcibiades spins the wheel hard to port. The way comes off the ship almost instantly as she turns away from the wind, losing speed dramatically. The distance between the two ships closes, closes. The mermaid figurehead of The Ariadne can be seen. Gods, she is big.

He roars so loudly that he feels his throat ripped raw with the force of it, but he doesn't care. He's beyond it now, staring at that ship bearing down on them. It is going to be close. "On the top of the roll… FIRE AS THEY BEAR!"

The Dancer rises on a swell, suddenly above the larger Ariadne as the other ship enters that same wave's trough. They're only twenty meters apart. The roar of The Dancer's cannon is deafening, even in this storm. The guns go off almost simultaneously, firing grape-shot — hundreds of small iron balls, and double-loaded in the small cannon — into the mass of pirates that swarm on the deck of The Ariadne. Raking fire is devastating. Though the scene is instantly concealed in cannon-smoke, Alcibiades can imagine the massive carnage.

Features collected, though he cannot conceal his savage joy from radiating off him like heat, he continues to turn the wheel. The Dancer barely escapes being rammed by the Ariadne, her starboard side brushing against the other ship's port. There is a horrible screech of impact as the two ships touch, but it's barely a kiss in the scheme of things. Hanging here, just off The Ariadne's bow, the bigger ship still can't quite bring her cannon to bear. It all comes down to fighting now. And Alcibiades knows it.

"Grappling hooks away! All hands! All hands, follow me!" Suddenly his cutlass is in his hand and he's rushing to the starboard side as his men stream up on deck from their concealment. Grappling hooks are thrown — the two ships are tied together. Alcibiades leaps up onto the rail and vaults into the gunsmoke onto his enemy's deck.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=7 Vs Alcibiades=perception
< Isabelle: Failure (2 6 1 4 6 4 6) Alcibiades: Success (5 5 6 4 8 2 1)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Marginal Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=ranged Vs Isabelle=7
< Isabelle: Success (5 8 2 3 3 5 3 4 1) Isabelle: Success (1 6 4 8 5 4 1)
< Net Result: DRAW

If The Ariadne knew it was a trap, there are no signs of it. The risky, initial salvo pays off with the timing of the initial strike as the smaller, faster ship suddenly bears down upon the vessel, firing its grape shot across the deck and delivering a devastating amount of damage not at the ship itself but at the crew manning it. Metal balls do what they tend to do to human bodies when shot across the air in a sudden burst, wood suddenly awash with blood and a not-insignificant number of severed body parts. A few shatter against the wheel and kills the pirate behind it and as smoke rises from the initial blast, nobody is able to make an accurate accounting of the gambit's dividends - there is simply too much volatile environment hampering visibility.

Pirates are nothing like trained naval officers, but years of experience in a dangerous profession guarantee that in spite of this, they'll be able to hold their own, and with little qualms using the absurd amount of firepower at their disposal. Even as the distance closes between vessels, the guns are being pushed out, cannons firing in a deafening crescendo, in response to the carnage inflicted above the gunnery deck. The heavy balls smash into The Dancer's body; the initial approach the smaller vessel has decided to undertake assists in mitigating the damage and so far, things are going in accordance with Alcibiades' calculations.

So far.

But reloading is imminent, and the cannon crews on both ships are busy during precisely that, meanwhile bodies are about to clash on the upper decks of The Ariadne.

With both vessels lashed together, there's no escaping The Dancer now, unless someone decides to cut the ropes loose. Hard, able-bodied men and women spill into the pirate ship - as smoke clears, however much that helps with the day's already poor visibility, there is a pause, a silence so deafening that for a moment, only the wind and the water can be heard. Nobody is moving, wooden planks soaked with sea water and blood - there are corpses everywhere. Did they manage to kill everyone in the topdecks with that grape-shot?

And then, Alcibiades would hear it, the soft but distinct click of a crossbow's drawstring being pulled back. He would only have half a moment to evade before the quarrel fires from behind the dwindling smoke, nearly taking him between the eyes.

A black arrow streaks from The Dancer's direction, its point finding wood as the sharpshooter evades. But it does force him out of the smoke, diving into the maze of bodies present. But regardless of these failed attempts to kill a member from both sides, it is an unmistakeable sign that the blood bath is about to begin in earnest. Rallying cries suddenly rouse from the pirates who camouflaged themselves with the corpses of their former companions, and like a single entity, this gigantic mass swarms towards The Dancer's smaller but more disciplined crew. The clash of live steel that follows is instantaneous.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=dodge
< Isabelle: Failure (5 6 4 6 5 2 2 4) Alcibiades: Success (2 1 5 2 3 4 2 7)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Marginal Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=blades
< Isabelle: Good Success (5 1 8 1 5 2 2 8) Alcibiades: Failure (4 3 3 2 3 4 3 4 2 6)
< Net Result: Isabelle wins - Solid Victory

"Rally to me," Alcibiades says softly after that first quarrel nearly ended his life. He knows, somehow, what is about to happen — some sixth sense warns him. Stepping over a severed hand, he raises his voice. "Rally to me, lads." And his crew do — men and women crowding around him. And just in time. The pirates swarm forward from their grisly concealment, screaming, and suddenly all is chaos.

Alcibiades sidesteps, parries a cutlass blow coming toward one of his crewmen, and lunges back. He doesn't kill the pirate, but forces him back. All along the deck, it is much the same. Jaime Daur and his cluster of hardened Marines are pressing forward in a knot, trying to break the pirates, but they aren't able to make progress, hampered by the ferocity of the pirates' attack and by the chaos of the deck. "Send 'em to hell, lads!" Jaime is screaming, trying to rally The Dancer's crew into a further assault.

There is simply too many for them and unless someone manages to break through, things may prove difficult.

There is no sign of the pirates' captain, at least, not yet. Through the haze of gray smoke, one can distinctly spot a hat in the distance, wide-brimmed and fine, if not somewhat tattered. Quite possibly its own prize, taken from the head of the former captain of the Etoille du Soir before it was renamed and refitted with black sails. This figure is largely obscured by the screaming mass of sodden bodies ready to defend and turn the tables - to decimate The Dancer's crew and take it as a prize. Distantly, Alcibiades could hear Renee screaming epithets, calling for murder and death and for his, specifically; his share of their potential prize, for whoever claims the displaced Rousse lord's head.

Blades continue to clash onboard, following the snap of bowstrings as shots are fired across wood and gale. People are wounded, some are trambled, but neither side is making progress and it is a very long way back to Kriti's shores, and the weather is only getting worse. It is do or die time.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=dodge
< Isabelle: Good Success (8 5 8 5 8 4 6 1) Alcibiades: Great Success (8 6 2 5 7 8 4 7)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Marginal Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=blades
< Isabelle: Good Success (4 6 4 5 4 1 7 7) Alcibiades: Great Success (5 7 8 5 3 7 4 7 6 1)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Solid Victory

Pressure. Pressure. If Alcibiades does not do something… remarkable… very soon, the crew of The Dancer will be repulsed. And if the crew of The Dancer is repulsed, then The Dancer will very quickly be taken. And that, he cannot allow. "Bugger this for a lark," he remarks. His tone is casual, as though he's doing nothing more exciting than rolling dice with his crew.

And then Alcibiades steps forward out of The Dancer's ranks. It seems lazy, almost reckless, but there is a plan. One pirate with a boarding pike lunges at Alcibiades, but the First Mate of The Dancer is already swinging, as though he saw it all in his mind's eye. He takes off the poor man's hand. As the pirate falls back screaming, Alcibiades is through that gap in a flash. And his men stream after him.

On the other side of the deck, Jaime is making a similar assault. He's broken through with his crusty band of former Marines, and they're cutting their way to a gangway — ladder — that leads down to the gundeck.

<FS3> Isabelle rolls 20: Amazing Success. (2 7 2 6 7 4 1 5 4 6 8 6 5 6 8 8 8 6 8 6)

Something remarkable, indeed. But perhaps not yet.

It is almost a miracle that the skirmish breaks, and Jaime is able to lead his men through the homicidal mass that attempts to keep them from the heart of the ship. The pirate's captain barks out another order and the pirates attempt to close it, but it's too late. Efforts are split, as they must, to account for the new complication as a group concentrates their efforts in their attempt to impede the old former marine from his ploy to get to the belowdecks and the guns underneath. They simply can't let it happen.

The pirates' captain, and Renee, stay above deck, though considering the latter's well established cowardice, he ducks and weaves between bodies, letting swords from The Dancer cleave into his own mates as he attempts to get away from their better fighters. The press continues, surging towards Alcibiades' own group, but his more disciplined members are able to hold their own, and while still largely a stalemate, something is giving way. It's felt in the air, on the bones.

Alcibiades' crew feels it and with renewed vigor, they charge through the ranks. Pirates fall one by one, wholehearted efforts levied against anyone who would even so much as breathe in their beloved First Mate's direction. Captain Lesse can be heard shouting over the cacophonous din, speech laden with battle-inspired expletives, but the command is the same. Push forward. Push forward!

But underneath the decks, as Jaime struggles to get there, a few of the guns are loaded, their aim adjusted. Distantly, even through the noise, the chaos, that single word rings like a death-knell:

"FIRE!"

Smoke billows outward, massive balls fly across the scant distance between wooden bodies. Unforgiving damage blows out the side of The Dancer, and its mast? There is a deafening crack. Wood creaks, whines, and with almost painstaking slowness, its wealth of ropes and canvas tilts, falling away from the direction of The Ariadne and taking its archers with it.

To her credit, Isabelle doesn't scream even as the others with her do. She doesn't struggle against her fate, and embraces it instead, winding her body out of the ropes to mitigate disaster - she does not want to get strangled and drown, and meets the icy grip of the churning waters below head on by cutting a length of rope, and diving into it.

But the result is the same - there is cold comfort in the fact that those who now find themselves overboard are strong swimmers, but The Dancer is crippled. There is no choice now. They have to take control of The Ariadne.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=dodge
< Isabelle: Good Success (1 4 8 4 3 8 6 4) Alcibiades: Good Success (1 4 7 4 1 6 6 8)
< Net Result: DRAW

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=blades
< Isabelle: Good Success (4 7 4 1 4 5 8 7) Alcibiades: Success (2 4 4 4 3 2 1 3 4 7)
< Net Result: Isabelle wins - Solid Victory

Alcibiades is surrounded.

He's plunged too deeply into the midst of his foe, too deeply for safety. But he does not live for safety — he lives for these moments. He grabs one man by the arm and yanks him into another, sending them both stumbling and buying him time to fall back a few steps to his men. "Come on! On, on!" And they try. They really do. It might even have worked, if those cannon hadn't dismasted the beautiful, graceful, ship that they call home.

Men turn in dismay, fall back, lose their momentum entirely. Alcibiades curses them roundly, cheers them on, tries to force them back into the fray. But suddenly, they're barely holding their own. And people are dying. Isabelle may be dying, swimming in the cold drink in such a storm.

Down below, Jaime and his marines find themselves surrounded on all sides. They form a circle, hacking and slashing, defending one another. If they can just press forward, this whole disaster might be averted. And they are trying.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=dodge
< Isabelle: Good Success (6 6 6 7 5 7 5 6) Alcibiades: Great Success (2 8 6 7 1 3 8 8)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Solid Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=blades
< Isabelle: Good Success (3 2 3 7 5 5 8 1) Alcibiades: Good Success (4 5 2 8 2 3 5 8 4 6)
< Net Result: DRAW

He is inordinately talented in rallying his men. Their faltering is neutralized despite the devastating fate inflicted upon The Dancer, bodies surging forward once more at his bolstering cries. As Alcibiades manages to tear himself out of his bind, fighting with newfound vigor at the topdecks, as if in perfect sync with him, Jaime Daur manages to break the deadly circle surrounding him and his men. His veterans launch themselves and wreak havoc in the gunnery deck, preventing the pirates from firing any more of The Ariadne's payload in The Dancer's decimated body and it seems, for but a moment, that they're able to turn the tide.

The weather gauge that the heavy frigate boasted earlier is no help to them now. And what of the weather gods?

Somewhere in the drink, a hand pulls at the rope, Isabelle gasping for air, driven by pure adrenaline and the hard, savage will to survive. This isn't the first time she has been caught in a deadly situation, and it won't be the last. As she heaves her slender body up the rail, it enables her to turn as she swings a leg over it, dark eyes slipping over the churning horizon…

…her breath catches in her throat.

Miraculously, through the howling winds and slicing rain, her cry could be heard from the distance. It is confirmation that she is still alive…

But the warning she screams at not just her side, but all of them, puts to question just how long that will last, for her…or anyone.

"BLACK SAILS!"

Their ruse on the mainland, as proven by The Ariadne's bite, has worked tremendously well, and by the presence of another pirate ship cutting a quick clip towards their beleaguered position, they can now confidently say that the ruse worked too well. Because there is another shark that has decided to take a bite at the prize.

Not only is The Dancer crippled now, but the window in which they have to take The Ariadne, and now to possibly defend The Dancer with it, if they can, has just been reduced considerably.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=dodge
< Isabelle: Great Success (7 8 2 7 7 1 5 3) Alcibiades: Good Success (2 5 8 4 7 2 1 3)
< Net Result: Isabelle wins - Solid Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=blades
< Isabelle: Good Success (2 5 6 3 8 7 8 3) Alcibiades: Great Success (2 8 7 1 8 6 8 2 4 5)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Marginal Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=dodge
< Isabelle: Good Success (7 5 5 3 4 8 2 8) Alcibiades: Success (3 4 5 1 8 3 6 4)
< Net Result: Isabelle wins - Solid Victory

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=8 Vs Alcibiades=blades
< Isabelle: Success (8 6 4 1 3 2 3 5) Alcibiades: Good Success (1 4 5 8 3 3 2 3 8 1)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Marginal Victory

Desperate times, desperate measures. Alcibiades does not have much time left. This is a time to be hard. They've hurt his ship, they've hurt his crew. Alcibiades gets angry.

"Dancers! KILL THEM ALL!" And he begins to do just that. In a few moments, he is bloody to the elbow. He grabs a second cutlass from off the deck and attacks with both, disregarding his own safety. A man stabs him in the side and he takes off the man's arm. Blood streaming from his wound, he advances toward the quarterdeck — and sees Renee.

The little rat of a man can fight, when cornered. He does his best. He lunges at Alcibiades bravely enough and Alcibiades, without even breaking stride, puts a cutlass-tip through his throat. The captain of the pirates, however, is a better swordsman.

In truth, he might have been a better swordsman than Alcibiades, but the young First Mate doesn't even try. With his crew at his back, he storms the quarterdeck, killing the last few defenders. "Yield, and you may live, sir. Yield." The enemy captain, with a bitter look, tosses down his rapier.

Belowdecks, Jaime and his men are literally wading in blood. They come up on deck, panting and ragged, some wounded but none dead.

There's no time to waste. Alcibiades turns to his men, many of whom are busily butchering the wounded pirates. Kinder than hanging them later, perhaps. "Gun crews to the cannons! Reload with solid shot and run them out!" He takes a breath. No time to rescue those in the water. They can either swim to The Dancer or drown. "I want every scrap of canvas on her! As soon as we're underway, bring our broadside to bear. Aim at her masts. Aim high, lads!"

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Seafaring: Good Success. (1 1 5 4 7 3 1 6 3 4 8)

<FS3> Isabelle rolls 9: Good Success. (2 3 5 7 8 5 5 1 4)

Rage is, as ever, potent fuel for the drive to achieve the impossible. In moments, The Ariadne is transformed from a proud seafaring vessel to a charnel house above water. The Dancer's crew members, upon orders of their furious First Mate, and an even more furious Captain Lesse, dig deep in the dirty, bloody business of indiscriminate slaughter, pirates cut down left and right as a reply to the blatant destruction of their beloved home. One, thankfully, manages to survive it - the captain of the pirates.

Whoever manages to survive, and they are indeed just a few of them, are corralled and taken to the brig, with the rest of the smaller crew following Alcibiades' orders. The Dancer's gunnery crew replaces the bodies that Jaime and his marines had butchered in the belowdecks, wood red with blood. Thanks to their discipline and their daily practice, they are loaded at record time. Sails are unfurled in an attempt to catch the wind, and the grapple ropes are chopped by axes, snapping free of The Dancer's flagging body. Captain Lesse's lean, hardy form can be seen hurtling from the deck of The Ariadne and back to her own ship - should The Dancer be ended today, she intends to go down with it…like any captain worth her salt.

The heavy frigate, damaged, but seaworthy still, starts to move, and by the wheel, Alcibiades can see their next challenger cross the waves. The Bloody Vulture - never has a vessel been so aptly named at this moment - cuts through the water, the weather gauge in its favor, its black sails slashed with red dye in honor of its namesake. In these waters, the members of its crew are infamous for precisely this maneuver, waiting for rival pirates and merchantmen to get entangled, before sweeping in for the kill, and taking both prizes. Its captain, "Howling" Howell Kelly, was said to be Eirian by birth, a sharp, spindly fellow who made up his lack of physical stature with cunning and ruthlessly underhanded tactics.

The Vulture scents blood in the water, and the interlopers' vessel prepares to engage, and by the way it turns, it is definitely intending to go headlong against The Ariadne. But with only twenty-eight guns, and a lighter frame, it, too, is signing up for a fight with a vessel above its class.

Or is it? The Ariadne is damaged…and Howling Kelly isn't particularly known for being stupid.

Alcibiades spends 1 luck points on For a bonus to a Seafaring roll that will allow Alcibiades and his crew to sink The Bloody Vulture.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=10 Vs Alcibiades=seafaring+20
< Isabelle: Success (3 4 8 2 3 3 4 5 5 4) Alcibiades: Great Success (1 6 4 5 8 6 3 2 8 6 6 6 4 7 8 4 1 1 6 6)
< Net Result: Alcibiades wins - Solid Victory

Alcibiades steers The Ariadne — now, unofficially, The Myrmidon — himself. The crew is spread too thin for a helmsman. He can feel her picking up speed, her heavier weight an advantage in these raging seas. "Jaime!" He screams the name over the wind and over the hubbub of battle. "I'm going to put you right off her bows. Sink the bitch!"

His command raises a bloodthirsty cheer from the crew. The ships are racing toward one another. Once again, Alcibiades — this time with the weather gauge — manages to put his ship across his enemy's bows.

The Bloody Vulture tries to tack round and bring her own broadside to bear, but Jaime Daur's first salvo dismasts her. And with his crew of slaughterhouse Marines with him, and sailors streaming down to assist in the reloading, they run the cannons out even faster than before.

As The Bloody Vulture sits there dead in the water, Jaime rams home another volley. This one strikes just at the waterline, ripping it wide open. And another. It is slaughter. Men are diving overboard, others are lowering boats — but The Bloody Vulture does not surrender. There's no point. Pirates are put to death anyway.

It doesn't surrender and it pays the price for it, not that there is much chance for a sinking ship in churning waters. As The Bloody Vulture finds its crafty career ending with bowels full of seawater, and most of its crew dead - its captain captured attempting to flee, and placed in the brig with the rest - The Ariadne banks over the waves, and turns its nose back to where The Dancer has been left stranded. Its decimated form can be glimpsed bobbing over the tides, dismasted and crippled….though while battered, she has managed to survive. A shell of its former, beautiful streamlined self to be sure…but she can be resuscitated, in time.

By the time The Ariadne cuts its way back to her, those who managed to survive the drink have been pulled up, with Isabelle de Valais assisting Captain Athene Lesse with the wounded. There'll be time, yet, to devise a plan - staying in these waters is risky, and it is no place to refit a ship. But for now, what remains of The Dancer's crew can rest easy that they have managed, despite the odds, to be victorious. It certainly wasn't a quick one to achieve, but as Alcibiades has said himself before - nothing that Isabelle puts him in is easy.

The waves grow calmer, and the skies start to clear. Gray gives way to blue - and one of such endlessness that it might just be enough to wash all the red and viscera away from this particular memory.

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