The decades old wooden wheel felt good under her hands. The Skyship began its steady ascent into the skies of the Northern Wasteland. Kate tilted her head towards the murky grey of the sky and anticipated the storm to come. Invading the steel toned sky was the tell-tale inky blackness of a swarm of Vampire bats. These were the advance scouting party, harbingers of the carnage to come.
A brown leather gloved hand was placed on her shoulder, it was Aerith, an able gunnery sergeant and a recent lover. Aerith’s presence brought a sense of reassurance to the crew, she had help fend of one of Dracula’s mutated creations during their last supply run. Kate shuddered at the memory of it, a flying beast with tentacles in place of arms and a gash filled with spikes in lieu of a mouth. It was rumored among the crew that these beasts had once been human until Dracula began his foul experiments. Kate wasn’t sure how much of that was true but as they defeated similar formed beasts, she avoided their eyes as the crew delivered their killing strokes.
“That is promising to be quite the battle ahead. Should we try to go above them? I’m not sure we want to tangle with such a horde so early in our voyage.”
Aerith, as always, was a practical strategist. It was this strong contrast to Kate’s adventurous impulses which had first intrigued her. In truth, the time between intrigue and the bedroom had been a period of a few days. It was there where Aerith had unleashed her playful side.
Kate’s resolve was firm however. She had seen the devastation to the townlands which had taken place once the bats had torn through them. A few hundred would destroy crops and homes, a horde such as this would tear the villagers apart.
“No, we have taken the councils shilling and have an obligation to protect the people that they represent. Make sure the crew is ready. Load the shot into the cannons, maximum spray and remind all on board to personally arm themselves.”
Aerith nodded and set about her duties.
The crew had been drawn from some of the more questionable places in the Empire. Thieves who escaped hanging by signing their life away on the Imperial Navy, Debtors whose credit was restored through service against the vampire nations and those who had committed the worst offense, killing of their own kind. The quests were not a method of redemption for these rough souls but missions related to their own survival.
Kate watched as Aerith checked the armaments and that the first load of shells was primed and ready. Her crew were dependable and worked well together, their loyalty was based on the survival rate of each mission. She didn’t mind that, it kept her focused and in turn ensured that her best interests were in ensuring successful supply runs with minimal casualties.
The Bosun ensured that the targeting parameters on each of the cannons were set for a tight spray. No doubt the black horde would attempt to swarm the ship and long range would be useless in that eventuality. He was an elder serviceman, a rogue whose crimes were embezzling nobles of their purses. A common thief whose daring exploits in his youth earned him a romantic reputation among the forgotten poor.
He was a highway man who had split his share of ‘earnings’ with the starving mouths he encountered each day. No one should starve as others unfairly gorged on plenty. The Final Cannon set, he turned his head towards the rapidly approaching noise. In the mass darkness, the chittering screams of the winged creatures could be heard carrying across the sky. The mass of darkness was resolving into wings and demonic red eyes, glowing with malintent as the ship grew closer.
The old highwayman crossed himself and kissed the sigil of the Empire which hung around his neck. He attempted to push the thoughts of his wife and children from his mind. He needed to stay focused on the oncoming fray rather than be distracted by further grief.
The airship traveled quickly across the sky; the pumps emitted steam from vents embedded in its golden frame. It sleekly cut across the grey into the black. The horde could be seen now, these hideously mutated creatures had come from the cross of the common bat and the spider. The bat-like features gave them wings of leather and bodies of deep rich brown fur. The sharp ears and snout detecting all its prey with ease in the night sky. Its arachnid breeding was evident through its multiple red rimmed eyes.
Instead of four legs, it had eight. An unwieldy sight but as they were equipped with razor sharp talons, this genetic aberrance made them efficient killers. Glints of metal could be seen by the crew as they approached the beasts, Dracula and his scientists had control over the creatures through the use of metal implants. No one in the Empire knew how they worked, even as some were captured and dissected.
Swooping and careening the horde had picked the village below clean, crops were destroyed, the single garrison comprising of a handful of militia was on fire. Using her telescopic sights, Kate could see the bloodied corpses of the villagers strewn across the fields and streets.
They were too late.
The innocents would be avenged sevenfold however. Kate swore it.
Giving the command to fire, the first shots smashed into the swarming mass. The delighted squeals became anguished cries which melded into enraged screams. A few hundred of the creatures broke away from the main body of the horde. Their bloodied fur and intense looks of hatred bore down on the crew. Like a wind, the creatures tore through the ship, they slashed and bit with their poison dripping fangs. The ship’s cook who valiantly attempted to fend them off with his customized blunderbuss had been carried away. Aerith caught a glimpse of his anguished face as the flesh and muscle were stripped clean. Eventually the body and its skeletal remains were dropped from the sky to meet a form of rough burial below.
Slashing and shooting, the crew fought on despite the grievous wounds inflicted. The hand pistols were of a new model with reloaded automatically. The shot pellets ejected from the guns doing less damage than the sweeps of the saber but when used in conjunction with each other could cause effective damage. A pile of the creature’s bodies began to pile on the deck, wings torn and broken, faces shot off. The bodies twitched, spewing blood and a green bilious liquid which caused some of the crew to slip.
Kate struggled to maintain propulsion; the steering began to feel heavy in her hands. She felt the ship wanting to pull against her to the right and downward. Aerith was beside her, as always, blasting any creature who dared interfere with her captain. It was she who alerted Kate to the damage to the ship. Smoke and fire billowed from the decks below and the vessel seemed to join in with the cacophony of screams and shrieks. It’s timber straining against the weight of the bodies piling on the deck and the devastation from burning wood from below.
Kate desperately spun the wheel round and felt her shoulder pop. She slammed the side of the steering device with her fist in frustration. The creatures were too many. For every hundred they killed, it seemed another two hundred would break off from the main horde to replace them.
Aerith screamed, Kate turned her head to glance at her lover, a bat was pulling Aerith’s left eye from its socket. Aerith stabbed the demon with the tip of her sword, it lay impaled, it’s cries diminishing as its life blood flowed down the blade. Kate reached out but Aerith shrugged her off.
“Captain, keep this ship up. I will be fine. One eye and two hands are more than enough to keep these bastards at bay.”
With a strength that only the courageous truly possess, Aerith pulled at the optic nerves which held the eye dangling from her face. Kate heard the crunch as the string like fiber broke free and the louder curses of her gunnery sergeant.
The crew fought on, for a countless time until the inevitable happened. With a dread with lurched her stomach as much as it did the ship. They began a forced descent to the devastated land below.
The creatures screamed in victory, no doubt relaying their triumph to their masters in the dark, spiraling castle beyond.
All was not lost for the crew of the Demeter however.
The horde, with their concentration placed on the battle had lost all sense of time. They had counted against their own natural enemy. That of the Sun.
Daybreak occurred and split through the shroud of black which had enveloped the ship. The light had come to vanquish all usurpers of the sky. The creatures’ bodies burst like ripe fruit as the light touched their skin.
As the flaming ship grew closer to the twisted earth below. Aerith wrapped her arms around Kate one last time. Allowing each other one last kiss before the world went black.
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