The Drift

Short Story (Fantasy/D&D)

18 December 2019
Summary

Jethro is making a journey of discovery through the Drift when his airship is attacked by pirates.

Story

Jethro stood on the dock, staring open-mouthed at the airship hovering alongside. He inched his way forward and looked down between the edge of the dock and the side of the airship. The sea below was a long, long way down. He spotted a giant whale spouting far below. The huge creature was the size of a large warehouse, yet by holding his little finger in front of his face, he could completely block it from view.


Jethro stepped back quickly and bumped into one of his bodyguards, who had moved forward ready to steady Jethro if he lost his footing. Four of his Father’s men accompanied him on his journey to explore the Drift. A tall lad of seventeen with dark hair normally cut short at his mother's instruction, he was looking forward to letting it grow on this trip. In a few months, he would return to Woodpark to study history, politics, land management and other topics he found incredibly boring. His father was the Duke, a position Jethro would one day inherit. So he was determined to squeeze every last bit of fun from this expedition.


The airship was actually a living creature resembling a giant manta ray, twice as long as the sea-going vessels he was used to. Its kind were bred to provide transport throughout the Drift, and a wooden deckhouse and cargo area were built on its back. He walked to the gangway where a man with weathered skin sat at a table updating a ledger as cargo was loaded. He eyed Jethro’s approach, “Where yer headed?”

 

Jethro pulled a map from his jacket pocket, turned it around so the man could see and pointed to an island on the other side of the Drift. “Can you take us there?”


“Yar, that’s thirty gold pieces for the five of you. We’ve got a number of stops on the way so it’ll take ‘bout two weeks. Okay?” Jethro nodded and paid the fare. “Rickart will show you your cabins.” A swarthy looking sailor with a jacket cut away to expose muscled arms, picked up one of Jethro’s bags and called over his shoulder, “Follow me gents”, as he walked along the gangway and onto the wooden deck of the airship.


Jethro asked, “How does it stay up in the air?”


“The old girl holds gas all over her body. It’s lighter than air, see. So she stays up.”


“But I thought they used magic?”


“Yeah, that’s to move, see. But not to stay up in the first place. It’d drain her too quickly if she used magic to stay up.”


Jethro squatted, put his hand through the deck railings and touched the ship’s body. It was cool, smooth and felt slightly oily.


When Jethro looked up, Rickart was disappearing through a door, and Jethro hurried to follow. “Here ya are, sir. This cabin is yours and the one next door is for your men. We’ll be underway in a coupla hours and dinner’s at six in the mess." Jethro looked around the tiny cabin, then smiled and threw himself backwards onto the bed. His adventure had begun!



Four days later, Jethro stood on deck, looking back as the latest town on their journey receded. It was a mining settlement nestled into the side of a mountain, floating in the air with no visible support. Rickart told him all the mountains in the Drift were suspended magically in the air. It was the craziest thing Jethro had ever seen.


The airship passed a floating hill. A hatch opened in the side of the hill and a man stepped out, scooping handfuls of something from a bucket and throwing it onto the grass. He stepped back inside and closed the hatch. Within moments a flock of birds landed on the hillside and eagerly start feasting on the food the man had left. A giant net shot from one side of the hillside trapping a large number of the birds. Several hatches opened at once and men ran to gather up the catch. Jethro thought the hillside must actually be an airship in disguise and these must be the “fishermen” of the Drift.


After several hours, Jethro’s airship was well on its way to its next stop when suddenly the deck lurched, knocking Jethro off his feet.



Huk stood on the deck of the airship Vampire. He craned his neck to look up at the big merchant airship growing larger by the second as the Vampire approached from below. He was surrounded by some of the toughest, and some might say ugliest, pirates in the Drift. This was Huk’s first boarding action. He gripped the cutlass tightly in his right hand. Bosun’s Mate Jogga called out, “Not long. Hit hard, hit fast!” Jogga was a bugbear and towered over Huk. “Stay behind Jogga,” he said to the teenager.
The soft underbelly of the merchant was close now, and harpoons shot out from the Vampire’s bow and stern. The larger airship bucked as the harpoons penetrated its soft underbelly. The lines on the harpoons grew taught, connecting the two airships as the Vampire rose up alongside its prey.


Huk squinted between ill-fitting boards covering the deck rail. The merchant airship was almost alongside and surprised sailors were hastily grabbing boat hooks, tools, pieces of wood and other make-shift weapons. Jogga yelled out, “Hook ‘em!” and a half-dozen pirates stood up and let fly with grappling hooks to bind the airships together. Jogga leapt the closing gap with a loud roar, closely followed by three dozen well-armed, screaming pirates. They were met by twice their number from the much larger merchantman.


The gap between the airships was about the height of a man but rapidly closing. Huk stood, jumped and rolled, nearly cutting himself on his own cutlass. He came up in a crouch as a heavily muscled sailor ran at him, swinging a chain. Huk extended his sword to fend off the man, who ran straight onto the point and sank to his knees bleeding from the chest. Huk placed his boot on the man’s chest and kicked him backwards, withdrawing his sword. He looked down at the dead man and bile rose in Huk's throat.


“To me, to me!” Jogga was yelling. While most of the enemy had improvised weapons, the captain was leading a dozen men with swords and spears to repel boarders. Huk swallowed the acid taste in his mouth, took a deep breath and headed for Jogga, who was partially surrounded by the captain’s men. The enemy closest to Huk was facing the other way. He wore a breastplate and helm which Huk’s cutlass couldn’t penetrate. Huk remembered his close-quarters trainer saying, “It doesn’t matter where you hit ‘em. If you make ‘em bleed they’ll be slower. Then kill ‘em.” Huk took the hilt of his cutlass in both hands and sliced through the back of the man’s leg, screaming, he pitched forward.


One of the man’s friends, also armoured, moved to take revenge. He swung his broadsword overhand at Huk’s head. Huk barely had time to interpose his cutlass. Steel met steel with so much force that it numbed Huk’s arm to his shoulder. He stumbled backwards and tripped over a body. The man rushed forward, bringing his sword up for another overhand strike. He swung and Huk tried to bring his cutlass up but could see he wouldn’t make it. Closing his eyes, he felt pain in his chest and fought to take a breath. He opened his eyes, and his opponent was lying on top of him, blank eyes staring at nothing. Jogga stood over him, “Come on. Fight not over yet!”


Huk pushed the man off and staggered to his feet. All around men were yelling battle cries or screaming in pain. He looked across the deck, littered with bodies and covered in blood. The enemy captain and his remaining men were making a stand in front of the deckhouse. They had spears, and the pirates could not get close enough to end it. Huk looked to his right and saw a deck lantern hung on a post. Quickly, he unhooked it, took aim and threw it at the deckhouse just behind the enemy captain. The lantern hit the wall and smashed, spreading oil over the dry wood which quickly caught fire. Trapped between the pirates and the spreading flames, the captain saw he was out of options. He yelled at Jogga, “If I yield, will you guarantee the safety of me and my crew?”


Jogga shouted back, “Stop now. No more die!”



Jethro knelt on the hard deck of the airship, surrounded by his fellow captives, his hands bound behind him. The captain of the Vampire stood over his bound prisoners. He walked up and down the rows, obviously looking for someone. Jethro whimpered as the captain walked towards him. His one surviving bodyguard whispered, “Steady lad. Don’t give the bastards the satisfaction.”


The captain stopped, reached down and grabbed Jethro’s chin, looking him full in the face. “This is the one, Jogga”, he said. Jethro cried out in fear as the massive bugbear rushed up and easily lifted Jethro onto his shoulder. The bodyguard stood up yelling but Jogga backhanded him, knocking him to the deck.


Jogga carried Jethro to the side of the airship and called, “Huk, help, quick!” A teenage boy rushed up. He was roughly the same age as Jethro and covered in blood. He was a gruesome sight and too much for Jethro’s stomach which emptied itself down the bugbear's back. The boy laughed and said, "Looks like you'll need another bath Jogga. Second time this month!"


There was something familiar about the boy's voice, but Jethro was so scared he couldn't concentrate.


Huk and Jogga transferred Jethro over the gap to the pirate airship and took him below. The air was rank and the stench only got worse the further below deck they went. The bugbear opened a cell and pushed Jethro in. “Stupid Duke not send enough guards!”


Barely above a whisper, Jethro asked meekly, “What do you want with me?” Jogga turned to Huk and said, “Show!” Huk found a relatively clean corner of his shirt and wiped the blood off his face.


Jethro stared at him. It was like looking in a mirror. But how was that possible?


Huk spoke, “Your true father is looking forward to finally meeting you, Jethro!”

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