A Story of Uncertain Depths
Fab Manich awoke to the feeling of squirming under his weight. As he came to, his eyes locked onto the tearful confused girl underneath him. Without thinking he pulled her closer and squeezed her small frame into his chest. Apologetic words lingered on his tongue but he swallowed them back as she unsuccessfully tried to pry away, crying. When she stopped moving, and her cries became whimpers, he lifted himself away from her. It was about time he make his rounds and send another report to home station.
In the short moment between pushing one uniform button into place and moving his fingers up to the next, the ship jolted after an explosion of thunder, propelling him face forward onto the floor. The girl yelped as she rolled off the chaise. Steadying himself, he cursed and raced out of his office onto the main deck. Another thunderous explosion, another cannon fired into the belly of the ship. His men had already begun returning the assault back onto the mystery enemy in the darkness of the night. High above, one of the men shouted out cardinal directions on where to take aim, squinting into the darkness to catch a glimpse of the next spark from the enemy cannons. For every cannon they fired, it was as though several more were fired back with unbelievable accuracy. The sliver of moon worked against them. How was this? Who was this?
“Do we know the enemy?” Fersh Auf Manich shouted in between deafening bursts of cannons at Auf Humeit.
“No sir. We’ve reported our coordinates to home station and requested immediate aid from any nearby ally ships or weaponized cargo ships. Nothing as of yet sir.”
“What’s the damage report?”
“They’ve hit every deck below the galleys sir. It’s as though they only mean to slow us down sir.”
Almost as if they’d been heard, a cannon ball crashed through the upper deck, killing several men in its path. Orders were given to change course, putting the ship at more of an angle to find relief from the barrage. Several more shots were exchanged between ships, screams of injured men mixed in with the shouting of more orders and the crunching of wood as several masts went limp and fluttered downward.
“We took too much damage sir, we’re sinking faster than we can repair. Permission to abandon ship sir?”
Fersch Auf Manich gave the order to abandon ship with the few lifeboats that remained and anything large enough to stay afloat. As though hit by an invisible fist to the stomach, he felt a sense of panic. Almost at a run he returned to his cabin to find the girl balled into a corner, hands covering her ears, eyes squeezed shut, her breaths audible and quick. For a moment he was reminded of the fresh-faced soldiers he’d fought alongside in times past. Children in his eyes, easily shaken by a fear of death. A fear he had long ago abandoned.
Kneeling, he tried to pry her hands from her ears but she began to scream. There’s no time. He dragged her from the corner and for a moment she wrestled against him until he firmly cradled her in his arms and said “I’m getting you off this ship girl, now stop!”
When she came to, she was bundled up and leaning against the side of a small boat. Her thoughts were fuzzy, she felt sick. She tried not to move or be noticed, and breathed deeply to avoid spilling whatever contents remained in her stomach. The tiny boat they were on was packed with the sandy-haired guards. Even in the dark, she could make out large red stains on their white and black uniforms. It all came back: the loud crashing, being tossed around the room, hearing the screams and cries outside of the general’s office, the burning smell. All she could do was back herself into a corner, cover her ears and await a sudden death. Fear had strangled any instinct to run. She felt ashamed remembering how afraid she’d been. Then she remembered the wine and the look on that stern man’s face when she awoke, trapped under his weight. She wasn’t sure that she would consider it mercy to have been saved by the man who had taken advantage of her. It was in a way, cruel. Perhaps it would have been better to die.
She had no recollection of what he did, and knowing that made her stomach knot. Tears welled in her eyes again and she quietly cried herself to sleep, trying desperately to shrink into nothing.
Amidst the injured, those in shock, and those still trying to believe the new reality, the crying girl went unnoticed. The night seemed to last for days before a hint of light provided any illumination to the men at sea, those in boats and on makeshift rafts.
They had witnessed the sinking of the Tri-National guard warship, watched the fires eat away at what it could before being extinguished by the sea. Bodies of comrades and of red-haired unknowns floated amongst the debris and supplies that managed to remain buoyant.
The last report back to home station was for help. Their coordinates had been provided, along with the news of a surprise enemy attack. Fersch Auf Manich ensured his men that help was on the way. Until then, they could only wait and count the living.
“Brother Balimeo, what report do you have for your mission?” A voice, creaky and slow inquired from one of the three older men seated behind a long high table. It was difficult to tell which figure spoke since they were cast in near shadow beyond the reach of the one pale light glowing from the right-side wall.
Amongst a small group of people present in the room, a tall sandy haired, green eyed man stepped forward, and took a deep bow. “My mission has been rather fruitful.”
Honor Balimeo stepped up to the table and from an inside pocket withdrew several items: a small tightly bound book, a thick scroll, and a letter with a broken Istantine-Bouth seal.
“Very good. We are, as usual, pleased with your work Brother Balimeo. Go, clean yourself before our arrival in Oher. The Exect will want to speak with you”
Bowing again, the man formerly known as Auf Kriss Dregade turned and exited the small room.