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  1. “Listen up Men!” The Captain barked, snapping each of her sailors to attention. Silence took hold upon the deck in an instant as each crew member gave disciplined silence to their Captain. The slightest lack of respect was known to anger the Captain, and even the bravest soul would never dream of aggravating the proud owner of the TLS Inexorable.
  2.         “This should be an easy run; we’ll be at sea for no more than seven days. If it happens to be any longer than that because of your incompetence, we’ll never have a port visit to Zanzibar again!” A slight groan came from the crew, but the Captain continued.  “Now turn your attention to your Executive Officer, and begin preparations to cast off.”
  3.         The XO stepped forward, giving a soft clear of his throat. It was a simple gesture but one that brought instant attention. His eyes scanned over the crew as the clacking of the captain’s heels echoed across the decking before disappearing into the Captain’s cabin.    “As the Captain said, this is an easy trip. We’ll be taking stops in Umbrin, Colchis, and Minos. Plenty of money to be had and plenty of goods to be traded. Surely you all have no qualms with being paid? Anyways, I took the Liberty of assessing our wares once again and I was less than delighted to see that our wine barrels are lighter than when we bought them. Your rum rations are halved for this deployment, and don’t you dare let me find more wine missing before we hit port.” The Executive officer’s temple was throbbing as it always did when he was upset or contemplative. His hand moved up to it, massaging it as each crew member gave a small grimace. It was already starting out a bad day, halved rum and an angry XO, never a good start to a deployment.
  4.         Xer waved his hand, sending the crew members quickly to work, pulling up ropes, cinching them down by the bit as the rowers headed below deck. Wood clattered as the oars fed through the eyelets and dunked into the water, all prepped for the Captain’s command.  Ruth sauntered from her office with a glass of wine in hand, resting one foot on a crate as she scanned the seas. She tilted her head just a bit, gesturing at a Xoran, half naked in tattered clothing. He was staring off into the distance with a mindless gaze, his eyes giving a pearly white glow. “Think we can make it in five days, Aepas?”
  5.         “Aye Captain, She’s got more than enough energy within her to speed up our trip significantly. Still, I’ll be keeping enough reserves to shield our hull as well. I know how much you enjoy hugging the shoals, Captain.”
  6.         Ruth’s eyes narrowed for a moment before a light laugh escaped her. Another sip of her wine and she stepped back. “Just keep the figurehead intact. And for the love of the gods, put on some clothes.”
  7.         Aepas continued to stare to the distance, his hands pressed tightly upon the figurehead. Several large ethereal heads formed in the space above him, each leaning down towards Ruth. “Hydra do not wear clothes.” He said quite simply, letting the spirit’s tangible forms fade.  
  8. “You’re Hopeless.”
  9.  
  10.         Ruth made the call, and the ship was quickly underway. The ocean winds whipped through her fur, making her fold her ears back. She made her rounds from to each duty officer, checking the status of her crew. Nothing was ever perfect, especially at sea. Something was always broken, someone was always hiding or sleeping when they should be at their station, someone always skylarking, and someone always sick. Still, they were sailors, and sailors of the Inexorable. Despite the somewhat rowdy and hooligan like appearance of the crew they were the best. The very best and that is why they sailed beneath Ruth.
  11.         Satisfied with the current operations, Ruth made her way back to the cabin. Xer was working over the logs, maps, and overall administration of the ship. “Captain, if we get a good tailwind we could be up to a day ahead of schedule. What would you suggest, extended port visit or shall we return home early?”
  12.         “We’ll see how the crew does. I already caught one of the munitions crew sleeping behind the ballista. We’ll see if this bunch of misfits can keep themselves composed enough to earn a port visit. We don’t need another mishap like what happened on Mysia.” Xer cringed at the memory. “I think they are a bit better behaved... now.”
  13.  Ruth gave a laugh. “They learn quick enough once you put the boot to them. Wine?” Ruth offered to her executive officer, extending a glass and the nozzle from her personal cask.  Xer’s temple throbbed.
  14.         Whistle and stinger sounded, followed by the call of a deckhand. “Midnight, all is well!”
  15. Xer pulled the sextant from his eye and looked down at the map. Compass and protractor in hand he plotted out locations and bearings. From the cabin Ruth came out in a long shawl, yawning slightly. “Midnight already? Where are we?”
  16.         “North, Captain. A few clicks from Eirenwaar Island.” Ruth nodded in approval. “Good, we are ahead of our original projection then?”
  17.         “Yes, Aepas has kept a tailwind for us most of the trip.” He said, gesturing over to the Xoran. “Oh yes... have someone bring him some food. He forgets to eat when he is melded.”
  18.         Xer raised a brow. “Forgets to eat? How daft.”
  19.         “Aye, a bit strange. Still he’s one of the best Sea Commanders I have. Says sea spirits are similar to his forest spirits, though I never really know what he’s talking about.”
  20.         “Yes... he is strange.”
  21.         “Just avoid it. Anyways, get him fed and get some rest for the night. The officer of the watch will be taking the helm for now, we have a lot of negotiating to do tomorrow, and I want the best prices I can get.” Ruth said between sips of tea. “Aye Captain.”
  22.         First stop was thankfully uneventful. The purchase and trade went smooth, Aepas had gone to wander the island, and the captain and second in command watched as the sailors formed an efficient daisy chain to haul the cargo off. Refitting rations, water, and rum went just as well, making Ruth’s tail twitch in excitement. “They are doing much better than expected. Now I’m curious to see just “how” fast my crew can actually complete this deal.” She said with a large grin. “Go on, call the boys home.”
  23.         Xer nodded and hoisted the blue and white flag, ringing the ships bell in signal for all hands to return to ship. You could hear every discontent mutter as the sailors climbed the gangplank. “Quit your bellyaching!”  Shouted Ruth, eyeing each one as they came aboard. “I don’t want to hear your complaints, I want to see some action and then you can have your port visit. Now get ready to cast off!”
  24.         The oars clacked as they were pushed out the portholes, churning the water as the crew heaved out of the harbor. The smell of land began to fade as the brisk wind brought the smell of the ocean quickly catching and filling out the billowing sails. The ship lurched forward as the sail pulled taut, the many workers bustling to their stations as the ship went underway.
  25.         Xer stared up into the skies, tracing over his sextant with idle fingers. The sky was clear, graciously showing the constellation of the lion as it sat proud, having recently taken over the skies from the rose.  Steady winds, clear sky. Days ahead of schedule and not a single mishap; things were going perfect.
  26.         Pacing back and forth in the cabin, Ruth ground her teeth together, checking the map once again, looking out the window, and pacing once again. “Everything is perfect!” she screamed, slamming her hands down on the desk in agitation. Throwing the door open, causing light to spill out onto the inky black deck she screamed, “Xer! Status report!”  stalking towards him with a deadly prowl.
  27.         “Ah, everything is just fine Captain. What’s wrong? You look a mess.” He asked with a raised brow, silently sliding his tools into the pouch around his body.
  28.         “Everything is not fine! None of my men have even stubbed a toe!”
  29.  
  30.         “We could kill a few?” Came Aepas’ voice, drifting from the aft.
  31.         “We could kill you!” Ruth shouted back, growling.
  32.         Xer gently waved his hand. “Captain, things are just fine. It’s simply a quiet night. You have negotiations tomorrow, and should be resting.”
  33.         “Flare!” Ruth shouted, ignoring the talk of her executive officer. With a solid thunk and hiss, the sea around them suddenly lit up in a deep crimson light. Narrowing her eyes, she stood at the side of the deck staring out into the sea. Nothing. Nothing at all, just the fading light before the darkness overtook the ship once again. “Flare!”
  34.         Lighting up the sky and sea once again, the bright red flare streaked to its peak before arcing into a gradual descent. Silence swept through the ship with only the gentle lapping of the waves and crackling hiss of the flare as a cruel smirk spread across Ruth’s lips. “There.”
  35.         “Citadel! Distance: Far! Direction: North-Northeast!” Came the voice of the watch from the crow’s nest. Bells began ringing across the ship, waking the sailors from their slumber. Racket echoed through belly of the ship as they ran to their stations, hollering and shouting all the while. Climbing to position upon the quarterdeck, Ruth sank her nails into the railing, her body tense with the excitement. “I knew it!” she shouted eagerly before settling back into her dominating pose, instantly changing to that of a demanding Captain.
  36.         “Weapons, port side! Xer, weapons department! Secondary sails, down! No gear adrift and get your asses in line! Aepas, gird! Boost! And I need your eyes, now!”
  37.         Xer quickly slipped down into the hull of the ship, navigating the small passageways with the speed only a Mhun could muster through such tight corridors. Rippling light crossed the decking he stepped on as the gird settled into place with a low screeching noise, his footsteps giving a heavier thud with every step as the wood was magically hardened. The ship lurched with the increased winds as Xer entered the weapons hold, staring down a line of ballista and throwers. “All presents and accounted for?” he shouted.
  38. “Yes Sir!” Came the uniform response from every man on deck.        
  39. “Then let’s get started.”
  40. Aepas shouted in a cold flowing tongue as energy from the sea surrounded the ship before he stepped back from the gleaming figurehead, leaving it dull and lifeless. He gave a shout as he called upon the mighty eagle, letting it possess his form and form with his mind. With a powerful wave of his ethereal wings, He boosted himself to the crow’s nest, staring down at the watch stander. “This is mine now.” He said, using his form to hoist the man up, dropping him down into the netting below with little warning. “Hull maintenance for you!”
  41. Cocking his head slightly, his enhanced bird like vision cut through the dark seas, staring at the citadel ship in the distance. “Well armed, Captain, we may have a fight! Direction, North-Northeast, Far! Weak side on port!”
  42. “Flare! Alright Aepas, keep an eye out. We’re moving in!”
  43. The ship continued on its path, cutting through the water with ease as the many oil lanterns surrounded it in a halo of light.
  44.         “Ah.. Captain?”
  45.         “What is it? Keep your eyes on the ship!” Ruth shouted towards the nest.
  46.         “Which one, Captain?”
  47.         Bellowing a loud horn, a second massive citadel drove straight from the murky darkness, straight from the south.  Several obscenities spilled from Ruth’s mouth as her head whipped around, gritting her teeth. “Two ships? Evasive maneuvers! All hands to riggings and oars!”
  48.         From the lower decking Xer hollered at the men to stop. “You heard the captain! Back to the oars! Two against one is no fine day… on the seas that is.”
  49.         The ship veered hard, listing dangerously to the side as the ship began its turn. White water was carved up from the ocean, frothing from the side of the ship as it tanked hard to the side. Wood rumbled and creaked under the immense pressure of the turn as the ship began to stabilize, leaving the two citadel ships hot in pursuit. “Captain, both closing at an alarming rate! We need a wave!” Aepas hollered from above.
  50.         “Alright, hold tight men!” Ruth shouted, gesturing one arm forward with a loud shout of exertion. From behind the ship a massive wave grew, growling and rumbling as it caught the tail of the ship, lurching the entire thing forward with a massive burst of power. Water roared beneath and around the ship, leaving the wave slowly sinking back into the ocean. The jolt of the ship caused several of the men to fall over, earning a quick shout from Xer. “Tch! Get up, don’t any of you have sea legs! Get back to rowing!” he shouted, pacing up and down the seats of sailors rowing, riling them up with every heave and hoe.
  51.         Though the powerful wave had earned a decent amount of time for the ship, the chops and current began to stall everything back to a near standstill. Even the perusing citadel ships were listing to and fro, slowing the deadly pursuit to that of a crawl. Ruth twisted the wheel guiding the ship northward through the ever thicker chops, hoping to land and catch a heavy current to aid the speed of the ship. Plowing up through the waves the ship rose and sank with massive wakes, spraying mist upon the decking and soaking everything in its path.  Ruth wiped her hand across her eyes in an effort to remove the soaked fur from her eyes as she growled in frustration, directing the ship westwards. As the ship aligned with winds and current the speed increased drastically, causing the hull to creak and groan. “Maintenance, check the riggings and sails, check the hull for any leaks!” She demanded, setting the bearings straight before she jumped off the quarterdeck, throwing her own weight behind the repairs.
  52.         Minutes passed, and soon became hours. Things had quieted down and soon it was calm once again. “No sign of them Captain, set sails for the Isle?” Aepas said, poking his head out from the crow’s nest to look down to the deck. “Aye,” Ruth agreed, “Set sail for home.”
  53.         The whole ship stood on edge as the gentle tug of the ocean guided the ship southwards.  Hull repairs were underway, but it would require a full dock to repair the strain that wracked the ship. “I think that’s the worst for now, continue towards the Isle, I need rest after that.” Ruth said, standing behind the helm once again. “And I’ll need a port visit. And some wine. And a bath” she mused silently to herself.
  54.         Aepas kept his eyes out scanning back and forth. He saw nothing. Nothing, until he looked down. The ocean itself was much darker around the ship, much different than normal. Just as his mouth opened to speak, a giant tentacle burst through the water reaching up to the crow’s nest, then higher.  Each suction cup pulsed and flexed on the massive pillar of living flesh as water cascaded down its length, soon followed by a second. “Interesting...” Aepas murmured, stepping back and hugging the mast of the crow’s nest.  
  55.         An imposing shadow fell over Ruth and the rest of the deck as she spun around. Her jaw dropped in disbelief, eyes wide as she tumbled to the side as the massive arm slammed upon the ship sending fractures through the wood, buckling and splintering the main deck. A curling scream of anger came from Ruth, reflexively throwing her favorite hidden dagger into the side of the fleshy mass.  It gave no response to the attack, and simply lifted itself up into the sky once again. “Hey!” she shouted at it, scrambling back to her feet with her eyes on the silver encrusted dagger. “Xer! Back to weapons department!”
  56.         Xer’s head popped up from the stairwell leading into the bowels of the ship, only to duck back down as a massive blur of green swept over the decking above him. “Looks plenty busy up here anyways…”
  57.         “And you Aepas, get my dagger!”
  58.         Aepas’ head poked over the nest once again, staring down at Ruth. “I’d rather not, really.”
  59.         A thick “chunk” was heard several times in unison as every ballista was loaded, each crewmate waiting for the command. “And Fire!” Xer called, slicing his hand down through the air. The loud twang of seven ballistae firing sang through the air, followed by a hideous screech, one tentacle pulling itself back into the water. “Hits confirmed, Reload!” the loud clack of metal sliding down every notch echoed as the massive string was pulled back, a heavy dart lifted back into place. “Fire!”
  60.         The entire ocean seemed to churn with the deep bellow of the beast, the fierce kraken battering the ship with its massive tentacles. Taking the helm once again, Ruth called upon the mighty wave to force the ship away from the best. With a heavy rocking motion the ship returned to calm waters as the wave dispersed, though the ship seemed to hardly be holding itself together. “Sails full, get us home on the double!” Ruth barked from the helm as the men responded.
  61.         Below, water was filling the ship at an alarming rate.  Xer waded through the waters below, calling out to each man. “Off the oars, get to the bilge! We need to keep her afloat!” The loss of the oars was a dangerous move, but sinking was no more appealing. Stacking a t-brace against the wall, Xer kicked it in with his foot, stopping a minor breach. “Braces as well, you know the drill!”
  62.         Aepas stared to the aft, narrowing his eyes to the distance. No more than half a klick away, the water erupted into a fine mist, followed by a massive bellow. Thousands of needle sharp teeth rested inside the gaping red cavern of a mouth. Its eyes were splayed wide open, and despite their inability to give emotion, only malice would be found in them. The sight of something so foul and disgusting is never something to inspire fear. But at times, size is. Aepas turned his back as more tentacles burst from the water and leapt from the nest. “Captain, don’t look back. I’m going to meld. We could use a boost.”
  63.         Within moments, the sails rippled and expanded as a massive gust of magic imbued wind pushed at them, forcing the mangled ship faster through the waters. It was a dangerous move as the increased speed pushed more water deeper into the stomach of the ship. Xer continued to brace up the bulkhead, giving a light curse to himself. “What are they doing up there, trying to sink us?”
  64.         With the call of a second powerful wave and the ships increased speed, it seemed that the kraken had nearly lost trail of the ship. The isle was in sight, and the crew was staring forwards with anticipation, before another call was heard from the watch. “Citadel! Direction: South! Distance: Medium!”
  65.         “Don’t you dare stop, full speed ahead, we’re going into the dock!” Ruth hollered, guiding the ship straight towards the port.
  66.         Xer pulled himself up from the damaged stairwell, nearing the main deck below the helm. His eyes widened slightly at the sight of the oncoming harbor. “The ship’s badly damaged Captain, if we hit it at this speed we’re sure to sink.”
  67.         “No different than any other day with Captain Ruth.” Aepas chortled.
  68.         “Now is not the time for your jokes! Gird now!”
  69.         The high pitched whistle of several massive darts began to streak around the ship, just as the hull glowed in a shimmering crossed pattern. “Gird up, and just in time. Heads up, this is going to be rough.” Ruth said, using the helm to guide the ship into harbor at full speed.  “Man to port side, prepare mooring... oh, and brace for impact.”
  70.         The TLS Inexorable had been through many battles. She seemed to have a spirit of her own at times, and a distinct will to live. This time was no different and as wood flew through the air, splintering docks, the sides of ships, and causing a massive wave to wash onto shore before she stopped in a massive tangled mess of wood and rope. “Hah, and she’s still up! Look at that Xer.”
  71.         Xer simply rested his hand against the railing, rubbing the side of his head with a sad shake. “Indeed it is captain, and I’m sure we’re going to have to pay quite a bit out of pocket for the repairs.”
  72.         Walking to the stern, the crew and captain lined up, staring at the citadel ship. It was well assumed that the citadel would never come this close to the shore, yet it did. Several murmurs rose from the crew, as well as a few quick remarks. Ruth’s eyes narrowed as she stared at the ship which remained much closer to the rocky shores than was safe. From the rocks, caves and hills several figures rose in the presence of the ship. “By the Lord, who are they, what are they doing on the Isle?” Ruth whispered.
  73.         Nobody could answer and simply stared intently at the ship before it began to slowly pull away, drawing it’s sails down. “Hm, interesting. We have some things to report. The rest of you sorry sailors, get to work repairing the ship! We’ll have to dry-dock it for repairs so make sure it doesn’t sink until then. ” Ruth called, beckoning her executive officer and ship’s rider. “Come we have much to discuss and log before I make my reports. You two will assist me.” She said as they walked to the cabin, stopping just before the door.  A small glint of silver was visibly pressed into the wood, coated in a thick black muck. Ruth gave a visible gasp and ran over to it, picking it up and wiping it off with her paws. “Haha! My lucky dagger, see! Everything went perfectly.” She said, sheathing her dagger with a grin as several planks of wood fell from the damaged ship splashing into the murky depths.
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