The waves of the Caribbean lapped gently at the base of the old Spanish fort. For two hundred years, it has stood sentry over the port of Puerto Reál, capital city of Isla de Oro. The colony island had earned its name ten times over with the seemingly endless veins of gold buried deep within its heart. Gold accented everything: the buildings, the streets, even the people. It was the wealthiest island in the civilized Caribbean.
On this night, however, gold was the furthest thing from Captain Slick Trudeaux’s mind. His eyes were fixed on the weathered stone of the old fort. More so, his eyes were fixed on a particular window situated about fifty feet up the side of the west facing wall. The past hour had been spent rowing his small boat ever so carefully, using the night as cover. Perhaps he’d been overly cautious with his pace, but he was taking no chances. His task was, admittedly, much easier than his comrade’s, and he’d be damned if he was going to screw it up. Especially since the consequences for discovery would certainly involve a visit to the hangman’s noose.
Most captains would have delegated this task to a crew member, an option Slick would have appreciated having. His problem was that he only had two crew members. One was currently inside the fort, and the other was a Nordic behemoth of a man; not exactly ideal for stealth.
He saw what he’d been looking for: the light in the window flickered three times. He placed two fingers in his mouth and blew, mimicking the tweet of a parula.
The light became obscured by a thin silhouette. Moments later, a length of rope fell down, ending right at Slick’s eye level. He grabbed the thick cord and gave it two firm tugs. The silhouette disappeared, and was replaced by a slightly larger one. This new silhouette climbed through the window, and began to shimmy ungracefully down the rope. As the figure descended, Slick could make out pale skin, and a gangly frame under tattered rags. The figure reached the end of the rope, and landed in the rowboat with a thud.
“Shhhhhhh,” hissed the Captain.
“Sorry,” rasped the ragged man.
Slick gave the rope another two tugs, and the thinner silhouette reappeared in the window. This one slid down the rope with much more ease and agility than the first. Slick could see this figure was wearing black boots, and black pants that hugged muscular yet feminine legs. She landed silently, the boat barely reacting to the added weight. She turned around; black hair fell around sharp features and caramel colored skin. Slick smirked as he whispered to his first mate, “What ‘appened to your pretty dress, Izel?”
She responded with an unamused glare from her piercing green eyes. Slick smiled again, produced a silver cylinder, and held it up to the end of the rope. He pressed a tiny lever, a nearly invisible black flame leapt from the cylinder onto to end of the rope. The ragged man gawked as the black flame crept upwards, leaving just the tiniest amount of ash in its wake. The salty sea air was more than enough to cover the flame’s minimal scent. Slick settled himself back into position and began to row away.
They were a mile from the fort, at the cove’s entrance, when the first alarms began to echo across the water. The man in the tattered rags began to moan, “We’re finished! We’ll be hanged by the morrow!”
“Shut up,” snapped Izel. She looked to Slick, “Captain?”
“Do it,” he ordered.
There was a flash of light, and then Izel raised a lantern above her head.
“What are ye doing? They’ll see us!” cried the ragged man.
Slick and Izel ignored him. They were staring out into the inky black night. A yellow orb of light appeared a few hundred yards in front of them. Izel hoisted two spare oars and thrust them into the ragged man’s chest.
“Row as if your life depends on it,” she ordered, “because it does.”
With the extra set of oars churning the water, it took them less than two minutes to reach the source of the yellow light. The ragged man stared dumbly at the vessel looming before him. He could tell it had at one time, been a standard two masted clipper ship. The wood had been painted black, and the entire hull seemed to have been covered in a lattice of brass piping. Two hooks on thick chains hung down to the water’s surface. Slick steered them to the chains, where he and Izel wasted no time in securing the hooks to opposite ends of the dinghy. Slick winked at the ragged man, ” ‘old on, mon ami.”
There was the creaking of gears, and the ragged man felt his stomach jump as the chains pulled the boat up out of the water. He looked above to see a figure cranking he lever to raise the boat. Once at the top, they hopped over the edge of the ship. Manning the lever, was perhaps the largest person the ragged man had ever seen. He was six and a half feet tall and at least half as wide. His tanned skin stretched tightly over bulging muscles. His blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail. He beamed when he saw Izel, “Where’s your dress, little flower?”
“I already asked that,” said Slick.
She put her hands on her hips, “Next time one of you can wear the dress, since you liked so much.”
The giant man guffawed, and scooped up Izel as if she was a feather. To the ragged man’s surprise, she didn’t protest, but rather leaned in for a kiss.
Slick butted in, “Save it for later. We need to get out of ‘ere.”
The large man let go of Izel and gave Slick a dramatic salute. Slick rolled his eyes, “Izel, take our guest to his quarters.” To the giant he said, “Lug, we need to weigh anchor immediately.”
Slick and Lug headed through the door. Izel waved the ragged man over, “This way.”
He followed her through a narrow hallway, down a ladder, and into a second hallway. She pointed to a cabin door, “Here’s your bunk. There’s a clean set of clothes.”
She pointed further down the hall, “The head’s that way. Feel free to clean yourself up.”
She squeezed past him to head back the way they’d come.
“Th- thank ye!” He blurted out.
She looked back, “Don’t thank us yet. Get some rest. We’ll come get you when we need you.”
After cleaning up a bit and changing into his new clothes, the ragged man wasn’t quite so ragged anymore. He sat down on his bunk and peered through the port hole. He could feel the movement of the ship and hear the sloshing of the waves, but could see nothing through the night’s black veil. He wondered, not for the first time, if he’d made the right decision in getting himself mixed up in this mess. It’d taken him all of a day to get captured. How had the Spaniards known who he was? How had his saviors known he needed rescuing? Were these people actual saviors…or was he just trading one form of imprisonment for another? He smacked his lips. What he wouldn’t have given right then for a cold pint. A few bitter stouts always helped to sharpen the mind, or so he told himself. His eyes grew heavy, and he allowed himself to dream of the pub back home.
The not so ragged man was yanked back into conscious by a rapid succession of muffled explosions. He flew from his bunk, out into the hall, and up the ladder. He fumbled through the darkened hallway until he found another ladder. Early morning sunlight and a raucous cacophony of sound poured through the hatch at the top of the ladder. He poked his head up above deck.
Captain Slick was at the helm, one hand on the ship’s wheel, while the other flew across a flanking panel of levers and knobs. He was shouting something, but the not so ragged man had no chance of understanding him. The explosions were deafening. He scanned the deck and found the source of the din, the sight of which almost causing him to fall back down the ladder. Lug and Izel were standing at the starboard railing, manning a very peculiar machine. It looked as if someone had lashed multiple large rifle barrels together. Small bursts of flame spit from the barrel ends in time with the tiny explosions. It was mounted on a railing the ran the length of the ship’s flank. Lug was furiously turning a crank while Izel seemed to be aiming. Countless rounds were being fired out towards the sea.
The not so ragged man climbed fully onto the deck, shielding his eyes from the sun and covering his eyes from the sound. It didn’t take long to see what they were shooting at. It looked like a metal tube that was skimming along the surface on a pair of skis. The engine at the tube’s rear looked like two fat cylinders had been welded into a cross. Steam was pouring out of the vertical cylinder. The man thought he saw the outline of a man lying on his stomach under a sealed glass canopy. It was moving faster than any boat the ragged man had ever seen. It was moving parallel to their ship, trying to get closer. He stared in awe as the rounds from Izel and Lug’s contraption finally found their mark; tearing through the thin metal hull of the small tube boat. It sputtered on ahead for a few hundred feet before disappearing below the waves.
Izel stopped firing. Lug stopped cranking. The noise died down, leaving a terrible ringing in the not so ragged man’s ears. They saw him and ran up, removing wadding from their ears as they approached. Their lips were moving but he couldn’t discern what they were saying. His hearing returned just in time to hear Lug say, “shark shit.”
“Huh?” He replied.
Before Lug could repeat himself, Slick yelled, “Get up ‘ere!”
They climbed up to the helm. Slick addressed the not so ragged man first, “Glad you could join us. Did you ‘ave a nice nap?”
He ignored the condescension, “What in seven hells is going on?!” He pointed back towards the water, “What in the bloody hell was that thing?”
“That was a strafer,” answered Slick.
“A strafer. One of the armada’s scout ships.”
“I never seen anything like that!”
“First time in the Caribbean?”
“Best get accustomed to that feelin’.”
There was a brief pause.
“Who are ye people?”
“We’re the ones who saved your hide,” grumbled Izel.
Slick smirked as he gestured towards her, “This cheerful Azteca be named Izel.” His hand moved towards Lug, “And this blonde bear be Lögmar Bjornsson. Ya can see why we just call ‘im Lug.”
He gave a slight bow, “And I be Cap’n Slick Trudeaux. Welcome aboard the Dancing Devil.”
The not so ragged man held his hand out, “My name is…”
“Cyril McCutcheon,” Slick finished, “Didja think it were an accident we broke ya outta the Spaniards’ brig?”
Cyril nodded, “Oh well, but of course….thank you for that. I am eternally grateful……although I can’t imagine why you should go to such lengths for me?”
Slick eyed him knowingly, “Allons, Monsieur McCutcheon. We’ll get on much better if you do not play dumb. I would ‘ate to ‘ave to leave you floating in the middle of the sea.”
Cyril stood up straight and folded his hands behind his back. The nervous trepidation had left his tone, “What do ye want, pirate?”
Slick chuckled, “You say that word as if it were insult. But, I thought we agreed to not play dumb, no?”
Cyril responded, “I’m not playin’. I really am pretty dumb. Ye should ask me ma.”
“Ya ‘ave somethin’ for us.”
Cyril spread is palms out, “Prison rags don’t have pockets.”
Slick folded his arms, “Ya ‘ave the core stone. I’d like ta see it.”
Cyril’s expression of confusion became one of scrutiny, “I’m supposed to give it to Dr. Abascal myself.”
Slick clapped his hands together, ” And you shall! but not before I’ve verified its authenticity.”
Cyril assessed the three pirates and the wide expanse of blue sea stretching in every direction. Saying no wasn’t really an option. He sighed and shoved his hand into his mouth. After rooting around a bit, he yanked out a large molar. Neither Lug nor Izel seemed all that fazed.
Cyril tossed the tooth to Slick, who then removed a shining dagger from its sheath. He used the dagger to scratch the surface of the molar, causing yellowish white flecks to fall to the ground. Underneath the thin tooth like coating, was a perfectly spherical diamond.
“Yo…ho…yo…ho,” Slick mumbled to himself with a wide grin. He tossed it back to Cyril, who nervously snatched it from the air with both hands. He opened his mouth to say something but Izel called out…
They turned to see her leaning over the railing, the spyglass pressed tightly to her face.
“What d’ya see?”
“Frigate!” She replied, “and more strafers coming in fast!”
“Blast it to ‘ell!” Slick cursed, “Get to the grinder! I’ll make a run for the coast line, try to keep em starboard!”
Lug and Izel bounded down the steps to the deck. Slick’s hands began to fly across the ship’s wheel and lever panel. Cyril gaped as massive sails unfurled along the masts, seemingly on their own. He called out to the Captain, “What should I do?”
“Stay outta the way and try not to die!” Slick called over his shoulder.
The wind caught the sails, and the ship lurched. Cyril scrambled to the railing in order to steady himself. He regained his footing and looked back at their pursuers. Sunlight glinted off four metal tubes as they cut through the water. They were about a mile behind, and gaining fast. Cyril’s eyes widened when he saw the herculean vessel that trailed a few miles behind the strafers.
“What the bloody hell is that?” he yelled to no one in particular.
Slick looked back over his shoulder, “That’d be the frigate? Were ya not payin attention a moment ago?”
The strafers had closed the gap to about half a mile. Just then, Lug appeared at Cyril’s side holding the strangest rifle he’d ever seen. The barrel was easily three times the diameter of a standard Pattern model. There were two handles: one with a trigger situated in the usual position, and another was set further forward for the off hand. A leather strap ran from the stock around Lug’s shoulder, securing the weapon in place. Lug peered through a miniature spyglass mounted on top of the barrel.
The strafers had moved close enough for them to make out some features. Lug took aim and pulled the trigger. There was sound of a gear clicking, followed by a metallic ‘thunk’. Cyril watched as the glass of the closest strafer exploded inward, causing the vessel to veer left, nearly colliding with its allies.
“Sigr! Victory!” cried Lug. He reached into a pouch that hung at his side, and pulled out a round the size of a shot glass. He loaded it into the rifle and once more took aim. The remaining three strafers had learned their lesson, however, and they quickly fanned out. Two were making their way towards the ship’s right flank, one had gone left.
Lug cursed, “Shit!”
He dropped the rifle and the ammo pouch and raced back towards the main deck. Cyril watched him sprint to the mounted gun from before, where Izel was waiting. He began turning the weapons crank and the barrels began to spin. On the horizon in front of them, Cyril could see the outline of a low mountain range prying through the mist.
He hung his head over the railing and saw that one of the strafers was just along side the ship. He realized why they’d been trying to get so close when something shot out of the horizontal cylinder attached to the strafer’s rear. It looked like a small anchor on the end of a chain. The anchor bounced off the brass piping that coated the ship’s hull, and the chain started to reel it in for another shot.
Lug and Izel felt the impact, and unleashed a hail of gunfire. The strafer swerved at the last second, dodging the shots. Cyril saw the other one running parallel to them, but at a much greater distance. It seemed to be trying to get towards the front of their ship. Then Izel and Lug spun on their heels and sprinted across the deck to the ship’s left side, where an identical rail gun sat to begin the assault on the atrafer that had gone to the left. Cyril ran the port side railing, and saw the strafer getting into position. Izel and Lug were able to let off a shot in time to make the strafer swerve, but once again, they were unable to hit the mark. Without hesitation, they sprinted back across the defend the starboard side.
Cyril looked up; the ship was drawing closer to the cliffs. The land stretched for miles in every direction, and Cyril saw no conceivable path for an aquatic vessel. A flash of motion drew his eye down; the lone strafer was quickly getting back into position. He looked to Lug and Izel; they’d never hear him over the gunfire. Lug’s oversized rifle, lying on the deck, caught his eye. Cyril bounded over and grunted as he hoisted the weapon. He was grateful for the shoulder strap which did much to alleviate the gun’s considerable heft. He propped the barrel on the ship railing, and took aim downward. He tried to use the spyglass but the target was too close. He’d have to do this the old fashioned way. He lined up his shot, held his breath, and squeezed the trigger.
There was a low click, followed by a thunderous pop, and the strafer’s glass canopy shattered. Cyril thought he saw a splatter of red before the remains of the metal tube fell away behind them. He hollered in celebration, and almost fell from the weight of the rifle. Emboldened by his achievement, he snatched up the ammo pouch, hopped down the stairs from the helm, and ran to the starboard railing.
Cyril’s approach went unnoticed by Lug and Izel. The Nordic giant let out a jubilous roar as Izel’s latest barrage shred the armor of the closest strafer. He pumped his fists as the scout ship’s remains were pulled down by the sea. The celebration would be short lived, however, as a smoke began to shoot out from their rail gun’s engine.
Izel cursed. Lug scooped up a wrench and frantically went to work. He popped the engine casing and saw the jam. There was no way he’d fix the damage in time. They stared hopelessly as the last strafer sidled up next to their ship’s prow. Its chain anchor would soon fire out, latching on to their hull. It didn’t matter how much more powerful the Dancing Devil was; the strafer would slow them just enough for the frigate to catch up.
A thundering pop echoed from behind them. Izel and Lug gawked as the strafer’s motor exploded in a shower of metal and water. Its metallic carcass skipped along the surface for a few seconds before sinking into the deep.
Izel and Lug whipped their heads around to find the source of their salvation. The sight of the thin pale man wielding the large rifle was incredibly shocking and eternally amusing. They couldn’t help themselves, and burst out laughing.
“Yer quite welcome!” spat Cyril.
Lug stopped laughing and placed his hand on Cyril’s shoulder, “Well done, Irishman.”
” Lucky shot,” snorted Izel. Lug gave her a look and she added, “Thank you.”
Captain Slick hollered from the helm, “If ya are all done bein’ polite, we still ‘ave a frigate on our tails!”
As if on cue, the bellowing crack of a rifle tore through the air, and a small hole suddenly appeared in the main sail. Cyril, Lug, and Izel raced up to the helm. The frigate had covered considerable ground during the strafer fight. They could make out figures standing along the railing. Cyril saw a flash of light, which was followed by another loud crack. A piece of railing to his left exploded in a spray of splinters.
“Keep ya head down!” Shouted Slick, “Lug! Izel! Make ready!”
They were already running about the deck, tying tarps to anything that wasn’t nailed down. Cyril wondered why they would waste time with the tarps, when his attention was drawn to the cliffs, now looming barely a half mile ahead. Cyril’s suspicions were confirmed; there was no inlet in sight. He glanced back, the massive frigate was gaining more ground.
He heard Slick shout, “Ay, Irishman! Get over ‘ere!”
Cyril hustled over to find the Captain sporting a new accessory: industrial goggles. He was holding another pair in an outstretched hand.
“Put these on.”
Cyril took them, “What’re these for?”
Slick grinned mischievously, “Ya shall see, mom ami.”
Cyril wiped the lenses, and donned the goggles. He blinked and took in his new yellow tinted perspective. He was surprised to see that the twin masts were suddenly bare, the sails having apparently disappeared.
Slick gave him a thumbs up, “Tres bon!”
He yanked as lever and hollered, ” ‘old on!”
Cyril’s eyes bulged at the scene unfolding before his eyes. Seams appeared along the top half of the two masts. Two long blades, hinged at the top, began to extend up and out. They locked into place, and then the masts began to spin. Cyril had never seen anything like this. The rotating masts picked up speed.. The ship lilted, and then lifted up out of the water. Cyril risked a look over the railing. The blue canvas of the sea was falling away from them.
The frigate had given up the chase. They weren’t even firing anymore. They could only watch as the Dancing Devil cut through the air, threaded a gap a in the cliffs, and disappeared into the mist. Had they been pursuing ordinary pirates, the sailors of the imperial frigate would have likely secured their prey. But these were not ordinary pirates.
These were the Pirates of Diesel Bay.