Nanadyt 24, 14343 (Day 1)

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Captain Reinvo stepped out of the bridge to smell the salty air. He tied his rain hat in place and synched up his heavy weather jacket against the spraying winds. The skies continued to darken, and the Vibrius swayed heavily as the storm’s waves grew stronger. He took in a deep breath of the charged air, the hairs on his arms standing up as his skin prickled with energy. His gut tightened. They were heading into a gale.

The iron deck hummed under his feet as the engines poured their energy into the strait’s waters. A flock of gray seabirds’ screams barely cut over the wind and seas as they sailed in the Vibrius’s draft. Looking down on the waters, he could see the twin foam trails from the new screw-driven propellers.

Open waters were close. The channel was wide enough but lined with shallow reefs. The winds were down channel, and he considered attempting to turn back to Aedon. They were only a few hours out of port; if they turned about, they could easily make it back to the safe harbor. It would be dangerous for a ship the size of the Vibrius, especially with these winds.

Commander Ardlee, his second in command, climbed the deck ladder and saluted. “Sir, all the hatches are tight. Sails are secured.” Ardlee’s vibrant voice crackled from the volume of his yelling over the noise.

Reinvo looked up at the sky. “This is going to be stronger than we expected,” he called back.

He grabbed Ardlee’s shoulder and pulled the officer closer. “Engines to a hundred and ten percent. Sound general quarters. I want every man in storm gear, and double safety lines ‘til we are clear of the reefs,” he said into Ardlee’s closest ear.

Ardlee’s lips tightened. “Sir, we haven’t tested the engines above eighty percent.”

Reinvo pointed at the cliffs that marked the end of the channel before they’d be clear into the open waters of the northern ocean. Ardlee leaned in close to listen. “We are in the draft of the Othane Plateau. When we come around it, the winds will have us. Empresses know, I’m praying the storm’s not as strong as I think. But, I have more faith in Lady Janali’s engineering than that prayer. We need to be a bullet out of the muzzle to clear the reefs.”

Commander Ardlee saluted and stepped into the bridge to give the orders.

The deck’s vibration increased, and the ship surged forward like a powerful bull beginning its charge. The seabirds screamed protests and scattered away from the stern of the ship. They had been surprised by the sudden water-filled air caused by the Vibrius. Reinvo took a moment to stare at the sea foam spraying higher than the deck. The peculiar sight of water and foam arcing behind the ship, as if a Star Empresses was striking the ocean with all her might, held his attention as the first time he’d gazed up at Mount Tarrat’s six-mile-high peak from the base of that mighty giant.

“Lady Janali you should see this.” He chuckled to the air before turning away from the marvel and stepping back into the bridge.

Reinvo’s heart raced and he felt buoyed up as he took a deep breath just before they passed the cliffs. He knew his eyes were wide as saucers and he couldn’t stop the grin. He loved sailing the storms.

The Vibrius raced past the cliffs into the full force of the gale which tilted him wildly in the rough ocean, the momentum and engines pushing for the safer, deep waters. But, the winds couldn’t miss the ship, shoving him as much sideways as he moved forward. Waves came from the side rolling the ship sixty degrees to the left and then sixty degrees back. Officers and crew bounced around the bridge like beach sands in a twister. Only those with the best grips managed to keep their stations.

The strength of the storm sent hundreds of warnings through Reinvo’s body. He felt the tendons of his hand strain to hold him in place. Being tossed about on a ship the size of the Vibrius felt surreal. But, he knew it was all too real and forced the panic back down into place locking it away in the back of his mind.

Reinvo braced himself next to the helm; feet spread and a steadying hand clamped to the ceiling handrail. His other hand held the helmsman’s shoulder giving the man more support against the brutal forces. Initial panic and chaos of the younger bridge officers waned under the steady examples of the captain and first officer.

A tremendous wave rolled the ship so far over that the mizzen mast cross touched the water. Cries of panic came from more than one of the sailors. Reinvo was unable to think as he hung sideways looking at a mast he’d have bet his entire savings would never touch water digging deep into the waves.

“Hang on to anything you can!” the captain shouted over the gale’s howling.

The Vibrius righted itself, throwing everyone on the bridge into the air. Before they fell, another wave pushed the vessel upwards, violently catching the flying men.

The winds had the ship at their mercy. The helmsman recovered his station and tried to hold against the force but was thrown away as the wheel spun like a top. His head slammed into the deck with the sound of a dropped melon breaking open.

Reinvo and Ardlee moved as one, catching the helm. Together they forced it back on course, quarter-turn by quarter-turn. Ardlee was yelling something, but the noise of the storm and breaking ship drowned it out.

The scream of stressed steel filled the bridge as the waves tossed the boat between them.

There was nothing to see out of the bridge windows. The storm blotted out all light, leaving only the ships few running oil lamps visible. Lightning struck again and again, giving them momentary visions of deck-topping waves, violent oceans, and dark cliffs.

“Captain, the cliffs!” Commander Ardlee screamed.

“I see them, man. Pull!”

Together, they strained against the helm. The ocean dropped out from beneath them as the ship fell into the trough of the high waves. With a heart-stopping crash, the rudder locked.

“The rudder’s jammed. Emergency stations,” Reinvo ordered as he grabbed for the voice tubes. Blowing hard, he yelled into them for the men below deck to seal all passages.

Bells sounded, and the steam whistle blew just barely audible over the storm.

Reinvo grabbed the helm and put every muscle he had into it, trying to make it move.

“Brace for impact!” Ardlee’s voice came over the cacophony.

Reinvo glanced up just as a lightning bolt lit the sky. The outer cliffs were only three hundred yards to starboard. With the gut-wrenching screech of a night terror, the ship hit the reefs.

Reinvo flew forward, his head breaking the glass windows. The impact alone caused stars to glitter in his vision as he flew. Astonished, he floundered in the weightless motion as he went entirely through the broken panes. He lashed out, trying to grab the window’s frame to arrest his movement. His hand made contact only to be ripped away, cutting his fingers and palms on the broken glass.

Pain shot through his body from dozens of deep cuts as the salt water washed over him. His flight was painfully halted midair by the forgotten safety harness. The harness dug deep, cracking ribs and cutting into his waist. A lightning strike illuminated the water flooded decks of the doomed ship below him.

The deck came at him slowly. Salt water sprayed into his eyes, trying to blind him. As slowly as he fell, his arms and legs wouldn’t move fast enough to brace against the coming impact.

Reinvo crashed sideways onto the cold iron deck. His left shoulder and leg took most of the impact, both exploding in agony. Dazed, he tried to stand only to be smacked by a wave that tossed him back into the iron wall of the bridge knocking all the air from his lungs. His head flipped back, striking the steel bulkhead and rewarding him with one last blazing explosion of pain before the blackness took him.


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