”Get up! Get up!”
He felt dizzy, his body hurt, and he was drowning. Definitely drowning, and that voice was disturbing his panicked mind, which just wanted to lay here, where their own recoil, sharp turn to the starboard, and swoosh of the sea had thrown him.
”Damn you, get up and help me!” A voice was pestering him now ”Get your damn feet’s” It ordered, or tried to order. The voice was coming like it had stuck to that person’s throat, which he could easily understand. The choking smoke from fired guns and small burns that other ship’s hits had started, was suffocating. But still, didn’t the voice understand that he didn’t want to get up?
He had just witnessed a man, standing where he had just stood, looking dazed in the middle of this godforsaken havoc, and pressing both of his bloody hands to his stomach, where his guts tried to burst out to the deck.
The image had been too horrifying. This all, was too horrifying. Even more than what had happened to him in the pub three months ago, how he had come to be the eighty-ninth crew member to 114 feet long, three-masted, black and white brig El Corazón. Who’s current armament, all 22 cannons…-Hull shook painfully against his back cutting off his thought. He shut his eyes and concentrated his mind to grasp the knowledge that was utterly useless, and just to defy the odds around him, he yelled correcting his calculation
”18 cannons. We have 18 cannons!” Which seemed to help.
The sounds around him quieted down, but his mind kept going, reminding him that these 18 cannons that were located on their main and lower gundeck, had been ordered to shoot every time when getting the chance. And like a proof to that, planking hit again upward against his back.
A high squeak of metal made him open his eyes just when one of their four swivel guns got loose from it’s fastenings, swinging hungrily toward their opponent. Swivel gun’s impotent anger toward the enemy scared him, as the same time, the thought occurred in his mind. That forgetting these small guns, the total would, after all, be 22.
”What she’s doing now?!” Voice grumbled, dragging his mind back to the fight, just when the volley shook the ship, and the deck started to dip.
The chorus of the overlapping yells from orders, men screaming and winds wailing filled his ears, bringing back to horrors that his mind had just a moment ago managed to overrule. For a second, he felt how he was drowning under the assault of the madness again. Still not getting any courage to rise up he waited for the voice, whose owner still eluded his memory to continue its reassuring pester when it happened. A different kind of violent tremor shook the ship and the slash of air pressure pushed thru the deck and sucking the sound around him when it locked his ears. Even in his inexperience, he knew that something had gone horribly wrong and his body reacted to this new threat and loss of hearing and his lungs started to go over time. One.. two ..three agonizing overfull breaths and with fourth, all sound banged back hitting louder than earlier to his eardrums, making them pop painfully open.
”They hit the bridge!”
”Get Brice on deck!”
”The captain was just standing there?!”
Running footsteps pounded on deck, coming closer and suddenly stopping on his side as others kept running past him. Someone bent down and slapped him in the face.
”Get up, Piper, and help with the wounded” Rough hands yanked him up. This voice was calm, easily booming over the noise even its owner seemed to be just talking like it had been a nice sunny day in the park.
”What’s...happening?” Piper felt like he had eaten dry sand flavoured with bitter smoke. It made him cough, but it got stuck back on his throat, its purpose deflating away.
”We are getting hammered by that bloody thing!” Said the man. His voice was full of annoyance, like you would get when you are trying to get rid of mosquitoes. Not too harmful enough, but definitely making your life miserable.
”Bosun!” Came a strong voice from behind the smoke “Get ready to turn toward the storm!” It felt like it too was coming a miles away. It was raspy, like Piper’s throat felt, but still strong.
”Oh, bugger!!” Bosun swore and disappeared into the smoke like a ghost, leaving his voice to echo the orders ”Ready to turn! Men up in the masts! We are running now!”
-So, what was it?-
-At least 24 pounder chaser. Hit there, straight on where the skipper had been standing. I thought then that was the end-
-And then Brice came running from the smoke like the devil was on his heels. Ian stood on the wheel, biting his pipe. I don’t think he even blinked when that hit came-
-And what then?-
-Well, like I said, I thought that skipper was blown into pieces but..- Teller kept a tactical pause -...but then...- He paused again -And I swear to god that I saw it with my own eyes. Black as a pit and wings and angrier than hell itself, it started to rise-
-The Dark Angel?- Asked a voice shakily, when the other echoed with more nasal but clear tone, that really didn’t know should it believe the story
-You really saw it?-
-Hell, I did. Cursing like Beelzebub himself. I didn’t know then that skipper was hurt.. -“Turn us to the storm!”- The skipper was yelling and pushing Brice away. That was it when I saw how bad it was. Blood smeared the whole skippers left side, half a railing sticking out, and the skipper didn’t even seem to notice it-
-But fight can do that. You don’t notice your wounds- Someone pointed out smartly.
-No, it wasn’t that, mark my words- The teller declared firmly
-Was it because of the Dark Angel?- Young boyish voice asked needing more details
-Like it was a skipper herself- Teller nodded his head approvingly and stick his finger toward the boy -Yes! But, we know that it doesn’t like to be called that, don’t we? -And the boy, not more than ten years old, nodded eagerly -And we know its real name?-
The boy’s eyes were now big and shining. He had started to lean toward the man who had been speaking, telling the story -A Valkyrie?- Boy whispered in awe silence, waiting to hear had he been right.
There came a rumble of laughter around them. The boy and small knobby man had been mostly talking to the six men, who formed the small circle and were sitting on the deck closest to them. Around them was the breathing darkness of the lower gun deck where shady lumps of men coughed, moved, and even snored time to time.
-Do you mean captain or the Dark Angel?- It wasn’t said nastily, but it made teller grumble his face toward the person who had dared to interrupt him and challenge his words.
-Keep it yourself. I’m telling this, Carlyle-
-Fine, fine. Please go on- Carlyle said from the darkness and then muttered -Don’t let me interrupt-
There came an amused chuckle beside him -You know you can’t stop Swift from telling his point of view-
-I know that- Carlyle said sounding painstakingly annoyed- It just, there’s no truth in what he is telling and he has now gotten Tim to be his accomplice-
-What’s wrong with that?-
-Look at them Kinsey, it’s like having two Swift’s on board-
-Damn- Kinsey said and then let involuntary laugh that he turned to cough -Bosun will get a fit-
-A Valkyrie, that is the name it knows and wants to be called- Swift continued as soon as Carlyle’s cough had stopped and was now eyeing his small listener’s group, who watched him back in silenced terror like he had just threaten to keel haul them -And how do we know all this, Tim?- Swift turned now to point young boy on opposite him, and his small group’s eyes followed the movement.
-Isn’t that what Stan is calling it?- It was as an innocent question that could be, if experienced eyes would not have noticed it to be a long rehearsed part, and got from Carlyle a long sigh that Swift’s listeners didn’t seem to hear, but made Swift give a warning glance to the place where Carlyle was sitting.
-Yes. Because Stan knows it, better than you, or me, or anyone here-
-Yeah, and we all know how Stan is- Someone said, but this time it wasn’t Carlyle or Kinsey who said it, and it didn’t raise laughs
But Tim, who knew his place in this absurd scene, asked -But then you have seen it. I mean up close. Not just in battle. Have you?-
-Yes, a couple of times. Not the memory that you forget. And you all know Brice? Fidge, Ajani, and Carlyle and Kinsey over there- Swift had leaned now back, pointing to the outer edge of the circle.
Piper, who had been making his way to aft had stopped to listen, could almost see the nods. He himself almost nodded with them.
-It isn’t a coincidence that they call themselves Shadows. They have watched into its black eyes. They have been against it, and now it owns their souls- Swift finished taking a long pull on his cheek where Piper knew, like they all knew, that those five men that Swift had named just earlier had the almost identical scar.
Piper felt a cold hand going thru his spine. It wasn’t the first time he had heard the story. Although it hadn’t been quite like this, but the implication was the same.
-So you are saying, that skipper has wings?- Someone asked, just to break the tension that had got even older crew members in its grasps, and unintentionally give Swift away to deliver story’s punchline.
-I’m saying, that when you hear voice cold as deep itself, and you see black eyes, I say that you turn your gaze away and start running-
-And pray?- Tim asked dutifully.
-There isn’t that kind of pray, that saves you from it- Swift kept a pause and then leaned back like a man who had made a hard day’s labour.