Rangers - Tome of Chaos Story
Riklauniman slithered on his belly to the edge of the cliff. Dry grass whipped at the side of his face, and he pulled the headscarf higher to protect him. “You see it?” he asked.
“As plain as day.” Skagrun passed the telescope over and pointed. “She’s right there, taking pride of place in the center of the flotilla.”
Riklauniman peered through the scope, careful to shade the glass at the end from the bright sun. It would not do to give away their position to the Chaos Legion’s main fleet, whether they were harbored or not. He tracked the wake of a small pinnace as it sailed towards Telburg’s harbor until he came upon the warship. Sure enough, there she was, the Vicious Maw, the greatest and most terrible flagship that had ever sailed through Praetorian seas. Deckhands scurried across its main deck as cargo was moved down into the hold. A sailor dangled from the mizzenmast, shouting something down to his crewmen on the poop deck who were wandering about with paint brushes and buckets of black tar. Riklaunminan scanned across to the forecastle and saw the white jaws appear on the black hull as the ship gently bobbed, the bow rising out of the swell to display the painted namesake in all of its glory–an image that had no doubt struck terror into the very hearts of many a seacaptain in the past.
“Looks like we might be just in time.” Riklauniman closed the brass flap over the end of the telescope and slid it together. “I’d wager they’re preparing to set sail soon.”
“Then we should get down there—you thinking a night attack?” Skagrun took the scope from him and shoved it into a light pack.
Riklauniman shook his head. “We’ll go just before sunset, there’ll be a lot of movement about the dockside then, and we should be able to blend in better. I want Hidana and Redis to ready their sections, they’ll be coming with us. Satha can hold a rear guard near the eastern gate, in case we need to get out quick. Tell her to bring the mounts down the cliff and into the treeline nearby.”
Skagrun nodded and crawled back away from the cliff edge. Riklauniman spared one last glance at the warship floating in the waters off Hero’s Island, before following his second in command.
The dockside was packed with Chaos Legion as Riklauniman casually strolled along. Wharfies fought with ropes, tying ships to their moorings or releasing them whilst others carried cargo back and forth from the wide decks. In the distance he could see the main mast of the Vicious Maw, a long pennant flapping in the cool sea breeze. A rowdy group of sailors sauntered by, swigging from bottles of rum and cursing at each other. One of them caught his shoulder, and he dramatically swayed to the edge of the quay, crouching into a low grovel.
“My apologies, sir.” Riklauniman slurred his words, covering his face as best as he could. “Too much rum’s bandy-legged me, I can’t walk straight.”
The sailor gave him a cursory glance before continuing with his group, not even bothering to reply. Riklauniman watched as they disappeared amongst the bustle before he stood up and glanced across at the opposite pier, seeing Hidana and her men gradually making their way through the busy throngs of laborers.
Skagrun sidled up to him. “So far, so good. Redis’ team is in place with a few surprises in case things turn south.”
“Good.” Riklauniman smiled at a passing woman, touching the point of his triangular cloth hat that he had managed to acquire from a sleeping drunk in the city’s cobbled streets. He looked at the sun and shifted the pack he wore from one shoulder to the other. “We should move while it’s still busy and the light is good.”
Skagrun grinned and walked past him, making for a small skiff that bobbed in the harbor’s gentle swell. “I think I’ve just spotted our ride.”
Riklauniman paused as his comrade climbed down a rusted ladder and jumped into the craft. He waited to see if anyone noticed or took umbrage, but the owner was clearly not present, so he quickly joined Skagrun. They cast off from the pilings, taking the oars and rowing towards the entrance channel.
The outer harbor was nearly as busy as the inner had been, with all manner of boats and ships either moored or meandering their way around the organized clutter. Riklauniman heard a baneful screech nearby and looked up to the deck of a galleon where a cluster of soldiers fought with a chained beast that had clearly decided it was not going to do what they wanted. One of the soldier’s was thrown from his feet and landed near the gunwale, peering down at them as they rowed by. Riklauniman quickly looked away and pointed at the tall, stone harbor walls, pretending he was in conversation with his companion. When he discreetly managed to cast a glance back, the soldier had returned to help with trying to corral the incensed beast.
They rowed on and as they passed the crenelated towers that stood guard at either end of the outer harbor wall, he noticed Hidana and her troops in an impressive looking cutter, quickly catching up with them. The seas were choppy, and the cutter quickly overtook them, its larger, streamlined hull breaking through the messy swell.
The sun had turned a burnt orange when they reached the flagship. Their timing was perfect and anyone looking down at the waves would have seen only dark shadows and murky shades of shifting blue. Hidana had already moored alongside the Vicious Maw when Riklauniman arrived. Skagrun quickly tethered their own skiff, fixing it tightly to the cutter.
“Wait,” Riklauniman whispered. “Secure it alongside the Maw, we’ll head back in the cutter, this can stay here.”
They busied themselves pulling the boat around the hull of the cutter and attaching it to the flagship whilst Hidana scaled the imposing hull of the flagship, using climbing claws. The rest of them waited patiently as she disappeared over the gunwale. It seemed like an age before she returned, and a thin rope was lowered down for the first of them to begin the climb. Riklauniman was the last up. He placed the heavy backpack into their skiff before he started his ascent. The contents of which were an extra piece of assurance in case the mission was compromised.
Sliding silently onto the deck, he could see the rest of their group nearby, behind a jumble of crates that had been tied down with thick netting. Checking it was clear, he silently moved to join them.
“Right, we need to make for the captain’s cabin, that’s where the plans will be,” he slid his bow from within a waxed hide and silently strung it. “If we have time, we copy the plans and leave them there, if not we grab them and get out.”
“What if we get compromised?” Hidana asked without concern.
“No different to normal,” Riklauniman smiled. “We cause as much chaos and confusion as we can and disappear. If that happens, you won’t want to be left on this ship, trust me.”
They all nodded and Riklauniman looked at each in turn. “This is probably our most important mission ever, straight from old King Wilhelm himself. What we do today could seriously damage our enemy.”
Nobody said anything. They all knew how important this was. The King had sent his own rangers. That meant everything.
Riklauniman held his hand out. “Fly like the wind, cut like the claw,” he said.
The others placed their hands on his and repeated the hallowed motto.
“Now we move. Two teams, port and starboard. Keep the kills clean and quiet,” Skagrun growled.
There was a flurry of movement as the rangers moved out beneath the creeping shadows of the bleeding sun, as it slowly sank from the heavens into a watery sea grave. Riklauniman crept along the portside gunwale, keeping a steady aim upon the guard that stood above them on the quarter deck. He stopped next to a large barrel and waited as Skagrun climbed the steps, seeing the other team moving in unison in his periphery. The next he knew a knife quickly flashed across the guard’s neck. The guard was caught as he fell, passed back between the team, until the last one pushed the body beneath a pile of sail cloth.
Riklauniman waited for the signal and then moved up to join them. There was still a struggle on the starboard side where three guards were being disposed of, but it was brief and the bodies quickly hidden. The stern castle held even more soldiers, and sailors were climbing up the ratlines and into the rigging. If the rangers were not careful, they were going to be spotted. Riklauniman signaled for his team to move inside, and they made their way into the quarters.
Skagrun remained on point and came face to face with a mean looking officer, a long scar running from his cheek down into the ruffled collar of his doublet. Both men froze briefly before Skagrun swung his knife, and the officer opened his mouth to shout a warning. Neither of them made it. Riklauniman’s arrow took the man in his neck and stopped him dead. There was a muffled thud as the body hit the wooden floor. The whole team waited, holding their weapons ready, but it wasn’t noticed and so after hiding the body, they continued on.
Riklauniman could hear a loud commotion from the galley below, which explained where most of the ship’s skeleton crew would be and gave him a surge of hope that they might complete their mission successfully. The door to the captain’s quarters was unlocked, and the two teams came together in the darkness of the hold, filing through the doorway before closing it behind them.
A large table held the center of the ornate room, with parchment and scrolls scattered across it. Riklauniman moved quickly, searching through the offerings while his rangers held the door and scanned for anything that might give them away. There was all sorts of information, troop movement orders, cargo manifests and crudely drawn maps of the Shimmer Archipelago. Riklauniman slid the parchments about the table until finally he found what he was looking for, the complete orders and formations for the next naval strike. A shiver ran down his spine. It was against his home city Lyveria, a staging battle for the naval assault against Anumun. Quickly pulling the translucent parchment from his belt together with a stick of charcoal, he placed it on top of the commands and started to rub a copy. It was then he heard a shout.
“Intruders! In the captain’s quarters! Intruders on…” There was the crack of glass shattering. Riklauniman turned to see two of his rangers with empty bows, moving to look out through the aft windows. Outside those windows, a boy’s body slid from a narrow rope swing, two arrows protruding from his chest, his hands still clutching a cloth and bucket.
“Would you believe it? Caught by a bloody window cleaner,” Hidana spat, drawing two curved blades from her back and moving to the door.
“We ain’t got time for that.” Skagrun hurried past Riklauniman and waited by the door. “Just grab the whole lot.”
Riklauniman cursed and collected up the scattered parchments, desperately shoving them inside his goatskin bag before tucking it into his leather cuirass. A ranger opened the door slightly and peered through, whispering the coast was still clear. Turning back, he received a crossbow bolt through the side of his face and dropped to the floor. The others tried to close the door, but the body was in the way. Reaching down to move him, Skagrun almost took a bolt himself as it flew through the gap. It glanced from the edge of his leather pauldron and smashed into a drink’s cabinet, sending glass from the decanters flying everywhere as the contents spilled across the floor.
“There’s no escape that way, not if we want to keep our heads,” Hidana snarled, finally kicking the door closed as another ranger dragged the table back against it.
“We go out the window,” Riklauniman decided quickly. “Bryla, try and light one of those oil lamps. Let’s get a nice fire going for them, that should give us a fair chance of making it back to the cutter.”
Bryla nodded and rushed towards the drink’s cabinet, smashing any of the decanters or bottles that were not already broken on the floor. Riklauniman ran to the window and kicked out the remainder of the glass, peering up at where the rope swing still hung. There was a sailor climbing down it fast, with a blade between his teeth. A loud bang sounded as the cabin door was struck by something heavy from the other side. They needed to be quick if they were going to make it.
Leaning out again, Riklauniman aimed with his bow and shot the man from the rope. He notched another arrow and fired again. The arrowhead sliced through one loop of the rope and cut it loose, then it ricocheted off the thick gunwale and careened into the darkening sky. The thuds against the door increased into a regular pattern, and the table shuddered under the strikes.
“Out, out, out! Into the waters and back to the boat!” Riklauniman yelled above the din.
Rangers moved past him, jumping onto the dangling rope and lowering themselves down to the end before dropping into the water. As Skagrun climbed through, Riklauniman saw Bryla had finally managed to light an oil lamp. She held it in the air and was about to throw it down when a volley of bolts smashed through the door’s panels, two of them taking her in the gut and shoulder. She spun around and stumbled back, frantically looking over at him.
“You go!” she screamed above the noise. “I’ll hold them as long as I can.”
Riklauniman backed out of the window, sending an arrow through the door as he heard Skagrun splash into the water below him. There came a pained grunt followed by a brief pause in the commotion, and Bryla dashed the oil lamp onto the floor. Flames hungrily ate at the spilled liquor, quickly spreading across the room. She drew her knife and clutched the bolt in her belly with the other hand as the door finally exploded inward, sending the table sliding back across the room. Riklauniman heard her defiant battle cry as he started down the rope, but already knew she was lost. The sound of clashing steel was muffled as he dropped the last few meters and was consumed by the icy sea. When he resurfaced, the only cries he heard were to fetch water and put out the fires. Bryla was gone.
He swam back towards the boat, a grim feeling churning in his gut that he had to leave two of his comrades behind. But he pushed the thought from his mind. They were not safe yet and if none of them made it, their lives had been lost for nothing.
When Riklauniman finally reached the cutter, the others were already on board and had started to row. He pulled himself over the side and fell flat on his back, gasping for air. Bolts sploshed in the waves about them and were quickly answered with arrows from the rangers, every one of them finding their marks until none of the Vicious Maw’s crew risked showing their heads to fire another bolt at the escaping vessel.
They made the outer harbor wall in good time as soldiers started to appear on the fortified ramparts. They looked down at the small craft as its crew rowed through the entrance channel.
“Fire!” Riklauniman called up to them. “There’s fire on the Vicious Maw.”
In the distance there was a thin trail of gray smoke spiraling from the stern of the flagship into the air, captured perfectly by the setting sun. It was enough, the soldiers were adequately distracted to allow the cutter to pass through unhindered.
By the time they had rowed into the inner harbor there was a bustle of activity as the dockyard warehouses, used as temporary barracks, spilled out its soldiers into the streets. Nobody knew what was really going on or what had happened. All they could see was the smoke on the darkening horizon and a heavy tension in the air. Now was not a good time to be a stranger in Telburg city. They needed a distraction.
With perfect timing an explosion ripped through the noise of the gathering soldiers, splitting an old wooden pier in two and throwing water and wood across the dockside. Men screamed as their bodies were struck by vicious splinters and thrown like rag dolls through the air. Riklauniman caught movement on a nearby rooftop and recognized Redis. The red-headed ranger drew his bow and fired. Riklauniman heard the gears whirring in the arrow as it flew over his head.
“Take cover!” Riklauniman shouted to his team, diving to the ground as another explosion shook the ground nearby.
This time an old wall erupted into the air, flinging stones in all directions, crushing people and collapsing buildings. Riklauniman and his rangers found their feet and ran through the confusion, making for the cobbled streets. A few shouts went up from dazed soldiers as they passed, but they were quickly silenced from well-placed arrows that flew in from the rooftops of the dockside buildings.
As they entered the streets the tall buildings closed in around them. Pressing on, Redis’ squad joined them one by one, appearing from their hiding places and racing with them towards the eastern gates that led out into the forest. Every so often a distant shout would catch Riklauniman’s attention but then it was gone, muffled by the noisy city as it was stirred awake by the sound of destruction in the harbor.
The eastern gate was open as they neared, guards slumped near the portcullis, each one wearing red smiles, blood soaking their leather armor. Riklauniman and his rangers sprinted through and were quickly joined by Satha.
“I take it things went south?” Satha breathed noisily as she caught up.
“You could say that,” Riklauniman replied. “It’s definitely time for us to get out of here.”
She lifted a hand to her mouth and whistled. The remainder of her squad moved from the treeline, leading the tower griffins behind them. Riklauniman let out a shout and was answered by his own griffin’s call as it circled above and dove from the sky to meet him. The great beast swooped down and landed with remarkable finesse considering its heavy stone body. Lifting its head, it gave up a forlorn shriek.
Riklauniman stroked its neck feathers. “I know Pallus, we are two fewer, but their loss will not go unpunished.”
The griffin clawed at the ground before lowering its body for Riklauniman to climb on. He jumped into the saddle and gripped the beast’s body with his legs. “Rangers!” he yelled. “We fly!”
Wings beat all around as the griffins took to the air with their riders. They were far from the ground as the first ranks of soldiers emerged from the city gates. A few tried to reach them with their crossbows, but they either missed or the bolts broke upon the stone underbellies of the griffin.
“With me!” Riklauniman shouted and pushed his griffin towards the harbor and Chaos Legion flotilla beyond.
Cries of alarm went up as they passed over the devastation along Telburg’s dockside, people pointing and shouting. The warnings spread to the outer dock, as soldiers scrambled to turn the ballistae on the towers at the approaching foe. The rangers fired upon them, arrows cutting down the enemy until the few that remained decided retreat was the better part of valor. They darted out of sight and down the two towers stairwells.
The griffins flew on and as Riklauniman neared the Vicious Maw, he drew a long arrow from the quiver attached to Pallus’ saddle. Turning the small cogs near the arrow’s tip, he double checked the correct runes were in alignment before notching it to his bow. The tiny gears whirred, and the countdown began. Taking aim, Riklauniman sought out the small skiff that they had left moored alongside the Maw. Remembering where he had left his pack, he fired the arrow. The sound of gears hummed as it flew, finding its mark and thudding into the small boat’s bow.
“Rangers, climb!” Riklauniman commanded.
Gripping Pallus’ neck feathers, the griffin began a steep climb into the dusky sky. The blast below was not as loud as the others had been, but it was just as devastating. The flagship’s bell rang out the alarm, Riklauniman’s charge having blown a hole the size of a wagon in the hull of the ship. He could see the water rush into the cargo hold as the ship rolled with the force of the explosion—it wouldn’t be long before the Vicious Maw was lying on the seabed.
Riklauniman turned his griffin west towards the setting sun and coast of Praetoria. Soon they would be in Dragon’s Bay and his rangers could rest. There they would light the fires and burn the wooden cape pins of the fallen rangers in their memory. He reached into the saddlebag and touched his own pin, feeling the raised wing and claw.
“Live on the wing, die by the claw,” he whispered, feeling a sadness well up inside.
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Daniel Beazley
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Paolo Chaz R. Gomez
Illustrations: Paolo Chaz R. Gomez
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Ending credits song: AfterSound
Post Production: INFLUX Pictures
Creative Director: Nate Aguila