She wasn’t sure if she dead or alive, but someone seemed to be calling to her.
“Mister Calendar?!… hear me?!”
Mr. Calendar? What kind of a name was that?
“You’re alive, Mister Calendar! Wake up!”
Her vision finally began to return and she felt someone shaking her. It was still dark but she began to see a ball of light that looked like it was bouncing around. Then someone started slapping her cheeks.
She sputtered as though she had just come out of the water and her vision returned to normal. At first she didn’t know where she was or who she was. She was lying on a wooden deck and she could see ropes, rigging, and torn sails dangling above her. Everything else beyond that was dark. She tried to sit up and her head exploded with pain.
“Easy. You hit your head on impact but you’re still in one piece.”
Blinking, she looked up to see a young man not much older than her looking down on her. She knew that tanned face, the sharp features, the thick black, the stormy dark grey eyes. The wide brimmed pointed hat he wore signified that he was a Magician. How did she remember that?
Groaning, she tried to lean up into sitting position again and the elf maid helped her. Her body then registered that it was cold and wet, with a chilling wind blowing in the air. She began to hear voices that were either crying in pain or shouting orders along with the sound of running feet. Everything seemed to be in pandemonium.
“What happened?” she asked.
“We’ve crash landed, on a floating island I believe. I’m afraid the Lark is unsalvageable.”
“Crash landed? Lark? What…”
It finally came to her, as though she had woken up from a bad dream. Or rather into one. On gasp she jumped to her feet, ignoring the pain in her head and the protest of the half-elf. From the quarterdeck she looked down to see crew and junior officers running around, removing debris and fallen rigging while trying to recover any survivors of the crash. The bow of the airship was completely smashed up against a solid rock wall and the foremast had been snapped backwards where it now lay against the mainmast. Laying on a patch of earth listing slightly to starboard, the Avalanche was indeed beyond repair.
She remembered it all now. Her name was Claire Andrea Calendar, 1st Magician of the Pandoran Clipper Lark. The man beside her was Falco Grimaldi, 2nd Magician. The Lark had been on its way at full speed to the flying island of St. Dave after its commanding officer received an urgent message that it was being attacked by an airship believe to the newest weapon of Pandora's enemy, the Delta Empire.
Claire looked up at the air, noting the drizzle that was coming from the fog. That’s right, the ship had been sailing over the dark clouds where a fierce storm was brewing and…
She leaned heavily on the rail and breathed deeply. She had been the officer on watch when all this happened. Shortly after she took over at midnight, a flyer up in the crows nest claimed to have seen a large shape the size of a ship under the clouds illuminated by the thunder. After one of the Novices brought her the enchanted spyglass, a device that would allow a person to through thick clouds as though it was a clear day, she looked bellow and saw nothing. She had debated whether or not to order beat to quarters before declaring to herself that no captain would ever put their ship in the middle of dangerous thundering storm clouds. Just as she about to declare that the flyer had been seeing things, someone had screamed, “Ship a-starboard!”
She remembered whirling around to see an airship rise up from the dark clouds on the starboard side of the Avalanche, it’s ports opened and guns rolled out. She remembered shouting to the helmsman, “Hard to port!” but it was too late. The cannons had fired and the ship had shuddered like branch in the wind, threatening to break apart as it took severe damage. The next thing she remembered was that the attacking ship had disappeared and that the Lark had begun to lose height rapidly. The Magus had come running out then, half dressed and demanding a report. She remembered informing him what had just happened before the ship suddenly began to dive. Hard cold rain had started to pelt her face as the sip went down rapidly, going faster and faster. The Magus had called the engine room and was told that both ballast tanks had been ruptured and that the ship was going down.
Claire shut her eyes as she remembered those final moments. Through the thick rain and clouds the ship and all those aboard had been blind as a bat, even when the captain had ordered the bow searchlight to be turned on. All they could was to hope and pray that they weren't struck by lightning or fly straight into an island wall. The engineers had done everything they could to try and level the ship’s descent. The minutes had seemed like hours before someone shouted they could land up ahead. The captain had the ship turned in that direction and ordered all hands to brace for impact. Shortly afterward, the Lark finally struck ground. Claire had been thrown over the guardrail and onto the quarterdeck. The ship shook violently as it slid forward. She had just gotten up when she heard a loud crash. She’d been thrown forward again and… that was it.
And here they were.
She breathed deeply again. She had been on watch, she should have anticipated the possible danger--she shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for that. Right now the crew’s safety was important.
“Where’s the Magus?” she turned to Grimaldi.
“Back there,” he gestured behind them, “The doctor’s with him.”
Claire was already running up to the poop deck. There she saw Magus Driscoll lying on the boards with his craddled on the doctor's assistant lap. She rushed over to his side and tried to call out to him, but he made no answer. Blood was trickling out of his mouth and he was as pale as a sheet. She looked up at the assistant, Lucinda Stevens, a beautiful young woman the same age as her.
“How he is?” Claire asked, fearing the worst.
The assistant shook her head, “Not good. He has a severe skull fracture and he’s bleeding inside. I don’t think he’ll live out the night. My sister is down bellow tending to the wounded.”
Claire turned at Falco, “Sorcerer Forrester?”
Falco shook her head, “Dead. One of the shells struck the officer’s quarters.”
Claire cursed. So, the commanding officer was incapacitated and the first officer was dead, which meant…
“That leaves you in command, Mister Calendar,” Falco looked straight at her, “What are your orders?”
A vice seemed to close on Claire’s chest. That’s right, she was the senior officer as of now. She stood up, trying to breathe and to keep her body from shaking, and looked around. If this had all been her doing, it was up to her to get the crew out of it. She straightened her shoulders and straightened her uniform.
“Have you got a count on the causalities yet?” she asked Falco.
“Not yet. We’re still going through the wreckage."
“Very well,” Claire looked up at the sky. The fog was thickening and the cold was becoming unbearable, “We’ve got to get everyone off this ship and into shelter before the rain starts. If we are on a flying island there’s no telling if we’re on stable ground or not. Did you send a man over the side to scout the area?”
“Yes,” the man pointed out to starboard, “I sent Magician Drake and few men over the side with red lanterns. You should be able to see them.”
Claire went over to the rail where she could see four red balls of light floating around through the fog. Red lanterns were basically normal lanterns but with special red tinted glass that allowed people to see through fog and thick clouds. It was also used on both sailing ships and airships to warn other vessels of nearby ships and to steer clear to avoid collisions during bad weather.
Just then a fifth lantern appeared and with a shout the rest came together. Shortly afterward all but one came toward the ship in a hurried manner. Claire focused on the leading lantern until she recognized 3rd Magician Ishmael Drake.
“Ahoy, Lark!” the young man called.
“Mister Drake!” she yelled loud enough for him to see her, “This is Magician Calendar. What have you found?”
“There’s a dry cave back there, sir!” Drake pointed behind him, “A big one! Big enough to hold us all! I left one of my men behind to mark its position.”
Claire looked up to where lone red lantern was waving, at least one hundred yards away, “Very good, Mister Drake! Have your men form a line with the lanterns that leads directly to the cave. I’ll see if I can get more to help you.”
“Aye aye, sir!” Drake saluted and turned to give orders to his men.
“Mister Grimaldi,” Claire turned to the other officer, “Have the other officers start gathering whatever food, weapons, supplies, and survivors we have into groups and take them to that cave. You lead the first one in and establish a base there. I’ll take the last one over when I’m certain everyone is off.”
“And the dead?”
Claire hesitated, then shook her head, “Leave them. With the weather worsening we won’t have time to bring them all out. And if that enemy ship is looking for us once the weather clears we won’t have time bury them.”
“Understood,” Falco said nothing else.
“One last thing, any news about engineering?”
“I sent Mister MacFarland bellow to see. She hasn’t reported back yet.”
“Very well. Carry on then.”
“Aye, aye, sir!” Falco saluted and went down to the quarterdeck to start giving orders to abandon ship.
“Mister Stevens,” Claire turned to the surgeon who was helping place Magus Driscoll onto a stretcher. She waited until the doctor turned her attention to her, “You're the ship's doctor now. Gathering whatever men and supplies you need to help carry the wounded off. You’ll be in charge of getting the wounded over to that cave.”
“Aye, sir,” the assistant nodded and went to work.
Claire turned and started to walk for the quarterdeck when someone walked into her. Looking down, she it was one of the cabin boy. No more than ten, the child looked up at her with eyes that were both frightened and confused.
“Be careful where you’re going lad,” she said gently.
“S-Sorry, sir!” the boy stuttered and lifted something large in his little hands, “I-I found your hat, sir!”
Claire looked at the object and saw that it was indeed her hat.
“Oh,” she almost laughed. With everything going on she had completely forgotten about her headwear. With a smile she took it from the boy’s hands, “Thank you.”
She took a moment to look at the wide-brimmed pointed hat, the trademark of a mage. Aside from being a little rumpled the hat was virtually undamaged. On the side of the hat there a golden badge that identify her as a Magician in the Pandoran Air Fleet. In Naval terms, Magician was the equivalent of Lieutenant, just as Sorcerer was the equivalent of Commander and Magus was the equivalent of Captain.
“What’s your name lad?” Claire asked the child.
“Roman, sir!” the boy stood at attention.
“Well, Mr. Roman, it just so happens that I have a job for you. Are you up for it?”
“Yes, sir!” Roman puffed up his chest and tried to stand even taller.
Claire bit back a smile. The boy certainly had spirit.
“You see those lights out there?” she pointed, “Do you know what they are?”
The boy stood on his toes to look over the rail and bobbed his head vigorously, “Yes, sir! Those are the red lanterns!”
“That’s right. Do you know where we keep them?”
“Right bellow, sir! By the food supply!”
“Good boy,” the lad was sharp, “Can you go down and see if there are any left that are not broken? If there are, bring as many as you can over to Mister Grimaldi. Do you know who she is?”
“The one with the dark hair!”
“Correct. Tell him to pass one out to each group leader including herself. He’ll know what I mean. Alright now, get to it Mister Roman.”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
The boy saluted and waited until Claire saluted back before scampering off to do his new job. Claire watch him go and smiled to herself. The boy might become both a good airman and a mage should he decide to stay in the Air Fleet after growing up. Looking back at her hat again, she brushed off the droplets and placed it snugly on her head. If she was the commanding officer now, she might as well look like one. She straightened her uniform again and made sure her retractable wand was still in place on her belt. Thankfully it was.
Going down to the quarterdeck, she saw Apprentice MacFarland emerging from bellow. Behind her was a group of airmen were carrying out two people on stretchers. One of them she recognized as the chief engineer.
“How are they?” she asked as she approached.
“Both of them are unconscious and injured,” said the junior officer, “but it doesn’t look to be anything serious. The rest, however, are dead. The engine room itself is destroyed.”
“I see,” Claire paused, grateful that at least the chief engineer was still alive, “Take them over to Doctor Stevens. She’ll see to them. In the meantime, go join Mister Grimaldi and help take the surviving crew over to the cave. Follow the red lanterns.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” MacFarland saluted and left while Claire directed the stretchers to the doctor.
Afterwards she went bellow to make sure no one would be left behind before heading back up to bring a few men into the officer’s quarters to gather the officer’s belonging including her own. From there, she found the remains of Sorcerer Forrester. The shell must have went right into his quarters and through his body while he was fast asleep. He never knew what killed him. Claire quietly placed a blanket over what was left of his body and went back to directing the men what to take and what to leave behind.
When she went through a cabinet, she found the shell had not only pierced it but had lodged itself inside. Curious, she reached out with both hands, got a firm grip and yanked as hard as she could. The shell came right out and she almost lost balance. One of the men caught her before she fell and help set her feet. Thanking the man, she looked over the shell. It heavy, but the design was what really intrigued her.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw two men carrying her personal chest. Stopping them, she had the chest placed down and her took out her wand. Pointing it at the lock she whispered a silent word. The locking mechanism unlocked and the lid flipped open on its own. Kneeling down, she took out a cloth and wrapped around the shell before placing it inside. Closing the lid, she squeezed two buttons and the chest locked itself.
“Carry on,” she said after she stood back up and the men carried the chest out.
After making sure nothing important was left behind, she went up to the Magus’s quarters and gathered the charts, a set of compasses, and the ship’s log before having the men take out the Magus’s belongings. When she finally stepped outside the ship was nearly abandoned. Apprentice MacFarland was standing over the drop ladder with a red lantern in her hand.
“That’s the last of them, sir,” he said when the last man went down.
“Very good, Mister MacFarland,” Claire handed her the bag that carried the charts, “Go on down and wait for me. I’ll be with you shortly.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” the girl slung the bag over her shoulder and went down the ladder.
Claire took one last look around the once magnificent ship. The Lark had been the latest of the Maria-class Clipper, Pandora's very first class of sail-and-engine airships powered by jet engines. Such a shame that her career ended so quickly.
“Well,” she breathed, “goodbye my little Lark.”