Opening Shots

It was a wet, cold, shivery, gray afternoon at the dying end of autumn. Fog blanketed the waters of the bay and veiled the other towers in a manner that made them look almost respectable; almost. The harbor towers had been little more than frameworks of heavy, rejected ship-timbers and bamboo lashing when they were new, and they hadn’t been new for more than a few years.

We shivered in our thick coats of upriver fur, stamping our feet to keep warm, and watching the clouds of our breath blend with the fog. Even our sniff-hound was shivering, and he had more fur than both of us put together. With fog lying heavy, not even the usual traffic of small traders and fishers wanted to navigate the bay shoals. Nothing to look at, nothing to do: welcome to the Harbor Guard.

Until Meijis, my partner, spotted them. Five or six ships incoming, glimpsed through patches in the fog. Unusual, at the best of times, and unheard of in this weather, the more so because they looked to be, best as we made out, in staggered line ahead; a battle formation.

Pirates, we thought, or some other kind of raiders. Lost, we presumed, since the harbor was well-defended, but better to be safe than not, so I sent Meijis down to ring the warning bell, and heard it picked up by the other towers in the chain.

His eyes were wide when he climbed back up top. “They’re coming in fast. Too fast for than any ship I’ve seen moving against the wind.” The view down there must have been better, but at that moment the fog drew back, and I saw that he was right, and more. These weren’t like any ship we’d seen – low-slung, sailless and mastless, gray as the sky and water, undecorated but for the sharp-angled writing the azik use. At first I thought they were afire, for smoke – hidden by the fog – billowed from their squared-off sterns…

“Quor! What do –”, Meijis’s voice yanked me out of my stupor.

“Sink ‘em!” We leapt together for the largest ballista and swung it around to bear, lighting the slow fuse on its charge and yanking back the lever. The great bolt flew straight and true, hitting the foremost of the ships just aft of the midline, then bouncing from its unmarked hull with an oddly subdued clang and vanishing below the waves. The sniff-hound yelped at that, and leapt from the tower into the harbor waters. He was the smart one.

Thunder spoke the ship’s reply. The tower fell away beneath us.

Sar Anpeng fell to the Imperials before dusk.

– recorded in The Southern Consolidation: Viewpoints