Staying low enough in the ocean to remain invisible to the surface while in lizard form, I darted under the ship toward our pursuers. Only a minute later came the hum of disturbed water before I could see the caravel’s keel cutting through it like a knife. I swam to the right side of the approaching ship and rose to meet it once its shadow darkened surrounding waters. Spreading both hands to reveal my talons, I waited until the vessel swept overhead in a blob of moss-covered blackish-brown to latch my claws into the imperfections of its wood. Wasting no time, I yanked one hand free and started to climb its hull.
Only once I nearly reached the deck could I hear conversations happening between our foes. I waited patiently as the caravel looped in a half-circle, preparing to pull up alongside our ship so the pirates could attempt to board it. My muscular arms ached as they held my body weight from the hull’s ornate woodwork.
“It’s sad they’re even trying,” one woman proclaimed from the deck above. “We have twice as many men.”
“They’re traders,” a man replied. “They’re probably stupid when it comes to battle tactics.”
“Stupid when it comes to trading, too, if they think they can get through the strait while we patrol it,” a different man mused.
“That stupidity benefits us,” the woman spoke up again. “Don’t complain. Whatever cargo they’ve got, it has to be expensive if it’s worth the trip. We’ll get riches andcaptives all in one battle. Vruyk will be pleased.”
Captives. So these pirates were involved in Nahara’s slave trade. Though the caravel still maneuvered the waters, I waited no longer to reveal myself, eager to spill slaver blood.
I grabbed the taffrail and hoisted myself up onto the deck. The quarterdeck of the caravel was flatter and more open than that of our cog, but twice as many men spotted it. When a strained exhale escaped my nostrils in a puff from my physical efforts of climbing, they all turned at the noise.
One woman shrieked, backing away from me as I bounded forward. She clashed a mace into my side as I neared her. The blunt weapon barely chipped my scales, but it rattled my ribcage enough to anger me. I grabbed her hair with a webbed hand, eyed the nearby mast, and slammed her into it. The woman’s skull caved in immediately; an explosion of shattered bone, blood, and shredded brain matter sprayed out around my hand. Her body slumped to the deck, leaving a smear of gore over the rough mast. I shook my hand of filth, and a pulverized eyeball flung overboard, eager to feed awaiting fish.
“What the fuck?!” a pirate screamed with horror, staring at the broken body before the front of his trousers darkened with urine. Perhaps I needed to start expecting that reaction to my arrival.
A bolt from Hassan’s arbalest cracked through the temporal bone of the pirate’s skull, puncturing the back of his left eye. Its capillaries burst with trauma as the gaze within his pupils dulled with death. His limp body landed on the near railing before giving into gravity’s seductions, falling to the ocean below.
Dull vibrations traveled up my tail as multiple pirates tried attacking me from behind. I spun, lashing my thick tail in a damaging circle behind me.
Crrk! Crrk! Crrk! Crrk!
Two men fell to the deck screaming, grasping at their newly broken ankles. I crushed one’s skull under my feet as I bit the other’s head, twisting quickly to snap his neck.
“They have more beasts!” came a scream from the poop deck.
I glanced up. Kali silently zipped through the air between ships in mantis form, her wings beating so speedily they were invisible. As the pirates scattered to the sides of the deck to avoid her, she swooped down, unhinging her walking appendages just wide enough to capture a slaver’s shoulders. She landed on the deck for only a millisecond, clamping down with her front legs until the snap of his broken collarbone sliced through the air. Her victim burst into bumbling sobs as she lifted him and flew back out over the ocean.
Arrows bounced off her exoskeleton uselessly as Kali hovered over the waters at a safe distance, holding the man with her praying arms. Her triangular head swiveled, and her mandibles spread. She buried her head in the crook of the slaver’s neck, bringing her mouth parts together with a sickly crunch.
Copyright Rosie Scott