There were not many rifles aboard Brent, and even fewer members of the crew knew how to use them with any confidence. Harkness had been joined by seven men, all older men, who had spent their lives at sea, and did not have families back home to mourn them. They were in various degrees of disrepair (grey hairs, old ankle wounds, bad backs and just plain old age), but they were willing to help Harkness, which was what counted.
Brent began to swing around just as the first 28-gun port-side salute lit up the darkening sky. That single salvo would have punched huge holes in Brent’s hull – but her quick turn saw her avoid every last one of the weighty cannonballs.
Glorieuse continued to close, now doing so at some speed as the wind was against Brent. What the crew of Glorieuse had not expected was for the galleon to raise her sails and swing hard toward her.
There was no time for the crew of Glorieuse to prepare another volley. Brent’s port quarter slammed hard into her own – shaking both ships and rattling their crews, but Brent’s crew had been prepared. Whilst several of Glorieuse’s crew were shook off their feet, Harkness leaped across from Brent and, landing with a thud on Glorieuse, immediately opened fire with his rifle.
His fire was joined by that of his fellows, who were also climbing across to board the Antyan vessel. Some of Brent’s crew were also firing from the rigging of the ship, trying to keep the crew of Glorieuse from getting organised.
Shouts and screams greeted Harkness as he glanced around the deck of Glorieuse, looking for the entrance to the armoury. The green-jacketed Antyan officers were quickly getting themselves back to a firm footing and so he moved quickly, kicking out at a guard that tried to get in his way and knocking aside the other man’s sword with his rifle. One of his own men fired off a shot that put down a guard trying to stab him in the back and as Harkness looked back at Brent, he saw Captain Wade’s next surprise for the Antyans.
Barrels, some empty, some filled with fermenting alcohol, were tossed onto Glorieuse’s deck, men with flaming torches lighting them as they went. Fire was every sailor’s worst enemy, a thing of much fear, and it would at the very least buy Harkness some time.
Some of Glorieuse’s crew were firing back, and Harkness heard the screams of his colleagues as lead pierced flesh. Those who had joined him were trying to find different ways below deck, diverting Antyan attention still further – Harkness himself smashed an onrushing Antyan guard in the nose with his rifle, and then swung a punch that sent the man sprawling. He kicked at one of the doors to his right, that he hoped would lead to the stored gunpowder.
When the door would not budge, Harkness shot the lock with his rifle. That had the desired effect.
Charging down the stairs, Harkness nearly made the mistake of not looking where he was going. A guard was coming up them, baynet fixed to his rifle, and Harkness almost impaled himself upon it. Instead, he stepped to his left, and slammed the business end of his own rifle into the other man’s chest. The man stumbled, and tumbled back down the stairs, bashing his head upon a thick wooden chest at the bottom. He groaned, semi-conscious, and Harkness drew his sword. The Antyan would not be given the chance to wake up.
The lighting revealed that he had, by sheer luck, found the armoury. Barrels upon barrels of potent gunpowder and stored round shot were neatly lined up along the walls. It was time to complete his mission.
Harkness reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a pack of matches. With a sigh, he scratched one against the side of the box and took in the significance of the flame for a split second, before laying the match to rest beside one of the barrels. A shudder told him that Brent had disengaged from the Antyan warship and was starting to sail away. That was good; Harkness lit more matches, placing them by barrels, but not-so-close that they’d go up straight away. Brent needed a little time.
Then the very air seemed to take on a chill. The flames that were starting to lick their way up the wooden barrels and across the floor seemed to waver, but Harkness could see no reason as to why, and nor could he fathom why the hairs on his neck stood on end and his heart started beating faster. From the corner of his eye, Harkness thought he could see something… but when he turned to look, whatever it was was still only in the corner of his eye.
Until a shadowy hand reached out and placed black bony fingers over one of the fires, extinguishing it.
For a moment Harkness recoiled in shock and fright. Something was stepping into view, black as night. By his reckoning it was as tall as a man, but the wispy, smokey figure didn’t have a face – so why could he feel a pair of eyes looking right into his, piercing his very soul?
The… thing, then stepped onto another batch of flames, and Harkness realised its intent. The remaining fires were beginning to gather pace but if the creature put them all out…
“Not another step demon!” He cried, aiming his rifle right at it. He had no idea if it would even know what a rifle was, let alone if it would hesitate, but he had to try.
The creature did seem to stop for an instant, as though it heard Harkness and was weighing up its next move – but then it started forward again, and Harkness, despite the increasing fear in his stomach, squeezed the trigger.
The bark from his rifle was accompanied by a bright flash as a pellet shot through the air and pierced the blackness of the demon. It actually staggered a little, and Harkness could see little droplets of black fluid spill to the floor. Then it let out a low, scratchy sound, like a cross between a hiss and a shriek, and began forward again.
Harkness screamed – he summoned up every last drop of courage and charged forward, dropping his rifle and drawing his cutlass again. He swiped from right to left at the creature’s midsection, and though there appeared to be nothing there, he certainly felt the blade go in, and sweep back out. The demon let out another cry, but did not go down – instead, a black hand crashed across his face, sending him sprawling, and sent his sword scattering.
The creature started forward, once again bent upon putting out his fires. Harkness, despite blood leaking from a small wound on his left temple, snarled and scooped up his rifle, swinging it round and trying to smash it around the demon’s head. The creature brought up an arm to block the blow, and kicked out, catching Harkness in the stomach. He grunted, but refused to fall, and poked his rifle at the monster’s chest, feeling it connect and seeing it stumble.
Now the remaining fires were gathering pace and the barrels were not going to hold out much longer. He only had to distract the thing for a little longer…
He hurled himself at the creature, punching and kicking as hard as he could. It made strange rasping sounds as it fought back, kicking him so hard he skidded across the floor, the breath knocked from his body.
A surge in the flames caught the attention of them both. The gunpowder was about to go up – Harkness was certain of that, and ready for death. Was the demon prepared to die for its cause?
Apparently not. As Harkness watched, it spread its arms wide, and the space in front of it shimmered like water on a lake, the edges swirling around. Shapes were starting to take form within the large oval portal – it was escaping, and Harkness would not stand for that.
“You’ll not find solace from me, even in Hell!” Harkness yelled, and as the creature tried to step into the gateway it had made, Harkness jumped it. The two of them wrestled, with Harkness punching it repeatedly in the face. As they rolled, they teetered on the edge of the abyss, and as the powder finally ignited, the explosion blasted both of them through…