Airships and Elementals
The following morning, the buzz was about the ghouls that Lute had sensed just outside of the town. Of course they’d sent a patrol to the site of the battle with the bandits and sure enough there were barefooted humanoid footprints in the mud and the burnt remains of the bandits had been pulled out of the pile where they’d been stacked. Humanoid teeth marks told the story clearly and this filled the town with great concern and nervousness. Aurei called a town meeting for that afternoon at the Keep to discuss this new development and the duchess was very frustrated at the feeling of helplessness over the seemingly casual invasions by the Necromancer Guild into the duchy. They came into town or at least close, at will, so it seemed, and the ducal guard could do nothing to prevent it. Aurei knew the Guild was playing mind games with them, using fear to gain an advantage over them. But their biggest advantage was their rapid transportation in and out of the area.
It was this very thing that the townspeople discussed that afternoon in the drizzling rain and the great hall was filled to capacity. She allowed the townspeople to release their frustrations and fears first, so that the mood would be calmer when those who had battled the Necromancer’s Guild in the past took their turns to speak. Brother Darv, Thorm, several of the Dwarven armorers, Lute and Siris and then Sir Alvis discussed the plans and schemes of the guild and especially their airships. The Paladin commander spoke last and longest, for his Blood Knights had battled the Necromancer’s Guild for many, many years.
"Their airships are their most precious asset." The Knight informed them as he unrolled a piece of parchment paper, then dipped a pen into some ink, "Here is what they usually look like."
He drew out two separate shapes, the first resembling greatly a regular sailing ship, but with a deeper, flatter hull. The second shape did not really look like any ship Aurei had heard of, for it had no sails and seemed more ornate with a lot of ‘fins’ sticking out of it at various angles.
"The first one here that looks like a regular sailing vessel is a type my knights have nicknamed ‘Sneaker ships’. "
"Why call them that?" Aurei asked Sir Alvis.
"Good question, duchess. We called them that because they run silently, by wind-power. Their mages developed a spell to allow it to levitate. You can tell this type by a sort-of magic blue glow that seems to dance along the underside of the craft – it's the spell they cast upon it and it is permanent, they don’t have to recast it, though they always have several mages on-hand in case the spell is neutralized, as well as one wizard who serves as a sort of pilot, changing the altitude of the craft by a long rod that runs through the craft from top to bottom that increases or decreases the energy of the spell so the thing can hover up to the top of the clouds or sink down to the earth. Other than this, the craft sails along by wind-power like a normal ship, though the mages on board will often cast spells to bring up a wind to fill the sails so they can head in the direction they want to go.
Sneakers are not fast-moving craft, they travel a bit faster than a water craft does, but the Guild usually doesn’t risk exposing these ships to a many sets of eyes and so they fly at night or as near to out-of-the-way locations as they can. "
"What do they use them for?" Brolen asked as he examined the drawing of the craft.
"Transportation of larger items or troops, usually. Cargo as well, for the hold of the ship is much larger than a regular ships’ hold. They usually don’t go too far from their base of operation, so any that you see usually means there is a Necromancer Guild base hidden somewhere within about two day’s ride."
"Could they be massing troops to attack us?" Aurei asked what was on many of their minds.
"I doubt it – Westmark would be far from their territory, and even a strong base in this vicinity could be surrounded and overwhelmed. I don’t think they are trying to conquer Westmark, in fact they seldom try a straight forward assault. Instead they try to terrify people and at the same time infiltrate the area with their Undead. Since there is a great distance between us and the area that they have strong influence upon, I’d say this is more of a long-range scouting mission of some sort to test the waters and maybe set up an infrastructure for a later infiltration."
"But why would they use such tactics? That beast and then the Giant would just draw attention that something wasn’t right and give us time to strengthen our defenses." Aurei’s reasoning met with agreeing nods from those around her.
Alvis scratched his chin, "Well, that is puzzling me as well, for yes, it is true that they usually are much more subtle then this. I’m not sure I have an answer to this, Duchess, for their move is uncharacteristic for them. That makes me rather uneasy."
"What about the other ship that you drew?" Alis asked from where she stood beside Sir Aeric.
"Ah, now this is something much different," he tapped the paper with the end of his pen, "This too is an Airship, but this is more like a Man-o-War or Frigate with the speed and maneuverability of a Brigantine ship, but made to quickly sail through the air. Many of them have no sails at all, though, for they are not propelled by the wind but by elementals."
The townspeople of Westmark murmured sounds of wonderment at the mention of elementals, and Sir Alvis nodded at their wonder.
"Yes, indeed, I did say Elementals – they tell me that before the Great Gathering, Elementals lived in worlds of fire, wind, earth or water and that sorcerers would summon them to worlds like ours by magic, much as fiends from Hell are brought forth by evil wizards. But since the Gathering they are confined to our world, where they must be captured magically if they are to be used. As they are creatures of our world now, they can be destroyed and when they are destroyed, they disappear forever from our world. So they are both rare and highly prized by sorcerers, and especially Fire and Air Elementals, as they are the types used for Airships."
"How do they propel the ships?" Brandi asked.
"I don’t know all of the details, I’m afraid, but they are imprisoned in a wheel-like ring that surrounds the ship so that the airship looks like a thread going through the eye of a needle, with the needle's eye being the Ring that imprisons the elemental. They are held in these rings magically and a controlling wizard called an Elemental Pilot uses spells to force the elemental to push the craft forward or to stop it. The craft is held in the air like the Sneaker ships – levitation spells running along the bottom of the ship of some sort. When the Elementals get going, these ships can move quite fast. Since they don’t usually use any sort of sails, they use long fin-like rudders underneath the ship to steer the ship. Some of the larger, more advanced types use a mixture of small maneuvering sails mixed with rudders, fins and even long metal wings that help them turn. There is no standardized shape for them – what I’ve drawn is a composite of most of the most common features of the less-expensive elemental-controlled ships."
"How many are there? You make it sound like there are hundreds of them!" Aurei asked, fascinated by the thought of ships that fly through the air by magic.
Alvis chuckled, "No, no, not hundreds, but probably 20 to 30 of this type and maybe 50 of the Sneaker type, yet they are scattered all over the world, so they are very rarely seen. The Necromancer’s Guild captured several that the Mages of Academy of Arcane Science down in Natisport had been experimenting with some years ago, and so most of the airships in existence are craft that they have created, using information from the airships they had captured and used as templates. There are a few that some wealthy Lords or Wizards not associated with the Guild own, and the Emperor reportedly has two craft under construction, but they are extremely costly to make, and then enchant."
"What happens if they have their magic neutralized?" A townsperson asked the Knight.
"In a word – disaster. They fall from the sky like a rock, usually killing everyone on board unless they were hovering near the ground. In fact, this has happened a few times – one time, I am told, the Arch-mage of Eastport used a Wish spell to dispel the magic of a large Necromancer Guild ship that was attacking the city and it fell 500 feet into the sea, killing all the pirates, undead and mages on board. That is why the Guild very rarely uses their Airships to attack a city. Fear of enchantment failure consumes those aboard the airships. I’m told that this is what many of their wizards and engineers are trying to create – a way for the airship to stay suspended in air without an enchantment that can be dispelled."
"Have you ever been aboard an airship?" Brolen asked.
"No, I’m afraid I haven’t." Alvis admitted.
"But I have." A voice came from the doorway to the great hall and all heads turned to find Sir Eleazar standing there on somewhat wobbly knees.
"Sir Eleazar, I am glad to see you are feeling stronger. Please join us and share with these good people your experience." Alvis stood and gave the half-Drow knight his chair, which the weakened young Elf gladly took. He looked down for a moment at Alvis’ sketches of the crafts with an admiring nod.
"You have a good eye for detail, Commander. They are well-drawn." Then turning to address the town he continued, "I was charged, several years ago, for obvious reasons, in leading an assault against the Drow city of Harl’ Rivvin to put a stop to their raids against surface communities nearby. After the successful destruction of the city, I had the hatred of all the surviving Drow of the city against me. A few surviving nobles made a deal with the Necromancer’s Guild to capture me and bring me as bounty to the Drow for torture and then execution. A few months after the raid, I was ambushed in camp at night by members of the Necromancer’s Guild on the way to Heliopolis. I was blindfolded and then levitated into one of the Guild’s quick moving airships, powered by a Fire Elemental. For two days I was a prisoner aboard that craft before I was able to escape."
"How’d you escape from an airship?" Aurei asked, hoping he wouldn’t be annoyed at her question.
"Well, they didn’t have a very strong brig on the airship, as there is really no place you can go when you are several hundred feet in the air, but I waited until they were preparing to rendezvous with the Drow nobles on a small island close to Natisport and when they took me out of the Brig as we slowly descended toward the island, I simply jumped overboard as we were only about 80 feet above the bay. Thankfully I survived the jump and was able to make it to shore undetected."
"Impressive!" Aurei commented.
"Anyway," the half-Drow knight continued, "I am one of the few people who have been aboard one of their elite airships and have lived to tell about it. The ship is set-up somewhat like a sailing ship, but there are differences, as Sir Alvis told you. The larger ships have a lot of room below deck for Crew quarters and storage. The Elemental Piloting Mage usually has his own spot on the bridge that is sheltered from the wind and rain. One fairly effective way to stop an attacking airship of this type is to take out the Pilot and then the Elemental will not move and the ship will at least stay motionless."
The crowd took his words in with a few murmurs and Aurei again addressed the Elf, "Sir Eleazar, from what you know about the Guild and their use of Airships, do you feel that they will use one against Westmark?"
The Drow/Elf thought for a moment, "I’m very sure they are using one of the slower cargo vessels, so most likely they have one of the larger, faster airships somewhere in the vicinity. They may have even more. But for them to place the monsters here as they did would require an airship, and a base of operations."
"What would you recommend that we do to counter their plans?" Aurei asked, pleased that the Knight seemed more comfortable around her.
"Prepare… I think there will be more actions against this town. From what I have seen, you are doing what needs to be done – training the people, keeping guards at all times watching, and searching for their base of operations. Keep doing these things would be my advice to you."
The conversation turned to other things and the Drow/Elf fell silent, choosing to sit listening quietly.