by James Neale
Hiram Croft lay in a low crouch, clinging to his dragons harness as a
cold wind tried to prise him from his seat. His dragons name was
Paradox and they were currently diving through a cloud bank heading for
a small schooner which was tacking through the choppy sea below them.
Hiram felt Paradox take in a huge breath, the scales under his
harness shifted to accommodate the swelling lungs trapped within. With
a roar Paradox exhaled. The breath trapped within emerged in a jet of
super hot flame. Where the flame touched the universe ripped, and
through the rip plunged Paradox with Hiram clinging to his back. In
seconds they had travelled through the rip back in time hundreds of
years and thousands of miles. Below them men were fighting, struggling
and killing each other.
Hiram sent a thought to Paradox, There to the left. He's what we are looking for. Paradox responded flying straight for the samurai who stood alone atop a small hill surrounded by dead bodies.
Paradox stretched into a glide as he approached the lone samurai.
The armored warrior looked up at the last second just as Paradox ripped
a hole in time right into the hillside below the warrior. The rip
swallowed the stunned warrior, followed seconds later by Paradox and
The rip deposited the samurai onto the deck of the ship with an
audible clatter. The samurai took less than as second to regain his
feet and balance, despite the disorienting fall. The long straight
sword he carried came up into a high guard whilst above him Paradox
banked hard to avoid colliding with the ship.
The half score of pirates who formed the schooners felonious crew
looked on stunned for a second at the man who had fallen from the sky
to land on their timber world. The pirates reacted the only way they
knew how, violently.
In amongst the swarm of screaming pirates the samurai fought calmly
using short economical slashes of his blade, leaving pirates dead or
dying with each move he made. The samurai's graceful economy was a
stark contrast to the brutal hacking swings of the pirates which seemed
unable to hit the foreign warrior as he pivoted on the spot always
remaining on balance.
Circling above, Hiram watched in awe as the pirates fell, one after
another. The business-like efficiency of the samurai was breathtaking,
and within seconds it was over. The samurai half crouched, wary,
seeking more opponents even as he flicked drops of his last opponent's
blood from his sword blade.
Whilst he was distracted Paradox swooped in, blazing breath ripping a path back home for the calm oriental warrior.
* * *
Once back in Japan after the battle for Suruga province the warrior
never told anyone of the battle within a battle he had fought against a
host of pale demons on a wooden island whilst watched by a great
lizard. He doubted he would be believed, but he did develop the curious
battle habit of watching not only the land for threats but the sky.
* * *
Back on the now-deserted Schooner Hiram began the unpleasant task
of dragging the eviscerated pirates to the edge of the ship before
tipping them into the sea. He ignored the blood that dripped from his
arms and focused on the task, trying not to feel sympathy for the men
who had been killed.
With the deceased pirates slowly drifting away Hiram began
jettisoning the surprisingly sparse foodstuffs he found on board. Once
he had finished he called out to paradox's mind, the time dragon
responded, bearing him from the heat of the dead ship to the cool sky.
The last task Hiram had was to direct Paradox six months into the
future to the start of the change in seasons. There they ripped a path
for a small storm . The storm rolled out of the time rip directly
astern of the lifeless ship, its rains washing the gore from the deck
whilst its winds drove the hull towards a point some way between the
island of Jamaica and Bermuda.
* * *
The cargo ship Mary Jane was making good progress. Jem knew this
without reading the charts. He was pretending to read the charts but in
reality he was watching the Forecaster out of the corner of his eye.
Jem knew that this Forecaster was called Julian De Cheko as he had
introduced himself to the whole crew at the start of the voyage. He had
not bothered to introduce any of the four lumbering men accompanying
him their threat was obvious, they were his bodyguard.
De Cheko was an unremarkable looking man, unremarkable if you did
not know that beneath the sensible black suit and the not so sensible
black leather shoes, there lay a remarkable mind that could analyze
probable outcomes with an ease with which most people thought about
De Cheko was currently stood with one of his body guard. He stood,
ram rod straight, next to the stern rail, gazing with disinterest at
the activity going on around him.
De Cheko was a middle-ranking member of an elite society know to
most people as the Forecasters. The society controlled every aspect of
life with a cold brutality which kept everyone except the Forecasters
bound in place, living only to ensure that the Forecasters continued in
their privileged lives.
Forecasters were selected at the age of eight. Only the most
promising minds were chosen. From that point on they were intensively
trained in observation and analysis processes. Their training made them
valuable and interesting but what made the dangerous was their monopoly
on their most closely guarded resource, chrono glass. Jem did not know
much about where or how chrono glass was formed but he knew what it
did. It showed any one who looked thorough it the immediate future of
whatever that person was looking at. When this knowledge was fed into
the mind of a Forecaster the Forecaster could tell exactly what would
happen around them. The skill that really set them apart and disgusted
Jem was that Forecasters could influence other men's minds. True they
could not take control of a man and make him a puppet but they could
influence him and make him carry out any action that they would not
normally consider. They could not make a man jump off a cliff if he did
not want to but they could if the man was considering it. It was true
that the time dragon riders spoke mind to mind with their dragon but
they did not interfere with a man's thoughts and it was the thought of
that skill that particularly turned Jems stomach. With the ability to
see the immediate future and make changes to adjust it as they went so
that the future developed as they wanted they were fearsome opponents
indeed, most people had stopped trying to resist them long ago.
De Cheko's chrono glass had been fashioned into a monocle. As Jem
surreptitiously watched him, De Cheko's head snapped up. "Second mate,"
he said without looking at Jem.
"Sir?" replied Jem.
"That foot rope is loose," said De Cheko as he pointed at a rope hanging below a yard arm.
Jem squinted at the rope before venturing, "It looks secure to me, sir."
De Cheko sighed and resumed ignoring Jem. Thirty seconds later two
sailors approached the yard arm in question. The first sailor shimmied
along the foot rope easily, before swinging himself onto the yard arm
itself sitting securely on it as he worked. The second sailor also made
to move along the yard arm when two things happened at once. The first
was that the foot rope came away from its fastening and the sailor
began to fall. The second was that De Cheko gave a sharp exhale of
breath and the sailor on the yard arm moved faster than anyone Jem had
ever seen, catching the falling sailor even as he slipped. Other
sailors quickly made to the yardarm and helped the shaking sailors
down, congratulating the catcher on his speed, although he looked
almost as shocked as the man who had fallen.
De Cheko span on his heel and walked back to the stern rail without looking at Jem, his point made.
Jem was pleased that no one was hurt but he knew that few of the
acts of the Forecasters were as benevolent as that which he had just
witnessed. It made it worse really he thought, the forecasters chose to
keep their powers for selfish ends.
Jem had another reason for watching De Cheko so closely. Jem was
not only on board as second mate, he was also a Brother of Time. A
member a secret society dedicated to guarding and fostering the time
dragons and working to eliminate the Forecasters.
Jems mission, along with four other members of the crew, was to
smuggle one of their rare dragons eggs onto a small uncharted island
which lay not far off their current course and care for it until it
The reason that the island was not on any chart was also the reason
why De Cheko was on board. The island lay on an intersection of two lay
lines, folds in the fabric of time. These folds in time were dense
anchors of time and the brotherhood believed that they were linked
somehow to the Forecasters abilities. The hope was that birthing a time
dragon, with all the time distortions that that entailed, on one of the
intersections would damage their abilities to produce chrono glass and
weaken them, but nobody knew for sure as it had never been done. De
Cheko was there to guard the location of the island and any ship which
sailed in these waters had a Forecaster escort.
The dragon egg in question was currently hidden in the hold. The
egg was immensely valuable as only a handful were laid each generation.
The brotherhood had been divided as to whether the risk of such a
valuable asset was worth the risk for such an unknown result. After
months of debate and argument grudging authority to try it was given.
Jem knew that somewhere in the sky's above Hiram and Paradox were
creating the opportunity they needed to leave this ship and get to the
The opportunity that Jem had been waiting for came on an errant
wind. All the sailors knew the wind directions in these waters, and all
knew that there should have been no wind from the east. Even more
frightening was that this unseasonal wind was blowing a deserted hulk
The captains greed overcame his superstition and he after De Cheko
had given his consent they heaved to, before intercepting the hulk.
When they had lashed the two ships together the unease grew. It was
clear that the ship was deserted but it was also still eminently sea
worthy. Where were the crew? Why had the abandoned a sound ship? Again
the captains desire for a salvage fee overrode his misgivings. The
suspicion around the ship made it easy for for Jem to volunteer to lead
the prize crew. He was able to handpick his crew from the ship as he
had handpicked them for the mission back on land. Alexander, a
boatswain with an agile mind; Wesley, a slim and mostly-reformed thief;
hulking Bernard; and Peter, an able seaman and general nasty piece of
work with a short blade.
It would have been too much to hope for, thought Jem, that they
would be allowed to sail merrily away. De Cheko had looked at the
derelict for a long time. Jem knew that Chrono glass could not see into
the future for more than a minute but he also knew that the ship
presented De Cheko with a problem. There were now two ships and only
one Forecaster. This was one of the Forecasters most hated problems--a
choice where they did not already know what the answer would be.
For a second Jem thought De Cheko was going to forbid the captain
from crewing the ship but instead De Cheko declared that he would sail
with the prize crew and leave two of his body guard on board the Mary
Jane to ensure that they did not stray from their course.
Jem tasked Wesley with smuggling the dragons egg on board the
derelict in amongst the supplies that were to be loaded. Jem knew
Wesley's light-fingered past had given him skills which included
smuggling items from one place to another without attracting notice.
De Cheko and his men watched the preparations intently but as
nothing suspicious was planned in the next few minutes Jem was happy
that the Forecasters monocle was useless.
It was not long before the derelict, which had Spicer written
across her stern, cast off. The Spicer had become a living ship again.
Jem set the small crew to repairing the Spicer. The ship had
suffered in its storm driven voyage and the maintenance that the pirate
crew had carried out had been lackluster at best.
De Cheko approached Jem shortly after they had cast off from the
Mary Jane. "Captain," he gave the title an inflection which made the
word sound like <i>'Slave.'</i> "I expect you to follow in
the wake of the Mary Jane. I don't want any variation from our
Jem wondered if he was suspicious or just unhappy about this step
outside predictability. "Aye-aye, sir," he responded looking De Cheko
in the eyes. The eye with the monacle in looked huge in comparison to
De Chekos other eye and Jem could not help but wonder what De Cheko was
seeing . De Cheko exhaled sharply before turning and walking back to
the stern followed by his body guard.
Jem had hoped that De Cheko might choose the comfort of the Mary
Jane and simply send his body guard with the Spicer. There was a very
real risk of failure now that De Cheko was with them. Paradox and Hiram
could only be of limited use as well. Intelligent thought the dragons
were they were still subject to their natural instincts which sent them
into an aggressive frenzy in the presence of any egg that they had not
laid or sired. This meant that Paradox could not come too close to the
ship for fear of destroying it and its valuable cargo.
Jem had sat for hours with his superiors, and his second in command
Alexander discussing what to do should this happen. They had concocted
a last chance desperate idea but it was far from a sure thing and it
came with great risks. Many men had died trying to kill a Forecaster.
Those who did not fully understand how the chrono glass worked often
tried to blank their minds and then attacked randomly as any chance
presented itself. It never worked. The Forecaster would see your attack
coming well ahead, you did not even need to know what you were going to
do it would still happen and the Forecaster would see it regardless of
the fact that it was not premeditated.
Ambushes failed as the Forecaster would have advanced warning of it
being sprung and could avoid, escape or counter it. Even sending dozens
of men against them often failed as they knew where and when every
attack would go and they could evade and counter attack as if they were
possessed by some godly warrior spirit. Only the years of practice at
analyzing so much detailed information enabled them to survive such
attacks but they had done it time and again as people had tried to
throw off the yoke that they had placed over human kind.
Peter and Bernard had been chosen due to their ability to fight
their way out of a tight corner. You did not need chrono glass to
predict what Bernard would do but stopping his immense strength was
another matter. Peter was fast with a blade although Jem knew that fast
did not count if you knew exactly where and when the strike was coming.
When he was satisfied that the Spicer was in a safe state he
nominated a watch order so that everyone could get some rest, he knew
that in all likelihood in the morning they would need it. Jem took the
helm himself, he dare not try anything until darkness fell so he set
his mind to the task at hand and waited.
Darkness fell, or rather the light faded but the light from the
moon bathed the sea and ship in a pearly half light. Jem ordered more
lights than usual lit about the ship. He hoped that they would ruin De
Cheko and his men's night vision.
The Mary Jane had been pulling away all day, her larger sails and
better maintained hull had begun to tell and Jem's cautious use of the
sails and deliberate wind wasting course adjustments had ensured that
the Spicer had steadily fallen behind, now the stern light of the Mary
Jane was barely visible.
Jem judged it time. He made an almost imperceptible course
adjustment whilst nodding at Peter who began adjusting the sail quietly
and without fuss. Before the voyage had begun they had all memorized
the coordinates that they were heading for but Jem did not want any of
the others to shoulder the burden of steering the ship. De Cheko must
not notice until it was too late.
* * *
All went well for most of the night. Whether it was Jem's smooth
steering or De Cheko's inexperience at sea that made it so, Jem did not
know. He did know that a night without sleep and constantly being on
edge through fear of being discovered had left him shattered. As dawn
began to announce its impending presence it was almost a relief to see
De Cheko striding towards him.
"Where is the Mary Jane?" De Cheko asked, looking carefully along
the rose hue band that parted the sea from the dark sky above. "She
pulled away from us even more during the night, sir," answered Jem.
De Cheko looked at the wind tell and frowned, he walked over to the
chart table. Jems stomach roiled with fear as he prayed that De Cheko
was only pretending that he could read the charts.
"Guards!" snapped De Cheko. The two men came running, one carrying
a naked heavy cutlass, the other clutched a foot long dirk in his right
hand whilst his left held a small circular buckler. As they pounded
over the deck to de Chekos side, Jem's own men all stopped what they
were doing and formed up around Jem.
"She's a lot faster than us is all, sir," tried Jem, knowing that there was little hope of the ruse working.
De Cheko ignored him, he was slowly circling whilst looking around
himself taking in details present and future as he turned. De Cheko
came back to face Jem, he looked at the back of this guard with the
cutlass and frowned. Suddenly the cutlass was swung through the air
catching Wesley high on the head, he dropped to the deck even as the
guard brought his weapon back. The guard looked as stunned as Jem was
by what he had done but he maintained his solid stance. De Checko
looked on unsurprised for a second before his head swiveled to the
"Time dragon," he warned his men. "Foolish," he spat at Jem and his
remaining men. De Cheko's manner was angry but not in the least bit
frightened. Jem wished he felt the same.
Bernard grunted as he swung a capstan bar at the guard with the
buckler. Jem doubted that De Cheko bothered influencing his man who
wisely chose to duck the blow rather than block it with his shield.
Jem looked skyward relieved to see the unmistakable shape of a dragon descending through the wispy cloud above.
* * *
Paradox's superior eyes could clearly see what was happening on the
tiny timber deck below and this knowledge was passed from mind to mind.
Hiram sighed knowing that the situation was bleak. He agreed a date and
location with Paradox who ripped a hole in time, plunging through the
rip back to Crecy 1346.
* * *
Jem was getting more worried by the second. He had seen Paradox
vanish into the rip and he knew that an attack was coming, so must De
Cheko who was looking unconcerned. De Cheko actually sauntered over to a new spot on the deck before saying "Back to me."
As Jem watched a bass roar and hiss shattered the tense silence on
board the ship, Paradox emerged from a new rip above the ship and
banked hard to avoid coming too close. Suddenly a narrow strip of the
deck erupted in splinters as a flight of longbow arrows slammed into
the deck where De Cheko and his men had been just seconds before.
De Cheko bowed slightly towards Jem before ordering "Four paces
forward!" to his men who closed on Jem and his waiting men. "Down,"
said De Cheko just before another rip opened to starboard of the Spicer
and amid a billow of smoke Paradox emerged, climbing hard. Just ahead
of him roared a cannon load of grape shot which, instead of cutting
down Spanish sailors as the cannons gunners had originally intended,
destroyed the starboard ships rail but passed harmlessly over the top
of De Chekos prone guards.
Jem knew that the best chance had been lost, defeated by De Chekos
abilities. He tried to seize some advantage by charging as the guards
scrambled to their feet, but as he came upon the dirk wielder he found
both guards stood in steady stances shoulder to shoulder ready to meet
Jem and his men.
The fight was brutal but Jem could see that however skillfully he
and his men attacked the guards De Cheko ensured that the guard reacted
to avoid or block the attacks. Jem marvelled at De Cheko's ability to
read the attacks of four men and direct two others as he did so. Then
the wonder turned to dread as Bernard went down to a slash to the thigh
from the cutlass wielder.
Jem hoped that Paradox was arranging the attack that they had
agreed upon before the mission had started. This time the ear splitting
noise of Paradox leaving the rent was not followed by a stolen munition
from a battle occurring at another point along the river of time. This
time the rip leaked steady billow of thick grey fog which rolled out of
the rip and along the sea towards the ship like a grey wave. As the
ship was enveloped Jem smelt the acrid tang of coal smoke mixed into
the dark cloud as his vision was obscured.
Jem and his two remaining men redoubled their efforts against the
guards who were now without their super human insight, De Chekos future
vision fogged along with his normal sight. Peter killed the dirk and
buckler man with a dagger thrust that his opponent never saw coming.
The fog seemed to cluster even more densely around the knife wielding
sailor as if it appreciated a sacrifice being made.
The cutlass wielder fell to the less well practiced thrusts of Jem
and Wesley. As he fell the dying guard managed a final cut which gashed
Jem across the forearm causing him to lose his grip on his own weapon.
Jem clutched his bleeding arm tightly, curiously he felt more
vibrant and alive than he had done all voyage. "Peter, Wesley slow and
careful, he'll be armed." Neither man acknowledged Jem's comments but
both men crept forward in a half crouch breathing as quietly as they
could, seeking any stray sound which would lead them to De Cheko.
Jem knew that De Cheko would still be able to see into the future
but he hoped the fog would make knowing where the attack would come
from difficult, he hoped that all De Cheko could see was death coming.
Both Peter and Wesley had opted to move forward together but it was
Wesley keen senses, use to creeping around in the dark, which located
De Cheko. The Forecaster was scuffing the deck with his unserviceable
shoes as he span in circles slashing ineffectually through the fog with
a dagger. A small grunt escaped his lips as he spun and slashed faster.
In the end it was Peters speed and accuracy that did the deed. De
Chekos monocle smashed as it hit the deck moments before De Chekos body
did. "It's done!" shouted Peter.
"Bernard?" shouted Jem who followed Bernard's shouts and curses
until he found him and begun to help bandage Bernard's wound before
seeing to his own injury which did not seem too bad. Suddenly, Jem was
shaking and he had to sit down. They had done it.
With time the fog, which seemed reluctant to leave the carnage of the ship, faded away.
* * *
High above Paradox could see the survivors moving sluggishly around
the ship. After a time Hiram asked Paradox to rip a hole, bringing in a
brisk wind to speed the ship onward to its goal. Hiram hoped that all
the bloodshed was worth it.
Only time would tell.
© 2013 James Neale
Bio: Mr. Neal is a previously unpublished writer who enjoys the
fact that day dreaming is not a waste of time if you can then write a
story around it when you get home.
E-mail: James Neale
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