by Dan Swanson
“They’re launching rowboats!” Palette observed. “Five or six skeletons a boat, three boats total.” The powerboat roared onward. “Crap — they’re shooting at us.” A couple of pirates in each boat aimed pistols or blunderbusses in their direction. Palette noted that their actions were jerky and slow, and the bobbing of their own boats made aiming even more difficult.
Val Coppersmith advanced the throttle to about half-power. In the choppy waters, this made it difficult to steer in an absolutely straight line, so she decided to use the forced motions, and she started weaving their course from side to side. Smoke puffed from the ancient firearms, and one of the guns exploded, shattering the skeleton that had been holding it. None of the heroines was hit, or heard any bullets zipping by, or even saw any splashes nearby. The other skeletons began rowing, and the three boats moved faster than the heroines would have believed possible. Majique aimed the speeding powerboat at the closest pirate rowboat.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lady Victory demanded, shouting to be heard over the roar of the powerful motor. Bonnie Drake was afraid she already had the answer.
“Rammin’, boss! Nobody shoots at me and gets away with it!”
“We’re the good guys, Val. No killing, no matter what the bad guys do!” Lady Victory insisted.
“Nobody alive over there to kill, boss. They’re all animated by magic — I can sense the spell. It’s what I’m good at; trust me.” By now, there wasn’t any choice. “I drive pretty well, too!”
Palette suddenly realized what was about to happen, and she screamed at the top of her voice, “Mother Gaia! We’re going to die!” She held on tightly as they rushed toward the other boat.
I have to give her credit, Bonnie thought. She’s not jumping!
Miss Music was screaming at the same time. “Yaaa-hooo-ooo! Gangway! Comin’ through!”
Skeleton pirates were diving overboard, and then the powerful speedboat sliced through the smaller rowboat, cutting it neatly in half with nary a shudder. Majique threw the wheel hard over, and with another giant spray of water, the racing speedboat heeled far over to the left. With the heroines hanging on desperately, the boat careened almost in a full-circle, then dropped back to normal, and Majique gunned it again, and just like that, the second rowboat was gone.
“Huh!” Val grunted in disappointment. “Hardly a bump. They must have been rotted through.”
Lady Victory was holding her stomach inside through sheer willpower. “What next, hot rod?” she asked weakly.
“Ever seen a speedboat fly?” Majique lined up on the last rowboat, the skeleton crew of which was now frantically rowing back toward the pirate ship.
Lady Victory plotted their projected path and moaned. “You must be kidding!” But she didn’t try to stop their maniac driver. In a crazy moment, she thought she heard an orchestra playing a familiar tune.
“Nah, mon! You and the artist better move to the back of the boat. And get ready to jump.”
“Don’t wait too long yourself, Val!” Lady Victory touched her teammate on the shoulder, got a nod in return, and carefully moved to the back of the boat.
“Oh, crap. I hate flying without a plane!” Palette screamed, but she also crawled to the back of the boat, and the bow came up a bit.
“Jump for one of the sails,” Lady Victory advised Palette. With shield in hand, though, she had other ideas for her own target.
On the bow, Tammi Paige held to the safety rail with both hands and screamed. “Wheee-eee-eee-eee! Prepare to ram!” She was loving this wild ride. Over the roar of the motor, the heroines could discernibly hear the orchestral thunder of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
Two instants before they hit the last rowboat, Majique jerked the wheel left, then instantly back to the right. The bow of the speeding boat was lifted higher when it passed over its own bow wave, and at that exact instant, Val pushed the throttle to maximum. The next instant they hit the rowboat, and the speedboat lifted entirely out of the water, as if it was jet-propelled, rising until it was on a level with the schooner’s deck.
“The Super Sisters are comin’ at you, bad guys!” Miss Music was screaming at the top of her lungs. “Super Sisters, prepare to board!”
The powerboat was now flying toward the mid-ship’s deck, right at the partially doused foresail. For an instant, Majique worried that it was going to jump entirely over the midships deck and crash down into the water on the other side, but then the bow started to drop, and she knew her aim had been good. “Abandon ship!” she yelled dramatically.
So far during this trip, Lady Victory had been building the impression that Tammi was nothing more than a worthless, spoiled brat, but the youngster was proving her worth now, as Miss Music launched herself toward the foresail. “Geronimo! Wahhh-hooo-ooo!” She did a graceful flip in the air and crashed into the foresail feet first. Instantly, the canvas tore like tissue paper, and she continued through, startled. For an instant she thought she was going to go overboard, but she spotted a line that hadn’t been tied off hanging from one of the topsails, and she strained to reach it. A second later, she was whipping out and around, and then swinging down toward a crowd of skeletons on the foredeck, accompanied by a tremendously loud Tarzan yell.
Lady Victory made some noise herself. “Go, go, go!” she commanded the rest of her team. She went herself, leaping toward the aft deck, where a pack of skeletons awaited, clothed in colorful tatters of cloth, rusty swords drawn. For just an instant, Bonnie was a little jealous of Miss Music’s grace and the effortless tumbling ability she had just showed off. She, Lady Victory, was supposed to be the costumed athlete on this team. Swinging her shield up in front of her, she crashed into the massed skeletons like an avenging thunderbolt.
Palette screamed, too, a wordless, almost hysterical primal howl as she leaped, aiming toward the rear of the schooner and the drooping mainsail. As she flew through the air, she saw a woman, not a skeleton, in full pirate regalia, wearing a tri-corner hat with a patch over one eye, brandishing a saber in one hand and the ship’s wheel in the other.
The woman was shouting in a voice louder and raspier than any woman had a right to own, “Defend yer ship, ye scurvy dogs! Stand yer ground and kill the filthy wenches, or I’ll run ye through m’self!” She charged forward to join the fight.
The heavy sailcloth sheet snapped taut as Palette struck, and started to tear, but the rotted canvas finally held and stopped her headlong flight. She rolled down the curve of the sail to the main boom, which stretched back over the aft deck.
Majique leaped for one of the climbing nets that the sailors used to reach the upper rigging. This was an unlucky choice on her part; a rotted section of the net tore when she hit it, and she crashed partially through; then it wrapped around her, entangling her in a mess. She turned the air blue with Romany curses as she dangled in a cocoon fifteen feet off the deck, safe from the battle for the moment, but unable to join in the fight. She struggled to clear an arm to reach the dagger strapped to her ankle.
The now-descending speedboat crashed through the foresail boom and plunged into the mid-deck, shattering a dozen skeletons, then smashed into the old, partially rotted deck planking. It finally stopped halfway through, the rear of the powerboat sticking out of the deck like a leaning tombstone. The motor roared at full throttle.
The skeletons weren’t very dangerous opponents. They were slow and clumsy, and very fragile, and whatever magic was animating them deserted them when their flimsy bones were shattered in combat. But there were a lot of them, and they all had swords. Lady Victory’s diving attack turned a dozen of them to dust, and their enraged captain ran forward and attacked her with a wicked, powerful slash of her saber. The debris on the deck made it difficult for Bonnie to stand, and she barely managed to block the thrust with her shield. She was jolted by a spark of some mystical energy as the ancient sword glanced off her shield, knocking her backward. She rolled until she reached a clear area of the deck, and sprang to her feet.
Meanwhile, the pirate captain was exhorting her crew, “Would ye be naught but babes suckling at your mother’s teats, run to ground by yon pair of brazen ladies? Quit yer gagglin’ and run ’em through!”
As she leaped forward to continue her duel with Lady Victory, the other skeletons on the aft deck surged forward to attack Palette. She pulled a heavy wooden belaying pin from the rack on the main mast, set her back to the mast, and starting swinging the pin in wild arcs. She knocked aside the closest rusty blade, easily snapping it, and battered through the rib cage of one skeleton and into the head of another.
On the fore deck, Miss Music saw that she was about to swing into a thistle of rusty swords, so she released the line and flew over their heads. She did a graceful flip and half-twist, landed lightly well past the knot of pirates, and bounced once high into the air in a back-flip to absorb her momentum. Landing gracefully, she did a sweeping bow to her applauding fans. “Wheee!” Tammi yelled. “This is fun!”
She danced between the two nearest skeletons, which slashed at her with rusty swords. As she ducked their clumsy swings easily, they shattered each other. But there were too many of them to fight this way, so she used her powers to whisper a warning of her next attack into the ears of her distant teammates. The crashing explosions of cannon-fire, drawn once more from the 1812 Overture and amplified into a deadly sonic attack, blasted out of the air in the middle of the skeleton pack, and a dozen of the closest skeletons vaporized into dust.
On the fore deck, Palette had to cover her ears, though Lady Victory’s helmet protected her hearing. Majique had just managed to cut free of the cocoon of rotted netting, and the blast hit her in the air as she fell to the deck below. She screamed and frantically wrapped her arms around her head, and then swore even more as she smashed down onto a couple of unfortunate skeletons. The impact momentarily stunned her. Fortunately, by now the midships deck was clear of enemy skeletons — for the moment.
On the aft deck, Lady Victory and the pirate captain were engaged in a weird duel. Her costume and shield protected her from the saber, and the mystical energy it discharged when she blocked a thrust or slash was growing weaker with each attack. She tried to go on the attack, but the captain was able to become insubstantial at will, and Lady Victory’s shield attacks, punches, and kicks passed through seemingly empty air. She and the pirate were both becoming increasingly frustrated with the fight, and as Lady Victory blocked yet another skilled, powerful sword attack, the captain screamed.
“Damn ye, woman, what magic be this? The sharks take yer wretched body, and the devil take yer worthless soul, ye foul wench clad in the damned colors of England! Hide ye not behind that cursed trinket — draw blade and acquit yerself like a woman of steel.”
“Brave talk from a cowardly ghost, hiding in your astral form!” Lady Victory dropped her sword and picked up a rusty blade from the deck. “Let’s see you stay solid and fight!”
Meanwhile, Majique had crawled to the railing on the mid-deck and finally pulled herself to her feet, where she glowered at the skeletons that were approaching her. She needed a weapon, fast. She reached into her pouch and felt something cold and wet; as she grasped and pulled, she found she was grasping the wet, slippery hilt of a two-foot-long cutlass. Though it was dripping seawater, it was in perfect condition. Jewels sparkled on the gold-edged basket, and the blade, covered with shining runes, looked as if it had been cleaned and oiled an hour ago.
Val had done some fencing earlier in her life, but she’d never used a cutlass before. Still, she had faith in the items her mystical pouch produced for her. She defiantly raised the sword in front of her.
Instantly, every skeleton on the ship dropped to the deck, lifeless. The pirate captain let out a wail like a banshee.
“Damn yer soul to hell, ye wretched witch! Ye’ve stolen the Shining Blade of Glory and broken the spell holding Gr’bash in thrall. Soon she’ll be raining doom and destruction down upon us all! If you want any hope of seeing another sunrise, ye’ll turn yer weapons away from me an’ my crew and help us kill the foul beast before it destroys us and all else in this world and the next!”