The wind was calm, the ocean calmer.
The captain gazed down at the immaculate body of water thousands of feet below him approvingly. While his ships might not sail upon the waters anymore, he found that a restless ocean led to restless winds, which would be unfortunate for his fleet. But fair winds meant fast sailing, which of course was essential for a good pirate. Getting in and out was the most important part of pillaging, not the pillaging itself.
"Cap'n?" The captain stiffened momentarily as he heard the voice behind him, then relaxed. The captain wasn't used to having his thoughts interrupted on the deck of his flagship; any problems the fleet had usually could be handled by the first mates. The only thing that required his explicit attention was something that affected the entire fleet.
The captain turned around. "Whaddaya want, crewmen?"
The pirate held out an ornate scroll. "Letter for ya, cap'n."
The boy that stood before the captain was little more then a teenager. He'd obviously recently been promoted from deck-boy or cannon-monkey; his pirate's sneer wasn't very well-developed. He didn't even have a guttural growl.
The captain glared at the boy, and he flinched. Swiping the scroll out of the crewman's hands, he examined it.
The other pirate started uneasily. "Are... are ya gonna-"
The captain snarled at the upstart crewman. "Bugger off, ya shitheaded wench's bitch!" As the pirate retreated, the captain planted his captain's boot into the man's backside, sending him sprawling.
Grunting in disgust at the now-crawling pirate, the captain returned to his letter. With just a hint of apprehension, he unraveled the scroll.
The scroll was painted with narrow black lines, some vertical, some horizontal, others in between. The lines formed a series of symbols, each with it's own beauty and meaning.
"Hail, swarthy son-of-pigs! Your wooden abominations continue to mar the skyline with their hulking forms. We have seen fit to bring out the Imperial fleet to sink your ragtag flotilla of childrens' rafts, once and for all! I, Shinjo Hijiko, challenge the pirates to honorable (if you even know the meaning of that word, pig-filth) combat, for mastery of the skies! ~The Ninjas."
The captain's worst fears were confirmed. The ninjas had declared an end to the threadbare peace that had been placed between their armies several years ago, and were arming for a confrontation.
The captain bellowed an order, and a deck-boy rushed out of the ship's cabin nearby, throwing a hasty salute. "Yes sir?"
The captain tossed the scroll to the boy. "Gather me first mates. We hav' ah war tah plan."
The captain stood at the prow of his flagship, wheel in hand. His greatcoat fluttered about him in the ship's turbulence; the ship was going almost full speed through the sky, breaking the feeling of stillness he had experienced earlier.
The pirate captain was an impressive sight. His coat reached down to his ankles; it was made of black-blue leather and reinforced by hidden chainmail. A 'gift' from a Royal Admiral. Looped through numerous holsters on and inside his coat were pistols; all told, almost twenty. Each was loaded and ready to fire. At his belt were two cutlasses and a long, ornate rapier.
The captain himself was aging; his hair and beard were long and black, with streaks of gray. His one good eye smoldered in its socket, constantly analyzing and reanalyzing his surroundings. His entire face was overshadowed by his captain's hat.
Quite possibly the largest ship ever to grace the skies, the Whiplash, his flagship was in full battle mode; all of its cannons were out and ready to fire, every one of its sails were at full mast, and every man in its crew on alert.
Following the Whiplash were a flotilla of powerful ships, nearly four dozen in all. Every one was headed by a first mate, hand-picked by the captain. These ships were of all different sizes; some were nearly as big as the Whiplash, some hardly the size of caravels. Each ship was crawling with activity, as final battle preparations were made. Pirates grabbed their weapons, hoisted sails, loaded cannons, and prepared their gunpowder.
The captain felt a surge of power and pride in his chest, as he did every time he saw his fleet prepare for war. He had raised this fleet from nothing, from scattered ships and shitsplat coastal towns. The captain was the legendary Pirate Admiral, the cruel master of the seas.
A pirate lackey stepped up to the captain, saluted rather smartly, and delivered a report. "The ninja armada has been sighted, captain. Straight ahead." The captain nodded, dismissing the crewman, and rubbed his palms together in gleeful anticipation, watching the horizon eagerly for the fleet. Soon, it would be close enough to be seen with the ordinary eye, not just a telescope.
A smudge appeared on the horizon. It might have been a cloud, but the captain knew better. He turned around and signaled to the men behind him, each ready to relay orders. "Decelerate and turn about! Train your broadsides on the ninjas!" Immediately they scattered, taking orders to the far reaches of the armada.
The captain took hold of the wheel of the Whiplash and rolled it, turning the ship in a ninety-degree angle. Behind him, the other ships of the fleet trained the sides of their ships on the approaching smudge. His enormous ship now turned and ready to fire, the captain yanked out two pistols, watching the cloudy smudge warily. It now appeared to be a horde of smudges; some brown, some black, some white, all zooming in at full speed.
The captain's runners were back and ready to relay more orders. "Prepare tah fire! All troops, train yer weapons! Fire on me mark!" The crewmen scattered once more.
As the captain watched, the smudges turned into recognizable shapes. In the middle stood the enormous ninja flagship, the Kōgi no Arashi, whose size rivaled the Whiplash. The rest of the ships were much less impressive but infinitely more numerous; hundreds of small ships floats
about the Kōgi no Arashi, each holding its own payload of ninja fury.
The captain aimed one of his pistols. His target, a ninja on one of the frontal small boats, stood at the prow, sword in hand. The range was much too great for any pistol to hit at that range, but the captain fired anyways. A loud boom! sounded as the gunpowder in his pistol ignited, launching a lead pellet at the ninja fleet.
Upon hearing the gun fire, the cannon monkeys below deck immediately began firing the cannons. Before the sound of the captain's pistol had faded completely, cannons on the Whiplash were blasting away.
The sound of cannons fired was enough to alert the entire fleet. Soon, the air was thick with cannonballs.
The captain had timed the attack well. The ships were just within reasonable range of the cannons when they fired. The captain watched as the ninja ships burst into flame and sank, taking their crews with them to the depths.
All along the pirate line, thousands of pirates fired their own weapons over the side of the ship. Their arsenal was as motley as they were; some wielded full-on muskets, others pistols, more with bows, crossbows, and deck cannons. Still more were equipped with nothing more then a smile and two flaming bottles of precious rotgut. The captain himself fired each of his pistols, one after another, at the approaching ninja fleet. Every shot slew a ninja.
Dozens of enemy ships fell, yet the ninja charge was not to be denied. More found ways around, over, under, and through the barrage. The first of the ninja ships drew close to the pirate fleet, and the ninja offloaded.
Those ninjas with the skill to do so ninja-ported, appearing behind the pirates. Those who did not jumped aboard, either above-deck or sneaking their way in from below. The sounds of steel clashing echoed up and down the fleet, as katana and cutlass met again and again.
The ninjas were elite, but few in number and often uncoordinated. Lone wolves, ninjas rarely executed effective group tactics. The captain's hand-picked first mates, however, knew just how to bring the pirates' overwhelming majority in numbers to bear, overwhelming lone ninja and picking them off with barrages of musket fire and arrows.
The captain's own Whiplash was under assault, as well. Two boarding parties were already aboard, wrecking havoc. The captain fired into the mess of combat on his deck, picking off ninjas too busy to block bullets.
A crewman stuck his head out of a nearby staircase. "Cap'n! The ninjas are trying to sink your ship from the inside out!" The pirate had barely gotten his warning out before a stray kunai impaled him in the chest.
The captain was outraged. "Sink MY ship!? Yer goin' tah pay fer that, ninja scum!" Stepping over the dead pirate, he charged below-decks.
It was chaos. Pirates and ninjas sparred in the enclosed below-decks, while cannon monkeys still scurried around the artillery, unable to do anything else without weapons. The pirates and ninjas were of equal numbers, which meant the pirates were hopelessly outclassed. With a roar, the captain charged into battle.
Deflecting several thrown weapons, he impaled a careless ninja upon his rapier and hacked at another his his cutlass. Dropping the rapier, he drew another cutlass, bring both down at once upon a ninja. The ninja attempted to block, but he wasn't strong enough, and the ninja fell with his head split in two places. Blood splashed onto the planks.
Shit, that's going to take days to mop up. Ah well, they certainly had enough cabin boys for the job.
The captain hacked and slashed, stabbed and swung, not counting his kills and not caring. Ninja after ninja, unable to stand against his brute strength, collapsed under his blades.
Eventually, the ninjas were forced to retreat. The captain was too powerful; he could not be defeated by mere peons. All the same, ninjas weren't ones for retreating so quickly. What had they come down here for?
As the captain reloaded a few of his pistols, a crewman pounded down the stairs. "Cap'n! The enemy flagship is here!"
The captain frowned. "Whaddaya mean?" Surely they hadn't gotten this close...?
The captain followed the crewman above-decks, and saw that, indeed, they had. The ship had drawn right beside the Whiplash. Pirates and ninja clashed on both decks.
Ah, that's why they attacked my cannons. They were sabotaging them so I couldn't fire at point-blank range. The captain watched the battle closely, not yet participating. If the enemy flagship was here... then HE must be here.
Suddenly the captain saw one of his crewman fall for no apparent reason. Another pirate beside him was slain immediatly afterwards; his throat was slit, but no dagger could be seen.
The captain braced himself, concentrated, then yanked out a pistol and fired it at a specific spot in the crowd.
The bullet ricocheted, seemingly off thin air. A moment later, a dark form appeared. He had not been invisible... not in the usual sense. He was simply so seasoned of a ninja that no eye could follow him. In each hand he held a long ninja blade, one of which had just been used to deflect a bullet.
The ninja slowly went into a battle stance. “Ah, the captain of this filthy mob has finally come to the party!” Shinjo grinned, but his eyes shimmered with rage. He was a handsome, Japanese man, cloaked in black ninja armor. The armor was made of pieces of light metal and leather, and inlaid with ornate silver.
The rest of the pirates and ninjas stopped fighting, each cowed by the presence of their respective masters. They formed a silent ring around
the two soon-to-be combatants.
The captain laughed. “Shut yer trap, Shinjo. I been here th' whole time, killin' yer precious assassins.”
Shinjo's face no longer looked amused. He was obviously just barely holding back his rage. “You will pay, pirate, for slaughtering my men.” He raised his blades.
The captain raised his own rapier. “Yer th' one who started dis nonsense, ninja. Th' live o' yer men are on yer own head.”
The ninja stopped. A moment passed. “What did you say?”
The captain was puzzled, but he responded, angry now. “Yer th' one who broke th' peace-treaty, cowardly ninja! Challeng'n me fleet to 'honorable combat'.” The pirate snorted.
Shinjo glared. “It was not I that initiated this conflict, pirate! YOU were the one who broke the oath!”
The captain's eyebrows raised. “Yew sent me a challenge, didn'cha?”
The ninja master sniffed, offended. “I would never stoop to such idiocy. If I wanted to kill you, I would do so in the cover of night. That is the ninja way. YOU were the one who challenged ME.”
The captain and the master faced each other. Another couple of moments passed. Both faces stared to go white.
“We... we were tricked?!” They both spoke simultaneously.
A roaring sound suddenly blasted out of nowhere. Both leaders spun around, dumbfounded, as a figure blasted out of nowhere and landed on the deck.
Old-fashioned boots landed squarely on the planks. The boots were made of some leather hide or another; spurs adorned the heels of the boots. Slowly, the man stepped forward, his brown leather jacket fluttering in a sudden breeze, his hands on his hips. Below each hand, on his waist, were two holsters, each boasting a steel six-shooter. The man's hat overshadowed his face; all one could see was the man's roughly-shaved chin and his mischievous smile. Above that, his eyes shined with vitality. On his back was a streamlined device, with boosters and gasoline tanks. A jetpack.
The cowboy spoke. “Well, howdy there, ya pack o' damn fools!” The cowboy grinned like a madman. “Betcha didn't expect ol' Cowboy Bill tah be here, didja?” The cowboy spit over the edge of the ship.
The captain spoke, dumbfounded. “Yew did this! Yew started th' war!”
The cowboy chuckled. “'Course I did. How else wuz I supposed tah take yew both out?” The cowboy's hands fluttered over his revolvers. “I done been hired by the Royals tah ice th' both y'all. The head ninja and th' boss pirate. Figgered I could get 'em both together, take 'em out at the same time, ya know? Yew two are so easy tah manipulate. Took ten minutes and two letters to break yer 'peace treaty'. Who'd ya think ya were foolin' with that, anyhow? Pirates an' ninjas will always be fightin' each other.” The cowboy grinned even wider. “I jus' broke what was gonna be broken eventually anyhow.”
Blood roared in the captain's ear. “Th' deaths o' me crew... it be YOUR fault!” The captain yanked out his cutlasses, spitting in the cowboy's direction. “Ah'll spike yer fool 'ead on th' end o' me ship fer this treachery!”
Shinjo raised his own katanas. “You will die this day, cowboy. The souls of my fallen men ride with me into battle.” Behind them, pirates and ninjas alike trained their weapons on the vigilante cowboy.
Cowboy Bill just smiled and snapped his fingers.
The roar of engines cut into the silence, as two dozen flying motorbikes blasted out of nowhere, crashing into the ranks of the combines Ninja-Pirate force. Cowboys dismounted, howling battle cries and slinging about six-shooters. Both the captain and the master charged at Bill, blades whirling.
Cowboy Bill just chuckled. He flicked a switch, and his jetpack roared into life, lifting him effortlessly into the air. Fast as lightning, the bounty hunter whipped out both revolvers and fired them both. The captain and the ninja master blocked, but they were launched back by the sheer force. Both rolled to the side as more bullets pierced the planks. “Yee-hawww! Take this, ya outdated fuckfaces!” Cowboy Bill laughed maniacally, blasting away at the captain and the ninja.
The two combatants barely got away in time, hiding inside a cabin. They stood face to face once more, listening to the sounds of combat outside.
Shinjo and the captain glared at each other. A katana tickled the captain's beard, and a pistol aimed at Shinjo's forehead.
The captain spoke first. “Th' truce is back on, ninja. Neither o' us meant this tah be. We're both dead, an' our allies captain-less, if'n we don't team up.”
Silence reigned for a moment. The ninja lowered his blade, and the captain his gun. “Very well, pirate. We do this together.” The ninja raised his blade warningly. “This is only a one-time thing, though, pirate! Don't go getting any ideas.”
The captain continued to grin, his guns ready and waiting. “Yeah. Le's go kill us a cowboy.”
In tandem, the two charged around the corner, straight for Bill.
Cowboy Bill was ready for them. Each gun focused on one combatant, firing away at the two of them. Shinjo teleported repeatedly, continuing to dash at the flying cowboy. The captain sidestepped and raised his pistols, firing at Bill, who was forced to dodge. Blades struck at Bill from nowhere, but the cowboy's steel revolvers blocked the sneak attack.
Bill sneered. “Yer sneak-attack and ancient pistols ain't gonna do shit to us Western badasses!” Bill booted the ninja away with one shoe and concentrated fire on the captain, who was forced to take cover behind a barrel
The captain waited as Bill fired again. Beside him, Shinjo materialized. “Aight. On three, ninja.” Shinjo nodded. Bullets flew overhead. “One...”
Bill laughed. “Gettin' behind cover, huh? not about tah save ya!” More bullets whizzed around and into the barrel. It was only a matter of time before some came through.
The pirate dropped his pistols and drew his cutlasses. “Two...”
The dry click-clicking sound of empty chambers echoed from Bill's guns. “Three.”
Shinjo teleported, and the captain leapt over the barrel, charging straight for Bill. The cowboy reloaded fast as lightning, but a sudden shadow flashed, and the guns were knocked away. “Shit! Fucking ninja!” The captain snarled and jumped as high as he could. A grin twisted his lips as he plunged his blades into the cowboy's chest.
The combined weight of Bill and the captain sent the jetpack tumbling over the sides, towards the ocean. Bill stared into the captain's eyes. “You... bastard...”
The captain snorted and slit the man's throat. “Las' words, wasted onna insult. Cl'ssy.” With a swipe of his cutlasses, Bill fell away from his jetpack and tumbled toward the ocean, his cowboy's hat fluttering on the wind. The captain viciously stabbed it in mid-air with his cutlass, impaling it on his blade.
The captain flew back up, worried about what he might see on the deck. Did that slippery ninja ambush my men, just when I wasn't expecting it?
But his men weren't fighting; they were partying. The other cowboys had taken off after the death of their leader, and the combined pirate and ninja army was ready to celebrate, both to victory and new-found peace. It was only just getting started, but already the pirates had procured booze and wenches from nowhere. The ninjas joined in with surprising abandon, glad to see the battle over... and overeager to prove they could hold their liquor just as well as the pirates could.
The crew cheered as the captain landed on the deck of the Whiplash. The captain raised his blade, with the bloody cowboy hat impaled on it, and the crew went wild.
As he tossed away the jetpack, Shinjo appeared beside him. He looked troubled. “This peace will not last. The others did not.”
The captain grabbed a bottle of grog and took a hearty swig. He grinned at the ninja master, eyes glittering. He was drunk on victory “Yeah?”
The ninja nodded gravely. “Yes. It is as Cowboy Bill said. We are ninjas, you are pirates. Natural enemies. This peace simply cannot and will not continue long.”
The captain drank that in, turning it over in his mind. Eventually he spoke. “Doesn't matter, does it? We're at peace, fer now. Tha's all. An'...” The pirate watched as one of his first mates arm-wrestled an elite ninja, while the crowd cheered. “An' I think this peace will las' as long as we wan' it tah. If''n we play our cards right, mebbe we can cheat fate.” The pirate raised his bottle. “Tah peace.”
The ninja was impassive a moment, then raised a flask of sake “To peace.”
The captain and the ninja drank to peace... but their eyes never left the other's weapons. True peace would be a long time in coming. If it came at all.