Part 3 – The Edge of Night
The night had long since sucked the heat from the air that circulated high over the Great Bane Desert, leaving a chill breeze to compete with the airship’s propellers. The gentle thrum had lulled Jacob Bublesnatch, night watch mate of The Dove’s Eye into gazing blindly out of the cockpit. Despite travelling for sixteen days and nights around the edge of the brutal desert, the journey had been remarkably peaceful. That resulted, in no small part, from the absence of their Lord’s wife, the formidable Lady Corshorn. Their previous trip – out to the coast had been spoiled, for the crew at least, by the Lady’s shrieking at them for every excessive noise or disturbance they caused to the varicoloured birds who were intent on attacking the airship’s provocative balloon. The crew had also noted the improved mood of their captain, Lord Emmaline.
Young Jacob, on only his fifth voyage in the airship was thrilled by their passengers: the notorious adventurists Rosenhatch Traverstorm and his companions, Harvey the giant centipede and a small playful cat. When Jacob was not on watch or fulfilling the countless domestic duties that were required of him, Jacob spent his time lying on bunk flicking through the Journals Biologinary, a tattered bundle of over-fondled periodicals filled with tales of adventure and discovery. No less than twelve of Traverstorm’s catastrophic expeditions were recounted within those hallowed and inky pages and Jacob knew them by rote. When he’d learned of their guests he truly thought his heart had stopped and he spent the loading and embarkation in an excited sweaty clamminess. He had even personally taken the centipede’s weighty panniers into the cargo hold converted for the enormous creature – and been personally thanked for it.
It had proved to be a slight disappointment that the adventurers had not shot anything from the deck of the airship or attracted the attentions of some as yet unknown brute to propel them back into the Biologinary‘s pages. Jacob had contented himself with building up the courage to request an autograph, a preparation ruined when Maxwell, the cat, pounced upon one of the journals and dragged it gleefully on deck to his (possible) master. Maxwell looked on smirkingly as Traverstorm mildly condescended to the lad and signed the magazine with a flourish. Harvey had then taken it upon himself to add a trademark snap of his mandibles (the centipede equivalent of a signature), and a dedication to the brave young man in his flying machine. Had it not been in the middle of the deck, with his crewmates watching Jacob shame a lantern for beaming, he would have been much happier.
In compensation for the embarrassment Traverstorm took the boy under his wing and showed off the magnificently complex mirrored traps and goggles they had prepared for their expedition. Jacob was in no doubt that the voyage would be a tremendous success, and he had high hopes to be there when Traverstorm netted the Crystal Finches at last. That of course, wouldn’t happen, as Traverstorm and his team would be going on alone once they reached the razored ravine that had been designated as the end of the outward journey. Jacob would be staying behind on The Dove’s Eye as they waited for the heroes to return.
Jacob stared out of the cockpit into the night. The course was fixed, the wind was in their favour: smooth sailing. Pleasant daydreaming, or nightdreaming, or dreaming… even dozing his mind briefly debated the semantics of his dreamy state before his eyelids slid shut with a relieved flutter. His face rested against his hand where it loosely gripped the elevator, pulling it back. The airship began to rise. Clouds drifted idly across the glowing moon ahead; dark shapes flocked out of the night behind them.
As the airship rose higher the air grew colder. Frost began to flower across the surface of the catenary curtain and blossomed down the sides of the envelope, reaching for the gondola slung beneath. The cold air touched at the passengers in their sleep; Rosencrantz twitched and tugged his blankets (and Maxwell) closer over his chest and face; Harvey’s dreams turned sluggish and his spiracles shivered.
Back in the cabin Jacob shuddered with the chill air blowing through the gaps around the window and juddered back to wakefulness. His eyes flew wide as a black shape leaped out of the night and slammed into the window inches from his face. A scream died in his throat as ghastly foot-long talons scraped against the glass leaving jagged scratches. The lamps cast Jacob’s shadow over the creature’s face and all he saw was the gleam of curved teeth before it tore the window out of its frame. The nightmare thing squeezed through the shattered hole and spilled into the cabin. Jacob backed away until he hit the wall. The jolt finally shocked a cry out of him; once released he didn’t stop. The intruder rose up, talons extended and reached for him.
Shouts, hammering fists and the pounding of feet on wood roused the crew and passengers. Half-dressed, pistols half-cocked and half-awake the travellers warily spread on deck in a pattern of confusion. Lord Emmaline reached the cockpit first, and was the first to see the wreckage of the room.
“The boy’s gone,” he cried.
All eyes were on the night around them.
“There!” Rosenhatch’s arm speared outwards as a shadow flashed across the moon – a wide winged shape bearing a struggling human form. Lord Emmaline seized the controls and set a pursuit course.
Next Week: Part 4 – The Frothing Horror