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The Desert Crystals – Part 10: A Grisly Adventure

Part 10 – A Grisly Adventure

Desert Crystals1

Although it could not possibly have been any darker, the deeper The Dove’s Eye plunged into the perpetual night in the heart of the Sky Cliff, the heavier the darkness hung upon the airship and her crew. It felt as if they were barely moving; the fragile meniscus of light hovered about their lamps. The warm velvet blackness threatening to smother their faint reminders of daylight stretched the nerves and tempers of the crew. Only the creak of the airship’s controls, deftly spun and tugged by Lord Corshorn gave any sense to the crew that progress was being made. Even the turnings and passages which loomed above, beneath and to their sides were invisible until pointed out by Harvey, who navigated them using his subtle senses, far greater than those of mere men.

The great centipede had cleared a space in the foredeck. Extra lanterns cast weird shadows of his numerous limbs that tricked and tickled at the minds of the crew. He himself was balanced on his fore limbs, holding much of his body upright so that the legs of his last segment were able to wave in the air. They spiralled and unfurled themselves, tasting the faint movements in the air and shuddering faintly under the impact of tiny echoes. With his senses keenly pressed into service, Harvey scribbled at the sheets of paper pinned under his forelimbs, his maxillipeds sketching out the general space around them while with his forpicules he added notation of depth, directions of current and any other commentary he thought useful.

“Good lord, the place is endless,” declared Rosenhatch Traverstorm, leaning over the centipede’s cartography with a carelessness born of familiarity, “what’s this here?” The explorer pointed to what resembled a pit in Harvey’s drawing, with six different tunnels opening above it.

“Intriguing isn’t it?” replied the centipede. ”The tunnels appear to emanate from this single chamber.”

“Or they all lead to it,” suggested Rosenhatch.

“Ah! A puzzle,” cried Harvey, delighted to add another intricacy to their present challenge of mere survival, “with luck we’ll run into young Jacob Bublesnatch along one of these paths.”

Traverstorm knelt beside the centipede and lowered his voice, “I fear, old chap, that Master Bublesnatch is likely dead.”

Harvey regarded his companion with a look that only Traverstorm would have taken for sympathy.

“It’s entirely possible that he lives still; I suspect he will have been taken to this central hollow.”

“For consumption and the rending of his flesh!” Traverstorm’s earlier whispers peaked into a strangled cry.

“Rosenhatch, take a hold of yourself man.”

“It’s this darkness Harvey, can’t you feel it? It’s like being in something’s stomach, all damp and foul tasting. God, the shadows are everywhere-“ Rosenhatch’s desperate jabbering was interrupted by a sharp slap from the centipede’s left maxilliped.

“Hey! Watch the damned poison gland!” he cried in surprise.

“I am perfectly in control of my venom thank you. You, on the other hand are scarcely in control of your tongue. You’re making the crew jittery.”

Indeed, Traverstorm’s panic had drawn the attention of several of the crew. The tough men and women of Lord Corshorn’s crew were used to the heights at which an airship flies, used to storms, rain and wind, used even to pirates and conflict in the air. Not one of them had travelled deep into the heart of an impossible mountain hanging in the sky, into which one of their own had been dragged screaming. Their attitude so far had been admirable but Traverstorm was not the only one suffering from their conditions. The last thing they needed was to see the renowned adventurer breaking down on them.

Rosenhatch pulled himself together and patted the centipede kindly on the shell of his third segment (the segment usually reserved for such gestures of affection). If his hand shook as he patted his friend, Harvey did not comment upon it.

“Fine work everyone,” declared Rosenhatch, turning to face the staring crew, ”we must be wary of our fears here, deep inside this cave of darkness,” Harvey jabbed him lightly with another part of his mandible, “but fear not – we are all together and together we shall hold back the night.” With a reassuring smile and a gently encouraging shaken fist, Rosenhatch left Harvey and headed off to his cabin.

To Harvey’s surprise, Rosenhatch’s impromptu rally mollified the angry looking man hefting a rifle at the rail, and the pair standing close beneath the lantern even smiled; it was doubtful that he would ever fully grasp human psychology. To him, every quiver of Rosenhatch’s hand and quaver of throat were painfully obvious. He was paying far too much attention to the tremblings of his companion, and far too little to the vibrations coming from above. Had he been focussing on his previous task, the mapping of the tunnel network and the navigation of them he would have noted the rush of air and heat that came from a cave above and before them.

Rosenhatch closed the cabin door behind him with a shaking hand and dabbed at his forehead with the handkerchief he had been wringing in his pocket. Maxwell yawned and stretched on the bed, digging his sharp claws into the blanket with a shuddering arch. He immediately set to grooming the whiskers displaced by his yawn. As ever, the cat’s utter indifference to their present circumstances did Rosenhatch a power of good. He smiled wryly at the cat and poured himself a restorative glass of whiskey. He sat down on the edge of the bunk and fondly kneaded the little cat’s ear. Maxwell purred contentedly and sank back into a doze.

A second later Maxwell was tossed into Rosenhatch’s chest by a sudden lurch of the airship. To make himself feel safe he embedded his claws firmly into the shirt and flesh of his landing site. Rosenhatch reeled backwards across the small cabin, the glass of whiskey smashing, untouched, on the wooden window frame. The outside was still black – no help there. Cries from above drove Rosenhatch back to the door. He was unable to detach the frightened feline and he decided to simply button his jacket over the beast. As he staggered up the declining stairs, slipping as a series of small blows shook the length of the gondola beneath him.

Bodies were falling out of the darkness ahead of them, a tangle of torn corpses, limbs, heads and gore fell like a grisly waterfall, striking the front of the balloon and either sliding slickly around the inflated bag or bouncing from it against the walls and back onto the prow of the gondola. The fall seemed endless and had caught the very tip of their craft in its flow and caused it to tilt forwards, allowing a mound of the bloody refuse to spatter onto the wood. Corshorn desperately fought to reverse The Dove’s Eye but the weight of the dead was just pulling her forwards.

Next Week: Part 11 – The Bleeding Face of Death

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