Part 15 – Blood’s The Thing
The world was a fire of light, blinding Jacob. He wrestled weakly, his hands and feet slipping and sliding under him; sharp points and unforgivably mushy lumps jabbed and fell away around him. He flailed, blind and terrified. The taste of death filled Jacob’s mouth and nostrils – rotting copper coated his lips and gums. Sound dimly began to penetrate the clag sealing up his ears and plastering hair to his face.
“Good lord, the stench! Dig him out lads.”
Strong hands seized his limbs, flinching at his slimy patina. Jacob though he could feel their resolution fade as the fingers reluctantly hauled him forward. He tried to scream at their touch, not knowing if they were friendly or another species of terror dwelling in the caves. That they might be his skymates was almost unimaginable after all his time in the darkness. Abruptly the shadows loomed in again and he shrank back before perceiving the glow of light limning the once familiar shape of heads and shoulders.
“Give the fellow some room, don’t crowd him so.”
“Sky, he’s been turned outside in!”
“Cease your foolish babble-words and find yourself a purpose.”
The sound of a slap cut cleanly through Jacob’s confused hearing, he blinked hard, trying to bring his newly lighted world into focus. Solicitous hands reached for him again, gently dissuading his own filth-encrusted fingers from pawing at himself. They firmly scraped the skein of blood and flesh from his face and tilted his head back and forth with calm assurance. The grip was familiar, casting Jacob’s frightened mind to when he was an even younger man and had taken a vicious knock to the skull from a cable clasp being whipped in the wind. He’d come over dizzy and sick and had received an examination from the ship’s Death Cheater that felt much like this. He began to relax, surer than he was before that the beasts who’d secreted him in their lair would be unlikely to check his health before eating him.
“Is he alright?” The voices were slowly losing their alien quality, and Jacob’s feverish mind offered up faces if not names; rank from tone alone. It was his Captain, hushed voice trying to shield his fears from the rest of the crew.
The press of bodies behind the informal cordon of Lord Corshorn and Rosenhatch Traverstorm were both excited and appalled by the mounds of offal which had flopped and slithered down half of the deck after The Dove’s Eye had been caught unawares as she quested through the bleak network of tunnels. The cataract of blood, guts and dismembered bodies had crashed frothing from a hidden channel, pounding down on the hard wood of the deck, staining it an ugly red brown. The weight of the falling carnage forced the airship down, twisting her balloon towards the sharp cave walls. Another tonne of gore would have ground her until the sacs ruptured, spilling gas up and the crew down into the dark. Only the cascade’s respite and the fierce course corrections of their captain had saved them.
The final gobbet to drop from the ogre’s mouth was Jacob. He’d struck the airship’s bag and slid terrified screaming down the ropes to twist and thump into the revolting heap he’d followed. The crew jostled one another, morbidly eager to catch a glimpse of their lost mate despite his grim condition. Only the chitinous, insectile presence of Harvey kept them from prodding him with curious and unhelpful forefingers.
Harvey was not incurious himself, though he was mindful of how easily startled they tended to be after suffering some form of trauma. The spectrum of human emotions did not personally affect him, being a Giant Centipede of the Undergrowl jungles. His long association with the human society clinging to the fringes of the Northern Continent had made him something of an expert in their ways. In particular he enjoyed the company of Traverstorm and his feline associate and the opportunities for discovery they afforded each other. This journey was proving to be no exception. Even his remarkable senses had failed to warn him of the impending gore fall.
Despite his natural sense of adventure he was beginning to hanker after the feel of the sun on his shell once more. In addition, the scent of the decaying flesh from such wide assortment of creatures was really quite stimulating. He did however realise that it would be exceptionally poor form to sample that variety at such a sensitive moment. For now he would simply keep back the crew and allow their captain and Traverstorm to have their human moment. Though he could dissuade them from getting too close, he could not keep them from speaking their minds.
“Is he alright, Captain?”
“Look at the boy, how could he be? It’s like he’s been vomited by a Blood Ferret, only without the grace of being dead first.”
“Once more I’ll ask your desistance, then I’ll have you overboard.” The captain’s voice had its usual calm but with a core of sharpened steel that sharply jabbed the thoughtless speaker and pushed him back into the crowd. The mob retreated further than the centipede had made them.
Lord Corshorn turned his attention back to his , “are you alright there young Bublesnatch?” and snapped back at the gawping crew, “quickly now, bring water for the lad – no, not for drinking. To douse him with, man! Get that bloody filth off him.” Traverstorm pawed and dabbed at Jacob’s face, the warm water loosening the layers of blood, sweat and tears.
“There, that’s better, you can see the boy’s face again,” declared Lord Corshorn, “he’s alright lads, he’s going to be fine.”
“I don’t know about that captain – look at his eyes.”
Streaks of blood and dirt streaked Jacob’s cheeks and forehead like Soul Flowers. Beneath them, lying in thick ridges, something sticky and foul smelling was still adhered to his skin. Jacob’s eyes fluttered, blinking to dislodge an irritation in them. Bubbles of bruised scarlet welts laced his eye sockets and seamed his eyelids with thick pustules. The whites of his eyes undulated with a ghastly inner life, as if soup were broiling in his skull. As if some throbbing life sought to escape by bursting through them.
Next Week: Part 16 – Look But Don’t Touch
In the same series:
- The Desert Crystals – Part 14: A Timely Intervention (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 13: A Chamber of Horrors (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 12: Hark, The Wings (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 11: The Bleeding Face of Death (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals: part 1 (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – The Journals Biologinary #3 (captainpigheart.com)