The Desert Crystals – Part 17: Stolen in the Breeze

desert crystals4Part 17 – Stolen in the Breeze

Guldwych Ryme hurried down the narrow corridor of The Viper’s Eye. The wingship’s constant shakes and judders pressed him against alternate doors and walls. He could feel the ship wheeling about- was she flying in circles? In taking the feminine pronoun Ryme only meant the ship, though on a moment’s whimsy he pictured the ship’s captain – Captain Flame holding the wheel down hard to port, making them circle like a Valley’s Hung Eagle ready to dive upon its prey. A shiver of anticipation ran up the man’s spine, tickled his neck and wetted the inside of his cheeks while sucking his tongue dry.

He had been assured by his… assistant Eslie Chem that The Viper’s Eye had every chance of catching up with the expedition that Rosenhatch Traverstorm had rashly initiated nearly a fortnight earlier. The wingship was fast and would outmatch the airship whose use Traverstorm had conned out of Lord Corshorn. His envy of that patronage had long turned to bitter jealousy in Ryme’s heart. Five years ago he would never have considered such a radical course as pursuing the man across the Great Bane Desert. Merely venturing into the desert was common suicide but the valleys and ranges beyond its sandy clutches were rumoured to be even more dangerous. Yet here he was. Racing to catch up with his academic rival and hated peer. Had he gone too far? It wasn’t his fault Traverstorm had goaded the scholarly presses into hero worship of him, not his fault that Traverstorm’s catastrophic exploits got him more attention and more funding than any real researcher. He had gone as far as Traverstorm had made him. Resolve settled in his stomach like whiskey.

He emerged on deck into a scene of chaos. The wingship was violently tilted, the port wings held rigid and near-horizontal while the starboard pair still flapped aggressively. The sky whirled around them and Ryme clung to the doorframe to avoid being hurled into its blue waste. Huge hands seized him and spun him about. He heard a click and tug as Knocker bellowed at him “A lifeline’ll keep your soul tethered to the Eye but still – you’ll want to keep your feet planted firm.” Knocker released him and seemed to fall away, his own lifeline whipping slackly through the air before snapping taut as he landed at the prow.

More of the crew swung about the vessel’s stubby deck and wings. They landed precisely and seized brass handles screwed into the thick ledge that ran the length of the wingship. Muscles stood out along Knocker’s back and shoulders as he heaved out the first of The Viper’s Eye’s formidable assault cannons. The brass and iron construction levered up, twisted and snapped into position. Second and third clunks followed as Malk and Chagg erected their own weaponry. A second concerted heaving brought up chains which the crew hooked onto the cannons. Ryme watched with interest, keen to ignore the forces threatening to push his face into the wood. How the trio remained standing with the deck tilted almost at ninety degrees was beyond him.

Then their quarry appeared. She rose over the false horizon of the wingship’s railing – a squat mid-range airship, the canvas of the balloon a dull grey green. The Eye’s spin suddenly settled, though the momentum squeezed Ryme’s face into the door frame. The three skymates held their stance at the guns, only their flexing knees and whipping hair acknowledging the jarring change of direction. They flew down the side of the balloon and as soon as the gondola was in sight each gunner released their charge, mere seconds apart. Chain rattled over the deck and lanced across the gap between the ships, before punching into the wood and metal of the opposing gondola. Another jerk tossed Ryme into the air; the hooks had caught somewhere deep inside their prey.

A further twist to the rudder sent The Viper’s Eye corkscrewing around beneath the punctured gondola, hauling the violated airship behind them with momentum and beating wings. The gondola’s guide lines crossed each other as Captain Flame forced the larger vessel to follow her winding course. The first of the guides tore away, snapping loose with a scream of tortured metal. The rest of the ropes took the weight, for now, but Flame kept the wingship in her spiral, pulling the ropes tighter and twisting the gondola to its limits. Ryme watched as men and women staggered about the deck of the beleagered airship, tripping stumbling and flung over the railings. Those crew fortunate enough to be roped in swung in wide arcs which occasionally intersected violently with their craft, or with The Viper’s Eye. Ryme flinched at the thumps of the roped crew and screams of the untethered. He cowered back inside the doorway, unwilling to admit himself to this act of violence.

Their spin slowed out into a steady line by veering heavily to port, allowing for the buoyancy and drag of the captured ship. The tangled mess of gondola and balloon sagged in the air, heavy and wounded. With the course steadied Ryme emerged once more and read the name of the vessel “Golden Zephyr“. It certainly wasn’t the name of Traverstorm’s transport – Lord Corshorn’s ship was The Dove’s Eye, an altogether sleeker and brighter airship. He was shouldered aside by another pair of skymates who emerged bearing multi-barrelled rifles and thick-bladed swords. Knocker and the others settled some anchoring mechanism Ryme couldn’t see, drawing the two ships to only a few tens of feet apart. Then they unholstered ready weapons of their own.

A man appeared on the deck of the Zephyr, waving a handkerchief at them. Knocker promptly shot him. The man fell back and lay still on the deck. Malk and Chagg hefted a pair of hooked ladders out over the gap – a thousand feet of air hung between the rungs. Ryme gradually realised that perhaps this journey to put Traverstorm in his place wouldn’t be quite as straightforward as he’d hoped.

Next Week: Part 18 – Cut and Dried

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