Part 21 – Nascent Horrors
As the first grub popped up into the air accompanied by the gush of septic ocular juices, Rosenhatch was turning to the door and bellowing for aid. Maxwell, his cat, was better placed to enjoy the prone man’s erupting eyeball. He had decamped from Rosenhatch’s arms onto the shelf placed at shoulder height between the tiny cabin’s twin bunkbeds, irritated by the noises made by the distressed Jacob Bublesnatch. Those screams had earned him a cabin intended for four, though he was not in a position to appreciate it. Being a cat, Maxwell was quite uninterested in the human’s suffering, he just twitched an ear with displeasure at each ragged breath. However, a growing sound of wet scratching had perked his interest, though he suspected it would be rather unpleasant for Jacob. He was entirely correct, and hunched in readiness when the horrid hatching occurred.
With a curled paw he batted the highest of the grubs out of the air, straight into the wooden window frame which it struck wetly and fell to the floor. He ignored the rest of the splattering spawn and leaped spryly under the bunk to pursue his prey. The two guards burst in moments later, one stopped to stare at Jacob’s ruined eye, the other immediately bolted to vomit copiously. Rosenhatch’s yells died away in his throat as the eye maggots slowly climbed out of the boy’s face. The sight was transfixing and he was completely unaware of Maxwell’s below-bunk activities.
“Quickly, jars – boxes, anything we have,” Rosenhatch declared to the pale gentleman who had entered the room behind him. Shalk Tarmain gazed around him in sudden urgency, hands in a state of curious readiness to assist – anything to avoid looking directly at Bublesnatch. The crew cupboards held a number of small tins and a jar of sweet liquorice. All were swiftly upturned and emptied on the shelf. Shalk passed the heap of containers to Traverstorm. The equally pale explorer seized the first tin (with a charmingly naive painting of a Ver-rabbit at play), flipped it open and scooped up a tinfull of gruesome filth and maggots. He snapped the lid shut and placed it on the shelf, “don’t just stand there, we’ve got to get them all.”
Shalk looked appalled, but hesitantly extended the jar with a shaking hand. It was like gathering an exploded yolk with a spoon, it sought escape with a slurring, bubbling consistency, but once over the jar’s lip slid suckingly inside, drawing along the insectile worms in the foul paste. Once the first few were in, and Shalk had seen that he could avoid touching the disgusting mess, he was more help to Traverstorm and in just a moment the pair had filled all the tins with all the squirming, rank creatures they could find.
“Is that them all?” Shalk asked, laying the last of the tins down and placing a heavy leather folder on top. Traverstorm eased open the folder to see his own face looking back at him from the cover of The Journals Biologinary. It was the famous issue with his profile cheekily regarding the skull of an antpostle, almost no one had been hurt on that expedition. He sighed and closed it firmly.
“I hope so, I don’t think we should let them crawl about the ship. We’ve all got to sleep after all”.
Shalk shuddered at a vivid imagining of the things sliding across his face as he slept. Not that sleep had come easily these days since they’d been within the Sky Cliff. The dull warmth and faint scent of blood might have been described as ‘womb-like’ by the old bag patcher, but Shalk doubted babies slept as badly as this. The whole crew was running on empty – it’s hard to keep peering into the dark without hallucinating monsters and strange shapes. None of that was helping the airship navigate through the vast caves that riddled the cliff’s innards. Learning about the fate of the cabin-lad’s eyeball would hardly settle the crew…
A knock on the door drew the men’s attention away from the pile of monster-filled tins. The knocker entered shortly after. It was Tarin, Lord Corshorn’s granddaughter who usually tended the engines lying in the aft belly of the airship. Her long black hair was bound in a wreath around her neck which rested on the leather armour that covered her from throat to ankle. Traverstorm had never seen her in the rest of the ship before.
“Captain wants updating on the boy, if you’ve a moment-” she began before catching sight of Jacob’s shivering silent body, “ah. What the tarber happened to his eye?” Traverstorm recounted the lad’s misfortune as briefly as possible. She kept her calm well, he noted.
“Not dead yet then? Strong lad.”
“He is, and I’ve hopes it’ll not come to that,” replied Traverstorm, laying a protective hand on the boy’s shoulder, “though I’ve grave concerns about his other eye.”
They all turned to inspect Jacob’s remaining eye, from a judicious distance. It was still swollen and wracked with scarlet lines, slow ripples ran under the eyelids to round the cheekbone. None of them wanted to discuss it further.
“I need to consult with Harvey, I think. And also to clean out this wound.”
“Your centipede’s still on deck feeling out our way. I’d say he’s as lost as the rest of us.”
“These caves can’t be endless, he’ll find us a way out.”
“Might not matter – we’re going nowhere.” Tarin grimaced as she spoke and Traverstorm realised what was missing.
“The engines – what’s happened?” He’d been so distracted by the revolting grubs that he hadn’t noticed the ever-present hum and burr had ceased, and the ship hung silent in the night.
“Don’t know. They seem fine but they just aren’t going. I’m taking a party under the ship after you’ve talked with the captain.”
Traverstorm didn’t envy her that. He turned to Shalk, “stay with Jacob, I’ll be back shortly.” He took one of the tins and left the rest with Shalk.
Shalk was less than thrilled to be left alone. He pulled himself up to the opposite bunk – as far as he could get from the restrained youth. The silence of the ship was eerie and unnatural for a skymate. Not as unnatural as what was happening on the other side of the cabin, but still. A sudden yowl and hiss from the shadows beneath Jacob’s bunk made Shalk jolt upwards, banging his crown on the top bunk. He sprang to his feet, knife immediately in hand, then kneeled to peer carefully under the bed. A growl preceded the flight of a whitish lump which came from the shadow and slapped against Shalk’s cheek. It fell to the floor and began to scramble towards him. Shalk let out a panicked shout and dived out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
Next Week: Part 22 – Dead Air
In the same series:
The Desert Crystals – Part 20: Eye in the Sky (captainpigheart.com)
The Desert Crystals – Part 19: Newly Bespectacled (captainpigheart.com)
The Desert Crystals – Part 18: Cut and Dried (captainpigheart.com)
The Desert Crystals – Part 17: Stolen in the Breeze (captainpigheart.com)
The Desert Crystals – Part 16: Look But Don’t Touch (captainpigheart.com)
The Desert Crystals – Part 15: Blood’s The Thing (captainpigheart.com)
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 1 (captainpigheart.com)