Desert Crystals Part 26 – Spirals
The screaming started just after flames erupted across the throbbing rock. As the captain of The Dove’s Eye had hoped, the raging heat of the explosives jammed into the seeming walls stirred the strange cavern into motion. No one had quite foreseen the immediate effect of unleashing such a firestorm in a confined space. They were more concerned with forcing the curiously fleshy rock walls to escape the flames and grant them an exit. Unfortunately, since they were already near crushed by the contracting caves, and only feet away from the explosion, flaming debris set light to the prow of The Dove’s Eye almost immediately. It drove on regardless as the cave retched around it, vomiting the airship in a grinding rip of rock, wood and canvas.
The airship had entered the aerial cliff in the dead of night and at an altitude which had caused even their hearty balloons to sag, and caused their lungs in drawing satisfying breath. Though they had been within its humid confines for only a few days it felt like a lifetime. The eagerly anticipated relief of a blast of fresh air against their sweaty cheeks and the sun’s gentle touch on their eyeballs was cruelly denied them. Instead blinding light robbed everyone on deck of vital sight as the airship and her crew tipped and tumbled down into the day.
Fortune didn’t entirely mock the crew however. The air proved too thin to sustain the blaze and it snuffed out in a belch of smoke. The ashen remnants of the silk pennants tied to Harvey’s forelegs fluttered madly as The Dove’s Eye plunged into its fall. The canopy that restrained the huge balloons of gas had been gashed open by the teeth of rock on their rude exit, and canvas wings matched Harvey’s tattered semaphore. Ropes tore and whipped the falling airship, as if hastening the craft towards the ground.
The crew, wisely and in accordance with Lord Corshorn’s direction, were all firmly bound to the safety ring – albeit on lengths of rope themselves. In all, their experience was much like that of a Maypole’s worth of dancing children being abruptly hurled from a cliff. Skymates were tossed from the deck when the ship began her violent descent, to be battered against the ailing balloons till they reached the ends of their tethers where they flapped helpless against the chill racing air, and each other. The airship’s construction and integrity was based on keeping the gondola below the balloon. In its tumble from their stony prison the balloon had tipped forwards, dragging the gondola under and behind it. The natural balance of the lighter than air balloons attempted to rectify the situation and in doing so twisted lines and began an inelegant spiral.
Those skymates lucky enough to be inside the gondola (or in Rosenhatch Traverstorm’s case – standing in the doorframe and therefore bounced inwards via concussion) were treated to a smoother ride. Once their bodies had met each wall and settled on the new floor, and all the unfixed furniture and luggage had struck them more than once, centripetal force glued them safely in place.
Inside the cabin where poor one-eyed Jacob Bublesnatch lay bound to his bunk, the first few rotations of the airship had smashed the bunk back into the wall, acting according to its hinged nature. Maxwell, who had been toying beneath the bunk with one of the foul grubs that had popped from the cabin lad’s eye, froze perfectly in place on the floor, his claws rooting him in the instant of the firey explosion and terrifying scream that the Sky Cliff had uttered. He noted the bunk flip up and batter the boy into the wall.
Maxwell bounded from the floor to the bunk. He leaped from the bunk in the time between it bouncing on its hinges and returning Jacob’s bruised face to the wall (at which point the hinges snapped, flinging Jacob and bunk upwards. He nimbly evaded the cascade of jars containing the rest of the ghastly worms as they shattered against the wall, floor, porthole and Jacob. He defied gravity as he skipped over the flying glass. And, as the airship spun out into its downward spiral, dragging Jacob in his battered bunk to lie against the outer wall, Maxwell jumped once more, to land, claws extended into the soft cushioning comfort of unconscious Jacob’s stomach. He felt safe, but not safe enough to retract his tiny paw anchors.
‘Safe’ is a relative term at the best of times, and Lord Corshorn had eschewed its use for most of his sky sailing days. His present disposition – wedged in a corner of the cockpit, gripping his telescope and holding the map cabinet shut with one foot – was angry. From his vantage he could see the vast expanse of desert beneath them revolving behind the thrashing form of their Giant Centipede, Harvey who was still securely pinioned to the deck. He swallowed his concern for the crew he had seen whipped from the deck by the speed of their exit and subsequent tumble. His duty was to the ship itself; once secured he would be able to see to his crew.
The spin pulled at Lord Corshorn as he dragged himself across the cabin. It dragged at his hands and face and head, threatening him with blackness that seeped into the bright edges of his vision. He clenched his teeth, hard enough to hear them crunch, and reached for the levers that could redirect their reckless whirling. They had used their rockets to escape the crushing confines of the Sky Cliff, but their departure was so swift that it had torn Corshorn’s fingers from the switches. When his hand finally reached the switch he hesitated. Concern rippled across the lines in his face. He yanked the lever as far down as it would go. The airship shuddered and lurched. The pressure on his face abated and the map cabinet closed on its own. The spin would slowly ease but as yet the captain had done nothing to stop their descent.
Next Week: Part 27 – Fragile Things
In the same series:
- The Desert Crystals – Part 25: Ghosts of Dawn (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 24: The Taste of Light (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 23: Vanishing Distance (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 22: Dead Air (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – Part 21: Nascent Horrors (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals: part 1 (captainpigheart.com)