Desert Crystals Part 28 – Easy Ways To Die
The Dove’s Eye‘s fatal spin had been arrested, and the great airship simply plummeted through the blue sky. The twisted balloon was festooned with screaming and unconscious crew, dangling from their safety tethers. In all it resembled a rather ugly falling lampshade. Lord Corshorn wrestled with the controls, but no combination of thrust and steering would return the balloon to its original state. A bellow from the foredeck roused the captain’s eyebrows from their frown and directed their owner forwards. The rush of wind carried the words away and Corshorn was forced to creep out of the cockpit’s relative safety. He left the controls in the least harmful setting and clambered out onto the tilted deck checking first that his tether still held.
There was little option other than sliding down the deck as it pointed almost straight downwards. Corshorn alternated gripping at the edges of planks with the terrifying rush towards the ground below. In moments he had reached the source of the bellowing: Harvey, the Giant Centipede was still securely bolted to the deck after piercing the cave’s strange rocky wall with his carapace-mounted cannon.
“I must say Lord Corshorn, the perspective I’ve been granted is certainly dramatic.” Unable to turn away from the airship’s impending doom, the centipede’s ticking speech was tinged with an unusual panic.
“There’s no turning us,” Corshorn shouted, gripping Harvey’s shell with both fists, “the bag’s all snarled with tethers and for all I can tell, holed by those damned rocks.”
“I’d surmised as much, but as you can see my attention is somewhat fixed.”
Lord Corshorn reflected for a moment on what the great insect might be perceiving, with his simpler vision but vastly superior sense of space and distance. He was rather glad to be merely guessing at their remaining distance from the earth.
“I’d be grateful if you’d relieve me of my fixings, I rather fancy my own grip is quite sufficient to keep me aloft.”
“Well you’d be the only judge of that,” muttered Corshorn as he wedged his handy knife under the flattened top of the first bolt and levered it out with a twist and a judicious kick. True to his word, Harvey’s dozens of legs dug fiercely into the timber deck, easily taking his weight. With one bolt free Harvey was able to wriggle and snap the other bolt clean out of the wood. It whipped past Lord Corshorn’s face and vanished into the air behind them.
“Excellent. My thanks Lord Corshorn. Now let us see about this balloon of yours.” With the captain holding tight to the centipede’s harness, Harvey swarmed back up the near-vertical deck.
“What are your intentions sir?” enquired Corshorn as he transferred his grip to the cockpit’s doorway.
“I believe I’ll be able to untangle the canvas somewhat, though I must know which (if any) of the ropes may not be cut.”
Lord Corshorn’s eyebrows raised at the prospect. “I daresay we can survive the loss of a few guys here and there, but we must keep the key ropes – you’ll know them for the steel threaded through them.”
“Indeed,” was the centipede’s only comment before he ascended, climbing straight up the cockpit’s wall and, his forelimbs waving in the air for a moment, pulled himself up onto the first tangle of ropes that lead up to the balloon.
“Be careful not to slash the canvas either!” cried Lord Corshorn.
The centipede swiftly vanished from Corshorn’s view, to be shortly replaced by a set of fingers hauling their owner into the cockpit. With a an extended hand he helped to haul in his skymate.
“Thanks sir,” nodded Freymald, her face gashed open and bloody from lip to eye, “it feels worse than it is sir – took a door to the face.” She grinned a curious mix of nerves and fear at him. “The hold’s secure sir, and the cabin’s are locked. But I’ll not guarantee the state of the contents.” Freymald had been fortunate in falling back inside the ship as they fell from the sky cliff, rather than off and away like many of her crewmates.
“Excellent. That centipede’s gone up to fight with the balloons, there’s damn all I can do here till he’s unwound us.”
“Speaking of which sir, with some aid I reckon we could wind in some of the lads, those at least who are not too snaggled.”
Corshorn nodded his assent and the pair climbed back out and up the cockpit’s walls to where the gondola rose in a steel assemblage of rings and struts, joining the ship together and keeping the crew attached by their lifelines. The life ring was made up of a dozen slender circuits of steel and brass, with the clips and hooks of the crew’s tethers pulled tight with the strain.
“Start here,” directed Lord Corshorn, pointing to a rope tagged with a scarlet thread. It stuck straight out to the side, disappearing high overhead behind the canopy. Each sub-ring had its own winch, well-greased and ready. Freymald balanced herself with her back to the roof and feet pressed against the ring and wound the winch fiercely. Quickly a limp body was drawn below the bags and within Corshorn’s reach. He tested the man’s pulse, nodded with satisfaction and Freymald locked off the tether.
“That was the easy one,” noted Freymald. She jerked back in alarm as two of the other tethers whipped out at head height, racing along their rings, unwinding. Above them a flailing man could just be seen flying around the edge of the balloon.
“Looks like the centipede’s having some joy.” Following Harvey’s lead, Corshorn and Freymald began winding in the crew as they were released from their tangled bondage above.
Away above the captain and his work, Harvey scrambled further up the straining canopy, selecting ropes, hauling in the limp or screaming skymate and flinging them out counter to their rope’s twist. This was met with much further screaming from those crew unfortunate enough to be conscious. Once he was satisfied that the captain had wound in all those crew he’d managed to free Harvey moved on to the balloon itself. He severed the most twisted ropes and hugged the canopy as the balloon’s natural shape began to reassert itself, bulging improbably and shifting the remaining ropes. Finally he attained the attenuated peak of the canopy where tattered edges of canvas flapped and the gas-filled balloons attempted to escape. He hissed in annoyance and gathered in the ragged sides, using the strength of his legs to draw them in tight. With a further sigh he pierced the canvas and zippered up the hole using his own body.
The change to the shape of the bag was immediately obvious to Corshorn, Freymald and the cluster of crew hugging the safety ring. With the hole centipede-darned it elongated as far as the remaining snarled ropes would allow and the deck flipped back up, slapping the heap of skymates between the roof of the gondola and the rings.
“He’s done it,” cried Lord Corshorn, with more incredulity than he’d intended. The angle of the airship was still unhelpful for their continued survival, but that at least he could do something about. He leaped to the cockpit and engaged the rockets once more. Their downward blast forced The Dove’s Eye into a sharply angled arc. The instruments reported that they were only a few hundred metres above the baking sands and the heat competed with the wind’s force in their faces. With a shuddering sigh the airship levelled out and the ship’s velocity carried them forwards and back up into the sky.
Coming Soon: Part 29 – Knives in the Night
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