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The Desert Crystals – Part 32: Taking Stock

Part 32 – Taking Stock

Desert Crystals 2015

Rosenhatch Traverstorm reached out and ruffled Maxwell’s fur. The little cat seemed completely unaffected by their most recent misadventure. Maxwell arched his back in delight and let his tail unfurl in a stuttering swish before hopping along the heap of boxes to keep up with his source of stroking. If anything, Maxwell seemed even happier than before, glossy coated and bright eyed. Rosenhatch hadn’t seen much of him over the last few days, and he thought Maxwell looked a damned sight healthier than anyone else.

Two days and nights of hammering, carrying and generally being in the way of those with real skills and craft had taken its toll. The crew was on tight shifts of sleep and work now that the most vital repairs were complete – The Dove’s Eye wouldn’t be falling into the Bane just yet. There was a crucial balance between being awake enough not to individually fall to one’s death and preventing everyone from falling to their deaths.

Rosenhatch, although desperately tired had not slept for more than a handful of restless blinks. This was not because he was needed; very much the reverse. He had sought out tasks, however menial and unnecessary to feel useful. The Death Cheater’s eye found him again and again with each bandaged hand, each stitched face, every snapped life line as it was coiled and knotted into the shape of the fallen crew member. The losses kept him awake.

He had missed his friends during those intense few days and their familiar comfort. Maxwell had apparently embraced his lack of responsibility and had take to keeping poor Jacob company. The lad was still unconscious. Rosenhatch rather envied him his comatose state, though not how he’d achieved it: the cumulative trauma of his abduction, exodus from the charnel pit in a cascade of gore (which had stained The Dove’s Eye’s foredeck a bleak crimson) and the ocular explosions as the horrid spawn escaped their incubation behind his eyes. Being battered by every object in his cabin when they burst out of the Sky Mountain probably hadn’t helped either. Maxwell had invested himself in purring deeply on the boy’s chest, but had consented to accompany Rosenhatch’s next task – assessing the fitness of their cargo.

Lord Corshorn’s men still crawled along the apparently endless store of rope that threaded through and around the airship. The occasional smack of a hammer resounded through the airship as the wrights improved on the hastiest of their repairs.

Much of the rear portion of the airship was taken up with storage. Previously an ingeniously organised work of Jasparz the captain’s second, but now a chaos of smashed crates, swinging nets and dubious stains. Rosenhatch rolled aside a breached container of gawlet syrup and consulted the check list he’d been given. Maxwell simply hopped from one box to another in his new heaven of shelves and surfaces. Lord Corshorn’s primary concern was that they still had water and food, but that had already been assessed, which left Rosenhatch with the much lower priority of his and Harvey’s equipment.

Maxwell found their kit and idly batted at the netting holding it in place until Rosenhatch caught up. Miraculously, Harvey’s traps for the Crystal Finches appeared to be intact- a testament to the centipede’s obsessive packing rituals. Rosenhatch unwound one from its feet of protective ribbon. Each trap was a cube of mirrors inside a blackened frame. The bottom of the box hinged open in two parts, in a trapdoor held with tight springs. Rosenhatch gingerly tested the device and was rewarded with a sharp nip across his thumb tip as it was caught in the mechanism. Still functional.

Rosenhatch tracked down the case of optics and lenses that he had reluctantly entrusted to the cargo hold. It was scattered across the floor. The microscopes were broken. The refining lenses had a variety of spiderweb cracks which rendered each useless. Rosenhatch would have to rely on the rather cruder equipment he kept in his backpack for any close examinations.

Some of their reference works had been lost to the ragged tear along the hull but Rosenhatch was quite pleased to imagine encyclopaedias raining down on the desert. They would have to repack Harvey’s shell-mounted cannon and do a full count of the rounds remaining after their skirmishes with the winged beasts and the strangely meaty internal walls of the Sky Mountain.

With some satisfaction, Rosenhatch began re-stacking crates and sweeping debris into similar-looking drifts. It was likely their expedition could proceed, and Rosenhatch hoped they would be underway soon. They had almost reached their target of the Razored Ridges before going disastrously off course high into the sky. Lord Corshorn estimated that they were only a day or two further away now. With luck they would be able to locate the Crystal Finches with a minimum of further trouble. Before they could begin the search, Rosenhatch needed one other vital component to be restored: Harvey.

Rosenhatch had been keen to get his friend brought down from the top of the balloon as soon as possible, but with the insect’s many legs stitching the torn bag together Corshorn had insisted that they deal with the hull and ropes first. Harvey had been left broiling in the sun virtually unprotected for far too long. The heat itself wasn’t such a problem: Harvey’s kind lived in the dark humus of hot humid jungles. The dry air was quite a different proposition for an insect happier burrowing through a rotten tree trunk.

When Rosenhatch and the others winched him down from the balloon the centipede’s legs had twitched constantly, unused to the sensation of gripping just air. In a kitten that would have seemed a sweet dreaming, but with foot-long razor sharp claws Harvey was far from cute. The crew had wrapped him tightly in canvas to protect themselves and the balloon.

On delivery into his cabin Rosenhatch had carefully unwrapped his friend and laid on damp blankets. Rosenhatch had always felt responsible for his friend and colleague, for Harvey was something more than either of those things. As Rosenhatch lost himself in the tidying of the cargo hold he drifted away to far-off land and the series of accidents that had brought them together.

Coming Soon: Part 33 – Fine Dentistry

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