Part 35 – Fortune Favours Fools
Light strove to penetrate the gloom, but the best it could do was a blurry shivering shoal of shadows. Beyond the sepia veil horrors awaited their turn. He could barely blink, shuffled, tried to rise and was hastily restrained by gentle hands on his shoulders. He tried to relax, despite the blur around him and was suddenly aware that everything hurt. His whole body was one huge bruise. From his littlest toe to his left eyebrow – all sore, and stiff like he was cast in clay.
“It’s alright young Bublesnatch, you just stay there.” The voice of Jacob’s hero, Rosenhatch Traverstorm soothed the boy, “you’re on board The Dove’s Eye and you’re perfectly safe.”
Jacob struggled to understand why he might not be safe. Why would he not be aboard the airship he’d called his home for the last year? Just thinking brought a wracking ache through his face. What happened? He lay on his bunk, and before that? Ah, there it was, it tore away the mud that slowed him, a brief glimmer of light before the roaring tide of nightmares lunged out of the darkness and claimed him.
“Poor lad,” muttered Traverstorm, giving a gentle ruffle to Jacob’s shaggy hair. He then swapped the soaked cloth draped over his forehead with a fresh one from the bucket by the bunk.
The bandages wrapped around the boy’s head hid the ragged hole where his left eye should have been. Rosenhatch had gathered the disgusting maggots which had burst out of Jacob’s eye into a biscuit tin. That tin had been lost during the wild escape from the Sky Cliff, and with it all hope of studying them. Without that opportunity there seemed little hope of saving Jacob’s other eye. His eyelid rippled with the larvae swelling inside.
Using an eyeball to incubate your young was a particularly horrid habit, but wasn’t really any more unusual than the various mites and beasts which used each other as cuckoo’s nests. Quite whether the larvae would grow into the terrifying black winged creatures that had attacked them was unclear. It seemed a reasonable guess, but only because they hadn’t encountered any more of the Sky Cliff’s inhabitants. Except for the Sky Cliff itself, with its disturbing meaty rocks and gory waste.
Rosenhatch had carefully noted the details available from Lord Corshorn’s captain’s log in hopes of one day revisiting that particular hell hole with a rather more violently armed expedition. To his knowledge, no one at the university had conducted such an investigation, or indeed encountered such atmospheric atrocities. It would be extremely interesting to properly chart the place with Harvey. At the very least they would be able to get some good photographs. Their recent exploit had left them only with broken cameras, let alone pictures.
His eyes fell again upon Jacob’s unbalanced face. It could as easily have been Rosenhatch lying there, one eye a popped mass of pus and the other trembling with imminent birth. Rosenhatch had found the impressive stash of The Journals Biologinary in Jacob’s cabin, strewn across the place after the tumbling flight. He had noticed that most of the issues featured Traverstorm himself in his various expeditions. He rather suspected that the boy was a fan.
“I’m sorry if this isn’t what you’d hoped for from an expedition Jacob. In truth, they rarely do go as planned. Trabine does give an excitable account of our adventures, but an awful lot of it is either travelling, running or screaming.”
The boy moaned in his sleep. Passing out isn’t really sleep though, Rosenhatch mused. Thinking back on his own experiences of fainting from exhaustion or terror he imagined that he had a fair idea what the boy was going through. Not that Rosenhatch had lost an eye, or risked losing both of course. No, Rosenhatch had been remarkably fortunate. Even out in the archipelago when death seemed terribly, terribly close it had been Harvey, rather than himself who had suffered the ultimate penalty for their adventuring.
Rosenhatch was determined that no matter what the future held for young Bublesnatch (which looked pretty damn bleak at present), he’d not flinch from the noble duty of retrieving the lad’s soul bead and ensuring it was passed on to his family. Whether reincarnation was the boy’s fate or not, he’d not be lost to the sands like those taken during the Sky Cliff’s assault.
The thought lead him directly to his old friend who was recuperating from his heroic zippering of the airship’s balloon. It was hard to be sure how much of the Harvey he knew had truly returned in the giant centipede. Certainly Harvey had undergone the requisite rituals to re-seed his mind with the memories and personality safeguarded by his soul bead, but incarnation in such a different form was fraught with unforeseeable dangers. For his soul to survive one such shock, let alone the second reincarnation into another centipede just a few years later.
Rosenhatch had not lightly made the decision to gift Harvey Czornwelss’ soul bead to a fresh species. They were lost. Marooned in the dark and threatening jungles of Undergrowl. The rest of the expedition was gone; dead or fled. The jungles had proven exactly as lethal as their worst fears had promised.
Alone, surrounded by the clicking and rasping horrors of the jungle Rosenhatch had sought out Harvey’s corpse. He had climbed high into the canopy to the nest of Marwglyms whose babes feasted on Harvey’s flesh. It was not an experience he relished the recall of. He fought off the seven limbed younglings for long enough to hack open Harvey’s skull. While holding the monsters at bay, he fumbled inside the cold blood and jelly that concealed Harvey’s true self. He finally peeled the soul bead free, stuffed it bloody into a pocket and half climbed, half fell to the ground.
After days of delirious wanderings his wounds growing septic he found himself curled beneath a rotting log populated by insentient centipedes. Rosenhatch fully expected that would die in that dank hollow and both his and Harvey’s souls would lie in the dark forever. In desperation he took the momentous decision to seize a passing centipede. Its three foot length thrashed at him as he prised its mandibles open and forced Harvey’s soul bead deep into the beast’s mouth.
Coming Soon: Part 36 – We Tell Ourselves We Can Live Forever