Part 36 – We Tell Ourselves We Can Live Forever
Harvey woke up screaming. His segmented length thrashed against the confines of his cabin. The awful dream slowly faded as his feet pedalled across the ceiling. He had imagined that his legs fell off one by one until he had just four left with a floppy, elongated body dangling between them. It was his usual dream, the one that came frequently in times of stress and adventure. Intellectually, Harvey knew it was just his mind attempting to resolve his memories of being a man with the daily experience of being a centipede. That didn’t lessen the shock and fright as each limb dropped away. He flexed his dozens of legs, still working to remove their stiffness from his days on top of the balloon. Harvey’s flexing claws took chunks out of the woodwork and a comforting rain of sawdust fell on his shell.
He slipped fluidly out his cabin and undulated up the stairs onto the deck of The Dove’s Eye. It was warm and bright; they had enough altitude to take the edge off the sun’s brutal heat. Through his shell Harvey could feel the stuttering thrum of the airship’s engines, struggling against the damage they recently sustained. All things considered, they had made excellent progress.
“I owe you a great debt of gratitude sir,” their captain announced as he left the cockpit, “but for you our bodies would surely be drying in the dread sands.”
“Thank you Lord Corshorn. It is not often one such as I finds a useful role on board an airship.”
Lord Corshorn took a heavy swig from his enamelled mug and gestured forward with it. “We will shortly reach our destination.”
Harvey waved his antennae but could perceive little beyond the railing of the ship. His sensitivity was to sound, and touch and movement. The picturesque details of their journey were distant echoes and shades of grey. “Would you describe it to me captain?”
“Of course,” Lord Corshorn stepped up to the rail, and rested his mug upon it. With a little fuss, he lit a cigar and leaned over the rail.
“The sun blazes still, the sky aft is a clear and cloudless turquoise which meets the vast orange expanse of the Great Bane Desert at some vanished distance behind us. We are but a handful of leagues from the Razored Ridge. Even now it stabs upward from the desert, violent spurs of purple rock which pierce the white clouds above and shred them into failing tatters. Those vicious slices of rock are dappled in their lower slopes by lush greens and blues. Here and there specks of light glint in the forests and valleys. Perhaps those are the Crystal Finches you seek.”
“Thank you captain. I had not thought you a poetic man.”
“Nor I,” he laughed, “my wife is insistent that we attend the theatre and is tireless patron to an unknowable bevy of poets, artists and writers. They are a tedious rabble, but I cannot deny that their prose can affect one.”
“I can remember those colours, but I no longer see the world in them. It is strange.”
“Indeed, strange hardly covers the world we find ourselves in.”
“I suppose that being up in the air, where I can feel nothing but the air ship itself ought to feel empty and frightening. Yet I find in it peace and a calm I’ve rarely known since I first came to myself in this new shape.”
“Are you certain the cause of your disquiet is your form rather than your travelling companions?” remarked Lord Corshorn, eyebrow quirked with humour, “Traverstorm is hardly a guarantor of gentle diversion. I love the boy as I do my second favourite brother’s son, but by the bead, he’s a magnet for calamity.”
Harvey let out his equivalent of a sigh: a susurration of segments shuffling into line. “I cannot lay blame at Rosenhatch’s feet, I have many more of my own by which to place responsibility. I was the one who first encouraged him, with his fantastical tales of the darkness within the behaviour of the Host Lizards. It’s an affair which deserves some closer inspection one day. It was my expedition to the Undergrowl jungles that he accompanied me on. I’d say that we both draw adventure upon the world; that, or it finds a mischief in ourselves.”
“With luck this adventure of yours is nearing its end, or does that promise too much ill fortune for you, Czornwelss?”
“I’d not wish to invoke disaster beyond Rosenhatch’s natural aptitude. Yet, I do hope we’ll shortly snare a Crystal Finch. I’m anxious to test my little devices, especially considering they’ve survived our journey so far.”
“Mmm. My wife will be keen to see the fruits of your labours. Have you any thoughts as to the disposition of young Bublesnatch? I fear for the boy, he’s been a fine cabin lad and it’s more than just my duty to return him to his parents.”
Harvey had given a great deal of thought to the poor boy’s plight. His brief examination of the beasts which had burst from his eye socket suggested that they were merely the larval form of something nastier. However, they had not seemed unduly glutted with Jacob’s ocular jelly. It was possible that they incubated within his eyeball without consuming the matter of his eye. If that was so, then there was perhaps a chance of removing them before they hatched.
“Captain, I fear our chances of success are slender. I do have a thought. We may not save his sight, but it will surely be lost if those grubs reach maturity.”
Lord Corshorn tossed the remainder of his drink overboard. “If you still have hope, then so do I. Time is of the essence. Tell me what you need and we’ll have it.”
“A sharp knife, a steady hand and a strong stomach are all that I require.”
Coming Soon: Part 37 – Ask Not, Get Not