Albionearliest post first | most recent post first
"They're kind of a lizard people, Captain," says Ensign Fleabauge. "I saw some through the peep hole."
That would explain the musky smell. Desert bandits? First they strip our engines, and now they've taken us prisoner. Why not just slit our throats? Ransom? Who do they think would pay?
"Heads up! They're coming back."
We all back away.
BAM BAM BAM like a truncheon on the cell door.
The rattle of keys, and the door is kicked open by a heavy leather boot.
No one enters, and a simple, bongo beat starts up in the hall. But it's richer than a bongo, more like... a tabla? So resonate. So many different tones. It's mesmerizing. And intricate. And repetitive.
"Captain... I... I can't control my feet," says Old Adam Sol. "Can't control my toes!"
Indeed. We all seem to be... captivated by the rhythm. Bouncing with our knees, snapping our fingers, shaking our butts.
Then, the rhythm changes slightly, and I can't help but lead my small group out of the cell, in a single, unified conga line.
"Are they alive?"
"Yes your highness, they are alive."
"They don't look alive to me. How can you tell?"
"Life signs, your highness. On the handhelds."
"Oh. They do that?"
"The ones with the snakeheads, yes, your highness. Like this one."
"Wow, that's great. I should really know that."
"Not at all, your highness. You must have a lot on your mind."
"Wha--? Oh, yes. Yes, most definitely."
"So, who are they?"
"Unknown, your highness. Crash landed an airship a little ways east. We'd finished stripping it, but I guess they followed us home. Fell into a Smarl pit."
"Huh. Well, let me know when they're awake, will you?"
"Yes your highness."
The sand hisses across the dunes.
We travel in a line, chasing each other through the nooks and crannies, the channels between the exposed rock and hills of sand, occasionally popping up over a crest to scan the horizon. We wrap our heads and faces with scarves to keep out the dust, lift our goggles to get a better look through the binoculars.
"Look sir! There it is again!"
I take the glasses and can just make out the long dark shadow, snaking over the hills ahead, tail slipping over the horizon. The bandits who attempted to strip our beached ship last night. And got away with some important parts. Necessary parts.
"Make for it! Over the hill! Keep it in sight!"
The wind kicks up as we tumble over the dunes, piles of sand spilling ahead of us, and behind. After interminable peaks and valleys, we crest again.
"I'm not seeing anything sir. There must be an entrance somewhere neeaaarrrrrrrrrgggghhhhhhhhh!"
We all tumble over each other, and the sand, as the ground opens up beneath us.
Screeeeeeeeeeech Ka-THUMP Ka-THUMP Ka-THUMP.
I guess I know what the dust is doing the bearings.
"Shut down all engines!"
Maybe we can save one or two of the propellers if we shut them all down now.
"Shutting down, sir."
"Ensign Fleabauge, can you get us above this dust cloud, or below it, with just the elevators? Unassisted?"
"The altimeter's not responding, sir. Maybe it inhaled some of this dust."
"Well we'll all be inhaling sand if we drive into the ground. Take us up then, Ensign. Look for daylight."
Without props, we're more like a kite, or a surfboard. We can catch a current, but we're at it's mercy. And inside this dust cloud we can't see a thing.
Ka-THUNK. Everybody on the bridge falls forward a step.
"Uh... I think we've touched down, Captain."
Dust. Never have I seen so many shades of dust in a sunset.
We're farther west than we've been. Beyond the the last outpost of the Royal Reptile Leather mail, the final watering hole for the ctenosaurs. Beyond the widest ripple of Verte Teigne, the spiraling desert algae colony organism that is key to the ecosystem of the Known Lands. Beyond view of the Pillars of Coherent Light.
Now even the dunes are obscured by clouds of dust. Not merely shifting sands, but autonomous atmospheric phenomenon, dust particles of different sizes congregating at their respective altitudes. Ochres and ambers passing below, hot pink and heliotrope above. And at our regular cruising altitude, doing our best to dodge thunderclouds of garnet and cosmos and tuscan reds.
"Masks and googles, everyone. Looks like we're heading through another," Ensign Fleabauge announces through the speaking tube.
I hate to think what it's doing to the bearings.
It was with only limited regret that we bade goodbye to the Merlesee. While such wandering holy men are considered good luck to have on board in these lands, and he did very likely save the ship and all of our lives from the creature in the cargo hold, there was a general unease he created with the crew, what with his penchant for standing in one particular place for days on end, emitting long plaintive howls, and of course his very musky smell.
The break up was, at least, mutual, as he made a kind of short bow before disappearing into the forest of cone-shaped rocks.
"Where to, Captian?" asks Ensign Fleabauge.
We've been kept so busy here in the Far Reaches that I haven't had time to dwell on the terrible tragedy that drove us here--the loss of our gifted airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve.
I fall into a deep melancholy as we head farther to the west, towards the giant, sinking orange sun and over the yellow sands.
After the ruckus in the hold, the merchant and his small entourage requested to disembark at the nearest town.
Then, the Merlesee began to dance. He stood on the bridge and began to rock back and forth, taking tiny steps and shifting his orientation in a way that we eventually interpreted as a compass, his conical shape swaying like a bell, dipping gently here and there to direct our course. Helmsmen took shifts watching him and piloting the ship in a way that followed his movements.
And still, beneath its cloak, something stirred now and then. Like an unborn baby giving an occasional kick.
His continued presence on the bridge made it begin to smell like a barnyard, but eventually we found ourselves in a great barren waste, peppered with irregular towers like termite mounds and pools of rusty water and belching sulfurous puffs.
"Oooooooeeeeeeoooooooo" the Merlesee cooed.
We landed the Albion on the outskirts, and watched as the Merlesee strode out into the eerie landscape. It wandered for a while between the mounds, stopping here as if in conversation with them. Finally, it seemed satisfied, and squatted over one of the pools, completely covering it with the bottom of its felted cone.
In unison, the surrounding pools erupted in a single mighty fart as the Merlesee deposited its package.
The thrashing in the cargo hold alerted old Adam Sol as he was sweeping the decks. He in turn alerted the Watch, who alerted the Night Mate, who woke me. The Merlesee was already at the doors of the hold when we arrived.
"Oooooooeeeeeeoooooooo..." said the Merlesee. He looked at me from under his hood with his wide, double pupiled eyes. The pupils were square, like a goat's. So was his smell.
BANG BANG BANG the Night Mate banged on the cargo bay door with his fist. "What's going on in there?"
Thankfully, the Night Mate was not severely injured when the doors were blown open by the Succulent Berserker. The mercenaries lay in bloody pieces around the hold, and the thousand needle filled mouths opened up and hissed as the creature turned its spiny head towards us.
I'd never known the Merlesee to move so fast. Or that it had arms. Its conical felt cloak opened like a shell, and six bony arms flew out, like a beetle taking flight. Like lightning, it zig zagged across the floor, up the far wall, did a flip and landed on the other side of the creature, and zipped up another wall, all the while gesticulating wildly and drawing great gold and silver streaks in the air around it.
The Merlesse landed back near the door, ahead of us, and began to draw in its web of light like a net. The creature squirmed within it, thrashing and shrieking as the holy man, using all six arms, pulled the net tighter and tighter, smaller and smaller, until it was wrapped in a glowing ball the size of a grapefruit.
The Merlesse took the ball of light and all six arms and wrapped his conical cloak back around him.
For a moment you could see slight movement under the cloak, as the arms tended to some unseen business.
The weapons used in the war are apparently horrific. The body of the young soldier is kept in an oversized sarcophagus, guarded by a pair of steely eyed mercenaries. They remain on vigil with the body in the cargo hold.
We've also taken on a merchant and his small entourage, similarly retreating from the front. They are patient with our slow understanding of their patois, and describe the weaponry responsible for the soldier's death. Large crystals, borne in wagons, are coaxed into releasing beams of an appalling and malign energy, which transform their victims into leathery, succulent-like creatures with multiple mouths lined with needle teeth, and spidery arms perfect for speeding across the dunes. These transformed soldiers turn on their fellows like berserkers, murdering their comrades until brought down or (more frequently) burn out on their own accord (usually within a few hours of transformation).
The Merlesee called upon the mercenaries in the cargo hold but they refuse to let him in. Generally considered a bad practice in terms of Merlesee.
We've arrived on the outskirts of a war. Refugees arriving in rag-tag caravans pulled by lumbering reptiles. Some are wind driven, by sail and propellor, others powered by the resonance of strange crystals.
We're approached by a wagon pulled by a particularly massive and nasty looking pair of fanged turtles. They're transporting the body of a young soldier from the war, but the trip from the front has taken longer than expected and there's now way they can reach the scheduled funeral in time. Could the Albion take the body to the family?
The wagon driver marks our maps while the coffin is loaded.