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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 old women wrapped in dessert camo burnooses. The women 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 women 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.
We've taken on a Merlesee--one of the local wandering holy men. They say it's good luck to have one on board, and bad luck to turn one away. That's how they ride for free.
Not that it's any bother. It's tall and stands in the back, in a big felt cloak that fits it like a cone. Smells a little like a goat.
"Oooooooeeeeeeoooooooo" it says sometimes out of its little goat mouth.
Various merchants visit the bridge when we're at port to make their deals. The desert is cool this time of year, and the sunsets are a vibrant peach. We watch the moons rise over streaky clouds as the sky turns purple.
At each stop we make, I encourage the remaining crew to take their leave. In my prior life, the Giant Bee Honey businesses treated me well, and at even the most remote port of call I can arrange a wire transfer for a healthy retirement bonus that would set any crew member up quite nicely. But I'm afraid the crew has grown in their own feelings for me, and that remaining with the Albion has become their own way to commemorate their fallen shipmate.
This terrible tragedy has only made us stronger.
So each day we head deeper into the desert, towards the setting sun, trading goods as available at each frontier port. Though the conditions become more harsh as we go, the trade becomes more lively as resources become more scarce:
1) Dried meat of the Yztlanti, which is an enormous thin-skinned mammal that lives just under the desert sands--a single animal sometimes stretching for an acre or more. Native families usually raise a single creature, carefully trimming flesh from its edges for harvest and allowing it to grow back. The lifespan of a Yztlanti is unknown.
2) Mind Milk of the sentient Ugatcha cactus. Much more dangerous than the docile Yztlanti, the Ugatcha defends its milk with a deadly ferocity, shooting their poisonous spines accurately up to 50 yards, triggered by the telepathic impulses of those hunting for it. Ugatcha hunters train for years to specifically not think about the creature while going through the motions of tracking, approaching, and scalping the cacti.
3) Krakey Dew Candy. The giant wind scorpions of this region leave secretions on the grasses and scrub brushes which crystalize in the first rays of morning light. These crystals have a smokey, fruity taste, and are mildly hallucinogenic.
The Albion continues to scour the desert, hoping for a single desperate sign of Airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve.
There is nothing.
The sandstorm has scrubbed the desert clean in places, revealing outcroppings of stone and petrified bones of long dead beasts. In other areas, hillocks and dunes where before there were none. There are no tracks or unnatural debris. She could be buried, or utterly sandblasted away to oblivion.
I conduct the service from the deck. A jar of honey poured over the rail, as is our custom.
Perhaps captaining such a vessel is something I'm not ready for, and never should have taken on. Better I tend hives--then the only one to be stung is me.
We watch the orange sun set over the yellow sands, and think about our lost comrade.
I never should have sent @Eve and her crew to chisel the syrup. I never should have taken my eyes off the horizon, searching for sandstorms. Instead of daydreaming about bees. I never should have taken the Albion into the Deep Dessert.
But if it wasn't for airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve, more lives may have been lost. More than just hers.
When @Eve saw the sandstorm approaching, she began sending her clean-up crew up the ropes. There they all were, dangling off the hull, hammers and chisels in hand, doing the important detail work of removing the encrusted imitation maple syrup from vital ship components. When young, plump Tommy Airfatz lost his grip and fell to the end of his safety rope, it was @Eve who made sure we was retrieved and pulled up to safety. But when we returned to pull @Eve up, she was gone. The force of the sand blast sheared straight through the rope.
The Albion pulled up, up, up to the limits of its pitch, out of the sandstorm, skimming its edge high into the sunset.
But @Eve is gone.
I never should have sent an apprentice on that job. It should have been me.
The Albion proceeds at speed across the desert. Nothing better than the lilting waves of ultraviolet energy from the sun to burn away the crusty vestiges of sugary crust from our hull. Well, that and a little elbow grease, as I've directed airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve to take a team outside to the hull and chip away at the sticky remnants. The sugary crystals catch the sunlight like snow as they puff away little clouds. It wouldn't hurt to drive us down low through a little dust storm to scrape away the rest.
But what I wouldn't give to have a few Giant Bees around. Drones I'm thinking. We paint up the hull gain in a striking black and yellow, command our own small swarm... we could have our way around these parts! Well, at least protect ourselves properly from the wrong kinda folk.
I was sure @Eva had her team under control, properly roped for safety as they repelled down the outer hull of the Albion, chisels in hand, but I felt like taking a look. As soon as I emerged from the hatch up top, Ensign Fleabauge reported.
"Sir. Sandstorm 9 degrees off starboard. Approaching fast. It's a big one."
Airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve is certainly a genius when it comes to hydraulics, and she certainly deserves all the attention she's been getting as the hero of Oak Cliff, the one who liberated the town from the giant White Crab spiders.
But her map reading skills could use some work! And how exactly she was able to confuse imitation maple syrup with artisanal foaming soap is hard to imagine. Still, her accidental solution to the spider problem exceeded the expectations of this captain, as well as the National Guard and the Weather Channel.
Syrup, as you know, hasn't been weaponized by airships since the days of Captain Chairbreaker in the War of Liberation against the Monkeypigs. But it remains as effective as ever at binding opponents, adhering them to their environment and effectively immobilizing them. And we have the thriving economy of the tri-city area to thank for such wonderful businesses as Pecos Pauline's Premium Syrup. It is every bit as thick, rich, and buttery as they say.
In between the parades and award ceremony, the city of Oak Cliff remains in mop-up. While much of the city was protected by the hastily erected dome of Texas Toast, the stale nature of the toast itself has proven the idea syrup remover for the outlying areas. Meanwhile, the sticky spider have been hoisted on to flatbeds where they will be returned to their secret military nursery facility and hosed down before returning to their packs.
As for me, well, with the entire population of Giant Bees having left Enormous Hives, LLC, I have little to return to. But now I have this ship, and a talented crew... perhaps it's time to explore the airshipman's life.
Full steam ahead!
The Albion has completed its reconnaissance over the spider-infested Texas Toast-domed city of Oak Cliff, and the picture isn't pretty. The White Crab Spiders do not lay webs to trap their prey, but have taken up camouflaged positions in every nook and cranny around the toast dome, and are no doubt working on the weak points of the dome's construction. The spiders themselves are massive, in some cases as large as a VW bus, but their markings make them hard to discern from the golden crusts protecting the city.
Airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve has done a wonderful job of cleaning the wax and honey from the engines and and riggings, and has suggested an ingenious offensive attack. Apparently, a local artisanal foaming soap production facility exists just outside the area of infestation. @Eve is presently working on a method to house this fluid in the Albion's ballast tanks, which we can then use to saturate the area, driving off the spiders long enough to evacuate the residents of Oak Cliff. It's not a permanent solution to the invasive White Crab Spider issue, but may allow us the time to save lives.
Our main hope now is that @Eve is successful in implementing her vision in time!!
Through the rather ornate Termination and Breach clause in our contract with the Albion, we, Enormous Hives, LLC, have assumed control of the ship. The original crew had abandoned ship as the Giant Bees began to build their hive around it on Storm Mountain, and the one good thing about the attack of the Giant Crab Spiders is that they left a hole in the hive big enough to fly the ship through to safety!
Which is why I, Magnus Arequebus, now stand at the rather sticky wheel of the airship Albion, ready to leave the hive and save the citizens of Oak Cliff! Though they are protected by the giant dome of the finest Texas Toast in the land, those spiders are insidious and I wouldn't put it past them to find their way through at any moment.
As we've had to start the crew from scratch, we've also taken on Airshipmechanic apprentice @Eve, who's working on getting the honey and beeswax out of the machinery. Just as soon as that's done, the remaining Giant Bees and the mighty black and yellow Albion will liberate the people and show those Giant Crab Spiders who's boss!