Sunday, October 12, 2014
Chapter 21 concluded
Johnny tightened his grip on the railing, and he saw Aidan do the same. Welly and Larissa hustled over to join them, and Bones gave an unholy squawk and shot back towards the rear of the ship. Johnny’s brain was still trying to figure what to be most afraid of when there was a jarring thud as they hit the beach. The Sylph didn’t stop when it hit the sand though—there was a grinding scratching that vibrated the hull and the great wooden airship just drove itself right out of the water. Johnny waited for the wailing of metal that would indicate that the ship’s rudder was scraping along the sand, but he never heard it; Roger must have done something to hoist it up out of danger.
Their momentum could only carry them so far, of course, and there was only about five feet of torn up beach behind them when The Sylph gave a final shudder and came to a sudden stop. Roger appeared almost immediately afterward. “How long do we have?” she demanded of Aidan.
Aidan shook his head as if to clear it. “Hard to say,” he admitted. “I couldn’t get a definite fix on it while you were bouncing us around like juggler’s pins. But I’m guessing no more than two or three minutes, if that.
Roger spat. “Goats’ bollocks!” she cursed. “Bones! Get yer ass up that thar tree!” She pointed to the obligatory palm tree in the center of the barren island. Bones magically appeared from somewhere and lept off the forward edge of the flying bridge, gliding all the way to the trunk of the palm, where he scampered around it in an upward spiral until he reached its leaves. Once there, he shaded his eyes with one hand and looked out over the water behind them. Johnny could hear his beak clicking furiously.
“Welly!” Roger barked. “Yer the opener, ain’t ye? Get ta openin’! Right in front of the boat, mind, so I don’t have too far to chuck crates. I hope it don’t come to that, but I ain’t yet sussed out how we’re gonna get my girl unbeached.” She turned back to Aidan. “Priest! Sorry to have to ask this, but I need ye down on the beach. Ye’ll have to hold it off singular while we get supplies through. Elsewise we’ll end up just as cadaverous on the other side as if we stay here to be monster chum.” Aidan nodded and scrambled aft where the rope ladder was. Roger turned to Johnny and Larissa. “Swabby and missy! We need to start shuffling around crates. Prioritize food and warm clothes, and get ’em all up in the bow and clear of any lines or beams. Hop to, like yer life depended on it, ’cause by damn it just might.” She turned and strode off to the crates, whipping out her knife to cut lines. She never bothered to look back and see if any of her orders were being followed; she knew they were.
As he started pulling crates towards the bow, he could see Welly down on the sand below. He was tilted at an impossible angle, like a mime walking against the wind, but motionless. Johnny couldn’t see why he didn’t just fall over. His hands were in front of him, back to back, fingers stiff, as if he were trying to force open invisible elevator doors. From the rear of the vessel, Aidan’s liquid chanting began to drift towards them; he must really be belting it out if they could hear him with the bulk of the ship between them. Johnny glanced back and discovered that Aidan wasn’t directly behind them, though: he was facing the lagoon, with his back to the rear corner of the deckhouse. The ship had hit the beach at a bit of an angle, Johnny saw now, and it looked like the sea monster was cutting across the corner their path made when they’d changed course while trying to outrun it. Assuming Aidan knew where it was and was facing in that general direction, that is, which Johnny felt confident was true. Roger caught him woolgathering and flicked his ear.
Johnny went back to lugging crates. Larissa wasn’t a lot of use in pushing the large boxes around, but she had a knack for knowing exactly where each box had ended up and could reel off the contents of anything Roger pointed at, which Roger somehow knew and was taking full advantage of. Once Roger had everything identified, she sent Larissa back to the deckhouse for “paraffin caulk” (which Larissa promptly objected was neither paraffin nor caulk, but she knew where it was, so she did her objecting while walking away). It seemed like it must have been more than three minutes at this point; Johnny paused again to check on his shipmates.
Welly actually did have his fingers in the crack of a door, it seemed: a glowing blue line had appeared in the air in front of him, and he was trying to widen the crack, his muscles straining with the effort. Aidan’s chants were booming out over the water and rolling around the island. As Johnny watched, it actually got darker, for the first time since he’d stepped through the strange round door into the swampworld. Startled, he looked up. The clouds overhead were getting thick and menacing. It was impossible to guess if they were blocking out some of the light, or absorbing it, or not reflecting as much ... without knowing where the light source was, there was no way to know. But it was definitely darker—not much darker, but the difference was noticeable. A wind was starting to swirl around too: just a slight breeze so far, but it was gaining momentum. Aidan was standing with his staff upraised in one hand, his other flung out to the side, his back ramrod straight, and his voice continued to peal those liquid syllables. “Shallédanu,” Johnny heard, and “tisharallein” and “loralleilaray” and “whellenaisharenn.” And not only were the clouds and the wind responding, but the usually calm lagoon was growing choppy, and waves began to form off the coast of the island. Then Bones gave out a high-pitched shriek and Johnny’s eyes were drawn out to the water, where he got his first glimpse of the creature that had chased them here.
Johnny’s first fleeting impression was that it looked like a huge puddle of dirty milk. But the dark streaks were too regular; they almost seemed to make a pattern. As it oozed toward them, the image suddenly clicked for Johnny: it was something like cerebral grooves, only barely peeking above the surface. In fact, now that he had seen it this way, the whole thing looked more like an alabaster brain coral that had somehow melted into a gelatinous ooze, like that old monster movie The Blob, and it was now slowly coming to eat them. And, indeed, when the first long, white limb shot out, Johnny could see that it was less tentacle and more pseudopod.
That limb went straight for Aidan, and Johnny felt his breath stop in his throat. But Aidan merely flicked his staff out to meet it, and, where they touched, blue sparks shot out. The feeler diverted course and floated toward the ship. Another pseudopod came at Aidan, but he deflected that one as well, and it too moved towards The Sylph. Once they reached it, they attached to either side.
“Bloody hell!” Roger grated. “Bloody priest is going to let that thrice-damned goatsucker pull my bloody boat right off the bloody beach!”
But when the monster finally managed to move the ship, they actually pushed forward a notch. Roger’s mouth fell open. Johnny blinked. “I don’t get it,” he said finally. “What’s ... ?”
Roger’s voice started out as a whisper, the words coming slowly, but they rapidly increased in both volume and speed. “Our ... mad ... priest ... is getting ... the bloody monster ... to DELIVER THE SHIP FOR US!” She whooped and pounded Johnny on the back, knocking the wind out of him. “Forget the crates, Johnny me boyo, just get everything that might go overboard tied back down. If Aidan can pull this off it’s like to be a bumpy ride.” She strode over to the forward rail and leaned down to call to their opener. “Welly, my lad, ye’d best open yer openin’ a mite faster, else ye’re liable to get a ship up yer backside.” She cackled with glee and headed back to the wheelhouse. Bones was back on the ship now, and Larissa had reappeared with a wooden box about the size of a large cigar box. She looked around for Roger, and gave Johnny a raised eyebrow when she couldn’t locate the captain. Johnny shrugged, and he could feel the stupid grin returning to his face. Bones settled the issue by snatching the box out of Larissa’s hands and scrambling off with it.
Then it was just tying knots and pulling ropes taut while Welly Banks ripped an ever-widening hole in the air and Aidan de Tourneville mentally wrestled a giant sea monster into submission.