The Lost Prince: Part IV – The Good Captain’s Men
Locksley froze. A tiny patch of red had blossomed on the golden breast of his uniform and, even as I dragged myself to my feet, gagging, the scarlet flower of blood had spread out until his whole chest was bathed in a dark red light. Locksley stepped forward, then stopped, pausing to think. His eyes flickered to his chest, then back to Una, in an almost reproachful manner. Locksley’s mouth flapped open than abruptly sealed itself shut and the good captain fell back, dead. Lazrilus spat out a wad of Locksley’s blood and flesh. It splattered against the good captain’s chin.
“Have a nice sleep,” muttered Lazrilus and, with that sentiment, the three of us resumed our escape. Our plan was to use one of the Lariptian lifeboats for Una to ferry us to ‘The Spiral’. Lazrilus, with a rueful grin, had reminded me how easily he’d won favour from Tamburlaine simply by behaving as though it were only natural that he acted as advisor to the king. The Vomoran had reasoned that, if we were to simply strut across the deck as if we belonged there, the other sailors would simply assume we had been summoned by Dromlinson and leave us alone. Perhaps this plan would have worked. In all honesty, it had sounded far-fetched to me, even as we plotted our escape in that dingy cage. As we burst from the inner confines of Eveline and into the cold grey light of day, my heart sank as I saw Dromlinson clambering over the side of Eveline, his lifeboat suspended by several thick, metal wires. Even from where I was standing, I could tell by the thunderous expression on his fat face that he had uncovered the truth regarding Una’s exile – and had probably been invited to leave ‘The Spiral’ in a manner far too discourteous for a civilised man like Dromlinson. The Lariptian’s pinprick blue eyes fell upon me. His pale face darkened with rage. He pointed and screamed:
“What are they doing out on deck!”
The Lariptian’s, turned to us, slack-jawed with bewilderment. The grey sky let out a deep, bestial growl. White, serpentine lightning flickered across the clouds. It was just our luck that we would have arrived at ‘The Spiral’ at the outbreak of a storm. Una grabbed my wrist and yanked me away from the sailors. Lazrilus had already hurled himself in the direction of the great metal dome that was the Navigation Centre.
“Quickly,” yelled Una, “in there! If we can’t take a lifeboat, we’ll have to sail to ‘The Spiral’ ourselves!”
“Sail there!” I hollered as the Lariptian horde, finally shaken from their surprised stupor, charged after us, “they’ll tear us to pieces!”
With one powerful kick, Lazrilus smashed open the door to the Navigation Centre. The four men on duty blinked in bewilderment as Una and I slammed the door shut and bolted it. Once the door was shut, Una and I threw several chairs against it-a rather pitiful gesture. Lazrilus pointed at the sailors.
“Take us to ‘The Spiral’,” he commanded, “we’re going to ground Eveline on the shore.”
One Lariptian sailor hopped up and down in alarm.
“No,” he gurgled, eyes bulging, tongue flapping with foreign words, “Rocks! The rocks!”
The sailor had a point. ‘The Spiral’ was ringed by black and purple rocks, completely unlike the sandy beaches that ringed the eastern coat of Ashenmore. If we tried to run aground, there was no guarantee that even the thick, metal flesh of Eveline would survive. Still, it wasn’t as though we had a choice. The door shuddered as something – Fists? Boots? The butts of the sailor’s rifles? – smashed against it. Lazrilus swore and snatched Locksley’s pistol from Una. He pointed it at the frantic Lariptian.
“Do what I say,” growled the Vomoran. Two of the four sailors cowered, confused. They obviously had no idea what he was saying. Lazrilus smacked the pistol against the ship’s wheel.
“Move!” barked Lazrilus, pointing at the transparent front of the Navigation Centre, aiming his gnarled, grey finger right for the blackened tip of ‘The Spiral’, “to ‘The Spiral’. Now!”
The sailors hastened to obey; the terrifying pantomime put on by Lazrilus had evidently broken through their language barrier. Our door shuddered again and one of the chairs I’d stacked against it collapsed. I licked my lips. I knew the door wouldn’t hold. I rushed over to our flimsy blockade and pressed my lips against the metal.
“Dromlinson!” I shouted, “are you there? Dromlinson!?”
The din of heavy knocking ceased at once. Moments later, I heard Dromlinson’s silky, apologetic voice, seeping through the cracks that encircled the door.
“What’s all this, my friend?” cried Dromlinson, “I’ve just been chased away from ‘The Spiral’. A legion of flying women – flying women! – descended upon my boat and demanded to know why I was approaching their territory. I begged their apology and, do you want to know what I found out? It seems your ‘wife’ has quite a reputation for herself back on Kazore. It turns out that she isn’t your wife at all, just some nasty, common whore that managed to get herself excommunicated from the most peaceful gaggle of religious hags in these backwards islands! Now that, is an achievement, don’t you think!?”
“Dromlinson,” I began, “I’m sorry for deceiving you, but I had no choice. My people need me. Listen. Captain Locksley is dead, we have several of your men as hostages. Step away from the door. We only want to reach ‘The Spiral’.”
“But why?” hissed Dromlinson, and I could feel his lips mashed against the door. I could hear every fleck of white-hot spittle flying from his contorted, flabby lips, “they’ll only kill you. Your priestess can’t return from exile, can she? Come on now. Open the door and let’s discuss your options, like civilised men and women.”
“No, Dromlinson,” I replied, “I think you’d have us shot before I opened my mouth to thank you. You back away from the door, let us get to ‘The Spiral’, and then we’ll worry about Una. You can le-”
“ARE YOU GIVING ME ORDERS, YOU WRETCH!” screamed Dromlinson, his mask of courtesy shattered by the unbridled hatred burning in his voice, “I am Dromlinson Farrenbrow, nephew to The Governor of Lariptus, Former High Overseer to the Eight Dwarven Colonies, Lord Speaker for the city of West Ringling, former Master of Blackheart Prison! AND I AM ORDERING YOU TO OPEN THIS ACCURSED DOOR BEFORE I THROW YOU OVERBOARD!”
I recoiled from the door, my ears ringing.
“I don’t think he’s open to negotiation,” I muttered. Lazrilus smirked and pressed his pistol deeper into the back of the Lariptian Helmsman’s skull. The Helmsman – the same Lariptian that had tried to protest our seizure of Eveline, gulped and continued to send the great ship on its path towards ‘The Spiral’. Through the viewing screen of the Navigation Centre, gaped as vast white waves hurled themselves into the darkening sky as Eveline carved her way through the turbulent waters. In the distance, several black blots had appeared, shimmering against the sky. As we galloped closer and closer to ‘The Spiral’, these blots grew larger and larger until I realised that they were women, flying women, just as Dromlinson had described. Their heads were shaven and shone with the reflected flashes of lightning. They were enveloped in long, grey robes and each one of them had a crossbow attached to their wrists. Although they wielded no arrows, the flying women lowered their crossbows, pointing them down at the deck of Eveline. They fired their empty crossbows and, moments later, I heard screams of anguish bursting through the metal door. As the Lariptian sailors screamed, The Tears of Eveline bounded over the waves, closer and closer to ‘The Spiral’. Lazrilus stumbled as the ship rocked back and forth, smashing her pointed nose through wall after wall of seawater.
“Those women, who are they!?” cried Lazrilus.
“The People of the Sky,” replied Una, her eyes shining with admiration-and terror, “Priestesses who have mastered the elements of the air. Armed with their legendary javelins of wind. They’re using the wind itself as arrows!”
Another invisible ‘javelin’ was launched by one of the flying women and an unseen Lariptian wailed in pain. The assault on our barrier had faded away, as the sailors had now found a new, far more dangerous enemy to contend with. I heard explosions ringing out from across the ship’s deck as the Lariptian’s pointed their rifles towards the sky and opened fire. The Sky Women glided past these blind shots and fired back, and I could tell by the growing number of screams that every javelin they fired found its mark in Lariptian flesh. ‘The Spiral’ loomed before us, it’s black and purple rocks stretching out, as if looking to catch us in a loving embrace, until…
…An almighty tremor tore through The Tears of Eveline. The Helmsman was slammed against the wheel and slumped to the floor, unconscious. The other three hostages were hurled forwards, as if they’d been shoved. A groan of pain shook the giant ship and the lights flickered, then died. Everything lurched forwards, then to the side, chairs and tables sliding against the far wall.
“What was that?” I croaked, heaving myself to my feet. The floor quivered. The walls of the Navigation Centre had tilted, turning the room heavily to starboard. The howls of the sailors had lowered to a handful of distant, feeble wails.
“We must have hit a rock,” moaned Una, “the island is surrounded by them. We were lucky we got as close as we did, going that fast…”
“Come on,” barked Lazrilus, “the Lariptians will be all over the place, distracted, wounded. Now’s our chance. ‘The Spiral’s right in front of us! We can make it if we swim – with Una’s help.”
I offered a quick, desperate prayer to Ahasathoth and clenched my fist as Lazrilus tore open the door, holding Locksley’s pistol close to his cheek. The carnage that greeted me as we slipped cautiously out of the Navigation Chamber. The Priestesses of the Sky had utterly decimated the horde of sailors. Dozens of them lay sprawled over the deck, dead or dying, bleating for mercy. Rivers of crimson trickled over the cold, grey deck and gushed, down the slanted deck, mingling with rainwater and cascading over the side of Eveline. The only one left with any fight was Dromlinson. The fat Lariptian had retreated to the very edge of the ship and was propping himself against the railing with a bloodied hand. His cape had been torn to pieces and his stomach was weeping scarlet. Still, with his one good hand he waved a long, thin rifle in the air, pointing the serrated bayonet into the broiling sky. The Sky Women descended, aiming their crossbows at him. Dromlinson finally noticed that we had broken free from the Navigation Chamber. He screamed with fury.
Gathering his strength, Dromlinson used his wounded hand to propel himself away from the front of Eveline, staggering towards us. His shoulder erupted in twin spurts of red as the Priestesses launched two javelins at him. The Lariptian seemed not to notice. He raised his rifle. The bayonet shivered as the enraged Lariptian drew closer and closer to us. Lazrilus raised Locksley’s pistol and pulled the trigger. It clicked in his fingers, useless. Locksley, evidently, had not been in the habit of fully loading his weapon. I started to move forward but Una stepped into my path. She started to sing. As the Lariptian loped along his murderous path, her song grew more and more fierce. The rain around Dromlinson froze, suspended in mid-air. Finally, the Lariptian paused, confused. His tiny blue eyes examined the frozen rain with awe. The rifle clattered to the deck, his one remaining arm surrendering to exhaustion. Una uttered one final, powerful lyric and the thousands upon thousands of raindrops shifted into thousands upon thousands of minute spears that, in a fraction of a moment darted towards Dromlinson, skewering him in thousands upon thousands of different places. Dromlinson wheezed, his eyes rolling all the way up into his forehead before his fat, pale face descended, smacking against the cold metal deck with a sick thudding sound. As if that weren’t enough, Dromlinson’s corpse began to slide down the slanted deck, caried on by the smoothness of his clothes and the rain-slicked deck until it slipped over the side of The Tears of Eveline, before finally being consumed by the churning water.
The Priestesses lowered themselves until they hovered a few feet opposite us, their cold gazes fixing us in place. Unlike Una, these women required no songs to elevate them into the air. Their smooth, black heads were adorned with long, serpentine tattoos and draped themselves down the back of their necks and dangled, just above their wide eyes. One Priestess raised her fingers into the air and, without speaking, yanked back her hand, miming that she was pulling something towards herself. The air grey thin and dry. My mouth flapped open and my lungs cried out for sustenance. They were choking us! I saw Lazrilus crumple to the deck in horror. Una staggered towards the women, pointing at her throat and – bizarrely – her stomach. I had time to grin at the fact that Una seemed to think her lungs were in her stomach, before the darkness enveloped me.