Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chapter 21 begun

To the Edge

Johnny ran to the bow and looked, but could see nothing.  “Where?” he called up to Roger.

Roger was sliding down the ladder (which was boatspeak for “short set of narrow, very steep stairs”) in that casual way she had: boots hooked around the outside edges, gloved hands gently resting on the inside edges, let gravity do the rest.  She could go from flying bridge to deck in about a second and a half.  “Submerged,” she said shortly, striding purposefully toward the wheel.  “But we’ll be changing course withal.”

Johnny naturally turned to Larissa.  ”‘Withal’?”

“Nevertheless,” she replied.

“Ah.”  He paused.  “Where’s Aidan?”

Aidan was right behind him, as it turned out.  “Yes, I heard.  Let me see if I can get a fix on it, at least.”  He leaned out over the railing, and began chanting his liquid chants while stretching his arms out as if to embrace something.

For a long time, nothing changed.  Then Aidan’s eyebrows turned downwards and somehow he managed to mutter under his breath without stopping the fluid chant.  “Shallédanu lei shonta ...”  His tone was one of disbelief.

“What?” Johnny asked.  When he got no answer, he turned a worried eye to Larissa.  “That didn’t sound good ...”

Suddenly Aidan straightened and called out “Hard to port!”  Bones screeched and flew-glided back to the stern.  Seconds later, The Slyph turned sharply ... at least, as sharply as her bulk would allow, which was still enough to make Johnny grasp frantically at the railing to keep his balance.

Welly appeared in one of the doorways to the deckhouse, blinking sleep out of his eyes.  “What in the name of Witt and Berg ... ?” he mumbled.

The boat was now listing hard enough to make the deck feel more like a steep hill, so Johnny didn’t have time to look at Larissa.  She started to answer anyway: “Bob Witt and Cy ...”  At that moment Roger did something which caused the back of the boat to hunch down in the water; The Sylph straightened, but now the deck was slanted aft to fore instead of port to starboard.  The flat-bottomed boat surged forward, like a draft ship cresting a wave, and then the world shuddered as they tipped in the other direction and hit the water with a jarring thud.  They were all immediately soaked as water crashed over the rails.  So Johnny never got to hear about Bob Witt and Cy, presumably Berg.  It was a safe bet they were old comedians, and Johnny figured he had more important things to worry about.

Larissa was briefly sliding towards the front of the ship, and Johnny felt a moment of panic for her before he realized he should save all his panic for himself.  The railings were parallel to the deck, with about 2 feet between the bars, so there was plenty of room for someone on their back to slide under the bottom rung.  Larissa was already in that position, and Johnny felt his ass hit the deck and knew he was almost there as well.  He flailed out with one hand and felt his fingers brush Aidan’s boot, which the water priest had apparently flung out for Johnny to grab.  Out of the corner of one eye he could see Welly clutching desperately at the doorframe.  But most of his field of vision was full of Larissa’s small body, spinning and sliding slowly towards the rail.

She didn’t seem concerned.  She flung out one hand behind her head and it seemed like a blue whip shot out and grabbed one of the crossbars of the railing.  A disoriented thought flashed across Johnny’s consciousness (was that the snake??) and then time seemed to slow down.  He knew he’d missed his opportunity to grab Aidan’s foot, but he felt his hand grasping at the air anyhow.  Ahead of him, Larissa’s arm pulled taut, and her legs swung down towards the nose of the ship, which was just now starting to come back up ... too late to stop the inevitable slide.  Suddenly a crate spun sideways across Larissa’s path.  She kicked it hard with her black and white sneakers, using its bulk to push herself back towards Johnny.  The crate changed course too and fetched up hard against the forward rail; it cracked with a sharp splintery noise, but didn’t come apart.  Johnny suddenly realized he was aimed right for it and managed to get his boots pointed in the right direction before he struck it.

By this point the ship was righted, if still a bit wobbly.  Johnny got to his hands and knees, huffing “lucky” under his breath, over and over.  Larissa sat up calmly; the little blue water snake uncoiled its head from the railing and resettled itself on her wrist.  Aidan, slumped against the railing a yard or so up the deck with one arm still hooked around a crossbar, stared at the snake with fascination, or perhaps disbelief.  Welly let out a long breath and said in a small, quavery voice: “If at first you don’t succeed ... so much for skydiving.”  Larissa looked at him, but refrained from supplying the attribution.

A tinny voice came out of the closest brass speaker.  “Sorry, mates,” Roger called.  “I was just ..”  Her voice was cut off by a deafening crack, like the bullwhip of a giant.  A pale tentacle, white like the underbelly of a corpse, was waving in the air behind them, tall enough to be seen clearly over deckhouse and flying bridge.  Johnny felt his mouth gape open.  “Trying to avoid that,” Roger finished in a tight voice, and The Slyph shot forward as if someone had shoved a rocket into its rear.

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