Friday, October 4, 2013

Beyond the Leaning City Chapter XVI

Well, I'm behind on rooms for the dwarf thing and I'm behind on fixing tags, and I have accepted an outside cartography gig, because otherwise I might catch up.

So anyway, chapter XVI, possibly.



Voyage in the Underboat.

He was overwhelmed immediately, made helpless by the pressing weight of the onslaught. A scuffling, struggling moment ended with a blunt impact and he went down.

Thront hovered on the edge of senselessness for several moments; the greenskins hauled him around; he was trussed up and carried across the decks. The jellyhead he had killed was being carried in much the same fashion; black ichor dripped from the remaining portion of its ruined head.

Imagine, heads made of jelly, Thront thought. How very stupid- especially to go out without a helmet.

The greenskins' heads also had a gelatinous portion, but it was much smaller and looked like a large, juicy blister on their brow ridge.

They talked in a buzzing dialect; Thront caught a word here and there: Sacrifice- something about a priest, submersion, but their enunciation was rough and inarticulate; he found himself unable to make any real sense of their speech.

He suspected he'd killed the one that could talk.

After walking for about a quarter hour, they came to the edge of a ship, just another in a long series, this one a half sunken power-galley. The party came to an unexpected halt.

Thront grew more nervous.

The greenskins dropped him onto the deck; a throng of them closed around him. For a terrifying instant, he feared they would toss him over the side, into the icy sea- but their only task was to affix a makeshift harness of rope around his chest and arms. Gently, the greenskins lowered him over the side, and into the hands of some of their fellows, who stood in a waiting boat. The corpse of the jelly head followed.

Six of the greenskins manned the long boat; those who remained above disappeared from sight.

Someone took up the sculling oar, and the boat slid noiselessly through a crevice of wood and ice. Thront scrutinized every turn and twist of the waterway, committing each element of their course to memory.

Mist drifted through the weird canal, and vibrals took to their quivering flight within it.

The longboat coasted around a sharp corner, entering onto a long and misty corridor. The Greenskin in the prow of the craft mad a noise of excited surprise; his fellow at the oar commenced immediately to back water. The four greenskins in between them drew needle slender swords.

The dark green water in front of the boat exploded into white froth; something huge and gleaming, four or five times the size of The Siren, broke the surface. Thront thought it at first to be a gargantuan fish, but the top of it popped open and a jellyhead climbed out.

It was an underwater ship! How extraordinary.

The jellyhead stepped down onto the stylized hull of the underwater vessel. Several greenskins clambered out the hatch behind him.

The greenskin in the bow of the longboat stood; he raised his arms and began to speak.

More greenskins were coming out the underboat's hatch; there were more than twice as many standing on the hull of the underwater boat as there were in the longboat.

Thront shifted in his place.

The jellyhead turned his back on the speaking greenskin.

No one moved.

One of the greenskins standing on the hull of the underwater boat bared his teeth and howled; he drew a knife and leapt into the long boat. His companions followed immediately.

A short and bloody altercation ensued. The greenskins fought with knives, savaging each other with a frightening, blood-spattering zeal.

The battle was excelled in savagery only by its brevity.

When it was over, ten bodies lay in the water. The crew of the Underboat was victorious.

The jellyhead crossed over to the longboat he studied Thront intently for several minutes before moving on to the body of his dead counterpart.

He made a low and gurgling sound in his throat-stem. Thront took it to be laughter.

Another team of greenskins hauled Thront aboard the underwater boat. After being lowered through the hatch, he was placed in the center of a high-ceilinged cabin. The circular space was both baroque and precise. Several bookshelves clustered along the rear walls, volumes locked in place with gleaming brass bars; a finely crafted sculpture of a strangely proportioned fish sat atop a marble pedestal. Complex looking wheels and levers were spaced about the room; a great many of them clustered with tube-like nodes and bubbles a-flash with green and yellow light.

The bridge?

He continued his examination: a circular window allowed for one hundred and eighty degrees of vision to the front. The water beyond the glass churned and frothed. The corpse of the jellyhead plunged past dragging bubbles in its wake; the longboat followed immediately after.

Something clanged behind and above- a hatch perhaps? the leader entered. He walked directly to the dense and ridiculously complicated wheel, light, lever array and began making adjustments.

Thront watched him closely. A moment later he felt the sensation of descent.

Dark water washed over the window.



But for a gentle hum originating somewhere towards the rear of the vessel, the underboat ran without noise. Thront gazed out the window, rapt by the undreamt of spectacle before him; damaged, breached hulls (the underside of the Ship's Boneyard, he realized) rolled past overhead, like a sky of inverted, jagged and gray dunes. Occasional shifts in angle and direction afforded him brief glimpses of the sea floor and the greenskin farmers at work there. Light punctured the gray/green darkness at random intervals, filtering through hull-breaks and spaces between the hulks; glittering and hypnotic, fish of all shapes and sizes and colors darted in and out of the luminous shafts.

A large shadow drifted past. Some of the greenskin sailors made uncomfortable noises, but the tension dissolved before Thront could discern its source.

The jellyhead pushed a lever; a bell rang.

Several more greenskins carried in, and set up an array of lamps against one wall.

When the multi-colored lamps had been lit the other lights on the bridge were dimmed.

Thront was fascinated.

The jellyhead stepped between Thront and the lamps; he began to move, thrashing his arms above his head.

"Welcome most honored one." He said.

"Me?" Thront pointed at his own chest.

"You. Welcome among us, oh blessed sacrifice; know that I am Vissel Hroof." The arm motion caused the light to refract through Hroof's gelatinous head in a shimmering coalescing way.


Thront had erroneously supposed that he could not become any more apprehensive about his situation.

"Yes, you will be our offering to the Icyarch on the first night of dark concordance; I will make the offer and your lifeblood will be the river whose current my people will follow into the next epoch."

"What makes me the sacrifice?" Thront said. "Why not somebody else?"

"Because you bear the Lurr, our precious and holy seed, born out into the world by good Vissel Droon and now brought back to us by your consecrated hand and by the divine will of the Icyarch."

"Seed. Hmm. Silver thing shaped like an egg?" Thront squirmed in his bonds.

"Yes that is our seed; please allow us to take possession of it once again."

"Interestingly enough, I don't have your seed; I'm not even sure who does anymore." Thront said. "Could be at the bottom of the sea for all I know."

No sound but a gentle hum from somewhere in the vessel's rear.

Shortly afterward, and for the remainder of the undersea journey Thront was confined to a tiny oblong room without a port. He wasn't exactly certain he had been demoted from holy sacrifice to regular prisoner, but he knew his status was in question. He suspected, though, that in the long run it would make precious little difference into which category he was placed.