From her hidden perch in the Captain’s cabin, Denae watched and waited for her chance to escape. Problem was, there really wasn’t one. The old man just sat there at the table, dumping Maelron’s booze down his throat like it was water. The children had taken to playing games in front of the viewing window using Maelron’s lohjibi set, getting their dirty little fingers all over the nice white pieces. When someone did come into the room, like the archer who had shown up earlier to talk about the powerslaves and the sickness they had, she closed the outer hatch before opening the inner hatch. And when she left, there was no good way to follow her out without being seen.
Sneaking out of here was more difficult than the little faery had expected.
She was going to have to go in someone’s pocket. But which of these asswipes was likely to leave soon? Probably not the Wizard. He didn’t look like he was going anywhere. He was probably going to die if he kept drinking like he was. And probably not the children, since they were warm in the cabin and the adults didn’t have to worry about them falling off the sides of the ship.
This was frustrating. She was driven to obey Maelron’s command. It was a good thing he had not specified a “when” in his command. If he’d said “immediately” she would have been forced to dissolve a hole in the door right in plain sight.
Maybe that’s what she should do! Not the door, though, but the ceiling. It was just layers of fabric coated with oil and pitch. Someone would probably notice it eventually, but she’d be long gone by then.
Reaching up, she touched the cloth and unleashed her death magic upon it, causing it to decay and unravel. Fraying and crumbling under the energy, it fell away in layers, opening a hole just big enough for her to crawl out of.
Perfect! She should have done this in the first place instead of waiting for a chance to sneak through the door. But it was hard to think of things like this when she was threatened. She hated action. She was much better at telling other people how stupid they were being. It was a talent.
Crawling outside on the top of the airship, she encountered another problem; the wind was fierce. It was all she could do to hang on. Her little black butterfly wings were worthless in the onslaught. With all her strength, she pulled herself back through the hole into the relative calm of the cabin. But now there was a hole in the ceiling. They would find it, and find her too! She had to move to a better hiding spot.
Staying close to the fabric of the roof, she fluttered over to one of the wall lockers and landed on top, pushing herself through the dust all the way to the back and lying flat on her tummy. Blast that wind! She should have realized how strong it was going to be. They were hella high up right now.
“What’s that?” grumbled the old man. He rubbed his white beard and looked around, eventually staring up and seeing that a hole was sucking air from the room. “We’ve got a leak,” he said, stating the obvious. “I wonder how that happened.”
From where they were playing on the floor, the children looked up at Kamboolii, wondering what he was doing. He reeked of alcohol, although he didn’t stumble when he walked like Papa Jarl always done when he’d been drinking – which had usually been every night. The children weren’t afraid of Kamboolii the way they’d been afraid of Papa Jarl. Kamboolii didn’t yell at them or threaten to beat them with a switch. He seemed like a nice old men to them.
“A leak?” said one of the boys. “Where?”
“Up there,” said Kamboolii, pointing at the ceiling. “There’s a hole. Funny, I don’t think that was there before.”
“Will it suck us out?” asked a little girl.
“No, it’s too small,” he replied.
The little girl standing next to the one who had just spokne started to cry. “We’re gonna DIE!” she bellowed out.
Kamboolii rubbed his beard. “Everyone dies eventually,” said the ArchMage. “It’s just a matter of when.”
This was apparently the wrong thing to say, because the little girl released a torrent of tears, bawling her head off and saying that she didn’t want to die over and over in a litany of despair. Kamboolii rolled his eyes and sighed, telling her that they would be fine and that it was just a little hole, too small to suck anyone out. All they needed to do was patch it. This seemed to placate the girl, at least temporarily. She rubbed her eyes and tried to be brave. Her cousin, the girl next to her, gave her a hug and tried to comfort her. “It’s okay. Kamboolii will fix it.”
“There must be patching material somewhere on this ship,” Kamboolii said to them. “You children stay here and I’ll see if I can find it.”
As he went to the inner door and opened it, a great suction of wind arose, and Denae realized that someone else was coming in at the same time. Both the inner and outer doors were open. This was her chance! Without thinking, she made her move.
Amidst the fluttering of the charts, the little faery flew down past Kamboolii’s head and through the inner door of the vestibule. A surprised woman, one of the children’s mothers, was just coming through the outer door. Seeing Denae, the young lady let out a shout. Kamboolii saw the faery too, but it was too late to do anything. She was moving too fast. Diving low, Denae flew around the other side of the woman’s billowing dress and out onto the main deck of the balloon ship.
She’d made it! But now they knew about her. She couldn’t be caught! Beating her wings as fast as she could, she fluttered toward the rear of the ship, flying over a huge sleeping man in a pile of armor and zipping by a young man and an old lady reading a book. She went straight to the first set of winches that controlled the height of the drover balloons. Landing lingly upon the coil of rope, she zapped it with her magic, dissolving it. With a snap the rope broke and vanished into the sky, taking the balloon with it.
That was one drover down.
“What the hell is that thing?” shouted the female Gardener sitting next to the Ka extractor. Roki had spotted the fluttering black wings when Denae had sailed out of the Captain’s cabin. But she was stuck where she was. She couldn’t leave the Ka extractor, she was powering the lifter runes.
Kamboolii and the woman who’d been in the hatch rushed out of the cabin and across the deck. Kamboolii stopped to yell at her. “Go back to your children,” the ArchMage commanded. “We’ll take care of this.” To Roki he shouted, “Get it with your sheers, if you can.”
Denae let out a shriek, dodging Roki’s spinning sheer as it flew through the air and just missed her by a hair. On its glowing Ka thread, the blade retracted back into the Gardener’s bracer with a snap, and from her position at the extractor she readied for another try.
That had been close, thought Denae. She had to hurry. Alighting on the second of the four drover winches, she was about to zap it when she was forced to dodge the buzzing saw blade again. Fortunately, when it missed her it cut through the line instead, doing her job for her.
“Ha HA!” the faery cackled, taking off again, this time toward the middle of the airship where the second two drovers were located. “Missed me!” she squealed at Roki as she flew by. “Try it again bitch!”
“It’s cutting the balloon lines!” Roki screamed to Kamboolii. Without the droving balloons to pull them, they’d be dead in the air. “We have to stop it!”
Kamboolii reached beneath his robes and pulled out a large purple polka-dot butterfly net meshed with iron. He always carried it with him. You never knew when you were going to have faery issues. Moving with great dexterity, he intercepted the irritating creature on her way to the winch, whipping the net down and capturing her.
“Got you!” he declared, grabbing her tightly in his fist.
“NO!” the faery screamed in protest. “Let go of me you old Teffer. Let me out! I can’t breathe! You’re killing me!”
“I’ll let you out all right,” Kamboolii growled, striding back to the Captain’s cabin. Once he was inside, he put the net onto the table with the opening facing down so that the little faery was still caught inside. Grabbing up the half-empty bottle of Overlord, he put it to his lips and finished it off, mostly. Spinning the bottle around he smashed the top of it on the table. Then, in one swift movement, he lifted the net and slammed the broken bottle over the top of the faery, trapping her inside.
This was worse than anything Denae could imagine. It was bad enough to be captured by a Human, but it reeked of alcohol inside the broken bottle. Some of it was still even on the sides of the glass, and dripping from the bottom that was now above her. She had to get out. She should have burned her way out of the net, but it was iron, and she wasn’t good at distractions. She’d never been good at using her power when she got nervous, and right now she was terrified.
“Etra fae Thandraxis Megamorticus,” muttered Kamboolii, looking through the glass of the bottle. “What are you doing here?” he demanded, lowering the round silver sphere on the end of his staff toward the bottle. Denae could see her distorted reflection mirrored in the ball. “And don’t try to escape, or I’ll fry you,” the ArchMage added.
In a panic, Denae pounded the glass. She couldn’t think straight, and when she couldn’t think straight, she couldn’t focus her energy. A million curses went through her head. Death to these people! Death to them ALL! Anger flowed over her like white phosphorous, anger and terror. It was just the right mix to convert her from a seriously dangerous threat into a powerless shrewish gnat.
Others came rushing through the door into the cabin, the young man and the old lady, followed by the archer. The children wanted to see too, and in seconds her bottle had eyes staring through it from all directions. She felt so confined! So exposed! The bottle was too small. She couldn’t handle it. Putting her head in her arms, she sat down and started crying. Why was she always so bad at doing what Maelron wanted her to do? Every time he ordered her to do something violent, she screwed it up. Now she was captured, and she’d only got two of the balloons cut. Shit. Maelron was going to yell at her again, that asshole. He was always a prick when she screwed up.
“What is it?” asked Kai.
“It’s a faery,” said Kamboolii. “You know, a little person with wings who flies around causing all sorts of problems. They’re a curse, let me tell you. Having a faery is worse than having herpes.”
“I’m familiar with the fae,” Kai noted dryly. She had no idea what herpes was though.
“Well this particular type of faery is one of the worst of the lot,” continued Kamboolii. “They’re usually only encountered in the Realm of Dainus or the Ream of Galanor. So what is this one doing on Minth, I wonder?”
Quig nodded. “Yeah, I remember reading about them last night. There’s this order of warriors that uses them as a power source. But to do it, they have to bond their soul with the faery, and make a bargain. Their soul belongs to the faery, and when they die, the faery eats it!”
“Eats their soul!” exclaimed Ophelia. “Don’t sound like much of a bargain teh me!”
“Indeed,” agreed Kamboolii. “So whose faery are you?” he asked Denae.
“Teff you old bugger!” shouted the faery. “I’m not telling you shit! You and your band of fragrant assholes are going to DIE! Yeah, you may have me in a bottle, but sooner or later I’m going to get free. And when I do, I’m going to wait until you’re sleeping and cut your BALLS OFF! You hear me? I’m going to stuff them down your throat TOO! You’re going to wake up choking on your OWN BALLS!”
“Lord!” declared Ophelia. “She’s got a mouth on her, don’t she?”
“You heard that too?” asked Kamboolii. “Good, good,” he said nodding. For a moment he thought it might have been another audible hallucination. “Hmm. Yes. Well, I should also add that this type of faery is also known for their irreverent and sometimes ineloquent manner of speech. They specialize in nasty metaphors of the most disgusting kind, particularly when they’re angry.”
“Go suck a donkey’s dick,” snapped the faery, providing Kamboolii with a rude gesture. Standing up, she turned around so that her back was to him and bent over, lifting her skirt. She waggled her naked butt at him. “You can kiss my ass TOO!” she shouted, smacking her lips in parody and slapping one of her butt cheeks.
The ArchMage frowned and turned to one of the women present who was the mother to some of the children. “Maybe you should take the children out of here for a bit while we communicate with this, um, little person,” he suggested.
Nodding in wide-eyed agreement, the woman quickly lead the children out of the cabin and out onto the deck. Not before one of the little girls asked why the little fairy wanted Kamboolii to kiss her butt, however, and why she wanted to cut his balls off. Once they were out of the cabin, Kamboolii rubbed his forehead and sat down at the table to resume their conversation.
As he remembered, the only way to get anything out of the Etra fae Thandraxis Megamorticus was through physical intimidation, and as much as that was revolting to him, he felt that it was warranted. All things considered, it was likely that this faery was connected to the Captain of this ship, Lord Maelron, but it was best to be sure. Maelron, it would seem, was a servant of the Drathraq. If that were the case, then he may still be a threat, and this faery would be able to confirm that, and mabye reveal more about Maelron. But only if they could convince the faery to talk. She just needed some incentive, which for her would have to be a threat. But there was no reason not to be nice about it. Leadership through example, thought Kamboolii.
“Look,” he said politely, “I’m going to use my staff to fire a bolt of lightning into your body. Do you mind if I do that?”
“What!?” screamed the faery. “Are you teffing loony you old bastard? You’ll probably kill me. What do you mean, do I mind? Would you mind if I stuck a bomb up your ass?”
By the Wu but these things were vile!
“Well, I don’t have to shoot you with lightning,” said Kamboolii. “You could just answer my questions instead. Who do you belong to, and why were you cutting the droving balloons? Come now, it’s not as if we don’t know the answers to these questions already. It’s fairly obvious. I just want you to confirm it. Answer my questions or I’ll start shocking you. It will be very painful!” he added with emphasis. “And I don’t like torturing anyone. Seriously. I don’t enjoy it at all.”
Denae crossed her arms and tapped one of her feet. “No. I don’t believe you, you dickless wonder,” she hissed, her eyes half closed. “You probably couldn’t generate a spark with that thing. You probably can’t get it up either, you limp-dick poser.”
“You don’t believe I can fire electricity from my staff?” he asked incredulously.
“I think you can stroke your shaft all day and you won’t get anything out of it, you ancient crusty ho-bag.”
“I suppose I’ll have to give you a demonstration then.”
“NO! Wait! I’ll be good. I’ll tell you everything!”
Kamboolii paused. “Alright, go on.”
She threw her head back and laughed. “I’m lying! You’re so teffing stupid! You really bought that? Damn but you’re a dipshit. You must be the Wizard of Dumb. Go ahead and stroke your shaft, old man. Whip it out. Let’s see what you can do! You stupid pole-smoking ass hat.”
“If you insist. But I did warn you.”
“Teff you and your warning! Why don’t you…”
Kamboolii fired a spark out of the ball on his staff. Not a large one, only big enough to get his point across. It travelled through the glass of the bottle and zapped Denae. Unfortunately, it also ignited the remaining traces of Overlord, some of which had dripped onto the faery from the bottom of the bottle. Overlord was high-proof. It ignited instantly.
Denae screamed in agony. Her wings lit on fire, shriveling and burning. Beating insanely against the glass in the bottle, she tried to get out, but the pain was far too much to allow her to focus. It was all reflexes, in the end, that kept her bouncing around in the confines of the container, thumping against it with her body. After a few seconds, the remains of the Overlord were exhausted and the fire went out. She collapsed to the surface of the table on top of the charred chart paper, moaning. “No…” she whimpered. “Oh no.”
Outside the bottle, Ophelia and Quig stared in shock at Kamboolii.
“Well…” said Kamboolii. “That was… somewhat unexpected. I didn’t think that spark would start anything on fire.”
Ophelia looked horrified. “That’s awful,” she said. “You’ve burned her poor little wings off.” She shook her head. “You’ve burned her alive!”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” grunted Quig. Turning around, put his hand over his mouth, but he couldn’t stop himself and spewed vomit all over the floor with a wet splash.
“She had it coming,” said Kai unsympathetically. “He warned her.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t say he was gonna lite her on fire!” contended Ophelia.
“As I said, that was NOT my intention,” Kamboolii insisted. “It was only a little spark. She didn’t believe I would do it. I was just trying to prove that I was serious.” Looking through the glass, he inspected the faery. Her wings were mostly gone, only charred tatters remained of them. Her clothing was burned fragments, and most of her exposed skin was either blackened or red and covered with blisters. She merely lay there, shaking uncontrollably and moaning.
“So cold…” she rasped. “So very very cold.”
“I don’t think they regenerate,” gagged Quig.
“The Fae? No, not here,” agreed Kamboolii. “There’s no aether on Minth for them to use. If there was, she’d probably have killed us. They have a tremendous amount of power inside them you know.”
Marshaling what little strength she had, Denae raised her middle finger toward the glass. “T-teff y-you,” she managed to get out.
“What do we do with her now?” asked Quig, wiping the vomit from his lips.
“Kill it,” said Kai. “It’s dangerous to let them live. We must incinerate the body until it is ash. Then grind it up and mix it with iron filings, and then dump it over water. It is the only way to be sure.”
“Damn!” whispered Ophelia, giving Kai a stunned look. “You must have ice water in your veins archer.”
“My race has dealt with this type of fae before,” replied Kai emotionlessly. “They are merciless opponents, and highly dangerous despite their size. We do not suffer them to live.”
Quig stared hard at Kai. “Wow,” was all he managed to get out. Noticing that his breath smelled of vomit, he added, “I really need a mint.”
“I’m afraid Kai is probably right,” said Kamboolii. “As much as it pains me to kill a prisoner under these circumstances, I believe that it would be a mercy to her consider how badly burned she already is. She cannot hope to survive.” He stroked his beard and pulled a bottle of Lord Maelron’s brandy from under his robes. “I assume, little faery,” he said, taking a swig, “Ah! Er, that is I’ve been assuming all along, that you are a servant of Lord Maelron and you cut the drovers to slow us down. He must be planning on intercepting us. I’m also going to assume that you are soul-bonded to him. As I recall, when that bond is broken on your end, then your soul will go to him instead of the other way around, am I correct?”
“And, considering how powerful your soul is, that amount of energy flowing into Maelron may kill him, is that also true?”
“NO!” she screamed. “If you k-kill me, M-Maelron will become more p-powerful than you can p-possibly imagine!”
“I doubt that.” Kamboolii looked at Kai and gestured with his eyes toward the others. “Get them out of here. Wait for me on deck.”
“Come on,” said Kai, opening the inner door. “Let’s leave the ArchMage to his work. You’re not going to want to see this. It’s going to be ugly.”
Once they’d left and Kamboolii was alone in the cabin with the faery, he poured himself a glass of the fine brandy and produced a cigar. Lighting it with his thumb and taking a puff, he blew the smoke at the broken overturned bottle.
“I apologize for burning you,” he said to the faery. “Really, I do. That was completely unintentional. And I also apologize for having to kill you. There just isn’t any other choice. I want you to understand that. This isn’t personal, it’s just business.”
Denae closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. He was going to kill her! She didn’t doubt him. This was an execution. She was about to die! After all the things she’d done, and all the work she’d put into Maelron, patiently tolerating his shit with the knowledge that someday she would get to eat his soul, and now it was all going to be wasted. Maelron would get her instead of the other way around. And her death was inevitable at this point. She was burned all over. Even if she got out, she wouldn’t live long. This was it, the end of her existence. It had been too short, but if she were going to die, then she wanted to go out with a bang. The least she could do was have her revenge on this old teffer.
Forgetting her panic and her pain, she focused on her power. That was the only thing that mattered now. She had to let it out. Pushing back the terror, she forced her mind into eotraa, the state of kandriss. Opening the barriers, she threw back the floodgates of power, not trying to harness it in any way, but simply to unleash it, every last bit she could muster.
Through the pain, or rather because of it, Denae succeeded.
Multi-colored chaotic energy burst out of her body in a spherical zone of absolute decay and destruction. Expanding swiftly, the sphere corrupted the bottle she was in, shattering it into tiny pieces that further cracked into shards the size of sand grains. Holes of rot appeared in the chart below her, and the table creaked and groaned.
Kamboolii, seeing what was happening, cursed himself for waiting too long. Lowering his staff, he fired a full-fledged bolt of lightning at the faery. Now he was going to pay for being sympathetic. He should have killed her more quickly instead of taking the time to explain himself. Holding the bolt, the cabin was washed in flickering lights from all the power being unleashed. Shadows appeared and vanished in cadence with the crackling lightening arcing from the silver ball on the end of his staff.
“AaHHrr!” he growled, maintaining the twisting arc on the center of the growing energy sphere. Kicking the chair from beneath him, he back-peddled in an effort to keep out of the expanding sphere of decay. But the multicolored ball continued to grow, encompassing the entire table and part of the floor. Abruptly, the table collapsed, followed by the floor beneath it, sucking the faery and all the decayed matter out of the cabin. Vanishing into the large hole, the sphere of destruction was gone. Without anything to fire on, the lightening from the mage’s staff ceased, leaving Kamboolii standing there on the edge of the ragged precipice staring down into the void below. Clouds swept over the Kuduu, and he thought he saw the sparkling ball of light disappear into one of them.
She was gone.
Stepping awkwardly backward, he swore to himself in several ancient languages. The airship’s base deck had been composed of steel. They were constructed to withstand ground fire. Despite this, the death faery’s magic had still corrupted the metal, which was somewhat shocking to Kamboolii. Metal was typically a weakness to these creatures. He would not have assumed that the Thandraxis Megamorticus could over overcome that limitation. Perhaps it was only in death that they could do so. He would remember that. In any case, the metal had been corroded, as if by rapid rusting, and had fallen away. They would no longer be able to use the Captain’s cabin as a refuge, and they’d lost their charts. Not to mention the two droving balloons, the table, and one of his best cigars. It had fallen out of his mouth. He should have bitten down harder.
Blast it all. He’d screwed up again.
Climbing carefully around the edge of the hole, which took up most of the center of the room, he went back out the two hatches and onto the main deck where the others were waiting. They looked up as he came out.
“Is it done?” demanded Kai. “You killed it?”
“Er, hm… yes, I’m fairly certain it’s dead,” he concluded. “But I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”
Roki, who was stuck with her hand on the Ka extractor at the aft end of the deck, shouted to the group from where she was seated. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Kamboolii yelled back. “Everything’s fine. How are you holding up? Is the ship getting heavy for you yet?”
“No, but we lost two of the drovers. We’re moving slower now.”
“Bummer that,” he muttered, looking back to Kai. “We may not make it by nightfall. Is there any other way we can increase our speed?”
“You’re asking me?” she said quizzically. “I don’t know anything about airships. You should ask the slaves. They’re still sleeping in the hammocks. Even with all the commotion, they didn’t wake up. I’m concerned that their sickness may be killing them. But what about the faery?” she insisted. “You DID kill it Kamboolii?”
“I’m almost positive that it has perished.”
“What happened,” Kai demanded. She crossed her arms and gave him an insistent look. She wasn’t going to let him ignore the question.
“Er, it managed to dissolve a hole in the floor while I was hitting it with lightening. That’s why we can’t use the cabin. Don’t go in there, big hole, very dangerous.”