Moments later, the intercom once more crackled into life as Sleepy swore. A screech unlike any other rocked through the air. It was as if a thousand thunderbolts had descended upon the ship and the sky was angry. “This is behind us”. The young woman said. The fear she was feeling was palpable, and easily audible, even over the foreign, almost bestial, screaming. As she spoke, screens of water rose all over the ship. They showed one image, that of a giant storm front approaching the vessel. What scared Sleepy was the giant snake leading the storm, screaming its lungs out at its child now slung across its back and at the ship that dared to injure its spawn.
Jonas swore. “You idiot Yannis. That was a damn baby maelstrom snake and you had to kill it didn’t you?” He punched his first mate in the face. “You had to be the big man and try to take control of the ship didn’t you?”Punching him again he spat on the man. “Now you’ve got us all killed. Well done”. He rubbed his eyes and pried the intercom stone from Yannis’ attached hand. “Sis, is there any way you can increase the speed of the ship?”
Sleepy’s voice crackled throughout the ship. “I can transfer some of the wind batteries to the movement array, but if I do that things may get both loud and hard to breathe. We don’t have that many wind arrays on Rosie”. Jonas swore again. He moved to check the rest of the crew members sprawled around the bridge and began moving them towards the side of the room.
“Laurence, are you going to help me or are you just going to stare at that damn snake all day?” The sound of someone saying his name snapped Laurence out of the stupor he was in by seeing the snake. It was the biggest thing Laurence had ever seen, so he was slightly enthralled by it, but he was able to break himself away to start helping. He quickly grabbed three bodies and moved them out of the center of the room, leaving Jonas and Yannis slightly open mouthed at the strength the boy possessed. “Kid, are you a Golden Child?”
“Yes. I’m one of the Golden Children of the Absolution clan, a Saint ranked practitioner of the Book”.
Jonas whooped in joy. “The reason why a maelstrom snake is such a terrifying existence to us is that at at the point it reaches adulthood it becomes an extremely powerful pseudodragon Saint-beast. If we have a Saint with us, then the damage to the ship itself may be large, but we have a chance to survive”. Jonas stopped for a moment and began to move the last of the bodies out of the way. “Attention crew”. He said, grabbing the intercom stone once more. “I need all hands in the bridge or the engine. We are going to be cutting off the air supply to the rest of the ship, so if you are not in those places you will die. We will also need as many hands as possible to control the ship thanks to Zoo’s dumb decision to shoot at what turns out to be a baby maelstrom snake.
“You have two minutes to get to either the bridge or the engine. Go!”
Almost immediately the majority of the crew piled into the bridge from just outside, where they had been lurking and watching the events unfold. Now that their lives were in danger they banded together quickly, moved into combat positions and began grabbing for anything they could that would prolong their existences. The ship began speeding up, desperately trying to outpace the approaching wyrm.
The snake had obviously been watching its child play around, assessing the speed of the vessel in case anything happened that it did not expect. Originally the ship could be caught up with ease by the snake, but when the ship sped up fourfold the beast could not help but scream out in rage. Everyone on the ship could tell that the snake wanted for the ship to pay for what it had done to its spawn, and these screams of rage only hammered in the point more that they had made a huge mistake.
“Jonas, I have some bad news”. Sleepy’s voice crackled into life over the intercom. “I’m pushing the batteries as much as they will go, but I don’t know if they will last until the next major continent at this speed. Rosie was not meant to move this fast, there’s simply too much of her”.
“Just how long do you think she will last?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a day? I have Xuchi working out how far away we are from the next continent, but I don’t hold up much hope that we will actually have the batteries to get there”. There was a pause, then moments later the intercom crackled into life again. “I just had an idea. Laurence, you said you had several stones that possessed wind elements didn’t you? Please, bring them to the Engine. The more you have, the more likely it will be for us to be able to get out of this alive”.
Before even being ordered to do so Laurence moved out of the bridge and sprinted back towards where Sleepy was situated, inside the engine of the vessel. He pulled a small stone out of his bag of holding and stuffed it in his mouth before leaving the room. The stone was a soft white colour, one that people did not recognise, but since he had revealed himself as a Golden Child they had no doubt it was simply a peerless treasure. The moment Laurence left the floor of the bridge the stone in his mouth began working, supplementing him with a supply of non-dangerous air. The air itself was not too dangerous to the layman, but with the filtration and restoration systems in the ship turned off it quickly returned to its very low natural density. A density far lower than normal people could deal with. Laurence would have been fine, but he realised that the people on the ship would want him to fight the wyrm following them so he attempted to keep himself in the best condition he could. It was for this reason he took out a stone of air and used it as a simple air production and filtration system of his own.
He took the stone out the moment he entered the engine room, and saw the flashing lights and straining arrays, as they battled to keep the ship faster than the beast it was being chased by. Many of the batteries that had been brightly suffused with energy mere minutes before he had left were now dimming at an uncomfortably fast rate. It was distressing to watch them go down, and he began to realise that Sleepy’s prediction of a day was a very optimistic one, and would possibly cost the lives of everyone on the ship to pull off.
He saw Sleepy in the middle of the room, mana paths wrapped around her in abandon as she rewired things at break-neck speed. On the far side of the room was the navigator, Xuchi, staring into one of the water screens intently. He looked up at Laurence as he arrived and gave a wan smile. Things were not looking good, and the ominous shaking that had just begun did not make things seem better.
“Sleepy, I think I know how long we have until we get to the next island”. He said, pausing in dread. “I think we have three days at this speed, but I don’t know if the ship can even last that long at this speed. It wasn’t built for it”.
“I know, Xuchi”. The distressed engineer growled at her friend. “We have to do something though, I can’t just die like this. I refuse to!”
“Will these help?” Said Laurence, throwing her a small bag. Inside the bag were thirty tornado diamonds, each one the size and shape of a small grape but brimming with vibrant windy energy. Every single one was like a storm trapped in a bead, bursting to get out.
When Sleepy saw the stones she nearly dropped everything, which would have killed them all, undoubtedly. Instead she screamed with joy, managed to get hold of herself and begin quickly swapping out the dead batteries that surrounded her feet, reattaching the stones to all the separate arrays that they were to become key parts of. The batteries before could be barely considered Earth classed items, but with Laurence’s reshaping the tornado diamonds were as close to Saint tier as they could be without actually crossing over the boundary.
The ship ceased the shuddering it had just begun doing, but the effect was noticeable. Even when they had been travelling safely the ship would shudder slightly from the power draw, but now it was so smooth that there was near to no turbulence whatsoever. It showed a drastic difference in the quality of the batteries used. With just those twenty new batteries, all the element lacking arrays and wind based arrays were reignited with a fervour that was positively electric.
The crew collectively breathed a sigh of relief when Sleepy said they would be able to get to the island in less than a day thanks to the new batteries. A lot of them began laughing at their collective terror from the state the engine was in, but the laughter soon stopped. They were not out of the woods yet.
When the maelstrom snake saw the ship pick up speed once again it could not help but scream out again. Its wild wrathful cries spread out and stunned the crew of Rosie’s Demise into sobriety. They were definitely not out of the woods just yet. As the ship sped up so did the wyrm, the cat and mouse chase that had been happening for over a week going from dangerous to deadly proportions. The crew of Rosie were riding a giant bullet, and if they hit anything big enough to stop them then it would become very difficult to tell where the ship ended and the crew started.
Jonas’ voice crackled into being as the beast approached, “Laurence, I am so sorry that we have to burden you with this as well, but would you be able to defend the ship from the snake until we can get to land? If we can get to land then perhaps we will be safe”.
“Can you do it, for a whole day?” Said Sleepy, her brow furrowed with worry. “I mean, I know you must be from a big family, especially seeing as you just gave us twenty batteries of incredible power, but I don’t actually know how strong you are”.
“It’s okay Sleepy. I’m what you call a Saint, a Golden Child of the Absolution clan, and Yun is as strong as me”. Sleepy could not help but widen her eyes in astonishment. Finding out that a child was a Saint was incredibly rare, but not unheard of. Finding out there were two on the ship at once was mind blowing to the woman. She just stood watching her young friend leave the engine like a deer in headlights before slumping on the floor out of a combination shock and stress.
Shakily she turned her head to look at Xuchi and said “You know what, Xu? I think we will be alright”.
Brother, I need you. Laurence sent to Yun as he left the engine. He had no confidence that he could fight against the giant snake on his own, but with Yun and Louisa there he was almost certain of his victory.
Brother. He heard in response. Mate and I follow. Direct us. It had taken months for Laurence to get used to the mental communication that Yun had gifted him, but now they could talk together no matter how far away from each other they were.
He had originally thought it was to do with the tattoos that had bound the two of them, but Yun thought otherwise. The wolf boy had a certain amount of innate knowledge, things that would be considered instinctual if they were simpler, and he knew from his birth that there was a certain kind of bond that could be formed between two people. It gave Yun an increase in potential and the ability to speak the human language of the tower, while Laurence it gave increased mana and the ability to converse like a tigerwolf.
Outside. We hunt snake. His grasp on the grammar of the wolf was lacking to say the least, but the speed that he was picking it up was faster than he expected. The language itself was one of experiences and imagery, less structured words and more impulses through sense data. It meant that each sentence was beautiful and clear but retaining knowledge in the language was nigh on impossible.
Walking up each step to the roof of the ship, Laurence could not help but begin to get excited. The rush of adrenaline, the fear, the excitement, it all bubbled up to a point in him then stopped. It was a fever pitch that never quite broke the surface. There was something in him that seemed to cut him off from the world when he got too excited about combat. He had seen it time and time again in himself since that fight with the orik on the first floor, but it was not something he could stop. In the end he had begun to become numb to the sensation of the cut off. It no longer worried him or confused him, he was numb to that too.
Each step he took towards the coming battle allowed him to transform from the inquisitive child he was normally into the heartless killer he became out of necessity. The switch over always seemed quick to the people around Laurence, but it always felt like an age to him. His pulse slowed down and the adrenaline ceased rushing. Colours became muted and almost greyed out entirely to the boy. His emotions began to quieten until they were basically nothing more than sounds in the wind. He was one with his self preservation instinct, his sight was clear and sharp but uncluttered. He was ready for war.
He took the last step out into the daylight and emerged from his transformation with his small smile that never quite reached the eyes. The wind whipped by and pressed his long hair forwards as he looked at the wyrm riding the air currents behind the ship. It was far larger than he thought, simply dwarfing the ship Laurence stood on. From end to end it was about five times the size of its child, coloured pitch black and sheathed in blue lightning.
When the maelstrom snake saw Laurence come out of the ship, it could not help but let out a bellowing, guttural laugh. It sounded like sheet metal being pushed through a wood chipper and was so loud that even Sleepy and Xuchi in the engine could hear it unaided. It could not help but let out the sound, seeing the man-child come out as if to fight it.
When it saw another boy and a girl come out and stand beside the first boy it felt a strange sense of impending danger. Somewhere in the deep recesses of the wyrm’s mind there was a memory of a memory, something likely inherited, that warned against harming or fighting children that gave off the aura that those did. There was something truly uncanny about the children, but it was not enough to deter the snake. They had hurt its child, and now had to pay.
The beast sped up once more, nearing the ship. It intended to finish this in one swift action, ramming through the ship itself. If the ship was destroyed then unless the children could fly out defy gravity they would fall to their deaths. It would be hit by debris but that was inconsequential. They had to pay.
The three Saints watched as the beast edged closer and closer. Its maximum speed was not much faster than the ship was going, but it was faster. They only had a minute to prepare before the wyrm was upon them, but their preparations only took seconds. Yun called out to his needle, Onyx, and immediately grew it into the length of a sword while Louisa bergen shrinking and growing wings. By the time she was finished she was barely bigger than Yun’s palm and hovered above the wolf boy’s head, her foot long gauze wings flickering just faster than the human eye could catch. They were a mismatched little group but still managed to produce an unimaginable pressure and sense of danger towards the snake.
The snake screamed once more and dove towards the children, sending multiple sonic booms in its wake. It moved uninhibited until Laurence raised his left hand and let out a flash of light. Inklight span out of his hand and sped towards the beast, the rope of light undulating like a serpent towards the snake. Within an instant inklight had reached its target and pierced into the maelstrom snake’s eye. It was the one spot that Laurence could see which was not covered by the creature’s thick scales, so he naturally aimed for it. Even if the creature blinked he assumed that the beam of light could just about puncture the skin. The wyrm writhed at the sharp pain coming from the beam of light that had struck its eye. It writhed in pain at the feeling of the incision into its eye and nearly threw the smaller snake off its back in the process.
The snake let out a deafening high pitched screech before trying to pull the rope of solid light out of its eye but inklight would not budge. Even when Laurence covered his ears from the cry of pain from the snake the tension did not lessen. The rope was stuck fast.
The boy took a chance and tried to pull the snake in by its eye. He heaved and pulled but to no avail. The combination of the weight of the eye and the different speeds that the ship and snake were moving at made actually pulling the snake closer nigh on impossible. To add insult to injury, the snake had closed its eyelid and was gripping onto it for dear life. It could not bear either option it had been dealt, but in its pain addled state saw an opportunity. It pulled as Laurence pulled and with its monstrous strength, the boy was pulled into the air.
Laurence felt his body suddenly leave the ground of the ship and arc into the air. He gasped in shock as the ship quickly moved away from him. For a moment there was nothing but space below the boy. Thousands and thousands of miles of yellow stretched from and to either end of the horizon. The only colours other than the yellow of the sand was the soft blue of the sky and the deep purple-black that made up the snake’s storm.
As the ship sped further away, Laurence shook himself from his stupor. The void descended once more and he finally saw a single way out. He severed the flow of mana to the beam of inklight pulling him away and fired off a second tendril. The ship was fast, but inklight was faster. It hooked round the railing that stood affixed to the top of the vessel, normally stopping people from doing what Laurence just did, and the boy began pulling himself out of the abyss.
Laurence was not out of the woods that quickly, however. In the second and a half that Laurence had been off the ship it had travelled almost four hundred meters away from him, which meant he had to climb that in high winds to get back to safety.
Just behind him the snake raged and roiled. It was in pain, worried about its child and angry at the ship before it, so brazen as to harm the great beast and yet still able to survive after doing so. In the end it screamed out and tried to eat Laurence. If it could not quite get the ship, it would take the life of the child that managed to injure it. It dove towards the boy and opened its mouth, bearing a deep red tongue and lightning sheathed teeth to the world.
When Yun saw Laurence in danger of being eaten he could not help but roar out in rage. Brother! He sent through the sky, Brother, behind you! Laurence looked behind him, but there was very little he could do to avoid the beast. It loomed as it reached him and swamped him in shadow. The lightning crackled and saliva dripped by him, singing his flesh and hair. The stench of ozone was everywhere.
Yun roared in rage as he saw the one member of family he actually knew in peril of being eaten. He could not accept it. He would not accept it. He cried out and threw his needle sword at the beast, watching it change in size and shape until it was more of a javelin than a sword. It flew through the sky like a shooting star, and with a little help from the momentum of the ship and the snake, it quickly reached the target.
The snake screamed again as it was injured once more. The javelin pierced through the thick scales and into the pulpy, sensitive material that made up the snake’s nose. The snake writhed as the javelin turned to dust and returned back into Yun’s hands. He looked at the weapon in shock and then threw it out again, aiming for the underbelly of the wyrm this time. It pierced flesh once more and the snake writhed more.
The snake undulated so much that it bucked its child straight into the abyss below. It screamed out and dipped its head then saw the baby maelstrom snake fall to the desolate ground below. It screamed again and dove towards its spawn, ignoring the pain of its eye, nose and belly. Reaching the child before it hit the floor, the snake arced back up into the sky and could only watch bitterly as the ship dashed away into the distance.
Laurence groped his way back to the vessel, each pull taking far more effort than he expected. He realised that although inklight did not consume much of his mana, the consumption rate was starting to take a toll on him. It was distressing, but his mana would run out before he reached the ship with the way he was going. Taking a moment to think about his options he decided that the best way back was to shorten the rope that connected him to the ship. It was a devilishly simple answer to the problem in front of him. He split the rope of light into two strands and wrapped them round the railing and forced them to act like a conveyor belt. Within moments he had arrived back at the ship, safe and sound.
Once he got his bearings he sat down and began laughing uproariously at the situation he had been in. He had been on a knife edge and managed to survive, even though his null state had broken mid-combat. If it had been a fight of equivalent power, then it would have likely cost him his life, and almost did. Yet at the same time he had learned what it felt like to fly and could not get over how good it was.
After Yun and Louisa managed to stop Laurence laughing and he had restored some of his heavily depleted mana reservoir they moved downstairs and begun helping clean up. There was mess everywhere, shattered tables and broken ornaments. Glass was strewn across parts of the floor and had managed to get embedded in some of the walls in the back of the ship. It was like a bomb site.
The moment the snake had left the vicinity of the ship Jonas issued the order for the mutineers to be thrown off the bridge and into the hold. He intended that they would stay there until they got back to civilisation. In the end six men and women, including Yannis, were imprisoned. Three of Yannis’ supporters were able to avoid imprisonment and potential keelhauling because of the fact that they did not take part. It would have been over before Laurence and Sleepy could do anything if they had taken part, but because they did not there was only one death and nine injuries.
The clean up process began once the vessel and the prisoners were secure. The only place in the ship that was not strewn with debris from the turbulence was the living quarters of the ship. By captain’s rule everything was packed securely away before starting a shift for running the ship. It was something that most of the crew found annoying, but now they saw the value in it. The place most damaged was the kitchen. Even when everything had been put away, the cupboards had not been secured and the cutlery, crockery and food had ended up strewn everywhere. Some of the more brittle bowls had shattered and there were shards covering and pricking everything in sight. Jonas just sighed at the sight of broken pots and spoiled food. It was not an entirely new occurrence for the crew to have to clean up shattered things, but the scale was completely different to what they were usually used to.
As the cleaning process progressed, Laurence and Yun were the most valued people nearby. Things seemed to fix themselves around the two boys, so where they walked debris would clear and the surroundings of the ship would repair faster than if they had just let the repairing array on the ship fix the vessel. The boys were both praised wherever they were seen in the ship. Everyone had seen the battle that took place on the screens of water that projected images of the snake. It was nail bitingly tense and incredibly short, but the entire thing left a massive impression on the crew. Two children had scared off a beast hundreds of times larger than themself. They put the rest of the crew to shame with their strength and bravery.
The cleanup itself took around five hours to return everything back into the shape it was before the mutiny occurred. In the end the only real damage that had been inflicted upon the crew was that they had lost a lot of food and that around a third of the crew was incarcerated, with a quarter of the rest of the crew bedridden. They were stretched thin, but the crew could cope. Of the twenty people, there only actually needed to be three people running the ship, a pilot, a navigator and an engineer or arrayist. While they were lacking ten people, the crew had to cycle the necessary roles round fewer crew members which meant longer standing shifts and less time off for everyone.
Laurence went to see Sleepy after he finished cleaning up the bridge. If everything went to plan then they would be leaving the floor in less than twenty hours and they still had things to discuss. From the moment he left the bridge to the moment before he arrived at the engine the boy debated over giving his friend a copy of the Book of Creation. It was a tough call, because it would have to be kept secret else Sleepy would fall into a similar predicament to the one that Jonas had posited. People would pay good money to control someone who could craft, and almost anyone could be persuaded with enough money. In the end he just decided to walk in and let Sleepy decide for herself if she wanted to learn from the Book.
“I can’t exactly stop looking over this, can I?” She said when Laurence walked through the door. “I have to check the arrays every few hours after a new battery has been implanted to make sure that everything is running smoothly. I can’t simply ‘take a break’ like you suggested”. She stopped berating Xuchi and turned round to look at who had entered the engine as she was talking. “Oh hi Laurence”.
“Fine,” Xuchi said, “I’ll let you work. But the moment you get a chance, you rest. Okay? An engineer who is comatose from sleep is a bigger problem than a little turbulence for the next few hours”. Tugging his bandanna, he walked over to the door and walked out, shaking hands with Laurence on his way out.