371: Drop the Pilot

A flying ship with wings, not often you see that soaring majestically through the heavens. Quite the sight, I mean, if you ignored the screaming.

No one was expecting the ship to take off, least of all me. The wings were quite large when they were unrolled but very thin and flimsy. You wouldn’t have thought they could lift an enormous boat weighing several tons out of the water and into the air. The sailors on board certainly didn’t think so.

They decided the best way to deal with this turn of events was to start screaming like kids trying to embarrass their parents in a supermarket — full-on tantrum.

It probably didn’t help that the ship’s timbers began creaking and splintering like they were about to come apart. And it helped even less when parts of the mast began falling off.

On the bright side — and you know me, always looking for a glimmer of hope in the midst of the horror that is my life — we easily rose above the tidal wave. Say what you like about the destructive power of giant walls of water, they can’t fucking jump.

Controlling this monster with freshly grafted fairy wings was a Herculean task. You’ve probably forgotten what kind of physique I have, perhaps you assume that with all the travelling around in the fresh air and running away from murderous foes I would have put on a few pounds of muscle. Tight, compact abs, oversized delt to give me that Vin Diesel in a wife-beater look. Sadly, I had been skipping sessions at the gym of late and was still a weedy strip of piss.

The pull on my arms form invisible strands I could barely hang onto was immense. The wings were beating fairly slowly, aiming us up at an angle of thirty to forty degrees, I would estimate, and everything around me was shaking to pieces.

Barrels and crates slid past me, some of them with howling sailors attached. They must have seen some terrible things during their time at sea — a Kraken or two, I would imagine — but apparently a short sojourn into the wild blue yonder was enough to send them apoplectic with terror. It wasn’t like there were sharks up here.

Yes, I know, inb4 attacked by sky-sharks.

“Will you shut the fuck up!” I screamed at the people screaming. “I’ve got this.” It was the sort of baseless claim I could make with great confidence since if I didn’t got this, we were all dead and then what were they going to do? Sue me for misrepresentation of the facts?

My calming and reassuring voice did nothing to calm or reassure them. The screaming continued (a good title for my memoirs, volume two).

Once I’d wrangled the ship over the wave, I felt like I had a little time before the next problem. It seemed to me these nature-based attacks took some time to set up. Of course, it wouldn’t matter how long they took if the ship fell apart first. And if the wings gave out, I doubted we’d be in for a soft landing.

Steering was hard. Simply pulling harder to the left or right didn’t seem to do very much other than to put the hull under more stress. What I really needed was someone who understood the nuances of flight better than me.

The most obvious person would be Richina. These were her wings, after all, so who better to operate them? With the doll controlling her, she could be told where to take us.

This idea struck me as a good one, and we all know where that usually leads.

I got the ship to a decent height and levelled us off. The wings were stretched out and our flight path was steady, sitting us in a glide that didn’t require constant trimming. The sailors had quieted down to a soft whimper, clinging to each other and taking sneaky peeks over the rail to see how far up we were, and then regretting it. The big wave had dissipated and the immediate danger was over. The next danger, the imminent fall to our deaths, had already pulled up and opened its doors, ready for boarding.

I let go of the vines connecting the wings to me and stepped back. The crew couldn’t see the vines, but they knew I was the one controlling things — one of the main causes for the screaming — so they viewed me walking away as some sort of portent of doom. Sailors are a superstitious bunch.

“It’s fine, we’re just going to glide around for a bit, like a big bird, you know, like an albatross.” That probably wasn’t the bird you wanted to use as an example when talking to sailors, but I doubted many of them had read Coleridge.

The ship was holding position quite well but it was going to start losing altitude fairly quickly without me here, and I wanted to go get Richina. I could have sent someone, but the sailors didn’t look like they were going to be able to detach themselves from each other until we were back on solid water.

“Stay here, don’t touch anything, I’ll be right back.”

It’s not often anyone looks at me like they don’t want me to leave, so it was touching how sincerely the crew panicked at my departure. It really meant something.

I ran back into the ship and hurried to the captain’s cabin. The ship did lurch about a bit, but you have to expect a little turbulence when you’re at five hundred feet in a wooden galleon.

I got to the corridor that led to the cabin and stopped. I had a very peculiar premonition that something wasn’t right. It was the kind of creepy feeling you get when you’re alone in a house at night, and it isn’t your house. All sorts of strange sounds and movements in the corner of your eye start to freak you out, even though you know it’s nothing.

“Please, no…” It was a high-pitched feminine voice, so my first thought was Dudley.

“Oh, God!” yelled someone else. “Oh God, don’t do it!”

I should have run in to save the day, but for whatever reason (let’s just call it cowardice) I couldn’t move. The strange thing was that I wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t like I had no way to protect myself, my body just wasn’t used to running towards danger. It’s all very well stating your intention to be a good dependable sort of fellow who will do his utmost to be a proper person, but the moment you look in a mirror and see how skinny your arms are, it kind of takes the winds out of your sails.

If you think I was being ridiculous, I would agree. There were far worse things to worry about than someone shouting on the other side of the door. For all I knew, they were having a big orgy with Dudley and Damicar working through the girls from either end. Now I was really unwilling to open the door.

There was a deeper voice saying something unintelligible. It didn’t sound human, it sounded like an animal in a cave, growling and preparing to launch itself out of the darkness.

It was almost like someone was feeding fear into me. I was untouchable, so that shouldn’t have worked, but I was also ignorant of how my powers truly functioned, so what the fuck did I know?

What I did still have, though, was my common sense. I didn’t have to be afraid of things behind closed doors. Not because I was tough or strong, but because I had an escape hatch always ready.

I left my body and the pressure on me to piss myself eased. Well, it eased back down to regular levels. I floated through the wall, into the cabin, and found myself faced with a tableau that could have been painted during the Renaissance, if HP Lovecraft had been around then.

Richina was standing on the bed, one hand around Laney’s throat. I had left the doll with Laney so she could keep Richina in check, but that appeared to not have worked as well as I’d hoped. The doll was in Laney’s right hand, the vines I’d used to connect it to Richina frayed or broken.

There was also a new vine growing out of Richina’s frozen mouth. It extended to Laney’s mouth, and disappeared down her throat.

The others were positioned around these two, wearing various expressions of horror and revulsion. I was the only one who could see the vines, so what were they seeing?

What seemed clear was that Richina was out of control and that she was doing something to Laney. I wasn’t sure how this related to the fear I’d felt, but the scene I was looking at didn’t unduly scare me. I could handle a little light mutiny, even if Richina managed to get everyone in this room to turn against me. That was the beauty of running with a bunch of hopeless losers — revolts were easy to put down.

I had another look around the room to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Biadet was lying at Richina’s feet, out cold it looked like, while Flossie and Dudley were holding onto Laney’s legs like they were afraid she’d float away.

Damicar was by the door, trying to get it open. Judging by the extreme level of effort on his face, he was having some kind of problem.

There was always the chance there was some supernatural influence involved, but I would expect to be able to see some sign of it. The good thing about the adjacent world was that even the most ephemeral form of influence took physical shape. The bad thing was trying to find it in the sea of vines that covered everything. Everything but me.

I returned to my body on the other side of the door and immediately felt the oppression weigh down on me. However, like an unscrupulous woman’s cleavage, it became much easier to deal with once you knew it was just there to frighten you.

I grabbed the doorknob, ready to smash it apart with my sword if I couldn’t get it open, but found it immediately gave after an initial tug in the other direction. Damicar, in his panic, had been trying to open it the wrong way.

The scene was bedlam as expected. What was less expected was the thick slimy tentacle going from Richina’s mouth into Laney. That part, it turned out, wasn’t an adjacent world vine, it was from right here.

Fairies really weren’t living up to the Walt Disney version I’d been led to believe in (I wouldn’t have clapped if I knew about this). I realise most fairy tales have far more vicious and objectionable origins (as, come to think of it, did Walt Disney) but that’s because they’re mostly German. You expect something unflinchingly horrible from the Germanic imagination, but I was in the land of true fantasy creatures. They could have at least kept their clothes on while they went all third-act Akira.

Whatever was going on here — to be perfectly frank, I wasn’t really interested in finding out the details, pretty much what I would expect, I’d guess — I could have just cut off all the vines within reach when I was here a moment ago and then dealt with the repercussions as and when they caught up with me (good luck with that).

I had decided it would be better to be in the room when I did it, as controlling others by attaching them to me was my new meta.

You want to use this to control her? Let me just reverse those connections and use it to control you.

The vine in question wasn’t what I thought it was. It was very much a solid and unpleasant real world object, and it was making Laney’s throat bulge.

There were a bunch of different options open to me and I had to guess which was the best, or, as I like to think of it, make an executive decision. I left my body and swiped my sword between Laney and Richina to cut the throbbing tentacle in half. It might have existed in the real world, but it existed here, too.

The part attached to Laney shrivelled up. The other end retracted into Richina. I darted forward and grabbed it. The wriggling sensation in my hands was unpleasant. I dragged it across to my body and I shoved it in my own mouth.

What effect would this have? Only one way to find out. I returned to my body.

The tentacle had been cut here, too. Laney retched and vomited up the part remaining inside her.

Richina’s end was now reaching into my real world mouth.

It was like the scene from Lady and the Tramp, only much, much more disgusting (also, come to think of it, like Walt Disney). Richina fell backwards onto the bed, I fell on top of her. She was naked apart from some thin strips of bedsheet, but there was nothing remotely sexual about the situation. Well, I did have her prehensile tentacle tongue in my mouth, but if I’d been French that would just mean I was saying hello.

The sense of fear and terror was huge now, and in my mouth. It made my lips tingle. But my attachment to Richina went both ways. She was trying to take control of me through this appendage, and I was trying to do the same with the adjacent version. The outcome was never in doubt. This was what we trained for.

The slithering in my mouth relaxed, and slipped down my throat, turning to smoke as it went. Richina stared at me through empty, glazed eyes.

The ship shook, like when a plane hits an air pocket, and my stomach dropped inside of me. Now was not the time to throw up Richina’s soul.

“Get up,” I said. Richina did as instructed. “Follow me.”

I led her, and everyone else, up to the deck. The ship was aiming its nose down instead of up, and we were picking up speed as we approached the sea below.

“Take us up,” I said to Richina. She raised her hands and the wings grew bigger. We swooped away from the water and towards the clouds.

There were clouds now, lots of them. In the distance, flashes of lightning. A storm was approaching, sent by the Council, although maybe someone had French-kissed them into submission, too. It had taken them some time to get their act together and launch this next attack, but it was a pretty good one. How did a flying ship avoid a storm?

“Take us higher, over the clouds.” Lightning only aims down, right?

Richina did as instructed. We broke through the clouds and were met by uninterrupted blue. Uninterrupted by nothing apart from the dragons flying towards us.

“Flossie, can you handle it?”

She nodded, then turned to Dudley and exchanged a look. Love? Trust? A promise to be together forever between two soulmates? I wouldn’t know.

Then she ran to the front of the ship, her bottom wobbling as she skipped onto the top of the figurehead — some kind of fish wearing a helmet, I wasn’t really paying attention — and then she jumped off.

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