Chapter 87: Flying Through The Air
Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon!
~ The 5th Dimension, "Up, Up and Away"
I woke in the morning with that deep, stabbing pain in my head. Dazzling lights danced in my vision if I moved, making me feel ill. The slightest sound also touched them off. Sun helped me to a dark and quiet corner, where I huddled in misery.
I still could not help but hear what happened. Hosei set his case before Gandon's wife. He later returned and invited some of us (anyone not chaos-tainted) on a cruise, immediately. He said nothing about our request.
Ignoring my pain, I stood up. I had to go with them. This was our chance to learn as much as we could, our chance to speak with him some more and try to convince him, and to learn how we could steal it if we failed. Since Kyosuke was explicitly not invited, I left the statue in his care. I know I can trust him with it, and to return it for me if I do not come back.
Hosei, Ravena, Caramela, and Sun joined me. Sun kept a careful watch on me, so much so that I could walk through the blinding sunlight outside with my eye closed, leaning on Sun.
Once there, I had to climb up a roper ladder, which I just barely managed. Sun assisted as he could, and I would not have made it without him. I sat on the deck, reeling from pain and nausea. Damned incompetent barbarian bandits. Couldn't manage to kill me decently.
Gandon talked a lot, and I hoped the others were paying close attention. I fought my internal battle with the pain in my head, and the others toured the boat extensively. We had wheeled around and the sun had climbed a lot higher when the pain finally left me, and I was able to look around me a little.
What an amazing thing. It still looked like a boat, but we flew through the air, high above the ground. What a feeling! How fast and comfortably one could travel long distances in something like this! I was full of admiration for these barbarian faeries.
Imagine filling several such crafts with an army -- no long marches through bad weather and mountains. No long sieges outside city walls. Of course, the flip side of that is devising a way to defend against such an attack. I could see ten of these flying diectly into Shira Miyara and dropping off an army right inside the walls. I think a horde of archers might be able to hit and deflate the balloon, thus crashing the craft.
No, either side you were on, war got more impersonal and more horrific. That is why it is important to avoid war in the first place. Once it is inevitable, put everything you have into winning it decisively and quickly. That is best for all concerned and does the least damage to people and to land. War itself is not honorable: one's conduct is.
The cruise ended all too soon for me, and we landed gently in East Egg. Once we landed, Gandon spoke earnestly to us, how his wife explained the whole thing about the storm and how it's a very serious oncoming disaster, and how we believed we needed to use this ship to stop it. But he was very sorry. He could not throw away his and all his people's lifework like that. He felt badly that the empire will be destroyed, but he was confident they would muddle through somehow. He refused to see that the destruction will likewise hit East Egg, and he and his workers, and the Leather Hawk itself. That preserving it will do him no good at all. He left us with no choice but to abuse his hospitality and steal the ship.
I looked around carefully as he left. There had been about ten with us on the cruise, and they had done very little. It looked like you needed one person to run the engine and one to steer it, with a few extra to man the ropes for taking off and landing. As Gandon climbed down the rope ladder, most of the others had already left. Two faeries were fussing around the engine, and one was puttering around in the wheelhouse. Only four ropes held the entire craft to the ground.
I told the others to loiter and pretend interest in things. Sun went to watch the faeries at the engine. The faerie in the wheelhouse left first. Just as the last two left, they turned back and spoke to me, to assure me that the ropes were secure and we were safe, but they would stay with us if we would feel safer. I assured them in turn that we were fine and they could go about their business. They eagerly left. And it was only us.
I called everyone together quickly to brainstorm the best way to accomplish this. We would only get one chance, and it must succeed. Sun said he had paid close attention in the engine room during the cruise, and he was certain he could run the engines, as long as nothing went wrong. He knew how to make it go faster and slower, and start it and stop it. That was enough. Hosei said he could probably steer it: the wheel was similar to a ship's wheel, which was a simple enough contraption. Turn left to go left, turn right to go right. We did not know how they made the ship move up and down, and hoped we could figure it out quickly. Sun went to the engine room, and Hosei to the wheelhouse.
I drew my katana and sliced through one of the ropes. The ship careened wildly, and Ravena and Caramela skidded across the ship's deck and caught themselves on the side before they rumbled off. Ashe came running from the hut and cut ropes with his axes from the ground to stablize it. We each cut the two remaining ropes, and Ashe grabbed hold of one as the ship started to rise. He climbed up, and Kyosuke flew in and landed on the deck.
Kyosuke told me he had left the statue in the White Faerie's capable hands. He will keep it safe, but I reminded Kyosuke that one of us must survive to return the statue. He is certain he will die during this, and if not, he plans to kill himself decently when it is over, if he still has wings. I told him sharply that although he knows I approve, and will be honored to stand as his second, if I do not survive, he must. The statue is a matter of family honor, and its return is more important than we are. He understands, of course. My cousin is an honorable man.
Sun made the engine propel us forward, and we moved ever faster. Hosei discovered that the wheel also controlled our vertical movement: pull back to head up, push forward to go down. Kyosuke watched Hosei as a backup, and Ravena did the same with Sun in the engine room.
We flew over the mountains, and could see the storm ahead of us. We were still too far away to see the hole, but we knew where it was and we headed directly for it. The wind increased as our speed did, and the ropes started to vibrate. We didn't think we were going fast enough to be able to fly without the balloon, and we had to steady the ropes before they shook themselves free.
I grabbed one, Ashe one, Kyosuke one, and Ravena and Caramela tried valiently to hold on to one together. They could not; their rope shook out of their hands, came loose, and whipped around in the air. The ship lurched. Ashe had steadied his, and he called the girls over to just keep his steady, while he recovered the loose rope and tied it back down. Suluruku climbed up over the side of the ship. He, too, had grabbed onto a rope as we climbed into the air. Kyosuke pointed and told him to help Ravena and Caramela steady the rope. He couldn't understand the words, of course, but the situation was obvious, and he did. We got all four ropes steadied again, and the ship ascended through the cloud bank.
We held on tight, and Kyosuke called Ravena and Caramela to back him up on the rope in case he needed to fly out and distract the demon from us. Sun increased the speed, and the balloon finally started to push harder and harder towards the propellor. I yelled above the wind noise that when it came close to the propellor, we would need to release all four ropes at the same time.
A screech split the air, sending shivers down my back. It was the demon that Kyosuke faced before, by himself. Kyosuke signalled to the sisters, who grabbed onto his rope, and he launched himself into the sky. He delayed it only a moment, and the demon closed in with us, moving far faster than Kyosuke could possibly fly. I felt him draw on the Crystal, and he sped up and struck the demon, who dodged and veered up, over the ship.
Now! We each released our ropes, and let go of the balloon evenly. Ashe set it afire, it hit the demon, and a giant fireball went off behind and above us. The demon burst specatacularly into flames, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Kyosuke chased the ship and rejoined us.
As soon as we let the balloon go, the ship began to dive quickly. We weren't moving fast enough! Sun sped up the engines, and we climbed again. It worked, and we could really fly without the giant balloon, just like Gandon said we could. Amazing.
In fact, the ship sped up faster without the balloon slowing it down, and Hosei discovered it was a lot easier to steer.
The fireball had splashed a little fire across the back of the ship and had burned Suluruku. Ravena healed him, and sat down to rest, only a little tired. Then Sululruku's two heads began a violent argument. The Vulture head screamed obscenities at the finch head, calling it a traitor to Tzeentch. He rolled around on the deck, his two head in mortal combat with each other. Finally, he pulled a knife and cut off the vulture head. It thrashed around and cursed us, until I kicked it off the deck. It fell away, still cursing and screaming. Ravena ran to him again, and the finch head said with its last breath, "I did it for you. I don't serve Tzeentch, I follow you..." and he passed out. Ravena healed him completely, and then was very tired and sat down for a while.
We moved directly from one crisis to the next, and now the next one appeared. We heard a very strange sound, sort of a chop-chop-chop in the distance, but getting louder. In front of us appeared odder contraptions than even the one we were in. A swarm of little cart-like things, each one large enough to hold a faerie, with a round blur just above their heads. Much later, I discovered that blur was actually four blades, like a fan, and somehow they whirled fast enough to lift the faeries into the air.
The came closer and closer to us. I wondered if they were here to help us or hinder. Although I was pretty certain of the answer, I had to give them a chance. So I ordered no one to attack them unless they attacked us first.