Unrest: Part Seven
"Queenmb." Captain Inman inclined his head slightly.
The Tonu guard—Queenmb—did not offer him so much as a glance. Nor did he look at the faeries whispering among themselves, their faces tense. His eyes were set upon Dethrin so unmovingly that one could fancy his eyes were pins and the Zafara was a bug he wanted to transfix to a piece of corkboard.
"What's he doing here?" he demanded of no one in particular.
"He's th' apprentice's brother," one of the pets supplied helpfully.
"I KNOW!" the Tonu raged. "HE WAS THE ONE WHO DID THIS TO ME!"
What then followed was a tidal wave of foul language, accompanied by stomping around the room, knocking over all of the tables and heavy panting, garnished with a dry sob or two.
"I thought 'twas th' faeries who threw you into th' Rainbow Pool an'—"
"HE WAS THE ONE WHO F—"
"There's a ship closing in!" someone called from above. Queenmb cursed one last time and lumbered out, shouting orders.
There were feet moving on the roof above, and panic swirled generously into voice tones. Candles rattled in their holders as the room lurched, and suddenly sped up. "All hands on deck!" called Captain Inman sharply (and somewhat unnecessarily), then, with the help of several other pets, carried a spoon the length of the boat up.
"An oar," Kate said, foreseeing Massie's question. "We'll need all the speed we can get. You stay here!" she added sharply when the Shoyru made to follow her siblings up and out.
The Kyrii sighed and swung open a candle holder to reveal a small peephole. "Now stay," she ordered, and followed the last of the crew out through the barrel opening.
Massie pushed her eye against the hold. She could see a grand ship, flying the colors of Faerieland, closing in. Quickly.
A few dozen archer pets stood in neat rows on various levels, getting ready to shoot. Another dozen held Rainbow Guns that were trained at the sails, the oars, and the mast of the barge.
And, at the bow, were Jhudora, Fyora and several faeries that were probably the best spell-casters in Faerieland.
"Ge' ready!" Massie could hear someone roaring. "Ye heard wha' Mis'er Queenmb said! Sink 'er ship! Snowball an' muffin throwers, protec' our back! Archers, ont' the crow nest!"
Massie couldn't help thinking that if all of the archers could squeeze into the crow's nest, then there had to be a very pitiful amount of archers indeed.
There was a loud bang, a colorful flash leapt across the distance between the ship and the barge, and suddenly Massie had three peepholes. The beam had cleanly punched a pair of holes in the thick wood, and Massie panicked: That could have been me.
Disregarding Kate's instructions to stay, she bolted through the passage and emerged, blinking, into the sunlight.
Captain Inman was flat on his face, a number of snowball/muffin throwers gathered around him in concern.
Massie felt a sob choking her and immediately the boat swayed. Maes saw her first. "Get out of here," she snapped. "Go somewhere quiet and knock yourself out, before you burn this boat down."
Massie turned and ran.
"Yer not hurt, are ye, cap'n?"
The Kyrii raised his head and swept his crew with an incredulous, furious glare. "Get down, you idiots!" he roared. "They're SHOOTING AT US!!!!!"
"Bu' they'll catch up t' us, cap'n!" a Buzz protested, as he flung himself to the floor.
"They won't." Everyone looked around to see Yna and Syldris, linking hands as they took shelter behind several stacked barrels.
Silvery symbols flowered around their joined fingers, and Syldris opened her mouth, a series of piercing notes leaping into the sky.
Answering the fierce, discordant song, the sea behind them shuddered. Ripples and white peaks sprang up across the water and streaked towards the waiting barge.
A moment later, the wind hit. The boat tilted, then picked up speed, eliciting a few reluctant cheers as the wind pushed them along at an incredible speed...
...And abruptly spun around, heading straight for the ship.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" screamed Queenmb. "YOU’RE GOING RIGHT AT THEM!!!!"
"Fyora has faeries aboard her ship too—and they can conjure up a wind just as well as Yna and Syldris can!" Sarle yelled over the wind and the strident notes of the wind song.
"AND HOW IS GOING AT THEM SUPPOSED TO SAVE US?!"
"It'll give you all better shots! Have your crew attack now, Captain Inman—while we still can!"
"Bu'—" a Kacheek started meekly, tossing a Stone Muffin from paw to paw uncertainly.
"DO IT!" shrieked Sarle. "In less than a minute, we will collide with that ship and capsize! Attack NOW!"
The pets looked questioningly at Inman, and he nodded. "Launch the attack," he ordered, and looked over at his wife.
Kate nodded. "Temerarious, go get those feathers. Rash, go with him and bring back as many arrows as you can carry. When we've run out of our arrows, snowballs and muffins, we'll use those."
"Er... 'when'?" asked Dethrin cautiously.
Kate nodded briskly. "Of course we'll run out. Fyora has the entire Faerieland treasury at her fingers; we only have a Conkerberry merchant's income. Besides, most of that will probably bounce right off the shield those faeries are concentrating on making right now."
As soon as she finished speaking, she ducked as a Jelly Muffin struck an invisible barrier around the ship and flew at her, then splattered on the mast.
"You see?" she said calmly, taking the feathers Temerarious handed her and quickly sticking (Dethrin had no idea what the procedure was called) them onto the arrows Rash dumped at her feet. "That's another one of the reasons for my husband's deciding to accept the faeries' offer."
"Er—how does that work?"
"The faeries have been providing us with the means to make our arrowheads for free."
"But where are you supposed to get all the stuff to make arrowheads?"
Rash laughed, plonking a crate of shot at Kate's feet. "These arrowheads are made from—"
Kate shot him a glance, and Rash suddenly discovered that he had a sore throat and walked off, offering arrowheads to everyone.
"It's a long story," said Kate coolly, as she reached into her pocket and produced a bottle of oil.
"You mean a short story you don't trust us with," Raven snorted as she appeared, a large pack filled with feathers draped over her back. "Does this story involve all of the statuettes in Faerieland being stolen or bought?"
Kate's eyes widened in consternation.
"If you don't want people you don't trust to know you've been making weapons in secret, you shouldn't stack rows of metal statuettes portraying Flouds in clusters of three in front of their door and melt them in your kitchen."
Dethrin bent down and picked up an arrowhead. "This one has a nose."
Kate snatched the bullet away, swearing softly. "A freak of the mold."
Massie lifted her head and found herself in what appeared to be a library. Or a storeroom for books.
So much pain... a voice said softly. You want to end it, don't you?...You can, you can...
Massie closed her eyes and shuddered. She remembered the bruise she had left on Dethrin's stomach. The smoking rubble of the houses she had destroyed. The ashy smell of burned Conkerberries. And now, Inman lying on the deck, dead and bleeding, probably.
I have to stop it, she thought. I have to look in the books here. There will be books on how to stop it all, here. Because it has to stop.
Yes, it has to stop. The thought came unbidden, unfamiliar, unexpected.
But Massie wasn't very surprised. She ran over to the first bookcase and started pulling books out.
"Fire!" Jhudora shrieked at the archers, and they did, instantly feathering the little barge with well-aimed arrows. They had broken formation now that the faeries had cast the shield and stood anywhere they liked with impunity, under the aegis of the Faerie Queen.
"Jhudora," Fyora said in the monotone faeries used when spellcasting. "I thought you only planned on capturing Massie. Why are you trying to sink a ship with dozens of innocents aboard."
"They're not innocents, they're harbouring a dangerous criminal, and they're deal-makers with those traitorous faeries you gave me, Fyora! And what sort of a spell are you casting?" Jhudora sniffed at the air. "Seems pretty destructive."
"Spell." Fyora's eyebrows twitched—an attempt to lift. Jhudora wasn't surprised; faeries were often disconnected from their bodies while working magic..."I'm not casting a spell."
...They were also like this when they were possessed.
An Exploding Snowball stopped about a foot away from the ship, slid down and—
"There's a hole in that shield!" Sarle screamed. She gestured, and an aquamarine ring appeared a foot away from the ship, in a direct line to the base of the mast. "Everyone, fire there!"
"Why would they open a hole in their own shield?" Annette asked as she sent a spike of flame at the alleged hole. It did not penetrate, but sparks flared and the area flickered.
"I don't know," admitted Sarle. "It could be a trap. But since there is a weak spot, we might as well exploit it."
Arrows, snowballs, Muffins, rotting Conkerberries, dung and spells rained down towards the weak spot, and enemy fire lessened somewhat, as various archers ran off to find furniture and junk to stack in front of the weak spot.
For a brief period, the chances of being killed or hurt were small, and the people near the front of the cluster suddenly found it possible to have a quick argument about what to do next.
Inman insisted that if the Lupe that ran the Golden Dubloon (along with all customers who enjoyed the newest Conkerberry Grog) knew that the shipment of Conkerberries he had paid good dubloons for knew that the berries were about to sink and never resurface, he would instantly stir up a group of pirates and come to their rescue, to fight for his money's worth, as well as for his good business partner. Everyone else thought it unlikely the Lupe would risk his life and business and go against the Faerie Queen simply to save himself a bag of dubloons.
Dethrin wanted to continue to fight against all odds, risking their lives for a noble, brave cause, so that if everybody perished, at least they would "be remembered as real heroes", and then he would give a touching funeral speech for them all. Everybody found this plan too dangerous, and disliked the part that concerned dying and eulogies.
"But you said that we'd die anyway!" Dethrin protested. "So sooner is better than later! Like, what if we get killed when nobody knows? And—"
Kate cut across Dethrin's vigorous championing of his plan, telling him to shut up and let Queenmb talk.
The Tonu proposed having the faeries cast a shield around their boat and letting the power in Massie loose. Everyone thought that the plan wasn't half bad, until Maes muttered that their shields couldn't hold up against Massie, and even if they could, Massie probably hadn't managed to replenish her power supplies anyway, so any damage to the ship would be superficial, if at all, seeing as the other side's shield was still functioning.
After some stumped and grouchy silence, Kate suggested that she swim over to the ship, with several other volunteers, and poke holes in the underbelly of the ship, thus sinking it. Queenmb was about to voice his approval when Inman gave him a terrible look and asked Sarle her plan.
"I don't have a plan," she said quietly. "And though Ellemel has one, we will not carry it out."
"It can't be worse than dying," Inman reasoned as he fired another arrow at the weak spot. "If it really is as bad as you say, we won't carry it out. But first tell us."
Sarle considered for a moment, then said in a low voice, "Ellemel wants to awaken the Sleeper and give it free rein. She believes that because the Sleeper relies on Massie to exist in a corporeal form, she will not endanger Massie—which would probably mean not damaging the craft she is on, and, also probably, damage those who mean her harm."
There was some silence as everyone digested the plan.
"But then how are we supposed to get rid of Her?" Kate voiced the question in everyone's mind. "What's stopping Her from killing us all and sailing the barge herself?"
"Ellemel believes that, since the Sleeper probably has no experience in sailing, and Massie certainly has no experience, She will withdraw Herself and wait for...what it is that She is waiting for."
"That's a lotta maybes," said Dethrin.
"Oh well." Dethrin shrugged. "We're gonna die anyway, so we might as well give it a try."
And he ran off happily in search of his sister.
"Ca!" spat Jhudora, and closed her eyes, allowing herself to indulge in pointless anger for a moment. But only a moment. Anger was, after all, pointless.
The not-Fyora had managed to wear a patch of shield thin, and Sarle, cursed clever meddler that she was, had instantly noticed and alerted everyone to its existence.
Now the rebel pets were concentrating fire on the weak spot, and in a handful of minutes, the shield would collapse. And the furniture barrier the archers had piled up wouldn't last for more than a few seconds.
She had already tried grappling with the creature in Fyora's mind, but upon invading the Queen's mind had found nothing at all. Literally nothing. And those other faeries certainly wouldn't hurt their beloved Queen.
So, she mused. I've only one option left to me.
"Is that boy serious?" Inman asked, in a voice he was struggling to control.
Sarle laughed mirthlessly. "Oh yes, he is... stay here and continue to lead the attack against the ship—"
"—'continue' to lead?" spluttered Queenmb.
"—Maes, tell Yna and Syldris to stop the wind and conserve their strength, so that we can cast a shield when needed... Queenmb and I will go find the apprentice, hopefully before her brother does. And...all of you should tell everyone else that if that storm cloud starts flashing lightning, they should all abandon ship."
She pointed one arm upwards, and everyone looked up to see the billowing dark clouds, veined with bright blue lightning that no force of nature could conjure.
Massie was losing control; she could feel the magic she had managed to regain sliding from her grasp. Frantically, she thrust her paw into her pocket and flung the chapbook away, yet the words seethed and hissed, jeering at Massie, she who would try and steal their secrets, besmirch their purity with her grubby paws, taint their power with her ignorant eyes.
Knowledge has a price, they cackled. A price!
Massie backed away, opening her mouth to call for help, to scream a spell to burn the book, anything. She wished that Annette were here. She would force the voices from this room, or knock her out so the boat wouldn't sway so...
Black sparks spewed from her mouth, nose and ears; they covered her limbs and danced on her chest. Massie shrieked, and started running, but her body suddenly went stick-straight, elbows and knees vertically locked. Like some sort of clockwork toy, she tottered back, bent stiffly at the waist, placed the chapbook in her pocket, and stepped out of the room, casually igniting the books lying on the floor with a grand gesture, then, once they had dissolved into ash, quashing the flames.
A pleased chuckle bounced through her mind. Very good, Massie.
Who are you?
Oh, you'll know soon enough. Another chuckle, and then a pause. Who is that?
To be continued...