328: Voulez-Vous Trébuchet Avec Moi?
Fire was one way to get people off the ship, but they still weren’t keen on finding refuge on the island. Both ships had boats they could lower into the water and row away, but it was no short trip back to Gorgoth.
Spears were still being thrown at us, but the big ship was the main target. Its sails, which were lowered, were merrily ablaze. Various other fires were taking hold all over the side of the bigger vessel, not helped by the buckets of water the crew insisted on chucking around.
Flames erupted every time they were hit by water, spreading the fire a little more. The sailors tried beating the flames with empty sacks, but that just meant they were now waving around burning sacks. Say what you like about the guys in loincloths, they had their flame game on point.
My ship’s crew were faring a bit better. Wherever the fire caught, sailors chopped out the offending part of the boat with axes, and threw them overboard. The sea managed to smother the spitting flames as they drifted towards the shore. But more spears were landing all the time, and the flames were spreading.
They brought out Mrs Somya from below decks, and she wasn’t happy. Her arms were filled with kitchen utensils she refused to leave behind. If we did end up on the island, at least the cannibals would have the tools to broil and baste us nice and evenly. Three sailors had to practically carry her towards the rowboats being lowered into the water, as she reached back, crying, “My baby, my baby.”
I hadn’t seen any toddlers on board, but then, as we know, I’m not very attentive to my surroundings. This, I felt, was my chance to get in good with the ship’s cook. Despite my poor observational skills, I still recognised Mrs Somya as a pivotal figure among the crew. She was also the only one who was alive. But mainly it was her ability to get any crewman, including the captain, to do what she wanted. She was the person they would drop everything to protect, I could sense it. Some people are just like that. Everyone knows it the moment they enter a room. They matter more than you do.
I took a deep breath, which was probably not the wisest move with all the smoke and fumes surrounding me, and left my body. I was getting so good at it, I didn’t even need to think about how to do it anymore, I just did it.
Once I was out, everything stopped. The flames were like glass sculptures, red and orange, but with a tinge of green. Whatever the islanders had used to make them so incendiary, it was powerful stuff. I’d have to ask them for the recipe while I was marinating.
I took a close look at the cook, examining her vines that went off in all directions, but I paid closest attention to the ones that went down into the hull. Whatever she had left behind, I would find and return to her. She would see me as an angel, and when things went south and I had no one to help me, she would come to my rescue.
You think I don’t know how this shit works? You have to plan ahead for good luck to fall in your lap. Androcles knew what he was doing when he pulled that thorn out of the lion’s paw. Probably spent weeks going around looking for lions to help (after liberally tossing around as many thorns as he could find).
It wasn’t hard to spot the vine glowing more intensely than the rest. I could have chopped it off with my once again shiny sword, which might have helped her stop fretting so much, but what good would that do me? I floated down into the ship, following the vine.
This was the advantage of my power. It could lead me to whatever I wanted to find, as long as I knew what I needed. Which, admittedly, usually I didn’t.
The vine led me towards the galley, making me think it was probably an old frying pan she’d had since she was a little girl. Who doesn’t remember their first wok with fondness?
If that’s all it was, though, I wasn’t going to bother. I was hoping it was some family heirloom, a locket with a picture of her dead child that meant more to her than all the gold in those places where people inexplicably value shiny yellow metal.
But the vine went past the galley, down the narrow corridor to a door. No problem for me, of course. I floated right through without even knocking. I blame the islanders, their lack of manners was catching.
The room was very small, barely big enough for the bed crammed against one wall. The only other piece of furniture was a battered chest of drawers, which the vine went into.
I couldn’t open the drawers — I was unable to touch most things in this state — but I could stick my head in, make a light, and have a look see. But when I did that, I couldn’t see much. There was a white cloth over the contents, and trying to look under it was confusing.
Whatever she had left behind, it was here. And it seemed pretty important from the way she’d been going on.
I returned to the deck. As soon as I took control of my body, I said, “Everyone get in the boats, I’ll be back in a minute.” I gave them a small salute with my wooden sword and hurried into the lower deck.
No one tried to stop me. No shouts of, “No, you can’t, it’s too dangerous.” No mention of the sword and shield that had materialised out of nowhere. This was my true power. The ability to extract zero fucks from all those around me. Once all this faffing about on the open sea was over, I had a successful career as the invisible man ahead of me.
I made my way to the cook’s cabin and opened the door and went in. The chest of drawers was as I’d left it. But it was locked.
It was getting quite smokey below decks, but most of it seemed to be drifting across from the bigger ship, which I could see slowly burning down through a porthole. The smoke blew straight into my face.
Without my time-stopping powers the universe had returned to its regular job, which mainly consisted of trying to irritate the fuck out of me.
Choking and coughing, I rattled and yanked at the drawer. Then I used my dagger to gouge a hole in the top part. I managed to get the tip of my sword into this gap, and then used it as a lever to jimmy the drawer open. I thought the sword was going to snap at one point, but it just bent a little before the drawer flew open, almost falling onto the floor.
I grabbed the cloth and put it over my mouth to keep the smoke out. In the drawer was a doll. It looked exactly like the captain. Down to the outfit, the hairstyle, even the grim look of dissatisfaction on his face.
I was pretty sure they were mother and son, and if this was some way to remember him (he was dead after all), then who was I to think of her as a silly old woman? I took the doll and headed back up.
I planned to return the doll to her without making it seem like I expected anything in return (even though I most certainly did), and at the same time make it a memorable moment that would pop into her head when I was deep in the shit, and she was my only hope. Piece of cake.
Things had moved along while I’d been gone. The bigger ship was sinking and the waves it created had turned the Eternal Infinite to face the island.
A lot of the other ship’s crew were now on ours. The big ship was leaning heavily to one side, and men were jumping in the water to get over to our slightly less on fire ship.
Captain Somya’s crew were busy taking down the rigging and preparing to lower the mast. Our ship’s mast was on a hinge that could lay it flat, which would also make it less of a target to aim at.
“There aren’t enough boats,” said Edman. “I assume you’ll be going down with your ship, Captain.” He didn’t look like he was going to head back to go down with his, though.
Edman’s ship hadn’t managed to get any boats in the water. We had two, but on the other side from his ship, so his men hadn’t climbed into them. Edman seemed like he was going to take them both.
“Let my Ma go,” said Captain Somya, not at all emotional.
“I think we’ll take her with us. Best thing if we make sure she’s safe.”
There was no mistaking what was really going on. To ensure he’d get the rowboats, he was taking Mrs Somya hostage. He thought we wouldn’t dare attack him if he had her in his clutches. She was standing next to him, and the cold look on her face made me suspect someone behind her had a sharp object placed in a sensitive spot. She was surrounded by Edman’s drenched men, more of whom were clambering aboard. There were maybe twenty of them on deck already, all armed with short swords and low morals.
And Royn had found his way to Edman’s side.
“Let her go,” I said, pointing my wooden sword at him.
He was moving towards the side of the ship, ready to jump off and get into our boats. He looked at my sword with disdain. Or possibly confusion.
“We’ll have to leave the matter of the treasure to another day,” he said.
I turned to Captain Somya. “Stop the men lowering the mast. Make it so you only need to cut a rope or two to make it drop onto the deck.”
“That will break the hull,” he said.
“Do as I tell you, Captain.” Ooh, look at me all in charge and stuff.
He gave me the slightest of nods. I turned back to Edman. I took out the doll and tossed it to Mrs Somya. “You better hang onto this.”
Her eyes widened with surprise as she caught it. “How—”
“Hold on, I just need to take care of this first.” See? Piece of cake.
I left my body. Everything stopped. Now came the tricky part.
The mast was at least ten metres high, maybe more. I’m not the greatest at guessing heights and weights, but I was pretty sure it was tall enough to move 90kg at least 300m.
Captain Edman was more than 90kg, but the beach was less than 300m, so… close enough? Only one way to find out.
I had managed to use the black goo that joined things together in the adjacent world to attach objects in the real world. It was difficult to get it to stretch without snapping, though. And I’d never got it as far as ten metres. First time for everything.
It took a while to find the biggest deposit on Edman’s body. Turned out to be under his feet, sticking him to the ship’s deck. I teased out a strand, picking it out with my sword which was ideal for the task, and then began the slow process of stretching it to the top of the mast.
I’m not a big fan of long drawn-out procedures. Yes, you can achieve some amazing things if you put one foot in front of the other over and over. There are great works of art that took years to make. Every video game that looks amazing took hundreds of hours of tapping on a keyboard.
As humans, we have the capacity to do very hard things even when there’s no point to it. Never mind if it was worth it, look how hard it was!
I can’t say I’m one of those humans. You climbed the mountain because it was there? What a coincidence, that’s the exact same reason I didn’t climb it.
There should be a very good reason for losing yourself to tedium. And in this case, I felt I had one.
I don’t know how long it took me. Several hours? Days? It was a kind of a labour of hate, which is much more powerful than any labour of love. Eventually, I had a long thin string of goo stretching from Edmans feet to the crow’s nest.
The feeling of satisfaction was immense. I mean, it wasn’t worth it just for that feeling, but since I’d already made the effort, it was nice to get a buzz from it. I lowered myself into my body. My audience was watching me from in there, but neither said anything.
“Okay, Captain, chocks away.”
Captain Somya didn’t look eager to follow orders, but he did anyway. Edman watched, a little perplexed. From everyone else’s perspective, the time from when I told Somya to wait for my order to when I’d given the order had been more or less instant. No time for anyone to react.
The sailors cut the last of the ropes. The mast fell forward, smashing into the deck. Edman went flying into the air.
I waited until he was at the top of the arc, and then I froze things again. I floated up, and cut the goo umbilical cord with my sword. I went back down, and he went soaring through the sky.
Now, you might think the chances of me getting my calculations exactly right so Edman would land on Omaha Beach like the 1st Infantry Division was more or less non-existent. Well, joke’s on you, I didn’t make any calculations.
Of course, repeatedly stopping and starting time to make adjustments, pulling on goo strings to line him up, pulling on his vines to stop him overshooting the beach completely, would be very tiresome and make the whole thing seem very banal, so let’s pretend it was a lucky first try. Because when does good fortune not smile down on me?
Edman screamed as he flew through the air. The people on the ship were too stunned to remember they were supposed to jump overboard. The people on the island couldn’t believe their luck.
He landed at their feet with a splat. It turned out the rumours of cannibalism weren’t exaggerated after all. They pounced on him, teeth first.