Saturday, April 24, 2010

the swarm

I could have dispatched the wasp-creatures myself, but the steering mechanism for the Bloodwing's Revenge was so dilapidated that I linked my nervous system directly into the ship to handle the navigation entirely by myself. If I disengaged, the hundreds of gears connected to chart our course would spin out of control. It would take me weeks to recalibrate while floating helplessly at the cloud level.

"YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL AIRSHIP TREATIES! DISEMBARK IMMEDIATELY!", I thundered in my most authoritative tone. I am not sure that they understood human speech, but the amplification of my warning and the glare of my arc-light only served to anger them. They advanced towards me, their wings droning menacingly as they drew their revolvers.

"QLIPPOTHIC! LIGHTS OFF!", shouted Aleister from below deck. I complied, shutting my cranial aperture and surrendering the deck to the absolute darkness of night inside thick enveloping clouds. Perhaps it would be better if I did not see my own demise and and that of the rest of the crew.

I glimpsed the pale blue sparks of enchanted rapiers slicing between an invader's segments. Aleister's fanged scowl hovered in my optic sensors between the split seconds that the cloak of the cloud's total darkness again descended upon the deck. A panicked shot from a wasp-revolver deflected off my shoulder harmlessly.

He seemed to be everywhere at once. There were so many flashes of light that the battle unfolded like a flipping roll of pictures inside a penny-arcade booth. Aleister was soon surrounded by dozen of the wasps, each lunging and slicing the air with four arms clutching straight blades in their talons as long and as sharp as the stingers glistening with venom that curled forward from their abdomens.


In rapid succession the wasp blades - and the chitinous arms clutching them - fell clattering to the deck. Severed sheets of gauzy wings caught their last fight in the airship's wake and vanished. The drones of the wasps with their abdomens slashed open were louder and even more unsettling as they spent in a last series of bitter clicks choking from their bloody mandibles.

Aleister flipped up the shield on a gas lantern built into the deck. He surveyed the carnage of a score of the beasts mangled and twitching in pieces, oozing black liquid across the boards. The vampire examined the tarry substance stretching across his off-hand sword, flaring his nostrils in mild disgust.

"Zis...zis ist ichor. Zey are from der untervurld."

A brass periscope bounced upwards from behind the speaking horn that arched over the ship's wheel. I spun my head forwards again in alarm to see the slitted cornea of Koen's red eye staring back at me through the fishbowl-shaped lens. The universal joint craned past me down at the corpses, and judging from the erratic turns of the lens, Koen was twitching excitedly.

"Their equipment is uniform and customized to their species", I noted as I looked down at a wasp revolver from where it skidded to rest by my ankle. It was little more than a hexagonical puzzle-tube of steel, obviously mass-produced by a race fixated on utility and with no concept of a comfortable grip, since it was of course perfectly designed an exoskeletal claw. "Decidedly not a hodgepdge of human pirates' tools."

"Und zey reek of sulphur...just arrived...zere ist a Hellgate near here!"

The vampire was correct. Even through the freezing winds I could now detect the highly elevated levels sulphur in the atmosphere.

"A hellgate in the middle of a cloud?" chirped Koen. "Don't you need a cave for that?"

"Qlippothic. Climb over der cloud cover."

"Aye, Captain."

I heard a clatter from below deck as I altered course and the periscope dropped. A second later I heard a scrambling of claws and the periscope hopped up again. "Guys..." interrupted Koen as the redundant wheel of the ship leaned towards me on its own accord. "These insects look like Vesprium soldiers, they come from the Great Hive that borders Erebus. But they've never been known to stray from the..." As we broke through the roof of the clouds, the periscope unexpectedly jerked upwards, swerving about unevenly as it scanned the skies. The blanket of stars and the bright artery of the Milky way coated the deck in soft light. Koen's utterance of "Oh...shit..." was barely heard under the deafening buzz.

We erupted from the clouds in the middle of throng of airships, each one dwarfing the Bloodwing's Revenge in size, suspended from hive-shaped balloons, all pointed westward in tight formation. Their courses could be traced back to the hovering red disc burning angrily in the night sky. Even as we watched, another pair of Vesprium ships passed through the portal from the skies of Hell into our own space.

Captain Aleister broke the silence. "Zis ist no pirate's armada, mein an invasion fleet..."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

a hive of scum and villainy

I manned the wheel at the helm of the old skyship at the evening shift. Each time the Bloodwing's Revenge skimmed through a heavy cloud that reduced my visibility to the wheel, it left a sheen of ice on my metallic frame that quickly evaporated from the heat of my internal combustion. A garish brass horn curved over the wheel for the convenience of barking orders below deck, or in Aleister's case give orders to the pilot during daylight hours. I can understand the life of a vampire being a lonely one, but I already had my share of his rambling when I was his thrall.

"...und I must say, Herrin Qlippothic, you are handlink der gallon very vell. Vere did you learn such tings?"

"One of the most fearsome pirates of this age taught me how to handle a ship, Captain..."

I could hear a bit of my pride showing through. Before I met Captain Bohemia I was afraid to even go near the water.

"...and it was easy enough to carry that knowledge to airships. I flew many of sorties of CIRRUS Fire Brigade dirigibles for Caledon."

Indeed, I was used to having an air balloon looming over me as I navigated. Though I never would have used a canvas this vessel used, which was in such dilapidated condition I was amazed it held air at all.

In a fit of nostalgia I accessed my memories of Midnight. She taught me the name of every rope and sail. Leather gloves pressed my brass hands to the spokes of the wheel. Hard to port...Starboard...

I shook my head. Something else was making a wrong noise on the ship. "Captain Aleister? Why are the propellers buzzing so loudly? Do we need more oil?"

"Vas? The propellers are off! Ve are sailink on a strong vind!"

"Then what..."

I heard several sets of legs land on deck behind me. I rotated my head fully and opened the chamber in my forehead, letting my Sephiroth illuminate the fog.

Several human-sized bipedial insects flinched as I blinded them. Their chitin were black and yellow. Their double-sets of wings jutted from their backs like blades in an intimidating X. They wore only leather harnesses, from which they drew their straight blades and pistols...