Late in the morning, the western coast of Farid had given way to the blue expanse of the Khulet Sea. Ever since then the ocean had unfolded before them, as blue as the strange orb that Alriak carried. First Mate Hanbal had plotted their route, across the ocean, across the continental Northern Summan and beyond; far, far beyond to the Feyen Isles and the World Mountain.
It was an incredible journey. “Some ten thousand miles and more, I stopped countin’,” First Mate Hanbal had told everyone he’d seen that afternoon. “Most of it over ocean, although we’ll be a day or two above the Honoros Forest. If we had a Ship’s Magister we could make the trip faster fer sure, but we don’t, and so I reckon we’re three weeks away from the Goddess. And from then it’ll be three weeks back again, before yer ruck with His Majesty, the Sand King.”
The First Mate shook his head in disbelief at the sound of his own words, First Mate Hanbal still wore the King’s uniform after all. Parizade smiled, a melancholy look haunting her eyes.
“I would sooner dash this ship and myself to pieces upon the walls of his Dark Tower,” she said. “Sooner that, than all of you risk yourselves for myself and my husband. The King has held him for all these years, he won’t release him now, not without first taking back me and his cursed ship. And, likely not even then.”
“It won’t come to all that, Princess.” Hanbal tried to reassure her, but he couldn’t hide the doubt from his own voice. “The Captain’ll think of something, yer’ll see. Now then, what’s occurring down there?”
Below them a sleek ship, under the flag of the Red City, was headed south-east. It was almost directly beneath them, some 300 feet or so below the dry hull of The Princess Parizade. Her crew of sibeccai and fairies were frantically securing their sails, grabbing their oars and arming themselves. The reason for their panic, was all too obviously right before them in the water.
A huge turtle, it’s shell almost equal in size to the Seelie ship, had broken the surface of the water less than a hundred feet in front of them. The jagged peaks and valleys of it’s barnacle-encrusted shell looming like an island suddenly in her path.
The turtle’s head, still partially submerged, seemed to nod in satisfaction at the approaching vessel. It’s terrible flippers churned the water around it, suddenly and violently and the turtle dived beneath the surface of the water once again.
From their lofty vantage, high upon the bridge of The Princess Parizade, First Mate Hanbal and the genie could see the dark shape of the turtle make it’s way beneath the water and beneath the boat herself.
“Oh bloody hell, m’lady.” Hanbal said. “That’s a bloody dragon turtle that is, and a bloody great big one, an’ all.”
“Oh, those poor people!” The Princess gasped. “First Mate! Take us down, as fast as you can. We’ve got to help them! I’ll alert the Captain.”
In an instant the genie was gone, a momentary blur of speed before she vanished into the deck below their feet. Ali paced up and down, clasping his hands frantically. He threw nervous glances at the Seelie vessel below, but as the dark shadow of the dragon turtle passed directly beneath her he couldn’t bear to keep watching.
“How are we going to help them?” Ali asked. “Can we land in the ocean? Can we get them aboard?”
The First Mate quickly leaned over the archaic control panel, etching a rune in charcoal, lighting several incense burners and extinguishing others, sliding beads along an abacus and examining a bizarre looking astrolabe.
“We’re not gonna be puttin’ down in the water, Master Ali.” The First Mate spoke in high-pitched excited tones, his antennae were going nuts. “This ship’ll do some amazin’ things, but what it won’t do is float! Unless anyone’s got any better ideas, I reckon you’d want to be findin’ some ropes mighty quick and gettin’ out on deck.”
“Ropes!” Ali shouted, his pacing ceased. “I’ve seen some. Where have I seen ropes? The griffin stables!”
The unassuming merchant raced suddenly from the bridge and down the spiral stairs just as fast as he could. It was precarious going, the First Mate had put the ship into a steep downward arc, Ali was forced to cling to the polished ivory rail as he raced down from the bridge. He almost collided with the young witch, who was climbing up from below decks rubbing at the sleep in his eyes, “What now?” Alriak mumbled.
“Quickly!” Ali fairly screamed. “Ropes! We need ropes! Help me! Follow me! Ropes!”
Ali didn’t wait to see if Alriak would follow. He raced through the kitchen, “Ropes!” Ali gasped at Jamila as he upset the stack of plates she was carrying. They fell with a crash and smashed. Together Ali and Jamila burst into the griffon stables and snatched up the coils of rope that hung from the wall.
The door to the griffon rider’s quarters was open and swinging wildly as the airship continued it’s erratic descent. The Prophet lay on the floor in the doorway where he had fallen when The Princess banked.
“Prophet!” Jamila shouted. The scrawny dark-skinned druid was bleeding a little where he had cracked his head into the door frame; scorpions and a handful of spiders fell from his matted beard as he shook his head trying to clear it.
“What? What?” The Prophet grumbled, barely coherent. He rose to his feet and blinked a few times to clear his head. The blood from his wound dripped down to the tip of his nose. A solitary spider raced across his face to get a taste of it.
“Help me!” Ali had hauled the ropes to the stable doors. “If we can secure these ropes, we may be able to help some of those poor people aboard.”
Alriak and Jamila rushed to help, snatching up ropes and securing them to hooks and posts. Parizade suddenly materialized before the sliding stable doors. The genie arrived in a scouring whirlwind of sand and straw, and threw open the massive doors. The airship had finally righted itself and slowed, they were flying barely thirty feet above the waves, in a tight circle above the doomed Gaia.
Below them was a terrible scene, the dragon turtle had surfaced directly beneath the Seelie vessel and capsized her in a moment, with a single terrific blow. Fairies and sibeccai, merchants and crewmen, floundered in the blue-green waters, others had fallen upon the very shell of the monster, and a very few clung to the wreckage of the ship where it had come to rest upon her side atop the turtle’s shell.
The waters of the ocean raged with the wreckage and detritus of The Gaia, the violence of the turtle’s thrashing flippers, and the panicked splashing of too many sailors. Steam rose with an evil menace from the dragon turtle’s nostrils.
One of the crew members had managed to drive a longspear into the turtle’s shell like a flag upon a conquered hill. It was unclear whether or not the spear had found meat beneath the barnacle encrusted shell, but a small band of sibeccai and fairies had rallied about it. The Master-at-Arms was there, and he raised his trident in salute as The Princess Parizade passed overhead, the three sibeccai, the genie and The Prophet visible in her open bay doors.
“Blue Djinni’s and blue hells!” The Prophet cried, to no one in particular. “Why are you flying so low? That creature will wrench at your ropes and pull you also into the drink if you’re not wise about it!”
“How else are we to pull the survivor’s aboard!” Ali shouted. “They are lost without us.”