Chapter Four

In which the plot inevitably commences

“What was that…?” Captain Halloran was wide eyed, and spoke softly. The deep echo of the noise had faded, and everything was still and silent. The helmsman tapped the captain on the shoulder.
“I reckon you should see this, Cap’n.”
Joseph followed the man to the lower deck and saw it immediately. There was a hole the size of a beach ball in the iron hull. The rim of the hole was glowing white hot, molten iron dribbling down the side of the Skysnail. The crew had gathered, shaken by the thunderous crash that had hit the ship along with whatever had punched the hole.

Ominous Hole

“The starboard power wheel is down, Cap’n. The blast took out the main feeder.”

Joseph growled, furious, and scanned the sky for the attacker. There was nothing but clear, empty blue as far as he could see.
“Did anyone see where –” Captain Halloran’s question was cut short by another crash, bigger than the first. The Skysnail was tossed to one side. The two rear sails were suddenly aflame. The flame retardant envelope, thankfully, withstood the heat until the sails had dropped, like leaves curling up as they blazed. The smallest sail was ripped off intact by the blow, and tumbled lazily like a poorly made paper plane through the thick cloud, toward Earth. Four crew members followed, though their landings would not be as gentle.
Joseph was clinging to the metal guard rail on the now much higher port side of the deck. He saw Julian struggling to hold the door frame to the cabin.
“What’s happening!?” yelled Julian over the metallic wrenching and cacophony of shrill grating as pipes and cables twisted against each other.
“Someone wants us out of the sky!”Joseph yelled back.

A third blast punched through the deck, and this time, Joseph saw the projectile. Except, it wasn’t exactly a projectile. It was something long and writhing and as thick as a tree trunk. Joseph’s eyes widened as he watched the fleshy, pink tentacle wrap around one of the cables that joined the envelope to the hull. Julian yelled as a second tentacle scraped past him and plunged into the cabin, sending splinters and sparks flying. Thick slime dripped from the tentacle that was snaking deeper into the cabin, pools of the liquid settling on the deck.
“Oh, hell no…” Joseph whispered as the smell of burning metal washed over him. The slime was eating through the hull, like viscous acid.
“Don’t let it touch you!” he yelled to Julian, who had already torn off his coat and thrown it across the deck. It shrivelled up and thick smoke rose toward the envelope. The Skysnail rocked back; it was level again. Joseph took this as an opportunity to run to the gun deck and grab a blunderbuss. Julian was soon behind him.
“If that thing touches the envelope, we’re done.” He panted. “It’s fire-proof, but not acid proof.”

Attack of the Gyroctopus

As he said this, at least four more tentacles suddenly appeared, looming over the deck. One grabbed another support cable, and began oozing acid along it. Two more tentacles swept the deck, as though they were searching for something. An unfortunate crew member was knocked over by the rubbery, pink assailant, and began to scream as the slime burnt his skin. Joseph fired into the tentacle nearest to him, but there was no effect. A drip of slime fell onto his shoulder and he immediately felt the burning. Tentatively, Joseph and Julian looked up, and saw the final tentacle wrapping around the envelope, tightening its embrace on the Skysnail. One support cable finally broke, and the hull swung sharply. The companions were thrown violently into the guard rail.

Then, the Skysnail began its rapid and destructive descent.

* * *

Peregrine heard a rustle in the canopy of his boiled lolly forest. A giant purple fan seemed to have alighted in the treetops.
What a kite! Lord Lamont thought gleefully.

Kite!

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