As the remaining bloodsacs give up their attack....
Seeing that one of the bloodsacs has already gained too much altitude to fight with melee weapons, Emmett leaves his cutlass stuck in the wall, instead looking for a new method of getting an attack on the fleeing creature.
"Hiro! I'll boost you up!"
Seeing comprehension in the swordmaster's eyes, the half man crouches and makes a crude step out of his hands, wrapping his fingers around his hook to prevent any accidents. With timing born of years of handling griffins in airborne battles, he waits for the taller man's run and leap into the step, then hurls him upward with all of the near-superhuman strength in his partially artificial frame.
The move leaves Emmett flat on his back, but sends Hiro flying through the air with the combined force of his jump and Emmett's throw, closing on the escaping haagathga. With astonishing grace, Hiro twists in mid-air and slashes out at one of the creatures. It tumbles back to the deck, dead, as Nyala's final arrow goes wide and the last of them continues on its blind, determined way, now out of reach.
Ibn Fadil stays out of the way and watches until he is sure the bloodsacs are indeed fleeing. Glancing around, he pauses to observe Hiro's attack on the other bloodsac. Shaking his head in amazement, he strolls across the deck to where a bucket of sand is positioned near the lantern hung on the mast, and extinguishes his impromptu torch in it. Then he sticks Nahele's knife into the same sand, as a start at cleaning the bloodsac's internal goop off.
As he continues his cleaning efforts with a corner of the apron he is still, incongruously, wearing, he also looks around at the others, and particularly at the two unfortunate sailors. Sensible people, he reflects, are afraid of things like this. And then he peers worriedly at the knife, hoping to see it is undamaged.
Val isn't concerned with chasing after the remaining bloodsacs; best to leave that to the professionals. Instead, he watches Pham's back as the messenger of Hextor looks over the wounded. Val wipes cold sweat from his face as he looks on, well aware that they might be too late to save either of their fallen crewmen.
Pham looks at the two crewmen, kneels down, and makes a quick survey of their condition. Their skin is waxen, covered with round white marks where the suckers attached, and it takes a moment for him to find the faint, erratic pulse that remains.
Pham looks to Theo. "Captain, I lack the power to heal either of these men completely. I will lend each some of Hextor's strength, but with the extent of their wounds they'll need further attention. Please arrange a detail to care for them until I can gain enough strength to completely heal them."
Pham then kneels by Seton. Judging that he's worse off, since his bloodsac feasted uninterrupted, Pham sets to work. Soft, earnest prayer comes from the mouth of the young priest, and then a gentle glow spreads from his outstretched hand. Pham lays his hand on Seton's back, and the glow suffuses into the man's body. Seton stirs slightly, and his wounds seem somewhat better. But is it enough?
It is - for the moment, though he can't be certain the man will last long even with the god's aid.
Seeing that Seton is now hopefully out of immediate danger, Pham turns to Joe, and repeats the simple but profound ritual. After having treated Joe, Pham sits back, sweat glistening on his brow in the starlight. "I've done all I can for now. If we bandage their wounds and keep them hydrated, they should hang on until tomorrow morning, when I'll have recovered enough to give them more strength. Captain, how far are we from port? These kinds of injuries are somewhat beyond my meager skills; they need to see someone better at the healing mysteries than I."
Theo shakes his head grimly. "We've months yet to travel. Do what you can." It's clear that he expects the worst. "Delmar, see about getting them below and as comfortable as we can manage." He walks around the deck, checking on everyone else. "That was good work and quick, all of you!" he tells the assembled defenders. "Didn't realize we had a couple of tumblers amid the crew, but well struck, man," he tells Hiro. "Gods grant we run into no more of the filthy things."
A smile and bright eyes arrive on Emmett as Hiro silently acknowledges the Half-Man's quick thinking and resourcefulness. After cleaning the blade, Hiro's sheathes his Katana. Suddenly his eyes dim once more to the calm, passive Hiro the crew has seen so much of before now.
Emmett clambers back to his feet. "Nice shot." He walks over the wall and wrenches his cutlass from the wood with a single tug, cleaning it and sheathing it as Hiro does the same.
Nyala merely nods, one hand almost caressing her bow. Yestin is scowling slightly and trying to disappear into the planking, deeply embarrassed by his ineffectualness during the battle.
Ibn Fadil, now leaning idly against the mast and looking toward Nyala, silently shrugs off the compliment; his mind seems to be on something else. His glance reveals that she is looking at him with a faintly puzzled expression, though it's likely most people wouldn't have marked the slight flexing of her brows.
He looks away hastily - perhaps too hastily, because of a twinge of guilt and embarrassment. He should be looking for Nahele's other knife, after all, and he quickly busies himself looking across the deck toward the hatch, where he dropped it earlier.
He finds the knife easily enough - luckily it hadn't been kicked overboard in the fighting. When he next glances in her direction, she is no longer watching, but the perplexed expression remains. Something is bothering her all of the sudden....
Hoping that whatever it is has nothing to do with him, ibn Fadil studies her beautiful face for a moment longer and then ducks into the hatch, swearing to himself (for perhaps the fiftieth time) that he is going to stop this nonsense immediately.
Emmett spends the next few minutes helping other crew members get the bloodsac remains off the deck. "Damn shame we missed that last one. I hate to think of it lying in wait for someone else." he comments to the first mate. "Any chance of finding it and peppering it with arrows to make sure it's gone?"
"In this?" Delmar waves a hand at the star-strewn darkness all around them, perfect camouflage for the bloodsac. "We wouldn't see it unless we were on top of it - or it on us. We'll move out quick as we can, and keep a better watch until we're well away from this space."
"I know. I just hate leaving a job unfinished." The half-man shrugged and went back to cleaning the bloodsac off the deck.
Delmar nods understandingly. "I know how you feel, but there's nothing else to do. We were lucky it was a small swarm. Careful there, Evan!" he snaps at one of the men gingerly moving their fallen comrades onto makeshift stretchers. "No need to rush, keep it gentle."
Pham sits on a nearby barrel, leaning heavily on his make-shift spear. "Val, you're pretty good with those knives. Joe probably owes you his life. You begin to wonder about the creator of a universe that can contain such horrid creatures."
"Thanks," Val replies to the compliment, "just wish there was something more I could do." He keeps watch out for more bloodsacs, just in case.
"As for the wonders of the universe," Val continues over his shoulder, "I've seen some pretty strange things before. These are some of the strangest..." A shudder runs through the young man as he thinks of what the 'sacs did to Joe and Seton.
"Anything you can do?" Val asks of Pham, hopeful.
Just about then, frustrated by the lack of communication, Alais storms on deck to where the gathered navigators are. "Gills of the Spelljammer, just give me a course! We should depart this area ere more of those things appear!"
"Wisely if intemperately spoken. Just a moment, Alais," Theo replies, sending a crewman below for his spyglass and charts. Their heading is determined, and the _Lazy Cat_ once again moves at speed through the void.
Below, Nahele meets ibn Fadil at the galley door, one ear cocked ceilingward as if listening. "It's over, is it? What in the spacers' hell was that all about, I hear a yell and suddenly the whole crew stampedes down here shrieking something about vampires, which I can only assume it wasn't since we're all still here, are we not, and if one of those knives is so much as *nicked*--"
"It was only bloodsacs, four of them," ibn Fadil says when the elf pauses for emphasis. "The knives are fine, but I want to wash this one." He holds up the one that pierced the bloodsac. With a serious look, he adds, "We have two men down, and Brother Pham is not sure if they will live till morning."
"Ah." The usually garrulous elf grows more somber at this news. "Only four, then, we were lucky." After a moment's abstraction he seems to recover. "Well, this won't cook itself -- and I'll have those, lad, if you don't mind." He fusses over the blades for a moment, making certain that they really aren't damaged, then returns to the dishes he has been preparing, tastes one. "This will be a bit longer. If those two can eat at all, I can whip up a soup that'll just about raise the dead...." He bursts into action once again, keeping ibn Fadil hopping until dinner is served to a crew in a far less festive mood than it felt an hour before.
The meal is still a welcome change of pace from those they've been enjoying lately. Thanks in part to the fresher supplies Nahele traded for off the other ship, there are beans and stewed meat flavored with spices most of them can't name, real bread rather than the ship's biscuit they are all heartily sick of, and even a sort of dessert pastry, rich in dried fruits and sweetened with honey. It is, as Nahele never tires of complaining, not a tenth of what can be done with a real kitchen, but as far as the crew are concerned it's little short of heaven; there are a good half dozen burned tongues among them in their impatience to taste something hot.
He brings "Lenore" her portion personally, aware that she does not like to receive the others' stares and whispers. "Your dinner, miss," he bows slightly, presenting her with one of the two trays he carries. She is, as always, veiled, and - he nods to himself - looking healthy enough in her weight, at least as far as he can judge on a human. Her nails, however, are chewed down almost to the quick.
"Thank you," she replies softly. "I heard all the -- all the shouting, earlier. Is everyone all right?"
"Some bloodsacs attacked, I'm told. Joe and Seton were hurt, I'm on my way to see how they're doing now." The other tray has two earthen mugs of broth infused with strengthening herbs, in case the two injured feel up to having something.
"And everyone else?"
"Escaped without a scratch, miss," he tells her cheerfully, aware of her relief. "You'll enjoy that, I hope," he nods at her meal. "Good evening."
* * *
Late that night:
Ibn Fadil is still in the galley, finding small things to attend to, when the bell rings the change of watches. Some time later, an almost silent footstep draws his attention to the door. The feeble glow of the cold light illuminates an unmistakable silhouette.
He turns to face her. "Mistress Nyala! Can I help you with something?" He is pleased to notice that his voice hardly wavers at all.
"I am looking for my brother, if you know where he might be found."
"I believe he has gone to his cabin," he says, not at all relieved by this pointless question.
She nods, but does not leave the doorway, and after a beat adds, "You choose most peculiar risks, gambler."
"What do you mean?"
"I believe you were belowdecks when the haagathga attacked. Rather than remaining in safety, you chose to join us above."
"The ship was under attack," he points out, still with a puzzled expression. "I am perfectly capable of helping to defend it; why would I not do so?"
"With a kitchen knife?" It might have been mockery, but her tone is as usual difficult to read much into. "Nor is this, I think, the first time you have placed your life in play for so uncertain a gain."
"Ah. Well," the half-elf says uncomfortably. "I cannot understand why people think so much of that business on Bral. I had barely set foot on the deck when the damned ship came apart, after all. And here on this ship -- being belowdecks give only an illusion of safety, I believe. I wanted to know that everything possible was being done to repel the threat before it could get below."
He knows he should leave it there, but cannot resist adding, with exaggerated dignity, "And a kitchen knife can be quite a dangerous weapon, Mistress Nyala, in the right hands." Then in this moment of weakness the other reason also comes to mind, and he has to look away from her, desperately stifling the thought.
"Indeed." She moves into the room so she can get a better look at him, quite open now in her scrutiny. "I think there is more to it than that." A shot in the dark on her part.
Ibn Fadil has often longed to speak to Nyala alone, but as she approaches he wishes the planks under his feet would open up and drop him into the lowest hold. He feels like a moon-struck adolescent, and entirely ridiculous. "You were up there," he hears himself say.
He can at least congratulate himself on having surprised her, seeing those arresting eyes widen slightly as she pauses, head to one side, still studying him.
"True that I was, but... I see," she says, though with a hint of uncertainty. Whatever she had expected him to say, it seems it wasn't that. "And so you came rushing up to deck, kitchen knife at the ready...?"
"Did I claim it made sense?"
"No, and indeed it does not," she agrees. She's only a step away now. "You are a puzzle, ibn Fadil."
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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson