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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 25


The crew didn’t bother to duck this time. The mind flayer’s fire was so badly aimed it was apparent it wouldn’t even be close. Aaren shook his head at the sight. “Elric, are you ready to try it again?”

“I’ll try,” he replied in a strained voice. “Sorry about that last one.”

“No problem. Bosun, ramming speed!”

“Ramming speed, aye!” He heard Garrick’s voice distantly, urging his men to greater efforts. He smiled grimly as the mind flayer ship drew closer. Between the flames that were already destroying their ship and the damage the Sky Hawk’s weapons were doing, the mind flayers were dying everywhere. He fingered the handle of his hammer. Maybe they’d even board them and spill some blood personally. Another minute, maybe two, and they’d know.

Something shiny shot away from the Sky Hawk.


He looked again and goggled at the sight.

Lord of Light! It was Horace!

His armor reflecting the light from the flames on the enemy ship, the fighter had launched himself from the Sky Hawk and was hurtling across the space between the two ships, sword in hand. He gasped in a combination of fear, anger, and astonishment. What was he trying to prove? He was crazy!

Even as he watched, Horace caromed into the side of the mind flayer ship and clambered aboard. He gained the railing and plunged into a curtain of smoke, disappearing inside.

*     *     *     *     *

Stinging smoke swirled around Horace making his eyes water painfully. The wet rag he’d tied over his nose and mouth kept him from choking on the fumes, and he had years of experience struggling to see through the thick, noxious fumes from his father’s forge. He felt right at home.

Groping his way through the haze and heat, he cautiously descended the stairs. At the bottom, he found the body of a mind flayer. He stopped to examine it.

Killed by a sword thrust.

Good. That meant the warrior was real. He straightened up, sweat running off him in rivers. The heat was quickly becoming too much even for him. He had to get this over with quickly. “Hello! Warrior! Answer me,” he bellowed. He paused to listen for a reply and saved his own life.

He heard a faint hissing behind him and dove aside, turning as he did. The mind flayer’s mental blast, a visible distortion in the air, couldn’t have missed him by more than a fingers width. He bellowed in fear and rage, and his sword clove the air. The glowing tip of the magical blade sliced through the mind flayer’s robes and drew blood, but it wasn’t fatal. The foul creature hissed wordlessly, the tentacles on its face lashing furiously. It hurled itself toward him and one of the questing tentacles made contact with his forehead.

Blinding pain arched through his head and he screamed in agony as the tentacle began burrowing into his skull. He twisted and thrashed frantically, like a fish on a hook. Striking out blindly with his sword, a lucky swing severed the tentacle. The mind flayer’s mental scream of pain seared his mind. Reeling backward he grabbed the dangling member and pulled it out of his skull. Fire lanced through his forehead and he nearly passed out. Blood ran freely down the side of his face and he threw the severed tentacle away with a convulsive shudder.

Dimly he sensed the creature returning for yet another attack and he staggered back, fighting to stave off the black waves of pain that threatened to drag him under. If he succumbed, he was dead. He swung woodenly and his sword connected but there was no strength behind it.

The hilt was suddenly torn from his grasp. He backpedaled in fear and ran into a hard, unyielding wall. He slid along it and ran into another. He was in a corner.


His heart constricted and through the heat and smoke, he saw the mind flayer hurl the sword contemptuously aside then start forward.

*     *     *     *     *

The ballista crew finished loading the weapon and Elric cast his spell on the tip of the ballista bolt. Jon had relieved him so he could cast Art and he didn’t want to mess it up. The instant the last syllable left his mouth he leapt aside and the ballista fired. He thrust the scroll into his pocket, keeping an eye on the bolt. The bolt hit the hole made by a previous hit and disappeared inside.

*     *     *     *     *

Aaren distantly heard the thuds of the heavy weapons still firing but didn’t have time for them. Jon hadn’t spent as much time on the wheel as him and Elric and he was turning the wrong way. “Jon! Pull up! We’re too close!” He saw the air envelopes around the two ships touch. Suddenly they became one huge envelope of air surrounding both of them. Smoke and the crackle of fire assaulted his nostrils and ears. Baking heat washed over him.

“Pull up!!”

Then the whole world exploded in his face. The huge sound flattened him on the deck like a paper cutout doll blown over by a careless child. Searing heat like that from an open blast furnace washed over him, parching his throat in an instant. He could almost feel his skin crisping from the heat. Shimmers distorted everything around him and the air tasted hot and molten. For a long moment, he thought he was going to die.

Then the fiery heat eased off and he looked up to see the fire-washed side of the mind flayer ship looming less than 15 cubits away, and closing fast. His heart constricted as he realized their angle of attack was wrong. He dove for the wheel to help Jon to swing wide but it was too late.

The two ships collided with a bone-shaking impact.

There was an earthshaking crash of steel meeting timber and he was flung to the deck. His hands were scraped raw and bloody trying to catch himself. He and Jon rolled into each other with bruising force. Flaming timbers flew in every direction and a second wave of heat washed over them. Fire was everywhere and a long grinding, snapping noise filled the air. It seemed like it went on and on forever. He saw a severed arm (human or otherwise?) fly past amid the raining debris. The blinding glare of the flames seared his eyes and he squeezed them to save his eyesight. Time stood still.

The grinding, roaring thunder shook him to the bone in a never-ending torrent of sound. The ship bucked and shuddered beneath him like a wild bull. He and Jon were thrown this way and that. A rib snapped, then another as he caromed into the railing. He was flung violently backward. He felt his head hit something and the world vanished in a brilliant flare of light.

*     *     *     *     *

Random sensations flitted through his consciousness.

They were vague at first, but growing stronger. Pressure was the first thing he noticed, pressure at the middle of his stomach. There was something wrong about that though because the was pressure coming from above his head. That didn’t make any sense. Why would he feel pressure on his stomach above his head? He gave up on the riddle and turned his attention to other sensations.

There was wetness on his face, but that was wrong too. It was running up and dripping off the top of his head. There was a pattern here if he could just figure it out.


Oh my goodness, the pain!

He hurt everywhere. His head, his back, his stomach (which was still above him for some reason), his feet (at least they seemed to be in the right place), his hands and arms – everything hurt. He hurt so bad the darkness around him was awash with throbbing, red waves of pain.


Oh. His eyes were closed. He tried to open them and discovered they were stuck together, glued shut with a red, tarry substance.

Finally, sounds began to penetrate. There was a roaring, crackling sound all around him. And behind it was a low whimpering, like a child in pain. He reached out for the sounds and clenched his teeth against the sudden blinding agony that shot through his arm. The whimpering stopped abruptly.

It was me.

The movement over-balanced him. He flipped over in mid-air and fell, flailing wildly. He crashed into a tangled pile of short, spongy poles. An acrid, stinging smell assaulted his nostrils and his eyes flew open with a painful rip.

Horace floundered around trying to gain his feet before he saw what he’d landed on. It wasn’t poles. It was a pile of severed arms and legs, the marks from the butcher’s knife still visible.

Their food.

His stomach revolted and he spewed bile across the hideous remains. Pain from his arm lanced through him at the heaving motion and he slipped backward, the severed limbs tumbling and flopping after him. It was a nightmarish sight, almost as if they were following him, accusing him of living while they died. Sick fear gripped him and he crawled away, unmindful of his dignity.

At last, he gained a clear space and leaned weakly back against the wall to look around.

Above him was a railing. He must have been draped over it. When he started moving he’d shifted his weight and tumbled over the side and landed on the . . . unh uh. Think about something else, he told himself, anything but that. He pushed himself up to his feet, gasping at the pain in his right arm. He staggered up on rubbery legs and braced himself to look the wound.

Bone was sticking out of his forearm, blood trickling down it in a steady stream. It was a horrible, gaping mess. He felt lightheaded just looking at it.

Fires were still burning on the ship, although they seemed to have died down considerably. Carefully averting his eyes from the bits and pieces of humanity he’d fallen on, he wobbled across the deck trying to find something to bind his arm with. He scrambled awkwardly under a fallen tangle of timbers, canvas, and other unidentifiable refuse then stopped in confusion.

There was no more ship.

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