Chapter 14: Naked Steel
After making such a fuss over the fact that the "magic" mist is actually just Science!, Carter now decides to give it supernatural properties after all.
All about the decks, gray streamers of the clammy fog swirled like the impalpable draperies that clad the skeletal limbs of the spirits of the dead. Queer tricks were played by fog and wind: leering mask-like faces appeared out of the sliding film of fog ,eye-holes and maw but gaping rents in the mist, torn by unpredictable gusts of wind.
Long coils of mist drifted out, like reaching arms, as if to seize the sailors clustered on the mid-ship deck. Although they knew the nature of the mist to be Belshathla's demon sorcery, tihs did little to allay the superstitious fears that arose in many of the seamen. Many a grim-faced wrrior, standing with naked steel in his hands, ready to face death on the signal, felt his heart go cold and the chill sweat of terror on his brow. Even fat old Blay felt the clammy fingers of fear clutch about his stout old heart as he blinked and gawped at the gliding phantasmal forms that flickered eerily across the deck, borne on the invisible wings of the wind.
Not sure that their superstitions are so unjustified. "Don't worry, it's just demon sorcery!"
The Scimitar sneaks out of the fogbank into the clear air beyond (phew!) and then zooms forward to the head of the fleet (using Barim's master seamanship) to catch up with Kashtar. The original plan (give me ramming speed!) has been demoted to Plan B, however, as Thongor has had a better idea - he plans to board the flagship and destroy the Lamp of Madness himself, and save the ramming idea for if he fails (cos that's totally likely).
Barim is not best pleased at this.
Growling at this, the pirate captain grudgingly agreed. To his simple way of thought, direct action was the only route to success, but the Lord of the West was his Lord as well, and he had no recourse but to submit. Far rather would he have preferred to send his brass-beaked prow crashing like a brazen ram deep into the timbers of the flagship's hull, and sweep aboard the decks of the enemy with a naked cutlass flashing in his hand. But he would yield to Thongor in this.
Thongor strips back down to his harness, and Charn Thovis does likewise (but not in a gay way), then they dive into the sea!
The stinging shock of the chilly waves struck new vigor into Thongor's mighty thews. Setting his heels against the waterline of the Scimitar, the Valkarthan kicked out and propelled himself away from the vessel. His great shoulders rose and fell, his long powerful arms clove through the waves, as he swam towards the dim hulk of the pirate flagship that towered up, a vague and fog-wreathed silhouette, across the dark waters.
The magic mist conveniently stops a few feet above the waterline, so he has a good view of where to go, and has no trouble getting to the flagship. The two climb up via a carved sea monster which adorns the prow, and spot the Mind Ray machine which is guarded by two guards (the mist machine is unguarded, and Thongor whispers a plan to Charn Thovis which presumably involves them taking out one machine each).
Then, silent as a phantom, his mighty figure all but invisible amidst the ghostly fog, the Valkarthan glided up and over the rail. His wet feet crept along the planking as he advanced upon the two unsuspecting guards. As he approached them, a ghostly and silent figure in the grey gloom, his strong fingers closed about the massy hilt of Sarkozan.
With but the faintest whisper of steel against leather, he drew the glistening length of the broadsword free from its scabbard. With naked steel glistening in his hand, he advanced with the soundless tread of a stalking vandar upon the two guards...
Does anyone else feel just slightly dirty after reading that?
We now cut away to a scene in Patanga, where air traffic control officer Changan Jal is sitting bored at his desk. Yes, that's right. Well, actually he's a guard captain of some kind, but his job involves sitting in the signal tower and collating reports from the floater fleet, and as usual, there's nothing to report. Once a night he likes to go up in his floater for a spin, and it's time for him to do so right now.
Seating himself in the snug little cabin, he held the controls steady while Anzan Varl loosed the mooring lines and took his place in the pilot's chair. Then, in the observer's position, the older officer watched as the Otar took the trim little craft up to the twenty-thousand-foot level and began a tour of the city.
Wait. What?? No wonder his floater fleet can't see any trouble brewing, if they are patrolling at twenty thousand feet. What with them passing out from oxygen deprivation and whatnot.
Anyway, he spots a mysterious fogbank approaching up the Gulf, which arouses his suspicions, but despite the "formless feeling" it gives him, he decides it's probably nothing to worry about... probably....