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.Snuffling, he wiped one sleeve across his nose and waited.“Flood aft ballast!” the commodore shouted.With a gurgling purr, the Indestructible began to tilt backward, lifting her streaming bow from the water.Meanwhile on the shore, Captain Hawser dug the crab’s legs into the sand and continued to push while Chief Portlost, at the controls of the pinchers, lifted with all his might.Charynsanth flapped like a trapped butterfly, her wings buffeting the crab like thunder, while her slavering jaws snapped at the metal braces protecting the two gnomes and tore off the last sections of its bronze shell.The giant, its hair and beard smoldering, raw flesh showing through its cracked and charred skin, lunged in with a boulder and began to beat both the dragon and the crab.One blow caught Charynsanth across the snout, stunning her.Another broke off the crab claw gripping the dragon’s rear leg.Recovering, Charynsanth lunged into the air, her mighty wings pummeling the wind.Commodore Brigg sank down in the conning tower as her wingtips brushed inches overhead.With a roar of hatred, the giant launched its boulder.The huge stone cracked Charynsanth squarely across the brow as she banked round for an attack.The force of the blow snapped her head around as if she had come to the end of a string.Her wings fell limp and, tumbling backward in the air, she plummeted like a lead weight.With a tremendous thudding splash, she followed Sir Grumdish to the cavern’s flooded floor, a storm of bubbles hissing and popping on the surface long after the waves of her impact had subsided.With a victorious roar, the giant then turned on Captain Hawser and Chief Portlost, still inside the mechanical crab.They backed away, waving their one remaining claw before them.The giant limped across the sand and retrieved its club, then turned with a snarl and charged.Captain Hawser threw the crab forward, and the two came together with a deafening crash and roar.Commodore Brigg had seen enough.Without aiming, he shouted “Fire!”Conundrum slammed both buttons at the same time.The Indestructible lurched back as twin jets of water shot out from her bow.Two huge arrows streaked across the cavern.One struck with a quivering, meaty thwack in the giant’s back, and the other glanced off the crab with such force that the mechanical contraption went spinning across the beach and slammed into the cavern wall.The giant clutched vainly at the enormous arrow in its back, then toppled face down in the sand.With a last groan, it breathed no more.Commodore Brigg sighed with relief and turned his attention to the crab.It lay in a tangled heap of metal against the wall, no sign of life within its twisted remains.A thin blue exhalation of smoke curled up from its midst.Brigg’s breath caught in his throat, and he turned and slid down the ladder to the bridge.He landed with a thump beside Conundrum.“We’ve got to get to shore!” he cried, then turned and shouted down to engineering, “Engage the main flowpellar!”The ship lurched forward.“Steer her into shore,” the commodore ordered, pushing Conundrum toward the wheel.“Run her aground.It doesn’t matter.”“What’s wrong?” Conundrum asked.“My brother,” the commodore answered, his voice tight with emotion, “and the chief.I’ll get Doctor Bothy’s spare kit.Just steer her in and put her on the beach.” With those words, he ducked through the forward hatch and disappeared.Conundrum gripped the wheel nervously, staring out through the porthole at the carnage on the beach.The giant lay with their arrow sticking out of its back like a tree.Beyond it, resting against the wall with a tendril of smoke rising from its midst, lay a heap of metal that Conundrum recognized after a few moments as the crab.The sandy shore slid toward them, and Conundrum held the Indestructible on a steady course.Commodore Brigg banged around in sick bay like a gnomish percussion corps, all the while growling a string of dwarven curses vile enough to strip the rust from the ship’s hull.Below him, the last four members of the crew cranked the ship’s drive springs tight and saw to the oiling of the gears.They were good sailors, and Conundrum admired them.In the midst of this chaos, they kept to their duty, while he held the wheel of the ship as though, were he to let go, he might fly to pieces.A dozen yards from shore now.A half dozen.Then the shore vanished in an explosion of water as Charynsanth rose up before the ship, like a leviathan, wings spread wide and streaming water in sheets.The Indestructible crashed to a stop against her belly, throwing Conundrum forward against the wheel so hard that it drove the air from his lungs.He hung on, gasping, watching in horror as the dragon’s claws closed round the bow of the ship.Charynsanth forced the ship’s nose down into the water as he she leaned over the conning tower.The giant’s boulder had only stunned her, but Sir Grumdish’s sword was still embedded in her neck, her life’s blood flowed out around it.She was dying, but she would see to it that everyone and everything died with her.The conning tower hatch was still open.Charynsanth leaned over it, sucking her last breath in through nostrils frothing with her own blood.The fires boiled in her belly.Staring up through the hatch, Conundrum saw her jaws part, blood streaming out between her long cruel fangs to fall hissing on the deck of the bridge.He smelled the brimstone.He saw the moment of his death arriving.And then he knew what he had to do.He crossed the bridge in three bounds as dragonfire boiled down through the conning tower.He leaped, grabbed the handle, and released the ram.It shot out, impaling Charynsanth on its cold steel spike.She reared back in pain, screaming the dragonfire from her lungs in a white-hot plume that fountained upward.In her death throes, she kicked the Indestructible free, sending it skittering across the water, thick black smoke billowing from the top of the conning tower.Conundrum’s action had bought them only a little time.Enough of Charynsanth’s dragonfire had poured into the bridge to set everything on fire, including Conundrum.His white guild robe went up in flames.He screamed and fell to his knees as the deck cracked and split underneath him.A column of fire shot up from belowdecks, and the floor dropped away beneath him.* * * * *Commodore Brigg picked himself up from the deck of the sick bay where he had fallen when the ship lurched to a stop against the dragon’s belly [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]