As the roost marshal continued to stare behind me, I became aware of curious noises. There was a hissing, humming sound, accompanied by the churn of lakewater and the fizz of a million bubbles rising to the surface.
I spun round. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. ‘What is it?’ I breathed.
Before me, half submerged in the water, was a creature so strange that even I would have been hard pressed to give it a name. It was thin and long, a dozen strides at least, its burning copperwood-coloured body segmented like that of a reed-eel or rockworm. Its head was broad and dome-shaped, with two huge eyes on either side that shone like lanterns, and three mighty scythe-shaped horns at the front, glinting brightly in the early afternoon sun. The bubbles were emerging from the back of the creature, and streamed out in a frothing fan of pale green.
I gulped with terror, and began wading back as fast as I could through the sucking mud of the lakebed to the safety of the shoreline. The roost marshal followed close beside. Behind us, the borella came closer and reared up out of the water threateningly, its keening cry echoing across the surface of the lake. The long creature rocked and rolled about in the water, the stream of bubbles becoming a blast of steam as its tail flicked up into the air.
As the borella came down, crashing into the water, a great wave went up, that came swelling across the lake towards us. It looped and keeled, and came thundering down – just as the roost marshal and I were clambering back onto the bank. We were drenched in an instant, and I turned to see that the copper-coloured creature had been flipped right over and was sprawling on its back. As I stared at it, my gaze fell upon two curious fins upon its belly that looked for all the Edge like spoked wheels…
Which is exactly what they were! For this was no monster from the lake depths, I now realized, but instead a vessel of some sort, the riveted panels and intricate detailing now plain to see.
A hatch opened in the upturned vessel, and a dishevelled individual came splashing and spluttering to the surface. He stood up in the shallows, caught sight of us, then the borella, which dived below the surface. With a small cry, the stranger came scrabbling towards the lakeside, his eyes shot with teror. As he drew close, I offered a hand, which he seized gratefully, and I pulled him up onto the bank beside me.
I looked at the roost marshal, then at the stranger. For a moment no one spoke. I decided to break the silence.
‘Unfortunate accident, you had there, friend,’ I said to the stranger, and smiled. ‘My name’s Hedgethorn Lammergyre. And this is the roost marshal.’
The stranger nodded. He was shorter than me, and sturdily built. The green skin, webbed toes and large yellow teeth that jutted up from his lower jaw marked him out as a tusked webfoot goblin from the Four Lakes, far to the south. He was clearly still shaken.
‘I… I’m Ph… Ph… Phineal Glyfphith…’ he stammered. ‘Un… Unfortunate accident indeed,’ he said, and peered back at the lake. ‘Thank Sky that fearsome beast seems to have gone.’
‘That fearsome beast, as you put it, is in fact a gentle, noble creature that means no harm!’ the roost marshal exclaimed indignantly. ‘Which is more than I can say for that!’ He pointed at the webfoot’s odd craft.
‘That,’ the webfoot said. ‘That’s an underwater vessel. My underwater vessel,’ he said. ‘A phraxmarine. I call her the Spirit of Keris.’
I was astounded. My whole life, I’ve been fascinated by the phrax vessels that sail the skies, from the majestic sky taverns to the modest phraxlighters, like Gart Ironshank’s Zephyr. I was intrigued by the thought that someone had invented a vessel that might also travel underwater, and I was about to ask him about it, when my thoughts were interrupted.
‘An underwater vessel.’ It was the roost marshal. His voice was cold and hard; his face a strange mixture of anger and sadness. From the far side of the lake, the borella’s mournful cry echoed again. The roost marshal pressed his face into Phineal Glyfphith’s. ‘You fool,’ he said. ‘You reckless fool. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?…’