The boat shuddered as Red quenched his magical miniature star, and Alice braced herself as the runes on the floor flared, magical dampeners absorbing the forces as the ad-hoc alchemical engine spooled down. It felt like she was being very gently shoved forwards, as if she was standing in a stiff breeze, and her clothes flapped slightly in a wind she couldn’t feel on her face. She leaned back to maintain her balance, only to nearly fall over as the force waned, whatever weird repulsive energy that the boat had been running on spent.
Red watched her awkwardly stumble, looking bemused. “Do you feel, er, drained in any way?”
She eyed him suspiciously. “Drained of what, by what and with what?”
He shrugged. “Life? Vitality? Orgone energy?”
“I think I’ve still got all my organs, thanks.”
“It’s Orgone, not or-gans and… oh, right. You’re making me look like an idiot, aren’t you.”
Alice smirked, and opened her mouth.
“Not a word.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Mmm-hmm. You can step out of the circle, now. I think that’s as much super-charging as the engine can take, for the time being. Hopefully, we’re out of range of something I have a bad feeling about.”
“Firstly,” said Zkrith, “I resent you for breaking my engine but appreciate the work you did in escaping us from that thing. Secondly, a ‘bad feeling’? It rammed us! It rammed my boat!”
“And I have a sneaking suspicion that I know who’s driving that boat,” he replied, “but I absolutely don’t want to jinx it by saying that ‘golly, I hope that’s not who I think it is’.” He finished off his little rant with air-quotes.
“That seems a bit superstitious,” said Alice, “but—”
“—You just powered a boat with yourself, a magically-powered star and a bunch of chalk diagrams?” Red finished.
“Yeah,” she said, her thunder entirely stolen. “That.”
“Well—” Red began to speak, but he was cut off by Aidra appearing, bursting through the engine room’s doors at the top of the stairs.
“The boat won’t go!” he shouted. “I’ve pulled all the levers but it still won’t go so I’m getting a sledgehammer bye!”
And then he was gone, with a resounding slam of the door.
“He’s certainly a character,” said Zkrith. “He wouldn’t actually… ?” She turned, saw Red, Alice and A Librarian’s expressions, and despite the fact that her face was thickly-furred, all the colour seemed to drain from it.
She was up the stairs and through the door in a flash, hooves clacking on the wooden slats and screamed curses echoing in the suddenly-empty space.
“I think,” said Alice, “Nik would stop him?”
A Librarian pulled a face, and shrugged. “Ehhh… probably?”
– – –
By the time they’d got up to the deck, Zkrith had Aidra in a headlock while Twelfth and Nik watched impassively. He was struggling, fruitlessly, occasionally whacking her awkwardly with the giant squeaky mallet he was clutching.
“You people,” she hissed, “have… messed with… my boat… enough already!”
“I did relatively little messing!” he protested.
She growled, but released him, and snatched the squeaky mallet from him as he tried to swing it at her again. “Where did you even get this?”
Nik piped up. “I’m so sorry for his, er, antics. And I don’t really know where he gets it either. He’s got weird pockets in his clothes, but I have no idea where he gets the stuff to put in them.”
She sighed, and held out the mallet in his direction. As he reached for it, she snatched it back.
“If you don’t put this away,” she said, her voice low, “you don’t need to be a psychic to know where I’m going to shove it. This is my boat, and don’t think I won’t throw you overboard, either.”
Aidra blinked, then grinned and saluted sloppily. “Righto, cap’n!” He gingerly reclaimed his mallet and started to shove it into a pocket that was, from the outside, far too small for it, both in size of opening and amount of space.
Alice leaned over to Red. “What I don’t get,” she whispered out of the edge of her mouth, “is how he produces stuff from nowhere so quickly?”
Red looked at her, and raised an eyebrow. “I assume he keeps it up his sleeves.”
“That just asks more questions!”
“You expected something else?”
“You’re on fire today with these comebacks,” she remarked. “It’s very annoying.”
He smirked. “I aim to please.”
“You two!” said Zkrith, indignantly. “Stop flirting and get over here!”
Alice attempted to issue a denial, but several different and mutually-exclusive denials jammed somewhere between her brain and larynx, and what came out was a vague stuttering noise, and she hurried over, hoping the warmth in her face didn’t show too much.
“So,” said Red, face carefully and deliberately blank. “The existing engine of the boat needs fixing up.”
“No thanks to y— okay, no,” said Zkrith. “Sorry, I’m just a bit upset about my boat. Without your help, we wouldn’t have been able to get away from it.”
“No problem. Either way, the engine needs fixing before it can be used normally, and until then we’re dead in the water. I can work on a veil, to misdirect our pursuer, if it’s still following us, but I’m not sure how long that’ll be effective for.”
“I built that engine myself,” said Zkrith, “so I’ll see what I can do.”
“Right. If it’s possible, Twelfth and Alice could probably lend a hand. Meanwhile, A Librarian and Nik?”
“Yes?” said Nik. A Librarian looked up from a notebook.
“Retrace those diagrams for the engine, and work on making it cleaner, so it doesn’t melt holes in the engine anymore, if you can. Or, at least, so it can get us back to Foyer before it melts again. I’ll handle the veil, and see if I can raise Gyran, but that’s a long shot — she’s otherwise occupied at the moment. If we really can’t get away, I have the key to Hollowed Hall, but we’ll have to leave the boat behind—”
“Last resort,” hissed Zkrith.
“No, that’s fair. I don’t know any of the pass-spells that open the larger doors, or would scoop up the entire boat into the Hall.”
“Nice to know you can’t access the useful features of this miraculous pocket-Realm.”
Alice half-raised a hand. “Could you just send me there, so the thing doesn’t chase you?”
Red pulled a face. “I can only open the door once, at the moment, and I’d really prefer it if I didn’t leave you in a massive magical maze with no food.”
“Gyran doesn’t keep food.”
He shrugged, helplessly. “I’m not sure she needs it?”
“Okay,” said Alice, “I don’t think we really have the time or space to consider the implications of that, so I guess we’ll just hold onto the Hall as a last resort, and go there if we have to.”
“Nicely put,” said Zkrith. “Now, tall one, short one, you’re with me. Let’s see how good you are at fixing engines.”
“Hey now,” she retorted. “I’m not short.”
[And I Am Not That Tall,] said Twelfth, before pausing to add, [For A Bookbinder.]