Bring me wine, but wine which never grew
In the belly of the grape,
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots, reaching through
Under the Andes to the Cape,
Suffer no savor of the earth to scape.
Let its grapes the morn salute
From a nocturnal root,
Which feels the acrid juice
Of Styx and Erebus;
And turns the woe of Night,
By its own craft, to a more rich delight.

We buy ashes for bread;
We buy diluted wine;
Give me of the true,—
Whose ample leaves and tendrils curled
Among the silver hills of heaven
Draw everlasting dew;
Wine of wine,
Blood of the world,
Form of forms, and mould of statures,
That I intoxicated,
And by the draught assimilated,
May float at pleasure through all natures;
The bird-language rightly spell,
And that which roses say so well.

Wine which Music is,—
Music and wine are one,—
That I, drinking this,
Shall hear far Chaos talk with me;
Kings unborn shall walk with me;
And the poor grass shall plot and plan
What it will do when it is man.
Quickened so, will I unlock
Every crypt of every rock.

Pour, Bacchus! the remembering wine;
Retrieve the loss of me and mine!
Vine for vine be antidote,
And the grape requite the lote!
Haste to cure the old despair,—
Reason in Nature’s lotus drenched,
The memory of ages quenched;
Give them again to shine;
Let wine repair what this undid;
And where the infection slid,
A dazzling memory revive;
Refresh the faded tints,
Recut the aged prints,
And write my old adventures with the pen
Which on the first day drew,
Upon the tablets blue,
The dancing Pleiads and eternal men.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leo woke up from where he’d been sleeping in the back of the ship’s boat to find Rummy and Thaduk standing over a herd of unconscious unicorns and one woman, who was pleading piteously “Non mittet in eam. Nos dedite!” He sleepily hobbled forward and cast share language to learn the rather obvious translation—“Don’t shoot! We surrender!”

There followed some rather extensive debate as to what should be done with the unicorns. Obviously they needed the horns, but there was some question as to what cutting horns off would do to the beasts. As Thaduk and Leo continued to discuss, Rummy simply walked up and chopped the horn off of one. There was a gushing spray of blood from the horn’s stump and a cry of pain from the unicorn which quickly trailed off as it rapidly died of loss of blood to its brain. The unicorn-woman cried out and tried to retaliate, and thus had to be put down as well.

Zarina, meanwhile, was flitting over the carcass of the Red Bull, examining it closely. “THIS!” she said, “This is exactly what I need.” She flew back to the others. “Collect the horns, then get that bull onto the boat, ALL OF IT!” There was some more grumbling, mostly from Leo, regarding the pixie’s flighty nature and her ongoing failure to provide them with all of the facts regarding the whole “flying ship” experiment, but they complied. Thaduk and Rummy heaved the body of the bull into the water and Leo cast a buoyancy spell on it and tied it off to the boat.

Their labors were suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Leo’s backup band. The kitten parade came marching over the hills from the west, playing as loudly as ever. In the kittens’ wake came an equally loud crowd of beautiful, half-naked women, bearing Caddis on their shoulders and carafes of wine in their hands, shouting and singing drunkenly. Within moments the scene turned much uglier, literally, as the women’s faces turned feral and their hands sprouted claws. The women each began trying to pull Caddis to them, turning him into the epicenter of a fifty-way tug-of-war, nearly tearing him limb from limb.

Trying to disrupt the mob, Caddis conjured up a cloud of haunting mists to obscure the scene, but this only served to drive the maddened women into an even greater frenzy. Panicked, he began to sing. His voice, now bearing some of the magic shown by his mother, began drawing Rummy, entranced, into the midst of the mob as well. Finally Leo called in Zarina, who, once again, saved them with a barrage of sleep bombs.

Once the majority of the mob of baccae was subdued, one of their number, a lovely flame-haired woman named Fiona, helped Caddis out of the fog and over to his friends. Caddis explained to them that his ‘escort’ of drunken revelers had been provided by his mother, who was clearly very intent on him providing her with grand-babies, and, while he couldn’t remember much of the last two days, he was pretty certain that he was no longer a virgin.

Once introductions were made, Fiona pulled out a jug of wine and offered it to Rummy, Leo, and Thaduk. Given what they’d just witnessed, Rummy was extremely skeptical and tossed the proffered jug on the ground, breaking it. Fiona simply picked up another one from the sleeping mob and offered it to Leo, who poured it out—only to find that it had a seemingly endless supply. Thaduk though, drank his fill, and, given that he was usually in a drunken rage, seemed none the worse for it (though Fiona seemed pretty impressed and graced him with numerous caresses).

Under Caddis’ orders, they quickly cut the horns from most of the remaining unicorns, uncaring of the poor creatures’ bloody deaths. Tilly in particular went to the horn-severing with relish, muttering under her breath: “Oh? And where were you twenty years ago, ten years ago? Where were you when I was new? When I was one of those innocent, young maidens you always come to? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?!”

A dozen, six males and six females, were loaded, alive and still unconscious, into the boat to be taken back to the ship. So what if they normally mate for life, they posited, Leo and Caddis’ gift for compulsions should solve their supply problem one way or another.

Once everything was loaded up, they piled into the boat and began sailing home. Only once they were underway did they notice that Sandara, who’d been surprisingly quiet throughout their rather morally ambiguous escapade, was sporting a fine new suit of blood-red armor (where did that come from?)…

thorn-bird.JPGEight hours, and two sunsets, later, they arrived back at the beach where the Dümplom was careened. The camp was in chaos. In the middle of the camp, a monstrous, five-foot-tall, four-legged bird, covered all over with thorny-plates in place of feathers was tearing into the fresh corpses of two of the Dümplom’s sailors. Several other sailors stood, entranced and helpless, just within range of the beast’s claws. Gunshots rang out from the gunnery crews, but their shots bounced harmlessly off the magical creature. The rest of the men were running and screaming, or crouched terrified behind crates or the bizarre trees.

Rummy lined up the long-nine to shoot the bird, but the canon backfired, exploding in a cloud of metal shrapnel that tore through everyone on the boat, and blew Sandara’s left foot clean off. As Zarina helped bind up Sandara’s leg, the others piled out of the boat and prepared to face the beast on, sadly, more even footing.

Thaduk was the first to charge, raging, spear-lowered. As he got close, the bird-creature lashed out at him with a long, sticky, frog-like tongue, clearly intending to draw him into its claws, but only serving to add to his already impressive momentum. He crashed with sufficient force to drive the spear through the armored thorns, deep into the creature. So deep, in fact, that he was pulled onto the thorns himself, suffering many small punctures in return.

Leo dashed in next, springing in to slash at the creature with his cold-forged sword, then bounding away before it could retaliate. Sadly, his blow appeared to faze the creature not-at-all. He was followed by Rummy and Fiona, who circled, hacking and stabbing as best they could, until Rummy got into position to deliver a sneak-attack to finish the bird off.

Once the bird was down, Leo took a look and recognized it as a Wha-waewae Manu, sometimes called “faerie vultures” for the delight they took in slowly devouring their incapacitated, but still living victims, and known to favor hunting in packs. Jokingly he yelled loudly, taunting the dead bird-monster’s pack for abandoning it (assuming that this one was solitary). His yell was answered by a chorus of shrieks in the distance…

Caddis quickly ordered the crew to retreat to the shelter of the overturned ship, putting it to their backs to prevent them from being surrounded by the birds. Crates and other supplies were quickly stacked to form a defensive wall. Thaduk passed out spears, lines were ordered behind the wall, and circles of protection were cast to shield the crew from the birds’ mesmerizing gazes.

Moments later the rest of the pack, four in all, came running onto the beach. They ran, unharmed, through the initial barrage of musket and crossbow fire, and jumped the wall. The birds propelled themselves some thirty-feet into the air and landed in the middle of the massed sailors, breaking spears against their hard bodies and slashing out in a whirlwind of raking talons.

One landed among the still tied-up faerie prisoners, killing two of them. The second tore into the gunners. The last two landed near where the officers had gathered, one disemboweling Tilly in a flurry of claws, and the other gouging out Jessica’s eyes with one quick swipe.

Fiona poured another large mouthful of wine down Thaduk’s throat, transforming the already raging orc into a monstrosity with massive razor-sharp tusks and iron-hard claws. The orc blasted through the two nearest birds, killing one with a single blow of his spear, then ripping the other apart with teeth and claws. The other birds fared not much better, under a quick onslaught from the rest of the party, but did not go down without taking one more sailor with them.

When the brief, but brutal, fight was finished, six sailors lay dead, with many more seriously injured.

To be continued…