A few days after Behemoth
"Well, beastie." Deryn said, pushing her cap over her eyebrows to block out the sun, "I think we should stop lollygagging and head back inside."
"Lollygagging." Bovril remarked. The creature was hanging happily from the ratlines above her. She hated to take him down but she had duties to perform and they didn't have time to stand around and daydream.
"Come on, Bovril." She snatched the beastie up from beneath its armpits, holding the animal close to her face so she could rub her cheek against its soft fur. Bovril grumbled in complaint.
"Put down!" The loris growled in its broken English. Deryn sighed and shook her head.
"Sorry, beastie. I wish we could stay out here all day, but they'll have my head if those bees don't get fed soon." And she was truly sorry. She couldn't remember a fairer day since she had boarded the Leviathan back in London. The skies were completely clear, blue as a baby's eyes, and she could smell the salty sweet aroma of the Mediterranean Sea stretching out beneath them. In the distance she could make out the green lush islands of Crete and the faint specks of seagulls flapping in the ocean wind.
She gave one last sigh before putting Bovril on her shoulder so she could use her arms to climb back to the deck. It was a short climb, but she took her time dawdling at each footfall, making sure to enjoy every breath of the wonderful sky.
She never got to finish her climb down. Before she made it halfway the klaxon screamed, calling all hands to battle stations.
"Guess we'll be staying up here a bit longer." She said to Bovril. Then, with the loris still clinging to her shoulder, Deryn hooked her carabiner back to her harness and started up toward topside again.
"SHARP!" Came a shrill cry. Deryn had just reached dorsal when Mr. Rigby snatched her by the shoulder. "We have Clanker aircraft heading from the northeast. You and Mr. Newkirk are to report to the Huxleys." He gave her a shove toward starboard where Newkirk was already manning the pulley that held the rope for the ascending Huxleys.
Deryn gave a nervous gulp. Her affections for the giant inflatable squid had diminished enormously after Newkirk's accident a few weeks ago.
"Must it be me, sir?" She asked.
"You're the skinniest one we've got, Mr. Sharp, and we need that Huxley in the air fast! So stop whining and get your arse over there!"
Orders were orders and Deryn couldn't argue when there was a battle going on. She gave Mr. Rigby a quick salute before dashing over to help Newkirk.
"I hope you don't mind being the rider this time." Newkirk mumbled once she reached his side. "I'm afraid I still have scars from the last time I went up in one of these."
Deryn sighed. "Aye, I suppose you have more reason to be frightened of the sodding Huxley than I do." She began to strap herself in.
"Does that mean you're frightened of them too?" Newkirk asked her with a little more of a grin than she was comfortable with.
"Aye." She said, narrowing her eyes at him. "But don't go blabbering that around to the entire crew. Unlike you, I have a reputation to hold up to."
Newkirk shook his head and smiled.
"Whatever you say, Dylan."
She handed Bovril over to him and finished strapping herself into her seat. Newkirk released one of the ballast bags, causing the beastie to shoot up into the air. Deryn quickly forgot her fear of Huxleys as her insides rose along with her ascent. She could never stay frightened once flying was involved!
The rope quickly went taut as she reached a height of about 30 yards. Newkirk called up to her and waved his arms before tightening the lock on the pulley.
"Aye, dafty, I'm looking!" She yelled at him. The quick flight had her forgetting that there were enemy planes around. Without any more wasted time, she snatched a pair of binoculars from her front pocket and began searching the skies for the Clanker aircraft.
North by Northeast, as Rigby had suggested, were three German fighter planes coming up on them fast. She strapped the binoculars to her neck, freeing her arms to signal to Newkirk that the planes were on their way.
3 P-L-A-N-E-S-6-M-I-L-E-S-NNE. She signaled to Newkirk. She pulled out her binoculars again to check if they were indeed German. Yet as her eyes focused on the black crosses against the white and red paint of the airplanes, Deryn heard a loud pop above her and felt the Huxley suddenly drop a few feet.
"NO, BEASTIE!" She cried to the Huxley. Above her a cloud of fire had exploded out of the top squid. Immense heat had engulfed her and her seat was suddenly swinging back and forth dangerously as the Huxleys tentacles began to unfurl in angry painful thrusts. The air reeked of burning hydrogen and the beastie was dropping fast. She didn't have time to ponder what had happened; she just had to concentrate on getting away from the burning tentacles.
Deryn swallowed back the bile that had entered her throat. Images of her father burning to death and current memories of rescuing Newkirk from a similar Huxley explosion rushed through her mind. She sat there, frozen for half a second in fear before a scream below brought her back to her senses.
"KEEHAUL DROP!" Newkirk was shouting. He wasn't wheeling the rope in because if the burning Huxley hit the membrane of the Leviathan, one spark could send the entire airbeast into flame. Even with the lost hydrogen, she was still almost twenty yards up in the air. It was too far to jump down, so she would have to take Newkirk's suggestion and keelhaul drop down the rope.
She swallowed hard again and quickly began to unfasten her harness and alter it for a sliding drop down the rope. Her hands were shaking which made it difficult to tie the knots correctly. It seemed to take hours but she managed to finish her tying and brace herself before leaping from the flames and slipping down the rope in one smooth motion.
The sliding descent was fast, too fast. In her haste to jump away she had forgotten the first rule of a keelhaul drop. The angle of the rope couldn't be too steep or else she would slide so fast she would crush herself once she hit the bottom. Unfortunately it was too late to change that now and Deryn was sliding down the rope so alarmingly fast that she felt weightless. Just before she made contact with the ship she glanced down to see that the pulley was still in her way. It was a heavy object and nearly as big as three men across. She never realized how large the pulley was, or how sharp the edges were of the handle.
The instant she realized it was in her way was the same instant she hit it. Normally she would have been able to put her hands out to protect her face, but they were busy holding on to the carabiner of the keelhaul harness. She didn't recall actually running into the pulley, but her forehead was smarting nastily and Newkirk was swearing his tongue off.
That was when she noticed the blood pooling down her cheeks. That was also when everything went black.