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The Count watched the lieutenant go, smiling faintly before he turned back to Celeste, unsure if he would be getting a tongue lashing or support from the female pirate. She looked as gorgeous as always, her kohl-framed eyes drawing him in so exquisitely as always.

“You look good Celeste.” He told her feebly.

“And you look like Hell itself Louis.” Celeste responded, sitting on the wooden desk in front of the Count, placing her feet on the back of the seat next to him.

“Which is different than the norm how?” Louis asked with a mischievous glint in his eye. Celeste smiled and punched him in the arm, shaking her head.

“Ye don’t change do ye?” She asked, her feet lowering to the floor as she dropped down from where she was sat. Louis’ eyes were drawn away from her eyes by the bouncing of her medal (among other things) close to his face.

“I do sometimes, and that is part of the reason we parted so poorly last time, because on the rare occasion, I can be rather idiotic.” The Count was now looking at his hands, folded in his lap sheepishly.

“That right there is one-a th’ most pathetic excuses fer an apology I’ve ever heard!” The red-head smiled and sat in the seat next to Louis, crossing one leg over the other before leaning back in the chair.

“I am sorry, but I am not required to make them very often.”

“More like ye choose not ta make ‘em very often.” Celeste replied incredibly fast, winking at him.

“How are you not still incredibly angry at me? I was selfish, I was ungrateful and I was simply cruel…” Louis looked up at her, removing his top hat so that he could pull off the Telescopic Diagnostician. As he let it fall to his side, suspended by the small tubes which connected it to the analogue computer he ruffled his hair which he knew would look terrible after having been under that hat for so long.

“All o’ that is true. By all rights I shoulda pretended ye weren’t here…but I can’t do that.” Celeste spoke quietly, calmly and with an almost sad smile on her face.

“It probably would be better for you to forget about me.” Louis told her with a shake of his head.

“I refuse,” she told him plainly, “I can only imagine whacha were goin’ through. I know abou’cha wee sister and I know what happened ta yer crew after we parted ways.”

Louis’ eyes closed as the pain washed over him again, filling him with doubt and concern.

“And I know that you’re still sufferin’ honey. I realised that when I got back on ma ship, but I couldn’t exactly come back an’ say sorry…plus I shouldn’ta had to…”

“No, it was my doing I just…I really did not want you risking yourself for me. There are enough issues with the Darmanians coming for me and…this was nailed to my door the last time I visited my house in London…” Louis reached inside his tailcoat, pulling a folded piece of paper out of his pocket before handing it to Celeste.

The Captain of the HMS Hermes unfolded the paper with a confused look on her face, followed by a look of complete horror. Within the folded paper was a single playing card, the Ace of Spades, upon the back of which was a large circle drawn in blood.

“Heavens above!” Celeste dropped it, looking at her hands as though she had somehow been contaminated. “The mark…Oh Louis…”

The Ace of Spades, presented alone to any who had ever called themselves pirate, was a death sentence. This meant that the Black Den would be actively hunting him from now on, almost certainly because of the fact that he was now under employment by the Royal Navy.

“But I don’t understand…why’d they be huntin’ you an’ not me?” Celeste asked, confused as she picked up the card and wrapped it back up in the paper.

“The Black Den were always less than impressed with me declining their offer to join in the first place. Considering I then went on to refuse to murder and to let all ships free after raiding them…” Louis shrugged and sighed.

“Oh darlin’,” Celeste wrapped her arms around Louis’ head, pulling him into the crook of her neck, “what’re ye gonna do?”

“Nothing,” Louis replied, breathing in slowly as his arms wrapped around her waist, “but I cannot risk my crew. I have no idea what I shall be doing yet. I had forgotten about it until we made port here once more and thoughts ran to visiting my home…then I recalled that this had been there the last time.”

“Ye haven’t told anyone yet have ye?” Celeste asked, knowing the answer already.

“None before you my dear.”

They sat in silence, wrapped in each other’s embrace in the large room, the room empty in their eyes despite the politicians, General Davenport and Admiral Tooley sat with them, deep in discussion. Louis kissed her neck gently and then pulled away, smiling faintly as their eyes locked once more.

“I love you…Ye do know that don’tcha?” Celeste looked as though that had taken every ounce of effort she possessed, her eyes full of concern as she spoke.

“I had a sneaking suspicion…” The Count replied, standing with a broad smile on his face. “You happen to be the only woman I would ever consider as anything more than a simple conquest. However, I do not think that this is the correct time for such professions. We are going to war on the morrow and I do not fully expect to return from such a battle…”

“Then, what better time ta make professions to our feelin’s Louis?” Celeste asked, standing now and glaring at him, obviously hurt.

“A better time would be when we both return.” Louis told her with a smile, placing his hands on her shoulders gently. He lifted his hat to his head and tucked the Telescopic Diagnostician into a pocket before walking towards the door and out into the empty corridor beyond.

“NO YE DON’T!” Celeste’s voice came from far closer than Louis was expecting and he turned only to be slammed against the wall, the woman’s hand around his throat as his hat toppled from his head.

“Ye’ll not be runnin’ away from this’n Louis!” Celeste told him, her eyes full of mischief rather than malice as she suddenly kissed him, her grip faltering as her hand lifted to his cheek instead.

The Count’s eyes, wide in a mixture of surprise and fear closed and he melted into the kiss, his hands coming to lay on either side of her waist, pulling her against him.

“Now,” the female pirate told him, breaking the kiss, “have ye somethin’ ta say ta me Count?”

“You are a very stubborn and tenacious woman?” Louis mockingly asked her before receiving a playful slap against his chest, bringing a larger smile to his face as Celeste’s lips curled into a coy smile also.

“Fine, don’t say it! I’ll jus’-“

Celeste’s voice was cut off by another kiss that Louis had decided to surprise her with.

“I do love you. I just did not want to make such admissions in a place such as this, nor in these circumstances. Still, it is true and even if it was under a bit of duress, I cannot fault that or argue against it.” Louis shook his head with a smile, a gloved hand gently touching Celeste’s cheek.

“I knew it already but…hearin’ it makes all the difference in th’world.” Celeste was blushing heavily, something which Louis had never seen before.

Their history was a shaky one and he was surprised they had gotten to this stage but, even if it had taken a push from Celeste, he knew that the feelings had been there for some time.

“Damn you woman!” Louis exclaimed suddenly, “Do you realise how easily you complicate things?”

“’tis the nature of a woman is it not?” She asked with a wink, both of her arms circling around his neck.

“Apparently so. They seem to do little else in my life!” Louis replied, smiling genuinely for the first time in what felt like forever.

“So…what happens now?” Celeste asked, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I have no idea…I have never been in this situation before. I was planning on returning to my house one final time and setting certain affairs in order. You could come with me if you so choose?”

“That’s the most pathetic invitation I’ve heard Count! But alright, I’ll accompany you.” Celeste shook her head and then stepped back away from him, her lips now seemingly curled into a permanent smile.

Louis extended an elbow which Celeste took and they began to walk together. The Count smirked suddenly, as if he had thought of something rather amusing.

“We really must talk about you calling me pathetic this many times in a single conversation…”

* * * * *

Lieutenant Charles Davenport was sat in a pub, one of his favourite in London now that he could not return to his usual…the last time he had been to the Mary Arms had been with some of the other crew members and he had filled the place with chloroform gas as he had been more than a little tipsy.

The trip back to the HMS Valkyrie had not taken long and he had relayed Louis’ orders; that the crew were to enjoy the day but that at nine in the evening they were to be back at the docks and ready for an important meeting. Davenport had also added that they should stay sober but that they would be able to change that state after the meeting was concluded.

He was now sat in one of the two public rooms as even though he could now afford it, he much preferred these to the saloon in the back where the toffs would be sat, drinking overpriced alcohol.

The corridor he had walked through before turning into the room on the right had been made of pure stained glass, squares of varying sizes and hues sparkling in the dim light due to the small size of the windows inside.

Davenport tipped the glass back and licked his lips as the fluid burned his throat somewhat. Placing it back on the bar, it was instantly refilled as per his own instructions to the barman.

Today had been mildly amusing for him until his father had marched into the room, stamping his mark all over the bloody place. It was always going to be the way, all the way throughout his life until the old man was dead!

Guilt wracked Charles’ mind suddenly as he knew deep down that he did not wish anything negative on his father. In reality he merely wanted to pull himself out from under his father’s shadow and he would do that on the HMS Valkyrie, he could feel it! Big things were going to happen during this war and he would be at the front of the ranks! He had wanted freedom, partly from his father’s influence and partly from the expectations everyone else had been putting upon him. He had wanted to stamp his mark on the military, but without his father’s credentials being the driving force, he would do it off his own back, his own merits proving his worth…

Another drink trickled down his throat. War, that was interesting. There had to be more to this than simply retaliation! Were they waiting for an excuse for this war? If that was the case, then what possible reasons could there have been…technology? Capturing a few Darmanian scientists during the siege and putting them to work for Her Majesty did sound plausible, especially after seeing the kind of weaponry they possessed. They were also able to co-ordinate airships easily and seemingly avoid almost all tracking equipment and move at impeccable speeds even in great numbers. The more that he thought of it, the more likely it seemed. Still, reasons were not his concern, the fighting was. It was all he did was it not?

Another drink downed and he realised he would soon be pushing the orders he had personally given to the rest of the crew regarding alcohol. Still, he also knew that he could handle his liquor a lot better than most of the other crew and he would not be the one being informed that they were being trotted off to war.

Charles closed his eyes, taking a long, deep breath in to steady himself before opening them again, a new wave of clarity rushing over him. This was all well and good, but he could think of several other things he could be doing on the eve of war than be sat alone at a bar!

* * * * *

Skye was perfectly aware of what was happening here, Davenport had informed her, possibly in order to spurn her into swift action rather than any dawdling. It also meant that before she had allowed the crew to go ashore, she had cracked the whip harder than usual, making sure that the ship was absolutely perfect and that the weaponry was locked, loaded and ready for action at a moments notice.

Unlike the others, she stayed on the ship. Several other members had done so as well, but they were scattered and this meant that she was able to climb to the top of the envelope and sit on top of the best airship she had ever encountered. A sigh left her lips as she stared up at the sky, where she knew she really belonged.

Now, instead of staring up into the infinite blue, she felt not a sense of longing, but a sense of dread. The next time they would be taking to the air, they would be steering towards Darmania, her perfect sense of direction aiding them towards the start of an all out war. She was not entirely sure if she wanted any part in it…but how could she let Count de Theudubert down at a time like this? He took her off the streets, taught her everything she knew about airships and had even given her a prestigious title on board a Royal Navy airship. Still, he knew that she would not be on board forever, surely he did! She just wanted freedom and a place to feel like she belonged and…wait, that was it wasn’t it? She could not abandon this ship, not because of duty or loyalty…but because it was the only home she had ever really known. Not only that, but Louis was the one who had given her that home.

The young woman stood, her wings catching the sunlight as it peaked above the cranes in the dockyard. This was her home, the crew were her family and no matter where it the world they happened to be, she would defend both!

* * * * *

The crew of the Valkyrie and the Dockers working at the RNAS Ramilies had assembled several large tables and enough chairs for every single member of crew that was on board the Valkyrie including every last glueman, engineer and gunner that had worked with them. Close to eighty men sat at these tables and chairs, including the soldiers under Davenport’s command.

Louis had taken Celeste to his house, the closest thing he could think of to taking her to meet his parents, which he had shared with her, causing them both to laugh before they remembered where his parents were. Things had gone even better than expected and Louis was feeling the best that he had for a long time, despite what he was about to have to tell his crew.

Stood to the Count’s left was Tabitha Skylar, his second in command and first mate of the HMS Valkyrie; to his right stood Charles Davenport, Lieutenant in the British Army and commander of the regiment on board.

Louis’ eyes scanned the crowd, picking out those closest to him. Bjorn Hauptmann, known affectionately as ‘Swiss’ to most, one of the finest gunners he had ever met. Genevieve til Baudfert, the most loyal and brilliant engineer in Great Britain if not the world. Louis touched his right arm as his eyes fell on her, a reminder of the time she had joined the crew forever embedded into his flesh after that fateful meeting. Doctor Elizabeth Knight, whose wit was dark but always on point and who combined her skills in the operating room with skills as an herbalist to make one of the finest physicians to have ever patched Louis up…and he had met a fair few! Amelia Hawkesworth, a woman whose sharp tongue masked her inner fear. She had truly come into her own and become a member of the crew in her own right rather than an unwelcome visitor.  And the newest member, Aurora Ebeltoft who had already been tinkering to a great degree, working well with Genevieve to maximise the engine output and even to strengthen the Teleforce Cannon and make it even more stable than before.

The Count was impressed with all of them and placed a great deal of trust and faith in every single person in front of him. They had fought, they had bled, they had survived together and they had mourned together for those that were no longer here.

“My friends, my crew, thank you for coming. Know now that I will be explaining our next mission and many of you will not be happy with it. I will come straight out and say it. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are to lead a squadron of battleships into war against Darmania.” Louis quickly explained what had happened with Jersey and Guernsey, speaking swiftly as the murmurings of the crew and the anxiety was mounting.

“Captain, is this not the time to leave the Navy then?” An engineer had stood, pleading with him, fear filling his features completely.

“I shall not be doing so, neither will the HMS Valkyrie,” Louis responded confidently, “however, I will not be keeping any of you here. I will state right now that any person before me who does not wish to go to war with me is free to go tonight, without respite or loss of honour.”

“I’ll not be going!” Swiss called, slamming his metal fist down on the table he was sat at.

“I am very glad to hear that Bjorn!” Louis responded with a smile. “If anyone wishes to leave, please do so now. The rest of the information I have to give is highly confidential and shall not be given to any who are not going to be on board when we leave tomorrow.”

Less than ten men stood and shuffled away, embarrassed, ashamed and defeated. Louis looked around, noting that they had been engineers and one of the gluemen. That was acceptable.

“Thank you, those who have remained. I know how hard this must be and I know that none of you signed up for this. Tomorrow, we will depart for war with Darmania as a member of the largest fleet that has gone to war since the days when the Empire relied on the seas for Naval protection!” Louis smiled, proud that out of a crew which numbered close to one hundred, only seven or eight men had departed.

Would he have stayed in their position? He was unsure, as he had never been shown a man to stand beside as they seemed to stand beside him. Perhaps for Admiral Tooley…after all, he was still here was he not?

“The Fifty-Second Expeditionary Battle Fleet shall fly tomorrow and we shall help lead it. We will encounter the Darmanian resistance and we are not sure if they will be expecting us or not. Knowing the Darmanians, they will be sitting there, jaws open, ready for us. As such, we must be ready to attack at all times! New crew will be joining us tomorrow, on loan from other ships in the fleet on a temporary basis, specifically; some fire and damage control personnel, as well as new infantry will be accompanying us.” Louis saw a few roll their eyes or whisper something to a neighbour. “This will only be while we are battling the Darmanian foe and after this, we shall be back to our regular duties…in fact, forget that! When we finish this mission, we shall be taking the HMS Valkyrie and leaving the Royal Navy!”

Charles Davenport turned to stare at the Captain, having not been informed of this and not expecting it either, especially not after Louis had been promoted. After the war, had he done as good a job as he was expecting, the position might have become permanent.

“Captain! I…” Davenport began to argue, but he held his tongue and shook his head, standing at attention once more. He had not been heard over the whooping and celebration of most of the crew at any rate and now would not be the time to raise this issue.

What Louis was talking about would take place after the upcoming war with Darmania. Who knew how long that could take? Surely the single conflict would not be enough and until that occurred, he had battles to focus his energy upon! For now he would pretend that he had not heard such a thing and that thing would remain as they were now. If the Valkyrie was no longer part of the Royal Navy, they would withdraw the soldiers from the ship for certain and that would mean he would be forced to return to the Army until at least his service requirement was over. The only other way he could stay on board the Valkyrie was desertion…and that was unthinkable!

At least, he had never before thought of it. He stared long and hard at Louis as he spoke, his mind racing with thoughts of what might happen once this war was finished. He would have to return to the Army, that was all there was to it! He had worked for too long and too hard to get where he was and he knew that he would clearly be moving up the ranks quickly once he was back on the ground.

Damn it Louis… Davenport thought to himself, trying desperately not to show any emotion in his face. This was not what he needed, not now, not on the eve of battle! He looked away from the Count and cursed silently, wishing that Louis had thought more carefully about all of this and-

His eyes hit Elizabeth, casually carving something into the table using a scalpel that she had apparently just been randomly carrying with her. While he despised doctors, he enjoyed her company immensely and she was certainly the person on the ship he most identified with and one of the few women who shared the same dark humour that he possessed. The fact that she was so blasé about scalpels, needles and blood did scare the hell out of him…but who was perfect? She would be staying on the ship, would he not be seeing her again after this war?

“Damn it Louis!” This time Davenport spoke aloud but kept it incredibly low so that even standing next to the Count, Charles would be the only one to hear the utterance.

“You are free to go again, and this time, make sure you drink yourselves silly, because precious cargo will not be coming with us, and that includes any and all alcohol.” Louis smirked. “So make up for it tonight alright? There will be plenty of time to sober up before the battle commences, but you will need to be recovering so go, now!”

Without needing asked twice, the crew stood and began to dissipate, some heading into the ship and others heading out into London again.

When they had all gone, several of the prominent members of the crew were still stood nearby.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Amelia asked, walking towards him.

“Yes, it is what we have been called to do and I do not plan on shirking my responsibilities…for once.” Louis added with a laugh.

“Then I plan to come with you. Who knows what kind of Darmanian treasures you plan on accosting without recording.” Amelia smiled and walked towards the ship.

“You know I’m with you.” Genevieve told him, giving the Count a quick hug before blushing and stepping back. “You’ll need me anyway. You know you’re useless without me on board.”

“And I might as well come with you. I want Darmanian technology as soon as possible.” Aurora winked and sat down on the nearest table.

“Where’d Swiss get offta?” Skye asked, looking around.

“Back into the ship. He’s not done on our project.” Gen added with a smile, sitting down on the same table as Aurora.

“You are all dismissed.” Louis told them with a small laugh.

“Where are we going to go exactly? The Valkyrie has been our home for a very long time and, as much as it pains me to admit it, I feel somewhat attached to you people.” Dr. Knight smirked as she remained sitting, crossing one leg over the other as she slid the scalpel into her boot.

Louis laughed and sat down.

“Well then, who plans on bringing the alcohol because I have no idea about the rest of you, but I am most certainly in need of some strong rum!”
This was really Chapter 12, part 2 but Deviantart deemed it too big for a single file LOL So it's being split into two as Chapter 12 and 13!

At any rate, enjoy the next chapter of what has now become a Steampunk NOVEL rather than a mere story, Flight of the Valkyrie!

The rest of the chapters can be found here;
[link]

Prose, characters, fictional locations etc. are copyright :iconsjbonnar:
Technical advisor :iconleadmill:
Count Louis de Theudubert is :iconsjbonnar:
Lieutenant Carles Christophe Davenport is :iconleadmill:
Bjorn "Swiss" Hauptmann is :iconjuggern0ught:
Genevieve til Baudfert is :iconwings-of-crimson:
Tabitha "Skye" Skylar is :iconefia:
Amelia Evelyn Hawkesworth is :iconefia:
Dr. Elizabeth Knight is :iconaliasdotcom:
Aurora Ebeltoft is :iconmtani:

The Valkyrie is no longer recruiting for main crew! HOWEVER, if you wish for a character to be written in briefly, I can do so as long as you give me the following information and express permission to use said character in the novel;
- You need a name for your character, a name which sounds quite Victorian but is also accurate. If you have a title of nobility (de, von, etc) then please explain WHY you have this title. Remember, there is no point having a British name if your character is Spanish!
- You need a brief background. How did they get where they are? Where did their skills come from? etc.
- You need some idea of how they met Count de Theudubert or got involved with the crew.
- You need an idea of how they dress and/or what they do!

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!
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:iconmangagirl232:
Well after catching up on all the chapters again today (I only got to chapter 9 originally ^^; ) I can't wait to read the rest tomorrow :D
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Jan 5, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Aww yay! Let me know what you think!
Reply
:iconjaygee67:
JayGee67 Feb 18, 2010
I'll echo Ladywhitetiger's "yay" for Louis and Celeste - I think I like her the best.
I notice you don't have a "Celeste" yet... *coughs* LOL
Reply
:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Feb 19, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
LOL I actually do have a Celeste, look through my photo galleries...
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:iconjaygee67:
JayGee67 Feb 19, 2010
Damn LOL. I will - sorry, I was looking in these pages.
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:iconglaurung-ii:
Glaurung-II Jun 24, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Having read from start to this point I have to say that you make an interesting story. The plot twists are enought to keep our attention and the characters are so well portrayed I can close my eyes and see them.

Keep on the good work!

PD: Good luck with the Steampunk panel ;)
Reply
:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Jun 24, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
That is fantastic to hear! Thank you so much!
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:iconglaurung-ii:
Glaurung-II Jun 24, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
:D
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:iconaliasdotcom:
Another two great chapters, can't wait for more! :)
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Jun 23, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks very much hun!
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