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October 4, 2008
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(Contains: strong language)
He needed help. This was not a mission which he should have embarked upon with just their ship, but at the same time, he knew that the Navy could not get involved with the mission they were to be carrying out.

However, the Royal Navy were not Count Louis de Theudubert’s only friends, nor was he blinded enough by his anger to have realised that he had needed help.

Before they had taken to the skies once more, in the brief hours before Louis had attempted to steal his ship back from the Navy shipyard, before the Count have even gathered his crew together once more, he had sent one telegram to dozens of sources, Skypirates all. It was perhaps pure hopefulness that any of them would be somewhere where these telegrams could actually reach them, but Louis was trying his hardest, sending several messages by Naval lines as well and connecting many to other countries on the main continent. There were code words used of course, so that if the message was intercepted by anyone Louis was not to trust, they would have little to no clue as to what he was referring.

“Dear Cogs,
Many of you already know the situation which I now find myself in, serving those who would wish to cease our turnings. Many others will know further the plight of my family and who I am now seeking. I am about to pursue a vessel which has been shown not only to be in league with my enemies, but to have actually carried my sister’s body to her final resting place. I seek your help in this matter. I am heading North-East of where my life began following a black airship. If any of you see this vessel, make note of heading and course, for I shall be along shortly.
LdT”

The telegram arrived in all of the major cities and several small towns, addressed to people he knew he could trust and would no doubt either already be in the skies or would be taking to the air soon. If they were already in the air, it would be a useless message, but if that were not the case, perhaps it could help.

It was a slim chance, but it was better than nothing!

“Cap’n, we’re nearin’ the base in Cambridge, you wanna be taken down?” Tabitha “Skye” Skylar asked, addressing Louis from the wheel where she stood over his right shoulder.

“No Tabby, this is fine. Pass low into the skyway and make sure they can see our banners. Steven, I can take over from here, take to the deck and ask them if they have seen the black ship or anything else of note.” Louis’ orders were followed swiftly by Tabby’s favoured co-pilot who walked past his Captain without so much as looking up from the floor, pulling a pair of semaphore flags from a container on the wall near the hatch that led downstairs. Louis raised an eyebrow and then shook his head, choosing to focus on the view ahead of them.

“Cap’n, please just call me Skye and ‘av done with!”

Louis did not seem to hear the pilot as his attention was locked firmly on the streams of airships they were now heading towards. The skyways around Cambridge were a lot clearer and moving so much more slowly than those in London. The larger vehicles were almost absent, small merchant frigates instead filling the routes in and out of the town. They descended into the line of traffic behind one such merchant, a large banner on the side and back indicating that they sold weapons and the Count smirked despite himself, thinking back to the room next to his bedroom where his sword connection lay. He doubted this small ship would possess anything that would tickle his fancy, he was quietly confident he could board, loot and vacate the vessel long before a police or navy ship could interfere. The Count doubted they would have original swords at all, probably cheap knock-offs which would shatter if ever faced with a real sword fight. Still, he was always on the look-out for a bargain…

But now was not the time!

As they neared the city limits to the airspace around Cambridge, a picket vessel over seeing local defence the HMS Discovery, flew alongside the Valkyrie as was standard procedure. Although the Count was made nervous by the fact that he could not see any of the sprawling university town’s many anti-aircraft batteries far below aimed at the ship this time… Cambridge along with many of the larger population centres in Southern England was subjected to infrequent air raids from both rival nations and opportunistic pirate bands, necessitating defences both on the ground and in the air to maintain a constant watchful vigil. With semaphore flags and flash lamps, the two ships sent messages back and forth but from the Count’s position he could not understand the message and he would need to rely on Steven to relay the information back to him. The picket vessel began to descend once more towards the town and with a nod from Louis, Skye began to lift higher once more, not breaking gait even for a second.

“Captain?” Steven asked, slightly out of breath as he climbed the rungs once more into the bridge.

“Yes? What did they say?”

Steven was still breathing heavily as he began his answer, “Sir, they stated that they have heard reports of a ship similar to what we seek, but these reports came from RNAS Nelson, the Norwich air station. They were heading east by north-east and making good time. They’ll be over the North Sea by now.”

“They are being brave…They are forgoing the fast route to Darmania and heading straight into German airspace…And those bastards may actually allow them refuge as well. The Germans were always willing to protect Darmania…”

Darmania was not the largest of countries, but it was one of the most feared. It was slightly smaller than Great Britain, only a little bigger than England and Wales and it sat between Norway and Iceland. The entire country was a country based on three things; technology, the occult and war. They were a highly advanced civilisation and their religion was a mystery to outsiders, but several who had witnessed rituals remarked that it seemed like a dark take on ancient pagan practices, closer to supposed satanic rites. Then again, this could be because of how mysterious the entire nation was, cut off from all other countries unless attacking them or trading with them, very few people knew anything about their culture. However, they had been rumoured to be heavily advanced in weaponry, possessing among other things a hand-held gun which could fire electrical charges akin to the power of lightning. Few people who had seen the full force of Darmanian fire power had lived to report back. When preying on merchant vessels, prisoners were rarely taken and the few skirmishes they had fought with the Empire had been swift and bloody.

Germany seemed to be the only country which Darmania seemed to trust, vessels often being seen travelling back and forth between the two, causing more than a little concern about the two becoming allies. German design and structure combined with Darmanian technology was a frightening prospect for any nation and most of Europe would fear this coming to pass. Norway and Denmark were both on the least pleasant ground with Darmania. Norway for having several towns supposedly raided by Darmanian forces and Denmark as they had lost the Faroe Islands to Darmania… Britain had been prepared to fight for the Shetland Islands as well, but that attack never came and even to this day people expected them to come under attack for conquest. Still, an uneasy silence continued and as such, Britain had refused to go to Denmark’s aid…

“They must have headed north-east to make it easier to avoid Holland, which means they are likely to be aiming to resupply in Hamburg before heading home…” The Count stroked his chin gently and was staring at the airships in front of them as they began to rise out of the skyway and into the open sky once more.

“We need to increase speed and change direction towards Hamburg. Go over the Netherlands if need be Tabby, we have nothing to fear from them.” Louis slammed his hand onto the banister as he watched Steven sit back down and he turned away, pausing next to the helm and smiling at Skye. “Sorry, I did it again did I not?”

“I’m getting’ used to it Cap’n.” Skye said, shaking her head with a sigh, looking straight ahead as Steven flicked some switches and then pulled a large brass lever. The propellers began to spin faster, allowing the ship to move faster through the air and Skye turned the wheel to the right, causing the ship to swerve perfectly and head out across East Anglia towards Holland.

“Head higher. If we can get high enough there is a skystream we can ride that would normally take us over Denmark, but we can get off again before we hit that point and it might actually give us enough speed to catch up to them!” The Count laughed, happy that he had remembered such a thing. It had been a long time since they had needed such speed without following a mark and this skystream was barely ever used as the altitude needed to get to it was staggering for an airship. Most airships, especially warships, stuck to the 7,000 foot high ceiling that they were accustomed to, but to each this skystream, they would need to hit around 13,000 feet to enter it without damaging the envelope.

Skystreams were rare natural phenomenon that occurred when air in a field of low pressure was sandwiched between two areas of high pressure, as such the air would move at incredible speed along a thin current, effectively carrying anything caught within it a fair distance with minimal effort from anything within it. An airship within a skystream could travel many thousands of miles at speeds of 70 mph without a single propeller being active. They would not slow, and as such, should make a speed that was high enough to test the chains that connected most airships to their envelopes. The Valkyrie, however, was designed for such speeds so that it could handle the quick boost of speed that the booster engines gave out.

“Higher Tabby.”

Steven interjected, “Sir, we’ve hit 10,000 feet! If we go much higher the cold could-“

“Trust me. I know what I am doing. Slow the propellers, but only slightly so we can retain fuel for longer.” The Count walked over to Skye once more and smiled. “It shall be fine my dear. I shall be in my quarters. Warn the crew that we are about to enter a skystream and then keep it steady until we are level with the northernmost point of Holland, then break out and head due east. I trust you will not be in need of a compass?”

Skye smirked and shook her head. “No cap’n!”

Louis clapped a hand onto her shoulder as he collected his cane from the banister and then began to climb down the ladder, closing the hatch behind him. The ship began to sway slightly and he smiled, knowing that they were about to enter the current and must have hit the 13,000 faster than he had imagined.

“Steady for impact! We’re hittin’ a skystream lads!” Skye’s voice rang over the speaking tubes and the Count laughed lightly, continuing his walk on his cane even as the ship began to shake and then suddenly lurched forwards as they fully entered. He had no need to latch onto of any of the surrounding holding positions as most of the other crew did. He braced himself and rode the sudden rush, showing his years on airships in his stride.

“I hate those damned things.” Davenport’s voice caused the Count to laugh and he turned to face the soldier.

“We have not been in a skystream for an age Charles! Surely you would not argue their usefulness?”

“Their usefulness? No sir, but the fact that I threaten to spew the contents of my last meal over anyone nearby is definitely not in their merit.” Davenport smirked and walked with Louis as they continued on towards the cabins.

“No, most assuredly not, especially with my new suit in firing range.” The Count winked as they rounded another corner and then they stopped, finding a rather dishevelled Amelia Hawkesworth.

“Um, I’ll leave you to it Captain.” Davenport fired quickly, shuffling quickly around Amelia before walking through the door of the military quarters where the entire platoon sat, prepared for boarding at any minute as Louis had instructed Davenport before takeoff.

“Miss Hawkesworth, you are looking ravishing this afternoon…”

“Save it Captain. I have been finding evidence all over this ship of items not included in your ship’s logs! You will have a lot of explaining to do when we get back to England!” Her eyes were narrowed on him and she obviously had not been expecting the sudden lurch the ship had shown when they had entered the skystream. Her hat was barely on her head at all anymore and sat at a crooked angle with the hair beneath it, usually styled well with a few carefully managed waves, was tangled and matted.

“I will prepare for that then Miss Hawkesworth, and until then you can see if there is a way for you to prove that I did not merely buy said items for my crew and I to enjoy since you have already seen much evidence of how I like to lavish my ship with attention. Good day.” Louis walked past her, virtually hearing the grinding of her teeth as he unlocked the door to his own room and closed it behind him with a heavy sigh. This was beginning to take its toll on him.

Ever since they had left, he had been forced to put on a brave face for the crew, to be strong and without negative emotion. He wondered if the crew would have found this odd, knowing full well what had happened in London to make them embark on this mission in the first place. But it meant keeping it in at all times and faking mirth even when he just wanted to be alone for a while.

There is no such thing as alone on an airship.

Several knocks on the thick door had the Count, who had just sat down on his bed, stand back up again and walk across to it, opening it to find Genevieve standing at the door.

The young engineer was wearing her standard grey cap, a cap she had once stolen from the Count’s quarters and had been allowed to keep. Beneath the cap lay a head of thick dirty-blonde hair tied back into a long plait which most of the crew had never seen due to her seemingly constant efforts to conceal anything which would remind others that she was a female. Her white frilled shirt, adorned with tan pinstriping, was held close to her by a waistcoat with two long tails which almost scraped the carpet behind her. Her legs were covered by a pair of truly masculine brown shorts which led down to a pair of grey stockings and brown workman’s boots.

“Genevieve? What brings you up here? This is rather far from your usual tinkerings!” Louis smiled warmly and stepped back a little.

“Well…yes, I know this is generally strange, but I wanted to ask about maybe…well, there’s an International Science Exhibition and Fair taking place in Stockholm and…well…”

“That is surely an unhealthy usage of the word well in a sentence, but I suppose what you are asking is whether we can head in that direction when we are finished with our pursuit?” The Count asked, his face stony so as to not betray his utter amusement.

“Yes! Yes, that is exactly what I wanted to ask! It is in three weeks which means we should easily have captured that black ship by then and we’d all like a break by that point I am certain!” Genevieve added with a broad smile, her head tilted upwards towards the Count with closed eyes that made her smirk almost comical, even fox-like.

“If we have settled some of this business by then, then I can honestly not think of a good reason to miss such an event, especially if it means we can purchase something new for the ship.” Louis rested his hand on top of Gen’s head, pushing her hat down over her eyes slightly before he let go and she straightened it, narrowing her eyes at him.

“Thank you!” She suddenly leapt forward and hugged the Count, smiling before she turned and almost skipped away in her excitement. One of her gloved hands pulled something from one of the many pockets in her leather tool belt, clearly heading back to work. The extremely large wrench tucked into the back of the belt bobbed as she went, threatening to slip free, which would be extremely dangerous considering she had sharpened the broad side of it into a crude blade.

As a force of habit, he checked down over his outfit to ensure that there were no grease stains as she had ruined some of his clothing in such a manner. When he realised she must not have started any seriously dirty work he breathed a sigh of relief and walked back over to the bed, throwing his hat onto a nearby chair before he collapsed face-first onto his comfortable quilt. He was exhausted, both mentally and emotionally but his body would refuse to sleep as it was still perfectly active. Besides, with the skystream and their engines working together, it would not be a long period of time before they arrived at the point where they left the skystream and then they would be near Denmark and ready to plough head first into chasing the black ship!

* * * * *

“Cap’n! There’s a ship on approach bearing Royal Navy insignias!”

The Count’s eyes opened groggily and he sat up, now lying on his back with his head on the pillows he had not been high enough to rest upon earlier. How much time had passed!?

“Tabby, where are we?” Louis had bounded from the bed and to the speaking tube, pausing to hear a reply.

“We left the skystream ‘bout twenty minutes ago and we’re ‘bout 150 miles off the coast o’ Denmark. There’s an HMS Hermes signalling fer us to come alongside ‘em sir. Whatta we do?” Skye asked, awaiting her orders from the Captain of the ship.

Louis paused for a moment, trying to think in his still only semi-conscious state. He had been shocked awake and his body was still desperately trying to catch up with him so that they could work in unison again. His right hand lifted to his face and rubbed the feeling of sleep away from his eyes as he tried hard to remember why the HMS Hermes sounded familiar.

“Celeste! Of course!” The Count leant back into the Speaking tube. “Do as they ask and come alongside! They are a friendly vessel!”

Louis smiled despite himself and checked himself over in the mirror, lifting water from a small basin and splashing it into his face before wiping it clean again to remove the final traces of sleep from his body and mind both. The Telescopic Diagnostician had been on his face when he fell asleep, and now lay on his pillow so was quickly retrieved, followed by his hat, his wood and metal goggles in their proud place on the brim. He brushed down his waistcoat and jacket before straightening his black cravat. It had been a long time since he had last seen Captain Celeste Brislan, a fellow Skypirate and one of the few who was also a state sanctioned privateer working for the British Navy. They had joined at a very similar time, she only a few weeks before he had done so and the fact that they had known each other before this in a pirating sense was quite a coincidence.

Celeste was also well known to some of the crew, primarily Bjorn and Genevieve who had been here for so long. The Count and Celeste had also met once since they had both been inducted, but the talk had been short lived and mostly ran along the vein of why they had done so, what they were sacrificing to do it and then…then it had moved into a room at a nearby inn…

The Count smirked to himself as he remembered it and he laughed as he opened the door, moving through the ship and towards the deck rather than towards the bridge as would be usual when coming alongside another ship. He paused within the cabin that led out onto deck, watching carefully until they pulled alongside fully and he could see her on the opposite deck. It could have easily been that her ship had been taken and that they were being lulled in falsely, but now that he had visual confirmation, all was well!

Louis stepped out onto deck and across into the centre of it, smirking as he saw a rope in Celeste’s hand. With a running jump she held tight and swung elegantly across the gap between the two ships without even attaching a tether in case a gust of wind blew her loose. She always had been reckless, too quick to throw her life away in the name of thrills or plunder, but there were reasons for that.

The Count smirked and stepped back, grabbing the sword on his left hip with his left hand, holding it so that it pointed out towards his elbow as he unsheathed it, immediately guarding across his face as a thick scimitar came down hard against the blade, clashing as Celeste landed exactly where he had been standing a second before.

“Ye’ve not lessened yer skill, that be sure.” The woman complimented him, her emerald eyes locked onto his own from within a pair of black rimmed goggles. Her eyes closed, her thick lashes hiding them from view as she relaxed her stance a little and she took a deep breath. “Glad ta be back in the sky.”

“You have yet to learn that your life has more value than you think.” Louis added, noticing that their faces were only a few inches apart, separated by their blades.

“Ach, a lecture already!? God damn it Louis, I just showed up!” Celeste placed her left hand against the back of her scimitar and suddenly pushed with all of her might, sending Louis stumbling back two steps before he regained his composure and smiled, resheathing his sword.

Celeste pulled her long red hair back as the breeze had caused it to cover her face and with a flick of her head it was behind her now, exposing her face. She wore a black headband, designed to (but failing to) keep her hair out of her face while she worked on the airship or in battle. She lifted the goggles from her eyes and placed them on her forehead, squarely where her headband sat so that it also protected her from any dirt that built up around the goggles. She had clearly not been wearing them long as they had little padding and yet no red lines rimmed her eyes, her freckles were still perfectly visible either side of her nose. She tied off the rope to one of the railings on the side of the ship as more hooks were thrown across to latch the ships together temporarily.

“Are you coming on board alone my dear?” Louis asked with a smile, extending his elbow.

The Irish woman laughed and knocked his elbow away. “Louis, I’d think you’da learnt by now that your stupid elegance means jack shit ta me! Jus’ point me in the direction o’ your rum and a place to sit a wee bit an’ I’ll be happy!”

Louis laughed and bowed his head. “Fair enough. Well, the best rum on the ship is in my quarters. Shall we?”

“Lead the way. I don’t think I’ve actually been on this one yet! By Jesus if she doesn’t look just like mine though!” Her eyes scanned the deck and into the main cabin and up at the envelope above them.

“They are two of the same experimental family are they not?”

“Aye, mine’s the tracking ship and your baby’s the one with the speed right?” She smiled as they walked, into the warmth that the cabin provided compared to the rushing winds outside.

“Speed, and the cannon!”

“Ah right, that monstrosity they stuck in the prow? I got the better deal if ya ask me!” Celeste Brislan looked incredibly smug as they passed several members of male crew who stared in awe at her. That was partially due to her beauty, but the clothing she wore had a fair bit to do with it as well…

Celeste wore a white ruffled dress which lay open down to the point where her black leather underbust corset kept the top pinned to her flesh; otherwise she would have been putting on quite the show! And of course, this was what drew less gentlemanly men to stare so obviously at her voluptuous curves rather than the simple chain holding a single gold ring which hung from her neck.

The sleeves of the dress were also ruffled but not long, hanging from her shoulders loosely although her left shoulder was also covered in a brass-coloured pauldron with several spikes jutting from its surface. Around her waist lay a four-inch wide sword belt, attached to which were several large pouches and also her boarding cutlass, obviously custom due to the large eagle’s wing which extended from the hiltguard around to the tip of the hilt to protect her hand. Around her forearms were wrapped two shining vambraces, each stamped with her own personal emblem of an eagle’s head with a dagger in its mouth and an eye patch on its face.

As she walked, the clacking of her heels drew Louis’ attention to her thigh-high boots which were topped by a red turn-down. Above that was a tantalising view of her thighs that ran almost to her hips as the split of her dress came to a close, just above the legs of the small black shorts she wore beneath it. She did not dress conservatively, but at the same time she seemed to realise that without the shorts, a gust of wind and she would be flashing her underwear for everyone to see.

Not that anyone would mind! Louis shook his head at the men who stared as they walked past.

“Do you not have work to do?” He asked suddenly and they all busied themselves with any little job they could find.

“You always were a spoil-sport Mr Count.” Celeste told him with a wink as they turned towards his quarters. Thankfully they had not run into Amelia as he was sure she would have something to say about inviting another pirate on board the ship, even if said pirate was in the employ of the Royal Navy.

They stepped into his room and Louis closed the door on more than one male face winking in his direction. He smirked and shook his head and he turned back to the woman, who was already at the drinks cabinet and pulling the stopper from a decanter of rum. She had a good eye for liquor… She poured a small amount into a tumbler and gently breathed in the scent.

“Puerto Rican black label…very impressive.” She downed the glass and shivered in what seemed to be a mixture of delight and shock at the strength.

“What is more impressive is that you could tell from the scent.” The Count smiled and took the bottle from her, pouring a small amount of the dark liquid into another tumbler, the light from a small window catching it to reveal the amber undertones to the colour.

“Shall we talk business then? Get that nasty business outta the way before movin’ on?” The female privateer asked, taking the bottle back before sitting down in a comfortable chair and crossing one leg over the other.

“I take it you received my telegram?”

“Aye. I got ya wee message when I was takin’ on supplies in Eindhoven. I was sorry to hear about your wee sister. Those bastards woulda had no right even if you’d done somethin’ to anger ‘em.” She took a smaller sip this time, this time showing no sign of either shock or pleasure in it.

“Indeed. It was certainly nothing to do with Angelique at any rate. She did not deserve this, even if I had done something to provoke it.”

“Didya?” She asked, leaning forwards.

“Not as far as I am aware. They were most certainly Darmanian and I have had very little contact with any Darmanians at all over the years, let alone anyone of importance.” The Count sipped his own dark rum and sighed, his brow furrowed.

“Don’t do that, you look godawful when you’re thinkin’ too much.” She smirked and then sat upright once more. “Besides, I might have somethin’ that’ll help you find this ship you’re searchin’ after.”

Louis sat down, clearly interested now as he downed the rest of his glass and put it down on the small table that separated the two of them.

“What’s it worth to ya?” She asked, leaning forwards.

“Damn it Celeste! Now is not the time!” Louis slammed his hand onto the table and stood, walking to the window so that his back was to her. He stared out at the passing clouds between the envelope and deck of the HMS Hermes, leaning his arm against the wall so that he was slightly hunched over. The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon now, staining the sky a deep orange as the first of the night’s stars were beginning to penetrate the sky with their own pinpricks of light.

Celeste watched him, clearly having not realised just how much this had affected him. They had crossed paths several times throughout the years, but she had never seen him anything other than calm, witty and suave. This was a side of him she had never experienced and she suddenly felt extremely guilty.

The female Captain stood and walked over to him, unsure of exactly what to do. Eventually she leant forward and wrapped her arms around him, her hands resting on his chest as her cheek touched his back.

“I’m sorry Count, I didn’t mean ta… It wasn’t right o’ me.”

Louis was taken aback by such a gentle showing and he stood upright, taking a deep breath as if to say something and then pausing. What could he say? He agreed with her wholeheartedly but knew in his heart that it was just her way and she was not intentionally toying with him out of spite. Eventually he turned and placed his hands on her shoulders, making her take a step back away from him and drop her own arms.

“I forgive you. I may have overreacted as well and I apologise. But I need as much information as you have Celeste.”

She nodded, her green eyes swimming with the promise of tears yet to fall. It saddened Louis to see such a thing, but he was in business mode right now.

“We saw a ship that was flyin’ Darmanian colours to be sure and it seemed to be heading towards Germany no more than an hour ago, but it was in no rush from what I could see.” Celeste bent down and pulled a scrap of paper from her boot. “Our position when we saw the ship. It was headed east but you could catch ‘em…you’d have to leave soon though…”

“You know that means I must go now do you not?”

“Aye, I know, Captain de Theudubert.” Celeste took a deep, somewhat cathartic breath and then her eyes snapped open, narrowing a little. “We’ll need ta get my ship released from her tether so you can get the hell outta here. We’ll follow you’uns on electro-analysis fer a bit, but we can’t keep up witya.”

The HMS Hermes had been designed by the Royal Navy as the most advanced tracking ship known to man, using another of Nikolas Tesla’s experimental devices which sent out standing electromagnetic waves and reading the undulations in the constant wave as it travels outwards. In the same way that Louis had been crafty when negotiating his benefits from enlisting in the Navy, Celeste had gained the Hermes. She had always had the reputation of being an unnaturally skilled tracker, able to follow ships in and out of fog as if she were tethered to the rudder itself. The Hermes had been granted to her and at her request she was able to add modifications as she saw fit, turning it from an already impressive scouting ship into the force it was today. It was supposed to also have on board some experimental communications equipment, but Louis had been given no details of such a thing and had heard no stories as of yet.

But he was about to.

“Take this, contact us if ya need to. It’ll only work at low altitudes, so we’ll be scraping the sea floor fer a few hours after you’ve left our sights.” Celeste had unbuckled two of her pouches and handed him what looked like a morse code transmitter and a small box which were connected with wires.

Louis raised an eyebrow before he asked, “What use will we have for telegrams in the sky?”

“Wireless telegrams, we use ‘em to communicate wi’ the kind folks at Ramilles. Don’t ask me how they work ‘cause I haven’t a clue!” She smirked and smacked the Count’s shoulder affectionately before turning towards his door. “Time fer me to leave I think. You’ll be havin’ no excuse to keep outta contact fer so long the next time Louis.”

The Count was speechless as he followed her, quickly placing the two parts of the machine on a side table as she opened the door and began to leave by herself. He slammed the door behind him and escorted her through the ship to the deck once more. With a smile and a quick kiss on the cheek, Celeste had caught hold of the rope and launched herself from the side of the ship, swinging back to her own elegantly but leaving another rope hanging slack by the side of the first as members of Louis’ crew loosened the tethering lines.

Quite why there was a second line was a mystery to Louis, but the other crew did not mention anything, so there must have been nothing special to report on it.

As the Hermes began to pull away, Celeste gave a quick wave and then stepped back inside her own cabin, far faster than Louis had been expecting. He watched the ship pull away and then he turned to a speaking tube.

“Away with us Tabitha. You know the direction.”

“Aye cap’n.”

Skye stepped away from the tube and back to the helm, turning slightly as the HMS Hermes reached a safe distance. She looked up at Steven who was not manning his post correctly, his swivelling chair turned slightly away from the control panel so that he could comfortably rest his elbow on the dashboard. His hand was touching his brow and he looked deep in thought before he suddenly stood, walking towards the hatch.

“Where are you goin’?” Skye asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I just need some air. I love being on airships, but being stuck inside the cabin too long does my head in. I need to get out on deck for a bit. The Captain will be returning to the bridge soon anyway.” His smile seemed false, somewhat forced as he spoke.

Skye nodded and watched as Steven lowered himself onto the ladder and slid down out of sight. Sometimes she felt as if she had known him for years, and others it seemed as though he were a complete stranger. She had no idea why she had chosen him out of the other pilots to be her second, but he had performed well and usually had such a bright and bubbly personality.

Plus he was certainly not bad looking…

“Mind on the sky Tabby.”

The Count’s voice startled her. How a man with the injury he did so well to hide could still sneak up on her was nothing short of a miracle, but he did it often!

“Aye sir, and it’s Skye…”

* * * * *

Steven sighed as he stepped out onto the deck, faking a smile as he nodded to the last member of the crew to step back inside after ensuring that the HMS Hermes was well on its way. The ship was no longer in view, having disappeared in the time it took Steven to return to his quarters and collect what he needed for this mission.

His mind swam with guilt as he made his way to the prow, as far out as was possible so that he was sure not to accidentally hit the envelope and cause an explosion which would kill them all. The Darmanians wanted Louis de Theudubert dead or alive, but they wanted him. If the HMS Valkyrie plunged into the North Sea, Steven could not ensure the safety of the only thing in this world he cared about. He knew well the Count’s situation, but he cared far less for his Captain’s family than for his own and with his fiancée in Darmanian hands, Steven knew that he had to do what they wished of him. She had only been gone for fifteen minutes, left to go and take his niece back to her mother when she had been taken, the baby left in her pram on the side of the road.

It was despicable of them, carrying out such deeds in order to get to a man whom Steven considered just an employer, a new employer at that. The two men barely knew each other, but the Darmanians clearly believed that this was the key to his success in this endeavour. The Count had found spies on board his ship before, usually through his own intuition and detection and was notorious for his ability to read people. Steven had been on board long enough not to be a suspect, but not long enough to have become extremely loyal.

On second thoughts, Steven was the perfect choice for this mission. They had chosen well, and he would carry out their desires. He had alerted them to their flight plan before they had left London, but that plan had changed when they had entered the skystream. Now he would have to execute plan B…

When he was sure that he was far enough away from the envelope not to cause any damage, he pulled the fireworks from his bag, sighing again as he looked out into the darkening sky. In less than half an hour the Sun would have dipped below the horizon entirely, fitting considering his actions right now. A flare would have been perfect at lower altitudes, but would not be sufficient to alert the waiting Darmanian ship that could be in any direction from them. Edward Wilson Very’s cleverly created firearm which could fire these were not very safe on an airship and the Count thoroughly despised these “flare guns” at any rate.

Steven wrapped a single piece of parchment around the rocket and lit the fuse, aiming towards the starboard before it fired, keeping his hand safe and allowing him to aim effectively. He followed this twice quickly, firing one straight ahead and one port-side before he threw the parchment and lighter over the side and dove behind one of the storage cages. Sure enough, crew began to flood out of the door, clinging to the sides as the smoke from the fireworks settled and all wondering what had just happened. Steven stood and walked towards them, joining them effortlessly.

Louis watched from the bridge, the corners of his lips twitching into a smirk as he realised what was happening.

“So that is the game? It seems we have a traitor on board.”

Skye’s eyes widened in shock, stretching the scar that adorned her face so that some discoloured skin appeared around the edges of the kohl-enriched scar. She span the wheel suddenly, turning violently and without warning.

“Nay, do not take evasive measures!” The Count caught the wheel with one hand and span it back to its original position.

“Ya always taught me that if your position’s given away, ya get outta the area as fast as fast as ya can!” Skye countered, looking at him angrily.

“Think. We were looking for them, but now they come for us.” The Count winked and leant to the nearby brass tube, shouting into it, “All crew to battle stations! The Darmanians will be coming!”
I seem to be settling into writing in this style more and more now. I am comfortable with it and I am comfortable within the skin of the Count.

This chapter is quite deep and more filled with emotions than action. There is a new character and also the Count has changed possibly forever... 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: (maybe)
Aurora Ebeltoft is :iconmtani:
Mei Li is :iconfelche:

Also, the HMS Valkyrie is currently recruiting...so if you are interested in Steampunk and have some kind of idea of a character, let me know! We'd love to recruit more members of our crew and it means I get to do another chapter of this to introduce any new characters!

What we expect of new recruits;
- First and foremost, you need some idea of position on board the crew. This will help plan the name, rank, status, clothing etc.
- 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 foreign!
- 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 in the crew.
- You need an idea of how they dress or I can't write them into the novel.

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!

Please note that the crew of the HMS Valkyrie shall be touching down at the London MCM Expo in October on the Sunday! We shall be pleased to make your acquaintance!
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:iconmangagirl232:
MangaGirl232 Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2010
Ooh! Another twist! I'm really getting into the story now hun ^_^
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Glad you approve ^_^
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:iconfullmetalwing:
FullMetalWing Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
thats so good too XD i love reading this so much now
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:iconleonie-heartilly:
Leonie-Heartilly Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2009  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Celeste... now she's interesting. And wears a hot outfit! No-one brave enough to come forward to cosplay her yet? lol
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
A few offers but none I've accepted yet!
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:iconleonie-heartilly:
Leonie-Heartilly Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2009  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Ooo... *ponders* Tempted... very tempted...
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
LOL
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:iconmyscarredheart:
MyScarredHeart Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2008
fantastic, just going to read the next part :)
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2008  Hobbyist Writer
Hehe I'm glad you like it! Zenobia should be mentioned in 8 as I've now made the chapters shorter ^_^'
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