The alleyway was narrow, almost too narrow for his muscular frame to fit through, but he knew he would manage it. He had been in tighter situations, both figuratively and literally!
The sky above winked down at him with a thousand eyes, each glinting star seeming to judge his actions, but he ignored this. No-one could see that what he was doing was for the sake of the country. Darmania would go to war with Great Britain, it was only a matter of time and the Empire would indeed fall. There was no doubt in his mind, not with the things he had seen and heard. Germany was sending supplies into Darmania, the ores that were not available for the keen weapon smiths to use in creating their monstrosities of war, which they then shared with the Germans.
He had first come to parley in hopes of gaining a truce or even an alliance with Darmania, but that had fallen away rapidly and he had been given two choices: aid them and join the empire that would arise from Darmania and Germanys conquest, or die then and there. He had always considered himself patriotic, but he would have joined even if his life were not under threat. The outcome was inevitable and with his continued dealings, he was guaranteeing himself a place high up in the newly combined army.
An electric light glinted into existence in the window he walked past, illuminating his features suddenly enough to shock him. He pulled the dark hood of his cloak up around his head, leaning over enough that only his lower face could be seen. The stubble surrounding his carefully groomed goatee betrayed how long he had been in Darmania, keeping an extremely low profile as he moved to the rendezvous point. He was, of course, welcome in this country, but that would not stop cutthroats, shamans and whatever other unsavoury people that resided within this place from bothering him.
He kicked over an old glass as he emerged from the tight space into what had once been a vibrant market square but now stood almost completely abandoned. The dark stone buildings were moored to the ground with large guide ropes, some, the grander buildings, held in place with chains. The ground around this central hub was less than stable after the experiment with some of their more advanced and frankly unbelievable inventions had gone terribly wrong. He had heard tell of the experiment designed around matter displacement, literally causing some matter to appear elsewhere, but that it could also be modified (and had been) into a weapon that simply causes matter to cease to exist
He had no idea how it worked and had, until he had seen Carmalis former central hub himself.
The market square had been vibrant, full of bustling shoppers, sellers, thieves, shamans, fortune tellers and various more unsavoury characters. It had been one of the best parts of Carmali, Darmanias capitol and had housed a beautiful fountain carved from pure onyx, adding to the dark mystique of the entire country. Now, there was a large hole in the centre and nobody could tell how deep it was as all tests had failed to find a bottom to it, some suggested it went as far as Necros itself, the Darmanian equivalent of Hell. As such, superstition made this place taboo and the cracked black paving stones which surrounded the hole were slowly crumbling away into the depths of nothingness that now gaped open where the fountain had once stood. The ropes and chains were virtually useless, but were in place in a strange hope that it would save the homes from the inevitable plunge into darkness that would reach their doorways.
The taboo did, however, make this the perfect meeting place for the kind of business which he was here to conduct.
The stars could judge him all they wanted, he was in the right! As well as the thousands of eyes staring down at him from above, more seemed to blink open in the very heart of the dark pit that he now edged his way around, the stone between the hole and the houses were just wide enough to be comfortable. Still, the threat of falling into that hole was terrifying. How far would he fall before he hit the bottom? Would he ever hit the bottom? If there was no bottom, did one die of the shock of the fall or eventual starvation?
He shook his head. He was a military man and certainly not about to lose his mind now! The eyes in the pit were gone and he smirked to himself as he reached the door he sought. The old church now stood abandoned, shunned by those who believed the gaping hole to Necros in front of it to be a terrible omen. It was not public knowledge what had caused the gaping hole to appear in the first place and at first it was deemed to be some kind of sorcery until whisperings and more scientific minds put that to bed. The Darmanian government had not entirely answered any questions as to what had happened, but they had cleverly made it seem as though it had been an outside attack. It had been a clever tactic
Halt! Identify yourself! A gruff voice came from the darkness near the altar.
The church was not like the Christian churches of Britain. The altar was draped in a purple cloth, strange black runes sewn into the silver trim of the material. On top of the altar was a silver chalice with obsidian gems set into four points around the curve of the cup. Beside that lay a silver dagger with a contrasting mother of pearl handle, its serrated blade gleaming in the faint moonlight which came through the cracked and broken windows, most of which were covered in velvet drapes to keep the room dark. There were no pews, but the thick carpet had several indentations which seemed to indicate the knees of a large gathering of people.
The most startling sight, barely visible in this dim light, were the bloodstains on various portions of the carpet, growing steadily in number until the altar base was almost caked in the dark stains. It was clear the kind of praying that went on here
I said identify yourself! The voice came again and this time the ornately decorated and long barrel of a strange looking gun lifted from the shadows, catching the light.
The inlaid decorations were impressive enough, but the barrel looked strangely as though the barrel were backwards. The barrel did not simply go straight or even open wider like a blunderbuss, but instead started incredibly wide and ended so narrow it looked as though a pinhead could barely fit through the opening. What manner of weapon was this!? It was connected by various wires and one long tube to a A4-sized box which sat on the floor next to the altar, at the top of some stone steps.
You know who I am. The British mans deep, commanding voice came forth from under the hood and he unclipped his cloak, draping it over his arm as he stepped into a pool of light which came through a broken pain of glass.
You took your time. The answer came in a voice steeped in a gentle but noticeable Eastern European accent, but the mans features were clearly also British as he stepped into the light with a smirk. He claimed he was Darmanian, and this may be true as he definitely had some influence in their military
however, this man was not pure blood, that much was sure.
I hear you revealed yourself to the Captain of the HMS Valkyrie. Was that wholly intelligent? The British voice returned.
It was right after I plunged my blade into his gut. I honestly do not believe that we have anything to worry about in this regard
With a cruel smile, the Darmanian lifted his hands to the long ponytail that was tied at the back of his head. He tightened the wire at the bottom that held it in place before sinking onto the carpet, his knees almost instinctively resting in the indentations made by previous occupants.
He is alive, the resistance we encountered was stronger than previously foreseen; he has trained soldiers aboard his vessel. The military man answered, moving to sit on the steps leading up to the altar, thankful that he wore the ragged cloak as he would not wish to sit on this carpet in his clothes alone.
That, my friend, is even better. He will be more curious then and that will make him more reckless.
I fail to understand the importance of one privateer. The Royal Navy is full of them these days. Why do you have such an interest in this
Count? He asked with a shake of his head.
That is my business. The work Darmania is accomplishing with your aid has nothing to do with my interest in Louis de Theudubert, for that is a personal matter and not a military one. The Darmanian laughed lightly.
They have landed in Oslo, repairing the ship no doubt. Still, it has put me on edge. Admiral Tooleys flagship followed them and is with them in Oslo. That means that the Royal Navy is now involved, which means it is only a matter of time before I am involved officially. His voice did not betray the fear that this caused him. He knew well the end which befell traitors to the Crown and he was not prepared for the noose yet! They had far too much work to carry out!
You must remember that officially our ships were merely patrolling, far out indeed, but we have papers to say they were refuelling in Hamburg which would explain the distance from home. So, through official channels, our ships were merely engaging a pirate vessel which had been giving chase to one of our frigates. Therefore, this Admiral Tooley was the one in the wrong. The smirk grew even larger, the incandescent whiteness of his teeth showing that he was at least far better groomed than most of Darmania.
That may work. It seems the old fool has taken a special interest in that one. But why did you call me here if all we are to do is engage in small talk? It is not easy for me to explain my absences and it is even more difficult for me to get to Darmania unidentified. The British man replied with a sigh.
A smile answered him and the native stood, walking past him and up the steps to the altar, behind which lay a large grey sack. He untied the top of the simple back and from it pulled a small case and also a virtual copy of the gun he had been carrying.
As well as this, I have in the case blueprints for an airship engine, one which would put your entire fleet to shame. Including those experimental vessels your Navy seems so proud of! A chuckle escaped his lips as he handed them all over.
I must ask, the gun, how does it-
Matter Displacement Ray. The Darmanian replied, a twinkle in his eye.
Like the large one that caused what happened outside!? The British accent thick in his voice as wonder and awe danced over his features.
Similar, but smaller and far less devastating to the general populous, still, the ability to make someones spleen appear on the other side of the room is quite appealing is it not?
Both men laughed heartily as they prepared to continue their plans, both for the British Empire and for Louis de Theudubert.
* * * * *
Go home and get some sleep!
No! He might wake up at any minute! I should have stuck with him on the ship!
Hes been in and out of consciousness for almost three weeks now! The likelihood of him waking up in the next few hours is-
Better than you think. Louis interrupted the exchange, his ears having been open long before he felt the strength to blink his eyes open.
His first thought was that he might still be dead. Everything was white around him and even the people, familiar people, were wearing white. The ceiling was made of white tiles, criss-crossing beams supporting these above their heads. The Count moved his head slowly to the left, taking in the sight of Dr. Elizabeth Knight, her usual garments covered in a plain white gown with her laboratory coat over that. Behind the doctor stood mounted candelabra with several candles burning upon them to illuminate the room. His vision blurred a little and he blinked several times in quick succession before he realised that his right arm was suddenly getting wet.
Genevieve til Baudfert had her face buried into the dreadful gown he was wearing, crying uncontrollably which was in turn soaking the sleeve.
Genevieve? What is the matter with you? Louis asked with a small smile.
You almost died! They said you might never wake up! Gen sobbed, looking up to shock him. Her face, usually stained in soot, oil and grime was now perfectly clean, but that was the least shocking. The girls eyes were puffy and red, showing that this had clearly not been the first time she had cried recently, her skin was pale and almost grey even in the orange light of the candles. She looked ill!
I am quite alright. The Count told her, pushing hard with his elbows so that he moved up into a seated position. A dull ache in his left side caused him to stop and lean back against the large pillows that had been beneath his head only moments ago. That was right, he had been stabbed and despite Dr. Knights best attempts, he had managed to tear his stitches open during combat.
Be careful. Your muscles might be weak, but certainly not atrophied yet, we checked that over. Dr. Knight told him, putting a hand on his left shoulder before leaning in closer. And some day, you will need to explain that tattoo to me
Louis laughed and then coughed, his throat feeling drier than he had ever remembered it. His eyes quickly spied the water jug beside his bed, near where Gen was sitting and he lifted it, not even bothering with a cup before he began to drink.
Good to see you havent slowed much. Still, it was rum last time I saw you down anything like that. Lieutenant Charles Davenport was now stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame with a smirk.
Most of his equipment was not with him, but he was still dressed in his red tunic and khaki trousers tucked into black boots. His hair looked almost strange to Louis since it was almost always covered with the white pith helmet but his face at least looked fresh and he appeared unharmed.
I thought it was ale last time?
Your memory is better than mine Louis. How are you? Charles asked, walking over with a smile.
Less dead than I was expecting, although my head seems to disagree with me on this matter. Louis had not noticed the drastic headache until he had started drinking but now his eyes seemed to be attempting to escape his skull, the blinding pain dazing him for a moment.
Its the injections weve been giving you. Your wound got infected and we think thats what caused the coma. Elizabeth told him. Unfortunately, theres nothing we can do about that. The pain might remind you to listen to my advice next time!
Indeed. I shall keep that at the forefront of my mind kind doctor. Louis replied drily with a smile before turning to Charles. I am almost scared to ask, but
can I have the report Lieutenant?
Davenport nodded, sitting down not far from Gen as this would no doubt be a long report. He reclined casually and reviewed some notes he had retrieved from a jacket pocket.
After you collapsed, Skye took command of the ship, as per your orders
we were mostly in the clear due to the well-timed arrival of the Mjolnir.
I would have preferred a half hour or so earlier, but beggars cannot be choosers!
Are you gonna interrupt often sir? You are aware that there are three weeks worth of events to tell you right? Davenport looked almost weary, so much so that Louis was amused but now fell silent as Davenport explained.
They had been rescued by the HMS Mjolnir, the flagship of Admiral George Tooley. The Mjolnirs sudden appearance had thrown the Darmanaians attack plans into complete disarray. They had outright destroyed the corvette but the frigate had escaped, plunging into a cloud bank before it seemingly disappeared. The speed had been phenomenal as the cloud passed by and the ship was not even in sight anymore, let alone at a feasible pursuit distance.
The Admirals hunch that Louis would discover something had not been far wrong. The HMS Mjolnir had been following at a large distance, aware of Louis general heading, but the Valkyrie had far outrun them when they had entered the rarely used skystream. They had been unable to enter it themselves but had continued onwards and had eventually gotten within distance of the HMS Hermes. Celeste had contacted the Admiral and informed him of the vessels the Hermes had picked up using their state of the art long-range detection array, which she had been sure were simply baiting the Valkyrie. The Hermes was certainly no match for such a show of Darmanian strength and Celeste knew that losing her own ship in a foolish attempt to aid the Valkyrie was pointless. The Mjolnir however was more than capable of providing adequate backup and had done so admirably.
After the battle was over, the Admiral had quickly assessed the situation, sending medical and engineering teams across to assist with damage control on the Valkyrie. Deciding to make haste to friendly territory, the Mjolnir had escorted them to Oslo, the nearest capitol in a nation which was on good terms with the British Empire, Norway.
The Valkyrie had needed extensive repairs, several cannons were completely lost, the hull was severely damaged and punched full of more holes than the repairmen could have dealt with. The envelope had been damaged in a few places, but the metal plating that covered a great deal of it had absorbed most of the impact and the gluemen had been able to repair the other damage. As such, Skye had been able to prevent any crash landings that may have occurred and, despite the damage, had anchored safely.
You would have been very proud of her. Charles added with a curt nod. He had been doubtful when Louis had appointed her as his first-mate, but she had more than proven him to be correct. She took to leadership well and definitely had the knowledge needed!
I remember there being another, the girl from the Hermes The Count said trying with effort to remember the events that had transpired during the attack.
Ah yes, Mei Lin. Charles interjected. It seems she stowed away aboard our vessel after rendezvousing with the HMS Hermes. Apparently she was under orders from their captain to keep an eye on you and make sure no harm would come to you. A job I would say she performed admirably. Obviously due to the sheer scale of what befell us, this task was ultimately beyond her ability to ensure.
Where is she now?
I believe she returned to her ship once we made port in Oslo, she sends her regards Im told. Dr Knight replied.
What about casualties? The Count asked gingerly, sitting completely upright now before looking around. They were clearly not on the Valkyrie and Louis assumed he had been moved to a hospital on land. There were already men in the medical bay when I was there, what happened to them?
Davenport and Gen both looked down, causing Dr. Knight to scoff at them.
Those men were fine in my care! I saved more than I lost I can assure you! Still, I did lose a few and
Davenports men lost some as well. She looked up at the lieutenant and he caught her gaze almost reproachfully.
I lost nine of my twenty men, with another five wounded, Charles began, sighing heavily, because we were holding the front lines. Their bodies are being taken back by the Admiral for a proper burial. We lost none of the bodies at least!
And what of the crew? Louis asked, his right arm wrapped around his stomach to touch at his wound autonomously.
Eighteen dead with more wounded but the wounded are almost all back to their old selves now. Stuart lost a leg though; he isnt likely to be coming back aboard. Elizabeth told the Count, speaking as most doctors did of human life, as statistics rather than as people.
So did Lawrence and Matthew. Gen told him tearfully.
Louis knew each member of crew at least in passing; he made it his business to know the men and women to whom he owed the smooth operation of his ship, the people he asked to live and die for him and the mission. Anabelle was a technician who worked closely with the engineers; Lawrence and Matthew were both rear gunners, explaining why Gen mentioned those two, since their posts were near the engine rooms.
because of me. Louis eyes welled up slightly and he squeezed his eyes shut before his left hand lifted to conceal his features from view. Within the confines of his own palm he saw visions of the four crew members mentioned already. The hand fell away, clenched into a fist.
How many of them did we take?
Forty-seven bodies confirmed, twenty-seven injured and captured and that doesnt include the scores I saw falling overboard. Davenport replied, a happy smirk upon his face. They had done well in repelling such incredible numbers. His mind reeling back to when he had been in the cabin, watching as the deck of the Valkyrie almost literally swam with the Darmanian bastards. As soon as some gained ground, the space behind them had been filled with another Darmanian
he had thought for a moment that they were going to be slaughtered.
Even with their skills on board, Bjorns maniacal killing and the Maxim
they would likely have been overrun had it not been for the Mjolnir. Still, they might not have even lasted that long had Louis not given the order for the afterburners to get them away from the grapples!
We got a fair few of them at least. Louis replied, the colour drained from his face and no smile to mirror Charles own.
The captured were taken into custody by the Admiral. He intends to return with them to Britain soon and
hes taking Steven with him. According to him, the lad is to be hung for treason.
DAMMIT! Louis exclaimed, leaning forward fast enough to send his head spinning. Dr. Knights hand pressed against his arm and forced him back against the pillows once more.
Its out of your hands. Steven may have been in a similar position to you, but you did not betray us as he did. Elizabeth told him with a faint smile. And as he betrayed the crew of a Royal Navy ship, he is guilty of treason, which holds death as its penalty.
Could everyone just
leave me for a few minutes? Louis asked, looking around at them.
Several nods and they walked to the door, Gen still sobbing when Davenport led her out. The doctor paused in the doorframe, her grip on the handle faltering for a second.
Your clothes are in the wardrobe. We brought a jacket and waistcoat from the ship and the rest have been cleaned. Be careful ok?
The door closed behind her and she looked up at Davenport and Gen.
What do you think? Charles asked.
Its emotional now, not physical. He seems fine, just suffering with the loss of life that we have all been getting over for the past three weeks
* * * * *
Louis had bathed, dressed and was now leaving the hospital, without having mentioned this to anyone. As he passed a shop, he caught his reflection in a mirror and he paused, a little shocked at his own appearance.
The Count looked strangely well considering the fact that he had been unconscious for the past three weeks give or take a day. His face looked a bit thinner, but that was to be expected with the lack of proper food. All of the movements he made seemed to take extra effort now, as his muscles seemed to hate moving at all. Still, he was busy and he knew where to head!
Olsos port was very different to that of the military bases which Louis had been spending far too much time in lately. The long, wooden jetties stretched out over the sea from large supporting structures, kept aloft by tall beams. Dozens of airships were docked, ropes or chains holding them to the sturdy supports, their decks alongside the tall jetties to make disembarking easier. The Mjolnir was easy to spot due to its immense size, dwarfing almost every other vessel in the shipyards, save for a large merchantman in a bay some distance away. His beloved Valkyrie was docked one along from the battlecruiser.
Louis beloved ship was repaired, several patches of the hull looking as though they were made of different kinds of wood, or metal that was far too clean to match the surrounding area. The armoured envelope had been replaced and reinforced he was sure of it. The dull iron platings uniform colour was in stark contrast to the rest of the patch work repairs on his vessel. Someone had obviously pulled some stings he noted. He had put her through hell and back recently and he knew he had to be more careful or risk losing her, and along with the ship, the lives of his crew.
Count de Theudubert had inadvertently walked to the steps that led up to a viewing platform from which officers could watch the ships coming in. Now, it was strangely deserted. There was a great deal of stars out this evening, their twinkling lights shining down upon him gently, as if the sky were merely a covering with several thousand pinpricks in the material. In the distance beyond the towering gantries and cranes of the shipyard, the warm glow of the city of Oslo could be seen. Occasionally he could make out the distant shapes of domestic and commercial vessels making their way to and from the city and he envied them. He longed to be in the air again, the damage he had suffered recently doing nothing to make him crave the land he was now upon.
It is good to see you up and about, Count. A familiar voice spoke from behind him.
Louis turned to see the Admiral ascending the final few steps with a smile which pushed his thick moustache into a strange position.
I dont know whether to thank you or throttle you. The Count responded, keeping his distance, his features stoic.
For what? Saving your ship, rescuing your crew, getting you to a good medical facility
Condemning Steven to death. Louis answered, his eyes narrowing although only one was visible due to the Telescopic Diagnostician obscuring the other.
You honestly think that I would claim him simply to kill him!? Honestly, sometimes you have the keenest mind I know and others you seem completely devoid of rational thought! Admiral Tooley shook his head and then walked over to the young Count. He has been in contact with the Darmanian forces and despite what he says, I think he was in contact with them directly. They provided him with the firework signal and that is impossible through the telegram he claims was their only method of contact.
But wh- Louis started to say.
Count, the Darmanians still have this Steven fellows family. If they catch wind that he is alive for interrogation then they will immediately put them to the sword. By playing the cards this way the family gets to live and I get my information. I suspect they will most likely be released now the Darmanians believe him to be executed.
The Admiral looked at Louis with a knowing smugness that irked the young Count.
My prisoner should be much more forthcoming with any information I require safe in the knowledge that his family is safe.
The truth of this sunk in with Louis. When would he finally realise that the Admiral, though part of an establishment which he despised wholeheartedly, was to be trusted. The man had come through for him at every instance, often putting his career in danger and now he had actually risked his own skin to protect the HMS Valkyrie.
Why do you keep protecting me? Louis asked, stepping towards the man with a questioning look.
I was merely protecting the Royal Navys investment in the HMS Valkyrie. Your delusions of grandeur do amuse me though de Theudubert, keep it up. The Admiral smirked and turned back towards the stairs.
Louis felt incredibly uncomfortable as Tooley turned, his feet on two different steps and his dark blue uniform almost black in the faint light cast by the large moon above.
Dont mention it. The Admiral winked and then continued to walk down the stairs. Oh, you have been provided with new crew, the platoon has been replenished and your supplies topped up. I think Captain Brislan wishes to speak to you as well. She is docked three up from the Mjolnir. And Louis, you are off duty officially now due to your injuries. Actually rest up now and avoid prolonged exposure in the skies.
Louis eyes widened. Celeste had come after them in the end!? But why? Her ship was fully replenished and following them could have meant her running into Darmanian forces. It was a stupid risk, and what was worse was that she had stayed docked this long without good reason to do so. The Black Den were constantly on the lookout for pirates like them, the ones who had joined their nations military, most of whom them cut a profession in hunting down other pirates.
Will do sir. The Count replied distantly, following him a short way before he sat on the stairs.
A lot was happening now and very little of it was positive. He still had not been given a list of names for the dead, but if any of his closest friends had been killed, he would have been told in the hospital room. The replenishments the Admiral mentioned did little to lift his spirits. It had been his fault. Precautions would have usually been taken! There would normally have been no way that he would have charged so recklessly after an enemy ship, especially one moving too slow for an escape
it had been an obvious trap and his usually keen eye had missed it, blinded by his own personal mission.
Louis was angry, mostly at himself, but that would not who would be feeling the brunt of it.
Like many human beings, it would be those who cared about him that would feel the first sting
* * *
O course Admiral. That shant be a problem. Celeste Brislan winked at Tooley before the older Naval man saluted and turned towards the incredibly sized HMS Mjolnir, walking with purpose towards his flagship vessel. It seemed that now Louis was awake, plans were being made for both the Mjolnir and the Hermes to depart this port.
So they were both here for him? Or was Tooley here for the Valkyries safety alone? At this point in time, Louis had no cares either way. The point was, they were still here long after they should have departed! And Celeste never should have followed them here in the first place!
The Counts stern expression and dagger-like stare did nothing to slow Celeste as she ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck and, catching Louis off guard, kissing him deeply. The Counts eyes widened as his lips responded autonomously, but he soon regained his composure and caught her shoulders, forcibly removing her from him.
Youre ok! She exclaimed, beaming at him.
This only served to further anger Louis and he could not for the life of him think as to why it angered him so deeply
Ok!? Celeste, what in blue blazes are you still doing here!? Louis asked; his eyes suddenly furious once more, though only one was visible to Celeste, the other merely reflected her own shocked features.
I wanted ta make sure that ya were ok
She spoke, her voice barely audible as she looked hurt, inadvertently lifting an arm to wrap around her own midriff in a form of defence.
The Black Den are looking for you! Now the Darmanians might not be too far behind hunting you
and you really deemed it prudent to sit around in port waiting to see if I might possibly wake up before one of the afore mentioned organisations found and slaughtered you and your crew? Louis spoke with a monotonous voice for now, emotions hidden behind a mask of nobility and false authority. He spoke as if lecturing a child and his entire demeanour seemed to match this.
Celeste was taken aback. She knew how much she had risked in being here this long, she knew how much she had risked even setting down in Oslo, let alone waiting for him
and here he was giving her a talking to as if she were another random stupid woman that he had encountered that needed instruction as to the ways of the world.
How DARE you!? She snarled, stepping forward again, her beautiful features contorted into a face of pure rage. After all Ive done for ye! I even leant ye ma right hand ta keep an eye on yer ship! I waited for ye! I sat here this long hopin ta high Heaven that yed wake again before I was FORCED ta set sail again. And when ya finally getcha arse outa bed
this, THIS is how you thank me!?
In a flash, Celestes palm struck Louis left cheek with enough force to turn his head, set his monogoggle askew and also knock his top hat from his head in one swoop. She was breathing heavily, her fiery temper was usually expertly controlled around Louis out of respect and care for the man, but this was uncalled for and outright painful to hear.
Yell find that Ive left several of ma crew to replenish your ranks
an if yer crew is the reason why youre so pissy, admit it and I might consider talkin ta ya again some time. But fer now, stay outa the Hermes skies Louis. Celeste turned suddenly away, walking back towards her ship.
Unbeknownst to Louis, tears were beginning to streak the delicately applied lines of kohl which she often circled her eyes with. She would not let him see her like this, not let him realise how deeply he had wounded her with those stupid words. They had met several times throughout their lives, but she had never spoken to him of the feelings that she had begun to develop for him. It had always been physical or competitive
she would be damned if he could learn such things now, after what he had done.
Deep down, both of them knew that the real reason he had acted the way he had done was to cover for his own anger and insecurities
but that did little to ease the sting in Celestes heart, or the sting in Louis cheek.
The Count had not even looked up to see her go. For a moment he had simply stood there, his head turned to the right with the force of her blow and as her feet had disappeared from view, he had crouched and retrieved his hat, realising suddenly that his entire body was screaming in agony, not just his face. This was ridiculous
It was not the first time that a woman had felt the need to show her emotions with a show of her palm, but this one had meant more, Louis could feel that even as the red in his cheek began to show a slightly white outline of a delicate feminine hand.
That was done, she would stay away from him now and that suited him just fine. They would be hunting Darmanians soon enough, and the further away everyone was, the better for them
Louis smiled faintly as he lifted a hand to his cheek, walking towards his own ship now, forced to meander through the steady stream of men carrying crates towards the Mjolnir.
* * *
Tabitha Rose Skylar barked orders from the deck of the HMS Valkyrie. She had been spending more time here than anywhere else since they had docked, carrying out the job which Louis had given her before he had passed out once more. She was now his First-Mate, and as such, she was temporarily the Captain while he was unconscious. They had been given new men and women by Admiral Tooley and Captain Brislan and due to what had occurred with Steven, there was no way she would be trusting them fully right away. They would need to earn her trust slowly but surely.
Part of that, it seemed, was through tough physical labour! She had been sent word that Louis was awake, and for her that meant one thing: She needed to get this ship ready to fly, even if Louis was not to leave the bed for the next week, she wanted the Valkyrie fully stocked, the crew ready to leave at a moments notice and the ship in good order.
So far, that was complete, but now the men and women under her command were cleaning the ship from top to bottom. Many of the luxury items were no longer available to them, but places where plush carpets and lavish furniture had been destroyed, new decking and new, cheap furniture had been placed using the money which was still on board the ship, what had yet to be found by the thieving Darmanians at least
Unfortunately there had not been time to replace the cannons lost during the battle. The rear gun deck had lost both cannon batteries and the guns were also damaged beyond repair on both port and starboard decks despite the efforts of Swiss and a navy repair team.
The problem lay in the fact that Oslos shipyard was a civilian one. There simply were neither the facilities nor resources to replace them, and regrettably the Admiral could not spare any from his own vessel. They would have to find some other way to solve that problem.
JOSHUA! If I see you put that mop down one more time Ill
Rather than finish the sentence, Skye merely drew a finger across her throat and Joshua, one of the new gluemen, grabbed the mop from where he had leant it against a wall and doubled his cleaning efforts.
Skye nodded and smirked as she turned away. The crew were hard workers and even Amelia had helped them in decorating and cleaning the ship
although she had been incredibly tight with the budget in redecorating and Skye knew that Louis would not like her choices
still, she had helped and for an aristocrat
that was a miracle!
I wanna see evry one-a you workin yer fingers to the bone! Skye spoke forcefully into a nearby speaking tube.
I do so hope that comment was not directed at me as well Tabby
Skye turned and opened her mouth instinctively to tell her Captain that her name was not Tabby when she froze, realising that standing in front of her was Louis de Theudubert, the man she had recently been worried was going to die. The first man who had seen her as something more than a tool to be used for pleasure or for personal gain, the first aristocrat who had looked at her with something more than contempt or loathing. She had nothing but respect for Louis and was now incredibly pleased to see him, even if it meant returning to duty as a pilot rather than acting Captain.
back! Skye managed, smiling warmly but feeling rather awkward.
I am indeed. How are preparations coming? The Count asked almost nonchalantly.
Well sir, tell ye the truth, its mostly jus cleanin now. She laughed lightly and placed a hand on the back of her head, the brown, blonde and auburn dreadlocks snaking over her fingers as if they had a mind of their own.
Good, I am glad to hear that the ship has been kept in good condition. I had no doubts when I named you first-mate. It pleases me to see you taking to the role with such
enthusiasm. Louis smiled and walked past her, his hand resting on the railing which ran the length of the deck. I want you to call a meeting in the mess hall. It is time that I spoke to my crew and assessed the true extent of the damage. I also want a list of deceased crew members on my desk within the next thirty minutes. Is that clear?
Aye Capn. That wont be a problem. Skye smiled and bowed her head slightly before she left his side, moving through the ship effortlessly. Even without her acute sense of direction she would have been able to navigate this ship with her eyes closed. It had been her home for years now and she had spent as long as she possibly could on board. Ever since Louis had taken her from the streets of London she, much like him, had found that the sky was far more comfortable for her than the streets.
As she moved towards the mess hall, she turned to a speaking tube and spoke into it briskly, All crewa the HMS Valkyrie to report to th Mess all now. Leave whatever youre doin and jus come!
* * * * *
Do you think hell be alright? Davenport asked, looking down at the shot glass of vodka in his hand before he drained it and placed it back on the desk in front of him.
They were sat in Charles private quarters, located adjacent to the military contingents sleeping quarters. The room was comfortably furnished if a little Spartan. In one corner lay a decent sized bed, equipment locker and full size wardrobe took up the right hand side of the room. To the left was a large desk at which both Charles and Elizabeth were sat. The Doctor sat almost rigid in her chair as per usual and as Charles hefted his own legs up on the desk with a thud, he poured himself another drink.
Im quite sure hell be fine. Dr. Knight returned, sipping some of the red wine she had been nursing for longer than she had meant to.
With his sister dying and now this
he was getting pretty down before. Almost to the point of it being pathetic. The soldiers tone was apathetic, more so than Elizabeth had been expecting.
I actually think he did a good job of hiding it considering what he was going through. The doctor realised her eyes were locked on the white helmet which was sat on the table not far from her own hand and she looked up at Charles now.
Im just not big on letting your emotions get in the way of work.
Youre just not big on emotions.
Davenport accepted with a small laugh as topped up his empty glass from the bottle he had bought from the shore. Alcohol, spirits especially, were much cheaper here than back home!
Think of it like this, even if you didnt show it, remember how the death of your men affected you when you first realised how many were dead? The voice came out almost monotonous as once again Elizabeths medical training taught her to detach from death.
This struck something of a nerve with the lieutenant, as it had hit him harder than his training or his past experiences as a soldier had prepared him for. But he knew as well as Elizabeth did that quite how badly it had affected him was not common knowledge and she was the only person he had really shared the truth with. It was unusual for him to confide in anyone and he suspected that she appreciated that.
Strange, considering how much he detested doctors usually
What about it? Charles sighed and absently ran his hand through his hair.
I prefer to remain emotionally disconnected and to ignore such feelings and sentiments, it makes me a better soldier and better able to do my job. Thats not to say that it isnt difficult from time to time. He downed his new drink and immediately poured another, liking the idea that it was ready when he wanted it, however a quick glance revealed to his annoyance the bottle was nearly empty.
One second if you please my dear! Charles held his finger up and said politely to the Doctor, a faint smile betraying her amusement at the interruption. He leaned back in his chair and shouted to the aide that would be currently cleaning the corridor floor outside.
Sir? A voice echoed somewhere beyond the heavy door.
Another bottle of this Scandinavian vodka if you would be so kind. Oh, and a bottle of whatever vintage you can scare up from the galley please, for the lady doctor.
Yes sir, right away A reply came, followed by the sound of rapid footfalls gradually fading away.
My apologies, where were we Miss Knight?
The Doctor regarded the Lieutenant with a raised eyebrow and took a long sip from her glass.
Well, I believe Louis is getting that now. Youve either gotten over what you went through or are learning to manage it better. He has just been given the news. Weve all gone through our grieving, but for him, its new information and he is trying his best to deal with that. Plus he must feel directly responsible since he was the one who led us into that death trap. Another longer drink of the wine and she smiled.
Your honesty scares me sometimes, you know that right? Dont go saying things like that to Louis!
And why not? Its a damn sight better than completely ignoring what he did! Elizabeth exclaimed louder than planned before she held a hand up to her head before blushing a little.
You were lecturing me on his emotions two seconds ago. Think about it! Davenport added, smiling faintly as he took his other drink. And since when did you become a psycho-whatsits anyway?
Psychologist? Im not one. They think they can explain real problems with fantasy imaginings of the mind being more powerful than the body. The doctor laughed and shook her head.
The call came over the speaker tubes and both looked to the door, Davenport sighing.
Drat! No rest for the wicked. The Corporal isnt even back from the galley yet. Are you going to be able to walk straight or shall I carry you? Charles asked with a playful smirk, standing before tucking in his chair.
Keep this up and Ill make sure youll be requiring some new immunisations soon
you have no idea how many unnecessary medical procedures I can book for you. The doctor winked as she walked past, trying not to laugh at the paling of Davenports face.
* * * * *
The crew were assembled in the mess hall now and it had been over forty minutes for some of those sitting down who had gotten here first. The new crew members still felt quite uncomfortable here, unsure of their true place among the crew and a few had loyalty issues with working for pirates, these were clearly the members that had once been on the HMS Mjolnir.
They were also the ones who complained least about all of the hard work which Skye had been putting them through.
Skye was currently stood at the doorway, keeping one of the two doors open with her boot as she stared at them, clearly waiting for them to quiet down. Her eyes quickly scanned the room to find those she knew Louis considered his closest friends in the crew. Davenport was sat with the doctor, surrounded by his men either sitting or stood behind them. The crew from the Mjolnir were situated on the same table, perhaps comforted by the familiar military presence as was the clearly uncomfortable Amelia Hawkesworth who surprisingly had visited the Count often in his hospital bed.
On the table next to that sat most of the engine crew, Genevieve til Baudfert among them but one or two of them were new also. Sitting with them was Bjorn Hauptmann, Swiss as he was known to his friends, all but Louis who disliked nicknames usually. The other gunners were sat at his side and, like the military personnel; many were stood near the table rather than sat on one of the others.
The next table was mostly made of gluemen as well as the pilots and navigators. It seemed that the area within the ship crew members were assigned to would affect who they made friends with, and that was unsurprising. The only people gluemen would ever associate with were the pilots as they were the first crew that would be met when descending from the envelope into the ship proper.
Weve got news, so I want you all listening hard. Skye spoke gently, strangely causing the murmuring of the room to die quickly. Skye was a harsh taskmaster but much of the crew had newfound respect for her ever since she took over from Louis as their Captain and had done so with skills she never even realised she possessed.
Although, Skye began with a smirk, I aint gonna be the one talkin to ya
The young woman stepped out of the doorway, instead holding it open from the side to allow Count Louis de Theudubert to step in to take her place, both figuratively and physically.
The silence was deafening as Louis looked over them all, his face stony, his gaze hard as his one visible eye scanned over them, the Telescopic Diagnostician analysing as he went. His own eye picked out the unfamiliar faces and he made a mental note to speak to them individually afterward.
A smile suddenly broke over Louis features and he shook his head.
Why are you all staring at me as if I am about to crack a whip over you? Surely this should be some kind of positive reception!?
The response was unanimous and incredibly positive as shouts and cries went up from all of the men, even a slamming of fists on tables from the military personnel. Many of the crew stood and rushed to Louis, shaking his hand or bowing heads. A few clapped him on the back which, as evidenced by his grimacing face, was exactly what Louis did not need at this moment in time.
You always were one for the drama. Swiss German accent rode heavy on his voice as his good hand patted Louis on the shoulder. I was told you were up and about, but I did not wish to spoil your entrance!
That is very much appreciated Bjorn. Louis responded with a smile, tipping his hat to his old friend.
It is good to have you back Captain. We have new recruits for me to
The look of delight on Bjorns face along with the slightly worrying pause raised a hint of concern in Louis before Bjorn burst out laughing. With this slightly crazed pyromaniac, sometimes it was better to err on the side of caution!
I am sure you will enjoy bringing them up to our specifications anyway. And rest assured, we will replace the guns as soon as we can get to a proper maintenance facility. You know I am not above the black market to achieve the very best. Louis winked and Bjorn looked incredibly pleased as he dissolved back into the crowd.
It seems you have not managed to escape us yet Count.
Captain while we are both aboard my ship if you would, Miss Hawkesworth. Louis told her with a smile, turning to face the upper-class woman, sent to spy on the crew by the Royal Treasury.
Indeed, Captain. I am, rather surprisingly I might add, exceedingly relieved to see that you are well. You had us all worried. She smiled warmly and bowed her head slightly before she left the room entirely, clearly preferring not to be surrounded by the unwashed masses that made up the Valkyries crew.
Shes taken a beating
but shes ready when you are. Skye whispered to Louis from behind him.
Do we have a destination Tabby? Louis asked in return, not turning his head to draw attention to the conversation.
Firstly, the names Skye. Second, your Chief Engineer insists you said we was goin to some glorified science fair in Sweden.
Louis smirked, unbelieving that Genevieve was that desperate to go to the International Exhibition of Science and Technology. He recalled giving his blessing to such an excursion and he knew better than to deny the young engineer her wish when they were so close. Besides, they all needed some rest and relaxation and this presented a magnificent opportunity. It would suit Louis needs at any rate. He had need of new weaponry and the IEST had a special military-only wing with demonstrations of both hand-held and airship weaponry. The Count had recently had his mortality brought to his attention and he wanted better protection for both himself and his ship. With his newfound sense of mortality Louis also found one other strange side-effect.
He had a large amount of money and no need for it when he died. What better use of it than to prepare the HMS Valkyrie for war?
Very good Tabitha. I believe it is then time to get this bird into the sky. I assume I do not need to give you co-ordinates or a course?
When ave you ever ad ta do that Capn? Skye replied with a quick pat on his shoulder. Welcome back sir.
Louis turned back to his crew who were mostly still rushing forward to welcome him back and congratulate his speedy return. He would not let them down again and he needed to meet the new crew members. Skye would have already left him the list of the dead and wounded. They had been given at least nineteen replacements, one for each dead and one for the loss of Stuart. Louis hoped they had not lost any more wounded!
Without saying a word, the Count inhaled a long, deep breath and the smell of an airship greeted him. The smell of crew who had not bathed in days, of oil and grease used for lubrication in the engines and various clockwork mechanisms of the ship, the faint aroma of alcohol, gunpowder, burning kerosene, fresh wood
Louis drank it in, not realising that he had closed his eyes during this entire sensation.
Now, feeling reborn, Louis uttered one last sentence before the drone of the engines sent the crew scattering to their positions.
It is good to be back!