Hellwing stood on her new legs, she was a little shaky at first and was glad to be alone. Both her eyes were working perfectly, and her body was unscarred. She blinked back tears of joy. She was whole, she had expected to come out of this with some grotesque clockwork legs, instead, the Balancer had done exactly as promised.
After getting reacquainted with herself, Hellwing explored her rooms. She spent half an hour looking out of the thick glass window in her bedroom admiring the fish swimming amongst the coral. Then she opened one of her trunks and dressed in clothing she had thought she would never need again.
She spent a further half hour marvelling at the wonders of the brace of navy colts. Revolvers. Guns capable of shooting six times without having to be reloaded. Admittedly reloading them would take some time but she had another pair in her private armoury.
Smiling, Hellwing made her way to the central meeting room where she found Steelheart conferring with Charlie and Rich. They were studying some plans on a table. She joined them; she slapped Steelhart on the back in greeting. He turned with a broad smile and greeted her.
Rich just nodded and gestured to the table. “Mother sends her apologies but something came up. She finds that she has to find time and resources for two new worlds. So her plans for this world will have to be – less ambitious. Your carrier will have to be something for the future. Instead I think we can provide you with two much smaller vessels. They will be fast and relatively well armed. Here take a look, what do you think.”
Hellwing looked over the plans on the table. “Not much room for marines. Where are the magazines?”
Rich shrugged, “Don’t forget Mother doesn’t want captives. She wants to deprive Blackbeard of followers. The magazines are the storage devices mounted near each set of guns. Same goes for provisions, coal for your airships and diesel for the ship’s fighter bomber.”
They discussed the merits of the design and sketched in some changes Hellwing wanted, then they went over the plans for Steelheart’s airship which had grown considerably from it’s original concept now that it was going to have to double as Rich’s principal mode of transport.
Both Steelheart and Hellwing were shaken by the way the plentiful supply of storage devices changed their concepts of what was possible when it came to airships. Then there was the thin sheet of aluminium that was being used to seal the liftwood chambers. It barely impaired the efficacy of the liftwood. And by sealing the liftwood off from the corrosive atmosphere, greatly prolonging its useful life.
Once the plans were finalised, construction commenced in one of Blue Lagoons subterranean caverns.
= = O = =
Rich was getting restless. They had been kicking their heels on Newland isle for a week now. It had been interesting to watch as the elves settled in and the town took shape. All the innovations Mary had added and was using solar panels to power had completely won over the elves. Hot and cold running water, electric stoves and ovens. Lighting.
Rich had truly enjoyed watching and explaining but now he was becoming bored. Elves might pride themselves on being conservative and set in their ways, but hit them with creature comforts and labour saving devices and they learned and adapted as fast or faster than any humans.
Now he was standing by the shore with his companions watching as the Morning Pride rose from the depths of the ocean like a whale, then she rose slowly into the air. She was completely enclosed, even more so than most airships he had seen, and aerodynamic. She looked and was fast. Impressive for a mixed cargo and passenger carrier.
And thanks to Mother’s machinations, she boasted a truly impressive restaurant. Mother had gone and purchased staff for use in one of her schemes on earth but some of her potential recruits hadn’t wanted to leave Tarifax so now... Rich grinned, the Morning Pride would be able to entertain royalty.
It would work. He wouldn’t be able to sneak anywhere in the Morning Pride, but then nobody, but nobody would take them for a smuggler and spy. And nobody would ever guess they could double as a submarine.
As for Steelheart, Rich knew he was in seventh heaven by the fact that the engines driving the props were electric and he could use the batteries to get under way while Charlie was raising steam in his beloved turbines to power the generators. Nobody else on Tarifax could get an airship underway with cold boilers. Well except for Hellwing with her destroyers.
* * *
Rich stood on the bridge and watched as the crew worked like a well-oiled machine. Captain Steelheart was smiling. Rich could see they were testing the radar, something they didn’t need at the moment.
“So captain, how is she handling?”
“Like a dream Rich. I’ve never commanded anything like her.”
“We seem short handed. Or is it just that I got used to the Silver Sparrow?”
“We’re fully crewed. But I do intend to pick up a few more for appearance’s sake. We need to reassure our future customers. Where do you want us to go first?”
“I think we have time. So first let’s go and deliver Hellwing’s letters. And your mother’s too, I suspect that they are even more important.”
“Depends. We have to see if the letters need a response. If not we go and try to have a look at the liftwood plantations. Mother is curious about them.”
“I’m surprised Rich. I didn’t think Mother needed them.”
“What! How do you know that?”
Steelheart chuckled, “Our liftwood planks have green – highlights. And they’re bigger. Mother obviously has another source. A better source at that.”
Rich sighed, “I’ll have to warn her. You’re right. Ours are being grown under the waves. And not on Tarifax. At least not yet. But she is still curious. She thinks the plantations will be in trouble thanks to the rampant atmospheric pollution.”
* * * CONIMBRIGA * * *
Bolithico watched wide-eyed as their dogman driver kept half his attention on a greenish tinted screen that showed the road they were following in real time. To Fidget’s questions Rolf merely replies that it was sonar or radar, he wasn’t sure what, only that it relied on sound waves somehow, before adding, “like bats you know.”
Then they slowed and entered a curving tunnel. Bolithico calculated they descended about one hundred yards. The truck finally stopped next to a canal. Even as they descended from the cab of the truck their crates were being transhipped to a mid sized barge that was tied up at the side of the canal.
Fidget and Swiftfall were shown to a rather spartan cabin on the barge. Two wolf beastmen offered them refreshments and assured them that the trip to Earth wouldn’t take long. Bolithico noted with bemusement that Fidget seemed to start going green as soon as she stepped onto the barge. The two crew wolves noticed and offered her a pill they claimed was good for sea sickness. Surprisingly they appeared sympathetic rather than contemptuous.
He heard Flamehand ask, “Why all the boats over there, wouldn’t it be faster using skimmers?”
“Mother is a sea goddess. Boats and ships are our thing,” came the reply from their chauffeur.
Then with a subdued ‘put put put’ the barge made its way out into the canal and slowly made its way into the tunnel and out of sight.
* * *
“You wanted to see Lewis’ core. Well he is disposed to allow it so I will permit it.”
Bolithico spun round at the unexpected voice. The woman was standing next to a pool, she was dripping water onto the floor so she probably had just emerged from it. She was backed by an armed leopard girl and the huge octopus that was partially surfaced in the pool reeked mage to his senses.
“Thank you lady, that would be most welcome, will you allow me to attempt...”
“Go ahead, the name’s Mary Silvestre by the way.” She grinned her eyes narrowing.
Bolithico bowed his head, “Thank you lady; please feel free to return the compliment.” Then he concentrated. The Octopus proved to be an Elite ranked water mage, the leopard girl a Veteran ranked shadow mage titled Defender. All he gained from Mary Silvestre were her titles: Mother of Monsters and Blackbeard’s Bane.
“Blackbeard’s Bane, are all men stupid enough to grow a beard at risk.”
The Octopus laughed, something that stood the hairs at the back of Bolithico’s neck on end. “Onrry if the marre’s name shourrd be Vortexius Brrackbeard.”
* * *
And then they were following their hostess, surrounded by a assortment of guards. Bolithico was able to read their loyalty to their mistress in their eyes, attitude and body language. He kept looking at Draccad Goldenhand. Draccad had been a famous adventurer before falling foul of a pack of werewolves and infected. He was the last man Bolithico had expected to encounter in Conimbriga.
“Draccad, you are Draccad Goldenhand aren’t you. How?” asked Bolithico.
“Fancy you remembering Bolithico. Mother killed and destroyed the mad god. She offered us, the cursed, the chance of being rid of the madness and bloodlust. So I have a new goddess. One who asks little beyond loyalty.”
* * *
Then they were in what looked like a crowded throne room standing in front of a large yellow diamond, a young dark haired girl dressed in the stiff uncomfortable looking clothes of the upper classes was standing beside it resting her right hand on the diamond.
“Bolithico, this is my vassal, Lewis Carroll. Spinner of fantastic tales and bridge of worlds.”
« conditions met: Lewis Carroll: Bridge of Worlds. »
« Huh! You do love throwin’ a spanner in the works doncha Bluey. »
« Yes I do Mother of Monsters. »
* * *
Much later Bolithico tried to relax with his team in the private room of the Dancing Bull. Then he and Flamehand recounted their experiences.
Leemanda seemed to pray to her god. Then she looked up. She looked serious, “So we have a new goddess that is willing to mix with her followers and has a most disturbing title. She counts an Elite Dungeon as her vassal. We knew the Balancer had helped defeat Vortexius Blackbeard but to have that title she must have done it before and be an active enemy of his.”
“And yet the inn is full of slaves,” said Bolithico.
“Is it? A collar does not a slave make. Nobody notices slaves after all,” offered Flamehand.
It grew very quiet in the room. Then Bolithico produced his messenger mirror and set it on the table. Then he cast the cantrip that allowed him to contact the Guild. They had a lot to report. Fertadacto went to stand outside the door to ensure nobody interrupted them or overheard their report.
None of them noted the tiny metallic thorn that was caught in Bolithico’s sleeve. It was not magic so it didn’t register on their anti eavesdropping spell.
* * * SHAG’RILAN / L.G.TITMOUSE * * *
Tsomo Ryatem watched as young Lhekshey Oratem boarded the L.G. Titmouse. He desperately wished the young man well. He had tried to convince the youngster to join one of the groups but he had insisted on going on his own. With a fervent prayer to the gods Tsomo watched as the skyship swung round trailing smoke and made its way east threading its way through the peaks.
Lhekshey Oratem, supercargo and assistant navigator stowed his possessions in the chest that had been allocated to him, then he made his way to report to the first mate. By the end of the day he knew the names of all his crewmates and had picked up on some of their peculiarities.
That night he took a couple of star fixes before retiring to his hammock in the forecastle. He fell asleep hoping that he had made the right decision.