The Rogue Airship, or The Investigations of the Hephaestus

Chapter 7, In Which We Resolve Matters

 

I struggled against the constraint of the creature’s braided tail around my waist as its gaping golden maw loomed closer. My notebook nearly slipped from my nerveless fingers as it swung me through the air in response to attacks upon it by Luli and Mister Pavaka. Its incessant humming rose to a shriek that further shredded my concentration as a shot rang out from the deck of the Hephaestus, striking perilously close to me.

“Colonel Mallet!” I said, raising my voice above the hum. “I appreciate the assistance, but its body is a much broader target!”

“My apologies, Miss Wesley!” he called back, and I could hear the wry smile in his voice. “I overestimated your attachment to this present life. Watch out, it’s bleeding on you! If that substance can be called blood.”

I swiveled my head as best I could up the length of the creature’s braided tail. Colonel Mallet’s bullet had grazed it, and a glittering viscous substance gouted from the wound. I stretched as far as I could, gasping against its firm grip around me, and wiped my forefinger through the goo. It tingled unpleasantly on my skin, but I grasped my notebook and quickly wrote the intricate sigils for the spell unravel.

Nothing happened.

I tore the page from the notebook as the glittering blood dried on the paper, vanishing bit by bit as it did so.

The creature jerked me closer to its maw, the sudden action sending the notebook flying out of my grasp. I felt stunned, hopeless.

As I dangled upside down, the page of faintly visible sigils still clutched in my hand, the cries of Luli and Colonel Mallet and Mister Pavaka rang in my ears. But above them all I heard Father Bartolomeu’s calm voice.

“Feed it the paper,” he said softly.

I dropped the enchanted page inside the maw.

Almost instantly I fell to the deck, hands protecting my head as the tail coiled down on top of me. I peered out and saw that the spell had worked. The creature had literally unraveled. Its remains lay on the deck like so many yards of glittering golden yarn.

Father Bartolomeu helped me to my feet. “Thank you, Father,” I said. “You saved my life.”

He grinned and shrugged. “It was my pleasure after all you’ve done.”

“But now we must stop the culprit,” I continued. I whirled and called over to Colonel Mallet, “Where’s Mr. Urantu?”

The colonel looked around and frowned. “I thought he was—“

“He’s in danger,” I said. “The entire ship is. His sister is the cause of the deterioration of the aether—not to mention the golden woman and this—this thing.”

“Porphyria Urantu?” His disbelief was obvious, but in his years with the Order of the Argus he had doubtless seen and heard more astonishing things.

Father Bartolomeu stayed with his ship while Mister Pavaka followed Luli and I back onto the Hephaestus after what seemed ages away. I made quick introductions. He and Colonel Mallet eyed each other suspiciously as men are wont to do. I brushed past them and snapped, “As I believe I mentioned, we are all in serious danger while you two mark out your territory. “

A dark mist rolled through the bridge of the airship, shivering my spine with an unnatural chill. Even Luli glanced at me apprehensively, but Mister Pavaka laughed and waved his arms extravagantly. “I grow tired of these sorcerous antics,” he pronounced. A stiff breeze rustled through the chamber, quickly dispelling the mist.

Colonel Mallet raised an eyebrow and nodded to the marut, who grinned broadly. The colonel drew a pistol and crept cautiously down the spiral stairs to the hold. Mister Pavaka followed, Luli and I close behind.

The hold was awash in aethereal energies. Granito Urantu stood at the end closest to us, while at the far end, behind a translucent sparkling golden barrier, was his sister Porphyria. Against the far wall between them lay the body of Lieutenant Popkins, her erstwhile companion.

“She is in league with the Chieftain!” Mister Urantu said, his accent heavy in his anger, his thick fingers moving in delicate patterns as his face tensed in concentration. “That is why she was permitted to leave the Mountain. The Chieftain ordered her on mission.”

“I shall destroy the aether,” Porphyria Urantu responded, her voice flat. “And remake it after our design, the design of our people, when the Ironwright Dweorthen ruled the skies above and below.”

“You are mad,” her brother said. He lunged forward a step, and a spike of silver slithered through her defenses.

Miss Urantu cried out, and for a moment the barrier fell. I saw that she held a pair of knitting needles, the same ones I’d seen her with on the deck above, with a wide and glittering golden swath of fabric between them. The needles flew and the barrier reappeared. “I am not mad. You do not know our history, Brother. I seek to restore us to our ancient glory. Join me.”

“Ha!” Mister Pavaka cried out. “I remember your kind!” He leaped over the stair railing. I felt the crackling of energy from his body, embers of copper sparking around him. “I have heard the true stories.” He darted toward Porphyria Urantu’s barrier, swift as lightning. “The Ironwright Dweorthen did not rule the skies, neither above nor below. They were the allies of the marut.” The aura around him glowed more brightly as he spoke the name of his race. “It was the Wraith Iron faction who plotted to rule, to remake the aether in their image.” He crooked his arms and spun like a top, creating a small but precisely controlled funnel of wind. “We are the guardians of the aether,” Mister Pavaka said joyously.

The barrier vanished with the onslaught of the wind. The knitting needles and their strange cloth flew across the room. Mister Urantu picked them up, and I realized the cloth was attached to nothing, no ball of yarn. She must have derived it from the aether itself.

“I am Vatyaupamya Rudra Resman Pavaka,” the marut said, leaning toward the sorceress. “And you are my prisoner.”

 

Mister Gesman was quite pleased with our resolution of the case, particularly with our newfound alliance with the marut, or at least one of them. More problematic was the leadership crisis among the Ironwright Dweorthen after the Chieftain was taken into Federal custody. The Hephaestus went in dry dock, as it were, for much needed repairs, overseen by the capable hands of The Engineer. I took a brief vacation.

I still haven’t found out Luli’s story. I guess the time is not yet right.

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