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“It’s too bloody big! There’s no way we can fight off that kinda firepower!”

“What exactly are the Captain’s plans for this anyway? We run a frigate ship, how the hell does he expect us to go toe-to-toe with a Destroyer-class ship from the German Navy!?”

“We’re not fighters; we’re privateers! That’s what those military bastards wanna call us anyway…How could the Captain do this to us!?”

The mess hall was a relatively small room on the lower deck of the gondola section of the airship, small enough that not all of the crew could gather there at the same time, but it made for some cosy conversations at least. The crew were clearly not happy, their anger fuelled by alcohol which they had managed to lift on the last mission and had forgotten to mention when logging the loot which they would be keeping in the report to the Royal Navy. The Count had given them free reign over it for tonight so long as the next day they were fit to resume their duties.

Which, of course, meant that several of them would be performing their duties in an entirely non-fit state. Some drunk, some with hangovers, but one stood in the corner of the room, listening, observing, and slowly feeling her anger rising at all of these comments.

“It’s a sacrifice, that’s what it is, it’s those military ones testing our mettle. We can’t be expected to ACTUALLY fight a destroyer! If the Captain expects that, then he’s a few gears short of a full clock!”

Raucous laughter filled the cabin and the girl lost control of her temper, something which most of the crew were now used to. Her cup, having only just been emptied, bounced off the table from where she had thrown it.

“How the fuck can you say such things about the Count!? He has NEVER led this crew wrong and despite the fact that he is the Captain, he goes aboard EVERY mission risking himself which, as commanding officer, he doesn’t have to do!” She kicked a nearby chair hard, wiping some oil from her cheek where she had been working on the engines earlier. She tried hard to get her emotions under check as she felt something tugging at her tear ducts, but then she continued.

“How many other Captains share their plunder equally with all of the crew?” She asked calmly, looking around as if to dare anyone to answer that obviously rhetorical question.  She slammed her palms down on the desk and sighed, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Count de Theudubert has been nothing but kind to us all. If he believes we can take on a Destroyer-class ship, then we can. It’s that fucking simple!”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence my dear.”

The Count’s voice from behind her caused her to turn a dark shade of red. She quickly wiped her face on the leather apron hung at her waist before she straightened her back and turned around, her voice suddenly soft and clear, the dulcet tones betraying her upper-class upbringing.

“Count de Theudubert, why is it that you seem to move with the grace of a cat when it suits you?”

Louis smirked and placed a hand on her head, smiling down at her affectionately now. They had known each other now for more than two years, she had only been fifteen when he first discovered her and he had treated her like a little sister ever since. He removed his hand and walked over to the table, leaving talking to her for a moment.

“If there is a disagreement about my orders, why is it that I was not informed of it? Why, instead, are you complaining amongst yourselves?” Louis’ expression had soured as he had turned from the young engineer to look instead at the long table which most of the crew were gathered around.

“Cap’n, it’s just that…we can’t take a Destroyer!”

Murmurs of agreement flew through the mess hall and the Captain smiled, actually making more than one of his crew uncomfortable. He pulled over a chair, took off his hat and slid the Telescopic Diagnostician from his eye, dropping that into the hat before he placed both on the table. This was quickly followed by both boots, one resting on top of another as he lifted his feet onto the table.

“We can, and I shall tell you why and how. First, we are the fastest ship in the British Navy, and with Gen tinkering with the engines, we seem to go faster every time we leave Port.” The Count motioned over his shoulder to the young woman that now blushed once more, her hands coming together at her stomach.

“The way that helps us, is that we can circle a Destroyer-class ship just the once and in that time fire more shots with our cannons than she could hope to manage in thirty minutes of direct fire. What’s more, in desperate times, we have the Teleforce Cannon to fall back on.”

“But, Captain-“ Genevieve til Baudfert began to interject before Louis cut her off.

“I wish not to corrupt my own moral code, but if that is the price I pay to protect my crew, then I pay it gladly.” The Count stared back at the others. “If we need to, I will order you to loose the cables from the glider and to flee. You shall all be safe. It will only be the boarding crew that shall be in harm’s way. If it calls for it, we will fire the Teleforce Cannon while still attached to the enemy’s decks.”

The silence inside the mess hall was deafening. Glances passed around the crew as they suddenly felt four inches tall, having been badmouthing the man who had just suggested he would gladly die, or worse, to allow them a chance to escape. Suddenly a crew member, one of the gunners, stood and saluted the Count, followed quickly by all of the others.

The Captain of the HMS Valkyrie nodded and slid his boots from the table, grabbing his hat and nodding to Genevieve to follow him as he left the room. She did so silently, having been thoroughly embarrassed, not only by the Count’s kind words, but that, once again, he had caught her acting in an unladylike manner when she always tried so hard around him.

“There is no need for you to say such things all of the time Genevieve, you will alienate yourself from the rest of the crew.” He told her, turning to glance at her with a slightly reproving look.

“I just…they should not speak of you like that, sir. Not with all you have done for us!” She was fiercely loyal and always had been, defending not only the Count, but all of his decisions. In her mind, he was her hero, having rescued her from a life that did nothing but suffocate her.

The Count had recognised this longing in her, the desperation to be free which all members of his crew had shown at one point or another. Perhaps that was the founding reason that so many chose to take to the skies rather than stay on terra firma? In times past, they would have escaped to the seas, but they were all but fully mapped now and it was only possible to travel so far before, eventually, you hit land once more. Were it not for gathering fuels and resources, they would have no need to land, for the skies were endless. This was true freedom.

Still, at first, even that obvious need for freedom had not convinced him to accept a fifteen-year-old aristocratic girl onto his ship. Not one member of his crew was ordinary in the eyes of others. While they may look like misfits, each and every one of them had skills that far outranked the positions he could offer them. Swiss, or Bjorn Hauptmann as he was known on the ground, was one such person. He was a gunner, the chief gunner on the HMS Valkyrie, with more skills and passion than any Louis had ever seen, but an accident had caused him to be cast aside by the German Navy who saw him now as nothing other than scrap, useless to their cause due to loss of limb and eye… but Swiss was now the most efficient gunner on board the Valkyrie and due to their newfound status as a Royal Navy ship, he was the most efficient gunner in the British Navy.

A very strange turn of events to be sure. But the same could be said for all of the Count’s hand-chosen members of his crew. He was no fool and had been in the skies since he was old enough to see over the helm of a ship and he could see talent from miles away, or, he usually could. Louis de Theudubert was merely human after all, even though his reputation and perhaps sometimes his own arrogance made him seem like this was not the case.

Genevieve til Baudfert had almost evaded his gaze, a glance which even the Telescopic Diagnostician could not enhance…

“I know nothing which is not to be expected of a good Captain, and a good friend.” The Count retorted with a smile. “I actually wanted to ask you about Bjorn’s arm, he has not left his cabin in over a week and it was still wrapped in bandages when I last saw him. How did the operation go?”

Bjorn’s left arm had been torn away as part of that accident and since then, he had been forced to create a mechanical arm for himself, one which could be attached to his very central nervous system and allowed him the use of two limbs once more. Not long before the last mission, his arm had been damaged by a loose cable which had whipped across the deck, almost sending the gunner over the railings, but had severely damaged the piping on his arm. The Count had no idea how the limb worked, but between the ship’s Medic, Apothecary and Genevieve herself designing the new limb, it had been replaced and upgraded.

“It went extremely well Count de Theudubert. The reason Swiss refuses to leave his cabin is that he is practicing use of the limb. It has been improved substantially since the last model and he is very much pleased with it. Do not concern yourself, he shall return to throwing grenades and testing your moral code soon enough.” Genevieve smiled warmly and linked her arm with Louis’, much to his surprise.

“I heard there were complications with extra two limbs?”

“And the steam-powered launcher as well sir. He is coming to adjust to that change as well. The arm is very advanced, but the boiler pack that it requires needs more of the steam focussed into the arm itself, as such, we had been forced to remove the crane arms and also the cannon. Again, I do not see this as being much of a concern. Men are all hands as it is, giving a man two extra is never a good idea.”

The Count laughed and ruffled her hair which was caked in soot; clearly she had been tinkering around the coal again.

“Besides, I worked with him to create a new weapon which he seems most satisfied with and which can also be modified for non-lethal means depending on just what kind of airship we are boarding!” Gen smiled again and when the smile was returned, she blushed and looked away.

The Count raised an eyebrow. He had known that Genevieve had some sort of affection for him, but he had made it clear that she was like a sister to him and he hoped she had locked it into her mind that this was the case. She had once saved his life and that was what had earned her the right to join his crew. Plus, she had demonstrated just how skilled she was with all things mechanical even at the tender age of fifteen and under the scrutiny of her parents, themselves a Lord and Lady who would not allow her any time to tinker with the contraptions she so loved to conceptualise, construct and complete. It was a shame for such talent to go to waste, and now it was no longer doing so.

How different she was around him… a life of aristocracy was not easy on the women. They were expected to learn etiquette and household management before being married off and forced into continuing these practices. Genevieve had refused cups of tea, instead preferring spanners and screwdrivers, copper, brass and wood. Genevieve had refused the pretty dresses, instead preferring the leather of workman’s gloves. Genevieve had even refused her name, shortening it to Gen and telling no-one of her last name. Quite often she was mistaken for a boy due not only to the engineer’s clothes she wore, but also due to the shortness of her hair, the long braid at the back often hidden under an aviator’s cap which she had once stolen from the Count’s own quarters.

Her tomboyish demeanour was obvious to the rest of the crew, with her able to out drink most of them even at her young age, swearing more than most sailors even bothered and almost always covered in grease and grime from the engines and the propellers. Still, around Louis she seemed to regain all of the etiquette she had learned, her attitude softened, her wit quickened and her tongue lost its barbs. The Count had shown her that not all aristocracy was to be associated with the cage she had once been confined within.

“Captain?”

Louis turned to face Lieutenant Charles Davenport and smiled, touching the brim of his hat in greeting.

“I ask for permission to speak freely sir.” The lieutenant was clearly not in the mood for small talk right now. It was strange, as the practical jokes he played even now were legendary and he was a very fun person when not in “military mode” as the Count liked to put it.

“Stop doing such things Davenport. You have been informed before that you always have free reign to speak your mind with me. What ails you?” Louis could tell that something was wrong.

“Sir, the Destroyer has spotted us and is beginning to turn. Her size makes the manoeuvre slow, but she has already run out her cannons. I estimate we will be in range of their primary armament momentarily.” As if to punctuate his statement the cannons of the German vessel spoke and some of the crew flinched as a shell airburst some distance off to the Valkyrie port bow.

“Shit, the element of surprise is lost to us!” Louis exclaimed, surprising both Gen and Charles as he swore only rarely and only in cases of severe mental or physical strain.

“Charles, assemble your men. I want them kitted up and ready to go on the foredeck before battle commences. We are to take prisoners and quarter is to be given if it is asked, but at the same time, this is a military ship and they will all be armed to the nines. Due to the nature of the vessel we are about to engage, tell them to prepare for a rapid boarding action!”

Davenport saluted and then turned to leave, immediately pulling the radio transmitter from the pack on his back to radio his men. A half mask hung from his webbing, although quite bulky it was an unfortunate necessity. Under the Counts orders Davenport’s primary weapon was mechanical launcher that deployed small canisters of chloroform, which would incapacitate rather than kill enemy crew members.

“Gen, I want you to inform Bjorn of this. If he is healed enough to come with us, I will want him there.”

“Captain,” Davenport interjected, “Are you sure bringing Gunner Bjorn along is a prudent course of action?”

“Why? Do you foresee a problem Charles?” The Count commented dryly.

“As a matter of fact yes I do sir,” Retorted Davenport, emphasis on the sir a little strained, “Is taking a German hating mechanical sociopath along on this operation really advisable when the stakes are this high?”

“I have the utmost faith in Bjorn, Charles. He has his motives, but while he is under my command he will follow my orders.” The Count indicated to the now numerous airbursts visible from the foredeck of the HMS Valkyrie. They were now well within range of the still turning Destroyer’s armament, although it had still to bring most of its cannons to bear. “As you can see the time for debate has passed, now if you would be so good as to get your men ready. We can finally get this little expedition underway” With that Lieutenant Davenport saluted, about turned and double timed it towards the boarders assembly point.

The Count sighed loudly and noticed the young mechanic still stood next to him with a face that told him she was clearly not convinced.

“But Captain, this is a German Destroyer, Swiss’ disposition with his hatred of his ex-comrades means-“

“Gen, go now!” The Count shouted at her, clearly hurting her feelings before she turned and ran as fast as she could along the corridor. The Count grabbed onto a cable that ran along the wall and pulled it downwards several times, ringing loud bells all over the ship. This was rarely used, but they needed to get everyone to their battle stations in as fast a way as possible.

Genevieve was right about Bjorn, ever since his “honourable discharge” from the German Navy, Hauptmann had resented them with a passion. The last time they had run into any members was in a bar in Finland, and Bjorn had killed two and injured a third before six members of the crew, the Count included, had finally prised him away from his targets. There was a risk that he would kill portions of the enemy’s crew, but it was his right to be informed that they were about to board a German Destroyer…

The first member of crew that ran past him, the Count grabbed forcefully.

“I want you to go first to the control room. I want the flags flown; we are not to start an international incident over this!”

The man nodded and left with great haste to fulfil his orders. On both sides of the HMS Valkyrie’s gondola hull was the large insignia of the British Navy. At his command, a flag would be unfurled from above this and fastened below it to not only conceal their Navy status, but also to make it aware just who was in command of this ship, for it was the flag of Count Louis de Theudubert and his crew. Even if the Germans had seen the insignia and the HMS scrawled across the rear of the ship, they would now believe that it had been commandeered by a group of pirates.

The Captain pulled his newest pistol from the holster at his hip, flicking the bottle of neon liquid that began to glow upon contact and he smirked. This pistol could either fire bullets coated in this powerful paralysing agent, or it could fire a short concentrated stream of the liquid. For now, he was sure that there were bullets within and that he would not be taking any risks. He had not informed his crew, but this mission had not been set by the Royal Navy, but by his own selfish means. It began as a rumour, but he had heard it far too often… Intelligence reports gleaned from his last communications and briefing from London indicated there was a Commodore aboard this vessel. This man was no regular Commodore, the Count had kept this part to his himself, but this was a man who had connections within Darmania that had seen an aristocratic British family herded on board an airship that was bound east. Apparently this Commodore was informed which country the airship was bound for, and this meant that Louis needed to find out. There was a possibility that the family was not his own, but as Darmania and Britain were most certainly NOT on friendly terms as the Principality of Darmania had long threatened the British Empire’s interest in the Far East and more than once this had boiled over into all out conflict. It was unlikely that a family containing a man, a woman and a young girl from an aristocratic British family were the victims of a random attack from opportunists. He knew the Darmanian government was involved in this somehow, and he planned to find out more!

The Count slid the gun back into the holster and slid his scabbard further forward on his left hip so that he could have better access to his rapier. As he climbed up the stairs into the bridge, he closed the trap door behind him and walked over to the man on the helm.

“Get down to the cannons Gibson, we’ll need as many firing as possible. I’ll take the helm.”

“Aye sir!” The man left the wheel and instead went back through the trap door that the Captain had just come through. A woman sat at the stabilising controls turned to glance at him as he suddenly swerved the airship the starboard, almost looking like he was preparing to ram the Destroyer.

“Captain!?” Tabitha turned to look at him with fear, her brown, black and auburn dreadlocks rattling against the brass wings which extended from the boiler pack on her back.

“Relax Tabby, this will be tight but will work!” The Count smirked, already knowing her predictable reaction as he pulled down a transmitter from the ceiling above him.

“Don’t call me Tabby! It’s Skye!” The young crew member shot the Count an angry, clearly reproachful look.

“Right, I forgot…” He turned to the transmitter and activated it. “Run out all of our cannons and prepare them for firing. Now, hold on!”

Louis waited until they were close to the Destroyer, taking advantage of the fact that the German fleet, while powerful and vast, had old models of the battleships. While there cannons were of a numerous and of a large calibre they were old and inaccurate, designed for engaging much larger vessels than the Valkyrie. This model had no prow cannons, which meant from the front, they were safe! Under the Count’s instructions the Valkyrie had altered course to head off the German vessels lumbering turn and now approached directly from the front. As they were looking close to colliding, he turned again, smirking as they not only turned, but straight into a hot air current, causing them to rise a little as well. The German Destroyer had cannons towards the lowest part of their sides, whereas the Valkyrie’s triple-barrelled cannons were higher. Hopefully this would give them the advantage. Even though their cannons were more powerful, the Valkyrie had much higher speed and the steam cannons could fire three cylinders at once!

“FIRE AT WILL!” The Count shouted into the transmitter as he looked to Tabitha. “Activate the booster rockets!” The Count idly gripped the nearest railing as both the vibrations of the cannons and rockets suddenly made the whole ship lurch heavily.

“Captain, the fuel…”

“Must EVERYONE question me today!?” The Count asked politely, causing her to turn and activate the rockets which flared into life just as the Destroyer fired a close range volley. The Valkyrie shuddered as they were clearly hit by at least a few of those shots. Concerned shouting could be heard at least one from the brass communication tubes and the Count could faintly smell smoke, but now was not the time to worry about that, he had far more pressing matters to address!

“Drop boosters, Fire a single grappling hook and cancel port-side propellers. And don’t question me again.” The Count told Tabitha without turning to look at her as he focussed on the skies ahead. She did as she was told and the grappling hook caught hold of one of the railings on the large war zeppelin, also tearing a small hole in the side of the Valkyrie as they were almost catapulted in a u-turn that would shear larger ships in two. The decking groaned in protest as the Valkyrie swung round in a wide arc, eliciting a raised eyebrow from the now returned Lieutenant Davenport.

“Men assembled on the foredeck awaiting orders Sir”.  

“Perfect, disconnect the grapple and activate all propellers and the boosters once more! They won’t have had time to reload their cannons on this side and we can use our fresh cannons now!” The genius in his eyes was fulfilled as Tabitha looked at him in awe and nodded, activating the full speed of the Valkyrie once more. Once more the cannon fire rained, punching not only large holes in the side of the Destroyer, but also accurate gunfire from the Valkyrie had caused some serious damage the German vessels gun decks, disabling most of their cannons within the last two runs. They could not have prepared for such a brutal double-attack on their port side and now they could circle around slowly to board safely from the port without fear of cannon fire or reprisal from a ship that was so vastly superior to their own. The Count smirked, elated that this had gone so well.

“Casualty and damage report?” He asked into the transmitter.

“The boatswain was knocked out cold sir, but he seems unhurt otherwise.”

“We’ve taken damage to two of the starboard guns sir, we have some minor damage to the boiler room too but it is nothing serious.” Genevieve’s voice came through clearly before the static took over.

The silence made Louis smile, then laugh out loud as he clicked it back into life, “That is it? That’s the damage we suffered from the German Destroyer you were all terrified of!?”

“Aye Captain!”

“Tabitha, take the wheel and stay on board this ship!” The Captain ordered her, stepping away.

“Sir, I’m ready to go on a mission with you! When will you trust me to do it!?” Sky fought back in protest.

“Believe me, it is not a matter of trust. This is the most dangerous mission we have been on yet, so this is not a great one to make your first boarding. Sit tight and you’re in command of the helm ok? If things begin to look worrying, loose the cables and get out of here!”

Tabitha knew not to argue against this and merely nodded, stepping up to the wheel as he left and descended down more than one flight of stairs until he entered the glider cabin. Already assembled was the full platoon serving under Lieutenant Davenport and also the members of his crew he had selected to come aboard with him. Genevieve was stood there, an immense hammer in her hand as she turned to glance up at him. She tucked that into the waistband of the leather apron she wore, not far from where her pistol was holstered. Within the pockets on the apron were several useful tools. Genevieve was especially skilled at stealing technology in a hurry as well as obtaining fuel. Always useful to have, especially on a ship such as this that was teaming with interesting items! Still, if he had his way, she would not be coming with them…

“Captain, thank you for requesting me to come with you.” The light German accent, all but gone with time, alerted Louis to Swiss’ presence and they grasped arms in a brotherly manner. The Count avoided looking in Davenport’s direction as he already knew what kind of exasperated face him liaison would be making.

“You just need to keep a lid on yourself Bjorn. They are German Navy, but if we can avoid kills, I will be happier for it.” His eyes narrowed somewhat and the eyes staring back softened.

“Yes Captain. I make no promises, but I will do my best.” The man’s white shirt was, for once, not yet stained with grease. He had been in his cabin still rather than tinkering with the cannons and developing new firing cylinders. But the waistcoat had spots of what looked like moisture on it, still trying to dry, perhaps from the new boiler pack he had installed without the arms and cannon attached. Still, the new arm was looking fantastic and across his back was what seemed to be a shotgun, but it had either three or four barrels rather than the regular two.

“That looks like a nice new toy.”

“Perhaps this is not the best time for chatting Captain?” Lieutenant Davenport asked with a raised eyebrow. “In fact, I think it’s time we get our asses out on deck, sir.”

“Someone took that free reign of speech line a little too literally…” The Captain quipped with a smirk as he grabbed his cane from the side of the cabin in a slot against the wall and slid it into his belt not far from his sword. The flintlock pistol that was originally his grandfather’s sat comfortably in the inside pocket of his jacket that was now unbuttoned. The Telescopic Diagnostician sprang to life as the glider began to disconnect from the gondola. The propellers span faster as the wings extended, catching the wind.

Because this mission was so risky, the Count took the wheel himself, telling all of the crew that wasn’t boarding to stay behind on the zeppelin. They steered towards the Destroyer, firing the grappling hooks which latched them to the enemy ship. Louis noted the deck was clear, this was standard practice during cannon exchanges as it would minimize crew casualties. He knew once the Valkyrie’s guns stop firing all hell would break loose.

“I want a guard left on the ship Charles, I would very much rather that when we make it back safely from our little jaunt, I do not find my pride and joy is ‘under new management’. If the zeppelin pulls away from us, then activate the Teleforce Cannon and parachute away as fast as possible.” With nods from the platoon and Davenport choosing which men to stay behind, they stepped onto the deck and attached clips to their belts that they then attached to the tethers before bravely leaping from the deck, sliding down to the side of the other ship. Their hands hit the side and they pulled themselves up before others came across. This was going to take a little more time than usual due to them losing one of the tethers in the turning manoeuvre earlier…

Only six were across when the first wave of German naval ratings started pouring out of the nearest hatch on the foredeck, they spread out before halting and kneeling to take aim.

“MOVE!” The Count called, himself, Gen, Swiss, Lieutenant Davenport and two others dove behind a metallic container as a wave of bullets struck it’s surface. There were more men about to climb over the side of the deck and they would be directly in the line of fire.

“Davenport, if you would be so kind?” Louis asked with a smirk as he pressed a button on his control panel which made the liquid attached to it sink into his skin. With a few deep breaths the serum began to take effect as Charles loaded his launcher with a chloroform canister.

“Masks on chaps!” Davenport shouted as he raised he weapon to his shoulder.

He fired over the large crate they were behind and then he slid the mask over his mouth, nose and chin, strapping it around the back of his head. The was a distinct clang and a rush of what sounded like air as the shell struck the deck near the assembled ratings and started spilling out its noxious cargo into a large yellow cloud.

The Count could see several coughing furiously with a few already dropping to the deck unconscious. As Davenport signalled his platoon to advance and started to move out, Louis caught his arm before he rushed out.

“I am authorising deadly force, but only if necessary. Understood?”

Davenport looked shocked, but nodded and then he rounded the corner.

“You are serious?” Bjorn asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes. But try to avoid it!”

Bjorn smirked and pulled a grenade from his belt, his face a mixture of ecstasy and insanity as he lit it and grabbed Davenport’s arm, holding him back as he threw the grenade towards the group of opposing military.

“NO!” The Count leapt up and caught onto Bjorn’s arm, but too late.

“We need to get into that door behind them somehow…” Bjorn told him with a grin, crossing his arms and watching as the grenade suddenly exploded, throwing most of the only semi-conscious troops from the deck into the wide sky. A quick glance at Davenport showed the young officer to be viewing the scene of destruction through the fingers of his hand he had put up to his face.

The Count cursed under his breath and turned back to look at the door, lest he accidentally catch sight of the inevitable “I told you so” look which he very well knew was coming. He did however note that the doorway that had been locked behind them, the thick metal doors which would have barred their way, had also been blown off its hinges.

Genevieve stepped forward and lifted a syringe to her neck, injecting herself with the same serum that the Count used.

“You ignored an order Swiss.” She told him with a look of disappointment on her face.

“Can you argue with results? Let’s go, there’s more Germans to be had!” Swiss did not even seem to believe he could be hurt as his mechanical eye rotated, focussing on the door as he bounded towards it.

“Captain?” Davenport asked, his voice obstructed through the mask he was wearing. The last of the platoon who were attending had now joined them on deck and slipped on their half-masks so they were ready to go.

“Follow him Davenport, keep your guns up but shoot to wound where possible. Use your judgement on when you have to kill, I trust you.” The platoon ran towards the door. The Count watched as the military contingent secured the hatch area and cautiously made there way inside covering each opening and hatch as they progressed. Davenport’s men were armed with the same kind of non lethal launcher he was, and we proceeding to fire canisters through the distorted hatchway into the corridor and stairs leading down into the belly of the vessel.

“Something is different here Count de Theudubert, is it not?” Genevieve asked, looking up at him. At 5’1” she was probably one of the shortest members of the crew, and that had perhaps fuelled the mouth that she so often ran to the rest of the crew; for her, to increase her voice was to make up for her height.

“You have clearly been around me for too long Miss. til Baudfert…” The Count did not smile as he usually would have, but stared straight into the doorway around which the crew had assembled. They burst inside and found the advance elements of the Army boarding party had located and started engaging the pockets of organised resistance from the German crew. A few more seconds and an explosion wracked the ship, causing Louis to close his eyes.

“SWISS! THIS IS AN ORDER! I WANT AS MANY OF THEM KEPT ALIVE FOR INTERROGATION AS POSSIBLE!” He shouted, walking towards the door through which all of the crew disappeared. He and Gen were alone on deck, or so they had thought.

A fizzle came from behind Louis and he turned to see a German crumple to the deck, Gen’s eyes focussed on him and wide with fear as her pistol slowly lowered. The Count glanced up and noticed the ceiling hatches that his assailant had used to get around Davenport and his men.

“They are coming out of the woodwork ladies and gents, be on your guard!” shouted the Count.

No sooner than he had uttered the words, two more moved up fast from the side decking and Louis pulled his sword from its sheath and sliced through a man’s arm, causing him to drop his own rapier before he span, pulling his cane from his belt to crack across the other man’s right temple. Genevieve had three men surrounding her with cackles before she swung her hammer, crushing through a man’s knee which sent him screaming to the floor in pain.

Gen turned too late as a rapier arced through the air towards her face and she saw her own eyes, frozen wide in fear, reflected in the blade.

* * * * *

“You will NEVER be an engineer! You already have suitors who wish to investigate you further, how could you still be carrying out such…unsightly actions as working with engines.” The man slid the top hat onto his head and looked down at Gen as if she were a piece of dirt.

“No, dad, I will NEVER be married. Instead, I’m gonna work with engines and play in dirt all day long. Now, I’m going out.” She smirked, standing from where she had just finished construction on her newest invention. This should, in theory, be able to generate power through the air and was based on one of Nikola Tesla’s works which she had been researching. With another coy smile, she grabbed onto one of her father’s top hats as she ran through the door and out onto the streets, heading straight towards the market where she hoped to demonstrate her invention.

“It will be quite alright I assure you! I really do not wish to take too much, but I am rather short of cash.”

“You’re a Count! We know who you are! You’re Louis de Theudubert, you’re that pirate what don’t kill anyone!”

Gen pushed through the crowd of people that had gathered, struggling to see what was happening but still clutching her invention to her chest. As she got near the front, she saw a flash of black as the man in the top hat stepped to one side and out of the way of the rapier that had flashed in his direction. He had in his hand only a cane and as he slipped aside from the next thrust, he slammed the point of the cane into the back of the other man’s knee, causing him to lose his footing and tumble to the ground.

“Look, I merely need enough food to keep my crew from starving until the next port!” The Count told them, a young man not much older than twenty. “Is that too much to ask?”

Gen’s eyes widened as the man sighed and he pulled a pistol from within his coat and fired into the air before also pulling a flintlock pistol from his belt to aim in the other direction, now turning to seemingly point at everyone in the crowd.

“Fine, if you will not give me food, and I, by myself, cannot force you to do so, then you will part and let me leave! My airship awaits.” The Count began walking towards the opening in the crowd, his eyes darting back and forth across the crowd.

“It’s alright, here comes the coppers anyway!” Said a woman not far from Genevieve, motioning to four men dressed in blue uniforms that were making their way through the crowd towards Louis.

“RUN!” Gen shouted before she could help herself. The Count turned to face her, he flinched, hearing the shrill note of a police whistle as he saw the men moving towards him now, having just broken through the crowd. He had to move quickly, that whistle would call any other nearby constables onto his position.

He did as she had instructed, turning to run at full pelt out of the market and towards the skyport.

Genevieve turned as well, moving through the crowd and dashing along one street, then down a narrow alley between houses so that she came out onto a walkway above the street that the Count was now running along. At the end of the road, two large gates slammed shut, blocking the only way out to the skyport. Genevieve ran down some stairs and over to where he stood. She dropped the invention in her hand and pulled a screwdriver and a pair of pliers from her pocket before kicking open a panel on the wooden side of the gates.

“What are you doing?” The Count asked, staring down as the aristocratic girl began playing with gears and water pipes within the panel.

“Opening the gate, but only if you take me with you!” She told him, flicking the pliers to one side before she pulled a few gears out and rearranged them.

“What makes you think you can do that? And you are too young to be part of my crew!” He told her, the police suddenly ran around the corner. Now it was less than a mile of straight road between him and either the noose or the cell.

The gates opened behind him and the Count turned in surprise as they opened wide enough to fit only really himself through and it would be a tight squeeze. He hoped to high heaven that the distraction he had made had bought the rest of the crew enough time to steal all of the food and fuel they needed for their trip. Dramatics was always a great tool…

“Thanks kid!” He shouted before the gates slammed shut again. “What are-“

“You WILL take me with you!” She narrowed her eyes at him, the pair of pliers in her hands closed around a pipe valve which she had rigged to open the gates.

The Count pulled the pistol from his holster and pointed it at her forehead. “Open the gate.”

Gen’s gaze did not waver in the slightest, locked on his own brown eyes were her bright blue ones, boring into him as he touched the tip of the barrel to her skin.

Louis’ face wavered and he growled, “Dammit! Fine! Come with me then, but there is NO going back and you will pull your weight on my ship!”

“Done!” The gates opened and she smirked, standing up and winking as the tools disappeared into the folds of her rather boyish clothes. “My name is-“

“Introductions later!” The Count grabbed her hand and pulled her through the door after him, the top-hat on her head falling off to land outside of the gate. The Marvelle was waiting for them when they got to the edge of the pier, already cast off and slowly drifting away.

“THROW OUT A LINE!” Louis called onto the ship and a rope was thrust from the deck, landing on the pier only a few feet in front of them. Two of the policemen were closing in on them as Louis wrapped an arm under her waist, forcing her to put an arm around his neck.

“We’re not going to-“

“Yes we are!” Louis leapt from the pier, high above cliffs which ended in sharp rocks and frothy water. He reached for the rope with his right hand, catching onto it and quickly wrapping it around his wrist as he slid down it under their weight. His face contorted into explicit pain as they slid down several metres.

Gen stared down at the water below them and clutched hard to Louis, looking up now at the policemen who had reached the end of the pier and knew they would never reach the pirates now, they frantically blew their whistles anyway, perhaps out of pure anger.


“Where is the RPV Argyle?” One of the policemen was heard to shout to a colleague as Louis’ vessel pulled away
.
The Count knew the nearest police dirigible was miles away, responding to hoax call he himself had placed some hours before as an insurance policy. He smiled dryly knowing it would never arrive in time.

Genevieve smirked as she watched them slowly get further away, knowing that her aristocratic life was also fading into the horizon! A drop of crimson hit her nose and she looked up, another hitting her forehead as the Count grimaced in pain, his right wrist was torn and bloody, almost all of the sleeve having been torn away by the distance they had slid along the rope and how tight he had wound the three coils of rope.

Gen’s eyes widened, but what else could she do? The rope was being pulled in now and they were almost onto the deck. Life was about to change…and the first thing she would do was to dedicate herself to making her addition to the ship a worthwhile one!

* * * * *

The sword flashed through the air towards Genevieve til Baudfert, perhaps that was what they meant when they said that before you died, your life flashed before your eyes? She had only seen a snippet…but it had been a poignant memory. Her eyes closed and…nothing? A clash of metal caused her to open them once more and Louis’ rapier had blocked the one sword while a hard thrust of his cane made the man double up. The second soldier’s rapier was caught on the edge of the Count’s cane and he span, cutting through the man’s throat without qualm before he turned and plunged his sword into the gut of the other, hard enough that it ran in up to the hilt.

Louis paused, noticing the fine mist of blood that seemed to hang in the air, as if taking in what had just occurred, instinct having driven him to commit what he deemed wrong. He had hoped to avoid this, the killing and now his hard breathing surprised him as he pulled hard, trying to free his sword. After a few seconds of tugging, the Count finally placed his boot on the now dead man’s body, laying him backwards before he used the force to free his blade.

Genevieve had fallen to her knees and stared up at him, his shocked face which now had a spray of blood from one cheek up almost to his Diagnostician tool. He was breathing heavily, gasping as if to catch his breath even though he had not exerted much energy. It seemed more like he was trying to calm down, stop from hyperventilating perhaps? Gen stood and caught his cheeks in her hands.

“It will be ok! You had to, you saved my life!”

Louis’ eyes flicked back and forth, almost as if in horror before another hand caught his shoulder and had to block a slash from Louis’ rapier with his shotgun barrel. Swiss had come back and was now looking around at the carnage.

“I came to get you. There is something below deck you need to see Captain.” Bjorn knew how this must be affecting his old friend, but also knew that the only way to escape this was to move his thoughts onto other things.

“Yes…ok Bjorn.” The Captain shook his head, pulling his top hat further down onto his head and adjusted the aviation goggles that sat on the brim of the hat.

He took a deep breath and walked on, leaving Genevieve stood still, her hands falling to her side before she picked up her hammer and sadly walked after them. She knew that it had been her weakness that had forced him to kill, and had therefore caused him so much pain.

“We found them like this Captain. What do you think?” Lieutenant Davenport asked from the bottom of a stairwell that judging by the now several large but now unconscious German ratings had been rather well defended. Through the clearing mist of chloroform, he noticed the young Lieutenant tilting his head to indicate the rows of cages that contained human beings, looking at their clothes and catching snippets of the language with which they whispered to each other in fear, Louis quickly denoted they were from Eastern Europe. Probably from one the large freighters that frequented this air route.

“Piracy, state funded piracy.” Louis responded, looking at all of the people who were now reaching for them for their escape.

It was supposed to be a secret, the fact that governments have helped to fund piracy, to equip pirates with everything they need and they always got something in response. The HMS Valkyrie’s situation was not too far removed from this, but other governments were far less choosey about what kind of pirate they employed. It had seemed to Louis that he had been sought out primarily because of his kind heart and lack of murderous intent. But then, even the British government could have had other pirates on the payroll and he would never have known about it. It was why, despite his best efforts, Louis had been forced now to reveal that he had British Soldiers as members of his crew. He simply did not have enough crew to have boarded a vessel such as this… Even using his flags would not hide the fact from any crew that saw them… The British government operated a system of plausible deniability. Having a Company of Red Coats aboard a pirate vessel would be considered preposterous by most so any reports of such acts of piracy were not generally believed.

“We loot the ship and then we take these people with us. These poor wretches look like they have been kept in the hold a while, probably en route to a life of forced labour in the Krupp Steel Works. They will be released at the next port we dock at. For now, we must leave them or they will be caught in the crossfire. Spread out and take whatever you can. Swiss, Davenport, you’re with me.” The Count dolled out his orders with the superiority of one who was obviously in command.

“Davenport, I hope you do not begrudge me the need to borrow some of your men,” Louis said and then turned to the girl at his side.

“Genevieve, take ten of the platoon and gather fuel. Be damned careful.” He told her, his eyes narrowing on her as if to impart his message all the more clearly. He protected her with the ferocity of an older brother and that would not change.

She nodded and turned to run away from them with half the platoon following her.

“Ten men? That was a bit excessive for a fuel run wasn’t it?” Davenport asked, turning back to the Captain.

“We are in more need of fuel than usual. And…the Captain’s quarters are ahead if this is like any other military ships. Which means the Commodore is in there…”

“Commodore!?” Swiss asked in shock. “You knew about this ship! You targeted it specifically!”

“I did. Because the Commodore that is aboard this ship knows where my family is. I would understand if you wish to turn back. If you do so, loot and release the prisoners. I don’t want-“

“Captain…”

The Count turned to see what the young officer wanted and was cut off by a sharp blow to his left cheek, sending him crashing one of the few walls that was not made of cage. Clutching his jaw, Louis looked up to see Charles Davenport standing over him, anger visible in his eyes, while the rest of him was hidden under the mask. After a second he uncoupled the fastening and pulled it off to let it hang off his webbing.

“You should have told us! What did you think? We wouldn’t have come with you?” Charles never showed this kind of anger. This behaviour from him was unexpected and put the Count on edge. Young Davenport was renowned from taking his role onboard the HMS Valkyrie very seriously and carried out his role to the best of his ability. There was another side to him; it was his penchant for elaborate practical jokes, more often than not involving explosives. A few months prior, the Count had been woken from his slumber in courters by a loud explosion sound. It had turned out that someone had placed a small seismic charge in the latrine block in the crew quarters. Although he denied it, almost everyone onboard had immediately deduced it was Davenport’s handiwork. He smiled to himself as he remembered being stood outside his cabin, trying to calm down a very irate 2nd Class Engineer who was covered head-to-toe in excrement, the poor chap had obviously been the recipient of the Lieutenants unique brand of humour.

To see Davenport like this bothered Louis.

“We understand, is what he means.” Swiss added with a smirk.

“And there is no way in hell that we’re going back to the ship now!” Davenport composed himself and extended a hand to the Count to help him back up. He then indicated his men had had moved to and secured the door that Louis had been sure would have been the Captain’s quarters, standing to one side with his pepperbox prepared to fire. The launcher was a great weapon, but not for close-combat.

Louis straightened out his jaw and smiled, shaking his head.

“Fine, let’s do this! Bjorn, after you I think.”

Bjorn smirked and wrapped his new arm around the handle, hydraulics kicking into action which allowed him to pull the door from its hinges. Davenport stepped forward and went down on one knee, aiming into the room. There had been no need, for sitting at the desk, facing them, was the Commodore.

“Bjorn, ask him if he wants to surrender,” Louis said quietly while looking straight at the man he had come all this way to find.

Rapid-fire German was spat in their direction and Louis walked straight in, taking four steps before he dove forward, having noticed movement either side of him as he advanced, avoiding fire from two men with pistols that had been hidden on each side of the room. Bjorn fired his shotgun at one and it destroyed him as several shots from the pepperbox removed the threat of the other.

“Tell him we are not amateurs.” Louis told Bjorn with a smirk.

Bjorn and the Commodore spoke back and forth in German, short quick exchanges that ended with Bjorn landing a punch with his metallic arm into the man’s cheek, knocking him to the floor. Bjorn lifted him up and sat him on the desk, holding him by his neck.

“Well, that sounded pleasant.” The Count added as he walked over. “Davenport, watch the door.”

With a nod, the Lieutenant turned his back to them and kept watch.

“Where are my family?” Louis asked, Bjorn translating. The Commodore spat at Louis and it landed in the centre of the Telescopic Diagnostician. Louis took a deep breath and his gloved hands wiped it away, flinging the phlegm to the floor. He took a deep breath then drew the rapier once more, slashing with incredible precision to slide open the man’s right arm. Bjorn’s good hand covered the man’s mouth as he grunted in extreme pain.

“Ask again.”

This time, the Commodore’s response was much longer and he glared at Louis the entire time.

“He says that he saw them boarding an airship. The Darmanians have them.” Bjorn shrugged.

“I knew that already. Where was the airship heading?”

“He says he doesn’t know.”

Louis took a deep breath and the tip of the blade pressed against the man’s exposed throat, causing Bjorn to withdraw his mechanical hand.

“Crush his right hand Bjorn.”

“Captain?”

“Do it!”

The German ex-navy took the Commodore’s right hand in his own left and squeezed, hydraulics activating so that he could crush the bones in the Commodore’s hand with ease.

The scream was audible this time and Davenport turned to look, surprised by what he was hearing, but he turned away again, shaking his head.

“Ask again and tell him I know that he knows.”

Bjorn did as instructed and this time and now sobbing Commodore, part of Germany’s powerful Navy, crying and weeping as he spoke soft German to Bjorn.

“He…he says they headed towards the Middle East, but he has no idea of any further specifics.”

“Danke Schon.” The Count said to the Commodore, the only piece of German he really knew. Swiss released the Commodore and walked towards Davenport. Louis turned to follow them and suddenly turned back to plunge his rapier through the man’s throat, twisting it before pulling it back out to watch the gurgling, bubbling blood burst forth as he struggled to breathe.

“Back to the ship…” The Captain told them, walking past them both without any further exchanged words.

Never before had either of them seen Count Louis de Theudubert act in such a barbaric manner… and then it hit Swiss.

“It has been almost a year since the Count received the note which informed him that a family member would be killed off every year until he found them. That was why he joined the Navy, because they gave him further power to search for them. That is why he has gone through such lengths. He has a further 2 months until one of his family members is killed…”

“Captain!” Gen ran up to him as he stepped out onto the deck. “We managed to gather enough fuel and food to last for…Count, what has happened?”

His face was stained with yet more blood and contorted into an expression of pure anger.

“Get everyone back to the glider now. Including the prisoners…”

Then he was gone, walking towards the gap between the two ships and not even stopping to clip his tether to the rope before he began pulling himself back across.
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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The Count watched the lieutenant go, smiling faintly before he turned back to Celeste, unsure if he would be getting a tongue lashing or support from the female pirate. She looked as gorgeous as always, her kohl-framed eyes drawing him in so exquisitely as always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None before you my dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine, don’t say it! I’ll jus’-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis laughed and sat down.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!
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“How is it that nothing at the exhibition appealed to you in the slightest?” Count Louis de Theudubert asked, parrying another blow before stepping to the left and thrusting his rapier towards his opponent.

“What can I say?” The clash of sword against sword rang through the air as she knocked the blade away to her left. “All I managed to see were a bunch of items which applied to large vehicles or made combat easier. Not worth my time and certainly not worth my money!”

Louis’ guard had been thrown off by his opponent’s harsh returning slash and he now forced himself to hop to his right to avoid the thrust of a blade into his stomach. As he landed, his right knee failed him again and he cried out in pain, dropping onto his left knee as his body responded to the pain.

The Count’s opponent did not let up, slashing her blade towards his neck fast enough that he had no time to bring up his own blade to stop it. Instead he rolled in the same direction, the pain actually causing him to feel some kind of emotion in this battle.

Amelia Hawkesworth had certainly not been expecting that move considering she had seen him going down in what appeared to be a great deal of pain. In the past, she would not have moved, instead waiting for him to return to his feet. After a few fencing matches with de Theudubert however, she had quickly been taught that there are no rules in combat and to take advantage of any weakness exposed.

Louis came up onto the one knee again and slashed to the right, connecting with the outside of Amelia’s blade to increase the momentum of her missed hit. In a flash he had brought the tip of the blade against her chest just above her pendant.

“Very good job pressing the advantage. I was not expecting it my dear.” Louis stood, painfully, and bowed to her.

“I learned from one of the best it would seem.” Amelia replied with an inclination of the head, sheathing her sword.

Louis collected his cane from where it lay against a wall and leaned heavily on the telescopic handle, walking over to the right side of his armoury and sliding the sword into its place in the vast shelving units.

“I take it from the cold stance you are taking towards the Science Exhibition that you do not approve of the new purchases I have made?” The Count asked with a smirk, turning towards the door.

“What you do with your own money is your business Count. Had any of the money belonged to the state, however, then I would indeed have been forced to intervene!”

Louis smiled. They had returned to the formal and curt manner of speaking which so often permeated their conversation recently. It was quite amusing considering…

“Then I regret to inform you that while many of the personal additions to the crew’s armouries have been made from my own pocket, the artillery which I procured for the ship itself was made out of the very pocket of the treasury.” Louis smirked and winked as they both left the room and closed the somewhat secretive doorway. Despite his injury, he moved swiftly down the corridor and yet was caught quickly.

“What in God’s name do you mean!? Those experimental cannons must have cost a fortune!” Amelia was livid with this news.

“Indeed…but you must see this as not only an investment for the HMS Valkyrie, but also for the Royal Navy as a whole. These weapons are still in the late stages of development, by purchasing these pre-production models straight from the Royal Ordinance and Steam Weapons Research Facility we have an opportunity to conduct extensive field testing on their behalf which would benefit everyone involved. We get our fancy new cannons and the boffins in Perthshire get the data!. A truly symbiotic relationship. I do believe Admiral Tooley would agree with me!” Louis was still not facing her, but he allowed himself a small smirk of victory in any case.

“I...well, we shall see about that!”

* * * * *

“I honestly thought he was tryin’ to replace me.” Gen said, lifting a wrench to tighten a bolt on one of several new items which Louis had given her to investigate.

“I would not think that at all!” Aurora replied with a grin as she clicked something apart, her eyes widening as she had not intended to do such a thing.

“Well, I get it now. We specialise in different areas and lots of our interests overlap. We’re meant to compliment each other and work together and all that. It makes sense now! Just when I was first told you were joining…I was more than a little angry!” Gen confessed, lifting up the device to inspect it. This was a gadget which the Captain had bought for himself, so she was making sure that this was truly her best work!

“Right! And I can learn a lot from you and I hope I can show you some new things too!” Aurora smiled and dropped what she was working on, watching as a large disk-shaped object rolled off the table and under a boiler nearby. A string of Norwegian followed which Gen could not follow, but knew must have included several swearwords.

“Where is it you keep disappearing to anyway?” Aurora asked, kneeling down with a long screwdriver in an attempt to get the disk from under the boiler without burning herself.

“I really wish I could tell you because I think you’d be an asset to what I’m doing but…the person I’m working with has sworn me to secrecy. I’ve not been able to tell the Captain what I’ve been working on…which is hard for me!” Gen did look genuinely upset by this but she sighed and put down the object she had been working on. “In fact, he’s barely had any time for me anymore! He’s always busy with something!”

Or someone…Aurora added silently to herself, sliding the disk out towards herself but refraining from picking it up until it cooled. She had only known Count de Theudubert for just over a week but already she had noticed a pattern of him either disappearing into his quarters or off the ship and returning with a glow and the scent of feminine perfume clinging to him.

“Well, he has a lot to do! He is a commodore in the Royal Navy after all and-“

“A COMMODORE!?” Gen exclaimed, standing to knock over the table. “The bastard refused to tell any of us his rank! How do you know it!?”

“He had to show his credentials to the man in the fair, to let him into the military section.” Aurora replied calmly, picking up the disk now.

“Oh…” The response was a calm one as Gen suddenly felt foolish, the pang of jealousy disappearing again as she straightened the chair and sat down. “I think I’m a fool sometimes…”

“You make it sound as if we can help these things.” Aurora replied absentmindedly, locking the disk back into place in the spring mechanism she had been working on.

“What? What things?” Gen blushed scarlet and began to randomly pick up things from the table, attempting to look as busy as she could.

“Oh, was I not meant to respond?” Aurora asked, looking up at her with a grin. “Because what you are talking about is obvious to probably everyone on this ship…well, except one it seems.”

“Except one…yeah.” Gen sighed and crossed her arms on the table before resting her head against them, pushing her cap back over her blonde, tussled hair.

“Have you ever told him? It would be far simpler! As an engineer, you should know that when you want something, the only way to get it is to act! As a scientist I know that if I wish to accomplish something, I must try!” Aurora grinned and span the screwdriver in her fingers before winking. “Right?”

“That makes sense in a way that only I would understand.” Genevieve laughed and shook her head in exasperation.

“ Cap’n! Report t’the bridge right now! Emerg’ncy telegram from London!” Skye’s voice was unmistakable as it rang over all of the speaking tubes, as Skye was unsure as to the Count’s positioning within the ship.

“I repeat, Cap’n t’the bridge!”

* * * * *

Louis had found it incredibly difficult to get up to the bridge considering the pain in his leg, but he had his cane and this was obviously important! He climbed up the ladder, pushing open the hatch which led into the bridge and stepped up onto the floor, his cane coming before either of his feet.

“Cap’n, you’re ‘ere, good!” Skye turned from the control panel and stood, bringing a small slip of paper over to him. “We got it in morse sir, sounds big.”

The Count read the note in a few seconds and crumpled it in his hand, sighing heavily as he limped over to the speaking tubes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the HMS Valkyrie, it saddens me to inform you that despite the fact we have been grounded for a few days while the new weapons have been installed on the ship, we are forced to head directly to make port in London.” Louis sighed, shaking his head. All he wanted now was to take to the skies, perhaps spend some time partaking of a little piracy. The more he was drawn into the military, the less he actually was able to do the job he was hired for! A job which truly seemed to be his calling!

“It appears a situation has developed and the HMS Valkyrie along with all other Government Privateers are asked to return to London for briefing immediately. As the telegram was so cryptic, I cannot say any more than that, but I do offer my apologies. All crew must be ready for takeoff within the hour. Get busy!”

The Captain shook his head and released another sigh, leaning against the railing separating the control area from the helm.

“You ain’t pleased are ya?” Skye asked, standing and walking over to him.

“No, not in the least. I really was looking forward to being free from the military for at least a short amount of time. Now something massively important is happening, important enough for Admiral Tooley to call me away and break his word.” Which was the main concern for Louis. Admiral Tooley was, like the Count, a man who prided himself on keeping his word and yet he had called Louis back to service despite releasing the Valkyrie…

Something was wrong.

“I want the ship ready to leave as soon as humanly possible Tabby, we need to get back to London as swiftly as possible.” Louis slammed the tip of his cane into the floor hard in frustration before limping away.

“Aye Cap’n…” Skye said softly, not even able to argue against the fact that he had called her ‘Tabby’ once again.

* * * * *

Upon arrival in the early hours of the morning a message had been sent to the HMS Valkyrie even as they were docking, emphasising the urgency of this return home. A council of war had been called; this had been made clear, it was to take place in a large stateroom at Admiralty House in London.  Louis was to be present along with Lieutenant Davenport to represent the HMS Valkyrie for both the Navy and the Army respectively.

The room which de Theudubert and Davenport now sat in was a large crescent shape with tiered rows of ornate maroon and gold seating facing a central dais, on which was sat a large oak table. Around this, several members of Her Majesty's Government were sat and alongside the ministers were seats for the Royal Navy and the British Army's chosen representatives. While waiting for the last of the stragglers to take their places, they idly reclined in large leather backed thrones occasionally taking a sip from the glasses of water before them.

Louis and Charles were sat in the first tier of seats, very central so that they had a very good position for the discussions. The Count turned in his ornate chair to look at the sea of faces sat around him, noting that the although most of the audience wore the uniform of the various armed services, he could still pick out the face of the odd privateer he remembered from the good old days of carefree pirating.

This would not be an easy meeting, especially considering who they had chosen to include as the main representative for the Army…

The soft murmuring of the crowd fell silent as the door to the room slowly opened, creaking to echo around the large room.

“General Davenport, it is good to see you.” Admiral Tooley announced, standing as the general entered.

Louis turned his head to see what Charles made of this new development. In time to hear his stifled groan and catch the rolling of his eyes.

Joseph Davenport sneered slightly as he pushed the door closed behind him, his large body was certainly quite intimidating as he strode across the room and up onto the dais. His uniform was mostly hidden under a large red cloak, golden buttons adorning the right side to hold it closed. The blue collar was adorned with golden symbols of rank and the clattering of metal beneath the loose cloak would indicate a large collection of medals.

The creaking of leather brought attention to the new, highly polished boots on his feet. The grin on his face caused his grey-flecked moustache to curl upwards slightly and he sat down at the opposite end of the table to the Admiral, placing what appeared to be a truncheon on the table. He removed the cap and ruffled his grey, curly hair before placing the cap next to the weapon.

“And you Tooley. It has been a long time indeed since this kind of meeting has been established. We usually attempt to steer clear of you Navy people, whether you be on the sea or in the air…” Joseph’s thick British accent not only covered his speech, but when he laughed, it was a deep and thundering booming.

This man had aged well, and what was more, his appearance clearly belied his health as he was still known to accompany troops into active duty.

The Captain of the HMS Valkyrie was in quite the awkward position, as sat directly opposite him on the other side of the crescent was Captain Celeste Brislan of the HMS Hermes, the Valkyrie’s sister ship. The last time the two had seen each other, they had parted on less than positive terms, with her slapping him hard across the face and departing in anger. He had said ridiculously hurtful things to her, stemming primarily from his own anger at himself for losing crew members in an ambush.

“What’re we here fer?” She asked, placing her scimitar none too gently on the table before her as if to mimic General Davenport. The Irish Captain shook her red hair so that it cascaded down her shoulders, framing her gorgeous face perfectly.

Louis cursed himself for having pushed her away so spectacularly before. She had done all she could to help him and his crew, to the point where she had been putting herself in incredible danger and he had responded by verbally attacking her for that. The Captain pulled the top hat from his head and placed it on the table, the Telescopic Diagnostician following as he unbuckled his analogue computer and placed that down as well.

“I too am curious as to the dire situation we have all been summoned to address.”

“I am afraid it is news most dire,” Admiral Tooley began, shaking his head, “Darmania has struck against the British Empire!”

Louis, Celeste and Charles all looked shocked, their eyes widening. Louis and Celeste looked across the table at each other, her eyes filled with concern for him. She knew how this might effect him, considering it was the Darmanians who still held his mother and father captive. In that instant, her green eyes connected with his brown and both forgot any negativity felt in the past.

“Surely this is enough for us to go to war with Darmania?” General Davenport asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

“And risk a war with the allied Darmanian and German forces!?” Louis asked, slamming his fist down on the table. In reality, he was concerned with his family and the fact that, during war, they were likely to die either by friendly fire or through a quick removal effort by the Darmanians.

“You speak as though it is confirmed that Darmania and Germany have any kind of proven connection!” The General laughed and Louis gritted his teeth at the attitude he was being shown.

“Cut the act. None of us are stupid and we have seen the kind of weaponry which the Germans are now playing with. They are providing materials for the Darmanians and the Darmanians are repaying them with weapons and from what I’ve seen, possibly ships as well!” Charles Davenport had been holding his tongue in his father’s presence, but the man was pushing all of the right buttons and protocol aside, Charles was sick of it.

“I do not believe that is the correct manner to address a superior officer.” Joseph replied coolly, barely looking at his son. He pressed his hands together in front of him, the fingertips barely touching as he placed his index fingers against his lips.

“And this is not the correct way for an officer of your stature to conduct himself.” Louis added, knowing that Charles could not defend himself very well due to his damned code of conduct.

“At any rate, his chain of command runs to me now Joe, so please conduct yourself accordingly.” Admiral Tooley interjected. “It is little to no matter whether they are allied or not. The fact is, Darmania have attacked Great Britain and we are here to discuss the best course of action.”

“What exactly happened then Adm’ral?” Celeste asked, her eyes only then moving away from Louis.

“At approximately oh-four hundred two mornings ago, the Bailiwick of Guernsey received a garbled and clearly rushed message from Jersey. The message was in relation to an attack, which was at first thought impossible due to the proximity of the islands to our main shipyards on the south coast, and the fact that Guernsey had not seen or heard any heavy airship travel, Not only that, but nothing was detected visually or even from our acoustic warning station!.” The Admiral stopped to allow everyone to digest the information so far. “The message included something about people being kidnapped, literally nets falling from the sky, closing around groups of people and then them disappearing into the air once more, the message was then cut short with a panicked scream and we assume the operator was overrun. It all sounded like a cruel joke…”

“If it were a cruel joke, I suppose we’d not be sitting here.” Lieutenant Davenport commented with several other officers nodding in agreement.

“Quite,” Tooley agreed, “but at that time it seemed this was all it could be. Just to ensure the safety of both Bailiwicks, a nearby patrol ship, an Ironclad Bastion class, was dispatched to Jersey and what it reported was terrifying.”

The fact that there was a Bastion class ship patrolling around the English Channel told Louis immediately that Franco-Anglican relations were still not brilliant. The Bastion ships were really the backbone of Britain’s defence network, operating similarly to a floating fortress rather than the warship styles of vessels such as the Prometheus class, as the HMS Mjolnir was. The Prometheus ships were designed to wipe out the enemy with incredible speed and efficiency, while the Bastions were designed for endurance, heavy firepower combined with strong defences.

“The HMS Thunderchild was dispatched to the scene and immediately reported back that they were facing a large armada of ships, each horrific in style and whose weaponry was far more advanced than expected. The Thunderchild was ordered to proceed to Jeresy, intercept whatever foe was assaulting the island, and hold off the attacks for as long as possible while an evacuation of Guernsey was carried out.”

The Count sat forward, listening intently. He knew several good men who were on board the HMS Thunderchild, but had not been aware of their mission.

“From what we can gather she gave a good account for herself and bought time for a great many people to be evacuated, but according to observers based in Vale Castle, she was lost with all hands, holding the line off the east coast of the island. With the attacking force unopposed the remaining population and defences were overrun. Hundreds of people are missing from both Bailiwicks combined.” Admiral Tooley stopped and sighed.

“Farewell Thunderchild…” Louis whispered to himself, sighing at almost the same time as the Admiral.

“How d’we know tat it’s de Darmanians? How can you be sure its not the Prussians or Austria-Hungary? We been fighting off their raids for years!” Celeste asked, glancing once more in the Count’s direction.

“Evidence left behind. We have assurances from both governments that none of their vessels were in the area at the time and our own monitoring stations support this. However, there were three dead Darmanian foot soldiers found in Jersey and an abandoned life vessel nearby, similar in design to the glider attached to the Valkyrie, but far smaller. Also wreckage of what we suspect is a Darmanian vessel has been recovered from the channel by one of our surface warships as it headed to the islands to investigate, apparently the only one the Thunderchild managed to destroy. Plus the descriptions we received from that proud ship before she went down suggested Darmanian design as I have little knowledge of any other nation whose airships can fire lightning…”

“It strikes me as odd that an entire armada was able to arrive, wipe out one of those islands, take down a Bastion, remove the other island and then vanish.” Charles added, placing his hands together in front of him, the fingertips touching gently. He looked up and realised he had unconsciously mimicked his father and his hands moved apart with speed enough to make it appear that he had just been burnt.

Lieutenant Davenport sighed and continued, “And if such an armada did manage this feat, I find it highly suspicious that they would leave behind such evidence of their presence unless-“

“Unless they were left intentionally, in which case it was an active declaration of war.” The elder Davenport finished for his son, smirking and sitting back in his chair. This did, after all, seem to follow the outcome he was hoping for.

The entire group sat in silence, mulling over the weight of the utterance which had spilled forth from General Davenport’s lips so easily. For everyone else, this was a major step to take; for him, it seemed to be his very goal.

“Why would they so brazenly commit such an act? I fail to see the logic in this!” The question was broached by an officer sat on the back row whose face Louis could not pick out in the gloom. “Even by Darmanian standards this is a most heinous and barbaric act against our nation. Surely to admit to such an atrocity is to invite utter destruction?” There was a chorus of assent from several of his neighbours.

“So, I say, let us give them exactly what it is they want! However, we shall do so on our terms! Let us bring war to the shores of Darmania!” Joseph slammed his hand down on the table with a broad grin on his face.

“You are talking extremely casually about going after a nation which is, in itself, a virtual fortress! From the closest fly-bys we were allowed we could see that they have a large wall of iron surrounding virtually their entire country save for four gates. That alone would be a difficult thing to avoid, but they also have ground to air artillery that would shred airships near instantly, we have lost several ships this way that were attempting reconnaissance.” Admiral Tooley responded with a frown, crossing his arms and sighing loudly.

“A wall of steel.”

“What?” Tooley asked, turning towards the source of the statement.

Louis stared blankly back at him and then shook his head, “It is not iron that surrounds them, but steel…which makes things much more complicated.”

One again a weighted statement caught those around the room by surprise and it was then that the General said something to shock both his son and Louis.

“What about that death ray which the Valkyrie carries?”

Louis raised an eyebrow and turned towards the Admiral, who looked far too stunned to have known that the Army held this knowledge.

“Oh don’t worry, your secret weapons are safe with me. Still, I happen to know a fair bit about this Teleforce Cannon, even if I do not know exactly HOW it works, I know what it does and what it is capable of. Melting steel should not be a problem for such a device!” The General smirked, the feeling of control intoxicating him.

“That is a point, and one I must confess I had not considered…” Tooley responded, his brow furrowed in thought.

This was bad, Louis thought to himself as he realised what Tooley was considering, after all, if a war was to break out, there would only be one chance to get his family back safely…and I was not a good chance.

“You cannot be truly considering this George!” The Count exclaimed towards the Admiral, both hands coming down hard on the table as he stood. “Such an act is clearly what they WANT from us!”

“And yet, it is something which we must do…” Tooley said to himself, sighing. “Watch what you say also Commodore, I am your commanding officer.”

“Wha’ d’ye mean somethin’ we must do?” Celeste question, cutting across something that Louis was about to say.

“They have to show the strength of the British Empire, a failure to respond to such a brash show of force will be a sign of weakness.” Lieutenant Davenport answered with unblinking confidence, staring at the table the entire time.

“What have the French said about this?” Louis asked suddenly, purposefully steering the conversation away so that the Admiral had less time to think on that fact.

“Officially? They have no idea who perpetrated this attack, nor do they have any wish to be involved in any future conflicts. However, we have their sympathies, for what that is worth!” Admiral Tooley answered, bringing a laugh from the General sat opposite him.

“I would guarantee that they know more than they are letting on,” Tooley continued, “and the fact that they are strengthening their defences could mean one of two things…Either they are telling the truth and they are merely preparing in case they are next, or they are worried we will discover the truth. Still, this is not our concern for now. I have called you here for a purpose.”

Here it is… Louis though, knowing what was coming now.

“We are to attack Darmania in the early hours in two days time, meaning that we will be leaving tomorrow evening as the flight will be slow and laborious due to the size of some of our ships.” Admiral Tooley nodded, as if trying to convince himself that this was the right course of action.

“What size a fleet will we be taking?” A question came from one of the uniformed men sat in the pews.

“The plan is for four squadrons of large warships and three flotillas of smaller escort vessels.” The Admiral responded. “I will be heading one of the four squadrons as Admiral of the Fleet.”

The elder Davenport smirked, so Tooley had been deemed the best Admiral and promoted to Admiral of the Fleet as they now moved from peace time into war time. That was very interesting…it meant that despite his increase in rank during war time, Tooley was still an equivalent rank in the Royal Navy.

“This of course means that I, as Field Marshal, will be in charge of keeping these shores safe while the Naval fleet is away at war.” General Davenport smirked at the expression on Tooley’s face and leant back in his chair nonchalantly.

“In this vein, I am granting a brevet rank to two officers in this room. Captain Celeste Brislan and Commodore Louis de Theudubert, could you both please stand?” Tooley stood also, walking towards the pews with two small boxes in his hands.

Louis’ eyes widened in surprise and he looked across at Celeste as they both stood, each of them looking highly confused. The Admiral arrived at Louis first due to his positioning and he handed the Count the small, triangular box. He then walked towards Celeste and gave her an identical box.

“Please approach the dais.” Tooley told them, stepping back to step up onto the dais.

Louis opened the box and looked within it, finding a small medal within it sat on a bed of velvet. His was golden, ribbon of black and red leading up to a clasp with golden wings spread from the top. His eyes darted up to see Celeste pulling a similar medal from her own box, but this one was silver with blue and black ribbon. Both Privateers stepped down from their seats, slid their way past several people to get out from behind the long wooden desk and walked to the dais, stepping up on either side of the Admiral.

“Count Louis de Theudubert, until this crisis is managed, you will be brevetted to the position of Rear Admiral. You have battled with Darmanian warships at close quarters and survived, you have also dealt with Darmanian soldiers in close combat and repelled them. You have conducted yourself with bravery and valour in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, as well as this, your knowledge will be invaluable in the upcoming war and you will take command of one of the squadrons.” Admiral Tooley took Louis’ medal and pinned it to his tailcoat on the breast pocket of the left side, above his heart.

Louis lifted the medal and looked down at it, seemingly still in shock as he let go and looked out at Lieutenant Davenport. His friend was covering his face and appeared to be laughing at this sight!

“Captain Celeste Brislan, I hereby grant you the brevet rank of Commodore. You managed to track the Darmanian ships which neither of the two attacked islands nor the vessels in the area could manage. You have shown aptitude and cunning, proving yourself a credit to your ship and the Royal Navy. You too will command a squadron, leading our pathfinders. You shall be the eyes and ears of the fleet, standing sentinel so that we may not fall prey to an ambush!” Admiral Tooley lifted her medal and leant forward to pin it on her thin white dress but thought better of it, smiling and handing it to her.

Celeste laughed and took the medal, pinning it to her brown leather under bust corset at the very top so that it hung elegantly from between her breasts as almost a continuation of the chain she wore, the ring upon it only an inch or so above the medal.

“Vice Admiral Constance, I would like you to take command of the other squadron,” Tooley spoke into the crowd, causing a gruff looking man to stand and salute before resuming his position, “and then we are set. The ships are currently being fitted with transmission equipment which Commodore Brislan has been kindly testing for us.”

Celeste smirked as she looked around the faces in the crowd, several of them clearly less than pleased about this announcement.

“Sir, permission to speak?” One man asked, lifting an arm before he stood and saluted. His thin, mouse-like face clearly betraying his consternation, he was sweating and fiddling with his uniform nervously at the prospect of addressing the old warhorse.

“Speak freely, nothing you say shall leave this room.” Tooley responded, his arms moving behind his back.

“I must object to your choices in leading these squadrons sir. I could not imagine a more dangerous place for a pirate than in such a position of power! How can you be sure that these glorified brigands won't cut and run at the first sign of danger? You have long-serving, able men ready to step into these positions. Surely a simple briefing from them would provide more strategically capable men of-“

“I will stop you there Captain,” Tooley told him, raising an arm, “for the fact of the matter is, both Brislan and de Theudubert have proven themselves perfect for this kind of mission. They are specialists in hit and run tactics and both of them have shown excessive skills in combating enemies larger in stature and in numbers than themselves. These are desperate times and the Empire is in danger! I would not take such a risk unless I had complete confidence in both of them!”

Louis stepped forward as the Admiral paused.

“Believe me, I am not entirely pleased about this either. I despise the idea of being here and I detest the fact that I am now in such a high position. However, I am here for one reason only…I know the Darmanians, I can help to defeat them and in all honesty…without Commodore Brislan and myself…I can see you failing by showboating, trying desperately to maintain your brevet rank.” Scattered laughter caused the Captain to sit back down.

“We are here for one purpose only…if we do not defeat the Darmanian forces, they will take Great Britain. I care little for the Navy, the Army or the Queen, but I will be damned if I will allow Darmania to take this nation as their own!” Louis thrust one arm out to his side dramatically. “And damn protocols and international relations! Germany IS allying with them and something is heavily wrong with the way France is responding. We might have an armada on our hands that we cannot deal with, but Darmania is the one providing the hardware. Individually, we can defend ourselves against the opposing forces, but with Darmania, we have no idea what we might be up against. The only hope is to strike fast and remove the head of the snake.”

The sound of knuckles rapping against wood thundered across the room as the vast majority of the men in the pews applauded Count de Theudubert. This was something which he had not been expecting and it now shocked him to hear these men, many of whom had been in the military their entire lives, grant him such acclaim. He took a step back and caught Charles’ amused gaze before he shook his head in a “never mention this again…” kind of way.

Once the noise had died down, Louis tipped his top hat and smiled.

“In that case, I look forward to working with you…I think I shall sit down now!” Louis stepped down off the dais and walked back to his chair, sitting down and sinking low in the seat.

“Nice speech…” Charles said with a smirk.

“I would rather we forget this entire ordeal if you do not mind Charles.” Louis responded with a glare.

“I don’t know, I could think of several hundred jokes I could make regarding you being a Rear Admiral…” Special emphasis was put on the last two words which made Louis wince.

“I know I have left you all little time to prepare,” Admiral Tooley told his men, looking determined despite the fact that nothing had happened thus far, “so at this time I would suggest that we adjourn this meeting. I will want a lengthy briefing with you tomorrow before departure, but for now, you are all dismissed!”

The room began to seemingly move as one, each of them filing out of their rows and down towards the doors before leaving. Many were making their way over to the dais, only to be shoed away by Admiral Tooley who was attempting to sit down with the politicians. There would be far more secretive reasons for this war and Louis was well aware of that as he sat in his seat, running over things in his mind.

While he was stood there, showing full gusto in his speech in order to make the others accept him and Celeste as well as to raise morale, he had been faking his emotions. His thoughts lay with his mother and father, captive somewhere within that nation of steel and fire.

“I t’ought it was a damn good speech.” The Irish accent came from one of the prettiest mouths Louis had ever had the good luck to lay a kiss upon and he looked up into the emerald eyes immediately.

“Thank you Celeste.” The Count replied, smiling faintly.

“Um…I think I’ll make myself scarce. I shall relay the information from this meeting to the rest of the crew sir.” Davenport told Charles, smiling as he turned to walk away.

“Have Tabitha make the Valkyrie ready for travel Charles. This is too important for us to screw it up! Tell the crew they are free to count today as shore leave, but ensure that there is a full crew meeting scheduled in the dockyard for nine this evening. Twenty-one hundred I suppose I should call it…” Louis’ faint smile was now flashed in Charles’ direction.

“Yes sir, be careful.” Davenport could tell that Louis had no intention of returning to the ship just yet and this could either mean staying with Celeste or wandering…either way he would need to watch himself!

“Oh and keep them sober until AFTER the meeting would you?” Louis added with a smirk, bringing merely a nod from Charles.
This was really Chapter 12, part 1 but Deviantart deemed it too big for a single file LOL So it's being split into two as Chapter 12 and 13!

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

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

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

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

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!
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This picture was taken at Kitacon 2009 by Kevin Pack

:iconsjbonnar: is Count Louis de Theudubert
Kevin Pack is the photographer.

All characters from the Crew of the HMS Valkyrie are from "The Flight of the Valkyrie" Steampunk Novel which can be found here [link]
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Originally one of the very first pictures of my Alucard cosplay and still one of my favourites. The brilliant *xx-Lethal-xx did this for me as a gift and I love it with a passion!

Thank you so much ^_^

:iconsjbonnar: is Alucard
:iconxx-lethal-xx: carried out the photomanip.
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“Gentlemen, the moment you have been waiting for has arrived!”

The voice came from a megaphone that was held in front of a large, burly man’s mouth, mostly obscuring his face. The accent was strange to Louis, it was one that was, even in these open days, heard quite rarely this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Louis could not contain his smirk as the man began to speak. He was very fond of Americans, but they did often puff out their chests with each statement that they made, making themselves appear the bigger men in any situation.

This man was stood to the right of a large set of double doors which led into a room not made of the same portable divisions as the rest of the exhibition and this room was not much wider than the doors themselves. The fact that the walls seemed to be made of some sort of dull metal actually drew more attention from the Count. The man was standing beside a wooden box which strangely also caught Louis’ attention but he shook it off, focussing instead on the American.

“This, we assure you, will be the alpha and omega of this exhibition. We did not demonstrate yesterday and today we are only having one showing. And yet, we are very confident that we will still be the crowning jewel of this event. I am Rear Admiral Jonathan Lawrence and I will be bringing you the best equipment you will have ever seen!” The man lowered the megaphone, revealing himself to be quite young, but obviously battle-hardened. The right side of his face was a mass of burnt flesh, the eye a milky white which he had chosen not to cover, and indeed seemed to present it as some sort of badge of honour.

His dress uniform was a deep navy blue, the high, stiff collar ran up to his neck and was adorned with golden trim. The jacket had swirling golden epaulettes, the crossing of patterns leaving small openings which were filled with golden circles. The double-breasted jacket was also adorned with two rows of gold buttons, each showing a stylised anchor decoration. His belt was lined yellow and black and hanging from this was an American naval cutlass, not vastly different but much less stylish than the one Count de Theudubert usually wore at his own hip.

The megaphone was raised to his lips once more as he spoke, the movement drawing Davenport’s attention to the cap which he had tucked under his arm. This was the same colour as his uniform and had an eagle with spread wings in the centre. Attractive, but the British Army had far better and even the Royal Navy had better dress sense than them.

“Without further ado, I think our product can speak for itself!”

The man stepped even further away from the large double doors and for a moment, nothing happened. The anticipation within the crowd was growing now and as Louis looked around, he realised that almost everyone who had military credentials was here.

A large amount of steam escaped from the now opened hatch, releasing the pressure that had been building as the mechanism inside was powered up to full capacity. The sound of steam being released and clockwork mechanisms began to fill the air as a large, dark silhouette began to appear through the clouds.

The entire crowd fell silent, eyes widening and jaws dropping as a dark metallic leg came into view, crashing down onto the floor of the exhibition hall. The noise of the impact made the vehicle out to be far lighter than it appeared, which was probably a positive thing considering how heavy it looked…

Another whirring sound and a second leg came into view, crunching down not far from the first. A great number of the crowd stepped back, as if watching some horrific new creature rearing its ugly head for the first time. They were not far wrong…

The next thing to emerge into view as the metallic limbs took another step forward were two large guns, both looking remarkably similar to the .303 Maxim which was on board the HMS Valkyrie and had, within the last six months, been the newest and best weaponry available! It had saved their hides when the Darmanian forces were sweeping at them in large numbers, hoping to overrun them.

The guns were attached to mechanical arms which came more and more into view as the machine kept walking forwards out of the room it had been stored in. Brass barrels came from black box shapes, into which two belts of shells were attached, these then ran up along the side of the machine and around the back. More of the machine was suddenly free of the cloud which was thinning steadily and this revealed  a large, leather-bound chair with a man sitting inside it. The large arms were coming from just behind and slightly above the chair, the mechanism similar to the joints on the fire engines legs. The man was pulling levers and twisting dials as the machine moved and he suddenly grabbed onto two large controls either side of his chair which he then used to make the arms turn to the left, then the right, brandishing the large guns skilfully, aiming them off into the distance at various things.

“This is our improvement on the .303 Maxim, adjusted for a larger capacity, with a steady flow of water that runs along the arms to keep them cool. As such, the ‘Walker’ as we have named it, is in itself a powerful moving artillery unit. What’s more is that it also offers exceptional defensive capabilities! Tom, show ‘em!” The Rear Admiral stepped a little further away as he spoke.

The man in the cockpit, a young and scared looking man with blazing red hair wearing a dirty boiler suit, clicked a button on both of the arm controls at the same time and closed his eyes, his lips mouthing silent prayers. From either side of the chair, a curved piece of metal slid around, locking into each other at the front, leaving a small letter-box sized opening, through which the man’s face could be seen. His eyes snapped open and looked highly relieved: the shields had worked! Now this meant that he still had full control of the Walker but was now well protected against gunfire!

“This shielding protects from all hand-held gunfire we have yet tested against it. Anything short of a full cannon blast should be deflected or at least absorbed by the shielding.” Lawrence smirked at the shocked faces of all of those around him. They all knew it, they knew that this would change the face of battlefields from now until the end of time!

“This vehicle is costly, I will not lie there. But imagine if you will, ten of these units! Ten men in ten of our Walkers could easily do more damage than one thousand ground-based infantry. And these are easily more powerful, safer and much more manoeuvrable than the Maxim or Vickers gunners which most civilised and intelligent Armed Forces of the world are using.” His smile was broad and filled with pride.

“How expensive are we talking?” One man shouted from the centre of the crowd, his heavy British accent evident as he removed his top hat.

“Before we talk costing, I would like to demonstrate the weaponry. Obviously we cannot take this outside, but we would most assuredly like to demonstrate this. For this purpose, we ask that you all step back!” The Walker began to take slow steps towards them as if forcing the Rear Admiral’s point of wanting the crowd to move backwards. They all did so, including the four Valkyrie crew members.

“As we cannot do a full demonstration due to the danger of such an event held within these walls, we will fully exhaust one belt of ammunition to show you how fast the reloading can be!” Jonathan made a show of moving around the Walker so that he was almost part of the crowd.

The vehicle turned around, two large steps being enough to do so. This exposed where the belts of ammunition led and interested Davenport greatly. After his experience with the Maxim and having seen the reloadable cannons outside, the contraption they were now being shown would certainly be something similar! The belts ran up to what appeared to be a cage on the back of the cockpit, within which the belts met in the middle and doubled back on themselves, making two small piles of ammunition which then fed through the side and into the guns. Each side was contained within its own, slightly smaller metallic frame as well. Almost instantly Davenport thought he could see a way for these weapons to be nigh on limitless in terms of ammunition.

His thoughts were interrupted as the left gun aimed inside the room which had until a few moments ago contained the Walker and the gun began its firing. Ejected shells crashed to the floor, the clanking not heard over the ringing of bullets against metal within the small room. An awkward deflection sent one of the fragments crashing into the shield at the front of the exoskeleton but causing no real damage. The belt continued to feed itself into the gun until the end had run through its full course.

“While the gun has now a high heat, it could run through another of those ammunition belts and still not overheat. But if you disbelieve that…” The Rear Admiral walked back to his original position and kicked the lid of the wooden box he had left there at the beginning of the demonstration. He placed his cap on his head and put the megaphone on the floor next to the box so that he could reach inside with his white-gloved hands.

When his hands emerged, they were carrying a perfectly folded belt of ammunition within their own small metallic cage, which he carried over to the back of the steam-powered machine. Placing this carefully on the floor, he stood on his toes to reach the ammunition cage, opening the top to remove the now empty inner hold before replacing it with the ammunition hold he had brought over. It was a simple matter of removing one box, adding the other and closing the top of the cage. From there, Lawrence took the first few bullets and ran them through the side, bringing them up to the edge of the gun before locking it into place.

The Rear Admiral smacked the back of the chair and ran back to the crowd, watching as the left gun rang into life again, emptying another full belt of ammunition before the gun lowered, smoke wafting upwards from the barrel as the suit turned to face the crowd again.

“Christ…” Louis exclaimed, stepping back in abject horror.

There was no self-loading gun in this world that the Count did not despise but he knew as well as any other man here that in this world, if you did not have the newest weaponry, then you were merely a target for that same weaponry in someone else’s hands.

“That’s…that’s incredible!” Davenport exclaimed, his eyes widening as he stared at the new equipment. It was not a leap of imagination for him to be seeing himself sitting in such a vehicle, his military brain operating a weapon of that size…

“No, it’s an abomination and removes all honour from the battlefield.” Louis virtually spat, shaking his head.

“But if Britain could get it’s hands on this-“ Davenport began.

“Drop it Charlie, ain’t no way you’re winnin’ this one. The Cap’n could argue black is white an’ win.” Skye interjected.

“He is remarkably persistent, and eloquent in his persuasion.” Aurora added.

“The verdict is in it seems.” Louis finished with a wink in Davenport’s direction.

The young lieutenant opened his mouth to speak and then shook his head with a slightly exasperated laugh. “You’re a bastard, you know that right?”

“I am reminded of it daily. But then again, if we were to-“

Whatever witty rebuttal Count de Theudubert had prepared to throw back in Charles’ direction was cut off as the right side of the Walker suddenly exploded, sending shrapnel and jets of steam out into the nearest crowd members. The Walker was sent stumbling to the left, its balance shot and the pressure loss on one side meaning that control was difficult. Thomas was doing all that he could to regain control, but a broken steam hose was whipping around the back of the cockpit wildly, sporadically dousing him with boiling water. His screams were mirrored by several of the crowd, especially those who had been hit by fragments of brass.

As if in slow motion, Louis and Davenport grabbed Aurora and Skye respectfully, forcing them deeper into the crowd. If there were any more explosions, the more people between them and the source, the better! Louis tripped, stumbling before crashing down onto his right knee, a yell of pain escaping his lips as the pain in his old injury was reignited. It was only at this point that he realised his oversight in not remembering to bring his cane with him today…it was still on the Valkyrie. He struggled to his feet, pain shooting from his knee down his shin as he realised that what he had just tripped over was an elderly gentleman wearing a French military uniform, with a scattering of shrapnel embedded in his face and neck. Blood had already begun pooling around the body and Louis stepped back, wincing at the pain before reminding himself of one important factor by looking at the body once more. It could have been worse…

A loud crashing sound caught Louis’ attention and he turned in the direction of the noise. The Walker had stumbled into the large partition wall that divided the military section from the main hall and the force had caused a large potion of the wall to collapse with the suit crashing down on top of it. The kerosene lanterns which had lined the rather sturdy wall smashed open upon the floor and one of them must have come into contact with something flammable…or perhaps sparks were created by the wall crashing down? Whatever had happened, flames suddenly leapt up, snaking along the partition, catching on the large curtains at the back of the hall. Louis looked around, trying desperately to catch sight of Davenport or the women.

The Count found himself caught up in the throng of the crowd, being swept along into the main area of the exhibition hall. The fire had spread rapidly, the lavish decorations and scattered plants had done nothing to help the situation and smoke was already filling the hall, the lack of doors meaning that the smoke was being contained almost entirely within the glass structure.

Somewhere behind him Louis heard glass shattering, one of the walls having succumbed to the heat, shattering before exploding outwards. The rush of oxygen did nothing but fuel the flames and Louis found himself suddenly struggling for air despite the now gaping hole in the side of the military wing.

Davenport pointed Skye and Aurora to the door, quickly sliding his respiratory mask over his face, securing it behind his ears.

“Get out of here,” his muffled voice shouted, “get to the ship and be prepared for takeoff. I want to see if I can find the Count.”

Skye nodded and grabbed Aurora’s forearm, pulling her towards the doors as they snaked through the crowds. Skye was perfect for this kind of movement, having learned to move swiftly through the large groups of people gathered in London whilst simultaneously avoiding whoever it was she had stolen from that particular occurrence.

Davenport turned back to the room, the crowds were thinning a little now, but he still found it very difficult to fight against the ebbing waves of people back into the room. The smoke was no longer a problem for his breathing, but despite the fact that he had now pulled his goggles down for protection, his eyes were still streaming from the fumes. Charles came to a halt just short of tripping over the Captain and he crouched a little, speaking as loudly as he could to get the man’s attention.

“Captain!” His voice was still muffled, but he shouted almost at the top of his voice to ensure he was heard. “We need to get out of here!”

The urgency was clearly lost on Louis as he played with the analogue computer on his wrist. Charles shook his head as he could now barely see a thing due in part to the thick smoke and in part to the fact that his goggles were not improving his vision, they merely protected his sensitive eyes.

The lieutenant felt Louis touch his shoulder and turned towards him as the Captain began to move with purpose in a direction that seemed as good as any to him. Charles knew he had never really had a great sense of direction and his map reading was poor enough not to make up for this in the slightest. Still, the smoke did appear to be getting thinner the further they walked…

“I hope you know where you’re going!” Davenport told Louis.

Louis was still holding his handkerchief over his mouth and struggling to keep smoke out of his lungs, so he thought it best not to answer, especially now as the Telescopic Diagnostician locked on the brightest source of light, drawing his attention to an opening!

With a strong pull, the Count burst into fresh air, pulling Davenport with him. He doubled over, his hands against his knees as he coughed and spluttered, his lungs trying desperately to rid themselves of the poisons they had been forced to endure. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Louis stood up straight again and walked over to the nearest fountain, unfolding the handkerchief he had been holding to his mouth. The Count dipped this into the water, ringing out most of the moisture before wrapping it around his face and tying it so that it lay just below the Telescopic Diagnostician.

There were fleeing people everywhere, frantically attempting to escape the now burning ruin of the building. Several security personnel could be seen hurrying to the scene, trying as best they could to facilitate an orderly evacuation, a bucket chain was established in a desperate plea to quell the flames but it was quickly clear it was nowhere near enough. In the sky above, the airships of several different nations could be seen, clearly attracted by the smoke. Rope ladders were being thrown over the sides and crew scurried down in an attempt to lend assistance to their colleagues.

“I shall need as clear eyes as possible.” Louis spoke to himself, walking past Davenport back towards the exhibition hall.

“Count, are you mad!?” Charles asked, rushing to his friend to stand in front of him, blocking the way back into the still smoking building.

“Charles, get back to the ship! Something tells me that this was no accident and this means that we might be in danger. I want your skills available to Tabitha should any problems arise.” Louis smiled and placed a hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder. “I would prefer that you do not take off without me, but I trust you and Tabby together will be able to use keen judgement and leave me if the need arises.”

“You stubborn bastard! Fine, go back in, but I’m coming with you!” Davenport smirked.

“No, I order you to go back to the ship. Christ, if I have to pull rank with you Charles, I bloody well will do so!” Louis’ face contorted into a somewhat pained expression.

“Understood, Captain.” Davenport replied, his face now stoic and emotionless. If this was how the Count wanted to play things, then that was fine.

“Thank you. Take care and I hope to see you soon. Put a pot of tea on for me would you?” Louis asked with a wink of his uncovered eye before he turned and limped towards the hall, modifying the computer on his arm once more.

“There’s bravery and then there is stupidity.” Charles spoke to himself before he turned to run towards the civilian docking stations.

Louis ducked low as he moved, his knee still paining him greatly but the adrenaline in his system numbing the pain somewhat as he tried to breathe carefully. The Telescopic Diagnostician was struggling but he was only a few metres into the hall when it focussed on an object to the left, bringing Louis’ attention to a woman who was frantically digging at some fallen rubble.

“Miss, we need to get out of here now! There is no telling how stable this structure is now! It could come down at any moment!” The Count told her, taking to his left knee beside her.

“MY HUSBAND!” She screamed, looking at Louis with tears streaming down her face, rivulets of water ending in a steady dripping. Her once white dress was blackened with soot and ash, her hands bleeding from digging through a mixture of metal, wood and glass which was clearly covering her loved one.

“Go, I shall dig for him! You get to safety now!” Louis told her, roughly pushing her away from the fallen rubble.

“I cannot leave him!” She spoke back to him, her accent holding a twang of Italian within it.

“Either go and possibly live or stay and die! Would he want you dying in attempt to help him!?” Louis called to her, his tone angry. She reluctantly nodded and scrambled to her feet, kicking off her shoes to run towards the exit.

A scream permeated the air and Louis stood slowly, his monogoggle alerting him to a child who was sat against a currently intact wall. The young boy was hugging his knees to his chest and weeping uncontrollably. The Count looked down at the rubble and cursed himself but limped as quickly as possible over to the little boy.

“Come on, we need to get you out of here little one!”

“J’ai peur!” He sobbed, looking up at his rescuer.

“Ne t’en fais pas mon ami, tout va bien aller!” Louis responded.

While he was French in bloodline, his parents had actively discouraged him from learning the language, but as he had gotten older, most things his mother and father had told him were nothing more than reverse psychology for him. The little boy had told him he was scared and Louis had told him that he should not worry and that it would be alright. The boy’s face responded and he lifted his hands to the Count, wanting to be picked up.

Louis swore under his breath as he lifted the child, who must have been only six or seven, into his arms, allowing him to wrap his arms around his neck and his legs around his waist as best as possible.

Count de Theudubert moved with much effort, the pain in his leg causing him a great deal of agony, especially with the extra weight that was being added to it. His teeth clenched together as he all but dragged his right leg along with him, the child’s safety was paramount and Louis knew that, if push came to shove, the boy’s life was more important than his own.

A splintering came from the left and Louis’ eyes widened as the partition wall began to fall in his direction but then suddenly stopped. A whirring sound followed and the wall moved to the left before falling next to the Valkyrie’s Captain.

The black and gold mechanical arm retracted back towards the fire engine, four men on top of it controlling the machine with expert precision. One man stood at each of the arm’s controls, a third at the main water cannon which was currently still aimed back into what was left of the military wing and the fourth, whom Louis recognised as the Chief despite the fact that all of them were wearing the same masks as each other.

The man at the left arm controls gave Louis a quick salute before the fire engine began to move forward, the man on the water cannon adjusting the aim as they moved. The entire team moved almost in unison, skilled at working so perfectly together, making the machine almost seem alive as it moved along.

Louis shouted, “HEY!” at the top of his lungs, causing the fire chief to look in his direction. The Count pointed at the rubble he had been at what seemed like a lifetime ago, but in reality only a few moments had passed.

The chief nodded and signalled to the man on the right arm.

It was then that the Captain continued towards the exit, hoping that he was moving in the correct direction as he was unable to reset the Telescopic Diagnostician with the child in his arms.

The light began to get clearer and Louis thanked whatever deities existed as they entered clean air once more. The boy had fallen unconscious in his arms and Louis dropped onto one knee, lowering the child to the ground. Ripping the handkerchief from his face and throwing his top hat to one side Louis leant down to listen to the boy’s breathing. It was laboured, but it was present. He was alive but had possibly passed out from the shock of it all.

* * * * *

Louis and Davenport were both sat in the medical bay of the Valkyrie, their beds close enough that had they reached out they could have touched each other. They had been sitting in silence for several minutes, tension rife in the air.

The rescue mission had been a success, however. The child was safe and reunited with both of his parents who had survived and were incredibly grateful. Half the way back to the ship, Louis had collapsed and needed to be supported back in. He had blacked out shortly after arriving back on the Valkyrie.

The Captain had been stripped of his jacket, gloves, gadgetry and waistcoat, leaving him to unfasten his own tie and remove a few buttons of his shirt. His cufflinks came off next and he simply allowed them to fall from his grip before rolling his sleeves up away from his now bare hands. Parts of the fingers of the gloves had been difficult to remove, the fabric attempting to join with his skin due to the heat and the burns he had suffered.

His lungs were struggling even now, his smoke inhalation had reached quite dangerous levels, even with the handkerchief at his face. The Count had been told that had he not used it, he would likely be dead right now. That was not including the severe heat exhaustion he had suffered. His face was not only covered with soot as he had emerged, but burning had occurred around the Telescopic Diagnostician, which had done a good job of protecting that one eye.

Davenport had lost even more clothing, his entire top half exposed to the cool air of the HMS Valkyrie and Sweden. He was looking away from Louis, staring at the wall to his right rather than look at the Captain. It was still unclear to him exactly why Elizabeth had forced him to stay here for observation. His eyes were much improved and with his breathing apparatus his lungs would not have suffered as Louis’ had… Still, some superficial burns were present around his torso from the heat and Dr. Knight had ordered him to stay put.

“That was a stupid risk you took.” Davenport told him, his eyes narrowed despite the fact that Louis would not be able to see them. His head did not turn in the Count’s direction, instead content to fall back against the pillow as he continued to stare at the wall.

“Oh come now Charles! You make it sound as if you would have not done the same thing in my position!” Louis responded, coughing at the end of the sentence.

“I have no attachments, sir,” the lieutenant’s last word was laced with venom, “whereas you have an entire crew not only dependant upon you, but practically in love with you. You are needed here and you could have been throwing that all away!”

“To save a child’s life, Charles. That alone was worth the risk.” Louis told his friend, smiling faintly, his tone gentle, hoping to entice his friend to agree with him.

“The fire crew would have saved him. That is not only their job, it is their calling.” Davenport fired back, still refusing to look at the Count.

“You wished to come with me!”

“I have breathing apparatus! You could have died!”

“It would have been-“

Louis’ sentence fell short and Davenport’s expected reply never came. The lieutenant finally turned around with a shocked expression to see Dr. Elizabeth Knight standing between the beds, each of her hands outstretched to Louis and Charles.

Davenport’s gaze followed her arm down, reaching her hand and then the syringe within it, the needle point embedded deep into his arm as she finished administering the injection.

“This might shut you both up…” Elizabeth said, smirking almost cruelly as she withdrew the needle from each of them.

Louis and Davenport looked up at her and then at each other, the shock of what felt like a betrayal evident in both faces as they were united again. Their vision faded and both collapsed back onto their own beds.

The doctor laughed gently.

“I fear I shall pay for that later…”
I want to apologise for how long this has taken to get up. Real life, as much as I hate it, has caught up with me and slowed me down LOL

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

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

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

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

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!
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A picture of my Alucard from a while ago that someone has just recently photo-manipped as a present ^_^ I'm very grateful for it as she's relatively new to the art of photoshop but I think she's done a FANTASTIC job with this!

Alucard is :iconsjbonnar:
Edited by :iconlove-for-the-dark:
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The noise outside the doors was astronomical. The Admiral had merely been carrying out some routine paperwork, finishing his more tedious assignments for the day before he oversaw the new arms shipment. Today was supposed to be a relatively leisurely day in a relatively tedious time for the seasoned veteran. The noise that was steadily moving closer to his door suggested that this was in jeopardy.

The Admiral considered reaching for his ceremonial sabre mounted on the wall behind his desk, but thought better of it. Instead he poured himself a large scotch from the crystal decanter on his desk and waited patiently for whoever or whatever was approaching to arrive. The steam-powered doors were almost torn from their hinges as Count Louis de Theudubert entered, his face screwed into a look of pure anger, possibly hatred but definitely a full amount of pain. In the doorway behind him stood several members of his so-called “crew” and in small snippets of the hallway which could be seen around the large frames of Lieutenant Davenport and Bjorn Hauptmann lay several well-battered members of the Royal Navy. Davenport looked more than a little uneasy with this situation, but it was clear that he knew where his loyalties lay, at least in this scenario.

Without batting an eyelid, a brass and steel cutlass was drawn from its scabbard and unceremoniously thrust against the Admiral’s throat. This was a strange turn of events, for ever since the Skypirate had been enlisted into the Navy as a state sanctioned privateer, the two men had almost always seen eye-to-eye. Surely Louis did not think that all members of the Navy were given as much freedom as he was!? At the same time, the Admiral had, since their first meeting, been shown a strange kind of respect from the pirate who usually held nothing but contempt for anyone in a military position.


The Admiral took a draft of Scotch from his crystal glass, he paused to let the sweet liqueur trickle down this throat, he then set his glass down slowly and raised an eyebrow at Louis.


“You will release my ship immediately Admiral or I will spill blood this day.” The Count was used to giving orders, but not usually in these circumstances.

“Ah, if it isn’t the infamous Captain De Theudubert! In England we normally knock first, but it seems your business is more urgent than such obvious formalities.” The Admiral mused, reclining in his padded chair. “I’m more than a little surprised to see you here though Young Charles…”

“Captain!” Davenport interjected.

“Shut it Davenport!” Skye spoke, shaking her head at him incredulously.

“This is too far!” Davenport responded.

“You have the right to take your leave from this situation should you see fit.” The Count responded, his eyes never leaving the Admiral’s own. “You have come further with me than I expected on this particular assignment Charles, I expect nothing further from you.”

Charles Christophe Davenport stood taken aback. That was not what he had meant at all, he was certainly not backing down now after throwing in with Louis up to this point. They had knocked a fair few officers unconscious on the way in here. Already the rest of the crew was making the Valkyrie skyworthy, having fought their way aboard. The original plan was to simply steal back their ship, but it was clamped into the ground and even Genevieve was unable to free the ship. It needed authorisation, and that was why they were here.

“We do not take kindly to threats, Count.” The Admiral spoke coolly, his blue eyes unwavering as they stared back into the single visible brown eye that the Count was presenting. In truth, he only now noticed just how terrible Louis de Theudubert was looking. His face was shallow and gaunt, his skin paler than usual, the hair visible beneath the brim of his hat was matted to a forehead beaded in sweat and was unstyled. For the first time, it looked as though the Count had forgotten to shave, as the stubble on his face made him look several years older. The Count had never been a thin man, in fact, stories of his conquests were confusing due to his large frame and always slightly protruding stomach, but for some reason he looked as though his face had lost weight while his body had gained. Something was terribly wrong.

“AND I DO NOT TAKE KINDLY TO MY SISTER’S BODY BEING PULLED FROM THE THAMES!” The Count shouted back, a small bead of crimson liquid falling from where the blade of the sword and been pushed further against the Admiral’s skin.

“The great pacifist, raising his sword in such a manner. So the body that was dumped last night was one of your relatives? Count, explain fully and then we shall talk.”

“If I had the time, would I be doing this!?” The Count asked with an air of urgency.

“The abridged version then, if you please.”

Count de Theudubert sighed audibly and then in a brash, angry and rushed tone, Louis explained what had happened. They had been caught on land now for over a month and that came vastly close to the time that his family’s kidnappers had told him that the first member of his family would die. It had been true that the Admiral had been seeing him more and more often asking about the Valkyrie’s status.

The Count went on to explain that almost simultaneously he had received a telegram while the body was dropped. It was now spreading through use of newspapers that a tiny dirigible had thrown an object overboard into the Thames near Tower Bridge and it was discovered to be the body of a teenage girl. The mystery lay in how the airship had managed this feat without being spotted taking off or landing as it had virtually appeared in the sky, a small vessel that would need three men at most to man, shaped like a tiny galleon suspended from a balloon, the whole thing pitch black. It was a very noticeable airship and one which no RPV police ship had managed to capture or even follow.

At this point, Louis threw the telegram onto the desk in front of him, his features contorting. It had been the reason he had known to go to the morgue and how he was able to identify his sweet sister Angelique de Theudubert, whom he had been close to even after leaving his aristocratic life behind. The short message simply said “Enjoy your present, for it has been very nicely wrapped. One is lost, two are left. Can you find us in time Lou?”

This raised a number of questions to the Admiral. Firstly, how had this ship evaded the authorities in the skies around London, some of the busiest skyways in the world?

Secondly…

“How did they know where to find you?” The Admiral asked, looking up as the blade relaxed.

“I visited my home, and a porter brought this. They must have known I would visit it at some point since I have been trapped her for so long.” The last sentence was virtually spat from his lips.

The other members of his crew looked on sadly, strangely, even Swiss looked much more downtrodden than usual and he had just witnessed a member of the Navy being held at swordpoint. Genevieve’s eyes were red and puffy, as if she had been crying not long before. Skye looked hurt, but she maintained her gruff demeanour despite this all. Charles was hurt and touched at the same time by what Louis had said to him. Hurt because Louis had not been expecting him to follow this far and touched by the fact that the Captain clearly knew how breaking so many military rules was sitting with him and allowing him leave should he wish it.

This was difficult to watch; the constantly merry and mirthful Count was in such pain and suffering and had been steadily getting worse over the past few weeks. He no longer smiled, his laughter usually rang false and he had been drinking more and more heavily. Charles had been looking forward to being on the ground again for a period of time, but the fun had been stolen from it of late.

“You wish to chase this vessel?”

“I wish to at least investigate! Your forces have clearly been useless in this endeavour, so I do this my way. Release my ship.”

“Give me three hours Count.” The Admiral replied, much to the surprise of the crew. This had been easier than anticipated!

“Too long.” The Count replied, shaking his head before turning to walk away. “Bjorn, it seems you may get to detonate the clamps after all.”

No smirk stretched across the German’s face as it would have done usually when given the chance to blow something up, especially something which the military owned. It was too painful to watch his old friend in such a state.

“Count, think! Should you blow the clamps and attempt to depart without my authorisation, you will be fired upon by this air station’s anti-aircraft batteries and picket vessels. Please, see reason! I will arrange for provisions to be brought to restock your ship. With your crew and the naval ratings I assign to you working together we can have everything done within the hour, then a few tests on the repairs and you can be on your way. Lieutenant Davenport you will need to get your men to lend a hand as well. Time is of the essence. I hereby give you leave from Naval reports for three months. Meaning you have no need to check-in with the Navy during this period. Take it and go.”

Louis froze in his tracks, surprise evident in his face as he span on his heels to face the Admiral once more.

“The only condition being that you must comply with orders already given. Miss Hawkesworth is prepared to board when I give notice. The Treasury still want someone aboard that ship Captain. No-one must know that I had allowed you to break away for even this short amount of time. During those three months you will keep the HMS prefix and still fly our flag so I need you to be careful as to what you do. If I simply gave you three months leave, you would not be allowed the Valkyrie, and you will need the speed she provides.”

What the hell was this!? Louis had no idea what was going on, but he really could not complain against it! Still, he had to say something! After the spectacular entrance he made and all of the anger he had vented, to get given these kinds of concessions…he could not merely bow his head and leave with thanks!

“The Treasury woman will slow us down.”

“She will be taking notes and ensuring that all commandeered material is split equally. She will not slow you down. Assemble your crew. When Amelia Hawkesworth has arrived and all of your provisions are loaded you may depart. Have you any idea where they were headed?” The Admiral stood as the blade fell away from his throat entirely.

A rather embarrassed Count sheathed the blade, the small feeling of pressure as it clicked into place assuring him that it would not slip from the scabbard unless forcefully pulled. He had been trained with a rapier, but had found some difficulty in using such weapons on board enemy ships due to close quarters and the thick blades some opponents’ swords possessed. They were just too long and too fragile for such conditions.

“They veered north-east before moving at great speed against the winds. With our jets, we might be able to catch them as the increased speed will pull the envelope down against the hull more substantially, making the headwind less of a problem.” Louis replied, his eyes meeting the Admiral’s once more. It now felt as though the two of them were on the same side instead of preparing to go to war with each other!

The Admiral leant over his desk, looking down at a map that had been partially hidden under his papers which he swept to one side now. He began scouring it carefully, looking at the places with the most airship docks.

“You’re thinking Ipswich?”

“It could be either there or Cambridge,” the Count added, “but in all honesty, a craft that small could have landed anywhere.”

“It isn’t a bad start. They say the ship merely vanished into thin air though Count, what say you to that?” The Admiral asked with a smirk, as if he were testing Louis.

“I say that there are no mirrors or trap doors in the sky Admiral, so such a thing is impossible.” Louis replied with a faint smile, shaking his head.

“Captain? Should we not be outside? The faster we get ready, the faster we can get back into the sky.” Genevieve had walked up to him and put a hand on his arm. The Count turned and nodded.

“Admiral, can you co-ordinate the men that we did not have to incapacitate so that we can begin loading?” Louis asked, his eyes conveying the silent message of apology. The Admiral merely nodded and followed them as they walked to the door. The crew all began filing out, stepping over bodies as they went.

The Admiral’s eyes widened as at least fifteen men lay slumped against walls or sprawled across the floor. Some were slowly coming around, groaning as they rubbed sore heads, their moans making for an eerie cacophony. As the Valkyrie’s crew turned a corner, the Admiral smirked to himself, holding in laughter. Louis de Theudubert reminded him so much of the upright but brash man that he had once been before the Royal Navy taught him discipline and control. It was probably why he allowed him so much leeway all of the time…

* * * * *

“Get that loaded now!” The Count yelled to an engineer as he had paused for a second with a large crate of spare parts for the engines. He scrambled with the box and then passed it onto the next crew member in the assembly line. Two lines were loading into various parts of the ship, one of which moved much slower due to the fact that it would be loading into the uppermost part of the ship. Their holds were almost full now as they had been loading for over an hour.

Louis noticed that the many cranes and maintenance gantries which had previously been used by the naval mechanic to repair his vessel were now back in their silos, tucked into the sides of the hanger bay in anticipation of the Valkyrie’s departure. Over the noise of the flurry of nearby activity in loading his vessel, he could hear the distant sound of hammering and machines coming from nearby hangers as other vessels underwent refit or repair. As he cast his eye over his pride and joy, he noticed with a begrudging respect that the Admiral was good on his word and the repairs to his vessel were complete to an impeccable standard. It took Louis some time to tell the recent repairs apart from the hull of the original vessel.

The Count’s reverie was interrupted by an approaching commotion. A small steam-powered automobile pulled up and the driver stepped out, opening the door for Amelia Hawkesworth who stepped out and walked straight towards the Count with purpose.

“Captain de Theudubert. I have been informed that you plan to get airborne within the hour?” She asked this as if it was an accusation rather than a question and the Count smiled, trying hard not to laugh at the presumptuous tone.

“How lovely it is to see you again Miss Hawkesworth. You seem to have packed very light for a journey that will take three months before our next return to London…”

“I shall take that as a yes. It is a good thing that I had my emergency bags packed. If I did not know any better I would say that you were attempting to leave me behind.” Her eyes narrowed and she waved to the driver who unpacked a large trunk and carried it over to the pair before leaving it at their feet. Amelia dismissed the driver with a curt nod and he returned to the vehicle before driving away once more.

Louis shook his head.

“You make it sound as though the world revolves around you. I have been stuck here for too long and plan to leave as soon as humanly possible, that is all. If you wish to make ready, I can show you to your quarters?” The Captain was doing all that he could to keep his gentlemanly composure with this woman being so stuck up about all of this.

“That would be most satisfactory, thank you. I can manage my own bags; do not stop your crew loading if you wish to be in the air so soon.” The member of the Treasury lifted her trunk and the Count smiled, taking it from her. A lady who offers to carry her own bags earned her respect automatically in his eyes, but he was still a gentleman.

“Lads, I will be back within twenty minutes, ensure that we are ready to go by then ok? You all know why we move so fast and I apologise for that but please do not let me down!” The Count received a loud shout of “YES SIR!” as the crew began to even double their efforts.

Louis had to turn and walk towards the ship, because such a show of support was a little much for him and he would be damned if the crew saw him with teary eyes!

“If you would follow me Miss Hawkesworth, I believe your quarters are up to standard, they are not far from my own and as such are decorated quite well.” The Count coughed lightly and climbed into the shop with Amelia following behind him. He threw the case over the edge of the doorway and climbed through, cursing the click he heard in his right knee. It was a good thing that they had taken the rather lengthy rope ladder that led into the main compartment of the ship, just below the bridge, for it meant that he could grab his cane from the storage bin beside the door, which he then leant on as he picked up the case in his right hand.

Amelia noticed this and the look of pain in his face temporarily as she too stepped through the door. She would have offered to take the bag back, but the pride of men in this world was far too great and she would not embarrass him in such a way. Her eyes focussed on the room around her. To her left the forward-facing windows of the ship were quite narrow, to minimize the amount of damage that could be done internally. The bridge would be the only place with large windows, as they needed visibility to be at its maximum. Still, this must have been one of the most luxurious looking military ships she had ever seen! Amelia’s father had been a trader by nature and as such she had been on a great many ships over the years, but mostly merchant vessels and military ships. This was…something else!

“Why the devil did they have such lavish carpets put in? And those light fixtures are surely not regulation!” She pointed to some very lavish looking kerosene lanterns which were attached to the walls at various points, unlit so far. “This must have cost the Treasury a fortune to serve no true purpose other than-“

“Looking pretty? Indeed. That is why I commissioned them myself out of my own pocket. The wooden floors were not of the best standard and the lighting were little more than a few candles, my crew had difficulty seeing at night. I look after them out of my own pocket my dear.” The Captain had pre-empted her complaints about them squandering Treasury money. This was one of the reasons he considered the Valkyrie his own. His family were wealthy, incredibly so with his father being a banking tycoon as well as a keen investor and that was before Louis had taken to the skies and amassed his own private fortune by liberating both goods and money from their previous owners. He would have had a dazzling career as a trader if nothing else, as he knew where items he picked up would be best sold on, he had a keen eye which had also helped him amass one of the most talented and diverse crews in the world.

“Oh, you mean to tell me that all of this was bought privately?” Amelia asked, somewhere between impressed and appalled by the sheer exquisiteness of the items around her. She dreaded to think how much money he had spent on his own quarters!

“Bought privately or commandeered Miss Hawkesworth. Let us not forget my true profession.” The Count smirked as he led her along a corridor, forgoing showing her the bridge until after she had seen her own quarters.

The silence made it obvious that Louis’ comment had caught Amelia uneasily and he smiled to himself as they turned right into a corridor that had two doors on each side a fair distance apart and then, at the very end, a large crimson door lay. It was embossed with “Captain de Theudubert” and had clearly not been originally here when the ship was crafted. The heavy door had a brass doorknob; the inlay of the door was either brass or copper, with gold detailing. This was far too extravagant! The doors that led off on either side of the corridor as they passed were dark blue with similar brass detailing but no hint of gold or names put to them. These were clearly reserved for important people, however, that much was obvious due to the large amounts of space between the doors which indicated the size of the rooms.

“I will apologise now for the size of the windows, but I believe the room is lavish enough to make up for that.” The Count smiled and opened a door, one of those closest to his room and stepped aside to let her in.

Amelia was taken aback by how much this would resemble a room at a high-class hotel! She stepped in and looked around with an air of something between astonishment and disgust. To her left was a daybed, thick crimson velvet cushions lining it with well embroidered ropes handing from each end. The carpet itself was a deep red and felt very plush beneath her feet. The three windows were not very large, portholes at best but the same elegant lamps were attached to the walls here as well so as to provide plenty of light. The bed at the far end was lined with what seemed to be satin sheets, the same rope as was on the daybed was wound around each of the four posters, hanging from the thick velvet drapes which were held back by small hooks attached to the wooden posts. Four thick pillows topped the bed and a quilt was folded at the bottom, ready to be used should the need arise.

“I would have loved to install a fireplace, but my room is the only one that has enough space for an extraction pipe for the smoke. Ah well, life’s little luxuries and all!” The Count winked and placed her suitcase at the foot of the bed. “I hope these furnishings are to your liking. It was happenstance that it matches your choice of outfit so well, it is just one of my favourite colours.”

Amelia suddenly realised just how similar to her shrug jacket the velvet upholstery looked. She was dressed very elegantly and quite similarly to the apparel she wore when the Count had first met her months ago. On top of her head she wore a black velvet top hat, smaller, the style which many women chose and it sat at a slight angle on her head, a long feather stretching out from the side. Her hair was styled very well and draped down her neck to her shoulders where her maroon velvet shrug top covered her skin. A black corset began just above the line of indecency, covering her curves but also seemingly highlighting them to near perfection. At her waist was what appeared to be a sword belt, but no sword hung at her side. The Count made a mental reminder to enquire about this fact later on but would leave it for now. Cascading down the back of her legs was the bustle of her skirt, highlighting her status of class although the front of the skirt was cut to the knee which made manoeuvrability much easier than the longer skirts which many wore. Hanging from her wrist was a parasol and on her left upper arm was tied a pair of goggles, clearly she had been prepared for a voyage on board an airship!

“It is exquisite, bordering on the ridiculous Count.”

“On board this ship my dear; it is Captain if you would not mind. After all, I cannot have my crew thinking I am giving you preferential treatment, even if that does end up happening.” The Count smirked and winked coyly as he walked back towards the door.

“I require no preferential treatment! I told you once that I am here to work! This is no pleasure cruise Captain.” She made sure to emphasise the word Captain so that it struck much like the tip of a dagger.

“Oh I assure you, this will be quite pleasurable if we find what we are after. Anyway, I shall leave you to unpack and-“

“I would rather see the bridge if you do not mind?”

“More inspections already?”

“Personal taste more than anything.”

They both stared at each other for a few moments as if sizing each other up and then Louis nodded, bowing his head and stepping through the door first.

“After me then, I can lead the way to the bridge, my favourite place besides my quarters.”

They followed the same corridors back, passing most of the crew’s quarters which, for the main crew, were all nearby the Captain’s own. There were plenty of crew members who did not sleep nearby of course, such as the gluemen who needed to remain near the envelope at all times, and certain engineers remained in the rear of the ship. Towards the end of the corridor was a large reinforced door that led to the quarters of the British Army contingent onboard of this vessel. They slept separately from the same crew but shared communal areas with the crew of Valkyrie.

Louis led Amelia to the door and allowed her to peer through the porthole so that she could see a row of ten bunk beds, each perfectly made. Looking through the glass at the end of the room, a separate door could be seen leading to Charles’ personal quarters in the anteroom. The Count noticed how clean and tidy the room was, not surprising considering their military training. Every member of the small platoon had his kit perfectly squared away in the lockers assigned to each of them at the foot of the bunk beds. It was certainly obvious that this ship had been of military design!

As they moved on and passed through a pair of large metal doors the Count wondered why his own crew found it impossible to remain that tidy. He recalled how Genevieve would spend an age looking for items from her fondly named ‘floordrobe’. Otherwise known as the heap of spare parts and clothes mingled on her floor.

“May I ask what this room is for?” Amelia asked as they passed a room which was clearly larger than the others and whose door was black rather than blue or red. It was a room which the Count had visited only a couple of times thankfully, but it was a vastly important one.

“That is our Medical Bay and Doctor’s quarters. Dr. Elizabeth Knight is probably the best physician I have ever encountered and came along at quite an opportune time I might add.”

The Count smirked as he thought of the one member of this crew who could not seem to pass the door without squirming. That man stood in stark contrast with Bjorn who visited the physician so often that he had joked about setting up a hammock outside.

They began climbing the metallic rungs of the ladder that led into the bridge.

“I was taking part in the defence of Birmingham from an air raid. Such things are an occupational hazard of being enlisted it seems. At any rate, I was unfortunately on my way down a ladder into the engine room when we were struck by stray cannon fire from a German Battlecruiser and most of the ladder shrapnel became embedded in my abdomen, which is not only incredibly dangerous, but also incredibly painful I might add.”

The Count smirked as he held out a hand to help her into the bridge and off of the ladder she had now been looking at with a newfound sense of fear. She stood and looked around, quite impressed by the size and function of this bridge, especially in relation to the size of the vessel.

Skye turned from where she was preparing for takeoff and laughed lightly before turning back to the controls, shaking her head. She hated the aristocracy and seeing a lady of such obvious standings aboard the bridge of a ship like this was truly comical to her. It may have been Louis de Theudubert’s ship, but as far as Skye was concerned, this was her bridge!

“At any rate, I was forced to take the ship down as even a glancing shot from a calibre that large was enough to do some quite serious damage to my vessel as well as myself. As we descended out of the conflict zone for an emergency landing, we got a message to the nearest Air Station asking for medical assistance. I hated to take the ship down, but in essence, it was good news for me as it meant that I would get treatment fast. I was new to the Navy and had until then not had a need for a medic on board the ship. We put down in a field near Wolverhampton and by chance her ambulance team was first on the scene, she not only removed all of the shrapnel without damaging any organs, but also had me stitched up and feeling very little pain within no time. It turned out she was also a skilled herbologist.” The Count laughed. “A balm made from some weeds, that was all it was, but suddenly I felt very little pain at all!”

“Bloody miracle worker that’un.” Skye added with a smile. She liked the doctor because of her dry wit and somewhat dark sense of humour.

“I shall look forward to meeting her. I must say that for now I am quite impressed with your bridge Captain. The visibility is excellent, you have adequate space for co-pilots and some of the most sophisticated controls I have ever seen on board an airship of this size.” The lady stepped behind the helm and touched the wheel slowly, carefully as if it were highly delicate.

Louis’ eyes took all of this in carefully and he looked to Skye for confirmation of what he believed. The look on his now Chief Pilot’s face told him all too well what she was thinking and it was agreeing with the Count: This woman knows her way around a dirigible.

“I see you are no stranger to an airship my dear.”

Louis’ words snapped Amelia back into the room she was standing in and she immediately stepped away from the helm, taking a deep, steadying breath.

“My father was a trader. He was often away from home but he did sometimes take me on some of the short-haul journeys. I have been on several airships but most were simple merchant trader vessels.” Amelia walked over to the railings which separated the main flight deck from the control panels where there were three chairs, the far-right being the one which Skye currently occupied. A man sat in the far left, the co-pilot’s position. His name was Steven and he was one of the crew whom the Captain had least knowledge of, but Skye had trusted him enough as a pilot to almost always have him at her side these days and it was not for the Captain to doubt his Chief Pilot’s decisions.

Louis then realised just what it was that Amelia had said and he turned to her with a curious expression.

“A trader named Hawkesworth? Francis Hawkesworth perhaps?”

Amelia span, her eyes almost angry as she stared in shock at the Captain of the HMS Valkyrie.

“How do you know my father!?” Her right hand moved to her left hip and the Count’s eyes widened as a grin spread across his face.

“You were just going for a non-existent sword were you not? I noticed the sword belt earlier. You are far more than you first seem Miss Hawkesworth. Do not fear, your father was simply someone I met in a pub once in Manchester. I just remembered the last name as being quite unusual and it did not click inside my mind until now. My apologies for startling you.” The Count bowed a little.

“You mean you didn’t-“

“Steal from him?” Louis finished her sentence for her and inhaled deeply as he shook his head. “We pirates are not as horrible as you seem to think my dear.”

Skye smirked and shook her head as she pulled a large lever and turned some keys in the dashboard. She stood and walked along the ramp that joined the main deck Louis and Amelia were stood upon. Since being given her new rank, Skye had become a little more complacent with showing the proper respect for her Captain and showed this now by saluting before she began to speak.

“Ready when you are Cap’n.” Her right hand fell back to her side. “Or more like when the resta the damned crew’s finally finished loadin’ ‘er up sir.”

Louis nodded and walked over to a speaking tube, leaning into the funnel-like opening.

“Charles, status report of the loading if you please?” As the most efficient person on the entire ship, Lieutenant Charles Christophe Davenport was an obvious choice to lead the loading operation. There were two loading lines and Charles had ordered people into place quickly, efficiently and with authority before they commenced with the heaviest items first. Louis had been very impressed!

“98% complete Captain,” the reply came rather fast, almost startling Louis, “just a few more crates to go into the envelope now. The rest is complete!”

“Damned impressive Davenport! Get those last few crates loaded and then get up here. We can have the military lot take the message to the Admiral to release the ship.”

“On it Captain.”

Louis smiled as he leant back. To think he had once doubted that having military on board would be useful. Without them, some of their more recent missions would have ended in more than failure; they would have ended in death. It was not just their usefulness in boarding missions, but Davenport himself was incredibly useful in discovering the innermost workings of military minds. Charles had of course studied past military battles in the academy, including several major aerial battles that were required reading for all cadets. Even so, since embarking upon the HMS Valkyrie, he had learned first hand very quickly and even spent some of his shore leave researching beyond the call of requirement. He had come back several times with newfound knowledge of spectacular military manoeuvres which although were not often directly applicable to the Valkyrie, still gave them invaluable knowledge about how to act when faced with military ships.

* * * * *

The propellers had been spinning for a few minutes now as the engines warmed to their upmost efficiency and the clamps were now being removed, large steam-powered vehicles pulling them back away from the landing gear to be stowed once again in one of the storage silos at the side of the hanger bay. The vertically-aimed propellers were creating enough suction to hold them relatively close to the ground now and they could hover while awaiting final authorisation.

The Count looked to his left onto one of the smaller rooftops where one of the naval flagmen stood with his semaphore flags which he used to quickly signal that they were now authorised for takeoff. It had taken some getting used to for Captain de Theudubert, but he was now well versed in understanding this system. Flags were held at various positions, looking very similar to that of a clock as the positions moved and changed in quite rigid motions to signal various letters of the alphabet. It almost looked like some sort of strange dance, but the Captain read it and gave the order for the signal to be returned. He had no dedicated flagmen, but three members of his crew could give the signals as they were ex-navy and therefore were put to use whenever taking off, requesting landings or to signal passing ships.

Of course, more often than not they were not used as the ships they closed on were usually targets rather than allies…

“Captain?” Skye asked, looking up from the control panel as he took the wheel.

“Ready whenever you are Tabitha.”

The young woman cringed, turning from the console to glare at him as she flipped a couple of switches, switching the vertical propellers into reverse so that the ship began to lift off, the large propellers aiding the natural buoyancy of the ship’s envelope. Slowly the HMS Valkyrie began to rise out of the hanger bay, nose angled upwards at it gracefully swept over the gantries, cranes and dormant Naval vessels in the hangers that had previously surrounded her. Heading out across the base the Valkyrie cast a long shadow in the afternoon sun over the mass of men and machines below. Louis' gaze was instinctively drawn to the nearest anti-aircraft battery. It was tracking his vessel, he knew it! It was not unknown for the various foreign governments or criminal gangs to attempt to hijack one the British Empire’s warships. What he was witnessing now was very similar to what he had seen when they had entered the base not so long ago, just simple procedure. He breathed a sigh of relief as the battery broke its lock on the Valkyrie and continued to scan the skies for potential threats. The Count smiled to himself as the Admiral was keeping to his word so far. He would not miss RNAS Ramillies as he knew fate and duty would draw him back here eventually.

The Count looked through the window as he began to steer towards the nearest Skyway, the path still clearly marked with pearl white flares that glittered in the sky like stars even in this bright light. As they approached the far perimeter of the base, they were once again joined by the picket vessel HMS Fortitude which slowly came alongside, escorting them up towards the Skyway until they departed, allowing them their leave to enter at the next available space.

Then they were free, able to steer the ship out to the right and also to pull up, almost out of the Skyway entirely.

“The wheel is yours Tabitha. I am going to double-check the rest of the ship.” The Count stepped away from the wheel as they pulled higher into the clouds and Skye took it from him, comfortable to let Steven slide into the pilot’s seat so that she could steer.

Louis opened the trap door that led down into the corridors and offered his hand to Amelia, indicating that he would help her down should she wish to accompany him. She accepted the offer, taking his hand and then stepping down onto the rung of the ladder before she let go of his hand and began to climb down. He followed her, leaving the trap door open for easy access, only closing it during battles or as part of takeoff/landing procedures to minimise risks of injury.

“Where are we going?” Amelia asked, pulling a clipboard out of where it had been tucked inside her belt. She detached the quill from the side, the peacock feather ending in a metal tip that she now dipped in the tiny pot of ink attached to the side of the clipboard. She then closed the lid on the ink pot and began to write, realising that she had not taken notes on the previously visited rooms yet.

The Count rolled his eyes and slid his Telescopic Diagnostician up away from his eye for a second to let some air in before he settled it back into place as they walked.

“I just wanted to double check the cargo and see if it was loaded correctly. I trust my crew, but there were random members of the Navy on board my ship loading and those I do not trust as much.”

“What is this room?” The woman asked, noting the green of the door and the two next to it as well.

“This is the armoury.” The Count told her, placing a hand between her shoulder blades and advancing her walking pace almost forcefully as they moved swiftly on. “Just around the corner is the mess hall which has brass doors. I have attempted to colour-code most doors. The red doors are locked and are my private quarters or personal study. The blue are crew’s quarters no matter where you find them on the ship. Green…you have just seen. The black is medical bay and storage area. Any golden or orange doors you see involve maintenance areas.”

They had rounded a corner and reached a grey door, a door which they had never bothered to paint it seemed.

“The unpainted doors are cargo holds.” He told her as he opened the door and scanned the room quickly; happy with the way it had been ordered as he closed the door once more.

“That system seems to be very efficient as it means that even newcomers like me can tell what each room is. It means I will not stumble into somebody’s quarters by accident when looking for the armoury for example.” She replied, looking up suddenly to catch his awkward expression.

Damn, the Count thought, why is she so interested in our armoury!?

“Well, I would try to avoid stumbling into any male crew member’s quarters at least my dear. We would not want your honour tarnished in any way while aboard a Pirate ship now would we?”

The Count’s raised eyebrow and crude smirk caught her off guard as he turned to continue walking. She pulled the clipboard close to her chest, feeling somewhat violated by those remarks alone. Amelia had not considered such a thing, how a lady like herself would be treated when in the air and surrounded by a crew which consisted of at least 80% males…

“I was kidding.”

She looked up from the floor and into the Telescopic Diagnostician, seeing her own fearful face reflected back at her. His words broke her out of her thoughts and her “armour” was attached once more as the gruff, cold exterior returned.

“I had clear knowledge that you were joking Captain, but the outright crudeness of such comments is not befitting someone of your class or rank! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

The Count’s blank face stared back at her and he pointed to himself. “I am a pirate dear…” Louis laughed and turned once more, leaving her blushing and quite agitated as she followed him.

“This is the mess hall, where you can now meet most of the crew since we are stabilised and they seem to rush here as soon as they can…” True to his word, there was quite a bit of noise coming from behind the brass coloured doors which he pulled open.

“Captain on deck!” One of the crew shouted above the raucous and all stopped what they were doing and stood as if this really were a military ship.

“Whose idea was this?” Louis asked, laughing incredibly hard.

“Swiss’ Captain. But we thought it was a rather funny one.” Genevieve interjected, standing nearby and even saluting before she winked.

“At ease!” He told them with another chuckle as he stepped in. “Men, women, this is Miss Amelia Evelyn Hawkesworth. She has been sent from Her Majesty’s Treasury to make sure that we are keeping our end of the deal in regards to the splitting of our captured goods.”

All eyes were suddenly on Amelia and she felt suddenly sheepish but stood her ground, stepping out from behind Louis to address them.

“I am merely here to ensure that this ship is keeping with the protocols set out in Sky Navigational Law…and to ensure that you are all keeping with the Government’s private agreement.” She took a deep breath and nodded as she could almost feel the scorn being aimed in her direction and she suddenly wanted away from here.

“Cap’n, is it true we only go so far as Cambridge?” Bjorn Hauptmann stepped forward, his metallic hand clamping shut almost as if in outrage. “Why only this far? We could have walked that journey!”

As Louis opened his mouth to answer, Amelia interjected, feeling the gaze of the crew even more than she could notice it with her own eyes.

“I can look around for myself now Count, thank you.” Her bustle was turned and she was gone, back out into the dim corridors once more and around a corner before he could even react, leaving the Count to tell the remaining crew what their current mission was and just how personal it was.

The news about his sister had of course been given to Bjorn as well and he had heard exactly why they were bound for Cambridge, but he had insisted before they had come back on board that the Captain made it open knowledge. He was right, of course. How could you give orders to a crew without letting them know the full story? He had made that mistake when they had boarded the German Destroyer ship and now knew that it was wrong of him to have asked that of his crew. Especially with dangers being that great!

“Ok, crew; this is a personal mission that I am asking you to embark upon. We are hunting another vessel, a vessel that dumped my sister’s butchered carcass into the Thames…” The Count stared down at the floor, his eyes stinging as he remembered being led into the cold, dark room at the morgue where his sister’s body had been laid out for identification.

* * * * *

“What happened to her?” Louis had asked, struggling hard to keep the tears back as he turned to the coroner.

“Sir, I think it would be in your best interests if you did not ask such questions. I am unsure if I am even authorised to-“

“I am a Commodore of the British Navy and I wish to know what happened to this civilian so that I can carry out a full investigation into the airship which dumped her body! Now answer me!” The Count looked up at the coroner, his eyes rimmed with red from the amount he had been crying not long before.

The man shook his head and sighed heavily, removing his glasses to clean them as he did so.

“She was tortured. From the looks of some of the wounds it was days that it lasted, some of the lacerations were made post-mortem, meaning that she was still being cut into even after she was dead. She was likely dead several hours before the body was released.” The man looked up, withholding the worst of the facts from the girl’s brother. A girl who was that attractive being held by enemy forces for that amount of time…the poor man could probably guess himself what more had happened, but he would not say it aloud!

“I want the body cremated and I want the ashes placed inside my family mausoleum. I want no funeral or no news of her identity leaked.”

“Count, I am not the person to make such-“

“I am likely to be leaving the country tomorrow. Pass the information on to whomever the bloody hell DOES make such arrangements!” Louis shouted back at him, grabbing the man’s collar before pushing him backwards and limping out of the room, leaning more heavily on his cane than usual.

* * * * *

“As such, I am asking you to work as hard, as fast and as efficiently as possible throughout this journey. I doubt that we will find the vessel in Cambridge, but we are looking for information first and foremost.” The Count clenched his eyes shut tightly and sniffed hard then looked up to find them all saluting once more.

“This is serious damn it!”

“We are being serious, sir.” Bjorn told him, smiling gently. “We will do all we can.”

“Everything within our power Captain.” Genevieve added with a soft smile.

Louis nodded and then looked away quickly. “Carry on then!”

* * * * *

The moonlight reflected off of the clipboard, lying to one side but with a parasol resting on top of it to keep it from blowing away with the air which was billowing past. The woman was sat not far behind one of the thick pipes which ran from the deck down along the side of the ship’s hull, enjoying the feeling of being out on the deck of an airship once more.

Amelia sat with her back to the pipe despite the warmth that it gave off, her knees were bent and she hugged them to her chest as she felt as if she had taken too much on this time. She was now stuck in the air for three months with a crew that hated her, an airship that seemed destined to get into aerial battles with ships much larger than it! She had always enjoyed being on an airship, it reminded her of the childhood which she had loved so much before she had forced herself to grow up.

Her father had been very successful in his business and she knew she had a lot to live up to, but at the same time, everywhere she went for work there were people who dealt with her father and so had no problem offering her a job…but it was not what she wanted. Amelia Hawkesworth would always fight hard for her position, and the role at the Treasury was testament to that! Somehow, none of them had heard of her father, or at least, none would admit it. She got her original position of her own merit and had worked hard to get where she was today!

Still, had she pushed too hard this time? This was bigger than an audit and had both financial and national importance, plus was a risky assignment. If successful, it was bound to carry some prestige with it, and would advance her career even further! Her parents were both deceased now, and that was what made this job so much harder on her.

Francis and Victoria Hawkesworth were killed by pirates.

There had been a raid carried out on one of the very few occasions Francis had ever allowed his wife on board his ship. It was only a short voyage, a trip from London to Paris before making the return trip…but as they crossed the British Channel they had been attacked. The ship was taken down before the pirates had even managed to board! One of the usual warning shots had hit the ship, causing the alcohol in the storage hold to explode violently…they had no chance! By the time a rescue vessel had arrived, all that could be found was floating debris and wreckage. No bodies had ever been recovered…

Now Amelia found herself sitting on board a ship filled with pirates! It was true that there had never been a death shown to have been caused by Captain Louis de Theudubert and his crew, but since when did that prove what they had done in other countries!? Did that account for lives ruined by torture or rape or ships downed in the sea!?

“What am I even doing here?” She sobbed gently to herself, her eyes closed as she leant her head back. The light that had been filtering through her closed eyelids suddenly disappeared and her eyes snapped open.

“Are you alright?” Louis squatted down beside her, his eyes filled with concern and what looked like there might have been recently shed tears of his own. He held out a deep red handkerchief and she took it, dabbing at her eyes to stop her makeup from running more than it already had done.

“Do you honestly care?” She asked, looking up at him with somewhat panda-like eyes.

“I would not have bothered with coming out here and checking on you if I did not.” Louis held out his hand to her and she took it, gathering her things up with her other hand before tucking both under her arm. The Count offered his elbow to her, allowing her to rest her hand in the crook of his arm as he escorted her back into the ship.

“Why are you bothering exactly? I am not a member of your crew, nor am I from the military. Your crew sees me as an invading force, why do you not?” She was clearly confused from her tone of voice.

“At one point or another, every member of this crew was the new one. The one everyone was suspicious of. I know people. I have not built myself a crew of this much skill and loyalty through luck alone, although I admit that lady luck has been on my side more times than I care to remember.” Louis laughed lightly as they turned into the corridor that led to their respective quarters. “Come, I want to show you something. You have clearly been missing something since boarding my ship, we shall fix that!”

Amelia raised her eyebrow as the Count unlocked not his own door but the one immediately to his right, opposite Amelia’s room. It had a blue door, but was clearly not a room of the crew! Within was a vast collection of swords, mostly rapiers although it was clearly a collection that was for display as well as use.

“I really cannot do with any member of my crew not having their own weapon of some sort. You clearly are used to swords of some kind and my guess from your frame and your status is that it would most likely be a rapier or a fencing foil.” Louis smiled and let go of her arm, enjoying the look of awe on her face as she followed him in. The entire left side of the room was covered in various cutlasses and rapiers, some looking as though they would cost more than this ship to replace.

The right side was mostly eastern weapons, katana, tanto, wakazashi…it was a very impressive collection! There were even ancient broadswords at the far end of the room, large claymores and two-handed swords that she feared were taller than she was!

“How can you afford all of this!?” She asked in astonishment, walking over to the left and looking at a rapier with a ruby encrusted hilt.

“Do I need to remind you of my unofficial occupation once more dear Amelia?” The Count laughed. “I have bought most of these, but by no means all of them. Many of them I won in duels. I would never steal a weapon; it is apparently against some sort of ancient moral code in Japan.”

Amelia had drawn a lightweight but wonderfully crafted musketeer-style rapier from its scabbard and was admiring it. Louis had joined her on the far side of the room and unbuckled his sword belt, hanging up the small but somewhat heavy cutlass and smiling at his guest.

“Are you at all skilled with that weapon my lady?”

The corner of Amelia’s mouth lifted upwards in a sly grin as she stepped out away from the Captain and began thrusting through the air, her footwork almost text book as she carried out actions he knew were correct down to the perfect stance. That was impressive. He turned to the case and drew his own favoured rapier, a basket-hilted thick-bladed sword which he had used many times in the past.

“Ah, but what of with a partner my dear?” The Count asked, taking a traditional fencing stance.

Amelia turned to face him and laughed lightly, placing her clipboard and parasol down outside of the raised surface in the centre of the room that was clearly used as some sort of arena. She took a stance that mirrored the Count’s own, but her blade pointed slightly upwards as his was pointed slightly downwards.

“Begin when ready sir.”

“Ladies first.” The Count told her, pulling his top hat from his head before throwing it to one side.

Amelia stepped forward and deftly knocked the Count’s rapier to one side, aiming a thrust towards his ribs which he thankfully parried, sliding his blade along her own before throwing his arm out away from him. This was highly dangerous without the protective armour, but he would go easy on her and ensure that-

Louis’ eyes widened as she ducked under his slash, half-turning before knocking his blade upwards and slashing at his leg. The Count pulled back just as the tip of Amelia’s blade sliced through the very front of his trousers, tearing a gash that showed his skin.

Louis looked down, stunned before he glanced back up, deciding that he would have to take this seriously or end up seeing Dr. Knight far sooner than he would have liked!

Amelia laughed a little, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Shocked Captain? Did you believe me to be some spoiled brat who had no idea how to use a sword? Pish posh! Face me properly or admit defeat before you lose some skin!”

The lady ducked forward again, planting her foot before connecting her blade with Louis’ attempting to spin it from his grasp by using the ornate hilt-guard of the sword. Louis smirked and pulled back, spinning to the left before allowing his movement to bring his sword crashing into Amelia’s with a great deal of force. She was thrown off balance and almost stumbled to her knees as he moved in, but her composure was regained and she parried his thrust expertly, using his own momentum to push him away once more.

“This is a far stranger dance than I expected my dear, but no less sensual in nature if you ask me!” The Count laughed as he caught her right wrist with his left hand, pulling her towards him so that she stumbled, wide-eyed, almost straight into him. Her blushes made it apparent that he had seemingly invaded her personal space more than he was supposed to, but this worked well to his advantage! The Count side stepped and paused, holding the blade against the back of her neck before she got a chance to turn around.

“That was not part of the manoeuvres, Captain.” Amelia’s eyes had narrowed and she obviously deemed this cheating.

“Oh my dear, this was no fencing class. If you were defending yourself against Scandinavian pirates for example, they would not stick to careful duelling procedure. Still, you are clearly well trained and handle yourself with strength that your frame hides.” Louis bowed and then moved to the left side of the room again, sheathing his sword.

Amelia followed to do the same but the Count halted her, taking the scabbard from the rack and handing it to her.

“It is yours. I told you, you need a weapon. There is already a frog attached to the scabbard so you have no need for one of those either.”

“Well, thank you Captain de Theudubert. I shall borrow this until our mission is complete, for then I shall no longer need it.” Amelia blushed a little as she sheathed the sword and collected her things from the floor.

“No, I suppose there is little call for weapons when you are an accountant.” Louis smirked and lifted his sword belt from where it had hung, carrying it rather than putting it back on.

“Cap’n Theudubert?”

Louis placed his face in his hands as Skye called him over the speaking tubes, annoyed at her inability to remember how to use his noble name properly.

“Yes Tabitha?” He emphasised her name as he moved to the tube, purposefully to annoy her this time.

“Twen’y minutes off’a Cambridge now sir, thought you ought’a know.”

“Thank you Tabitha, I shall be up to the bridge before then. I need to freshen up.” The Captain looked to Amelia with a smile as she moved towards the door herself, smiling back at him and nodding as if stating that she had to do the same before she closed the door behind her.

For a while there, he had forgotten all about recent events and had merely been having fun. Now, as Amelia left him in the room alone, he felt the waves of depression wash over him again. He placed his back against the wall and sank down into a seated position, looking down into his palms which were now slightly sweaty. The hands came up to his face, bathing him in darkness and separating him from the rest of the world. His eyes pricked with tears again as he saw his sister’s body once more, cleaned but obviously having suffered much in life due to the numerous wounds that he could see on her shoulders and face, for that was all that had been revealed from beneath the sheet that was draped over her. The Count’s sobs echoed within his palms, making him sound even more pathetic than he felt.

Louis suddenly lashed out, his hand crashing into a stand and knocking it, and all of the swords that lay on it, to the floor. He felt wracked by anger, pain and guilt. Why had these people targeted him!? And why did they take his family without asking for ransom or even asking for the slightest clue!? WHAT WAS GOING ON!?

“I swear we will get them Angey, we will not let them escape. No matter where we have to chase them to!” The Count promised himself and his departed sister.

Outside, Amelia stepped away from the door, tears prickling at her own eyes. She had not been told what happened, but had heard of the kidnapping of his family and could link that with his sister, Angelique de Theudubert, for she had done her research. To think that the Count was in such pain but masking it so successfully from everyone…and less than an hour ago she had been bawling her eyes out because of a mission she volunteered for!

Louis stood, a shuddering sigh escaping his lips as one final tear traced a small rivulet along his left cheek. He removed his monoggle, the Telescopic Diagnostician, and let it hang by the wires connecting it to the analogue computer on his forearm. It had begun steaming up from both the heat and the fact that he had cried.

No more! He needed to be stronger! The crew were strong for him and he would be just as strong for them! No-one would prevent him from getting to the truth! Not the British, not the Germans and certainly no other Skypirate!

“I will come for you mother, father…I promise you that!”
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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They were coming. Now was the time for action! The drums of war had sounded; Darmania had-just as planned-incurred the wrath of the British Empire. Intelligence from agents and infiltrators in London indicated that the claws of the lion were being unsheathed at this very moment. Preparations had to be made, not only to defend against the oncoming armada that Britain was preparing, hoping to deliver righteous justice upon their foes, but also preparations to obtain the Count and as many of his crew as could be kept alive.

"Is it satisfied for now?" The 'Darmanian' asked his own crew and the largest of the men nodded with a grin, clicking something back together on the gun-arm that had replaced his lost right arm.

"Good, and how goes the preparations for our guests?" He smirked as the cage was lifted from the pit in the centre of Carmali, the central city in Darmania. It had gone down full of British Citizens and now was being pulled up completely empty with the bars savaged more and more each time it had been lowered.

Thrashing erupted from the pit which had been thought to be empty at first and the ground shook, several paving stones falling into the pit, widening it by a few feet. Several tiles slid from nearby roofs, smashing on the cobblestones of the street. The 'Darmanian' smirked and turned away from the pit, walking towards the church which he had made his base and his home since his last meeting with the British. He leapt chains and ducked rope, that criss-crossed the perimeter of the gaping chasm, holding the fragile structures that were precariously close to the pit in place. Their numbers having trebled since the last time he had been out here, inspecting the pit. The structure around it was weakening and they had even lost one of the houses into the darkness. It had been this action that had brought to their attention that the pit was no longer uninhabited and had called into question the very nature of the Matter Displacement Ray. Something was wrong, but they had quickly spun it to their own advantage with the regular people of Darmania and then had even managed to further abuse the situation so that they had full backing to begin a war with the British Empire. It was working well thus far, and their forces were on their way, meaning that this would all come to its dramatic conclusion shortly.

"Feed it one more group, then we will wait, it will be less than a day before we have thousands to feed it!" He chuckled, pointing to a nearby holding pen, ringed with barbed wire, which contained several barely clothed, gaunt-faced prisoners. Another laugh escaped his throat as he opened the door to the church, the sword at his hip vibrating slightly; it shifted in its scabbard as if in sympathy with its master's mood. He touched the hilt gently, almost soothingly.

"Soon..."

* * * * *

The last of the ammunition had been loaded, the gorgeous interior stripped of anything of value which would be stored with the Captain's personal effects until the end of war. This was almost heartbreaking for him to watch.

A pillar of steam issued forth from the mechanical crane that now moved away from the decks of the HMS Valkyrie and lower its arm to the ground, levers being pulled and a dial turned to move it back into the shadows of the storage area to Louis' left.

Count Louis de Theudubert had not realised until this moment just how unsettling was the thought of going to war. It was just now becoming a reality that they would be travelling into a full battle zone this very day. His crew was on board, primed and ready to go.

Earlier that morning, Admiral Tooley had given each of the vessel commanders a final mission briefing, again reminding them just how dangerous Darmania could be even before it launched any airships. The mysterious nation was surrounded with a wall of black rusting wrought iron. The creaking structure, a magnificent feat of engineering and foreboding edifice in equal measure, was over two miles in height, often higher in places due to continuing construction. It surrounded the country like a suffocating noose, plunging most of its citizens into near-eternal darkness. The walls of this fortress country were said to be garrisoned by tens of thousands of soldiers.

Along the perimeter at one thousand metre intervals huge towers were built, their flanks adorned with occult iconography and festooned with the bones of those caught trying to trespass where outsiders were certainly unwelcome. Atop these bastions sat mysterious weaponry and artillery, speculated to be able to bring down airships from many miles away and lay waste to whole legions of attacking soldiers. Few who encountered these horrifying weapons lived to report back their findings. Several reconnaissance airships, travelling at a height which should have meant they were safe, had been shot down regardless of what physicists said was possible which meant they clearly had weaponry that the Royal Navy would not be prepared for.

All words of encouragement... Louis rolled his eyes. They knew that this would be a difficult mission even in their vast numbers, the largest fleet to ever sail the skies. Louis' heart fluttered and he sighed heavily.

The Captain pulled the Ace of Spades from his pocket, a constant reminder that he was being tracked by the Black Den. It had been strange, he had been sent the card and then, he had not even encountered a single Skypirate from the Den since. There had been no assassin hidden in the shadows, no taste of poison infiltrating his food and none of their less-subtle tactics either. Were they attempting to scare him or lull him into a false sense of security or something...? Louis shook his head, none of his concern for now!

He slid the card back into his pocket and climbed the rope ladder into the ship, breathing heavily in pain as he ascended into his airship. The cold weather was beginning to affect his knee more than usual, which was the worst time possible considering his current circumstances.

"Tabby, report." Louis spoke into a tube that connected to the bridge.

"SKYE reporting in sir. All order carried out and we're ready for the sky! That new transmission...thing is ready an'all. We've already 'ad several contacts from Celeste. She's a bit eager Cap'n!"

A snicker came from an engineer passing Louis and he quickly covered it with a cough. Louis shook his head with a laugh.

"I shall be there momentarily Tabby, get this ship in the air!" Louis let go of the tube but still heard a faint reply as the hum of the engines began. Immediately it felt as though a surge of energy ran through him and he felt strength which reminded him they were leaving the ground.

* * * * *

"I can't believe he is keeping the whole squadron waiting!" Charles Davenport lifted a hand to his face and shook his head in exasperation. He was well aware that the military procedure and protocol was not the Captain's strongpoint but etiquette should have been and this felt like an embarrassment!

"He 'ad a lot to sort out." Skye replied from her place at the controls. Her head snapped around to glare at the woman at the helm."Steady on the wheel, I don't want to 'av to train you from scratch but I bloody well will!"

"Even so, Louis and Celeste are meant to be leading the expedition! Remember what Admiral Tooley said? The Teleforce Cannon is meant to be at the front of the fleet to blow a hole in their walls!" Davenport was almost disgusted. He was conflicted about this, with Louis planning on taking the Valkyrie and deserting the Navy as soon as this battle was done, where would that leave him? He had grown to respect Louis and now he felt himself pulled in the opposite direction from the man he now considered his friend. Circumstances meant that all he had been brought up to believe in were in direct contrast to the direction which Louis wanted to move in and Davenport knew that if he were to follow Louis, he would be declared a deserter... Thank you Louis, thank you very sodding much!

"Damn him!" Davenport knew that this would not be resolved before the end of this war and they had no idea how long this siege could take.

"Damn who?" Louis' voice came from the hatch as the ship manoeuvred into position at the fore of the Squadron.

"You're late, and you kept a squadron, hell, an entire fleet, waiting for you!" Davenport sighed heavily and sank into his seat to the left of Skye while the newly appointed co-pilot sat on her right.

"I sent them a communiqué using the transmitter Commodore Brislan left in my care. They have not long taken off. I would not have them waste the fuel." Louis winked with his left, uncovered eye.

Davenport was silenced but still incensed. This felt wrong! The military was his world, not Louis' and the Captain had no idea how to hold himself in this situation. It had not been the first time that the Valkyrie's Captain had made the Lieutenant nervous about such a situation, but this was wartime, this was serious!

"Tabby, open communications to all ships in our squadron."

Louis caught a dirty glance from Skye and she nodded, standing to turn a dial which had been newly installed at the back of the control panel as Louis walked over to her, taking the handset she handed to him.

"First Squadron of the Fifty-Second Expeditionary Battle Fleet, we are to lead the fleet into battle today. I want our formation kept tight as we approach war with this relatively unknown enemy. We will be first line of defence and in some ways we shall, unfortunately, be guinea pigs to see what kind of weaponry the enemy possesses..."

Davenport slapped his forehead with his white-gloved hand, "Unbelievable..."

"But we also have Britain's most powerful weaponry at the very front of our squadron and I will do all I can to ensure they do not even get the moments they need to open fire. We will tear them to shreds! I have chosen the fastest ships in the Navy to accompany me, those with the greatest manoeuvrability, and that means I want you to do one thing for me...move." Louis paused to wait for a response but he went on regardless. "HMS Valkyrie and all of you are the sharpened tip of the spear. Our job is to break through the enemies' front lines and throw them into disarray, giving the heavier warships in the fleet time to close the distance. I want concentrated fire on both troop movements down below and the forward edges of the enemy fleet as it tries to muster a response. If we fail, our own fleet risks encirclement and annihilation. I expect you all to carry out your duty."

The Valkyrie had begun to move forward through the air and the other ships were falling into formation behind it, the squadron slowly leaving its dispersal hangers, rising above RNAS Ramiles and over London itself, joining the fleet hovering above, slowly fanning out into a triangular pattern. HMS Hermes would be taking command of the left flank, while HMS Excalibur brought up the right, and HMS Mjolnir took the rearmost of the four main squadrons, sitting in the centre as the flagship of the entire fleet. The Mjolnir was one of the Royal Navy's most modern vessels, while not the most heavily armed its heavy armour and superior fire control systems made it more than a match for any vessel of comparative size. This meant it was the perfect ship to attack from the rear where its heavy cannons and those of its squadron could bombard the enemy formations at a distance.

"Until I make contact again or unless it is incredibly important, I would like communication silence. We have no idea what kind of technology the Darmanians have in this field and they may be able to hear what we say." Louis had not considered this point until this very second but thought that it was an important thought to consider.

"Good luck everyone and may I say that I am honoured to fly with you today." Louis gave the sign to close signal and Skye turned it off. "Maintain the course, increase speed and please open channels to the other Squadron leaders."

With a nod and a rearranging of the dials, the static came over the speaker again and Louis heard Celeste's voice.

"T'is about time ya got in bloody contact Louis! I've bin waitin' all mornin' fer ya!"

"I think Commodore Brislan was concerned with your lack of communication Count de Theudubert." Admiral Tooley's voice came over the radio and Louis smirked.

"Damn right!"

"Can we keep this professional?" Vice Admiral Constance was clearly not happy with being considered on equal footing with these two pirates, but at least he had held his tongue at their meeting the other day.

"Indeed," Louis replied quickly, then with a chuckle continued, "but thank you for your concern Commodore Brislan. The purpose of this communication is primary to ensure that everyone is in position and we are travelling at correct speeds. Also to suggest that after this communication we allow silence in case Darmania can intercept it."

Louis could hear Celeste mumbling gruffly about how he had dismissed her, but after the talk they had shared the night before, Louis knew that at least his emotions were clear with her.

"I think that is a very good idea. We need not give anything away unnecessarily. As for positioning, I am in the air and in position. Constance out." The speaker crackled a little and the voice was replaced.

"Commodore Brislan here, movin' inta position as we speak. Ready when you lot are! Keep yaself alive Louis yeah?"

A smirk crossed the Count's features and he prepared to reply before Admiral Tooley interjected.

"I have taken up position and the flotillas are also moving into formation. We are ready to begin. After you Rear Admiral."

"HA!" Davenport was not well known for his restraint and Louis was thankful that he had not yet opened the channel to report back. His new position in the military was subject to much witticism and while part of him resented the rank, another part was somewhat proud of it.

"Sounds perfect. In that case, I shall end communications and...I guess I shall see you all on the other side. Good luck." Louis let go of the button to end the transmission and placed the receiver back next to the newly installed panel, the dial of which Skye was already changing to turn off the machine's transmitting capabilities.

"So, that's that then? We're on our way to war..." Davenport spoke aloud. It was clear there was some tension building between himself and Louis; even the Captain could feel it.

As Louis was walking back up towards the helm, he paused by the speaking tube and ensured that his crew knew they were to stay at their battle stations as Darmania was difficult to predict. Something felt completely wrong, but he was unable to pinpoint quite what that was. His heart felt like lead in his chest, weight down by concern and his incredible feeling of unease.

"This really...feels wrong." Louis announced to the bridge, looking around to judge their reactions. "Do you not think?"

"I think it's too late to be changing your mind, Captain. You are a member of the military and this is your duty. You have to follow orders and that's probably why this feels strange for you." Davenport stood and turned to face him. "Though I suppose it is nothing short of a miracle that you are here at all!"

Louis was shocked and this clearly showed on his face.

"Davenport! How c-" Skye was silence by a raised hand from Louis.

"I had expected this since I explained that I would be defecting after the war..." Louis' eyes narrowed somewhat but then a smile appeared on his face. "Speak your mind Charles."

"I find it utterly galling that after all the Navy and the Empire has done for you, how can you justify stealing from them and disappearing into the night like a common thief!?" Anger and accusation burned with every venom-tipped word Davenport spoke to his friend and Captain.

The Count could not pretend that the words did not hurt at all, but in reality, he knew that such would be Davenport's reaction.

"I am a pirate Charles, no matter what kind of morals I have, I am still not above taking things which do not necessarily belong in my possession." Louis laughed lightly. "And this ship is something which I feel I now deserve thanks to the work I have put in and the amount of money I have spent adding to it."

"And what of leaving the Navy?" Davenport asked, his fists clenched.

"I was only ever going to be in the Navy until I found my family...I have already lost my sister and if I do not get my parents back during this sortie, they will be lost also!" Louis sighed heavily. "That is supposing that friendly-fire does not kill them in the process. I could have deserted already and attempted to get into Darmania on my own, relying on surprise and secrecy rather than a show of force...or used the attack as a distraction so that I could enter undetected, but here I am instead!"

Louis faced Davenport head-on and lifted his chin in something of defiance. Pulling rank was not something he wanted to do, nor would he, but he knew that the thought would be in Davenport's mind.

"I had thought you would have grown somewhat attached to the institution that kept you out of prison! Or at least the Admiral, the old man who put his own career on the line almost daily to ensure that you stayed out of trouble!" He honestly could not believe that Louis was able to turn-tail so easily!

"Tooley...yes. I have grown somewhat attached to him, but does that mean I can live my life in shackles? No! Tooley knew exactly the purpose which kept me in the Navy and he has yet to mention the fact that my parents are likely in the very country we are about to attack...a country I have been asked to aim the Teleforce Cannon towards! I am possibly about to kill the family that are the very reason for me being here!" Louis took a step towards Davenport, his teeth clenched. "I know you see me as a traitor for wanting to leave after this, especially with your upbringing, but I can see in you the same need for freedom that pulls me away from the Navy, what else brought you on board the Valkyrie when you could have had a successful career with the Scots Guards, you would have had your own company by now, no doubt in my mind!"

Charles Davenport took a step back, stunned. It was true that he wanted to escape his father's shadow, to step away from being "General Davenport's son," but...Louis was perhaps right. There were ways he could have done so without taking the time to specialise in airborne tactics, to request to lead his men on board an airship. It was true that had he opted to stay with his regiment he could have led an illustrious career, flying the flag in all corner of the Empire...but there was more to life! Ultimately he wanted to fight on the front lines, not behind the action on horseback. He had lost men in the sky, but had at least been given the opportunity to serve with them at all.

"I am not asking you to accompany me Charles, there shall be no pressure levied upon you to do so, nor will there be any ill feeling should you choose not to. We all must choose who we are to be and I understand that, but I want it known that I would be more than happy to welcome you and any of your men who wish to accompany us as we leave our ties to Britain behind and TRULY take back the skies." Louis smiled and clapped the taller man on the shoulder, the lack of intimidation surprising considering their size differences and how strong their differing opinions had been only moments before.

Davenport nodded, catching Louis' eye for a second and noticing a slight change in colour in the one which was uncovered, but it must have been a trick of the light, as it vanished as soon as it was seen.

"Louis, in good conscience I cannot let you desert your post, taking a Royal Navy vessel with you. When the war is over, this situation will be resolved one way or another! Maybe I can convince you to stay rather than you convincing me to leave?" Davenport asked with a confident smirk.

"Doubtful, but I always welcome intelligent debate." Louis winked and turned away. "For now, we have a mission to undertake and you are so often telling me about my duties after all..."

"As touchin' as this all is, I reckon you should both shut yer yaps and focus on what we're meanta be doin'...sirs." It was Skye's turn to wink and she even stuck her tongue out before turning back to the controls.

"Especially as the entire ship can hear you both. You are standing far too close to one of the speaking tubes." Doctor Knight's voice came from the tube beside them. "Honestly, a lover's tiff usually occurs on land BEFORE the ship takes off..."

Louis was quite possibly the only person in the entire fleet to laugh so heartily considering their destination...

* * * * *

The entire cathedral-like structure shook, pews and benches knocked over as a chandelier fell into the centre of the room from the ceiling. The 'Darmanian' sighed heavily and sheathed the sword he had been cleaning. The long, curved French Cavalry Sabre dating from the eighteenth century had been well taken care of despite the decades of use it had gotten. The blade had been replaced when it had come into his possession, but the hilt and basket guard were original.

As an afterthought he hooked up the shoulder-strap he had attached to the personal Matter Displacement Ray and slid it over his head as he walked outside. He knew what was happening, but as a man in authority, he would have to show his face at least.

"SIR! The Beast, it is stirring!" The military man spoke in accented English rather than his native Darmanian, trying not to panic the commoners who worked the cage which now hung over the pit.

"I can tell. Something is bothering the creature, sorry, the God." The 'Damanian' chuckled lightly and shook his head, the long braid styled from his neck down to his waist landing on his shoulder.  

It was possibly true; after all, what they had seen of the monster did describe one of the Darmanian gods perfectly even if it was incredibly unlikely. Cygaethia, was supposedly some kind of squid creature with one gigantic eye and an infinite number of tentacles covered in smaller eyes which stretched throughout the whole of the planet, giving the god omnipresence and omnipotence. He was simultaneously the god of the Earth and the god of the Underworld, Necros, using his eyes to help the souls of the departed either be reborn or suffer for the rest of eternity. The Damanian military had ensured that their citizens believed that was what the large creature in the pit was and that had been the reason for the need of humans to feed to it as the god was spiritually supposed to eat the flesh of the dead over time. Ah well, it meant they could press forward their war against Britain as suggesting they needed fresh humans now that the god was exposed.

The 'Darmanian' smiled warmly to himself; after all, the kidnap had been impressive even by his standards! Britain had no idea how they had even been and gone so fast and the 'debris' left behind had been planted. Had they wanted, the British Government would still be sitting around, scratching their heads and wondering what the hell had happened and how thousands of their men, women and children had vanished from the face of the Earth overnight!

"Our God tells us that the British are approaching! We must get our fleet ready now at Cygaethia's command!" He bowed his head and those around him did the same. "Go! Inform our men! GO!"

The commoners scattered, taking this message to the radios they possessed in the nearby watchtowers to contact every military airfield in the land.

His "warning from the god" was nothing more than a personal communication he had received less than ten minutes prior warning him that the Royal Navy's fleet had taken off. This would reinforce what the military had told the Darmanian people about the god and keep them under his control for even longer!

His vengeance had been years in the making, but it was time...finally!

* * * * *

"Finally!" Gen smirked as she wiped the sweat from her brow and put down her screwdriver, stepping away from Bjorn Hauptmann. "It took long enough, but I think it's worth it don'tcha think?"

With the whirring of gears and the crunch of metal Swiss stood, walking over to a large brass pipe a little slower than usual to admire his newly upgraded body.

"You have done fantastic." Swiss told her with a grin, seeing his ideas and their combined handiwork brought to life.

"And I made this as well." Gen pulled something out of her toolkit and held it up for Swiss. "it will fit over your replacement eye and actually augment it, improving the vision and allowing you to see heat signatures if you push the button on the side. Plus it has an inbuilt light source."

Swiss took what appeared to be a mask from Gen's hand, admiring the handiwork. The brass-plated face mask had been constructed with a covering for his rather bulky technological eye, so that they would lock together snugly when he put the mask on. In the centre of the forehead was a powerful, but rather small, light-source which appeared to be wired into the connection to his eye that was in place. His boiler would therefore power the mask as well as the other new additions to his suit.

"It is very good! You have captured my style!" Swiss laughed, a deep, booming laugh that echoed throughout the room.

The brass mask had parts of the lower half painted in black so that it appeared to look like a brass skull. That worked perfectly considering virtually his entire body was clad in brass now.

"This will come in handy..." Swiss told her with another laugh.

"ALL HANDS TO BATTLE STATIONS! They were ready for us!" Louis' voice echoed from every speaker tube around the ship, urgency evident in his call. "I want you all moving like cogs because, like in a watch, if one cog does its job wrong, the entire mechanism fails. Bear that in mind!"

No sooner had the voice echoed away, crew scurried about to their designated positions, blast doors being pushed into place and locked while cannons were prepared and rolled out of their gun ports. Deep within the vessels bowels an electronic whine could be heard as the charging of the Teleforce Cannon had begun. Generating the power to fire such a temperamental weapon took time. Around the ship, crew members felt their hair stand on end and received minor shocks when touching metal work as static charge permeated the Valkyrie.

Louis stepped away from the tube and stared out the window at the soul-destroying sight before them. They had just passed through a large cloud bank, knowing that they were approaching Darmania. The voyage had been uneventful thus far, thankfully Greece and Turkey had given them permission to cross their airspace, being as encouraging as they could without actively engaging in the war alongside the British Empire. The majority of nations that bordered Darmania did so uneasily, border skirmishes were frequent albeit one sided. It had become apparent that Darmania could annex most of the bordering countries with ease, but instead chose to remain cloaked in secrecy behind its towering fortifications. The nations surrounding Darmania had shorelines comprised of barren blasted landscape, pitted and scarred by years of conflict, littered with the bones of men who had fallen and the rusting hulks of destroyed war machines. Frequent reports of people going missing and hushed rumours of sightings of dark figures outside villages and towns abducting citizens abounded.

So it was that the fleet received safe passage through many of the nations it had to pass over. Nations too cowed by their belligerent neighbour to take action themselves, they could barely contain their excitement that now their enemy had provoked censure from one of the world's most powerful nations. Each nation provided an escort to the fleet as it crossed their respective airspace, to provide a guide and to make sure the British didn't stray into any restricted skylanes.

As they neared the border, the host nation's escorts peeled away, heading back to their respective bases at full throttle. Louis could not help but envy them. The fleet started to cross the barren shoreline, its surface pot marked with trenches and shell craters. In the distance the sky was dark and foreboding. As they neared the thin expanse of water which separated Darmania from the other countries, the massive iron bulwark came into view, stretching as far as the eye could see in each direction. Even at this distance its sheer size awed him, it seemed nearly too big to comprehend. However, for now, it was not the large walls which worried him.

Now, Louis knew that somehow Darmania had been aware of their coming. Hovering directly above the country was a fleet larger in numbers than the Fifty-Second Expeditionary Battle Fleet of Britain.

"I knew something was wrong, they knew what was happening before we even set off!" Louis dove for the radio and turned the dial himself, contacting the other squadron leaders.

"Are you seeing what I am? Darmania knew exactly what we were doing..." Louis' eyes narrowed as he stared out at the massive fleet, it hovered menacingly just in front of the border wall, organised into clear ranks. Several squadrons of large warships could be seen among this massive formation, while many more flotillas of escorts protected the flanks and advanced out in front of the armada in a protective screen. Both German and Darmanian vessels could be seen, although the smart heraldry and matt grey paintwork of the Prussian vessels stood in marked contrast to the black and crimson of their Darmanian allies, their battle pennants swinging in the wind with trophies and iconography that Louis could not look at for long.

In the centre of the fleet was a large, circular ship, at least as long as the Mjolnir but approximately three times the width and height of a Vengeance Class Battleship, the largest in the British fleet. Louis touched the Telescopic Diagnostician and the lens reacted, focussing until the ship appeared closer. Almost every square inch of the vessel was covered with long cylinders, not cannons...something else entirely. Instead of muzzles, the cylinders ended with a spherical tip wider than the tower itself. As Louis looked on, he could see dozens of gun ports winding open, and several long-range cannons appearing therein in the surface of the ship. What was worse, it did not stay in the air by means of envelope as the rest of the airships on both sides did, not one which was visible at any rate. Something was incredibly unnerving about that ship, looking so alien amidst the fleet of airships. It was certainly Darmanian in design and structure, their black and red colours clearly emblazoned upon it, but the material it was made of had to be German in origin.

"They are in defensive formation; prepared for a strike...they must have infiltrated us at some point..." Vice-Admiral Constance replied.

"Doesn't matter none." Celeste's voice came over the radio, causing Louis to smile. "They've seen us now. What're we gonna do? Head back t'the Isles with our tails 'tween our legs?"

"Commodore Brislan has a point. This truly changes our plans, but we are still to bring the full might of the British Empire down on Darmania this day!" Admiral Tooley's voice was commanding and soothing at the same time.

"The ship at the centre of the fleet...it is equipped with technology I am unfamiliar with. In fact, quite how it is staying aloft is a mystery to me." Louis told the others, fixing the Diagnostician so he saw through it normally once more.

"It also appears to be their flagship, but at the centre of such a fleet and with cannons like that, it is highly likely that it could devastate our own ranks before we could get to it." Constance added. "And yet, we need it removed de Thudubert..."

"You are suggesting that we accelerate the firing of the Teleforce Cannon and aim for the enemy flagship?" Louis asked calmly, despising this idea thoroughly. "If we fire now, the cannon will only be at fifty percent power and will take another hour at least to be able to charge to full capacity once more."

Silence shook Louis for what seemed like an eternity and he scanned the fleet of opposing ships which were coming ever closer. Wait, if they knew that Britain was coming, why would they not engage them over open sea rather than over their own country where people could be hurt? Something was definitely wrong here...

"Do it Rear-Admiral. If that cannon is as powerful as tests indicated, it should tear a hole straight through the centre of their ranks, which will also aid in scattering their ships which will give us the advantage." Tooley was Admiral of the Fleet and someone who Louis could certainly not argue with.

"What about their walls?" Louis responded, clutching at straws.

"I think we need to prioritise, that much is obvious. They will be of little matter if we cannot even reach them without being shot down! If we don't take down that monstrosity then our mission is academic anyway." Constance replied insistently.

Louis threw the mouthpiece away from his face and swore loudly, shocking the crew in the bridge to hear such vulgarity...at least outside of the bedroom considering certain rumours!

"Take orders right Davenport?" Louis glared daggers at the Lieutenant and swore quietly again.

"Sometimes...we have to do what people more experienced think is best, even if we disagree." Davenport responded with a nod, the tone in his voice indicating he was not comfortable with what was being suggested. Clearly he had doubts of his own.

The Captain of the HMS Valkyrie and Rear-Admiral of the Royal Navy leaned in close to the speaker tube and spoke carefully.

"Engineering, prepare the Teleforce Cannon for firing. We do so early." Louis leant away again but was immediately responded to.

"Captain! That would be a complete waste! It would take so long to charge it for a second time that we might as well not have it!" Genevieve til Baudfert did not pull her punches when it came to mechanics...

"I am aware of this and have also told this to our leaders but they have little to no concern for this. However the point stands that if we do not do something soon there will be no Teleforce Cannon or HMS Valkyrie to fire it with. We are to destroy their flagship first and foremost and worry about other details later." Louis told her with a sigh. "And if you and Aurora can get any more power out of it, do so, but do not risk our other systems."

"Aye Captain...Teleforce Cannon preparing to fire."

At the windswept bow of the Valkyrie, the prow of the ship began to open, huge doors swinging out catching wisps of cloud on their edges. With a crank and the grind of heavy machinery, the cylinders of this experimental weapon emerged from the shadows of the vessel's interior, extending with energy already crackling around it. Slowly, it extended to full length, jutting out from the prow like a ram used to sink enemy ocean vessels in the wars in antiquity. The energy began to build up along the barrel, sparking blue charge dancing along the copper and chrome device, charging particles of energy and focussing them at the tip of the barrel.

"Ready when you are Captain..." The less-than-enthusiastic reply came from Genevieve. "We managed to get it up to sixty percent but that is as high as we can without rerouting power from elsewhere."

"Ok then crew, hold on tight..." Louis slid open a panel on the dashboard which contained two dials, allowing careful aiming of the cannon. They were almost exactly straight on, so it would take little adjustment and yet, Louis seemed to take a long time gently adjusting them.

"Teleforce Cannon...FIRE!" Louis called into the speaking tube.

Gen sighed and pulled the two large levers in tandem, activating the cannon.

Nikola Tesla had begun the research on this weapon and was quoted as saying that it was capable of destroying "a fleet of ten thousand enemy vessels at a distance of two hundred and fifty miles..." and even at this limited power, it should still be able to cut through the centre of the Darmanian fleet...

Louis focussed the Telescopic Diagnostician on the Darmanian flagship again and watched intently as movement began to occur around the entirety of the ship at once. What had at first appeared to merely be cylindrical extensions surrounding the ship suddenly crackled with energy that built from the base up to the tip of each tower. Arcs of electricity suddenly leapt from tower to tower, covering the ship in a criss-cross pattern of electrical charge.

"What in the name of..."

Louis' question was cut short as the Valkyrie shuddered violently, the charged particles of the Teleforce Cannon erupting from its barrel, accelerating through the air at incredible speeds. The beam of charged particles had streaked towards Darmanian fleet like a energised lance, cutting through the forward ranks of the fleet like a hot knife through butter, any vessel caught in its path were atomized in clouds of debris and even vessels in close proximity were simply incinerated as the beam caused the flammable gasses that kept them aloft to ignite. Several huge explosions could be seen, followed by flaming debris streaking earthward.

Cutting a swathe of destruction through the enemy fleet and towards its intended target, the beam then hit the enemy flagship and as if deflected had ricocheted off without harming its target, destroying several more enemy vessels on its way. In the distance the sky was smudged with smoke, as flammable gasses erupted and pieces of burning debris plummeted through the clouds towards the ground. Despite this maelstrom of destruction, through the clearing smoke, the gigantic vessel could still be seen, undamaged and seemingly unperturbed. The fallen ships fell from the sky like dying flies, but the swarm remained and the queen stood proud in the centre, the shield of crackling energy dying down around it. The fleet around reformed, filling the gaps left by their fallen comrades, despite the losses they had suffered they still vastly outnumbered the British.

All in all, the firing had been primarily a waste...
This was an incredibly long time coming and I am sorry for that, real life takes over sometimes, especially when you're waking at half 5, working non-stop until 11pm and repeating it...LOL

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the next chapter of Flight of the Valkyrie!

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

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

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

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!
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Smoke was pouring into the central chamber, causing Louis to cough and splutter. The Telescopic Diagnostician whirred, attempting to get a lock on any object but unable to do so due to the thick black cloud. The Count crouched down and covered his lower face with a handkerchief, raising his new pistol as he attempted to gauge the situation. Something had gone horribly wrong, this much was clear, but had it been sabotage or was it merely the malfunction which the staff would later attempt to ensure they all believed.

“Captain!” Davenport’s voice was muffled, but loud enough that Louis was able to turn in his direction. “We need to get out of here!”

Of course, his breathing apparatus would make this a lot easier for the Lieutenant. Louis rerouted two wires on his analogue computer and the Telescopic Diagnostician suddenly focussed to the Count’s left, indicating a thin area where the smoke seemed less dense. He had programmed the device to search for light, as he had done in the past in a cave he had been trapped in. It was working and he placed a hand on Davenport’s shoulder as he stood once more and led them both towards it.

What had gone wrong!?

* * * * *

Charles Davenport smirked as he found himself in the military-specific wing of the Exhibition. This was where he felt at home! All around him walked men of rank and honour, medals glinting in the light, weaponry had been checked at the door which was a shame, but understandable.

“There’s a show ‘ere in a half hour. You watchin’?” A female, obviously London-bound voice caught Davenport’s ear and he turned with an astonished look on his face.

Tabitha Rose Skylar, known to everyone she met as Skye, was stood to his right, stretching her arms above her head. The brass wings on her back were retracted, the radio antennas useless this far from the Valkyrie. The modifications were new, reverse-engineered from the device Captain Celeste had left Louis, but it made communications between herself and anyone else on the ship much easier even when away from the speaking tubes. It also meant that boarding parties could communicate with the Valkyrie at distance…or so they hoped!

“How exactly did you get in here?” Davenport asked with a raised eyebrow. “They asked for my military credentials at the door!”

Skye smirked, “Not that I couldn’ta gotten in ‘ere wivout ‘em, but I ‘ave my own military credentials now. First Mate of a Royal Navy ship after all…”

A chuckle escaped Davenport’s lips. That much was certainly true and if what he had heard was correct, Louis was even a Commodore in the Navy, which would mean even more of the crew of the HMS Valkyrie.

“Do you have any idea what kind of show?”

“Some kinda new weapon that’ll bring about a new dawn of warfare. Somethin’ like that anyway. I read it on some flyer over there.” She waved her hand lazily to the right before crossing her arms and nodding directly ahead. “But I’m goin’ over there anyway. They’ve got a new fire engine wiv legs!”

Davenport was sceptical, but thought that it would be worth it to have a look. Although he would not admit it, had he never established his military career he knew that he would have wanted to become a member of the fire brigade. He had not heard of a showing here or any new technology which could be used for them. Still, if they were showing something and the major military-based show was still thirty minutes away, what harm could it do?

The room was separated from the rest of the show by a large partition, larger than any he had seen in the main exhibition and the doorway was also both larger and wider. They could have driven a large vehicle through the draped curtain if needed!

As he pushed through the curtain, he understood the vast size! In the centre of the room sat a large red and black…contraption. It was hard to class as a vehicle as Davenport did not see either wheels or any kind of flying engine. There was certainly no envelope attached either. The vehicle was around six metres long and at least two metres high, shaped almost like a miniature galleon or, well, a giant bathtub came to mind…

After a few more people had come in behind Davenport, a thick screen was pulled over the entrance to keep anyone else out. From the back of the vehicle a man climbed up, his yellow helmet appearing first and immediately alerting everyone to his profession. His black tunic appeared next, held around the waist with a dark belt. The trousers that appeared next were also black and ran down until they tucked into his black boots, quite an intimidating sight considering the gas mask that covered his face.

As he approached the front of the vehicle, he pulled the helmet and mask from his head and smiled. Beneath the mask was a man in his mid to late thirties, his chiselled jaw covered in stubble. A scar ran down across his left brow and continued on his cheek.

“Welcome, everyone, to what we hope will be the first showing of the future of fire fighting!” He smiled, shaking his head so that small pieces fell from his brown hair. “Many of you have already had a quick look at this strange looking fire engine.”

At that, many of the crowd looked intently at the vehicle he stood upon once more. It was then that Davenport noticed there were what appeared to be three mechanical legs on his side of the fire engine. They were in three segments each, the first coming up at a forty-five degree angle before a joint, the next coming out almost horizontal with the joints reinforced by another bar connecting them. This then led down to another segment which ended in a three-pronged foot, two “toes” forwards and one back. Was this how it moved?

“I know, it’s very out of the ordinary but I assure you, it’s the best design for the job. It’s fast, efficient and with advanced steam lines and counter-weighting, very powerful too which is especially useful for rubble. Let me show you.” The Chief walked to the protective outer rim of the vehicle, his hand falling upon a crank. He began to wind the crank, causing a circular portion of the decking at the very front to begin to rise.

What was revealed was what appeared, at first instance, to be a small cannon battery. The fireman stepped onto a small platform that was exposed behind the cannon, taking hold of two rigid handles on either side, twisting to the left then the right to show that the ‘cannon’ rotated both ways.

“This is the main water cannon. It can fire high pressure water enormous distances. There are also four hoses which can be extended from the front panelling on ground level if this is too powerful or if more coverage is needed. The vehicle is almost ninety percent water, a tank at the rear supplying the boiler while the main tank provides water to the hoses. The best part is that either tank can provide water to the other.” The man stepped to the edge and sat down on the raised portion, his legs hanging over the edge. He looked incredibly proud of himself before he opened his mouth again, cutting the crowd’s murmurings short.

“As such, if a fire is still raging, we won’t be going anywhere, because we’ll divert water to the main tank. This also means that if we’re not dealing with a fire, but a cave-in or collapsed building, we can give extra water to the boiler, increasing power for these…”

The man pushed hard against a button on the inside of the raised edge and what had at first appeared to be a simple golden yellow band for decoration began to extend outwards on the right side of the vehicle.

“Step back please!” The Chief shouted, watching as the long arm extended outwards and simultaneously another panel rose up directly beside him. He stood and stepped behind the panel, pulling one lever back before tilting another to the side, causing the arm to retract a little before rotating to the left, avoiding the people easily.

“This is one of two arms which can be operated from the deck, the other being on the opposite side. Unfortunately,” the fireman kicked the button on the side again, causing both the panel and the arm to begin to retract, “it requires two operators for both arms to function. We still have engineers working on this and hope to have a single panel control both arms by the time this device is on the common market.”

It was at this point, as if working in a hive mind, that several potential investors began to move towards the vehicle, all barking questions at the chief. Davenport had been stood staring in awe for most of the demonstration but now his lip curled into a sneer of disgust towards the investors. All they cared about was how much money they could make from the new fire engine which was built to make saving lives easier and more effective. It was things like this which he hated about all of the Forces, be it military or civilian-based.

“Let’s get out of here before I lose my breakfast.” Charles told Skye, turning to leave. The first-mate followed, also looking with hatred towards the rich investors. Aristocracy, those with money who use that money to make even more money…it was horrendous!

Davenport looked up at the large, central clock which sat in the middle of the military wing and had a duplicate on the civilian side. That demonstration had not used as much of the time as he had been expecting, which meant that they had another fifteen minutes to kill before the main show inside. The sound of gunfire drew his attention and without thinking he moved his hand to his hip to a phantom sidearm. He had, of course, handed in his weaponry at the entrance, as had everyone else. This meant one thing…

“There seems to be a weaponry display outside.” His mouth curled into a joyful smile, all memory of the vultures from before erased from his mind as the thought of advanced weaponry piqued his interest. Without even much thought, his feet began to move, taking him walking towards the large double-doors which led out into a wide, open space surrounded by two layers of fencing that were at least eight feet tall.

The ground of the estate in which the great exhibition centre had been fabricated covered several acres. Originally plans for military side of the exhibition was to be entirely featured in the sprawling gardens,  however several of the exhibitors and manufacturers had voiced concerns over the possibility of industrial espionage demanding concessions from the fairs organisers. Now only the larger and more dangerous exhibits were to be demonstrated outside. Even so, in the distance the shapes of several airships could be seen hovering close enough to the demonstrations to be raising alarms, despite the best efforts of the security personal using their own airships and white phosphorous flares designed to make continued observation through a magnified lens most painful. One crew member with a telescope would be enough to spy quite adequately on the outdoor demonstrations. While others would no doubt be making fervent notes and sketches based on the descriptions of those who observed.

But, Davenport mused as he and Skye idly strolled towards the main boulevard, observing from afar couldn't hold a candle to actually being there, being able to get up close to the exhibits, ask questions to the creators themselves and being able to get hands on or at least be able to get a personal demonstration.
The outside of the exhibition was centred along a large thoroughfare stretching along some considerable distance. Running down the length of the exhibition centre and into the considerable grounds in which it now lay. On the side nearest to the exhibition centre a myriad of small exhibits and hands on demonstrations were located. On the right side, facing the grounds, a great number of weapons and vehicles were amassed, each designer and country having their own area in which to work and display their wares. Their great barrels facing outwards onto a cordoned off area of the grounds which the exhibitors were invited to use to demonstrate the various attributes of their weapons, such as range and fire-power. This vast open space was lined with range markers and already littered with shell craters.

He was surprised how busy it actually was out here, it reminded him of a busy day on London's Oxford Street. Everywhere he looked there were smartly dressed diplomats, stood in groups discussing affairs of state and other important issues whilst idly drinking glasses of wine and port, brought to them by waiters on silver trays. Slightly off to the side hovering in the background in the shadow of the dignitaries would be their obviously bored long suffering wives and servants clearly feeling like they would rather be elsewhere.  He also caught site of numerous military personnel, no doubt attaches to the various foreign consulates, the plumage and colour of their formal attire standing in stark contrast to the scrum of black and brown clothing.

The sun was bright and Charles put his hand to his forehead. In the distance he also could make out soot caked engineers and coal men walking to and fro between the assembled dignitaries, heading to whatever contraption they helped maintain. Occasionally in this thronging mass of bodies, the plain white coat of an inventor or scientist could be seen, no doubt trying to drum up support and funding, to encourage the crowds to come and see demonstrations of their latest creations. What set this apart from London’s streets, he noted drily, was the infrequent sound of heavy weapons fire in the background as new artillery pieces and cannons were being put through their paces. At the sound many meeker members of crowd would flinch, letting out small yelps of dismay. Many of the military personal present would smirk inwardly, almost involuntarily at these curious phenomena.

“S'like they’ve never been in a battle before, seeing the way the buggers cower at those ruddy great bangs!” Skye chuckled with considerable amusement.

“Indeed, I don't think many have ever experienced life at the sharp end, mores the pity!” Davenport said with a grin. “Right lets see if we can find anything useful!”

“You mean what makes the biggest bang?” Skye inquired.

“Yes, something like that.”

“What ‘bout that there? Looks like it’d be useful!” She pointed over to a nearby paddock ringed with spectators. Within it some sort of mechanical device was being tested.

“Well spotted… Let’s go have a look!” They walked over to the demonstration area and gently nudged their way through the crowd of onlookers to get a better look.

Within the cordoned area were several tables with various devices, the purposes of which were lost on both Skye and Charles. Towards the corner was what appeared to be a boiler of some description with several hoses leading from it to the items on the table. Stood next to the tables was a short man in a grubby white coat. He was hunched and considerably aged but had a fire in his eyes that belied his outward appearance. He was flanked by two younger men in boiler suits, heavy leather gloves and boots, both of whom looked even grubbier than him.

The old man cleared his throat and the murmurs of the crowd subsided.

“Good afternoon assembled worthies of Europe and beyond! I am Otto Stoltenburg from the Lillehammer School of Clockwork and Steam Related Engineering. These are my apprentices, Jan Trobek and Ludvig Swisgar.”

With that both the men behind the inventor waved awkwardly to the crowd.

“We are here today to demonstrate the latest in personal protection technology. Since wars began, man has looked for better ways to protect himself during conflict. Back in the days of old our ancestors used shields to protect themselves from harm on the battlefield, be they wood, or metal. In recent times with the advent of firearms these have become obsolete, bulky and useless. They are unable to stop an incoming bullet and those that can are too heavy to be wielded in the fluid combat we often see in modern warfare.”

With a flourish, he indicated a nearby table as Jan picked up one of the items upon it which appeared to be a heavy duty vambrace of some description. With deftness and ease of practice he closed it around his wrist and turned a key to lock in the device shut. He then turned to his master and gave a quick thumbs up.

“As I have mentioned, shields have been long since obsolete on the modern battlefield, the protection they offer is outweighed by the lack of ability and practicality. I intend to readdress this balance! If you would care to observe? Mr Trobek now if you please!”

On this command, the young Norwegian braced himself and held his arm in front of him, his other hand reaching over to flick a switch in the recesses of the vambrace. With breathtaking speed the bulk of the device on the man's wrist telescoped out into an elliptical shape, obscuring the man behind it almost instantly with the large shape. It was accompanied by a sound that Charles speculated a guillotine must have sounded like. It was so quick that some of audience involuntarily took a step back in amazement, some gasped. Jan’s head was temporarily hidden from view but with flick of his arm, his cheerful and now grinning face could be seen.

“There you see! This is the next evolution of the mighty shield of old, ladies and gentlemen! I have re-imagined this ancient design into something that any modern soldier can use and carry with the minimum of effort!” The man’s face was red with the effort and excitement.

“It is made of a strong metal alloy that folds out in much the same way a viewing glass might! The mechanism is spring loaded with a clockwork operating system which can be activated with the flick of a small switch. As you can see it is light weight and easily manoeuvrable while leaving the hand itself free to carry a weapon or any other tool!” The old man was literally hopping from one foot to the next in excitement.

“Being able to wave it about and run around with it is all well and good, but will it stand up to modern weaponry?” A gruff voice came from the crowd. Glancing over, Davenport saw the outburst had come from a man in the uniform of French Army Officer, resplendent in his white trimmed blue uniform.

“Ah ha! My learned friend has come to the most important issue and of this I am happy to alleviate his fears! Ludvig, fetch the S-Class rifle from the table if you would, and we shall give our assembled worthies a demonstration!” Stoltenburg’s face was filled a strange glee as he announced this.

Ludvig had obviously been keenly anticipating this moment and he caught up the steam powered rifle from one of the tables, disconnecting it from the pipe leading to the boiler before he checked the pressure gauge on the side.

“Ready when you are Sir!” The apprentice called with a grin.

Torvald however, judging by the look on his face, was considerably less excited at the prospect and obviously had been hoping the initial demonstration would have been sufficient. Nevertheless he brought the shield up to protect most of his person and turned to face his colleague.

“Ready when you are Mr Swisgar!” The inventor announced, putting his fingers in his ears.

There was a loud crack as the weapon fired and an ear splitting clang followed as both apprentices in the paddock were obscured for a second by the steam and smoke from the discharged weapon. As the smoke cleared, the audience could clearly see a rather relieved looking Torvald still standing, only a tiny dent in the shield betraying the punishment visited upon it.

“As you can see it is resistant and I dare say impervious to many of the smaller calibres of bullet used currently but the world’s armies! Once the shield is not needed, it can be retracted using a large Allen key…after the dents are hammered out of course! A key will be supplied with every one of these we sell!”  With that the old man and his assistants bowed and began to prepare their next invention for demonstration. Meanwhile the assembled crowd clapped excitedly, clearly entertained! Several of the military observers gruffly nodded in respect at the concept of such an invention and turned to converse with their aides on the merits of such a device.

Skye turned to Charles with excitement, ideas already forming in her head.

“Jus' think what we could do wi' summit like that onboard the Valk! I imagine we'd never need to worry about bein' boarded again!”

“Yes I suppose it would, I shall make sure to mention this contraption to the Captain when we eventually rejoin the others later on, let’s see what else this event has to offer.”

With that the pair made their way through the still enthralled crowd and continued down the boulevard.

As they continued down the bustling thoroughfare, a whooshing sound and intense heat permeated the air as they passed a demonstration of some sort of flame based area denial weapon. It resembled a agricultural muck spreader that could be found in barns throughout the world, except this contraptions contents were even more of  hazard than potent pig slurry. It was obviously very popular and had attracted quite a crowd, but the Valkyrie crew members continued on.

“Some how I ain't thinkin' we'll be needin’ onea those…” Skye muttered sardonically.

“Aboard an airship?” Charles asked, raising an eyebrow. “Yes, I think you might be right there, besides Swiss is resourceful I heard he's been working on something similar anyway, not sure why but its best not to question him when he’s in one of his design 'frenzies'!”

“Aye, crazy bugger always did like that kind of thing…” the young first-mate agreed.

Off to the left side, as they continued onward, a strange squeaking noise could be heard and over the heads of the crowd some sort of generator being tested, closer inspection revealed it to be powered by several dozen small creatures that Charles strongly suspected were Guinea pigs, all of them frantically scurrying in a great bank of clockwork wheels set into the machines itself. Above all of this, great arcs of electricity cracked and sparked between two Tesla towers. Before Davenport could guess at what a purpose such a strange looking device could have Skye grabbed his coat and pulled him onwards.

“No!” she exclaimed simply.

“But-” Charles attempted to reply

“Just no!”

They walked for a while, passing some sort of thresher with its harvesting blades replaced with something more sinister, a whirring searchlight on a great clockwork mount revolving slowly before a crowd of onlookers tracking a weather balloon which one of the crew had released into the air. Even in the daylight, its light was blinding! A quick glance at the placard revealed it to be from the Prussian Aeronautical Institute of Hamburg. Nevertheless, the crew were seen to be in deep conversation with dignities from various nations.

Suddenly the air was permeated by a loud detonation which immediately drew their attention and another amusing whimper of fear from some of the attendees. Skye's eyes flashed with mischief when she saw the source of the noise.

“Now THAT’S more like it, Charlie, look at that!” Skye exclaimed, pointing excitedly to a very large and complicated looking artillery piece. Smoke wreathed the end of the barrel betraying its recent firing. It was of a type that Davenport had not seen before in both his days with the Royal Artillery or his secondment to the Navy. Where the breech should have been, instead a large armoured box lay, on which a panel opened outwards and this revealed a conveyor belt of sorts which a number of shells were being placed. At the pulling of a lever the shells were cycled into the machine and the panel was shut. It seemed a great many others were intrigued as well. There were numerous military men watching the demonstration, the uniforms of several Prussian, French and Dutch officers and aides were present. Even the odd Darmanian and even an American Colonel could be seen! All of these men were watching intently and taking notes. As they moved to the front of the crowd to the paddock boundary, Davenport caught sight of the placard set in the ground next to the exhibit.

“Now that's interesting, it seems these chaps are ours.”

“How’d you figure that ‘un then?” Skye asked with interest.

“It says so right here,” Davenport said, pointing to the placard. “These chaps are from the Royal Ordinance and Steam Weapons Research facility based up in Perthshire. It’s fascinating, I had no idea they were up to anything like this!”

“So what does it do? Apart from make a crackin’ bang that is!”

“Good question! Actually, I'll ask!” With that Davenport waved over one of the engineers who didn't seem too busy.

“What can I do for you Sir?” The man asked, coming to attention.

“Good day to you private. I was wondering if you could enlighten me with an overview of this wonderful device.” The young lieutenant said, nodding politely.

“Certainly Sir, this is new Mark Seven, Twelve-Pounder Auto Loading Cannon,” he announced proudly, reciting an obviously memorised spiel, “basically Sir, it loads itself!”

“What? How'dya mean?” Skye interjected.

“Well Ma'am,” the young engineer replied, “it’s fairly complicated but I'll try and simplify it…We found during testing that one of the major delays in a weapons firing was the time taken to remove the spent cartridge and insert a new one. Even for a practised team of gunners it can take nearly twenty seconds. We were tasked with finding a way to cut down this time, making even a smaller calibre of weapon more deadly due to increased rate of fire. You may have just noticed the shells being loaded into the machine, when this happens they are stored within the weapon on a series of shelves one above the other.”

The engineer smiled proudly, clearly excited.

“As the weapon is fired, the recoil forces the barrel back and this pushes the shell onto a mechanism that propels it out a slot on the side. Using the same momentum, another mechanism lowers the next shell into the breech as the barrel comes forward, essentially loading itself!”

“Bloody marvellous…” Davenport murmured lightly to himself. “How many shells can it fire before it must be reloaded?”

“Well sir the version we are demonstrating here is the prototype of the export version which is a slightly trimmed down model we are preparing for the foreign markets. It can take eight twelve pounder shells with warheads of various types. However, the version we are developing for Her Majesty's Forces, which I suspect you will be interested in, is projected to be able carry a full twelve shells due to increased mechanisation. Its range will be slightly superior too! I take it you are not from the Army high command…?” The private asked, nodding over to a group of British officers talking with another of the engineers.

“No, I am here on behalf of a different buyer, although we are still on the same side.”

“Ah!” The private exclaimed, scratching the back of his head absent mindedly as his eyes brushed over Skye. “I thought as much! I don't believe bronze wings are standard issue yet, mores the pity! With all respect Ma'am!”

“Cheeky bugger, I’ll…” She began, raising her hand as if to slap him. The engineer flinched but Charles had caught her arm.

“Skye, behave!” Charles told her with a grin.

The first-mate shook out his grip and scoffed, turning away for a moment.

“Right my good man would you be able to have a brief of this marvellous weapon sent over to the ship I am stationed on? It’s parked in the civilian sky port on the far side of the fair. Someone will be aboard to receive it.”

“Right Sir!” The Private replied scribbling a reminder onto a notepad he had pulled out of one his pockets. “Would you care for a demonstration? We are due for another test firing as I recall. If you would excuse me, I best get back to work and prepare.”

“Of course my good man, I eagerly anticipate seeing what this weapon is capable of!”

With that the man rejoined the crew of bustling engineers and gunnery crew that were preparing the gun for firing.

“Make ready! Prepare for firing!” Shouted the officer in charge of the team, with that the non essential crew scurried behind a pile of sandbags in the corner of the enclosure while the gunners took their places.

“Ready, Aim, FIRE!”

With that, the weapon roared, then again and again, each report equally spaced from the other. Skye had turned around inquisitively, her curiosity getting the better of her and she counted the number of shells as they were fired, watching the shells impact down the range with a spray of earth and a lick of flame. Each blast made her teeth rattle inside her head and made the ground beneath her tremble, but she was enjoying herself immensely! This was what she had come here to see, none of that boring nonsense the others must be looking at, mechanical cutlery and automated furniture or whatever these crazy inventors had cooked up!

The shell count reached eight before the weapon fell silent. The assembled onlookers removed their fingers from their ears and applauded rapturously, many in deep discussion amongst themselves and members of the weapons crew. It was revolutionary, that much was clear, but this was still a prototype. Satisfied he had seen enough, Davenport had one final look at this revolutionary weapon before him and was about to leave when he heard a voice behind him.

“That was definitely…interesting.” Louis remarked with a smirk, placing a hand on Davenport’s shoulder to get his attention. The lieutenant had seemed rather engrossed in that last demonstration and now he shook his head, as if attempting to pull himself out of a stupor.

“Count, it’s good to see you again. Sorry, I was enjoying that rather too much!”

“We can get some if you so wish it.” Louis smiled and then winked. “One of the benefits of having an aristocrat bastard around is it not?”

Skye looked over to him, clearly realising that the last line was aimed in her direction. She blushed a little and then nodded, adding hastily, “T’be fair, you’re diff’rent than mostuv’em!”

“They’re not too bad when you need funding…” Aurora’s voice cut across them, causing both Skye and Davenport to turn to her with a raised eyebrow.

“Lieutenant Charles Davenport, our military presence and First-Mate Tabitha Skyla-“

“Name’s Skye!” Skye interrupted.

“Quite…Meet Aurora Ebeltoft, a new addition to our crew. She will be working with Genevieve as our Scientist on board. She has some incredible ideas and with both her and Genevieve, I think we might have the most advanced ship on Earth.” Louis smirked and stepped back, allowing them to greet.

“A pleasure.” Davenport nodded in her direction and then raised an eyebrow to Louis as soon as she had turned away. A shrug and a smile from the Captain was his answer.

Skye smiled, at least this one seemed like she had come from a similar background.

“I am sorry to cut this hello short,” Aurora stated, pointing back into the exhibition hall, “but the main event is about to start…”

The Norwegian led the way, Skye laughing a little as she followed. Davenport fell in beside Louis, talking quietly to him.

“Louis, seriously? How many crew members are you planning on taking with you this time!? How can she help us? And what’s more, how the hell did she even get into this part of the exhibition!?” Davenport shook his head in desperation.

“She was originally selling some of her home-made technology in this part of the exhibition and therefore gets a merchant’s pass.” Louis noticed a small spark of interest in Charles’ eyes and thought this to be the best point to pursue. “She made this…”

Louis made sure no-one could see as he pulled back the side of his suit jacket to reveal a black leather holster with the Valkyrie’s logo emblazoned upon it. From that he pulled a strange looking pistol, the barrel was almost square in shape with what appeared to be two darts attached to the underside.

“How did you get that in here!?” Davenport asked, pushing the weapon back down until Louis relented and holstered it once more.

“Aurora brought it in as part of her merchandise so I got to collect it from her in here. Part of her initiation you could say! I asked her to utilise her talents with both engineering and science to create this.” Louis patted his now hidden sidearm with a smirk. “Remember my last stun pistol?”

“The one that almost got you killed? Yes, vaguely.” Davenport responded drily.

Louis ignored it. “This uses something similar, darts which are previously coated in either paralysis gel or this weird gel she created which creates waves of shocks through a person’s body. It leaves them in a lot of pain and also unable to control the spasms of their muscles. And since there’s none of the substance stored in the gun itself, no backfires!”

“Ok, that sounds mildly impressive but-“

“She made it in one night.” Louis added with a wink.

Davenport sighed. He was unconvinced but more impressed than he would let on. Louis’ big heart was probably leading him more than his head in this situation but Davenport had been appealing to Louis as a friend but knew he could not appeal to him officially. Captain de Theudubert was technically his commanding officer after all…

“Where are Gen and Swiss? I thought for sure that they would be enjoying this side of the show!” Davenport added. Swiss would probably enjoy it FAR too much…but Genevieve would have been reverse-engineering everything with her eyes!

“They are working on something quite spectacular back on the ship…Top secret of course and even I do not know the full extent of what they are doing. But something occurred yesterday and it affected them both. They have been holed up almost nonstop with various mechanical noises coming from the room.” Louis laughed. “Whatever it is, it seems to be big!”

“As long as Swiss does not end up having more weaponry attached to his body then all will be well with me!” Davenport replied, shaking his head.

“At any rate, this is supposed to be the biggest show of the entire event. What do you think it could be?” Louis asked Davenport as they caught up to the two women.

“No idea. I hadn’t even heard of it before now Skye mentioned it.” Davenport replied, looking up towards the room that the fire engine had been in. That had supremely impressed him and now that he was back inside, his mind was floating back to it, and with it, the dreams he once had of being a fireman.

“Shut it, we’re ‘bout to find out!” Skye told them, shaking her head in a way that caused Louis to smirk.
I want to apologise for how long this has taken to get up. Real life, as much as I hate it, has caught up with me and slowed me down LOL

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

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

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

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

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