Authors: C.A. Lang
Blightcross: A Novel
Published by Tyche Books Ltd.
Copyright Â© 2012 by C. A. Lang
Print ISBN: 978-0-9878248-2-0
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9878248-3-7
Printed in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia
First Printing: 2012
Cover Art by Sarah Ellerton
Map by Jared Blando
Cover Layout by Lucia Starkey
Interior Layout by Tina Moreau
Editorial by M. L. D. Curelas
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright holder, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third party websites or their content.
This story is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed herein are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Table of Contents
For my mom and dad. - C.A. Lang
By now, the bumps, dips, and nauseating drops should have become commonplace. At least, that's what Capra had assumed. Four days aboard a flying boat ought to be more than enough time to grow accustomed to the strange sensations.
She had assumed wrong.
The green tint of the face frowning in the mirror told her so, if her roiling stomach wasn't enough. But a lady ought to keep herself composed, especially when she was pretending to be one. She plunged her hands into her purse, sifted through small tools and knives and other unladylike things, only to confirm her initial fearâshe had forgotten makeup, and would have to settle with this unstylish shade of green. Yes, to any other woman, an arsenal of cosmetics would be second only to their wedding dress on such an occasion. But Capra had deeper concerns.
The bathroom mirror, all gilt and modern leaf designs, rattled against the wall. She steadied herself on the edge of the counter and swallowed hard. Wasn't there a pressure point in the wrists that could rid a person of seasickness? If, that is, being sick in the air was the same as being sick at sea.
A voice, deadened by the bathroom door, addressed her. “Darling, is everything all right?”
She bit her tongue and imagined herself standing on the dusty plains back home. Firmly planted. Firmly planted and not bobbing up and down and swaying and rolling...
“Everything's just fine, dear. I'll be right out.” She turned around and craned to catch the back of her neck in the mirror, just to be sure that her collar still covered her tattoo. An army brand was the last thing she wanted to explain to the Baron.
She wrenched open the tap and plunged her hands into the trickle, splashed her face.
Baron Parnas, the old bastard. He just had to make it difficult. Why couldn't it have been a younger, more attractive man who had what she wanted?
No point in whining. It would be over soon enough. Just hold on long enough to do it all calmly and avoid being sloppy, and it would all fall into place. She straightened her back, adjusted the bejewelled clothes that Parnas had given to her. They were shapeless and boring, but apparently that was the style among these people.
Once she joined the Baron in their cabin, he frowned and said, “You're still looking a bit ill, Capra.”
She made a vague gesture and began to pace. “Maybe we weren't meant to fly.” All around her was the sound of creaking wood and a constant rush of the wind.
“Or maybe it's just that you Valoii have some catching up to do with the rest of us.” He said this with a strange grin, and Capra wondered if revealing her nationality had been a mistake. “Unless your famed sheep herds have grown wings.” He chuckled, but Capra couldn't see the humour in it. Some people evidently still thought it was acceptable to poke fun at a Valoii. But Parnas was old, and men of his generation might never pull abreast of the social progress that had burst like a fountainhead after the war. The Valoii were still backward in his mind, despite his romantic interest in Capra. That interest, she had figured out, was probably for the sake of novelty.
It wasn't all bad. She just found it hard to enjoy the intricate floral rugs, the stunning arrangements of diamonds and triangles in the wall parquetry, and the modern furniture under the circumstances. The peacock feather motifs and feminine figures reminded her of the sophisticated land she had just left, for which she already longed.
Parnas suggested they take a walk around the deck ringing the sides of the flying boat, and it was the best idea she'd heard from the Baron since she'd sent him that initial love letter. Fresh airâthat's what she needed.
On through the corridors. Red carpet pillowed their feet like thick moss. Numerous times they met with the ship's servants, done up in their grey waistcoats and yellow sashes, and Capra flattened against the wall to let them through. She caught up with the Baron, who simply barrelled past oncoming traffic, outside.
Her balance took leave again, and the Baron caught her. She gave him a coy smirk and gripped the railing. Overhead, the flying boat's wings hung and flexed, and she caught a whiff of sulphur from the machine's many engines. “It's so different here. I didn't think Naartland was this barren.”
“Much of it isn't, my lady. This is just the Blightcross Administrative District. The province to the north has fjords and rainforests, everything I told you about in our correspondence. You'll see once we get there.”
The sky around the ship was a field of blazing orange, and the ground was more of the same. Sand, dunes, and a vein of dark water cutting into the heart of Blightcross proper. There hung a haze about the entire city, just enough to smooth over most of its details. She saw the basic outlineâswaths of tall buildings, and at the far end, near the river, a monstrosity of what she guessed were pipes and conduits. At the centre of this stood the tallest structure in the city, and its immense height was about all she could glean from the smudged view.
She could only stare at the landscape below for thirty seconds before the rhythm of her stomach swirled and boiled again. She jammed shut her eyes and clutched the brass railing harder, tried to concentrate on calming her gut.
“You seemed somewhat more outgoing in our letters. I hope I have not disappointed you in some way,” Parnas said.
A burst of cold air lashed her face, and she was thankful for the icy wind. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rocked the sky.
“Not at all, Baron.” She cleared her throat. “I am sure once we clear this dreadful land, my mood will improve. I am somewhat sensitive to these things, you see.”
“Ah, yes. Behind your fiery confidence, you are at heart a delicate lady.”
She did a slight curtsy and smiled. Maybe it wasn't a lie after allâthis odd place could be the reason for her illness. She had grown up in a desolate land, but she didn't remember it being like this place. There was an odd smell in the air, and each breath of it seemed to anchor the vertigo already plaguing her.
“But of course, Baron.”
“Such manners for a Valoii. I still cannot quite believe what a wonderful find you are, my dear. It is simply exquisite.”
She felt her cheeks flush. But Parnas wouldn't see the reaction through her olive skin, and besides, his flattery carried a cruel edge. Sure, many of her people were uneducated shepherds, but the times had changed, and she would wager that her education was far more extensive than the Baron's privileged upbringing.
On the other hand, he was treating her well. She could do far worse, and this was something she wanted to shove into the recesses of her conscience. She felt sick, and the last thing she needed was to feel sorry for Parnas.
“Baron, you'll spoil me with such flattery.” The ship dropped for leagues, it seemed, and she felt the blood drain from her face as quickly as it had flushed.
“Perhaps we should see the ship's surgeon. It pains me to see you so uncomfortable. This should be a joyous trip, no?”
She nodded, then thought better of going back inside. At least the air out here was somewhat fresh. “It is joyous, Baron. I just need to get my bearings, that's all. I think if I gaze at the horizon for a few moments, my mind will right itself.”
In the next while, she began to realize that Blightcross offered an attraction for the wealthy passengers. The deck soon filled with themâexpensive frock coats and slim dresses, many of the men holding spyglasses and other devices even Capra could not identify, all with expectant looks and pointing at this or that feature.
Other than the peculiar monolith at the far edge of the city that appeared to grow out of the sand, and the strange odour endemic to the land, what could all the fuss be about?
For the first time since they had met in person, Parnas turned away and stared at someone other than Capra. She peered around him to find one of his business partners hurrying through the narrow deck. The man shoved one of the wealthy ladies aside, and when Parnas began to speak to his business partner, Capra at once felt invisible to them. She scanned the deck for a chair. There was one, right near Parnas' friendâ