The Airship Aurelia (The Aurelian Archives)

BOOK: The Airship Aurelia (The Aurelian Archives)
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Copyright © 2013 by Courtney Grace Powers

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
eBook may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

PUBLISHED BY

Courtney Grace Powers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Sean, Tim, and Christopher

who alone understand why the Sterling Patron

wears a floppy green hat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Ch. I - The Unwilling Veterans                                                                      

of the Emat
hia Tea Party
             
                           

Ch. II -
A Blue (No, Grey) Sky
             
                                                       

Ch.
III - Reece Sheppard, Captain Umbrella
             

Ch. IV- What the Birds Knew First             
             
                           

Ch. V
- The Cost of Doing Something Great             
             
             

Ch
. VI – Problems with Pudding                           
             
                           

Ch. V
II – Moots, Shrews, and Little Red Boots             
             

Ch. VIII – Mighty Big Engine Rats                           
             
             

Ch. I
X – Owon to the Rescue (If He Doesn’t                            

Kill You First)
             

Ch.
X – Welcome to Leto City, Now Go Away             
             
             

Ch. XI – Evacuation Now, a G
uidebook                           
             

Ch. XII – When Cannibals Ain’t the                                                        

Scariest T
hing Around             

Ch.
XIII – What Means Me             
             
                                                       

Ch. X
IV – The Battle of Red Pool, L.F. 1296             
             

Ch. XV – Good Sterling Eve to All Except Owon             

Ch.
XVI – The Land of No Princesses             
             
                           

Ch. X
VII – Fairy Lights                           
             
                                                       

Ch. X
VIII – Theft!             
             
                                                                                   

Ch. XI
X – Scarlet Ashdown, Whim-Checker
             
             

Ch. X
X – The Enviable Blue Turtle
             
                                         

Ch. XX
I – Over the Edge and Beyond                           
             
             

Ch
. XXII – The Death of Po Trimble                           
             
             

Ch. XXIII – B
eing Fine             
             
                                                                     

Ch. XXIV – We’re All Crazie
s Here             
             
             

Ch. XXV – It’s Nice to Meet You, Nivy
Noemie                           

Ch. XXVI – Tr
uth Be Told             
             
                                                       

Ch. XXVII – Radio
active
             
                                                                     

Epil
ogue
             
                                                                                                                             

About
the Author

 

 

 

 

 

I

 

The Unwilli
ng Veterans of the Emathia Tea Party

 

             

It was winter.

The Estate at Emathia, home to the Grand Duke of planet Honora, sat alone on a country lane a short automobile drive outside the planet's capital. The estate's rolling grounds were covered in several inches of wet, sticky snow, and the brick-laid drive leading up to the mansion had great heaps of the stuff piled on its edges, heaps that leaned against the trunks of the tall oak trees flanking the drive. Though bright against the colorless landscape, the green and yellow carriage trundling down the drive, its horses' hooves clopping in slush, faded into the background as it squeaked to a stop before Duke Thaddeus Sheppard's mansion.

The mansion was a flinch-worthy teal, roofed with red and white shingles laid in patterns of swirls. Icicles clung precariously to the edges of the three balconies looking out over the grounds while smoke drifted out of the mansion's almost ungainly-looking, too-tall chimneys. Someone who hadn't seen inside the mansion might actually think the colors and the icicles and the cheerful chimney smoke quite quaint.

Scarlet Ashdown had never considered Emathia quaint. Not even as a little girl, all those times her mother had brought her to the estate for tea meetings and recitals before the duchess. She had been awed—cowed, really—by the enormity of it. Frightened by what even then she understood as the strange, double-faced nature of nobility. One might be quaint and pretty on the outside, but on the inside, there had to be composure, order, steadiness. No compromise.

The inside of the mansion was dark and handsome. A chandelier of red and black stained glass provided the entrance hall with an atmospheric glow, but most of the real lighting came by way of the gaping hearth beyond the duchess's grand piano. The mansion was eerily quiet; sitting in the tearoom off the entrance hall, Scarlet could hear both the crackling of the fire and the tick of ice against the tearoom window.

Despite the silence, the mansion was not empty. There were, in fact, seven people in the tearoom alone. Looking over the rim of her teacup as she sipped, Scarlet studied her company with a practiced eye. Her mother sat by her elbow, her tea untouched. Mother's hands tended to shake, and she would never draw attention to herself by rattling her cup in its saucer—that wasn't her way. She'd rather blend into the walls and listen. A job not easily done, when you were the kind of beautiful that made men sit up and pay attention. Scarlet had inherited her mother's deep golden hair, almond-shaped hazel eyes, and svelte figure, but when Rowena Ashdown was around, she felt faded and bland.

Lucious Tobin, a big boy with receding yellow hair and a ruddy complexion, was sitting on a dark green sofa between his much smaller parents, who were reading different copies of the same book, neither acknowledging the other. Scarlet called Lucious a boy, but at twenty, he was actually a few months her elder. Noticing her glance, Lucious leaned up out of his slouch and grinned. Scarlet's eyes continued to pass over him. No matter his age, Lucious really was still just a boy. Most men were.

The tearoom had its own fireplace. A deep-chested man stood before it, clasping his hands behind his back as he studied the black and white photographs hanging over enormous mantelpiece.


Where is he?” he asked without turning. Duke Thaddeus Sheppard had a voice like dark chocolate, smooth and deep and rich.


I told him noon,” the duchess, Abigail, said. She sat in a high-..backed leather chair by the tearoom's bay window, her golden dress catching the sheen of the firelight. The dress was the latest in fashion, tight at the hips, flaring at the knees, complete with a high-waisted jacket and black silk gloves. Scarlet's dress was cut similarly, but it was a conservative blue.


You should have told him eleven,” the duke rumbled, sounding amused. “That way he would have been on time.”

Abigail sniffed disdainfully.

An ominous roar that began in the distance and gradually grew loud enough to rumble the floor beneath Scarlet's ankle-high boots warned them he had arrived. With a snort, the duke turned to face the mantel again, shaking his balding head. The roar died out, footsteps stamped up the mansion's front stairs, and the front door banged open.

A moment later, Reece Sheppard, heir to Honora's dukeship and Scarlet's friend for going on nine years, skidded into the tearoom, leaving streaks of melting snow on the polished wood floors.

“Sorry,” Reece said loudly, breathless. His brown hair was windblown and messy, parted by a pair of riding goggles he seemed to have forgotten about, and though he'd obviously
tried
to dress for the occasion, wearing a half-decent suit…he'd missed a button on his jacket, and done up the rest crookedly to compensate.

Scarlet inwardly sighed, wanting very badly to put her face in her hand. After all the notice his recent heroics had earned him, he was still Reece, through and through. She supposed she was glad for that.

“Sit,” the duke instructed calmly.

Reece looked around, panting, and unsurprisingly picked the empty chair beside Mrs. Tobin rather than the one by his thunder-faced mother. The Tobins had both put away their books in favor of studying him with the same expression of bland curiosity they had worn while reading.

“Sorry,” Reece repeated, addressing the room at large. “I didn't mean to keep you waiting.” His dark brown eyes twinkled at Scarlet's flat stare, and she rolled her eyes at him.


Didn't you?” Abigail said hotly. “It's nearly one o'clock, Reece Benjamin.”


That late already?”

Abigail simply glared at him till he felt the top of his head, discovered his goggles, and tugged them off with a sheepish smile.

“Abigail,” the duke said, “go and tell the servants we're ready to move into the banquet hall for lunch.” Turning to fully face the room—impressive in his dark military suit—the duke leveled Reece with a wry stare. “Finally.”

Today was a revisiting of old days, when Abigail had held banquets in the hopes of sophisticating her unruly son. Lucious and Scarlet were two of the banquets' veterans, both children of politicians, both destined for parliament. Scarlet was due to finish her education at the prestigious Aurelian Academy in a matter of weeks and, right on schedule, begin her tenure as Junior Ambassador overseeing relations with the people of Zenovia. Lucious had already begun his work as an intern at The Guild House.

Reece, still so much like the boy who had sneaked out of his mother's banquets in favor of running unchecked and barefoot through the countryside, was going to be an airship captain. He had never retaken the career aptitude test he had failed some four months ago, but, questionable circumstances notwithstanding, he
had
saved the lives of every important member of Parliament by steering their crashing heliocraft to safety.

As Scarlet drifted behind her mother and the Tobins, Reece fell back to join her, redoing the buttons on his jacket.

“Almost like old times, isn't it?”


Yes,” Scarlet said, arching an eyebrow. “Except you have your shoes on, and you aren't hiding your Westerner comrades under the table.”


They don't fit anymore.”

Smirking, Scarlet turned into the candlelit banquet hall, where a large round table was already laid with sparking crystal dishes. Despite the early hour, the light falling through the tall windows lining the hall was blue and gloomy. Scarlet wasn't much anticipating the return carriage drive to Caldonia.

“Horrid weather, what?” Lucious commented, tucking a napkin into the front of his shirt. “All that ice…but say, Reece, you came here on a bimotor, didn't you? I thought I recognized all that dreadful rumbling.”

Nodding as he pulled out a chair for Scarlet—he remembered at least that much from the old days—Reece glanced out the window and grimaced.
“The bim does alright in the ice. It's the Dryad I'm worried about. Dryads don't do well in this kind of weather. The ice gets into their compressors, and then they produce too much steam.”


Well, I won't pretend to know how
that
all works.” Lucious lifted his goblet to shoulder height and held it there till a servant in white bustled over to fill it, looking harried. “But, you know, I find bimotors simply fascinating. Sort of rugged, aren't they? A real return to man's roots.”

             
“Be quiet and drink your wine, Lucious,” Mr. Tobin grumbled. “You sound like a buffoon.”

             
“Hush, darling,” Mrs. Tobin tut-tutted, glancing embarrassedly at the duke and Abigail, who were joining them at the table. “This isn't The Guild House.”

             
“For which I am shamelessly grateful,” the duke spoke up, smiling as he sat. Duke Sheppard had seemed almost a different man, these last few weeks. Still hard, still stately, still intimidating—but he smiled more, and when Reece was around, the man could be almost…impish.

             
Something had changed between the father and son. Scarlet had witnessed their relationship in its prime, before Reece had started at The Aurelian Academy and had still silently humored his parents' vision for his future. Even then, it had felt…strained. Reece and the duke had even gone through a two year stint when they hadn’t spoken at all. That stint had been miraculously broken by the events of a month ago. Events that Scarlet still didn't fully understand.

             
The first course of lunch arrived. She idly tossed her salad with her fork, watching and listening.

             
“So, young Mr. Sheppard,” Mr. Tobin said, pausing to wash down his salad with a generous gulp of wine. “You've gotten your wings. When do you expect assignment?”

             
Reece twiddled his fork. He wasn't eating, either. “I can't officially take a crew of my own until I finish school. So it'll be a few more weeks, at least, until I hear from the Regulatory Air Assignment Patrol.”

             
Lucious made a fascinated noise through a mouthful of food and raised a hand as if to hold his place in the order of conversation. “You know, Reece, The Patrol work out of The Guild House. I could stop by their offices and see if I couldn't find out what's coming to you. A little favor for an old friend.”

             
“Thanks, Lu,” Reece said with a crooked smile. “But don't trouble yourself. I'm qualified to fly in the Streams now, so that's likely where I'll be headed.”

             
“The Streams, eh?” Mr. Tobin squinted at Reece. “I thought it wasn't till a captain's second promotion that he qualified for the Streams.”

             
When Reece merely shrugged and continuing raking through his salad, Mr. Tobin turned to the duke, who had been silently working away at his lunch. This seemed to be the chance Mr. Tobin had been waiting for.

             
“Your boy must have really outdone himself at that masquerade. I wasn't there, myself, but I have the missus's firsthand account. And the wireless reports have been talking of little else for the last few months. I've even seen his face on the evening papers.”

             
“How utterly disconcerting,” Reece muttered so only Scarlet could hear. She shot him a look.


Yes,” Lucious spoke up quickly, “it was just dreadful, but you know, rather
exciting
.”


Pah, you don't know what you're talking about. You were as drunk as a bleeding Westerner,” Mr. Tobin snapped at his son, who flushed. Tobin nodded his head apologetically to the duke and Abigail and loaded another forkful of salad before continuing. “An assassination plot...hatched by the headmaster of The Aurelian Academy himself! Can't imagine you knew it was coming, Thaddeus, but you have to admit, it was a mighty bit of luck that landed Reece of all people with the chance to stop Eldritch's Vee before it got a shot off on you.”


Very lucky,” the duke agreed. His dark eyes and stern expression betrayed nothing, but in Scarlet's studies, even that meant something.

Scarlet carefully eyed Reece, who had suddenly homed in on his neglected salad and was focusing all his attention on his bowl. Scarlet had been there that night; she had spoken with Reece and learned that he had come to the masquerade to protect the duke from said assassination. That, frustratingly, was all she really knew for sure. Oh, she had guesses, the same guesses as Mr. Tobin's evening papers. Headmaster Charles Eldritch, whom she had previously ascertained was the real power behind most of The Guild House's decisions, had turned out to be what parliament classified as an N.H.A.: a Non-Human Alien, one capable of taking human hosts. Where he had come from, or whom, was being kept closely guarded from the Honoran public.

              Scarlet and the newspapers all suspected Reece was in on the secret, but he thus far hadn't been very forthcoming with either. Which was altogether unsurprising.

Mr. Tobin didn't seem pacified by the duke's answer.
“But there was a second assassin, wasn't there? A gold-masked fellow, all the rumors name him.”

BOOK: The Airship Aurelia (The Aurelian Archives)
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