“I say Julia, you are becoming faster with that infernal device,” I muttered in the near-dark. I could see only a heavy cloth wall stretched before me and sensed about me a vast open space, although there was not enough light to give such impressions truth or lie.
“If only I could become more adept at controlling its workings,” she growled. “That buffoon Professor Swift, assured me that his Trans-Spatial Bi-locator would become easier to control the more it was used, but as yet I’m seeing little to lend validity to his assertion.”
“Professor Thomas Swift of Cambridge Massachusetts, the famous inventor?” Henry asked, clutching at his native garb.
“The very same,” Julia replied. “Poor Tom… half mad but all brilliant… at least such is my opinion when his confounded inventions WORK!”
“I don’t see that we can complain too much,” commented Sir Raleigh mildly as he took an apparent break from chewing his bottom lip. “The… beastie… hasn’t caught us yet and while our last repast lacked many things it did bring surcease from hunger. From where I stand, that puts us ahead in the game.”
“I’m still hungry,” Henry whined.
“That, sir, is because you are an insufferable twit who felt it better to laugh at the rest of us than eat,” Julia growled. “Why can none of us seem to find some source of illumination secreted upon our persons?”
“Perhaps because we no longer have our clothes?” Sophie ventured in a voice almost too soft to be heard.
“I doubt any of us, other than perhaps you, Julia, would have had such items upon us even before we left our clothing in New Zealand,” Flora Edgewater said, scorn thick in her voice. “I came dressed for a party, not some mad expedition beyond the edges of lunacy to God alone knows where.”
“Ze ‘vhere’ is ze hidden hangar of Baron Rene von Felderstadt unt it is he who iz vondering who you are and vhy you are here.” The voice was cold, haughty and full of every ounce of pretension that years in the Prussian aristocracy could produce.
Julia turned and only I was close enough in the almost negligible light to notice the generous portions of her anatomy that had become exposed as her totally insufficient native costume had shifted. The sight affected me as it would any red-blooded male and I shifted my own makeshift coverings to obscure any hint of the gallant reflex.
“Rene! Thank… whatever… that Swift’s device finally worked as he said it would! We need your help,” Julia cried as she ran towards the illuminated figure that had appeared behind us.
So it was that scarcely an hour later we found ourselves dressed in somewhat militaristic outfits, courtesy of the Baron’s… well… air pirates is as good a name as any, preparing to sleep for as long as the Beast would let us. Julia had enlisted the Baron’s help to completely enshroud a room in silk aboard his zeppelin, Des Adlerkralle, or the Eagle’s Claw. As all of us settled down to rest, the Baron’s men took up watch outside.
“The silk should act as an insulator of spiritual energies,” Julia had explained as she directed the Baron’s men in putting together packs of supplies for us. “And as that is the only way… It… can be tracking us, I’m hopeful that it will at the very least slow down Its pursuit of us. If it works as well as I hope, the Baron may get us all the way to Cairo in relative comfort.”
We had found ourselves ready to eat again before we slept. I’m sure that the Jaeger schnitzel, sauerkraut and good stout German beer we’d consumed was aiding everyone in ignoring the strangeness of our situation, the threat of constant danger and the ever-present, bone-shaking vibration of the engines as we all lay down to slumber.
And so we slept, safe and secure, each of us with a pack of useful and necessary items and a parachute close at hand, as Des Adlerkralle tore through the high atmosphere on its way to Cairo. We were guests of one of the most notorious and infamous men in the world, we were being chased by some eldritch creature that Julia had either constructed or summoned, there would be no explaining our mysterious absence to those we’d left behind, and we might all be dead by morning or carried off to some Hell-ish dimension. Yet all of us slept a good deal more soundly than I’m sure even the Queen Herself did, borne away to the Dreamlands on the wings of exhaustion and beer.
The sound of a man being ripped apart, screaming his last breath in defiance and abject terror, helpless before the creature assaulting him is a totally unacceptable substitute for the soft touch and kindly voice of a valet telling one that it is time to rise and greet the day.
Despite that unpleasantness, said screaming and rending noises work well enough to wake one and it was to such that we found ourselves pulled from slumber. Looking about in confusion, the fog of sleep still lay over the valleys and crevices of our brains, robbing of us of sure and certain knowledge where we were and what was happening. Our terror acted as the sun, though, and the fog was driven before it as we remembered the mysterious and horrifying events of the recent past and almost as one stood up and began babbling incoherently.
The exception to the chorus of panic was Julia.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she shouted above the engines and the sounds of the men outside the door dying in some horrible fashion, “I believe we’ve overstayed our welcome aboard Des Adlerkralle. Time to leave.”
Heading away from the door beyond which the Baron’s men were giving their all to buy us time to escape or perhaps just to preserve their own lives, we exited down a hallway that led towards the bridge.
As we bolted down the passageway the great ship heaved to one side, the motion to be followed a second or two later by an explosion from outside the zeppelin’s gondola. We passed into a wide room with ceiling-to-floor windows on both sides. Out the windows to port we could see the dawn approaching and perhaps a touch of blue-ish sparkle from the Mediterranean so far below us. On the other side the smoke and dying flames from the explosion filled our vision, an engine clearly missing as we ran through groups of the Baron’s air pirates readying their rifles and preparing to make a stand between the bridge and the desolation the Beast brought with it.
We hurtled full speed onto the bridge as the great craft shuddered like some mighty whale of the upper stratosphere attacked by a mysterious force even larger, more impressive and more primordial than itself.
The Baron turned to us, braces of pistols down his front and across to his hips. “Julia, if I zurvive ziz morning, you and I will haff to zpeak of what I am owed for ze help I haff giffen you,” he said in a voice that betrayed barely a tremble at his imminent demise, his ‘stiff upper lip’ seeming almost English to me. “My men und my ship are not ze toys of zome mad English voman to be used as she vould and zen giffen to deztruction.” He motioned towards the open door in the side of the gondola.
As the rest of the party was shoved by crewmen through the door I saw a great sadness wash across Professor Julia Eternity’s face as she kissed his cheek and whispered “My dearest Rene, that is a conversation I fear you will not live to have with me. I am so sorry.”
“It is nossing,” he replied, saluting her in the stiff Prussian style. “I haff had a gut life wis much to anzwer for in Hell.” He smiled and pulled a pair of pistols. Turning to face the sounds of slaughter approaching from aft, his smile turned into a feral grin.
Grasping my arm firmly she pulled me out of the wounded and lurching airship. We fell together, almost arm in arm, towards the brightening ocean below.