Hench (wo)man for Hire (Part 5) by Esperanza Devereaux
We boarded the Sardonic. The ebon sails, in the shape of a windmill’s vanes, rustled in the light breeze overhead.
“It is time to open the orders and find out where you will be sailing.” said Maestro Giacomo.
Under a lantern, I slit open the envelope. My eyebrows raised as I scanned the contents. I recognized the Spiral co-ordinates.
“Avernus? You will send children to Avernus for me to pick up?”
“Si, please believe we had no other choice; all other exits from Valencia are heavily guarded and transportalators are also closely monitored.”
“If that is so, how are the children getting there?”
“A Krok, sympathetic to our cause, will open an unsanctioned transportalator from Captain Steed’s villa to a small rock in the Avernus skyway. For a half hour the transportalator will function, then it will be closed. It is imperative that we arrive at the transport point as soon as possible. The place we chose for the transport is well away from the Avernus windlane. They will be exposed to the dangers of that place until we get there.”
“You must be desperate.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
So we hoisted the anchor and I took the wheel. I ordered the ship’s lamps doused, we would only use the light from a lamp set amidship. I didn’t want to be spotted in these skies. I also gave orders that once we picked up the children we would sail only at night.
Thus, in near total darkness, we slipped through Tradewinds skyway and into the Monquista stormgate as silently as a ghost.
It was four bells* when we approached the Avernus stormgate. Maestro Giacomo suggested a simple ruse to get pass the blockade; we set a dinghy adrift with a timing device designed to explode a small barrel of sparkpowder – the resulting explosion would attract the attention of the Monquistan captains while we made our way through. It worked, and with no trouble at all we entered the Avernus stormgate.
Avernus. How can I describe a place few people have seen? The atmosphere is hot and dry, with swirls of angry red clouds and blasts of stifling super-heated air. Worse than that are the remains of a large land mass that had exploded in the far past. Jagged rocks of all sizes, some as large as a ship ( and larger ) swirl and eddy around in the air currents.
With Maestro Giacomo directing me, we left the relative safety of the windlane and entered this chaotic world.
At third speed and tracking back and forth, sometimes reversing, then advancing, we avoided the huge chunks of vulcanized rocks. Eventually I saw a small plateau, flat as a table and about the size of a living room. It was empty.
“Molto bene, we are early.” Maestro Giacomo sighed with relief.
I caused the boarding ramps to be run out and secured. We didn’t have a long wait. A pale green swirl appeared on the plateau and figures began to come forward. Giacomo ran across the ramp and called out a name.
“I am here, mio fratello!” a lilting, feminine voice called. “We are all here.”
A female Unicorn rushed to Giacomo and gave him a big hug.
The plateau began to get crowded, but getting the passengers on board took no time at all. I was glad to see that they had brought bedding and sacks containing belongings. Soon I was being introduced to the new arrivals.
“Capitana, here is my sister, Veronica. Those are,” and he gestured toward two Guinea Pigs, who were herding the children below. “Signor Luigi and his wife Giovanna. The big fellow over there is Lars Silvereyes, the children’s bodyguard.”
I could hardly miss seeing him, the Bear was taller than Thane Thunderfist.
“Look”, said Veronica, “The transportalator is closing. There is no going back, now.”
“It is best for us to go below”, said Giacomo, “We have a long journey.”
The boarding ramps were brought in, we raised the anchors and headed back into the windlane.
It was when we reached the windlane that we found trouble waiting for us. Three frigates of the Armada were bearing down on us from the Valencian stormgate. They would easily overtake us, unless...
“Maestro, go below and tell everyone to secure themselves in any manner they can. Stay with them.” I ordered.
To the crew I yelled these orders, “Make ready lifelines, be ready for rough skies!”
I left the windlane and headed into the nearest patch of jagged fragments. I didn’t fight the current, but let the ship be carried along within the packed rocks. Only when I saw that a rock might collide with us did I give the wheel a turn starboard or port.
The Armada ships didn’t leave the windlane, but they were pacing us, waiting for when we had to leave the rocks and enter the stormgate.
The rocks were thinning now and the stormgate was approaching. The Armada were maneuvering to block our passage. That’s when I hit the fuel boost button. We rocketed forward and straight into the eye of the stormgate.
Entering a stormgate under ideal conditions is tricky. It’s best not to fight the flow of the air currents. Static electricity builds with the least friction and sparks fly everywhere. Bonnie Anne once had her thunderbuss unintentionally ignite when static set off the sparkpowder in it.
Entering at high speed, as I was doing, caused the ship to pitch and roll violently. Great purple bolts jumped from the figure-head to the mainmast and traveled down the lines before grounding in the keelson. I went momentarily weightless, then we hit the windlane between worlds. Gravity jarred my boots to the deck. I turned off the boost and we moved under sail power once more. I checked for pursuit, there was none. Obviously, the Armada wasn’t ready to challenge the Monquistan Navy.
Angry voices coming up the companionway reached my ears.
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