Tempest Roams in the Pathless Sky
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by Graeme S. Houston
Category: Science Fiction
Description: In the distant future, the Earth is tumbling into a vicious circle; great glaciers of ice push ever further towards the equator, the reflected light cools the earth yet further, fueling the great catastrophe which will lead ultimately to snowball Earth. All we have left is a thin, ever shrinking strip of habitable land. The displacement wars, which lasted thousands of years, sparked by the initial push of the great glaciers, have thrown mankind back into the dark ages.Aadesh, an orphan is sent by the priests of Old Kuala Lum, on a journey to deliver a message to New London. Captain Philip Daemidrien, will be taking him by airship, but everything goes wrong right from the onset. Attacked by mechanical creatures from a long dead past, the captain must use every ounce of cunning he has to outmaneuver the terrors. But not only does the captain harbor secrets of his own, Aadesh will find that he is in far more trouble than he ever could have imagined. His only hope may be Philip and a genetically enhanced assassin called Elizabeth. They find that even Earth is at stake, and ice is the least of their worries....
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: October 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [300 KB]
Reading time: 178-249 min.
Fleet of foot, Elizabeth ran from the noise as fast as she could. Her own breathing quickened in response to the exertion, and yet she could still hear them behind her tailing her. They had barely let up their relentless pursuit. These were no ordinary troops and far more determined and disciplined than she normally ran up against. The fact they had stayed on her tail for so long proved the point, but only made her more determined. They remained like a splinter, the noises tugging at her senses, stabbing at her perception. Though they were doing a better job of hunting her down than most, they would never catch her. She could still have told them right there and then that they weren't doing a very good job, but men these days had lost that kind of sense of humor anyway.
She heard the padding of paws in the soil, wolves barking, men rasping out of breath, cries from afar and the whispering of arrows shot off blindly into the night. True, they had wolves with them, but those would be of little help to the men. She could change her scent at will and was far more agile than any of their wild beasts. It was only through sheer numbers, discipline and a degree of luck that they remained behind her after such a distance. Normally she would have been long gone by now.
She slipped through the forest silently through bushes and weedy ferns, and avoiding muddy paths wherever possible. She leapt, bounding like a deer over a ragged mass of thorny bushes that had formed an impenetrable barrier along the edge of a burn, and landed easily on the other side. She easily rolled and found her feet again, only to leap once more to clear a dried-up stream. The feel of the air moving through her hair and brushing her skin as she jumped served to wake her up, to rekindle her sense of exhilaration. She landed easily and slipped off into thick bushes, barely touching the numerous branches that crisscrossed before her.
A chill wind began to blow from the north, and the birds sung their strange songs of the nighttime. Songs that cried in little murmurs, rasping as if in fits of melancholy. It seemed to her that the birds called out to each other as if in search of a little solace.
She grew tired, realizing the full extent of her flight as the footfalls receded by a fraction once more. She had been running for over an hour, some strange mechanism within her mind told her; she would have to stop soon. If she had been running straight, she would have left them far behind. But her lack of familiarity with this region had caused her to lose her way and double back a few times.
The forest lay around her dark, foreboding--shards of silver moonlight slipping between the branches and casting beams of light through the misty air. Like a natural cathedral to the grandeur of Gaia herself, the light rendered it in sacred detail, beautiful beyond words. Insects flitted through the forest and bats rushed overhead, flocking to return to their caves. Soon they would sleep through the day and come out again at sunrise.
She could smell the bark, the leaves, the trees, and the rain that had fallen in the morning and dried up in the midday sun. This place pleased her with its dark beauty. To her right, the wind brought her the scent of waterfalls and jasmine and the fields in the cliffs above, and that called out to her as the quickest route to shake off the blasted men behind her. Now she began to recognize the area and relaxed somewhat.
Quite suddenly, a hail of arrows erupted from a patch of bushes to her left. The world slowed down and stayed poised just on the tip of that violent moment while hyper-adrenalin flowed into her veins. It took all of her skill to avoid being struck, but they did miss, slipping past her as she spiraled between them. She pushed forwards harder now, spurred on by her brush with death.
As she rounded a rocky outcrop, two men threw themselves into her path with swords drawn and their eyes coldly took the measure of her. She brought forth her daggers and swept at them, parrying their blows and sliding past them. She didn't want to kill them, but another placed himself in her way. As they threw themselves into a frenzied attack from all sides, her instincts broke her will. Within seconds the three lay dead at her feet.
The wolves and the men drew closer. Taking two breaths, she dashed at full speed in the direction of a cliff and burst out of the thickest part of the forest. Her feet took her onto an ancient worn path that wove around in a gentle arc. She took to an easy run. Following the path up around the contours of the land, her course took her parallel to a great ancient cliff. No doubt its cavernous surface was the home of the bats she had seen earlier.
Without breaking stride, she climbed up a rocky outcrop and jumped several meters across to the thick trunk of a tree. Halfway up its length it lay bent over and parallel to the ground, and upon this flat trunk she landed easily before climbing up the rest of the great trunk, letting it take her up into the thick forest canopy and salvation. Pausing a moment to catch her breath, she stood poised on the thick bough before jumping forwards, her powerful legs propelling her into the next tree. Catching a branch, she swung around and easily landed back onto her feet--poised, her eyes searching out a route before her.
In this manner she jumped from tree to tree and made her way ever so quietly to a thick, dark oak. Its size and position appealed to her, as ideal for her plan. After assessing the nearby landscape, she hid herself away in the deep recesses where the oak's giant boughs parted.
Lulled by the noises of the night, she lay drifting in a meandering daze. The years had passed like drops of water flowing down a waterfall; she wondered what would come next. She thought of all that had been lost and wondered if ever the humans would stop fighting among themselves.
She lay awake gazing up to the night sky, her keen sight revealing the black spheres silhouetted against the stars beyond. They drifted endlessly around the Earth, invisible to all but her, forgotten by all but a few.
Every now and then she found herself stirring in the night and unsure if it had been a real noise or a forgotten dream that had wakened her. As she shrugged off the grogginess of sleep she heard more noises in the night. The song of a million insects chirping rose up to join the cacophony. The thunderous roar of the trees swaying in the wind mingled with the sounds of wolves sniffing nearby and the men shouting orders to each other. She lay still listening to their movements, her mind placing each man or wolf like a chess piece around her. As they moved about she followed them carefully, just in case they should get lucky. Or perhaps, should they actually stumble across her, unlucky.
They wandered in circles for hours never finding her. Lost, scared soldiers traipsing through the night, terrified of the creature they were hunting, unsure if she was stalking them. Lost little souls. But she had no interest in them. Not unless they disturbed her.
The birdsong changed, morning came, and through the dark clouds a beam of light shone weakly. It held the promise, a whisper, that the morning light might clear away all the evil deeds of the night.
Though still tired, the little sleep she had stolen would be enough to keep her going--long enough anyway. She would have no trouble escaping the borders of this enfeebled little kingdom, and a long sleep would be her reward on the other side.
Elizabeth quietly moved around following the still noisy men, keeping to the treetops until she found them. She watched from a tall tree as the remaining soldiers picked up their dead and threw them onto an old wooden cart as reverently as their desire to leave would allow. They had succumbed to the dangerous creatures that lived deep in the forest.
As their still-living allies worked to retrieve them, their sword hilts clanked against their armor, signaling their presence for miles around. Their shinning metal helmets reflected the green of the canopy, while their red sash mirrored the blood red of the moss. Their boots squelched in the water-soaked forest floor, and the noise risked attracting the bigger, smarter creatures, who preyed on the flesh of man and did not fear daylight.
The birds of the morning let out their chattering cries and Elizabeth, for all she was part cat with claws, fangs and slits for eyes, loved them for their beauty and for their songs. Her claws dug deeper as she remained crouched upon the branch, silencing her breathing, maintaining the gentle rise and fall of her breasts. She hoped not to make the sound which would betray her, while several of the guards traipsed around hoping for another glimpse of her.
Disappointed, they left.
The chill of the wind caressed her hips, her thighs and the small of her back as if her robes were nonexistent. She shivered gently.
Eventually the old wooden cart rattled off up onto the forest road, slowly drawn over the slippery ground by great horses, broad shouldered and powerfully strong. She slid with her back against the trunk--thankful they had left. In the distance, she could hear the steady beat of drums. Drums to march to; drums to command the advance of the battalion. Towards home this time--to New Britain on the shore of Lake Mediterania. But Elizabeth also knew that a few days hence would bring out another battalion, marching back to the front, to fight, to die, to reclaim the lands lost by the old king in his feeble reign. Such was the ebbing and swaying of the borders, and she had watched it like the tides, all these hundreds of years with a certain sadness. The fighting was too slow for one as old as she--who could remember the old ways. As much as she loved her assassin's daggers, she missed the solid feel of a gun in her hand.
With a flash of sunlight on steel, a monster swooped upon her. The branch shuddered as its steel claws folded around the bark and the branch bowed under the weight of it. She threw herself onto her feet, ready to defend herself, and found herself at a complete loss for any action that might be effective against it. Against such a thing as stood before her ... something that drew a blank from the encyclopedic chambers of her mind, a silver monster dredged up from someone's personal hell, maybe even from her own version of it.
She let out a painful short gasp at the massive steel swords it unfolded into its hands and stood almost frozen to the spot, contemplating it as it contemplated her. The scales on its chest reflected in its many facets the fear she betrayed on her face and in her eyes.
Lithe and quick, a single pull of her calves sprung her by her toes into the air as the blades swung to meet. She heard the thud as they embedded themselves into the trunk of the tree and in desperation she grasped at the branch above her. Deftly, she pulled herself up and around onto the branch and sprung along its length. She heard the grinding of metal as it pulled the blades out and turned to follow. She glanced back at it and it was the pure, shining metal of the blades, caught in the light of the morning that wrenched at her heart causing it to beat painfully against her chest. The metal thing behind her was unscratched, not battered like the rest of the junk the ancients had left. Not worn out like the dwindling weaponry kings fought for. This shone as if it had had just been built, or as if someone had lovingly restored it to what it once was.
So damn new...
The wind flicked her night black hair as she bounded across from branch to branch, through the canopy, and she could hear it pursuing, the metallic grinding of its joints, the rasping of its breath.
It breathes? A steel beast, a robot from years ago breathing ... she thought about it a moment, but pushed the thought from her mind to focus on the more important task of staying alive.
She pressed harder towards the cliffs, every muscle aching, her eyes judging, her hands catching at the branches, branch by branch, until the cliff grew closer. Until at last, her goal drew closer. The tight little cave she had taken note of in the past yet dared not explore lay just before her, just within reach. It beckoned her to safety. With one last desperate jump and a slide upon the dusty entrance, she slipped inside the cave, feet first, clawing at the ceiling to drag herself ever further into the safety of the recesses--all the while staring back at the mouth of the cave. Behind her the great jowl of the beast appeared open and roaring in its frustration at being unable to pursue her, like Samael the demon; the Satan of her friends' myths and campfire stories.
Never had she felt such relief as when the roaring mouth was gone and the blackness of the cave consumed her.
She slid herself ever lower down the passage, wondering where it would lead her. The visage of the metal monster still vivid in her eyes, a phantom in the dark. Its black eyes glaring, the rippling of its scaled armor, a long snout, jaws and teeth, a hunter, with claws, blades, wings, a killing machine. A perfect example of old tech--and she had thought herself to be the last. A robot killer of yester millennia pursuing a genetically engineered assassin, both remnants of the same insanity. But why after all these millennia?
* * * *
An air of excitement hung over the city on this day, seventh of the Lanndanam--the great festival of the year; the festival of bells and renewals. Dancing girls skipped through the streets casting fresh petals of pink and white from bowls held at their side. The petals spun through the air and carpeted the streets in sweetly fragrant spirals. The marble buildings of Old Kuala Lum were decorated with banners, and multi-coloured fabrics spun around every column. The city had been rendered in carefully coordinated colours through the routes the procession would take. Streets curved through the city forming a sacred spiral to its centre. This marked the divine route to where the twin spires of the Petrolias towers rose up like twin mountains.
The towers rose high into the heavens above all else, and it was said that this was where Lord Shiva Nataraj had come down, dancing between them--dancing the death of the world.
They say he danced and spun, and humbled the world in its death throws. In one of his upper arms the kettle drum beat the tune, a skull in his hair as the symbol of the destruction, and the beads of skulls around his neck bearing witness to all the death and rebirth cycles he had danced the world into before. The divine principal, Deva, and the matter of the universe, Bhuta, fused in his divine dance, through his winding multiplicity of arms, spinning the energies of the universe into a pattern of colour, a tapestry of black and white, man and woman, light and darkness. In that dance he played the steps of truth and immortality against the moves of untruth and death until the eternal conflicts were reconciled within his body, in his rhythm, in his dance, the dance of the cosmic, laying waste to the age of waste; the age of petrol died.
With the Petrolias temple rising up before him, the boy, Aadesh, whose name meant message, found himself gazing at the strange message in his hand. The girls dancing on the street beside him went unnoticed as he examined the strange hand, the strange ink, but the clear meaning;
Bhakti Kalapani requests your presence.
Come to the Petrolias temples at once.
But why? Aadesh wondered as he pushed his way through the growing crowds. The girls danced wildly, their feet pitter-pattering upon the dusty road, their saris billowing in the breeze. Their brown skin, beautiful against the thousand hues of silk, and gold and silver. Their beautiful faces alive with the spirit of the festival. He heard the jingle of a thousand bracelets and smelled the burning of incense, heard the prayers, the puujah all along the sidewalks. The citizens giving their thanks and receiving their blessings. The dance of thanks for the rebirth, a dance spiraling the city in a parade of colour.
He pushed on until he came to the girls in Cheong-sam, smart Chinese silken suits in golds and reds. Their pale complexions standing out like their silver blades. Gracefully they danced, in celebration also, but to a different end; prosperity for the future. Dancing with swords and ribbons. Whereas the Indian girls were lively, the Chinese girls moved with military precision--together as one. They danced to the beat of the bells and the drums, to the music of the Emperors, swift and deadly with their blades. The sun shone off the flashing metal as the girls danced ever forward.
Though Aadesh would have loved to watch them all, all his favourites taking part in his favourite festival of the year, he pressed on. He cut away from the procession, missing the Malay girls and the Thai Girls, unhappily abandoning the remaining dances to the gods, so as to appease the God and the God's high priests. He could not very well disobey a summons from the high priest himself. Curiosity would no doubt have won out anyway.
He wandered through the drab side alleys, cutting a course directly to the towers. He brushed past stalls cooking for a few scruffy customers, and old hawkers offering flowers, incense and other accessories for the puujah. A four-winged bird swooped past in bobbing flight, wings flickering like an insect, before arching into the air with its green feathers bright against the eternal summer sky. He came to the next intersection of the spiraling main street and crossed, weaving between wagons large and small, tearing through the city to get their work done before the procession arrived and blocked the way.
Through the next alley his feet took him between the potholes, up a flight of marble steps onto the third ring of the spiraling street where he stopped dead. A shadow crossed over him and made him spin around. His upwards gaze came to rest upon the great red and yellow stripes of an old airship. The boat-like gondola hanging below it, sure to carry goods and messages. The desire to be up there almost overwhelmed him, and he said a prayer to whatever of his gods would listen that the strange message and the balloon would be linked in such a way that he might embark upon that great vessel.
Worried now that any delay might cost him an opportunity, he pressed on at a jogging pace. He crossed the main street twice more and reached the park. From there he resorted to a walking pace once more, and watched the airship as it reached the mooring station, some half way up the eastern tower.
He rushed inside the great temple and asked the priests where he should go. They glanced at the note with stern indifference. Every second took an age, and their lack of hurry annoyed him. To his great disappointment they directed him across to the other tower. Sadness and a touch of melancholy all threatened to consume him, but he brushed it aside and carried onwards as directed up the thousands and thousands of stairs. Everyone told stories of ancient lifts that took people to the top, but no such luxury remained. The priests said that climbing the steps was good for the soul.
At first he climbed easily, winding around the stairwell with youthful energy. After some time though, his legs began to feel heavy, his arms achy and his breath more rugged. They seemed never ending, and he soon became lost in his very own parade--imagined for his own entertainment. It served as a suitable distraction. Though at first the difficulty in climbing all the thousands of steps only strengthened his resolve, soon the vast height broke him, and he found himself collapsing down onto the stairs to lie for a moment and catch his breath. As time passed, it seemed so comforting to lie there; all he could do was force himself up and onwards so as not to give in to the temptation to rest, beautiful as the feeling was.
A little farther up he sat down for a while, as a breeze buffeted him through the fine silken gauze which covered the outer shell of the building. Legend told once again how it had been covered in steel and glass--the transparent material the ancients could make. Long ago, the outside of the tower had sparkled like a crystal in the sun. Now it was fabric, great sheets woven into and out of each other to serve a similar purpose. Some to block the wind, some as transparent as man can make, so that the enchanting views were visible and cast in different shades as one journeyed the sacred steps.
Aadesh gathered up his energy and continued onwards up the tower, occasionally running into others, mainly priests, coming down from the various floors. The gray blocks of the stairs became his entire world, a jagged, spiraling path upwards forever, a personal hell. His thoughts drifted off into a daydream of flying upon an airship. Along above the clouds drifting endlessly, he almost forgot that the rest of the world existed, his feet moving mechanically his mind drifting elsewhere.
With little warning, he found himself at the top of the tower. Flanked by two guards, he stood before a commander with the note held out. The man grinned and unquestioningly took the parchment from him. With but the slightest of glances the man smiled and gestured for him to follow.
Aadesh followed the man's lead along a corridor that was draped in a thousand gauze curtains of white and red, every fifth hanging down, so that the guard parted them with his hands as he walked past, through hanging beads and past marble statues, into a chamber where two more men stood guard at the entrance. Aadesh found himself directly before Bhakti Kalapani, priest to the gods.
Beside Kalapani sat the priest of the Trinity and the priest of Allah, all comprising the council of Old Kuala Lum. Only the priest of the Buddha was not in attendance, but garlands covered his chair signifying the respect the priest commanded even in his absence. It marked also that the puujah had been made, and would be renewed every day and night to ensure his safe and swift return.
Placing himself reverently before Kalapani, he bowed and rested upon his knees. The priest smiled and touched his shoulder bidding him to rise. The high priest stood mightily tall, enrobed in purple silk and silver sashes. He bore no weapons, but also looked as if he would need none. He wore a gleaming silver bracer on both his forearms which were decorated with shining silver knots twisting their way around the surface. Matching this was his short silver beard which was neatly trimmed and thick. His eyes were brown, but with a touch of silver perhaps from some ancestor and stood out against his dark skin. His black hair was short, crested in silver where his graying hair shone amidst the black, and atop his head sat a band of silver, ancient birds woven in and out and all in flight; the priests' aura seemed to hover above where the birds yearned to be.
"Aadesh, given your name, we have decided that it would be auspicious for you to be the carrier of a most important message between our lands and the lands of New Britain," Bhakti Kalapani told him in a deep and resonant voice. At that, Aadesh's heart leapt, for he knew at once that he would indeed be travelling the skies, and he was glad. "Will you accept?"
"Yes, Bhakti, I will," was all Aadesh could manage.
Kalapani bid him look outside and there the most majestic airship he had yet seen drifting towards them. It was not like the roughly hewn bulging monstrosities--not like the one he had seen moments ago, but with perfectly smooth curves, tied to perfection and a gondola which was almost as large as a trireme. It sidled up to the building and slowed down until it disappeared below to park in the middle of the tower where the airships usually docked.
"Sit with us a while, young Aadesh," Kalapani told him.
Aadesh took a seat near to the council members and sat in silence, afraid to talk.
"How is the orphanage, Aadesh? They are treating you well I hope?" asked the priest of Allah.
"Very well thank you, Senasai," he said using the respectful word for teacher.
They talked for a while, mostly about his ambitions once he was old enough to work, or about the festival and how the harvests had been most excellent this year.
It wasn't long before a man appeared at the entrance. All stood up and greeted him as he left the entrance, and they all curtly bowed in greeting. He had pale skin, and Aadesh guessed that he came from one of the settlements in the far north. He also wore clothing which fitted closely to his body, unlike the robes and saris of Old Kula Lum. At his side hung a sword with a basket hilt in a sheath decorated in winding silver patterns and a couple of jewels that looked both magnificent and deadly. He had long brown hair and gleaming blue eyes which Aadesh felt fixed firmly on him for a moment.
"Philip, how good to see you," stated Kalapani, shaking the man's hand and pulling him into a warm embrace.
"It has been too long, my old friend--far too long," said Philip.
"My blessings to you, Philip, but you don't seem the slightest bit older. You must tell me your secret," said Kalapani.
Philip greeted the other two priests in turn, and lastly Aadesh himself, whose hand he shook firmly. Such was the western way of greeting.
"This is Aadesh, who will deliver the message."
A sudden crash issued from behind them and caused all the men to turn. A great metal beast crashed down through gauze hangings, tearing through them with its claws and rattled down onto the marble floor. It looked at them for a second before jumping forwards into a run.
"Go, Philip, take the boy and run!" shouted Kalapani as he threw the tube containing the message to Aadesh, who caught it and found himself instantly pulled by Philip towards the door.
The beast made a dive at the door, reaching it before them and cutting them off. The guards at the door attacked the creature and fell silent a moment later as it slashed at them with its claws, felling all in an instant. It turned and unfolded two deadly looking blades from its forearms out and into its hands to serve as swords. Aadesh shuddered at the look it gave him.
Philip cursed and turned tail in the opposite direction. When he reached the edge of the building, he drew his sword and swiftly made two great cuts in the shape of a cross into the gauze. He sheathed his blade again in a spiraling flourish and glanced down. Aadesh, wondering what Philip was doing, found himself more concerned about the movements of the beast. It advanced steadily towards him, giving him plenty to worry about it. He kept his eyes firmly on the beast as it approached.
Kalapani put himself between it and them. The creature swept forwards with its swords, aiming for Kalapani's head, but the priest blocked the blow with his silver bracer and kicked the beast forcefully back into the wall. It rebounded and lurched forwards, sweeping at the priest again. The beast fought back hard, raining blows upon Kalapani, yet the priest remained unfazed holding the creature at bay, dodging and blocking so graceful that it seemed like a dance more than a fight. Within a moment, all three priests closed in upon the creature, catching it off guard. Unprepared for such a skilful and well-coordinated attack, their efforts forced it back.
They were not only priests, but masters in the fighting arts and undeterred in the slightest bit by the fact that the beast was made of metal. Relentlessly, they attacked it until, in a desperate bid for more room, it leapt over Kalapani. Though he blocked two of its slices, it knocked him backwards this time with a well-placed kick, its claws gouging at his chest. Landing on its feet on the other side of the priests, it broke free and ran towards them as Aadesh found his heart stopping at the sight of it tearing towards him, blades drawn back ready to strike.
The priest of the Trinity dived, grabbed it by the ankles and tossed it to the ground. It landed with a hollow thud, cracking the marble beneath it, and kicked out as it leapt up again, clawing at the marble before it.
"Get out of here!" shouted Kalapani, as he and the others leapt to stall the beast.
Philip pulled Aadesh close and, holding him tight, threw himself off of the building. They hurtled downwards and the floors of the building rushed past. Aadesh screamed until he found that feeling the strength and surety of Philip's grip calmed him. Even in this most terrifying of circumstances, his own fears swept away with the winds so that his cry of fear stopped and instead gave way to exhilaration.
The airship sat below them and swung up to meet them as gravity pulled them down. Suddenly, they hit the soft surface of the balloon at an angle and slid smoothly down the side. Philip grabbed a rope and slid down it all the way into the gondola where he spun in the air and landed heavily on his back upon the solid boards, shielding Aadesh from the force of the blow.
"Go, go!" shouted Philip.
Engines throbbed to life, motors fired up, gears spun and suddenly the propellers swished into motion. The ship tugged at the lines until someone pulled a lever on the left side, releasing them with a jarring shudder. At last free, they swept into the skies beyond the towers above Old Kuala Lum, facing the endless jungles of the southeast.
"Rockets, rockets!" he roared next, scrambling to his feet.
Suddenly, a sound like a raging waterfall erupted into being around them, and all were thrown backwards as the craft leapt forwards in the air. Aadesh slid back against the cabin and held tight against the side as the force pushed them very swiftly forwards.
"What are rockets?" asked Aadesh, shouting over the raging of the air around them. As the force subsided, he at last pulled himself to his feet.
"Fuel that burns fast and hard to get us out of trouble. But that only bought us some time, it will catch up with us again."
"How can it catch up with us when we are flying?"
"It has wings folded up along its back. I saw it before several days ago. Now I know what it is. Or rather I know what its purpose is."
The words had no sooner left Captain Philip's mouth when the steel creature swept down below the airship's envelope and into view just behind them, flapping and straining desperately to catch up with them. Though now they sped away from it, the rockets were dwindling and their speed declining.
"Indeed, a brief boost for us, nothing more. The beast now approaches..." said someone nearby, a man with a deep voice and a strange accent. "So it will catch up again ... What will we do then?"
Philip gestured to one of his men who ran below and reappeared a moment later with a long staff. Philip took it and started adjusting switches on it. Soon one end of it was lit up. Aadesh suddenly recognized the ancient device; a gun from the myths of old.
Philip moved himself to a position where he could see the monster better and readied the weapon. Though their speed dwindled slowly, a great distance now stood between them and the metal contraption. So much so that it now sat above the horizon looking no more sinister than a bird. Its wings flapped hard and fast, driving it forwards, but it seemed like a bird and no more, all detail and the sinister malice of it lost. The undefined flapping shape remained poised just above the horizon, and it seemed for a moment that they might lose it in the infinity of the sky, but it grew darker and larger again as it caught up with them.
Philip sighed and took aim. The creature drew closer and began to bob and dive swiftly, as if it was trying to dodge Philip and his gun.
Aadesh realized that it must have amazing eyesight to be able to see so far. Philip had not yet fired a shot, and yet it knew he was taking aim. He knew also that the scope on the gun allowed Philip to target the monster so far away. Like everyone, he had heard stories about the guns of old; guns that could kill a man from miles away. So he watched now, enthralled as a dance unfurled between Philip and the monster. The creature spiraled in the air, its powerful wings pulling it closer to them with every stroke. Soon it had grown so close, they could make out its eyes, shining red, intent upon them, and a great urgency seemed to fall upon the crew. Yet Philip never wavered, never took his aim off it.
Philip fired. The shot missed.
The creature spiraled and plunged down below his view, down below the aft rail. Winding the strap of the weapon around his arm, he ran to the very back of the ship and took aim leaning over the rail.
Aadesh followed and watched as Philip took another shot, concentration on his face, eyes glowing red from the eerie light of the gun's sight. A green bolt shot from the gun and struck the speck in the distance. The speck wheeled for a moment and plummeted towards the ground.
A cheer went up amongst the crew who all watched as it fell, and cheered again when it crashed into the ground. Once the show finished, each left to return to their duties, leaving only Philip gazing over the back rail in quiet contemplation.