Excerpt A patchwork of fields and towns passed beneath the ship, all dappled with the summer sun. Shortly after takeoff, silver, fin-like sails had unfurled from the side of the ship. They were, Cedo had been told, to catch the rays of the sun and harness their energy. The sun's power excited his Master in a way Cedo had never seen. Erus seemed to step out of the shell of mourning as he explained the properties of the unseen magic.
The airship was a flying palace, the interior spacious and filled with the trappings of the wealthy. Deep, leather chairs surrounded mahogany tables and waiters dressed in gold and red served them food and drinks. Chandeliers lined the ceiling and the walls were decked in a gold-hued wood, the long windows allowing a perfect view of all below. Other than the staff, they were the only ones aboard the ship.
Fingers brushed against his arm and gestured to the window. "You can follow the railways from here," Erus softly stated. "Some of our grandest lines and termini reside in the city of London. It is where Svenfur has taken so much of its inspiration from."
Cedo smiled, the small fragments of information warming him. Never had he heard his Master speak with such fervor, other than about his own work. To listen to him speak about the landmarks of their country made him happy, a side of Erus he had longed to see.
"Hopefully," he continued, "we shall get time to see some of the sights of the city. Tower Bridge is a wonder to behold, and as for St. Paul's cathedral, well, you must see it in person to believe in its beauty. It is well and good seeing it in the books and periodicals, but one must stand beneath its dome to truly absorb its majesty."
Sinking back into his seat, Cedo watched the world below. Watched the barely visible gray lines of the railways and the towns they happened upon. A hand gripped his waist and Erus laid his chin against Cedo's shoulder, taking in the view. Gratefully, Cedo leaned into the gentle touch, enjoying the peace and tranquility.
"London is a city like no other." Erus' words brushed his ear, warm and filled with passion. "You may be in love with Svenfur, but you will be crying for more once you have experienced an evening in London's embrace. Compared to Svenfur, she is a lady, a wonder of the night, a place who can show you a thousand sights in a matter of moments. She will overload your senses and leave you craving more."
Below them, the towns began to change, the outskirts beginning to merge into one. The dappled green of the fields slowly melted away, leaving a mass of buildings behind. Soon the buildings disappeared, the clear air becoming a swirling smog of gray. They were joined by other flying crafts, all making for the capital. Most were airships, but there were also several of the bi-wing crafts Cedo had seen in the testing facility on the Downs. They were smaller than the airships, single or twin passenger crafts, their passenger compartments open to the elements. He could not imagine that they were comfortable to fly in, especially if the weather took a turn for the worse.
As the airship began to drop, the solar sails folded away, the sun disappearing into the smog. Below them, London appeared, its vastness stretching toward to the horizon. Tall, tripodal machines soared from between the buildings, cylindrical heads moving back and forth, powerful lights scanning the skies. Large, concave metal dishes extended from flexible arms, moving with the strange looking heads.
"Whatever are they?" Cedo asked.
"Sky Searchers. They are one of the first lines of defense against an attack on the capital, looking and listening for the enemy."
They were strange and intimidating, a stark reminder of what was to come.
"Have they always been here?"
Erus gently stroked his hip, head still resting against his own. "No. They were installed several years ago, when the Dynasty began to fight within its own borders. We always knew that the war would one day come to our own shores; we just did not know when."
There was a Sky Searcher on every street, imbedded among the buildings, forever looking upward, anyone who walked among them dwarfed by the giant machines.
"Are they yours?"
He felt his Master nod. "Indeed they are. Within the coming weeks the latest model will be installed along the coast. As well as being able to spot an imminent attack, they will also be able to disable any enemy attack crafts."
"How do you identify the enemy?"
Erus chuckled. "Easily They're normally the ones coming at us at a great rate of knots."
Smiling, Cedo watched London drift below them. So many landmarks he had only heard about and many that he had yet to discover.
"In all seriousness, there are many ways to identify the enemy," Erus continued. "Their engines are different, giving off a different tone to our own. Our people on the ground, in France and Prussia and the Dynasty will be able to tell us when they are approaching. Their crafts have different markings. Most of all, we have to be alert at all hours. We listen, we watch, and we wait."
A cool terror settled over him, the terror of the unknown, the terror of what was to come and the death it would bring. Would they survive? Undoubtedly it would change all of them. How was another question.
Shifting in the deep leather seat, Cedo looked at Erus. For the first time since their return, he could study his Master's face, to see the lines which the elixir had yet to hide.
"What happened to you below ground?" he softly asked.
For a long moment, Erus stared at him, eyes glazing and unblinking as if the horrors of the past refused to die.
"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me. You would think I was lying, trying to hide the truth from you."
Placing a hand on Erus' Cedo pressed on. "Tell me. I shall believe you."