I studied the sky the night before this started, and received a vision – of a crowd and a ribbon and a great Beran city and a girl with a lisp singing the national anthem, of great danger among many little details. I told Thava and Betty and Pantera the next morning, because what use are visions if they aren’t shared? Perhaps this time it would be useful.
As too often happens, however, the vision was clear only in retrospect. The crowd was because we were assigned, like half the rest of the Constabulary, to work as security for the launch of the Coaltongue. Of course there were malcontents who wanted to somehow ruin it, but it was Thava and Betty who had the most luck tracking them down. We caught a small conspiracy of Dockers, of which one was standing under a tree with a ribbon, and one was watching a girl with a lisp sing, and one was in a store, studying a map of the Beran city of my vision. The others were gracious and didn’t tease me at all, but it was still frustrating. There are times when I feel like my faith in the great smith who placed the stars in the sky is more direct help to me than all the confused instruction I got from the Skyseers.
Our reward for doing a good job was another job, as the proverb says. We were to be allowed to mingle at the party that accompanied the launch, while still serving as security. There were those who did not approve of this new technology, after all, and we were particularly warned against the Duchess, the King’s sister. We were to keep our heads down, and not talk to any nobles who hadn’t talked to us first.
Naturally, the Duchess sought us out – or rather, her elven handmaiden (whom Pantera said was actually Eladrin) did. The Duchess wanted a private room, some place to rest from the crush of the crowd during the party. That was easy enough to find, and it was pleasant to talk with the Duchess for a little while. It’s so rare now to encounter someone who genuinely believes in the Skyseers. Unfortunately, the Duchess was also quite blatant about not believing in the power of steam, despite the proof of its strength rumbling under her feet, and warned us all quite seriously not to be swept away by her brother constantly talking about ‘progress.’
(Meanwhile, Pantera was trying to talk with the handmaiden – Pan is rumored to follow the path of the Vekeshi mystics, and I saw for myself she was fascinated to talk to an actual Eladrin. Unfortunately, the woman obstinately clung to the claim that she was merely elven, and please just leave her alone, to the point where the Duchess interfered. In retrospect, I’m not sure what we could have done differently – we couldn’t have arrested the handmaiden without causing a scene, and for what? We had no proof of anything beyond, perhaps, that she was Eladrin, and that’s not a crime. But I still wish that we’d listened to Pan and done something, even if I don’t know what.)
The party was quite pleasant, although we didn’t really talk with anyone. Captain Smith was there, debating philosophy with a dwarf (the Captain, was, of course, arguing Millerite philosophy, while his companion was backing Eschatol), and I believe Betty had the chance to flirt with the engineer who designed and helped build the Coaltongue. I don’t know whether she learned anything: she has an active interest in mechanics, but an equally active interest in sex, and it’s anyone’s guess which side will win out when she has an attractive engineer at her disposal.
We toured the ship, since we had the opportunity, and I’m glad we did. Part of that is because the Coaltongue is a true accomplishment, beautifully made regardless of one’s opinion on steam power, and part of that is because of what we learned that we were able to later use. The gun deck, for example, has three rooms that hold explosive powder, that will not explode by any accident because of the power of the charms hung from their walls. And down in the engine room, the great furnace must be constantly fed with fire gems, or else the ship is dead in the water. We chatted with the guard on duty by the great cannon, who seemed so proud of the deadly power next to her, as if it were all hers, and Betty found a more cooperative target in one of the young engineers who was feeding fire gems to the furnace, despite his colleagues teasing him about shirking his share of the work. And then we headed back upstairs, because it was nearly time for the king to give his speech.
The king spoke, and the ship was launched, and off we went on our short little voyage to the entrance of the harbor. Unfortunately, there had been one face noticeably missing: the Duchess. So off we four went to knock at her door.
She wasn’t in. She was sleeping, the handmaiden claimed, but her voice was distant, as if across the room. We broke down the door, and found the handmaiden half out the window, and the Duchess nowhere to be found. There were signs and sigils upon the ground, indicating that someone had done a fire ritual in the room.
From there, my memory grows hazy. There was a Halfling in the room that we hadn’t even seen, who tried to kill us and was killed instead. Someone (the Eladrin, I presume) summoned fire spirits that ran toward the armory and tried to take down the spells that kept the powder from exploding, then a wall of fire to conceal her as she ran down toward the engines (which last badly hurt Betty, who had gotten too close for the Eladrin’s comfort). The guard who had boasted about the cannons was killed, by the Eladrin or one of her companions, I don’t know which. So was the engineer who had shyly flirted with Betty: his compatriots were in the pay of the Eladrin, and tried to kill us. We killed them instead, and immobilized the Eladrin, but too late: between them, they had broken the furnace and set it to overheat so it would explode and take the entire ship down with it.
Pan was the one who came up with the solution. She pulled out the amber wand that the Eladrin had been using to heat the furnace even faster, then bounded up to the armory and came back with a small armful of the anti-fire charms. That was enough to calm the furnace. It was no easy trick to get the ship back to land again – I believe they had to tow it somehow – but it was not sunk.
Our reputation has improved in the wake of this. Not that much: I’m fairly sure the senior constables believes we were nothing more than ‘lucky,’ and anyone could have done what we did. But it’s reassuring to get some respect. If nothing else, perhaps Thava will be less grumpy about how she left Ber for this.
- Magstein Astafyev