The rain pelted down on Thaddeus Winterson’s cloak, his boots sticking to the muddy trail. A leaning townhouse sinking into the surrounding countryside was the only sign of existence of his destination. The door of the tavern suddenly swung open, not one patron looked up. Thaddeus walked up to the bar and sank into a seat. “What’ll you be havin?” the bartender asked. “Information. On a group called the Celestial Assembly.” growled Thaddeus. A gold coin was passed across the grimy counter, with the greasy hand of the bartender quickly snatching the coin and pocketing it.
“If it’s information you’ll be havin, try somewhere else. One would not want to upset the ones in charge here…not unless it was worth their while.” Two more gold coins were passed across the counter, repeating the previous ritual.
“Well, it seems I just remembered some valuable information. The Celestial Assembly left for Skyrift a couple days back. And they damn made sure everyone here would remember them, and not in the good way.”
“Where did they go?” asked a calm but distressed Thaddeus.
“They headed for Skyrift. In the north. Now either leave or pay for a room.” Thaddeus reluctantly rented a room for the rest of the night, and began to think about his findings. What do The Celestial Assembly want with Skyrift? The last time we saw them, they were trying to recruit followers into their cult. How will we deal with them if they’ve gotten bigger? How long will it take to get there? New questions flew into his head before he answered the others.
Thaddeus resigned to contacting Katia, his partner on this assignment. “The Celestial Assembly is going to Skyrift.”
“Why, our latest reports had them recruiting followers to the west, not heading north.”
“I know, but my question is what if they ignore Skyrift and head towards the northern boundary? If they go there, we no longer have the authority, and they could escape forever.” “That eliminates all other options, including the one we are using now. We need an airship. You can pick me up in the morning and we can catch them at the beginning of Skyrift”. Thaddeus ended the call and closed his gauntlet, rolling over in his cloak and falling asleep.
Thaddeus woke at the sound of someone sneaking into his room. He kept his breathing calm and slow as though he was still asleep. A scratchy voice said, “Look, if we kill ‘em we won’t get caught.” A whiny voice intercepted the other with “But he’s an imperial officer. Killin’ an imperial is worth death, or worse.”
“What, can’t handle the big stuff, no wonder no one would take you back in Florin. Sittin’ in the bar, a waste of space.” The whiny voice spoke up again “Fine, but if we get caught, I’m runnin’.”
“I wouldn’t expect no less from you.” Thaddeus heard the pair creep up behind him, and Thaddeus jumped up, and pivoted his heel into the smaller one’s chest, sending him flying back into the larger thief. The larger one caught his footing and quickly recovered. They both ran at Thaddeus, not noticing the small daggers thrown from the window sinking into their necks.
Katia, Thaddeus’ friend was standing in the window. “We’re leaving. The ship is called the Silver Moon. I picked it myself. It’ll get us to our destination.” Thaddeus gasped as he looked over the breath-taking airship, its pointed prow at the beginning, curved propellers, and two turrets that graced the side of the gangway.
“This was just commissioned for use of imperial officers, and the General told me to take it. Now stop staring and get a move on.” Katia had never admired the airships as much as Thaddeus had, who had always preferred the sky to the now-forgotten land. “Let’s go.” Katia stressed as Thaddeus slowly walked up the gangway and into the deck. Thaddeus took the wheel, turned up the pressure gauges, and opened the hydrogen valves. The airship started to rise into the sky, the prow breaking through the few wispy clouds in the sky.
“We should reach Skyrift in two days. That will give us just enough time to stop them, or follow them into the north. Then we’ll be back home in time to get congratulated by commandment and sleep for a few well-earned days.” Both Thaddeus and Katia knew that being ‘congratulated’ by commandment meant a “Well Done” and a new assignment, but both wanted to get this over with soon. Especially with the graduation of Thaddeus' brother from general studies. Thaddeus faded into the much-needed sleep after Katia took control.
“Get up! I need you at the bridge!” yelled Katia, jolting Thaddeus awake and resulting in Thaddeus running to the bridge. There was a storm. The wind coming from both the north and the south had caused a hurricane. “You were on watch! Didn’t you know we were headed into a storm?” Thaddeus’ rage was interrupted by the howling of the wind, and the tear of one of the sails.
“You know I’m not good at flying. I was just supposed to watch.”
“Well look what you’ve gotten us into, now the ship is going to crash.”
“If a sail tears, we’re not far off from the entire balloon failing.” The sudden sound of the balloon ripping permeated the air, the craft suddenly dropping.
“Where are the emergency air harnesses?”
“Next to the escape door.” Thaddeus pulled Katia to the back of the airship where he pulled two long harnesses out of a cabinet. “Put this on, now.” The young officers pulled on the thick suits, and clipped on the harnesses. “On three, Jump. One. Two. Three.”
The wind sucked them out and they were in the air. “Pull the cord!” screamed a distraught Thaddeus, resulting in Katia pulling the cord next to her shoulder. The result was an earsplitting scream as two sails opened. Thanks to this, they slowly sank to the ground, whilst being thrown around by the wind. As they touched the ground, the situation dawned on them; The Silver Moon was done for. And that meant not being able to get back into the air. “Well, we survived” Katia happily said.
“We lost them. We’ll never find them now.” Thaddeus stated, all emotion lost in his voice.
“What are you talking about?”
“The Celestial Assembly. They’ve escaped” Thaddeus spat out, slowly sinking to his knees. “Don’t worry we’ll find them. Somehow.” Katia added as an afterthought.
“How long have we been walking” Katia asked, inwardly sighing at their luck. She and Thaddeus had been travelling for over a week now, the remaining supplies from the airship bundled over their shoulders. “Since this morning. I thought you would remember, you were the one who wanted to go this way.” Thaddeus snapped. He had been in a bad mood since they had left. “I have sand everywhere. Now how far away is Skyrift, and why did they put it in the middle of the desert?”
“To keep away thieves, and we have about two more days until we reach the boundary.” Katia grunted. The heat beat down on the two, killing any moisture around. “Pass me the water.”
“Here, don’t forget that we can only drink a little. We’re running out.” Katia drank a small sip of water and passed it back to Thaddeus. Katia suddenly turned her head to look at the horizon, “I see something. It looks like a town. We need water, food, and I could do with some sleep….” Katia rambled on as she started to walk towards the town. Thaddeus quickly caught up to her and tried to reason, “What if there are bandits? What if they aren’t allied to the empire?” Katia kicked Thaddeus and replied, “We can worry about that later. No one can deny we need water and food. Just... Just let’s see. I can’t go on like this anymore.”
“Fine, we will go see the town, but we need to stay cautious.”
The two reached the small settlement by midday, walking down the dirt-paved road cautiously with their weapons drawn. A small portly man walked out from the main building, his hat bobbing on his wobbly head. “Hello there! I am the mayor of this here town. We haven’t seen foreigners out here in a long time. We don’t have much, but we can replenish your food and water, or provide a safe place for you to sleep.” Thaddeus looked over the mayor, eying him with disgust. His face was covered in acid scars, and his flesh seemed as if it was rotting.
The mayor led the two into a small dome that turned out to be a small bar. “This is where you can stay. We have stores outside to replenish your supplies. Downstairs we have beds. It’s not much, but it’s all we have…” The mayor stopped talking, looked outside and quickly ran after someone. Thaddeus turned to Katia and quietly asked, “What’s the deal with the mayor? He’s awfully nervous, isn’t he?”
“I don’t know but we need supplies. I’ll make sure no one tries anything though. I’ve had enough ‘adventure’ for now, and I just want to get some sleep. In a bed. Without sand.”
“Yeah, okay. I’m going to get some food.” Thaddeus walked towards the front and turned to the bartender. “I need a room.” The bartender replied with “two silver per night.” Thaddeus gave the man four silver coins and asked about food. “What do you serve here?”
“We have water and soup.”
“What’s in the soup?”
“You don’t ask, and you won’t have to find out.”
“Fine, I want a bowl of soup with water.” Thaddeus inwardly sighed as he realized the ‘soup’ was most likely some foreign animal that was unlucky to come across the town. He sat down and picked at the small bowl passed to him, mulling over his current situation. The Celestial Assembly has probably gotten away by now. The real question is, what can we do? Thaddeus got up and walked to the rented room, thinking about what to do.
Katia had just picked up the supplies that they needed, which would help them get to Skyrift. Overall, she was feeling relieved; maybe even happy. Katia reached the door to the inn when suddenly she saw something behind her, and everything went black.
“Where am I?” Katia could only see darkness around her, and her wrists were tied to a wooden chair.
“Well. It looks like we finally have caught an imperial. You know, if we can hold you ransom, we might get some supplies. It would be nice to be able to eat more than soup.” The mayor had walked into the room, holding a torch.
“Ha! No one would pay ransom for me. I’m only a soldier, not some rich snob.” Katia inwardly hoped no one would find about her connections to the noble house, most notably being the second in line for the throne.
“Then we might just have to find a way to get rid of you. Your friend with the dark hair will have to be dealt with too, I’ll just have to find a way. But, you can provide something to the town. Maybe a public execution? Like how they do it where you’re from.”
“The only ones executed in the Empire are murders and thieves, like you.” Katia spit on the Mayor’s dirty suit, wrinkling her nose as she smelled the stench of unwashed rotten flesh wafting throughout the small room.
The mayor noted her expression, his face brightening at the prospect of causing disgust. “Oh. So now you notice. I have a condition that rots my skin if not treated regularly. The only problem is, I have run out of treatment. I was hoping that by ransoming you, I could afford to find more.” The mayor turned and walked out, his eyes shifting ever so slightly towards the chair.
“Katia, where are you?” Thaddeus was wandering the town looking for his friend and partner on this assignment. He walked towards one of the townspeople and asked, his only reply being a chuckle. Thaddeus turned, and saw a man raising a club towards his head. He ducked and kicked the bigger man’s shin, it buckling under him. Thaddeus sprinted from the courtyard, and tried to reach the gate. The metal bars slammed shut, cutting off all options of escape. As Thaddeus tried to think about what to do, an armored man rushed him, forcing him to retreat. He jumped onto a pylon hanging from the wall, and just as he was about the pull himself over, an arrow pierced his leg. “What poison is this? Why is everything fading? No. I have to get out of here. I have to help Katia. I need to…” Thaddeus fell, men swarming over him and the mayor standing in the courtyard, a smile decorating his ruined face.