Anywhere but North

Author: David VC /

The moment I ripped the satin mask from my face, memories began to trickle in. One fact lead to another, another secret revealed to myself, more and more until I felt I was being buried again like in the sinking cockpit. I remembered growing up at the Mason Plantation on the Chesapeake. My brother and I were still only boys when our father, the Senator, resigned in disgrace as our nation ripped itself in two. He sent us to school in London to escape the chaos of war.

And then London fell.

And now I'm a doctor (and a surgeon, and a physician) in a town where some of my patients are already dead. And my brother? He was on his way to becoming an accomplished engineer, but turned into a honey-mazed fop who cavorts with poets, pamphleteers, sport-killers and redstockings!

The distant baying of a marsh-wolf shocked me back to the situation at hand. I wasn't just going to sit there and wait for the Constables to track down the wreck and clap me in irons again! Nor would I let whatever was out in the swamp turn me into a main course! But which way back to civilizaton? There was no telling in this mist! And while the shoulder bag did have the pilot's lunch inside (a mushroom pastry, delectable compared to the prisoner's gruel!), I didn't find a compass.

When one is lost in Fallen London, one feels a growing preternatural urge to tread a path to the North. This urge consumes the traveler until he is oblivious to his surroundings and quickly becomes a statistic. I devised a strategy. I noted the swath of destruction of fungi and long dead trees from the now nearly sunken ship. I made a conscious effort to follow that path. It was easy enough for the first mile or two as scraps of canvas ripped apart by the bats littered the swamp. I rolled up a particularly large swath of the heavy fabric it and slung it over my back for use as a tent or a bedroll later.

Was I making good progress when my candle finally flickered out into a smoking stub? It was very hard to tell. All I knew was that the faint glow of patches of luminescent mushrooms were my only clue to navigation through this limitless expanse of eternal night.

the escape

Author: David VC /

When he came to, he was crumpled against the aft door that once led to the prisoner's hold. One of the lanterns on the side walls was still lit. The foxfire candle inside cast dancing shadows with a green radiance in the silence. Thick mud was oozing towards him, inches away from his tattered shoes. He winced as he propped himself against the wall and rose to his feet. The stairway door on the right had ripped away in the crash, and the muck was flooding in steadily, already at knee height. The gondola was sinking into the swamp!

He removed the candle from the lantern. He pressed two fingers to the pilot's neck, No pulse. He pulled the shoulder bag off the pilot and secured it, and with a swift tug he pulled the shiv from the man's eye socket. The guard with the slit throat a few paces away still had the revolver in a death grip. He considered holding the candle in his teeth as he pried the weapon from the dead man's fingers, but remembered what happens to mice that chew on on the green wax. He secured the candle in the pilot's mouth instead and used the shiv to pry the fingers loose. WIth a loud creak, the cockpit started listing to the side. The weight of the mud coming through the side door was pulling the ship down faster than before. Now it was waist-deep. He'd be submerged before he could crawl through that door. He shoved the pistol into the shoulder bag (which contained a newspaper, among other things) and retrieved the candle. He broke off the more jagged pieces of glass of clinging to the frame of pilot's window with the shiv, then stood on the seat and squeezed himself through.

It should have been a ten foot jump, but the gondola was now half-submerged. He landed in cluster of large, squat mushrooms that reminded him of serving plates. The fungi crumbled like wet cardboard when he landed, and he felt insects he could not see in the meager candlelight scatter over his shoes which were quickly becoming waterlogged.

Already the hot fetid mists of Bugsby's Marches made beads of sweat pool on his forehead and soak into his mask.

"The mask..."

Was it safe to remove it? Yes. He was on more-or-less solid ground. It almost seemed to fight him as he peeled it away. Over his lip, it was especially painful. He wrapped the satin mask around the base of the candle to keep the wax from dripping onto his hand.

He caught his reflection in a pool of murky water by the ship, the smooth surface rippling softly as the swamp claimed the gondola. What part of his face wasn't caked in mud? He saw Brown hair. A matted mess of a mustache in bad need of a waxing - no wonder it hurt to peel that damned mask off! Yes, under the mask his face was clear. eyes...blue? Not brown... A snake's outline undulated through his reflection, and he wisely backed away.

There. Now his memories were returning. His name was...Darien. Darien Mason. Doctor Mason.

And this is my story.

excess baggage

Author: David VC / Labels: ,

The prisoner's attention shifted to a small vial of mercury dangling from a brass bar, hinged to the airship's console by iron brackets. It was swinging steadily forwards. Then to the steering column. It was risen to the level of his head, when before it was level with his waist. He wrapped his aching arms around the column's bars as tightly as he could and pushed downwards with all his weight. He grunted and grit his teeth from the effort. He stared at the vial as he did so. With agonizing slowness the bulbous end of the vial began to pull back towards him.

He looked down. Under his seat was a long metal bar, painted red with EMERGENCY dabbed across it in black letters. He leaned back, still wrestling with the column, finally able to feel it with his toes. He stamped down hard on the bar. There was a jolt in the machinery beneath the floorboards. A series of clicks. The balance measure trembled and swung closer a few more precious degrees.

He felt the howling winds in the cockpit become less violent. The front window was blown through and the cockpit ladder was kicked forward and broken! But now the wind was going straight behind him? A quick glance...

"Those BASTARDS!"

Beyond the cockpit's rear door was only the night sky and a glimpse of the underside of the airbag. The emergency pedal had jettisoned the entire prisoner's hold and all the victims inside it! Was this the guardsmen's answer to an "Emergency?" Hide in the cockpit and drop the rioting felons into the Unterzee in one giant coffin, chains and all?

He dared to take a deep breaths again. Mist was now flooding the cockpit from the front window. The smell of decaying plants on the hot wind assaulted his nostrils.

"A swamp?"

He held onto the column as the ship's gondola ploughed into the marshes. A wave of thick mud sprayed through the front window. He shut his eyes and mouth just before the impact threw him out of his seat.

maynight! maynight!

Author: David VC / Labels: , ,

I rushed to the cabin door and shouted "DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO FLY..."

No. They were all murdered. Two rows of lifeless prisoners still chained, their mouths twisted in dying screams, their satin masks darkened by the same arterial spray that striped the filthy walls of the cabin. The second guard lay crumpled before me, his face so mutilated that I shot a look back at the other corpse and could discern which them had been my tormentor.

I rushed to the pilot's console, scouring the papers and white quill pens and sepia pictures of Constable pilots posing barrel-chested with now-widows and hollow-eyed children wrapped in lace and ribbons and dark schoolboy outfits. I was looking for a damned FLIGHT MANUAL!

"EUREKA!"

Yes, Table of Contents...Page 45...Altitude...Figure 2a...

I was two sentences into my required reading when I dropped the book, distracted by the din of the cockpit window shattering and pouring shards of glass upon me. I dared not look up, still covering my face with my bruised arms, but I knew full well what had happened. From outside I could hear the thunderous force of thousands of vulture-sized bats careening into the listing vessel, now far off-course. As deafening as lightning, then, was the savage rending of the canvas of the ship's airbag by that same flock of those accursed deadly bats!

cancelled flight

Author: David VC /

The prisoner gasped in horror into the face of the corpse that was thrown on top of him. The guard's neck was ripped open in a damp crimson curve resembling a smile. He pushed the lifeless guard's body off of him as the pilot's shots rang out in the cabin. He leapt to his feet and fell over the pilot's back. He wrapped the left arm around the pilot's eyes and jerked his pistol hand upwards at the wrist. He felt the swift current of air as a blade slashed across the pilot's neck. The victim fell through his grip to collapse on the floor.

He was gathering his breath to thank his rescuer. But the words turned to ice in his throat. His savior was in fact the man with the skeletal frame and sunken chest who had died in his arms! He was clutching a crudely sharpened bar of steel caked in layers of dried and fresh blood so tightly that the wielder's own fingers were oozing scarlet in thin lines to the floor. The prisoner somehow remembered that there should be droplets from those wounds...only corpses empty of fluid in that way!

The blood-soaked hand lifted upwards, past the torso wrapped in darkly drenched rags scorched with bullet holes to the owner's face. The velvet mask he wore was ripped away...along with the flesh beneath, exposing muscle and bone. Lidless eyes stared back at him maniacally as he raised the blade over his head, and snapped the arm downwards, hurtling the weapon towards him!

By the time he opened his eyes from flinching, he could hear the gurgling of the copilot behind him as he fell. He didn't look back at him. He wouldn't dare break his gaze from the walking corpse that shambled over the pilot to stare him down with unblinkable eyes and mauled countenance. "We shared a kill", it croaked with a voice that should never have stirred again. "I'll let you live. For as long as it matters."

The prisoner trembled as the murderer lurched past him towards the same exit that he had almost been expelled from an hour before. With an impossible reserve of strength for a broken body, he kicked the door open, ripping it free from the locks and snapping the chains to winch it back into place. He turned to the prisoner and pointed towards him with a smirk as the hot, damp wind again shook its way through the cabin.

"When you see the Boatman, tell him Jack sent you!" And with that, the figure stepped out onto the stairs without an ounce of trepidation, as he if the ship were already moored on solid ground. The winds carried him away before the prisoner could blink.

The prisoner took a moment to swallow his terror. It was then he realized that the airship was in a steep dive, and no one was left alive in the room who understood the controls.

this way to the egress

Author: David VC /

He held onto the one of the wooden stairs so tightly with his free hand that he felt as if his fingernails were ready to shatter. His other arm was pulled to its limit by the same sadistic guard, who clutched it tightly with both hands as he howled with laughter.

"It's 'alf a mile drop, Yankee!" he shouted. "Nothin' but Zee below ye!"

From behind his mask the prisoner looked up helplessly at his tormentor. At the edge of his hearing, he sensed something high-pitched, getting louder by the second.

One of the pilots placed his arm on the guards shoulder, and pointed into the blackness, shouting "BATS!" over the rising din.

The prisoner looked behind him. A swirling column of red eyes snaked in the darkness towards the ship. For a long moment, he pondered which would be the more merciful fate: to be eaten alive by the dark swarm, to plummet to whatever lay below, or endure the further brutalities of the airship.

He tugged frantically at his shackles, nearly toppling the guard onto the dangling stairs and over to throw them both into the dark expanse. The guard, however, tugged back with desperate might, assisted by the pilot. In a few seconds he was thrown to the floor again, and the wind abruptly stopped as the stairway was drawn up.

He curled up to protect his head from the flurry of kicking and stamping with an unending stream of poorly enunciated curses. He shook with fear, dreading what punishment he would endure next. His fears were surpassed as the guard pulled at his trousers.

He struggled as if it was his last chance,and managed to gouge at his eyes. He was so busy fending off the guard's hands pulling away his wrists that he didn't realize he wasn't the only one screaming until he felt a pistol pushed into his face.

"STAY DOWN!" the pilot shouted. "You!" He was shouting at the guard now. "Get in the cabin! Sounds like a riot back there!"

Again, the fumbling of the keys. The door was smashed in from the outside before it was unlocked. The mangled body of the second guard was thrown with great force over him as a pistol cracked in rapid rounds in the confines of the cabin.

...until moral improves

Author: David VC /

The burly guard pulled the prisoner upwards. The prisoner to his left quickly rose with him so the manacles would not rip at the flesh in their wrists. The now-dead prisoner at the end however was slumped over, nearly tugging the socket out of the insolent one's shoulder. He howled in agony. The guard scowled at having the extra strain to lift him up. He threw the man down, who was too disoriented to anything but wheeze and spit blood while the guard fumbled at his ring of keys to unshackle the corpse.

"You! Gimme your wrist!"

A few more clicks, and he was unshackled from the fellow unfortunate passenger that was still living. Next he felt the man's huge bicep curling around his head and crushing it under the guard's armpit.

"We're gonna 'ave some fun wi' you!"

He was dragged behind a slamming door before he could raise his arms to try and resist. He was thrown just as savagely to the floor. From where he lay he had a side view of the two pilots at the controls of the dirigible, who gave him a disinterested glance before turning back to the cockpit window.

More turning of keys. The shouting of irate pilots as a hot fetid breeze filled the previously stagnant compartment.

"You want t'go back to Hospital, eh? Why don't you FLY down yo'self?"

He was pulled to the side of the cockpit where a section of the wall was hinged and staggered to act as a stairway for boarding pilots. The wall had been unlocked and pulled down. He screamed as he was kicked down the stairs into the limitless night.

another place, another time

Author: David VC / Labels:

The ebony-furred neko in the cabin of the airship The Bloodwing's Revenge adjusted the knobs and dials and switches on the baroquely decorated console and looked up at the mists swirling within the mirror.

"Logging Dr. Mason's genetic code and chronological age at the time we departed the Steamlands for Seraph City...that should get us right where we need to..." He stopped in mid-sentence as his ears lowered in alarm at the scene that coalesced on the screen before him.

A line of prisoners in sackcloth chained in irons, secured to a filthy wooden bench. Their faces wrapped in satin masks. The men were silent, slumped in despair, save for the one at the end, his chest rising and falling in a slow gruesome rattle that broke the relentless drone of the airship in which they were secured. He collapsed in the lap of the prisoner next to him. Dark blue eyes widened as they gazed down at the man. They were both devoid of honor, devoid of identity. But something stirred in the heart of that one...

He looked up to the edge of the room, tight enough to equally qualify as a hallway. "OFFICER! This man is dying!" He shouted in an American accent. "We need to get him to a hospital immediately!"

"The prisoners shall remain silent!" Bellowed one of the two gray-uniformed guards in a rough voice, reciting an order more proper than his ordinary speech.

"Listen to the man's breathing!" The prisoner held his shuddering companion, and rose with him as far as the chains would let him. The prisoner sitting beside him looked away, desperately trying to ignore the confrontation.

"SIDDOWN! I ain't gonna ask you again!" The guard poked the man in the collarbone with his club. "If 'e dies, we dump'im once we fly up to New Newgate! Do ye wan't his servin' o' gruel or not, ye grubby wretch?"

The prisoner's voice rose with an anger and indignation betraying his pathetic state.

"Listen you half-toothed Cockney GOON! This man is in respiratory arrest! We need a small blade to open a tracheal..."

The club arced across his jaw in mid sentence, knocking him backwards onto the shoulders of the other nameless prisoners.

"Oh, Doctor Yankee thinks he's wearin' a surgeon's mask?" The guard pulled him back up by his filthy robe. "Ye won't be havin' any teeth left in yer gob to spit out when I'm don wi' ye!"


"QLIIPPOTHIC! DAD'S IN TROUBLE!"

The android slid out from the compartment where she was refitting the engines, her coveralls and the rest of her brass shell left exposed were smeared in grease. She laid down her wrench and pulled off her gloves as she leaned over the neko's shoulder and squinted at the screen.

"No, Koen. That's not..." Qlippothic looked down at Koen as her voice softened. "Not our father. Look at the dimensional coordinates." She pointed to the dials. "Sensors indicate the event you are watching is three quarters of a mile below London...and they are already airborne."

"But Qli! He's gettin' the crap kicked out of him!"

"We don't know why he's a prisoner. This Darien could be twisted and evil for all we know..."

A bell suddenly clanged furiously from inside the machine as the image of a snake faded in and out of focus, blocking the brutality on the other side, its burning eyes staring back at the neko and the android, who leaped from their seats to flip a series of wooden levers down as quickly as they could without damaging the delicate machine.

"Something's trying to intercept the transmission and break through!", Qlippothic warned.

"Engaging emergency shutoff!", shouted Koen.

The beast's hissing nearly mocked human speech. It could almost fool the listener into believing it said "PARABOLA" before the Time Window winked into small dot of light and went completely black.