Staff stood in the observation tower, three hundred feet above the ground, and looked across Iguanodon Heath through his binoculars. The invading army had not begun to move toward the Brech defensive position, but they were there. The bulk of the lizzies were beyond the tree line, but every once in a while one would pop out, moving from place to place in the lines. He wondered if they had heard yet about their friends on the other side of Port Dechantagne. If they hadn’t, they would soon. He had just received the message by telegraph. Three thousand lizzies and that bloody great dragon defeated, and less than fifty men lost. True, one of them had been an important wizard, but it was still a favorable exchange.
Three others occupied the small covered room at the top of the three-legged structure—two colonial guardsmen, wearing khaki fatigues and pith helmets, and the sorceress Zurfina, wearing a short black leather dress and high black leather boots. She had her arms crossed and a thoughtful expression on her face.
“Did you know Wizard Bassington well?” he asked her.
“We had a history,” she said.
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“About him dying.”
“Oh yes,” she said. “I’m sure his masters in the War Ministry will be very disappointed.”
“And how do you feel about it?”
She turned toward him and cocked an eyebrow. “Is this your attempt to chat me up, Mr. Staff? Because I’m really not in the mood right now. You could come by the day after tomorrow.”
“I wasn’t trying to chat you up. You said that you and Wizard Bassington had a history. I was just expressing my condolences.”
“Well then, thank you. I do feel quite a loss. He was a gifted… man.”
“And we will probably be in the midst of battle the day after tomorrow, if we can hold them off that long.”
“Pish-posh. The day after tomorrow the lizzies and the Freedonians will all be gone, and I will be at home—all alone and naked.”
“May I ask you what you were looking so pensive about?”
“I was just wondering…”
“Fina.” The disembodied voice of Senta Bly interrupted her mistress.
“What is it, Pet?”
“I’m walking Bessemer home. They say the train is not heading your way for an hour. They want to get as many volunteers on it as possible.”
“That’s fine. Take our boy home put him in his bed. He’s going to need a good long sleep to recover. You know how dragons are.”
“Yes, I know.”
Staff waited for a moment for the sorceress to convey any additional message, but apparently the connection was severed.
“Well then,” said Zurfina. “Shall we go down?”
Without waiting for an answer, she lowered herself through the hole in the wooden floor and began climbing down the long ladder. Staff followed. When he finally reached the ground, his arms and legs felt shaky. He couldn’t imagine how a woman wearing a corset could have made it down without passing out. He looked at the sorceress appraisingly. Yes, she was wearing a corset.
“I’m feeling a little peckish,” said Zurfina. “How about you?”
“Shall we go back to your headquarters and have a bite?”