The L.Z. Frühlingshuhn descended from the clouds toward Royal Tybalt Hall, the top stories of which had been converted ten years earlier to a dirigible port. From the great window on the observation deck, Senta Bly watched as Brech City slid by below her. The buildings all looked like toy models of themselves. The boats in the Thiss and the carriages on the streets likewise looked like the playthings of children. It was a sight well worth the cost of a ticket, even without the three-day voyage from Bangdorf.
“It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”
She turned to Kieran Baxter, who was sitting in one of the comfortable lounge chairs bouncing the baby on his knee.
“I never get tired of it,” she said.
“Funny, I wouldn’t think it would be that impressive to you… what with you being able to fly and everything.”
“Who said I could fly?”
She shrugged. “Sort of.”
“I knew it,” he said, hopping easily to his feet, still holding the child. He stopped next to the sorceress. “Look. You can see right into the courtyard of Palace Eidenia. I always wanted to look in there. I expected piles of treasure or something equally grand.”
“Looks like they’re storing old trolley cars in there,” said Senta. “Quite the let-down, I’ll bet.”
“It always is when your fantasies meet your realities. They just don’t hold up.”
She leaned in close to him. Her hot breath reached his cheek and the side of his neck.
“Perhaps not in all cases,” he said.
The ship glided lower, turning so that Palace Eidenia was no longer visible. Instead they had a splendid view of the Palace of Ansegdniss, for 250 years the meeting place of the Parliament of Greater Brechalon. The buildings below became larger and larger until suddenly they stopped being toys and became real full-sized structures. The dirigible slowed to a stop and at last all they could see was the roof of Royal Tybalt Hall.
Though they had packed those belongings that had been in use during their three-day journey, Senta was in no mood to join the ranks of those passengers rushing to get out. So she and Baxter continued to sit in the lounge for another hour. He let the baby crawl a bit on the floor, though he didn’t allow her to get far, and she couldn’t have in any case. Finally with him carrying little Senta and the sorceress carrying the animal carrier, they walked down the gangway, followed by two stewards with the luggage. Quickly procuring a cab, they were on their way to The Clarkson House.
The Clarkson House was Brech City’s finest hotel. It reigned over Avenue Boar with all the opulence of Palace Eidenia—more now that they had seen the old trolleys stored in the latter. Once at the hotel they stepped across the black and white chessboard-like floor of the palatial lobby, past the gilded furnishings beneath the crystal chandeliers. To Senta, who had stayed at the Clarkson for several weeks before traveling to Freedonia, and who had in fact given birth to her daughter there, it almost seemed like returning home. It cemented in her mind the decision she had already made.
When they were safely settled in the imperial suite, Senta let the little dragon out of the carrier. It immediately ran toward the baby.
“Back off you,” said Baxter, protectively pulling the child away.
“Good baby,” said the dragon.
“Kafira’s twat. The bloody thing talks.”
“Yes, well, it’s about time that,” said Senta, opening the balcony door and looking at the beast. “Go find yourself something to eat. There are thousands of flying reptiles in this city that no one will miss.”
The creature took one bounce and was out the door—a coral-colored blur.
“You expected it to start speaking,” said Baxter. “I take it your found out something in the library at Bangdorf.”
“I found exactly nothing.” She turned to her companion. “Have you decided if you are going to come with me to Birmisia?”
“I thought I didn’t have to decide for a while.”
“It seems you do.” She waved her hand behind her and the several dozen buttons on the back of her dress unfastened themselves. “I’ve decided it’s time to go home.” She stepped out of the dress. “I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I do.”
“Do you mean you miss him?”
She stepped toward him. He sat the baby on the rug. The dress flew of its own accord to the dressing room.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
“No I don’t. There’s a good reason for that. You haven’t told me anything.” Baxter crossed his arms. “I didn’t press you about it, but I have to know where I stand before I decide if I’m going to Birmisia Colony or not. I have to understand whether…”
“Whether you have me or not?” She snaked her arms around his shoulders. He uncrossed his arms and placed them on her waist, though he could feel nothing except the bones of her corset. “You have me for as long as you want me. It probably won’t be long. There are many beautiful women in Port Dechantagne. You’ll throw me over for one of them, I’m sure.”
“Unlikely. But I have to know…”
“I was very much in love,” said Senta. “But he died, years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever love like that again, but I do care about you.”
“What about the child’s father?”
“He’s in Birmisia. I’m not in love with him. Even if I was, he’s not available.”
“What if he was?”
“I said I’m not in love with him.”
“You also as much as said you’re not in love with me. What if he was available?”
“Do you want me to tell you the truth or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?”
“I guess that’s my answer,” he said, reaching up and pulling her arms from around his neck.
He started to step away, when she grabbed the front of his shirt with her left hand and stuck her right index finger in front of his face. It was a gesture that would have caused more than a few men to soil themselves. He simply raised an eyebrow.