Iolana, Esther, and Willa Armice stood looking out the observation window of the promenade deck as the great airship S.S. Windlass descended toward St. Ulixes, Mallontah. Below them, rapidly approaching, was the airfield. All around it, stretching out in every direction were thousands of buildings made of mud brick. They were still too high to make out the people.
“You see?” said Iolana. “It’s just as I said—dreadful.”
“It reminds me of a great ant hill or something,” said Willa. “They don’t really look like proper houses at all.”
“Very astute,” said Iolana. “Don’t worry. We won’t be staying long.”
“There you are,” said a voice behind them.
They turned to find Mrs. Nithercott in travelling clothes.
“I’ll be stepping off as soon as we land. My son will be waiting for me. I just wanted to say goodbye to you young ladies. It was a pleasure being your dining companion.”
“Thank you,” said Iolana. “Good luck.”
“Remember to look us up when you get to Birmisia,” added Esther.
“I shall,” she replied, and then turned and left.
“Shouldn’t we be getting ready too?” asked Esther.
“Everything is packed,” said Willa. “As soon as we land, we can get off.”
“And get to the train station as soon as possible,” said Iolana.
The trio did not leave the airship as soon as it landed however but stepped down the gangplank about an hour later. Even though the three females each carried suitcases, they were followed by two stewards, loaded down with luggage. Once on solid ground, they were approached by a man in a suit.
“Lady Iolana. Lady Esther. Miss.”
“Oh, Mr. Stigby, isn’t it?” observed Iolana.
“Yes. I’ve been sent to invite you to the royal yacht.”
“We were rather hoping to get right to the train station.”
“Princess Terra would very much like for you to join her for a meal, and possibly stay over one night.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if we were staying on the yacht,” said Esther.
“Perhaps not,” said Iolana. “Very well.”
“I’ve engaged a car for your luggage,” said Stigby, “but it’s honestly faster if we just walk.”
“Yes, I’ve experienced driving here,” said Iolana.
After supervising the loading of their luggage aboard the steam carriage, the four left the airfield and started through the hardened mud streets. It was immediately apparent that there was a problem. As soon as one of the trogs laid eyes upon Esther, it began flashing the crest on top of its head and letting off a loud whistling noise. Soon others of its kind began doing the same thing. The little group had gone no more than a hundred yards from the airfield when they found themselves being followed by at least a hundred trogs, flashing their fins up and down and whistling out the loud, keening sound. The crowd grew with each step. They came closer and closer, and seemed ever more menacing.
“In here,” said Stigby, directing the three females into a seedy looking tavern, and then up a rickety staircase.
“Do you think if we stay in here for a while, they’ll go away?” asked Willa.
“I doubt it,” said Stigby, looking out the window. “I think we need some help.”
He pulled a cigar from his coat pocket, and bit off the tip. Then he lit a match and began to smoke it.
“Do you think this is the time for that?” demanded Iolana.
“Oh, I do.” He took a deep puff into his lungs and then blew it out. The smoke coalesced into a ball, hovered for a second, and then disappeared.
“A magic cigar?” wondered Esther.
“Yes. For use in only the most extreme emergencies, and I think this qualifies. Now, I’m going down to make sure those trogs stay outside until reinforcements arrive.”
“I’m sorry about this,” said Esther, once he had gone.
“This is not down to you,” said Iolana. “I told you this was a horrid place. I should have foreseen something like this.”
Suddenly a loud report, that could only be a gunshot was heard on the floor below. Willa let out a squeak.
“What’s going to become of us?”
“Everything will be fine,” said Iolana, pulling a pistol from her handbag.
The door opened and she took aim at it.
“Don’t shoot, my lady,” said Stigby, sticking his head in. “It’s just me. Come downstairs. It’s safe now.”
They followed him back down the narrow stairway to find a platoon of heavily armed sailors surrounding the building. A young officer doffed his cap and bowed, though he frowned at Esther.
“Lieutenant Call, at your service, ladies.”
“Lieutenant, Lady Iolana, Lady Esther, and Miss Armice.” Stigby made the hasty introduction. “We’d like to get them safely to Sovereignty, as soon as possible.”
Lieutenant Call and Stigby guided the two women and the lizzie quickly down the street. They were surrounded on all sides by the sailors, who kept their weapons at ready. The trogs continued their whining noise and the flashing of their fins but dared not come close. In an hour, they reached the docks and the two Brech ships.
“It seems you’ve had some trouble,” said Terra, standing beside the great rope that moored H.M.S. Sovereigntyto the dock.
“Good Kafira, you’re fat!” said Esther.