Though the sky was dotted with slim, feathery clouds, the winds were slight. Perfect flight weather. DaLynn hefted her cloak, threw it over her arm, and strode aboard the Indomitable, the gangplank bouncing with each step.
The Indomitable was a rare military vessel, built huge and well armoured. It’s wide hull and curved keel was studded in crystal arrays designed to catch the Resonance and assist with the basic lift. In the dawns early light, they sparkled with promise, catching the light and reflecting it in thousands of tiny rainbows. six huge turbines lined the vessel, three on each side, whirring with a steady drone to provide lift and propulsion. Finally, seven fins, Resonance Vanes, sprouted from the deck, each one as tall as a mast, but with feathered metallic spines that waved in a different breeze to that which moved the clouds above. They danced upon the currents of Resonance.
As she reached the deck, she smiled at how quickly the sailors had stowed the supplies and prepared the deck; all the goods too large to store below deck had been secured, including the spear-casters and bolters. A small group of deck-hands secured the final one, drawing a large canvas sheet over the brass and clockwork devices, carefully securing it with elastic cord. As they neatened it up, they moved to the Resonance Vanes, checking them with curious instruments that looked like tuning forks.
DaLynn found her own hand drifting the the tools hanging from her belt. A part of her wanted to check the Vanes herself; to measure their receptivity and the transfer of energy from each vane to the gravity arrays on the keel of the ship. Yet that was a simple task better suited for the sailors and it wouldn’t do to seem as though she didn’t trust their ability. Her responsibilities would come later in tuning the turbines and aligning the arrays. Still, she made her way over and stood, smiling at the efforts of the sailors and offering a few words of advice and confirmation. It was always a good idea to get to know a new crew as soon as possible.
As expected, the Vanes were fine. The sailors offered a few words of welcome, then set about their next task, some seeming a little awkward. One of them even gave her a look she’d suffered most of her own life; one that reminded her that she was a woman in a profession full of men.
After this, she checked her cabin next to the captains and made sure that all her equipment was present. It was a good sized quarters with glass windows that faced out the portsied of the ship. The view was breath-taking as she looked out across the Corynth cliff side docks and the crystal blue waters of the Crater. The interior was wooden, varnished and sometimes cushioned, with a feather bed.
As she checked her trunk, she felt the ship begin to lift and ducked back outside to see the sailors untying from the dock as a group of thirty marines marched aboard. At their head strode an Illuminated, a tall woman dressed in loose and flowing silks and damask. He shoulders were covered in laquered plates, whilst a similar skirt protected her legs. Curiously, she wore no armour on her chest. Like all Illuminated, her hair was long, tied in a fierce braid with numerous crystals and metal hoops tied within. A slim sword sat on her hips, it’s hilt wrapped in a red scarf and detailed with slender golden stitching. As the troops made it to the deck, she turned and addressed them, her commands lost in the roar of the engines as the ship took off. The marines saluted, then turned and made their way below deck, whilst the Illuminated strode towards the rear of the vessel where DaLynn now stood.
The Indomitable wheeled as it took off, gently rising into the brilliant blue sky. The spires of Corynth slipped past, each ending in a slim point, often decked with a flowing white pendant. As the ship rose into the Resonance, the engines slowed as the crystal arrays on the keel began to take on some of the lift. DaLynn watched as the steersman adjusted his wheel and began to ease the ship forward. The six turbines slowly tilted, with the ones at the rear doing so most of all; this began to push the ship forward, gently at first, then with more speed as the engines tipped further. The Vanes on deck began to dance, unfurling the metal almost unnaturally to catch the current. There was something curiously organic in the way they did so.
Watching with a careful eye, checking to make sure all the clockwork machinery was working at it’s optimum capacity, she did not notice the Illuminated who had reached her. DaLynn started when she heard the woman utter something, then blushed. “I’m sorry?” she blustered.
The Illuminated seemed to smile slightly, almost as if amused, “It’s no bother,” she purred, “I simply asked if you were the Engineer aboard ship?”
DaLynn squirmed uncomfortably inside, struggling to keep from giving away her discomfort at the question, “No,” she began, “at least, not the Engineer; an Engineer. The Indomitable is such a large ship that it requires three.” She paused, not sure whether or not to add the next part, but the Illuminated seemed expectant, “I’m simply the Third; here in case of emergencies.” In admitting it, DaLynn felt the usual sense of worthlessness creep over her, a feeling that had dogged her since her academy days.
“Still,” the Illuminated moved next to her, turning to regard the deck of the ship and watch the sailors going about their tasks, “For one so young to be the Third engineer on the flagship Indomitable; that’s very impressive, young lady. What’s your name? I might have heard of you?”
DaLynn’s momentary sense of pride at the compliment died. “DaLynn,” she began, “DaLynn Lowlands.”
The Illuminated hid her surprise well, with a tight smile that simply tugged at the corners of her lips. “Curiouser and curiouser. Once I am settled, you simply must tell me how you came to reach this station. It must be a very interesting tale.” The Illuminated smiled, though without as much genuine feeling as before, and strode away.
At least her reaction was polite.
The air was growing colder as they ascended. Tugging her cloak around her shoulders, DaLynn made her way to the steersman, looking for the captain and the other officers, fighting the feeling that she wasn’t good enough to be with them. As she strode towards a close knit of well dressed nobles, she pondered her own attire; a simple white blouse tied at the neck with a slim crimson scarf, with tweed trousers tucked into tall boots and surrounded by a short bustle skirt made of the same material. Around her chest she wore her Jho corset, a garment required by all Engineers. It was studded with crystals, designed to catch in the Resonance if she fell from the ship. The men wore theirs as a series of straps and harnesses, which was unseemly for a woman. Instead, they wore tight fitting corsets. Hanging from her waist was her tool belt, complete with an Engineers basic set, whilst a pair of brass goggles sat on her brow, nestled just in front of her black hair, tied into a practical bun.
The Officers wore a selection of silks, tweed and Arabash cotton, often detailed with their Lordling house or Institute affiliations. All she wore was the Engineer Institute badge on her breast and a Choir ribbon tied just below – the mark of a registered Airship Engineer. Though she was proud of her achievements, her low birth would always set her apart from these people.
A fellow Engineer – she guessed the First – noticed her as she approached. He was a barrel chested man wearing stained overalls and the Jho harness over the top. He had a Resonance Tuner in his hands, having clearly been at work before he joined the other officers. The man was old, probably in his forties or fifties, and sported a large bushy moustache and beard, his hair thinning on his head. The man smiled when he saw her and beckoned her close, raising a hand to her shoulder to guide her into the group. His easy demeanour and friendly gesture made him instantly likeable.
“You must be DaLynn,” he boomed, his voice almost a solid blow, “I should make my introductions.” He puffed himself up, smilin gin false bravado as he did so, “I am Tomas Verinal, First Engineer,” he indicated his own Institute badge, “and that old curmudgeon over there is Feddin Gamgin, our second.” the man he indicated was a wiry, sour looking man with slim spectacles and short cropped hair. “The dashing gentleman there is our navigator, Meander Nash,” the handsome man simply smiled and nodded, making himself effortlessly more attractive. DaLynn tried not to blush. “This is Gavin Jaenter, our First Mate,” the man was short, but well built, with wiry scars and a fierce eye, Tomas then swept his hand to include the most finely dressed officer, a tall man with swept back hair in the latest styles, his features strong and sure. “and this last gentleman is our captain, Dandarous Sevinter.”
A Monarch! DaLynn fought a sweeping lack of confidence and stammered her greeting, panicking momentarily about the correct way to do it. “Your Honesty,” she curtsied, “May the day bring you joy.” She had no idea that a member of one of the old noble houses would be aboard; she had thought the captain was an ex-naval marine from Easthold.
The captain smirked, showing pristine white teeth. “You can tell she’s new,” he said, his accent thick; each word perfectly pronounced, “I suppose I should enjoy it; I’m certain it won’t be long before she makes me the brunt of her jests like the rest of you.”
A friendly ripple of laughter made the rounds and DaLynn couldn’t help but grin despite herself, feeling some of her earlier worry vanish. Only the Second Engineer failed to laugh. He seemed fit to ruin the moment.
“Your Honesty,” he began, “She is lowborn. The girl is required to speak to you in such a way.”
The laughter slowed and her heart sank. The other officers looked at her differently, their opinion’s suddenly changing. Only the captain remained indifferent. “The Institute thinks she’s worthy,” he replied, “That’s good enough for me. Mr Gamgin, please check that the Vanes are operating at their maximum.”
An uncomfortable hush settled over the officers as Feddin strode towards the deck. As he past, he shot DaLynn a look that she was all too familiar with; he would remember this slight, despite her having done nothing, The others stood for a moment before Tomas slapped his meaty hand down on her shoulder once again.
“Come on, girl,” he rumbled, “Can’t stand around when there’s work to be done. If we finish soon, we can take a rest and you can tell me about the Institute. Does old Gnasher still teach Physics?”
At least she’d made a friend.
The voyage was a short one; they were travelling to a northern frontier town to retrieve beleaguered officers from a battlefield. They’d received the missive via Heliocode only a few hours before and had scrambled the crew for flight. The place was less than 100 leagues from the city, though it sat on the edge of the Resonance, and the journey would be less than two days by airship.
It was a matter of some gossip amongst the crew. Use of a military airship was heavily restricted to only the most urgent or necessary of situations. Men were not simply transported from one place to another; not when the Lordlings and Monarchs were responsible for their own territories and autonomous from the Republic in matters of war. Usually airships were only drafted in if the matter required haste or in the protection of a threatened Resonance Node. Or if an Illuminated was involved.
The woman’s name was Uwan Hysho. The captain said it was a name from before the Sundering, a name in the old tongue. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he felt that it was made up of the words “stern” and “humour”. How those two worked together, he couldn’t guess. When she asked, DaLynn was told that the Illuminated abandoned their own names after they were inaugurated and adopted titles that better reflected their personalities. Her mere presence on board made heads turn and tongues loose; the men were clearly concerned by her being on board.
The dawning light was making DaLynn introspective. The day’s journey yesterday had been wonderfully uneventful; the ship had run without a hitch. The engines had been wonderfully well behaved, with only minor adjustments needed to correct and realign the turbines and crystals when they passed from Node Sphere to Node Sphere, recalibrating them to match the harmonics of each echo. Easy work. All it required was a knowledge of each node’s frequency and a brief moment with straightforward tools to correct the turbines, vanes and arrays. With three of them, the jobs were accomplished in very little time, allowing her almost a full day with very little to do. It was very different from the flights she had been on previously as the only Engineer aboard ship, where she seemed constantly busy monitoring and correcting the engines. It was clear that these were newer, well-maintained systems.
The northern bluffs of Corynth, with the Crater’s Ocean washing against their craggy walls, had quickly given way to the Corynth Range, a collection of treacherous mountains and ravines. These rock formations were young, barely three hundred years old, created when the Sundering blew a hole in the lands and left the Rim behind. As the mountain range thinned, the land became greener, dotted with rockfall and outcropping, then dense forest. This land, known as the Northern Frontier, was home to the Pioneers; minor Lordlings who were carving land from the Outlander tribes that had settled here. As they expanded outward, they erected Nodes so that the Resonance was echoed into these lands, making them a part of the Rim. As the day moved on, villages, farmsteads and the occasional market town, complete with walls and some stone buildings, appeared like milestones amongst the valleys and soft, green hillsides. Beaten paths and muddied roads bound the farmers fields and villages together, sometimes sporting travelling farmhands and the occasional cart or wagon.
The forests began to thin as the afternoon dwindled, making way for open steppes and bleached plains. Spring had blessed the grasslands with vibrant fields of colour, from rich red swathes of poppy to deep violet washes of bluebell. DaLynn spent many lingering moments regarding the displays, delicately squeezed between her intense work schedule. As night fell, she took up her evening watch, thankful that she could avoid a dinner with the other officers. Since the morning’s awkwardness, she had felt a growing discomfort from the other enlisted men and she could swear she felt them looking down their noses at her. Being of such a low birth, so low that she lacked a family name, made her almost worthless alongside the others. As a woman, this was made even worse; there was only so far she could advance and she could never own property or land. Her low birth negated any marriage prospects, even with her astounding qualifications. In fact, her youth often worked against her;many other engineers resented that she had earn’t her qualifications before many of them had even passed their entrance exams.
At least Tomas seemed to overlook it. The big bear of a man seemed friendly toward everyone, always equipped with a good word to lift spirits and brighten moods. Often he had beaten her to her posts, completing her analysis before her, then taking the opportunity to chat with her and ask her questions about her tasks. It made her feel like he was testing her knowledge and abilities, though to what reason, she wasn’t aware. A small part of her suspected that he didn’t trust her, but he seemed to genuine and too warm to be that kind of person.
With a soft sigh, she rubbed her eyes and chided herself for being paranoid. It was almost time for Feddin to relieve her so that she could get some sleep; she’d been on her feet since dawn the previous day and she needed rest. Yet, the sun rising over the distant northern peaks was breath-taking, casting golden rays of light into the skudding clouds, turning them a rich, brilliant crimson, promising rain later. In the sky, amongst the clouds, it seemed as if the world was a scarlet flare. The light spread out over the green canopy, lighting up the swathes of mist that billowed beneath the leaves and into the recesses of the valley. DaLynn allowed herself a brief moment to breathe and calm down, whilst enjoying the spectacle.
“Feddin is being troublesome,” came a woman’s voice, “He’s taking his time to stretch out your watch.” DaLynn turned to find Uwan Hysho approaching. The woman had removed her strange armour and wore a simple combination of a navy silk blouse and heavy cotton trousers; loose and wide legged like all Illuminated wore. Her hair was plaited in an immense braid that hung as low as the small of her back, ending in a sharp steel spike that curled from left to right as she walked. Her features were well defined, yet soft and without agenda. Her eyes were a brilliant icey blue.
“It doesn’t matter,” DaLynn replied, awkwardly, “I don’t mind.”
Uwan smiled, waiting until she replied, leaving an unnaturally long, pregnant pause. “You should. They will force you to be lowborn, if you let them.”
“I am lowborn.”
Another pause; another wry smile. “Indeed you are. Yet, aren’t you also an Engineer of the Institute? Aren’t you also remarkably young to have graduated? Aren’t you currently Third Engineer on the military flagship of Corynth’s aerial navy?” DaLynn stayed silent. Even when the words were complimentary, she knew a lesson from her betters when she heard one. “Well, perhaps it’s too late. Perhaps you have decided that you are, actually, lowborn. I once again wonder how you built up the motivation and ambition to put yourself through the Institute.” The smile returned, as if the woman was playing a game.
DaLynn considered her reply. How could she explain to the woman what her life had been like, living in the Clefts along with the other disenfranchised children? How could she explain that her father could have been one of a hundred men who her mother had been with, or the methods that her mother used to put food on the table? How could she explain that her motivation was to flee the life she had been born into. That every day when she woke in her small cabins and donned her Engineers uniform she thanked all the Virtues that she had been given this chance. Her motivation each and every day was to survive.
One didn’t last long when they made themselves too visible.
Luckily, she was saved from replying by the arrival of Feddin, who sauntered across the deck and pointedly greeted the Illuminated before ignoring DaLynn. “A pleasure,” he slurred, “I do regret not having time to speak with you further, but I must check to make sure that the ships systems haven’t fallen into disrepair in my absence.” DaLynn cringed at the unsubtle derision.
Uwan raised an eyebrow, her earlier grin long gone. She gave Feddin another of her long pauses before she replied. “I am thankful. I would hate to waste time listening to the prattle of one so bigotted, nor so ignorant. I can imagine my own intelligence would be damaged by exposure to your petty views.”
Uwan continued; “As for your treatment of your fellow officers, I have only this to say; should I hear of you being so grotesquely rude in future, I shall make it my personal quest to remove one of your appendages. I’ll be fair and make it one you rarely use. Your cock, for example?”
Feddin didn’t even speak. He choked several times, then bowed obsequiously whilst retreating to take care of some minor business. Uwan turned to DaLynn with her usual, sly smile. “There,” she began, “If you want to be treated with respect, you must reach out and take it. Otherwise they will walk all over you, noit only for being lowborn, but also for being a woman.” With that, she made her way to the prow of the ship.
DaLynn watched her with astonishment, half giddy with joy at seeing something so satisfying, yet half lamenting what had just occurred; Feddin would remember this insult and return it ten-fold, as he’d proven by turning up late after this morning’s debacle. Next time woudl be much worse. She would have to be very careful around him and not give him the chance to take his vengeance.
With weary, all too familiar thoughts, she stumbled to her cabin and collapsed, still fully dressed.