Some time ago.
The water was dark. That was to be expected really, for it was always dark on the Unterzee. Peaceful too, sometimes, Aylen thought to herself as the chop of the steamer stirred up the water behind them. It would be easy for her to be pushed over the edge of this railing she was leaning on, her thoughts continued, almost as easy as it would be to jump. With a flick of her head, she dispels the musing- it was not something to dwell on. Especially since she knew what was in those peaceful waters. Things decidedly less peaceful. She considered her current journey, instead. Working for passage on a merchant ship, currently transporting ivory from the Chelonate to Polythreme. It wasn’t pleasant, with the stench of the carrion-city as it was, and the very existence of Polythreme as it is, full of screaming and unfortunate existence.
But it was work. Honest work, away from so many prying eyes, away from devils and spies and the intrigues of Fallen London and the Echo Bazaar. And it was simple work, hard work. Muscles were starting to show through, Aylen noted. Working the ship and lugging bone was enough to do it, she supposed. And fending off the occasional errant Zee-creature, which was dangerous. But, as much as she might deny it, it was fun. Especially fighting Zee-creatures, that part she expected might be something to do with the Windwright stirring up trouble inside her, and in the Zee.
And on the note of trouble, she spied something on the horizon; something glowing red and orange and spreading a sinister light across the waveless Zee. Fire. Smoke too, by the gaps in the flames. The ship steamed on, and the shout went up from another crew member. There was a swift debate between a Churlish Gunner and a Rheumy-Eyed Boatswain, before the captain barked an order- it was their duty to help them, if they could. So away they went, steaming most of the way before sending a few crewmembers off towards the ship, still alight.
Aylen wasn’t the first to volunteer, but she was the third out of a crew of twenty-eight, which she thought made her at least a little bit heroic. Her hand touched at the revolver strapped to her thigh, thumbing over the hammer ever so softly, not wanting to actually cock the thing while it was still pointed at the bottom of their little boat. It was more than enough to kill most things that moved, and she didn’t want to think about what it might do to hull.
Finally, after what felt like an age of rowing, they reached the now smoldering wreck. Perhaps wreck was the wrong word, as it was still afloat, somehow, with what looked like two figures with a bucket and a rope, filling it with Zee water to throw over the fires. The Churlish Gunner let out a yell to them- she’d been the first to argue to take a look, ostensibly to see if anyone survived, and she’d been first to volunteer. Aylen harboured a suspicion she just wanted to loot.
"Ho there! D' ya need help?"
The two figures stopped, the bucket still halfway along the hull, sloshing a little from the sudden pause in movement. After a few muttered words between the two, carried across the water, one of them took a few steps across the oddly curved top of the ship.
"Most of the work’s done, we won’t be more than a few minutes setting off, surely."
The man could be seen more easily by the glim light now, as a Wistful Caulker held the iron-framed lantern to him. Though he didn’t sound like a zailor, he looked at least slightly like it, with his oil-stained jacket and goggles affixed to his forehead, short hair slicked back.
"Ye’ sure ‘bout that? Tha’ thing’s still on fire!"
"We were putting it out just fine."
"Why’s yer ship all round?"
"Because it’s not a ship!"
Aylen let out a sigh, rubbing at her eyes, before talking to the Gunner.
"It’s a Zubmarine. Goes under the Zee."
The Gunner and the stranger both stared at her, and she furrowed her brow.
"What? I heard about 'em while I was in the Regiment. Where’re you headed?"
The stranger took a moment to compose himself, looking her up and down through narrowed eyes.
"Hideaway, came from Scrimshander. Don’t suppose you heard about those in "the Regiment"?"
The Caulker finally got a word in.
"…You’re from the Khanate, right? We both know you aren’t meant to be there. Neither are we."
With a stroke of his short, neat beard, the stranger nodded. Behind him, the other figure got back to work putting out fires.
"True enough. I know how you zailors feel about the Agreement of Nothing of Consequence.
There’s a general grumbling of assent among the zailors on the little boat. And then Aylen calls out again.
"Got any spare room on your zub?"
Once again, there’s some staring at her, and she just gave a shrug of her shoulders. The stranger scratched his cheek.
"Ever come eye-to-spine with a Fluke? Ever seen a Neither devour your crew and vanish into nothing? Do you even know what a Constant Companion is? Deep under the Zee is a lot scarier and a lot more dangerous, believe me."
There’s yet more staring, before the Khaganian relented.
"You’re an idiot. But we’re in need of crew."
He motioned to his companion, who shifted the bucket and rope over to her, to help her up to the top of the zubmarine. And so up she clambered, before giving a wave to the bewildered crew of her former vessel, and headed out of view below the decks. The Caulker and the Gunner shared a look.
"Cap’n won’t be likin’ that. Weren’t she on contract?"
"Oh. Bugger it, then. Let’s jus’ start rowin’, it’s a ways back."
And so, the young Lieutenant Aylen Saqui began her adventures below the waves. In a creaking, flaming zubmarine, brought aboard by a Khaganian.
edited by EmberAshe on 8/24/2016