By: Lillabeth B.
As the Crowned Tawny drew closer to the city of clouds, Lady Hermione Everlark could see the ship was beginning to be noticed. The "cloud people" below her stopped and stared at the vessel for a few seconds, and then, as she watched, chaos ensued. The people began flooding the streets, pushing past one another to find shelter in shops and homes. One cloud woman pulled her small cloud toddler behind her and together they took cover under a cloud awning.
It was then that Hermy heard a whistle and felt something sharp and deathly cold brush her ear. The pain took a moment to register. "Ah!" The Lady gave a small cry and tenderly touched the nick in her ear, staring down at her assailant; it was a sharp, flat shard of ice that lay briefly on the floor of the Observation Deck before being blown into the open sky.
More whistling filled the air and the captain of the Tawny pushed down Hermy's head and led her toward the bronze trapdoor that was set into the hardwood. Hermione grasped the golden handle and pulled the door open without any trouble; the captain, however, having unhooked his harness from the railing, was struggling against the wind. Lady Everlark grasped his hand, and she could feel the wind blowing over her hand, wrapping around him and pulling him towards her. Together, they descended into the ship, and the wind blew the door shut behind them.
Struggling to catch his breath, the captain leaned on Hermy, who stood in the silver spiral staircase gazing at her hand in awe of its newfound abilities. Madeline Hinny looked up in surprise and rushed up the stairway to them.
"What's going on? I've been worried sick," Maddie stuttered anxiously. "Don was just here; he said the entire ship's on high alert, and the bridge needs you now, captain!"
"On my way," the captain groaned, grasping the railing and beginning to descend at a snail's pace. "I'm getting too old for this," he said with a sigh.
"Excuse me, but who's Don?" Hermy inquired as she took the captain's arm and placed it over her shoulders. "Donald Rumpey, my great-nephew and apprentice," the captain answered. Hermy wrapped her arm around his waist and helped to support him as he continued. "His parents passed when he was six months old, and he's been on the Tawny ever since."
"I've known him all my life! He makes wonderful inventions, and he's fixed the ship four times!" The words bubbled from Maddie's mouth as though from a glass of champagne. "He's learning to drive the ship, too!" Hermy grinned in a most unladylike way.
"You seem to have quite an interest in him," she teased, and Maddie flushed bright red.
The airship suddenly lurched to the left, tossing the three off their feet. The stairs were steep, and Hermy managed to catch the captain's collar with her left hand and the railing with her right before they both tumbled down; Maddie, however, wasn't so lucky, and tumbled down the stairs, level after level, until she came to a rest on the floor, the loud Bang! That echoed through the corridor.
As the echoes died away, new footsteps, light and quick, rang out as a pale blond blur sped towards Maddie in a heap on the floor. A new voice as well, clear, crisp, and gentle as a songbird's, broached the words, "Madd! Are you alright?"
"Oh! Yes! Of course! I'm fine." Maddie flushed bright red.
Hermy laughed as she descended the staircase with the captain. Maddie grasped the boy's hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. As Hermione reached the floor and the captain took his arm from over her shoulders, the young man elbowed Madeline and teased, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
"Oh, of course! Don, meet the Lady Hermione Harriet Everlark. Hermy, this is Donald Rumpey." The Lady curtseyed.
"Pleasure, Mr. Rumpey."
The captain let out his signature cackle before getting down to the point. "Alright, kids, let's stop playing around. No small thing can make this vessel shudder like it just did, and the sooner we get to the bridge, the sooner we'll know what happened."
He walked further down the hall, until it came to a dead end. Maddie and Don were close behind, though Hermy was a bit more wary. "Um, Captain, it seems you've gone in the wrong direction?"
The captain laughed again. "No, my dear, I'm exactly where I want to be." He took a step closer to the wall and spoke in a monotonous voice, "Voice recognition, Captain of the SBAF Crowned Tawny."
A disembodied female voice replied, "Voice recognition positive. Welcome, Captain.” A seam then appeared in the center of the smooth copper wall and grew larger and larger until the wall disappeared entirely. What lay beyond that wall was astonishing.
At the far end of the long, narrow room was the Tawny's right eye, showing the great cloud fortress and blurs of ice daggers slicing through the cold air and occasionally glancing off of the glass. Hermy saw an intricate wheel similar to the bow of a standard sea ship, but made of beautifully polished brass and covered in switches, levers, buttons, and knobs. The walls were lined with desks and the crew was seated in rickety wooden chairs, speaking into candlestick telephones and scribbling on notepads.
As the quartet entered the room, a crewmember standing by the wheel ran to the captain. "Sir, we've got a problem."
"So I hear. And why is no one manning the wheel?" There was a tone of annoyance and anger in the captain's voice.
"It's useless, Sir! Look!" The man gestured toward the window.
Hermione walked to the window and put her hand on the glass. She peered closely through the haze of ice missiles and out at the cloud fortress only to discover that the fortress was no longer in sight! Then slowly and gradually, the castle came into view, along with the rest of the cloud kingdom, moving slowly from the left side to the right, until it disappeared again.
Hermione turned to face the captain. "We're going in circles?"
"Precisely!" the crewmember confirmed. "Apparently, one of those blasted ice missiles has jammed the rudder. We can't move. We're trapped!"
At that moment, the ice dagger blizzard subsided and then halted entirely. The silence was deafening until a crewmember listening to a telephone turned in her chair. "Sir? We've got a message from the cloud city." She pushed a button on her telephone and a deep, whispering voice was broadcasted over the intercom.
"Bring us the half-blood, the half-breed, the hybrid. Bring us the daughter of mistress fair. Bring her to us, alone and unguided. Give her to us, or else beware. Bring us the beloved, hidden, and loved. Bring Hermione Harriet Everlark."
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