Excerpt from The Vermilion Smoke

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Looking out into the nebulous horizon, Rigo steered the wheel. The tails of his flight coat flapped in the breeze. He could taste a metallic flavour in the air. Tears began to sting at his eyes but he was unsure if it was due to the quality of the air or the thought of Persephone lost in the ether. He shook the doubt from his mind and decided the woman was far too formidable to not have made correct calculations. Although she might not have yet reached her destination, she would do. Or perhaps she already had, he thought. Perhaps she found Captain Pepperdrake and Lenore. Perhaps even now somewhere in time, she might be toasting to her success in helping her brother find his lost love. She most likely was basking in the glory of their admiration and gratefulness. She was also most likely cursing Rigo and wondering what was taking him so long to get to them.

Or perhaps not. There had not been any transmissions from Persephone’s coms device in two days. However, the dials on the Tempus Sextant rotated chaotically indicating she was still moving through time. This gave him hope. It meant, theoretically, he could track her and find her. He would be able to follow her if he could just track the sky right. He needed to see the signs so he needed to fly into the eye of the storm. Although he was a navigator, he was not a scientist. That had been Persephone’s talent. She would know when all the conditions were right. She would know when to anchor and lock in to time. With one vial of Fluxinium left, he knew there would be only one chance to make it through the porthole.

He felt he reached the correct altitude. There was the familiar electricity in the sky prickling his face like the last time. He threw the lever into auto-pilot to maintain the course. He needed to be at the Captain’s override when the porthole opened so he could plug the Tempus Sextant into the Captain’s control panel. He looked at the spinning dials on the sextant once more before putting it into his large coat pocket.

Rigo had thrown any excess weight off the aerostat before he left the dock. All valuables had been stored at the Dr. Griffin’s warehouse. The Vermilion Smoke was barren of everything that meant anything.

Almost everything. He turned to look at Aursezz. His dragon regarded him from her corner on deck. He could not bear to part with her yet he did not know whether she would survive the journey. Her death would be even more unbearable. She never asked for this. He walked over to her, bent down and put his forehead to hers. I’ll set you free, my friend. I hope to see you again, he thought. Aursezz purred and sent him her thoughts of understanding. She acquiesced. He unlocked her from her security cable. She stretched her wings, shook them flapped once and took flight into the billowing air. He watched her fly away until her silhouette faded into the white lightening and tumorous clouds.

He was now the solitary member left on the Vermilion Smoke.  Tears stung his eyes again. This time it was not because of the air. Angrily, he wiped the tears away and brought his goggles down from the top of his leather flight cap to cover them and tightened his chinstrap. Rigo went back to the instruments and read all the gauges. He was unsure of most of the readings but he knew enough to know the craft was in good running order. The mad engineer had taught him enough to keep her running.

He reached into his coat pocket and reassuringly touched the sextant again. Then he put his left hand into his other pocket and took out a box. He brought this box to Persephone during the early days of their acquaintance. He had not long been onboard the Vermilion Smoke. He opened it. All the letters he wrote to her were still in it along with one she wrote to him. She had never sent it. He wanted to read it but a crippling regret threatened to suffocate his heart. He regarded it for what seemed an eternity lost in a golden reverie. Anger and fear took hold of him suddenly and broke the spell.

“I lied to you. I said what you wanted to hear. It’s what you wanted, my dear,” he said out loud to no one. He closed the box, walked to the bow, steadied his resolve and dropped it into the amber and bronze clouds.

The lightening clawed past the Vermilion Smoke and an eerie green illumination burst into view. This was the sign. The porthole was about to open. Rigo wished Chongan was there. The monk understood the magic of things. His quiet serenity gave the crew strength. He should have been the one to do this, thought Rigo. He bit back his doubts, went to his navigator’s podium and looked at the charts. He took out the sextant. The needle continued to move but was now wavering between two points. This was more than satisfactory.

Persephone, he thought. He picked up the vial of Fluxinium that was strapped to the podium and went to the engine room. He opened the door to the boiler and tossed the vial in. The fire went green. He slammed the door shut and bolted it. In a fluidity of motion, he turned wheels on gauges, flipped switches and pulled the correct levers for the engines then sat in Pepperdrake’s chair. The dials and switches on the arm of the chair formed an elaborate control panel that parroted those at the steering wheel. Rigo took a moment to marvel at the invention. Of course it had been Persephone’s genius that allowed her brother to fly so well.  The auto-pilot had been maintaining the course steadily but it was time to accelerate. Rigo strapped himself in, took the Tempus Sextant out of his pocket and plugged it into the control panel then flipped the master switch releasing the Vermilion Smoke from the auto-pilot.

Suddenly, the needle on the sextant steadied and locked in. The control panel accepted the reading; the lights went from amber to blue on the control panel. The sextant began to chime. The course was set. Rigo’s heart raced as he felt the thrust of acceleration. He saw the eerie green starburst of light at the centre grow bigger and bigger. He was headed into the eye of the storm and into the portal. His trajectory was set. He would see Persephone and Pepperdrake again.

–A.E.W.

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About A. E. Wallace aka [EL] Selkie

Ann Wallace holds a degree from the University of Texas at El Paso in Mass Communications and minored in Creative Writing. She worked at the NBC Affiliate Newschannel9 in El Paso, was a journalist for the El Paso Diocese Catholic Newspaper, held writing workshops with The Tumblewords Project, performed as a Slam Poet and published poetry in small literary magazines. She is now an ex-pat in the UK where she lives, knits, games, works and writes. View all posts by A. E. Wallace aka [EL] Selkie

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