Several voices shouted before a small, wooden life boat dropped out from below the wooden airship. Falling only a few feet, the lifeboat, containing several terrified civilians, began to float down to the relative safety of Newport as soon as its steam engine kicked into service. Meanwhile, a young man on the airship above stared down at the lifeboat.
All the man could think of as his eyes remained fixed on the lifeboat was how he envied to be on one of them. Having only been a first mate for the Mad Familiar for about a year and half, he thought himself too young to be on board the Mad Familiar's last flight. He longed to be in a formal lieutenant uniform to replace his current brown and black gunner's uniform. Steamed every week, his uniform always appeared clean, emphasizing his rank and his devotion to the job. He only wished he'd die in a higher rank uniform.
The man spun on his heels and threw himself onto the deck in time for a cannonball to rumble past him. Deckard turned his gaze to the quarter deck, seeing the man who had just saved him.
"Thanks, General!" Deckard yelled back, picking himself up.
The "General" is the name Captain Hyland told his sailors to address him. A respectable man in the aristocracy, General was always seen with clean and expensive clothing, adorned with golden jewelry, accessories, and medals. Now, he only appeared battle-hardened, his attire covered in gunpowder and his master flintlocks in hand. His damaged arm-guard buzzed with distorted voices screaming for orders all over the ship, which was quickly descending due to their assailant's weaponry.
"Look lively, Deckard! I'll need my first mate if we're going to survive this!" The General spoke as he motioned for Deckard to follow him.
The two men rush down onto the main deck, where more of the crew were positioned. Over the starboard side was where most of them were, firing their cannons and dual-cannons with much speed and anxiety.
A good amount of meters across, the cannonballs collided with a darker and larger ship. Its hull was almost twice the size of the Mad Familiar, which was already considered to be a rather large airship. The enemy's airship's engine grumbled with a dull and loud buzz, and its shipmates rivaled that sound with deafening roars. Their armor bore smooth metal and elements of gold and black cover their body. Indeed, the soldiers looked like knights, except much scarier and with more pipes and steam. Above the metal-clad soldiers, however, was an even more spine-chilling sight. High above the airship hung their massive balloon. Painted across the side was their insignia; a golden gear piece laid upon a black background and surrounded by a seemingly flaming olive wreath. Any ship that came upon a vessel bearing that flag knew it would be a hard fight, as it was the Order.
The Order oversaw the British Empire with a tyrannical grip. Its military state influenced every political and economical decision, as well as the social aspect of its citizens. No one knew where the Order had come from. One day, they just appeared out of nowhere with their airships and attacked Britain. Edinburgh was the first to fall; then came Faversham, then Rochester, and then Greenwich. One by one, each town and city fell under the Order's control. When they reached London, the remaining British resistance fought all they could. Alas, it was fruitless. The Order won swiftly and easily. They overthrew Queen Victoria and destroyed every ounce of what remained of Parliament. England was now fully under the Order's hand. When England fell, the rest of the British Empire drowned with it. The Order's greedy hands eventually transformed the British Empire into an oligarchy, with a small group of powerful individuals known as the Cabal.
Anyone who opposed the Cabal or the Order usually dealt with the Order's military forces. Organizations, companies, families were torn apart after voicing their distaste of their new leaders. However, those who were brave enough to rally a rebellion against the Order always faced the complete wrath of the Order.
The Mad Familiar was currently experiencing that first-hand. Not only did the Order attack the airship, but it sent their dreadnaught-class flagship by the name of the Black Bastion; and it was winning.
As soon as Deckard and the General stepped onto the main deck, a pair of electric cannonballs blasted from one of the Order's customized dual cannons and shot right through the Mad Familiar's balloon.
"Oh no..." Deckard murmured.
He turned to the crew on the gunnery deck and shouted, "Gunners! Aim for the electric cannons! They pierce right through our balloon!"
The gunners did as they ordered - or tried, rather. The Order had soon picked up the gunners' intentions and firing directions. As a result, the Order gunners continuously fired at the Kestrel's balloons while the regular cannons covered their barrage.
"Master Deckard!" The General yelled to him, firing his flintlocks at the flagship. His shots reach an Order footman who falls onto deck, never to be seen again.
Deckard rushed to his captains side, and awaited orders.
"Take my daughter and get onto the last lifeboat," General said quickly as he reloaded his pistols from behind cover, "A captain's got to go down with his ship."
Deckard furrowed his eyebrows and argued, "General, I'm staying here! As your first mate, I'm to be at your side. I'll send the midshipman with your daughter."
Before Deckard could get up to find the midshipman, a cannonball smashed into the cannon next to him, knocking its gunner far off over the port-side and miles down to Newport. Deckard could barely hear her screams as she fell.
The General grabbed Deckard by the shoulder and pulled him back, "Damn it, Deckard! I'm entrusting you with this task because you know me best! Now take my daughter and get on that boat! Defy me again and I'll see you over the side of my ship!"
The General pushed Deckard with his flintlocks toward the steps leading to the General's cabin. Deckard made no haste to disobey and immediately ran up onto the quarter deck before opening the doors. He rushed inside, and searched frantically for the General's daughter.
Deckard turned to the voice, and found five-year old Rebecca Hyland hiding under her father's iron desk. He walked over to her, maintaining his balance the ship rocked and creaked. The ship was on its last strings, literally.
He knelt and held his arms out, "Come on Rebecca, we're going to get out of here. Addie's going to get you onto a lifeboat. It's not safe here anymore."
"...Okay.." Rebecca crawled out of the space and allowed Deckard to take her into his arms.
Deckard lifted her up and began running out the door.
"Close your eyes, Rebecca." Deckard panted as he removed his brandished flintlock from his holster.
Rebecca obeyed, burying her eyes into Deckard's shoulders before he stepped onto the deck. All Rebecca could hear were screams and loud bangs; all Rebecca could smell was gunpowder and the faint hint of blood.
Deckard advanced through the decks of fallen wood beams, dismantled cannons, and dismembered crewmates. He arrived at the bow of the ship, and opened the doors to forecastle deck doors to the bottom deck. The ship continuously rocked; before Deckard went below with Rebecca, he took a last look at the balloon above him. The Order had ceased attempting to blow the balloon. Instead, they were now attempting to sever the pulleys and ropes that held the ship and the balloon together.
Deckard quickly rushed down into the bay deck, where the last lifeboat lay idle.
"Okay Rebecca..." Deckard murmured, his words barely audible over the sounds of the battle above.
Rebecca opened her eyes and looked around. She had never been down here before, since her father had forbidden her to. The bay room was where the bottom of the ship opened up for the lifeboats to exit. She could see the last, dainty lifeboat that she noticed did not have her father seated in it.
"Addie, where's daddy?" Rebecca looked up at Deckard as he set her down.
"Your father's not coming with us. He's going to help all the good men and women here get to safety, and then he'll try to deal with the bad people." Deckard said, busying himself with unlocking the life boat and prepping the bay doors.
"But Addie! You said it was not safe! Daddy could get hurt!" Rebecca whined, and turned to run to the stairs.
"Rebecca, no!" Deckard stepped out of the lifeboat, releasing the restraints that held it down. Before he could reach for Rebecca, an explosion within the room blasted Deckard away and over Rebecca, who had also been thrown over and fallen.
Deckard hit the wall back-first, and yelled in pain; his arm had been penetrated by a large piece of wood. Deckard reached over and ripped the wood out of his arm, causing another surge of pain through his arm. He looked toward the cause of the explosion, and found that the Order had managed to fire their way through the hull. A gaping hole lay against the hull wall, wind sharply blowing inside the bay room.
Deckard spotted Rebecca near the steps, where she lay in a fetal position. He ran over to her immediately, and began shaking her.
Rebecca yelped and pressed her legs closer to her chest. The ringing from the explosion still hung about in her ears. She had frozen up, incapable of recognizing anything but the fear of dying and the fear of losing her father.
Deckard instead took her into his arms, causing her to wail and scream further. Another explosion silenced her, however, and the ship rocked in a violent shake. Deckard regained his balance and rushed back onto the deck.
The Mad Familiar was on her last grip. The lines holding the balloon and the stern were about to give way. What was even more terrifying though, was that the Black Bastion was right up against the Mad Familiar.
Deckard again removed his flintlock, believing the Order were about to board. Before he could take aim at a soldier a few meters away, he heard the General once more.
Deckard turned to see Captain Hyland leaning against an overturned staircase. He was obviously injured, but his face still held its stoic and courageous expression.
"Deckard! What are you still doing here?! Get off this damn shi-"
The General's words were interrupted by a springrazor cannonball. When it hit, countless blades erupted from the cannonball. The explosion added onto the fatality as Deckard could only see the General's limbs flying in all directions. Unfortunately, Rebecca had witnessed the full scene when she heard her father.
"DADDY! DADDY NO!" Rebecca screamed, tears immediately forming in her eyes.
Deckard did not even try to silence her. He himself was in extreme shock. The unkillable General - his best friend - had just been torn apart in combustion.
Deckard's shock had been abruptly interrupted as the General's last words when one of the Kestrel's crew members suddenly shouted:
"It's the Medusa Kiss!"
Deckard turned to the Black Bastion. No wonder the Order was so close to them. They did not intend to board; they wanted to release their plague.
The Medusa Kiss was infamous for its effects in the Battle of Liverpool. The Order created it and tested it on their enemies in Liverpool. The Medusa Kiss took form as a yellow gas, which - when breathed in - was capable of practically freezing flesh. The early Medusa Kiss took almost a week before the plague completely took over its human host. During this period, known as the Rust, the flesh would then begin to emit a somewhat grey tint, and as a result the flesh would contract before crumbling and shattering into dust like dry clay. The British army stationed in Liverpool never made back home, and the residents never made it out of their homes. Since then, Liverpool was quarantined due to its high levels of radiation still prevading the air from the early designs of the Medusa Kiss. Now, however, the Order had discovered a technique for accelerating the processes of the Medusa Kiss. The plague could completely take over the human body in a matter of hours.
Deckard immediately ducked back below deck. Even though the effects would only take place a matter of hours later, allowing enough time to administer a cure - the Visage, the soldiers of the Black Bastion wanted the Kestrel's gunners, who they knew did not want to come into contact with the plague, to abandon their stations. However, the gunners remained where they were, as if confident that they would not be alive by the time the Medusa Kiss took them.
Deckard, however, planned for him and Rebecca to live.
"...Damn...where do we go?" Deckard said to himself as he looked about.
Rebecca was unresponsive. Her mind was still shrouded with the images of her beloved father being viciously murdered.
Deckard finally set his gaze down the hall. At the end of the hall rested an iron door. As Deckard remembered, the door was thicker than the hull, as was the walls and ceiling of the room the door led to. Deckard hastily ran down the hall, keeping Rebecca close to his arms.
Above, the Medusa Kiss was taking over the remaining crew of the Mad Familiar. Painful as it was, the crew continued to fight relentlessly. Unbeknownst to them, this version of the Medusa Kiss could eat through basic materials, specifically wood and rope. Gradually, the starboard side of the Mad Familiar began to crumble. The ropes holding the stern and balloon together were melting away.
Back below deck, Deckard had entered the room, known as the Iron Chest. He set Rebecca down on the floor, where she sat once again in a fetal position. Deckard made haste to securely lock the door. The several mechanisms in the door snap shut, and Deckard turns to face the room.
Rebecca noticed in her mental solitude that there was a faint hiss and beating sound. She slowly lifted her head from her arms, which were covered in grime and tears now. In front of Deckard and Rebecca beheld a massive beast of a machine - the Heart of the Mad Familiar.
Fitted with metal plates, steam-powered mechanisms, and organic materials, the Heart took its role as a generator, providing power to the airship. This behemoth was one of the largest England had ever possessed, but it certainly was not the first. Before the Order, English airships all possessed Hearts such as the Mad Familiar's. However, the Order began exterminating all of them, for they had discovered that it not only was a source of power for the airships, but it also had its own conscious. Of course, the Order did not want any aspect of technology to be fitted with a mind of its own. As a result, the Order began hunting down all of them.
Currently, the Heart of Mad Familiar was beating quickly to keep the ship afloat. The walls of the Iron Chest creaked, as if acknowledging the presence of the two survivors.
Deckard looked down at Rebecca, who was amazed at seeing the Heart. He knelt and said to her quietly: "Heart will keep us safe. You need only stay in this room. Now stay here, I need to do something."
Rebecca answered with silence, for she was filled with countless emotions of anger, sadness, awe, and panic.
Kestrel stood and walked over to the Heart. He didn't reach it, however, for the ship suddenly began to tip down. The ropes of the stern had finally broke, and the ship was falling down by its stern. The Mad Familiar was sinking.
Deckard was slipping forward, and Rebecca snapped out of her daze. She screamed, and grabbed hold of a nearby console that was bolted to the metal floor. Deckard frantically searched for something to hold onto. He ran up, the ship continuing to turn. Grabbing hold of one of the handles on the door, Deckard held on for dear life. Deckard could hear the screams above deck, where the surviving crewmembers scrambled for safety.
It wasn't long before the Mad Familiar was completely vertical, and falling down toward the fields of Newport below. Rebecca screamed as the airship gained velocity. The Heart was pumping quickly but to no avail. Deckard glanced at Rebecca.
"Hold on, Rebecca! Hold on, for god's sake!"
Rebecca only screamed further, but she was tightly packed against the console, her fingers refusing to release it. Deckard turned his gaze down at the Heart, which was steaming and hissing violently.
"By god, keep us safe!" He yelled at the Heart, "Keep us safe! I had a promise to fulfill, and I intend to keep it! Protect Rebecca! Protect me!"
The Heart seemed to slow its beating a bit, as if listening to Deckard's words.
He continued, "The Mad Familiar will soon be no more, but the Heart will continue to live! As long as you live, then please, make sure both of us do as well!"
In response, the Heart whirred and hissed loudly. The Iron Chest walls hissed as well, steam bursting out of some areas. Rebecca's screaming was met with a piercing noise of metal scraping against metal. Pipes burst out of the walls and seemed to move on their own. Deckard could not see clearly, however, for the ship was rocking too violently. He looked at the handle he held and realized that his grip was slipping.
Deckard grunted, attempting to muster the remaining energy he could to hold on. Another part of the ship exploded, rocking the room. This caused Deckard to suddenly release the handle and began to fall. He yelled out and reached his hands out for anything else to grab.
The only thing Deckard remembered before he was knocked unconscious was hearing Rebecca screaming "Addie!" and something cold and solid wrapping around his waist.
From the streets and high windows of the buildings of Newport, the citizens could easily see the Mad Familiar falling toward the solid land. The flames of the Mad Familiar erupted and illuminated the sky before the ship collided with the earth in the distant fields of their city. Hopelessness and solemnity settled in the hearts of the British citizens; yet another rebellious airship and its crew had fallen prey to the hands of the Order. Above, the Black Bastion was sinking into the clouds, soon to disappear from the fight.
On the balcony of a merchant's trading shop stood a man donned in a buttoned-up black frock coat gazed at the crash site of the Mad Familiar. He gritted his teeth before turning around and entering the room. Within the room sat many armed individuals, who all looked upon the man with silent stares. All of them looked hopeless as well, before the man spoke:
"The Mad Familiar has been destroyed...Yet we cannot risk giving up on the Heart, for it is one of our greatest. We must commit to the memory of Captain Hyland and his crew by salvaging what we can."
The group of individuals looked about each other, murmuring agreements and sighs.
"Prepare yourselves, we move in three minutes. We must get to the site before the dust settles and the Order moves in," The man said, placing a black top hat upon his head.
As the group began preparing for their dangerous expedition, the man turned to the balcony and gazed at the distant and faded wreckage, he sighed and muttered to himself:
"I do hope more than the Heart survived..."