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Nym marveled at the labyrinth of tunnels fanning out in all directions beneath the unaware city of Meiville. The corridors were constructed of light stone with gas lamps burning every few hundred feet. The walk was damp and a bit confusing and she found it difficult to keep her sense of direction.
Only Mayor Perryn seemed to remain oriented in the expanse of underground passages and he was happy to take the lead. The group traveled in silence except for the sound of their hurried footfalls which echoed off the walls and in many directions.
On one occasion they heard the sudden thunder of a business overhead, as if someone had opened a door momentarily. Leaving nothing to chance, the group halted for several minutes and then took an alternate tunnel.
When at last they reached the surface Nym was grateful for the soft grey light of evening, now cooler and smelling of a coming storm.
Perryn instructed them quietly on how it was that they would proceed to the airship: each of them would head out of the tunnels alone, one at a time and at five minute intervals, and each would follow a different route to the Envoy. Mike would lead, followed by Nym, then Amos. Mayor Perryn would arrive last. Once reassembled, they would begin their voyage without delay.
Thunder rumbled overhead and Nym felt a strange sense of warning in it’s bellows.
The most dangerous part of their departure would be the climb into the boat of the Envoy which required a several hundred foot ascent upon a rope ladder. Each of them would be fully exposed to the streets below, and unable to easily defend themselves during their climb. Amos started to protest, fearing Nym’s safety, but was overruled. They would be far more conspicuous as a group, and even though it was less than ideal, Amos agreed it was the better plan. The approaching night and storm would give them added cover, even as it made climbing the rope more precarious.
Nym’s heart raced as the Mayor explained all of the directions, the apprehension almost unbearable. It would be difficult to walk alone but she was not afraid. She was, however, frightened for the safety of her friends. The anxiety was becoming overwhelming and she found herself searching for her cog, the mechination as it was called, for reassurance. She found it sleeping near her shoulder, in the form of a little owl.
When everyone was clear on the plan, Mike smiled a goodbye to Nym and Amos with his usual sweet charm. Perryn, usually the more reserved of the couple, embraced his husband openly and the two held each other for a moment reassuringly. Then, after promising to see each other soon, Mike disappeared down a darkened alley on his route to the Envoy.
Perryn watched him leave with a palatable sadness, and Nym suddenly understood that it would be her turn to walk next. She caught Amos’ eyes, and tried to smile.
“Peach,” Amos whispered. “You… I… ” Amos stammered, unsure of what to say.
Nym felt herself on the verge of tears, not of fear or sadness, but of a general sense of overwhelm. She could see the helplessness in his eyes, he was always so protective of her and she wanted to give him some comfort that she would be okay. She stared for a moment at the little owl in her hand and then offered it to Amos.
“If something should happen, the cog would find me, lead you to me.” She smiled, “You can give it back once we are on our way. You’re only five minutes behind!” She wished she could feel as confident as her words.
Amos closed his hand around the owl, His eyes meeting hers in agreement, “Just until we are all on board.”
The Mayor signaled Nym that it was time, and quickly and quietly he reminded her of the route she would take to the Envoy.
She smiled, thanked him and turned once more to Amos. Wrapping her hand around his, which still held her cog, and smiled, “Just until we all on board.”
She felt his warmth around her as they embraced for a moment, his warm lips pressed against her forehead. She took one last deep breath of his scent, gave him a smile and walked out into the night.
A light rain was beginning to mist as the lamp lights began to illuminate the desolate cobbled boulevarde. Nym listened to the sound of her footsteps, her pulse raging as she tried to keep her pace controlled and natural against her apprehension. Occasionally, in the corner of her eye, she would see a shadow or perceive a movement, and the urge to run would crawl up her spine.
When at last she saw the rope ladder disappearing into the sky, she felt a deep sense of relief and allowed herself to breath. She clambered as carefully as possible up the slippery rope, the heels of her shoes catching as the rain grew more aggressive overhead. Lightning flashed and she recognized the shadow of Mike waiting assist her the last few steps. As he pulled her aboard, she smiled at Mike relieved.
Instantly she became aware that something was wrong. Mike’s face was a mask of concern and distress.
“Hello again, Ms. Nymphae. How lovely to see you!” A voice said from behind her.
Nym turned with alarm to see a grinning, elegantly dressed Eudora Carton leaned against the railing. She was attired in an elegant black corset, lace gloves and full skirts befitting a soiree. Her expansive umbrella kept her dry in the growing torrent of rain.
Behind her, thunder rolled menacingly.
“Hello, Eudora,” Nym tried to smile.
“It’s fine weather for an evening tour, don’t you think?” Eudora maintained her usual ladylike demeanor, but Nym noticed a slight flare in her nostrils as she spoke.
“So nice that you could join us, ” Nym said. She was shocked and confused but she decided it better to play Eudora’s game her way.
“Yes? There are more soggy rats climbing aboard this ship?” Eudora pretended to look over the side of the airship from under her umbrella. “How wonderful! I should put the kettle on.” Eudora never broke eye contact with Nym, her eyes cold and cruel hidden behind her finery.
Time seemed to pass in slow motion, Nym growing worried, and then frightened, as Amos’ expected arrival grew increasingly more delayed. When at last Mayor Perryn climbed aboard, Nym was fighting against an internal hysteria. The rain fell like cold knives against her skin, the wind whipping her hair against her face in icey lashes.
The Mayor, as trapped and shocked as the rest of his companions, gave Nym the most reassuring smile he could manage. Eudora continued to hover over them making artificial pleasantries.
Nym looked out into the blurry night and searched for Amos, her heart lighting when the airship careened with the weight of someone climbing the rope. Tears flooded her eyes, with gratitude and relief. She had no idea what Eudora Carton was planning, but whatever it was she new it would be easier with Amos at her side.
She waited with her heart pounding through her every vein, she counted the rope steps until he would arrive and explain his delay. She was vexxed by his last minute arrival, but relieved.
When Ben Hammerton stepped over the side of the airship, Nym had almost regained her sense.
She looked first to the Mayor and then to Mike, confusion and terror overwhelming. The truth that Amos was not coming devastated her. Her mind was numb, her knees gave way beneath her and she fell forward onto her knees in tears. The Mayor and Mike both attended her, heartbroken that they could not offer her any comfort.
Amos was gone.
“What’s this?” Eudora sneered, “Why, Ms. Nymphae? Whatever is wrong?”
“Where is Amos?” the Mayor demanded.
“Oh? Amos,” Eudora laughed her pretty laugh, “He won’t be joining us tonight, I’m afraid. But I wouldn’t take it so hard, lovely. He’s much safer with my father then he would be with that Magruder chap you’ve been taunting. Why, I imagine he’ll be fit and fat as a little piglet after a few meals with Daddy.” Eudora and Ben exchanged an unpleasant smile.
“Why?” Nym asked through her tears.
“Why are you sneaking around, flying into storms with this old fuddy of a politician?” Eudora frowned at Mayor Perryn with distaste, “I think we all know that it has something to do with that missing Captain Ghostraven you’ve been obsessing over,” Eudora’s usual pollyanna play turned acrid, “And since you didn’t keep our prior arrangement to share what you knew , we’ve decided to take out some insurance. When we get Marcel, you get Amos.”
Eudora nodded her head, marking the issue final.
“So,” She resumed her feminine charade, “Tell us again where we are off to this fine evening?”