Wednesday, December 1

Battle Beneath Steelhead Bay: Earth Below Us

Far above the clouds, a magnificent space-faring vessel reminiscent of the galleons of old floats in the darkness of space. This masterpiece, for all its glory, is almost completely abandoned; save for a single android.

His name is Ash. He is a juggernaut of brass and steel, an accidental creation harvested from a tragic clash of magic and science. Since his moment of sentience he has unquestioningly accepted any duty offered to him. As a member of the Steeltopian Guard he helped to thwart a revolution. His valor in service to House Wulfenbach led the Jagers to adopt him as one of their own.

The escape of an exiled family. The ultimate weapon of Spark vengeance, interrupted. An interstellar mercantile trader. Explorer and rescue craft. The Clockwork Caravel has been all these things. For over a year Ash has kept solitary duty. On the bridge he maintains control of the ship's functions from a single seat with a combination of telescoping forearms and brutal jury-rigging scores of levers and dials with steel wires. He adjusts a dial to the rise of static and a cacophony of voices.

"Hull breach sealed! It's a good thing I brought the elephant clamps!"

"DOC! What are ya doin' with elephant clamps on a pirate ship? Wait, scratch that! I don't even wanna know!"

"Doctor! This is Captain Nova! We're still trapped by the Illuminautilus underwater and it's destroyed our cannons!"

"Velvel to Revenge. Xavael tells me the magic orbs are safe...but...Miss Qlipppthic is..."

Ash pulls the wooden lever for the aether engine with such force than it snaps. The splinters float in the cabin around him as he aims the vessel towards the Agni sector.

The reflective solar sails fold inward and the masts tilt to lie across the deck. Arcs of emerald dance across the engine array welded to the aft. The sparks ignite the void of space, propelling the ship behind a green nimbus of fire. The bow of the ship begins to glow. Red to blue to white, blazing a bright trail as it scrapes through into Steamland skies.

Ash pulls a clutch, drawing the masts straight again. Sails pop open and glow bright as the sun for a minute and a half, adding drag to re-entry before the sails shred into confetti. Fourteen seconds later the masts combust and shatter and are lost in the aether-flames that widen and spread over the aft of the ship.

The pilot's gleaming hands keep the brass-handled joystick steady, even as the rest of the ship shakes violently around him. In his tight personal quarters, the rows of glass figurines strapped to the shelves (forged in the furnace from Dr. Mason's empty absinthe bottles) begin to glisten. Delicate transparencies of friends and foes alike liquefy and merge.

Outside, the engines sputter and the Caravel loses its arc, plummeting towards the Grid. Levers, switches and dials in the empty cockpit pass threads of galvanic energy across the wires in intricate dances spanning microseconds before the entire chamber explodes, along with the rest of the Clockwork Caravel. The blossom of emerald flares in the skies, and far below a trail of ball lighting heralds Ash's return to Steelhead. Retaining his velocity he folds space, he pulls himself tight into a ball as the shockwave of metallic frame slamming into the head of a colossal cybernetic squid echoes across Steelhead, shattering windows and causing minor landslides of boulders and stacked lumber.

From the roof of Velvel's Shanghai Bazaar, the proprietor again loses his balance from the shockwave and tumbles over the shaled roof. A second later, he smiles as he levitates to several yards above where he fell, the brass contraption strapped to his back spewing jets of violet energy downwards behind him.

"Now THAT was an entrance!"

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