Lucy followed Louie’s gaze and at first, saw nothing. But, she could hear in the distance a deep rhythmic rumble of pistons growling and Lucy narrowed her eyes, spotting further ahead a shape that was silhouetted by the city skyline and surfing across the water. Ripples followed in its trail and the large shadowy object gradually slowed to a halt, as if bewitchingly becalmed. For a moment, all was still – and then, from within the bowels of the machine, a blinding orb of light shot upwards into the sky. It shrieked overhead, whirling in flight before erupting in a show of brilliant white light that scattered outwards, speckling the night sky in glistening shards.
Louie had once come across the term starry night in one of his many collections of deciphered writings and he immediately became enthralled, spending many nights thereafter wishing to witness the night as he had read it to be and he knew that tonight, in this moment, was the closest he would get to actualising that dream. A great pride welled up inside of him as he watched, for the first time, the shimmering shards drift downward towards the ocean. Each one landed on the water’s surface, weightlessly skimming along the top while illuminating the cove in a spectral glow.
In the rich pale hues of the shimmering shards, Lucy could now see the previously shadowed machine as clear as daylight, and it stoked her wonder equally as much as the display of broken fall-light. It was a large nautical structure, akin to the fishing vessels Lucy would commonly see at the docks – with its wooden hull, and it’s two sails, each attached to a mast situated at either end of the ship. Barring that, it had features that were completely alien to her. The body of the ship was stitched with long, veiny-red pipes that pumped and whistled, and they all lead to a chimney-like structure that protruded upwards from between the two masts, billowing smoky-ringlets into the air. Attached to each side of the ship were two ocean-crusted paddlewheels that propelled the ship forwards. A beast of its own accord, guided by winds or unrelenting against them, chugging along the waters – the king of the ocean.
There was a period of silence as Lucy remained dazed, unable to grasp nor realise the significance of what she had just witnessed. Eventually, she cobbled together a single question; “What was that?”
“That, Lucy,” replied Louie, “that, is a vessel that will venture beyond these coastal walls and take us to Innisfree. The balls of light were my idea though; you see, when you superheat sand, it crystallises and gains this unusually wonderful property. It’s not entirely solid, and it’s not entirely liquid either – more of an amorphous blob, if you ask me. Now, if you infuse that blob with a dab of Azoth before it cools and fire it into the atmosphere—”
“—I’m sorry,” Lucy interjected, “but you’re telling me that you built that from an old, scribbled on, parchment that your great-grandfather found?”
Louie paused to think and then replied with a very matter-of-fact, “Well, yes. Basically. But,” he continued, “We improved on it over time. Previous iterations used heated water as a fuel source – this has the aforementioned Azoth running through his veins. There is still more to be done to it though.”
“Azoth,” Lucy said, “Is that the same as what the Guild sells to Adventurers?”
“Correct,” Louie replied, “To those who can afford it, that is.”
“Of course,” Lucy finished, and her gaze settled on Louie. And she watched, as he looked at the ship with eyes she had yet to see him give her. For a moment, she thought she felt a pang of jealousy – a twist in her chest that tightened as a thought wormed in her head, would he find me more desirable if I was a creature of metal and wood? – Lucy quickly brushed the thought away, perhaps adamant that her hold of his heart remains true, or reluctant to question what she had always known to be; that to be Named, as he is, is to pursue only pleasure. Charged with a new resolve, Lucy leapt to her feet and quickly grabbed hold of Louie’s hands, coaxing him upright while ushering him to hurry.
“Come, my dear,” Lucy called, “The water is so lovely!” And she skipped and hurried, hand in tow, towards the shore.
The water was crisp to the touch, biting upon entry, but Lucy held her gasps and made haste until she was knee-deep. She twirled and toyed in the water. Her dress soaked through to line her body; droplets kissed her skin. The cold exhilarated Lucy, invigorating her. She relished in the control of her body – and his, and coyly watched as Louie stood at ankle-depth, falling for the siren’s call. She moved towards him, slowly, tantalisingly; her fingers brushing along the top of the water’s surface. Lucy could see his breath deepen, his cheeks redden, and she delicately rested her hands against his chest, and she could feel his heart pound. She leaned in, her eyes locked on his lips, and whispered; “Take me. I’m yours.”
Louie placed his hands on her waist and tension strung through him as he felt Lucy push her leg and chest against him. It felt as if there was a magnetic pull, an alluring guidance that tugged his lips towards hers – but he resisted, and pulled away at the last second.
“I can’t…” He muttered.
“It’s okay, if it’s your first time I’ll—”
“—I’m soon to be wed—”
“—You’re fucking what now?” Lucy stammered as she jerked away. “What do you mean yer getting married?” She continued, “Is this another fuckin’ floozy you picked up off the street? Was I just late to the party or somethin’?”
“No, of course not!” Louie exclaimed with a surly frown and furrowed eyebrows, “This is an arranged marriage organised by my family. Political in nature, sure; but, legitimate nonetheless! And, dare I say, what happened to your voice?”
“Aye, dare all you want,” Lucy shouted back, “and never mind my voice, what happened to yer fuckin’ head? You spend yer days playing the class act to woo a pretty wee girl, but you don’t fuck her! ‘Cause suddenly – yer a man of morals, who’s committed to his marriage. Wise-up will ya!”
Lucy stormed passed, and muttered, “Can’t believe I got myself wet for nothing,” while sloshing and stomping her way out of the water with her dress held high to her knees, leaving Louie standing stunned and visibly aghast as she made way back to the beach.
“By-the-way!” Lucy turned to shout again, “Yer lights are shite! Can’t see for shit around here.”
A pungent smell of smoke leaf permeated the study-room, which was lavishly adorned with oaken walls, encaustic flooring, and heraldic motifs. The walls were lined with sturdy bookshelves, each filled to the brim with books of study – some written, some discovered, and some acquired through dubious means. Accompanying these books were a series of brass ornaments and mechanical contraptions that twirled and whizzed for seemingly no purpose, or reason but more curiously, with no source of power.
Dominating the room was a large and imposing desk, etched with decorative quatrefoils and hued in deep browns. Atop the desk lay an open book and a smouldering smoke-pipe which belonged to Louie, who lounged in his armchair lost in thought – while his eyes rested on a painted portraited that hung on the southernmost wall above a cast-iron fireplace.
It depicted a man adorned in a blood-scarlet coatee, decorated in golden trims and ostentatious frills. He struck a pose of dominance, with a glare that yearned for wonder; while contrasting against his colourful aesthetic was a smoky darkness that pervaded the space around him. Flumes of black coalescing into shapes that if one where to rest their sight and soften their vision for long enough, you may instead see a crowd of faces staring back. Along the bottom of the frame and engraved into a golden plaque was a name: Raymond Del’Mar.
“The Mad Father,” spoke a man entering the room with a silver tray in-hand, atop of which sat a series of mugs and pots. “They say he spoke with a thousand voices – your tea, sir,” He continued, placing the tray down on the desk facing of Louie.
“And tried to vote with a thousand votes,” Louie replied, watching the Butler delicately pour him a cup of tea. “Which ultimately got him excommunicated from the family.”
“I’ve always found it fascinating the unwavering fealty your family continues to commit to the Mad Father,” Louie said, taking a sip – Wonderful, as always, he mumbled.
“It is true that we owe a great deal to your forefather, as he was the one who gave us prominence – but we also hold a great stake in that book of yours, as we’ve had our own share of familial losses in retrieving it.”
Louie dropped his gaze to the book and he reminisced on the fact that both of their families’ successes were reliant on this book of Alchimia; and although they only had the one book in their possession, and it remained only partially decrypted after all these years, it was still enough to propel the Del’Mar family into the forefront of Metallurgy within the Legend’s District.
“Do you come bearing only tea, or do you come with news as well?” He asked the Butler.
“We’ve received word from our scout – the group is making preparations to enter the World Tower again.”
“And the Auto-Looter?”
There was a sigh from Louie.
“I did try to explain that it would be a moot endeavour to—” the Butler continued.
“—Yes, thank you. I’m well aware.” Louie snapped back, taking a hard, long puff of his smoke pipe. “That will be all.”
“Very good, sir,” and with a swift bow, the Butler left Louie to his thoughts, and his smoke-filled office.
Once the door had closed, Louie flipped through the pages of the book before settling at a point where it had obviously been torn at the spine. A page was missing, only recently so, and Louie ran his fingers along the remnants of parchment that remained as he thought of how best to get it back.