Day did not really arrive. The starless darkness of night merely lightened into a lighter grey fog that we designated as dawn more because we needed a morning than because it felt as if the day had come.
Ginnie brought the airship low enough that we could make out details of the risen city. It was clotted with mud and the corpses of sea creatures that had not survived the transition from the unknown depths. The air was thick with the stench of rotting, the rotting of the freshly dead and the rotting of things that had lain undisturbed for centuries.
Quint brought out the snowshoe-like foot wear that he and Barth and Len Wei had been crafting. The wide webbed soles would, ideally, keep us from sinking in the putrid mud. Cyrus had not had such help but he had the guidance of his dreams. Hopefully they would keep him safe until we caught up.
Although Kulkarni still retained some appearance of humanity, he was no longer recognizable as the quiet little man he had seemed to be. He stood in full moonlight near the fountain in the garden. At his feet were the torn bodies of Dunstable’s soldiers. His huge mouth worked. I could hear him wetly chewing.
Faisal gestured and the sway of the floor slowed. The thud of the massive stone feet ceased. The movement of the castle stopped. Faisal gave a wide mouthed grin showing his shiny silver teeth. “Now,” he said, “we have walked into another, better world. Hear you the difference?”
I listened. The echo of the castle’s footsteps still rang in my ears but, as that sound faded, I hear one more pleasant. Someone, many someones, was singing out beyond the stone walls.
The desert stretched to the four directions. We could see no human activity. A small herd of camels strolled in the far south. Otherwise, not even the wind moved. This seemed as good a place as any to drop anchor.
While Jack and Quint prepared a dinner of rice and lentils I spidered down the anchor rope. After two weeks in the airship I had a great desire for earth, even hot sand, under my toes. After a pair of back loosening cartwheels I began to pace a spiral out from the anchor.
The more I walked the more my eyes began to tell me stories that I did not wish to know. I have seen enough cities buried by the elements to be able to recognize their shape. We were anchored atop a sand buried ruin.
The man the white suit made an expression that was similar to a smile. He said, “My parents christened me Courage. Courage Llewellyn. Perhaps by such naming me, I no longer had need of the virtue. I have seen fear in many men, and quite a few women, over the last three centuries, but I have never felt it myself. I understand caution. I would not have lived as long as I have if I were as fool hardy as many of the brave men I’ve known. Yet, that trepidation that so many must overcome in order to act? It has never been part of my nature.”
I struggled to hold up my head. My body fought the drugs but the drugs were winning the battle. I could force out only a simplified query, “So?”
He turned his unblinking eyes to me. He said, “I have need of a guide into places where men would be foolish to walk. I would like to engage your services as such as guide.”
Fuchs pointed the pistol and fired. Persephone’s hand moved more quickly than I could observe. She caught the bullet and hurdled it back with almost equal speed. It thunked loudly into the wall just to the left of Fuchs’ left ear. His mouth went wide and he dropped the gun. Persephone turned her unblinking eyes in my direction. She opened her mouth slightly and hissed.
Dr. Pavellini adjusted his spectacles. He said, “What you suggest is impossible. A hypnotist, no matter how powerful, cannot force someone to perform an act that is not in their nature. The thought must already be in the subject’s mind.”
Cyrus crossed his arms and scowled. He said, “You made Mrs. Stern cluck like a chicken. Are you saying that she thinks about pecking the dirt and eating grubs?”
Pavellini smiled indulgently. “You’re a clever boy, aren’t you? The human mind is a complex engine. It produces thoughts that its owner never notices. A very skilled practitioner, might, perhaps, find thoughts that the thinker would not recognize.”
Justine looked toward the south. She said, “I think that I would like to homestead somewhere warm. I want to turn the earth and plant gardens. I want harvest vegetables in the autumn and can the bounty.”
Jack gave her a puzzled look.
Justine shook her head. “I don’t mean now. I mean if we survive the next ten or twenty adventures. When we get tired of the too cold and the too hot and the creeping things that want to eat our faces.”
Jack and Quint took turns piloting the airship. The cold forced Ginnie to spend most of her time in the better heated interior cabins. Below us we saw snow and ice, forest and plains, but no sign of man. Salesky’s compass continued to point northeast.
In the middle of the eighth night, about an hour after I had finally found sleep, Quint shook me awake. He said, “There are lights ahead of us on the ground. Lights enough for a city.”
Ginnie tapped the stack of files that sat beside her mostly untouched breakfast. She said, “Most of the deaths have been blamed on unknown causes. No poisons were found. No major wounds were found. Three of the victims had injuries but those look like they happened while they were trying to get away their attackers. There are almost no witnesses. And the police didn’t do a lot of investigation so I’ve had to talk to witnesses myself. Most of the dead people were on watch lists of suspected anarchists and revolutionaries. Most of what’s in these files is information about them collected before they were killed. Once they were dead the police stopped caring.”
“What did your witnesses tell you?” I asked.
Ginnie sighed. She said, “Not a lot. Most the victims seemed to know that someone was after them but these police files show they had good reason to believe that.” She pulled out a folder from the bottom of the pile. “Louis Bastista fired six shots out of his revolver. The last one was to his own head. Four bullet holes were found in the walls of his house. That leaves one bullet that might have hit the murderer.”