This is a submission I wrote for Abaddon Books. Unfortunately it was rejected, but I’m cool with that. I wrote it specifically for Abaddon Books and I’m now wondering whether I should have used Blaise Maximillian or Shattered Lands instead. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 1 – The Beginning.
Captain Brunel Challenger of the Imperial Nerrakan Skyfleet was bored. Bored of sitting around. Bored of going to the pub. Bored of eating fine food and drinking fine wine. Bored of pretty much everything, including Sheri, the stunning red head who was currently knelt between his legs and trying to provide a service that most people believed was provided by only the very best of the Kutha whores.
Apart from feeling bored however, he felt ashamed. A good looking chap – or so he believed – he couldn’t for the life of him fathom why he had even let himself be dragged into the brothel. Admittedly he had drunk a tad too much far too much really, for his own good, and hadn’t had the wits to say no to a succession of people from the doorman, through to the madame and finally to Sheri.
Aside from making him feel a tad nauseous, the alcohol was having a much more demonstrable effect, which only compounded his shame.
‘Wass matter, Capin?’ the slurping sounds had stopped and Sheri was looking up at him with fear-filled eyes, ‘Am I no beautiful?’ she cupped her lovely pert breasts, squeezing them together whilst her finger and thumb tweaked her dark nipples. From the accent, it was clear that she wasn’t from Kutha originally, most likely a slave from Yomi.
‘Sorry, Sheri, I’ve had more whisky than is good for a man and his best friend.’ He reached down and tucked himself back into his trousers. Sheri glanced over his shoulder at the timepiece ticking away on the wall.
‘But you have paid good money, many shillings. You leave now, Mistress know Sheri upset you. Tea? Water?’ there was a sense of desperation in her voice that made him feel even more ashamed. Whores were trained to do one thing; please their customers. Gods help them if their customers were dissatisfied.
‘A glass of water would be good. Please, don’t be scared, I’ll stay a while longer and you can help me sober up.’ He knew his smile was awkward but it was the best he could manage. Standing, he buttoned up the fly on his blood-red uniform trousers, and glanced around the room. Considering the shillings he had spent getting there, the brothel was depressingly shabby. The timepiece on the wall was a poor copy of the sort of wooden and brass works of art that were produced in Stalbans, a city renowned not only for its artwork, but for being able to maintain such a vibrant forest on their slopes. Known as the ‘Emerald of the sky’ it was a place of pilgrimage for many of the old school druids that were starting to crop up all over the world.
He took the glass of water offered to him by Sheri, took a quick sniff, and slugged it back as fast as he could. This low on the slopes, it was best not to try to savour any water that was not in a bottle. Shit, as they say, rolls downhill. So does piss, rubbish and anything else thrown out by the Highsiders.
‘Now, I believe that I’ve been in your beautiful company far too long and I bid you adew.’ Shrugging on his jacket, he picked up his tricorne and paused for a moment to look in the mirror. Aside from the the crap workmanship which made him look like his legs were three inches too short and his forehead four inches too high, the mirror showed a propaposter officer of the Skyfleet. Replete in his red uniform, trimmed with bright white cord, and a white tricorne trimmed with red, he stood at just over six foot, his close-cropped black hair just starting to show signs of silver, with a twinkle in his eye that had often got him – and the ladies that fell for it – in all kinds of trouble.
Pausing at the door, he looked back at Sheri. She made a pathetic figure as she slowly dressed and started to tidy up after them. ‘Look,’ he sighed, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a fifty shilling note, ‘take this, use it to start a buy out fund. When I’m next here I’ll bring more.’ The look of gratitude she gave him made him feel even worse, which is why he pulled door open so quickly and stepped out with his head down and straight into a man passing.
‘You fucking oaf!’ The stranger was sat on the floor in an ever-widening pool of red wine, that was rapidly staining his imperial purple uniform. A black top hat lay crumpled under his arse. ‘What the fuck are you looking at?’
Challenger was at a loss for words, gabbling apologies he reached down and offered his hand to the stranger, ‘Here, let me help you up … sir’ he added lamely as his eyes lit upon the the comet and star of a colonel.
‘Keep away you simpleton. How dare you accost me that way? Do you have any idea how much this uniform cost to have tailored by Dunn and Baker? Of course you fucking don’t, Captain.’
The sneer on the colonel’s face along with his narrowed eyes clearly showed just how much he hated Challenger at that point. Why, of all places, do I have to knock a colonel on his fat arse.
‘Truly sir, I apologise. I was just leaving and I,’ he stopped talking as the colonel placed a finger on his lips and made a shushing noise.
‘I’ll accept your apology, once you’ve reimbursed me for a ruined uniform. Thirty thousand shillings should do it. That, or I demand satisfaction.’ The colonel smirked. Thirty thousand shillings was the pay of a captain of the INS, and it was clear that he knew Challenger was unable to pay.
‘I’m sure we don’t need to come to blow over this sir, it was an honest mistake. Please, accept my apologies and we can part on good terms, none the worse for wear.’ Challenger just couldn’t believe that the man was willing to duel him, to kill him over such a small slight. It was not as if honour even came into this.
‘What’s the matter Captain, too poor to pay and too cowardly to meet me on the field?’ A crowd had gathered on the landing, brought out of their rooms by the shouting and the colonel played up to them. He turned slowly in a circle, looking at all of them as he did so. ‘What think you kind people? Should a Colonel of the Imperial Security Guard, be embarrassed in such a manner and then refused both recompense and satisfaction?’ he paused as a couple of other ISG members tutted and ‘no’d’.
‘Is this what the great SkyFleet has become? A service of stumbling, mumbling cowards, who are too poor to even buy a good uniform? You there.’ He flapped his hand at a grinning ISG private, ‘Fetch the shore patrol and have this craven beggar arrested. Perhaps I should offer you a white feather Captain?’
Challenger didn’t know if it was his rapid breathing or the whisky that was starting to make the room spin. He swallowed as saliva flooded into his mouth, and a bead of sweat slowly started to trickle down the side of his face, tickling as he did so. A white feather was the Nerakan mark of a coward, often given by wives and ladies to men who were too slow to sign up for the crusades and serve their people with pride. A white feather would be the end of his career, no matter that the colonel was making a volcano out of a slag pile. No fucking way out his.
He swallowed hard, ‘I remain sir, you faithful servant and accept your challenge. Swords, tomorrow, after breakfast. Here is my card.’ He handed over a service card, and accepted the Colonel’s in return, ‘My second shall be in contact. Good day.’ He gave a curt nod and, pushing his way through the crowd, hoped that neither his legs, nor his stomach would betray him.
A disapproving priest
‘You fucking what?’ Challenger winced as Canon Citadel, the ship’s priest, roared his displeasure, ‘Don’t you know who Blaire is? He’s the fucking son of Lord Paladin Matteus Blaire, Scion of House Blaire, Treasurer to Her Majesty, Knight of the Sky, Lord of the Clouds, and ruler of Tartarus. You couldn’t have made a worse enemy. He’s the fucking Queen’s cousin!’ Citadel paced around Challenger’s small quarters. Five quick steps across, turn, five steps back, turn, repeat. All the time he kept up a tirade of curses and exclamations whilst explaining to Challenger just how much ‘fucking trouble you’re in!’
Challenger watched the portly priest as he ranted away, his face turning redder and redder, slowly starting to match the beard that spilled nearly halfway down his chest. He knew his crew loved the priest for his ability to lead them in their worship of the the One God, as well as his ability to dice, drink and whore with the best of them, but just now he wished that the man would just shut the fuck up.
‘Enough, man, enough. The bastard wouldn’t let me apologise. He insisted that I either pay him thirty thousand shillings or fight him. He even asked those present whether he should give me a feather. I had no choice, none.’ His hand cracked onto the hard mahogany wood of his dining table, bringing a premature end to the next tirade that Citadel was about to launch his way.
‘Fine, tell me the details.’ The priest dropped into the chair opposite Challenger whilst he outlined the details of the duel.
Swords it is
‘For fuck’s sake, this is insane. ‘ Challenger looked on, wide-eyed as yet more people filed into the square. Blaire had obviously taken advantage of his position and told what Challenger strongly felt was every member of the Kathu nobility of the duel. To say that that square was packed was a minor understatement.
‘Good luck, Captain, good luck. I hope you slit the cunt from cock to chin.’ A well-dressed and equally foul-mouthed Lower Noble grabbed his hand and shook it hard enough to hurt, ‘That bastard accosted my daughter and claimed she consented. Consented? She was twelve, barely legal. Kill him.’ He finished by handing his card, patting Challenger on the back and walking off into the crowd.
‘See what I mean?’, Citadel placed his arm around Challenger’s shoulder, ‘You’re up against a prime piece of shit, who has the power and influence to make accusations of rape steam of like water from a Wyrm’s back. Kill him you make friends. Kill him you make enemies. You are well and truly fucked, my friend. Go with God.’ A firm push sent Challenger towards Blaire and the Master of Honour, a fellow Captain in the navy.
The buzz of the crowd gradually faded into a silence that was deafening as the Master of Honour held his hands up for peace.
‘Gentlemen. We are here to settle a matter of honour,’ there was a slight pause as he said that, and he shot a look of pure venom at Blaire, that the Colonel either did not see, or did not care about. This was the first chance Challenger had to really look at Blaire. The brothel had been badly lit with ‘mood’ lighting, and he’d been too flustered to take too many details in.
The man before him stood at just under six foot, about an inch shorter than me, I have an advantage. Fat prick as well, probably spends too much time whoring and eating. His eyes tracked up to the slate-grey eyes, and saw nothing but arrogance in them. Blaire’s was sparse and he sported a moustache more suited to a fifteen year-old boy who was yet to learn how to shave, rather than a so-called grown man.
‘Colonel Blaire, will you accept the heartfelt apology of Captain Challenger and allow us to avoid blood being spilt?’ Challenger had to make a conscious effort to unclench his jaw, please just accept this and let me go you fat arse.
‘No Captain I shan’t. Challenger insulted me and I demand satisfaction. Now, get on with it, I have an appointment to get to.’
The Master of Honour pinched his nose and blew out his cheeks. With a reluctant nod, he stood back.
‘Gentlemen, raise your swords. On my word you shall commence. You shall fight until one of you is dead or unable to continue. Anyone attempting to quit the field before that shall be shot.’ He slowly stepped five paces back. ‘Begin.’
The word had barely left his lips before Blaire lunged in with a lightning fast stab at Challenger’s lead thigh, clearly going for a wound that would slow his opponent down and make the rest of the fight easier. Instinct made Challenger switch stance, whilst dropping his arm straight down in a brutal block. Barely avoiding the tip of Blaire’s sword he turned his block into an awkward backhand strike that Blaire easily parried.
By unspoken consent the two of them broke off and circled each other. Blaire was deceptively light on his feet and was barely breathing hard. Challenger – on the other hand – felt as though his legs were wading through lava, his breathing was ragged and sweat threatened to run down into his eyes.
Blaire look at him, smirked, and lunged forward once more. This time he brought his sword down from over head, forcing Challenger into the wide open St George block, his free hand reinforcing it on the blunt rear of his sword. A quick flick of the wrist by Blaire and there was a gasp from the crowd.
What the fuck was that? Challenger skipped backward and touched his side. He immediately regretted doing so as pain lanced up. Christ that arse knuckle’s a quick son of a bitch.
He launched an attack of his own, lunging, slicing, chopping and thrusting. Every time his sword was either slapped away or met thin air. Laughter rose from the crowd as Blaire slapped him on his arse with the flat of his blade as a particularly hard parry sent him past Blaire.
Challenger swallowed bitter bile as he realised he was totally outclassed by the man in front of him. Outclassed in more ways than one.
He crouched again, his legs protesting at the strain that he was putting on them, and his lungs straining to suck the thin air down his throat. Blaire, on the other hand, looked as fresh as a daisy as he beckoned Challenger on, offering him an opening that was clearly a trap.
Blaire had clearly been tutored by the finest swordsmen in the city, if not the world, his social status granting him privileges that someone such as Challenger could only guess at. But that also meant he hadn’t been taught by the gutter trash that crewed the ships of the SkyFleet. The sort of gutter trash that had taken a pasty-faced young ensign and taught him every dirty trick taken out of the book by the sort of tutor Blaire would have had.
Challenger tensed his rear leg and then went for the opening, he skipped forward on his lead leg, thrusting his sword clumsily forward. As soon as he did so, he pushed hard with his rear leg and launched an upward front snap kick into Blaire’s groin. Completely unprepared for such an uncouth technique, Blaire barely had time to register the fact that his balls were trying to join his adam’s apple before Challenger punched him solidly in the face, hooking his the basket of his sword into his opponent’s cheek. Still trying to clutch at his groin, Blaire dropped to the floor as if he were a puppet and the strings holding him up had been suddenly cut.
There was a shocked silence, broken only by Challenger’s desperate gasping for air. The pain in his side was growing worse by the second and he could tell that he was losing too much blood, too fast. He flinched as the Master of Honour stepped forward and grasped his arm and raised it into the air.
‘Satisfaction has been demanded, honour has been met. I declare this duel over.’ Challenger struggled to hear the last words as a sudden rushing sounded in his ears, the last thing he saw was Citadel rushing towards him as everything turned black.