Author’s note: Rough unedited first draft. I’m writing with no research done, just ideas, and what you’re reading could change drastically. Thanks for reading.
The sun rose slowly over Marrakesh, shadows drawing back into alleys, between houses, into the nooks and crannies that every city had in abundance. The heat would come back as it always did, but here, now, in the early light of dawn, it was still bearable. The inhabitants had dealt with the sun for millennia, but the hundreds of visitors, traders, tourists, investors and newcomers all faced the desert heat in different ways.
The small inn at the edge of the trade district was a hive of activity. Crew from the Sky Drake had been arriving in small groups, staggering in to find food and relief from the previous night’s drinking. Makhi, who had returned with much of the same information as Ibben, ran messages and went from tavern to tavern, rousing those crew members who needed more than a quick kick to get them moving.
Ibben and Mellira flanked the captain as he stepped out, cigar clenched in his teeth. Passersby avoided the trio, who looked ready to take on Hell itself. None of them had slept, and Ibben in particular was grimy and filthy from the previous night’s adventure. Together they headed in the direction of the air-port, seeking the captain of the Twilight.
The air-port had grown on the outside of the city, getting larger every year as airship travel exploded and merchants the world over realized the profits to be made in trading goods that could be delivered anywhere, much faster than by any other method. Already loud and bustling with traders, captains, crew, and porters, the air-port only grew busier as the day went on. The very nature of the airship meant that there was plenty of shade to be found, even if it did move slightly with the wind.
The Twilight was moored at the edge of the port, tethered with thick ropes to a four story tower that contained stairs and a mechanical lift for easier loading of cargo. The airship resembled the Sky Drake with only a few minor differences. The Twilight was three meters longer, and had a deeper belly for larger cargo loads. The aft engines were heavier, and the Drake was slightly more maneuverable.
The trio climbed the tower and paused on the landing platform to take in the view. Marrakesh spread out before them, saturated in the warm tones of early morning. The city was murmuring as it woke, residents getting up to start their daily tasks. The great market square was busy, vendors setting up their stalls to catch the early customers, shouting their wares.
“Who goes there? Mellira, is that you?” The voice came from the deck of the Twilight, and belonged to a balding man with wire spectacles. He held a staff casually at his side and peered at Janus and his crew from less than ten feet away across the gap between airship and tower.
“Tomas!” The redhead grinned and waved. “How are you doing, you old dog? Are the kids doing well?”
“It is you, by god. I’d recognize that red hair and that pretty arse anywhere. The kids are doing great, Betsy is a wonderful mother. Can’t say as I’m the best dad in the world, but I try to bring ‘em something every visit,” Tomas said. He set down the staff and laid out the gangplank. “What brings you to the Twilight? Captain Janus, good to see you too. Ibben. Come aboard, come aboard! Ford is in his cabin, go right on in.”
Mellira ran the plank and jumped at Tomas, giving him a warm hug as she pecked his cheek. The men were more reserved, and stuck to handshakes. The deck was quiet, though a pile of crates had begun forming at the base of the tower, and a small number of porters were standing in a group, waiting to load the ship.
“Is he awake? It’s early yet, but we need to see him,” said Janus. He looked back toward the cabins and frowned.
“If he’s not, you can wake him up,” said Tomas. “He should be up, though. Breakfast, I think. I’ll have something brought for you as well.”
Janus nodded and led the way aft. It was time to call in the favors. The cut on his chest hurt, and he was more than exhausted. The theft of the Sky Drake had caused him more grief than he wanted to show, and the anger at Slyne’s betrayal fueled him now. He had left home twenty years ago, signed up with an airship crew, and never looked back. Back then, airships were slow and bulky, but designs had improved drastically in the years he’d been in the air. The Sky Drake was only a few years old, and she was his. He had worked his way up from deck crew to captain, and no whoreson bastard would ever take that from him. He clenched a fist and heard his knuckles pop. The door to the captain’s cabin was ajar, and Janus took a deep breath and stepped inside.
“Jeremiah Ford! Your ship isn’t fit to carry pigshit! What are you teaching that crew of yours?” Ford looked up from his breakfast plate, eyes wide with a fork halfway to his lips. The bacon slipped from the fork, and the small captain grinned as he saw who had called his name.
“Well if it isn’t my old friend Captain Janus van Koonns! What brings you to this old flying crate?” The two captains embraced, and room was made around the table for everyone.
“I’m calling the favor, Jere. Slyne took off with the Drake and left us all hanging with our balls to the wind. He flew just before dawn, from what we can tell.”
“That backstabbing sum’ bitch… What do you need from me? I’m at your disposal, you know that. I’m set to load up on cloth goods, but it’s a small cargo,the load-in shouldn’t take long at all. We can set out in an hour. Where’s Slyne headed?”
“We don’t actually know. We think he’s going for Spain, and he’s got Ben on board as hostage. He had Ben write a letter that was delivered to me, but he didn’t specify any reasons. Nothing but long-winded gloating about why he was better than me.”
“Then forget about it for now, and relax and have some breakfast while you can. I’ll have another pot of coffee sent in,” said Ford. He was American, born in Pennsylvania, and in the way of most Americans was endlessly optimistic. He leaned back now in his chair, in shirtsleeves and suspenders, and pulled out a pipe.
The rest of the hour passed quietly, and Janus and crew enjoyed the simple breakfast provided. Finally they pushed back plates and mugs and stood, stretching.
“I’ll get the crew, and meet you back here,” said Mellira. They walked out to the gangplank with Ford, discussing plans, and were surprised to see several of the city watch on the tower’s platform.
“Captain Janus?” said one of the guard. They were in the traditional red ceremonial garb, and carried short halberds.
“Yes?” Janus traded glances with Ibben, and shook his head ever so slightly.
“We regret to inform you that you are under arrest, under orders from the Duke of Marrakesh. You will be accompanying us to the city’s jails, please. Come peacefully, or you will come bruised and beaten.” The men stepped forward, flanking Janus as their leader tied Janus’ hands. Mell, Ibben, and Ford watched in silence as he was escorted down the tower stairs, shock on their faces.