A/N: Oh but I was never good at waiting! :) The steampunk AU is here, my lovelies!
John Thorington, Esq., the owner of the Durinson & Co. Steamship Company Ltd., the largest shipbuilding and transporting enterprise in the known world, was sitting at his oaken desk, littered with endless papers and ink bottles. Head of the company, built by his grandfather and strengthened and expanded by his father to unimaginable proportions, Thorington was known from the Sundering Seas to the Mountains of the East as the King of Steam.
All but a few surface or underwater vessels in the world were born in his docks, a net of routes spreading wherever people dwelled and water ran. He followed the steps of his father, who had ensured his empire's never ending success by acquiring several large mining regions and metalworks plants to produce parts for their ships. John Thorington had taken his father's approach one step further and ensured constant cooperation with several other tycoons, making important connections with the worlds of timber and air. Elliott Thrandon, the owner of most timber producing lands and multitudinal mills, was now providing Thorington shipping companies with wood products, and together with Hugo Elrond of Rivendell Airship Travel Corporation, Durinson & Co. introduced the revolutionary service that had changed the map of the world. Flying machines were now swift and light, transporting parts for ships and providing quick repairs, ensuring a never interrupted flow of goods and services to every corner of the civilised world.
The three Kings ruled the world driven by steam and fire, the lightning from the sky alone remaining the only element escaping their control. In the world of steel, brass and external combustion, the globes with the energy from the sky harnessed by those called Sky Bolt Catchers were crucial for the industries. While the three fields were built on the toil of thousands of workers on Thorington's, Thrandon's and even Elrond's factories, the latter being the most liberal of them, the Bolt Catchers remained a free cast, chosen by nature itself, resistant to the lightning lethal to others, and ardently protecting the odd for the world around them democracy among them. They were said to be the source of "the new plague," as the newspapers called it, - the idea of workers' unions.
John Thorington had very little patience for the "blasted convoluted ideas" and governed his factories and docks with the iron fist. He slept for no more than three hours a day, due to the insomnia that was passed in his family between generations of sons, and it's worth mentioning here that the Thoringtons prided themselves for their firstborns always being a boy. John Thorington was also involved in every little affair in his business and had little to go home to. His household consisted of a driver and a bodyguard, a giant fierce former boxer, Graham Dwalinson, a housekeeper and a cook. He took his meals mostly in his office in the upper floor of the building occupied by his numerous clerks in their bureaus and departments, his living quarters situated in the mansion adjoint to the main building.
The day this story began, Thorington's secretary knocked at his door and announced that a visitor had arrived without a previous appointment and asked whether Thorington wished to speak to a Mr. Ian McGrey, a cartographer. Upon being invited inside Mr. McGrey approached the host and shook his hand vigorously with an odd chuckle. Mr. McGrey was a tall man, in his sixties or perhaps seventies, energetic and swift, in a worn down grey suit, a dusty bowler hat sitting on his silver hair. He wore a beard that was in fashion that season, though one would doubt he was aware of the concept of vogue. He had keen, sharp eyes, light blue and sparkling with mischief. In his hands he held a large leather briefcase, as battered as the rest of his belongings.
"Mr. Thorington, I should introduce myself, my name is Ian McGrey..."
"I know who you are," Thorington interrupted in slight irritation and sat back into his large mahogany chair.
"Well, this is a fine chance. I wasn't certain if you'd remember me… I used to work with your father, but you were just a child then." Thorington nodded politely, but his patience was running out. He was a man of few words and decisive steps.
"How can I help you, Mr. McGrey?" His tone was peevish.
"Well, it concerns Erebor..." That got Thorington's attention. He jerked his head up, his eyes having already fallen on the paper he had been reading previously. Now they were focused on the strangely blissful face of the man in front of him. "You do remember her, right? Your father's biggest ship."
"I do remember Erebor, Mr. McGrey. What of her?"
"She had sunk in the Lonely Sea... what? About thirty years ago?"
"Thirty two," Thorington corrected.
"And it's been long time since anything but rumour was heard of this ship, am I right?" Thorington leaned back in his chair.
"Is this conversation leading anywhere, Mr. McGrey? My time is worth something. Or are you here to reminisce about good old times when you were the head of my father's cartography department? I do not forget faces," he narrowed his eyes, "As well as I do not forget the reasons people are made redundant in this company." The old man's face twitched, and he shifted on his chair.
"Then you know that Erebor has long been worrying me, Mr. Thorington. I have searched for maps of the waters she had disappeared in and the first hand accounts of those waters for years..." Thorington exhaled impatiently.
"Yes, you have also become obsessed with an alleged giant sea monster living in those waters and guarding the ship," Thorington's voice rang sarcastically, "Do you still think that there is a colossal squid like creature sleeping over Erebor's cargo, Mr. McGrey?" He lifted his eyebrow in a sardonical gesture. The old man suddenly grew blissfully unaware of Thorington's attitude and ignored his remark.
"The matter is, Mr. Thorington, that a few months ago I ran into some unsavoury characters in New Bree, and I have acquired some new evidence." Thorington sighed and stretched his hand to the velvet string of the bell on the wall to call his secretary. "Mr. Thorington, I have evidence that the ship has been searched for all through these years in the wrong location, and I have proof." McGrey opened his case and placed in front of the man at the desk a map and a journal that was obviously a captain's log. The cartographer poked the journal with his long bony finger. "This is the log of Captain Bard, vessel Esgaroth, whose route lay in the seas much to the North from where Erebor was supposedly buried all these years." The old man looked into Throington's eyes. "I know how much you desire her, Mr. Thorington. What if I were to help you to return her?"
"How?" Thorington spoke in a hollow voice, "In case you have forgotten she lies half the world away buried under leagues and leagues of water. And her location is unknown."
"That, my dear sir, is not entirely true. According to Captain Bard's log, and he gives the location of such event, his divers found this..." The old man pushed his hand down his briefcase and pulled out a small wooden box. Previously intricately carved, it was badly damaged by water, although the Thorington family crest on its lid was still clearly visible.
Thorington blanched and spoke in a raspy voice, "How came you by this? This is the key chest from Erebor!" He took the box from the hands of the cartographer and ran the pulps of his long fingers on its lid. His eyes shiny, an emotion almost reminiscent of tenderness ran across his face. He followed the outline of the former gilded letters SS Erebor.
Thorington opened the box and his face fell. It was empty. He clenched his jaw and glared at the cartographer.
"Where is the ignition key, Mr. McGrey? Even if we reach the ship at the sea bottom, we can't lift her to the surface without the ignition key!"
McGrey suddenly leaned ahead and looking directly into Thorington's eyes he pronounced slowly, "I will help you return her, Mr. Thorington. And I will provide you with the location of the key. But you have to promise me I'm going to this journey with you."
Thorington closed the box with gentle reverence, and his face once again cold and unreadable, he relaxed in his chair. It didn't escape McGrey's attention that the box remained near Thorington's hand, the tips of his fingers occasionally brushing it. "Why do you think I'm going to any sort of journey, Mr. McGrey?"
"You have the might and power to return Erebor, Mr. Thorington. And though you were just a boy, you remember her. Do you not?" Throington's eyes grew distant.
"I do." He breathed out. "Her holds... Her engine rooms... The hull filled with golden light..." He shook off his head to rid himself of the daze and looked at the old man.
"Even if this journey, and it does sound rather absurd, is to take place, I can not guarantee your safety."
"Have you ever been in the sea, Mr. McGrey?"
"I have had my share of travels, yes."
"Nor will I be responsible for the outcome of this enterprise." The old man nodded.
"Agreed." His face suddenly wavered, and he moved closer to Throington's desk peering into the younger man's eyes. "I am certain this journey has to take place and urgently. Sooner or later greedier minds will turn towards Erebor, Mr. Thorington."
"And what about your mind, Mr. McGrey? She is after all filled with gold and gems up to her brim," Thorington's eyes sparkled mockingly.
"You might not believe me, Mr. Thorington, but gold interests me not." The cartographer's face was suddenly haughty.
"What then? Your alleged sea monster?" Thorington's tone obviously showed that he didn't believe in such nonsense. The cartographer leaned back in his chair and returned to his previous rather imbecilic smile.
"We will need a company, Mr. Thorington. Men you personally can trust. The task we have ahead of us will require a great deal of stealth, and no small amount of courage. But if we're careful and clever, I believe that it can be done."
Thorington's brows twitched slightly, and a small smile played on his lips. He'd spend his whole life watching over construction of ships that would travel the world. Perhaps, it was time for him to see it too. He remembered the thrill and the titillation of venturing on an adventure he had had some taste of in his youth, and his eyes lit up.
"Well, Mr. McGrey, welcome to the company of John Thorington." They got up, shook hands, and spreading the journal and maps on Thorington's desk they busied themselves with planning.
A/N#2: As usual, you can find some visuals on my Pinterest page, same name kkolmakov, but again, do not expect too much :)