Chapter I

The sky was colored a rich orange as the sun set behind the clouds. The sky ship Mari-Elana floated proudly along, the pride of the British air fleet, patrolling the sky for unscrupulous pirate sky ships. The air was warm, the wind calm, the steam powered engine of the ship a soothing throb in the bowels of the ship.

The deck of the ship was protected by a large sheet of glass, offering an almost three hundred and sixty degree view while protecting the sailors from the elements. The varnished wood of the floors reflected the golden sunlight into the faces of the few crewmen who were manning the deck. One, a young lad of about eighteen years of age, worked the helm, guiding the ship in a westerly direction, changing course at the captain's orders.

The captain of the fine vessel sat at a table, a map in front of her along with her measuring tools, a compass, a spyglass, and a small cup of tea. She measured the ship's course, peaking at landmark names through a magnifying glass, all the while taking sips from the cup. She was an imposing woman, well endowed with long black hair tied tightly into a knot on top of her head. She had a fair complexion and commanded a presence that made it clear why she was captain of the ship.

"Mr. Lenard," she addressed the man at the helm, "we need to make a turn northward."

"Aye, ma'am," the sailor replied, turning the brass and wooden wheel to compensate. The sun's position changed in relation to the ship, and more shadows were cast upon the deck.

A man in full naval uniform stood on the edge of the deck, his body almost pressed against the curved glass. He watched the clouds sail past the ship, marveling in the simplistic beauty of the sky. While pondering this, his eyes caught a glint of something in a patch of cloud. He put his spyglass to his eye, searching the area for whatever might have made such a glow. He saw nothing. He continued to search, wanting to be sure that there really was nothing in the fog.

"Mr. Allan?" the captain called from her chair, "do you see anything?"

The man addressed as Allan turned to face her, "No. Well, I'm not sure." The captain stood from her chair and made her way over to him."It was only for a moment. I thought I saw something in the clouds." The captain took her own spyglass up and searched the area that Allan was pointing. She could not be certain, but for the briefest moment she could swear she had seen a dark mass drifting within the clouds. She lowered her spyglass.

"Ma'am?" Allan asked.

"Mr. Allan, we shall beat to quarters."

The next minute was filled with shouting and running about, men who had been asleep were awoken, cannons were loaded, rifles were filled with fresh powder and bullets. The men ran to their stations on the ship, ready for battle. The captain hurried about the deck, making sure everything was in shape. An assistant brought her her tricorn captain's hat.

The minutes were passed in absolute silence. The crew of the Mari-Elana were ready for battle, but there was no pirate ship to be seen. The captain was beginning to wonder if what had been spotted was actually an air ship, and not just some trick of the sun and clouds.

The crew had began to relax a little at their posts when the first shots were fired. Cannon balls ricocheted off of the metal hull of the ship as one sailed through the glass plate, shards of broken glass raining upon the heads of sailors while cold wind rushed throughout the deck.

"Leonard! Hard to starboard!" The captain shouted. Leonard wrenched the helm to the right, the ship swinging about into battle ready position. At that moment, the assailant came out of hiding.

The air ship was long, sleek, and black, bearing the black colors of a pirate's ship. The long guns were exploding and the Mari-Elana was shaken by the black cannon balls. Wood was creaking and metal was being bent. Somewhere the sound of something cracking echoed throughout the ship. The captain gave the order to return fire, and soon the sounds of the enemies' shots were mirrored by the military's own long guns. The crew struggled to maintain the footing on the shifting and turning ship, difficult enough without the strong wind now in their faces.

For the briefest of moments all firing ceased and silence ensued. It was then that a loud bang racked the ship from stern to bow, shaking everything violently. Again, a bang shook the ship. The ship suddenly began to dip forward, as if something in their propulsion system was not working. The captain ran to the wall where a system of tubes acted as an intercom between the deck and the engine room.

"What the hell's going on down there?"

A second later a scratchy voice answered, "That last round, a shot ripped right through the hull and smashed one of our engines!"

"What can you do about it?"

"Not much. We're going to have to push the others harder, but steam is everywhere, we can't see a thing!"

"Just do it!" With that she tore herself away from the tubing and turned to Leonard.

"Leonard! Round about, take us into the clouds. We're sitting ducks without that engine."

Leonard twisted the great wheel and the captain watched the black ship turn to follow, the rounds continuing all the while. Even without one of their engines the pride of the British navy could out fly any pirate vessel; though this one kept an impressive pace. The firing on the pirate ship continued, though at a much slower rate, as most men were sent below to either patch holes in the hull or assist with the destroyed engine. When the ship did reach the clouds the pirates did not follow. Hiding behind clouds was one thing; being in them was madness.

The air was cold, the wind harsh, the light black. The air within the clouds was charged with electricity and it arched off of the thin brass hull of the ship, disrupting instruments and shocking sailors. The ship bowed left and right, never keeping a steady course, not even remaining level; loose cannons and cannon balls rolled around the deck as sailors struggled to keep their balance and maintain order with the rebel equipment. The captain barked orders at the helmsmen, guiding him through the hell that was the cloud cover that had saved them from the pirate ship. Her voice was charged with anger. She did not like to lose.

They sailed through the storm until they ran out of storm to sail through. The golden sky they entered was welcome relief, from battling pirates and the elements. It was in this moment of relaxation that the captain was able to take full reports on the damage done to the ship. In engineering it was plain that the engine was beyond repair; half of it had fallen out of a huge gaping hole made in the wood work of the ship. It was really no different from the rest of the ship. Where the cannon balls had hit the ship had either been severely dented or blown away. It was when she inspected the quarters of the enlisted men that she saw blood streaked across the walls, and she began to make her way down to sick bay.

The smell of alcohol and blood was ripe in the cramped room. Men were moaning and coughing. The captain saw men with huge gashes in their sides, with severe splinters in their arms and chest, burns, even. One man had a leg so twisted and broken it barely resembled a leg. The captain sighed when she spotted the ship's doctor, rinsing blood off of her forearms. She dried her hands on a towel, wiped some blood from her forehead and fixed her glasses to her face.

"How did we do?" the captain asked, hesitantly.

"Nineteen wounded, no dead," replied the doctor, "Not one of our worst skirmishes, but I do doubt some of them will last the night."

The doctor was a very thin woman, short light brown hair with large green eyes. Her brown pants and waistcoat seemed to blend in with the wood of the ship, while she herself was rather pale, and stood out in the darkness of her work station.

She squinted her eyes at her captain, then reached out a hand to touch her neck. "Let me take a look at that..."

The captain reluctantly agreed, sitting down upon a bed as the doctor undid her collar.

"Damned ship came out of nowhere. Hiding behind the clouds," she said, almost to herself.

"Well from the sound of it we put up a hell of a fight, yes?"

"Of course we did," the captain replied, almost insulted, "But when one has the element of surprise..." she paused as the doctor pulled a large shard of glass away from her neck. The captain hadn't even realized that anything was wrong, though the blood that now flowed freely down her front was now more noticeable to her. The doctor put the shard away.

"Well, pirates don't exactly play fair." She put gauze to the captain's neck, absorbing the blood. "I assume we're going to go after them?"

"I don't think so," she replied with a sigh.

"Oh?"

"One of our engines is blown to hell, there's no way we'd be able to fly straight, let alone catch and capture them."

"I see. So we'll be making port then?"

"Yes, yes, I suppose." She got up to leave, handing the doctor the bloody gauze. She took it hesitantly.

"Thank you..." As the captain was walking out of the door way, the doctor called to her. "Axis, don't fret too much. Sky rats are everywhere. You'll find him again."

Axis, the captain of the Mari-Elana smiled, nodded, and left.