"Be careful with that, Dummkopf!"
Deryn's thick Scottish burr roused Alek from his reverie, and he looked down to see his precarious grasp on a rather hefty wooden box. His green eyes widened in alarm and he hastily readjusted his holding so the box was no longer in danger of falling to the ground.
"Princes—always so careless!" huffed Deryn as she brushed by him, flashing a small, wry smirk in his direction. A bemused smile curled at Alek's lips, but Deryn was already making her way down the hallway. Alek shuffled after her, the heavy cargo he was in charge of transporting severely slowing his progress. He knew from experience that eggs in large numbers were heavy, but even the package Bovril had come in hadn't been this monstrous. What on earth had the Zoological Society created? He was tempted to inquire about this to Doctor Barlow, but he highly doubted that he would get answer. With an indignant huff he once again readjusted his hold on the box and picked up his pace so he wasn't lagging as far behind from Deryn. Alek wasn't fond of the notorious secrecy of the Society, but he had more-or-less resigned himself to being kept in the dark.
"Are we almost there?" Alek grunted, his arms growing weary from the excessive weight.
"You're tired already? You're a lot of things, Alek, but I didn't think you were a wuss." The challenge she issued was all too obvious. He scowled and didn't say another word until they arrived at Doctor Barlow's stateroom. Deryn rapped lightly on the door and after a few seconds in swung open, Alek sidling inside after Deryn. He could feel the lady boffin watching him warily as he gently set the box down in a vacant corner, and when he turned around to face her, there was a blatant expression of relief on the woman's face.
"Good. Hopefully you didn't manage to ruin anything," Doctor Barlow sniffed, making her way over to the eggs.
"Yeah, you're welcome," Alek grumbled, although he should have been used to her lack of gratitude by now.
"Alright, well, if there's nothing else you need…," Deryn began, but her voice trailed off as a figure entered the room behind them. The imperious stature of Count Volger was unmistakable, and a tangible tension followed his arrival.
"…Then I guess we'll be going," Alek said softly, completing Deryn's statement. He pushed past Volger, not bothering to give the man a second look before disappearing down the adjacent hallway.
So much had changed since Alek decided to revoke his claim to the throne. He had anticipated the reactions of the dignitaries and rulers of the countries participating in war, and he could handle their never-ending bombardment of questions. He kept his motivations to himself; how could he reveal to the world that he had given up his royal title for Deryn? He would never be able to share that tidbit of information.
Alek could endure what he could anticipate. He had expected Volger to be angry, but the confrontation that followed the annulment of his claim… Alek never could have imagined.
It had been a heated, bitter argument, to the point where even Deryn, Bovril, and Doctor Barlow escaped to a less volatile part of the Leviathan. Things were said that probably should have been left unsaid.
"You never had any purpose, Volger, and I suppose that's why my father chose you. You're expendable, and if something ever happened, you wouldn't be missed." Immediately Alek regretted the words that left his mouth, but it was too late; the damage had been done. He would never forget the look of sheer incredulousness on Volger's face, which had soon turned into an angry sneer.
"You worthless brat," the count hissed. Alek's eyes widened as Volger lifted his hand, and a loud cry filled the stateroom as a searing pain consumed the left side of his face. Clutching his cheek, he slowly looked up at Volger, whose hand was still partially extended towards him. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but Alek was already backing away towards the door, not caring what the count had to say as he slammed the door behind him.
Deryn had found him shortly after his fight with Volger. It didn't take her long to put two-and-two together, and while she tried to offer some reassurance and support, Alek refused to talk about their fight. Even now, several months later, it was still a sore topic, one that Deryn knew to keep well away from until Alek was ready to talk.
"How about we grab some dinner?" Deryn suggested. Alek might have royal blood, but he was still a guy, and food was almost always able to cheer guys up. Much to her dismay, though, he declined.
"Fine. When you're done sulking, you can meet me back in my room." Huffing, she departed towards the kitchen.
Alek hardly acknowledged her departure, instead making his way towards the upper decks, and the balconies than lined the membrane of the airbeast. The Society's ship wasn't near as grand as the Leviathan, but then again, it wasn't a military craft. The Endeavour was more concerned with the comfort of its passengers, and providing a utilitarian space for the residing scientists and cages for the beasties being studied or transported. Alek preferred the Leviathan, but he had to admit, the balconies were a nice feature, so he didn't have to hang on to the ratlines for dear life if he wanted to go outside.
The serene French countryside was spread out below them. Amongst the lush trees, rolling hills, and sparkling streams, Alek could spot small settlements dotting the land, and even some farmers tending to their land with the aid of some fabricated beasties. The sight was enough to lift his spirits, if ever so slightly. The war was still going on, but it was clear that the Darwinist powers had won, with Clanker resistance manifesting in small skirmishes that were easily stifled. Peace was once again settling over Europe, or at least the façade of it. Soldiers were returning home to their families, buildings that had been damaged due to battles were being restored. The minds of government officials were still on the war, but there had been a segue from military strategy and armaments to peace treaties and negotiations. There was a sense of tranquility throughout Europe, especially the Darwinist powers, yet Alek couldn't suppress a gripping, nauseating premonition of foreboding. The evidence of peace was all around him, but he felt like something dangerous, something poisonous, was lurking beneath the shallow surface. He was tempted to share his feeling of unease with Deryn, or even the lady boffin, but Alek dismissed the notion; they would probably accuse him of being a worry wart and the former would no doubt harass him for it.
The lengthening of shadows and dimming light heralded the sun's descent below the horizon. Alek knew he should probably retreat from the balcony, but he remained stationary, his green eyes lingering on the sky, which was painted with a myriad of colors. Warm reds, vibrant oranges, and shimmering golds painted swatches across the heavens, mingling with inky darkness towards the east that was the telltale sign of night's encroachment. It wasn't until the sky had turned completely black and tiny pinpricks of light penetrated the seamless obsidian-hued mass did Alek finally leave the landing and make his way to Deryn's quarters.
He knocked lightly on her door, and he entered after hearing a muffled "come in!"
Deryn was sprawled out on her bed, a book with vibrant illustrations of several animal species clasped haphazardly in her hand. Alek had seen it with her before, and all he knew was that it was a basic guide to Charles Darwin's theories; On The Origin of Species, if he recalled correctly. At first he'd questioned her motives for reading it until Deryn had reminded him that she was now Dr. Barlow's assistant, and if she was to be the assistant of a boffin, she needed to be familiar with their field of study. She had let him read a few pages but Alek soon gave up, finding little interest in the book, which rather disappointed Deryn.
"Are you still reading that infernal piece of literature?" Alek sniffed as he took a seat on the edge of Deryn's bed.
"Oh, get stuffed!" she retorted, shoving the book at his face, which Alek deftly managed to avoid. Grumbling a string of curses under her breath (which were thankfully obscured by her thick Scottish accent), Deryn gave up literally trying to shove Darwin down Alek's throat and resumed her reading. Smirking to himself, Alek leaned against the fabricated wood of the wall, his legs stretched out in front of him as he cast a furtive glance in Deryn's direction. He suppressed an amused chuckle when he saw that she was already dozing off, her mouth partially agape and the book perched haphazardly on her stomach. Lifting himself to his feet, taking care not to wake her, Alek placed Deryn's oh-so-lovely choice of nighttime reading on her bedstand before leaning down and placing a soft, uncharacteristically tender kiss on her forehead. Such gestures had started to become commonplace in their relationship, though the subtle brushing of fingers to the not-so-subtle snogging in Alek's quarters still felt foreign to the former prince. He had plenty of experience concerning diplomacy and the archaic rules concerning the most trivial of things, such as which pinkie to hold up whilst drinking tea, but dealing with girls? The boy was still trying to wrap his head around such strange things.
Alek silently slipped out of Deryn's room, fully intent on making his way back to his own quarters to get some sleep when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around, lifting a brow as the short, stout messenger gave a quick bow and handed him a folded piece of paper.
"A letter, Your Highn- er, Mr. Hohenburg," the man huffed, giving a small, apologetic smile before waddling off. Alek sighed, wondering if people would ever let go of his former title; albeit, being referred to merely as 'Mr. Hohenburg' did put him off ever so slightly. Rolling his shoulders in a shrug, he undid the letter, his expression darkening immediately when he saw the elegant scrawl on the inside, and he was tempted to toss the wretched paper in the nearest toilet.
Apparently, Volger was in dire need of his company. They had spoken nary a word to each other since that little…incident, and despite his reluctance to speak with the wildcount, Alek knew that if Volger had summoned him, most likely it was something of relevance. Uttering a few choice words in German, the young ex-prince stalked off towards Volger's quarters.