Chapter 1: Duel

Please note that a horizontal line indicates a change in perspective. I'm not trying to patronize you, dear reader, and I'm sure you'd have worked it out by yourself but it's better to make sure. Right?

The Leviathan was an airship, quite possibly the greatest vessel in the British air force and certainly the oldest. It was not a craft of mere steel and wood, no; the Leviathan was, like all the war machines of the Darwinists, a creature of flesh and blood. It appeared in the sky as a gargantuan monster and indeed its life-threads had been taken from a whale.

Unlike a whale however, the Leviathan belonged to a class of Animalia called Spiraculum Hydrogeni, more commonly known as hydrogen breather ,and was home to almost one thousand other species. It wasn't so much one creature, serving as a ship, but rather a complex web of life, which fitted together more neatly than clockwork. From far off however, all that could be seen was an immense shadow swimming lazily through the clouds, its deep mauve skin appearing black in the night.

Dylan dived wildly forwards, frantically lunging with his training sabre. Although masks hid both combatants' faces, each wore an expression of concentrated determination. Alek had expected to win easily, and was surprised but also pleasantly exhilarated to see how much Dylan's training with Count Volger had led him to improve.

Alek parried blow after blow, causing Dylan's frustration to mount as he firmly repelled each aggressive strike, each hopeful assault. The riposte he attempted in return came very close to striking his target and he smirked privately to himself as his defensive stance held strong. However, as soon as he allowed his confidence to grow, Dylan twisted his blade slightly and struck from a completely new angle, forcing Alek to dive out of the way.

Instead of the graceful leap that he had intended, Alek barely managed to stay standing as he stumbled backwards. He stared hard at Dylan, sure that he was able to sense the air of smugness that he now radiated.

The two were very evenly matched, though Alek was by far the more experienced of the two, having trained from a young age. The battleground however, suited Dylan much more than it did him, for he still felt unsteady in the strong wind that swept across the Leviathan's spine and buffeted against them, freezing cold, especially at night.

Dylan, on the other hand looked as steady as a rock, advancing confidently. Then again, of course he did; he was a soldier after all. Although Alek was a prince, and of a much higher social status than Dylan, he couldn't help but idolise the boy in some ways, wishing he was soldier material himself.

Somehow, especially up here on the Leviathan, where it seemed that knowing which knot to tie was more important than being able to speak three or four different languages, Alek could not help but feel bettered by Dylan. Well, at least he'd show him who the better swordsman was!

Deryn smiled to herself as she stepped towards her opponent; this was going much better than she had expected. Suddenly Alek's posture changed and he quickly came in on the offensive. His sword came for her in a fast and savage swipe, which she was barely able to parry. Wait a second, a swipe? That wasn't exactly a conventional fencing move.

Simultaneously, and without a word spoken between them, they each came to the understanding that the rules had changed. Their spar had quickly abandoned the strict limitations of fencing; what they were now doing seemed more like sword-fighting.

Beads of sweat dripped down Deryn's face. This bloody mask! Sure it did a good job of protecting her face but it was also barking stifling.

Alek seemed to be struggling just as much as she was, however. Both were becoming less precise and wilder in the hope that one of their actions would manage to take their opponent by surprise and bring the battle to an end.

Deryn tilted her hand, striking low, towards Alex's legs. Her blade struck metal however, as Alek blocked yet another attack, and she grunted in frustration. Her annoyance turned to surprise when she saw her opponent's response.

The blade of his sabre sang as it slid along the length of hers, then at the last second he twisted his wrist a fraction, the blade jumping away from the guard at the end of her sword, before swishing back and smacking against her fingers.

She yelped as her sabre was knocked out of her hands. Alek instinctively ran forwards to catch it, but it had already fallen too far and was sliding across the smooth, deep purple skin of the great hydrogen-breather that made up the main body of the Leviathan.

As Deryn's eyes followed the sword's descent, she was aghast to see that Alek was still running towards it, and for a precious second she froze. Then she was after him, scampering down the side of the airbeast, half running and half sliding, using ropes lashed around the beast to control her fall.

Alek was now mere metres away from her; the way that he was moving was far less controlled and she could already see that he wasn't going to be able to stop himself. Quickly her arm reached out and grabbed his jacket, pulling him back. His expression was frozen in horror, his arm still extended as though to catch the weapon, even as it tumbled down towards the deep indigo of the ocean below them, gone forever.

To his immense (and unwelcome) surprise, Alek found himself jerked suddenly backwards and, as the sword fell into the sea, he gave a sigh, and turned angrily to find Dylan holding onto his clothes. They each stood very carefully, using the ropes as a ledge to stand on whilst they clung to the Leviathan's side.

"Look what you've done now!" he cried, frustrated at the loss of one of his swords, which had been given to him by his father.

"Only gone and saved your barking life!" Dylan snapped indignantly.

"Well in case you hadn't noticed, I didn't need to be saved. You just lost my father's sword." As he said this, Alek indicated to the ocean, where his sword now presumably lay, left to rust at the bottom of the sea.

"I lost it? In case you hadn't noticed, you're the one that knocked the sword out of my hand!"

"Well if you'd been holding it properly, you'd have been able to keep hold of it."

"You know what? You really are a dummkopf!"

"Oh yeah? Well you're a... you're a barking ninny!"

At this trade of insults from the opposite's dialect, the pair burst out laughing and Alek smiled, happy to see how strong their friendship had become during his time aboard the airship. He sat side by side with Dylan, content to just sit and stare down into the inky depths of the sea.

Deryn followed Alek's gaze, before realizing that he wasn't looking at anything in particular, and then joining him in his idle scanning of the ocean. The scenery changed little as the airbeast slowly travelled wherever the war required its presence. Suddenly her eyes were drawn to something white, which stood out amongst the darkness of the waves. She gasped.

As soon as she spotted it, the white object disappeared. She stared hard at that patch of sea, which annoyingly remained completely clear. She had thought for a second that she'd seen an enormous bubble, but her brain was already dismissing the idea, for if her original suspicion — that some creature was lurking in the depths beneath them — had been correct, then why would there only have been a single bubble when it breathed? No, what she had seen could only have been a wave breaking- it was becoming very windy after all.

Alek had heard her reaction and he nudged her. "Are you okay?" he questioned, a concerned expression plain to see on his face.

"Yeah...It was nothing," she replied sheepishly.

Alek looked doubtful. "If there was something wrong, you would tell me, wouldn't you? Remember, we don't keep secrets from eachother anymore."

"Yes of course," Deryn said, the lie trickling easily off her tongue.

Nowadays, it seemed that lying was almost as natural to her as breathing or sleeping. She hated to think of herself as deceitful, but after all, she had deceived everyone in order to earn her place as a soldier aboard the Leviathan. As she said those words to Alek however, she felt a terrible pang of guilt, stronger than any of those she'd experienced before.

She could stand lying to the others, even Newkirk, for that was necessary if she were to stay in the air, but lying to Alek felt horrible and very, very wrong. If only she could tell him the truth! No, she'd made her decision on her day of recruitment, where she'd escaped a dreary life of sitting, sewing, and simpering, and forged herself a new life, full of adventure. She was not about to throw all this away for some barking prince!

As Alek returned to his cabin, Deryn sat there for a while longer, looking up at the tiny sliver of crescent moon and the faint pinpricks of the few stars that could be seen.

This was something really new for me and I had a blast writing this. Please review, I'd really like some feedback for this piece of writing.