He did not spare me a glance, but attacked the flames. He was methodical, I realized, and precise. It struck me that he had done this before. I sprinted to his side to get his attention, yelling in his ear and pointing to the wall behind him.
“The cooking fuel will explode!”
“Non, non, mon brave bête. Me, I zhrow it out.” He nodded behind him.
I peered behind the stove. Connecting hoses dangled, the tanks were gone. Clever fellow.
“Can I help you?” White steam overwhelmed black smoke, and still Chef methodically doused the flames.
“Oui, mon brave bête,” he said, “Get out of my kitchen.”
Then, of all things, he winked at me. I saluted and scurried to the stair, vowing to ask Madame the meaning of brave bête as soon as I saw her again. Then I reached the ladder, untangled my rifle, and looked out at the scene. If I saw her again.
We were still rising, still above the Mongol airship, but they were catching up. I fumbled for my monocular. The men on the fighting platform were back at the rails, away from the wooden structure. I could finally get a look at it. A standing box frame, with a massive crossbow on top, wound and ready with a bolt the size of my leg – a ballista. If the Khan wanted to destroy us utterly, it would carry a load of explosives like the riders’ arrows. If he had realized the weakness of our defenses, the ballista bolt would put an enormous gash in the envelope to sink us slowly. Then the Mongol might recover our ship and add the Schöneluft to his fleet.
War Wings still climbed the currents toward us, buffeted by storm winds. I could scarce believe the risks they took, nor their skill in riding the storm. As I watched from the broken window a rider leaned hard to catch an updraft. One of his comrades gliding below him was caught in a sudden gust and blew into him. Their wings tangled and they fell together. That still left twenty, at least.
Mounting my ladder, I swung out, firing. Unless the boiler chief got us out of here fast, I would die on this ladder. I would die buy carisoprodol online overnightflying, which seemed a good thing to me, if only I could do it in eighty years, instead of today. But I soared, rain lashing my eyes and wind flapping my coat like wings. And I fired, and I think I was yelling, only at some point it became a song. Then there were fifteen War Wings, and then there were twelve. So I soared and sang and fought, and I had never been more alive.
Before I heard the rumbling, I felt it. My hair stood on end and I felt the power building in my gut. By the time it reached my ears I was half way up the ladder. I scrambled, urged by terror. Lightening struck barely half a mile away. The metal frames of my goggles felt hot against my scalp but I did not stop to push them off. I climbed.