Chapter 26

Y Ddraig Goch

Dante stepped forward and the world around him stretched out like rubber, then snapped with a silent pop. The field was still there, the surrounding trees, the morning sky, everything as it was and as it should be — except for one very large and very obvious difference.

When Rembrandt Payne’s message had mentioned a ship, he had pictured a one of those dull grey bullets with outstretched wings that shuttled goods around the many Circles of Malkuth. When he learned of Avalon, he wondered if the initiates might get to ride on a more elegant vessel, a sleek, silver cruiser with an underside that glistened with the rainbow glow of levitation. He had not, for one moment, imagined something so vast, so elaborate, that it would put all his expectations to shame.

Katrina was already taking photographs. He couldn’t blame her. His mother had told him stories of the great Seelie drakonics, of living ships with piercing eyes and armoured bodies who ferried heroes about the world, but he had assumed them exagerrations, figments of her vivid imagination, used to make her work seem more glamorous, more incredible than it really was.

And yet, if the beast before them was any indication, those stories were true. Hunched over the pitch on four muscular limbs, its blood-red body was the size of a house and its upswept, iridescent wings twice as high. A trail of golden scales, glistening in the morning sun, ran from the tip of its rigid tail to a crowned head, where unblinking, jade-green eyes peered from the shadows of an armoured mask. Living or not, it was a vessel of such incredible design it seemed implausible. A thing like that could not fly.

Technology, he thought, sufficiently advanced.

“She’s quite the beauty, isn’t she,” said a cheerful voice beside them. Dante had been so focused on the ship that he failed to spot the man in the charcoal suit standing there beside them. Rembrandt Payne raised a hand in greeting. “Her name’s Winnifred, if you must know, though I’m sure she’ll introduce herself once you’re all on board.”

Byron, fumbling his pipe into a pocket before the Seelie Chief could notice it, said, “I look forward to meeting her. She is one of yours, I presume?”

Chief Payne shook his head. “Not one of mine, no. She’s here on my personal request. I thought that, if you’re going to fly all that way, you may as well go in style.”

“How thoughtful,” said Byron.

Judging from the number of initiates gathered beneath the vessel’s golden chest, Phoenix Rogan’s paranoid concerns had fallen on deaf ears. While Katrina hurried over to join her and the rest of their closed circle of friends — which now included a knee-high automaton with eight spindly legs — and Byron moved to great Doyle Kennedy, Dante loitered. Besides the lethargic Lira Burn, only seven other Second Class initiates had failed to show up, most obvious among them Astrid Guirlande and her Sophist cronies, Elizabeth and Vesperia. Anticipating their last minute appearance, accompanied by a small platoon of Sophist peacekeepers and a scowling Director Guirlande, Dante readied his cloak for a quick escape.

Across the other side of the crowd, Joel Gibson caught his eye, then looked away with a pained grimace.

Those crazy Welsh!