Imprudence Page 38

Rue continued issuing instructions. “Cook will be authorised to distribute alcohol to soothe the nerves as needed.” The decklings cheered, which made Rue rethink a little. “During off-duty shifts, obviously.” There was a murmur of disappointment. “But you have all earned hazard pay for this action. It’s not your job to fight for the honour of The Spotted Custard.” Another cheer. “I want you all to know how much I appreciate the effort.”

The decklings started up a raucous song at that.

“We are The Spotted Custard!

From the crow’s nest to the tomb!

Spotted Custard is your saviour,

or Spotted Custard is your doom!”

Aren’t they precious? We have a chant. Rue was utterly delighted. She wanted to march about in a drummer boy fashion, but that might be a smidgen undignified in a captain, so she only nodded to the beat with a pleased expression.

Rue raised a hand when everyone would have dispersed. “I know we are still an hour from float off, but let’s get this basket up, shall we? London clearly isn’t interested in doing us any favours. Decklings prepare the balloon, deckhands the propeller. I want those kippers cleaned up and loaded into storage. All non–crew members should be groundside in ten minutes and the gangplank tucked in. Navigation, prepare the helm for… Percy? Where the devil is Percy? Damnation, did they steal our navigator?”

Percy had not been kidnapped but had simply disappeared below via the captain’s ladder to, as he explained when Rue found him, “Check on something.”

Rue became even more suspicious that their attackers were after a Percy-related whatnot. Percy could hold the secrets of the universe against all comers, however, for he utterly refused to elaborate further.

“I understand we are floating early?”

“Yes, I thought we might take in the view, drift above London for a bit.”

It being winter, London was a grey, gloomy thing. Percy was not impressed with this plan. “I did want to get in another chapter.”

“Human life, I’m afraid, must take priority. I won’t give our enemy time to regroup again. Whoever they are.”

So The Spotted Custard let loose her moorings and drifted up. At a safe height, she bobbed, taking the opportunity to tune her motions. It had been a few weeks since she’d tackled serious floating, and while their plotted currents were not challenging, one could never be certain with the aetherosphere. Rue wanted her crew prepared for anything, especially now.

The sun set and they rose higher, waiting for Percy to call the mark for wind-up and puff.

Tasherit appeared on deck. She reached her long graceful arms above her head for a stretch, taking in the busy crew with interest.

“What’s going on? Pleasure jaunt?”

Primrose stared at the werecat, eyes popping.

Rue explained. “Had to lift earlier than planned. We had visitors. Your troops, by the way, did marvellously. I’m impressed.”

Tasherit lowered her arms. “They’re charmingly enthusiastic. Early, you say? Are we off somewhere particular, then?”

“Oh goodness. I forgot you’ve been asleep. We’re headed to Egypt. I do apologise. It must feel as if we catnapped you.”

The werelioness only grinned. “Don’t be silly, I’m thrilled. It’s one of the reasons I joined up with you, Lady Prudence. Never a dull moment. It’s been ages since I visited Egypt. Could get a little awkward for me, given the plague and all. Plus, in some circles, I’m not at all welcome. But we’ll worry about that when we get there, shall we?”

She moved to join the twins in the navigation area. Her nose twitched and she narrowed her big brown eyes at Primrose. “Little flower, you smell positively delicious.”

Prim blushed scarlet. “There was a kipper incident.”

“Don’t stop,” begged the werecat.

Primrose rolled her eyes. “Would you like some?”

The lioness was not to be diverted. “Of you or the kipper?”

Primrose glared.

Tasherit would have twitched whiskers, had she sported them at the moment. “If we intend to break aether soon, then yes please. I should eat before I’m forced back to bed. Kippers would be lovely.”

The aetherosphere reputedly made vampires insane and werewolves ill. The werecat was affected as well, although not so badly. The moment they entered the grey, Tasherit fell into the deepest, most immovable sleep. Like a vampire during the daylight, she appeared dead, curled in a tight ball. Rue had asked her why she was different, able to travel in the aetherosphere where other supernaturals could not.

In classic fashion, Tasherit had answered with no answer. “I’m a lioness, darling. Heights are what cats do. We’re good at being solitary, hence my lack of hive or pack… well, pride in my case. And we’re good at being high up. And we’re good at sleeping. I can’t wake until we are out of aether, though. I doubt you can steal my form either, little skin-stalker.” At Rue’s expression, she added, “It might be dangerous to try. I am accustomed to the catnap-solid-state-flop. You are not.”

Kippers arrived and Tasherit ate them with alacrity, accompanied by a large mug of heavy cream. She had horrible table manners, so the others left her to it, bustling about putting everything in order. Primrose retreated to wash her hair, given that while the kippers themselves had been removed, the stench had not.

Primrose still hadn’t told the werecat about her engagement. Her gloves stayed very firmly on. Little coward.

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