“We go, son. Now,” Dad said absently. He took a long step up and pulled the driver’s door shut with a grunt, the mosquito net clinking against the thick safety glass of the windows. He stashed the gas mask between the seats. Dad’s worn leather cowboy hat was pulled up and a sweat covered his forehead, his gray, bushy eyebrows riddled with tiny drops. He propped his massive body into the driver’s seat, wrinkling the plastic coat that covered most of what was inside, and rammed the car key into the ignition.
With a sigh, he set the brush aside next to the finely-wrought ink stone and its blot of liquid ebony. This was the 84th talisman and he still had another 434 to go. He told himself for what was also possibly the 434rd time that this was all probably a waste of time and no spirit would be summoned… but something nagged at him that even if the chances were slim, he had to at least try.
Holographic cameras whirred as Isaac stepped out of the VIP lounge and offered his hand to Corin. Corin shook it, with a firm confidence and an easy grin that Isaac did his best to match, conscious as always of the camera’s gaze. Through it, the millions of Callistoan voters would be watching, judging.
When it comes down to it, Arthur is rather privileged. There aren’t many in service who’d give up the chance to work as a valet for the heir of the Brinsley family. He gets good meals, a good wage, a crisp set of clothes, and if he plays his cards right, he may even make his way up to butler by the time he’s 30: a worthy achievement by all counts. He’s well-liked. He’s respected.
And, God help him, he thinks he might be in love.
Flynn curled his arm across his chest, hand tight around the strap of his bag, and shoved his way through the crowd. Behind him, Laura grabbed a handful of his shirt and held on tight. The bodies around them were fresh, newly arrived and, probably, recently showered, so the crush was merely claustrophobic, jarring, and slightly damp, but not rank. Not yet.
It cost Flynn a bruise to the ribs (paid, in turn, to whatever bastard thought it was smart to stop dead in the aisle), but he got the last two chairs on the end of a row, just right of center and close to the stage. Somewhere above their heads, air conditioning vents churned at full tilt. He swiped at the line of sweat quickly freezing on his forehead. “Well, we made it,” he said.
“Hurry, please,” the Royal Guard commanded, his black cloak fluttering around his ankles with every long stride. Thaller did his best to hurry, but the tiny crystal balls in his woven satchel made muted, almost ominous clicks. He glanced down as much as possible, peering into the open neck of his bag, hoping that they remained carefully wrapped in the soft cloth he placed them in this morning. Sir Kassiter would be most displeased if any of them broke.
The Hyperion would not have been out of place on the side of some Greek vase or urn, well-muscled and broad of shoulder, with strikingly handsome features and a generous mouth well-suited to smiles. His eyes were the colour of good English loam, his hair only a few shades darker than autumn wheat, and he was tall, over six feet, and his very presence made every room too small to contain him. Add to that the blue and red dress uniform of General Hyperion, of the Royal Division of Supermen, with gold epaulettes and the decorations and medals of his feats, and women all but swooned in his presence. The effect he had on others often made him uncomfortable; though he was conscious of his good looks and the effect he had on others, he was a modest man by nature. But as symbol of the British Empire and commander of the Royal Division of Supermen, he must necessarily look and dress the part.
When my aunt announced her intention to explore the centre of Mt Girrwassen, I did not at first pay it any mind. My aunt was a university professor and was always away on one expedition or another. It did not affect me except for the lack of company at the dinner table.
It was only in the month leading up to her departure that she commented that I really should be starting to pack my bags.
“But of course you are coming with me!” she exclaimed, when I professed my surprise.
I suppose she had decided that I should accompany her on the expedition because it had been I, indirectly, that drew her attention to the volcano.
Even if I could fly, even if I could teleport, even if I could be carried on a litter by a retinue of oil-slicked, muscled, and shirtless men, even if I could afford a car, I’d still prefer to ride the bus.