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From the Deep of the Dark

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      From the Deep of the Dark
Stephen Hunt

The sixth marvellous tale of high adventure and derring-do from the master of steampunk literature, set in the world of The Court of the Air.

A daring underwater chase ends in a battle for the Kingdom itself…

The streets of Middlesteel are under attack by an unseen enemy, leaving bloodless corpses in its trail. The newssheets scream vampire, but the truth is even more deadly than anyone knows.

Charlotte Shades, Mistress of Mesmerism, is a thief – and a darned good one at that. When two mysterious men ask her to steal King Jude’s sceptre from the Parliament vaults, the challenge (and reward) is too great to pass up. After all, Charlotte’s natural charm and the magic of the gem she wears – the mysterious Eye of Fate – have never failed her before.

Only consulting detective Jethro Daunt and his steamman companion Boxiron know there’s more to these two men than meets the eye. Yet even as they rescue Charlotte from a fate worse than death, they are thrown into a plot thicker than even they realize. They escape beneath the waves in an ancient submarine led by Commodore Jethro Black, where they encounter stiff resistance from the strange people who inhabit the vast underwater kingdoms. But man, woman, seanore and gill-neck alike must band together if they are to defeat a danger that might not even be from this world…

Go tell the Spartans passerby,

that here obedient to their laws we lie.

Epitaph carved at Thermopylae.

Table of Contents

Cover (#u1ce4ecf7-1FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Title Page (#u1ce4ecf7-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Epigraph (#u1ce4ecf7-3FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Prologue (#u1ce4ecf7-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter One (#u1ce4ecf7-6FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter Two (#u1ce4ecf7-7FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter Three (#u1ce4ecf7-8FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter Four (#u1ce4ecf7-9FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter Five (#u1ce4ecf7-10FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo)

Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo)

By Stephen Hunt (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

Prologue

Some years ago.

Luck. Her survival was all to do with her luck. That much Gemma Dark knew, such a small hope to cling to, clutching the old lucky shark’s tooth so tight between her fingers it left an impression on her thumb. Not as much of an impression as its original owner had bitten out of the wooden paddle she’d used to beat back the great white, and certainly not as much an impression as – BANG – the thump of the distant depth charge echoing off her U-boat’s hull.

‘Exploding high,’ hissed Gemma’s first mate, wiping an oil-streaked hand against his forehead. ‘And wide.’

Not quite high enough for her tastes. Captain Dark hovered behind the pilot and navigator’s chairs on the bridge; an angel of death for submariners that believed in such things.

‘Take us down deeper,’ Gemma ordered, ignoring the rebuke sounding back from the hull, the creaking of straining metal. ‘When our friends up there don’t spot any wreckage, they’ll start setting their fuses longer.’

Gemma’s voice, so deep and rich like honey, even with the march of years, sounded hollow and tinny at their current depth. The air recycling was struggling, just like the rest of her beautiful, ancient boat. A trusted sabre to slice into enemies of the cause. But not like this. Damn the aerial vessel, a long-range Royal Aerostatical Navy scout, hanging out of sight to catch any privateer rash enough to raid the Kingdom of Jackals’ surface shipping – like the richly laden merchantman Gemma had targeted. From hunter to hunted in one ill-starred transition. Gemma’s pursuer only had to be lucky once with the depth charges they were rolling out of their bomb-bay slides, while the deeper Gemma drove her boat to escape, the more dangerous the impact of any concussion wave that found its mark.

She was ancient, their u-boat, the Princess Clara, practically a family heirloom. Hundreds of years old like all of the royalist fleet. And Gemma could hear her pain, the groaning from the hull growing louder as they sank, the ratcheting of the gas-driven turbines deep beneath Gemma’s calf-length leather boots increasingly strident with every extra fathom of depth their screws thrust against.

The boat demonstrated her petulance by blowing a valve on the pipes at the far end of the bridge, two of Gemma’s crew leaping to close off the venting steam that began filling their compartment. The Princess Clara was in the ocean’s grasp, and the ocean was slowly crushing the life out of the submersible.

‘We could jettison cargo,’ said the first mate. ‘Flood the torpedo tubes and send more junk towards the surface. We might get lucky.’

Lucky. Yes. But the clever dog of a skipper standing on the bridge of the airship would know the difference between a real hit and the Princess expelling fake wreckage. He was an experienced submersible hunter; any fool could see that from the position of his ambush and the classic stovepipe hat-shaped spread of his depth charges. Shallow brim with a deep side-band … and deep shit for all of them. He was a professional, this one. A shark, as sharp as the tooth Gemma was rolling between her fingers. Of course, he might be a she. A female airfleet officer. Someone like Gemma, a face once considered beautiful, hardened by the privations of age and the cause and the fight – not ready to be pensioned off yet, for all of her silvery grey hair.

Those who never experienced the pleasure of serving under Gemma often mistook her vivaciousness for greed, her appetite for life for swinishness. Curse the lot of them. Lubbers and cowards and weaklings, afraid of a strong-willed captain. Pirates and rebels. The two terms had become interchangeable long before she’d been born. Gemma stole every cargo she came across, and if she had to hang a couple of captured officers to make the taking of the next cargo easier, that was only to build her reputation. A privateer could never have too much of a reputation. That wasn’t vanity – hardly any compensation for her age-faded beauty at all. Just cold economic sense. Manacle a crew to their ship and send her to the bottom of the seabed with a torpedo, and the handful of survivors you let out in the lifeboat would soon spread word that resisting Captain Gemma Dark was not a safe or sensible option. Did that make her a bad person? Her crew took fewer losses that way. And when continuing an uneven conflict between the royal family and their disloyal parliament that had been lost centuries ago, well, all was fair in such a war. Sailors might call Gemma the Black Shark in harbour-side taverns, for the predatory silhouette she’d added to her house’s personal coat of arms after surviving the sinking of her uncle’s vessel as a girl, but what was in a name? Gemma had cargoes to plunder. She had a crew to feed. Did the Kingdom’s Parliament of filthy common shopkeepers think of that when they dispatched their clever dogs to hunt her titled head? Not a bit of it. And their cargoes were so luxurious … and profitable. Precious metals. Rare jewels. Fine wines. Expensive silks and spices. The latest mechanical advances from the Royal Society. And the squawks of their owners so fine as she attached a noose to a sail and watched their boots kick and struggle.

The crewman on the pilot wheel gave a yelp of alarm as one of the gas lamps illuminating the deep of the dark outside the u-boat imploded. Little pieces of hot glass showered the armoured viewing glass at the fore of the bridge.

‘We can’t keep this up,’ cried the pilot, his eyes focused on the needle of the altimeter, the little needle pushing so far into the red at the right-hand side of the brass dial, there was nowhere left for it to go.

Before the pilot could do anything about it except bitch, Gemma Dark had a pistol out and shoved into his temple. ‘Follow my damn orders. Down bubble. Gentle declination, keep on pushing deeper.’

A crack sounded behind her. One of the pieces of oak panelling that lined the bridge splintering as the metal it was riveted to tightened. The wheel shook in the pilot’s hands as he tried to fight back his fear.

‘There!’ called the first mate. The black lines of an underwater trench lay revealed by the light of their two intact exterior lamps. ‘It’s a damn big drop, not on the charts either.’

No. None of this was on the charts. The retreat of the magma of the Fire Sea to the north was leaving a whole new topography under the surface of the sea. Underwater volcanoes, mountains and valleys to be explored. Not on their charts, and certainly not on the charts of Parliament’s deadly airship circling above them.

Gemma had chased her luck, just as she always had.

‘Head into the trench,’ ordered Gemma, counting the seconds from the last thump of a depth charge in her head.

The wheel trembled in the pilot’s hands. ‘We’ll die down there!’

‘The correct response is aye-aye, captain,’ said Gemma, pushing the pistol in tight against his temple.
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