Christina stared at Abeland Pieman, conflicted. She knew he wouldn't be there unless it was something vital. As the right hand of the Pieman empire, a man who could show up out of the blue and have kings and queens surrender their power, he was more than aware of the fuse his presence in Kar'm would ignite among his enemies.
Still, despite how protective of her Abeland had been since they'd first met, he rarely showed up without an ulterior motive.
Abeland bore a striking resemblance to an early forties edition of his father, Marcus Pieman.
"Your nails are scuffed, and your beard's not been groomed in days." Christina pointed at his face. "You've lost weight, a bit too much."
He smiled and stroked his cheek with the back of his hand. "It's not as bad as it was. Someone gave me an unexpected vacation a little while ago. Terrible accommodations. But, that's a story for another day." He rubbed the brass buttons on the edge of his black coat.
"What are you doing? And why are we meeting in my personal lab?" Christina waved at her messy desk, covered in drawings and engineering instruments. Around the desk were piles of papers and shelves of mechanical devices of all sorts. In the far corner of the room were boxes and a tarp draped over something.
Abeland frowned. "Aren't you going to ask me how I knew about this room? About this entire facility?"
Despite herself, Christina cracked a smile. "Why are you here? This is a very bad time."
"Worse than you're aware, I'm afraid."
As Abeland drew in a breath, Christina noted the trademark wheezing of his asthma. She was tempted to ask if he'd made another machine to exercise his lungs, but as he'd said, such things would be for another day.
Angelina rushed into the room and Christina's smile disappeared. "Sorry, Stein was having a moment."
"Again?" Christina asked.
Angelina rolled her eyes and pushed her light blond hair over her ears.
"Would you mind waiting outside, Angelina?" He pointed at the door, his eyes narrowed.
"I'm not letting you pull another one over on her." As Angelina stepped between Christina and Abeland, she felt Christina's hand on her shoulder. "You're not serious?"
"He's never done us any harm. Moreover, I don't want anyone barging in here. Stand at the door and give us the two minutes we need." Christina looked at Abeland. "I presume we don't need any more than that."
Abeland shook his head.
Grudgingly, Angelina stepped out of the room and Abeland gently closed the door behind her.
With a sigh and rubbing his hands together, he walked toward the far end of the room. Looking at her, he pointed at the tarp. "I will admit, I was rather excited to hear the news."
"You mean my rickety old King's-Horse?"
"No, nor the ones you used up helping the Yellow Hoods." He paused. "It's very noble of you, by the way. Particularly given your fierce rule of remaining neutral in this whole Tub versus Fare war."
"I had my reasons and I violated nothing."
"Philosophy for another day. Now, I assume that under this tarp, behind the lovely last of the mechanical horses, is the mint-condition Magnetic-Copper-Magnesium engine I've heard so much about. Am I right?"
Christina's eyes went wide, and she fell back a step. "No one knows about that." She glared at him. "No one."
"And yet, I do." A devilishly charming smile crossed his lips. "Nikolas Klaus made it, I presume?"
She stared at him coldly, a scowl on her face.
"My father would be shocked and awed that Klaus eventually came up with a version all himself. We'd all given up hope. Sneaky, old Saintly Nick, always full of surprises." Abeland brought his hands together.
"So, you came here to steal it from me?"
Abeland shook his head. "No. I want to offer a trade. A piece of technology that will be critical to all of us surviving the coming airship war, for the chance for Kar'm to survive."
Christina raised an eyebrow.
"I don't want anything underhanded, and I will say that I came as quickly as I could as soon as I learned you have a plague of saboteurs within these walls."
"What about your spies?"
"They are harmless... to you."
She stared at Abeland, nodding after a minute. "You didn't come by horse; I would have had a heads up. So how did you get here?"
He scratched the back of his neck and looked away. "Rail-raft, if you must know."
"You've been busy," Abeland said. "When this is all over, let's have tea. I'll explain the future that's coming. What do you think? I'll even tell you about the brilliant invention of one of our top inventors, Tulu Neuma. We call it the Neumatic tube, and it allows us to send messages long distances in hours. Unbelievable."
"I'm not making any deal until I know what you have," Christina said.
He pulled out a piece of paper from his long coat and handed it to her.
Christina frowned at him as he refused to let go.
He let out a heavy sigh. "You'll need to evacuate all of your people. There are Skyfallers on their way. I saw them a few hours ago, and there's nowhere else I could imagine them coming but here. In the chaos of evacuation, get rid of the people on this list."
An explosion went off in the distance and the underground building rumbled.
Abeland shoved Christina out of the way as a piece of stone fell from the ceiling.
"We're out of time," Abeland whispered.
Christina opened the paper and stared at it. "Oh no." She bolted out of the room. "Angelina, we have to get back to the meeting room. Now." She ran past her.
"What? You're going to leave Abeland in there?" Angelina yelled.
"I'll be fine," he replied with a cheeky smile and wave. "You should catch up with her. Her life might depend on it."
Angelina glared at him and took off.
YOU ARE READING
The King's-Horse (Book 1)Fantasy
An all-new steampunk-meets-fairy-tale series of heart, legacy, and duty. Christina Creangle stared at the smoldering ruins of her life's work. When the Moufan, an ancient secret society, offered to take care of her senile father as repayment of an...