Wolves of the Northern Rift

By: Jon Messenger

Magic & Machinery 01

The whirling blades of the zeppelin propellers hummed within the passenger cabin, as the inflated transport drifted over the frozen landscape below. Frost clung to the windows, leaving tendrils of ice crystals reaching toward one another from their respective corners of the panes of glass. Despite the heat within the undercarriage cabin, the cold blanketed the hull of the craft.

Within one of the private rooms of the large cabin, Simon Whitlock drummed his fingers impatiently on his top hat, which rested on the table between him and his associate. Simon looked out the window, though the glass fogged almost immediately from his warm breath. He rubbed it with his suit sleeve, leaving a damp smear over the glass.

Frustrated, he sat back and pulled on the chain that dangled from his waistcoat. The pocket watch on the end of the chain slid from his vest pocket and spun lazily in the air. Simon grabbed the watch delicately and pushed the button on top. It swung open, revealing the timepiece on one side and a royal crest etched into the silver of the other. A photo of a dark-haired woman had been placed over the crest, concealing much of it. He only halfheartedly read the time before clicking the watch closed and replacing it in his pocket. The motion of brushing his suit aside revealed the butt of the silver revolver, tucked firmly in a shoulder holster. Simon hastily pulled his jacket back over the weapon and looked at his partner.

“How much longer is our trip?” Simon asked, interrupting his associate from his studies.

Luthor Strong looked up from his stack of papers on the table and arched an eyebrow inquisitively. Reaching up, he removed his wire-framed glasses, placing them gingerly on the table atop the strewn papers.

Without replying, Luthor looked out the window, admiring the snow-covered mountains over which they flew. A cold draft washed over him as he leaned closer to the window, and he shivered. He reached up absently and scratched the thick muttonchops that covered both cheeks.

“You have many virtues, sir,” Luthor said as he settled back into his plush bench seat, “but patience has never been one. We still have a few hours remaining. You could easily pass the time by resting your eyes or, if you don’t feel the inclination for sleep, you could pass me your blanket if you have no intention to use it.”

Simon frowned. “You have a cold nature about you, and I’m not referring only to your body temperature.”

He pulled the blanket from the bench beside him and passed it to Luthor, avoiding the oil lamp that burned merrily in the center of the table. Simon stared at the shorter man as he removed his jacket, folding it neatly beside him. Luthor buried himself in the thick, wool blanket, pulling it up to his chin.

“You can’t possibly be that cold,” Simon chided.

Luthor smiled at his friend. “Oh, I can assure you that it’s entirely possible to be this cold, though I might not have believed you if you had told me it was the case before we left.” He looked down at the papers spread before him. “Couldn’t we have received an assignment along the southern coast? I hear they still have yet to pull out their winter jackets.”

Simon smiled back at the apothecary. He reached up and stroked the pencil-thin moustache just above his lips. “If you were so fortunate to choose your own assignments, you would never leave the coastal resorts.”

Luthor tapped his nose knowingly. “But not you, sir. The waters never did agree with you, did they?”

Simon shivered at the thought of the endless ocean. “Never. Luckily, we don’t choose our assignments. We follow the will of a higher power.”

Simon leaned toward the window and clutched a velvet cord that dangled from the top. With a gentle tug, the thick curtain descended over the pane of glass. Though the room darkened considerably, there was an immediately noticeable difference in temperature as well.

With a satisfied sigh, Luthor pulled his arms free of the blanket.

“Speaking of assignments,” Simon said, leaving the sentence hanging.

Luthor cleared his throat and retrieved his glasses, placing them on the end of his nose. He lifted a few pages, their surfaces covered with tight, small, and meticulous writing. Setting them aside, he retrieved a folder concealed beneath them. Turning it so Simon could see, he pulled open its front cover, revealing more word-covered pages. Simon could see the corners of black-and-white photographs intermixed with the papers.

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