Friday, January 21, 2011

The Game Called Revolution--Part I

A steampunk-esque story set at the beginning of the French Revolution. A trio of French knights finds themselves caught in the Bastille when it is stormed by a Parisian mob on July 14, 1789 (X Calendar). They must not only escape the siege, but also save King Louis XVI from an assasination plot.
Expect airships, weird technology, tweaked historical figures, and maybe a monster or two.

Le début des ennuis
 (The Beginning of the Trouble)


Paris, France, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 9:50 a.m.
Eight ramparts eighty feet tall. A large moat. Steam cannons. The Bastille was a veritable fortress within the city of Paris. For years the prison had housed the most dangerous criminals in France, and was extremely brutal in doing so. No one who went in was ever seen again.
At least, that was what the public believed. The commoners held the idea that the Bastille was a hellish dungeon full of spies and political prisoners being punished for saying the wrong thing or simply being born the wrong person. Stories abounded about people like the mysterious masked prisoner kept under guard a century before and serve to give the prison its colorful reputation.
While there was a certain bit of truth to these stories, only those closely connected with the Bastille could separate fact from myth. Where did imagination end and truth begin?
One man who knew very well was on this day sitting in his cell within the stone walls of the Bastille. His name was Jacques du Chard. With his sandy-brown hair, simple shirt and grey leggings, the young man did not stand out at all.
 He lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and tried to keep himself occupied by counting the cracks. At that moment it was deathly quiet within the chamber occupied only by him and five other empty cells; the few guards who kept watch over the room had left about ten minutes ago to go welcome some visitors.  There weren’t even any rats scurrying about; contrary to popular belief, the prison was not infested with them.
His thoughts kept going back to that strange message that had appeared on the walls of the adjacent cell the other day. What did it mean? All he knew was that that cell belonged to the Marquis de Sade until just recently. None of the guards would tell him anything; they were keeping their mouths carefully shut.
The whole thing was very interesting.
Suddenly he heard the sound of a door opening. Jacques sat up, looked across the room and saw four people entering the room. He couldn’t get a good look at them until they arrived in the candle-lit center of the chamber. At the head of the group was the Marquis de Launay, the governor of the Bastille, whom the prisoner was familiar with. Jacques would have recognized his fancy brown suit embroidered in gold, along with his white hair that hung limply off either side of his head, anywhere.
The other three were wearing form-fitting suits of silver armor. Jacques recognized them as members of the Ordre de la Tradition, a special group of knights—along with various other exceptionally talented individuals—who had been recognized by the king of France for outstanding service in the military, and who answered only to him. They embodied the knightly traditions of honor, discipline, and chivalry, which meant they did not use guns—only bladed melee weapons. Knights were very rare nowadays, but these individuals were allowed to wear suits of armor made from irodium, a revolutionary metal developed by the English. Irodium was lightweight, easy to move in, and could withstand a large amount of punishment (but was very expensive to manufacture). The two larger knights carried a sheathed broadsword at their side.
What were they doing here?
Jacques heard a female voice say, “It’s dark in here.”
            The voice came from the knight in the center who was somewhat shorter and more slender than the ones flanking her. Rather than the broadsword of her larger counterparts, she carried a rapier with a golden hilt bearing the image of a radiant face, in honor of the Sun King Louis XIV (predecessor of the current monarch of France).
She—along with her two subordinates—stepped forward and Jacques could see her face. She didn’t look to be older than thirty years of age (she could even be the same age as him). Her auburn hair fell to the middle of her back in a braided tail, and Jacques noted the purple eye patch over her left eye, along with the flowing purple skirt which opened around the middle of her irodium leggings. Her radiant skin was especially striking to Jacques.
“Excuse me, mademoiselle,” he said. “Might you be the one they call ‘Jeanne la Juste’?”


She looked at him with indifference for a moment, and then responded, “Yes. My name is Jeanne de Fleur. I’m a knight with the Ordre de la Tradition.”
“Ah, I thought so. You are well known among the Third Estate.” The Estates General was composed of nobility, clergy, and commoners, respectively. “Ah, but you’re supposed to call them the National Assembly now, yes?” The commoners had recently broken away from the other two Estates—with whom they had long been at odds —and declared themselves the National Assembly (although a few members of the clergy and nobility joined them).
Talkative one, isn’t he? She thought to herself. “Actually, last week they became the National Constituent Assembly,” Jeanne said. She then turned to de Launay. “Where is this message you spoke of?”
“It is in the cell to the left of the forger’s there.”
He escorted the three knights into the cell next to Jacques’. It was a spacious cell, easily twice as large as the others, and clearly meant for someone of importance. The bed in the cell was also a cut above those normally given to prisoners.
On the wall above the bed there was a series of words carved into the wall: “On July 14 the greatest joke will be told.”
            “And you believe this was written by Monsieur Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade?” Jeanne asked upon examining it.
            “No one else has occupied this cell since the Marquis was transferred out ten days ago,” de Launay said.
            “Didn’t you question him about it before he was transferred?” Jeanne said.
            The governor shook his head. “It didn’t appear until yesterday.”
            “Well, then it couldn’t have been him,” said the gruff voice of the knight to the right of Jeanne. He was a good foot taller than she, with a neatly-trimmed beard and almond-colored skin. He obviously wasn’t entirely of European ancestry.
            “Pierre is right,” Jeanne said. “If the message didn’t appear until yesterday, what makes you think the Marquis is the one who wrote it?”
            “It wasn’t carved with a knife. The Marquis wasn’t allowed to have sharp objects in here. The message was written with a transparent, slow-acting acid he had smuggled in. Once it reacts with oxygen, the acid will begin dissolving whatever it has been applied to. The process is gradual and can take over a week depending on the concentration of the corrosive.”
            The knight to Jeanne’s left examined the message. He was a young man with long dark hair, slightly smaller than Pierre and less muscular, but still larger than Jeanne. “So the Marquis applies this to the wall—I’m guessing with a brush since we know he was allowed to write his perverted works in here—and is then transferred out, knowing the acid will soon burn his message into the wall.”
            “Yes, Victor,” Jeanne said. “The question is: Why? Why would he go to the trouble of doing this?
            From over in the next cell, Jacques said, “Maybe it’s all a joke, no? I hear the Marquis de Sade is a real piece of work. We have all heard the stories. He kidnapped girls and did horrible things to them. They say he is the most twisted man in the world.”
            Jeanne grit her teeth slightly at being reminded of the Marquis’ crimes. “I am not his biggest supporter.” She turned her attention from Jacques back to the message on the wall. “However, I think we are missing something important.”
            Pierre cocked one eyebrow inquisitively. “Such as?”
            “The message seems to suggest that something will happen on July 14. That’s today.”
            “So it is,” Victor said.
            “You don’t suppose the Marquis is throwing you a surprise party?” Jacques retorted.
            Jeanne gave him a stern glance. “Be quiet, you rogue. This is serious.”
            Suddenly a guard burst into the room. “My Lord! It’s terrible! The people….!” He stopped to catch his breath.
            “What are you babbling about?” de Launay demanded.
            “There is a mob of people outside! At least a hundred of them, and more keep arriving. They’re yelling something about us keeping political prisoners here and abusing them. Their leader is demanding we remove the steam cannons aimed at them and allow a civilian militia to take control of the Bastille.”
            The color rapidly drained from de Launay’s face as he took in the guard’s ominous words. “T-Those fools! The cannons aren’t aimed at anyone in particular. They’re here for the defense of the people! And there aren’t any political prisoners here; just the one forger.”
            “What are your orders, sir?”
            The Marquis de Launay paced the room while racking his mind to come up with an answer. Finally, he said, “Remove the cannons. I’ll go speak with their leader.” He turned to leave with the guard.
            Jeanne started after him. “I’ll go with you. My knights and I can help defend you.”
            “Are you really prepared to cut down the people you have sworn to protect?” Jacques said with a slight grin.
            Jeanne stopped. “Well, I—”
            “And so many of them!”
            “You stay here,” de Launay said, visibly scared. “If I meet them with armed soldiers, it will just anger them more. Besides, as skilled as you three are, I doubt even you could hold off all of them.”
            “I don’t know about that. I could hold off a lot of men,” Victor happily declared.
            Jeanne ignored her subordinate’s inappropriate comment; she was used to his quips by now. “Very well. We’ll stay here and continue to investigate the message.”
            The Marquis de Launay and the panicked guard left the chamber, leaving just Jeanne, Pierre, Victor and Jacques.
            Jeanne walked over to the wall next to the door they had entered through. Jutting out from the wall was a rubber tube with a wide handle. She dialed a number on the panel below the tube and began speaking. “de Fleur to Minuit Solaire. What’s going on outside?” The Minuit Solaire, or Solar Midnight, was the airship of the Ordre de la Tradition. It was supposed to be anchored on a telegraph pole outside the prison. However, Jeanne’s communiqué was met with silence. “I repeat: This is Commander Jeanne de Fleur. Come in, Minuit Solaire. What is your status?”
Again, there was only the crackle of static.
            “If the mob turned their attention to our airship, the Solaire may have had to retreat,” Pierre said.
            Jeanne frowned. If the mob was violent enough to threaten their vessel into retreating, that was bad news; her crew wouldn’t leave her without a very good reason. She didn’t need to say it, though. Pierre and Victor no doubt were thinking the same thing. She just hoped her crew on the airship was all right.
            “What more can we do here?” Victor said.
            Jeanne went back into the cell and began to feel about the walls. “The Marquis de Sade loves to milk his jokes for all they’re worth. Stopping with a cryptic message isn’t his style. I bet he hid another piece of the puzzle for us to find.”
            Pierre and Victor helped her look around the cell. “Did he know the Bastille would be attacked today?” Victor said.
            “How could he? That would imply the attack was planned well in advance,” Pierre said.
            Suddenly Jeanne came upon a loose brick in the wall. She took it out, reached inside and pulled out a small glass vial filled with water. However, there were also countless tiny silver dots in the water.
            “Just as I thought,” she said. “A message pellet.”
            A message pellet was a little ball about the size of a kernel of corn. Using a magnifying glass, a person could write a message on it and then drop it into water. Once in the water it separates into a thousand copies of itself. Only by reassembling the ball can the message be read.
            “We have to get that back to the airship,” Pierre said.
            Jeanne sighed. “Until the governor can get the mob to disperse, we’re stuck here.”


The Jacobin Club, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 10:00 a.m.
The Marquis de Sade was escorted into the undersized hall that was being used for the meeting currently in session. The room was crammed with men in red cloaks who all looked the same to the Marquis.  He looked to the left side of the room and saw men in red cloaks. He looked to the right side of the room and saw men in red cloaks. He looked up into the low-hanging balcony and saw men in red cloaks sitting beneath windows letting in rays of sunlight. It should have been called the Jaconformist Club. Oh, right: it was only part of the Jacobin club, the faction called the Montagnards, who were in here. Oh, well.
            To his right, sitting at a table on a dais a few feet off the ground, was their leader (also wearing a red cloak). “Welcome to the Jacobin Club, Lord Marquis de Sade.”
            The Marquis stepped through the aisle separating the left side of the room from the right, and looked around. All eyes were on him. At least, he thought they were; he actually couldn’t see very many eyes under those hoods. He then turned his attention to the club’s leader. “Quite a warm reception, Monsieur Robespierre. You’re all bundled up nicely here in the middle of summer. Personally I would have preferred a lot more young girls and a lot less clothing. Possibly a knife or two, although I could make do with my bare hands in a pinch. But I digress: it’s good to be out of that prison, and in here, with not quite so many people to tell me what I can and can’t do.” He let out a light cackle.
            “Indeed,” said Robespierre. “It was not an easy task getting you released under the guise of an official transfer. But it looks like you have upheld your end of the bargain. My sources tell me knights from the Ordre de la Tradition have been sent to the Bastille to investigate a strange message that appeared on the wall of your former cell.”
            “Causing chaos and confusion to the country that has oppressed me for so long? I would have done that for free. I just wish I could see the looks on their faces right about now, just realizing the lowly rabble is upon them like rabid wolves!”
            Robespierre’s voice took on a serious tone. “Need I remind you that we represent the ‘lowly rabble’ that is presently fighting for their rights? And as the newest member of the Montagnards, you represent them as well.”
            The Marquis dismissed Robespierre’s argument with a frilly wave of his hand. “Classes mean nothing to me. The Estates are each fighting for their own selfish reasons. To them it call comes down to ‘Me, Me, Me.’ But I, the Marquis de Sade, live only to give back. That’s why I’ve written masterful prose.  That’s why I’ve offered to share my body with so many different girls. And that’s why I’m helping France by spurring this deadlocked country into action.”
            “On that last point we can certainly agree,” Robespierre said. He stood up to address the entire hall. “No positive change can occur within our nation so long as our impotent king kowtows to nobility and clergy. They, at least, are selfish. They enjoy tax-exempt status. They want to keep us down and make sure commoners like us will continue to be their foot rests.
            “And how does our king fight this injustice? He gives in to them. He does whatever they say, no matter how much it hurts France. Between the nobility, clergy and his Austrian wife, he cannot think for himself. We have no use for a powerless monarch. For the good of France, Louis XVI must be removed. The Ancien Régime shall fall.”
            The attendees cheered, while the Marquis gave him a half-hearted clap. “You truly are as eloquent as they say, Monsieur Robespierre. But as you National Assembly people know all too well, words alone cannot change a nation. That’s why you needed my genius to help you come up with a plan to assassinate the king.”
            Robespierre sat back down. “And an excellent plan it is. Once those knights decipher your ‘message in a bottle,’ they will immediately leave and warn the king. And the king, ever so trusting of his knights, will respond in an appropriate manner. Then he will be vulnerable.”
            “But how do you know the knights will not be killed by the very mob we are letting loose upon them?”
            “Don’t underestimate their skills. They are survivors. Besides, I know a great deal about the Bastille itself. Those knights won’t be killed so easily.”
            The Marquis chuckled. “Well, if they have to butcher a few peasants, so be it.” Robespierre murmured angrily under his breath, so the Marquis decided to change the subject to something else he was curious about. “By the way, you still haven’t told me who you’ve sent to deal with the impudent king.”
            “That’s ‘impotent.’ And the one who will do the honor of breaking the pavement for a glorious new France is none other than the Count of Saint-Germaine.” At the last part he raised a fist for dramatic effect. The other members in the room voiced their pleasure.
            The Marquis de Sade was rarely surprised by anything, but this definitely did it. “The Count of Saint-Germaine! I thought he died five years ago.”
            Now it was Robespierre’s turn to laugh. “That’s what we wanted the world to think. But in reality he has long been one of us, and we faked his death so that he could move about more easily. If no one knows he’s still alive, no one will be able to anticipate his involvement in this.”
            “But the Count must be very old by now. How will he be able to kill the king?”
            “The Count has mastered the art of alchemy and used it to turn his body into a deadly weapon. No one will be able to stand against him when he decides to strike. He will use the chaos currently sweeping through France to attack Louis XVI while the royal guards are distracted.”
            Robespierre then moved on to other business involving the Jacobin Club and the Montagnards in particular, and the Marquis sat down in the empty seat in front of Robespierre’s table, which had been reserved for him. While the Marquis was thoroughly enjoying all the havoc that had no doubt started already (with even more to come), he couldn’t help but note the irony of Robespierre sending the Count of Saint-Germaine to dispatch the king. After all, was it not the Count who had predicted these events some fifteen years ago? That was how the story went, at least.
            Not that it mattered. The Marquis loved irony—the crueler the better. And if he and Robespierre were correct, things were about to get very ironic indeed.


Paris, France, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 10:15 a.m.
The Bastille suddenly shook violently.
            “What was that?” Victor said.
            “Perhaps the Marquis de Launay was unsuccessful in reasoning with the mob,” Pierre said.
            Jeanne shot down that idea. “That shot was from a steam cannon. If the governor decided to open fire on the crowd, it would be directed away from here. And as far as I know, the Third Estate wouldn’t be able to get their hands on one.”
            “That’s a good point,” Pierre said. “If a steam cannon went missing, an alert would have gone out immediately.”
            Suddenly de Launay rushed into the room. Even in the low lighting, they could see the color had completely drained from his face.
            “What’s going on?” Jeanne said.
            The Marquis shook his head. “It’s far worse than I feared.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “Things were going reasonably well. I met with the leader of the mob. I allowed him inside and he watched as we removed the cannons that were pointing outside at the mob. Unfortunately, they took this to mean we were loading them in preparation for an attack. Someone got a shot off with a pistol—I’m not sure who—and suddenly the mob panicked. The ones carrying firearms began shooting them at my men in the windows. No one was hit, but that was only the beginning.”
            “What do you mean?” Pierre said.
            “An army regiment sympathizes with the crowd and has joined them. They brought their own steam cannons!”
            Things suddenly fell into place for the knights. “So it was their cannons that hit us a moment ago,” Jeanne said.
            “Obviously this place is quite an eyesore to them,” Viktor observed.
            The Marquis nodded grimly. “They see this fortress as symbol of oppression by the Ancien Régime—what they call the government—and they’re determined to tear it down, one way or another.”
            “Isn’t the Bastille already scheduled for demolition, seeing as how there are so few prisoners here these days?” Victor said.
            “Unfortunately,” de Launay said, “they don’t know that, and they weren’t in any mood to listen. They’re dead set on getting in here, freeing the prisoners and then leveling everything.”
            “We have to get out of here,” Jeanne said.
            “Fortunately,” de Launay said, “I’ve long been worried that something like this might happen. That’s why I had an escape tunnel built under the prison.”
            “Very good. Take us to it,” Jeanne said.
            “Right away. I just need to get us some light,” de Launay responded. He walked past Jacques’ cell to the wall and grabbed a torch off the wall.
            Jacques walked over to the bars and addressed the Marquis. “What about me? Surely you will not leave a poor Parisian to be feasted on by the mob?”
            “You’ll be fine,” de Launay said, walking past Jacques with torch in hand. “As I already stated, they want to free you, since they think everyone in here is a political prisoner. Personally, I would prefer to have a forger like you stay in here a few more years.” He rejoined the knights and pointed towards the door they had entered through. “It’s this way.”


The Marquis de Launay led them down a flight of stairs into the dark cellar of the Bastille.  Boxes full of guns and ammunition, as well as what appeared to be rundown steam cannons, were spread out on the floor in rows. At the far end of the cellar was a man-sized opening that had clearly been cut out of the wall.
            When they arrived they could see large pieces of wood that had been scattered in front of the door. “I instructed my men to open up the tunnel and then make their escape ahead of us,” de Launay explained.
            “Seems ironic to put an escape tunnel in a prison,” Victor laughed.
            “Today’s attack has been brewing for years,” de Launay said. “The taxes, the unequal treatment under the law, even the ‘Great Fear’—all of it has pushed the Third Estate into action, albeit misguided and reckless action.”
            The “Great Fear” de Launay spoke of referred to a rumor that had gone around—no one knew how it had started—that the nobility had employed bands of thugs to go around the countryside destroying the crops of the peasantry. The rumor turned out to be untrue, but that didn’t stop a wave of panic from flooding across France, adding fuel to an already growing fire.
            The prison suddenly shook again with the reverberation of a steam cannon blast, and Jeanne was about to suggest they hurry through the tunnel when someone charged into her from behind. They both fell to the floor, whereupon she elbowed her unknown attacker in the face. The assailant let go of her and all three knights brought their swords upon him.
            “Now, now, it is simply I—Jacques du Chard!”
            The Marquis de Launay lowered the torch so they could get a good look at him. Sure enough, it was Jacques the forger. Jeanne motioned for Pierre and Victor to sheathe their swords.
            “What are you doing down here?” de Launay demanded to know. “How did you get out of your cell?”
            “Let’s just say you should not have passed so close to me when you went by my cell up there. Didn’t you notice yourself missing the key?”
            The Marquis check his pocket. “You filthy thief!”
            Victor chuckled. “I thought he was just a forger, but he can get out of a prison cell too. What a multi-talented criminal!” He then said under his breath, “And not a bad looker.”
            Jacques waved his hand in a tip-of-the-hat gesture. “And you, sir, have an eye for talent.” He returned his attention to de Launay. “As for why I am here, well, it is simply the fact that I do not care to be placed in the custody of that mob that is currently pummeling the doors of this prison trying to get in.”
            “Enough of this banter. Let’s keep moving,” Jeanne said. She hoped they wouldn’t pick up any more comedians today.


They trekked through the man-made tunnel underneath the Bastille. The passage was so narrow they had to walk single-file; de Launay brought up the rear, followed by Jeanne, Jacques, Victor and Pierre. The Marquis’ torch provided just enough light for them to see a few feet in front of them.
            Despite the heat of summer, it was cool in the tunnel. It smelled of mud and rock, two things which can block out warmth. Jeanne was glad for that; her armor was lightweight, but could still be unbearably hot this time of year.
            She said, “You’re a curious one, forger. Do you really think you’ll be better off with us than up above with your fellow commoners?”
            “Very much so, Mademoiselle. My fellow peasants are not too fond of me at the moment,” Jacques said.
            “Why is that?” she asked.
            “As you know, I was put in prison for forgery. But what you do not know are the details of that crime. You see, I was hired by a poor family to forge documents showing them to be nobility. They wanted to move up in the world, I suppose. Who does not? Anyways, they gave me all the money they had to do the job. Sadly, on the way back to deliver the false documents to that family I was caught with the papers on me.” His voice took on a melancholy tone. “Under threat of torture I revealed the names of the commoners who had hired me to forge the documents. I later learned they had been split up and sent to different prisons around France. I couldn’t even give them back the money as it was confiscated as evidence. Probably wound up in a judge’s pocket.”
            “That’s….unfortunate,” was all Jeanne could say. She made it a point to stay in control of her emotions at all times, and she couldn’t be showing too much pity to a common criminal.
            “Don’t listen to him,” de Launay said. “Regardless of his reasons, he still broke the law. His punishment was just.”
            “’Just’…” Jeanne let the word roll around in her mouth for a moment. As the commander of the Ordre de la Tradition, she was known as “Jeanne la Juste,” a moniker she had received because she treated everyone fairly. She did not show more respect to the nobility than the clergy or commoners, and she was always fair in her dealings with criminals. Still, she wasn’t sure how to look upon Jacques du Chard; he had admitted his guilt, yet his story was nonetheless a sympathetic one.
            An abrupt series of reverberations shaking the tunnel saved her from having to think about it any more at the present time. Unlike the previous explosions, these were clearly the result of more than one cannon blast.
            “I think they’ve gotten serious,” Victor said.
            “They must have gotten the other prisoners out and have now commenced the complete bombarding of the prison,” de Launay said.
            More explosions rocked the fortress above, and mounds of dirt began falling from the ceiling of the tunnel. “We need to move,” Jeanne insisted.
            They began awkwardly running through the passage as fast as they could. Jeanne realized it had been a mistake to let the Marquis take point; he wasn’t in nearly as good of shape as the knights, or even Jacques. He was slowing them down too much. In addition, the tunnel was too narrow for them to go around him (Jeanne had no intention of leaving him behind, but she wished the others at least had a chance to get out faster.
            As the passage continually shook from the bombardment, the tunnel began to crumble more and more around them. Suddenly de Launay tripped on a rock and fell down, his torch landing in a puddle of muddy water and going out. Now the tunnel was collapsing and they were blind.
            Jeanne almost tripped over the Marquis herself, but managed to stay upright despite all the commotion going on. She felt for de Launay’s torso and pulled him to his feet. She then grabbed his shoulders firmly. “Everyone, hold on to the person in front of you!” she shouted to be heard above the rumblings. She felt someone (she had to assume Jacques) put his arms around her waist in a somewhat too-familiar embrace. Still, she didn’t have the luxury to complain. After a moment had passed and she was satisfied everyone had had time to carry out her order, she said, “Let’s go!”
            They slogged forward as a unit, with the tunnel threatening to collapse at any moment. After a minute, Jeanne saw a light up ahead, faint but definitely there. As more and more dirt and debris fell from the ceiling, though, she didn’t know if they would make it.
            Nevertheless, they pressed on towards the exit, one step at a time.
            Twenty feet to the exit.
            Fifteen feet.
            More debris falling.
            Ten feet.
            Behind them, the ceiling began collapsing entirely.
            Five feet.


They barreled out of the tunnel and into the open daylight of Paris. Jeanne choked on the cloud of dust that had been discharged by the collapse of the narrow passage from which they had just escaped. Lying on the ground, she coughed in an involuntary attempt to dispel the dust from her throat.
            Once she could breathe again, she looked around to take stock of the situation. They were in a wide street behind the Bastille. Dozens of smokestacks from factories in the distance bellowed steam into the Paris sky, as was normal for this time of day. This generated a haze above the city, giving it an unclean look. On the contrary; it was much cleaner than the proposed burning of coal which had been briefly considered as a power source for Paris.
            She saw the Marquis de Launay lying behind her, also trying to get himself together. To her right were Pierre and Victor sitting on the ground, apparently no worse for wear. Their armor was covered with dirt, dust and grime, and she looked down to see that hers was as well.
            She then heard another series of explosions. She looked up past the wall into which the tunnel had been built, and saw the last rampart of the Bastille coming down. Although the falling structure was a good hundred feet away and separated from them by a twenty foot wall, it still roared with its last breath and produced a dirty white cloud which managed to shoot over the wall.
            They put their arms up in front of their faces to shield their eyes from the cloud which came down upon them. For a moment the world went a shade of sickly grey.
            Jeanne went through another bout of coughing, and she could hear the others doing the same. “Is everyone all right?” she asked.
            “I think so,” Pierre said.
            “Same here,” Victor replied.
            “Things could be worse, no?” Jacques added.
            “Oh, will you just shut—” de Launay started. However, his words were cut off by a sharp retort: the unmistakable sound of a gun shot.
            The cloud cleared and Jeanne saw the Marquis lying facedown in a bright red pool, a hole having been put in his shoulder.
            She also saw that they were surrounded on three sides by eight members of the Gardes Francaises, an infantry regiment of the Maison du Roi, the King’s House. Their role depended on whether they were stationed in Paris or Versailles. In Versailles their duty was to guard the palace, while in Paris they helped to maintain order. What they were doing here pointing rifles at her and her group, she didn’t know, but she had a few ideas, none of which she liked.
            A man whose uniform identified him as their sergeant addressed them. “Please cooperate with us, Mademoiselle de Fleur. We don’t want any more bloodshed than necessary.”
            “I know you,” she said. “You are François Joseph Lefebvre. What is the meaning of this?”
            Lefebvre was thirty-three years old (having been in the army since he was eighteen). His prominent features were a strong jaw line and hair which was short and dark. Unlike the rest of his regiment, his uniform consisted of a blue coat with red cuffs, a red collar and a red waistcoat, while the leggings and breeches were white. Jeanne had never seen this uniform before, but Lefebvre’s coat was embroidered in silver rather than white, distinguishing his status as an officer.
            He spoke calmly and eloquently. “The revolution has begun, and we are siding with the National Constituent Assembly. They have long been oppressed by the Ancien Régime, and we were recently ordered to suppress the uprising with violence. Please understand that we cannot in good conscience open fire on the people of France.”
            Jeanne clenched her fist tightly. “’Cannot in good conscience open fire’? You just opened fire on the Marquis de Launay.”
            Lefebvre furrowed his brow slightly. “We merely shot him in the shoulder. He will live, though not for long, I suspect. It is the people who demand his head as the one who ran the Bastille. Once he is dead, their anger will diminish.”
            “What nonsense is this?” Jeanne demanded. “You are members of the Maison du Roi. You serve the king’s household. And now you would turn against those you have sworn loyalty to?”
            “We are loyal to the people! Our king has abandoned them in favor of the nobles and clergymen. The Third Estate had more members than the other two; by all rights they should have received more votes. But our monarch acquiesced to the petulant First and Second Estates—not to mention his overbearing wife—and shut them out of the hall in which they were to have met. In effect, he has rejected the majority of France. For a ruler to do that is madness.”
            “And you think you can change things by shooting innocent people and wreaking havoc in Paris? That is my idea of madness,” Jeanne said.
            “I am under no obligation to justify our actions to you. I was simply hoping you would understand and come with us peacefully, either to join us or allow us to keep you under guard so that you do not interfere with our mission. What is it going to be?”
            Jeanne turned to Pierre and Victor. “Cover the forger. Do not allow any harm to come to him.”
            “Yes, ma’am,” they said. They ran over to Jacques (who was still on the ground watching the scene) and proceeded to shield him with their bodies.
            Lefebvre said, “So you refuse?”
            Jeanne removed her rapier and pointed it at him. “We must return to our airship and then report back to the king. You will not stop us.”
            Lefebvre looked at her with contempt. “That is a foolish choice. Very well.”
He raised his hand and then brought it down like the hammers of the rifles his men were carrying. They immediately opened fire on the knights. Jeanne raised her arm to shield her head but took several bullets in her chest plating, while Pierre and Victor similarly took multiple blows.
Jeanne fell backwards onto the ground. “I know that volley wasn’t enough to penetrate your irodium armor,” Lefebre said. He pulled out his own sword and Strolled over to Jeanne’s fallen and seemingly unconscious form. “But it should have stunned you enough for me to deliver the killing blow.”
He gripped his sword with both hands and positioned it over Jeanne’s throat (which was not covered by armor). He then dropped it with all his might.
However, Jeanne tilted her head ever so slightly and Lefebvre’s blade dug harmlessly into the ground. In one fluid and rapid motion she thrust her rapier—which she had never let go of—into his thigh. Unlike the knights, French infantry wore no armor, so Jeanne’s blade entered Lefebvre’s body unopposed.
He cried out and staggered back. Jeanne took this opportunity to lead to her feet and kick him in the wound she had just made. Now it was his turn to meet the ground.
His seven soldiers scrambled to unsheathe their own swords, but Jeanne ran in and cut down two of them before they could.  Fortunately for them, she intentionally avoided their vitals.
She turned around to confront two more who were charging her, only to see a massive pair of hands knock their heads together.
It was Pierre.
She then saw Victor grab a fallen infantryman’s rifle and club one of the others over the head, knocking him out cold. He looked at her and said, “We thought you would prefer the nonlethal approach, if possible.”
The last two members of the Gardes Francaises obviously realized they had been thoroughly routed and turned tail to run away.
When they were out of sight, Jeanne addressed her subordinates. “I told you two to guard the forger.”
“By that point, they were focused entirely on you, ma’am. They weren’t even aware of his existence.”
Jacques walked up to them with a grin on his face. “That they were not. Admit it: You forgot about me as well. Ah, ‘tis a sad thing when a man is important one moment, and unknown the next. But that is just the way of the world, I suppose.”
Jeanne felt like rebuking his devil-may-care attitude, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. For all his faults, Jacques du Chard was a hard man to hate.
A pained grunt alerted them to the fact that Lefebvre was still there. They turned to see him getting back to his feet with no small difficulty. “This isn’t over,” he said venomously.
“It had better be, for your sake,” Jeanne retorted.
“Why, you—”
Lefebvre’s words were cut off by a suddenly cry from a hundred feet up the road. They all turned and saw a mass of people running towards them.
“Looks like the mob has found us,” Pierre said.
Lefebvre began laughing with a righteous fury, a far cry from his earlier demeanor. “Now you’ll pay! You and all the other dogs of the Ancien Régime.”
With renewed vigor he scooped up the Marquis de Launay—whom they had all forgotten about in the heat of battle—and sprinted towards the rushing mob.
“Get back here!” Jeanne called after him.
“Should we go after him?” Pierre asked.
She shook her head. Even if they managed to catch up with the manic sergeant, they’d still have to fight off the mob. There was a veritable sea of enraged Parisians coming at them, and she didn’t see how they could possibly win against them all. That only left retreat.
She looked around them. They were surrounded on three sides by thick walls, those of the Bastille and the adjacent buildings. The only way out was through the mob. The riotous group momentarily stopped to celebrate the capturing of the Marquis de Launay, but Lefebvre quickly reminded them with a pointing finger that there were still enemies of the people waiting to be seized or worse. The crowd wasted no time continuing their charge.
“Gut the oppressors!” one yelled.
“The king’s chienne must die!” said another.
“Let’s take our time with her!”
Jeanne wasn’t flattered by being called a bitch. As the mob got closer she could see they were mostly armed with hoes and other blunt farming tools. She seriously doubted any of them alone could even scratch her, but with sheer numbers they had an overwhelming advantage.
“Is this the end?” Jacques said with mild apathy.
Jeanne was about to reply when she heard a familiar whooshing sound. “The end of this farce?” she said. “Yes, it is.”
They all watched as a massive wall came down between the mob and the knights. Only it wasn’t just a wall; it was an airship. It landed just a few feet in front of the knights, and Jeanne’s hair was blown wildly by its appearance.
At fifty feet long, the Minuit Solaire was a sleek silver marvel of airship technology. Since the outer hull was made of irodium, the ship could fly faster and higher than if it was composed of any other metal. In addition, twin engines on either side of the stern provided thrust while the elongated balloon moored above the ship helped to achieve buoyancy.
While they were admiring the ship’s impeccable timing, a teenage girl wearing glasses and a dirty brown jumpsuit appeared on the deck above them. “Sorry to keep you waiting, milady!” She threw down a rope ladder, and Jeanne instructed Jacques to climb up first, followed by Pierre and Victor. Finally, Jeanne herself started climbing, and she motioned to the girl for them to take off.
As the Minuit Solaire began ascending into the air, Jeanne once again marveled at the level of technological achievement France had generated in such a short period. It was just ten years ago that Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier submitted to L’Académie des Sciences his paper entitled “Memoire on the Equilibrium of Aerostatic Machines”. In it, he detailed his design for an elongated airship (as opposed to a round balloon) which called for propulsion via the use of propellers. It was nowhere near as advanced as the Minuit Solaire or the king’s own airship that would eventually be built, and Louis XVI paid no attention to it.
However, his wife and queen, Marie Antoinette, saw the untold benefits of being able to rule the sky, and she convinced her husband to champion research into the field.
They soon brought in engineers from all over the world and had them work together on the Diu du Ciel [God of the Sky] project. Perhaps most instrumental in the success of the airship project was James Watt who came up with the idea to power the airships with technology derived from his steam engine.
At the behest of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI decreed that the first airship be christened by the end of 1785. Working feverishly, the team managed to pull it off, and on December 24, 1785, the king and queen rode in the inaugural flight of the Minuit Solaire.
Looking back, Jeanne now wondered if it was all worth it. The Diu du Ciel project required vast amounts of France’s resources to be completed on time and now the country was heavily in debt—and only two airships had been built thus far. Inflation was at an all-time high; the cost of bread alone had skyrocketed as of late. She understood why the people were so upset, but their solution of extreme violence was only making things horribly worse. I am sorry, Monsieur de Launay, she added silently. Rest assured your sacrifice will not have been for nothing.
Her train of thought—along with her climb up the ladder—was suddenly disrupted by a heavy jolt. The airship spun thirty-five degrees, and Jeanne had to cling to the ladder to keep from falling off. “Celeste!” She shouted. “What’s going on?”
Hugging the railing up above, Celeste adjusted her glasses and called back, “They managed to hit us with a steam cannon shell! Don’t worry; it was a glancing blow.”
Jeanne climbed up the rope as fast as she could. If just a graze managed to do that to them, she didn’t intend to be on a flimsy rope ladder if and when they were hit again.
When she reached the polished wood of the top deck, Pierre lent her a hand to help her up. Although it was unnecessary, she appreciated the gesture and allowed him the assist.
“Are you unhurt, milady?” Celeste asked.
“I’m fine. Get below deck and see to any damage we sustained.”
“Right away!”
Celeste nimbly bound down the stairs a few feet away.
“Full of energy, that girl,” Jacques said. Like Pierre and Victor, he had remained on the railing as they awaited the ship’s captain.
“That she does,” Victor replied. “Our little engineer has a taste for adventure and she’s right at home up here in the sky. In fact, the only thing she likes more than pure excitement may be our captain here.”
“Ah, so you are a role model, eh?”
Jeanne dismissed the high praise. “It’s just youthful admiration.”
She looked up at the balloon above them. It did not appear to be damaged or leaking gas. She silently thanked the Lord for the one thing that hadn’t gone wrong today.
Satisfied that the ship would continue to fly (at least for the moment), she headed down the stairs one flight to the command deck below them. When she reached the command deck, immediately behind her was the bridge, located on the ship’s bow. Along the corridor in the opposite direction were crew quarters, the captain’s being the closest to the bridge so she could get there quickly in an emergency.
Jeanne turned around and walked into the bridge. The bridge itself was a fifteen-by-ten space. The captain’s chair sat bolted in the middle of the room, while the two operators had their own seats at bulky consoles in front of the canopy window. Each console had large levers and wheels for them to operate in order to fly the ship. Because of the complexity of the airship, it took two people working together just to fly it. The left operator was in charge of altitude control, while the right operator handled acceleration. Of course, there was also a group of people slaving down in the boiler room to keep the ship powered.
As Jeanne entered, the two operators—Adolphe on the left, Claude on the right—stood up to salute her. They wore jumpsuits with a blue left sleeve and red right sleeve, with the rest of the outfit being white (the colors of the French flag).
“As you were,” she said, and they returned to their posts.
Jeanne went over to a panel built into the left wall. She pulled on a latch to reveal an opening about the size of her hand, removed the vial she had retrieved from the Bastille from her pocket, and poured the contents into the opening. The water went down a funnel into the depths of the device, where she knew it would be filtered, separating the liquid from the innumerous dots that had once made up the message pellet.
There were two small glass windows a few feet below the opening she had poured the water into. Behind the left window was a transparent vial similar to the one the water had originally been stored in, while the right window simply held a round indentation. As Jeanne watched, water filled the left vial, while metal dots filled the right indentation.
Once it was obvious that all the pieces of the message pellet had been deposited into the right vial, Jeanne pulled a lever on the panel. There was a hiss and the right window filled with green gas. She didn’t remember exactly how it worked, but somehow the gas softened up the dots and made them reform into one solid unit.
Sure enough, a solid metal ball dropped down into a small bin below the windows. Jeanne picked up the message pellet, but the writing was still too small for her to read.
Fortunately, though, a magnifying glass hung from the ceiling at the front of the bridge for just such a situation as this. Jeanne went to it and, using the light from outside, was able to read the words written by the Marquis de Sade.

Congratulations, you found the words I ‘scribed
And managed to get out before you fried
Now you should return to Versailles
For your good king is going to die


Versailles, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 12:00 p.m.
            “Oh, dear,” said King Louis XVI as he stood in the hallway at the Royal Palace. The corridor, like the rest of the Palace, was built for those with more discerning tastes. It featured an ornate wooden floor, gold walls and man-sized paintings from the greatest artists in France. Even the doors in the hallway were intricately crafted works of art.
            But it was not the splendor of the Palace that held his attention at that moment. No, it was the scene he was witnessing as he looked through the twenty-foot-high windows that made him understandably uneasy.
            The magnificent garden in front of the Palace, with its grand fountain, expertly-maintained trees and elaborate patterns cut out of the grass, was normally a serene location the king and queen liked to take walks in.
            However, on this day the garden was anything but peaceful. Currently occupying its grounds was a sea of people—mostly women—currently shouting angrily at anyone in the Palace who could hear them.
            “We can’t afford bread!”
            “This is all the Austrian Chienne’s fault!”
            “Her and her damn sky boats have ruined us!”
            “Don’t forget about the American war they dragged us into!”
            Louis XVI turned to his advisor, the Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, and said, “Is this a revolt?”
            The fifty-two-year-old duke ran a hand through his graying hair and straightened his black coat before giving his curt reply. “No, My Lord. It is a revolution.”
            “What is going on?” said Marie Antoinette, entering from a set of exquisite marble doors at the end of the hallway. She wore one of her trademark flowing dresses, each one of them priceless. This one was red.
            The king turned to face his wife. “Just a demonstration. Nothing to worry about,” he lied.
            The queen looked out the window and saw the rage on the faces of the crowd when they spotted her. They began yelling with renewed fury.
            “Someone should go talk to them,” she said, and proceeded to return in the direction she had come.
            “Wait, my love. It is dangerous.”
            However, he was unable to stop her before she opened the terrace and walked out to face the crowd below.
            “There she is!” one shouted.
            “She dares face us?” said another.
            Several members of the mob threw rocks at her. One connected with her forehead, causing a trickle of blood to flow down her face.
            She stood there for what seemed an eternity, taking their verbal, physical and overall emotional abuse. Finally, they seemed to grow tired of the tirade, and the abuse subsided. Satisfied that their anger had been quenched, Marie Antoinette bowed her head and went back inside.
            Her husband ran over to wipe the blood off her forehead. “I’m so glad they did not do worse to you. What were you thinking?”
            She said, “Some storms cannot be waited out. They must be faced.”
            “Long live the Queen!” a few of the mob shouted outside.
“It seems to have worked,” said the Duke, who had followed them.
            However, even more of the crowd continued to voice their anger.
            “Don’t be fooled by her!”
            “Yeah! She’s hoarding grain just like the rest of them!”
            Marie Antoinette shook her head. “I may have simply bought us some time.”
            “My Lord, you need to consider leaving here immediately. I suggest heading to the Chateau at Rambouillet,” the Duke said.
            “I think that would be best,” the queen said. “We can take the Majesté Divine.”
            The Majesté Divine, or Divine Majesty, was the royal airship. The chateau she spoke of lay in the town of Rambouillet, about thirty-three kilometers southwest of Versailles. Louis XVI had acquired the property years ago for the purpose of hunting.
            The king rejected the idea. “For over a century, this has been home to the royal family of France. I cannot abandon it so easily. Besides,” he said, addressing his wife, “you yourself said we need to weather the storm.”
            “Yes, but I don’t think—”
            She was cut off by an explosion, followed by a thunderous crash as a cannon ball barreled through the terrace window and missed her head by mere inches.
            The three of them dropped to the floor. The king gaped at the crater in the wall where the iron sphere had lodged. “They’ve brought cannons!”
            “They’re just normal cannons,” the Duke said. “Heaven help us if they brought steam models.”
            “‘Just’ normal cannons? I very nearly lost my head!” the queen said. She brushed broken glass out of her hair and dress. “We must leave here at once.”
            The king, though, still refused. “I have been bullied by the Third Estate long enough. They shall not push me out of my own home.”
            “But what of our children? Would you have them stay in reach of that bloodthirsty mob?”
            “We have plenty of guards here. They’ll disperse the crowd.”
            A courtier rushed into the hallway. “My Lord! Are you all right?”
            “We are fine,” the king replied. “What is that paper in your hand? Is it a message?”
            The courtier, seeing that the three of them were all laying low on the floor, did likewise. He handed the king the paper he was holding. “We have received word from the Minuit Solaire. They have reported a riot at the Bastille, and not only that…”
            Louis XVI read the paper. “Mon Dieu! It is far worse than we thought.”


Paris, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 12:55 p.m.
The Minuit Solaire was currently anchored at a telegraph pole on the southwest outskirts of Paris. The crew had tethered the airship to the tall wooden pole and hooked a cable into it. This way they could transmit messages to the Palace of Versailles. Only a handful of telegraph poles existed thus far, and they were only used for emergencies. However, Jeanne felt this surely qualified.
            She listened to the tap-tap-tap of the message as Maurice the telegraph operator repeatedly pushed his index finger down on the copper handle at his console at the wall next to the entrance on the bridge, behind the captain’s chair. Like the other two operators on the bridge, he wore a red, white and blue jumpsuit.
            “All done, ma’am,” he said.
            “Very good.” Now the king would know there would likely be an attempt on his life some time today. She just prayed they weren’t too late.
            Everything that had happened so far could not be simply a coincidence. The Marquis de Sade had obviously known there would be an attack on the Bastille, but how? The mob had seemed too angry and their rage too spontaneous to have been a premeditated attack. Was it possible someone had been subtly manipulating the Parisian populace, stoking the fires of their hearts in controlled bursts until they exploded on just the right day?
            But if so, who? And why would the Marquis de Sade give the knights a chance to warn the king. The more she thought about it, the more uneasy she became.
            She sat down in her captain’s chair and took hold of a rubber tube with a wide opening that hung down from the ceiling, next to the seat. She spoke into it. “Celeste, I want the communications cable reeled in immediately. We have to get back to Versailles ASAP.”
            The engineer’s voice came through the tubing, slightly distorted by the process of traveling up from the boiler room, through the walls and ceiling, and back down to Jeanne. “Milady, we’re not finished repairing the damage from earlier. It’s not safe to go full speed.”
            “Give us as much as you can. If we don’t return to the Palace soon, I fear something horrible may happen.”
            “We’ll do what we can, but it’ll be a bumpy ride. Also, I can’t guarantee chunks of the ship won’t begin falling off before long.”
            “We’ll make it. I have faith in your abilities.”
            Even through the tubing, Celeste’s voice was gushing. “Thank you, ma’am! I’m honored to hear that from you.”


Within twenty minutes the Minuit Solaire reached the Palace of Versailles. Looking on from above, Jeanne saw the place had been trashed. Numerous fires big and small spread through the garden, and most of the Palace’s windows had been shattered. There were also many guardsmen tending to the damage across the grounds and working to put out the fires.
            The ship sat down on its designated landing pad behind the Palace, next to the pad for the royal airship, the Majesté Divine. That pad was empty, meaning the airship had left—hopefully with the royal family safely on board.
            Jeanne, Pierre and Victor disembarked the airship. A royal aide ran up the landing pad’s ramp to meet them.
            “What’s the situation?” Jeanne said.
            The aide, a teenager, had obviously been through the worst experience of his life, judging by his lack of composure and the way he trembled as he spoke. “It was awful, ma’am. A large mob of women—there must have been thousands of them—attacked the Palace. They demanded lower bread prices—along with the queen’s head. Her Majesty tried to calm them down, but it only worked on some of them. The rest of the mob began firing cannons—”
            She cut him off. “Steam cannons?”
            “No, ma’am. Just regular cannons. Her Majesty, along with the Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, tried to persuade the King to leave, but he wouldn’t have it. But then we received your message, and His Majesty relented. The royal family left in the Majesté Divine thirty minutes ago.”
            “Where are they headed?” Jeanne said.
            “They talked of going to Rambouillet, but ultimately decided to head for Montmédy.”
            Montmédy was a fortress in the Lorraine region of northeastern France near the German and Austrian borders. It made sense for the royal family to flee there, since the monarchy had so much support in that area, and it was the most unlikely place in France to experience political unrest.
            The aide gave Jeanne the heading the royal airship was taking, and she thanked him. The knights then went back into the Minuit Solaire and the airship took off along the heading for Montmédy.
            The royal family may have escaped the Palace siege, but that didn’t mean they were safe just yet. It was the duty of the Ordre de la Tradition that they make sure no harm came to them, no matter what. In order to do that, they had to first locate the Majesté Divine.


The skies above France, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 1:00 p.m.
The king and queen sat together on the luxurious bed in the royal family’s cabin aboard the Majesté Divine. The bed featured four tall posts supporting a silk canopy. Furthermore, like the Palace their cabin was decorated with priceless paintings and plush carpeting. Sunlight drifted in from the windows next to their bed while clouds sped by.
            Their son, Louis-Charles, and daughter Marie-Thérèse, currently were asleep on separate beds on the opposite wall of the spacious cabin. It had been no trouble for them to lose themselves in unconsciousness after their harrowing escape from the Palace.
            “Are you sure you can raise enough support in Montmédy?” Marie Antoinette asked softly, not wanting to wake the children.
            “They have always been loyal to us. And with order breaking down across France, we cannot risk going anywhere else.”
            “We can always go stay with my brother. He would protect us.” Her brother was Leopold II, emperor of Austria.
            But Louis XVI said, “I will not abandon my homeland to those wolves of the Third Estate. You’ve seen what they do when left to their own devices. Don’t worry; we shall be safe once we reach Montmédy.”
            There was a knock at the door, and the king bade the visitor to enter. It was the Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, who had escaped with them on the airship. “Your Majesties, how are you faring?”
            “Well enough, all things considered,” the king said, though he was visibly lacking confidence in that statement.
            The Duke noticed the children sleeping, and came over to the bed, speaking in a hushed tone. “We shall arrive in Montmédy shortly. From there you can rebuild your power base.”
            The king’s voice began dripping with anger. “I swear upon our Lord and God that I will return to crush those barbaric commoners, along with their noble and clergy accomplices.
            Marie Antoinette rose off the bed and began walking over to the door.
“You should stay in your cabin until we reach Montmédy, Your Majesty,” the Duke said.
            “I’m going to the toilettes. I’ll be back shortly.”
            Oddly, the Duke seemed anxious about her leaving. “Wait, my queen. It’s not safe—”
            He was too late, however. The queen stepped into the corridor and immediately shrieked.
            “What is it? What’s wrong?” Louis XVI said.
            Marie Antoinette stepped back into the room, her face contorted in horror. With a violently shaking finger she pointed at something down the hall. “Th-The guards! They’re…!”
            The king jumped off the bed and ran into the hallway. There, he saw half a dozen bodies either slumped against the walls or splayed on the floor, blood soaking wherever spot they lay. In addition, each guard had a hole going all the way through his neck in the same spot. They must have all been killed before they could even cry out to alert others.
            Louis XVI turned to the Duke. “What is this?”
            The commotion woke up the children. Louis-Charles said, “Are we there yet?”
            “Oh, bother,” the Duke said, looking over at them. “I was hoping to kill you while they slept, so they wouldn’t have to witness it. I was then going to end them in their sleep, painlessly.”
            “Have you taken leave of your senses, François?” the king demanded to know.
            The Duke actually laughed contemptuously. “I’m not your trustworthy duke. If you were to ever get back to the Palace—which you won’t—you would find the body of the real Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt hidden in the cellar.”
            “An imposter? Then who—”
            The king forgot his words as the Duke’s entire flesh rippled like a body of water after a stone had been dropped in it. The Duke pulsated and the body underneath his clothes was re-molded as if it were clay.
            When finished, he was no longer the Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. Instead, he was someone completely unexpected. Someone who should have been dead.
            The king gasped. “You…!”
            The imposter spoke again, and now even his voice was different. “I’m glad to see you still recognize me, even though I’m young again and not the old man you remember.”
            Louis XVI shook with a combination of rage and terror. “The court was right; you are a monster!”
            The children sat on their beds, too scared to even blink. They were transfixed entirely on the morphing villain in front of them.
            “If you had heeded my warning fifteen years ago, none of this would be necessary. I told you what would happen to France if your policies remained as they were. I told you the country would be torn apart.”
            The imposter took a step towards the king, who immediately removed a golden revolver from his robe and fired at him. The imposter fell backwards to the floor, a black ichor oozing from the wound in place of blood.
            The report from the pistol shook the children out of their paralyzed state, and Louis XVI grabbed them off the beds.
            Together they ran to the bridge to notify the ship’s captain of the assassin, the king and queen covering the children’s eyes as they stepped over the corpses.
Unfortunately, when they arrived they found the bridge crew slaughtered just like the guards in the hallway. The captain and operators were dead in their seats with holes punched through their necks.
“Children, please look away,” the queen said.
They quietly did as they were told. No doubt this whole experience had left them too shaken to do anything else.
The murdered crew was facing away from the entrance to the bridge, suggesting they had been taken by surprise. That wasn’t surprising, since they—like the royal family—must have believed him to be the real Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, up until the moment he decided to strike. But what weapon had he used? Neither Louis XVI nor Marie Antoinette had seen him carrying anything in his hands.
“No one’s piloting the ship,” the queen said.
She managed to refrain from voicing her new fears, but the king knew well enough that without operators the ship would soon crash. The idea of any of them taking the controls was out of the question; they were, after all, royalty and not trained to do the work of commoners.
“We’ll have to parachute,” Louis XVI said.
He ran over to the lockers on the right wall and rummaged through them until he found what he was looking for.
His spirits were raised as he removed four white bundles, but all hopes were shattered as he looked them over. “They’ve been shredded,” he said, deflated.
Indeed, the parachutes had been torn by someone or something, probably the assassin who had come to kill them. They’d never hold up if anyone tried to open them during a freefall.
However, he found a faint glimmer of hope in the form of a narrow white cylinder on one of the locker shelves. He took it and looked it over.
“Is that a smoke tube?” the queen asked.
“Yes. And it seems to be in one piece. If we can light it on the deck, maybe the Minuit Solaire will see it and come for us.”
“What are the chances that they are even in the area?”
“The Palace will have told them where we are heading. If I know Jeanne de Fleur, she will no doubt come after us with all due haste. It’s a slim hope, but it’s all we have.”
Suddenly the children began frantically tugging at their parents’ clothes. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette turned around to see a horrifying sight: The assassin was standing in the hallway outside the royal family’s cabin grinning at them. Furthermore, the wound in his chest was no longer bleeding.
“It’s useless,” he grinned. “Without a bridge crew this ship will soon crash. And I destroyed the parachutes, so there’s no escape.”
Louis XVI shot him again, this time in the stomach. The assassin fell to his knees, and the king quickly ushered his family up the stairs onto the top deck. Behind them they heard the assassin shouting, “Shoot me all you want, my wounds won’t last long.”


The skies above France, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 1:10 p.m.
Jeanne stared intently through the canopy window on board the bridge of the Minuit Solaire. So far they had yet to see any sign of the Majesté Divine, though they were flying the same heading given to them by the aide at the Palace. Fortunately, Celeste and her team of engineers had recently made upgrades to the Minuit Solaire’s engines, so the ship could fly at a greater top speed than the royal family’s vessel. This would hopefully allow them to catch up with the royal family before it was too late.
            “We’ve got something,” Adolphe the left operator said.
            Up ahead they could see a trail of orange smoke—a signal—ahead of them. At the head of the plume was an airship. Since there were only two airships in the world, it had to be the Majesté Divine!
            “Take us in,” Jeanne said. She grabbed the communications tube hanging next to her chair. “Celeste, we’ve spotted the Majesté Divine, but it looks like they may be having problems. Have Harpoon Control ready some anchors.”
            “Ma’am, if they lose thrust, we won’t be able to keep them afloat.”
            “I’m aware of that. I’m going to take a team in to hopefully stabilize the ship. Just stay focused on keeping us afloat. When we get within range, fire the harpoons.”
            Jeanne went to go retrieve Pierre and Victor, who were on standby in their quarters in case they were needed. Both of them were trained to operate the Minuit Solaire in the event of an emergency, and since the Majesté Divine were of the same design, they should be able to operate it as well.
            They proceeded up the stairs to the top deck. The wind battered them as they grabbed hold of the railing. Normally crew members were not authorized to go topside while the airship was in motion, but these were special circumstances.
            When the Minuit Solaire got closer to the Majesté Divine, Jeanne could see that it was none other than the king holding the smoke tube. Louis XVI, along with his wife and children, were huddled together at the stern of their ship.
            From the bow of the Minuit Solaire, two decks below the bridge, a paneled section of the hull was removed and two enormous metal spears appeared in the rectangular hole.
            Jeanne motioned for the royal family to step away from the stern of the Majesté Divine. They complied, getting clear of what was obviously coming.
            Without any further warning the spears exploded from the small bay they had been stationed in. In a rush of steam and cables the spears penetrated the deck of the Majesté Divine. Wood splintered as the two airships became locked together in the sky.
            The Minuit Solaire shuddered as it struggled to adapt to being tethered to its younger sister hundreds of feet above France. It shuddered even more as a crank system in Harpoon Control tightened the cables attached to the spears and pulled the ships closer together.
            Once she was satisfied the two airships wouldn’t be leaving each other’s company, Jeanne threw the rope ladder overboard and rode it down to the deck of the royal airship. Pierre and Victor followed suit.
            When they were safely on deck the royal family rushed over to them. “Jeanne, thank God you are here!” the king said.
            “Your Majesty, you and your family need to climb up this ladder and wait—”
            Suddenly a trio of black tendrils came out of nowhere and sliced the rope ladder from the hull of the Minuit Solaire. They then receded back to their source, the arm of a strange young man standing on the deck near the bow.
            “Who is that?” Pierre said.
            “An assassin!” Marie Antoinette yelled. “He took on the appearance of the Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. Not only that, but bullets cannot seem to kill him.”
            The royal family hid behind Jeanne and the knights. “Well, now that the rope ladder is out, it looks like we’ll have to kill him,” Victor said.
            Jeanne shook her head. “No, you two need to get to the bridge and fly the ship.”
            They were reluctant to leave her alone with the assassin, but they nonetheless said, “Understood.”
            Pierre and Victor cautiously maneuvered around the mysterious assailant—who seemed to take no notice of them—and headed down the stairs to the bridge.
            “You’re not going to try and stop them?” Jeanne said.
            The assassin said, “My real targets are right in front of me. It doesn’t matter if your knights can keep this airship aloft; as long as the royal family dies, my mission will be complete.”
            “Who are you and why are you doing this?” Jeanne demanded to know.
            The assassin laughed. “Ironically, I was once the king’s biggest supporter. But he failed to heed my advice and now the country is on the road to ruin.”
            “He is the Count of Saint-Germaine!” Louis XVI said.
            It couldn’t be! “The Count of Saint-Germaine died five years ago,” Jeanne said. “That can’t be him.”
            “I am far older than anyone realizes. Only I had the genius necessary to create the Philosopher’s Stone, the holy grail of alchemy. And I have used it to become ageless.”
            “Let’s say for the sake of argument that I believe you. Do you really think murdering the king will help France?” Jeanne said.
            “Of course I do. Our country’s rightful leader is waiting to take his place and lead us into the future, even if he has to do it from behind the scenes.”
            Jeanne sighed. “If you’re that determined to commit regicide, then I’ll have to stop you.”
            She unsheathed her sword and took a step towards him, but he put out his palm and motioned for her to stop. “Just a moment, please. I know who you are; you are the Countess de Fleur. There is no need for us to fight, Countess; you can join us. You may be a noble and a dog of the Ancien Régime, but that wasn’t always the case. Your family was originally poor farmers. Because of your famous ancestor who fought for France and narrowly escaped being burned alive, the monarchy allowed the House of de Fleur to be established in her honor. You have inherited more than her name. Remember your roots, Jeanne de Fleur; join us and together we can make France great again!”
            However, Jeanne simply said, “Is that it?”
            “I can’t speak for everyone in the House of de Fleur, but I serve the king. He is the one who believed in me and appointed me to this prestigious post. I will not betray him for anything.” She pointed her sword at him. “If that is all you have to say, let us now resolve this conflict.”
            The Count closed his eyes and sighed. “Very well. The Revolution can do without you, I suppose.”
            Jeanne charged in, but the Count raised his right arm which morphed into a series of black tendrils and speared her in her chest plating.
            The Count’s tendrils pinned her to the deck and dented her plating. “Your irodium armor is impressive. Any other material would have been thoroughly pierced. But it doesn’t really matter; I can turn any part of my body into anything of any hardness thanks to the Philosopher’s Stone.”
            Jeanne swung her sword and batted the tendrils away, but they didn’t break. So the Count wasn’t exaggerating about their hardness.
            She jumped to her feet and thrust at him. However, his left arm morphed into a dark bulbous monstrosity resembling a battering ram but fleshy with veins, shredding the sleeve which could no longer contain it. The battering ram easily blocked her strike, and he knocked her aside with it. Her rapier went skittering across the deck and against the railing, rattling mere inches from the edge and falling off the airship altogether.
            It didn’t make any sense; alchemy was only supposed to change objects into things with equal mass. It shouldn’t be able to enlarge body parts to the extent that was now happening with the Count. Perhaps he really did have the Philosopher’s Stone.
            His tendrils once again shot out and pinned her to the deck. She grabbed them but they wouldn’t budge. She didn’t have any chance of getting free without her sword.
            The Count stood over her with his hideous battering ram arm. “Farewell, mademoiselle.” Jeanne saw the unholy weapon coming down and closed her eyes.
            A moment passed, though, and she wasn’t smashed, so she looked up to see what had happened.
            “Not a moment too soon, eh?”
            It was the forger, Jacques du Chard. He stood over her blocking the Count’s attack with a broadsword he had obviously borrowed from the Minuit Solaire’s armory. He struggled mightily against the Count’s battering ram; Jeanne didn’t know how much longer he could hold it off.
            “How did you get down here?” she asked. “The Count destroyed the ladder.”
            “Ah, but that is not the only thing connecting these two ships.”
            She was astonished. “The harpoons? You came across on the cables?”
            “My apologies, Mademoiselle de Fleur. Your crew insisted I not do that, but I cannot redeem myself waiting around, no?”
            The Count’s patience was wearing thin. “Enough of this banter. If you are on her side, then I’ll kill you as well.”
            Jeanne leaned to talk in Jacques’ ear. “Can you hold him off for a minute?”
            He looked the Count up and down. “I can try.”
            “Please do. I have a plan, but it will take a little time to pull off. I’m counting on you, forger.”
            “Your faith shall be rewarded.”
            She ran over to the railing and retrieved her sword, leaving Jacques to face the Count by himself. “A lowly criminal?” the Count said, indicating Jacques. “Then you should be on our…” he said, but didn’t bother to finish his sentence. “Never mind; if you’re with them, you’re not likely to listen to reason.”
            The Count raised tendrils and shot them at Jacques. “I’ve seen that trick already,” the forger said, hitting the deck and rolling out of the way.
            Meanwhile, Jeanne closed her eyes and mentally steeled herself for what she was about to do. The God’s Eye, passed down from mother to daughter in her family and said to have been given to them by the Lord Himself, was an extremely dangerous tool to use. It required a staggering amount of concentration just to maintain the wielder’s sanity; more than one of Jeanne’s ancestors had been driven insane using it.
            When she was certain that she was as ready as she was going to be, Jeanne removed the patch over her left eye. The world in front of her abruptly exploded with information. She could know even the tiniest details about anything she saw; the exact composition of the Majesté Divine’s deck, how many molecules were in it, its precise diameter, how many people had been involved in its construction, how many raindrops had fallen on it since its completion, its age down to the last nanosecond, etc.
            Focus! She told herself. The sheer amount of information assailing her was the danger of the God’s Eye. If she didn’t concentrate on one thing at a time, she could easily lose her mind.
            There! She set her sight on her target: The Count himself. He was currently fighting Jacques and trying to skewer the forger with his tendrils.
Concentrate only on the Count. All right, then…his grotesque limbs were composed of…his blood! So that was how he managed to expand his size; he had converted large quantities of his own bodily fluids to a solid form and condensed them so they became hardened against attacks.
But then, if his blood had been converted into weapons, what was keeping him alive? Jeanne focused on the Count’s midsection and saw a black substance running through his veins. Focusing even further on the substance, she perceived that it was a cheap substitute for blood. It was keeping the Count breathing and moving, but not much else.
That being the case, he shouldn’t be able to keep up a strenuous battle for long. His stamina would be depleted quickly. That would explain why he was on the defensive against Jacques and being careful not to move around too much. If Jeanne were to join the fight…
She put her eye patch back on, eternally grateful to still be sane after using it. “Forger! Focus on wearing him down! Hit and move!”
“Will do, Mademoiselle!”
While Jacques came at the Count from the front, Jeanne attacked him from his flank. Jacques dodged the Count’s tendrils and swung with his borrowed sword. The Count moved to block with his fleshy battering ram, but that left him open for Jeanne’s strike.
The Count noticed her coming and jumped out of the way of her sword swing. She managed to graze him across his chest and draw a little bit of the black substance he was using in place of blood. It may not have been serious wound, but jumping with his heavy arm weapons must be taxing for him.
Jacques didn’t give him time to catch his breath, as the forger swung at him again. Jacques wasn’t a trained soldier, but a simple swing was enough to keep the Count on his toes.
The Count didn’t have time to prepare a tendril strike, so he simply blocked with them. Jeanne then thrust under his battering ram towards his legs. Again the Count had to jump out of the way to avoid serious injury.
This continued for what seemed like ages (but was probably mere minutes), Jeanne and Jacques hitting the Count of Saint-Germaine with attacks emphasizing speed over power, and him struggling to either keep away from them or block their assaults with his arm weapons.
Finally he began huffing and wheezing from exhaustion. As Jeanne had predicted, his cheap black blood and heavy weapon arms caused him to wear out much faster than Jacques and herself.
He leaned back against the portside rail, wheezing. “I won’t…haah…be defeated by you,” he said between breaths.
“Surrender now, rogue,” Jeanne replied. “Your desecrated body was only good for brief but intense bursts of offense. Believe me; your so-called Philosopher’s Stone hasn’t done you any favors.”
“Ungh…fine, then.” He grunted with some kind of great exertion and held up his tendril arm. It was pointless, Jeanne thought; she had already determined the tendrils’ maximum speed, and both Jacques and she could dodge them now.
However, two of the tendrils merged into the third, increasing its size and length. With one final howl of physical stress, the Count launched it at Jeanne with double the speed of his previous strikes. Even if it didn’t penetrate her irodium armor, the force of the attack would surely knock her off the airship.
“Mademoiselle!” Jacques cried out. He pushed her out of the way and took the fleshy spear in his chest.
Jeanne rushed at the Count and pierced him through the heart with her rapier. No longer able to support himself on the railing, the Count fell over it and was sucked into the portside engine.
The ship shuddered as the engine exploded and the deck pitched sideways. Jacques, who had been freed of the giant tendril when the Count succumbed to Jeanne’s attack, began sliding towards the starboard side of the deck.
Jeanne saw that he was in danger of sliding off the ship and dove in to grab his arm. After a few moments the Majesté Divine stabilized slightly—probably due to the efforts of Pierre and Victor at the controls.
“Talk to me, forger,” she said.
He coughed up blood. “Did I…do good?”
“Yes, you did very well.”
“I…wonder about that. This is…a revolu…tion by the people, the same ones I…wronged. Should I have…gone against them? Will this…really re-redeem me?” He hacked up more blood.
“Believe me; you did a great service to France today. I will make sure your efforts are not forgotten.”
“I…would like…something…from you.”
“I have not…seen you smile, even once since…we met. Please…smile for me.”
She considered his words. It was true that she rarely showed emotions. Maybe…maybe that was something within herself that she should change. “If that is your wish.”
She smiled for him, not too much, but more than enough as she shed a single tear for this petty criminal who had been rejected by his own country.
Merveilleux,” he said softly. Marvelous. And with that, he closed his eyes forever.
A sudden creaking and groaning from the Majesté Divine reminded her that it was not over yet. With only one working engine, the airship was going down, and the Minuit Solaire would not be able to hold it up much longer.
Jeanne motioned to the crew working in the Solaire’s harpoon bay to release the cables. There was no sense in both ships going down, and without the weight of the Solaire bearing down on them the Majesté Divine might actually be able to land in one piece.
There was a snap as the cables were cut and the Majesté Divine was let loose. Jeanne scooped up the body of Jacques and carried it down to the bridge where the royal family, along with Pierre and Victor, were waiting for her.
“We’re going down, Commander,” Pierre said. “You and the royal family had better strap yourselves in.”
There were more seats on this bridge than on the Solaire in order to accommodate their special passengers. Jeanne made sure each member of the royal family was secured in his/her seat before strapping herself into the captain’s chair.
The ship pitched forward and they could see the ground coming up at them. Pierre and Victor struggled to control their descent, but it looked like it wasn’t going to be enough.
Pierre yelled, “Hang on tight!”
Jeanne braced herself as the Majesté Divine hit the ground with thunderous force. She rocketed forward in her seat, but the safety harness held.
After a grueling few moments of the ship skidding against the earth, they came to a complete stop. Jeanne slowly got up from her seat and stepped into a puddle of water. The canopy window had smashed and water was pouring in through some sort of pond. It had probably cushioned the impact just enough for them to survive.
“Is everyone all right?” she said.
The king and queen confirmed that they were. Their children were also unharmed, although perhaps only physically. Everyone seemed to be shaken but otherwise fine.


Varennes, France, July 14, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 1:30 p.m.
The knights led the royal family out of the airship and onto the solid ground outside. They were in a village which they recognized as Varennes. They had crashed in a portion of the Aire river which ran through the town.
            Before they could celebrate their survival, though, the entire village came out to confront them. Angry voices assailed them as they vented their anger.
            “The king is trying to flee France!”
            “Just abandoning your people, eh?”
            “Take responsibility for the mess our country is in!”
            It looked like they were going to get violent, and Jeanne didn’t think they could face the entire village in a fight. The Minuit Solaire flew overhead, but there was no way it would reach them in time.
 She took the only option left to her: She bowed down before them. “I implore you! If you are going to kill anyone, it should be me. Please allow King Louis XVI and his family to live. Do not deprive these innocent children of their parents!”
            The villagers talked it over with themselves for a few minutes, and then said, “Very well. We will allow the royal family to live. However, it has become apparent that the king and queen cannot be trusted. Therefore we insist on accompanying them back to Paris where they will be closely watched.”
            “Thank you,” Jeanne said.
            While it was obvious that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette did not like the idea of being prisoners at all, Jeanne once again silently thanked God that their lives had been spared this day.
            As they rode back to France in a wagon supplied by the village, Jeanne couldn’t help but wonder who was behind this day’s violence. Who set up the Bastille and the Palace of Versailles to be attacked? Who sent the assassin calling himself the Count of Saint-Germaine to murder the king?
And finally: would this be the only plot that had been set into motion?


July 15, 1789 (Infini Calendar), 11:00 a.m.
            The meeting of the Montagnards sect of the Jacobin Club was an especially tense one. One of the members, who had the floor, said, “The king is still alive! This is unacceptable!”
            The yelling of his fellow club members showed that they shared his sentiment. However, Robespierre waved his hands to quiet them down. “No matter. The king is being put under house arrest in Paris and will be under careful watch from now on. We can strike again at any time.
“I am more concerned about the loss of the Count of Saint-Germaine to those knights. I said not to underestimate them, but it seems that is exactly what I have done. Or perhaps I simply overestimated the Count. At any rate, we’ll have to be more careful next time. And I can assure you all there will be a next time.”

1 comment:

  1. Let me know what you think of this story. I'm planning for it to be four parts, and I just started part III.