RESTART - A Steampunk Adventure

*AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a rewrite mostly by Skellybones (Shadowwolf), it will be updated as and when I have the time to work on it, but that should be more regularly than it has been the past few years.*

In the year 1814, The Empress, Maria Vasquez's, Senior Inventor, Kole Tasker, turned corrupt and fled from London. As he did so, he destroyed their security systems, leaving the ever-growing city undefended.
It is now 1856, and news has reached the Empress's ears that Kole is planning to destroy London, and use it as base for his latest invention, an inter-dimensional jumper.
Maria's daughter, Ariannya, or Anya, has been picked to find Kole and stop his plans. She is reluctant, preferring her aristocratic lifestyle.
Will Anya live to take her claim on the throne, or will she and London both go up in steam?

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2. The Raffle

“Eliza, would you be a dear and run me a bath? I want to look good for the raffle, you know.”

The voice that spoke was gentle, sounding a simple suggestion rather than a command. The red-headed young woman settled back into an armchair. Stretching her legs out in front of her, she rested them on the small stool a little way from the edge of the seat. Ariannya Vasquez, heir to the English throne, nestled into her favourite chair.

The soft red velvet was smooth against her small hands, as she rested her them on the armrests. With her eyes shut, she thought about the raffle, a chill trickling down her spine as it crossed into her mind. She let out a deep sigh, pushing the thoughts from her mind, and returning her attention to her book.

A slight movement beside the door distracted her, as the handmaid pulled it closed behind her. The dark wood that made up the door seemed to melt into the panelling around the walls of the room. A smile danced across Anya's lips, before she looked back to the deep blue cover of the heavy book in her lap.

The book's cover was a well worn shade of navy. The layers of leather peeled up in the corners, revealing the cream of the base and spine.

This particular story had been one of her favourites. It had been one she had loved ever since she first heard her father reading it to her. She knew the place of every word, and remembered the sound of her father's voice as he had read it. It had been a deep sound, one that had brought her peace of mind, a sound she knew she would never forget.

Anya leafed through the pages, scanning the numbers on the bottom right-hand corner. She searched for the page at which she had left off. Anya had long since passed the need for a bookmark- she knew the precise location of every part of this book. Her current chapter, "The Blue Headscarf", took place close to the end.

She began to read, her mind whisked away into a realm of fantasy. Finding herself deep in her own imagination, she thought of the characters. She herself was in the place of a narrator, looking on the story itself in enjoyment, invisible to the rest. Pulled away from her own world, and thrown deep into another she knew just as well.

Ten minutes had passed before Eliza Tanase, Anya's handmaid, rushed back in. Her sharp voice cut through Anya's visions of the green meadows.

“Your bath is ready, my lady.” She informed her, bowing deeply as she did so.

Anya looked up, allowing the book to fall closed. She pulled back her legs, putting her bare feet flat on the soft carpet that covered the floor. Leaning over, she placed her book on the small end table, positioned by the chair itself.

She dipped her head toward Eliza, in silent gratitude, and strode toward the door. Her footsteps were silent on the carpet, too soft to make a sound. The handmaid waited until she had entered the large bathroom, before she shut the door. Eliza had other duties to attend to, and preparations to make for when her mistress had finished.

The clean tiles of the floor were warm and spotless, and they shimmered in the soft sunlight. It filtered through the heavy lace curtains, illuminating the bathroom in a golden glow. The setting sun shone at the perfect angle, hanging low in the crimson sky.

The princess slid out of her robe before she dipped one toe into the hot water. A sudden wave of heat lapped over her freezing feet, working its way up as she stepped into the water. She slid down into the warmth, relishing the pleasure of entering the bath. She lay there, her red hair pooling around her, floating on the surface like an autumn leaf on a pond.


 

Little more than an hour later, she was in her most formal dress, walking down the steps of her home, hand in hand with her mother. The pair of them put on their best smiles, pretending not to notice the large crowds that gathered around them. People pushed against each other. They tried to get closer as they yelled out their questions. Maria held her daughter's arm tight, wishing to shield her from the world a little longer, hoping to keep her as her own little girl for just a year or two more.

They reached the royal carriage in a few minutes, and they sat opposite each other. Anya sighed with relief, glad the experience was over. She leaned back against the seat of the carriage, shutting her eyes for a moment. Most of the time, Anya hated dressing up. It took forever for the servants to get her into a state that her mother was happy with, and even longer to make sure all preparations had been finished. Security around the palace was the tightest in the city- something which she had been informed was a relatively new development.

It was all because of Kole's theft that they required a fully armed guard for the smallest trips, and larger, more extensive groups of bodyguards for the more important trips- like the biannual raffle. To Anya, it had become little more than an unnecessary bother, something that was put in place only to hinder her journies. She had noticed, much to her annoyance, that the guard around her was particularly skilled. Which of course meant that even more measures had to be taken.

“Anya.” Maria started, her voice softer than it was normally. “You need to pay attention now, okay? The people expect us to greet them as we ride.” The Empress gestured outside the window, where they had broken free from the large crowd, and a few citizens ran after them, shouting and waving. Walking beside the door, there was one of the palace guards, holding his rifle straight, appearing to look straight ahead. He was in the inner ring of defence, tasked with the security and protection of the Empress and her daughter. His eyes never strayed from the crowds, and he watched them out of the corner of his eye.

Anya's eyes snapped open, and she returned her attention to the streets outside, watching the buildings move past, focusing on the rhythmic clip-clop of the horse's hooves amongst the whirling of gears, and the distant whistles of pressurised steam as it was released.

They were headed to the Atrium- a large building near the centre of the city- to watch and announce the results of the raffle. She pulled a face. The raffle.

Since the Arcane Rune had been stolen, only forty years ago, one single person was exiled from the city, every two years, to go in search of this vital piece of equipment. It was not until the Arcane Rune was found that they could be certain of the city's safety. In the four decades that had passed since its theft, the great city of London had become a cesspool for crime, a city in which the only safe places were those illuminated by the golden glow of the city's lights. Any dark alley or street shrouded in darkness could be hiding something deadly. Even murderers themselves dared not enter these particular areas, in fear of the monsters that were said to lurk in the shadows.

As they drew closer to the Atrium, Anya’s thoughts were called back to the present. Bells rang out all around, singing for the raffle. Each Raffle was held on the first Sunday of the Fourth month, every year that ended with an even number. The week that followed was deemed a holiday for all but those aiding the individual chosen in the raffle. During this time the people of London would feast and celebrate, nobles throwing extravagant parties, and common folk gathering in market squares for fairs and fêtes. It struck Anya as quite sadistic- after all, the raffle marked the departure (and inevitable death) of one of their own. Perhaps they thought there was some glory in it.

 

The road beneath the carriage changed texture, the wheels wobbling less as they switched to a smoother brick path. Anya glanced outside, confirming that they had indeed arrived before the Atrium. The carriage was pulling up before the doors specifically for the Empress and her heir, a long carpet stretching from the front steps to the door of their carriage. Crowds swarmed either side, held back by various guards and fences. Lining their path- the carpet- were braziers of white marble, matching the entrance of the Atrium. Flames burned brightly within them, lighting the way.

The building itself was something to behold; a giant structure of white marble, with pillars supporting massive panes of glass. Small pieces of brass served as decorations, bordering windowpanes or forming elegant signs and pictures to decorate the walls. It seemed to glitter in the light, the dying embers of sunset and the warm glow of the braziers reflected off the metal, creating patterns on the buildings lining the other side of the street.

The carriage came to a complete halt, and the guard on the side of the Atrium opened the door to the outside. Maria gave her daughter a smile, “Smile, dear,” she reminded her, lifting Anya’s chin with one hand before standing and stepping out of the imperial carriage. Anya took a deep breath, letting her face relax into a smile, before taking the hand of the footman waiting outside, and stepping down the steps onto the carpet.

Her own personal guard stepped in behind her, and Anya started the trip down the carpet, following close to her mother. People on either side cheered for them, for the Empress and her Heir.

 

As they stepped inside the Atrium, the sounds of the crowds finally died down a little, as the doors were shut behind them and their armoured guard. Anya let out the breath she had been holding, sneaking a glance behind through the glass doors at the crowds. People still pushed and shoved toward the carpet, despite the departure of her and her mother.

“Anya,” her mother called, having reached the elevator.

The princess took a few hurried steps, joining her mother in the machine. It was ornate as pressure elevators went, covered with brass embellishments that ended and began in swirls of colour. The doors slid closed, and the small group was sent shooting upwards into the view box.

As much as she disliked the ceremony, even Anya couldn’t deny the beauty of it all. Beneath, crowded around the centre podium were thousands of Londoners. Lining the stands circling the area were people of all walks of life, from nobles to common folk, all watching the festivities with awe. Performers spat fire and performed illusions for the entertainment of those watching as the crowd waited for the main event to begin. Sat in a corner of the podium was Antonie Van De Vliert, Imperial Communications Manager, his wrinkled, kindly face glistening with the evening heat of London. As they stepped from the elevator and into the view box, he gave a little wave to Anya. She returned it to him, her face breaking into a wide grin at the gesture.

The Empress and her Heir took their seats above the masses, in elegant thrones gilded in gold and silver, and watched the acts beneath them.

After a brief rest, Maria stepped forward toward the mounted microphone. She stood still for a moment, looking out over the crowd- Anya could see the gentle smile on her mother’s face. It was genuine, not at all forced. As the final acts came to a close, the Empress leaned in close, beginning to make her speech.

 

“People of London!” She cried out, spreading her hands wide. The chattering from below died down almost immediately, and all eyes were focused on the small view box. The Empress’s smile widened, and she continued, “I welcome you all to our bi-annual raffle!” she declared, pausing for a moment to allow the applause that followed her words. The crowd fell silent, and she continued, “Our brave candidates have submitted their names in what will be our 21st raffle.

“As I am sure many of you are aware, there is only a slim chance that whoever is picked return, alive or dead. We wish them luck on their journey, we pray for their well-being. These noble individuals have stepped up to the task, and we owe them a great debt, as bravery is what built London!” She paused again, letting her words sink in. “Where would we be without the bravery of our ancestors? Those who came and built our wonderful, thriving city! You who embark on this journey will join the few memorialised forever in the Halls of Remembrance, your name immortalised in stone beside those of past heroes. And, should you be successful, you shall be remembered as the one to bring peace to the city; to the Empire!” She bowed her head, retreating from the microphone and returning to her seat beside Anya. The young heir glanced at her mother with a mixture of awe and concern.

The Empress looked ahead with a resolute air about her, proud in her manner. She was a master at hiding her own feelings, disguising them from the world. Anya, however, could tell. There was a hint of sadness in her eyes, a tinge of regret in the way she clasped her hands. She did not understand how her mother could do this, how she could send one lone individual out on a suicide mission.

Anya shifted uncomfortably in her seat, receiving a disapproving glare from one of the maids that had accompanied them, before she became still. She returned her gaze to the bright lights beneath them, and looked beyond the walls of the Atrium. The Thames stretched out lazily into the distance, twisting and turning like a great serpent, while the street lights that surrounded it were like stars in an otherwise murky sky. It was beautiful.

On stage, Antonie had stood, walking to the centre of the platform. He was wringing his hands, looking over the documents on the podium before him.

“Good luck,” Anya whispered as the crowd moved once more into silence.

“As you have heard from our great Empress, Maria Vasquez, the matter of the raffle is hardly a laughing matter. Your mission is to retrieve the Arcane Rune, which, as you all know, was stolen from us by the then Senior Inventor, Kole Tasker.” A ripple of disapproving remarks washed through the crowd like waves at the mention of the man’s name- one that had become taboo in the streets. The name of the man who had rendered London defenceless. Antonie raised his hand for silence once more, before he returned to his speech. “Anyone who’s name is chosen, shall be exiled from London until he or she returns with the Rune, or until said candidate dies. In the case of death, and the body is found, the individual will be returned to their home to receive a proper funeral.

“Do you understand the terms, candidates?” A small portion of the crowd yelled out their agreements, their oaths. Anya noted the dwindling size of that particular section of the crowd. Each raffle it got smaller and smaller- it wouldn’t be long until there were none left. She returned her attention to Antonie, who had stepped toward a long glass tube that had emerged from a section of the stage. After a few moments of silence, there was a loud clanking sound. All in the Atrium held their breath, listening silently to the sound of mechanics working. Cogs whirled, pistons moved. Anya watched with fascination as various vents opened to allow steam past.

A minute or so after the noise had started, a secondary tube started to rise from the first. At its tip was a small slip of paper- just big enough to hold the name written upon it- clutched in a small, hand-like claw.

Antonie retrieved the paper, straightening a little as he took it. He held it before him, reading the name. The man stood completely still, as though frozen in time. Quiet whispers scattered through the crowd, before he seemed to unfreeze. In a pained, croaking voice, he finally spoke.

 

Ariannya Vasquez.”

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