Disclaimer: I still own nothing.
If there had been one thing he hadn’t missed about being a middy it was the godless flechette bats.
They twirled around him in swarms, and every time their wings brushed against him, he shuddered. Singe was glad Deryn wasn’t doing middy’s duties again so she could be here to taunt him, and Fitzroy was off doing some altitude drills. Mr. Thompson had been left behind in France to compensate for added weight.
It was just him and Mr. Wilson, who was very quiet and kept to himself without his brother. Singe’s fist closed on a handful of figs, careful to avoid any protruding spikes, and he flung them as far from himself as he could. A new bosun had yet to be hired, so Singe had become the involuntary leader of the midshipman. Wilson accepted his command without complaint, quite unlike a normal teenage boy under normal circumstances, but these weren’t normal times in any manner of the word
Singe took a deep breath and reached into his bag for the last of the figs. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Wilson.”
The boy blinked at him a few times, and nodded. “We are still at war, Mr. Newkirk, no matter how close we may be to the end. War has its costs...” he trailed off and blinked a few more times, his face resuming an expression of stone. He threw one last fig and straightened his uniform. “Finished.”
“There was nothing I could do, Miles, and he died in a valiant way.”
Miles caught Singe’s gaze and held it was a cold certainty, but his voice shook when he spoke, “There is nothing valiant about death, Mr. Newkirk. And I should not like to talk about it. Please. It haunts my mind enough as it is without having to say the words out loud.”
The tears shined in his eyes, but his mouth was curled in anger. At what, Singe couldn’t tell. “Aye, Mr. Wilson. I’m sorry for bringing it up.”
He didn’t respond, instead hooking his legs in the ratlines and beginning to climb. Singe followed suit, and his arm was burning in pain and he was panting by the time they made it topside. “At this rate,” he mused, feeling the wind strong at his back, “We’ll be in Unst before sunset.”
They made their way to the tail to meet up with the other midshipman. “How high up are we?” Singe asked.
“Four thousand feet. We’ve dropped five hundred in the last two hours,” Fitzroy replied stiffly.
“We’re nearing Unst, and so we’re losing altitude gradually to avoid venting loads of hydrogen in one place, see?”
The middy brushed his hands on his uniform. “How far out are we?”
“The engines are at full ahead now, so I don’t think it will be more than a few hours. We’ll be called to prepare for landing soon. Fitzroy, you’ll glide to the ground and command the landing crews, and Wilson and I will stay here and cover anything that comes up from the ship.”
Singe ignored Fitzroy as he muttered something about laziness. At least he hadn’t refused outright, Singe reminded himself, which was an improvement.
Just as he’d thought, the crew began to prepare for docking within a few hours. Fitzroy was sent to the gut of the ship to ready a huxley, Miles had been sent to help the riggers topside, and Singe was told to check on the passengers, and while this was a ridiculous task, he did so without protest.
The lady boffin was in the deck with the captain, so he didn’t bother with her.
Deryn and Alek, of course, were already aware of their landing and had planned accordingly. They were watching out the windows of the middy’s mess, craning their necks for a glimpse of anything exciting.
“You’ll hardly see anything from in here, boys,” he said from behind them, and Alek jolted at the sound, the loris on his shoulder babbling some German blether. “How would you fancy the view from topside?”
Deryn was already past him on her way out the door, “I thought you’d never ask, Mr. Newkirk! Do you think the riggers would mind if I borrowed a flight suit?”
Singe rolled his eyes and Alek sighed as they fell in line behind the girl. “I’m sure they wouldn’t, Dylan,” he paused for a moment, “Did you hear which ships we’re meeting in Unst?”
“No,” the girl said over her shoulder, “Did you?”
“Aye. We’ll be meeting the Sorley and the Minotaur.”
She tripped on her own feet and stumbled to a halt. “You mean the Minotaur my barking--cousin--is serving on?”
Alek was trying to hide a grin. “The very same. Captain Hobbes and I are good friends and he was happy to do me a favor. I did, after all, save the ship more than once.”
Deryn smothered the former prince in a hug, knocking him back a few steps. Singe looked around to make sure no one had seen the unmanly gesture of affection, but they were all busy with their landing duties.
“All I get is a hug?” Alek was looking properly disappointed.
“Well, I’m not going to barking kiss you with Newkirk here to see,” she said, her cheeks flushing as she punched him in the shoulder. “Maybe later.”
Singe tried to push thoughts of what that could mean out of his mind and found a discarded flight suit to put on, hoping there were gloves in the pockets.
Deryn was in hers twice as fast as Singe, but Alek was having trouble. “I’ve got it,” he assured them, but when it became clear that he didn’t, Deryn shook her head at said a few curses but helped him anyway. “Thanks,” he told her defeatedly.
“Daft princes,” Bovril began cackling from his shoulder. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Deryn raised an eyebrow and patted its head. “Now you’ve got it spouting poetic blether, Mr. Hohenberg.”
“Come along, or you’ll miss the whole landing!” Singe cut in, leading them up the ratlines and to the bow of the ship.
The Sorley and the Minotaur would be coming from the north, having just been in Iceland, so they would get the first glimpses of the ship on the horizon from the great whale’s head. Mr. Wilson met up with them, and Deryn gave his back a long, hard look and bit her lip.
Deryn didn’t even try to hide the broad grin that stretched from ear to ear on her face. The four of them stood in a row, the wind grabbing hold of their hair and flinging it in all directions, even the loris’s, who began to make small crackling and hissing noises.
The ships appeared suddenly, dots growing larger by the second. The sunset framed them from the back, a deep, blood red that seemed to consume them.
The sun didn’t set in the north.
“Oh, my God!” Miles yelled, voice up at least an octave. He stumbled back, gasping, “They’re on fire!”
In less than a second, Deryn’s and Alek’s eyes were as wide as Wilson’s. Singe’s gaze stayed locked on the burning ships as it rose in the heat of flame, but began to slowly dip toward the ocean. He’d been there before, burning, knowing that there would be no escape from the flames that licked your hair and arms, but for him there had been a bucket of ballast and a brave midshipman ready to save him.
For those men, there was nothing but the flames around them and the sea so far below that it would be as hard as stone. No one to save them from certain death.
Deryn was yelling at anything and everything, but Singe didn’t hear her. He was too entranced by the two shapes of bright orange that fell in slow motion. From where he stood, it looked almost peaceful, like a feather.
Miles helped Alek hold the hysterical Deryn Sharp, who had tears falling down her face. When she gave up struggling, she collapsed to the ground in a destroyed heap, and whispered two words, raw with pain and terror, “He’s dead.”