CHAPTER I: Diamonds in Blue Waters
Due to the organisation’s history being shredded in obscurity indeed, we are forced to commence our journal with the earliest records of Mr. Ottens’ travels in northern India, particularly his account of a journey to the Holy City of Benares where he claimed to have received the prophecy that would for so many coming yards guide his judgement in Affairs of Council.
‘Having travelled from Calcutta per elephant for nearly two weeks, I finally arrived in Benares, the luminous city of temples and learning, situated on the banks of the Ganges. The city has been inhabited for centuries and is said to be “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend” . . . and it looks twice as old as all of them put together. Fortunately I had no intention of losing myself in the unimaginable dwells of this metropolis; my destination was located on the outskirts of the Holy River. There, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English sitting now?
‘If my intelligence were correct—and I thanked the Lord that it were, for I wished not to be without purpose in this place of destiny—then this was where I would meet my informer. And here in the depths of glooming obscurity he revealed to me the ancient knowledge I had sought. It were obvious to me that I had no time to waste, thus without further hesitation set I about for Calcutta again where my companions had been awaiting my return for nearly a month. Thrilled and excited I shared with them the secret that I had received, and they agreed that we should discover the truth on our own account.
‘It had rained without cease ever since I had arrived in Calcutta, and forced to wait for our transportation for several more days my companions were by this time asking rancorously why I’d fetched them to his dismal place. When our transportation had finally announced itself on the horizon I invited them to risk the rain by tilting back their heads and gaze upwards. Doing so, they gasped as one for above us, half-masked by the stormy grey from which the pelting downpour fell there hung the product of the great accomplishments of contemporary engineering: two airships, equal in size to a modern-day frigate, would bring us to the place to which I had been directed.
‘As soon as the airships had moored at Calcutta Air Harbour we made our way for the Peril
, so were the names carried by these grand vessel. Several hours hence the thrilling sound of the turbine engines indicated our departure. For the coming days the weathers were clear and our horizon filled with the brilliant blue of the Indian ocean, its placidity interrupted but occasionally with the fascinating isles of this great sea which shined like diamonds in the tranquil waters. Thus did we pass Mask Island, where the King of Spain some years ago exiled his sister and her husband, the Viceroy of Catalonia, both the lovers cruelly fitted with an irremovable mask, and likewise flew on by Ceylon. Here, I’m told, exists the kingdom of Agartha, veiled divinely from the memory of man, the throne of which is decorated with the figures of two million gods, with its existence central to the very continuity of mankind . . . but I confess that I have quite forgot the point I sought to make, or why I ever thought this place important.
‘Many days passed by during which we spotted no places worth remarking upon. I spent the hours talking with my companions, debating the fitness of subjugated peoples for self-government and the threat of a recently-formed organization counter to our own, and Mr. Fantômas was able to amuse us with a recently-acquired military artefact which he claimed to be of Prussian origin. On the sixth day, our associated on board the other airship, Spectre
, contacted us per radio: they had briefly interrupted their journey to observe an island where pork-sausage creatures called andouilles
roamed in strings, nourished themselves by supping from the many mustards-streams which coursed there. Thus we they now some hours delayed and we elected to halt near a small isle where we found men and women went naked save for plaques of gold and silver. We resumed our journey as soon as the Spectre
had came in sight, and our captain warned that there were now stormy weathers ahead of us.
‘Boiling above the ocean was a dark, bristling wall of cloud, blocking our passage south. Through the tall windows of the observation lounge I watched the horizon slew as the ship struggled to keep steady. The storm was warning us off, but our captain gave no order to change course. Flying into the storm, even its outer edges, appeared unwise to me, for this was no ordinary tempest. Everyone aboard knew what it was: the Devil’s Fist; a near eternal typhoon that migrated about the about the Indian ocean year round. She was infamous, and earned her name by striking airships out of the sky! All around us were the most dreadful clouds I’d ever seen, mottled grey and black, fuming. They appeared so dense it seemed a miracle we had not already shattered against their bulk.
‘We came out of the storm relatively unharmed, and as crew worked to repair broken windows we awaited the Spectre
’s emergence from the clouds. For days, the radio was silent, and we found her adrift in open skies a week later. One of her engines had smacked into her stern, and attempting to repair the damage several engineers had gone overboard, presumed lost in the violent waters. We hovered over the seas for two weeks while technicians worked around the clock to make repairs, and eventually found both our airships underway again. So far out of inhabited lands, we could not be far away from our destination. Then we came to the edge of the world, where the ocean poured over into the abyss.
‘Or so it seemed for one insane moment, and even when we realised the truth it made no more sense to us. There was a hole in the sea, where the water flowed downwards as if it were rushing over a waterfall, down until the water was lost in a fog of mist. What happened to it at the bottom, I could not guess. What force could keep the whole ocean from pouring in and filling this hole? What pumps could draw away the ocean as quickly as it flowed in? Near the edge of the hole, we passed an abandoned Sentry City, floating in the sky . . .
‘The balloons lifted us higher as we reached the edge of the large hole in the sea, and soon we found ourselves rising to meet this city. There was a dome like the cap of a mushroom, and under it like a wasp’s nest hung a vertical slab of stone. Or was it the stone that hung in the air like an impossible island, supporting the city that bloomed mushroom-like atop it? The floating city hung over a hole in the sea, using it like a moat. Or perhaps the force that punched the hole in the sea was the same one that held the city in the air.’
To be continued . . .