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       Lady Jessica, Monster Hunter - Episode 1: Heart Of The Empire, p.1

           Keith Dumble
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Lady Jessica, Monster Hunter - Episode 1: Heart Of The Empire

  Lady Jessica: Monster Hunter

  Episode 1: Heart of the Empire

  by Keith Dumble

  Copyright © 2014 by Keith Dumble. All rights reserved.

  Cover copyright © 2014 by Keith Dumble.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

  Reproduction in whole or in part of this publication without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  Thank you for purchasing and supporting my work. If you have enjoyed it, please consider leaving a review wherever you bought this book.

  Keep up to date with the ongoing adventures of The Black Diamonds at















  A Disturbed Night

  Salisbury, 1898

  ONE BITE FROM the beast, and she was as good as dead.

  She rolled to the left. The creature shrieked with rage as it clawed at the mud where she'd been lying, its rotted tongue flailing in its mouth like a thick black maggot.

  Her sword was gone, lost somewhere amongst the gravestones. She flipped over onto her knees, scanning her surroundings for something she could use as a weapon. A flash of lightning strobe-lit the cemetery; for a split second it was as bright as the Zephyr's laboratory.

  There, close to the church. Rusted railings surrounding an ancient tomb.

  The ghoul was back on its feet now, rampaging towards her. Its sunken eyes burned with dead hatred. Hatred of her living warmth, of her pumping blood and of the thing it hated most of all: her beating heart.

  A heart which felt as if it was about to explode as she grasped one of the railings and tugged.

  It refused to give, firmly rooted in the ground. She could sense the beast at her back, expecting to feel the tearing pain of its claws slice through her skin at any moment. With a heave, the second railing came free. She gripped it in both hands and dug her heels into the sodden earth.

  'To hell with you!' She whirled round, the railing thrust forward like a spear.

  The ghoul barely flinched as the spiked tip pierced its chest. The metal ground its way through the creature's body; then she felt the lack of resistance as the railing emerged from its back.

  Thus skewered, she was able to push the ghoul back, keeping it at arm's length as its claws flailed inches from her face. Gobbets of oily black spittle flew from its mouth as it screamed.

  She clenched her teeth and twisted the railing. More of the sticky dark slime oozed from the beast's maw, boiling at its lips like some hellish tar pit.

  She squinted through the driving rain. The yew tree was massive, its trunk as wide as a carriage. She pushed, her boots skidding on the churning mud at first, but finding traction as she pressed forward with grim determination.

  With a jarring thud, the end of the railing pierced the tree, securing the beast in place. She stepped back, releasing her grip. The ghoul's eyes burned like a furnace, its fingers clawing at the iron protruding from the wound ripped through its chest.

  She searched the graveyard. The sword was a few yards away, resting against the base of a weathered stone angel. The statue's head had toppled, lying upturned at its feet.

  She smiled.

  The ghoul's screams of rage had turned into a terrible keening which set her teeth on edge. Its arms and legs were thrashing; they jerked with spasms which reminded her of one of Professor Cottingley's electrical experiments.

  'Enough,' she said.

  Lady Jessica McAlpin swung the blade in a wide arc towards the beast's exposed neck.

  The keening ceased.


  'I hate ghouls.'

  Flint leaned back in his chair, placed both hands across his belly and let out a loud belch. Atsu giggled, covering her mouth with her hand.

  Jessica pushed a strand of hair from her face. 'And they, it would appear, have no great feelings of warmth towards you, William.'

  Tommy snorted into his mug. Flint glared at him. 'They don't even have the common decency to realise they're dead,' he said, pouring himself another glass then draining it in a single gulp. 'Filthy bloody creatures.'

  The warmth from the wine coursed through Jessica's body. After decapitating the beast, she had found Flint in the crypt. Earlier, they had agreed to split up: she following the creature's trail in the cemetery, Flint searching for its lair inside the church.

  When the ghoul had burst through the stained glass window in a cascade of sharp fragments, Jessica had feared the worst. She had been relieved therefore when she had later found Flint trussed up like a prize pig in the dark, hanging from a beam on the crypt ceiling by his ankles.

  'What was it like, being that close to one?' Tommy spoke through a mouthful of bread. 'Were you scared?'

  'Scared?' Flint screwed up his face in disgust. 'I thought the damned thing was going to eat me alive. Of course I was bloody scared, Pike!'

  'Lucky for you then that its belly was full.' Jessica pushed her empty plate aside. 'Though, it has to be said, the poor parson was a little less fortunate.'

  'He was dead?' Atsu's eyes widened beneath her blue fringe.

  'We were too late to save him, I'm afraid,' said Jessica. 'Quite a mess.'

  'At least the damned thing won't be eating anyone else now.' Flint filled his glass and held it aloft. 'Here's to you, Jessica.'

  'Here's to us all, and to another successful mission,' said Jessica, returning the toast. 'And to the success of the next.'

  'Oh how tiresome.' The disembodied voice sounded as though it was locked inside a metal box. 'Does that mean we have to go back already?'

  Tommy walked across to the control panel. He lowered his goggles and turned a dial, which caused a number of diodes on the display to flash on and off in rapid succession. 'There there, old girl. It won't take too long.'

  'Less of the old, if you please.' The Zephyr sounded indignant. 'Though I must admit I am feeling rather tired today.'

  'I'm not surprised.' Tommy's voice was soothing, as if he was speaking to a child. 'How about we get you spruced up a bit when we get to London?' A row of clear glass bulbs winked in response. 'Get your oil changed and your tanks topped up. How does that sound, Zed?'

  'I suppose that would be agreeable.' There was a long hissing noise deep within the hull of the ship, almost like a sigh. 'Oh, very well. To London it is.'

  Tommy turned round, giving them a wink.

  'Ready, Atsu?' said Jessica.

  The girl jolted to attention. 'Yes ma'am!'

  'I told you, Atsu, you don't need to keep calling me that.'

  'Sorry ma'am!' Atsu gasped, then blushed.

  Flint laughed into his glass. 'It's your gargantuan sense of command, Jessica. We are but lowly minions who cower in your shadow.'

  Jessica flung a bread roll at his head. He ducked swiftly, his long blonde hair whipping through the air. 'Gargantuan, William? Is that one of the words you learned in gaol?'

  Flint grinned, his gold tooth catching the light. 'I have learned many things, Jessica. Remind me to show you some time.'

  'Fortunately we will be rather too busy for the foreseeable future, William.' Jes
sica placed her hands on her hips. Her red skirt spilled out in layers to the floor, with only the white silk tips of her boots visible beneath it. 'Places everyone. Time to take to the skies.'

  'Yes ma'am!' Atsu giggled as she disappeared into the navigation chamber. Flint nodded, cracked his knuckles, and walked in the opposite direction, towards the hatch which led to the bridge. Tommy turned back to the control panel, flicking a row of ivory switches. There was a clanking sound from somewhere within the guts of the airship and Jessica felt the familiar lurch as the craft began to rise.

  'Oh, if we must,' said the Zephyr.


  A Storm is Approaching

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