Rolling fields and high mountains covered with lush, green vegetation. Serbia was a much nicer place than Deryn had imagined. Peering out the slanted gondola windows, Deryn took in the breathtaking sight below her, wondering how she could have thought of it as some sort of barren wasteland when it was near the mountainous regions of Hungary and Romania.
She frowned. Because Serbia's where Alek's parents were murdered, that's why.
"Mr. Sharp! Can you please return to your desk!" Mr. Dawson fussed, drawing Deryn's attention back to class. Newkirk still sat in his desk, scribbling away aeronautics that they had both long since memorized.
"Yes, of course, sir. Just admiring the view," Deryn said, sitting back in her desk.
"It is brilliant, isn't it?" Mr. Dawson admitted, gazing out the window longingly. "But right now, you two must finish your studies or else Mr. Rigby will have all our heads."
Their study session didn't last long, however, because Alek came in with Volger at his heels, having just finished with fencing practice.
"Hello, Dylan, Newkirk," he said brightly. "We came to see if you wanted to practice some fencing but I see you're still studying. We'll just be on our way
"Oh, no, Alek, please stay for a while," Mr. Dawson gushed, grinning at the boy.
Alek smiled nervously at the man. "Ah, thank you, Mr. Dawson, I believe we will
" he said sheepishly. If there was one officer on the Leviathan Alek feared, it was Mr. Dawson and his eccentricities.
Deryn laughed as the boy took up a defensive position in the desk behind her. "Well, Alek, it seems we can't do any practicing at the moment. Are you sure you'd like to hang around while we're cramming our attics with aeronautics?"
Alek nodded. "To be honest, I have been a bit curious
Deryn snorted. "Right, of course you are. You're attic's already overloaded with blether, Latin-boy."
Alek sat up straight, his hand on the hilt of his sword. "Latin is a perfectly good language to be fluent in."
"Aye, if you're a mummy," Newkirk snickered.
"Mummies are Egyptian, bum-rag. But he's got a point," Deryn said, smiling smugly at Alek. "There's a reason why Latin is a dead language."
Alek ground his teeth, clearly irritated while Deryn and Newkirk laughed at him.
"Shouldn't you boys be focusing on your studies rather than insulting Alek?" Volger sighed, polishing his saber. Even with the dull practice blade, the man looked barking terrifying. Deryn and Newkirk's laughter turned into nervous chuckles before fading away altogether. They turned back to their own desks and continued scribbling on their diagrams.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Deryn threw down her pencil. "Blisters, I already know this!" she complained.
Mr. Dawson finally relented, throwing his hands up in surrender. "I give up. I can't get you to study for more than fives minutes, can I?"
"Fine. Do what you want."
Deryn spun around in her chair to face Alek who raised an eyebrow at her. "With that attitude, you'll never learn anything," he said with an amused look.
Deryn waved dismissively. "I've already learned it. No point it learning it again," she scoffed. Alek rolled his eyes.
"So," Newkirk interrupted them, "we're over Serbia now, aren't we?"
"Aye, and it's dead pretty too," Deryn said, gesturing to the window.
Newkirk got up to look outside. "Blisters, we've been flying off to battle for a long time, haven't we?"
"Aye, it seems like we'll never get to the Ottaman Empire," Deryn sighed.
Newkirk turned and banged his fist on his desk. "Sitting in these stalls, we feel a lot like cattle," he snorted.
"Like the pounding beat of the Leviathan's fleet, it's not easy to ignore," Deryn said wistfully. By pounding beat she meant, of course, the constant sounds of life aboard the ship, the thrum of the membrane beneath their feet when standing on the spine. The Leviathan was an entire ecosystem, the whale's breath like the heartbeat of all the beasties that lived there. Including the airmen.
Alek clapped Deryn and Newkirk on the shoulders. "Well, how about something to take your minds off that," he suggested.
Deryn looked at him curiously. "And what might that be?"
Alek grinned. "Think of instead, a girl worth fighting for!" Deryn's jaw dropped.
"Please tell me you didn't just say that."
Alek nodded vigorously. "That's what I said: a girl worth fighting for!" Deryn looked at him skeptically. She was willing to bet he'd never had a woman on his arm in his life and now he was saying to think of one? The boy must have hit his head during fencing practice.
"I want her paler than the moon, with eyes that shine like stars," he mused. He held out a hand to Newkirk, inviting him to continue. Newkirk shrugged and gave it a shot.
"My girl will marvel at my strength, adore my battle scars," he said with a silly smile on his face. Deryn snorted. What strength?
Now even Mr. Dawson took up the conversation, having been sitting quietly at the front of the room since they began talking. "I couldn't care less what she wears or what she looks like," he began, "It all depends what she cooks, like beef, pork, chicken, mmh
" Mr. Dawson rubbed his large belly and licked his lips. Sooo
he wanted a lassie with basic cooking abilities. At least he wasn't picky.
Ignoring Mr. Dawson, Newkirk elbowed Deryn playfully in the shoulder. "Bet the local girls thought you were quite the charmer," he said with a wink. Deryn felt blood rush to her cheeks. She should hope not!
"And I'll bet the ladies love a man in armor," Alek added with a smirk, waving a hand in front of the fencing armor still sitting on his torso. Deryn stuck her tongue out at him. Barking princes
"You can guess what we have missed the most since we went off to war," Mr. Dawson said with a pout, as if any lassies would have liked a belly like that. "What do we want?" he asked the boys with a grin.
"A girl worth fighting for!" Newkirk shouted, pumping his fist in the air.
Deryn looked back and forth between the three of them in utter amazement. She let out a groan and began messaging her temples. "You're all barking idiots
The boys ignored her comment and looked at her expectantly.
"My girl will think I have no faults," Newkirk prompted.
"That I'm a major find," Mr. Dawson continued, gesturing for her to continue. She rolled her eyes.
"How 'bout a girl who's got a brain," she hissed at them, "who can defend her own behind?"
Confused looks crossed the boys' faces as they considered this option.
Alek held his hand over his heart, making Deryn wonder if he was purposely being overdramatic. "My princely ways and handsome face are sure to mesmerize her!"
Deryn stared at him in disgust. She dearly hoped he was joking.
Newkirk nudged her, trying to get her attention. "He's think he's such a lady-killer," he snorted when she turned to look at him.
"He probably is," Deryn admitted with a sigh. Joking or not, he certainly was self-aware. She wondered if that was cheating, using his "princely ways" as an asset when he was a prince to begin with.
Suddenly, Deryn remembered something Alek had said before, how he'd never been allowed to mix with commoners. The only girls he'd have ever met would have been the servants and the few aristocrats he'd been allowed to meet. Blisters, had the boy ever even fancied a girl? She honestly doubted it. She doubted he even knew what he was talking about when he brought up women.
While Deryn thought, in the back of the room, Volger raised his head, a rare smile on his thin lips. "I've a girl back home who's unlike any other
" he said wistfully, still polishing his saber. Thinking about it, Deryn wouldn't be surprised if said girl was just another sword by the way he looked at that blade.
Apparently Newkirk agreed. "Yeah, the only girl who'd love him is his mother," he murmured in her ear, making them both snicker. Volger gave them a hard look that silenced them both.
Sensing the tension raising in the room, Mr. Dawson butted in. "But when we come home in victory, they'll line up at our door!" he said quickly, trying to raise their spirits again. "What do we want?"
"A girl worth fighting for!" Newkirk said, plastering that silly grin on his face again.
"Wish that I had a girl worth fighting for," Alek said dreamily.
Deryn felt an unexpected anger well up inside her chest at that. She set her jaw. "Aye," she said in a low voice. "A girl worth fighting"
Deryn choked on her words when Mr. Dawson let out a rather effeminate scream. She whipped her head around to see the older man staring out the window, a look of absolute horror on his face. She and the other men in the room got up and dashed to the window to look outside. A serious of gasps arose from the group.
A battlefield filled with bodies. Dead bodies. Both Clanker and Darwinist, and some so mangled and bloody it was impossible to tell. They covered the ground below the Leviathan, some of them still twitching with life. And there was blood. So much blood. Some of the bodies had been literally torn apart, their innards strewn across the field like bloody spider webs.
Deryn suddenly felt sick. Her knees buckled and she collapsed to the floor, bile rising in her throat.
"Dylan!" Alek exclaimed, dropping to his knees beside her. Deryn felt dizzy. She'd never seen so many corpses before
It was absolutely horrifying
"Dylan, are you okay?" Alek cried, placing a hand on her shoulder. Deryn felt too faint to even answer. She glanced at Alek with a look that must have relayed the fear she felt, because Alek seemed to understand that she needed to be out of there now. He put her arm around his shoulders and helped her stand, leading her towards the door.
"Come on, Dylan, let's get you out of here
" he said softly. Deryn nodded weakly, pressing a hand to her mouth. Alek glanced back at the rest of the men in the room. "I'll take care of Dylan and be right back," he said then hurried out the door.
A few minutes later, Alek sat Deryn down in the middies' mess and gave her a cup of water. She drank the water, already beginning to feel better.
" she whispered. "I hope I never end up down there
Deryn pictured all the men who had lost their lives down on the battlefield, some of them no older than her, and felt anger well up inside her. She gripped the cup in her hands hard enough to break it. "I hate war
" she growled below her breath. So many people had died in this barking war, and not just soldiers, either. Thousands of civilians had been slaughter without reservation and for what cause? Just because the Germans wanted a bloodbath. It was all the barking Germans' fault!
Deryn looked up in surprise to see Alek wearing the same hard expression she had just a moment before.
"War is nothing but murder with the blessing of the government
It accomplishes nothing!" Alek seethed, his fists clenched in his lap. "I swear to you, Dylan
I will end this war myself!"
Deryn knit her brows, gazing at him in concern. She had never seen Alek so angry before. It kind of scared her, seeing those normally soft green eyes filled with so much hatred. But, Alek had an excuse to hate the Germans, she supposed. They had murdered his barking parents, after all. But it still didn't seem right.
She reached over and grasped his hand.
The anger instantly drained from Alek's eyes as he glanced up to meet her eyes. "We will end this war," she corrected him. "We are allies, aren't we?"
Alek gazed at her for a moment then, slowly, the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile. "Yes, we are," he agreed. He moved his hand so that he could grasp hers. "And friends."
Deryn nodded, giving him a small smile. "Yes
Thank you, Alek," she said softly.
Alek's face flushed. "Ah, well, um," he said awkwardly. He stood and coughed into his fist, avoiding Deryn's eyes. "I'll, um, see you later, Dylan," he said finally, then briskly left the room.
In spite of herself, Deryn giggled. Had Alek really just blushed? Barking spiders, if the boy couldn't handle a sincere smile from Dylan, how would he ever survive the warm and heartfelt smile of any lassie he'd meet in the future?
Deryn rested her chin on her hands, gazing out the galley windows at the bright blue sky. She felt like a barking ninny, even admitting it to only herself, but she knew it was true.
"Now I know that, I've a boy worth fighting for