It was once called the Land of Prospect. A place where all communed under one flag for the sake of technological advancement. Millions congregated, bringing with them the promise of a better life, sustaining one another in trade and bolstering one another in celebration of their achievements. They called it the Land of Dreams, where new creations took flight into the coloured skies of their new land, sparkling in the double-suns Phobos and Deimos, igniting the imaginations in children and adults alike. They called it the Dreaded Empire, because corruption breeds quickly in the hearts of men. It is here that their errors are corrected, through the misfortunes and errors of others. They are the heroes of our story – and with them, the Empire's scowling face was eternally changed. They were the pirates of the air and the page-turners of imperial history. They were seen as renegades and murderers. They were seen as saviours of men, machine and innocents, geniuses of justice and masters of the sky. But all of them knew that with their efforts, there was a cost. Philosophers can only ask whether or not is was for better... or for worse. _ Dreamer's Haven Presents: The Skyriders _ The engineers all sat in their prisons, eyes tired and their muscles sullied with the tortuous afflictions of an enthusiastic jailer. The prisons stank of the damp, which was made worse from the pouring rain that tapped against the barred windowsills. One drop landed on an inmate and gruffly, he swiped it from his already-dripping forehead. He shuffled to the doors with a grunt and peered out of the small, barred window, looking for the jailer. Finding no one in the dank hallway, he murmured softly, his voice low and shuddering. “John,” he said, “are you asleep?” There was a shuffle beside his chamber. The inmate could see in the corner of the window that coarse, calloused fingers had found their way to the door to the left, belonging to John's mottled face which now stared at him with eyes like a Doberman. “Mm?” he greeted, his voice dry and arid, even before his mouth had opened. “How long d'you suppose we're going to be here? They let go of Frank, din't they? 'E din't look too 'appy about it though.” “He's dead, probably. Took him first thing. You'd think we'd get the food he left behind.” There was a thick cough and an unpleasant snort before John continued, “you're an engineer too, aren't you Pete?” “Mm,” it was Pete's turn to grunt, “nothin' like yers, I din't go through uni or nuffink. Apprenticed I was. got me diploma las' week before the bobbies arrested me. Mum always said I'd be great – din't think it woul' finish like this.” “Nor did I,” John sighed, “but I suppose everything was too good to be true. A bunch of airship pirates offered protection from the imperial guard. I should have accepted. I just hope they keep doing it. The nick can't keep arresting the engineers...” “Oi.” “Yes, Pete?” “You were a grammar school kid, weren't ya?” “I was. Why?” “Trade you some garlic fer your socks. I'm bloody freezing.” _ The imperial streets were littered with merchants once more, with fabrics curtained over the flat rooftops to protect their goods from the blazing afternoon sun. The square in particular was amassed by countless numbers of people, hurrying to buy a loaf of bread or the latest component suited to their Aguistralobe, the superstitious Linking Gauge or more bizarre inventions. Amongst this, a slip of crimson sidled through the crowds. It was a jacket, clearly too long for the owner, but too sentimental to belong to any other. The tricorn hat she kept her hand upon as she ran was not feminine at all; it was dirty and rugged, worthless to any, but of value to her. Her face was marred by the old eye patch that sat on her left eye. Estella was a pretty girl – just not a perfect one. Which was why at this moment, she was running for her life. Indeed, Archie was waiting for her, but he never mentioned the company he had with him: the guards were ready and waiting, with rifles and flintlock pistols at hand. Her eye darted left to right madly, her heart beating hard in her chest. Let's see, she thought, what would they accuse me of? Um... vandalism, attempted murder, assault... stealing. Oh God, the stealing. She had a moment to stop and clap her hands against her face, emitting a groan before continuing forward. So the combustion chambers had failed – she did promise Archie that she would return with a new one – and so she did. She just needed to borrow it. From an imperial airship. Oh, what a pain in the arse. She sped through the streets, running into a wagon full of watermelons, but kept going as the guards ran into them, creating a heap of pink, blacks and greens on the damp ground. She turned a corner, leaning her lithe body against the wall, looking to her right. She had to find somewhere to hide – and fast.