The sixteenth day of the caravan’s westward journey found it headed directly toward Meepsoor. It was now close to the steppe lands of Shastapsh, and everyone seemed a bit apprehensive. During the day, heat waves could be seen rising off the desert still miles distant.
High in the sky, Lady Glossop glimpsed a flyer of moderate size traveling high and to the south, and when she turned to inform the others she thought she saw the flickering white flash of a mirror to the east. She turned round again and both were gone. She rode across to Sebastian, who was not far from Wiiso.
“Someone is signalling off to the east, I saw a mirror. And there’s something flying in the sky!” she said excitedly. Sebastian frowned and looked dubious.
“Well nothing there now M’ Dear” he said. “Could be the heat – the desert plays odd tricks. Perhaps you should have a cold glass of lemonade and a bit of a lie down.”
Henry too had now ridden over, and saw the signs of Lady Glossop about to lose her temper.
“Well I fancy a ride out of all this dust anyway” he said. “There’s no harm in checking Lady Glossop’s story anyway – we could ride out and join the caravan later this evening.”
They explained this to Wiiso who shrugged, but he too seemed to share Sebastian’s skepticism.
Henry, Sebastian, Bertie, Rani, Esmeralda and Lady Glossop rode out to the east, with Henry, Sebastian and Rani forming a wide line to the front. Rani seemed to have picked up English very quickly, and they could now communicate with her, after a fashion.
It was in the middle of the afternoon when Rani picked up sign s of two gashant riders. Following these back they found a small campfire, and signs that the two had waited here for a while, very recently. They had been gone about seven hours.
“Just after I saw the mirror” said Lady Glossop triumphantly.
“No use following, they have too much of a start” said Henry.
“And heading into Shastspsh” said Rani. They headed back, catching up with the caravan as it made camp.
In addition to the camp guards, Sebastian and the others had got into the habit of keeping their own watch. Just after midnight, Lady Glossop was perched on a rock at the south of the camp, idly watching the two guards stationed outside the tent of the diplomat, Kalamir.
Out of the night a group of figures swooped down out of the night sky, and with a slice of long halberds carried apparently in the feet of the flyers, the two guards were cut down. The corner of her eyes caught similar scenes being enacted about the camp. She raised her musket and fired, having the satisfaction of seeing one of the figures crash to the ground.
Moments later she wished she hadn’t drawn attention to herself. She received a hard buffet to her back, and she crashed forward, the taste of blood in her mouth. She remained still, feigning death: it didn’t seem that hard at the moment.
From the corner of her eye she saw more shapes flying past her position into the camp, and musket fire as one of the other guards raised the alarm. She could here Wiiso bellowing orders inside one the tents for the guards inside to fully arm themselves.
A full melee was now developing as others awakened or rushed out.
Feeling sh was now safe she rolled over and injected one of her last remaining doseds of Dr. Chokers healin serum into her viens. As she did so sho noticed tow of the flyers staggering off into the east, Kalamir being borne between them. She cried a warning and a shot from within the camp dropped one of the kidnappers, but the other managed to remain aloft, and soon he was assisted by another. Kalamir was gone.
The camp was now more or less secure: more guards were dead, s was the Steward, Mr. Heckle from the Glorious Dawn , after putting up a brave fight. Off the original crew, only the Captain, Engineer, 1st Officer and two crew remained.
“What now?” said Henry.
“The mission goes on” said Lady Glossop, who ha searched Kalamir’s tent and retrieved his messages to Syrtis Major. “I’ll take charge of these: if Thoth wants to make overtures to Syrtis Major, then we must follow it through. Clearly, Shastapsh wants to stop us.”
“But who are these?” said Sebastian, looking at one of the dead figures. It was clearly a martian, but smaller and somehow more bestial. Moreover it had large gliding membranes or wings beneath its arms. Rani spat, kicking one of them.
""The beastmen" she said. “The High Martians; They dwell in their kraags, far off to the west. It is new indeed for even Shaspapsh scum to ally with such as these.” With her knife she leaned over and cut the throat of one that seemed to be still breathing.