Haruo stood in his boat, shovelling coal into the boiler. Heat blazed from its open door and the glow illuminated him in the pre-dawn darkness.
“What is this?”
Haruo jumped in alarm at the voice. He looked up to see old Master Zuki standing with his stick on the quay.
“Nothing,” Haruo snapped, shutting the boiler door.
“Is that a steam engine?” Zuki asked, his voice rising in alarm. “On a boat?”
Haruo tugged sharply on the rope binding his boat to the dock. A knot unravelled and the rope fell away, untethering him from the city.
“You can’t do that,” Zuki said. “Steam belongs in the city, not on the water. You know the rules.”
“I’m sick of the rules,” Haruo said as he pushed off.
“The rules keep us safe!”
“The rules keep us trapped. I’m going to be free.”
“Guards!” Zuki shouted. “Guards, Haruo has put an engine on a boat!”
Haruo pulled on a lever, opening a valve in the intricate pipework he had spent months building. A paddle wheel turned and the boat inched away from the docks, gaining speed as it went. He grinned as he looked back to see the city watch arriving too late.
“I’m going!” he shouted. “No-one can stop me now.”
Dawn was creeping over the horizon as he steamed away from the city. Ahead, the waters churned above the Great Reef that surrounded the known world. There lay the limit of all the lives within the city, a barrier no-one had ever crossed and safely returned. But no-one had used steam in the crossing before.
His boat was special. It was no flimsy thing of wood, powered by the whims of wind. It was a vessel of hardened steel driven by the power of the industrial age, and no mere reef was going to stop it.
Still, his heart hammered in his chest and he sweated despite the early morning chill. It took all the will he had to keep his hand steady on the tiller.
This had to work, or he would be stuck in the city forever, his genius constrained by rules and tradition.
There had to be something more.
He hit the foaming water around the reef. There were places where he could see it protruding from the waves, and he steered around those. But the further he went, the more turbulent the waters were and the harder the journey became. The boat bucked and shook, scraped against unseen obstacles, screamed as coral gouged its side.
But it stayed whole and it kept moving.
Dawn had come, but not the sun. It was hidden behind a dark bank of clouds, blown in on a billowing wind. Like the will of his ancestors, they came looming over Haruo, trying to drive him back to the city he knew. The rain lashed down and lightning flashed overhead. Great gusts flung the boat about and rising waves threatened to hurl it over.
Haruo clung on tight as the boat heaved beneath him. His stomach churned and bile burned in his throat.
He mustn’t be afraid. Fear was how they kept you in place. Fear stopped you being free.
Lightning crashed down. There was a flash as it struck the roof of the boiler. Haruo leapt away in alarm, just as another wave lifted the boat. He went tumbling as the whole hull tipped. The top of the rail pressed against his spine and gravity grabbed hold, hauling him over.
He shot out a hand and snatched at the rail, clinging on for all he was worth. He was half in the water now, soaking and freezing, battered against the boat by each passing wave. Wet fingers slid one by one from the rail.
He swung his other hand up and grabbed hold just in time. With all his strength, he dragged himself up, over the rail, and collapsed into the bottom of the boat.
Another boom of thunder. The boat was flung about, crashed against the reef, almost tipped over.
In desperation, Haruo turned the steam dial, letting all the power he could flow through the engine. With a chugging so loud it seemed to drown out the storm, the boat gathered speed. Momentum carried it through the crashing waves, across the ocean, towards who knew what.
Haruo lay in the bottom, shivering and shaken, too scared to approach the rail and look out.
At last, the wind died down and the water grew still. The clouds parted and sunlight shone down on Haruo.
Nervously, he sat up and looked about. Behind him were the churning waters of the Great Reef and the roiling sky. Ahead was a terrible emptiness – no fresh lands, no strange boats, just a vast, watery void.
Haruo swallowed. Should he go back now? He had made it through the reef. He had shown it could be done. But all he had seen so far was danger and misery. Were the elders right to say he should stay in the city?
Sunlight gleamed off the water – not a void, but a world of potential, a vast expanse of the unknown. There could be anything out here, beyond the horizon.
Grinning, Haruo turned back to his boiler and started to shovel coal. He was going to see what this world held.
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Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.
For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.
Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.
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