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Southern England, June, 1855
Kendall, Marquess Lake, stood on the observation deck of the dirigible's gondola as it flew west toward Brighton, wishing he was heading north instead. London beckoned. He'd spent far too long in the countryside, overseeing the implementation of automated harvesters at Lakeview, one of his father's estates. The early June haying had been a trial run of the equipment before the serious harvest in the fall.
He wanted adventure, craved it. His restlessness had been aggravated by his delay in Essex to witness the wedding of a childhood friend. While Kendall understood the social obligation of marrying someday, at thirty he was in no hurry to do so, and watching a friend get leg-shackled had been more than a little discomfiting.
A man of action, a Knight of the Order of the Round Table, Kendall was more used to fighting vampyres or rogue mages than dealing with disputes between tenant farmers or partnering bridesmaids. As the heir to the Duke of Trowbridge, however, he knew he had to get used to juggling missions with estate and social obligations. Upon his grandfather's death a year earlier, Kendall's father had been elevated to the dukedom and Kendall to the marquisate. Kendall's responsibilities to both family and the Order had increased substantially, leaving him little time for fieldwork. He longed for a nice, simple task like putting down a goblin invasion.
Instead, he was off to Brighton just as the middle-class tourists began to flood the seaside town, to hold the hand of the niece of one of his father's cronies and assure her all was well. The task was one they could have assigned to a clerk rather than a Knight, but Lord Drood had been Kendall's grandfather's closest friend and he was the most powerful sorcerer in England, perhaps in the world. Kendall's father tended to jump when Drood asked for a favor.
As the airship approached the town, the first outlying buildings came into view and the scents of coal smoke and salt air reached his nostrils. They flew over a few grand country estates, an old stone church, a livery stable, a tavern, an automaton factory and a country store. The airfield was right outside the town proper, and once he'd debarked, Kendall traded his goggles and cap for his top hat and tucked his belted leather duster into his valise.
Out on the street, he hired a hansom, checked the piece of paper he'd shoved into his pocket and spoke to the cabbie. "150-B Lilac Lane."
The cabbie looked at Kendall's expensive frock coat, superfine trousers and custom-made boots and raised one grizzled eyebrow. "You sure about that, milord?"
"Quite." The Order didn't make mistakes on something as simple as addresses. The files in their analytical engine databases were quite extensive and included things like the addresses of distant relations of Order members.
The driver shrugged, clicked to his ancient mare and headed toward the bustling resort town. The painted wood and pastel brick buildings reminded Kendall of Easter eggs in a basket on this hazy afternoon. The Queen's Road was lined with candy and souvenir shops, clothiers, rooming houses and photographic studios.
Ah yes, photographic studios. As a steam tram chugged past them toward the beach, filled with sunburned tourists and local workers, Kendall's cab turned west off the Queen's Road, the main thoroughfare, away from the Pavilion and the other grand buildings, into a slightly less prosperous section of town.