Submitted Date 04/09/2022

Chapter 1 Dark Times

When Britain first, at Heaven's command Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain: "Rule, Britannia! rule the waves: "Britons never will be slaves."

James Thomson - Rule Britannia


Isambard Hastings Raffles Ignatius was startled as a dark shadow crossed the land upon which he stood. Tales of a strange phantom had recently been circulating the length and breadth of the country regarding a demonic figure that spat fire at its victims and evaded capture by preternatural leaps. Its exploits had been mainly centred around London, but its notoriety had reached as far north as Warwick and had finally arrived in Oxford. Spring Heeled Jack, the penny dreadfuls had dubbed him, due to his lightness of foot and speed at which he was able to flee from his victims. Ignatius had an instinct that he would not be able to escape some dark horror as his mission unfolded over the coming days.

As he looked skyward, he was relieved to see an airship gliding silently overhead, heading for the south-eastern part of the city. Yet despite that, he was shuddering, and could feel the hairs on the back of his neck. It might just be a figment of his imagination, but he thought he felt the very earth beneath his feet tremble.

He tucked his head down and began to head back towards the city centre. As he walked briskly, he heard a screech from above, and the shadow he walked under grew momentarily darker.

In this age of invention and science, Britain's imperial prowess was dominated and driven by steam powered machines, allowing mechanised British rule to extend over much of the globe. There was not a single continent that had not been touched by the Empire.

The sun may never have set, but the shadows were definitely starting to lengthen. Colonization had been accomplished at a price, and the Empire was most certainly not without its enemies; those who wanted to hinder the technological growth, and those that wanted it for themselves.

Shadows had started to fall even across the great university city of Oxford. You only had to look at the architecture to see it - the centre of the city, dominated by the university, with its honey coloured glow of Cotswold stone, gradually darkened as the steam powered pollution from the surrounding areas crept in like an ever-tightening blanket of smog. To the south-east of the city, the buildings grew darker and altogether more imposing, angry and brooding. Watt's monstrous engines dominated the skyline, as the steam cylinders forged steel, spitting out sulphur and coal. The squalid houses and tenement blocks of the poor were dwarfed by the money-making machines that towered above, polluting the ever-darkening skies. To the north-west, hangars housing the great leviathans of the air disturbed the peace and tranquillity of the Oxfordshire countryside. Yet despite the industrial revolution choking and polluting the skies above the city, the gears of the universities, both official and backwater, continued to grind on.

Ignatius passed by the first English coffeehouse, the Angel, which had opened in The High, and rapidly developed as a 'penny university' offering a glimpse of learning somewhat less formal than that of the structured institution that surrounded it. The coffeehouse was a place for like-minded scholars to congregate, to read, as well as learn from and to debate with each other. Many other establishments followed suit; Oxford was soon littered with penny universities, many of which were frequented by academics wishing to extend their research or to charge and make some easy money.

Other coffee houses had a more select clientele, most of whom preferred to stay anonymous, venturing about their business well within the shadows of the establishment, and some only frequenting the place in the dead of night.

This was a strange time for Oxford, the steam powered industries encroaching like an ink blot towards academia. Here the genuine truth and the land of dreams walked hand in hand.

Ignatius had picked her up in the Palani coffee house. He didn't like getting strangers involved, it was too risky, but he needed her to check out a certain professor who carried out research at St. George's College and knew Ignatius and his associates. It was too perilous to do it personally. Besides, the woman was young and keen, and he believed that everyone had to start somewhere. Ignatius had never known his father, but his up- bringing and lack of guidance from a role model had never stopped him from advancing in life and making a success of himself. So, in his mind, he was providing an opportunity.

The college bells rang out across Oxford to announce evensong as the sun began to set. The fiery glow glinted off Ignatius's goggles, and his leather great coat glowed orange. The noise of the steam Gurnies diminished with the light, allowing the more traditional hansom cabs to dominate the evening streets. Ignatius turned his face to the spires above him, but he was looking beyond them, beyond his world. His mind wandered, drifting through other dimensions, searching for answers. It did not sit comfortably with Ignatius that this mission had come to fruition on his watch. Resources were getting scarce; The world had become a complicated place and it was not always possible to tell who could be trusted.

He knew he must concentrate on the matter at hand. He was working towards a goal and had been planning for what seemed like aeons. But he had no idea if it would work. Despite everything, he had to rely on others to play their part, besides, it was too late now. He had to cast all doubt from his mind; he had a pressing appointment to confirm what he thought he already knew. He quickened his pace, walking briskly through St Giles, and turned left into The Broad.




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  • D. K. Griffin 1 month, 1 week ago

    You have some great world building here and beautiful descriptive language. I look forward to seeing where this goes.

    • Colin Sephton 1 month, 1 week ago

      Thank you for the feed back, it is appreciated. The novel is complete and illustrated and I’m currently trying to get literary agents interested. I am working on a sequel and have a 140 page concept art book to go with it!