The following is a sample selection from Book Two of the Cloudkicker Trilogy – tentatively titled ‘Desert Siren’ – due out Fall of 2017. The final, published version may include changes, including additions or omissions. It has been formatted to fit this blog.
Alexandra Stirling was floating. Her world and all that she knew in it fell out from beneath the soles of her feet. A thrilling sensation pulsed through her chest like the anticipation before a roller coaster’s first drop. In the back of her mind, she knew she should fear what was happening, but her mind kicked into overdrive, coursed with a solitary thought of self-preservation.
Brace yourself, it screamed.
Beside her, Alex saw her captain – the goliath woman Ghaoithe Loinsigh – grip the sides of a chair with enough force to turn her knuckles white. All around the bridge of the Cloudkicker, her crew did the same as best they could, objects suspended midair around them. With what little rationale Alex had left, she hit the floor and followed suit, catching the bolted legs of her captain’s chair just as the scabbard holding Excalibur whistled by and crashed into the wall behind her.
Time caught up and screamed forward as the airship tipped, replacing the sky in the observation windows with ridges of glittering sand. The items that escaped gravity for but a moment began to join Excalibur at the back of the room. A mug knocked Alex’s arm where she had once been stitched up, and she cried in pain as she resisted the urge to loosen her grip. The Cloudkicker, that impossible, invincible airship, plummeted towards Egypt.
The sand below lacked all depth through the bridge’s windows, preventing any measure of guessing when it would strike. As the prow collided with a dune, it skipped upwards like a stone across a placid pond. The glowing runes that marked Cloudkicker’s hull no longer kept it aloft, but they protected the ship from the force of the impact. Inside, however, they held no sway and the inhabitants were thrown about like pick-up sticks.
Alex’s fingers slipped. She remembered flying upwards, then backwards, and finally hitting her head on who-knows-what. Her vision blurred and eventually left her altogether.
Alex wondered at first if the entire sequence of events had been part of her imagination. She remembered being in New Delta, Missouri at one point, working as an intern for a newspaper. A ship appeared, clear as day as it hovered the sky itself, captained by Ghaoithe. There was a map, Ghaoithe said, hidden in a movie poster in Alex’s possession.
Alex remembered choosing to stay on board against Ghaoithe’s wishes. There was a whole time-lost world out there where Earth’s myths were real, powered by ancient writing that glowed blue. Alex needed to see it for herself. They were searching for Pandora’s Box.
There was the lost city of Roanoke and then a fire. Something about a rival. The Illuminati? No, it was… Osiris. Yes, Osiris was the right name. Alex’s ex-boyfriend Ethan had been a part of them all along. He needed to get close to her to find the map, and she needed to find him for answers.
The map led them under the ocean. A city, not just any city but Eden itself, hid under Bimini Road in the Caribbean, but Ghaoithe was too late. They were after something there, something big, something related to Pandora’s Box. It didn’t matter, though, because the Osiris leader, Deacon, took it before they arrived. They chased him to Osiris headquarters in China and were taken prisoner.
Ethan was there, in China. She recalled that clearly. He was there with Alex’s best friend and a plan to leverage her for Alex’s cooperation. But he wasn’t a bad guy at all. He helped Ghaoithe and her crew escape. They searched the Osiris base for the object Deacon took from under the ocean but it wasn’t a relic; it was a girl. A young girl named Ellie. That’s right. Ghaoithe tried to escape with Ellie.
But things went terribly wrong. During the escape, Deacon was a step ahead of everyone. He shot Ethan. Alex saw it happen. She could hear the gunshot crash through the pulsing of her head. Ethan was dead, and Alex was alone and scared in a world of myths and legends. They managed to slip by Deacon and were now over the deserts of the Sahara. Ghaoithe was aiming for a trade city called Dilmun. That couldn’t have all been a dream, could it? No, that had happened. Alex’s boring Midwestern life had been turned upside by the Sky Thief and a flying airship and a deadly game of tag.
She was swimming, trapped in a tidepool of dream and memory. She thought she could hear someone yelling emergency orders, but the garbled voice faded into the darkness surrounding Alex. She turned her head. The movement took eons in her water-trance state. In the distance, a light.
Despite not consciously running, Alex found herself stepping through the portal before her, entering the elegant Osiris suite she had only just escaped. White lights bounced off white carpet and into ebony furniture. Outside the glass walls, the scattered lights of mountain villages glittered.
“I was wondering when you would show up,” said a man’s voice. In front of a large glass table with a fire blazing in a center pit stood a gangly figure in a tailored suit. Though his back was turned towards her, Alex could never mistake the handsome drawl in his voice.
“Ethan?” she called in her head.
“You’re a long way from home, Alex,” Ethan replied without turning.
Alex shook her head, trying to contain thoughts that flitted in and out of her head like butterflies. “I watched you die,” she said.
The image of her beloved Ethan, down on his knees with a gun to his head flashed by. She could hear his old Osiris partner, Deacon, pull back the trigger. The click resonated and sent her back to her former love.
Ethan remained looking towards the distant lights of the villages beyond his business towers. “Never trust in the concepts of life or death in this realm,” he said with a slight, knowing chuckle. “This world of relics and ancient magic doesn’t like following the rules of logic we try to place ourselves in.”
He was closer now. Alex crept to Ethan without thinking. She longed to see his flawless smile and rub her hands through his fine hair. She wanted his lips.
Just as she was in arms reach, Ethan turned. The warm face Alex knew no longer existed. His right temple had disintegrated, blown apart by a bullet from the other side. What little of his smile remained clung to his jaw with precarious measure. Yet Alex did not recoil. Somewhere in her subconscious, she knew before she reached him that she was in a place beyond her scope of knowledge.
“You need to go,” he said without moving his mouth.
The room around them began to shrink. Alex nodded in understanding. Behind her, screaming cut through the air. It warped, molding itself into solidity.
She shot up and drew air into her lungs. The bridge of the Cloudkicker buzzed around her. She steadied herself against the dizziness affecting her vision. Something wet and sticky trickled down the back of her neck.
Beside her, Ghaoithe stared with a wide, dazzling emerald eye. When Alex’s eyes opened, she placed a hand on the recruit’s back to keep her still.
“Don’t move. You’re pretty banged up,” said Ghaoithe.
Alex dared not test the order. “What happened? Where are we?” she asked. She felt a warm cloth press behind her ear followed by an intense throbbing that left her crying out.
“Hang in there,” Ghaoithe comforted. “Sorin stole our extra flight crystals. We crashed. You got clipped by the desk. I’m going to assume you have a concussion.”
In front of them, the crew scrambled about the bridge. A few others were lying on the ground. Those who were awake assessed the damage to the ship. Glancing from the corner of her vision, she could see a pair of heavy, worn boots beside Ghaoithe’s crouching armor.
“We’re checking out the rest of the hull, Captain, but we’re really exposed out here. Nothin’ but sand on the horizon,” said a gruff voice above the boots. It was Fleet, Ghaoithe’s aged Quartermaster and voice of reason.
“Get a ward around us, Fleet. Our first priority needs to be hiding this ship,” Ghaoithe ordered.
Fleet grunted. He crouched in front of Alex and beamed a quick smile. “It’s just a scratch. Tough little minnow like you has seen worse.”
Alex returned the smile as he launched himself down the ramp from the captain’s balcony. The throbbing in her head worsened, and she let out an involuntary groan. Ghaoithe slipped her free arm beneath Alex’s legs.
“Hold the cloth as hard as you can against your head and let me know if anything hurts where it’s not supposed to,” she said.
Alex raised her arm, using all of her draining strength to keep the cloth where it was. Ghaoithe lifted her up without effort and cradled the girl as she would cradle an injured bird. They stepped gingerly through the halls, past rushing sailors, towards the personal quarters. Alex barely registered the organized chaos around her, focused entirely on the bandage at her head and the warmth of Ghaoithe’s protection.
Once they reached Alex’s room, Ghaoithe stopped outside the door. She glanced down at Alex. “What’s your name?” she asked.
Alex scrunched her nose. “Uh, Alex?”
“Where were you born?”
“New Delta, Missouri. What are you doing?”
Ghaoithe let out a sigh. “Making sure you’ll stay conscious on me. Think you can stand long enough to get inside?”
The pounding behind Alex’s ear refused to let up, but her initial nausea upon awakening subsided. She nodded a slight approval and another wave of dizziness struck. Ghaoithe braced her with a firm hand as she got to her feet. They entered the room, and Alex eased herself onto her bed.
Ghaoithe took the cloth from Alex. It was covered in crimson, but far less than Alex had expected. With nimble fingers, the captain combed through the blonde curls covering the wound.
“Yeah, that’s going to leave a mark,” she explained, but Alex could sense a bit of relief in the words. “Looks like you didn’t lose much blood, but you’ll have a headache for a good couple of days.”
“Better than stitches, I guess,” grumbled Alex.
“Wouldn’t be a part of my ship without a few battle scars.”
The outer wall of her room switched to its windowed mode, giving the two a view to the outside. Fleet and several others etched giant patterns into the sand. The sigils, the sweeping language that powered their ancient world, did not shift with the rest of the sand around them.
“I need to go help. We’re vulnerable,” said Ghaoithe. She squeezed Alex’s shoulder. “You should be fine to get some rest. I don’t think you’re that easy to get rid of.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Alex smirked with a meek salute. A moment later, she was alone and asleep, this time without any visions at all.