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Chapter Six of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a fortnight, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to whet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four, and chapter five.

Chapter Six
The Reading

Emmeline wasn’t certain what happened the night before with the book, but she didn’t like its aftereffects. Dressing that morning, she pulled aside the curtain and was pleased to find the road below free of spirits. At breakfast, she quietly picked at her eggs, listening to the sound of her uncle’s newspaper rustle while hoping her tea would begin working on her foggy mind after a restless night. She released a tense breath and tried to think about something other than how much she wanted to close her eyes. To sleep in meant she had to be ill and submit to her aunt’s examination, and that wasn’t something she could stand.

“What are your plans for the day, Emmeline?” Aunt Eliza asked casually, but Emmeline knew it was the beginning of an interrogation if she didn’t approve of the answer.
Pursing her lips, Emmeline fought the urge to spit back an answer that would only cause her allowance to be cut until she was sufficiently miserable. “I’m going to the Spiritualist Society and maybe have lunch or tea with Cassandra if I feel like it. What do you think I’m going to do? She’s the only one I’m allowed with.”
Eliza Hawthorne’s jaw dropped before snapping shut. As she began her usual diatribe on respecting elders, Emmeline’s eyes traveled to the door behind her. The door to her uncle’s laboratory had been constructed to blend into the wainscoting and the damask wallpaper with only the undersized doorknob to betray its camouflage. Normally, she scarcely noticed it, but now it was calling to her. Her aunt’s words died away as she watched the knob, waiting for it to turn. The room grew heavy as if a storm would burst at any moment, and amidst the faint rumblings, it felt as if someone waited on the other side. Her heart pounded in her throat as a voice rose from the threshold. It came as a gravelly whisper, barely audible, but with each hissing syllable, it became clear that it came for her.
I am strong. I decide who I read. No one can harm or speak to me unless I allow it. I am in control, she repeated to herself, walling up her mind against the invader as her mother taught her over a decade ago. When she looked up, the air had cleared and the figure had gone.
Emmeline shook off the energy humming through her. That hadn’t happened since she was a child. She had been so careful to keep her guard up in her uncle’s house. With the basement being used for autopsies and the occasional procedure, it could be a place where spirits who died violently might linger. Rubbing her eyes with her knuckles, Emmeline released a tired sigh. If only her mother was still here, she would know what to do.
“Emmeline, did you hear what I said?”
Looking up, she expected to find her aunt angry, but instead, she found her green eyes softened with concern. “Yes, Aunt Eliza. I’m sorry for being cross with you. I didn’t get much sleep.”
“Why don’t you stay home and rest?”
“No!” she cried a little quicker than she meant to. “No, I’m quite all right. I’m only going to listen to a lecture, nothing taxing.”
Eliza nodded, probing her niece with her doctor’s eye. “If you’re certain, but I will walk you there. Just in case.”
***

Shrugging off her aunt’s arm, Emmeline slipped into the Spiritualist Society, her mind far away as she unpinned her hat and handed it to the maid along with her parasol. She released a huffed breath and smoothed her dark curls in the mirror, which had become frayed in the humidity and were expanding at an alarming rate. She should have brought the book with her. Since leaving the house, its absence nagged at her mind like a bad itch. She couldn’t shake the image of masked bandits tearing her room apart and making off with the book before she could even properly look at it. Part of her wanted nothing more than to return home and make certain it was safe, but that was foolish. It would be fine as long as no one knew about it except her and Cassandra.
“Just the woman I was looking for,” Cassandra called with a smile as she emerged from the hall. “You have a reading to do in ten minutes.”
Emmeline bristled. “Are you joking? I didn’t have anyone scheduled today. Did Nostra do this? I was supposed to be attending Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lecture. She knew that, and if I miss it, I—”
Grabbing her arm, Cassandra dragged her into the empty front parlor. “Just be quiet and listen. I did it.”
“But why? You knew I wanted to go.”
“Yes, but I think you will like this much better than a lecture on faeries,” she replied with a playful grin as her friend cocked a contrary brow. “It’s your Mr. Talbot.”
“Are you serious? Are you certain it’s him?”
“As certain as I can be. The appointment was made for Nadir and Leona Talbot. That’s his cousin, isn’t it?”
“So she’s taken her maiden name? Hmm. I guess the divorce is finalized.”
“You really need to stop reading the gossip pages.”
“Ugh! And today my hair decides to look dreadful,” Emmeline cried as she broke from her friend, and pawed at her hair in the hearth mirror. “Is he as handsome as the drawings in the papers?”
“Even better. Well, go on. They’re waiting for you upstairs in the Blue Room.” She waited for her friend to move or at least look pleased. “What’s wrong?”
Emmeline stared at her feet before meeting her friend’s tawny eyes. “What if I make a fool of myself?”
“I highly doubt you will ever play the fool.”
At the sound of Cecil Hale’s smooth voice, Emmeline whipped around to find him standing in the doorway watching them with an amused glint in his eyes. Her face and breast flushed at the skim of his gaze over her dark red dress.
“I’ve seen your abilities, Miss Jardine, and you have nothing to worry about.”
“That’s very kind of you, Lord Hale. Will you be going to the lecture?” Emmeline asked, shifting to put her best features in view.
Tilting his head back to reveal his long, graceful neck, he studied the ceiling’s tin tiles. “Actually, I was hoping to sit in on your reading if you don’t mind an audience.”
“I would like that,” she replied, ignoring Cassandra as she rolled her eyes.
With a smile, Emmeline kicked herself for agreeing to do the reading. She hurried up the steps to the Blue Room with Lord Hale at her heels, her heart racing at the thought of having her favorite author and Lord Hale in the same room. It was a dream she didn’t know she wanted to have until now, two men she admired, both watching her, maybe even wanting her. It was like a plot from one of her hidden books.
With a slow breath, she prayed to her mother to help her and opened the door. The room was as hideous as she remembered it with every surface, including the carpet and wallpaper covered in a blue paisley that had faded to periwinkle in the sun. Despite its hideous upholstery, it was her favorite room to work in. There were no tables or cabinets for a medium to hide behind in the Blue Room, and it was there that her powers shined.
Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Nadir Talbot sitting on the sofa. She had seen etchings from the court case in the newspaper, but somehow, she had never pictured him as a living being. As the door creaked, Nadir rose and turned toward her, revealing a strong nose to match his expressive byzantine eyes and sensual lips. Waves of unfashionably long black hair dusted the shoulders of his fern-green suit, which had been expertly tailored to accentuate his gracile frame. He was as handsome as she had imagined, but as she approached her seat at the head of the circle, she tried to remember to breathe and not look too interested with Lord Hale hanging about. Sitting beside him was his cousin. While she shared his complexion and eyes, Leona Talbot’s expression was somber, dour even, as she stared into her lap. Like a Renaissance Madonna, her features were in the constant war between softness and severity. Upon seeing Emmeline, Leona’s reddened eyes ran appraisingly over her form before returning to her hands with a frown.
Curtsying to the Talbots, Emmeline bit back a smile at Mr. Talbot’s smoldering gaze. She had never expected to be so close to one of her idols. She had followed him through the murder trial, and even if his character was still seen as dubious in many circles, she didn’t take the lack of a conviction in the case to mean he was guilty. As Emmeline took her seat, she noticed how Cecil kept his distance, barely suppressing a sneer at her clients.
“Welcome to the London Spiritualist Society, Mr. Talbot, Ms. Talbot. This is Lord Hale, my associate. And my name is Emmeline Jardine. I’m a spiritualist medium.” At the word medium, Nadir Talbot’s lips twitched into a bemused grin. She knew that smile well; he was a skeptic. Locking eyes with him, she added flatly, “As you can see, my séances don’t involve a table or spirit cabinet. They distract from the experience and are the hallmark of a fraud. So if you’re expecting theatrics, I would suggest you find another medium. Now, who is the reading for or is it a shared relative?”
At her question, Mr. Talbot turned to his cousin. She released a tight sigh and reached into her reticule to retrieve a stack of letters tied in twine, their dark brown seals had cracked and their edges had been worn soft by many hands.
“He wrote these. Is that enough to—?”
“It will do,” Emmeline replied with a smile, but when she reached for the letters, Ms. Talbot hesitated before placing them slowly in her palm. “What is it you want to know?”
Leona Talbot stared past Emmeline as she drew in a long, slow breath. “I’m not certain. I guess I want to know if he’s all right… wherever he is.”
Emmeline nodded. “Now, let’s move closer and hold hands to keep our energy bound within the circle. Mr. Talbot, Lord Hale, please rest your hands on top of mine.”
Emmeline didn’t always tell her clients to join hands, but when it gave her the opportunity to be in contact with two handsome men, she would milk her gifts for all they were worth. Loosely holding the stack of letters she began to clear her mind until she felt the gentle pressure of a hand closing over hers. Nadir Talbot’s fingers were warm against her hand, and if she focused her mind, she could feel the scrape of callouses where he held his pen. Another hand clasped hers. Emmeline shivered at the hum passing beneath Lord Hale’s fingertips.
Closing her eyes, she fought to ignore the gazes of the men beside her and slowed her breathing. The sound of steamer cabs clattering a floor below disappeared and was replaced by the babble of water gurgling somewhere nearby. Emmeline’s nose flooded with the damp of earth and the fragrance of greenery. Opening her mind’s eye, she found massive palm trees rising all around her, turning the sun into panels of stained glass as it shown through their leafy boughs. For a moment, Emmeline thought she had been sent to a tropical forest or an uncivilized island, but as she pushed aside the branches before her, she found that she was encapsulated within a great steel and glass dome. Where had the letters taken her? A few feet ahead, the path curved out of sight into a patch of vines and low, scruffy plants. It was strange not to see the spirit standing before her. Usually, they were ready and waiting for her, but in this spirit’s world, she had no choice but to follow the dirt-dusted bricks into the mist.
As she came around the bend, the foliage peeled back to reveal a square pool framed by soaring white columns and mosaics of nymphs. Sitting at the water’s edge in a burgundy wingback chair was a man with a book. His aquiline nose and sharp grey eyes gave him the quiet ferocity of an eagle, which honed in on Emmeline the moment she stepped into view. Lowering her eyes to his chest, she could make out the faint outline of a ragged hole in his shirt and waistcoat, and as she locked onto his face, the image faltered. The stripes of grey in his hair overtook what was left of the brown, and for a moment, his face appeared wrinkled and pinched.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, shutting the book and rising from his chair to loom over her.
His eyes sliced into her, lingering on her wild curls before running down her body in a languid line. Emmeline swallowed hard and steeled herself against his intrusive gaze.
“I was sent here to speak to you.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to the likes of you, so get out.”
Emmeline rolled her eyes. So he was going to be one of those. Most dead were very happy to have a human ear to gab in, but those who tended to be hostile in life continued to hold to old grievances and bad behavior even in the afterlife. People never changed.
“The joke is on you because I can’t leave until you talk with me.” Defiantly meeting her gaze, he turned and headed for his chair, so Emmeline added, “It was Leona Talbot who wanted me to speak to you.”
He stopped mid-step, his eyes losing their edge for a brief moment. “Why?”
“She cares about you and wants to know you’re all right. I don’t know why she would care about a rude old man like you. If you don’t want to talk, I guess I will be going, then. You seem fine to me.”
Emmeline was about to leave the way she came when he called out, his voice less harsh than a moment before, “Leona asked you to check on me? Did she say anything?”
“No. I don’t think she knows what she wants to say. You’re Randall Nash, aren’t you? Her life is quite unsettled right now because of you. Is there anything you want to say to her that would make things better?”
“Tread carefully, little girl, you aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are. Leona was like you once.” Turning his attention to the temple behind him, his eyes locked on a bald spot in the garden. “You can tell her that my plant is in jeopardy, and I want it to be safe again. It’s the earl’s fault. If he hadn’t stuck his—”
Nash’s voice trailed off as he and Emmeline froze at a reverberation traveling through the earth. The water in the pool rippled and danced with a roll of thunder in the distance. The air in the greenhouse grew still, thickening with the taste of rain tainted with the scorch of burnt wood. Emmeline’s heart thundered up her throat as she met Nash’s light grey eyes.
“If you’re doing that, stop. You aren’t going to scare me off.”
Nash raised his gaze to the grey sky that had once been blocked by the greenhouse’s metal beams. Cocking his head, he seemed to listen to something beyond Emmeline’s senses. “They’re coming for you.”
Her pulse throbbed in her neck as another echo of energy passed through the garden and climbed her legs. It was like something out of a nightmare from her childhood. The giant’s heavy footsteps chasing her in his garden. Closing her eyes, Emmeline tried to wrench her mind out of the vision, but every time she opened her eyes, she was still in the spirit world. Oh, god. I’m trapped, she thought.
Emmeline opened her mouth to speak and found herself alone. Nash had disappeared along with the artificial forest. All that remained was hulking and ancient. Before her stood a gravel lane lined with towering yews. They had grown unnaturally tall, twisting in on themselves like a bonsai and contorting into the vague suggestion of faces or beasts. Emmeline’s breath came in icy puffs, roiling through the air before disappearing into the blackness pressing in around her. Something paced at the end of the path, and with each movement, the smell of water and fire grew stronger. The air suffocated her, burning her nose and throat. The thing was drawing closer. Emmeline willed her legs to move, but she stayed rooted in place. Where could she run to? When she had been in the greenhouse, everything had seemed so solid, so real, but now, the ground beneath her seemed only inches thick and would collapse under her at any moment, as tenuous as a puff of squid ink.
A face emerged from the shadows at the end of the lane. Emmeline’s heart pounded in time with the pulse of energy emanating from the creature’s body. It was barely more than the shades it hid within, but as it swept close, searching for her with wide, sightless eyes, she could make out the long face and branched horns of a stag. Where a body and limbs should have been, the darkness churned without forming anything that remotely resembled a body. A dozen skinny tentacles whipped toward Emmeline before sinking into its back, flicking out for a taste of her energy. They’re coming for you.
“What are you?” she yelled, her voice cracking with fear and her body trembling. “Tell me. Tell me what you are!”
Raising her gaze to the hollow points where the creature’s eyes should have been, the breath seeped from her body. There was no humanity in it. The cephalopodic monster had no life in it. Never had it been of her world, and as it fixed its gaze upon her, she could taste its hunger for flesh. Looming over her, it seemed limitless, the energy radiating from its wraith-like body overwhelming. Bile rose in Emmeline’s throat as she turned her head and closed her eyes at the creature’s tentacle skimming along the delicate aperture of her neck. It wanted her.
Emmeline felt the ground beneath her feet. She focused on the softness of it, the vision of it being no more than a shoe-sole thick. As the creature rose to swoop upon her, the ground gave way and she was falling.

 


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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The Winter Garden Preview

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Leading up to The Winter Garden‘s release on March 31st, I will be posting a few excerpts from the story.  You can read an excerpt from chapter one here.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two: Alchemists and Pinnipeds:

Immanuel smiled to himself as he made his way across the lawns and between the medieval buildings, feeling the money from his professor jingle in his pocket. It was bittersweet to finish Otto’s skeleton since he enjoyed spending his afternoons with his mentor, but it would be nice to use the bit of money he earned to have a meal out or buy some new supplies. He wove between the throngs of students and strangers until he reached the massive entrance of the Bodleian Library with its gothic portal and school coats of arms. The warm smell of must and parchment engulfed him as he slipped inside. The cozy, cave-like atmosphere of the Bodleian calmed him on his worst day and had been his refuge since he arrived. The librarian barely looked up from his desk as the lanky, young German signed in and strolled toward a desk among the stacks. He wandered through the shelves searching for those who may be able to help him in his search. It had been weeks since the day at the Thames when the girl fell in and his heart stopped, but he couldn’t help but wonder what his alchemist ancestors created. Every spare moment was spent in the library researching what could have revived her. On a shelf of philosophers stood Magnus, Bacon, and Pseudo-Geber; all were men who sought to wholly understand life but, unlike him, took their studies toward the otherworldly. Immanuel hoped within their spines he would find the curious secret to what had been brewed and bottled in the necklace by his ancestors.

For hours he sat at the desk in solitude and silence with his hands covering his ears and cupping the sides of his face like blinders. Most of what he read made little sense, but as he reached the section on Albertus Magnus, his eyes lit up. Another German had made an elixir of life. He reread the words, but they refused to sink in. The lapis philosophorum had the power to grant life. Immanuel’s eyes passed over the page until they reached the part about how it looked. The immature stone was white but would transform to its most potent form, which was red, with the addition of a reagent. The vial had been a murky milk until it morphed into a sanguine solution upon the addition of his blood. Could his mother’s forbears have left the lapis philosophorum for him as his inheritance?

When Immanuel finally surfaced from the massive volume, his neck was stiff and his hand was cramped beyond cracking. He sat back, clenching his eyes shut, but upon opening them, he suddenly noticed how dark the library had become even with the electric sconces. As he gathered up his belongings, a door opened in the distance, and the lights were extinguished. Immanuel quickly threw on his satchel and grabbed the book by Albertus Magnus to return it to the shelf when their voices rang out in the darkness. He peered around the edge of the bookcase, ready to yell to the librarian that he was still inside when his eyes fell upon three men in the shadows.

“Are you certain he is in here, Higgins?” asked the man in the middle, his voice deep and urbane.

“Very, he is the only one who has not left.” The second intruder’s voice vacillated nervously. “I should know, I have been outside for four bloody hours.”

“Keep it down, or he will hear you. I do not want to have to chase him. Higgins, go toward the back. Thomas, go check the shelves.”

Immanuel carefully padded backwards, keeping an eye on the shrouded men at the other end of the library as he darted toward the Seldon End. His chest tightened as he spun around, hoping to find a place to hide, but all he found was a dead end. He could hide under the tables, but even with the scant amount of light coming in through the windows, he would cast a shadow. Two pairs of feet were rapidly approaching. One of the men called out that the stacks were empty. Immanuel’s heart pounded as his eyes fell on the catwalk above his head. Holding his breath, he inched toward the hall where the men were regrouping and noiselessly climbed the steps on the tips of his toes.

He flattened against the bookcase as the men came in and checked under the desks and near the shelves for any sign of him. What they could want from him, he couldn’t imagine, but he didn’t want to find out. From his hiding place, he watched the figures below move in the waning light. He didn’t recognize them as students or lecturers, and while they weren’t carrying cudgels or guns, it was clear they were hunting for someone. The two who were sent ahead stepped into the lantern light, revealing that they were both at least a dozen years older than he was and better dressed. The man who eagerly sought him under the long desks had a gaunt and haggard countenance with bulging eyes that darted nervously over every surface. The other was a stout man with spectacles, who appeared more fit for servitude or banking than crime.

As their leader emerged from the shadows of the hall, it became clear why they didn’t need to carry weapons. The robust man strode in like a Roman commander. He held his head high and marched past his inferiors. Immanuel swallowed hard as the man put his hands on his hips, causing his ribs to flare and push dangerously against the tailored fabric of his suit and waistcoat. As much as he wanted to monitor the men, he feared that if he looked at them directly, they would feel his gaze and discover him in his darkened corner.

“He isn’t here, sir.”

As the pudgy intruder spoke, Immanuel looked out over the railing toward the arched portal. If he could leap from the second floor and run toward the exit, he might just be able to outrun them, especially since he knew the terrain.

“The German couldn’t have gone far. Thomas, go up there and tell me if you can see him.”

His eyes widened in panic as the fatter man climbed the steps. Immanuel stared up at the inlaid ceiling, taking long, slow breaths to keep from hyperventilating. The fidgety man peered out the window for their prey while their leader lingered under the walkway on the opposite side of the room. The paunchy criminal looked out across the library, gripping the railing until his meaty knuckles turned white. With a final steadying breath, Immanuel knew what he had to do. He clutched The Theatrum Chemicum and began his silent shuffle toward the intruder. In the shadows, the man never noticed as he slunk behind him. Raising the tome high above his head, Immanuel brought it down so hard on the back of the heavy man’s skull that he crumpled against the rail. Immanuel dashed the book to the floor and jumped over the edge. His leg gave out under him as he stumbled forward, ignoring the pain radiating up from his ankle.

For a few fleeting seconds, he thought he would be able to escape until he heard the sound of a bench crashing to the floor and boots thundering behind him on the ancient planks. His satchel slapped against his thigh as the shelves blew past him on either side. Immanuel slammed his wobbly ankle down step after step despite the pain. The door was only feet beyond the deserted librarian’s desk, but as he rounded the corner, the footsteps finally caught up with him. They collided in a pile of wool and leather and fell to the ground with the brawny man easily pinning him. Immanuel flailed and thrashed wildly until he was able to work his arms free from under the man’s body. The bug-eyed Higgins soon joined the pile, but as he reached for Immanuel’s arms, the younger man sent his elbow into the criminal’s nose. When his attacker fell back onto their commander, Immanuel rolled onto his stomach and scrambled to his feet. A claw wrapped around his sore ankle and yanked him back down. Immanuel lay on the floor panting, the wind knocked out of him by the fall, as the man knelt on his back and tightly bound his hands with the strap from his satchel.

“I knew you were in there. Even if I could not see you, I could sense you,” their leader explained in a harsh whisper. His mouth was so close to Immanuel’s ear he could taste the puffs of hot tobacco-ridden breath with each syllable. “I did not expect such a fight from you.”

“The money is in my pocket. I swear, I have nothing else of value,” Immanuel cried with his face pressed into the floor from the man’s weight, but his hands worked frantically against their binds.

“Oh, you have something much more valuable than money that I want. Stop struggling, boy. We are just going to have a little talk.”

Before Immanuel could reply, a sharp pain followed by a flood of cold ran through his arm. Then, the world went black.


44 days until The Winter Garden comes out!  If you haven’t read the first book, I hope you will check out The Earl of Brass, and if you like what you read, you can pre-order The Winter Garden (IMD #2) here for 99 cents.  I cannot believe there are only 44 days left. As a bonus, here is a little Valentines Day fun from Adam and Immanuel.  You’ll meet them soon.

valentine__immanuel_and_adam_by_fi_di-d767gqs

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The Earl of Brass: Blurb and Excerpt

Here is the blurb and an excerpt for The Earl of Brass, book 1 of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices.

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Blurb:

Lord Sorrell wants freedom. With the responsibilities of an earldom and a dominating father awaiting him in London, he escapes to the East, but he fears he will be grounded forever when a freak accident results in the loss of his arm. Depressed and facing a restrictive life, Lord Sorrell seeks what will make him whole again: a new limb.
Fenice Brothers Prosthetics is in jeopardy. Hadley’s brother is dead, and the business has fallen on her shoulders. Clients begin to turn her away and she soon fears the business will fail until she disguises herself as a man. But one person sees through her. In exchange for a new arm, Lord Sorrell offers her a chance at independence in the deserts of Palestine.
What they uncover is more precious than potsherds or bones. The desert hides secrets worth their weight in gold. Will Hadley and Lord Sorrell make it out alive or will they, too, be entombed beneath the sands?

 


Excerpt:

With a lurch, Eilian awoke just in time to see his trunk rapidly approaching the end of his nose. He tumbled over his luggage and into the paneled wall, landing in the narrow space between them as the trunk slid back into his chest. Grabbing the armchair, he hoisted himself to his feet only to be hit with a wave of nausea. The world felt as if it had been turned on its side. He forced his door open and staggered into the hall, swallowing down the bile rising up his throat. His gold pocket watch slipped from his vest and hung at an angle as he hobbled toward the observation deck, but when he reached for the rail, the ship rolled to the right as if shot from a sling, slamming him into the unforgiving wood. Screams erupted from behind closed doors. The heavy furniture slid, trapping men and women under them as they were thrown from their beds. As the aristocrats began to filter from their rooms, he scrambled to his feet in stunned silence, rubbing the sore arm he knew would soon contain a bruise to match the one on his leg. His eyes trailed to the world just beyond the mullioned glass of the ship. Only a few hundred yards below, lightning cracks illuminated the miniature people standing in the village streets, gazing up at the lumbering giant. He could nearly make out their features in the glow of the streetlamps. How could they be so low if they weren’t landing?

The captain’s stridulant voice was ringing out, calling for order, but Lord Sorrell didn’t hear him as he noticed the people below shifting slightly. They tilted, and as they did, his feet began to slide across the Turkish carpet of the observation deck. His stomach somersaulted as he grasped the rail, hoping it would pass. The moment his other hand reached the brass railing, the airship plunged forward as it yanked everything toward its bow. Eilian’s hands slipped down the bar, but the sinews of his arms and legs held firm. Passengers screeched as they fell to the floor and tumbled into the legs of chairs and great skeins of drapery and carpet. The reminders of home entrapped them and smothered them beneath their silk and Berber folds. The pops of glass globes from the gas lamps reverberated through the dirigible as the bow shot back up and teetered unsteadily. Eilian froze with his trembling hands clutching the rail. His breaths came rapidly as he strained to stand up, his body weak from the shock of holding on during the deathly plummets. For a moment, there was silence as the others waited for something to happen. The chilled night air whistled in through the glass of the observation deck, which had been shattered by a dining chair impaled in the brass mullion.

At the port observation deck, the cries of men and women rose to a shrill din. A man called for the captain after a child had been jettisoned overboard. As the dirigible continued its dull tour, Eilian caught a glimpse of her shattered body leaking blood into the capillaries of the cobbles below. Something is very wrong, Lord Sorrell thought as he calculated the distance below to be only three hundred yards. Taking a calming breath, his mouth was filled with the sulphorous odor of methane as it wafted from the globe-less gas lamps. If they were to go down, they would surely incinerate when the fire of the engines met the hydrogen of the gasbag and the methane in the gondola. A wine bottle lazily rolled past Eilian’s feet toward the nose of the ship. The HMS Albert had begun its final dive.

The field and the hard cobbles were rapidly approaching as Eilian ran toward the aft of the ship. Maybe if he could make it to the farthest point in the gondola, he would have a chance. As he reached the hallway, pushing past men and woman in motley brocade and black dinner jackets as they began to slide past him, his feet slipped from the polished floor. The world erupted around him in a maelstrom of cacophonous voices and groaning wood and metal as they struck flesh and earth. Fire flooded the ship as Eilian collided with the boards.

 ***

 Eilian’s eyes fluttered open as he lifted his head from the raft of paneling that lay beneath his bruised and swelling cheek. The fractured wood scraped his knees and palms as he hoisted onto his trembling knees and stared into the hall as it lay on its side. Flames burned through the remaining walls as he stepped over doorways and bodies as they lay broken, crushed beneath pieces of beds or impaled by the broken ribs of the dying airship. The drone of men’s voices wisped across the wind, but as Eilian followed them, they were drowned in the crackling fires and moans of the ship. The smoke burned his eyes and prickled his throat as he waited in the abyss for a means of escape. His back and legs ached with each movement, but he pressed on as pieces of elephantine canvas fluttered down, incinerating before they ever reached the ground.

Staring back at him between spilled trunks and lumps of fabric was the prime minister’s brother. His dull eyes were fixed on him with his mouth poised to scream, but his body lay splayed like an abandoned doll with his neck contorted at an impossible angle. Flames licked at his temples, biting his hair and nibbling away at his flesh. Eilian had seen funeral pyres in India, but nothing had prepared him for the demented dead, forever in agony once their suffering had ended. Wrenching his eyes away, he stepped over a woman and her child as they held each other. The disembodied voices crept over the wind, putting him back on the path to safety. When he listened again, the ribs of the dying ship groaned in pain as they sagged under their load.

He threw his arm up to stop the impact, but the beam knocked him down, pinning him beneath its red-hot iron. Eilian Sorrell screamed as the metal seared through his clothes and into his flesh until he was certain his heart would stop from the pain. Like a wounded animal, he thrashed and writhed until he worked his legs and torso free, but his right arm remained lodged and continued to burn. Kicking off the beam, he hoped to free his numb limb, but on the third attempt, the sole of his shoe melted onto the metal. Finally, he twisted and pulled, hoping sheer force would free it, and with the sickening release of suction and the smell of burnt meat, his arm dislodged.

Eilian averted his gaze, hoping what he saw was a hallucination as he heedlessly rushed toward the voices on the wind. His heart pounded as he saw the moon between the naked ribs of the dirigible. Flames leapt and popped beside him. Sweat poured down his back and chest, stinging his open wounds. The searcher’s lights pierced the gnawed openings in the outer hull as he burst into the cool night air. His knees gave way, and he collapsed into the dewy grass. Pain flared from his right side, squeezing the cries from his throat. As voices called out around him and tried to lift him onto the stretcher, they hesitated at his right side. Suddenly, the pain subsided, and the world went black.

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