Release That Punk!

I just got back from World Fantasy Convention where I learned, to my surprise, that the next installment of my Clockwork Empire steampunk books was out a little early. (!) So I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce . . . The Dragon Men.

As China prepares to become the ultimate power in an era of extraordinary invention and horror, Alice Michaels’ fate lies inside the walls of the forbidden kingdom….

Gavin Ennock has everything a man could desire—except time. As the clockwork plague consumes his body and mind, it drives him increasingly mad and fractures his relationship with his fiancée, Alice, Lady Michaels. Their only hope is that the Dragon Men of China can cure him.

But a power-mad general has seized the Chinese throne in a determined offensive to conquer Asia, Britain—indeed, the entire world. He has closed the country’s borders to all foreigners. The former ruling dynasty, however, is scheming to return the rightful heir to power. Their designs will draw Gavin and Alice down a treacherous path strewn with intrigue and power struggles. One wrong step will seal Gavin’s fate…and determine the future of the world. 

***

It’s available at all major bookstores and, starting November 6, at on-line venues as well.  If you missed The Doomsday Vaultand The Impossible Cube, don’t worry–I wrote The Dragon Men to stand alone, though the editors would like to encourage our highly discerning readers to peruse the other stunning and exciting volumes in the series.

And, since you’re here, why not a sampling?

CHAPTER ONE

“I still think this is a terrible idea,” said Alice.

Gavin spread his mechanical wings, furled them, and spread them again. He shrugged at Alice’s words and shot a glance across the deck at Susan Phipps, who set her jaw and tightened her grip on the helm. Her brass hand, the one with six fingers, gleamed in the afternoon sun and a stray flicker of light caught Gavin in the face. The world slowed, shaving time into transparent slices, and for one of them he felt trillions of photons ricochet off his skin and carom away in rainbow directions. His mind automatically tried to calculate trajectory for them, and the numbers spun in an enticing whirlpool. He bit his lip and forced himself out of it. There were more important–more exciting–issues at hand.

“I completely agree,” Phipps said. A brass-rimmed monocle with a red lens ringed her eye. “But he’s the captain of the ship, and he can do as he likes, even if it’s idiotic.”

“Captains are supposed to listen to common sense,” Alice replied in tart British tones. “Especially when the common sense comes from someone with a decent amount of intelligence.”

At that Gavin had to smile. A soft breeze spun itself across the Caspian Sea, winding across the deck of the Lady of Liberty to stir his pale blond hair. He started to count the strands that flicked across his field of vision, note the way each one was lifted by teamwork of gas particles, then bit his lip again. Dammit, he was getting more and more distractable by minutiae. More and more individual details of the world around him beckoned–the drag of the harness on his back, the creak of the airship’s wooden deck, the borders of the shadow cast by her bulbous silk envelope high overhead, the sharp smell of the exhaust exuded from the generator that puffed and purred on the decking, the gentle thrumming of the propellered nacelles that pushed the Lady smoothly ahead, the shifting frequency of the blue light reflected by the Caspian Sea gliding past only a few yards beneath the Lady’s hull. Sometimes it felt like the world was a jigsaw puzzle of exquisite jewels, and he needed to examine each piece in exacting detail.

“Gavin?” Alice’s worried voice came to him from far away, and it yanked him back to the ship. “Are you there?”

Dammit. He forced the grin back to full power. “Yeah. Sure. Look, I’ll be fine. Everything’ll work. I’ve been over the machinery a thousand times, and I’ve made no mistakes.”

“Of course not.” Alice’s expression was tight. “Clockworkers never make mistakes with their inventions.”

Gavin’s grin faltered again and he shifted within the harness. She was worried about him, and that both thrilled and shamed him. It was difficult to stand next to her and not touch her, even to brush against her. Just looking at her made him want to sweep her into his arms, something she allowed him to do only sporadically.

“Alice, will you marry me?” he blurted out.

She blinked at him. “What?”

“Will you marry me?” Words poured out of him. “I started to ask you back in Kiev, but we got interrupted, and what with one thing and another, I never got the chance to ask again, and now there’s a small chance I’ll be dead, or at least seriously wounded, in the next ten minutes, so I want to know: will you marry me?”

“Oh, good Lord,” Phipps muttered from the helm.

“I . . . I . . . oh, Gavin, this isn’t the time,” Alice stammered.

He took both her hands in his. Adrenaline thrummed his nerves like cello strings. Alice’s left hand was covered by an iron spider that wrapped around her forearm, hand, and fingers to create a strange metal gauntlet, and the spider’s eyes glowed red at his touch. Gavin had his own machinery to contend with–the pair of metal wings harnessed to his back. They flared again when he shifted his weight.

“The universe will never give us the right time.” Gavin’s voice was low and light. “We have to make our own.”

“Dr. Clef tried to make time,” Alice said, “and look where it got him.”

“He wanted to keep it for himself.” Gavin looked into Alice’s eyes. They were brown as good clean earth, and just as deep. “We’ll share it with the world. I can’t offer you more than the open sky and every tune my fiddle will play, but will you marry me?”

“There’s no minister. Not even a priest!”

“So you’re saying you don’t want to.”

She flushed. “Oh, Gavin. I do, yes, I do. But–”

“No!” He held up a hand. “No yes, but. Just yes. And only if you mean it.”

“Ah. Very well.” Alice, Lady Michaels, took a deep breath. Her dress, a piece of sky pinned by the breeze, swirled about her. “Yes, Gavin. I will marry you.”

With a shout of glee, Gavin leaped over the edge.

Air tore past his ears and his stomach dropped. The Lady’s hull blurred past him, and only two dozen yards below, the calm Caspian Sea shimmered hard and sharp and a little angry. Gavin spread his arms, moved his shoulders, and the wires attached to his body harness drew on tiny pulleys. The wings snapped open. The battery pack between his shoulder blades pulsed power, and blue light coruscated across the wings with a soft chime like that of a wet finger sliding over a crystal goblet. A matching blue light current glowed through a lacy endoskeleton underneath the Lady‘s envelope above, giving her a delicate, elegant air. The endoskeleton and the wings were fashioned from the same alloy, though the wings consisted of tiny interwoven links of metal, much like chain mail. And when electricity pulsed through the alloy–

Gavin dove toward the water a moment longer, until the glow and the chime reached the very tips of his wings. In that moment, the alloy pushed against gravity itself, and abruptly he was swooping back up, up, and up, by God he was rising, climbing, ascending, flying and the wind pushed him higher with an invisible hand and the deck with Alice and Phipps upon it flashed by so fast Gavin barely had time to register their surprised expressions and then the Lady‘s curli-blue envelope plunged toward him like a whale falling onto a minnow and the wind tore his surprised yell away as a sacrifice, giving him just enough time to twist his body and turn the unfamiliar flapping wings–God, yes, they were wings–so that he skimmed up the side of the envelope so close his belly brushed the cloth and with dizzying speed he was above the ship, looking down at her sleek envelope and her little rudder at the back and the fine net of ropes that cradled the ship like soft fingers and his body stretched in all directions with nothing below or above him. Every bit of his spirit rushed with exhilaration, flooded with absolute freedom. His legs in white leather and his feet in white boots hung beneath him, deliciously useless. His muscles moved, and the wings, made of azure light, flapped in response, lifting him into the cool, damp air, with bright brother sun calling to him, lifting body and soul. A rainbow of power gushed through him, and he was part of the heavens themselves, a whole note streaking through infinity, cleansed by wind and mist and shedding worries like grace notes. Gavin yelled and whooped and his voice thundered across distant clouds as if it might split them in two. This was what he’d been born for. This was home.

He hung in the blue nothing for a tiny moment. His wings glowed and sang softly behind him. The clouds spread a cottony pasture far away, and he could almost–almost–see gods and angels striding across them. A calm stole over him. It didn’t matter how many trillions of particles held him aloft or how gravity failed to function. It didn’t matter that a disease was coursing through his body and killing him bit by bit. Here was blessed nothing. His mind slowed and joined the stillness. The wind sighed and Gavin hummed a soft note in response as the breeze curled about his white-clad body. Harmony. Peace. How perfect it was here.

A shadow below caught his eye. The Lady was still hovering just above the surface of the calm Caspian Sea. This was at Phipps’s insistence–if Gavin’s wings had failed, he wouldn’t have fallen far, and the ocean would have provided a more pleasant landing than hard ground. Perhaps five miles ahead of the ship lay a sliver of an island, and just beyond that, a rocky coast. The shadow was moving beneath the water, growing larger and larger beneath the Lady as whatever cast it moved up from the bottom of the sea. The thing was nothing natural. Unease bloomed quickly into concern and fear. Gavin tucked and dove, his wings pulled in tightly. He didn’t dare dive too quickly–he didn’t know how much the harness could take, even though his mind was automatically calculating foot pounds and stress levels. He shouted a warning to Alice and Phipps and felt the vibration of his vocal chords, sensed the compression of air, knew the sound would scatter helplessly long before it reached Alice’s eardrums, and still he shouted.

Half a mile below him, a pair of enormous black tentacles rose from the shadows and broke the surface of the water.

–Steven Harper Piziks

 


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