Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here; here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!
But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,
like this perhaps… it is an extract from Army Of Brass and marks our last stop on their blog tour…
Army of Brass
By Phoebe Darqueling
The funicular trundled to a stop on the landing, and Jack approached the door release. It hissed open, but Elaina stayed frozen in place, her eyes once again resting on the Baron as he and his men dismembered the fallen automaton. Crashes reverberated from around the bend as more of the giants began to move.
“Focus, Elaina,” Jack pleaded. “We need to go.”
When her eyes met his again, something had changed. The rage and sorrow had drained away, leaving her gaze hollow but determined. Her spine straightened, and her shoulders relaxed as she put the gun back into its holster. Her free hand briefly rested on her shoulder, then the last trace of rage melted from her body as she strode forward.
She passed the Cartographer and went straight to the interior controls, calling over her shoulder, “Are you coming?”
With a smirk, he followed her into the cabin. Elaina moved a dial and a lever, and the funicular rose again from the valley floor before he’d even hit the button to close the door. Apparently, she was taking his plea for speed to heart, but he’d have waited for that particular nicety. They swayed slightly as they rose, and Jack grabbed frantically for one of the leather straps built into the wall to steady himself. He glanced out the open door to see the solid ground creeping away. It felt as though he’d left his stomach behind.
“Vertigo?” Elaina scoffed, taking in his grim expression and white knuckles with a gesture. “You’re an airship captain. How could you possibly be afraid of heights?”
“It’s somewhat of a new development…” he choked, falling back gratefully into a seat across from her.
As they crept upward, more of battle came into view. Several more of the Cartographer fleet had arrived, their mismatched colors and designs a delightful quilt against the cheery blue of the sky. More soldiers poured out of the cavern, bolstered by the air support. At least two of the automatons seemed to be immobilized, but down the line, head after head lifted and turned its attention to the fight.
“Look!” Elaina rushed to the door, pointing frantically. “It’s Aletha!”
One of the automatons reached out with its drill-arm spinning and drove the point into the chest of another metal giant. The whine and the screech of metal rang out over the valley as the thing’s mechanical guts were ripped out.
Another automaton raised a fist and smashed it into the head of Aletha’s giant. The two machines stood frozen for several seconds, then the attacker lowered its arm and turned its attention to another of Bircham’s machines. The two of them ripped off its arms.
“It’s working,” Jack sighed.
“So far,” his companion agreed.
They had only made it about halfway up the mountainside, but the funicular chose that moment to lurch to an unexpected halt. Sweat beaded on Jack’s brow while Elaina calmly looked over the control panel.
Outside the cabin, most of the Cartographer fleet was engaged with the rebel lords, but a few of them had turned their attention to the brass army. A net shot from a massive gun and enveloped the head and shoulders of one of the automatons. It struggled for a moment, and Jack dared to hope it would stumble and fall. Then it reached up a massive hand, grabbing onto the line. His gut heaved as the machine ripped the airship from the sky.
When he couldn’t take her measured silence any longer, he blurted. “What happened? Can you fix it?”
She shrugged and turned toward him. “It’s not a problem from this end. It must be the winch at the top. There could be shrapnel in the mechanism, or Bircham had it disabled. Either way, it’s useless now. We can’t go up or down.”
Jack wheeled back to the door and saw parachutes blooming around the falling ship. One of the Marksmen trained his gun carefully as he sailed toward the ground. With a single, expert shot, he ignited the hydrogen, and the airship burst into a fiery ball. The automaton batted it away, undeterred, only to have one of Aletha’s metal giants punch it in the chest.
He hadn’t realized Elaina had joined him at the door until she murmured, “We can’t stay here, either. It’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by debris, or one of those things notices us.”
“How?” Jack spluttered, though on some level he knew exactly what she was about to propose. “You said it’s broken!”
“We’ll simply need to climb,” she replied. “The cable is intact, and we can use the ties between the tracks like steps.”
“I… don’t think I can…”
She waved away the panic in his voice. “Of course you can. We use those rocks and then go around to the front to grab onto the cable. It’s simple. See?” Elaina vaulted from the open door and scrambled over the jagged stone. Jack’s shock immobilized him until he heard her voice from the front of cab. “Are you coming, Mr. Davenport?”
With far more resolution than he felt, he answered in the affirmative and followed her path. He could feel the wound at his hip reopen as he lunged, and hot blood soaked his bandage by the time he reached her. True to her word, a taut cable ran up the middle of the track, and the evenly-spaced wooden beams would make the climb much easier, but the pain flashed bright, and nausea roiled in his guts. He leaned against the cab to catch his breath and put pressure on the gash in his hip.
“Pull yourself together,” Elaina said. “You’re the one who told me to focus, remember?”
Jack help up his bloody hand. “Ashtan’s handiwork.”
“I can take a look at it once we reach the top, but right now, we have got to move.”
Elaina started up the tracks, hand over steady hand as she progressed up the cable. Jack steeled himself against the pain, then followed. The sounds of the battle echoed all around them, but he resisted the urge to turn around and watch. The cable bit into his palms, giving him something to focus on besides the fact that he was over a hundred feet in the air. He kept his eyes trained on Elaina’s back and tried to match her steady pace until a few stray pebbles got between his boot and the next tie. He kept hold of the cable but landed on his bloody hip with a groan.
“I can’t. My leg—”
“Yes, yes. Your leg hurts. I heard you,” Elaina said, glancing over her shoulder before taking another step. “But honestly, what are you proposing? Will you build a nest and live up here like some sort of great buzzard?”
“This is no time for jokes, Mrs. Gable.” Jack used his good leg to regain his footing and willed himself back to standing.
“Was I joking? I can’t always tell these days,” she said thoughtfully. After another two steps, she called over her shoulder, “What I do know is that I am neither willing nor able to pull you to the top, due to the obvious discrepancy between your bulk and my upper body strength. Ergo, you shall have to climb or find some way to derive sustenance from bare—and might I remind you, toxic—stone.”
Jack frowned at her back, which was getting farther and farther away. He took a deep breath, then another step. A drop of his own blood splattered the wood under his feet, and his vertigo reasserted itself.
“Unless of course you plan to die,” she speculated, now at least ten paces ahead. “It would seem a rather fitting ending for your legend, as long as the details never made it out.”
He shook away the bout of dizziness and resolved not to let the gap between them grow any wider. With teeth gritted against the pain, he finally began to move.
Up ahead, Elaina continued. “Think about it! You lost your ship, the love of Captain Davenport’s life, on a mission to save the king. If you were to die here in the valley, everyone would think you were struck down in the Battle of Brasshaven. Now that would be one for the storybooks,” she said. “Then, of course, this discussion is all academic, and the necessity of your moving from that spot is moot. In which case, could you please let go and stop distracting me from climbing? This last part will be tricky.”
“What has gotten into you?” he marveled.
“Nothing at all. I simply took your advice,” she grunted. “Bircham is the mission. And if I am correct, and I nearly always am, we shall find him at the top of this cliff. I am simply attempting to keep you on task.”
The noise in the valley started to fade. Jack thought at first it was just because they were getting higher, but he risked taking a look. Yet more Marksmen still poured out of the caverns, and he heard the shouts of the smiths better than ever. But he realized in horror that the automatons no longer seemed to be fighting each other. Aletha was losing.
“You should press on without me!” he cried. “I just need a rest, that’s all. You have Rose’s gun, you shouldn’t need more than that.”
“You may proceed with that course of action, but I would advise against it,” she replied, disappearing over the top of the cliff. “Your arms are already shaking. What do you think a few more minutes will do?”
He willed himself to take another step. It couldn’t be more than a few more paces, but his throat was closing in panic. His wound bled freely. The Marksmen were clearly no match for the machines. The Cartographers were outgunned. And now, Aletha was failing. All was lost.
“You know the problem with stories, Jack? They are too… clean. The writers always type ‘The End,’ but it isn’t really, is it? Real endings are far more complicated than the stories make them out to be.”
He concentrated on the sound of her voice and continued his agonized climb.
“Besides,” she continued, “if you do decide to survive, I am sure the Society would be happy to get you back into the air again. Then there would be plenty of time for more adventures.”
Hope wasn’t lost. Hope was waiting just a few feet above his head. All he had to do was reach it. With a defiant cry, he harnessed his pain and took the last three strides to reach the top. At the edge, the cable no longer stood above the ground but instead lay directly against the ties. His tired hands scrabbled at the stone as he got his torso up and over, then he felt Elaina grab his belt and add her strength to his.
Jack spent a moment catching his breath, then struggled out of the pack. He heard Elaina rifling through it as the spots swam out of his vision, then turned over on his back. She held out a canteen. “Perhaps you could take me somewhere, when this is all over. I think we both could use a holiday.”
“Thanks for waiting,” he replied, taking a swig of water.
She smirked and pointed out, “You’ve got my bullet.”
And don’t forget, Army of Brass is available now! 21 international writers came together to create this tale of giant automatons, fearless airship captains, and deadly conspiracies.
Order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday to celebrate Steampunk’s “31st birthday.” The blog tour continues until May 13, and so does this special price.
Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!
Not sure if it’s for you? Read a review, take a sneak peek at the full Chapter 1 or read another exclusive excerpt. You can also get to know the character Captain Jack Davenport a little bit better with his interview on Blake & Wight. If you want to find out more about collaborative writing, Army of Brass contributors and Collaborative Writing Challenge veterans Crystal MM Burton and Kathrin Hutson shared articles for the tour about the pros, cons, and rewards.
Speaking of giveaways, you can enter to win ebooks from the CWC writers.