Skyships, Elf Ninjas, and Magic Trees, Oh MY!

Ok, that’s not the real title, but if you’re here, it’s because you wanted to check out the opening of my new story, which I plan to query to traditional publishing.

Chapter 1

If it were a truth universally acknowledged that a skyship captain must be in want of a high born wife, it was a secret equally recognized that he’d keep an Elestrae Nightingale in Cloud Haven.

To bring about the fall of the Rune Imperium, Sparrow needed to convince the newly-promoted captain to choose her.

At least, the clan believed as much, because of his assignment to the Windrunner.

Right now, her assignment looked like a suicide mission.

Although her Elestrae vision cast the night in shades of green and grey, it would’ve been easier to tightrope-walk across the mooring lines to the prototype skyship in daylight, or even when the Sapphire Moon’s luminescent blue rings rose above the horizon. While everyone else bemoaned the humid, summer air, she thanks the Mother Tree for becalmed skies at this moment.

After all, even with the skirts and hanging sleeves of her gown clasped and laced up, her voluminous hair held tight with bladed pins and lockpicks, a strong gust would send her plummeting three hundred feet, leaving her a bloody mess to fertilize the farmland below. A well-dressed bloody mess.

Halfway there. Thank the Mother Tree the skyship’s magic kept it stationary, even if there was no telltale hum of activated runes. Just a little movement would cause the tension—

The whorls in the hull’s Eldaerwood planks pulsed with light. The controlling runes must’ve been activated, even if they made no sound. If it shifted position…

Just another six feet. Sparrow sped up, one foot in front of the other. This wasn’t hard, training at the temple had involved tightrope walking while dodging swinging sandbags. The—

A buzz, different from a typical skyship’s pitch rose.

The line slackened as the ship eased back. Squirrel shit!

She leaped for the ship. Shooting her arms out, her fingers caught the decorations carved into the ridge running along the lower edge of the hull.

No, not decorative. Runes. It was now obvious with her face mashed up against them. Which meant this band of wood couldn’t have been made of Eldarwood. Yet one more difference from the other thousand other in the imperial fleet.

Feet dangling with nothing but three hundred feet of air between her and the ground, she ascended hand over hand. Her fingers, toughened by iron palm and eagle claw training, found grooves in the runes. Hopefully, her nails wouldn’t scrape off any of the medium painted within, and cause the Windrunner to crash on its maiden voyage. At last, her toes found purchase.

Muscles screaming the higher she climbed, she finally reached the top of the ridge. The surface was wide enough for her feet when she turned them to the sides. A line of gun hatches lay just within reach. 

Blowing out a breath, she pressed her back and hands against the hull. Her heart squeezed as sadness crept over her. This skyship, like all the others, had been made of trees from her conquered homeland. Her people, enslaved or scattered by the wicked Rune Imperium.

No, this was not the time to dwell on a past she barely remembered. She swallowed her grief and looked south to where the Pearl Moon hung in its inexorable seat in the heavens. It waxed just past its fourth crescent, giving her a half hour before the other Nightingales arrived. More than enough time to scout out the ship, study the captain for his tastes and tendencies, and then primp.

No matter what, she needed to find an insertion point soon, before skyship moved again and jostled her into a nasty tumble. She sidled her way east along the ridge toward the stern, listening and sniffing. Eleven distinct footsteps and scents came from inside, so she continued until she arrived below the sterncastle. Just beyond this spot, the footprint curved inwards towards a point, more like the bow of every other skyship than their flatter sterns.

Sparrow reached up to the nearest porthole, her fingers curling around the lower trim.  Climbing higher, she used the top trim as a foothold to reach the porthole on the next deck, and continued until she reached the level even with the main deck. If the Windrunner was other scout ships, the room on the other side would either be the captain’s or first mate’s cabin.  And the Rune Imperium was known for anything besides greed, arrogance, and aggression, it was a stodgy adherence to standardization.

Not hearing or smelling any activity inside, she opened the porthole shutter, which lifted like a gun hatch instead of sliding to the side. The opening was square, as well, and she squeezed through.

And found herself looking down the barrel of a rune cannon.

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