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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Excerpt: Ourselves by S. G. Redling

Please welcome S. G. Redling to The Qwillery with an excerpt from Ourselves, which will be published on January 27, 2015 by 47North.

Excerpt: Ourselves by S. G. Redling

Nahan Da Li

Nahan da li: literally, Are you Nahan? A traditional welcome, a friendly greeting, affectionate.

Stell knew there was something wrong with her. Something dark lived inside of her. She didn’t know what it was or how the others could see it. She might not even have known about it herself if she didn’t see it in the eyes of the congregation and feel it in the fists of her uncle. When she was little, she used to look for it in the ribbons of blood that poured from her body when the ritual knives cut into her.
         Now she knew better.
         Whatever was wrong with her couldn’t be cut out like a splinter underneath her skin. Whatever was wrong with her was wrong to the bone.
         Since she couldn’t cut it out or pray it out, Stell took herself and her darkness out of the compound at every opportunity. She’d climb through the hole in the wall behind her bed, crawl through the forsythia, and run hard and fast up the steep western side of Calstow Mountain. She’d run like someone chased her although she knew the congregation wouldn’t miss her. Her classmates wouldn’t. Stell drew the wrath of Uncle Rom like a magnet to a lodestone and everyone gave Stell a wide berth.
         She thought maybe her mother missed her when she took off into the woods of Calstow Mountain. She thought maybe Malbette might worry about her daughter alone in the darkness of the mountain forests, might wonder if her child was safe and unharmed running through streams and climbing trees, sleeping under the stars and waking in beds of pine needles day after day. She thought her mother might miss her but Malbette’s eyes had a distance in them that was impossible to read so Stell didn’t think about her mother much.
         After all, Stell wasn’t a kid anymore. She had to be at least twenty by now. Maybe closer to twenty-five.
         Nobody ever told Stell how old she was. Nobody ever told Stell anything except to shut up and to repent and to pray. Nobody cared whether or not she could read. (She could but she hated to.) The teachers didn’t care that Stell never looked at the maps or listened to the Traditions or that she learned her numbers quickly. Stell never asked questions and nobody noticed or cared.
         When she was little, before she knew better, she’d ask questions.
         She’d asked why she had to pray so hard, why she had to bleed into the bowls in the filthy church room. She’d stomped her foot and cried and clung to her silent mother as the two of them were led to Uncle Rom’s waiting ritual chamber to be cut and bled before the pale faces of the congregation.
         Uncle Rom had answered those questions with snarls and threats and long recitations of Tradition but those weren’t the questions that silenced Stell. Malbette had done that.
         Stell had asked about her father.
         She didn’t know how old she was when she’d asked but since she hadn’t been tall enough to look out the window, Stell figured she’d been pretty young. Young enough to press her luck. Stell had demanded her mother tell her why she didn’t have a father like the other kids in the compound. Stell had shouted and pled, whined and wept, badgering Malbette to tell her who father was and why he wasn’t with them and why nobody would tell her anything about him.
         Malbette hadn’t answered her. Instead, she ignored her daughter’s dirty, grasping hands and settled into the only chair in the small shack they called home. She folded her hands in her lap, stared into the grimy wood of the near wall, and fell silent. At first Stell had raged as small children do. She cried and pulled but Malbette wouldn’t move. She climbed into her mother’s lap but the larger hands made no move to comfort her. And finally Stell got quiet too. She curled up on the floor beside her mother’s chair, thumb tucked securely in her mouth, her cheeks pressed into the scratchy wool of her mother’s skirts.
         They sat that way for three days.
         When Malbette rose from the chair on the third day, smoothing her skirts, and walking off as if nothing unusual had happened, Stell wiped at the tears and spit and snot that had dried on her face. She headed into her room, pulled the cot away from the wall, and kicked at the loose board behind it. She crawled through that hole and ran up to the mountain.
         On Calstow Mountain it didn’t matter what was wrong with Stell. Whatever darkness she had inside her didn’t bother the raccoons or opossum or hawks. The wild turkeys kept their distance but the streams and poplars didn’t mind her. The only ones that screamed at her were the blue jays and they screamed at everything. They even screamed at the common.
         Stell loved those moments when she heard something crashing through the brush louder than any forest creature would. Birds would fly and Stell would climb as fast as she could up into the nearest tree, folding into herself and being as silent as an owl so she could watch and listen to the strangely dressed, heavily burdened common making their way along the forest trails. She listened to their voices; their English sounded so different from hers, no trace of a Nahan accent at all. And sometimes if she really stared at one of them, if she really focused on one particular part of one particular common, that common would freeze. Stell would bite her lip, trying not to giggle as they scanned the forest around them, some ancient instinct alerting them to a danger they couldn’t see.
         Stell didn’t know why they would fear her but she loved it when that happened.
         Maybe that had something to do with the darkness within her.
         She didn’t care. The common would go and Stell would climb down and the mountain would be hers again. It was hers today and Stell lay in her favorite spot, a thick blanket of moss between the creek bed and a thicket of blackberry bushes. Summer had only just started warming up the mountain and it would be weeks until the blackberries appeared but Stell had peeled off her gray, woolen dress as she always did once the snow melted. She’d tossed the hated garment into the poplar branches and sprawled out along the chilly moss.
         The canopy overheard hadn’t thickened fully yet and the sun warmed her pale skin. Bits of mud flaked off her body as she stretched long. She must have fallen asleep because she didn’t hear the rattling of the blackberry branches or the swearing until it was too late to hide. Stell leapt to her feet, blinking away the sleep, as the branches closed together, catching the skin of a young man who pulled at the thorns.
         They stared at each other. Stell knew her eyes and mouth were as wide open as his.
         He was Nahan. She could see it and smell it and feel it.
         And he was beautiful.
         “Nahan da li?” she asked, smiling at this wondrous site before her.
         He looked nothing like the congregation. His clothes weren’t drab and rough. His skin shone with a health she had never seen. And most wondrous of all? His surprised gape turned into a smile.
         “What? Oh yeah, yeah.” He nodded but Stell didn’t think he blinked. “I’m Nahan. I’m…I’m…I’m Thomas. Tomas. Tomas is my real, you know, my real name, um, that we, you know, use here because my grandparents…that’s my name when I’m here. I mean it’s my name but I use Thomas when I’m home but here I use, you know, my name. Tomas.”
         Stell watched the words pour out of his beautiful mouth. She wanted to touch the shadows of pink that rose on his pale cheeks as he talked and talked. He said more to her in that minute than anyone had said to Stell in months.
         “I’m Stell, " she said but he seemed to want more. “All the time. I’m only ever Stell.”
         The pink on his cheeks settled into a glorious rose shade that matched the lower lip he licked. His teeth shone white as he bit into it and Stell couldn’t think of a single reason to ever look at anything else again. She watched his mouth move and waited for more words.
         “Why are you naked?”
         “My dress is in the tree.”
         “Do you want me to get it down?”

Excerpted from OURSELVES by S.G. Redling. Copyright 2015. Published By 47North. Used by permission of the publisher. Not for reprint without permission.

The Nahan 1
47North, January 27, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 334 pages

Excerpt: Ourselves by S. G. Redling
They have always been among us.

An ancient, enigmatic race, the Nahan have protected their secret world by cultivating the myths of fanged, bloodsucking monsters that haunt legends. Yet they walk through our world as our coworkers and our neighbors, hiding in plain sight and coexisting in peace. They survive…and they prosper.

A shy young dreamer, Tomas wanders through his life with help from his good friends and influential family on the ruling Council. Now, he’s decided his future lies with the Nahan’s most elite class: the mysterious Storytellers. But his family is troubled by his new choice—and by his new girlfriend, Stell, a wild, beautiful, and deadly outcast from a fanatical Nahan sect.

As Tomas descends into the dark wonders of the Nahan’s most powerful culture, Stell answers her own calling as an exceptional assassin. But when a lethal conspiracy threatens their destinies, Tomas and Stell must unite their remarkable talents against the strongest—and most sinister—of their kind.

About S. G. Redling

Excerpt: Ourselves by S. G. Redling
S. G. Redling hosted a morning radio program for fifteen years before turning to writing. A graduate of Georgetown University, she was a finalist in the 2011 Esquire Short Short Fiction Contest. She is the author of The Widow File, Redemption Key, Damocles, Flowertown, and Braid: Three Twisted Stories. She currently resides in her home state of West Virginia.

Facebook  ~  Twitter @SGRedling

Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt from The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab by R. E. Preston

Please welcome Richard Ellis Preston, Jr., writing as R. E. Preston, with the exclusive cover reveal and excerpt from his first YA novel: The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab.  The cover is by Roberto Calas who also created a map and icons that are found in the novel. We also have the first review of novel below!

Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt from  The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab by R. E. Preston

The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab introduces us to R.E. Preston’s new high-adventure, World War Two era series for young adults, written in the tradition of Young Indiana Jones and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. After being trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb, 15 year old genius Edmund Peabody teams up with Chander Peabody and Amelia Tripp to forge unlikely alliances with a beautiful reanimated mummy and a castle ghost as they attempt to prevent the Nazis from capturing a set of powerful ancient Egyptian scarabs. As England stands threatened, sandstorms rage, biplanes dive and ancient magic is invoked, new and old worlds collide and create new heroes you shall never forget.

Trinitytwo's Point of View

The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab is the first book in a promising new YA series by R. E. Preston. Set during World War 2, the protagonist, Edmund Peabody, has recently returned to England after a harrowing adventure in Egypt in which his grandfather, Colonel Percival Peabody, sought a scarab believed to possess magical properties from the tomb of princess Neferu. Their expedition encountered a team of tomb raiders led by Colonel Peabody’s arch-enemy and fellow treasure hunter, Hector Strasser, with disastrous results. Back in England, Edmund, along with his adopted brother Chander, reside in their grandfather’s castle for safekeeping while German bombers target their home city of London. Joined by Amelia Tripp, a close family friend, the trio of adventurous teens must test their courage and their wits to thwart a covert German operation while also eluding the slippery machinations of Strasser.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, especially the paranormal elements. The fictional historic setting felt authentic both in Egypt and in England. I love the fact that Colonel Peabody’s loyal staff is as diverse as it gets, adding cultural flavor to the bland English countryside. Edmund, Chander, and Amelia are a combination of likeable brainiacs and risk takers who aren’t afraid to act in the face of danger and stand up for their beliefs. There were moments when I was so wrapped up in the story that my heart raced and my fingers twitched in anticipation of turning each page. I read well past my bedtime because I just had to know what was going to happen next. Preston’s story delivers action, adventure and feats of derring do with wallops of adrenaline. The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab is a supernatural thrill fest for the younger set that combines the best elements of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

About the Author

Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt from  The League of the Sphinx: The Purple Scarab by R. E. Preston
Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. grew up in the United States and Canada but he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, met the sheep on Hadrian’s Wall, eaten at the first McDonalds in Moscow, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. The Purple Scarab is the first book in his new League of the Sphinx YA adventure series which he writes as R.E. Preston. Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War and Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether are the first three installments in his steampunk series, The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. His short story, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” is a prequel set in the same steampunk universe. He currently resides in California.

Wesbite  ~  Twitter @RichardEPreston  ~  Facebook

The Excerpt

PROLOGUE: in the valley of the kings

(9 May 1940)

        Edmund Peabody ran through the Egyptian tomb, hurtling through a darkness three thousand years old. His grandfather ran with him down the passageway. Chander, his brother, ran with him. The huge Frenchman named Lothair ran with him. Their bouncing electric torch beams cut brilliant yellow swaths back-and-forth, illuminating water-damaged pillars, walls of faded red, green and blue hieroglyphs and stacked funerary objects glimmering with ivory and gold.
        Edmund’s heart hammered inside his chest. He was afraid. What was the purpose of that? Fifteen-year-old boys weren’t supposed to be afraid of anything. Booby trap triggers—knobs of petrified wood and odd configurations of stones—laced the floor and walls, but he wasn’t afraid of those. The heavy, atrophied air threatened to suffocate him but he wasn’t afraid of that either.
        Edmund was afraid of the tomb raiders. The raiders wearing the swirling robes of the desert nomads and carrying submachine guns. And the raiders were coming.
        “Hurry, lads!” Edmund’s grandfather gasped with the honeyed accent of the British upper-cruster. “Only a few steps further! And mind where you put your feet!”
        Edmund’s electric torch light haloed in his spectacles and lit up the khaki-clad back of his grandfather, the honorable Colonel Percival Peabody, a man who had seen much of the world and fought its dragons. The Colonel’s red silk flying scarf fluttered at the edges of the light beam that jerked as Edmund ran. They all had electric torches tucked into leather hammocks on their pith helmets, a device designed by the Colonel himself for keeping the hands free during tomb exploration.
        “We’ve cleared the antechamber!” Chander yelled from behind Edmund. “Do not brush against the statues outside the burial chamber! Remember the triggers!” Lothair, the heavily-muscled Frenchman who rarely spoke—which was odd for a Frenchman— brought up the rear, gripping a large crowbar.
        Two jackal-headed statues of Anubis emerged from the void, guarding each flank of the burial chamber doorway. Their black faces were stern, their obsidian eyes furious inside teardrop swirls of blue pigment.
        “Ah! Anubis, the protector of the dead!” the Colonel cried in passing. “I fear we must violate your trust!”
        They hurried into the large rectangular burial chamber. Edmund fought off a sense of vertigo upon entering. The walls with their riots of hieroglyphs made the eyes drift, one’s balance uncertain. This sensation was offset, once inside, by the immensity of the sarcophagus, a massive block of yellow quartzite looming up from the limestone floor which anchored the space. A life-size statue of princess Neferu in a white dress and wearing a golden ankh pendant stood against the right-hand wall. The wood of the statue was old and cracked but it was still lovely.
        The Colonel scrambled around the opposite side of the sarcophagus. The quartzite glowed like liquid amber under his torch as if it were illuminated from within, the reflecting light making the Colonel’s unkempt silver eyebrows look like hawk wings. “Over here with me, lads,” he said with the authority of a man accustomed to ordering around other men. “This isn’t going to be very scientific, but it must be done. Hurry!”
        “This is grave robbing, really,” Edmund said as he shifted alongside the Colonel.
        “Emergency artifact rescue is more like it, old chap,” Chander added; Chander was probably fifteen years old—the same age as Edmund—and adopted, with the chestnut-brown skin and dark-chocolate eyes of the Himalayas. Though his frame was thin he was still considerably burlier than Edmund.
        “Ready to push on three, lads! We’ll give it the old heave-ho!” the Colonel shouted.
        Edmund pressed his hands against the smooth edge of the quartzite lid. The stone was cool to the touch. The tomb air was less oppressive than the blazing Egyptian heat outside and it thickened the sweat on his skin, adding stickiness to his shirt which was soaked through and clung to him.
        “Three, two …” the Colonel counted down rapidly.
        Lothair slipped into the narrow space between the tomb wall and the sarcophagus, his mountainous shoulder pressed up against Edmund’s narrow one. They crouched in preparation for the big push. Edmund tensed his muscles and took a deep breath, suddenly aware of the air and the last men to breathe it, the acolyte priests of the dead royal princess, Neferu. Edmund smelled traces of the fig palm unguents the priests had applied to their bald heads, the scent still clinging to the oxygen molecules.
        “One. Heave!” the Colonel shouted.
        Edmund threw every ounce of his strength against the slab. He heard the Colonel and Chander grunting. He realized that he was grunting too. The lid shuddered on its moorings but it did not give.
        “We must!” the Colonel commanded. “The outcome of the war could depend upon us opening this sarcophagus, boys! Arrrr—throw your backs into it! Heave!”
        Edmund planted his boot on the wall and pushed with such intensity that he feared his spine might snap. Beside him Lothair roared, his swarthy face puffed near to bursting, his forehead sparkling with perspiration.
        The slab shifted with a dull pop as the seal broke.
        “Aha!” the Colonel shouted. “Victory! We have it, lads! Heave! Heave! Heave!”
        Edmund pushed with new energy. The locks of dust and time, thirty centuries old, had given way. The momentum was with them. His arm muscles shook.
        The quartzite slab slid back and dropped over the opposite side of the sarcophagus, crashing to the limestone floor. The rock split with a resounding crack that left Edmund’s ears ringing.
        Everyone swung their torches into the sarcophagus. The beams revealed a large mummy case gilded with gold in the form of an Egyptian girl, her face delicate and stern, her eyes cut from crystal that danced in the light. But there was no time to admire the handiwork of the ancient coffin-makers.
        “Take hold!” the Colonel urged, reaching down. “This is an outer coffin, likely the first of two. Lift! Lift!”
        Edmund jammed his hands into the rough-edged gap. He located the seam between the top and bottom pieces of the coffin and hooked his fingers under it. Lothair angled his big black crowbar alongside, his gloved hands clamped on the stem.
        With a howl, the four raised the lid.
        Beneath, exquisite in the jerking light, emerged the second coffin. It was a masterpiece, a glittering mosaic of gilded wood inlaid with scarlet, purple, emerald-green, blue, orange, amber glass and black obsidian. Delicate fingers had created it.
        “Again!” the Colonel cried, with despair in his voice. It hurt him to mistreat such things, Edmund knew.
        Crowbar and muscle leveraged the second coffin lid up and over. The sour odor of decayed fabric and resin-oxidized human flesh burst up and assaulted the nostrils. Edmund choked. Mummy dust was suffocating. Inside lay the linen-wrapped princess, a slender, sunken and fragile form. She had one hand, the right, placed on her chest. She had small feet. But the sight which stunned Edmund was her life-size, burnished mask, a masterfully hammered golden face of unearthly female beauty inlaid with multicolored glass.
        The Colonel lifted the mask, handing it to Lothair. “We shall use this as a diversion,” the Colonel breathed. “It will work if the raiders don’t know what to look for.”
        Edmund’s torchlight fell upon the exposed face of the mummy. Its linen wrappings had partially fallen away, exposing brown-gray flesh shrunken across the skull, dark sockets curtained behind papery lids, teeth white but jagged in the leathery-bacon strips of the lips that held them to the jaw. It was ghastly, yes—but it was breathtaking.
        “Neferu …” Chander whispered, also captivated at the sight of the long-dead princess. Somehow, some way, a terrible beauty still clung to the dried-out corpse.
        There was another smell under the stink of the ancient embalming fluids and fossilized flesh; a deep, rich, drowsy smell of a flower which lingered in the nostrils. Edmund suspected it was the lotus—especially because the cartouches lining Neferu’s tomb were rich with the Nile flower hieroglyph.
        “Steady, boys.” the Colonel muttered, moving to the head of the nested coffins. “Curses! There’s no time!” He drew a knife from his belt. “Damn these wretched fools who force our hand!” He sliced the linen at Neferu’s ribcage and stripped the wrappings down to the wrists.
        Neferu’s skeletal right hand, folded on the chest, lay exposed. The finger bones stuck out of the collapsed skin and clutched a metal scarab. The metal was black but iridescent, its glossy skin a shimmering prism under the light of the torches. A lotus hieroglyph, painted in gold, showed prominently on its upper thorax. In the middle of the abdomen, glittering under the partially unfolded wings, rested a huge, sapphire-blue gemstone.
        “The scarabeus—the blue scarab of Hatshepsut!” The Colonel whispered with barely-contained awe. “Neferu holds the sacred scarab of her pharaoh mother, Hatshepsut! This is most unusual!” He tried to jiggle the scarab loose but the dead fingers held tight. “Blast it!” He sank the knife into the gap between the scarab and the mummy’s hand and tore the artifact free. “My most profound apologies, princess,” he muttered.
        “Oui, Princess, forgive us,” Lothair rumbled with his French accent, his eyes glowing green in the battery-powered light. It always startled Edmund when Lothair, the old Foreign Legionnaire, spoke, it was so rare. Lothair’s voice was deep and profound as if his throat had weighed the wisdom of his words for years before releasing them.
        “Why is she buried with her mother’s scarab?” Edmund asked quickly. “Where is her own?”
        The Colonel thoughtfully hefted the lotus scarab in his hand. “I don’t know,” he said. “It is perplexingly odd.”
        “Why are not both of her hands folded on her chest?” Chander asked. “Did one crumble away?”
        “Neferu was not a pharaoh, Chander,” the Colonel answered. “Only pharaohs had both hands crossed on the chest. She was a princess, a royal, and royalty only had one hand on the chest.” His eyes suddenly lit up. “Wait!” He dug down the side of the coffin, ripping away linen with his knife, exposing the left hand.
        A gorgeous purple stone gleamed between the yellow-white finger bones. This scarab bore another golden hieroglyph on its upper back—an ankh.
        “The purple scarab of Neferu! Two scarabs! She was entombed with two, hers and her mother’s. Never would I have suspected.” The Colonel sank his blade into the hand and pried the purple scarab loose. The dry bones of the pinky finger snapped off and fell away into the coffin, rattling down between petrified folds of linen and skin.
        “I hate this, this shredding!” the Colonel growled as he stuffed the two scarabs into his coat pockets and signaled towards the doorway. “Quickly now, lads. The enemy is upon us. We must flee. Lothair, lead the way.”
        Lothair leapt down from the sarcophagus, the beam of his electric torch advancing back through the doorway and into the pitch black corridor beyond. Edmund and Chander were immediately upon his heels. The grand gallery was long and narrow, the largest chamber in the tomb complex. They scrambled the length of it, passing funerary boats with hulls of reeds drawn from the Nile, painted figurines and stacks upon stacks of priceless treasures.
        In the anteroom doorway stood Moustapha, the Colonel’s right-hand man. A hot breeze was up, howling in through the tomb entrance, billowing the folds of Moustapha’s pale gray-yellow kaftan. Sunlight silhouetted his fluttering outline and hurt Edmund’s dark-accustomed pupils. Moustapha was a tall, lanky Egyptian with red-brown skin and sun-narrowed eyes. He and the Colonel, like most everyone else on the expedition, had a long history. Edmund didn’t like Moustapha overmuch; he was resourceful and an expert in all things ancient but he was also a little shifty. Edmund couldn’t put his finger on exactly how or why—but the man was shifty.
        “Strasser is here,” Moustapha gasped with the thick accent of the Egyptians. Sweat gleamed on his forehead and he looked as if he had just sprinted a hundred yards. Moustapha was a quiet academic sort who disliked violence but now he had a pistol clenched in his right hand.
        Edmund’s stomach muscles seized up. Strasser was the Colonel’s arch nemesis, his competitor in the race for the ancient treasures of the world. But there was more to it than just business; the Colonel and Strasser knew each other well—they had been close friends once—but something terrible had happened between them long ago and it had made Strasser dangerous.
        “Blast the mortal heel of Achilles!” the Colonel blurted. “Of course he is!”
        “We set up a roadblock but he did not come in trucks,” Moustapha said. “He has Bedouins with him. Finnegan is radioing the British outpost at Abydos. But the devils are already upon us, Colonel.”
        “Out! Out!” the Colonel shouted, planting a hand on Edmund and Chander’s backs. “And Moustapha—put that wretched revolver away!”
        Edmund removed the torch from his helmet, clicking it off before he shoved it into his pocket. The afternoon sun blinded him as he emerged from the tomb and stumbled through the digging debris in the work trench. Neferu’s golden mask gleamed with a cruel brilliance as Lothair carried it alongside. The air, harsh with the burnt-mineral odor of hot sand, boiled Edmund’s nostrils. Summer had come early to the desert this year. Early and hot. Egypt hosted only two seasons: winter and summer. Mild and murderous. Nothing in between.
        Edmund heard the grunts of nervous camels and the shouts of frightened men.
        “Strasser has brought the desert vermin with him!” Velvet Carpenter raged. Edmund, with his mostly-shut eyes, couldn’t see Velvet, though he could tell she was standing on the embankment above him on the right. Velvet was a former Army nurse and the expedition’s cataloguer. Her voice, normally birdlike and gentle as the Norfolk hills from which she hailed, was now shaking with anger. “Oh, why can’t Strasser leave us alone?”
        The Colonel grabbed Edmund and Chander each by the shoulder and spun them around. He pulled the two scarabs out of his jacket and thrust one into the palm of each boy. Blinking, Edmund peered at the sun-shimmering bulk of the Colonel: he was a small man but he was barrel-chested and ferocious. Even though he was retired from the service his clothes were military in style, all khaki, with puttees wrapped around his calves. His face was dominated by his moustache, a silver and brown masterpiece that ran from cheek-to-cheek in a well-groomed sweep that made even his prodigious eyebrows seem paltry.
        Edmund clamped his fingers around the metal scarab and its purple stone; it felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds.
        “Listen, boys. Strasser is here for the scarab, but he would expect only one.” The Colonel spoke quickly, with a dead seriousness Edmund had never witnessed before. “The burial mask will absorb his curiosity for a moment but you must keep the scarabs away from him until the Tommies get here. Now, split up and run! Run!”
        Courage swelled in Edmund’s throat. He hated intense action but he loved that feeling. “They shan’t capture both of us,” he declared.
        “By the beard of Nelson’s goat, we shall make the pharaohs proud,” Chander added.
        “Stop blabbering and run!” the Colonel gruffed, propelling the boys down the trench with a shove.
        Launched as they were, Edmund and Chander bolted, half-out-of-control over the loose rocks and gravel. They emerged from the trench onto a barren, dusty brown hillside in the Valley of the Kings. Everything in Egypt was dusty and brown. The access road was fifteen yards down the slope. Moustapha had parked the big equipment truck sideways across the middle of the track. The white canopies of the expedition’s tents crowded a shallow ravine on the left.
        “You cut right!” Edmund said. “I’ll cut left!”
        “Run fast, brother!” Chander replied. “For they shall never catch me!” Chander angled right and sprinted away.
        Edmund turned left and ran as fast as his gangly legs could carry him. Jumbled rocks littered the sand, making it difficult to find good landing points for the feet. He stumbled but caught himself, though his pith helmet fell off and bounced away with hollow thumps of cork. The only safety lay in escaping to the desert. He would cut through the encampment and vanish into the endless dunes on the other side. Bending low, he scrambled between the dust-coated supply trucks and ducked under the tethers of the supply camels who sputtered with agitation. He passed handfuls of worried-looking Egyptian diggers who peered down the road.
        Edmund reached the horses and snatched the reins of a big white Arabian, throwing himself up into the saddle. He kicked the horse and guided it between the tents towards the safety of the sand dunes.
        Someone snatched Edmund by the collar, yanking him out of the saddle. He landed on his back in the hard-packed sand and it knocked the wind out of him. He looked up to see Finnegan Baird, a blond Irishman and ex-Army private who usually smelled like whiskey. Finnegan was another member of the Colonel’s entourage from the old days.
        “No, boy!” Finnegan whispered as he dragged Edmund inside the mess tent with its lingering scent of bully beef and eggs. Finnegan dropped Edmund between the tables and crouched beside the radio set, slapping the headset on his ears and gripping the microphone.
        Edmund staggered to his feet, squeezing his hands against his bruised ribs and looking at the back tent flap—partly open, it beckoned to him.
        “Forget it, laddie. There’s a host of nomads out there,” Finnegan whispered over the crackle of static in his headgear. “Look up. They must have trekked in overland. They have us surrounded. Don’t be goin’ and gettin’ yourself shot all to pieces, there.”
        Scanning the slopes of the dunes, Edmund saw a line of white-robed Bedouins approaching. They all held submachine guns. Edmund ducked back, fright humming in his throat. He had to find a place to hide.
        “Peabody expedition, do you still read me?” a British voice filtered through the static on the radio headset.
        Finnegan turned back to the microphone. “Aye. But from the looks of things I won’t for very much longer.”
        “Fifth battalion is on its way—should be there in fifteen minutes,” the British radioman said. “Hold on as best you can until then, old boy.”
        “Holding on, aye,” Finnegan replied
        “I have to get out of here,” Edmund said.
        “What have you got there, lad?” Finnegan asked, eyeing the purple scarab clutched in Edmund’s hand.
        “It’s the artifact we came for. We can’t let Strasser have it,” Edmund answered. He saw Finnegan’s eyes flash.
        “It’ll be alright, lad,” Finnegan whispered, placing his hand on Edmund’s shoulder. “Let me ponder our situation, eh?”
        Edmund calculated that it was pointless to try to control his adrenalin—but he could try to regulate his breathing, which was coming in fits and gasps. Finnegan was many things but he wasn’t much of a thinker. Edmund would have to find his own way out of this one.
        “Give it to me,” Finnegan said, motioning for Edmund to place the scarab in his hand. “I’ll bury it under the ovens.”
        Edmund shook his head. There were better hiding places than that. Shouts boomed in the near distance, in Arabic, coming from what seemed like every direction. A raft of wind chimes hanging outside the tent jangled loudly—the Canadian cook, McVey, loved wind chimes and he had built these ones out of old copper pipes. The wind was up and the air seemed thicker, hotter, more difficult to breathe than it had been just moments before.
        Edmund plunged the scarab into his coat pocket, sinking it as deep as the folds of the fabric allowed, then buttoned the flap shut. “I’ll take care of it,” he said.
        “We are all here to take care of it, Edmund,” Finnegan urged. “Give it to me. Hurry!”
        Still, Edmund did not move. It wasn’t right. It was not about Finnegan—he had always trusted the Irishman. Somehow Edmund knew that burying the scarab would be the wrong move.
        The sounds of feet punching across sand came on, louder and louder. Crouching, Edmund saw Bedouin boots swishing along the gap between the base of the tent and the ground.
        “Edmund!” Finnegan hissed, waving his fingers. “Now, boy!”
        Edmund bolted past Finnegan and ducked out the front of the tent.
        Half-blinded by the outside light—the sky seemed like it was burning, so brightly did the clouds glow—Edmund heard shouts behind him. The voices were unfamiliar and very Arab: “Hands up, Englishman! Hands up!”
        “No reason to get your ire up there, my desert friends,” Edmund heard Finnegan reply loudly. “And I’m green-blooded Irish, by the way.”
        Edmund slipped into a narrow gap between two sleeping tents. He was hidden for the moment but it was no good. The Bedouins were everywhere, in all directions. For an instant he considered jumping on one of the camels and attempting to escape that way. Nix that. A bad-tempered, goofy-footed camel was not built as a fast-escape vehicle.
        A Bedouin, his flowing Arab robes streaked with dust, strode past the tents, passing mere inches from Edmund’s nose. Edmund froze in a crouch until the man passed. He could not stay where he was. Slowly, carefully, he crept up to the cab of the water truck, a heavy, oversized vehicle carrying a steel reservoir tank. Gently lifting the passenger-side door handle, he clambered into the cab. His canteen, sloshing loudly because it was not full, clinked against the doorframe. He shoved the canteen around on his belt and into the middle of his back. The cab was as hot as an oven. He felt his flesh start to cook as he pulled himself onto the frying-pan hot leather seat. Drawing his legs in, he nursed the door shut with a low click.
        The atmosphere was unbearable. Edmund couldn’t breathe. His lungs couldn’t draw any oxygen from the superheated air. Rotating the window handle, he rolled the squeaking window down a few inches. The wind whistled through the crack but it was just as hot as everything else. He hunched down into the grimy foot well where the air felt even hotter.
        “Keep your hands on your heads! Do not move!” a Turkish-flavored voice trumpeted outside with a nasty strain of authority.
        “I can’t very well put my hands on my hat, sir,” the Colonel answered, sounding annoyed. “Or would you prefer I drop this priceless masterpiece in the gravel?”
        Edmund raised his head, slowly, just enough to be able to see out through the dust-grimed windshield. The truck was facing the access road where dozens of Bedouins stood, white and tan robed, draped with bullet-packed bandoliers, feet planted wide as they held the reins of their camels. The white Arabian trotted around, reins trailing in the sand, but they ignored the horse.
        The Colonel, holding Neferu’s burial mask, stood before a cold-eyed Turk who looked strangely out of place in his rust-orange robes and red fez. Velvet Carpenter and Moustapha, no longer carrying the pistol, flanked the Colonel. The Egyptian workers, streams of burly fellows in long white galabiyas, were being rapidly rounded up along with the regular members of the Colonel’s staff: Gerhard Dengler, Barclay Rathbone, Orlanda Padilla, Dermot Harper, Ian McVey and the black American named Ridley Jones. They were a patchwork group from the lost generation, an unusual but tightly-knit team of Brits, ex-patriots and lost travellers.
Three Bedouins marched past Edmund’s truck, hauling Finnegan, who was still wearing the radio headset and holding the microphone, wires trailing. “This man call on radio,” one of the Bedouins shouted in rough English.
        “Unfortunate,” a voice with an Austrian accent replied. “But the difficult work has already been done for us.”
        A man in expensive black desert robes appeared, marching through the ranks of Bedouins who stepped aside obediently as he passed. Edmund hunched lower. There was something unsettling about the black-robed man, an elegantly-edged menace. He was older, perhaps close to the Colonel’s age, and he wasn’t an Arab: his handsome face was bordered with short blonde hair edged with silver-white above the ears. Strasser—it had to be Strasser. Edmund noticed that although the man walked with a fine military precision there was a glitch in his stride, a limp, a hint of unevenness in the line of his body which warped motions that should have been smooth.
        Edmund jerked. His chin had touched the metal dashboard and it was so hot it scalded him. Sweat poured into his eyes with the effect of molten lava. He was being cooked alive. A human Yorkshire pudding.
        Strasser stopped in front of the Colonel and smiled, offering his hand. “Good afternoon, Percival. It appears that we meet under strained circumstances once again.”
        The Colonel did not move to shake Strasser’s hand. “I heard that you are working for the German Army now, Oberst Strasser. I am sure you must have made quite an impression upon the Third Reich.”
        “As you did upon your Queen, Colonel Peabody,” Strasser replied, withdrawing his hand.
        The Colonel nodded, then gave Strasser a piercing look. “This is my prize, Hector. My work. You have no right to take it.”
        A smile rose on Strasser’s lips, a cruel, wounded smile. “I am a genius in many ways, Percival, as you know. At logistics. At stratagems. At chess. If you remember, you never defeated me in chess.”
        “I vaguely recall many draws,” the Colonel said.
        “But you never won, Percival. Never,” Strasser replied. “But, alas, in the end, I have proven to be a poor archaeologist and an even poorer judge of character. I am, however, a very good thief. But even in thievery you have outplayed me, for never shall I steal from you anything as precious as what you stole from me.”
        “One cannot steal what is willingly given, Hector,” the Colonel said.
        Strasser’s eyes flashed. “Enough idle chatter. What have you so kindly dug up for me here in the Valley of the Kings?”
        “By the rules of the Gladstone International Antiquities Agreement, what I have found here belongs to myself, the Egyptian Government and the British Museum.” The Colonel said.
        “Rules?” Strasser laughed. “There are no rules in war, Percival. In war, the strong take from the weak. Please do not test me. You know that would go badly for you and your associates.” He thrust his hand out again, palm up. “Since you managed to radio the British at Abydos, I must assume that I have very little time. Ten minutes, perhaps.”
        The Colonel displayed the mask. “We have this, a burial mask of gold. The tomb is royal, but not of a pharaoh. We have yet to discover a name. Sadly, ancient grave robbers stripped most of the precious items in antiquity. Unfortunate in many ways.” He offered the mask to Strasser. “I presume you wish to add this to the Gestapo’s collection?”
        Strasser grinned. “Really, Percival? The robbers took everything and left the mask behind? I am surprised you have so little faith in me. This is the tomb of Neferu. I must congratulate you on finding it since it has eluded us all for so long. But, as I said, you were always a far more talented archaeologist than I.” His face shifted to sternness. “Where is the scarab?”
        The Colonel shook his head. “There is no scarab, Hector. This is not the tomb of a pharaoh.”
        Edmund saw Chander being led onto the road, a Bedouin hauling him along by the collar of his jacket. Edmund gasped, covering his mouth with the cuff of his sleeve. The Bedouin held Hatshepsut’s blue scarab in his free hand.
        Edmund’s tongue was now muffled with dust. His sleeve had been coated with sand. But he had no way to spit it out. His saliva had evaporated.
        “Ah!” Strasser enthused. “Using your grandsons as runners, Percival? That could prove a dangerous tactic, for them.” The Bedouin handed the blue scarab to Strasser, who scrutinized it with the eye of a jeweler. “The lotus scarab of Hatshepsut,” he said. “Glorious.”
        “You have what you came for, Hector,” the Colonel said, his face fallen. “Now take your thieves and go. After all, the British are coming.”
        “Where is the other one?” Strasser snapped.
        The Colonel raised an eyebrow. “What other one? You have the only one.”
        “Quit stalling, Percival. You were always a pathetic liar. It is unusual that Neferu would be buried with her mother’s scarab but surely Neferu was also buried with her own. Where is it?”
        “There was only one,” the Colonel answered.
        Dark fury flashed in Strasser’s eyes. “Do not play me for the fool, Percival! You did once and I shall never allow it again!” He spun on his heel, raising his hand as he shouted to his men. “There is another scarab! Find the other boy! Find him and bring him to me! Tear the camp apart! Quickly!”
        The small army of Bedouin—there must have been at least fifty of them—scattered immediately, swarming through the camp. Edmund hunched low in the foot well but there were too many gangly parts of him to hide properly there. The space stank of old leather shoes and petrol. A crusty blob lay in the accumulated sand, the remains of what might have once been a sausage sandwich.
        A tall Bedouin strode past, glancing at the dust-caked window, but he did not see Edmund.
        The cogs and gears in Edmund’s brain whirled. If he opened the door and ran he would most surely be caught. If he remained where he was they would find him or he would bake like a bespectacled muffin. Something brushed his head with a jingle. Looking up, he saw a set of keys dangling in the ignition.
        Edmund swung up into the driver’s seat. Keeping his head low, he eased the cranky emergency brake lever down.
        The Bedouins were all over the camp, ghostly robed forms passing the dirty windows, shouting as they knocked over stacked crates and ripped the fabric tents apart. Edmund tried to swallow but managed nothing more than a cough. There was no moisture left in his throat. He shoved the gear shift into neutral, jammed the clutch down with his left foot, turned the keys in the ignition and stomped on the gas pedal. The engine roared to life with a shuddering growl. It backfired, which surely gave the Bedouins a bit of a start.
        The fat was in the fire now.
        Sweat poured into Edmund’s eyes. With one hand on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, he slapped the stick into first gear and eased his foot up and off the clutch.
        The water truck lunged forward, tires whizzing in the sand, engine screaming at a high pitch as if everything was spinning at the wrong revolution. Bouncing up and down and back and forth, Edmund could barely keep a grip on the wheel. The lurch flung him forward so hard that his head hit the roof.
        The Bedouins shouted, charging the truck, pointing their gun muzzles. Edmund stomped on the clutch and threw the truck into second gear. The big vehicle accelerated, back end weaving, its tires throwing waves of gravel in every direction. Edmund worried that he had not locked the doors—the passenger side window was rolled down, for mercy’s sake—but there was nothing for it now.
        The truck barreled straight down the middle of the access road. Edmund saw Bedouins and Egyptian workers diving away. He stood on the gas pedal. He couldn’t breathe.
        “The lad!” Edmund heard Strasser bellow. “The other lad is in the truck!”
        Edmund saw a rapid succession of flashes in front of him. A line of holes ripped high across the windshield from right to left. The glass collapsed in a wave of shards. Double drat, Edmund thought, hunching low. The Bedouins, armed to the teeth, would now turn the truck—and him—into Swiss cheese. He was suddenly all wet. The bullets had broken the rear window of the cab and punctured the reservoir tank behind; streams of hot water gushed down upon him as if he were sitting in a fountain.
        Outside, Strasser screamed. “No shooting! I want the young fool alive! Bring him to me alive!”
        Edmund pushed the gear stick into third. The truck bounced and rattled, angry at his poor handling of the clutch. Edmund lifted his head. He was about to crash into the side of the equipment truck which still blocked the road. He spun the wheel to the left, aiming for the gap between the rear of the equipment truck and the access road embankment. The gap was not quite big enough. The front right corner of the water truck slammed into the tail end of the equipment truck, launching it sideways in a shower of flying crates and shovels.
        The hood of the water truck popped and flipped up. Now Edmund could not see anything but metal.
        Thrown forward, Edmund hauled himself back into his seat. For all of the fishtailing and bumping into things, the truck was moving faster now. He hunched down so he could see through the gap between the hood and the windshield frame and swung the truck back onto the road. Fourth gear took up him to a higher speed. He rejoiced at the prospect of escape—but his hope was instantly dashed.
        Hurtling around a bend in the track, Edmund saw a line of Bedouins on camels and—far more disconcerting—two old trucks with mounted machine guns, blocking the only road out of the Valley of the Kings. The machine guns, old water-cooled relics from the Great War, swung towards him.
        In that instant the world felt all wrong to Edmund. It was midday but the sky was strangely dark. The air was too dense, too overheated. But he had no time to do more than instinctively sense these things. He hit the brake and wound the wheel. The water truck staggered and wheezed. He managed to depress the clutch pedal just before the engine cut out. He pulled the gear back into its first position and slowly turned the truck around, accelerating back up the road. Peering into the rear view mirror, he saw that the Bedouins were not chasing him.
        His first escape attempt thwarted, Edmund formulated another plan. He would blow through the encampment and race out into the desert—there were several gullies on the outskirts wide and smooth enough to accommodate the truck—and he would escape into the waste. He did have some water in his canteen and a compass in his pocket. The truck wouldn’t make it far over the rough terrain but he figured he could abandon it and trek back once the British soldiers had arrived.
        Edmund was now waist deep in water—the streams from the bullet-riddled tank were pouring in relentlessly. He pressed the submerged accelerator to the floor and took a firm grip on the wheel as he raced back towards the equipment truck, which was now blocking the way diagonally. He hugged the left side of the track, so close to the boulders of the steep embankment that he scraped off the left side view mirror and the wooden runner panel. Bedouins and Egyptians, howling, scattered again.
         Suddenly Edmund couldn’t see anything. The world disappeared in a tidal wave of orange-black sand. Sandstorm. Europeans called it the sirocco but to the Egyptians it was the khamsin. Bouncing along at fifty kilometers an hour, Edmund shouted—he did not even know what he shouted—and glimpsed the shadow of the equipment truck as he rocketed past it
         Edmund cleared the gap. But then he lost control of everything. Thundering into stacks of digging debris, the truck’s wheels lost traction. The vehicle skidded to the left and launched into a teeth-rattling spin. The steering wheel wrenched out of his hands and nearly broke off his thumbs in the process. Outside, through the roar of the torrent, he heard the snapping of wood and rope. Tent fabric ripped away across the open windshield. Sand whipped in as if driven by a lash, stinging his face and eyes. Water surged around him, almost up to the top of the dashboard.
         Just grand, Edmund thought. Buried at sea in a desert.
         The truck righted itself for an instant, then veered right and slammed into a wall of rock. Edmund banged his forehead on the steering wheel. The door popped open and Edmund fell out in a great cascade of water. The rocky ground hit him hard. He lay stunned, half-drowned, half-sand choked, battling to regain his senses in the murk. The air was fire, slashing his face, incinerating his lungs. He pressed his fingers against his aching forehead and they came back dark, coated with something redder and thicker than water.
         Snap out of it, Edmund! A voice shouted from the fog inside his head. He forced himself up on his hands and knees.
         A camel emerged from the sandstorm, bawling, its eyelids encrusted with sand. It passed Edmund as if in slow motion, an apparition, a galumphing monster trailing its loose tethering ropes. And then it vanished, swallowed up in the churn.
         Edmund crouched, trying to shield his eyes with the collar of his shirt. He had to get to cover. The blasting sand could rip a man’s skin away from his bones, given the opportunity. He saw a dark rectangle not far on his right; he was sitting at the mouth of the trench leading into Neferu’s tomb.
         A line of hooded figures, goggled and wrapped in Arab robes, slowly emerged from the storm. Strasser appeared at the head of the group, his black robes rippling about him.
         “There he is!” Strasser shouted. “Half-drowned in the desert, lad? There’s a pill for you. Spit the water out of your lungs and hand over the scarab!”
         Edmund staggered to his feet. He could barely see. The sand burned his eyes. Hot coals seared his lungs. His limbs felt heavy, soaked, saturated. His boots were full of water and they sloshed. Someone grabbed his arm. It was the Turk, looming out of the swirling sand.
         Edmund spun and, with all of his might, punched the man in the stomach. The Turk doubled over. Edmund tore free of his grasp and ran down the trench, straight into the tomb of Neferu.
         “Get him!” Strasser howled. “Now!”
         The air inside the tomb was cool and clear. Edmund gasped, violently sucking in oxygen, expelling puffs of sand in deep, agonizing, bronchial coughs. It was dark and he staggered, careening off of the wall. He couldn’t see. He groped at his glasses, wiping gluey wet sand from the lenses.
         Strasser and the Bedouins were right behind him. But they would be slow, unfamiliar with the tomb. They had him trapped like a rat in a hole, yes, but they didn’t have much time.
         Plunging into the black tunnel of the grand gallery, Edmund snatched his electric torch out of his pocket and snapped it on. He was lucky it still worked after being doused in water.
         “Hand it over, Edmund Peabody!” Strasser shouted from the entranceway. “You are finished!”
         Edmund ran, following his light beam down the treasure-strewn corridor. He stomped the booby trap triggers—the wooden posts and slotted stones his grandfather had identified in the floor—and they pulverized under his boots.
         Edmund hoped that the booby traps still worked.
         They still did, and very well.
         Gigantic blocks of granite dropped from the ceiling. Moving as fast as he could, Edmund cleared the last one by a hair. The blocks crashed to the floor, displacing huge blasts of air that launched Edmund deeper and deeper into the depths of the tomb.
         Deafened, running headlong with only his slashing torchlight beam to see with, Edmund watched the floor stones fall away ahead of him, creating a pit ten feet across. He timed his jump and launched himself up and over the trap. He made it, landing on the other side and rolling through the burial chamber doorway just before another massive slab dropped, blocking the passageway in twenty-ton thump of limestone.
         Edmund rolled across the floor and sprawled against a big piece of the sarcophagus lid. Choking, he fought to breathe. The ancient traps had lifted an immeasurable amount of dust into the air. He pressed his hands to his face, which was coated with gooey blood and sweat-caked sand. Every muscle and bone ached. Fire burned in his eyes, the swollen lids taking on the quality of sandpaper when he blinked.
         His electric torch had rolled free of his grip and lay on the floor. The beam pointed at the white base of the wall where millions of dust motes floated in its glow, reflecting the light. Edmund lay still, fighting panic, waiting until the air settled and he was able to breathe again. Things were blurry. He realized that he had lost his spectacles. Clawing around in the dark, his hands brushing the sand-coated floor, he found the glasses only a few feet to his left. He placed them on his nose and the frame’s familiar pinch gave him a sense of encouragement. The left lens was cracked like a spider web but he could still see through it fairly well.
         Suddenly, Edmund was fearful that he had lost the purple scarab. There didn’t seem to be enough weight in his pocket. He patted it and felt no lump. Quickly he unbuttoned the flap and dug his hand in. He felt the cool metal and stone and relief washed over him. He drew the artifact out and looked at it, the purple gem and its golden ankh shivering in the light.
         The purple scarab of Neferu was saved, Edmund rejoiced. And he was alive. But he was trapped, trapped in an ancient tomb, breathing air forgotten by both sun and time, sealed in by tons of limestone and granite. But he had saved the Scarab of Neferu. With the British soldiers on their way, Strasser and his goons would have to now retreat and be satisfied with Hatshepsut’s scarab. It would then be up to the Colonel and his team, surely with the help of the Tommies, to dig Edmund and Neferu’s scarab out of their grave. Even with the soldiers’ help it would probably take some time to crack the tomb. The scarab, old and patient, could wait forever. Edmund would only last until the air ran out or he died of thirst.
         Edmund reached behind his back and unclipped his canteen. He shook it under his nose, the hollow gurgle of the water within reporting that it was about half full. He desperately wanted to drink it all, to soothe his parched throat and flush his hurting eyes, but he restrained himself.
         The electric torch flickered. Edmund tensed. Was the battery that low? Would he be plunged into utter darkness so soon? The torch flickered again.
         Curses, Edmund thought.
         A sharp pain struck Edmund’s right hand, a raking slash. He croaked and dropped the scarab. Lifting his hand in the weak light, he saw a set of deep red cuts across the palm —seven of them—running with blood. He heard something skitter across the floor. It took him a moment to realize what it was. It was the scarab, running like a living beetle, the purple stone on its back eerily reflecting the torch light.
         Edmund dropped the canteen. It hit the limestone floor with a half-hollow clunk. The scarab was made of metal—it was impossible for it to crawl. This was not science. This was not real. He was half-suffocated. It was logical that he might be hallucinating.
         But it felt real. A shivering knot rose in his throat.
         The electric torch died. Utter blackness. The sounds of the scarab moving continued, the metal legs clicking across the dusty stones. The purple jewel on its back began to glow.
         Edmund shook so hard he couldn’t breathe. The scarab sped up the side of the sarcophagus and disappeared over the edge.
         Edmund went still, as still as the tomb around him. He could hear his heart hammering. The electric torch fluttered awake, the battery at its last gasp. His hand hurt terribly and he gripped it at the wrist, which somehow eased the pain a little.
         Edmund heard the rustle of brittle, crumpling linen as something moved. There was also another sound, like the twisting of old, sunburnt leather.
         In that moment Edmund realized.
         The mummy had just sat up.

Excerpt from The Alliance by Shannon Stoker - December 16, 2014

Please welcome Shannon Stoker to The Qwillery with an excerpt from The Alliance, which was published on September 2nd by William Morrow Paperbacks.

Excerpt from The Alliance by Shannon Stoker - December 16, 2014

Chapter 1: The Alliance

Our enemy has been defeated and I am eager to return home. It has been three months since I have heard from Wallace and I hope he still wants to marry me when I arrive. I know he was scared about his fiancée heading to war, but once he sees my face I am certain all the old feelings will come flooding back.

—The diary of Megan Jean

Lightning crashed and Mia slid along the floor of the boat, clawing at the floorboards, hoping to stop herself from slamming into the opposite side of the hull. Her efforts did little good and she braced for impact. Pain exploded through her right arm, but immediately the ship straightened itself out again and Mia landed on her left side with a thud.

They had told her to stay down here for her safety, but she wasn’t doing a very good job of protecting herself from the effects of the storm. Another boom sounded from above and Mia couldn’t take her feelings of helplessness any longer.

She forced herself off the ground and headed toward the small set of stairs that led up to the deck. The boat continued to wobble, but she made her way to the railing and gripped it tight. Filled with resolve, Mia did the only thing she’d been instructed not to: she climbed the stairs and reached for the handle, determined to offer her help in saving the ship and the rest of the crew from the storm.

Little effort was needed to open the door. The wind pulled it and it started to drag Mia out of the cabin. She saw a wave crash against the deck and water rush at her feet. Not that the excess water would make much of a difference; the rain was coming down fast and Mia’s face felt like it was being pelted with pebbles instead of drops.

She saw several people trying to reinforce tarps over the center of the deck. Mia forced the door closed behind her and went toward them. She recognized Andrew. He was bent over, holding the tarp in place. She leaned down next to him.

“I want to help,” she yelled over the roaring storm.

He moved his head toward her and even in the dark she could recognize the anger on his face.

“What are you doing out here?” he yelled. “Go back under.”

He pointed toward the door Mia had just come through. She shook her head.

“I can help,” she said.

She reached down and grabbed the tarp from his hand. Another loud clap of thunder went off and Mia looked up just in time to see a wall of water ready to drop onto the deck. She raised her hands to protect her head and felt Andrew grab a hold of her wrist. The water hit and Mia fell back onto the wood. It felt like she was underwater and her body was being dragged away. Andrew tightened his grip and Mia was certain they were going overboard with the wave as it pulled back.

Suddenly they stopped moving. She wasn’t sure which direction was up but if Andrew let go Mia thought she’d never see the surface again. The water rushed away and Mia felt its pull on her weaken. She opened her eyes and gasped for air. The boat was upright again and Mia was dangling off the side, hanging from Andrew’s arms.

Mia tried to keep her grip on Andrew’s forearm, but he completely let go of her. Her skin was too wet, she was sliding down. She raised her eyes and tried to get Andrew to give her his free hand. She continued to grab at Andrew with her other hand, but he didn’t return her gesture. He looked down at her. His face wasn’t the bundle of nerves she expected. Instead his brown eyes held a vacant stare. In her confusion Mia let herself slip down. Her arms flailed in the air, but it was no use. She braced herself for the impact of the ice-cold water.

The cold water never came. Mia’s eyes flashed open as she sucked in a large breath. She started to cough since her inhalation of air came as too much of a shock to her system. Mia felt a hand patting her back, trying to help her with the coughs. She turned, expecting to see Andrew, but instead Zack was behind her, handing over a bottle of water.

“Where’s Andrew?” Mia asked.

She appreciated Zack’s presence. The tall, blond man had proved himself a worthy ally during Mia’s time with Affinity. She remembered when she first arrived in Guatemala at one of Affinity’s bases. It had looked so quaint and rustic, but appearances were deceiving and Mia quickly realized the group had an arsenal of electronics and people behind it. Before becoming acquainted with Affinity Mia never would have thought stopping the Registry possible, but that was the group’s core mission. Mia was proud to call herself a member and work toward that very goal.

She looked out the window at the small airstrip. She was three hours from Affinity’s base but knew she would soon be farther than that when she arrived in France.

“He’s loading the plane,” Zack said. “I convinced him to let you sleep some more.”

“I can’t believe I fell asleep,” Mia said.

The group had left the Affinity base at three a.m. They’d traveled south to the nearest airport, about three hours away. Even though that had interrupted Mia’s normal sleep schedule she’d thought her nerves were too rattled to rest.

“I was hoping we’d have some time to talk before we left,” Zack said.

Mia nodded. Zack had been born and raised in Affinity, while Mia had only been a member for a few weeks. Her time with the rebel group had been spent preparing for this mission, the only mission that mattered to Mia: infiltrating America and stopping the Registry and mandatory service.

The Alliance
Registry 3
William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Excerpt from The Alliance by Shannon Stoker - December 16, 2014
To overthrow a brutal dictator and free her country, a brave young woman will risk her life and liberty to spark a revolution in this explosive final installment in Shannon Stoker’s electrifying Registry trilogy.

Mia Morrissey fled to Mexico to escape the government marrying her to someone she did not love. Now, she’s going risk everything so that the rest of America can be free.

Going undercover as part of a diplomatic mission, Mia returns to America. But life there is more dangerous than ever as the walls grow ever taller, and the forgotten country faces its most ruthless leader yet, Grant Marsden . . . a shadow from Mia’s past. With the help of Andrew, Carter, and other members of the subversive group Affinity, she embarks on a perilous journey to defeat Grant, bring down the government, and destroy the Registry once and for all.

When a terrible betrayal exposes the operation, Mia discovers that her enemies have used her—and so have her friends. Alone and frightened, she’s uncertain who to trust—or whether the mission is worth what she’s sacrificing.

With the fate of her friends and the future of her country on the line, Mia knows that her next step may be the last for her . . . and America.

About Shannon

Excerpt from The Alliance by Shannon Stoker - December 16, 2014
Photo by Natasha Maczko
Shannon Stoker lives in DeKalb, IL. She received her undergraduate and law degree from Northern Illinois University where she now works as the Research Integrity Coordinator. It's not a stretch to say she's a die-hard Huskie fan!

When she's not working or writing Shannon spends the majority of her time playing with her terrier mix Nucky or her husband.

She loves watching horror movies, including those straight to DVD classics most people never heard of. If she wasn't an attorney or an author she would have been a beautician and is constantly bugging her friends to come over and let Shannon play with their hair.

Website  ~  Twitter @ShannonRStoker  ~  Facebook  ~  Goodreads

Excerpt from Tinkermage by Kenny Soward - December 4, 2014

Please welcome Kenny Soward to The Qwillery with an excerpt from Tinkermage. In this excerpt we are introduced to Stena Wavebreaker. Tinkermage, the second book in the GnomeSaga, was published on December 1st by Ragnarok Publications.

Excerpt from Tinkermage by Kenny Soward - December 4, 2014

        Stena Wavebreaker came from a long line of strong-backed sailors, all who’d mysteriously taken up the seafaring trade some two-hundred years ago. Their original family surname had been purposefully forgotten and the Wavebreaker Shipping Company established. A passion for the sea drove them to dangerous waters, bravely delivering cargo where no others would dare, taking on pirate ships with gleeful hostility. Reckless, no. Tough as twice-hardened gnomish steel, yes.
        Stena had been a fixture on gnomish vessels for almost forty years, known by everyone for her less than gentle ways yet still loved by her crews. If you wanted cargo delivered to the Drake Islands or around the coast to the dwarvish stronghold of Olrad, you hired Stena Wavebreaker.
        But an airship captain?
        The clouds kissed her face with cold mist as she stood on the forward navigation deck of her most recent commission, a nameless vessel pieced together and re-thaumaturged into something that might (or might not) stay in the sky. Granted, she fought hard to stay airborne. The port and starboard fans, mounted on swivels four to a side, were locked vertically to support the main aft propeller, driving the airship forward as fast as they dared, although Stena could tell by the low whine of the engine they could do better yet. Rune-etched wood made up the ship’s hull and deck frames. Tethered above was the large, bulging air bladder comprised of several smaller air sacs, all of which fit into a skin framed by metal and wood. They swung beneath it like some maniacal pendulum.
        Stena put her boot into one of the many rope anchors in place across the deck as the vessel heaved up against a wall of wind, tilted at a precarious angle, threatening to roll her down the deck. She’d been trying to read a map and resisted the urge to toss it aside and clutch an anchor rope.
        No. She must exude utter confidence, unwavering fortitude, and insurmountable strength. She couldn’t show one sign of ground-kisser’s weakness. Her foot tightened beneath the ankle rope, muscles straining taut up through her leg. Her eyes fixed on the flag of Hightower fluttering from a pole near the prow. A white cog on a field of blue. Her heart swelled with pride at the sight of it even as she gritted her teeth from the ship’s billowing.
        Just like the surge of waves below your feet, Stena!
        The crew of four followed her lead, anchoring themselves while continuing to go about their business with cool efficiency. Levers flipped, shouts rang out, and water surged through pressure lines. The engines whined with increasing effort as the gnomish crew steered the vessel up the wave of wind.
        She called out with a boom, “Hang tight and steer her right, good gnomes!”
        The wind ate her words, and she repeated herself loud enough to be heard, squinted against a fierce pelt of rain, and willed her crew onward. The only one among them not part of her crew was the linguist, Bertrand, who Dale had assigned at the last minute to help communicate with the swamp elves when the time came. Yes, the swamp elves. Who knew if they still existed? Stena and her crew were to find out, and they would depend on the linguist to keep them alive. Right now, Bert was below with the cargo, undoubtedly hanging on for dear life with a bucket on hand in the event his dinner came up.
        At the crest, the ship hitched and evened out. Stena relaxed. She knew it wouldn’t last though. Soon, there’d be another brutal wave of wind to batter them in some unexpected direction. Being on a stormy sea was smooth as a baby’s bottom compared to this. Her crew was just too new, too green.
        “Maintain altitude,” Stena shouted. “The first of you who figures out how to keep this bucket of slop from rolling on its head gets an extra fill from the cask.”
        Stena secured the map to the controller’s table with corner clasps. She pushed a shock of blondish-gray hair back into her fur-lined hood and studied the markings and intersecting lines of their course, looking for any piece of land they might have missed.
        As directed by Precisor General Dale Dillwind some days ago, they’d flown back and forth across the lands south of Hightower, through clouds and gray skies, gazing down like gods upon the hills, forests, and streams. West across the Southland Farms where barns and homesteads looked like tiny, rust-colored boxes all the way to the Western Pass, then back east again over Swicki Forest and what had once been Dowelville. Stena had directed them to fly low over the newly charred Harwood Lake, marveling at the massive carcass of the mother amorph being hacked to pieces for disposal by gnomish workers. Stena had attached a note with their current report to a ship weight and dropped it down to the officers directing the cleanup crew. One officer had gone to it and waved up at them.
        It was then that Stena realized the importance of their mission and Dale’s genius in sending the airships to the sky in the first place. Hightower hadn’t been threatened by outsiders in almost two hundred years, yet the precisor general had taken it upon himself to shake this sleepy town awake. He’d launched a half dozen ships to the far corners of Sullenor to seek help from races they’d not had contact with for decades, centuries even. Stena’s mission was the hardest, by far, and she would do everything she could to be his eyes and ears in the sky. While she was confident in their mission, she was also one hundred percent positive it was a fruitless task. Unlike most Hightower gnomes, she had great experience with the outside world, and that world had very little time for her folk and their problems.
        Which only made Stena want to succeed even more.
        “Lins! What’s wrong with the prow? It’s bending to this wind like a beat dog. Is it sad? Is this damnable boat sad? If I find myself staring at the ground one more time, I’m throwing you off this deck. Now, right the ship!”
        “Aye, Captain!” came Linsey’s reply. As if to prove her competence, the port and starboard blades shifted, engine noise rising, and the prow nosed up at the moon.
        Yes, they’d stay afloat if it damn well killed her.

GnomeSaga 2
Ragnarok Publications, December 1, 2014
eBook, 320 pages
Cover by Arman Akopian

Excerpt from Tinkermage by Kenny Soward - December 4, 2014
THE ENEMY EXPOSED. Nikselpik Nur has become the city of Hightower’s staunchest—albeit unwilling—ally. He’s hardly learned to cope with his debilitating bugging addiction, much less take on the duties of being the city’s First Wizard. Can he embrace this new path? And will he?

Meanwhile, Stena Wavebreaker is pulled from her seafaring duties by the Precisor General and given command of a raggedy airship to scout the ultraworldly enemy from the perilous skies above the Southern Reaches. Her mission: gain the support of the unpredictable ‘swamp elves,’ the Giyipcias.

Lastly, Niksabella Nur has set off from Hightower at the behest of the grim stonekin leader, Jontuk. The gnomestress must unlock the full potential of her invention, the recursive mirror, and her own powers, to bear what might be the heaviest burden of all. What will she discover along the way? And will Jontuk be able to keep her alive long enough to save them all?

This is GnomeSaga Book Two.

A full-color PDF map of Sullenor, the GnomeSaga setting, is available to download here at Ragnarok Publications.


Rough Magick
GnomeSaga 1
Ragnarok Publications, October 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
Cover by Arman Akopian

Excerpt from Tinkermage by Kenny Soward - December 4, 2014
NIKSABELLA the gnome has tinkered in the shadows for years, developing an invention that might change the world—even if she doesn’t know it. She has few friends and even fewer allies in Hightower, where social and academic status is crucial.

Her brother, NIKSELPIK, is an obstinate wizard who drinks heavily, sings dirty songs, and makes unmannerly passes at gnomestresses. A dark addiction consumes him, giving him increased power while also pushing him closer to death.

Dark, otherworldy creatures, foreign to the lands of SULLENOR, have suddenly appeared, making chaos wherever they go. In the wake of this, Niksabella must fight to protect her life and her invention, while Nikselpik engages the enemy as an unlikely counselor to Hightower’s military elite.< Will the gnomish siblings find their true powers together, or perish apart? And will they overcome the wounds of their childhood before it's too late?

About Kenny

Excerpt from Tinkermage by Kenny Soward - December 4, 2014
Kenny Soward grew up in Crescent Park, Kentucky, a small suburb just south of Cincinnati, Ohio, listening to hard rock and playing outdoors. In those quiet 1970's streets, he jumped bikes, played Nerf football, and acquired many a childhood scar.

Kenny's love for books flourished early, a habit passed down to him by his uncles. He burned through his grade school library, and in high school spent many days in detention for reading fantasy fiction during class.

The transition to author was a natural one for Kenny. His sixth grade teacher encouraged him to start a journal, and he later began jotting down pieces of stories, mostly the outcomes of D&D gaming sessions. At the University of Kentucky, Kenny took creative writing classes under Gurny Norman, former Kentucky Poet Laureate and author of Divine Rights Trip (1971).

Kenny's latest releases are ROUGH MAGIC (GnomeSaga #1) and THOSE POOR, POOR BASTARDS (Dead West #1) with Tim Marquitz and J.M. Martin.

By day, Kenny works as a Unix professional, and at night he writes and sips bourbon. Kenny lives in Independence, Kentucky, with three cats and a gal who thinks she's a cat.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @kennysoward

Excerpt from Proxima by Stephen Baxter

The Qwillery is thrilled to share an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 1 of Proxima by Stephen Baxter. Proxima will be published on November 4, 2014 by Roc.

Excerpt from Proxima by Stephen Baxter


I’m back on Earth.
      That was Yuri’s very first thought, on waking in a bed: a hard bed, stiff mattress and lightweight sheets and blankets, but a bed nonetheless, not a barrack bunk stacked four high in a dome on Mars.
      He opened his eyes to bright light, from fluorescent bars on the walls. A clean-looking ceiling. People moving around him wearing green shirts and hygiene caps and masks, a low murmur of competent voices, machines that bleeped and chimed. Other beds, other patients. A classic hospital setup. He saw all this in his peripheral vision; he hadn’t turned his head yet, he felt so heavy.
      The last thing he remembered was the needle jabbed into his neck by that asshole Peacekeeper Tollemache. He had no idea how long he’d been out— months, if he’d been shipped back to Earth— and he remembered from his recovery after his decades in the cryo that it paid to take care on waking.
      But he knew he was on Earth. He could feel it in his bones. Yuri had been born on Earth in the year 2067, nearly a hundred years ago, and, dozing in a cryo tank, had missed mankind’s heroic expansion out into the solar system. He had woken up in a colony on what he had learned, gradually, was Mars. But now, after another compulsory sleep, this was different again. He risked lifting his hand. The muscles in his arm ached, just doing that, and he felt tubes dragging at him as he moved, and the hand fell back with a satisfyingly heavy thump. Beautiful Earth gravity, not that neither-one-thing-nor-the-other floaty stuff on Mars. It could only be Earth, home.
      He had a million questions. Such as, where on Earth? Why had he been sent back instead of being left to rot on Mars? And what kind of institution was he in now, what kind of prison this time? But not having answers didn’t bother him. He’d had very few answers about anything since waking up on Mars, and besides he hadn’t cared enough to ask. The worst kind of cage on Earth, and no matter how much the place had changed since he’d gone into the cryo tank, was better than the finest luxury you could find on Mars. Because on Earth you could always just open the door and breathe the air, even if it was an overheated polluted soup, and just keep on walking, forever . . .
      He closed his eyes.
      “Rise and shine, sleepy head.”
      There was a face looming over him, a woman, black, wearing a green shirt with a name tag he couldn’t read, her hair tucked into a green cloth cap. She wasn’t wearing a mask, and she smiled at him. She looked tired.
      He tried to speak. His mouth was dry, and his tongue stuck painfully to the roof of his mouth. “I . . . I . . .”
      “Here. Have a sip of water.” She held a nippled bottle, like a baby’s, for him. The water was warm and stale. She seemed to be having trouble holding up the bottle, like she was weak herself. “Do you know your name?” She glanced at the foot of the bed. “Yuri Eden. That’s all we have for you. No recorded next of kin. Is that right?”
      He just shrugged, a tentative movement, flat on his back.
      She looked him over, peered into his eyes, checked some kind of monitor beside the bed. “My name is Dr. Poinar. I’m ISF, I have a crew rank but you can call me Doctor. You’ve taken your time coming out of the induced coma the Peacekeepers put you into. Still, it was easier to ship you through the launch that way. More than half the crew dreamed it all away, in fact. I’m going to see if I can sit you up. OK?” She pressed a button.
      With a whir of servos the back of his bed began to tip up, lifting him, bending him at the waist. He felt weak, and his head was like a tub of sloshing liquid. The ward grayed around him. He felt a crawling sensation in his right arm, some kind of fluid being pumped into him.
      Dr. Poinar watched him carefully. “You OK? All right. Here’s the five-second briefing— you’ll be put through a proper induction process later, everybody’s going through that in stages, classroom stuff and data access first while you get your strength back, then physical work later, including your share of maintenance chores.” She glanced at his notes.
“More of that if you end up on a punishment detail, and looking at your record that seems more than likely. But the priority for you is reconditioning. Your body needs to relearn how to handle full gravity. The nerve receptors that handle your posture, positioning and movement are all baffled right now. Your inner ear doesn’t know what the hell’s going on. Your fluid balance is all wrong, and you’re going to have low blood pressure symptoms for a while. Here, drink this.”
      She handed him another flask, and this time he took it for himself. It was a briny fluid that made him splutter.
      “You’ll get courses of injections to rectify your bone calcium loss, and such. And physio to build up your muscle strength and bone mass. Do not skip those. Oh, and your immune system will be hit. Every virus everybody brought into this hull has been running around like crazy; you’ll have a few weeks of fun with that. Later on there will be further medical programs, pre-adaptation for Prox, preventive surgery of various kinds.” She grinned, faintly cruelly. “How are your teeth? But that won’t be for another year or more.”
      A baby started to cry, not far away.
      Dr. Poinar asked, “Any questions? Oh, I’m sure there are masses. Just use your common sense. For now just sit there and let the dizziness pass. Don’t lie down again. I’ll come by later and see if you can take some solid food. And watch out for the catheter, the nurse will remove that later. Take it easy, Yuri Eden.” She walked out of his view.

Roc, November 4, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 480 pages

Excerpt from Proxima by Stephen Baxter
Lauded as “the natural heir to the hard-sci-fi crown of Arthur C. Clarke" (The Daily Telegraph, UK), Stephen Baxter delivers an unforgettable novel of an extraordinary world—and its untamed landscape....

Mankind’s future in this galaxy could be all but infinite....

There are hundreds of billions of red dwarf stars, lasting trillions of years—and their planets can be habitable for humans. Such is the world of Proxima Centauri. And its promise could mean the never-ending existence of humanity.

But first it must be colonized, and no one wants to be a settler. There is no glamor that accompanies it, like being the first man on the moon, nor is there the ease of becoming a citizen of an already-tamed world. There is only hardship...loneliness...emptiness.

But that’s where Yuri comes in. Because sometimes exploration isn’t voluntary. It must be coerced....

Excerpt: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann

Please welcome Nicholas Kaufmann to The Qwillery with an excerpt from Die and Stay Dead, the sequel to the fabulous Dying is My Business.

Excerpt: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann

Excerpt of Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann © 2014

         There was nothing in the world like New York City at night. After the last of the sunlight faded and the sky turned black, there were parts of the city that remained as bright as day, shielded from the dark by neon signs and sodium streetlights, by the twinkling galaxies of headlights snaking across the bridge spans and the illuminated pinnacles of skyscrapers like burning spears. All four hundred and sixty-nine square miles of the city raged with so much light that at times the night was no more than perpetual dusk. Yet no matter how brightly the city burned, there were secret places where darkness took root and flourished. Hidden, dark spots where New Yorkers never strayed, steered away by the whispers of some ancient and forgotten instinct. It was on one of those beautiful nights, in one of those secret places, that I was getting the crap beaten out of me by an infected magician named Biddy.
         Joggers had been disappearing from Central Park at night, all of them women, and all of them vanishing from the same area: the dark, wooded, winding paths known as the Ramble. No clues had been left behind and no bodies had been found. The police and the newspapers thought there was a serial killer at work--"Invasion of the Hottie Snatcher!" shouted one New York Post headline--but we suspected something different was happening, something the police weren't equipped to handle. So that night, after the police patrol left the area, we sent Bethany out into the Ramble alone as bait. Isaac, Philip, and I hid at various points nearby, waiting. I watched Bethany through lightweight, high-definition binoculars whose special lenses boosted light transmission for nighttime use. They made her glow and look fuzzy around the edges, like a ghost haunting the park. It wasn't long before Biddy made his move, snatching Bethany up and dragging her into the woods. Isaac and Philip burst from their hiding spots and ran after him. I tucked the binoculars into my trench coat pocket and started running, but like an idiot I tripped one of Biddy's booby-traps. A rope snare caught me by the ankle and hoisted me upside-down into a tree. By the time I got myself loose and followed the trail of scuffed footprints and trampled plants to a camouflaged trapdoor at the base of the bronze Alice in Wonderland statue, I found myself locked out of Biddy's underground lair with the others already inside. It took me another ten minutes to break my way in. Frankly, the rescue part of our plan could have gone better.
         Reeling from Biddy's punches, I stumbled backward, careful to stay away from the edge of the natural stone bridge we stood on. Below us, a wide pit extended farther down than I could see, a bottomless hole in the earth. The sides of the bridge had been lined with rows of black candles that burned with an eerie red flame. Everything about it screamed ritual to me. But what ritual? What the hell was Biddy doing down here?
         I risked a quick glance at Bethany. She was dangling from a long, retractable metal contraption that held her over the yawning black pit, her wrists chained together over her head. Wet, slimy sounds echoed up from below, as if something were moving down there. Suddenly I had a pretty good idea what happened to the missing women. Bethany struggled to free herself, twisting her diminutive, five-foot frame and pinwheeling her legs under her as she strained for any kind of leverage. But there was nothing beneath her, just a straight fall of untold hundreds of feet, all the way down to whatever was making those slithery noises.
         "Trent!" she shouted. "Stop messing around and get me down from here!"
         "What do you think I'm trying to do?" I shouted back. I hated when she got like this. Only Bethany Savory could micromanage her own rescue.
         She nodded at the control panel of levers and knobs at the base of the retractable contraption. "Just get over there and press the damn button that gets me down from here!"
         I turned back to Biddy and wiped blood from my lip. "Do yourself a favor. Let her go and I'll go easy on you."
         Biddy laughed crazily. Crazy enough to remind me that he wasn't just bad, he was infected, which meant he was insane enough to see this through. He fully intended to feed Bethany to whatever was down there, just as he'd fed a dozen other women to it over the past few weeks. He would never let her go.
         The infection had given Biddy's skin a rough, stonelike quality and a tumorous, misshapen head. At least he still looked somewhat human. I'd seen the infection do worse to people. Unfortunately, his fist felt as stony as it looked. As he landed another blow, it was like being punched by a boulder.
He smirked. He had good reason to. He was stronger than me, and I was weaponless. The grip of my          chrome-plated Bersa semiautomatic pistol poked out of the waist of Biddy's pants. Though something told me that even if I had the gun, bullets wouldn't pierce that rocklike skin of his. It wouldn't be the first time I'd gone up against someone bullets couldn't harm, but I always felt better about the odds when I had the gun in my hand. No wonder Bethany had called it my totem.
         "There must be some mistake," Biddy sneered, his voice as deep and hollow as the pit below us. "I thought you were the great and mighty Immortal Storm. I expected a challenge, at least." When he spoke, his lopsided mouth moved like a mudfish's.
         "You're one to talk about funny names, Biddy," I said, spitting more blood onto the ground.
         The Immortal Storm. I hated that name. It had been bestowed on me by the gargoyles as an honorary title after I freed them from their long history of slavery. I'd hoped to keep it private, but word had spread faster than I expected. Who knew gargoyles were such gossips? But it wasn't just modesty that made me uncomfortable with the title. The Immortal Storm was also a prophecy--a bad one, real end of the world stuff--and I didn't like being associated with that.
         "My god and master, Mab-Akarr, will have His feast tonight, as He does every night," Biddy went on. "You cannot stop this, Immortal Storm. He craves flesh, and as His faithful servant, I willingly supply it."
         "Tell me something, Biddy. Does Mab-Akarr insist on only eating women, or was that your idea?" He glared at me. "I thought so. What happened, you get rejected in high school too many times?"
         Biddy sneered and feinted throwing another punch. I flinched. He laughed.
         "Fool. Who are you to question the rites of Mab-Akarr? He does not protect you. He protects me." He thumped one stony hand on his chest for emphasis.
         I looked up at him. "Protects you? You live under Central Park and kidnap women to throw in a pit. You're the one people need protection from."
         He shook his head like he pitied my ignorance. "You do not feel it, do you? It is everywhere around you. It is in the air itself. Something dark and terrible is coming. Something no one can escape. No one but me. Mab-Akarr will protect me from it, as long as I keep Him fed."
         Biddy strode toward the control panel, turning his back to me. I leapt to tackle him, but he was surprisingly fast. He spun and brought up one arm. His palm burst with a seething light, and a blast of something cold and painful caught me by surprise. I couldn't move. Every part of my body raged with agony. I gritted my teeth and bit back a scream.
         Stupid of me. I should have expected a spell. Biddy was infected--of course he was carrying magic inside him.
         He giggled insanely and inched closer. "Kneel."
         "Go fuck yourself," I growled through the pain. You can take the ex-thief out of Brooklyn, but you can't take the Brooklyn out of the ex-thief.
         "Kneel," Biddy repeated, louder.
         The agony of the spell intensified. Magic. Sometimes I hated it. Okay, most of the time. I cried out and fell to my knees. I didn't mean to. I didn't want to give the bastard the satisfaction, but I didn't have a choice. The pain was too much.
         "Trent!" Bethany yelled. Metal jangled loudly as she swung back and forth on the chain, struggling to get her legs high enough to wrap them around the retractable arm. But she was too small. Her legs wouldn't reach.
         Biddy's spell dissipated. The pain subsided, albeit maddeningly slowly. Biddy picked up his sword from where he'd dropped it on the stone bridge. He loomed over me, putting the tip of the blade to my neck. It felt cold and sharp against my throat.
         "The Immortal Storm," he scoffed. "They should have called you the Sniveling Worm instead."
         I moved my fingers desperately along the ground, grasping for anything I could use as a weapon. All I got was a handful of loose dirt and pebbles. It would have to do. I tossed it in Biddy's face. He snarled and backed away, protecting his eyes with his free hand. I jumped to my feet, but Biddy recovered faster than I thought he would. He drove the sword deep into my stomach.
         His lopsided mudfish mouth curled in a sneer. "Now die."
         Hot blood spilled out of me, coursing down my shirt, my pants. I was dying, and I knew what that meant. With my last ounce of strength I grabbed Biddy's lapels, pulled him close, and didn't let go. A cold emptiness blossomed inside me, and I felt the dizzying sensation of falling even though I was still on my feet. The edges of my vision turned gray, then black, and everything went dark very quickly.
         The last thing I heard before I died was Bethany's voice saying, "You shouldn't have done that, Biddy."

Die and Stay Dead
St. Martin's Griffin. September 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Excerpt: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
In Die and Stay Dead, Nicholas Kaufmann's gripping sequel to Dying is My Business, A brutal murder in Greenwich village puts Trent and the Five-Pointed Star on the trail of Erickson Arkwright, the last surviving member of a doomsday cult. Back in the day, the Aeternis Tenebris cult thought the world would end on New Year's Eve of 2000. When it didn't, they decided to end it themselves by summoning Nahash-Dred, a powerful, terrifying demon known as the Destroyer of Worlds. But something went wrong. The demon massacred the cult, leaving Arkwright the sole survivor.

Now, hiding somewhere in New York City with a new identity, Arkwright plans to summon the demon again and finish the job he started over a decade ago. As Trent rushes to locate a long-lost magical artifact that may be the only way to stop him, the clues begin to mount... Trent's past and Arkwright's might be linked somehow. And if they are, it means the truth of who Trent really is may lie buried in the twisted mind of a madman.

Dying is My Business
St. Martin's Griffin, October 8, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Excerpt: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
Given his line of work in the employ of a psychotic Brooklyn crime boss, Trent finds himself on the wrong end of too many bullets. Yet each time he’s killed, he wakes a few minutes later completely healed of his wounds but with no memory of his past identity. What’s worse, each time he cheats death someone else dies in his place.

Sent to steal an antique box from some squatters in an abandoned warehouse near the West Side Highway, Trent soon finds himself stumbling into an age-old struggle between the forces of good and evil, revealing a secret world where dangerous magic turns people into inhuman monstrosities, where impossible creatures hide in plain sight, and where the line between the living and the dead is never quite clear. And when the mysterious box is opened, he discovers he has only twenty-four hours to save New York City from certain destruction, in Dying Is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann.

About Nicholas

Excerpt: Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
Nicholas Kaufmann has had his work nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the International Thriller Writers Award. He is the critically acclaimed author of Walk in Shadows, General Slocum’s Gold, Chasing the Dragon, Still Life: Nine Stories, Dying Is My Business, and the latest, Die and Stay Dead. His short fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 3, City Slab, The Best American Erotica 2007, Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War!, Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk, and others. He used to write the "Dead Air" column for The Internet Review of Science Fiction. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, but you can visit him at

Website  ~  Twitter @TheKaufmann

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire by Dru Pagliassotti - September 27, 2014

Please welcome Dru Pagliassotti to The Qwillery with an excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire, the final novel in the Clockwork Heart Trilogy.

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire by Dru Pagliassotti - September 27, 2014

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire

         The Firebrand’s starboard cannon boomed and the entire ship gave a slight roll, swiftly compensated for by the alert helms.
         We’re too light, Taya thought. The heavy weapons’ recoil was affecting the ship’s aerodynamics.
         The dirigible to port fired again. This time bullets stitched metal and wood. Taya flinched. Why wasn’t Amcathra taking them out of there?
         The Firebrand’s port cannon gave a thunderous roar. She risked another glance through the rails.
         At least some of their shot had struck the Alzanan ship— the Firebrand’s spotlight revealed damage to the enemy’s gondola and envelope. The Alzanans returned fire. A lictor screamed, thrown overboard by the bullets’ impact. Taya instinctively started to stand, then clenched her fists and crouched back down. There was nothing she could do to help him.
         I want my wings, she thought fiercely, listening to the ships exchange fire. She was useless without her wings.
         More bullets hammered into the ornithopter, this time from starboard. The Firebrand’s cannon answered. Taya looked over her unprotected shoulder and saw the second dirigible looming beside them, its gondola splintering under the impact of the Firebrand’s larger missiles. Gun barrels swung back and forth from the gondola’s windows, and an Alzanan soldier fired down on them from the gunnery platform on top of the dirigible’s envelope.
         This is ridiculous, she thought. If I get killed, Cris will never forgive me.
         But gunfire separated her from the nearest hatch and nobody else was fleeing the barrage. The secondary helmswoman was being protected by one of the diplomatic-staff lictors, Bright, who stood beside her firing his rifle back at the Alzanans. Taya didn’t think he could hit anything at that range, but she admired his fearlessness.
         Faint cheers arose, barely audible over the din of battle. Taya craned her neck and saw the ship to port fall away. The Firebrand’s spotlight played over its smoking engines. Its crew was, no doubt, scrambling to put out the fire before any stray sparks ignited the inflammable gas within its envelope.
         The second vessel continued hammering them. Its small gondola must have been rattling with thrown brass casings, but the nonstop onslaught was having an effect. Lictors fell, bleeding, their replacements standing over their fallen bodies. Taya felt the Firebrand shudder as though something had gone awry with its wings. It banked and she grabbed the rail, her heart in her throat, as they began a descending spiral. Lictors plunged down the hatches, shouting. Taya breathed a prayer to the Lady, wishing she had stayed below. If they were about to die, she wanted to be with her husband when it happened.

Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire
Clockwork Heart Trilogy 3
EDGE, September 15, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
Cover Illustration by Timothy Lantz

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire by Dru Pagliassotti - September 27, 2014
The final book in the Clockwork Heart trilogy. Framed for regicide and trapped on a ship crippled by enemy fire, Taya and Ondinium’s diplomatic contingent seem helpless to prevent the well-engineered war their enemies have put into motion. While Alzanan and Demican armies march across Ondinium’s borders, Taya and her husband fight airborne battles from the tropical islands of the Cabisi Thassalocracy to the war-ravaged mountains of Alzana. When Taya falls into her enemy’s hands, she fears that nobody will be able to save Ondinium from the devastating weapon about to be plunged into its mechanically ticking heart.

Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind
Clockwork Heart Trilogy 2
EDGE, March 15, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Cover Illustration by Timothy Lantz

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire by Dru Pagliassotti - September 27, 2014
Ondinium stands on the brink of war...

Love and duty collide when Taya is appointed attaché to Ondinium's first exalted ambassador and is soon plunged into a sinister world of secrets and lies. After the diplomatic contingent’s hasty withdrawal from Mareaux to avoid an international incident, Taya's faith is shaken by a disastrous crash and a tragic murder, which reveals just how much she has to lose. Now, if she's going to fulfill her duty to her nation, she must risk everything she cares about. As the winds of war whip around Ondinium’s borders, Taya’s metal wings must bear her through storms, gunfire, and explosions as she fights to save them not only from their enemies, but also from their own government — a government that regards them as nothing more than clockwork cogs in a ruthless political machine.

Clockwork Heart
Clockwork Heart Trilogy 1
EDGE, September 15, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
Cover Illustration by Timothy Lantz

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire by Dru Pagliassotti - September 27, 2014
Flight is freedom, but death hangs in the skies..

Taya soars over Ondinium on metal wings. She is an icarus, a courier privileged to travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately amongst its castes. But even she cannot outfly the web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and intrigue that snares her after a daring mid-air rescue. Taya finds herself entangled with the Forlore brothers, scions of an upperclass family: handsome, brilliant Alister, who sits on Ondinium’s governing council and writes programs for the Great Engine; and awkward, sharptongued Cristof, who has exiled himself from his caste and repairs clocks in the lowest sector of the city. Both hide dangerous secrets, in the city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart.

About Dru

Excerpt from Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire by Dru Pagliassotti - September 27, 2014
As a child I discovered that I was happier alone than with others. Words were my best friends, and the secluded laboratory-fortress in which I exercised my crazed imagination was constructed of typewriter keys, paper, and ink. Within its protective walls I created and destroyed individuals, civilizations, and entire worlds for my personal pleasure — a practice I’ve learned to share with others as a tabletop game master and a published writer. But on the whole, I’m afraid that I’m still more comfortable alone with the written word … and maybe a reptile or two.

I can be found on all those online places you'd expect (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads) and can be emailed at my name at gmail dot com.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @DruPagliassotti  ~  Goodreads

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