Step onto the deck of the skyship, the Pirate Queen and join first mate Esme, Prince Sasha, and the genie Sting on a spectacular voyage across the Endless Desert. A botched raid on the treasure galleon, the Desert Jewel, earns Esme the enmity of the high wizard al-Hasan and a bounty on her head that leaves her with few friends and fewer options. Forced to choose between her life, her sanity, or secrets best left buried beneath the sands, Esme's choices will, one way or another, leave her with nothing left to wish for.
The story has drama, comedy, romance and a liberal dose of philosophy[…]Intelligently written with a clear empathy for the characters that draws you in. There are a number of interesting plot twists and reveals. I did not expect the story to end up where it did.– Amazon Review
Nothing Left to Wish For is by turns exciting combat, treacherous ruins and adversaries, and exhilarating piloting. Esmeralda, and her interactions with those that she works with and against - often simultaneously - are quite memorable. She occupies a space between the rare archetypes of female hotshot and anti-heroine.– Amazon Review
It was both a thoroughly enjoyable read and a poignant tale with characters that really stuck with me even after I finished the book.– Smashwords Review
It was a simple task.
Haul and cleat, steady the sail. "Six points to spinward, Mr. Harris." Steady my old bones on the rail and watch the arm of the galaxy stretch away into the sky. "We're to swing wide round that dune."
"Aye, aye, Mr. Briggs." Not captain, never captain, even if it's just the two of us.
I close my one good eye and listen to the sand playing over the hull, the cold wind cutting through my clothes. We're a small craft, nimble and smooth. Just me and the pilot, Jase Harris, though there's space enough for three.
"Ware starboard!" Mr. Harris sings out.
The bulk of the sky goes black behind the prow of a fat freighter, speeding through the deep valleys between the dunes. She's running dark and fast in the middle of the night, low and heavy on a dozen blistering thrusters. Contraband. Smugglers for sure.
"We have right of way, sir?"
A mammoth wedge of wood, steel, and sail bearing down without care or cause. She'll run us down and burn the evidence.
"Right o' way, Mr. Harris. That's the spirit." The kid's got talent. Got what it takes to be the best pilot in the Endless Desert. "Let's show these smugglers some proper piratical courtesy."
"Sir." Mr. Harris grins, his fingers dance across the wheel. Our little ship groans, her thrusters spin high and hot and we're rising, up and up. I throw my weight hard against the rail for counterbalance as we cant sideways, skate the side of the freighter and score a gash in her flank she won't soon forget. Skip off her tail and let a smattering of shots and shouts follow us into the sky.
Then the freighter's gone and we're left high and lonely. Naught but the wind for company. "You ever been to the Crescent Cities, Mr. Harris?"
"No, sir. Can't say I've had the pleasure."
"Then hand off the wheel and step lively, port side down." I call it one of the wonders of the world. A jewel, nestled in the broad bosom of the Endless Desert. Viridian. Tourmaline.
They call it a lake. A body of water as large as I've ever seen, sickle shaped and calm enough to flip the stars on their face. Trees and farms hug the outer edge and the inner rim, holding off against the ever-present sand. Here and there, like the bones of some buried giant, towers stretch up out of the green; wizards' playgrounds. Bah, wizards and their flying carpets, always reaching for the stars.
Seven cities, seven ports, and seven thousand ships in and out every day. Landing lights dot the sands, calling me home. "Drink it in, Mr. Harris. Topside's too pricey for the likes us. We'll be berthed down under."
Aye, my bones ache on nights like this.
Find Esme, my captain's wayward daughter, now two years gone across the sands.
I move through the Undercity, along the seventh level market bridge spanning the Pit. Platforms jut like rusted, rotten teeth from the sides of the bridge wherever there's space between a market stall or behind a tavern. From those drop points elevators — little more than metal cages on chains — crank treasure hunters into the darkness and out of sight. Into the Digs twenty, thirty levels down, where they'll find their fortunes or die trying.
Three points down, one of the chains snaps, and a cage tumbles away. The diggers inside have time enough to scream.
"What a way to go." A sunburnt farmer pauses next to me, spits over the edge. Bats swarm the Pit like a cloud of black smoke in the dead diggers' wake.
"At least it was quick," I comment to no one in particular. The farmer's gone after his goats. The bats fly away to an evening meal. And nobody else even noticed.
Good thing I left Mr. Harris on the ship. He would've cared. Esme would've cared. This is no place for either of them.
I walk past a stack of squabbling chickens, around a fall of silks and a jeweler's canny grin to the drop point, the battered steel platform built out just far enough to clear major struts and girders. Other bridges hang high above and below, rainbows of color and opportunity in the ever-night.
I spin the crank, bring up the chain and don't get half-a-look from passerby. By this time tomorrow there'll be a new chain, new cage, and no shortage of idiots ready to test their lives. Mr. Harris would care, and Esme too. I'm just curious.
Cut through. Detail work. Just enough to let it snap, but not so much that anyone would notice.
"Pennies for a poor man? Please, sir. I have no food." A beggar stumbles towards me, half his face hidden beneath a steel plate welded onto his skin. I grab the beggar by the collar, swing him out over the Pit.
"Wait! Hey!" The beggar pinwheels. "What are you doing?" It doesn't look it at first, but the steel plate's a graft, like my eyepatch. The metal's covered in tiny runes that'll spin up at the beggar's command for some form or function. Maybe it sniffs out money for the beggar's marks, or maybe it'll shoot me in the face.
"Who's gonna care?" I snarl.
"What are you talking about?"
"There's no chance you walked over here on a whim." I spin up the runes across my eyepatch and give him a scan. The runes send information past the empty socket and straight to my brain. I skip height and weight, filter for metal, runecraft. For trouble. Other than the mask I spot two knives, a pair of bicep grafts, and a pistol, right side back. "Who's gonna care around here?"
"I don't. I don't. I don't—" The would-be beggar kicks and struggles.
"My arms are getting tired."
"Three streets off the bridge to the right. The Lucky Dog Tavern. He's at the bar. You can't miss him."
"About damn time." It's been a long day and too many people I used to know left me with a whole lot of nothing. I toss the man onto the platform. "You're as much a beggar as I'm governor of the Crescent Cities." I toss him a couple of coins and walk away.
"And you're welcome!" The beggar calls after me as I disappear into the crowd.
I slip into the Lucky Dog. People step aside, shy away. That kind of place. They open a path to the man I want to see, each one ready to gun me down when I say the wrong thing. That kind of town.
"What'll it be?" The bartender cinches his sleeve garters as I lean both elbows on the counter.
Clink. Pop. Trickle. The dribble of alcohol out of a dirty bottle is the only sound in the entire tavern.
"That stuff is swill," the bartender opines.
I pound the shot anyway. "You have anything better?"
"Let me make you the house special."
I watch the bartender. High collared shirt, dapper vest, thin gray beard, and eyes black as hell. The drink comes in a tall, narrow glass. A shot thick as treacle and dark as tar melts over the back of an overturned spoon and pools at the bottom.
The bartender leans back and crosses his arms, watching me watch him. "I haven't thought of a name yet."
I grab a pitcher of water from behind the counter and fill the glass the rest of the way. The liquor breaks on contact, stretching tendrils up through the water that blossom into bursts of milky, chalky white. "A Nightriver Draught?" I finish a coded exchange, now twenty years out of date.
"Tamish Briggs?" The bartender and I clasp hands. "It's been a long time."
"Merrick Castillo." Smile, you grizzled old wolf. "I left you knee-deep in a warehouse full of blood and gold, and this is where you end up? Tending bar?"
The surrounding tension eases. I'm a friend, or at least a business partner, and we're buffeted by the gentle babble of voices. For privacy. "My bullyboy days are behind me. Besides, bartending lends me a veneer of respectability." Castillo slides me another one of his signature drinks and pours one for himself. "To old times?"
It's a question. "And new." I'm not here on a social call. Sorry.
"Pity that." Castillo shrugs. "You still plying the slightly less than lawful shipping lanes?"
"Not lately." Life was simpler, just being a pirate. Straightforward. "I've become something of a detective." I explain the situation.
"So what you're saying," Castillo leans over the bar, gives me a conspiratorial wink. "Is that you've risked returning to the Crescent Cities for a woman?"
It wasn't supposed to end this way.
I get a name. Nasir. A runesmith five levels down. I take a deep breath, try not to think what the girl's doing sniffing around that kind of a cut-rate hack. Bah. By this time tomorrow we'll be free and clear from this seething cesspit.
"Sir." Mr. Harris is loafing by the cockpit, looking hangdog.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Harris?" I slow, double-check my pistol.
Shrug, a sideways look. "There's a woman in your cabin, sir."
"Not the one we came here for, I wager?"
Another shrug. "She says she's here to see you. By name." Mr. Harris is nervous. The cockpit's where he feels most comfortable. "You'd better go see for yourself, sir."
I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. "Guess I'd better do just that."
My cabin's cramped. There's room for a bed, a desk, and a chair. And the chair folds up. There's a runedisk on the desk, spinning bright, showing a girl with dark hair, bright eyes, and a nose for trouble. Two years gone, Esme. Do you still have that smile, or has the world burnt it out of you, just like it burns everything to ash and black glass?
"She's beautiful. Do you miss her?" A woman's pale, delicate finger stops the runedisk, and the image fades. "Colonel Tamish Briggs."
"It's been a long time since anyone called me that." White dress, long legs, slight hips. She has a face like a hawk and eyes as big as saucers, deep as the lake above our heads. The shawl over her head's slipped back, showing hair as white as the southern sands. "Long enough that I wager you weren't even alive at the time." Mr. Harris's age. Maybe less. "Her name's Esme, and I miss her every day."
That costs the woman a nervous frown, a hitch in her delivery. "Colonel Tamish Briggs, commander of the Intrepid out of Dust. Decorated by the Crescent Cities council following a fleet action over Redsands against a strike force from Highcliff. You lost your eye to shrapnel from an exploding cannon."
"And my flagship to the Evicerator, before reinforcements showed." I unfold my chair, give my creaky knees a rest. "Back then, if someone waltzed into my cabin unannounced, I'd have them whipped, shot, and thrown to the sand dragons, in that order. You're lucky those days are long gone."
"I'm… My name is Ilisa." She pulls a sheaf of papers from her pocket and holds them close to her nose. "Colonel… Captain—"
"Mr. Briggs," I interrupt, emphatic. "Or Tamish, if you're feeling friendly." It's not every day a pretty woman shows up in my cabin. "But not captain, commander, or colonel. Never again."
Pause. Ilisa takes a couple deep, quick breaths. I'm clearly not what she expected. "Mr. Briggs, then."
I hear a noise and spot a wide, furred face poking out from under her collar. A bat. A white bat squeaking tiny runes from its mouth. It's the smallest genie I've ever seen.
"Mr. Briggs." She flips through her papers. "I came here for… for…"
"My help?" My eye hurts. The one that's no longer there. The woman's words carry old pain and bad memories. "Why, when you have a genie grant your every wish?"
"No, it doesn't work like that." Ilisa chuckles as the bat climbs around her shoulder. "Even the best genies can only maintain two or three wishes at a time. And Izzie here can't even hold one wish for more than a moment." The bat nuzzles her cheek, and she smiles. "He does what he can, but he's more of a friend than anything else."
I try massaging my forehead. "Miss Ilisa—"
"Where was I?" She takes out a pair of glasses and checks her papers again, holding one of the sheets to the light. "You know, people say I'm prettier without the glasses, but everything's just blurry…"
"Miss Ilisa—" I try again.
"Colonel Tamish Briggs, commander of the Intrepid out of—"
"Miss Ilisa!" I break out my bosun's voice. That stops her cold, drops the paper from her fingers. "Why are you here?"
"I, uh, I need your assistance. To get down to the Digs. Everyone's talking about the return of the famous Colonel Briggs and you can do any—"
"That's just the problem," I interrupt, softer. "Everyone's talking. Miss Ilisa, I'm sorry you had to come all the way down from your high tower to hear this, but I'm not for hire. In fact, I'll be leaving tomorrow, as soon as we're clear to take off. Thank you for your time."
"But. This is my only chance—"
"The Undercity's no place for a girl like you. See Mr. Harris on your way out. He'll escort you home."
"But, Colonel Briggs," Ilisa pleads. "You're the hero of Redsands. You defeated the pirate-king Lazarus in single combat. You sailed the Nightriver—"
I sit up straight. "Nobody knows about the Nightriver." Well, almost nobody. "Who are you?"
"My name is Ilisa," she repeats herself. Shuffles her papers. "I'm not trying to blackmail you or anything. I just need—" No. "What I'm trying to say is—"
"No. Go home, girl." I squeeze my good eye shut. "I'm not the man you think I am."
She leaves in a rush of silk, her little genie squeaking small, fretful wishes all the way.
A scrap of paper lies on the floor when I finally open my eye. The first page of Ilisa's speech. Bullet points. Nice, neat, and twenty years out of date. A list of old times I'd rather forget.
Redsands cost me my eye, Lazarus ruined my reputation, and a wild ride on the Nightriver stole everything else. I reach into my cabinet and grab a bottle of whatever's at hand. Damn memories.
I can't wait to leave.
"What did you tell her, Mr. Harris?" I catch the pilot by the low rail some hours later. I'm not sure how many. Scattered pinpoints of light dot the dark of the high hold. "What happened when she waltzed onto our ship, all fragile and fresh and white as a lakeside flower?" Runelights dim in favor of night.
Harris listens to the low roar of a mid-weight merchantman easing out of port to begin her run while the air is still cool. "They're late, and lazy to leave now. They should've left at dusk." He frowns. "One of their thrusters is running hot. The runechain's degraded. They won't make it halfway across the Flats before the sun forces them high, and with that thruster spitting broken chains all over the desert..."
"Maybe they'll get lucky. Or have weapons enough if the sand dragons come calling." I give him a moment. "Back to my question, Mr. Harris."
Another stretch of silence. "I told her she was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. That the ship and myself were at her disposal for as long as she would require our services. That if only she would favor me with a kind word, I was hers."
"That's a long speech for you, Mr. Harris, when you're not talking ships."
"Well, that's what I wanted to say. Actually, I…welcomed her a board, had her wait in the cabin, and brought her some refreshment."
"I thought you didn't like women." I'm about to lose a bet back home on the Pirate Queen, if the rest of the crew ever finds out.
"Not at all. I just haven't found the right one." I raise an eyebrow. "It's hard to think right with a lady like that onboard."
"We've plenty of ladies on the crew, Mr. Harris. Ilisa there isn't the first to sashay past the steering wheel."
Harris guffaws. "Like Miss Esme? No, sir. I've not ever seen a lady like Ilisa. She's got…refinement." Another stretch of silence, punctuated by some fracas three ships down and ending with a deckhand being thrown overboard.
We both wince when the body smacks against the ribs of the ship's cradle and settles to the black glass floor. "I'm all right," a voice slurs from below.
Harris speaks. "But I suppose she's not coming back, is she?"
"Not if she knows what's good for her."