Lorenzo's people have lost everything to the deadly plagues and ancient monsters from the New World. But fencing master Lorenzo Quesada believes an ancient relic can restore his dying country to prosperity and honor, as long as the military doesn't find it first. Meanwhile, brilliant airship engineer Taziri Ohana is on a routine flight when she is shot down by a secret Espani warship, stranding her behind enemy lines with an odd collection of unruly tourists.
Now thrown together by fate, Lorenzo and Taziri race through a gauntlet of vicious assassins, undead demons, and giant beasts to find the fabled Skyfire Stone in the peaks of the frozen mountains. But when the Espani warship sets sail for Marrakesh, Lorenzo must stop a war that could destroy every nation of the Middle Sea, even if it costs him both the stone and his life.
Welcome to the world of AETHERIUM, where wondrous machines sail the seas and the skies, enormous beasts roam the earth, and the restless dead whisper to the living. Similar to our own world in the sixteenth century, AETHERIUM explores a reality in which many of the megafauna did not die out, including terror birds and saber-toothed cats, and where a devastating Ice Age continues to ravage Europe while African queens rule over the most advanced nations in the world. But strangest of all may be the science of controlling the souls of the dead using a golden metal with many names: sunsteel, orichalcum, and... AETHERIUM!
I first had the pleasure of working with Joseph Lewis when he wrote a short story for an anthology of tales set in my world of Feyland. His writing is a delight, whether he's writing epic elves or steampunk adventures. Legend of the Skyfire Stone blends the derring-do of Indiana Jones with a wonderfully re-imagined alternate history Europe. – Anthea Sharp
"Definitely a must-read for anyone that loves Steampunk novels and enjoys works written by a writer that knows his stuff!"– Kitty Bullard, Great Minds Think Aloud Book Club
"Incredibly imaginative and fascinating. I particularly love the way the historical and factual is interwoven with the fantastical and fictional. Magnificently written!"– Cassie McCown, Journalstone.com
"A fulfilling follow-up to the first book. The setting is different, and the action is tighter. I'm excited to read the final book in the trilogy and can I also say, this book has a very hot, sex-positive, sex scene, and I like it, and can we get more of that please?"– Amanda McNeil, Opinions of a Wolf Reviews
Winter in Rome was far colder than Taziri had remembered. She stood in the little office at the edge of the airfield with her bare hands wrapped around a steaming cup of some noxious sludge that the Italians called coffee. The three young men stationed at the field were babbling in Italian, which was, as far as she could tell, exactly the same as Espani except much faster with more violent hand gestures. A light flurry of snow was falling outside on the yellowed grass and the gravel roads, and two men in orange Mazigh flight jackets identical to her own were trudging in long slow circles around the hangar across the lane. Trails of pale vapor streamed from their faces as they talked. Taziri wondered how they could stand the weather. And then she realized that her fellow officers had left the airfield office immediately after the Italians had started talking, and suddenly the bitter cold didn't seem so uninviting.
"Do you know the time?" She raised her voice to interrupt them.
The Italians all turned to glance at her, glance at each other, shrug, and then resume their conversation.
"How can you run an airfield without a clock?" she muttered as she paced the length of the room. This was her fifth flight to Italia and she had to admit that it was actually going better than the others. At least so far there hasn't been a fight between the Italians and the major, and Kenan hasn't gotten lost in town, and the weather hasn't grounded us. Yet.
Taziri set her steaming drink down on the little table, which drew a few confused frowns from the Italians. She turned and wandered back to the windows for the hundredth time and there, up the lane, she saw two figures coming down toward the field. "Finally."
Through the light flurries, the two figures resolved from dark blurs into a tall man and short woman, both dressed in several layers of coats and cloaks and hats with scarves and veils all fluttering and streaming about them like a regatta taking sail. From a muddle of grays, their dress took on brighter and brighter hues as they approached. The man wore blue and silver from his tricorn hat to his laced boots and woman was checkered in violet and pink from headdress to corset to bustle and skirts. Each of them carried a single small bag in one hand.
Taziri tapped on the glass to get the major's attention, but the other Mazigh officers were too far away, still circling the hangar. Pulling on her gloves, she shouldered through the door and jogged across the lane to catch them. "Major! They're here. Two of them, anyway. Kenan, get the engine running, please."
The lieutenant snapped a quick salute with a grin and jogged into the hangar. Major Syfax Zidane frowned down at her. He was a huge slab of a man under his heavy orange coat, with a thick neck rising to a bullet-shaped head that he kept shaved. His eyes were always half-lidded, sometimes out of boredom and sometimes with squinting. His deep voice spilled out words with a slow and lazy cadence, ranging from rather bored to mildly threatening. She'd heard him laugh a few times, but it wasn't much of an improvement. Syfax thumbed his nose and sniffed. "It's about time."
"Are you going to pat them down for weapons?" Taziri smiled as she led him back toward the gate.
"Out here? Hell no. I'll do it when we're in the air. If they're carrying anything, I'll drop them in the Middle Sea and let the sharks sort them out," said Syfax. "Are we going to be okay in this snow?"
"I think so, as long as it doesn't pick up much more." Taziri glanced back at the office. "The local weather service wasn't very helpful."
"Oh yeah? What'd those jabber-jaws say?"
Taziri mimicked the Italian accent, "Maybe it snows more, maybe not."
He grinned a little. "So who are we picking up this time?"
Taziri pulled the slip of paper from her pocket. Her scrawled notes were almost illegible. "A political advisor visiting the queen, a tourist from Eran, and a chemist of some sort."
They reached the lane in time to meet the gaudily dressed passengers. The man tugged his scarf down and Taziri was amused to see that he was wearing a white mask painted in blue and silver flowers to match his costume. The woman wore a similarly painted mask with bright red lips and black-rimmed eyes. She inclined her head and spoke in an oddly accented Espani, "Good morning. I'm Shahera Zahd, pleased to meet you. I apologize for our dress, but my companion has a flair for the dramatic. Unfortunately, our carriage was unable to come down this icy hill and we were forced to walk, and well, I should probably stop talking so we can get out of the cold, yes?"
Taziri nodded. "Absolutely. I'm Captain Taziri Ohana and this is Major Syfax Zidane. If you'll follow us, please." She hustled back down the lane toward the front of the hangar.
"I'm very much looking forward to this journey, captain." The man in blue had a rather high voice and quick step. "I've long admired the airships of Marrakesh. This will be my first voyage on one."
Taziri smiled into her scarf. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, sir, but the Halcyon II is not an airship."
"It's not?" The man quickened his step to walk beside her. "Then what is it?"
They rounded the corner and stepped into the dark cavern of the hangar. Mazigh engineers had come from the south to build the massive structure over fifty years ago to receive the new airships from Marrakesh, but now it appeared completely empty except for the distant rumbling of an engine.
The machine that rolled out of the shadows was not an airship. If anything, it resembled an airship gondola with long metal wings. A single propeller spun in a blur on the machine's nose, and its wheels were hidden beneath two long pontoons on struts. Taziri tugged her scarf away from her mouth and said, "It's something new. For the moment, we're calling it an aeroplane. If you'll follow me."
She led the two gawkers around the edge of the wing and into the tall door in the fuselage. She pointed the passengers to the upholstered seats and Syfax grudgingly helped them stow their bags in the rear compartment. Inside, the noise of the engine was a roaring drone that forced all conversations to take place in shouts and hollers. As Taziri slipped into her seat in the cockpit, Kenan hopped up and ran back to check on their passengers' safety harnesses and to double-check that Syfax had stowed the bags properly. He gave her the thumbs up.
"All right," she said over the engine. "Run out and take a look around for our third passenger. I don't like the look of those clouds out there and I want to be above them before they get much closer."
"Yes, ma'am!" Kenan snapped a little salute and hurried out the hatch and across the hangar floor, and then disappeared around the corner outside.
Taziri busied herself with preflight checks. The plane's cockpit was twice as complex as the one Major Isoke Geroubi had designed for the first Halcyon over six years ago, and the new dials and gauges and meters spread across the console like children at a party, each one waving excitedly and demanding attention. As she ran down the checklist, Taziri let her gaze wander over to corner of the window where she had fixed the little portrait of Yuba holding their daughter Menna, both smiling for once. These days the portrait was more comforting than the homecomings. Yuba had grown brusque and formal when she walked into the house, and Menna stayed close to her daddy's chair, always wanting him to play with her or to read to her or to put her to bed. Never her. Never mommy.
It's just a phase, Isoke had told her. She'll grow out of it.
Taziri set her clipboard aside and rested her eyes for a moment as she walked through the takeoff sequence in her mind. There was a dip in the field on the right side that the Italians never seemed to remember to fill, no matter how many times she reminded them. And then the swift climb above the city, and then over the water. The snow glare will be worse than usual. Mustn't look at the ground. And the glare on those clouds won't be much better. The tinted glass on the goggles should help with that, even if I can't see the sun through that mess.
The sound of a gunshot snapped her eyes open and she spun to say something to Syfax, but the major was already out of his seat and sprinting toward the door of the hangar. Just as he reached the entrance, Kenan raced into view with a second man close behind them. Syfax shoved them both back toward the plane and Taziri watched them dash around the wing and leap inside the cabin behind her.
"What's happening?" she yelled over her shoulder.
Kenan dropped into his seat beside her. "Four men with rifles. Shooting at him." The lieutenant indicated the new passenger, a young man with a long nose and deep-set eyes gasping for breath in the rearmost seat.
"What's the major doing?" she asked.
Kenan shrugged and pointed at the hangar doors. She turned and saw Syfax standing just inside the wall with his thick hunting knife in his hand. Suddenly a man with a rifle jogged into view and Syfax lunged out of the shadows to grab his head. The man struggled for a moment and then the major dropped him to the floor.
"Damn it, Syfax." Taziri released the brake and shoved the throttle forward.
"What's happening?" shouted the masked woman in the cabin.
Taziri ignored her and thumped Kenan on the arm. "Get ready. We're going straight out and up, got it?"
"What about the major?" the young man asked.
"Get back to the door and yell at him to get onboard." Taziri aimed for the edge of the hangar entrance as the plane accelerated across the smooth hangar floor.
Kenan hesitated, nodded, and slowly stumbled back through the shaking cabin to the hatch where he wound his hand around the safety straps on the wall. Taziri watched him in the little mirror she had just above her head so she could keep an eye on her passengers. She tried to imagine her co-pilot giving actual orders to the man who used to be his commanding officer, and she grinned, if only for a second.
Poor kid had a rough road to the Air Corps. Having his old boss tagging along on half our flights probably isn't helping.
The plane roared faster and faster toward the doors and the bright white glare of the snow-covered airfield beyond them. Dimly, she heard Kenan yelling out the door but she kept her eyes on the major as he caught a second man with a rifle and pummeled him in the face until he fell to the floor. Taziri hoped the man was only unconscious.
Syfax looked up at the plane, took one last glance around the corner of the door, and then bolted toward the open hatch and Kenan's outstretched hand. The huge man leapt onto the pontoon and grabbed the edge of the doorway as a third man in black rounded the corner of the hangar and took aim with his rifle. Syfax climbed inside and the bullwhip crack of the gunshot echoed across the empty hangar as the plane shot out across the snowy field.
Taziri watched her little mirror long enough to be sure that both of her officers were inside and the hatch was shut and then she focused on her flight stick and throttle. Power up, flaps up. The Halcyon shivered and skidded sideways just a bit and then the huge metal bird hopped into the air and everything changed. The vibrations settled down, the noise dropped, and the world tilted backward as the tiny plane angled higher and higher into a haze of falling snow. Taziri held the controls absolutely still as she watched their speed building and their altitude rising until she was confident that they were well and truly flying safely, and then she brought the nose down, leveled the plane against the horizon, and exhaled.
She gave herself a few moments to breathe and flex her hands. Her left hand responded as best it could. It was immobilized at the wrist, held firm by an aluminum brace after a vicious burn had destroyed most of the muscle and nerves in her forearm nearly two years ago. Her fingers still waggled on command, though the two little ones were completely numb. Still, she knew she was one of the lucky ones. Major Geroubi had lost an eye. The rest of the Northern Air Corps had lost their lives.
"Everyone all right back there?" she called.
Kenan flashed his nervous grin and his awkward thumbs-up, then stood and shuffled up to the cockpit to sit beside her. He made a small show of wiping the sweat from his forehead and then began checking his instrument panel. "That was a little more exciting than I thought it would be, captain."
"It certainly was. How's your board look, lieutenant?"
He blinked and nodded. "Looks good."
"Then take the stick and get us above these clouds." She barely gave him time to take over before she stood and made her way slowly back along the sloping cabin to the major. "You all right?"
He was poking at his upper thigh. "Yeah, he just nicked me. I don't think it even broke the skin." Syfax frowned thoughtfully. "Pretty pathetic guns in this country."
"Well, I'm just glad you're in one piece." Taziri shifted to look at the third passenger, the young man with the prominent nose and brow who was curled up against the cabin wall and vigorously rubbing his temples. She said in Espani, "Excuse me, sir. You're the chemist, right?"
The youth turned to stare at her with a vague look of horror on his face. "What? Yes. Aligeri. Dante Aligeri."
"All right, Dante. Who were those men? Why were they shooting at you?"
With shaking hands, he fished a silver box from his pocket, produced a cigarette, and proceeded to light it with a wooden match. After taking several slow draws, he said, "They were Corso Donati's men, the Black Guelphs."
"What's a Guelph? And why were they shooting at you?"
"Why?" Dante exhaled slowly and straightened up in his seat, swept the hair back from his face, and managed to look her in the eye for a moment. "They don't like me very much. I'm sorry for any inconvenience, but as we all appear to be alive and well, I think we should all leave well enough alone. And shouldn't you be controlling this unholy contraption, my dear?"
Taziri stared the man down until he turned his look of contempt to the small window beside him, and then she made her way forward. The tall man in blue, still wearing his tricorn hat and painted mask, was staring out his own window. But the woman in checkered purple and pink had removed her jingling headgear and offered Taziri a bright smile as she passed. The Eranian woman was young and slightly plump, her thick black hair just beginning to tumble loose from the elaborate ties and buns on the back of her head. She said, "This is all so exciting. Is it always like this?"
Taziri paused beside her. "Not always. But more often than I'd like."