((Soon after leaving the Ultimate Guardians, I was approached by a few former leaders of that group and recruited to join a new effort. I had been kicking around the idea of a Steampunk priestess and I thought it would work well in the context they framed. This was Torchlight’s first story. I’m offering it up here as a sample for a potential collaborative partner. It was originally published in October, 2012.))
Micajah Levenworth felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. He had survived the broadsides of cannon fire; watched wood splinters larger than a man’s hand render an airshipman standing next to him into so much tenderized meat. His eyes looked out to the sky through gaping hole carved out by the six inch, 32 pound cannon ball thrown by the carronades of his own airship. He had survived the boarding action; moving forward with cutlass and pistol in hand, careful not to slip on the blood or shit smeared over the deck. Hard fought, he and his men had claimed the prize.
None of that frightened him as much as a single “Uh oh!” from a Crafter of the Council of Clackers.
“Philomena,” Micajah began, “It this an ‘Uh oh!’ we’ll have a laugh about at the pub later or is it a more a run for your lives event?” He looked at his companion. The crimson flames of her craft licked at Philomena’s red hair. Her brown leather apron and thick gloves protected her against the castoff sparks of tortured machinery. A symbol of two intermeshing gears, the badge of her office, hung around her neck. She did not look at him.
The crafter’s eyes focused instead on the mysterious machine in front of her. Clearly damaged by the cannonade, the gears of the massive device whined and screeched as they ground against each other. The destruction looked far more serious than an innocuous ” Uh oh!” would seem to indicate.
“Mena?” He asked again, more cautiously. Her hands moved as if she had not heard him. Her flames bled into the flickering, multicolor emanations of the machine. The scent of ozone filled the room and Micajah could feel the hairs on the back of his arms start to rise. He could not guess at her purpose. For all the times they had gone into battle together, he had never seen this side of a crafter’s skill.
“Take the prisoners,” she said, her words breathy with effort. “Take what you can carry. Get off the boat.” She did not turn her head to speak to him.
“Mena?” He asked again, concern clear in his voice. She snapped her head around towards him, beads of sweat clear on her skin beneath the flames that danced about her face. “Cage,” she said, “I don’t know what this is or what it does. I know it’s unspooling and about to seize. There’s no gear in the Maker’s toolbox that will make it mesh again. Get out. I can forestall the explosion for a short time….” A flash in the machine drew her attention.
Micajah looked about the room, hastily pocketing any items of value before heading towards the cabin door. “Philomena,” he said again, quietly. The woman, the crafter, did not look back at him. She did not respond.
The soldier made his way out of the airship, calling for others as he ran. Safely aboard his own vessel, he looked back to watch the gondola of his prize explode. Its airbag caught fire as it plummeted to Earth. He would never forget the stench of burning canvas and pitch; the smell of losing friends.
Philomena awoke. Behind closed eyes the scene played back for her. She had never seen patterns like that before. The forces generated by the cogs and springs of the machine swirled around her as the device unspooled and began to seize. Philomena felt a twinge of regret at failing her mission. The gears, sprockets, and springs of the damaged device would have to soothe the Ravens, the intelligence agents, of her queen. The crafter hoped the explosion left enough of the machine intact to determine its purpose
Her muscles ached as she stretched them. Her lips uttered a few words of thanks to the Maker. Then she remembered the flash; that terrifying moment when she knew the machine had unraveled and she braced herself for the explosion. The rough surface of concrete felt different than a cool wooden deck beneath her hands and cheek. She breathed in the place and opened her eyes with a start. She sat up in the dank alley, far from the skies, her captured airship nowhere in sight.
“Grit and gunk!” she exclaimed as she looked around and began to recognize the environs. “I’m on Earth!”