A trio of Christian writers exploring the world of steampunk fiction with a groundbreaking novel trilogy. Come in and join the adventure!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chapter 8--Skylar

It was a tense ride. Hez was correct—their longboat was far lighter than the White Tiger’s craft, but the larger boat stayed in sight the whole way back to the bunker.

“They won’t catch us,” Skylar muttered to Libby, glancing over his shoulder at the looming menace behind them. “But this’ll be a squeak.”

She looked up from where she was kneeling in the gunwales beside the injured Maricossa, and bit her lip. Skylar put his hand—the flesh-and-bone one, not the metal one—on her shoulder and squeezed gently. “Mrs. Monday and the Professor will take care of him,” he assured her, hoping it was true. He cast a look back at the pursuing craft. “He’ll be fine.”

Hez, at the tiller, shouted through the wind to Skylar. “Hey, ’borg! Get him—” he jabbed his chin at the semi-conscious Maricossa “—ready. We’re going to have to make this fast.”

Skylar gritted his teeth at the pirate’s epithet and started helping Maricossa into a sitting position on one of the benches. “Wake up, Maricossa,” he grunted, heaving the larger man’s arm over his shoulder. “You’re going to have to help me a bit here.”

Maricossa groaned and opened his eyes. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said, breathing heavily. He let Skylar hoist him onto the bench, and then hunched over his wound, which had bled through the bandages in places. “…I don’t think.”

Over the prow of the longboat, Skylar could see where the long silver line of the Shandor plunged over into an abyss of spray and mist. The bunker waited, and he clenched his metal fist with a clack, hoping everyone was ready.

They had to be ready.

Hez swept over the top of the waterfall and dropped the longboat down, using the currents of air off the water to spin the boat until the prow faced the large gap in the wall of water. Through the spray, Skylar could see the Defoe waiting, and small figures milling about.

With what seemed like painful slowness, Hez brought the longboat into the cavern and set her down—none too gently—on the stone floor. “Mrs. Monday!” he shouted, throwing a rope over the side and leaping after it. “Professor!”

Skylar grabbed Maricossa’s arm around his shoulder and stood, heaving the injured man to his feet. “Lib,” he grunted. “Go get the kids. I’ll take care of—”

“Right.” She leaped over the edge of the longboat and started calling the children together, shepherding them onto the Defoe and forming the older ones into an assembly line to load the supplies from the longboat into the larger ship.

“Hezekiah?” The Professor was shrugging into a sweater as he came, and his eyes opened wide behind his spectacles, taking in Maricossa’s condition. “Oh, my,” he tutted. “We should treat that immed—”

“No time.” Maricossa stood upright, and released Skylar’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “Get those kids aboard.”

Skylar nodded and dropped over the side of the longboat, reaching back to grab and armful of goods to carry. “The Professor will take care of you,” he said to Maricossa, casting a worried eye on the older man’s blood-soaked bandages. If they lost Maricossa now, after finally coming to trust him… And that wound was worse than he was letting on.

Maricossa cradled his injured hand and gritted his teeth. “Go on, Sky,” he said. “We don’t have time.”

True. The blue sky was still bare of enemy ships, but they couldn’t have gained more than a thirty minute lead on the White Tiger. They’d be here soon.

Skylar started to turn away, but Maricossa added, “And Skylar—find Mia. Please.”

“I will,” Skylar promised.

 “Skylar?” Mrs. Monday appeared from the makeshift kitchen at the back of the cavern, wiping her hands on a towel. “What’s going on?”

“We have to get everyone onto the ship,” Skylar answered, hefting his load of supplies over his shoulder. “The White Tiger are on their way.”

She threw the towel over her shoulder. “Everything is loaded—we just need what you brought, and the children.”

Skylar nodded.

The next ten minutes were a flurry of action as sacks were unloaded from the longboat and stashed away as quickly as possible. Skylar saw the Professor help Maricossa up the gangplank and into the captain’s cabin, but he had no time to worry about the injured man. Some of the smaller children were crying—Mia, in particular, had curled into a ball in a corner of the cavern and was sobbing inconsolably. She refused to board the Defoe, and no one could quite reach her.

Looking around in vain for Libby, Skylar knelt next to the tiny girl, his metal parts clanking in protest. “Mia,” he said, trying to sound gentle even as his mind screamed that the other ship was going to be here in seconds! “Mia, come out, please?”

Sobbing, she refused, shaking her head vehemently.

Any second!

“Mia—I’ll take you to Maricossa,” Skylar pleaded.

Her little eyes, brimming with tears in a reddened face, looked up at him. “Maricossa?”

Heartened, Skylar nodded and extended his hand. “Yeah—Maricossa. Come on, I’ll take you to him.”

She looked at his hand doubtfully for a second, and then—to Skylar’s relieved sigh—she took it and allowed him to pull her from her hiding place. He hoisted her onto his hip and jogged back to the Defoe.

“That’s everyone!” he shouted up to Hez, stumbling onto the deck. “Let’s go!”

Hez slashed a rope with his dagger and the gangplank clattered to the ground. “Strap yourselves in, kiddos!” he roared. “Below deck!”

Skylar carried Mia to the captain’s cabin and pushed the door open. Inside, Maricossa was sitting hunched on the edge of the bunk, grimacing at the balding top of the Professor’s head. The Professor examined Maricossa’s bandaging, and shook his head.

“I can’t take off the bandages right now,” he said. “As soon as we’re off and safe, I’ll take care of it, but for now you just need to lie down and—”

“I can’t lie down,” Maricossa protested, trying to push himself to his feet. The Professor grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back onto the bunk.

“Boy,” he said in a firm voice, “You have lost far too much blood to be waltzing around in the middle of a daring escape—not to mention the fact that you’re going into shock. Now lie down.

Skylar let Mia slide off his hip and onto the floor. “Stay in here,” he told her. “Don’t come outside, no matter what, ok?”

She nodded up at him, tear tracks still marking her cheeks.

“Skylar,” Maricossa said, “We have to get the books—the kids out of here. We have to…” He swayed woozily, shaking his head in frustration.

Skylar, unnerved to see Maricossa—usually the strongest of them all—so shaken, stepped back. “We’ve got it covered,” he lied. “Just…” Just get better, he wanted to say. “Don’t worry about a thing.”

He left before Maricossa could say another word, taking a deep breath as he stepped back into the chaos on the deck. The Defoe was lifting, moving toward the entrance of the bunker, her balloons straining at the ropes and the sails starting to flutter in the updraft of air from the waterfall.

“Skylar!” Hez shouted at him from the wheel. “Get up here!”

Skylar hurried up the deck, joining Hez, the older children, and Mrs. Monday.

“We have maybe ten minutes before they’re on us,” Hez said, throwing levers and spinning the wheel. Above their heads, various ropes and connecting pulleys clicked and shifted. Hez jerked his chin toward six small cannons lining either side of the Defoe’s deck—three on each side. “It’s going to be a fight. We’re lighter and smaller, but they’ve got heavier artillery. That’s good and bad—good, because it makes them even heavier and slower. Bad, because we don’t have the firepower for a fair fight.” He grinned darkly, and a maniacal gleam shone in his eyes. “So it’s a good thing I don’t fight fair.”

Skylar laid his hand on the nearest cannon. It was oddly small, and rather than being made of iron it was… “Leather?”

Hez nodded, fastened the wheel in place, and leaped down to the main deck. “Watch and learn, lubbers,” he said. He flung the lid off a small trunk that sat fastened to the deck beneath the leather cannon.

“Leather—again, it’s lighter. Also, you’ll see here—” he grabbed a handle that protruded from the side “—no firepower. This is all in your arm. You crank this lever, the belt inside moves—reciprocating gears make it fast enough to work—and it shoots these.” He reached into the trunk and pulled out a small, shining shard. Skylar and the others leaned closer.

“Is that glass?” Mrs. Monday exclaimed.

Hez nodded proudly. “My own invention. The shards slice up the balloons—that’s what we’re aiming for. Slash those gas-bags, and their ship goes down.” He looked around at the ragtag bunch, and sighed.

“What I wouldn’t give,” he bemoaned, “for my own crew back again. Instead, all I’ve got are you bunch of wet-behind-the-ears kids.”

Mrs. Monday raised her eyebrow at him, and crossed her arms over her chest.

Hez shrugged. “No offense, lady,” he said, “but I’m a pirate. Not a babysitter.”

They didn’t have time for this, and after weeks of complaining, Skylar didn’t have the patience to deal with Hez’s attitude. He stood and came nose-to-nose with the pirate, grabbing Hez’s shirtfront in his metal fist.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” he said, his voice as cool as he could make it, “We have a battle to fight. This is not the time to be complaining about what you don’t have.”

Hez narrowed his eyes. “Let go of me, ’borg,” he ordered.

Skylar tightened his grip. “The name’s Skylar.

There was tense silence for a second, and then a slow grin spread across Hez’s features. “Let go of me, Skylar.”

Skylar released him, and the pirate stepped back, tugging his shirt straight.

“Alright,” he said. “You’re my crew now. Here’s the plan: don’t hurt my ship, do as much damage to their ship as you can, and don’t die. Everyone take a cannon, familiarize yourself with how it works. You have—” he checked his watch. “Five minutes.”


The White Tiger ship was faster than they had anticipated. Skylar, looking anxiously off the port stern, shouted as the Defoe broke over the top of the mountain.

“They’re here!”

Hez cursed and threw several levers at once. “We’ve got to stay above them,” he shouted. “Get your cannons ready!”

The enemy fired first.

She was a large ship, equipped with four large balloons painted black with a white claw arching over their curved surface.

“It’s the Ares,” Hez shouted. “I’ve seen her before.” Skylar was just close enough to hear him add, more quietly, “Never had to fight her before.”

Skylar swallowed and adjusted his grip on the wooden handle of his cannon, waiting for the moment when he could line his muzzle up with the Ares’ black balloons.

“Mrs. Monday!” Hez shouted. “Get up here!”

The matronly woman scurried up the stairs to the wheel, and Hez shoved it into her hands. “Hold it just like this,” he ordered. “Do not let her turn an inch to the right or the left.” Then he sprang away, leaping to grab hold of a rope that hung from the balloons above. He scurried up to the golden roof of the silk-covered balloons and began to unfurl some extra canvas that hadn’t been loosed yet. Task completed, he dropped with a thump to the deck beside Skylar.

“That eye help with your aim any?” he asked, gesturing at Skylar’s glass-and-brass eye.

Skylar tapped it. “I can hit a starling with a rock from three rooftops away.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Hez said. “But I’m going to hope it was a yes. Let’s see how good you are at hitting an airship that’s coming at you. I want you to aim for the balloons—go for the center. I’m depending on you—make it through this, and I’ll make you my gunner. Capisce?

“Got it.” Skylar sighted down the length of his cannon. “Um, Hez?”


“They’re coming around.”

The Ares had swung out wide, and was now heading directly for the Defoe, every inch of canvas unfurled and catching a westerly wind that brought them rocketing toward the smaller craft.

On the deck of the Ares, men scuttled about, and a boom! exploded in a poof of grey smoke.

Then another. A cannonball whistled past just under the Defoe’s keel, a clear warning.

“They’re firing!” shouted Dash.

Hez cursed, spinning to rush back up to the forecastle and take the wheel from Mrs. Monday. “Man the cannons, troops!” he roared. “And hold on to your hats!”

The Defoe, with Hez at the wheel and the controls, began to rise, her lighter weight outracing the bulk of the Ares. The larger ship raced closer, but couldn’t get enough wind under her to meet the Defoe, and instead passed underneath.

“Fire!” shouted Hez from the controls. Skylar and the children cranked their cannons, sending a rain of shining glass shards raining down on the larger ship. Several of the shards pierced the taut surface of the balloon, and Skylar heard shouts and curses coming from the other crew, who couldn’t bring their ordinary cannons to bear on a ship so much higher than them.

He shouted, exultant, and reloaded his cannon. The first time he had shot, it had been willy-nilly at the general direction of the oncoming hulk. This time, he took a deep breath to steady his hand—which was shaking with adrenaline—and closed his right eye.

Viewing the world in green and gold highlights through his mechanical eye, he blinked twice, the metal eyelid clacking together. Focus… Zooming in, he made out a place where three of their previous shots had ripped a loose triangle on the surface of the balloon. Not enough to rip a hole, but a single shot to the center ought to finish the job.

He aimed his cannon, tracking the massive balloon as it traveled under the keel of the Defoe, judging his distance. Zing! The shard fired off straight and true, zipping through the sky with the sun glinting off its jagged surface to pierce directly through the target.

With an audible woosh, the Ares began losing altitude. The hole—probably only a handbreadth wide when Skylar first shot—ripped open with the force of released pressure until it gaped six feet long.

Hez leaped from the captain’s wheel and landed next to Skylar, slapping him on the back with a whoop. “You’re hired, mate!” he shouted. “There she goes!”

Sure enough, the Ares was sinking down through the layer of clouds below, taking the enraged crew of White Tiger agents with them.

The children cheered and immediately started telling each other their own versions of what had just happened, elaborating as they went. Skylar, a grin splitting his face, turned to look for Libby.

“Lib?” he called.

Hez glanced around. “Is she in the cabin?”

“She wasn’t when I took Mia in.” Unease tickled Skylar’s belly, nibbling away at his jubilation.

“Libby!” shouted Hez, his voice roaring out over the deck like an order to reef sails or drop anchor. “Libretto con Brio!”

No answer. The children looked at each other, falling silent.

“Skylar?” Dash said, hesitant. “She didn’t come.”

The words hit Skylar like a punch in the gut. “What?”

“She stayed behind. She said to give you this.” He/she stepped forward and drew a scrap of paper from his/her pocket, holding it out to Skylar.

He took it, and read aloud, “We're fine. Don't worry. Let us know the plan. Check in at the grocery, we spend most of our days there. It’s signed ‘Hamlet.’” At the bottom, Libby had added in a hurried scrawl, I’m going back for them. We’ll find you.

His hand dropped to his side, and he desperately scanned the cloud-draped horizon with his mechanical eye, as if Libby might be coming as he looked. It was in vain.

She was gone.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Chapter 7--Libby

As splinters from the longboatrained down on the group, Libby felt like time momentarily slowed down. Maricossa jerked to one side, reddened splinters bursting from his hand. Hez spun around just as the unarmed White Tiger agent lunged at him. Connie ducked away from Maricossa, her hand going to the katana sword at her waist. Hez kicked the other agent's feet out from under him and aimed his pistol in the direction of the river.
Skylar sprinted from her side. Two shots cracked out.
"Sky!" She yelled after him. "Don't be an idiot!"
Too late. Skylar launched himself at Connie. They tumbled to the ground. Maricossa joined them a split second later, dragging Skylar away from his girlfriend. He grabbed at Connie. She slapped his hand, and Maricossa stumbled back with a cry of pain.
Connie took off, running toward Libby. Hez started after her, but the other White Tiger agent grabbed his ankle, and Hez tumbled to the ground.
"Watch out, Libby!" he yelled, drawing a circular weapon from a deep coat pocket.
"Libby!" Skylar shouted at the same moment. "Maricossa's hurt!"
Connie slowed slightly at that and looked over her shoulder. Libby started to dodge around her. Connie grabbed her arm. Libby's heart clogged her throat and she jerked back, but Connie's grip was too tight.
"Connie!" Maricossa staggered toward her, his injured hand tucked against his stomach to keep from jarring it. "Don't do it, Connie."
Connie's nostrils flared. She released Libby's wrist and stepped back. "You dare ask for favors after you betrayed me, Galvin?"
Maricossa's face hardened. "So help me, Consuela…"
She spun and took off running, the echoes of her feet ringing up and down the empty street. Maricossa started after her, but Skylar grabbed his uninjured arm.
"I have to stop her…" Maricossa's legs buckled and he dropped down to his knees, splaying his hands on the street to steady himself. His injured hand spasmed and Maricossa rolled to his side, a deep grunt jerking out of his throat.
"You're not goin' anywhere, Tiger Boy," Hez said. "Better grab some of the medical supplies, Libby."
She dashed to the longboat, past the White Tiger agent who was staring with blank eyes up at the sky, and scrambled inside. The red medical boxes were piled carefully to the far side. She grabbed one and threw it open.
A scrap of notepaper lay on top. She almost tossed it aside, but the familiar lettering made her pause. Her heart thumped harder as she scanned the brief message.
We're fine. Don't worry. Let us know the plan. Check in at the grocery, we spend most of our days there.
Her shoulders sagged and she blew out a gentle breath of relief. Hamlet was okay--and he'd said "we", so he must have found Brick.
She jammed the note in her pocket, grabbed the box, and met Hez at the side of the boat. "What exactly happened? It was too fast for me to make much sense of anything."
"They had another guy with a cannon on the river boat," he said. "That's what got Maricossa and the longboat."
Libby hurried to Maricossa's side, her stomach turning at the sight of the blood dribbling steadily onto the street. It wasn't right, seeing him on the ground with sweat darkening the hair at his temples and pain-glazed eyes darting back and forth around the street. Trying to protect them even he was hurt.
Libby crouched down beside him. "Let me see."
Maricossa looked at her, his jaw set. "I have to go find Connie..."
"Let Libby look at that hand--I know that White Tiger agent got you good," Hez ordered.
Maricossa slowly uncurled his hand. His fingers were twisted and mangled, and he might have been missing a portion of the palm below the pinkie finger. She didn't want to look too closely—she was wrestling her stomach into place as it was.
Libby set her teeth and carefully wound a bandage around the hand, wincing every time Maricossa flinched. Everything in her was begging to just get up and run…run back to the library, find Hamlet, feel his arms wrap around her as she freaked out. She needed something old, something normal…her breathing sped up a little as she considered it.
"Libby? Here, let me finish this." Skylar gently pulled the bandage from her hands.
She scooted over to let him have room. There's no more normal. Get a grip. Her hands were shaking ever so slightly. I ran when Sky was hurt, and I’m never, ever being so cowardly again.
"You okay?"
She looked up and saw Hez was watching her hands. She pressed her fingers flat against her legs. "I'm fine."
Hez merely raised an eyebrow.
"We'd better get going soon," Skylar said, tucking the end of the bandage in. "He's bleeding pretty badly.”
Libby looked at Maricossa. His eyes were almost closed, but she could tell by his stiff posture that he was still awake. Hez joined Skylar beside Maricossa, and together they helped the injured man to his feet, supporting him with a shoulder under each arm. They limped to the longboat, Libby trailing after them.
"Shouldn't we find a doctor?" Libby thought back, trying to remember if there was any person worthy of the title in Digory Street. She'd been to the apothecary once or twice when a kid had been really sick. Brick had split his leg open on a sharp piece of metal once, but Mr. Summers, the grocer, had stitched him up after that. Libby had always taken care of minor illnesses and injuries herself. She knew that wouldn't be good enough for Maricossa.
"The Professor took care of me all by himself, and I was worse," Skylar answered. "He'll get Maricossa good as new."
His tone didn't sound so sure. Libby slid her hands inside the pockets of her pants. Her fingers crumpled a piece of paper. The note. She had to talk to Hamlet. But how could she justify the trip when Maricossa was hurt?
Maricossa grunted. "I'm going to need a stronger antiseptic than what we have in the medical kits." His voice was tight and strained.
The apothecary, of course. "I'll go."
"No, Lib, you can't go alone," Skylar said reflexively.
Libby curled her hand around the note in her pocket. "I can go. I know Digory Street just as well as you. I won't get caught. Maricossa's right, anyway. When Brick had to get stitches, Mr. Summers had to give him a really strong antiseptic to keep infection away."
"I'm going…to need a lot more…than stitches," Maricossa said.
Hez gave her an approving look. "She'll attract less attention and move faster than either of us, Skylar."
Skylar's lips tightened. He reached out and squeezed Libby's hand. "Be careful."
Libby smiled, then turned and darted off.
"We'll meet you at the airdocks!" Hez shouted after her.
She waved to let him know she'd heard and concentrated on the streets ahead of her. She'd only been to the warehouse once, and while she was fairly certain she knew the way to Digory Street, there was no time to waste.
Thankfully the streets were relatively deserted until close to the market. Libby slipped through the crowd, her eyes down and shoulders hunched, trying to make herself as small and invisible as possible. Mr. Summer's Grocery was full as she entered, and he was busy with customers, so Libby pretended to be interested in a display of withered apples. Once or twice, Mr. Summers glanced up at her and nodded to acknowledge her presence, but there was no recognition in the nod. Libby wasn't too surprised--between wearing pants instead of her typical patchwork skirt and having her hair covered with a scarf, it was no wonder Mr. Summers didn't know who she was.
Someone jostled her, nearly sending her headlong into the apples. Libby whirled around, but the man had already moved past. His back was to her, and a snarling tiger’s face glared out from the back of his leather vest.
Libby’s stomach knotted. A White Tiger enforcer was no new sight in Digory Street. Local thugs often joined up just to have a ‘lawful’ reason to bully people. Usually Mr. Summers paid them substantial bribes to stay away from his shop.
The man pushed his way into the customers at the counter. “Hey, Summers. Seen her yet?”
Mr. Summers continued jotting down prices on a card, calculating a shopper’s total. “I told you. When the infamous Libretto Con Brio steps foot in my shop, I’ll let you know.” He made eye contact with Libby. “One of my shopboys will be with you in a moment, ma’am.”
Did her recognize her? Then why didn’t her just point her out to the thug? The tension made her feel like her breakfast would be coming back up at any moment. Libby hunched her shoulders and eyed the door. Would it be too conspicuous if she bolted for it now, after Mr. Summers had spoken to her?
Someone grasped her arm. “This way, miss. We have just what you’re looking for.”
“Sssh!” Hamlet gripped her arm tighter and pulled her into the darker interior of the store. Once the crowd hid them from the White Tiger thug’s sight, Hamlet opened the counter and ushered Libby into the back.
She stopped and stared at him. Even within just a week, he looked like he’d lost weight. There were dark circles under his eyes. His hair, normally carefully combed, stood out in a wild rat’s nest from his head. But it was Hamlet. She wrapped her arms around him.
Hamlet hugged back, tightly. “It’s good to see you, Lib.” His voice sounded choked.
“Where’s Brick?”
“Running errands. What are you doing here? I thought it’d be Maricossa who would come for us.”
That sent another jolt through her gut. “Maricossa’s hurt—we got into a scuffle with Connie—“
“Connie! Are you okay, Libby?”
I’m fine, but Maricossa’s hand is practically blown off. That’s why I came back. Remember the antiseptic Mr. Summers used when Brick had to get stitches? Can you find me some?”
“Yeah, let me…” Hamlet was already moving. He disappeared among the cans, crates, and shelves, but just as quickly reappeared, carrying a small, dark glass bottle. “When are you planning to get us out of Shandor Rei?”
Libby slipped it into her pants pocket. “Can you come with me right now?”
No, like I said, Brick’s running errands, and—“
“Okay, let me think.” Libby bit her lip. They couldn’t delay getting Maricossa back to the bunker. “The White Tiger isn’t looking for you, are they?”
“No, they really only have descriptions of you, Skylar, and Maricossa. Mr. Summers has vouched for us.”
“How about you meet me tomorrow morning, first light, at the edge of the forest?” That seemed the earliest they’d be able to get back. Skylar would come with her, of course, and Hez. She didn’t think Maricossa or the Professor could mind, especially as long as they didn’t go into the city again.
She moved further into the storage area. “Is there a back door?”
“Yeah, over here.” Hamlet led her to it. “But Libby, it’s gonna be hard getting out of the city—“
“I don’t think Maricossa’s going to want us to come back into Shandor Rei for a long time.” If he can even care. Libby wrapped her hand tightly around the bottle of medicine.
“You’re not listening to me.”
“You need to get out of the city. We’re not going to come back for a long time, not after this. Please, make it work?”
Hamlet sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I guess.”
“Thank you.” She leaned up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “I won’t abandon you, but I’ve got to go now. See you tomorrow.”
“Be careful.” Hamlet pulled the door open for her.
Libby bounded out into the sunlight and down the alley, unable to stop grinning. Everything’s gonna work out just fine now.
The airship docks were, mercifully, not busy in the least. Libby hurried onto the huge wooden platform, scanning the docks for the longboat. Skylar spotted her and waved for her to hurry up. Libby ran down to dock and grabbed Skylar’s outstretched hand, clambering aboard.
Without a word, Hez cast off.
“Did you get it?” Skylar asked.
Libby took in his and Hez’s expressions. Skylar looked openly worried, while Hez had his jaw set as he stared forward.
“What’s wrong?”
“Maricossa’s unconscious. And right before you showed up, we saw a White Tiger patrol,” Skylar said.
“They took great interest in the longboat,” Hez said grimly.
Libby’s happy mood clouded. “You should’ve left.”
“Wasn’t going to abandon you, little sis,” Hez said, reaching out and roughly tugging her braids. “Besides, Maricossa needs that medicine too much. Even I wouldn’t wish dying of infection on a guy.”
Libby glanced over the stern of the boat. The docks rapidly receded, though she could still hear the sound of the river. Even with Maricossa so hurt, she couldn’t help but feel elated. Hamlet and Brick would be joining them! All the library kids would be together again.
She glanced over at Skylar, who was helping Hez coil up the anchor rope. Should I tell Skylar yet? She knew he’d be happy for her, but it would remind him of Coll. It’s not fair that not everyone gets a happy ending.
Something over the stern of the boat caught her eye. Libby poked her head over again and saw a dark, smudgy shape in the river fog below them. Their shadow, maybe? The longboat wavered in a sharp gust of wind, and that same wind cleared the fog away enough so that she could see the smudge clearly.
An airship.
With a cannon aimed right toward her, and a man just touching the fuse with a match.
“Skylar!” she screamed, throwing herself back.
A roar, and grapeshot ripped into the railing where she’d been standing. The longboat listed, tossing Hez and Skylar to the deck.
Good thing they put Maricossa in the hold.
Libby scrambled to her feet and lunged at the wheel. She jerked it to the side, and the boat lurched back flat, though the back end kept wobbling. Hez darted past her, glanced over the stern, and came back, spewing curses.
“They took out the prop and the back half of the keel!” He brushed Libby away from the wheel. “Go help Skylar get the sails up. It’s a good thing we’ve got some wind—we’re light enough to stay ahead of that tug!”
Libby scrambled to the bow, where Skylar was already drawing the small jib into place. He left her to tie it off while he ran back and jerked up the mainsail. As soon as the large square of canvas was up, it snapped full of wind and the boat picked up speed.
Libby pulled her braids back with her scarf and ran to look over the stern again. They’d already moved away from the bigger ship, but it was following. “Can we lose them?”
“Doubtful,” Hez said.
“But we’ll lead them right to the bunker!”
“And we’ll have just enough time to get out before they arrive. This is what we were planning on anyway, right?”
“But Brick and Hamlet…” Libby bit her lip. “Maricossa promised he’d find them.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not Maricossa. You know that, Libby.” Hez jerked hard on the wheel. “They may have to stay behind.”
Libby frowned. Not if I have anything to do with it.