In the weeks leading up to the release of Empire of War & Wings, I want to give my readers a taste of what is coming. This is the first scene of the book. It hasn't been to my proofreader yet, so please forgive the typos! (There are always typos!) I plan to give the whole book to my mailing list for free the week before release. It's a crazy plan, but I'm a crazy author! If you want to get the book that way, be sure to sign up to my newsletter here:
Elsewhere in the Winged Empire …
“Launch on my mark!” Azur bellowed, his throat raw from what felt like hours of calling the battle. In truth, it had only been minutes. They’d been taken by surprise, their merchant ship coming around the southern point of the island only to be set upon by Rajadeer triremes. His heart leapt the moment he saw them and it was still stuck in his throat. “Launch!”
The arrows flew, but there were few trained archers on a merchant ship – even when there was spare money to hire protection – and most of the flight fell short into the water. Azur clenched his jaw and tried not to think of how few were left.
On the other side, their foes readied grapples for boarding. They wore the scarlet hoods and face coverings of Rajadeer – as if there was any doubt.
Azur looked up to the skua bird decorating his sails and made the sign of the bird across his chest. One tap to each shoulder and one to the forehead. A bee buzzed irritatingly around his head.
This was it.
They had minutes left.
Rajadeer boarding parties left no survivors.
“Prepare for melee!” He bellowed down the line as coshes and knives were pulled from belts.
No hope, then. Just the chance to fight until death. He bit his tongue and tasted blood.
He felt his lips forming the world of the old Invocation, “Fly us to the great beyond on the wings of the dawn. Shelter us under your wings.”
The enemy ship crashed into theirs, grappling hooks already in the air.
“Cut them loose,” he cried.
He reached for his axe but a gust of wind lifted him from his feet and sent him flying into the mast. He wrenched himself up from the deck as it careened from side to side. What in all the Storms and Seas was this?
In the chaos of his crewmates finding their feet, it was hard to see anything, but he rushed to the ship rail, eager eyes searching for any answer.
He clung to the rail as beside them, the Rajadeer trireme rose into the air, inch by inch. On its deck, the captain of the ship – noticable by the gold band in the red cloth wrapped around the lower half of his face – met Azur’s eyes in shock.
For a moment they were one, both terrified and confused.
Azur looked up, and up, past the ship and the mast to the great purplish-white spirit bird holding the ship – a bird both there and not there – mostly invisible in the bright of the noon sun but with flames of white picking it out against the azure sky.
The trireme was completely out of the water, the barnacle-encrusted hull held fast by translucent purple-white talons larger than Azur was. Water poured in streams from the hull, casting up a spray of brine.
Azur’s mouth fell open as the great wings flapped – once – and his merchant ship spun in the grasping green waves, shoved into their embrace by the force of the wind.
By the time they’d righted themselves – their ship bobbing back to the surface – the purplish-white osprey had flown so far away that the little ship in its grip was the size of the one neatly constructed within a bottle back at the Winged Empire Shipping Administration.
They were going to live another day. Relief made him feel light on his feet as he spun to see a Winged Empire tern sailing across the waves to lend them aid. White sails billowed as they harnessed the wind and the masthead bore a majestically carved tern with a beak sharp enough to split the hull of an unlucky merchantman. It had been lacquered white and polished to gleaming so that the light reflecting off it hurt Azur’s eyes.
And standing on the hull – arms outstretched, hair and clothing rippling in the wind – rode an Imperial Wing, his eyes far away as he directed his bright spirit bird.
Behind him, a smaller man stood majestically, the white swans of the Imperial House decorating his blue coat and a golden band around his brow. Le Majest. The crown prince of the Winged Empire was here at the edges of the Empire instead of dancing in the halls of Paradise City like he should be. It was like a strange dream.
Azur blinked twice and then tore his eyes away from one wonder to watch the other. He looked back at the osprey just in time to see it snap the Rajadeer ship in half, dropping the wreckage and the tumbling red-veiled raiders into the sea. The bee shot out from its orbit around Azur’s head toward the wreckage.
No one challenged the Winged Empire. Not if they had any sense.