Palace of Glass, Chapter 1

After Tempest‘s release last month, I’ve been working hard on Palace of Glass‘s first draft–and, now that it’s a good 25,000 words in (final wordcount is projected at 120,000), I think it’s safe to start posting second drafts of the first chapters now!

Besides, it’s been a while since my last post. I know you miss me.

Anyway. Palace of Glass picks up where both Firebird and Tempest left of–that’s right, it’s a sequel to both books and will feature chapters from both Mieshka’s and Allish’s perspectives. Exciting!

If you’re new to me and my work and haven’t read the first two (four?) books–don’t worry! There’s no huge plot spoilers in today’s chapter!

newpalaceoglasstestThe floor slanted, vibrating with the quiet hum of the ship’s engines. Mieshka could feel it through the stack of boxes she sat on—as if the ship were a finely tuned, expensive car rather than something that could out-compete her world’s fastest jets. Even after twenty years of integration, Terran technology had a long way to go before it caught up to the mages’.

It was hard to beat something powered by magic.

She leaned back into the cargo netting and craned her neck to see the main screen, ignoring the queasy feeling in her stomach as the ship made another one of its eel-smooth turns. Orange light burned sharply in the jet-black interior, courtesy of the fire crystal Aiden had turned into the ship’s power source. It formed the base color of all screens and outlined every key on the dashboard. Only the ship’s running lights, a more recent add-on powered by mundane batteries, differed in color.

A steady bloop came from the front. Aiden, who had the ship hovering on the Westray-Mersetzdeitz border, had been trying to get a hold of mage border authorities for the past half hour.

You think they’re asleep or something?”

The Mageguard never sleeps.” Gobardon, sitting in the co-pilot chair next to the fire mage, didn’t bother to hide the sarcasm from his perfect diction. “It is more likely that they’ve scrambled their ships to shoot us from the sky.”

Mieshka stiffened. They wouldn’t really shoot them from the air, would they?

Could they?

It’d be easier for them to just pick up the damn phone,” Aiden grumbled. “What, did they abandon all Lost-Tech comms in the last week?”

Gobardon shrugged. “Like I said before, I’ve been out of the loop for a long time.”

It was a rhetorical question.” Aiden leaned his head back against the chair with an audible thump. Mieshka saw his hair poke up over the back of the seat—bright orange, like hers used to be, though his seemed somewhat lacking tonight. Had he picked up some dirt and dust while running around the Underground?

If that thing can patch through to mundane networks, I could try my parents.” Jo, sitting to Mieshka’s right, had a strong voice that punched the quiet air of the cabin. The mercenary twisted to watch the front, a hand wrapped in the cargo net for balance. The light gleamed on the round edge of her empty shoulder holster. “Maybe they’ve heard something.”

The room grew silent. To her left, Mieshka felt the tension emanating from the back of the ship. In addition to Aiden, Gobardon, Jo, and Mieshka, the ship held another five people. Mieshka’s dad sat with a brittle kind of stiffness—like an iron rod that had been hollowed out with rust. Beside him, Mieshka’s uncle had an easier, more capable posture, his eyes sharp and practical in the dim light.

They’d reacted to the death of Mieshka’s mother in wholly different ways. While her dad had retreated into a grief-stricken shell, Uncle Alexei had signed himself up for boot-camp. That didn’t mean he was necessarily better off than her dad—the way he acted, especially around her, was not conducive to someone who had gotten over his loss—but it gave him a hardiness that her father would never manage.

Behind where Uncle Alexei crouched on the floor sat the only three remotely calm people on the ship.

Kitty, leaning against the grating at the very back, fiddled with a switchblade in her hand. Shorter than the rest of the cabin by at least a head, the electric elemental had a skin tone dark enough to challenge Jo’s. She wrapped her personality in punk-rebel attire, the rips in her skinny jeans and the splatters of neon paint on her sleeves nearly drowned out by the mercury-based running lights under the floor grating.

Beside her, Buck and McKay sat cross-legged against the side wall. They looked comically disproportionate—Buck, with his large build and pale Caucasian appearance, sat with a zen-like calm, placidly taking in the conversation. McKay, who’d swapped out her military fatigues for a pair of weathered khakis and a death-metal band t-shirt, looked almost waif-like next to him. Her arms looked far too skinny to wield the assault rifle propped against the wall beside her.

Her eyes held a sharp, feral edge as they watched the cockpit.

The floor shivered. A sense of weightlessness flipped Mieshka’s gut as the ship shifted direction. Again.

Fuck it.” Aiden reached for the console. “I’m making the jump.”

The screens changed up front, expanding a topographical map across the main screen and pushing the data-log to the left-hand side. The screen to Gobardon’s right continued its attempted comms link, the signature bloop pattern muffled by a flurry of activity as Aiden pushed the ship into other tasks.

Mieshka gripped the edge of her box harder, ignoring the pain that flared under her bandages. This would be her third jump, and she didn’t think she’d ever get used to it.

As it had been explained to her, Aiden’s ship—and every other mage ship—had inter-dimensional capabilities. It was the only reason the mages had managed to escape the deadly fate of their old world. Mieshka wasn’t sure how they worked, but she knew that the mages’ magic had something to do with it. Their technology had far surpassed anything ever invented on her own world.

A shudder rattled the wall panels. Her shoulder bumped into Jo’s. They didn’t exactly have seatbelts—only the cargo netting behind them provided any actual support. The boxes they sat on were simply stacked on the floor.

That might have been a problem in an ordinary plane, but Aiden’s ship didn’t obey aeronautical principles. It was propelled, balanced, and managed by magic. It moved like water on a bed of oil.

Her stomach flipped again as it adjusted itself. A heavy, low-pitched keen thrummed through the air as the engines whirred to life.

Nausea pulled at her gut. All the hairs on her skin shifted like a chill. She swallowed it back as the engines’ roar reached a crescendo.

As it moved, she had the distinct, terrifying knowledge of the exact moment they passed from one point and entered the next.

The screens flickered.

A second later, with an ominous beep, they’d shifted to a dark, orange-tinted video-like feed of what Mieshka presumed was the outside.

They’d arrived.

According to Aiden, they were supposed to be inside Merzetzdeitz’s main hangar—the place the city’s mages stored most of their Lost Tech ships—but the feed didn’t look like any hangar Mieshka had ever seen. The ones back in Terremain had been huge, with room to park twenty fighters in each one. Even Aiden’s old hangar had had space.

Here? It looked little bigger than an apartment.

Why’s it so dark?” Jo asked. “Is there something wrong with your camera?”

They haven’t turned on the lights,” Aiden said. “I expect that will change soon.”

Oh look,” Gobardon’s arm reached into the space between the two pilots’ chairs, his ring and index fingers pointing to the data stream to Aiden’s left. His tone sounded light, as if his usual sarcastic edge had been lifted by humor. “We’ve triggered an alarm.”

Jo sat straighter. “Should I prepare for combat, sir?”

No. They should know I’m coming—I’ve been in contact with the government for a while.” Aiden ran a hand through his hair. “Besides, there’s nothing you could do. I’d rather you not get friendly-fired for trying to defend yourself.”

The ship shifted, moving slickly over whatever change in atmosphere it had detected. The quiet grew in the cabin, as thick as the muggy air.

Everyone was exhausted. Most had spent the last day and a half without sleep, dealing with the consequences of mass evacuation and guerrilla warfare. Others had added attempted patricide to that list.

Mieshka had probably gotten more sleep in the last twenty-four hours than the rest of the cabin combined—except for Kitty, but being knocked out probably didn’t count.

Movement shifted on the screen. The datalog on the left streamed a little faster.

A second later, the main screen highlighted the two mages that had moved into sight, outlining them in orange. They moved with military precision, and the computer picked up the spells they’d already prepared on their skin.

Are those guns?” Jo asked.

Yes,” Aiden said. “Probably a mandatory equipment requirement, given their collaboration with mundane forces.”

Jo cocked her head. “They seem kind of…small.”

Not everyone needs a Mark 57 Combine to feel confident, Jo-Jo.” McKay shifted against the wall, lifting an eyebrow at her comrade.

Says the woman cuddling an assault rifle,” Jo said. “They’re mages, aren’t they Aiden?”

They are,” Aiden said. “Earth and Water, specifically. And those guns look modified. The ship’s picking up some latent magic from them.”

So,” Kitty said, the switchblade balanced on two of her fingertips. “Are they going to shoot us down or what?”

No,” Aiden said. “Absolutely not. Even if we weren’t friendlies, this is an historic ship. One of the Ilio class corvettes. Priceless hardware. They wouldn’t lay a hand on—”

Beeps screamed from the dashboard. Orange light flared brightly, vividly.

That was the only warning they got.

A concussion rocked the ship from the outside. The floor jerked, tilted. Mieshka scrambled for balance as the cabin shifted, engines whirring hard beneath the floor.

A second later, the ship evened out.

Any other thoughts on what the Mageguard won’t shoot at?” Gobardon asked.

Shut it,” Aiden grumbled. “You all right back there?”

Yeah,” Jo said. “No one fell. What’s the plan? I—”

The main screen flared again. This time, Mieshka saw the spell that slammed into the ship’s cameras.

They slammed back, nose tipping up. Magic crackled through the air as the ship tried to right itself, veering sideways like an empty board caught in the surf. Mieshka scrambled for purchase as the cabin jerked, tipped. A mix of instinct and adrenaline already had her climbing with the movement as her box tipped. She scratched at the cardboard with her fingertips, searched for an edge to grip.

Her injuries caught up with her. Pain lanced up from the stitches in her leg and arm. She missed the edge as her box shifted under her. Her fingertips smacked against the cardboard. Briefly, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

The second jerk knocked her to the floor.

Blood welled in her mouth. Pain numbed her jaw, her tongue. The grating stubbed against all of her fingertips. Her suitcase crashed headlong into the side paneling in front of her. Everywhere, sound blared, screamed, roared. She could see other people on the floor. Kitty, McKay, Uncle Alexei.

The ship evened out. Engines whirred under the floor, fighting for stability.

She pushed herself up.

More people had appeared on the main screen, outlined in vivid orange by the ship’s AI. Labels of text identified and analyzed them in a skeleton-map across their bodies. The magic runes seen on their skin appeared on the right-most screen in real-time.

Mieshka looked up just in time to see another elemental spell smash into the ship’s cameras.

The lights went out.

They dropped like a rock.


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