Today, we have two* more reasons to be hyped for the book’s release this September: we’re showing off the cover (with art by Ignacio Lazcano) and sharing an exclusive excerpt. You can find both below the official summary.
*Wait, we actually have three reasons: no less a personage than Neal Stephenson has called Skyfarer, “One of those remarkable books that consists entirely of ‘the good parts.’ Nonstop fun with unexpected moments of real pathos.” Hot dang!
The Axiom Diamond is a mythical relic, with the power to show its bearer any truth they desire. Men have sought for it across many continents for centuries, but in vain. When trainee sorceress Aimee de Laurent’s first ever portal-casting goes awry, she and her mentor are thrown into the race to find the gem, on the skyship Elysium. Opposing them are the infamous magic-wielding knights of the Eternal Order and their ruthless commander, Lord Azrael, who will destroy everything in their path…
And here’s the first chapter…
THE PORTALMAGE’S APPRENTICE
On the sun-kissed docks at the edge of the world, Aimee de Laurent awaited her freedom. In less than an hour, she would board the slender skycraft called Elysium. Then her home city of Havensreach and the Academy of Mystic Sciences would be left behind. The servitude of studentship would be gone forever, and adventure, danger, and wonder lay ahead.
Sound and sensation mingled around her. Market vendors shouted their prices in a drone overlaid by the mighty, whipping winds. Crates and workboots thudded against the ramp of the loading dock. She tasted the air, sweet and fresh.
Uncle, she thought. If you could only see me now.
She stood only ten feet from the lip of the bottomless sky, dressed in a long coat of faded blue with a high collar, black boots, snug pants that left her free to move, and a light shirt looser about the neck than school regulations allowed. No more uniforms. No more academy rules.
The breeze tugged stray bits of gold hair out of her braid to tickle the front of her pale, resolute face. In her left hand, she held a leather bag with her most precious personal possessions: mirror and brush, her most recent journal of mystic forms, the atlas her father had given to her, and her mother’s ring. In her right hand, her burnished, silver apprentice’s badge hung on its gleaming chain.
One more hour, and the full breadth of the world would open before her. Just one more hour.
Aimee drew in a breath of fresh wind, and drank in the trackless ocean of sky. In the distance, the nearest isle to Havensreach hovered amidst a vast bank of ochre clouds – a thin line of mountain-crowned earth, suspended in the heavens. It looked so close from here, but it was a two-day journey by behemoth or ferry to reach its ports. Her teacher boasted that a smaller, lighter ship such as Elysium could reach it in half a day.
She was lost in her thoughts before footfalls sounded further up the dock, and the tall, well-groomed form of Aimee’s instructor stepped up beside her. “There are more productive ways to spend your time,” he said, “than waiting for the loading to finish.” His name was Harkon Bright, and he would hold her apprenticeship for the next several years. He folded his arms on his chest, and his gray and violet robes of mastery billowed in the breeze. His dark brown skin was marked by scars and laugh lines, and his well-trimmed hair and beard were white as moonlight.
Aimee gave the old man a sideways smile. “I thought I might snatch a few moments to take in the view,” she said. “After all, when’s the next time I’ll get to see Drakesburg from the grand wall? It might be years.” But there was so much else she would see.
“It’ll be weeks before you see trees again, but I don’t see you staring at those,” Harkon chuckled.
“Other isles have trees, teacher,” Aimee deadpanned. “I’m just eager to go. I’ve been in Havensreach for all of my nineteen years. I’m ready to be somewhere else.”
“Now there’s the storied honesty. I want more of that going forward, Miss Laurent. You will be aboard my ship for months between stops. Apprenticeship requires candor. Am I understood?”
“Absolutely,” Aimee affirmed. And thank the gods for that!
“Come,” Harkon said. “It’s time to get on board.”
Elysium was a long, slender skycraft, her wings swept forward and angled down from the hull. Two large exhaust ports for her top-of-the-line metadrive glowed with a faint blue light, flanking the stern gun turret. She was freshly painted a bright silver, and the two fins of her tail were short and slanted.
Aimee paused. Looking closer, the graceful curve of apertures on the nose had –if her ship lore was accurate – to be powerful ether-cannons, the sort you normally only saw on high-end military craft. Closer still, what the sorceress had initially thought to be divination sensor-pods looked more like well-concealed, very big guns.
Despite being designated in the official rolls as an “explorer,” Elysium was better armed than most gunships she’d seen. That should have unnerved her, but in the brief moment of realization she felt only a surge of curiosity before they were clambering aboard.
They tromped up the loading ramp as the last of the dockworkers jogged down. Just before they entered the bay, Aimee turned to steal a last glance at home. From here, she could only see a small sliver of the port, and beyond it the expanse of Havensreach’s white walls. The floating upper ring where she’d grown up was out of sight, and she couldn’t see the mystic energy field of the portal shield enveloping the port, but her trained senses could feel it. Magic that protected. Magic that constrained.
Aimee allowed the glance to last only another moment, then turned resolutely towards the vessel’s interior. No more constraints. Time to fly.
Aimee de Laurent was born to wealth, finery, and great privilege. Her mother was a water baron’s daughter, noble born, her father a financier in Havensreach’s upper ring. As a girl she’d loved puzzle games, stories of adventure, and books of ancient myth. She’d never wanted for anything but independence, and as she walked into Elysium’s hold she inhaled her first real breath of it. Exposed metal beams, copper piping, expensive hardwood trim and viewports ringed with brass greeted her. She walked past crates that smelled of walnut, poplar, and sandalwood oil. The ambient magic of the metadrive teased at her attuned senses.
“The bridge is straight ahead,” Harkon said. “Portal work is done from there. Engine room is to the rear and down. All crew cabins and rooms are off from this central corridor on the upper deck. You’ll be shown your room in a moment, after you’ve met the crew.”
They walked through a central dining hall. The first thing that caught Aimee’s attention was the beautiful observation window with its view of the clouds far below the skydocks. The floor was finished hardwood laden with fine carpets, and the galley smelled of stew cooking just past the serving ledge. As she looked, a massive gray-haired man emerged from the kitchen. His beard was braided and adorned with bronze rings. His pale face was scarred, and a stained apron was wrapped about his waist.
“This is Bjorn,” Aimee’s teacher said. “Cook and ship’s gunner.”
“So this is your apprentice?” the huge man asked Harkon.
“I am,” Aimee answered. She flashed a brilliant smile and offered the cook her hand. “I am Aimee de Laurent, late of the upper ring of Havensreach.”
Bjorn looked at the proffered palm and laughed. “Where’d you find this upper class lady, Hark? She sounds like an aristocrat straight from the charm schools!”
“Hah,” Aimee laughed. “No, I’m not an aristocrat. That was my mother. But you’re right about the charm school. I attended Saint Austin’s for three years; it was the tradeoff that convinced my mother to let me attend the Academy of Mystic Sciences.”
“Top of her class,” Harkon said. “Opened her first portal at the end of her second year. Unprecedented.”
Aimee saw a newfound respect in the cook’s gaze. “Well, Miss Laurent, welcome to Elysium. I hope you like food with real flavor. These chumps in Havensreach don’t know how to cook, and I learned in the Kiscadian Republic.”
“Don’t listen to him,” a new voice said. It belonged to a woman with the slight frame of a natural-born skyfarer and an infectious smile. Her hands were delicate, her hair black, her skin tanned and jewel-toned. Her eyes were thin, dark, and intelligent.
“Bjorn says his cooking is spicy,” she continued, “but if you’ve been outside the central shipping lanes of the Dragon Road at all, you know that’s a lie.”
She extended a hand to Aimee, grinning ear to ear. “Hi! I’m Vlana, ship’s quartermaster. My brother Vant is the engineer, so you’ll meet him once we get underway. He’s still screaming at the portmasters. They’re insisting on keeping us here for a complete inspection.”
Aimee grinned and quipped back. “Can engineers and portmasters even communicate? I thought they were different species.”
“Oh, you’re gonna fit in great.” Vlana said, and looped her arm through Aimee’s. “Come on. I’ll show you the bridge – Hark, do you mind?”
The old sorcerer shook his head. “Go on. It sounds like I have to keep your brother from starting a riot.”
The two women walked up the corridor that spanned the spine of the skyship. “Elysium,” Vlana explained with pride, “is a refurbished Cirrus-class air-schooner. She has a steel hull bound over ironwood, with extra enchantments for stability, lightness and speed. Her metadrive is a top of the line 7221 model with twin vents for twice the thrust. She can outrun imperial ships of the line at full burn, and out-dance two-man gunships a third her size.”
“Cirrus class,” Aimee mused, running through the ship classifications she’d memorized in her last year at the academy. “Don’t they have a different profile?”
“Like I said,” Vlana repeated. “Refurbished.” She gave an approving smile “You know your ships.”
“Required reading,” Aimee answered as they climbed a short set of steps and walked through a narrow doorway. Here the sorceress paused and sucked in a breath at the vision before her: Elysium’s bridge was beautiful.
Polished hardwood and brass shone in the morning sunlight. Aimee stood atop the higher of two decks, looking down at the helm-wheel in the center of the one below. The viewport spanned the front hundred-and-eighty degrees of the room, giving the pilot an unchallenged view of the sky. Directly opposite the helm on either side were the weaponry and navigation stations. The wheel had a direct communication tube to the engine room, and the nav-station shimmered with elaborate, glowing star-charts and an astrolabe. The air here smelled of polish, hardwood, and fresh wind.
All this took Aimee a few moments to internalize, before her eyes fell upon the platform three feet in front of her, and everything else faded away: the portal dais. It was black, and rimmed in platinum, etched with the silver symbols of transportation magic. Aimee took a step forward. Her boots brushed against its lip, and she felt the potent enchantments upon the device. They pulled at her senses with a fierce insistence. This was power. This was freedom. This was the gateway to sights hitherto unimagined.
“Never seen one in person?” Vlana asked, amused.
“In the academy,” Aimee answered. “But those were for student use. They were battered. Worn. This is–”
“Custom designed,” Harkon said, entering the bridge behind them. “Its range is twice that of the standard circles in use nowadays. It was freshly cleaned and refurbished in preparation for our voyage.”
“Twice the range,” Aimee breathed. She itched to test its limits.
A brown-skinned woman in a dirty leather jacket appeared below and sidled up to the helm. She had a shock of blue hair, and the over-the-eyebrow glyph of the pilot’s guild tattooed on her face. “Vant says we’ve got dock clearance.”
“That was quick,” Vlana said, surprised. “Must be eager to be rid of us.” She flashed Harkon a grin.
“There are benefits to being known troublemakers,” Harkon mused, and gave Aimee a sideways smile. Aimee paused. This was a different side of her teacher than she’d seen in the school. Outside the walls, in his own vessel, Harkon Bright seemed to breathe easier. There was an energy in the mage’s eyes that had always seemed subdued within his academic surroundings. Now it pulsed with a static charge.
“Yeah, yeah,” the blue-haired woman shot back. “Are we good to go, chief?”
Harkon looked at Vlana.
“Everything’s battened down,” the quartermaster said. “But they won’t like this.”
“That,” Aimee’s teacher said with a boyish laugh, “is half the fun.” Turning to the blue-haired woman by the helm, he said, “Clutch, tell Vant to gun the metadrive to full power. We’re going straight up.”
Aimee’s eyes widened. “Now?”
“If I wait,” Harkon said, “we’ll sit in the departure queue for three hours. I don’t know about you, Miss Laurent, but I’d rather not.”
Clutch grabbed the communication tube. “Vant, Hark says gun it to full. We’re cutting the line.”
Aimee heard an irritable voice jabber back.
“Oh,” Vlana snickered, “this is gonna be fun.”
“Hey, remember the time we gave those Kiscadian dreadnoughts the slip near Glimmermere?” the pilot asked over her shoulder. “At least nobody’s shooting at us this time.”
“It’s the little things,” Vlana confirmed.
Aimee was about to ask what in the abyss that meant, when the rumble and ripple of magic passed beneath her feet as the metadrive roared to life. Clutch took the helm. The sound of loosening dock clamps rang outside the hull, and there was a lurch as Elysium floated free into the open air. Aimee gripped the rail for support. The deck creaked under her, and beyond the viewport, clouds swam in a sea of infinite blue.
Then her teacher said the words, and Aimee’s heart leapt to a thousand paces. “Clutch,” Harkon said. “Take us skyward.”
The deck tilted as the ship swept clear from her berth, and Aimee had a brief view of the white walls of Havensreach sprouting from the bottom lip of the floating island. She glimpsed a line of vessels up ahead, orderly and slow in their exit. Then Clutch pulled Elysium’s prow up.
“I love this part,” the blue-haired woman said. A concussive burst of arcane fury detonated at the rear of the ship, and Elysium shot into the sky. Outside the viewport, vessels in the queue veered from their path. The pilot’s hands danced upon the wheel, and her joyful shout surged through the bridge as the silver craft tore through the clouds.
Aimee laughed and clung to the rail as the sunlight blazed ahead, and the skyship called Elysium carried her to heaven. Wild. Fast. Free.