Nadya Skylung paid a high price when she defeated the pirates on the cloudship Remora: She lost her leg. But has she lost her nerve too? When Nadya and the rest of the crew of the cloudship Orion reach the port of Far Agondy, they have a lot to do, including a visit to Machinist Gossner's workshop to have a prosthetic made for Nadya. But though the pirates are far away across the Cloud Sea, Nadya and her friends are still not safe. A gang leader called Silvermask is kidnapping skylung and cloudling children in Far Agondy. When Nadya's friend Aaron is abducted, Nayda will stop at nothing to save him and the other missing kids, and put a stop to Silvermask once and for all.
"An entertaining and engaging fantasy adventure that deals sensitively with the topic of disability. Will appeal to late elementary and early middle school fans of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series and similar middle grade speculative fiction." School Library Journal
About the Author
Brett Helquist has illustrated many books for children, including the bestselling A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. He lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more at bretthelquist.com and on Twitter at @BHelquist.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: In which Nadya goes fishing, and catches more than she bargained for.
My stomach rolls, and I stare at the gently swelling waves of the turquoise ocean. I’m clipped into the back seat of the Flightwing, a pedal-powered flying machine that can hover or rise and fall like a hummingbird, baking in the hot sun with the wind whistling in my ears. In front of me, Tam Ban, the kid who keeps the cloudship Orion fixed up, is squeezed next to Pepper Pott, our fireminder.
And we’re fishing in dangerous waters.
My name’s Nadya Skylung, and I keep the Orion afloat—pretty much all by myself now. I tend the garden that keeps her cloud balloon inflated, and without the balloon, the ship wouldn’t fly.
“Everything okay back there?” Pep asks while she works the Flightwing’s elevation pedals. What she really means is Are you okay back there? I don’t like the Flightwing much anymore. I got hurt on it last month, and riding in it makes me nervous. But our newest crew member, Aaron, asked me to come fishing with the others today. He had a bad feeling about the water and wanted me to make sure they’d be all right.
“Yeah,” I say, balancing a silver cage on my lap. “Just getting the bait ready.” I smear honey on some stale crackers between the bars. The water seems fine to me—shining in the sunlight, moving gently. The day’s as gorgeous as a postcard portrait, and the Orion’s about four hundred feet above us, hanging in the sky like an eagle watching her chicks learn to fly.
Pep turns around. A cloud of fire-orange curls floats around her head, sailing every which way in the downdraft from the Flightwing’s main propeller. Her face, which is usually pretty pale, is a little sunburned from spending too much time outside yesterday, just like mine. Next to her, Tam frowns at the Flightwing’s controls. He’s sunburned too, although you can’t really see it on him because his skin’s darker than ours. Both Pepper and Tam have on big tinted goggles to keep them from getting blinded by the sun and crashing us into the water or the Orion or something. I wish I had a pair, but there’s only two of them on the ship.
The wind shoves the Flightwing around, and my mind races like a frightened rabbit, wondering if Tam’s about to lose control or if a strut will snap and dump me into the ocean. I used to be able to handle a little wind, no problem, but I get scared easy these days. I hate it. I’d give anything to get my nerve back.
Pep holds the cage steady while I finish the bait, which I appreciate. Last month we had a run-in with some real nasty pirates, and I got shot in the shoulder and the leg. My shoulder’s healing up okay, but it still clicks when I rotate it, and it’s sore as heck so working with it’s hard.
My leg’s another story. After I got shot, Nic had to cut off my left leg below the knee to keep an infection in my calf wound from spreading upward. Sometimes I wish he hadn’t and I’d taken my chances with the infection. Sometimes I think my life’s ruined, and I feel like locking my door and never going outside again. But most days I’m glad he did what he did, because if the infection had gotten worse I might’ve died. I can flex my knee and move around pretty good now, and I don’t even have a bandage anymore.
I’m getting used to my stump, too, which Nic calls my residual limb and I call the Mighty Lady. It’s new and strange, but nobody on the crew has anything like it, and I like my scar, which kinda looks like a smile if I flex my muscles a certain way and kinda looks like a frown if I flex them the other.
“Any day now, Nadya!” Tam shouts. The Flightwing bounces. Pep faces forward and bites her lip, concentrating. The wind’s getting strong. It must be hard keeping us steady.
Gingerly, I slide across the seats and push the bait cage to the edge of the Flightwing. The honey crackers hang on hooks inside it, and there’s a one-way gate at the front so fish can swim in and get the bait but can’t swim out again. Tam and Pepper built it to help us catch fish for the baby leviathan we’re delivering, using spare parts for the engines and some kitchen utensils.
The Flightwing bobs and sways as I move. Partly that’s the breeze, but partly it’s my fault. The Flightwing’s just two aluminum skids on legs welded to an aluminum rowboat with a tail and a couple rotors and seats. It’s really lightweight, which helps it fly, but it’s also easy to push around.
My shoulder clicks, but I manage to toss the cage overboard and get clear of the rope attached to it. The cage falls for a couple seconds, its rope unspooling, then splashes into the waves. I let it sink to the depth where the schoolers we’re fishing for like to swim, then use a climbing device Tam clipped to the side of the Flightwing to brake the rope and tie it off.
After that we sit and wait. The Flightwing’s main rotor is so loud we can’t talk much, so I lean back and check on the Orion. Our first mate, Tall Thom, is at her wheel. He’s a fireminder like Pep. Tian Li Chang, our starwinder and navigator, stands next to him, looking down at us. Salyeh Abande—our polymath—and Captain Nic must be in the cabin, figuring out how we’re going to recover from our disaster with the pirates. Aaron’s moving carefully on the catwalks outside our cloud balloon, checking on the plants there. They’ve been churning out a lot of crops, but we’ve eaten almost all the other food, so there probably won’t be enough trade goods to sell to make up our losses on this trip.
The Mighty Lady barks like somebody stabbed her with a skewer, and I look down at where my calf’s missing and remind myself it’s gone, then rub the muscles in my residual limb until the pain goes away. Every once in a while I get these ghost pains, like my nerves think it’s important to remind me that my leg got hurt.
I sigh and slump in my seat. I’m starting to sweat, and my sunburn’s probably getting worse by the minute. I want to get back to the Orion, where it’s cool and shady, so I lean over and check the cage, trying to see whether we’ve hooked any schoolers yet. Sure enough, there’s a big cloud of silvery fish clustered around the spot where the rope disappears into the water. Won’t be long now before we have enough fish to get into port.
The waves churn. The sun glints off them. It’s so bright it makes the water beneath the fish look dark and shadowy, like a cloud’s passing overhead.
My guts flutter, and I frown and squint, then look up. No cloud. I look back down, and the shadowy spot gets bigger. I remember Aaron’s bad feeling, and then I get an icy chill down the back of my neck and feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach.
“Pep!” I shriek. “Take us up! Get higher!”
“What?” she shouts back. She turns around, and the Flightwing swings to the side and drops a few feet lower as she gets distracted from pedaling.
“Up!” I shout, pointing. “We need to go up!”
“How come?” Tam yells. “Are the fish not—”
I unclip my safety harness and throw myself across the bar between our seats. I don’t have room to nudge Pep out of the way, so I dive onto her lap and grab the pedals with my hands. “Something’s coming!”
Pep jerks her feet away from the pedals, and I crank with my hands as fast as I can. The Flightwing’s main rotor roars louder, and we start to rise. My shoulder grinds and hurts, but I ignore it. I’m staring straight down at the shadowy spot, and it’s getting bigger.
“Nadya, I can do it!” Pep shouts. She elbows me in the ribs. “I get it! Let me do it!”
But I’m not willing to stop pedaling to let Pepper take over. The shadow gets as big as the Orion, then even bigger, and then the sea opens up. All the little silvery fish, plus enough water to flood a whole neighborhood, get sucked down with an enormous pop. Glistening teeth the size of people emerge from the water, and I realize I’m staring into the mouth of a full-grown, deep-sea leviathan, a sea serpent big enough to eat a ship without chewing.
Our little silver cage dangles between its jaws for a second. I crank harder, and Tam curses and pulls a lever. A bunch of machinery clunks into place next to my head, and then he starts pedaling too and the Flightwing shoots up like a cork at the bottom of a bucket of water. The cage clears the leviathan’s teeth just as it gets above the waves and snaps its jaws shut with a resounding boom.