Authors: Kate McIntyre
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Cover Art by Amalia Chitulescu
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ISBN 978-1-62007-908-9 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-62007-909-6 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-62007-910-2 (hardcover)
Who I love more than anything
Who is always there for me
Who magically knows just what I need
Who has changed my life more than she’d ever believe
And who is going to kill me for writing this
f you listen to certain voices in this city, we’re all about to die,” Michael Buckley declared.
The gathered crowd laughed in delight.
Michael raised his hand, calling for quiet. “Now, now,” he soothed. His voice projected out to the whole of the grand ballroom. “It
happen!” He put a bit of mock consternation into his voice.
Another titter of laughter went through the upper crust of Darrington City society, all dressed in silks and satin and studded with diamonds and pearls.
“The reformists want to be right so badly they could lose their minds! They could pour through those doors, armed to the teeth, howling about hubris! Firing their pistols and freeing elementals!”
Jewels glinted as heads tilted in merriment, and Michael Buckley chuckled. “Of course, I highly doubt they’d have the courage, after how soundly we’ve sent them all running with their tails between their legs.”
Five hundred of the most important men and women in Tarland burst into wild applause. Beside Michael, his wife, Julia, reached up and gripped his elbow.
Michael half-turned, indicating the bubbling champagne fountain on the table behind him. That sparkling crowd fell into silence once again, following him with their eyes. The fountain was as tall as a man, and it glowed with an unearthly, azure light. Turquoise sparks fell in bursts, and when Michael turned his attention to it, he felt the tiny tug of its reluctant inhabitant in the back of his mind. A cascade of those glowing motes sparked off the fountain at the exact moment he felt her try and break free of her bonds.
Imprisoned elementals were rarely complacent companions.
Oh, calm yourself
. He directed the thought at that bundle of furious awareness as he took two empty champagne flutes from the table. One, he handed to his wife, and the other, he held up to the crowd with a flourish. “Tonight,” he said, letting his voice carry, “we celebrate the finest moment in Tarland’s history since two centuries ago, when Richard Lowry taught us all that
is an outdated notion from an antiquated time. It isn’t
that has made tonight and all its wonders possible! It’s hard-working, bright Tarls who never believed for a moment our way of life could fail us.”
They hung on his every word, and why not? He’d seen Darrington’s best and brightest all crowded around the windows, looking down and
. This ballroom with its marble floors, vaulted ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and grand staircases drifted effortlessly above the city. To the people both above and below, it seemed as though a shimmering cloud supported their flight. The tiny lights of Darrington winked and twinkled below, a world away. Who could blame these people for their wonder? Nothing like this had ever been done before.
“So many of you made tonight possible,” he continued. “The seeshifters and your glamours to turn dust to gold! The gearsetters and your clever minds, designing all the mechanisms! And even the ironcutters, those manual labourers! That’s the society we advocate, the society the reformists have no respect for. One where everyone has value.” He paused for a moment, not wanting to undermine the words he’d just said, feeling pride swell in his chest. “But,” he continued, “of course, the real champions of this night are the spiritbinders and their amazing creation, a network of sylphs bound as one! I may not be one of the pioneers who made this wonder possible, but though my contributions were small, I am proud to share my categorization with brilliant progressives like them! Someday, my own lovely daughter will join those ranks. Listen not to the doomsaying of the reformists. Our future will be bright and glorious!”
At that, he turned and dipped his flute into the burbling moat at the base of the champagne fountain he had created. “Thank you, little water princess,” he murmured to the undine trapped within.
The cerulean nimbus pulsed dangerously, and Michael chuckled.
When he straightened and turned back to the crowd, he held the glass aloft and raised his voice in an exultant cry. “Ladies and gentlemen of Darrington! Join me in raising your glasses as we celebrate our greatest modern accomplishment―the Floating Castle!”
Five hundred glasses rose in unison, and Michael turned to clink his against Julia’s…and stopped.
The liquid within his crystal flute was trembling.
He stared, brow furrowing. The Floating Castle was built to be as steady as a building with a concrete foundation. The liquid should be still as a quiet lake at morning.
A murmur went through the crowd. His wife looked up at him, her eyes wide. “Michael?” she whispered. “Is something―”
The floor moved.
The musicians stopped playing their soft, triumphant tune and lowered their instruments. Wives took a step closer to their husbands. Julia gasped, hugging his elbow tighter.
In that corner of his mind, the undine danced.
The floor shifted again, hard enough half the guests stumbled. Julia gave a startled cry and Michael darted forward to catch her in his arms. Sounds of alarm rose around the room. His gaze flew up to the crowd, all staring at him, waiting.
“Ahh,” he said.
Julia clung to him so tightly he couldn’t turn away from her to give them his full attention.
“Everyone,” he continued, trying to sound confident and fearless despite the way his stomach had dropped, “if you could all just wait a moment, I’m sure this is―”
Then the floor heaved and everyone screamed. Over the sound of growing panic, a voice bellowed, shocking Michael cold. He raised his eyes to see Edward Edison, the leader of the Floating Castle Project, waving his arms from atop the grand staircase.
“The net is compromised!” he howled. “The sylphs are breaking loose! Everybody out, everybody get out! Get out
And then, pandemonium.
The panicked guests tore off in all directions like a spooked herd. Women tripped over their skirts and were trampled by the men accompanying them. Everyone was screaming, shouting, crying.
Michael seized Julia, struggling to keep terror at bay. “Stay close,” he commanded.
He felt her nod against his chest. Her body was rigid as steel.
His eyes scanned the room. People scattered and only Edison’s “
It’s collapsing! Everybody, now!
” could be heard above the stampede.
“Michael…” Julia keened, shuddering against him. “Michael, we―”
“Quiet,” he commanded and she went silent. He caught sight of one of the service exits, concealed behind an intricate ice sculpture glowing with the silver light of a bound fiaran. “There,” he said, and grabbed Julia’s hand tightly in his. He dropped his flute to the ground and it shattered, golden liquid splattering against marble. “We go there.”
The undine’s mental laughter followed after him as he fled.
They threaded through the swarm. The floor heaved once again, sending them staggering, but they regained their footing. While others bolted in all directions and crushed one another to reach the main doors, Michael and Julia moved with purpose toward the hidden exit. When the floor lurched again, Julia stumbled and fell, but Michael pulled her to her feet.