Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.
Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.
“The Clockwork Dagger was just what I needed: A steampunk adventure with an uncommon heroine, a fascinating magic system, and a young gremlin! I’m hooked and can’t wait for more Octavia and Leaf!” —New York Times bestselling author Kevin Hearne
Most of the lights in the promenade had been shut off. A few lamps swayed in the center of the room, casting soft and subtle illumination; dim glowstones embedded in the tiles added to the effect.
"I thought you said it'd be busy in here?" Her heart beat a little faster.
"On some trips, most every passenger comes to view the Road. Other times, none at all. Here. The library will offer the best view."
I'm alone with him, but I've been alone with him several times already, even in my own berthing. He's a gentleman.
Mr. Garret worked the latches and slid a window open. A gust of cold air caused her to gasp, her skirt lapping against her thighs. She smoothed her wayward dress and stepped closer to the window. The 45-degree angle of the opening caused her to gaze into almost complete blackness below. She noted a faint string of road and a distant glimmering light.
"Is that it?" She pointed as she set down her satchel.
He bent down to look. "No, 'tis likely a house amidst the marshes. You will know the Road. The ship will turn to follow its brief length."
"I see. Well, I understand. I don't actually see it yet, of course." I'm yammering like a ninny. I should stop talking.
So close, his sleeve brushed hers and his radiant masculine warmth was bold against the chill of the night. "Tell me, Miss Leander, about the destination of your journey."
She blinked, surprised by the question. "Oh. Uh. I've been employed by the village of Delford. It's a two-day wagon ride from Mercia, to the south of the Giant. There are no medicians in the vicinity. The Wasters committed an attack there, you see, some new kind of poison. It didn't kill people immediately, but has created slow and terrible suffering."
"I have not heard of any such attack."
"Oh, there's a reason for that. Their representatives told me that Caskentia has kept their suffering quiet, lest it create a panic amongst the greater population."
He grunted. "That I can believe. Secrets would keep well there. 'Tis quite remote."
"You've been to Delford?"
"I have been all around the Giant. If you think it appears huge looking south on a clear day, wait until you stand within the foothills and gaze up." He shook his head, hair whipping at his shoulders.
"I read up on it as much as possible, of course. They sent three men to the academy's hiring fair. There's a house for me there, barely more than a shed, but I can build onto it in time. The winters are a tad milder in the south with a mere touch of snow, but they said bellywood trees grow and pampria and heskool are native and... oh dear, I am going on, aren't I?"
"Quite all right." His grin seemed to glow in the faint light. "Your enthusiasm is a delight. You are blessed to have such a bounty awaiting you."
Anxiety twisted in her gut. I will scavenge the underbrush to find herbs, take on most any farm labor needed to earn food. I'll prove to them that I belong, even if I cannot tend to the worst of their maladies straight away.
She forced her dry throat to swallow. "I do look forward to settling in. I want to plant my own roots, like the Lady's Tree."
"'Tis the hope of most." Something sad seemed hidden in his words.
"Not pleased with a steward's life?" Octavia cocked her head to one side.
He remained quiet for a time, staring into the darkness as if he could see something of interest. "I had hoped to make a career as a soldier."
"Ah." Mechanical limbs greatly improved quality of life, but they weren't allowed in the enlisted ranks. Life in the field was too adverse, and even the best of mechanicals could fail.
A glimmer of light caught her eye and she pointed out the window. "Look! Is that...?"
"Indeed. Feel the airship turning?" The rumbling of the ship shifted, deepening. The little stub wing of the craft gleamed silver in the darkness, its rotor a constant blur as the airship turned. The thatched lines of a city emerged, tucked between the hills, and beyond that lay the Saint's Road.
Stones glowed in white, green, and gold, the colors braided. The airship was low enough that she could see people on the ground below, but none on the path itself. The mob shifted in a peculiar way. A faint melody rang in Octavia's ears.
"They're dancing," she whispered. Tears smarted her eyes, and not from the gushing air.
In the colorful illumination of the Road, skirts twirled and black coats gleamed, but not all to the same beat. Some moved slowly, as if to a waltz, while others twirled like Mendalian dagger fighters.
"The road sings, but no one hears the same song," Mr. Garret whispered, reverence in his tone.
Blood screamed in Octavia's ears, but the Road purred its melody. A memory flashed in her mind, one long lost to time.I awakened in my bed. I was so little--maybe five, with that sheet of alphabet letters glued by my bed. Mother hummed a melody in the kitchen. There was no denying that Mother sang like a hungry cat, but her humming--off-key as it was--conveyed pure joy at the start of a new day. The sound made me smile and wriggle deeper in my nest. The scent of fresh baked bread sifted into the room. The world outside my blankets was fiercely cold, but I was warm, so perfectly warm.
A strong beat carried through the rhythm of the song, matching time with her mother's hummed melody.
A sob choked out. She pressed a fist to her lips. "I... I always heard people traveled here, even from the southern nations, and everyone always said it was beautiful, that there was nothing like it, but..."
"No one can do it justice with mere words." Tears left glistening trails down his cheeks.
How is his song different? Does he hear his father? But she knew she could never ask, never pry in that way.
She held an arm out of the window, the wind a weight against her spread fingers, almost as if she could feel the magic as carried through the air like a geologica.
"Careful. Do not lean far." Mr. Garret laid a heavy hand on her forearm as if to bind it to the sill.
"The road has such a presence. To think, one woman laid that, stone by stone." This is probably as close as I'll ever get to the Lady's Tree: a place sanctified and alive.
"A constellation bound to soil, by sweat and loss and toil," Mr. Garret sang, his baritone husky and surprisingly soft. "Stone by stone and tear by tear, fear ye not for God is near."
"You show yourself to be a poet again, Mr. Garret. My father... he loved that verse." A tear dried on her cheek and stiffened the skin.
He shrugged, suddenly shy. "'Tis a pleasant tune, especially with strings in accompaniment." His hand remained on her arm, his fingers thick and dark against the pale blue. The Road's song was already fading as the airship sailed on, but the strong beat lingered. Octavia looked from her arm to his face.
It's Mr. Garret. His body's song. It was one with the Road's melody, with Mother's humming. The three braided together like the colors of the Saint's Road itself.
What does that mean?
The world beneath them darkened. The motors revved again. She sensed the subtle shift as they redirected due south.
It was cold. She knew, logically, that the window was open and she should be feeling quite numb by now, but the sensations from her childhood memory dwelled on her like a real thing, like her visions of the Lady's Tree. Octavia was warm, cocooned in the strange awareness that this was one of the most perfect moments she would encounter in her life.
So she kissed him.