To celebrate the preorder of The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon, the first in a new fantasy adventure series from Yarnsworld author Benedict Patrick, all this week some of the premier websites from the fantasy community are sharing extracts from the novel’s first chapter, as well as revealing some exclusive character art from artist Juliana Wilhelm.
Heat radiated from her cheeks as she imagined the eyes of her crew – particularly those who had made it clear they did not appreciate an academy whelp in command – boring into the back of her head, blaming her and her perceived inexperience for their predicament. She snarled, shaking her head, chasing those doubts away; she had proven to herself long ago she was more than worthy of a ship of her own, and her superiors had recognised her excellence on more than one occasion. It was just this bloody crew that still needed to be shown why she had graduated at the top of her year’s intake.
Hungry to find a way forward, to start steering them out of this mess, Min latched on to the sight of Jedda crawling above deck, her goggles back over her eyes.
“Jedda!” Min shouted, beckoning the artificer over. “I need options here. How long to get the core back up and running? The sails and rudder are dead, so I’m going to need some magic to pick ourselves up with.”
Jedda looked at Min as if she were stupid. “Get the core running again? It’s dead, Min. The core’s totally drained. I’ve no way of filling it back up again. This should never have happened.”
A commotion erupted from beneath the deck. Min rolled her eyes, swallowing with a suddenly dry throat.
By the hells. The last thing I need is him up here.
Abalendu strode out from below, pushing a younger deckhand out of the way. Zoya marched behind him, unmoved by the destruction on the deck.
“You!” Abalendu shouted, pointing at Min and marching over to her. His dragontoad was still perched on his shoulder, its long tail wrapped lazily around his neck. Abalendu wore a pale yellow embroidered robe, popular with the Zadzerjian nobility, but with all the commotion below deck, his finery had been ruined. In particular, the front of it was now covered in a giant ink stain, and its overly-long sleeves were torn, giving him the comical look of an angrily flapping parakeet.
“Just what in Master Murhk’s name are you playing at, recruit?” Abalendu demanded with a sharp finger jab at Min’s chest.
Min pursed her lips, her own eyes flicking to Zoya as Abalendu poked her. Zoya was Abalendu’s bodyguard, this was true, but the woman was a true soldier, and had proven herself to be a stickler for the rules. Min wondered how much mistreatment Abalendu would be able to dole out before Zoya took it upon herself to intervene.
“Well, Mister Seekwalla,” Min said, casting her eyes over the deck, as if performing a routine inspection, “we’re just taking stock of things right now. Been a bit of an eventful morning, don’t you know, so we’ve got our work cut out for us just now—”
“Your work? Your work cut out for you? I’ll say you have! I’ll say so, and a little bit more!” Abalendu’s eyes were wide, and he turned to look at the nearby crew, Zoya in particular, to see if they were going to join in, as if he expected everyone else to be as outraged as he was.
Min was used to most of the crew not taking Abalendu seriously. Even his fellow Zadzerjians, separated from him by his nobility and lack of naval experience, smirked behind his back whenever any attention was drawn to his ridiculous dragontoad.
Nobody was smirking at the moment. In fact, Min noticed a few nodding at his words. Taking deep breaths, huffing and puffing like a child preparing for a tantrum, Abalendu turned back to Min. “Where are we? What have you done with my ship?”
Min raised an eyebrow, and was pleased to see a number of the nearby crew – Sung in particular – react unfavourably to the nobleman’s statement.
Your ship, Abalendu? You‘re just a passenger. Your father might be admiral, but to the rest of us, you’re just a particularly obnoxious bit of cargo.
Min looked to the crew again. Her people.
The Narwhal is our ship.
My ship, damn you.
The only thing that stopped Min from saying all of this out loud was the memory of Abalendu’s father, first notifying her of her command of the Narwhal. The look on his face, the knowing glances as he gave her this mission, told Min the man had known exactly the burden he had placed on her by putting his son aboard. But she was expected to take Abalendu on his quest anyway, and treating the spoiled scholar with disrespect in front of the others would not go down well with command.
Min swallowed her pride, and her retort.
“Not a bad question, actually. Been a bit busy up here, but from what I can tell, a lot of us don’t seem to have any memory of what went wrong.”
She raised her voice, allowing all nearby to hear. “What’s the last thing any of you remember?” she asked. “Does anyone have any idea how we actually got here?”
There was, for a brief bit of time, silence.
“The Rhineholt Sea,” someone finally said. It was Zoya, her voice confident, if not puzzled by her own words. “The last thing I can remember, we were in the middle of the Rhineholt Sea. It was midday. There was nothing at all on any horizon. No ships, nor islands. Just clear blue.”
Min nodded, chewing on her lip. She could remember that scene, all right. But how could they have moved from there to… here?
The rest of the crew seemed to be agreeing with Zoya’s statement. Nobody could remember anything past the Rhineholt.
Abalendu spluttered. “But that makes no sense. How can we go from day to night? And just what in Master Bartholtocrat’s name is that thing up there?”
He pointed above the ship, where the purple orb floated in the distance, casting its violet glare over the land around them.
As one, the crew of the Melodious Narwhal turned their gaze upward. Beside Min, Jedda worked at her goggles, turning some kind of lens she had fitted upon them.
“I think…” Jedda said, finally, “I think it’s really far away. It’s big, Min. That thing up there, it’s big. I mean, country-sized big.”
Min shook her head.
“Can’t be. These waters are well mapped. Something like that? We’d know about it already.”
“Unless it’s new,” Jedda countered.
Min nodded grudgingly, her eyes moving to the stars above the purple orb.
“The stars,” she said, lowering her voice so only the nearby officers could hear. “Does anyone recognise the stars?” Silence, again.
“Is anyone else getting the feeling we’re no longer in New Windward waters?”
“Capt’n!” came a cry from the railing, causing Min and those close to her to run to follow it. It was Ole, a blond-bearded Iceman that Min had spoken to maybe five times in the month she had been in charge of the Narwhal.
“What d’you see?” she asked, pushing her head over the side, straining to catch sight of whatever had alarmed her man.
“The water, Capt’n,” Ole said, again forgetting Min’s actual rank. “The stars in the water. They’re moving.”
Min had forgotten about the stars she had seen below them. Sure enough, through the water the Narwhal currently floated on, an endless weave of stars moved underneath, dancing just below the water’s surface, mesmerizing the crew as they stood there.
“They aren’t stars,” Jedda said eventually, adjusting her goggles again. “Min, those are fish. Those are fish, swimming down there.”
As if on cue, one of the lights – fish indeed, Min could now see – leapt from the water, washing the Narwhal‘s crew briefly with its luminous light, before diving below to join its school once again.
Min had never seen anything like it. Never heard of anything like it, either. She looked at the black water, at the countless twinkling objects moving underneath her. The glimmering sea extended all the way to where the horizon should be, but Min was struggling to find it in the night, the line between fish and stars impossible to judge at this distance.
How many of those fish were there? There was no way something like this could exist without Min having ever heard of it before.
The luminous fish in the distance seemed to blend with the stars in the night sky above, and Min found her gaze drawn back to those stars, hanging high over that purple orb.
Min studied those stars for a few seconds, her eyes narrowed.
“Jedda,” Min said, nodding for the artificer to look up as well. “Jedda, those stars up there…”
“Yeah?” Jedda said, adjusting her goggles again, compensating for the vast distance between her and the celestial bodies.
“They’re not stars, are they?”
Jedda’s mouth opened in a large ‘O’. She glanced down at the fish shining below them, then looked back upward.
High above them, well beyond the purple orb that lit the featureless sea, countless luminous fish swam their way along the water that somehow, impossibly, formed the sky.
“Oh,” was all Jedda could manage as she took in the sight. “Oh, my.”
As a special ‘thank you’ to those first in the queue, Benedict is also offering a brand new, exclusive short story set in his Yarnsworld series to those who preorder Darkstar Dragon – forward your proof of purchase to email@example.com to get your hands on Mister Rattlebones today!
Adam is a Pennsylvania resident and has been reviewing and blogging SFF since 2017. When he's not reading or working his day job as a pharma consultant, he enjoys writing reviews, beta reading, and story editing. He loves hockey, his family, and his ridiculously adorable kittens. Hit him up at @swiff