(Dark Sky #3)
Publication date: February 7th 2017
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult
The final struggle against the Hellions has arrived. A trapped engineer and a desperate marauder scramble to fight an enemy with unspeakable power on its side. Time is running out, and one world will be destroyed…
After sacrificing herself to save the lives of her friends and family, Claire Abernathy struggles to outwit her Hellion captors. They torment and terrify her into working on a weapon with the sole purpose of obliterating the world, friends, and love she has struggled to save. If Claire has any chance of saving those she loves, she must delve deeper into the Hellion world, and witness nightmares she could never imagine.
In Westraven, Sawyer Kendric is desperate to find the woman he loves. To do so, he must finally embrace his family’s atrocious past and heal the wounds it has caused. He will be forced to make new allies, uncover secrets that change all he knows, and find the courage to lead a ragtag crew into the darkest, deadliest battle of their lives.
Claire and Sawyer fight to save their broken world in the final installment of the epic DARK SKY trilogy.
Previous books in the series:
The storm came out of nowhere. They always did.
I gritted my teeth and held up the crate lid, protecting my face from the fresh torrent of hail that came on the wind. The shards of ice pummeled the battered wood, then vanished completely when the wind changed. I tossed down my makeshift shield, grabbed the spokes of the helm, and fought the wind.
“Hard to port!” I bellowed. My throat was already burning from constantly shouting orders, and more yelling wasn’t helping.
Good thing it’s raining, I thought grimly.
I watched Nash sprint across the deck below, racing for the trap door to repeat my command to Gemma. We were in the air when the storm hit, and Nash refused to follow any order until Gemma was safely tucked away in the engine room, using the airship’s automated controls to alter our course instead of changing sails by dangling hundreds of feet in the air on a piece of rope.
I didn’t argue with him. I knew what it was like, to be so in love with someone that you couldn’t think about anything but protecting them.
But you didn’t. You let her go. You weren’t strong enough to defend her. You weren’t strong enough to save her.
Shoving the truth back down, I wrenched the wheel to the left. The Dauntless Wanderer pitched, pushed by the savage wind. I twisted the helm around and around, my biceps burning as the Dauntless struggled to obey me. I could feel the wooden slats of the quarterdeck vibrating under my feet as the generator struggled to turn the sails. I watched the masts twist and grind in their riveted sockets on the deck. If I pushed them too hard against the wind, they would bend and we would lose control. The top of the main mast was already swaying ominously in the punishing wind.
I mastered the ship. Not the weather.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Nash race up the deck steps and came to a halt next to me. All my focus was on the ink black clouds ahead. I was searching for darker ones.
“Sawyer, we have to go back,” Nash shouted in my ear.
“Not yet,” I yelled back. “We can hold another five minutes.”
As if hearing me, the wind shifted again. I grabbed the crate lid. Nash ducked down and covered his head with his hands. Chunky blocks of hail beat down on us, but I shielded Nash and myself from the worst of it.
As soon as the hail switched to rain, I dropped the crate lid. Nash rose to his feet and swung in front of me. He grabbed some empty spokes on the helm and kept me from turning the wheel.
“Sawyer, we can’t stay out here.”
I looked at my friend, the first person I recruited to my crew. He’d been with me for nearly four years. I trusted him more than anyone else in the world. He would never lead me astray, never abandon me, never tell me something I didn’t need to hear.
Right now, I wanted to punch his lights out.
“Let go,” I warned.
I tried to jerk the wheel out of his grasp, but even when my arms weren’t sore from maneuvering an airship in a rain-wind-hail storm, Nash was stronger than me. His muscles were almost twice the size of mine. I knew how to fight with a blade. Nash earned his reputation with his fists. The dog-faced tattoo from his old marauder life– when he was forced to fight for survival against fiendish killers– snarled up at me from the dark skin of his arm. Cuts from sharp hail lined his cheeks and arms. He was bruised, exhausted, and worried. But he wouldn’t back down.
“We won’t find anything out here,” he said. “The storm will get worse, and the Dauntless can’t risk taking major hits. We don’t have anyone to repair her if she does.”
Anger and pain spiked in my chest. But Nash wasn’t done.
“We have a little girl on board, Sawyer. Or did you forget about her?”
Abby. How could I forget her? Every time I looked at those blonde curls and bright green eyes, I saw them on an older, willowy young woman. I thought about her pale skin, soft lips, and achingly sad eyes. I remembered how heartbroken she’d been when she walked away to save our lives.
To save my life.
Abby was a wreck, same as me. Her big sister would never forgive me if anything happened to her.
If that wasn’t enough, Nash had one more nail to drive into my heart.
“Do you think Claire would want us risking ourselves like this to find her?”
He was asking a question that would hurt in more ways than one, because it was the only way I would listen. I knew the answer, of course.
She would be furious. In fact, she would probably try to punch me again. I would probably welcome it, if that meant I would see her and know she was safe.
Not a warrior, but a fighter at heart. That was my Claire.
My chest tightened. I closed my eyes and sighed. It hurt to breathe.
“The storm’s coming from the north. Tell Gemma to keep turning south. We’re heading back to the ports.”
Nash checked my eyes, making sure I wouldn’t break my word. It stung to know he doubted me now.
He let go of the wheel and raced down the stairs. I kept turning the helm, shifting toward the dull grey skies of Westraven. I steadied the wheel and waited a couple more minutes until I was sure
Nash would be safe below deck with Gemma.
Then I took a deep breath, hit the accelerator, and left another hope behind.
Now that the Dauntless sailed freely, I constantly expected an attack. Someone to ambush us and take my ship. I would be killed and my friends enslaved. I dreaded to think what would happen to Abby, who was little more than a scared child.
But even now, with the Behemoth destroyed, no one ventured into the ports. When the Hellions entered Aon and attacked Westraven a decade ago in The Storm, dozens of survivors fled to the expansive tarmac. It used to be the Westraven Trade Board’s landing pad for other provincial airships to land with their goods, and it was assumed that the five hundred foot square air hangar in the middle of the concrete tarmac would be filled with enough supplies to outlast the Hellions.
But it didn’t matter when the monsters landed in their raiding skiffs and burst into the building. They were always watching, always hunting, and always knowing where to strike.
For a few months, smaller bands of survivors tried to sneak inside the ports during daylight and the rainy seasons, trying to get inside the hangar and assuming the Hellions wouldn’t find them.
They always did.
It didn’t take long for most of Westraven to decide that the ports were cursed, and nothing in them was worth the risk of being devoured. I suppose that even with the Behemoth gone, they wanted to keep thinking that.Maybe they would keep thinking that until the Breach was closed. If that was the case, the ports would stay cursed for a long time.
I had a bad habit of taking potentially suicidal risks. While the other survivors assumed the ports were cursed, I decided to take them over. It was a safe place for me to hide my ship– and myself.
I dropped the speed of the Dauntless, letting her glide over the concrete tarmac toward the hangar. I liked speed, but I understood the value of patience. It had taken me two years to find my ship and set up traps so it wouldn’t be stolen. Another year to clean up the worst of the damage. Two more years to move the damn ship in the rainy seasons and daylight, constantly watching the skies to make sure the Hellions wouldn’t blast it to pieces, and yet another year to do more thorough repairs in the hangar.
Not easy to do when you’re a lonely, orphaned seventeen-year old––or was I eighteen now? I couldn’t remember––with a family name that everyone hates.
Even with all those years of labor and fighting for survival against the people I stole from, it hadn’t been enough. The generator had been damaged, and I hadn’t gotten the Dauntless to fly no matter what experimental repairs I did. No one had been able to fix it.
Not until Claire came along.
Hiding the pain again, I eased the Dauntless Wanderer to a stop fifteen feet from the main building, where the concrete met sheets of metal plating that circled around the hangar. Hidden by the plates was a Pitfall, a trap that would react when it sensed any kind of vibration moving over it. A trap that would send a devastating electric pulse over and above the metal plates and shock whatever was standing on it.
Claire’s way of protecting us.
Once the ship came to a stop, I let it idle and walked down the steps. I glimpsed Nash slipping on heavy electrical gloves, slinging a rope over the side of the Dauntless,and climbing down. Gemma stood at the railing, watching him with anxious eyes. I stood next to her while Nash knelt down by the metal plating and began to search for the wire that would disarm the Pitfall until we were inside.
“What the hell was that out there?” Gemma asked me, never taking her eyes from Nash.
I looked at her. Gemma was my master gunner, my ship’s rigger, and my friend. She was tall, lithe, and beautiful. She wore a sleeveless leather jumpsuit, heavy black boots, and had her short brown hair tied in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck. Her pale skin was smeared with soot and grime, her dark brown eyes intense and focused on what mattered to her. Two knives and a flintlock pistol were strapped to her waist. When I met Gemma, she was a thief set on corrupting both Nash and me. But she saved our lives, and proved her loyalty a thousand times over. I valued her opinion.
I just wasn’t looking forward to the barbs that would come with it.
“Nash already gave me an earful, Gemma,” I muttered, resting my arms on the railing as Nash worked cautiously. “I’m not in the mood for another one.”
Her hand curled on my shoulder and yanked me away from the railing. Sometimes I forgot how strong Gemma was. It was the mistake her enemies made, one that they paid for in the worst ways.
Then again, she’d never used that strength against me.
“Too bad,” she said, dark eyes burning. “You need to hear it.”
I glared. “I give the orders. Not you,” I reminded.
As if that bit of truth would stop Gemma.
“You’re not the only one who wants to find Claire,” she snapped. “We all do. But did you forget why she gave herself up in the first place?”
I balled my fists, wishing I could crush my memories in them. They surged without my control.
The pain as the Vesper, King of the Hellions reached into my mind with his own, bent on demolishing me. The empty look of the man who’d betrayed us. The cruel smile of my enemy when he knew he’d won. The heart-wrenching pain on the face of the girl I loved as she was taken, even as I gave her my deepest promise.
I’ll save you.
But that was what Claire did for us instead. She gave herself up to build a Palisade– a two towered device that could cut through the thin fabric of dimensions– in exchange for our lives. Claire was the daughter of Westraven’s most famous engineers, and easily as skilled as they were. She repaired the Palisade her mother and father created, and used it to fend off the Hellions that had swarmed us.
But it had been a rush job, nowhere near as destructive as the original Palisade was ten years ago when it created the Breach. Yet Claire claimed she could make another one, just as powerful.
If she did…
But Claire wouldn’t do that. She was too good, and too smart. If she made a deal with the Vesper, she had another reason to do so. She had a plan.
Except I didn’t know what it was, and I couldn’t help her if–
Gemma punched me in the arm. She didn’t hold back, either. I would feel that bruise for days.
“What the hell was that for?” I snarled.
“To prove a damn point,” she shot back. “You’re distracted, Sawyer. Claire is in every inch of your mind, and you can’t think about anything else. You can’t think like a captain.”
I wanted to argue, but she was right. Claire was all I could think about, even before her surrender. She’d gotten under my skin, into my very soul, the way no one else had. I didn’t think anyone could do that, because of who I was.
But she did. She didn’t even have to try.
“You’re not the only one who’s in love, Sawyer.”
I narrowed my eyes at Gemma. She just rolled her eyes. “Please. As if we all didn’t see it.” A sly grin crossed her lips before she turned her gaze to Nash. The smile fell from her face, but love continued to burn in her eyes.
“We’ve been with you for years. You made a choice, we followed it. You made enemies, we fought them. You made a stupid decision, we shrugged and went along with it.”
A sardonic grin twisted my lips. Gemma wasn’t one to mince words.
“But this is different. You’re not asking us to cross into marauder territory and swipe a few goods. This isn’t even like when we stormed the Behemoth. We only did that because we had armfuls of explosives and a crazy engineer.” Gemma shook her head, sadness cutting out the love in her eyes.
“You’re asking us to go through the Breach. The heart of Hellion territory, where they will absolutely see us coming. If they don’t, the Vesper will know. We don’t know the terrain. We don’t have the numbers or weapons to fight them. We’ll be dead before we touch ground. If we’re lucky.”
Luck. She said that word like it existed in our situation. If the Hellions captured us, our lives would become nothing but torture and pain until they grew bored of us. I remembered the stories Riley toldof his captivity on the Behemoth. The things he claimed to have seen and endure. I had no love for the man, especially after what he’d done to us, but I hadn’t thought he was lying about the horrors he suffered.
My heart lurched at the thought of Claire enduring them now.
“I want to live, Sawyer,” Gemma said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I have something good in my life, and I don’t want to lose him.”
I glanced at Nash. He stood up and began peeling off the thick electrical gloves used to handle the Pitfall. He glanced at Gemma and smiled. She returned the expression.
“If you don’t slow down to think up a plan to get Claire safely, then we’re going to leave.”
I whirled my head so fast it almost wrenched off my neck. “You’re not serious.”
Gemma turned her sad eyes onto me, and gave me her answer. I would have rather she sucker-punched me again.
“We wouldn’t want to, but you wouldn’t give us a choice. Not if we wanted to live.” The hardness returned to her eyes. “So sort yourself out. Act like a leader. At the very least, pretend to care.”
I flinched. I couldn’t help it, because I did care. I cared too much.
And that was the whole problem.
Gemma winced when she saw the slip of my composure. Her eyes were pained, and she took a breath to apologize.
“Tell Nash to guide us in,” I said quietly. “You can open the door.”
I walked away before she could say anything else. I was glad that she didn’t call me back. I didn’t trust myself not to say something I would regret.
At least this way I could try and get some sleep.
I walked to the cabin door, then hesitated. Ever since her rescue, Abby had been sleeping in the captain’s cabin. The poor girl had been kidnapped by Hellions and turned into a blood donor for the monsters. As if standing for days on end, strapped to a cold table and having her blood drained from her ounce by ounce wasn’t enough, Abby was plagued with a disease that slowly turned her into a Hellion. Seeing her sister tortured in such a way nearly shattered Claire, and part of her bargain with the Vesper was to relieve Abby from the disease.
Abby was cured, but she couldn’t stop crying. I’d done my best to comfort her, but it had been a long time since I was an older brother. In the end, I failed at that, too.
Putting Micah in the back of my mind before memories of losing him could hurt me, I knocked on the door. There was no answer, but at least she would hear me. I twisted the doorknob and walked into the cabin.
It wasn’t as extravagant as it had been when my father was captain. The windows were covered with black cloth. Crates were piled in every corner. Clothing and blankets lay tossed over leather trunks. Hurricane lanterns were tacked to the walls. The wide oak desk was covered with swords, knives, pistols, and rags to clean them with.
At the far side of the room was a wide couch that doubled as a bed. Sitting on top of it, surrounded in sprinkles of sugar and nibbled bread, dressed in a baggy shirt and pants shortened and hemmed to fit her small frame, was Abby.
Claire’s baby sister reminded me of a cherub. Bouncy golden curls, pale skin, rosy cheeks, big green eyes filled with wonder. When she grew up, she would be a heartbreaker. She probably wouldn’t even know it. Her sister hadn’t, and Claire had caught my heart hook, line, and sinker.
Abby looked up from the book cradled in her lap. I smiled at her and crossed the hardwood floor to the bed.
“Hey, Stargazer,” I said.
Abby smiled at the nickname. She loved the sky. Her happiest moments seemed to be when we hovered in the cloudless night sky. Abby used a periscope to chart the constellations, drawing lines to connect them and turning stars into smiling faces.
It had been a long month since she’d drawn anything.
“Hi, Sawyer,” she said, scooting over so I could sit on the bed. She looked at the tiny crystals of sugar spotting the blanket and gasped lightly. She quickly brushed them away with her tiny hands.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make a mess.”
I smiled. “Don’t worry about it.” I wasn’t the least bit irritated. Abby was eating again, no longer looking pale and fragile. It hadn’t taken long for us to realize that Abby was obsessive about putting sugar on any and all foods. Even meats.
Moira, the caretaker who’d joined the crew a few months ago, had tried a few times to tempt Abby into eating by coating her food in sugar when she was sick, but the poor girl had been so plagued by the Vesper’s control and disease that it hadn’t worked. Moira would have been so happy to see that Abby was getting better, looking more like a little girl and less like a hollowed child. But she had died trying to defend Abby from Davin when he raided our home at the ports.
Moira had become another victim of my brother.
I kept the smile on my face and pushed the rage and hurt down, storing it for whenever I faced Davin next. He didn’t matter right now. This bright-eyed, curly haired girl did.
“How are you doing?” I asked, settling down next to her.“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good,” Abby told me. She closed the notebook and clutched it to her chest.
“Are you sure? I was sailing pretty wildly.”
“It’s okay,” she assured. “It was kinda fun.”
I grinned. “Glad to hear it. Maybe I’ll do it on purpose next time.”
Abby giggled, summer green eyes sparkling. Claire’s did the same when she was consumed by a project, or was intensely arguing a point.
I turned away from Abby and rubbed my chest, wishing I could shift the pain from it.
“You didn’t find it, did you?”
I dropped my hand. There was no point in trying to soothe the ache. Abby’s crushed voice just made it worse.
“No,” I told her honestly.
Abby and I sat in heavy silence. She sniffled quietly beside me. I gripped my kneecaps and stared at the floor.
“I’m trying to remember what Riley showed me,” Abby said after a long, long time.
When I looked at her again, she was shuffling closer and opening her book of constellations. But I wasn’t seeing stars. Dark, uneven circles were scrawled on the page. A jagged black shape spread across the middle of the pages, as if sketched by an angry fist.
“That’s what it looks like,” Abby continued. “The Breach.”
I stared at the drawing, wishing it would tell me where it was. How I could find it. Which direction to turn the ship. How to rescue the girl I loved without losing my crew in the process.
All I saw were scribbles.
“Did he tell you where it was?” I hedged, though I knew the answer. “Did he tell you exactly where the Breach was?”
Abby sucked in her lower lip. I could see her struggling to find an answer, to lie and keep up the search for her sister. Like me, she would rather scour the skies day and night, looking for any trace of the Breach or Claire. But Abby was a scared little girl. She wasn’t a fighter. She didn’t know how to operate an airship or work on the engines. She just wanted her big sister back.
The Vesper probably implanted the image of the Breach into Abby’s mind to scare her. He’d tortured her with nightmares of what she would become unless Claire surrendered, likely showing her the Breach to let her know the bleakness that waited for her in another world.
Now she was cured of the Vesper, and trapped in a different nightmare.
Abby made a choked, hiccupping sound. A hopeless noise.
I gently pried the notebook from her little fingers and set it on the blanket. I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her to my side. Abby didn’t need further invitation, throwing her arms around my ribs and squeezing with all her strength. Her tears soaked my shirt. I rubbed her back, like I’d done for Micah so many times whenever Davin scared him. My older brother took pleasure in tormenting anyone he thought below him.
And now he had Claire. She was tough, but Davin’s greatest joy came from breaking someone strong.
“I’m scared, Sawyer,” Abby sobbed into my chest. Her tiny fists balled my shirt. She trembled violently. “I’m scared she won’t come home. He… he’s going to hurt her, I know it, worse than he hurt me, he’s going to––”
I pushed back from Abby. I couldn’t handle the details right now.
But I wasn’t going to lie.
“Claire is tough, Stargazer. Tougher than me. Smarter, too. She’ll survive. And I’m going to get her back. I swear it, Abigail.”
Tears stained the little girl’s cheeks and still brimmed in her eyes, yet her sobs had quieted. She stopped shaking. She believed me.
I just wished I believed in myself.
Sort yourself out. Act like a leader.
Gemma’s words vibrated through my skull, and as Abby cuddled next to me for comfort, I knew she was right. If I was going go through with this crazy mission and save the stubborn, feisty engineer that captured my heart, I had to stop moping. I had to think of a way to outsmart my enemies.
Riley, my newest and traitorous former crewmate. Davin, the cruel man-turned-Hellion who shared my blood. The Vesper, a nightmare King with harrowing power.
I had to outsmart them. Then I had to kill them.
Amy is a Canadian urban fantasy and horror author. Her work revolves around monsters, magic, mythology, and mayhem. She started writing in her early teens, and never stopped. She loves building unique worlds filled with fun characters and intense action. She is the recipient of April Moon Books Editor Award for “author voice, world-building and general bad-assery,” and the One Book Two Standout Award in 2015 for her Cursed trilogy. She has been featured on various author blogs and publishing websites, and is an active member of the Writing GIAM and Weekend Writing Warrior communities. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, watching movies, taking photos, gaming, and struggling with chocoholism and ice cream addiction.