The deeper Jane delves into the Shifting World, the stronger her power to read objects grows. She finds herself facing another trial because of her ability, and this one leads her into more deadly peril than she's ever faced before.
Her group is led to their new adventure by an ancient relic of the Shifting World, a revolver with a dark past. That past is revived with Jane's touch, but she unearths more than just visions. She becomes a part of those secrets as they trap her in the emotions of its long-dead memories. Those emotions fall on her lover, Caius, and a dreadful fear rises within her that something terrible will happen to one of them if they continue searching for the answers to the relic.
While Jane and her friends find enough trouble with the revolver, they discover they aren't the only ones after its secrets. Soon they're trapped between two warring factions over the fate of the relic and their very lives.
There I was in a graveyard having a footrace with a pig, and it was winning.
Well, it was sort of a pig. The body was squat like a corgi dog, but there was the familiar curly tail and bristled stubs of hair. The skin color was a little off, though. Bright green like a fresh leaf on a tree.
I stopped beside a tall pedestal atop which knelt a young woman and leaned an elbow on the cold stone. My chest heaved with my failing attempts at air.
Bee flew past me, her cheeks as bright as the smile on her lips. "Hurry along, dear, or he'll have all the solicia shrooms for himself!"
"I'm chasing a stupid pig for a bunch of stupid mushrooms. . ." I muttered.
"They taste like a pizza," Sage reminded me as he hurried by.
I sighed and pushed off from my pedestal. Hands came from behind me and I yelped as I was scooped up into the strong arms of a certain smiling dragon shifter. I scowled up at him. "I'm not that slow."
"Nor that fast,"
Caius teased as he rushed along the uneven ground of the graveyard.
Of all places to be searching for mushrooms, it had to be a graveyard. This wasn't some pristine park for the dead, but a weed-choked, vine-covered mausoleum of ancient headstones and broken statues. A bare, rectangular patch of overturned dirt signaled a fresh occupant in the timeworn necropolis. Trees dotted the uneven ground with low, gnarled branches that seemed to want to grab the living and pull them down for a long, long dirt nap.
Caius ducked underneath one of those hoary limbs as we raced along after my eager and youthful grandparents, and their pig. "Is this really worth it?" I yelped as Caius dodged a tombstone half-hidden in the tall grasses.
Sage glanced over his shoulder at me. "Doesn't a pepperoni pizza sound tasty to you right now?"
"Not if I don't live to see it," I quipped as we passed a large pedestal with another weeping angel. I looked up at Caius. "So there are angels in this world, too?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Most of the people who follow Gad believe they work for him."
"So what do you believe?" I wondered as we skirted an old mound.
He slyly smiled down at me an a lecherous glint appeared in his eyes. "I believe in what I can touch."
I scowled at him. "Don't you dare get any ideas-"
"Found one!" came a shout from my grandmother.
Caius and I hurried over and he set me down shy of where my grandparents were huddled. We joined them and found the pair digging away at a large bushel of broad-hatted mushrooms. Their flesh was slightly pink and the aroma they gave off as they were tucked into Sage's satchel sack was slightly cheesy.
"You can have some later," Bee promised our porky friend as she pushed the snouted fellow away. The pig grunted. Bee stopped her picking and frowned at him. "All right, if you feel that way then you can have the next patch. How does that sound?" The pig grunted and turned twisted tail. It bolted up the slight incline in the graveyard after the fresh scent. "Wait a minute!" Bee shouted as she jumped to her feet and rushed after the porker. "Don't overeat or you'll get a stomachache!"
I sidled up to my grandfather as he rose and lowered my voice to a whisper. "Can she really understand them?"
He absently brushed off the grave dirt from his pants. "Generally speaking, though the accents can cause her some trouble."
"So this pig-"
"Pog," Sage corrected me.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed. "So this ‘pog' has an accent? I mean, besides ‘oink?'"
"I would say his words are more guttural than the norm," Sage admitted.
A terrible squeal came from the other side of the short hill where my grandmother had gone. We stared at each other in horror for a moment before we rushed to the top. Our eyes frantically searched the darkening graveyard for signs of the living.
Caius pointed a little to our left. "There!"
I followed his finger and saw two figures huddled together in the thick brush. A dead tree stood nearby and cast them in its bone-shaped shadows. We rushed down the hill and found my grandmother seated on a flat headstone. The pog lay huddled in her lap quivering like bacon. Its wide eyes stared straight ahead and a little foam hung from the corners of its mouth.
Sage knelt beside Bee and looked from the animal to her worried face. "What happened?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Poggy was running down the hill and suddenly he squealed and turned away from that tree." She looked up at the tree in question, the dead hulking shell of flora that hovered over them.
Sage followed her gaze and pursed his lips. He stood and walked over to the thick trunk. His foot tapped on the bare soil that lay under the shadows of the dead branches. "How strange. There's no growth here."
Caius and I came up to him, and my dragon lover nodded at a short rock beside the trunk. "Maybe that's why."
The rock was a headstone a foot tall and wide. Its once sharp corners were rounded by great age and the face was weathered, but not so much that I couldn't see there were some letters. I knelt in front of the stone and squinted at the worn markings, but couldn't make them out.
I looked up at my companions. "Can either of you read that?"
They knelt and squinted. Caius shook his head. "Not a word."
"I might be able to fix that," Sage offered as he raised his hands.
From one poured water and from the other came ice. They hit the front of the tombstone and solidified into a thick sheet that blanketed the whole stone.
"That's supposed to help?" Caius asked him.
Sage smiled as he flicked the surface with the tip of his finger. The ice fell away, leaving only the deeper frozen water in the shallow holes. The words now protruded from the stone and became legible.
Sage smugly glanced at Caius who shrugged. "I guess that's not a bad trick."
I squinted and read the words aloud. "Fallen From the Skies, Here This Lady Lies." I leaned back and wrinkled my nose. "Fallen from the skies? Like a dragon?"
"Or perhaps one of the many bird shifters," Sage suggested. He groaned as he rose to his feet and looked around the area. "But the hour grows late. We should make camp."
"And have some supper!" Bee called out as she set her quivering load on the ground beside her. She smiled down at the shivering pog. "Wouldn't you like that, poggy?" The pog slipped behind her legs and grunted, but it kept one eye on the area of the tree.
"I've never seen a pog act like that before," Caius commented.
"Perhaps it smells a predator," Sage suggested as they proceed across the graveyard.
I made to follow my hungry comrades, but something in the dirt in front of the tombstone caught my attention. The object shimmered like dirty metal. I reached out and my fingertips touched the edge.
It was like being sucked into a wind tunnel. All the air was pulled out of my body and when the ride jerked to a stop I stumbled forward. I didn't remember standing, but standing I was now. I clutched my chest and tried to gather air, but my breath caught in my throat as I looked around myself.
The graveyard was gone and in its place was a fantastical world of tall metallic arches and columns painted white and marble stones beneath my feet. The arches ran in a ring around a sunken courtyard with raised beds filled with blooming flowers. A few large, blocky houses were scattered among the gardens. Their walls were as white as snow with smooth edges and shimmering glass windows. Balconies looked out over the gardens and the view at my back. Beyond the courtyard was another courtyard, and another, all sprawled out as far as my eye could see. In the recessed center far below me me were more block-shaped houses, enough to house a large city of people.
The scene would have been beautiful and serene were it not for the chaos between me and the houses. The archways were cracked and most had crumbled into themselves. The marble stones were blemished by black scorch marks and dented with round, jagged holes. Smoke rose up from deep holes in the ground, and here and there I spotted a clothed body partially buried beneath the rubble.
The ground shook and I stumbled back. My heel slipped off an edge and I righted myself before I glanced over my shoulder. I stood on the edge of a mile-high precipice and the whole world was spread out before me. Forests, mountains, and trees stretched far into the distance.
Shouting and movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I turned in time to see two people, a man and a woman, slip up to the backside of one of the ruined archways. They pressed their backs against the ruined metal and tried to catch their breath. Their clothing was something out of a steam-punk novel, complete with goggles over their eyes and metal straps across their chests. They each held a fantastic looking six-shooter revolver made of wood and metal, and sprinkled with gears at the back where the bullets would have been loaded.
Something blasted against the other side of the archway. I followed the trajectory and watched a dozen men scurry up through the gardens. They were dressed in slick white uniforms like those worn by navy personnel during ceremonies. Their shiny gold buttons were scratched and sooted from the chaos around them.
Another dozen guards provided their fellow officers cover with constant rifle fire. The rifles were long and white, and they didn't shoot bullets. The tips powered up white orbs of energy that were pushed forward and slammed into the metal and stone with the force of a steam train, leaving deep indentations in the nearly-impenetrable surface.
The woman winced as one of the shots struck the column close by her face. "Don't these fools ever give up?"
"Not until we're all dead," the man replied as he peeked around the column.
One of the uniformed men peeked up from his hiding spot behind a downed column. "Give yourselves up!"
The woman laughed. "Not on your life!"
"There's nothing here for you, you thieves!" the officer informed them.
"That's what you think," the strange-clothed man argued as he swung around. He fired off a shot that grazed the man's face.
The officer ducked down and looked to the men around him. "Fire at-will!"
The men barraged the pair with all the gunfire they could muster. The woman shut her eyes as the laser beams flashed past them within an inch of their bodies. "This isn't good, Micah."
"Hold steady for me, Allie. We need to do this," he pleaded as he winced at a near shot.
The whole place shook again, and the tremble was worse than the first time. I yelped and knelt down to press my palms flat against the stones.
"Micah!" Allie shouted as she jerked her head toward a spot past the guards. "Vindexa!"
I looked at where she indicated, the ruins beyond the uniformed men. Smoke spilled out of dozens of different holes, creating a thick fog, but out of the fog came a hulking figure. The thing stepped out of the black mist and I saw it was a giant machine. The creature stood on two thick legs and had a broad body shaped like a flask. The head was simply a short dome with a single red eye in the center. The arms were bulky like the legs and ended in narrow barrels like those of the rifles the men held.
There were a half dozen of the vindexa and they marched as soldiers out of the mist to stand among the guards. The leader pointed at where the pair hid. "Fire!"
The machines raised their arms and fired off blast after blast. The power behind the guns was far greater than the rifles so that every shot went through the columns and rubble. One of the shots found their mark in the man.
I gasped as a hot laser beam shot through Micah's chest and sped out into the air beyond the city limits. He grunted and slid down. His hand covered the wound, but blood poured through his fingers and dripped down his clothes.
"Micah!" Allie shouted as she tried to get across the open arch.
The machines continued their fire, blocking her path. She stiffened her jaw and swung around with her revolver pointed at her foes. Allie fired off twelve shots, but what came out of the small barrel wasn't bullets. The revolver shot small glowing white orbs that slammed into the machines. Sizzling strands of electricity ran across their body like straps and rattled their systems. Smoke poured out of the few seams I could see and the machines dropped face-first onto the ground.
Allie didn't waste a single shot and downed not only all the machines but some of the men, as well. She reached Micah and knelt beside him as the guards volley after volley at her in retribution. She heard nothing but the strained breathing of her lover as he smiled up at her. A little blood dribbled from her mouth.
"It. . .it looks like this'll be our last adventure," he whispered.
Tears sprang to Allie's eyes as she grasped his free hand. "Don't you dare die on me, you fool."
"I-" A cough interrupted him and more blood spilled from his mouth. "I don't think I have a choice."
A blast of terrible emotion struck me. Pain. Anger. Despair. My knees shook and I dropped onto the ground as Allie held tight to Micah's hand. "Come on, Micah. Stay with me a little longer."
He shook his head. "You. . .you have to go." He lifted his blood-stained hand and pressed his gun against her chest.
"I'm not leaving you," she insisted.
"You. . .you have. . .to-" His hand dropped to the ground and his head lolled to one side. Those bright eyes lost their light and looked out without seeing anything.
The anguish I felt was almost too much. Tears poured down my cheeks as Allie shook her head. "No. No! Micah!" She shook him, but he only slid away from her onto the ground. "Micah!"
Another shudder rocked the floor beneath us. A shot from one of the guards nicked her shoulder, cutting through her shirt and leaving a terrible gash. She cried out and fell out of their line of sight. Her jaw tightened as she looked at her dead lover.
"Damn you," she snarled as she tightened her grip on her revolver. Her body trembled as I felt her rage displace her sorrow. "Damn you!"
Allie climbed to her feet and pointed her gun at the defenders. She fired off shot after shot. Every one of them found their mark. The men fired back, striking her in several spots along her arms and legs. One of them slammed through her stomach. She fell to one knee and coughed up blood as her life flowed out of the round hole in her gut.
Another explosion rocked the city, this one greater than the last. Smoke and fire sprang out from more holes, and from the center ring far below came a terrible metallic noise like cogs grinding against one another. The whole metropolis tilted away from me. Micah's body slid over the edge of the outer ring and into one of the ruined beds.
"Micah!" Allie shouted as she tried to reach his body.
Another blast shook the platform and I heard powerful thrusters far beneath us blast on. The thrusters jerked the city forward. Allie was thrown off her balance and stumbled to the edge. She fell sideways off the platform and into the abyss.
It was as though I had a tether line attached to her because I was yanked off the platform with her. My heart felt like it would burst as we plunged toward the earth. The wind tore at our clothes as Allie twisted around so she fell head-first and faced the city as the metropolis pushed itself far away from us toward a large group of mountains.
"Damn you all to hell," she whispered as she tilted her head back and crossed her gun arm over her chest.
I couldn't shut my eyes against the ground that came up on us. Never did I wish more for Caius than I did at that moment. I flung up my arms as we hit the top of an old tree.
And then all went black.