At that moment, the floor shook violently beneath their feet. A series of explosions echoed through the flying compound, and a burst of flames blew the door to Koenig’s office inward. Sandra smiled calmly at the panic and dawning realization sweeping across Koenig’s face as a hot wind blew her curls into her eyes . "That’s probably not good, is it?" Debris skittered past her onto the hard metal floor.

Koenig quickly regained his composure. "Fine,” he said, straightening his tie, and smoothing his hair. “If you’re so eager to die in this place, you’re more than welcome. I have work to do." He slapped a switch on the underside of his desk and disappeared with a sneer into the floor.

Sandra cursed under her breath and ran around the desk, just in time to see an escape hatch iris closed with a snap. She pummeled the switch on the desk, but the escape hatch was sealed. Quickly snatching the stack of notebooks and folders off Koenig’s desk, she wrapped her scarf around her neck, and darted into the scorched hallway.

The floor lurched under her feet; explosions were still resounding through the flying fortress, and she distinctly felt a slight sensation of falling. Hank’s explosives must have done the trick; soon the whole place would be plummeting into the ocean. She headed for the holding bay and her only chance at escaping before megatons of steel crashed with her and her entire crew inside it.


"Avery, come on!" Two-Wolves grabbed Avery’s hand and pulled hard just as a heavy crossbeam crashed across the hallway behind them. "The holding bay should be this way."

Avery eyed the smoldering rubble behind them dazedly, Two-Wolves’ grip snapping her back to reality. "We’re not going to make it, are we?"

"We’ll make it." We have our whole lives ahead of us. He stumbled across the hallway, glancing at Avery steadying herself against the wall beside him as the sickening sensation of the entire flying fortress sliding sideways through the sky lurched through his stomach. "Just stay close."

The pair raced down klaxon-filled hallways painted red with emergency lights. A low moan of stressed steel throbbed through the air. Two-Wolves saw it too late; a buckle in the floor. He stopped suddenly, Avery crashing into his shoulder, as the hallway in front of them collapsed with a horrible chorus of groaning, screeching metal and hissing electrical cords. A sudden cold wind whipped through the remains of the hallway; the floor beneath their feet gave way to open sky. Avery tumbled over his head as he scrambled against the tilting metal panels to find a handhold.

"Avery!" Two-Wolves could only watch in horror as the woman he loved flew out into open space, a large mass of twisted metal falling through the clouds beneath her. A flash of instinct guided his actions. Only one chance. He gripped a dangling power cable, its raw end spitting sparks, and unslung the windrider sheath from his shoulder. "Avery! Catch it!"

Avery hadn’t even had the chance to scream. She was already yards below the gaping hole in the flying fortress when Two-Wolves’ voice came to her through the howling wind and clatter of debris falling behind her. She saw events happening around her as if she were in a dream. The leather tube of Two-Wolves’ windrider sheath tumbled end over end above her. She looked to her left; she could see the superstructure of the flying fortress. Far below her, she knew, was the holding bay, containing the Business End; her home and her family. Above her, Two-Wolves watched her with a terrible anguish in his eyes. She met his gaze, and felt a calm wash across her. She knew what to do.

She spread her arms, and her loose jacket caught the wind, slowing her descent just enough to allow the sheathed windrider to catch her. Feel the air holding you... She snatched at the shoulder strap; it bumped against her fingertips and spun away from her. She clenched her teeth in fury, and swam through the air towards it, this time striking the tube hard and hugging it to her. Ride on the back of the wind, and the wind will be your mount... She saw in her periphery that she was sinking away from the fortress at an alarming rate now. She slung the strap over her shoulder, grabbed the handle and yanked the windrider free.

Immediately the giant feather sprang into shape from out of the confines of the sheath. Avery clung to the handle with a practiced grip as her fall was slowed. The windrider billowed above her, but she remembered what Two-Wolves had taught her. The wind will be your mount... She hugged the shaft of the feather to her body, and maneuvered it underneath her. The curve of the feather sliced through the air like a knife, and soon she was kneeling on its spine. She swooped experimentally, diving beneath a pair of tumbling I-beams, then tugged at the windrider’s harness, guiding it towards the holding bay; the lowest point of the flying fortress.


Two-Wolves gave a wild whoop of joy as he saw the windrider take to the air and scud off in the direction of the holding bay. She is strong! He swelled with fierce pride, watching her distant form disappearing beneath the disintegrating flying fortress. The sky is her element.

He clambered up the spitting wire and lurched back into the shattered hallway to look for another route to the holding bay.

Avery squinted as cold air pummeled her face. She was no longer falling; she was cutting through the sky back towards the central spire of the flying fortress. Explosions still rocked the superstructure above her. With smooth, practiced motions, she guided the windrider beneath a hunk of falling metal the size of a three-story building, engulfed in flame. She could feel the blistering heat of it behind her, but her eyes remained fixed on the great doors of the holding bays below her.

She was pummeled with scorched debris. The space around her was filled with streaks of smoke plunging past her to the ocean miles below. But with graceful dives and glides, she soon found herself rapidly approaching the holding bay.

The doors to the bay were shut tight. Avery guided the windrider to a ledge outside the entrance, and slid across the smooth landing platform, hopping off the back of the giant feather at a run. She tucked the quill under her arm and ran towards a control panel at the side of the door, steadying herself as gusts of wind threatened to take her and the windrider off the narrow ledge.

She yanked the small metal door open, finding a large lever marked “HANGER DOOR OVERRIDE” and a small speaker and microphone. A red emergency light was flashing above her head on the wall, and she could hear blaring klaxons inside the cavernous holding bay. She flipped the lever, and the door began grinding upward on its tracks.

She knelt on the floor, slapping the door with impatience. “C’mon, cmon!” she screamed in frustration as the door moved at a glacial speed. The door was only an inch or two off the ground when another explosion rattled the flying fortress. Avery looked up in alarm as one of the fortress’s main engine stacks blew apart above her. The skyscraper-sized column of metal cracked in half, the lower portion dangling by strips of the sheet metal of its outer hull, the upper portion spewing white-hot flames and rivulets of molten metal as the engine burst out of its casing.

Avery tumbled across the landing pad floor as the shuddered violently beneath her, and the shockwave of the explosion washed across her. Shrapnel from the engine explosion filled the air, and a twisted beam twenty feet long blasted through the opposite side of the platform, sending a heaving wave through the floor and flinging Avery into the air. The windrider slipped out from under her arm, fluttering away in the sharp wind. She was falling again.

Sandra burst into the smoldering, smoke-filled hallway, her scarf wrapped around her mouth to filter out the acrid vapor. She smiled, despite their predicament, to see a soot-covered Hank waving to her from the far doorway, motioning for her to hurry. A very flummoxed Ahmed stood behind them, handcuffs still dangling from one arm, looking confusedly at the unconscious guards on the floor. Two-Wolves stood near him, still gripping a large metal bar.

“There you are! What took you so long?” Hank shouted gruffly as she approached.

“Exploded...” Ahmed murmered to no one. A wisp of smoke rose from his beard.

“I was just doing a little research.” She held up the notebooks from Koenig’s office.

“Fine time for that,” he scowled. He glanced at Two-Wolves, who was leaning against the far wall, staring stoically into the middle distance, and his eyes grew wide with panic as a dawning realization swept through him. “Jonah, where’s Avery?”

“Exploded...” Ahmed murmered.

Two-Wolves gave Hank an unfathomable look. “She’s flying. We will see her in the ship.”

Hank frowned. “Flying? What do you—where is she?”

Avery looked above her in mild bemusement. She was fallling back-first below the flying fortress, watching a rain of burning metal fall with her, each fragment a miniature meteor trailing smoke all the way back to the destroyed engine column. To her left, the lower end of the column was tumbling through the air. She noticed that it, too, seemed to contain a hanger door, although much smaller than the holding bay she had been trying to infiltrate what seemed like miles above her.

She blinked in stunned confusion. The hanger door on the falling chunk of the fortress was open, and when the opening tumbled in her direction, she could see inside. A jumble of round shapes slid back and forth within the dark entrance, and as the hanger door spun around, a few of Koenig’s disc-shapped fighter craft spilled out of the bay, scattering in the air. Suddenly her mind cleared. With a brief glance at the rapidly-approaching surface of the ocean below her, she twisted her body around in the air and began maneuvering herself towards the spiraling hanger.

A pair of saucers were plummeting away from the hanger door, fluttering back and forth like leaves in the wind. They cut the air much faster than she did, already a hundred yards below her. She tightened her body into a narrow missile, diving through the air with minimal resistance.

She watched the nearest saucer wobbling in a great arc towards her, squinting her unprotected eyes in the wild wind. With a rush of adrenaline, she threw her arms out from her sides, her jacket catching the air and slowing her slightly. Too little too late—she slammed hard into the cold metal of the saucer’s fuselage.

Dazed momentarily, Avery bounced roughly across the upper surface of the flying saucer, tumbling crazily against the craft as it see-sawed its way down through the sky. She regained her senses a heartbeat before drifting back into the air off the saucer, scrabbling at the smooth, polished metal in vain for a handhold. Her fingers gripped against the edge of the dome-like cockpit glass, finally finding a firm grasp with the canopy’s release latch.

She dangled there, her feet straight up in the air, her hand clutching at the handle, as the saucer spun crazily. Avery forced herself to breathe, and with an enormous effort maneuvered her body into the relative safety of the crease between the cockpit glass and the outer fuselage. In the corner of her eye, she could begin to discern the pattern of whitecaps on the windswept ocean far below her. Not nearly far enough...

She gripped the fuselage with every muscle in her body. Her other hand found the rungs of the pilot’s stepladder, recessed into the metal of the saucer’s body. She held onto it for dear life, twisted the latch of the cockpit, and prayed.


“Jonah, dammit, what do you mean ’she’s flying’?! Where is my granddaughter?” Hank shook Two-Wolves by the shoulders, panic edging into his gruff voice.

Two-Wolves placed his hands on Hank’s forearms gently. “Hank listen—listen to me. She fell. The fortress broke open and she fell.”

Hank’s face paled. “She fell...” be moaned weakly, but Two-Wolves squeezed his arm reassuringly.

“She had my windrider!” Two-Wolves said calmly. “Hank, she’s all right! I saw her, she was flying the windrider towards the hangar bay.”

“Windrider? Sh-she’s all right?” Hank looked at Two-Wolves in disbelief.

Two-Wolves nodded. “The sky is her element.”

Hank stared at him, tears of anguish and hope glittering in the crinkled corners of his eyes. Jonah Two-Wolves gazed placidly back, his face calm, his eyes confidant.

Hank cleared his throat and released Two-Wolves’ shoulders. “Fine. That’s fine. She’ll be fine, we’ll meet her at the ship.” He wiped his face unceremoniously on his sleeve. “Speaking of which, hadn’t we better be heading that way ourselves?” He marched across the hallway to the door without waiting for an answer, pausing only to grab a shell-shocked Ahmed by the sleeve and drag him along.

“The hallway exploded,” said Ahmed over his shoulder as he stumbled behind Hank.

Two-Wolves glanced at Sandra, who shrugged, and the pair followed.


The flying saucer’s cockpit canopy flew open, the sudden change in aerodynamics sending the craft into tight spin. Avery clutched at the ladder rung as the world swirled crazily around her. Fighting the constantly-shifting force of gravity, she hooked her feet into the ladder rungs, and crawled carefully into the unfamiliar recesses of the cockpit.

The saucer’s pilot seat was situated over a hump of metal running through the floor from front to back. With difficulty, Avery dragged herself across the hump and into the seat. She grasped at a control mechanism in front of her, and forced herself to stand in the tumbling craft’s cockpit, reaching for the canopy’s wildly flapping leather handle. Pulling the glass dome closed expended what remained of her adrenaline-fueled strength, the hydraulic hinges thankfully still intact. They succeeded in sealing her into the cockpit, shutting out the howling wind with a final hideous seeping whine.

Her eyes swept the control panel in an exhausted stupor. Without even pausing to pull the saucer’s crash webbing over her shoulders, she jabbed at a few buttons in what seemed to be the most logical panel for startup procedural switches. Unfamiliar lights winked to life, and an all-too-familiar throbbing metallic tolling sound began building within the hull of the saucer below her. Avery smiled wryly as the saucer’s unknown propulsion system roared to life. The sickening sensation of tumbling and falling swiftly gave way to the sickening sensation of decelerating, as the mysterious force that kept Koenig’s unearthly machines aloft autonomously righted the craft. Soon she was hovering upright.

She scanned the horizon. She wasn’t falling. The remains of the hangar bay, still spilling its complement of empty flying saucers, fell away beneath her. She watched as it fell into the ocean with a colossal splash, and shuddered to think she had been so close to smashing into the wind-tossed sea herself. Debris pelted the canopy, drawing her attention upward. The flying fortress was listing hard, still held in the sky by its remaining overburdened engines. It was rapidly losing altitude, rocked by further explosions even while she watched. Geez, Grandad really knows his job, she thought bitterly. Now let’s go find ’em.

Hank led the way through the groaning hallways, now completely devoid of living examples of Koenig’s forces. Bodies, unconcious or dead, littered the floor, and the few crewmen who were fortunate enough to survive as they had also had the good sense to retreat to the fortress’s escape pods and hangar bays. Hank tugged at Ahmed’s arm, who was still stumbling behind him in a stupor, and poured on speed as another massive explosion rocked the floor beneath them. An ominous screech sounded through the superstructure.

Sandra shouted and pointed at a hatch in the floor. “Hank, here!”

The hatch was jammed shut, but with no hesitation Hank stomped it open with a clatter. He swung himself through the opening and dropped to the floor. His heart swelled with hope as he saw where he was; a catwalk near the ceiling of the main hangar bay. There, bumping against the ceiling like an errant birthday balloon and tugging at its moorings, was the Business End.

Hank scanned the hangar floor while Two-Wolves and Sandra helped Ahmed down through the hatch and joined him at the railing. Not a soul in sight; the entire hangar bay crew must have evacuated into saucer craft.

“There she is, Cap’n!” said Hank. “Still all in one piece. Let’s hope Avery can get to us.”

Sandra leaned over the catwalk railing. “Look, the hangar door is open!” She pointed to the floor, where a thin line of light leaked in under the door. “Maybe she’s already here!”

Hank’s voice wavered. “...Aye.”

Sandra put a hand on his shoulder. “Hank, get the others aboard. I’ll see about getting that door open the rest of the way.”

Hank composed himself. “Aye, Cap’n. C’mon boys! Let’s get ’er ready to fly”

As the four of them clambered down the steep stairway to the hangar floor, a tremendous explosion shook the fortress hard. A horrific metallic groan shook the air, and the darkened hangar was suddenly lit by several small spots of sunlight streaming in through the wall, as shrapnel burst through the sheet metal. They clung to the handrails as the sensation of falling increased.

“Cap’n, that’ll be one of the main engines!” Hank shouted over the noise. “We gotta get out of here soon, or the blasted thing will be falling too fast for us to get out from under it!”

“Get her started up, Hank,” said Sandra. “Let’s hope she didn’t take any shrapnel, or we’ll just be another piece of falling debris.”

Hank and Ahmed raced across the hangar, dodging smoldering hunks of metal embedded into the floor. They found the Business End’s rope ladder dragging across the floor. The ship was juddering back and forth across the ceiling, the mooring ropes all pulled free but one. They climbed up to the gondola as Two-Wolves sprinted to the last remaining rope.

“Captain Lockhart!” he shouted across the hangar. “I’ll cut us free when you’ve got the door open.”

“Roger that!” Sandra shouted from near the door. She clambered over a pile of equipment and containers, searching for the controls for the bay door. Uh oh, she thought. The control panel was smashed, a hunk of metal protruding through the twisted mess of spitting electrical wires.

“Two-Wolves? Cut the rope and get aboard. We’re going to have to open this door the hard way.”

“Aye Captain. Wait, the hard way?”

Sandra dashed towards the rope ladder as Two-Wolves slashed the rope with his knife. “Hope they didn’t snatch our ammo,” she said as she clambered up the rope and ran straight for the munition room, leaving Two-Wolves following her uncertainly up the ladder.

She burst into the Widowmaker’s loading chamber just as the Business End’s engines throbbed to life. She ran to a comm panel and clicked it on. “Hank, point us at the door.”

“Aye Cap—Cap’n? Have you seen Avery? She’s not on the bridge.”

“I have’t seen her yet, Hank. You need to point us at the door.”

“Cap’n, the door isn’t open.” Hank’s confused voice came through the speaker.

“It will be. Point us at the door.”

She didn’t wait for Hank’s uncertain “Aye”, dashing across to the cannon’s munition pile. She rolled a shell onto the loading trolley, hooked the hanging winch around it, and with great effort dragged it across to the end of the cannon. She heaved the heavy shell into the chamber, and closed the back of the Widowmaker with a clang, spinning the latch closed.

“Cap’n?” Hank’s voice floated across the room from the comm panel. “Just got a buzzer. The Widowmaker is loaded? Are you thinking about--”

“Come about and fire, Hank.”

“Cap’n, we’re point blank. The gas bags’ll be shredded, we’ll never make it. Cap’n, what if Avery is--”

“Hank,” Sandra said firmly. “Avery’s not on board. She’s not in the hangar. Two-Wolves says she had a windrider, maybe she made it to the ocean. Let’s get out of here and go find her. But the key to that is getting out of here.”

There was a pregnant pause. “...Aye” Hank’s voice wavered. “Firing on my mark. I’d hang on to something, for all the good it’ll do you.”

Sandra dove away from the cannon, huddling against a bulkhead and covering her ears.


The Business End heaved backwards away from the hangar door as the cannon fired directly into the sheet metal barrier. On the bridge, windows shattered. Two-Wolves and Ahmed gripped each other across the navigation table, pelted with sparkling bits of glass. Outside, a fireball engulfed the hangar in front of the airship, blowing the great hangar door outward.

Sandra lurched to her feet and ran for the bridge. “Take us out, Hank!” she cried as she slid behind the wheel.

Hank swept glass off his console. “Aye, Cap’n!” He coaxed the engines to life, and the Business End coasted forward through the twisted wreckage of the hangar bay entrance.

Sandra maneuvered the airship cautiously through the jagged metal door. The upper spine of the Business End scraped the ceiling, pushed upwards by the falling motion of the flying fortress, but the gas bags passed through unharmed. The wind buffeted the lighter-than-air hull outside, threatening to pull the nose sideways and jam the ship crossways through the entrance, but Hank compensated with a burst of speed. They were free of the hangar bay.

Once clear of the door, the Business End rose rapidly through the falling wreck of the flying fortress. “Full speed ahead, Hank. We have to clear the edge, quickly.”


Sandra kept the nose pointed downward, trying to match the falling speed of the ailing fortress, but it was clear that the giant structure’s overtaxed engines were no longer going to keep it flying. It was losing altitude rapidly.

She guided the ship away from the inverted-pyramid of the fortress’s central core, making for the nearest edge. Above them, millions of tons of metal were now approaching freefall speeds. Dangling cables, beams, and even large sections of superstructure made the sky in front of her an obstacle course.

As Sandra deftly cruised the airship beneath an enormous fortified cross-beam, the fortress’s third and final engine exploded. The engine stack blew away from the fortress like a firecracker, shoving its entire mounting structure violently inward. The gridwork of iron girders wrenched loose, swinging beneath the fortress in a mass of bent and broken metal.

Without warning, the engine mount swung up under the Business End, plowing into the bottom of the gondola and pushing the ship upwards into the underbelly of the flying fortress, sending the crew flying across the bridge. The twisted ends of the mounting structure wedged themselves into the exposed support beams of the upper end of the flying fortress. The Business End was stuck, trapped beneath the massive war machine as it plunged towards the ocean.

Next Chapter: Prologue - Shifting Sands