QSFer A.K. Faulkner has a new queer urban fantasy book out, Inheritance book nine (ace, bi, demi, lesbian, non-binry): Runes of Fall.
No storm bows to reason.
Quentin’s trip to the desert with his chosen family is supposed to be two days of testing the limits of their powers. Instead, a violent storm looms on the horizon, and nothing will alter its course.
The storm has a name: Nate Anderson. Demigod, supremacist, leader of a neo-Nazi Übermensch cabal… and father to Quentin’s latest ward, Mel. He means to take her home, and won’t let a ragtag group of “inferior” psychics get in his way.
Besieged and outgunned, Quentin is trapped in a no-win scenario. No matter which way he turns, one fateful night will change him forever.
TW for NAZIS GETTING PUNCHED IN THE FACE ehehehe… also graphic sex, neo-nazi ideology, queerphobia, bullying, queerbashing, trauuumaaaa, death.
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“Hey,” Neil gasped as he started flipping switches and tapping screens. “Take a seat, buckle in, don’t touch anything.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he murmured as he settled into the spare chair. He fiddled with the harness until he had the hang of it and it was safely clicked into place.
“No cell signal.” Neil peered upward through the windshield as the rotors began to turn achingly slowly. “Had to radio the flight plan in, but it’s all good. Besides, those things are really only for insurance anyway. Those guys love any excuse to avoid paying out.”
Quentin nodded a little, but he got the message. Neil was reminding him not to mention anything untoward while in the cockpit, and it was much appreciated. “I can imagine,” he replied, in the hope that it broadcast his understanding, although Neil looked a little too preoccupied with the business of flying to say anything else.
He looked back toward the mountain, but still could not see much of anything. There were a few scraggly trees up there, clumped together in places, and he briefly wondered whether the desert’s animal life was at altitude, too.
Then he caught sight of a puff of dust, and the speck of a dark vehicle that broke free from tree cover.
“I wouldn’t wish to rush you,” Quentin said, maintaining an artificial air of calm while eyeing the speck, “but if we could go soon, I would appreciate it.”
“Yeah,” Neil breathed as he sped his way through options on the cockpit displays. “It takes five minutes to get one of these in the air. Fastest I can do it is two. There’s no way around that. We’re lucky we’re parked in a desert so there’s less warming up for the hydraulics, but it still needs time.”
“I see.” He was doing his best to calculate the distant vehicle’s trajectory and speed, to work out how much time before it broke free of the mountains and reached ground where it could potentially accelerate, but it really was impossible. Quentin didn’t know how winding the road they were on might be, how slowly they had to traverse it, whether it was a reasonably quick approach to the basin or would wander away and take five miles of road to travel half a mile down the side of a mountain. All he could do was wait, and trust Neil’s skill.
The rotors picked up speed. It seemed to take forever, but realistically Quentin knew it couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds until they were impossible for him to follow and became nothing more than the blur of the white paint on their tips making an illusory circle overhead. The whine of the engines which had been so strong outside was muffled and muted in here, but he could still hear the strain as they continued toward full power, preparing to fight gravity.
Another ten seconds, and the helicopter rocked on its wheels, then lifted off the ground. Quentin glanced to Neil, whose hand was firm on the stick as he guided the machine into the air, and after another couple of seconds hovering perhaps ten feet up, the nose dipped, and they began to move forward.
Parallel to the mountains.
Quentin looked back to them to try and catch sight of the vehicle. It was still only halfway down the mountain, but another puff of dust was drifting away from it, and as the helicopter started to accelerate and climb, he realized that people were getting out of the truck.
Was it an act of frustration? Were they shaking a fist at the sky and screaming obscenities at their escaping prey? Or were they simply giving up on the chase because they recognized that it was over?
Ultimately, it did not matter. Quentin could not see them well enough at this distance to find out, and there seemed to be very little more to worry about, but he kept watching as the helicopter gained altitude until the speck was only a dot.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Neil snarled.
Quentin tore his attention away from the mountains and returned it to Neil, only to find the other man leaning forward and grimacing up to the sky, so Quentin peered up to see what the problem was.
The perfectly clear blue which had been present all day was shrinking around them, choked on all sides by thick, puffy clouds which darkened as they rolled in from nowhere. As he watched, the last of the blue was snuffed out, and the clouds grew murkier still, becoming an ominous slate grey which blotted out sunlight and turned the world to dusk.
Then the rain began.
One of the instruments began to sound an alarm, and Neil swore at it as he tapped the screen. “A thunderstorm,” he hissed. “Are you shitting me?”
Quentin’s nose crinkled as he leaned back in his seat. He had flown through storms on occasion, and while turbulence could be alarming, it was hardly dangerous. “What is the problem?”
“Thunderstorms tear up helicopters and spit them out like they’re trash. Vertical velocity can hit 50MPH,” Neil said as he began to fight the stick, “on updrafts and downdrafts. If we stay under the storm we risk being smashed into the ground or sucked up into the clouds, and if we go into the clouds we’re in serious danger of being torn apart because those winds are right next to each other, in random patches. Any lightning is the least of our problems, though if it’s high enough voltage it can fuck our rotors—”
He broke off as a bright flash lit up the clouds for a split second.
“Fuuuuck,” Neil hissed. Then he hit a button on his control panel. “Everyone back there, put your fuckin’ seatbelts on!” He released it, and added, “This is gonna burn up our fuel either way. What do you wanna do? Punch through the cloud and pray we don’t get shredded, or stay low and pray a downdraft doesn’t pummel us into the ground?”
“Staying low seems our only option,” Quentin said. He gripped his harness as the helicopter began to shudder and bump through the air, and flinched when another lightning bolt lit up the sky.
This had to be Mel’s father. That’s why they had stopped the car.
Was this a feint, a threat to force them to land? Or was he really willing to endanger his daughter’s life rather than let her get away?
The helicopter dropped several feet, then surged back up toward the clouds, engine straining as it climbed. He heard the screams of teens in the cabin behind the cockpit, a stark reminder that he and Neil were not the only ones at risk here.
“Come on,” he breathed, urging the beleaguered helicopter to break free from the outer edge of the clouds. “Come on.”
The torrential rain turned to hailstones that hammered against the body of the aircraft. He saw them pelt the windscreen in pebble-sized chunks of ice, and then one the size of a fist smashed against the glass and nearly made him leap out of his skin.
A third flash sent a judder through the entire helicopter, and electronic alarms began to screech in the cockpit.
The helicopter yawed abruptly to the left.
The teens were screaming again.
Quentin’s heart hammered in his chest. His whole body primed itself for a fight that was not here, an opponent he could not confront, and as his breathing quickened and the screams from the cabin mingled with the hammering against the hull he had a glimmer of hope that Neil would correct the yawing and take them to safety.
Then the helicopter plummeted toward the ground.
AK Faulkner is the author of the Inheritance series of contemporary fantasy novels, which begins with Jack of Thorns. The latest volume, Runes of Fall, will be released in May 2023.
AK lives just outside of London, England, with a charismatic Corgi. Together they fight crime and try not to light too many fires on the way.