The Guns Above: A Tussle in the Woods

They say it’s not the fall that kills you—for Josette Dupre, the Corps’ first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.

On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?

Author Robyn Bennis may have perfected the art of The Thrilling Action Sequence. Below is just one example from her forthcoming military fantasy adventure novel The Guns Above—out on May 2nd from Tor Books—in which Josette finds herself in a sudden predicament…

 

 

As she approached, she heard something rooting around inside. Probably a fox. She readied her rifle and stepped quietly around the wreck. A fox would not do for the officers’ supper— and certainly not this fox, considering what it was most likely eating in there—but the pelt might be worth a rial or two.

She maneuvered wide of the wreckage, between the trees, trying to get a shot at it through an opening in the keel, but most of the forward section was still covered by canvas. She chose her steps carefully, rounding the bow to look along the other side of the downed airship’s keel. It was only then that she noticed the horse.

It was staring back at her from atop the remains of the scout’s hurricane deck, where it was tied to a limp suspension cable. When it saw her, it whinnied and pawed the ground.

A man—a Vin hussar, judging by his blue coat and fur busby cap—came out of the keel. Josette froze. The hussar glanced about the forest, but didn’t see her in the dim light under the canopy. He walked to the horse and stroked the animal’s neck, saying soothing words to it in Vinzhalian.

When he finally noticed Josette, she was already squeezing the trigger of her rifle.

As the smoke cleared, the horse pulled free of its bonds and galloped away, running headlong through the forest, stumbling over roots and uneven ground. The hussar lay on the ground, blood gushing from the hole in the center of his chest.

“Oh hell,” she said. The hussar would have been a valuable prisoner. If she’d had half a second longer to think, she would have tried to wound him.

It was then, as she cursed herself for her inattention, that she finally noticed the second horse.

It was farther away than the first and hidden by a kink in the wrecked keel, but she could hear it plainly enough. She began to reload, but didn’t even get the powder down the barrel before another hussar appeared, squeezing his shoulders through a hole in the wreckage.

She gave up all hope of reloading in time and simply ran at him, holding the rifle up like a club and shouting one of the few Vinzhalian words she knew, a demand for surrender.

He was evidently unimpressed by her vocabulary, for he vaulted from the wreck and made a dash for his horse, where he had a carbine musket and the biggest goddamn cavalry saber Josette had ever seen.

She could see already that he was going to reach them before she reached him. If she kept running, he’d shoot her. If she stopped, he’d shoot her. So she kept running until he drew the carbine, and then she suddenly veered away into the trees. She heard him fire, and heard the bullet smack into a tree just behind her.

She looked through the trees to see the hussar toss aside his carbine and vault onto his horse. He drew his saber and charged. Though the horse had some trouble maneuvering in the forest, she knew it wouldn’t matter. The Vins were renowned for their cavalry, and she’d just picked a fight with one of them. She was a mere signal officer, while the hussar was a finely honed instrument of death.

But he was a finely honed instrument of death mounted atop a horse—a weird, skittish creature that was only half sane on its best days.

She saw a thick tree trunk ahead of her, wide enough to hide behind, and she stopped short, her boot digging into the soft earth in its shadow, the hussar only seconds behind. The rifle was still clutched in her whitening hands. She held it over her head and, as the horseman charged past, she brought the butt around in a crushing swing that drove not into the hussar, who was expecting that blow and ready to parry it, but onto his horse’s head.

The animal’s dark brown eyes filled with blood. It turned away from the sudden pain just as Josette ducked the hussar’s counterattack. His saber went high and buried itself into the bark of the tree. He tugged at it, but the horse pulled away before he could free the blade.

Josette did not pause or stop to assess. She ran after him, swinging her rifle with a savagery she’d never before experienced, striking a solid blow against his shoulder. Before he could get clear, she swung again in a scything motion that hit him in the belly just as his horse reared on its hind legs.

The hussar fell, landed on his head, and crumpled. Josette stood over him, poised for a death blow. She shouted another demand for surrender.

He didn’t answer her. He only lay still. Perfectly still.

She slumped against a tree, gasping for breath. “Goddamn it,” she muttered.

 

Check out more thrilling excerpts from The Guns Above!

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