EXCLUSIVE: Cover reveal and excerpt for Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford

R.S. Ford is a prolific and brilliant author who you’ve probably read through his Steelhaven series, Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 book series, and in Grimdark Magazine Issue #4. When I heard about his new book Engines of Empire I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to reveal the cover and chapter one to GdM fans. A massive thank you to Orbit for giving us this this reveal.

Enjoy!

Blurb for Engines of Empire, book 1 of The Age of Uprising

The nation of Torwyn is run on the power of industry, and industry is run by the Guilds. Chief among them are the Hawkspurs, and their responsibility is to keep the gears of the empire turning. It’s exactly why matriarch Rosomon Hawkspur sends each of her heirs to the far reaches of the nation.

Conall, the eldest son, is sent to the distant frontier to earn his stripes in the military. It is here that he faces a threat he could have never seen coming: the first rumblings of revolution.

Tyreta’s sorcerous connection to the magical resource of pyrstone that fuels the empire’s machines makes her a perfect heir–in theory. While Tyreta hopes that she might shirk her responsibilities during her journey one of Torwyn’s most important pyrestone mines, she instead finds the dark horrors of industry that the empire would prefer to keep hidden.

The youngest, Fulren, is a talented artificer, and finds himself acting as consort to a foreign emissary. Soon after, he is framed for a crime he never committed. A crime that could start a war.

As each of the Hawkspurs grapple with the many threats that face the nation within and without, they must finally prove themselves worthy–or their empire will fall apart.

Cover reveal for Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford

I absolutely love this cover. With an up close banner standard imagery putting me very much in the military mind of the book, it’s a perfect setup, and I am pretty much certain I’d pick this off the shelf based on cover alone.

Artist credit is Design and Illustration by Mike Heath/Magnus Creative. You can check out more of his work over on his website https://magnuscreative.artstation.com and his Instagram https://www.instagram.com/magnuscreative/.

Chapter one

The journey from Wyke to the Anvil was over five hundred miles of undulating land. It would have taken longer than two

weeks by wagon, with regular stops and changes of horse. Tyreta Hawkspur would complete the journey in less than three days.

From the viewing deck of the landship she could already see the rising minarets of the Anvil in the distance, growing ever larger as the open fields and rivers glided by. The vessel was elevated on rails, engines growling, the sound bellowing over the wind as it rushed into her face. It was an ingenious feat of engineering. The Hawk- spur Guild had established a network of such lines across the length and breadth of Torwyn, on which the long trains of steel and iron snaked. Tyreta was heir to this legacy, one that had seen the Hawk- spurs rise from simple couriers to one of the most powerful Guilds in the land. It should have made her proud. All she felt was bored.

“Try to look more enthused. Your uncle will have gone to a great deal of trouble to greet us. I’d rather you didn’t look like you’ve just eaten a bag of lemons when we arrive.”

There it was.

Tyreta’s mother, Rosomon, stood at the rail beside her. A constant reminder of what Tyreta was to inherit. Of her responsibilities.

“Oh, there’s a big smile on the inside, Mother,” Tyreta replied.

She said it under her breath, but as usual Lady Rosomon’s hearing was almost preternatural.

“Well, when we arrive, see if you can conjure one on your face.”

Her mother moved away, off to prepare herself to greet the emperor. It wouldn’t do for Rosomon Hawkspur to look anything less than resplendent when she was met by her brother, the great Sullivar Archwind.

As she left, Tyreta contorted her face into a twisted semblance of a smile. It was a pointless act of defiance but at least one she could get away with—Rosomon’s hearing might have been keen as a bat’s, but she certainly didn’t have eyes in the back of her head. As her mother left the viewing deck, Tyreta saw she’d not been quite as discreet as she’d anticipated.

Her elder brother Conall was watching her from across the deck, wearing a mocking grin. He was tall, handsome, sharp-witted, impeccably dressed in his blue uniform—all the things an heir to the Hawkspur Guild should be. Conall never put a foot wrong, in contrast to Tyreta’s constant missteps. He was the future of their line and a captain in the Talon, the military arm of the Guild. All her life she’d been trying to live up to his example and failing miserably. He was the last person she would want to catch her acting like an infant. Well, if her mother and brother thought her so feckless, maybe she’d demonstrate just how talented she was.

Ignoring her brother’s smugness, she moved from the deck and made her way below into the cloying confines of the metal carriage. If the sound was deafening on the viewing deck, it was much worse inside. The roar of the engines resonated throughout the length of the landship, the walls of the carriages trembling with the power of it. Tyreta could feel the energy coursing through the vessel, propel- ling it along the rails. For everyone else on board, she guessed it was just about bearable. For Tyreta it was a drug to the senses.

They were almost at their destination now, the Anvil no more than a few miles away. Surely this was the time to indulge? If her mother chided her, what was the difference? What was the worst that could happen?

Tyreta made her way forward through the carriages. Past the soldiers of the Talon, busy polishing their hawk helms and ceremo- nial blades, past the servants and staff, to the engine room, the head of the snake.

The steel door was shut, a wheel at its centre keeping the engine room locked away from the rest of the landship. Tyreta turned the wheel, hearing the clamps unlock, and swung open the door. She was greeted by the growl of the engine and the hum of the power core within, feeling it nourishing her, energising her.

When she entered, the drivers immediately stood to one side and bowed their heads. There were some advantages to being heir to a Guild.

The men were masked to protect them from the smoke and dust of the engine, but Tyreta ignored the cloying atmosphere as she approached the power core. She could feel its hum, a sweet lament- ing tune sung only to her. Reaching out, she placed a hand on it, sensing the energy emanating from the pyrestones within—those precious crystals pulsating with life.

This was her gift. As a webwainer she could control the pyrestones, imbuing them with life, and at her touch they responded, glow- ing hotter, agitated by her presence. The drivers gave one another a worried look, though neither dared offer a word of complaint.

“Is this the fastest this crate can go?” Tyreta shouted above the din.

One of the drivers pulled down his mask. “It is, my lady. Any faster and we risk—”

“I think we can do better,” she replied.

She pressed her palm to the core and closed her eyes. A smile crossed her lips as she felt the pyrestones respond to her will, the core growing hotter against her palm. The engine whined in protest as the stones urged the pistons and hydraulics to greater effort.

“My lady, this is against regulations,” shouted one of the drivers, but Tyreta ignored him.

The landship began to accelerate. She opened her eyes, seeing through the viewing port that the landscape was beginning to shoot past at an alarming rate. Still she did not yield. Tyreta wanted more. She pressed the core further, communing with it, talking to it in a silent whisper, urging it to greater and greater effort. This was what her webwainer gift was for, and for too long she had been forbidden to use it. What did her mother know anyway? Lady Rosomon had never experienced the privilege of the webwainer talent. This was Tyreta’s right—and besides, what harm could she do?

The landship bucked, the wheels momentarily sliding on the rails. She glanced across the cab, seeing abject terror on the drivers’ faces. Before she could release her hand, there was a yell behind her.

“Tyreta!”

She snatched her hand from the core as though she’d been bitten, turning to see her mother’s furious face in the doorway. The train immediately slowed, the rattling and bucking relenting as the land- ship slowed to its former speed.

Lady Rosomon didn’t have to say a word. Tyreta removed herself from the engine room, moving back through the carriages and past the chaos she’d caused. Baggage had fallen from the securing rigs, garments and trinkets were scattered about the floor. The Talon sol- diers were picking themselves up from where they lay, their arms and armour strewn all about.

Tyreta reached her cabin and closed the door, resting her back against it and breathing heavily. There might be a price to pay for this later. Lady Rosomon had never been a tolerant woman. What- ever that price was, Tyreta thought as a smile played across her lips, it had been worth it.

The rest of the journey was mercifully short and without inci- dent. Tyreta considered it best not to push her luck, and she dressed as one might expect of an heir to the Hawkspur Guild, her blue tunic displaying the winged-talon sigil on her chest. Despite the tai- lored fit, it still felt as if it were throttling her, but it would be best to endure it for now. At least until her mother had a chance to cool down. As the landship pulled to a stop, Tyreta couldn’t keep herself locked away any longer.

Lady Rosomon was waiting for her when she debarked. On her right stood the imposing figure of Starn Rivers, swordwright to the Hawkspur Guild. He was a bull of a man, thick moustache droop- ing down past his chin. Tyreta had never liked him or the looks he occasionally gave her, and the fact that he barely spoke was a small mercy.

While their cortege was busy unloading the landship and Conall joked with his cronies from the Talon, Rosomon led the group up through the terminal. Once out beyond the great arched entrance, Tyreta could see the city proper.

The Anvil was a testament to the power of the Guilds. Soaring towers clamoured for space, linked by raised walkways. Every- thing stank of opulence, and even the lowliest of the citizenry were adorned in fine silk and velvet. A thunderous rattle peeled down from overhead as a skycarriage rumbled by on its elevated tracks. Tyreta marvelled at the perfect union of artifice and architecture, conveying people from one side of the city to the other with such automotive efficiency.

It was a short walk to the main promenade, at the end of which stood the magnificent Archwind Palace. The way was lined with statues that crossed the Bridge of Saints, prominent members of the Guilds from the annals of history given pride of place along the Anvil’s main thoroughfare. Between those icons stood an honour guard of giant stormhulks, pistons hissing as their vast mechani- cal frames suddenly stood to attention. Each was piloted by a webwainer—someone who could manipulate pyrestone and instil life in the huge engines. For a moment Tyreta felt a pang of envy— what a privilege to control an invention of such power—but her focus was quickly taken by the palace, rising up in the midst of the city like a vast mountain.

As they crossed the bridge, Tyreta saw that a reception party was already awaiting them. She could make out Sullivar standing front and centre, his red uniform of office pristine, breastplate of brass shining in the sun. Her uncle had recently proclaimed himself emperor of Torwyn—an affectation Tyreta found a little ridiculous. Sullivar might look the part, but it was widely known he fell far short of being the great ruler her grandfather Treon had been.

Before they reached the foot of the vast stairway that led up to the palace, Tyreta caught up with her mother.

“Just wanted to say—” she began.

“Not now,” Rosomon snapped. “But I thought I’d—”

Her mother cut her off with a glance, and Tyreta thought it best not to push it, moving back and letting Lady Rosomon lead the way once more. Maybe it would be wise to let her calm down a little more before trying for an apology again.

When they’d almost reached the stairs, Sullivar could hold him- self back no longer. He walked down the last few steps, hugging Rosomon to him in a bearlike embrace.

“It’s been too long,” he said to her.

“Indeed it has,” she replied, smiling through the indignity.

“And you brought my niece and nephew,” he said, opening his arms to hug Tyreta.

She embraced her uncle, feeling his perfumed beard soft against her cheek. Sullivar squeezed her a little too tightly, crushing her against the cog sigil embossed on his breastplate, but there was little she could do to stop it. Once he’d released her, Conall reached for- ward to shake Sullivar’s hand, but he too was met with a bear hug.

“Lady Oriel,” Rosomon said, bowing before Sullivar’s wife, who had come to join them. “Or should that be Empress?”

“Nonsense,” Oriel replied, taking Rosomon’s hand and lead- ing her up the stairs. “We are family. No need for such affectations between us.”

They might have been sisters by marriage, but the difference between them was stark. Where Oriel was dazzling in a gown of red and gold, her hair tied up in an intricate bunch fastened with elabo- rate pins, Rosomon wore a skirt and cloak of plain blue, brown hair falling straight and unadorned about her shoulders.

Tyreta followed them up to the palace, passing the heavily armoured Titanguard who lined their route. Each one was a behe- moth, glaive in hand, bulky armour powered by ingenious artifice. She noticed there was no sign of Lancelin Jagdor, swordwright of the Archwind Guild, but then it was best if that man didn’t show his face in front of the Hawkspurs. But Lancelin wasn’t the only one conspicuous by his absence.

“Where’s Fulren?” Tyreta asked.

“Your younger brother wanted to come and greet you,” said Sul- livar. “But he is busying himself in his workshop. He has almost made a breakthrough with his studies, so I am told.”

“He always was dedicated,” said Rosomon, glancing momentarily at her daughter.

Tyreta bristled at the insinuation. Her younger brother couldn’t even be bothered to come greet them, yet still he was lauded. Once again she was reminded who the favourites were.

“He’s been a great asset,” said Sullivar. “His skills have improved beyond measure. You should go see him at work, Tyreta,” he added. She was about to protest, but a look from her mother made her realise she should probably do as she was bid. Best not to push things too far, considering she had still to face her punishment for toying with the landship.

As Rosomon and Conall were led away through the palace by Sullivar and Oriel, Tyreta was taken by a sullen-looking footman down into the bowels of the huge building. Here were foundries by the dozen, smelting works, rows of benches upon which artifi- cers worked on minuscule inventions. The farther down she got the more the place stank of industry—oil and rust permeated the air, the heat of the forges making the atmosphere sticky. Tyreta felt the essence of the pyrestones that lay all about, making her tingle right to her fingertips.

The footman led her to the lowest level. A door stood ajar at the end of the corridor, and the servant stopped, beckoning Tyreta inside. She pushed the door open to see a small workshop. It was in disarray, spare parts of machinery lying all about, and in the centre of the room, hunched over a workbench, was her brother Fulren.

“Hello, Tinhead,” she said to his back.

“Hello, Ratface,” he replied, without turning around.

She walked toward him, picking up some piece of artifice from a bench. It looked intricate, wires and pins protruding from every surface. Tyreta had no idea what it was for.

“Too busy playing with your toys to greet our beloved mother?” “I’ve been busy,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll forgive me.”

“For you, Lady Rosomon would forgive anything.”

Fulren turned to face her. On his head was strapped a contraption that supported a lens over one eye to magnify his work. He would have looked every inch the artificer—studious, serious—were it not for the fact that he was broad about the shoulders and lean about the waist. A fighter in body, inventor in mind. The perfect combination of skill and intelligence. She couldn’t help but resent him for that.

“I’m sure she’s forgiven you plenty,” he said. “How was the journey?”

“Let’s just say it could have gone more smoothly.”

Fulren flashed her a toothy grin. “Just can’t stay out of trouble, can you, Ratface? You’re supposed to be the responsible one.”

“I’m older than you. That’s pretty much where my responsibility ends.”

“Not for long,” said Fulren.

And he was right. Though Conall was to inherit their Guild’s title and obligations, Rosomon had demanded that Tyreta also take on the responsibilities of the Hawkspur Guild. Conall would see to military matters, and Tyreta would be in charge of transporta- tion all across Torwyn—by air, land and sea. She would administer trade routes and supply chains and keep her nation moving. It was a daunting prospect, and one she would gladly delay for as long as possible.

“No,” Tyreta said. “It won’t be long. I’m to travel to the Sundered Isles after the reception. Mother thinks it will build character.”

“So soon?” Fulren seemed genuinely concerned. “I won’t see much of you, then.”

“You’d see more if you came with me. We could do this together.

You could take up Father’s mantle yourself. You could—”

“We’ve been over this a thousand times. My place is here.” He gestured to the junk that lay strewn all around him. “Uncle Sullivar has granted me an apprenticeship. I am to become a master artificer. It’s all been settled.”

“So I’m doomed then?”

Fulren laughed at that. “You’ll just have to live up to your respon- sibilities for once. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it. You’ll get to see the world.”

The prospect of that did excite her, but thinking on the burden of controlling an entire Guild only filled her with dread.

“What about you?” she asked. “Are you going to live out your days cooped up in here, playing with your toys?”

“Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to see the world too, one day.”

Tyreta glanced around the windowless workshop, then shook her head. “Not you. You’ll never leave this place.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” He winked at her. “Anyway, get lost, I’m busy.” With that he turned back to his machinery.

“See you at the reception, Tinhead,” she replied before she left him to his labour.

The footman was still waiting for her outside, and Tyreta asked to be taken to her chamber. It had been a long journey, even for her. Obediently the servant led her back up through the vast work- shops until they reached ground level. There they took the elevator, steam pumping and gears grinding until it had juddered all the way to the upper levels of the palace. As she followed the open walk- way toward her chamber she could see out onto the vast city. Huge stormhulks walked the streets, but they looked tiny from the heady heights of Archwind Palace. Not even the highest spires of Wyke could rival this place for majesty.

When finally she opened the door to her chamber, Tyreta was brought back to earth with a crash. Her mother was waiting patiently inside, her back to the door as she gazed from the window.

Tyreta closed the door, shutting herself in, bracing for what was coming.

“Mother, I—”

“We won’t speak of it,” Rosomon said.

That was unexpected. Tyreta had prepared herself for a tirade fol- lowed by yet another lecture on responsibility and duty to the Guild. Rosomon turned from the window. Her hands were clasped in front of her, face a mask of calm. She was far from the raging harpy that usually manifested after one of Tyreta’s frequent misdemeanours. “Your first public engagement is coming.” She gestured to the bed, where lay a dress in the deep blue of the Hawkspur Guild. “You’ll wear that. You’ll fix that.” Rosomon pointed at Tyreta’s hair, which, as usual, was worn up in a messy knot on top of her head. “And you’ll do your best to act in a manner befitting an heir to the Guild of Hawkspur.”

Tyreta wasn’t sure what was worse—her mother’s raging or her clinical orders.

“Of course,” she replied. This was no time for defiance. “And, if you wish, you can wear this.”

Rosomon opened up her hand. In her palm was a silver pendant inlaid with a single gem. Tyreta recognised the nightstone immedi- ately. It was the rarest of pyrestones, one that was useless for artifice but valued for its beauty nonetheless.

“Mother, I don’t deserve—”

“No, you don’t,” said Rosomon. “But it was your father’s and you should have it.”

She took the pendant from her mother’s hand. Tyreta had never been one for jewels or trinkets, but the fact that it had been her father’s made it more precious than anything she had ever owned. She was about to thank her mother, to tell her she would do better from now on and live up to her father’s legacy, but Lady Rosomon was already on her way through the door.

“And don’t be late,” Rosomon said before closing the door behind her and leaving Tyreta alone.

She held the pendant in her hand for a moment, feeling the night- stone cold against her palm. It could not be imbued with any power, could not be used for any practical purpose, and yet she suddenly felt more connected to it than she had to any pyrestone. She would wear it with pride.

Glancing down at the gaudy blue dress, she realised there was other attire she would just have to get used to.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.