Our campaign is one week in and nearly 300% funded. I can’t tell you how excited Day and I are to bring this book back to the fans. It has always been one of our most popular titles as authors. With three weeks to go, we are hoping we might add illustrations this time around as the book just cries out for visuals to go with the rich language and fairytale esthetic. Currently, we are just $190 away from adding our first two illustrations. For those not familiar with the book, we thought it would be nice to share an excerpt. We hope you enjoy. And if you are curious about the campaign for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, please do click the link. If you are particularly moved, please consider sharing this excerpt or the link with the world. We would be quite grateful for the boost.
An Excerpt from Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed
The moon lit his way as he scurried down to the oasis. His first instinct was to fill his goatskin and flee back toward Wadi Al-Nejd before the night grew any older, but as he knelt beside the pool, he could not control his gaze. At first, it merely darted toward the dune and back again. His eyes locked upon the slope a while longer, his mind furiously working on the puzzle of how the dune hid a cavern. He longed to go in, to explore. To know for once and certain that this was the place he sought.
The next he knew, Ali stood where the lead thief’s footprints still shaped the sands, between the rock outcropping and the arta bush with the twisted trunk, his hand toying with one of the robust red blossoms from the branch in his hands as his teeth worried his lower lip.
He should not do it. Allah knew he should not do it.
The words were but a whisper across his lips, barely spoken before the sands again separated to reveal the rock outcrop. His eyes widened as next the stone facing slowly slid beneath the desert. Ali forgot once more to breathe. He had not believed it would work. He had been sure the sun had baked his brain. But there it was: the secret cavern, spilling its steady light upon the oasis.
The blossom snapped off in Ali’s tightened grip. He barely noticed as he crept into the cave. As he passed the entrance he noted two divots in the chamber floor that mirrored where he’d stood outside. Ali stopped and turned toward the oasis. It would be best to not betray his presence. “Close, Sesame,” he murmured, recalling the leader’s words; hoping they would work from the inside.
And the earth swallowed Ali whole.
His first impulse was to pound upon the rock, to order it open once more. Instead, he turned and allowed his gaze to sweep the cavern. He could see no sign of the guardians his father’s letter had warned about. Perhaps they had been released by his grandfather’s passing, for they were not here. Still, Ali’s hand crept down to rest upon his satchel, which contained the puzzle box, the travel diary, and his father’s letter. Reassured, he took in the wonders of the cave. The first thing he noticed was the camelids standing in ranks against the far wall, their curved brass flanks dully gleaming. He gasped as he realized these were the ‘ships of the desert’ mentioned in his grandfather’s diary. The ache to explore their inner workings was so strong it was almost physical.
Knowing he could not, Ali dragged his gaze away to examine the rest of the treasures. What he saw dazzled his eyes. Without a doubt, this was Nader Shah’s treasure. A jewel-encrusted platform stood in the center of the cavern. Twelve pillars—each capped by two peacocks with fanned tails—supported a canopy, the underside of which was covered in rubies and diamonds, emerald and pearls. The whole of it rested on four gold feet. Ali shivered in awe at that splendor alone. He had heard of the fabled Peacock Throne, but it had not occurred to him that it would be the centerpiece of his family’s sacred charge. Closest to the platform rested elegant urns filled with chalices and golden platters, some plain, others likewise encrusted with gems. Stacked around these were chests made of precious metals and rare wood. Ali marveled at the finely carved cinnabar and ivory that filled them. Part of him had scarcely believed he would find the treasure of Nader Shah hidden in the heart of the Rub-Al Khali. It was evident that part of him had been wrong.
On the fringes of the shah’s treasure, the thieves had piled canvas sacks and ceramic jars brimming with more pedestrian blessings: common-day coins and costly spices, aromatic perfumes and sparkling jewels, bolts of silk and casks of fine tea. There, shoved to the sides, blanketed in dust, he spied bundles of glass, copper, and brass piping that set his artificer’s heart tripping. The things Ali could make with such supplies! He closed his eyes and turned from the sight, lest avarice take root in his soul. If he was meant for such wealth, Allah would provide.
In the corner beyond the camelids, Ali noticed a workbench the likes of which he’d only seen in his dreams. This, more than even the shah’s treasure let him know that he had found the secret place his father had been searching for.
Charcoal sketches similar to those in Al-Jazari’s book were pinned to a board that leaned against the cavern wall, their black marks softened by a thick layer of dust. Half-finished inventions resembling sketches from his grandfather’s diary gathered dust on the work surface. He sighed, knowing he dare touch nothing, lest he betray himself in some way to the thieves.
His fingers hovered above delicate tools and sturdy spanners his meager coin could never afford. Even these were coated in fine dust and sand, as if long without use, though surely the camelids required maintenance. Glancing more closely, Ali could discern initials engraved on the handles. Were these his grandfather’s tools? They looked to have been well-used at one time, but obviously, that time was long past.
With all his heart, he vowed to reclaim his family’s legacy.
Beside the workbench stood a vat of oil and two barrels, one filled with copper gears, the other black tar for fuel. Beyond that, in the shadows, someone had piled a junk heap of scrap metal and defunct parts next to which stood one of the camelids, its body darkened by smoke residue along one side and the torso open on its hinges. He peered within and noticed a bent cog had twisted one of the shafts. A simple enough thing to fix, and yet it was clear by the coating of dust on the camelid’s back that the thieves had neither interest nor skill for such things. Ali resisted the urge to make the repair himself, instead examining the mechanism with a careful eye. Even damaged, the inner workings of the construct enthralled him. The design was similar to some he had seen at Ustad Babbage’s side, but this was more elegant; as much art as engineering. Inside, a compact copper boiler connected to narrow pipes that led from the tank to an intricate assembly of gears, rods, and pistons, two to each side, corresponding to where the legs attached. Another rose through the aperture where the construct’s neck connected to the body. He could not identify what directed the locomotion, but what he did see gave him some understanding of how the smooth, league-spanning stride of the camelid’s walk was achieved. Ali avidly studied the design, storing the knowledge for future use…assuming he ever had enough coin to do more than dream of crafting such complex engineering. Since Kassim had ordered Ali’s return to Wadi Al-Nejd, there had been little opportunity—or coin—for true invention, only the tinkering that supplemented his dwindling reserve. Sighing, he turned away from the workbench, lest he be tempted to touch.
Oh, what Ali would give to linger in this place for the rest of his days, creating magnificent constructs. But no, he had already lingered too long. Even now, his shoulders tightened and he caught himself darting glances around the room.
It was as if eyes were upon him, causing the skin across his back to crawl. Ali turned to examine the cavern in its entirety, rather than just the riches it held. He spied no one, but for the first time, he took note of the cave itself, marveling at the workmanship. This was no natural cavern but had been crafted by human hands. He could almost make out tool marks, likely from some rock-boring construct. The walls were only partially visible for the lattice of steam pipes crisscrossing overhead and down to the floor. Most of them were copper, but intermixed were glass tubes emitting a soft yellow light from no source Ali understood. Those pipes framing the entrance to the cavern were all glass, thick and gleaming, with brass fittings. To either side of them, Ali saw a complex assembly of great-toothed gears in a variety of sizes, interlocked and showing signs of wear. They appeared to operate a pulley system as a massive metallic cable ran up to the ceiling and down into the ground. He recognized elements of the design from The Book of Knowledge. He would have examined these workings more closely as well, only a sudden movement distracted him.
Inside those pipes by the entrance swirled lavender mist too delicate to be mistaken for steam. For a brief instant, Ali would have sworn there was a flutter, as of eyes blinking. Surely he was mistaken…and yet, the sensation of being watched increased.
Trying to ignore it, Ali continued wandering. Repeatedly, he had to remind himself not to touch each new thing he discovered. He told himself he was blessed just to be here in the secret place his grandfather had created and his father had long sought; it was enough to feel surrounded by their spirits, to see such glorious things, to smell the fragrance of the spices and costly perfumes that sweetened the chamber. Almost, Ali believed the lie. Thinking of the thieves, he fought the urge to lash out. This was his family’s responsibility, his family’s charge, his family’s treasure to guard. That last bore remembering. These riches were not his and never would be, but he could not help but wish just once to hold such wealth in his hands, to know, however briefly, what it felt like to be a rich man. No. No good could come of such thoughts.
Ali sighed. The sound echoed in the chamber until he nearly overlooked the softer sigh that followed his own. And then the light brightened and Ali stiffened as a woman’s voice filled the cavern.
“What have you in your hand, Child of Adam?” The voice was like the crackle of a fire, darker notes beneath the light.
Ali spun. He saw no one.
“What have you in your hand?” the voice repeated. Sweeter than a nightingale, the surging power in that voice sent Ali to his knees, fervent supplication to Allah on his lips, though he had no breath to utter them. His gaze fell upon the glass pipes by the entrance where the roiling mist had taken on a darker, violet hue.
“Tell me!” All sweetness and light fled both the woman’s voice and the chamber.
Ali thought desperately. He did not pick up anything. He purposely had not touched even one piece of treasure. No, not even the bent cog. In the darkness, he focused, startled to realize he did, in fact, cup something in his right hand. Slowly, he reached over with his left and ran his fingers across the sturdy anthers of the arta blossom he had plucked from the bush outside the cavern.
He tried to speak and it was as if the desert itself once more filled his throat.
The darkness took on more weight at his continued silence, but the voice did not speak again. Ali frantically coughed and cleared his throat.
“A flower…” His voice sounded harsh and grating to his ear.
A gasp answered him. The longing in that single sound tightened his chest. Light once more flooded the chamber. Before him, the mist swirled in agitation. Following instinct, Ali crept forward, still on his knees, and laid the flower beside the pipes, the small anthers only slightly bent for having been clutched in his hand.
When he looked up, a woman formed out of the swirling mist; perfect in all proportions, but no larger than a ferret, her body cloaked in smoky robes. The glass tube held a djinni. Her solid black gaze locked on the blossom. Here, at last, one of the guardians of which his father wrote, though Ali wondered how well she could guard from within her encasement.
“He planted them for me,” she whispered. “My master planted them for me. It has been so long since I have seen evidence of his gift. Not since his passage into Death’s Garden.”