Host – a dark short story

  The tunnels around me are dark, dark. I yearn for the hum of the strip lights, the drip, drip of the pipes. It’s cold down here. I lie, weighed down by my sac, as a dozen babies claw and writhe inside me.
It never used to be this way, but when the plague came, we all changed. Those that survived were never the same. A new norm emerged.
I whisper to the children. They’re not my children. They grow inside me, but they grow from the seeds of men and women. I am not like them. I am a host.
The men bring me food and water. The women bring me stories and blankets. They fear me, but they need me. Like soil, they need me to grow their seeds. Through their worship, their reverence, I can still taste their fear, bitter on my tongue. They look upon me as something else, something neither here nor there: a host.
I’ve heard whispers in the dark of “necessary evils” and “unfortunate realities”. Without me — without us — they cannot breed.
When they bring their offerings of sperm and ovum, I eat until I can eat no more. A desire to swallow the men and women, to tear them apart limb from limb — like a mantis extinguishing her mate — is only expunged by their restraints, their binds.
I know there are hosts like me who roam the tunnels and the wastes, feeding on their mates once the impregnation is complete. They aren’t like me — they are free.
There’s a tear in my sac. Amniotic fluid seeps around me, soaking my flesh. Men and women arrive. The first child is born a host. The child is cast to the flames.

The Magician – Chapter I

Kat squinted at the sunlight pouring into her bedchamber, dust motes caught mid-dance. She smiled at her handmaiden Helene through her tiredness, wishing she could close her eyes and roll back into her dreams.
“Your Imperial Highness.” Helene lowered her gaze. “Your breakfast—” her eyes widened as she stared down at the bed sheets, crisp white linen patched with dried blood between Kat’s legs.
Kat recalled how excited her younger sister had been when she bled for the first time. But it would be different for her. Breath caught in her chest. Her mother would do everything in her power to change Kat, to mould her into someone just like her, but at least it would bring an end to Elisabeth’s gloating.
A smile emerged through the deep creases on Helene’s face, brightness reaching her dull grey eyes. “This is wonderful.” She pulled the sheet from Kat, the handmaiden’s fingers like crabs’ legs.
Kat dragged the sheet back towards her, kicking her legs until she sat with her head against the oak backboard, carvings of scrolls and ivies pressing against the back of her head. She rolled the bed sheet into a ball, folding her arms as she pressed it into her lap. “No.”
“We will have to tell your mother.” Helene raised her chin and scoffed. “You’re a woman now.”
“Please. You cannot tell anyone.” She sat up, clearing her throat. “That is an order.”
“Princess Kathryn.” Helene gave a chuckle, shaking her head. “You do say the funniest things sometimes.” Still smiling, she pried the sheet from Kat’s grip and held them up to the sunlight. She glanced down at Kat’s stained nightdress. “Would you like me to help clean you?”
“That is not necessary. You are dismissed, Helene.” She winced as cramps spread below her stomach.
“As you wish, Your Highness.” Helene dipped her head and hesitated by the door. “One moment, please, Princess.” She slipped from the bedchamber, leaving the door ajar.
Kat’s yawn turned into a sigh. She shifted from the bed, walking around aimlessly, floorboards cold beneath her steps. The arrival of her woman’s blood meant rituals and ceremonies—the cleansing, the sacrifice, the humiliation. She stared down at her trembling hands as her heartbeat pounded and breath grew tight. Sweat pooled around the back of her neck. She closed her eyes, counting to herself, concentrating on the breaths, trying to push away the darkness before it engulfed her, sending back down that spiral of panic.
Helene returned a minute or so later, backing through the door with a wash basin in one hand and a bundle of cloths in the other. She placed the bucket at the end of Kat’s bed and smiled. “You will need to be clean, Your Highness. I can help you if you like. Or if you would rather I left you alone?”
Kat blinked and inhaled, steeling herself. “Thank you, Helene. I can manage from here.”
The handmaiden looked down at a ball of cloth in her hand and passed it to Kat.
“What is this for?” Kat asked, taking the woollen pad.
“Pop it inside your smallclothes. It will soak the blood. I will bring you a fresh pad before you sleep.”
Kat swallowed and dropped her gaze.
“Don’t worry about a thing, Princess. It happens to us all. It just means you’re no longer a child.”
The door clicked behind her as Helene left with the bed sheets. Kat passed over a rug, made from the pelt of a white bear, and leaned out of her window. Clouds tumbled above the Braun Sea, the ever-shifting dots of reflected sunlight sparkling across the waves. Tall-masted ships bobbed in the distance. Barges and sloops vied for space around the harbour.
Kicking free of her nightclothes, she cleaned herself with the cloth. The water warmed her flesh as another pang of cramps pulled at her insides. She took in a deep breath and dried herself, sliding the woollen pad into her underclothes.
She pulled on the clothes Helene had laid out for her—a green silk tunic with a golden wyvern sigil curled along its chest and a pair of cream hose—and raked an ivory comb, carved in the shape of a narwhal, through her knotted red curls, scraping them away from her forehead.
She turned back to her room, searching around for something, anything, to give her comfort. The ornament of a hunting dog, shaped from black glass, so dark it seemed to suck in the light, stood perched on her writing desk. An icy chill ran along her fingers as she took the ornament in her hands, staring into its eyes, wondering what she was going to do. She needed to see Hansel.
Trembling, she set the ornament back on her writing desk, moving aside an ink pot and using it to weigh down loose parchment, many of the sheets scrawled with frantic writing outlining the details of her increasingly vivid dreams.
Kat mounted the windowsill, barefoot, and looked down. The courtyard’s pale cobbles lay four storeys below. Guards and servants passed beneath her in a flurry of movement and purpose, unaware of the young princess looming above them.
She stepped out, dropping down onto a stone ledge, a few fingers wider than her foot, and pressed her body against the sheer wall. Moving swiftly on her toes, she reached a white painted drainpipe and slid down two floors, feet meeting another carved ledge. She pushed herself away from the wall, landing on the roof of the servants’ lodgings, its slate tiles slick with the haze from the Braun Sea.
She hoped Hansel would not be away on a delivery—it was rare for a message to be sent out so early in the day. Leaning over the roof’s edge, she counted four windows from the right, reached down, and tapped lightly on the glass.
Taking care not to slip, Kat shuffled up along the roof tiles. Smoke rose from a crowned chimney to her left. Ostreich flags, dotted along the battlements of the palace’s outer wall, caught the wind, flapping in unpredictable shudders, the white wyvern on a black field dulled by mist. She watched as more guards emerged from the mess hall’s towering doorway, sauntering in twos and threes to their posts, sharing laughter and conversation. She took in the aromas of freshly baked bread and wood smoke, the hint of hops from the temple brewery catching the wind.
A scrambling sound came from just below the roof’s edge. Kat smiled weakly when Hansel pulled himself up onto the slates. His skin was dark from days on the roads, and he wore his black hair in a tight braid. A navy blue tunic and short trousers marked his role as a messenger. “What’s the matter?”
“Is it that obvious?”
He sat down next to her, pale knees poking from beneath the bottom of his short trousers. “Have you been fighting with your sister again?”
“Elisabeth?” She waved a hand. “No. Not this time.” Shoulders hunched, she looked down at her bare feet and swallowed. “I am a woman now.”
“What do you mean?” He looked her up and down, gaze lingering over her chest. “Nah, you still look like a girl to me.”
She gave his shoulder a playful jab. “Not like that. I do not know.” She lowered her voice to a whisper as her cheeks prickled with warmth. “I…I have bled.”
“Bled? Has someone—” He stopped and nodded to himself, a slight grin curling one side of his lips, and placed a hand on Kat’s. “I understand.” He tapped the side of his nose with a forefinger. “I won’t say nothing to no one.”
“Does that mean you will, or you will not?”
He tilted his head, eyebrow cocked. “Huh?”
Kat rolled her eyes. “It matters not.” She sighed and picked at a clump of moss, freeing it from between a pair of slates, letting it tumble into the drainage gutter. “Helene says she will tell mother.”
“We all have to grow up.” He picked something from his teeth. “Don’t worry about it. Happens to everyone.”
“I am worried. I have to go through the ceremony.” Her fists clenched into a tight ball, knuckles turning pale. “It will only be a matter of time before there is talk of marrying me off to some noble’s son or some foreign prince who does not even speak the Ostreich tongue.” She watched a pair of seagulls rise in broad circles. They danced around each other, diving and swooping, their broad wings slicing through the air. She envied them, envied their freedom, their ability to live how they wanted without the spectre of royal duties and marriage to a stranger looming over them.
“I thought you were supposed to be a princess.”
She turned to see his toothy grin. “Mother will chide me. She’ll tell me again about responsibilities to the Empire and fulfilling my destiny…” Her voice trailed off as she searched for the seagulls.
“Can’t you just order people not to make you do things?”
Kat laughed bitterly. “You think I have power?”
Hansel pushed out his bottom lip and gestured across the courtyard towards the stables. “I don’t know. You live in a big palace. Your mum’s the ruler of the Ostreich Empire.” He counted the points off his fingers. “There’s guards, servants, a navy, an army…”
“Not yet,” she spat. “I cannot even get my handmaiden to do what I want.” She tore up a handful of moss from between the tiles and hurled it from the roof. “It is not fair.”
Hansel laughed.
“You would not understand.” She leaned forward, resting her head in her hands, elbows digging into the sides of her knees.
“Try me.”
“You’ve got it simple.” She turned to him. “You can leave whenever you want and it is not going to cause any crises.”
“No, I can’t. I have responsibilities. People rely on me.”
“I know.” She sighed. “I just wish there was a way I could stop Helene from showing mother those sheets.”
“That’s not a good idea.” He nodded towards the chapel. “I think Witz is looking for you.”
She followed his gaze as the wyvern, no bigger than a large seagull, swooped across the courtyard, his wings broad, black, and bat-like. He landed on the chimneypot to her left and hopped down to the roof, making his way towards Kat on spindly legs. He came to a stop, lowered his head, and lay his leathery wings out at his sides, their surface shimmering between black and emerald green. “Princess Kathryn.” He spoke with a musical lilt. “Your mother is waiting for you.” He regarded her with tiny black eyes.
She gave Hansel a shrug. “I must go.”
“Good luck.” Hansel offered her a grin. “Knock for me later if you’re around.”
“I will.” She gave him a quick smile and climbed from the roof.
Kat scaled down the drainpipe to the courtyard as Witz glided down, landing on the cobbles next to her. He lowered his gaze again and flattened his wings against the ground. “Please, forgive my intrusion. I was sent to find you.”
“You do not need to bow to me, Witz. Just walk with me.” She found his formality in front of the other palace staff strange, and wondered whether they knew how close they really were.
“As you wish, Princess.” Witz straightened his body, folding in his wings, barbed tail stiffening. He looked up at her expectantly.
“Lead the way.”
The wyvern waddled ahead, and led Kat through a side-door usually reserved for guards. The door stood in solid oak inlaid with simple strips of wrought iron.
She hesitated for a moment. “Are you sure?”
He hopped up to the door’s handle, grabbed it with his beak-like mouth, turned it, and pushed the door open. “Come. This way is much quicker.” He took to the air and flew on ahead.
Kat followed him along the seldom-used corridor, footsteps echoing. Sunlight poked through the gloom, highlighting bronze busts of long-dead emperors. Her gaze lingered on a dusty tapestry showing a knight on a horse piercing the belly of a green-scaled dragon, its shield sporting the sigil of a basilisk on a yellow field. The earthen floor tiles faded to a chipped cream along a central path. Judging by the blackened beams and smoke-stained pillars, she presumed it to be a much older part of the palace than where she resided.
Bringing his wings out wide, Witz landed on the gilded handle of an oak door set into a stone archway. Brass images of leviathan and kraken caught the faint light, their surfaces dulled by dust and wear. The wyvern wrestled with the handle for a few moments before giving the door a light knock. He hopped to the floor, disappearing into the shadows.
The door inched open as a male servant eyed her. “Your Imperial Highness.” He bowed. “Forgive me. I was not expecting you here.”
Kat gave him a smile. “I was not expecting to be here either.” She looked back over her shoulder towards Witz.
“Her Imperial Majesty and Princess Elisabeth are waiting for you in the dining room.”
“Thank you.” She glanced around at the familiar surroundings—the glossy white walls, the golden twists of leaves along the coving, the plush jade carpet beneath her feet. “I can make my own way from here.”
Paintings and busts of ancient relatives, nobles, and war heroes blurred past her until she came to a halt outside the dining room. A male servant dipped his head and opened the door without a word. “Thank you.” She raised her chin and took in a breath before stepping through.
Kat’s mother and sister sat at the end of a long polished table, both in jade silks. Rows of tables filled the room. Alchemical orbs hung from ceiling beams, throwing their soft white glow into every corner. She walked to her seat, feeling their eyes upon her. “Mother. Elisabeth.”
“Where were you?” her mother asked. Her eyes widened at the sight of Kat’s bare feet. “Where are your shoes?”
A servant pulled a chair out for Kat and she took a seat, nodding to him with thanks.
“Look at me when I speak to you, child.” Her mother’s flesh had greyed with age, and deep lines creased her brow. She held a teacup with long bony fingers, her eyes narrowing. “Where were you?”
Kat met those dark eyes, her voice catching in her throat. “I—”
“She was probably playing with that servant again or sniffing around the stables,” Elisabeth interrupted, her voice edged with sarcasm. “One would forget she is supposed to be a princess.”
Kat scowled at her sister and turned back to her mother. “I just needed some air. I felt unwell.”
“Your handmaiden came to see me. Helene, is it? I can never remember their damnable names.” She held the cup next to her thin lips, steam rising across her face. “She tells me you have received your blood.”
“That means you’re a woman, like me.” Elisabeth tossed her red hair back, thicker and longer than Kat’s. They shared the same button nose, high cheekbones, and bright green eyes.
“I am still older than you.” Kat’s fists tightened involuntarily.
“Well?” Her mother pursed her lips.
“I…I think she may be mistaken.” Kat shuffled in her seat as a servant poured tea from a white teapot, its faded blue designs of falcons and dragons reminding her of the huntsmaster’s tattoos. “I was out climbing and hurt myself. It must have been from that.”
“She’s obviously lying, mother.”
The Empress silenced Elisabeth with a glare. “Did you visit the physician?”
Kat shook her head and looked down at her chipped fingernails. “It was only a small cut. I think it has healed.”
“Show me.”
“Show you?” Kat’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Your cut.” She placed her teacup down on its saucer. “I must say, Kathryn, it is no surprise that you would hurt yourself the way you go scrambling along those roofs barefoot like some disgusting animal. You’re not hurt at all, are you?” She held Kat with her stare, waiting, a slight curl forming at the edge of her mouth.
Kat went to speak and stopped herself before she told another lie. “Sorry, Mother.” She dipped her gaze, pressing her hands together.
“So, there is no wound?”
A servant placed sweetbreads and cured ham on the plate before Kat. She tore up a piece of the meat with her fingers and ate, closing her eyes as she chewed. “I am sorry.”
“This is a big day.” Her mother raised her chin. “I will have the servants make arrangements.”
Kat met her gaze. “For what?”
“For your ceremony, of course.”

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Lord Sidebottom and the Awesome Airship Mystery

The clock above my workbench struck seven. I rolled up my designs for what can only be described as the most awesome airship ever conceived—not in that vulgar sense uttered by those young people they have nowadays to refer to anything even vaguely of interest. No, this airship was awesome in the truest sense.

I stowed the blueprint in my wall-safe and locked the front door behind me as I stepped into the cold. It was time to meet the beautiful Lady Elizabeth.

I shovelled coal into my Segway. The machine rumbled to life, steam jets hissing from its exhaust vents. My feet stood firm between its wheels as the vehicle rolled forward.

The sands extended towards the sea’s distant glimmer as the Segway hopped onto the promenade. Seagulls eyed me from their gas lamp perches.

The beautiful Lady Elizabeth would be waiting for me. I had taken it upon myself to court her and prove I was a man of means and keen perception.

Approaching the pier, I spied a commotion around our usual place of meeting. I recognised Detective Jones, as tall and impeccable as ever with his black uniform and airman’s moustache. “Detective,” I called, drawing to a stop.

“Lord Sidebottom.” Lamplight caught the flicker of anguish in his expression.

I followed his gaze and my mouth gaped. An emerald green dress lay draped across twisted limbs. The beautiful Lady Elizabeth stared at nothing with dead eyes. I stepped from my Segway and knelt over her body.

“Do you know this woman?” the detective asked.

“It is the beautiful Lady Elizabeth. We are…we were courting.” I turned to him. “Who could have done this? Who could have snuffed out the life of such a wonderful woman?”

He removed his hat and dipped his head. “I am dreadfully sorry.”

“That is not an answer,” I spat. “Are there no clues?”

The detective licked his lips and gave a slight nod. He handed me a brass plaque, no bigger than my palm and no thicker than the brim of a cheap top hat.

I rose to my feet, tilting it towards a nearby gas lamp. The etched image of Mad Frank winking back at me caught the light. “It is Mad Frank’s calling card—my arch nemesis. Curse that—“

The emerald dress burst open as a dozen or so clockwork crabs launched themselves towards me, nipping and tearing at my flesh and hair and clothing.

I frantically pried them from me, hurling their metal shells to the ground, stamping them down beneath my boots.

The detective lunged forward, swinging at one of the damnable things with his truncheon, screaming out when the creature snapped at his face, lopping off a chunk of his moustache.

We looked around, dazed and breathless as gears and brass shards lay spread across the flagstones.

“Are they gone?” he asked, straightening his hat.

I stared down at my ragged shirt, and wiped my bloodied face with a handkerchief. “What the devil were they?”

“I believe they were Mad Frank’s attack crabs.”

A shuddering breath left me and I knelt next to Lady Elizabeth. Holes in the dress revealed a construction of wood and rubber beneath—nothing more than a container for those mechanical mockeries. I ran my hand towards her face and prodded rubbery flesh. “This is not a murder, detective. This is something else.”

“Then no murder has been committed. It is a closed case.”

“I was supposed to meet the beautiful Lady Elizabeth. If she’s not here, then where is she?”

He met my question with a blank expression.

I tipped my hat and mounted the Segway. Deflated, I returned to my workshop.

I came to a stop outside and rummaged for my keys, my fingers brushing Mad Frank’s calling card. Why had he sent clockwork crabs? Where was the beautiful Lady Elizabeth?

None of it made a lick of sense.

My workshop door flew open and three robot monkeys charged from inside. Steam poured from their ears. Alchemical light glowed behind their eyes.

I jumped to one side as they swung from trees and lampposts.

The first of them leaped towards me. I gripped the creature around the throat, slamming it against my garden wall, its skull shattering on impact.

I sidestepped the second and stood back as it tumbled into a thorn bush. I ran towards it, my boots crashing down on its chest, oil and coal spilling across the cobbles.

I turned swiftly as another mounted my back, its claws tearing at my already ragged shirt. Grabbing its ears, I flipped it over my shoulder and shoved it against the wall. It thrashed for a moment then dropped face-first to the ground.

I examined its head—it was coated in the same rubbery material as Lady Elizabeth’s false visage.

I drew my fists up and shouldered my way into the workshop. Lengths of rubber hose and copper wire lay across the counter. Brass gears and cogs stood in haphazard piles. My gaze shifted towards the wall-safe. Its door hung at an awkward angle. Scorch marks ran along its hinges. I marched over and thrust my head inside. “My designs!”

A glimmer of something caught my eye—an etched sheet of brass, Mad Frank’s calling card.

I snatched it as a low droning hum filled my workshop. I bolted outside, skidding to a halt as Mad Frank’s airship loomed above.

I threw a handful of coal into my Segway and fired up its engine. The airship turned slowly towards me as I raced ahead. A salvo of missiles burst from the airship’s cannon.

Charging headlong towards the first missile, I pushed my Segway beyond its limits, its frame rattling as the wind rushed by my ears. With a swift kick, the Segway rose from the ground and slid along the missile’s edge.

Teeth gritted, I hopped to the next missile, and the next and the next, climbing towards the airship as more of the rockets rained down. I glanced over my shoulder to see my workshop in flames far below. Bouncing from the final missile, the Segway cracked beneath me, its wheels falling to Earth. With a burst of strength, I leaped towards the airship, crashing through a window and clattering onto its deck.

Gasping, I forced myself to stand.

A fiendish masked man stood before me, his black cape rippling against the wind. He twiddled his moustache. “Lord Sidebottom. We meet again.”

“Mad Frank! Gah! What have you done with the beautiful Lady Elizabeth? And what have you done with my designs for the awesome airship?”

He let out a cold laugh. “I do not have time for your games, Lord Sidebottom. You may have destroyed my clockwork crustaceans and mechanical macaques, but you will be no match for my robot-crab-monkeys.”

He clapped his hands, summoning a trio of robot-crab-monkeys. The vile brutes ducked and weaved around me, steel claws snapping, fangs glistening.

I swung at them with kicks and punches, but they moved with swift, unpredictable flourishes.

Overwhelmed, I yielded.

Mad Frank clapped again. “Lock him in the cell.”

The robot-crab-monkeys dragged me along an unlit corridor and threw me into a metal-walled room, locking the door behind me with a thundering clunk. I slumped to the floor, hopeless as darkness pressed around me.

I rifled through my trouser pockets, searching for tools or lock picks. The evening had meant to be a walk along the promenade and a hotpot supper followed by some gin and dress-up, if all went well.

My fingers brushed against the edges of two brass sheets, the etching of Mad Frank bringing a curl to my lips. My sneer turned into a smile as I rammed the calling cards between the door and its frame, shifting them until the lock finally gave way.

Flinging the door open, I grabbed the heads of the two robot-crab-monkeys standing sentry, smashing them against one another with all the force I could muster. Steam gushed from the tops of their craniums, arms flailing wildly.

As the guards fell into a heap around me, a third robot-crab-monkey bounded towards me and pounced. I swivelled, striking the monstrosity with a sharp jab of my elbow. Searing pain tore through my arm as it drove deep into its chest. Hot oil squirted from its frame as it collapsed next to its fallen brethren in a plume of billowing smoke.

Holding my scalded right arm close to me, I crept towards the bridge and kicked open the door.

Mad Frank looked up at me with a start. “Where are my robot-crab-monkeys?”

I shrugged and offered him a broad grin. He charged at me, throttling me with fists.

I nudged him backwards with a shoulder, knocking him into the airship’s control wheel. The craft lurched sharply to the right. We lost our footing and tumbled to the deck. Sliding across the polished oak, I swung at him to no avail. “Gah!”

“You fool!” His wild laughter stopped abruptly when the airship crashed into the sea, a shockwave hurling our bodies to the deck with an almighty thud.

Cold sea water lapped around us, pouring in through the cracks in the ship. I dragged Mad Frank through the nearest window and swam to the shore.

The detective ran over to us as the airship ignited in a tower of flames. I offered him a weak smile and gestured to Mad Frank as we lay coughing and spluttering, sand and seaweed coating our bodies.

Mad Frank pulled something from inside his cape—my designs for the awesome airship. The sodden paper turned to pulp in his hands. “It is ruined! The sea has destroyed your blueprints.”

I rushed to the detective and pointed a finger at Mad Frank. “That man burgled my workshop and attacked me with an assortment of clockwork and steam-powered attack robots. He also blew up my home with missiles, took me prisoner, and, worst of all, he tried to steal the designs for my awesome airship.”

Mad Frank let out a cackling laugh as the detective heaved him to his feet. “You are ruined, Lord Sidebottom. Your awesome airship is no more.”

“What you stole was but a mere copy. I always make duplicates.”

Mad Frank’s eyes widened. “No! All my work was for nought!”

The detective cuffed Mad Frank and led him up the steps towards the promenade. “I’m arresting you in the name of the law.”

“Wait!” I called, chasing after them.

The detective turned to me. “We will interrogate this criminal and then I vow we will find Lady Elizabeth.”

I shook my head and reached up to Mad Frank’s face. I tore off his mask, then pulled away the layer of rubbery flesh. “Oh, Lady Elizabeth. How could you?”

The End.

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Basilisk on a Yellow Field — a story in the Ravenglass Universe

I stood on the edge of a large stone room lit by alchemical orbs casting soft white light across the faces of two dozen children as they danced to the drummers and pipers performing a traditional Ostreich folk song.

The adults looked on in their green finery. The men wore matching coats, tailored from silk. The women wore long hooded dresses in a darker green than the men. They were cut low along the bust and pulled tight at the waist, with wide skirts extending to the floor.

My dress was in the style of the other women, though a hidden slit allowed me to reach across with my left hand and easily grasp my blade, the Feuerschwert.

A red-faced dancer stared at me as she swayed from left to right, turning and twisting her hands in time with the music. I smiled, but my smile was not returned. There was fear in those eyes.

The Feuerschwert rested cold against my skin. Though secured to my waist, I feared the ravenglass might cut into my flesh, bringing out its dormant power.

The scent of roasted pork hung in the air as I examined the revellers’ faces. I took care to note the features of each person in an effort to remember. A woman’s face sparked a memory when I saw her from the side, but when she turned to me with an unsure smile, it was clear we shared no recognition.

Just one smile, just one nod of recognition was all I craved. Someone to tell me who I am — to tell me my name.

I moved left along the wall as the beat continued. Though the festivities were held in honour of Jorg Shultz’s fiftieth year, the Viscount had retired to his chamber during the final course of the feast. I stepped around a stone bust of my target, staring expressionless from a marble plinth, and skirted past a colourful tapestry that was fifteen feet across. It showed a knight bearing the Ostreich sigil of a black basilisk on a yellow field thrusting a lance into the belly of a green-scaled wyvern.

Reaching the end of the great hall, I slipped through a half-open door. The alchemical glow faded as I made my way along a bare stone corridor illuminated by wall candles. The handle of the Feuerschwert brushed against my side as my steps grew urgent. I found my way to a spiral stairway.

I ascended the steps until I reached a thick door in varnished oak. I placed my ear against the door and listened. Hearing nothing, I turned the handle. I held my breath, pulled up the hood of my dress, removed my shoes, and stepped through the door.

The corridor was dark and the floorboards cold beneath my soles. A faint glow seeped out from beneath a door at the end of the passage. I reached into my dress, removed the Feuerschwert, trembling as I held it my hands. Its ravenglass blade was a deep black — a much deeper black than the darkness of the passage.

I unhooked the skirt from my dress and freed myself from the corset, dropping them in a heap next to me. I stepped towards the door and teased its handle. My heart thundered in my chest as I pushed the door open.

A fire burned in a hearth at the far-right of the room. Above it, a portrait of a long-dead Viscount looked on with a dark, disinterested gaze. Thick green drapes hung in front of the windows overlooking the Braun Sea. I heard a shuffle to my right — it was Jorg Shultz. Our eyes met.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

I said nothing and pricked the index finger of my left hand with the Feuerschwert. The Viscount’s eyes widened at the blade turned from deep black to a glowing red as it consumed the blood.

“Ravenglass,” he whispered, his eyes bulging.

I jumped back on my toes as he tipped his chair towards me. Jorg unsheathed a blade, longer and thicker than my own. With a fluid motion he rolled up his sleeve and sliced the blade across his left forearm. His blade too glowed red.

A wolfish grin rose beneath his thick blond moustache. Nobody had warned me about this.

My hands went slick with sweat. I danced on my tiptoes, feinted left, then right, trying to draw him into dropping his guard, to making a mistake.

“Who sent you?” he growled.

I shook my head. I was not going to answer him. How could I answer him?

He swung his blade in a broad vertical arc. I hopped to the right and stabbed forward with a twist of my wrist. He jerked his shoulder to the side. We both straitened up, regaining our stance.

We circled each other, his blue eyes locked with my own. I dived forward, striking the back of his leg. He let out an agonised scream as the blade hissed, its magic tearing through his flesh, burning him from within.

He swung and I moved to parry, but instead of the expected ricochet, his blade went through my own, like two jets of water crossing each other’s paths. His blade nicked my arm and I felt its fiery heat swell inside.

Neither of us bled from our wounds, but I sensed Jorg’s pain as it spread through his body. He fell backwards, looking up at me in terror. “What do you want?” he managed. His words were weak, his breath shallow.

I stood over him. His blade returned to black as it dropped from his convulsing hand. I pulled my hood down and pushed my blade into his chest.

“It’s you,” he gasped. “What—”

I pulled the Feuerschwert from his chest. “Wait,” I said. “Who am I?” I leaned down and shook him. “Please,” I pleaded. “Tell me who I am.”

But he was already dead.

The End.

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The Magician, episode one of the Ravenglass Chronicles.

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Kat is heir to the throne…

…but the last thing she wants to do is rule.

When the day she’s been dreading finally arrives, Kat is torn between her royal duties and a magical destiny.

Will she choose true love and risk certain war, or accept an arranged marriage with a man three-times her age?

With only a wyvern and a messenger boy as her friends, who can she really trust?
How deep do the secrets run?

Inspired by the tarot and set in a rich medieval world, The Magician is the first instalment of The Ravenglass Chronicles, a fantasy novella serial with new episodes released each month.

You’ll love this coming-of-age epic because everyone loves hidden magic, family secrets, and forbidden love.

Get your copy on Amazon, or read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Wizard of the Wasteland, book one of the Wasteland series.

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Surviving the apocalypse is hard…

…but it’s hell when you’re an addict.

Abel craves a quiet life.

But when a group of enslaved children cross his path, he is compelled to act.

But no one leaves the Family…

Joined by a travelling showman, Abel must do everything he can to save the kids.

Can he resist the temptations of his old life?

Will he ever be from drugs?

Can he find hope in a hopeless world?

You’ll love Wizard of the Wasteland because everyone loves post-apocalyptic survival, flawed heroes, and tales of good versus evil.

Get you copy on Kindle, paperback, audiobook, or read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Blind Gambit, a gamelit novel.

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He’s the game’s only hope…but the truth is, he sucks.

In the near future, the B-chip allows blind people to see in virtual worlds.

The only time Brian really feels alive is when he’s playing Gambit…even though he’s the worst player.

When a hacker seeks to destroy the game, Brian’s immune to the weapon that’s kicking everyone else out.

But immunity isn’t enough. He must level-up to take on Gambit’s biggest threat.

With the help of friends and rivals, Brian needs to learn new skills, craft awesome weapons, and discover who or what is trying to tear down the only thing he cares about before it’s too late…

In the real world, Brian is forced to confront his disability. But how can he adjust to a world without sight when Gambit offers so much more?

Written by a visually impaired author, Blind Gambit is a GameLit novel as a fun action adventure, filled with geeky references and an authentic perspective on disability.

Available on Kindle, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited.

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Clockwork Titan — a story in the Ravenglass Universe

The ancient titan stood in silence, facing the Braun Sea, its shadow etched against the passing glow of Nebel Hafen’s lighthouse. Heinrich Graf strode towards the statue, his head craned back as he gazed up at the steel limbs and clockwork joints. Tiny alchemical lanterns lined the path towards the titan, curving in a gentle swoop across the Meerand Gardens. Heinrich glanced to the side as clouds eddied across the moon.

Heinrich stood before the ravenglass plinth as a hand-sized black wyvern landed on top of the titan’s foot and stretched out its wings. “Waage,” Heinrich said. “Where have you been?”

The wyvern surveyed her surroundings, black eyes glimmering against the lanterns. “Lord Graf, forgive me,” she said, turning to him. “Do you have what I asked for?”

“Are you sure this will work?”

Waage hopped down to the plinth, folding in her wings. “I am confident, my lord.”

Heinrich leaned back, his gaze shifting towards the titan’s mechanical head, its stern brow fixed. “Are you sure we can control this thing?”

“The archives were very specific.”

Stepping back, Heinrich reached into his overcoat and carefully removed two balls of cloth.

“Well, unravel them, then,” Waage snapped.

Heinrich’s eyes narrowed as he unwrapped the cloths, revealing a pair of black orbs. “They’re lighter than they look,” he said, offering them to Waage.

“They are pure ravenglass?” she asked, examining the orbs.

“I…They drink in the light.” He gestured to one of them. “Look how it seems to glow with black.”

The edges of Waage’s lips curled back in what might have been a smile. “Excellent.” She grasped the orb in her mouth, threw her head back, and swallowed.

“What are you doing?”

Waage made for the second orb, but Heinrich snatched it away, bringing it to his chest.

“Answer me, wyvern.”

“I need to carry the orbs, my lord,” she said, dipping her head. A shudder spread across her spine as she coughed up the orb, letting it roll along the ground, sending with it a trail a black saliva. “If we are to do this—”

“Yes, yes,” Heinrich growled, waving a hand. “It’s just…” He shook his head. “We have spent so long—”

“You can trust me, my lord. I want to see you rise to power just as much as you do.”

Heinrich stared down at Waage’s slumped body, her wings spread out from her sides in a submissive gesture. “Of course.” He raised his chin. “Forgive my trepidation. Please, continue.”

Waage bolted forward, her jaws snapping closed over the first orb. Swallowing, she looked up expectantly.

With a slight nod, Heinrich let the second orb roll from his palm and into the wyvern’s mouth. She swallowed, eyes twinkling as she stretched out her wings, black and leathery, flapping them until she rose from the ground, disappearing into the darkness.

“Good luck,” Heinrich muttered. He paced and squinted up at the titan’s head. Waage’s shadow passed as the lighthouse’s alchemical glow flickered by. He rubbed his beard, hands trembling. “Gods be damned.”

After several moments, Waage returned, landing on the titan’s foot.

“Well?” Heinrich asked.

“I placed the orbs.”

“And?”

“My lord, they are ravenglass.”

Heinrich frowned. “Do not talk in riddles, wyvern.”

Waage bowed, flattening her wings. “Ravenglass requires the blood of its creator.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“My lord, I require your blood.” Waage looked up with one eye open, her wings still flat.

Heinrich let out an incredulous snort.

“My lord, it is—”

“Wyvern, do not deceive me,” he snapped, raising a hand. “Return the orbs and I will let the blood myself, and then you can return them to their place.”

“Please understand, once enchanted, the orbs will be hotter than a thousand fires. I will not be able to carry them.”

Heinrich held her gaze for a long moment then sighed. “Do it.” Holding out his wrist, he squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his jaw as Waage drove her teeth into his flesh, swallowing his blood, lapping around the wound. “How much do you need?”

Waage did not respond, but kept drinking.

Groaning, Heinrich flicked his wrist and brought his arm up to his mouth, blood streaming from the tiny puncture wound.

With slow steps, Waage unfurled her wings and rose into the darkness.

Heinrich watched, the blood-flow slowing around his wound. He staggered back as the titan’s eyes glowed dull red.

Waage landed on his right shoulder, her claws sharp but delicate. They stared up as the titan’s gears started to turn.

Unable to sleep, Anna Halter gazed across the Braun Sea as the second sun emerged, red and dreamlike. She leaned on her folded arms, idly stroking the mane of a carved unicorn figurine, her fingernails tracing the etched lines that suggested hair. The light from her father’s lighthouse swept across the coastline, the palace shimmering white and green, the giant standing sentry, the harbour’s taverns and shops, the moored ships, and the chain stretching across the bay.

She followed the sweep of the light again, her gaze lingering on the giant. Blinking, she leaned forward, mouth falling open. The giant’s eyes glowed bright yellow. She blinked again, rubbing her eyes.

Pulling the window open, she shivered against the chill breeze, staring at the giant. She waved and the giant’s arm waved back.

Slamming the window shut, she ducked beneath the sill with her back against the wall, as deep, shuddering breaths erupted from her body. She closed her eyes, shaking her head, and peeped back over the ledge.

The giant’s eyes still burned bright and brilliant. She waved her hand again, her arms and legs tingling when the giant moved.

She dropped down to the floor and bit her bottom lip. Grabbing her unicorn, she got up and ran over to the door, taking the spiral stairs up a level, and banged on her father’s door. “Father,” she called, reaching up and rattling the door’s handle. “Wake up.”

Restless grunts came from the other side of the door.

The lock clicked and her father leaned out, led by the spluttering light of a tallow candle, its smoke smelling of cooked pork. “Anna,” he sighed. “Why do you never sleep, child?”

Anna looked down at her unicorn then up at her father, his blond moustache drooping past his lips. “The giant waved at me.”

He shook his head. “Anna, please. Go to sleep.”

“It’s true. It waved at me.”

Looking behind him, he crouched to one knee and reached out to stroke her hair. “I know things have been difficult since your mother died.”

She pulled her unicorn close to her chest. “It’s real.”

He raised a finger, pressing it against her lips. “Shh,” he said. “It was a dream, or it was in your mind.”

Anna looked down at her unicorn and shook her head. “I can show you.”

Yawning, her father ambled back into his chamber and shifted the drapes away from the window. “The first sun is rising soon,” he sighed. “Show me what you must.”

With tiny footsteps, Anna walked to the window, standing on her tiptoes as she pointed towards the giant. “Look. You can see its eyes glow.”

He leaned over her, gazing through the glass for a short moment before turning back inside. “It is but a trick of the light. Perhaps a reflection of the second sun, or the light of the lighthouse.”

“But it waved, father. Look.” She waved her hand, grinning as the giant returned her gesture. “See?” She turned to her father arranging his day clothes on the bed.

“Anna,” he sighed. “Please get ready for the day. I will make us breakfast.”

“But, father—”

“But, nothing,” he snapped.

Anna flinched, staggering back as she pulled her unicorn close, tears welling in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice softening. He crossed the room and kissed the top of her head.

Heinrich paced before the plinth, rubbing the back of his neck, squinting up at the titan’s glowing eyes. He turned to Waage, a deep line creasing his brow. “I had no part in that.”

Waage swooped in rising circles around the titan before diving towards Heinrich, squawking.

Staggering backwards, Heinrich flapped his hands wildly. “What are you doing?”

“It extended its arm thrice—do not lie to me.” Waage hovered in the air a few feet above him, her wings beating down, slow, bat-like.

The wyvern pecked at his hair. “I warn you. Do not lie to me, my lord. I have your blood in my bones. I can control you if you are lying.”

“Treacherous wyvern,” Heinrich spat. “Why did I trust you?” A quivering passed over his body as the wyvern tugged at his mind, bending his will, twisting his thoughts. “What…are…you…?”

“You are linked and you lie.”

“There is no link,” Heinrich said, shrinking back. He stumbled on an alchemical lantern, the tiny ball shattering into smoke. “I have no control over that thing.” He fell to the ground, head smacking against stone.

Waage looked up at the titan and stopped. “You are not linked. I misjudged you. Forgive me, my lord.” She tilted her head. “But there is a link to someone.”

Eyes widening, Heinrich shifted away from the wyvern, his arms out in front of him. “I promise you, there is no link.”

“Look,” she said, pointing a scaled wing towards the lighthouse.

Heinrich followed her gaze, shaking his head. “I see nothing.”

“Of course,” the wyvern mused. “You do not perceive enchantment as I.” She hopped down to Heinrich’s side, flattening her wings against the ground, her head held low. “The thread extends towards the lighthouse.”

“Do not speak in riddles, wyvern. Say your words.”

“My lord, I feel the titan has latched onto another host, like a duckling latching to the first thing it perceives.”

“But a lighthouse? How can that be? How can a lighthouse exert control? It has no will.”

Waage raised her head and met Heinrich’s gaze. “We must seek the keeper of the lighthouse.”

Anna ran her finger along the unicorn’s mane in an absent motion. She stared at nothing as her father stood over the cooking pot, stirring porridge, flames dancing around its base, sending flickering shadows along the stone walls. Pans hung around him and a sack of turnips sagged half-open at his feet. “Things will get easier, Anna,” he said, looking back at her, his feet shuffling. “These past months have been difficult—for both of us. I am sorry that I haven’t been as close to you as I should.”

“You have the lighthouse, father.” She looked to the window as the first sun soaked the Braun Sea in its yellow glow, its light filling the sky, washing out the second sun’s gloomy brown.

He raised a wooden spoon to his mouth, tasting the porridge.

Anna moved over to the window, gazing across the sea towards the giant, its eyes still fiery, even against the first sun’s burgeoning light. A warmth pushed against the top of her head, pressing down like a hand. It sunk into her, filling her, spreading through her—a tingling, electric sensation passing across her skin, stiffening the tiny hairs on her neck.

Her father’s words came out as an echo, distant.

For a moment, she looked down at a tiny cowering man. A wyvern flapped around her and pecked at her eyes. She stepped forward, her head turning with a slow metallic screech.

She jerked back, tumbling to the floor.

“Anna,” her father said, standing over her. “Anna?”

“Father…I…” She glanced at the window.

He took her by the hand and led her back to her wooden stool, smoothed by time. “This is why you should sleep more,” he said, shaking his head. “Here.” He handed her a clay cup of watered-down ale.

“I…I’m…” She rubbed her head.

“You do not have to eat now. Perhaps you should return to bed. Close your drapes. I will keep the porridge warm and stirred.”

Anna rose to her feet and let out a deep breath. “Yes, father.” She walked over to the door, avoiding the window.

“Your toy,” he said, gesturing to the unicorn.

“Thank you.” She took it and shouldered her way through the doors and up the spiral stairs. With a sigh, she stumbled into her bed chamber.

She dragged a leather shoulder bag from between her bed and side table and tipped its contents onto her blankets.

Turning, she glanced over to the window. A twitching sensation travelled along her arms and legs, running up her spine, the pressing, tingling warmth settling around her forehead. She shook her head as if freeing herself from a spider’s web, and reached for her tabard and leggings, pulling them on before stuffing her unicorn into the bag.

The giant called to her.

Breathing heavily, Anna ran down the stairs, bolting through the door before her father noticed.

A gust of wind from the east struck her, blowing hair across her face. She ran along the cliff’s path, winding down towards the harbour, thick clumps of grass making way for barnacle-coated rocks, their sides slick with seaweed. Foamy waves brushed against the sea wall as tall ships rocked in time with the tides.

Reaching the harbour, she skipped over an iron mooring, ducking past the shopkeepers and innkeepers opening their shutters for the day, and avoided the sailors staggering out of brothels.

The warmth around her head increased, surrounding her with a low, insistent hum. She saw herself from across the harbour, a tiny red-headed girl running through the crowds.

“There,” Waage snapped as the titan’s foot rose and fell, crashing to the ground, freeing itself from the plinth. “It is moving.”

Wide-eyed, on his back, and frozen in place, Heinrich stared up at the titan, his elbows poking into the soil. “I can see it moves,” he managed through gritted teeth.

“Not the titan,” she said, gesturing with her nose towards the harbour. “The enchantment. It moves.” Waage beat her wings, rising into the air.

“What do you see?” Heinrich asked, wobbling to his feet, dirt cascading from his overcoat.

“People are coming. Hundreds of them.”

“Gods be damned. We should leave before questions are asked.”

Waage swooped down, landing on Heinrich’s shoulder. “My lord,” she whispered as the first few men and women entered the gardens, their eyes cast up in wonderment. “Being here will only increase your status in the eyes of Nebel Hafen’s citizens.”

“And what of Count Schultz?”

The wyvern stretched out her wings, raising her chin. “What of him? Only last night—” Waage’s words stopped abruptly.

“Well?”

The titan’s head turned and the crowd gasped. Waage rose into the air, circling above Heinrich. “I see the source of the link.”

Heinrich’s fists clenched. “Show me.”

“You see that little girl with the red hair?”

Anna’s focus drifted from the giant to the flickering wings of a black-scaled wyvern. She tilted her head as the creature stared at her with its deep black eyes, its wings holding it in midair like a marionette.

“The statue has come to life,” a thin man with bright green eyes said, smiling at her. “Let it rise and protect our shores from the Ostreich invaders.”

Reaching into her bag with trembling hands, Anna retrieved her unicorn, holding it close as she made her way through the crowd. She looked between the giant and the wyvern, her teeth biting into her bottom lip, breaking through the skin. The taste of blood filled her mouth.

“What is she carrying?” Heinrich asked, watching the girl as she approached the titan.

“It is inert,” Waage said.

“I will take it.”

“You would take a child’s toy in front of all these people?”

Heinrich tugged at his beard. “I am at an end, wyvern.”

“Perhaps we could take her to your manor, imprison her, and force her to command the titan to your will.”

“You vile, wicked creature.” Heinrich raised a hand to the wyvern. “Wait,” he said, hand dropping. “Take her blood. Control her with your enchantment.”

The wyvern landed on Heinrich’s shoulder, and brushed against his ear. “I can do that. She already has blood at her mouth.”

Anna stopped at the giant’s feet, placing a hand on the front of its big toe. “Hello,” she whispered as floods of warmth washed over her body.

With creaking joints, the giant leaned forward. The crowd jerked back. Some people ran away, while others stared, petrified.

Anna dropped her hand as the black-winged wyvern darted towards her, diving through the air, its wings swept back. She swung the unicorn, missing the wyvern as it tried to land on her head. Brushing it away, she cowered behind the giant’s foot.

She covered her ears, cringing at the wyvern’s squawks and screeches. The creature spiralled into the air and flew at Anna again. This time she crouched low, thrusting the unicorn around her in broad circles, missing the wyvern as it dodged and weaved her attempted strikes. “Leave me alone,” she cried. “Please.”

The sound of tearing metal echoed around her as the giant pivoted on its feet, swung a fist, and connected with the wyvern.

Anna cringed as the wyvern shot across the gardens, rolling into a crumpled, trembling heap in the dirt.

When the hand rested in front of her, she climbed onto its palm, hugging the little finger as the giant lifted her from the ground, raising her to its right shoulder.

Her breath caught in her throat when she looked down at the tiny faces staring up at her as a gust of wind tussled her hair and blew across her skin. She gazed across the rooftops, mouth agape, eyes lingering on her lighthouse across the harbour.

The giant stepped to the right and into the sea, waves crashing against its knees. Anna gripped the giant’s neck as it swayed with each step, seagulls circling around them as the lighthouse grew closer. She held her breath, trembling as she swept her eyes across the bay, taking in the boats and buildings, the shimmering stones of the palace, the crowds gathered on the lawn of Meerand Gardens watching in awe, a smile reaching her eyes. She threw her head back, loosening her grip. “This is glorious,” she cried.

Heinrich moved through the crowd, Waage perched on his shoulder. “Where am I going? This is not my will.”

“Your will is my will, my lord.”

“No, wyvern. You said—” His arms flailed uselessly as he stumbled onto the harbour wall, legs moving without consent, shins and toes stubbing against carts and walls.

“Enough,” Waage snapped. “I have a plan, but I am weakened.”

Sailors regarded him with confused expressions as he moved in fits and starts, feet jerking with each step. A woman selling shellfish jumped backwards, dodging his erratic movements. “Where are you leading me?” he groaned.

“To the lighthouse. That girl is the keeper’s daughter. We must use that knowledge to our advantage.”

Heinrich lurched forward as if being yanked by a rope, toes stubbing against the emerging rocks. “Wyvern, give me my will.”

“We must take that girl.”

“I will come voluntarily,” Heinrich pleaded. “You are hurting my feet and legs, and my shins are bruised and bloody.” He staggered forward, rolling to the ground as the wyvern released the enchantment. “Gahh! You wicked, deceitful creature. I should—” His words stopped, his mouth slamming tight. He mumbled inaudible curses as he clawed at his mouth, trying to pry it open.

“Voluntarily?” the wyvern asked, voice tinged with irony. “You must promise me that you will not try to hurt me.”

Heinrich nodded then gasped as his mouth unsealed. “Vile creature,” he spat.

“Keep your words. We have work to do.” She gestured to the titan striding across the bay, the waves crashing up to its waist. “It appears the girl is taking the titan home. I would like us to be there to greet them.”

Heinrich rose to his feet and brushed his overcoat down. “Why did I let you talk me into this?”

The wyvern marched ahead on spindly legs, following the curve of the rocks towards the lighthouse.

When they arrived, Heinrich rapped on the door with a fist, watching the titan’s approach.

“Yes?” A man with a drooping blond moustache leaned from the door.

“Let us inside. I must speak with you as a matter of urgency.”

The man glanced towards the wyvern and back to Heinrich, a frown knitting his brow. “I am very busy. We have nothing to discuss.”

“Do you know who I am?” Heinrich spat.

“Why, of course. Lord…I’m sorry. You’re the count’s nephew.”

“I am Lord Heinrich Graf.” He raised his chin. “And you are?”

“I am Karl Halter, keeper of the Nebel Hafen lighthouse.”

“You have a daughter?”

Karl’s eyes narrowed. “What is this about?”

“Your daughter has taken something that belongs to me, something very important.” Heinrich cleared his throat.

“My daughter is in her chamber.” Karl brushed his fingers along his moustache, shifting his gaze down to the wyvern. “I’m sorry. I must wish you a good day.”

Heinrich wedged his boot between the door and its frame when Karl tried to close it.

“What is the meaning of this?”

“I am Lord Heinrich Graf—”

“And you have no domain over this lighthouse.” Karl held Heinrich’s gaze, his face growing red. “What is it you believe my daughter has taken?”

“That,” Waage said, pointing to the titan with an outstretched wing.

Anna clung tight as the giant stepped from the sea and onto the rocks, its feet dripping with water and seaweed. Circling gulls called out with desperate squawks.

“There,” she said, pointing to the lighthouse. “You must meet my father.”

The giant followed the path to the lighthouse and Anna froze. “It’s that man,” she said. “And his wyvern.”

Creaking, the giant’s hand rose to its shoulder and waited as Anna clambered on. She laid low, spreading out on all fours as the giant crouched, lowering her to the ground. “Father,” she called, running towards him. “I have a new friend.” She came to an abrupt halt at the sight of the man with the wyvern, breath catching in her chest.

Heinrich grabbed Karl’s throat and thrust him head-first onto the ground.

“What—” Karl gasped.

Placing a boot on Karl’s back, Heinrich folded his arms and smiled at the girl’s approach. “Little girl, we meet again. I trust you remember my wyvern?”

“What are you doing to my father?”

“Anna, run,” Karl called.

“You had no right to take our titan,” the wyvern said. “We slaved over research and sourcing ravenglass, only for you to steal it from us like some common thief.”

Anna glanced behind her and cradled her unicorn. “It chose me. I did nothing.”

Waage hopped onto Karl’s back and frowned at Anna. “Perhaps you need—”

“Waage, Waage,” Heinrich said, his voice softening. “The girl wasn’t to know of our plans.” He turned to Anna. “Were you, Anna?”

“The giant saw me and talked to my mind.”

Heinrich smiled. “You see? All this can be resolved.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to command the titan.”

“I don’t know how it works.”

“You brought it here. All I ask is that you control it on my behalf and…” His voice trailed off and he shrugged. “I suppose I won’t kill your father.”

Anna stared up at Heinrich, wide-eyed. “What should I ask of the giant?”

A broad grin spreads across Heinrich’s face like oil on velvet. “My dear, it is very simple. I need the giant to retrieve Count Schultz from his palace and drop him into the sea, beyond the chains.”

A sharp breath caught in Anna’s throat. “But he will surely drown.”

“Indeed. But I must rule.”

“Anna, don’t,” Karl managed before Heinrich booted him in the side.

“What will it be? Help me or watch as I disembowel your father?”

Anna turned and walked to the giant’s feet, placing a hand against the warm metal.

“Do not agree to this man’s requests,” her father called through gritted teeth. “He is not to be trusted.”

“Father, please. I…I cannot be alone.”

“Where is your mother?” the lord asked. “Perhaps we could speak to her too.”

Anna’s bottom lip trembled. “She has passed on. All I have is my father.” She blinked away a tear.

A mirthless smile curled across the lord’s lips. “You see, Anna? Listen to what your heart is telling you. You do not want to see your father die. How could you live with yourself when you knew you could prevent it? Do you know what happens to orphans?”

A long silence hung in the air before she spoke. “I will assist you,” she said, finally. “But you must release my father.”

“I am a man of my word. If you help me, you will be lavished with gifts and you and your father will want for nought.”

She swallowed and dipped her head. “I agree.”

“Anna, what are you doing?” her father groaned.

Crouching at his side, she placed a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t want you to die.”

“There, there,” the lord said. “See? That wasn’t so hard.”

The giant bent to one knee and rested the back of a hand on the ground. “You should climb on,” Anna suggested, rising to her feet. “It will take you across the bay to the palace.”

The lord glanced at the wyvern. “I’m not so sure—”

“I did it,” Anna said, interrupting. “It was…it was amazing.”

“You’re not afraid are you, my lord?” the wyvern said.

The lord pursed his lips and raised his chin. “I have no fear. This is the day I go down in history.” He clambered onto the giant’s hand and gestured to the wyvern. “Are you coming?”

Anna’s father sat up, rubbing his jaw. “Anna, what are you thinking?”

“I’m doing as the lord asked. I didn’t want to see you hurt, father.”

The wyvern swept its gaze across the sea and waddled with the lord towards the giant’s hand.

“Command this titan,” the lord said. “Take me to the palace.”

Anna licked her lips, pulling her unicorn towards her, knuckles turning pale. She reached out for her father’s hand, watching as the giant lifted the lord to its shoulder. Her father got to his feet, standing at her side, staring at the giant, shaking his head.

The warmth filled her mind and she saw herself through the giant’s eyes.

“This is really quite high up,” Heinrich said, clinging to the titan’s neck. He called out a curse as the titan turned and stepped into the sea. “Gods be damned. We are going to fall.”

“Just hold on,” Waage said. “We will be at the palace before you know it.”

Heinrich let out a deep breath. “It really is high. Very, very high.”

The titan waded through the water, the waves sloshing against its knees.

“This swaying is making me feel woozy.”

“I hope she adjusts the course, we seem to be veering away from the palace.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you, father.”

“You know to tell me if you plan to leave the lighthouse. I thought you were still home.”

“My thoughts were not quite my own.” She glanced up at him and smiled. “You are safe now.”

He tugged at his moustache. “I’m afraid this is only the beginning. Lord Graf is a man who craves power above everything. With that monstrosity at his command and that wyvern whispering in his ear…” He shook his head. “I fear for our future.”

Waves crashed against the titan’s shoulders, sending jets of foam across Heinrich’s feet. “Turn, you foul thing. You’re going the wrong way.”

Waage swung her head around and gestured to shore. “We should make for the harbour.”

“We are too far away. We will both drown.”

Waage stretched out her wings, testing them. “I can glide.” She leaped from Heinrich’s shoulder, catching an updraft and shooting into the air.

“You cursed, retched thing. Come back.” Heinrich scrambled onto the titan’s mouth, clambering up its face as the water rose around him.

He climbed to the top of its head, sobbing as the waves washed over his legs and arms and chest, throwing him beneath the surface and deep beneath the sea.

Waage shuddered when the enchantment between herself and Heinrich snapped. “Cursed imbecile,” she muttered.

Turning in a slow loop, she scanned across the Braun Sea, bubbles marking the titan’s descent.

The End

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