by Jon Cronshaw
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.”
“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, 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.
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.
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