Lessons: Purity teaser

Jezebel Baudelaire was gasping for air, scratching at the sleeve of his coat with desperate fingers. Fane’s glare sharpened and he pressed his arm harder into her throat. He was tempted for a moment to be like Vanessa, when she was showing him the ropes of hand-to-hand fighting several centuries before, and coolly ask upon pinning the opponent, “So, what have we learned?”

Instead, he leaned closer to her, and she tried to buck him off by jerking violently. Fane stayed firmly planted atop her, legs on either side of her body. “Have you had enough yet?” he hissed. Somewhere behind him, he could hear the vârcolaci and strigoi morţi engaging in battle.

Satan only knew if Caitlyn had gone.

The vârcolac beneath him couldn’t answer, not while the life was being choked out of her.

“Get out of Auvergne, Miss Baudelaire,” he said, formality itself. “Return Estelle Moreau her son, and leave the pack be. I will not hesitate to kill you.”

He eased up on her throat, and a huge gust of air inflated her lungs as she finally managed to catch her breath. Gasping and panting, she glared at him and whispered, “You… won’t win. Heinrich… has too many… supporters.”

“Heinrich may have strong support, but I have greater allies. We shall see how this battle of wits plays out in the end.”

Leaning over her face as he was, Fane was suddenly very strongly reminded of several points in his childhood when he and his brother would wrestle for fun. Mircea, being older and bigger, always ended up pinning Fane, and leaned over him in this exact way, slowly drooling spit until Fane would call for their mother.

He smiled slightly at the memory. Baudelaire saw and her eyes widened, misunderstanding. She thrashed wildly beneath him, determined to free herself. Fane pressed his weight on her, and she gave up after a few moments. Her chest heaved with the effort of dragging in breaths, and she was still pawing weakly at his arm.

Fane sighed and moved his free hand. He reached into his coat and calmly removed the revolver. Pulling the hammer back with a click, he pressed the barrel into her temple, and she immediately froze.

“Return Master Moreau to his mother and leave Auvergne, and I will spare your life. This is your only chance, Miss Baudelaire, and the only mercy I shall ever show you.”

There was only a brief hesitation and flash of indecision in her dark eyes before she shoved him off. He let her and stood, watching her closely as she gasped and rubbed her neck.

“The kid’s in those trees there,” she croaked, pointing to a copse nearby. “He’s not hurt.” Turning away and crawling to her feet, she waved a hand. “Hey! It’s time to get out of here!”

The fighting ceased almost immediately.

“What?” A German voice—Manfred Gottschalk, unless Fane was mistaken—rose up in the darkness. “Where are we going?”

“Home.” Baudelaire limped toward her group, eyes cast down.

Fane kept the gun aimed at her, silent.

“Baden-Württemberg?”

Baudelaire’s mouth twitched. “Baden-Württemberg. Auvergne isn’t about to be swayed to join Heinrich. Let’s go.”

Fane watched as the rebels abandoned their fights and trudged toward their leader. The night was filled with the crunch of breaking bones for several long seconds, then a large pack of wolves stood on the ground before Fane. One—judging by the ash brown fur, Jezebel Baudelaire—glared up at him, and he nodded once, and lowered the gun. In silence, they turned toward the north, toward France’s far border with Germany, and began to run.

Fane waited until they were shadows. “Estelle Moreau’s child is in that copse. We are going home as well, and may this business with Heinrich Abendroth be finished.”

He turned and began striding back toward Le Vallon. In the distance, he could see Vanessa’s recognizable figure heading toward him, leading the third and final prisoner. A bubble of hatred popped inside him as he neared them; renewed disgust for Alfred Blade and everything he stood for.

Vanessa was near Joan Gwyther and Caitlyn now, who were watching in stunned silence, a large rifle on the grass before them.

“My lord,” Vanessa said, pushing forward the final prisoner. “What do you want to do with him?”

In one fluid movement, Fane lifted the gun and pulled the trigger. A sick splat as the bullet ripped through the prisoner’s forehead, and a thud as his body jerked in Vanessa’s arms; Fane barely heard any of it. His mind was elsewhere.

Vanessa dropped the corpse, looking disgusted, but Fane ignored it and pushed past her. Keeping his emotions under control, he said flatly, “Burn the body,” and, leaving the others behind, he slipped into the darkness around Le Vallon.

I appear to be IT

And not as in Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King’s IT. I’ve been tagged by the most illustrious On Windy Days in a game of blog tag. Heck yes, blog tag.

The Rules

1. I must post the rules.
2. I must answer the questions the tagger listed for me.
3. I must create (or reuse) 11 questions for those I tag.
4. I must tag 11 people.
5. I must let them know they’ve been tagged.

1. What is your favorite quote, who is it from, and why?

My favourite quote… actually, there are several. 1) By Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds in Dragon Age: Origins and II: “… it is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly.” I love this not just because I’m a huge nerd and need a life, but because it’s entirely true. A teacher of mine once said that for every low you have in life, you must have an equal high. In the same quote is “Without an end, there can be no peace,” which I also like. I’m deep and thoughtful like that. 2) By Kreia/Darth Traya, the mentor/member of the Sith Triumvirate in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: “To be united by hatred is a fragile alliance at best.” This, this is just awesome. And also true. Video games are deep. 3) By Dagoth Ur, a mortal god and villain of the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: “Who knows what we may be capable of, when we no longer fear death?”

Basically, I’m really nerdy.

2. Which song can bring you to tears or reminds you of your childhood?

Family Portrait, by Pink. Yeah, yeah, pretty typical, but I related to it as a child when my family life got tough, and it still makes me cry.

3. What is one thing that keeps you going day in and day out?

Probably my writing. It’s what my life revolves around. It’s definitely what I live for.

4. Why did you start blogging?

I started this blog as a better place to document my thoughts and show my writing to the world. I used to frequent deviantART, but due to a lack of interest on the site for writing, I thought it was a good idea to move on.

5. Is there one thing that you regret not doing in the past? If so, would you be willing to share what that was on here?

I can’t really think of anything. There’s plenty I can think of that I regret doing, but not necessarily not doing.

6. What is one thing that you saw that restored your faith in the human race?

I lose faith in the human race with every passing day, especially with what I see going on in the US, what with the war on women, drugs, gays, anyone-who-isn’t-an-extremist-republican. So it’s tough to say. Maybe this:

This is pretty cute. Go Australian firefighters.

7. Rain or Sun?

I’m 50/50. I live in a place of perpetual sun, so when it rains it’s a nice refreshing change. But I do like me a good, crazy rainstorm, the kind that soaks you in a minute.

8. What movie had the most impact on you? (A movie that just really made you challenge your view on anything)

Well, I’ve already sat here and thought about it for several minutes. Financially, the Dark Knight Rises, because I’ve seen it four times now (and can quote it directly in many places). But to actually answer the question, probably V For Vendetta. V is a bit of a hero of mine, because the point he makes is relevant to our changing times. A democracy is nothing without its people. And don’t worry, I’m not a communist/anarchist.

9. List five words that describe your character.

Goofy, nerdy, smiley, thoughtful, bookish (THIS IS HARD.)

10. What is your greatest fear?

Dying. I’d say water, because that scares the living shit out of me, but dying, definitely. I used to lie awake at night because I’d fret about it and work myself into a tizzy.

11. What do you ultimately want to accomplish in the days to come?

I’m going to finish Purity, edit the bejesus out of it, and publish it as an ebook for all to enjoy! Maybe not in the days to come, but that’s my current goal.

Tagging!

Elisa Nuckle

Bethany

Ashley Jillian

My Other Book Is A Tolstoy

Preston Fuller

I don’t have 11. My apologies. Reusing the same questions, too, because I’m not unique!

Battle Plans: Purity teaser

He opened a drawer of the desk and flipped through a hefty stack of maps until he found one of Germany. He set it flat on the desk with two paperweights. “We will go to this area, here,” he said, gesturing to part of the map. “Not many human settlements, and it is only a dozen or so miles from the Danube. Those who do not wish to fight the battle will remain in the castle, to guard it against vârcolaci scouts. The rest will join us in Germany. Have we any solid number of Heinrich’s followers?”

“A few hundred at most, and not all are based in Germany. He’ll probably call them all together now that there’s been a battle.”

“Hm. Send out the message, then. Any European or Asian strigoi morţi or loyal vârcolaci who wish to participate are hereby welcomed to Castle Dracula to be armed and prepared for war. Inform General Fernandez and Lieutenant Romanov of the plan, and no one else. We cannot risk this news leaking. Do you hear me, Belial?”

“Aye-aye, Captain.”

“Have the guards continue treating Madam Gwyther as they have, with enough blood to keep her alive. Break her will, if necessary. If she knows of the plan, she may betray us yet again.”

“Abendroth will kill her the second he finds out it’s a trap.”

“Sacrifices must be made. If we can spare her life, all the better. She certainly has her uses. If the plan is in jeopardy, we will have someone spying in the area, downwind of the vârcolaci, who can end Madam Gwyther before our cover can be spoiled. Do we know any dryads in the area?”

“None we’re friendly with.”

“Figures. Then whomever is sent as her potential executioner must have as little scent a possible. Choose someone with discretion, and have them feed several hours before the plan is set in motion. Soak their clothes in sap and mud if you believe it will help.”

Vanessa nodded and rolled up the map. “Any idea when you want this to happen?”

“Give it a fortnight at the most. Heinrich will likely launch his own attack before then, but he must also collect reinforcements.”

“And recover from a nasty bullet wound.”

Fane almost smiled. “Oh, yes, that as well. What a delightful advantage. Then we have more time. Send word to our munitions contact as well. We will need more firepower.”

“Sure thing.” Vanessa scooped up her coat and backed toward the door. “Anything else?”

“That will be all, for now. Oh, and remind me to get on better terms with dryads and nymphs and pixies and fairies, and all those little nuisances.”

Vanessa chuckled and stepped into the hallway. “I’ll get right on it.”

“Thank you. One more thing,” he added just before she could carry out her orders, “do the tengu still owe us a favour?”

“No, your father called it a long time ago.”

“Damn.”

“Anything else?” she said again, almost grinning. Her irritation about Caitlyn and anxiety over the ghost of Mircea were vanished, overcome by her lust for war.

Fane considered it for a moment. The strigoi morţi still had running favours with other societies of demons they didn’t often converse with, but he didn’t want to call on them just yet. A vârcolaci rebellion he could handle with those loyal to him. One never knows when one might need the help of shinigami, harpies, encantados, or tokoloshes.

“No. That is all. Thank you, Vanessa.”

She nodded. “Think about what I’ve said.” And she walked away.

Old Friends: Purity teaser

“I do not want to kill you, Heinrich,” he breathed. His hair was tousled around his shoulder, spilling over Heinrich’s wet snout. The wolf was panting heavily from their short battle. The hot dog breath made Fane wrinkle his nose, and he could feel the ribs moving beneath him as the lungs made an effort to breathe.

Heinrich growled. Fane didn’t understand what he was trying to say.

They remained that way, trapped on the forest floor as the strigoi morţi and vârcolaci around them slashed and snarled at each other. An echoing boom made the trees shake and the reek of gunpowder suddenly tore through the cool calm of rain.

Distracted, Fane glanced up. The movement tore at the scratches on his chest, and he inhaled sharply against the pain. Before he could look around to see who had fired the gun—honestly, the fight had only just started—Heinrich snarled and kicked him off.

Fane tumbled back and rolled down a slight slope, coming to rest at the base of a large evergreen. Woozy, he pushed off the leaves and onto his fingers and toes, squinting through the dark.

Heinrich stalked toward him, tail swishing in the dirt. His lips pulled back from his long, filthy teeth as a low growl issued up from his throat.

Fane stared, waiting.

Saliva dripped from the fangs. Deadly teeth in a powerful jaw, ready to snap. Sharp claws, already proved to draw blood even from a vampires. Heavy yet agile. Fane was almost intimidated. Werewolves were worthy foes.

Or at least, Heinrich Abendroth was a worthy foe.

Just as the wolf was about to pounce again, Fane lunged and grappled him to the ground. The rain was picking up, washing the dirt and blood from flesh and fur. Heavy, muscled legs thrashed out, slicing claws in all directions. Fane snarled and rolled to the side to grab Heinrich’s flailing legs; the wolf’s filthy, matted fur pressed into the open wounds on Fane’s chest, making the jagged edges sting.

Heinrich wriggled away and snapped his drooling fangs at his opponent. Pain blossomed in Fane’s shoulder; thick blood pooled down his flesh and ruined shirt.

He had not been bested in a true fight in years, not since the 1970s, when he had been briefly killed by his father’s former friend, mind lost.

He leaped forward, batting Heinrich’s sharp claws and bloodstained maw out of the way. The wolf roared, but Fane dodged his next attack by feigning to the left, and leaped at his object of desire: his black frock coat, cast so carelessly on the leafy carpet, soaked by the waterfall of raindrops. In one quick motion, he bent and swiped up his coat, unearthed his revolver, clicked back the hammer, and aimed it at the approaching vârcolac.

Heinrich stopped.

“Silver alloy ammunition, Heinrich,” he hissed.

All around them, the strigoi morţi and vârcolaci still fought with snarls and awry gunshots, oblivious to their leaders’ halt. Rain soaked his hair, his shirt, watering down the coagulated blood on his chest and shoulder and sending it in thin rivulets down his stiff body.

The wolf stared at him, tail swishing over the damp leaves.

“Take one more step toward me and it shall be your last. That is a promise, Heinrich. You know I do not make empty promises.”

Cowardice: Purity teaser

Crispin Kramer would not be one to call himself a coward. But when he had seen Evangeline Moreau picking wildflowers a few kilometres away from Le Vallon, prickly fear had instantly overwhelmed him.

That fear had turned into outright panic when Belle Baudelaire leaned in close to his hear and whispered, “Why not kill her, Crispin? Write a message in her blood. Heinrich would be proud.”

He didn’t want to tell her what he thought. He was sure Heinrich already doubted him, and sent him as the leader of the revolt in Auvergne to test his loyalties. Heinrich Abendroth was no fool. Crispin figured he was a genius, but of the unhinged, unstable variety.

Outright panic turned into sweaty palms and shallow breaths when Samantha Boulanger and Genji Lee captured Moreau with ease and brought her to the rebels.

When that goddamned harlot Baudelaire circled him with that dark gaze on him, silently taunted him. When Ivan Petrov and his wife, Katarzyna, cooed taunts in English and Russian, prodding their prisoner and scratching her unmarked skin.

And when he felt a hand slide slowly up his back and curl over his shoulder, and when he felt breath touch his face when Belle murmured, “Kill her, Crispin. Show the Arsenaults just who they’re dealing with.”

He couldn’t bear to look at Moreau. He could hear her stifled cries, her desperate pleas in a choked mixture of English and French. And when she struggled against her captors, Regina Carter had viciously slapped her, hard enough to shut her up and make Manfred Gottschalk grunt something about how pitiful the Arsenaults truly were.

Standing still, unable to move or speak, Crispin had done nothing when the aptly named Jezebel Baudelaire slithered up to him and lightly touched his cheek, grazing his skin with her pointed nails.

“You can’t do it?” she had purred, giving him a particular pouting look that every man—even Heinrich Abendroth—melt and become a doting puppy to her every whim. “Too bad.”

And sweaty palms, shallow breaths, terror at what in the hell he was doing—it all became an indifferent haze when Belle ruthlessly kicked down Evangeline Moreau and crushed her skull with a single well-aimed stomp.

While everyone else hooted and laughed at the grotesque execution, Crispin had been the only one to spot Evangeline’s husband, Claude, near a copse of trees in the near distance.

He had witnessed the entire thing.

Belle spotted him next. Crispin, along with Samantha, Regina, Katarzyna, Ivan, and Iris Santos, waited at their makeshift camp as the others—Belle, Manfred, Genji, and Alex Hanson—stalked up to the panic-stricken Claude in hopes of giving him the same ending as his wife.

But while Manfred managed to cut Moreau’s chest, he escaped.

And now, after waiting until day broke to launch the official attack on Le Vallon, Crispin sat on a hill overlooking the town, watching as the nine under his command shrieked and shouted and destroyed everything they could.

Ghosts of the Past: Purity teaser

Muriel was not haunting her favourite spot on the balcony when he strode beneath it. Silence rang from the first room of the fifth corridor, where Harold’s poltergeist resided. Vlad had not been in the ballroom when he passed through to exit the double doors to the tunnel. No doubt Madalina would not be in Bran Castle far above. Mircea was far away and lost, save for a small memorial in the prince’s cold, still heart.

It seemed the ghosts of his past were quiet this evening.

Well, save for one.

“It has been far too long, mio vampiro,” a breathy voice said from behind him as he reached the top of the hill. The chilly evening was enhanced by a cloudy sky, and Bran Castle was filled with darkness. No lights flickered or glowed from inside; the tours had long since been closed for the evening.

He rested his palm on the cold, hard stone wall, pressing on the bumpy scar until it almost physically hurt. “Sixty-one days,” he said, shutting his eyes. Pat of him had hoped she wouldn’t come out of Purgatory this evening, hoped he could go about his business in peace.

“I have not been completely alone.”

He dropped his hand and turned to face her. “Have they been asking more questions?”

“They never stop.” She moved closer to him, and her big eyes were wide as she gazed at him. “The half-breed and her friends frequent this place more than anyone.”

Her voice, her presence—everything about her was disconcertingly cold. He could remember a time when he revelled in her human warmth. Even her innocent eyes, once comforting, were as pale and dead as the rest of her.

He hated ghosts. Congratulations were in order for Mircea—the only ghost of his past who did not insist on existing nearby, or at all. He was perfectly content in Hell. “I will speak with Madam Gwyther. She is a troublemaker.”

She nodded, but it was distant and slow. She was distracted. “I met a human girl recently. She asked questions as well.” She turned away and stared up at the sky, where the moon would be if there was no cloud cover. “She asked how long I was your prisoner.”

“Odd. Did you indulge her?”

“Yes. There were some… problems, as I did not know the proper English, but she understood. She seemed kind.” She lifted a hand as if she could cup the stars in her palm. “The heavens are truly beautiful. I hope to one day be with them.”

He watched her in silence. The longer time he spent in her presence, the heavier a painful block inside him became. This was why he hadn’t visited her in sixty-one days.

“Humans have visited the heavens,” he said after several long beats. Verity glanced back at him, confused, and he continued. “They built a device that could take them to a world beyond this Earth.”

A tiny smile perked her mouth, surprising him. Since when could a devout Catholic appreciate science? “Did they make it?”

Fane shut his eyes and turned his face away from her. His right hand was clenched around the scar, and his nails gouged his palm. “There are footprints on the moon.”

Castle Dracula: Purity teaser

Tears finally broke free and slipped down Caitlyn’s cheeks.

She was being taken to the home of the vampires.

Memories flooded her, nearly crippling her with their sudden strength. They were things she blocked out of her childhood—memories of a time not long after her mother’s death, when she had lived in a haze. She had visited the museum with her father’s old housekeeper and sometime-babysitter; being the precocious brat she was, she broke free and was quickly lost in the crowd. Taken by an old man related to her mother, who she trusted. Put in a car she didn’t know, and taken away.

Her father’s business rival had kept her under lock and key, deranged by his desire to learn the secrets of her father’s success. She was eleven; she knew nothing. To convince her, he had her locked away with a monster with blood red eyes and a name from hell.

It took far too long, but light eventually pricked the distance. It wasn’t harsh electric light, but rather dim and flickering, and warm orange. An old wrought-iron sconce was jammed into the earth wall, and in it danced a small fire, just enough to lit up the door before them. It was plain and black, but there was something about it that was decidedly menacing.

Caitlyn was handed back to Coulter, and his great paws rested on her shoulders, keeping her still.

“Ready, boys?” Makarov grabbed the handles of the door. “Welcome to Castle Dracula.”

There had been hushed babbling before their entrance. At the moment the door opened, it immediately silenced and Caitlyn could feel hundreds of cold, hard eyes locked on her. The room they entered was large and vaguely circular, with walls covered by black drapes and a floor of exquisite marble. Ancient furniture lined the walls, and across from the door were two curved marble staircases that joined a balcony with five hallways. On the floor between the staircases was an old piano with a man at the bench, but no one played. The room was dim, lit only by torches in the same sconces as the one in the tunnel.

Men and women of all races and states of disrepair filled the room. Some were ghastly and pale and looked starved, so their musty clothes hung off them like rags. Others were rosy-cheeked and contented. But all of them had the same bold, brazen eyes; the colours that would be muted and plain in the faces of humans were brilliant and sparkling, full of life and completely animated. Everything, even the people, was immaculately structured, yet it seemed as though all was covered in a fine film of dust.

The silence was palpable. Caitlyn remained stiff, terrified even to breathe in case these predators decided to pounce. Her brain had shut off, and her body tensed, waiting for something to happen so it could decide whether to fight or flee.

Those eyes. Those hard, bright eyes were locked on her. Unmoving. Unblinking.

Caitlyn dropped her gaze and her breath suddenly returned with a painful wheeze. She had accidentally looked into the dark brown eyes of a scowling woman near the front, and her reptilian brain knew that this woman would kill her without a second thought. And she would enjoy it.

Her entourage nudged her forward, and she returned to full consciousness when a dry sort of cackle exploded from above them.

Every hair stood on end, and she glanced back. The sound seemed to come from two grotesque chimera-style gargoyles that flanked the door, but that was impossible.

There seemed to be no hurry, and her captors gave her a moment to stare. As she did, a gravelly voice asked in an unnatural accent, “What are you staring at, human?”

A deeper, slower voice just as rocky as the first drawled, “Why is a living human still in these hallowed halls? Vanessa, you have proven yourself to be intelligent in the past. Why is this girl in the halls of our lord?”

“I don’t know, Abaddon.” The voice was haughty and English, and when Caitlyn looked back around, she saw it came from the woman she had locked eyes with. She was staring now, her eyes narrowed beneath a dark frown. “Why don’t you ask the human’s escorts?”

“Bethany,” the first voice said, singsong. “What are you doing with a human? A living human?”

“Just ignore them,” Makarov muttered, and pushed Caitlyn forward. The crowd parted in silence, cutting a clean path to the staircases.

Forgetting her fear for the moment, Caitlyn asked, breathless, “What was that?”

“Two of the castle’s resident gargoyles,” Jacques-Marie Blanchard replied from behind her left shoulder. “They guard the door.”

“Abaddon does,” Makarov corrected, stealing one more glance behind them. “Asmodeus needs to be removed.”

Caitlyn swallowed a dry lump in her throat. Two of the castle’s gargoyles. That meant there were more of those things.

The crowd in the circular room remained silent as the grave as Caitlyn was escorted up the stairs and onto the balcony. They lingered there in the quiet, waiting.

Harvester of Souls

It was I who sent the dreams.

Blackness rent through with torture. Her home, that sweet little hamlet, engulfed in toxic black smoke as hungry fire licks angry burns onto the flesh of her family. Monstrous daedroths hunting the children, devouring them: the blood coursing from their snarling jaws as the skulls crack and their screams are silenced forever.

I am kind to those who obey My Word. They are the ones who will last longer in their mortal realm, at least until they have exhausted their usefulness. I will not tolerate anything less. As the Harvester of Souls, it is My duty to ensure mortals under My sway have done all they can to the world before leaving it for Coldharbour. Their souls are Mine forever.

She was the ultimate tool, My right hand and weapon to wreak havoc across Nirn. But she faltered, as humans are cursed to, and her soul was consumed by My fury. I punished My own daughter for her insolence—why would I not punish My fair, sweet tool?

She could have fled, had I not intervened. Rather than release her from her earthly torment in the sweet black peace of death, I manipulated the soul of an Imperial Legionnaire to find her and convict her of dozens of unsolved murders. She spent five years locked away in the cold, fetid walls of the Imperial Prison, and every night I sent her the dreams. My realm is not of nightmare—I would dare not take darling Vaermina’s duties from her. But the girl was Mine, one of My flock to do with as I pleased. For five years she watched her family and neighbours writhe in their own pools of blood and filth, unable to help as My minions devoured her soul, piece by piece.

She is Mine now, fully and truly. And if she betrays Me again, I may not be so gentle as I was before.

War Triage: Changeling teaser

The wounds were gruesome. One man was peppered with arrows; the shafts protruded from him like the spines of a porcupine. I had my doubts that he would survive, but kept quiet as the oldest squire led me around the makeshift triage. Burns were by far the most common injury. Men with fifty percent or more of their body covered in deep-tissue burns were already separated to their own section, just inside the treeline; those with a better chance of survival were kept with men with nonfatal stab wounds or slashes. I kept my face carefully composed as I surveyed the injuries. Burns from fire, ice, and electricity: they were all painful to look at, and most of those with terrible patches had already been sedated with, from what I could tell by watching one squire dole out a measure to a soldier, obscene amounts of opium.

The squire, a comely lad of about seventeen or so, peered up at me with desperate, round eyes as he finished leading me around the hospital. “Well, mum? What d’you think?”

I sighed and began to roll up the sleeves of my homespun tunic. “Separate magical wounds from tangible, and those with lesser severity from those who are on death’s door,” I ordered, pushing my wet hair from my cheeks. “Have some of the younger squires with little medical training to help the men with few, nonfatal wounds; we might be able to put them back on the battle right away if need be. Nonfatal magical wounds, there is little we can do right now—”

“Sorry, mum, but one of the men, he said you was from the mountains?”

I exhaled shortly and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Yes. I am. But I am reserving my skills for those with dreadful wounds, both magical and tangible. Nonfatal wounds are not delightful, certainly, but they will at least be survived. I will need as many hands helping me as possible, until Lord Hession returns from the battle to assist. Fetch some of the more capable squires.”

The boy nodded and hurried away to do my bidding, leaving me to make some quick decisions regarding the lives of several Nallisian and Syllian soldiers. The one drenched with arrows would have to be put down to keep him from suffering too much longer; none of us would be able to keep up with the demands of so many separate wounds. A few of the men with burns didn’t have much of a chance; neither did the one with no obvious external injuries save for an ashen pallor that made it clear he had been partially devoured by revenants.

“All right, let’s get down to it,” I muttered, and brought to my fingers a healing ward. I crouched beside the man with arrows and lightly touched his shoulder. “I am so sorry.”

He smiled weakly; blood stained the corners of his mouth, and his breathing was gurgled and laboured. “I died serving my king, Lady Healer. Make it quick.”

Loss: Of the Arbour teaser

Sage stole a glance at her bunk. She was invisible beneath her blanket, but he could hear her gentle sighs as she slept, interspersed with the occasional snuffle and snort. It seemed the only time she was at peace now was when she slept, and even then she often woke, sweaty and tearstained, from nightmares.

Sage had forgotten to ask Briar to marry them. And during the Siege of the Arbour, when Cain the Mad invaded the Nation’s last safe haven, Keelin had been escorting a group of five year olds—the Arbour’s youngest students—and Sage’s three children to safety. In the confusion of battle, she had been killed—and Siras, heartbroken and devastated, had blamed Sage.

He stood and trudged to his bed. Siras has spoken little since the Siege, and smiled and laughed even less. There was no real indication she had forgiven him, but none that she hadn’t, either. He looked at her once more as he shed his shirt and crawled beneath his thin quilt. Her face was relaxed in slumber, but not peaceful; it could never be so, drenched and marred as it was with scars and sorrow.

Once the cabin was dark and the only sounds were Siras’ breaths and the creaks and thuds of the ship around them, Sage shut his eyes and began the process of taking inventory. Stride had suggested it, partway through their voyage, as a means for Sage to sleep. It didn’t often work, but the habit was ingrained into him now.

Not one for praying—a habit he found rather ridiculous, but wisely kept quiet when the subject was approached by his more religiously-inclined companions—he simply went through a mental list of those he loved and wished them well wherever they might be. Stride had told him it was similar to a prayer when he suggested it, only the thoughts weren’t directed at any deity. And that suited Sage just fine.

First and foremost was his family. Maia, Ash, and Isobel, back at the Arbour—how big would Ash be now? How much had Bella’s vocabulary grown? And Flynn, somewhere in this scattering of verdant islands, afraid and alone.

His father, Stride, and mother, Carol; Galvyn, former Master of the Arbour, the paternal grandfather he hadn’t known was his until after the old man was murdered.

Briar, across the hall. Siras, sleeping less than a metre away. And with a small pang of regret and loss—Keelin, murdered by mistake.

The professors at the Arbour. General Shal, Commander Ren, Countess Elin, Knight-Commander Vian; his allies during the Revolution.

He sighed and opened his eyes, exhausted but unable to sleep. He was exhausting his list, but there were still a few more names and faces he could use; maybe by then, his body and mind would be tricked into slumber.

His heart clenched as he began the next segment of his habit. The image of a young man, with tousled blonde hair and warm brown eyes, and fingers picked and chewed to nothing; one of his oldest friends, his own firstborn’s namesake, and Maia’s elder brother: Ash. He had been murdered many years ago, at the dawn of the Revolution, for his involvement in an expulsion during their final year at the Arbour—but it had been much more than that, hadn’t it? They hadn’t realized it at the time, but…

Sage rubbed his face and fidgeted, trying to get comfortable on the hard bunk. There was one name left on his list—one that he often touched on in passing, coming to him at random times during the day. It wasn’t unpleasant, but he would rather the ghosts of the past leave him alone, literally and figuratively.

Once upon a time, King Cain the Mad had been a brilliant student—albeit with anger issues—studying at the Arbour alongside Sage. They had never been friends, but their many altercations had been memorable. It had only been at the end, however, with Sage’s dagger buried in Cain’s chest, that all that lay between them had been set aside; because of it, Sage could truly mourn his loss.

He glared into the shadows above his berth and grumbled, “Why can’t you just leave me alone, Cain? I did nothing to you that you didn’t deserve.”

The night passed slowly. Sage lay awake, listening to the wooden creaks of the ship and the sea sloshing against the hull, and the snorts and sighs of the sailors in cabins around them, all peacefully lost in slumber—something that seemed especially determined to elude Sage.