fiction

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 4

If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, follow the links. Otherwise, read on! (This is a sci-fi short story by J.A. Dowsett that you don’t want to miss!) 

***

The Silent Serpent surged out of the Jump Gate into regular space and slowed immediately, though still moving far faster than the well-worn ship could have managed under its own power. Nell was back in the pilot’s chair and Xendri stood behind her, eager to see another new region of space. However, no sooner had Nell caught sight of what awaited them in this sector did her gold-flecked black fur stand on end. Whipping her tail around, she used the metal tip to tap the button that allowed her access to the ship-wide communications system, setting it to high-alert, while every other part of her remained focused on the ship’s controls.

“Xendri,” Nell said, tension making her voice clipped, “get the Captain. We have a problem.”

Before Xendri could so much as turn around, Nell knocked the controls forward and the old cargo vessel lurched, nose pointed downwards. Weapons fire was visible in the cockpit’s narrow window, but it made no sound until it grazed the side of the vessel, where it sounded like metal grinding against metal and sparks.

Xendri’s breath caught in her throat, but she didn’t let the stop her. “Captain!” she yelled into the rest of the ship as she exited the cockpit, clinging to any handholds she could find on the ship’s metal interior.

Captain James Claw stumbled into view just as Nell was righting the ship once more, sending the Terian shoulder-first into a metal wall. “What’s the prob-” He stopped mid-sentence, cleary able to see the issue for himself.

Xendri turned around to see what he was looking at and she finally was able to understand fully what Nell had grasped in those first few seconds out of the gate. It wasn’t just one ship firing at another or some sort of defense system they were on the wrong side of. They’d entered into an active warzone.

Ships of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions flew this way and that, defending the gate and the nearby space station from the largest ship in the area, which looked less like a ship and more like a floating platform atop which sat a silent, technologically advanced city. It was massive, as large as the space station itself and oddly square in shape, not like most of the vessels that flew around it. It was also…lifeless-looking. There were a few minor lights here or there, mostly near the guns, but otherwise the vessel was dark and unornamented as it drifted slowly through space.

“Delkrit,” Captain Claw whispered as he pushed absent-mindedly past Xendri.

Even being from one of the more remote corners of the galaxy, Xendri recognized the word. Everyone had heard of the Delkrit, though it was rare for anyone to have seen one, let alone survived to tell about it. They were the modern-day boogeyman. Tales that were told about the horrors that lurked out in the black of space to keep pilots and captains from venturing too far out into the uncharted parts of the galaxy. Not exactly a race, or even alive in the traditional sense, the Delkrit were machines with an AI hive mind programmed for one thing: to destroy all organic life. They were said to be the scourge of the galaxy.

Despite herself, Xendri followed the Captain back into the cockpit and squeezed herself beneath the wall and his arm so she could see what was going on. Nell had brought the ship around to join with the multitude of ships that were arrayed in a semi-organized fashion in their united goal to keep the Delkrit from destroying the gate. No matter which race this sector belonged to, the Delkrit were everybody’s enemy, and if the gate fell anyone within it would be stranded somewhere between here and the gate they left from, with no way to know how far they’d been tossed off course. And that was if they survived the gate’s collapse at all. It wasn’t lost on Xendri that had they not exited the gate when they did, that could easily have been their fate. As a spacefaring vessel, they owed it to whomever might be travelling through that gate to do what they could to ensure it didn’t shut down unexpectedly.

“Captain?” Nell questioned.

“You have any skill with guns?” Claw asked her and she nodded without taking her eyes off the task ahead of her. “Then use your best judgement,” he told her.

Xendri held her breath as Nell brought the Silent Serpent within firing range and strafed to the left, using the ship’s lasers for all they were worth. She left a few small explosions in her wake and managed to avoid being shot out of the sky. Xendri allowed herself to breathe again only when they were again skirting away from the horrifying cold and impersonal-looking Delkrit city, which fired at them only because its sensors detected their proximity, not because it ‘felt threatened’ or even felt anything at all. Xendri shuddered.

Just then, a team of Enbi ships swooped past them, so close their sudden appearance took Xendri’s breath right back out of her and Captain Claw swore audibly. Tiny one-man vessels, the Enbi fighter-ships were like a swarm of bees compared to the Delkrit city and just as angry, but as Xendri learned a moment later, they weren’t what had Nell or the Captain’s attention.  

“Shit, is that a Terran dreadnought?”

Between one breath and the next, by far the largest ship Xendri had ever seen popped into the sector, blocking out her view of this system’s sun. It was easily the width of the Delkrit vessel, if not wider, and it towered upwards as well, like a giant ark without sails. The words, ‘The Olympus’ were painted on the side, each letter easily the size of their own meager cargo ship.

“Wait, that gives me an idea,” Claw declared. “Nell, open up a communication to that Terran vessel.”

Nell’s eyes went wide at the command, but she followed it and hailed the Terran ship, even as she kept them moving, so as to make a difficult target for Delkrit guns.

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The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1

It’s time for another short story! This one’s not a pre-quel, or attached to any book at all, it’s a stand-alone sci-fi adventure following a group of characters that have been bouncing around in my head for a while. Please, enjoy! For more about me, just look around, or check our authors page here. 

***

The Silent Serpent hurtled through space at a speed only made possible by Jump technology. The old cargo hauler shuddered in protest at the velocity, but the pilot, Nell, paid the vessel no mind. Instead, her golden-green cat eyes were narrowed lazily over the cards in her hand as she deliberated her next play, her metal-tipped tail twitching idly.

Xendri watched her carefully, but the black and gold tortoiseshell cat, or Pentaurii as her race was called, gave nothing away by her expression; she was good at this game. Nell played the Queen of Spades, placing it on the foldout tray between them in the cockpit. Xendri frowned, looking between the cards at play and the ones in her hand before realizing all of a sudden that she’d been outmaneuvered. There was no way she could win now.

Xendri clicked her tongue in displeasure, speaking a few less-than-polite words in her native language before standing. “I’m going to check on the cargo.”  

“Cargo?” Nell questioned. “We’re mid-jump. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

Nell rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” Yawning, she put her hand of cards down as she turned to inspect the ship’s controls, absently going through the motions her job as thes ship’s secondary pilot required.

Xendri left her there and swung out into the main body of the ship, nimbly making her way to the ladder that led down into the detachable cargo bay.   

“Hey, Kiddo,” a deep male voice rumbled, catching her off guard. “Where you goin’?”

Looking up, Xendri found one of the loaders, a human man named nicknamed Quattro, looking at her curiously. He was much taller than her, six feet to her four, well-muscled, and he wore a impressive-looking pistol on his belt. Despite all that, there was no malice in his expression or in his glowing purple eyes, so she decided to let the ‘nickname’ he’d chosen for her slide, for now.

“Looking around,” she answered briefly. “Stretching my legs.”

Quattro nodded. “Yeah, gets a little boring in Jump-space, doesn’t it? Alright, go on then. Can’t hurt nuthin’.”

But Xendri wasn’t listening to him any longer; her eyes had fixated on the other device his belt contained. “Hey, can I borrow that?” she asked, gesturing with her chin.

Quattro looked down, confused. “You mean the scanner?” He unhooked it and tossed it to her. “Sure thing, Kiddo, knock yourself out.”

Xendri nodded, catching and pocketing the device before scurrying down the ladder, dismissing the burly loader from her thoughts. She took the ladder rungs two at a time and jumped the rest of the way to the floor of the cargo bay, landing gracefully on all fours before standing and making sure she was alone. The cargo bay was quiet; the only sound the occasionally creak to remind her that they were still moving very very fast, even if the floor beneath her feet felt stationary. She tapped the metal-plated floor with her foot as if to test the artificial gravity, but it felt the same as standing on any other surface. Space travel was weird that way, the universe had no up and down, but people made their own. Xendri wasn’t sure she’d ever really get used to it. She shrugged and pulled the scanner device out of her pocket, fiddling with the dials and buttons until she got the display to show what she wanted.

Walking slowly between the long cargo containers that filled the bay, Xendri let the scanner device do its thing, even going so far as to climb on top of one of the massive containers to scan closer to the middle.

“That’s odd,” Xendri muttered after some time spent in contemplation of what the hand-held device was telling her.

Eyes still on her findings, Xendri climbed back down off the crate, then back up the ladder to the rest of the ship. There was no sign of Quattro, but she wasn’t looking for him anyways; she went straight for the Captain’s quarters.

To be continued… 

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J.M. Walker – Part 8 (of 9)

If you’re new to this story, I suggest starting at part 1, here. Otherwise, read on!

The greenhouse was a tiny building just south of the main school building. It was frequented by gnome mages who took classes in gardening, as well as other mage disciplines that involved nature, such as elf mages and fairy mages.

“Why would she choose the greenhouse?” Oriella asked as they walked briskly.

“Because fire mages rarely go there?” Trina suggested.

Oriella nodded as the greenhouse came into view. No one else was around so the girls quickly ran inside. They looked around the interior of the building; there were long wooden tables full of potted plants and hanging baskets hung from hooks in the ceiling. There was green everywhere with spots of brightly coloured flowers. The greenhouse had a musty feel to it that was very similar to when Trina followed Oriella through a tree. They searched the entire greenhouse but there was no pixie mage to be found.

“She’s not here,” Trina said.

“Maybe she hid the feather here and already left,” Oriella suggested. “Could you see in the pool-image where she might be hiding it?”

“Not really…it was kind of blurry. I just knew it looked like she was in the greenhouse,” Trina said.

“Yeah, same here,” Oriella said, “but where could it be?”

Trina scanned the rows and rows of potted plants but nothing looked out of place. Most of them looked like they had been recently watered and many had been recently planted or repotted. It was impossible to tell where Chantelle may have hidden the feather.

“I say we go back to Flora House,” Oriella said, “and see if Eddy figured anything out from his chat with Chantelle, like where exactly she hid the feather.”

Trina inhaled sharply and began to sneeze. No, not now, she thought. She sneezed five times before she could stop herself. Flames were shooting everywhere and the wooden tables caught fire. The flames grew taller, until they were reaching the hanging plants, and soon the roof rafters began to burn. Oriella grabbed Trina, yanking her out of the greenhouse and into the cover of the Whispering Woods.

“Great gryphons!” Trina said as she watched the greenhouse burn. She could hardly believe she had created such a huge disaster. She had no idea she was even capable of setting an entire building on fire. She felt her stomach tighten with…fear? With dread? What would happen to her if they found out it was her fault? What if she continued to accidently cause more destruction?

She continued to watch the flames as a crowd began pouring out of the dorm houses and gathering. There were at least three water sprite mages who could create spouts of water, similar to Trina and her flames, except they actually knew how to control their water powers.

Within minutes the flames had died down. More water sprites arrived to douse the greenhouse with even more water, just to be safe, but the damage was done. There would not be any classes in the greenhouse on Monday – or anytime soon.

“Let’s get out of here!” Oriella said and yanked on Trina’s arm again, pulling her away from the scene of the fire.

“Where are we going?” Trina asked as they ran along the edge of the Whispering Woods, still under cover of the trees.

“Back to Knox! We’re going to pretend this never happened!” Oriella said.

The girls ran out of the woods as they reached Knox House. Instead of running to the front door they went to the left side of the building where their room was. Ivy grew up all sides of the building, especially on their side, and it was particularly thick right beneath their bedroom window.

“I’ve been doing some tweaking,” Oriella explained and quickly found handholds in the ivy. Trina watched as her nimble friend scaled the side of the wall, with the ivy growing in the pattern of a ladder.

“I’m not so sure I can do that,” Trina said.

“You have to at least try,” Oriella called as she reached their window and slid it open.

Trina took a deep breath and found the first handholds of ivy Oriella had used. It was surprisingly stable; the ivy was so thick it felt like she was climbing a regular wooden ladder. She took a deep breath and continued to climb, reminding herself to not look down. Oriella reached out when she made it to the top and helped her climb through the window.

“Now, let’s casually walk down to the common room as if we’ve been here all along,” Oriella said, brushing bits of leaves and dirt from her clothes.

“They’re never going to believe us,” Trina said.

“Only one way to find out,” Oriella said and headed out the door.

When they entered the common room, Trina was surprised to see someone with sky blue hair.

Chantelle gasped as Trina and Oriella entered and the pixie mage dropped the golden feather.

“Sir Gadison’s Golden Phoenix Feather!” Trina said and rushed forward to pick it up. “Why did you steal this? What are you doing here?”

“No, I’m returning it!” Chantelle said. “I’m trying to help!”

“How?” Oriella asked. “Why are you even here?”

“I’m trying to return it,” Chantelle said again, “because I feel awful, and so Corbin doesn’t lose his suite.”

“So, you did steal it?” Trina asked.

Chantelle hung her head. “Yes.”

“Why?” Oriella asked.

“Because Loukas asked me to the spring dance,” Chantelle said.

What?” Oriella asked loudly.

“Loukas asked me to the dance, but I said I couldn’t go, because I already have a boyfriend,” Chantelle said.

“Great gryphons, what pixie nonsense are you talking about? Who’s your boyfriend? What does any of this have to do with our feather?” Oriella asked.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 6

If you’re new to this short story, I recommend starting at Part One. Once you’re caught up, read on!

Trina felt as though at least an hour had passed. Her right leg was cramped under her and had completely fallen asleep. She was pretty sure Oriella had fallen asleep; she could hear the familiar sound of her roommate snoring. But just then, her nose began to tickle! She tried not to get too excited or to accidently do anything that would stifle the sneeze.

“Achoo!” Trina sneezed and a burst of flame shot from her nose, catching the second bed sheet of the day on fire.

Trina tore at the fabric and freed herself. She tried to stand but her leg was numb and she fell over. She crawled back to the flaming bed sheet and put out the remaining fire with her hands.

“You sneezed!” Oriella shouted. “Are you free?”

“Yes!” Trina said as she pulled herself over to Oriella’s bed sheet and pulled apart the knot the boys had made.

Oriella came tumbling out. “Did I fall asleep?”

“I think so,” Trina told her, and then looked around at their surroundings. “Do you have any idea where we are?”

Oriella looked around and frowned. “Not really, but I still might be able to find a tree to take us back to the school grounds.”

One of Oriella’s elf mage powers was being able to travel through trees and take companions with her. Trina had travelled with her several times already. She watched as Oriella went from tree to tree, searching for one that would take them back to school.

“This one…I think,” Oriella said.

Trina stood, her leg now stable, as Oriella put her hand on the rough bark of the tree. Trina walked over as a black doorway opened in the tree’s side, just big enough for Oriella to step inside. Trina had to duck to follow.

Inside the tree was dark and silent. All the other forest noises ceased and all Trina could hear were her own footsteps and Oriella’s much quieter and more graceful footsteps. The doorway they’d come in through sealed behind them, making the tunnel completely dark. The opening on the next end had yet to appear. Trina’s nose began to tickle.

“Uh-oh,” Trina managed to say before she sneezed and then sneezed again and again. Flames began to lick up the tunnel’s dark walls.

“We’re not there yet!” Oriella said as she began to run forward.

“I know!” Trina said, frantically trying to put out the flames, but there were too many.

There was a white burst of light and Trina felt herself blown over. She went flying to the ground and rolled head over heels at least twice before coming to a stop against a tree trunk. Her whole body ached, but nothing felt severely injured. She pushed herself up and got back to her feet. She was surrounded by trees.

“Oriella?” she called. Her friend was nowhere in sight.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 1

Have you read Elizabeth J. M. Walker’s young adult fantasy novel, She Dreamed of Dragons? Well, you can find it here or in our store. You can also learn more about Elizabeth J. M. Walker on our website. This short story is a prequel, so read on!

***

Trina woke with a sneeze. It was an alarming way to be brought out of dreamland. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. But then the scent of burning began to fill her nose and her eyes shot open.

“Trina!” her roommate Oriella yelled, jumping out of bed. “Your bed is on fire!”

Trina had already realized this and was trying to extinguish the flames by smothering them with her hands. Being a dragon mage, the fire didn’t harm her skin, but it did harm her comforter. By the time she had successfully smothered the small fire, her periwinkle blue bedding was burned to a crisp and faint tendrils of smoke were floating about the tiny dorm room.

Oriella rushed to open the third-storey window. She began to cough, she so stuck her entire head of dark blond waves out the window and into the early morning fresh air.

“What just happened?” Oriella called back into the room.

“I think I sneezed,” Trina said as she shoved the charred remains of her bedding onto the floor. She’d have to find a dustpan to clean it up. And she’d have to find a new comforter.

“You sneeze fire?” Oriella asked, bringing her head back into the room. The smoke was beginning to clear.

“Sometimes?” Trina said meekly.

“I don’t sneeze leaves,” Oriella said, referring to her own powers as an elf mage, which included being able to travel through trees.

“I think I’d rather sneeze leaves,” Trina said.

There was a knock at the door.

“Hey! It’s Corbin!” their house don called. “Everything okay in there, Trina? I smell smoke.”

Trina went to open the door.

“Sorry,” she told her don, a Fifth Year with dark brown skin and shoulder-length black hair. He was a phoenix mage and knew a thing or two about having fire powers, but nothing nearly as powerful as Trina’s dragon mage abilities.

“Everything is under control,” Oriella chimed in.

“Please don’t burn our dorm down,” Corbin said. “It’s bad enough we have scorch marks in nearly every room, so let’s try to keep our house in one piece.”

Being the don of Knox House, the dorm that housed mages with fire powers, was not an easy task. The dorm was placed the farthest from the main school building of the Mage Academy and the cluster of other dorm houses due to the risk of student mages not always having full control over their fire powers.

Trina jumped as she heard the sound of breaking glass.

“Forest pixies!” they heard someone shout from the ground floor and Corbin sighed.

“Again?” Corbin said as he headed down the stairs. Being farther from the school and the main dorms also meant being deeper in the Whispering Woods, which meant being plagued by the forest pixies who lived in the woods.

“I hate pixies,” Oriella said as she yanked open a drawer and began to pull out some clothes. “I’m getting dressed before we go find out what they did this time.”

Trina nodded as she shut the door. She found a plain brown dress with singe marks around the wrists of the sleeves to change into. She tugged on her brown boots as Oriella did the same, pulling hers over a pair of green leggings she wore under a black tunic. Trina ran her fingers through her brown hair, which was so short that she didn’t need to properly brush it. She would have liked to have longer hair like Oriella, but she kept accidently burning it.

***

Come back next week or SUBSCRIBE for more!

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 6 (finale)

Please find part 1 here if you’d like to read from the beginning. Otherwise, read on!
Despite himself, Renaud ran forward, but the girl didn’t scream or otherwise announce her presence. Instead she hunkered down and waited for the lift to bring her safely to the ground.

Renaud was there to meet her.

“Petite fille,” he called to her, not even realizing he’d reverted to French in his distress. “Are you all right?”

She stood and nodded, her grey eyes wide and serious-looking in her young round face.

“Come away from the lift,” he told her, holding out his hand. “It’s not safe.”

She didn’t take his hand. She was wary of strangers. Good for her, Renaud thought, nodding to himself. “C’est d’accord,” he said, trying to be comforting. “Je m’appelle Renaud.

Êtes-vous un Capitaine?” she asked cautiously in halting French.

Abruptly, Renaud remembered that he was, in fact, a Captain. He straightened his back. “Oui, Madame.” He switched back to English, which the girl was obviously more comfortable with, “My ship is called The Clover. She’s waiting right over there.” He pointed out which vessel was his in the harbour.

“My mother…” She fought back tears that threatened to overwhelm her, hugging something to her chest beneath the navy-blue cloak she wore. “My mother wants me to find a good ship, one without soldiers.”

“Well there are no soldiers on The Clover, only sailors. And Dot, she’s a cook.” Renaud didn’t know why he was wasting time talking to this little girl when he should be fleeing Ismera, but some part of him missed his own family and he didn’t have it in him to leave this girl all alone. “Would you like to come to my ship and you can wait for your parents there?”

The girl nodded vigorously, darting a hand out of her cloak to wipe at her tears. This time when he extended a hand to her, she took it. “What’s your name, little one?”

“Meredith,” she answered between sniffles. “Meredith Turrell.”

Renaud almost stopped where he was, halfway back across the dock to where his ship waited with the gangplank lowered for him. Turrell?! As in ‘Lord and Lady’ Turrell? The man and woman I saw on the lift earlier, they own this town and this is their daughter. Of course, I’m so stupid! The Turrell Manor is at the top of the cliff, you can see it from the Channel.

“Are you sure you should be down here?” Renaud looked back at his newfound companion, suddenly nervous that his act of charity would be misconstrued for a kidnapping. “I could take you back up the lift to your house.”

She shook her head. “Mother told me to find a ship.”

He would have pressed the issue, but at that moment a bright light erupted on top of the cliff. Renaud’s eyes went wide. It looked like nothing more than a massive bonfire, its light reflected on the clouds above.

Vitement,” he urged Meredith and the two of them hurried across the gangplank, which was pulled in after them.

Back on his ship, Renaud gave the order to disembark and his skeleton crew worked double-time to obey his command. Unmoored from the dock, The Clover began drifting into the Channel, and one by one the crew unfurled the sails to take advantage of the rising wind.

Looking back toward Turrellin, and at the Turrell Manor on the hill, it was clear that the civil war his good friend Christian Vellaire had fled from had reached Turrellin, and young Meredith’s parents were among the unfortunate casualties.

Renaud heard a thump and looked down to see that Meredith had dropped a satchel the size of her torso onto the deck at her feet. He didn’t have time to wonder much about that before he felt the girl’s arms clamp tightly around his waist as she buried her face from the sight of her home up in flames. Overcome with emotion, Renaud put a hand on her slight shoulder. “I’m sorry, little one,” he whispered, his voice thick and his cheek moist from tears he hadn’t realized had formed. “I’m so sorry.”

Watching the flames grow farther and farther away, Renaud couldn’t help but feel that his victories over the past twenty-four hours were being balanced somehow by Meredith’s losses, and he vowed right then and there that he would do everything within his power to see this little girl safe.

Renaud turned Meredith about so she could face the water and the way to Saegard instead of the chaos they were rapidly leaving behind. He wiped at the tears that ran down his cheeks to nestle into his bushy beard. I promise my dear, if I have anything to say about it, one day you’ll be the luckiest girl to have ever crossed the Ismeran Channel.

 

The End

***

This story relates to and is a prequel to the novel, Uncharted. Find more info here.

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 5 of 6

Find Part 1 here

Sure enough, there was a brawl on the street ahead of him. Patrons of The Crow’s Nest, including his friend Dagan, were out on the street en masse, caught in a one-sided fist fight with a bunch of armed soldiers. The fight was one-sided only because the other side was using swords, not fists.

Renaud grabbed the nearest soldier to him by the plume on his ridiculous-looking helmet. Catching the man completely off guard, Renaud was able to knock him over and relieve him of his pointy metal stick. Launching himself onto the next man, he pummeled that one with his fists, striking any place he could reach.

It didn’t take long for the invading army to realize they had a madman in their midst. Renaud fought with abandon, breaking noses, biting fingers, and kneeing the stupidest of men in the balls. Didn’t your fathers ever teach you to guard your stones? He made a mental note to teach his own son that very lesson as soon as he got home.

Renaud was an unstoppable force, until several of his victims began to recover and he found himself in the middle of a pile-up. He took a foot to his ribcage, a knee to his left kidney, and an elbow in the eye before Dagan and some of the others were able to come to his rescue, pulling him free of his attackers and leaving them to wrestle one another.

“Thanks, man.” Renaud clapped Dagan on the shoulder. “I owe you one.”

Dagan grinned, one of his front teeth missing. “How ‘bout you give me a posting on that new ship of yours and we’ll call it even?”

My ship! He belatedly recalled that he was Captain of his own ship now. That’s right! I don’t have to stay for this. I can be out on the water and away from Ismera before this civil war, or whatever this is, gets any worse.

Though something about what was happening rubbed Renaud the wrong way. Turrellin declared itself as neutral in the conflict between the King and those who want to dethrone him. Why would Vance Chappelle attack his own people?

Suddenly eager to return to his ship and sail home to Saegard, where the world made sense, Renaud found himself looking back toward The Crow’s Nest. He watched as the barkeep, Ginny, tossed a pot full of boiling hot stew in the face of one soldier before retreating within the inn and shutting the solid oak door tightly behind her. She’ll be okay, Renaud realized, and I’m right, this isn’t my fight.

“Dagan,” he held a hand out to his red-headed friend, “you’ve got yourself a deal. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Aye, aye, Captain!”

Renaud and Dagan made their way down the hill much faster than Renaud had initially run up it, despite the stitch in Renaud’s side and his rapidly swelling eye. Once his feet were firmly on the docks, though, Renaud felt his pain and worry melt away to be replaced with a sense of duty and purpose. He was a Captain now, and his ship and crew were waiting for him to lead them safely out of here.

He was within shouting distance of The Clover when his eyes happened to notice something out of place on the lift, way up at the top of the cliff edge. Is that a person?

“Why are you stopping?” Dagan demanded. “That’s yours there, with the four-leaf clover, right?”

“Yeah,” Renaud answered somewhat distractedly. “You go on. I’ll catch up.”

Dagan shrugged and resumed his forward motion, but Renaud’s eyes were glued on the lift far above. At this distance and in the failing light the form he saw was a small lump. It could be a pile of supplies with a tarp over it, but when it moved Renaud knew better. It’s a child, he realized with a sharp intake of breath.

He watched as a small white hand, stark against the dark fabric of the cloak the child was wearing, darted out to grip the lever that would activate the lift. Renaud’s breath caught in his throat. The lift usually has operators to run and monitor it. What is she doing?

Renaud couldn’t explain how he knew, but he had a sinking feeling in his gut that told him the small child who now had both hands on the lever and was pulling as hard as she could was the girl he’d seen this morning; the one with the bouncy dark hair and perfect young, happy parents.

As he watched, the lift mechanism gave way and the lift plummeted.

***

Subscribe or come back next week for the final installment of this short story!! 

Of course, We can’t forget Mixter Twizzle!

We’re announcing 2018’s upcoming new releases:
The Last Hockey Fight by Nate Friedman is now available for pre-order and launches February 17, 2018!
Ghosts and Exiles by Sandra Unerman is coming April 17, 2018!
Mirror’s Deceit by Justine Alley Dowsett and Murandy Damodred is coming May 17, 2018.
The Ghost in the Gardens by HL Carpenter is coming June 17, 2018!

And we have more announcements coming… but this week we wanted to remind you that Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast by Regan Macaulay is also coming soon!

We had a few delays, but Mixter Twizzle should be joining us sometime in 2018. We’ll announce the official launch date as soon as we have one. For now, though we’d like to announce that a new illustrator has joined the team. Her name is Wei Lu. She also goes by Lulu, and here’s a sample of her work:

MTB

You can see her portfolio here. We look forward to seeing what she comes up with for the rest of Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast and we hope you’re looking forward to this one too! Subscribe to this blog, or to our newsletter to be kept up to date!

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Regan writes novels, short stories, children’s literature and scripts. Writing is her passion, but she’s also a producer and director of theatre, film and television. She is an animal enthusiast as well, which led her to become a certified canine (and feline) massage therapist. https://reganwhmacaulay.weebly.com

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 2 (of 6)

Part one of this short story is here. If you want to know more about the author, click here. If you’d like to learn more about the novel Uncharted for which this is a prequel to, click here. Otherwise, read on!

“Poker’s a Lord’s game,” Dagan sneered as he turned his seat over to the stranger. “Do you even know how to play, Renaud?”

“How hard can it be?” Renaud demanded jovially, noting the barest of smiles on the face of his new opponent. “Watch and learn, Dagan, watch and learn.”

The newcomer busied himself shuffling the cards he fished out of his pocket, but Ginny was quick to put a stop to that. “We don’t allow people a chance to cheat here, mister.” The round-bottomed barkeep slid a fresh deck of playing cards onto the table. “You use house cards or you take your game elsewhere. This is a reputable establishment.”

The man scowled but didn’t hesitate in swapping his own cards for those provided to him. That’s why I love coming to this place. Gives everyone a fair shake. Renaud watched the man shuffle again and deal the cards out, keeping a close eye out for foul play. Hmm, he either wasn’t planning on cheating in the first place, or he’s all set to rely on his skill as a poker player to best me. Either way, that means he’s going to be a challenge, and I’m already what, three drinks in? Four?

I’ll just have to make my new friend catch up!

They played for a couple of hours, Renaud plying his newfound friend with drinks while drinking less and less himself. Dagan watched for the first hour, but thankfully wandered away when neither side was making much headway against the other. Renaud wasn’t daunted, however. He still had winnings left to bid, and as it turned out, it didn’t take ‘Lord’ Christian Vellaire long to lose himself to liquor.

“An Ismeran Lord, eh?” Renaud clarified. “What brings you to the Crow’s Nest? I thought lord-types usually stayed up at the big house on the hill.”

“Turrell Manor? Not my style, friend,” Christian replied. “I just came from the Casino in Wilkesport.”

“All the way from Welland?” Renaud exclaimed. “That’s a long trip, but it does explain how you’re so good at poker!”

Renaud had learned from his wife, a minor Ismeran noble herself, but there was no sense in telling his opponent that.

“Yeah,” Christian slurred. “I won a boat my last night there. Decided to take her up the coast, but I don’t know the first thing about sailing!” He laughed. “Cost me more to hire a Captain than it did to win the damn thing.”

A boat. Renaud sat up straight at the word. Does he mean a ship? A real ship?

“Oh?” Renaud aimed for nonchalance and fell just shy of it. “What kind of boat?”

“Oh, you know,” Christian shuffled and dealt the next hand as he spoke. “One of those tall ships. Not very large, but a proper boat and not a fishing vessel, I made sure of that!”

Renaud put his hands flat on top of the other man’s cards before he could pick them up. “If it’s a Captain you’re looking for…” he said with all hint of triviality gone.

Christian narrowed his eyes shrewdly, despite the large quantity of drink he’d consumed. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet my boat against everything you’ve got left there; winner keeps all.”

“Are you serious?!” Renaud looked down at his pile of winnings, which really had grown somewhat since he’d started playing against Christian and hadn’t been inconsequential to start with. Still, it paled in comparison to what a real ship would cost him.

“As a sword through the heart,” Christian told him. “You see, the real reason I wanted that boat was a fast trip out of Southern Ismera. Things are heating up down there, with Vance Chappelle struggling to hold the throne he stole. I didn’t want to get conscripted, or killed,” he added with a conspiratorial wink, “by either side.”

“So you came to Turrellin, which has declared neutrality,” Renaud finished for him.

“That’s right,” Christian nodded, “and now I’ve got no reason to be paying to dock, nor man, a boat I have no intention of using again. So,” he moved Renaud’s hands away from his cards so he could pick them up, “you win this next hand, and the tub’s all yours.”

Come back next week (or subscribe to this blog) for part 3!

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 8 (Finale)

If you’d like to start at part one and read the whole thing, click here. Then, when you are all caught up, keep reading! 

“Welcome back, Shu-Tu,” Thoth whispered. “You’ve been asleep for well over a week.”

Shu-Tu cringed. Her eyes fluttered open, then started to move around in their sockets. “W-Where am I?”

“Safe.” Thoth brushed away the hair from her brow. “That is all you need to know for now.”

Then, she remembered everything. Shu-Tu sat straight up, her head and back ached, but she ignored the pain. Trying to focus in on Thoth’s red-bearded face was a little like watching a butterfly in a strong wind—not impossible, but not easy either. She sensed her eyes move back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until they crossed. A vision flashed through her mind.

She gasped. “Segferd…he’s—”

“Dead.” Thoth finished for her. “Yes, I know. There was a full moon the night before last. He got caught during an earthquake near his family’s compound by the ocean, and the ground just opened up underneath him. Apparently, Sonl is still looking for his son’s body.”

Shu-Tu wanted to smile, but didn’t. “What of the firestone Amiee took from me?”

“I’m sure it will become the terrible, mighty crystal while in the hands of the House of Beliar,” Thoth replied, shrugging. “But that is not your concern anymore.”

“Aimee and Segferd, they…they left me for dead in that crystal room.” Her chest tightened.

“The Hall of Illumination, to be exact,” Thoth said.

“Is that where you found me?”

“Yes,” he replied, brushing wrinkles out of his red robe.

Thoth stood to pour a cup of water from the silver pitcher next to her bed. The sound of gurgling made Shu-Tu lick her dry lips. “Here, drink this. You need to get your strength back.”

Shu-Tu took a few gulps, and wiped her chin. “What happened to Khem?”

Thoth frowned. “Who is Khem?”

“The baboon-headed hybrid we met inside the Hall of Illumination.” Shu-Tu closed her eyes to stop them from spinning. “He told us you gave him your rod.”

“You mean this rod?” Thoth asked, reaching behind his back.

Shu-Tu opened her eyes and stared at the golden rod topped with a baboon’s head. The smell of floral-scented incense calmed her, and she nodded. Her eyes started moving faster again, up and down, side to side, until they crossed. Startled, Shu-Tu looked into Thoth’s sapphire eyes, and drew in a deep, sharp breath.

“Khem,” she whispered.

Thoth placed a finger on her lips, and winked. “That’s our little secret.”

“But, why did you bring the firestone to the Hall of Illumination?”

Thoth sighed. “To test you, Shu-Tu. You passed. Unfortunately, Amiee and Segferd did not, and will now have to live with the consequences of their actions. I believe Segferd already has paid his price, as you predicted.”

“The price that I paid and have to live with, it’s why my eyes are like this, isn’t it?”

“You are a seer now, Shu-Tu,” Thoth replied, taking the cup from her to fill again. “I will make sure you get the best training possible.”

Her eyes moved again, then stopped. She reached out to grab Thoth’s sleeve. “I see now it was wrong of me to wish my father alive again. I was in a sad, dark place. Forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive if you’ve acted out of pure love,” Thoth said, kneeling. “Remember, Shu-Tu, all things have life, and that nothing is truly dead. There is always motion, and everyone and everything moves at a different speed.”

Shu-Tu grinned. “Like my eyes?”

“Precisely.” Thoth laughed, then gently patted her arm. “Now get some rest. I’ve made arrangements for you to leave for the Temple of the Sun by the new moon.”

Shu-Tu reached for his large hand and squeezed it. “Thoth?”

“Yes, Shu-Tu?”

“I have something to ask before I leave my old life.”

He raised a grizzled brow. “Then, ask.”

Shu-Tu’s eyes juggled around, moving this way and that way, then crossed. “What is a Timekeeper?”

Thoth smiled and tweaked her nose. “A matter not yet revealed, Shu-Tu.”