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Sample Chapters from The Triplets

Chapter 1 - Tyler

Tyler Martin holds a book open between the fingers of his right hand as his feet crunch across the gravel. Tall picket fences loom on either side, shielding the houses and their occupants from view of the alley. The pages of the book are rough and worn under the pads of his fingers. He’s walking home today so he can read. There would have been too much noise on the bus, and right now he needs to lose himself in someone else’s life. 

The reason is tucked just inside the cover of the book. A note—a slip of lined paper, the inky silhouettes of words bleeding through it’s envelope. He found it on the top shelf of his locker this afternoon, just beneath the ribbed slats that let in the air. He recognized the handwriting before he could open the letter, so he hadn’t dared to read it. 

Even now, the sickly sweet mix of anxiety and anticipation tugs at him, dragging his mind out of the book and back to the here and now. He tries to swallow it down—pushing it behind Hamlet’s cold detachment and the pleading of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But the book can only do so much. His eyes glide over the words without taking them in, his thoughts drifting back to the note.

Mr. Lee gave Tyler this book. In fact, Mr. Lee gave Tyler an entire collection of Shakespeare plays. But Hamlet has always been Tyler’s favorite, the one book he tucks under his pillow every night because he can’t sleep unless it’s there. The others are gone—stolen, lost, and burned—but Hamlet remains. 

The note is the first he’s heard from Mr. Lee in seven years. Before he left, he was the only real friend Tyler had ever had. The note—now tucked carefully into the inside cover of Hamlet—isn’t welcome, not anymore. 

Tyler’s fingertips scrape across the cover as the book is pulled from his grasp. 

“Well, well, well,” Rick Andrews snaps the book shut and claps the cover against the palm of his hand, “What have we here?” The syllables drip like poison from his mouth, past the smirk decorating his stupid face. 

Tyler’s feet are stuck to the ground. He doesn’t dare look away from the book. Andrews could take it, throw it, stomp on it—Tyler can’t let that happen. “Give it back, Andrews,” he snarls. 

“Oh-ho!” Andrews crows, glancing over at his pack of friends just behind him, “Tough guy, huh? That’s funny,” he looks up at the sky, scratches the side of his head, “Wasn’t it just last week I found something of yours?” He looks at the book and then back up at Tyler, frowning, “Was it this book, Zack?”

“Yeah, you know, I think it was.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I tried to return it, didn’t I? And what does he—” Andrews sticks his grubby, disgusting finger into Tyler’s face “—do when I try to give it back?”

“He tried to punch you, didn’t he?”

Andrews smirks again, waving his hand with the book around like the stupid lunatic he is. The others laugh. 

“Though,” Andrews says with a frown, once his cronies stop laughing, “It’s not like it would have hurt much, since you’re a talking twig.” Try for something original, Andrews. You used that one last week. His friends laugh again, like a gaggle of incompetent hyenas eager to please the lion so he’ll leave them a scrap or two. Tyler doesn’t care. Andrews will throw the book over the fence and into one of the yards if Tyler isn’t careful. The book—and the note.

A new kind of panic seizes Tyler’s buzzing veins. He’s going to lose the letter. Or, even worse, Andrews might read it. 

Andrews and his friends are talking, laughing again. The bully’s face is turned to the side. Tyler lunges forward, reaching for it. Andrews jerks it out of the way and a fist collides with Tyler’s jaw. 

He staggers backwards, cupping the side of his face. Laughter echoes around him, pounding through his skull. The book. Where’s the book? 

There—dangling in the loose grip of Andrews’ right hand. Tyler lunges. Andrews grabs his wrist, and purely on instinct, Tyler swings his other hand at Andrews’ face. Andrews lifts his arm up to block the blow, and Tyler’s open palm collides with a smack just below Andrews’ elbow. 

A scream rips through the air as Andrews stumbles backwards, the book tumbling from his fingers to hit the ground with a quiet thud. Tyler lurches toward it, but doesn’t pick it up. Why did Andrews cry out like that? Tyler couldn’t have hit him that hard, could he?

He looks up. Andrews is standing a few yards away, flanked by his posse, cradling his arm against his chest. 

“What did you do, you freak!” he yells. Andrews’ gaze is fixed on Tyler’s hands. Tyler looks down, and jumps backwards, stretching his arms out as far away from the rest of him as possible. Thick, ruby-red tendrils snake out from the centers of his palms to the tips of his fingers. Smoke drifts up from the red lines and dissipates into the cold October air. As Tyler watches, his palms burst into flame. 

He jerks backwards, feet scrabbling for purchase against the loose gravel, but loses his footing and falls onto his back. He rolls sideways and scrambles to his feet, losing sight of his hands for a second. When he looks at them again, they’re not red. Breath escapes his lips in gasping puffs, mixing with the smoke still drifting out of his palms. But there’s no more fire. 

Andrews and his posse are gone. Tyler grabs the book and stuffs it inside of his jacket, out of the wind and away from grasping hands. His knees are shaking so hard he can barely stand. He swallows, trying to disperse the panic crawling up his throat. 

He turns around and sprints down the alley. 

Chapter 2 - Alex

Alex Scott sits at his desk in his world history class, tapping the eraser of his pencil against the fake wood. He usually pays attention in this class. History is stories, and buried in the dates and names and other trivia are people—just regular people—doing extraordinary things. Alex often wonders if he’ll ever do something significant enough that people will remember it hundreds of years in the future. He knows the odds of that are so low they barely count at all, but he likes to pretend sometimes that he could be capable of changing the world for the better.

But today his thoughts aren’t with the lesson Mrs. Hampton is giving. His stomach has been twisting itself into tighter and tighter knots since this morning, and by now it’s getting kind of hard to breathe.

Today, Alex’s mother is coming home. Or she’s supposed to be. The past three times she’s promised to come back and try to talk things out with Alex’s dad, she hasn’t shown up. Each time she’d canceled, she’d had a different excuse. The first time she’d called his dad, Alex had snuck down the stairs and stood in the hallway to listen. When she explained that Alex’s sister Lilly needed her and she couldn’t leave the older girl by herself right now, it stung Alex more than he’d like to admit. It felt like she was putting her older daughter over her younger son. An older daughter who also refused to talk to Alex. 

Though maybe he deserved that from both of them. 

Alex isn’t sure if he wants to see her again—he might manage to screw things up even more. But the anxiety is killing him and he wants to get it over with.

The bell rings, jolting Alex out of his thoughts so sharply that he jumps, hitting his knee against the bottom of the desk and losing his grip on the pencil. It lands under the desk. He bends down and retrieves it, feeling sick. It takes him several minutes longer than usual to pack his notes up into his backpack. The wane smile he gives Mrs. Hampton as he walks out the door takes about as much effort as rolling a boulder up a steep hill. She looks like she’s going to ask, “Are you okay, Alex?” like she does sometimes when he doesn’t participate in class, so he walks faster and forces another smile. He doesn’t want to talk to her. Not today. Alex hates it when people worry about him. If he’s honest with himself, he doesn’t think he deserves it. 

Once he’s out of the building, Alex looks up at the clear sky and lifts a hand to shield his face from the bright sunlight. It’s supposed to rain today, but it doesn’t look like it will. Clear skies are supposed to be good, sure, but Alex likes the rain. And anyway, good for who? The plants would appreciate the rain. It’s all just a matter of perspective. 

He taps his fingers against the side of his leg as he walks, unable to keep them still. He should stop at the store before he gets home. His dad asked this morning if Alex would pick up a few things before his mom showed up. If she shows up at all. At least it’ll give him a chance to try and settle his nerves. 

The chime on the door rings as he enters the market. The cashier gives him a nod from the counter: Alex nods and tries to smile back, but it comes out more like a grimace. As he heads for the refrigerated aisle to pick out some milk and eggs, a familiar smell drifts through the air from somewhere to his left. It’s coming from a table stacked with pies: cherry, lemon, and apple too. Alex frowns and walks over, picking up one of the apple ones. 

Memories of his mother and older sister, crowding up the kitchen and laughing, flood his mind. He’s nine again, his hands covered in flour and butter, trying to stir the lumpy dough with a large wooden spoon. His mother tosses together apples and cinnamon and Lilly does the dishes in the sink behind them. Alex’s dad walks in the room, eyes shining and happier than Alex has seen him in a long time, a tiny, crying bundle cradled in his arms--

Alex shakes his head, stopping the memory there. He can’t think about that yet, at least not until he sees his mother. If he sees her. But just in case, he adds the pie to his basket. He pays for the food, packs it into his backpack, and heads out the door.

Red and blue lights flash down the sidewalk on the way home, an orange-and-white striped barricade fencing off the walkway. There’s a different way he can go, but—oh, it’s not that hard. He won’t look at it. 

But when he turns the corner before the playground, he can’t help but stare. The equipment is shiny, new, and reminds him that it’s been a few years since he walked home this way. He walks at the edge of the grass and cranes his neck to glimpse the basketball court. It hasn’t changed—the tarmac’s still cracking, the paint on the rackets rubbing off. Alex even imagines a tiny pink bow, stranded in the middle of the faded tarmac, glinting softly in the sunlight. 

And suddenly he can’t look anymore. He can’t go this way again. Never, never again. He hunches his shoulders, pulling his backpack higher by the straps, and sprints down the rest of the street. 

His foot snags on a crack and Alex barely has time to fling his hands out in front of his body to break his fall. His knees smart from scrapes and the palms of his hands sting. A car skids somewhere far away from the playground, cutting into the relative quiet. He curls into a ball, hugging his knees to his chest. Something crinkles in the pocket of his jacket. It’s an envelope. Alex pulls it out, running a shaky finger across the seal at the top. Alex Scott is written in neat cursive across the front. Desperate for something to distract him from his memories of the playground, Alex runs a fingernail through the top of the envelope, ripping it open. He crosses his legs on the sidewalk and lets the paper fall open into his lap. 


Hello Alex,


My name is Mr. Lee. I don’t know if you remember, but we knew each other once, when you were very young. I’m going to assume that your parents have told you that you are adopted. I knew your birth parents. As of now, I do not know their fate.


Alex’s fingers curl around the edges of the paper. Who is this Mr. Lee? His birth parents? Yes, Alex knows he’s adopted, just like his older sister Lilly. She’s his biological sister; his parents adopted them both through an agency when they were very young. Alex knows his birth parents didn’t want him, and he can’t say he’s surprised. He isn’t going to lie and say it doesn’t bother him, but he hasn’t thought about his birth parents since he was little. He never knew them, and he isn’t sure he would ever want to meet them. He has no memory of this Mr. Lee.

 

But I do know the fate of someone who was close to them, someone who blames himself for what he did to you and five other children like you. However much he believes that there is no way to right this wrong, a friend of his insists that he attempt to set things right, even if doing so would cause you more harm than good.

Please understand that I am sorry, excruciatingly so, for what is about to happen to you. I just need you to understand that I wanted no part in this: my hand has been forced.


Sincerely,

Mr. Lee


For what is about to happen to me? That’s pretty ominous. And maybe a little threatening. Alex swallows, glancing back at the park and across the street, making sure no one is watching him. He starts to get up…but he can’t. Nausea roils up from the bottom of his stomach all the way to his throat. He shuts his eyes tightly, trying to block out the too-bright light. His ears are ringing. The sidewalk falls out from beneath him, and he’s dumped into endless space.

Chapter 3 - Darn

Darn Harrison (well, Max Harrison really, but he hasn’t gone by Max since he was eight) has the upper half of his body buried in the closet. Shirts and sweaters dangle down against his back as he leans over a set of drawers, groping helplessly in the crack between it and the wall. His nose is smashed against the top of the dresser. It’s uncomfortable. He can’t stop a whine from escaping his throat as he opens and closes his fingers around nothing.

“Darn!” His cousin, Trish, calls from downstairs, “Are you in costume yet? We're going to be late!”

“I can't reach it!” It was just there, on top of the dresser, and now he can't reach…

“We're going to be late!” He can hear the sour twist of Trish’s mouth in her voice, “We should have left already!”

Darn slumps into a boneless heap on top of the dresser. He blows a strand of hair out of his face and groans as he gets up and backs out of the closet. He'll have to pull the dresser out. He grabs each corner from the back, wrapping his fingers around the polished wood, and wrenches it forward. Sure enough, there's the costume, puddled on the floor against the wall. He slips out of his regular clothes and squirms his way into the black fabric. 

He throws on an extra-long black t-shirt with triangles cut out of the bottom over the morph suit, then fastens a thick black belt around his waist to hold it in place. There’s supposed to be a hat. Where's the hat? Darn swears. 

“We're already late, in case you didn't catch that the first time I said it!” Trish yells, “I'm leaving without you! Now!”

“Shit, shit, shit. I'll be there in one second!” Darn twists around to reach the zipper down his back and tugs it up to the base of his neck. He can see fine with the suit zipped over his head, but Trish is paranoid and won't let him drive that way. Darn runs into the bathroom to glance in the mirror, just to make sure it looks okay. He looks sort of like what he’s supposed to be…maybe. As long as Peter Pan’s shadow is a seventeen-year-old kid with bright orange hair and freckles. It should be more obvious once he has it zipped over his head with the hat on. The hat. Trish makes a frustrated noise so loud Darn can hear it upstairs. He winces. He’ll just have to leave the hat.

He dashes down the hallway and slides down the banister of the stairway, hoping to catch Trish at least before she's in the car. She can't leave without him—it's his car and he's driving—but he doesn't want to tick her off any more than he already has. Mad Trish is no fun. 

She stands in the hallway, dark hair pulled back in a bun under her fancy green Peter Pan hat with the usual pair of enormous glasses perched on her nose. She’s all dressed up—probably has been for several hours—in green tights and a long green t-shirt that matches Darn’s black one. She’s also not yelling at Darn. Or moving much. Her attention is fixed on the newspaper in her hand. 

Darn half-walks, half-trips to where she's standing so he can peer over her shoulder. Her hands are clamped, knuckles white, around the edges of an article that takes up half the front page. 


THREE GIRLS VANISH WITHOUT A TRACE LAST JUNE: FAMILIES RENEWING SEARCH EFFORTS


A picture is printed across the top. The three missing girls stare back out of it. On the left, a short, bronze-skinned girl with dark freckles and corkscrew curls wears a smirk and walks a bright red bicycle. On her right, a pretty black girl with pigtails and a shy smile clutches a book to her chest. On the far left, a third girl grins so wide it nearly splits her pale face, her blond hair messy and tangled. The caption reads: Anna Thomas (left), Sarah Miller (middle), and Kaylor Williams (right), all missing since 21st June, 2015.

Somehow they seem familiar, like Darn knows them from somewhere or has met them before, but he can’t remember where.

“That girl,” Trish points down at the girl with the smile and the messy hair, “Kaylor. She was in one of my classes, in middle school.”

“Huh,” Darn says. Where does he know them from? He grabs one side of the paper to hold it still so he can read it. 


The three friends, who’ve known each other since they were eleven, never made it home from school on one sweltering June day last summer. Anna Thomas’s father, Evan, is convinced his daughter may have left him a trail--


“Darn,” Trish drops her end of the paper and tugs once on his sleeve, “We really need to leave.”

Darn reluctantly folds the newspaper and sets it down on the table, following Trish out the door. Anna Thomas. Sarah Miller. Kaylor Williams. But it’s not the names that seem familiar—it’s the picture. Darn stops in his tracks to grind his teeth. There’s something about that article—those girls—that unsettles him. He turns around and walks back to the table to grab it. He’ll be able to look at it once they get to the party. 

But it’s not the newspaper that catches his eye. Tucked half-under the paper is a plain white envelope, with Max Harrison written on the front. Max, not Darn, so it’s not from a friend. There’s no return address. Darn picks the envelope out, running the pads of his fingers over the ink. He doesn’t recognize the handwriting. 

“Darn!” Trish calls from outside. 



The party isn’t half bad, but the envelope is scratching against the inside of Darn’s pocket. He clutches the glass of punch with a vice-like grip, trying to will the sheen of sweat across his forehead back inside his skin. It doesn’t work. So instead, he wipes his brow off with the sleeve of the morph suit, which only works slightly better. Trish is off talking to some of her friends. Darn nods along as the girl in front of him—Jenny something?—chatters on about some movie she saw the other week. Normally, he’d be chattering along with her, probably flirting, certainly drinking, and not worried about Trish or a newspaper or a strange letter in his pocket. But the whole thing is eating at him so much he can’t focus. So he smiles at Jenny, excuses himself, and escapes to the bathroom. 

He shuts the door and locks it, then pulls the envelope out of his pocket. The writing is visible through the paper of the envelope, but jumbled with folds and not clear enough to make out. Darn slips a finger through the top and tears it open. 


Hello Max,


Or should I call you Darn? I hear that’s what your friends call you. You’ll have to tell me why some day.


It’s frustrating, that people always expect an explanation for his nickname. He didn’t name himself that. He just—doesn’t respond to Max, he never has, and one day someone broke a plate and yelled ‘Darn it!’ and he looked up. Trish started calling him ‘Darn it’ until it shortened into ‘Darn’. His parents and even some of his teachers have started using the nickname because Max just isn’t him and he can’t stand to answer to it. He’s tried to go by Dan before by pretending his middle name is Daniel, but that didn’t feel right either. For whatever reason, Darn is special; it’s his in a way that Max and Dan never could be. 

So he puts up with the taunts and tells the story again and again no matter how much it bothers him to repeat it. 


I don’t know if you remember, but we knew each other once, when you were very young. I’m going to assume that your parents have told you that you are adopted. I know your birth parents. Your father is an associate of mine. As for your mother, I think it would be better to ask your father about her. There are some things I’m not certain either of them would want me to divulge.

But that’s not the point of this letter. I also know someone who was close to your parents, particularly your mother, someone who blames himself for what he did to you and five other children like you. However much he believes that there is no way to right this wrong, a friend of his insists that he attempt to set things right, even if doing so would cause you more harm than good.

Please understand that I am sorry, excruciatingly so, for what is about to happen to you. I just need you to understand that I wanted no part in this: my hand has been forced.


Sincerely,

Mr. Lee


What the hell? Who is this guy? For one thing, Darn’s not adopted. He looks just like his parents. Please understand that I am sorry, excruciatingly so, for what is about to happen to you? That’s creepy. That’s really creepy. 

Darn turns around and grabs the doorknob to unlock it, but trips instead. His head hits the door with a thud. The air is heavy as bricks, crushing his lungs and eyes and ears and stomach, forcing him to curl up into a tight ball. The floor drops out from beneath him, and he plunges into a free fall.

Chapter 9 - Sarah

Sarah Miller crouches in a clump of large ferns, peering out from between the fronds into the forest beyond. A few yards in front of her, a lion’s tail swishes through the grass. Well, not a lion’s tail, exactly. Sure, it looks lionish, as do the paws and hindquarters attached to it. But when the creature lifts its head, it’s clear that it isn’t a lion at all. A long, sharp beak protrudes from beneath keen, intelligent eyes. Feathers ripple down its back as it shakes itself. Sarah gets to her feet, careful to make some soft noises but not sharp ones, enough to alert the griffin to her presence but not enough to scare it. As soon as she moves, its eyes are on her, tufted ears shooting upward to point at the sky. A spike of fear jolts down her spine at the movement, but she grinds her teeth and forces herself to ignore it. Instead, she smiles at the griffin as she extends her hand out, palm up and flat. 

“Hey there, buddy,” she murmurs, “I’m not going to hurt you.

The griffin tilts his head at her and she bites the inside of her cheek. Was that right? Griffin language is full of sharp clicks and low growls, which can be difficult to replicate with a human tongue and vocal box. But Sarah’s one of few people who can speak both dragon and human versions of Gaentuki, and compared to that, Griffin is a piece of cake.

But she still can’t tell if he understood her. Maybe there are dialects, and she doesn’t know the proper one for this region. He stares back at her, clacking his beak, and fear twists in Sarah’s gut. She tries to squash it down. He won’t attack as long as he doesn’t see her as a threat. Griffins are easy to reason with—or so Sarah’s heard. If this one would just talk

She stares straight at him, right into his eyes, and takes a slow step forward. A rumble starts in the griffin’s chest, and he bobs his head up and down. Sarah fights down a nervous laugh. Standing her ground against a griffin. Kaylor would be so proud of her. 

He’s two or so feet from her now. Sarah turns her hand sideways and moves it to the side of the griffin’s face. His eyes snap to Sarah’s hand, but he only flinches away a couple of inches, tiny feathers on his neck twitching. Sarah has to hold in another laugh: half out of amusement, half unease. Don’t be frightened, you’ll only scare him. She tries to quiet her squirming stomach as she moves her hand to stroke the griffin’s neck.

A loud crash shakes through the forest around her. The griffin’s beak snaps as he backpedals, letting out a screech and taking off into the forest. Sarah screams as an enormous pair of yellow claws dip out of the canopy and grab her around the waist.

Nellie!” Sarah yells, grabbing at the talons and trying to pry them off, “I almost had him! Nellie…

You’ve got to stop fooling around, Sarah. We’re not out here to pester angry griffins.

He wasn’t angry. I’m not stupid. I just wanted to see if he could understand me. Put me down, Nellie!

No.

Sarah crosses her arms and glares at the talons clenched around her waist. “Why not?

Because it’s time to go home.

Sarah looks up, trying to study the face of the dragon carrying her. But Nellie’s neck is too long, and Sarah can only see the underside of her chin. “Who’d you offend this time?” she asks. 

Nellie huffs, the breath shaking her entire body as her wings pump against the wind. “That’s none of your business.”

So you did get kicked out again! For someone who’s supposed to be a diplomat, you sure are good at making other dragons angry.

But they’re so uncivilized.” The dragon lets out a thunderous sigh.

Sarah rolls her eyes. “That is the problem right there,” she pokes one of Nellie’s talons, “They’re not really any better or worse than you are, just different. If you would just try to understand their way of life instead of criticizing it whenever you go to visit them, you wouldn’t offend them so much, and you’d be able to convince them to agree to that treaty you’re pushing so hard for.

Nellie turns her head to the side so she can shoot Sarah a brief, scathing look. “You do have a point, but as long as they expect me to consume the remains of intelligent animals as a part of some ridiculous welcoming ritual, I refuse to cooperate.”

Sarah frowns. “Were they eating griffins?

Yes. And humans, too.

She swallows. She’s been trying not to think about that aspect of wild dragon culture. The wild dragons know not to harm Sarah: Nellie had made that clear as soon as they’d arrived in the Dragonlands three days ago. 

What are we going to do about the food shortage, then?”

Nellie’s tail swishes through the air, making her bob up and down. “I don’t know, young one. The Court might want us to push South. But that would mean fighting the Mad King, and that’s not really something we want to do again.” 

Sarah pats the side of Nellie’s leg. “We can’t import it? Or…talk to the Mad King about it?”

Nellie’s chest rumbles in a growl. “We have to hunt, Sarah. It’s an important part of our culture. We need more land.

They fly in silence for a few minutes, until Nellie’s grip around her abdomen starts to bother Sarah.

Um…Nellie? Can you let me go? I’d much rather sit in the saddle than hang down here…

The dragon chuckles, the sound vibrating from the base of her neck to the tip of her tail. “Of course, young one, I’m sorry. I forgot that you don’t like to be carried.

Nellie loosens the grip of her talons to let Sarah wiggle free. ​Like all Gaentuki dragons, Nellie wears a uniform: a padded harness decorated with the colors of her class and equipped with a saddle just behind her shoulder blades. The edges of multicolored streamers and strips of fabric Nellie has wrapped through or sewn to the straps whip and dance through the air as she flies, a particularly unruly strip hitting Sarah in the face as she climbs up the harness. Sarah bats it away with her left hand and scrunches up her nose, the fingers of her right hand gripping the edge of a polished, ornate buckle decorated with a pair of crossed scrolls and a book. Nellie, as a diplomat, belongs to the scholar class of Gaentuki society, one of the more esteemed classes found in the city of Husifi. Sarah, as Nellie's assistant and ward, has a shiny scholar pin too, fastened to her matching leather riding harness. She settles in to the saddle, attaching the leather straps hanging from her harness to the ones on Nellie's.

It doesn’t take more than an hour or two for them to get to the city. Sarah leans over the side of Nellie’s neck as the dragon glides over the mountains, peering down at the outlines of other dragons flying far below them. The enormous staircases up and down the sides of the canyon, the only part of Husifi not covered by overhanging rock shelves or tall trees, bustle with other dragons and people. It’s four hours after noon—the city is coming to life again after the three hour break at midday. On most days, it gets so hot in Husifi that staying out and working past noon is as good as a death sentence. 

Nellie soars into an enormous crevice packed with dwellings, people, dragons, and smoke. They glide over the tops of buildings until they reach a ground-level cave dug into the rock in one of the back corners. Other cave entrances dot the solid wall of rock around them, several with a dragon or two lounging at their fronts. Sarah leaps off Nellie’s back just before the dragon lumbers through the entrance to their home. “I’m hungry, I’m going to go get some food. You want to come?” she asks, staring after Nellie. 

No, thank you. I ate before we left. I need a nap. My wings are killing me.”

Okay. Suit yourself.”

Sarah forces herself to swallow her nerves as she makes her way down the cobblestones, passing through several quiet streets before she hits the market. She still isn’t comfortable walking around the city by herself, even though she’s been here for over a year. But that’s kind of how she’s always been, even when she was back in Colorado. The crowds and the noise make her nervous. 

The smell of cooked meat permeates the air, wafting from the multitude of stone and wooden stalls set up and down the length of the street, making her mouth water. Despite her nerves, she can’t help but smile a little as she takes in the bright colors and people around her. 

Sometimes, she’s convinced that she’s still in a dream, that the life she lived before is going to nudge her back awake at any moment. That her mother will wander into her room and shake her shoulder gently, tell her that she’s late for school and she needs to get up and out of bed. That she’ll roll out from under the covers and back into the bleak little house in Aurora, and Nellie and the griffins and this market will be gone. Sure, she misses her parents and her two older siblings sometimes, but…he’s been so busy this past year, she hasn’t had time to dwell on it. Her life here is so much better, the rules vastly different than the ones her parents had in place for her back home. Here, she’s free to do as she wants: no curfew, no restrictions, no pressure to be anything she doesn’t want to be, no people telling her what to do or policing her every move. And there are dragons: dragons and griffins in the mountains and tree nymphs down at the bottom of the canyon, new wonders and adventures around every corner. She belongs here now, not there, and she doesn’t want to go back. 

A sign swings in the slight breeze not far from her, and Sarah picks up her pace, heading straight for it. The Four-Eyed Griffin. It’s the inn where she stayed when she first got here, and where she first met Nellie. She also knows most of the people who work there, so she’ll have someone to talk to. 

She ducks her head into the inn and smiles at the man behind the counter—Jash. He waves back. It’s full tonight—eight or so dragons have their heads stuck through the row of windows in the back wall, helping themselves to bowls full of meat as they grumble to each other with their mouths full. Three humans sit around one of the dragons, laughing and talking. All six of the other tables are full, and five or six people sit along the bar. A group of strangers—set apart by their light, sun-burnt skin and pale eyes—crowd into a back corner. The people of Husifi are all dark skinned, with straight black hair and dark eyes. Sarah has no problem blending in here, but these people certainly do. Jash beckons her forward. 

The usual?” He asks. Sarah nods. Jash stares for a minute at the strangers, and then turns to her, “Will you watch them for me while I tell Mira what you want?” She frowns at him, but nods. She doesn’t know how much help she’d really be if the pirates decide to try and rob the store or make a spectacle of themselves: Jash would be better off asking one of the dragons. Still, she guesses she can scream if anything happens, and then Jash can come and help. 

While Jash heads into the back to tell the cook—Mira—what to make, Sarah turns around and looks at the door, all the while watching the strangers out the corner of her eye. Their voices have hushed into a whisper, and they’re looking back at her: or rather, at her and then at something else across the room. One or two of them are staring. Sarah shifts her weight from her right leg to her left, crossing her arms protectively in front of her chest. She keeps her gaze fixed on the door. 

She’s relieved when Jash gets back with her food. She takes it and sits at the bar, right by where Jash will be for the rest of the night. He smiles warmly at her, grabbing a rag to wipe down part of the counter.

Thanks, Sarah,” he whispers, “I think they mean trouble.”

She purses her lips. “Well…they wouldn’t try anything with the dragons around, would they?

Jash shakes his head and laughs. “You can’t ever really trust pirates, no matter how scary the dragons can be.”

At that moment, one of the men, a smaller, younger one with a sharp nose and greasy-looking hair, leans against the bar right next to Sarah. 

Another two pints of ale, please,” he says, his speech already slurred. 

While Jash turns to go and get the drinks, the pirate leans over to her. 

There’s a man just came in here,” he says in Sarenian, under his breath, nodding toward the back of the inn. He reeks, and so does his breath. Sarah tries not to wrinkle her nose. “He hasn’t stopped watching you. Can’t reckon why, unless he wants to bother you. Just thought I’d let you know.”

She tenses up, getting ready to bolt. Like this guy and his friends have been doing any different. But still, it’s good to have a head’s up. 

Thank you,” she says back, just as quietly. 

She glances over her shoulder after the pirate rejoins the others, and there is someone back there, in a small nook hidden from the front door. He looks out of place here, even worse than the pirates, with thick furs draped over his shoulders and dirty, pale skin. Invisible spiders crawl up the nape of her neck, forcing her nerves on alert while she tries to finish her dinner. She'll tell Jash about the stranger before she leaves. Maybe he'll be able to spare one of the staff to walk her home. But she'll eat first. She’s still hungry, after all. 

Chapter 10 - Kaylor

Kaylor Williams stares down at the maps spread before her, lit only by the faint glow of candlelight in the darkened room. These are her maps—she drew these. But the red and blue ink snaking over her carefully placed sketches and lines makes them into something new, something she isn’t sure she’s happy about helping to create. 

Prince Casteor, son of King Shirot Tybold of Sarenia, stands across from her on the other side of the table, frowning and looking at his nails. 

“What do you think?” he asks. 

“I—” Kaylor starts, and then stops, letting out the rest of her breath. “I think this is ridiculous, my lord. Why on earth would you be drawing up battle plans against your own cities?”

Casteor glares at her. Kaylor holds his gaze for a second before she relents, “What about the cities, my lord?” She doesn’t drop her eyes, even though she's supposed to. She lets them drill into his blue ones, because she wants him to see her concern and resentment.

“Once upon a time,” the Prince starts, and Kaylor has to grit her teeth to stop her eyes from rolling, “A rebellion rose against my father. The castle was attacked by a group of nobles and their misinformed…lackeys, all sorcerers, who tried to take his crown from him. And now—”

“Now every sorcerer in Sarenia has to register and give a token, under pain of death or imprisonment, so he'll know if they're planning to betray him. I know. Kindly get to the point, my lord.” 

Prince Casteor frowns at her, but keeps going: “My father has…certain intelligence that another rebellion is rising.”

“So you’re going to attack all of your people just so you and your father can stay in power.” She remembers all those people: the boarded up shops and orphaned children, their parents dragged away by the town guards because they could do something King Shirot didn’t like. All of those people—and the Prince might ask her to kill them one day. Kaylor feels sick to her stomach. 

Casteor’s frown deepens. “No. Don’t be stupid, Lady Kaylor. These plans were made because the King thinks that one—or more—of the cities will fall to this…rebellion. And what happens then? It’s good to have these plans, just in case.” It sounds innocent enough, but Kaylor can’t be sure she’s not imagining the sort of hungry half-smile that’s lurking on Casteor’s face. Almost as if he wants it to come to that. She’s suddenly so full of disgust with the Prince—and with herself for everything she’s done for him—she can hardly bear it. She wants to leave, she wants to get out, and she wants nothing more to do with him and his harebrained ideas.

But she can't do that now. All she can do is argue. So she does. “Pardon me my lord, but honestly…the life’s gone out of the cities. I don’t see a way any one of them could be a threat: even if the people there are planning on rebelling, all of the cities--all of them, every single one—are half deserted! You’ve chased off or imprisoned so many of your subjects—many loyal subjects, I might add. You need those people, they’re farmers and craftsmen and merchants—what are you going to do when they’re gone?”

The Prince’s blue eyes glitter with disdain, his mouth set in a thin line. “Less than half of my people are sorcerers. Surely you noticed that on your travels? And sorcerers are allowed to live freely, as long as they do it legally. All they have to do is register with one of the lords in the cities, where they will be given a token.”

“So you can track all their movements and force them into your army if it tickles your fancy.”

“Why, yes. Many sorcerers have powers that can be used to keep Sarenia and its people safe. Why would they not want to fight for their country?”

Kaylor stares down at the maps, caught. It’s not right, she knows it’s not right, but she’s run out of steam and can’t think of a rebuke. “What are you planning, Casteor?” she asks quietly. 

Prince Casteor smirks back at her, for once not upset that she’s called him by his first name. The expression reminds Kaylor uncannily of…oh, never mind. She’s left that part of her life behind. “Do you understand now?” he asks. 

Kaylor swallows. “I don’t.”

“Good. You’re not meant to.”

She glares across the table, torn between picking up one of the candles and throwing it at the Prince’s face or ripping a chunk of her own hair out. “Well, whatever it is you’re planning, I don’t agree with it,” she snaps. The Prince raises an eyebrow at her, and Kaylor finally gives in to the urge to roll her eyes, “My lord.”

“It’s a pity,” he says, leaning across the table to stare right at her, “about that earring you had to give me, isn’t it?” He clucks his tongue, “Such a pity, that you can’t do whatever you want. Don’t forget, Kaylor, that if your actions start to stray,” he brings his fingers up and snaps them in front of her face, and Kaylor flinches despite herself, “it will burst into a thousand glittering pieces, and I will know that I have been betrayed. Now,” he stands back up, his eyes dropping to the maps, “you are dismissed.”



Kaylor straightens her uniform as she steps down the hallway towards her quarters, boots clicking against the hard stone. Emblazoned on the front of her shirt is a red roc on a purple sky, the insignia of the King’s—of Prince Casteor’s--family. It suddenly seems revolting, that she’s parading around in this. Like it doesn’t belong on her anymore. All those stupid things he’d told her, reeling her in with tales of battle and glory when it all still seemed so abstract. They’d go after Husifi, to kill the dragons that had murdered his aunt and young cousins, he’d said. And then Telegarath, a land of ice and snow across the sea, from where his ancestors fled, a place they’d liberate from an emperor who still believes in slavery. And on from there. Kaylor thought she could make a difference in the lives of these people, that she was needed here to help the Prince, and that maybe she’d been pulled out of her world and on to the next for that very reason. 

That was before she found out what the King had done to the sorcerers. Before she’d taken her tour of Sarenia to draw the maps, before she’d met the people, seen the beggars and the empty streets. Before she knew what she was, and what the Prince was. Now, Kaylor just wants to go home. 

She reaches her door and opens it. Her room isn’t much: a small bed is tucked into the far corner, next to a nightstand with a water skin and a small stack of coins sitting on top of it. A table and two chairs, covered in papers, sit next to a tiny window set deep into the stone. A small dresser takes up most of the opposite wall. The floor is bare rock but for the scruffy orange rug next to the bed. Kaylor slumps down into one of the chairs, running her hands through her tangle of frizzy blond hair. 

This room has been her official quarters since the day she arrived in Valliseg and participated in the tournament, which was last summer. She’s been here for more than a year. A year.

When she'd first started living here at Shaltac Castle, she'd been thrilled that the Prince himself wanted to work with her. It was the first time she'd ever been in a real castle, and it was full of knights and nobles and royalty, and the Prince had so many wonderful ideas.

Kaylor picks a pen up and watches the ink drip down the end and back into the ink pot. Most of the papers on her desk are maps, but some of them are reports. She's supposed to write up everything she does when she goes out on missions for the Prince. And she does—mostly. She should work on them now, but…she doesn't want to. She doesn't want to do anything that might help the Prince.

She glances over at the earring sitting on her end table. Its mate is wherever Prince Casteor keeps the tokens faithful sorcerers give him. She had to give it up just after her first fight, when her powers had shown themselves for the very first time. She’d watched as one of Prince Casteor’s men, a Cursemaker, had woven a spell into the tiny orange teardrop earring that would keep it whole unless it’s owner acted against the will of the crown. 

Prince Casteor will know if she betrays him, and Kaylor will have to flee, or suffer King Shirot's punishment for sorcerers who break their oaths or refuse to take them: prison, or death.

Kaylor leans her elbows on the table and buries her face in her hands. Why is she the one being saddled with all this? Not for the first time, she wonders why Prince Casteor even asked her to help him. She’s not a noble, not really a commoner even, though she hasn’t told anyone that. She’s an outsider, she’s not from Sarenia, and she’s sure people have noticed at least that much. How can the Prince possibly think he can trust her? 

She rubs at the corners of her eyes, and that’s when she sees the envelope. It’s sitting on top of the papers piled on her desk, her name written in looping cursive on its front. Kaylor picks it up, flipping it over to look at the back. There’s nothing on the outside except for her name. She sticks a fingernail through the upper edge and rips it open, then pulls the letter out to read it. 


Hello Kaylor,


I know why you're here. Not why you're at the castle, and not in the city—I know where you're really from, and why you're not there anymore. I know where your friends are—yes, Anna and Sarah are here too.


Kaylor’s breath catches in her throat. She hasn’t told anyone about Sarah and Anna—granted, one or two of the guards in Morento might guess about Anna, but Sarah…who sent her this letter?


One of them is going to ask something of you, and I know you're going to want to go to her. But there's something I need to inform you of first.

There's someone waiting for you. He should be at the Chatty Sphinx, or somewhere in the forest surrounding it. You know what's in that forest and why it's so dangerous, but he doesn't. It is imperative that you find him, and that you tell no one else that he's here.


Sincerely,

A friend


 Someone knocks at her door.

Kaylor folds the note up, shoves it under some papers, and gets to her feet to go answer it. Her heart pounds in her throat. If she’s right, the letter is implying that there’s someone else from…America, Colorado, home--along with her and Anna and Sarah, here now, lost in the forest. The knock comes again, and Kaylor realizes that she’s frozen, her hand hovering just over the door handle. She gives herself a mental shake and pulls it open. 

She immediately schools her expression into one of snooty haughtiness. “Sir Redbrak,” she says, “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“My dearest, most gentle Lady Kaylor,” the knight bows so low Kaylor has to step back a couple of times to stay out of his way, “Sir Martic wishes to see you.”

Kaylor snorts and raises an eyebrow, dropping her act, “Does he now?”

“Shocking, I know,” says the knight, straightening up to his full height, which is well above Kaylor’s, and grinning, “It must be a very grave matter indeed.”

“He didn’t tell you?”

“Does he ever?”

“Good point.” Kaylor brushes past him out into the hallway. She isn’t surprised when he follows her. 

“Any idea what he might want?” Redbrak asks, shaking his arm and straightening out the blue band of fabric tied just below his shoulder. Kaylor has one of these too—it means they’re new knights with limited training, that they haven’t seen real combat or done anything of note yet.

“None. He knows I’m working for the Prince at the moment, right? He doesn’t want to assign me anything new, does he?”

Redbrak makes a face. "I should hope not. The festival's in two days, the turning of the seasons. He can't want to start us on some new assignment now."

It’s a long walk down to Sir Martic’s office. The crown has accepted so many new knights in the past year that all the tiny rooms in this wing of the castle are full. 

When Kaylor asked one of the older knights about it, he told her that most of these rooms are meant to be used for storage, or servants, which is why they're much smaller than the senior knights’ quarters. There are more knights living in Shaltac Castle now than ever before, and that doesn't even count the officers and senior knights who live outside, throughout the city. 

Redbrak stops at the end of the hallway. “Don’t let him eat you alive.”

Kaylor smirks back at him, “He won’t. He’s still scared of me, remember?”

That gets a laugh out of Redbrak. "Then at least try not to threaten him again. Your friends—and the goddess Larosri herself of course—require your presence at the festival."

Kaylor rolls her eyes. Redbrak grins and backs away, sending her a mock-salute. Kaylor, sad to see him go, waves as he rounds the corner down another hallway. But she has to get this over with. 

She stops in front of a large oak door, sighs, raises her fist, and knocks.

Nothing. 

She waits for a few minutes before she knocks again. Still nothing. She purses her lips and grips the handle, swinging the door open, stepping inside and closing it behind her. 

A severe looking man with longish gray hair and a scruffy, thinning beard sits behind a desk cluttered with papers. A bright red strip of fabric tied around his upper left arm signifies his rank as a superior officer. He looks up as Kaylor walks in, and she dips her head to him. He doesn’t return the gesture, instead going back to writing on one of the papers on his desk. He does this every time he calls one of the newer knights in, and it drives Kaylor crazy. She clears her throat. When that doesn’t work, she shuffles her feet across the floor, making as much noise as she can fidgeting. He still won’t look up. 

“Sir Martic?” she snaps, “You requested my presence? As soon as possible?”

Sir Martic glances at her again before waving at one of the servants flanking his desk. The servant bows and moves to a door at the back of the office. Kaylor has always assumed that it leads to a closet, or the cellar, or a private room with some nasty hidden thing of Sir Martic’s in it, but what’s really there is a small sitting room. A boy around Kaylor’s age perches on the edge of one of the plush, dark green chairs. Sir Martic’s servant whispers something to him and he nods, getting up to follow the servant. His copper-colored skin and dark hair are a little rougher than she’d expect from someone in the castle, but his clothes are new and clean. He has a sharp Denadian nose, large eyes, and a full mouth. A golden hoop earring dangles from one of his ears, and something around his neck catches the light as he bows to Kaylor. 

A small cross—pure silver—attached to a sterling silver chain, with tiny letters etched across the charm: Anna Thomas. Kaylor would know that necklace anywhere. 

Chapter 11 - Anna

Anna Thomas stands on the prow of a navy blue ship that sways and rocks in the sea water, not far from shore. The ship is small and slender, with three off-white sails and an enormous carved swordfish protruding from her nose, so large that the forecastle cuts into its back. Anna stands just behind it, peering over the railing and out to the water beyond. She's a little too short for the battered, dirty-brown trench coat blowing around her ankles, but then again she's a little too short for almost anything. Including the large black tricorn perched on her head. At least her old skirt fits her, even if it is crusted with dirt and salt by now. She’s worn it, and a few identical copies she’s had her helmsman Choffson make for her, almost every day she’s been here. Her step-siblings—especially Bella, the brat—would tell her the entire ensemble made her look like a child, or a gremlin, or something else stupid and offensive. But frankly, Anna doesn’t give a shit what Bella thinks: she never has. Or maybe that’s not quite true—part of her wants to wear the hat and the trench coat because her step-sister would hate it. 

Lines of dock spider out in front of her, leading from the shipyard all the way to the shoreline, where they meet the towering stone walls of the city. Anna lifts a telescope to her eye.

The Dragon's Breath, a crown trader, drifts in the water between Anna and the city, ripe for the picking. The ship’s bright gold lettering is stenciled over a thick, pearly-pink shade of jewel paint. She inspects it through her telescope for the seventh time this hour, baffled that they haven’t left a lookout on board. It's a big ship, and there are sorcerers about in the harbor—it’s captain shouldn't have left it without one.

“Captain,” a young boy interrupts her thoughts, tugging on her sleeve. His name is Zer, and he’s a nine-year old orphan Colf asked her to look after. Anna turns to him and he motions for her to bend closer so he can whisper in her ear, “Where's Patrick?” he asks, “He's been gone for so long.”

She straightens up to look down at Zer, frowning, “Patrick can take care of himself, I’m sure he’s fine. I sent him…away, to retrieve something for me. He’ll be back soon.” 

Zer tilts his head and raises his eyebrows, planting his feet firmly on the deck. 

Anna closes her eyes and represses a sigh. What exactly does he want to hear? She told him the truth, all that she knows. What more does he want from her?

Much to Anna’s relief, another member of her crew—Hisef—steps forward. “See that ship over there? The pinkish one?” Hisef crouches down to Zer’s height, pointing at the Dragon’s Breath, “It's packed with fruit and meat they're shipping to Morento. We haven't had fresh fruit for weeks, how would you like some tonight?” 

Zer's face lights up, breaking into a grin. He nods eagerly. 

“Captain,” the boy says, turning back to Anna, “Will I get to go too? You wouldn't let me last time. I could be a real help if there's any fighting you need done.”

Anna has to suck in her cheeks to keep herself from laughing, but Hisef only looks down at the boy, his face grave.

“Someone has to stay behind and protect the ship, just in case,” he says. 

Zer gives him a skeptical look, but nods anyway. One of these days, he’s going to realize that’s a ploy. But Hisef’s so good with the boy, Anna’s certain he’ll just come up with another excuse, and Zer will eat it up like pudding.

“Come on,” says Hisef, “The Captain’s a little busy at the moment, we should go tend to the ship.”

Hisef winks at Anna as he leads Zer away. He knows she isn’t very good with kids and that Zer tends to get on her nerves. She nods at him in thanks, then walks down the length of the ship to the helm. Yorren and Choffson, her first mate and helmsman, are waiting for her. 

Anna has six people to man her ship: Wrom, Hisef, and Zer, three young sorcerers chased out of their country by their own King; Choffson and Yorren, remnants of the old crew before Anna took power; and Patrick, a Denadian stowaway who decided to help her with the mutiny. She wishes she hadn't had to send Patrick away, but she wouldn't have trusted anyone else with the task she gave him. Patrick's smart, quick, and slippery, and Anna's confident he'll be able to get out of any situation he gets himself into. He'd be helpful here, now.

It’s late in the evening, maybe an hour or two before the sun sets. At this point the harbor is nearly deserted: no other ships block the way for a fast escape. Anna made the decision to try and board the Dragon's Breath two days ago, when they first arrived at the harbor. They need supplies, and they haven’t yet stolen from any ships in Tallipeg. There’s a place they can flee to and hide once they’ve stolen the goods. It’s all set up, planned out, and should be an easy raid. But something about this leaves a sour taste in Anna's mouth. Maybe because two guards are patrolling the decks of the Dragon’s Breath—even if there’s no lookout, no one is stupid enough to leave a ship unguarded—clearing wielding swords and bows. Maybe because this is a dock, right next to a city full to the brim with knights, guards, sailors, and other citizens. If one of the guards on the ship sounds an alarm, she has no idea how many people will come to their aide. 

She's only been captain for a couple of months, and most of what she’s been doing is illegal trade, salvage, and ferrying fugitives. She's only been in one real skirmish before, and even that hadn't amounted to much. She'd barely fought one opponent before her crew had subdued the others. At least, thanks to Patrick's training, Anna's proficient in a sword fight. She knows she can defend herself if it comes to that. That doesn’t mean she wants it to come to that. 

Choffson grunts at her in greeting as she takes her place next to him.

“What do you think?” she asks, looking first to Choffson and then to Yorren on her other side, “Is the raid still a good idea?”

“We do need the supplies,” says Yorren, “And we can make do with fog, I think.” 

“They haven’t finished unloading,” says Choffson, “and it’s almost night. No doubt the Captain will let his crew take a break and head to the taverns this evening.”

“Right,” says Anna, thinking through the plan again, “It'll be fine. It will work.”



Two hours later, once the sun’s down and it’s dark enough to conceal the faces of her crew, they dock the Annihilator not fifty yards from the Dragon’s Breath and Anna orders her ship’s ramp deployed. It folds down until the end lands on the docks, ready for loading. 

Anna leaves her hat in her quarters and ties her trench coat securely over her distinctive shirt and skirt, hiding them from view. She leads Yorren, Hisef, and Wrom down onto the dock and motions for them to come closer. 

“Does everyone know what they’re doing?” she whispers. She examines each of their faces as they nod, studying their expressions. Yorren’s confident but still a little skeptical, as always. Hisef is grave, but otherwise sure enough to settle Anna’s nerves. Wrom is nervous, but not so much that she’ll mess up: it’s her turn to do the hard part. Anna herself does her best to hide her reluctance behind steely determination.

They set off for the Dragon’s Breath

As they walk, Anna beckons over her shoulder with her fingers, calling upon the power she’s just recently discovered. Icy tendrils of damp air snake down her back, over her shoulders, and around her sides. Soon Anna and her crew are enveloped in a dense cloud of fog.

She stalks down the dock while the other three trail behind, eyes glued to the ground as it drifts out of the fog three feet in front of her. The second left is the Dragon’s Breath. Footsteps clatter across the wood ahead, and Anna lifts her head in time to see another group of sailors walking straight at them. She ducks her head down, averting her eyes as they pass. What are these people doing out here at this time of night? Anna and her crew will have to be more careful—they don’t want to be seen, especially not on the way back to the Annihilator.

After twenty more steps she turns left. She’s been trying to count their steps in her head: she’s taken 142. Not far at all. The bow of the Dragon’s Breath looms before her, the sheen of its pale paint shining through the night and the fog. Anna stops next to it, craning her neck and listening hard. Light footsteps echo across the deck above, but only one set. She allows herself a small smile. Just one guard: the crew must either be off ship tonight or sleeping. 

Anna beckons the rest of her own crew forward. They duck behind the Dragon’s Breath, and Wrom steps forward so that Hisef can boost her up and onto the deck. Anna holds her breath as she waits, pressed against the ship’s side, with Hisef and Yorren. The sound of voices drift down from above: Wrom’s high voice and the gruffer one of the guard. A loud crack stops the conversation. Anna holds her breath. Moments later, Wrom unhooks the ramp and folds it down. 

“There were two of them,” Wrom explains as Anna and the others start up the ramp, “I managed to subdue one, and knock the other out. I Cursed them both—they won’t be able to move ‘til morning. They’re blindfolded, so they can’t recognize any of you later.”

Anna gives her a curt nod, “Good job, Wrom. Now we need to get to the cargo hold.” She stops on the prow to watch the harbor, letting the fog dissipate so she can see the path back to the Annihilator. There’s nothing in their way, but her hands won’t stop shaking. What if a troop of city guards walks by? What if they’ve changed the patrols and assigned some to walk the docks at night? In Anna’s mind, they appear out of the blackness like ghosts and run straight across the harbor at the Dragon’s Breath.

“Captain!” Yorren whispers from behind her, jarring her out of her thoughts, “Wrom has bread and flour, there are fruits and vegetables in here as well. How much do you want us to take?”

Anna frowns, turning back to scan the docks for guards. “Take as much as you can carry in one trip. We’ll come back again if we can.”

She steps over the legs of the guard Wrom has bound and gagged. His head shakes back and forth, trying to dislodge the blindfold. Anna feels a twinge of pity—he might get punished for his negligence, or even lose his job tomorrow morning—but she pushes it away, burying the feeling in a satisfied smirk.

She shrouds them in fog again as they carry the crates of food down the ramp, onto the docks, and back to the Annihilator

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