This is one section of a serialized novel presented by Black Gate magazine. It is offered at no cost and appears with the permission of Mark Rigney, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2015 by Mark Rigney.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or current events is purely coincidental.
This is Chapter Eight. To read Chapter Seven, click HERE.
Naysayer that he was, Selnin doubted the flaming arrows shot from shore would have much effect on the ship’s sails, but in this, he was wrong. True, one arrow went wide and fizzled into the sea, but five others found their mark. Three passed right through the massive sheets of oilcloth and dropped instead onto the deck, but these were still alight and the people around them ran instead of snuffing them out; soon enough, the tar packed between the deck boards had caught. Above, the remaining two arrows were trapped in folds of gray-white sail, and these blazed up like massive paper lanterns. In seconds, what had been a peaceable if restless assemblage had begun leaping in droves over the sides.
Selnin wasn’t surprised, but at rock bottom, he’d always been an optimist by nature, so having his low expectations met (which happened often) left him disappointed. In more normal circumstances, he might have perseverated for hours on the subject of why the great mass of his fellows were such imbeciles and idiots, but on this day, he had no such luxury. All he had was Karai.
“Lady,” he hissed, gripping her by the arm, “we must get to the back of the boat.”
“The proper term,” she said, as she tried to tear free, “is ‘stern.’”
“You think I need, right now, a lecture on ships?”
“My place is here, with Vashear.”
He didn’t mean to roll his eyes, but he couldn’t help it. The man was simply too ridiculous. How in the salt-wave deep had a woman as smart and savvy as Karai fallen for him? And there Vashear stood, still pontificating, waving his long arms and flapping his enormous hands, balancing on the rail and sounding off about visitors from another planet. Didn’t he realize they’d just been shot at? That the vessel on which he stood was on fire?
Selnin got a fresh grip on Karai’s arm and jerked her toward him. “My duty is clear. This ship is in trouble, and we’re getting off. There’s a ladder and a dinghy at the stern. Now let’s go.”
With her free hand, she slapped him, then pulled free as his grip momentarily slackened. “I stay with the prophet.”
More angered than hurt, he felt his cheek and wondered fleetingly what a real battle wound felt like. It would, presumably, be much worse, but understanding this didn’t make his face sting any less.
“Fine,” he said. “If you won’t go without him, then let’s let him go first.”
Before she could even think to interpose, he slipped around her and delivered a tremendous blow to Vashear’s lower back. Vashear lost his hold on the rigging and dropped like so much baggage into the water below.
“Selnin!” Karai shouted. “What is wrong with you?”
“That man is going to get us all killed! And so will staying here, since there’s not a man-jack of these peasants even trying to quench this fire!”
Great sections of flaming sail were tumbling down to the decks, and the pitchy smoke was thick and black and choking. Now the ships to left and right were also ablaze, and Selnin was certain that on shore, Trudek was even now giving the order to fire off a fresh round. So much, he thought, for the holiday of the voyage, the picnic-at-sea atmosphere of their pilgrimage from Squall. So much for delivering their supposedly wonderful news to Vagen.
Karai hesitated. She glanced over the side to check on Vashear, but he was fine, paddling with inefficient, equine strokes through the crowded waters. Selnin, also checking his progress, could see that he might have done better had he not been wearing such encumbering robes, and he thought for the first time of the decorative, piecemeal metal that made up his uniform, and how each part would act, if he went overboard, as a lead weight. The harbor wasn’t deep, no, but it was deep enough.
“Lady,” he said, imploring, and trying again to catch her. “Come with me, while there’s still time.”
But she’d made the same connections as he, and as she dodged away from his grip, she began hauling her novitiate’s robes up and over her head.
“Now you stop that,” he said, aware that he sounded like an outmatched parent. “Think, think straight. We’ve no more business here.”
“Maybe you don’t,” she replied, “but I do.”
She flung her robes away––they landed in the nearest bloom of fire––and clambered atop the ship’s front rail. Her pale shift billowed like a restless banner in the smoky, fire-born breeze.
She gathered herself, and sprang from the ship. “You say you’re Devoted!” she cried, plummeting. “Prove it!”
He pressed himself to the rail, leaning as far as he dared, and down in the water, there was Karai, bubbling and spluttering to the surface, one of many scores of plashing, dogged swimmers pressing toward shore. He noted, with an inward groan, that not one of them was armored. Most wouldn’t even have had to strip off robes. Once they all reached shore, it would be just him and Karai who’d be halfway to naked.
Hardly anyone remained on board, just one or two crewmembers doing their best to combat the flames, though it was far too late. The initial spurts of fire might have been scattered and unimpressive, but the collapsing sails had sparked a whirling conflagration––the cost, he supposed, of having had a fair-weather voyage. Dry planks and pitch in all directions.
As he unstrapped his shoulder plates, tugging here, tugging there, he considered what to do with his sword. He was hardly expert with it, but it had proven useful in Squall, and he liked to think he knew what to do with the pointy end at least. If it were a matter of keeping only his own skin safe, he suspected he could dispense with it entirely (he could always get another from the armory at the church), but with headstrong Karai to look after, and a mob scene to wade through? No, he couldn’t leave it behind.
With the heaviest sections of his uniform abandoned on the deck, he cast around, in search of something of use, something to help him get his sword to shore––and sure enough, just on the far side of a rising wall of fire, there lay three milled planks, replacement decking all set to be installed. If only he could get to them.
He jumped, dodged, and shielded his eyes from the appalling, windy heat. With a skip and a scamper, he made it past the flames and seized the nearest of the boards, a seven-foot length several inches thick. Using the knife at his belt, he cut a leather thong from the lacings of first one boot, then the other, and used the two to lash his sword to the plank. Then, with the fire closing fast and more sections of burning sail dropping from above, he dashed to the prow and threw himself overboard, the unwieldy plank clutched in his arms.
Get back here, he thought, referring to Karai. Don’t you know to never leave your Devoted behind?
On the piers, Trudek raised a hand to stay his archers. He felt a strong urge to let his bow drop, to turn away from the chaos he’d unleashed and then simply walk, at a leisurely pace, home. Once there, he’d take the longest nap in the history of creation. It pained him to know that this was not an option, that he would have to stay right where he was until whatever was happening had finally run its course.
The problem was that these people––these gap-toothed, dirty, motley Aylis islanders––weren’t responding right. Not by any stretch. His and Mother Coal’s plan had been simple and straightforward: to light four or five of their lead ships on fire in order to scare the motley invaders into retreating and taking refuge on those boats untouched by the flames. Once they’d done that, once they understood that they weren’t welcome, they’d simply sail away. Instead, they’d thrown themselves into the sea and were now churning the normally placid harbor into a furious froth of flailing arms and kicking legs. At any moment, the first few would reach the longest of the piers, and then they’d swarm up the ladders, and he could see already that once ashore, their terror would harden to righteous anger. Perhaps they had come in peace, as their annoying prophet claimed, but he doubted they’d be peaceable now. And it was largely his fault.
His, and Mother Coal’s. After a quick, calming stroke of his ebony mustache (a habitual tic that he quite enjoyed), he said, “Mother. It’s my observation that we’ve miscalculated.”
Her mouth pursed to a lemony pip; her nod was all but imperceptible. “They were supposed to stay on their boats,” she said, as if she took personal umbrage at their having done otherwise. “They were supposed to fight the damn fires!”
“You should get yourself back to the complex.”
This time, her nod was definite. “My litter!” she called, and she wheeled her walker around. “Captain, I entrust you to mount whatever defense you think best.”
But his confident, jaunty tone gave him no reassurance. He had thirty men with him, perhaps thirty-two. The city watch had a few more, and he’d spotted a number of senatorial guards scattered among the throng, but all of these added together would be no match for the swarm that was coming, a rag-tag hoard that even now was heaving their wet, bedraggled, furious selves onto the docks.
Unless. Unless they were as unused to real combat as he. In which case, it was possible that he and his men could drive them back into the water if they mounted a quick and coordinated bull-rush, something designed to deal out maximal punishment to the unlucky pioneers who’d made it ashore first.
Unfortunately, before he could order a charge, the youngest of his archers went to pieces, and let fly a single lucky shot that caught a soaking Aylis woman right through the throat. She’d only just gotten to her feet after clambering up a ladder, and now she clutched at her neck, spat blood, and tottered over sideways. Many of the Aylis arrivals didn’t notice, but those close by did, and in a flash it was they who were charging, hollering for vengeance and baying like hounds.
Defense, then, thought Trudek. He’d read in histories how the armies of old had dropped to one knee behind huge metal shields, and how a row of such shields, tightly presented and augmented with spears, could break even a cavalry charge, but he had no such shields––had never laid eyes on any shield larger than a serving platter––and as for spears, well. The sword at his belt was one of the best in the armory, a fine piece of work and in every sense an antique. Those claimed by the men around him were, without exception, ill-made and poorly cared for. Fighting with them, as he well knew from training, was the equivalent of trying to pound bent nails with a riven hammer.
“Right,” he said, “bows down, swords out, form a box. Just the way we drilled it, please.”
Those with bows dropped them. Everyone drew their weapons, and did so in such confusion that one sliced through his neighbor’s uniform, and another, after jostling against the fellow to his left, stabbed himself in the thigh. Ignoring the injured man’s pained gasps, Trudek tried to get his men to form up, but there was such a crowd, and his men were so unused to doing anything beyond accompanying one of the Most Devout on shopping expeditions that it was simply impossible to achieve any formation at all. He considered yelling at them, acting the part of the irate officer, but he was sure it would do more harm than good.
Besides, it was too late for further action. The furious, terrorized swimmers had sprinted the length of the pier, and they broke over Trudek’s Devoted in a clawing, flailing wave. Trudek dodged under the wild sword-swing of a subordinate to his right, and managed to catch his first attacker under the jaw with an elbow. Next thing he knew, an ally behind had stepped on his ankle, which drove him forward, and his sword, more or less of its own volition, gutted the man he’d elbowed. Too tight, he thought, as blood squirted across his pearl-blue chest plate; these quarters are too tight for fighting. Too tight for strategy. Too tight to do anything constructive at all.
“Fall back!” he ordered. “And spread yourselves out!”
He doubted anyone heard. More and more of the Aylis pilgrims were pouring forward, and most looked to be in a fighting mood. As for his Devoted, who were this very moment absorbing a second wave of attackers, they were truly awful at combat. One man, lunging, fumbled his blade when he stepped on a loose plank; another, winding up for a haymaker sword-swing as if brawling in a tavern, accidentally cut the throat of a shopkeeper standing behind.
Madness, thought Trudek. I’ve been put in charge of untrained children, and we’re all going to die.
“Back!” he yelled again. “Full retreat and fall back!”
This time, others took up the cry, and for a moment, he was hopeful. Surely if these semi-serious invaders stopped meeting active resistance, the battle would fold in on itself like a fire being muffled by blankets. Surely it would.
With his sword menacing all those who might even think of closing with him, he began backing away, bellowing as he did so that all Devoted were to retreat, retreat, and surrender the field. The mob of newcomers followed every step of the way, yelling threats and hurling abuse, but they kept their distance. His sword was a power they had no wish to test.
Good, he thought. An orderly withdrawal after all. Perhaps there was still time to nudge this blossoming riot into a peaceful, settled outcome.
Then he stepped on a left-behind coil of rope, lost his footing, and tumbled sidelong into a pile of buoys and fish-netting. With a cry of triumph, the Aylis mob swarmed in for the kill.
From the lofty heights of the chalky, buff-colored Sindarin Wall, the section overlooking the common market, Maer and Doss looked southwest, toward the nearest of Vagen’s several harbors, and strained all their senses to make out what was going on.
“That’s a lot of boats,” said Doss, shading his eyes. “Must be a celebration, hey?”
Maer had shifted her attention to the market. “Where is everyone?” she said. “The market’s always packed.”
But it wasn’t, not now, and more than a few merchants seemed to be shuttering their stalls, closing up trunks and chests and heaving tarps over the goods in their wagons. Their patrons, too, were streaming away, some hurrying into the city proper, some aiming back through the gates and into the Sindarin Compound.
All at once, a deep, resonant horn sounded from somewhere off to their right. Startled, Maer and Doss looked at each other, each checking to confirm they’d heard the same thing.
“Was that from up on the wall?” Doss asked.
Shaking her head, Maer said, “Lower, I think. But didn’t Lelanarshik say something about a horn, a warning signal…?”
Doss snapped his fingers. “The one they blow for real trouble. The Horn of the This of the whatever.”
For a second time, someone winded the unseen horn, and again the air seemed to shiver in response. Maer and Doss stood near but not directly above the main gates, at the top of the staircase by which they’d ascended. When they’d come up, they’d expected nothing more than a good view and a chance to stretch their legs. They’d spent the morning receiving yet another history lesson––history from a Sindarin perspective––a daily activity that Lelanarshik had made clear was just a hair shy of mandatory and one that never failed to leave both Maer and Doss craving fresh air. Felson and Cullen had taken the Star Of the North out for a quick fishing trip, and the boat was now one of many dots on the northern horizon; they had said not to expect them back before dusk. As for the two Sindarin escorts that tailed them everywhere they went, they were at the bottom of the stairs, and Maer could see that they had their heads together and were whispering in fierce, clandestine bursts. As she watched, one of them glanced up with undisguised malevolence. Not for the first time, she wondered just how much respect Lelanarshik actually commanded, and how much loyalty his ready coin could buy.
“Look,” said Doss, pointing along the Compound’s main street.
She followed his pointing finger and spied out a phalanx of armed Sindarin men pouring from a curtained doorway, stocky spears in their hands and polished breastplates catching the sun as they jogged forward two abreast, making for the gates. Copper-colored, antique-looking helmets topped their heads. So much, she thought, for Lelanarshik’s assurances that for all the Sindarin’s innate capabilities as warriors, they’d been rendered toothless by centuries of occupation. How many times had he maintained, always with a great show of pomp and bluster, that there was hardly an ounce of sharpened steel left anywhere in the Compound? And yet here was a war party, “sallying forth.” It was a term she thought she’d never have use for outside the books she’d once read, lying on her stomach in the grass or on her mattress, back at the Spur. But here it was, a great sallying forth that was happening all of forty vertical feet beneath her.
There was a sudden commotion as the fighters met the city guards at the gates. Whatever was happening was impossible to see––it was taking place directly beneath them––but Maer and Doss craned anyway, their curiosity driven by the ring of steel biting steel, and the screams and cries of injured men.
In seconds, it was over, and now the line of advancing fighters stretched out on both sides of the gate, so that for Maer, it was as if she stood astride a sort of armored worm, its head probing through the market and its tail still unseen, still lodged somewhere deep in whatever building it was that that they were emerging from. Caves, most likely; caves or tunnels not unlike those that Lelanarshik had wanted to hide her in. If he had caves, why shouldn’t others have them, too? Was it possible that the Sindarin were hiding an entire army down beneath their streets?
“Hey, you!” called one of the two escorts, as he started toward them up the steps. “Time to come down from there, and double quick.”
“Oh, is it?” said Doss, as insouciant as ever. “Going to be trouble, hey?”
“Best you believe it,” said the other escort. “Lelanarshik won’t want you two getting lost in the shuffle.”
Maer looked to Doss, and he met her gaze with a raised, adventurous eyebrow. “Do you remember,” he said, in a voice pitched only for her, “back when you were Maer and I was Doss?”
She took his meaning, or thought she did. Lelanarshik’s insistence that they rely on alibis once away from his residence still struck them both as comic, but they’d come to enjoy batting their new names around whenever possible. She was Ayvin, and he was Turahl.
Without waiting for a response, he said, “And do you also remember, back on Farehl? I said that thanks to you, I had nowhere to go. Nowhere but with you, anyhow. And now here we stand, with two nasty-looking Sindarin at our backs, and this great long wall to run along. Now if I happened to be a betting man, I’d say that if we started now, I’d reckon the two of us could outrun them, oh, pretty much all day.”
He cocked his head, his grin withheld and awaiting her answer. Below her, at the first of several landings on the twisted, kinked staircase, the two escorts were hurrying toward them.
“I know this much,” she said. “I don’t owe Lelanarshik anything.”
“Well, then,” said Doss. “Shall we?”
The wall was wide at its top, with a crenellated parapet running on the Vagen side. Its gates were patrolled and carefully guarded, but its top? Never. As Lelanarshik had explained (at some length), there were many easier ways in and out, if one had the need, and one of the concessions the Sindarin had long since made was that the wall must never become a means of armed defense: for the Sindarin to patrol it, despite the fact that on paper, it was their wall, was expressly forbidden by the senate.
Maer looked again at the beckoning ribbon of wall as it rose with the island’s natural slope toward the distant central mesa. To Doss she said, “Where would we go?”
Doss shrugged, as she knew he would. “Maybe all the way ‘round. Can’t be more than a mile or two.”
“So this is just…?”
“To annoy those two bastards down there, and Lelanarshik besides. Maybe remind him he’s not dealing with two tame rabbits.”
“You mean two rabbits named Ayvin and Turahl?”
“The very two I was thinking of.”
She grinned, reminded once again that she stood next to someone she liked, had always liked, a man she’d once dared to think might be the one to provide her with a first kiss. As to the confusion of roles he’d played since the burning of the Beacon Tower, it was a list too long to dwell on: boss, captain, avuncular helpmeet, father-figure, pal. But never, not right until this moment, had he taken the lead as roguish co-conspirator, the kind that might make a heart flutter or feet shake loose as if ready for a dance.
Her own heart was thudding in her chest, and it took no courage at all to admit that irrespective of the difference in their age, Doss did have a mouth that was wonderfully sly.
“Right,” she said, gulping and grinning at the same time––at the audacity of what they were about to do. “Let’s go.”
They broke as one into a sprint, aiming uphill and away from the ocean. Below and behind, the two escorts began shouting demands that they stop, come back, but neither Maer nor Doss paid the least attention. The way ahead was clear and the paving stones at their feet were level, or at least level enough to be friendly. By the time that Lelanarshik’s escorts arrived at the top of the stair, it was clear that the lead was too great, and one of the escorts headed back down so as to pass the word that the two birds had flown, while the other, with a gloomy sigh, set about jogging after the two escapees. He took comfort in the knowledge that unless they hurled themselves off the wall, the only ways down led back and into the Sindarin Compound. His quarry, on an essentially circular wall, could only get just so far.
Having already searched the Church Complex, or at least those nooks and apartments where Mother Coal was most likely to be, Arjay raced next toward the Senate, making specifically for the Oratory Hall. It wasn’t Mother Coal’s favorite haunt, no, but she was expected to attend with regularity, if only for the sake of appearances, and it seemed a reasonable next place to search. Of course, Mother Coal could be anywhere in the city, but Arjay was so consumed with the news of Belner’s death that her emotions hadn’t yet allowed the luxury of logic, the respite that might come if she acknowledged the plain, simple fact that finding Mother Coal on short notice might actually be beyond her.
One thing for certain, there was no need to give up yet. The Oratory Hall, or perhaps one of its surrounding offices or pavilions, was a very likely place to find her target, and it was vital that the old priest learn as soon as possible what had happened. How she, Arjay, had let down this toughest of the Most Devout. Desperate as she was to find Mother Coal, Arjay was in no way looking forward to the moment when she did, except insofar as it might allow her to stop rushing around and take a moment to catch her breath. She’d seen others on the receiving end of Mother Coal’s volcanic fury, and the mere thought was enough to wobble her legs. Worst of all would be the admission that Belner hadn’t simply passed away in his sleep, no; he’d died at her hands, with the help of a cutting board and a cheese knife. He’d died because she’d killed him.
A good many other people were rushing around, too––more than usual, it seemed, more by far––but they all appeared to know where they were going, or at least why, and none seemed inclined to stop and explain, so on she went until she burst through one of the many wide doors leading to the Oratory Hall. Inside the vast space there was hardly anyone present, and most of those who remained were in the act of scurrying out. What in the name of Fengreth’s fattest aunt was going on?
Three debaters remained on the stage, two of them women, both middle-aged senatorial clerks, and the third a man, his hair (what was left of it) unruly and frost-white. Lehnier, his name was, a regular Academy participant, and its leading Skeptic of Philosophy. She doubted very much that he knew her, but he raised a hand in greeting, looking tired but also amused.
“Welcome,” he said. “Have you been in a fire? You appear to have burnt your hair.”
One of Arjay’s hands shot up to test with her fingers the truth of what the old man said. He was right, of course, and it was a measure of just how far she’d run that she’d forgotten that in her fight with Belner, she’d been set afire.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “An accident.”
“Well, we were just getting to the heart of the whole problem of leadership by theological tribunal, but”––and here he gestured around at the encompassing, nearly empty theater––“we seem to have lost our audience.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, only because she could think of nothing better. “I’m looking for Mother Coal.”
Lehnier’s beatific smile tilted toward regret. He said, “I’m sorry to report that I haven’t seen her,” and the two clerks provided equally blank shrugs. “You might look toward the southwest harbor. I hear there’s trouble of some sort, though no one’s bothered to specify what.”
Trouble in a harbor? All Arjay could think of was pirates, but no single pirate ship would have emptied the Oratory Hall. Nothing stopped the Grand Debate, nothing. Ever.
“Yes,” said Lehnier, easily guessing her thoughts. “Time was, we could have debated right through a hurricane, and not a soul would have left. Now? I don’t know. Softer heads, these days. A more fickle generation.” He paused, and his expression took on an innocent, hopeful aspect. “Perhaps you could stay,” he said. “We’ll stay, of course. Bad form to leave with the topic only half wrung out, but it’s always more fun, you know––more vital––when one has spectators.”
But Arjay already felt she’d stopped too long, and the wishes of a well-meaning octogenarian did not tilt the scales away from Mother Coal. Did he really expect her to drop what she was doing in order to hear him extol the merits of a state run by theological tribunal?
Again, he guessed her thoughts, and even as she turned to flee, to pursue again any rumor or hint of Mother Coal, he said, “Young lady, remember this. It’s not about me, or performance, or puffery. It’s the Debate itself. It must be ongoing. It must not cease. For a State like ours, these questions––they’re like the air itself, essential. If we forget to test ourselves, even for a moment, if we give up investigating our best, more precious assumptions…we’ll be lost.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, beginning to walk in reverse, back the way she’d come. “I have to go.”
He nodded, resigned. “If you see the good Mother,” he said, “tell her to stop in tomorrow. I’ll be taking the opposite side, and I think she’ll enjoy my rebuttal. Plus we begin the groundwork for replacing Davleen. I think that’s set for tomorrow afternoon…”
But by that point, Arjay had taken to her heels, and gone.
“Get back!” yelled Selnin. “Leave him alone!”
Whether it was his voice or his sword that broke the pack of damp, raggedy pilgrims, he neither knew nor cared, but they scattered, the last of them driving a boot into their sprawled victim’s ribs before he fled. The man who suffered the kick grunted, folded himself knees to chin, and expelled a loud, pained breath.
“Captain,” said Selnin, kneeling. “Are you all right?”
Trudek swallowed, groaned, and opened his eyes enough to be certain that he was alive, and that what his ears were telling him (that it was Selnin who’d rescued him) was true.
After checking behind him to make sure that he was, at least for the moment, unthreatened, Selnin clasped Trudek by the wrist and gave him a tug. “Captain, can you walk?”
“Thought that was it,” said Trudek, clamping onto Selnin like a barnacle. Blood dripped from his wide nose, also from his split lower lip. “Shouldn’t have risked yourself,” he went on. “Should have let me be.”
“Where’s your sword?”
Shaking his head, Trudek gained his feet and glanced around, looking sheepish. “Must have dropped it,” he said. “I was trying to sound a retreat…”
“Don’t worry,” Selnin said. “Most of them have moved inland.”
“Don’t tell me not to worry.”
“Why are you even here? Aren’t you supposed to be guarding Karai?”
Selnin winced. He was, of course, supposed to be doing exactly that, but he’d lost both her and Vashear in the crush of bodies clambering ashore; the smoke from the burning ships in the harbor was drifting through like a choking gray-black fog, and visibility was lousy. More fires, retributive fires, had been set on shore, and the southwest harbor––a place of controlled chaos at the best of times––was now impossible to make sense of, a maze and a warren adorned with a large helping of burning dead-ends. He really wasn’t surprised that Karai had gotten away. She was cunning, he’d learned that many times over, or at least should have.
In normal circumstances, if he’d hesitated in answering Trudek’s question, Selnin knew his captain would have lit into him, but at the moment, it was all his superior officer could do to maintain his balance and try, out of ingrained habit, to push his blood-smeared mustache back into some semblance of its proper curlicue shape. Mustache or no, Selnin knew he couldn’t delay, not even for his captain. In this hour, in the worst of circumstances, he’d lost his Most Devout, and if she were hurt or (God forbid) killed, his life as he’d known it would be over and possibly even forfeit.
“Captain,” he said, “listen. These islanders, there must be five hundred of them here, maybe more, but most are not armed. You need to get to the armory. You need to secure the armory. Can you do that?”
Still grooming his mustache, Trudek raised his unsteady gaze to meet Selnin’s. “I shouldn’t have agreed to fire on the ships,” he said, in a voice that suggested he was talking primarily to himself. “This should have been peaceable. There wasn’t any need…”
“Captain!” Selnin shook him by the shoulders. “The armory. Can you get there and mount a defense?”
Trudek’s face seemed to clear. “Do these Aylis folk even know we have an armory?”
“Some of them, I’m sure––and it would only take one to lead the way.” He didn’t like to think that in so speaking, he was referring to Karai.
“A point,” Trudek agreed, as if he’d just lost a round of the Grand Debate. “That’s a very fair point.”
This was too much for Selnin. If Trudek’s wits had been beaten out of him, at least for the moment, then he was wasting his time talking to him, wasting time he could be using to chase down Karai. Electing to give it one more try, he slapped his captain hard on the ear, and then stood back to assess the effect.
“Ouch,” said Trudek, swaying. “What was that for?”
“We’re being invaded,” Selnin said. “You’re a senior officer. Get to the armory and hold it.”
“Ah,” said Trudek. “Yes. The armory. Good thinking.”
Selnin threw up his hands. “Just get there!” he cried. “By all the deeps, wake up and go!”
With that, Selnin raced off, his sword still in his hand, picking at random an alley through the clustered, huddled warehouses that fronted the docks, and trying to ignore the smoky, ash-laden air. He wished with all his heart that he could have stayed to make sure Trudek was safe, or at least on his way to the armory, but he could hear shouting up ahead, a real clamor, and that demanded all his attention. Where better to look for Karai than at the center of an uproar?
He rounded a corner, skittering over cobbles made slick by a backed-up drain, and all but ran headlong into a loud stand-off between three members of the city watch, each armed with truncheons, and a motley band of six, seven, at least nine Aylis islanders, every last one looking surly enough to do lethal harm. By sheer good fortune, he’d arrived behind the line of the watch, and he at once cried out, “To me, men of Vagen! And the rest of you, hold your ground.”
Only as the city watchmen hesitated did Selnin remember that he wore not a stitch of his Devoted armor, and that what clothes remained on his body would hardly mark him as a soldier of the church. If anything, they’d think he was nothing more than a crazy man waving a sword.
“I’m Devoted!” he announced. “Second Brigade, serving under Captain Trudek. Please, all of you, stop fighting. There’s no war here, just a mistake.”
“No war?” demanded a man at the far side of what Selnin was now realizing was a dead-end, a courtyard that in better times served as an outdoor eating area for an adjacent tavern. There were scattered benches, rough tables, signs of hastily abandoned meals.
The man raised his left arm, where a broken-off arrow had embedded itself. “If there’s no war on,” the man hissed, “then who in bloody Fengreth’s army shot me, eh?”
“Sister Blue is coming,” said another, and he raised both arms to the sky as if by the mere act of reaching, he could pull that planet closer. “Our cousins are coming!”
A third figure stepped forward, a woman. “I recognize you,” she said. “You sailed with us, from Squall.”
Now it was the men of the watch who hesitated, edging sideways, jockeying to put distance between themselves and the tip of Selnin’s sword.
“It’s true,” said another Aylis man, echoing the woman. “He’s Devoted, right enough. Guards the prophet’s woman, he does.”
The prophet’s woman. God above, Selnin thought. So much for the usual distinctions, the kind that might make a meal of debating whether Karai remained a mere novitiate or was now a Mother proper. No, now she’d graduated to being the kept woman of a false, lunatic, pants-pissing prophet.
“So what do we do?” said the man who’d spoken first. “Help him, or kill him?”
Selnin didn’t wait to hear their answer. Instead, he spun on his heel and raced back the way he’d come. Let them fight it out, if they must, or let them chase him if they wished; he was no slowpoke, and right now, for duty’s sake––for Karai’s sake––he felt he had wings affixed to his heels. She was here, somewhere, someplace not too far ahead, and by Fengreth, Selnin knew he’d search all day and all night ‘til he found her.
Kehlen watched the unarmored Devoted run past him, then stepped out of the shadows and began working his way once again downhill, toward the southwest harbor. It didn’t surprise him that the Devoted he’d just seen had lost his armor, or that the man was on his own. No, what he found most startling was that the man hadn’t yet lost his sword. All the others (including those beaten to death by the Aylis islanders) seemed to be losing theirs, and at a great rate, too. The sword Kehlen himself now carried, though by no means an exemplar of the form, was one he’d plucked from the gutter after a Devoted, fleeing for his life, had dropped it.
Such chaos. Such an awful waste of life and property. Kehlen felt sad. The rule of law had never been precisely to his taste––too narrow, too proscribed––but outright anarchy? Only a fool sought that, or fought for it, and Vagen, on this day, seemed to be awash and overrun with fools.
For over an hour now, he’d been keeping to the edges of things, working his way downhill one doorway, shadow, and hiding place at a time. On any other day, a stroll from Mother Sand’s hideaway to the southwest harbor might have taken fifteen minutes, but from the first, Kehlen had felt in his bones that this time, only a strict adherence to caution would keep him alive. Indeed, most of the capital seemed to share his view. People were off the streets, their doors barred, and in the main, their skittishness made his slinking, sidelong approach to the harbor that much more difficult, since there were no open shops to duck into. Those folk that were out and about were, in the main, looking for trouble, and he assumed that the journey back to Mother Sand would be more difficult still.
Around the next corner, a man lay face-down on the paving stones. The curved, sloping street, only two short blocks from the harbor, was otherwise deserted. Smoke swirled at its far end, and Kehlen’s nose told him that one of the smaller granaries, just around the bend, was on fire. The air around him smelled like a combination of burnt wood and charred, over-cooked bread.
After triple-checking his surroundings and placing a pinch of thumis in his mouth to keep himself calm, Kehlen approached the prone man and prodded him in the hip with his boot. To his surprise, the man shifted and let out a sluggish, unwilling groan. Not dead, then, but likely wanting––waiting––to die.
He shoved the sword into his belt and dropped to a crouch by the man’s head. Gently, using both hands, he maneuvered the stranger around until he could see his face. The man opened his eyes, then shut them again, as if Kehlen and his cauliflower ear were of no possible interest.
Beyond a trickle of blood leaking out from his mouth, the man didn’t have any obvious injuries, but Kehlen had no doubt that if he flipped him over, he’d find a wound too gory to deal with. For a moment, he was tempted to prove his hypothesis, but then he thought better of it. No need to look for trouble, not when the day had been stuffed with it already.
Still crouching, Kehlen said, “Friend, you’ve seen better days.”
With the speed of poured molasses, the man cocked an eyebrow in response.
Kehlen took a fresh look at the man’s clothes. A shepherd’s garb, he decided. “You,” he said, “must be from Aylis.”
The man swallowed, or tried to, and grated out a hoarse reply. “Sister Blue. Our cousins. I want to live to see our cousins.”
Kehlen frowned, half-expecting the man to expire from the effort of having spoken. “You sailed here with cousins?”
Not being understood seemed to give the man new energy. “The prophecy. They’re coming. When Sister Blue next appears. When our kin in the sky come down…”
He coughed, choked, shivered. Kehlen placed a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder. “Friend, enough. Don’t try to talk.”
“My name,” the man said, in a final act of rebellion, “is Trelloy. Tell my wife…tell my daughters…”
“There’s coin in my purse. Take it to them. Tell them I tried.”
Kehlen glanced around and, on seeing no one, rummaged in Trelloy’s pockets, where he soon found a small sealskin purse.
“Right,” he said. “Found it.”
Beyond the labored business of breathing, Trelloy made no response. Kehlen prodded the man’s shoulder: still nothing. After bouncing the palm-sized purse in his hand and appreciating both its clink and its weight, Kehlen stood up. It seemed that threading his way through the many warehouse fires would no longer be necessary, not now that he could be fairly certain that piracy wasn’t the trouble at hand. Nor could he possibly think of the man at his feet as some sort of invading soldier. No, if anything he was a dupe. Somebody’d fed him a bankrupt prophecy, and he’d fallen for it. Unfortunately, it looked as if a lot of people, or a lot of folk from Aylis, at least, had done the same. And now they’d come to Vagen. And somebody had started a fight.
Kehlen looked downhill toward the smoke and sighed. After slipping Trelloy’s purse into his pocket, he turned to trudge back uphill. Only after he’d gone several paces did he stop to consider that perhaps he might have said something reassuring, and he paused, thinking that he ought to go back and offer at least a little final comfort. But, even with the mellowing wash of thumis flooding his system, this was not an appealing idea, and he dismissed it as just another unwelcome sighting of his once-strong sense of duty, a quality that he now thought of as being akin to a breaching whale in that while it did surface now and again, it did so only momentarily, and would always, if given a moment, slide back beneath the enfolding waves. Besides, the man was beyond his help, and so was his absent, pitiable family (whom he had unwisely abandoned). Mother Sand was the real issue. Her apartments were close by, likely easier to get to now that the bulk of the Aylis folk had moved east, but he was no longer tempted to return there. The Middle Isle, the whole of Vagen, felt suddenly old, tired, and useless. No surprise, not really. He’d had a good run, kept his belly full and his shoes shod, but to what end? The dead man on the street had daughters he’d never see again, and that was a crying shame, but perhaps their having met was providential, a sign. Perhaps it was time to set sail for Farehl, and visit his own daughter.
Long past time, really, now that he thought about it.
With fresh spring in his stride, he set off uphill. All he really needed to effect his new plan was to get to the northeast harbor, the one past the Sindarin Compound and the Academy’s campus, where he kept a small but serviceable boat. If everything went well, he could be gone within the hour.
As for Mother Sand? Well, she owed him, not the other way around, and no doubt she’d survive somehow. Those old Mothers usually did.
For at least an hour, Mother Sand had sat with the certainty that Kehlen (that tight-lipped, cynical, thumis-addicted bastard) wasn’t coming back. Likely he’d been caught in the hurly-burly down at the docks, a dust-up she couldn’t see so much as scent: the smoke from the many, many house fires burning across the city had long since invaded her apartment, gliding in like a stinking ghost through every crack and hole the long-suffering panes had to offer.
Then, without warning, the certainty hardened into conviction. He really wasn’t coming back. Ever.
Anger shoved fear out of her way, and as she began packing the one small shoulder bag she had, she cursed Kehlen for being an untrustworthy lay-about, a footpad for hire, and no more dependable than a toddler. She knew all of this to be unjust, but her mood made it true, or true enough. True enough to lend her the courage she needed to stow her priest’s headband in a pocket, take hold of the door, and march herself out and down the steep, rickety steps.
The streets were deserted, or nearly so. A child ran past, sprinting as if pursued (though he wasn’t) and bound for God knew where. Farther along, she encountered a butcher skinning a hog outside his shop as if this were the most normal of days. He nodded a greeting, and she nodded back. The hog, dangling from its tied hind feet, swayed from its chain and dripped dark blood to the gutters.
Mother Sand hurried along, wincing at her arthritic hips and knees and growing more frustrated by the moment at her tottering, sluggish pace. After she’d covered a few more blocks, she felt better, since she’d met with neither resistance nor the ordinary crush of everyday passersby. She was at the common market before she realized it, and then paused, startled to discover that this site, too, was deserted.
She hesitated, glancing this way and that, and focused at last on the great gates that led beneath the brooding compound wall. Something felt wrong about the gates, although she couldn’t, for a moment, think what. That the gates stood open was unremarkable; by treaty, they always were flung wide, a portal not to be sealed by either the State or the Sindarin, ever, as a show of good faith. What, then? She peered harder, narrowing her gaze and all too aware that a younger woman, Urnua, perhaps, would not have had to squint to make out objects at such a distance.
Ah. She had it. No guards. There was not a single sign of the city watch, or of their Sindarin counterparts on the gate’s far side. That was an ominous development indeed. If just anyone could pass from the one side to the other, without a travel stamp or a day permit, then the wolf really might be at the door, and the attack at the harbor could almost certainly be laid to rest at the feet of some Sindarin or other. Which was treason. Cause for civil war.
Thank you, God, she intoned, less as a prayer than as a jaundiced curse. Thank you for allowing me to live long enough to see such dark and dangerous times.
The gates, however, were not her destination. She angled uphill, along the edges of the market, passing one shuttered stall after another, and allowing herself to drift deeper and deeper into the market’s maze of tents, carts, and ill-made wood-and-canvas shacks. A bead-seller, that was what she was looking for, although how she was supposed to discover such a thing when all the market’s wares were packed away was a mystery to her.
But then she rounded a corner and found herself facing the farthest uphill stall, a wild and colorful agglomeration of expansive tents that was, against all expectation, wide open. Inside were rugs, censers, enormous jugs, and the sort of head-high wood and stone carvings that she always clucked over with disapproval when she encountered them in other people’s apartments. Most unlikely of all was the man who perched on a high dark stool just inside the entrance, a Sindarin if ever she’d seen one, his head shaved and a fat pig-tail of black hair descending like a snake down his wide back. Half his clothes were red, half white, and she decided that he looked just like the sails on the ship she’d taken to the Spur all those long weeks ago.
“God be with you,” she said, surprising herself at her use of such a formal greeting.
The Sindarin offered a respectful nod in return, and went back to stringing tiny blue stones onto a fine woven thread.
When it was plain he had no intention of speaking, Mother Sand dug into her shoulder bag and brought out Lelanarshik’s seashell pendant. She held it up between finger and thumb––all knuckles, that thumb; when had that happened?––and she said, in the most authoritative voice she could summon, “Do you by chance sell those beads you’re threading?”
This time the man gave her a long look, and slid down off his stool. His movements were lithe and liquid, as threatening as a thundercloud, but somehow casual, too. Conspiratorial.
“Mother Sand,” he said, as he closed the gap between them. “We were not expecting you.”
“No,” she agreed. “Neither was I.”
“I’d heard you were missing. Presumed dead.”
“Believe me, I’ve heard the same.”
He smirked, and took the pendant from her. After fondling its carved eye with the flat of his thumb, he said, “You’re here to see Lelanarshik.”
She realized, even as she nodded, that this must be so, although she hadn’t made the journey to the market with any very specific intent. Getting out of Vagen, that had come to seem a reasonable goal, all the more sensible with every block she’d covered. And perhaps Lelanarshik, Lord of God only knew what, could help?
“You’ve picked a bad day,” the man said, as he took her by the elbow and steered her, with respect and a gentle touch, into his tent. “He is unavailable.”
Mother Sand’s habitual grumpiness immediately rose to the fore. “Unavailable? You tell him I’ve come calling, and if he has his wits about him, he’ll make himself available in a trice.”
Her host replied with the perfect equanimity of a man well used to offering unwanted and endless excuses. “So many goings-on in the city today,” he said, waving his free hand with airy disapproval, “as perhaps you know. But. I’ll take you somewhere safe, somewhere to wait. And when the dust settles, I’m sure that the Lord of the Foundering Reefs will be willing to receive you.”
“‘God, ’” she said, quoting, “‘loves best those who honor the penitent.’”
Her escort looked doubtful. “Perhaps,” he said. “Or perhaps we Sindarin are the penitents––and perhaps we are tired of it.”
The Sindarin narrowed his eyes. “As my God might say to yours, ‘Look to your charts, keep to the shore. The water is rising.’”
She frowned, not liking the tenor of this instruction one bit. “Never heard that,” she said. “One of your heresies, I suppose.”
He laughed, but not unpleasantly. “Exactly,” he said, “and we have so many here. Come. Time for you to disappear.”
A heap of blankets shifted sideways, as if the floor beneath it was on a pivoting platform––which, she realized, it must be, for it continued to slide across the ground until an opening was revealed beneath, a shadowed stairwell leading steeply down and aimed directly at the nearby Compound wall. When she balked and took a half step backward, the Sindarin made a tsking noise and held up Lelanarshik’s pendant.
“Mother,” he said, “with respect. Your safe travel is already assured.”
She looked at the pendant, the carving on it too slipshod to suggest that it had any real value, and did her best to hold back a sigh. She thought back to how her day had begun, waking in exile and bored to tears, and how the one thing she’d looked forward to had been a visit from Kehlen who was, when she stopped to think about it, entirely repellent. And now she stood on the brink of treason, of attempting to cross the compound wall without any permit or pass, and to do so on the authority of a Sindarin who was surely bent on sedition or worse.
What, she thought, am I doing here?
The pendant twisted in the Sindarin’s fingers, and she realized he was offering it, expecting her to take it back. Frowning, she reached up and plucked it from his fingers. It felt small and light, helpful perhaps as a passport, but useless as a shield.
“Very well,” she said. “As God wills, lead on.”
It took only a few minutes of fast uphill running before Maer and Doss became convinced no one was following any longer––that in fact, no one was paying them any attention at all. They slowed to a walk and kept on along the wall as it led uphill and curled to the left, inscribing by degrees the arc of the Sindarin Compound. To their right lay the nearest parts of Vagen, a city of curves and curls, each dictated by the slope of the hillside, but regular enough in its way, and always striving toward right angles and order. To their left lay the homes of the Sindarin, which, when viewed from above, were even more disorderly and chaotic than when seen at street level. Even the best and strongest of them had an unfinished, temporary look, as if they’d been thrown together in haste with the idea that any day now, they’d be improved upon, fixed up, made sturdy. Instead, they’d been left to slump, slouch, and even collapse. Timbers and beams stuck out at strange angles, chimney pots tipped as if barely hanging on, and many of the edifices were little more than tents, glorified versions of market stalls. It took several long minutes of walking on the divide and comparing the two cities before Maer realized that it wasn’t only dissimilarities in style that made the architecture of the Sindarin Compound so different. No, it was a matter of what materials had been available. It was a matter of money, and poverty.
“Doss,” she said, to his back––at present, he was in front––“I think I made a mistake coming here.”
He swung his head around, but kept walking. “Oh?” he said. “And Ayvin, what makes you think that?”
“Don’t,” she said. “I mean it.”
“Aye, hey,” he replied. “If it’s any comfort, I’d guess our hosts are coming to the right same conclusion about us. In which case, it’s best we push on as soon as possible.”
Maer’s brow furrowed. “They still want me,” she said. “He even said so. Because one of these days, I’ll be infamous and all that.”
She could see his shrug coming even before it arrived. “From what I’ve seen today,” he said, “this city’s got enough to worry about without adding you to the list.”
This made her feel smaller than small, but she said nothing and went back to watching her feet (the wall was wide and well-made, but in no wise smooth). Her thoughts drifted back to the derelict conditions of the Sindarin enclave. After a minute of silent of tramping, she realized they were no longer going uphill. The mesa to her right continued up and up again, ending in a line of cracked cliffs above which, she supposed, she’d find the caldera lake that gave the encircling city its water, but the wall was now running crosswise to the slope, and would soon be angling its way back down. The Sindarin Compound, for all its fame, was really quite diminutive, just one little neighborhood in the much wider swath of Vagen. And yet, she thought, correcting herself, it was really only small in terms of size. With so much controversy and chest-thumping centered on it, how could the Compound be anything but enormously important?
“Doss,” she said, in a tone that made her squirm––by Fengreth’s toes, she sounded as if she were asking him to dance––“if we left here, where would we go?”
By way of answer, Doss began to sing.
“I know a little port
On the farthest outer isle
Where they serve fine wine
And always wear a smile…”
“Be serious,” she said, remonstrating.
“Oh, I am. Never more so.”
“No, it’s true. Listen, for so long as you’ve had needs, an agenda or what have you, I’ve been willing to follow along, give you wind to fill your sails, but if you’re done, if you’re ready to put down what happened at the Spur, I’ve got no quarrel with that, and I’d be more than happy, for my part, to call the Circle Seas quits. I suppose I might have a visit or two to make first, while I’m here, sure, but mostly? I could go.”
He’d slowed, and she caught up with him. They walked now shoulder to shoulder. “So,” she said, making no attempt to prevent a sneer of derision, “you’d get directions from Cullen and join up as an Oar Of the Free Rim.”
He chuckled. “They do say that the pirates have the best wine. And the best women.”
Maer flinched, and Doss, noticing, focused on his boots. To hide her discomfiture, Maer gazed downhill, across the Sindarin Compound and out to sea. The sun, to her north and high in the sky, turned the waves silver and gold, interrupted by the black dots of fishing vessels and supplies boats bobbing on the swells. One of them, she supposed, was the Star Of the North, though from such a distance, it was impossible to tell which.
“It looks so peaceful,” she said. “Just like any other day.”
“Aye, sure,” said Doss, “until you swing ‘round and see all the smoke.”
“That’s me, hey. Turahl the killjoy.”
His nonchalance made her bold, and she grabbed at his arm, stopping him. “Wait,” she said, and she stepped into his path to block his way. “When you talk about retiring, when you sing ‘The Faraway Shore,’ is that just about you? Or are you––when you look at me, and there’s the two of us, are you suggesting…?”
But Doss didn’t seem to be looking at her. His eyes had tracked past her shoulder, toward the northern slope of the city. Befuddled and flushed with embarrassment, Maer stamped a foot and said, “Hey! I’m talking to you!”
Doss pointed in the direction he’d been staring. “The Academy,” he said. “It’s on fire.”
She turned and followed his pointing finger. In the medium distance, a series of domed structures rose from the huddle of surrounding houses. None were especially towering––with Grandfather Mountain so close, no one in Vagen was inclined to build too high––but they were striking, stark rather than ornate, and topped with gleaming blue-tiled roofs that made them stand out from the rest of the region’s buildings as if they were rare jewels. Maer had read about the Academy, and even seen pictures, but this was the first time she’d been far enough along the Compound Wall to see them. This was where Elsbeth had learned her physics, and Durnian, too. This was the State-sanctioned seat of all higher learning, not just in the Circle Seas but across the globe. And now, like the southwest harbor before it, and who knew how many more buildings on the Middle Isle’s southern flanks, the peaceful, slumbering walls of the Academy were spitting smoke and flame.
“I am so sick of fire,” said Maer, feeling petulant from the tips of her toes to the top of her cropped but still unruly hair. “It’s like it follows me. Sneaks along after wherever I go.”
Doss licked his lips as if testing the wind. He said, “We have to get off this wall.”
“What? Why? That fire’s a mile away if it’s an inch.”
“Aye, and we have to get over there.”
“We do not.”
“Don’t talk, Maer, not now. Come on.”
He set off again, at a run, and as he ran, he swiveled his gaze first this way, then that, searching for a way down, and favoring the city side of the wall. Maer, after a momentary hesitation, sprinted to keep up.
“Where are you going?” she cried. “You don’t care about the Academy!”
He shot her an over-the-shoulder look of undisguised contempt, and then he turned back to continue his fast-moving search. Without slowing, he said, “For God’s sake, Maer, just help me look.”
“But what…?” She course-corrected mid-thought. “What’s there that we need?”
“All right, fine. What’s there that you need?”
In the distance, a fresh roil of smoke burst through the largest of the Academy’s blue, glinting domes.
“Doss? Why aren’t you answering me?”
He whirled around and grabbed her by the shoulders; his face was twisted in a combustible mix of anger and––it was this that surprised her––panic.
“The thing I need at the Academy––Maer, it’s not a thing.” He wiped at his mouth with his sleeve, and glanced quickly over his shoulder at the distant, spreading fire.
“All right,” Maer said, struggling free of his grip. “It’s not a thing. What then?”
“Ah, Fengreth, I should have told you.”
“Told me what?”
“My wife. She works there, a librarian. God above, Maer, they’re trying to kill my wife!”
To read Chapter Nine, click HERE.
Mark Rigney has published three stories in the Black Gate Online Fiction library: ”The Trade,” “The Find,” and “The Keystone.” Tangent called the tales “Reminiscent of the old sword & sorcery classics… once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I highly recommend the complete trilogy.”
Away from Black Gate, he is the author of the supernatural quartet, The Skates, Sleeping Bear, Check-Out Time, and Bonesy, all published by Samhain and featuring his semi-dynamic duo of Renner & Quist. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Lightspeed, Unlikely Story, Betwixt, Black Static, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, Realms of Fantasy, Witness, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Talebones, Not One Of Us, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and many more. In other work, Rigney is the author of the plays Ten Red Kings, Acts of God and Bears, winner of the 2012 Panowski Playwriting Competition, as well as the non-fiction book Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets and a Classic American Musical (Gallaudet). Two collections of his stories (all previously published by various mags and ‘zines) are available through Amazon, Flights of Fantasy, and Reality Checks. His author’s page at Goodreads can be found HERE, and his website is markrigney.net.