Horizon 6

NOTE: No update this Tuesday. I’ll be traveling for the North American solar eclipse, and won’t be anywhere with reliable internet. Look for Horizon 7 a week from today. Thanks for reading!

Karla was still very new at the concept of knowing people who weren’t Kio. For years, she had understood that the lessons she learned about dealing with him–that his silences often concealed storms of uncertainty, that his face would work to be cheerful while his heart grew heavy–could be applied to other hypothetical people. But like everything else about the surface, understanding others had thrown her for a loop.

She thought she was making a start on Jenny. The engineer concealed nothing, one reason she was so easy to like. Her uncle was more complex, but she could at least tell he was desperate for approval, full of ideas, and in love with Rose, none of which were subtle.

Calvin McConnell was so much harder. She’d met him half a dozen times and only now had she realized: whatever was behind his eyes did not reveal itself. The ale he quaffed, the father he hid from, the chivalry he affected–none of that was the core.

The core of Calvin was somewhere behind the crossbow he leveled at Karla and Jenny.

“Calvin, don’t start with this crap,” Jenny said. “We’ve got something important to do.”

“What?” asked Karla and Calvin at the same time.

“Stop the City Council,” Jenny declared with confidence. “It’s so obvious what their plan is. They’re trying to divide us, weaken us, so that when the Empire comes they can waltz in unopposed.”

“You’re lying!” Calvin shouted. “Why would they care about that?”

“I said it was obvious! It’s because…”

“…because one of them is the real traitor,” Karla finished.

Calvin was faltering already. He didn’t play the part of the goon very well. That was one thing Karla could see in his shaking hands: it wasn’t a love of violence that pushed him to do this.

“Stop it,” he breathed. “You’re trying to confuse me. You can’t talk your way out of this.”

“We can, and we’re going to,” Jenny shot back. Karla’s insides wavered with a very Kio-like uncertainty that this was a better idea than surrendering.

Calvin swung the crossbow toward Jenny, who babbled on. “Calvin, you know my uncle. You’ve known him your whole life. He never cared nearly as much about the treasure as he did about making the greatest skycraft in the world. Why would a guy like that sell out to the Torals?”

“I don’t know!” Calvin spluttered. “We’ve been jerks to him. We have. Anyone would get tired of us calling his ideas nuts all the time. But this is so much worse.”

“This is wrong! You know this feels wrong!”

Better Karla sauntered up beside her. Gonna let her upstage you?

She’s scared, Karla thought, angry at herself. But then she looked at Calvin.

She could read him like Kio. She had to.

“You love Rust Town,” she said.

“‘Course I do.” Calvin’s eyes swung to her while the crossbow stayed trained on Jenny. “Don’t want the damn Empire to burn her down.”

“So why are you doing this? Threatening kids? Who’s that gonna help?”

“Yeah!” Jenny nodded. “Did you already forget the last glow? You found me in the street and wouldn’t leave me until I’d gotten somewhere safe. You were a hero.” Not my hero, her tone seemed to say, but you could have been somebody’s.

“What am I supposed to do?” Calvin asked. “I saw that gold through the door. I was watching you all the whole time you hid it. It doesn’t matter whether Griff would have betrayed us, he did! And if he’s talked to the Navy, maybe he can turn them around!”

Hmm. He might be onto something there.

“All you saw was gold in the workshop. Anybody could have put it there. And I’m thinking right now that it’s pretty obvious it was someone from the City Council. Or all of them.”

Silence and wind. Karla exchanged a brief glance with Jenny, neither certain what to do next. The tip of Calvin’s crossbow bolt sagged toward the ground.

In the distance, a block away at the workshop, someone shouted. Something else smashed. Karla fought back a hot wave of frustration. That place had been her home for a week, even more than the cave at Rose’s. Now it was threatened by people she was supposed to have been able to trust.

Jenny stepped forward.

“Help us get them, Calvin,” she said. “Come with us. If we’re right, we can make them talk to the Navy. If we’re wrong, you can haul us back here and lock us up with Uncle Griff and Aunt Rose.”

“I wanna stop the Torals. I wanna save my home,” Calvin kept murmuring.

And for once Karla and her imagined better self spoke as one.

“That starts with putting the damn crossbow away.”

He didn’t. Not right away. Instead Calvin asked, “How is getting the City Council going to be any better than me arresting you? It’s all just killing time. ‘Til the invasion.”

For the first time, Karla noticed that Jenny was shaking, and as white as foam on the ocean. Only the dim light had allowed her to hide it.

“They want something,” Jenny said. “And the sooner we keep them from getting it, the sooner we can focus on what really matters.”

Nashido, Karla thought, and my promise to Kio.

***

Griffin sat against one wall of his corrugated shack, clasping his hands and trying not to heave out of frustration. Rose sat beside him. His palms twitched with the sheer futile agony of it–she wanted to help him, they both knew she couldn’t, and all the things nobody could do compounded one another.

It had all been perfectly planned. So much more perfectly than the City Council was capable of that they must have come up with it by accident. The sequence of events had been piecing itself together in his head since Adam had kicked the door down: whichever one of the bandits had done an end run to the Imperial Navy had panicked when word of Ranson’s news had reached him. He’d come up with a way to put some of his ill-gotten gold to good use, and Griffin had been the perfect target.

Adam and his boys were tearing the workshop apart, throwing his tools and food and bedclothes around without any regard to his systems. “Stop it,” he’d shouted the first few times, but some brute–or McConnell himself–would just glower at him and return to the ransacking. Now he saved his breath.

It was all so damn unfair he wanted to weep. Yet every time he nearly did, he looked sidelong at Rose, and wondered how he ever could have thought he would protect her. Sitting here whining about what is and isn’t fair.

Truth was, nothing had been fair since he’d followed his brother to Rust Town, since each year–each day–he decided to stay because he couldn’t stand being beaten by a problem.

A posse man threw Jenny’s bed over, upsetting the teakettle. Tepid water seeped into the grass floor. Griffin turned toward Rose: the one thing he could do, at least, was apologize for getting her into this.

A knock shook the walls.

The door swept open. Adam had crossed the room to meet it already, as though some magnetism had drawn him to the woman with the crossed axes that stood in the doorframe.

“How’s the town?” he asked his wife.

“Burning,” Grace answered shortly. “Eight fights, two of which reached the level of brawls, eleven robberies. Most everyone’s sheltering in the crystal square.” Her eyes flitted to Griffin and Rose hunched against the wall. “I’m here to take your prisoners.”

“Take them where?” A brief touch on Grace’s wrist, a wordless conversation.

“Out of the way. You’ll get this investigation done faster without them underfoot. Then you can help me and mine knock some order back into this place.”

“Grace,” Adam growled carefully, “we–”

“–are wasting time here. Hand ‘em over.”

Griffin’s heart pounded. At the minimum, he’d been distracted from his despair. He watched Grace intently.

Adam shut his eyes for the short moment it took for him to realize he was meant to trust his wife. “Sure, go ahead. Crystal square. I’ll meet you there.”

A member of the posse hauled Griffin up by his armpits. Rose followed without having to be coaxed.

Out in the night, some sort of commotion was making its way downhill one block to the left. Karla and Jenny, Griffin thought with a leap in his soul. Either it’s them escaping, or they’re long gone. That was hope. There was nothing those two together couldn’t do.

Grace dismissed the posse man with a jerk of her head. As the door swung shut, she hefted her axes, then flipped one around, offering it handle-first to Griffin.

The aeronauticist gawked.

“Right, you two,” Grace said, tucking a stray white hair back into the braid that fell behind her paradoxically youthful face. “We’re going to save Rust Town.”

***

“You know where they hang out, don’t you?” Jenny whispered.

“This is it,” Calvin hissed back, releasing a strong tang of liquor on his breath. “This is where they hang out.”

“This is the whole deck!”

“It’s as close as I’ve been.”

Half-listening as they went on, Karla scanned the hanging walkways from behind the low garden wall they were crouching against. The people in the houses around the plot had gone so hard to ground they didn’t even notice anyone hiding in their yard.

Not that they planned to be here much longer.

Karla had a sense of the place now: a long, thin strip of hanging huts, never more than two or three houses deep. No gardens, no airstrips, just hovels ready to crash into the sea at any time.

The place for those too desperate for High Dusk but not resigned enough for Low. Aiden and Finn fit the bill.

“Any weapons?” she asked Jenny and Calvin.

“One crossbow,” Jenny replied. “And whatever we find. Plus no easy escape route and no plan if they catch us.”

“We need to find the place before we can escape.”

“And if they’re at home? What do we do then?”

Karla’s mouth turned up. In the chill night wind, she could almost imagine she was back on Nashido. Not that she wanted to be–except to grab Kio and get going–but the prison had made her brave.

“What we do best,” she told Jenny. “Improvise.”

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Horizon 5

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Rose’s strong mental map of Rust Town, especially the part around the workshop, was all that kept her from bumping into every corner in the dark. What Griffin had said–or tried to say–filled all her mind.

Of course they liked each other’s company. Of course they’d been relying on each other ever since she had arrived in town, only a couple of years after he had. And of course she’d more than twice asked herself whether they could be happy together, as ten years wore on and they saw more and more of each other. The answer had come as easily as rain fell to the ground. Of course they could.

But a man who would take ten years to understand that his feelings were feelings…well, I can hardly act superior. Even so, at least she hadn’t decided imminent invasion and a completely foolhardy mission to the skies didn’t make for a perfect time to spill her guts.

She shook her head. She was a doctor on an isle of aeronauts. This was like the eighth most important thing she could be thinking of right now.

Griffin put a hand on her shoulder, sending a jolt through her whole body. But it was just to stop her. She didn’t know why–the front of the workshop was lit up, seemed safe. Jenny and Karla must have already been inside.

“Sorry,” he said. “Thought I heard someone passing. Or felt someone coming. No big deal.”

At the door of the workshop, they looked down to see Jenny and Karla on the floor, frantically scooping something into their shirts.

“The hell?” Rose asked.

“Meaning of this?” Griffin inquired shortly.

The two girls took a second to notice the adults. Then they exploded upwards, Jenny throwing her arms around her uncle, Karla gathering up Rose. The embraces forced them determinedly back out the door.

“You can’t be here–”

“–get out, go far away, we’ll explain–”

“–we gotta get this stuff out, hide it–”

“Stop!” Rose bellowed. The ends of her nerves were frayed. “One at a time!”

Karla and Jenny stepped back and looked at each other. Jenny half-nodded. Through the space between them, Rose’s eyes fell on the pile of gold coins.

“It’s Toral money,” Karla explained between pants. “The city council planted it inside the plane. To frame Dr. Griffin. As the traitor.”

Griffin’s face drained of color. Behind his eyes, Rose saw him make the calculations of how easily people could be convinced of his complicity.

Jenny gathered another pile of coins into her shirt, ran over to an open drawer, dumped them in and went back for more.

Several sharp knocks came at the door.

Rose backed away like it had caught fire, peering through the yawning cracks. Several people stood outside holding burning torches.

“Griffin?” shouted a voice she recognized. Adam McConnell. With his posse at his back.

“Don’t answer,” Karla whispered.

“He’s already seen me.” Griffin gritted his teeth. “McConnell. What’s up?”

“Look, this is going to sound ridiculous.” Adam took a deep breath. “And I’m going to catch hell from my wife for picking this way out of the problem. But can I come in?”

Griffin leaned some of his weight against the door. “What problem?”

“It’s Aiden and the damn City Council. They’re making like they’ve gone straight, and–” forced chuckle, “–if you can believe, he’s claiming you went to the Torals and sold us out.”

“I don’t follow. Are you saying you think he’s right?”

“I said it would sound bad! Listen, he really wants me to search your place, and I figure that when I do and find out nothing’s wrong, he’ll either have to shut up or attack me, and then we can kill him and claim self-defense. Aye?”

Aye, Rose thought, if nothing was wrong. But everything was wrong. Karla and Jenny were hiding the coins as quickly as they could, but a drawer full of imperial gold was hardly better than a plane shell full of it.

Her fists clenched of their own accord. Her long wrench bounced against her thigh. It wouldn’t do any good against the whole posse, but it felt good to have it.

What were they going to do?

“Is Aiden out there?” Griffin called. Stalling, stalling.

“’Course not,” Adam replied. “We aren’t fools. They’re back at the plaza.”

Jenny poked her head through the back door, spun to Rose, and mouthed the words, airstrip is clear.

Running, then. That was the plan. Rose shook her head, praying Jenny would understand. Perhaps they could make it to the roof, even jump without being apprehended or shot at, but the streets were effectively covered in all directions. They couldn’t land without somebody spotting them.

“Come on, Griffin.” The warmth was seeping out of Adam’s voice. “Open the door.”

Griffin’s brow stretched tight. “I didn’t realize your men were taking orders from bandits now.”

“I want to get these guys off my back so we can move onto the real problem. Don’t stand in the way.”

“Stand in the way? Seems more like I got thrown in the way against my will.”

Rose’s gaze shifted from the door, which locked with a sliding block of wood, to Karla scooping the last of the gold and slamming the workbench drawer shut…to Griffin, trapped like a minnow in an eel cave, silently begging for help.

I can talk to them, she mouthed.

Don’t you dare, he mouthed back. His fingers ran through his beard of their own accord.

“Adam, I’m in here too,” she called. “I’m coming out. We can talk.”

“Rose?” Adam’s gruffness evaporated. He sounded uncertain, like he had suddenly noticed himself. He’ll keep going, though. Protecting his sunk costs. I know the kind of man he is.

A hurried, muffled argument outside. Somebody stormed off. Somebody else thrust a torch closer to the door.

“Rose, stand aside,” Adam ordered.

“No, don’t!”

“We’re coming in.”

The crash of a bootheel against the wooden door was a starter’s shot to Jenny and Karla. At the first splintering of boards, the two shot off into the courtyard. The darkness swallowed them.

At the second, the door gave way. Torchlight spilled across the workshop, illuminating the burst-open plane.

Rose grabbed Griffin’s hand.

***

Running from attackers this way seemed second nature to Jenny. Karla followed her surefooted new friend through the courtyard and up the ramp and wondered how many other mobs she’d had to flee from this way. She dodged around piles of equipment as expertly as she and Kio rode the pulleys on Nashido.

The knot in her stomach contracted. We just left behind our only chance to save him.

They crouched behind a coiled-up chain while Jenny checked if anybody was following. After the quickest glance at the yard and shake of her head, she took Karla’s hand in both of hers.

The warmth surprised Karla. It was a chilly night. “We are going to get up there and get him back,” Jenny told her.

It was too dark to see Jenny’s face, but Karla nodded.

She was too dumbstruck to act. When Jenny said they were jumping, Karla jumped without having to be told twice.

They landed hard in the street, wheeled around a corner–

–then Karla slammed into Jenny’s back where the young engineer had stopped short. They tumbled through the grass in a pile, and came face-to-face with a crossbow pointed at the area somewhere between them.

“Don’t move,” said a wavering voice.

Karla gulped. She recognized that determined slur.

“Calvin?” Jenny blinked.

“My dad’s on his way,” Calvin McConnell said. “We’re gonna stop you. We’re gonna get you back for betraying Rust Town.”

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Horizon 4

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Now on with Arc 13!

The crystal square had gone dark–far too dark to see the Toral fleet approaching, even if they’d had the slightest idea what to do about it. Dr. Griffin sat in the grass with his back against the musicians’ stage, half listening to another argumentative cascade of tangent after tangent, the other half wondering how hard it would be to get a drink sent up.

Minutes before, the Carpenters had stormed from the park, with a trail of several followers in their wake. Dan had sorrowfully met Rose’s eyes as his mother pulled him along, while Gary had raced to Griffin and begged him to come with them.

“Those crazy planes of yours gotta be able to cross the channel at least, right? It’s not that wide.”

Griffin stared back at the child, then smiled ruefully. “Hasn’t proven true yet.”

“But…” Gary blinked. “I know everyone says you’re crazy, but we always thought you had a plan. You’re weird, but you’re smart, an’ Rose likes you, an’…”

Hot rush of blood at his face. Griffin silenced Gary with a hand on each of his shoulders before the kid could add any more words to that particular sentiment. “Your, um, your mother–”

“I know, she’s callin’ me.”

“Her plane has too much strain on the right wing.” He tried to ignore an unexpected heat at the corners of his eyes. “That’ll be a bigger deal when you’re trying to cross distances. Make sure she looks at it.”

“Gary Carpenter!” Jada shouted. “To the cliff, now! We’re taking all we can carry from the workshop!”

Gary swallowed hard, and nodded. “I will. Thanks, Griff.”

When he had run to his mother and brother, Griffin stood up, listening to his bones pop, and looking to make sure Karla, Rose, or Jenny hadn’t been caught in the tide. More than two dozen of the Rusters in the square had gone with Jada, and others were eyeing the exodus, wondering whether they should take their chances as well. Her message to give up on Rust Town and find another island to launch from had struck a nerve in the crowd–a lot of engineers had muttered that they were barely attached to this rock as it was.

That’s what they think, anyway. See how they feel in two weeks.

Griffin didn’t know what worried him more: that it wouldn’t work, or that it was the only plan anybody had so far. The first was bad enough. He couldn’t believe the Torals would stomach a challenge to their authority anywhere in the archipelago, even if the islands did span hundreds of miles.

And what was the other choice? Trying to fight was futile, no matter what Adam seemed to think. He’d been uncharacteristically upset when the Carpenters had gone, hemming and hawing and stamping out of the meeting for a while. Calvin had followed, leaving Grace to moderate things.

The man was steadfast, but he really did believe he was the mayor.

He turned to see Rose approaching him from a knot of people, Karla at her heels. The group they’d left was deep in a conversation that involved the word “catapults.”

“Where’s Jenny?” Griff asked.

“Back at the workshop,” Karla said. “She caught my eye and made a–y’know…”

She made a surprisingly communicative gesture. Not for the first time, Griff resolved to question the skybound girl about her experience in long-distance signalling.

“Griffin.” Rose’s voice was like a glider on its last flight. “What are we going to do?”

He opened his mouth, but whatever reassurance he was searching for, he didn’t find.

Not that there was anything he could say. They had both been born in Toral lands, under this very Emperor. They both knew how his troops operated.

Every time he tried to tell Rose It’ll be all right or We’ll do what needs to be done or I’ll protect you, he could only see fires. They’d start burning when they landed. To demand control, they’d torch anything they didn’t need, which was everything.

“They’ll bring their military base with them on their backs,” he murmured.

“I hope it breaks them, then,” Rose replied, startling Griffin–he hadn’t meant to speak aloud.

“Doesn’t matter.”

Both the adults turned to Karla. The young woman’s fists were clenched, her jaw set. Even her ash-blond hair seemed defiant in the starlight.

“You two aren’t like the rest of these people. You have something else.”

“What?” Griffin asked.

“Me.”

“Karla,” Rose said gently, “I know this is worrying, but–”

“Worrying, hell!” Karla shouted, then remembered to keep her voice low. “Do you know what I faced up there? Destroyed cities. Dragons. Hurricanes. The first lesson danger teaches you is how to prioritize.”

Her affect was fierce. “What is our priority?” asked Griffin.

“Our job hasn’t changed. We have to get to Castle Nashido. We can’t let the soldiers get to Kio before we do.”

She had a very good point. Even before she’d crash-landed, Griffin and Jenny had the best shot of anyone in the city to reach the sphere. Now, with Karla directing them, their chances had doubled.

They owed it to her to try. Torals or no Torals.

“We could have hours left until they arrive,” he warned. “You, Jenny, and I will need to pull continual shifts. One sleeps, two work. Rose, will you help us?”

The healer sighed. “On a schedule like that, you’ll need me so you don’t kill yourselves.”

“Good.” Karla nodded once, a general approving a command. “I’ll find Jenny and meet you two there. The City Council isn’t our biggest problem right now.”

***

This is a huge problem, Jenny thought, from her hiding place on the rooftop airstrip across from Uncle Griff’s shed. If only I could figure out what they’re doing in there.

Aiden, Finn, and Logan had entered the house while the other councilors stood guard outside, valiantly protecting the barrel of whiskey. She’d expected smashing sounds and fires to fly out of the windows any minute, but the ruffians were being surprisingly considerate in there.

In fact, as she strained her ears, she thought she heard the sounds of tools striking metal, working over leather.

Hell no! She felt like a dog straining at a leash, knowing she couldn’t go in there to face them all alone. They had better not be messing with our plane! I’ll kill them! I’ll tear their heads off!

She did none of those things. She sat on the airstrip, hating herself, and watching for her uncle so she could warn him not to enter his own workshop.

***

Griffin and Rose walked through the darkened streets. Rust Town was quiet, save for a Carpenterite or two hoisting a bag of possessions up to a rooftop airstrip. The stars shone out in their familiar shapes, and a light wind whistled in from the sea, carrying a salt scent soft enough to be enticing. Even the air felt warm.

Rose shivered. “It’s enough to make you think you’ll miss the place.”

“Why would we miss it? Where would we go?”

“This could be our last night on the island. If we make it up to the castle, we won’t want to land where we took off.”

While he considered this, Griffin stepped in front of Rose on instinct, protecting her from a shadow carrying a clattering roll of wrenches. The shadow swore at them and climbed a ladder to its roof.

“We can’t be sure what we’ll find up there,” he said. “Could be something that changes the game completely.”

Rose snorted. “I’ll take a magic sword that can give the Emperor a heart attack from a thousand miles away.”

“Might not be as far off as you think.” Griffin laughed too, and suddenly, thinking of his last night in Rust Town–last night alive as far as any Ruster was concerned–he had the urge to say something else.

“Rose?”

“Mm?”

“Do you think that we should have…talked about things? Sooner?”

In the dark, a sharp intake of breath.

“What things?”

“Well…” Griffin’s certainty was evaporating. If only life could be an engineering problem. He’d heard his niece say that aloud more than once. “Our…our feelings. What there might be…”

“…between us.” Rose finished.

At some point they had stopped walking. He could feel her now, despite not touching her, a palpable presence hovering in the twilight. A bit of starlight shone over the ragged end of her cropped auburn hair.

“You’ve had years,” she said. “Why bring this up now?”

“Because it appears I’m out of chances.”

“The night we start trying to flee the island together to start a new life?”

“There’s no guarantee of any of that.”

“There won’t be, of course there won’t be, if you can’t pay attention,” Rose said, and the words struck Dr. Edward Griffin’s heart like an icy whip. “This is absolutely the worst possible time to have this conversation.”

“But–”

“Later,” she said, sounding very much like she was finished.

He stood stunned while she walked on. Two streets over, a band of drunkards rambled by rolling what sounded like a cask, oblivious to all these human toils.

***

At the edge of the circle of homes that surrounded Dr. Griffin’s scrubby backyard and its accompanying air ramp, Karla paused and looked around, startled by a sudden chill. One had to take these things as premonitions.

A second later, a small girl leapt off a roof and barreled into her while yelling an indistinct war cry. So that was that bit of wisdom confirmed yet again.

“Karla?” Jenny whispered, when they were both thoroughly sprawled out in the grass path.

Karla groaned. “You hit all my sensitive bits. I have bones sticking out and you hit them.”

“Sorry!” Jenny sprang back, looking mortified even in the dimmest light, and grabbed her hand. “Here, get inside. It’s safe.”

“Why wouldn’t it be safe.”

“City council was just here.” Through the swinging door, Jenny lit a lamp. Karla held her breath, ready for a scene of ransacked devastation, but found everything in its usual, preliminary state of disarray instead.

“I know, I know it looks normal,” Jenny said, hands outstretched, “but I am 100 percent certain they did something weird. I have to check the plane.”

“Why the plane?” Karla followed her over to the now-familiar leather frame with its two prominent wings.

“I think I heard them working on it. Give me a hand, will you?”

Karla did, while trying to list all the reasons the City Council might want to gift them some free engineering. None of them were good.

They levered off one of the side panels partway, then tensed their muscles to finish dragging it clear. It was a delicate job that could warp the plate if they applied too much force. At a signal from Jenny, Karla pulled.

A horrible clash of frame on panel sent her leaping back. Jenny crashed into the workbench, shouting ever more colorful words.

The body of the skycraft had disintegrated. This was about what she’d expected the Council would do.

What she hadn’t expected was the pile of gold coins that would immediately spill out all over the dirt floor.

“Oh, no. This is not good at all.” Jenny fell to her knees, reaching for the pile. “Karla, help me. We gotta hide this.”

“What?” Karla’s head spun. “What’s wrong with gold? Don’t you use that for money on the surface?”

“Yeah, we do.” Jenny held up one of the coins, letting the lantern light shine on the symbol carved into its face. “These ones get used in the Toral Empire. Can’t find ‘em anywhere else.”

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Thanks to Lynne, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Horizon 3

The lanterns still burned around the square, but the music was long gone, and most of the food had been snatched up by opportunists as the crowd around the crystal grew denser. It was a lot like a glow, without the planes, or the hope, though there was plenty of anger to replace it all.

Sandwiched between a wall of soot-stenched blacksmiths and a two-wheeled cart piled with only the scrappiest scrap metal, Jenny reflected that there was a good reason the Rusters held community meetings even less often than they threw parties.

People had fun at the parties. This was…not the opposite of fun, exactly. More like the precise opposite of a nice cup of tea in the afternoon, on a day just breezy enough to blow away all the bugs.

“Who the hell told you you could stand up there anyway, McConnell?” one of the smiths was shouting. “You ain’t the damn mayor.”

Grace McConnell made sure her throwing axes were visible at all times. Beside her on the musicians’ stage, her husband Adam looked unreassuringly nervous.

“Somebody has to be up here or you lot will get absolutely nothing done.” Grace projected her voice across as much of the roiling crowd as she could, but the rabble was growing louder, drowning her out. “Hey. Hey! I said quiet!”

“Shut the hell up, you lot!” Adam growled.

“Come down here and make me, you limp-jawed bartender!” the smith shot back.

The shut-up faction grew to rival the yelling faction, resulting in the minimum possible amount of shutting up. The multitude swallowed Jenny’s groan. She had no idea what could possibly be less effective than this.

Then her uncle stepped onto the stage, dragging Master Ranson by his collar, with Karla following in their wake.

And Jenny had her answer for the least effective meeting: anything that required Dr. Edward Griffin to rely on his leadership charisma.

“Uncle Griff…” she whispered, feeling a surge of doomed affection, “Please, don’t!”

“Listen, everybody,” Griff cried, though everybody wasn’t, “according to this man’s evidence, we have less than twenty-four hours until the Imperial Marines arrive on our shores. We can’t waste that time on procedural matters. The only question is whether to defend ourselves or capitulate.”

“How should we spend the time, then? Listening to you?” shouted a new voice, probably the only person to have heard. “Can’t even build a plane right–”

“He doesn’t build them right, he builds them better,” Jenny muttered.

“–and you think you can lead a Ruster army? An army we ain’t got?”

“John, how does my refusal to use Mara’s blueprints make me wrong here, exactly?” Uncle Griff couldn’t resist asking. Don’t, don’t defend yourself, ignore him, Jenny begged him telepathically.

A chorus of jeers drowned out the end of Griff’s question. He’d lost control in record time. “I’ll take the bartenders over the town nut,” someone yelled.

We are telling you to listen to him!” Adam looked ready to wade in and start hitting.

“We should run,” Jada Carpenter shouted, and Jenny blessed her for offering the first constructive solution of the night. “Find another island. They won’t keep taking stations if they have their own base to search for the treasure.”

Karla turned white. “Absolutely not. What about…”

Jenny swallowed down a lump in her throat.

“What about the people who need the treasure for a living? We can’t force them to compete against a military machine.”

“We aren’t forcing anything,” Ranson cut in. “It’s the Torals who are–”

“I didn’t say anything about your livelihood, Master Ranson.” Karla turned to him. “Thank you for your warning. Now kindly screw off and starve.”

A chorus of ooohs rippled through the crowd. Jenny wondered at the power Karla had. They were more likely to listen to her than to anybody else. She looked like Mara, and half the town still worshipped Mara, whether they knew it or not.

Grace took advantage of the brief lull. “Not to mention the logistics. Garbage as it is, there’s an infrastructure here. That doesn’t happen overnight.”

“Of course it’s going to be difficult.” Jada swore. “The alternative is our lives! The Torals have no incentive not to bulldoze this place with us inside it!”

“We have no indication they plan to harm anybody,” Griffin said.

“Could we…blockade them somehow? Prevent them from landing? Peacefully,” Karla added hastily, as some of the Rusters in the crowd began hefting weapons and grinning.

Adam shook his head. “There’s nothing we can do that they wouldn’t perceive as an act of war.”

“At least talk to them, then.” Karla seemed to be realizing the power her voice had. “If we send a delegation…”

Jenny looked behind her, then all around. There wasn’t a single channel she could use to escape.

As annoying, and as scary, as this situation was, she was proud of her new friend. And glad, too. If she hadn’t met that girl on the stage, Jenny might have grown up without having any idea what it was like to have a friend her own age.

But Karla was doing her part, and it was different than Jenny’s. The younger engineer had something else to do. In the chaos of impending invasion, everyone had forgotten about the City Council.

Three short hops up the scrap pile brought her to the roof. Looking for the traitor, Jenny thought, and had to giggle. More likely Aiden and Finn and their henchmen were looting every unguarded workshop they could find. And nobody was watching them.

Until now.

Jenny scampered across one corrugated roop, then leapt across a gap, nearly losing footing before making it to a rooftop airstrip. From there, a dash among spare canvases and oil cans brought her down a ramp to a courtyard, where a squeeze through a short alley took her out into deserted pathway streets.

If Aiden really was leaving a trail of chaos, it shouldn’t be hard to track down. All she had to do was head downhill and follow the smashing noises.

It took even less time than she expected. A snatch of song reached her ears and she flattened herself against an alley wall. The cocky bastards are walking up Dusk in broad moonlight!

She didn’t dare snatch another look, but her first glimpse had given her enough information to be revolted. Eight or ten of the bandits were strolling along, some with arms around each others shoulders. In the front, Finn was huffing and puffing as he rolled a keg uphill, while Aiden strolled along with another councilman who looked strangely familiar. Had Jenny seen him the night of the glow?

“What’s our plan, then?” one of them burped. Jenny shuddered, hoping the inn they had raided still had a living keeper.

“The plan is that you lot don’t make plans,” Aiden said shortly. “Follow me, lads, and I’ll ensure anything ya do is the right thing.”

“Rot in the sea, Aiden,” came a voice from quite close by. “S’my tip we’re working on.”

“And it was hardly the world’s most ground-breaking info, was it?” Aiden said. Jenny inched farther backward into the alley as they drew closer. “Where there’s chaos, you’ll find Doc Griffin, trying in vain to make a difference. Leaving his lab unguarded.”

Jenny’s heart decided beating wasn’t that important for a moment.

A snatch of drinking song from the back drowned out the conversation. Though it made her skin crawl with fear, she had to get a closer look. It might tell her what the Council was planning.

She flattened herself behind a drainpape, and craned her neck around, waiting for the mob to pass by the mouth of the alley.

Finn kept huffing his way up the street, followed by Aiden, still talking to…

Logan! She knew him.

He hadn’t been with the bombers on the night of the glow–it would have broken his charade. He had been one of Rose’s patients. The one who claimed he didn’t see the point of flying.

Questions chased each other around her mind like eager dogs. Why plant an informant in her uncle’s network of loved ones? Could it really be that the only people who saw the real wisdom of his aeronautical engineering were the town’s most flagrant criminals?

She couldn’t let them get out of sight. Had to work this out while running.

Logan elbowed Finn, muttering to the short man, who gratefully stood his whiskey barrel on its end and left it behind. The City Council was turning south toward the huts suspended off the lower cliff. When the last one had sauntered off Dusk Street, Jenny peeled out of her hiding place, thoughts racing.

They had claimed they were going to root out the traitor who had tipped the Toral Emperor off to the existence of Rust Town and the gold-laden sphere it was chasing. But there was no way a posse of ten unscrupulous and tone-deaf highwaymen could ferret out the mole. Hundreds of people on the island were broke enough to take Toral gold, and Jenny could even imagine someone alerting the military because they might actually have the resources to reach the damn treasure.

No, she thought as she hurried through the chill night beneath the emerging constellations, what the City Council really needed was a marketing coup. They’d overplayed their hand by holding the town hostage with their bombs. Now they couldn’t walk the streets in daylight, barring some sort of crisis.

But if they won their way back into the good graces of McConnell and his posse with an act of justice, and if that act threw her uncle under the landing gear–someone only she and Rose and Karla would really miss…

The pounding cold seeped through Jennifer Hunter Griffin’s entire body. She ran faster.

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Clockwork Raven. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thanks to Lynne, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Horizon 2

The party remained in full swing outside as Rose, Griffin, and Karla dragged an unresisting Master Ranson into a warehouse full of canvas sheets adjoining the square. It made for a bizarre contrast: the upbeat fiddles winding their way through an ancient chorus outside, the three ashen-faced interrogators and one terrified slaver within. Rose heard someone slip and spill their drink. The dancers around them guffawed.

“I’ll guard the door,” Griffin told them. “I’ll say somebody’s sleeping off a bad brew in here. No-one wants to smell that.”

“So we’ve decided we’re keeping another secret?” Rose asked, glancing at Karla.

“I just want to control how this gets out. Don’t you?”

“It’s not our right to–”

“Rose, we live in the mass hysteria capital of the eastern hemisphere! Freaking out at small signs is literally everyone’s job.”

“Excuse me, folks,” Ranson snapped, anger barely concealing his distress. “If I could have a moment of your time…”

Griffin slipped through the door, brooking no further discussion.

Rose fumed. But got herself together quickly. She sat down at the table where Karla was already keeping Ranson under glowering watch.

“I first got word of the Empire’s movements two days ago, through one of my overseas contacts. Those of us who–” Ranson straightened his back, defiant under the withering glares of Rose and Karla “–who work in the isles need to keep up with the shifting winds in the home territories. This particular person owes me a favor, so they sent the news by the fastest available boat.” He shuddered. “Had it not been for me, nobody would have gotten word of this invasion until the ships crested the horizon.”

“Yeah, you’re a bloody hero,” Karla interjected. “Maybe I should’ve let you kidnap me last week, as preemptive thanks.”

The slaver narrowed his eyes. “Do you know, silly girl, of the concept of supply and demand? I’ll spare you the parts you wouldn’t understand, but it means that my employment would exist irrespective of my choice to engage in it. I didn’t invent slavery.”

“Spare us,” Rose said. She wished she could convince Karla to switch places with Griffin. The girl was still settling in, not to mention having to pretend to be a landling. She didn’t deserve the pressure of…whatever was about to happen.

Yet she’d forced her way to Ranson. The real question was why Rose had such a hard time accepting that someone who’d survived on her own for ten years had her own source of inner strength.

“Why are you calling it an invasion?” she asked Ranson.

“Because that’s what it is!” bawled the salt-soaked man. “The Emperor has gotten wind of the hopeless fools up here chasing their magnificent treasure, and he’s decided nobody is permitted to be a more hopeless fool than he is. He’s sending ships of his fleet, filled with soldiers of his army, to claim the rights to the gold.”

Rose’s mouth hung open for a second, unable to speak. The very idea was so unbelievable she had to digest it. The City Council had tried the exact same thing and been driven underground for their trouble–but now the ruler of one and a half continents wanted to get involved?

“Why does an emperor need treasure?” Karla asked.

Ranson snorted. “Why does a fire need fuel? Why does a body need food? An empire is nothing more than a digestive system for money. Constantly, it chews up coin, and secretes it in the form of wars and roads and ships. The Toral Empire is more gluttonous than most.”

“Are you trying to say that the Emperor rules half the world, but he’s broke?”

“Inelegantly…yes.”

Pain spiked at Rose’s temples. She thought of the patients she had still lying in her cots: fractured ankle, dysentery, watery breathing. She shouldn’t have left them alone.

What was she doing here? What were any of them doing here? Had she ever really asked a Ruster that question, even Edward Griffin?

No matter. She’d lived here long enough to know one thing for certain.

“No Rust Town engineer is ever going to pay tribute from any treasure they bring back from the sky,” she said. “It’s against our religion.”

A choking noise of frustration shot out of Ranson’s throat. “I’ll say it slower. You people have no chance. If you warn your townsfolk now, they might be able to get out and find another launch pad for their idiotic mission somewhere else in the archipelago. This crystal belongs to the Toral Emperor.”

“Rose,” Karla ventured, ignoring the spittle flying from the slaver’s mouth, “is that…I mean, would it really be a problem?”

“Would what be?”

“To let them take the island. Agree to give them a cut and keep on like you always do.”

Rose sighed. “That won’t be possible under military occupation. Not least because the locals will fight it tooth and nail on principle. The era of any whacko being able to launch his own skycraft when the crystal glows will end.”

Karla turned white as the implication sank in. That can’t have been the best way to tell her.

“They won’t let me look for Kio,” she murmured. “And if they find him, they’ll kill him.”

Rose started. “I never said that.”

“Imperial soldiers are like the old Rokhshan, right?” The color was flushing rapidly back into Karla’s face, giving her an otherworldly bent in the flickering torchlight from the dance. Ranson inched away unsubtly. “No lives without being conquerors. The cause they fight for is their god. I just bet they’ll wanna free the castle.”

Rose looked for the lie, couldn’t find it. “Ranson. You’ve had contact with these people before. What are they likely to do?”

“Seize all your skycraft, all your watercraft, kill anyone who disagrees, arrest dozens of you just to prove they’re invincible.” Ranson aimed a look of solidarity at both of them, and failed.

“That settles it, then.” Karla headed for the door. “We need to launch before they get here.”

“Be sensible!” Ranson cried. “They’re a day’s sail away, at most!”

“We have half a plane already. We have my knowledge. We’ve got Jenny and Griffin and–”

Like his name had been an incantation, the doctor himself knocked the door open with a heel of one hand. Jenny trailed behind him.

“I need you both,” he said brusquely. “Party’s gone south.”

Outside, Rose checked the western horizon on instinct. But no sails or steam clouds hovered there yet.

The fiddlers and strummers by the crystal had thrown down their instruments and formed ranks around a group of whimpering children. The dancers had cleared the floor, and most of the mob took up positions by the food tables. Some joined Grace McConnell in the center, where she, Adam, and Jada were in heated discussion with someone Rose couldn’t see.

She swept eyes over the whole scene and realized what else she couldn’t see.

Oh, no. Jenny!

“I left her on the dance floor,” Karla said, like she’d read Rose’s mind. “She must have found somewhere safe. She had to.”

The person confronting the McConnell posse spat some words onto the ground and pushed past them while their guards were down. Now in the torchlight, it was not a person but people.

Familiar people.

“Rust Town!” Aiden of the City Council swung a massive claymore off his back and slammed it point-first into the dirt. “You’ve all been betrayed. Sold out to the highest bidder. The Toral Empire is coming, and nobody’s safe from the stooge who invited them.”

He paused to let his words sink in.

“And we’re going to track them down.”

Rose, unbelievably, giggled.

In the years she had spent ministering to the people of Rust from her cave on the mountain, she’d brushed up against all manner of villainy. People attacked by their brothers over aircraft designs. Escapees from the slavers, sold for money to keep a workshop going. Even the truly bizarre–the man who had tried replacing his arms with wings came to mind.

She thought she had managed to become jaded. She was a sentinel, never involved, always watching. It was crucial for her soul that she remain above the rust.

This, though. Aiden the street thug claiming to be ready to fight for justice, to string up a traitor. It was so completely strange, and so absolutely expected, that she laughed for not having seen it before.

“Do you know who the stooge is, then?” she asked.

“No, healer Rose,” Aiden replied imperiously. “But he’s here. He’s on the island. And he cannot hide.”

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Clockwork Raven. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out!

Thanks to Lynne, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

Horizon 1

The hiatus is over! Thanks to everyone for your patience while I caught up on things. It’s back to the regular update schedule starting now.

“Kaaaaarla!” Jenny slid into the clinic on her heels, making enough noise to startle the elderly patients awake. “You ready to go yet?”

“Couple seconds!” Karla called from the side cavern.

“Well, hurry up.” Jenny swaggered past Karla’s slim view on the outer cave. “The food’s already going. Even Aunt Rose beat us there.”

Notwithstanding, Karla knew she had a moment or two to spare. A week after the glow, the infirmary was mostly filled with pilots on the last stages of recovering from blows they took in their landings. Many of their twisted ankles and fractured collarbones had bandages ready to come off. They put walking off for a half a day to rest, drink the endlessly flowing mugs of tea, chat with the others and Rose. They’d be more than able to stall Jenny too.

Especially since most of their injuries were healing fast since they’d gotten word of the party in the square tonight. Through the door, pilots clustered around Jenny asking her who was playing the music, how pretty the girls were, how dashing the men, what there was to eat. Rust Town didn’t gather often, but when it did, the nights were remembered.

Karla took a second to look around the small room before heading out to join them. It was something she caught herself doing a lot lately–checking her surroundings, running her hands over them, trying to convince herself they were real. The little cubicle Rose had set aside for her was nothing special: just a cot with a woven red-and-blue rug as a blanket and a little table with a basin of water and a lantern half-filled with oil. On Nashido, she owned a dozen rooms this one could fit inside.

Yet everything was different. In seven days, she hadn’t yet managed to wake up without pulling on her old still-damp fur jacket and running a checklist of which systems it was her turn to inspect today. The coat smelled awful–the first thing she’d learned on the surface was that old saltwater was about the grossest scent there was–and by the time she made it to the cavern door she’d be sweating buckets. Rose, who was usually up tending to patients at sunrise, had laughed the first time, but quickly fell silent when she saw Karla’s face. By the fourth day, she’d just said good morning, and invited Karla to come hold a man’s leg while she washed it.

When the healer could spare her, she would wander the safe parts of town, from the caves to the crystal square to the hanging wooden piers the Rusters had drilled into the cliffside to grab at more space for more treasure hunters. Often she couldn’t even make it an hour before the sheer number of people overwhelmed her and sent her rushing back to somewhere cool and dark. There were humans stacked on humans in Rust Town, working their gardens, tinkering in their workshops, staggering up and down the paths with heavy loads, none of them noticing her existence except when she was in their way.

On Nashido, she’d been trapped, but at least she knew any other person she saw would be trustworthy. Having only Kio to run into made that simple.

Thinking of him was the only thing that hadn’t changed. Karla could get used to waking up in a cave on the surface. Not to waking up without knowing how to reach him.

Her third day, when the crush of people had gotten too much again, Karla had urged herself not to run back to the infirmary. She hadn’t finally reached the surface just so she could hole up in a cave. Instead, she had found a little switchback trail that ran behind the crystal square, and soon enough was winding her way up the cliff face.

The sun was high on a warm day, and she felt her heartbeat slowing. This she could deal with. As she climbed above the town, the dome of blue sky expanded. Amid the lonely path, the high breeze rustling clumps of heather clinging to the rock, Karla could almost feel at home.

The clockwork helped, too. Drilled into the side of the cliff face were several sets of pulleys attached by rope to lifts and hooks, meant for raising aircraft up to the lofty alpine meadows where they could be launched without jostling dozens of others. She was tempted to try taking a ride on one of them–but of course they were meant to be used with someone at the top. These people were so used to a world full of others top help them that they hadn’t even set up a decent counterweight.

Mid-afternoon, she stopped to take a break on a wide ledge. She sat down in the grass and felt its chill through her fingers. A tiny brown bird chirped at her from an aerie a few feet above.

She could have kept going to see what was on top of the mountain–from her new angle, at least. But when she leaned back and looked at the sky, it was suddenly empty.

It had been before, of course. The sun was gone. There were no clouds. And the crystal wasn’t glowing, the Rusters not launching their planes, so there was no Nashido. But before, there had been roofs or the mountain itself to distract her from the fact that Kio was so far gone she couldn’t look up to see him.

A star, she had thought, sitting up and clutching her face in her hands. We should have picked out a star to look at together. That’s what they’re always doing in the stories.

She’d stumbled her way back down the trail, and hadn’t gone up again since.

“Karla!” Jenny’s voice shook her awake. The young engineer had pushed into Karla’s room to find her standing motionless, staring into her washbasin. “You coming or what?”

Karla blinked. The room was real. “Yeah,” she said, managing a smile. “Let’s go.”

Jenny grabbed her hand and led her out through the cave, waving goodbye to the assembled pilots as she passed. Some waved back, some smiled at Karla, some got up to hobble after them, but not quickly enough. Hooked to Jenny, Karla had to race to keep up.

On the arcing path that led along the cliff above the north end of Rust, Jenny suddenly stopped, pondering. Then she asked, “Do you think pedalling is inefficient?”

“Well, yeah,” Karla answered without thinking. “Maybe not on all flights, but you’re building for a mile across the sea and three directly into the air. It doesn’t matter how strong you are. Your legs would give out.”

Jenny started walking again, but slower, letting Karla fall into step. “Sure. But you’ve seen what we’ve been working on at Uncle Griff’s. Hell, you’ve replaced half of it this week, and we’re about to tear out the other half based on all you’ve told us. Couldn’t that make pedalling work?”

“It’s…” Karla considered. “It’s not that. It’s this idea that there needs to be a power source at all. There’s enough force in the world to move anything anywhere, it doesn’t need its own propulsion.”

“Maybe not when all you have to is glide, but–”

“Updrafts! Updrafts are a thing!”

They kept on this way, back and forth, while the sound of fiddles and drums grew louder. At last, they emerged into the plaza under the quiet crystal.

Parties in Rust Town never seemed to be arranged by anybody, so Jenny had told her. Every now and then, everybody just realized all at once that there ought to be one. People would exchange words in the drinking pits, other people would run home to bring word to families, those families would discuss what they could spare, and one or two days later, someone had slaughtered a pig and tables were groaning with vegetables and half the town was sprawled on the grass in the twilight, talking and cajoling each other to dance.

Karla hardly had time to wave to Dr. Griffin, who was having his ear talked off by the Carpenter twins, before Jenny yanked her arm once more and pulled her into the middle of the square. Rusters were already dancing to the pounding music, in couples or groups or ambitiously alone.

“I have no idea how to–how do you dance?” Karla protested.

Jenny shrugged. “Just kinda flop around. Don’t think too hard.”

“How are you doing it? You think all the time!”

“C’mon, Karla, don’t you remember being a kid?”

Never was one, Karla thought, but didn’t speak. The torches hung around the square like fairy lights, the engineers sampling beef and crackers and trays of veggies instead of furtively sneaking through the streets, though they were still carrying knives and heavy wrenches…it all combined to send a rush through her.

She wanted to be worthy of tonight. It would make her worthy of the whole surface.

She threw herself into the dance, following Jenny’s spastic lead. The musicians under the crystal consisted of three fiddlers with different sizes of instrument, two people sitting on crates they pounded with their hands, and one plucking a long-necked banjo. They weren’t all playing quite the same notes, but their accidental harmonies added to the sense that Rust Town had slipped for the night into another, happier dimension. Plus, they were playing fast, and joyfully.

Jenny had to put a hand on her shoulder to get her to stop. “I’ll get drinks, yeah? Oughta be something we can keep down.” She clicked her tongue and wove off into the crowd.

Kio wouldn’t want me to sit around in a cave and pine. But with that thought, as she edged off the dance floor, came renewed guilt–she’d been working in Griffin’s workshop every day, but she’d wasted time rambling around on the mountain…

She was still thinking about how to put in more hours at Griffin’s shop when she nearly ran into the man himself. The square was wide, dancers only taking up a circle in the middle, but she’d skirted its edges faster than she thought. She’d come to where Griffin had just extricated himself from the Carpenters and gone over to join Rose.

The healer was standing with her wrench at her waist, tensed, ready to swing.

She looked around when Karla approached. Her eyes widened. “Go back with the other kids, Karla,” she said quickly. “You don’t need to see this.”

“Screw that.” Karla pushed her way between them. Griffin grunted, but didn’t take his eyes off the entrance to the square. With a hiss of leather, he drew his long knife.

Karla’s stomach clenched. She raised her eyes and saw a small man in a gaudy overcoat, soaked to the bone. He was panting and out of breath, his hands on his knees.

Master Ranson,” she snarled.

“Please,” the slaver gasped when he could talk. “Listen to me. Would I have jumped off my raft if I wasn’t serious?”

“You might be lying,” Karla shot back. “You know, because you’re a floating piece of–”

“Karla,” Griffin warned. She shook off the hand he tried to place on her arm and took a step toward Ranson.

The slaver flinched. Huh. That’s new.

“Talk,” Karla demanded.

“He can talk from a jail cell.” Rose stepped forward, but Karla flung out an arm.

“Please, Rose. I want to hear this.”

Ranson gulped. “The Emperor is coming. He’s got thirteen ships on their way here, and they’re prepared to invade.”

I’m a self-supported artist, and I rely on donations to keep bringing you The Clockwork Raven. Check out my Patreon to see the bonus content you can get if you pledge. Even $1 a month helps–and gets you a personal shout-out! Thanks to Lynne, David, Paul, and Thomas for their continued support.

A Brief Hiatus

Hi everyone. Thank you, as always, for reading this far–I’m really grateful that people have made the story part of their lives and keep checking for updates.

I’m sorry for not having announced this before the actual posting date, but The Clockwork Raven is going to take a short break from updates, lasting exactly two weeks. Without going too deeply into it, let me just say that a lot has come up at once in both my writing and non-writing lives, and as a result I don’t have the kind of backlog I like to maintain for regular updates.

Have no fear that this will turn into a dead page, however–I’ll be back with the start of the next arc, Horizon, precisely on August 1. Here are some things you can do in the meantime:

  • Take a look at The Clockwork Raven‘s ever-expanding TV Tropes page, and feel free to update it if you think of something that belongs.
  • Check out the three Patreon interludes if you haven’t yet, using the links on the table of contents.
  • Head over to my other serial, The Glass Thief, which will continue updating regularly starting with a double post tomorrow.

Thanks for bearing with me on this, and I’ll see you in two weeks for the start of the final third of the story!