Monster 3

“Hold up!” Dr. Griffin panted. In the middle of Low Dusk, skirting after Rose between a garbage pit and a pile of rubble that had once been a stack of crates, he collapsed with his hands on his knees, gasping for air.

Rose looked at him, unimpressed. “I ran all the way from the clinic before this, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I was in a fight with a knife-wielding madman,” Griffin managed. “Which I won, by the way. Give me three seconds.”

Rose raised an eyebrow. “One.”

“All right, all right!” Griffin staggered to his feet. “Let’s go. I can do this.”

He caught his second wind as he chased her long coat, its hem flapping through pools of light. Lanterns spilled soft glows, hanging under eaves in the tight alley, swinging in a light and metal-tanged breeze. Rose skimmed left and right through them like she had a map in her brain. Griffin could have made it without following her. Years in Rust Town did that to anybody, even though Rose was relatively new.

Soon they left the warren of pathways behind. The ground sloped more steeply down toward the sea. Low Dusk was drowsy, even with the glow, but behind them, a tide of noise–propellors and shouts and landing gear–was rising in Main Rust.

Ahead, though, was a carpet of seagull cries and waves, a scritch-scritch of talons on rocks. Dr. Griffin went here often. Usually, it made him able to exhale, to breathe in air that wasn’t saturated with steam and soot.

Tonight, though, his thoughts were only on Jenny. He scrambled faster and faster down a dirt trail, kicking rocks down the hillside. A carpet of grass wafted in the wind.

“The dock’s not far,” Rose called over her shoulder. “Do you have a plan?”

“Honestly,” Griffin replied, “I’m kind of assuming she does.”

***

Jenny was fiddling with a small metal canister.

Karla wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do here, but if it were Kio, she’d probably apologize. She was, after all, basically the entire reason they were both in this mess. Without her, Jenny would be back at…Rust Town? By now.

She shifted closer to the younger girl. “I’m sorry about this. I didn’t think–”

“What? Didn’t think anybody on the surface cared about a magic floating castle?” Jenny didn’t look at her. “Don’t talk to me or they’ll tie us up.”

That wasn’t entirely fair. Karla had looked down at the Big Island for year after year, and had imagined every now and then that somebody was looking back. But could those planes really have been trying to reach Castle Nashido? They must have known they had no chance to get there, right?

And where did this thing about us having treasure come from?

Being sold to some Emperor was bad enough, but being the property of a megalomaniac whose desire for riches she couldn’t satisfy sounded quite a bit worse.

She looked around herself. Ranson’s crew were straining at their oars again, pulling them over the waves toward what looked like solid cliff. Which made sense. A slaver’s secret cave wouldn’t just be sitting out in the open–she and Kio had seen fishing boats around here. One could stumble on it far too easily.

Tracing the cliff the other direction, she saw it slope down into a gravelly beach. A rickety fisher’s wharf was barely visible in the moonlight.

Could they swim for it? Ranson hadn’t tied them up, figuring there was nowhere to go, but Karla had swam enough in the reservoir and was strong enough to make it.

No way, she heard Kio say in her head, though Perfect Karla was already swimming. The ocean is so different from our reservoir it’s not funny. There are waves and it’s freezing and everything is salty.

Hearing his voice hardened her resolve. She’d promised to get him down. She had not come to the surface to get sold into slavery by a guy who wouldn’t even row his own raft.

Jenny had managed to pry the top off her canister by the time Karla slid back over to her, keeping her work hidden between her knees from Ranson and the crew. A bit of greyish-brown powder was leaking from the open lid.

“Jenny–”

“Look, Karla or whoever you are, I know you’re sorry. Just let me finish this.”

She stopped herself from asking finish what? and sat back hugging her knees in the center of the raft, wishing her first meetings with other people had gone better.

Soon, however, Jenny slid over toward her, and whispered much more quietly than before–so quietly only Karla could hear the words over the wind and waves.

“Do you happen to have a way to make fire?”

Wanting to help, Karla racked her brains. How many ways had she and Kio made fire before? Bowdrills with salvaged wood, matches from sky kingdoms, that one time they pilfered a pipe from the ruins of an old tavern and lit it by sparking an old lump of coal on the wall and took turns failing to smoke it…

A point of glowing light, much closer than the stars.

“The cigar,” she whispered to Jenny.

She nodded, keeping her voice at a muffled hiss. “I’ll distract him. You grab it.”

Karla held up a hand in what she hoped was the universal gesture for wait.

Jenny waited. Though what Karla could see in her eyes was growing murderous. She hoped it wasn’t some sort of vulgar gesture on the surface.

“Why,” she growled as the raft drew closer to the cliff face, “are we waiting?”

“Shut up down there,” one of the oarsmen snapped. Ranson whirled around, tracing a line across Karla’s eyes with the precious cigar flame. Karla and Jenny snapped their hands behind their backs and looked up at him with innocent gazes.

When he turned away again, Karla made a triangle with her fingers, then pointed to their destination on the seacliff, then the pebble beach.

A second later, Jenny nodded. Karla hoped she understood. Ranson was paddling in a wide arc to get out of the bay’s windblown center as fast as he could, into the shelter of the cliff. If the powder from the canister really was some kind of fuel, they had to set it off in the brief window when the raft was closer to the beach landing than the secret lair.

The oarsmen heaved closer to the Big Island’s cliff. The wind died down. Karla stared at the pebble beach, and vowed she’d get there, with Jenny, or die fighting Ranson’s bid to clamp her in chains.

Meeting the emperor could wait. Karla laid her hand over Jenny’s with three fingers extended.

Two. One.

Jenny shoved the oarsman beside her, slapping his oar hard against the ones on either side of it. She ducked while the burly man swung his hand to strike her.

Ranson spun again, his fine coat whipping behind him, to see the source of the commotion. “That’s it,” he said, scowling. “You. Tie their hands. Feet too, in case they get any ideas about–”

Karla surged up. Ranson had removed the cigar to gesture with it while giving his order–all she had to do was snatch it out of his hand.

The short man lunged, tangling Karla in his ridiculous coat. Jenny was yelling, something like “Now, now now now!” With one more mighty yank, the burning cinder was free, and Karla slammed her hand down, praying to Mara she’d hit the trail of powder Jenny had left.

***

At the bottom of the hill, the path petered out onto the wide crescent of scree where the Rusters had built their dock. Several wharves all stuck out in different directions, all but one made of wood too rotted-through to be useful for much but bird roosts. Several cormorants scattered off into the dusk as Rose dragged Griffin off the path behind a tall upright stone.

“Did you see him?” she asked as they squatted in a pebbly, salt-scented cranny.

“Ranson?” Griffin said. “Yeah. His raft was a few hundred feet–”

A flash lit the night, followed by a clap like a thunderstorm in a bottle. Griffin’s first thought was that some other city council enforcer had let off his canister bomb–but the sound had been too small to be the power they’d bragged about. Unless their bluff had been enormous…

Rose was already around the rock and running for the waves. By the time Griffin caught up, she had shed her apron. He threw off his white coat to land next to hers.

“Come on!” the healer shouted. “She’s in the water!”

Griffin looked up to see a scene he couldn’t have imagined two hours ago. Amid the black offshore night, Master Ranson’s raft was a bright spot, flames licking ten feet up from its deck. Most of the oarsmen were already in the water, some swimming for the cliff wall, some clinging to floating oars and splashing water on the flames. Two of them carried Ranson, who was clutching the side of his face, screaming for them to work faster.

“And catch them! Catch the two girls!” he squealed, when he had spare breath to do so.

Two?

Griffin’s eyes darted down to where a pair of long white foamy spots thrashed through the water. He splashed as far as he could, then dove, started to swim. Rose was beside him, hair plastered to her sodden clothes, dragging herself through the waves.

The two white lines moved closer, resolved themselves, as two oarsmen broke off from the burning raft to chase them. “Get to land!” Griffin shouted. “Ranson won’t try his crap in town. He’s too much of a coward.”

The swimmers were near enough that even in weak moonlight, he could tell one of them was Jenny. A brief memory flashed through his mind, of cradling her in this water once before, as a green cloud drifted high above and the town turned to ash.

She closed the distance surprisingly quickly. Her arms flew around his neck and held tight. He grabbed her legs as well, thrashed until his feet found ground again, began to wade.

Rose, beside him, held another girl in a similar grip. She looked older than Jenny, though not yet an adult. Dark-skinned, yet ash-blond, with a face as weathered as any Ruster’s her age. She could have come from anywhere.

But she must have flown far.

Back on shore, he and Rose scrambled to their feet to help their passengers up. “We gotta go,” was the first thing Jenny said.

Griffin held her shoulders. “You can run on your own?”

“Yes!” she replied so quickly he remembered two of Ranson’s henchmen were still on their tail. Rose looked both of them up and down, pronounced them fit to run, and they ran.

“Get back here!” Ranson wailed in the distance. “I rightfully claimed you!”

But as strong as his oarsmen were, rowing, then swimming, then chasing down a quarry would slow anybody. Griffin, Rose, Jenny, and the other girl had crossed the beach before they made it to shore.

“This is Karla, by the way,” Jenny panted. “She’s from nowhere, but we lost your craft, and now…oh. Oh, everything’s messed up.”

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

Monster 2

Rose passed the knife back to Griffin handle-first as the engineer picked himself up out of the road. “I’m sure you had things under control,” she said, offering him a hand that he waved away, “but I just thought I could–”

“That was awesome!” shouted the sky-shattering voice of Guy Carpenter, who slipped away from his mother’s grasp and raced up to Griffin and Rose. “You threw that guy off the roof! And then you just–bam!”

Lost for words, he clapped them both on the back, barely reaching.

“Go back and help your mother,” Rose said, gently shoving Guy toward where Jada had pitched Aiden out of the trough. The older woman was tying the bandit’s hands and feet together.

As she turned, Griffin took his chance to study her face. Her mussed brown hair covered her forehead and fell past her shoulders, notwithstanding a failed attempt to tie it back. It went everywhere, framing her gently curved nose and eyes he’d always noticed were a complicated shade of hazel. Never the same twice.

She turned back to him and he glanced away, not quite quickly enough for her not to catch him staring.

“Where’s Dan?” he asked, so there wouldn’t be an awkward silence.

Rose half-smiled. “Minding the workshop. I think he can see my door from there, too. Makes me feel better to have someone besides the patients standing guard.”

“What about the rest of the city council? And their bombs?”

“Don’t know. But nobody’s exploded yet.”

“How did you know to come here?”

“Your niece got herself into some trouble up at the infirmary,” Rose checked behind her to see Jada restrain Guy from kicking the unconscious Aiden. “I followed as soon as the fight she started moved on. I’m not surprised I arrived just in time for something.”

Griffin scratched the back of his head. He could practically feel the white in there today. “She started what?”

“A fight.” Rose shrugged. “It was a good idea. But if she’s gonna keep calling me her aunt, I’m going to use that power to insist she be in deep trouble.”

Griffin didn’t reply. A knot in his gut had tied and tightened. He told himself Jenny could handle the craft, that she’d wanted to go, that he’d had no choice…but it was precisely when people said that that the choice was most important.

“Where is she, by the way?” Rose asked. “Somewhere safe?”

He looked at her, and swallowed, and her healer’s wisdom told her the truth instantly.

With one step she was in his face. “You let her fly?

“Aiden forced me to!” The words sounded feeble as they left his mouth.

“You threw him off a roof!” she shouted. “You couldn’t have done that forty-five seconds earlier so a twelve-year-old wouldn’t have to fly to the sphere by herself!?”

With nothing to say, Griffin held her gaze, racking his brains to think of how to make this up to both of them.

Information. Need information.

He took off downhill, toward the seacliff, and Rose kept pace.

In the quest for more working space, some Rusters had built wooden decks out from the cliff top, and lived and worked over empty space. At least one hanging airstrip emerged from the twilight as Griffin and Rose panted their way toward a better view. With the town emptied out by the Glow, nobody stopped the from racing onto one of the bridges leading between these suspended shacks. Griffin braced himself against a doorway–there were no rails–and Rose pulled up short.

Planes buzzed over the ocean like hornets from a kicked nest. The smaller ones that hadn’t been built for distance were already turning back, but they had to weave through the flock of late launchers. Those that couldn’t ducked underneath and veered hard to avoid crashing into the cliff. Everywhere Griffin looked, a dozen aircraft were circling, diving, climbing, pulsing, pedaling, skimming the waves. Barges plied the whitecaps, some of them prying survivors out of their doomed aircraft, some of them ransacking the craft themselves.

None of them were his. None of them contained Jenny.

Rose nudged his arm hard and pointed down at one particularly large raft. It had no sails, no mast–just sacks of lumpy misshapen items, a dozen people straining at the oars, and one squat, practically square-shaped man in a fancy coat.

“Master Ranson,” Griffin muttered.

Rose hadn’t let go of his arm. “Edward, we can’t let him get anywhere near her. The best thing he’ll do is steal your aircraft.”

The deck squeaked under Griffin’s feet as he shook. “But what if Jenny lands back at our airstrip?”

“She’ll be fine!” Rose took off again. “We need to be there if she lands in the ocean. Or anywhere near his barge.”

With a deep breath, Griffin followed in her wake.

***

Two of the crew shipped their oars and dragged Karla and the girl aboard by their collars. The oarsmen were all large, dour-looking men and women, and Karla had no idea what sort of island produced people like this–or whether all surface people just perpetually looked like they’d just had the same bridge collapse on them for the third time in a month.

The moment the crew holding the girl pilot let go, she made a break for the water. The raft rocked, the short man in charge barked and order, and a massive oarsmen yanked her back on deck, not letting go this time.

“Make for the cavern. No more distractions,” the short man in the purple coat ordered. He spoke to his crew entirely in sharp, clipped statements, like they were half-trained animals. He was chewing on some sort of rolled cigar, its tip glowing orange in the deep-blue night.

When he turned to his captives, however, his tone became treaclier. Karla didn’t like him. She hoped the girl pilot was nice, since otherwise the surface was really not sending its best humans to greet her.

“You’re Dr. Griffin’s little apprentice, aren’t you?” he said, and grinned. “The madman’s daughter. How adorable.”

“My name is Jenny,” the pilot spat, “I’m his niece, he’s not a madman, and nothing about this situation is adorable. Let me go. My plane is sinking.”

“A salient argument for why we shouldn’t rescue it,” the raft’s master replied. “It’s in the ocean, ergo it’s failed, ergo your mad uncle has another mark on his record.”

“Shut up!” Jenny’s face grew red. “Uncle Griff’s plane made it farther than anyone. I could have reached the sphere. I just turned back to…to…”

Her eyes drifted to Karla.

The raftmaster chuckled. “No need to censor yourself, Jenny Griffin. She’s already told us everything. You brought back the queen of the castle in the sky.”

Jenny wiped her tears with her sodden sleeve. Incredulity filled her face. “You’re…you’re from the sphere?”

The sound of the waves, the thud of distant propellors, a seagull high up in the sky–all the noises of the scene amplified, filled Karla’s ears until Jenny’s words sounded faraway.

“I…told you the dragon wasn’t my craft,” she half-whispered.

“That’s not the whole story, is it?” Jenny crawled toward her, rocking the raft further. “You didn’t launch from Rust Town. You were descending.

“Then she got where she was going!” The raftmaster pointed to a spot along the seacliff and glared at his rowers. “Double time. We’ve got the most valuable hostage in this grubby island’s history on our hands.”

Karla still hardly heard a word.

This was the Big Island. The place she and Kio had dreamed of. The capital of the world.

What was Rust Town?

Also, this girl–Jenny–she wanted to reach Nashido. The place Karla had spent her life trying to escape, and Jenny believed as strongly in getting there as Karla ever had in leaving.

People driven toward one thing, one thing only, could recognize each other on sight. That was Karla’s first lesson in interacting with surface people.

Her second came soon after.

“Take us back to shore,” Jenny demanded, her voice shaking. “Now.”

Ranson laughed, louder and louder with each second, until his oarsmen joined in.

“I won’t be doing that, little girl,” he said. “Do you know who I am?”

“Should I?” Jenny asked.

“Yeah, should she?” Karla added.

“I’m Ranson,” the raftmaster said. “Wealthiest slaver on the island. I’ve been to Toral half a dozen times. And this time, you’re both coming with me.”

“If we…refuse?” That sounded to Karla like the right thing to say.

“Why would you?” Master Ranson looked her dead in the eye, chewing on his cigar like he intended to swallow it. “You’re going to meet the Emperor.”

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.

Monster 1

Karla’s eyes twitched open.

Her hands–human hands, pale and rigid–were clinging onto something, without her consent.

She was sprawled flat on something, every single inch of her skin smarting like it had been struck with a paddle. Her hood flapped back and forth as her hair streamed above her. Sky and earth and sea wheeled before her in a disjointed dream.

Had she fallen asleep? Was this what birds dreamt about?

Wait. Something else was going on. Something important, that she’d spent a lot of time thinking about, and that Karla predicted would have her a lot more worried in a few seconds.

Oh, right. I’m falling to my death.

***

Whether or not his niece believed him, Dr. Griffin had lived an interesting enough youth to know what to do when someone lunged at him with a knife.

The first thing, he remembered clearly, was that you didn’t want to lunge back at your attacker like a drunken rhinoceros. So he dodged backward instead, and Aiden’s manic swipe of the blade swept through the air where his body had been.

The second thing was to gauge your attacker’s frame of mind. What did they want?

Dr. Griffin was pretty sure Aiden wanted to kill him. He might even have a good time doing it. But the city council man didn’t want to blow himself up–he had the look of a man who enjoyed life. So Griffin probably didn’t have to worry too much about the explosives.

Except that while the bomb was live, the people surging through the sky above him or banging on his door would be too afraid to approach and help him.

He backed hastily up the launch ramp out of the scrubby courtyard, so Finn would have a harder time circling behind him. Aiden lunged upward, chasing him up toward the airstrip, the sharp edge glinting blue in the faint light scattering off the crystal.

Griffin wished he wasn’t so good at picking out knives.

Finn threw his whole body, missed completely, bowling back down the ramp.

Griffin’s heart gave a wild pound to remind him this was not his job. He was supposed to be a scientist, a servant of the world, but in Rust Town nothing was objective. And it certainly wasn’t sacred.

“What are you even trying to do?” he shouted at Aiden, dashing backwards across the airstrip. The wheeled landing gear sat near the ramp, thrown back by Jenny’s launch. Griffin grabbed it and flung it between him and the bandit. Its wheels squeaked in protest.

“Win this town forever!” Aiden’s next swing lodged his blade in the cart. He dislodged it with a yank. “Why do I have to keep explaining things to you people?”

“You’re not going to use that big bomb of yours!” Griffin tried to shove the cart down the ramp at Aiden, but the wheels didn’t turn. “That makes you basically just a dumbass with a knife. Which is hardly original around here. The only way to be less creative would be if you were drunk.”

As Aiden leveled his knife again, Griffin’s eyes alit on a crowbar one of the women who launched before them had dropped.

It would have to do. Aiden plunged his knife down, but Griffin scooped up the crowbar and flung it up to block his arm from landing. The bandit wrestled, but Griffin had swung too many hammers to be a total weakling.

They separated, circling each other on the airstrip. Let’s have a real fight.

***

Karla wedged herself on top of the skycraft as comfortably as she could. It wasn’t easy–wherever this thing came from, it refused point-blank to behave like Raven. It was always slightly too long, or too narrow, or its wings were beating at an angle just different enough to feel weird but not so different she could immediately put her finger on it.

Now that she wasn’t moving around, the craft managed to fall slightly less and glide a little more. Its pilot hadn’t spoken yet–probably still thought Karla was unconscious.

She’d have to make first contact.

Here goes, she thought. First human in your life who isn’t Kio. Say the right thing.

Her throat siezed up, but she forced through anyway. She’d always dreamed of this moment, known it would be difficult, prepared mentally and emotionally. She knew exactly what to say.

“I don’t think you’re flying the plane right!” she shouted.

She hadn’t planned that.

Clinging to the top of the craft that threatened to buck her into the freezing ocean any second, Karla felt a cold sweat. She’d have expected this kind of awkwardness from Kio. Not her.

Then she realized the pilot probably couldn’t hear her anyway.

Instead, she watched the world wheel and hung on desperately. She had never been this close to the surface before, and it thrilled her blood and bones so much she barely knew she wasn’t dreaming.

The stars and clouds were so far.

The mountains were above her.

Could she actually hear the ocean? Nah, blood rushing in her ears. But she did hear something soon enough.

“Why don’t we switch places, then?” came a high-pitched shout from under the wings.

“No, I–uh–I didn’t mean–” she spluttered. “I’m Karla!”

“You’re supposed to be unconscious!” the voice bawled.

“I can help you!” she shouted. She wanted to be sick–even with her strong raven’s constitution–but she’d still been able to observe the strange plane’s flight path. And extrapolate.

In the distance lay the lights of the Big Island, crowned with the glowing blue crystal. The craft’s nose wavered across an average path pointing directly at that plateau.

“Can you drop my weight by fifty pounds?” the pilot shouted.

The plane lurched downward. The pilot gave up even more altitude to level it out.

“You can’t make it!”

“What?”

“To the city!” Karla stopped herself from crawling forward. “We’re too heavy, and you’re already too low!”

Another few lurches up and down. The pilot snapped, “Look, I don’t know how things work on your dragon, but–”

“Wait, what?” Karla nearly lost her grip. With effort, she fought back into place, fighting the forward sweep of the craft over the ocean. “That’s not my dragon!”

“Then where did you fall from!?”

The lights swung lower. They were pointed directly at the seacliff, snaggletooth rocks rearing up below. As though they were beating on the sea, not the other way around.

“We don’t have time for this!”

“What do we have time for?” A pair of hands turned white on a cockpit bar, all she could see of her new friend. “Help me!”

At last, Karla risked throwing herself forward. For just a second, long enough for the pilot to notice, she pointed at a wide, empty barge floating in the black sea beneath.

***

Winning a swordfight with workbench tools atop a rickety airstrip, Dr. Griffin thought, was a matter that could be approached scientifically.

A low-flying plane, one of the first returning after the frenzy of the glow, swept over their heads and forced both him and Aiden to duck. That was when he started thinking.

He reared back, heading away from his workshop toward the street. His blows landed on Aiden’s knife arm, whirling his crowbar to clear a space in front of him. It was heavy, unwieldy, but it kept the mugger from getting close.

And with each step, each swing, Dr. Griffin thought more.

What were explosives? Chemical compounds that released enormous force when combusted, sometimes in a chain reaction.

Where did they come from? Barring fancy synthesis labs like the one rumor had it existed in the capital, from special types of ore–none of which Rust Town or its island had available in nature.

Which meant Aiden and the city council had bought them from an off-archipelago trader. And even with their ill-gotten gains, there was only one type they could have afforded.

Griffin swung a mad circle at Aiden’s face to make him feint back, wielding his superior range to get a look at the canister.

Yes! There were trace red marks on the rim–the telltale sign of a brimstone-saltpeter mixture that would be useless when damp.

Aiden was driving him steadily toward the edge of the runway. The street below was lined with forge-houses, smaller than Kalends and Kalends, but still in need of a great deal of water. With not much space to keep it in, the troughs tended to end up lining the street.

Griffin estimated he had a fifty-fifty shot.

“Help!” he yelled at the top of his lungs to all the shacks around. “I’m being robbed!”

In a hoarse croak, Aiden snarled back, “Nobody’s coming to–”

Crowbar-first, Griffin barrelled inside his assailant’s reach and wrapped both his arms around Aiden’s waist.

The bandit yelped. The knife slashed open Griffin’s shirt with the white-hot crackle of a near miss.

He bore them both down over the edge of the airstrip.

They didn’t have far to fall–Rust Town was a city that lay low to the ground. Griffin slammed hard into the grassy street, and lifted his head to see Aiden land exactly where he’d hoped: in a blacksmith’s trough.

His coin toss had paid off.

As Aiden struggled to rise, spitting out water, footsteps pounded around the side of the cluster of workshops. Rose, the healer woman, was leading a group of four or five other Rusters who had already landed or never left. She was armed with a long wrench, while the others had weapons of various sizes and hefts.

“His bomb’s neutralized,” Griffin gasped out. His side throbbed where he’d landed on it. “I got it wet.”

“Good.” Without another word, Rose walked up to Aiden and struck him on the head. Her medical skills paid off: she knew exactly how hard to hit him to knock him out without killing him. Transferring the wrench to one hand, she fished out Griffin’s knife.

***

The next few moments convinced Karla that this pilot could be reasonable. Once she accepted that she couldn’t land at the city, she began a slow, deft corkscrew down toward the sea.

Karla’s heart pounded wildly. The surface was down there. The sea, close enough to touch. Ten years and she was about to make it. Ten years…

She wished Kio were here. Their promise to each other stuck in her like a toothache.

The people on the barge waved at them as they circled, setting Karla’s blood afire again–that was more people than she’d ever seen in her life, except in stilted crowd drawings in Kio’s books.

Suddenly she had other things to worry about as the sea rushed up. It had been nice and far away before, and now it was so close she could see scales on the waves.

And then in way too short a time the craft splashed into the ocean with a noise like a bone dragon hitting the reservoir.

The water rushed up around Karla and “frigid” was the only word to describe it. She’d been cold before–she lived in the sky, for Mara’s sake–but not in a way that reached everywhere, that made her furs sodden and useless, that felt like she was being stabbed with icicles from every direction.

This much water should not have existed anywhere, unless it was in a cloud. Those were bad enough.

Plus, she had to swim.

Her outer fur clung to her body, dragging her down. She peeled it off, thrashing foam everywhere, then peeled the second off too, then looked around for the barge.

The craft bucked, and she swore she heard a strangled cry from under the water.

The pilot!

“Help!” she called out to the barge. “She’s trapped!”

A squat man barked an order to the oarsmen, who were already sculling the surface toward Karla and the wrecked skycraft. “Who are you?” the man–captain?–called as he drew near.

“I don’t know who she is!” she shouted back. “But my name’s Karla! I’m from Nashido!”

“From where?”

They don’t know? Why does this even matter? “The castle in the sky!”

Every single man and woman on the barge froze. Even the oarsmen stopped rowing.

“She’s going to drown!” Karla yelled. No change.

Screw this. They weren’t going to get there fast enough.

Karla sucked in her breath and dived. She knew where safety catches would likely be located, so she closed her eyes and felt along the harness straps until she located a buckle on each one. Then flipping them open was simple.

The girl revived in her arms as soon as they broke the surface. Both of them gasped gratefully for air. Above water, Karla could see the pilot was a slip of a child–younger than her, with straight brown hair plastered against her forehead and a body that barely seemed to weigh anything.

Blinking salt out of her eyes, she turned to see the raft full of gobsmacked oarsmen, paddling furiously toward Karla.

“What did you say to them?” the girl asked.

Karla paled. “Something I’m thinking I shouldn’t have.”

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.

Treasure 6

Jenny leapt out over the grass trail that passed for a street. Her stomach plummeted when the airstrip vanished. She decided to leave it on the ground.

The next instant she was passing over other roofs. The ornithopter pitched upward on a thermal from a steam vent, nearly flipping her. Throwing her weight forward to right herself, she swerved as somebody’s prop flyer roared overhead.

Her feet skimmed a roof. She ran, jumped again into a sky filled with machines. Craft of all shapes and sizes were taking off from everywhere, every flat surface in the city, and some others. Craning her neck up, clawing for lift, she saw at least a dozen craft set off in a flock from the highest ridge of the mountain. A raft with a single massive propellor lumbered through the sky just under the seacliff, pedaled by what looked like twelve people, some of whom were still drinking. Far to her port, she saw the crystal green, covered in the tangled wreckage of scores of crafts that had hit each other midair. The City Council and their bombs were nowhere to be seen.

At last, she hit one more updraft, and with a somersaulting stomach found herself picking up height. She beat the wings a few times using the foot pedals, and found she could rise even further.

Something felt different this time. Dr. Griffin might have actually perfected his invention.

Jenny shook that thought out of her head. Pride didn’t fly planes.

She banked toward the seacliff, alternating beats and glides. Over the ridge, she could see people trying yet another approach: flat barges floated in the dark water, some Rusters straining at oars, others joining hands to link the rafts into airstrips. One wind-up prop plane attempted to leap from a lone barge without a runway and plummeted nose-first into the water. His oarsmen pulled him aboard, letting the aircraft sink.

Jenny winced. Lucky the sea was calm tonight.

The cliff dropped away, leaving Jenny over empty sea, the town lights shrinking behind her. She swept over the barges along with the handful of skycraft keeping pace. Ahead, the mountains, scoured grey teeth with no haven at their base, jutted from the sea toward the sphere.

Her breath caught. The plane dipped before she could focus and warp the wings back to level.

It had never seemed so close before.

Risking a brief glance from side to side, Jenny counted only eight other craft still in the sky with her. One of them banked back toward Rust Town as she watched, vanishing into the cluster of lights.

The constellations came into focus above her, the Compass Rose and the Orchard Keeper and the Seamstress, beckoning her closer to the sphere. Her goal was even beginning to resolve itself into the castle some claimed it was–Jenny picked out a tower here, a buttress there.

In the sky, skimming half a mile over the whitecap waves, she let the elation in.

Jennifer Hunter Griffin owned the sky. She couldn’t even see any of the other craft anymore. They all must have given up. Her next task was what Rust Town engineers all called “the Great Corkscrew”: the calculation that any craft would need to make several upward circles to reach the altitude of the sphere.

That was fine. She and her majestic craft were alone with the treasure-house in a dance the size of the ocean. They would learn each others’ secrets. She would coax her way toward a landing if it took all night.

Then she’d take whatever she could carry, as proof, with the side benefit of buying her and her uncle a palace somewhere far away from Rust Town, where only Rose and maybe Calvin got to visit. And a trebuchet to fling the city council into the ocean.

Jenny willed herself not to get hypnotized. A thousand things needed her attention. The wings had to be trimmed, like sails, and the pedals wouldn’t run themselves. Wind rushed in her ears like twin herds of horses racing past her, she felt sure she’d emptied her stomach somewhere over the seacliff, and she had to gain another hundred feet to make it safely over the gap in the far mountains that were not so far anymore…

…and…

…before the gap, someone was falling.

All right, I’m hallucinating. Uncle Griff had warned her about altitude sickness. There was an oxygen tank built into the body somewhere.

The shadow fell past the top of the ridge, serene and plummeting and unmistakably human.

Jenny checked herself for the other symptoms–lightheadedness, shallow breathing. But for a twelve-year-old girl hurtling through the sky, she felt remarkably calm.

Until she realized that if she wasn’t hallucinating, there must have been a real craft quite a bit higher than hers, abandoned by a pilot in real danger. But where was it?

I’m asking the wrong questions, she thought suddenly. How fast do I have to dive to catch them?

Quick calculations gave her the answer. She banked her wings down–

–and stopped, forcing the numbers to reconstitute in her head even as she had another thought: she would never complete the Great Corkscrew with the weight of another person on her craft.

Yet the pilot was falling. Jenny could still see her outline against the moonlight on the granite.

It couldn’t be.

It wasn’t fair!

“He finally figured it out!” she roared aloud. “My uncle got it right! I’m so damn close!”

She banked the wings down on the calculated course, and dove. The choice was easy. But she didn’t have to be happy about it.

In the second before plunging, Jenny happened to glance up, and saw the craft. Its outline was so bizarre it burned into her mind. The thing was twice as high above the ocean as she was, and still beating its wings–wings that looked as leathery and jagged as a bat’s, with a tangled mass of ropes instead of a rear propellor, and a cockpit that looked like something too ridiculous to name.

Yet, hurtling downward in pursuit of the falling pilot, Jenny said the word to herself anyway.

Dragon. The falling pilot’s craft had looked like a dragon. She’d have to remember that for Dr. Griffin.

Later. Her whole world had flipped 90 degrees, the sea before her, the mountains her sky. She swept past the pilot, kicked one of the pedals, swung a tight circle underneath them–

–with a bone-shattering whump, the pilot sprawled atop Jenny’s wings.

Not just a pilot. A girl. The pilot was a girl, not much older than her.

Jenny throttled back with a lurch of her entire upper body, and failed. With the extra weight, not only could she not gain altitude, she couldn’t pull her way out of the dive.

And to her left, the lights of Rust Town were already level with her. She wasn’t getting that lift back.

She ground her teeth. Whoever this girl was, she had better be grateful.

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.

Interlude 2

This is the second of the Patreon interludes. Thanks to everyone for their support!

Selected from A History of the Rokhshan through their Songs by Dr. Andrea Redham

In the beginning, there was the sky. From the sky came the People and the Neogah, the messengers of the Beyond World.

While the Neogah were unchanging and eternal, the People were cursed to be forever hungry. By watching the Neogah, they gained knowledge of gliding, and opened many leagues of sky to themselves. Soon they had traveled so far they forgot the place from which they set out, and founded kingdoms to live in.
For one myriad and one years, the kingdoms of the air fought among themselves, spilling blood on each shrine of each isle. The Neogah wept to see the People behaving like the men of the earth, savage animals who ate rocks and mud and one another. The People had forgotten the age of their birth, and with it forgot their destiny.
This time ended in the year when Great Rokhshan came. Great Rokhshan was a mighty hero, whose exploits are too numerous to sing of. Who has not heard of his vanquishing the Sisters of the Cyclone, or his commanding the Star River to cease its flow so his people might cross? I will not say so here.
Instead I will say how Great Rokhshan heard whispers from his Benefactor, who was a voice from the Beyond World. The Benefactor told Great Rokhshan which islands to leap between, and which mountain summits to rest upon when he must travel below them. In this way the hero traveled and traveled until he found the Heartsphere floating between sky and earth.
Paying heed to the voice of his Benefactor, the hero built the castle all kingdoms know today as Nashido. And the castle wandered the sky as its builder had done, joining all the kingdoms together, and in time Great Rokhshan’s sons brought even the men of the Surface aloft to Nashido, and taught them to be civilized. Thus it was all set down long ago by the great sages.

Treasure 5

Dr. Griffin rubbed his temples. “Young lady, you have a great deal to explain.”

“All right,” Jenny began hurriedly. “So these guys are the city council, right? The most bloated, stinky, oafish bags of loser dung Rust Town ever–”

“I know who they are,” Griffin said quickly, standing up before Jenny could offend the short one enough to make him do something drastic. “Why are they in my workshop?”

“I mean…” Griffin had lived with his niece long enough to tell when a retort was fighting behind her eyes with her desire to be respectful. The retort won, sort of. “I already explained that. With the blowing up bit.”

Griffin sighed, and decided he’d have more luck working on the street thugs. “You,” he addressed Aiden. “That’s some sort of explosive, then?”

“The strongest I could find. Direct from the Toral capital.” Aiden grinned.

“Really? What’s the chemical–” Griffin stopped himself. “Then you can turn around and take it back there, sir. I’m not interested in buying it.”

“Sure you don’t want to know the recipe?” Aiden’s grin kept widening. It made him look monstrously irritating. “You could whip a batch up and finally make some money out of this hole.”

“I’m an engineer,” Griffin said through gritted teeth, “not an arms dealer. Though even that would be more than you leeches do for this town.”

“Hey, you should try calling us names again.” Finn flopped down in the chair Griffin had vacated. “I bet we’ll leave if you hit us with a few more.”

Aiden leaned against the tool bench and crossed his arms. “Glow coming tonight, so they say.”

Griffin shot back, “A meaningless calculation by overzealous numerologists.”

“Be that as it may,” Aiden’s smile was gone, “you need to have a talk with your niece.”

Dr. Griffin looked around his workshop for the second time in two minutes. It suddenly seemed to be much smaller. His eyes skipped over the plane, over the near-repaired implements in the corner…shrinking the room to the size of himself, two violent criminals, and Jenny.

Different truths dawned on a man at different speeds. He was old enough to know that. This one had taken a minute, as the worst ones often did.

He knelt down in front of Jenny in the only open spot on the grass floor. His hands shook. His niece’s blue eyes and her face were unreadable: terrified, excited, feeling bad for being one when she should have felt the other.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said.

Jenny shook her head. “They’ll kill you if I don’t.”

“They know me. They know I have a policy. Nobody flies a Griffin aircraft but me.”

“I’m a Griffin.”

A brief vision flashed through his mind: a green cloud, a roll of thunder, a lightning strike. A vast gulf in a man’s heart, empty and lost.

He blinked it away. “That’s not the point. We’re at a stalemate. I won’t let him go, so he’s going to have to kill us all.”

Living in Rust Town brought one in contact with danger more often than anyone from the outside could guess. He had learned a bit about situations like this. If the aggressor could be made to hold back their final card, the defender controlled the situation. Unless something horribly unexpected happens.

A shout came from outside. Several shouts. Jenny strained to hear them.

Then she shouted, though it would have been better not to, as though she couldn’t keep it in.

Glow!

Finn darted to the door, flung it open, and nodded vigorously. “It’s bright! The crystal’s shining!”

The sphere, Dr. Griffin thought. Soon they’ll see the sphere.

A cold steel blade pressed against his throat and he nearly gagged with the shock. A bar-like arm wrapped around his and yanked him to his feet.

My working knife. Griffin could have kicked himself if he hadn’t been afraid to move. He should never have taken his eyes off his workbench.

“Got to disagree that this is a stalemate,” Aiden hissed. “Put those wings on, girl. Finn here will be your assistant. Your uncle and I will supervise.”

***

If the Carpenters could have seen how easy it was for Jenny to attach the wings, even with Finn getting in the way, they’d never dare call her uncle absent-minded again. Dr. Griffin had prepared the nameless craft perfectly. Fitting the wings took seconds, stretching the canvas over them barely a minute more.

Jenny’s heart beat faster. The castle was here. And their plane was ready.

Truly, if only there hadn’t been two armed thugs in the workshop, it would have been the best day of her life.

Before getting back to work, she shot a brief glance at Dr. Griffin. Some said her uncle’s prematurely greying hair and close-trimmed beard and the work coat he wore at all times gave him an air of more wisdom than he possessed.

They were wrong. He was even wiser than he looked. Catching his eyes gave her the strength to finish.

“That’s enough,” Aiden snapped as she finished stretching the last corner of the canvas into place. All around the shack’s walls, footsteps were pounding as people raced to their planes. There would be a hundred launches from the square, and from rooftop strips in every corner of the town. Already, over her head, the roof shook as feet and then wheels dashed across it.

“It’s not ready,” Uncle Griff gasped, wrestling against Aiden’s knife arm. “She’ll be in danger up there. You want someone to come back with your gold, send me.”

Finn’s head poked over the other wing. “Not happening, man. Kids are way lighter. Everyone oughta be using ‘em.”

Jenny swallowed a lump in her throat and wished Griff could just fight his way free. But though her uncle worked constantly with his hands, it didn’t translate into brute strength.

She decided instead to wish he’d just let her do it. She’d go up, come down, and the city council would melt into the background again. The fact that she’d be giving up the sphere only led to the tiniest twinge of shame.

Her uncle jerked his head toward the one blank wall, which Jenny pulled two switches and slid away. She and Finn wheeled the skycraft out into a small courtyard shared by six other huts around it. At the other end of the scrubby patch of grass, a gentle slope supported by wooden beams led up to the roof.

In front of them, a propellor thudded to life. Jenny bit back a gasp: the sky above her, dark and speckled with stars, was alive with planes.

Four of their neighbors had already launched. The fifth, a pair of young women, barely spared a glance for the party edging out of Griff’s shop, armed with high explosives and at least one knife. One of them was strapped into a craft that looked like a massive square sail on wheels.

Jenny winced as the woman’s partner ran her down the skyway and separated her from her wheels. She would need to be good to stay out of the ocean.

Finn nudged them forward. “You’re late!” Aiden barked. “Time to fly!”

“I know, damn it!” Jenny yelled back. “Don’t rush a pilot!”

“You are not a pilot!” Uncle Griff bellowed into the wind from the bottom of the ramp. “Aiden, I’ll scalp you for this!”

Jenny banked the surprisingly light craft left to face down the landing strip. It was a classic Rust Town airway: made of uneven boards, rotting through, and barely long enough to get up to speed.

She belted her explosive to her waist and took a deep breath. I’m gonna have to trust it.

She’d practiced. Hanging from ropes in the mountains, banking back and forth in the shop late at night while Uncle Griff snored on his cot. Borrowing any glider anyone would agree to let her clean, just for a moment in the sky.

Flights of airplanes leapt up around her. High above, in the deepening night, she caught sight of the sphere: a shadow against the stars, large as a coin held out.

She narrowed her eyes. I’m coming for you.

Down in the courtyard, Griff worked one arm loose and slammed his elbow into Aiden’s gut. The city council man gasped, hacking something up.

Jenny shouted. Her uncle went for the knife instead of the bomb, but Finn leapt onto his back–

“–Jenny, go, go to the mountains, I’ll find you–“

She ran. When momentum picked up, she slammed her feet into the two wing pedals astern. The weights she’d dragged across the whole plateau turned into lifts. Right at the edge of the roof, a board broke under her landing gear, and as it tumbled to the ground, Jenny joined the rest of Rust Town in the bracing night sky.

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.

Treasure 4

After hastily aborting their launch, the crowd had fallen back into dead silence. Over a hundred pairs of eyes swiveled back and forth between Jenny and Aiden. Nobody breathed.

As Jenny’s legs began to shake, rattling the iron roof, she decided that dead silence was a stupid phrase.

“Well?” Aiden called out. With the moon at her back, she could make out every detail of his lean, violent body, while to him she must have been little more than a shadow.

“Well what?” she replied for lack of anything better to say.

“You said we needed to talk. And nobody’s talking. What gives?”

“You have to go!” Jenny’s palms were sweating where she had hold of the explosive canister. “Leave these people alone. Fly your own planes like everybody else in town.”

Aiden doubled over laughing, though in collapsing with his hands on his knees, he didn’t let go of his own bomb.

“You know what’s up there, kiddo?” he asked when he could breathe again. “Up on that floating fortress?”

“I will blow you to–”

“You won’t!” Aiden roared. “When I can throw this anywhere in front of me and kill twenty people, what do I care if you’ve got one too?”

Jenny’s mouth moved, but nothing came out. She had, indeed, made a very poor decision.

In the crowd, Adam was inching closer to Aiden, pulling Calvin in his wake.

“As I was saying,” the city councilman went on, “the treasure up there is the finest sight any of us muck-scrabbling fools can ever hope to lay eyes on. Enough gold to make a king out of seven men.”

“What’s your point?” someone shouted from the crowd.

Aiden’s mouth curled up. The moonlight showed Jenny the smallest detail. “What wouldn’t you do to get up there?”

“Blow anybody up. Next question,” Jenny retored. If nothing else, terror made her comebacks snappier.

“And that’s your own fault. The reason you all are going to forfeit the treasure is because you never really wanted it. Not like my friends and I do.”

“Clearly you don’t care if any of them live or die.” Jenny said this partly to dissuade the McConnells from aiming their weapons. A chorus of guffaws from the other city council bandits confirmed: one of them eating a bolt, or a bomb, only meant a bigger share of gold for the rest.

“Hey!” Finn, struggling to throw the wings off him, shouted up to his fellow looter. “This was supposed to be a sure thing, Aiden! Don’t throw me into the gears here!”

His pleading gave Jenny an idea. And at a time like this, survival was measured in the time between having an idea and acting on it.

She sprang down off the roof, planted one foot on Finn’s neck, and held the canister over the wings. “If that’s true,” she yelled up at Aiden, you won’t mind if I blow these up.”

“And yourself too?” Aiden tilted his head. “Do me a favor.”

“All right.” Jenny imagined the wretch watching her shadow shrug. “Suit yourself.”

How did these bloody things work? She had to look like she was about to do it. Aiden would know if she was bluffing…

“Wait.”

Jenny broke into a grin. There was less to this guy than she thought, after all.

Calvin pushed, or maybe accidentally stumbled, his way past his father. “Jenny, no! Those are our only hope of ever seeing the sphere!”

“Well, that doesn’t matter to the city council.” Jenny shrugged and raised the canister. “Stand back, McConnell. You don’t want any bits of me on you.”

Her heart swelled with affection for the lush. Flaky as he could be, he understood what she was going for a lot better than his rigid father.

“Stop!” Aiden commanded, his voice stronger than before. Others in the crowd joined him, driven by a sincere desire that nothing explode today. “What’s so special about these wings?”

“Do I have to explain?” Jenny rolled her eyes. “They’re Dr. Griffin’s creation.”

A low moan swept through the crowd and she instantly knew she’d messed up. But now was no time to stop forging onward like a fool. Instead, she summoned rage from a hot well of it she’d been carrying around ever since she’d been old enough to step outside and listen.

“Dr. Griffin is the best engineer in Rust Town!” she yelled, not just to the city council but to everyone. “Sure, his planes don’t look anything like yours, but none of you have gotten even halfway to the sphere in a generation. Just because you don’t want to hear it, doesn’t make it less true. My uncle has ideas. If any of us ever want to get that treasure we’re gonna have to listen.”

“Yeah. Good call.”

Jenny leapt two feet in the air. Calvin lurched backwards into his father. Even Finn rolled over.

Aiden grinned at her, close enough for his sour breath to waft over her face. Her cheeks turned hot with embarrassment. She’d been defending Uncle Griff so passionately she had let him sneak close.

Adam shouldered his crossbow. In the background, the other members of the council shouldered their way into the crowd, covering everybody and their skycraft with the radii of their bombs.

“Hands off the girl, Aiden,” Adam growled.

“No hands need be laid on anybody.” Aiden gave Adam a little bow. “Ms. Griffin just has a good point about how much everybody’s planes suck, is all. She’s right that her crazy uncle makes different craft than everybody else. And if I can have the new design for my own, at no cost to me, I want it.” His fingers stroked his grenade. “On the off chance it’s the one that finally reaches the castle.”

“Jenny, I gotta lodge a couple complaints about this idea,” Calvin started. She shushed him.

“You’ll come with me, then?” she asked Aiden sweetly. “Down to my uncle’s workshop to see the whole plane? You can be the first to fly it.”

“Don’t be daft.” Aiden used the bomb to shove her forward so hard she almost tripped over Finn. “He’s coming, and the two of you are carrying the wings. And you, Jenny Griffin, will be the first to fly it.”

Despite how much she hated him, a thrill ran through Jenny’s body at those last words.

***

Dr. Edward Griffin hated glows.

He’d seen over forty in his day, and could count on one hand the mass launches that hadn’t killed someone he knew. There was chaos before them and chaos after, and chaos times chaos in the sky over Rust Town for hours in the middle. If it were up to him, he’d never launch in the midst of one.

Yet flying off Rust without intending to reach the sphere was like…like cultivating a plot of land and never harvesting your crops. It was only half a job done.

And of course, he thought as he rapped the stress points of the wingless skycraft body to test its joints, he was as caught up in the thrill of the chase as anyone in town. He didn’t know if he’d take the treasure–didn’t know if he could, since the sheer weight of gold was something not nearly enough “engineers” around town took into account.

Dr. Griffin just wanted to be the first to set his feet on that sphere in the sky.

Of course, the danger meant he’d never dream of letting anyone but him pilot his skycraft. No matter how much Jenny begged.

Jenny. Dr. Griffin sat down in his workshop’s only chair, after sweeping several parts and papers aside to make space. He knew he’d conducted the same stress-test half a dozen times now. His niece had sworn she’d be back from the market in an hour, and his water clock was counting onward toward two.

He stared around the cramped room, trying to find something else to occupy his hands. The nameless craft was sitting as finished as it was going to get without the wings he’d forged at the Kalends’. The workbench was more organized than it had been in weeks, drivers and pliers and wrenches all hung up from small to large. The sheets and mattresses on the cots in the back room were freshly laundered. He’d thrown out everything moldy in the pantry cupboard. And the jobs he’d taken on in exchange for the food–broken sewing machines, cart axles, pot lids–were ready for delivery.

He took a deep breath. Jenny could handle herself. Of course, if she got home, he was never going to allow her outside again…

…his iron-barred door burst open, and one of his newly-designed wings seemed to hover through on its own. His first thought was excitement–he had the body ready to receive them, and could bolt them on in seconds if the glow came when everyone expected it to.

His second thought, right on its heels, was anger. He’d explicitly told Jenny not to go to Rose’s tonight.

His third thought, in the same instant as the other two, was that the person carrying the wing was not Jenny. It was, in fact, a squat, round-faced fellow he remembered. Finn flung the wing down hard enough to make Dr. Griffin wince, and spat on the grass floor.

Jenny came in second. She carried the second wing in one hand, an unmarked cylinder in the other, and a sheepish look on her face.

A lankier man with another cylinder slammed the door behind himself. His blond hair was shaved close to his head, and his gaze was iron.

“Hi, Uncle Griff,” Jenny mumbled. “This is Aiden and Finn. They’re jerks. I have to fly the plane tonight or they’ll blow us up.”

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.