Breaking 5

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All at once, their monstrous enemies transformed. The dragons shifted their bones onto the tower, becoming flat to wrap around the walls, through the bottleneck. “What the hell?” Jenny shouted.

“Shoot them!” Griffin ran to the basin wall, ready to swing his steel club.

Jenny let a bolt loose. It pinged off the tower wall and fell harmlessly to the mosaic tile.

Inside the bottleneck, the bone dragons reformed. Jenny and Griffin faced a forest of ribs and legs in every direction, searching in vain for a way out. Another shot from Jenny’s ballista crunched through a breastplate, but the hole closed up as the circle contracted. No escape.

“When they get close,” Uncle Griff told her, “we’ll kill them all.”

“Uncle Griff, I…” Jenny’s eyes watered. She touched the bottom of her weapon, found the bolt clip empty. “This isn’t your fault. I wanna make sure you know.”

“I know,” Griff said, staying strong for her. It was so obvious when he was doing that.

“And you should marry Aunt Rose. I’m sick of her saying she’s not my real aunt.”

“Still know.” Exhausted, Griff raised his club high over his head.

“Ready?” The tears exploded from her eyes.

“Ready!” He dropped the club, threw his arms around her. For a second, Jenny was a baby again, back on the boat.

When she thought of safety, it was always Griff’s face she saw. Her real parents were nothing but other people’s words. It was so clear: he’d always been her father, really.

She felt safe now, too.

Then she heard the explosion.

It tore through the bottom half of Nashido. Jenny could tell, even from where she stood her ground, that the weight of the castle was shifting. Four of the Neogah keened from below her.

The other four froze.

Griff released her and pointed up. The dragons had stopped moving and were just…drifting. Like fish.

Through their strange slow dance, Jenny saw the towers starting to shift. Prying apart like a clenched fist opening.

”Kio,” she said. “Kio, you did it!”

Only one thing could have made the dragons start behaving this weird: whatever happened when the Ash Cloud touched the Heartsphere was happening.

Griff yanked her up by the arm. “It isn’t safe here,” he shouted.

Jenny had to agree. The towers had been rooted firmly to the castle. Now they were sliding toward horizontal. A monstrous grinding drowned out the storm as other bits clattered, crumbled, fell from the sphere in an ever increasing wave.

“Down!” she shouted, and bolted toward the stairwell.

***

Karla streaked down through the sky like a falling star.

Her whole life, she had feared plummeting to earth. Every jump, every swing, had left her heart in her throat and her pulse pounding for an hour afterwards, no matter how hard she’d tried to hide it from Kio.

Now, she was doing it on purpose.

Good thing Raptor had fallen first.

She could almost feel sorry for the dragon with the clipped wings as he hurtled toward the ocean. The clouds opened up, revealing the rolling sea, just as Raptor transformed again into a man.

She angled even more sharply down, hoping to catch up.

His lips were moving. “I never wanted this.”

Raptor’s voice still carried over the storm. She stuck her claws out and landed, perched on his chest, staring into his dark eyes.

“I just wanted to be whole.”

So did I. But you sent the Rokhshan to enslave my ancestors from the surface. You broke me with the earth. You made me broken.

“Tell me they will be whole again.”

Karla had no idea who he was talking about, or whether they would be anything ever again. But she had killed him. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Only a few yards above the ocean, she shifted back into a human, and clasped Raptor in her arms.

“They will be whole again,” she told him.

Leaping away turned her to the raven once more. She beat her wings and watched him hit the water.

The man’s body did not float. All Karla saw floating across the surface of the ocean was a kaleidoscope of bones.

She lost the shape. Now that the god was dead, she realized how much the fight in the sky had exhausted her. Every one of her own bones was drained of energy, like it was full of lead.

She landed in the freezing water. With the sheets of rain falling, it was like swimming, like being submerged.

Nothing she wasn’t used to. But Karla could do no more than float, drifting among Raptor’s bones.

At last, she saw one other thing bobbing across the ocean’s surface: boats.

In the prow of the lead vessel, Calvin McConnell lifted a lantern, shouted something to his oarsmen. And Karla dared to think she was safe.

Except that the Ash Cloud had engulfed Nashido, and it was still coming on.

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!

Thank you to Lynne, Pauline, David, and Thomas for their continued support.

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