Available Now


Want your own?  Head on over to Lulu.com

Don’t forget you can still buy an e-book from Amazon, or over at Smashwords (where you can pay whatever you want – get it for free if you like).

Like it?  Love it?  Hate it?  Leave me a review on Goodreads if you get the chance.

It’s Out!


The Stolen Child is officially available for purchase on Kindle, at the Amazon of your choosing.

US readers:  http://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Child-Exiles-Book-ebook/dp/B0197LZAGQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449841670&sr=8-1&keywords=the+stolen+child+peter+brunton

UK readers:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/279-4388431-8591214?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+stolen+child+peter+brunton

Canadian readers:  http://www.amazon.ca/Stolen-Child-Exiles-Book-ebook/dp/B0197LZAGQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449841660&sr=8-1&keywords=the+stolen+child+peter+brunton

You can also search for the book using the title, or the ISBN (978-0-9949679-0-9).

The book is also available at Smashwords.com, on a pay what you want schema.  Or, you can simply download it for free from Smashwords, in a variety of formats.


(The Smashwords version is undergoing some slight revisions to formatting.  If you download it now, I gather Smashwords will notify you automatically when it updates, but I’ll try to post something about it here as well, to be sure).

All versions are provided as creative commons licensed documents with absolutely no DRM whatsoever.  Kindle owners can also use the lending feature.

If you’ve read the book already, I would be incredibly grateful if you could leave a review.  It really helps to create interest.  And please, share it with your friends, pass the files around, send people to this blog, whatever.  I want people to read this and enjoy it.

The print edition is still in the works, but you should be hearing more on that soon enough, along with other possible announcements depending on how some ideas work out.

Whew.  And then it’s on to book two.  Thank you, everyone, for following with me this far.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

Release Date

Well, here it is.  The Stolen Child will be available for sale this Friday (the 11th) on Amazon and Smashwords, in electronic formats.  A print edition is still in the works, and I’ll update with more on that when I can.

The price on Amazon will be $2.99 for the ebook.  On Smashwords I’ll be offering it on a “pay what you want” scheme, so you can decide how much the book is worth to you.

For those of you who’ve already read the book here, I’d really appreciate it if you could take the time to leave a review, either at the store pages (when they’re up) or on Goodreads where the book is now listed.

Thank you all again for your support.  I’m excited to finally be getting this thing out the door, and to be able to start looking ahead to what’s next.  I’ve got a lot of awesome ideas for Book 2 that I can’t wait to share with you all (and keep following this blog to hear more on that as I start working on it).

Book Update

So, I’m still working out a few details (tax forms suck, yo), but we’re getting pretty close to the e-book release of The Stolen Child, with a print release to hopefully follow shortly afterwards.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak of the disgustingly amazing and awesome cover art, by the incredibly talented Ameshin.


So What’s Next?

So this brings us to the end of Book 1.  I really do want to thank you all for reading.  Seriously, just being able to share what I write means a lot to me, and if I’m really lucky then maybe it left some kind of an impression on you.

So what happens now?

Well, I’m currently waiting on the final cover-art for the book, so that I can put it up for sale on Amazon, Smashwords, and Lulu, for anyone to enjoy in print, or on their favourite e-reader.

I’m also going to be making digital copies of the book available for anyone to download, free of charge, and to share as much as they want.  That’s never going to change, and it’s never going to go away.  Every book in the Exiles series will available for free, for those that want it.

Once Book 1 is out the gate, I’m going to be sitting down to start work in earnest on the next book.  There’s obviously a lot of story still to tell.  I imagine most of you want to know what happens next for Rachael and Arsha, and where they go now that they have nowhere left to call home.  That’s where book 2 picks up, and I’m really excited to begin exploring some of the questions I left you with, and some of those hanging plot threads that I left unresolved.  I’m even more excited to get to spend more time with Rachael and Arsha, as we watch them grow up, and really begin to discover who they are.  I’ve been carrying these characters around in my head for years now, and there’s so much more of their story that I want to tell.

How I get there is the question.  Whatever happens, I want to keep telling this story.  I’ve got big plans for future books, and even bigger plans for the ending.  It’s going to be crazy epic awesome, and you’ll love it.  I’m hoping you guys will support me in getting there.

I want to be clear, I’m not a starving artist.  I work a 40 hour a week day job that pays the bills just fine (and I live in Canada, where we have wonderful things like free healthcare).  I’m not well off, but I don’t need to be, and I am able to look after myself, and I can afford a few nice toys every now and then.  But working an 8 hour day and then coming home to write for another 3 hours isn’t easy, and despite what anyone may tell you, writing is bloody hard work.  Yes, it’s satisfying, and fulfilling, and at times immensely enjoyable.  But it’s also a mind numbing grind that can suck the life out of you, and it’s not easy to squeeze that in around a full time job.  My biggest wish is that I would be able to make enough money from what I write that I can afford to quit my day job, or at least change to part-time work, and focus much more of my time and energy on telling these stories.  So every book you buy, or a friend buys because of your recommendation, helps me to do that.

If it sounds strange that I want to get paid for this, but also want to give my work away, believe me, it does make sense.  I want people to pay for this because they think it’s worth paying for.  But I don’t want to be a gatekeeper.  I want people to read my books, enjoy them, and share them, and it’s my hope that enough people will think that’s worth paying something back for that I’ll be able to make a living out of this.

I’m going to be approaching that end two different ways.  The first is offering my books for sale, for those who wish to pay for them.  It’s not necessary (unless you want a physical copy, because, obviously, those cost money to print and ship), but it is very much appreciated.  I’m also going to be setting up a Patreon account, where people who want to can support my work with a very small monthly donation.  Basically, Patreon is kind of like busking.  I share these stories with you, and if you like them you throw some change in the hat.  I think that’s a really cool idea.  For those who choose to support me on Patreon, I’m looking at offering some additional content in return.  I’d really like to put together some kind of “Director’s Commentary” style podcast where I go through the book chapter by chapter and explain my thoughts and my writing process.  I’ve always loved watching that kind of content for films and TV shows, and I think it might be really cool to do the same thing with a novel.

All of this is going to happening over the next few weeks, so for now just keep following this blog if you want all the latest on what’s happening with the Exiles series.  Book 2 will be coming, sooner or later.  Hopefully sooner.  Let’s see what happens.

I’m excited.  Nervous, but excited.  I am really am incredibly grateful to every one of you for deciding to join me on this.  Every like, every share, every reblog, reply or comment, it all makes a difference.  And even if you didn’t do any of those things, I don’t care, because just by reading this story you make a difference.  A story isn’t a story if there’s no one to tell it to.  So thank you for listening.

Chapter 33 – Home

They caught up with the Triskelion a little way outside of the city. Ilona watched from the deck, the cold air numbing the tender flesh around her damaged eye. The Zephyr drifted in to settle gently on the deck. The ladder was lowered and Micah descended first to help the girls down.

Milima appeared as they reached the deck. With promises of hot showers, hot food and hot drinks she ushered the girls inside to see to their injuries.

Micah and Rishi set to stowing the Zephyr. Ilona tried to help, but she could already feel herself flagging. The ropes slipped from her hands, fingers feeling thick and clumsy. She could see that both men were trying their best not to say anything. They wouldn’t dare tell her to stop, but they were both thinking it.

She turned away, trying not to stumble as she made her way inside. In the silence of the corridor she paused to find her breath. Then she heard the door swing open again and sharp footsteps from behind. She turned to see Rishi standing a few feet away. His eyes fixed on hers, trembling with cold fury.

“I’m sorry Rishi. I truly am,” she said. “It was the only way to…”

“To what?” he snapped, cutting her off. “I just don’t understand it Ilona. Why would you try to keep me from saving my own daughter? What could you possibly…” he floundered, unable to find words large enough for all the force of his anger.

She looked at him in stunned silence.

“How can you even ask me a question like that?” she said at last.

“It seems to be the only question worth asking, right now.”

“Rishi, I didn’t try to keep you from Arsha, I kept you from killing yourself chasing something impossible. She’s alive, she’s unhurt, and so are you.”

“’Unhurt.’ You’d dare to try to call that ‘unhurt’?” he said, his voice little more than a cold hiss.

“I didn’t have a lot of good choices in front of me,” she said, feeling her hands shaking at her sides. “Maybe you could have done something. And maybe you would have just killed yourself trying. I couldn’t bear that, Rishi.”

She reached out to touch the swelling on his cheek, where her fist had struck him. The metal of her gauntlet had broken the skin, leaving a tiny crack, freshly scabbed.

He slapped her hand away.

“What could possibly make you think I’d care about my own life when my daughter was in danger?”

For a moment, all she could do was stare at him. The silence hung between them like a chasm. She felt a dizzying sensation of vertigo welling up inside, as if she was standing at the edge of that chasm, staring down. Before he could react, her hand slid around the nape of his neck and she leaned in to press her lips against his. Just for a moment, she was certain that he forgot to breathe.

She pulled away, with a feeling like electricity running through her fingertips.

“I didn’t do it for you,” she said.

She turned away, taking the steps down the lower deck as quickly as she dared, forcing herself not to break into a run. Even that small restraint left her as she dashed to her room and threw the door closed behind herself. She leaned back against the hard wood and pressed her hands against her eyes, tight enough to keep the tears locked in.

They were ushered into the mess hall, and Milima closed the door behind them. Arsha had to duck to keep her wings from catching in the doorway. Iron feathers brushed against the frame, leaving a cloud of red dust in her wake.

Her legs ached, and she wanted to sit, but there didn’t seem to be an easy way to do so in the cramped space. Not with the large protrusions that hung from her back. They were strangely light, at least. She was thankful for that.

Milima settled Rachael onto the edge of the long table and began prodding at the girl’s shoulder, just as Ilona had done.

“It doesn’t hurt much.” Rachael said, looking a little surprised.

“That’ll be the aneasthetic. Good,” Milima said, quietly. “Now…”

She turned her eyes to the iron gauntlet that encased Rachael’s left hand. Milima lifted the girl’s hand and gently turned it one way, then the other, peering between the hard plating to the raw flesh beneath.

“Do you know what it is?” Rachael said, her voice nearly a whisper.

Milima shook her head.

“How could I?” the woman said, softly.

As Milima stared at the gauntlet, Arsha found herself plucking at the edge of one wing, marvelling at the sensation as her fingers ran along the metal. It was like touching your own arm, that feeling of two points of sensation meeting. It seemed impossible.

She could fly. The thought echoed through her mind, seeming to reverberate over and over. She could still feel the sensation of the wind rushing through the thin metal leaves, the ripples in the air currents, the buoyant feeling of the thermals catching her body. The incredible lightness of it all. She had moved so fast. Her eyes closed, and she saw herself reaching out again, as Rachael plunged through the cold air, the ground rushing up towards them both. She felt the sickening twisting in her stomach once more, the tension that had seized every part of her body as she willed herself to move just a little faster. She had barely even known what she was doing. Or perhaps it was like she had always known. She couldn’t say.

“You OK?”

Her eyes snapped open and she saw Rachael looking at her. As Rachael studied her face for a moment, Arsha imagined she saw something behind the girl’s eyes. A look of understanding. Perhaps Rachael had guessed at what she was thinking about. Perhaps she didn’t need to.

“Yeah. I’m OK.”

She looked up at Milima. The woman was watching them both, with a doubtful expression.

“We’re both OK. Really,” she said, trying to sound reassuring.

“No, you’re not OK,” Milima said, with a shake of her head. “You will be, eventually. But not yet.”

Before either of them could think of anything to say, Milima turned away, and began to fill an iron kettle. Once the stove was lit and the pot heating she returned, drying her hands on a towel as the girls both watched her uncertainly.

“Alright, let’s set that shoulder. Arsha, love, you’ll need to hold her up.”

Milima nodded towards where Rachael was sitting. Feeling a little unsure of what she was doing, Arsha moved to stand behind her at the end of the long table. Gently, Milima laid the girl’s arm across her lap. Rachael looked just a little bit nervous as Milima reached into a medicine bag and produced a small knot of rope.

“Bite,” she said, holding it up to Rachael’s mouth.

“This is going to hurt, isn’t it,” Rachael said.

Milima nodded, her eyes sympathetic.

“OK,” Rachael said, and set her teeth around the bite guard. Arsha put her hands against Rachael’s back, supporting her as Milima began to slowly move Rachael’s arm away from her body, forcing the shoulder to rotate. She could see Rachael’s jaw tighten, as her eyes squeezed shut. She heard the knot of rope creaking as it was clamped ever tighter between Rachael’s teeth, and she felt the girl’s body trembling against her hands. Then there was a loud popping sound, and relief seemed to flood through her sister’s body. Gently, Milima removed the bite guard.


Rachael nodded. Tears had welled up in the corners of her eyes.

“We’ll get you cleaned up and then off to bed.”

“I couldn’t even try to sleep,” Rachael said.

“I know. We’ll see to that.”

After wrapping a fresh sling around Rachael’s arm, Milima stepped through into the kitchen, where a pot was bubbling gently on the stove. She poured a little of the liquid into a mug, adding honey and milk.

“Nightroot,” she said, as she returned. “Drink as much as you can.”

“What’s it do?” Rachael said.

“Helps you sleep. That’s all,” Milima smiled as she held the cup up to Rachael’s lips. “Trust me, sleep is what you both need right now.”

Rishi stumbled through the doorway into his room, and nearly fell into the chair by his desk. There was blood on his fingertips, grease under his nails, and the smell of gun-smoke in his clothes. His muscles burned, his head ached, and through it all he could still feel the ghost of Ilona’s kiss on his lips. He pressed his hands to his temples and tried to block out the pain.

It took him a moment to register the knock at the door. He didn’t even have the strength to answer. It opened anyway, and Abasi stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.

“Thank the Fates, you’re OK,” he said, running a hand across the thick grey stubble that crowned his head.

“OK. Is that what you call this?” Rishi said, staring up at the wall.

Abasi shook his head, gently.

“Alive’s a start.”

“Doesn’t feel like it.”

“I don’t suppose it does.”

After a moment, Rishi leaned forward just enough to prise open the bottom-most drawer of the desk, and fish out a half empty bottle of whisky. Trembling fingers fumbled at the cork, as the bottle nearly slipped from his hands. Then Abasi wrapped one hand around the neck of the bottle.

“Let me get that,” his friend said, easily prying the cork loose. Abasi took a long swig before passing the bottle back. Rishi almost smiled as he pressed the mouth of the bottle to his lips and felt the amber liquid burn its way down his throat.

“What happened in there Rishi? I got the bones of it from Micah, but…” Abasi paused for a moment. “You actually shot the old man?”

Rishi said nothing, but Abasi must have read something in his face as he took the bottle back.

“Fates, you really did. Bastard had it coming at that. Pity he lived,” Abasi added in a growl, before taking another swig.

“I imagine I’ll get in enough trouble just for that,” Rishi muttered.

“It sounds like Manindra has more trouble to worry about. I saw the Jyoti high-tail it out of here with at least three Guild ships in pursuit. Thank the Fates for that, or we’d never have slipped away in the chaos.”

Abasi held the bottle out for him, but Rishi just shook his head. He felt his shoulders begin to shake as he slumped forward over the desk, unable to hold himself up anymore. His head in his hands, he felt ragged breaths tearing at his chest.

“Fates, Abasi, I’ve really made a mess of this. I think she hates me.”

“You mean Arsha?” Abasi sighed, gently. “Of course she hates you. She’s your daughter and she’s fifteen. There isn’t a fifteen year old girl alive who doesn’t hate her father, as madly as she loves him.”

Rishi choked back a bitter laugh.

“No. This is different. All these years, she’s never really known who I am. Now she’s finally learning, and it’s going to break her. It’s going to break me.”

“You’re wrong, Rishi. Arsha knows, better than anyone, who you really are. I think she knows you better than you know yourself. You look at yourself and you see who you’ve been. But when she looks at you, she sees the man you are. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy for her to forgive your past. That… That might take some time. But she’ll never stop loving you. Never.”

Rishi said nothing. In silence, he stared at the wall. Calmly, Abasi sifted through the detritus of his desk to find a couple of empty glasses, into which he poured a generous measure each. Easing himself onto the edge of the desk, Abasi set one glass down in front of Rishi, and picked up the other, the swirling liquid throwing patterns of light across the walls.

“Don’t you have a ship to tend to?” Rishi muttered.

“She’ll wait,” Abasi said, and sipped his drink.

Arsha felt as if she was floating on a soft cloud. She was lying on the table, stripped to her underclothes, whilst Milima gently washed away the blood, muck and rust from her back. She had been given a dose of nightroot, milder than the one Milima mixed for Rachael. Arsha tried to recall her studies about the drug, but all she saw was the illustrated page, the words sliding into one another. She recalled that it caused light-headedness. She wondered when that would begin.

The cuts on her face had been closed with ointment, and her arms had been bandaged. They hurt, but the pain seemed distant now. She felt hypnotised by the sound of the cloth being submerged and squeezed out, the soft rippling noise of water falling on water, gentle and clear. The contents of the bowl had turned translucent red. Milima rinsed out the cloth once last time, before lifting the bowl and pouring it out into the sink. There was a soft clatter as she began to mix up another concoction.

Arsha closed her eyes and gently flexed her wings out. Feathers of beaten metal, each fading to rust at the edges, shimmered as they moved under the ghostlamps, and the gentle chiming of metal on metal filled the room. It was such an impossibly strange feeling. Like an extra pair of arms. She couldn’t even say where she ended and the wings began. Perhaps there was no difference.

She looked up and saw Milima watching her.

“They scare you. Don’t they?” Arsha said.

It was only for an instant that Milima looked away. Just an instant, but Arsha already knew what it meant.

“It’s OK, if they scare you. I saw the way everyone was looking at me, when they thought I wouldn’t notice. Everyone’s a little scared. Even Daddy was scared.”

She paused for a moment, not really sure if she was talking to Milima anymore, or just to herself.

“I think… I think he was the most scared of all.”

Slowly, Milima set aside the small bowl she had been holding. She knelt down in front of the table, her face level with Arsha’s.

“They don’t scare me. Not exactly. But it’s not easy, Love, seeing how much you’ve been changed,” Milima said as she reached out a hand, fingers almost brushing the beaten metal. Almost, but not quite. “Not just this. You. I can see it in your eyes, Love. I know that look.”

“What look?” Arsha said.

Milima’s hand cupped Arsha’s cheek, as the woman’s strong face seemed to crumple. Tears welled up in the corner of Milima’s eyes as her hands settled on Arsha’s shoulders.

“Maybe they do scare me, a little. But they’re beautiful, just like you.”

As Milima stroked her hair back, Arsha couldn’t help noticing the faded line of a scar that ran down the woman’s arm. It was one of a few that she knew Milima carried.

“You got that a long time ago, didn’t you?”

Milima paused for a moment and glanced down at her arm. Then she smiled.

“If by ‘a long time’, you mean ‘before you were born’, then yes, but it’s not as if I like to admit it.”

Arsha looked down at the bandages around her arms.

“Does it still hurt?” she said.

“No. Not any more,” Milima replied.

Rachael drifted in and out of sleep. She was never awake for more than a few hours before Milima arrived with something to eat and drink, followed by another dose of nightroot. Sleep would help her heal she was told each time she protested.

She couldn’t really say how much time had passed. A few days, perhaps. She was lying in her narrow bed, staring at the ceiling, barely even sure how long she had been awake. The view through the porthole was pitch black. She supposed it must have been early in the morning.

Her shoulder ached, but the pain was duller now. She could feel a restless tingling running through her body. She couldn’t remember the last time she had gone so long without moving. She sat up slowly, muscles stiffly protesting. She was in her underclothes, skin prickling against the cool air. Her left arm had been bound up in a cloth. A strange feeling of frustration flared inside of her as she looked at it. Fumbling with her other hand, she got the wrappings loose, revealing the hard iron, rust still flaking off of the edges. Then she got to her feet and pulled a dressing gown from the closet. With her shoulder stiff and aching, and her other hand fumbling within the confines of the thick gauntlet, simply trying to pull the gown on became almost impossible. She twisted and contorted herself, pain flaring in her shoulder, until she finally had the gown over her shoulders. Even then it took three tries to tie the cord about her waist. Her shoulder burned with fresh pain after her exertion. With a resigned sigh, she picked up the sling that had been hung across the back of a chair and slipped it around her arm. Only then did she notice that the sleeve of the dressing had split around the iron gauntlet, torn by some sharp edge or other as she’d pulled it on. She muttered a curse under her breath.

Hinges whispered to her as she opened the cabin door. Padding down the carpeted hall, she emerged into the darkened expanse of the hold. Over the loft, a single light shone. The wooden steps creaked softly as she climbed. The ghostlamp swayed gently over the narrow space, casting flickering shadows as Rachael threw herself down into one of the battered armchairs.

“Hey.” Arsha said. The girl was sat across from her, feet tucked up on the old chesterfield. Her wings were pulled back, arcing up over the armrest of the chair. A bundle of cloth was resting in her lap. She appeared to be sewing something.

“What you got there?” Rachael said.

“It’s just something I started working on. I couldn’t sleep, so…”

Arsha held up what appeared to be a jacket, only most of the back was missing. “I figured if I can make the straps come down around the waist…”

It took Rachael a moment to see what she meant. The back of the jacket had been cut open, turned into a panel that could be secured by a pair of long straps. When fastened, they would leave two long slits running parallel down the back. Openings for her wings.

“Oh. That’s clever, that is.”

Arsha shrugged.

“I’m rubbish at sewing though. The seams are coming out all wonky.”

Arsha held up the jacket for her to see. Rachael made a show of examining the girl’s work, really not sure what she was supposed to be looking for. Glancing past the unfinished jacket, she noticed that even the shirt Arsha wore was really little more than a sheet with a hole cut for her head, tied about her chest and stomach with thin strips of cloth.

“Looks alright to me.” She said. “’Sides, you’ll get better, right?”

“You mean because I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life?”

“Yeah, I guess. I hadn’t really thought it like that.” Rachael glanced down at her torn sleeve. Suddenly she laughed. “You’ll be an old lady with wings and a walker. Flapping off down to the shops for a pint of milk and moaning how the wind keeps blowing your shawl all over.”

Arsha smiled, and then all of a sudden the girl was laughing too.

“Do you think we’ll get old together?” Arsha said. “Two little old ladies, sitting in a café somewhere, playing cards all day?”

Rachael’s throat felt dry.

“Maybe?” She swallowed. “I’ve never really thought about… Stuff like that. Getting old.”

As she paused again, Arsha set her sewing to one side.


“Did you talk to your dad?” Rachael said, cutting the girl off. “About your mum, I mean. About all that other stuff.”

Arsha turned to look out of the porthole. The sky was still pitch black.

“Not really. He’s had fifteen years to tell me. I guess if that wasn’t enough…” She paused, and shook her head. “Honestly, I haven’t really talked to anyone. The way they all look at me now… They don’t mean to, but I can see it. All of them. They’re waiting for something, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, or say, or… I just don’t know. It used to be easy. I thought of calling Shani but… I couldn’t take it. Trying to explain, seeing her face… And then she tried to call me, and I couldn’t even pick up my stone. I just let it chime out. She left all these messages and I haven’t even listened to any of them. I feel so horrible. I know she’s only… She’s only trying to look out for me. Like she always does. She always tried to be like a big sister for me.”

Arsha’s hands twisted together in her lap, as the girl bit her lip.

“I’m such a coward. I wish I was strong like you,” she said.

“Don’t say that,” Rachael said. “Don’t act like I’m…”

“Like what?”

Rachael closed her eyes for a moment, letting out a heavy breath.

“Like I’m someone you should look up to. You keep thinking that I’m tough and all, that I know how to look after myself, that I’m all this stuff you want to be like, but I’m just a scared little girl, running away all the time. God, I run from everything. It’s all I know how to do.”

“You think I could ever believe that? Rachael, I’ve seen what you went through. Fates, I can barely even think about it, and you live with it every day. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.”

Rachael shook her head.

“Living with a hole in your chest isn’t strong, Arsh. It’s just a slow way of dying,” she said, looking down at her hands.

There was a soft scraping sound, as Arsha lifted herself out of the chair. It took Rachael a moment to realise that it was the sound of Arsha’s wingtips brushing against the wall behind her.

Two steps covered the distance between their seats. Arsha’s eyes narrowed in concentration for a moment, as she tucked her wings in close, and settled herself on the arm of Rachael’s chair, their knees brushing together. Arms gently encircled her shoulders. With no strength to fight, Rachael let her head fall against Arsha’s side. She closed her eyes and felt the gentle rise and fall of her sister’s chest.

“I’m sorry,” Rachael whispered.

“Me too,” Arsha said.

“I just… I don’t know how this is supposed to work.”

“How what’s supposed to work?”

For a moment Rachael’s mouth felt too dry to even speak.

“Family,” she said, at last.

The sun was long past set and two full moons could be seen, one high in a sparsely clouded sky, the other a perfect reflection in the still mirror of the ocean.

They had pulled in at Westfall a few hours past sun-down on their seventh day of travelling. They had not even taken on supplies yet. Abasi had paid the docking fees and handled the paperwork whilst everyone else slouched off to their beds.

The remainder of the journey had been a quiet one. The crew all carried a weariness with them, emotionally and physically exhausted. Nobody spoke much, and people kept to themselves. Rachael and Arsha had been glad of the quiet, staying shut up in their rooms mostly, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It didn’t seem to matter. They were uncomfortable together, and just as uncomfortable alone.

After so many days of sleeping, she had found that she could barely close her eyes anymore. She began wishing for more nightroot as she lay on the covers each night, her aching muscles too warm in the still air, staring up at the ceiling.

So she had sat, and she had paced, and she had slipped out into the silence of the ship to wander its hallways and conceal herself in its quiet spaces, all the while feeling the thoughts tumbling over and over in her head. Trying to find the shape of the feelings that gnawed at her. She couldn’t even give voice to the question that seemed to lurk at the back of head, like a buzzing sound just on the edge of your hearing. Each night it had been the same, endless hours of pacing, waiting for a decision to come. When it did, finally, she found that she felt no lighter for it.

She stood on the deck, feeling the breeze in her hair. The ship swayed gently on its mooring ropes, bumping against the wooden dock that reached out precariously from the cliff. Timbers creaked with each impact, like ribs moving to exhale.

She had learned to love this ship. She was amazed at how it could seem so ancient, and yet so new. Everything about it was like something clumsily crafted from pieces of the past, but the way it moved was just incredible. This lumbering beast that took to the air with such improbable grace. She was enchanted by the crackle of the lightning around the float-stones, and the way the iron outrunners caught the dawn light. She loved the sound of her feet against the wooden deck, and the wind running through the rigging.

It almost felt like it could be home. But it was not home. Then again, neither was anywhere else.

The bag over her shoulder was all she had left of her own. London was a world away and impossibly changed. She had nothing to go back to, and she could not let herself stay here.

She looked again at the lights of the town below them. Merchants and travellers came here from all over. Boats and caravans that she could stow away on. She’d muddle through somehow, find a way to live life on her own again. She had to. Some part of her even imagined that Justin might find her again. No matter how much she wanted to hate him, part of her still longed for that. She had to remind herself that it was Arsha he had wanted all along. Arsha, not her. He could not possibly come back to her now, when he had never truly been looking for her at all.

Arsha. Her new-found sister. She felt a tugging regret at the thought of leaving her. She pushed it away, stamping down the bitter sadness that roiled inside of her. It was better this way. Better for both of them. Shouldering her pack, she walked slowly down towards the gang-plank. At the edge of the deck she paused one last time, but did not dare to look back. She didn’t think she could bear to.

She heard footsteps approaching. The soft steps could only be Arsha’s.

“How’s the arm?” Arsha said.

Rachael swallowed, her throat dry.

“Better,” she said.

“Did you plan on telling me you were leaving?”

“Sorry,” she said, eyes still fixed ahead. “It’s not you. It’s him. Your dad. What he did… I just can’t be near him. I don’t know how to deal with that.”

“I know,” Arsha said.

“But you want me to forgive him, don’t you? You want me to stay,” Rachael said, staring out at the lights of the town.

“Of course I do. But I don’t even think I can forgive him. So how am I supposed to ask you to?”

Hearing the catch in Arsha’s voice, Rachael turned to look at her. She was surprised to see a determined expression on Arsha’s face. There was a bag slung across her shoulder.

“You’re coming with me?”

Arsha nodded, not meeting Rachael’s eyes for a moment. For all the girl’s determination, she still looked as if she might burst into tears at any moment.

“What else am I supposed to do?” Arsha said, wretchedly.

Without a word, Rachael touched a hand to her sister’s shoulder.

“You don’t have to do this, Arsh’. You don’t owe me anything.”

“Yes, I do. I do have to do this. Because you’re right, and Daddy was wrong, and I love him so much that I can’t… I can’t be around him. Loving him and hating him and not knowing what way to feel, so my stomach just ends up spinning. I can’t…”

Arsha tailed off. The girl seemed scarcely able to breathe.

“You… You got everything?” Rachael said, trying to give her a reassuring smile.

Relieved, Arsha drew a shuddering breath.

“Yeah. You?” the girl said, gesturing at Rachael’s bag.

Rachael nodded.

“So, what happens now? I mean, Manindra and all that lot will still be after us. Me, I guess.” Arsha said, a little nervously. “Or maybe you. I don’t know. It’s all so confused.”

Rachael shrugged.

“We keep running. We look after each other. We see what happens next. It’s… It’s not all that bad a way to live.”

“I guess.”

“What about your dad?” Rachael said, nodding at the windows of the ship’s bridge. “He’s not going to try to come after us?”

“Maybe. I don’t know,” Arsha said. “I almost think he’s expecting it. Fates, it just makes it worse. I want him to be angry or something. But he just… he looks at me like he’s afraid. Like I’m going to punish him.”

“Aren’t you?” Rachael said, with a meaningful look at the heavy bag over Arsha’s shoulder.

“Fates, don’t say that Rach. How can I go if you say something like that?”

Rachael shook her head.

“I didn’t mean that. It’s not about him, it’s… It’s about you. However much you love him, it doesn’t mean you have to live with the things he’s done, right? And it doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe things’ll get better. Maybe we’ll come back, some day.”

“Yeah. I think I’d like that,” Arsha said, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Feeling like an idiot, Rachael shook her head and forced a smile.

“Come on. It’ll be an adventure. Or something.”

She hefted her pack and stepped down onto the gangplank, which creaked under her feet. A nervous smile passed between them as Rachael reached out to take her sister’s hand, and they set off towards the lights of the town.

End of Book 1

Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Chapter 32 – Broken

The iron floor was rough and hot against her skin. Rachael was lying on the hard surface of the platform, aching all over. She could see sunlight, streaming in through the spaces left by two broken panes in the black glass ceiling above. She wondered what had broken them. The air had an acrid smell to it. A foul tasting slime coated the inside of her mouth. Her eyes felt raw, and each breath she drew was hoarse and ragged. Her arms and legs seemed to be too heavy to move.

A tremor ran through the platform. She heard the building groan around them as more cracks appeared in the black glass panes. She eased herself into a sitting position, knees curling to her chin. She saw that her left hand was still bound up in the heavy iron gauntlet, the plates moving clumsily as her fingers curled. For a moment she held the strange object up to the light, watching in curious fascination as she clenched and unclenched her fist. She could feel her heart pounding against her chest, and a sick feeling coiled up tight within her stomach. She had the curious sensation of being a passenger in her own head, watching everything with a strange detachment, despite the constant urge to fill her lungs and scream. Everything was too loud, and too hot. Whisps of smoke curled through the air, making her cough.

Arsha was lying beside her, sprawled out across the platform. Rachael wasn’t even sure if the girl was breathing. She forced herself to reach out a hand, pressing trembling fingertips to the girl’s neck. She imagined she should be searching for a pulse, but when she touched Arsha’s skin, she felt a breath drawing inward, throat swelling as the girl’s eyes flickered open. Arsha coughed, loudly, as Rachael jerked her hand away.

Arsha sat up and looked at her, blinking away tears.

“You’re OK?” Arsha gasped.

“Yeah,” Rachael managed. “Yeah, I’m…”

She tailed off, not sure what she was supposed to say. None of the words in her head seemed to fit. Then her sister’s arms were around her, her face buried in the girl’s hair as Arsha pulled her into an embrace so fierce and strong that it crushed the air out of her lungs. Without even meaning to, Rachael found her arms encircling her sister’s body, holding tight as if she were the only solid thing left in the world. She felt tears rolling down her cheeks, as her breath came in short gasps.

She couldn’t say how long they held each other, as she felt her sister’s chest rise and fall with each breath, her heart pounding through her ribcage as tears ran down her shoulder, mingling with her sweat.

“Thank you,” Arsha said. The words were a faint murmur, the girl’s face still pressed against her neck.

“For what?” Rachael said.

“For coming back.”

Arsha’s grip loosened a little, and the girl sat back to look at her with eyes red from crying. Arsha wiped a hand across her face, and her eyes settled on Rachael’s left hand, encased in iron.

“Oh Fates, Rachael, your hand. Is it OK?” the girl exclaimed, seizing the gauntlet with both hands.

“Uh… Yeah, I think,” Rachael said.

“Can you take it off?” Arsha said. Looking down at the strange device, Rachael could still see where parts of seemed to have emerged from within her arm, the skin parting around the blades of iron.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Does it hurt?”

She shook her head, as Arsha continued to stare in horror. Rachael shifted uncomfortably, and turned to look at their surroundings. They were both sitting at the foot of the plinth, just below where the gateway had been. The twisted remains of the bridge hung, creaking, from the far edge of the pit that surrounded the platform. Black shards of glass littered the platform, along with larger pieces of iron debris. The whole tower was swaying gently, the metal groaning as tremors ran up from below.

Arsha followed her gaze, noting the disarray with an expression that slowly shifted to alarm. As the girls took stock of their situation, the platform suddenly shook, and a thunderous roar echoed up from somewhere far below.

“We’re stuck here, aren’t we?” Arsha said, looking at the broken bridge.

Rachael gave her a gloomy look.

“Yeah, I think so. Serves you for coming after me, I guess.” She saw Arsha’s expression. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“We’re getting out of here. Somehow.” Arsha said, firmly.

“Your dad left us.”

“He must have thought we weren’t coming back. He wouldn’t have… he’s probably coming back with the ship,” Arsha said, her lower lip trembling slightly.

Another bellowing reverberation ran up the tower. Moments later they both heard a movement above them, a little like the crackling of ice-cubes in the glass. She looked up to see a maze of cracks slowly spreading across several of the black panes above them. Arsha let out a shriek as shards of black glass rained down towards them. They shielded their faces as broken splinters flew at them from every direction. Rachael felt the shrapnel biting at her skin, and she saw one shard draw a perfectly neat red line across Arsha’s forearm. As the black rain stopped they looked up at each other, blinking, breath coming in short gasps. Arsha clutched at the cut on her arm, blood oozing between her fingers. Another tremor ran through the chamber, and they both heard a groaning sound from up above.

“Oh Fates,” Arsha whimpered as she looked up. High above them, one of the long spars that formed the skeleton of the dome began to shudder and twist.

“Arsh, I think we’re in real trouble here,” Rachael said, touching her fingers to a cut on her face. Blood was already running down her cheek.

With a terrible moan the huge metal beam began to tear free, seeming to sag at first, until the end snapped loose and the whole beam began to fall directly towards them. It seemed to happen so slowly, so gently that at first Rachael didn’t even feel scared. It took a moment for the perspective to snap into place. The iron beam was huge, maybe a hundred feet from end to end and wider than two grown men, and it was hurtling down towards them.

“Rachael… Fates…” Arsha whispered hoarsely, scrabbling to her feet. They both took faltering steps backwards as the huge mass of iron hurtled towards them. The platform was barely twenty feet across in all, and they had no way off. They could only guess where the falling beam would land. Huddling close to each other they moved towards the edge of the platform, each of them whispering desperate prayers. Rachael reached out and took her sister’s hand, squeezing it tightly.

It was Arsha who saw that they had both guessed wrong. She threw herself forwards, tugging at Rachael’s hand, yanking her forcefully along as she dove past the gateway, throwing herself forwards onto the ground. Just behind them Rachael felt the colossal weight of the mass of iron as it passed just inches from their heels. The beam struck the platform like a sledgehammer. The whole building shook, and Rachael was thrown forwards on a wave of air that hit like a thunderclap. She slammed into the ground, skidding forwards on her elbows as the edge of the platform rushed towards her.

She couldn’t stop in time. As she was about to plunge over the edge she felt Arsha’s hand tighten around hers, and a moment later the whole of her weight seemed to focus itself like a solid blow against her shoulder. She dangled halfway over the lip of the platform, restrained only by Arsha’s tenuous grip on her arm. All the air seemed to have been sucked out of her, and no matter how she wished she could pull herself back, all she could seem to do was stare into the vast drop below. The pit seemed to go down forever, nothing but blackness below her.

She felt the platform shift underneath her body, and it took a moment to realise that it was Arsha pulling her clear of the edge, inch by inch.

Head spinning, she found a purchase and pulled herself away from the gap, the sharp tips of the gauntlet scraping against the iron of the platform.

“Thanks,” she gasped, blinking in confusion.

“Come on, we should go,” Arsha replied, gesturing towards the fallen beam. It took Rachael’s befuddled mind a moment to grasp what she meant. The beam had landed astride the chasm that surrounded the pillar, joining it to the rest of the chamber.

Beneath their feet the platform was shaking violently. The impact of the beam seemed to have cracked one of the supports, and the whole thing felt like it might collapse any second. Arsha quickly leapt up onto the beam, turning to help Rachael up as they both struggled to keep their footing.

They ran the length of the beam without even daring to look down at the fall below. Terrible shuddering groans emitted constantly from the entire chamber as their feet pounded against the body of the iron spar. It held just long enough for them to drop down onto the floor of the main chamber. As they fled the room, a sickening crunch resounded through the air as the platform gave way, crumbling down into the pit with the massive beam sliding in after it. Arsha turned back to watch, eyes wide, until Rachael grabbed at her sleeve.

“Come on, let’s go,” Rachael screamed over the constant groaning of the building. Another ceiling pane crazed with a spider web of cracks and began to disintegrate, raining black razor shards into the hall. They ran out of the sagging arched doors and into the dark corridor beyond.

Emerging at the far end of the arched tunnel, they found themselves blinking in the sunlight that streamed in through the shattered outer windows of the tower. As their sight returned, they looked out on the rusted city and saw a sea of crumbling towers beginning to sway and topple. Parts of the buildings were falling away, raining down into the dark mists below. Many of the towers seemed to be crowned in a glittering haze; thousands of falling shards of black glass glinting as they caught the light.

The tremors were nearly continuous now, the building shuddering and groaning beneath their feet. There was a gaping hole where the elevator had been. Daring to lean out a little over the edge, Rachael glimpsed the twisted remains of the platform, far below. From the look in her sister’s eyes, she could tell that her expression had said it all.

“There might be another way down, I guess,” Rachael said, not really feeling it. Arsha did not reply. Her attention had been drawn to something outside of the tower. As Rachael followed the girl’s eyes she found her gaze settling on a tiny but rapidly growing black dot, skimming over the rooftops. Arsha began waving frantically. At first nothing seemed to happen, but then Rachael saw that the dot was turning, coming closer. Soon enough, she recognised the shape of the Zephyr, blew light crackling around its floatstones as the propellers blurred. Arsha let out a whoop of joy.

“See? They’re coming for us. I told you they’d come,” she cried, punching the air in excitement.

The Zephyr closed the distance quickly, on a path that would take it right past the floor where they stood. She could see Micah standing at the wheel, whilst Ilona stood at the prow, watching them through some kind of lens. Arsha ran right up to the edge of the building, holding on to a window frame as she eagerly watched the vessel approach.

The building shifted again, beginning to slope forwards at an alarming angle. Tremors continued to shake the room, and Rachael was certain that she feel them growing in intensity. With nothing close to hold onto, she could barely keep her footing as the ground swayed underneath them, seeming to move further with each pendulum swing. An awful realisation settled on her.

“Arsh. He can’t stop. The building’s coming down Arsh. Nothing’s staying still. They can’t stop for long enough.”

Arsha turned to look at Rachael, eyes widening as this thought sunk in.

“Arsh, we have to jump,” Rachael said, voice trembling as she spoke the words.

“No. We can’t. No,” Arsha stammered, helplessly.

“We have to. It’s the only way out.”

Arsha looked out over the edge, and Rachael could see the fear in her eyes.

“Arsh, go. Go now.”

Arsha shook her head and backed away from the edge.

“Arsha, jump!” Rachael screamed in her ear, giving her a sudden shove. Off balance, the girl was forced to run down the sloping floor towards the edge as the entire building lurched forwards with them.

They jumped.

For a breathless moment the emptiness took them, and there was only the wind. The Zephyr seemed to slide beneath their feet, smooth and graceful. She saw the two figures on the deck looking up at them, faces aghast.

For a moment, everything seemed still.

Rachael came down hard on the back of the deck, her momentum carrying her into the back railing, pain exploding across her shoulders as she crashed into a heavy coil of rope.

Arsha missed the back of the deck by inches. Rachael watched in horror as she fell past the ship, her hand reaching out to grab at the railing which was just too far away. She saw Micah letting go of the wheel to reach out towards her, too late to try to catch Arsh’s open hand. She saw the look of hopeless and desperate terror in her sister’s eyes, fingertips outstretched to grasp at nothing. And then she looked down at the city below, the shape of the buildings hazy and indistinct. Distant, but inevitable.

Without a thought Rachael snatched up one end of the rope, heavy and rough against her palm, and in one smooth arc she dove straight over the edge of the deck.

She straightened her body out, pointing her toes like a diver, trying to gain as much speed as possible. The wind whipped her hair into her eyes and tore at her clothes, the sound of it roaring in her ears. Below her, Arsha’s expression was caught between terror and wild hope. Rachael plunged towards her, the heavy rope trailing out behind her in the freezing air.

With her free hand she reached out, the darkly gleaming metal fingers of the gauntlet outstretched as she slowly closed the distance. The drop below them was long, long enough that they could scarcely even see the ground, but the distance was growing shorter all the time, and Rachael wasn’t sure how much rope she had left. Arsha reached out her hand and their fingertips brushed, but could not quite catch. She reached out again, the distance closed a little more, and she got her hand around Arsha’s wrist, iron fingertips digging into the girl’s skin. Arsha grabbed her arm with both hands, squeezing tight. Even through the metal plating, Rachael could feel how tightly the girl was holding on. Barely a second later the rope ran out.

For a moment it seemed as if she felt nothing at all. There was sickening pop and then sudden, searing agony. Her hand had become a distant thing, something that didn’t belong to her anyore. The rope flew out of her grasp as her arm flopped uselessly, dislocated at the shoulder. For a moment all she could do was scream.

Eventually the pain subsided enough for her head to clear, and she realised what had just happened. She was falling to a certain death, and she had no way out. The sudden surge of adrenaline cleared her head a little, and in her terror she couldn’t even think of the pain. She looked at Arsha, who looked back at her with tears streaking her eyes.

“You shouldn’t have come after me,” Arsha yelled at her, over the wind. For a moment Rachael was stunned

“How can you even say that?” she yelled back. Arsha bit her lip, but didn’t reply. Then Rachael realised that what she saw in the girl’s eyes wasn’t just sadness, but gratitude.

Tears were welling up in her own eyes. She didn’t even dare to look down. She didn’t want to know how long they had left. For a moment, she felt a wild hope that they might just stay like this, forever. As she stared into her sister’s eyes, she felt her breath catch in her throat.

“Arsha,” she gasped. “Your face…”

Creeping up from Arsha’s neck, like frost on a windowpane, was a fine pattern of rust, as if the skin itself was corroding. She looked down at Arsha’s arm and saw the rust growing across her body, seeming to spread from where Arsha’s hand touched the rusted metal plating around Rachael’s fingers. Where their palms met she felt a burning heat, and whisps of dark smoke seeped from between their clasped hands. With her free hand Arsha touched her face and flakes of rust fell away, the skin a raw pink underneath, as if she had picked away a scab.

“The seed,” Rachael said, her voice hoarse, barely audible over the wind.

Arsha’s mouth opened in a gasp of pain, but no sound came out. The back of her shirt exploded.

Rachael watched as twin shapes tore free, like they were being carved out of the air. Leaves of iron, paper thin and nearly eaten through by rust, piled onto one another, layer upon layer, forming a long, sweeping pair of wings. As they thickened, taking on substance, they caught the wind and Arsha’s body jerked upwards with the sudden deceleration. Their hands slipped apart and the force of their separation sent Rachael spinning. Desperately she looked about, trying to control her fall, but Arsha had disappeared from her view. As she tumbled through the air, trying to catch sight of the girl, her eyes fixed on the ground rushing up towards her. She had barely seconds before she hit. All other thoughts left her mind, and she closed her eyes. For a moment, she wondered what it would feel like. For a moment, she thought she saw her mother’s face.

She felt something crash into her chest, knocking the wind out of her. It was a few seconds later that she opened her eyes again and saw the ground growing steadily more distant. She turned her face to one side, and looked directly into Arsha’s eyes.

She felt Arsha’s grip around her waist slipping, and flung her good arm around the girl’s neck, holding on for dear life. Wings of rusted metal, whispering like dead leaves, seemed to rip the air apart with every stroke, strong and fast. They gained speed, climbing higher, as Rachael looked around and let out an exultant shout of joy.

“Oh God, I love you so much,” she screamed, laughing in delight. Looking back over Arsha’s shoulder she saw the spire continuing its slow collapse, fragments of rusted metal and glass showering down in a thickening rain, shattering on the ground as it cracked and shifted, chunks of pavement upending, deep rifts forming around the base of the building as it toppled. The top of the tower crumpled and then exploded outwards in a spray of twisted metal, as a dark shape broke free. Wings spread wide enough to black out the sun, Justin wheeled in the sky far above them. Rachael’s breath caught in her throat as she watched him circling. She felt Arsha’s hands clutching her tighter, as the girl saw the shadow pass over them both. Then he was climbing higher and farther, his vast form growing small as he soared into the distance. Solemnly, Rachael watched him leave.

The Zephyr was descending in a sharp dive, levelling out as it passed below them. Looking down, Rachael could see all three figures on the deck staring up at them. Wings beating hard to slow them down, Arsha descended, visibly straining at the effort of holding them both aloft. At first she seemed to be coming in smoothly, until it became clear that she had no idea how to actually stop. They hit the deck and rolled, tumbling together across the wooden floor. Rachael’s arm smashed into the ground as they tumbled and the pain in her shoulder exploded, drowning out everything else.

“Rachael? Rachael, can you hear me?”

She supposed she must have blacked out for a moment. Ilona was staring down at her, half her face covered by bandages that were already showing dark stains. She could see blood matted in the woman’s hair.

“Yeah… Yeah, I’m here,” she mumbled. Ilona sighed in relief, and for a moment she swore that a smile crossed the woman’s face. Two fingers were pressed against Rachael’s throat, feeling her pulse. As Ilona counted silently, Rachael looked across the deck to where Arsha stood with her father, their bodies pressed close together. Her face was buried against his chest and tears were streaming down his cheeks. Her long wings trailed across the deck behind her, fluttering gently in the breeze. The back of Arsha’s shirt had been shredded, the tattered remains soaked with blood. Where the wings protruded from the girl’s back she could see the ragged edges of the torn flesh. It looked very painful.

As their long embrace ended, Arsha looked up and saw her watching. Then the girl was running towards her, stumbling as her wings dragged on the floor so that she half knelt, half fell at Rachael’s side, hands framing her face. Tears streaked through the patches of red rust that covered Arsha’s face, cracking around her smile.

Smiling, Rachael went to reach out towards Arsha with her one working hand, only to pause as she caught sight of angular metal plating that encased it. The gauntlet almost seemed like a part of her now. She could barely even feel it. She hesitated, hand half-raised towards her sister’s cheek. Then Arsha raised her own hand to clasp Rachael’s, palm to palm. Arsha squeezed her hand, the gesture barely felt through the metal.

The clouds enveloped them, a wall of grey suddenly closing around the tiny vessel like a fist, before tearing open again as a brilliant blue sky was revealed above them.

The moment the Zephyr was above the clouds and on an even keel, Micah left the tiller and ran the length of the deck in three long bounds. Arsha turned to meet him, shrieking as she was lifted off her feet and swung round in a crushing embrace. For a moment her wings flared out over them both like a canopy, bare metal gleaming in the sunlight. Micah set Arsha down again and took a step back, an expression of pure astonishment on his face. With one hand, he stroked at a wingtip. Soft metal leaves rustled, and Arsha giggled in surprise.

“That tickles,” she exclaimed.

“Really?” Micah’s eyes widened. He tried it again, smiling as Arsha giggled.

“That’s amazing,” he said.

Experimentally, Arsha spread her wings out and then pulled them in close. Even tucked in tight to her body, her wings still arched high over her head, the tips brushing the ground.

Looking around, Rachael could see that everyone was now staring at Arsha. Ilona’s expression was equal parts surprise and concern, but on Rishi’s face Rachael saw something else entirely… Something like fear.

“Alright, let me take a look at that shoulder,” Ilona said, suddenly breaking the silence as she turned towards Rachael. The woman quickly unbuttoned the top of Rachael’s blouse and pulled back the collar to examine the swelling, prodding at the bruise flesh with the tips of two fingers. A fire burned where she touched, as Rachael gritted her teeth, unable to keep from letting out a slight whimper.

“It’s dislocated. I’m going to give you something for the pain. We’ll set the joint back into place as soon as we’re landed,” Ilona said, calmly.

As Ilona disappeared into the hold and Micah returned to the helm, Arsha and her father slipped away to the other side of the deck. Rachael watched their hushed conversation with a vague curiosity. Arsha’s smile seemed to have faded, leaving a coldness in her expression. Something seemed to have emerged from within the girl, as the exuberance of their escape faded. For a moment the professor turned to look in Rachael’s direction, and beneath his apologetic eyes she saw that same coldness, anger lurking there like a movement in the darkness. Her fault, perhaps, that his daughter had risked so much to save her. The thought twisted like a knife in her stomach.

Then Ilona emerged from below, returning to Rachael’s side with a small black leather bag which opened to reveal gleaming rows of medical implements. Sifting through the contents, Ilona produced a glass bottle and a brass handled syringe.

“For the pain,” she said.

“No I’m… I’m OK. I don’t need nothin,” Rachael said, shaking her head quickly.

Ilona’s eyes narrowed for a moment, and then she continued to fill the syringe, tapping the side to check for air.

“I said I’m fine,” Rachael snapped, jerking away from the needle. The movement twisted her arm, and blinding pain seized her. It seemed to crash over her body in a wave that left her trembling and breathless. As her vision cleared, she saw Arsha kneeling at her side. Without a word, Arsha reached out for Rachael’s gauntlet covered hand. As Arsha wrapped her hands around the cold metal, Rachael met her eyes. The girl looked at her steadily, concerned, but without pity. Rachael saw only a calm assurance. Ilona was looking at them both with an expression that was equal parts curious and frustrated. Rachael could feel Micah and Rishi watching them as well, but Arsha ignored them all.

“I was there, remember?” Arsha said. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Rachael managed a faint nod. She winced as the needle pierced her arm, but her eyes stayed locked on her sister’s. As the needle slid free, she felt Arsha squeeze her hand, clasping it tight. She gave an answering squeeze as she let her head fall back against the railing. A heavy sigh passed her lips as she stared up at the clear blue sky.

Copyright © 2015 by Peter Brunton.  Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License