This is part of an ongoing steampunk fantasy story. See the introduction to get at the story from the beginning.


Next on the agenda was to kill the guards. But then what? I had no idea where I was. With my serpentine gone, I couldn’t signal for help.

Again my instincts pushed against my training. A good soldier would sneak out and search for her serpentine. If that didn’t work, hide in the jungle. I could find the path we’d come on. There must’ve been Ilsan patrols in the area.

I would most likely get lost and die in the jungle.

Besides, all I really wanted to do was kill Rat.

Voices rose outside. A guard change? Shit, someone’s coming inside.

I scrambled back to the post and pretended to be bound and asleep. A second later, someone entered my tent. Breathe normally, I whispered to myself.

I heard the intruder set his rifle down and approach me.

I sprang into action, swinging my rope-blade. He dodged effortlessly, but hitting him wasn’t my goal. I used the distraction to grab his weapon. In a flash, I trained it on him.

Andrew. The traitor.

My fingers curled to a fist as the rage returned. Flashes of the other prisoner’s fate. I hated Andrew as much, maybe more than the Rat. He was Ilsan. He should know better.

His expression was blank, though. “You’re good, but if you were better, you’d notice the gun isn’t loaded.”

He was right. It was too light. “I should have known you wouldn’t make that mistake again.”

“I didn’t make that mistake the first time. I wanted you to get my rifle at the sacrifice.”

“Why?”

“To kill the sorcerer. You missed.”

“I hit my target.”

“Then, you’re a fool. The prisoner was already dead. The sorcerer was the threat.”

“I couldn’t let him suffer. Not with all that majick.”

“Small-minded idiot. Now the sorcerer will do the same to you.”

I forced myself not to react. “Why are you here?”

“To rescue you.” He chuckled. “I guess you don’t need help.”

“That’s right.”

“Where will you go, then?”

I paused.

He continued.  “So you do need me.”

“I don’t need a traitor or a majickian.”

His eyes flashed. “I don’t use majick! And I’m not a traitor.”

Even with the little I’d observed of Andrew, I knew he prided himself on self-control. There was so much emotion behind that outburst. Could it be real?

He didn’t pause. “I’m undercover. A Grey Wolf. That’s why I gave you the chance to kill the sorcerer. Do you want another?”

“How do I know this isn’t a trick?”

“Because there are no Ilsan traitors. Loyalty is in our blood. And because I’m going to tell you how to get out of here.”

I narrowed my eyes.

He casually reached into his pocket as he knelt. “The sorcerer’s name is Quetzan. He was a local until we drafted him into the Ilsan Mechinicians Corps. Grew up in Valin City. Smart boy. Terrible temper. Not sure how he ended up here, but I know what he’s doing.”

Andrew removed his hand from his jacket and  dropped half a dozen small marbles onto the dirt floor.

My rifle point lowered. Not marbles. “Cartabugs?”


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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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