BookView Excerpt: Doom’s Daze (The Heart of Stone Adventures #3) by Eva Sandor

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From the Blurb

When a mysterious enemy looms large, the Kingdom’s secret weapon is Murd… Malfred Murd!

Finding himself still alive is the former jester’s first clue that his fate has taken yet another unexpected bounce. Quicker than you can say “Utmost Secret”, our unlikely hero is reunited with his magpie advisor… his two greatest frenemies… and the woman who’s best at breaking his heart… for an international espionage mission with a foppish, Foolish twist.

Exotic locales. Sensuous strangers. The cover persona Agent Murd was born to play. All these and more lie in wait— but the stakes are as high as the mountains hiding a sinister country from the rest of the blissfully ignorant world. Because the enemy has a weapon never before imagined, and only our operatives can stop them from unleashing a new and horrific kind of war.

CHAPTER 1 and 2

Sorry! These  would be a pure spoiler of  the cliffhanger ending from book 1. Let’s move on to…

CHAPTER 3

Agent Corvinalias, who outside The Bureau was the dashing young Count of a blueneedle tree known as Upper Cloudyblue, had been born— or perhaps born is not the right word; magpies recognize two phases of emergence, one in which a chick hatches from its egg and a second, whereby a fledgling gains functional plumage— at any rate he, like the rest of his moderately large and mildly intellectual family, was from the Isle of Gold, as were the royalty of the Umans. When he spoke in Uman languages he had the Isle’s courtly accent, and like most of its denizens he had grown up feeling that the whole Midland Sea was more or less just insulation, there to prevent the rest of the world, with all its rough edges, from damaging the Isle.

But he’d journeyed to the mainland with the Uman male who was then his pet— that was Malfred Murd; he’d had a falling-out with his family and gone off to make a discovery— that was a new route to Abode; and he’d raced back to his friends the Umans at a killing pace, filled with mind-melting dread, bringing news of Abode’s threatening plans and the memory of the terrifying… thing he’d sighted there. That was why he’d joined The Bureau. To help figure out how to protect the Federated Kingdom of Midlandis.

Corvinalias no longer thought the rest of the world was inferior to the Isle of Gold. In fact, now he saw the Isle— with its counties such as Upper and Lower Cloudyblue, and the Scientific Institute where his Rokonoma relatives hosted lectures, and all the fascinating holes where Umans dug for the yellow metal shinies they so treasured— as a helpless little place, woefully removed from reality.

The Uman royals must have seen it that way, too, for when Corvinalias brought them his frightening news, they had not tried to end their state visit to a place called the Whellen Country.

Instead the King, the Queen, and their baby Prince had remained there. They now lived with Dame Elsebet de Whellen, and most of another visiting family known as the de Brewels, in the New Palace: a big rambling stagecoach inn that technically still belonged to the absent Malfred Murd. The town around it, too, was probably still Fred’s fief. But now everyone called it “the New Capital” and when Corvinalias had last been there, the Umans had begun work on a fortification.

Fortification! What good could their new little wooden palisade and their new little army possibly do against that… thing?

Only knowledge— intelligence— could help them. And because Corvinalias had set himself a personal mission to help good people survive, when Agent Moktabelli invited him to join The Bureau there had been no question he would do it. It was his fate to be swept up in adventure.

With thoughts like these he soared through the night, high over the Uman city of Coastwall. He had become familiar with all its landmarks: the broad brown Denna, known as Old Mama River, Carrier of the World; the gleaming ivory-tiled bulk of Brewel Hall and the red-and-white Nautilus; the brilliant Lantern in its square tower, casting a light southward to guide sailors home. But he’d also learned to watch for small signs— like the clip fastening down the awning of a scribe’s locked booth, turned askew to indicate that someone inside it was waiting for Agent Corvinalias.

He fanned his tail, braked with his wings, extended both hands before him and sank down through the air to perch on a sign that read: DOCUMENTS COPIED WHILE YOU WAIT. He stooped to give the signboard five evenly spaced pecks.

 A yawn from the booth, a series of thuds, mild curses from an apprentice its owner had stationed to guard valuable supplies of ink, paper and quills. From under the awning he heard an adolescent tenor. “Go away.”

For his countersignal Agent Corvinalias chose the voice of Dame Irona de Brewel: slow, rich, self-absorbed. “But I have a wonderful story.”

“What kind of story?”

Next Corvinalias mimicked Dame Elsebet de Whellen’s friendly old north country patrician lockjaw. “Only a half-penny pamphlet.”

“What about?”

For his last reply, Corvinalias tried something trickier: imitating the King. His Majesty Enrick of Castramars didn’t sound like other Umans. There was something a little bit odd about the King, though it was becoming less so day by day. “Singers. Sailors. Leaders. Lies.”

The awning lifted a few inches. The magpie slipped into the booth.

It was pitch dark inside, but magpies can see all kind of things Umans can’t. For example, Corvinalias could clearly see the apprentice: a tall, lean, broad-shouldered young scholar who affected the steel-rimmed spectacles of a much older gentleman. He also wore an ink-stained apron, a folded paper hat, and a wisp of mustache that, like the spectacles, clearly indicated a wish to be someone else.

Corvinalias whispered: “Subject has been successfully transferred. He’s safe in the nest. Uh, the hive. I mean, he went through that door.”

“I know. N.M. reported already.”

“What? How’d he beat me to it?”

“I’ve told you, we have ways. Eyes and ears everywhere. Now— give me the rest of your story.”

Magpies have no lips, but still Corvinalias gave a convincing impression of pouting. “That’s all the story I had.”

“Shhh. There’s something you can tell me. How did he look?”

“Who, N. M.? Same as ever. Wig, nose…”

The apprentice smiled, a half-smile that curved one downy cheek and sent one corner of the mustache into a gentle twist. “Quit joking around! You’re as bad as the subject. Did he seem all right?”

“I think so. Sometimes it’s hard to tell with him— the Fools’ Guild and the Players’, you know, they’re both all about putting up a front. Hoy, listen, I want to make it absolutely clear how I’ll be meeting him. He has a way of blaming his mistakes on me.”

“There won’t be any mistakes. I’ll make sure of it. Just get to the rendezvous point and wait there every day like we planned. It’ll be all right. I’ve done so many of these…”

The apprentice probably didn’t realize that a little streak of worry had bled through it’ll be all right, but magpies can hear all kinds of things Umans can’t. Corvinalias didn’t mention it, though. He wanted it to be all right.

Suddenly he remembered something. He hopped about the shadowy desktop in excitement. “Oh! One weird thing. He asked about you a lot. A lot. Only he called you—”

“Easy! Not all the ears in this town are friendly ones.”

Magpies don’t blush. Or at least if they do, their feathers hide it.

The apprentice stood up, nearly colliding with the ceiling of the booth. Off came the apron, off came the hat. And then, after a quick rearrangement of lapels and sash, off came the mustache.

Before Number Nine kicked open a trap door at the bottom of the booth, she reached out to pat Corvinalias. He helped her by moving his head into position under her long, graceful fingers— otherwise she might have knocked over the inkpot.

“Want help closing that after you?” he whispered as she disappeared down the hole in the pavement.

“No, thanks. I can handle everything.”

Corvinalias didn’t say I hope so as he watched the floor of the booth shut behind her. But, gods afar, he did hope so. He hoped— damn it deep, that inkpot!

Perhaps blushing under his feathers, perhaps not, Corvinalias squeezed out from under the awning into the cold, still night. He began his journey to Abode, leaving behind him a rapidly spreading pool of deep, dark, permanent blackness.

CHAPTER 4

Half a world east of the Federated Kingdom of Midlandis, behind a wall of impassable, airless mountains and set very much alone in a vast waste of wind-ravaged altitudinous plain, lay a canyon. Beside that canyon a city had been raised, and somewhere in that city was an enormous building in which dwelled an Ambassador from the only civilized nation ever to have dealt with the secretive country of Abode.

The Eminent Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa was a small round man with a big round face and a medium-sized belly— also round. With one arm on either side of this belly he pushed his chair forcefully away from his desk and gave himself a firm thinking-to. Enough for now! He thought. Time to go for a walk, get some fresh air. His all-consuming hobby— the analysis of hand-jotted notes, pamphlet clippings, printed announcements and imagery in an attempt to shed light on the mysterious doings of certain interconnected groups of persons— could wait. The diagrammatic arrangement laid out on his desk would still be there when he returned. Then he’d really dig into it. The delay would make it  all the sweeter.

Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa promised himself all of this as he slipped into one, two, three quilted silk robes. These he’d brought from home; they were the product of his very finest moth, a color-pointed Long Bay Bright who had just barely failed to capture the National Finals for eight years running, before Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa resigned from moth shows forever. He added a locally-made wool felt overcloak. Plus a pair of the fat woolly boots people here wore. And the omnipresent yakbok-skin hat.

The front door of Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa’s apartment opened into the forecourt of the chancery, which was itself a wing of The Sublime Palace of the Citizens of Abode, which in turn was an appendage of a much larger building that had not yet divulged to Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa its actual name or contents. He was confident he would eventually learn them all, just as he would eventually perfect his command of the Abodean language. Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa adored languages almost as much as he adored diagrammatic arrangements.

The wind blew grit into the Ambassador’s teeth as he greeted a passing soldier. “A lovely afternoon. I feel I am finally making progress.”

The soldier’s expression meant she had not understood. Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa repeated himself more loudly. She made her expression more forcefully. Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa gave a serene nod. The soldier responded with that gesture which soldiers so often made at Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa. He walked on.

In the gap between the chancery’s front pillars, a gust of icy wind nearly took his hat. There he stopped walking and, with his mildly myopic hooded eyes unfocused, stood feeling around underneath the edges of the hat for the fastening ribbons he had forgotten to tie— and he was in this faintly ridiculous posture when the beautiful Prefect Sali happened to pass him with the diplomatic pouch.

She would have missed him completely if he hadn’t spoken up.

“Hello,” he said, greatly satisfied to see her break stride. In fact, the brisk movement of her long, strong legs in their hardhide boots slowed down quite noticeably. This was promising. Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa decided to forget the fresh air and instead follow her back to his apartment.

“I see, Prefect Sali, that you’re bringing me something.”

The Prefect didn’t reply. She only lowered the diplomatic pouch— which wasn’t really a pouch, but a moderately sized crate— down off her angular shoulder to the gravel in front of Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa’s door. Standing on it with one boot, she felt around in the pocket of her trim, modern black woolen uniform. Then she pulled out a set of keys, unlocked the door and, hoisting the pouch easily onto her hip, marched into the Ambassador’s apartment as though it were her own barracks.

Does Prefect Sali live in a barracks? thought Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa. She couldn’t spend all of every day working for the leader of Abode, a man named Marshal Fo. She had to relax sometime. An image of her, dressed not in uniform but in something loose and silky, flitted through  Nuy B. Luwa’s imagination. Surely she— oh, dear, the door almost shut in his face. He darted inside just in time to see the beautiful Prefect Sali drop the diplomatic pouch on his bed and stroll over to his desk.

“Ugh! Is this what you’ve got on your docket for the month?”

“Docket?” It was not a word he had heard before.

“Docket. Agenda. Task list. I wondered what sort of goofy conspiracy you’re fixating on now— but you know what, don’t start. I haven’t got time.” And before Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa could stop her, Prefect Sali was riffling through the papers he had painstakingly laid out, with straws pointing between them to indicate possible connections. She picked up one of the papers and straws rolled all over the floor.

“Ey. Where’d you get this?” It was a woodblock print of Marshal Fo, cylindrical hat on his cylindrical head, teeth bared in greeting.

“One of his Generals gave it to me. She said it was all right.”

“Oh? Which of ’em said that?”

The Ambassador did not wish to admit the deeply shameful truth: he could not tell the commanders of Marshal Fo’s army, government, and police apart at all. In fact he suspected the three of them traded uniforms every day, just to confuse him. So he only shrugged at Prefect Sali.

“Falling back on your diplomatic immunity, ey? Well, His Glorious Potency no longer uses this portrait. So.”

Prefect Sali ripped up the print and jammed its pieces into her pocket. Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa squirmed. The notes he’d written on the back were crucial. Now he’d have to re-construct the entire diagrammatic arrangement from memory. It would take hours. Delicious hours.

Prefect Sali yawned. “Go on, grab your messages out of the pouch and throw in whatever you want to send to that soft country of yours. Hup, hup. Yakbok’s waiting. Whatever doesn’t go in here has to wait for the turn of the moon. Maybe longer.” 

While the Ambassador scooped letters, parcels and books in and out of the crate, Prefect Sali pointed her chin at the wattle ceiling, humming tunelessly— but all at once something in the mass of paper caught her fancy.

“Ey. There’s another one of those pictures His Glorious Potency likes. Hand it here.”

For some reason, the last few diplomatic pouches had contained advertising posters from a shipbuilding concern on the coast of the Ambassador’s country. Upon hearing that Marshal Fo liked them, he had been happy to give the posters away; in addition to having forsworn moth shows, he had also stopped having anything to do with boats.

Prefect Sali didn’t thank him. She only jammed the poster under her epaulette, hoisted the diplomatic pouch onto the opposite shoulder, and marched away.

“See you next time,” said Ambassador Nuy B. Luwa. But he said it far too quietly, and a bit too late, and with a sinking feeling he realized he’d said it in Midlandic, the wrong language entirely. He had also failed to add “you are as beautiful as a color-pointed Long Bay Bright.” The wind blew some grit into his apartment and the Ambassador shut the door.

Ah, well. Back to his diagrammatic arrangement.

 Meanwhile the shipyard’s advertisement went with Prefect Sali across the courtyard, into another wing of The Sublime Palace of the Citizens of Abode, through a maze of pathways and down a series of staircases, deeper and deeper, all the way down into a sub- sub- sub-cellar lit with sputtering globes of reeking, grayish alkemikal light. There certain Prophessors with thick spectacles unrolled it, folded it a special way, put it under a certain kind of lens. Across the images of ships, a line of letters painstakingly formed by someone for whom Abodean was a second language read:

– – – – – – — – – – – – –

REPORT FROM:     HEAD ENGINEER, POPLAR RIDGE PROJECT

TO:     HIS GLORIOUS POTENCY, MARSHAL FO

LONG LIVE ABODE, OUR SKY-LANDS, OUR GEM IN THE SNOWS, ETC.

– – – – – – –

YOUR GLORIOUS POTENCY,

 I AM RELIEVED TO REPORT THAT THE INCREASED PAYMENT HAS BOUGHT SILENCE. THE SHIPYARD WILL ASK NO MORE QUESTIONS.

WE HAVE RESUMED CONSTRUCTION ON OUR SIXTEEN (16) NEW VESSELS IN THE MIDLANDIC STYLE.

NEXT, WE WILL BEGIN INSTALLING CARRIER UNITS FOR THE WEAPON.

CHAPTER 5

Clouds drifted across the moon as Number Nine emerged from some hidden pore in the dirty skin of Coastwall.

She looked one way, then the other, then down at her feet, then up overhead. Satisfied that she was alone, she began walking toward the quiet little park with the ivy door and the sea-green statue— the statue that hides a secret.

The secret is not the subject’s identity: that would be Leonn Atler, the beloved, legendary Bureau polymath. Atler was a towering intellect, who could have been a Prophessor a dozen times over at Mitsa-Konig or Vonn or Isladorro; a humble spirit, who repeatedly turned down a post as Director; an inspiration, taken from this world far too soon. In spite of its dry and unfeeling nature, The Bureau had allowed a single memorial to its operatives. It could be of none other than Atler. That he is immortalized is not the secret.

The secret is how.

For under the sea-green paint which makes the statue appear to be a de Brewel, and under the clothing which makes the statue seem to be made of plaster, under even the pure, hundred per cent, solid gold which, beneath the clothing, the whole figure actually consists of, lies the secret. The secret is this: the statue is Leonn Atler.

Not “is of”.

Just is.

It had happened some years past. The great Mesir Atler had, late one night in The Bureau’s Grand Laboratorium, when he was all alone and thus in contravention of his very own rules regarding safety, transmuted not the piece of ham on his wax-and-steel dissecting tray but the entirety of his own body— flesh and blood, nails and hair— into gold. At the same time, though no Bureau alchemist ever learned exactly how, the Grand Laboratorium had burned down. In the morning all that remained of it was the golden form of Mesir Atler, wearing nothing but his final expression of boundless joy.

Rather than risk moving and damaging him, The Bureau had hidden him in plain sight, neatly clothed in plaster and paint. They did not rebuild the Grand Laboratorium. Instead the place where it had been was left as a park, and Mesir Atler enjoyed a memorial service which never really ended, because everyone in The Bureau worshipped him a little whenever they passed him by.

It felt natural to do so. Even in life, he had been a godlike figure, the very model of what a mind could be when untrammeled by concerns of the body. For example: Mesir Atler had never married. Indeed, it is entirely possible that he never even felt the need for biological congress. And yet he did still manage to become a father, and a brilliant one at that.

It came about because, during an earlier night of experimentation in the Grand Laboratorium, a colleague headed out upon other business had offered to bring back supplies from elsewhere in Coastwall.

“Why, thanks, friend,” Mesir Atler had said. “Tell you what, I do require a rat.”

“A rack?” The colleague, who was a bit deaf, had cupped one ear and shouted. “Where on earth am I to get one of those? We’re not torturers. I can’t go bringing you a rack.”

“Not a rack! A rat. Rat. You can pick one up in any alley— the slums are crawling with ’em.  No one’ll mind.”

And the colleague, who was a bit deaf, had stopped off in a convenient alley on the way back to the Grand Laboratorium and picked up a brat.

True, it had been a female— not that there was anything wrong with being female, per se. After all, beneath its civilized skin society still needs muscle; gravel needs shoveling, fields need plowing, ships need loading and the world must have knights and porters and guards. But until Leonn Atler raised his daughter, there had never been a female operative in The Bureau, and it looked unlikely that any could follow her. She was literate, numerate, multiply talented. The last living thing that remained of him.

With long, quiet steps Number Nine came up behind her father, draped her arms around his neck and whispered into his sea-green, solid-gold ear.

“It’s me again, Popsy. And I’m scared.”

An owl sang its low, slow note.

“It starts tomorrow. The big one. And I’m scared I’m going to pock it all up. Because of… well… you know. Or maybe you don’t. Honestly, I’m not sure you’d understand.” She thought about it for a while and then, by way of farewell, she pressed her warm, living cheek against Leonn Atler’s cold metal one. “You know what, Popsy, I’ve changed my mind. I won’t be scared. I can handle it. You taught me the Rules.”

Number Nine gripped the little brass key which dangled from her bracelet. She went to the ivy wall, unlocked the hidden door, and slipped into the surging veins of The Bureau.

***

Her office was small and austere. She uncovered the wyrmlight lamp on her desk, shielded her eyes for a moment while they smarted, and opened a drawer.

Over the course of years Number Nine had assembled a dossier covering every possible aspect of Malfred Murd. It was an enormous document, nearly bursting its yellow cover, and to her the most surprising thing in it was how unanimously its dozens of sources agreed that the subject was a complete cipher, in no way remarkable.

Unless he happened to be entertaining them by playing some character, cracking a witticism or doing a stunt, people looked directly through Fred. Why this was, Number Nine couldn’t guess; he was hardly what anyone might call retiring, or understated, or shy. He wasn’t dimwitted either: far from it, he was a literate man, whose many certifications included that of poet. And he also wasn’t ugly— of this, Number Nine was certain.

Granted, no one would ever mistake the sculptured meatiness brought on by a lifetime of hard physical activity for the figure of a gentleman. And perhaps it took a bit of imagination to find anything memorable in his face. But while the rest of the world did seem stubbornly immune to Fred, Number Nine had come to look past these faults of his— far, far past them, until she’d entered or perhaps created a world all her own.

Discovering him had felt like turning up a big lump of gold in a mine that everyone thought was played out. Observing him had felt like training a spyglass on a new and captivating comet. And then had come meeting him, testing him, bringing him in… with each successive stage in her association with Fred, Number Nine’s feelings had intensified. And this was the problem which so troubled her.

The Bureau frowned on feelings. They were a dangerous contaminant. Simply to harbor them was a risk, and actually to express them was the height of irresponsible folly; decisions made in the fog of emotion were unsupportable, unprofessional; they could get an Agent killed, or kill an Operation. Leonn Atler would have been undetectably dismayed to learn that his own child was filled with emotion. Or perhaps not. Number Nine really wasn’t sure.

But she was sure of one thing: scared or not, she had faith to help her through this trial. After all, what were the Rules— that litany of recommendations for the practice of what The Bureau called hushcraft— but a kind of prayer? And if prayer wasn’t enough, there was always the simple practice of paying attention to your breathing. Number Nine did this for a while, undipped pen in hand, hand resting across the dossier’s yellow cover.

A soft tapping sounded at the frame of her door.

“It’s open.”

Nicolo and Rhonso popped their heads in.

“He’s all settled for the night,” said Nicolo.

“Observers’ Department has eyes and ears on his suite,” said Rhonso.

“Come in here, both of you. Don’t stand in the corridor blocking traffic— Ob-Dep sees us too.” The little office felt very full when the gentlemen entered, even with its overhead chandelier lit. Number Nine drew a flask from the drawer and passed it across to them. “Here. Have a swig from Popsy’s old sidearm. It’s running low but I think we deserve a toast. Is everything ready for tomorrow?”

The gentlemen nodded as they sipped. The flask, like Number Nine’s office, was a memento. The keeping of such things trod dangerously close to being emotion, but it was not their place to criticize a superior.

Instead Rhonso ventured a smile. “It will be interesting to see how Agent Murd embraces his new role.”

Nicolo gave an enthusiastic nod, adding, “And you, Number Nine.”

An awkward chill spread like spilled liquor. Nicolo turned pink, fiddled with his wig, and hurried to clarify: “As his Controller, I mean. It’s such a powerful bond— ah, that is to say, an important relationship— I mean—”

“Have the last sip, Agent Moktabelli,” said Number Nine in tones as cool and cubically measured as the ice they didn’t have. “It’ll settle your nerves.”

CHAPTER 6 – Spoilers again! On to…

CHAPTER 7

The early part of Corvinalias’s journey to Abode took him over the Whellen Country. He made sure to get a good look at it; one of his many interests was cartography, which magpies had practiced since time immemorial. Lower Cloudyblue, the county directly below his own, was the home of some of the world’s finest maps, engraved in loving detail on the noble tree’s northern side and regularly refreshed by professionals. Corvinalias was only an amateur cartographer, but nonetheless he was in possession of a very special sense which Umans could only dimly grasp. Any bird which flew had this facility, though to varying degrees. It was a kind of navigational storehouse in the mind.

The shapes of the broad brown Denna, of the grayish-green, bluish-brown River Whellen, and of its two tributaries the Greater and Little Good had long since been cemented in Corvinalias’s brain. Likewise he instantly recognized the Whellen Country’s every field and hill, the rapidly completing palisade around the New Capital, the geometrical gleam of Whellengood Hall. And of course he had an extra-special cache of memories concerning the Heart of Stone. As he soared over that pink limestone monolith, set exactly in the center of its perfect circle of water, he couldn’t help but slow down and swoop low, in reverence.

Early Umans had noticed that a certain flesh-colored mountain looked alternately narrow, then wide, but they didn’t know why. They imagined that, like a heart, it was beating— not knowing that it rotated, that they were seeing it sometimes edge-on and sometimes broadside. For centuries no one dared to approach the sacred mountain. But then some enterprising Uman, whose identity was lost to time, had laid a wheel against its edge and the Heart had given up its clean, bountiful, generous secret. It had made the Whellen Country all it was, and the people there knew and loved it.

Corvinalias made a lap of the Heart, admiring the hundreds of mills and factories which drew power from its slow rotation. An engineer in a leather apron looked up at him and waved; two wenches carrying a big bolt of cloth to a delivery wagon pointed and smiled; the serene glow of the factory where a big spinning drum helped alchemists make artificial wyrmlight globes seemed especially kind. To himself he whistled the Whellen Country anthem, a song thanking the Heart and wishing it “long may your fierce blood flow”. Fierce, because of course there was more to the Heart of Stone than gentleness.

Corvinalias continued north. Only minutes later his shadow was dancing and twisting across the tangled limestone formations which culminated in the Leet of the Heart.

How to explain the Leet? Imagine the staggering scale of the waterfall it would take to turn the Heart of Stone on its mysterious pivot. Now imagine that waterfall lying horizontally, captured in a slot in the earth. That. A monsterfall.

Corvinalias took care not to fly too low over the Leet; it cast up a cloud of spray that would soak him to the skin. But such was the extent of his fear. It was true that the first time he’d encountered it he was— quite reasonably, he thought— scared witless. But since then he’d seen the most terrifying sight on all the Earth. That… thing.

The faraway country of Abode dreamed of having a natural force like the Heart, even if it came with a Leet to drive it. But they could only dream. Instead they had that… thing and in their deluded hubris they’d tried to throw a harness around its fury.

But the… thing was untamable, untouchable, unthinkable. Literally. Corvinalias couldn’t think about it for long. He had glimpsed it only twice, and even now the strange searing combination of pain and panic that had invaded him through the eyes at the very sight of it was as fresh and raw as if it had only just happened.

It had a name, he recalled. The Abodeans had called it something…

Umans flattered themselves that their languages were tricky to learn, but really they were no more than baby chirps— they should try learning bat or whale. Corvinalias’s short sneak into the laboratoriums and lecture halls of Abode had taught him more than enough to let him understand the crack-brained enormity of their plans.

As he left the Heart and its Leet behind him, he turned to look over his shoulder and bid them goodbye. They want you, he said to them. They want you, but by all Ye Uman Gods I’m going to help stop them because they’re crazy. I’ve talked to the other Agents. We’ve got the picture. This enemy thinks they can threaten Dame Elsebet and the King with their horrible Generator…

 Terror scraped Corvinalias from the root of his tail to the back of his neck, setting every feather on end. He nearly fell from the sky. The Generator! Oh gods, that was its name!

Why that word was so terrifying, he didn’t know. Except that it had to do with that… that…

Now he was shivering. He was finding it hard to go on. Although he’d planned to save his energy early on in the journey, now he felt the great need for help. Now, before he lost what nerve he had. Summoning all his courage, Agent Corvinalias angled himself upward and flew as hard as he could.

***

Even as she was writing loving descriptions of applewood smoked bacon, luxury real estate and computer parts, advertising copywriter (and longtime illustrator) Eva Sandor had a feeling she would someday create a fictional world full of humor, speculation and joyous wordplay. Join her there and treat yourself to “funny fantasy that hides a serious soul”.

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