Sample ChaptersThe Alchemancer series

The Alchemist's Forge Preview - Chapter 1

The Alchemist's Forge is the 4th book in The Alchemancer series. Here’s chapter one in its entirety for you to read as a preview.





Crackling streaks of elemental power blasted Ingrid’s words apart so that even Aaron, who stood closest to her, couldn’t make them out. But he saw her pointing toward the ground and understood, though how she expected to escape the elemental storm threatening to tear the Jaggren Lorn apart remained a mystery since they couldn’t change direction, control their altitude, or even stop the ship from spinning. Aaron didn’t think any of that was lost on her, especially since her sabotage of their escape plan had put them in this position in the first place. Thanks to her, unless they figured out something fast, Aaron was quite certain they were all going to die.

Purcil tugged on Aaron's shoulder, then the skeva jabbed a finger in the direction Ingrid pointed.

“Do you see something?” Aaron asked, shouting over the storm’s violence. Aaron saw only multi-colored bolts streaking across the chasm’s darkness before the ship’s spin moved the point out of view. Though the winds howled around them, the airship was carried along with them and not against them, so despite the storm’s violence, the space inside the craft remained relatively calm.

“I saw it, too,” Istan shouted. “A structure.”

Purcil nodded his agreement with vigor.

A what? Aaron wanted to ask, but talking over the storm was too difficult. But they had to land, so Aaron used the rough location the others had pointed to calculate their trajectory. The maelstrom’s wind currents already took them in the correct direction, but the Jaggren Lorn descended too slowly. Fortunately, Aaron thought he had an idea how to correct that.

“We have to cut the engines!”

Lieutenant Eldrees, whose knuckles were stark white from gripping the railing, grasped it even tighter as he yelled, “If we cut the engines, we’ll crash!”

“No, we won’t!” Aaron said. “I won’t cut them completely, but I’ll have to diminish our lift enough for gravity to pull us down.” Aaron pointed at the controls. “Based on the latest decompression reading, the balloon has enough gas to sustain us. But we have to descend now. If we don’t, we’ll pass the structure, and it’ll take days or longer to come around again.”

A violent shudder swept through the Jaggren Lorn so that everyone, even Istan and the other shodeth, felt compelled to grab onto something.

“If we’re even in one piece by then!” Aaron said.

Though Lieutenant Eldrees shook his head in frustration, he said, “Do whatever is necessary to get us on the ground!”

The airship’s spin completed a full rotation, and their landing spot reappeared. Aaron thought he saw a smudge of something that might be a building this time, but it seemed the rat-folk’s vision was better than his since he saw nothing more.

“What can the rest of us do in the meantime?” the eslar lieutenant asked.

“Nothing unless you know a way to get us to stop spinning,” Aaron said as the landing spot disappeared from view again. “Otherwise, brace for impact. The turbulence is about to get a lot worse.”

Lieutenant Eldrees secured himself in a seat next to Corporal Omach and Private Marast. Istan, Dilge, Naikal, Poth, and Ingrid also sat and strapped themselves in. Purcil was already at the controls, buckled in, so Aaron went to join him. Halfway there, Ursool, who had remained seated most of the voyage so far, stood.

Aaron saw her rise and went to stop her. “You should return to your seat.”

She shook his hand from her arm and, with a gesture, led them to the controls, where they had to step over Grigor’s still-smoking corpse.

Ursool leaned down to speak into Aaron’s ear. “Which of these instruments do you need to stop spinning?”

Aaron pointed at the tachometer. “That one, but there isn’t anything you can do to stop the rotation. You’ll be safer in your seat.”

Ursool scoffed. “Nothing I can do? Let’s see about that.”

Taking a few steps from the controls and careful of Grigor’s body, Ursool lowered herself to her knees and placed both hands flat on the wooden deck. She closed her eyes, and though Aaron saw her lips moving, the storm’s chaos devoured whatever she said. Mildly hopeful, Aaron nevertheless perceived no difference in the ship’s rotation, and as another shudder coursed through the vessel and electrical tendrils of elemental energy crawled up and down the balloon lines, he felt compelled to once more urge Ursool to return to her seat. But before he could kneel to help her up, the ship’s rotation changed, slowing and slowing some more until it finally stopped altogether.

Ursool stood, but almost immediately, her legs gave out. Before she fell, Aaron wrapped an arm around her, then he led her back to her seat. He gave her a quick smile as he strapped her in.

“Still recovering,” Ursool said, sighing. “But that should help, shouldn’t it?”

“Yes, thank you.”

With so little time left to make the necessary calculations, Aaron and Ingrid joined Purcil at the controls, helping him make the needed adjustments. Once satisfied that Ingrid and Purcil needed him no longer, Aaron stumbled over to the oscillators to inspect them. After their initial activation, when Ingrid’s sabotage had resulted in one oscillator hurling Private Morrak from the ship, Aaron switched all three off. They had modified them to work in concert, so once the storm had swallowed the vessel, the remaining two served little purpose other than to exacerbate the ship’s spin. Ingrid’s reason for sabotaging their escape from the storm remained a mystery, but for now, at least, their goal to land safely aligned with hers, though Aaron still kept one eye on her as he adjusted the outflow and pitch of the two working oscillators. He hoped Purcil, who worked alongside her, did the same.

With the oscillator adjustments complete, Aaron returned to the controls to find Purcil and Ingrid almost done as well. He helped, double-checking anything Ingrid had touched and not caring if she took offense. Everything seemed in order, though, so while Purcil gave up the pilot’s chair to Aaron, Ingrid returned to her seat. Purcil was right behind her. Once the skeva had strapped himself in, Aaron gave everyone a quick nod, then he diverted the engine’s output to the twin oscillators. Like before, the devices’ concussive force sent a shudder through the hull, though this time, no explosions rocked the craft or hurled people to their deaths. But the rapid fall was still jarring, sending flutters of uneasiness through Aaron’s stomach as their elevation dropped precipitously and the oscillators’ thrust hurled them forward. All the while, the maelstrom’s elemental power assaulted them, vibrant shades of crimson, emerald, gray, cerulean, and, strangest of all, shades of violet, the unusual energy still a mystery. As they fell, and the elevation gauge indicated they’d dropped a hundred, two hundred, three, and then four hundred feet, Aaron eased back on the diverter, restoring lift to the balloon while decreasing the force propelling them forward. But the winds had them, and they were still moving too fast. If he didn’t get them down more rapidly, they would overshoot their landing site, and with the winds driving them past it, they’d likely never find it again. Aaron had quickly estimated the distance to their target based on when the others had pointed it out to him, so as he monitored their speed and rate of descent, he knew only one way to ensure they didn’t overshoot their target. With no time to explain, he shouted the best warning he could.

“Hang onto something!”

Then he cut the engine.

Their rate of travel didn’t slow at all, but the smallest decrease in the altimeter reading soon became more and more significant as lift gases leaking from the damaged balloon were no longer replenished until their gradual descent became a complete freefall.

Aaron heard someone shout, but all his concentration was on the controls, watching the altimeter, speed, and other gauges so he knew when to re-engage the engine. The Jaggren Lorn bucked and shuddered as it passed into a new band where the wind’s speed increased and direction altered in such a way it threatened to blow them off course. Recognizing the shift, Aaron prepared to fire up an oscillator. Without a rudder, providing thrust in one direction was the best he could do. Meanwhile, they continued to fall at an ever-increasing rate. Lieutenant Eldrees was yelling at him to do something, but it wasn’t time yet. Another few more seconds. Another few more—


Aaron re-engaged the engine, diverting most of the outflow to the balloon. Right away, they spun again, but there wasn’t anything to do about that now. Aaron tapped on the altimeter, hoping it malfunctioned because their rate of descent remained too great. Forgetting about direction, Aaron diverted all power to the balloon. But it was too little, too late.

“We’re going down!” he yelled, though he hardly needed to shout the warning because they all knew it. Everyone gripped their straps tight, tucked in, and prepared to crash land on the chasm’s surface.

But Aaron wasn’t done yet.

Racking his brain, he knew a solution to their rapid descent existed. The dirigible remained structurally sound, the engine still functioned, and they still had time before they hit the ground. The engine was the key, but not without some modification. Altering its construction was not an option, but what about its fuel? Then Aaron had it. Swiveling around to the fuel tank, he slipped a vial of aetherium from his alchemist’s vest and, with no time to measure the precise quantity, he opened the hatch and poured in the vial’s entire contents. He barely had time to slam the door shut when the alchemical took hold, enhancing the fuel and increasing the engine’s gaseous output a hundredfold. The airship’s balloon lurched upward, stretching the lines so that some snapped, and it seemed the craft might break free. But enough lines held, and the dirigible stabilized.

Monitoring the gauges, Aaron tapered the engine’s output, letting the aetherium do its work. Slowly, the forces rocking the vessel diminished, the spinning slowed and finally stopped, and even the electrical disturbances showering the ship’s exterior lessened. They drifted in a surreal calmness now, the surrounding darkness almost comforting as they gently descended. The second the Jaggren Lorn brushed the ground, Aaron cut all power to the engine.

“Heave the anchor!” Lieutenant Eldrees yelled. “Secure the lines!”

The lieutenant’s subordinates knew precisely what to do, leaping from their seats to see to it. The lieutenant assisted, fetching a lantern to help them guide the balloon to the ground as it deflated. Others saw what he was doing and helped while Aaron stayed onboard to finish shutting the engine down. Ingrid stood silently to one side, crossing her arms and studying the vast darkness closing in on them from all directions. Multi-colored bolts of elemental lightning lit the chasm in flashes, illuminating a flat and barren landscape before the view returned to utter darkness. No one had yet shouted about seeing the structure, but Aaron knew it was close.

Somehow, Aaron had remained calm and collected throughout the ordeal. But now, he took several deep breaths as he tried to still his shaking hands and the rapid beating of his heart. Everyone else seemed calm. The soldiers, Ursool, who had disembarked right after the eslar, and even Purcil, who inspected the oscillators for damage. Ingrid, too, though she had to know her reckoning over what she’d done was near at hand. Staring at her and thinking about what she had almost caused did nothing to still his nerves, so Aaron looked away from her and focused on the single-minded task of finishing the engine shutdown. The aetherium still dissipated, and the engine remained too hot to leave unmonitored, but the way Ingrid continued to stand there, so calm, as if they had just completed a pleasure cruise, had him wringing his hands and glowering at her until he finally couldn’t take it anymore. He shot up, taking one last look at the engine’s gauges to ensure all was well before he stomped across the deck to confront her.

“Why did you do it?”

Ingrid didn’t acknowledge him, which raised Aaron’s ire all the more.

“We had a plan that might have succeeded,” Aaron said. “Maybe we wouldn’t have cleared the storm entirely, but we had a chance. Instead, we’re trapped!” Saying the words somehow made the realization more concrete, the impossibility of what still lay ahead even more insurmountable as a flood of emotions demanded Aaron give them voice. “You almost killed us! As chief scientist, you’re supposed to ensure the expedition’s success, not almost ruin everything.” Aaron heaved in a breath, preparing himself for what he was about to say next. “You’re no longer in charge. From this point onward, you are no longer our chief scientist, chief alchemist, or whatever you think you are.”

Ingrid made no reaction during Aaron’s outburst. Even now, she only turned her head slightly. But it was enough for Aaron to see the sneer writ across her ash-white face. “Then who’s in charge of this mission’s scientific endeavors? You?”

“I don’t know.” Aaron hadn’t thought that far ahead. He knew it wasn’t for him alone to say who led the expedition, but he also knew they couldn’t remain at the mercies and whims of Ingrid if they wanted to correct the nexus instability and get out of this alive. “But anyone is better than you. Your plan—if you want to even call it that—was never going to work. Now that I think about it, your plan wasn’t much of a plan at all, was it? You misjudged the inversion engine’s effect from the start, almost getting caught up in the initial effect yourself. Then you misjudged the size of the nexus. Your oscillator idea was doomed from the start. You’re not basing your theories on facts. You’re basing them on assumptions that have repeatedly proven wrong. Over and over, you’ve done nothing but make mistakes, and we’re the ones suffering for it!”

Ingrid spun around and, with a snarl, launched herself at Aaron. Only the deadly sheen of a blade across her path stopped her.

“Take one more step closer to him,” Istan said, standing easy with his arm and sword extended, “and I will run you through.”

Ingrid turned her snarl on the skeva, who, nonplussed, smirked back at her. Then Ingrid’s ire found a new home with Lieutenant Eldrees, who returned to the deck.

“Lieutenant!” she barked. “Deal with this vermin!”

The eslar officer paused to take stock of the situation before leaning back on his heels with a hard edge to his milky white stare. “You have some explaining to do, Chief Scientist.”

“She no longer carries that title,” Istan said, his sword unwavering. He gestured with his snout at Aaron. “This one does now.”

“Wait a minute,” Aaron said. “I never said—”

“You don’t need to,” Lieutenant Eldrees said. “If not for you, we’d remain lost in the storm or worse. You came up with the idea of using the oscillators for propulsion. Then you modified the engine in-flight after we fell into the maelstrom. That was a brilliant bit of engineering. But all that aside, you also landed us safely here, wherever here is.” He tilted his head, curious. “Have you ever piloted an airship before?”

Aaron shook his head. “I read a book about aeronautics a few years ago that had a brief section on piloting, though plotting a course is just basic math when you get down to it.”

“Is that so?” the lieutenant asked, raising a brow. “Anyway, the decision has been made, Chief Scientist.” He let that sink in before returning his attention to Ingrid. “Two people are dead, one of them mine. I saw the look you gave our new chief scientist right before everything went to hell. What did you do?”

Ingrid opened her mouth to protest, but with Istan’s sword still poised in front of her and the hard edge of the lieutenant’s words hovering in the air, she closed it and crossed her arms. Her gaze drifted, locking with Aaron’s briefly before she glanced away.

“We’re waiting,” Lieutenant Eldrees said between clenched teeth.

Ingrid let out an exasperated breath. “I had to do something. We needed to reach the station, and I knew no one would go along with entering the storm if I suggested it. Ilim, I am sorry—”

“That’s Lieutenant Eldrees to you.”

Ingrid narrowed her gaze. “Very well, Lieutenant. I am sorry about Private Morrak and Grigor. I didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt, but we all knew the risks.”

Lieutenant Eldrees looked at Aaron. “Did you know about this station? I assume it’s the structure we saw from above?”

“Yes, it must be,” Aaron said. “I spent a lot of time studying how the engine worked, and the engine’s creator often mentioned that the machine works in conjunction with a collecting station. I never thought we’d actually land and come this close to it, though.”

Ingrid sighed. “I should have shared what I knew from the start. I see that now. But the station was supposed to lie outside the maelstrom’s perimeter. I can only assume the nexus instability caused the storm to grow to the epic proportions we witnessed when we entered the chamber. Once I realized the storm encompassed the station’s location, I acted. But we’re here, aren’t we? Safe and sound, mostly.”

Lieutenant Eldrees clenched his hands into fists. “Our pilot and one of my men are dead, not to mention the Jaggren Lorn is grounded until we can repair the balloon.”

“The engine, too,” Aaron said. “The alchemical I added to the fuel caused a lot of stress. I doubt we could generate enough lift to get off the ground, let alone through the storm, without a failure.”

“The engine, too, then,” Lieutenant Eldrees said. “And you call that safe and sound? What in blazes is so important about this station, anyway, and why keep knowledge of it all to yourself?”

Ingrid let out a deep breath. “The station works in conjunction with the engine on the surface, collecting and refining power from the nexus. When the engine activates, the station provides the energy necessary for the engine’s operation. Besides correcting the nexus instability, I also needed to reach the station to make certain modifications to align with my engineers’ changes to the engine. It’s all part of the everlasting life process. As for why I said nothing about it sooner, it didn’t seem important for anyone else to know, especially because I didn’t know we would have so much trouble reaching it. If not for the unforeseen change in the storm’s diameter, we would have landed, made the necessary modifications while we corrected the instability, and returned to Brighton without any trouble. There, that’s all of it. Can you please put that sword away?”

Istan obliged her, sheathing his weapon, though he did not back away.

“Does that all sound plausible?” Lieutenant Eldrees asked Aaron.

Aaron nodded. “It does.”

“Very well,” the lieutenant said. “But Ingrid, you’re still responsible for what happened to Grigor and Private Morrak. You’ll answer for their deaths upon our return.” Lieutenant Eldrees’s attention drifted to Grigor’s corpse. “I’m not familiar with raspel funerary rituals. In Panthora, we burn our dead. But I think the best we can do under the circumstances is bury him. We can say a few words for Morrak, too. Will someone give me a hand with the body?”

Ilim grabbed hold of one end of the pilot’s corpse while Istan took the other. Then, they carried the raspel from the ship.

“Well,” Ingrid said, turning her dark eyes on Aaron. Once, her eyes had been white like all eslar, but since Ingrid’s transformation, her skin had gone from blue-black to ash white, her eyes dark as night, and her hair from copper to stark white. “While they’re seeing to that, shall we go see if we can find the station?”

Aaron said nothing as they climbed from the airship onto the ground, which Aaron found dry, dusty, and full of small, embedded rocks. Everyone stood close, staring into the darkness encroaching on all sides. The skeva warriors, Dilge, Naikal, and Poth, stood clustered together. Purcil hovered nearby, his tail swaying nervously while he continuously pushed his spectacles from the bridge of his snout and tried not to look at Grigor’s corpse, which Lieutenant Eldrees and Istan set down a short distance away.

Corporal Chaydam Omach and Private Lista Marast had taken up sentry positions, though they did little more than stare into the void like the others. The witch Ursool, who still owed Aaron an explanation for her presence on the Jaggren Lorn, was nowhere in sight, and while Aaron looked about for her, he soon realized she was no longer here.

“Where is Ursool?” Aaron asked.

Dilge pointed. “She spoke of another purpose and went into the darkness that way.”

“And you let her?” Aaron asked.

Naikal shrugged. “We do not question the ways of witches.”

“Maybe she went to the station?” Lieutenant Eldrees asked.

“Not likely,” Ingrid said. She had her special encorder held out, turning from the direction Dilge had pointed to almost the exact opposite before she stopped. “The station is this way. Not far, either. We landed close.”

The direction Ingrid indicated was as dark as any other, and while electrical bursts from the maelstrom continued to flicker above and all around them, the immediate space they occupied was calm, quiet, and safe. Even at a distance, Aaron found the bolts of inverted elemental power fascinating. Ordinarily blue, green, white, and red for each of Water, Earth, Air, and Fire, the engine had inverted the energy, turning them orange, red, blue, and black, the last visible because of the unexplained violet color infecting and intermingling with every one of the streaks.

“Why does the storm not reach us here?” Poth asked.

“Some sort of shielding from the station is my guess,” Ingrid said. “Shall we go find out?”

But though she took a few steps in that direction, Aaron saw her gaze lingering on Grigor’s corpse. Her expression did not reflect horror or disgust, but curiosity.

“Not yet,” Lieutenant Eldrees said. “Everyone, gather whatever rocks you can pry loose from the ground. We’ll use them to cover Grigor’s body.”

“It seems a waste of time, doesn’t it?” Ingrid asked. When she saw only curious stares thrown her way, she added, “Grigor’s corpse isn’t going anywhere, and the station awaits.”

Lieutenant Eldrees shook his head in disapproval. “Grigor was a member of our crew. We will deal with his remains with the respect they deserve.”

Ingrid shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Everyone pitched in except for Ingrid, who fiddled with her encorder and acted as if taking readings was of the utmost importance right then. Aaron wondered why she turned her device on Grigor more than anything else, but he was busy trying to help, so he kept his thoughts to himself. Soon, the work was done. No one knew what to say, though Lieutenant Eldrees managed a few words that spoke of the raspel’s fortitude in the face of overwhelming danger. He also commented about Private Morrak and his dedication to his company. When the lieutenant said all he meant to say, he ordered Private Marast to remain with the ship while the rest prepared to leave for the structure.

“I’ll send someone to relieve you once we’ve reached the station and had a chance to look around,” Lieutenant Eldrees told her. “Until then, stay sharp. We have no idea who or what is down here.”

“I will leave a warrior behind as well,” Istan said. “Poth, you will remain with the private.”

Poth affected a quick bow and took a guard position near the Jaggren Lorn. Private Marast joined him, though she kept a comfortable distance from her skeva ally. While the eslar did not seem to harbor the same ill will toward the rat-folk that Brighton’s people did, a layer of unfamiliarity and distrust remained.

“Aaron, can you confirm the direction of the structure?” Lieutenant Eldrees asked.

Aaron got the meaning of his question. The lieutenant no longer trusted Ingrid and wanted him to verify her findings. Aaron pointed his encorder in the direction Ingrid had indicated.

“Don’t bother,” Ingrid said. “You need to look for metatonic energy. Your encorder—”

“Can now detect it,” Aaron said without looking at her. “I modified it on the way down. It was a long descent, so I needed something to do.” Aaron glanced at Lieutenant Eldrees. “She’s not misleading us. The station is this way. But hold on a minute.”

“Yes?” Ilim asked.

Aaron wasn’t sure what he had detected. “It’s an anomalous reading. A spike of elemental power. At least, I think it’s elemental.”

Everyone looked around with alarm, but the area remained quiet, the shielding or whatever protected them unfaltering. Purcil took his encorder out and fiddled with the small attunement dials. Ingrid let hers fall to her side as her gaze fixed on the pilot’s burial site.

“Something approaches,” Istan said. “No, wait. Not approaches. Something is already here.”

The shodeth—every one of them—drew weapons. Lieutenant Eldrees and the other eslar did likewise, though as one, they remained confused about why. Together, the shodeth turned toward Grigor’s burial site, where the rocks so carefully placed minutes ago began rolling from the pile as something rose from the center of the grave. More rocks fell away as the thing that was once Grigor stood and, crackling with red-violet energy up and down his thin corpse, shambled toward them. Horribly burned, with sightless gray eyes and pale skin, the creature lifted four-fingered hands to reach for Purcil, who was the closest. Near frozen in terror, the skeva engineer tried backing away, but too slowly. Before the stumbling corpse touched him, the shodeth attacked, slicing the creature apart with such precision that first, it lost an arm, then a leg, and then, finally, its head, which rolled away even as the corpse collapsed. The shodeth hovered over the pieces, waiting for unlife to return to it, but it was well and truly gone this time.

“What in the Nine Hells was that thing?” Private Marast asked.

“It’s like the ones we saw coming from the ballroom,” Lieutenant Eldrees said. “The dead, come to life.” The lieutenant rounded on Ingrid. “This is the engine’s doing, isn’t it?”

Others joined in. Even Purcil, who shook off his distress at being singled out by the undead creature, demanded to know what was happening and why.

Before Ingrid answered, Aaron blurted out, “It’s the violet energy.”

All eyes turned to him.

“We already know the engine inverted elemental power, right? The inversion changed each element’s frequency so that when we see the color red, it’s indicative of inverted Earth energy, not Fire as one might otherwise expect. The same with the other elements. But violet? No naturally occurring element corresponds to that color. It’s something foreign. My guess is the violet energy is the source of the nexus instability. Otherwise, the elements, even inverted and in an unnatural state, would remain in balance with one another.” Aaron turned his attention to Grigor’s hacked remains, though the sight of his blood and guts splattered across the ground unsettled him enough that he didn’t look for long. “Given what happened here, not to mention the dead rising from the ballroom, there’s only one answer to explain the purpose and presence of the violet energy. The everlasting life process. Somehow, necromantic magic was infused into the inversion process, which caused an entanglement with the inverted elemental energy. The inverted, the dead rising in the ballroom, and now this. I bet the dead are rising wherever the engine’s effect reached. But there’s some limiter in place, otherwise the dead would have risen all over Brighton. The effect must be indiscriminate, passing over some while impacting others, probably because of the unstable nature of the intertwined, inverted energy.”

“That’s correct,” Ingrid said, “inasmuch as I can conjecture, anyway.” She sighed. “None of this was supposed to happen. The instability, the dead rising, certainly not my transformation. I know you have little reason to believe me, but we always had good intentions. We truly wanted nothing more than to create a process to extend life indefinitely.”

“But necromancy?” Aaron asked. “I’m not a sorcerer, but even I know that no good can come from that.”

“It’s not necromancy,” Ingrid said. “This is science, not sorcery. We developed a refined form of necromantic power, which I was assured contained none of the traditional effects of necromancy.”

“Assured by who?” Aaron asked. “What kind of analysis did you perform to verify the claim?”

“Not now,” Lieutenant Eldrees said, interrupting. “Is there any chance Grigor will rise again?”

No one knew for sure.

“Irregardless, we can’t leave his remains scattered about. We should return them to the gravesite and cover him up again. Corporal Omach, if you please, will you see to it?”

Corporal Omach’s blue-black skin turned a shade lighter as he nervously eyed the raspel’s remains. “I’m not usually squeamish, sir,” Chaydam said. “But then it ain’t every day the dead come back to life. The skeva sliced him up. Shouldn’t responsibility for the cleanup fall to them?”

The lieutenant made a show of weighing his response, but Dilge and Naikal volunteered before he responded. Private Marast, too, who slapped the corporal’s chest as she strode past him.

“Big baby.”

Chaydam grumbled something under his breath but moved as far from their grisly work as possible.

“What about Private Morrak?” Ilim asked, looking across the sea of faces. “He’s out there somewhere. I thought dead, but now...”

“There’s no way to know for sure,” Aaron said, though he hoped the necromantic effect spared the private and let him lie in peace.

The answer provided little comfort to anyone.

“We should make our way to the station,” Istan said.

“Right,” Lieutenant Eldrees said. “All of us.”

Istan nodded his agreement. “Other threats may present themselves. We should remain together.”

“But what about the ship?” Ingrid asked. “Shouldn’t someone stay behind to guard it?”

“You worried someone might steal it?” Private Marast asked, smirking as she lifted Grigor’s severed arm and dumped it on the pile.

Ingrid flashed her a sour expression but said nothing.

Ilim shrugged. “You can stay behind if you want, Ingrid. The rest of you gather what you need from the Jaggren Lorn. Packs, weapons, rations, water. Take as much as you can carry in case we don’t make it back here right away.”

While the soldiers saw to that, Aaron and Purcil crawled into the hold to retrieve their case of alchemical materials and metals. “We’re going to need what’s inside when we find the alchemist’s forge,” Aaron reminded Purcil as they manhandled it to the main deck.

“When are you planning to tell the others about that?” Purcil asked. “The forge, I mean.”


Back outside, everyone was ready to leave. Even Ingrid, who did not relish remaining alone. Lieutenant Eldrees took one look at Aaron and Purcil struggling to carry the case between them and proposed a better idea.

“Distribute whatever’s inside amongst the group. Everyone can take some of the load. Otherwise, you two will injure yourselves trying to carry that case along with us, and you’ll slow us down besides.”

So they opened the container and distributed the contents amongst everyone. The metals were small though dense and therefore heavy, but the alchemicals were light and numerous. The instruments fell somewhere in between. But they soon had everything handed out and redistributed.

Then, using his encorder, Aaron led them into the darkness with Purcil right at his side. Holding lanterns, Poth and Dilge followed, with everyone else close behind. Only Ingrid lingered, her gaze sweeping over Grigor’s restored burial site one last time. “I knew burying you was a waste of time.” Then she hurried to join the others before their light disappeared from view.

Read Chapter 2.

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