A Candle in the Wind – Chapter One

Previous Chapter

Roy watched as Avery snuffed out the candle, licked his fingers and pinched the wick between them. “Can I ask you something you may find inappropriate?”

Avery set the candle on his desk in the Cove’s lockup. “What’s that?”

“What’s the candle’s magic?”

The sheriff gave him a quizzical look. “What makes you think it’s a magic candle?”

“Well for starters, it’s not even dusk yet but you’re walking around with it lit.” Roy leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “The obvious reason for that is because you’re working some kind of druid tricks with it. I can’t be the first person to notice how many of the old knights had ‘wick’ in their names and there’s a strong tie between those names and people who work magic via candles. But the first clue was how quiet it was.”

“Quiet?” Avery settled into his chair and put his boots up on the desk. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m a dolmen burner, sheriff. Druids called us fireminds but it’s essentially the same thing. One of our gifts? We can hear even the smallest flames whispering the secrets of Primeval Fire.” Roy pointed at the candle. “That is the first thing I’ve heard burn in silence in the last ten years. It’s gotta be magic.”

“A firemind…” Avery drummed his fingers on his arm for a moment. “That does explain a few things.”

“Want to share any of them?”

“No.” The sheriff unbuckled his sword belt and leaned the weapon against the desk. The working space was incredibly clean. At least it wasn’t cluttered with correspondence, wanted posters, souvenirs that hadn’t found a home yet, half used bottles of ink and loose papers. In other words, it wasn’t like Roy’s desk.

That didn’t mean there were no similarities between their desks. Avery reached down to the bottom drawer of the desk, opened it and pulled out a roll of papers which Roy instantly recognized as wanted posters from the local Storm Watch outpost. “What do you know about Nighburg?”

“Just the basic details the Watchers have on hand. He’s dangerous, wanted dead or alive and likely to use powerful magic gained through pacts with various otherworldly forces.” Roy pushed off the wall and approached as close as he could. Rested his arms on the bronze bars between the two, careful to avoid the iron bits. Waved a hand to encompass everything outside his cell. “He shouldn’t be out on that side of things. Want to explain why I’m locked up rather than out there working to get Nighburg in here?”

Avery found a specific poster in his roll and pulled it out. It showed a grim faced man of late middle age with bushy hair, eyebrows and beard that Roy recognized as his quarry. “Eight hundred silver marks dead or alive. A little less than the typical Roy Harper bounty these days, isn’t it? Stories say you got fifteen hundred when you brought in the Blue Mountain Bandits.”

“They were a three man team and I worked with the Packards to do it,” Roy said. “Besides, that’s not the reason why I’m here.”

“The bounty? You’re a firespinner, Harper, you only do this for money. You got a side contract on this guy?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Roy hooked a thumb at the bars of his jail cell. “Seriously, Warwick, what’s this about? Right now it looks like you have a side contract with Nighburh. I can’t imagine a Knight of the Stone Circle, sworn to seek truth, defend the innocent and destroy evil, just signed on with a wanted murder and black magician. What’s going on here?”

“You fought for Columbia and Vulcanus during the war, Harper,” Avery said, heat tinging his voice. “Don’t pretend you understand the first thing about the way the Stone Circle works.”

Roy turned away from the cell door and paced around it once in frustration. His stint in the Regulars during the war was no secret. With all the bad blood the Lakeshire war had engendered between the Provincials and the rest of Columbia this wasn’t even the first time it had been thrown in his face that month. All a part of having a name out in the Western Counties these days. But so far the seven or eight actual Knights of Morainhenge that he’d met had been fair minded and reasonable people, grudges not withstanding. You weren’t let through the Trials and squired if you couldn’t keep personal motives in check to Knightly duties. Perhaps there was an angle he could try there.

Roy completed his trip around the plain, wooden walls of his eight by eight cell and addressed Avery again. “You brought me here on false pretenses,” he said. “Made it sound like you wanted to discuss my bounty then, once you had the home field advantage, you tell me I’m under arrest and make me give up my weapons. I may never have been squired but I know truth is a druid’s first responsibility. It doesn’t feel like you’re upholding it.”

Avery had pulled more things out of his desk while Roy was pacing. A half a dozen candle stubs now sat in front of him. The wanted posters had been pushed to one side of the desk and Avery was carefully clipping the charred ends of the wicks with a pair of scissors. “Not an ideal solution, I admit, but not a lie. I do want to discuss your bounty with you, after all.”

“I thought it was because you wanted to help bring the man in.”

Avery trimmed the final candle stub and put the scissors away. “Understandable but incorrect.” The sheriff leaned back in his chair and gave Roy a searching look. “Do you know all five tenants of Avaloni Chivalry?”

The direction of that question was promising but Roy hoped didn’t have to answer it perfectly. “All my knowledge on the topic is hearsay, you know.” Avery spread his hands in a nonplussed manner. “Just something to keep in mind. As I recall, they were, ‘Seek the truth, defend the innocent, destroy evil and strive ceaselessly after those goals.’”

Roy paused then counted them on his fingers. “Although that’s only four things so I guess that’s not all of them.”

“You’re close, although ‘strive ceaselessly’ is an old way of saying the last one. When I was initiated we were sworn to seek truth, defend innocence, uphold good, destroy evil and pursue the unattainable from first to last.” As he spoke Avery moved his candles until five of them lined the desk in front of him. “The last bit, ‘from first to last,’ means the five tenants are hierarchical. Seeking truth is the most important, pursuing the unattainable the least.”

“Fair enough,” Roy mused. “You can’t defend the innocent until you know who the innocent are. The same is true of good and evil.”

Avery touched the fourth candle in the row. “You’ll notice that the admonition to destroy evil is the final of the four concrete commandments. The last is more a reminder that the goals are never truly reached and you should always work to get a little closer to them, so in order of importance retribution against the wicked is last.”

Roy leaned on the bars of his cell again. “Of course. Those who would destroy evil at the expense of truth, innocence and good will just replace the evils they sought to expel.”

“I’m glad to see you understand.” Avery took the five candle stubs, arranged them in a circle on his desk and added a sixth. Then he struck a match and lit them. As the smoke rose into the air and formed a ring between Roy’s cell and the front wall of the jail. The sheriff said, “These are candles of revealing. Properly used they can pierce many veils and show things normally hidden.”

As promised, as the smoke settled in shape Roy was able to look through the ring and out into the town beyond the wall. He saw the bright adobe walls of the town’s buildings, the bustling docks and white sails on the waters of the Cove. Beyond them, on a rocky promontory that was thrust out into the water, was a weathered but proud lighthouse.

At least, the bottom three quarters of the building looked like a lighthouse. The remaining portion ballooned outwards in a bizarre collection of rooms, stairways and protruding brass devices including a telescope and lightning rod. None of them had walls along the outside. It looked almost as if someone had peeled the outer walls of a castle tower like an orange and stuck the resulting structure on top of the lighthouse. It sat firmly there in defiance of architecture, gravity and logic. The whole surreal thing wavered like some kind of fog or haze surrounded it. Roy was certain he hadn’t seen anything like that when he looked out at the cove on his way into town.

“That explains the bit about consorting with otherworldly forces,” Roy muttered.

“Is it safe to say that you weren’t aware that von Nighburg has fortified his position by setting it outside our world?” Avery asked.

Roy sat down heavily on the bench in his cell. “No, can’t say I was. Surly he has to leave at some point, though, at least to get something to eat.”

“At first he had a servant that went out and bought most of what he needed like food and firewood, so he didn’t have to leave that place at all. I’m not sure how he got in the lighthouse in the first place or connected it to wherever that place is without anyone noticing but he’s there now and he’s only left on two occasions that I know of. Or at least can guess.” The sheriff blew out the candles and dispersed the viewing ring then licked his fingers and began pinching out the wicks. “I didn’t even know he’d come to town until the first bounty hunter arrived on the sky train.”

Roy surmised he wasn’t the first firespinner to come after Nighburg. “How did that hunter track Nighburg if he’d hidden himself so well?”

“Nighburg’s servant was a runaway girl from the mines up in Winchester County. That hunter was following reports of von Nighburg, extrapolated his path across the West and came here. He recognized the girl from the reports and set about locating where exactly von Nighburg was staying. Once he worked it out he approached the town sheriff.” Avery pulled a tin star half melted into slag out of the top drawer on his desk. “This was before I was sheriff. My illustrius predecessor died trying to breach the lighthouse and I was promoted from deputy to sheriff after his failure. Once it was clear we knew he was there, von Nighburg revealed himself, warned us not to irritate him again and blighted the cove, killing every living thing in its waters. We smelled rotting fish for almost a month.”

“What happened to the serving girl? If he relies on her for supplies you could arrest her and flush him out.”

“She stopped coming into town after that. You can probably guess what that means.”

Roy grimaced. Black magic was a catch all term for any kind of magic that involved taking a human life and Nighburg was wanted on over a dozen counts and that was just the ones authorities knew of. So what if he added another just to blight the waters of a small cove in the southwest? “I suppose that would be enough to discourage further attempts to meddle with him.”

“Maybe, although I suspect you’d keep trying and I wasn’t any different.” Avery folded his arms over his chest, the turn of his brow more regretful than accusatory. “I did some research. Recruited a new deputy and a couple of firespinners from the county over. That went even worse than before.”

“Really? You came out of it better off than the last sheriff.”

“Technically I came out the same as last time – I was the only survivor. Von Nighburg collapsed the town’s biggest pier and abducted three kids from their families in retaliation.” Avery shook his head ruefully. “Now those kids do his errands and the town keeps interlopers out.”

Roy was quiet for a long moment, weighing the sheriff’s words. No matter how he examined them the same message came through. Avery Warwick had an obligation to the town and its children and that meant the sheriff wouldn’t let Roy do his job. “So what are my choices, sheriff?”

“You can leave town on the skytrain of your choice. I’ll walk you to the landing and return all your weapons there, no hard feelings. Or you can stay where you are.” Avery shrugged. “Either one is fine with me.”

“Is that so.” Roy mulled it over, considering his options and his own obligations. “Well, I don’t blame you for your choice, sheriff, it’s a mighty hard place to find yourself. The regular L&K train stops here in a day and half, doesn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

“I suppose we’ll just have to be good friends until then.” Roy fished a small, leather bound book out of his jacket pocket. “Now do you have any paper and ink? I have a little writing to do in the mean time.”


The Frozen Nest

This is the last Roy Harper short story currently ready for publication. One other exists but its currently under consideration for publication in a fiction collection so I can’t list it here. Next week we’ll introduce Roy’s latest novella length outing and perhaps post the introduction as well.

In the mean time, enjoy a short about lost ships and the horrors that lurk within. For those curious about timelines these events take place about two months before the beginning of Firespinner. Books is a longstanding background character in Roy’s life and getting him onstage for a bit was a treat. I hope you enjoy.

“The prow says it’s the Edmund Fitzgeral.” Roy handed the spy glass over to Books and pulled his gloves back on, fingers already stinging from cold. “Doesn’t look like one of yours. More of a passenger ship if you ask me.”

“That’s certain,” Books said, studying the ship from his superior vantage point. He was only a foot taller than Roy was but standing next to him it felt more like a mile. “The Fitz is a liner out of Avalon’s harbor. Usually plies the Avalon-Hampshire route over in the Atlantic.”

Roy frowned as their small launch drew closer, skimming just above the water on a sheet of heated flight metal. “What’s it doing out here in the Pacific then?”

“By the looks of it, it got stranded somewhere in the Arctic.” Books lowered the glass and gestured at the ice surrounding the ship. “That ice is too thick to have come from anywhere else.”

“So what’s it doing down by Port Redwood? You don’t get much summer here but its hardly the Arctic.” Roy dug his pack out from under a bench. “I don’t like it when the cold comes too far south in unseasonable fashion. It doesn’t bode well.”

“You’re the expert on that front,” Books said, unfastening a short hafted boarding ax from the side of the launch. “Either way, the Sanna don’t like it on their side of the border so we’ve got to move it somehow.”

Their skiff rounded the prow of the ship and they could see a hole two decks high running half the length of the vessel. Roy scowled. “Or sink it.”

“Don’t think the Sanna would appreciate us leaving that on their side of the border but yes, we may have to.”

“Trust me, Books. There’s nothing good on that ship and we’re better off not going aboard.” Roy pulled two half-gallon pints of oil out of his pack.

Books gestured at them in meaningful fashion. “Why do you think I waited for you to come up from Keegan’s Bluff before mounting this expedition? We’ll look around and if we don’t like what we see you can burn the place to the waterline.”

“That’s an bronze belly boat, Books. I can’t burn the hull.” Roy fastened the flasks to his belt then pulled out a leaf bladed short sword and slung it there as well. Finally he got his trump card out, a bronze caged lantern holding two fist sized sulfurite crystal gleaming with the power of the fires trapped within. “Might be able to put a hole in it with these.”

Books whistled softly. “That’s an awful lot of magic you’ve got there, Harp. What were you expecting to find out here?”

“With you? I never know what to expect. Have you forgotten what happened when you convinced me to rejoin the regular Army for ‘just a quick trip south’ way back when?”

He snorted. “You stumble on one little Tetzlani blood cult and suddenly everyone thinks your a jinx. Just try not to char us alive with those, alright? Just because we’ve passed through the fires of the Stone Circle doesn’t mean we’re invincible.”

Roy glanced around at the other two in the skiff with them. “So you’ve changed your mind? We’re not taking your boys in with you?”

“I hired them to navigate the ship if we can get it moving, not to help us scout the ship for danger. You know I don’t trust many people watching my back these days.” Books pulled his wool overcoat off and dragged on a heavily padded duelist’s jacket on in its place. The garment strained over his shoulders, probably sewn to his dimensions in warm weather and now suffering from some shrinkage. On many people that wouldn’t matter. But Books was a dolmen breaker, imbued with superhuman strength and durability after accidental exposure to druidic magic some ten years ago when they were both in the 43rd Infantry. His stature and muscles had grown to accommodate his new capabilities.

In contrast, that same incident had turned Roy into a dolmen burner – a firemind to the druids, although he learned that much later – which came with very few physical perks. Sometimes he felt like he’d actually gotten shorter. That was probably a result of being around so many people who got taller but for an already short man the disparity of the outcome stung.

They ignored the hole in the side of the Edmund Fitzgerald, choosing to instead board the ship at the launching deck at the rear of the ship, where small boats generally came and went from large passenger ships. As they finished their preliminary rounds Roy caught a glimpse of movement from inside the gap in the hull. A flash of white he may have imagined, then nothing when he looked closely. “Got something moving just above the waterline.”

Books pivoted to follow his line of sight but neither one of them could spot further signs of life. “Well,” Books finally said, “We’ll keep on our toes.”

The two of them did just that, taking great care in turning every corner and climbing every stairway along the top decks. After almost an hour of grinding tension and bitter cold they determined there was nothing out of doors on the Fitzgerald. Then they went below decks. Books took them down by the rearward crew access which led down into the kitchens where they found the first signs of something wrong. The decks had been totally empty, which was odd in retrospect, but the kitchen was a wreck. Pans, broken plates and scattered containers of spices littered the floor. It looked like the entire place had been working full tilt when a giant hand reached down and shook the ship like a baby rattle. There were a few old bloodstains, or perhaps old sauce stains but no signs of people.

Books crossed the kitchen carefully, making his way to the double doors that likely entered the dining room, but Roy grabbed his shoulder. “Wait. Look through the cupboards.”

“For what?” He asked, beginning to pull open doors.

“Food. What else?” Roy ignored the shelves and went through the kitchen until he found the ice chest, let himself in and held up his lantern to look around. With the exception of the racks full of chilled wine the shelves there were empty. Roy went back out and dug through cupboards until he met Books halfway. “Find anything?”

“Not a crumb.” Books folded his arms and shook his head. “Ships stock up on a generous amount of food when they put to sea, just in case there are complications. My freighters pack at least ten days of food per week of their trips. And I don’t have to worry about keeping passengers happy. They must’ve been missing a long time if they ate through all of their stores.”

“How long could they go missing without your hearing about it?”

Books cocked his head thoughtfully. “Well, rumors spread faster on the seas than you think. Word would be out on the docks she was late pretty much the day after she failed to show up. All sailors talk, you can’t stop them, so it’d spread pretty fast. Maybe two weeks?”

“And the Avalon-Hampshire route is how long?”

“Eight days for a ship like the Edmund Fitzgerald, so I’d be surprised if they had less than two weeks food on board…” Books shook his head. “And before you ask, no, I hadn’t heard that the Fitz was missing before today. You’re trying to narrow something down, Harp. What is it?”

“I think they stumbled across Hunger. Or at least something closely connected to it, like the Wendigoes like I saw during the Summer of Snow.”

Books heaved a sigh and nodded. “Like I said, you’re the expert on that one. What are we watching for?”

“It’s hard to say. If an avatar of the Antediluvian Deep is here we could get just about anything.” Roy laughed a hollow laugh. “If it’s just an elemental creature tied to it we could get anything, just less dangerous.”

“How helpful. Anything else we should look for here or can we move on?”

Roy drew his sword. “We move on.”

Books walked over to the double doors again and pushed them open.

A polar bear picked him up by the shoulders and threw him out into the dining room in a crash of breaking furniture. Roy froze for a second, trying to process that. He was pretty sure polar bears weren’t elementals, although bears in general bordered on the supernatural so there was a chance. The bear crashed back through the doors, Books’ shoulder buried in its stomach. He drove the creature straight into the back wall with an impact so hard the boat rocked under their feet.

The bear pushed off the wall and slammed Books into the ground. Even his superhuman strength was no match for the bear’s overpowering mass and reach. The bear’s jaws reached down to grab Books’ throat then Roy blasted it with a gout of flame from the sulfurite in his lantern. The bear reared up and roared in pain. Books scrambled to his feet, grabbed a serving cart and clobbered the animal with the cart, snapping the handle off of it and sending the cart careening off the wall. The bear dropped to the ground and rolled itself back and forth, quickly putting the fire on it out.

As the bear got up Books lunged forward, planted a boot in its back and kicked it back out into the dining room. Books sucked in a deep breath and the two of them charged out after the animal. As they ran Roy emptied the fire out of his lantern and held it in a single huge orb ready to throw. It might be overkill but when dealing with bears it was best to be absolutely sure. They burst into the dining room and skidded to a stop.

A woman holding a black orb and ice pick with a white bearskin draped over her shoulders was drawing herself to her feet. The skin was singed and the woman favored her side where Books had slammed her into the wall. Beyond that it was hard to pick out too many details under the layers of fur and thick clothing she wore. She carefully placed her implements on the ground and raised her hands. “Dust and ashes,” Books hissed, “who are you?”

The woman answered in a low, husky voice speaking words from some language Roy couldn’t place. Fortunately this wasn’t the first time for either of them to run into a language they couldn’t speak. He put his hand to his chest and said, “Roy.”

Books did the same. “Books.”

The woman caught on quickly. “Svuli.”

“Okay, Svuli,” Roy murmured. He pointed at her orb. “What’s that?”

She reached out and touched the stone. “Bjornrun.” The orb flashed with some kind of inner light and the bearskin began to meld with her body, blue stones in the eyes sparking with energy. She let go of the stone and the transformation stopped. Svuli returned to normal and pointed at Roy’s lantern. “Skaldrun.”

“Is it some kind of catalyst?” Books asked.

“Or a kind of fulminite power storage she uses to shape shift, I guess.” The fire he was holding was starting to slip out of his grasp, his ability to command flames no more able to grasp that much magic for long times than his hands were able to hold hundreds of pounds for any length. He looked at the broken dining tables that Books and Svuli had destroyed and threw the flames down on them so they would have something beside his own powers to feed them. As the wooden furniture burned there he began slowly feeding smaller amounts of it back into the sulfurite in his lantern. “I’ll tell you this. If she’s some kind of skin shifter like the selkies of Avalon or the Sanna skinwalkers she’s bad news but not nearly powerful enough to wreck this ship.”

“Avalon?” Svuli shook her head. “Ultima Thule.”

Roy glanced at Books. “Ever heard that one?”

“Yeah. It’s a long story but they’re supposedly people who live at the uttermost north, in places where it’s always winter. Sailors talk about ’em every so often.” Books knelt down and looked at her ice pick, turning it over in his hands. “They know a lot about the magic of water and using it to change forms, although the details in the stories I’ve heard are very spotty. Some of the tales say they can all change shapes. Others say only their most powerful mages can.”

Roy finished channeling the fire back into the crystals in his lantern. They were dimmer than when he’d boarded the ship, at a guess he estimated he’d lost about one fifth of the magic he’d brought onto the ship an hour ago. “Svuli.” He crouched down and looked her in the eyes, catching a glimpse of pale gray irises around pupils as dark as onyx. He patted the deck and said, “Ship?”

She pointed down through the deck. “Kraken.”

Roy looked up at his big friend. “And that one?”

“First time hearing it.”

He turned back to the woman and pointed two fingers at his eyes. “Show me.” For a moment she looked confused, staring at his eyes as if she expected to see something. He held up his lantern and repeated the gesture, then turned those fingers around to point at the lantern. “Show me skaldrun.” He repeated the process with her orb. “Show me bjornrun.” When she nodded her understanding he finished with, “Show me kraken.”

Svuli held out her hand for the bjornrun, which Roy returned after a quick, unspoken consultation with Books. Then she snatched up her pick and led them across the dining hall towards another entrance. Books stopped to retrieve his ax from among the wreckage of the tables then the two men hurried after her. Roy tried to ignore the haunting sight of ranks upon ranks of tables draped in white cloth. It was like he was in the Infantry again, walking through the morgues after a major battle, wondering if the dead soldiers would rise to reprimand him for surviving when they had died.

But there was nothing under those tables. Nothing but chairs and the deck of the ship.

And, it turned out, the hole in the side of the hull. Svuli led them up a hallway and down a flight of stairs to the next deck down where the damaged hull lay gaping open on their left and the floor was strewn with ice, twisted pieces of metal and the occasional scrap of timber from furniture or fixtures from the walls of the ship. About twenty feet down from the stairway the damage to the ship cut through the hallway floor entirely. Svuli carefully picked her way down to that point and peeked around the torn remnant of the inner wall. After a quick trade of glances, Roy followed and leaned over her to follow her line of sight.

The hole in the ship went another fifteen feet deeper towards the center line, give or take. It had been torn through two decks of rooms vertically and was at least fifty feet wide along the length of the ship. The demolished rooms had been carefully filled with ice in what looked like a very systematic fashion. Buried in that ice were hundreds and hundreds of people. They looked like passengers and crew alike, based on the way they were dressed, and many of them looked like they’d been torn by giant claws or smashed by huge hands before they were frozen. A few gazed out of the ice with expressions of terror, as if they’d been frozen alive.

In the central, deepest part of the hole was the kraken.

It was a round orb of blubber as tall as a human body, suspended in a huge sack of fluid surrounded by ice in the center of the frozen abattoir. Long tendrils, half again longer than the lump of blubber was, drifted around the creature, twitching absently. Two black eyes stared sightless out of the fluid. It reminded Roy of a chicken egg he’d seen broken before the chick within finished growing. It was unsettling and ugly but it didn’t look particularly dangerous. He stepped past Svuli and was looking for a way down onto the ice when the creature snapped around, its eyes focused on him, and a blast of freezing wind and sleet nearly blew him out of the ship and into the ocean. Svuli grabbed him at the last second and dragged him back into the hallway.

Books was there a second later, dragging them both back to the stairway single handed. Once they were both safely out of danger he said, “What in stormwrack was that?”

“I think it’s the kraken chick’s defensive magic.” Roy got up and dusted himself off. “If I’m reading this right, it looks like the Edmund Fitzgerald was attacked by an adult kraken. It made that hole and killed everyone it could grab from the passengers and crew then froze their bodies there for its child to eat. Maybe it cleaned out the kitchen, too? I suspect magic was involved somehow. Then it layed an egg and left it here to hatch.”

“What kind of thing is a kraken?” Books asked.

“A wiggly thing?” Roy wriggled his arm like it was a snake. “Except it had a big round body and a bunch of worm heads? It could be like a hydra.”

“No, it sounds like a squid,” Books said, nodding, “I’ve seen those before. Always thought they were warm water creatures.”

Svuli hefted her pick and mimed striking something with it. “Svuli drapet kraken.”

She started to shape shift back into her bear form but Roy grabbed her hand holding the orb and pushed it down gently. “Roy show Svuli?”

“Show?” She gave him an inquisitive look.

Roy nodded. “Show drapet.” He turned to Books. “Do you know where the furnace room on this thing is kept?”

Turned out it was kept two more decks down and behind the room full of coal, which made sense if you thought about it. The engine room was not as impressive as what you found on a sky train. Those were a forest of pipes that routed the magic in the primary furnace out to the dozens of panels of aluminum that held the train aloft. However, according to Books, the Edmund Fitzgerald was built along a much simpler design.

The primary furnace was fed with coal and the resulting fire was channeled into a massive sulfurite array which held the magic in such a way as to release it in controlled fashion. The magic, in turn, was fed into the keel of the ship in a steady stream. Like most metal hulled ships, the Fitz was built along a core of tin swift to provide the propulsion that moved the ship forward so there was little need to distributed the magic from the furnace to the whole vessel when the keel would do that just fine on its own.

The furnace room was really little more than a place for someone to stand and shovel coal from the feeder, the furnace itself, a set of dials measuring the stability of the sulfurite array and a chimney to take away the smoke. Roy hadn’t anticipated that they’d need to pull apart the furnace to get at the sulfurite. But after half a sweaty, dusty hour of profanity laced work they managed to pull the huge pile of crystals out of the ashen interior of the furnace and drag it back to the coal room.

The furnace and array were entirely cold when they found it so Svuli seemed quite confused as to what they were planning to do at first. It was only once they had dragged the bronze and sulfurite array back to the coal bin and Roy opened a flask of oil that her eyes got wide. Pointing at the array she said, “Skaldrun surt?”

“Surt?” Books asked.

Svuli clenched her fists together then flung her fingers outward to mime an explosion.

“Yeah,” Roy confirmed. “Skaldrun surt.”

“Y’know, Harp,” Books said, balancing the array on the edge of the walkway that overlooked the bin, “I’m not sure this is gonna work.”

“Sure it will.” Roy liberally drizzled some oil onto the top of the coal a few feet below them. By his estimate the thirty foot by twenty foot bin was full of coal up to his shoulders and that ought to be more than enough for their purposes. “You’ve seen siege crystals at work during the war, right? You just have to overcharge them with heat and they’ll cook off. That engine isn’t using crystals as big as what we worked with in the Infantry but I think together they’ll give us more than enough oomf to blast a hole in the bottom of the ship and sink it.”

“That’s the part that bothers me.” He started pulling sulfurite out of the wire array and piling it on the deck beside them. Roy added the two crystals from his lantern for good measure. “Harp, squid are supposed to live in the water and I’m guessing a kraken isn’t any different. I don’t think sinking the Fitz is gonna be enough to kill it.”

Roy hesitated, seeing the point there. “Okay. So we can’t just sink the ship we need to kill the kraken in the process. Everything around it is frozen so perhaps we can just blast the creature with the heat?”

“How’re we gonna do that?” Books dropped the last of the sulfurite into the pile and discarded the bronze array. “We need fire to charge it. Once we overcharge it we’ve got maybe ten seconds to move the crystals to the kraken and get away before they explode. It’s at least forty seconds from here back to where we were if we sprint with our hands empty. It may be more if we have to set the crystals somewhere else so the thing’s ward doesn’t blow them out to see before they cook off.

“But there’s more. Based on the structural damage I saw around the hole and down along the keel as we were walking along it here that explosion is going to sink the Fitz one way or another so we’d be best off not being on the ship at all when they explode.” Books crossed his arms and gave Roy a skeptical look. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to set this all up and get away in time.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Roy focused and pulled a bead of fire out of one of his lantern’s sulfurite crystals and let it hover in the air in front of him like a pearl from the sun. Svuli jumped slightly and backed away. Then, when it was clear the small flame wasn’t going anywhere she approached and studied it with something akin to wonder. “Listen, I’ve learned a lot about this parlor trick in the years since the end of the war. One thing about it is you can hold a flame in places it wouldn’t normally want to stay for longer than it would naturally burn. Usually that means out in the middle of the air, like this. But you can also use it to overcharge sulfurite crystals and keep them that way for longer than normal.”

“How much overcharge for how much longer than normal?” Books asked.

“With those two crystals from the lantern, twice the normal burn for about half an hour.” He gestured to the twenty crystals from the furnace array, each about three quarters the size of one of those from his lantern. “With all these together? I can’t say for sure, since it’s a bit like juggling. A juggler can keep two or three things in the air easily but adding a fourth makes it pretty difficult and the fifth is a whole new world of complexity.”

“But you can do it for all two dozen of them?” Books looked doubtful.

“Twenty two. And no, but I can manage it for a baker’s dozen of ’em, so long as you can find the right place to put ’em so as to kill that thing.”

Books nodded. “We can probably arrange that. Svuli. Come.”

After a moment of confusion Books beckoned her and she got the message, the two of them leaving Roy alone with the coal bin. It was just as well. Juggling was an apt analogy for what he was about to do but it wasn’t a perfect analogy. Concentration was going to be key.

Roy glanced at his small bead of flame and sent it down into the coal bin to light the oil he’d spread there. The massive reserve of fuel quickly lit up. Then he shifted his attention to the sulfurite crystals and began filling them one at a time, willing the magic rising from the coal in waves away from its normal paths and into the crystals one at a time. They were three quarters full when Books came back pushing a rattling serving cart with an enormous copper soup tureen on it.

“How’s it looking?” He asked.

“I have most of them full,” Roy replied. “I’m going to top them all off so you and Svuli have something you can use to fight off the kraken or at least break up its wind wards if you need it. Have you found a place to set them off?”

“Yeah. Weak joint in a bulkhead, Svuli smelled it out as a bear and she seems pretty sure the kraken is on the other side of it.” He pulled a huge ladle out of the tureen. “I brought a way to transport the crystals but I had a thought on my way back.”


“How long will we have after we put these in place before they go off?”

“As long as I can give you. Now let me focus.”

The fires danced before him and Roy reached down to pull them into his thrall. Flame kept secrets from most mortal men, but not him. He could hear its whispers. It spoke of worlds beyond flesh and blood, where the only elements were heat and fury, and all men need do to find that world was make a place for it in the present. Such was the promise of the Primeval Fire.

The promise held no lure for Roy. That ancient flame had nearly claimed his life once and he wouldn’t countenance it again. Instead he made demands of it. The sulfurite he’d chosen for his task lept into the air at his command. Flames shot up from crackling coal and crystal and flame joined in a dizzying whirl of passion and potential. One by one they filled to bursting. Nothing kept them from breaking apart other than the ceaseless pressure of Roy Harper’s will. Five there were, then six.

Once seven were full the easy part was over, the eighth and ninth took teeth grating focus. The tenth burned his mind like a lit match against the back of his eyes and the eleventh dried out the inside of his nose and mouth. When he reached a dozen full crystals his hands broke out in sweat. Then he reached down once more and pulled the last dregs of flame from the coal bin and crammed it into the thirteenth crystal.

Holding it there was like like grabbing the tail of a phoenix. Roy opened parched lips and whispered, “It’s ready, Books.”

He wasn’t really sure what happened after that. He was aware of vague motion. Books and Svuli yelling at each other. And all the while the burning, writhing, furious fire, straining to get free from the prison he’d trapped it in. After an eternity – or perhaps just a minute or two – the fire began to recede in the distance. Keeping it in place got harder and harder. Finally he lost his grip on it all at once and Roy collapsed onto the bottom of the skiff as it swept away from the Edmund Fitzgerald. A second later the side of the ship erupted with a sound like giant pot breaking, pieces of melted bronze flying high in the air.

As he lay on the bottom of the skiff, feeling dryer than an autumn leaf, Roy grinned and croaked, “Well. That wasn’t too hard.”

Books reached down and pulled off a piece of tentacle that somehow got stuck to his shoulder and threw it into the ocean. “Speak for yourself.”

“Books, Roy, bad come Ultima Thule,” Svuli snapped. Then she jumped off the side of the skiff into the water, melding with her bearskin in the process, and took off towards the north and, presumably, Ultima Thule.

“Bad come?” Roy asked Books, trying to figure that one out. “She telling us not to come?”

“Probably. Would you want us to come after seeing that?” Books shrugged and looked back at the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, slowly burning and sinking beneath the waves. “We’ll have to report her lost when we get back. Shame.”

“We did what we could. At least the kraken is dead and the Sanna will be happy. Let’s hope that’s enough for a good day’s work.”

“Let’s hope.”

Lost Words

About four or five years ago I discovered the SCP Archives, a fascinating collection of short stories in the “creepy pasta” genre. The SCP Archives are “found document” stories, framed as a series of procedures, bureaucratic files and research notes that compose the history of a single paranormal or preternatural person, place or thing. They’re full of inventive ideas, people and terms. While the SCP Archives themselves were never something I really wanted to write in the idea of a set of found documents that contained the pieces of a story but unspooled them in a nontraditional way. It took a long time but eventually “Lost Words” became the first result.

We’ve been working on decoding the information on the artifact for the last sixteen years, since we pulled it out of Saturn’s rings. We’re not sure how long it was sitting there, playing dead among the debris and we may never be certain. Frankly, it’s a miracle it’s still in one piece.

What we do know for sure is that it is electronic and has something like an onboard computer although we haven’t been able to make much of it. Here’s what we’ve got, along with notes from the researchers.







The data retrieval and file repairs are things referenced in the artifact’s onboard memory, not something we did when we got it back to Earth. We find it unlikely we will ever be able to repair or replace any of the data lost.


REPORTIN[G OFFI]CER: Te[data lost]

STAR SYSTEM: [data lost] 5 Phase 2 Star

Coordinates: 322.[data lost] off Galactic Plane


Typology: Nickle-Iron Core

Oxygen-Ni[trogen] Atmosphere

2/1 Ocean/Landmass Ratio

Satellites: [data lost]

It’s unclear what kind of coordinate system the artifact uses, or what kind of Galactic Plane they’re referencing. Based on the information available, the logical conclusion is that they’re referring to Earth although we find that eventuality unlikely for reasons that will become clear.


Chronomark – 928.4482.4

Multiple settlements confirmed on each continent. Civilization’s power distribution network consistent with a Type 2 Industrial society. Multiple orbi[tal structures] detected, suggesting the native population has been making [data lost] for some time. Survey of outlying planets did not reveal signs of permanent settlements on outward planets. Conditions on [inward pl]anets do not appear hospitable to life. Further information in fu[ture surveys.]

We conclude that the native species is most likely confined to this planet at this time.

[data lost]

The onboard records suggest that the bulk of the lost data in the artifact’s files were lost here. Roughly 40% of the data the artifact was trying to receive was from this chunk of lost files, which suggests that they spent a lot of time surveying the planet. What’s particularly interesting is that the context around the missing data suggests the missing information was entirely about the population and civilization on the planet’s surface.

Unclear how many sapient species are native to the planet. Initial scans show no signs of coherent architectural [themes] computer analysis cannot determine if differences are wide enough to suggest a differences in species. Communications [data lost] have not yet been deciphered.

Planet shows typical biodiversity for a Type 2 or Type 3 Industrial society. Standard sapience development studies show they should have larger settlements in the oceans suggesting the entire population may be mildly thassalophobic. Further details will [require closing to] close orbit.

The idea that a civilization is thassalophobic just because they don’t settle their oceans is interesting, particularly given things we will see later.

Chronomark – 928.4482.6

I have submitted a request to remain in high orbit. The stories about first contact with Type 2 and Type 3 societies are nightmares. [data lost]

It would be nice to know what kinds of things the Sphere commander was worried about but whatever it was seems lost to time.



Issued: 4th Fleet [data lost]

Recipient: [data lost]

Chronomark – 928.4484.3


Your objections to further surveillance are n[oted and show a comm]endable consideration for your crew and ship. We hereby override them. Deploy a communications relay and keep it updated in accordance with Hazardous Contact Protocols then approach to a [data lost]

You’re out there to detect potential threats to the Commonwealth, Commander. Do you job.

It’s interesting that whatever Observational Command was, they had protocol for these kinds of situations but still managed to lose the artifact – which appears to be a communications relay based on what we’ve learned – in spite of the protocols they put in place. What happened here was apparently well outside their expectations.


Chronomark – 928.4484.5

Our sphere has begun braking orbit, we are [data lost] and proceeding under Hazardous Contact Protocols. Our attempts to break the native communication codec is still [underway]. Fortunately we’ve discovered a series of analog broad[casts that appear to be unfiltered] audio and we’re working on translating the language. So far it seems we’ve avoided detection by the natives.

Several of the major structures have been firmly identified as orbital telescopes.

[data lost]

This is another major section of lost data – it represents about 12% of the lost data and presumably describes more of the planet’s orbital technology.

We believe the largest to be some kind of orbital space station, although what purpose the station serves is unclear. It’s not attached to a space elevator nor do we see large space vessels under [construction.] We’re adjusting our approach to avoid visual dete[ction by these install]ations.

So far we only have one new significant piece of information. Our analysis of the audio from the planet suggests only a single species lives there as the phonemes we’re detecting are all similar enough to come from a single type of [vocalization organ.] Based on what we know of the galaxy, that suggests a single sapient species is producing them.

[data lost]

At this point most of the missing data is accounted for. From the corrupted data on hand my analysts suggest at least part of the analog audio the drop sphere recorded was stored here. It’s possible we can still make something out of that and learn something.

[Chronomark] – 928.4484.6

[data lost] approaching standard orbit, two tanks compromised.

Definitely not a space station. What we thought were [just] telescopes do double duty as gathering arrays that focus [data lost].

The station then serves as a focal point for the weapon. Primary habitation module was compromised. Casualty list is attached:

[data lost]

– and I doubt our hull will stand up to the strain. Against the better judgment of my officers, I’m ordering us to abandon ship. We’ll keep in touch with the comm relay in accordance with Hazardous [Contact Protocols] but [data lost]

May heaven have mercy on us.

The reference to heaven is heavily debated by the translators. Most of them think we’re projecting our own culture on the aliens and worry we’re dumping a lot of cultural baggage onto this part of the records where it’s inappropriate. I’ve chosen to leave it in place for reasons you’ll see shortly.

Chronomark – 928[data lost]

Drop Sphere 3 has been abandoned. Find rest in the silence of space, old friend.

We’ve launched both of the sphere’s life pods and are making for the [data lost]

Current crew compliment of this pod [data lost] for a total of five survivors.

Five survivors in one pod led to a lot of speculation on the sphere’s original crew count. Since it’s a very small data point to draw any kind of conclusion on I eventually stepped in to end the discussion and removed that debate. Interested parties can pull the detailed files from the project archive if they’re really dedicated to reopening the issue.

Chronomark – 928.4486.1

In spite of maneuvering at minimal thrust for the past thirty hours [data lost]

The telescope is im[possible to] shake. We’ve raised our acceleration to the maximum safe rate and are maneuvering towards the system’s fifth planet, a gas giant with [data lost]. Hopefully the [local sapiens] conclude we’re trying to shelter there. In truth, I just hope we distract them from [data lost]

We’re not sure what the sphere commander was hoping to distract them from but our consensus supposition is they were trying to keep the planet’s telescopes from picking up their communication relay.

Chronomark – 928.4486.4

It seems [data lost] and salvaged some of the data we’d collected before our Drop Sphere was destroyed. I’ve assigned my team to work on analyzing it to keep them busy while [data lost.] I’ve told them maybe we’ll learn something that will help us survive, although privately I’m not optimistic on that front.

Pretty industrious people in that pod.

Chronomark – 928.4487.3

They scrambled a pursuit ship incredibly quickly. As near as we can tell it’s a [chemically pro]pelled ballistic ship, which is shockingly primitive compared to [data lost]. Even so, it’s closing fast enough to be here in three days. Things have been tense. Morale is dropping quickly and I have to admit that I don’t think we have any way to avoid [capture].

Given how vicious the [data lost] avoided at all costs. We will continue to report what we learn from our scanning and analysis.

Chemically propelled ballistic ships are shockingly primitive compared to their drop sphere but somehow they still managed to destroy it. I’m not sure what bothers me more. That they think our level of technology is primitive, or that they still got destroyed somehow.

We’re still not sure what the artifact’s Chronomarking system means, but given the pretty clear timeline laid out in these last few entries we’re optimistic we can crack them eventually.

Chronomark – 928.4487.8

A potential breakthrough, although [data lost].

The value of that analytical method is questionable but I’m operating on the premise the results are reliable. It’s the only thing with the potential to improve our sit[uation] anyway. [data lost]

We’re monitoring their communications now. We hoped that would help us evade pursuit but the new codec isn’t helping us since we still haven’t translated their language. [data lost] … understanding of basic machine commands based on what we’re seeing but that’s it for now.

We’re not sure how they cracked a communication codec without knowing the language it contained. Perhaps in one of the lost data sets they translated an analog audio segment and used it as confirmation. We don’t know.

Chronomark – 928.4488.6

We’re testing the new codec against their voice transmissions. It’s interesting because, even though we can’t understand them, we’re all able to mimic all the sounds we’re hearing. I’m starting to think that [data lost]

I think at this point the people in that pod were starting to suspect. That’s why they’re testing all the language they were hearing.

Chronomark – 928.4489.1

The alien ship is getting very close, close enough that we can make visual contact with it. We expect it to match velocity with us in four hours. After some debate, I’ve issued sidearms to all survivors on board. There’s already joking about saving a bullet for ourselves, which is an accurate reflection on the current state of our morale.

[data lost] and transmitted it. If the alien ship has any idea what we said or that we were talking to them they haven’t given any sign of it.

Too bad we don’t have the other ship’s records to tell us how they reacted to this.

Chronomark – 928.4489.4

The alien ship has launched some kind of grapplers and drawn us into contact. I will try and record as much of our encounter with them [data lost]

… some kind of diamond tipped drill to pierce the hull before establishing a seal and moving their personnel over. We’re bracing for their entry.

[data lost]

… fallen back and are regrouping. I don’t think they were expecting resistance. Frankly I’m surprised, too. We’re scientists here, not fighters, but [data lost]

We’ve got just enough time to pull the helmet off one and – my god, they’re human. They’re human just like us. That’s not possible. If anyone reads these logs [data lost]


When we reached this point we were extremely confused. The translators went over this dozens of times, we’re almost 100% certain whoever created this log found creatures like themselves on a planet they were totally unfamiliar with. Whether they were actually a human civilization that discovered another human civilization where they shouldn’t have is open for debate.

Did the artifact arrive here through some method of time travel? Is it a very elaborate, very expensive hoax created by one of the billionaires playing with space flight? Did the artifact just drift into the solar system after it was lost countless eons ago? We don’t know.

I would love to be able to confirm one of those theories. It would remove the possibility that some other human civilization on Earth rose up, took to space and had an encounter with an even older, more advanced human civilization from far flung stars only to vanish for reasons unknown. What does that say about what’s waiting for us out there, if it’s true? And what will we do about it?

For now, I’m proposing we head back out to Saturn immediately and begin looking for other pieces of technology comparable to the artifact. Hopefully we can learn more before it’s too late.