Alchemy. Murder. Revolution.


Slowly, the hard air dissolved. Nox quivered, warm with words.

Fantastic, the river ghost hissed. Delicious. Five stars, as they say east of Blackwater. Two thumbs up. She bent at the waist. Metal shone on her throat, and the labored whirr of cogs spilled from her straining gills. You will be enormous soon. The girl that sleeps in your belly will pull you apart in ways you did not think possible.

“You cannot know these things,” said Ava. “No one does.”

A river ghost knows what humans do not. You have a soft and greedy heart. I will tell you this, so you might make your peace: the good darkness has spoken. You may only have one.

“What do you mean?” Sadness burst from nowhere and filled her throat with tears.

Prophecy is nothing more than the velocity of time. It is easy to read. The snaggle-toothed grin widened. Sariel belongs to no one. I have seen the rings in his horns and the lines on his palms. His desire is for paths lit by fires that burn on curious fuel. He is not made to warm beds or homes, but for you, he might think to stay—at a price.

“No,” said Ava. Her vision was filled with stars. “That is too much.”

The man for the child, or the child for the man. There are crossroads in time, said Nox. Nodes, like earth wells. Points that are fixed. This is one of them.

“You’re wrong.” Anger warmed her chest. “My parents said I would become a knight. I did not. The barracks sentenced me to starve. I have eaten well for years. If he will have me, I will have them both.”

Vibrations tugged at the space between them. Ava realised that Nox was laughing. I shall enjoy watching you try. The river ghost straightened. Goodbye, Paper House Girl. Make sure to listen to the bodies in the forest. Get yourself good shoes, a firedamp torch, and a map of the stars. Her head bent towards the broken window. Oh, and one last thing.

Dust streamed through the blue-black light, scorched by the undersides of flaming planets. The cacophony of voices began again. Nox clapped three times and scuttled sideways. Mind the shoals, she said and was gone through the empty casing with hardly a splash.

“Sariel,” Ava started to say. Her voice floundered when the lights outside turned to water. Rocks ground beneath the boat. The schooner fractured in a scale of snapping teakwood, and the sea rolled in, beryl-blue.


© 2020 Justine Rosenberg