An Interview with Flynn Cole: A Guest Post by Mirren Hogan

Below is a character interview with Flynn Cole, from Nightmares Rise, book 1 of the Dark Shores trilogy, by Mirren Hogan and Erin Yoshikawa. I’m excited to welcome Mirren today (she did the interviewing!), and I hope you enjoy Flynn!


Today I sat down with my good friend and character Flynn Cole.

Me: Hi Flynn.

Flynn: Hello.

Me: Nice Australian accent you have there.

Flynn: Thanks, I like yours.

Me: You do sound a bit like me.

Flynn: So, you had questions?

Me: Yes. I understand you went to Hawaii on holiday?

Flynn: Not so much a holiday. It was more a working holiday.

Me: So– a holiday?

Flynn: (laughs). The point was to take some photos and then sell them. I a photographer. Okay, budding photographer.

Me: Why Hawaii?

Flynn: It’s about as far from my family as I could get. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but a guy needs a break from being asked when he’s getting a real job.

Me: So when are you?


Me: Okay, okay. So tell me about Makani,

Flynn: (grins like an idiot). She’s amazing. She’s strong, independent, funny, sexy, smart, and likes Angry Birds and Dr Who.

Me: Danger seems to follow her around. Are you okay with that?

Flynn: Well – to be honest I could do with less of that. I mean, it’s nice to have a bit of excitement, but to be followed around by vampires – sorry, manangaal – and other monsters get tiring after a while.

Me: What’s the difference between a vampire and a manangaal?

Flynn: Have you seen those guys? They don’t sparkle, and they’re not civilised. They’re more like flying gut-sucking dogs.

Me: Woah, they sound like fun. Not.

Flynn: I know, right? But we hold our own against them. Mostly. Kind of…

Me: (laughs sadistically) And then some of your family tracks you down.

Flynn: I told you not to ask about that. (turns in chair). Where’s my manager?

Me: I’m your manager. Now answer the question.

Flynn: (sighs) Fine. Yes they did, my sister, her husband and their kids.

Me: Did they get eaten by monsters?

Flynn: I wish. I mean, you’ll have to read and find out.

Me: I heard there was no Vegemite in this book. Why should I read it?

Flynn: There’s pizza. There’s also beer and bacon. And sandwiches. everyone loves those, right?

Me: I like a good sandwich. I hear Makani likes them too?

Flynn: Oh yes, she loves a sandwich.

Me: What else do we need to know about this book?

Flynn: It’s funny, and urban, and sometimes a little gross, but in all the right ways.

Me: Well there you are folks: funny, urban, has monsters and sandwiches. I guess you better read it for yourself.


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One Last Quest, Part Six

The conclusion!


Lachlan’s stomach clamped over his pickled-herring sandwich and four cups of coffee. He nearly wished it were empty, except that then it would probably feel worse. He swallowed, and again, as the carriage moved toward Adeon’s address. He didn’t want to look out the window. The boy’s reaction—why had he never considered it?

It was entirely possible Adeon was simply finished with him. His stomach clenched tighter, but he supposed he would sooner that than the alternative: that Adeon had been somehow incapacitated, or worse, killed.

No. He couldn’t bear it. If Adeon didn’t want his company anymore, well, he could bear that, though not with good grace. And what of the boy’s mother? She might see him as nothing but some filthy Revanar predator come to harm her son. His worry climbed the scale, pitching high until he shook, and in the absence of his chair arms to grasp, resorted to clenching his fingers over his stumps, the tips digging cruelly into pinned-trouser ends. There were so many things he hadn’t thought of in his haste to get to Dreamport. His mind spun wild scenarios, and wilder ones, until he could hardly breathe for panic.

The ride felt endless. What would he do? What would he say when he saw Adeon? The whole thing was a fool’s errand, and all his thought for better was a fool’s dream. The cab stopped again and again, and each time his heart leapt into his mouth. After a minute or two it would roll on—they must be stopping at crossroads—and sometimes take a turn, but Lachlan’s pulse never settled all the way, and his chest never quite unknotted.

“Are you well?” Cathal asked, concerned.

Lachlan didn’t dare look up; didn’t want to see the pity on his valet’s face. He shook his head slightly, denial and dismissal at once. Cathal laid an awkward hand on his shoulder, squeezed lightly, and drew back again. They didn’t speak.

At last, the carriage came to a stop for good. Lachlan forced himself to get out, to drop himself off the seat into his chair, stiff with anxiety. Too close to turn back now, too close even to think of such a thing. It would be unfair to Cathal. If he got nothing else from the trip, at least there was Cathal. He breathed slowly, collecting himself, as the cab rattled away.

He blinked in the late-morning light. The street was so poor. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but not this, the cobbles beginning to crack, the tenements sagging on the soft ground. He could smell the wharves, the fishers’ wharves, even see them among the buildings. It stank. Old fish insulted what remained of his nose. Adeon came from this place? The light of Lachlan’s tired life? So wrong—it was all wrong—it couldn’t be.

“This one,” said Cathal from behind him. “Right here. Fourteen, you said.”

“Yes.” It came out small and shocked, quivery, unsure. He glanced a question over his shoulder.

“It’s the right place.”

“It’s… so…”

“There’s no money here,” Cathal said. He pointed out a pack of human children playing in and out of the street. “No shoes. That boy, Adeon, he never had shoes on either.”

“I didn’t think he was so poor. I thought he didn’t want to wear them.”

“Might have some for fancy dress. He wouldn’t want to mess them. Come on, Lord. We’re so close now.”

“All right,” Lachlan said, and Cathal helped him turn the chair about. The listing tenement might as well have been the entrance to Yehoram’s cavern lair. His stomach bounded and his nerves stung, just as they had then, with Rex and Mariella beside him and Kep perched on Rex’s broad shoulder. His valet was no doughty warrior, but perhaps that wasn’t what he needed just now. “Thank you,” he said.

“Oh,” said Cathal, “it’s been hardly anything at all, especially when you match it up with what I’m getting out of it. Look, there’s a bell.” He pushed Lachlan forward. Lachlan reached up and touched the faded enamel bell rune. It still worked; from within he heard a single chime echoing.

They waited forever then, or so it felt. Lachlan itched and twitched, and at last he lifted his hand to ring again.

The door jiggled. It seemed to be stuck, but then it lifted slightly and creaked wide, revealing a small Movanar woman in a plain brown dress. That was the only plain thing about her. She had Adeon’s nose, and hair the color of honey, and blue eyes that took their fill of his face—

And she smiled. “You’re Lachlan,” she said.

“Yes,” he said, strangled, searching for words. “Adeon. Where?” It was all he could force out of his closing throat.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sounding it. “He’s gone away. Just this Longday past.”


The Movanar woman took a breath. “Lord, he’s gone to be a Knight of the Air. I had a letter this last week; he’s on a ship bound for Hayed.”

“Oh,” Lachlan said. Again it was all that would come to his lips. There was a weight on his chest. It was so much better than he’d thought, and at once so much worse.

“I’m going to post this to him right now,” she said, pulling a cheap bit of paper out of her dress pocket. “I know you swore you’d never write him, and made him swear not to write you. He was so upset over it. ‘I’m supposed to see Lachlan, what’s he going to do?’ But an oath is an oath.” She moved off down the street, motioning for Lachlan to follow. “If you liked, you might write a postscript on my letter,” she offered. “Then he’d know it was all right to write you—ah—if it is all right.”

“There’s nothing I’d like more.”

She led him down around the corner, and Cathal followed, hands ready to assist if Lachlan hit a rough patch, but for the most part he managed well enough on his own.

“My name is Elain,” she said.

Lachlan blurted, “I can see why King Muirrach took an interest,” and his face burned with unaccustomed embarrassment. What would possess him to say such a thing?

Mariella would have slapped him sideways, but Elain only laughed. “I was prettier then.”

He said nothing, but truly, he found it hard to credit, she was so very pretty now. At least the post office was close by to spare him further humiliation. It was small and shabby, with sun pouring through grubby windows. They waited on line for some time, but while they waited, Elain gave Lachlan her letter, the sort of fussy, chatty, loving thing Lachlan had received from his own mother when he was on the road. He was careful not to read it entire, only scan it looking for the bottom.

Cathal handed him a pen. There was little space left, but between “Love, Mother” and the edge of the page, he managed to squeeze: “Write me or not, at your pleasure. Be sure to direct any hypothetical letters to me personally, and they will find me wherever I am.” He hesitated over the closing before writing simply, “Your friend, Lachlan Vistridir.”

He insisted on paying for the letter to be sent in the most expensive way, folded like a paper bird and wrapped in a bubble of force. All three of them watched the letter disappear into the distance, rapidly swallowed by the Redwood’s crown.

“Thank you,” Elain said. “For everything. You were good to my son when you had every reason not to be.” She wiped at her eyes, beaming. “Maybe another time, yes? Only I’ve got to get to work, I’m already late. Good-bye, Lachlan.”

He lifted a hand in stunned farewell as she hurried away, and watched her turn the corner. Adeon’s mother.

After a long time, he turned to Cathal. “Tomorrow I’ll take you sightseeing. Only help me get back to the inn for today, and you’ll be free to do whatever you like.”

“Yes, Lord,” Cathal said, and they rode another cab back to the inn. This time Lachlan opened the curtains on his side, but he stared out unseeing and numbly exhausted. When they reached the inn, Cathal carried the chair, but Lachlan would not allow himself to be carried, instead pulling himself up the steps. He wasn’t used to doing it, and the hardwood hurt his knuckles, but his arms were strong and he won the landing without too much trouble, there to heave his body back into the chair.

Cathal didn’t remark on it, only smiled.

Lachlan retired. He was asleep before he heard Cathal leave, and he slept dreamless and deep, and woke rested as sundown crept through the window. Cathal sat in a chair next to the bed.

“Did you like it?” Lachlan asked.

The valet didn’t speak, but there was light in his eyes.


Lachlan sat in his study, reading Giant Fleas Abroad—a fine sequel, all things considered. The room was rather larger than his study at the Palace of Green Glaciers, and rather shabbier, but he preferred it by far. An old, comfortable armchair cradled his body, and his wheeled chair stood out of the way in the corner.

The snow had come to Dreamport, and even now fat flakes drifted by the window, collecting on the sill outside—but it was warm in here, with the fire and the heat-box together, and not so damned drafty as the Palace. Cathal sat in the other armchair, mending an overcoat with tiny stitches.

In the great city, Lachlan’s disfigured face was just another in the crowd. It was far more common here; certainly not an everyday sight, but there were plenty of humans who carried scars, and they stared at him, if they stared at all, with fear rather than disgust and dismissal. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, nor—he supposed—much better, but it was different. Everything else more than made up for it.

Elain was definitely the source of Adeon’s light. She came often to Lachlan’s rooms, bringing good food and sunshine and laughter along with her. Shattered in body he might be, but the White Worm hadn’t killed his heart, and he loved her. From afar was enough for now. There was Cathal, too, always Cathal, wandering through the city on his itchy feet, with Lachlan or without him, and bringing home interesting trinkets.

Lachlan looked up from his book at the sound of tapping from the window. A little paper bird fluttered against the glass, seeking entry.

“I’ll get it,” Cathal said, laying the coat aside. A blast of cold came through when he opened the window, bearing the letter forward. It turned a lazy circle around Lachlan before settling in his lap. “Who’s it from?” Cathal asked, and shut the window.

“I don’t know yet,” Lachlan said, “but I’m about to find out.” He unfolded the paper bird and smoothed it over his thigh. His eyes flew wide.

“Come on, who’s it from?”

He grinned. “Guess.”


One Last Quest, Part Five

He woke as the train shivered into the station at Dreamport, the pilot fighting the magic of the rail. Outside the windows, it was gray-drizzle morning, and fine droplets frosted the panes. Cathal stretched. Lachlan levered himself into his chair, aching more than usual. It must be the wet.

The faint rain dampened his hair and stuck in beads to Cathal’s, glittering against the valet’s darker blond. There wasn’t enough to soak, only enough to make clothes cling and chafe, to wet the ground, and slow small puddles collected where the cobbles were uneven. All the greens of the city blazed in the wet: pines everywhere, dark or muted; oaks and ashes with brighter leaves. The City Redwood stood straight and proud with drizzle-slick, bright bark and rosemary needles. Moisture streaked the basalt of the great basin, and of the cliffs all around. Away to the north, across the crater, the bay lay calm, with only the occasional whitecap breaking the rippling blue-gray surface. Here and there, earthy peat smoke, traditional for Dreamport, curled up in rich tails from the forest of chimneys below and around them. The streets bustled, coursing between buildings like veins.

Above everything floated the sound of the falls, tumbling hundreds of feet from the Ennis to the crater floor, there to land in a white torrent. Cathal couldn’t decide where to look first, and seeing his wide eyes shine, Lachlan felt a pinch of regret. Perhaps he should have brought Cathal here before; there were dozens of places the young valet must have longed to see that Lachlan could have shown him.

Lachlan had wasted decades on moldering with his furniture. Of course it wasn’t reasonable to expect anything more from a wreck, but his interest in being one waned by the moment. He was afraid—being out-of-doors, out of his rooms like this, how could it fail to spike his pulse?—but whenever he felt the urge to return to seclusion, he thought of Adeon, and he looked at Cathal, and he thought his fear would pass. When had he let it stop him before he was hurt? Why should he let it stop him now? Why had he ever? So many years.

They went inside, though Cathal had to put the bags down to open the door. “So where are we bound?” he asked.

“Fourteen Emmerick Road, number six.”

“How do we get there?”

“I don’t know,” Lachlan confessed. He stopped short in the middle of the station. When he looked down at the polished granite floor, it reflected his face and body back at him, mocking his resolve. He set his jaw and looked away. “We’ll hail a cab. They’re supposed to know how to get everywhere.” It seemed wrong to get in a carriage so close to their goal. He remembered walking all over with his friends, driving ever nearer to their destinations, opposed by more and still more vicious enemies, but to get in a cab? It wasn’t a proper quest by half.

Still, there were challenges. First they discovered none of the drivers would take them into Old Town—the address, they said, was in Old Town. They weren’t allowed, they explained, to take anyone down into the crater. Cathal looked down at the walkways to the bottom, juggling the bags, forlorn.

“Let’s find lodgings,” Lachlan said. “We need to anyhow. We haven’t come all this way just to turn around and go home as soon as I speak to Adeon.” He hadn’t realized he’d been thinking that way until the words came out, but damned if he would waste the opportunity.

Cathal dropped the bags. It was an accident, Lachlan thought; his valet’s face glowed, so excited that words to describe it didn’t exist. “What will we do?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sightseeing, perhaps. There’s a square with all sorts of fountains, I think. Perhaps the University, and the Royal Palace. Temple Row is something to see. The humans have a dozen gods and goddesses at least, did you know that?”

“I have an idea about it,” Cathal said, picking up the bags, “but you know how it is, don’t you? You think you know something, and then you see for yourself, and you were wrong.”

“That’s so.” He’d thought he knew something about humans until he’d met Mariella, here in Dreamport, and fallen in love with her, and she wouldn’t have him for the longest time—what felt like the longest time. He’d learned just how long five years could feel. “Well, we’ll go and see it. The temples are spectacular, as good as the one at Shirith. I don’t suppose you’ve seen that either.”

“I haven’t.”

He took the chest again and laid it in his lap. “I’d say we’ll go, but I’m sick to death of the People.”

“Can’t blame you.” At last, Cathal got the bags balanced. They stood in wordless communion for two heartbeats, three, and then set out to find lodgings. If there was a moment when Lachlan decided he would not return home, it was this one, but for now it went unmarked, lost in a frustrated blur. They couldn’t find lodgings on the ground floor, no matter how many places they went to inquire—and right near the train station, inns proliferated so abundantly that Cathal joked someone must have scattered a handful of inn seeds.

At last they settled on the one with the widest staircase, a place called the Hunted Hart, and managed to acquire a single room on the first floor. Lachlan ordered breakfast in the common room while Cathal stowed the bags upstairs.

While they ate pickled herring and onions on rich black bread and drank strong coffee, they discussed how best to reach Old Town, whether on one of the footpaths or on the lift. The lift seemed best, in the end; Lachlan wanted to reach Adeon now, today, as soon as they could do it, and any of the paths would be terribly hard work for the both of them.

The falls weren’t far. They could be heard from the Hunted Hart, and as Lachlan and Cathal approached they grew louder and still louder, roaring enough to make talk nearly impossible. In the roped-off waiting area the two tulon forbore speech, but Lachlan saw all he needed in Cathal’s youthful face, in the posture of his body: mouth open at the massive, gleaming gears and pulleys, his fingers trailing the maroon velvet rope at his side. When they boarded, there was more. Cathal all but pressed his nose against the glass window of the pedestrian car as it progressed smoothly down the side of the falls. They passed the other car on its way up, all steel and brass filigree hanging from titanic chains. The lifts moved like the counterweights of a clock, both the passengers’ side and, across the falls, the overwhelmingly huge freight lifts, laden with wagons covered tight against the spray. And all around there was Dreamport: Dreamport the beautiful, Dreamport the great.

As they slid below the level of the Redwood’s needles, the roofs of Old Town spread before them, hundreds of slate peaks in black and gray and red and green. “So many people!” Cathal exclaimed, seeing them all move on the streets below, in the markets and the squares, like salmon in a stream. He was silent again after that, silent with wonder except for his little gasps, which grew louder as they drew nearer the ground.

They debarked, Cathal gazing all about him, flabbergasted. Lachlan remembered feeling the same way for over a week when he’d first come here, and if the humans stared at him, he hardly noticed, enchanted as he was by his valet’s amazement. All the way to the cab stand, Cathal’s mouth worked, but when at last his bottom struck the wooden bench under the stand’s roof, he turned to Lachlan. “Lord,” he said, so hushed Lachlan could hardly hear him through the falls’ roar, “Lord, I never knew.”

It brought tears to Lachlan’s eyes, but he blinked them away and said, “Now you do.”

They sat silent until a carriage rolled up. It wasn’t long. When Lachlan and his chair were safely stowed, and Cathal climbed onto the red-leather seat beside him, it rolled away again, clattering over the cobbles. Immediately, Cathal parted the curtains on his side to keep looking out, but Lachlan stared at the curtains themselves, red in the warped square of sunlight from Cathal’s side.

Talking About Doctor Maniac: A Guest Post by S.J. Delos

Here’s my good friend S.J. Delos to talk about his supervillain character, Doctor Maniac!


They say people root for the heroes. But we all know that, sometimes not so secretly in fact, we find ourselves more interested in the bad guy. From Darth Vader to Doctor Evil. How did they become what they are? What sort of diabolical scheme will they come up with next?

I would like to bring into the spotlight my own fictional bad guy, Doctor Maniac. In my books, the good Doctor is the super-villain working behind the scenes. He is considered by the general population of the world to be the most evil and dangerous man on the planet. If given a choice between running into the Devil or running into Doctor Maniac, most people would pick the former.

However, thing I enjoy most about the creation of this character isn’t the fact that he is a megalomaniacal genius with hundreds of murders under his belt. Nor is it his hubris, of which he has spades. Instead, it is his twisted infatuation with the series’ protagonist, Kayo. He calls it love, and it might be in some weird, disturbing fashion inside his head. However, Kayo considers it to be an uncomfortable situation that never seems to actually go away. Doctor Maniac becomes that ex we all have had at one time or another. One that just can’t get past the fact the relationship is over and move on.

In a reversal of the usual comic villain trope, Doctor Maniac is not prone to engaging in a useless monologue with his opponents. He also most certainly does not design elaborate traps that can be foiled with some ingenuity and dental floss. When it comes to dispatching those in his way, he will have them killed and not lose a moment’s peace over the decision.

However, despite the magnitude of the betrayal (in his eyes) by Kayo, he cannot bring himself to actually harm her. Even in Some Kind of Hero, his actions are far less severe than they could have been.

Another thing that I enjoy about writing this character is the mystery surrounding him. While Doctor Maniac is connected in some manner to the chief villain in each book, he himself is not the orchestrator of the danger that Kayo faces. He actually helps her, in his own strange way, though you have to wonder what exactly is going on in his mind.

One of the things I would like to point out is that the reader only gets to see what Doctor Maniac is like from Kayo’s perspective. And it’s a perspective skewed by the fact that while she is trying to show the world she can be a hero, Kayo can’t stop thinking about all the things she did at his request when they were together. Kayo wants to believe that the only reason why she was a bad girl for so long was because was young and in love with the charismatic Doctor.

Until now, I’ve been content to leave Doctor Maniac as a character whose true motivations and history are as much as mystery to Kayo as they are to the reader. Interestingly enough, more than one person has read So Not a Hero and told me afterwards that they found Doctor Maniac to be one of the more interesting characters in the book. I have to agree, though I hope that doesn’t mean that the other, more prominent, characters were not enjoyable.

I’ve decided that Doctor Maniac will be more visible in the third book, Just Like a Hero. I think it is time for the reader to know just what it is that makes this man, who can strike fear into hearts with just the mention of his name, tick. I want people to know what really transpired between a young, pre-hero Kayo and the man who controlled her life for so many years.

I think everyone’s going to be fairly well surprised.


S.J. Delos is a self-proclaimed “average geek” living in Greensboro, North Carolina with his long-suffering wife, Kim and their two sons, Connor and Cameron. When not making up stories and writing them down, he spends his time reading comic books, playing Skyrim, and watching Doctor Who.

You can find him, or his books, at any of these fine links:

One Last Quest, Part Four

The station rang with the song of the rail. The magic of the thing was so great, so powerful, that none could fail to see it, no matter how dull their sense of such things might be. No sorcerer would dare to open a third eye here, so close to one of the lines of force that sizzled across Rothganar. Even to normal vision, the rail was a rope of light thick as a man’s wrist, flickering now red, now violet. If one watched long enough, eventually he would see every color known pass through the rail, from palest peach to deepest blue.

Lachlan had parked his chair at the end of a weathered wood bench, which nonetheless glistened with polish. The work of some unfortunate Movanar, no doubt, just like the perfect, gleaming windows behind him: ten feet high if they were an inch, from the top of the wainscoting to the bottom of the eaves, all along the side of the station.

They’d been inside a while ago, he and Cathal, to buy tickets to Dreamport. Now Lachlan sat half in shadow, half in sun, watching the traffic go by and waiting for his valet to return with the baggage. At first, he’d perhaps childishly resisted the idea of Cathal’s going back alone, but Cathal had impressed on him the difficulty of taking him up the mountainside only to bear him back down again, and he’d agreed to stay here.

Cathal was taking ages, but he supposed it could have been worse. He might be staring at the walls again. The same walls he’d stared at for decades, the faded tapestries and hangings, the patchy velvet bed curtains, everything worn, slowly decaying as he watched, the depredations of time staved off by the desultory efforts of chambermaids. The Palace was behind him, behind the station, blocking the sinking sun, but here there was light and the hope for more.

Lachlan was under eyes, quick darting glances or gazes that couldn’t seem to move away from him, but he didn’t care. There were children here. He’d forgotten how much he liked them, other than Adeon. Somber or smiling or wailing, dragging their feet, skipping, running, holding their parents’ hands… Once a little girl stopped, staring out of soft brown eyes at Lachlan’s face, and she opened her mouth to say something, but her mother hurried her along with a fearful expression.

It depressed him—he would have liked to speak with her—but only for a moment. It was enough to watch. Children’s voices never rang through the halls of the Palace; they were quickly shushed and sent to the nursery. Devnet would have shushed them. As well he hadn’t married her. And he had a trove of lovely memories of human children from his few short years with his friends. Rex had had a small son. If only Lachlan had been in any shape to see how the boy fared.

He would be an old man now. What a missed opportunity! Sad and sorry, Lachlan was, a wreck of himself—but perhaps there was still a chance, perhaps he could track down Rex’s son. All he wanted was a chance.

It was full dark by the time Cathal reappeared, puffing and laden with baggage. “Did we miss it?”

“It isn’t that late yet,” Lachlan said, smiling in spite of himself. “It won’t come until midnight. Why ever did you bring so many bags?”

“You never know.” Cathal settled on the end of the bench next to Lachlan’s chair.

Hardly anyone waited for the train just now, but those who did gave Lachlan a wide berth, which he tried not to mind. “Any minute now,” he said, dropping the subject of Cathal’s overzealous packing, and didn’t mention at all the behavior of the others.

“What’s Dreamport like?” the valet asked eagerly, when “any minute” had come and gone.

“Haven’t you been there?”

Cathal’s mouth thinned. “You know nobody leaves. Especially not my kind. I’m bound to my master and to the land.”

“You haven’t been to any of the other kingdoms, then.”

“Never served anyone who’d go,” he said, almost apologetic.

“I’m sorry they foisted me on you.”

“That’s all right.” He smiled. “When I was younger, they had me with the Dowager Duchess of Morning’s Last Touch. She didn’t even go into the garden while she could—and then she couldn’t anymore. She didn’t last long though,” he added. “And then they gave me to you.”

“I suppose it could be worse.” Lachlan didn’t quite believe it. Shackling a young fellow to an ancient woman, and then to a broken wreck? It didn’t seem fair. They might have given him someone older, more settled in mind, rather than a man in the prime of life. Surely Cathal had more use elsewhere than he did to Lachlan! Another monstrous injustice of the High Ones to the Little.

“Beg your pardon, Lord, but it could be much worse, and that doesn’t bear talking about, if you don’t mind.”

Lachlan said nothing. It was only the truth. The High Ones did as they pleased with the Little Ones, for no reason discernible to him other than that they could. The Revanar had the magic; rare was the Movanar with power to challenge even a Revanar child. He hadn’t thought much of it before he’d left, but only a few months out from Green Glaciers he’d seen it with a clearer eye, and it disgusted him beyond telling. He could easily loathe his own blood—loathe himself, for though he’d never been purposefully cruel to the serfs of the People, he hadn’t been kind, either.

They didn’t speak again for above an hour. When the rail began to crackle with colorful lightnings, Cathal sat forward eagerly. “Soon,” Lachlan told him.

“Will it be?” Cathal watched, intent. The lightnings grew stronger, more spectacular, blazing with color and setting off miniature thunderclaps in the chill night air.

“It will.” Lachlan waved a hand at the rail, not that he needed to indicate the display. “They’re braking the train, on up the line. It travels very quickly, and the rail keeps drawing it on even while it’s at rest. Takes tremendous energy to stop it. Only the best sorcerers can pilot the trains—but I suppose you know all that.” He grimaced again. It was as bad as old times. Get him talking, and he’d go on for ages.

“I didn’t. They don’t teach you that at lessons—and after you’re through with lessons there’s no time.”

“Have you ridden before?”

Cathal shook his head. “When I came back from Morning’s Last Touch, they gave me a pony.”

“You’re in for a treat then.”

As if on cue, the train slithered into the station. Every train was fashioned to look like a different animal; this one was a great silvery snake, with massive peridot gems for its eyes. Each scale was a separate piece over the tubes of the carriages themselves, made by hand with utmost precision, and inlaid with sweeps of tiny runes that continued seamlessly all over the train. Cathal leapt to his feet as passengers debarked. “I’ll take the bags,” he said, “and come back for you. All right?”

Lachlan snorted and rolled himself forward. “I have wheels, remember? It wouldn’t do to leave on a quest and be carried to the train. Give me one of those bags.”

Laughing, Cathal put a small, heavy chest in Lachlan’s lap, and together they crossed the platform. Porters lifted the wheeled chair onto the train, directly into a carriage with an empty compartment. Lachlan rolled carefully down the low-lit, narrow hallway carpeted in deep green, leaving twin tracks in the plush pile.

They settled in the compartment. There were glass windows to the outside, and a glass door for access from the inside, so that Lachlan couldn’t avoid the sight of himself except by staring at a point on the wall just above Cathal’s head. Even then, his peripheral vision didn’t allow much relief.

He looked into his lap, allowing his hair to fall over his face. The train hummed beneath him, eager to be off again, if objects could be eager; the line’s power drew forward against the great charms and the power of the pilot holding the vehicle back. Cathal stood at the window, between the seats, trying to peer past his reflection into the darkness beyond.

“You’ll want to sit down,” said Lachlan.

“Why?” Cathal asked, and the next moment the train leapt forward like a racehorse. He fell heavily against the black leather seat, bounced off, and landed on the floor. “Oh, I see,” he said, and started to laugh.

Lachlan tried to suppress his own laughter, but in the face of Cathal’s, it welled out of him.

Once he’d grown accustomed to the motion of the train—in no time at all, it was so smooth—the valet rose from the soft carpet on the floor and flopped into the seat next to Lachlan. “I can’t believe we’re really going,” Cathal said. “I can’t wait to see it. Is it true there’s a huge tree in the center?”

“The City Redwood, yes. Nearly as tall as the crater’s walls. Its shadow sweeps around the city each day. A powerful shaman—a tulua—attends to its needs. When they had a human guardian, the tree began to fail, and the same thing when the guardian was male…”

Lachlan went on at length, answering the questions Cathal peppered him with, but then the valet asked him about his old life. He deflected the questions with the vaguest responses he could think of, and afterward, before Cathal could press him, feigned a huge yawn.

They fell silent, and Cathal fell asleep, but Lachlan did not. His thoughts tangled, a deep bramble undergrowth spiked with thorns: this way the Movanar, that way his past, until he was utterly lost in a terrifying place with no egress, and he succumbed again to the cold of Yehoram’s cave.