[SOW] Interlude One: Students & Shipyards

“The Kingdom of Athella, vast as it has become, is rooted in the solemn work of the layman in their home nation. Colloquially called “Barothell.” Taken from the Ancient’s language to mean “home in the north” Barothell is the seat of the King, Harama the Third, as well as the home to our most precious Academy which you are here gathered. Among all that the Athellan Empire has garnished for themselves, our hope in the long term is to provide such the same to our neighboring nations. Through the intrepid work of our laborers and our students, like yourselves, we will bring Barothell, and with it, the rest of Athella to a new age.”

Professor Drhuskah paced back and forth before a massive chalkboard, hardly necessary for a teacher of her small stature. The colossal splinter of black shale was covered in notes and symbols which had little to do with the content of her speech.

While a creeping winter frost covered his desk side window, Enryn Hile sat with his chin in his palm and half-listened to the recollection of national history, a piece of literature published some century before he was born that told about the great feats of Athella and their companions through the years. Written by a war hero from a time he’d only read about in history texts, Professor Drhuskah was well known to be a descendent of the author and as if carrying his legacy, she read the prescript of the history at the beginning of each semester.

What purpose it served them to know, he could hardly grasp. “The Recollection” was older than the Academy and could have been older, even, than the line of Kingship. Though there was some manner of suspicion regarding Harma’s claim to the throne, there was little in regard to the power of the Athellan Nations.

From the far west, in the wilds of Atla and spreading south through the “Holy Kingdom” of Hiliod, Athella controlled most of the Western Hemisphere. A fact which Professor Drhuskah maintained as she launched into the second half of her speech.

“… alongside our valiant allies to the far west, who are in talks to join our forces in an official capacity, there is also our allied nations to the east. Barothell, and Dorathell. The northern and southern home of the Athellan kingdom with Aenham nestled in the center. The united power of our four nations has allowed us the opportunity and resources to become the chief exporter of technology, and our own Veilus Academy a place of renown, where the greatest minds are capable of changing the world at a moment’s notice.”

She paused for a breath, and Enryn rolled his eyes.

At the time the piece was written, Athella was the combined might of two small kingdoms bridged by the swamps surrounding Aenham. Why the small kingdom between Dorathell and Barothell hadn’t joined the union was a mystery. The expansion of Athella was projected to overwhelm the northwestern kingdom of Atla, but they were unfortunately unaware of exactly what Atla was like. A wasteland in opposition to the settled and tamed savannah’s of Barothell, Atla was a sprawling forest nestled in the ankles of mountains tall enough they shrouded the dual suns. The “union” written in The Recollection was less a matter of diplomatic understanding and more a genocide of the original denizens of the wilds.

Enryn suspected, though he’d never read the book, the author left that bit out.

He adjusted, changing his focus from the freezing window to that of his professor, the chubby middle aged woman hobbling around the room with a worn book between her hands was, despite the rumors of her fealty to Athella being somewhat dramatic she was also regarded as one of the best professors at the Academy.

A snap echoed through the lecture hall as she closed the book, finished, finally, with the introduction as she launched into her first lesson of the semester.

“To each of you first years in attendance, I implore you to find one of our copies of “The Recollection” and borrow it, that you might come to understand what makes our Kingdom the presence it does in our world.”

She placed the book atop her desk with a pop and continued.

“For those of you who don’t know me, I am your professor of mechanics, Rina Drhuskah.”

She paused, as if expecting an applause of some kind. The class didn’t make a sound.

“Well,” she continued shakily, “This class, for the uninitiated, is a class to teach you about the inner workings of our relationship with the dragons and what their unique power allows us to do.”

“Finally” Enryn thought. “Something worthwhile.”

The Professor spun on her heel back to the chalkboard and pointed to a smudged diagram of an engine. From his seat, he couldn’t make out the details of the image but recognized its shape.

“This is a Scale Engine. It is a device we use to generate power here in Karka. Few other nations share the same technology, most of which still rely on traditional methods to achieve daily tasks. Most of you should be at least somewhat familiar with this object.”

She paused for a handful of students to nod before continuing.

“The Scale Engines are used here in Barothell for all manner of tasks. ‘Generating power’ I use as a broad description of the tasks afforded by this sort of device. In this class, you will learn the ins and outs of maintenance and upkeep of these devices as well as come to understand what enables us to utilize them in the manner which we do.”

Some of the other classmates shared looks between one another, as if they didn’t expect a mechanics class to detail the mechanics of the things they would be working on day in and day out. Enryn, however, flipped a blank page from his bag and set a quill to it. His father worked on a team who maintained Karka’s Eastern Engine, which supplied power to the Academy among other important buildings to the city. He knew more or less how they worked, but completing the class was necessary if he wanted to ascend to higher functions in the city, and he did.

His eyes were set on the order of The Chronomagus. A collection of folk who, as the stories about them described, used magic to control time. He couldn’t think of a more thrilling life to lead. As professor Drhuskah continued her beginning lecture, he put pen to page and wrote along.

“The Scale Engines are named as such due to the nature of their function. Who here is familiar with the notion of Dragons?”

A few students raised their hands, Enryn was not one of them. He’d heard of dragons of course, no one in Karka hadn’t, but similarly, no one wanted to talk about them.

“Dragons were the original natives of Amsukar. Their presence here outweighed us by the hundreds, and when our people began finding a foothold in the safe places where Dragons refused to tread, we were able to gather information on them and, eventually, use it against them. Over centuries of study and hunting, we came to realize that they were carnal predators. Though some displayed a manner of intelligence similarly to our own, they were, in their core, animals.”

A young woman with curly blonde hair raised her hand. Her blue eyes glittered against the winter morning light.

“Professor, how can we establish that we are any better than them. We are animals too, aren’t we?”

The professor giggled to herself.

“What is your name, young lady?”

“Mardiell.” She sniffled, her small nose wiggled and Enryn’s heart fluttered.

“Well, Mardiell, we know that we are different than they are because we exhibit the ability to operate as a collective unit. We do not seek to debase and kill one another for sport.”

The blonde girl snickered. “But we hunt stag and boar, don’t we? Is that not the same?”

The professor raised her nose. “Hardly.”

Enryn stifled his own laugh at the professor’s frustration. Mardiell did have a point.

“Regardless on how we feel about dragons, what is important for each of you to understand in this position,” Drhuskah continued, “Is that they are the source of our power. Inside each of them there is a gland which, for reasons we will get into later, allows us to power our Scale Engines. They radiate an energy which we haven’t been able to entirely understand as of yet, but these glands allow us to power our world in a way which we were never able to do before.”

Hiding the grin on his face, Enryn raised his own hand.

“Professor, when did we first discover the glands?”

She propped her hip on the side of her desk and clapped her hands together.

“In the first era, a band of ancestors killed the dragon and upon harvesting it’s body for food and materials, they discovered the glands. Astute as they were, they put their understanding of the natural world to the test and manufactured ways to harness the power that came from the dragon’s body. This practice, multiplied over centuries, led us to where we have come today.”

Ultimately unsatisfied, he considered questioning further, but was interrupted by Mardiell.

“Professor, are there other manners which we might be able to progress?”

The woman stifled a cough before she answered, evidently surprised by the question.

“We have done much research in regard to that very sentiment, but our results have been inconclusive.”

Another hand raised, followed by another, and more until the majority of the room had a question prepared for the professor who, quickly, shut down their hope of answers.

“We will have time for discussions later, class. Allow me to finish my lecture.”

One by one, the hands dropped. Enryn glanced to Mardiell, who was already looking back at him with a sly grin on her face.

“Goodness” he gasped, “She’s from the suns.”

He broke eye contact with her and focused on the Professor’s lecture as she launched into a brief description of the glands and their functions over the years, from powering cities to the various organizations who harnessed the dragon’s power for personal gain. Some called them “Scale Bonders” others called them witches. Regardless, the Professor took no measure of honor when referring to them.

Enryn, having come from a well established and educated household, knew stories about the witches. Mortals paired with Dragons who shared their power, generating energy as if from nothing. A practice which, according to everything they’d discovered, was an unbreakable law of the world. The Veilus Academy, despite it’s flourish and reputation in the Kingdom as the training ground of the Chronomagus was established to research the exact practice.

His suspicion, and the reason he’d joined the academy in the first place, was to validate his suspicion that the arch-mages of Karka were indeed utilizing their powers in the same manner as the Scale Bonders.

While the Professor lectured, he scribbled notes on the page. Lines about the rise and fall of the first civilization of near immortal entities on Amsukar, those who gave it its name, “The Ancients.” Among other summaries, Professor Drhuskah broke down the lesson plan for the year which contained no small amount of practical testing on live Engines. Among other things, including a comprehensive review of “The Recollection” which he assumed ahead of time he would sleep through.

Before he knew it, Drhuskah dismissed the class to their own business and the students began to file out. While packing his belongings, a fellow student cast a shadow over his seat. When he turned to look, he saw Mardiell standing above him, blocking the light from the stained glass roof.

“You’re Enryn Hile, aren’t you?” She cocked her head with her question.

Her dimpled smile threatened to steal any hope of a reply from him.

Through a short gasp, he nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“What is a member of House Hile doing here at the Academy?”

He hoisted his sack of books and quills to his shoulder and followed her, at her motion, out of the classroom.

“I guess I was bored of being sent to work in the Engine Docks all day.”

She led him out to the Academy Commons where other students gathered, some for breakfast and others for a sunny spot to study.

“What about you, Mardiell? What brings you to Veilus?”

She shrugged. “I guess to ask questions. I’ve always wondered what else is out there. Karka has been great to grow up in, but do you wonder what happens outside our city? Past the walls?”

He shrugged. He genuinely hadn’t. Beyond the Flats, a section of barren savannah that stretched from the white walls of their city, he didn’t need to know what the world was like. He could read about them, or hear from his traveling friends.

“Like, Aenham, for instance, what is out there? Why have they been so resistant to ally with Athella?” She found a clear spot on the snow and took a seat beside a bulbous metal can filled with glittering blue fire. “Or Dorathell? What is it like that far to the south? What kind of people live there?”

Enryn followed her lead and took a seat beside her while she pulled a long wooden box from her bag and popped the lid open. Within, there were all sorts of snacks arranged in rows. Slices of fruit, bundles of sweets and small salty bread chips lined the box and he caught himself drooling moments before it slipped from the front of his lip.

“Would you like some?” She offered him a slice of a Cream Apple.

He took it and popped the whole piece into his mouth, barely able to contain his enjoyment as the velvet smooth flesh of the fruit touched his tongue. The cool soothing sensation the Apples were known for danced along his teeth and tongue. 

Mardiell giggled, taking a piece for herself.

“Has it been a while since you’ve eaten?” She took a delicate bite from her own piece and the smacking of his own lips became suddenly, all too apparent.

“Since I’ve gotten one of those? Absolutely. The Magi broke their trade agreements with us years ago, how do you still have fresh fruit from the isles?”

She winked. “That’s a family secret.”

She offered another piece which he took, more carefully than the previous time.

“So, Mardiell, while we’re on secrets, what happened back in class, about the Dragon Hunting?”

She paused her chewing to scoff.

“I doubt you’ll understand, but my father was a Hunter.” She chewed a moment more. “Regardless what they’ve said, I don’t understand why they need to slaughter the animals for our own sake. What do we have here that is so important? Sure, we have our factories and our airships, but how many creatures had to die for that? Forever? They can’t come back, you know?”

Enryn nodded. He’d heard the sentiment before. A growing fear in the city, maybe even kingdom-wide, was that the Dragons were becoming endangered.

“Are you one of those activists, you know, protesting the Hunter Camps?”

She leveled her gaze. “If I am?”

He didn’t have a good enough answer.

“I suppose nothing will come of it, I don’t have any argument to make. I’ve profited from their death. I don’t see them differently than any other animal. They’re vicious and smarter than I am.”

“I suppose that’s why you started attending school, then?” She giggled.

Not to be put off by the sudden tension between them, he leapt to a new topic.

“What did you pull me aside for, if not to grill me about my connection to the Dragon Hunters?”

She slipped a dried piece of bread from her box and took a bite. The crisp snap of the loaf popped into the chilly air.

“I have a question, and I know your family deals with the docks, a lot.”

“Dealing with the docks is a strange way to say running a business, ma’am.”

She shook her head. “I’m waiting for a friend, who should be arriving on a merchant ship. Do you happen to know anyone who would be willing to bring me to the arrival this evening?”

He took another bite of the Cream Apple slice and considered the night crew on his mother’s staff. A series of vulgar, inconsiderate men seeing someone like Mardiell in their dock would likely lead to a scathing comment or two on the following day.

“I could take you there myself, if you’d allow me.”

The smile that broke across her face radiated on him, as if it could break the frozen grip of the winter for only a moment. His heart skipped a beat, and he realized he was in trouble with this girl. Not the kind of trouble he’d been familiar with, either.

“I would be honored to have you escort me, Master Hile.”

The remainder of their lunch was spent trading small words back and forth while they finished off the Cream Apples, dry breads and wrapped sweets until there were crumbs left. As they traded class schedules, a bell rang to signal the beginning of the afternoon periods and each of them stood quickly.

“I suppose I should go,” Enryn mumbled, the thought of skipping his next class to spend more time with the bubbly woman at the forefront of his mind.

“I’ll see you tonight, then?” She cast a look of hope that threatened to unseat his entire heart and he nodded.

“Just after sunset, meet me in the Eastern Tramhouse and I’ll take you there.”

She excitedly hopped and flung her arms over his shoulders and his heart skipped a beat again. His head was so clouded as she kissed his cheek, he forgot to ask he exactly where her friend would be showing up.

Still, he watched her, possessed by her while she strode out of the commons and toward her next class. By the time she was out of sight, the bells rang again and he realized, unfortunately, he was late.

The rest of his day was a mess of notes and anticipation as he counted down the minutes to sunset. His excitement to see Mardiell only overshadowed by his curiosity about her consumed him, and as the final hours began to spiral with the setting sun, he marched out of his small rental home toward the docks.

His mother likely wouldn’t be there, and if she were, he could manage to talk his way through her likely unstoppable questioning. Whatever Mardiell was after would undoubtedly come under harsh scrutiny, but the notion that she was up to something sinister was far from his mind.

When he arrived at the docks, an hour before sunset, he found the sailors and merchants already hard at work unloading crate upon crate of fabrics and furs from various locales all over Amsukar. Whitefox Pelt from Hiliod, Silken Yew from Aenham, refined in the steam baths of Kharazhund.

“Master Hile?” One of the dockhands noticed him and approached. “Strange to see you here, sir.”

He waved a hand, hoping to dismiss the elderly man. When he saw the man wasn’t going anywhere, he leaned against a nearby wall in the hopes of looking like he was supposed to be there.

“I’m running a small errand for mother, meeting a friend, it’s nothing to worry about.”

The man scratched his mustache a moment and winked. “I wasn’t worried, ser.” 

Enryn offered a nod before he went back to his duties.

The calm lapping of the oceanside echoed through the port house, a dull whisper beneath the calls and shouts of the many people moving cargo. Enryn found a spot to sit near the front gate and stretched out, waiting patiently.

It wasn’t long before the familiar creek of the gate rang, announcing Mardiell’s arrival. She changed into a tight leather vest and trousers, concealed with a long grey cloak. Her twirling, sunflower blonde hair tied back with pins and tucked beneath the drawn hood of the cloak she offered a gentle smile and stopped just shy of his reach.

“Already lounging around, Master Hile?”

The high pitch of her voice half drowned beneath the sound of the dockhands, many of whom paused to watch her enter. Enryn stood and gestured toward the incoming fleet of ships.

“I’d not need to lounge if I wasn’t kept so busy with waiting for you.”

The second sun still barely peeked over the horizon, what sliver of light remained shed its dying orange breath across the ocean and into the port house as she feigned a scoff.

“I didn’t mean to keep such a busy man waiting.”

With a playful hit to his arm, she twirled toward the far end of the docks and took a seat away from the laborers, a few of whom had not returned to work and remained, gawking at her.

Enryn wanted to chastise them, but he understood the feeling. His heart skipped another beat as she twirled and found a seat on a wooden bench. He met her and, in the effort of not making her uncomfortable, remained standing a few steps away.

“So, this friend who is coming, do you mind telling me why they are arriving on a merchant ship?”

She shrugged. “I suppose it was the only one available.” Absently, while she spoke, she twirled her hair.

“Does this friend have a name?”

“Careful asking too many questions, Master Hile. You know where that leads.”

“Do I?” He cocked an eyebrow.

On the horizon, a ship announced its arrival with a loud burst of its horn.

“It leads to getting answers you are uncomfortable with.” She winked. “Have a seat beside me.”

He obliged, immediately.

She placed a hand gently on his thigh while they waited. “So, Enryn, what is your position here at the shipyard? Are you involved at all?”

He wasn’t sure how much he could say. Mother had always been rather particular about her business, but it wouldn’t hurt, he supposed, to explain a bit.

“I don’t necessarily work here, I handle our ledgers and our accounts. With how many companies use the Hile Textiles, my mother orchestrates the scheduling of shipments and I am left to do much of the paperwork.”

“Must be a daunting job, with how busy it appears.” She traced a finger gently along his thigh as she spoke, and each moment, his throat grew tighter with excitement.

“It’s really not a chore. I quite enjoy it, even if it only aids my mother in her labors.”

Mardiell paused the tracing of her finger and glanced past him, toward the approaching ship.

“How long have you been caring for your mother’s financial needs?” She asked, her gaze trained on the open sea.

“Since I was young, It’s been my duty. Father works a simple job for another company, he doesn’t worry much about the shipyards.”

She nodded.

The ship blew its horn a second time. It was moments from arrival, and if it were the ship containing her companion, their short meeting would be over. The realization sent a wave over him, not of shock, or frustration, but realization powerful enough it snapped him back to the moment. There, in his mother’s ship yard he’d led a woman he didn’t know, to retrieve a passenger on a ship he’d not considered investigating before it arrived, and it was far too late to look into it now.

“So, where is this ship from?”

“I believe it came from Thombardin.” She shrugged. “I’ll know when I see him.”

“Oh, so it’s a him.” Enryn exaggerated his grimace.

“All ships are he, aren’t they?” Mardiell patted his knee and leaned back into the chair, taking in the sight of the early evening.

Above them while the midday crew made themselves scarce, stars started to peek through the night sky. Glittering above them like thousands of light bugs overhead. Neither of them spoke, instead watching the night sky fill with millions of glowing specks of light beneath the flickering moon.

Not long after, the carrier ship found its home in the dockyard and the night crew emerged from the store hall where they changed into their uniforms. Each of them wore a pair of burlap overalls with the “Hile Textiles” logo embroidered on the back with no small amount of gaudy filigree. Just how Amberis Hile wanted it.

The dockhands aided the sailing crew who stationed the ship, and as soon as the gangway fell to the dock, Mardiell stood. 

“We’ll let’s go meet my friend.”

Enryn followed, his mind buzzing with questions he thought better than to ask aloud. Why was she, a student of the academy with no contract to her name here? Let alone here to receive a person. If his mother discovered what he’d allowed into her docks, she would rightly be furious. Not for any reason other than the fact that this woman, bouncing across the docks and distracting the dockhands as she went, was an unknown. He’d wondered, at first, why she’d been so direct with him. Especially after recognizing that he was part of a Guilded Family.

Why he’d brought her, he didn’t want to admit aloud. Or even in his mind for that matter. Something about the woman compelled him in a manner almost unnatural.

“Is it because she is beautiful?”

He glanced at the dockhands, who by and large would’ve shouted at him for interrupting their day’s work on any other day and with any other guest. They’d even snap a word of disdain at his mother on occasion, despite what it might mean for them. Still, they allowed her to walk across the dock with little more than a sigh. A few of the dockhands wore irritated faces, but remained still as she passed, her gentle hand touching their chests as she passed by.

Enryn followed her as she moved past another pair of laborers who she delicately pressed her palm against, and he saw in the moment something he’d not noticed until then.

Each of the laborers she passed by were opening their mouths to speak, likely, if he knew them half as well as he assumed he did, to berate her for interrupting their work. Each one, she touched and as soon as she did they remained still. As if something came over them, a foreign calm which, given his prior experiences, none of them were well known for.

Maridell pushed her way onto the ship and the fog inside of Enryn’s own mind began to dissipate. Something about their meeting, about the day entirely, was wrong. 

She easily pranced across the gangway and onto the deck of the ship where the sailors turned, a few within arm’s reach of her fell silent as she pressed her hand to their chests.

“My dears, could you direct me to the lower decks, please? Where you stowed a large, crimson crate. It likely would have been hard to balance, I would understand if it were buried beneath some of your other cargo, but it is quite important to me.”

The sailors turned, immediately, and led her into the cargo hold. Above, the captain of the ship shouted.

“Oy, young Master, what are you doing bringing a lass onto my ship?” He marched down the steps and met Enryn, who paused on the deck while Mardiell stepped into the hold.

The excitement he’d been feeling since she’d arrived swelled within him and burst, transforming in his thudding heart to some kind of dread. Something was wrong. Terribly so.

“I don’t know.” He mumbled, his words falling from his lips as though they weren’t his own.

“Go get her off! We don’t have time for this. We’re already late as it is.”

The captain of the ship tossed his hat behind hip, into what Enryn assumed was his own quarters. 

Enryn didn’t wait to think, he’d already wasted far too much time. He marched past the other sailors whom hadn’t been close enough to Mardiell to touch, who followed him to the hold.

It had been a number of years since he’d been below deck in a cargo ship. The last time was long before he’d taken over any responsibility for the Company. The low, cramped roof was at the perfect height for him to be unable to stand straight up if he weren’t in one of the long aisles designated for traversal. In the dark, hundreds of crates were illuminated by hanging oil lanterns whose light flickered with each roll of the ship against the waves.

Three of the crewmen and the captain himself followed as Enryn marched toward the distant sound of Mardiell’s voice, obscured by row upon row of boxes.

“Yes dear, thank you. This is what I was looking for.” Her sweet, crooning words came muffled through the hold, bouncing between the crates.

“Don’t let her touch you.” He whispered to the crew. Around a corner, he found her, standing before a box which looked as she’d described. A few crates which had previously been piled atop it were spilled, their contents scattered along the floor. He came to a stop a few steps away.

“She can’t touch us, but can we touch her? How will we get her out?”

The thought was unwelcome, not having thought that far he decided in the moment, as he often did, it would be better to figure things out as he went.

“Oh dear, Enryn. I assumed you would have stayed on the deck. These places can be dangerous.”

She gestured ambiguously to the hold.

“What do you want from this, Mardiell?”

She giggled, her blonde curls bounced as they always had.


Enryn forced the thought out of his mind. That was exactly how he’d wound up here.

“Come here and I will explain it to you.” Her smile was sweet, and sickly so. Even there, cornered by sailors and an angry captain, she refused to back down from whatever it was she was searching for.

“Girl, you need to get off of my ship.”

Mardiell giggled. “I will, sir, but not before I take what I came for.” She waved to the two sailors who led her to the crate. “Be away from me, now.”

They obeyed, marching to the far end of the aisle and standing with their backs turned.

She knelt to the crate and rooted through it for a moment before one of the captain’s men stepped forward.

“Get your hand out of there.” He growled, drawing his saber.

“Please leave.” She pressed her fingers against his extended knuckle, and as if overcome with complacency the sailor lowered his weapon and nodded. Then, obeying her orders, shoved his way past the rest of his crew out of the aisle.

“Where do you think you’re going?” The captain roared.

“It isn’t worth it.”

Enryn didn’t know what was happening, not specifically. He knew there was something about her however, that they were woefully under equipped to tangle with.

“Why choose such an obtuse method to smuggle some gold?” He asked while she pulled a small chest of embossed coins from the crate.

“It’s not the gold. That is payment for a job well done, I could care less about the money.” She continued rooting through the box while he and the sailors remained in place, none of them dared to approach out of fear.

“I will be out of your hair in but a moment, Enryn. I promise.”

The captain shoved past him, his own sword drawn.

“Stand up, girl.”

She didn’t.

“This is your final warning.” He rattled the words through crooked, spoiled teeth and Mardiell barely glanced in his direction.

“I do believe you will regret what comes next.” She spoke without even bothering to look at the man who, in turn, raised his weapon.

The following moment spun his mind into confusion as the captain swung the blade down onto the girl and plunged it into her side. He raised the sword a second time and thrust it down into her shoulder, and Enryn watched it sink beneath her flesh.

She didn’t scream, she didn’t even move and yet, her voice echoed from behind them.

“Thank you for the time, boys.”

He whipped back to see her marching past them with a small leather bag clutched tightly in her arms. In disbelief, he spun back to the captain who still held his sword in the woman’s side, only, it wasn’t the woman. It was one of the two sailors who brought her to the crate.

“Please, Captain, I’m sorry.” He mumbled through a bloody mouth. The captain’s blade piercing his side.

A swell of sickness overcame Enryn, like he’d spun one too many times and came to an abrupt halt.

“What happened?” He muttered.

“Kill them.” Her voice echoed.

Enryn’s confusion became fear as the captain turned, his emotionless face toward them as he raised his weapon.

The sailors scrambled backward, just as confused as he was, and Enryn launched himself from the aisle, sprinting out of the ship to find Mardiell. Behind him, the captain caught up to one of the sailors. The sound of shouting, accented by the clash of metal rang through the hold as Enryn emerged from the depths of the ship and saw Mardiell quietly walking along the dock, touching each of the dockhands and sailors as she passed by. The leather bag slung over her shoulder.

He didn’t pause to think, and sprinted toward her across the dock. Her voice echoed in each body he passed, over and over repeating the same two words.

“Stop him.”

As if she were beside them all, instructing them one at a time.

Ducking beneath the swing of one dockhand, sending it crashing into another of his mother’s employees, he spun to face one of the sailors who approached with their sword drawn and dove behind a post. The blade of the sword slammed into the pillar and he glanced, to count the bodies behind him as he saw the first sun rising from the sea.

His heart skipped. “The sun is rising?” He ducked beneath another swing and leapt over a pile of crates left by a possessed dockhand.

“There is no way the sun is coming up. Night had just started when we moved below deck.”

Mardiell continued to march peacefully in front of him, not bothering to check over her shoulders as she reached the gate.

Chaos erupted on the docks as, in moments, her effects faded from all but a few, positioned near the docks. The captain stumbled from the hold and shouted.

“The woman is a lying witch!” He screamed.

Enryn stopped. His mind whirled with the past events. Through the dizziness and exhaustion that erupted from him, he scanned the docks. He’d watched her leave, but if she had, why were there still dockhands standing lazily, as if they didn’t care what was happening.

”The entirety of the shipyard embroiled in the chaos, and three of them chose to stay out of it?”

He took a step toward them, and one of the three turned to face him.

“I knew it.”

He took another step and ducked below the large man’s fist. It crashed into another laborer behind him and the brawl erupted once more, but as the second and third of Mardiell’s men moved forward, she tipped her hand.

Enryn couldn’t place how she was doing what she was doing, but he knew she needed to remain near those she affected.

He lurched between the deckhands and reached for the space behind him, where the blonde woman stood, crouching beside an offloaded pile of crates. His fingers caught the leather strap of the bag and he gripped it, pulling himself through.

“Caught you.” He sputtered.

“Hardly.” Mardiell said with a forced laugh. The bag in his hand jerked to the side, but she didn’t move. Still, he held on as tight as he could, as one of her deckhands approached with a fury on his face. He braced for the impact, and held the strap of leather as tightly as he could. On the other end, something continued to pull.

“Let go!” Her voice came from somewhere, outside of his vision, perhaps, but it was not the woman who remained in place, holding the bag, crouched beside the crates.

The dockhand crashed into him and he braced for the hit, but as the large man careened into him, he realized he felt nothing. At all.

“Illusions.” He thought, and with as much strength as he could, he yanked on the leather handle.

As if shattering a stained glass window, the world around him splintered into pieces. His vision erupted from the sight of a dock-wide brawl in the mid morning, and through the cracks he saw the truth. It was night, and numerous deckhands and sailors were lying on the seawater laden planks, snoring peacefully. Save for a few of them, who had been fighting on another, duped by the girl’s charm.

In his hand, he held the leather bag by one end of the handle, and attached to the opposite end with white knuckles and tears in her eyes, was Mardiell. The true Mardiell.

“Clever.” Enryn nodded. “Now tell me what’s so important about this bag.”

She sobbed. “I can’t explain it to you, Enryn. Just look inside.”

She released her grip, and he pulled the satchel close to him, reaching out to touch her face, to be certain she was still there, before he investigated it further.

He peered inside the bag and as the lantern light illuminated its contents, he heard her voice snicker once more.

“Shame it had to end this way, Master Hile. I really did think you were cute.”

The bag left his hands suddenly, a soreness on his fingers as he tumbled forward and he watched Mardiell, or rather, the visage of her, who had been weeping only moments before, step back and walk toward the gate.

“How many times will I see you leave, tonight?” He thought to himself.

A moment later, a loud splash sounded beneath the docks and the illusion was shattered once more, the night replaced by morning light and the dockhands slowly waking. This time, Mardiell was nowhere to be found and he realized she’d tricked him once more.

He shook the dizziness off of him and approached the dockside where the splash came, and found, lying on the wooden pier a small gold coin with her pink lipstick kiss decorating one face. Beside it, there was a small crystal. It was rounded on one end, and on the other appeared to have been affixed in something at some point. Small scratches decorated the sharp edges and as soon as he touched it, he realized what it was.

It was a Dragon Gland.

His mind spun up with possibility, curiosity threatened to overtake him in wonder, and had it not been for the voice of a woman booming over the docks he would have been consumed by it.

“Enryn Hile! What is the meaning of this?”

If he’d not been knocked out of Mardiell’s illusions already, the sound of Amberis Hile shouting at the top of her lungs would have done the job and then some. He pocketed the items and sheepishly stood, scratching his head.

“I was looking for something?”

His mother, the short, wide and ferocious old woman tapped her finger on the bannister that descended from her office.

“Come up here and explain to me why our loading dock has been backed up for hours.

Enryn made his way to the steps and into the office before he closed the door behind him.

“I’m not sure I can explain, but I think I know how to start.”

She nodded.

“I’d like to apply to Veilus Academy, to become one of the Chronomagus.”

Amberis Hile laughed loud enough, and long enough, that Enryn thought he’d never stop hearing it.

Thank you for reading!

The above is the first of three interludes, each of which are going to be released on Fridays in April, while I take some time to plan the next step of the main storyline — I hope you’ve enjoyed the first Interlude.

Interlude Two is out next Friday!

Sisters of Westwinter is an episodic fantasy series taking place in a world torn apart by the greed of mortals. Dragons, which populate the world, are considered a pest to be exterminated and harvested for the valuable pearls within their bodies. These pearls power grand machines used by the Merchant Guilds to continue to build up their own empires. 

When a young woman named Emry discovers her valley was protected by a great silver dragon, she promises him on his deathbed she will flee from the valley to elude those who wish to seek her harm. She does not know how, or why she matters to the dragon, but she obeys. On her escape with another of the dragons, she is shot down and imprisoned, branded a "witch" for her bond with Balshenai, a fearsome golden scaled dragon.

Locked in prison, she can only think of her family, killed by mysterious men in the night, and Balshenai's final words to her.

"Seek Westwinter"


Big News: I’ve recently started a Ko-fi Shop!

If you would like to help support me as I continue to expand these universes, I would be deeply appreciative.

It is a work in progress, but I will be building a tier system where you will be available to get some neat rewards and more down the road, until then it’s just a little cup of coffee! If you feel inclined to drop me a dollar or two, I would be so grateful. Every cent donated goes directly back into this — Allowing me to pay for website fees and pay for artists for novel related work, etc.

Regardless of your decision, thank you for being here. 🔺

A.T. Baines Ko-Fi

Mental Health

Mental Health is a dear topic and I want to encourage support for anyone who is in the midst of trying to help in whatever capacity.

If you feel comfortable, consider taking a look at some of the following organizations who are doing work to provide support for those struggling with various mental health struggles.




More Sisters of Westwinter:

[SOW] Interlude Three: The Seafarer’s Secret

To do what was required of her meant in most cases she needed to silence the part of herself that called out with the cries of the sinking crews. On her last run, as soon as she and her crew boarded the vessel and began tearing apart their commodities, she realized immediately it was not…

[SOW] Interlude Two: The Shoemaker’s Rival

Masym Helmund was a crafty man, and he’d been in the game for a long, long time. Approaching his golden years, he was hellbent on reaching retirement age so that he might, finally, take his scales to a distant town. Perhaps Meekhill, where he could enjoy the seaside calm without the ceaseless drone of busybody…

SOW: Chapter Five, Part Five: A Single Spark

The Nail Ward, as they called it, was as miserable as it looked from the outside. The thousands of needles covering the floor and walls made it impossible to relax, and sleep was terribly out of the question. So Kerrick stood in the corner waiting, patiently, for the sunrise.

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