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Pale Dancers

by Sean Hutzell ’15

It wasn’t alive, but it had a heart, and it beat in a slow rhythmic, rumble of a tone. The vibrato changed ever so slightly after a dip in the road and at the turn of the wheel. The young man sitting behind the wheel wrapped his hands around the top, back and forth, back and forth, so hard that his skin began to peel, smoothing itself and leaving a raw, red palm in the morning cold.

His countenance was that of an old-spirited man. Prematurely graying, his hair and fine lines along the forehead mislead all from his true age of twenty seven. A burn curved under his left eye, giving him the look of sage and warrior in his khaki pants, black turtle neck, and fleece.

The man sat straighter in the black leather seat, warm from the built-in car heater, cracking his back and neck as he did. For the first time in half an hour, he looked at the land around him. Fields and pastures line the country road. Farms lay beyond, but an early morning fog rested low to the ground. Horse country. He thought of the trots, the canters, the gallops, the grace at which a creature so large moved, imprinting soft ground with angled hoof marks. The foals still wobbling on their legs, unable to fully stand, but wanting so badly to make their parents proud, wanting to canter along side them in afternoon warmth.

Through blood-shot and puffy eyes, the man tried to see the road in front of him as he neared a small intersection, wondering which way to go, but the hands and tendrils in the mist only beckoned him on giving no choice or direction.

His eyes were carried off the road and back to the mists, brightening with faint sunlight, diluted in the fog to a pale silvery and yellow topaz, to the wisps of cloud not part of the mass in front of him. Not separate either, lost bodies of matter neither here nor there; and yet, they were happy. They spun and twirled for the man, putting on a show for both him and the morning dew sparkling on each individual leaf and blade of grass.

The light grew brighter; the fingers in the mist pulled him ever onward, even as he clenched stirring wheel, and both pressed and released the gas in a slow, methodical motion. The man took a deep sigh, looking into the fields’ gathering light. Putting the wheel into a choker hold, the pale dancers lead the wheels off the road with a scream.

Old Friends

by Katie Sykes ’13

“Sir, she’s…she’s here.”

Noah stepped away from the Vermeer painting he had been restoring for weeks now and returned his goggles to their upright position on top of his head. The painting had been his biggest find and most complicated project in years. Each little pearl had been a separate challenge, and he had finally found the perfect combination of paint as to allow him to save this work. But it could wait. With his new visitor, it would have to.

“She’s in the drawing room. She wishes to speak to you.”

“I’m sure she does.” It wasn’t unlike Will – if he called her Willow, she’d kill him – to show up unexpectedly. However, she had made a surprisingly quiet entrance, which was very unlike her. There wasn’t one single explosion or airship crash.

Abandoning his work, he removed his gloves and face mask and marched passed his assistant for the drawing room. “Did she look all right, Thomas?” he asked. “What I mean is, is there anything I should be aware of?”

Thomas shrugged and followed his employer. “You’ll…You’ll see. There’s…I don’t know how else to explain it, sir.”

“That knothead is trying to give me a heart attack,” he muttered, stalking down the dimly lit hall. “I give you my Bible oath, she’s going to drive me to an early grave. If this is another one of her practical jokes, I’m gonna slice her—”

He stopped at the entrance of the room, taking in the sight of his childhood friend. A lot could change in two years; he understood that. But this just wasn’t her. Water rolled off her soaked clothes and hair and created a lake around her feet on the rug he’d bought years ago on a trip to India. Her knees knocked together and her teeth chattered so loudly that he at first mistook it for rattling dinner plates while she hugged herself.

“Someone get her a blanket!” he yelled to anyone in the area. “And some tea, dry clothes, and something to eat! Erin, draw her a hot bath!”

Finding his feet again, he rushed over and pulled her towards the sofa. Forcing her to sit, he grabbed the knitted blanket and wrapped it around her. She barely even noticed him. Her lips were bright blue, hazel eyes distant and dulling to look more like garbage, her face pale and accentuating the dark freckles. Strangest part was, it hadn’t been raining.

“…You smell like you swam in warm puke,” he said, hoping to get a rise out of her. He’d settle for any reaction, in truth.

She swallowed, and her lips cracked. Blood beaded against her bottom lip, the one she had a tendency to bite down on in deep thought. “Sewage, actually.”

So he’d likely have to burn that blanket too. Lovely. “What happened?”

“I…I…” A visible shiver ran through her.

Noah took Will’s hands and tried to rub some heat back into them. “Hey now, take your time. You’re safe here.”

She shook her head. “My…my Dad. He’s…m-m-missing.”

Which also wasn’t new. Her current condition, however, was. “Will, he’s gone missing before. He’s always fine. He’s probably just out of range—”

“No. Not like this.” She pulled her hands away and hugged the blanket tighter about her. “He…He said he’d be back a month ago—”

“And that’s happened before, too.”

Her glare cut through him. “And during any of those explorations, did someone’s private army ever break into my house, search for my Dad, and try to arrest me while also stealing all our work?”

…No. That was very new. “Oh.”

She nodded. “…I think I killed two of them. I don’t know. I ran out of ammo and my gun jammed…And my dad’s assistants…everyone in our house. They were shot. Right in the head, Noah! Their blood is on my walls! And my hands!”

She showed him her hands, which were only vaguely stained with blood. He wrapped his palms around hers to hide it. “How did you escape?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Morgan pushed me into the cellar when he saw them coming up the road. I heard the shots. I got out through the tornado hatch and saw them being shot through the window and then they saw me and chased me and…” She choked on a sob and Noah knew better than to call her out on it. “I ran. I hopped trains. I managed to hide in the sewers when they spotted me – burn it, they’re fast. Noah, I didn’t know where else to go.”

“You were right to come here.”

By this time, Thomas had returned with a stack of blankets, accompanied by another of Noah’s servants with a tray of tea and various sweets. He grabbed what looked like a chocolate chip cookie and broke off a small piece, gesturing to her mouth. “You need to eat something.”

She shook her head madly as if the cookie was poisonous. “No. My dad—”

“If there are people after you, it means Arch is alive and they want to use you as leverage. You’re safe now. No one knows I’m here. I’ve done a very good job of remaining invisible up here. Now, how long ago was this raid on your house?”

“A week ago,” she whispered.

“And you’ve been running all this time?” He lived in the middle of Tennessee in the mountains. She would have either had to have taken the rail – which he monitored very closely – or hike through bear-infested woods. And no one had…“You hiked here, didn’t you?” She nodded. “… You’re a bold one in a calm.”

“Would you have let me on the rail?”

…Probably not. The last time they spoke was right after his father died two years ago. He hadn’t seen her in the years prior and he just showed up broken on her doorstep. Despite their feuding before, their childhood friendship had returned for that time and that time only. Right after, they had returned to their usual screaming matches. Their fathers had been best friends, but Noah and Will only ever got along when their ages were still in the single digits. Worst part was, he knew he’d never forgive himself if he just turned her away.

Either way, he was still holding that bit of cookie and urging her to eat it. He whispered. “We’ll figure this out, Will. You really need to eat something.”

“No. I’m not hungry.”

“You’ve a split tongue.”

“Not true. I can’t even feel my stomach anymore. Can you feel your stomach? I haven’t been hungry in days. Thirsty, well, it’s a bit debatable—”

He shoved the cooling mug of tea against her lips to shut her up. “Drink.”

She gulped down half of the mug before he let her stop. “Great guns, what is that? It tastes like garbage!”

“Says the girl who’s been swimming in sewage.” He set the mug down and waved Thomas over with the tray. He grabbed a rag and soaked

it in hot water, then proceeded to wipe Will’s hands with it. It would clean some of the dirt, blood, and sludge off of her, enough so that she could at least take hold of the cookie herself. “Do these men know you’re in Tennessee?”

She shrugged, watching him wash her hands. “I…I don’t know. They saw me get on the train – in one of the animal carts; it was terrible – but I don’t know if they know where it was headed. The train took me to Memphis and I had to hitchhike and take smaller trains and rails and managed to steal a few horses to get here.”

“Will, that’s over four hundred miles.”

She just kept shaking her head. “I followed rivers. I used the horses. I followed roads. I fought off the black bears — and I now understand why they’re going extinct. They like attacking hikers like me, and I didn’t have a choice but to kill them!”

“I thought you didn’t have your gun!”

“I picked up a rifle back at the bottom of the mountain in one of those weird shops. Lost it on the way though…”

This girl was going to get him killed, he just knew it. He hung his head and forced a cookie in her hand. “Eat it.”

“I’m not—”

“Eat the damn cookie or so help me—”

“Fine!” Rolling her eyes, she took a bite out of the cookie. She had trouble chewing, and needed the tea to swallow it. “Happy?”

“Aye, deliriously.” He grabbed another cookie. “Now another.”

She glared down at him. “Are you trying to get me fat?”

“No. I’m trying to keep you from starving. Now, eat or I won’t help you.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but then clamped it back shut and took hold of the cookie. She broke off a small bit and stuffed it in her mouth. Noah was relieved that she was returning to her old self, even if he knew that he’d likely want to kill her within the next few minutes. And she’d want to kill him. It was how their estranged relationship worked.

“I need to find Dad.”

He leaned back, resting his hands flat on the wooden floor and rolled his eyes at Thomas, both already not liking how this was looking. “Where was he, do you know?” he asked.

“Quarantine.”

As quick and as confident as her answer came, it still managed to make the hearts of everyone in the room stop for a brief moment. Noah sat back up and glanced back at Thomas. “Could you go see that Erin makes up a room for Will here? And that the bath has been drawn and… Anything else you can think of?” Thomas nodded and ran off, grateful to be allowed leave of the place.

With a heavy sigh, Noah stood and looked anywhere but Will. “Why did he go to Quarantine?” No one went there. Some kind of strange plague had broken out years ago, causing the entire country to panic and scramble to seal it off, the people still inside. They built walls scaling up hundreds of feet, a reminder of the dangers kept contained, the country kept safe. At least, that was how it was supposed to be viewed. Many thought it was part of a government conspiracy and that Quarantine was holding either unbelievable weapons or some secrets on mutated humans. Will and Arch gathered these rumors and fed them to their already wild imaginations. Often, they’d joke about making a trip to Quarantine, just to see what was really there. Noah never thought the old man would ever actually be so daft as to try.

“People began going missing in the surrounding towns…There was a private backer for the expedition who wanted answers. Dad was curious. He thought the government was hiding something.”

He shrugged. “They’re always hiding something.”

“Which is what I thought, but the way he went about this…” She looked up at him, her hazel eyes clouded with tears. “He was obsessed. And when I tried to talk him down, he went on about human rights and how corrupt the system was and how he hated them like he had never ever done before. And then, one day…He just said he was going to Quarantine. Alone.”

Noah’s heart sank. This was a plausible story for Arch. It wasn’t unlike his character, although he had never done something this dull-witted before.

“He said he’d be back in a month and I waited. And normally, he sends word a week before his time’s up to tell me that he’s fine and will be staying longer. But nothing this time. So I did the shallow-pated thing and waited two more weeks and…I did something unbelievably clod-like.”

Not unlike Will at all, though she never meant it to be brainless. Her heart was always in the right place. She just had awful bad luck, he had come to realize. But to do something this powder-brained…“You went to the governor?

She nodded. “Aye, I asked if they could get in contact with Dad. I just wanted to make sure he was alive. I didn’t know where else to go to and thought maybe they could get in contact with him. I didn’t tell them about Dad’s suspicions, but they didn’t seem pleased. I left, went home, acted as if nothing was wrong. For a while, I thought everything was all fine and dandy. A week later…”

He nodded, finishing the rest of the story for her. “Men showed up, and another week more and you’re here.”

“That’s the verity of it.”

With a sigh, he leaned back against a chair. “For the moment, relax. Take a nice warm bath…Maybe a few of them. Wash your hair, would ya? You’re really stinking up the place.”

She glared at him, though he had hoped she wouldn’t. He hoped she would find it a joke. Evidently not.

“Look now, go wash up. I’ll have some clean clothes brought up to you. We’ll have dinner. We’ll get you back to your usual sarcastic and snarky form in no time. And I’ll work on what to do with Arch, aye? No one knows we’re here. Just go bathe, will ya?” When she didn’t move, he went over and held out his hand for her. “Please?”

She shook her head. “I can’t relax when my dad’s missing.”

“Just for today,” he said.

Again, when she didn’t move, she forced his hand. He grabbed her under the arm and pulled her up to her feet. She faltered slightly, but refused any further help he offered. She pushed herself away and started for the door. “I’ll find my way.”

Shaking his head, he resigned himself to another round of blows later, but for now, there would be one more that he wasn’t expecting. Before she left, she placed her hand on the doorframe and turned back slightly with a smirk. “You’ve done good for yourself, Noah,” she said. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”

Noah wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he just stared after her while she walked away, no doubt all too happy that she had managed to have the last word.

A Time to Sow

by Valerie Dunn ’15, Staff Writer

The fan overhead whirs feebly at the heat which came too early and hovers, a thick smog of grease in the kitchen. At the stove, Mother fries an egg.

“Nothing like the sound of eggs frying in the pan,” Mother says.

Daughter stares into her orange juice and nods. She tilts the glass toward her lips. The ice cubes crash against her teeth. Daughter does not drink.

“Cheese?”

Daughter shakes her head.

In the pan the yoke sizzles then pops.

“What happened to pulling weeds this morning?”

“It’s hot,” Daughter mumbles.

“It’s hotter now. They say it’s supposed to reach 80 later. You could nearly go swimming.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No. I… don’t feel like it,” Daughter says. “Maybe I’ll go back to bed.”

“You slept until nine.”

“I know how long. And I couldn’t sleep.”

“The heat —we didn’t expect it,” Mother says.

“Yeah.”

The plate thuds before Daughter.

“It’d be good to hang your laundry now, before it rains later.”

Daughter stares at the egg sandwich.

“Maybe it won’t rain.”

“It will.”

Mother sits across from the daughter. She sighs, wipes her brow. “I’m going into town later. Do you need anything?”

Daughter chews, swallows, shrugs. “I don’t know.”

Mother stirs her iced tea. “Make up your mind sometime. But you need to do the laundry. Your father nearly broke his neck stepping over your sheets. Don’t pull them off your bed to just leave them in the hall.”

“I didn’t mean to. I had to go to the bathroom and then I forgot.” Daughter stops eating, tries to sip her orange juice. The insides of her palms collect humidity. Her thin, pre-teen thighs rattle guiltily against each other. “I was going to move them,” she says.

“You didn’t and I’m used to it.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s not enough to be sorry if you’re going to let it happen again.”

“It won’t.”

Mother sighs, then says, “And what do you need to wash your sheets for anyway? Last month’s electric bill was too much to repeat. You don’t need to wash your sheets every single week.”

“I had a nightmare and I was sweating.”

Mother stares at her daughter, Daughter stares at the egg. It is thick and fried and rejected.

“I made you breakfast so you could eat it, not look at it,” Mother says.

“I’m not very hungry. I don’t feel well.”

“It’s hot, no one does,” mother says. “Too hot for springtime.”

“I think I’ll just go back to bed.”

“Not without eating what I made you and certainly not without putting something on your mattress.”

“I’ll throw up if I eat anymore.”

“You’ve had a bite. You said you wanted this.”

“Yes, but it’s hot,” Daughter whispers. “And I feel so full.”

They sit in silence, not really looking at each other. Mother clicks her teeth impatiently. Daughter, stagnating in the heat, feels her body draining itself.

Irish Church

Trinity

by Kimberly Uslin ’14

She is compelled by the Bible in her mother’s hands the night before. It had been so long since she had prayed. She steps into the Church like a thief begging sanctuary, her hands folded in the awkward pose of schoolchildren. Her knuckles splinter against each other. Where they touch, her skin is as white as the innocence she had lost. This may, of course, be penance.

Her gaze falls on the arced ceiling for lack of direction. The stern eyes of a bearded God frighten her, and chubby babies seem impossible angels. She begins to nervously whisper a Hail Mary, stumbling over the words, distracted by the breath in her throat. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, Give us this day our…no. “Talk to God like a friend,” her parochial schoolteachers had said. With her friends, she speaks of nothing but sin. Her whispers grow louder.

Bearing witness to the plans of mice and men, she falls asleep in the pew. Her arms and legs curl into her body as if to avoid some inexplicable wrath. The votive candles flicker around her, the prayers of the faithful going up in smoke. Stained glass windows pour scarlet radiance onto her open face, the light telling stories of salvation on the untouched skin of her palms.

Photography by Aileen Gray ’14

Euoloy

by Sean Hutzell ’15

All Ye Need to Know

“To write from the heart is difficult. It means to tell the unbending truth, the utter and sometimes painful truth. To let the truth flow and bubble up from the cracks is harder. An uncompromising heart tells a love song of happiness, pain, life, and death, which must be sung loud and clear for a crystal element to take form and power the beauty in the world.

Beauty is not what something should be; beauty just is. Beauty is the justice and injustice of the ever moving cycle of the world, the orphaned child starving in the streets, and the wealthy sitting in a winged back leather chair wearing a cashmere sweater and silk tie. It is the blooming of a flower in a crack of cement, before it withers in summers first heat and the fading, breaking of leaves in a cooling autumn.

Writing or telling the truth is but one aspect of humanity. Others see the truth and bask in its brilliance. They watch light play of a stained glass window, observe a sunset, and watch blood trickle out of a cut. The world is theirs for the taking, to be mesmerized, losing themselves as they are caught up in its ever moving colors, shapes, and forms of which they are never apart.

A third category contains the poor of spirit, the ones that have not been blessed with the power to partake or watch. They can only ask ‘Where?’ or ‘What?’ not knowing about the beauty pouring itself on them day and night. They are unable to see justice in trails and tribulations. However, their time will come, and does come; and the sight will spread, enlightening the people of the world. But how can I begin with this story? Where will I begin? Marty had been one of these latter people, but he changed later in life and became the warm person I had known in childhood.”

Andrew paused clearing his throat, took a worn tissue out of his pocket, and dabbed his eyes. Andrew had not seen Marty in years and now he had been asked to relate a life he had forgotten long ago. Standing behind the altar, Andrew missed Marty more than ever. And as he stared down through blurred eyes trying to read the paper, already wet with running black ink, he thought of blackberries.

 

 

A left onto Pontiac Trail, then another left, one more, and finally a right. Just over the crest of the hill lay the most colorful house I had ever seen. Not on the outside, but inside. Each room was a different color, bright green, sun yellow, sky blue, and a blazing orange. Always with good taste, Mrs. Kaylin had painted the house herself, creating a home. My favorite room was the African room, as I affectionately called it. It was the sun yellow room that had wide glass doors to let even more golden light in. Covering the chairs and couches were a series of mismatched blankets and pillows – zebra stripes, brown native looking patterns, and faded orange tiger stripes. On the wall next to the small stone fire place was a large African mask. At least two feet long, its gaping mouth always looked surprised. Not one to question a person’s history or background, I always assumed it was just a personal preference in décor. It wasn’t until I was older that I find out that both of Marty’s parents were Dutch South Africans.

The first time I got together with Marty was during the summer. School was over and the plants and flowers were in full bloom. Mrs. Kaylin had come out to greet my mother and me.

“Hello, nice to finally meet you. My name is Sicily.”

“Catherine, nice to meet you.”

I patiently waited for them to make pickup arrangements and then went inside to find Marty. He was on the couch in the African room loading rubber band guns. “Hey, look!” He shot a pistol at the open door that led to the back lawn. The band soared through the air and landed in the grass thirty feet away.

“That’s so cool!” He handed me a rifle and pistol, giving me instructions.

“My brother, Brandon, has a friend over and we are going to have a war outside. They are hiding somewhere outside now with the same guns. We’ll have to be quiet and sneaky to find a good base of operations.” At the early age of 7, we were both avid history buffs, each having fallen in love with a different war. The Civil War was my favorite; for Marty it was World War II.

When we were equipped and ready, we darted out the backdoor and ran down a slight incline for the bushes. Once we were behind the bushes, we organized and looked around. Neither Brandon nor his friend Henry were anywhere to be seen.

“It seems we’ll need to stock up on food for a siege. Who knows

where they went?”

“I don’t know, Marty. What are we supposed to do for food?” I always took a back seat with the story line of our current adventure. Somehow it seemed appropriate, fair even. I was the popular one at school because I was smart, funny, and a likeable guy; Marty was simply the cool one, who I happened to top on almost every single test. He also seemed to truly transport himself into another world when we played.

“Alright. Over here.”

“Where? We are in the open…”

“Don’t worry about it. These are so fresh.” We had come to what I thought were vines on the backyard fence, but as it turned out, they were berry bushes. There were hundreds of blackberries along the fence and at the end of the yard stood a sagging apple tree. We began to pick and eat right off the vine. We jumped and grabbed apples, throwing the cores away into a small, garden compost container. The fruit was wonderful. It was tart on my tongue and sweet down my throat. It ran down our fingers, on to our hands, and made our palms sticky with juice.

 

 

“When Marty moved four years later, I lost contact with him; I couldn’t be the only one making the phone calls and instigating conversation. I tried, but became tired of being the active friend. Besides, I had a life of my own and he wasn’t as much a part of it anymore….or at least that was how it felt. Through the magic of the internet we reconnected almost twenty years later, when Marty moved just under two hours away from me. He had his dream job – a captain in the SEALs. He went through ROTC and worked his way up. He didn’t let anything get in the way of his life, of being alive. But we had changed. We were both very different leaders in our respective professions and it got in our way of friendship.

“I was a high school teacher at an International Academy.

Marty’s life was open ‘classified.’ On a hot summer night, in central Asia, he led his team on an extraction mission. As one of his men told me, they were ‘getting a friendly out of a really bad place.’ Although the mission was successful, things went wrong. Marty died.

“I think he died the way he lived.’

“I think he would be very satisfied.’

I think I will eat blackberries that are sweeter than when I was a child.

Scrollwork

Meditations on the Quiet(us) of the King

by Madeline Zins ’15

I.
You are the solace
of a gentle
d
e
e
p
breath.
You are the swell of
midnight worlds, of flashlight wisdom
below starry cotton dream-webs.
You are constantly aware
of leaving flowers pressed
in books and tethered in hair amid brooks.
You are peace and interest
without tension—
the lotus left blooming
and I am swooning,
booning at myself for crooning
and pining
beneath oak and
sturdy willows,
weeping.

II.
What I wanted was to write a testament
that breathed
life back in
to me—encapsulating, clarifying,
gossamer clear, mist-fading;
something to wake
and to whelm,
something to cultivate concern
and smiles of ease,
something to invict us.
My unbowed head,
bloodied by nothing,
breathes only the exhumed air, hugged
close to my long-laid childlike resentment.
What I wanted was to write a testament
for the world,
to fix it. To wake us up to one another. To feel each other’s pain.
And when I tried, what I got
was his burdened sigh and rage-distressed eye,
and my own forced removal—like a besmirching mark driven out.
What I got was nothing.

III.
I heard you today,
a whisper, a call;
it came from you
I know.
I know because I listened to its frail
thin matter
on the shores of some beach along the sea
and felt instantly
the embrace of
faultless comfort in the hug of sandy banks,
the prickle of plump whiskers of weeds scratching me on the coastline
and the taint of sea salt whipping words of grief in my face.
and I imagine you as you might be, wondering about me,
wondering about you,
and I know it’s false, still,
I hope you’ll hear my call soon, too.

Photograph by Aileen Gray ’14.

Occipital (of the black skull)

by Rachel Brown ’13

The leaning down of shade and green
into a solemn day, the preen
of mallards, clear, the surface calm
as iris, curving in my palm

and blurring in the afternoon,
the raining smell, the tree-smooth room
its windows bared, its neck as cool
as sleeping skin, entwined, in bloom

like light drawn from the morning sky,
from space, the stars unmooring, sighs
of color, flame, the freezing breath
within my ribs, my face, to press

my eyes into the locust dark,
to pray the signal fire heart
would burn as bright, would stay, the red
on its imagined peak, the bed

behind me full of night, as brave
as dreams. My body, new and strange
to me, to mine, consumed my self
with light. A door. A spring in swell.

All Blade

by Katie Sykes ’13

I marched down through the tunnels, past the jails with the drug-riddled and homicidal, towards the dragon pens. The scales, bones, and pelts held value, but too many still flew over the city, killing innocent folks and causing other problems.

I looked ahead at the earth-brown wyvern screeching in the chains that kept it tied to the floor. According to one of the captains, this drake had ripped apart a man outside the western gates. The wyvern’s underbelly shone a bright gold, its eyes as red as fire. The creature, when not slashing around, stood about as big as a Clydesdale with a wingspan double that.

“Pin it,” I said, glancing at the dozen or so new recruits who’d never killed a drake, much less anything this big.

They stared back with pale faces. Rolling my eyes, I took the crossbow from the wall and stood beside the wyvern. It squawked and screamed and screeched so loud that half the recruits covered their ears with their hands.

“With a wyvern, their wings are their arms.” I released the safety and gestured to the beast. “Take them out, make them useless to the drake and you can get the kill.”

I peeked across the room at my father, watching and evaluating me. He’d been doing that ever since the night with the Connelly lass – as if she had found a way to dig her claws into me.

I lined up the shot, watching the wyvern thrash around and beat its wings. The chains held it down a good bit, but not enough to prevent myself a whacking on accident. The talons at the topmost point of the wings could still slice clean through my throat at the right angle. I exhaled and pulled the trigger, the bolt flying clean through the wing, pinning it to its side with a scream that could knock down mountains. Without flinching, I walked around and took the shot to the other wing.

I handed the crossbow back to a captain. “From here, take the kill.” Drawing my sword, I walked back around it. Desperate for escape, the wyvern took little notice of me with all its battering about.

“If you can, go for the soft underbelly.” I pointed the sword at the gold torso. “Notice the different coloring. Here you can make an easy stab. Go for the heart.” I brought the blade up to just under the wyvern’s neck. The thrashing subsided and it, wary of my movements, lifted its head so the blade hovered just under it. “Notice also the belly color runs up to the chin. Another good spot. Nice, clean kills are best if you can get ‘em. Nothing can survive a decapitation.”

I brought the tip of the blade down to the concrete floor and gripped the hilt tight with both hands. The dragon relaxed its shoulders, its wings bleeding, but not flapping. I swung upwards and sliced clean through the drake’s neck. The head fell behind me, blood spurting on my black and blue jerkin. I wiped the few drops from my face and turned away from the collapsed wyvern towards the recruits. A captain handed me a cloth and I cleaned the blade without a thought. “And that, gentlemen, is how you kill a wyvern.”

I sheathed the sword and, promptly excusing myself from their presence, glanced down the line at the other drakes up for execution, all with crimes that suited their wild and lethal nature.

I neared the barred cage of a gargoyle that appeared smaller than the others. His bright blue body shivered in the cage, backing himself into a corner. One of his wings flapped wildly, but the other remained limp against his thinning form. The ribs poked through the scales and lines of blood crusted over his leathered skin.

“Oz!” I barked. “What’s this one here for?”

The short and stocky white-haired man waddled over to me with a leather-bound book. Muttering something to himself, he flipped through a few pages and ran his finger down the lines. I glanced at my father who still watched me from across the room.

My father was a blade: all sharp edges and not one soft spot on him. And where he stood, he was a freshly sharpened one hanging on the wall, waiting for me to mess up so bad as to kill me right then and there.

Oz said, “Private Jensen found him climbing out of the sewers.”

Father walked up beside us. He looked from me to the gargoyle and said in the calmest of voices, “Take him to the roof and kill him.”

My head whipped around. “What?” Killing gargoyles was standard practice, as they were like cockroaches, but something he said wasn’t making sense. “Why take him to the roof?”

Oz shook his head and walked off, leaving me and my father. He glared right back at me, then relaxed with his hands grasped behind his back. He looked over the gargoyle and nodded. “You always wanted explanations for everything. You never could leave well enough alone.”

Meaning I’d never get a real explanation. Such was his way with me.

Grunting, I grabbed the cage and stomped off to the stairs.

On the roof, the cold wind whipped my face and I slammed the door behind me before dropping the cage. The gargoyle whimpered and I told him to shut his trap. Gargoyle statues surrounded the roof of the training grounds, their stone faces leering down at people as they walked by, a constant warning to the dangers these creatures were.

I knew my father had something absolutely devious up his sleeves, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out, at least not with this wee bit of information he oh so graciously bestowed upon me.

I raked my hands through my hair and stared at the drake. The gargoyle whined and clawed at the edge of the cage, his eyes wandering up to me in fear and begging for me to take pity on him. I crouched down to get a better look.

He had to be the runt of the litter, as he was about the size of a grapefruit, a wee thing with a broken wing and golden eyes. His left ear flopped over like a puppy’s, and immediately I thought back to Vesta Connelly’s gargoyle. That one hadn’t attacked me. She had that one trained and kept as a pet, looking so much like this one.

He shivered, then looked up at me. For the briefest of moments, I thought I saw some fire flash in those bright eyes of his. But just as quickly, it died into pure terror.

I drew the curved sword from my belt and quickly opened the cage door. The gargoyle blinked at me, then carefully pawed out, constantly looking around the roof. I raised the sword and, shrieking, the gargoyle curled down closer to the floor. He just looked so small and helpless, so innocent.

Down below, my father waited for me to carry in a gargoyle’s carcass. In over ten years, I had never once faltered when executing a dragon. But those had always fought back.

I dropped my sword.

I couldn’t do it.