Rithmatist: The Aztlanian (forthcoming, TBD) Skyward: Cytonic, book three in the series, is set to be released on November 23, 2021. Defiant, the fourth and final book, will release in early 2023. Songs of the Dead: Standalone short work, in revision as of December 2018, release date TBD. Co-written with Peter Orullian.
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For Joel Sanderson, whose enthusiasm never stops
Lilly’s lamp blew out as she bolted down the hallway. She threw the lamp aside, splashing oil across the painted wall and fine rug. The liquid glistened in the moonlight.
The house was empty. Silent, save for her panicked breathing. She’d given up on screaming. Nobody seemed to hear.
It was as if the entire city had gone dead.
She burst into the living room, then stopped, uncertain what to do. A grandfather clock ticked in the corner, illuminated by moonlight through the broad picture windows. The city skyline spread beyond, buildings rising ten stories or more, springrail lines crisscrossing between them. Jamestown, her home for all sixteen years of her life.
I am going to die,
Desperation pushed through her terror. She shoved aside the rocking chair in the middle of the room, then hurriedly rolled up the rug so that she could get to the wooden floor. She reached into the pouch tied to a loop on her skirt and pulled out a single bone-white length of chalk.
Kneeling on the wood planks, staring at the ground, she tried to clear her mind.
She set the tip of the chalk against the ground and began to draw a circle around herself. Her hand shook so much that the line was uneven. Professor Fitch would have been quite displeased to see such a sloppy Line of Warding. She laughed to herself—a desperate sound, more of a cry.
Sweat dripped from her brow, making dark spots on the wood. Her hand quivered as she drew several straight lines inside the circle—Lines of Forbiddance to stabilize her defensive ring. The Matson Defense … how did it go? Two smaller circles, with bind points to place Lines of Making—
Lilly snapped her head up, looking down the hallway at the door leading to the street. A shadow moved beyond the door’s clouded window plate.
The door rattled.
“Oh, Master,” she found herself whispering. “Please … please…”
The door stopped rattling. All was still for just a moment; then the door burst open.
Lilly tried to scream, but found her voice caught in her throat. A figure stood framed in moonlight, a bowler hat on his head, a short cape covering his shoulders. He stood with his hand on a cane to his side.
She could not see his face, backlit as he was, but there was something horribly sinister about that slightly tipped head and those shadowed features. A hint of a nose and chin, reflecting moonlight. Eyes that watched her from within the inky blackness.
flooded into the room around him. Angry, squirming over floor, walls, ceiling. Their bone-white forms almost seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Each was as flat as a piece of paper.
Each was made of chalk.
They were each unique, tiny picturelike monsters with fangs, claws. They made no noise at all as they flooded into the hallway, hundreds of them, shaking and vibrating silently as they came for her.
Lilly finally found her voice and screamed.
“Boring?” Joel demanded, stopping in place. “You think the 1888 Crew-Choi duel was
Michael shrugged, stopping and looking back at Joel. “I don’t know. I stopped reading after a page or so.”
“You’re just not imagining it right,” Joel said, walking up and resting one hand on his friend’s shoulder. He held his other hand in front of him, panning it as if to wipe away their surroundings—the green lawns of Armedius Academy—and replace them with the dueling arena.
“Imagine,” Joel said, “it’s the end of the Melee, the biggest Rithmatic event in the country. Paul Crew and Adelle Choi are the only two duelists left. Adelle survived, against all odds, after her entire team was picked off in the first few minutes.”
A few other students stopped on the sidewalk to listen nearby as they passed between classes.
“So?” Michael said, yawning.
“So? Michael, it was the finals! Imagine everyone watching, in silence, as the last two Rithmatists begin their duel. Imagine how nervous Adelle would have been! Her team had never won a Melee before, and now she faced down one of the most skilled Rithmatists of her generation. Paul’s team had shielded him at their center so that the lesser players fell first. They knew that would get him to the end practically fresh, his defensive circle almost completely untouched. It was the champion against the underdog.”
“Boring,” Michael said. “They just sit there and draw.”
“You’re hopeless,” Joel replied. “You are going to the very school where Rithmatists are trained. Aren’t you even a little interested in them?”
“They have enough people interested in them,” Michael said with a scowl. “They keep to themselves, Joel. I’m fine with that. I’d rather they weren’t even here.” A breeze ruffled his blond hair. Around them spread the green hills and stately brick buildings of Armedius Academy. Nearby, a clockwork crab continued its quiet duty, chopping at the grass to keep it level.