A Vanishing Glow is the exciting opening to The Mystech Arcanum series, a deep and thrilling blend of steampunk and flintlock fantasy with mature themes.
It is an Age of Revolution, an Age of Industrialism. Constructs, living men who are as much brass and steel as they are flesh, man the factories and wage the wars of a ruling elite who gorge themselves on the fruits of the common man’s labor. Mystech, a brilliant fusion of magic and machine, gives rise to a new class of privileged inventors and merchants even as the country festers with wounds from decades of internal strife. Only one man holds the promise of a brighter future: Nole Ryon, the crown prince. When his childhood friend Jason Tern answers his call for aid, the two of them set out to fight for the change their country needs in order to survive, even as shadowy foes frustrate their efforts. But soon, Jason and Nole’s idealistic mission of hope becomes a furious manhunt for a political murderer as the nation balances on the precipice of a country-wide civil war. Can they cut through the threads of intrigue to discover their true enemy before everything is lost?
Below is the thrilling opening to A Vanishing Glow:
One construct already hung from the solitary oak tree in the clearing before them, dead, still twitching like a marionette on the branch, while his companion screamed, fighting for his life. Two burly men in leather work vests held the remaining construct fast, one to each side, while the ringleader tightened a noose under his chin. Sunlight glinted off the brass-and-steel arm restrained behind the construct’s back as he struggled against his captors. The ringleader stooped to gather the end of the rough hempen rope and tossed it into the air. It arced over a thick branch of the tree, beside the first rope, and sailed back down into his calloused hands. He yanked hard, and their captive jerked with a strangled gasp.
“I count five of them,” Jason whispered. He and his Windriders would have the element of surprise if they stepped in now. The workmen looked more like common thugs than real fighters—bullies who’d talk big while they had the upper hand, but would back down quickly from the business end of a sword.
“Five is two more than we have, and they all have clubs,” Albas grumbled. He spit his tobacco into the dirt and pulled his cap low over his eyes. “I don’t like those odds if it comes to a fight. We should wait for our outriders.”
“It won’t come to a fight.” Their grizzled sergeant, Lugan, loosened his sword in his scabbard and drew his flintlock pistol. “Trust an old veteran. Those men are cowards.”
The construct screamed again as the two remaining men joined the ringleader and prepared to hoist him into the air. He kicked and scrabbled at the dirt, jerking from side to side. His captors gritted their teeth and held on. The construct wasn’t a large man—scrawny and pale with a mop of dark hair; Istkherian, judging by the style of his factory-made clothes. He would have been no threat at all to the burly men surrounding him, except for the long, skeletal arm with the joins and pistons visible which protruded from the stump of his shoulder. His construct arm lacked the plated armoring or reinforced leverage of a war model. It was stronger than an average man’s arm, but not strong enough to break free of their grip, and little help against a hanging once they had him strung up.
“I won’t stand by while they kill him,” Jason said. Not unless the council approves it, and this doesn’t look sanctioned.
“Your call, Captain.” Albas drew his own pistol. “Let’s just hope they don’t have friends hanging back. Numbers have a way of curing cowardice.”
Jason plunged through the foliage into the open air of the clearing, sword at the ready, with Lugan and Albas close behind him.
“Stop what you’re doing, in the name of the Council of Ghavarim,” he called out.
Everyone froze, eyes popping wide, and stared at the long iron barrels his men had trained on them. The end of the hemp rope slid out of the ringleader’s fingers and dropped onto the ground with a tiny puff of dust.
Jason gestured toward the construct. “What’s going on here?”
“Who are you?” The ringleader squinted at them suspiciously over the tip of his pinched nose. His workman’s outfit had seen better days, and a thick wooden cudgel swung from a loop attached to his belt. “Those aren’t Crimson Fist uniforms you’re wearing.”
Another of the men with a face like sanded leather and a touch of gray at his temples coughed. “Those jackets—They’re Windriders. Militia-men, from Fen. Windriders haven’t been this far south of the border since the Ordist rebellion. What are you doing here?”
“I believe the Captain asked you the same question… And we have the guns.” Albas cocked his pistol and flashed them a crooked, yellow grin that was anything but warm.
Jason waved him down. They needed to defuse the stand-off; not trade banter. “I’m Captain Jason Tern, Lord of Fen, traveling to Adaron on council business. We heard shouts from the road and came to investigate.”
“These men are from Lagrish,” Lugan said. Jason nodded his agreement. Their southern accents had marked them clearly. Lagrish had never been friendly to constructs, but when had murdering them in broad daylight become acceptable?
“Yes, we are. Honest Lagrishmen.” The pinched-face man stuck his chest out and jerked a thumb at the constructs. “And these men are thieves, my lord. We’re having our justice.”
“I’m not a thief, I’m not!” The construct began to struggle again. “And neither was Peter! These men jumped—” He cut off with a muffled grunt as one of the men holding him cuffed him.
“You must have mislaid your magistrate’s robes.” Lugan turned his pistol toward the man who’d struck the blow. “Touch him again before you’ve explained yourselves and my finger might get itchy.”
“What did he steal?” Jason would eat his belt if the construct had actually taken anything from these thugs, but protocol required hearing both sides. He’d have to make a decision here. They didn’t have the manpower to drag all six of these men into Adaron for a judge to sort out. The ringleader opened his mouth but stopped as Jason held up his hand. “Not you.” He pointed to the youngest of the five men, standing a little back from the others in the clearing. “You.”
The sandy-haired youth’s eyes grew even wider. He licked his lips, throwing a worried glance at his comrades. “Er… well. That is… our jobs, I suppose.”
“He stole your jobs?” Jason wasn’t sure he’d heard him right.
“Our livelihoods!” The pinched-face man broke in again, shooting the boy a dirty look. He shifted nervously. “Pity, lord. You’re an Easterner. You must know how it is back East. We came from the Giltland to find work in Adaron, but it’s just as bad up here as it is down there. The capital is crawling with Western junkers like this claptrap, and they’re soaking up all the jobs because their freakish bits let them work faster. These two Istkherian constructs took our jobs and laughed at us as we were turned out.”
“And you’re killing them for this?” Albas sounded as surprised as Jason felt. Nole’s letters had mentioned that regional tensions were high in the capital, but he’d never expected it would be this bad.
“No one is killing anyone today,” Jason said. “East or west, you’re all citizens of the same Federation. Let him go.” He stared at the pinched-faced man until he nodded to his fellows. The burly men released the Istkherian.
The construct loosened the rope and yanked the noose off his head, throwing it to the ground. A red-and-purple ring of rope-burned flesh ran around his neck. He rubbed at it with his human hand, swallowing and glaring at his former captors. His brass fingers twitched at his side, jointed tips clacking together.
Jason lowered his sword. “Now that that’s set—”
The construct lunged at the pinched-face man with a deep growl and dug his hard brass fingers deep into the man’s head. The ringleader barely had time to let out a strangled scream before his skull split in the construct’s viselike grip, pinkish-gray matter squirting out like an overripe grapefruit. Jason stood in shock while the construct wailed, “You killed him! You killed Peter!”
Jason’s men stood similarly stunned. Then the other workers drew their cudgels and fell upon the construct.
“Hold him down! Hold him down!”
Before anyone could react, the two burly men wrestled the construct to the ground beside the mangle-headed corpse of their former leader, and the leather-faced man snapped open the tiny compartment on the construct’s arm. He yanked out a pale yellow mystech crystal, dropped it to the ground, and stomped on it with his heavy boot, twisting his heel for added crunch. The construct’s arm went dead, and he wailed with his face in the dirt.
“Stop! Stop this now!” Jason shook himself into action and started forward brandishing his sword, but it was too late.
The sandy-haired youth raised his cudgel high and then brought it down onto the construct’s head with a dull thud. Blood and gore spattered across the construct’s vest, and the four remaining men stood silent, chests heaving.
Jason pulled his pistol from his belt and fired it into the air. The workers scattered. They fled into the woods as a cloud of black smoke wafted up over the clearing. Albas lowered his gun. Lugan swept his pistol wildly back and forth, trying to aim at all the fleeing workers at once. Finally he lowered his too.
“What in the hell did you do that for?” Lugan asked.
“I didn’t want to kill anyone else today.” Jason stared at the corpses and the blood soaking into the dirt in front of them. Three too many have died already.
“I doubt they would have come along peacefully,” Albas said with a shrug. “It’s the same thing I’d have done.”
“We should have brought them in. It’s our duty.” Lugan gestured toward the two men lying on the ground. The third corpse still swung from the tree branch, rotating slowly in the breeze of the now-quiet clearing, eyes empty and bulging. “They’re murderers.”
“This is Crimson Fist territory,” Jason said. “We tried to prevent a murder, but we have no more right to exact justice here than these men did, whether we represent the council or not. We’ll give our full report to the watch on the way in to Adaron.”
Lugan stared at him, surprised. Was that a little cold? But what did it matter now? Dead was dead. Jason kept his face carefully controlled, even as he seethed inside. He’d come to prevent the loss of a life. Now three dead men taunted him. It was an ill omen for his first day in the city. I have to try harder. I should have been able to prevent that.
“That was justice? Looked more like plain old hatred.” Albas grimaced at the fallen men.
Jason understood how he felt. They’d all seen death, but it never got any easier. His hands shook as he sheathed his rapier.
“We’ll send for someone to gather up the bodies and notify their families as soon as we arrive.”
“You want to do anything with that?” Albas nodded toward the corpse that still hung from the oak branch, swaying softly in the breeze. “It doesn’t feel right to just leave it there.”
Jason drew his sword again, walked over to the body, hoisted it up, and hacked the rope clean through with a single swipe. The corpse was heavier than he expected, weighted down by the brass limb. He laid the body gently on the ground beside the others. “Better?”
Albas motioned to Lugan. “Do you want to say the words, Sergeant?”
Jason was relieved when Lugan jerked a nod. The old veteran was always better at this than he was. He bowed his head alongside Albas and waited for Lugan to speak.
“Molluth the Maker, Father above. We now consign the souls of these, our brothers, into your hands. May you guide them safely past Ari’s gate and into our Mother Eriam’s loving arms, to rise anew in an image you create for them.”
“And may Chali walk beside them in their next life to give them more luck than the sorry bastards had in this one,” Albas added.
A slight pause, and then all three in unison said, “So let it be granted, so let it be done.”
Lugan glared at Albas. “I don’t recall that addition being a standard part of the prayer.”
“What’s wrong with wishing them a little luck? If that goes on the ‘sins’ side of my entry in the book of Temprus, I’ll take the hit on their behalf.”
Jason grimaced. “Maker. I’d hoped this day would be a joyous reunion. Not a bloodbath.”
“We should go, Captain.” Lugan ran two fingers along each end of his thin moustache and down the length of his short, grey beard. “Lord Ryon will be expecting you.”
The three men made their way out of the thick copse of oaks, stepping over fallen logs and skirting bushes as they pushed toward the tree where they’d left their horses tied. Jason’s eyes strayed back to the clearing even after the woods had obscured the bodies.
“Is it like this throughout the Federation, I wonder?” Albas asked quietly. “They’re killing each other over factory jobs… It reeks of desperation. How can Ghavarim survive if things are this bad with the people? Isn’t anyone on the council paying attention?”
“Nole is,” Jason said. “And the only way forward lies with him.”
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About the Author:
Alexis Radcliff is an author, gamer, unashamed geek, and history junkie who spent the better part of a decade working in tech before dedicating herself to her first love, literature. Alexis lives and works in the Portland area with her adorable (if surly) cat and her equally adorable fiancé. When not writing, she spends her time reading, running, playing way too many videogames, and thinking too much about everything.