Welp, it’s a new year and Palace of Glass is still not finished.
In fact, it did this to me:
In case you can’t see it, it’s at 133,683 words–over 13,000 words over my project estimate, and still going strong.
And there’s a little matter of Gobardon’s story arc which I need to clean up/massively overwrite.
I expect it to come in at 150,000 words at this point.
So: Good news is it is going to be a massive book full of exciting things and plot twists.
Bad news is… it’ll be a while.
But, to make a nice “news sandwich” of text, I do have something to give you all–and it’ll be along next week. And there will be even more news coming up, so stay tuned!
And, without further adieu, here’s today’s chapter. It’s in its second draft, so it’s still a bit rough.
Aiden’s sister was fierce, with sharp features and a hawkish stare that hit like lightning. Her boots clapped hard on the concrete as she walked. A wave of orange hair—a more vibrant version of Aiden’s somewhat-dulled head—fell past her shoulders, contrasting with the fitted black uniform she wore.
Although dressed more as security personnel than a soldier, she shared the same red-tinged pistol as the rest of the troops.
The man who followed her had a less aggressive air. Tall, with a neat cut of blond hair and pale eyes, he diminished his height with an unassuming posture—a tactic Mieshka recognized since Buck did roughly the same thing.
He appeared more amused than angered as they approached the ship.
Aiden’s sister stopped at the doorway, arms crossed over her chest. She pursed her lips as she looked down at her brother.
“You sure pick your timing,” she said.
There was silver in her hair. Not a lot, but enough to dull the copper. She glanced inside, scanning the situation on the inside of the ship. “Les?”
The man behind her—Les Amerand, Mieshka guessed—stepped up to the doorway and peered in. “Any injured?”
At first, Mieshka assumed he was talking about his own men—so she was surprised when the leader gestured to her and Aiden. “She had previous injuries. We should have her checked out. Him…”
Aiden waved a hand. “I’m fine. Just give me a cloth or something.”
“And a bed,” Mieshka said. “You’ve had even less sleep than I have.”
“We all need beds,” Jo grumbled.
“That can be arranged,” Les said. His gaze lingered briefly on Mieshka for a second, then slid up to something behind her. An eyebrow lifted. “Why is she bound?”
Ah. Kitty. Mieshka twisted around to get a look, gritting her teeth at the pain.
Thick lines of light wrapped around Kitty’s arms, legs, and mouth. With the way she was positioned—awkwardly between two boxes and on her side—she looked smaller than normal. More kid than grown woman.
The soldier next to her seemed a little sheepish. “She…ah…threw a knife at us.”
Les Amerand raised an eyebrow.
“—a charged knife,” the man amended hastily. “And she moved really fast.”
Someone snickered. “Yeah, really fast.”
Les Amerand sighed. “All right, back down. Let’s take our guests back to Finnevar. Kiet, Marka, bring a couple cars around. Ilia. Aeryn, you’re with us?”
“Ilia,” Aiden’s sister echoed. “Yes, I’m with you. What a shitshow. You all right, brother?”
“I’ll be better in the morning.” Aiden pushed himself up, wiping his bloody lip on the back of his hand. His eyes darted through the cabin. “Everyone good?”
Power flared behind her. A second later, Kitty shuffled off the boxes, dropped down to the grating, and dusted herself off.
Despite her quick imprisonment, she looked fit to go another few rounds.
Her crow-black eyes narrowed on the soldier who subdued her. Without a word, she held out her hand and cocked her head.
He dropped a glitter-studded switchblade onto her palm.
Her grin was lightning-quick as she pocketed it. “It wouldn’t suit you, anyway.”
“No,” he agreed. “It wouldn’t.”
Kitty flashed him a second grin, then snapped her attention elsewhere. “Gobby? Plan?”
Gobardon stepped forward. For the first time since the ship went down, light slanted across his face. His features looked drawn, strained—but his eyes had a sharpness that reminded Mieshka of his father.
“Go with them. We’ll figure it out from there.”
Mieshka frowned. Figure what out? Did they have some sort of plans in Mersetzdeitz? Something beyond running from Lyarne’s new foreign overlords?
Jo shifted beneath her, making her start. Mieshka had almost forgotten she was sitting on the mercenary.
“Time to get up?” she asked.
“Yup. My leg’s going numb.”
Mieshka looked around. “Anyone see my crutch?”
A shadow passed over her. She looked up to see Uncle Alexei stepping between her and the nearest soldier. He swung an arm down to her, offering his hand. “It fell in the fight. It should be just outside, if no one moved it.”
“Ah.” Their conversation had carried to the door. Mieshka saw Les Amerand look down. A bemused expression slipped across his face as he bent down.
When he straightened, a snarl of half-melted metal hung from his hand.
“Aeryn,” he said to Aiden’s sister, “would you be so kind as to find a replacement for Miss Renaud? This seems to have gotten caught in the cross-fire.”
A jolt from the road woke her up. She slumped in the backseat of an impressively large SUV, head leaning against and upper door handle on her right. Rain streaked the windows. Outside, Mersetzdeitz’s night-lights slid slowly by.
“You awake, kiddo?” Jo’s hand ran over her head. She hadn’t left her side. It said something that Mieshka’s dad, sitting on Jo’s other side, hadn’t managed to get between them. Light refracted through the car windows, its top edge curving across Jo’s tightly-coiled hair.
Mieshka blinked groggily and stifle a yawn. “How long have I been out?”
“A few minutes. You didn’t miss much.” Jo gestured to the road outside. “Traffic’s about as jammed as I remember it being.”
That’s right—Jo was from here. Mieshka wiggled a little straighter, gritted her teeth as the seatbelt slid over the bandage on her arm, and paid more attention to the street. Some of the signs were familiar—transnational chain stores, business firms, places that had fit into Lyarne’s downtown—but it all looked strange to her. As if she were seeing the city through a skewed lens.
“Do you know where we’re going?” she asked.
Jo nodded. “Finnevar. It’s basically the mage capital, from what I’ve heard. I’m not sure Aiden got around to explaining it.”
“He didn’t get around to explaining much,” Mieshka said.
“I think he’s regretting that,” Jo said.
The SUV thumped over another bump in the road as they slid through an intersection, and the downtown lights began to die off. Soon, all buildings dropped off on either side.
Up ahead, their solitary, multi-lane road led straight to the gates of Mersetzdeitz’s famed parliament buildings.
Floodlights underlit the buildings’ granite face, emphasizing each stone’s rough surface, the grand arch of its doors and windows, the prominent statues and carvings that adorned its niches and rooflines. Rain and time had aged the copper roof into a brilliant turquoise color. Above the door, the Mersetzdeitz coat of arms was so large that Mieshka could make out the detail on the lion’s head and the chain around the unicorn’s neck.
The whole building looked archaic and impressive.
But not quite as impressive as the building that sprang up on their right.
Jo touched her knee and pointed. “There it is.”
Finnevar had three towers that stood at an angle from a centralized base, their structure tapered in a way that reminded Mieshka of candle flames. Painted a striking white color, they pierced straight through the rainy, nighttime gloom so high that their tips grazed the closest clouds. Like parliament, floodlights underlit this building at the base, reflecting up its broad sides like magic.
Unlike parliament, Finnevar’s light changed colors.
Their SUV slowed as they came to the driveway, bumping over a set of rumble strips as they slid past the main entrance and circled around to the back of the building.
The first SUV had already beat them to the underground garage. Mieshka gripped the handrest as the vehicle turned a ramp and slid into the adjoining space. A few soldiers milled around where Aiden, his sister Aeryn, Buck, Gobardon, Kitty, and Amerand stood on the curb.
Mieshka’s eyes lit up as she spotted the wheelchair parked off to the side. She pointed. “Jo, I think that’s got my name written on it.”
“If it doesn’t, I have a pen. Come on, pop the door.”
Mieshka curled her pinky finger around it, ignoring the bandage that snagged on the handle. The wound on that hand was shallow, crossing her palm and index finger from where she’d grabbed an elementally possessed scalpel. The pinky was the only one that didn’t hurt as much.
The door made a sucking sound as she shoved it open. Immediately, the conversation drifted over.
“—I’m afraid I haven’t kept up with current events. As I told you, it’s been a bit of work throwing the shield generators back together after last month’s fiasco.” Blood still stained Aiden’s lips, though he’d obviously tried to wipe it off. A white cloth hung from his hand, swaying as he gestured.
Dad came around the other side of the car as she stuck her leg out, his gaze flitting from the wheelchair, to the soldiers, and her.
He’d been quiet in the car. Quiet on the ship, too. Not necessarily out of character, considering their home life—but something in his manner caught her attention.
When she reached out and brushed his arm, he gave a start.
His eyes snapped to her face. There were bags under them, half-hidden by frame of his glasses. For a second, she felt his hand shake under hers.
Then Uncle Alexei wheeled the chair over. “Come on, sweetie. Just a quick stop in their clinic, then you can sleep.”
Clinic? Mieshka groaned. The only medical thing she wanted to see was another bottle of painkillers—and she doubted a Mersetzdeitz clinic would allow her the Chromatix-boosted oxycodone mix her last doctor had prescribed.
She’d have to hoard the last of those pills like an addict.
Her muscles shook as she transferred into the chair. Jo bumped Alexei aside to take over the wheelchair’s handles.
“You’re bunking with me,” Jo said. “Apparently they don’t have enough saferooms to fit us all in without some creative grouping. Your father and uncle get the one next to us, Aiden and Gobardon are on another floor, and Kitty and McKay get some dungheap in another tower.”
McKay, who had been grabbing their bags from the trunk beside them, snorted. She bumped Jo hard as they passed, and the mercenary grinned.
“What?” Jo said. “You know they always save the best for you.”
“Tell that to Captain Reeve,” McKay said, tugging Mieshka’s suitcase from the SUV. “I think my socks are still wet from that assignment.”
The former soldier fell in step behind them. As they approached the other group, Amerand glanced up.
“All here? Good. Let’s get you settled.”
The clinic was fast, routine, and barely required nudity. Mieshka earned a new change of clothes for her troubles—a matching slate-gray t-shirt and sweatpants combo that felt warm, dry, and clean against her skin. When she re-emerged from the bathroom, Jo waited for her with a sealed package of new medicine.
Mieshka limped to the wheelchair, wincing as the temporary crutch dug into her armpit. “Can we go?”
“Let’s.” Jo dropped the baggy into Mieshka’s lap as she took point behind the chair. A few guards met them at the doorway. They’d been a constant presence since the ship—always a few of them playing escort.
It did little to ease Mieshka’s tension.
“So, our room is close to my dad’s?” she asked.
“Yes. I think. They might have moved it.” Jo turned to the man who had fallen in next to her. “You wouldn’t happen to know, would you?”
In answer, he bowed his head and spoke the question into his headset.
Jo gave Mieshka a flat look.
“You were correct, Ma’am. Jean Renaud and Alexei Sokolov will be one floor above yours.”
Jean Renaud. It had been a while since she’d heard anyone call her dad by his name.
“Been a while since anyone’s called me Ma’am,” Jo commented.
“Records indicate that you still hold rank in the Mersetzdeitz corps,” the guard replied. “I’m afraid I can’t call you anything else while on duty.”
Ahead of them, their other guard looked back. “Don’t mind Hien, he’s a stickler for rules.”
“And you?” Jo asked.
“No.” He flashed them a grin. “What shall I call you?”
Jo returned it. “Most people call me a pain in the ass.”
“That’s a little hard to pronounce.” He broke stride, falling in next to Mieshka’s wheelchair. “Can I call you by your number?”
Mieshka felt her jaw slacken. The man was tall, with light brown eyes that belied the wryness to his tone.
Hien, the stickler, sputtered on Mieshka’s right. “Eric!”
But Jo’s savage laugh cut him short. “You work fast. I like that. I’m afraid my cell runs on Lyarne’s network. I’ll have a new number before you get a chance to call.”
A mock-sorrowful look crossed his face. “A true shame. How about a name?”
“Jo. My name’s Jo. And I’m guessing you’re Eric.” Jo said the last in a mimicry of the other soldier. Mieshka glanced up to see him scowling at the whole exchange.
Eric tipped his hat. “It is.”
“By the uniform, I’m also guessing you come here often. Do I get to see you again sometime?”
“I’m practically living here this week,” he said. “Lots of overtime since—”
“Eric! Orders!” This time, Hien did more than scowl. His heels slapped hard on the floor as he confronted his colleague.
Mieshka jumped at the sudden move. Fire flared under her skin.
Immediately, both soldiers looked down, alert and wary. The smile dropped from Eric’s face like a stone. She could feel Hien’s stare bore into her.
Right. They weren’t just regular soldiers—they were mages. Of course they’d be able to sense the change.
“Sorry,” Mieshka said.
The wheelchair had stopped. Behind her, Jo’s voice dropped an octave.
“We going to have a problem, boys?”
Eric recovered first. He gave her a smile—tenser than his earlier one—and visibly forced himself to turn his attention away from her and to his colleague. “No problem. It’s a perfectly normal reaction for a fire elemental. Even Commander Amerand has it sometimes. Hien?”
Fabric shifted behind her, and Mieshka stiffened. When had he gotten so close?
But Hien only took a step back. By the dark expression on his face, and the long, silent look he exchanged with Eric, the soldier was not happy with the situation.
“Good.” The wheelchair jerked as Jo started it down the hallway again. “‘Cause Meese and I are looking forward to that bed we’ve been promised.”
Eric fell into step beside them.
For a long minute, only the sound of the soldiers’ boots, and the occasional squeak from the wheelchair, interrupted the silence. They passed empty offices, their windows dark and blinds down. By the job titles on the doors, they appeared to be in Finnevar’s financial department.
Eventually, Eric picked up on the slip in Jo’s sentence.
“Meese?” he asked. When he glanced down at her, most of his earlier tension had left his eyes.
“Meese,” Jo said.
A small smile tugged at his lips. “I like it. Makes her less scary.”
“Scary?” Mieshka sputtered. “You think I’m scary?”
Jo’s fingers curled around Mieshka’s shoulder. Mieshka felt her breath near her ear as her voice slid into a purr.
“Darling, you are scary.”
As always, let me know how you feel. I also have Chapter 4 and 5 awaiting a brief edit before I publish them here!