The Multiverse Chronicles
Season One: Episode Four
“Familiar Bonds – Part Two”
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Trish scuffed her boots along the cracked brick road as she trudged through the moonlit shadows of gas lamps. She paused under the looming buildings that were crammed along the alleyway. She needed time to think, to gather any ounce of dignity she had left—and she needed that time away from the rabble of ordinary streets where people with a future strolled along, merry.
What future did she have?
She edged into the shadow of a tenement, debating whether to take the next right into yet another alley, or whether to venture onto the main street.
It should be deserted by now, should it not?
Trish could have used her beast mastery to get a glimpse of the street from one of the roosting pigeons, but she wasn’t in any mood to try. She had spent the majority of her day in the infirmary with a telepath. The poor man had tried to clear her mind from the mental terrors of being linked to a dying pterosaur, but despite his attempts to help, he had been unable to relieve her of the pain—
A crushing blow to her chest, her pterosaur—shot by pirates. The pterosaur crashed into the ocean. Her bones snapped, her lungs burned. She flailed her wings, head reeling, screaming, trying to remember who she was… A cold darkness enveloped her—
Trish placed the palm of her hand on the warm brick wall beside her. She dug her fingers into the rough cracks within the mortar. She was here, alive.
Not like the pterosaur.
It’s my fault.
She closed her eyes. The only thing the telepath could advise was rest. He offered to let Trish stay in the infirmary, if she liked.
Trish had opted to return home. She didn’t belong there.
Didn’t belong anywhere. She was no longer training to be a rider. Not a dragon rider. Not even a pitiful pterosaur rider.
She took a right around the corner.
“Come here you… bird!” a man shouted, his voice slurred.
Trish stopped in mid-step, her arms tingling with alertness. A man stumbled through the alley, just a few yards away. He flung a rock into the darkness, mumbling incoherently before he screamed at another intersection.
Trish took a hesitant step back. The man wavered on his feet, drunk. As he grabbed a broken beer bottle from the side of the street, Trish edged further backward.
She knew how to defend herself, but it was better to avoid a situation than run into it headfirst—at least while her head was still throbbing with the pterosaur’s dying breaths.
The drunkard slung the broken bottle behind one of the tenements. The shattering sound of glass echoed, followed by a terrified screech. Something metal clanged against the building, followed by another screech.
Trish frowned. That sound …was there a pterosaur here?
The drunkard threw another rock into the alley. “Dirty bird! Dirty, man-eating… bird!”
A papery sound of ruffling wings and snapping twigs overtook the sound of breaking glass. The drunkard took a couple half-steps back, tripped over himself, then turned tail and ran headlong at Trish.
At first she thought he was coming after her, but then a pterosaur emerged from the shadows. The creature snapped its beak and shook its head, then tore after the man.
Trish froze where she stood.
If the pterosaur caught the drunkard, it would probably tear him limb-from-limb. Though the man had more-or-less asked for it, she couldn’t let the beast hurt him.
She swallowed a gulp of air and reached her mind to the pterosaur—
A cannon round fired in the distance. Her bones snapped in her chest, followed by excruciating pain—
Trish fell to her knees, shaking.
The pterosaur swung forward, half-flying, half loping on its long, fifth finger. It flapped its wings once and leapt over her, its shadow blotting the yellow windows above. The man screamed, racing away from her as the pterosaur let out another cry.
Trish shuddered. The memory was terrible. She pursed her lips, pushing away the overwhelming sense of crashing into the ocean. “Stop!” she shouted. She directed all her attention to the pterosaur. The living pterosaur.
Despite the beast’s foreign, jumbled emotions, one thing came through: fear.
Uncertainty. The same feeling Trish had felt right before the other pterosaur died, and one that flooded her limbs now that she had no clue what she was supposed to do with her life.
The pterosaur stopped its pursuit, landing awkwardly between the buildings. It shuffled on its feet and faced Trish before turning its head one way, then another, as it eyed her suspiciously.
“That’s right, stupid bird!” the drunkard shouted. “Run away like the yellow coward—”
The pterosaur whipped around, flaring its wings so that they slapped the brick walls. It screeched, shoulders hunched aggressively.
Trish lurched forward. “Wait, stop!” She reached out again with her mind. Though she could barely understand the beast, she could respect where it came from, how it felt, and more importantly, what it would do if it got hold of the drunk.
Please, ignore the moron, she sent mentally. He doesn’t realize what he’s saying.
The pterosaur twisted its head back to her, and she almost thought that it quirked an eyebrow—that was, of course, if pterosaurs had eyebrows.
She glanced over her shoulder. A crowd poured out from a nearby pub, attracted by the commotion. They gathered around the spectacle, but they gave the drunkard distance.
The grungy man raised a finger at the pterosaur and laughed. “Dumb bird. You’re just a big, dumb—”
A rather good-looking man in Britannian uniform pushed through the crowd, grabbed the guy by the collar, then clocked him across the jaw. Spit flew and the man collapsed, unconscious. A couple of the red-uniformed crowd-goers cheered.
“Shut it, will you?” the good-looking man snapped. “You’re disturbing the peace.” He shook his head and dusted his hands of the incident. “Idiot,” he muttered. “You don’t mock a pterosaur unless you have a death wish.” He turned his attention to Trish. Bronze pins on his chest glistened under the gas lamp. Trish’s eyes widened, and she automatically straightened her rumpled uniform.
He was a colonel.
The pterosaur looked between the colonel and Trish, and she quickly sent it a feeling of safety, ally, and help to the beast as the man approached. He barely stood an inch taller than Trish’s already-short height, looked to be in his early thirties, and he had kind, intelligent blue eyes and light brown hair. And he certainly must have spent some time working out—outside of the usual training.
He was…stunning…to say the least.
The pterosaur quirked its head and sent Trish a sense of confusion, as if it wasn’t so sure why she thought the guy looked like a particularly attractive mate.
Heat crept to Trish’s cheeks.
Then she realized that the pterosaur had sent a thought back.
That wasn’t possible. Beasts never responded telepathically.
Before she could puzzle that further, the colonel looked over Trish and gestured to the pterosaur. “Do you have control of her?”
Trish nodded. She had a vague feeling that the pterosaur disagreed, but it was listening, at least.
“Interesting,” he noted, bending down to inspect a bright piece of orange metal wrapped around the pterosaur’s ankle. “You’re a rogue aren’t you?” The pterosaur followed the colonel with its eyes as he circled the pair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
Trish walked over to the colonel. “Rogue? What do you mean?”
“Your drake here… she’s hard to control. You can tell by the tag around her leg.” He motioned to the tag. “She was sent to be culled. How is a cadet like you controlling her?” He raised an eyebrow, curious.
Trish shook her head. “You have it wrong. She’s not mine, and I’m not a cadet. I was discharged today.” She swallowed hard. “But what do you mean, ‘culled?’ ”
The colonel frowned. Sad wrinkles formed at the corners of his eyes. “She was supposed to be put down. She must have been too hard for the trainers to control, so they decided the best course of action was to take her out of service.”
Trish clenched her fists. “They just can’t just kill her for being difficult!”
The pterosaur shifted on her feet, her wings tensed with Trish’s distress. She crouched, preparing to fly.
The colonel placed a hand on Trish’s shoulder. “Calm down. Right now, she’s in your command. You said you were discharged…” He glanced back at the pterosaur. “If I may presume, your drake here wasn’t the only one who could not follow orders?”
Trish raised her quivering chin and unclenched her hands. He was right, though she hadn’t followed orders because she had thought she was saving the creature, not getting it killed. She lowered her eyes, and the pterosaur folded her wings to her side.
“Yeah,” Trish whispered. She glanced at the pterosaur. “Something like that.”
The colonel scratched at the late stubble on his chin. “You know, I may be able to offer you both a second chance.” He smiled broadly. “I’ll talk to my general. I might be able to convince him that he could use the two of you. For now…” He looked down at her name tag. “…Ivers, go ahead and head home. Get some rest. If you would like to consider my offer, meet me at the base at 1600 tomorrow. Ask for Colonel Pearson.”
Trish eyed him suspiciously. “What about the pterosaur?”
“She’s the reason we might be able to use you. These drakes are valuable, and we like to avoid loss. Without you, we’ll have to put her down.”
Trish glanced to the pterosaur. The beast tilted her head, eyes bright. She might have a second chance—
“Thanks,” Trish said.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Pearson warned. “I can’t promise anything.”
Trish nodded. “I understand.”
“Now, if you don’t mind, I need to take this girl back to base. Think you can convince her to come along peacefully?”
“I’ll try.” Trish sent a feeling of safety, of home to the pterosaur, and that the colonel was a potential friend. The pterosaur shook its head, returning a feeling of resentment toward the colonel. That was… odd. “Um, sir… is it normal for a pterosaur to protest?”
The colonel raised an eyebrow. “No.”
Trish shivered. Come on, he’s offering us a second chance. Besides, it’s not like you’re defenseless.
The pterosaur snorted, but seemed to agree. It shuffled its wings and stared pointedly at the colonel.
“Everything good now?” he asked.
“I… think so?” Trish wasn’t so sure herself.
“Good. See you tomorrow.” Pearson grinned. He led the pterosaur cautiously past the crowd, with Trish following in case he needed help.
At the edge of the crowd, a woman in blue uniform caught her eye. Odd… what was a Prussian soldier doing here? “Why can’t people like you and the colonel run this country?” the woman said, talking to a heavyset Britannian beside her. “You’re so much… friendlier. More understanding, at any rate.”
The man laughed. “With all due respect to the queen, I’d jump at the chance to rule the nation. Unfortunately, I do not. But I can dream. Or weave stories about the people who make our world just a bit brighter for the people like us.”
Trish winced. Not many people had the guts to say something like that. The queen was a good ruler, but she was known for having the temper of a dragon. Not surprising, given her heritage.
“Miss Ivers?” the colonel said, interrupting her thoughts. “Mind sending her off?”
Trish nodded quickly, though her palms sweated at the idea of trying to give the pterosaur any formal set of commands.
She looked up to the open night sky. Freedom.
That image she put into the pterosaur’s mind, with the feeling that the colonel might ensure that freedom remained.
He was both of their chances to move forward with their lives.
The rogue pterosaur opened its wings and launched. It circled once, then disappeared into the navy sky.
The Prussian soldier let out a breath, as if she’d never seen a pterosaur flying up close before. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
Trish wasn’t sure “beautiful” was the right word, but there was something promising about flying into the night, no harness or lead, just the clear skies above them.
“Aiy, that they are, lass,” the Britannian man agreed. “But don’t forget, those creatures are war beasts. They do what the Queen says. If not directly, then by proxy.”
Trish’s hopes sunk. She wanted to be a rider, sure, but she hoped the pterosaurs would never be needed. If they were called to war, that free-flying spirit would be tied to wherever the queen sent them.
It was early in the morning when Mr. Hardy made it back to his hotel room. He staggered up the polished marble stairs, legs and feet aching, and ignored the scowl that the bellhop gave him upon exiting the stairwell to the third floor.
Yes, the morning dew had already set on the grass, and yes, he probably smelled a bit like the backside of a tavern. That was the downside to shortcuts. Yes, this was an expensive hotel with gilded archways and polished jade statues—a fact he never did like, given jade’s propensity for hosting artificial spirits—but he had paid in full upon his arrival. And no, he did not care if his footsteps were a tad louder than they should be. Exhaustion plagued him, and for good reason.
He’d had a long, trying day.
First, the whole incident with the pirates. Then failing to convince Mrs. Calroe of joining him as an associate—who else would he convince to sell his employer power-blocking shields?—after which he had taken what he thought to be a shortcut back to the inn, only to be delayed by some incident wherein a drunken idiot had attacked one of the royal pterosaurs—or something of that nature.
While Mr. Hardy wasn’t particularly fond of pterosaurs—too much beak and bite—he enjoyed the idiocy of drunkards even less, and he took joy in imagining what terrible punishment would befall the dullard. Perhaps a night or two in the stock and pillory. Yes, that might serve him right.
Mr. Hardy’s key clicked in the lock and he swung the door open to a posh room. Heavy curtains obscured the outside night. He ignited the oil lamp beside the door, peeked around the room for any sign of misplaced items, and then carefully shut the door behind him and fastened the deadbolt. No need to make it easier for potential rivals to sneak inside.
He hung his bowler hat on a wooden coat rack, one with artistically styled dragon’s claws for feet. The Britannians had a strange obsession with dragons, he’d noted, and all manner of beasts.
There was an abundance of confounded pigeons roosting on the castle walls and waiting to make a mess of things. But then, perhaps they gave the Britannians plenty of feathers to work from if the drunken man was tarred and feathered.
Mr. Hardy smiled. Tarring and feathering someone who had antagonized an overgrown bird. Yes, that seemed about right.
His joy didn’t last long, however. The sight of a gold watch setting on the nightstand beside his bed reminded him that he need to inform his employer of yet another failure.
The Hooded Man—or so his employer presented himself to those he worked with—desired to invest in the Calroes’ industries since he foresaw a rise in their market value. But—as Mr. Hardy predicted—Mr. Calroe was too distracted to discuss such matters, and when he tried to ask earlier in the evening, he’d gotten an earful about how enchanted gold might do marvels as an alchemical ingredient in the pursuit of everlasting life, and Mrs. Calroe was as unyielding as ever.
Mr. Hardy stared at the watch.
The Hooded Man would want to know what happened, and first thing in the morning, Mr. Hardy would have to tell. But given Mr. Hardy’s current lack of sleep, he feared he would likely botch his information.
Better to get at least some manner of sleep. After all, he had already informed the Hooded Man of the pirates’ inability to complete their task, and that alone had put the pretentious man in a rather baleful mood. While Mr. Hardy doubted that any physical harm would come of him if he crossed the man once more, his funds would suffer a devastating blow.
He had seen prominent brokers found later in the streets, wrapped in rags and panhandling with scraps of metal tins. The Hooded Man had left no doubt of who was behind their newfound misfortune, their inability to secure even the simplest job.
Mr. Hardy eyed the lavish room and winced. A daily newspaper detailing the latest talkies had been placed on the dresser. His own private washtub hid behind a three-panel divider with fresh linens draped over the top. He was fairly certain the hotel staff had even replaced the miniature soaps and perfumes.
Mr. Hardy valued his profits. As such, it seemed the wisest course of action would be to wait until he was fully rested before making his call—not likely to flub his explanations for his failures—and for a time when the Hooded Man was satisfied with breakfast and in the best mood of the day.
So Mr. Hardy removed a set of pajamas from the dresser and changed into his night clothes, tugged the nightcap onto his head—he couldn’t fathom how the nights could get so chilly in this hotel—then slid into bed. He wriggled between the smooth covers and stretched his aching limbs.
He pulled the covers to his chin and closed his eyes, picturing a sheep with golden fleece, jumping across a meadow—
A sharp, telepathic ping jarred him from his slumber. He cursed. If he didn’t answer now, his employer would only be in a worse mood when they finally spoke.
Drained, he rolled onto his side, fumbled his hand across the surface of the nightstand, then finally grabbed the golden watch. He pressed the button on its side.
A dark, haunting voice wisped from the enchanted device.
Unlike Mr. Hardy’s communications with Captain Tillens, this voice was not accompanied by an image. “Mr. Hardy, I hate to bother you at this late hour, but something has come up, and I could use the assistance of your pirate clients, Consider it a way to make up for their previous failings.”
Mr. Hardy worried his upper lip and nestled further into the mattress. Given the delicate nature of his work, he needed to be careful of what he said. This was not a conversation he wanted to be having at—what time was it?—two in the morning.
“Sir, I am sure the pirates will be grateful for further business,” he agreed amiably. “With their previous failure, I suspect they will be tight on cash. However, they are a prideful bunch, and claiming that they need to rectify the situation may drive them off.”
“That is why they are your contact, not mine,” the voice replied, haughty. “Whether you tell them it is a rectifying job—or not—is of no consequence to me. It is, after all, your reputation as a broker which is on the line. I simply want this job done, and I am willing to split the loot with them sixty-forty. “
Mr. Hardy swallowed hard, feeling the warmth of his covers slip away into what could easily be a cold set of wretched stone walls. “I assume my pay will be as per usual?” he asked, shivering.
“As per usual, of course—if they succeed.”
Mr. Hardy wasn’t fond of the “if they succeed” part, but the Hooded Man was right. His reputation as a broker had taken a beating over the past day, and that was without mentioning his failure to invest in the Calroes’ industries.
But if this job went well…
He rubbed his forehead and sat up in bed. “Sounds good, sir. I will relay the message. What’s the job?”
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The adventure continues in the next episode, when a proud pigeon delivers an underrated message, and a colonel attempts to convince his general to hire a new pterosaur rider…