Garrett knocked dark ash into a copper bowl and turned his head towards the boy. “You do realize what Luka will think if he finds you here, right kid?”

He couldn’t help himself. Sometimes the sword wants to be a shovel, digging for treasure instead of biting into a familiar face.

“Apologies, Sir, but I am on the clock. Securing today’s gift is the reason I am here.” The young Shareholder’s voice was as steady as an oak tree with the immeasurable confidence of youth.

But has he given any thought to what might happen if Luka doesn’t regard his purpose? That man leaves this house in one of two states: either elated or hollow, charitable or deflated.

And Garrett knew more than most that Luka frequently trafficked in the more unfriendly dispositions.

He saw himself in Shareholders like these. The will, the perseverance, the stony posture that projects hard resolve on the outside but on the inside is brimming with questions and uncertainty.

Taking another puff, Garrett mulled the words in his head, selecting the phrases that would have resonated most with him at a young age. “Some gifts aren’t worth the giving,” he began unsteadily. “Nor worth the taking, for that matter. It’s all about risk and reward, you see… But the profession that chose us carries more inherent risk and far fewer rewards.”

Did the boy’s head turn ever so slightly towards his? He never knew how to talk to children. Garrett pressed on, smoothing his beard with his free hand.

“What I’m saying is, you must choose your moments carefully. A Shareholder relies on the Maker’s luck far more than any gambler, but some dice have cruel odds.”

The handle to the door turned, and Garrett brought the sicar to his lips once more.

Luka stood in the hallway, fully dressed in his Union tunic that was tailored to fit like a glove and dyed bright blue to befit his station. What most marked him as a man of power, though, was his lack of a weapon of any kind.

I am his weapon, Garrett observed not for the first time. One of many.

Luka’s jaw was tight, his face flushed, his eyes contemplative. Garrett judged this round a loss for the boy.

As Luka’s awareness touched on Kade, his visage melted and reformed into that of an altruistic, benevolent ruler. His smile radiated warmth like the sun under a pair of eyes that promised wrath. It was this push and pull that accumulated Luka’s followers like so many moths to a flame: eager to earn to his approval, more eager still to avoid his dissatisfaction.

Dropping his sicar into the bowl, Garrett stood up and fastened the two buttons on the front of his coat.

“There’s still plenty of daylight left. Should we visit the Butchers as a show of presence, or retire to discuss the upcoming budget meetings?” Anything to get him out of this room.

“I think shows of force are boring, don’t you Garrett? And budget meetings… so tedious with their inflows and outflows. Comings and goings. Numbers this and numbers that.”

Luka took one step inside the room and pointed at Kade. “You there, you’re one of mine, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Sir.” Kade nodded.

“Ah, good.” Luka brought a finger to his lips and pinched his eyebrows together, wrinkling his forehead. “Remind me please, Garrett, what are the working hours for Shareholders of his age?”

“From dawn ‘til dusk, Sir.” As if you need reminding.

“I see. I see,” Luka’s face worked as if an affair with his lover had just been revealed. Like he just found out that his wine had a fly in it once his goblet was empty. “And the punishment for extracurriculars?”

“The pit, Sir. Although this young Shareholder claims –” Luka held his hand up, sanctioning no further conversation.

“The pit, then,” Luka interjected. “Seven days, water only. Twice as long for anyone that tries to sneak him any comforts.” Garrett nodded.

Luka waited eagerly to hear an objection voiced from Kade. None came. Bored with this game, Luka promptly turned on his heel and strode out.

“All right then,” Garrett began. “Let’s get this over with. Are you going to run?” Kade shook his head.

His eyes took stock of the child in front of him, hesitating to guess the last time he ate a decent meal. It wasn’t often he was afforded the chance to show mercy, so he gifted words instead.

“Listen, son, life is more of a fare than it is fair, if you catch my meaning. You played the game today and you lost. But tomorrow is another game. And another. Soon you’ll be the wiser for playing.”

Kade stood up and proffered small hands in front of his malnourished frame. Still nothing to say, huh? You’re either the toughest kid in the Capitol or have plans to die in the pit.

Garrett knew he didn’t have manacles to fit those wrists, so he just shook his head.

“C’mon, we’ll do this the civil way. No need for the other.”


Hannah laughed at the baby pangolin named Patches burrowing into the folds between her arm and tummy. Of all the Maker’s gifts, these quilted creatures made her the happiest. Like so many squares cut from various cloths, pangolins seemed stitched together with an array of body parts from different species.

Here they had scales like a dragon, there they had ears like her brother Morgan. One moment they were rolling into balls like yarn, the next they were finding food with long, sticky tongues like a tentacle dipped in sap. It was this tongue that now slipped in and out of her pet’s mouth as she pulled a dull blade across its scales. She liked to think it was the equivalent of getting her hair brushed.

She bent over, cooing at Patches, taking care not to get her hair tangled in his claws.

“Isn’t he lovely, Sir Patrick?” Hannah asked in a singsong voice, imitating how everyone spoke to her.

“He is, indeed, Princess.” From across the room, Hannah noticed that he didn’t even look her direction.

“If he is so lovely, why don’t you hold him? Patches loves men, isn’t that right Morgan?” She beamed at this suggestion, as if a more wonderful thought had never entered her mind.

“I might be the only man he’s ever met,” Morgan grinned. “But Sir Patrick is on duty, Hannah.”

“Oh. Right.” Crestfallen, she longed for a world in which her friends could be her friends instead of on duty.

“Can I hold him?” Morgan asked eagerly, leaning forward and stretching an arm out.

“Maybe later,” she said, returning attention to her pet. “Patches needs his Mother.”


Sir Patrick Kilgore watched Hannah and Morgan in silent amusement. His station didn’t permit him to speak out of turn, but he often mused that the realm was fortunate to have a prince and princess such as this pair.

The boy was gullible enough, surely, but he would eventually see the right and wrong of things. Whereas most of the other princes his age were focused on conquest and glory, Morgan was most at home with his face buried in a book. The histories told inside, though embellished by conquerors, would serve him well in time.

Hannah, on the other hand, was every bit as cunning as Morgan was likely to believe that the sea would soon rise to swallow them whole. She was perceptive enough to make a ghost blush, that one, and all Sir Patrick’s hopes rested on her cleverness. A double-edged sword of practicality and compromise was needed now more than ever.

It was foolish of Queen Myrian to parade them about this morning, he simmered. Surely there were better ways to project power than to lead a seemingly unarmed procession about the Capitol.

Charged with their protection, he had attempted to talk sense into his chain of command – but to no avail. When an edict comes from the top, finding a soul to speak out is like looking for someone to hang. Who are mortals, whose lives are measured in seasons, to question the gods, whose lifespan is abundant? Such is the contract that was signed long ago and remains enforceable today and tomorrow.

He observed Morgan’s fond approval of his sister and, not for the first time, wished his own children shared the same affection. His patience was commendable, even when she was difficult.

He also observed the way Hannah took care to place her pet devil back in the garden with his Mother, settling Patches on top of her tail. There was a gentle kindness inside each of these two that made him proud.

Sir Patrick realized he was holding his breath, and let it go slowly. There is too much at stake between the Unions, Proprietors, and House of Lords for these two to be risked. Even with the Silent Sisters on patrol, any number of things could have gone wrong.

The realm was held together by two things: tradition and mutually assured destruction. Tradition was being challenged more and more every year, and it appeared that mutual destruction would soon be tested as well.

It is the way of things, is it not? The young test their boundaries because that’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives. Growing, learning, exploring limitations.

But hard lessons were also the way of things, and he knew all too well that some lessons were better taught earlier than later.

It will not be demons that destroy us as long as the contract remains intact, but rather the unchecked greed of our citizens.


Garrett pulled the long wooden ladder out of the pit and rolled his left shoulder to work out the strain. Small tasks that used to be momentary distractions now exacted their painful toll over time like the resolute will of the Union.

How many times has he personally lowered and retrieved this heavy monstrosity? Dozens, at least. But he always found time to personally escort the younger ones.

Wiping his brow, he took in the night air and reminded himself once more why he continued his service to the Union of Trades.

If you could see me now, Lucy… what would you see? He wondered this often and hoped she never found out. Look away, my dear.

“You know the rules, eh?” Garrett called down below, squinting to see the boy’s face at the bottom of a dried up well that had mostly been refilled. He knew more than most how many souls had been cast down there during the uprising when lives were cheaper than dirt. The pit remained a formidable deterrent.

“I’ll to need to hear it, son.” He couldn’t see much further than the tips of his boots in this damnable dusk.

“I know them, Sir,” a small voice rose from the murky well.

“Good. Good.” Garrett paused. “To be perfectly clear, Kade, you are aware that the punishment for disobeying the rules is lashes, yes? And then back in the pit you go.”

“I am, Sir.”

“And that if anyone helps you, they will join you in the pit and share your rations.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Now look about you, Kade.” Garrett was proud of the tone he was striking, half fatherly and half commanding. “Do you have any sharp objects that could be misappropriated?” The last thing we need is to discover another Signatory in this manner.

“No, Sir.”

“Good. Good.” Garrett thought to say more, but then what is there to say? This pit would be his home for the next seven days with minimal water in the heat of summer. Without food or salts, he might very well die before his sentence was served.

His head hung with all the weight of an executioner’s axe behind it as he turned to walk away.


Kade heard footsteps lead away from his grave. He now knew with certainty what was whispered about this place was true. The feeling that came with this eerie realization had driven many men – stronger each than he – to madness. Of everyone that had slept in the pit during his tenure, none still drew breath.

“Go easy on me, spirits.” Kade whispered to an audience of none or many.

He settled himself onto the earth, laying his head on top of his arm. The pit was just large enough for his legs to almost extend fully, but he dared not occupy that much space. Curled together like one of the royal pets, Kade dreamt of the warmth.

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  1. saying they were ;very disappointed to learn of the allegations involving Greg and are concerned for all parties as we continue to investigate.

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