These Gossamer Strings
Series: The Last Gift #3
by Allegra Pescatore
Genre: Gaslamp/Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: July 12, 2022
Publisher: Ao Collective Publishing
A Silence is Broken. The River Beckons. The Forgotten Wait.
With eighteen days until her tribunal and Water Rite, Elenor must find a way to save her doena and keep her throne. The threat of war looms larger and only an alliance through marriage has the potential to save it. But who to trust when all her closest allies have secrets of their own?
The past is creeping up on them, a web of maneuvers and lies spreading back to before the fall of the DomEmpire. Gabriel can feel it constricting around them, drawing him ever closer to a future he never wanted. Confronting the truth of his heritage may be the only way to save Lirin, but at what cost?
Perhaps one the desert has already paid. Shaken after the death of the Red, the Mondaer must choose their path forward. Protect the new Gatekeeper and Incarnate as they have always done, or embrace a future without reliance on Gifts? Fedrik and Fay’s safety depends on the answer, and it’s not looking good. Would they be better off trusting Daemon, or is North right that he intends to use them as a weapon?
These Gossamer Strings is the final installment of the first arc of the Last Gift Series. Threads torn asunder are weaving back together and the Gatekeeper is coming for his Incarnate.
Content/Trigger Warnings (on page):
Deliberate character gaslighting
Abuse of power by people in positions of privilege
Content/Trigger Warnings (Alluded to):
Non-graphic mentions of child abuse
Have Fun Stormin’ The Castle • #DisabilityPride • The Noble Sport of Urchin Tossing
“I can’t believe you suggested this, or that I agreed to it,” Fedrik said, as the mock dragon rose higher into the sky. It was close to midnight. The sheer walls of the Sandhewn City were cast into stark shadows by the narrow rays of moonlight piercing the gloom of the canyon. Other than the beating of the mock’s wings, the night was silent—devoid of the crickets and birds of Lirin, or the humid heat that always kept Fedrik awake. He wanted to take advantage of the crisp chill and quiet to sleep, but after a fruitless week of training, this was what they had come up with.
“Trust me, I’m kicking myself for it too,” Fay squeaked, holding onto the saddle, eyes squeezed tightly shut. “But we’ve talked about it for days. The only time we know for sure your Gift stopped working is when we landed in the Mondaer and Leo branded us. Which means that at some point while we were falling, your Gift turned off or weakened enough for mine to return and take control. It’s the best lead we have, and we’ve tried all the pieces separately. All that’s left is trying them together.”
“I still think we should have waited ’til morning,” he replied, raising his voice over the whoosh of leathery wings gaining altitude.
“And have Suela shouting at us the whole time or lecturing me even though I’m literally doing what she told me and facing my fears? No way. You and I have always worked best on our own. We can figure this out. I hope. That, or we’ll break our necks.”
“That’s not reassuring, Avilor. I like my neck unbroken.”
They rose higher, Fedrik’s hands sweating with nerves on the guide ropes of the green mock. Denzel’s dragon had been the only one who hadn’t hissed when he’d gone to saddle one up for this idiotic plan, so it was the one they were riding. With the way it had stared at them the whole time, though, Fedrik had to wonder whether the reason Shanty hadn’t hissed was because she was considering how best to eat them.
Against all sane advice, they each only had one set of straps on, the latches loose for easy removal. They were hovering above a portion of the Sandhewn City buried in a dune, a long slope running down toward the stream at the base. A rope securely tied them together at the waist, and in an attempt not to die or get too injured in this stunt, they were both wearing as much padding as they had been able to find.
Fedrik wasn’t convinced it would be enough. “I would feel much happier if we had helmets on, like at the Academy.”
“Yeah, well, I’d feel much happier if we weren’t stuck on a dragon in a fucking sandpit, but I guess I care about helping you or something equally dumb, so shut up. Ready?”
No, he was not, but since it was Fayrian Avilor suggesting jumping off the back of a diving mock to try to get Fedrik out of this mess, he couldn’t exactly refuse. “Ready.”
“For this to work, you’re going to have to call it or it won’t be like last time. I’m going to squeeze my eyes shut and try not to break your eardrums.”
Hands shaking, she reached down to unclasp the last of the straps around their legs. Fedrik thought he heard her cursing under her breath and was tempted to do likewise. Completely unrestrained on the back of a mock he didn’t know, Fedrik reached around Fay to clutch the saddle, wiggling his boots more firmly into the stirrups. “I’m going to regret this.”
Without giving himself time to back out, he dug his heels into the sides of the mock and yelled, “Dive.”
The green screeched, tucked its wings in, and did just that. The angle was so sharp and steep Fay wasn’t the only one to scream. Every muscle in his body went taut as he tried desperately to dig his knees in enough to keep them in the saddle. At first he closed his eyes against the wind, but snapped them open when he remembered that he was the one who was supposed to jump.
The ground was coming up at them at an alarming speed. This is stupid. This is so fucking stu—
Fedrik unhooked his feet from the stirrups, grabbed Fay firmly around the waist, and a second before Shanty snapped her wings open, launched them both into freefall. Fay flailed, shrieking at the top of her lungs. They hit the sand so hard all the air was forced from his chest, her terrified shout cutting out as well. He didn’t have time to take in how much it fucking hurt, though, because they were rolling. Fedrik tried to keep his hold on Fay, but they had hit the sandy slope at an angle and his arm didn’t bend that way. They tumbled, bumping into each other as dust billowed up, getting in his mouth and nose with each frantic gasp of air, until they landed in a heap at the bottom of the hill.
Fedrik wheezed, Fay’s elbow digging into his throat. He was entirely unable to ask her if she was alive. He wasn’t sure he was alive, either, come to think of it.
“What?” he managed to splutter, spitting out sand. Everything hurt but nothing hurt worse than anything else, so either no bones were broken, or all of them were.
“Did it fucking work?” she repeated, a little clearer but still interrupted by several hacking coughs.
“You tell me.” Fedrik pushed her arm away, struggling to sit up.
A moment of silence, during which he supposed she was searching for her Gift, then she let out a groan.
“Nothing.” Fay sat up, rubbing the back of her neck. Her face was scrunched into a frown. “Shit.”
Fedrik decided to flop back onto the sand instead of joining her. “Well, no one can say we didn’t try. Hurt?”
“Very bruised, but I don’t think anything is irreparably damaged. I guess maybe this is good, right? Means we don’t have to jump off a dragon every time we want to get your Gift under control.”
“What if it can’t be?” Fedrik stared up at the clear night sky. “We’ve been at it for days, Fayrian, and nothing. Not once has anything we’ve tried even come close to working. We did it by accident, but what if that was because my Gift was still growing? What if it’s impossible?”
She smacked his already aching thigh. “Listen to yourself, Tellen. We’ve been at it for mere days. It took me years to get control of my Gift.”
“Well, we don’t have years. I bet we don’t even have weeks. I killed their God, Avilor. How soon before one of the Mondaer who keeps flying food down to us hears of it, and decides to poison me? Or a whole army comes hunting for vengeance. If we don’t figure this out fast, I’m dead, and you too, probably, for helping me.”
Fay let out a long sigh, then flopped down next to him. “Then we keep trying anything and everything we can think of until it works. Maybe we’re missing something.”
“We went over the fall from that mock with a fine-toothed comb and accounted for everything we reasonably could. If the determining factor was a night-long ride on a wild mock dragon, I doubt that’s any more actionable than no solution at all,” Fedrik said, feeling contrary. “I’m tired, Fay. We should call it a night.”
“More like you’re grumpy and depressed. I get it. Why do you think I was so surly all the time in school? Figuring out magic while dealing with the never-ending desire to commit murder isn’t a fun combination, and yours is significantly worse in both respects than mine.” Fay pushed up on one elbow, hair falling out of her bun and shining in the moonlight. “How can I help?”
“Have a feather bed, a meal that doesn’t taste foreign, and a sense of normalcy hidden away somewhere?” he asked, with a sigh. “Or enough drugs to knock me out so I don’t spend all night dreaming about her?”
“Alas, none of those, but if you want me to bash you over the head with a rock, I could probably be convinced to oblige.”
“What?” Fay asked, looking around as though expecting something to jump out at them.
“Rock bashing. I hadn’t thought of that. One more way my mind is probably going to visualize killing Elenor now. Thanks a lot.” He closed his eyes with a groan. “I don’t know if I’m strong enough for this. I don’t think I’ll be able to ever have the sort of relationship with her that Suela wants me to. I don’t want to be filled with this much hatred for the rest of my life and have to fight for every minute of self-control, just to keep the woman who got my parents killed alive. If it were you, or Gabe, the effort might be worth it, but—”
“Fedrik,” Fay’s sharp tone broke through his monologue. “You’ve presumably been a Gatekeeper since Hardor, which means before your parents died. You gave up everything to bring her to us, for her protection. You were worried sick for her the entire barge trip out of the city, just as much as you were for Gabriel. At the risk of sounding pro-Elenor Lirion—which I by no means am—have you considered that part of the reason you’ve taken this so hard is because she’s your Incarnate? For all you know, she had nothing to do with it. Or if she did, she might be as torn up about it as you are. People can do dumb things with unintended consequences, but not be monsters. Both you and I are proof of that.”
Fedrik cracked his eyes open to glare at her. “I’m starting to regret asking you to keep me from killing her. I was thinking more rope and less mature-Fayrian-trying-to-reason-with-me.”
“When have I ever given you what you wanted, Tellen?” she asked with a small laugh, then flicked his nose. “My point is that Suela spent all week repeating that once you found your Incarnate and learned to care for each other, the desire to kill would get easier to deal with. Well, you already care for Lirion, even if you’re pissed at her at the moment. You said you thought of her as a sister. Well, you were part of my family back at the Academy, then you killed my dad. It might have taken a while, but I eventually found a way to forgive you for it. Considering that you are orders of magnitude more patient and reasonable than me, you’ll be able to do the same with her.”
He didn’t like this new, more thoughtful Fayrian. At the same time, he couldn’t help but reach for her hand. Fedrik brought her knuckles to his lips, planting a kiss on the rough, sand-covered scabs. Fay had never had a lady’s hands. They were calloused, scarred, and almost always nicked and bruised. It was one of the reasons he loved her. “I hope you’re right.”
About the Author:
Allegra grew up in a small village in northern Tuscany as the daughter of two artists. She was raised on the works of J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Frank Herbert, and many others, all read aloud to her while she drew and played make-believe. She began to write at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped since.
After many moves and dozens of countries visited, she now lives in a cozy cottage in Western PA. She is accompanied in her current adventures by husband Job, co-conspirator and long-time writing partner Tobias, and a small army of furry and scaly pets. When not writing or daydreaming, Allegra rules her kitchen with an iron first and feeds everyone who walks through her door. She also gardens, dabbles in various art forms, and spins stories for her tabletop gaming group.
As a disabled woman and staunch LGBTQ ally, Allegra hopes to write engaging, diverse, and representative Fantasy and Science Fiction, where people who do not often see themselves center stage get the chance to shine.
Her debut book, Where Shadows Lie, was an SPFBO Semi-Finalist and is a CIBA award finalist. It is the first book of The Last Gift series, and the first title of Project Ao, by Ao Collective Publishing. Other titles in Project Ao include NACL: Eye of the Storm (2021 SPFBO Semi-Finalist) and A Bond of Thread.
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