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Authors: Laurel Wanrow

The Twisting

BOOK: The Twisting
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THE
TwistING

 

Volume Two

of

The Luminated Threads

Laurel Wanrow

 

Sprouting Star Press

Copyright © 2015 by Laurel Wanrow

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except for the use of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews. For permission requests, write to:

 

Laurel Wanrow/Sprouting Star Press

P. O. Box 2311

Reston, VA 20195

www.laurelwanrow.com

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, institutions, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Copy Edit by Joyce Lamb

Cover Artwork ©2015 Craig Shields

Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com

 

Wanrow, Laurel

   The Twisting, Volume Two of The Luminated Threads /

      Laurel Wanrow ~ 1st ed.

   ISBN 978-1-943469-04-8

 

First Edition: November 2015

 

 

The story of otherworldly Blighted Basin continues in THE TWISTING...

 

In a valley hidden from the rest of Victorian England, Annmar Masterson has found friendship and acceptance at Wellspring farm. But as her recently discovered magical abilities grow, unstoppable crop-eating pests drive her new home to the brink of collapse.

Shapeshifter Daeryn Darkcoat's heart pulls toward Annmar, but duty comes first. With harvests across the Farmlands shire facing destruction, the predator guard scrambles for new solutions, calling upon the ingenuity of animal shifters, mechanics and growers alike.

Desperation drives landowners to utilize prototype machines, heedless of the threat to their way of life. As the danger mounts, Annmar's knowledge of Outside ways—and her magic—might be more important than anyone realizes.

Weaving steampunk engines and a land of wild magic with a coming-of-age romance, this sequel to THE UNRAVELING and second volume in THE LUMINATED THREADS whisks readers off on another spellbinding adventure.

 

The Twisting is Volume 2 of a three-part serialized novel. Volume 1, The Unraveling, is available now. To be notified of the 2016 release of the 3
rd
volume of this coming-of-age romance, sign up for
Laurel's Newsletter
.

* * *

 

Dedication

 

To my parents,

who raised me with libraries and nature.

 

* * *

 

Chapter one

Wellspring Collective, Blighted Basin

Mid September 1868

Daeryn Darkcoat’s eyes
flew open at the
creak
of floorboards. Footsteps padded outside the bedroom. In an instant, he rolled his long, slender polecat body to four paws and leaped from his warm nest of covers beside the sleeping girl.

Annmar Masterson didn’t stir when his quick movements jostled her bed, or when the door opened. Like a brown shadow, Daeryn darted across the orange hook rug. He managed to duck to his hiding place beneath a wing chair before the bony, middle-aged woman entered.

Wellspring’s healer, Miriam Chapman, set her usual tray of dishes on the side table, lit a gas lamp to low and carried a bowl and spoon with her to sit on a side chair next to the bed. A yawn stretched Daeryn’s mouth, though the sky had already darkened beyond the windowpanes. These disruptions to his sleep had become normal over the days he’d guarded Annmar. Miriam still hadn’t ordered him out after Annmar mistakenly thought he was a cat Sunday night, but he wasn’t about to test the healer’s patience. Three days of sickbed visits had etched furrows in her brow deeper than Wellspring’s ravaged fields.

And tonight her worried scent accompanied the herbs of Annmar’s next remedy dose.

“What? Nooo,” Annmar murmured in protest.

“A little,” Miriam crooned. “Keep those eyes closed.” With the cajoling, Annmar accepted the spoonful of herb-laced porridge. “There you go. You don’t even need to wake up.”

Was not waking helping Annmar heal from Paet’s blows to her head? She’d been unconscious for days, with no signs she was getting better. Daeryn swiped a paw over his furred brow and snout. The memory of that ropen bastard hitting Annmar haunted him each time he looked at her, even as her bruises faded. He hadn’t heard her cries soon enough, hadn’t run fast enough, hadn’t gone for the lout’s throat. The flying beast might’ve outweighed his polecat animacambire form by sixtyfold, but if Daeryn had known how badly he’d treated Annmar—

Tap, tap, tap.
The quick paces told him Annmar’s friend Mary Clare had arrived to relieve him so he could join the night’s hunt. The door opened, and the redhead greeted Miriam, but her gaze darted to the bed, then the wing chair where he also slept during the daylight hours. Even if his nocturnal vision hadn’t picked out the eager look on her face, her scent swirled with excitement. Daeryn rose to his paws and padded out of hiding.

Mary Clare spotted him and mouthed, “Jac,” while pointing downstairs.

Jacqueline Fellclaw, one of the lupine night guards and now Daeryn’s co-leader of the nocturnal team, wouldn’t leave the fields unless there was a problem. Yet somehow
problem
didn’t seem to match the emotion he was sensing. What exactly was happening? Could it be they’d caught Paet’s father, Maxillon, returning and Jac wanted to give him the news herself?

He bounded through the open doorway, ran a length of hall to his own room and shifted to his human form. A minute later, he rounded the bottom of the staircase, wrestling his trouser braces up over a hastily pulled on shirt.

On the far side of the ground floor, Master Brightwell bent over his workbench beneath a halo of gaslight. The inventor didn’t lift his head when Jac minced her way through the machinery storage bay on bare feet. The wolf ’cambire, now in her feminine human form, hadn’t bothered to pull on boots, just a bib-and-brace over a flannel shirt.

“What kind of news is this? Is it Max?” Daeryn blurted out.

The taller girl rapped his shoulder with the back of her hand. “Lower your hackles, Daeryn. Your every waking thought does not need to be on protecting Annmar. Miz Gere swears Maxillon is blocked out.”

He crossed his arms. The hare-sized pests they called gobblers continued to gnaw away at the crops. If they could get in, so might the ropens. The farmworkers were divided in their opinions, but Daeryn saw no reason to take a chance, in spite of Wellspring’s owner trying different methods of enhancing her Knack barriers around the farm property.

Jac tugged one strand of her long, dark hair. “Dae? The situation in the fields is horrible already.”

“Already?” It couldn’t be much later than eight, the usual time Mary Clare finished her kitchen chores and then replaced him. He groaned. “I never heard our count from last night.”

“Still about a hundred and twenty total for the five of us, but just two ropens killed half that a night. They said they’d clear the pests in a week.”

“Then that claim of a week—”

“Was bullshit. Miz Gere knows. The vermin are overrunning us, and I swear the increase is because every last one in the Farmlands shire has been herded to Wellspring’s fields by that damned ropen. Once this is over, I’m personally leading the hunt for him.”

His muscles started to hum. Paet was in jail, but…“Of course. Maxillon is seeking revenge on us for grounding his son. That bastard.”

Jac’s hand flew up. “Channel your anger into killing gobblers. That’s what’s spurring on the rest of us. That and Master Brightwell’s new device. He completed two by dusk and instructed us in how to use them. Already, the tide might be turning in our favor. Another is nearly ready, but the…er, operation is in pairs, so I’ve come to show you how it works.”

“Device? What are you talking about?” He glanced around the bay. No new equipment stood out among the clockwork machines, so whatever it was must be right there in front of Master Brightwell. Daeryn started forward, but Jac threw out an arm, blocking him.

“Promise you’ll try it out before shoving your nose in the air.”

Damn female and her games. A growl started to rumble in his chest, but he squelched it. He’d learned a valuable lesson working with Jac, and they’d come too far for him to let his edginess these last few days ruin their progress. Instead, he nodded his promise. Jac led the way across to the workshop and paused yards back while the inventor’s quick, dark-skinned fingers continued to fit together pieces of shiny brass.

Jac’s nervous scent filled Daeryn’s nostrils, ratcheting up his pulse, and not in a good way. “What are we waiting for?” he whispered.

She heaved a breath of exasperation. “This is where you’ve got to be open-minded.” She tipped her head toward the older man. “It’s not just my feelings, or the team’s. It’s Master Brightwell and Rivley sleeping only a few hours a night to work out the problems and put together more of these, uh…devices for us.”

He stared into her earnest yellow eyes. He’d never seen her more serious. Or considerate.

Daeryn wiped a hand over his face. He’d been out of the action more than in it since Miz Gere had asked him to be lead. Once he’d discovered the extent of Annmar’s head injury, he’d left most of the team’s coordination to Jac. He put in his hunting hours, but at the first sign of daylight, when the gobblers disappeared, he did, too—into Annmar’s room. Meals were snatched on the paw, and this might be the longest conversation he’d had since they fought the ropens and prevented them from kidnapping Annmar. His best friend Rivley’s teasing back on Saturday night about
love
sickness hadn’t been far from right.

He raised his gaze to Jac’s face again, studying the steady and hopeful look. Her nerves were jittery because she was trying so hard to win him over, not take over. She wanted to do the right thing, and given the newness of their co-leader arrangement, he wasn’t inclined to challenge Jac’s decision on this. If he hampered a way to stop these vermin, she’d whip his ass, with the others joining in.

He nodded in what he hoped was an off-handed manner. “Open mind. Got it.”

She took a breath. “It’s a stunning gun.”

“What?” Daeryn’s ears echoed with long-ago blasts. His heartbeat raced, and every good intention of calm discussion flew off like water shaken from his pelt. “Using firearms at night? Guns aren’t allowed in the Basin,
at all.
Are you lot crazy? What does Miz Gere have to say—”

“The best solution we could come up with on short notice,” said Master Brightwell, turning to them with a coil of gray solder in one hand and a soldering iron in the other.

No
. They couldn’t be serious, building a deadly weapon, a banned weapon. And Miz Gere, an Elder for the Farmlands, approved? By moving to the middle of the Basin, he thought he’d avoid any possible contact with guns again. But now they expected him to fire one?

His entire body shuddered at the idea of even touching the thing.

“Dae?” Jac jostled his shoulder. “This is a different situation than what happened to Sylvan. Please. You promised to try it.”

He glared at her. Jac was wrong, and unfortunately, he knew it firsthand. The danger of any one of them getting shot was just as real as what had happened to his mate. “You tricked me into that promise.”

“I did. I admit it, but how else—”

“You know every one of us ’cambires is Sylvan all over again if caught.” He swallowed hard. “If we’re not recognized for what we are.”

“I know. But listen for a minute, will you?”

With a last glare at Jac, Daeryn turned to the mechanic and the shiny canister in his hands. All he could see was the trigger, dammit, so he dragged his gaze up to the inventor’s brown eyes, partially hidden by his drooping eyelids.

Master Brightwell peered over the half-moon spectacles perched on the end of his nose, his short, springy hair aglow in the gaslight. “The effects of this liquid ammunition are temporary. Make an error, and all you have to do is let the fellow sleep it off for the ten to fifteen minutes the brew takes to break down when exposed to air.”

“Right. We’re still doing the actual killing.” Jac raised her hands in her trademark
what do you expect?
manner and bared her teeth. Her canines lengthened, a trick the wolf used to draw attention, knowing Daeryn hated it. He batted at her, and she flashed a quick smile.

This wasn’t Jac’s usual showing off. She was teasing him, trying to raise his spirits.

“You’ve got to avoid the end that was shot, but there’s no danger of being bitten yourself while a quick crunch breaks the neck. Or for a few, that’d be
necks.
” She pushed up one sleeve, revealing an incisor scrape on her forearm. “One with two heads, like you described attacking you and Terrent, caught me after I broke the first neck. I saved it to show everyone.” Her face crumpled into a disgusted look. “Nothing I’d ever consider eating, even in wolf form. The animal is weird, and—I was right—not sentient. Another runs up as we drop the last one’s limp body.”

Daeryn wasn’t sure if the confirmation about the two-headed beasts made him feel better or worse about the vermin. He looked from Jac to the inventor. “Then these stunning devices are worth using.”

Master Brightwell gave a tired half nod. “Miss Fellclaw can explain how to use it. Allow me to attach the second strap, then I’m following the order I gave Mr. Slipwing and taking myself to bed.” He turned to the workbench and applied the solder to a brass bracket, then clipped a leather strap to its ring. Master Brightwell picked up the eighteen-inch-long gadget and held it out.

A brass canister comprised the bulk of the stunning gun. A short tube extended from one end, separated by a circular contraption with gears. Slender rods connected them to other toothed wheels near the middle and to the trigger lever. The device seemed benign enough, but the mere shape and shine of the thing jittered his hands, and Daeryn couldn’t bring himself to take it.

Jac did. She bounced forward, her eyes shining, her black hair flouncing about her face when she strung the weapon’s strap over her shoulder. The thing hung at her middle, and she grasped the canister in one hand, the barrel in the other. Her thumb rested over the trigger near the muzzle.

Master Brightwell folded his arms and leaned back to watch her, a faint smile playing about his lips. Daeryn eyed her stance. The positioning looked ridiculous compared to what he’d witnessed of poachers in the mountains surrounding the Basin. But Jac carried it off, appearing tough and ready for action. Dominant.

Hang it. He had to say something without offending her. “Held that way it doesn’t look much like a gun.”

“No one said it was.” Master Brightwell removed his glasses to reveal narrowed eyes. “I refer to it as a stunner. No one should call it a gun. Leastwise not in these parts.”

Daeryn stiffened under his hard stare and, to his surprise, so did Jac beside him.

“We won’t,” she said.

So much humility laced the words. Great Creator, it’d been days since he’d actually talked with her. Had Annmar’s healing done more to Jac than fix her cuts?

“Now get on with the instruction so I can send Mr. Darkcoat out with you.”

She gripped the device once more. “Though it’s not a firearm, it shoots Master Brightwell’s potion, which is in here.” She tapped the canister. “Once in operation, the gears turn on the pressure of the vapors and release one dose into the barrel at a time, storing it until you press the lever.” Her thumb jiggled up and down like an impatient squirrel. “It squirts under its own pressure from…?” Her brow wrinkled, and she looked at Master Brightwell.

“Fermentation. The amount in the closed tube instantly senses it has room to grow and does. Within seconds, the process gives off gas. When the tube is opened abruptly via the switch”—Jac wiggled her thumb again to demonstrate what Master Brightwell referred to—“it shoots a distance of three meters.”

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