Sanity Line

The Arcane Revolution Trilogy

This excerpt is provided for your reading pleasure as a sample of the contents of a Zaxton Books novella. If you enjoyed reading it and wish to finish the story, we invite you to consider purchasing the book in paperback or epub format from our vendor using the link provided to the right.

1 - Withering

Prince was running late, and everyone in the room knew it. He nudged the door closed with his foot in the same motion that he slung his heavy pack onto the chair in the corner.

Niles Clayton gripped his mask with both hands and peeled it from his face. He was slick, and grimy, and the cold air of this drafty room was a massive relief.

“Sorry I’m late.”

Scion was quick to come to his defence. His mask was still on – not that anyone in the room, currently, did not know that he was the meek and otherwise mild-mannered James Derrida, Professor and biogeneticist. “You’re not that late. It’s not like we were on topic anyway.”

“And what is the topic? Thank you.”

Banker had reached across the table to slide Niles a cup of coffee as the other sat down. The narrow mask did very little to hide the fact that Banker was Locke LeCruset, heir to the LeCruset family empire, the crown jewels of which were permanent Principal Directorship in the Lipan Trade Fleets, and a controlling interest in the Zaxtonische Landesbanke. The coffee, on the other hand was weak and watered down instant crystals.

And it was fucking heavenly.

“To put it bluntly,” Prodigal answered, in the shadow of his cowl, “We’re talking about going home.”

Niles sighed. This again? The other three horsemen had already lost his attention. He fished a stack of notes out of his pocket – messages from various parts of the island brought to him throughout the day by the Apocalyptids, which he’d eventually have to deal with.

“I’m sorry,” Banker was frowning. “Are we wasting your time, now?”

“I’ve heard this one. You’re going to tell us the money’s gone. Prodigal’s going to wine about being bored. Scion’s going to speak sense and you two are going to ignore him.”

“Okay, well, ignoring for the moment the fact that you’re no more in charge than any of the rest of us, Scion isn’t the only one speaking sense. The money really is gone, Prince. There’s nothing else I can draw on. Economy is shot to shit, and you blew what little capital we had on your Apocalyptids.”

A scoff. “The Apocalyptids have cost a grand total of two hundred dollars, which I spent on a case of bandanas, two cases of notepads and a few boxes of pens to distribute among them.”

“You didn’t arm them?”

“Hell no, they’re fighting with sticks and stones, re-bar, whatever the hell is lying around.”

Scion sighed. “The Apocalyptids are doing better than the rest of our cells are, really. They’re not the problem.”

“Well, minus the fact he’s turning them all into cops.”

Niles glowered at Prodigal. “You know, if all you Angels had the presence of mind to become proper officers of the law I’d have never had a problem with you people.”

“This system doesn’t work with our hands tied by procedure and the rules of discovery and you fucking know it.”

Niles and Prodigal had never seen eye to eye on this particular point. He was quite certain the other horseman had a legal background – he spoke like a lawyer, anyway. How could it be that they wound up on the far side of whether or not it was okay for anyone they felt comfortable standing beside to go around killing people for the crime of being too damn dangerous – while ironically placing themselves in the very same category.

Scion sat impassively for a moment, and quite suddenly, he had everyone’s attention. Niles couldn’t quite say why. There was something compelling about the crooked, relaxed way he was sitting in his seat – the gentle way he’d tucked his hands together.

It was only when he started speaking that Niles put the facts together and realized that had likely been yet another manifestation of the man’s telepathic abilities.

“We’re missing the bigger picture,” he said into the silence he created. “We came together for a purpose.”

Prodigal stabbed an index into the table. “That purpose has ended. The Cult of the Sleeping Eye is dead and gone. None of them could have survived what happened here three months ago.”

We did, Niles thought, thumbing open a note. Great. There was a possible outbreak of flu.

Scion was more than capable of making his own points. “We were created to deal with the likes of the cult, Prodigal. Archangel would want us to continue that work.”

Banker leaned on his hands as he stood, staring the other down. Scion was always the favourite, and it showed in his loyalty to Archangel – who the rest of them merely tolerated as an unavoidable evil. “Archangel would have to be here to want things. But he’s not.”

They all knew it. There was not a man in this room who didn’t remember the sight of Archangel’s broken body lying on the asphalt, crushed and contorted in strange ways from the creature that had burst from the ground and flung him there.

And yet, Niles was skeptical. For starters, the whole scene had never seemed real – any more real than anything else ever did. But for seconds, he had a very good reason to keep the faith, and it wasn’t fondness for the dead marauder.

He’d suddenly realize all eyes were on him. The other leaders of the Grey Angels knew as well as he did.

He was only here because Archangel had decided that for Niles, and perhaps just that once, the rules of Death were not going to apply.

He’d glance back to the note he’d been reading, and sigh. “… This argument is a waste of time.”

“Oh? And why’s that?”

He’d flick the note toward Banker. “Because we have a bigger problem.”


Edward Coultier, like the rest of his family, was the closest thing the Zaxtonian Union had to nobility. As such, he had travelled in planes, trains, and automobiles – if a conveyance had existed in his lifetime, he’d sampled its pleasures. And if there was one mode of travel he hated more than any other, it was travel by sea.

He had great reason. His experience of sea travel had always been summer cruises, where his choices were to wallow in his seasickness below-decks, or burn to a crisp above decks. He’d shared the family lack of melanin with his mother, who he often thought of, at sea.

Mostly because he’d have given anything to have her back.

“Are you listening to me?”

To be quite honest, Edward was not listening. Even now, in the cold, the idea of going above-decks was tempting. He could pull on a pea-coat and a hat over his Crimson Knight uniform, go up to the weather and freeze his ass off, hoping fresh sea air would get his stomach and head feeling correct. He’d reach for his sunscreen first, though.

“No, Francis, I wasn’t listening.”

“Well, I mean, look. Just because you’re already grey in your twenties doesn’t mean you get to play senile.”

Edward glowered at his longtime friend. Francis Leblanc was about the only person who could get away with giving Edward a ribbing about pigmentation.

“Should have called it the Ivory Knights,” Edward muttered. “Get your coat.”

Outside sucked just as much as inside. It was bitter cold – it had snowed in the Terrwald yesterday, some two months early. It wasn’t quite that cold today, but the sky and the sea and the decking of this frigate were all the same disgusting steely-grey.

And they were bound for another island that was probably just as disgusting and grey and desolate.

“… All right,” Edward would say, after a few minutes of this cleared his stomach. Out here, it was like his reflexes had kicked in. The mythical leviathan could have flipped this ship over and he’d still feel firmly rooted to the very core of the earth. “… Tell me about Figaro.”

“There’s not a hell of a lot to tell. The island’s under the control of the Grey Angels, more or less. They’re doing what they can to hold the violence to a minimum and keep some semblance of order. Apparently they even have a kind of field hospital there.”

Edward frowned. He had never had much by way of taste for the Grey Angels. A grudging respect, maybe – the few who had names he’d recognize were dangerous to the extreme, and you had to respect that – but certainly no love. The Grey Angels sought the destruction of occultists while indulging in the occult. His own Crimson Knights, he allowed to know just enough of magic to be able to defend themselves and their loved ones against it.

Partly, this was self-defence in and of itself – it allowed Edward to operate in the light, to stay close enough to the mainstream that he didn’t have to sleep with an eye open. But partly, it was vendetta.

Nobody needed that kind of power.

“… When you say in control…”

“Well, mostly in control. There’s some… resistance, of some kind, in the Crocus Hill area. General lawlessness. Looters, probably, seeking to take advantage.”

Edward doubted it. The Grey Angels weren’t going to be laid low by random looters, even determined ones. “What I meant was, are they under commission?”

In the wake of the Kraterburg Explosion, the Ground Self Defence Forces had placed a number of paramilitaries and other non-governmental organizations – such as his own Crimson Knights – under commission as irregular forces… and placed them all under Edward’s command.

“No. Officially they’re not an organization at all. It would be hard to commission a bunch of personas.”

Edward drew his mouth into a fine line. If they weren’t commissioned, he couldn’t control them. And even with the few hundred of his men he’d brought with him, if the Grey Angels were more than a dozen in number, he doubted he’d be able to arrest them.

Hopefully, they’d be as eager to avoid a direct fight as he was. “… Good. Let them be someone else’s problem.”

He folded his leather-gloved hands behind his back, and took a deep breath of the salt sea air.

“… Let’s go below and talk about deployment.”


“Ah. Good evening, Ma’am.”

Didn’t we just leave this party?

The Woman in White reached up to sweep her tinted glasses off her face, having no further use for the Augmented Reality interface now that she’d reached her destination. She looked up at the Immersive Attenuation Tank on the platform at the far side of the Trans-atmospheric Medical Centre, beneath Enotekka International Airport. The tank was used, her briefing notes had told her, to treat certain classes of chronic and acute problems caused by those returning from operations in space. Three existed in this grand black and steel lab, bubbling gently. Each was perhaps five feet across, reaching floor to ceiling, with their workings concealed in the ceiling save for a pedestal on which each stood. Only the one in the middle was occupied.

The sight of the blonde man inside the tank simply floating there, eyes moving visibly behind closed lids, had given her the most unmistakable sense of déjà vu she’d experienced in a long and prominent career. Well, as prominent as these things could get, anyway. And yet, she knew with long and unbroken memory she had never seen this before. Well, not quite this.

She realized the technician was still looking at her, and belatedly snapped out of it, bringing her paper cup of strong oolong tea to her lips before greeting him. “Evening. This is our man?”

“As close to it as we’re ever likely to get. Project Moses II Specimen 001: Vidcund Därk. Last known posting: Special Director, Task Force Creena. It’s genetically confirmed.”

She replaced her glasses as the man handed her an auto-file. “… Mild genetic deviation due to exposure to radiation typical in Low Earth Orbit. You’re screening him for cancer?”

“Among other things. It will be some time before he can survive outside of that tank, as well. His skeletal structure is severely atrophied – normal for sustained exposure to free-fall.” The technician sounded judgmental. “How long did you have him up there?”

The Woman in White had stepped up to the platform, and, again forcing herself to pay attention to the conversation at hand, thought about it for a moment. “Long enough, anyway. What brought him back down?”

“The report I have from ATI suggests it was a freak accident. Collision of his orbital capsule with space debris. It’s rare, considering how well-plotted Stasis Orbits are… but it does happen.”

The technician approached her, taking a reading off the tank with some sort of handheld meter. “This guy was someone important?”

“Just the key witness to the end of the world.”


Walter sighed. He didn’t know what was in the sealed envelope on his tray, but he didn’t need to. It would invariably make the Viscount angry.

The blind butler made his way through this house he’d grown up to run. Victoria House was the traditional winter home of the Rainwrights, and he knew it like the back of his hand. He didn’t need the cane he carried to find his way, internally. It was closer to a badge of office, tucked into the crook of his arm.

He knocked on the thick oak door to the Viscount’s study, speaking in a clear and pleasant baritone. “May I come in, my lord?”


Rainwright looked up. Though Walter would never know it, he was actually somewhat out of sorts – sleeves rolled up as he studied a barometric report, grease on his forearms from the broken bit of machinery in the corner that he’d given up, for the moment, on trying to repair.

“Close the door behind you. What is it?”

“A letter for you, sir. From Redhall.”

Rainwright’s eyes narrowed as he picked up the document and broke the seal. There was a time when nobody would have dared to write him from Redhall, save to summon him to the home of the royal House of Sussex for a discussion. But those days had died with the King, and now they had merely the Crown Princess.

He sighed. One of these days, he’d have to come to think of her as Queen. Perhaps, however, that was not a task for today.

He slipped a pen-knife under the seal and cracked it open, unfolding the rest of the letter with a flourish.

My Cher Viscount Rainwright,

It is my pleasure as Queen of Galba Roy, Champion of the Brass City, etc etc to commission you in your capacity of head of the Order of the Wheel and Pinion to undertake an investigation into the cause and manner of the Kraterburg Explosion.

As you know, this great disaster that has affected the union has not been without its own setbacks – and potential gains – for our proud nation. It is imperative we determine whether or not:

  1. This crisis is natural or man made, and, if man-made;
  2. Whether or not the incident could be repeated.

The gains His Royal Highness the Prince Valerian stands to create in the New Bay could be just as easily spoiled as the once-proud city of Kraterburg. It is essential the cause of this incident is fully uncovered with all speed.

We have placed several vessels under Royal Commission in order to facilitate your immediate departure and commencement of work.

Your Queen,

Valentia IV

Rainwright crumpled the paper in hand and cast it into the fireplace, sighing. And Walter stood there patiently, listening to his master’s impatient breaths as the man paced through the study and considered his options.

“… Arrange for a meeting of the Second and First Orders,” Rainwright said, at last. “Are we in such a state that you could open Greyholme?”

“With a sufficiently small diversion of staff, sir, Mrs. Landingham and I could open Greyholme in two weeks.”

“Make it happen, Walter.”

Walter bowed. To the man he loved, and trusted, and would kill for. “As you wish, my Lord.”

The man he had killed for, come to think of it.


Alexis Coultier was exhausted. As a member of the Razeland Guardians regiment, she’d been quite certain up to this point she knew what grueling was. Sure, she’d come into the unit as an officer-cadet and had the corresponding life, but she’d have given a lot, right now, to go all the way back down to sub-lieutenant. To go to bed entirely sand-blasted, trying to figure out which stains had cuts hiding under them, and probably suffering from heat exhaustion.

Be a damn sight better than freezing her ass of in a drafty Enotekka office at the regimental headquarters, trying to make heads or tails of her paperwork.

A knock on the door threatened to interrupt her comprehension of this morning’s dispositions report. “Not now, Baker, I am absolutely beshitted here.”

The voice that responded shocked the young woman out of her chair completely, bringing her instantly to attention. “You know, Colonel, I’m not entirely convinced that ‘beshitted’ is a word.”

Alexis was trying to decide which was worse – being caught behind and sloppy by the Ground Self Defense Force’s commander in chief, or foul-mouthed by her father. She looked appropriately sheepish, in either case. “My Lord Field Marshall. I thought you were my aide de camp.”

“I figured as much.”

Vincent Coultier padded into the room. He looked a little harried himself – his dress-uniform had the telltale creases of a man who’d been traveling entirely too much of late. His face, on the other hand, had the creases of a man who’d seen one too many crises in his life.

“I came as your dad, you know. To wish you good luck.”

Alexis nodded, eagerly, and relaxed. “I don’t need luck. Right now I need two or three majors who know what they’re doing and a couple of admin lieutenants to streamline this lot.”

She gestured to her desk, as though it was heaped over with paperwork – in truth, there were only one or two reports, and a very full inbox on a laptop Vincent couldn’t see.

She supposed this was what happened with battlefield promotions. The sudden loss of the former Colonel had seen her elevated early – and young – into a position she’d been grooming for for the better part of the decade, and still didn’t feel ready for.

“You might change your mind about luck when you see this.”

Vincent produced a slip of paper – barely a third of a sheet. Alexis took it, holding it loosely in her hands. She only needed a second to glance at it – to confirm the right check-signs were in place and parse the terse, two-sentence message printed on the page – before it vanished into an inner pocket of her tunic.

“Deployment orders? Do not tell me we’re at war already. Don’t you do that to me.”

Vincent smiled warmly, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not that kind of deployment. Command performance, Colonel. The Executive Council want readiness drills in the public eye and a wilderness force in the Western Terrwald to make sure the Dean City-State doesn’t get any ideas about us being wrong footed. The Razeland Guardians are the only regular forces regiment still standing, so you get to play border guard while the other colonels bring their men up to speed.”

Alexis sighed. To a certain extent her whole career felt like window-dressing. Every promotion she was ever even remotely eligible, she got. And while Edward was the famous twin, the publicly-beloved twin, she knew him to be a lazy, shiftless asshole. Whereas she got to work herself to the bone trying to prove her worth, and the reputation of being a spoiled princess.

Not that she could blame father for that.

She’d stand, suddenly. “I understand, sir. My force can be ready to deploy within the week.”

“You’d might as well make it two, Colonel. The Maritime force won’t be ready to move you for at least that long. We’ll have to recall some from the bay.”

He paused in the doorway, and looked, to her, quite forlorn. There was a man who in some sense had already lost his daughter. Now, there could be no question of the fate of either of them. She would serve a year or two as a regimental colonel, and then start the slow rise through the ranks of proper flag officers.

And then he would retire, and she would need new shoes made, for his would be too small for her to fill. And he was proud of her, and despite his misgivings about a military career for his only daughter and oldest of his children, Vincent was filled with the promise of her future.

But Alexis Coultier would never be the little princess she’d once been ever again.

This excerpt is provided for your reading pleasure as a sample of the contents of a Zaxton Books novella. If you enjoyed reading it and wish to finish the story, we invite you to consider purchasing the book in paperback or epub format from our vendor using the link provided to the right.

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