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.

0 - State of the Union

“That’s the thing, this is why we use Kirlian Photography. This is why we trust people like Ajax Rohm and John van der Grey. These techniques, these sciences, show us the things that are right in front of our eyes that the government, that the Top Men, want you to ignore.”

The dulcet tones of the irate, Jonesian “anchor” on the pirate radio station were interrupted as Harvey Wilde slowed his 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 enough to make sure he wasn’t going to slide too badly on the muddy corner he was about to round – passing through something or other that had caused the radio to go a little fuzzy. The road followed in the shadow of the coastal slopes of the Razeland Guardians mountains, the only green and arable land on the whole damn island. Harvey was on his way back from Enotekka – the wealthy mercantile city whose deep harbor and year-round fishing had made the Lipan rich.

A Lipan himself, the middle-aged Wilde did a roaring trade in homestead-farming. He was a survivalist, but he and his small collective could produce more than they could can or consume. Much of it went to a few local restaurants in the city, where people didn’t mind paying entirely too much for peppers and beans, and the people selling them would pay far beyond top dollar for an excuse to put “local” on the menu.

Or at least, it used to.

“Folks, Ajax Rohm is the expert on volcanism. You know it, I know it, and the establishment wish we didn’t. Ajax has successfully predicted fourteen of the last twenty major seismic events worldwide. And he was absolutely adamant – you heard him – there was nothing to indicate that this should have happened.”

“Well,” Wilde muttered, “That’s because it wasn’t natural.”

The Kraterburg Explosion was all State Cult wanted to talk about these days. Hell, it was just about all the mainstream media wanted to talk about for the last three months. The capital of the union, with all its centuries of history, was gone. In its place was a massive, half-marshy, half-oceanic sound, and a few small islands toward the periphery of the assumed blast – built too sternly to be blown away completely, or collapsed, or however the state was explaining it this week.

And whatever it was, it had started the winter early. The late summer and fall crops had died out completely. Instead of selling his surplus to the haughty, Wilde was spending hard-won fiat on imported canned garbage calories, just like everyone else.

“And we know from John what the cameras show. We know this wasn’t a normal eruption, because normal eruptions don’t leave the ground’s aura glowing. This was something big, and we as free people should have the right to know what it was!”

Hard to argue with that.

A flicker of moment across the top of the windshield drew enough of Harvey’s attention that he actually checked his shoulder. From a great height – higher than he was used to seeing them – he could see three tiny aircraft flying in formation over his head. Southward, from the mainland, across the straight, and no doubt ultimately over the mountains and into the desert beyond.

He’d sigh at that, and try to narrow down the tuning of the radio again, which had gone out. It was always something, out here.


There was a truly beautiful room in the basement of the Governor Aitken Gallery in Zvanesburg. This was in keeping with the general architecture, feel, and mission of the place – a beautiful mid-century modern building in the upscale Waterfront area of the city. The room at question, however, seemed almost antiquated by comparison. Marble columns studded a floor made from a curious blue travertine (from the area around the Azulkrater in the South Terrwald, near the former Azuldorf), which was inlaid with geometric figures in black granite.

This room – originally contrived as a studio for Governor Aitken, who had commissioned the property – had fallen into disuse until the 80s, when it became the usual meeting hall for the National Association of Librarians, Curators, and Archivists. At such times it was filled with whatever furniture had been deemed necessary – tables, chairs, a dais. Today, however, it stood empty.

Within the NALCA stood a smaller organization, made up not quite of the professional association’s administrative core, but of highly senior or otherwise trusted members of the trade. The common thread, really, was that the members of this unnamed inner order were, one and all, Kitabists – collectors (and to some extent, purveyors) of fragments of arcane lore gleaned from the moldering tomes and fragmentary inscriptions in their care. The other common thread, of course, was Donovan Kline. For many gathered this evening, he was a patron, friend, mentor, lover, or all of the above.

With any gathering of this cabal, the Blue Room was always emptied of its usual contents. In its place, today, was a ring of tall, wrought-iron braziers burning a heady combination of minerals, resin, and herbs. Flames were quite beyond such a combination – instead the result was a strong fume that would inspire, among the various sorcerous individuals gathered.

Chief of these was well known among the others to be the star pupil. Laurana, as she called herself, went beyond the usual closeness of the others to Donovan Kline. She was a member of his entourage, a literal student of the master. She alone could be trusted with the astrological and hyper-mathematical calculations necessary to conduct this evening’s business safely.

For nearly five hours now, her and a dozen carefully-selected colleagues had been standing before their designated brazier, working their way, repetition after tedious repetition, through the Chants of Solomon. As a result, by now, the room was positively sultry with loose essentia.

The raw, arcane energy was so strongly concentrated in the room that even untrained eyes could start to see the effect. The whole of the party stood waist-deep in air that shimmered like a hot day over asphalt. Any minute now, that tide would rise, and start to spill into the embers.

So, like any good conductor, Laurana changed tack. At the next opportunity, she shifted her incantation into the correct formula for the evening – singing individual notes without relying, so much, on consonants and vowels.

Then, they hit the critical point.

The first of the gaseous essentia hit the embers, and all at once, the lot flashed over. The light was blinding – these individuals were used to it, but that still didn’t change the fact that there were several seconds in which they could not see, while their eyes recovered.

When they had, the room had changed, if only subtly. The braziers were now full of shallow pools of burning oil, lending a soft cast to the room. Four figures, who at first seemed angular and sharp, until a second look could be obtained, now occupied the circle they formed.

Donovan smiled warmly to Laurana, who’d had the presence of mind to bow. Her companions, of course, could barely stand. He would neither hold their glazed expressions against them, nor leave their sacrifices (however temporary) unrewarded.

“Welcome back, sir.”

“Thank you, Laurana. It is very good to be back.”

Kline would nod, and the members of his entourage would start to make their way from the room. Trusted though they were, these three were not properly members of the cabal that had summoned them. Besides, there was work to be done, by all three of them.


Nobody ever told me the perks.

Prince was breathing heavily through the filter in his mask, which probably needed replacing. Of course, there were no working elevators in the Crocus Hill Suites – or anywhere else on the island of Figaro. Instead, he, his stab-resistant vest, harness full of equipment, and backpack of pilfered supplies had to climb all six stories himself.

Three months. That’s how long he and his fellow Horsemen had been stuck on Figaro, which had once been a bustling suburban portion of Kraterburg, and was now a well-stranded island in the middle of a bay nobody could settle on a name for. A cold, bitter, and frankly weird three months.

They’d arrived on an island full of confused locals who needed food, water, care, and order. Some of that had come from their government – air drops of supplies by parachute. But so far, nobody had quite managed a landing on the island. The ground itself was too crowded with buildings or their wreckage, and the waters around it too uncharted and chaotic. Nobody had planned for this.

How do you plan for a grumpy god?

Reaching the top platform, Niles took a second to force the mask an inch or two forward from his face and breath fully. When he’d had the filters installed in the Infernal City, it never occurred to him they would wear out. Now, they were almost a detriment.

Then, settling the mask on his face securely, he squared his shoulders and stepped into the corridor.

Three others, a woman and two men, all wearing gray bandannas over the lower halves of their face, were waiting for him. Scion called these the Apocalyptids – in place of a proper cell, Prince had organized maybe fifty able-bodied and willing survivors of the island, grouping them into something not unlike a civil defense team. They knew just enough to be dangerous – and in this case, just enough to know when to send for their boss.

“All right, where’s the fire?”

The woman put her arm up – barring Prince from crossing the threshold of the apartment whose door she was already blocking. “You told us to call you if there’s anything weird.”

A nod passed between the two of them, and Prince calmly drew his side-arm – the Colt Detective Special – from under his jacket with one hand while he opened the door with the other, pushing in without much other announcement.

The apartment was weird, alright. It was empty, almost comically so. Here and there, yellow spray-paint had tagged the walls, calling out the image of columns lazily, or “adding” a window where none could have existed. White paint was splattered in one corner, glossy as though still wet, but quite obviously dry - it should have been running over that step, otherwise, but it wouldn’t.

This was a far cry from what he had expected – and what his brain was still trying to assert was there. Where were the grand curtains, the marble columns, the baroque furniture the Apocalyptids had asserted would be here?

He could see it, sort of, if he wanted it. Like one of those Magic Eye posters. But he really had to want to believe it was there, and could hardly trust his eyes in the first place.

No, this was a joke. He holstered his side-arm, and studied the one piece of furniture in the apartment – a waist-high side-table of polished cherry, with a snifter and the requisite brandy sitting there, temptingly.

Too temptingly. With a gloved hand, he nudged the glass off and let it shatter on the floor.

“Back to work.”


You let one person take a little bit of authority over their own actions, and the whole world goes to hell in a handcart.

It was one of those contingencies that you never expected to actually use, like the bottled water most people keep in the trunk of their cars on a national scale, but Agency Division actually had a plan for dealing with precisely the disaster that had befallen Kraterburg. Granted, the subsidence of a large portion of the Mainland and the subsequent flooding hadn’t been a part of it. Neither had the accidental death of the Agent-Liaison in the initial blast, or the death of Commissioner Beckett of the National Police Force.

Still, those events themselves had contingencies, even taken together with the larger problems of a loss of communications for most of the population, large swaths of blacked out infrastructure, and a run on the grocers with the next harvests and shipments of relief being god-knew how long away. Agency could continue to govern even if the College of Judges could or would not.

That eventuality, thankfully, had yet to be reached. The skies, at least, Agency DID rule. Even the Air Self Defense Forces were unwilling to fly in these conditions – save for the most essential of missions. There was nothing at all in the air to bother the Avrotec XV-11 “Musta” Covert Hybrid Transport. The black tilt-rotor – often mistaken for a helicopter during hovering flight – was a mainstay of Agency operations – deadly quiet at most ranges, extremely small radar cross-section when it wants one, and generally hardy for a tilt-rotor.

“That’s got to be it, wouldn’t you say, ma’am?”

Ma’am, the sole non-Enforcement passenger out of the dozen or so in the back of the aircraft, glanced out the window indicated. A column of smoke was rising from a spot a few miles further across the Razeland wastes. Against the backs of aviator-style sunglasses, an Augmented Reality Interface overlaid a wide strip of land denoting the most probable flight path of the object Aerospace Tracking and Intercept had picked up. The fire was smack in the centre of the path.

“Oh,” she said evenly, picking up a white jacket to put on over her similarly-colored suit. “I’d say it probably is.”

When they landed, she was well ahead of most of them. Her Musta had actually been at the back of the formation, by the time they’d reached the target. NCB-suited troops had already bounded out of the other two, running up to the source of the fire, which as it turned out was the wreckage of a metallic craft a bit bigger than a shipping container.

With the Augmented Reality to enhance her vision beyond what was otherwise possible in the dark, she could see the wreckage field for what it was. There, a bit of parachute, still attached – the rest likely having scattered in the winds that routinely scoured this infernal dust-bowl. There, a bit of ablative shielding. And right there…

That big gash in the side had exposed the core of half the Radio-Thermal Generators that had kept the damn thing running while it was in orbit. That was going to be a fun problem later, for anyone who wasn’t wearing their suit properly.

Unshielded and unconcerned, Ma’am strode up to the crashed pod, and placed a perhaps-unwise amount of trust in the insulating power of her gloves in order to slide away a panel that had been protecting some access control equipment.

She’d been expecting this, evidently. Though of course, he’d been up there so long that none of the codes she could remember still worked – though thankfully, her glasses new the secret.

Slowly – too slowly for her excitement, frankly, the whole pod slid open – revealing the fluid-filled container within, which thankfully had not been damaged.

She examined the workings for a few moments, until she found the switch for the tank lights, and then clambered right up onto the pod, in order to have a look through the small viewing window in the side of the tank.

The alien half the squad was expecting was none other than a blond-haired, fair skinned man who looked unsurprisingly gaunt, all things considered. He had, after all, been up there for a long time.

And then, all at once, his eyes – brilliant opal-blue and flecked with gold – snapped open.

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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