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The Flaw in the Stone

The Flaw in the Stone

The Alchemists’ Council, Book 2
edition:Audiobook
also available: Paperback eBook
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In Veritas
Excerpt

- 1 -

I am writing this for Verity because she cannot write it for herself.

Verity takes pen to paper; two minutes in, her hand begins to shake. She crosses out a word. Rewrites. Crosses out another. Makes an illegible notation. When her fingers spasm and she drops the pen, she crumples the paper and closes her eyes.

She sits at the old typewriter and presses keys with irregular, staccato care. The black lines on the page make her squint. She types a deliberate paragraph before she rips the paper from the machine and shreds it.

She sets a dusty cassette player on the desk and presses 'record.' The tape spools and she sits in awkward silence, throat working. She says "Santiago," and chokes on it. She throws the tape in the garbage.

She touches the computer only once. She pokes hesitantly at the keyboard, averting her eyes from the glowing screen, and exits without saving her file.

She presses herself into the darkest corner of the bedroom closet, and she rocks a little, back and forth. She cannot breathe.

She will look at this and see only all the ways in which it is incomplete.

But this is for Verity. I'll try.

SEPTEMBER

Verity tells her stories in present tense. She says it lends a sense of immediacy--like watching a play, or characters on a screen. She says it recreates the 'now'.

So this is Verity, walking down the street beneath overcast clouds and the barest promise of sun. She is still a young woman, but old enough to have a hint of crow's feet at the corners of her eyes. Her shoulder-length hair is fine and split-ended, seldom combed. It is an imprecisely muddy shade of teak.

Verity is the drab sort of bleached that comes only with fading and time. She is wiry but solid. Her eyes are a grey like sunlit fog, simultaneously bright and opaque, but she seldom meets anyone's gaze. She has a habit of twitching at nothing, and her lips move as she walks. Though she is clean and nondescript--her black coat well made, her white sneakers unmarred--people sometimes give her spare change.

Today she is watching the sidewalk, and the cyclist who nearly mows her down swears vehemently. Verity keeps walking. She is, in fact, paying attention, but the city is a barrage around her. The sidewalk shadows melt beneath her feet. Each glass tower she passes chimes in her ears. She wavers, briefly, before a window display that tastes of iron and caterpillars; she stares at the rainbow of handbags and perfectly placed leather boots, but her attention skitters to the side and she swallows the raw scent of rotting vegetables.

Only Verity's world is so dizzying. The cyclist--now halfway down the block, still spitting righteous anger--sees only a woman and a cracked sidewalk, downtown edifices looming glassily above on a cool morning. Brown leaves scatter beneath the tires of his bicycle, and he thinks nothing of it. To Verity, the autumn breeze is a firefly flicker making the street sparkle like rain, but the day is dry and dim and she trudges onward through the minute swirls of light.

When her phone vibrates in her pocket, she stops to answer it and presses her back to a crumbling brick wall. A torn paper flyer scrapes her shoulder, advertising the cancellation of some aborted concert.

"Jacob," says Verity, gently. Her voice is as grey as her eyes. She hasn't looked at the caller ID.

"Should we be accountants?" His light tenor in her ear comes a little fast, words as strings impatiently plucked.

In contrast, Verity is quiet for a long moment. She purses her lips; her brow furrows. "I... what?"

"Should we be accountants? Quick--this guy wants me to do his taxes."

"We, um--we tried that."

"We did?"

"Last year. You did it wrong and had to pay that woman nine hundred dollars."

"Oh. Yeah." Jacob's disappointment glides, spider-light, over Verity's skin. She raises a hand and swipes at her cheek, her eyes tracking the air three feet behind a passing taxi.

"We could--" she begins, but he has already interrupted.

"No, you're right. It's cool. Hey, don't forget the milk, okay?"

Verity brushes her thumb across the screen and slips the phone into her pocket before she resumes walking.

The route is familiar; she is not distracted by the sea-salt taste of the concrete beneath her feet. She turns right at the bakery, pacing under faux-antique lamp posts and the glare of tattered flyers (missing kitten!; missing child!!; ONE NIGHT ONLY SALE!!!). It's nearly noon, and she must share the remnants of the morning with drivers and cyclists and the occasional laughing child.

The crowd thickens at the edges of the Byward Market, near vegetable stands and stalls filled with maple syrup, flowers, and beaded crafts. A magician is setting up near the corner of Sussex and George; he has a faded, collapsible table, a deck of cards, and a dog. The spot he has chosen is shaded by a stone archway between two restaurants--it's a curious choice for a busker, a dim recess on an already shadowed day.

More, the magician and the dog are both in black: the magician with curling jet hair and a worn t-shirt, jacket and jeans and high boots like an urban pirate, and the dog just a sea of darkness lit by yellow eyes. The magician's hands are dusky and deft. The dog is the size of a wolf. The magician cocks his head to the left, and so does the dog. The magician fans a deck of cards in his right hand; the dog lifts its right front paw. To Verity, they both smell like sulphur and taste like three hours past midnight, so she stops.

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A Personal Bounty

A Personal Bounty

Book three in the Bounty series
edition:eBook
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