The Interminables - Paige Orwin

Chapter One

A spectral apparition shot overhead on rotten vulture’s wings.

Edmund Templeton, perched atop a rusted orange gantry crane some eight or nine stories above sea level, folded up the map he’d been inspecting and tucked it into his black double-breasted suit jacket. Good. The mercenaries must be further inland. If he were them, he would have kept his distance, too.

He glanced over his shoulder at the faint, fog-softened outlines of crumbling towers that rose across the brackish waters of the sound. It was a skyline that should have been familiar – it was New York City, after all, or had been – but the Wizard War had changed that. Now the only constant was the dark spire that loomed over its lesser and ever-changing brethren, auroras crackling from its peak.

It was worse than Boston. He hated being this close.

He climbed back down to the crane’s cabin, holding onto his top hat. The evening wind tore at his opera cape, but he’d just replaced the buttons: it would hold.

His first official assignment since 2013, and it had to take him within thirty miles of New York. He’d lost friends in New York. He’d lost Grace in New York.

He was the Hour Thief, the oldest and one of the most powerful agents of the wizard’s cabal that now tried its hardest to be a government, and he had been put out of commission for almost eight years by New York.

He shook his head, admonishing himself. Not now.

Focus on those mercenaries. Their mysterious employer. The artifact smuggling that the Twelfth Hour had so far failed to keep in check.

Focus on 2020.

The apparition wheeled back into sight. It circled once, streaming contrails of barbed wire, and then alighted on the gantry above him with a booming rush that sounded like distant artillery.

“I’m in the cabin,” Edmund called, unfolding the map again. Less wind down here. He retrieved a thin marker and noted changes to the coastline. There had been a small enclave of survivors here, last he knew, but they seemed to have left in a real hurry some time ago.

And about those gouges on the beach...

A ghost swung down onto the cabin catwalk.

It was a man, bespectacled and broad-shouldered, wearing an army uniform tunic, field cap, and leg wrappings of a style not sported since 1916. Austro-Hungarian. The First World War. A medic’s cross banded one arm. He might have resembled a hawkish clerk, with broad cheekbones and a hooked nose, if the burn scarring that twisted the left side of his face into a ruined mockery of a grin hadn’t countered that impression. Barbed wire coiled at his feet.

Istvan Czernin. Best surgeon in the world, and one of the most dangerous entities the Twelfth Hour had ever captured. He was des Teufels Arzt, the Devil’s Doctor, the legendary apparition who had haunted battlefields across Europe and Asia for decades, leaving a trail of blurred photographs, tight-lipped veterans, unofficial unit insignia, and mysterious gashes in the wreckage of tanks and aircraft.

He’d tried to kill Edmund once, a long time ago. Edmund liked him better as a friend.

“I found the convoy,” the ghost began in a cadenced Hungarian accent more than reminiscent of Dracula. “Four tanks, just as Miss Justice said, and they’re having a terrible time trying to conceal their exhaust.”

Edmund marked “krakens” off the shore. “I believe you.”

“It’s the coal, you know. I don’t know what they do to refine it.” The ghost peered over his shoulder. “Is that a map?”

“Someone has to do it.”

“But the satellites–”

“–aren’t wizards, don’t know what to look for, and I don’t trust their accuracy. Besides, I thought