Skip to content

Category Archives: Silhouine


“Hold out the plan-scroll, boys,” says Captain Lanthorn, and her first mates stretch the saurian form across the empty little shop.

“It’s been long since I designed at such a scale,” frets the old clockmaker, twitching once a second. “I can’t guarantee it will work!”

“Of course it will,” she murmurs. “It’s perfect, isn’t it, boys? And now, unique.”

Cutpenny binds his wrists and gags his mouth. Curl snaps the cord for the heart-key from around his neck.

It’s six days before anyone finds the body. Around him, dragons of teak and rosewood are just beginning to wind down.


Silhouine sees the Iron Heart for the first time at the suq, buying a cat for the master’s mouse problem. They all see it. No shadow falls over them; no screech makes them cower. They just know to look up together.

Lanthorn’s skybeast is blood-red with cultured rust, and the tick of its mainspring smooth as a knife. Its wings and keel are taut orange silk. It is a dragon. It is fire, and greed.

Silhouine becomes aware that the market has, with silence and expediency, emptied out around her. One of Vertumn’s gang has stolen the money-pouch from her belt.


“Did you get one? Never mind,” says Master Isaam, hustling the corner boy out the front door with an improbably large bundle on his head. “I’m leaving you to mind things, can’t be hanging about with that beast in the skies. You know enough not to burn the shop down? If the pirates don’t, anyway—well, there’s food laid in, I’ll be back when it’s safe. Don’t forget the mice!”

Silhouine’s mouth starts to form a question, but her mind supplies no appropriate words. She stands, lips half-pursed, an alley kitten squirming warmly in the rough sack under her arm.


Silhouine spends the night underneath her little pantry-tucked bed, fearful of dragons, with a cat who alternates between dozing and jerking itself awake to bury startled claws in her back.

In the morning she knocks next door, at Mlle. Sunanza’s, to find that she’s not the only apprentice left to literally mind the shop.

“There are a bunch of us stuck here, owners hied out to the country,” glowers Dulap, over buttered dumplings. “We’re having a bonfire in the square tonight. Want to come?”

“I’d like that,” Silhouine smiles.

They don’t burn the shop down that night. That happens later.


Silhouine and Dulap and their fellows cheer on the fire, while around them burghers cower behind blackout curtains. It’s some time before they hear the distant boom of the dogfight.

A platoon of harriers from the garrison have hounded out the Iron Heart, and the result is firework: traces of gold that hint at unseen aerobatics. The harriers started it, but they aren’t winning.

They’re overhead for a moment, and most of the prentices cheer even louder. Silhouine’s frozen. Sparks earth themselves around her, and a pattering rain of debris follows; looking down to follow it, she sees a human tooth.


It’s intoxicating, the freedom of living under terror, moreso than the cider or the lateness of the night. Silhouine and a boy she doesn’t know kiss shivering, and stumble from the embers down alleys that have always intrigued her.

Morning: she sneaks in the back door, coiffured like a thicket, because Ms. Imbri is ringing the bellpull at the front. Silhouine splashes stale water and makes desperate overtures to her hair.

No more bonfires, she promises, red-eyed in a tin mirror. She stays home for two nights. This is how she misses it when the Iron Heart bombs the Stolen Bridge.


It was, they said, carved up and carried back to the city in pieces, on greased sleds and low-riding ships, from the westward lands where the sun dies in winter. There was no stone with its strange green veins anywhere in Silhouine’s country; a dozen people could walk over it standing abreast.

She and Dulap make their way out of the nervous crowd around the remains.

“Were they making a point?” Silhouine asks.

“I don’t know,” says Dulap. “Do you feel pointed?”

“It was big and ugly. I never really liked it.”

Her bed is cold, and her kitten shivers.


It starts with a simple idea: Silhouine is lonely; the master bedroom is empty; some extra money wouldn’t hurt. She hangs out a sign for a boarder. An applicant duly arrives.

“I’ve got money,” says the woman, whose name will turn out to be Yael. “Will you turn me out if I say I’m foreign born?”

“Will you do foreign magic in the spare room?”

“No,” says Yael.

“Then come in,” says Silhouine, feeling magnanimous and clever.

Yael, it seems, can cook; Silhouine can mend. In a week they’re fast friends.

This is the part where they burn down the shop.


The occupation, such as it is, drags on into the rainy season. Master Isaam isn’t back yet, and Silhouine begins to suspect incidents on the mountain pass. It worries her: she liked Isaam, and doesn’t want him dead or destitute. Will an heir or a creditor show up to claim the shop? Will he keep the old apprentice around?

“You know you’re running out of inventory,” says Yael, at last.

“Yes,” snaps Silhouine, who doesn’t have the capital to restock. “I’m working on it.”

Dulap shows up the next day, with a wheelbarrow and white all the way around his eyes.


“I had to take it in trade,” says Dulap, “he said Mistress always did before, and if I didn’t he’d stop bringing me his custom. I can’t afford to lose customers when half the city has fled to the hills!”

“Nor can anyone,” says Yael softly.

“But it wasn’t his to give?” says Silhouine, still trying to work this out.

“I don’t even know what it is, or why these other people want it,” says Dulap, rubbing his face. “Could you store it? Just until I can unload it?”

“What did he call the stuff?” says Silhouine.

“Ferrous alumen,” he says.