“But worth it if we stand a chance of saving him,” Chif said, crouched beside me in the undergrowth.
I grunted as my gaze flicked over the manicured garden ahead, assessing the best approach, making note of the paths the dozen or so armoured guards patrolled. It was doable, if pointless. Normally Chif and I used his mage abilities to pull off jobs the likes of which I never would have been able to dream of before I met him. We’d had a good thing going, until Chif heard that a mage child had been discovered. The kid was under house arrest before the magehunters came and collected him, and Chif wanted to snap him up before he ended up in the same place Chif had, all those years ago.
I understood, but it was risky, pointless, and stupid.
“Are you sure?” I whispered. “The kid’s not our problem.”
Chif turned to look at me, and I could just make out his eyes shining in the darkness. “His parents probably turned him in themselves. No one’s going to help him but us.”
I sighed and checked all my daggers were in place. “And what’re we gonna do with him once we’ve saved him?”
“Figure something out.”
Chif always did have more heart than brains.
“Let’s go then.” I crept out of the woods and ducked behind a bush shaped like a leaping goat. The garden was pretty, but it made my job a lot easier. Perhaps the owners assumed that no one would be stupid enough to try and sneak in, especially not with a dozen city guards crawling about the place to keep watch on a mage child.
Chif appeared at my side and we crept along a hedge, heading towards the huge stone mansion’s service entrance.
I held up a hand and we froze just as a pool of torchlight announced a guard’s passage ahead. We pressed ourselves into the shadows and the guard stomped past, humming tunelessly to himself.
Keeping my eyes on him as his back disappeared down another path, I took a tentative step forward. My foot caught a pebble and sent it skittering.
The guard paused, and then turned around, hand on his sword-hilt.
Chif and I looked at each other for half a second then sprung into silent action. Chif wiggled his fingers and the guard flew towards me as if carried by an invisible giant, his feet dragging uselessly across the ground. He panicked, drew his sword, and started to cry out, but I slid a dagger into his neck and clamped a hand over his mouth before he could utter more than a squeak. Chif helped me lower him to the ground painstakingly slowly to avoid any unnecessary armour clanks. He convulsed as blood sprayed from his neck, and I winced at every little metallic noise it caused.
“That was close,” Chif whispered, letting a long breath out.
“Still sure you want to risk this?” I cleaned my dagger on the guard’s surcoat.
We hauled the corpse into the hedge and extinguished the fallen torch, then continued along the path, pausing with bated breath as guards passed by, then darting through as silently as possible. No more loose pebbles gave me away, luckily.
Finally, we reached the service door, a small little wooden door set into the grand wall. Thankfully there were no guards since as they all seemed to be spread out in the garden. We snuck up and I reflexively reached for my lockpicks, but Chif splayed a hand to the lock and with a dull little thunk the door swung open. Mages. Damn useful folk.
I stepped inside and found myself in a dark kitchen. There were no sounds at, and hopefully that meant everyone was asleep. Chif closed the door and joined me.
“Where do you think they’re keeping him?” I hissed.
“Probably in his bedroom, that’d be somewhere upstairs.”
We slunk through the kitchens until we found a huge mahogany door presumably leading to the main living area of the mansion. We wanted to avoid being out in the open, so we turned aside and snuck around until we found a cold servant’s staircase, which we climbed. The mansion only had two stories, so we stepped out once we’d ascended, passing through a door to find ourselves on a luxurious balcony overlooking a ballroom. Tapestries depicting glorious battles against the Flatlanders lined the walls and thick red rugs coated the floor. I stroked a silky tapestry showing a long-dead king standing alone against a tide of Flatlanders, thinking about all the gold I could get for it.
“Come on,” Chif said. “We wouldn’t be able to carry it out.”
I sighed deeply. “I suppose.”
We padded along the carpet until we came to a door with toy stuffed goats, wooden swords, and other childrens’ toys scattered out front.
“Are all their servants on strike?” I said.
“This must be it,” Chif stepped over the toys and turned the handle. The door swung open smoothly and we stepped inside.
It was dark. All the shutters must have been closed on the windows.
A ball of red light appeared in Chif’s palm, revealing a room entirely empty except for a score of men armed with clubs crouched in wait along the walls.
They sprang at us with a roar, and I reached for a dagger, my muscles sped by fear. Chif got off a lightning bolt, which cracked into two of the attackers with a deafening blast that left me blinded. Something smashed into my skull and white-hot agony blossomed and I was on the ground, scrabbling desperately to wiggle out of someone’s iron grasp.
A hand pressed my face into the carpet and something hit my head again and the world was suddenly very far away.
My pain disappeared and I fell into warm darkness.
Slowly I faded into consciousness and cracked my eyes open. Puke dribbled from my lips down an armoured back, the metal shoulder guard I was slung over poked into my ribs with each step my captor took, and my skull felt like it had been cracked open and all my brains spooned out.
A trap. A fucking trap.
I’d known it had been stupid to go playing the hero, but no, Chif had insisted on trying to help. Bloody Chif.
Fuck. They had Chif. He had to still be alive, if they wanted us dead I doubted I’d be alive right now. Chif and I had rustled a few feathers in the years we’d been running together, but there was only one lot that would have the resources to pull something this big and organised, to plant fake rumours of a mage child.
The magehunters had finally caught up with us.
I broke Chif out of the Tainted Tower where he’d lived for years, almost entirely by accident, back when I was a little more than a kid and ever since then we’d tried to keep a low profile, knowing that the magehunters would never stop pursuing us. I guessed that they wanted to keep him alive to take back to the Tainted Tower as an example to the other mages, or something.
Looking around, I saw that I was being carried down a dark street, presumably in Crennis, the lakeside city the mansion had been just outside of. The only sound was the stomping of the guard’s boots as he took me to wherever they were going to lock me up and interrogate me.
Softly, not wanting to let the guard know I was awake, I tried wiggling my numb hands and feet. They were bound tight. Not good. My overcloak was gone, along with most of my blades, and I was left just in a shirt and trousers, bordering on freezing in the cold night air. I could feel that the blade in my boot was gone too, along with the big knife I kept up my right sleeve, but a cold little lump up my left sleeve gave me the tiniest surge of hope. They’d missed the tiny knife I kept there. Chif always mocked me for carrying so many weapons, but I needed all the advantages I could get without magic like him.
Agonizingly slowly, I scraped the knife against the ropes binding my wrists, trying to dislodge it from the sheath I kept it in. After what seemed like forever, it finally came free, but sliced into the skin of my forearm. Stifling a cry, I forced my body to remain limp as blood seeped from the cut.
Somehow I flicked the knife down into my grip and sawed softly at the ropes. I didn’t have long. Surely we’d reach the jail, where I assumed I was being taken, soon.
Finally I felt the rope fall away, but it fell to the ground loudly. The guard carrying me froze and stared at it.
“What...” He started, but I jammed the knife into his face the best I could from the awkward angle and it skittered off metal that must have been his helmet’s nose guard and sunk into something soft. He flung me off, screaming, and I landed on the ground hard enough that my sore head exploded with pain, but I gritted my teeth and grabbed at the guard’s foot, dragging him to the ground with a crash of armour. He barely seemed to notice and just kept screaming. I sliced through the rope around my ankles and leapt up, pressing my knife to the guard’s neck. He stilled instantly, pulling bloody hands from his face and I realised that I’d taken his eye out, leaving a lacerated socket dribbling juices down his cheek. His good eye glared at me.
“Shush,” I hissed, looking around, hoping to all hell that no one came to investigate. We were on a nice street with lamps burning at regular intervals casting a happy glow on beautifully carved houses and the occasional well-groomed tree. “Come with me or I cut out your other eye.”
“You’re not gonna…” He started, but I punched his jaw where his helmet left it exposed and his teeth clacked together. He breathed in to yell but I pressed the blade harder against his throat and a trickle of blood flowed down his neck.
“Once more and you lose the other eye, no more chances. Two more and I cut your throat.”
He just glared at me but I took it as assent and heaved him to his feet and down a dark side street, keeping my blade at his neck. I pressed him up against a wall and tore his helmet off so I could see his face better. He had a square jaw and a righteous glint in his eye that made me hate him more than I already did.
“Magehunters, yeah?” I hissed, my face so close to his that he’d be able to smell my breath.
“Yes.” He said levelly, mastering his pain even as blood streamed down his cheek. By the Sun his eye really was a mess.
“Where’d they take the mage?”
He spat blood and swung a fist at my face, but I was ready. I caught his wrist and pressed his fist against the wall and stabbed my knife into his other eye, swirling it around in the socket, scraping against bone, so he knew I meant fucking business.
“Try that shit again and your throat is next,” I growled, but I really hoped that he didn’t since I needed him to tell me where Chif was. I pressed the knife against his throat again and he didn’t scream, just kind of moaned like a dying animal, slumping against the wall.
“Where. Is. He?” I whispered right in his ear.
“Un…” He started, struggling to even get a breath. “Undercells.”
I slit his throat and blood sprayed hot and sticky into my face. He guard slumped to the ground, twitching.
The undercells were old abandoned mineshafts that ran under the lake Crennis was built next to. They’d been converted into prison cells renowned for being uncomfortable and damp. There was a regular jail built over them, and the undercells were reserved for the worst.
That wasn't even the worst part. Chif told me that back at the Tainted Tower, any mage who caused trouble was given some poison that required them to take an antidote every few days or they'd die. It meant they couldn't run, since the Tainted Tower alchemists are supposedly the only ones who know how to brew it and there's no cure.
I needed to get Chif out of there before the magehunters poisoned him, or he was done for.
The guard had stopped moving altogether, and his gory sockets stared up at the night sky. There wasn't too much blood on his armour, so I wiped it off, cleaned my face, and started undressing him.
I always hated armour. It's loud and heavy, the helmet blocks your peripheral vision, and when you have an itch underneath your cuirass, like I did, it's impossible to squeeze your hand underneath to scratch it.
However, it did mean that when I walked up to the two guards flanking the door to the Crennis jail, they greeted me with respectful nods rather than running me through with their halberds. The jail was a big stone building set apart from the main city, right on the edge of the lake. Soft waves lapped against the pebbly shore, a bizarrely relaxing sound that seemed out of place as my heart pounded and I struggled to look nonchalant.
"Can we help you with something?" The guard on the right said, holding his torch up to see my face in the darkness. They were both young, about my age, no doubt the new recruits given the shitty middle of the night guard duty.
"Need to get down to the undercells." I grunted.
"Who are you?" The left guard asked, squinting at me through a helmet that was slightly too big.
"Look, did the magehunters get back with the mage yet? I was left to carry his bloody accomplice back all on my own, but the bastard got away."
"Yeah they got back a quarter of an hour or so ago." The right guard hauled the prison door open. "I don't envy you breaking the news to them."
I stepped inside "Thanks."
"Good luck," They called, closing the door behind me.
I walked down the rough-cut corridor and opened the next door to find myself in a long barracks filled with sleeping guards, dozens of them. Some sat up playing cards and drinking at a little table. They waved at me absently as I entered, and I waved back, sweating into my armour padding. I had no idea where I was going but there was a stairwell at the end of the room so I went down, assuming that the entrance to the undercells had to be under.
I passed several floors where I could see cells filled with criminals and hear their yells or mutterings, even smell their shit, but I kept descending. Finally the staircase stopped and the walls changed from cut stone to rough chiselled granite, slick with water. Smoky torches barely lit the cramped corridor, lined on either side with twenty or so solid metal doors that must have held prisoners in absolute darkness, without any bars to let light in. I doubted they even had torches. There was only one guard, standing vigil in front of the last cell door before the torches stopped and the tunnel stretched on into unknowable blackness.
I shuffled along, banging my helmet on the jutting rock of the ceiling a couple of times and cursing my tallness. The guard raised an eyebrow at me, a hand on his shortsword.
"What do you want?"
"I need to report."
"On what? Who are you?"
I looked at my feet. "I lost the mage's accomplice."
He scratched grizzled stubble. "It was Bern's job to bring the accomplice back. Who are you?"
He pulled his shortsword partway out of his sheath, confident since my hands hung by my sides not touching the hilt of my stolen sword. He should have gutted me the instant he suspected something was amiss. If he had, I wouldn't have been able to slit his throat with the knife hidden in my palm before he even knew what was happening.
He dropped like a stone.
The cell door had no markings or handles, nothing but a keyhole, so I scrabbled around at the guard’s belt as he gurgled his last and feebly tried to beat me away until I found a key.
I paused with the key before the lock. I didn’t know how many people were in there, if Chif was even alive, or if I even had the right cell.
With a deep breath I jammed the key in the lock and the door swung outwards a fraction. Strange, herbal smoke drifted out and I stifled a cough.
“What?” Called a harsh female voice.
I stayed hidden outside of the door, though I ached to peep inside.
“Can I have a hand out here?” I responded in a gravelly approximation of the dead guard’s voice.
Someone swore and whispered irritated orders, then heavy footsteps clanged towards me. I shrank back as a man in the white plate armour of a Tainted Tower warden stomped out, frowned at me, then noticed the body lying at my feet.
My plan didn’t extend this far. I’d hoped something amazing would come to me in the moment, but as I faced down the elite warrior in front of me as realisation dawned on his battle-scarred face, I was shitting myself.
I backed up the way I’d come, slowly and calmly. “I think he was an imposter…” I motioned to the guard on the floor, not really expecting the warden to believe me, but buying time.
He glanced down at the guard’s face. “No.” His voice was cold and confident as he pulled a greatsword from over a shoulder, holding it as if five feet of metal were light as a twig.
I caught a glimpse past him into the cell as I walked backwards. Chif lay still on a wooden table and a woman in white armour stood over him.
My gut clenched. Was he alive?
A man with long, greasy hair stirred a pot with one hand and added a powder with the other. It was heated by a small but fierce fire and produced sickly green fumes.
The poison? Maybe I wasn’t too late.
The warden stepped towards me behind the point of his gigantic sword. “Surrender and you may live.”
My back hit the cold iron of a cell door. “Surrender? And how do I know you won’t just cut me down?”
“You have my word,” He said, and I pretended to consider this as I felt for the keyhole behind me then slotted the key inside, praying to anything that was listening that it would fit.
I swung the door open and the warden charged at me. Before I could even look to see if the cell was occupied, let alone by a potential ally, I ducked and the warden’s greatsword struck up sparks on the floor where I’d been standing moments earlier.
I spun away, risking a glance into the cell. The flickering firelight barely pierced the blackness, and the only indication of occupation was an overpowering stench of rot and shit.
The warden spun to face me, a red flush on his cheeks the only indication of any loss of composure on his calm face. I pressed myself up against the tunnel wall, limiting the strikes he could make with the huge blade in the cramped space. He stabbed, much quicker than I’d been expecting, and I dodged too slowly, weighed down by stolen guard armour. The blade sheared through the thin metal protecting my side and an inch of cold iron bit into my flesh.
Gasping, I threw my knife at the warden’s face, but he lowered his head and it bounced off the top of his helmet. I pulled out my stolen shortsword and brandished it with what I hoped looked like skill.
The warden advanced, stabbing again and I brought my blade up to parry but the blow was too strong and I was thrown backwards as the sword was jarred painfully from my grip. I landed in a puddle with a pathetic splash and the warden loomed over me, raising his sword for a finishing blow.
“You should have-” He started to say, but sharp-nailed hands twisted his arms back and a filthy face appeared, biting into the exposed flesh where his chin met his neck. The warden’s yell turned to a gurgle and blood sprayed everywhere, coating the newcomer’s face with red.
He chewed on the warden’s neck, holding him still with wiry arms. He wore nothing but a ragged loincloth, and blood ran down his hairy chest. His filed teeth ripped into the warden’s flesh with ease, and he swallowed whole chunks, closing his eyes with ecstasy.
They really did keep the worst of the worst in the undercells. But right then, that suited me just fine.
I got up slowly and flipped my shortword so I offered the hilt to the cannibal. Red-rimmed eyes flicked to me and he froze mid-chew.
“I’m no guard. I snuck in here to rescue my friend. Take this and get out of here if you want, exit’s that way,” I pointed at the stairs.
He slowly took the sword and his eyes ran along its length with wicked glee.
I held up the key. “Free some friends if you like.” I threw it to him and he caught it.
As he dropped the dead warden and scurried to the cell next to his, I picked my trusty little knife off the ground and stepped inside Chif’s cell.
“Stop,” said the harsh-voiced woman, levelling a crossbow at my heart.
She wore white warden plate armour with the golden trim of a magehunter. Half of her face and scalp was a mess of burn scars, one eye white and sightless.
The greasy-haired alchemist had held a cup halfway to Chif’s lips, filled with a bubbling green liquid.
There was still a chance.
All three of us froze, eyeing each other off as newly freed sickos whooped outside.
“You’re his accomplice are you?” The magehunter spat.
“No, this is all just a misunderstanding.” I said, grinning sheepishly.
Her eyes flicked to the alchemist. “Hurry, do it.”
The cup moved for Chif’s lips and I threw my knife, diving sideways. The magehunter fired and a bolt slammed into my shoulder, igniting a blast of white-hot agony. My knife span, knocking the cup from the alchemist’s hands and severing two of his fingers in a spray of spilt poison and blood.
The alchemist dropped, screaming and cradling his hand, and the magehunter scrambled to load another bolt from the quiver at her belt.
I heaved myself to my feet, teeth gritted against the pulsing scream of pain from my shoulder, and charged her.
She dropped the crossbow and drew a dagger from her belt, dropping low into a fighting stance to meet me.
I knew that I needed a weapon if I was to stand even the slightest chance, so I improvised, grasping the shaft of the bolt in my shoulder and yanking it out before I could think better of it. I screamed as agony exploded, blurring my vision, but I stabbed down at the magehunter’s exposed face with the bolt.
She swiped the bolt away with a flick of her dagger and punched me in the guts with a gauntleted fist. The air whooshed from my lungs and the cut in my side tore wider with a sickening rip.
Her dagger lanced for my guts and I tried to dodge backwards, but she had one of my shoulders in an iron grip and all I could do was squirm like a baby as the blade streaked for me in one everlasting instant.
A flash of red light and a blast of heat. I blinked furiously, flailing around as my vision slowly returned and the ringing in my ears subsided I saw the smoking wreck of the magehunter’s body splayed against the wall.
Chif levered himself semi-upright where he lay on the table, face gaunt and eyes hollow.
“Did I get her?” He asked, voice slurred with whatever herbs they’d used to sedate him.
“Damn fucking straight you did,” I croaked as I collapsed to my knees and tried to get a breath past the agony. I twisted my shoulder and stifled a yell at the pain it caused, but I could still move it normally. Blood streamed from my shoulder and side, so I tore off my armour and bandaged tightly them with strips of under-armour padding, hoping that I wouldn’t pass out from blood loss or pain, then put the damaged armour back on.
I grabbed the magehunter’s dagger and tried to ignore the smell of overcooked meat. “You okay?”
“I feel weird.”
“You just lie there for a second and catch your breath.”
The alchemist curled into a corner, cradling his ruined hand with his eyes down. I grabbed his collar, ignoring the flare of pain it brought from my shoulder, and yanked him up against the wall, pressing my blade into his belly.
“Did you poison him?’ I growled between gritted teeth.
The alchemist’s eyes widened. “No! I didn’t! All I gave him was a sleeping drought.”
I pressed the dagger so that it pierced his shirt and the skin underneath, not deep enough to cause any permanent damage but enough do draw blood.
The alchemist shrieked. “I swear! We have to brew it fresh each time.” His eyes flicked to the pot.
“Good,” I let out a breath.
The alchemist tried for a smile but it came out as a grimace. “No harm done, eh? Can I go, please? I won’t tell, I promise. Please, I’ve got a-”
I slit his throat and let his body fall to the ground.
“Wha…?” gurgled Chif, trying to get up.
“Just stay there a second and relax,” I said, peeking out of the half-open cell door to the tunnel beyond. It was quiet now, and all the cell doors stood open. The dead guard and Tower warden had been stripped of their armour and weapons and lay naked. One body I didn’t recognise was splayed out next to them, his face a ruined mash of half-eaten flesh. A freed prisoner must not have been grateful enough to the cannibal.
I grabbed it by the legs and dragged it into Chif’s cell.
“Who’s that?” Chif rubbed his eyes, sitting up now.
“Just a prisoner, but he’s about the same build as you.” The corpse’s body was stocky like Chif’s. He must have been imprisoned recently to show no signs of starvation. “Move off the table.” I said, and he did so, standing unsteadily next to me.
I heaped the corpse in Chif’s place. “Hopefully any of the guards who saw you might still think that this is you, and that the magehunter and her cronies were all killed when the prisoners managed to escape somehow. The Tainted Tower might think that you’re dead.”
“No more magehunters.” Chif’s voice was finally starting to sound normal, and he stood up straight.
“Hopefully.” I didn’t say what we both knew, that if the Tainted Tower figured out what we’d done, they’d never rest until we were found and executed on the spot.
Chif looked me in the eye. “Thanks. I mean it.”
I nodded and looked away. “You’d have done it for me. Seems like I’m making a habit of rescuing you.”
“I’m sorry I led us into that trap.”
“Save the speeches for when we’re out of here. We’re not free yet.”
Chif nodded and I tucked the magehunter’s dagger into my belt and picked up her crossbow, loaded it, then slung the bolts on my belt too.
We stepped into the tunnel then started up the staircase. I kept the crossbow up, ready for anyone who came down.
Shouts echoed down at us, growing stronger with each step we ascended.
“Sounds like your friends are causing trouble.” Chif said.
“Makes it easier for us to get out.”
“We’ll need it. I can’t risk using my magic in front of anyone, or they won’t believe that I’m dead.”
“Yeah, leave it to me.” I patted the crossbow.
We ascended past the levels with the normal jail cells, and the prisoners hooted madly at the sound of the commotion above. Some cried out to be freed, and others just made as much noise as possible.
Just before the stairs opened onto the guard barracks I stopped. The bodies of three guards and two prisoners spilled onto the stairs, leaking blood that dripped ever downwards.
“Get into guard armour, quickly,” I said, and Chif wrinkled his nose but began unstrapping amour and pulling it on. I helped him and after several agonisingly long minutes we had him suited up like a guard. Most of his straps were completely loose and it would have all fallen off in a fight, but to a casual glance in what sounded like utter chaos above it would hopefully work. Chif picked up a shortsword and we picked out way over the bodies into the barracks.
A score of guards, some half-dressed, had forced the remaining six prisoners into a corner. The room was littered with overturned tables and beds, and everywhere gory bodies of both guardsmen and prisoners lay cut open, entrails twining around bedposts. As we watched, the guards interlocked shields and stabbed shortswords at the undisciplined prisoners, who lashed out with stolen weapons but were quickly cut down. Finally, only the cannibal was left, snarling and snapping with his bloody mouth as he warded off blows with almost superhuman vigour, surrounded by a tiny wall of his fallen fellows. As I stepped closer he caught my gaze, and a spark of feral hope lit in his eyes as he recognised me.
I aimed the crossbow and fired, and the bolt caught him in the face. His head snapped back and he crumpled.
The guards turned to look at me, surprised but grateful, forgetting to wonder why they’d never seen me before.
Chif pointed down the stairs. “More of them have escaped!”
“Get your arses down there!” I added.
The guards swore and ran down the stairs, and before they realised that Chif and I weren’t following we strolled through the barracks, out the door, down the corridor, and up to the door leading outside. I yanked on the handle but it was locked tight.
Knocking, I called out. “Open up.”
“Who is it?”
I prayed it was the same young guards as before. “The guy who lost the mage’s accomplice. I’ve been ordered to do a perimeter sweep.”
“How is it in there?”
“Not great, but under control for the moment. Don’t worry, we’ve got the escapees confined to the cell blocks.”
Chif grinned and shook his head at my lies, and I heard the young guards conferring in hushed tones.
The door cracked open and the guard with the oversized helmet peered through.
“See, it’s just me, now let us through, eh?” I smiled amiably.
Chif kept his head down beside me as the guard looked between us.
“Alright, come on then,” He ushered us through and slammed the door."
We stepped out into the clean night air and I took a deep breath. Waves lapped against the beach, stars shone, and the lights of Crennis twinkled down the road. I’d almost forgotten how great clean air tastes when you’re a free man despite all odds.
Chif and I marched off around the side of the jail, and as the young guards disappeared from sight Chif gave them an exaggerated salute. “Keep up the good work lads!”
They saluted back, the idiots, and then Chif and I were alone, hidden from view by the corner of the prison building.
We stood alone in the darkness and both let out a small chuckle.
“How the fuck did we manage that?” I said.
“Luck?” Chif replied, his eyes to shiny spots in the shadow. “I really am sorry I got us into this. Thanks.”
“Yeah well, if I didn’t rescue you, who would?”
“And here I was thinking that you hated the idea of sticking your neck out for other people.”
“Yeah, other people.”
©June 2016 Matthew Cropley
Matthew Cropley lives and writes in South Australia. He is a first reader and reviewer for Grimdark Magazine. His story "Small Fish" is upcoming in Dimension 6 (Issue 8, July 2016).