Avana, Aramil and Charles have returned to the arctic north along with a DTEC research team, attempting to recreate the cult's research and open a gateway to other worlds. However, after an explosion reveals sabotage, the hunt is on to identify the traitor in their midst.
Saboteur is a short story that takes place shortly after the ending of The Devil's Gate, the second book in The Malkovari War series. It features old and new characters, and focuses on the Solen twins, Charles and the relationship between them.
You can pick up Saboteur as an ebook from Amazon here, or read on for a preview of the first few pages…
“Ugh, not salted herring again!” protested Avana. “You'd think they could manage a little variation. Someone remind me why we’re here, in the middle of nowhere?”
“We’re going to be witnessing history being made, remember?” answered her brother Aramil, picking at his dinner. “And supposedly we’re meant to be helping, although speaking for myself, I didn't understand any of what’s happening here the first time round and I still don't now. Hopefully this is proving useful for your own research project? I assume it must be, or you wouldn’t still be putting up with the cold and the food.”
“I can kind of understand why you two are here,” said the other woman at their table, only slightly older than the Solen twins, with a chestnut bob and an engaging smile. “You were the only ones to have seen this portal in action, after all. You, however…” she gestured at the table’s final occupant, and the oldest one of the group. “As far as I’ve heard, you weren't even here?” Her tone was playful rather than hostile.
“That much is true,” replied Charles, tucking into his dinner with enthusiasm. “But the good people of your Dianthic Thaumic Engineering Company were keen to consult anyone who came remotely near this place. More to the point, they were willing to pay a very substantial daily rate to retain my expertise. And that, my lovely Elspha, is why I am here.”
Avana shook her head. “You do realise that sooner or later they’re going to notice that your so-called expertise consists solely of eating, drinking and cheating at cards, and pack you on the next sled out of here?”
“All the more reason to make the most of the free dinners while they last, eh?” he replied. Aramil and Elspha chuckled, while Avana rolled her eyes.
“Still, as Aramil said, history is in the making,” said Elspha. “The first real test is tonight. I assume you’ll all be coming to watch? We can head over there now and see the final preparations, if you like.” Once they had all finished their food, Elspha led the way.
The Solen twins had returned with their friend Charles to Barbican Station, as it was now known, a week ago. Both had some doubts about returning to the isolated cave system in the remote arctic where they had almost been killed by daemons barely a month before, but it was clear that the invitation from DTEC presented Avana’s best opportunity to actually undertake some genuine research for her dissertation. That was, after all, the reason they had travelled thousands of miles to end up in the arctic in the first place.
In her time there so far she had been frustrated that the DTEC engineers wouldn't involve her as much as she would have liked. They did at least allow her almost unrestricted access to their results, and it was certainly proving very helpful.
Plus, she had made a great friend in Elspha. The bubbly mage had graduated from the Mages Guild’s college in Dianthus two years ago and walked straight into a job at DTEC, the empire’s leading organisation in magical research. If she wasn't so damn likeable Avana would have been jealous. As it was, Elspha had taken the younger mage under her wing, and was one of the only engineers there who didn't treat her like a schoolgirl.
They reached the main portal room in time to see DTEC technicians bustling about the haphazard assembly of cables and machinery surrounding a large metal arch, making final adjustments in preparation for the test. Much had changed but there was still something about the chamber that made Avana shiver. It was here that she had first seen the daemons emerge, summoned to this world to destroy her and her brother. That was one experience she wouldn't soon forget.
Almost all records, and much of the original equipment, had been removed or destroyed by the Cult of Maar once they realised they had been exposed. However, a rapid response from the Dianthic Sky Fleet as soon as the Solens had been debriefed in Salamanca caught the cultists before their evacuation was fully complete. DTEC hadn't been left with much to work with, but it was still enough to advance their limited understanding tremendously. The researchers were now tantalisingly close to opening a door to another world.
“Nearly ready!” said Elspha, the excitement apparent in her voice. “Just imagine what we might see if this works: a whole new world!”
“I am imagining,” said Aramil. “And I don't have to try very hard. I've seen a portal to another world before, in this very room, and if the things that came out of it were anything to go by, that world was cruel and spiky.”
“They can shut it down if anything tries to come through though, right?” asked Avana.
“Of course!” Elspha replied. “Plus, we’ve got the Legion here to protect us, not to mention several of the best mages I know. We’re perfectly safe, don't worry.”
“Even so, maybe we should watch from nearer the exit?” suggested Charles, but he didn't move from where he stood beside Avana.
The activity in the centre of the room had become increasingly frantic before the technicians gradually completed their tasks and withdrew. One, the middle-aged wizard named Sageman who led the research team, moved to stand by a bank of levers opposite the arch.
“Now commencing Live Test Number One,” he announced before, without further ceremony, pulling one of the levers.
A deep humming filled the room. It rose steadily in pitch, but was quickly joined by another sound: a grating noise that made Avana shiver.
“We’re too far out of balance!” shouted a technician from the other side of the room. “Shut it down now!”
Sageman reacted swiftly, but not before smoke started pouring from a large box wired into the archway. He conjured a breeze with a wave of his hand to clear it.
“Live Test Number One is now over,” he announced glumly. “Let’s take a look at the damage.”