"McNeill's third installment delivers on everything the series has been promised. Not just his best work yet, one of the best fantasy books I've read in a long time."

Mia Wells, FF Reflections

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· Chapter One ·


Maynard Trigg tried not to listen. The emmiter howled in his hand, aching against the inside of his head. He kept his hand steady as sparks dotted his goggles. The emitter poured flashing hot chemicals onto the length of piping. Then, as the sound reached its unbearable crescendo, the pipe fell in half. Both ends rattled onto the workbench from the vice. Their white-hot tips glowed.

Abbey approached from the storeroom, stripped to her grime-stained sleeveless vest, arms laden with a sheet of alloy. She thumped the piece on the bench. Rapped a rhythm on the sheet. Then rapped it again.

‘Master Deamone says folk music is spurious nonsense for time wasters,’ Maynard said.

‘She teaches numerology, any advice she has beyond mathematics…’ Abbey said.

‘Two more pipes,’ Maynard said.

Abbey disappeared back into the storeroom, returned with another section of piping, this one warped by some great weight. She used the bent end of the pipe to tap out the rhythm once again.

‘Aren’t we running behind?’ he said.

‘I know you know it,’ Abbey said.

She repeated the rhythm.

‘Fine,’ Maynard sighed. ‘Glass and Grensmith?’ Maynard said.

Abbey tapped the beats again. Three quick taps, one short, pause, two, then three, one short, pause, two.

‘Clem and someone?’ Maynard said.

Abbey picked up the two half-pipes Maynard already split and poised them at either end of the sheet metal so that they would sit perpendicular to the flat surface.

‘Clem and Alcott,’ she said.

‘When is this ever going to come up?’ Maynard said.

‘That would be telling,’ Abbey said.

‘You are an awful partner,’ Maynard said. ‘Keep it there.’

Maynard took up the emitter. Thumbed the valve and used the white-hot chemicals to fuse the pipes to the sheet metal. The screech filled the workshop, echoed off the vertical joined walls. As the sound faded, Abbey let go of the pipes and they remained in place. Silence settled over the workshop.

Maynard shook out his shoulders.

‘Time for another?’ he said.

Abbey consulted the morning light streaming through the port-hole window.

‘You’ll be late for Rhetoric,’ she said.

‘We need the coppers.’

Abbey nodded, fetched another length of piping. Maynard hunched over the workbench. Took up the emitter.

‘Hold up,’ Journeyman Reima called. She crossed the workshop, clean academic cloak draped over one shoulder and pinned hair striking against the greased benchtops and worn tools.

'We’ve got time for one more, make it quick Reima,’ Abbey said.

‘You’re in a good mood,’ Journeyman Reima said.

‘You look well,’ Maynard said.

Reima smiled.

‘See, is a little flattery so much to ask?’ she said, offering Abbey an arched brow.

‘We’re finishing up,’ Maynard said. Glanced at the workbench.

‘He’s in a mood, I wouldn’t keep him waiting,’ Journeyman Reima said and nodded behind her.

The door to the workshop banged open. Master Legget strode in, leathery cloak falling away from his huge frame. He clutched a ceramic cup of steaming coffee.

‘If I can hear your bickering from my office then why even ask for your cooperation,’ Master Legget said. He approached. Offered Journeyman Reima a firm look. She smiled at Maynard one last time, then hurried into the storeroom.

‘That’s a dangerous one,’ Abbey said under her breath.

‘We’re friends, you should try making one,’ Maynard muttered back.

‘You seem hard at work Journeyman Lackless. I gather you are in a fine mood as ever, Guilder Blackthorn?’

‘We’re just finishing up sir,’ Maynard said.

‘I’ve a shipment coming this evening that requires an expedited turn around, the offer is increased to three chits for each piece if you’re available,’ he said.

‘We’re paid three coopers per piece now, that’s no increase,’ Maynard said.

‘Afraid it’s two a piece this shipment, did Journeyman Reima not tell you?’ Master Legget asked.

‘She was preoccupied,’ Abbey said.

‘Didn’t have a chance,’ Maynard offered. ‘Why the reduction in price?’

‘The Prefect is threatening to pull our contract unless we reduce our fee. I haggled for the urgent shipment in exchange for the altered fee to make up the coin in the long tooth. So, what say you?’

‘We can’t, sir,’ Maynard said.

Master Legget stiffened.

‘Short notice,’ Abbey said. Crossed her arms.

‘I shan’t pry, but I must say I’m perplexed. You hound Journeyman Reima for extra shifts, express frustration at the reduced fee but won’t take the extra work to pocket more chits?’

‘We have an existing commitment,’ Maynard said.

Master Legget sipped his coffee.

‘It is unfortunate your attention is drawn elsewhere, Journeyman. I’d rather hoped you might be interested in a longer tenure, perhaps as a Guilder,’ Master Legget said.

‘We can’t, sir, I’m sorry,’ Maynard said.

Master Legget nodded. Scrutinized Maynard. Turned, and strode back through the workshop and into his office. The door banged shut.

‘Can’t imagine anything worse than becoming a Guilder in the workshop,’ Abbey said.

‘You are a Guilder in the workshop,’ Journeyman Reima said as she emerged from the storeroom, still pristine and clean.

‘Eavesdropping is unbecoming,’ Abbey replied.

‘I’ll definitely be late now,’ Maynard said. He pulled off the thick canvas gloves.

‘I’ll finish it myself,’ Abbey said. ‘Go impress Deamone.’

Maynard nodded.

‘See you at Hank’s?’ Abbey said

‘Cover for me if I’m late,’ Maynard said.

‘Be my guest,’ Maynard said.

She fell in step as they crossed the workshop together. He pushed open the door, held it for her as she stepped through. He hung his pair of gloves among the scores of pairs that filled every free breadth of space in the antechamber.

‘I know, but it’s a lot of fun,’ Journeyman Reima said. She adjusted her cloak, so it hung over her left arm, revealing her right shoulder and the swirl of inked tattoos.

‘He stiffed us,’ Maynard said.

‘I tried to talk him around for you,’ Journeyman Reima said. They began climbing the steep, nonsense stairs of The Crucible.

‘Abbey is still not over losing it,’ Maynard said.

‘The Master role was months ago?’

Maynard shrugged.

‘Thank you for trying,’ he said.

‘You would’ve done the same for me. You never told me why The Chancellor withdrew the offer,’ Journeyman Reima said.

Maynard hesitated.

‘She swore us to confidentially,’ he said, only half a lie. Chancellor Wesley did swear them to secrecy but only made the offer because of the incident with Master Uskore and the pre-Dust vault beneath the school. Abbey refused to say what happened between her and Chancellor Wesley that caused the offer to disappear. Journeyman Reima peeled away, heading off to her first class. Maynard crossed the lobby, and made for Abbey’s quarters, his mind dwelling on the bear-like Master Uskore, eyes wide, staggering toward him in the dark chamber far below The Crucible.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

"Impossible to think this series hasn't always been around. Truly timeless. Never before has the skies felt so textured and real."

Verity Hawthorne, MetaFour Monthly

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

"Creepy and hopeful and melancholic, the waystation is so well realised I can't do it justice: every single character, place and object feel infused with history and motivation. Will literally keep you guessing until the last page."

"Left my chest aching. Just... wow."

Kerstin V. Jene

  • ★★★★★

    "Once again I find myself itching to reread the series after putting book three down. Stunning. Precise. It takes many authors decades to paint such a rich world with such nuance and depth, all layered over a break-neck pace, just brilliant."

    - Nora Black

  • ★★★★★

    "I've been lucky enough to read advanced copies of the Maynard Trigg series, but I've never been more excited for readers than The Vanishing Empire. The waystation is truly spellbinding, the world continues to develop in the most fascinating, unpredictable ways. If you like fantasy, science fiction or just adventure stories, you need to read this series."

    - Clyde Hollanback

  • ★★★★★

    "My favourite in the series so far. Effortlessly rides the line between action, horror, drama - and among all of that you find yourself developing this rich understanding of how Harfwere works, the complicated relationships of its denizens and so on. The revelations made me pick up book one and start again. A genius third book."

    - August Watt, Watts Publishing

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