Read an extract from Weave the Lightning by Corry L. Lee
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Happy publication day to Weave the Lightning by Corry L. Lee!
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breath came quick in the pre-dawn darkness, beading condensation on the
window. She wiped it away with her sleeve, straining for the glint of a signal
lantern. The circus train’s steady clack-clack
of tires on track slowed as they neared the railyard, and the swaying sleeper
car threatened to lull her back to sleep. Brakes screeched, metal on metal.
Celka forced her eyes wide.
family’s waking murmur sounded wrong—their voices hushed, covers rustling
furtively, coughs cut with tension. A match hissed, a golden flare that
shattered Celka’s night vision as her cousin Ela lit a dark lantern, slamming
its shutter quickly into place, plunging them back into darkness.
a pause between the cry of brakes, Aunt Benedikta asked, “Who are we
people,” Grandfather said, and Celka filled in the rest. Two resistance
fighters her family would smuggle into their sleeper car. Celka burned to know
what they had done or knew to be hunted by the Tayemstvoy—the secret police.
her hands around her face, Celka blinked to recover her night vision, squinting
to spot motion. Beneath her nightshirt, her storm pendant hung heavy about her
throat, and Celka could almost imagine Pa keeping lookout beside her. The
bozhskyeh storms will return soon, he’d told her years ago as
he unfastened the brass pendant from around his neck. Your
imbuements will be key to our victory against the State.
He’d placed the pendant over her head, and she’d been so proud to have earned
his trust. But the secret police had dragged Pa away and, strain as she might
during thunderstorms, the lightning flashing through Bourshkanya’s skies
carried no magic.
circus train rounded a bend and, ahead, light streamed from the railyard watch
house. Fighting free of memory, Celka blocked the brightness with her palm,
searching for the resistance signal.
Grandfather said, and light flashed in Celka’s periphery as Ela unshuttered her
lantern in code.
a moment, lamplight cut the underbrush in response. “There!” Celka cried. “I
think.” She’d spotted only a flicker, the distance too great or angle oblique.
“I couldn’t read the code.”
her, Ela repeated her querying signal. Celka bit her lip, awaiting the
train lurched to a stop, swaying. Steam swallowed the night.
through the steam engine’s fog, the underbrush lit in a frenzied flash-flash-flash.
Celka’s stomach lurched. She’d memorized the code but had never seen it used.
Her whisper sounded dangerously loud over the ping of cooling metal.
Benedikta cursed. “We have to abort.”
Celka squinted into the darkness where she’d spotted the signal, hoping the
warning had been a mistake. Her throat tasted of bile, but surely their contacts
would only risk the rendezvous if they carried important information. “We have
to help them.”
filtered in from outside, and metal clanged as the roustabouts decoupled
sections of the train. Celka’s breath sounded harsh in her ears. Part of her
wanted to take back her plea. If the secret police were already in the
railyard, further signals could lead them straight to her family. The
Tayemstvoy could arrest them all. Kill them all.
Ela,” Grandfather said, “signal the welcome.”
creaked as Ela unshuttered the dark lantern in a new pattern. Celka closed her
eyes, touched her storm pendant, and sent a prayer for safety to the Storm
Grandfather said, “take Celka’s watch. Celka, can you see
bunk sagged as Uncle Andrik knelt beside her, pressing his face to the glass.
Outside, gravel crunched beneath running feet. The train swayed into motion
again. Stopped too suddenly.
out the outside world, Celka focused on sousednia—the neighboring reality. The
railyard scents of creosote and coal smoke receded beneath sawdust and manure.
Sousednia coalesced around her until Celka stood on a high wire beneath a
darkened big top, her feet in a perfect line, arms outstretched to aid her
her life, her sousednia had taken this form. Dust motes danced in her
spotlight, and the air hung humid and heavy, hot like a midsummer’s day. A
dozen meters below, shadowy spectators gaped up at her. In place of her patched
nightgown, sousednia costumed Celka in glittering sequins, her gossamer green
sleeves rippling with the tiny motions of her arms.
her illusory big top, figures like smoke blurred towards her, their approach
matching the crunch of footsteps in true-life’s railyard. Celka released a
shaky breath, relieved they appeared so weakly in sousednia. It meant they were
mundanes, at least, not bozhki—State-trained storm mages. One potential threat
sharp knock threatened to yank her from sousednia, but she clung to the
neighboring reality as Grandfather swung open the door. Two people stumbled
inside, Aunt Benedikta shutting the door behind them with barely a sound. Metal
creaked as Celka’s older cousin Demian lifted his dark lantern’s shutter,
releasing the barest sliver of light, enough to make out the newcomers’ haggard
up a breeze beneath sousednia’s big top to draw the newcomers’ scents toward
her, Celka inhaled deeply through her nose. Sousednia was a space of needs and
ideas, and Pa had taught her to use it to understand truths otherwise hidden.
The newcomers carried the stink of unwashed bodies and a chill, earthy damp
that made Celka want to curl in on herself. She managed not to react to their
terror, instead leaving her true-life body behind and closing the distance
between them in sousednia.
the railcar, low voices spoke words that didn’t matter, innocuous enough to be
code. The real code lay in hand signals. The gaunt newcomer rubbed their
knuckles while the stockier one just doubled over their knees, wheezing.
Grandfather straightened the collar of his nightshirt.
to the newcomers’ smoke-forms in sousednia, Celka inhaled the tang of turnips.
The smell carried echoes of a dark cellar, jackboots stomping the floorboards
overhead. Words could lie, appearances deceive, but mundanes didn’t control
their sousedni-cues. Celka doubted even Pa could have faked their desperation.
crushed the thought before worries about whether Pa was still alive could send
her spinning. Her family wasn’t safe yet. The circus train should have moved
again by now, its engineers breaking it into segments short enough to park in
the railyard. The train remained motionless.
a sousedni-wind away from her, Celka drove away the newcomers’ terror. She
gulped deep breaths tasting of sawdust and manure, grounding herself, then
shifted her focus back to true-life. “It’s cold in here,” she said. The code
would tell Grandfather that she believed these people resistance
fighters—rezistyenti—same as them.
followed us!” the gaunt rezistyent said, voice reedy. “You have to hide us.”
though ignited by their terror, a flare shattered the darkness outside. Celka
spun to the window as soldiers swarmed the railyard, figures dark in the
actinic glare. Red epaulettes slashed every shoulder like open wounds—the
secret police, the Tayemstvoy. Dozens spread out to search the train.
ducked down so they wouldn’t see her.
family spoke in frantic whispers, and steamer trunks scraped the floor. Wood
clunked as her aunt and uncle removed the false wall panels beneath their bed,
and Demian helped the gaunt rezistyent crawl inside.
gravel crunched close to their sleeper car. Too close.
grabbed a broom and frantically swept away the newcomers’ muddy footprints. But
the panels were still open, the wheezing rezistyent struggling to fit in the
tight space. They weren’t going to make it.
all be arrested. Interrogated. Tortured.
down on her panic, Celka plunged back into sousednia. She had to buy her family
her darkened big top, two smoke-forms approached. Celka twisted her illusory
high wire towards them and ran, arms outstretched, feet landing in a perfect
line. Manipulating sousednia, she placed the soldiers on her high wire
platform, giving herself space to maneuver. With more time, she could catch one
soldier’s foot and tumble them into the other, make it appear simple
clumsiness. But mundanes appeared so faintly in sousednia that she couldn’t
afford the long seconds of concentration to resolve their shapes.
true-life, hobnailed boots clunked on the sleeper car’s stairs. She had to act now.
on the leading smoke-form, willing the substance of their chest to solidify,
Celka shoved them—hard.
shouldn’t have done anything. Needs and ideas were not pushes and pulls. You
couldn’t affect true-life from sousednia. But you could make someone believe
the sleeper car, boots scuffed the stair, and the leading soldier grunted.
delay gave Celka time to resolve more of their amorphous shape. They were maybe
twenty—about her cousin Demian’s age—but short and lean. She envisioned herself
behind them, strength of will changing sousednia to match. She kicked them in
the backs of their knees.
dropped. “What in sleetstorms?” Their voice filtered into the sleeper car,
angry and surprised.
all right?” a higher voice asked, confused, muffled by the wall—the other
hand grabbed Celka’s arm, and she flinched into true-life—Grandfather. “Get
Celka obeyed without thought, wriggling beneath her quilt. Grandfather climbed
into his bunk across from hers, light from the dying flare outside silvering
his white hair. Wood scraped as Aunt Benedikta and Uncle Andrik shoved steamer
trunks back beneath their bed. Springs creaked above Celka as Ela scrambled
into her bunk.
A fist hammered the door. “Tayemstvoy. Open up!”
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