• Nied Darnell


Updated: Mar 24

As the strange conglomeration of people and beasts settled down for the night, Heath lit a final cheroot and strolled to the edge of the water where it lapped at the shore and around the ancient squid that lay partly in the lake and partly ashore. Taking a last glance back to where Mena and Ridley had bedded down – she putting ten feet between them, he was amused to note – Heath got down to business.

“Esme,” he purred softly. “Awake yet, darling?”

The squid stirred. Opened a single eye to peer at him.

“Ah, good, you are. Dear one, it appears to me that, while you are clever enough to understand us, that you converse with Archie mentally in reply, though I’m sure he is conversant in your tongue as well. Blink if I’m on spot with that.”

He felt it was closer to a twink she gave him. “Wonderful. Can you request his presence here. A secret meeting, if you will. I have a few questions for him. I don’t trust this Broxton-Alverdeen bloke and I’d like Archie’s take on the man.”

The squid waved a tentacle as though saluting, but as Heath had noted her doing the same to Archie and Hyckate, it was obviously a communication signal for something that didn’t require words. The broad metal cuff clamped six inches down from where tentacle met body glinted in the moonlight as Esme moved.

A moment later, Archedelphos Fizwick ambled to his side. “Esme sez ya want a jabber,” he said.

“Getting right to the point,” Heath approved. “I like that in a man. Er…you are a man, Fizwick? At least to all intents and purposes?”

“’Course I am,” Archie coughed. “What kinda question is that?”

“A pertinent one, old bean. You are – and I say this with admiration – an uncommon fellow.”

“Aye, that I be,” Fizwick granted. “Esme sez ye’ve some questions about the lad Quez caught.”

Heath drew on his smoke then released it in a series of circles. Esme attempted to catch a few. He was sure the squid frowned when they dissolved at first touch. “Is the firebird in the habit of transporting visitors into these environs then?” he asked.

“Nope. Fact is, I been wonderin’ why he did, as well.”

“Huh. Did you ask him?”

Fizwick shoved gnarled hands into his trouser pockets and rocked back on his heels. “Well, now, Quetz hasn’t managed to take the leap to making his intentions known.”

“Doesn’t do communication by thought, hmm?”

“He’s a bit of a featherbrain,” the little man confessed quietly then glared at the squid. “Und don’t ya go tellin’ ‘im I think so, Esme.”

The squid slapped a tentacle over what Heath supposed was her mouth.

“Let me guess what Broxton-Alverdeen has been doing during his convalescence,” Heath murmured. “He’s been studying the landscape, particularly the sheer cliffs around us here. Bet he’s taken no interest in the inhabitants though. I presume there are more than Daisy, Esme, Quetz, Hyckate and yourself.”

“’E might a been,” Fizwick answered carefully.

“This isn’t the world that we three visitors inhabit, is it? It’s a place connected to Earth but not of Earth. A land like that Oberon and Tatiana rule.”

“Faeries, ya mean. We ain’t faeries ‘ere, but it be a similar sort of place. Only those in need kin find us.”

“In need of what though,” Heath pressed. “Help, I suppose, but that comes in many forms. Like Quetz snagging the injured Ridley. Like wagon loads of ancient bones released from a rock grave not wishing to be taken from their home? Though, of course, this isn’t Daisy’s home either. Esme is far from her natural environment, as well. Was it Mena’s worry about her partner that allowed us to stumble into that crevasse and spill through the boundary?”

“Ya do ponder a lot, actor,” Fizwick said, “but there be many ways to give succor to those unaware that they even want it.”

“Broxton-Alverdeen is a glitch in your machine, Archie. He’s a bounder and he’s spotted the gold. Not simply that adorning the lovely Hyckate, but the band Esme wears and the smaller ones on Quetz’s talons. Even Daisy has a golden glint, though hers appears painted on. No, Quetz’s catch has spotted the Motherlode of raw gold that twists though the cliffs around us. He’ll be back because he thinks he’s stumbled upon El Dorado.”

“Und what of ya, lad? Ya want the gold, too?”

Heath grinned. “Oddly enough, no,” he confessed. “I’d just toss it away on rotgut, women and cards. What I crave is the stage. The adoration of the crowd. The applause. And most of all, civilization.”

“Filthy cities,” Fizwick said.

“Filthier the better,” Heath agreed. “But to get back to one, I have an account with Mena to clear. That means dragging that bloody burke of hers back and exposing whatever shenanigans are in play at that campsite. Eject us from this place and I’ll toss in keeping this world a secret. My world isn’t ready for your world, Archie. I doubt it ever will be. Too many greedy grafters where I come from.”

The short man rocked back on his heels. Pulled on his chin whiskers. “Ya got another seegar?” he asked.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Heath said and thanked the theatre gods for keeping them dry in the pack rather than get drenched in his pocket whilst he adventured with Esme in the lake.

“I knew a fellow once who could cloud men’s minds,” he mused. “A dandy act and quite a trick. Crowds loved it when he let them choose one of their own and then had the bloke squawking like a chicken whenever he said a specific word.”

“Yer wonderin’ whether I kin make a man ferget what he’s seen,” Fizwick said as he accepted the cheroot Heath took from an inner pocket.

“Forget that he’s even been here,” he corrected.

Fizwick forewent the use of a match and lit his smoke with the tip of his finger. “Cain’t do neither, actor. But kin close the passage behind ya. Kin make sure Hyckate counts her bobbles fer ya go. The gold’s what binds this world, ya see. Them that’s chosen ta live ‘ere, get marked with some.”

He’d surmised as much. “Then evict us at dawn,” Heath suggested. “He’s been here long enough and so have Mena and I. You don’t need our kind here.”

“True ‘nuff,” Fizwick agreed. “But we’ll feed ya fer kickin’ ya out.”

Heath drew on his cheroot, then released another series of linked smoke circles for Esme’s enjoyment. “You’re a better man than I, Archie,” he murmured.

“Aye,” the smaller man grunted. “That I be.”



But it’s out of the hidden world and back to the camp

for our intrepid actor and the two Covert Cogs,

one with the right intentions and one sadly lacking them.

But our tale’s not fully told yet.

There are miscreants to bring to justice!

And if this is your first introduction to

The Covert Cogs tales,

or you simply put off dipping into the previous stories,

now may be the time to enjoy the first two:


#Kindle getbook.at/SHOOTIST


#Kindle getbook.at/REPURPOSED