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Nightfell Games

Nightfell Games

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Book 5 of the Dashkova Memoirs

Katerina "Kat" Dashkova has become a potent sorceress using her magic to help Ben Franklin and the Transcendent Society in the fight against Russia and the Otherworld forces that threaten the civilized world. But her powers are useless when a plague of monsters descends on Philadelphia, threatening to plunge America into chaos. As Kat searches for the source of the supernatural creatures, she encounters a mysterious benefactor offering favors for assistance, learns a dire secret that could doom the Society, and must face a contest against an unexpected foe from her past.

Main Tropes

  • Historical Fantasy
  • Supernatural Steampunk
  • Myths & Legends


Katerina "Kat" Dashkova has become a potent sorceress using her magic to help Ben Franklin and the Transcendent Society in the fight against Russia and the Otherworld forces that threaten the civilized world. But her powers are useless when a plague of monsters descends on Philadelphia, threatening to plunge America into chaos. As Kat searches for the source of the supernatural creatures, she encounters a mysterious benefactor offering favors for assistance, learns a dire secret that could doom the Society, and must face a contest against an unexpected foe from her past.

Intro Into Chapter One

Chapter One

A sultry moan came from the bushes beneath the copse of maple trees, stopping us on the stone path that wound its way towards Massachusetts Hall. A low layer of clouds had swallowed the night sky, so we had only the brassy glow of gas lamps to mark our way across the expansive lawns of Harvard University.
With a hand on my pistol, hidden comfortably beneath my traveling jacket, I whispered to Ben Franklin, "What occult do you think transpires in yonder bush?"
Ben raised an eyebrow. "Are you suggesting an enfilade of sorcery to rouse whatever lurks there?"
I took a quick look around. The grounds of Harvard University were deserted except for the pair of us and whoever or whatever was lurking in the bushes. It was well past midnight and we'd only just arrived by train. It'd been a long trip as I'd had to keep to the car so I wouldn't be recognized since my likeness still haunted the street corners of Philadelphia on wanted posters.
Contrary to Ben's expectation that things would die down, the mood in Philadelphia had gotten much worse. There'd been three public whippings about witchcraft just last month. The events around the Mother's Hammer and my flying away in the cauldron being seen by numerous citizens had only increased people's awareness of magic, enflamed them.
So I'd been ecstatic to travel to Massachusetts to meet Professor Caleb Walker, who had some information that might be of interest to us. The ride up the coast had not been as exciting as I'd hoped, as the world had been covered in a smothering fog and I spent most of the trip with the shades pulled down, reading the first edition of Myths of the Old World that I'd received by airship from Lyons, France.
"The professor's letter seemed quite urgent," I whispered hoarsely. "Perhaps he's being stalked by a poltergeist or a banshee?"
Before Ben could speak, another moan erupted from the bushes, along with a rustle of leaves suggesting that something might burst forth. I produced the pistol, pointing it towards the offending foliage.
Ben placed his hand overtop mine, pushing the pistol down. He had a bemused expression as if he were about to reveal a magic trick.
Though it'd been a few years of seeing Ben Franklin in his fit mid-twenties, I still hadn't gotten used to the idea that we—along with the rest of the Transcendent Society, a collection of great men devoted to protecting the Enlightenment against the powers of tyranny and magic—would not age while we took the quasi-immortality powder. But his youthful face couldn't hide the wisdom in those gray eyes of his. I relented and placed the pistol back into its holster.
Ben searched around the grass until he found a walnut. He hefted the nut in his hand, before launching it towards the bush. I steeled my gut as it hit.
Leaves exploded as two creatures with pale, pinkish flesh, half-covered in disheveled clothing, burst from the undergrowth. A young man and his lady went running away, hand in hand, giggling, while trying to hold up the clothes they had so recently begun to remove.
Ben gave me a look that was somewhere between amusement and condemnation.
"Moi?" I asked in faux outrage. "I wouldn't have shot them. Besides, a bed is a much nicer place to entwine the ankles. We've done them a favor."
"You've had your nose in those tomes of myths all summer," said Ben. "And now that's the only thing you see."
"What I saw was a woman trying to hold back her fleshy parts while running," I said. "The young man was doing the same, but less successfully. He looked like a priest flogging the ministers."
Ben chuckled as we continued towards Massachusetts Hall. "Did young men and women in Russia not try to engage in congress?"
"Outdoors?" I laughed. "Only if you wanted your parts to fall off from frost. And we didn't have these Puritan values to stifle our urges, forcing us to hide our pleasurable habits in the itchy undergrowth."
"There's nothing wrong with the virtues of hard work and thriftiness," said Ben.
"I have nothing against those," I said. "I was speaking of the pleasures of the flesh. And don't give me that pious frown. I know your reputation from your time in France."
He gave a sheepish grin. "When in Rome."
Before he could reach the handle, the front door flung open and a student carrying an armful of books ran smack into Franklin. The leather-bound tomes spilled across the grass.
"Apologies," said the student in a high voice that sounded like it hadn't quite changed.
Ben and I helped him gather his books. The student mumbled regrets the whole time.
With his arms full of books, the student, a pimple-faced young man with his hair back into a short ponytail, looked ready to rush off into the darkness.
"Sir, if you please," said Ben, "before you go. Can you tell us the way to Professor Walker's offices?"
The student hesitated, looking as nervous as a cat in a house fire.
"Don't worry," I said, "we won't say anything."
The student stared back blankly.
"You've been in the Observatory, practicing with the equipment, even though it's forbidden for freshmen," I said.
The young man blanched before speaking, first in a high voice, and then again lower. "How did you know?"
"The titles of your books give away your intentions. With the cloudy sky"—I nodded upwards towards the small dome on the top of the Hall—"the Observatory would be unused. So an enterprising student might practice setting up the telescope to the various coordinates they are interested in, so when they do receive time, it is not wasted."
The student nodded mutely, mouth agape.
"But as my companion said," I continued, "we're looking for Professor Caleb Walker. Can you tell us the way?"
Using his slender chin to nod towards the west side of the building, he said, "Take the first left and go straight down the hall. Then through the studio and you'll find his office in back, behind the bear. He's usually in his office late into the night."
"Do you study with the professor?" asked Ben.
The student swallowed, glancing between us, though his gaze lingered much longer on me. A suspicion took hold, though I had no intention of revealing it.
"Yes, sir," said the student.
"And what do you think of him?" asked Ben.
He scrunched up his pimply face. "He makes us read more than the others and always questions our arguments. He's quick to anger and does not suffer poor efforts. Last week, he hit a student with a buggy whip for failing to read the material."
"So he's not well liked?" asked Ben, stroking his chin.
The student strained under the weight of the books. "No. Not at all. He's probably everyone's favorite. Or at least mine."
An easy smile broke on Ben's face. "Thank you. My apologies for keeping you. Hurry along before you drop them again."
The student stiffly hurried across the path. Ben made a clucking noise with his tongue. "That was a keen bit of observation."
"What? Not at all. I merely experienced the same struggles when I was Director of the Academy of Science," I said.
"But you were the Director," said Ben, making it sound like a question.
"While my main benefit to the Academy was keeping the bureaucracy humming, I did enjoy dabbling in the various sciences, though the men of the Academy guarded their equipment jealously," I said. "So I made sure that when I had an opportunity to use the equipment, I had already studied as much as possible. No one entertains a bumbling idiot for long."
"No," said Ben with a chuckle, "I have nothing against an idiot, I'm strictly against the bumbling. It's hellish on the glassware."
When we stepped inside, I asked, "Are you going to invite the Professor into the Society?"
"It's crossed my mind. We're down a member, and the professor and I have traded correspondence for years. While he officially teaches ethics and philosophy, he's the foremost expert on the occult that I am aware of," said Ben. "He would be an excellent addition."
A few years back, when this mess had first started, the famed economist, Adam Smith, had been killed by one of the Uthlaylaa, a memory thief from Otherland. I still felt guilty about his death, wishing I'd figured out what was going on sooner. It might have saved his life.
Our boots rang against the wooden floors of the hallway. We were in complete darkness, except for a faint nimbus ahead that outlined his doorway.
Entering, we found ourselves in a large room with a high, vaulted ceiling, lit by a lantern and one candle burnt nearly to a stub in an open sconce on the wall. My immediate impression was that the room was a storage area converted into an office. On second glance, I realized it was like no storage room I'd ever seen due to the contents of the shelves and tables.
Every surface was covered with boxes, jars, vials, tubes, loosely sorted collections of rocks or bones, taxidermied animals including a spider larger than my hand and a brown bear in a standing attack stance, a broken conch shell, brass pipes collected in a barrel, a row of crossbows hanging on the wall, a partial human skeleton, a stack of strange cubes with symbols painted across each surface, books of various bindings including one that looked like human skin, bulging burlap sacks, a bucket filled with hair, and a stone canoe hanging from the ceiling, to name only the items I noticed in my first pass.
Ben whistled softly, a child's giddy grin on his lips. An open sarcophagus was propped against the wall. The wooden recreation of an Egyptian tomb was quite realistic.
"Is that a hand?" he asked, nodding towards a gray-skinned claw floating in a yellowish liquid.
"That looks like it came from one of those creatures that stole our memory," I said, then added, "the Uthlaylaa."
Ben made a slight shiver. He'd never really talked about when he went through the portal with one while Trisella was dying. Nor did he talk much about how he was able to use galimancy to put the remnants of her soul into the little golden pangolin automaton.
"It appears that Professor Walker may be able to help us after all," said Ben. "But where is he?"
The mostly burnt candle on the wall suggested the professor had been in the room recently. No sane person left an untended flame, even if it was on an open wall sconce.
Ben cupped his hands around his mouth and said in a louder voice, "Professor Walker? It's Temple Franklin. Are you here?"
Since Ben Franklin was supposed to be buried in Christ Church Cemetery, he went by his grandson's name, Temple, due to his obvious resemblance. Additionally, it allowed him to keep control of the Franklin Estate.
I crouched over a strange rock tucked under the nearest table. It was a piece of fulgurite, a bolt of petrified lightning. I traced my finger over the jagged surface of fused sand.
A whiff of sulfur tickled my nose before we heard a thump from behind the door that led out the back of the room, bringing us both to high alert. With pistols drawn, we advanced, Ben creeping along the wall, while I faced the door head-on.
Using my free hand, I turned the lantern towards the door, though it was half in shadows since the stuffed brown bear partially blocked it. A low growl emanated from that direction, and for a moment I thought the bear had come alive. I pulled the hammer back on my pistol with a thumb.
When the sound of breaking glass reached us from beyond the door, Ben fired his pistol, the shot exploding a clay pot filled with dirt on the far shelf. The flash seared into my vision.
"Careful," I said, blinking away the spots. "He could just be sleeping back there."
Ben scrunched up his face in a rare bout of embarrassment.
"And whose imagination has gotten the best of them?" I asked, not willing to let it pass. "Maybe that was a snore we heard."
When a second growl erupted, this time so loud and low that I could feel it in my gut, I knew it wasn't the professor behind the door.
A breath later, the door exploded open, knocking the brown bear over. I dropped the lantern when the huge taxidermied animal crashed into me, extinguishing the light. The violence of the eruption snuffed the faltering candle, plunging us into darkness.

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