The Tower She Built by Nicki Vardon

Clouds gathered around the tower and Azélie watched the storm string them apart like unspun yarn. Lightning tore the shroud. Thunder rolled.

Sometimes, during the flashes, Azélie imagined she could see more than endless ocean. Shadows. Lights. Buildings. Cities. Yet when she hung over the wrought balcony, ivy tickling her underarms, rain spattering her face, there was nothing to see but foam atop black waves.

Mistress’ dress rustled as she laid out the needles and thread she would use that night. Her dress always rustled and was as black, wide, and ruffled as her hair, her silhouette stark against the white of the tower. The main heart of Mistress’ parlor held a large circular fire pit, so despite the storm whistling through, they wouldn’t be cold. There was a long night ahead.

“Lie down for me.” Mistress slid her fingers across the pallet, piled high with pillows. “I need to light more lanterns.”

In a tall mirror, Azélie caught a glimpse of a dotted line before she reclined prone on the mattress. Ink lined her shoulder blade, from the edge of her neck, around the scapula, all the way down to the small of her back, marking where she would get them: her wings.

“Can I see them once more, Mistress?” Azélie asked, her heart aflutter.

“I will only have time for one tonight.” Mistress cradled the wing in her arms. “My eyes will tire too quickly. I will attach the other when you’ve healed.”

The wing was longer than Azélie herself was tall. The arch of the top curved sleek and perfect, like the vaults in the catacombs. The silk feathers cascaded a pearl sheen as she caressed them, and she nearly whimpered with longing.

“Don’t crush them, Azélie.”

“I won’t.”

Mistress trussed Azélie’s white hair with a bone pin, then poured a sharp-smelling liquid over her back, stronger but not unlike wine, dripping along her sides into the pillows. Mistress blew over her skin and Azélie shivered from the cold.

“I will make the first stitch.”

Azélie dug her fingers into the pillow beneath her chin. Finally.

The needle stung, cold and sharp, white and blank. The thread stung worse. Coarse and bristly as it tugged its way through her flesh, the yarn itself wider than the stitches, thicker than her skin. Azélie bit her lip, then her tongue, then the nearest pillow. The burn, the blood, and the knots would be worth it, even if the sensation of thread bursting through her lining and shredding the skin off her back left Azélie unwell and delicate.

The cushions bloomed into red. Azélie screwed her eyes shut. The wings would look beautiful when finished. Beautiful. As white and blemish-free as on the statues in the winding way. Still, she feared her small back might not be able to take the weight. She had always been frail and she blamed her foundling nature.

Azélie focused on the storm to ban pain from her mind, as the wind attempted to pry through the tower, throwing salt to scald its walls. Something cut through the wind-wailing. A voice? It couldn’t be. The tower stood alone.

Mistress laid her hand on Azélie’s arm. “I said you can stand up.”

Not knowing how long she had lain there was a welcome gift. Her muscles protested and her body had gone stiff. The stitches throbbed along her shoulder blade.

“There, there,” Mistress said. “The wing will hold; your skin is young and firm.”

Azélie reached for her shoulder. The feathers tickled her fingertips and she smiled.

“Don’t you want to see?” Mistress motioned toward the mirror.

“Not to offend your skills, Mistress, but I am afraid of how it looks now.” Azélie hung her head. “I know it will be perfect once it’s healed.”

“There isn’t much blood. I’ll rinse it off.” Mistress picked up another amphora; Azélie knew that briny smell. She gritted her teeth at the sting of salt. Seawater. “There, all gone.”

The bowels of the tower grumbled. Loud and wild, splintering and smashing.

“What was that noise, Mistress?”

“It must be the storm. Flotsam on the waves.” Mistress shrugged, handing Azélie a quartz lantern, the small white light dancing within. “You should retire. Sleep on your front.”

One tentative step after another, Azélie moved down the stairway. The weight of the wing hung snug on her back, as if her skin gripped it with a million little fingers. Soon, she would float down these stairs, with both wings fanning out behind her, earning jealous stares from the statues that lurked atop the pillars.

When she reached her bedchamber, she heard it again. A crash in the depths. She wavered. What if it wasn’t flotsam? What if the foundations gave out, the salt having eaten patiently at it for centuries? If the tower had cracked, she should warn Mistress.

Deeper down where she descended, the white walls were scarred black and green. Trees, sprung from the heart of the tower, branched and clawed as they grew, their leaves withering in the bowels where the sunlight could not reach.

The catacomb walls were cool to the touch with the water eternally lapping at Mistress’ doorstep. The sea washed the floor slick with silt, coarse with salt, and strewn with long bones and yawning mandibles. White offerings for Mistress, washed clean, so they could be dried and ground, boiled into glue, and combined into painting plaster.

Azélie knelt before an arched culvert, the only passage to the tower. Afraid her wing would scrape the edge, she held back from crawling through. The storm whipped her thin shift around her. Salt stung her wounds. Her lantern light did not reach far and the night was ink-bled and moonless.

Nothing. No cracks, no breaks, no flotsam.

On her way up she passed the open door to Mistress’ quarters and though she didn’t mean to, Azélie glanced inside. Mistress had undressed for the night and was brushing her dark hair, exposing her straight back. Twisting scars, ruddy and thick, ran along her shoulder blades.

Azélie uttered a sound, and Mistress turned.

“Trouble sleeping, Azélie? Does your wing hurt?”

She nodded, thankful for the answer being given and that her voice sounded gentle. “I’m sorry, Mistress, I did not mean to stare.”

“Try some of my ointment.” Mistress pressed a small pot in Azélie’s hands. The salve smelled sweet and clean, smoothed slick on her fingertips.

“Did your wings hurt, Mistress?” Azélie asked. “Did it hurt when they came off?”

Mistress stood silent for a moment, then put on her robe. “Come with me.” She goaded Azélie back up the stairway to the landing in front of the parlor. Azélie liked it there. The breeze flowed freely, rustling the leaves on the branches as it rushed upward through the top of the tower. Mistress would prune them, but they always grew back.

“Imagine when this tower reaches the Heavens.” Mistress sighed. “They took my wings, but I will show them. I’ll get back there, show them who persisted. Those below agreed to help me.”

“The angels?” The row of statues dwindled down into the catacombs. They had been there as long as Azélie had known.

“Nay, lower down. Far lower than the catacombs.” Mistress smiled and stroked Azélie’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “It’ll take forever to build, so the tower must last. You will be a part of that. You want that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Azélie said. She did. She wanted to be more graceful than all those other angels, more elegant. Not as desperate or dejected as some of them.

Back in her chamber without windows, Azélie thought of how Mistress couldn’t sew her own wings back on. She could not disappoint her or seem ungrateful. In the glow of her lantern she spread her arms wide, kept a light bend in her elbows, and poised her wrists into the pose that she must practice, for Mistress’ sake. One hand raised to capture the light fallen through the roof, the other pushing darkness into the below. She focused on a notch in her weaving loom or a curl on the mirror frame and held her pose, unwavering, until the lantern died.

After breakfast, Mistress laid more steps, stuccoed salt-bitten patches with plaster and mended breaks on the dozens of angel statues strewn through the building. And yet, no one in the outside world would ever see it. It seemed a sad waste. She sent Azélie into the catacombs for a bucket of bones. Once there, a voice, sniffling, came from underneath the stairway, where the deepest bone pit was. Too far for the seawater to reach. Too deep for Azélie to climb out to and so she always collected her bones elsewhere. She raised her lantern and the light slipped down the steep walls.

In the dark sat a boy, quivering among the skulls, dirty blond hair clinging like a helmet to his head. He rubbed his teary eyes and weakly pumped a fist in the air. “An angel! I knew it! Géralt owes me a denier.”

Azélie hesitated. What would Mistress think of her speaking to him?

“How come you only have one wing?” asked the boy.

“I’m not finished yet,” Azélie said. “I will be soon. Who are you?”

“I’m Léon. My boat scuttled in the storm.” He bit his lip and made a face. “I’ll have to swim home.”

“Home?”

“Saint-Michèl.” He pointed behind her, and his eyes lit up. “Can I take one of your feathers to show my lamebrain brother?”

Azélie bounced back, shielding her wing. “Absolutely not!”

“A lady threw me in here. You’ll help me out, oui?” The boy stood, but his legs shook on the pile of skeletal remains. He tumbled against the wall. “I’m so hungry.”

“You won’t become bones if you eat.” Azélie shook her head. “Mistress decided you’ll be a part of this tower, too. Just like the fish and the seals.”

“You can’t be part of a tower. That’s stupid.” The boy scowled. “You’ll die.”

Azélie folded her arms. The salt must have eroded his manners. “She said I’ll live on forever once I’m part of the tower.”

“Then she lied to you.”

“Mistress wouldn’t lie!”

With a huff, Azélie scooped up a full pail and dumped the bones in an old font. The crunching sound under her pestle echoed through the vaults until Azélie realized the boy was weeping.

She rolled her shoulders and rubbed her wrists as she peered over the edge. The boy sat, head buried in his hands, in a circle of grinning pinniped skulls.

“Why are you crying?”

“Because I’m going to be scary like those things.” His voice cracked as he spoke, kicking a skull across the pit. “Maman will hate it if I look like that.”

Azélie felt her throat dry in turn. Part of it was bone dust. The other because he was an unlucky foundling and she had been a lucky one. She reached for her water flagon and sipped. She filled a broken skull, shaped like a bowl, with what she had left.

“Here.” She reached down and had the boy catch it on wobbly tiptoes. A little spilled over his arms and he suckled his sleeves.

Beurk, that’s all salty.” He washed it down with a large swill from the bone bowl. “Thank you. What’s your name?”

“Azélie.”

“Are you also from Saint-Michèl?”

“What’s that?”

“The coastal town. You must have seen it. We can see this tower and the lights from there.” He wiped his face and pointed at Azélie’s lantern. “People from Saint-Michèl say that the lights come from Heaven itself, that the tower leads toward it. They call it Tour des Anges.”

Azélie shook her head. “There is nothing but this tower. Mistress told me so.”

“Is that the lady? She’s wrong. Saint-Michèl is right across the sandbank.” The boy jumped up. “Maybe if I shout hard enough someone there will hear me!”

Azélie put her finger to her lips. “Mistress must not know we’ve spoken.”

“Why not?” The boy took a deep breath and cupped his hands around his mouth.

“Stay still and I’ll bring you some bread.”

The boy closed his hands over his mouth and plopped down in the skull circle. Azélie sighed and returned to her bones.

Several nights later, Mistress called Azélie to her parlor. “Disrobe for me.”

Azélie did as she was told.

Mistress ran a finger across the wing where it joined Azélie’s shoulder and hummed, pleased. “You heal quickly! Must be the sea air.” She laughed. Azélie liked hearing it. Maybe Mistress was reminded of her old wings.

“I used some of your ointment.”

“Keep doing so.” Mistress led Azélie to the freshly cushioned pallet. “I will attach the other wing today.”

“Truly!” Azélie clapped a hand over her mouth.

Mistress laughed again. “You are so eager. Lie down. You’ll be finished much sooner than we both thought.”

While Mistress tugged the rough thread through her skin, stitch by stitch, Azélie bit into the pillows with a smile.

The second wing hurt more but healed faster. Every hour, Azélie slathered the seam in ointment. She secretly did not believe it was the sea air that helped. Salt stopped bleeding but did not heal. She would never tell Mistress, though.

She also wouldn’t tell her about bringing bread to the boy in the bone pit. He always thanked her. He always asked to be hauled out and sent home.

“Please, Azélie. My family must think I’ve drowned…”

The boy sobbed more each day. The salt may have gotten to his head and needed letting out.

“This is the last bread I can bring.” Azélie sighed with elation, and an edge of something she could not place.

“Why?” The boy looked up through tears. “Where are you going?”

“My wings have been healing so well, I will become part of the tower tonight.”

“What?” The boy dropped to his knees. “No, you should…”

Azélie pointed up. “Can you see through the stairwell? Mistress promised I can stand before her parlor. That’s higher than any of the other angels.” She filled a second bucket with bones. “She’ll place and paint me tonight.”

“Azélie,” the boy stammered. “Come live in Saint-Michèl. My parents always wanted me to have a sister.”

Though she didn’t know why, she wavered and clenched her hands. “I’ll be part of the tower. Forever. Because there’s nothing else.”

The boy called after her when Azélie went up the stairs. The angels glowered. She doused her back in another layer of ointment and rubbed it into the joins of the wings wherever she could reach, put on her long gown, brushed her hair, and waited in the glow of her lantern until Mistress called for her.

“It’s time, Azélie.”

Azélie’s stomach sprouted butterflies when she approached the pillar. Branches curled along the balustrade and inched toward the parlor, but they didn’t disturb her. The trees never won against Mistress’ art.

Mistress shook some bone dust into Azélie’s tightly curled hair. “That will prevent it from hanging limp when I come to paint it.” Mistress always thought of everything. When she patted the pedestal, Azélie climbed up eagerly.

“Do you remember your pose?”

Of course she did. Azélie extended her arms as gracefully as she could after many days of surplus bone grinding. “Do the wings look good?”

“You’re beautiful, Azélie.” Mistress twirled a brush in hand. “We won’t finish past your legs tonight, but you’ll need to stick to that pose while I’m painting.”

Azélie lifted her feet one by one as Mistress first slicked a thick glue layer on the soles. She struck her pose again and suppressed any shivers or jolts when the hairs on the brushes tickled her skin. Mistress was so meticulous. Her strokes precise even for the first layer. All to defeat the salt for as long as possible.

“It’ll be a long stand, Azélie.” Mistress stepped down from her stool and looked her up and down. “I trust you can handle it.”

Azélie nodded. She had to if she wanted to stretch into eternity like the rest of the tower. Mistress allowed her a sip of water and retired for the night. Azélie tried not to move, not even to bow down to see how the plaster dried. It had to be perfect.

Since her neck had not yet been painted, she could see into the parlor and outside. The moon was nearly full and cast a light that won over the embers in the fire pit and the lantern Mistress left behind.

Azélie blinked and squinted. The moon cast shadows along the horizon, and to cast shadows, something had to be in light’s way.

Flotsam, she told herself. A seal. A whale breaching.

Another boy in a boat.

There was no splatter or crash. No beating of the waves. All was quiet.

Azélie turned away. Outside was not important. She rested with her eyes closed and concentrated on her breathing until the sun kissed her skin. The rays warmed her arms, but no longer her lower body. Her legs felt firm in the hardened plaster and the gown stiffened around her hips, tight as her sewn wings. She turned to the parlor, expecting Mistress to come out to admire her work.

There lay the sandbank.

Each time she had been invited into the parlor, the night had been moonless, or stormy, or cloudy, and shadows had folded into the darkness.

In full daylight, low tide, and calm sea, her view carried further than ever. The curving sandbank ran from the tower to a hill in the distance. Small and humble houses huddled among spires and walls, shielding them from the sea. Smoke twirled from chimneys. Boats bobbed at the shoreline as the tide played with them.

There was more beyond the tower.

“What are you looking at, Azélie?” Mistress stood before her, refilled pail in hand.

“What is that out there?”

Mistress peered alongside her. “Oh, that old hovel. It’s not important.”

“Is that Saint-Michèl?”

“What?”

Azélie winced at Mistress’ sharp voice.

“I see.” Her eyes narrowed. “That boy survived. Don’t believe what he told you, Azélie. Let’s finish this today.”

“You said there was nothing outside this tower!”

“I said there was nothing of worth outside this tower.” She dipped her brush and wrested Azélie’s arm into position. “Saint-Michèl is common, run-of-the-mill. It will fade away with age. As everything will but this tower.”

The brush pit-patted across Azélie’s torso and she stared through the parlor into the distance, though her craned neck was not part of her pose. She couldn’t bear to look Mistress in the eye anymore.

The brush strokes reached her neck. Mistress cupped Azélie’s head and wrenched it to face the stairwell. “Why are you crying?”

Her voice seemed so cold and unfeeling now. The angels below her hung limp, in surrender to the plaster. She felt sick, seeing the generations before her line the steps down, all promised the same forever.

At the next dunk of the brush, Azélie let her arms drop, too, hitting the pail out of Mistress’ hands. “You lied to me…”

“Don’t you dare say that!” Mistress slashed her brush across Azélie’s mouth. The plaster smeared past her lips, over tongue and teeth. She tasted salted earth. “I never lied to you, Azélie. You were given to me to teach as I saw fit; you were mine.”

She stepped down, only to find her pail emptied. “Well. Here I thought we could have finished this tonight. I thought you might have been different. It would have been the best for both of us if the plaster covered you whole, all temptations out of sight.”

Mistress left and Azélie caught her breath. She let her arms hang, white and cracking, abandoning her proud pose. Unlike on the nights she’d practiced, the lack of sleep nipped at her eyes, the grind of the pestle seared into her muscles.

It was all different now that Saint-Michèl existed. No longer did she hold any desire to commit to the pedestal, the tower and her wings, all built on untruths.

The boy, Léon, he had been true. He was still in the bowels. Mistress would not have brought him anything to eat or drink. He had been so weak before.

She wiped grit from her mouth, the whitewash smearing. Maybe it was not too late.

Azélie reached for the branches hanging over her. The plaster had begun to set, her arms stiffening, her elbows locked. Her upper body obeyed her, but her feet had become one with the sandstone.

Her fingers brushed past the leaves. She keeled and gasped, had to retreat. Her sides couldn’t stretch far and it put all strain on the edge of her solidified lower body, tearing at her waist. She caught her breath, tried again. Three fingers gripped true and the tree listened and gave. Hands full of twigs, Azélie called upon the branch to lend her its strength. Her knees bent through the plaster covering her skirts, cracking the fabric around her hips and her thighs.

Then the pain began.

For every inch Azélie pulled herself up, the plaster claimed the same measure from her feet, rending the skin. She clenched her teeth, urging herself quiet as she had to stop mid-pull, and gazed into the parlor, lightless but open. Saint-Michèl faint in the distance. Brine in the breeze needled into her split soles. Azélie returned to the nights she received her wings. She closed her eyes, aimed her breathing, and listened to the wind.

Near to a scream ripping from her throat, she bit her lip and tasted copper. With one last sickening pull, her toes tore undone and Azélie dangled from the branch. Blood dripped from the pedestal, leaving behind an outline, a husk of flesh. She dropped to the landing, her flayed feet slipping on the grit of crushed bones and crumbled plaster.

For the first time, she embraced the branches as she crawled down the winding stairs, leaving a trail of bloody footsteps. The angels stared at her, not with jealousy, Azélie now understood, but with a warning to leave. The bone shards on the catacomb floors burrowed into her exposed flesh. The salt bit.

Léon lay against the wall of the bone pit on top of skulls he’d piled high, reaching halfway. Cheeks sunken, mouth sagged open, his tongue and lips white from dryness and cracked sea salt.

Azélie hissed, “Léon!” He did not stir. She pulled at him as she did the branch, but he flopped like a reed when his body scraped past the rim. Azélie put an ear to his chest, exhaled at hearing a faint beat.

She dragged him through the culvert as dawn emblazoned the horizon. High tide would not wait. Saint-Michèl had appeared closer from the parlor than it did from below. She had to walk on shorn feet and the sandbank meandered. How she wished her wings could carry her, soaring, but whenever the wind caught them, they only blew her back.

Léon cumbered her arms, even as a scrap of a boy. His hair clung to his pallid face, more so when the sea sprayed higher. The sandbank shrunk as the water rose and slammed against the sides.

Azélie fixed her eyes on Saint-Michèl, where the sea parted into land, while the water sloshed over the sandbank, melting away her footing. Salt gnawed on her flesh. She never dropped the boy or let more than one knee touch the path, willing her feet forward.

The tide rose to her thighs. Though the water washed out the plaster, her gown clung heavily around her buckling legs. Her drenched wings snagged at her back. Léon weighed her down with every step and the sea rushed more and more water upon them.

A giant wave clawed her into the deep and Azélie screamed when Léon’s body slipped from her arms. The waves beat her down into the cold and dark. Her lungs burned, craving air. She reached once more for a branch or twig. Her hands swished past nothing and she knew the next wave would bring death, filling her with salt and foam.

Something gave at her feet. She pushed off and resurfaced, spluttering and coughing, at the last remnant of the sandbank. A last plateau, a minuscule island, that had trapped Léon at the other side. Azélie caught his shirt, dragged him atop. A few deep gullets separated them from Saint-Michèl. Silhouettes trickled down from the walls onto the beach, gathering across from them, gazing with parted mouths.

When they did not move, she waded through the last gullets. She stopped fighting the tide, and let it help her drift Leon in her arms, until she reached the shore.

Azélie collapsed, with Léon sprawled next to her, welcoming her weakness. The sand felt soft to the touch. The air tasted sweet. A few men ran down, called Léon by name and carried him off, while a woman dressed in sunlit yellow walked up to Azélie.

“Can you stand?” the woman asked with a warm voice and took Azélie in her arms.

“I’m not a real angel,” she whispered, eyeing the muttering crowd.

“I’ve seen the thread, mignonne. A seamstress knows.” The woman caressed her face. “You saved my Léon. You’ll always be an angel to me. Let them believe it, too.”

Léon’s mother wrapped Azélie in a blanket and guided her through dirt streets that cushioned her feet. The town’s people followed at a distance, whispering and watching. Azélie took in Saint-Michèl with wonder. Brick houses in browns and reds with roofs of slate. Vibrant green shrubs at peace with the walls. Grime and dirt in every crack. Nothing remained white.

They passed the abbey, where a priest at the doorstep cradled an infant. Reaching out for the bundle was a dark-haired woman in a wide dress, rustling in the morning breeze.

Azélie halted. As a foundling, she imagined she had washed ashore and been spared the bone pit out of Mistress’ kindness. Now she knew that, like Léon, she came from Saint-Michèl. This was her home, as it was for that child.

She shrugged off the blanket and her wings sprung wide, catching the sunlight. With long strides she approached the church doors, and the priest gawked at her, nearly dropping the babe, and trembled against the portico. Mistress turned and her eyes widened.

Azélie held out her arms, graceful but firm, poised at the wrist as she had studied. “The child will come with me, Priest.”

“G-God wills it so.” Trembling, he handed Azélie the infant, crossed himself, and scurried inside.

Azélie smiled as she cradled the foundling, safe from bone pits and plaster.

“You think you’re above me?” Mistress clenched her hands, her knuckles cracking. “I made you!”

Mistress lunged forward and Azélie curled herself around the babe, preparing for Mistress’ arms to rip her away. Instead, she tugged at her wing.

Perhaps the seawater had eaten away at her long enough, softening her skin as it had the tower walls, and the wing rent at the seam with a sickening ease. Azélie gasped while shielding the child. Blood ran warm over her back and stained her gown and the dirt road. People gathered closer around them with bated breath.

“You all bleed the same,” Mistress said, close by her ear, so only Azélie could hear. “You’re mortal like the rest of them, and soon forgotten.”

“Maybe so,” Azélie bit. “Better to be forgotten in the outside world than forever be trapped in your lies.”

With a growl, Mistress tore again, ripping the seam so the wing hung broken off her shoulder. Azélie screamed.

“Stop this at once!” Léon’s mother sounded close by. “This town is guarded by angels, and we will guard them in turn.”

The seamstress’ shadow cast over Azélie as she stepped in front of Mistress. The shadows grew. More townspeople added to the chain. One by one, they stopped whispering and stepped forward.

Mistress’ eyes darted around the square as the chain grew, faces appeared in windows and from under shop awnings.

“Leave this place,” Léon’s mother said. “Return to your tower, or elsewhere, but nevermore Saint-Michèl.”

Mistress straightened her back. “You think this is where I stop? I’ll build, and I won’t stop building until it’s finished.”

“We’ll see who outlasts who, then.” Azélie took a deep breath. “Perhaps all your teachings were lies, but at least you taught me to persist.”

Mistress left, empty-handed and alone, her dress rustling.

A new family spent mornings at the shore and nights around the hearth. Léon became the Boy Saved by an Angel, little foundling Zoé an unexpected sister, Azélie their long-lost niece. Léon’s mother snipped the remaining thread in Azélie’s wings so they wouldn’t weigh her down and bandaged her feet. Her wings misted into rumor, but made fine mattress fillings.

Sermons were new for Azélie, and she learned anew about angels, and also what lay below the catacombs of the tower: a fiery place fueled by hatred and a loathing for innocent souls. Azélie understood that plaster was not all that held the tower together; without new foundlings, Tour des Anges crumbled into a ring in the salt, trees finally bursting through unfettered, reaching for Heaven.

Without the tower to commemorate what happened on the beach, Saint-Michèl became Saint-Ange on a newly announced holy day. Léon treated it as a second birthday celebration, stuffing his cheeks with sweetmeats until older brother Géralt made him share. Carrying their candles home from mass, they gathered before the white-washed ruins across the sea.

“How long do you think she’ll stay there?” Léon asked Azélie, as a lonely light perched atop bone piles.

“Forever.” Azélie rubbed the scars on her shoulders. “Until she’s one with the tower she built.”


Nicki Vardon lives in an English city that’s run by Vikings and smells of chocolate. She’s a seasoned night owl, part-time catsitter, and full-time skeleton wrangler. She can be woken up in the middle of the night for—or by—metal concerts and tea with milk, but always at one’s own risk. Her stories have appeared in Niteblade, The Red Penny Papers, and the Black Apples Anthology.