the lighthouse of loom genre: dark fantasystyle: novelWhen infamous fire witch Vragi Deophylaktos is captured after decades on the run, he chooses enslavement over death and is banished to the cursed island of Loom, where he’s forced to use his power to operate a seemingly useless lighthouse. At a stranger’s behest, Vragi is thrown into a mad quest to unravel the isle’s dark past—but uncovering the truth may deliver him the same tragic fate as the keeper before him. Dashing one’s ship to splinters on the black cliffs of Loom was said to be a fate less cruel than arriving on its shore. The waves tore and gnawed. The wind buffeted and bludgeoned. Despite their infamous fury, despite the hungry aliveness of the elements and their companion malintent, somehow the craft made it past the riptides and into the relative safety of the bay, sails hoisted high to shout the Bragan naval colors to all who might see. But no one would see. Loom was a dead man’s land, a hunk of rock seldom thought about, let alone tread by living feet. Nothing waited on the beach but a bloated whale carcass and a gaggle of gulls reluctantly picking at its sunken eyesockets. “Got a question for you, mutant.”“Do go on, captain.”“It true you fire witches hump dragons to get your powers?” Vragi squinted against an icy gout of sea spray and salt. He didn’t look up at his handler—was in fact rather sick of his beady fish eyes, his fat pink face squeezed into that ridiculous spiked helmet. Instead, he held his gaze forward. Watched the approaching shore forming through the mist as the daggerlike bow sliced deep. The lantern hung from the prow dangled like an anglerfish’s bait, casting a hazy corona of gold through the gloom. He drummed his fingers on his thigh—fingers he couldn’t feel, exposed to the frozen air as they were—pretending to consider. “Maybe,” he said. “Personally, I prefer soldiers’ mothers. Do you know why?” An armor-clad fist collided with his cheekbone, sowing a bloody bruise alongside those that came before. Fresh blood wept to join the dried crust. It was both a blessing and a curse that his captors seemed to favor the right side of his face. On the one hand, he’d still be able to see out of the left, but on the other, every new strike compounded the pain. The chains and shackles clattered as he reached his bound hands up to swipe red from his face and assess the damage. He’d had worse. No cause to shut his mouth. “They’re so much feistier than dragons.” He examined the sticky blood on his palms. “Twice as horny, and usually just as scaly.” Another blow sent Vragi to the scum-caked planks. He spat crimson froth, prodded his teeth with his tongue. Everything seemed to be in order, so he pushed himself back up to his knees. “Temper, temper, captain.” He brushed away a lock of ashen hair. “Do you know what I used to do to men like you?” “You’ll be doing naught besides tending a brazier for the next few hundred years, witch.” The soldier grunted and snorted, hawking a wad of phlegm at his feet. “I’ll be long gone, all cozy in a warm grave throwing back tankards in the clouds, and you’ll still be down here, wastin’ away in the cold and the wind.” “I’d roast them ‘til they squealed like suckling pigs,” Vragi said, unfazed. “And smelled like them, too. Sometimes it was hard not to have a bite, all charred and steaming, meat sloughing off bone like the finest pork ribs you’d ever seen. I came close to having a taste, once or twice. But wailing wives and daughters do tend to kill the atmosphere.” A steel-toed boot to the gut hunched his back, adding pain to the nausea inflicted by temperamental seas.