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Sneak peek: Waypoint Seven

Dear reader

Xan van Rooyen's aetherpunk novella, Waypoint Seven, is available worldwide on 1 July! To whet your appetites (yes, it's whet!), we're giving away the first chapter for free, right here and right now. So, enough about us - welcome to the Frayverse!


Strong and determined, I unravel across the dark

Along the weaving threads, I seek

A cure, an understanding; our only hope

Beyond the breach, lie the answers

I pledge my life, to save the fragile stars

from The Wayfinder’s Vow

a poem by Cadet-1618


Chapter One

If anyone knew the power I carried in my blood, I’d be flayed and burned to ash.

I pressed my finger to the tip of the blade honed sharp and glinting, then drew a russet spiral across one of the white pebbles piled upon the makeshift altar. They were stained with tribute, a dozen prayers mapped across their surface with split fingers.

My knees ached from the hour spent pressed into the grit of the dirt floor, and my eyes watered from the thiouraye incense clouding the shrine of the Bloodless. The perfumed streamers curling through the nostrils of the votive figures were all wrong. It should’ve been balsam or pine tar, the smell of the forests at home, not this spicy blend common to Askeria. At least the votive figures had been crafted with care, each an approximation of one of the five Bloodless gods shaped from clay with delicate hands. Whether beaked, feathered, fanged, or scaled—they were all painted white, smeared red by penitent offerings. Most bore the scars of being broken, smashed by those who couldn’t tolerate my people’s faith—and hungry baboons looking for snacks. They’d been stuck back together, smoke dribbling through cracked seams.

Melancholic music drifted through the cool air from the players crouched outside, their willow flutes threading eerie melodies through the breeze. These, at least, were right, the tunes raising the memories of my homeland as well as the fine hairs on the back of my neck. Here, on the remote slope where our only sanctuary had been carved into the mountainside, little more than a shallow cave protecting our offerings from the elements, I felt closer to my gods and most like myself.

The haunting music did nothing to soothe the incense-induced headache snarling behind my eyes. I closed them, inhaling the heady mix of scents, holding in the cough until it burned my lungs. This was my penance, though I doubted it would ever be enough. Those who might’ve forgiven what I’d done were either dead or lost to me.

The prayers tumbled from my lips in the tongue I only spoke to the shrine as I folded my fingers over the small wooden sparrow on the string around my neck. Its finely carved feathers had been worn smooth by years of rubbing promises across its wings as I vowed to one day return to the land of my birth, to Vehmä.

What had once been a dream had now become a pressing need. Either we escaped to Vehmä, or we would die here in a city that had no love for those who worshiped the Bloodless gods.

The music hitched, as if all the players drew a collective breath, and I tensed. Bare feet drummed up the trail and made me turn, blade gripped firm, always ready for hateful hands.

“Ruu, come quick!” Talli said, skidding to a stop less than an arm’s length from me. Judging by their heaving chest, they must’ve run all the way from the Cut, their shaved head greased with sweat despite the cool evening.

I resisted the urge to place my hand on Talli’s shoulder. They didn’t like to be touched. “What is it?”

“Mossie.” Talli regarded me with kelp-coloured eyes. “Boss crew came. We tried, but they have guns. Aala sent me for you.” Talli spat a gobbet of saliva, narrowly missing a blood-daubed pebble. I gritted my teeth, suppressing a shudder at their unintended disrespect. The Bloodless weren’t theirs. Whatever gods Talli had honoured had been abandoned the night they let Talli’s family drown.

“Where’s Aala now?” I asked, blinking to clear my eyes of the incense as I tapped my forehead, lips, then heart in a final show of respect.

“Waiting for us. For you.” Talli’s gaze strayed to the bloody knife in my hand.

The flute players watched with wary expressions as we strode past them.

“May your blood flow true,” the oldest among the players said in the tongue of my mother’s people, the language of my prayers and memories, dreams and nightmares.

“May your death sate the withered,” I responded, the phrase automatic, and the elder touched two fingers to head, lips, heart—my blessing accepted.

The music started again as I turned away. This shrine sat nestled in the lower flank of one of several mountains rising around the city of Askeria like angry fists. Some believed that was exactly what they were, the hands of forgotten gods raised in defiance to the fractured sky.

Above us, the Fray was a maw devouring the tops of Askeria’s mountains with tattered lips and broken teeth.

Its magic stitched fire-ant bites along my spine. Despite being tamped down inside my bones, my own magic thrummed a greeting. But I wasn’t Fray-bitten, and whatever arcane powers spilled through the gash weren’t mine to wield.

“Strong tonight.” Talli raised their gaze to the sky. “Aala—”

“She’ll be fine.”

Aala had survived the cursed magic eating through her flesh so far. Soon enough, she’d no longer be able to hide her patchwork skin. Once it spread beyond the hems of her clothes, she’d be discovered and thrown upon the Weaver’s mercy. We were running out of time.

Gritting my teeth, I turned my attention to the city wound like sleeping snakes in layered coils between the lower slopes leading down to the narrow mouth of the sea where its waves slipped into the fjord.

Askeria glowed orange and indigo from lanterns burning oil and those that held captured magic within spelled panes. A seam of indigo flowed away from the Weaver’s temple, away from flower-choked terraces, down into the hollows of the Cut, where the scav-bosses ruled. I tightened my grip on my knife and sucked in a breath as the magic shifted in my bones, oozing into sinews.

“We go together.” Talli squared their lean shoulders. “We make Malikin worm-meat.”

“We can’t kill him,” I said. “Not yet.” Not until I’d secured my crew passage on a ship. Tonight would set us back. Lues Malikin wouldn’t let Mossie go for free. He’d demand more from the next scavenge, maybe even all of it, and I’d give it. There was no question. Killing the bastard now would only make us even more vulnerable. Rival bosses would fight to take Malikin’s throne and trample the scav-crews who got in their way. The Cut would ring with bullets and the clang of steel.

“But we will,” Talli said, “before we leave. And I be the one to do it.” They took off down the path. I followed, bones singing with power desperate for release while the sky shivered above us. In my peripheral vision, a single point of light flared before it fell, arcing bright to dark as it plummeted between the looming peaks.


Vision: We search the stars for truth, to reveal the universe’s secrets, and divine meaning from chaos, for the benefit of all humankind on worlds known and unknown, in this system and beyond.

Mission: Seek the truth and drive understanding of the arcane, advance technology, magical practices, and interstellar exploration to enhance knowledge, to better educate and innovate all citizens of the universe for we are the stewards of the stars.

Values: As Wayfinders, we share a set of core values—safety, integrity, determination, excellence, inclusion. These are evident in all that we do, both on our home-worlds and others.

Our work is a lifelong pursuit, a passion. As Wayfinders, we have the responsibility to protect the future of humanity. If you agree to uphold our values, to commit to our mission, and make our vision a reality, sign here:____________________________

Extract from the Wayfinder’s Handbook


Waypoint Seven is available for preorder on Amazon here.

About the author

Climber, tattoo-enthusiast, peanut-butter addict and loyal shibe-minion, Xan van Rooyen is a genderqueer, non-binary storyteller from South Africa, currently living in Finland where the heavy metal is soothing and the cold, dark forests inspiring. Xan has a Master’s degree in music, and–when not teaching–enjoys conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. You can find Xan’s short stories in the likes of Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Daily Science Fiction, Apparition Lit, and The Colored Lens. Xan hangs out on instagram, twitter, and facebook so feel free to say hi over there.


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