Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Stephen Palmer and I write epic steampunk novels. Strange times have struck the Isles of Ire – hair-eating Snow Woollies plague our icy lanes, and Daemon Chariots roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague… So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with my trusty Teapot Of Bhutan, so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay. Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all…I’m best known for my steampunk Factory Girl trilogy. Set in 1910 and 1911, this work follows the story of Kora Blackmore, cast into Bedlam by her appalling father, the Victorian engineer and entrepreneur Sir Tantalus Blackmore. Kora and her friend Erasmus Darwin (grandson of Charles) must escape capture and find out the truth of the enigma surrounding Kora and her birth.
This trilogy was republished last year with new covers by the famous steampunk illustrator Tom Brown, who also did the cover for the fourth book, The Conscientious Objector, which follows Erasmus into the hell of 1914 and WW1…I’m also known for my WW1 novel Tommy Catkins. Tommy, returning in 1915 from a horrific experience in the trenches of the Western Front, finds himself in an experimental hospital on a river island in Wiltshire, where, suffering from shell shock, he is given the primitive treatments of the time. But Tommy is badly damaged by his experiences, and in due course finds that the island is not all it seems to be…If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them
Well thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one! I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by book mavens of the worst possible type – craven cowards, all!
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own…
It’s Bagatelle. There’s a Wreck in The Zone. This is not part of The Plan. But you are, and your instructions are simple – DESTROY THIS BOOK.
Ghosts of Wit is an interactive cybertext. A bizarre Easter Egg hunt through a twisted Wonderland in the company of dead poets, sinister psychopomps, sentient tarot cards and a mysterious cat with a fiddle.
Is there life after Porridge? Who is Mary? What does it mean to Tread Well in life? Who started the fire? Why does the old man smile? And would you like a bacon sandwich? Are just some of the questions this book will not attempt to answer. However if you already know the answers, then jump on your camel and join the hunt for the book that doesn’t exist… just beware of the white rabbits along the way…
Happy Friday! I’m going to make next week the last post before christmas and then carry on where we leave off in the new year. Ghosts of Wit is at the proof stage so that should be out next week as well. Wishing you all an utterly fabulous weekend and hugest thankyous for following along with my wild witterings thus far! Picking up where we left off last week with poor Vraxi…
When Spyro shut the door, Vraxi folded up like a fan on the enormous four poster bed and shed silent tears into the sea of dark silk sheets. He had needed this. He had needed to prove to himself that somebody, for whatever reason, wanted him – that he had some purpose, some skill, some use in the universe however shallow or cheap that thing might seem to others. But he had messed things up again; it seemed all he was ever able to do. And when he went over everything that happened, he couldn’t see clearly what he had done wrong.
Is it any wonder they are all sick of you? his voices whispered. You ruin everything you touch and you haven’t even the intelligence to understand how. You are exhausting everyone’s patience with you, and you don’t even have the ability to change or put things right. “Please stop.” He whispered, pressing his hands over his ears as if he could shut out the voice that was coming from within. “Please, please, please, stop.”
He took an enormous breath and pushed himself up, feeling about for his pipe before he remembered Spyro had tossed it in the fireplace. He slid off the bed and shuffled across the floor, refilled it and took a long drag, completely forgetting that Spyro had told him not to smoke in the bedroom. Come on, enough of this, he told himself, wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand, you cannot still be sitting here when he returns.
He stood up and closed the wardrobe door, trying hard not to catch even the slightest glimpse of himself in the mirror. He had thought the outfit he’d chosen was attractive; but no one seemed to like the things that he found beautiful. Because you’re a cheap, tasteless little tramp, the voices inside told him as he trailed in numbness through the dark corridors to the stockroom, a feat like walking underwater with his head encased in lead.
He pulled something off the rack without fully registering what it was, other than that it looked dull and displeasing, got dressed and went tentatively downstairs.
“Seems like we’re still stuck with eachother then.” Xander said gruffly, his arms folded as he stood by the back door.
“I… is that what he said?”
Xander nodded, and then frowned at him. “What happened to your face?”
Vraxi fussed a bit with his hair, trying to pull it down over the red mark where the belt had struck. “Oh nothing. I tripped over my dressing gown in the bathroom and hit it on the sink.” He shrugged and gave a little half smile, “You were right, it is far too big for me afterall. I don’t know what possessed me to steal it.”
This is all my fault. Xander thought desperately. Why hadn’t he stopped to consider how Mendicci would react to his childish little tantrum? He had thought the antiques dealer had been unfair, spoken to him harshly, tried to pull rank on him and make sure he was still firmly under his boot… but he hadn’t hit him. And this wasn’t the first time Vraxi had come down those stairs with bruises he couldn’t easily explain. Coward, he thought furiously, he knows I would hit him back.
“You liked the little birds on it,” he mumbled, fishing for something he could do or say to make amends. “You said it was nice to see birds that weren’t crows for a change, and that if you held it up to the light you could imagine they were flying against the lavender sky at dawn…. or some crap like that…” he added, feeling his face flush a little.
Vraxi trailed his finger along the banisters and hung his head. “Sounds like the sort of nonsense I’d come out with,” he admitted, and then raised his eyes to peer apologetically through his strands of scarlet and black, “Thankyou for putting up with me, Xan. I mean it. I know it isn’t easy…I don’t mean to be so…difficult…”
Xander flicked down his hood, made a mess of his hair and then flicked it up again. I should be the one apologising, he thought crossly. But he couldn’t find the words or even where to begin.
“You hungry?” he tried, annoyed that his voice didn’t seem capable of ever conveying anything he wanted it to.
“Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast someplace – where do you wanna go? The Keys?”
Vraxi shifted uncomfortably and rubbed his arms, “I’d rather not, if that’s alright with you?”
He’s worried about running into Mendicci, Xander thought to himself. “Where then?”
“Not Massey’s. I hate Massey’s it’s too much lace and polished wood, it’s suffoctaing in there.” He thought for a minute. “I know, come on.” He tipped his head towards the door and they walked down the garden path and out of the back gate into the alley that ran the length of the shops in that row. They got to the end, turned right and headed out onto the Kadasa’s main vein. “Street food?” he asked, giving the yag a little knowing look.
Vraxi’s eyes lit up like fireworks “Really?! Are you sure? But you hate the market crowds…”
“Yeah. Well. You can do the queuing, I’ll give you the money.”
“Oh! It’s my favourite Xan, thankyou! Can we get those long skewers full of grilled mushrooms? And deep fried crispy crow’s wings?”
The warm feeling that swelled inside him didn’t quite find full expression in Xander’s features but he did smile. “Sure. Whatever you want OK?”
Eeeep I’m so sorry I’m late again, I came down with a cold last night and have been bumbling around trying to get everything done XD So, without further blathering, here is the next bit and it comes with a small trigger warning of domestic violence.
Once Xander was settled in the kitchen with a small mountain of scrambled crows eggs, Spyro went upstairs.
He scowled as he followed the trail of used bath towels and discarded clothing from the bathroom and pushed open his bedroom door.
“Right then, Bane, I…”
Not many things in this world could leave Spyro Mendicci speechless. He cleared his throat to cover the fact and stared thoughtfully at the yag who was perched on the end of his bed, smoking and swinging his legs back and forth.
“Bane, when I said help yourself to something to wear…”
“Oh. Does it not become me?” Vraxi asked anxiously, hopping up to examine himself in the wardrobe mirror.
Spyro nearly had a heart attack. He ran a hand over his face. “You are not leaving here, dressed like that,” he said firmly; fighting the urge to lock the door and never let Vraxi leave his bedroom, let alone the shop. “You won’t make it home in one piece.” He’ll be the death of me, he thought helplessly, and this is a weakness I can’t afford to indulge just now, not with Pan stalking about somewhere.
“What were you doing at church?” he asked, trying to distract himself with more serious matters.
Vraxi shrugged, “having an existential crisis?” he tried.
Spyro folded his arms and tried to look menacing. It worked.
Vraxi grinned sheepishly and spread his palms; “In truth, I was stealing demonsong,” he said. “One of Keyja’s dock-rats dropped a crate and she may have got the inaccurate impression that the fault was mine.”
Spyro nodded. That sounded more like the truth. “And so she told you to replace it,” he surmised.
“She told me she’d turn me inside out and hang me from a flagpole and you could ask all the questions you liked about it!” The yag said, indignantly.
“Did she now?” Spyro narrowed his eyes.
“Indeed, she did. And that’s not all..” Vraxi lowered his voice and stood on his tiptoes to reach Spyro’s ear “…while I was at the docks I noticed something else; it seems Keyja is carrying on where her brother left off…”
Spyro frowned and waved Vraxi back a few paces. “Are you still high, Bane?” he asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “only to a level of functionality,” he said, taking another drag on his pipe.
“Give me that, I’ve told you not to smoke that thing up here.” Spyro snatched the pipe and knocked it out in the fireplace. “Let me understand you correctly: you are saying that Keyja – who tipped us off to the fact that her brother was cream-skimming – is now cream-skimming herself? Yes?”
“That’s right. And she wants to turn me inside out and…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Spyro waved a hand to shush him up. He took a moment to turn things over in his mind. It did make sense, except.. “And what were you doing at the sky docks in the first place?”
Vraxi bit his lip, and then looked a little coy. “There is a barman… at the Valkyrie’s Nest…” he said quietly.
“I see.” Yes it all made sense now. Much as he didn’t like it, it did add up. “And is this debt to Keyja the reason you took the demonsong from the Colonel?” he asked, fishing for the last piece of the puzzle.
Vraxi hung his head and looked up through his strands of coal and henna hair.
Spyro sighed. “Very well, listen carefully. You are going to go and put something sensible on, and then you and Xander are going to go to the skydocks and clean-up for me, understand? And do it properly this time, no bleeding heart sob stories, no second chances I want every last one of them dead and I want it obvious to everyone with half a brain why.”
Vraxi nodded solemnly but he couldn’t prevent the gleeful glitter of flames from dancing in his dark eyes.
Spyro frowned. “You were hoping I’d say that, weren’t you?” Damn it, the little sod had played him and he’d walked right into it. He could just imagine the yag relishing the opportunity to add his own little ‘message’ to the execution and subtly turning it from No one messes with Spyro Mendicci to No one messes with Vraxanthrin Bane. He was not about to let him have that sort of power.
Vraxi bit his lip and gave a mischievous little half-smirk, “can you blame me? She did threaten to turn me inside out and hang me from her flagpole…and I didn’t tell a lie, Spyro, I only… hoped you would chose me to be the executioner…”
I should kill him. Spyro thought furiously. I am going to kill him. He could feel the weight of one of his many concealed knives resting just a wrist-flick away from his palm. I can’t have anyone think they can play me even the tiniest amount, and I can’t have him strutting around looking like that, distracting me from everything else. Half a dozen blades were within a split-second’s reach but still he hesitated, unable to take his eyes from the beautiful fire jinn.
“You should have come to me with this in the beginning,” he said at length. “As I said to Xander downstairs, what we are trying to build here is a family, Bane, and we’re not doing a very good job of that if we don’t trust eachother are we?”
Vraxi bit his lip, “Sorry?” he tried.
Spyro shook his head. “What am I going to do with you, Bane?”
“Give me some honey and take me to bed?” Vraxi asked hopefully, stepping closer and giving the antiques dealer his very best kitten eyes.
Oh gods. “Honey is for good boys.” Spyro said darkly, trying hard to keep the tremor of desire from his voice.
“Oh?” Vraxi smirked, tilting his head on one side, “And what do bad boys get, Mr. Mendicci?”
Spyro thought he was going to explode. He reached out and brushed Vraxi’s dark hair away from his face then let the back of fingers trail lazily down the angle of his jaw.
He eased his chin to the side with his thumb, careful to keep his gaze flat and disinterested as he traced the space around his collar bone, the rise of his bare shoulder, the tight velvet stretched around his tiny ribcage and narrow hips…
He’s like glass, he said to himself, so beautiful and so dangerous; so easy to break, so easy to cut yourself on.
Fantasies of forcing the yag to his knees and having him right there on the floor surged through his mind… he imagined tying him to his bed and taking him from pleasure to pain and back again for hours – watching those delicate features transform from expressions of ecstasy to confusion, fear, agony and back to ecstasy again in a never ending cycle that was completely under his control…
No. No. No. He told himself sternly. I need to be certain I can resist this. Nobody can have such a hold over me, especially not this little one. If I can walk out of here now, then I can safely do as I like with him any time afterwards…but I need to know – and he needs to know – that I am in control.
“I’ll show you what bad boys get,” he whispered, unbuckling his belt and sliding it free of his waistband. He folded the leather back on itself to form a loop then cracked Vraxi hard across the face with it.
“They get nothing.” He said calmly, and turned to towards the door. “Put something decent on, Bane, and go home. I will have Fey deal with Keyja.”
He closed the door and leant his back against it for a moment, breathing slow and deep. He couldn’t do anything in this state. He glanced at Ros’s door, but then changed his mind and headed for the bathroom.
Happy Friday my lovelies! Thankyou for still being here and following along with my little miscreants! I hope you have a fabulous weekend! Here’s the next bit of Silk and Steel for you – will Spyro save the day? Well, I think you know our sinister antiques dealer well enough by now to know his ‘kindness’ is a double edged sword at the best of times…
By the time he caught up he was out of breath and Mendicci was just opening the bolted door.
“To what do I owe this flagrant disregard for respectable business hours?” he asked, flashing them his unfathomable smile as he locked the door again behind them.
“I want a new partner.” Xander said quickly.
Spyro raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak…
“No he doesn’t!” Vraxi protested, “He’s merely cross because I went to church!”
Spyro frowned at the interruption, “You went to church?” he asked sceptically, looking the yag up and down.
“The Other Church…” Vraxi corrected.
“It’s not just that, it’s everything, we’re no good, we can’t work together…”
“Yes we can,” “No we can’t”
“No I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore,”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sush! Enough!” Spyro clapped his hands together and silence fell instantly, Xander glaring and breathing hard and Vraxi wringing his hands and looking confused.
“Bane. Upstairs. Now. Go and clean yourself up. You can borrow some clothes from the stock room.”
“I will be up to speak with you in a moment.”
The antiques dealer raised his eyebrows and Vraxi hung his head and trailed out of the room in a waft of stained silk and roccana smoke.
Xander took a deep breath. “I want a new partner.”
Spyro raised an eyebrow and steepled his finger carefully. “I want a new partner, please, Mr Mendicci.” he corrected.
Xander looked irritated. He flicked down his hood, made a mess of his dark hair and flicked it back up again. “Yeah. Sorry. S’what-I-meant. Er. Please, Mr Mendicci, I want a new partner, it’s not working out.”
“I see.” Spyro looked at him thoughtfully for a while and although Xander stood statue still, eyes front without flinching, he squirmed inwardly under the silent scrutiny. “You have very unusual eyes.” he said at last. “Where were your parents from? Kallimbadd?”
Xander ground his teeth. “Don’t know.” he mumbled, looking at the floor.
“You don’t know? Oh, yes, I remember now; you grew up in the children’s home didn’t you?”
Xander took a deep breath. “Yes, Mr. Mendicci, that’s right.”
“I see. So you have no family here in Ryzym, that you know of?”
Xander shook his head.
“I see, yes, I remember now. Well, here’s the thing Xander; our little… group here, our little posse if you like, is like a family. Now I understand that for some young people like yourself, and Bane, and Edmund, and so on, your experiences of family range from zero to inadequate to… well, we won’t go there… but we, here, are building something better, are we not? A better life, a better future, a better family, Xan, for all of us. I’m going to confide something to you; I used to have a family – very very long ago now – a wife, and two children. Sadly, well,” he spread his hands and smiled that unfathomable smile, “life is cruel sometimes, but here we are, building something better, as I said.”
“But it has to be a team effort, Xan.” Spyro went on, “We all have to work together at it, and we can’t just turn our backs on one member simply because we don’t know how to handle their… problems. Understand? Is that how you think a family should behave? Is that a family you would want to be a part of?”
Xander shook his head.
“No, exactly. Bane would never turn his back on you would he? No. He wouldn’t. And you are not going to turn your back on him. So. There we are. I will have a word with him. Have you had breakfast?”
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is Chris Allaun. Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, My Dear! May I take your hat and miscellaneous weaponry?
Yes, of course. Where shall I place my broom?
Oh, just over there beside mine in the corner – it’s wonderful to have another magic user visit the kitchen! How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile sugar- zombies or sky pirates on your way?
Smooth flying. No problem at all. Except for the Wild Hunt that is happening now.
Ah yes, they have often caused a few problems for our vistors flying in. And have you brought along some soup to share with us?
No soup today.
Alas, I dare say The Hunt upset your cauldron! Never mind I have some left over Pumpkin Soup from Halloween which we can heat up instead. simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat by the fire here and tell me a little about the types of non-fiction that you prefer to write?
I write books on witchcraft, shamanism, and magick. I’m also an energy healer and necromancer so you’ll see a lot of that in my books too.
Oh my! Not another necromancer! We’ve had quite enough of their shenanigans recently! And what is your latest book, would you like to tell us all a little about that?
My new book is Called Otherworld: Ecstatic Witchcraft for the Spirits of the Land. The book is basically my compilation of my many years of experience working with the spirits of the Otherworld. The running theme throughout the book, and all my books, is how to have a relationship with the spirits. In this book, I talk about how to deepen your relationships with Faeries, Elves, Nature Spirits, and Plant Spirits. I also show you Dragon Magick as it was taught to me in Traditional Witchcraft. There aren’t many books about traditional dragon magick so I thought I’d “bust the seal” and teach people how to work with those energies!
Well, that all sounds wonderful and not at all what I would have expected from a necromancer so perhaps you are not the baby-eating, demon-raising kind of trouble maker I first took you for afterall. Have you brought a copy of the book with you today to show the orphans?
Ah now that’s the kettle boiling, what is your ‘poison’ Dear, and how do you take it?
With Two children please…
I BEG YOUR PARDON!?!
Um…sugar, I meant with two sugars please!
I see… perhaps you’d better just sit back a little children, we don’t want any hot soup splashing on anyone do we? Hmm…. Now, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your own path into non-fiction writing?
Well, I’m a minister for the Fellowship of the Phoenix and I teach a lot of magical and pagan classes. My go-to is working with the ancestors so over the years I’ve compiled a lot of material and so I thought I’d write a book. At the time, there were only a few books written on how to honour the dead and your ancestors. So, I submitted to Mandrake of Oxford and my first book Underworld: Shamanism, Myth, and Magick was published in 2016.
That sounds marvellous and is there anything that particularly inspires you when you write?
The spirits. The gods. Ancestors. The Elves and Faeries . All these beings are important to me so I want to share with the world on how to have relationships with them. My goal is to help us all heal the magical cord that connects us to the spirits in all of the shamanic worlds.
Of course we love supporting independent writers, artists and small presses here in Ire; do you have any favourite indie authors who have inspired you or whose work you can recommend?
I’m a big fan of Robin Artisson, Nigel G. Pearson, and Gemma Gary,
Splendid, I will be sure to hunt those out – I am always on the look out for a good fireside read to keep me company while I knit or bake. And where can we find more of your own work?
You can always find me on amazon, but I also have free articles on my website chrisallaun.com and my YouTube channel Chris Allaun. For Facebook you can find me at Chris Allaun: Author. Teacher. Healer
Splendid! Ah now that soup smells like it is about ready, would you be so kind as to help me serve it up to the orphans?
Of course! They are delicious…um, I mean the soup is delicious. I’m happy to help!
Um, yes, well, perhaps you had better leave the serving to me – why don’t you sit over there in the corner and put your feet up – well away from the children! (Tsk! Necromancers, they are all the same…)
Thankyou all for joining us in the soup kitchen this morning and until we see you again, Blessings On Your Brew My Dears!
Eep, so sorry I missed a week last week – things got in a bit of a tiz! XD – hoping you all had a fabulous week and wishing you all a marvellous weekend…
Despite the fact that his unconscious charge was as light as a feather, it still took a good thirty minutes to dodge and weave his way through the backstreets and gunnels from the cinders to bridge street, trying to avoid the main streets where every drunk and his mother thought them a fine sight to test their dubious wit against.
The apothecary shook her head in disgust when he explained the situation. “Other Church!” she spat; and crossed herself forwards and backwards and washed her hands in a bowl of salt water on he counter. “Bring him though, put him on the couch.” She took a handfull of black charcoal from a barrel and added it to a pestle and mortar with more salt solution then lifted the yag’s lids and peered into his eyes. “Blood and Demonsong.” she said, matter of factly. “For the blood, he drinks this. For the Demonsong…” she shrugged “…listening to that affects everyone differently. Some get their wits back, some don’t. You’ve seen the street preachers?”
“Well…was it his first time?”
“I… I think so…”
She heaved herself upright again and handed Xander the mortar and a metal pail. “For when he brings the blood up.” she explained, and left them to it.
“Here, sit up, you’ve got to drink this” Xander said, trying to coax his friend into a sitting position.
Vraxi cradled his head in his hands. “Owwwww… and also very much ouch…some blackguard slugged me, Xan…”
“No one slugged you. I strategically and harmlessly incapacitated you for your own good. And I already apologised. If your head’s hurting it’s what you’ve done to it, not me. Here, drink this.”
“What the hell-spawned poison is that?”
“A better kind than you’ve had so far, do you want me to hold your nose and make you choke it down?”
The yag waved a hand, and took the mortar, gulping the thick black soup down in one and pulling a face.
“Uck. What the hell good is that supposed to d…. mphwmmmmph…
Xander quickly shoved his head between his knees over the bucket and held his hair back from his face as an evening’s worth of blood, coffee, kvass and tsujka vacated the yag’s stomach along with the charcoal mixture.
They sat like that for about an hour. Xander saying nothing while his friend continued to bring up bile and black grit in sporadic outbursts of choking fits and curses.
Xander shook his head. He had absolutely no point of reference for this kind of… what was it? Self indulgence? Self destruction? … mind altering substances had not been permitted in the armed forces (other than those administered forcibly in the name of government aproved military strategy ) and since the end of the world and his escape from that life he had never dared do anything that might give the demon a chance at taking control of his conciousness. Of course he drank kvass, there was little else in a city where the river was blood and the only rain that fell was brimstone, but he knew exactly what his limits were and he never, ever, over stepped them. The fact that his friend seemed to constantly need to push the boundaries of his own ability to escape reality was something he found utterly incomprehensible.
This has to stop, he told himself furiously. What is the point in me going to all this effort trying to keep him safe from what’s inside me when I can’t even keep him safe from himself? I can’t keep doing this. I can’t. We’re just both too broken to do anything but…bloody destroy eachother.
“Urg. I’m empty. Anymore and I’ll be bringing up hellfire. Which won’t be pretty, I assure you. Voice of experience speaking.” He wiped his mouth and his dressing gown sleeve, flopped backwards onto the couch and laughed out loud. “Woooo-hooo! Church! Ha! I think I’ve re-discovered my Loca!”
“You are Loca!” Xander growled. “Life isn’t one long party, you could have lost your mind back there! Or worse!”
“Oh, pah!” the yag struggled to his feet and fished about for his pipe, lit it and took a long drag. “This isn’t life Xander, it’s death… or undeath…or some such thing; what have I got to lose?”
“Well you’ve lost me!” Xander spat, pushing the yag aside and heading for the door. “If you can’t give a damn about yourself, then why the hell should I?”
“All done in here?” The apothecary asked, peering through the beaded curtain.
“Yeah. We’re done.” Xander said, glaring at the yag.
He pulled a money pouch from inside his shirt but the woman waved it away.
“No charge.” she said and then turned to the yag and added, “but I don’t expect to see you again, savvy?”
“Much obliged, and utterly understood,” Vraxi said, placing his hands together and giving a little bow.
“Get out with all that crap.” the apothecary snapped, shooing them out of the shop and clanging the door shut behind them.
“Oh good morning! Isn’t it?” Vraxi sang cheerfully to a passing couple who eyed them both with disgust and a smidge of trepidation. He waved as they hurried off down the street and then looked about him for Xander who was already stalking off towards the kadasa.
“Home is this way!” he called, pointing to a side street as he sprinted to catch up.
“Not going home. I told you. I’m done with this. Gonna ask Mendicci to pair me with someone else. Now.”
“What? Xander no, you are not serious?” the yag grinned and tried to put a hand on his arm but Xander pulled away and continued his march.
Vraxi bit his lip and wrung his hands as he considered what to do. This was no good at all. It would scupper everything. And he was so, so close to making all the pieces of his plan fall into place.
“Look, I apologise, I’m deeply sorry, it will never happen again…”
“You said that the last time, with the honey…”
“But that was different!”
“And the time before that, at the dockers’ union… of which you’re not even a bloody member!”
“But that was different too!”
“And I’ve lost count of all the other ‘last times’ I have had to pull your unconscious arse out of some sort of trouble that could easily have been avoided if you weren’t such a greedy, thoughtless, hedonistic, egotistical little prick!”
They both stopped in the centre of the bridge. Xander glaring furiously and breathing hard. Vraxi looking distraught.
“I’m sorry?” he tried. “Look, please, please, believe me Xander this time was different and it won’t ever, ever happen again…”
The yag looked confused.
“How is it different? Why is it different?”
“I… I can’t tell you that… just yet… I will, eventually, I promise but…oh no Xander don’t go please I’m in earnest…” he added as Xander snorted with disgust and headed off again towards the antiques shop.
Vraxi tucked his pipe between his teeth, hitched up the long train of his silk dressing gown and sped after him.
Apologies, dear friends. I was expecting this old city watchtower in Steampunk’d Lancaster to be empty when we entered. Ah, but given the conditions outside – all those flesh eating Liver Birds plaguing the skies and the Sugar-Zombies roaming the streets and spreading their curse like a plague – I can’t blame you at all for taking refuge here.
Permit me to introduce myself. Jan Stone, story-maker and general assistant and dogsbody to a group of diminutive steampunk ladies and gentlemen who know me as Mrs Euphoria Steampunkle. I have brought a few of them with me tonight to provide some much needed help and protection. You’ll see them more clearly once I get the lantern burning.
As I’m sure you know by now, some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in this watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords. Tonight is my shift.
Luigi, would you be good enough to pass me a lucifer? No, best I strike it, I think, given your long, flowing sleeves. There, that’s better. We can see one another more clearly now. Feel free to shuffle closer and warm yourselves slightly. Let the little ones come close to the flame; they look half-frozen.
But why are you huddling in that corner, whimpering and clinging to one another in that desperate way?
Oh, bless you, no! These are not flesh eating Liver Birds! I admit at first glance they have a slightly corvid-like appearance, but they are good plague doctors who have travelled all the way from the disease-ridden city of Roma to lend us support and assistance, having heard that we too are in dire circumstances at present.
No Giulio, I don’t think kissing the urchins on each cheek would reassure them of your friendly intentions at all, although it was a kind thought.
So you see, my friends, we are in safe hands for this night at least and since we will be here in the watchtower together for a while, let me tell you a little about my work, to pass the time.
‘Mwumph mwah gruphg.’
Luigi, I think it would be best if you left the talking to me. I agree that your English is coming along splendidly, but those masks, stuffed as they are with wormwood, make it quite hard for others to understand what you’re saying.
‘Gaph gogh eegha eegg!’
Exactly, Paolo, that’s why you carry your sticks. They allow you to show people what they need to do to keep safe. And obviously they are also fearsome weapons, are they not? No? Ah. Well I’m sure you will protect us perfectly, should the need arise, and if all else fails, we have a good supply of books we can hurl at any assailants.
So yes, I divide my time between curating these gentlemen and their fellow steampunk characters and accessories at The Steampunk Dolls House – a virtual shop located in the aether which exports worldwide – and writing blogs, books and so forth.
In fact, I have recently published a novel aimed at 8 to 12 year olds called The Glassmaker’s Children. Perhaps the urchins would enjoy listening to an extract from it? Here is a section from near the beginning, in which we are introduced to the Glassmaker and his craft:
He had a workshop right down by the coast and each day he would fire up the great, enormous furnace to a temperature you can’t even imagine. He had to wear special leather gloves and a heavy helmet and apron to protect himself. Imagine having all those thick clothes in such heat!
Once the furnace was roaring away, he would take his cart down to the beach and collect masses of soft, white sand. These days, all kinds of strange substances are added to sand when it is heated to make glass, but back in their times, it was usually just sand plus heat. He would tip the sand into the furnace and it would melt into a bright, glowing sticky liquid, like pale treacle.
Carefully, carefully, the glassmaker would take great globs of the glass out of the furnace with a long hollow pole and blow it and turn it. It was like a big, wobbly balloon. He would shape it and move it and stretch it, quite wonderfully, into whatever the villagers wanted – windows or drinking glasses, jugs or mirrors, bottles or ornaments.
Sometimes he would bring home gifts he had made for the children. For Ruby, he made a pair of glass slippers, so she could pretend to be Cinderella. (Her mother thought this was the stupidest gift she could imagine and worried that the child would fall and cut herself horribly each time she wore them.) For Stellan he created a magnifying glass with a silver frame and a brass handle, so that he could explore all the tiny wonders he found in the garden, and the mother was happy with that.
The children thought their father was a very clever man, and so he was.
Ah, but the Glassmaker had secrets. There were secrets about glass that were passed down from one glassmaker to another through the ages. Glass is a magical substance. You can see it, yet you can see straight through it. Sometimes you can even see your own reflection in it.
There’s something more, though – something chemical. Chemistry is hard to understand. What we really need is a chemist to explain it to us. Luckily, there is a chemist hidden in the pages of this book. He isn’t supposed to appear until later in the story, but I think I’ll bring him here for a while, to see if he can make things clear. He’s called an apothecary, which means he mixes medicines and potions and stuff to unblock drains and powders to make cabbages grow enormous and so on.
Here he is.
Good day, Apothecary.
“What? Where am I? And, ugh! What’s that smell, for goodness’ sake? Salt? Seaweed? This is the seaside, isn’t it? I HATE seasides! Nasty windy places with sand getting between your toes and into your lunch… and all those noisy, greedy seagulls. You can’t just pick me up and dump me here! I was in the middle of mixing some cough syrup for little Lily Jenkins. I’m not supposed to come into this story until Chapter 11!”
I’m sorry I shocked you, dear Apothecary, but I’m afraid we need you here, just for a little while, and then you can go back to mixing the medicine and I promise I’ll leave you in peace until your part of the story. You see we are talking about glass, and the Glassmaker. I need you to explain what is special about glass – the chemistry of glass – to our readers. Would you mind?
“Humph! It seems I don’t have much choice. Story-makers! How you mess about with people’s lives! Very well, then. Let’s get on with it, so that I can get back to my work. Glass is an amorphous solid.”
A WHAT? I think that’s a bit too complicated for us, Apothecary, dear. Could you make it a bit easier to understand?
“Oh blah! Well, let me see. Remember when the children and their mother made biscuits? The squishy mess went into the oven to be heated and came out as crisp golden biscuits, didn’t it? A chemical change. The dough turned into solid, tasty little shapes. Is that simple enough?”
Yes, we understood that perfectly. So what about glass?
“Glass is far stranger. Sand goes into the furnace and is heated up until it melts into a very hot goo.When it comes out of the furnace, it gradually cools down and becomes almost a solid thing.”
“Yes, almost. That’s the strange thing. No matter how much you cool it, it never turns completely solid. Certainly it feels solid, when you tap on it or drop it or drink out of it, but it isn’t. That’s what an amorphous solid is – something almost solid, but not quite. It’s like a frozen liquid.”
Beautifully explained! Thank you so much, Apothecary. Would you like me to move you back to your proper place in the story, now?
“Well as I’m here, could I just take a peep at the Glassmaker at work? Such an interesting job.”
I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm, but don’t spoil the story, will you?
“Oh don’t worry! I’ll just look through the window. Ah, there he is. I thought he might be blowing some glass. I love watching them do that, but – hang on! What is that in his hand? Is he doing what I think he’s doing?”
There, I knew this wasn’t a good idea! Please don’t give his secret away just yet. I was building up to that.
“But he has – unless my eyes are deceiving me… No, it really is. I’m certain of it. He has a sly-glass! That’s outrageous!”
Oh! Enough! Right, I’m sending you back to Chapter 11. We’ll see you later. Thanks for all your help.
Oh dear, I hope that hasn’t ruined the story for you. I suppose, then, I’d better tell you the Glassmaker’s other secret.
As you have discovered, glassmakers are very talented people. They work with this not-quite-solid stuff in all sorts of ways. They know the many secrets of this magical substance and a few glassmakers – a very small few, luckily – work out how to make the most magical and dangerous thing of all. They discover how to make a sly-glass.
I can’t tell you exactly how it’s done. It’s something to do with smoke and mirrors, but it doesn’t usually end well.
And if you want to discover what happens to the Glassmaker and – far more importantly – to his children as a result of his unfortunate discovery, you can search for The Glassmaker’s Children by Jan Stone on Amazon, where it is available as a Kindle e-book or a regular paperback.
Well it has been a delight to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night. No doubt the ferocious appearance of my three companions here kept even the most audacious adversaries at bay.
I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by those Liver Birds and there was tell last week of an artist who fell foul to a hoard of sugar zombies and is now best avoided… although his artwork apparently is better than ever…
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….
Happy fireworks weekend! I hope you’re managing to enjoy the festive spook-sparkle-tasticness of the autumnish season despite being locked down and wot not. If I didn’t lose everyone with the last nose dive into insanity then we now flip to Xander for the next bit…
Xander could smell the smoke as he opened the front door of the run down tenement building they called home.
He took the stairs two at a time, the thickening miasma fuelling his worst fears as he neared his own door.
The hallway seemed to lengthen, the adrenaline more than the distance sapping his strength.
Finally after seconds that seemed like hours he flung open the door of their room, splintering the feeble frame to shards without even bothering with the handle.
The entire place was filled with flames.
Hundreds of candles covered the floor, and every other available space in the tiny dorm.
Xander cast about him frantically for a second before realising that his friend was perfectly safe – albeit by some strange miracle – weaving and swaying unsteadily around the room and humming to himself while the smokey haze was coming from burning incense cones and not from anything that was actually on fire.
“IDIOT!” Xander screamed, seizing Vraxi by the shoulders and throwing him onto the bed. He quickly snatched the boa which had begun to singe and stamped it out before turning his attention to the candles and snuffing as many as he could at a time.
He doused the inscense cones with wet fingers and opened the window.
Vraxi laughed and rolled off the bed. “Xaaaaaan. Always sooooo dramatic!” he crooned, stumbling over the long silk dressing gown he was wearing over his clothes. “I don’t need to worry about the flames, the candles won’t burn me Xan, they love me, I’m their mouthpiece…their voice in the darkness of a world made all of dust!” He spread his arms up to the ceiling and started swaying about again as if dancing to a music that only he could hear.
“What crap are you spouting now?” Xander muttered, more to himself as he continued to snuff out the flames and clear some of the floor space. “Where have you been?” he growled, darting forwards to catch the yag as he careered to the side and almost out of the open window. “What the hell have you taken this time? Honey again?”
“Pff! Tish and pish to honey…Honey,” Vraxi giggled, trying to put his arms around Xanders neck.
“No. Stop it. Look, don’t do that.” Xander grabbed his wrists and disentagled himself.
“Urg. You are no fun at all Xaaaaan. No fun at all,” Vraxi sighed, sinking dejectedly to the floor in a puddle of lavender coloured silk. “Always soooooo up tight!” He grinned mischievously up through his long strands of untidy black and henna hair. “Ooooh, I know what will help you unwiiiiind!”
He pushed himself back to his feet and tried to reach for Xander’s belt buckle. “Don’t you want to unwind Xaaan?” he smirked, almost tripping over the dressing gown again.
Xander caught him by the elbows “Look. Stop this. Now.” He said sternly, feeling panicked and horrified and completely unsure what to do. “I don’t want… I mean I can’t… ok? I can’t… a…and I wouldn’t anyway… I would never, never take ad…”
“Never?” Vraxi frowned and stepped back a pace, feeling unsteady and confused.
“No! Of course not! What sort of a…”
“Oh.” The mischievous swirls of flame died instantly, leaving dark vacant pools. He smiled ruefully and shut his eyes; of course Xander would never want him that way, he could barely stand his company when they had to work together. He could see the disgust and revulsion in his eyes just contemplating it. Never mind. Nevermindnevermindnevermind….now where was he, getting distracted, candles…. and the music…the beautiful music that sang to his soul… he let it flood in again and eclipse that horrible yarn ball of feelings that felt like a lead weight in his chest.
Xander watched his friend slipping away from reality again as he raised his arms to the ceiling and started humming. Damn it. He hadn’t meant… well he had meant everything he’d said…it just hadn’t come out right. Stone the crows, the yag looked like a malnourished twelve year old who had been at his mother’s liquor cabinet and decided to play dress up with her wardrobe… what kind of a monster would take advantage of someone in that state?
He balled his fists as he thought of everything his friend must have been through in his lifetime before the end of the world. Eighteen years of a hell he had never spoken about, but he didn’t have to. Xander could imagine, and it made him sick to his stomach. So much so that some days he couldn’t even look him in the eye for fear the demon might burst out and annihilate the entire city on his behalf.
And he’d hurt him. Again. His clumsy words not conveying what he wanted to say, as usual… “Woah! Stop that! What the hell are you doing?” He snatched the matches away just in time to stop the curtains going up in smoke.
“Candles want it to be brighter…” Vraxi murmured, his eyes not really focussing on anything but the few flames still flickering on the mantlepiece.
“That’s the honey talking,” Xander snapped, putting the matches in his pocket for safe keeping.
“I’ve had nothing to do with any honey I’ll have you know.” Vraxi sneered, his eyes rolling as the ceiling flipped places with the floor and then back again. “Only the very purest sacraments have passed these lips tonight…”
Xander pulled a face.
“Shh! Blood…” he whispered.
“You drank blood?”
“Mm, blood from the red river…at the other church…”
“You went to church? That’s it, I’m… I’m calling the doctor…”
“He won’t come…”
“Damn it, you’re right, well I’m taking you to Bartzack then. What the hell were you thinking?”
“Bartzack is off his feet. Anyway, does it matter? My body remembers now…what happened…and why…we are not real, did you know that? We are nothing at all…just the memories of dust as it tries to rebuild what once was, re-enact what went before… but the clocks know, Xan, the clocks know the dust has got it wrong…this isn’t even how it happened but that doesn’t matter because look…look out there…the sun is dying and when its light is gone, who will we turn to to light our dark world? Hm? Not the dust, oh no!”
He gestured around the floor, “That is why we need the candles. Candles understand this, candles are ready to step forward and shine in place of our dying star… but we must keep them safe…they are so few and so fragile…” He closed his eyes and began humming again.
“You’ve lost your mind. Candles? Clocks? Dust? Stone the crows what have you done to yourself?”
“I have sold my soul to the priestess of the evrlasting flame…” he sang, still dancing to the music only he could hear. “…in exchange for a twist of fate…”
Xander ran a hand over his face, uncertain what to do. There was an all night apothecary on bridge street but carrying this manic street preacher through the spires was not going to be a picnic. He took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to apologise for this now…”
Greetings! Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is David Lee Summers and I spin tales of possible pasts, presents, and futures. Some may delight. Some may make you pine for days yet to come. Some may send you underneath your covers awaiting the light of day.
I hear that strange times have struck the Isles of Ire. I’ve been told Flesh-eating Liver Birds circle the skies looking for hapless victims while Sugar-Zombies roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague. What is this world coming to?
So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with Professor Edison’s marvellous lightning gun. I hear it has proven effective against everything from vampires to those war wagons they have out in America’s Wild West so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay as long as I can aim while wearing these dark goggles at night.
Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all. Many here in Lancaster know me as the creator of the Clockwork Legion series of novels. These four novels – Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, The Brazen Shark, and Owl Riders – tell the tale of Sheriff Ramon Morales and the love of his life, Fatemeh Karimi, as they travel through America’s Wild West and beyond encountering outlaws, mad scientists, and even an alien from the most distant corner of the most distant corner of the universe. They stopped Russia’s invasion of the United States, kept outlaws from getting their disreputable hands on the lightning gun, one very similar to the one I’m carrying, I might add, and then kept Russia and Japan from going to war – on their honeymoon no less.
If these dark nights put you more in the mood for tales of creatures who roam the night, then you’re in luck. I have just finished new, revised editions of my Scarlet Order vampire novels. Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires tells how a vampire born to darkness in Arthurian Britain formed a band of vampire mercenaries. Why, I hear the Scarlet Order may be roaming the streets this very night keeping us safe.
Vampires keep us safe? I hear you scoff, but I hear tell these vampires are good stewards and know that letting humans perish would end their food supply. Still, I do want them to keep their pointy little teeth to themselves. I like my neck in one piece. Makes me glad for this here lightning gun.
Their story continues in Vampires of the Scarlet Order where we learn there are scarier things than vampires in the dark of night. If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them here. The links will take you to a page where may read a sample chapter and find links to your favourite retailers:
Well thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. My goodness, is that a sugar zombie over there? Let me set the controls on the lightning gun. Blast, but my hands are trembling too much.
Wait! Someone has tackled the sugar zombie. He’s biting its neck. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think that’s the Vampire known as Roquelaure. He is a handsome devil isn’t he? Look at him run. I think he has a sugar rush.
Well thank goodness my shift is over. I’m glad I didn’t have to face one of those Liver Birds. The thought of them gives me shivers. Well, I must be off the streets before Roquelaure comes back looking for a more substantial meal and I advise you to do the same!
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own.