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Silk and Steel

I promised you Scabs, I promised you beatings, and now I humbly deliver (although it’s the Scabs doing the beating I’m afraid!) … 😉 XD Wishing you all a wonderous weekend and thankyou so much for persevering with the long breaks and disjointed nature of this unruly beast! When I started it I was aiming for the cherry flavoured one in a box of black magic chocolates – kitschy-camp and retro-cute with a bitter dark chocolate bite… um… I think it is ended up like a tangle of red liquorice laces XD So if you are still making sense of it all, I salute you and shower you with thanks! x

 

Once outside, Spyro turned straight towards a ragged line of children sat on the curb in front of the shop. Most proprietors would have chased the urchins away but these were a permanent fixture outside Silk and Steel – and for good reason.

“Take this to The Doctor…” Spyro whispered, hunkering down beside the nearest child and pressing one of the ornately carved pebbles into her hand, “…Fey Wulf…”, he told the next one, again slipping a pebble into their palm, “…Xander Dumarrle… Vraxi Bane… And you take these to your mother with my compliments,” he added, handing over the crows with a wink to the last child in the row, as his brothers and sisters skittered off in different directions to find their quarries.

Then he tugged up his sleeves a little and hurried across the street, dodging easily around the Mul’ai-dji hackney cabs and demonrod motor vehicles, heading swiftly for the workers’ tenements in the district known as The Cinders.

By the time he’d reached Primrose Hill, he was flanked on his left by The Doctor and Fey and on his right by Ros, Vraxi and Xander.

“You look like the opening act of a travelling circus,” Xander complained, referring to Vraxi’s bright silk shirt and his leather belt holsters, vambraces and chest harness which boldly sported his entire collection of throwing knives.

The yag grinned broadly, “I look like ‘trouble for somebody’, is what I look like, Xander,” he said with a wink.

“Trouble for us, no doubt,” his companion muttered back.

As they swung onto Dockers’ Row they could see the commotion; a large angry mob of men, women and children shouting, jeering and throwing stones while in the centre of the tumult a small group were viciously kicking at something on the floor.

“Hoi!” Spyro seized two of the nearest onlookers and pulled them aside. “Hoi! Make way, what are you about here?” he forcefully made his way further forwards towards the central huddle, his entourage pushing through beside him.

Faces turned angrily towards them, but their expressions immediately changed to shock and then deference when they saw who it was and the crowd rapidly parted to let the companions through, particularly the Doctor.

Vraxi grinned hugely and tipped his forehead impishly in mock thanks.

“Halt at once and explain yourselves.” Spyro ordered, and the group of six brutish looking sky-dock workers reluctantly moved aside to show the bloodied and crumpled body of Bartczak the barber-surgeon.

Spyro looked at them in disgust. He knelt down beside the battered barber and smoothed his matted hair back from his bloodied face, smiling grimly when Bartczak’s eyelids fluttered at his touch. “Hang in there,” he whispered, “you will be alright, my friend; Tosca is safe and the cavalry has arrived.”

The Doctor knelt beside the injured man and Spyro rose and addressed the largest thug in the group – an enormous dock labourer by the name of Sulimadd. “What are you about?” he asked the man directly. “Has this man not healed your own injuries and those of your friends and family many times over? Why are you abusing him so?”

Sulimadd glared at Spyro and looked to his companions for assistance.One spat on the floor, the other accidentally caught the doctor’s eye and quickly looked at his shoes.

“He’s ‘Sztokrai.” Sulimadd muttered at last. “Th’watch have closed off the docks coz of the riots. Us honest folk cant get t’work.”

“Honest folk.” Spyro said incredulously, scratching his smooth chin. “And this is the way honest folk behave is it? When the person they are angry with is not available, they lash out at the next best thing, no matter how innocent that thing may be – a friend, an old woman, a six year old child…”

“They’re ‘Storkrai.” Sulimadd growled defiantly.

Spyro put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Yes.” he said at last. “Yes they are. If blood is all you care about. Bartczak’s parents were well-moneyed. He left their household to marry the woman he loved; a docker’s daughter who sadly passed away before the apocalypse began. After her death he cared for her elderly mother and his own child and he has served this community with generosity and kindness for more years than I can easily number. Is your measure of a man his ancestry or his own actions?” He looked sternly around the crowd of faces, catching every eye, making it clear that the question was being put to each of them.

“Who has wronged you here today?” He shouted. “Bartczack? Or the duke?”

The crowd began to chew that over, muttering amongst themselves. The mob-mentality which had spurred them to almost murder one of their own only moments before was dissipating and Spyro knew he had to time his words exactly to catch the tide and re-direct it to his advantage before it fizzled out entirely.

“The duke!” someone cried, at last, and a few more echoed the call.

“Who is preventing you from getting to your jobs?”

“The duke!” more voices, stronger, gaining confidence now in the new rally to arms.

“So who should we take the battle to?”

“The duke!”

“But they’ve put up a barricade,” Sulimadd mumbled sullenly.

“Where?” Spyro asked. “Show me.”

Silk and Steel

So sorry I missed a week – things here have been too crazy to begin to talk about it. Here is the first part of chapter 2 of part 2, lol, if that’s not confusing enough! XD And we’re back to Spyro and Ros… (also – bit of mythpunk trivia – the little rhyme in this snip is taken from an old Rom / Eastern-Euro folktale and proverb)

 

CHAPTER 2
*

A row of crows hung like so much grim washing from a line strung the length of the antiques shops’ back yard. The stone-weighted shots that had caught them still bound their wings close to their sides and they dangled by their silver-clawed feet, heads hanging limp, lifeless (or very nearly).

 

Ros crooked the large basket under her arm, resting it against her hip, and with her dextrous right hand, took the head and twisted it clean off. A slough of gore and dark blood oozed down and met the cobbles with a wet ‘fffllatth’ and the Jai’Yantra smiled and added the head to the basket, moving along the line to the next.

 

Behind her the backyard gate clicked open and closed.

 

“Heads for the workhouse, wings for the milliner, feet for the alchemist, the breast for our dinner,” she remarked, without turning round, knowing exactly who it was that had entered.

 

“Fine fayre as always,” Spyro said, coming up behind her and placing his hands on her hips, “but I have a better rhyme; the head for the duke, up high on his throne, the neck for his wife behind him alone, the feet for his enemies standing by, the wings for his allies away they will fly.”

 

“And the rest of the bird?” Ros asked, turning to arch an eyebrow at him.

 

“The spoils to the victors, of course.” he said, reaching up and taking down four of the decapitated birds. “But heroes must always be celebrated, not only for our victories, but for our generosity whether we have won or lost or the battle rages on.”

 

“You have been to the riots again.” she observed.

 

“They rage well. Soon the watch will be utterly overwhelmed. The duke is drafting patrols in from all other areas of the city but…” he patted his coat pocket in which a few coins jingled.

 

“They are proving ineffectual?” Ros smirked.

 

“Commander Kaili knows which side her bread is buttered.” he said cheerfully.

 

“Then our only consideration on that front,” Ros said, moving along the line and popping another head into her basket, “is whether the duke will draft in some of the militia.”

 

“Let him try. He will only move the game along swifter. CGS Draimunn will not waste troops bolstering an ineffectual watch effort. If the duke calls on the army he will be instigating a call for his resignation from that quarter – if he’s lucky.”

 

“You think Draimunn would force a coup?” Ros aksed, adding another head to the almost full basket. “That would not suit our plans…”

 

Spyro shrugged. “Lieutenant General Vrost thinks it’s possible, though not probable. But you’re right, it would not suit our plans at all. Contingency?”

 

Ros looked thoughtful for a moment, “I will speak to Agathri. She is poised to be our clarion, raising support for Beaufort to take the duke’s place, at the apropriate moment; if the army looks set to stage a coup then that moment will be sooner than we planned.” she smiled “But it doesn’t sound like it will come to that?”

 

Spyro shook his head. “I am not overly concerned. Things are going well, the duke is feeling the pinch, by all accounts.”

 

“By Beaufort’s account?”

 

“Just so. The pressures we have brought to bear upon him will have him on his knees soon enough and Beaufort is more than ready to take his place.”

 

Ros pulled off the last head and placed the basket down beside a second that was full of black feathered wings. “I will take these to town later, visit the market and see what the murmerings are on the street…”

 

She trailed off as a comotion from the house drew both their attentions that way and Žiga came trotting out into the back yard looking wide eyed. “A girl is come, a Sapanai, she is hurt.” she blurted, pointing back towards the shop.

 

“Well done, love,” Ros said, absently, already wiping her hands on her long grey apron and hurrying inside with Spyro at her heels.

 

They followed Žiga swiftly through the maze of accumulated artifacts and antiques to the front of the shop where a young girl, no more than six or seven, stood trembling and crying. The flesh on her right arm was slightly burned.

 

“There, there; Toska isn’t it?”

 

The girl nodded. “My Papa, they’re killing him, and grandmama too…the people in our building, the other tennants…they say we’re in with the duke…they called Papa a ‘Sztokrai bastard… ”

 

Spyro looked furious, “Your father is Bartczak? The barber-surgeon?” He already had his coat back on and puased only to grab a handfull of smooth coloured pebbles, each carved with the same intricate design, from a drawer behind the counter, before hurrying out of the door, still carrying the brace of crows.

 

“Ziga, go fetch my medicine bag will you?” Ros said, and then turning back to Tosca she smiled and brushed the child’s hair away from her tear-streaked face, “it will be alright, pet.” she said soothingly. “Mendicci will put it right, love. Your papa has done so much good work for the poor people of this city; it may be that they need reminding of that before they start confusing his bloodline with his behaviour, but they will rememeber, and then they will be ashamed of their actions, you wait and see.”

 

She took the large leather medical bag that Ziga was hefting across the shop floor, opened it and took out a brown glass tincture bottle and pipette.

 

Tosca winced as the foul smelling yellow liquid dribbled over her wounds but she didn’t cry out. “they threw bottles through the window,” she sniffed, “ when they broke the stuff inside them hurt.”

 

“I see.” Ros pursed her lips, returned the tincture to the bag and closed the clasp with a smart ‘click.’ “Ziggi, take Tosca through to the kitchen and find some pastēti and biscuits for you both,” she said, standing up and taking off her apron. She crossed to the counter, put the bag away behind it and strapped on a pair of arm-mounted dart throwers. “I won’t be long love,” she said, heading for the door “mummy has to go and teach some stupid people a little lesson.”
The door bell tinkled as she let it fall closed behind her.

Evil Eliza gets her Pride on…

So to combat the stress and anxiety and down right shittiness we’ve been experiencing this end we’ve been channelling our sinister scarecrow Montmorency in his/her/their ‘other’ form of Evil Eliza (If you haven’t seen that side of our wicked scarecrow landlord she appears in Jack and Marjory which I’ll start posting from again once Silk and Steel is finished). We’re making dark humour colouring pages for the plague and also for pride, (so if dark humour ain’t your thing then look away! XD ) So I just got a scanner I will try and share some more on here but here’s the first – just a photo as I’ve not figured how to open the scanner box yet…. ho-hum… XD ) – they are all licensed through creative commons ( © 2020 CC BY-SA)so you can print them colour them share them burn them throw darts at them use them any way you like 😉 x

Elizamonsterpride

Silk and Steel

OK, yay! We made it to Friday 😀 XD Things are rather like a pressure cooker here but we’re still alive and got a weekend full of small people birthday things – think anime and pizza – to look forward to :). Hope you guys are still safe and well and surviving the madness 😀 S here is the next bit – the duke has sent two letters to his nearest and dearest to ask for their support; we’ve met Captain Gabriel, and here’s the next recipient – someone we’ve met before… 😉 XD

 

The side of Colonel Hogarth’s mouth twitched upwards in a self satisfied smirk as he flipped over the envelope and cut through the Duke’s seal with quick flick of his letter knife.

 
Ha! He said to himself, before even reading it.

 
And then Ha! Again after quickly casting an eye over its general contents.

 
It was just as he had suspected – the young duke was feeling the tightening tug of the strands of web that had been weaving around him for quite some time now. Poor chap. He had seemed like such a good choice for duke at the time, but he had failed miserably to make good on all his philanthropic rhetoric – showing far too much deference to the ‘Sokrai and the church, and not enough to basic moral decency.

 
The union riots had almost brought the skydocks to a standstill and part of The Cinders were affected too, with factory workers beginning to see that if the dockers could demand better pay and working conditions then perhaps so could they.

 
The wrath of the ‘Stokrai was growing in the wake of the jewel robberies, which the watch seemed utterly incapable of putting a stop to, and the mutterings below the surface of The Groves were like the furious buzzings of an enraged hornet’s nest about to spew forth its venomous hosts.

 
Yes, he reflected as he pushed the letter aside and sipped his mushroom tea, Spyro and Ros had handled the thing well; as he knew they would or he never would have agreed to be involved; no matter how hard Agathri had pushed and cajoled, and clucked and fussed and thrown all her toys out of the pram – as was her wont.

 
He chuckled to himself and twisted his grey moustache thoughtfully. If Spyro Mendicci thought he could lay claim to the city of Ryzym so easily when Agathri already had everyone’s toes tapping to her own tune, the results of this little circus were going to prove most amusing!

 
His amber eyes sparkled with mischief then and his Rokani heritage was even more apparent than usual on his foxy features. Perhaps he would just add a pinch of his own spice to this simmering cauldron of calamity. Afterall, he had not yet decided if or how he was going to make Silk and Steel pay for the theft of his precious demonsong.

 
Not that he was short of demonsong, but it was HIS demonsong; the principle of the thing had to be respected. If Agathri and Ros’s little side-plans (His wicked grin widened hugely at the delicious thought that Mendicci was not a privy to those machinations!) saw fruition, then he would soon be Duke himself, and there would have to be a darn sight more respect from these young street hoodlums then!

 
He sipped his tea and chuckled to himself as he thought of how he would play the thing out. Something bold and spectacularly devastating he decided with a wicked grin; why should the girls have all the fun with their dastardly scheming eh? Oh, he’d probably let them redeem themselves somehow afterwards, but let them sweat and stew for a bit first! Ha!

 
“You’re laughing to yourself,” Agathri observed from the doorway before drifting to his side in soft clouds of flowing flame-like chiffon. “What dreadful things are you planning, darling and for whom?”

 
She draped herself around his broad shoulders and he took her hand, caressed it fondly and then pressed it to his mouth in an affectionate smack of lips and bristling moustache.

 
“Ha! Going to put the wind up some of your lot.” He chortled, drawing her round and onto his knee as if she were still the capricious chorus girl and he the dashing hunter captain of The Demon’s Demise.

 
“Now don’t you dare rock the boat, you diabolical beast!” she scolded, nestling her head against his strong chest and letting her inner flames swell in gentle warning that she could get angry if she really wanted to.

 
“Nonsense old girl! Nothing like a rocked boat to keep the crew on their toes! Exactly what they need at a time like this – something unexpected…”

 
“I have already attended to the unexpected element of the plan – and you are it, remember? Mendicci thinks he setting the duke up for a fall, Beaufort will take his place and Silk and Steel will co-partner him in their new ‘trading company’. In reality, by the time the poor duke falls, Beaufort will be safely locked in the asylum, Mendicci will be… dealt with… and you, my darling, will find the whole of Ryzym clamouring for you to take control. You’ll be duke and…”

 
“Yes. And you, my little vixen, will be queen, let’s not forget that.” He said, tickling her ribs so that she squealed and squirmed and slapped his chest to make him stop.

 
“It’s duchess, you silly man!” she laughed, suddenly plucking the letter from his desk and sitting up to read it.

 
“Oh it’s queen alright,” he insisted, “queen of hearts I call you. Always had us chaps wrapped round your little finger and always will I dare say.”

 
She turned from the letter and cupped his face in her delicate hand, “you don’t begrudge me my little bits of tiffin? Do you? You know I never give two hoots about yours…”

 
“No, no. You do as you please – seems only fair as I can do nothing but whatever takes my fancy.” He winked and she smiled indulgently at him and returned her attention to the letter.

 
“So, poor Bastion wishes to see you. Hardly surprising really, you are his godfather and the one who persuaded him to run for duke in the first place.” She giggled and clapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes dancing with mischievous sparks of flame. “Oh, my love! Aren’t we so very, very dreadfully naughty!?!”

 

 

 

Silk and Steel

Ahoi! So sorry I’ve been pretty much offline the last couple of weeks, things are pretty full-on family wise here and I think this is going to be the case for some time to come. I’m going to try and grab some time for online things each Friday but that may / maynot happen – I will do my best. Thankyou for being so patient and for hanging on in there and putting up with my spoaradicness and disorganisation, I hope you are coping and carrying on the best you can and I hope that these posts bring some cheer along the way 🙂

So, following on from the Duke and his troubles, another new character for you..

Captain Gabriel Beaufort pushed back his empty lunch plate, refilled his glass of tzujka and knocked it back, barely taking his eyes from the letter he was re-reading for the third time since he’d received it. He smiled and stretched his legs out under the desk, leaning far back in his chair and allowing his hands to rest behind his head. An invitation from his good friend The Duke. Everything was going beautifully to plan.

He poured himself another drink – a reward, he told himself, for having the wisdom to trust what Spyro Mendicci had told him; that those who truly held the reigns of the city had built a delicate house of cards beneath Duke Vassellin’s throne and that they waited only for the right ally to take his place when the cards fell.

A self satisfied grin spread across his weathered face, yes, he had been wise to trust Mendicci – many in his position would not have credited the words of a humble antiques dealer from The ‘Kādasa, but Beaufort had not inherited his fleet of Hunter Ships. He had earnt them. Started as deck-swabber. Fought his way up inch by inch, gaining respect and experience with every carefully chosen word and action until now he not only captained the most successful skyship that sailed out of the city port – he owned the fleet it belonged to as well.

He sensed that this Mendicci was cut from that same rare cloth; a man with the wit and the gumption to climb out of the hole he was born into. The only thing he could not understand about his plans was that Mendicci showed no interest in claiming the Duke’s position himself – although Beaufort had little doubt that when the man spoke of ‘the hand that holds the city’s strings’ he was referring to himself.

He could only suppose that Mendicci’s ultimate goal was a life of luxury rather than the responsibilities that came with power on the public stage. He was no wallflower to be sure, Beaufort had done his homework and found that in his own circles the man was well known and well loved for overt acts of social justice, but garnering public regard from a position of zero obligation was not the same as striving to satisfy the conflicting demands of an entire city when all look to you to solve their problems. Most men, he reasoned, as he poured himself another drink, would shirk from such a position. But Gabriel Beaufort had goverened skyships – a fleet of skyships – for too many years to begin to number them. He relished the challenges the position of Duke would place before him and he knew beyond doubt that he could rise to meet them.

He knocked back his drink and filled the glass again, revelling in the adrenaline rush that coursed through him at the thrill of this impending adventure. He would miss the skies; had never envisioned a scenario where he would leave his beloved ships behind, but this was too good a chance to pass up and Mendicci’s credentials and connections had left him in no doubt that his fleet would be well cared for under the Silk and Steel Trading Co-orperation. Demon Hunting was generally lucrative but carried risks and losses that were sometimes difficult to counterbalance with profit. The trade agreements Mendicci had spoken of with Lycandrus and Pav’shamah could be the answer that – a stabilising stream of income to underpin the flux, especially in the summer when solar storms could take out an entire skyship.
Yes, it was all coming into place. And now Bastion wanted to see him! He chuckled at that; the Duke was evidently feeling the pinch that Mendicci and his assosiates were orchestrating. The two sky captains had been friends for what seemed like eternity. An unlikely pairing perhaps – the son of a famous sky captain and a humble deck swabbing Rokani but neither of them had much cared for the barriers of class or race back then.

Bastion had even dared his mother’s disproval and attended Gabriel’s wedding. Betithna was another Rokani; one of the many twin-souled skin changers created by shamanic cultists as they sought to transend their own reality. Who knew that twining their souls with creatures inherent of the earth would bind them here forever?

Not that Gabriel or Betithna, their parents or their daughter Elaina had had anything to do with cult activities, but their genetic lines were altered irrepreably by their ancestors. And of course the church, and therefore the state, would never accept that; Beaufort smirked at the irony that an organisation that bound peoples souls to demons should baulk at the idea of those whose souls were entwined with animals or plants.

A noise in the hall, the front door opening, voices, whispers caught his attention and his golden eyes narrowed suddenly. He got up and crossed to the study window, just in time to catch sight of the Vesperai boy straddling his Demonrod scooter and kicking it into life, filling the street with clouds of foul smelling smog and the roar of its engine as he sped away.

Beaufort shook his head, returned to his desk and poured himself another drink. He had no problem with Arden McKade courting Elaina. In many respects it was a fine match – Vesperai and Rokani would both benefit from a stronger alliance and once the city was in his hands there would be no more of these witch hunts by the church. Both races could relax a little without the fear of persecution.

Yes, everything was going marvellously well. He would meet the Duke for lunch and arrange to see Mendicci again in the next day or two. He glanced at the bottle, decided the drips in the bottom of it were not worth bothering with, and left the room.

Strange. He had thought himself at home. But here was the deck of his skyship. The sting of sand on the whipping wind that tugged at his long hair, the blaze of solar flares – a storm was rising, he could feel the deck tilting beneath his feet. “All hands!” he bellowed. “All hands to the sails!” but even as the words left his lips he saw the demon rise above the starboard rail; thrashing tail set to capsize the vessel and send it plumeting to its doom.

He thought of his wife, his children, Arden McKade, The Duke, he must make it home, this was not going to be the end of Captain Gabriel Beaufort.

“Courage!” he screamed, seizing his harpoon gun and charging to meet the beast head on, and he was heartened to see most of his well trained crew responding to his instructions and rising to meet the beast in force… except one… what was this? Some cowardly cove crouching behind a tar barrel, his hands pressed tight over his ears, blubbering? He would be the death of himself, and everytone else, morale was sapped by fools like this with their mewling and mithering.

“Get up!” he thundered, hauling the wretch up by the shirt collar and thrusting him in front of him, but the pitiful pup merely covered his face with his hands and began sobbing, “Pull yourself together!” Beafort roared, striking the whelp across the face – a blow which sent him crumpling to the deck once more. “I said, get up!”

“Gabriel! Stop!”

What? What was that? “Betithna?” What was his wife doing on board? It didn’t make any sense and yet there she was, running down the stairs towards him, her gold-green eyes wide with alarm. Stairs? He thoght vaguely. When did the skyship gain a flight of stairs? But the fantasy didn’t evaporate completely; the two worlds overlayed eachother and he couldn’t pull the threads apart to focus on which was the reality and which the waking dream. Where am I? He thought, his heart racing in panic.

“Gabriel!”

“This is none of your concern.” he snapped, trying to anchor himself to something tangible. He put out a hand and felt solid wall beneath his fingers, shuffling his feet forwards he managed to steer around several obsacles until he reached the stairs.

“What have you…”

“I said, it’s none of your concern!” he screamed. Why would she not just go away. This was his ship. Wasn’t it? Not hers. What did Betithna know about any of it. He clasped the ship’s rail and found the stairs rising before him. Good. He would just go to his cabin and take a nap, then answer the Duke’s call. Then tomorrow or the next day, he would meet with Mendicci and his partner, Miss Noir, to finalise everything.
He grinned as he climbed the staircase with some difficulty. Everything was coming up roses.

Silk and Steel

Ahoi! We’ve reached part 2 of the book, which is called Stone The Crows so to celebrate here’s another bit of quote-ish-ness and some fabulous artwork by Tithi Luadthong 🙂

themaninthemoon
Duke Bastion Vandellin paced his hall with slow, pensive steps, drinking in the portraits installed along its length as he passed each Grand Duke who had gone before him. It was not a hereditary line. He could take no comfort in the familiarity of blood lineage which had placed him here. No. The only thing he had in common with these other men and women was the strength to stand up and claim, above all other pretenders, the right and the might to rule.

It was disconcerting. In the past week skyships had docked from Lyccandrus and Pav’shma that were not the usual trading vessels – though they had the right credentials, the Duke’s spies at the sky-dock had been certain enough that something was amiss to alert him to the fact.

The Vesperai Host were getting bolder too he noted; no longer on the back foot they seemed to have gained some new sense of unity and confidence as the latest assaults against their numbers had been thwarted. Some new form of protection? He guessed. Or some new ally? Was this why the church leaders hurried to his door this morning?

He paced on slowly, not caring to quicken his steps and bring himself before those vistors more hastily than he had to. Fears plagued his every consideration. Only yesterday he had been hard-pressed by demands to put a stop to the spate of jewel robberies that were sweeping through The Groves. And it wasn’t just the upper classes who were pressuring him to take action. The general workforce of the city was restless; union heads were whipping the factory workers and dock workers alike into a frenzy over unfair pay and working conditions and many of the guilds saw opportunity in supporting the rising rebellion.

The guilds had too much power. He had always said as much. Had thought, when he first came to rule, that he would chisel and chip away at their strongholds and erode the grips they had over various parts of the city and its economy. But he had been naive to the network of connections each Bharro had built up; threads which ran right through to the city council and even, he suspected, some of his own advisers and administrators.

Sweat began to bead upon his brow. There had been whispers of late. Some of his enemies – men and women who publicly declared their allegiance to him, but whom his spies informed him were known to be disloyal – had been seen meeting together. New alliances were being formed and with whom? That was the question. The attack he feared seemed to be poised to come from both without and within. He felt pinched. Assailed from all sides.

Vandellin paused before his own portrait at the end of the hall and took a deep and steadying breath. The young man who looked back at him from the frame, dressed in his Hunter uniform with his medals bright and plentiful against his scarlet shirt, was not so different from the reflection he saw in the mirror each day. He laughed at that; it meant nothing of course in a city caught fast between heaven and hell, where no one was ever born, no one ever died and nobody aged so much as a day. He had thought to leave his mark upon the city he had served all his working life, but a few short years in office and it seemed he was not going to get that chance.

He looked to the door then, beyond which the church leaders were waiting to give him their news. Were they also against him? He wondered. He shook his head. Paranoia was eating at him, he no longer knew who he could trust and he had the sudden overwhelming urge to be back in the company of his friends; the people he had grown up with, studied with, drunk with, sailed the skies with… he had been isolating himself from them the last few months, not meaning to of course, but the pressures that were growing around him seemed to demand more and more of his time. That had to change he told himself as he finally reached towards the door handle and prepared to face the music. If he truly was about to come under attack, then he needed to surround himself quickly with people who genuinely cared about him, the people who had helped him stake his claim here in the first place, the only people in all the world who he felt he could trust.

silkandsteelquote

Silk and Steel

And now back to the good Doctor at The Cross Keys and his obsession with ‘The Mendicci Question’ XD Hopefully this is going to tie up and make sense time-wise as he will be walking through the park at the same time as Edmund and Vraxi are there so I’m hoping that’s apparent but feel free to shout at me if it doesn’t come across that way or make sense – this is all totally first-draft stuff lol so I’m going to have to work back through it and fix any problems once it’s complete 🙂

Hope you all have a fabulous bank holiday weekend and don’t get blown away by the oncoming storms! We just finished our Irish-style wayside shrine this week and have had to hide it in the shed so it doesn’t get blown away! XD

 

The doctor watched the dancing for as long as he could stand the senseless frivolity of it all, then he knocked back his drink and quietly left the tavern.

 

Outside the sun had set long ago and the bite of the night air permeated even his heavy Great Coat as he hurried his steps towards The Spires and his cosy quarters at the university.

 

He nodded to a seamstress he knew as she hugged her shawl about her shoulders, hurrying home, then dodged to avoid a group of street urchins singing a skipping rhyme. Something about the words seemed discordant he thought, as he turned past the Mul’ai Sap Distillery, but the notion dissipated as he batted away a little coven of crows who came dancing up to him hungrily and tried pecking at his boots.

 

“Get out of it!” he growled, and the only living creatures in hell took flight and eyed him venomously from the rooftops. Not for the first time, he wondered what it was that kept them alive. Afterall, there was no birth and no death here – only the crows and various forms of mould and fungi. But all the research his colleagues at the university had done into the matter had been inconclusive, things just were the way they were and although his scientific mind refused to let the matter rest it also allowed him to accept the facts, for now, certain that an answer would be found eventually.

 

He had just entered the park and was passing under the leafless shade of the rows of mu’lai trees when a figure caught his attention.

 

At first he thought the crows were attacking it – not that rare an occurrence- and his instinct was to run forward and chase the cursed creatures away with his cane. But something made him hesitate, and in that split second he saw that it was the fluctuating fluttering of the feathered creatures that was maintaining this person’s form… or the idea of form… he shook his head, unsure if all the recent strain was causing his mind to play tricks on him… but no, the more he looked, the more substantial this creature became until he appeared no longer engulfed in birds but trod the moonlit path with a tangible weight of his own – a man, dressed in ragged clothes, a hood covering his head and a staff in his hand, crowned with a crescent-moon.

 

The doctor eyed him carefully, drawing himself up to his full height and letting the twighlight entwined around his soul roll like storm clouds until it utterly filled his form. He was not afraid of the supernatural.

 

They both continued their path, each aware of the other, neither slowing nor speeding towards their inevitable point of meeting.

 

The crow man inclined his head cordially as he drew near and the doctor returned the gesture. Then the crow man stopped and leaned lightly upon his staff. “I wonder if you could offer me some assistance?” he asked, his voice a lispy whisper from within the depths of his hood.

 

The doctor paused and raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

 

“I am looking for…a friend…a man of flesh and blood…a magician if the word holds any meaning here?”

 

“A magic user?” the doctor asked doubtfully, recalling things he had read and quickly dismissed in ancient texts.

 

“One who spoke with angels and demons, devils and gods long before most realised such things could be done. When I knew him he could change his form, to that of a spider, and although he is now a man of flesh and blood – someone who I believe would stand out in Ryzym these days – still I fancy his nature, which tends towards that creature’s wily ways, would betray him as something of an…oddity in any event.”

 

 

If the doctor was taken aback by any of this he did not show it. Instead, he leant on his cane a moment and pondered what the stranger had said. “To clarify,” he said slowly, “you are looking for a friend of yours, a magician like yourself, a man of flesh and blood who could once change his skin to that of a spider and even now has a personality which reflects that fact?”

 

“Just so. His name is Tadejs Blinda but I doubt he goes by that now. Do you know of such a person?”

 

The doctor shook his head, “I do not. But the city of Ryzym is not infinite. It is possible I may run into him, or that someone I know already has… is there a way I can contact you… or is there a message you would like me to convey should I meet him?”

 

The crow man was silent for a while, regarding the doctor with his head a little on one side. “’There liveth none under the sun, that knows what to make of the man in the moon, save one’” he said. And then he reached a clawlike hand inside his robes and pulled out a slim glass vial. “If you were to happen upon him, by some strange stroke of luck or fate, perhaps you could…persuade… him to drink this.”

 

“A fan of riddles is he?” the doctor asked dryly, but the crow man was already walking away, his ragged cloak fluttering around him in the moonlight.

 

The Ghani watched him go until his form melted into the pools of shadow cast by the dead trees. Tadejs Blinda… he thought to himself … so that is your secret, Mendicci; afterall, there cannot be two men in Ryzym who fit such an esoteric description.
Tomorrow, he decided,he would go back to the hall of records, and also to the library, and research all he could about this Tadejs Blinda or whoever he was.

 

He looked at the vial the crow man had given him, what was it? Poison? Some sort of…magic? No. His rational mind dismissed that thought at once. Speculation was futile, he would take it back to his laboratory tonight and discover what he could about it before deciding whether or when to slip it into Mendicci’s drink… tempting though it was to race back to the Cross Keys and attempt the matter now, the scientific method must prevail – even in the case of amicicide, he told himself sternly.

 

He twirled his cane and whistled a little tune as he set his steps once more towards home, merrily turning over in his mind exactly what he ought best to do with all this new and very interesting information.

Silk and Steel

Ahoi! I hope the week is treating you all wonderfully! Here we’ve had small folk birthdays and giant pizzas and a lot of James Bond! XD

So Vraxi and Edmund are up to mischief and who is leading who astray? I’ll let you make that judgement! 😉 Um, this one might be a little long sorry I couldn’t really see a way to break it up without stretching it over three posts and I thought that one scene stretched across three posts might be way too disjointed so, totally understand if it’s too long to get to the end of! XD Also I hope my paragraph gaps are working this time – they always seem to work on the preview and then vanish on the real thing so I’ve made them double spaces this time… tentacles crossed!

Also this one comes with a Parental Guidance warning (coz I’m a responsible parent type, me)- remember kids, if a friend comes up to you in the park and offers you drugs, you should say thankyou, because drugs are expensive 😉

 

Massey’s Tea Rooms on Bridge Street was as elegantly tasteless as any middle class old aunt could possibly desire but the fact that not many middle class old aunts lived that close to the university meant that it was usually full of students instead.
“This place always reminds me of my Grandmother’s parlour,” Edmund whispered, splitting a cep-barm in half and moping up the last of his stew.
Vraxi frowned, “I do apologise,” he said earnestly, “would you rather have gone somewhere else?”
Edmund laughed and shook his head. “No, no, it’s lovely. The food is lovely and the company is too, so the décor is inconsequential really, isn’t it?”
Vraxi shrugged, “I was about to confess I rather liked it but as that would equate me with the league of mentally unstable old grandmonsters I think I would do well keep quiet for once.”
Edmund laughed out loud and the yag’s colour rose in soft cloudlike swirls beneath his skin as he realised it was the first time he had ever heard him do it.
“You know what this evening needs?” he asked suddenly, finishing his drink as Edmund shook his head and wiped a tear of laughter away from the corner of his eye, “it needs what every evening needs – what life here in general always needs, I find – more fun. Are we done here?”
They made their way through the dark cobbled streets to the park which overlooked the red river, found a bench that was veiled by an overhanging mul’ai tree and filled their pipes with the resin which flaked easily under the heat of a match.
The moon was lost in banks of cloud and from the branches of the dead tree a few roosting crows flapped and snapped at eachother.
The rust coloured plumes of smoke gave the night air a hint of burnt toffee. “Reminds me of a fair I never went to,” Vraxi mused.
Edmund looked at him curiously and drew a long draft on his own pipe. “A fair you never went to?”
“Just so. A few years before the world ended – when fairs really knew how to be fairs, you know; cloud candy and apples on sticks, music and lights and a big top tent…” he trailed off, taking another tug on his pipe “…I watched it for a bit from my balcony. It looked fun.”
“I don’t think I have ever seen one.” the half-demon mused, “certainly grandmother would never allow us to be seen dead at something like that, I would not be surprised to learn that she feigned a bout of rheumatics each time one was in town to prevent me from even knowing of their existence.”
Vraxi chuckled and filled his lungs again with the sweet honey flavoured smoke. “I wonder if Xander has ever been to a fair…” he mused dreamily, and then shook his head; of course Xander would never have been to a fair – not as a child, certainly, and the yag was sure he would rather die than have his friends drag him along to one now.
He puffed out a cloud of copper coloured vapour and frowned; he had let himself get sidetracked from his mission, but here he was sitting next to someone… a very beautiful and intelligent someone, his mind corrected him… who probably knew more about the possibilities of what he was hoping to achieve than anyone else of his acquaintance. A student of demonology. Why had he not thought to ask Edmund about it before?
“Do you think it is possible,” he aksed, “for a demon to be… good?”
Edmund looked startled. “Am I not good?” he asked, taking another long draft of the opiate and puffing perfectly heart-shaped smoke rings into the crisp night air.
Oh dear, Vraxi thought as his heart did a sudden somersault, he’s going to be the undoing of me at this rate. “How are you doing that?” he asked, attempting the feat himself with no success.
Edmund laughed at his feeble efforts. “It’s my super power.” he said shyly, and then giggled and bit his lip.
Vraxi narrowed his eyes at him and smirked but gave up trying. “But seriously, you are only half demon, if you don’t mind my saying so.” he ventured.
Edmund shot him a sidelong look, “Does that mean I can only ever be half good?”he asked, “Because then you would have to ask ‘ah, but which half is the good half?’ Or perhaps you might start to wonder, ‘are they both good?’ Or ‘is neither?’ Or is ‘good’ even a thing? Is it an absolute? Or is it a perspective? Is it a constant? Is it relative? Does it change as time goes by?”
“If your intention is to make my head spin, you are succeeding.” Vraxi chuckled.
Edmund smiled ruefully and looked at his shoes. “Sorry. It’s just that these questions more than fascinate me. Can you understand? I have spent my entire life building my conception of self around these philosophical conundrums.” He took a long draw on his pipe, “My thesis – Demons of Love and Light – is an enquiry into some of those very questions…”
“Demons of Love?”
“And Light, yes. There are all sorts of demons, you see, just as there are all sorts of humans… all sorts of every creature… my argument is that it is perhaps more useful to look at the domain of the demon’s power, rather than to try to label demons as all evil. In reality, the complexities of the soul of any creature transcend such monochrome labelling anyway, don’t you find?”
Vraxi tugged on his pipe and tried to process what he thought Edmund was saying, “do demons have a soul then?” He asked finally.
Edmund burst into another fit of giggles that brought tears to his beautiful eyes; “I hope so!” he managed, almost choking on his pipe smoke. “Or else I will have failed in my thesis and be laughed out of the academic world for good.” He looked at Vraxi as if he was looking at a someone who needed to be treated gently. “That is how the church is able to bind them,” he said, “by using sigil magic to transfer their soul from their body and bind it to the soul of a human.”
Vraxi shook his head, “I never considered how it worked,” he said, frowning at his own lack of knowledge on something so commonplace, “that is very interesting indeed.”
He stared out over the dark expanse of parkland and chewed the end of his pipe. Of course it made sense, now he thought about it, the demon inside Xander was just a displaced soul… in which case, perhaps, they could find it another body – one that wasn’t being used by anyone of course – and somehow transfer it into that. If they could trust it. And if it was indeed good.
Good. He chewed that word over in his mind, beginning to realsie what the half-demon was driving at… the more he thought about it the less he could say with any certainty exactly what the word meant. Not good then, he decided, just trustworthy – that is a simple concept enough to judge it on.
“Stone the crows will you look at that?” the half demon murmured, tugging Vraxi’s sleeve and pointing up at the sky. “See her? There, my goodness, isn’t she beautiful?”
The yag strained his eyes but all he could see was the full moon, riding out from behind the clouds and bathing the park in silver light, falling on the black feathered backs of the crows as they fluttered down from the mul’ai trees to bathe in its ethereal luminescence.
“Why are they doing that…?” he murmured.
“Look, look!” the half demon insisted, “she is there, look, the moon beneath her feet, crowned by the sun and cloaked with the night-sky sprinkled with stars. She is Vesna and Kesylika combined, life and death made one…” he stood up, balancing precariously on the back of the bench as he fumbled inside his coat pocket and pulled out a notebook. “It is an ancient demonic prophesy, listen…”
Hurriedly flipping through the pages, he found what he wanted and read aloud, “I am not gone, only am I grown wings and with them flown – fleeing into the wild hearts of my children, look and find me for am I not here? Am I not your Mother? Queen of life and death and love, crowned with the blood red dying sun, with the moon beneath my feet and cloaked in stars. The end is come, and I am here with you; The Lady Of The Apocolypse.” he pointed the book at the sky “It is her, look!”
But the yag wasn’t looking at the sky anymore. He was looking at the crows , rising in the moonlight, flocking together until their fluctuating forms began to merge and meld and become one…
“The crow man,” he whispered, slowly tugging Edmund down from the bench by his coat tails. “Ziga was right!”
“The what?”
“Look.” He pointed at the ragged figure that was forming on the path, eyes glowing like pearls and a crescent-moon staff clasped in its hand.
The half demon peered wide-eyed into the darkness, “I don’t see anything.”
“There! There, look, on the path.”
“There is nothing there! Look at the sky,”
“There is nothing in the sky…”
They looked at eachother incredulously, each almost furious at the other’s seemingly wilful ignorance of the apparition in front of them.
And then they both dissolved into fits of hysterical laughter and rolled off the bench onto the grass, where they lay on their backs, gasping for breath with tears of mirth streaming down their cheeks.
It took several minutes for them quiet down and then they lay there in silence, staring up at the frozen canopy of stars through the dead branches of the mul’ai tree.
“Oh my goodness,” the half demon gasped, “I have never laughed so hard in all my long undeath.” He chewed the end of his pipe and blew more heart-shaped smoke rings up into the darkness.
“I’m going to crack that one day,” Vraxi promised.
“I told you, you can’t, it’s my super power.” he smiled, “everyone has one.”
Vraxi turned his head and looked at him doubtfully, “I am not entirely convinced of the truth in that statement,” he said. “Certainly I, for example, have many things I excel at… probably I am the greatest libertine this city has ever known, not to mention the very best thief…but those things are hardly super powers…”
Edmund propped himself up on his elbow and smiled, “You’re right,” he said shyly, “your super power is something far more wonderful than any of those things. It is that you are the very best friend anyone could ever wish for.”
Perhaps it was the effect of the opiate, or maybe the fact that this had been a particularly long and difficult day but it took a momentous effort for Vraxi to ignore the voices in his head which began screaming that Edmund was wrong, deluded, naive, or simply didn’t know him well enough to see what a cheap, shallow, self-serving and utterly worthless monster he truly was. If even Xander, who knew him better than anyone else, couldn’t call him ‘friend’, then what the hell did Edmund know?
He swallowed hard and forced himself to chuckle, hoping Edmund couldn’t tell how close he was to tears. “Some would say, you should choose your friends with more caution, Edmund,” he quipped, folding his arms behind his head and closing his eyes in what he hoped was a relaxed and nonchalant fashion..
Edmund rolled onto his belly and leant his chin on his hands. “Can I… can I ask you favour?” he whispered.
“Anything under the dying sun,” Vraxi said expansively, spreading his arms wide to illustrate his point.
Edmund smiled sheepishly, “Tomorrow I am supposed to give a speech… at the library… about my thesis… I don’t really want to do it but I have to it’s part of the course…”
Vraxi frowned, “I am not entirely certain I can help you give a speech…” he said doubtfully, “…and do not ask me to break your legs so that you can get out of it,” he added, waving a finger sternly at the half -demon.
Edmund giggled. “No, you misunderstand me… wilfully I suspect,” he added, with a little smile, “I mean I’d like you to come… that is, if you’d like to… you don’t have to…I mean, it will probably be very dull and boring and I shall probably trip over my tongue and mess it all up but it’s just that… I would feel better about it… if someone I liked… if you… were there…”
Vraxi rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. “I would love to come.” he said earnestly.
“You would?”
“Oh course!” he sat up and felt about in his pockets for a match. “I have never been invited to a speech before; I am utterly honoured Edmund that you would want me there and I am certain it will an incomparable success!” He re-lit his pipe and then reached across and re-lit Edmund’s as well. “What time would you like me to be there?”
Edmund took a few puffs on his pipe to get it going. “It starts at seven pm, if that isn’t too late for you?”
Vraxi shook his head and puffed thoughtfully on his pipe for a moment, a sudden plan beginning to grow in his ever-active mind…
“It is not too late at all,” he began cautiously, “but would it be an inconvenience to you, Edmund, if a… friend of mine… were to come along as well? It is a friend who is new in town,” he explained quickly, seeing Edmund’s face fall at the suggestion, “and I fear that if I leave him on his own he may… get into trouble…”
“I see.” Edmund hugged his knees and rested his chin on them looking doleful. “Of course it is fine.”
Oh dear, I am going to have to level with him, Vraxi thought, unable to bear the sight of his beautiful, kind, intelligent friend looking so dejected. “Listen Edmund,” he said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder and bringing his face down so that they were eye to eye, “may I tell you a secret?”

Silk and Steel

So Vraxi is off on his little delivery mission- will he be able to stick to the plan this time? XD

I hope you have had a fabulously fraptious  weekend and that the week ahead is full of magic and mischeif! 😀

*

The sun had well and truly set and the light of the full moon turned the cobblestone streets into a tapestry of silver-shine and shadow. Crows chuckled and chittered from the rooftops but the yag kept to the busier streets where the birds found the bustle and noise too confusing.
By the time he reached the library, Edmund was just locking up; his hands shaking with cold in their fingerless gloves as he fumbled with the key and an armful of books.
“Allow me?” Vraxi offered, coming up behind him and startling the half demon so much that he dropped the books all over the street.
“V.. Vraxi! I… I ‘m so sorry! Y… you startled the life out of me!” Edmund stuttered, flushing scarlet and stooping to pick up the mess.
“Then it is I who ought to be apologising, is it not?” Vraxi asked, bending down to help. “And making amends,” he added, handing one of the books back to Edmund.
“Thankyou. Um, it’s quite late, were you coming to borrow a book? I can stay open a little longer if you were.”
“No, no, there’s no need, it wasn’t the library itself that set my feet towards The Spires.”
Edmund looked confused and Vraxi laid a hand on his shoulder, “I was looking for you, Edmund; hoping to catch you before you left, so it seems my timing is perfect, wouldn’t you say?”
Edmund smiled and looked at his feet. “It certainly seems so. Was there… any particular reason you wanted to see me?”
Oh dear, thought Vraxi, he thinks I am come here to ask him to dinner. He rubbed the back of his neck and glanced up and down the street… he was feeling a little peckish… “I thought, perhaps, we could walk round to Massey’s on Bridge Street together? They do an excellent stew – not a patch on Ros’s cooking of course – but certainly better than anything else my coin could stretch to… and I have something to pass on from Mendicci,” he added in an undertone, a sudden idea beginning to form in his mischievous mind.
He patted his waistcoat carefully, “The new resin the good doctor has been working on. I thought that perhaps, after we have dined, we could try it out?”
Edmund’s expression changed from ecstatic to uncertain as he listened to the yag’s proposals. “Is… that what Spyro asked us to do?” he asked.
Vraxi spread is palms. “Almost,” he grinned, draping an arm around Edmund’s shoulders as they started together up the hill, “but here’s the rub, Edmund, why should we stick to one plan, when another would suit us better? Hm? And Spyro need never know, afterall, I am not going to tell him, are you?”
Edmund gave a sly sideways little smile. “No,” he whispered, and then giggled like a nervous school boy.
Oh dear, thought Vraxi, what ever am I getting myself into now?

Silk and Steel

Ok, here we are back at The Cross Keys where Xander left Vraxi. Hopefully this one will bring all those dangling threads together then…. for a little while at least! XD Wishing you all a most fabulous safe and healthy weekend! xx

 

“Penny for your thoughts?”
Vraxi nearly jumped out of his skin as the Doctor and Fey seemingly materialised out of nowhere and slid onto the bench opposite him, banishing all thoughts of Xander immediately from his mind.
“Forgive me,” he said quickly, “truly, I was miles away.”
“That much was evident,” the Ghani said, “but you have not answered my question.”
Vraxi smiled nervously as he felt his mouth go dry, the last thing he wanted to do was upset the doctor; it no doubt would be the last thing he ever did. “You may have them for free, of course, they are worth nothing as is usually the case; I was only reflecting on the sorry lot of my friend.” He turned to Fey, “If you’ll forgive the observation, he carries his soldier’s legacy with more difficulty than your good self.”
Fey smiled, “It’s no small thing for any of us, kid,” she said, tilting his tankard towards her and smirking at the bobbing bones. “But Xander was much younger than I was when the world ended, I had over two decades of fighting under my belt – in some ways, the longer you’re in a game like that, the easier it gets, you know?”
Vraxi smiled grimly. “Yes. Yes I do.”
Fey pushed her own mug of kvass towards him and waved to the bar tender to fetch another.
“How long have you known him?” the doctor asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “More years than I can easily number…” he began but seeing the ghani’s colour begin to rise in frustration he quickly pressed on “…since I started working for Mendicci.” He took a nervous sip of kvass, why was the doctor so interested in him and Xander all of a sudden? “After the world ended, well, myself and my co-workers found ourselves suddenly without a place of abode…”
“Although hardly without a trade,” Fey teased.
He gave a wry smile, “I wanted something better. My Mother died when I was twelve so…”
“Died?” The Ghani asked incredulously and Fey rolled her eyes and gave him a sharp kick under the table. He frowned at her, utterly perplexed, and then turned back to the yag, “Your mother, like all ro’njai – the veritable serfs we used to be – was, I assume, marked with a sigil which prevented her death.”
“Just so,” Vraxi replied, trying hard to keep his tone even. “It was no different for us than for any factory worker or miner or, as you say, any ro’njai; our Doamnâsi saw the benefit of paying the church to ensure her workers could not succumb to illness, fatigue or brutality.” he took another sip of kvass, buying some time to get a grip on his own emotions, but he couldn’t prevent the flames beginning to swell slightly beneath the surface of his skin. “But with a soul-blade, of course, it is possible to deliberately kill someone who is soul-bound.”
“She was murdered then?”
Vraxi nodded. He took another swig of kvass and shrugged, “It was a common occurrence.”
The doctor waved his hand dismissively, “I see, so having no family to concern yourself with… you did what? Went straight to Mendicci?”
Vraxi shook his head. “No, at that point I had never heard of him. I was already a passable finger-smith so I decided to try my hand at house breaking.” He shrugged. “I managed for a few years on my own before I caught Mendicci’s attention.”
“That man has a way of hunting out wafes and strays and bringing them under his wing.” the doctor said darkly.
Vraxi nodded. “He is a good businessman,” he said carefully, still unsure as to where this interrogation was leading, “anyone who thinks they can strike out on their own and start cracking cribs or cutting purses without him having a hand in it will soon find their mis-assumptions corrected. But he looks after his own; I have lost count of the times I have been spared the consequences of my enterprises thanks to his influence over the city watch.”
“And Xander knew him already?” The ghani pressed.
“For perhaps a week or two? Mendicci put us together for our first job, gave us a room to rent… set us up the way he does for all his…” he hesitated, taking a moment to push back the sting, “all his employees.”
The doctor nodded, either ignoring or not noticing the yag’s discomfort. “And Ros?”
Vraxi looked confused, “I met her at the shop, when we finished the job and came to drop off the painting we’d taken she was there…”
“No, no, no!” The doctor snapped irritably, and Vraxi’s eyes widened in alarm. “I mean how long had Ros known him?”
“Xander?” Vraxi asked, still feeling utterly perplexed.
“Mendicci,” Fey said quickly, trying to lend a hand.
“Forgive me.” Vraxi held up his hands. “It is my understanding,” he said carefully, “that Ros and Spyro have known eachother since the beginning of the end of the world. Ros and little Ziga are Jai’Yantra so I assume…”
“Yes, yes we all know what bio-mechanoids are,” the doctor said impatiently, waving a hand, “I am not interested in your assumptions I want facts. Stick to the facts.”
Vraxi took a deep breath, “forgive me,” he said again; silently wondering how many times he was going to have to use that phrase this evening. “All I know for certain is that which Ros has told me; that when the world ended she and Ziga were in a very desperate situation and that Mendicci was too. Together they built Silk and Steel up from nothing, hoping to benefit both themselves and the wider community.”
The dusk djinn looked frustrated but he nodded and took a pensive sip from his pint.
Vraxi breathed a mental sigh of relief and took a long draft from his own tankard, wondering why the hell he was suddenly facing this strange inquisition.
“Keep ’em comin’!” Fey hollered at the bar tender, draining her own jug. “Count yourself lucky, kid,” she said, “if nothin’ else you had the good fate for the world to end when you were young and fit and still had your looks. Pitty us old cuckolds for whom the lines and the rheumatism had already begun to kick in.”
Vraxi smiled, taking the cue that his ordeal was over and he could relax a little. “I have said it many times, Fey, you are and will always be one of the most beautiful women of my acquaintance.”
“Comin’ from one who notoriously finds beauty in just about anyone that’s quite a unique compliment I’m sure!” Fey chuckled.
Vraxi shook his head and his eyes twinkled, “There are many forms of beauty, it is everywhere and in everything, the art is merely to look for it.”
“Sentimental hogwash,” The doctor grumbled.
The doors of the tavern suddenly swung open and a large crowd of sky-dock Frâţjani bowled in, singing loudly the songs of revolution and demanding the musicians take up the tune.
“Kvass for the house!” cried a familiar voice from the midst of the throng, and Vraxi’s heart sank even as his colour roiled suddenly and uncontrollably beneath his skin.
“Well, this has been a very pleasant evening,” he began, getting to his feet. The last thing he felt capable of at this point was to spend the next few hours with Spyro Mendicci.
“Not leaving are you, darling?” Ros asked, appearing out of the crowd and sliding onto the bench beside him.
Vraxi took a deep, calming breath and fixed a grin on his face, “just stretching my legs,” he said breezily, “do you want anything from the bar?” he shifted his gaze to incorporate the doctor and Fey in the question. “I was just about to say, this pleasant evening could perhaps be made more so with a round of tzujka?”
“Excellent idea!” Spyro said, clapping the yag on the shoulders and pushing him back down into his seat. He waved a hand at the bar tender and called for the drinks to be brought over then slipped onto the bench beside Vraxi. “Pleased to see me?” he asked.
“Always.” Vraxi lied, with what he hoped was a convincing grin.
Spyro laughed and shot him one of those devillishly sinister smiles. “No Xander tonight?”
Vraxi shrugged, “He does not seem to favour my company at present.”
“I can’t imagine anyone holding that opinion for long,” Spyro said, giving his thigh a quick squeeze under the table.
A serving maid brought over the tray of drinks and Spyro paid her and made a great exhibition of distributing the glasses.
“I would like to make a toast,” he said, getting to his feet, “to the Frâţjana; to the rights of all workers in this fair city, to equality and prosperity for all, to solidarity, to unity and,” he swept his glass around the table in a gesture which carefully encompassed the doctor, fey, Ros and Vraxi in turn, “ to friendship.”
Clever, Vraxi thought as he touched glasses with the others and knocked back his drink.
“Practicing your campaign speech?” the doctor asked dryly as he knocked his glass against the antiques dealer’s.
Spyro smiled, “merely voicing my support for the dockers’ union and observing that the values they are fighting for on the streets are the same values that make our own organisation so successful.” he said smoothly.
“And how do our most recent plans unfold?”
Spyro spun his empty glass on the table, “speaking for the threads I am responsible for…”
“You can hardly speak for those you are not.” the doctor said, matter of factly.
Spyro spun his glass again and held the doctors gaze steadily, “it is still early days, of course. The Frâţjana are putting pressure on the duke, as you can see, and our key players appear to be doing well in stiring the other unions to action.” He looked to Ros.
“The ‘stokrai are already agitated about the rise in crime in The Groves,” she said, “but we are holding back until the right moment to bring the matter to bear upon the duke.”
“And for your part?”
The doctor waited until the loud chorus of “Oprahno Prahli, Oprahno Frâţjana!” had died down a little before answering. “As promised, we have managed to extract the diterpinoid from the fungus – which, as I predicted has proved to be a potent k-opioid agonist – and combined it into a resinous form using fossilised ericaceae honey, which itself is a mild hallucinogen. We are ready for testing,” he said, reaching inside his waistcoat and handing over the small leather pouch.
“You could not have handed it to Edmund yourself?” Spyro aksed.
The doctor arched an eyebrow at him, “You think it would not invite comment for a senior member of staff to be seen handing out new hallucinogenic substances to his students?” he drained his glass and clicked his fingers at the bar tender for another round.
Spyro passed the pouch to Vraxi, “Take this to Edmund….” Then he raised his eyebrows enquiringly at the doctor, “How many hits are in this?”
“Five.”
“…Tell him to find five of his customers from the Rocchana Den who are willing to try something new. Give it to them for free and watch the results carefully; we need to know if the ride is a good one and if there are any adverse side effects.” He waited until Vraxi had slipped the pouch into his shirt and stood up before placing a hand on his arm, “Don’t get distracted,” he said, in his usual unfathomable tone, “and do not be tempted to try it yourself; we wouldn’t want to lose you, would we?”
Vraxi grinned nervously, unsure exactly what Spyro was implying, and Ros shot him sidelong smile as he squeezed past her which was in no way reassuring.
“We are walking a very tight line here,” she said seriously, after the yag had disappeared. “Our friends in Pav’shmah have already signed the trade agreement for this new substance…”
“You worry needlessly, my dear,” the doctor said, “I have already done extensive testing on crows, tonight will merely confirm that which may almost be taken for granted; that the hybrid substance we have created provides a perfectly safe and enjoyable experience.” He knocked back his drink before continuing, “And Arden has constructed an ingenius method for mass prodction at a rate which will not disappoint our customers.”
Ros took a pensive sip of her own drink, “Speaking of your godson, love,” she said “do you have any idea when he will be able to go home?”
“I’m afraid his father is still being a little difficult but I have spoken to Tarmaturge Blondell of the Vesperai Host and he has agreed to talk to him about Arden’s potential and the benefits to the Vesperai of integrating more with wider society.”
“Tricky when the church is activly persecuting them, doc,” Fey pointed out and the Ghani nodded in agreement.
“Tricky indeed,” he said gravely, “but all the more necessary. The more people who can claim positive and amicable acquaintance with the Vesperai, the less the mud the church is throwing will be able to stick.”
A sudden cheer rose from the dockers’ union members, now gathered around a woman with wild curling hair who was standing on a barrel giving a rousing speech and waving her fist in the air to illustrate her points.
“She’s wonderful,” Ros said admiringly.
Fey drained her next kvass, “Told you,” she said with a wink. She pushed up from the table and wove her way towards the barrel, arriving just in time to catch the woman in her arms as the she jumped down.
“You’re wonderful, aparently,” she smirked, swinging her lover round in her arms and planting a row of kisses down her neck.
“Doubt it, did’yer?” Via teased, grinning as several dockers clapped her on the back and began calling again for the fiddlers to strike up a new tune. “Get uz a drink will yer? It’s gone on a storm but I tell yer I’m parched!”
Fey waved to the barman for a tank of kvass, “And then you promised me a dance, remember?” she said, swaying playfully to the sultry violin music that was sidling through the haze of pipe smoke and chatter and slowly gaining tempo.
On the other side of the room, Spyro offered his hand to Ros and soon many couples had taken to the floor and were stamping, clapping and twirling the steps of the Ro’njai Buleria; the traditional dance of Ro’njai rebels.

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