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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.

Silk and Steel

And here’s what The Doctor and Fey have been up to all this while… (sorry for all the jumping around, I hope all the threads are still making sense! XD They’ll tie up again in the next post I promise!  )

 

“He’s not here.” The Doctor said. Not looking up from the book he was reading.
Fey pulled another chair to the table and seated herself opposite him. “Who?” she asked, tucking her long, greying hair behind one ear. She had already marked the patrons of the records office on her way in and could see no likely threat to her friend the alchemist, but she remained alert nonetheless.
“Mendicci.” he muttered, turning a page and scanning down it with his forefinger before closing the tome with a loud thud. “The man literally does not exist.”
Fey looked at him with concern. “But we know he does Doc, we both know him, hell, everyone knows him he’s as real as you or I.” She sighed heavily. “Why don’t you go home and get some sleep?”
Thd Doctor shook his head. “This has implications that go beyond your understanding. And that is not an insult,” he added, seeing Fey begin to smirk, “merely an observation.”
“There it is.” Fey said, shaking her head in amusement, “The reason I solicit your company, Doc. You always know how to flatter a girl.”
The doctor smiled grimly. “An intelligent girl knows that flattery is nothing and truth is everything.” He said, inclining his own head respectfully to indicate that he intended a compliment.
Fey snorted.
“The point is, I have been through all the possible city records – the man was never born. There is no record of him.”
Fey shrugged, “so his birth wasn’t registered. I’m sure there are hundreds of brats born in slums and gutters who don’t get an official birth certificate.”
The Doctor waved a finger in the air at that “You’re absolutely right. Which is why I have also been through the annual census records which recorded every citizen present in the city over the age of twelve – nothing – the workhouse records – nothing – the documentation of immigrants – nothing. I am telling you Fey this man does not exist.”
“And yet he does.” Fey said gently, laying a gloved hand over the doctor’s arm.
“But how?” the doctor asked. “Who is he? What is he? Where did he come from? Why does he bleed?”
Fey shook her head. “Look I don’t know Doc, maybe he snuck here on a ship from Pav’shma? Maybe he.. maybe he changed his name! Did you think of that?” The doctor looked at her sceptically and Fey threw her hands up in the air “Well, hell Doc maybe he just slipped down a rope from the moon, I have no idea. What I do know is that you are becoming obsessed, and that ain’t healthy.” She looked at him gently and smiled, “Come on, lets take your talk if the mysterious Mendicci to The Cross Keys, where I can get get a drink,” she said, cracking a quick drumroll on the table and rising from her seat.

Silk and Steel

Ahoi! I hope you’re still hanging on in there and staying safe and well! We *may* be going a little CABIN FEEEEEVERRRRR! XD XD XD Every time I sit down two of the small folk begin murdering eachother or one of the big people asks me to cook something! XD So to remedy that we decided to build a giant catapult out of cardboard boxes. Finally finished the monster this morning and now the kiddos are in the garden looking for things to send into orbit (best lock up your cats! XD ) We still have cardboard left over so we’ve started crossbows and armour now too… if I disappear, tis because I have been roped into a full scale cardboard war! XD Hope you guys are all filling your days with delightful distractions! 😀 Here is Xander after he leaves Vraxi in The Cross Keys…

 

*

To all outward appearances, Xander remained calm and in control as he stalked the main street down towards the bridge.

Inside, however, his emotions roiled like the hunter ships tossed through the stormy skies above. Curse the Yag, he thought furiously, and he cursed himself as well for letting someone – anyone – get that close to him. Why did the infuriating little cock so love playing with fire?

Unless, Xander’s glower darkened dangerously, unless the Yag really thought they could be friends. Really believed it was possible for Xander to let someone in through that wall of intense control he had spent so long perfecting.

‘Idiot’ Xander thought furiously – and he wasn’t sure if he was rebuking himself or the fire djinn – I’ll be the death of him.

He shook his head resolutely. No. He refused to let that happen. The Yag was the only person he’d ever cared about – true he thought about killing him several times a day, but the fact that he hadn’t actually done it yet was testimony to… well, he wasn’t sure… but definitely it meant… something.

Xander had signed up for the army when he was fourteen, a few years before the end of the world had begun; it was an easy choice for a boy leaving institutional care – army or factory – and army had seemed the sweeter option.
Seemed, he thought bitterly. No one had mentioned demons.
Now he was stuck with this creature inside him and the horrific memories of the things it had done through his flesh. He clenched his jaw and willed his mind to focus on his surroundings; the lamplight licking over the dark waters of the red river, the cobbles beneath his feet, the bite of cold from the rising fog.

These things kept him focused on who he was – a being of flesh, and blood, nerves and sinews, real touchable things that he could control.
He smiled, not out of mirth but simply to prove that the muscles obeyed his command.
He frowned and again, there was no emotion behind the performance, merely the reassurance of self control.
He stopped, then started again.
Sped up, then slowed down.
This was his mantra, his ritual, his method for banishing all those thoughts and feelings and fears that had been sown inside him by someone else’s hand.

Vraxi was right about one thing, he relented; he hadn’t chosen this. All moral, religious and social order, all law and sanction, punishment and reward was based on the idea that people had the power of choice to control their own actions. The demon-bound… almost every race left in this hell really… had had those choices taken away from them. In the name of national security, in the name of protecting assets or preserving the power of choice for others. His soul had been judged as dispensable, worth the sacrifice.

Well, the world was ended and Xander – and many others like him – were still here. That must be it then he surmised, this surely was hell and for all that he’d done he no doubt belonged in it.

He considered, for a second, just giving up, letting loose the beast right here and now and giving his body over to it entirely, ripping the Yag and anyone else he came across into shreds and not stopping until the city watch brought him down and put him out of his misery with a Soul-blade.

But no, even that wouldn’t work, he realised bitterly. With nowhere for souls to go to once they left their bodies, they simply hung about, looking lost, their shadow-forms trying desperately to mimic the things they had done in life but to no effect.
He stopped when he reached the sky-dock and listened to the raucous singing and chanting of the union protesters who had begun to strike earlier that week.
Part of him desperately felt like joining them; although he knew it was not his fight, the chance to gain a moment of release for all this aggression and anger and stress that was constantly roiling inside him, just to let it out, just for a second…
If he closed his eyes, he could hear the military drums, the bellowed orders to attack, the screams and shrieks of the battlefield as if it were all around him…or was that the demon? Was it his own will guiding his feet towards the violence and the rioting, or was it the will of the creature inside him trying to satiate its own need? He had never heard its voice directly, he understood that it could only truly possess his consciousness if he activated one of his sigils, and even then its powers of control were limited… but nevertheless, often he felt that his thoughts and desires were not entirely his own. And it terrified and infuriated him in equal measure.
He stood, irresolute for a few moments, before turning on his heel and heading back towards The Cinders and home. The yag’s last expression as he’d left the inn drifted across his mind; he had not expected to hurt him. Had not intended to at all. If only the idiot would understand; he was trying to keep him safe. He snorted at that thought; as if anyone was ‘safe’ sharing a room with a violent demon-bound miscreant who had killed too many people to count and had to be periodically chained up just to prevent him from killing more while he was asleep.

 

Silk and Steel

 

“Chequers?”

Xander let his scowl answer the Yag’s question.

“Nine man’s Morris then?”

“I’ve told you. I don’t play games.”

More’s the pity Vraxi thought, with an inward sigh, but he pressed on anyway, ever hopeful that one day, some day, the clamshell that was Xander Dumarle would open up, just a crack, and show a softer, more vulnerable, more human aspect to his painfully up-tight persona.

“Chase the lady?”

“No. Games.” Xander growled.

Vraxi shuffled the cards, returned them to his belt pouch and shrugged. “Knuckle bones it is then.” he said, removing the bag from his pocket and scattering the bones on the tavern table.

Xander picked them up in one swift motion and dumped them unceremoniously into the Yag’s tankard of kvass.

“Fine…” Vraxi sighed theatrically and held up his hands in surrender. Finally folding his fingers together and resting his chin on them to regard his friend with those deep black eyes.

Xander scowled back and for a long while they just sat there, staring at eachother.

At length Vraxi sighed again and went to bring his mug to his lips before catching himself and grimacing at the bobbing bits of bone. He gingerly returned the tank to the table and let his gaze wander around the tap room in search of alternative amusement. He allowed himself a debonair grin at a couple of ladies seated together in the booth across from theirs, a sly smirk at a young cutpurse he knew who tapped her forehead in return and finally a wink at the handsome barman who gave him a promising smile and so, feeling his spirits lifted once more, he turned his attention back to the serious problem that was his friend.

“What are you about?” Xander spat. And Vraxi was slightly alarmed at the venom in his companion’s tone.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, perhaps a little too defensively because Xander suddenly leaned forward so that their faces were barely inches appart.

“I mean what I say. You play dangerous games, Yag, and forget that not everyone is your little toy.”

Vraxi looked hurt, “You wound me to the core.” he protested. “You are my friend, Xander, I would never consider you with such frivolous disregard.”

“You ought not to consider me at all” Xander growled “other than as a cold steel cage for a beast that will one day likely break loose and rip you to shreds. There is no room for anything else so stop. Pushing.”
The Yag’s large black eyes swelled and softened with sympathy.“Are you certain,” he said gently, “that what you are trying to hold back from the world – this thing inside you that you fear is too monstrous for us all to see and still…accept you…”

Xander gave him a warning glare but he ignored it and pressed on. “this thing you are fighting every second of your life to contain, is not your inner demon perhaps, but your own fragile and hurting human soul?”

Xander’s knuckles whitened visibly as he grasped his kvass.

“And do you not think,” Vraxi continued, “that we, all of us, in this divinely forsaken abyss, battle daily with the same fears? But you and I have walked the same path side by side for longer than I can begin to remember – at some point in our acquaintance, will you not concede that whether you were to laugh or cry or break down or flare up or profess your ardent love or hatred for anything under the dying sun, I am not for turning tail and fleeing from you, Xander.” He spread his palms, “is that not what friendship is?”

Xander pushed his pint away from him and stood up. “We are thieves and cut-throats and blades for hire,” he said coldly, “and we would as soon put a knife in each others backs as anyone else’s if the pay was right. Friendship has nothing to do with it. Nor will it ever,” and he stalked out of the tavern letting the door bang shut behind him.

Vraxi tried hard to ignore the bitter sting of disappointment. He toyed with his tankard for a few moments as he stared at the vacant seat in front of him and pondered Xander’s reaction… no, he thought finally, he was not going to walk away from this battle no matter how hard the demon-bound sod pushed him. Xander deserved better than the life he would allow himself, and Vraxi was determined to make sure he got it.

Silk and Steel

And here’s Vraxi straight after his encounter with Spyro. This one’s quite introspective (though purely emotive not graphic) so, again, if you find these things upsetting you’ll want to skip this one. The next one is fine though 🙂 xx

 

 

It took a little over an hour of walking the darkening cobbled streets, keeping to the gunnels and snickets, sometimes even taking to the rooftops for a while, before Vraxi felt he could face anybody.

To say he had never felt so utterly desolated and worthless would be a lie. He had sat with these demons more times than he cared to count. But he had made it the purpose of almost every moment of his life to try and forget, to push those feelings away, to mask and ignore and gloss over the fact that he was not a person that anyone could ever love, like or desire.

He never expected any of those things from anyone, least of all from Mendicci, not even from Xander (although he dared to hope that perhaps, one day, his friend might come to understand how much he genuinely cared about him). But in the space of one short afternoon, Mendicci had completely dismantled the emotional scaffolding that Vraxi kept carefully in place to try and stop himself sliding into despair. He’d let Vraxi see himself the way he saw him – as nothing but a convenient piece of pretty flesh that was only worth his attention if it was doing exactly as it was told. In Mendicci’s eyes, Vraxi only existed to please him, he had no other worth or purpose and his own feelings, emotions, desires, were so insignificant that even Vraxi himself would not be permitted to acknowledge them.

Vraxi sat on the gutter rail, his legs hanging over the edge of the rooftop and swallowed hard. None of this was new. It had just been a while since he had been forced to remember how very powerless and alone he was. And how trapped. His entire livelihood was entrenched in Silk and Steel, he lived and worked and thrived and survived and had his liberty (despite his many misadventures) because they allowed it. There was no more to say about the matter.

He touched two fingers to the bite mark at his neck and winced. A whore’s mark. Had Spyro known what that would mean to a boy who was born in a brothel? Of course he had.

“Enough.” he said out loud. “You are becoming tedious Vraxanthrin, and if there is one thing nobody should ever be able to accuse you of, it is being tedious.” It took a momentous effort then to fight down the voices which screamed that tedious was exactly what Spyro Mendicci found him, probably Ros and Agathri and Xander and Edmund and everyone else as well.

“I will, not, hear you.” he whispered, swallowing it all down and standing up to stretch his arms and legs. Stretching always made him feel a little better. He spread his arms out and turned a full circle then skipped a silly little dance across the slates and forced himself to laugh. “Come on, enough,” he told himself again, clapping his hands together before swinging lightly down onto an outhouse roof and then into the next street. “Let us go and find some diversion or other, Xander is bound to be abroad somewhere, perhaps we can persuade him to a game of chance? Or if not,” he reasoned, turning onto the bright lit mainstreet and feeling the voices begin to fade amid the cacophony of lights and sounds and smells that filled the city night, “at least we may find some amusement or distraction in the form of something or someone.”

To say that he felt better as he pushed open the door of The Cross Keys and began weaving his way towards the familiar hunched figure that could only be Xander Dumarle, would have been a lie.

But then it would have been equally untrue to say that anybody looking at him would have guessed he wasn’t anything but on top of the world, as usual.

Silk and Steel

So Vraxi is invited to ‘lunch’ and this one comes with a trigger warning my lovelies  –

There’s nothing too graphic or gratuitous but it is an emotive extract and does portray power imbalance within a sexual relationship and implied emotional, psychological and physical abuse. Give it a miss if you find these things upsetting and I’ll see you on the other side. xx

 

 

*

“So, Agathri Hogarth paid you to remove the pastes and the demonsong was an unexpected bonus?” Spyro undid the top button of Vraxi’s shirt, and then the second. He brushed aside the silk fabric, revealing a few inches of the Yag’s shoulder where the fire inside him was rolling in furious clouds beneath his translucent olive skin. Slowly he traced his fingers along the collar bone.

“Just so. A side job. Nothing more. I didn’t think you’d mind.” Vraxi tilted his head, trying to catch Spyro’s eye. “She wanted the insurance money.”

“I see.” More buttons fell away at Spyro’s gently insistent touch and another tug brought the shirt right off and sliding down to the floor.

Vraxi’s heart was racing. Of all the people in all his little world, Spyro thrilled him the most, terrified him the most; was the most attentive, and yet the most elusive, the most dangerous and delightful and demoralising. A month could pass without him so much as glancing at the Yag, and Vraxi would begin to wonder if Mendicci had lost interest in him, would begin to feel rejected, insecure and almost desperate in the man’s presence until at last he lost hope and turned his attention to other, less complicated playmates like Agathri or Ros.

But other times, and Vraxi never knew what it was that caused the change, Spyro seemed not to be able to keep his hands off him. He seriously hoped this was the start of another one of those stints when he would engineer every opportunity for them to be alone together, knowing that within seconds he would feel Mendicci’s breath hot against the side of his neck, or his hands wandering idly over his shoulders, chest, hips, sliding, slipping, grasping.

He reached for the black buttons on Spyro’s damask waistcoat, but Mendicci caught his hand and held it gently back against the wall as he let the fingers of his other hand skirt along the lip of Vraxi’s leather waist band. “Why do you always wear such tight trousers?”

Vraxi smirked, “Perhaps it is that I like playing hard to get?”

Spyro trailed his fingers round a second time, pushing a little deeper below the fabric. “We both know that is not the case.”

“Well…what would you have me do?” The Yag asked playfully. “Wear a skirt?”

Spyro smiled thoughtfully, sliding his hand up, over the Yag’s chest, tracing slowly and deliberately over the single sigil which kept his soul trapped inside his flesh.

Vraxi winced and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth against the mix of pain and pleasure coursing through his frame. The flames inside him swelled and coiled in and over and under themselves in response to Spyro’s touch until he felt he was going to explode.

“Look at me, Bane.” Spyro caught the yag under the chin and brought his lips within a hair’s breadth of his own, looking deep into his eyes for so long, that for one wonderful, terrifying, heartbreaking moment Vraxi thought he was going to… kiss him…something Spyro had never done before…

But instead he turned Vraxi’s head slowly to the side and brushed his lips briefly against the Yag’s neck. “I would have you do, exactly what I tell you to do, exactly when I tell you to do it,” he breathed. And then bit down, slowly, not hard enough to break the skin, just drawing soul and fire up towards the surface until Vraxi began to twitch away, crying out for him to stop.

He didn’t immediately, of course, that wasn’t the game. He waited until his name was a desperate gasp on the Yag’s lips, until the first tears spilled down his burning cheek.

Then he let him go. “Get them off.” he said, slapping the Yag’s backside and starting to unbuckle his own belt.

Silk and Steel

And here’s what our lil Vraxi is obliviously up to while all that was going on, blissfully unaware that Spyro’s ‘sword of Damocles’ is hanging over his head (no no no, stop singing Rocky Horror… stop it!… this is serious stuff y’know… a-hem…   😉   XD   )

 

“When you said you would be able to remove some unwanted pastes for me dear,” Agathri Hogarth didn’t get up from her dressing table, but watched the Yag’s reflection in the mirror as he climbed in through her powder room window, “you made no mention of turning the entire house into a demolition site in the process.”

Vraxi shrugged, “you made no mention of your brobdingnagian security system, my lady. Indeed, you may count yourself fortunate I do not come begging recompense for the damage to my coat.”

Agathri smirked, “When weighed against the cost of the damage you caused by setting it off, and considering the market value of the four vials of demonsong you requested, I’m certain I should be the one claiming recompense from you.”
“Well, then I am all contrition,” Vraxi said, with a low bow, “however can I make it up to you?”
Agathri smiled slyly at him, rose from the dressing table and drifted idly towards him, the many diaphanous layers of her dressing gown flowing like flames of muted light around her in the little breeze from the open window.
She pressed her palms gently against his chest and Vraxi felt his own fire begin to swell and uncoil within him, even as he watched hers rising and rolling beneath the surface of her skin.
She nestled her head of tight silver curls against his shoulder. “Whatever do you see in me?” she asked suddenly, her breast rising and falling with a gentle sigh. “Such a faded bloom I must seem in this city, among a garden of new budding blossoms who keep their youth eternally.”
He took her hand in his and caressed the parchment-frail skin tenderly before bringing it to his lips in an almost reverent gesture, letting the kiss whisper against her wrist like a prayer.
“You are no rose.” He spoke the words into her ear. “Never have you held such transient, fragile allure. Your beauty is the rich, enthralling depths within the pearl, the amber, the tourmaline; a spell that cannot be cast in some brief moment. Yours is the radiance that only time can bestow; deep as the swell of ocean or the heat of flame and maddening as golden honey to the mind…”
Agathri laughed out loud with glee. “You ridiculous rogue!” she chided, “It is your own wicked tongue that maddens like a honey-trap and well you know it!”
She pushed him away and crossed back to the dressing table, locking the door before winding up the handle of an ornate resin-cylinder phonograph until the raucous music filled the room, and no doubt the entire upper portion of the house.
‘Just as well,’ Vraxi thought with a grin, Agathri had never had a penchant for being discreet and he really didn’t like the thought of the Colonel suddenly coming home and… interrupting them…

Silk and Steel

So, right now I’ve not much clue what day it is or what I’m meant to be doing my life has become even more of a yarn ball that a pack of feral kittens have been handed lol, what with Dan working from home most days, all four kiddos in lock-down mode it seems every moment mama needs a new trick up her sleeve to juggle people and pokemon and elves and spring bunnies and creepy pasta people… it’s all good fun but it just means I’ve no brain or time for much else! XD Still, this book is still flowing in the few quiet dark hours so here’s the next bit. How are your days shaping up? Hopefully better than Ros and Spyro’s… XD

 

 
The Yag’,  Ros thought as she spun on her heel and stormed back into the house behind the shop. Who else could it possibly be? Either Spyro had acted without her knowledge… no, she immediately dismissed that possibility… or the greedy, opportunistic little Yag and his demon-bound friend had made the mistake of their lives.

Possibly the mistake of all our lives, Ros thought desperately. The colonel, a retired demon hunter who still retained a healthy appetite for adventure, owned many of the properties – both commercial and residential – out of which the associates of Silk and Steel operated. His connections to high society were, in many cases, their connections to the same and his unimpeachable reputation validated a significant number of their fronts across the city.

Ros went to the tzujka cabinet and poured herself a drink. What have you done, Vraxi? She thought furiously… and why? She had to get to the bottom of this immediately; to ascertain whether the Yag and his dumb-waiter had acted on impulse or if they had taken on the job from someone higher up the chain, in either case she would have to make an example of them some how, but if the latter were so she needed to find out who they were working for before she pounced.

She left the drawing room and wound her way through to the cramped little cupboard they used for doing accounts, easing the door open with her hip.

Spyro, half hidden behind piles of old books, gilt framed paintings and mounds of paperwork, looked up from his desk as she entered.

“Busy?” she asked, handing him a tzujka .

“Always. But never too busy.” he replied, his dark eyes drinking in her appearance in a way that made it quite obvious what he was thinking.

Ros shook her head. “We need to put a tighter leash on our firey little friend.” she said seriously, taking the only other chair in the tiny over-stocked room.

Spyro leant back and steepled his fingers. “Again?” he asked, and Ros narrowed her eyes at his ambiguous tone, unsure exactly what he was thinking. She shot him a warning look but he merely smiled and said nothing.

“His unwitting actions have rocked the boat.” she said tartly. “Seriously this time I’m afraid; the colonel is very upset and although he hasn’t said as much, I think we’re going to feel the crushing blow of his displeasure before too long.”

“Ah, I meant to find out where that pair got their hands on four vials of demonsong…” Spyro tapped his fingers together thoughtfully. “In wrapping up the Pav’shamah contracts and trying to manage the carnage the Doctor has left us with, I placed the question on a back burner.”

“Well, the matter is now a pressing one.” Ros said firmly. “I need to know… we need to know, if they decided on a whim to add the colonel’s property to the list of jewel grabs we told them to make …”

“What would be the logic in that?” Spyro asked. “All the houses we listed were on the East side of the city – that serves the strategy of our purpose in angering those who are most likely to blame the duke for the rise in crime and to paint him as incompetent in the public eye. The colonel’s town house is on the west side. They would have had to go considerably out of their way to include it just for the sake of a few pastes.”

“Pastes?”

Spyro opened a desk drawer, pulled out a bag and emptied a collection of necklaces, brooches and bangles onto the desk. To the untrained eye they were very convincing but neither Spyro nor Ros needed to examine them to tell at once they were fake.

“And the demonsong.” Ros added.

Spyro shrugged, “I rather thought that was an unexpected find. They tried to sell it to me in the same haul as the jewels.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

Spyro looked uncharactaristicly strained for a second. He put a hand over his eyes and massaged his temples with his thumb and forefinger. “If you recall…” he said, looking up again through his fringe of dark curls, “things got a little intense that night.”

Ros’s expression softened a little, and she reached across the table and stroked her partner’s hand. It was not a sympathetic gesture; rather one which exerted her power over his need. But they both smiled at the action – they had played this game for a long time afterall and, despite its constant cadence there was trust, there had to be.

“So, you think the jewel grab was pre-planned but the demonsong was an unexpected bonus?” Ros asked, frowining slightly when Spryo closed his hand over hers, preventing her from withdrawing easily.

He held it for a moment, moving his thumb slowly over her fingers, and then finally spread his palms and shrugged. “I honestly have no idea.”

Ros nodded. “I will ask the Doctor to have a word with him this time.”

Spyro shook his head, “Leave it with me.” he said, in a tone that did not invite dispute. “Bane is far too tightly woven into our inner circle to risk scaring him off.”

“I doubt Vraxi would ever betray us knowingly.”

“True. But a frightened fox will bolt for any hole. We want to draw him in closer, not scare him away.”

Ros nodded and bit her lip, fully grasping the implications of what he was saying.

“Leave him to me.” Spyro repeated. “I know how to put Bane in his place.”
He tapped the ledger he was writing in with his pen. “I’ll be done here by one, tell him to come to lunch.”

Silk and Steel

Happy Beltane! I hope this finds you all still safe and well 🙂

Well camp NaNo is over and instead of finishing this ‘short story’ … a-hem… I seem to have turned it into a novel, working in all manner of complex shit from my time on the streets as a teenager to my issues and hangups about love, religion and gods know what else! I should probably be shot or lynched or something but hey ho here I am still prattling on! 😉 So I’m well over 30k now ‘filling in the gaps’ I’ve split the book into three parts : A time for heroes / Stone the crows / The end of the world (no prizes for guessing what music I’m listening to right now.. a-hem…) and each has about three short chapters but they’ll be interspersed with those lil monologue reflections from Spyro and some from his nemesis the mysterious Man In The Moon.

So, all that’s gone so far has been chapter one and two now we move on to chapter 3… if you are still managing to cling on to this crazily careering ship full of monsters then thankyou from the bottom of my heart!

Chapter 3

“I’m having a problem with cats.” Colonel Gerrhard Hogarth didn’t look up from perusing the antiques on display. He picked up a closed umbrella and tried it in a thrusting motion back and forth a few times, finally giving it a rather swashbuckling flourish before frowning in dissatisfaction and returning it to its stand.

“Cats?” Ros asked perplexedly.

“Mm, cats,” Hogarth said, turning and fixing her with a rather hard stare. “Got anythin’ for ’em?”

“Um…” Ros spread her hands “…cats aren’t really our domain, Colonel?” she ventured, wondering what on earth was really going on behind this sham of senility. The colonel often played the fool, usually in order that he might delight himself and his ordinance with some fine joke he was building up to, but very occasionally he had a different motive, and then, Ros reflected, he could be a teensy bit dangerous. She hoped this time it was joke.

The colonel did another slow, tortuous circuit of the shop and then came to rest at the counter, his fists balled against the glass, arms locked straight, cold blue eyes fixed on Ros’s dark pools of innocence. ‘Oh dear’ she thought, and gave him her very sweetest smile.

“Funny thing,” the colonel said, “cats not being your domain. I was rather under the impression they constituted a large portion of your business..” Ros opened her mouth but shut it again quickly as the colonel ploughed on “…vermin, is what I call them. Oh, I know you ladies have a great love of the blighters, my wife is just the same, but the trouble is they get everywhere.” He raised his eyebrows as if Ros should now be completely aware of what he was talking about.

Ros’s sharp mind raced with possibilities but she came up blank – as far as she was aware, neither she, nor Sypro, had any connection to cats in any way shape or form and she was absolutely certain that neither of them had any active operations which might have rattled the colonel’s cage.
The colonel stared at her for a long time and Ros just stared helplessly back.

“Hmph. Don’t know what I’m talking about eh? That’s interesting. Fine, here’s the rub – a couple of your precious little kittens have been on my roof, and they didn’t stop there, understand? They made off with some of my wife’s favourite jewellery – for which you can give them my thanks and this to buy themselves a drink.” He handed the stunned looking Ros a couple of coins. “If they’d stopped there I’d have campaigned to have them knighted, old girl’s in an absolute fit over the thing and for my part it’s highly entertaining. But they didn’t stop there. Cats never do. Greedy is what cats are. And disloyal, m’dear, never forget it.”

“What exactly did they take?” Ros asked, aware the colonel had drawn a fine line between the humour and the gravity of the situation and uncertain on which side she was about to fall.
The colonel leant in and whispered in her ear “Four vials of demonsong.”
Ros’s eyes grew wide and then narrowed to dangerous slits. She drew herself up, smoothed the front of her black silk shirt, adjusted her hair slightly and smiled in a reassuringly professional manner. “Leave it with me colonel.” she said crisply “I will see that your goods are safely returned to you and the… cats in question never bother you again.”

The colonel stood frowning at her for an uncomfortably long moment before nodding and stepping back from the counter. “Appreciated.” he said “But, you must appreciate in turn that a line has been crossed. It is the role of the mother to teach her kits where the lines are and as I know that you are not a neglectful teacher, my dear, so I cannot help but wonder …” he raised his eyebrows again and this time Ros caught his meaning precisely as he turned and headed for the door. “Tell all your little kittens” he said gruffly “I’m buying a mastiff.”

 

 

So that is the colonel and we’ll meet his wife Agathri soon as well. Blessings on your new season, I hope it is filled with all the love and hope it possibly can be and that you feel able, despite the madness, to remain always utterly yourself! 🙂

Camp NaNo: Silk and Steel

And now we switch back to Vraxi and Xander who are now at home… (eep I hope this is still making sense!)

 

 

“Tighter!” Xander grimaced, gritting his teeth against the pain.

Vraxi looked at him with concern, “Are you sure?”

“Can’t… take any risks…” Xander panted, cold sweat glistening on his skin, his veins and muscles already looking as if they were fit to burst.

Vraxi sighed and took hold of the leather straps once more, tightening each one another notch so that they cut deeply into his companion’s flesh. “You really don’t look comfortable,” he said, shaking his head. “Are you certain, my friend, that you are not being a little melodramatic about all this? A little sadistic perhaps?”

“Shut. Up.” Xander’s voice came in bursts of guttural snarls and Vraxi laid a delicate hand on his heaving chest, resisting the temptation to trace around the intricate sigils tattooed there, and peered into his companion’s eyes.

“My fear for you, Xander, is that you have not yet accepted the fact that none of this is your fault.” the Yag said gently, “you appear to be punishing yourself for something others have done to you.”

I’m going to kill him, Xander thought helplessly. Whether I want to or not at this rate. “Just. Shut. Up.” he managed. He could feel the demon inside him roiling with anticipation, knowing it was about to be released, desperate to make the most of its few short hours of control.

Vraxi wasn’t an idiot, nor was he naive, they had been through this vigil many, many times before over the years they had been together, but still the Yag persisted in his ridiculous belief that the demon inside Xander was not as bad a thing as Xander was making out.

“Get away from me!” Xander spat, his back beginning to buck and strain, his mouth filling with blood as he ground his teeth hard, struggling to keep the demon back until the idiotic Yag was at a safer distance.

Vraxi sighed and raised his hands in surrender, “As you wish.” He turned and seated himself in an arm chair at the far side of the room. It vexed him greatly that Xander couldn’t see the potential of his situation – a demon! Not some insipid half-thing… Vraxi grimaced and tried to dismiss the unexpected twinge of guilt that stung him as he thought of Edmund… but a real, actual demon with powers and knowledge beyond even his own wildest dreams.

If only he could convince Xander to stop treating this awesome creature inside him like an enemy, if only they could all sit down, the three of them, and discuss a mutually beneficial path towards a lucrative and luxurious future…for all of them. Vraxi smiled slyly and his thoughts strayed to his coat pocket where the four vials of demonsong jostled lightly against his chest. He crossed his legs, folded his fingers patiently and settled down to wait, soon Xander would be gone for a while, and Vraxi dared to hope that with the right words and the right bargaining tools, this so-called monster might prove more malleable and receptive than his stubborn companion.

*

The transformation part was boring. It was always boring, the Yag reflected, examining his nails and trying to block out the screams and rabid gargling sounds emanating from his friend’s body as the demon clawed its way up to the surface of his consciousness. All so melodramatic – and all for nothing. Xanders body didn’t actually change a bit and this, Vraxi thought, seemed proof enough that if Xander stopped fighting his demon and found a way to co-exist peacefully with it, their lives, in every respect, could be a lot more interesting.

“Welcome back.” The Yag said breezily, when he was certain that there wasn’t a trace of Xander’s consciousness left in the room.

“I have a proposition for you, my friend,” he paused and winced a little at the gargling and snorting and generally feral cacophony emanating from his friend’s throat.

“Phlem?” he asked, proffering a silk handkercheif, “I know some suffer with it dreadfully in these cramped and unhygienic living conditions.”

The demon suddenly snapped its head round to fix him with a smouldering red gaze.

Vraxi tucked the handkerchief back in his pocket and spread his hands. “Are you able to speak?” he asked, “or is this to be a one sided conversation?”

“Why would a great and all powerful being like me, wish to consort with a ridiculous little imp like you?” The demon growled, and a wide grin spread across Vraxi’s face as his colour burned and surged within him. Consort? He thought, resisting the urge to rub his hands together, now there’s a novel idea…

“Oh, well, no reason at all I suppose,” the Yag said conversationally, reaching inside his pocket and pulling out one bottle of the demonsong and toying absently with it between his delicate fingers. “Just thought you might be bored, you know? In need of stimulating conversation once in a while? It must be decidedly dull, my friend, to always have to be chained up like this, suppressing your desires…” he raised his eyes from the bottle and struggled hard to contain his glee when he saw the demon gazing at it with rapt attention.

“Where did you get that?” it whispered, its voice sounding so much like Xander’s that the Yag was almost stunned.

Vraxi caught himself and smiled sweetly, “the voices of your kin are quite easy to come by, for someone like me,” he lied smoothly, “is it true that with demonsong you can take full control of a human body… override some of those inconvenient sigils the church has carved into his flesh and be yourself for a while?”

He had his answer in the ferocious yearning playing across the demon’s features – a mixture of anger, confusion, hatred and hope that was sooooo delicious the Yag thought it quite a shame to have to end it.

“Marvellous.” he said at last, when he could reasonably drag the moment out no longer,“I thought as much.”

He rose and walked over to the bed, coming up close, drinking in the sight of the demon’s sweat-slick skin, straining sinews and wary golden gaze… such a travesty to try to tame such raw and beautiful power with these cruel constraints, the Yag thought sadly, trailing his fingers gently over the leather straps and the angry reddened skin between. A travesty of course that this was ever done to a demon in the first place – binding it with a lesser being in order to create a killing machine. But was killing all these mighty creatures were capable of? The Yag sincerely hoped not; kill the mouse and the game is over, and what then? he wondered. It was a dull aproach to life, to be sure – though he seemed to have accidentally surrounded himself with people who favoured it.

“You really don’t look comfortable,” he said for the second time that evening. “So tell me my friend, now that you know what I can do for you – what might you do for me… and Xander here… in return? You will find this a city of opportunity and delight, if you choose to make us your allies.”

The demon frowned and his eyes began to smoulder disdainfully.

“Or…” Vraxi said, dancing back to the chair in a bizarre and whimsical fashion, “I could sit back here as usual and watch you gargle and groan for a few hours, before the sun comes up and my dear Xander returns.” He seated himself in the chair, crossed his legs, folded his delicate fingers over his knee and waited.

“What is it that you want, Imp?” The demon growled and Vraxi’s grin was irrepressible as he thought of all the things Vraxanthrin Bane wanted… “Let us proceed, one step at a time,” he said carefully.

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