Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Stephen
Palmer and I write epic steampunk novels. Strange times have struck the
Isles of Ire – hair-eating Snow Woollies plague our icy lanes, and Daemon
Chariots roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague… So some of us
have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its
flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted
down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with my trusty
Teapot Of Bhutan, so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay. Now
then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you
all…I’m best known for my steampunk Factory Girl trilogy. Set in 1910 and
1911, this work follows the story of Kora Blackmore, cast into Bedlam by
her appalling father, the Victorian engineer and entrepreneur Sir Tantalus
Blackmore. Kora and her friend Erasmus Darwin (grandson of Charles) must
escape capture and find out the truth of the enigma surrounding Kora and her
This trilogy was republished last year with new covers by the famous
steampunk illustrator Tom Brown, who also did the cover for the fourth
book, The Conscientious Objector, which follows Erasmus into the hell of
1914 and WW1…I’m also known for my WW1 novel Tommy Catkins.
Tommy, returning in 1915 from a horrific experience in the trenches of the
Western Front, finds himself in an experimental hospital on a river island in
Wiltshire, where, suffering from shell shock, he is given the primitive
treatments of the time. But Tommy is badly damaged by his experiences,
and in due course finds that the island is not all it seems to be…If you’d like
to purchase any of my wares you can find them
you’d like to connect you can find me
Well thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m
afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one!
I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by
book mavens of the worst possible type – craven cowards, all!
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in
the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own…
Happy holidays my lovelies! Well – I’m about to start mine anyway and I hope you all have splendiferously spectacular things planned as well!
Knowledge should be free – and so should fun! – so I’ve made my Grimoire For The Apocalypse available as a free PDF just in time for Crimbo.
It’s a rainy day activity book for bored magicians in lockdown full of playful stuff that works but is also fun and subversive.
And it includes a bonus short story: a tongue- in – cheek Magician’s Journey crammed full of Easter eggs which, if you find them all, give a lil potted history of magic (well, westish magic anyway!)
It’s licenced under Creative Commons so it’s fine to share as well. Or if you prefer paperback I’ve set the price at print-cost. (Which imho is still horrendously expensive!)
Happy festive wishes however you celebrate the season, and if you are in lockdown I hope this helps while away some dull hours and bring a few giggles to alleviate the stress.
You can download the free pdf here:
Or get the paperback at print-cost here:
It’s Bagatelle. There’s a Wreck in The Zone. This is not part of The Plan. But you are, and your instructions are simple – DESTROY THIS BOOK.
Ghosts of Wit is an interactive cybertext. A bizarre Easter Egg hunt through a twisted Wonderland in the company of dead poets, sinister psychopomps, sentient tarot cards and a mysterious cat with a fiddle.
Is there life after Porridge? Who is Mary? What does it mean to Tread Well in life? Who started the fire? Why does the old man smile? And would you like a bacon sandwich? Are just some of the questions this book will not attempt to answer. However if you already know the answers, then jump on your camel and join the hunt for the book that doesn’t exist… just beware of the white rabbits along the way…
Happy Friday! I’m going to make next week the last post before christmas and then carry on where we leave off in the new year. Ghosts of Wit is at the proof stage so that should be out next week as well. Wishing you all an utterly fabulous weekend and hugest thankyous for following along with my wild witterings thus far! Picking up where we left off last week with poor Vraxi…
When Spyro shut the door, Vraxi folded up like a fan on the enormous four poster bed and shed silent tears into the sea of dark silk sheets. He had needed this. He had needed to prove to himself that somebody, for whatever reason, wanted him – that he had some purpose, some skill, some use in the universe however shallow or cheap that thing might seem to others. But he had messed things up again; it seemed all he was ever able to do. And when he went over everything that happened, he couldn’t see clearly what he had done wrong.
Is it any wonder they are all sick of you? his voices whispered. You ruin everything you touch and you haven’t even the intelligence to understand how. You are exhausting everyone’s patience with you, and you don’t even have the ability to change or put things right. “Please stop.” He whispered, pressing his hands over his ears as if he could shut out the voice that was coming from within. “Please, please, please, stop.”
He took an enormous breath and pushed himself up, feeling about for his pipe before he remembered Spyro had tossed it in the fireplace. He slid off the bed and shuffled across the floor, refilled it and took a long drag, completely forgetting that Spyro had told him not to smoke in the bedroom. Come on, enough of this, he told himself, wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand, you cannot still be sitting here when he returns.
He stood up and closed the wardrobe door, trying hard not to catch even the slightest glimpse of himself in the mirror. He had thought the outfit he’d chosen was attractive; but no one seemed to like the things that he found beautiful. Because you’re a cheap, tasteless little tramp, the voices inside told him as he trailed in numbness through the dark corridors to the stockroom, a feat like walking underwater with his head encased in lead.
He pulled something off the rack without fully registering what it was, other than that it looked dull and displeasing, got dressed and went tentatively downstairs.
“Seems like we’re still stuck with eachother then.” Xander said gruffly, his arms folded as he stood by the back door.
“I… is that what he said?”
Xander nodded, and then frowned at him. “What happened to your face?”
Vraxi fussed a bit with his hair, trying to pull it down over the red mark where the belt had struck. “Oh nothing. I tripped over my dressing gown in the bathroom and hit it on the sink.” He shrugged and gave a little half smile, “You were right, it is far too big for me afterall. I don’t know what possessed me to steal it.”
This is all my fault. Xander thought desperately. Why hadn’t he stopped to consider how Mendicci would react to his childish little tantrum? He had thought the antiques dealer had been unfair, spoken to him harshly, tried to pull rank on him and make sure he was still firmly under his boot… but he hadn’t hit him. And this wasn’t the first time Vraxi had come down those stairs with bruises he couldn’t easily explain. Coward, he thought furiously, he knows I would hit him back.
“You liked the little birds on it,” he mumbled, fishing for something he could do or say to make amends. “You said it was nice to see birds that weren’t crows for a change, and that if you held it up to the light you could imagine they were flying against the lavender sky at dawn…. or some crap like that…” he added, feeling his face flush a little.
Vraxi trailed his finger along the banisters and hung his head. “Sounds like the sort of nonsense I’d come out with,” he admitted, and then raised his eyes to peer apologetically through his strands of scarlet and black, “Thankyou for putting up with me, Xan. I mean it. I know it isn’t easy…I don’t mean to be so…difficult…”
Xander flicked down his hood, made a mess of his hair and then flicked it up again. I should be the one apologising, he thought crossly. But he couldn’t find the words or even where to begin.
“You hungry?” he tried, annoyed that his voice didn’t seem capable of ever conveying anything he wanted it to.
“Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast someplace – where do you wanna go? The Keys?”
Vraxi shifted uncomfortably and rubbed his arms, “I’d rather not, if that’s alright with you?”
He’s worried about running into Mendicci, Xander thought to himself. “Where then?”
“Not Massey’s. I hate Massey’s it’s too much lace and polished wood, it’s suffoctaing in there.” He thought for a minute. “I know, come on.” He tipped his head towards the door and they walked down the garden path and out of the back gate into the alley that ran the length of the shops in that row. They got to the end, turned right and headed out onto the Kadasa’s main vein. “Street food?” he asked, giving the yag a little knowing look.
Vraxi’s eyes lit up like fireworks “Really?! Are you sure? But you hate the market crowds…”
“Yeah. Well. You can do the queuing, I’ll give you the money.”
“Oh! It’s my favourite Xan, thankyou! Can we get those long skewers full of grilled mushrooms? And deep fried crispy crow’s wings?”
The warm feeling that swelled inside him didn’t quite find full expression in Xander’s features but he did smile. “Sure. Whatever you want OK?”
Eeeep I’m so sorry I’m late again, I came down with a cold last night and have been bumbling around trying to get everything done XD So, without further blathering, here is the next bit and it comes with a small trigger warning of domestic violence.
Once Xander was settled in the kitchen with a small mountain of scrambled crows eggs, Spyro went upstairs.
He scowled as he followed the trail of used bath towels and discarded clothing from the bathroom and pushed open his bedroom door.
“Right then, Bane, I…”
Not many things in this world could leave Spyro Mendicci speechless. He cleared his throat to cover the fact and stared thoughtfully at the yag who was perched on the end of his bed, smoking and swinging his legs back and forth.
“Bane, when I said help yourself to something to wear…”
“Oh. Does it not become me?” Vraxi asked anxiously, hopping up to examine himself in the wardrobe mirror.
Spyro nearly had a heart attack. He ran a hand over his face. “You are not leaving here, dressed like that,” he said firmly; fighting the urge to lock the door and never let Vraxi leave his bedroom, let alone the shop. “You won’t make it home in one piece.” He’ll be the death of me, he thought helplessly, and this is a weakness I can’t afford to indulge just now, not with Pan stalking about somewhere.
“What were you doing at church?” he asked, trying to distract himself with more serious matters.
Vraxi shrugged, “having an existential crisis?” he tried.
Spyro folded his arms and tried to look menacing. It worked.
Vraxi grinned sheepishly and spread his palms; “In truth, I was stealing demonsong,” he said. “One of Keyja’s dock-rats dropped a crate and she may have got the inaccurate impression that the fault was mine.”
Spyro nodded. That sounded more like the truth. “And so she told you to replace it,” he surmised.
“She told me she’d turn me inside out and hang me from a flagpole and you could ask all the questions you liked about it!” The yag said, indignantly.
“Did she now?” Spyro narrowed his eyes.
“Indeed, she did. And that’s not all..” Vraxi lowered his voice and stood on his tiptoes to reach Spyro’s ear “…while I was at the docks I noticed something else; it seems Keyja is carrying on where her brother left off…”
Spyro frowned and waved Vraxi back a few paces. “Are you still high, Bane?” he asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “only to a level of functionality,” he said, taking another drag on his pipe.
“Give me that, I’ve told you not to smoke that thing up here.” Spyro snatched the pipe and knocked it out in the fireplace. “Let me understand you correctly: you are saying that Keyja – who tipped us off to the fact that her brother was cream-skimming – is now cream-skimming herself? Yes?”
“That’s right. And she wants to turn me inside out and…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Spyro waved a hand to shush him up. He took a moment to turn things over in his mind. It did make sense, except.. “And what were you doing at the sky docks in the first place?”
Vraxi bit his lip, and then looked a little coy. “There is a barman… at the Valkyrie’s Nest…” he said quietly.
“I see.” Yes it all made sense now. Much as he didn’t like it, it did add up. “And is this debt to Keyja the reason you took the demonsong from the Colonel?” he asked, fishing for the last piece of the puzzle.
Vraxi hung his head and looked up through his strands of coal and henna hair.
Spyro sighed. “Very well, listen carefully. You are going to go and put something sensible on, and then you and Xander are going to go to the skydocks and clean-up for me, understand? And do it properly this time, no bleeding heart sob stories, no second chances I want every last one of them dead and I want it obvious to everyone with half a brain why.”
Vraxi nodded solemnly but he couldn’t prevent the gleeful glitter of flames from dancing in his dark eyes.
Spyro frowned. “You were hoping I’d say that, weren’t you?” Damn it, the little sod had played him and he’d walked right into it. He could just imagine the yag relishing the opportunity to add his own little ‘message’ to the execution and subtly turning it from No one messes with Spyro Mendicci to No one messes with Vraxanthrin Bane. He was not about to let him have that sort of power.
Vraxi bit his lip and gave a mischievous little half-smirk, “can you blame me? She did threaten to turn me inside out and hang me from her flagpole…and I didn’t tell a lie, Spyro, I only… hoped you would chose me to be the executioner…”
I should kill him. Spyro thought furiously. I am going to kill him. He could feel the weight of one of his many concealed knives resting just a wrist-flick away from his palm. I can’t have anyone think they can play me even the tiniest amount, and I can’t have him strutting around looking like that, distracting me from everything else. Half a dozen blades were within a split-second’s reach but still he hesitated, unable to take his eyes from the beautiful fire jinn.
“You should have come to me with this in the beginning,” he said at length. “As I said to Xander downstairs, what we are trying to build here is a family, Bane, and we’re not doing a very good job of that if we don’t trust eachother are we?”
Vraxi bit his lip, “Sorry?” he tried.
Spyro shook his head. “What am I going to do with you, Bane?”
“Give me some honey and take me to bed?” Vraxi asked hopefully, stepping closer and giving the antiques dealer his very best kitten eyes.
Oh gods. “Honey is for good boys.” Spyro said darkly, trying hard to keep the tremor of desire from his voice.
“Oh?” Vraxi smirked, tilting his head on one side, “And what do bad boys get, Mr. Mendicci?”
Spyro thought he was going to explode. He reached out and brushed Vraxi’s dark hair away from his face then let the back of fingers trail lazily down the angle of his jaw.
He eased his chin to the side with his thumb, careful to keep his gaze flat and disinterested as he traced the space around his collar bone, the rise of his bare shoulder, the tight velvet stretched around his tiny ribcage and narrow hips…
He’s like glass, he said to himself, so beautiful and so dangerous; so easy to break, so easy to cut yourself on.
Fantasies of forcing the yag to his knees and having him right there on the floor surged through his mind… he imagined tying him to his bed and taking him from pleasure to pain and back again for hours – watching those delicate features transform from expressions of ecstasy to confusion, fear, agony and back to ecstasy again in a never ending cycle that was completely under his control…
No. No. No. He told himself sternly. I need to be certain I can resist this. Nobody can have such a hold over me, especially not this little one. If I can walk out of here now, then I can safely do as I like with him any time afterwards…but I need to know – and he needs to know – that I am in control.
“I’ll show you what bad boys get,” he whispered, unbuckling his belt and sliding it free of his waistband. He folded the leather back on itself to form a loop then cracked Vraxi hard across the face with it.
“They get nothing.” He said calmly, and turned to towards the door. “Put something decent on, Bane, and go home. I will have Fey deal with Keyja.”
He closed the door and leant his back against it for a moment, breathing slow and deep. He couldn’t do anything in this state. He glanced at Ros’s door, but then changed his mind and headed for the bathroom.
Happy Friday my lovelies! Thankyou for still being here and following along with my little miscreants! I hope you have a fabulous weekend! Here’s the next bit of Silk and Steel for you – will Spyro save the day? Well, I think you know our sinister antiques dealer well enough by now to know his ‘kindness’ is a double edged sword at the best of times…
By the time he caught up he was out of breath and Mendicci was just opening the bolted door.
“To what do I owe this flagrant disregard for respectable business hours?” he asked, flashing them his unfathomable smile as he locked the door again behind them.
“I want a new partner.” Xander said quickly.
Spyro raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak…
“No he doesn’t!” Vraxi protested, “He’s merely cross because I went to church!”
Spyro frowned at the interruption, “You went to church?” he asked sceptically, looking the yag up and down.
“The Other Church…” Vraxi corrected.
“It’s not just that, it’s everything, we’re no good, we can’t work together…”
“Yes we can,”
“No we can’t”
“No I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore,”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sush! Enough!” Spyro clapped his hands together and silence fell instantly, Xander glaring and breathing hard and Vraxi wringing his hands and looking confused.
“Bane. Upstairs. Now. Go and clean yourself up. You can borrow some clothes from the stock room.”
“I will be up to speak with you in a moment.”
The antiques dealer raised his eyebrows and Vraxi hung his head and trailed out of the room in a waft of stained silk and roccana smoke.
Xander took a deep breath. “I want a new partner.”
Spyro raised an eyebrow and steepled his finger carefully. “I want a new partner, please, Mr Mendicci.” he corrected.
Xander looked irritated. He flicked down his hood, made a mess of his dark hair and flicked it back up again. “Yeah. Sorry. S’what-I-meant. Er. Please, Mr Mendicci, I want a new partner, it’s not working out.”
“I see.” Spyro looked at him thoughtfully for a while and although Xander stood statue still, eyes front without flinching, he squirmed inwardly under the silent scrutiny. “You have very unusual eyes.” he said at last. “Where were your parents from? Kallimbadd?”
Xander ground his teeth. “Don’t know.” he mumbled, looking at the floor.
“You don’t know? Oh, yes, I remember now; you grew up in the children’s home didn’t you?”
Xander took a deep breath. “Yes, Mr. Mendicci, that’s right.”
“I see. So you have no family here in Ryzym, that you know of?”
Xander shook his head.
“I see, yes, I remember now. Well, here’s the thing Xander; our little… group here, our little posse if you like, is like a family. Now I understand that for some young people like yourself, and Bane, and Edmund, and so on, your experiences of family range from zero to inadequate to… well, we won’t go there… but we, here, are building something better, are we not? A better life, a better future, a better family, Xan, for all of us. I’m going to confide something to you; I used to have a family – very very long ago now – a wife, and two children. Sadly, well,” he spread his hands and smiled that unfathomable smile, “life is cruel sometimes, but here we are, building something better, as I said.”
“But it has to be a team effort, Xan.” Spyro went on, “We all have to work together at it, and we can’t just turn our backs on one member simply because we don’t know how to handle their… problems. Understand? Is that how you think a family should behave? Is that a family you would want to be a part of?”
Xander shook his head.
“No, exactly. Bane would never turn his back on you would he? No. He wouldn’t. And you are not going to turn your back on him. So. There we are. I will have a word with him. Have you had breakfast?”
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street
urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is Chris Allaun. Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, My Dear! May I take your hat and miscellaneous weaponry?
Yes, of course. Where shall I place my broom?
Oh, just over there beside mine in the corner – it’s wonderful to have another magic user visit the kitchen! How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile sugar-
zombies or sky pirates on your way?
Smooth flying. No problem at all. Except for the Wild Hunt that is happening now.
Ah yes, they have often caused a few problems for our vistors flying in. And have you brought along some soup to share with us?
No soup today.
Alas, I dare say The Hunt upset your cauldron! Never mind I have some left over Pumpkin Soup from Halloween which we can heat up instead.
simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat by the fire here and tell me a little about the types of non-fiction that you prefer to write?
I write books on witchcraft, shamanism, and magick. I’m also an energy healer and necromancer so you’ll see a lot of that in my books too.
Oh my! Not another necromancer! We’ve had quite enough of their shenanigans recently! And what is your latest book, would you like to tell us all a little about that?
My new book is Called Otherworld: Ecstatic Witchcraft for the Spirits of the Land. The book is basically my compilation of my many years of experience working with the spirits of the Otherworld. The running theme throughout the book, and all my books, is how to have a relationship with the spirits. In this book, I talk about how to deepen your relationships with Faeries, Elves, Nature Spirits, and Plant Spirits. I also show you Dragon Magick as it was taught to me in Traditional Witchcraft. There aren’t many books about
traditional dragon magick so I thought I’d “bust the seal” and teach people how to work with those energies!
Well, that all sounds wonderful and not at all what I would have expected from a necromancer so perhaps you are not the baby-eating, demon-raising kind of trouble maker I first took you for afterall. Have you brought a copy of the book with you today to show the orphans?
Ah now that’s the kettle boiling, what is your ‘poison’ Dear, and how do you take it?
With Two children please…
I BEG YOUR PARDON!?!
Um…sugar, I meant with two sugars please!
I see… perhaps you’d better just sit back a little children, we don’t want any hot soup splashing on anyone do we? Hmm…. Now, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your own path into non-fiction writing?
Well, I’m a minister for the Fellowship of the Phoenix and I teach a lot of magical and pagan classes. My go-to is working with the ancestors so over the years I’ve compiled a lot of material and so I thought I’d write a book. At the time, there were only a few books written on how to honour the dead and your ancestors. So, I submitted to Mandrake of Oxford and my first book Underworld: Shamanism, Myth, and Magick was published in
That sounds marvellous and is there anything that particularly inspires you when you write?
The spirits. The gods. Ancestors. The Elves and Faeries . All these beings are important to me so I want to share with the world on how to have relationships with them. My goal is to help us all heal the magical cord that connects us to the spirits in all of the shamanic worlds.
Of course we love supporting independent writers, artists and small presses here in Ire; do you have any favourite indie authors who have inspired you or whose work you can recommend?
I’m a big fan of Robin Artisson, Nigel G. Pearson, and Gemma Gary,
Splendid, I will be sure to hunt those out – I am always on the look out for a good fireside read to keep me company while I knit or bake. And where can we find more of your own work?
You can always find me on amazon, but I also have free articles on my website
chrisallaun.com and my YouTube channel Chris Allaun.
For Facebook you can find me at Chris Allaun: Author. Teacher. Healer
Splendid! Ah now that soup smells like it is about ready, would you be so kind as to help me serve it up to the orphans?
Of course! They are delicious…um, I mean the soup is delicious. I’m happy to help!
Um, yes, well, perhaps you had better leave the serving to me – why don’t you sit over there in the corner and put your feet up – well away from the children! (Tsk! Necromancers, they are all the same…)
Thankyou all for joining us in the soup kitchen this morning and until we see you again,
Blessings On Your Brew My Dears!
Eep, so sorry I missed a week last week – things got in a bit of a tiz! XD – hoping you all had a fabulous week and wishing you all a marvellous weekend…
Despite the fact that his unconscious charge was as light as a feather, it still took a good thirty minutes to dodge and weave his way through the backstreets and gunnels from the cinders to bridge street, trying to avoid the main streets where every drunk and his mother thought them a fine sight to test their dubious wit against.
The apothecary shook her head in disgust when he explained the situation. “Other Church!” she spat; and crossed herself forwards and backwards and washed her hands in a bowl of salt water on he counter. “Bring him though, put him on the couch.”
She took a handfull of black charcoal from a barrel and added it to a pestle and mortar with more salt solution then lifted the yag’s lids and peered into his eyes. “Blood and Demonsong.” she said, matter of factly. “For the blood, he drinks this. For the Demonsong…” she shrugged “…listening to that affects everyone differently. Some get their wits back, some don’t. You’ve seen the street preachers?”
“Well…was it his first time?”
“I… I think so…”
She heaved herself upright again and handed Xander the mortar and a metal pail. “For when he brings the blood up.” she explained, and left them to it.
“Here, sit up, you’ve got to drink this” Xander said, trying to coax his friend into a sitting position.
Vraxi cradled his head in his hands. “Owwwww… and also very much ouch…some blackguard slugged me, Xan…”
“No one slugged you. I strategically and harmlessly incapacitated you for your own good. And I already apologised. If your head’s hurting it’s what you’ve done to it, not me. Here, drink this.”
“What the hell-spawned poison is that?”
“A better kind than you’ve had so far, do you want me to hold your nose and make you choke it down?”
The yag waved a hand, and took the mortar, gulping the thick black soup down in one and pulling a face.
“Uck. What the hell good is that supposed to d…. mphwmmmmph…
Xander quickly shoved his head between his knees over the bucket and held his hair back from his face as an evening’s worth of blood, coffee, kvass and tsujka vacated the yag’s stomach along with the charcoal mixture.
They sat like that for about an hour. Xander saying nothing while his friend continued to bring up bile and black grit in sporadic outbursts of choking fits and curses.
Xander shook his head. He had absolutely no point of reference for this kind of… what was it? Self indulgence? Self destruction? … mind altering substances had not been permitted in the armed forces (other than those administered forcibly in the name of government aproved military strategy ) and since the end of the world and his escape from that life he had never dared do anything that might give the demon a chance at taking control of his conciousness. Of course he drank kvass, there was little else in a city where the river was blood and the only rain that fell was brimstone, but he knew exactly what his limits were and he never, ever, over stepped them. The fact that his friend seemed to constantly need to push the boundaries of his own ability to escape reality was something he found utterly incomprehensible.
This has to stop, he told himself furiously. What is the point in me going to all this effort trying to keep him safe from what’s inside me when I can’t even keep him safe from himself? I can’t keep doing this. I can’t. We’re just both too broken to do anything but…bloody destroy eachother.
“Urg. I’m empty. Anymore and I’ll be bringing up hellfire. Which won’t be pretty, I assure you. Voice of experience speaking.” He wiped his mouth and his dressing gown sleeve, flopped backwards onto the couch and laughed out loud. “Woooo-hooo! Church! Ha! I think I’ve re-discovered my Loca!”
“You are Loca!” Xander growled. “Life isn’t one long party, you could have lost your mind back there! Or worse!”
“Oh, pah!” the yag struggled to his feet and fished about for his pipe, lit it and took a long drag. “This isn’t life Xander, it’s death… or undeath…or some such thing; what have I got to lose?”
“Well you’ve lost me!” Xander spat, pushing the yag aside and heading for the door. “If you can’t give a damn about yourself, then why the hell should I?”
“All done in here?” The apothecary asked, peering through the beaded curtain.
“Yeah. We’re done.” Xander said, glaring at the yag.
He pulled a money pouch from inside his shirt but the woman waved it away.
“No charge.” she said and then turned to the yag and added, “but I don’t expect to see you again, savvy?”
“Much obliged, and utterly understood,” Vraxi said, placing his hands together and giving a little bow.
“Get out with all that crap.” the apothecary snapped, shooing them out of the shop and clanging the door shut behind them.
“Oh good morning! Isn’t it?” Vraxi sang cheerfully to a passing couple who eyed them both with disgust and a smidge of trepidation. He waved as they hurried off down the street and then looked about him for Xander who was already stalking off towards the kadasa.
“Home is this way!” he called, pointing to a side street as he sprinted to catch up.
“Not going home. I told you. I’m done with this. Gonna ask Mendicci to pair me with someone else. Now.”
“What? Xander no, you are not serious?” the yag grinned and tried to put a hand on his arm but Xander pulled away and continued his march.
Vraxi bit his lip and wrung his hands as he considered what to do. This was no good at all. It would scupper everything. And he was so, so close to making all the pieces of his plan fall into place.
“Look, I apologise, I’m deeply sorry, it will never happen again…”
“You said that the last time, with the honey…”
“But that was different!”
“And the time before that, at the dockers’ union… of which you’re not even a bloody member!”
“But that was different too!”
“And I’ve lost count of all the other ‘last times’ I have had to pull your unconscious arse out of some sort of trouble that could easily have been avoided if you weren’t such a greedy, thoughtless, hedonistic, egotistical little prick!”
They both stopped in the centre of the bridge. Xander glaring furiously and breathing hard. Vraxi looking distraught.
“I’m sorry?” he tried. “Look, please, please, believe me Xander this time was different and it won’t ever, ever happen again…”
The yag looked confused.
“How is it different? Why is it different?”
“I… I can’t tell you that… just yet… I will, eventually, I promise but…oh no Xander don’t go please I’m in earnest…” he added as Xander snorted with disgust and headed off again towards the antiques shop.
Vraxi tucked his pipe between his teeth, hitched up the long train of his silk dressing gown and sped after him.
Happy fireworks weekend! I hope you’re managing to enjoy the festive spook-sparkle-tasticness of the autumnish season despite being locked down and wot not. If I didn’t lose everyone with the last nose dive into insanity then we now flip to Xander for the next bit…
Xander could smell the smoke as he opened the front door of the run down tenement building they called home.
He took the stairs two at a time, the thickening miasma fuelling his worst fears as he neared his own door.
The hallway seemed to lengthen, the adrenaline more than the distance sapping his strength.
Finally after seconds that seemed like hours he flung open the door of their room, splintering the feeble frame to shards without even bothering with the handle.
The entire place was filled with flames.
Hundreds of candles covered the floor, and every other available space in the tiny dorm.
Xander cast about him frantically for a second before realising that his friend was perfectly safe – albeit by some strange miracle – weaving and swaying unsteadily around the room and humming to himself while the smokey haze was coming from burning incense cones and not from anything that was actually on fire.
“IDIOT!” Xander screamed, seizing Vraxi by the shoulders and throwing him onto the bed. He quickly snatched the boa which had begun to singe and stamped it out before turning his attention to the candles and snuffing as many as he could at a time.
He doused the inscense cones with wet fingers and opened the window.
Vraxi laughed and rolled off the bed. “Xaaaaaan. Always sooooo dramatic!” he crooned, stumbling over the long silk dressing gown he was wearing over his clothes. “I don’t need to worry about the flames, the candles won’t burn me Xan, they love me, I’m their mouthpiece…their voice in the darkness of a world made all of dust!” He spread his arms up to the ceiling and started swaying about again as if dancing to a music that only he could hear.
“What crap are you spouting now?” Xander muttered, more to himself as he continued to snuff out the flames and clear some of the floor space. “Where have you been?” he growled, darting forwards to catch the yag as he careered to the side and almost out of the open window. “What the hell have you taken this time? Honey again?”
“Pff! Tish and pish to honey…Honey,” Vraxi giggled, trying to put his arms around Xanders neck.
“No. Stop it. Look, don’t do that.” Xander grabbed his wrists and disentagled himself.
“Urg. You are no fun at all Xaaaaan. No fun at all,” Vraxi sighed, sinking dejectedly to the floor in a puddle of lavender coloured silk. “Always soooooo up tight!” He grinned mischievously up through his long strands of untidy black and henna hair. “Ooooh, I know what will help you unwiiiiind!”
He pushed himself back to his feet and tried to reach for Xander’s belt buckle. “Don’t you want to unwind Xaaan?” he smirked, almost tripping over the dressing gown again.
Xander caught him by the elbows “Look. Stop this. Now.” He said sternly, feeling panicked and horrified and completely unsure what to do. “I don’t want… I mean I can’t… ok? I can’t… a…and I wouldn’t anyway… I would never, never take ad…”
“Never?” Vraxi frowned and stepped back a pace, feeling unsteady and confused.
“No! Of course not! What sort of a…”
“Oh.” The mischievous swirls of flame died instantly, leaving dark vacant pools. He smiled ruefully and shut his eyes; of course Xander would never want him that way, he could barely stand his company when they had to work together. He could see the disgust and revulsion in his eyes just contemplating it. Never mind. Nevermindnevermindnevermind….now where was he, getting distracted, candles…. and the music…the beautiful music that sang to his soul… he let it flood in again and eclipse that horrible yarn ball of feelings that felt like a lead weight in his chest.
Xander watched his friend slipping away from reality again as he raised his arms to the ceiling and started humming. Damn it. He hadn’t meant… well he had meant everything he’d said…it just hadn’t come out right. Stone the crows, the yag looked like a malnourished twelve year old who had been at his mother’s liquor cabinet and decided to play dress up with her wardrobe… what kind of a monster would take advantage of someone in that state?
He balled his fists as he thought of everything his friend must have been through in his lifetime before the end of the world. Eighteen years of a hell he had never spoken about, but he didn’t have to. Xander could imagine, and it made him sick to his stomach. So much so that some days he couldn’t even look him in the eye for fear the demon might burst out and annihilate the entire city on his behalf.
And he’d hurt him. Again. His clumsy words not conveying what he wanted to say, as usual… “Woah! Stop that! What the hell are you doing?” He snatched the matches away just in time to stop the curtains going up in smoke.
“Candles want it to be brighter…” Vraxi murmured, his eyes not really focussing on anything but the few flames still flickering on the mantlepiece.
“That’s the honey talking,” Xander snapped, putting the matches in his pocket for safe keeping.
“I’ve had nothing to do with any honey I’ll have you know.” Vraxi sneered, his eyes rolling as the ceiling flipped places with the floor and then back again. “Only the very purest sacraments have passed these lips tonight…”
Xander pulled a face.
“Shh! Blood…” he whispered.
“You drank blood?”
“Mm, blood from the red river…at the other church…”
“You went to church? That’s it, I’m… I’m calling the doctor…”
“He won’t come…”
“Damn it, you’re right, well I’m taking you to Bartzack then. What the hell were you thinking?”
“Bartzack is off his feet. Anyway, does it matter? My body remembers now…what happened…and why…we are not real, did you know that? We are nothing at all…just the memories of dust as it tries to rebuild what once was, re-enact what went before… but the clocks know, Xan, the clocks know the dust has got it wrong…this isn’t even how it happened but that doesn’t matter because look…look out there…the sun is dying and when its light is gone, who will we turn to to light our dark world? Hm? Not the dust, oh no!”
He gestured around the floor, “That is why we need the candles. Candles understand this, candles are ready to step forward and shine in place of our dying star… but we must keep them safe…they are so few and so fragile…”
He closed his eyes and began humming again.
“You’ve lost your mind. Candles? Clocks? Dust? Stone the crows what have you done to yourself?”
“I have sold my soul to the priestess of the evrlasting flame…” he sang, still dancing to the music only he could hear. “…in exchange for a twist of fate…”
Xander ran a hand over his face, uncertain what to do. There was an all night apothecary on bridge street but carrying this manic street preacher through the spires was not going to be a picnic. He took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to apologise for this now…”
“Hm? Apologise for what?”
Greetings! Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is David Lee Summers and I spin tales of possible pasts, presents, and futures. Some may delight. Some may make you pine for days yet to come. Some may send you underneath your covers awaiting the light of day.
I hear that strange times have struck the Isles of Ire. I’ve been told Flesh-eating Liver Birds circle the skies looking for hapless victims while Sugar-Zombies roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague. What is this world coming to?
So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with Professor Edison’s marvellous lightning gun. I hear it has proven effective against everything from vampires to those war wagons they have out in America’s Wild West so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay
as long as I can aim while wearing these dark goggles at night.
Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all. Many here in Lancaster know me as the creator of the Clockwork Legion series of novels. These four novels – Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, The Brazen Shark, and Owl Riders – tell the tale of Sheriff Ramon
Morales and the love of his life, Fatemeh Karimi, as they travel through America’s Wild West and beyond encountering outlaws, mad scientists, and even an alien from the most distant corner of the most distant corner of the universe. They stopped Russia’s invasion of the United States, kept
outlaws from getting their disreputable hands on the lightning gun, one very similar to the one I’m carrying, I might add, and then kept Russia and Japan from going to war – on their honeymoon no less.
If these dark nights put you more in the mood for tales of creatures who roam the night, then you’re in luck. I have just finished new, revised editions of my Scarlet Order vampire novels. Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires tells how a vampire born to darkness in Arthurian Britain formed a band of vampire mercenaries. Why, I hear the Scarlet Order may be roaming the streets this very night keeping us safe.
Vampires keep us safe? I hear you scoff, but I hear tell these
vampires are good stewards and know that letting humans perish would end their food supply. Still, I do want them to keep their pointy little teeth to themselves. I like my neck in one piece. Makes me glad for this here lightning gun.
Their story continues in Vampires of the Scarlet Order where we
learn there are scarier things than vampires in the dark of night.
If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them here. The links will take you to a page where may read a sample chapter and find links to your favourite retailers:
The Clockwork Legion Novels:
Owl Dance: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html
Lightning Wolves: http://davidleesummers.com/lightning_wolves.html
The Brazen Shark: http://davidleesummers.com/brazen_shark.html
Owl Riders: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html
The Scarlet Order Vampire Novels:
Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html
Vampires of the Scarlet Order: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html
If you’d like to connect you can find me here:
Well thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. My goodness, is that a sugar zombie over there? Let me set the controls on the lightning gun. Blast, but my hands are trembling too much.
Wait! Someone has tackled the sugar zombie. He’s biting its
neck. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think that’s the Vampire known as Roquelaure. He is a handsome devil isn’t he? Look at him run. I think he has a sugar rush.
Well thank goodness my shift is over. I’m glad I didn’t have to face one of those Liver Birds. The thought of them gives me shivers. Well, I must be off the streets before Roquelaure comes back looking for a more substantial meal and I advise you to do the same!
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own.
Happy Halloween weekend! And full moon as well – woop! I hope you all have splendid plans despite the lockdown putting a bit of a damper on things! xx
Content warning – this post contains stolen words, phrases and philosophies pilfered from the pockets of well respected writers and thinkers and mercilessly mutilated out of recognition. It also contains a hidden lost poem by James Joyce and probably a lot of nonsense… I have no idea if it makes sense but hopefully you will enjoy it anyway as Vraxi enjoys his first taste of Church…
Deep into the rusky-dusky neon dusty where high cathexis reigned.
The petrichor struck him first – attar half-dreamed backwards. Lives overlapping. Tang. Saline and sour – the hot liquor that runs its corniche passage out to the ethereal sea – damned spot – Spyro may have teased him many times for the fiction he enjoyed but. He had read other things. He did have a library card after all.
Now. The primal scream of body fluids calling across the womb-world he was stepping into snatched at his senses; transcending the ineluctable modality of the visible until it brine-bleached him out and washed him up. viii
A husk. Longfellow’s wretched wreck.
Blood-boiling-sea-spewed and spineless and ready to receive the sacrament : The sound. The Demonsong that plunged unrelenting talons into intercostal space and tore.
With ferocious delight the fabric of assumed reality.
Result? Strange gibbosity of chroma. Not the art of oracular contemplation – not thinking through the eyes – not thinking at all for his ears now perceived the waves of colour before his blundering matter grasped for purchase on a description.ix
Even then. All there was to grasp at was the tincture – vanished or obliterated the form. The form has left the building. Thankyou and goodnight. And jolly good luck. Like the long snot-green sari wraps of kelp which drag the mariner down or lash the frozen maiden from her grotesque vigil at the prow.x
The myriad layers which enabled sight were filtered now through the portals of his auditory lens…and so-spinning not transmuted but perceived with something like a third eye.
Eyes shut tight.
Looking in and seeing out.
Lives and worlds overlapping.
Hearing backwards and seeing scents.
Each cast then became. Not a component of some puzzle to be assembled into karoo, egg, brake, hominid, demitasse or walrus.xi Coo-coo-Ka-chooxii. But symbols to be read and understood.
Sigils of power; their purest essence now revealed in perfect, sacred, sublime simplicity.
Here was rust and silverbluexiii
and here was violet Caran d’Ache and violet and very light blue
deep space sparkle
electric lime xiv
And now here. He perceived himself; manifesting his resonance, and his companions – himself and all of them – grey in their unripe and pitted youth.
And now. Here. Here she came. A Goldmother, sweet like honey in the veins; bearing lightly that radiant maternal sheen of stars… her twin pronged crescent crown rising through the dark.
Chi-chi was demanding they seek council from the very capable somebody or other and it was explained, then, that Chi Chi was a Priest Of Dust and ever opposed to the ‘pestilent, boiling light’ of candles who would one day inherit the earth and bring about its destruction.
Everyone ignored him.
Everyone was a lost sheep who had found his own gibbosity to give a sermon from.
Gathering followers like a carcass gets flies.
Matti was talking seriously about the pinpricks of light at his feet. The pinnacles of grass blades. Bubble universes. Synchronicity. Feeling the feathers tickle his flesh through his boots.
And Klauda was weeping like Mary The Mare or Sara with nothing but her cloak to save the sinking vessel carrying all the Hope in the world…
crying the blades were steel and had stripped his flesh to ribbons. Rivers of boiling blood and not a rock to run to.xxi Crying “As the soil is that brought forth these, so the heart of this city – the heart of Man.”
Vraxi could see none of it. Not the grass. Not the blades. Not the rivers of boiling light and blood.
He saw the diaphanous haze, like a scrying screen, reflecting each object’s inner truth – each sigil-self, each signature of dust, imprint, riddle. Secret name… each code for adding up the dots of every chunk of matter… each idea, building on the other until he felt himself ‘The Master Of Those Who Know’xxiii and the truth of all the world prostrated itself before him like a red carpet as the diaphane slid, its limits shifting like the dust, or his consciousness, or the sand of a strip of lonely strand.
And there was the Goldmother. Coming towards him – sung by demons into bright and resonant form.
“Touch me?” He whispered. “Touch me that I might know I am real, and you are real?”
But the Goldmother laughed and shook her head. Her wax face began to melt. “None of us is real.” she whispered back. “We are just the memories of dust – and a poor memory it has indeed. But it matters not. Come through. There is still work that we can do, and the fates need us. Candles have seen your light. Candles have chosen you because you burn like them. Come and join us in the cult of candles.”
Nacheinander, nacheinander, as if to wake the clocks and remind them of their duty, he went with her; pious as a Jesuit scholar, trusting in the ineluctable modality of the audible – the song of demons and the voice of the wax melting Goldmother, the priestess of candles, one foot after the other, nebeneinander; side by side, through spaces occupied by the signatures of so many souls all merging into clouds of diaphanous coloured dust – one becomes the other – sound becomes vision, scent becomes sound, space becomes time, and still the clocks sleep on and the dust in its frustration and powerlessness pines for company and tries to remake the world with the petulance of a little Nag Hammadi not-god – so many stories – now nothing but shadows on the cave wall…
And now here it was.
Wrought by the Demiurge no doubt; a last stand against this journey into eternity.
Strands of times and spaces. All woven into one. One. And not-One. In the End.
As if in confirmation – the image of a raven.
Carved into the stone.
And Goldmother struck it with her rowan staff, that grew into a persimmon tree and rooted itself to the ground.
She pressed the fruit into his palm and he opened it. Five fingers in.xxvi
Found in his hands a necklace of shells
To place around her neck. Something he had crafted as a child and now forgotten – lucky silver, saved up under boards / secret safe between himself and the accumulated attic dust.
Lucky silver to keep her safe on those dark nights, walking home in her honey-sweet dreams. She had two nights off a week to do as she pleased and always he was afraid he would never see her again.
Silver bells and cockle shells – he’d heard the street birds singing of His delight.
“Is this the way to Deasyville, four score and ten , pray go up and pray go down and widdershins ye turn around, a jump to the left, a step to the right and ye’ll be there by candlelight, the triptogram the hare goes down, is this the way to Mulligan’s Town? Widdershins ye turn around and wade up to yer knee. For all the blood in all the world runs through the veins of that country.”
And the Church men.
The Old Church men.
Processed the goddess of life on their shoulders, where no woman or unclean thing was permitted to step.
On their shoulders into the sea.
White horses a-gallop in the spray.
Silverblue were her eyes as the fairy-flax, her cheeks like the dawn of day.
And it seemed a hundred lifetimes ago, and only yesterday.
“Close your eyes now.” she whispered.
He felt they had been closed eternally.
Only now beginning to open.
“Three, four, knock on the door, five the gate and six too late…”
And he reached into the warm fissure of his memories, of the memory of her memory, through the shadow-mimes on their rock-wrought canvas stage, hearing in his bones, the children singing on the strand below the gibbosity of his own firm plateaux.
For a gasp
For half a heart beat he was afraid to wake, lest the world be gone away, as so it seemed.
Open your eyes now, do, no cliff-top plummet down for you, no slughorn knell.
You are through. The victory of the adiaphane is not redeemed.
And there. Opening eyes. The world is returned. No black adiaphane of eternal nothingness but light!
Candles in their multitudes. Their stuttering a catalectic tetrameter of iambsxxxi – goo goo g’joob – pulsing back the diaphane, revealing the signature of everything.
And there she stood, his own goo goo goosth goldmother, mountain of femininity, Astarte in crystalline relief.
“I… I… I need four vials of demonsong.” he blurted. Anchored to that thought. Tears streaming down. On his knees before his Not-mother Mother : all Gold and Horned and Radiant perfection and melting before his eyes.
“I need four vials of demonsong, or… or else they’re going to kill me… the Colonel will, certainly, and when Ros and Spyro find out, perhaps they will too…and Keyja… Keyja has sworn that she will turn me inside out and…”
“Serve the light.” she whispered. “Serve the bleeding river and the boiling sea, serve the dust and the rock-mothers, serve the candles and the memory of me. Soon the dying sun will bring all things to an end – even eternity.”
Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster. My name is Karen J Carlisle, and I’m a writer and illustrator of Victorian mysteries, steampunk and fantasy.
Strange times have struck the Isles of Ire – Flesh eating Liver Birds plague the skies and Sugar-Zombies roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague…
So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with my re-enforced steel-armoured corset, night-stalker goggles, and sharpened nib pen (for the pen is mightier than the sword, they say), so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay.
Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all…
2020 began as usual, researching for my current work-in-progress, the second book in The Aunt Enid Mysteries (set in 1920) for a throw-away comment about the ‘Great Picnic’, a euphemism used for the quarantine tent city at the Jubilee Oval, Adelaide, South Australia in 1919. After reading accounts of mental health issues related to the epidemic and its aftereffects, I was moved to write ‘Spanish Flu’. The lyrics were originally written in February, 2020.
Little did I know we were destined to experience such times ourselves.
You’d think writers would love enforced lockdown? More time to write. Quite the contrary. Many of us have been overwhelmed, just when the world needs words of hope.
So I lit my watchtower beacon:
When times are dark, fiction can whisk us away to other worlds to find new friends and have fantastical adventures. Quarantine Reads: Escape to Adventure was released in April, and is a collection of short stories of a lighter note, to inspire and transport you beyond four walls. The fantasy, steampunk and fairy tale fiction was created to entertain those in isolation or quarantine, or anyone needing to escape the worries of the world for a while.
But I can only keep those flesh eating Liver Birds and Sugar-Zombies at bay for so long, for they know their time is at hand. Join me to hunt them down in my Halloween-read offering: Another Twist of the Nib: short tales with a darker twist. Here be ghosts, vampires, apocalypse, and humans with nefarious intent. Help me bring their stories into the light, so we can diminish their power.
If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them here:
Spanish Flu – original (steampunk) music – https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/song-spanish-flu/ )
Quarantine Reads: Escape to Adventure – https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/quarantine-reads/
Another Twist of the Nib: short tales with a darker twist – https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/another-twist-of-the-nib/
For more info on A Fey Tale: https://karenjcarlisle.com/books/aunt-enid-mysteries/ and paperback pre-orders (Australia): https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/a-fey-tale-pre-order/
If you’d like to connect you can find me here:
Thankyou for joining me to keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night. Thank goodness it was a quiet one! I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by those Liver Birds and there was tell last week of an artist who fell foul to a horde of sugar zombies and is now best avoided… although his artwork apparently is better than ever–
Shh, did you hear that? I’ll just take a quick peek…
There it is again. Did you hear a scraping sound? What was that in the shadows?
Quick, light the torch!
Phew, that was close.
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….
Hugest apologies for not posting last week! Our internet dies and even now we have had the engineers out it is still being unpredictable – apparently the old phone line is to blame but I suspect it is the dirt cheap internet as well, lol. Ah well, beggars can’t be choosers as they say! XD I hope you all had a wonderful week and that your weekend is filled with fun and festiveness as we head towards the spectacular spooky season! 😀 I’ll leave you with Vraxi again as he continues his quest to find some demonsong…
There were two churches in Ryzym.
Vraxi stepped out of the tin bath, cranked up the phonograph, draped a feather boa around his shoulders and shimmied around the room, rolling his shoulders a few times as if he was psyching up for a bizarre fancy-dress boxing match.
The first church was the one everyone new about and most people attended. Still. Even though the gods and goddesses had made it abundantly clear they wanted nothing more to do with the world or anything in it.
He hummed to himself and swayed his hips as he fished studiously through his meagre but utterly fabulous wardrobe and selected his very most beautiful shirt and a pair of stunningly iridescent moth-scale leather trousers.
Then there was the Other Church. The one nobody had ever heard of and absolutely nobody went to at all ever.
And yet some people must surely go – because it was definitely a real thing. A thing which caused neighbours to eye eachother sideways and wonder…
Vraxi did not go to either church.
Due to the ‘circumstances of his birth’ he had not even been permitted to set foot in the graveyard to put flowers on the paupers’ mound for his mother.
But he had made a great many ‘deliveries’ to the Other Church on Spyro’s behalf and so he knew exactly how to get there.
The first trick was to find a street preacher. The Other Church didn’t have a building of its own and so it moved around, holding services in a different setting each night – perhaps a disused warehouse or abandoned town house, perhaps a welcoming tenement building or the cellar of a sympathetic tavern. This had the benefit of making it almost impossible for any one to find out where the next service was going to be. But for those ‘in the know’ it was a very simple matter.
“You look down, brother,” the street preacher said, after Vraxi had spent a good few minutes loitering around his turf, listening intently to his rabid ramblings about fate, the philosophical musings of dust, the wrath of candles and various omens which indicated the indisputable omnipotence of clocks.
The yag heaved a heavy sigh. “More morose, really.” he said, emphasising what he knew was today’s password, based on the preacher’s leading remark.
“Morose? Oh dear, dear me, we can’t have that. No no no, we certainly can’t have that at all.” The preacher shook his head and stroked his long, braided beard. He laid a hand on Vraxi’s shoulder. “If I were you, brother, I would seek solace in the Rusalka’s Arms,” he whispered, leaning in close with a theatrical wink. “I promise you it will sooth your soul.”
“Many thanks, wise one.” Vraxi said, placing his hands together and offering a little bow of respect as he he backed away.
The preacher nodded and turned back to his rant and Vraxi spun on his heel and strolled off in the direction of the Rusalka’s Arms.
He knew where it was; off a quaint little cobbled backstreet in The Spires. He had made deliveries to the back door many times but had never been inside and, despite his anxiety about how his first foray into the realm of religious fanaticism might go, he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of excitement.
Inside, the place was frantic. Poets, artists, writers and radicals sat alone or in small groups, sketching, scribbling, smoking and bantering belief systems with eachother. It was a curiously pleasant and invigorating atmosphere and Vraxi wondered if if he ought not to just linger a while and enjoy it. He had no idea how things worked from this point on – would it be obvious where he should go to attend the service, or would he have to ask?
“Hoi! You! You in the shirt!”
Vraxi looked about him. Lots of people were wearing shirts.
“You! Hoi! You in the shirt and the boa!”
Ah, that was more to go on. Vraxi gave another glance around the bar, he did seem to be the only one sporting such an accessory and he took a second to congratulate himself on outshining even the most pious devotees in the city.
“Me?” he mouthed uncertainly, pointing to himself.
“Yes! You. You’re from Pav’shma, am I right?” The young man rose and crossed the room as he spoke, ending his sentence at the bar beside the yag. “I’ve two bonecoin riding on it” he whispered. “Be a sport about it and I’ll split it with you?”
Vraxi grinned hugely. “The trousers are from Pav’shma, if that helps?” he smirked, “So tell your friends I’m half pav’shmian and neither of us has spun them a yarn?”
The young man laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Come tell them yourself, join us for the evening, do – we have a thirst for the exotic and you outdo all our feeble aspirations.” He ordered a round of coffees and shots from the bar. “I’m Mateo – Matti if you like – my friends there are Klauda and Vitchiento – we call him chi-chi because he hates it.”
Vraxi laughed, nodded his thanks and gave a hand transporting the drinks to a table at the back of the tap. Of course he really ought to be getting on with his plan but a true gentleman, he told himself, as he settled comfortably into a chair beside his new friends, should never turn down an invitation – and Vraxanthrin Bane should never be accused of not being a true gentleman.
They talked Pav’shma’s silk road, Ryzymian politics, the rising unpopularity of the duke and the push to legalise roccana as a medicinal substance, then they talked philosophy and art and ancient literary symbolism and Vraxi quite surprised himself with the breadth and fervour of his own opinions on subjects he had barely even contemplated before.
“They’re preparing the sacrament,” Chi Chi observed, nodding to where rows of pewter tumblers were being lined up along the bar.
Matti turned to Vraxi with a wry smile. “Are you seeking solace for your soul tonight?” he asked.
“Oh, I certainly am,” Vraxi grinned; feeling glad at the prospect of spending longer in such pleasant company.
“Is it your first time?” Klauda asked, her voice dripping innuendo like honey from a needle’s tip.
“At church.” Vraxi smirked back, just to be clear.
Matti laughed, “Then we’d better take care of you, hadn’t we?” he said, taking Vraxi’s hand and leading him back to the bar. “Here,” he handed Vraxi one of the pewter tumblers, passed two to the others and took one for himself. A dark red liquid sat like treacle inside.
“Drink and remember,” he said, giving the yag a reassuring smile.
“Drink and remember” the others chorused, and they knocked their tumblers together and downed them in unison, Vraxi following suit.
It was sweet and sour and metallic and almost too sticky and stringy to gulp down. Vraxi’s eyes watered as he swallowed repeatedly to free his throat of the last of it. “What is it?” he asked hoarsely, shaking his head to clear his vision, but it didn’t clear. Instead the world around him seemed to be melting like candle wax; all colour a veneer that had been washed over a grey, grainy substrate… “What..?”
“You’re seeing things the way they really are, brother,” Matti said, laying an oddly insubstantial hand on his shoulder. “You’ve drunk blood, from the red river, and now your body remembers the flesh it used to be, what this world used to be, and your mind can’t trick it anymore… see? It’s nothing but dust! All of us, look, we’re just dust!” He laughed and looked into Vraxi’s face and the yag’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“You’re… you’re made of dust…” he whispered, marvelling at the tiny glittering grey grains that now seemed to compose everyone and everything around him. Even his own hands when he looked at them were the same.
“That’s right, come on, let’s go down to the service.”
Matti took his hand again and they went through to the back of the bar, down a flight of stairs and into the cellar.
Into the cellar?
They might as well have stepped into another world.
“Remember why you are here, Vraxanthrin.” he told himself sternly as layers of sound and light and motion washed over him in waves of ecstasy. “Somewhere in this place there is demonsong – lots of it – and you must not leave without at least four bottles of the stuff or this whole insanity-laden evening will have been for naught.”
Ahoi! Hope your weekend is treating you fabulously!
Here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here
It’s been ages since I posted from J&M so to recap – Jack and Marjory have been hired by the revolutionary leader, Max, to retrieve a stolen priceless tea set. They failed and Max is now going to get hung. The tea set is in the hands of a group of beatnik poets but J&M have a plan to steal it back. All they need now is a buyer… enter Montmorency, the disturbingly animate scarecrow…
“Kitty’s closed The Angel? Why?”
He stopped rummaging in his desk drawer and stared at us. “Why? Why? You dozy clot, where’ve you been the last couple of days? Planet mars?”
His eyes narrowed, “Whatcher bin doin there then?”
Jack and Marjory
Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless historical teaset before the owner finds himself at the gallows.
Wishing you all an utterly fabulous autumnal weekend and don’t forget to visit the offical fb group and see all the other Rainbow Snippets as well
Happy Friday! I hope you’re all well and good and enjoying the spooky season 😀
In this next bit we go back a smidge and find out what Vraxi has been up to while Spyro and co have been having fun and games in The Cross Keys… (I’ve put two bits together here because the second one is so very short 🙂 )
“You killed my brother.”
Vraxi had nothing to reproach himself for here. He had done exactly as Spyro had told him, dropped off the money to Bartzak’s mother in law and given her the message verbatim.
And then, having been given no further instructions, to his recollection, he decided to attend to some rather pressing business of his own.
Agathri had been disappointingly clear that the demonsong was a loan, that it would need to be returned before the Colonel missed it and that under no circumstances was she going to cover for him on that front.
Four bottles he had, and at least two of them (possibly all four) he was going to have to use in his plot to free Xander and his demon from eachother. Ideally he needed four replacement bottles to sneak back to Agathri and there was only one place he could possibly hope to obtain such treasures without actually having to pay for them. It was a favour he had hoped he would never actually have to call in…
“You murdered my brother.” the Sapani woman said again, her reptilian heritage flaring to the surface of her skin and eyes as she glared at him from across the table where they sat in the back room of The Valkyrie’s Nest.
There was a reason Vraxi had chosen the scarlet Hunter’s shirt that morning, and for once it had almost nothing to do with looking fabulous. Only skyship crews were permitted to drink in The Valkyrie’s Nest and the person he needed to talk to -Kejyaana Valstrom – was a Skyship Captain, of sorts.
He could, of course, have dressed as one of the many unobtrusive deck-swabs… but where would have been the fun in that?
“I prefer to reflect on that tragic incident as your brother having fallen foul of the fickle whims of fate, Kejya.” he said, laying his delicate fingers upon his chest and bowing his head slightly in a regretful manner.
“You cut him out of existence with your soul-blade,” Keyja hissed, balling her great tattooed fists upon the table.
“I prefer to consider the matter as a chain reaction, with myself at one end and Markov, unfortunately, at the other.” He waved a hand dismissively. “And at any rate the blade was not mine, it was on a loan so…”
“So… you are not responsible?”
“If you like.”
“I don’t like, Yag. I don’t like none of it and I like your presence here now even less.”
Vraxi shrugged helplessly, “then the sensible plan would be to appease me as swiftly as possible and be rid of me, would it not?”
“Or to slit your throat mayhap?” the captain snarled, but she made no move to do so.
“If you like.” the yag repeated, shrugging as if it mattered little. “No doubt that would make an interesting story for the ears of Mendicci. I expect it would make no sense to him at all, seeing as you were the one to tip us off that your brother had gone rogue.”
“My brother was loyal to Mendicci until the day he died.” Keyja spat.
“Strange then that he was taking a cut of Roccana for himself before mixing the rest with brick dust and passing it on to Silk and Steel as pure.” the yag said with a shrug. “Either way, if you kill me now Keyja, I am certain Mendicci would smell a rat and come hunting for it, aren’t you? And we both know what he would find, don’t we?”
Kejya slammed her fist on the table, rattling the tankards of kvass, “I never asked you to cover my back, you little street rat.”
“Oh, I know. And I hadn’t intended to, believe me – Mendicci wanted every one of your double-crossing crew dead from the top to the bottom but,” he took a long draft of his drink and grinned impishly at her when he set it down again, “it is as I always say – why should I stick to one plan, when another would suit me better? And it struck me in the heat of the moment that it might suit me better for you to stay alive. That is all.” He added an impudent wink to the grin and for a second wondered if he had pushed the captain too far as she looked ready to leap across the table and throttle him.
But instead she glanced around at the shadowed eaves above them; for who knew where Mendicci’s little army of urchin spies might be lurking? She steadied her nerve and took a swig of her own drink, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. “Where did you get the shirt?”
The yag grinned broadly, “Does it suit me?” he asked – genuinely interested in the answer.
“Yes and no. So. What do you want?”
“Four vials of demonsong, please.”
Keyja laughed out loud and took another drink. “Who have you been crib-crackin,’ the duke? You couldn’t afford one, never mind four.”
Vraxi smiled pleasantly and sipped his own drink a little. “Oh I don’t intend to pay for them.” he said, his eyes twinkling with tiny sparks of flame. “You are going to get them for me, Keyj – or I will suddenly realise that I was misinformed and that you were, not only involved in your brother’s cream-skimming operation, but are still carrying it on, in his memory.”
“You wouldn’t dare…”
“Oh I, so would!” he grinned, his eyes dancing with flames of mischievous delight as he watched the hulking smuggler captain wrestling with the urge to rip him limb from limb.
“This shipment’s all counted for,” she said at last, “you’ll have to wait.”
“Pff, crates get dropped all the time!” he scoffed with a nonchalant flick of his hand.
But at this Keyja shook her head and smiled. “It’s not that simple. Leave it with me, Yag, I’ll send you word when I’ve got it but it’ll be a while yet.” She drained her tankard and stood up.
Vraxi frowned, “How long? I need it soon – time is of the essence…”
“Is it?” Keyja raised an eyebrow and smirked at him, “well then mayhap it’s in my interests to wait and see how that plays out for you? Huh?” She laughed nastily and headed for the door. “I’ll send word when I’ve got them. Hope you keep yourself safe in the meantime…”
Vraxi frowned and poured himself another drink from the jug. He toyed with his tankard a while as he turned over what he might do next. This was not playing out the way he had hoped. But he couldn’t see another option.
A knock at the door snapped him out of his thoughts and the barman, who looked far too pretty a rose to be wasted in a dive like this, Vraxi thought sadly, stuck his head round the door.
“Sorry, was wonderin’ if you’d done in here and wanting the, er, you know, the jug ‘n’ that cleared away?”
Vraxi gave him a sidelong smile, “unless you want to help me finish it off?” he asked, indicating the half-full jug and extra tankard.
The barman laughed, “I wouldn’t mind but the battleaxe who runs this gaff would skin me!”
“Ah, alas.” Vraxi sighed and gave a rueful little smile.
“I… finish early tomorrow…” the barman said, throwing a perfectly mischievous little smirk of his own into the mix.
“Oh do you…” Vraxi began, and then remembered his promise to Edmund and his hopes that the half demon would be able to help him. “… ah, but alas again, I’m afraid I have a prior engagement.”
He necked his beer and stood up. “You can find me at the Cross Keys most nights though,” he added, with a wink which set the barman grinning again.
He left a sizable tip on the table and slipped quietly out of the back door and into the little back alley that ran parallel to the docks.
He should have checked.
He always checked.
Why the hell didn’t I check it was clear? He thought miserably as two jeering dock-rats held him by the arms and a third delivered Keyja’s ‘message’ by means of a series of slugs to his chin, chest and stomach while the sapani captain looked on.
“You wanna learn not to corner a snake, Yag.” Keyja laughed, her reptilian heritage gleaming to the surface as she leant back against the alley wall, enjoying the show. “But you’re right, I do owe you a favour, so I’m gonna let you walk out of my skydock with nothin but a bit of a bruised ego and the wind knocked out of you.”
She waved for her crew to let him go and they dropped him to the cobbled ground, shoving him forwards so that he fell hard on his hands and knees in front of the captain.
“Well, your kindness is incomparable,” he managed, struggling to catch his breath and get himself upright again.
“But if I see your trouble makin little face around here again,” she continued, “Or hear you’ve breathed one whisper to Mendicci about my business, I’ll turn you inside out and hang you on a flagpole and Mendicci can ask all the questions about it he likes, savvy?”
Vraxi brushed the dirt off his trousers and scowled briefly at the snags and creases in his shirt. Then turned and grinned impudently at the smuggler captain. “Can you fault me for trying?” he asked, spreading his palms in a brash and roguish gesture designed to perfectly mask the fact hat he was shaken to the core.
Keyja snorted and turned her back on him, motioning for her crew to follow her. “Folks talk, Yag.” she said, not looking back at him. “word is, Mendicci ain’t that happy with you right now, mayhap he’ll think kindly towards someone who puts you out of his misery?”
Vraxi sucked in a deep breath, balled his fists to his temples and tried not to panic. He had nothing left in his hand. Keyja was his last card. Spyro was already on his back about the business with Agathri, Ros seemed out of sorts with him as well. Xander was… being impossible as usual… and soon he expected the Colonel would show up with his harpoon gun and demand recompense for his demonsong…
Calm your fears, do, he chided himself, your back has been against the wall enough times to know that there is always one more place to run to… think… what have you not tried? What have you not dared to even think about trying?
And then he had it. Oh dear. He really wished he didn’t, but he did and it was likely the most desperate, distasteful and foolhardy idea he had ever had in his life… and death.
“Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound,” he muttered to himself as he smoothed the creases from his shirt and headed towards home. He would have to get changed; he couldn’t possibly go to church looking like this!
Happy Saturday! (Although I’m having to edit this now to Sunday as the weekend has got away from me as usual – eep, better late than never maybe? XD ) I’m over the moon that things are now calming down here enough that I can start taking part in Rainbow Snippets again – I’ve so missed our lovely group and reading all the marvellous array of offerings each week, and I really hope that for all of you things are going smoothly and that the madness in the world is affecting you as little as possible. Hugs all round.
So here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here 🙂
Kari Trenten is responsible for this one 😉 – she stirred up my Scarecrow Landlord last week with her mischievous kittens and they haven’t stopped pestering me to post more of their story since! It isn’t really THEIR story of course, it belongs to Jack and Marjory… but try telling the scarecrow that – tsk!
It’s been ages since I posted from J&M so to recap – Jack and Marjory have been hired by the revolutionary leader, Max, to retrieve a stolen priceless tea set. They failed and Max is now going to get hung. The tea set is in the hands of a group of beatnik poets but J&M have a plan to steal it back. All they need now is a buyer…
Exactly how and when and why a scarecrow became so disturbingly animate is the subject of many late night conjectures but nobody knows, or dares ask, exactly who Montmorency is or where he came from.
Of course we know, now. But we didn’t that September afternoon in 1824 and frankly I think we slept sounder untroubled by the history.
What we did know, what everyone knew in Lancaster, was that Montmorency owned the old fish factories along the docks and had turned them into tenements which he rented to the most desperate and destitute citizens in exchange for ‘rent-in-kind.’ That usually meant brewing and selling Lemonade or smuggling tea and cake in and out of the city but Montmorency was a far-sighted, entrepreneurial cove and would turn his eye to anything that might bring in the glim.
In truth, he was the only person we knew of who would be able to find us a buyer for the Newell with very little trouble or indiscretion.
“Not anover bleedin’ hex slinger,” the scarecrow wheezed, as he pulled the belt buckles tight around a heavy looking travelling case and felt around in his pockets for the key, “I gots no work goin’, I gots no rooms, I’m shuttin’ th’ole place down, gettin’ me head outta th’ noose now, shuttin’ shop an’ gettin’ out and Kitty’s right t’ do th’same.”
Jack and Marjory
Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless historical teaset before the owner finds himself at the gallows.
Wishing you all an utterly fabulous autumnal weekend and don’t forget to visit the offical fb group and see all the other Rainbow Snippets as well 🙂
Happy Friday! I hope your weekend is a gentle and cosy one 🙂 Here is the next instalment of Silk and Steel… 🙂
Zariya Myshkin managed to keep smiling, managed to keep her hands from shaking, managed to keep any hint of fear from her countenance, until she had delivered the fresh round of drinks and retreated to the safety of the Cross Keys’ kitchen.
Then she buried her face in her hands and silently wept.
She didn’t regret her actions.
Spyro Mendicci had saved her family from the workhouse when her husband had been killed in an accident at the skydocks. He had secured her the waitressing job here at The Keys in a matter of hours, and gave regular work to her five children – small unimportant things; carrying messages and the like, things he paid handsomely for but could no doubt easily accomplish himself… and he often sent them home with a brace of crows or a basket of mushrooms t’boot…
But then that was the sort of man he was. An unassuming, everyday sort of hero. Always putting himself out for others, always standing up for those in need.
And now he was in need. She had seen The Doctor slip something into his drink at the bar – and everyone knew exactly what The Doctor was like. If Mendicci had got on his bad side…
Well, but Zariya had done the right thing; she had saved him. And now she only hoped that she had made it seem enough of an accident not to draw the volatile dusk djin’s wrath in the process.
He had not seemed vexed, but she knew the fact meant nothing where that one was concerned.
There were enough rumours of the cold and monstrous murders he had committed and would never stand trial for.
There was recent talk of him smiling pleasantly as he reached across the table and cut out that half-demon’s heart just a few days ago!
The thought of it brought a wave of cold clarity fuelled by adrenaline.
She must get home at once. She must get the children and go. Somewhere safe. Out of the city.
She had a few coins saved against a rainy day – no idea if it would be enough for a skyship ticket to anywhere, but she was a good cook, and the children were hard workers, perhaps…
Her mind continued to race as she hung up her apron, fastened her bonnet and shawl… she checked the landlord wasn’t looking as she slipped out of the back door and into the alleyway.
Crows chittered and chattered as they peered down at her from the rooftops with their hungry eyes.
Her cloth-bound boots, stuffed with straw, slid and stumbled on the cobbles as she hastened her pace towards the kadasa.
If the children were not on an errand, they would be lined up on the curb outside the antiques shop.
Zariya prayed to any gods still listening that they would be there.
Happy Friday! Well our forray into Icewind Dale last weekend nearly wiped our entire high-level party just from the cold and scary as that was it really set the scene for the horror-feel and made everything super intense and sand-boxy which we haven’t had for a looooong time – it felt more like playing something like Blades in The Dark. Brilliant 😀
But enough Dnd – here is the next bit of Silk and Steel – if you happened to miss the chapter waaaaayyyy back where the Doctor met Pan Twardowski in the park in the form of The Crow Man you want to know that Pan gave the Doctor a mysterious vial that looked similar to demonsong and told him to find a way to make Spyro drink it…. just sayin… XD XD XD 😉
“And now that they are out of the way,” the doctor said, as he placed a glass in front of Spyro and took one for himself, “if you expect me to be involved in this scheme, then I expect absolute candour from you, as always.”
Spyro ingnored the drink and leaned in close.
“All I require for this one is your advice and your discretion.” he said, his voice low and intense.
The Doctor stared hard at him. “The more information I have, the better the advice I can give.” He spread his palms, “As for discretion, you know it is not a concept I have ever had much time for, but… it would not suit me at present to see you in any form of difficulty.”
Perhaps the only reason I am still alive. – Spyro couldn’t help reflecting and he supressed a shudder at how close he thout he had come to pushing the powerful Ghani too far.
He nodded, intimating that the sentiment was both accepted and reciprocated, for now. “Very well then. An old aquaintance has returned to the city – an unimaginably powerful one who, for reasons I won’t bore you with, wishes to put an end to our lucrative corporation.”
“You mean he wants you dead.”
Spyro spun his glass again,still ignoring the full one the doctor had givenhim. “I did not say that,” he said, smiling up through his fringe of dark curls.
The Doctor held his gaze. “You did not have to.”
Spyro licked his dry lips and for a long while they sat there, locked in yet another of their many stand-offs.
At length, the antiques dealer leaned back, threw his arm over the back of the bench and let his gaze wander around the room before finally deigning to re-join the conversation. “This person commands an uncommon power,” he said, keeping his voice low, “something akin to that wielded by the church and the vesperai…”
“Then perhaps Blondell is your better choice of confident…”
“Damn it!” He struck the table with his fist in frustration and instantly regretted it as he saw the ghani’s colour begin to rise.
“Look, I can’t trust Blondell,” he said earnestly, “you are my business associate and one of my oldest and closest companions, I am trusting the matter to you and to no one else.”
The Doctor nodded thoughtfully. “Fine. Then speak.”
“I need a way of combatting that power myself. I have seenthis man bested by demons once before andI am curious – what would be the effect on someone who is not demon-bound if they drank demonsong? Would it give them a similar power?”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. “I am a man of science…”
“You are an alchemist is this not your area of expertise?”
“Demonsong remains at present a theological conundrum. However,” he added as he saw Spyro was about to make a retort, “I have been regularly subjected to the pompous rhetoric of my fellows enough to convey that the most widely accepted theory on the subject maintains that demonsong works the way it does because it calls to the divine spark present in all things – god calling to god, if you will.”
Spyro shrugged as if it mattered little and the The Doctor pressed on.
“When a demon-bound person drinks demonsong it is generally supposed that it awakens that divine spark within the demon and grants it, for a short while, a burst of god-like power. If there were no demon, then…”
“Oh my goodness! I am SO so sorry!!” The barmaid who had bustled over to clear their empty glasses suddenly slipped, sending the four untouched drinks spilling all over the table.
“Don’t trouble yourself, it was merely an accident,” The Doctor said, “I have not a splash upon my person.”
Spyro, who was quite drenched from the waist down and now sported claret stains upon his white shirt smiled reassuringly as he pulled a handkerchief and began mopping at his trousers. “The Doctor is right, it matters not at all, “ he said pleasantly.
The barmaid shook her head, “I will get you another round out of my tips, my loves,” she said, patting his arm and collecting the glasses onto her tray.
“I wouldn’t hear of it,” Spyro said, “have one for yourself instead.” And he gave her a handful of fleshcoins and a winning smile.
They waited until she had gone before resuming the conversation.
“So you think it would have no effect because there is no demon?” Spyro deduced.
The Doctor shook his head. “Quite the opposite, I think the results would be very interesting. I will bring you a vial of the stuff tonight if you wish.”
Spyro frowned. He had been certain that the Doctor had been heading down the opposite track and now he wondered how he could have misinterpreted his tone and expression so badly. I am letting this Twardowski business affect my judgement. He chided himself. The sooner it is dealt with the better. “So, theoretically, drinking demonsong would give a person a burst of power similar to that of a demon? For a short time.”
“For a short time, it would seem so.”
“Then I am for it. Thankyou,” he said earnestly, as Fey returned to the table, steering an unsteady looking Xander gently but firmly by the shoulders.
“Don’t mention it.” The Doctor replied, moving over so that the pair could take their seats again.
“Ready to play?” Spyro asked.
“All set.” Fey grinned confidently.
Xander nodded but didn’t say a word.
A Visit of Temperance
“Halt! I say, who is it that goes, there? Ah, welcome friend, to Lancaster’s Night Beacon. You are a brave soul to climb the crumbling old steps of this ancient watchtower. My name is Persephone Plumtartt. My semi-comatose companion is what remains of Ichabod Temperance. He has succumbed, one fears, to the Sugar Zombie plague. I beg of you, no matter how he pleads, do not give him any sweets.”
“If you are to stay here, I must ask you to take up a pike, spear, or some sort of swatting device and maintain a constant vigilance for murderous crows. When Mr. Temperance and I accepted Miss Blake’s kind invitation, we were not under the impression that we might be pressed into Ornithological combat, eh hem?”
“Well then, be that as it may, one does try to make the best of things.”
“Please suffer in silence, Mr. Temperance. One is sure that you suffer tremendous ache in your stomachs, but you did bring this upon yourself.”
“One might not think it by looking at this poor specimen, writhing in intestinal anguish from too many sweets ingested, but he has lived through and put to paper many extraordinary adventures. Ten in all, these are each stand alone stories that incorporate a central theme in their paranormal chases. For instance, in one such book, ‘In a Latitude of Temperance’, Ichabod and I travel on an unlikely journey to thwart an evil cabal of long-lived Nosferatu. A rogues’ gallery to be sure, with some of history’s most notorious fiends including Count Chocula, Count Sesame, and Hela Gigalosi. In another, adventure, ‘The Seventh Voyage of Temperance’, we find ourselves amongst titanic monsters upon remote Nipponese isles.
“Time and again, Mr. Temperance is able to use his uncanny tinkering ability to overcome incredible odds to arrive at joyful conclusions. If only he would rouse himself to defense from flesh-eating liver birds.”
“If one is interested in further investigation as to this chap’s exploits, please direct your attention to the appropriate ‘link’. You are invited to peruse the books synopses and to follow that theme which may appeal.”
The Adventures of Ichabod Temperance
Happy Friday folks! I hope that life is treating you all gently and that you have a restful weekend in the pipeline! I’ll be DMing our first foray into Icewind Dale all weekend so today is painting plasterboard scenery and such 😀
The above quote is from later on in the book but I love Tithi Luadthong’s artwork so much I thought I’d share it now 🙂
Before I post the next bit of the story though, I thought I’d just take a moment to say that the theme it’s about to touch on – and in fact many other of the themes that run through it – is inspired by my time as a teenager sleeping on the streets and in squats. Young people – boys and girls – in that predicament are really like Xander and Vraxi and Edmund; they don’t have many choices, they seek protection from the adults who present themselves as ‘saviours’, they will do almost anything for a roof over their head or a meal or just to be held close for a moment and told they are worth something. This is a fantasy setting but the issues are real. Shelter are running an emergency appeal right now to raise money for their helpline which aims to prevent homelessness by supporting families and individuals at risk. If you’re interested in helping them their fundraising site is here:
So here we go, this next snippet of the story follows Xander outside as he runs off to spew his guts up at the realisation that the antiques dealer he had been viewing as a bit of a surrogate father figure is really a cold-hearted, manipulative bastard… (not that he doesn’t have a lovely side as well, of course, doesn’t everyone?)
Fey found Xander in the yard hunched beside a pool of his own vomit; hood up, and hugging is knees to his chest. The knuckles of his right hand were skinned and and there was blood on the brick wall behind him.
“Never helps, that,” she said, crouching down beside him and giving his injured hand a prod. Walls don’t hit back and there’s never any satisfaction in an unfair fight. Hey…” she flicked back his hood before he could stop her “…oh Kid, you’re not cryin?”
He was. He couldn’t help it. To say he had never felt so terrified and trapped in all his life would have been a lie, of course, but he had thought those days were behind him.
“I’m an idiot.” he mumbled, wiping his red-rimmed eyes. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t, Fey, I can’t. And I don’t want to die. Not like that. Not hung. Not… any of it. And I’ve got nothing. No one. No choice. I’ve got no bloody choice!” He gritted his teeth against the suffocating feeling of spiralling out of control, fighting back as hard as he could against the sentient soul inside him that was pushing to get out and rip something apart.
He balled his fists and hammered them against his temples until Fey took his hands firmly and held them away.
“You know what kid? You’re right. You said it. You’ve got no choice. Don’t wanna hang?”
He pulled his hands free, folding them defensively beneath his cloak, and shook his head.
“Right, suck it up then and let’s do this.”
He shook his head.
“Look, you think Mendicci’s some kind of monster because he lied to you? I’m tellin’ you, kid, everyone’s a monster round here – if you don’t answer to one, you’ll answer to another and if you hang on in there long enough, maybe someone some day will answer to you. But for now, this is life… or death or whatever you want to call it, this is the way it is, and you’ve just gotta stick out your chin and deal with it.”’
“It’s me that’s the monster.”
“Yep. You’re right. And me. Like I said, all of us. Wotcha gonna do about it? Sit there and cry? Or get up an’ try and figure out what kind of monster you’re gonna be?”
“It might not seem like it, but some small things we do still have a choice in. Look at the Duke – he chooses to be the kind of monster that’d have a six year old’s hand cut off for stealin’ a loaf of bread… but not the kind of monster that’d take advantage of a high class lady who’d had one too many at a fancy ball. Look at me – kind of monster that’ll slit pretty much anyone’s throat if the pay is right – also the kind who gives half her pay packet to the Hogarths’ alms houses, where she was born. We don’t have much control down here at the bottom of the crap heap, kid, you’re right about that, but what choices we do have we need to make the most of, even if only so we can say, at the end of each day, ‘this is the kind of monster I am.’ Now, as for you; you can choose right now to man-up and accept the way things are, walk back in there with your chin up and tell them you’ll do the job, even though you don’t want to, and that will earn you back a bit of respect. Certainly from me. Or I can frog-march you back in there by the scruff and tell ’em you’ll do it anyway whether you like it or not. Which is it goin’ to be?”
Salutations, my fellow travellers: men, women, and wondrous creatures all!
As we face the long dark of this plague-infested season, it is time to brighten the glow of our lanterns, shining all the brighter against the black, and warming one another. My name is Felicity Banks and my lantern is my books.
Tonight is my shift, and I must brighten the watchtower lantern lest we be over-run. Even now, I see the unmasked hordes approaching across the hills, decrying all humanity and running roughshod over the authority of SCIENCE.
There is still hope to be had, and even joy. Because I might not be able to change the minds of the mindless, but I can write a mighty fine yarn. If you love steampunk adventures with bonus magic, you can read my entire steampunk trilogy on your device of choice, or buy signed copies directly from me at shootingthrough.net/store.
There are horrid apparitions gnawing on my extremities but I’m doing my best to kick them off, knowing that the sun will shine again one day. I hope you can do the same.
Although the pen is mightier than the sword, my books can only bring a certain amount of light (and my critics say they don’t burn especially well) so I’m wading into a larger battle—specifically, the battle to combat global injustice.
I’ve joined the crack soldiers of the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, and gathered a squad around me in order to support refugees coming to my home city of Canberra. If all goes well, we can even venture forth into bringing newer, more desperate refugees over the seas as early as 2021.
If you’d like to buy my books, please do (shootingthrough.net/store).
If you’d like to send me alms in order to support this latest endeavour, I would be especially grateful, and my own hopeful lantern would blaze bright enough to light shores other than my own.
You can contact me, or PayPal any amount, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Friday folks! 😀 I’m trying super hard to get back in the saddle with everything and the IVs are going well so all good this end after what seems like quite a long slog so thankyou so much everyone who’s still here and bearing with me through this spate of madness XD I hope you are all safe and well and happy and looking forward to a fabulous weekend 🙂
Here’s the next Silk and Steel instalment and Spyro with his plans for thwarting his nemesis Pan has hauled his arse out of the bath and down to the cross keys to enlist the help of some trusted friends… a-hem…. (if you’ve lost track, Bartczak was the barber-surgeon who was being beaten up by the dock workers earlier)
“How fares our friend Bartczak?” Spyro asked the doctor as he slid into his usual seat at the cross keys later that afternoon.
“He is not dead,” the doctor replied gruffly, “but then that is to be expected. I have made him as comfotable as can be, how much his body decides to heal itself and how quickly is anyone’s guess. And I am not one for guessing games,” he added, fixing the antiques dealer with a hard stare.
“Nor games of any kind, as is obvious to us all,” Spryo said with that unfathomable smile. “But if I were to put money on him returning to work within a fortnight I would likely lose it, yes?”
“If you lack the wit or the moral fibre to refrain from making such sport of another man’s suffering it is your own affair.” the doctor said dryly.
Spyro laughed to hide his frustration and drained his glass. He reached inside his waistcoat and pulled out a leather pouch, slid it open and checked the contents then handed it to the yag. “Take this to Bartczak.” he said, “Four weeks rent to tide him over and if he’s not back on his feet by then he’s to say so.”
Vraxi nodded and knocked back his drink, “Come on Xan, no rest for the wicked,” he grinned.
“Just you.” Spyro said. “And don’t get distracted.”
Vraxi looked surprised and dissapointed, but he said nothing and left.
“Now that he’s out of the way..?” Fey said from the depths of her hood, her feet resting on the opposite bench and her arms folded nonchalantly across her chest.
Spyro hesitated, and then smiled, “Nothing gets past you does it Fey?” he said.
“S’what you pay me for.” she said simply.
“Very well, yes, I do need to speak to the three of you about something. It is something unprecedented. Something discreet. Something nobody else can know of.”
“You are putting an enormous amount of trust in us all.” The doctor said, cocking an eye at Xander, who was by far the youngest and least experienced of the three.
Mendicci kept his twinkling black eyes on the dusk djinn, “is there any reason I shouldn’t?” he asked, pointedly.
The doctor smiled and said nothing.
Damn you to hell, Spyro thought furiously. He didn’t need this. This was the only plan he had. It had to work. He had no choice but to trust them all and there was a good chance they would all realise how vulnerable he was and how much he was relying on them to keep him alive.
He smiled back and spun his empty shot glass on the table. “I’m planning an ambush,” he said carefully, looking at each of them in turn. “I won’t know when until minutes before it needs to happen, so when I send you word you will need to come at once.”
“Don’t we always?” Fey asked.
“You do. It was not a slight. It was a statement of fact.”
“Where you planning to spring it?”
“The Flags.” Spyro said, referring to the small district east of the cinders where the city laundry houses were located. The narrow streets there formed two blocks of buildings with only one entrance and hundreds of lines of washing were always strung like bunting across each row from the lowest level, right up to the top.
“That’s a tight rat hole.” Fey observed.
“That’s rather the point. And the other is this – you two will need to let your demons handle this one. It’s one target but they have all kinds of tricks up their sleeve.”
“Problem, Xander?” the doctor asked.
Xander was looking wide eyed at Mendicci, “Our demons?”he asked, his voice shaking a little. “You promised I would never have to… the first day I joined you, you said…” He took a deep steadying breath, he could not afford to lose control and he was aware that he was making a fool of himself, whining like a small child in front of people who were much older and no doubt couldn’t care less, but he felt so betrayed. He shook his head, trying to make them understand, “I can’t do this.”
Spyro yawned and stretched his arms above his head. “Alright.” he said with a pleasant smile. “We’ll count you out of this one. No hard feelings.”
Xander breathed a sigh of releif, “Thankyou. It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s like I said before, I can’t go through that again…”
Spyro held up his hand, “You do not have to explain Xander, I understand.” he flipped his hand palm upwards, “Key?”
Xander looked confused.
The Doctor rose and went to the bar.
Fey said nothing.
“Surely you don’t expect me to keep providing accommodation for someone who is no longer working for me?”
“But I am.”
“Ah, but you’re not.” Spyro waited patiently for the penny to drop – between this one and the yag it was obvious who was brains; for all his faults, it hadn’t taken Bane this long to remember which side his bread was buttered.
“Our agreement,” he said gently, “is based on you doing the jobs I tell you do, when I tell you to do them – not on you picking and choosing and doing what suits you better at the time. Now I am a reasonable man, I am not in the business of forcing anyone to do things they don’t want to do. But I am also a sensible man,and I am not going to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly unless I can rely on you to do what I say.”
“But we pay our rent…”
“With money earned from carrying out the jobs that I assign to you.” He spun his glass on the table again and, seeing that Xander was still looking to argue he added, “No jobs; no money; no room… and then of course there is the small matter of that long list of crimes you have committed over the past few years; murder, theft, arson…” ah, and there it is… he thought, as he saw Xander’s expression change to one of horror and incredulity; finally something has penetrated that thick skull of his.
“We did those jobs for you…”
“Xander, I pride myself on being a model citizen here,” Spyro interrupted, “the head of the city watch is a close personal friend and I would be betraying that very close, personal friendship if I didn’t inform her of the identity of any wanted felons who do not come under the umbrella of protection afforded to our organisation by said friendship, surely you can see that?”
Xander looked like he was going to be sick, “I’ll hang,” he whispered, his voice a hoarse gasp in his dry throat.
Spyro shrugged. “If you’re lucky. I’ve heard the duke is favouring drawing and quartering at present before the final execution with a soul blade… could be quite a show…”
That did it. Xander choked and, unable to prevent his insides from expelling the beer he had just put into them, he clapped a hand over his mouth and made a dash for the back yard of the Inn.
Fey sighed, swung her legs down from the bench and stood up. “I’ll go talk to him.”
Spyro nodded his thanks and spun his empty glass again on the table as The Doctor returned from the bar with a fresh round.
Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Mrs Albert Baker and… well yes, that’s right I am a witch, how very kind of you to notice! Perhaps it’s my magical aura… or the smell of freshly baked gingerbread that tipped you off? Officially I’m actually The Last Witch Of Pendle but, sadly, there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats. But I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running my little underground soup kitchen for the street urchins.
Strange times have struck here in the Scattered Isles of Ire – Lord Ashton’s Flesh Eating Liver Birds plague the skies above us and hoards of Mancunian Sugar-Zombies roam the cobbled streets spreading their curse like a plague…
So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those running for their lives and being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with a hot cauldron of soup, a fistful of hexes and of course my trusty rolling pin, which has seen off many an Annoying Wizard, Giant Crab or Night Potato, I can tell you!
Over the coming weeks, a marvellous host of writers, artists and creators will each be taking a turn to keep the light in this old lantern burning through the dark and share with you some of their wonderful books, stories, artwork and other fabulous creations.
Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share a little excerpt from some of my own adventures with you. This is taken from The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry when those two miscreant wizards had the cheek to break into my house in Pendle and frighten the wits out of myself and my husband in the middle of the night!
The two wizards scrambled to their feet but, on cursory inspection, Skarry realised they were trapped. This was not magic that they, as mere initiates, would have any hope of disabling.
“Oh! Burglars? Thieves? Oh no!” The woman standing in the doorway, dressed in a long cotton nightdress and curlers, trembled, sending the glaring yellow light from her lantern quivering over the moon-slicked floor, serving no purpose other than to irritate the eyes of every conscious person in the room. “Oh, this can’t be happening! I…I must get Albert, yes, he will know what to do!” and she quickly spun on her heel and disappeared again. They heard her stumble back along some hidden corridor, muttering in frenzied tones as she went: “Oh blessed mother! Oh Green Goddess, why is this happening? Why? Oh this is the end, I know it is! The end of Pendle, the end of everything! Oh Goddess, if it is true, if you have really not abandoned us to the mercy of Wiz, please, please grant me the strength to deal with this! But I cannot, how can I? I am the last! The very last!”
Her ravings slowly faded, swallowed into the belly of the house, and Skarry fired a look of utter bewilderment at his friend and tapped his forehead in silent questioning appraisal of the woman’s sanity. But, to his surprise and further confusion, Mercurio’s own features revealed that he was lost in some deep private reflection which was obviously beginning to amuse him.
Before long, the woman returned, now sporting an ill-fitting black toupee, which she had hastily balanced on top of her net of tightly curled hair, a false moustache and a quilted claret dressing gown. She held the lantern high again, swinging its luminescence into their squinting eyes.
“Now, see here!” she said, failing dismally at affecting a manly baritone. “Just who, may I ask, do you think you are? Bursting into my abode and frightening the wits out of my wife like this? Hmm?”
Skarry blinked. Surely, surely, this strange woman must realise the flagrant flimsiness of her charade. He opened his mouth to speak, but the woman pre-empted him.
“Don’t move! D-d-don’t move or I’ll…I’ll…well, you can’t move, can you? Hmm? If you try to, you won’t be able to so…so just stay there while I… er… go and call the Watchers… and The Good Folk. Yes, that’s it… now just you stay there! And don’t move!”’
Mercurio held up his gloved hands and chuckled with amusement. “My dear… Sir, we have no intention of going anywhere and, as you have pointed out, even if we wished to, we would be unable to penetrate this.” He gestured to the thin blue field of magical energy which now surrounded them, regarding it with the eye of a connoisseur. “But this is quite astounding!” He gave the moustachioed woman a look of respect, mingled with curiosity, which was not lost upon its subject.
She lowered the lantern an inch.
“Surely,” Mercurio continued carefully, “surely a spell like this could only have been set in place by… and please do not take offense, my good man… by a wizard? And an extremely powerful one at that. Perhaps, even, a witch?”
To Skarry’s amazement, the woman sank down into the leather armchair and began to sob, wringing the lantern chain between her fingers.
“My apologies,” Skarry said quickly, “if my friend has upset you, please… er… here, oh damn I can’t do that,” he returned the useless handkerchief to his pocket and glared furiously at Mercurio, who gave him a withering look and then hitched up a mask of sincere compassion and sympathy and turned it towards their host.
“Oh, you’re right!” the woman sobbed. “It’s true, it’s all true!” She pulled off the moustache and toupee and flung them angrily onto the floor. “Oh, this silly charade has been wearing me to pieces! But I have had no choice! There have always been six witches at Pendle, and there always must be at least one witch at Pendle – even Wiz himself says it – otherwise the whole town will crumble to the ground; the manor, the park, the houses, everything!”
“Wiz?” Skarry looked sharply at his friend, but Mercurio hadn’t flinched.
“Yes. It is only by his will that I haven’t been forced into the caves to be hunted, like game, across the marsh, like my poor sisters. He allowed just six of us witches to stay on here at Pendle because of the curse. There have always been six and we’ve always managed to fool the townsfolk into thinking we were ordinary citizens, but I am the last! And what will happen if I am found out? Oh it has worn me so thin you cannot imagine. Of course I cannot marry – who would marry a witch in this day and age? And yet I had to marry Albert or else people would become suspicious; a woman living all alone… people have such suspicious minds… you wouldn’t believe the things they say when my back is turned…” She was beginning to rave, the pitch of her voice crescendoing with the speed of the words. If she went on like this, she would be hysterical within the next 60 seconds and if she hyperventilated and fainted, even worse asphyxiated herself, they would be trapped. Possibly permanently.
“Why don’t you have a glass of brandy?” Mercurio suggested.
The woman shook her head “I don’t drink,” she sniffed. “It’s Albert who’s the drinker.”
“Albert?” Skarry mouthed silently.
Mercurio raised his eyebrows at him. “Well, perhaps Albert would care for a snifter then? Settle his nerves?”
Skarry closed his eyes so that he would not have to witness the woman reassembling her disguise so that she could nod and stumble unsteadily out of the room in search of alcohol.
If you’d like to read more about my adventures with those two Terrible Wizards, Scarlet Skarry and her marvellous Land Pirate crew and of course Eightcups Max and his fabulous octopus Collin, you can find The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry here:
Well thankyou so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one! Who knows, perhaps the smell of gingerbread was enough to keep wary monsters at bay?
Stay safe good friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….
Ahoi! I know it’s not Friday but I’m going away to visit family for a few days and then after that I’m in hospital again having another top up so I thought I had better leave you with something from Spyro and co. as the last IV knocked me for a pretty six so it may be more than a week before I post the next one XD Hope you are all keeping safe and well and wishing you all a most fabulous weekend 🙂
In September I’ll keep posting these extracts but I’m also hosting a new promo called Light In The Lantern which I hope will give writers and artists a chance to spread some light through the darkness with their beautiful and inspiring work 🙂 If you’d like me to feature your work drop me an email at email@example.com 🙂
For now, I’ll leave you with Spyro in the bath…
Spyro emptied the jug of warm water over his head, dowsing his tight black curls, letting it drench down its liquid comfort over his neck and shoulders and back.
The Doctor was right when he named Arden a genius – an annoying, entitled, maverick little cock to be sure, but still a genius. He had rigged a demonsong-powered water heating system for the bathroom the night he had moved in, requiring nothing but what he found lying about in the cellar and the back yard. He could certainly be forgiven a great many faults for that one gift alone, Spyro thought idly as he steepled his fingers above the steaming surface of the bathwater and shut his eyes.
Twardowski, he murmured, repeating the name of his nemesis as he turned the mental image of the great magician over and over in his mind; remembering the man’s faults, his strengths, calculating what might know, and what he did not, of this strange new world he had come down to.
He has magic. And I do not. At least not enough, not anymore. He has the goddess of death on his side. And I do not. I have…
He paused, what did he have exactly? In reality, not half as much as he lead people to believe.
In reality, the reason that Silk and Steel had risen to apparent underground omnipotence so quickly was that they did not have a vast network of powerful and influential people directly under their control. That kind of monopoly would have taken years to cultivate.
What they had instead, Spyro thought ruefully – although he acknowledged the fact that it had served them better this way – was a few strategically placed powerful allies, a rag-tag band of pick pockets, cut-throats and confidence tricksters, and a vast network of street urchins who pervaded every inch of the city of Ryzym and who saw, heard and fed back to him everything of interest that went on whether it be on a street corner in the cinders or behind a locked door in The Groves.
He frowned and tapped his fingers together thoughtfully. Perhaps part of the reason this ludicrously simple system had actually worked was that no one honestly thought anyone would dare to play such an ambitious game when they had so little.
He smiled, that had always been his strength now he came to reflect upon it. He had stood up to slave masters and thugs, landlords and law enforcers, he had stirred common folk to uprisings and rebellions which had changed the face of history altogether… all because he dared.
He had learnt magic,because he dared. Had cheated demons, because he dared. Had trusted his fate to the gods, because he dared.
And then he had defied them all, betrayed those who saved his life and come back down here to do it all over again. All because he dared to do it.
And now I will put an end to you Twardowski,with nothing more than a handful of street urchins, the advice of a good doctor and two good friends at my back.
He smiled his most sinister smile to himself as he sank back into the soothing arms of the luxuriously warm water.
Two very particular friends, of course…