Ahoi! We’ve reached part 2 of the book, which is called Stone The Crows so to celebrate here’s another bit of quote-ish-ness and some fabulous artwork by Tithi Luadthong 🙂
Duke Bastion Vandellin paced his hall with slow, pensive steps, drinking in the portraits installed along its length as he passed each Grand Duke who had gone before him. It was not a hereditary line. He could take no comfort in the familiarity of blood lineage which had placed him here. No. The only thing he had in common with these other men and women was the strength to stand up and claim, above all other pretenders, the right and the might to rule.
It was disconcerting. In the past week skyships had docked from Lyccandrus and Pav’shma that were not the usual trading vessels – though they had the right credentials, the Duke’s spies at the sky-dock had been certain enough that something was amiss to alert him to the fact.
The Vesperai Host were getting bolder too he noted; no longer on the back foot they seemed to have gained some new sense of unity and confidence as the latest assaults against their numbers had been thwarted. Some new form of protection? He guessed. Or some new ally? Was this why the church leaders hurried to his door this morning?
He paced on slowly, not caring to quicken his steps and bring himself before those vistors more hastily than he had to. Fears plagued his every consideration. Only yesterday he had been hard-pressed by demands to put a stop to the spate of jewel robberies that were sweeping through The Groves. And it wasn’t just the upper classes who were pressuring him to take action. The general workforce of the city was restless; union heads were whipping the factory workers and dock workers alike into a frenzy over unfair pay and working conditions and many of the guilds saw opportunity in supporting the rising rebellion.
The guilds had too much power. He had always said as much. Had thought, when he first came to rule, that he would chisel and chip away at their strongholds and erode the grips they had over various parts of the city and its economy. But he had been naive to the network of connections each Bharro had built up; threads which ran right through to the city council and even, he suspected, some of his own advisers and administrators.
Sweat began to bead upon his brow. There had been whispers of late. Some of his enemies – men and women who publicly declared their allegiance to him, but whom his spies informed him were known to be disloyal – had been seen meeting together. New alliances were being formed and with whom? That was the question. The attack he feared seemed to be poised to come from both without and within. He felt pinched. Assailed from all sides.
Vandellin paused before his own portrait at the end of the hall and took a deep and steadying breath. The young man who looked back at him from the frame, dressed in his Hunter uniform with his medals bright and plentiful against his scarlet shirt, was not so different from the reflection he saw in the mirror each day. He laughed at that; it meant nothing of course in a city caught fast between heaven and hell, where no one was ever born, no one ever died and nobody aged so much as a day. He had thought to leave his mark upon the city he had served all his working life, but a few short years in office and it seemed he was not going to get that chance.
He looked to the door then, beyond which the church leaders were waiting to give him their news. Were they also against him? He wondered. He shook his head. Paranoia was eating at him, he no longer knew who he could trust and he had the sudden overwhelming urge to be back in the company of his friends; the people he had grown up with, studied with, drunk with, sailed the skies with… he had been isolating himself from them the last few months, not meaning to of course, but the pressures that were growing around him seemed to demand more and more of his time. That had to change he told himself as he finally reached towards the door handle and prepared to face the music. If he truly was about to come under attack, then he needed to surround himself quickly with people who genuinely cared about him, the people who had helped him stake his claim here in the first place, the only people in all the world who he felt he could trust.
And now back to the good Doctor at The Cross Keys and his obsession with ‘The Mendicci Question’ XD Hopefully this is going to tie up and make sense time-wise as he will be walking through the park at the same time as Edmund and Vraxi are there so I’m hoping that’s apparent but feel free to shout at me if it doesn’t come across that way or make sense – this is all totally first-draft stuff lol so I’m going to have to work back through it and fix any problems once it’s complete 🙂
Hope you all have a fabulous bank holiday weekend and don’t get blown away by the oncoming storms! We just finished our Irish-style wayside shrine this week and have had to hide it in the shed so it doesn’t get blown away! XD
The doctor watched the dancing for as long as he could stand the senseless frivolity of it all, then he knocked back his drink and quietly left the tavern.
Outside the sun had set long ago and the bite of the night air permeated even his heavy Great Coat as he hurried his steps towards The Spires and his cosy quarters at the university.
He nodded to a seamstress he knew as she hugged her shawl about her shoulders, hurrying home, then dodged to avoid a group of street urchins singing a skipping rhyme. Something about the words seemed discordant he thought, as he turned past the Mul’ai Sap Distillery, but the notion dissipated as he batted away a little coven of crows who came dancing up to him hungrily and tried pecking at his boots.
“Get out of it!” he growled, and the only living creatures in hell took flight and eyed him venomously from the rooftops. Not for the first time, he wondered what it was that kept them alive. Afterall, there was no birth and no death here – only the crows and various forms of mould and fungi. But all the research his colleagues at the university had done into the matter had been inconclusive, things just were the way they were and although his scientific mind refused to let the matter rest it also allowed him to accept the facts, for now, certain that an answer would be found eventually.
He had just entered the park and was passing under the leafless shade of the rows of mu’lai trees when a figure caught his attention.
At first he thought the crows were attacking it – not that rare an occurrence- and his instinct was to run forward and chase the cursed creatures away with his cane. But something made him hesitate, and in that split second he saw that it was the fluctuating fluttering of the feathered creatures that was maintaining this person’s form… or the idea of form… he shook his head, unsure if all the recent strain was causing his mind to play tricks on him… but no, the more he looked, the more substantial this creature became until he appeared no longer engulfed in birds but trod the moonlit path with a tangible weight of his own – a man, dressed in ragged clothes, a hood covering his head and a staff in his hand, crowned with a crescent-moon.
The doctor eyed him carefully, drawing himself up to his full height and letting the twighlight entwined around his soul roll like storm clouds until it utterly filled his form. He was not afraid of the supernatural.
They both continued their path, each aware of the other, neither slowing nor speeding towards their inevitable point of meeting.
The crow man inclined his head cordially as he drew near and the doctor returned the gesture. Then the crow man stopped and leaned lightly upon his staff. “I wonder if you could offer me some assistance?” he asked, his voice a lispy whisper from within the depths of his hood.
The doctor paused and raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“I am looking for…a friend…a man of flesh and blood…a magician if the word holds any meaning here?”
“A magic user?” the doctor asked doubtfully, recalling things he had read and quickly dismissed in ancient texts.
“One who spoke with angels and demons, devils and gods long before most realised such things could be done. When I knew him he could change his form, to that of a spider, and although he is now a man of flesh and blood – someone who I believe would stand out in Ryzym these days – still I fancy his nature, which tends towards that creature’s wily ways, would betray him as something of an…oddity in any event.”
If the doctor was taken aback by any of this he did not show it. Instead, he leant on his cane a moment and pondered what the stranger had said. “To clarify,” he said slowly, “you are looking for a friend of yours, a magician like yourself, a man of flesh and blood who could once change his skin to that of a spider and even now has a personality which reflects that fact?”
“Just so. His name is Tadejs Blinda but I doubt he goes by that now. Do you know of such a person?”
The doctor shook his head, “I do not. But the city of Ryzym is not infinite. It is possible I may run into him, or that someone I know already has… is there a way I can contact you… or is there a message you would like me to convey should I meet him?”
The crow man was silent for a while, regarding the doctor with his head a little on one side. “’There liveth none under the sun, that knows what to make of the man in the moon, save one’” he said. And then he reached a clawlike hand inside his robes and pulled out a slim glass vial. “If you were to happen upon him, by some strange stroke of luck or fate, perhaps you could…persuade… him to drink this.”
“A fan of riddles is he?” the doctor asked dryly, but the crow man was already walking away, his ragged cloak fluttering around him in the moonlight.
The Ghani watched him go until his form melted into the pools of shadow cast by the dead trees. Tadejs Blinda… he thought to himself … so that is your secret, Mendicci; afterall, there cannot be two men in Ryzym who fit such an esoteric description.
Tomorrow, he decided,he would go back to the hall of records, and also to the library, and research all he could about this Tadejs Blinda or whoever he was.
He looked at the vial the crow man had given him, what was it? Poison? Some sort of…magic? No. His rational mind dismissed that thought at once. Speculation was futile, he would take it back to his laboratory tonight and discover what he could about it before deciding whether or when to slip it into Mendicci’s drink… tempting though it was to race back to the Cross Keys and attempt the matter now, the scientific method must prevail – even in the case of amicicide, he told himself sternly.
He twirled his cane and whistled a little tune as he set his steps once more towards home, merrily turning over in his mind exactly what he ought best to do with all this new and very interesting information.
Ahoi! I hope the week is treating you all wonderfully! Here we’ve had small folk birthdays and giant pizzas and a lot of James Bond! XD
So Vraxi and Edmund are up to mischief and who is leading who astray? I’ll let you make that judgement! 😉 Um, this one might be a little long sorry I couldn’t really see a way to break it up without stretching it over three posts and I thought that one scene stretched across three posts might be way too disjointed so, totally understand if it’s too long to get to the end of! XD Also I hope my paragraph gaps are working this time – they always seem to work on the preview and then vanish on the real thing so I’ve made them double spaces this time… tentacles crossed!
Also this one comes with a Parental Guidance warning (coz I’m a responsible parent type, me)- remember kids, if a friend comes up to you in the park and offers you drugs, you should say thankyou, because drugs are expensive 😉
Massey’s Tea Rooms on Bridge Street was as elegantly tasteless as any middle class old aunt could possibly desire but the fact that not many middle class old aunts lived that close to the university meant that it was usually full of students instead.
“This place always reminds me of my Grandmother’s parlour,” Edmund whispered, splitting a cep-barm in half and moping up the last of his stew.
Vraxi frowned, “I do apologise,” he said earnestly, “would you rather have gone somewhere else?”
Edmund laughed and shook his head. “No, no, it’s lovely. The food is lovely and the company is too, so the décor is inconsequential really, isn’t it?”
Vraxi shrugged, “I was about to confess I rather liked it but as that would equate me with the league of mentally unstable old grandmonsters I think I would do well keep quiet for once.”
Edmund laughed out loud and the yag’s colour rose in soft cloudlike swirls beneath his skin as he realised it was the first time he had ever heard him do it.
“You know what this evening needs?” he asked suddenly, finishing his drink as Edmund shook his head and wiped a tear of laughter away from the corner of his eye, “it needs what every evening needs – what life here in general always needs, I find – more fun. Are we done here?”
They made their way through the dark cobbled streets to the park which overlooked the red river, found a bench that was veiled by an overhanging mul’ai tree and filled their pipes with the resin which flaked easily under the heat of a match.
The moon was lost in banks of cloud and from the branches of the dead tree a few roosting crows flapped and snapped at eachother.
The rust coloured plumes of smoke gave the night air a hint of burnt toffee. “Reminds me of a fair I never went to,” Vraxi mused.
Edmund looked at him curiously and drew a long draft on his own pipe. “A fair you never went to?”
“Just so. A few years before the world ended – when fairs really knew how to be fairs, you know; cloud candy and apples on sticks, music and lights and a big top tent…” he trailed off, taking another tug on his pipe “…I watched it for a bit from my balcony. It looked fun.”
“I don’t think I have ever seen one.” the half-demon mused, “certainly grandmother would never allow us to be seen dead at something like that, I would not be surprised to learn that she feigned a bout of rheumatics each time one was in town to prevent me from even knowing of their existence.”
Vraxi chuckled and filled his lungs again with the sweet honey flavoured smoke. “I wonder if Xander has ever been to a fair…” he mused dreamily, and then shook his head; of course Xander would never have been to a fair – not as a child, certainly, and the yag was sure he would rather die than have his friends drag him along to one now.
He puffed out a cloud of copper coloured vapour and frowned; he had let himself get sidetracked from his mission, but here he was sitting next to someone… a very beautiful and intelligent someone, his mind corrected him… who probably knew more about the possibilities of what he was hoping to achieve than anyone else of his acquaintance. A student of demonology. Why had he not thought to ask Edmund about it before?
“Do you think it is possible,” he aksed, “for a demon to be… good?”
Edmund looked startled. “Am I not good?” he asked, taking another long draft of the opiate and puffing perfectly heart-shaped smoke rings into the crisp night air.
Oh dear, Vraxi thought as his heart did a sudden somersault, he’s going to be the undoing of me at this rate. “How are you doing that?” he asked, attempting the feat himself with no success.
Edmund laughed at his feeble efforts. “It’s my super power.” he said shyly, and then giggled and bit his lip.
Vraxi narrowed his eyes at him and smirked but gave up trying. “But seriously, you are only half demon, if you don’t mind my saying so.” he ventured.
Edmund shot him a sidelong look, “Does that mean I can only ever be half good?”he asked, “Because then you would have to ask ‘ah, but which half is the good half?’ Or perhaps you might start to wonder, ‘are they both good?’ Or ‘is neither?’ Or is ‘good’ even a thing? Is it an absolute? Or is it a perspective? Is it a constant? Is it relative? Does it change as time goes by?”
“If your intention is to make my head spin, you are succeeding.” Vraxi chuckled.
Edmund smiled ruefully and looked at his shoes. “Sorry. It’s just that these questions more than fascinate me. Can you understand? I have spent my entire life building my conception of self around these philosophical conundrums.” He took a long draw on his pipe, “My thesis – Demons of Love and Light – is an enquiry into some of those very questions…”
“Demons of Love?”
“And Light, yes. There are all sorts of demons, you see, just as there are all sorts of humans… all sorts of every creature… my argument is that it is perhaps more useful to look at the domain of the demon’s power, rather than to try to label demons as all evil. In reality, the complexities of the soul of any creature transcend such monochrome labelling anyway, don’t you find?”
Vraxi tugged on his pipe and tried to process what he thought Edmund was saying, “do demons have a soul then?” He asked finally.
Edmund burst into another fit of giggles that brought tears to his beautiful eyes; “I hope so!” he managed, almost choking on his pipe smoke. “Or else I will have failed in my thesis and be laughed out of the academic world for good.” He looked at Vraxi as if he was looking at a someone who needed to be treated gently. “That is how the church is able to bind them,” he said, “by using sigil magic to transfer their soul from their body and bind it to the soul of a human.”
Vraxi shook his head, “I never considered how it worked,” he said, frowning at his own lack of knowledge on something so commonplace, “that is very interesting indeed.”
He stared out over the dark expanse of parkland and chewed the end of his pipe. Of course it made sense, now he thought about it, the demon inside Xander was just a displaced soul… in which case, perhaps, they could find it another body – one that wasn’t being used by anyone of course – and somehow transfer it into that. If they could trust it. And if it was indeed good.
Good. He chewed that word over in his mind, beginning to realsie what the half-demon was driving at… the more he thought about it the less he could say with any certainty exactly what the word meant. Not good then, he decided, just trustworthy – that is a simple concept enough to judge it on.
“Stone the crows will you look at that?” the half demon murmured, tugging Vraxi’s sleeve and pointing up at the sky. “See her? There, my goodness, isn’t she beautiful?”
The yag strained his eyes but all he could see was the full moon, riding out from behind the clouds and bathing the park in silver light, falling on the black feathered backs of the crows as they fluttered down from the mul’ai trees to bathe in its ethereal luminescence.
“Why are they doing that…?” he murmured.
“Look, look!” the half demon insisted, “she is there, look, the moon beneath her feet, crowned by the sun and cloaked with the night-sky sprinkled with stars. She is Vesna and Kesylika combined, life and death made one…” he stood up, balancing precariously on the back of the bench as he fumbled inside his coat pocket and pulled out a notebook. “It is an ancient demonic prophesy, listen…”
Hurriedly flipping through the pages, he found what he wanted and read aloud, “I am not gone, only am I grown wings and with them flown – fleeing into the wild hearts of my children, look and find me for am I not here? Am I not your Mother? Queen of life and death and love, crowned with the blood red dying sun, with the moon beneath my feet and cloaked in stars. The end is come, and I am here with you; The Lady Of The Apocolypse.” he pointed the book at the sky “It is her, look!”
But the yag wasn’t looking at the sky anymore. He was looking at the crows , rising in the moonlight, flocking together until their fluctuating forms began to merge and meld and become one…
“The crow man,” he whispered, slowly tugging Edmund down from the bench by his coat tails. “Ziga was right!”
“Look.” He pointed at the ragged figure that was forming on the path, eyes glowing like pearls and a crescent-moon staff clasped in its hand.
The half demon peered wide-eyed into the darkness, “I don’t see anything.”
“There! There, look, on the path.”
“There is nothing there! Look at the sky,”
“There is nothing in the sky…”
They looked at eachother incredulously, each almost furious at the other’s seemingly wilful ignorance of the apparition in front of them.
And then they both dissolved into fits of hysterical laughter and rolled off the bench onto the grass, where they lay on their backs, gasping for breath with tears of mirth streaming down their cheeks.
It took several minutes for them quiet down and then they lay there in silence, staring up at the frozen canopy of stars through the dead branches of the mul’ai tree.
“Oh my goodness,” the half demon gasped, “I have never laughed so hard in all my long undeath.” He chewed the end of his pipe and blew more heart-shaped smoke rings up into the darkness.
“I’m going to crack that one day,” Vraxi promised.
“I told you, you can’t, it’s my super power.” he smiled, “everyone has one.”
Vraxi turned his head and looked at him doubtfully, “I am not entirely convinced of the truth in that statement,” he said. “Certainly I, for example, have many things I excel at… probably I am the greatest libertine this city has ever known, not to mention the very best thief…but those things are hardly super powers…”
Edmund propped himself up on his elbow and smiled, “You’re right,” he said shyly, “your super power is something far more wonderful than any of those things. It is that you are the very best friend anyone could ever wish for.”
Perhaps it was the effect of the opiate, or maybe the fact that this had been a particularly long and difficult day but it took a momentous effort for Vraxi to ignore the voices in his head which began screaming that Edmund was wrong, deluded, naive, or simply didn’t know him well enough to see what a cheap, shallow, self-serving and utterly worthless monster he truly was. If even Xander, who knew him better than anyone else, couldn’t call him ‘friend’, then what the hell did Edmund know?
He swallowed hard and forced himself to chuckle, hoping Edmund couldn’t tell how close he was to tears. “Some would say, you should choose your friends with more caution, Edmund,” he quipped, folding his arms behind his head and closing his eyes in what he hoped was a relaxed and nonchalant fashion..
Edmund rolled onto his belly and leant his chin on his hands. “Can I… can I ask you favour?” he whispered.
“Anything under the dying sun,” Vraxi said expansively, spreading his arms wide to illustrate his point.
Edmund smiled sheepishly, “Tomorrow I am supposed to give a speech… at the library… about my thesis… I don’t really want to do it but I have to it’s part of the course…”
Vraxi frowned, “I am not entirely certain I can help you give a speech…” he said doubtfully, “…and do not ask me to break your legs so that you can get out of it,” he added, waving a finger sternly at the half -demon.
Edmund giggled. “No, you misunderstand me… wilfully I suspect,” he added, with a little smile, “I mean I’d like you to come… that is, if you’d like to… you don’t have to…I mean, it will probably be very dull and boring and I shall probably trip over my tongue and mess it all up but it’s just that… I would feel better about it… if someone I liked… if you… were there…”
Vraxi rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. “I would love to come.” he said earnestly.
“Oh course!” he sat up and felt about in his pockets for a match. “I have never been invited to a speech before; I am utterly honoured Edmund that you would want me there and I am certain it will an incomparable success!” He re-lit his pipe and then reached across and re-lit Edmund’s as well. “What time would you like me to be there?”
Edmund took a few puffs on his pipe to get it going. “It starts at seven pm, if that isn’t too late for you?”
Vraxi shook his head and puffed thoughtfully on his pipe for a moment, a sudden plan beginning to grow in his ever-active mind…
“It is not too late at all,” he began cautiously, “but would it be an inconvenience to you, Edmund, if a… friend of mine… were to come along as well? It is a friend who is new in town,” he explained quickly, seeing Edmund’s face fall at the suggestion, “and I fear that if I leave him on his own he may… get into trouble…”
“I see.” Edmund hugged his knees and rested his chin on them looking doleful. “Of course it is fine.”
Oh dear, I am going to have to level with him, Vraxi thought, unable to bear the sight of his beautiful, kind, intelligent friend looking so dejected. “Listen Edmund,” he said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder and bringing his face down so that they were eye to eye, “may I tell you a secret?”
So Vraxi is off on his little delivery mission- will he be able to stick to the plan this time? XD
I hope you have had a fabulously fraptious weekend and that the week ahead is full of magic and mischeif! 😀
The sun had well and truly set and the light of the full moon turned the cobblestone streets into a tapestry of silver-shine and shadow. Crows chuckled and chittered from the rooftops but the yag kept to the busier streets where the birds found the bustle and noise too confusing.
By the time he reached the library, Edmund was just locking up; his hands shaking with cold in their fingerless gloves as he fumbled with the key and an armful of books.
“Allow me?” Vraxi offered, coming up behind him and startling the half demon so much that he dropped the books all over the street.
“V.. Vraxi! I… I ‘m so sorry! Y… you startled the life out of me!” Edmund stuttered, flushing scarlet and stooping to pick up the mess.
“Then it is I who ought to be apologising, is it not?” Vraxi asked, bending down to help. “And making amends,” he added, handing one of the books back to Edmund.
“Thankyou. Um, it’s quite late, were you coming to borrow a book? I can stay open a little longer if you were.”
“No, no, there’s no need, it wasn’t the library itself that set my feet towards The Spires.”
Edmund looked confused and Vraxi laid a hand on his shoulder, “I was looking for you, Edmund; hoping to catch you before you left, so it seems my timing is perfect, wouldn’t you say?”
Edmund smiled and looked at his feet. “It certainly seems so. Was there… any particular reason you wanted to see me?”
Oh dear, thought Vraxi, he thinks I am come here to ask him to dinner. He rubbed the back of his neck and glanced up and down the street… he was feeling a little peckish… “I thought, perhaps, we could walk round to Massey’s on Bridge Street together? They do an excellent stew – not a patch on Ros’s cooking of course – but certainly better than anything else my coin could stretch to… and I have something to pass on from Mendicci,” he added in an undertone, a sudden idea beginning to form in his mischievous mind.
He patted his waistcoat carefully, “The new resin the good doctor has been working on. I thought that perhaps, after we have dined, we could try it out?”
Edmund’s expression changed from ecstatic to uncertain as he listened to the yag’s proposals. “Is… that what Spyro asked us to do?” he asked.
Vraxi spread is palms. “Almost,” he grinned, draping an arm around Edmund’s shoulders as they started together up the hill, “but here’s the rub, Edmund, why should we stick to one plan, when another would suit us better? Hm? And Spyro need never know, afterall, I am not going to tell him, are you?”
Edmund gave a sly sideways little smile. “No,” he whispered, and then giggled like a nervous school boy.
Oh dear, thought Vraxi, what ever am I getting myself into now?
Ok, here we are back at The Cross Keys where Xander left Vraxi. Hopefully this one will bring all those dangling threads together then…. for a little while at least! XD Wishing you all a most fabulous safe and healthy weekend! xx
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Vraxi nearly jumped out of his skin as the Doctor and Fey seemingly materialised out of nowhere and slid onto the bench opposite him, banishing all thoughts of Xander immediately from his mind.
“Forgive me,” he said quickly, “truly, I was miles away.”
“That much was evident,” the Ghani said, “but you have not answered my question.”
Vraxi smiled nervously as he felt his mouth go dry, the last thing he wanted to do was upset the doctor; it no doubt would be the last thing he ever did. “You may have them for free, of course, they are worth nothing as is usually the case; I was only reflecting on the sorry lot of my friend.” He turned to Fey, “If you’ll forgive the observation, he carries his soldier’s legacy with more difficulty than your good self.”
Fey smiled, “It’s no small thing for any of us, kid,” she said, tilting his tankard towards her and smirking at the bobbing bones. “But Xander was much younger than I was when the world ended, I had over two decades of fighting under my belt – in some ways, the longer you’re in a game like that, the easier it gets, you know?”
Vraxi smiled grimly. “Yes. Yes I do.”
Fey pushed her own mug of kvass towards him and waved to the bar tender to fetch another.
“How long have you known him?” the doctor asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “More years than I can easily number…” he began but seeing the ghani’s colour begin to rise in frustration he quickly pressed on “…since I started working for Mendicci.” He took a nervous sip of kvass, why was the doctor so interested in him and Xander all of a sudden? “After the world ended, well, myself and my co-workers found ourselves suddenly without a place of abode…”
“Although hardly without a trade,” Fey teased.
He gave a wry smile, “I wanted something better. My Mother died when I was twelve so…”
“Died?” The Ghani asked incredulously and Fey rolled her eyes and gave him a sharp kick under the table. He frowned at her, utterly perplexed, and then turned back to the yag, “Your mother, like all ro’njai – the veritable serfs we used to be – was, I assume, marked with a sigil which prevented her death.”
“Just so,” Vraxi replied, trying hard to keep his tone even. “It was no different for us than for any factory worker or miner or, as you say, any ro’njai; our Doamnâsi saw the benefit of paying the church to ensure her workers could not succumb to illness, fatigue or brutality.” he took another sip of kvass, buying some time to get a grip on his own emotions, but he couldn’t prevent the flames beginning to swell slightly beneath the surface of his skin. “But with a soul-blade, of course, it is possible to deliberately kill someone who is soul-bound.”
“She was murdered then?”
Vraxi nodded. He took another swig of kvass and shrugged, “It was a common occurrence.”
The doctor waved his hand dismissively, “I see, so having no family to concern yourself with… you did what? Went straight to Mendicci?”
Vraxi shook his head. “No, at that point I had never heard of him. I was already a passable finger-smith so I decided to try my hand at house breaking.” He shrugged. “I managed for a few years on my own before I caught Mendicci’s attention.”
“That man has a way of hunting out wafes and strays and bringing them under his wing.” the doctor said darkly.
Vraxi nodded. “He is a good businessman,” he said carefully, still unsure as to where this interrogation was leading, “anyone who thinks they can strike out on their own and start cracking cribs or cutting purses without him having a hand in it will soon find their mis-assumptions corrected. But he looks after his own; I have lost count of the times I have been spared the consequences of my enterprises thanks to his influence over the city watch.”
“And Xander knew him already?” The ghani pressed.
“For perhaps a week or two? Mendicci put us together for our first job, gave us a room to rent… set us up the way he does for all his…” he hesitated, taking a moment to push back the sting, “all his employees.”
The doctor nodded, either ignoring or not noticing the yag’s discomfort. “And Ros?”
Vraxi looked confused, “I met her at the shop, when we finished the job and came to drop off the painting we’d taken she was there…”
“No, no, no!” The doctor snapped irritably, and Vraxi’s eyes widened in alarm. “I mean how long had Ros known him?”
“Xander?” Vraxi asked, still feeling utterly perplexed.
“Mendicci,” Fey said quickly, trying to lend a hand.
“Forgive me.” Vraxi held up his hands. “It is my understanding,” he said carefully, “that Ros and Spyro have known eachother since the beginning of the end of the world. Ros and little Ziga are Jai’Yantra so I assume…”
“Yes, yes we all know what bio-mechanoids are,” the doctor said impatiently, waving a hand, “I am not interested in your assumptions I want facts. Stick to the facts.”
Vraxi took a deep breath, “forgive me,” he said again; silently wondering how many times he was going to have to use that phrase this evening. “All I know for certain is that which Ros has told me; that when the world ended she and Ziga were in a very desperate situation and that Mendicci was too. Together they built Silk and Steel up from nothing, hoping to benefit both themselves and the wider community.”
The dusk djinn looked frustrated but he nodded and took a pensive sip from his pint.
Vraxi breathed a mental sigh of relief and took a long draft from his own tankard, wondering why the hell he was suddenly facing this strange inquisition.
“Keep ’em comin’!” Fey hollered at the bar tender, draining her own jug. “Count yourself lucky, kid,” she said, “if nothin’ else you had the good fate for the world to end when you were young and fit and still had your looks. Pitty us old cuckolds for whom the lines and the rheumatism had already begun to kick in.”
Vraxi smiled, taking the cue that his ordeal was over and he could relax a little. “I have said it many times, Fey, you are and will always be one of the most beautiful women of my acquaintance.”
“Comin’ from one who notoriously finds beauty in just about anyone that’s quite a unique compliment I’m sure!” Fey chuckled.
Vraxi shook his head and his eyes twinkled, “There are many forms of beauty, it is everywhere and in everything, the art is merely to look for it.”
“Sentimental hogwash,” The doctor grumbled.
The doors of the tavern suddenly swung open and a large crowd of sky-dock Frâţjani bowled in, singing loudly the songs of revolution and demanding the musicians take up the tune.
“Kvass for the house!” cried a familiar voice from the midst of the throng, and Vraxi’s heart sank even as his colour roiled suddenly and uncontrollably beneath his skin.
“Well, this has been a very pleasant evening,” he began, getting to his feet. The last thing he felt capable of at this point was to spend the next few hours with Spyro Mendicci.
“Not leaving are you, darling?” Ros asked, appearing out of the crowd and sliding onto the bench beside him.
Vraxi took a deep, calming breath and fixed a grin on his face, “just stretching my legs,” he said breezily, “do you want anything from the bar?” he shifted his gaze to incorporate the doctor and Fey in the question. “I was just about to say, this pleasant evening could perhaps be made more so with a round of tzujka?”
“Excellent idea!” Spyro said, clapping the yag on the shoulders and pushing him back down into his seat. He waved a hand at the bar tender and called for the drinks to be brought over then slipped onto the bench beside Vraxi. “Pleased to see me?” he asked.
“Always.” Vraxi lied, with what he hoped was a convincing grin.
Spyro laughed and shot him one of those devillishly sinister smiles. “No Xander tonight?”
Vraxi shrugged, “He does not seem to favour my company at present.”
“I can’t imagine anyone holding that opinion for long,” Spyro said, giving his thigh a quick squeeze under the table.
A serving maid brought over the tray of drinks and Spyro paid her and made a great exhibition of distributing the glasses.
“I would like to make a toast,” he said, getting to his feet, “to the Frâţjana; to the rights of all workers in this fair city, to equality and prosperity for all, to solidarity, to unity and,” he swept his glass around the table in a gesture which carefully encompassed the doctor, fey, Ros and Vraxi in turn, “ to friendship.”
Clever, Vraxi thought as he touched glasses with the others and knocked back his drink.
“Practicing your campaign speech?” the doctor asked dryly as he knocked his glass against the antiques dealer’s.
Spyro smiled, “merely voicing my support for the dockers’ union and observing that the values they are fighting for on the streets are the same values that make our own organisation so successful.” he said smoothly.
“And how do our most recent plans unfold?”
Spyro spun his empty glass on the table, “speaking for the threads I am responsible for…”
“You can hardly speak for those you are not.” the doctor said, matter of factly.
Spyro spun his glass again and held the doctors gaze steadily, “it is still early days, of course. The Frâţjana are putting pressure on the duke, as you can see, and our key players appear to be doing well in stiring the other unions to action.” He looked to Ros.
“The ‘stokrai are already agitated about the rise in crime in The Groves,” she said, “but we are holding back until the right moment to bring the matter to bear upon the duke.”
“And for your part?”
The doctor waited until the loud chorus of “Oprahno Prahli, Oprahno Frâţjana!” had died down a little before answering. “As promised, we have managed to extract the diterpinoid from the fungus – which, as I predicted has proved to be a potent k-opioid agonist – and combined it into a resinous form using fossilised ericaceae honey, which itself is a mild hallucinogen. We are ready for testing,” he said, reaching inside his waistcoat and handing over the small leather pouch.
“You could not have handed it to Edmund yourself?” Spyro aksed.
The doctor arched an eyebrow at him, “You think it would not invite comment for a senior member of staff to be seen handing out new hallucinogenic substances to his students?” he drained his glass and clicked his fingers at the bar tender for another round.
Spyro passed the pouch to Vraxi, “Take this to Edmund….” Then he raised his eyebrows enquiringly at the doctor, “How many hits are in this?”
“…Tell him to find five of his customers from the Rocchana Den who are willing to try something new. Give it to them for free and watch the results carefully; we need to know if the ride is a good one and if there are any adverse side effects.” He waited until Vraxi had slipped the pouch into his shirt and stood up before placing a hand on his arm, “Don’t get distracted,” he said, in his usual unfathomable tone, “and do not be tempted to try it yourself; we wouldn’t want to lose you, would we?”
Vraxi grinned nervously, unsure exactly what Spyro was implying, and Ros shot him sidelong smile as he squeezed past her which was in no way reassuring.
“We are walking a very tight line here,” she said seriously, after the yag had disappeared. “Our friends in Pav’shmah have already signed the trade agreement for this new substance…”
“You worry needlessly, my dear,” the doctor said, “I have already done extensive testing on crows, tonight will merely confirm that which may almost be taken for granted; that the hybrid substance we have created provides a perfectly safe and enjoyable experience.” He knocked back his drink before continuing, “And Arden has constructed an ingenius method for mass prodction at a rate which will not disappoint our customers.”
Ros took a pensive sip of her own drink, “Speaking of your godson, love,” she said “do you have any idea when he will be able to go home?”
“I’m afraid his father is still being a little difficult but I have spoken to Tarmaturge Blondell of the Vesperai Host and he has agreed to talk to him about Arden’s potential and the benefits to the Vesperai of integrating more with wider society.”
“Tricky when the church is activly persecuting them, doc,” Fey pointed out and the Ghani nodded in agreement.
“Tricky indeed,” he said gravely, “but all the more necessary. The more people who can claim positive and amicable acquaintance with the Vesperai, the less the mud the church is throwing will be able to stick.”
A sudden cheer rose from the dockers’ union members, now gathered around a woman with wild curling hair who was standing on a barrel giving a rousing speech and waving her fist in the air to illustrate her points.
“She’s wonderful,” Ros said admiringly.
Fey drained her next kvass, “Told you,” she said with a wink. She pushed up from the table and wove her way towards the barrel, arriving just in time to catch the woman in her arms as the she jumped down.
“You’re wonderful, aparently,” she smirked, swinging her lover round in her arms and planting a row of kisses down her neck.
“Doubt it, did’yer?” Via teased, grinning as several dockers clapped her on the back and began calling again for the fiddlers to strike up a new tune. “Get uz a drink will yer? It’s gone on a storm but I tell yer I’m parched!”
Fey waved to the barman for a tank of kvass, “And then you promised me a dance, remember?” she said, swaying playfully to the sultry violin music that was sidling through the haze of pipe smoke and chatter and slowly gaining tempo.
On the other side of the room, Spyro offered his hand to Ros and soon many couples had taken to the floor and were stamping, clapping and twirling the steps of the Ro’njai Buleria; the traditional dance of Ro’njai rebels.
And here’s what The Doctor and Fey have been up to all this while… (sorry for all the jumping around, I hope all the threads are still making sense! XD They’ll tie up again in the next post I promise! )
“He’s not here.” The Doctor said. Not looking up from the book he was reading.
Fey pulled another chair to the table and seated herself opposite him. “Who?” she asked, tucking her long, greying hair behind one ear. She had already marked the patrons of the records office on her way in and could see no likely threat to her friend the alchemist, but she remained alert nonetheless.
“Mendicci.” he muttered, turning a page and scanning down it with his forefinger before closing the tome with a loud thud. “The man literally does not exist.”
Fey looked at him with concern. “But we know he does Doc, we both know him, hell, everyone knows him he’s as real as you or I.” She sighed heavily. “Why don’t you go home and get some sleep?”
Thd Doctor shook his head. “This has implications that go beyond your understanding. And that is not an insult,” he added, seeing Fey begin to smirk, “merely an observation.”
“There it is.” Fey said, shaking her head in amusement, “The reason I solicit your company, Doc. You always know how to flatter a girl.”
The doctor smiled grimly. “An intelligent girl knows that flattery is nothing and truth is everything.” He said, inclining his own head respectfully to indicate that he intended a compliment.
“The point is, I have been through all the possible city records – the man was never born. There is no record of him.”
Fey shrugged, “so his birth wasn’t registered. I’m sure there are hundreds of brats born in slums and gutters who don’t get an official birth certificate.”
The Doctor waved a finger in the air at that “You’re absolutely right. Which is why I have also been through the annual census records which recorded every citizen present in the city over the age of twelve – nothing – the workhouse records – nothing – the documentation of immigrants – nothing. I am telling you Fey this man does not exist.”
“And yet he does.” Fey said gently, laying a gloved hand over the doctor’s arm.
“But how?” the doctor asked. “Who is he? What is he? Where did he come from? Why does he bleed?”
Fey shook her head. “Look I don’t know Doc, maybe he snuck here on a ship from Pav’shma? Maybe he.. maybe he changed his name! Did you think of that?” The doctor looked at her sceptically and Fey threw her hands up in the air “Well, hell Doc maybe he just slipped down a rope from the moon, I have no idea. What I do know is that you are becoming obsessed, and that ain’t healthy.” She looked at him gently and smiled, “Come on, lets take your talk if the mysterious Mendicci to The Cross Keys, where I can get get a drink,” she said, cracking a quick drumroll on the table and rising from her seat.
Ahoi! I hope you’re still hanging on in there and staying safe and well! We *may* be going a little CABIN FEEEEEVERRRRR! XD XD XD Every time I sit down two of the small folk begin murdering eachother or one of the big people asks me to cook something! XD So to remedy that we decided to build a giant catapult out of cardboard boxes. Finally finished the monster this morning and now the kiddos are in the garden looking for things to send into orbit (best lock up your cats! XD ) We still have cardboard left over so we’ve started crossbows and armour now too… if I disappear, tis because I have been roped into a full scale cardboard war! XD Hope you guys are all filling your days with delightful distractions! 😀 Here is Xander after he leaves Vraxi in The Cross Keys…
To all outward appearances, Xander remained calm and in control as he stalked the main street down towards the bridge.
Inside, however, his emotions roiled like the hunter ships tossed through the stormy skies above. Curse the Yag, he thought furiously, and he cursed himself as well for letting someone – anyone – get that close to him. Why did the infuriating little cock so love playing with fire?
Unless, Xander’s glower darkened dangerously, unless the Yag really thought they could be friends. Really believed it was possible for Xander to let someone in through that wall of intense control he had spent so long perfecting.
‘Idiot’ Xander thought furiously – and he wasn’t sure if he was rebuking himself or the fire djinn – I’ll be the death of him.
He shook his head resolutely. No. He refused to let that happen. The Yag was the only person he’d ever cared about – true he thought about killing him several times a day, but the fact that he hadn’t actually done it yet was testimony to… well, he wasn’t sure… but definitely it meant… something.
Xander had signed up for the army when he was fourteen, a few years before the end of the world had begun; it was an easy choice for a boy leaving institutional care – army or factory – and army had seemed the sweeter option.
Seemed, he thought bitterly. No one had mentioned demons.
Now he was stuck with this creature inside him and the horrific memories of the things it had done through his flesh. He clenched his jaw and willed his mind to focus on his surroundings; the lamplight licking over the dark waters of the red river, the cobbles beneath his feet, the bite of cold from the rising fog.
These things kept him focused on who he was – a being of flesh, and blood, nerves and sinews, real touchable things that he could control.
He smiled, not out of mirth but simply to prove that the muscles obeyed his command.
He frowned and again, there was no emotion behind the performance, merely the reassurance of self control.
He stopped, then started again.
Sped up, then slowed down.
This was his mantra, his ritual, his method for banishing all those thoughts and feelings and fears that had been sown inside him by someone else’s hand.
Vraxi was right about one thing, he relented; he hadn’t chosen this. All moral, religious and social order, all law and sanction, punishment and reward was based on the idea that people had the power of choice to control their own actions. The demon-bound… almost every race left in this hell really… had had those choices taken away from them. In the name of national security, in the name of protecting assets or preserving the power of choice for others. His soul had been judged as dispensable, worth the sacrifice.
Well, the world was ended and Xander – and many others like him – were still here. That must be it then he surmised, this surely was hell and for all that he’d done he no doubt belonged in it.
He considered, for a second, just giving up, letting loose the beast right here and now and giving his body over to it entirely, ripping the Yag and anyone else he came across into shreds and not stopping until the city watch brought him down and put him out of his misery with a Soul-blade.
But no, even that wouldn’t work, he realised bitterly. With nowhere for souls to go to once they left their bodies, they simply hung about, looking lost, their shadow-forms trying desperately to mimic the things they had done in life but to no effect.
He stopped when he reached the sky-dock and listened to the raucous singing and chanting of the union protesters who had begun to strike earlier that week.
Part of him desperately felt like joining them; although he knew it was not his fight, the chance to gain a moment of release for all this aggression and anger and stress that was constantly roiling inside him, just to let it out, just for a second…
If he closed his eyes, he could hear the military drums, the bellowed orders to attack, the screams and shrieks of the battlefield as if it were all around him…or was that the demon? Was it his own will guiding his feet towards the violence and the rioting, or was it the will of the creature inside him trying to satiate its own need? He had never heard its voice directly, he understood that it could only truly possess his consciousness if he activated one of his sigils, and even then its powers of control were limited… but nevertheless, often he felt that his thoughts and desires were not entirely his own. And it terrified and infuriated him in equal measure.
He stood, irresolute for a few moments, before turning on his heel and heading back towards The Cinders and home. The yag’s last expression as he’d left the inn drifted across his mind; he had not expected to hurt him. Had not intended to at all. If only the idiot would understand; he was trying to keep him safe. He snorted at that thought; as if anyone was ‘safe’ sharing a room with a violent demon-bound miscreant who had killed too many people to count and had to be periodically chained up just to prevent him from killing more while he was asleep.
And here’s Vraxi straight after his encounter with Spyro. This one’s quite introspective (though purely emotive not graphic) so, again, if you find these things upsetting you’ll want to skip this one. The next one is fine though 🙂 xx
It took a little over an hour of walking the darkening cobbled streets, keeping to the gunnels and snickets, sometimes even taking to the rooftops for a while, before Vraxi felt he could face anybody.
To say he had never felt so utterly desolated and worthless would be a lie. He had sat with these demons more times than he cared to count. But he had made it the purpose of almost every moment of his life to try and forget, to push those feelings away, to mask and ignore and gloss over the fact that he was not a person that anyone could ever love, like or desire.
He never expected any of those things from anyone, least of all from Mendicci, not even from Xander (although he dared to hope that perhaps, one day, his friend might come to understand how much he genuinely cared about him). But in the space of one short afternoon, Mendicci had completely dismantled the emotional scaffolding that Vraxi kept carefully in place to try and stop himself sliding into despair. He’d let Vraxi see himself the way he saw him – as nothing but a convenient piece of pretty flesh that was only worth his attention if it was doing exactly as it was told. In Mendicci’s eyes, Vraxi only existed to please him, he had no other worth or purpose and his own feelings, emotions, desires, were so insignificant that even Vraxi himself would not be permitted to acknowledge them.
Vraxi sat on the gutter rail, his legs hanging over the edge of the rooftop and swallowed hard. None of this was new. It had just been a while since he had been forced to remember how very powerless and alone he was. And how trapped. His entire livelihood was entrenched in Silk and Steel, he lived and worked and thrived and survived and had his liberty (despite his many misadventures) because they allowed it. There was no more to say about the matter.
He touched two fingers to the bite mark at his neck and winced. A whore’s mark. Had Spyro known what that would mean to a boy who was born in a brothel? Of course he had.
“Enough.” he said out loud. “You are becoming tedious Vraxanthrin, and if there is one thing nobody should ever be able to accuse you of, it is being tedious.” It took a momentous effort then to fight down the voices which screamed that tedious was exactly what Spyro Mendicci found him, probably Ros and Agathri and Xander and Edmund and everyone else as well.
“I will, not, hear you.” he whispered, swallowing it all down and standing up to stretch his arms and legs. Stretching always made him feel a little better. He spread his arms out and turned a full circle then skipped a silly little dance across the slates and forced himself to laugh. “Come on, enough,” he told himself again, clapping his hands together before swinging lightly down onto an outhouse roof and then into the next street. “Let us go and find some diversion or other, Xander is bound to be abroad somewhere, perhaps we can persuade him to a game of chance? Or if not,” he reasoned, turning onto the bright lit mainstreet and feeling the voices begin to fade amid the cacophony of lights and sounds and smells that filled the city night, “at least we may find some amusement or distraction in the form of something or someone.”
To say that he felt better as he pushed open the door of The Cross Keys and began weaving his way towards the familiar hunched figure that could only be Xander Dumarle, would have been a lie.
But then it would have been equally untrue to say that anybody looking at him would have guessed he wasn’t anything but on top of the world, as usual.
So Vraxi is invited to ‘lunch’ and this one comes with a trigger warning my lovelies –
There’s nothing too graphic or gratuitous but it is an emotive extract and does portray power imbalance within a sexual relationship and implied emotional, psychological and physical abuse. Give it a miss if you find these things upsetting and I’ll see you on the other side. xx
“So, Agathri Hogarth paid you to remove the pastes and the demonsong was an unexpected bonus?” Spyro undid the top button of Vraxi’s shirt, and then the second. He brushed aside the silk fabric, revealing a few inches of the Yag’s shoulder where the fire inside him was rolling in furious clouds beneath his translucent olive skin. Slowly he traced his fingers along the collar bone.
“Just so. A side job. Nothing more. I didn’t think you’d mind.” Vraxi tilted his head, trying to catch Spyro’s eye. “She wanted the insurance money.”
“I see.” More buttons fell away at Spyro’s gently insistent touch and another tug brought the shirt right off and sliding down to the floor.
Vraxi’s heart was racing. Of all the people in all his little world, Spyro thrilled him the most, terrified him the most; was the most attentive, and yet the most elusive, the most dangerous and delightful and demoralising. A month could pass without him so much as glancing at the Yag, and Vraxi would begin to wonder if Mendicci had lost interest in him, would begin to feel rejected, insecure and almost desperate in the man’s presence until at last he lost hope and turned his attention to other, less complicated playmates like Agathri or Ros.
But other times, and Vraxi never knew what it was that caused the change, Spyro seemed not to be able to keep his hands off him. He seriously hoped this was the start of another one of those stints when he would engineer every opportunity for them to be alone together, knowing that within seconds he would feel Mendicci’s breath hot against the side of his neck, or his hands wandering idly over his shoulders, chest, hips, sliding, slipping, grasping.
He reached for the black buttons on Spyro’s damask waistcoat, but Mendicci caught his hand and held it gently back against the wall as he let the fingers of his other hand skirt along the lip of Vraxi’s leather waist band. “Why do you always wear such tight trousers?”
Vraxi smirked, “Perhaps it is that I like playing hard to get?”
Spyro trailed his fingers round a second time, pushing a little deeper below the fabric. “We both know that is not the case.”
“Well…what would you have me do?” The Yag asked playfully. “Wear a skirt?”
Spyro smiled thoughtfully, sliding his hand up, over the Yag’s chest, tracing slowly and deliberately over the single sigil which kept his soul trapped inside his flesh.
Vraxi winced and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth against the mix of pain and pleasure coursing through his frame. The flames inside him swelled and coiled in and over and under themselves in response to Spyro’s touch until he felt he was going to explode.
“Look at me, Bane.” Spyro caught the yag under the chin and brought his lips within a hair’s breadth of his own, looking deep into his eyes for so long, that for one wonderful, terrifying, heartbreaking moment Vraxi thought he was going to… kiss him…something Spyro had never done before…
But instead he turned Vraxi’s head slowly to the side and brushed his lips briefly against the Yag’s neck. “I would have you do, exactly what I tell you to do, exactly when I tell you to do it,” he breathed. And then bit down, slowly, not hard enough to break the skin, just drawing soul and fire up towards the surface until Vraxi began to twitch away, crying out for him to stop.
He didn’t immediately, of course, that wasn’t the game. He waited until his name was a desperate gasp on the Yag’s lips, until the first tears spilled down his burning cheek.
Then he let him go. “Get them off.” he said, slapping the Yag’s backside and starting to unbuckle his own belt.
And here’s what our lil Vraxi is obliviously up to while all that was going on, blissfully unaware that Spyro’s ‘sword of Damocles’ is hanging over his head (no no no, stop singing Rocky Horror… stop it!… this is serious stuff y’know… a-hem… 😉 XD )
“When you said you would be able to remove some unwanted pastes for me dear,” Agathri Hogarth didn’t get up from her dressing table, but watched the Yag’s reflection in the mirror as he climbed in through her powder room window, “you made no mention of turning the entire house into a demolition site in the process.”
Vraxi shrugged, “you made no mention of your brobdingnagian security system, my lady. Indeed, you may count yourself fortunate I do not come begging recompense for the damage to my coat.”
Agathri smirked, “When weighed against the cost of the damage you caused by setting it off, and considering the market value of the four vials of demonsong you requested, I’m certain I should be the one claiming recompense from you.”
“Well, then I am all contrition,” Vraxi said, with a low bow, “however can I make it up to you?”
Agathri smiled slyly at him, rose from the dressing table and drifted idly towards him, the many diaphanous layers of her dressing gown flowing like flames of muted light around her in the little breeze from the open window.
She pressed her palms gently against his chest and Vraxi felt his own fire begin to swell and uncoil within him, even as he watched hers rising and rolling beneath the surface of her skin.
She nestled her head of tight silver curls against his shoulder. “Whatever do you see in me?” she asked suddenly, her breast rising and falling with a gentle sigh. “Such a faded bloom I must seem in this city, among a garden of new budding blossoms who keep their youth eternally.”
He took her hand in his and caressed the parchment-frail skin tenderly before bringing it to his lips in an almost reverent gesture, letting the kiss whisper against her wrist like a prayer.
“You are no rose.” He spoke the words into her ear. “Never have you held such transient, fragile allure. Your beauty is the rich, enthralling depths within the pearl, the amber, the tourmaline; a spell that cannot be cast in some brief moment. Yours is the radiance that only time can bestow; deep as the swell of ocean or the heat of flame and maddening as golden honey to the mind…”
Agathri laughed out loud with glee. “You ridiculous rogue!” she chided, “It is your own wicked tongue that maddens like a honey-trap and well you know it!”
She pushed him away and crossed back to the dressing table, locking the door before winding up the handle of an ornate resin-cylinder phonograph until the raucous music filled the room, and no doubt the entire upper portion of the house.
‘Just as well,’ Vraxi thought with a grin, Agathri had never had a penchant for being discreet and he really didn’t like the thought of the Colonel suddenly coming home and… interrupting them…