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?”
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 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.”
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.”
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 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.
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?”
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.
Happy Friday folks! I made it in after all – I hope you have had an absolutely fabulous week and that the weekend brings treasures and joys un-looked for! 😀
We’re leaving Spyro to have his bath and sober up now and following Ros to The Groves…
“I brought a present for you.” Ros held her hands behind her back and her eyes danced with almost child-like excitement as she entered the little solarium at 16 Holles Street, The Groves.
Betithna threw down the poetry book she was reading and ran to her at once, “Oh what is it? Don’t tease me, let me have it at once!”
“Close your eyes then and hold out your hands.”
“Hands? Both of them? So it is something big…” Betithna did as instructed, bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet as she did so, her enthusiastic grin lighting her face like the sun which streamed through the tall glass windows.
Ros smiled and gently pressed the cool orb of the large, red skinned fruit into her hands, closing her fingers over its smooth dome.
Betithna opened her eyes and looked at it in awe, “is… is this a fruit? Fruit doesn’t grow here in Ryzym…”
“This didn’t come from Ryzym!”
Ros’s grin was as wide as Betithna’s “it’s a pomegranate, all the way from Pav’shmah Beti! And not only these but they can grow figs there as well! Imagine liqueur made with fig and not mu’lai sap!”
Betithna caressed the tender rise of the pomegranate’s curvaceous form, cradled reverently in her palms. “How?” she whispered, her voice suddenly softening with repressed emotion, “How, when everything else is dead?”
“Not everything is dead,” Ros’s voice was the rich fire of tzujka as their eyes met and she took the fruit, penetrating its blushing flesh with her thumb nail, letting its myriad of seeds bloom scarlet between her fingers as it opened. “When we have completed the trade deals, when Beufort and Mendicci are nothing more than a bad memory, you and I and Elaina and Ziga will board one of your beautiful skyships and we’ll remember what it was to live again.”
She pressed half the fruit into Beti’s palm. “Things will be different in Pav’shma, and we will have the money and the freedom, the independence to be who we truly want to be, not what circumstance and survival dictate.”
“Together.” Betithna nodded and tried to brush away the tears that slipped silently down her cheeks. “It is becoming so I can barely stand another day of it. I know it is for the best, but the effects of the drug are so powerful on him… I’m scared Ros, I am scared that if we have to wait much longer we may push him too far…”
“I understand, I truly do, but this is the only way for us to achieve what we’ve dreamed of for so long. The drug only exacerbates what was already there both in his mind and his behaviour- the paranoia, the violence…” She clasped Beti’s arm, “you deserve so much better than this. We both do, our children do. It is only for a few more days, a week perhaps at the most, then the contracts will be signed and you can give him the final dose.”
“But I am terrified, the effect it has on him is already so extreme, I am afraid for Elaina… for myself…he becomes like an animal, deranged…”
“Then give it to him and get out. Get straight out of here do not wait to see the effects, Beti, go straight to Agathri and she will have the Colonel call the asylum as we planned. Suggest to Elaina that she go out with Arden, she will not even be in the house then and you will have nothing to worry about.”
Beti smiled and blinked away her tears, still cradling the precious fruit in her hand. “You make it sound so simple, I wish I had your courage and resolve,”
“It is simple. And soon we won’t need either of those things anymore. Once Beufort is locked up and out of the way the shipping company will automatically revert to your ownership. I will take care of Mendicci once everything is in place and then all we need do is delegate the business side of things to trustworthy employees here in Ryzym, and the world will be at our feet!”
“Pav’shma!” Beti’s eyes shone once more with excitement.
“If we like! Or Lycandrus or Khallimbadd or anywhere the wind will take us!” she laughed.
Beti laughed too. “And we’ll eat pomegranates all day long!” She poked at the profusion of seeds – each an uncut jewel promising the unknown. “How do you eat it? Do you take the seeds out first?”
Ros stared at her for a second and then laughed out loud and shook her head, “I have absolutely no idea!” she confessed, “I suppose that is part of the adventure!”
Ahoi! I’m posting today because I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but if all goes well I’ll try and post tomorrow too to speed things along. The book is pretty much finished as a first draft now I’m just reading back through and ‘doing the grouting’ if you know what I mean – filling in the bits that don’t run smoothly together and jigging things about XD
Sorry it took so long to get through the riots, we’re out the other side now with Ros as she returns to the antiques shop…
If Ros was surprised to find the shop bolted and shuttered mid-morning when she returned, she was even more suspicious when she saw the state her partner had got himself into – although of course she did nothing to show it.
He was drunk, leaning against the study door frame with an empty bottle of tzujka in one hand and not a glass in sight.
He looked at her, puzzled for a moment as if she were some apparition that made no sense in the grand scheme of things… but then his eyes focused and suddenly widened and he lurched towards her. “He’s here!” he whispered, clutching at her arms, letting the bottle fall as he sank to his knees, “he’s here, Pan, The Man In The Moon came down like a crow, the children are singing about it, people have seen him, he’s here! Twardowski is here, in Ryzym! He’s looking for me, what am I going to do?”
Ros thought quickly. Either Mendicci’s mind was coming undone or, just maybe, he was right and the ancient magician he once betrayed had caught up with him at last. Either way it mattered little, she could not afford to lose him at this point, she needed him just a little longer, just until all her plans had come together. Another week or less, and then Pan or the mad house can have him she thought, but not yet, not just yet.
“Listen to me, Mendicci,” she said; her voice the solid comfort of firm ground after sliding long through sand. “It matters not, understand me love? It matters not. Not at all. Remember who you are, love, who you were before you met me and Ziga, who you were even before you met Twardowski. Tadejs Blinda…”
“Don’t speak it here!” Spyro begged, glancing round wide-eyed and frantic as if the crow man would flutter in through the window at any moment.
“Why should we not?” Ros soothed, “Tadejs Blinda; such a name of strength could never be an omen of defeat, love. The man who stood up for his own gain, the man who stood up to those who called themselves ‘master’ over him, the man who stirred the flames of revolution and wooed the world into thinking he was a hero… you did it once, under that name, you have almost done it again now, it is who you are – a leader, a rebel, a survivor, a hero… you are not a man who runs away from the fight, love, you are the man who picks the battleground and lures his enemies to sweet death upon it.”
She fixed him with her deep, dark eyes and could hardly describe the relief when she saw the light of shrewd calculation return to his own.
“You’re right.” he said quickly, and then laughed, “what am I doing? Ha! I am falling to pieces over what? Folk fables and nursery rhymes?”
He got up and wiped his hands across his face. “Twardowski is here, I know it, but you’re right. I will call him out somehow, I will engineer the manner of our meeting and then,” he turned and pointed a finger at her, “I will make an end of him once and for all. No more sleepless nights, Ros, no more Man In The Moon for us!”
He caught her up in his arms and swung her round, clutching her uncomfortably close around the waist so that she longed to pull away and arch her neck from the stench of his stale, fumy breath.
“The Groves for us! The high life when the last papers are signed and sealed and the Duke is brought down and Beufont takes his place…”
“And we take over his shipping company…” she finished, forcing herself to laugh along with him. She’d found him so attractive, once upon a time; dangerously attractive, before she knew him well…
“Yes indeed! Have you yet thought who will take over here for us?”
“I have a few people in mind.”
“So do I. Perhaps we should go upstairs and discuss the matter?”
“Perhaps you are forgetting I have business with Betithna Beufort this morning and your little stunt at the docks has put me behind?”
He relaxed his hold on her, moving his hands to rest lightly on her hips. “With Betithna?”
“She has a lot of sway with the comapny as I told you, afterall it was her father’s originally.”
“Yes, I’d not forgotten.” He looked thoughtful, as if something wasn’t quite adding up…
“You need to have a bath and sober up, love.” Ros said in an overtly maternal manner which invited no protest. “It is Blondell’s party tomorrow night and we have a horrendous amount of loose ends to tie up before then.”
He groaned and rubbed the back of his neck, “Mm, don’t remind me, who’d have thought a life of delictum would involve so much damned paper work?”
She laughed and massaged his shoulders for him, “I have explained it to you too many times to count – the paperwork is what protects us; it is the legitimate trail of legally traded items which obscures the actual goods we are purveying.”
“Smoke and glamour, I know, I know. I’m still going to moan about it though.”
“Well you’ll have to moan alone to the bathroom walls, love, I must get changed and take a cab to The Groves at once.”
He smiled and nodded and watched her head up the stairs then brought his hands together in a decisive clap. Right then Twardowski, how am I going to deal with you?
Egad I’m so sorry I missed the last 2 weeks – so many crazy things are happening this end and I’m struggling to keep on top of it all. Righty, here’s the next slice – still at the riots with Spyro and co. I’ll give you Fey’s perspective and then Ros and Vraxi’s as they are quite short and I’ve missed 2 posts 🙂
( I have my two eldest boys to thank for teaching me about the Eastern-European knife throwing techniques which feature in this extract XD XD )
When Spyro gave the command, Fey ran forwards; not with the main throng but slipping and ducking along the right flank of the mob so that she easily reached the wall before the front runners. Inside, she could feel her demon roiling to be let out but she ignored the urge to sink into a battle frenzy, for now.
Instead she channelled the demon’s strength deep into her muscles, crouched low, tucking her legs tight beneath her for maximum power, and then sprang right up onto the top of the barricade.
Two watch soldiers were already there to meet her. The first raised his baton above his head and Fey easily ducked the clumsy attack, dodging low so that the man overbalanced forwards, coming down on thin air with Fey now behind him.
As he toppled, she spun her left arm out behind her, whipping her long cloak like a sail to flip the teetering man back over the edge. He crashed onto an open cart full of tar barrels.
The second soldier gritted his teeth, pulled a knife from his belt and came at her in a crouching stance.
Fey smirked at the venomous scowl, “So serious?” she quipped, “Is the game not to your liking?” That said, she leapt right over the crouching man’s head, drawing her own daggers from her boots in mid-air and planting them in his back as she landed behind him.
She immediately tugged them free, pitching the soldier forwards, and another swipe of her cloak sent him spinning to join his friend below.
More ladders began to appear along the wall as the soldiers below climbed up to face the angry mob.
“Looks like I’ll be dancing this number for a while yet,” Fey muttered, returning her knives and drawing two pāhdrasai rods from the scabbards that crossed her back.
She swiped the first across the front of her body to slash the chest of one oncoming soldier while the other arced behind, crashing into the face of another assailant. The rods shattered on impact, showering the two men in a corrosive alchemical explosion and shards of broken glass.
Fey put a boot on the first man’s back as he screamed and clawed at his face and chest, and kicked him easily off the wall, but before she could turn to give the second man the same treatment, she felt a thick arm suddenly close around her windpipe, crushing the air from her lungs, she could feel the demon inside her, fighting to seize control of her consciousness.
“Not yet, my friend,” she thought, trying unsuccessfully to find a handhold on her assailant, “not yet…”
Before Spyro had even given the command to storm the wall, Ros nudged the yag in the ribs and motioned for him to follow her into one of the houses which immediately adjoined the barricade. Together they slipped past the close packed rows of filthy bunks, up the many wooden staircases of the tenement building until they came to the little ladder which led into the crawl-space below the eves. Even here four damp, mildewed-looking pallet beds were crammed close together and they climbed through the skylight onto the slate roof.
“Front row seats,” Vraxi observed.
Ros looked him up and down, “By the seem of things, the stage is up here with us,” she said dryly.
“Well, you know me, Ros, dress for every eventuality, that’s my motto.”
He gave a little bow and settled himself in a stable position,scanning the scene unfolding below.
Ros crouched beside him, training a dart on the lip of the barricade, her middle finger resting a hair’s breadth away from the trigger mechanism nestled against her palm.
“He does so love to show off,” she smirked, as Spyro began the final leg of his speech.
But Vraxi knew a test when he met one and decided to pretend he hadn’t heard her.
Ros gave a satisfied little smile and didn’t press the issue.
When Spyro leapt down from the wall, they watched Fey leap up to take his place and soon afterwards wooden ladders appeared along the barricade’s length as the dockside watch soldiers began climbing up to help their comrades on the other side.
Vraxi slipped an osetr into his hand and held it delicately but firmly, point facing his palm, forefinger pressed against the blunt edge of the knife.
“She won’t thank you if you miss,” Ros teased, as they watched Fey send the first two soldiers spinning over the edge onto the open cart.
A third stuck his fur-helmed head over the wall and Vraxi rose to a side-standing position and brought his elbow back smooth and wide, angling the blade at the man’s neck. When his shoulder reached its limit he let his forearm snake backwards in a rolling motion so that his forefinger flowed wave-like, bringing the blade with it. When it reached the zenith of its arc, he snapped his elbow like lightening, leaning into the hurl and throwing the full force of his chest muscles behind the motion, flicking the now vertical knife free just as it passed his ear, as if he were cracking a cattle-whip.
The osetr sailed, handle forwards, true to aim and made a neat little three quarter flip at the last minute before burying itself comfortably in the man’s jugular.
Ros smiled appreciatively, reached inside her pocket and placed a single fleshcoin on the roof slate beside her. “Match it and whoever takes down the next one wins them both,” she said without taking her eyes from the wall.
“See you and raise you another?” he dared, placing two beside her one and not taking his own eyes off the fighting.
She reached inside her pocket again and matched his bet then fired two darts in quick succession into the necks of two guards who were still on the ground, wrestling with the dock workers.
“Another says I get the next as well, and no raising,” she said.
Vraxi grinned and laid down his fleshcoin, just as a huge hulking guardsman hauled himself up behind Fey and hooked a meaty arm around the demon-bound woman’s neck. “She’ll thank me for this I’ll wager…” he muttered, unsheathing a vjatich this time and cracking it out in the same smooth double-wave motion.
Again the knife did it’s fancy little flip at the last moment and the man fell sideways off the wall, clutching his neck and releasing Fey who didn’t miss a beat but spun straight into her next attack.
Ros shook her head, “is that actually necessary or are you just showing off?” she asked, stopping Vraxi’s hand as he went to take his winnings.
“Will you allow for a little of both?” he ventured, and then added quickly, just in case, “reducing the rotations it makes mid-air improves the accuracy, my lady.”
Ros smiled and laid another fleshcoin on the roof. “Let’s keep going,” she said, turning back to the fight.
Within a few short minutes, they were both, apparently, out of ammo and several rows of fleshcoins sparkled in the sunshine.
“Is that really all you’ve got, love?” she asked, feigning a disappointed pout.
Vraxi spread his arms apologetically, “would you like like to search me? As you can see, my knives are all gone but there may be more to me than meets the eye…”
Ros narrowed her eyes at him. “There is always more to you than meets the eye,” she said dryly, scooping up the pile of coins and handing it to him. “Come, let’s see how things fare on the ground…”
Vraxi looked alarmed, “Far, far better without any interference from me I should think!” he said quickly. “For Xander is always saying how dreadfully I get under his feet in these close-ranged situations and certainly, you must concede, I am built for better things than one-on-one combat with these muscle-mountains the city watch favours!”
“I said nothing of joining the fight,” Ros said, arching an eyebrow at him, “although I note your enthusiasm for it.”
“Can you blame me?” he asked earnestly.
“For a great many things, dear. Although perhaps not that,” she conceded, hoisting open the roof hatch and waiting for him to follow her down.
As they excited the building, they met with Fey and Xander who had managed to quietly disengage themselves from the rabble. The dock workers had now broken down a significant portion of the wall and were piling through into the skydocks with wild bellows of victory.
“Looks like our work here is done.” Fey said, clapping her hands together, “if there’s nothing else I’ll be heading off for a well earned pint.” She didn’t wait for an answer but tipped two fingers to her forehead and strolled off in the direction of the Cross Keys.
“Try and stay out of trouble, boys,” Ros said over her shoulder as she headed back towards The ‘Kādasa.
Xander glared at the yag, who was watching Ros’s exit with a mesmerised expression, ‘chance would be a fine thing’, he thought angrily.
I’m so so sorry I didn’t get a chance to post through the week as I’d hoped 😦 All hell broke loose with our new car getting smashed up (no one hurt luckily) and the dryer breaking down and various other calamities! XD XD But I’ve five mins left of the morning before lessons start so lets see what we can squeeze in… so, still at the docks with Spyro and co… I am seriously clueless about writing action scenes so these next few snips are even more rough and ready than usual and I’m open to criticism / suggestion if you think I can do better 🙂
Spyro shinned easily up the ladder, swung himself over the top of the barricade and dropped lightly down on the other side.
Kaili watched him with amusement as she chewed a mouthful of Roccanna. For all that he looked like a fop who would never deign to get his cuffs dirty, his athletic prowess belied his true nature, she thought, as she watched him swagger towards her, grinning and brushing the dust off his backside.
She returned the smirk and raised her eyebrows. “And what can I do you for?”
“For anything you like, as you well know,” he whispered, as he stepped up close beside her. “But for now, what’s all this about?” He gestured to the wall, his eyes twinkling. “Are the innocent hardworking poor not to be allowed to do an honest days work because of the duke’s inability to control their wayward peers?”
Kaili laughed. “Depends.” She said, looking him up and down. “Mayhap that there’s a sudden urgent need for me to take half my troop here over to The Spires and investigate reports of a Rocchana den there at the university?”
“Ha! No. I was thinking The Groves. A little bird tells me there is a another jewel grab about to take place there in about ten minutes – a rough gang from The Cinders, by all accounts, twelve strong at least.”
“I see. And would this be the same li’l bird whose tipoffs never amount to anythin’?”
“That’s the one.”
Kaili chewed her Roccahna and spat it onto the ground. “How big an egg is it gonna lay, this bird o’yours?”
Spyro slipped a hand inside his waistcoat, brought out a black velvet pouch and handed it to the watch captain.
She narrowed her eyes at him as she took it and emptied out the contents into her palm; three bloodcoins and fifty fleshcoins. She weighed them in her hand, smiled and returned them to the purse which she slipped inside her tunic. “Fair ’nuff.” She stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled, reeling off the names of twenty five of her troop as each hurried over to join her. “Party in The groves.” She said simply, “Go ahead, I’ll be there at a pace.” She turned back to Spyro as the guards jogged away without question.
“I am ever envious of your technique ; you have them well trained.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Your coin has them well trained. They know they’ll get a good cut of it in The Nag’s Head tonight.”
“Are you free?”
“For you, always.”
She smiled and brushed away an imaginary strand of hair from her face. “Then come by mine after ten.”
He smiled and gave a little bow, “until tonight then.” And with that he climbed back up the ladder and onto the top of the wall.
“Friends!” He bellowed from the top of the baracade. “It seems the duke will not stand by his honest, hard working citizens but prefers to lump us all together with those unionists and rebels who seek to rock the boat for all. It is time to show the duke that we will not stand for this, let us tare down the barriers he has placed here to confine us! Let us bring down the wall!”
A rabid, feral cheer rose up from the mob as the swell of desperate bodies surged forwards, seizing the planks of the barracade and attempting to tare them down with enthusiasm, if little effect. The watch soldiers on that side of the stockade immediately engaged with the onward charging mass and cheers, shrieks and curses soon filled the morning air.
Hey hey! It’s Friday and I thought I wouldn’t make it in but I have – so calling that a win! XD (small things! 😉 XD ) We’re still at the dock-riots for this bit – with Spyro and co. whipping up the tension from both sides to pile the pressure on the duke who they hope to bring down and replace with their own puppet.
I’m going to try and schedule the next couple to go up in the week as they all follow on quickly and I don’t want things toooo disjointed (yes yes I know it’s sort of too late for that! XD ) Thankyou for hanging on in there!
Sure enough, a haphazard wall of pallets and barrels had been erected on top of a row of wooden carts, blocking off the access road to the sky-docks. A token smattering of city watch guards lounged against it, playing cards and drinking tankards of kvass and from the other side the sounds of the rioters could be heard and voices raised in the rebel chorus “Oprahno Prahli, Oprahno Frâţjana!”
“I’ll handle this,” Spyro said firmly, holding up his hand to the mob who now followed the antiques dealer closely like a pack of faithful hounds. “Kaili will bring this down for us or we will bring it down ourselves, but wait on my signal, make no move without it.”
They watched him stroll nonchalantly up to the largest group of guards – five hulking mountains of flesh who were stood around a barrel which they were using as a cards table.
The Doctor had already disappeared, taking his patient back to the barber’s shop to recover.
Xander cracked his knuckles and shifted his weight.
Fey scanned the wall, marking the number of guards, ladders, weak points and sheltered spots instinctively.
Ros watched Spyro like a hawk, her confident smile never leaving her lips.
Xander’s hand flexed on the the handle of his knife and he shifted his weight once more.
Such a pity he will always wear his hood up like that, Vraxi thought wistfully, for it hides his eyes which are the most curious shade of indigo… he had seen a shirt almost that exact shade, a rare shibori-dyed one from Khallimbad, hanging on a washing line last week…he wondered if it was worth stealing it and trying to persuade Xander that it would suit him. Probably not. He sighed deeply, looked up at the rooftop and began counting the crows gathered there – five, six, seven…ten…still the antiques dealer was talking amicably with the guards.
Xander licked his lips nervously and glanced back at his little companion for the third or fourth time. What the hell was he wearing that stolen Hunters’ shirt for? Those things were only issued to Hunter Captains; he stood out like a flaming red flag in a bull ring. Why Spyro had sent for both of them, he had no idea. These battle situations were in no way Vraxi’s forte and Xander was furious that he was going to have to lend more than an eye to making sure the idiot didn’t get himself seriously hurt, or even… he swallowed hard and tried not to think about it. They weren’t armed with soul-blades, Mendicci would only lend them those expensive weapons when he wanted someone’s throat slit ‘on the quiet.’ But the watch guards would be carrying several of the deadly blades that could splice a person’s soul clean from their flesh, and wouldn’t think twice about using them. He squinted hard at the antiques dealer, every muscle tense, his jaw locked tight, waiting for the signal he hoped would not actually come.
Fey watched Spyro plant his hands on his hips as one of the guards gestured towards the nearest ladder. A few more words were exchanged and then the antiques dealer set his foot to the first rung; in a few short seconds he was up and over the other side of the wall. The guards went back to their card game. Fey didn’t take her eyes from the spot where he’d dropped down to the other side.
…eleven, twelve… Vraxi lost interest in the crows and let his gaze drift idly over the assembled mob – or, more specifically, the pouches and purse strings of the assembled mob, noting which would be easy or challenging to lift or cut – but it was only a force of habit, these people had nothing of interest to him. Where had Spyro gone, he wondered? Remebering suddenly why he was here and that he was supposed to be waiting for some sort of signal or other. Had Spyro said what it was? He looked at Ros who was watching the wall; Ros would know what the signal was. So would Fey. So would Xander. He relaxed, decided to just follow their lead, and then set his mind to checking his shirt for creases and snags; it was a scarlet Hunters’ shirt – fleet issue only – and he was exceedingly proud of having found it carelessly lying around in a wardrobe during one of their house-breaks in The Groves. It wouldn’t do to get it ruined on its first day out.
I promised you Scabs, I promised you beatings, and now I humbly deliver (although it’s the Scabs doing the beating I’m afraid!) … 😉 XD Wishing you all a wonderous weekend and thankyou so much for persevering with the long breaks and disjointed nature of this unruly beast! When I started it I was aiming for the cherry flavoured one in a box of black magic chocolates – kitschy-camp and retro-cute with a bitter dark chocolate bite… um… I think it is ended up like a tangle of red liquorice laces XD So if you are still making sense of it all, I salute you and shower you with thanks! x
Once outside, Spyro turned straight towards a ragged line of children sat on the curb in front of the shop. Most proprietors would have chased the urchins away but these were a permanent fixture outside Silk and Steel – and for good reason.
“Take this to The Doctor…” Spyro whispered, hunkering down beside the nearest child and pressing one of the ornately carved pebbles into her hand, “…Fey Wulf…”, he told the next one, again slipping a pebble into their palm, “…Xander Dumarrle… Vraxi Bane… And you take these to your mother with my compliments,” he added, handing over the crows with a wink to the last child in the row, as his brothers and sisters skittered off in different directions to find their quarries.
Then he tugged up his sleeves a little and hurried across the street, dodging easily around the Mul’ai-dji hackney cabs and demonrod motor vehicles, heading swiftly for the workers’ tenements in the district known as The Cinders.
By the time he’d reached Primrose Hill, he was flanked on his left by The Doctor and Fey and on his right by Ros, Vraxi and Xander.
“You look like the opening act of a travelling circus,” Xander complained, referring to Vraxi’s bright silk shirt and his leather belt holsters, vambraces and chest harness which boldly sported his entire collection of throwing knives.
The yag grinned broadly, “I look like ‘trouble for somebody’, is what I look like, Xander,” he said with a wink.
“Trouble for us, no doubt,” his companion muttered back.
As they swung onto Dockers’ Row they could see the commotion; a large angry mob of men, women and children shouting, jeering and throwing stones while in the centre of the tumult a small group were viciously kicking at something on the floor.
“Hoi!” Spyro seized two of the nearest onlookers and pulled them aside. “Hoi! Make way, what are you about here?” he forcefully made his way further forwards towards the central huddle, his entourage pushing through beside him.
Faces turned angrily towards them, but their expressions immediately changed to shock and then deference when they saw who it was and the crowd rapidly parted to let the companions through, particularly the Doctor.
Vraxi grinned hugely and tipped his forehead impishly in mock thanks.
“Halt at once and explain yourselves.” Spyro ordered, and the group of six brutish looking sky-dock workers reluctantly moved aside to show the bloodied and crumpled body of Bartczak the barber-surgeon.
Spyro looked at them in disgust. He knelt down beside the battered barber and smoothed his matted hair back from his bloodied face, smiling grimly when Bartczak’s eyelids fluttered at his touch. “Hang in there,” he whispered, “you will be alright, my friend; Tosca is safe and the cavalry has arrived.”
The Doctor knelt beside the injured man and Spyro rose and addressed the largest thug in the group – an enormous dock labourer by the name of Sulimadd. “What are you about?” he asked the man directly. “Has this man not healed your own injuries and those of your friends and family many times over? Why are you abusing him so?”
Sulimadd glared at Spyro and looked to his companions for assistance.One spat on the floor, the other accidentally caught the doctor’s eye and quickly looked at his shoes.
“He’s ‘Sztokrai.” Sulimadd muttered at last. “Th’watch have closed off the docks coz of the riots. Us honest folk cant get t’work.”
“Honest folk.” Spyro said incredulously, scratching his smooth chin. “And this is the way honest folk behave is it? When the person they are angry with is not available, they lash out at the next best thing, no matter how innocent that thing may be – a friend, an old woman, a six year old child…”
“They’re ‘Storkrai.” Sulimadd growled defiantly.
Spyro put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Yes.” he said at last. “Yes they are. If blood is all you care about. Bartczak’s parents were well-moneyed. He left their household to marry the woman he loved; a docker’s daughter who sadly passed away before the apocalypse began. After her death he cared for her elderly mother and his own child and he has served this community with generosity and kindness for more years than I can easily number. Is your measure of a man his ancestry or his own actions?” He looked sternly around the crowd of faces, catching every eye, making it clear that the question was being put to each of them.
“Who has wronged you here today?” He shouted. “Bartczack? Or the duke?”
The crowd began to chew that over, muttering amongst themselves. The mob-mentality which had spurred them to almost murder one of their own only moments before was dissipating and Spyro knew he had to time his words exactly to catch the tide and re-direct it to his advantage before it fizzled out entirely.
“The duke!” someone cried, at last, and a few more echoed the call.
“Who is preventing you from getting to your jobs?”
“The duke!” more voices, stronger, gaining confidence now in the new rally to arms.
“So who should we take the battle to?”
“But they’ve put up a barricade,” Sulimadd mumbled sullenly.
“Where?” Spyro asked. “Show me.”
So sorry I missed a week – things here have been too crazy to begin to talk about it. Here is the first part of chapter 2 of part 2, lol, if that’s not confusing enough! XD And we’re back to Spyro and Ros… (also – bit of mythpunk trivia – the little rhyme in this snip is taken from an old Rom / Eastern-Euro folktale and proverb)
A row of crows hung like so much grim washing from a line strung the length of the antiques shops’ back yard. The stone-weighted shots that had caught them still bound their wings close to their sides and they dangled by their silver-clawed feet, heads hanging limp, lifeless (or very nearly).
Ros crooked the large basket under her arm, resting it against her hip, and with her dextrous right hand, took the head and twisted it clean off. A slough of gore and dark blood oozed down and met the cobbles with a wet ‘fffllatth’ and the Jai’Yantra smiled and added the head to the basket, moving along the line to the next.
Behind her the backyard gate clicked open and closed.
“Heads for the workhouse, wings for the milliner, feet for the alchemist, the breast for our dinner,” she remarked, without turning round, knowing exactly who it was that had entered.
“Fine fayre as always,” Spyro said, coming up behind her and placing his hands on her hips, “but I have a better rhyme; the head for the duke, up high on his throne, the neck for his wife behind him alone, the feet for his enemies standing by, the wings for his allies away they will fly.”
“And the rest of the bird?” Ros asked, turning to arch an eyebrow at him.
“The spoils to the victors, of course.” he said, reaching up and taking down four of the decapitated birds. “But heroes must always be celebrated, not only for our victories, but for our generosity whether we have won or lost or the battle rages on.”
“You have been to the riots again.” she observed.
“They rage well. Soon the watch will be utterly overwhelmed. The duke is drafting patrols in from all other areas of the city but…” he patted his coat pocket in which a few coins jingled.
“They are proving ineffectual?” Ros smirked.
“Commander Kaili knows which side her bread is buttered.” he said cheerfully.
“Then our only consideration on that front,” Ros said, moving along the line and popping another head into her basket, “is whether the duke will draft in some of the militia.”
“Let him try. He will only move the game along swifter. CGS Draimunn will not waste troops bolstering an ineffectual watch effort. If the duke calls on the army he will be instigating a call for his resignation from that quarter – if he’s lucky.”
“You think Draimunn would force a coup?” Ros aksed, adding another head to the almost full basket. “That would not suit our plans…”
Spyro shrugged. “Lieutenant General Vrost thinks it’s possible, though not probable. But you’re right, it would not suit our plans at all. Contingency?”
Ros looked thoughtful for a moment, “I will speak to Agathri. She is poised to be our clarion, raising support for Beaufort to take the duke’s place, at the apropriate moment; if the army looks set to stage a coup then that moment will be sooner than we planned.” she smiled “But it doesn’t sound like it will come to that?”
Spyro shook his head. “I am not overly concerned. Things are going well, the duke is feeling the pinch, by all accounts.”
“By Beaufort’s account?”
“Just so. The pressures we have brought to bear upon him will have him on his knees soon enough and Beaufort is more than ready to take his place.”
Ros pulled off the last head and placed the basket down beside a second that was full of black feathered wings. “I will take these to town later, visit the market and see what the murmerings are on the street…”
She trailed off as a comotion from the house drew both their attentions that way and Žiga came trotting out into the back yard looking wide eyed. “A girl is come, a Sapanai, she is hurt.” she blurted, pointing back towards the shop.
“Well done, love,” Ros said, absently, already wiping her hands on her long grey apron and hurrying inside with Spyro at her heels.
They followed Žiga swiftly through the maze of accumulated artifacts and antiques to the front of the shop where a young girl, no more than six or seven, stood trembling and crying. The flesh on her right arm was slightly burned.
“There, there; Toska isn’t it?”
The girl nodded. “My Papa, they’re killing him, and grandmama too…the people in our building, the other tennants…they say we’re in with the duke…they called Papa a ‘Sztokrai bastard… ”
Spyro looked furious, “Your father is Bartczak? The barber-surgeon?” He already had his coat back on and puased only to grab a handfull of smooth coloured pebbles, each carved with the same intricate design, from a drawer behind the counter, before hurrying out of the door, still carrying the brace of crows.
“Ziga, go fetch my medicine bag will you?” Ros said, and then turning back to Tosca she smiled and brushed the child’s hair away from her tear-streaked face, “it will be alright, pet.” she said soothingly. “Mendicci will put it right, love. Your papa has done so much good work for the poor people of this city; it may be that they need reminding of that before they start confusing his bloodline with his behaviour, but they will rememeber, and then they will be ashamed of their actions, you wait and see.”
She took the large leather medical bag that Ziga was hefting across the shop floor, opened it and took out a brown glass tincture bottle and pipette.
Tosca winced as the foul smelling yellow liquid dribbled over her wounds but she didn’t cry out. “they threw bottles through the window,” she sniffed, “ when they broke the stuff inside them hurt.”
“I see.” Ros pursed her lips, returned the tincture to the bag and closed the clasp with a smart ‘click.’ “Ziggi, take Tosca through to the kitchen and find some pastēti and biscuits for you both,” she said, standing up and taking off her apron. She crossed to the counter, put the bag away behind it and strapped on a pair of arm-mounted dart throwers. “I won’t be long love,” she said, heading for the door “mummy has to go and teach some stupid people a little lesson.”
The door bell tinkled as she let it fall closed behind her.
OK, yay! We made it to Friday 😀 XD Things are rather like a pressure cooker here but we’re still alive and got a weekend full of small people birthday things – think anime and pizza – to look forward to :). Hope you guys are still safe and well and surviving the madness 😀 S here is the next bit – the duke has sent two letters to his nearest and dearest to ask for their support; we’ve met Captain Gabriel, and here’s the next recipient – someone we’ve met before… 😉 XD
The side of Colonel Hogarth’s mouth twitched upwards in a self satisfied smirk as he flipped over the envelope and cut through the Duke’s seal with quick flick of his letter knife.
Ha! He said to himself, before even reading it.
And then Ha! Again after quickly casting an eye over its general contents.
It was just as he had suspected – the young duke was feeling the tightening tug of the strands of web that had been weaving around him for quite some time now. Poor chap. He had seemed like such a good choice for duke at the time, but he had failed miserably to make good on all his philanthropic rhetoric – showing far too much deference to the ‘Sokrai and the church, and not enough to basic moral decency.
The union riots had almost brought the skydocks to a standstill and part of The Cinders were affected too, with factory workers beginning to see that if the dockers could demand better pay and working conditions then perhaps so could they.
The wrath of the ‘Stokrai was growing in the wake of the jewel robberies, which the watch seemed utterly incapable of putting a stop to, and the mutterings below the surface of The Groves were like the furious buzzings of an enraged hornet’s nest about to spew forth its venomous hosts.
Yes, he reflected as he pushed the letter aside and sipped his mushroom tea, Spyro and Ros had handled the thing well; as he knew they would or he never would have agreed to be involved; no matter how hard Agathri had pushed and cajoled, and clucked and fussed and thrown all her toys out of the pram – as was her wont.
He chuckled to himself and twisted his grey moustache thoughtfully. If Spyro Mendicci thought he could lay claim to the city of Ryzym so easily when Agathri already had everyone’s toes tapping to her own tune, the results of this little circus were going to prove most amusing!
His amber eyes sparkled with mischief then and his Rokani heritage was even more apparent than usual on his foxy features. Perhaps he would just add a pinch of his own spice to this simmering cauldron of calamity. Afterall, he had not yet decided if or how he was going to make Silk and Steel pay for the theft of his precious demonsong.
Not that he was short of demonsong, but it was HIS demonsong; the principle of the thing had to be respected. If Agathri and Ros’s little side-plans (His wicked grin widened hugely at the delicious thought that Mendicci was not a privy to those machinations!) saw fruition, then he would soon be Duke himself, and there would have to be a darn sight more respect from these young street hoodlums then!
He sipped his tea and chuckled to himself as he thought of how he would play the thing out. Something bold and spectacularly devastating he decided with a wicked grin; why should the girls have all the fun with their dastardly scheming eh? Oh, he’d probably let them redeem themselves somehow afterwards, but let them sweat and stew for a bit first! Ha!
“You’re laughing to yourself,” Agathri observed from the doorway before drifting to his side in soft clouds of flowing flame-like chiffon. “What dreadful things are you planning, darling and for whom?”
She draped herself around his broad shoulders and he took her hand, caressed it fondly and then pressed it to his mouth in an affectionate smack of lips and bristling moustache.
“Ha! Going to put the wind up some of your lot.” He chortled, drawing her round and onto his knee as if she were still the capricious chorus girl and he the dashing hunter captain of The Demon’s Demise.
“Now don’t you dare rock the boat, you diabolical beast!” she scolded, nestling her head against his strong chest and letting her inner flames swell in gentle warning that she could get angry if she really wanted to.
“Nonsense old girl! Nothing like a rocked boat to keep the crew on their toes! Exactly what they need at a time like this – something unexpected…”
“I have already attended to the unexpected element of the plan – and you are it, remember? Mendicci thinks he setting the duke up for a fall, Beaufort will take his place and Silk and Steel will co-partner him in their new ‘trading company’. In reality, by the time the poor duke falls, Beaufort will be safely locked in the asylum, Mendicci will be… dealt with… and you, my darling, will find the whole of Ryzym clamouring for you to take control. You’ll be duke and…”
“Yes. And you, my little vixen, will be queen, let’s not forget that.” He said, tickling her ribs so that she squealed and squirmed and slapped his chest to make him stop.
“It’s duchess, you silly man!” she laughed, suddenly plucking the letter from his desk and sitting up to read it.
“Oh it’s queen alright,” he insisted, “queen of hearts I call you. Always had us chaps wrapped round your little finger and always will I dare say.”
She turned from the letter and cupped his face in her delicate hand, “you don’t begrudge me my little bits of tiffin? Do you? You know I never give two hoots about yours…”
“No, no. You do as you please – seems only fair as I can do nothing but whatever takes my fancy.” He winked and she smiled indulgently at him and returned her attention to the letter.
“So, poor Bastion wishes to see you. Hardly surprising really, you are his godfather and the one who persuaded him to run for duke in the first place.” She giggled and clapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes dancing with mischievous sparks of flame. “Oh, my love! Aren’t we so very, very dreadfully naughty!?!”
Ahoi! So sorry I’ve been pretty much offline the last couple of weeks, things are pretty full-on family wise here and I think this is going to be the case for some time to come. I’m going to try and grab some time for online things each Friday but that may / maynot happen – I will do my best. Thankyou for being so patient and for hanging on in there and putting up with my spoaradicness and disorganisation, I hope you are coping and carrying on the best you can and I hope that these posts bring some cheer along the way 🙂
So, following on from the Duke and his troubles, another new character for you..
Captain Gabriel Beaufort pushed back his empty lunch plate, refilled his glass of tzujka and knocked it back, barely taking his eyes from the letter he was re-reading for the third time since he’d received it. He smiled and stretched his legs out under the desk, leaning far back in his chair and allowing his hands to rest behind his head. An invitation from his good friend The Duke. Everything was going beautifully to plan.
He poured himself another drink – a reward, he told himself, for having the wisdom to trust what Spyro Mendicci had told him; that those who truly held the reigns of the city had built a delicate house of cards beneath Duke Vassellin’s throne and that they waited only for the right ally to take his place when the cards fell.
A self satisfied grin spread across his weathered face, yes, he had been wise to trust Mendicci – many in his position would not have credited the words of a humble antiques dealer from The ‘Kādasa, but Beaufort had not inherited his fleet of Hunter Ships. He had earnt them. Started as deck-swabber. Fought his way up inch by inch, gaining respect and experience with every carefully chosen word and action until now he not only captained the most successful skyship that sailed out of the city port – he owned the fleet it belonged to as well.
He sensed that this Mendicci was cut from that same rare cloth; a man with the wit and the gumption to climb out of the hole he was born into. The only thing he could not understand about his plans was that Mendicci showed no interest in claiming the Duke’s position himself – although Beaufort had little doubt that when the man spoke of ‘the hand that holds the city’s strings’ he was referring to himself.
He could only suppose that Mendicci’s ultimate goal was a life of luxury rather than the responsibilities that came with power on the public stage. He was no wallflower to be sure, Beaufort had done his homework and found that in his own circles the man was well known and well loved for overt acts of social justice, but garnering public regard from a position of zero obligation was not the same as striving to satisfy the conflicting demands of an entire city when all look to you to solve their problems. Most men, he reasoned, as he poured himself another drink, would shirk from such a position. But Gabriel Beaufort had goverened skyships – a fleet of skyships – for too many years to begin to number them. He relished the challenges the position of Duke would place before him and he knew beyond doubt that he could rise to meet them.
He knocked back his drink and filled the glass again, revelling in the adrenaline rush that coursed through him at the thrill of this impending adventure. He would miss the skies; had never envisioned a scenario where he would leave his beloved ships behind, but this was too good a chance to pass up and Mendicci’s credentials and connections had left him in no doubt that his fleet would be well cared for under the Silk and Steel Trading Co-orperation. Demon Hunting was generally lucrative but carried risks and losses that were sometimes difficult to counterbalance with profit. The trade agreements Mendicci had spoken of with Lycandrus and Pav’shamah could be the answer that – a stabilising stream of income to underpin the flux, especially in the summer when solar storms could take out an entire skyship.
Yes, it was all coming into place. And now Bastion wanted to see him! He chuckled at that; the Duke was evidently feeling the pinch that Mendicci and his assosiates were orchestrating. The two sky captains had been friends for what seemed like eternity. An unlikely pairing perhaps – the son of a famous sky captain and a humble deck swabbing Rokani but neither of them had much cared for the barriers of class or race back then.
Bastion had even dared his mother’s disproval and attended Gabriel’s wedding. Betithna was another Rokani; one of the many twin-souled skin changers created by shamanic cultists as they sought to transend their own reality. Who knew that twining their souls with creatures inherent of the earth would bind them here forever?
Not that Gabriel or Betithna, their parents or their daughter Elaina had had anything to do with cult activities, but their genetic lines were altered irrepreably by their ancestors. And of course the church, and therefore the state, would never accept that; Beaufort smirked at the irony that an organisation that bound peoples souls to demons should baulk at the idea of those whose souls were entwined with animals or plants.
A noise in the hall, the front door opening, voices, whispers caught his attention and his golden eyes narrowed suddenly. He got up and crossed to the study window, just in time to catch sight of the Vesperai boy straddling his Demonrod scooter and kicking it into life, filling the street with clouds of foul smelling smog and the roar of its engine as he sped away.
Beaufort shook his head, returned to his desk and poured himself another drink. He had no problem with Arden McKade courting Elaina. In many respects it was a fine match – Vesperai and Rokani would both benefit from a stronger alliance and once the city was in his hands there would be no more of these witch hunts by the church. Both races could relax a little without the fear of persecution.
Yes, everything was going marvellously well. He would meet the Duke for lunch and arrange to see Mendicci again in the next day or two. He glanced at the bottle, decided the drips in the bottom of it were not worth bothering with, and left the room.
Strange. He had thought himself at home. But here was the deck of his skyship. The sting of sand on the whipping wind that tugged at his long hair, the blaze of solar flares – a storm was rising, he could feel the deck tilting beneath his feet. “All hands!” he bellowed. “All hands to the sails!” but even as the words left his lips he saw the demon rise above the starboard rail; thrashing tail set to capsize the vessel and send it plumeting to its doom.
He thought of his wife, his children, Arden McKade, The Duke, he must make it home, this was not going to be the end of Captain Gabriel Beaufort.
“Courage!” he screamed, seizing his harpoon gun and charging to meet the beast head on, and he was heartened to see most of his well trained crew responding to his instructions and rising to meet the beast in force… except one… what was this? Some cowardly cove crouching behind a tar barrel, his hands pressed tight over his ears, blubbering? He would be the death of himself, and everytone else, morale was sapped by fools like this with their mewling and mithering.
“Get up!” he thundered, hauling the wretch up by the shirt collar and thrusting him in front of him, but the pitiful pup merely covered his face with his hands and began sobbing, “Pull yourself together!” Beafort roared, striking the whelp across the face – a blow which sent him crumpling to the deck once more. “I said, get up!”
What? What was that? “Betithna?” What was his wife doing on board? It didn’t make any sense and yet there she was, running down the stairs towards him, her gold-green eyes wide with alarm. Stairs? He thoght vaguely. When did the skyship gain a flight of stairs? But the fantasy didn’t evaporate completely; the two worlds overlayed eachother and he couldn’t pull the threads apart to focus on which was the reality and which the waking dream. Where am I? He thought, his heart racing in panic.
“This is none of your concern.” he snapped, trying to anchor himself to something tangible. He put out a hand and felt solid wall beneath his fingers, shuffling his feet forwards he managed to steer around several obsacles until he reached the stairs.
“What have you…”
“I said, it’s none of your concern!” he screamed. Why would she not just go away. This was his ship. Wasn’t it? Not hers. What did Betithna know about any of it. He clasped the ship’s rail and found the stairs rising before him. Good. He would just go to his cabin and take a nap, then answer the Duke’s call. Then tomorrow or the next day, he would meet with Mendicci and his partner, Miss Noir, to finalise everything.
He grinned as he climbed the staircase with some difficulty. Everything was coming up roses.
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.