Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “fiction

Silk and Steel

Happy Friday me loves! I hope you’ve all been getting snippets of warmer weather in between the snow and hailishness! XD Things are snowballing here this morning so I will scoot and leave you all with Vraxi’s philosophical viewpoints on the nature of reality XD xx ….

“Books!” Vraxi cried in delight as Edmund opened the door to his rooms and showed them inside. He skipped over to the many rows of bookshelves crammed floor to ceiling along the wall and stroked the leather spines with a delicate forefinger.

“They are something of necessity in this game,” Edmund smiled, “but I didn’t know you were fond of reading…although I suppose I should have guessed you would be.”

“Oh yes, I read voraciously,” Vraxi said, pulling out a book and thumbing through the pages then returning it to the shelf with a slight frown. “I buy a pocket pamphlet from the market almost every week.”

“What is a pocket pamphlet?” Xander The Demon asked.

“Oh, you know,” Vraxi waved a hand breezily, “tales of adventure and romance, a few intrigues and mysteries, a few misunderstandings and mishaps, but everything always ending up happily in the end…” he returned another book to the shelf, “…you know, stories that are like real life.”

Edmund laughed out loud, “They call it fiction,” he said gently, “beacause it is not like real life.”

The yag frowned, “do you really think so?”

“But of course! In a story like that there is a plot, yes? The reader is only permitted the viewpoint of one, or occasionally two, characters.” He took his pipe from his coat pocked, knocked it out on the mantlepiece and started to refill it with Rocaana powder. “ And as for those characters,” he continued “well, they are archetypal aren’t they? And they tend to have a single ultimate goal and they traverse a series of obstacles until they finally achieve it. But there are no such archetypes in reality and there is no such end-goal in real life… we merely play the hands fate deals us daily, interacting with those around us in a… to some extent organised but generally chaotic and incidental fashion, trying to survive as best we can until, in the end, we die. Or, in our case, perhaps eternally.” He lit the pipe, took a long drag on it and puffed out a stream of tiny heart shaped smoke rings.

“One day, I shall nail that – super power or none.” Vraxi insisted, narrowing his eyes carefully in an attempt to see how Edmund was doing it. “But your views on fiction are, I believe, skewed by your experiences.” He took the little pouch of Roccana Edmund offered him and fished in his pocket for his own pipe. “You describe the way things are now, for us,” he said, filling the pipe and lighting it,“but that is because we are down in the ditch. I myself – and Xander and his demon here – we are right down in the dirty ditch water.” He drew on the pipe and failed miserably at imitating the heart shaped rings. “You may have hoisted yourself out onto the bank, Edmund, but you are still balancing precariously upon the edge. When I say fiction is like real life, I am talking about real life – the life lived by those who can afford to do the thing properly!”

Edmund raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, you know,” Vraxi insisted, passing the pipe to the demon, “people like the Hogarths and the Beuforts and the Duke…for them every day is their happily ever after and the rest of us run around desperately helping to make it so. That is real life, that is what fiction is all about, and that is why I like to read it because even if I cannot have it for myself, I can at least pretend for an hour or two a week that I can.”

Edmund blew a particularly large heart ring then smiled and shook his head, “I disagree with you on enough points to write another thesis about it, but rather than risk boring you to death I will say simply that I think what you have, what we have, is far more precious than happily ever after in The Groves.”

“Well you maintain that ludicrously romantic attitude and you will find you fit right in there when you graduate,” the yag said with a grin,“For my part, there is nothing romantic or precious about listening to the mould and mildew dripping from my ceiling all night, risking my life clambering over roof tops, being chased through the streets by the city watch or handing over three quarters of what I earn to a tight fisted antiques dealer.” He steepled his fingers as he said the last two words and ended with such a hammy impersonation of Spyro’s sinister smile that the half demon exploded into a fit of giggles and then glanced around nervously as if the act would make Mendicci suddenly appear in the room with them.

There was a knock at the door and they all nearly jumped out of their skins, staring wide-eyed towards it before Edmund suddenly breathed a sigh of relief and then burst into giggles again “Dinner!” he explained, his voice full of relief, “Remember? I ordered us dinner!”


Silk and Steel

Happy Easter folks! Hope you all have an eggztra fabulous long weekend! 😀

“Vraxi! You… you came!” Edmund’s stunning heterochromatic eyes gleamed bright with emotion as he waved and began weaving his way through the throng of assembled students, lecturers and members of the general public who filled the library almost to bursting, towards the door through which the Yag and his demon charge had entered.

This is Edmund, heart-on-sleeve,” Vraxi whispered as they watched him attempt to politely negotiate his way through the wall of bodies.

Xander The Demon raised his eyebrows, “So I tell him outright that I think he is an abomination of nature and his parents were perverts and defilers?” he asked.“You think that would be the best course of action here to keep us both ‘alive.’ ?”

Gods no!” Vraxi slapped his forehead with his hand and rolled his eyes; baby sitting this one might be tougher than he had first expected. “Not you! Edmund. Edmund wears his heart on his sleeve,” he hissed urgently. “He is a good friend, a wonderful person, one of the most beautiful souls you could ever hope to meet… and also we need him, so, … try to be nice and keep your prohibitively puritanical opinions to yourself.”

The demon nodded sagely and attempted a warm smile as Edmund finally managed to squeeze through and stand beside them.

“You came!” the half demon repeated, breathlessly.

“Did I not promise as much?” Vraxi said, with a little bow and a wink which made Edmund flush scarlet.

“And this is… not Xander?” Edmund asked uncertainly.

“Indeed. This is Xander’s demon, as I told you. But we have no desire to rock the boat here, Edmund, let us install ourselves somewhere unobtrusive while you give your marvellous speech on…” he rolled his long delicate fingers…

“Demons Of love And Light” Edmund supplied, with a small smile.

“It was on the tip of my tongue,” Vraxi lied with a twinkle which sent Edmund blushing again. “And then afterwards…” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “..we hope to hold you to your own promise of dinner? To discuss our, er, little problem?”

“It is all arranged!” Edmund beamed, “Dinner, in my rooms at the university.” He lowered his head suddenly then and mumbled something to his shoes.

Vraxi frowned, such a beautiful gaze should not be so often wasted on the floor, he thought to himself, and gently brought his delicate fingers under Edmunds chin and drew it up so they were eye to eye,“Forgive me, I didn’t catch that,” he said, smiling encouragingly.

“I… I said thankyou, Vraxi, for coming I mean, and… well, for everything… it really means a lot, m- more than I can say… A lot of the other students feel I shouldn’t be here, not only because I am a half-demon, but also because I have only secured a place through sponsorship. I feel so much happier knowing there is someone here who… who is a friend.”

Oh dear, thought the Yag, as he felt his heart melt to molten lava, What am I getting myself into with this one? “Listen…” he began, but stopped almost immediately, caught off guard by a sudden urge to seize these cretinous students – and anyone else who had ever emotionally wounded the half-demon – and force them to suffer the same pain he saw reflected in those beautiful, captivating eyes.

“…listen,” he tried again, clasping Edmund by the shoulders, “the world would be a much nicer place with more people like you in it, sadly you are a rare treasure Edmund, a diamond amongst mundane rocks and anyone who cannot see that does not deserve the richness of your company. Now, your audience awaits – go and wow them with your revelations, go and win their hearts and alter their dull-witted, monochrome perceptions with words of hard-won truth.”

He sighed wistfully as Edmund beamed his thanks and began weaving his way back to the front of the library where a small podium had been set up for him to give his talk.

“Hand me a shovel.” he said, unable to drag his gaze from the half-demon’s retreating rear.

“You said nothing of digging a hole,” the demon said, looking confused.

Vraxi put his hands on his hips and shook his head, “It’s a hobby of mine, it seems.” he said ruefully.


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! I am so so sorry it’s taken so long to rescue the file but it’s here now and I think I’ve grasped where we left off (if not then shout at me and I’ll try again! XD)

So to recap because it’s been so long – Vraxi has stolen some demonsong and plans to sneak some into Xander’s ale so that he can try and talk to / befriend the demon which is bound inside Xander’s soul. He hopes the three of them can form an alliance that will free his friend from the burden and stigma of being demon-bound. He has also promised Edmund he will attend his dissertation speech on ‘demons of love and light’ at the library and that afterwards they’ll have dinner together and try to figure a way to separate Xander from his demon completely so that the two souls can be free.

Here’s the playlist link again to set the mood if you’d like to 🙂 https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVwm8ToS8lYqeirlFPVVrMDeB_0mIBAnB

“Another round?” Vraxi asked politely, too extatic to care that he was now in danger of losing his third month’s rent. Might have to bet my soul in a minute, he thought, and suppressed a gleeful giggle at the notion that he was sitting here playing black jack with a demon.

A demon who was also his friend / his friend who was also a demon… he couldn’t decide which way the truth rang better? It had been a busy day in the end, what with the excitements the morning had brought, and then work, and then a… misunderstanding which had lead to an altercation followed by a spot of light exercise through the city drainage system… Xander had been particularly out of sorts again by the end of it all and it had been a surprisingly easy matter to slip the demonsong into his evening pint and then wait for it to work its magic.

“You fascinate me,” Xander The Demon said, sounding for all the world like Xander The Demon-Bound, now that they had established the growling and snarling noises to be ineffectual and therefore obsolete.

“The feeling is mutual, I promise you,” Vraxi said, grinning from ear to ear as he dealt out the cards.

“Do all your kind take such delight in losing?”

That brought the yag up sharp and to his senses and his eyes narrowed and then widened suddenly in alarm as he realised the actual extent of his debt.

He chuckled at his own idiocy, but gathered the cards back to the deck and slipped them safely back into his belt pouch. “Not when we are playing in earnest,” he said flippantly, “but of course, bets are never honoured in informal games like this one… between friends, so the winning and losing hardly matters.” He waved a hand dismissively at the tokens on the table, “we play for fun, you understand? The pleasure of company and conversation.”

Xander-The -Demon narrowed his own eyes at the yag, “You are trying to trick me out of my gain.”

“But of course!” Vraxi said smoothly, “It is what we do, and you must learn how to deal with it without getting your shirt in a twist. In fact you have a lot to learn if you are ever to walk out of that door and into the world without getting us all into mischief.”

He linked his fingers and leaned in across the table in a conspiratorial fashion. “There are different kinds of people,” he said earnestly. “Some, like the formidable Doctor, who you may meet some day, they take everything very seriously and they let everyone know about it at once. They wear their hearts on their sleeves…er, not literally!” he added quickly when he saw the demon’s eyebrows skyrocket to his brow, “it’s merely an expression – to say they let their feelings be known at all times and to everyone.

Then there are others, like our mutual friend Xander here, and Spyro Mendicci, you might meet him as well, who never let anyone know what is going on beneath ‘the mask’” he swept his hand dramatically across his face.”

“And which are you?” Xander The Demon asked, suspiciously.

“I,” said the yag grinning broadly, “I am the high wire artiste, balancing between them and trying to make sure that nobody dies.” He knocked back his drink and stood up from the table with a flourish, “least of all me…” he jabbed a finger at the demon “…or my friends.”

“What are you doing now?”

Vraxi turned with his hand on the doorknob, “taking you out, did I not say as much?”

The demon frowned, “a moment ago you said I had a lot to learn.”

“And have you not learnt it?” Vraxi asked impatiently “I would rather not repeat the lesson – the night wanes and we have an engagement!”

HAPPY EQUINOX WEEKEND MY LOVELIES! I hope you have an utterly blessed time 🙂


Ghosts Of Wit: A Grimoire For The Apocalypse

Happy holidays my lovelies! Well – I’m about to start mine anyway and I hope you all have splendiferously spectacular things planned as well!

Knowledge should be free – and so should fun! – so I’ve made my Grimoire For The Apocalypse available as a free PDF just in time for Crimbo.

It’s a rainy day activity book for bored magicians in lockdown full of playful stuff that works but is also fun and subversive.

And it includes a bonus short story: a tongue- in – cheek Magician’s Journey crammed full of Easter eggs which, if you find them all, give a lil potted history of magic (well, westish magic anyway!)

It’s licenced under Creative Commons so it’s fine to share as well. Or if you prefer paperback I’ve set the price at print-cost. (Which imho is still horrendously expensive!)

Happy festive wishes however you celebrate the season, and if you are in lockdown I hope this helps while away some dull hours and bring a few giggles to alleviate the stress.

You can download the free pdf here:

Or get the paperback at print-cost here:

BLURB:

It’s Bagatelle. There’s a Wreck in The Zone. This is not part of The Plan. But you are, and your instructions are simple – DESTROY THIS BOOK.

Ghosts of Wit is an interactive cybertext. A bizarre Easter Egg hunt through a twisted Wonderland in the company of dead poets, sinister psychopomps, sentient tarot cards and a mysterious cat with a fiddle.

Is there life after Porridge? Who is Mary? What does it mean to Tread Well in life? Who started the fire? Why does the old man smile? And would you like a bacon sandwich? Are just some of the questions this book will not attempt to answer. However if you already know the answers, then jump on your camel and join the hunt for the book that doesn’t exist… just beware of the white rabbits along the way…


Silk and Steel

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.

Vraxi nodded.

“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?”

“Massey’s?”

“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?”


Silk and Steel

Eeeep I’m so sorry I’m late again, I came down with a cold last night and have been bumbling around trying to get everything done XD So, without further blathering, here is the next bit and it comes with a small trigger warning of domestic violence.

Once Xander was settled in the kitchen with a small mountain of scrambled crows eggs, Spyro went upstairs.

He scowled as he followed the trail of used bath towels and discarded clothing from the bathroom and pushed open his bedroom door.

“Right then, Bane, I…”

Not many things in this world could leave Spyro Mendicci speechless. He cleared his throat to cover the fact and stared thoughtfully at the yag who was perched on the end of his bed, smoking and swinging his legs back and forth.

“Bane, when I said help yourself to something to wear…”

“Oh. Does it not become me?” Vraxi asked anxiously, hopping up to examine himself in the wardrobe mirror.

Spyro nearly had a heart attack. He ran a hand over his face. “You are not leaving here, dressed like that,” he said firmly; fighting the urge to lock the door and never let Vraxi leave his bedroom, let alone the shop. “You won’t make it home in one piece.” He’ll be the death of me, he thought helplessly, and this is a weakness I can’t afford to indulge just now, not with Pan stalking about somewhere.

“What were you doing at church?” he asked, trying to distract himself with more serious matters.

Vraxi shrugged, “having an existential crisis?” he tried.

Spyro folded his arms and tried to look menacing. It worked.

Vraxi grinned sheepishly and spread his palms; “In truth, I was stealing demonsong,” he said. “One of Keyja’s dock-rats dropped a crate and she may have got the inaccurate impression that the fault was mine.”

Spyro nodded. That sounded more like the truth. “And so she told you to replace it,” he surmised.

“She told me she’d turn me inside out and hang me from a flagpole and you could ask all the questions you liked about it!” The yag said, indignantly.

“Did she now?” Spyro narrowed his eyes.

“Indeed, she did. And that’s not all..” Vraxi lowered his voice and stood on his tiptoes to reach Spyro’s ear “…while I was at the docks I noticed something else; it seems Keyja is carrying on where her brother left off…”

Spyro frowned and waved Vraxi back a few paces. “Are you still high, Bane?” he asked.

Vraxi shrugged, “only to a level of functionality,” he said, taking another drag on his pipe.

“Give me that, I’ve told you not to smoke that thing up here.” Spyro snatched the pipe and knocked it out in the fireplace. “Let me understand you correctly: you are saying that Keyja – who tipped us off to the fact that her brother was cream-skimming – is now cream-skimming herself? Yes?”

“That’s right. And she wants to turn me inside out and…”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Spyro waved a hand to shush him up. He took a moment to turn things over in his mind. It did make sense, except.. “And what were you doing at the sky docks in the first place?”

Vraxi bit his lip, and then looked a little coy. “There is a barman… at the Valkyrie’s Nest…” he said quietly.

“I see.” Yes it all made sense now. Much as he didn’t like it, it did add up. “And is this debt to Keyja the reason you took the demonsong from the Colonel?” he asked, fishing for the last piece of the puzzle.

Vraxi hung his head and looked up through his strands of coal and henna hair.

Spyro sighed. “Very well, listen carefully. You are going to go and put something sensible on, and then you and Xander are going to go to the skydocks and clean-up for me, understand? And do it properly this time, no bleeding heart sob stories, no second chances I want every last one of them dead and I want it obvious to everyone with half a brain why.”

Vraxi nodded solemnly but he couldn’t prevent the gleeful glitter of flames from dancing in his dark eyes.

Spyro frowned. “You were hoping I’d say that, weren’t you?” Damn it, the little sod had played him and he’d walked right into it. He could just imagine the yag relishing the opportunity to add his own little ‘message’ to the execution and subtly turning it from No one messes with Spyro Mendicci to No one messes with Vraxanthrin Bane. He was not about to let him have that sort of power.

Vraxi bit his lip and gave a mischievous little half-smirk, “can you blame me? She did threaten to turn me inside out and hang me from her flagpole…and I didn’t tell a lie, Spyro, I only… hoped you would chose me to be the executioner…”

I should kill him. Spyro thought furiously. I am going to kill him. He could feel the weight of one of his many concealed knives resting just a wrist-flick away from his palm. I can’t have anyone think they can play me even the tiniest amount, and I can’t have him strutting around looking like that, distracting me from everything else. Half a dozen blades were within a split-second’s reach but still he hesitated, unable to take his eyes from the beautiful fire jinn.

“You should have come to me with this in the beginning,” he said at length. “As I said to Xander downstairs, what we are trying to build here is a family, Bane, and we’re not doing a very good job of that if we don’t trust eachother are we?”

Vraxi bit his lip, “Sorry?” he tried.

Spyro shook his head. “What am I going to do with you, Bane?”

“Give me some honey and take me to bed?” Vraxi asked hopefully, stepping closer and giving the antiques dealer his very best kitten eyes.

Oh gods. “Honey is for good boys.” Spyro said darkly, trying hard to keep the tremor of desire from his voice.

“Oh?” Vraxi smirked, tilting his head on one side, “And what do bad boys get, Mr. Mendicci?”

Spyro thought he was going to explode. He reached out and brushed Vraxi’s dark hair away from his face then let the back of fingers trail lazily down the angle of his jaw.

He eased his chin to the side with his thumb, careful to keep his gaze flat and disinterested as he traced the space around his collar bone, the rise of his bare shoulder, the tight velvet stretched around his tiny ribcage and narrow hips…

He’s like glass, he said to himself, so beautiful and so dangerous; so easy to break, so easy to cut yourself on.

Fantasies of forcing the yag to his knees and having him right there on the floor surged through his mind… he imagined tying him to his bed and taking him from pleasure to pain and back again for hours – watching those delicate features transform from expressions of ecstasy to confusion, fear, agony and back to ecstasy again in a never ending cycle that was completely under his control…

No.

No. No. No. He told himself sternly. I need to be certain I can resist this. Nobody can have such a hold over me, especially not this little one. If I can walk out of here now, then I can safely do as I like with him any time afterwards…but I need to know – and he needs to know – that I am in control.

“I’ll show you what bad boys get,” he whispered, unbuckling his belt and sliding it free of his waistband. He folded the leather back on itself to form a loop then cracked Vraxi hard across the face with it.

“They get nothing.” He said calmly, and turned to towards the door. “Put something decent on, Bane, and go home. I will have Fey deal with Keyja.”

He closed the door and leant his back against it for a moment, breathing slow and deep. He couldn’t do anything in this state. He glanced at Ros’s door, but then changed his mind and headed for the bathroom.


Silk and Steel

Happy Friday my lovelies! Thankyou for still being here and following along with my little miscreants! I hope you have a fabulous weekend! Here’s the next bit of Silk and Steel for you – will Spyro save the day? Well, I think you know our sinister antiques dealer well enough by now to know his ‘kindness’ is a double edged sword at the best of times…

By the time he caught up he was out of breath and Mendicci was just opening the bolted door.

“To what do I owe this flagrant disregard for respectable business hours?” he asked, flashing them his unfathomable smile as he locked the door again behind them.

“I want a new partner.” Xander said quickly.

Spyro raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak…

“No he doesn’t!” Vraxi protested, “He’s merely cross because I went to church!”

Spyro frowned at the interruption, “You went to church?” he asked sceptically, looking the yag up and down.

“The Other Church…” Vraxi corrected.

“It’s not just that, it’s everything, we’re no good, we can’t work together…”

“Yes we can,”
“No we can’t”

“Please Xander”

“No I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore,”

“What are you talking about?”

“Sush! Enough!” Spyro clapped his hands together and silence fell instantly, Xander glaring and breathing hard and Vraxi wringing his hands and looking confused.

“Bane. Upstairs. Now. Go and clean yourself up. You can borrow some clothes from the stock room.”

“But…”

“I will be up to speak with you in a moment.”

“But…”

The antiques dealer raised his eyebrows and Vraxi hung his head and trailed out of the room in a waft of stained silk and roccana smoke.

Xander took a deep breath. “I want a new partner.”

Spyro raised an eyebrow and steepled his finger carefully. “I want a new partner, please, Mr Mendicci.” he corrected.

Xander looked irritated. He flicked down his hood, made a mess of his dark hair and flicked it back up again. “Yeah. Sorry. S’what-I-meant. Er. Please, Mr Mendicci, I want a new partner, it’s not working out.”

“I see.” Spyro looked at him thoughtfully for a while and although Xander stood statue still, eyes front without flinching, he squirmed inwardly under the silent scrutiny. “You have very unusual eyes.” he said at last. “Where were your parents from? Kallimbadd?”

Xander ground his teeth. “Don’t know.” he mumbled, looking at the floor.

“You don’t know? Oh, yes, I remember now; you grew up in the children’s home didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes…?”

Xander took a deep breath. “Yes, Mr. Mendicci, that’s right.”

“I see. So you have no family here in Ryzym, that you know of?”

Xander shook his head.

“I see, yes, I remember now. Well, here’s the thing Xander; our little… group here, our little posse if you like, is like a family. Now I understand that for some young people like yourself, and Bane, and Edmund, and so on, your experiences of family range from zero to inadequate to… well, we won’t go there… but we, here, are building something better, are we not? A better life, a better future, a better family, Xan, for all of us. I’m going to confide something to you; I used to have a family – very very long ago now – a wife, and two children. Sadly, well,” he spread his hands and smiled that unfathomable smile, “life is cruel sometimes, but here we are, building something better, as I said.”

Xander frowned.

“But it has to be a team effort, Xan.” Spyro went on, “We all have to work together at it, and we can’t just turn our backs on one member simply because we don’t know how to handle their… problems. Understand? Is that how you think a family should behave? Is that a family you would want to be a part of?”

Xander shook his head.

“No, exactly. Bane would never turn his back on you would he? No. He wouldn’t. And you are not going to turn your back on him. So. There we are. I will have a word with him. Have you had breakfast?”


Silk and Steel

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?”

Xander nodded.

“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…”

“How?”

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.


Silk and Steel

Happy fireworks weekend! I hope you’re managing to enjoy the festive spook-sparkle-tasticness of the autumnish season despite being locked down and wot not. If I didn’t lose everyone with the last nose dive into insanity then we now flip to Xander for the next bit…

Xander could smell the smoke as he opened the front door of the run down tenement building they called home.


He took the stairs two at a time, the thickening miasma fuelling his worst fears as he neared his own door.


The hallway seemed to lengthen, the adrenaline more than the distance sapping his strength.


Finally after seconds that seemed like hours he flung open the door of their room, splintering the feeble frame to shards without even bothering with the handle.


The entire place was filled with flames.


Hundreds of candles covered the floor, and every other available space in the tiny dorm.


Xander cast about him frantically for a second before realising that his friend was perfectly safe – albeit by some strange miracle – weaving and swaying unsteadily around the room and humming to himself while the smokey haze was coming from burning incense cones and not from anything that was actually on fire.


“IDIOT!” Xander screamed, seizing Vraxi by the shoulders and throwing him onto the bed. He quickly snatched the boa which had begun to singe and stamped it out before turning his attention to the candles and snuffing as many as he could at a time.


He doused the inscense cones with wet fingers and opened the window.

Vraxi laughed and rolled off the bed. “Xaaaaaan. Always sooooo dramatic!” he crooned, stumbling over the long silk dressing gown he was wearing over his clothes. “I don’t need to worry about the flames, the candles won’t burn me Xan, they love me, I’m their mouthpiece…their voice in the darkness of a world made all of dust!” He spread his arms up to the ceiling and started swaying about again as if dancing to a music that only he could hear.


“What crap are you spouting now?” Xander muttered, more to himself as he continued to snuff out the flames and clear some of the floor space. “Where have you been?” he growled, darting forwards to catch the yag as he careered to the side and almost out of the open window. “What the hell have you taken this time? Honey again?”


“Pff! Tish and pish to honey…Honey,” Vraxi giggled, trying to put his arms around Xanders neck.


“No. Stop it. Look, don’t do that.” Xander grabbed his wrists and disentagled himself.

“Urg. You are no fun at all Xaaaaan. No fun at all,” Vraxi sighed, sinking dejectedly to the floor in a puddle of lavender coloured silk. “Always soooooo up tight!” He grinned mischievously up through his long strands of untidy black and henna hair. “Ooooh, I know what will help you unwiiiiind!”


He pushed himself back to his feet and tried to reach for Xander’s belt buckle. “Don’t you want to unwind Xaaan?” he smirked, almost tripping over the dressing gown again.


Xander caught him by the elbows “Look. Stop this. Now.” He said sternly, feeling panicked and horrified and completely unsure what to do. “I don’t want… I mean I can’t… ok? I can’t… a…and I wouldn’t anyway… I would never, never take ad…”


“Never?” Vraxi frowned and stepped back a pace, feeling unsteady and confused.


“No! Of course not! What sort of a…”


“Oh.” The mischievous swirls of flame died instantly, leaving dark vacant pools. He smiled ruefully and shut his eyes; of course Xander would never want him that way, he could barely stand his company when they had to work together. He could see the disgust and revulsion in his eyes just contemplating it. Never mind. Nevermindnevermindnevermind….now where was he, getting distracted, candles…. and the music…the beautiful music that sang to his soul… he let it flood in again and eclipse that horrible yarn ball of feelings that felt like a lead weight in his chest.


Xander watched his friend slipping away from reality again as he raised his arms to the ceiling and started humming. Damn it. He hadn’t meant… well he had meant everything he’d said…it just hadn’t come out right. Stone the crows, the yag looked like a malnourished twelve year old who had been at his mother’s liquor cabinet and decided to play dress up with her wardrobe… what kind of a monster would take advantage of someone in that state?


He balled his fists as he thought of everything his friend must have been through in his lifetime before the end of the world. Eighteen years of a hell he had never spoken about, but he didn’t have to. Xander could imagine, and it made him sick to his stomach. So much so that some days he couldn’t even look him in the eye for fear the demon might burst out and annihilate the entire city on his behalf.


And he’d hurt him. Again. His clumsy words not conveying what he wanted to say, as usual… “Woah! Stop that! What the hell are you doing?” He snatched the matches away just in time to stop the curtains going up in smoke.


“Candles want it to be brighter…” Vraxi murmured, his eyes not really focussing on anything but the few flames still flickering on the mantlepiece.

“That’s the honey talking,” Xander snapped, putting the matches in his pocket for safe keeping.

“I’ve had nothing to do with any honey I’ll have you know.” Vraxi sneered, his eyes rolling as the ceiling flipped places with the floor and then back again. “Only the very purest sacraments have passed these lips tonight…”


Xander pulled a face.


“Shh! Blood…” he whispered.


“You drank blood?”


“Mm, blood from the red river…at the other church…”


“You went to church? That’s it, I’m… I’m calling the doctor…”


“He won’t come…”


“Damn it, you’re right, well I’m taking you to Bartzack then. What the hell were you thinking?”


“Bartzack is off his feet. Anyway, does it matter? My body remembers now…what happened…and why…we are not real, did you know that? We are nothing at all…just the memories of dust as it tries to rebuild what once was, re-enact what went before… but the clocks know, Xan, the clocks know the dust has got it wrong…this isn’t even how it happened but that doesn’t matter because look…look out there…the sun is dying and when its light is gone, who will we turn to to light our dark world? Hm? Not the dust, oh no!”


He gestured around the floor, “That is why we need the candles. Candles understand this, candles are ready to step forward and shine in place of our dying star… but we must keep them safe…they are so few and so fragile…”
He closed his eyes and began humming again.


“You’ve lost your mind. Candles? Clocks? Dust? Stone the crows what have you done to yourself?”


“I have sold my soul to the priestess of the evrlasting flame…” he sang, still dancing to the music only he could hear. “…in exchange for a twist of fate…”


Xander ran a hand over his face, uncertain what to do. There was an all night apothecary on bridge street but carrying this manic street preacher through the spires was not going to be a picnic. He took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to apologise for this now…”


“Hm? Apologise for what?”


“This.”


Light In The Lantern: With David Lee Summers

Greetings! Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is David Lee Summers and I spin tales of possible pasts, presents, and futures. Some may delight. Some may make you pine for days yet to come. Some may send you underneath your covers awaiting the light of day.

I hear that strange times have struck the Isles of Ire. I’ve been told Flesh-eating Liver Birds circle the skies looking for hapless victims while Sugar-Zombies roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague. What is this world coming to?

So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…

Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with Professor Edison’s marvellous lightning gun. I hear it has proven effective against everything from vampires to those war wagons they have out in America’s Wild West so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay
as long as I can aim while wearing these dark goggles at night.

Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all. Many here in Lancaster know me as the creator of the Clockwork Legion series of novels. These four novels – Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, The Brazen Shark, and Owl Riders – tell the tale of Sheriff Ramon
Morales and the love of his life, Fatemeh Karimi, as they travel through America’s Wild West and beyond encountering outlaws, mad scientists, and even an alien from the most distant corner of the most distant corner of the universe. They stopped Russia’s invasion of the United States, kept
outlaws from getting their disreputable hands on the lightning gun, one very similar to the one I’m carrying, I might add, and then kept Russia and Japan from going to war – on their honeymoon no less.

If these dark nights put you more in the mood for tales of creatures who roam the night, then you’re in luck. I have just finished new, revised editions of my Scarlet Order vampire novels. Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires tells how a vampire born to darkness in Arthurian Britain formed a band of vampire mercenaries. Why, I hear the Scarlet Order may be roaming the streets this very night keeping us safe.

Vampires keep us safe? I hear you scoff, but I hear tell these
vampires are good stewards and know that letting humans perish would end their food supply. Still, I do want them to keep their pointy little teeth to themselves. I like my neck in one piece. Makes me glad for this here lightning gun.

Their story continues in Vampires of the Scarlet Order where we
learn there are scarier things than vampires in the dark of night.
If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them here. The links will take you to a page where may read a sample chapter and find links to your favourite retailers:


The Clockwork Legion Novels:
Owl Dance: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html
Lightning Wolves: http://davidleesummers.com/lightning_wolves.html
The Brazen Shark: http://davidleesummers.com/brazen_shark.html
Owl Riders: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html

The Scarlet Order Vampire Novels:
Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html
Vampires of the Scarlet Order: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html
If you’d like to connect you can find me here:

My blog is at: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/davidleesummers
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/davidleesummers

Well thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. My goodness, is that a sugar zombie over there? Let me set the controls on the lightning gun. Blast, but my hands are trembling too much.

Wait! Someone has tackled the sugar zombie. He’s biting its
neck. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think that’s the Vampire known as Roquelaure. He is a handsome devil isn’t he? Look at him run. I think he has a sugar rush.

Well thank goodness my shift is over. I’m glad I didn’t have to face one of those Liver Birds. The thought of them gives me shivers. Well, I must be off the streets before Roquelaure comes back looking for a more substantial meal and I advise you to do the same!

Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own.


Light In The Lantern: With Karen J Carlisle

Greetings!

Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster. My name is Karen J Carlisle, and I’m a writer and illustrator of Victorian mysteries, steampunk and fantasy.

Strange times have struck the Isles of Ire – Flesh eating Liver Birds plague the skies and Sugar-Zombies roam the streets spreading their curse like a plague…

So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…

Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with my re-enforced steel-armoured corset, night-stalker goggles, and sharpened nib pen (for the pen is mightier than the sword, they say), so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay.

Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all…

2020 began as usual, researching for my current work-in-progress, the second book in The Aunt Enid Mysteries (set in 1920) for a throw-away comment about the ‘Great Picnic’, a euphemism used for the quarantine tent city at the Jubilee Oval, Adelaide, South Australia in 1919. After reading accounts of mental health issues related to the epidemic and its aftereffects, I was moved to write ‘Spanish Flu’. The lyrics were originally written in February, 2020.

Little did I know we were destined to experience such times ourselves.

You’d think writers would love enforced lockdown? More time to write. Quite the contrary. Many of us have been overwhelmed, just when the world needs words of hope.

So I lit my watchtower beacon:

When times are dark, fiction can whisk us away to other worlds to find new friends and have fantastical adventures. Quarantine Reads: Escape to Adventure was released in April, and is a collection of short stories of a lighter note, to inspire and transport you beyond four walls. The fantasy, steampunk and fairy tale fiction was created to entertain those in isolation or quarantine, or anyone needing to escape the worries of the world for a while.

But I can only keep those flesh eating Liver Birds and Sugar-Zombies at bay for so long, for they know their time is at hand. Join me to hunt them down in my Halloween-read offering: Another Twist of the Nib: short tales with a darker twist. Here be ghosts, vampires, apocalypse, and humans with nefarious intent. Help me bring their stories into the light, so we can diminish their power.

If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them here:

Spanish Flu – original (steampunk) music – https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/song-spanish-flu/ )

Quarantine Reads: Escape to Adventure – https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/quarantine-reads/

Another Twist of the Nib: short tales with a darker twisthttps://karenjcarlisle.com/product/another-twist-of-the-nib/

For more info on A Fey Tale: https://karenjcarlisle.com/books/aunt-enid-mysteries/ and paperback pre-orders (Australia): https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/a-fey-tale-pre-order/

If you’d like to connect you can find me here:

Website: https://karenjcarlisle.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karenjcarlisle/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4LiXU6uVL_g4MT5ykMIUzw

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle

Thankyou for joining me to keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night. Thank goodness it was a quiet one! I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by those Liver Birds and there was tell last week of an artist who fell foul to a horde of sugar zombies and is now best avoided… although his artwork apparently is better than ever–

Shh, did you hear that? I’ll just take a quick peek…

There it is again. Did you hear a scraping sound? What was that in the shadows?

What the–?

Quick, light the torch!

Phew, that was close.

Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….


#RainbowSnippets: Jack and Marjory

Ahoi! Hope your weekend is treating you fabulously!

Here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here 

It’s been ages since I posted from J&M so to recap – Jack and Marjory have been hired by the revolutionary leader, Max, to retrieve a stolen priceless tea set. They failed and Max is now going to get hung. The tea set is in the hands of a group of beatnik poets but J&M have a plan to steal it back. All they need now is a buyer… enter Montmorency, the disturbingly animate scarecrow…

“Kitty’s closed The Angel? Why?”
He stopped rummaging in his desk drawer and stared at us. “Why? Why? You dozy clot, where’ve you been the last couple of days? Planet mars?”
“Yorkshire”
His eyes narrowed, “Whatcher bin doin there then?”
“Bird watchin.”

Jack and Marjory

Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless historical teaset before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

Wishing you all an utterly fabulous autumnal weekend and don’t forget to visit the offical fb group and see all the other Rainbow Snippets as well 🙂


Silk and Steel

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!


Light In The Lantern: With Madeleine Holly-Rosing

Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Madeleine Holly-Rosing and I am the writer/creator of the steampunk supernatural prose and graphic novel series, Boston Metaphysical Society.

Strange times have struck the Isles of Ire – Flesh eating Liver Birds plague the skies and Sugar-Zombies roam he streets spreading their curse like a plague…

So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…

Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with my flaming magical sword so I think I will manage to keep the beasts at bay.

Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share some of my work with you all…

If you’re not familiar with Boston Metaphysical Society, it’s about an ex-Pinkerton detective, a spirit photographer, and a genius scientist who battle supernatural forces in late 1800s Boston.

It took a while to find the right title for the series as I wanted to evoke the time period within the title. Obviously, Boston is where most of the stories take place. I use the definition of the word “metaphysical” as it was used back then, which was to describe supernatural or paranormal activities. It’s taken on a more philosophical and spiritual meaning today. “Society” was also a word commonly used back then to describe a team, club, or an organization.
If you are new to the series, the best place to start is the trade paperback which includes the original six issue mini-series and a bonus story from Source Point Press! You can order it directly from them, your local comic book store or from me!

To help stave the evil spirits, my award winning novel, Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets is 50% off over at Smashwords until OCTOBER 15 by using this coupon code – SN34N.

I love the cover and I hope you do too. I didn’t want your standard steampunk cover with the same stock images you see all the time. So while I was on Facebook, I saw Luisa’s painting for a steampunk novella and loved it. I contacted her, but my budget could only cover one character. I decided that I wanted to have the main female character on the cover with a specific kind of style/fashion that is discussed in the book. I also love the color hunter green, so that part was easy. Also, the triquetra (Celtic Knot) medallion she is holding is an element in the book as well.
Luisa then did a rough sketch which I approved. Afterwards, she painted it and I gave her a few minor notes for changes, but pretty much she knocked it out of the park. Kudos to Anke Koopman who came up with the title graphics.
It’s such a big world that I wrote three sequel graphic novels, a novel, an anthology, and our very first COLORING BOOK. You can find my books on all ebook platforms as well as Amazon and my own webstore.

Here is a list of reading material to keep you occupied on those dark and stormy nights:

Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets- https://www.amazon.com/Boston-Metaphysical-Society-Storm-Secrets-ebook/dp/B07HCP9SW5/ OR at Smashwords (50%) off. (Coupon Code – SN34N)

Boston Metaphysical Society: Prelude – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00XB5U82Q/

Boston Metaphysical Society: The Scourge of the Mechanical Men-https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0996429247/

Boston Metaphysical Society: The Spirit of Rebellion – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0996429271/

Boston Metaphysical Society: Ghosts and Demons-https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1734615605/

Boston Metaphysical Society: The Coloring Book- https://boston-metaphysical-society-comic.square.site/

If you’d like to purchase any of my wares you can find them here:

https://boston-metaphysical-society-comic.square.site/

If you’d like to connect you can find me here:

Website: http://www.bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BostonMetaphysicalSocietyComic/
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mhollyrosing
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/mcholly1

Well thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one! I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by those Liver Birds and there was tell last week of an artist who fell foul to a hoard of sugar zombies and is now best avoided… although his artwork apparently is better than ever…

Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….


#RainbowSnippets : Jack and Marjory

Happy Saturday! (Although I’m having to edit this now to Sunday as the weekend has got away from me as usual – eep, better late than never maybe? XD ) I’m over the moon that things are now calming down here enough that I can start taking part in Rainbow Snippets again – I’ve so missed our lovely group and reading all the marvellous array of offerings each week, and I really hope that for all of you things are going smoothly and that the madness in the world is affecting you as little as possible. Hugs all round.

So here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here 🙂

Kari Trenten is responsible for this one 😉 – she stirred up my Scarecrow Landlord last week with her mischievous kittens and they haven’t stopped pestering me to post more of their story since! It isn’t really THEIR story of course, it belongs to Jack and Marjory… but try telling the scarecrow that – tsk!

It’s been ages since I posted from J&M so to recap – Jack and Marjory have been hired by the revolutionary leader, Max, to retrieve a stolen priceless tea set. They failed and Max is now going to get hung. The tea set is in the hands of a group of beatnik poets but J&M have a plan to steal it back. All they need now is a buyer…

Exactly how and when and why a scarecrow became so disturbingly animate is the subject of many late night conjectures but nobody knows, or dares ask, exactly who Montmorency is or where he came from.

Of course we know, now. But we didn’t that September afternoon in 1824 and frankly I think we slept sounder untroubled by the history.

What we did know, what everyone knew in Lancaster, was that Montmorency owned the old fish factories along the docks and had turned them into tenements which he rented to the most desperate and destitute citizens in exchange for ‘rent-in-kind.’ That usually meant brewing and selling Lemonade or smuggling tea and cake in and out of the city but Montmorency was a far-sighted, entrepreneurial cove and would turn his eye to anything that might bring in the glim.

 In truth, he was the only person we knew of who would be able to find us a buyer for the Newell with very little trouble or indiscretion.

“Not anover bleedin’ hex slinger,” the scarecrow wheezed, as he pulled the belt buckles tight around a heavy looking travelling case and felt around in his pockets for the key, “I gots no work goin’, I gots no rooms, I’m shuttin’ th’ole place down, gettin’ me head outta th’ noose now, shuttin’ shop an’ gettin’ out and Kitty’s right t’ do th’same.”

Jack and Marjory

Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless historical teaset before the owner finds himself at the gallows.

Wishing you all an utterly fabulous autumnal weekend and don’t forget to visit the offical fb group and see all the other Rainbow Snippets as well 🙂


Silk and Steel

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.


Light In The Lantern: With K.S. Trenten

Greetings! Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is K.S. Trenten, keeper of the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration (inspirationcauldron.wordpress.com ) and a humble talespinner
whose stories can be found at https://www.amazon.com/author/kstrenten as well as Nine Star Press, Mischief Corner Books, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple.

I craft flights of fantasy of an ambient nature, focusing more on the emotional than the action driven elements of
many a magical world.

Strange times have struck the Isles of Ire…Flesh eating Liver Birds plague the skies and Sugar-zombies roam the streets spreading the curse like a plague…and I can see the shadows of nightmare and imagination pooling together at the edges between worlds, ready to birth even more monsters in response to many a shivering, fearful soul, locked down within their homes,
hoping their humble shelters will be protection enough, and trying to stave off the madness which threatens in their isolation.

So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning every night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters or evil scarecrow landlords…I can see one shuffling outside the tower walls. It calls
mockingly, desiring money, votes, or souls in many voices. I’ve come up with a cry of my own to keep it at bay, although I’m not sure for how long my strange chant will confuse it.

Never fear, gentle readers. I am well-armed with a fierce House Tigress at my side. She may be tiny (along with wide of girth), but she is heavy, armed with sharp claws, and has a piercing yowl which sends the scarecrow landlords staggering away. If she is not enough, her brother is within
the tower, paws full and nose nudging a doomsday weapon he’s cobbling together which he swears will save us all (don’t pin too much hope on that promise, Sage tends to exaggerate).

Nevertheless, both of my furry companions should discourage the invaders from outside. While we keep watch, I thought I’d share some of my work with you.

I’m currently busy working on Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystal Coffins, the story between the story of Fairest, straight from the seventh dwarf’s mouth. Yes, it’s Quartz, the character who takes over my blog once a month. He’s demanded his own story. He’s seriously distracted me from the series dearest to my heart, Tales of the Navel: The Shadow Forest which I hope to self-publish.

Christopher, narrator of Conversations with Christopher at the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration is from the Shadow Forest, although he found a home at the Navel, center of all things bizarre. The Shadow Forest and the Navel both at times appear in tales at the Formerly Forbidden Cauldron, which is slowly cooling to a simmer, due to the updates at Blogger. All samples of story are slowly trickling their way to the Original Cauldron. I do still have stories for sale, two are ripe for the holidays.

About those two. Here’s a little from Seven Tricks, straight from the muzzle of its scampering anti-hero of a mouse prince…


Some say a mouse king has seven heads. Hah, trust a human to get our legends wrong. A mouse prince must perform seven tricks before the twelve days of Christmas are up. It’s how he wins his crown, but I’ve got my whiskers set on something else. A stiff beauty with a magnificent
jaw, waiting for me under the holiday shrub. I caught his scent in a dream, which I’ve been sniffing after ever since. Scamper with me through my adventures and misadventures, dodging traps, cats, and giants, while I win a steadfast nutcracker’s heart.

Buy Links:
Nine Star Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/seven-tricks/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/seven-tricks-ks-
trenten/1127424849?ean=2940158598838
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-
keywords=Seven+Tricks%2C+by+K.S.+Trenten
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/seven-tricks
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/758279

And here’s a little about my other holiday tale; Wind Me Up, One More Time…


Grace Morisot gets Theodora, a toy bear for the holidays. A bear only she can hear. A bear she can go on special adventures with.
Once she and Theodora get together, life seems to be going quite well. She meet Heather and Heidi, whom become good friends and potential future wives. Heidi finds Carrot Monster, a rabbit companion of her own while Heather decides to save some nisse in a window from their depressing hats. 
Even though Grace’s mother is no longer around, she still has Nathalie, her adopted sister and surrogate mother, who tells wonderful stories. Nat has Maia, whom acts like a mother to Grace, even if she has a tendency to turn into Iama the Terrible when she’s been working too hard. 
Things come to an end when tragedy takes Nathalie away. The gears of industry, which
Grace has come to fear, threaten to take Maia away, too.
It’s up to Theodora Bear, Grace’s companion to somehow safe the day. Yet how can she do anything when her child is ceasing to believe in her? 

Mischief Corner Books/Shenanigans Press: https://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/wind-me-up-
one-more-time.html#/
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081LPX2WH
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wind-me-up-one-more-time
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345

https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1488235515?fbclid=IwAR1_ox2T5jIHibPFBHUqTck0SNaP3p
cZIgNM4DS3VAjU47mn3o5iu260bMA


May my humble words help keep away the winter chill and my characters distract you from your gloom. Please come and visit me at the Cauldron as well…every week something is brewing in its waters. And watch out for those scarecrow landlords! They may give you an impression
weakness, flailing about, but there’s cunning in that stuffing, mark my words. And please don’t give Sage any more funding for his doomsday weapon! It’s not going to work, no matter how much he mews that he’s gotten all the glitches figured out…


Light In The Lantern: With Ichabod Temperance

A Visit of Temperance

“Halt! I say, who is it that goes, there? Ah, welcome friend, to Lancaster’s Night Beacon. You are a brave soul to climb the crumbling old steps of this ancient watchtower. My name is Persephone Plumtartt. My semi-comatose companion is what remains of Ichabod Temperance. He has succumbed, one fears, to the Sugar Zombie plague. I beg of you, no matter how he pleads, do not give him any sweets.”
“If you are to stay here, I must ask you to take up a pike, spear, or some sort of swatting device and maintain a constant vigilance for murderous crows. When Mr. Temperance and I accepted Miss Blake’s kind invitation, we were not under the impression that we might be pressed into Ornithological combat, eh hem?”
“Well then, be that as it may, one does try to make the best of things.”
“Ohhh…”
“Please suffer in silence, Mr. Temperance. One is sure that you suffer tremendous ache in your stomachs, but you did bring this upon yourself.”
“One might not think it by looking at this poor specimen, writhing in intestinal anguish from too many sweets ingested, but he has lived through and put to paper many extraordinary adventures. Ten in all, these are each stand alone stories that incorporate a central theme in their paranormal chases. For instance, in one such book, ‘In a Latitude of Temperance’, Ichabod and I travel on an unlikely journey to thwart an evil cabal of long-lived Nosferatu. A rogues’ gallery to be sure, with some of history’s most notorious fiends including Count Chocula, Count Sesame, and Hela Gigalosi. In another, adventure, ‘The Seventh Voyage of Temperance’, we find ourselves amongst titanic monsters upon remote Nipponese isles.
“Time and again, Mr. Temperance is able to use his uncanny tinkering ability to overcome incredible odds to arrive at joyful conclusions. If only he would rouse himself to defense from flesh-eating liver birds.”
“If one is interested in further investigation as to this chap’s exploits, please direct your attention to the appropriate ‘link’. You are invited to peruse the books synopses and to follow that theme which may appeal.”
“Toodle-loo!”

The Adventures of Ichabod Temperance

Amazon US
https://www.amazon.com/Ichabod-Temperance/e/B00J71862M/

Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Ichabod+Temperance&ref=nb_sb_noss

Twitters
https://twitter.com/IckyTemperance

The Facebooks
https://www.facebook.com/ichabod.temperance


Silk and Steel

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:

https://england.shelter.org.uk/donate?reserved_appeal_code=20200401-DF-10&msclkid=371f226374f81208bc877d0718258329&gclid=CJC6s_Sh8usCFdQgGwodDAwF2A&gclsrc=ds

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?”


Xander frowned.


“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?”


Light In The Lantern: With Felicity Banks

Salutations, my fellow travellers: men, women, and wondrous creatures all!

As we face the long dark of this plague-infested season, it is time to brighten the glow of our lanterns, shining all the brighter against the black, and warming one another. My name is Felicity Banks and my lantern is my books.

Tonight is my shift, and I must brighten the watchtower lantern lest we be over-run. Even now, I see the unmasked hordes approaching across the hills, decrying all humanity and running roughshod over the authority of SCIENCE.

There is still hope to be had, and even joy. Because I might not be able to change the minds of the mindless, but I can write a mighty fine yarn. If you love steampunk adventures with bonus magic, you can read my entire steampunk trilogy on your device of choice, or buy signed copies directly from me at shootingthrough.net/store.

There are horrid apparitions gnawing on my extremities but I’m doing my best to kick them off, knowing that the sun will shine again one day. I hope you can do the same.

Although the pen is mightier than the sword, my books can only bring a certain amount of light (and my critics say they don’t burn especially well) so I’m wading into a larger battle—specifically, the battle to combat global injustice.

I’ve joined the crack soldiers of the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, and gathered a squad around me in order to support refugees coming to my home city of Canberra. If all goes well, we can even venture forth into bringing newer, more desperate refugees over the seas as early as 2021.

If you’d like to buy my books, please do (shootingthrough.net/store).

If you’d like to send me alms in order to support this latest endeavour, I would be especially grateful, and my own hopeful lantern would blaze bright enough to light shores other than my own.

You can contact me, or PayPal any amount, at fellissimo@hotmail.com.


Light In The Lantern: With The Last Witch Of Pendle

Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Mrs Albert Baker and… well yes, that’s right I am a witch, how very kind of you to notice! Perhaps it’s my magical aura… or the smell of freshly baked gingerbread that tipped you off? Officially I’m actually The Last Witch Of Pendle but, sadly, there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats. But I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running my little underground soup kitchen for the street urchins.

Strange times have struck here in the Scattered Isles of Ire – Lord Ashton’s Flesh Eating Liver Birds plague the skies above us and hoards of Mancunian Sugar-Zombies roam the cobbled streets spreading their curse like a plague…

So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those running for their lives and being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…

Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with a hot cauldron of soup, a fistful of hexes and of course my trusty rolling pin, which has seen off many an Annoying Wizard, Giant Crab or Night Potato, I can tell you!

Over the coming weeks, a marvellous host of writers, artists and creators will each be taking a turn to keep the light in this old lantern burning through the dark and share with you some of their wonderful books, stories, artwork and other fabulous creations.

Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share a little excerpt from some of my own adventures with you. This is taken from The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry when those two miscreant wizards had the cheek to break into my house in Pendle and frighten the wits out of myself and my husband in the middle of the night!

lastwitch

The two wizards scrambled to their feet but, on cursory inspection, Skarry realised they were trapped. This was not magic that they, as mere initiates, would have any hope of disabling.

“Oh! Burglars? Thieves? Oh no!” The woman standing in the doorway, dressed in a long cotton nightdress and curlers, trembled, sending the glaring yellow light from her lantern quivering over the moon-slicked floor, serving no purpose other than to irritate the eyes of every conscious person in the room. “Oh, this can’t be happening! I…I must get Albert, yes, he will know what to do!” and she quickly spun on her heel and disappeared again. They heard her stumble back along some hidden corridor, muttering in frenzied tones as she went: “Oh blessed mother! Oh Green Goddess, why is this happening? Why? Oh this is the end, I know it is! The end of Pendle, the end of everything! Oh Goddess, if it is true, if you have really not abandoned us to the mercy of Wiz, please, please grant me the strength to deal with this! But I cannot, how can I? I am the last! The very last!”

Her ravings slowly faded, swallowed into the belly of the house, and Skarry fired a look of utter bewilderment at his friend and tapped his forehead in silent questioning appraisal of the woman’s sanity. But, to his surprise and further confusion, Mercurio’s own features revealed that he was lost in some deep private reflection which was obviously beginning to amuse him.

Before long, the woman returned, now sporting an ill-fitting black toupee, which she had hastily balanced on top of her net of tightly curled hair, a false moustache and a quilted claret dressing gown. She held the lantern high again, swinging its luminescence into their squinting eyes.

“Now, see here!” she said, failing dismally at affecting a manly baritone. “Just who, may I ask, do you think you are? Bursting into my abode and frightening the wits out of my wife like this? Hmm?”

Skarry blinked. Surely, surely, this strange woman must realise the flagrant flimsiness of her charade. He opened his mouth to speak, but the woman pre-empted him.

“Don’t move! D-d-don’t move or I’ll…I’ll…well, you can’t move, can you? Hmm? If you try to, you won’t be able to so…so just stay there while I… er… go and call the Watchers… and The Good Folk. Yes, that’s it… now just you stay there! And don’t move!”’

Mercurio held up his gloved hands and chuckled with amusement. “My dear… Sir, we have no intention of going anywhere and, as you have pointed out, even if we wished to, we would be unable to penetrate this.” He gestured to the thin blue field of magical energy which now surrounded them, regarding it with the eye of a connoisseur. “But this is quite astounding!” He gave the moustachioed woman a look of respect, mingled with curiosity, which was not lost upon its subject.

She lowered the lantern an inch.

“Surely,” Mercurio continued carefully, “surely a spell like this could only have been set in place by… and please do not take offense, my good man… by a wizard? And an extremely powerful one at that. Perhaps, even, a witch?”

To Skarry’s amazement, the woman sank down into the leather armchair and began to sob, wringing the lantern chain between her fingers.

“My apologies,” Skarry said quickly, “if my friend has upset you, please… er… here, oh damn I can’t do that,” he returned the useless handkerchief to his pocket and glared furiously at Mercurio, who gave him a withering look and then hitched up a mask of sincere compassion and sympathy and turned it towards their host.

“Oh, you’re right!” the woman sobbed. “It’s true, it’s all true!” She pulled off the moustache and toupee and flung them angrily onto the floor. “Oh, this silly charade has been wearing me to pieces! But I have had no choice! There have always been six witches at Pendle, and there always must be at least one witch at Pendle – even Wiz himself says it – otherwise the whole town will crumble to the ground; the manor, the park, the houses, everything!”

“Wiz?” Skarry looked sharply at his friend, but Mercurio hadn’t flinched.

“Yes. It is only by his will that I haven’t been forced into the caves to be hunted, like game, across the marsh, like my poor sisters. He allowed just six of us witches to stay on here at Pendle because of the curse. There have always been six and we’ve always managed to fool the townsfolk into thinking we were ordinary citizens, but I am the last! And what will happen if I am found out? Oh it has worn me so thin you cannot imagine. Of course I cannot marry – who would marry a witch in this day and age? And yet I had to marry Albert or else people would become suspicious; a woman living all alone… people have such suspicious minds… you wouldn’t believe the things they say when my back is turned…” She was beginning to rave, the pitch of her voice crescendoing with the speed of the words. If she went on like this, she would be hysterical within the next 60 seconds and if she hyperventilated and fainted, even worse asphyxiated herself, they would be trapped. Possibly permanently.

“Why don’t you have a glass of brandy?” Mercurio suggested.

The woman shook her head “I don’t drink,” she sniffed. “It’s Albert who’s the drinker.”

“Albert?” Skarry mouthed silently.

Mercurio raised his eyebrows at him. “Well, perhaps Albert would care for a snifter then? Settle his nerves?”

Skarry closed his eyes so that he would not have to witness the woman reassembling her disguise so that she could nod and stumble unsteadily out of the room in search of alcohol.

 

 

 

If you’d like to read more about my adventures with those two Terrible Wizards, Scarlet Skarry and her marvellous Land Pirate crew and of course Eightcups Max and his fabulous octopus Collin, you can find The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry here:

Well thankyou so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one! Who knows, perhaps the smell of gingerbread was enough to keep wary monsters at bay?
Stay safe good friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! I know it’s not Friday but I’m going away to visit family for a few days and then after that I’m in hospital again having another top up so I thought I had better leave you with something from Spyro and co. as the last IV knocked me for a pretty six so it may be more than a week before I post the next one XD Hope you are all keeping safe and well and wishing you all a most fabulous weekend 🙂

In September I’ll keep posting these extracts but I’m also hosting a new promo called Light In The Lantern which I hope will give writers and artists a chance to spread some light through the darkness with their beautiful and inspiring work 🙂 If you’d like me to feature your work drop me an email at ladywiththewyvern@gmail.com 🙂

For now, I’ll leave you with Spyro in the bath…

 

Spyro emptied the jug of warm water over his head, dowsing his tight black curls, letting it drench down its liquid comfort over his neck and shoulders and back.

The Doctor was right when he named Arden a genius – an annoying, entitled, maverick little cock to be sure, but still a genius. He had rigged a demonsong-powered water heating system for the bathroom the night he had moved in, requiring nothing but what he found lying about in the cellar and the back yard. He could certainly be forgiven a great many faults for that one gift alone, Spyro thought idly as he steepled his fingers above the steaming surface of the bathwater and shut his eyes.

Twardowski, he murmured, repeating the name of his nemesis as he turned the mental image of the great magician over and over in his mind; remembering the man’s faults, his strengths, calculating what might know, and what he did not, of this strange new world he had come down to.

He has magic. And I do not. At least not enough, not anymore. He has the goddess of death on his side. And I do not.  I have…

He paused, what did he have exactly? In reality, not half as much as he lead people to believe.

In reality, the reason that Silk and Steel had risen to apparent underground omnipotence so quickly was that they did not have a vast network of powerful and influential people directly under their control. That kind of monopoly would have taken years to cultivate.

What they had instead, Spyro thought ruefully – although he acknowledged the fact that it had served them better this way – was a few strategically placed powerful allies, a rag-tag band of pick pockets, cut-throats and confidence tricksters, and a vast network of street urchins who pervaded every inch of the city of Ryzym and who saw, heard and fed back to him everything of interest that went on whether it be on a street corner in the cinders or behind a locked door in The Groves.

He frowned and tapped his fingers together thoughtfully. Perhaps part of the reason this ludicrously simple system had actually worked was that no one honestly thought anyone would dare to play such an ambitious game when they had so little.

He smiled, that had always been his strength now he came to reflect upon it. He had stood up to slave masters and thugs, landlords and law enforcers, he had stirred common folk to uprisings and rebellions which had changed the face of history altogether… all because he dared.

He had learnt magic,because he dared. Had cheated demons, because he dared. Had trusted his fate to the gods, because he dared.

And then he had defied them all, betrayed those who saved his life and come back down here to do it all over again. All because he dared to do it.

And now I will put an end to you Twardowski,with nothing more than a handful of street urchins, the advice of a good doctor and two good friends at my back.

He smiled his most sinister smile to himself as he sank back into the soothing arms of the luxuriously warm water.

Two very particular friends, of course…


Silk and Steel

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?


Silk and Steel

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.”

 

“Even cabaret?”

 

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.