Happy Friday! I’m going to make next week the last post before christmas and then carry on where we leave off in the new year. Ghosts of Wit is at the proof stage so that should be out next week as well. Wishing you all an utterly fabulous weekend and hugest thankyous for following along with my wild witterings thus far! Picking up where we left off last week with poor Vraxi…
When Spyro shut the door, Vraxi folded up like a fan on the enormous four poster bed and shed silent tears into the sea of dark silk sheets. He had needed this. He had needed to prove to himself that somebody, for whatever reason, wanted him – that he had some purpose, some skill, some use in the universe however shallow or cheap that thing might seem to others. But he had messed things up again; it seemed all he was ever able to do. And when he went over everything that happened, he couldn’t see clearly what he had done wrong.
Is it any wonder they are all sick of you? his voices whispered. You ruin everything you touch and you haven’t even the intelligence to understand how. You are exhausting everyone’s patience with you, and you don’t even have the ability to change or put things right. “Please stop.” He whispered, pressing his hands over his ears as if he could shut out the voice that was coming from within. “Please, please, please, stop.”
He took an enormous breath and pushed himself up, feeling about for his pipe before he remembered Spyro had tossed it in the fireplace. He slid off the bed and shuffled across the floor, refilled it and took a long drag, completely forgetting that Spyro had told him not to smoke in the bedroom. Come on, enough of this, he told himself, wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand, you cannot still be sitting here when he returns.
He stood up and closed the wardrobe door, trying hard not to catch even the slightest glimpse of himself in the mirror. He had thought the outfit he’d chosen was attractive; but no one seemed to like the things that he found beautiful. Because you’re a cheap, tasteless little tramp, the voices inside told him as he trailed in numbness through the dark corridors to the stockroom, a feat like walking underwater with his head encased in lead.
He pulled something off the rack without fully registering what it was, other than that it looked dull and displeasing, got dressed and went tentatively downstairs.
“Seems like we’re still stuck with eachother then.” Xander said gruffly, his arms folded as he stood by the back door.
“I… is that what he said?”
Xander nodded, and then frowned at him. “What happened to your face?”
Vraxi fussed a bit with his hair, trying to pull it down over the red mark where the belt had struck. “Oh nothing. I tripped over my dressing gown in the bathroom and hit it on the sink.” He shrugged and gave a little half smile, “You were right, it is far too big for me afterall. I don’t know what possessed me to steal it.”
This is all my fault. Xander thought desperately. Why hadn’t he stopped to consider how Mendicci would react to his childish little tantrum? He had thought the antiques dealer had been unfair, spoken to him harshly, tried to pull rank on him and make sure he was still firmly under his boot… but he hadn’t hit him. And this wasn’t the first time Vraxi had come down those stairs with bruises he couldn’t easily explain. Coward, he thought furiously, he knows I would hit him back.
“You liked the little birds on it,” he mumbled, fishing for something he could do or say to make amends. “You said it was nice to see birds that weren’t crows for a change, and that if you held it up to the light you could imagine they were flying against the lavender sky at dawn…. or some crap like that…” he added, feeling his face flush a little.
Vraxi trailed his finger along the banisters and hung his head. “Sounds like the sort of nonsense I’d come out with,” he admitted, and then raised his eyes to peer apologetically through his strands of scarlet and black, “Thankyou for putting up with me, Xan. I mean it. I know it isn’t easy…I don’t mean to be so…difficult…”
Xander flicked down his hood, made a mess of his hair and then flicked it up again. I should be the one apologising, he thought crossly. But he couldn’t find the words or even where to begin.
“You hungry?” he tried, annoyed that his voice didn’t seem capable of ever conveying anything he wanted it to.
“Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast someplace – where do you wanna go? The Keys?”
Vraxi shifted uncomfortably and rubbed his arms, “I’d rather not, if that’s alright with you?”
He’s worried about running into Mendicci, Xander thought to himself. “Where then?”
“Not Massey’s. I hate Massey’s it’s too much lace and polished wood, it’s suffoctaing in there.” He thought for a minute. “I know, come on.” He tipped his head towards the door and they walked down the garden path and out of the back gate into the alley that ran the length of the shops in that row. They got to the end, turned right and headed out onto the Kadasa’s main vein. “Street food?” he asked, giving the yag a little knowing look.
Vraxi’s eyes lit up like fireworks “Really?! Are you sure? But you hate the market crowds…”
“Yeah. Well. You can do the queuing, I’ll give you the money.”
“Oh! It’s my favourite Xan, thankyou! Can we get those long skewers full of grilled mushrooms? And deep fried crispy crow’s wings?”
The warm feeling that swelled inside him didn’t quite find full expression in Xander’s features but he did smile. “Sure. Whatever you want OK?”
Eeeep I’m so sorry I’m late again, I came down with a cold last night and have been bumbling around trying to get everything done XD So, without further blathering, here is the next bit and it comes with a small trigger warning of domestic violence.
Once Xander was settled in the kitchen with a small mountain of scrambled crows eggs, Spyro went upstairs.
He scowled as he followed the trail of used bath towels and discarded clothing from the bathroom and pushed open his bedroom door.
“Right then, Bane, I…”
Not many things in this world could leave Spyro Mendicci speechless. He cleared his throat to cover the fact and stared thoughtfully at the yag who was perched on the end of his bed, smoking and swinging his legs back and forth.
“Bane, when I said help yourself to something to wear…”
“Oh. Does it not become me?” Vraxi asked anxiously, hopping up to examine himself in the wardrobe mirror.
Spyro nearly had a heart attack. He ran a hand over his face. “You are not leaving here, dressed like that,” he said firmly; fighting the urge to lock the door and never let Vraxi leave his bedroom, let alone the shop. “You won’t make it home in one piece.” He’ll be the death of me, he thought helplessly, and this is a weakness I can’t afford to indulge just now, not with Pan stalking about somewhere.
“What were you doing at church?” he asked, trying to distract himself with more serious matters.
Vraxi shrugged, “having an existential crisis?” he tried.
Spyro folded his arms and tried to look menacing. It worked.
Vraxi grinned sheepishly and spread his palms; “In truth, I was stealing demonsong,” he said. “One of Keyja’s dock-rats dropped a crate and she may have got the inaccurate impression that the fault was mine.”
Spyro nodded. That sounded more like the truth. “And so she told you to replace it,” he surmised.
“She told me she’d turn me inside out and hang me from a flagpole and you could ask all the questions you liked about it!” The yag said, indignantly.
“Did she now?” Spyro narrowed his eyes.
“Indeed, she did. And that’s not all..” Vraxi lowered his voice and stood on his tiptoes to reach Spyro’s ear “…while I was at the docks I noticed something else; it seems Keyja is carrying on where her brother left off…”
Spyro frowned and waved Vraxi back a few paces. “Are you still high, Bane?” he asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “only to a level of functionality,” he said, taking another drag on his pipe.
“Give me that, I’ve told you not to smoke that thing up here.” Spyro snatched the pipe and knocked it out in the fireplace. “Let me understand you correctly: you are saying that Keyja – who tipped us off to the fact that her brother was cream-skimming – is now cream-skimming herself? Yes?”
“That’s right. And she wants to turn me inside out and…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Spyro waved a hand to shush him up. He took a moment to turn things over in his mind. It did make sense, except.. “And what were you doing at the sky docks in the first place?”
Vraxi bit his lip, and then looked a little coy. “There is a barman… at the Valkyrie’s Nest…” he said quietly.
“I see.” Yes it all made sense now. Much as he didn’t like it, it did add up. “And is this debt to Keyja the reason you took the demonsong from the Colonel?” he asked, fishing for the last piece of the puzzle.
Vraxi hung his head and looked up through his strands of coal and henna hair.
Spyro sighed. “Very well, listen carefully. You are going to go and put something sensible on, and then you and Xander are going to go to the skydocks and clean-up for me, understand? And do it properly this time, no bleeding heart sob stories, no second chances I want every last one of them dead and I want it obvious to everyone with half a brain why.”
Vraxi nodded solemnly but he couldn’t prevent the gleeful glitter of flames from dancing in his dark eyes.
Spyro frowned. “You were hoping I’d say that, weren’t you?” Damn it, the little sod had played him and he’d walked right into it. He could just imagine the yag relishing the opportunity to add his own little ‘message’ to the execution and subtly turning it from No one messes with Spyro Mendicci to No one messes with Vraxanthrin Bane. He was not about to let him have that sort of power.
Vraxi bit his lip and gave a mischievous little half-smirk, “can you blame me? She did threaten to turn me inside out and hang me from her flagpole…and I didn’t tell a lie, Spyro, I only… hoped you would chose me to be the executioner…”
I should kill him. Spyro thought furiously. I am going to kill him. He could feel the weight of one of his many concealed knives resting just a wrist-flick away from his palm. I can’t have anyone think they can play me even the tiniest amount, and I can’t have him strutting around looking like that, distracting me from everything else. Half a dozen blades were within a split-second’s reach but still he hesitated, unable to take his eyes from the beautiful fire jinn.
“You should have come to me with this in the beginning,” he said at length. “As I said to Xander downstairs, what we are trying to build here is a family, Bane, and we’re not doing a very good job of that if we don’t trust eachother are we?”
Vraxi bit his lip, “Sorry?” he tried.
Spyro shook his head. “What am I going to do with you, Bane?”
“Give me some honey and take me to bed?” Vraxi asked hopefully, stepping closer and giving the antiques dealer his very best kitten eyes.
Oh gods. “Honey is for good boys.” Spyro said darkly, trying hard to keep the tremor of desire from his voice.
“Oh?” Vraxi smirked, tilting his head on one side, “And what do bad boys get, Mr. Mendicci?”
Spyro thought he was going to explode. He reached out and brushed Vraxi’s dark hair away from his face then let the back of fingers trail lazily down the angle of his jaw.
He eased his chin to the side with his thumb, careful to keep his gaze flat and disinterested as he traced the space around his collar bone, the rise of his bare shoulder, the tight velvet stretched around his tiny ribcage and narrow hips…
He’s like glass, he said to himself, so beautiful and so dangerous; so easy to break, so easy to cut yourself on.
Fantasies of forcing the yag to his knees and having him right there on the floor surged through his mind… he imagined tying him to his bed and taking him from pleasure to pain and back again for hours – watching those delicate features transform from expressions of ecstasy to confusion, fear, agony and back to ecstasy again in a never ending cycle that was completely under his control…
No. No. No. He told himself sternly. I need to be certain I can resist this. Nobody can have such a hold over me, especially not this little one. If I can walk out of here now, then I can safely do as I like with him any time afterwards…but I need to know – and he needs to know – that I am in control.
“I’ll show you what bad boys get,” he whispered, unbuckling his belt and sliding it free of his waistband. He folded the leather back on itself to form a loop then cracked Vraxi hard across the face with it.
“They get nothing.” He said calmly, and turned to towards the door. “Put something decent on, Bane, and go home. I will have Fey deal with Keyja.”
He closed the door and leant his back against it for a moment, breathing slow and deep. He couldn’t do anything in this state. He glanced at Ros’s door, but then changed his mind and headed for the bathroom.
Happy Friday my lovelies! Thankyou for still being here and following along with my little miscreants! I hope you have a fabulous weekend! Here’s the next bit of Silk and Steel for you – will Spyro save the day? Well, I think you know our sinister antiques dealer well enough by now to know his ‘kindness’ is a double edged sword at the best of times…
By the time he caught up he was out of breath and Mendicci was just opening the bolted door.
“To what do I owe this flagrant disregard for respectable business hours?” he asked, flashing them his unfathomable smile as he locked the door again behind them.
“I want a new partner.” Xander said quickly.
Spyro raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak…
“No he doesn’t!” Vraxi protested, “He’s merely cross because I went to church!”
Spyro frowned at the interruption, “You went to church?” he asked sceptically, looking the yag up and down.
“The Other Church…” Vraxi corrected.
“It’s not just that, it’s everything, we’re no good, we can’t work together…”
“Yes we can,”
“No we can’t”
“No I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore,”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sush! Enough!” Spyro clapped his hands together and silence fell instantly, Xander glaring and breathing hard and Vraxi wringing his hands and looking confused.
“Bane. Upstairs. Now. Go and clean yourself up. You can borrow some clothes from the stock room.”
“I will be up to speak with you in a moment.”
The antiques dealer raised his eyebrows and Vraxi hung his head and trailed out of the room in a waft of stained silk and roccana smoke.
Xander took a deep breath. “I want a new partner.”
Spyro raised an eyebrow and steepled his finger carefully. “I want a new partner, please, Mr Mendicci.” he corrected.
Xander looked irritated. He flicked down his hood, made a mess of his dark hair and flicked it back up again. “Yeah. Sorry. S’what-I-meant. Er. Please, Mr Mendicci, I want a new partner, it’s not working out.”
“I see.” Spyro looked at him thoughtfully for a while and although Xander stood statue still, eyes front without flinching, he squirmed inwardly under the silent scrutiny. “You have very unusual eyes.” he said at last. “Where were your parents from? Kallimbadd?”
Xander ground his teeth. “Don’t know.” he mumbled, looking at the floor.
“You don’t know? Oh, yes, I remember now; you grew up in the children’s home didn’t you?”
Xander took a deep breath. “Yes, Mr. Mendicci, that’s right.”
“I see. So you have no family here in Ryzym, that you know of?”
Xander shook his head.
“I see, yes, I remember now. Well, here’s the thing Xander; our little… group here, our little posse if you like, is like a family. Now I understand that for some young people like yourself, and Bane, and Edmund, and so on, your experiences of family range from zero to inadequate to… well, we won’t go there… but we, here, are building something better, are we not? A better life, a better future, a better family, Xan, for all of us. I’m going to confide something to you; I used to have a family – very very long ago now – a wife, and two children. Sadly, well,” he spread his hands and smiled that unfathomable smile, “life is cruel sometimes, but here we are, building something better, as I said.”
“But it has to be a team effort, Xan.” Spyro went on, “We all have to work together at it, and we can’t just turn our backs on one member simply because we don’t know how to handle their… problems. Understand? Is that how you think a family should behave? Is that a family you would want to be a part of?”
Xander shook his head.
“No, exactly. Bane would never turn his back on you would he? No. He wouldn’t. And you are not going to turn your back on him. So. There we are. I will have a word with him. Have you had breakfast?”
Eep, so sorry I missed a week last week – things got in a bit of a tiz! XD – hoping you all had a fabulous week and wishing you all a marvellous weekend…
Despite the fact that his unconscious charge was as light as a feather, it still took a good thirty minutes to dodge and weave his way through the backstreets and gunnels from the cinders to bridge street, trying to avoid the main streets where every drunk and his mother thought them a fine sight to test their dubious wit against.
The apothecary shook her head in disgust when he explained the situation. “Other Church!” she spat; and crossed herself forwards and backwards and washed her hands in a bowl of salt water on he counter. “Bring him though, put him on the couch.”
She took a handfull of black charcoal from a barrel and added it to a pestle and mortar with more salt solution then lifted the yag’s lids and peered into his eyes. “Blood and Demonsong.” she said, matter of factly. “For the blood, he drinks this. For the Demonsong…” she shrugged “…listening to that affects everyone differently. Some get their wits back, some don’t. You’ve seen the street preachers?”
“Well…was it his first time?”
“I… I think so…”
She heaved herself upright again and handed Xander the mortar and a metal pail. “For when he brings the blood up.” she explained, and left them to it.
“Here, sit up, you’ve got to drink this” Xander said, trying to coax his friend into a sitting position.
Vraxi cradled his head in his hands. “Owwwww… and also very much ouch…some blackguard slugged me, Xan…”
“No one slugged you. I strategically and harmlessly incapacitated you for your own good. And I already apologised. If your head’s hurting it’s what you’ve done to it, not me. Here, drink this.”
“What the hell-spawned poison is that?”
“A better kind than you’ve had so far, do you want me to hold your nose and make you choke it down?”
The yag waved a hand, and took the mortar, gulping the thick black soup down in one and pulling a face.
“Uck. What the hell good is that supposed to d…. mphwmmmmph…
Xander quickly shoved his head between his knees over the bucket and held his hair back from his face as an evening’s worth of blood, coffee, kvass and tsujka vacated the yag’s stomach along with the charcoal mixture.
They sat like that for about an hour. Xander saying nothing while his friend continued to bring up bile and black grit in sporadic outbursts of choking fits and curses.
Xander shook his head. He had absolutely no point of reference for this kind of… what was it? Self indulgence? Self destruction? … mind altering substances had not been permitted in the armed forces (other than those administered forcibly in the name of government aproved military strategy ) and since the end of the world and his escape from that life he had never dared do anything that might give the demon a chance at taking control of his conciousness. Of course he drank kvass, there was little else in a city where the river was blood and the only rain that fell was brimstone, but he knew exactly what his limits were and he never, ever, over stepped them. The fact that his friend seemed to constantly need to push the boundaries of his own ability to escape reality was something he found utterly incomprehensible.
This has to stop, he told himself furiously. What is the point in me going to all this effort trying to keep him safe from what’s inside me when I can’t even keep him safe from himself? I can’t keep doing this. I can’t. We’re just both too broken to do anything but…bloody destroy eachother.
“Urg. I’m empty. Anymore and I’ll be bringing up hellfire. Which won’t be pretty, I assure you. Voice of experience speaking.” He wiped his mouth and his dressing gown sleeve, flopped backwards onto the couch and laughed out loud. “Woooo-hooo! Church! Ha! I think I’ve re-discovered my Loca!”
“You are Loca!” Xander growled. “Life isn’t one long party, you could have lost your mind back there! Or worse!”
“Oh, pah!” the yag struggled to his feet and fished about for his pipe, lit it and took a long drag. “This isn’t life Xander, it’s death… or undeath…or some such thing; what have I got to lose?”
“Well you’ve lost me!” Xander spat, pushing the yag aside and heading for the door. “If you can’t give a damn about yourself, then why the hell should I?”
“All done in here?” The apothecary asked, peering through the beaded curtain.
“Yeah. We’re done.” Xander said, glaring at the yag.
He pulled a money pouch from inside his shirt but the woman waved it away.
“No charge.” she said and then turned to the yag and added, “but I don’t expect to see you again, savvy?”
“Much obliged, and utterly understood,” Vraxi said, placing his hands together and giving a little bow.
“Get out with all that crap.” the apothecary snapped, shooing them out of the shop and clanging the door shut behind them.
“Oh good morning! Isn’t it?” Vraxi sang cheerfully to a passing couple who eyed them both with disgust and a smidge of trepidation. He waved as they hurried off down the street and then looked about him for Xander who was already stalking off towards the kadasa.
“Home is this way!” he called, pointing to a side street as he sprinted to catch up.
“Not going home. I told you. I’m done with this. Gonna ask Mendicci to pair me with someone else. Now.”
“What? Xander no, you are not serious?” the yag grinned and tried to put a hand on his arm but Xander pulled away and continued his march.
Vraxi bit his lip and wrung his hands as he considered what to do. This was no good at all. It would scupper everything. And he was so, so close to making all the pieces of his plan fall into place.
“Look, I apologise, I’m deeply sorry, it will never happen again…”
“You said that the last time, with the honey…”
“But that was different!”
“And the time before that, at the dockers’ union… of which you’re not even a bloody member!”
“But that was different too!”
“And I’ve lost count of all the other ‘last times’ I have had to pull your unconscious arse out of some sort of trouble that could easily have been avoided if you weren’t such a greedy, thoughtless, hedonistic, egotistical little prick!”
They both stopped in the centre of the bridge. Xander glaring furiously and breathing hard. Vraxi looking distraught.
“I’m sorry?” he tried. “Look, please, please, believe me Xander this time was different and it won’t ever, ever happen again…”
The yag looked confused.
“How is it different? Why is it different?”
“I… I can’t tell you that… just yet… I will, eventually, I promise but…oh no Xander don’t go please I’m in earnest…” he added as Xander snorted with disgust and headed off again towards the antiques shop.
Vraxi tucked his pipe between his teeth, hitched up the long train of his silk dressing gown and sped after him.
Happy fireworks weekend! I hope you’re managing to enjoy the festive spook-sparkle-tasticness of the autumnish season despite being locked down and wot not. If I didn’t lose everyone with the last nose dive into insanity then we now flip to Xander for the next bit…
Xander could smell the smoke as he opened the front door of the run down tenement building they called home.
He took the stairs two at a time, the thickening miasma fuelling his worst fears as he neared his own door.
The hallway seemed to lengthen, the adrenaline more than the distance sapping his strength.
Finally after seconds that seemed like hours he flung open the door of their room, splintering the feeble frame to shards without even bothering with the handle.
The entire place was filled with flames.
Hundreds of candles covered the floor, and every other available space in the tiny dorm.
Xander cast about him frantically for a second before realising that his friend was perfectly safe – albeit by some strange miracle – weaving and swaying unsteadily around the room and humming to himself while the smokey haze was coming from burning incense cones and not from anything that was actually on fire.
“IDIOT!” Xander screamed, seizing Vraxi by the shoulders and throwing him onto the bed. He quickly snatched the boa which had begun to singe and stamped it out before turning his attention to the candles and snuffing as many as he could at a time.
He doused the inscense cones with wet fingers and opened the window.
Vraxi laughed and rolled off the bed. “Xaaaaaan. Always sooooo dramatic!” he crooned, stumbling over the long silk dressing gown he was wearing over his clothes. “I don’t need to worry about the flames, the candles won’t burn me Xan, they love me, I’m their mouthpiece…their voice in the darkness of a world made all of dust!” He spread his arms up to the ceiling and started swaying about again as if dancing to a music that only he could hear.
“What crap are you spouting now?” Xander muttered, more to himself as he continued to snuff out the flames and clear some of the floor space. “Where have you been?” he growled, darting forwards to catch the yag as he careered to the side and almost out of the open window. “What the hell have you taken this time? Honey again?”
“Pff! Tish and pish to honey…Honey,” Vraxi giggled, trying to put his arms around Xanders neck.
“No. Stop it. Look, don’t do that.” Xander grabbed his wrists and disentagled himself.
“Urg. You are no fun at all Xaaaaan. No fun at all,” Vraxi sighed, sinking dejectedly to the floor in a puddle of lavender coloured silk. “Always soooooo up tight!” He grinned mischievously up through his long strands of untidy black and henna hair. “Ooooh, I know what will help you unwiiiiind!”
He pushed himself back to his feet and tried to reach for Xander’s belt buckle. “Don’t you want to unwind Xaaan?” he smirked, almost tripping over the dressing gown again.
Xander caught him by the elbows “Look. Stop this. Now.” He said sternly, feeling panicked and horrified and completely unsure what to do. “I don’t want… I mean I can’t… ok? I can’t… a…and I wouldn’t anyway… I would never, never take ad…”
“Never?” Vraxi frowned and stepped back a pace, feeling unsteady and confused.
“No! Of course not! What sort of a…”
“Oh.” The mischievous swirls of flame died instantly, leaving dark vacant pools. He smiled ruefully and shut his eyes; of course Xander would never want him that way, he could barely stand his company when they had to work together. He could see the disgust and revulsion in his eyes just contemplating it. Never mind. Nevermindnevermindnevermind….now where was he, getting distracted, candles…. and the music…the beautiful music that sang to his soul… he let it flood in again and eclipse that horrible yarn ball of feelings that felt like a lead weight in his chest.
Xander watched his friend slipping away from reality again as he raised his arms to the ceiling and started humming. Damn it. He hadn’t meant… well he had meant everything he’d said…it just hadn’t come out right. Stone the crows, the yag looked like a malnourished twelve year old who had been at his mother’s liquor cabinet and decided to play dress up with her wardrobe… what kind of a monster would take advantage of someone in that state?
He balled his fists as he thought of everything his friend must have been through in his lifetime before the end of the world. Eighteen years of a hell he had never spoken about, but he didn’t have to. Xander could imagine, and it made him sick to his stomach. So much so that some days he couldn’t even look him in the eye for fear the demon might burst out and annihilate the entire city on his behalf.
And he’d hurt him. Again. His clumsy words not conveying what he wanted to say, as usual… “Woah! Stop that! What the hell are you doing?” He snatched the matches away just in time to stop the curtains going up in smoke.
“Candles want it to be brighter…” Vraxi murmured, his eyes not really focussing on anything but the few flames still flickering on the mantlepiece.
“That’s the honey talking,” Xander snapped, putting the matches in his pocket for safe keeping.
“I’ve had nothing to do with any honey I’ll have you know.” Vraxi sneered, his eyes rolling as the ceiling flipped places with the floor and then back again. “Only the very purest sacraments have passed these lips tonight…”
Xander pulled a face.
“Shh! Blood…” he whispered.
“You drank blood?”
“Mm, blood from the red river…at the other church…”
“You went to church? That’s it, I’m… I’m calling the doctor…”
“He won’t come…”
“Damn it, you’re right, well I’m taking you to Bartzack then. What the hell were you thinking?”
“Bartzack is off his feet. Anyway, does it matter? My body remembers now…what happened…and why…we are not real, did you know that? We are nothing at all…just the memories of dust as it tries to rebuild what once was, re-enact what went before… but the clocks know, Xan, the clocks know the dust has got it wrong…this isn’t even how it happened but that doesn’t matter because look…look out there…the sun is dying and when its light is gone, who will we turn to to light our dark world? Hm? Not the dust, oh no!”
He gestured around the floor, “That is why we need the candles. Candles understand this, candles are ready to step forward and shine in place of our dying star… but we must keep them safe…they are so few and so fragile…”
He closed his eyes and began humming again.
“You’ve lost your mind. Candles? Clocks? Dust? Stone the crows what have you done to yourself?”
“I have sold my soul to the priestess of the evrlasting flame…” he sang, still dancing to the music only he could hear. “…in exchange for a twist of fate…”
Xander ran a hand over his face, uncertain what to do. There was an all night apothecary on bridge street but carrying this manic street preacher through the spires was not going to be a picnic. He took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to apologise for this now…”
“Hm? Apologise for what?”
Hugest apologies for not posting last week! Our internet dies and even now we have had the engineers out it is still being unpredictable – apparently the old phone line is to blame but I suspect it is the dirt cheap internet as well, lol. Ah well, beggars can’t be choosers as they say! XD I hope you all had a wonderful week and that your weekend is filled with fun and festiveness as we head towards the spectacular spooky season! 😀 I’ll leave you with Vraxi again as he continues his quest to find some demonsong…
There were two churches in Ryzym.
Vraxi stepped out of the tin bath, cranked up the phonograph, draped a feather boa around his shoulders and shimmied around the room, rolling his shoulders a few times as if he was psyching up for a bizarre fancy-dress boxing match.
The first church was the one everyone new about and most people attended. Still. Even though the gods and goddesses had made it abundantly clear they wanted nothing more to do with the world or anything in it.
He hummed to himself and swayed his hips as he fished studiously through his meagre but utterly fabulous wardrobe and selected his very most beautiful shirt and a pair of stunningly iridescent moth-scale leather trousers.
Then there was the Other Church. The one nobody had ever heard of and absolutely nobody went to at all ever.
And yet some people must surely go – because it was definitely a real thing. A thing which caused neighbours to eye eachother sideways and wonder…
Vraxi did not go to either church.
Due to the ‘circumstances of his birth’ he had not even been permitted to set foot in the graveyard to put flowers on the paupers’ mound for his mother.
But he had made a great many ‘deliveries’ to the Other Church on Spyro’s behalf and so he knew exactly how to get there.
The first trick was to find a street preacher. The Other Church didn’t have a building of its own and so it moved around, holding services in a different setting each night – perhaps a disused warehouse or abandoned town house, perhaps a welcoming tenement building or the cellar of a sympathetic tavern. This had the benefit of making it almost impossible for any one to find out where the next service was going to be. But for those ‘in the know’ it was a very simple matter.
“You look down, brother,” the street preacher said, after Vraxi had spent a good few minutes loitering around his turf, listening intently to his rabid ramblings about fate, the philosophical musings of dust, the wrath of candles and various omens which indicated the indisputable omnipotence of clocks.
The yag heaved a heavy sigh. “More morose, really.” he said, emphasising what he knew was today’s password, based on the preacher’s leading remark.
“Morose? Oh dear, dear me, we can’t have that. No no no, we certainly can’t have that at all.” The preacher shook his head and stroked his long, braided beard. He laid a hand on Vraxi’s shoulder. “If I were you, brother, I would seek solace in the Rusalka’s Arms,” he whispered, leaning in close with a theatrical wink. “I promise you it will sooth your soul.”
“Many thanks, wise one.” Vraxi said, placing his hands together and offering a little bow of respect as he he backed away.
The preacher nodded and turned back to his rant and Vraxi spun on his heel and strolled off in the direction of the Rusalka’s Arms.
He knew where it was; off a quaint little cobbled backstreet in The Spires. He had made deliveries to the back door many times but had never been inside and, despite his anxiety about how his first foray into the realm of religious fanaticism might go, he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of excitement.
Inside, the place was frantic. Poets, artists, writers and radicals sat alone or in small groups, sketching, scribbling, smoking and bantering belief systems with eachother. It was a curiously pleasant and invigorating atmosphere and Vraxi wondered if if he ought not to just linger a while and enjoy it. He had no idea how things worked from this point on – would it be obvious where he should go to attend the service, or would he have to ask?
“Hoi! You! You in the shirt!”
Vraxi looked about him. Lots of people were wearing shirts.
“You! Hoi! You in the shirt and the boa!”
Ah, that was more to go on. Vraxi gave another glance around the bar, he did seem to be the only one sporting such an accessory and he took a second to congratulate himself on outshining even the most pious devotees in the city.
“Me?” he mouthed uncertainly, pointing to himself.
“Yes! You. You’re from Pav’shma, am I right?” The young man rose and crossed the room as he spoke, ending his sentence at the bar beside the yag. “I’ve two bonecoin riding on it” he whispered. “Be a sport about it and I’ll split it with you?”
Vraxi grinned hugely. “The trousers are from Pav’shma, if that helps?” he smirked, “So tell your friends I’m half pav’shmian and neither of us has spun them a yarn?”
The young man laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Come tell them yourself, join us for the evening, do – we have a thirst for the exotic and you outdo all our feeble aspirations.” He ordered a round of coffees and shots from the bar. “I’m Mateo – Matti if you like – my friends there are Klauda and Vitchiento – we call him chi-chi because he hates it.”
Vraxi laughed, nodded his thanks and gave a hand transporting the drinks to a table at the back of the tap. Of course he really ought to be getting on with his plan but a true gentleman, he told himself, as he settled comfortably into a chair beside his new friends, should never turn down an invitation – and Vraxanthrin Bane should never be accused of not being a true gentleman.
They talked Pav’shma’s silk road, Ryzymian politics, the rising unpopularity of the duke and the push to legalise roccana as a medicinal substance, then they talked philosophy and art and ancient literary symbolism and Vraxi quite surprised himself with the breadth and fervour of his own opinions on subjects he had barely even contemplated before.
“They’re preparing the sacrament,” Chi Chi observed, nodding to where rows of pewter tumblers were being lined up along the bar.
Matti turned to Vraxi with a wry smile. “Are you seeking solace for your soul tonight?” he asked.
“Oh, I certainly am,” Vraxi grinned; feeling glad at the prospect of spending longer in such pleasant company.
“Is it your first time?” Klauda asked, her voice dripping innuendo like honey from a needle’s tip.
“At church.” Vraxi smirked back, just to be clear.
Matti laughed, “Then we’d better take care of you, hadn’t we?” he said, taking Vraxi’s hand and leading him back to the bar. “Here,” he handed Vraxi one of the pewter tumblers, passed two to the others and took one for himself. A dark red liquid sat like treacle inside.
“Drink and remember,” he said, giving the yag a reassuring smile.
“Drink and remember” the others chorused, and they knocked their tumblers together and downed them in unison, Vraxi following suit.
It was sweet and sour and metallic and almost too sticky and stringy to gulp down. Vraxi’s eyes watered as he swallowed repeatedly to free his throat of the last of it. “What is it?” he asked hoarsely, shaking his head to clear his vision, but it didn’t clear. Instead the world around him seemed to be melting like candle wax; all colour a veneer that had been washed over a grey, grainy substrate… “What..?”
“You’re seeing things the way they really are, brother,” Matti said, laying an oddly insubstantial hand on his shoulder. “You’ve drunk blood, from the red river, and now your body remembers the flesh it used to be, what this world used to be, and your mind can’t trick it anymore… see? It’s nothing but dust! All of us, look, we’re just dust!” He laughed and looked into Vraxi’s face and the yag’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“You’re… you’re made of dust…” he whispered, marvelling at the tiny glittering grey grains that now seemed to compose everyone and everything around him. Even his own hands when he looked at them were the same.
“That’s right, come on, let’s go down to the service.”
Matti took his hand again and they went through to the back of the bar, down a flight of stairs and into the cellar.
Into the cellar?
They might as well have stepped into another world.
“Remember why you are here, Vraxanthrin.” he told himself sternly as layers of sound and light and motion washed over him in waves of ecstasy. “Somewhere in this place there is demonsong – lots of it – and you must not leave without at least four bottles of the stuff or this whole insanity-laden evening will have been for naught.”
Ahoi! Hope your weekend is treating you fabulously!
Here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here
It’s been ages since I posted from J&M so to recap – Jack and Marjory have been hired by the revolutionary leader, Max, to retrieve a stolen priceless tea set. They failed and Max is now going to get hung. The tea set is in the hands of a group of beatnik poets but J&M have a plan to steal it back. All they need now is a buyer… enter Montmorency, the disturbingly animate scarecrow…
“Kitty’s closed The Angel? Why?”
He stopped rummaging in his desk drawer and stared at us. “Why? Why? You dozy clot, where’ve you been the last couple of days? Planet mars?”
His eyes narrowed, “Whatcher bin doin there then?”
Jack and Marjory
Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless historical teaset before the owner finds himself at the gallows.
Wishing you all an utterly fabulous autumnal weekend and don’t forget to visit the offical fb group and see all the other Rainbow Snippets as well
Happy Friday! I hope you’re all well and good and enjoying the spooky season 😀
In this next bit we go back a smidge and find out what Vraxi has been up to while Spyro and co have been having fun and games in The Cross Keys… (I’ve put two bits together here because the second one is so very short 🙂 )
“You killed my brother.”
Vraxi had nothing to reproach himself for here. He had done exactly as Spyro had told him, dropped off the money to Bartzak’s mother in law and given her the message verbatim.
And then, having been given no further instructions, to his recollection, he decided to attend to some rather pressing business of his own.
Agathri had been disappointingly clear that the demonsong was a loan, that it would need to be returned before the Colonel missed it and that under no circumstances was she going to cover for him on that front.
Four bottles he had, and at least two of them (possibly all four) he was going to have to use in his plot to free Xander and his demon from eachother. Ideally he needed four replacement bottles to sneak back to Agathri and there was only one place he could possibly hope to obtain such treasures without actually having to pay for them. It was a favour he had hoped he would never actually have to call in…
“You murdered my brother.” the Sapani woman said again, her reptilian heritage flaring to the surface of her skin and eyes as she glared at him from across the table where they sat in the back room of The Valkyrie’s Nest.
There was a reason Vraxi had chosen the scarlet Hunter’s shirt that morning, and for once it had almost nothing to do with looking fabulous. Only skyship crews were permitted to drink in The Valkyrie’s Nest and the person he needed to talk to -Kejyaana Valstrom – was a Skyship Captain, of sorts.
He could, of course, have dressed as one of the many unobtrusive deck-swabs… but where would have been the fun in that?
“I prefer to reflect on that tragic incident as your brother having fallen foul of the fickle whims of fate, Kejya.” he said, laying his delicate fingers upon his chest and bowing his head slightly in a regretful manner.
“You cut him out of existence with your soul-blade,” Keyja hissed, balling her great tattooed fists upon the table.
“I prefer to consider the matter as a chain reaction, with myself at one end and Markov, unfortunately, at the other.” He waved a hand dismissively. “And at any rate the blade was not mine, it was on a loan so…”
“So… you are not responsible?”
“If you like.”
“I don’t like, Yag. I don’t like none of it and I like your presence here now even less.”
Vraxi shrugged helplessly, “then the sensible plan would be to appease me as swiftly as possible and be rid of me, would it not?”
“Or to slit your throat mayhap?” the captain snarled, but she made no move to do so.
“If you like.” the yag repeated, shrugging as if it mattered little. “No doubt that would make an interesting story for the ears of Mendicci. I expect it would make no sense to him at all, seeing as you were the one to tip us off that your brother had gone rogue.”
“My brother was loyal to Mendicci until the day he died.” Keyja spat.
“Strange then that he was taking a cut of Roccana for himself before mixing the rest with brick dust and passing it on to Silk and Steel as pure.” the yag said with a shrug. “Either way, if you kill me now Keyja, I am certain Mendicci would smell a rat and come hunting for it, aren’t you? And we both know what he would find, don’t we?”
Kejya slammed her fist on the table, rattling the tankards of kvass, “I never asked you to cover my back, you little street rat.”
“Oh, I know. And I hadn’t intended to, believe me – Mendicci wanted every one of your double-crossing crew dead from the top to the bottom but,” he took a long draft of his drink and grinned impishly at her when he set it down again, “it is as I always say – why should I stick to one plan, when another would suit me better? And it struck me in the heat of the moment that it might suit me better for you to stay alive. That is all.” He added an impudent wink to the grin and for a second wondered if he had pushed the captain too far as she looked ready to leap across the table and throttle him.
But instead she glanced around at the shadowed eaves above them; for who knew where Mendicci’s little army of urchin spies might be lurking? She steadied her nerve and took a swig of her own drink, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. “Where did you get the shirt?”
The yag grinned broadly, “Does it suit me?” he asked – genuinely interested in the answer.
“Yes and no. So. What do you want?”
“Four vials of demonsong, please.”
Keyja laughed out loud and took another drink. “Who have you been crib-crackin,’ the duke? You couldn’t afford one, never mind four.”
Vraxi smiled pleasantly and sipped his own drink a little. “Oh I don’t intend to pay for them.” he said, his eyes twinkling with tiny sparks of flame. “You are going to get them for me, Keyj – or I will suddenly realise that I was misinformed and that you were, not only involved in your brother’s cream-skimming operation, but are still carrying it on, in his memory.”
“You wouldn’t dare…”
“Oh I, so would!” he grinned, his eyes dancing with flames of mischievous delight as he watched the hulking smuggler captain wrestling with the urge to rip him limb from limb.
“This shipment’s all counted for,” she said at last, “you’ll have to wait.”
“Pff, crates get dropped all the time!” he scoffed with a nonchalant flick of his hand.
But at this Keyja shook her head and smiled. “It’s not that simple. Leave it with me, Yag, I’ll send you word when I’ve got it but it’ll be a while yet.” She drained her tankard and stood up.
Vraxi frowned, “How long? I need it soon – time is of the essence…”
“Is it?” Keyja raised an eyebrow and smirked at him, “well then mayhap it’s in my interests to wait and see how that plays out for you? Huh?” She laughed nastily and headed for the door. “I’ll send word when I’ve got them. Hope you keep yourself safe in the meantime…”
Vraxi frowned and poured himself another drink from the jug. He toyed with his tankard a while as he turned over what he might do next. This was not playing out the way he had hoped. But he couldn’t see another option.
A knock at the door snapped him out of his thoughts and the barman, who looked far too pretty a rose to be wasted in a dive like this, Vraxi thought sadly, stuck his head round the door.
“Sorry, was wonderin’ if you’d done in here and wanting the, er, you know, the jug ‘n’ that cleared away?”
Vraxi gave him a sidelong smile, “unless you want to help me finish it off?” he asked, indicating the half-full jug and extra tankard.
The barman laughed, “I wouldn’t mind but the battleaxe who runs this gaff would skin me!”
“Ah, alas.” Vraxi sighed and gave a rueful little smile.
“I… finish early tomorrow…” the barman said, throwing a perfectly mischievous little smirk of his own into the mix.
“Oh do you…” Vraxi began, and then remembered his promise to Edmund and his hopes that the half demon would be able to help him. “… ah, but alas again, I’m afraid I have a prior engagement.”
He necked his beer and stood up. “You can find me at the Cross Keys most nights though,” he added, with a wink which set the barman grinning again.
He left a sizable tip on the table and slipped quietly out of the back door and into the little back alley that ran parallel to the docks.
He should have checked.
He always checked.
Why the hell didn’t I check it was clear? He thought miserably as two jeering dock-rats held him by the arms and a third delivered Keyja’s ‘message’ by means of a series of slugs to his chin, chest and stomach while the sapani captain looked on.
“You wanna learn not to corner a snake, Yag.” Keyja laughed, her reptilian heritage gleaming to the surface as she leant back against the alley wall, enjoying the show. “But you’re right, I do owe you a favour, so I’m gonna let you walk out of my skydock with nothin but a bit of a bruised ego and the wind knocked out of you.”
She waved for her crew to let him go and they dropped him to the cobbled ground, shoving him forwards so that he fell hard on his hands and knees in front of the captain.
“Well, your kindness is incomparable,” he managed, struggling to catch his breath and get himself upright again.
“But if I see your trouble makin little face around here again,” she continued, “Or hear you’ve breathed one whisper to Mendicci about my business, I’ll turn you inside out and hang you on a flagpole and Mendicci can ask all the questions about it he likes, savvy?”
Vraxi brushed the dirt off his trousers and scowled briefly at the snags and creases in his shirt. Then turned and grinned impudently at the smuggler captain. “Can you fault me for trying?” he asked, spreading his palms in a brash and roguish gesture designed to perfectly mask the fact hat he was shaken to the core.
Keyja snorted and turned her back on him, motioning for her crew to follow her. “Folks talk, Yag.” she said, not looking back at him. “word is, Mendicci ain’t that happy with you right now, mayhap he’ll think kindly towards someone who puts you out of his misery?”
Vraxi sucked in a deep breath, balled his fists to his temples and tried not to panic. He had nothing left in his hand. Keyja was his last card. Spyro was already on his back about the business with Agathri, Ros seemed out of sorts with him as well. Xander was… being impossible as usual… and soon he expected the Colonel would show up with his harpoon gun and demand recompense for his demonsong…
Calm your fears, do, he chided himself, your back has been against the wall enough times to know that there is always one more place to run to… think… what have you not tried? What have you not dared to even think about trying?
And then he had it. Oh dear. He really wished he didn’t, but he did and it was likely the most desperate, distasteful and foolhardy idea he had ever had in his life… and death.
“Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound,” he muttered to himself as he smoothed the creases from his shirt and headed towards home. He would have to get changed; he couldn’t possibly go to church looking like this!
Happy Saturday! (Although I’m having to edit this now to Sunday as the weekend has got away from me as usual – eep, better late than never maybe? XD ) I’m over the moon that things are now calming down here enough that I can start taking part in Rainbow Snippets again – I’ve so missed our lovely group and reading all the marvellous array of offerings each week, and I really hope that for all of you things are going smoothly and that the madness in the world is affecting you as little as possible. Hugs all round.
So here’s my #RainbowSnippets post for this week – if you’re new to this, Rainbow Snippets is a chance to read and share 6 sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction every Saturday. There’s a huge variety from Steampunk, like mine, to Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Comedy and everything in between. You can join the fun and read all the other fabulous snippets at the wonderfully friendly and supportive official facebook group here 🙂
Kari Trenten is responsible for this one 😉 – she stirred up my Scarecrow Landlord last week with her mischievous kittens and they haven’t stopped pestering me to post more of their story since! It isn’t really THEIR story of course, it belongs to Jack and Marjory… but try telling the scarecrow that – tsk!
It’s been ages since I posted from J&M so to recap – Jack and Marjory have been hired by the revolutionary leader, Max, to retrieve a stolen priceless tea set. They failed and Max is now going to get hung. The tea set is in the hands of a group of beatnik poets but J&M have a plan to steal it back. All they need now is a buyer…
Exactly how and when and why a scarecrow became so disturbingly animate is the subject of many late night conjectures but nobody knows, or dares ask, exactly who Montmorency is or where he came from.
Of course we know, now. But we didn’t that September afternoon in 1824 and frankly I think we slept sounder untroubled by the history.
What we did know, what everyone knew in Lancaster, was that Montmorency owned the old fish factories along the docks and had turned them into tenements which he rented to the most desperate and destitute citizens in exchange for ‘rent-in-kind.’ That usually meant brewing and selling Lemonade or smuggling tea and cake in and out of the city but Montmorency was a far-sighted, entrepreneurial cove and would turn his eye to anything that might bring in the glim.
In truth, he was the only person we knew of who would be able to find us a buyer for the Newell with very little trouble or indiscretion.
“Not anover bleedin’ hex slinger,” the scarecrow wheezed, as he pulled the belt buckles tight around a heavy looking travelling case and felt around in his pockets for the key, “I gots no work goin’, I gots no rooms, I’m shuttin’ th’ole place down, gettin’ me head outta th’ noose now, shuttin’ shop an’ gettin’ out and Kitty’s right t’ do th’same.”
Jack and Marjory
Being an entertaining and informative piece of travel writing by a couple of rogues on the run as they attempt to avoid the machinations of wizards, monarchs and a ruthless band of beatnik poets, deflect a civil war and deliver a priceless historical teaset before the owner finds himself at the gallows.
Wishing you all an utterly fabulous autumnal weekend and don’t forget to visit the offical fb group and see all the other Rainbow Snippets as well 🙂
Happy Friday! I hope your weekend is a gentle and cosy one 🙂 Here is the next instalment of Silk and Steel… 🙂
Zariya Myshkin managed to keep smiling, managed to keep her hands from shaking, managed to keep any hint of fear from her countenance, until she had delivered the fresh round of drinks and retreated to the safety of the Cross Keys’ kitchen.
Then she buried her face in her hands and silently wept.
She didn’t regret her actions.
Spyro Mendicci had saved her family from the workhouse when her husband had been killed in an accident at the skydocks. He had secured her the waitressing job here at The Keys in a matter of hours, and gave regular work to her five children – small unimportant things; carrying messages and the like, things he paid handsomely for but could no doubt easily accomplish himself… and he often sent them home with a brace of crows or a basket of mushrooms t’boot…
But then that was the sort of man he was. An unassuming, everyday sort of hero. Always putting himself out for others, always standing up for those in need.
And now he was in need. She had seen The Doctor slip something into his drink at the bar – and everyone knew exactly what The Doctor was like. If Mendicci had got on his bad side…
Well, but Zariya had done the right thing; she had saved him. And now she only hoped that she had made it seem enough of an accident not to draw the volatile dusk djin’s wrath in the process.
He had not seemed vexed, but she knew the fact meant nothing where that one was concerned.
There were enough rumours of the cold and monstrous murders he had committed and would never stand trial for.
There was recent talk of him smiling pleasantly as he reached across the table and cut out that half-demon’s heart just a few days ago!
The thought of it brought a wave of cold clarity fuelled by adrenaline.
She must get home at once. She must get the children and go. Somewhere safe. Out of the city.
She had a few coins saved against a rainy day – no idea if it would be enough for a skyship ticket to anywhere, but she was a good cook, and the children were hard workers, perhaps…
Her mind continued to race as she hung up her apron, fastened her bonnet and shawl… she checked the landlord wasn’t looking as she slipped out of the back door and into the alleyway.
Crows chittered and chattered as they peered down at her from the rooftops with their hungry eyes.
Her cloth-bound boots, stuffed with straw, slid and stumbled on the cobbles as she hastened her pace towards the kadasa.
If the children were not on an errand, they would be lined up on the curb outside the antiques shop.
Zariya prayed to any gods still listening that they would be there.
Happy Thursday! (See what I did there? 😉 XD )
So the last few years I have taken part in inktober in my own anarchistic sort of way, not following the daily prompts or worrying about having to produce a whole drawing each day… but instead using it as an excuse to indulge in something I love but never feel justified setting time aside to do.
When my wonderful friend Mrs Brown first asked me to take part with her several years ago I felt that invitation had given me permission to set some time aside to do something for ‘me’ – something I have always struggled with as we have such a large household and so many other commitments.
I used to be fairly good at art and spent enough time doing it that I considered it as a career. Now this one month a year is pretty much the only time I pick up a paintbrush – except to clean the ones that others have been using! XD
As a household we do a lot of creative stuff but that usually means me stepping back and giving the kids what they need to be creative. It feels as indulgent a thing as a hot chocolate and rum or a hot lavender bath to have this creative ‘room of One’s own’ so to speak, even if it is only once a year!
I know that as with other things of this nature, many people find inktober a stress. I totally get that and if that’s the case it’s possibly not a healthy thing to continue with. I’d hate to think I had put pressure on somebody to do something that caused them stress or anxiety.
But for me it is something which brings me joy so I am going to continue to spew tea painted silliness into the aether throughout October and I hope that seeing it brings some of you some giggles as well XD If you’re doing inktober, do feel free to put links to your posts in the comments I love looking at what other folks are doing too 🙂
So to kick us off, here is cutesy little half-demon Edmund with his little heart shaped smoke rings. He’s painted in a mix of black blended tea and coffee with an underwash of lapsang and mate to his jacket and trousers giving that grey-green tint which I’m not sure is that noticeable on the image! His demon-pride red waistcoat and scarf are done in mixed berry fruit tea and I had to cheat and do his blue eye in watercolour because I’ve never found a vivid enough blue tea! The golden yellow is tumeric and the pinkish wash to the background was the mixed berry again 🙂
I AM going to try and do him lying down in the park at some point but I didn’t have the courage for that as my first one! XD
Hugest blessings on all your Octobrish shenanigans, whatever they may be! 🙂
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.
Nine Star Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/seven-tricks/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/seven-tricks-ks-
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-
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345
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…
Happy Friday folks! I hope that life is treating you all gently and that you have a restful weekend in the pipeline! I’ll be DMing our first foray into Icewind Dale all weekend so today is painting plasterboard scenery and such 😀
The above quote is from later on in the book but I love Tithi Luadthong’s artwork so much I thought I’d share it now 🙂
Before I post the next bit of the story though, I thought I’d just take a moment to say that the theme it’s about to touch on – and in fact many other of the themes that run through it – is inspired by my time as a teenager sleeping on the streets and in squats. Young people – boys and girls – in that predicament are really like Xander and Vraxi and Edmund; they don’t have many choices, they seek protection from the adults who present themselves as ‘saviours’, they will do almost anything for a roof over their head or a meal or just to be held close for a moment and told they are worth something. This is a fantasy setting but the issues are real. Shelter are running an emergency appeal right now to raise money for their helpline which aims to prevent homelessness by supporting families and individuals at risk. If you’re interested in helping them their fundraising site is here:
So here we go, this next snippet of the story follows Xander outside as he runs off to spew his guts up at the realisation that the antiques dealer he had been viewing as a bit of a surrogate father figure is really a cold-hearted, manipulative bastard… (not that he doesn’t have a lovely side as well, of course, doesn’t everyone?)
Fey found Xander in the yard hunched beside a pool of his own vomit; hood up, and hugging is knees to his chest. The knuckles of his right hand were skinned and and there was blood on the brick wall behind him.
“Never helps, that,” she said, crouching down beside him and giving his injured hand a prod. Walls don’t hit back and there’s never any satisfaction in an unfair fight. Hey…” she flicked back his hood before he could stop her “…oh Kid, you’re not cryin?”
He was. He couldn’t help it. To say he had never felt so terrified and trapped in all his life would have been a lie, of course, but he had thought those days were behind him.
“I’m an idiot.” he mumbled, wiping his red-rimmed eyes. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t, Fey, I can’t. And I don’t want to die. Not like that. Not hung. Not… any of it. And I’ve got nothing. No one. No choice. I’ve got no bloody choice!” He gritted his teeth against the suffocating feeling of spiralling out of control, fighting back as hard as he could against the sentient soul inside him that was pushing to get out and rip something apart.
He balled his fists and hammered them against his temples until Fey took his hands firmly and held them away.
“You know what kid? You’re right. You said it. You’ve got no choice. Don’t wanna hang?”
He pulled his hands free, folding them defensively beneath his cloak, and shook his head.
“Right, suck it up then and let’s do this.”
He shook his head.
“Look, you think Mendicci’s some kind of monster because he lied to you? I’m tellin’ you, kid, everyone’s a monster round here – if you don’t answer to one, you’ll answer to another and if you hang on in there long enough, maybe someone some day will answer to you. But for now, this is life… or death or whatever you want to call it, this is the way it is, and you’ve just gotta stick out your chin and deal with it.”’
“It’s me that’s the monster.”
“Yep. You’re right. And me. Like I said, all of us. Wotcha gonna do about it? Sit there and cry? Or get up an’ try and figure out what kind of monster you’re gonna be?”
“It might not seem like it, but some small things we do still have a choice in. Look at the Duke – he chooses to be the kind of monster that’d have a six year old’s hand cut off for stealin’ a loaf of bread… but not the kind of monster that’d take advantage of a high class lady who’d had one too many at a fancy ball. Look at me – kind of monster that’ll slit pretty much anyone’s throat if the pay is right – also the kind who gives half her pay packet to the Hogarths’ alms houses, where she was born. We don’t have much control down here at the bottom of the crap heap, kid, you’re right about that, but what choices we do have we need to make the most of, even if only so we can say, at the end of each day, ‘this is the kind of monster I am.’ Now, as for you; you can choose right now to man-up and accept the way things are, walk back in there with your chin up and tell them you’ll do the job, even though you don’t want to, and that will earn you back a bit of respect. Certainly from me. Or I can frog-march you back in there by the scruff and tell ’em you’ll do it anyway whether you like it or not. Which is it goin’ to be?”
Happy Friday folks! 😀 I’m trying super hard to get back in the saddle with everything and the IVs are going well so all good this end after what seems like quite a long slog so thankyou so much everyone who’s still here and bearing with me through this spate of madness XD I hope you are all safe and well and happy and looking forward to a fabulous weekend 🙂
Here’s the next Silk and Steel instalment and Spyro with his plans for thwarting his nemesis Pan has hauled his arse out of the bath and down to the cross keys to enlist the help of some trusted friends… a-hem…. (if you’ve lost track, Bartczak was the barber-surgeon who was being beaten up by the dock workers earlier)
“How fares our friend Bartczak?” Spyro asked the doctor as he slid into his usual seat at the cross keys later that afternoon.
“He is not dead,” the doctor replied gruffly, “but then that is to be expected. I have made him as comfotable as can be, how much his body decides to heal itself and how quickly is anyone’s guess. And I am not one for guessing games,” he added, fixing the antiques dealer with a hard stare.
“Nor games of any kind, as is obvious to us all,” Spryo said with that unfathomable smile. “But if I were to put money on him returning to work within a fortnight I would likely lose it, yes?”
“If you lack the wit or the moral fibre to refrain from making such sport of another man’s suffering it is your own affair.” the doctor said dryly.
Spyro laughed to hide his frustration and drained his glass. He reached inside his waistcoat and pulled out a leather pouch, slid it open and checked the contents then handed it to the yag. “Take this to Bartczak.” he said, “Four weeks rent to tide him over and if he’s not back on his feet by then he’s to say so.”
Vraxi nodded and knocked back his drink, “Come on Xan, no rest for the wicked,” he grinned.
“Just you.” Spyro said. “And don’t get distracted.”
Vraxi looked surprised and dissapointed, but he said nothing and left.
“Now that he’s out of the way..?” Fey said from the depths of her hood, her feet resting on the opposite bench and her arms folded nonchalantly across her chest.
Spyro hesitated, and then smiled, “Nothing gets past you does it Fey?” he said.
“S’what you pay me for.” she said simply.
“Very well, yes, I do need to speak to the three of you about something. It is something unprecedented. Something discreet. Something nobody else can know of.”
“You are putting an enormous amount of trust in us all.” The doctor said, cocking an eye at Xander, who was by far the youngest and least experienced of the three.
Mendicci kept his twinkling black eyes on the dusk djinn, “is there any reason I shouldn’t?” he asked, pointedly.
The doctor smiled and said nothing.
Damn you to hell, Spyro thought furiously. He didn’t need this. This was the only plan he had. It had to work. He had no choice but to trust them all and there was a good chance they would all realise how vulnerable he was and how much he was relying on them to keep him alive.
He smiled back and spun his empty shot glass on the table. “I’m planning an ambush,” he said carefully, looking at each of them in turn. “I won’t know when until minutes before it needs to happen, so when I send you word you will need to come at once.”
“Don’t we always?” Fey asked.
“You do. It was not a slight. It was a statement of fact.”
“Where you planning to spring it?”
“The Flags.” Spyro said, referring to the small district east of the cinders where the city laundry houses were located. The narrow streets there formed two blocks of buildings with only one entrance and hundreds of lines of washing were always strung like bunting across each row from the lowest level, right up to the top.
“That’s a tight rat hole.” Fey observed.
“That’s rather the point. And the other is this – you two will need to let your demons handle this one. It’s one target but they have all kinds of tricks up their sleeve.”
“Problem, Xander?” the doctor asked.
Xander was looking wide eyed at Mendicci, “Our demons?”he asked, his voice shaking a little. “You promised I would never have to… the first day I joined you, you said…” He took a deep steadying breath, he could not afford to lose control and he was aware that he was making a fool of himself, whining like a small child in front of people who were much older and no doubt couldn’t care less, but he felt so betrayed. He shook his head, trying to make them understand, “I can’t do this.”
Spyro yawned and stretched his arms above his head. “Alright.” he said with a pleasant smile. “We’ll count you out of this one. No hard feelings.”
Xander breathed a sigh of releif, “Thankyou. It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s like I said before, I can’t go through that again…”
Spyro held up his hand, “You do not have to explain Xander, I understand.” he flipped his hand palm upwards, “Key?”
Xander looked confused.
The Doctor rose and went to the bar.
Fey said nothing.
“Surely you don’t expect me to keep providing accommodation for someone who is no longer working for me?”
“But I am.”
“Ah, but you’re not.” Spyro waited patiently for the penny to drop – between this one and the yag it was obvious who was brains; for all his faults, it hadn’t taken Bane this long to remember which side his bread was buttered.
“Our agreement,” he said gently, “is based on you doing the jobs I tell you do, when I tell you to do them – not on you picking and choosing and doing what suits you better at the time. Now I am a reasonable man, I am not in the business of forcing anyone to do things they don’t want to do. But I am also a sensible man,and I am not going to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly unless I can rely on you to do what I say.”
“But we pay our rent…”
“With money earned from carrying out the jobs that I assign to you.” He spun his glass on the table again and, seeing that Xander was still looking to argue he added, “No jobs; no money; no room… and then of course there is the small matter of that long list of crimes you have committed over the past few years; murder, theft, arson…” ah, and there it is… he thought, as he saw Xander’s expression change to one of horror and incredulity; finally something has penetrated that thick skull of his.
“We did those jobs for you…”
“Xander, I pride myself on being a model citizen here,” Spyro interrupted, “the head of the city watch is a close personal friend and I would be betraying that very close, personal friendship if I didn’t inform her of the identity of any wanted felons who do not come under the umbrella of protection afforded to our organisation by said friendship, surely you can see that?”
Xander looked like he was going to be sick, “I’ll hang,” he whispered, his voice a hoarse gasp in his dry throat.
Spyro shrugged. “If you’re lucky. I’ve heard the duke is favouring drawing and quartering at present before the final execution with a soul blade… could be quite a show…”
That did it. Xander choked and, unable to prevent his insides from expelling the beer he had just put into them, he clapped a hand over his mouth and made a dash for the back yard of the Inn.
Fey sighed, swung her legs down from the bench and stood up. “I’ll go talk to him.”
Spyro nodded his thanks and spun his empty glass again on the table as The Doctor returned from the bar with a fresh round.
Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Mrs Albert Baker and… well yes, that’s right I am a witch, how very kind of you to notice! Perhaps it’s my magical aura… or the smell of freshly baked gingerbread that tipped you off? Officially I’m actually The Last Witch Of Pendle but, sadly, there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats. But I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running my little underground soup kitchen for the street urchins.
Strange times have struck here in the Scattered Isles of Ire – Lord Ashton’s Flesh Eating Liver Birds plague the skies above us and hoards of Mancunian Sugar-Zombies roam the cobbled streets spreading their curse like a plague…
So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those running for their lives and being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with a hot cauldron of soup, a fistful of hexes and of course my trusty rolling pin, which has seen off many an Annoying Wizard, Giant Crab or Night Potato, I can tell you!
Over the coming weeks, a marvellous host of writers, artists and creators will each be taking a turn to keep the light in this old lantern burning through the dark and share with you some of their wonderful books, stories, artwork and other fabulous creations.
Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share a little excerpt from some of my own adventures with you. This is taken from The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry when those two miscreant wizards had the cheek to break into my house in Pendle and frighten the wits out of myself and my husband in the middle of the night!
The two wizards scrambled to their feet but, on cursory inspection, Skarry realised they were trapped. This was not magic that they, as mere initiates, would have any hope of disabling.
“Oh! Burglars? Thieves? Oh no!” The woman standing in the doorway, dressed in a long cotton nightdress and curlers, trembled, sending the glaring yellow light from her lantern quivering over the moon-slicked floor, serving no purpose other than to irritate the eyes of every conscious person in the room. “Oh, this can’t be happening! I…I must get Albert, yes, he will know what to do!” and she quickly spun on her heel and disappeared again. They heard her stumble back along some hidden corridor, muttering in frenzied tones as she went: “Oh blessed mother! Oh Green Goddess, why is this happening? Why? Oh this is the end, I know it is! The end of Pendle, the end of everything! Oh Goddess, if it is true, if you have really not abandoned us to the mercy of Wiz, please, please grant me the strength to deal with this! But I cannot, how can I? I am the last! The very last!”
Her ravings slowly faded, swallowed into the belly of the house, and Skarry fired a look of utter bewilderment at his friend and tapped his forehead in silent questioning appraisal of the woman’s sanity. But, to his surprise and further confusion, Mercurio’s own features revealed that he was lost in some deep private reflection which was obviously beginning to amuse him.
Before long, the woman returned, now sporting an ill-fitting black toupee, which she had hastily balanced on top of her net of tightly curled hair, a false moustache and a quilted claret dressing gown. She held the lantern high again, swinging its luminescence into their squinting eyes.
“Now, see here!” she said, failing dismally at affecting a manly baritone. “Just who, may I ask, do you think you are? Bursting into my abode and frightening the wits out of my wife like this? Hmm?”
Skarry blinked. Surely, surely, this strange woman must realise the flagrant flimsiness of her charade. He opened his mouth to speak, but the woman pre-empted him.
“Don’t move! D-d-don’t move or I’ll…I’ll…well, you can’t move, can you? Hmm? If you try to, you won’t be able to so…so just stay there while I… er… go and call the Watchers… and The Good Folk. Yes, that’s it… now just you stay there! And don’t move!”’
Mercurio held up his gloved hands and chuckled with amusement. “My dear… Sir, we have no intention of going anywhere and, as you have pointed out, even if we wished to, we would be unable to penetrate this.” He gestured to the thin blue field of magical energy which now surrounded them, regarding it with the eye of a connoisseur. “But this is quite astounding!” He gave the moustachioed woman a look of respect, mingled with curiosity, which was not lost upon its subject.
She lowered the lantern an inch.
“Surely,” Mercurio continued carefully, “surely a spell like this could only have been set in place by… and please do not take offense, my good man… by a wizard? And an extremely powerful one at that. Perhaps, even, a witch?”
To Skarry’s amazement, the woman sank down into the leather armchair and began to sob, wringing the lantern chain between her fingers.
“My apologies,” Skarry said quickly, “if my friend has upset you, please… er… here, oh damn I can’t do that,” he returned the useless handkerchief to his pocket and glared furiously at Mercurio, who gave him a withering look and then hitched up a mask of sincere compassion and sympathy and turned it towards their host.
“Oh, you’re right!” the woman sobbed. “It’s true, it’s all true!” She pulled off the moustache and toupee and flung them angrily onto the floor. “Oh, this silly charade has been wearing me to pieces! But I have had no choice! There have always been six witches at Pendle, and there always must be at least one witch at Pendle – even Wiz himself says it – otherwise the whole town will crumble to the ground; the manor, the park, the houses, everything!”
“Wiz?” Skarry looked sharply at his friend, but Mercurio hadn’t flinched.
“Yes. It is only by his will that I haven’t been forced into the caves to be hunted, like game, across the marsh, like my poor sisters. He allowed just six of us witches to stay on here at Pendle because of the curse. There have always been six and we’ve always managed to fool the townsfolk into thinking we were ordinary citizens, but I am the last! And what will happen if I am found out? Oh it has worn me so thin you cannot imagine. Of course I cannot marry – who would marry a witch in this day and age? And yet I had to marry Albert or else people would become suspicious; a woman living all alone… people have such suspicious minds… you wouldn’t believe the things they say when my back is turned…” She was beginning to rave, the pitch of her voice crescendoing with the speed of the words. If she went on like this, she would be hysterical within the next 60 seconds and if she hyperventilated and fainted, even worse asphyxiated herself, they would be trapped. Possibly permanently.
“Why don’t you have a glass of brandy?” Mercurio suggested.
The woman shook her head “I don’t drink,” she sniffed. “It’s Albert who’s the drinker.”
“Albert?” Skarry mouthed silently.
Mercurio raised his eyebrows at him. “Well, perhaps Albert would care for a snifter then? Settle his nerves?”
Skarry closed his eyes so that he would not have to witness the woman reassembling her disguise so that she could nod and stumble unsteadily out of the room in search of alcohol.
If you’d like to read more about my adventures with those two Terrible Wizards, Scarlet Skarry and her marvellous Land Pirate crew and of course Eightcups Max and his fabulous octopus Collin, you can find The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry here:
Well thankyou so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one! Who knows, perhaps the smell of gingerbread was enough to keep wary monsters at bay?
Stay safe good friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….
Ahoi! I know it’s not Friday but I’m going away to visit family for a few days and then after that I’m in hospital again having another top up so I thought I had better leave you with something from Spyro and co. as the last IV knocked me for a pretty six so it may be more than a week before I post the next one XD Hope you are all keeping safe and well and wishing you all a most fabulous weekend 🙂
In September I’ll keep posting these extracts but I’m also hosting a new promo called Light In The Lantern which I hope will give writers and artists a chance to spread some light through the darkness with their beautiful and inspiring work 🙂 If you’d like me to feature your work drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
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…
Happy Friday folks! I made it in after all – I hope you have had an absolutely fabulous week and that the weekend brings treasures and joys un-looked for! 😀
We’re leaving Spyro to have his bath and sober up now and following Ros to The Groves…
“I brought a present for you.” Ros held her hands behind her back and her eyes danced with almost child-like excitement as she entered the little solarium at 16 Holles Street, The Groves.
Betithna threw down the poetry book she was reading and ran to her at once, “Oh what is it? Don’t tease me, let me have it at once!”
“Close your eyes then and hold out your hands.”
“Hands? Both of them? So it is something big…” Betithna did as instructed, bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet as she did so, her enthusiastic grin lighting her face like the sun which streamed through the tall glass windows.
Ros smiled and gently pressed the cool orb of the large, red skinned fruit into her hands, closing her fingers over its smooth dome.
Betithna opened her eyes and looked at it in awe, “is… is this a fruit? Fruit doesn’t grow here in Ryzym…”
“This didn’t come from Ryzym!”
Ros’s grin was as wide as Betithna’s “it’s a pomegranate, all the way from Pav’shmah Beti! And not only these but they can grow figs there as well! Imagine liqueur made with fig and not mu’lai sap!”
Betithna caressed the tender rise of the pomegranate’s curvaceous form, cradled reverently in her palms. “How?” she whispered, her voice suddenly softening with repressed emotion, “How, when everything else is dead?”
“Not everything is dead,” Ros’s voice was the rich fire of tzujka as their eyes met and she took the fruit, penetrating its blushing flesh with her thumb nail, letting its myriad of seeds bloom scarlet between her fingers as it opened. “When we have completed the trade deals, when Beufort and Mendicci are nothing more than a bad memory, you and I and Elaina and Ziga will board one of your beautiful skyships and we’ll remember what it was to live again.”
She pressed half the fruit into Beti’s palm. “Things will be different in Pav’shma, and we will have the money and the freedom, the independence to be who we truly want to be, not what circumstance and survival dictate.”
“Together.” Betithna nodded and tried to brush away the tears that slipped silently down her cheeks. “It is becoming so I can barely stand another day of it. I know it is for the best, but the effects of the drug are so powerful on him… I’m scared Ros, I am scared that if we have to wait much longer we may push him too far…”
“I understand, I truly do, but this is the only way for us to achieve what we’ve dreamed of for so long. The drug only exacerbates what was already there both in his mind and his behaviour- the paranoia, the violence…” She clasped Beti’s arm, “you deserve so much better than this. We both do, our children do. It is only for a few more days, a week perhaps at the most, then the contracts will be signed and you can give him the final dose.”
“But I am terrified, the effect it has on him is already so extreme, I am afraid for Elaina… for myself…he becomes like an animal, deranged…”
“Then give it to him and get out. Get straight out of here do not wait to see the effects, Beti, go straight to Agathri and she will have the Colonel call the asylum as we planned. Suggest to Elaina that she go out with Arden, she will not even be in the house then and you will have nothing to worry about.”
Beti smiled and blinked away her tears, still cradling the precious fruit in her hand. “You make it sound so simple, I wish I had your courage and resolve,”
“It is simple. And soon we won’t need either of those things anymore. Once Beufort is locked up and out of the way the shipping company will automatically revert to your ownership. I will take care of Mendicci once everything is in place and then all we need do is delegate the business side of things to trustworthy employees here in Ryzym, and the world will be at our feet!”
“Pav’shma!” Beti’s eyes shone once more with excitement.
“If we like! Or Lycandrus or Khallimbadd or anywhere the wind will take us!” she laughed.
Beti laughed too. “And we’ll eat pomegranates all day long!” She poked at the profusion of seeds – each an uncut jewel promising the unknown. “How do you eat it? Do you take the seeds out first?”
Ros stared at her for a second and then laughed out loud and shook her head, “I have absolutely no idea!” she confessed, “I suppose that is part of the adventure!”
Ahoi! I’m posting today because I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but if all goes well I’ll try and post tomorrow too to speed things along. The book is pretty much finished as a first draft now I’m just reading back through and ‘doing the grouting’ if you know what I mean – filling in the bits that don’t run smoothly together and jigging things about XD
Sorry it took so long to get through the riots, we’re out the other side now with Ros as she returns to the antiques shop…
If Ros was surprised to find the shop bolted and shuttered mid-morning when she returned, she was even more suspicious when she saw the state her partner had got himself into – although of course she did nothing to show it.
He was drunk, leaning against the study door frame with an empty bottle of tzujka in one hand and not a glass in sight.
He looked at her, puzzled for a moment as if she were some apparition that made no sense in the grand scheme of things… but then his eyes focused and suddenly widened and he lurched towards her. “He’s here!” he whispered, clutching at her arms, letting the bottle fall as he sank to his knees, “he’s here, Pan, The Man In The Moon came down like a crow, the children are singing about it, people have seen him, he’s here! Twardowski is here, in Ryzym! He’s looking for me, what am I going to do?”
Ros thought quickly. Either Mendicci’s mind was coming undone or, just maybe, he was right and the ancient magician he once betrayed had caught up with him at last. Either way it mattered little, she could not afford to lose him at this point, she needed him just a little longer, just until all her plans had come together. Another week or less, and then Pan or the mad house can have him she thought, but not yet, not just yet.
“Listen to me, Mendicci,” she said; her voice the solid comfort of firm ground after sliding long through sand. “It matters not, understand me love? It matters not. Not at all. Remember who you are, love, who you were before you met me and Ziga, who you were even before you met Twardowski. Tadejs Blinda…”
“Don’t speak it here!” Spyro begged, glancing round wide-eyed and frantic as if the crow man would flutter in through the window at any moment.
“Why should we not?” Ros soothed, “Tadejs Blinda; such a name of strength could never be an omen of defeat, love. The man who stood up for his own gain, the man who stood up to those who called themselves ‘master’ over him, the man who stirred the flames of revolution and wooed the world into thinking he was a hero… you did it once, under that name, you have almost done it again now, it is who you are – a leader, a rebel, a survivor, a hero… you are not a man who runs away from the fight, love, you are the man who picks the battleground and lures his enemies to sweet death upon it.”
She fixed him with her deep, dark eyes and could hardly describe the relief when she saw the light of shrewd calculation return to his own.
“You’re right.” he said quickly, and then laughed, “what am I doing? Ha! I am falling to pieces over what? Folk fables and nursery rhymes?”
He got up and wiped his hands across his face. “Twardowski is here, I know it, but you’re right. I will call him out somehow, I will engineer the manner of our meeting and then,” he turned and pointed a finger at her, “I will make an end of him once and for all. No more sleepless nights, Ros, no more Man In The Moon for us!”
He caught her up in his arms and swung her round, clutching her uncomfortably close around the waist so that she longed to pull away and arch her neck from the stench of his stale, fumy breath.
“The Groves for us! The high life when the last papers are signed and sealed and the Duke is brought down and Beufont takes his place…”
“And we take over his shipping company…” she finished, forcing herself to laugh along with him. She’d found him so attractive, once upon a time; dangerously attractive, before she knew him well…
“Yes indeed! Have you yet thought who will take over here for us?”
“I have a few people in mind.”
“So do I. Perhaps we should go upstairs and discuss the matter?”
“Perhaps you are forgetting I have business with Betithna Beufort this morning and your little stunt at the docks has put me behind?”
He relaxed his hold on her, moving his hands to rest lightly on her hips. “With Betithna?”
“She has a lot of sway with the comapny as I told you, afterall it was her father’s originally.”
“Yes, I’d not forgotten.” He looked thoughtful, as if something wasn’t quite adding up…
“You need to have a bath and sober up, love.” Ros said in an overtly maternal manner which invited no protest. “It is Blondell’s party tomorrow night and we have a horrendous amount of loose ends to tie up before then.”
He groaned and rubbed the back of his neck, “Mm, don’t remind me, who’d have thought a life of delictum would involve so much damned paper work?”
She laughed and massaged his shoulders for him, “I have explained it to you too many times to count – the paperwork is what protects us; it is the legitimate trail of legally traded items which obscures the actual goods we are purveying.”
“Smoke and glamour, I know, I know. I’m still going to moan about it though.”
“Well you’ll have to moan alone to the bathroom walls, love, I must get changed and take a cab to The Groves at once.”
He smiled and nodded and watched her head up the stairs then brought his hands together in a decisive clap. Right then Twardowski, how am I going to deal with you?
Egad I’m so sorry I missed the last 2 weeks – so many crazy things are happening this end and I’m struggling to keep on top of it all. Righty, here’s the next slice – still at the riots with Spyro and co. I’ll give you Fey’s perspective and then Ros and Vraxi’s as they are quite short and I’ve missed 2 posts 🙂
( I have my two eldest boys to thank for teaching me about the Eastern-European knife throwing techniques which feature in this extract XD XD )
When Spyro gave the command, Fey ran forwards; not with the main throng but slipping and ducking along the right flank of the mob so that she easily reached the wall before the front runners. Inside, she could feel her demon roiling to be let out but she ignored the urge to sink into a battle frenzy, for now.
Instead she channelled the demon’s strength deep into her muscles, crouched low, tucking her legs tight beneath her for maximum power, and then sprang right up onto the top of the barricade.
Two watch soldiers were already there to meet her. The first raised his baton above his head and Fey easily ducked the clumsy attack, dodging low so that the man overbalanced forwards, coming down on thin air with Fey now behind him.
As he toppled, she spun her left arm out behind her, whipping her long cloak like a sail to flip the teetering man back over the edge. He crashed onto an open cart full of tar barrels.
The second soldier gritted his teeth, pulled a knife from his belt and came at her in a crouching stance.
Fey smirked at the venomous scowl, “So serious?” she quipped, “Is the game not to your liking?” That said, she leapt right over the crouching man’s head, drawing her own daggers from her boots in mid-air and planting them in his back as she landed behind him.
She immediately tugged them free, pitching the soldier forwards, and another swipe of her cloak sent him spinning to join his friend below.
More ladders began to appear along the wall as the soldiers below climbed up to face the angry mob.
“Looks like I’ll be dancing this number for a while yet,” Fey muttered, returning her knives and drawing two pāhdrasai rods from the scabbards that crossed her back.
She swiped the first across the front of her body to slash the chest of one oncoming soldier while the other arced behind, crashing into the face of another assailant. The rods shattered on impact, showering the two men in a corrosive alchemical explosion and shards of broken glass.
Fey put a boot on the first man’s back as he screamed and clawed at his face and chest, and kicked him easily off the wall, but before she could turn to give the second man the same treatment, she felt a thick arm suddenly close around her windpipe, crushing the air from her lungs, she could feel the demon inside her, fighting to seize control of her consciousness.
“Not yet, my friend,” she thought, trying unsuccessfully to find a handhold on her assailant, “not yet…”
Before Spyro had even given the command to storm the wall, Ros nudged the yag in the ribs and motioned for him to follow her into one of the houses which immediately adjoined the barricade. Together they slipped past the close packed rows of filthy bunks, up the many wooden staircases of the tenement building until they came to the little ladder which led into the crawl-space below the eves. Even here four damp, mildewed-looking pallet beds were crammed close together and they climbed through the skylight onto the slate roof.
“Front row seats,” Vraxi observed.
Ros looked him up and down, “By the seem of things, the stage is up here with us,” she said dryly.
“Well, you know me, Ros, dress for every eventuality, that’s my motto.”
He gave a little bow and settled himself in a stable position,scanning the scene unfolding below.
Ros crouched beside him, training a dart on the lip of the barricade, her middle finger resting a hair’s breadth away from the trigger mechanism nestled against her palm.
“He does so love to show off,” she smirked, as Spyro began the final leg of his speech.
But Vraxi knew a test when he met one and decided to pretend he hadn’t heard her.
Ros gave a satisfied little smile and didn’t press the issue.
When Spyro leapt down from the wall, they watched Fey leap up to take his place and soon afterwards wooden ladders appeared along the barricade’s length as the dockside watch soldiers began climbing up to help their comrades on the other side.
Vraxi slipped an osetr into his hand and held it delicately but firmly, point facing his palm, forefinger pressed against the blunt edge of the knife.
“She won’t thank you if you miss,” Ros teased, as they watched Fey send the first two soldiers spinning over the edge onto the open cart.
A third stuck his fur-helmed head over the wall and Vraxi rose to a side-standing position and brought his elbow back smooth and wide, angling the blade at the man’s neck. When his shoulder reached its limit he let his forearm snake backwards in a rolling motion so that his forefinger flowed wave-like, bringing the blade with it. When it reached the zenith of its arc, he snapped his elbow like lightening, leaning into the hurl and throwing the full force of his chest muscles behind the motion, flicking the now vertical knife free just as it passed his ear, as if he were cracking a cattle-whip.
The osetr sailed, handle forwards, true to aim and made a neat little three quarter flip at the last minute before burying itself comfortably in the man’s jugular.
Ros smiled appreciatively, reached inside her pocket and placed a single fleshcoin on the roof slate beside her. “Match it and whoever takes down the next one wins them both,” she said without taking her eyes from the wall.
“See you and raise you another?” he dared, placing two beside her one and not taking his own eyes off the fighting.
She reached inside her pocket again and matched his bet then fired two darts in quick succession into the necks of two guards who were still on the ground, wrestling with the dock workers.
“Another says I get the next as well, and no raising,” she said.
Vraxi grinned and laid down his fleshcoin, just as a huge hulking guardsman hauled himself up behind Fey and hooked a meaty arm around the demon-bound woman’s neck. “She’ll thank me for this I’ll wager…” he muttered, unsheathing a vjatich this time and cracking it out in the same smooth double-wave motion.
Again the knife did it’s fancy little flip at the last moment and the man fell sideways off the wall, clutching his neck and releasing Fey who didn’t miss a beat but spun straight into her next attack.
Ros shook her head, “is that actually necessary or are you just showing off?” she asked, stopping Vraxi’s hand as he went to take his winnings.
“Will you allow for a little of both?” he ventured, and then added quickly, just in case, “reducing the rotations it makes mid-air improves the accuracy, my lady.”
Ros smiled and laid another fleshcoin on the roof. “Let’s keep going,” she said, turning back to the fight.
Within a few short minutes, they were both, apparently, out of ammo and several rows of fleshcoins sparkled in the sunshine.
“Is that really all you’ve got, love?” she asked, feigning a disappointed pout.
Vraxi spread his arms apologetically, “would you like like to search me? As you can see, my knives are all gone but there may be more to me than meets the eye…”
Ros narrowed her eyes at him. “There is always more to you than meets the eye,” she said dryly, scooping up the pile of coins and handing it to him. “Come, let’s see how things fare on the ground…”
Vraxi looked alarmed, “Far, far better without any interference from me I should think!” he said quickly. “For Xander is always saying how dreadfully I get under his feet in these close-ranged situations and certainly, you must concede, I am built for better things than one-on-one combat with these muscle-mountains the city watch favours!”
“I said nothing of joining the fight,” Ros said, arching an eyebrow at him, “although I note your enthusiasm for it.”
“Can you blame me?” he asked earnestly.
“For a great many things, dear. Although perhaps not that,” she conceded, hoisting open the roof hatch and waiting for him to follow her down.
As they excited the building, they met with Fey and Xander who had managed to quietly disengage themselves from the rabble. The dock workers had now broken down a significant portion of the wall and were piling through into the skydocks with wild bellows of victory.
“Looks like our work here is done.” Fey said, clapping her hands together, “if there’s nothing else I’ll be heading off for a well earned pint.” She didn’t wait for an answer but tipped two fingers to her forehead and strolled off in the direction of the Cross Keys.
“Try and stay out of trouble, boys,” Ros said over her shoulder as she headed back towards The ‘Kādasa.
Xander glared at the yag, who was watching Ros’s exit with a mesmerised expression, ‘chance would be a fine thing’, he thought angrily.
Ahoi! I hope you’ve had an utterly splendiferous week! 🙂 Ours has been a mixed bag of liquorice allsorts XD I honestly don’t understand how lock-down can have caused so much calamity XD But there has been mostly good amongst the sporadic weird – the car got fixed which was unexpected and fabulous and lots of art has happened which is always a good thing! I even got to do some arting myself so I’ve started making chibies of the Silk and Steel characters thinking that for Inktober I will paint them in tea XD
So here’s my cutesy lil half-demon librarian Edmund for you… just a basic one as I was figuring him out, I want to do one of him puffing his heart-shaped smoke rings at some point too XD … (and as with all my pics you can print and colour him in if you want 🙂 )
And here’s the next bit of Silk and Steel… still at the docks and from Xander’s perspective… I hope you all have an utterly fabulous weekend and are starting to feel a bit more ‘normal’ lol, whatever that is! XD
When Spyro gave the signal, Xander immediately looked around for Vraxi but he was nowhere to be found. Cursing, he pushed through the tide of bodies all surging to engage with the few remaining guards. He elbowed, shoved and butted people aside, not caring which side they were on, his mind filled only with horrific visions of what trouble the idiot could have managed to get himself into now.
He glanced up at the wall and saw Fey take out one guard while another jumped her from behind and locked a meaty arm around her throat, but before he could think of a way to help, an osetra sailed neatly through the air, did a fancy little flip and buried itself in the man’s neck.
Looking in the direction the knife had come, he saw Vraxi up on a nearby rooftop beside Ros and breathed a sigh of relief, before remembering he was furious with the wretch and would definitely have to murder him when they got home.
A blow to the side of his head suddenly sent him reeling, black stars danced in front of his eyes and he felt the demon surge and thrash inside him as waves of panic, adrenaline and fury pulsed through his brain.
He turned, his vision clearing in clouds of dissipating claret, seized the guard who had struck him by the hair and slammed his knee into his face, breaking his nose and dropping him to the floor where the mob trampled him blindly into the mud.
The noise and mayhem drenched his senses, like a wet curtain that he struggled to fight free of to no avail, and he lashed out blindly for a few seconds, terrified and unable to discern who was attacking him and from where.
Breathe. He told himself. Stop flailing and take control.
He forced himself to stand still, open his eyes and focus on what was happening around him.
Fey was doing well again on the wall, on the roof top Ros and Vraxi seemed to be picking off guards on the other side of the barricade.
On the ground the mob were making some headway dismantling the cart planks and lower placed pallets. There were four guards left on this side. Xander pulled his knives from his belt and went for the nearest.
I’m so so sorry I didn’t get a chance to post through the week as I’d hoped 😦 All hell broke loose with our new car getting smashed up (no one hurt luckily) and the dryer breaking down and various other calamities! XD XD But I’ve five mins left of the morning before lessons start so lets see what we can squeeze in… so, still at the docks with Spyro and co… I am seriously clueless about writing action scenes so these next few snips are even more rough and ready than usual and I’m open to criticism / suggestion if you think I can do better 🙂
Spyro shinned easily up the ladder, swung himself over the top of the barricade and dropped lightly down on the other side.
Kaili watched him with amusement as she chewed a mouthful of Roccanna. For all that he looked like a fop who would never deign to get his cuffs dirty, his athletic prowess belied his true nature, she thought, as she watched him swagger towards her, grinning and brushing the dust off his backside.
She returned the smirk and raised her eyebrows. “And what can I do you for?”
“For anything you like, as you well know,” he whispered, as he stepped up close beside her. “But for now, what’s all this about?” He gestured to the wall, his eyes twinkling. “Are the innocent hardworking poor not to be allowed to do an honest days work because of the duke’s inability to control their wayward peers?”
Kaili laughed. “Depends.” She said, looking him up and down. “Mayhap that there’s a sudden urgent need for me to take half my troop here over to The Spires and investigate reports of a Rocchana den there at the university?”
“Ha! No. I was thinking The Groves. A little bird tells me there is a another jewel grab about to take place there in about ten minutes – a rough gang from The Cinders, by all accounts, twelve strong at least.”
“I see. And would this be the same li’l bird whose tipoffs never amount to anythin’?”
“That’s the one.”
Kaili chewed her Roccahna and spat it onto the ground. “How big an egg is it gonna lay, this bird o’yours?”
Spyro slipped a hand inside his waistcoat, brought out a black velvet pouch and handed it to the watch captain.
She narrowed her eyes at him as she took it and emptied out the contents into her palm; three bloodcoins and fifty fleshcoins. She weighed them in her hand, smiled and returned them to the purse which she slipped inside her tunic. “Fair ’nuff.” She stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled, reeling off the names of twenty five of her troop as each hurried over to join her. “Party in The groves.” She said simply, “Go ahead, I’ll be there at a pace.” She turned back to Spyro as the guards jogged away without question.
“I am ever envious of your technique ; you have them well trained.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Your coin has them well trained. They know they’ll get a good cut of it in The Nag’s Head tonight.”
“Are you free?”
“For you, always.”
She smiled and brushed away an imaginary strand of hair from her face. “Then come by mine after ten.”
He smiled and gave a little bow, “until tonight then.” And with that he climbed back up the ladder and onto the top of the wall.
“Friends!” He bellowed from the top of the baracade. “It seems the duke will not stand by his honest, hard working citizens but prefers to lump us all together with those unionists and rebels who seek to rock the boat for all. It is time to show the duke that we will not stand for this, let us tare down the barriers he has placed here to confine us! Let us bring down the wall!”
A rabid, feral cheer rose up from the mob as the swell of desperate bodies surged forwards, seizing the planks of the barracade and attempting to tare them down with enthusiasm, if little effect. The watch soldiers on that side of the stockade immediately engaged with the onward charging mass and cheers, shrieks and curses soon filled the morning air.
Hey hey! It’s Friday and I thought I wouldn’t make it in but I have – so calling that a win! XD (small things! 😉 XD ) We’re still at the dock-riots for this bit – with Spyro and co. whipping up the tension from both sides to pile the pressure on the duke who they hope to bring down and replace with their own puppet.
I’m going to try and schedule the next couple to go up in the week as they all follow on quickly and I don’t want things toooo disjointed (yes yes I know it’s sort of too late for that! XD ) Thankyou for hanging on in there!
Sure enough, a haphazard wall of pallets and barrels had been erected on top of a row of wooden carts, blocking off the access road to the sky-docks. A token smattering of city watch guards lounged against it, playing cards and drinking tankards of kvass and from the other side the sounds of the rioters could be heard and voices raised in the rebel chorus “Oprahno Prahli, Oprahno Frâţjana!”
“I’ll handle this,” Spyro said firmly, holding up his hand to the mob who now followed the antiques dealer closely like a pack of faithful hounds. “Kaili will bring this down for us or we will bring it down ourselves, but wait on my signal, make no move without it.”
They watched him stroll nonchalantly up to the largest group of guards – five hulking mountains of flesh who were stood around a barrel which they were using as a cards table.
The Doctor had already disappeared, taking his patient back to the barber’s shop to recover.
Xander cracked his knuckles and shifted his weight.
Fey scanned the wall, marking the number of guards, ladders, weak points and sheltered spots instinctively.
Ros watched Spyro like a hawk, her confident smile never leaving her lips.
Xander’s hand flexed on the the handle of his knife and he shifted his weight once more.
Such a pity he will always wear his hood up like that, Vraxi thought wistfully, for it hides his eyes which are the most curious shade of indigo… he had seen a shirt almost that exact shade, a rare shibori-dyed one from Khallimbad, hanging on a washing line last week…he wondered if it was worth stealing it and trying to persuade Xander that it would suit him. Probably not. He sighed deeply, looked up at the rooftop and began counting the crows gathered there – five, six, seven…ten…still the antiques dealer was talking amicably with the guards.
Xander licked his lips nervously and glanced back at his little companion for the third or fourth time. What the hell was he wearing that stolen Hunters’ shirt for? Those things were only issued to Hunter Captains; he stood out like a flaming red flag in a bull ring. Why Spyro had sent for both of them, he had no idea. These battle situations were in no way Vraxi’s forte and Xander was furious that he was going to have to lend more than an eye to making sure the idiot didn’t get himself seriously hurt, or even… he swallowed hard and tried not to think about it. They weren’t armed with soul-blades, Mendicci would only lend them those expensive weapons when he wanted someone’s throat slit ‘on the quiet.’ But the watch guards would be carrying several of the deadly blades that could splice a person’s soul clean from their flesh, and wouldn’t think twice about using them. He squinted hard at the antiques dealer, every muscle tense, his jaw locked tight, waiting for the signal he hoped would not actually come.
Fey watched Spyro plant his hands on his hips as one of the guards gestured towards the nearest ladder. A few more words were exchanged and then the antiques dealer set his foot to the first rung; in a few short seconds he was up and over the other side of the wall. The guards went back to their card game. Fey didn’t take her eyes from the spot where he’d dropped down to the other side.
…eleven, twelve… Vraxi lost interest in the crows and let his gaze drift idly over the assembled mob – or, more specifically, the pouches and purse strings of the assembled mob, noting which would be easy or challenging to lift or cut – but it was only a force of habit, these people had nothing of interest to him. Where had Spyro gone, he wondered? Remebering suddenly why he was here and that he was supposed to be waiting for some sort of signal or other. Had Spyro said what it was? He looked at Ros who was watching the wall; Ros would know what the signal was. So would Fey. So would Xander. He relaxed, decided to just follow their lead, and then set his mind to checking his shirt for creases and snags; it was a scarlet Hunters’ shirt – fleet issue only – and he was exceedingly proud of having found it carelessly lying around in a wardrobe during one of their house-breaks in The Groves. It wouldn’t do to get it ruined on its first day out.
I promised you Scabs, I promised you beatings, and now I humbly deliver (although it’s the Scabs doing the beating I’m afraid!) … 😉 XD Wishing you all a wonderous weekend and thankyou so much for persevering with the long breaks and disjointed nature of this unruly beast! When I started it I was aiming for the cherry flavoured one in a box of black magic chocolates – kitschy-camp and retro-cute with a bitter dark chocolate bite… um… I think it is ended up like a tangle of red liquorice laces XD So if you are still making sense of it all, I salute you and shower you with thanks! x
Once outside, Spyro turned straight towards a ragged line of children sat on the curb in front of the shop. Most proprietors would have chased the urchins away but these were a permanent fixture outside Silk and Steel – and for good reason.
“Take this to The Doctor…” Spyro whispered, hunkering down beside the nearest child and pressing one of the ornately carved pebbles into her hand, “…Fey Wulf…”, he told the next one, again slipping a pebble into their palm, “…Xander Dumarrle… Vraxi Bane… And you take these to your mother with my compliments,” he added, handing over the crows with a wink to the last child in the row, as his brothers and sisters skittered off in different directions to find their quarries.
Then he tugged up his sleeves a little and hurried across the street, dodging easily around the Mul’ai-dji hackney cabs and demonrod motor vehicles, heading swiftly for the workers’ tenements in the district known as The Cinders.
By the time he’d reached Primrose Hill, he was flanked on his left by The Doctor and Fey and on his right by Ros, Vraxi and Xander.
“You look like the opening act of a travelling circus,” Xander complained, referring to Vraxi’s bright silk shirt and his leather belt holsters, vambraces and chest harness which boldly sported his entire collection of throwing knives.
The yag grinned broadly, “I look like ‘trouble for somebody’, is what I look like, Xander,” he said with a wink.
“Trouble for us, no doubt,” his companion muttered back.
As they swung onto Dockers’ Row they could see the commotion; a large angry mob of men, women and children shouting, jeering and throwing stones while in the centre of the tumult a small group were viciously kicking at something on the floor.
“Hoi!” Spyro seized two of the nearest onlookers and pulled them aside. “Hoi! Make way, what are you about here?” he forcefully made his way further forwards towards the central huddle, his entourage pushing through beside him.
Faces turned angrily towards them, but their expressions immediately changed to shock and then deference when they saw who it was and the crowd rapidly parted to let the companions through, particularly the Doctor.
Vraxi grinned hugely and tipped his forehead impishly in mock thanks.
“Halt at once and explain yourselves.” Spyro ordered, and the group of six brutish looking sky-dock workers reluctantly moved aside to show the bloodied and crumpled body of Bartczak the barber-surgeon.
Spyro looked at them in disgust. He knelt down beside the battered barber and smoothed his matted hair back from his bloodied face, smiling grimly when Bartczak’s eyelids fluttered at his touch. “Hang in there,” he whispered, “you will be alright, my friend; Tosca is safe and the cavalry has arrived.”
The Doctor knelt beside the injured man and Spyro rose and addressed the largest thug in the group – an enormous dock labourer by the name of Sulimadd. “What are you about?” he asked the man directly. “Has this man not healed your own injuries and those of your friends and family many times over? Why are you abusing him so?”
Sulimadd glared at Spyro and looked to his companions for assistance.One spat on the floor, the other accidentally caught the doctor’s eye and quickly looked at his shoes.
“He’s ‘Sztokrai.” Sulimadd muttered at last. “Th’watch have closed off the docks coz of the riots. Us honest folk cant get t’work.”
“Honest folk.” Spyro said incredulously, scratching his smooth chin. “And this is the way honest folk behave is it? When the person they are angry with is not available, they lash out at the next best thing, no matter how innocent that thing may be – a friend, an old woman, a six year old child…”
“They’re ‘Storkrai.” Sulimadd growled defiantly.
Spyro put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Yes.” he said at last. “Yes they are. If blood is all you care about. Bartczak’s parents were well-moneyed. He left their household to marry the woman he loved; a docker’s daughter who sadly passed away before the apocalypse began. After her death he cared for her elderly mother and his own child and he has served this community with generosity and kindness for more years than I can easily number. Is your measure of a man his ancestry or his own actions?” He looked sternly around the crowd of faces, catching every eye, making it clear that the question was being put to each of them.
“Who has wronged you here today?” He shouted. “Bartczack? Or the duke?”
The crowd began to chew that over, muttering amongst themselves. The mob-mentality which had spurred them to almost murder one of their own only moments before was dissipating and Spyro knew he had to time his words exactly to catch the tide and re-direct it to his advantage before it fizzled out entirely.
“The duke!” someone cried, at last, and a few more echoed the call.
“Who is preventing you from getting to your jobs?”
“The duke!” more voices, stronger, gaining confidence now in the new rally to arms.
“So who should we take the battle to?”
“But they’ve put up a barricade,” Sulimadd mumbled sullenly.
“Where?” Spyro asked. “Show me.”
So sorry I missed a week – things here have been too crazy to begin to talk about it. Here is the first part of chapter 2 of part 2, lol, if that’s not confusing enough! XD And we’re back to Spyro and Ros… (also – bit of mythpunk trivia – the little rhyme in this snip is taken from an old Rom / Eastern-Euro folktale and proverb)
A row of crows hung like so much grim washing from a line strung the length of the antiques shops’ back yard. The stone-weighted shots that had caught them still bound their wings close to their sides and they dangled by their silver-clawed feet, heads hanging limp, lifeless (or very nearly).
Ros crooked the large basket under her arm, resting it against her hip, and with her dextrous right hand, took the head and twisted it clean off. A slough of gore and dark blood oozed down and met the cobbles with a wet ‘fffllatth’ and the Jai’Yantra smiled and added the head to the basket, moving along the line to the next.
Behind her the backyard gate clicked open and closed.
“Heads for the workhouse, wings for the milliner, feet for the alchemist, the breast for our dinner,” she remarked, without turning round, knowing exactly who it was that had entered.
“Fine fayre as always,” Spyro said, coming up behind her and placing his hands on her hips, “but I have a better rhyme; the head for the duke, up high on his throne, the neck for his wife behind him alone, the feet for his enemies standing by, the wings for his allies away they will fly.”
“And the rest of the bird?” Ros asked, turning to arch an eyebrow at him.
“The spoils to the victors, of course.” he said, reaching up and taking down four of the decapitated birds. “But heroes must always be celebrated, not only for our victories, but for our generosity whether we have won or lost or the battle rages on.”
“You have been to the riots again.” she observed.
“They rage well. Soon the watch will be utterly overwhelmed. The duke is drafting patrols in from all other areas of the city but…” he patted his coat pocket in which a few coins jingled.
“They are proving ineffectual?” Ros smirked.
“Commander Kaili knows which side her bread is buttered.” he said cheerfully.
“Then our only consideration on that front,” Ros said, moving along the line and popping another head into her basket, “is whether the duke will draft in some of the militia.”
“Let him try. He will only move the game along swifter. CGS Draimunn will not waste troops bolstering an ineffectual watch effort. If the duke calls on the army he will be instigating a call for his resignation from that quarter – if he’s lucky.”
“You think Draimunn would force a coup?” Ros aksed, adding another head to the almost full basket. “That would not suit our plans…”
Spyro shrugged. “Lieutenant General Vrost thinks it’s possible, though not probable. But you’re right, it would not suit our plans at all. Contingency?”
Ros looked thoughtful for a moment, “I will speak to Agathri. She is poised to be our clarion, raising support for Beaufort to take the duke’s place, at the apropriate moment; if the army looks set to stage a coup then that moment will be sooner than we planned.” she smiled “But it doesn’t sound like it will come to that?”
Spyro shook his head. “I am not overly concerned. Things are going well, the duke is feeling the pinch, by all accounts.”
“By Beaufort’s account?”
“Just so. The pressures we have brought to bear upon him will have him on his knees soon enough and Beaufort is more than ready to take his place.”
Ros pulled off the last head and placed the basket down beside a second that was full of black feathered wings. “I will take these to town later, visit the market and see what the murmerings are on the street…”
She trailed off as a comotion from the house drew both their attentions that way and Žiga came trotting out into the back yard looking wide eyed. “A girl is come, a Sapanai, she is hurt.” she blurted, pointing back towards the shop.
“Well done, love,” Ros said, absently, already wiping her hands on her long grey apron and hurrying inside with Spyro at her heels.
They followed Žiga swiftly through the maze of accumulated artifacts and antiques to the front of the shop where a young girl, no more than six or seven, stood trembling and crying. The flesh on her right arm was slightly burned.
“There, there; Toska isn’t it?”
The girl nodded. “My Papa, they’re killing him, and grandmama too…the people in our building, the other tennants…they say we’re in with the duke…they called Papa a ‘Sztokrai bastard… ”
Spyro looked furious, “Your father is Bartczak? The barber-surgeon?” He already had his coat back on and puased only to grab a handfull of smooth coloured pebbles, each carved with the same intricate design, from a drawer behind the counter, before hurrying out of the door, still carrying the brace of crows.
“Ziga, go fetch my medicine bag will you?” Ros said, and then turning back to Tosca she smiled and brushed the child’s hair away from her tear-streaked face, “it will be alright, pet.” she said soothingly. “Mendicci will put it right, love. Your papa has done so much good work for the poor people of this city; it may be that they need reminding of that before they start confusing his bloodline with his behaviour, but they will rememeber, and then they will be ashamed of their actions, you wait and see.”
She took the large leather medical bag that Ziga was hefting across the shop floor, opened it and took out a brown glass tincture bottle and pipette.
Tosca winced as the foul smelling yellow liquid dribbled over her wounds but she didn’t cry out. “they threw bottles through the window,” she sniffed, “ when they broke the stuff inside them hurt.”
“I see.” Ros pursed her lips, returned the tincture to the bag and closed the clasp with a smart ‘click.’ “Ziggi, take Tosca through to the kitchen and find some pastēti and biscuits for you both,” she said, standing up and taking off her apron. She crossed to the counter, put the bag away behind it and strapped on a pair of arm-mounted dart throwers. “I won’t be long love,” she said, heading for the door “mummy has to go and teach some stupid people a little lesson.”
The door bell tinkled as she let it fall closed behind her.