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Silk and Steel

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.


Silk and Steel

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?”

“The duke!”

“But they’ve put up a barricade,” Sulimadd mumbled sullenly.

“Where?” Spyro asked. “Show me.”


Silk and Steel

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)

 

CHAPTER 2
*

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.


Evil Eliza gets her Pride on…

So to combat the stress and anxiety and down right shittiness we’ve been experiencing this end we’ve been channelling our sinister scarecrow Montmorency in his/her/their ‘other’ form of Evil Eliza (If you haven’t seen that side of our wicked scarecrow landlord she appears in Jack and Marjory which I’ll start posting from again once Silk and Steel is finished). We’re making dark humour colouring pages for the plague and also for pride, (so if dark humour ain’t your thing then look away! XD ) So I just got a scanner I will try and share some more on here but here’s the first – just a photo as I’ve not figured how to open the scanner box yet…. ho-hum… XD ) – they are all licensed through creative commons ( © 2020 CC BY-SA)so you can print them colour them share them burn them throw darts at them use them any way you like 😉 x

Elizamonsterpride


Silk and Steel

OK, yay! We made it to Friday 😀 XD Things are rather like a pressure cooker here but we’re still alive and got a weekend full of small people birthday things – think anime and pizza – to look forward to :). Hope you guys are still safe and well and surviving the madness 😀 S here is the next bit – the duke has sent two letters to his nearest and dearest to ask for their support; we’ve met Captain Gabriel, and here’s the next recipient – someone we’ve met before… 😉 XD

 

The side of Colonel Hogarth’s mouth twitched upwards in a self satisfied smirk as he flipped over the envelope and cut through the Duke’s seal with quick flick of his letter knife.

 
Ha! He said to himself, before even reading it.

 
And then Ha! Again after quickly casting an eye over its general contents.

 
It was just as he had suspected – the young duke was feeling the tightening tug of the strands of web that had been weaving around him for quite some time now. Poor chap. He had seemed like such a good choice for duke at the time, but he had failed miserably to make good on all his philanthropic rhetoric – showing far too much deference to the ‘Sokrai and the church, and not enough to basic moral decency.

 
The union riots had almost brought the skydocks to a standstill and part of The Cinders were affected too, with factory workers beginning to see that if the dockers could demand better pay and working conditions then perhaps so could they.

 
The wrath of the ‘Stokrai was growing in the wake of the jewel robberies, which the watch seemed utterly incapable of putting a stop to, and the mutterings below the surface of The Groves were like the furious buzzings of an enraged hornet’s nest about to spew forth its venomous hosts.

 
Yes, he reflected as he pushed the letter aside and sipped his mushroom tea, Spyro and Ros had handled the thing well; as he knew they would or he never would have agreed to be involved; no matter how hard Agathri had pushed and cajoled, and clucked and fussed and thrown all her toys out of the pram – as was her wont.

 
He chuckled to himself and twisted his grey moustache thoughtfully. If Spyro Mendicci thought he could lay claim to the city of Ryzym so easily when Agathri already had everyone’s toes tapping to her own tune, the results of this little circus were going to prove most amusing!

 
His amber eyes sparkled with mischief then and his Rokani heritage was even more apparent than usual on his foxy features. Perhaps he would just add a pinch of his own spice to this simmering cauldron of calamity. Afterall, he had not yet decided if or how he was going to make Silk and Steel pay for the theft of his precious demonsong.

 
Not that he was short of demonsong, but it was HIS demonsong; the principle of the thing had to be respected. If Agathri and Ros’s little side-plans (His wicked grin widened hugely at the delicious thought that Mendicci was not a privy to those machinations!) saw fruition, then he would soon be Duke himself, and there would have to be a darn sight more respect from these young street hoodlums then!

 
He sipped his tea and chuckled to himself as he thought of how he would play the thing out. Something bold and spectacularly devastating he decided with a wicked grin; why should the girls have all the fun with their dastardly scheming eh? Oh, he’d probably let them redeem themselves somehow afterwards, but let them sweat and stew for a bit first! Ha!

 
“You’re laughing to yourself,” Agathri observed from the doorway before drifting to his side in soft clouds of flowing flame-like chiffon. “What dreadful things are you planning, darling and for whom?”

 
She draped herself around his broad shoulders and he took her hand, caressed it fondly and then pressed it to his mouth in an affectionate smack of lips and bristling moustache.

 
“Ha! Going to put the wind up some of your lot.” He chortled, drawing her round and onto his knee as if she were still the capricious chorus girl and he the dashing hunter captain of The Demon’s Demise.

 
“Now don’t you dare rock the boat, you diabolical beast!” she scolded, nestling her head against his strong chest and letting her inner flames swell in gentle warning that she could get angry if she really wanted to.

 
“Nonsense old girl! Nothing like a rocked boat to keep the crew on their toes! Exactly what they need at a time like this – something unexpected…”

 
“I have already attended to the unexpected element of the plan – and you are it, remember? Mendicci thinks he setting the duke up for a fall, Beaufort will take his place and Silk and Steel will co-partner him in their new ‘trading company’. In reality, by the time the poor duke falls, Beaufort will be safely locked in the asylum, Mendicci will be… dealt with… and you, my darling, will find the whole of Ryzym clamouring for you to take control. You’ll be duke and…”

 
“Yes. And you, my little vixen, will be queen, let’s not forget that.” He said, tickling her ribs so that she squealed and squirmed and slapped his chest to make him stop.

 
“It’s duchess, you silly man!” she laughed, suddenly plucking the letter from his desk and sitting up to read it.

 
“Oh it’s queen alright,” he insisted, “queen of hearts I call you. Always had us chaps wrapped round your little finger and always will I dare say.”

 
She turned from the letter and cupped his face in her delicate hand, “you don’t begrudge me my little bits of tiffin? Do you? You know I never give two hoots about yours…”

 
“No, no. You do as you please – seems only fair as I can do nothing but whatever takes my fancy.” He winked and she smiled indulgently at him and returned her attention to the letter.

 
“So, poor Bastion wishes to see you. Hardly surprising really, you are his godfather and the one who persuaded him to run for duke in the first place.” She giggled and clapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes dancing with mischievous sparks of flame. “Oh, my love! Aren’t we so very, very dreadfully naughty!?!”

 

 

 


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! So sorry I’ve been pretty much offline the last couple of weeks, things are pretty full-on family wise here and I think this is going to be the case for some time to come. I’m going to try and grab some time for online things each Friday but that may / maynot happen – I will do my best. Thankyou for being so patient and for hanging on in there and putting up with my spoaradicness and disorganisation, I hope you are coping and carrying on the best you can and I hope that these posts bring some cheer along the way 🙂

So, following on from the Duke and his troubles, another new character for you..

Captain Gabriel Beaufort pushed back his empty lunch plate, refilled his glass of tzujka and knocked it back, barely taking his eyes from the letter he was re-reading for the third time since he’d received it. He smiled and stretched his legs out under the desk, leaning far back in his chair and allowing his hands to rest behind his head. An invitation from his good friend The Duke. Everything was going beautifully to plan.

He poured himself another drink – a reward, he told himself, for having the wisdom to trust what Spyro Mendicci had told him; that those who truly held the reigns of the city had built a delicate house of cards beneath Duke Vassellin’s throne and that they waited only for the right ally to take his place when the cards fell.

A self satisfied grin spread across his weathered face, yes, he had been wise to trust Mendicci – many in his position would not have credited the words of a humble antiques dealer from The ‘Kādasa, but Beaufort had not inherited his fleet of Hunter Ships. He had earnt them. Started as deck-swabber. Fought his way up inch by inch, gaining respect and experience with every carefully chosen word and action until now he not only captained the most successful skyship that sailed out of the city port – he owned the fleet it belonged to as well.

He sensed that this Mendicci was cut from that same rare cloth; a man with the wit and the gumption to climb out of the hole he was born into. The only thing he could not understand about his plans was that Mendicci showed no interest in claiming the Duke’s position himself – although Beaufort had little doubt that when the man spoke of ‘the hand that holds the city’s strings’ he was referring to himself.

He could only suppose that Mendicci’s ultimate goal was a life of luxury rather than the responsibilities that came with power on the public stage. He was no wallflower to be sure, Beaufort had done his homework and found that in his own circles the man was well known and well loved for overt acts of social justice, but garnering public regard from a position of zero obligation was not the same as striving to satisfy the conflicting demands of an entire city when all look to you to solve their problems. Most men, he reasoned, as he poured himself another drink, would shirk from such a position. But Gabriel Beaufort had goverened skyships – a fleet of skyships – for too many years to begin to number them. He relished the challenges the position of Duke would place before him and he knew beyond doubt that he could rise to meet them.

He knocked back his drink and filled the glass again, revelling in the adrenaline rush that coursed through him at the thrill of this impending adventure. He would miss the skies; had never envisioned a scenario where he would leave his beloved ships behind, but this was too good a chance to pass up and Mendicci’s credentials and connections had left him in no doubt that his fleet would be well cared for under the Silk and Steel Trading Co-orperation. Demon Hunting was generally lucrative but carried risks and losses that were sometimes difficult to counterbalance with profit. The trade agreements Mendicci had spoken of with Lycandrus and Pav’shamah could be the answer that – a stabilising stream of income to underpin the flux, especially in the summer when solar storms could take out an entire skyship.
Yes, it was all coming into place. And now Bastion wanted to see him! He chuckled at that; the Duke was evidently feeling the pinch that Mendicci and his assosiates were orchestrating. The two sky captains had been friends for what seemed like eternity. An unlikely pairing perhaps – the son of a famous sky captain and a humble deck swabbing Rokani but neither of them had much cared for the barriers of class or race back then.

Bastion had even dared his mother’s disproval and attended Gabriel’s wedding. Betithna was another Rokani; one of the many twin-souled skin changers created by shamanic cultists as they sought to transend their own reality. Who knew that twining their souls with creatures inherent of the earth would bind them here forever?

Not that Gabriel or Betithna, their parents or their daughter Elaina had had anything to do with cult activities, but their genetic lines were altered irrepreably by their ancestors. And of course the church, and therefore the state, would never accept that; Beaufort smirked at the irony that an organisation that bound peoples souls to demons should baulk at the idea of those whose souls were entwined with animals or plants.

A noise in the hall, the front door opening, voices, whispers caught his attention and his golden eyes narrowed suddenly. He got up and crossed to the study window, just in time to catch sight of the Vesperai boy straddling his Demonrod scooter and kicking it into life, filling the street with clouds of foul smelling smog and the roar of its engine as he sped away.

Beaufort shook his head, returned to his desk and poured himself another drink. He had no problem with Arden McKade courting Elaina. In many respects it was a fine match – Vesperai and Rokani would both benefit from a stronger alliance and once the city was in his hands there would be no more of these witch hunts by the church. Both races could relax a little without the fear of persecution.

Yes, everything was going marvellously well. He would meet the Duke for lunch and arrange to see Mendicci again in the next day or two. He glanced at the bottle, decided the drips in the bottom of it were not worth bothering with, and left the room.

Strange. He had thought himself at home. But here was the deck of his skyship. The sting of sand on the whipping wind that tugged at his long hair, the blaze of solar flares – a storm was rising, he could feel the deck tilting beneath his feet. “All hands!” he bellowed. “All hands to the sails!” but even as the words left his lips he saw the demon rise above the starboard rail; thrashing tail set to capsize the vessel and send it plumeting to its doom.

He thought of his wife, his children, Arden McKade, The Duke, he must make it home, this was not going to be the end of Captain Gabriel Beaufort.

“Courage!” he screamed, seizing his harpoon gun and charging to meet the beast head on, and he was heartened to see most of his well trained crew responding to his instructions and rising to meet the beast in force… except one… what was this? Some cowardly cove crouching behind a tar barrel, his hands pressed tight over his ears, blubbering? He would be the death of himself, and everytone else, morale was sapped by fools like this with their mewling and mithering.

“Get up!” he thundered, hauling the wretch up by the shirt collar and thrusting him in front of him, but the pitiful pup merely covered his face with his hands and began sobbing, “Pull yourself together!” Beafort roared, striking the whelp across the face – a blow which sent him crumpling to the deck once more. “I said, get up!”

“Gabriel! Stop!”

What? What was that? “Betithna?” What was his wife doing on board? It didn’t make any sense and yet there she was, running down the stairs towards him, her gold-green eyes wide with alarm. Stairs? He thoght vaguely. When did the skyship gain a flight of stairs? But the fantasy didn’t evaporate completely; the two worlds overlayed eachother and he couldn’t pull the threads apart to focus on which was the reality and which the waking dream. Where am I? He thought, his heart racing in panic.

“Gabriel!”

“This is none of your concern.” he snapped, trying to anchor himself to something tangible. He put out a hand and felt solid wall beneath his fingers, shuffling his feet forwards he managed to steer around several obsacles until he reached the stairs.

“What have you…”

“I said, it’s none of your concern!” he screamed. Why would she not just go away. This was his ship. Wasn’t it? Not hers. What did Betithna know about any of it. He clasped the ship’s rail and found the stairs rising before him. Good. He would just go to his cabin and take a nap, then answer the Duke’s call. Then tomorrow or the next day, he would meet with Mendicci and his partner, Miss Noir, to finalise everything.
He grinned as he climbed the staircase with some difficulty. Everything was coming up roses.


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! We’ve reached part 2 of the book, which is called Stone The Crows so to celebrate here’s another bit of quote-ish-ness and some fabulous artwork by Tithi Luadthong 🙂

themaninthemoon
Duke Bastion Vandellin paced his hall with slow, pensive steps, drinking in the portraits installed along its length as he passed each Grand Duke who had gone before him. It was not a hereditary line. He could take no comfort in the familiarity of blood lineage which had placed him here. No. The only thing he had in common with these other men and women was the strength to stand up and claim, above all other pretenders, the right and the might to rule.

It was disconcerting. In the past week skyships had docked from Lyccandrus and Pav’shma that were not the usual trading vessels – though they had the right credentials, the Duke’s spies at the sky-dock had been certain enough that something was amiss to alert him to the fact.

The Vesperai Host were getting bolder too he noted; no longer on the back foot they seemed to have gained some new sense of unity and confidence as the latest assaults against their numbers had been thwarted. Some new form of protection? He guessed. Or some new ally? Was this why the church leaders hurried to his door this morning?

He paced on slowly, not caring to quicken his steps and bring himself before those vistors more hastily than he had to. Fears plagued his every consideration. Only yesterday he had been hard-pressed by demands to put a stop to the spate of jewel robberies that were sweeping through The Groves. And it wasn’t just the upper classes who were pressuring him to take action. The general workforce of the city was restless; union heads were whipping the factory workers and dock workers alike into a frenzy over unfair pay and working conditions and many of the guilds saw opportunity in supporting the rising rebellion.

The guilds had too much power. He had always said as much. Had thought, when he first came to rule, that he would chisel and chip away at their strongholds and erode the grips they had over various parts of the city and its economy. But he had been naive to the network of connections each Bharro had built up; threads which ran right through to the city council and even, he suspected, some of his own advisers and administrators.

Sweat began to bead upon his brow. There had been whispers of late. Some of his enemies – men and women who publicly declared their allegiance to him, but whom his spies informed him were known to be disloyal – had been seen meeting together. New alliances were being formed and with whom? That was the question. The attack he feared seemed to be poised to come from both without and within. He felt pinched. Assailed from all sides.

Vandellin paused before his own portrait at the end of the hall and took a deep and steadying breath. The young man who looked back at him from the frame, dressed in his Hunter uniform with his medals bright and plentiful against his scarlet shirt, was not so different from the reflection he saw in the mirror each day. He laughed at that; it meant nothing of course in a city caught fast between heaven and hell, where no one was ever born, no one ever died and nobody aged so much as a day. He had thought to leave his mark upon the city he had served all his working life, but a few short years in office and it seemed he was not going to get that chance.

He looked to the door then, beyond which the church leaders were waiting to give him their news. Were they also against him? He wondered. He shook his head. Paranoia was eating at him, he no longer knew who he could trust and he had the sudden overwhelming urge to be back in the company of his friends; the people he had grown up with, studied with, drunk with, sailed the skies with… he had been isolating himself from them the last few months, not meaning to of course, but the pressures that were growing around him seemed to demand more and more of his time. That had to change he told himself as he finally reached towards the door handle and prepared to face the music. If he truly was about to come under attack, then he needed to surround himself quickly with people who genuinely cared about him, the people who had helped him stake his claim here in the first place, the only people in all the world who he felt he could trust.

silkandsteelquote


Silk and Steel

And now back to the good Doctor at The Cross Keys and his obsession with ‘The Mendicci Question’ XD Hopefully this is going to tie up and make sense time-wise as he will be walking through the park at the same time as Edmund and Vraxi are there so I’m hoping that’s apparent but feel free to shout at me if it doesn’t come across that way or make sense – this is all totally first-draft stuff lol so I’m going to have to work back through it and fix any problems once it’s complete 🙂

Hope you all have a fabulous bank holiday weekend and don’t get blown away by the oncoming storms! We just finished our Irish-style wayside shrine this week and have had to hide it in the shed so it doesn’t get blown away! XD

 

The doctor watched the dancing for as long as he could stand the senseless frivolity of it all, then he knocked back his drink and quietly left the tavern.

 

Outside the sun had set long ago and the bite of the night air permeated even his heavy Great Coat as he hurried his steps towards The Spires and his cosy quarters at the university.

 

He nodded to a seamstress he knew as she hugged her shawl about her shoulders, hurrying home, then dodged to avoid a group of street urchins singing a skipping rhyme. Something about the words seemed discordant he thought, as he turned past the Mul’ai Sap Distillery, but the notion dissipated as he batted away a little coven of crows who came dancing up to him hungrily and tried pecking at his boots.

 

“Get out of it!” he growled, and the only living creatures in hell took flight and eyed him venomously from the rooftops. Not for the first time, he wondered what it was that kept them alive. Afterall, there was no birth and no death here – only the crows and various forms of mould and fungi. But all the research his colleagues at the university had done into the matter had been inconclusive, things just were the way they were and although his scientific mind refused to let the matter rest it also allowed him to accept the facts, for now, certain that an answer would be found eventually.

 

He had just entered the park and was passing under the leafless shade of the rows of mu’lai trees when a figure caught his attention.

 

At first he thought the crows were attacking it – not that rare an occurrence- and his instinct was to run forward and chase the cursed creatures away with his cane. But something made him hesitate, and in that split second he saw that it was the fluctuating fluttering of the feathered creatures that was maintaining this person’s form… or the idea of form… he shook his head, unsure if all the recent strain was causing his mind to play tricks on him… but no, the more he looked, the more substantial this creature became until he appeared no longer engulfed in birds but trod the moonlit path with a tangible weight of his own – a man, dressed in ragged clothes, a hood covering his head and a staff in his hand, crowned with a crescent-moon.

 

The doctor eyed him carefully, drawing himself up to his full height and letting the twighlight entwined around his soul roll like storm clouds until it utterly filled his form. He was not afraid of the supernatural.

 

They both continued their path, each aware of the other, neither slowing nor speeding towards their inevitable point of meeting.

 

The crow man inclined his head cordially as he drew near and the doctor returned the gesture. Then the crow man stopped and leaned lightly upon his staff. “I wonder if you could offer me some assistance?” he asked, his voice a lispy whisper from within the depths of his hood.

 

The doctor paused and raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

 

“I am looking for…a friend…a man of flesh and blood…a magician if the word holds any meaning here?”

 

“A magic user?” the doctor asked doubtfully, recalling things he had read and quickly dismissed in ancient texts.

 

“One who spoke with angels and demons, devils and gods long before most realised such things could be done. When I knew him he could change his form, to that of a spider, and although he is now a man of flesh and blood – someone who I believe would stand out in Ryzym these days – still I fancy his nature, which tends towards that creature’s wily ways, would betray him as something of an…oddity in any event.”

 

 

If the doctor was taken aback by any of this he did not show it. Instead, he leant on his cane a moment and pondered what the stranger had said. “To clarify,” he said slowly, “you are looking for a friend of yours, a magician like yourself, a man of flesh and blood who could once change his skin to that of a spider and even now has a personality which reflects that fact?”

 

“Just so. His name is Tadejs Blinda but I doubt he goes by that now. Do you know of such a person?”

 

The doctor shook his head, “I do not. But the city of Ryzym is not infinite. It is possible I may run into him, or that someone I know already has… is there a way I can contact you… or is there a message you would like me to convey should I meet him?”

 

The crow man was silent for a while, regarding the doctor with his head a little on one side. “’There liveth none under the sun, that knows what to make of the man in the moon, save one’” he said. And then he reached a clawlike hand inside his robes and pulled out a slim glass vial. “If you were to happen upon him, by some strange stroke of luck or fate, perhaps you could…persuade… him to drink this.”

 

“A fan of riddles is he?” the doctor asked dryly, but the crow man was already walking away, his ragged cloak fluttering around him in the moonlight.

 

The Ghani watched him go until his form melted into the pools of shadow cast by the dead trees. Tadejs Blinda… he thought to himself … so that is your secret, Mendicci; afterall, there cannot be two men in Ryzym who fit such an esoteric description.
Tomorrow, he decided,he would go back to the hall of records, and also to the library, and research all he could about this Tadejs Blinda or whoever he was.

 

He looked at the vial the crow man had given him, what was it? Poison? Some sort of…magic? No. His rational mind dismissed that thought at once. Speculation was futile, he would take it back to his laboratory tonight and discover what he could about it before deciding whether or when to slip it into Mendicci’s drink… tempting though it was to race back to the Cross Keys and attempt the matter now, the scientific method must prevail – even in the case of amicicide, he told himself sternly.

 

He twirled his cane and whistled a little tune as he set his steps once more towards home, merrily turning over in his mind exactly what he ought best to do with all this new and very interesting information.


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! I hope the week is treating you all wonderfully! Here we’ve had small folk birthdays and giant pizzas and a lot of James Bond! XD

So Vraxi and Edmund are up to mischief and who is leading who astray? I’ll let you make that judgement! 😉 Um, this one might be a little long sorry I couldn’t really see a way to break it up without stretching it over three posts and I thought that one scene stretched across three posts might be way too disjointed so, totally understand if it’s too long to get to the end of! XD Also I hope my paragraph gaps are working this time – they always seem to work on the preview and then vanish on the real thing so I’ve made them double spaces this time… tentacles crossed!

Also this one comes with a Parental Guidance warning (coz I’m a responsible parent type, me)- remember kids, if a friend comes up to you in the park and offers you drugs, you should say thankyou, because drugs are expensive 😉

 

Massey’s Tea Rooms on Bridge Street was as elegantly tasteless as any middle class old aunt could possibly desire but the fact that not many middle class old aunts lived that close to the university meant that it was usually full of students instead.
“This place always reminds me of my Grandmother’s parlour,” Edmund whispered, splitting a cep-barm in half and moping up the last of his stew.
Vraxi frowned, “I do apologise,” he said earnestly, “would you rather have gone somewhere else?”
Edmund laughed and shook his head. “No, no, it’s lovely. The food is lovely and the company is too, so the décor is inconsequential really, isn’t it?”
Vraxi shrugged, “I was about to confess I rather liked it but as that would equate me with the league of mentally unstable old grandmonsters I think I would do well keep quiet for once.”
Edmund laughed out loud and the yag’s colour rose in soft cloudlike swirls beneath his skin as he realised it was the first time he had ever heard him do it.
“You know what this evening needs?” he asked suddenly, finishing his drink as Edmund shook his head and wiped a tear of laughter away from the corner of his eye, “it needs what every evening needs – what life here in general always needs, I find – more fun. Are we done here?”
They made their way through the dark cobbled streets to the park which overlooked the red river, found a bench that was veiled by an overhanging mul’ai tree and filled their pipes with the resin which flaked easily under the heat of a match.
The moon was lost in banks of cloud and from the branches of the dead tree a few roosting crows flapped and snapped at eachother.
The rust coloured plumes of smoke gave the night air a hint of burnt toffee. “Reminds me of a fair I never went to,” Vraxi mused.
Edmund looked at him curiously and drew a long draft on his own pipe. “A fair you never went to?”
“Just so. A few years before the world ended – when fairs really knew how to be fairs, you know; cloud candy and apples on sticks, music and lights and a big top tent…” he trailed off, taking another tug on his pipe “…I watched it for a bit from my balcony. It looked fun.”
“I don’t think I have ever seen one.” the half-demon mused, “certainly grandmother would never allow us to be seen dead at something like that, I would not be surprised to learn that she feigned a bout of rheumatics each time one was in town to prevent me from even knowing of their existence.”
Vraxi chuckled and filled his lungs again with the sweet honey flavoured smoke. “I wonder if Xander has ever been to a fair…” he mused dreamily, and then shook his head; of course Xander would never have been to a fair – not as a child, certainly, and the yag was sure he would rather die than have his friends drag him along to one now.
He puffed out a cloud of copper coloured vapour and frowned; he had let himself get sidetracked from his mission, but here he was sitting next to someone… a very beautiful and intelligent someone, his mind corrected him… who probably knew more about the possibilities of what he was hoping to achieve than anyone else of his acquaintance. A student of demonology. Why had he not thought to ask Edmund about it before?
“Do you think it is possible,” he aksed, “for a demon to be… good?”
Edmund looked startled. “Am I not good?” he asked, taking another long draft of the opiate and puffing perfectly heart-shaped smoke rings into the crisp night air.
Oh dear, Vraxi thought as his heart did a sudden somersault, he’s going to be the undoing of me at this rate. “How are you doing that?” he asked, attempting the feat himself with no success.
Edmund laughed at his feeble efforts. “It’s my super power.” he said shyly, and then giggled and bit his lip.
Vraxi narrowed his eyes at him and smirked but gave up trying. “But seriously, you are only half demon, if you don’t mind my saying so.” he ventured.
Edmund shot him a sidelong look, “Does that mean I can only ever be half good?”he asked, “Because then you would have to ask ‘ah, but which half is the good half?’ Or perhaps you might start to wonder, ‘are they both good?’ Or ‘is neither?’ Or is ‘good’ even a thing? Is it an absolute? Or is it a perspective? Is it a constant? Is it relative? Does it change as time goes by?”
“If your intention is to make my head spin, you are succeeding.” Vraxi chuckled.
Edmund smiled ruefully and looked at his shoes. “Sorry. It’s just that these questions more than fascinate me. Can you understand? I have spent my entire life building my conception of self around these philosophical conundrums.” He took a long draw on his pipe, “My thesis – Demons of Love and Light – is an enquiry into some of those very questions…”
“Demons of Love?”
“And Light, yes. There are all sorts of demons, you see, just as there are all sorts of humans… all sorts of every creature… my argument is that it is perhaps more useful to look at the domain of the demon’s power, rather than to try to label demons as all evil. In reality, the complexities of the soul of any creature transcend such monochrome labelling anyway, don’t you find?”
Vraxi tugged on his pipe and tried to process what he thought Edmund was saying, “do demons have a soul then?” He asked finally.
Edmund burst into another fit of giggles that brought tears to his beautiful eyes; “I hope so!” he managed, almost choking on his pipe smoke. “Or else I will have failed in my thesis and be laughed out of the academic world for good.” He looked at Vraxi as if he was looking at a someone who needed to be treated gently. “That is how the church is able to bind them,” he said, “by using sigil magic to transfer their soul from their body and bind it to the soul of a human.”
Vraxi shook his head, “I never considered how it worked,” he said, frowning at his own lack of knowledge on something so commonplace, “that is very interesting indeed.”
He stared out over the dark expanse of parkland and chewed the end of his pipe. Of course it made sense, now he thought about it, the demon inside Xander was just a displaced soul… in which case, perhaps, they could find it another body – one that wasn’t being used by anyone of course – and somehow transfer it into that. If they could trust it. And if it was indeed good.
Good. He chewed that word over in his mind, beginning to realsie what the half-demon was driving at… the more he thought about it the less he could say with any certainty exactly what the word meant. Not good then, he decided, just trustworthy – that is a simple concept enough to judge it on.
“Stone the crows will you look at that?” the half demon murmured, tugging Vraxi’s sleeve and pointing up at the sky. “See her? There, my goodness, isn’t she beautiful?”
The yag strained his eyes but all he could see was the full moon, riding out from behind the clouds and bathing the park in silver light, falling on the black feathered backs of the crows as they fluttered down from the mul’ai trees to bathe in its ethereal luminescence.
“Why are they doing that…?” he murmured.
“Look, look!” the half demon insisted, “she is there, look, the moon beneath her feet, crowned by the sun and cloaked with the night-sky sprinkled with stars. She is Vesna and Kesylika combined, life and death made one…” he stood up, balancing precariously on the back of the bench as he fumbled inside his coat pocket and pulled out a notebook. “It is an ancient demonic prophesy, listen…”
Hurriedly flipping through the pages, he found what he wanted and read aloud, “I am not gone, only am I grown wings and with them flown – fleeing into the wild hearts of my children, look and find me for am I not here? Am I not your Mother? Queen of life and death and love, crowned with the blood red dying sun, with the moon beneath my feet and cloaked in stars. The end is come, and I am here with you; The Lady Of The Apocolypse.” he pointed the book at the sky “It is her, look!”
But the yag wasn’t looking at the sky anymore. He was looking at the crows , rising in the moonlight, flocking together until their fluctuating forms began to merge and meld and become one…
“The crow man,” he whispered, slowly tugging Edmund down from the bench by his coat tails. “Ziga was right!”
“The what?”
“Look.” He pointed at the ragged figure that was forming on the path, eyes glowing like pearls and a crescent-moon staff clasped in its hand.
The half demon peered wide-eyed into the darkness, “I don’t see anything.”
“There! There, look, on the path.”
“There is nothing there! Look at the sky,”
“There is nothing in the sky…”
They looked at eachother incredulously, each almost furious at the other’s seemingly wilful ignorance of the apparition in front of them.
And then they both dissolved into fits of hysterical laughter and rolled off the bench onto the grass, where they lay on their backs, gasping for breath with tears of mirth streaming down their cheeks.
It took several minutes for them quiet down and then they lay there in silence, staring up at the frozen canopy of stars through the dead branches of the mul’ai tree.
“Oh my goodness,” the half demon gasped, “I have never laughed so hard in all my long undeath.” He chewed the end of his pipe and blew more heart-shaped smoke rings up into the darkness.
“I’m going to crack that one day,” Vraxi promised.
“I told you, you can’t, it’s my super power.” he smiled, “everyone has one.”
Vraxi turned his head and looked at him doubtfully, “I am not entirely convinced of the truth in that statement,” he said. “Certainly I, for example, have many things I excel at… probably I am the greatest libertine this city has ever known, not to mention the very best thief…but those things are hardly super powers…”
Edmund propped himself up on his elbow and smiled, “You’re right,” he said shyly, “your super power is something far more wonderful than any of those things. It is that you are the very best friend anyone could ever wish for.”
Perhaps it was the effect of the opiate, or maybe the fact that this had been a particularly long and difficult day but it took a momentous effort for Vraxi to ignore the voices in his head which began screaming that Edmund was wrong, deluded, naive, or simply didn’t know him well enough to see what a cheap, shallow, self-serving and utterly worthless monster he truly was. If even Xander, who knew him better than anyone else, couldn’t call him ‘friend’, then what the hell did Edmund know?
He swallowed hard and forced himself to chuckle, hoping Edmund couldn’t tell how close he was to tears. “Some would say, you should choose your friends with more caution, Edmund,” he quipped, folding his arms behind his head and closing his eyes in what he hoped was a relaxed and nonchalant fashion..
Edmund rolled onto his belly and leant his chin on his hands. “Can I… can I ask you favour?” he whispered.
“Anything under the dying sun,” Vraxi said expansively, spreading his arms wide to illustrate his point.
Edmund smiled sheepishly, “Tomorrow I am supposed to give a speech… at the library… about my thesis… I don’t really want to do it but I have to it’s part of the course…”
Vraxi frowned, “I am not entirely certain I can help you give a speech…” he said doubtfully, “…and do not ask me to break your legs so that you can get out of it,” he added, waving a finger sternly at the half -demon.
Edmund giggled. “No, you misunderstand me… wilfully I suspect,” he added, with a little smile, “I mean I’d like you to come… that is, if you’d like to… you don’t have to…I mean, it will probably be very dull and boring and I shall probably trip over my tongue and mess it all up but it’s just that… I would feel better about it… if someone I liked… if you… were there…”
Vraxi rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. “I would love to come.” he said earnestly.
“You would?”
“Oh course!” he sat up and felt about in his pockets for a match. “I have never been invited to a speech before; I am utterly honoured Edmund that you would want me there and I am certain it will an incomparable success!” He re-lit his pipe and then reached across and re-lit Edmund’s as well. “What time would you like me to be there?”
Edmund took a few puffs on his pipe to get it going. “It starts at seven pm, if that isn’t too late for you?”
Vraxi shook his head and puffed thoughtfully on his pipe for a moment, a sudden plan beginning to grow in his ever-active mind…
“It is not too late at all,” he began cautiously, “but would it be an inconvenience to you, Edmund, if a… friend of mine… were to come along as well? It is a friend who is new in town,” he explained quickly, seeing Edmund’s face fall at the suggestion, “and I fear that if I leave him on his own he may… get into trouble…”
“I see.” Edmund hugged his knees and rested his chin on them looking doleful. “Of course it is fine.”
Oh dear, I am going to have to level with him, Vraxi thought, unable to bear the sight of his beautiful, kind, intelligent friend looking so dejected. “Listen Edmund,” he said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder and bringing his face down so that they were eye to eye, “may I tell you a secret?”


Silk and Steel

So Vraxi is off on his little delivery mission- will he be able to stick to the plan this time? XD

I hope you have had a fabulously fraptious  weekend and that the week ahead is full of magic and mischeif! 😀

*

The sun had well and truly set and the light of the full moon turned the cobblestone streets into a tapestry of silver-shine and shadow. Crows chuckled and chittered from the rooftops but the yag kept to the busier streets where the birds found the bustle and noise too confusing.
By the time he reached the library, Edmund was just locking up; his hands shaking with cold in their fingerless gloves as he fumbled with the key and an armful of books.
“Allow me?” Vraxi offered, coming up behind him and startling the half demon so much that he dropped the books all over the street.
“V.. Vraxi! I… I ‘m so sorry! Y… you startled the life out of me!” Edmund stuttered, flushing scarlet and stooping to pick up the mess.
“Then it is I who ought to be apologising, is it not?” Vraxi asked, bending down to help. “And making amends,” he added, handing one of the books back to Edmund.
“Thankyou. Um, it’s quite late, were you coming to borrow a book? I can stay open a little longer if you were.”
“No, no, there’s no need, it wasn’t the library itself that set my feet towards The Spires.”
Edmund looked confused and Vraxi laid a hand on his shoulder, “I was looking for you, Edmund; hoping to catch you before you left, so it seems my timing is perfect, wouldn’t you say?”
Edmund smiled and looked at his feet. “It certainly seems so. Was there… any particular reason you wanted to see me?”
Oh dear, thought Vraxi, he thinks I am come here to ask him to dinner. He rubbed the back of his neck and glanced up and down the street… he was feeling a little peckish… “I thought, perhaps, we could walk round to Massey’s on Bridge Street together? They do an excellent stew – not a patch on Ros’s cooking of course – but certainly better than anything else my coin could stretch to… and I have something to pass on from Mendicci,” he added in an undertone, a sudden idea beginning to form in his mischievous mind.
He patted his waistcoat carefully, “The new resin the good doctor has been working on. I thought that perhaps, after we have dined, we could try it out?”
Edmund’s expression changed from ecstatic to uncertain as he listened to the yag’s proposals. “Is… that what Spyro asked us to do?” he asked.
Vraxi spread is palms. “Almost,” he grinned, draping an arm around Edmund’s shoulders as they started together up the hill, “but here’s the rub, Edmund, why should we stick to one plan, when another would suit us better? Hm? And Spyro need never know, afterall, I am not going to tell him, are you?”
Edmund gave a sly sideways little smile. “No,” he whispered, and then giggled like a nervous school boy.
Oh dear, thought Vraxi, what ever am I getting myself into now?


Silk and Steel

Ok, here we are back at The Cross Keys where Xander left Vraxi. Hopefully this one will bring all those dangling threads together then…. for a little while at least! XD Wishing you all a most fabulous safe and healthy weekend! xx

 

“Penny for your thoughts?”
Vraxi nearly jumped out of his skin as the Doctor and Fey seemingly materialised out of nowhere and slid onto the bench opposite him, banishing all thoughts of Xander immediately from his mind.
“Forgive me,” he said quickly, “truly, I was miles away.”
“That much was evident,” the Ghani said, “but you have not answered my question.”
Vraxi smiled nervously as he felt his mouth go dry, the last thing he wanted to do was upset the doctor; it no doubt would be the last thing he ever did. “You may have them for free, of course, they are worth nothing as is usually the case; I was only reflecting on the sorry lot of my friend.” He turned to Fey, “If you’ll forgive the observation, he carries his soldier’s legacy with more difficulty than your good self.”
Fey smiled, “It’s no small thing for any of us, kid,” she said, tilting his tankard towards her and smirking at the bobbing bones. “But Xander was much younger than I was when the world ended, I had over two decades of fighting under my belt – in some ways, the longer you’re in a game like that, the easier it gets, you know?”
Vraxi smiled grimly. “Yes. Yes I do.”
Fey pushed her own mug of kvass towards him and waved to the bar tender to fetch another.
“How long have you known him?” the doctor asked.
Vraxi shrugged, “More years than I can easily number…” he began but seeing the ghani’s colour begin to rise in frustration he quickly pressed on “…since I started working for Mendicci.” He took a nervous sip of kvass, why was the doctor so interested in him and Xander all of a sudden? “After the world ended, well, myself and my co-workers found ourselves suddenly without a place of abode…”
“Although hardly without a trade,” Fey teased.
He gave a wry smile, “I wanted something better. My Mother died when I was twelve so…”
“Died?” The Ghani asked incredulously and Fey rolled her eyes and gave him a sharp kick under the table. He frowned at her, utterly perplexed, and then turned back to the yag, “Your mother, like all ro’njai – the veritable serfs we used to be – was, I assume, marked with a sigil which prevented her death.”
“Just so,” Vraxi replied, trying hard to keep his tone even. “It was no different for us than for any factory worker or miner or, as you say, any ro’njai; our Doamnâsi saw the benefit of paying the church to ensure her workers could not succumb to illness, fatigue or brutality.” he took another sip of kvass, buying some time to get a grip on his own emotions, but he couldn’t prevent the flames beginning to swell slightly beneath the surface of his skin. “But with a soul-blade, of course, it is possible to deliberately kill someone who is soul-bound.”
“She was murdered then?”
Vraxi nodded. He took another swig of kvass and shrugged, “It was a common occurrence.”
The doctor waved his hand dismissively, “I see, so having no family to concern yourself with… you did what? Went straight to Mendicci?”
Vraxi shook his head. “No, at that point I had never heard of him. I was already a passable finger-smith so I decided to try my hand at house breaking.” He shrugged. “I managed for a few years on my own before I caught Mendicci’s attention.”
“That man has a way of hunting out wafes and strays and bringing them under his wing.” the doctor said darkly.
Vraxi nodded. “He is a good businessman,” he said carefully, still unsure as to where this interrogation was leading, “anyone who thinks they can strike out on their own and start cracking cribs or cutting purses without him having a hand in it will soon find their mis-assumptions corrected. But he looks after his own; I have lost count of the times I have been spared the consequences of my enterprises thanks to his influence over the city watch.”
“And Xander knew him already?” The ghani pressed.
“For perhaps a week or two? Mendicci put us together for our first job, gave us a room to rent… set us up the way he does for all his…” he hesitated, taking a moment to push back the sting, “all his employees.”
The doctor nodded, either ignoring or not noticing the yag’s discomfort. “And Ros?”
Vraxi looked confused, “I met her at the shop, when we finished the job and came to drop off the painting we’d taken she was there…”
“No, no, no!” The doctor snapped irritably, and Vraxi’s eyes widened in alarm. “I mean how long had Ros known him?”
“Xander?” Vraxi asked, still feeling utterly perplexed.
“Mendicci,” Fey said quickly, trying to lend a hand.
“Forgive me.” Vraxi held up his hands. “It is my understanding,” he said carefully, “that Ros and Spyro have known eachother since the beginning of the end of the world. Ros and little Ziga are Jai’Yantra so I assume…”
“Yes, yes we all know what bio-mechanoids are,” the doctor said impatiently, waving a hand, “I am not interested in your assumptions I want facts. Stick to the facts.”
Vraxi took a deep breath, “forgive me,” he said again; silently wondering how many times he was going to have to use that phrase this evening. “All I know for certain is that which Ros has told me; that when the world ended she and Ziga were in a very desperate situation and that Mendicci was too. Together they built Silk and Steel up from nothing, hoping to benefit both themselves and the wider community.”
The dusk djinn looked frustrated but he nodded and took a pensive sip from his pint.
Vraxi breathed a mental sigh of relief and took a long draft from his own tankard, wondering why the hell he was suddenly facing this strange inquisition.
“Keep ’em comin’!” Fey hollered at the bar tender, draining her own jug. “Count yourself lucky, kid,” she said, “if nothin’ else you had the good fate for the world to end when you were young and fit and still had your looks. Pitty us old cuckolds for whom the lines and the rheumatism had already begun to kick in.”
Vraxi smiled, taking the cue that his ordeal was over and he could relax a little. “I have said it many times, Fey, you are and will always be one of the most beautiful women of my acquaintance.”
“Comin’ from one who notoriously finds beauty in just about anyone that’s quite a unique compliment I’m sure!” Fey chuckled.
Vraxi shook his head and his eyes twinkled, “There are many forms of beauty, it is everywhere and in everything, the art is merely to look for it.”
“Sentimental hogwash,” The doctor grumbled.
The doors of the tavern suddenly swung open and a large crowd of sky-dock Frâţjani bowled in, singing loudly the songs of revolution and demanding the musicians take up the tune.
“Kvass for the house!” cried a familiar voice from the midst of the throng, and Vraxi’s heart sank even as his colour roiled suddenly and uncontrollably beneath his skin.
“Well, this has been a very pleasant evening,” he began, getting to his feet. The last thing he felt capable of at this point was to spend the next few hours with Spyro Mendicci.
“Not leaving are you, darling?” Ros asked, appearing out of the crowd and sliding onto the bench beside him.
Vraxi took a deep, calming breath and fixed a grin on his face, “just stretching my legs,” he said breezily, “do you want anything from the bar?” he shifted his gaze to incorporate the doctor and Fey in the question. “I was just about to say, this pleasant evening could perhaps be made more so with a round of tzujka?”
“Excellent idea!” Spyro said, clapping the yag on the shoulders and pushing him back down into his seat. He waved a hand at the bar tender and called for the drinks to be brought over then slipped onto the bench beside Vraxi. “Pleased to see me?” he asked.
“Always.” Vraxi lied, with what he hoped was a convincing grin.
Spyro laughed and shot him one of those devillishly sinister smiles. “No Xander tonight?”
Vraxi shrugged, “He does not seem to favour my company at present.”
“I can’t imagine anyone holding that opinion for long,” Spyro said, giving his thigh a quick squeeze under the table.
A serving maid brought over the tray of drinks and Spyro paid her and made a great exhibition of distributing the glasses.
“I would like to make a toast,” he said, getting to his feet, “to the Frâţjana; to the rights of all workers in this fair city, to equality and prosperity for all, to solidarity, to unity and,” he swept his glass around the table in a gesture which carefully encompassed the doctor, fey, Ros and Vraxi in turn, “ to friendship.”
Clever, Vraxi thought as he touched glasses with the others and knocked back his drink.
“Practicing your campaign speech?” the doctor asked dryly as he knocked his glass against the antiques dealer’s.
Spyro smiled, “merely voicing my support for the dockers’ union and observing that the values they are fighting for on the streets are the same values that make our own organisation so successful.” he said smoothly.
“And how do our most recent plans unfold?”
Spyro spun his empty glass on the table, “speaking for the threads I am responsible for…”
“You can hardly speak for those you are not.” the doctor said, matter of factly.
Spyro spun his glass again and held the doctors gaze steadily, “it is still early days, of course. The Frâţjana are putting pressure on the duke, as you can see, and our key players appear to be doing well in stiring the other unions to action.” He looked to Ros.
“The ‘stokrai are already agitated about the rise in crime in The Groves,” she said, “but we are holding back until the right moment to bring the matter to bear upon the duke.”
“And for your part?”
The doctor waited until the loud chorus of “Oprahno Prahli, Oprahno Frâţjana!” had died down a little before answering. “As promised, we have managed to extract the diterpinoid from the fungus – which, as I predicted has proved to be a potent k-opioid agonist – and combined it into a resinous form using fossilised ericaceae honey, which itself is a mild hallucinogen. We are ready for testing,” he said, reaching inside his waistcoat and handing over the small leather pouch.
“You could not have handed it to Edmund yourself?” Spyro aksed.
The doctor arched an eyebrow at him, “You think it would not invite comment for a senior member of staff to be seen handing out new hallucinogenic substances to his students?” he drained his glass and clicked his fingers at the bar tender for another round.
Spyro passed the pouch to Vraxi, “Take this to Edmund….” Then he raised his eyebrows enquiringly at the doctor, “How many hits are in this?”
“Five.”
“…Tell him to find five of his customers from the Rocchana Den who are willing to try something new. Give it to them for free and watch the results carefully; we need to know if the ride is a good one and if there are any adverse side effects.” He waited until Vraxi had slipped the pouch into his shirt and stood up before placing a hand on his arm, “Don’t get distracted,” he said, in his usual unfathomable tone, “and do not be tempted to try it yourself; we wouldn’t want to lose you, would we?”
Vraxi grinned nervously, unsure exactly what Spyro was implying, and Ros shot him sidelong smile as he squeezed past her which was in no way reassuring.
“We are walking a very tight line here,” she said seriously, after the yag had disappeared. “Our friends in Pav’shmah have already signed the trade agreement for this new substance…”
“You worry needlessly, my dear,” the doctor said, “I have already done extensive testing on crows, tonight will merely confirm that which may almost be taken for granted; that the hybrid substance we have created provides a perfectly safe and enjoyable experience.” He knocked back his drink before continuing, “And Arden has constructed an ingenius method for mass prodction at a rate which will not disappoint our customers.”
Ros took a pensive sip of her own drink, “Speaking of your godson, love,” she said “do you have any idea when he will be able to go home?”
“I’m afraid his father is still being a little difficult but I have spoken to Tarmaturge Blondell of the Vesperai Host and he has agreed to talk to him about Arden’s potential and the benefits to the Vesperai of integrating more with wider society.”
“Tricky when the church is activly persecuting them, doc,” Fey pointed out and the Ghani nodded in agreement.
“Tricky indeed,” he said gravely, “but all the more necessary. The more people who can claim positive and amicable acquaintance with the Vesperai, the less the mud the church is throwing will be able to stick.”
A sudden cheer rose from the dockers’ union members, now gathered around a woman with wild curling hair who was standing on a barrel giving a rousing speech and waving her fist in the air to illustrate her points.
“She’s wonderful,” Ros said admiringly.
Fey drained her next kvass, “Told you,” she said with a wink. She pushed up from the table and wove her way towards the barrel, arriving just in time to catch the woman in her arms as the she jumped down.
“You’re wonderful, aparently,” she smirked, swinging her lover round in her arms and planting a row of kisses down her neck.
“Doubt it, did’yer?” Via teased, grinning as several dockers clapped her on the back and began calling again for the fiddlers to strike up a new tune. “Get uz a drink will yer? It’s gone on a storm but I tell yer I’m parched!”
Fey waved to the barman for a tank of kvass, “And then you promised me a dance, remember?” she said, swaying playfully to the sultry violin music that was sidling through the haze of pipe smoke and chatter and slowly gaining tempo.
On the other side of the room, Spyro offered his hand to Ros and soon many couples had taken to the floor and were stamping, clapping and twirling the steps of the Ro’njai Buleria; the traditional dance of Ro’njai rebels.


Silk and Steel

And here’s what The Doctor and Fey have been up to all this while… (sorry for all the jumping around, I hope all the threads are still making sense! XD They’ll tie up again in the next post I promise!  )

 

“He’s not here.” The Doctor said. Not looking up from the book he was reading.
Fey pulled another chair to the table and seated herself opposite him. “Who?” she asked, tucking her long, greying hair behind one ear. She had already marked the patrons of the records office on her way in and could see no likely threat to her friend the alchemist, but she remained alert nonetheless.
“Mendicci.” he muttered, turning a page and scanning down it with his forefinger before closing the tome with a loud thud. “The man literally does not exist.”
Fey looked at him with concern. “But we know he does Doc, we both know him, hell, everyone knows him he’s as real as you or I.” She sighed heavily. “Why don’t you go home and get some sleep?”
Thd Doctor shook his head. “This has implications that go beyond your understanding. And that is not an insult,” he added, seeing Fey begin to smirk, “merely an observation.”
“There it is.” Fey said, shaking her head in amusement, “The reason I solicit your company, Doc. You always know how to flatter a girl.”
The doctor smiled grimly. “An intelligent girl knows that flattery is nothing and truth is everything.” He said, inclining his own head respectfully to indicate that he intended a compliment.
Fey snorted.
“The point is, I have been through all the possible city records – the man was never born. There is no record of him.”
Fey shrugged, “so his birth wasn’t registered. I’m sure there are hundreds of brats born in slums and gutters who don’t get an official birth certificate.”
The Doctor waved a finger in the air at that “You’re absolutely right. Which is why I have also been through the annual census records which recorded every citizen present in the city over the age of twelve – nothing – the workhouse records – nothing – the documentation of immigrants – nothing. I am telling you Fey this man does not exist.”
“And yet he does.” Fey said gently, laying a gloved hand over the doctor’s arm.
“But how?” the doctor asked. “Who is he? What is he? Where did he come from? Why does he bleed?”
Fey shook her head. “Look I don’t know Doc, maybe he snuck here on a ship from Pav’shma? Maybe he.. maybe he changed his name! Did you think of that?” The doctor looked at her sceptically and Fey threw her hands up in the air “Well, hell Doc maybe he just slipped down a rope from the moon, I have no idea. What I do know is that you are becoming obsessed, and that ain’t healthy.” She looked at him gently and smiled, “Come on, lets take your talk if the mysterious Mendicci to The Cross Keys, where I can get get a drink,” she said, cracking a quick drumroll on the table and rising from her seat.


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! I hope you’re still hanging on in there and staying safe and well! We *may* be going a little CABIN FEEEEEVERRRRR! XD XD XD Every time I sit down two of the small folk begin murdering eachother or one of the big people asks me to cook something! XD So to remedy that we decided to build a giant catapult out of cardboard boxes. Finally finished the monster this morning and now the kiddos are in the garden looking for things to send into orbit (best lock up your cats! XD ) We still have cardboard left over so we’ve started crossbows and armour now too… if I disappear, tis because I have been roped into a full scale cardboard war! XD Hope you guys are all filling your days with delightful distractions! 😀 Here is Xander after he leaves Vraxi in The Cross Keys…

 

*

To all outward appearances, Xander remained calm and in control as he stalked the main street down towards the bridge.

Inside, however, his emotions roiled like the hunter ships tossed through the stormy skies above. Curse the Yag, he thought furiously, and he cursed himself as well for letting someone – anyone – get that close to him. Why did the infuriating little cock so love playing with fire?

Unless, Xander’s glower darkened dangerously, unless the Yag really thought they could be friends. Really believed it was possible for Xander to let someone in through that wall of intense control he had spent so long perfecting.

‘Idiot’ Xander thought furiously – and he wasn’t sure if he was rebuking himself or the fire djinn – I’ll be the death of him.

He shook his head resolutely. No. He refused to let that happen. The Yag was the only person he’d ever cared about – true he thought about killing him several times a day, but the fact that he hadn’t actually done it yet was testimony to… well, he wasn’t sure… but definitely it meant… something.

Xander had signed up for the army when he was fourteen, a few years before the end of the world had begun; it was an easy choice for a boy leaving institutional care – army or factory – and army had seemed the sweeter option.
Seemed, he thought bitterly. No one had mentioned demons.
Now he was stuck with this creature inside him and the horrific memories of the things it had done through his flesh. He clenched his jaw and willed his mind to focus on his surroundings; the lamplight licking over the dark waters of the red river, the cobbles beneath his feet, the bite of cold from the rising fog.

These things kept him focused on who he was – a being of flesh, and blood, nerves and sinews, real touchable things that he could control.
He smiled, not out of mirth but simply to prove that the muscles obeyed his command.
He frowned and again, there was no emotion behind the performance, merely the reassurance of self control.
He stopped, then started again.
Sped up, then slowed down.
This was his mantra, his ritual, his method for banishing all those thoughts and feelings and fears that had been sown inside him by someone else’s hand.

Vraxi was right about one thing, he relented; he hadn’t chosen this. All moral, religious and social order, all law and sanction, punishment and reward was based on the idea that people had the power of choice to control their own actions. The demon-bound… almost every race left in this hell really… had had those choices taken away from them. In the name of national security, in the name of protecting assets or preserving the power of choice for others. His soul had been judged as dispensable, worth the sacrifice.

Well, the world was ended and Xander – and many others like him – were still here. That must be it then he surmised, this surely was hell and for all that he’d done he no doubt belonged in it.

He considered, for a second, just giving up, letting loose the beast right here and now and giving his body over to it entirely, ripping the Yag and anyone else he came across into shreds and not stopping until the city watch brought him down and put him out of his misery with a Soul-blade.

But no, even that wouldn’t work, he realised bitterly. With nowhere for souls to go to once they left their bodies, they simply hung about, looking lost, their shadow-forms trying desperately to mimic the things they had done in life but to no effect.
He stopped when he reached the sky-dock and listened to the raucous singing and chanting of the union protesters who had begun to strike earlier that week.
Part of him desperately felt like joining them; although he knew it was not his fight, the chance to gain a moment of release for all this aggression and anger and stress that was constantly roiling inside him, just to let it out, just for a second…
If he closed his eyes, he could hear the military drums, the bellowed orders to attack, the screams and shrieks of the battlefield as if it were all around him…or was that the demon? Was it his own will guiding his feet towards the violence and the rioting, or was it the will of the creature inside him trying to satiate its own need? He had never heard its voice directly, he understood that it could only truly possess his consciousness if he activated one of his sigils, and even then its powers of control were limited… but nevertheless, often he felt that his thoughts and desires were not entirely his own. And it terrified and infuriated him in equal measure.
He stood, irresolute for a few moments, before turning on his heel and heading back towards The Cinders and home. The yag’s last expression as he’d left the inn drifted across his mind; he had not expected to hurt him. Had not intended to at all. If only the idiot would understand; he was trying to keep him safe. He snorted at that thought; as if anyone was ‘safe’ sharing a room with a violent demon-bound miscreant who had killed too many people to count and had to be periodically chained up just to prevent him from killing more while he was asleep.

 


Silk and Steel

And here’s Vraxi straight after his encounter with Spyro. This one’s quite introspective (though purely emotive not graphic) so, again, if you find these things upsetting you’ll want to skip this one. The next one is fine though 🙂 xx

 

 

It took a little over an hour of walking the darkening cobbled streets, keeping to the gunnels and snickets, sometimes even taking to the rooftops for a while, before Vraxi felt he could face anybody.

To say he had never felt so utterly desolated and worthless would be a lie. He had sat with these demons more times than he cared to count. But he had made it the purpose of almost every moment of his life to try and forget, to push those feelings away, to mask and ignore and gloss over the fact that he was not a person that anyone could ever love, like or desire.

He never expected any of those things from anyone, least of all from Mendicci, not even from Xander (although he dared to hope that perhaps, one day, his friend might come to understand how much he genuinely cared about him). But in the space of one short afternoon, Mendicci had completely dismantled the emotional scaffolding that Vraxi kept carefully in place to try and stop himself sliding into despair. He’d let Vraxi see himself the way he saw him – as nothing but a convenient piece of pretty flesh that was only worth his attention if it was doing exactly as it was told. In Mendicci’s eyes, Vraxi only existed to please him, he had no other worth or purpose and his own feelings, emotions, desires, were so insignificant that even Vraxi himself would not be permitted to acknowledge them.

Vraxi sat on the gutter rail, his legs hanging over the edge of the rooftop and swallowed hard. None of this was new. It had just been a while since he had been forced to remember how very powerless and alone he was. And how trapped. His entire livelihood was entrenched in Silk and Steel, he lived and worked and thrived and survived and had his liberty (despite his many misadventures) because they allowed it. There was no more to say about the matter.

He touched two fingers to the bite mark at his neck and winced. A whore’s mark. Had Spyro known what that would mean to a boy who was born in a brothel? Of course he had.

“Enough.” he said out loud. “You are becoming tedious Vraxanthrin, and if there is one thing nobody should ever be able to accuse you of, it is being tedious.” It took a momentous effort then to fight down the voices which screamed that tedious was exactly what Spyro Mendicci found him, probably Ros and Agathri and Xander and Edmund and everyone else as well.

“I will, not, hear you.” he whispered, swallowing it all down and standing up to stretch his arms and legs. Stretching always made him feel a little better. He spread his arms out and turned a full circle then skipped a silly little dance across the slates and forced himself to laugh. “Come on, enough,” he told himself again, clapping his hands together before swinging lightly down onto an outhouse roof and then into the next street. “Let us go and find some diversion or other, Xander is bound to be abroad somewhere, perhaps we can persuade him to a game of chance? Or if not,” he reasoned, turning onto the bright lit mainstreet and feeling the voices begin to fade amid the cacophony of lights and sounds and smells that filled the city night, “at least we may find some amusement or distraction in the form of something or someone.”

To say that he felt better as he pushed open the door of The Cross Keys and began weaving his way towards the familiar hunched figure that could only be Xander Dumarle, would have been a lie.

But then it would have been equally untrue to say that anybody looking at him would have guessed he wasn’t anything but on top of the world, as usual.


Silk and Steel

So Vraxi is invited to ‘lunch’ and this one comes with a trigger warning my lovelies  –

There’s nothing too graphic or gratuitous but it is an emotive extract and does portray power imbalance within a sexual relationship and implied emotional, psychological and physical abuse. Give it a miss if you find these things upsetting and I’ll see you on the other side. xx

 

 

*

“So, Agathri Hogarth paid you to remove the pastes and the demonsong was an unexpected bonus?” Spyro undid the top button of Vraxi’s shirt, and then the second. He brushed aside the silk fabric, revealing a few inches of the Yag’s shoulder where the fire inside him was rolling in furious clouds beneath his translucent olive skin. Slowly he traced his fingers along the collar bone.

“Just so. A side job. Nothing more. I didn’t think you’d mind.” Vraxi tilted his head, trying to catch Spyro’s eye. “She wanted the insurance money.”

“I see.” More buttons fell away at Spyro’s gently insistent touch and another tug brought the shirt right off and sliding down to the floor.

Vraxi’s heart was racing. Of all the people in all his little world, Spyro thrilled him the most, terrified him the most; was the most attentive, and yet the most elusive, the most dangerous and delightful and demoralising. A month could pass without him so much as glancing at the Yag, and Vraxi would begin to wonder if Mendicci had lost interest in him, would begin to feel rejected, insecure and almost desperate in the man’s presence until at last he lost hope and turned his attention to other, less complicated playmates like Agathri or Ros.

But other times, and Vraxi never knew what it was that caused the change, Spyro seemed not to be able to keep his hands off him. He seriously hoped this was the start of another one of those stints when he would engineer every opportunity for them to be alone together, knowing that within seconds he would feel Mendicci’s breath hot against the side of his neck, or his hands wandering idly over his shoulders, chest, hips, sliding, slipping, grasping.

He reached for the black buttons on Spyro’s damask waistcoat, but Mendicci caught his hand and held it gently back against the wall as he let the fingers of his other hand skirt along the lip of Vraxi’s leather waist band. “Why do you always wear such tight trousers?”

Vraxi smirked, “Perhaps it is that I like playing hard to get?”

Spyro trailed his fingers round a second time, pushing a little deeper below the fabric. “We both know that is not the case.”

“Well…what would you have me do?” The Yag asked playfully. “Wear a skirt?”

Spyro smiled thoughtfully, sliding his hand up, over the Yag’s chest, tracing slowly and deliberately over the single sigil which kept his soul trapped inside his flesh.

Vraxi winced and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth against the mix of pain and pleasure coursing through his frame. The flames inside him swelled and coiled in and over and under themselves in response to Spyro’s touch until he felt he was going to explode.

“Look at me, Bane.” Spyro caught the yag under the chin and brought his lips within a hair’s breadth of his own, looking deep into his eyes for so long, that for one wonderful, terrifying, heartbreaking moment Vraxi thought he was going to… kiss him…something Spyro had never done before…

But instead he turned Vraxi’s head slowly to the side and brushed his lips briefly against the Yag’s neck. “I would have you do, exactly what I tell you to do, exactly when I tell you to do it,” he breathed. And then bit down, slowly, not hard enough to break the skin, just drawing soul and fire up towards the surface until Vraxi began to twitch away, crying out for him to stop.

He didn’t immediately, of course, that wasn’t the game. He waited until his name was a desperate gasp on the Yag’s lips, until the first tears spilled down his burning cheek.

Then he let him go. “Get them off.” he said, slapping the Yag’s backside and starting to unbuckle his own belt.


Silk and Steel

And here’s what our lil Vraxi is obliviously up to while all that was going on, blissfully unaware that Spyro’s ‘sword of Damocles’ is hanging over his head (no no no, stop singing Rocky Horror… stop it!… this is serious stuff y’know… a-hem…   😉   XD   )

 

“When you said you would be able to remove some unwanted pastes for me dear,” Agathri Hogarth didn’t get up from her dressing table, but watched the Yag’s reflection in the mirror as he climbed in through her powder room window, “you made no mention of turning the entire house into a demolition site in the process.”

Vraxi shrugged, “you made no mention of your brobdingnagian security system, my lady. Indeed, you may count yourself fortunate I do not come begging recompense for the damage to my coat.”

Agathri smirked, “When weighed against the cost of the damage you caused by setting it off, and considering the market value of the four vials of demonsong you requested, I’m certain I should be the one claiming recompense from you.”
“Well, then I am all contrition,” Vraxi said, with a low bow, “however can I make it up to you?”
Agathri smiled slyly at him, rose from the dressing table and drifted idly towards him, the many diaphanous layers of her dressing gown flowing like flames of muted light around her in the little breeze from the open window.
She pressed her palms gently against his chest and Vraxi felt his own fire begin to swell and uncoil within him, even as he watched hers rising and rolling beneath the surface of her skin.
She nestled her head of tight silver curls against his shoulder. “Whatever do you see in me?” she asked suddenly, her breast rising and falling with a gentle sigh. “Such a faded bloom I must seem in this city, among a garden of new budding blossoms who keep their youth eternally.”
He took her hand in his and caressed the parchment-frail skin tenderly before bringing it to his lips in an almost reverent gesture, letting the kiss whisper against her wrist like a prayer.
“You are no rose.” He spoke the words into her ear. “Never have you held such transient, fragile allure. Your beauty is the rich, enthralling depths within the pearl, the amber, the tourmaline; a spell that cannot be cast in some brief moment. Yours is the radiance that only time can bestow; deep as the swell of ocean or the heat of flame and maddening as golden honey to the mind…”
Agathri laughed out loud with glee. “You ridiculous rogue!” she chided, “It is your own wicked tongue that maddens like a honey-trap and well you know it!”
She pushed him away and crossed back to the dressing table, locking the door before winding up the handle of an ornate resin-cylinder phonograph until the raucous music filled the room, and no doubt the entire upper portion of the house.
‘Just as well,’ Vraxi thought with a grin, Agathri had never had a penchant for being discreet and he really didn’t like the thought of the Colonel suddenly coming home and… interrupting them…


Silk and Steel

So, right now I’ve not much clue what day it is or what I’m meant to be doing my life has become even more of a yarn ball that a pack of feral kittens have been handed lol, what with Dan working from home most days, all four kiddos in lock-down mode it seems every moment mama needs a new trick up her sleeve to juggle people and pokemon and elves and spring bunnies and creepy pasta people… it’s all good fun but it just means I’ve no brain or time for much else! XD Still, this book is still flowing in the few quiet dark hours so here’s the next bit. How are your days shaping up? Hopefully better than Ros and Spyro’s… XD

 

 
The Yag’,  Ros thought as she spun on her heel and stormed back into the house behind the shop. Who else could it possibly be? Either Spyro had acted without her knowledge… no, she immediately dismissed that possibility… or the greedy, opportunistic little Yag and his demon-bound friend had made the mistake of their lives.

Possibly the mistake of all our lives, Ros thought desperately. The colonel, a retired demon hunter who still retained a healthy appetite for adventure, owned many of the properties – both commercial and residential – out of which the associates of Silk and Steel operated. His connections to high society were, in many cases, their connections to the same and his unimpeachable reputation validated a significant number of their fronts across the city.

Ros went to the tzujka cabinet and poured herself a drink. What have you done, Vraxi? She thought furiously… and why? She had to get to the bottom of this immediately; to ascertain whether the Yag and his dumb-waiter had acted on impulse or if they had taken on the job from someone higher up the chain, in either case she would have to make an example of them some how, but if the latter were so she needed to find out who they were working for before she pounced.

She left the drawing room and wound her way through to the cramped little cupboard they used for doing accounts, easing the door open with her hip.

Spyro, half hidden behind piles of old books, gilt framed paintings and mounds of paperwork, looked up from his desk as she entered.

“Busy?” she asked, handing him a tzujka .

“Always. But never too busy.” he replied, his dark eyes drinking in her appearance in a way that made it quite obvious what he was thinking.

Ros shook her head. “We need to put a tighter leash on our firey little friend.” she said seriously, taking the only other chair in the tiny over-stocked room.

Spyro leant back and steepled his fingers. “Again?” he asked, and Ros narrowed her eyes at his ambiguous tone, unsure exactly what he was thinking. She shot him a warning look but he merely smiled and said nothing.

“His unwitting actions have rocked the boat.” she said tartly. “Seriously this time I’m afraid; the colonel is very upset and although he hasn’t said as much, I think we’re going to feel the crushing blow of his displeasure before too long.”

“Ah, I meant to find out where that pair got their hands on four vials of demonsong…” Spyro tapped his fingers together thoughtfully. “In wrapping up the Pav’shamah contracts and trying to manage the carnage the Doctor has left us with, I placed the question on a back burner.”

“Well, the matter is now a pressing one.” Ros said firmly. “I need to know… we need to know, if they decided on a whim to add the colonel’s property to the list of jewel grabs we told them to make …”

“What would be the logic in that?” Spyro asked. “All the houses we listed were on the East side of the city – that serves the strategy of our purpose in angering those who are most likely to blame the duke for the rise in crime and to paint him as incompetent in the public eye. The colonel’s town house is on the west side. They would have had to go considerably out of their way to include it just for the sake of a few pastes.”

“Pastes?”

Spyro opened a desk drawer, pulled out a bag and emptied a collection of necklaces, brooches and bangles onto the desk. To the untrained eye they were very convincing but neither Spyro nor Ros needed to examine them to tell at once they were fake.

“And the demonsong.” Ros added.

Spyro shrugged, “I rather thought that was an unexpected find. They tried to sell it to me in the same haul as the jewels.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

Spyro looked uncharactaristicly strained for a second. He put a hand over his eyes and massaged his temples with his thumb and forefinger. “If you recall…” he said, looking up again through his fringe of dark curls, “things got a little intense that night.”

Ros’s expression softened a little, and she reached across the table and stroked her partner’s hand. It was not a sympathetic gesture; rather one which exerted her power over his need. But they both smiled at the action – they had played this game for a long time afterall and, despite its constant cadence there was trust, there had to be.

“So, you think the jewel grab was pre-planned but the demonsong was an unexpected bonus?” Ros asked, frowining slightly when Spryo closed his hand over hers, preventing her from withdrawing easily.

He held it for a moment, moving his thumb slowly over her fingers, and then finally spread his palms and shrugged. “I honestly have no idea.”

Ros nodded. “I will ask the Doctor to have a word with him this time.”

Spyro shook his head, “Leave it with me.” he said, in a tone that did not invite dispute. “Bane is far too tightly woven into our inner circle to risk scaring him off.”

“I doubt Vraxi would ever betray us knowingly.”

“True. But a frightened fox will bolt for any hole. We want to draw him in closer, not scare him away.”

Ros nodded and bit her lip, fully grasping the implications of what he was saying.

“Leave him to me.” Spyro repeated. “I know how to put Bane in his place.”
He tapped the ledger he was writing in with his pen. “I’ll be done here by one, tell him to come to lunch.”


Silk and Steel

Happy Beltane! I hope this finds you all still safe and well 🙂

Well camp NaNo is over and instead of finishing this ‘short story’ … a-hem… I seem to have turned it into a novel, working in all manner of complex shit from my time on the streets as a teenager to my issues and hangups about love, religion and gods know what else! I should probably be shot or lynched or something but hey ho here I am still prattling on! 😉 So I’m well over 30k now ‘filling in the gaps’ I’ve split the book into three parts : A time for heroes / Stone the crows / The end of the world (no prizes for guessing what music I’m listening to right now.. a-hem…) and each has about three short chapters but they’ll be interspersed with those lil monologue reflections from Spyro and some from his nemesis the mysterious Man In The Moon.

So, all that’s gone so far has been chapter one and two now we move on to chapter 3… if you are still managing to cling on to this crazily careering ship full of monsters then thankyou from the bottom of my heart!

Chapter 3

“I’m having a problem with cats.” Colonel Gerrhard Hogarth didn’t look up from perusing the antiques on display. He picked up a closed umbrella and tried it in a thrusting motion back and forth a few times, finally giving it a rather swashbuckling flourish before frowning in dissatisfaction and returning it to its stand.

“Cats?” Ros asked perplexedly.

“Mm, cats,” Hogarth said, turning and fixing her with a rather hard stare. “Got anythin’ for ’em?”

“Um…” Ros spread her hands “…cats aren’t really our domain, Colonel?” she ventured, wondering what on earth was really going on behind this sham of senility. The colonel often played the fool, usually in order that he might delight himself and his ordinance with some fine joke he was building up to, but very occasionally he had a different motive, and then, Ros reflected, he could be a teensy bit dangerous. She hoped this time it was joke.

The colonel did another slow, tortuous circuit of the shop and then came to rest at the counter, his fists balled against the glass, arms locked straight, cold blue eyes fixed on Ros’s dark pools of innocence. ‘Oh dear’ she thought, and gave him her very sweetest smile.

“Funny thing,” the colonel said, “cats not being your domain. I was rather under the impression they constituted a large portion of your business..” Ros opened her mouth but shut it again quickly as the colonel ploughed on “…vermin, is what I call them. Oh, I know you ladies have a great love of the blighters, my wife is just the same, but the trouble is they get everywhere.” He raised his eyebrows as if Ros should now be completely aware of what he was talking about.

Ros’s sharp mind raced with possibilities but she came up blank – as far as she was aware, neither she, nor Sypro, had any connection to cats in any way shape or form and she was absolutely certain that neither of them had any active operations which might have rattled the colonel’s cage.
The colonel stared at her for a long time and Ros just stared helplessly back.

“Hmph. Don’t know what I’m talking about eh? That’s interesting. Fine, here’s the rub – a couple of your precious little kittens have been on my roof, and they didn’t stop there, understand? They made off with some of my wife’s favourite jewellery – for which you can give them my thanks and this to buy themselves a drink.” He handed the stunned looking Ros a couple of coins. “If they’d stopped there I’d have campaigned to have them knighted, old girl’s in an absolute fit over the thing and for my part it’s highly entertaining. But they didn’t stop there. Cats never do. Greedy is what cats are. And disloyal, m’dear, never forget it.”

“What exactly did they take?” Ros asked, aware the colonel had drawn a fine line between the humour and the gravity of the situation and uncertain on which side she was about to fall.
The colonel leant in and whispered in her ear “Four vials of demonsong.”
Ros’s eyes grew wide and then narrowed to dangerous slits. She drew herself up, smoothed the front of her black silk shirt, adjusted her hair slightly and smiled in a reassuringly professional manner. “Leave it with me colonel.” she said crisply “I will see that your goods are safely returned to you and the… cats in question never bother you again.”

The colonel stood frowning at her for an uncomfortably long moment before nodding and stepping back from the counter. “Appreciated.” he said “But, you must appreciate in turn that a line has been crossed. It is the role of the mother to teach her kits where the lines are and as I know that you are not a neglectful teacher, my dear, so I cannot help but wonder …” he raised his eyebrows again and this time Ros caught his meaning precisely as he turned and headed for the door. “Tell all your little kittens” he said gruffly “I’m buying a mastiff.”

 

 

So that is the colonel and we’ll meet his wife Agathri soon as well. Blessings on your new season, I hope it is filled with all the love and hope it possibly can be and that you feel able, despite the madness, to remain always utterly yourself! 🙂


Aether Eggs: With Zakarrie Clarke

 

Good Morning! Happy Easter / Oestara / Spring Equinox / Chocolate Fest or whatever fabulous festival you happen to be celebrating at this time of the year! Thank you for having me, and hello to you and your readers.

My name is Zakarrie and I write mmromance/erotica: Contemporary for my publishers, and quirky takes on genre fiction when self-publishing my work. I decided to self-publish a few stories in order that I might give them away for free and make them available on KU. My published novels seem prohibitively expensive and sadly, I can neither control their price or have them enrolled in KU.

Here in Steampunk’d Lancaster we are enjoying the annual Aether Egg Hunt – a chance for authors to connect with their readers and give a little gift of thanks for all their support in the form of an Aether Egg or Small Gift linked to the fictional world they have created.
And here is my contribution to the fun!

This is the very first interview I ever gave, for J. Scott Coatworth. It’s something of a corker. In which there are photos…celebrety respresentations of Daniel & Callum from Hangover and all manner of montifying revelations…. I will regret this.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Zakarrie Clarke

I may be found here:
https://zakarrie.com/
https://www.facebook.com/zakarrie.clarke/

And a list of my books here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Zakarrie-Clarke/e/B07D7JQ32N/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
Easter and Spring being seasons of rebirth, it seemed the ideal time in which to name myself as an #ownvoices author. ‘Disability’ is a subject so dear to my heart that pulling off a neurotypical character proved less possible than being published. A fact that never crossed my mind until I had been. My writing is utterly ordinary to me—it matches my thinking, so it is—but I’ve come to realise this might p’raps be a minority opinion.
‘Write about what you know.’ Words of wisdom that ensured my first story was about someone in love with their best friend, my second about a writer. When it came to my third…I wondered how far I was prepared to go. All the way, it transpired. After writing a story set in a psychiatric hospital, I decided it would be…wisest to step beyond the bounds of those words, before I found myself doing a spot more in-house research for its sequel.
I found it far easier to transpose the themes I wanted to explore into another ‘disorder’ or ‘disability’. I wanted to create a character whose shoes I could not make myself comfy in. Having been called an alien in my first week at school, that option seemed out…but I’m fortunate ‘nuff not to suffer a physical disability. In Darkness Dawns, I did my damnedest to share Leo’s story from his perspective; particularly how it feels to be treated as blind. Rather than as a blind man. Being treated as if your disability or disorder defines you is frustrating. Experience has taught me that once you’ve been labelled by a professional, your feelings are considered a by-product of that. A consequence…never a reasonable emotional response to misjudgment.
It can often feel very much as if you’ve lost the right to be perceived as an individual. A specialist once told me that I was ‘lying’. He knew this because ‘that’s what people with my condition did’. I’d lost the right to be believed…or express my own truths. I was only ‘permitted’ emotions in line with the disorder I’d been allotted. I’ve since discovered that I’d been diagnosed in accordance with the consequences of my mine, rather than their cause. In the eyes of the world, that label became the reason I did or thought anything. People with addictions seem to experience something similar. I wanted my Ben to be judged by a man who sees him—his potential—rather than his addiction. Then given a role he excels at; simply by being himself.
When writing a character with a disability, I’m mostly intent on gifting them the right to be seen. This was the underlying theme of Darkness Dawns, which remained, at heart, a story about two broken men who proved to one another that love was blinder than Leo.
In the first draft of The Beast of Bodmin Moor, I pootled around the edges of all I wanted to write…afraid of revealing more than even I cared to know. Daft, of course, when I understand myself all-too well. I read that first draft with an eyebrow quirked up, apalled by my paddling in the shallows. I referred only to Phin’s ‘Phin-ness’, and Jake remains none the wiser about ‘whatever drawer Phin had been filed away in’. This time around Phin is far more up-front about autism, hypersensitivity and synesthesia.
Mostly I wanted to write a story—as always—about unconditional love. The self-acceptance tag I gave the story relates entirely to Jake. Rather than Phin—who has never had a ‘problem’ with who he is—that is the sole preserve of other people. It is Jake who’s forever been plagued by a black dog on his back…long before Jack came along. His fury and self-loathing are innate, the jackal simply gives him a hat to hang them on.
I love and admire Penny hugely for her courage in remaining always, utterly herself. Then having the magical mind and fingertips to make that seem the greatest gift you could ever give You. Or, indeed, anyone else.

dance-with-the-moon


#Mythpunk Monday: Spiders, Wizards and Giant Cocks

Happy Mythpunk Monday! That’s a lot of promises in one title isn’t it? (wicked giggles) let’s see if I can deliver then…

In the introduction to Silk and Steel (My CampNaNoWriMo project this year) we meet the main protagonist Spyro Mendicci and one of the running themes through the entire story is ‘Who the hell is this guy?’

He doesn’t seem to fit in with all the others, who have a very obvious reason why their souls could not ascend to heaven or descend to hell at the end of the world.
So who is Spyro Mendicci? Well, only read on if you don’t mind the spoilers!

silkandsteelquote

 

Spyro Mendicci is the sidekick friend of the Polish sorcerer Pan Twardowski whom Pan turned into a spider when he met him in a tavern.
Spyro was running for his life from someone and Pan promised to save him if in return he became his faithful servant.
He told the spider that he wanted him to change the deal he had made with the devil Zcerneboch to say that Zcerneboch could only take his soul when he was in Rzym (a far off city).

Pan then turned Mendicci into a spider which hid him from his enemies and let him sneak about and change the contract.
Pan had made a deal with the Zcerneboch many years ago and this had enabled him to do many wonderful things, including raising spirits from the dead. Because of how the spider had changed the contract, Pan was able to make fool of Zcerneboch many times as well!
But in the end the cunning devil arranged to meet him in a tavern, concealing from Pan the fact the this particular tavern was called Rzym.
Zcerneboch thought he now had him cornered but Pan managed to escape by praying as hard as he could to the great godesses of life and death – Kyselica and Vesna – who loved him dearly.

They answered his prayers by summoning a giant rooster (See, I promised you a giant cock, don’t you just love the randomness of old folk lore!?!) to fly him away to the moon with his spider friend.
So Pan Twardowski is the original ‘Man In The Moon’ and sometimes lets his spider friend down on a silver thread to earth where he turns back into human form to plot and scheme and spy.

But when the world ended Spyro wanted to come down to earth and be human again and see what opportunity he could make of it, so he cut the silver thread back up to the moon and this angered Pan who vowed he would one day come down and get his revenge.

The word Pan means Sir and this is why Spyro always refers to his old master as My Good Pan / My Good Sir.
This is the blend of myth and mischief that sits at the core of our little tale Silk and Steel. Next Monday I will look at the actual myth of Pan Twardowski and its variant forms as this is just my punk’d version of it.


Penny’s Reviews: The Hands We’re Given by O E Tearmann

Blurb:

Aidan Headly never wanted to be the man giving orders. That’s fine with the Democratic State Force base he’s been assigned to command: they don’t like to take orders. Nicknamed the Wildcards, they used to be the most effective base against the seven Corporations owning the former United States in a war that has lasted over half a century. Now the Wildcards are known for creative insubordination, chaos, and commanders begging to be reassigned.
Aidan is their last chance. If he can pull off his assignment as Commander and yank his ragtag crew of dreamers and fighters together, maybe they can get back to doing what they came to do: fighting for a country worth living in.

So, I’m usually more of a Steampunk / Gothic / Fantasy chic but when I DO go for Sci Fi, THIS is the kind I go for – the 1984 / Banksish / Kafka-esque Distopian kind where corporate and governmental control make the lives of those who don’t or won’t ‘fit the mould’ unbearable and misfits are pushed to an almost liminal existence.

Despite this grim backdrop, the story told here is pervaded by warmth, tenderness and passion thanks to the gorgeous characters, their backstories and relationships, emotions, hopes, fears and insecurities which make them each so unique and lovable I found myself swiftly invested in their future, not only the main character, Aidan, but also the secondary characters as well.

This is the tale of a lovable, awkward little band of rogues just perfect for anyone who likes serious Sci Fi with a credible MM love story at its heart. It’s also the start of this series so if , like me, you finish this book and are dying for more you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 


Penny’s Book Reviews: The Recruit by Addison Albright

Blurb:

Albert Manlii has walked this earth for more than two thousand years, but survival on his own was never easy. Now he leads a faction of highly organized vampires who carefully guard the secret of their existence. Unlike the old days, potential recruits are carefully selected and presented with an offer.

Phillip Brewer has weeks to live — if he lets his disease run its course. He doesn’t want to die, but given a choice, will his desire to live outweigh his concerns about the vampires’ ethics?

When the new recruit’s missteps are cause for concern, can Albert control the fallout, or will Phillip’s life once again be torn apart?

 

I have to confess I actually came to this book having read snippets from the next book in the series via the Rainbow Snippets facebook group and so I had already fallen in love with the character of Albert and seen flashes and hints of how their story plays out in the future.

I’m a sucker for vampire stories but can’t stand the ‘Twilight flavour’ so many now seem to carry, so I delighted in the fresh feel of this series and loved the combination of appealing characters and engaging plot.

I fell more in love with Philip than I thought I would – he is a beautiful character without being at all delicate or whiny or precious which I think is over-done in vampire novels.

Overall, I loved the characters and their world, especially Albert, and I would recommend the series to anyone looking for a modern vampire series with lovable characters and a fresh, unique feel.


Penny’s Book Reviews: Hangover From Hell by Zakarrie Clarke

Blurb:

A Hangover From Hell is exactly what greets rock star Callum Carter on the final morning of an ‘On the Road’ trip along Route 66, taken with his partner, artist Daniel Flynn. Theirs is a story of fame, lust, laughter and all-consuming love. They met five years ago, when the infamous ‘enfant terrible’ was commissioned to paint Callum’s portrait and have been together ever since. The latter remains a closely kept secret…until the morning they wake up in Las Vegas. Married. Dan has no memory of this miracle taking place, only one thing seems certain; he has somehow managed to pull off his masterpiece of mischief, and inveigled Cal down the aisle.

Zakarrie Clarke has an ineffable knack for infusing her stories with the perfect balance of humour and heart – Even in the first chapter of this book her writing broke my soul with pain and had me almost on the floor with peels of wicked laughter.

That first glimpse at Dan and Cal’s relationship was but a siren’s song that swiftly pulled me so deep into their beautiful / painful / hilarious / fragile / exhilarating but ultimately feel-good world, I never wanted to surface again and so I was over the moon to find there was a sequel to dive into and more of the series planned as well for the future.

This is an utterly entertaining – raw at times – thoroughly heart-warming read, filled with passion and mischief and that kind of Bohemian love that risks all and rises, on broken wings, victorious (and perhaps with a wicked two-fingered salute to those who said it couldn’t survive)


Necromancers interview on K.S.Trenten’s Cauldron keeper!

Good morning my lovelies! Things are a little mad this end, the frost fair (thankyou so much to everyone who came and made it such a splendid affair!)  is over and I am now working flat out at clearing my reviews backlog so every Friday for the foreseeable, reviews are what we shall be all about here in Steampunk’d Lancaster! 😀

But amid the madness Kari Trenten was kind enough to have me over for a chat about my naughty Necromancers on her wonderful blog : Cauldron Keeper

Find Kari’s wonderful books here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/K-S-Trenten/e/B01F60SX5C?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_fkmr0_1&qid=1583221854&sr=8-1-fkmr0

And her wordpress blog here: https://inspirationcauldron.wordpress.com/