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Silk and Steel

Happy Friday! Well our forray into Icewind Dale last weekend nearly wiped our entire high-level party just from the cold and scary as that was it really set the scene for the horror-feel and made everything super intense and sand-boxy which we haven’t had for a looooong time – it felt more like playing something like Blades in The Dark. Brilliant 😀

But enough Dnd – here is the next bit of Silk and Steel – if you happened to miss the chapter waaaaayyyy back where the Doctor met Pan Twardowski in the park in the form of The Crow Man you want to know that Pan gave the Doctor a mysterious vial that looked similar to demonsong and told him to find a way to make Spyro drink it…. just sayin… XD XD XD 😉

“And now that they are out of the way,” the doctor said, as he placed a glass in front of Spyro and took one for himself, “if you expect me to be involved in this scheme, then I expect absolute candour from you, as always.”
Spyro ingnored the drink and leaned in close.

“All I require for this one is your advice and your discretion.” he said, his voice low and intense.


The Doctor stared hard at him. “The more information I have, the better the advice I can give.” He spread his palms, “As for discretion, you know it is not a concept I have ever had much time for, but… it would not suit me at present to see you in any form of difficulty.”

Perhaps the only reason I am still alive. – Spyro couldn’t help reflecting and he supressed a shudder at how close he thout he had come to pushing the powerful Ghani too far.


He nodded, intimating that the sentiment was both accepted and reciprocated, for now. “Very well then. An old aquaintance has returned to the city – an unimaginably powerful one who, for reasons I won’t bore you with, wishes to put an end to our lucrative corporation.”

“You mean he wants you dead.”

Spyro spun his glass again,still ignoring the full one the doctor had givenhim. “I did not say that,” he said, smiling up through his fringe of dark curls.


The Doctor held his gaze. “You did not have to.”

Spyro licked his dry lips and for a long while they sat there, locked in yet another of their many stand-offs.


At length, the antiques dealer leaned back, threw his arm over the back of the bench and let his gaze wander around the room before finally deigning to re-join the conversation. “This person commands an uncommon power,” he said, keeping his voice low, “something akin to that wielded by the church and the vesperai…”

“Then perhaps Blondell is your better choice of confident…”

“Damn it!” He struck the table with his fist in frustration and instantly regretted it as he saw the ghani’s colour begin to rise.

“Look, I can’t trust Blondell,” he said earnestly, “you are my business associate and one of my oldest and closest companions, I am trusting the matter to you and to no one else.”


The Doctor nodded thoughtfully. “Fine. Then speak.”
“I need a way of combatting that power myself. I have seenthis man bested by demons once before andI am curious – what would be the effect on someone who is not demon-bound if they drank demonsong? Would it give them a similar power?”


The Doctor raised his eyebrows. “I am a man of science…”


“You are an alchemist is this not your area of expertise?”


“Demonsong remains at present a theological conundrum. However,” he added as he saw Spyro was about to make a retort, “I have been regularly subjected to the pompous rhetoric of my fellows enough to convey that the most widely accepted theory on the subject maintains that demonsong works the way it does because it calls to the divine spark present in all things – god calling to god, if you will.”


Spyro shrugged as if it mattered little and the The Doctor pressed on.
“When a demon-bound person drinks demonsong it is generally supposed that it awakens that divine spark within the demon and grants it, for a short while, a burst of god-like power. If there were no demon, then…”

“Oh my goodness! I am SO so sorry!!” The barmaid who had bustled over to clear their empty glasses suddenly slipped, sending the four untouched drinks spilling all over the table.


“Don’t trouble yourself, it was merely an accident,” The Doctor said, “I have not a splash upon my person.”


Spyro, who was quite drenched from the waist down and now sported claret stains upon his white shirt smiled reassuringly as he pulled a handkerchief and began mopping at his trousers. “The Doctor is right, it matters not at all, “ he said pleasantly.


The barmaid shook her head, “I will get you another round out of my tips, my loves,” she said, patting his arm and collecting the glasses onto her tray.

“I wouldn’t hear of it,” Spyro said, “have one for yourself instead.” And he gave her a handful of fleshcoins and a winning smile.


They waited until she had gone before resuming the conversation.

“So you think it would have no effect because there is no demon?” Spyro deduced.

The Doctor shook his head. “Quite the opposite, I think the results would be very interesting. I will bring you a vial of the stuff tonight if you wish.”


Spyro frowned. He had been certain that the Doctor had been heading down the opposite track and now he wondered how he could have misinterpreted his tone and expression so badly. I am letting this Twardowski business affect my judgement. He chided himself. The sooner it is dealt with the better. “So, theoretically, drinking demonsong would give a person a burst of power similar to that of a demon? For a short time.”

“For a short time, it would seem so.”

“Then I am for it. Thankyou,” he said earnestly, as Fey returned to the table, steering an unsteady looking Xander gently but firmly by the shoulders.


“Don’t mention it.” The Doctor replied, moving over so that the pair could take their seats again.

“Ready to play?” Spyro asked.

“All set.” Fey grinned confidently.

Xander nodded but didn’t say a word.


Light In The Lantern: With Ichabod Temperance

A Visit of Temperance

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

The Adventures of Ichabod Temperance

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

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

Twitters
https://twitter.com/IckyTemperance

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


Silk and Steel

Happy Friday folks! I hope that life is treating you all gently and that you have a restful weekend in the pipeline! I’ll be DMing our first foray into Icewind Dale all weekend so today is painting plasterboard scenery and such 😀

The above quote is from later on in the book but I love Tithi Luadthong’s artwork so much I thought I’d share it now 🙂

Before I post the next bit of the story though, I thought I’d just take a moment to say that the theme it’s about to touch on – and in fact many other of the themes that run through it – is inspired by my time as a teenager sleeping on the streets and in squats. Young people – boys and girls – in that predicament are really like Xander and Vraxi and Edmund; they don’t have many choices, they seek protection from the adults who present themselves as ‘saviours’, they will do almost anything for a roof over their head or a meal or just to be held close for a moment and told they are worth something. This is a fantasy setting but the issues are real. Shelter are running an emergency appeal right now to raise money for their helpline which aims to prevent homelessness by supporting families and individuals at risk. If you’re interested in helping them their fundraising site is here:

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

So here we go, this next snippet of the story follows Xander outside as he runs off to spew his guts up at the realisation that the antiques dealer he had been viewing as a bit of a surrogate father figure is really a cold-hearted, manipulative bastard… (not that he doesn’t have a lovely side as well, of course, doesn’t everyone?)

Fey found Xander in the yard hunched beside a pool of his own vomit; hood up, and hugging is knees to his chest. The knuckles of his right hand were skinned and and there was blood on the brick wall behind him.


“Never helps, that,” she said, crouching down beside him and giving his injured hand a prod. Walls don’t hit back and there’s never any satisfaction in an unfair fight. Hey…” she flicked back his hood before he could stop her “…oh Kid, you’re not cryin?”


He was. He couldn’t help it. To say he had never felt so terrified and trapped in all his life would have been a lie, of course, but he had thought those days were behind him.


“I’m an idiot.” he mumbled, wiping his red-rimmed eyes. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t, Fey, I can’t. And I don’t want to die. Not like that. Not hung. Not… any of it. And I’ve got nothing. No one. No choice. I’ve got no bloody choice!” He gritted his teeth against the suffocating feeling of spiralling out of control, fighting back as hard as he could against the sentient soul inside him that was pushing to get out and rip something apart.

He balled his fists and hammered them against his temples until Fey took his hands firmly and held them away.


“You know what kid? You’re right. You said it. You’ve got no choice. Don’t wanna hang?”


He pulled his hands free, folding them defensively beneath his cloak, and shook his head.


“Right, suck it up then and let’s do this.”


He shook his head.


“Look, you think Mendicci’s some kind of monster because he lied to you? I’m tellin’ you, kid, everyone’s a monster round here – if you don’t answer to one, you’ll answer to another and if you hang on in there long enough, maybe someone some day will answer to you. But for now, this is life… or death or whatever you want to call it, this is the way it is, and you’ve just gotta stick out your chin and deal with it.”’


“It’s me that’s the monster.”


“Yep. You’re right. And me. Like I said, all of us. Wotcha gonna do about it? Sit there and cry? Or get up an’ try and figure out what kind of monster you’re gonna be?”


Xander frowned.


“It might not seem like it, but some small things we do still have a choice in. Look at the Duke – he chooses to be the kind of monster that’d have a six year old’s hand cut off for stealin’ a loaf of bread… but not the kind of monster that’d take advantage of a high class lady who’d had one too many at a fancy ball. Look at me – kind of monster that’ll slit pretty much anyone’s throat if the pay is right – also the kind who gives half her pay packet to the Hogarths’ alms houses, where she was born. We don’t have much control down here at the bottom of the crap heap, kid, you’re right about that, but what choices we do have we need to make the most of, even if only so we can say, at the end of each day, ‘this is the kind of monster I am.’ Now, as for you; you can choose right now to man-up and accept the way things are, walk back in there with your chin up and tell them you’ll do the job, even though you don’t want to, and that will earn you back a bit of respect. Certainly from me. Or I can frog-march you back in there by the scruff and tell ’em you’ll do it anyway whether you like it or not. Which is it goin’ to be?”


Light In The Lantern: With Felicity Banks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Light In The Lantern: With The Last Witch Of Pendle

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

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

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

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

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

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

lastwitch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She lowered the lantern an inch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Albert?” Skarry mouthed silently.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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


Silk and Steel

Ahoi! 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

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

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


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: Shafter by Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Blurb:

Born in the abandoned subway shafts beneath First City, Trina measures life in the coin she steals from her wealthy father’s people living above. She gives little weight to her dying mother’s fairy tales about how her father will rescue Trina and her twin sister, taking them away from this planet. Yet the stars catch her attention every time she goes to the surface.

Trina is the protector, a role she created more from heroic tales in books her father gave them than anything in a shafter’s life. When she sees drunken aristocrats harassing laborers, she can’t turn away even though attacking them carries a death sentence. Her paternal grandfather discovers Trina before the enforcers can and offers everything she has ever desired—safety for her family and a way off Ceric.

Can she trust their family connection, or will the price of her dreams be more than Trina is willing to pay?

 

I fell in love with Margaret’s wonderful story weaving skills through her Steampunk series The Steamship Chronicles. This was my first encounter with her Sci-fi series and, as someone who tends to steer away from space-based Sci-fi and more towards Fantasy and Steampunk I was taken aback at how instantly I was drawn into this world.

Once I had pulled my head out again at the final page and re-orientated myself to reality, I realised that what had pulled me in and held me there so firmly was the characters – not just the focal two, but even those who only featured in one or two scenes were so intricately and lovingly portrayed I cared deeply about all of them at once.

I won’t mention the plot because it is marvellous and can’t be mentioned without spoiling the marvellousness but there is a lot to chew over in here – darkness and light, love and bitter hatred, intention and risk and an overall sense of ‘the human condition’ as being well intentioned but sadly often painfully fallible.

There is great love here in many forms – some of them dangerous – there is pain, yes, but at the end, thankfully, there is immense hope.


Frost Fair: With Stephen Palmer

S Palmer Factory Girl Penny

Good morrow, and well met! Welcome to the Annual Lancastrian Frost Fair on the frozen River Lune.

My name is Stephen Palmer and I write alternate history novels with a heady steampunk flavour. Sit down if you will… You can see my novels displayed here for your perusal, please feel free to browse at your leisure.

My work ranges from Tommy Catkins in the Great War, back through the Edwardian era in the clockwork, steampunk Factory Girl trilogy and The Conscientious Objector, to the surreal Dodgson-esque Hairy London, which ranges from Victorian times to WW1…

Enjoy! Be mystified! Then enjoy once more! 

S Palmer, Tommy Catkins

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tommy-Catkins-Stephen-Palmer/dp/0995752265/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=tommy+catkins&qid=1572459244&s=books&sr=1-1

S Palmer Factory Girl Penny

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Two-Souls-Factory-Trilogy/dp/1539980529/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-One-Friend-Factory-Trilogy/dp/1539980553/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-No-Soul-Factory-Trilogy/dp/1539980588/ref=bseries_lb_1539980588

S Palmer, TCO

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conscientious-Objector-Stephen-Palmer-ebook/dp/B082T1QZNY/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+conscientious+objector&qid=1580203719&s=books&sr=1-1

S Palmer, Hairy London

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hairy-London-Stephen-Palmer/dp/1495995224/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

But wait just one heartbeat before you skate away. In these days of social media there are links to be had – fine links! And here they are for you…

 

https://stephenpalmersf.wordpress.com/

 

https://www.sffchronicles.com/forum/stephen-palmer/

 

https://vimeo.com/stephenpalmer

 


Representing Rromani People in Fiction

Happy Sunday folks! I don’t usually do a Sunday post but I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a guest post on Stephen Palmer’s blog on the subject of Rromani representation in fiction so I thought I’d share it at the weekend so that it doesn’t get trampled by Collin and his Frost Fair shenanigans! XD

Here’s the link to the guest post: http://www.stephenpalmer.co.uk/

Stephen Palmer writes a variety of diverse fiction including Sci fi and Steampunk. You can find his authour page on amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stephen-Palmer/e/B0062Z5R78?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1581086881&sr=8-1

 


Frost Fair: With Boston Metaphysical Society

Good Morning Everyone! Welcome to the Annual Lancastrian Frost Fair on the frozen River Lune!

My name is Madeleine Holly-Rosing and I write the steampunk supernatural series, Boston Metaphysical Society.  It started off as a six issue graphic novel series then moved into short stories, novellas, a novel, and we are now producing standalone short graphic novels that are a continuation of the original series AND a coloring book.  

The original graphic novel is about an ex-Pinkerton detective, a spirit photographer, and a genius scientist who battle supernatural forces in late 1800s Boston.

We are currently running a Kickstarter Campaign to print our third standalone sequel,  Boston Metaphysical Society: Ghosts and Demons and the first ever Boston Metaphysical coloring book.  The campaign ends on Feb. 21.

Kickstarter Link: http://kck.st/38pVBxU

The other books in the Boston Metaphysical Society universe are:

Boston Metaphysical Society: The Complete Original Series (Graphic Novel) It hits Diamond Distribution in March 2020, so please order it from your local comic book store or from Source Point Press.

Boston Metaphysical Society:  The Scourge of the Mechanical Men (Graphic Novel) –https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0996429247/

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

Boston Metaphysical Society: Prelude (Anthology)- https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00XB5U82Q/

Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets (Novel) – https://www.amazon.com/Boston-Metaphysical-Society-Storm-Secrets-ebook/dp/B07HCP9SW5/

All of these books are available in various reward tiers as part of the Kickstarter.

Thank you so much for stopping by and enjoy your day!

Please visit our website at http://www.bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com and like/follow us on:

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

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mhollyrosing

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/mcholly1


Guest Post by Stephen Palmer: A Diverse Dilemma?

A Diverse Dilemma? – A Guest Post By Stephen Palmer

 

A few years ago, the well known scientist Tim Hunt caused a media storm by suggesting that women scientists in laboratories were distractingly sexy and prone to fits of tears. He was rightly lambasted and mocked for having such an old-fashioned attitude. This incident caused a particularly interesting tea break conversation in the staff room of the college where I used to work, between myself, two sociology teachers (for whom racism and much else is on the curriculum), a biology teacher and a psychology teacher. We covered sexism, racism, the youth of today – ie our students – and a few other related topics, and the conversation really made me think afterwards, not least about the use of offensive words in literature.

 

In 2014, Keith Brooke at Infinity Plus Books published my surreal, alternate-history fantasy Hairy London, a novel not to be taken seriously, but which has a couple of really serious themes – the nature of love, and the treatment afforded by white men of what used to be called the Establishment to non-British people, the “lower” classes and women. As somebody who is appalled by racism and sexism, and who has happily used a full human range of characters in his novels, I wanted to make use of some of the excesses of times gone past in order to allow two of my main characters – both of them men from wealthy English families – to learn from their experiences. To do this, I used the term darkie. I used it for no other reason than to make the point that the racism of the time was shameful and inhumane. I felt my use was appropriate.

This use of the word was noted in one of the novel’s reviews: … there is a boldness echoing the New Wave experimentalism of British SF in the 1960s. Bold to the extent that elements of the depiction of racism may prove controversial, not least some historically accurate language…

So, I asked myself: is it ever acceptable to use this term? And if so, what about the N-word?

 

In 2016, the first volume of my ‘Factory Girl’ trilogy, The Girl With Two Souls, whose main character Kora is a fourteen year old of mixed racial descent, was published. Technically, Kora is a mulatto. This word has its origin somewhere in the sixteenth century and comes from the Spanish mulato, meaning mule (the offspring of a donkey and a horse, ie mixed heritage). Interestingly, the N-word is not much younger – a few decades perhaps.

You will note I haven’t actually spelled out the N-word here. But I did use it in full in The Girl With Two Souls to enhance the sensation received by the reader that my main character was being treated with crude inhumanity. I felt that, because the word was used in an appropriate social context, not to mention an obvious historical context, it was right to use it.

Some people today think the word shouldn’t be used in any context; they say it is always wrong and always inappropriate. I think this is misguided, and often unhelpful. To censor the attitudes of people in the past by not using their dialect is to ignore or conceal their deeds.

 

Recently I finished reading Discoveries, Nicholas Thomas’ excellent survey of Captain Cook’s three voyages of discovery in the late 1700s. What was particularly interesting was the attitude of the British sailors to various Polynesian races. In fact, at this very early stage, Cook at least was comparatively enlightened, though in a particular way; he had a concept of peaceful interaction with “natives,” though only for the purpose of trade. And he used his own metaphor to describe them, not the Polynesians’ metaphors. He and other officers also used the difference in status of women to judge Polynesian societies, assuming that polygamy was primitive and monogamy the norm, ie the Christian norm. And of course Cook and others distinguished between the “European” straighter hair of the Australian Aborigines and the “woolly” hair of what they called Negroes, presuming that “woolly” hair was like animal hair. In this manner, and in others, they were able to present themselves with justifications for slavery.

 

I suppose we’re all guilty of making unthinking mistakes though, mistakes based in the norms of our own culture. The tea break conversation mentioned above turned to the use of the word ethnic, which I’ve regularly used as an umbrella word – for example to describe my collection of musical instruments – to mean non-British. The sociology teacher pointed out to me that the word was meaningless, since everybody has an ethnicity, a point which had escaped me, even though I’m of Welsh extraction and have received anti-Welsh mockery (from an Indian – oh, the irony). Ethnic… it shows how we accidentally slip into unhelpful terminology sometimes when describing the wider world.

The sociology teacher went on to explain that the acronym BME is used by British police and other organisations to cover black and minority ethnicities, thereby collecting everyone under one label. But it is a meaningless label, and hardly helpful, not least when for example non-British refugees (eg from Somalia) are all housed together when they are from groups who in Somalia are at one another’s throats.

One other issue we have is of making blanket identities, for example that of “African.” In my novel Muezzinland I wanted to write about the intricate and sophisticated cultures of Western and Northern Africa, which I did via folklore. It was a novel with racism as a theme – eg that of people from Northern Africa upon Western Africans – which did not mention race.

 

As an interesting addendum, none other than President Obama used the N-word during a podcast on 21 June 2015, showing that, in some circumstances, and from some people, there is a place for it.

And in a thought-provoking piece in today’s Independent, Ben Elton describes what he learned, much later, from his use of the epithet “spasmo” in 1982 in ‘The Young Ones,’ which went on to become a playground taunt. He regrets it deeply now, and has greatly contributed to disabled charities such as Scope, but the fact remains: the word was of its time. We can see that it’s wrong, but we have to use that word now in order to examine the sociological context of 37 years ago.

It turns out we are all human, with individual circumstances of gender, race, culture, background etc. I think it would be good if our society reflected that fact.

 

Many thanks for this thought provoking guest post Stephen. You can find Stephen’s blog here:

https://stephenpalmersf.wordpress.com/

And the first book in his Factory Girl series here:


Aether Egg Hunt: With Phoebe Darqueling

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Good Morning! Happy Chocolate Fest or whatever fabulous festival you happen to be celebrating at this time of the year!
My name is Phoebe Darqueling and I write fiction that fans of Steampunk and Gaslamp fantasy love.
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!
You can do a digital jigsaw puzzle of the cover of my newest novel, No Rest for the Wicked. My record is 5 minutes. Think you got me beat? Leave a comment with your time.
https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=0943fc60f199

 

Twitter No Rest Hieber review

Plus, you can preview the full first chapter of No Rest for the Wicked on
https://www.steampunkjournal.org/read-ch-1-of-no-rest-for-the-wicked-by-phoebe-darqueling/

Covers
You can find my fiction books like No Rest for the Wicked on my Amazon page (www.bit.ly/PhoebeD)
and pickup a FREE copy of The Steampunk Handbook by signing up for my e-news. Find out more
here: http://ow.ly/Uohw30mfCLN
And connect with on Twitter (@gearturns), Instagram (@phoebedarqueling), my Facebook fan group
(https://www.facebook.com/groups/PhoebeDarquelingFans/)
Have a “hoppy” day and come back next time to get your next author giftie.

 


Rromani Steampunk: Sources Of Information for writers

Greetings! Today has happily brought yet another request for sources of information  / research for writing authentic Rromani characters particularly in the sci fi / fantasy genre – this is great! I’m so happy that people are starting to get on board with this issue!

So I thought it would be a good idea to create a stripped down post that’s easy to point people at and quick to get info from on this topic. Here, then, are some quick tips for writing authentic Rromani characters in your fiction…

  1. Read Rromani Autobiography and Fiction.

We have a mantra “Nothing about us without us” and it’s a healthy one to keep in mind. The best way to learn about Rromani  people is to read what our people have written about ourselves – not someone else’s interpretation of us, which (however well meant) is never going to be as authentic and accurate.

So, here’s a list of fabulous Rromani writers across many genres to get you started:

Maggie Smith-Bendell

Rajko Ðjurić

Jessica Reidy

Ian Hancock

Caren Gussof-Sumption

Glenda Bailley-Mershon

Rosie Mckinley

Mikey Walsh

Jess Smith

Violet Cannon

Nan Joyce and Anna Farmer

Diane Tong

Jasper Lee

Nina Dudarova

Olga Pankova

Bronislawa Wajs

Philomena Franz

Elena Lackova

Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić

Cecilia Woloch

Louise Daughty

Mariella Mehr

Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă

Oksana Marafioti

Paola Schopf

Margita Reiznerová

Sterna Weltz-Zigler

Diana NormaSzokolyai

Nadia Hava-Robbins

Tera Fabianova

Katarina Taikon Langhammer

Irena Eliášová

Writers who’ve done an especially cringey / bad / offensive job of writing Rromani characters include…

Phillip Pulman

Tim Powers

Emily Bronte

Stephen King

Robert Jordan

Jane Austin

It’s worth reading them to learn what not to do! lol.

 

2. Ask why you want your character to be Rromani – if it’s just for exotic flavour or as a plot device then forget it, sorry but no one wants to be a tool! If the character is an authentic character in their own right with a personality, back story, potential for growth, development and future who just happens to Rromani, that’s the sort of representation we’re looking for 🙂

3. Avoid ‘research’ or ‘biography’ written by non-Rroma. Even if they have traveled or lived with Rromani people. Ask ‘why would someone want to study another group of people and why would they particularly choose Rromani people?’ Often the reason is that they find Rromani people exotic and so have paid a clan to let them ‘see the magic from the inside.’ You are an intelligent person, you can see the problems inherent in a mutually-exploitative situation like that! Other times a person who has adopted a new-age traveling lifestyle and spent time with Rromani travelling folk … the problem with authenticity here is that the writer may see the picture without the background  – they tend to write about the current situation of the small, poverty stricken, desperate group of displaced Roma they encountered, without any understanding of how this situation came to be, how it affects the people they are writing about, how it compares to other groups of Roma around the world and, importantly, how compares to other groups of different cultures in the same conditions – because only then can we begin to separate socio-economic issues from cultural ones!

Some writers to avoid in this area include…

Isabel Fonseca

Dominic Reeve

Raymond Buckland

Charles Leland

 

So, there you go – hopefully those are all quick, useful points to take away 🙂 Got any questions or other topics you’d like me write about on this issue? Leave me a note in the comments or drop me an email 🙂

Big blessings, Penny