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Angel Wedge

Angel Wedge 

Author, geek, weirdo. If that sounds familiar, maybe I am the Angel you're looking for.

Occupation: Author (Angel Raymond)

Birthday: 12/03

Followers: 1,280

Following: -

Views: 1,972,657

Added to CircleCount.com: 04/21/2012That's the date, where Angel Wedge has been indexed by CircleCount.com.
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Angel Wedge has been at 3 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
Ingress4,474,382Shaper Septicycle 2014.42: AF02-GOLF-05 (Recife, BR)  AF04-SIERRA-01 (Ponta Delgada, Azores)  AF07-PAPA-03 (Casablanca, MA) [V] AF07-ROMEO-09 (Seville, ES) [V] AF09-SIERRA-11 (Montpellier, FR)  AF13-SIERRA-00 (Athens, GR)  AF14-CHARLIE-11 (Durban, ZA)  AF14-SIERRA-09 (Ankara, TR)  AM01-FOXTROT-06 (Denver, CO, USA)  AM01-GOLF-09 (Omaha, NE, USA)  AM01-JULIET-03 (Madison, WI, USA) [V] AM01-KILO-05 (Toronto, CA)  AM01-KILO-12 (Columbus, OH, USA)  AM02-ECHO-01 (Albuquerque, NM, USA) [V] AM02-GOLF-13 (Wichita, KS, USA)  AM02-HOTEL-12 (St. Louis, MO, USA)  AM02-LIMA-11 (Alexandria, VA, USA)  AM03-GOLF-00 (Houston, TX, USA)  AM03-KILO-10 (Atlanta, GA, USA)  AM05-JULIET-11 (Merida, MX)  AM06-HOTEL-04 (Guatemala, GT) [V] AM06-NOVEMBER-05 (Caracas, VE)  AM15-MIKE-01 (Santiago, CL)  AS10-GOLF-01 (Colombo, LK)  AS10-KILO-05 (George Town, MY) [V] AS11-MIKE-10 (Ho Chi Minh City, VN)  AS12-ECHO-03 (Mumbai, IN)  AS13-PAPA-04 (Taichung, TW)  AS14-ALPHA-07 (Riyadh, SA) [V] AS15-PAPA-09 (Shanghai)  NR01-ECHO-00 (Budapest, HU)  NR01-ECHO-13 (Belgrade, RS)  NR01-FOXTROT-02 (Zagreb, HR) [V] NR01-FOXTROT-06 (Vienna, AT)  NR01-GOLF-03 (Milan, IT)  NR01-GOLF-06 (Geneva, CH)  NR02-FOXTROT-04 (Dresden, DE) [V] NR02-FOXTROT-15 (Warsaw, PL)  NR02-GOLF-08 (Hanover, DE)  NR02-GOLF-12 (Dusseldorf, DE)  NR02-HOTEL-03 (Utrecht, NL)  NR03-GOLF-00 (Oslo, NO)  NR03-GOLF-09 (Copenhagen, DK)  NR04-DELTA-08 (Nizhny Novgorod, RU) NR04-KILO-11 (Reykjavik, IS)  NR13-ROMEO-10 (Portland, OR, USA)  PA01-ALPHA-14 (Nagano, JP)  PA03-ROMEO-11 (Canberra, AU)  PA04-PAPA-08 (Brisbane, AU)  PA07-SIERRA-08 (Christchurch, NZ) [V] Shaper Septicycle 2014.43: AF02-FOXTROT-11 (Salvador, BR)  AF07-SIERRA-02 (Porto, PT)  AF11-SIERRA-13 (Naples, IT)  AF13-CHARLIE-10 (Johannesburg, ZA) [V] AF14-ROMEO-10 (Alexandria, EG)  AF15-NOVEMBER-01 (Jeddah, SA)  AM01-CHARLIE-07 (San Jose, CA, USA)  AM01-ECHO-06 (Provo, UT, USA)  AM01-LIMA-12 (Syracuse, NY, USA)  AM02-DELTA-04 (Las Vegas, NV, USA)  AM02-DELTA-12 (Tijuana, MX)  AM02-JULIET-06 (Bloomington, IN, USA)  AM02-KILO-00 (Cincinnati, OH, USA) [V] AM02-KILO-11 (Charlotte, NC, USA)  AM03-FOXTROT-03 (Ciudad Juarez, MX)  AM04-KILO-01 (Tampa, FL, USA)  AM05-FOXTROT-05 (Leon, MX)  AM07-KILO-06 (Panama City, PA)  AM07-LIMA-02 (Medellin, CO)  AM12-MIKE-01 (Arequipa, PE) [V] AM12-NOVEMBER-08 (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, BO)  AM14-ROMEO-11 (Ciudad del Este, PY)  AM15-PAPA-11 (Rosario, AR)  AS02-NOVEMBER-09 (Perth, AU)  AS07-NOVEMBER-11 (Surabaya, ID)  AS10-KILO-08 (Phuket, TH)  AS11-PAPA-04 (Cebu City, PH) [V] AS12-HOTEL-01 (Kolkata, IN)  AS13-PAPA-07 (Kaohsiung City, TW)  AS15-SIERRA-15 (Kagoshima, JP)  AS16-NOVEMBER-08 (Beijing, CN)  AS16-ROMEO-04 (Busan, KR) [V] AS16-SIERRA-13 (Hiroshima, JP)  NR01-GOLF-08 (Zurich, CH) [V] NR01-GOLF-10 (Luxemburg City)  NR01-HOTEL-10 (Lyon, FR)  NR02-CHARLIE-08 (Krasnodar, RU)  NR02-KILO-02 (Cork, IE)  NR04-CHARLIE-03 (Samara, RU)  NR04-FOXTROT-09 (Helsinki, FI)  NR05-SIERRA-09 (Portland, ME, USA)  NR06-CHARLIE-05 (Omsk, RU)  NR06-SIERR#Darsana Global2014-11-15 09:00:005345  
Angel Wedge1,280Rescheduled because last time people either couldn't make it, or didn't RSVP. Please, let me know you're coming. Chistopher's been hiding out with a friend in Manchester, but a shocking new revelation brings him back into town. And meanwhile, Nathan is coming to terms with recent changes in his situation. Who's having the bigger problem of the two?Reboot of Dracula RPG - Week 18 (rescheduled)2014-03-06 19:00:004  
Adam Boenig27,558I'll be doing Flash Fiction Monday through Friday until I am recharged to work on the book. If you have an image that you feel needs a story, here's a place to put it!Flash Fiction!2013-02-04 19:00:0021  

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Most comments: 9

2016-01-23 11:38:31 (9 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Does everyone else get this? I started out trying to make a map, and have somehow ended up trying to solve a logic puzzle. I'm just wondering what system you use when arranging a world map to fit the constraints of the plot railroad.

In case anyone can offer advice, here's the problems I'm dealing with. 12 locations, connected together by various routes.
* Jedistadt is isolated, and connected to only one neighbour.
* Dolcruz may also have only a single road out.
* Badenfalle is a major travel nexus, and has either 3 or 4 routes out.
* All other locations have either 2 or 3 exits
* The shortest route from Badenfalle to Marke goes via Grienhüs.
* Grienhüs is connected to Marke, as it has just been occupied by the Markavian Imperial Militia.
* Brütland is connected to Marke, Wendland, and Päris
* There is a link from Arandell to Gaidistan*... more »

Most reshares: 2

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2016-01-30 19:20:06 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

:-p

Most plusones: 9

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2016-04-23 10:49:40 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 9 +1s)Open 

This week, in Tomb of Dragons for #SaturdayScenes , a group of five adventurers are exploring a Markavian dungeon in search of the mysterious Aegis Key. The others have been reprimanding the new recruit for being reckless, but their argument was disrupted by the appearance of an intelligent technomagical tank. Now, it seems they have no choice but to fight.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07³ / Secret Laboratory

“Fine!” Leucidia dived towards the mechanical monstrosity without hesitation, surprising even her allies. One moment her hands were empty, giving her the dexterity to backflip across a lab bench and position herself on the far side of the room. And then without seeming to move there were two long knives in her hands, and her hair blew back dramatically.

Berlan was going to rebuke her for wasting time, posing when she could have been attacking. Itwouldn’... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-05-22 10:55:14 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

Yes, I'm late posting for #SaturdayScenes  this week. But it's still saturday somewhere, so here's another scene from Tomb of Dragons. Following on from last week's; click on the collection name if you want to see what else has happened in this world, but it shouldn't really be necessary.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 7:00² / Heart in Darkness

In a dark Nation, there lay a dark city, ruled over by a dark castle. Darkness was a way of life here, because the Cleva people didn’t believe in wasting a thing as rare and precious to them as fuel. Public spaces weren’t lit, save by the third hand reflections of some person’s reading lamp escaping through the cracks around doors or shutters. The people who walked here carried candles or small lamps, or learned to rely on their ability to make out the shapes of the scenery by even the faintest glimmer ofilluminat... more »

Yes, I'm late posting for #SaturdayScenes  this week. But it's still saturday somewhere, so here's another scene from Tomb of Dragons. Following on from last week's; click on the collection name if you want to see what else has happened in this world, but it shouldn't really be necessary.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 7:00² / Heart in Darkness

In a dark Nation, there lay a dark city, ruled over by a dark castle. Darkness was a way of life here, because the Cleva people didn’t believe in wasting a thing as rare and precious to them as fuel. Public spaces weren’t lit, save by the third hand reflections of some person’s reading lamp escaping through the cracks around doors or shutters. The people who walked here carried candles or small lamps, or learned to rely on their ability to make out the shapes of the scenery by even the faintest glimmer of illumination. Most times it didn’t even matter, because in the city streets there were enough people shopping or working at any time of the day or night, so there was always a faint flicker of golden warmth enough tp spare the prudent from the cost of lighting their own.

It was a civilisation and culture different from its neighbours, and even when magical lamps became readily available it had been seen as uncultured, barbarian to walk the streets with a bright light or to illuminate any room or object that you didn’t need to be looking at. But towering above the city, the castle was darker than most places. Only the guards here carried light, and the most important of the officials. The heavy doors, slabs of foot-thick stone set on complex cantilever arrangements, had locks and bars designed to ensure not just that no intruder could pass, but that they couldn’t be left ajar or allow any crack of light to escape. If you weren’t meant to be here, the world was a maze of blackness with no indication which way you would need to move.

In the dark castle, right at the highest point, there were row upon row of small, dark cells. Some were for prisoners, who were punished by having their sight taken away completely until they started to hallucinate shapes in the shadows. It was torture, the neighbouring nations said, but made to move to stop them. This was Helstad, after all, and every prison dealt in cruel and unusual punishments of some kinds. But some of the cells were for those who needed to be protected, and might be granted a window through which they could look out over the rooftops of the dark city with its occasional glow-worm glimmer of people walking the streets about their lawful errands. That wasn’t all, there were cells for others as well. Monks who craved the solitude and simplicity, each of them subject to their own rules according to their faith. But in the minds of the public, the cells were the ultimate hell reserved for those who started fires or stole from the City or State. Even foreign spies or soldiers would have to have done something out of the ordinary to get a cell on the overlook, the top three levels of the darkest castle.

Overlook cell 229, like all its neighbours, was denoted by a chalkboard hung outside the door. The chalk they used contained some chemical extracted from the streams that flowed beneath the castle, and would fluoresce slightly in response to the invisible radiation emitted by a guard’s badge. It was just bright enough for the guard to see the words “#229. Menace, R.” as he approached to push a plate of food under the door and snap the panel closed. An hour later, the cell’s occupant reached a decision. He placed the plate and its tray carefully on the end of the wooden bench that doubled as his bed, did one hundred squats and stretches, and then turned his attention to the door. Today, he had decided, was the right time to leave, but that was a task easier said than done.

The door had a dozen bolts, in addition to the more complex locks, and he snapped them back one by one. He didn’t need to leave his chamber often, and hadn’t let learned the combinations for the various locks. But as the cylinders turned he listened out for the scrape of a pin edge on its guide, the miniscule click of a tumbler falling into place. Knowing the combination wouldn’t help him in a cell too dark to make out the numbers that were probably printed on the dial, but the locks here were to prevent unauthorised access. This man had skills that no intruder would even think to master, and he was among the best of his generation.

It took him twelve minutes to persuade the locks to spring open, using a combination of magical energies and senses that most people never really learned to use. When he’d first arrived on Cleva, he’d struggled without being able to see. But he’d soon learned to sense everything he needed to know just by focusing his hearing, and after that there was no mechanical lock that would bar his path. He was a Nightwalker, untroubled by darkness no matter how thick, and in this city that came with special privileges. The locks couldn’t stop him, the shadows in the halls wouldn’t confound him, and so he was not just able but permitted to go wherever he wished.

Today, he turned right along the corridor, following the path the guard had taken an hour before. He could still hear the man’s faint footsteps echoing in the distance, and the almost imperceptible click of tiny wooden doors slamming open to admit a plate of food to some prisoner. He didn’t follow the guard’s path for long, but turned left down a corridor whose presence he could infer from the echo of his own footfalls. It would be easy to get lost here, but Menace had travelled with a summoner for months before he finally reached this world, and he knew that the spirits could guide the steps of people who honoured them. Once he had stopped thinking and trusted his instincts, he quickly found that he got to where he wanted to go. Maybe not by the most direct route, but the spirits of the rock would show him the way.

Today, it took a dozen turns and maybe two thousand confident paces before he arrived at where he wanted to be: the throne room.

Inside here, there was light. The place gave the impression of a vast open space, with beautiful vaulting overhead and only a few graceful pillars to support the roof. High on both walls, some kind of crystals glimmered in reflected light, and right in the centre a faint blue-green shimmer came from enchanted gems set into the arms of a throne. In any other world, the room would have been considered too dark to safely walk around, but on Cleva the Archduke sat reading.

Inside the door were two sets of steps leading down in a double helix. They were thin slivers of marble and slate, between rails of polished bronze. No handrails, of course, but this man didn’t need them. The sound of the door closing, and then every step down he took towards the thickly carpeted floor, made the staircase ring out like a bell. At the bottom he walked forward, the softness underfoot muting any sound he might have used for echolocation.

“Your Grace,” he eventually nodded, bowing deeply before the throne.

“Rogue Menace,” the Archduke addressed him thoughtfully, one hand stroking the thin traces of a beard, “Your hermitage has concluded, after three years in isolation? To what do we owe the honour?”

“I have been contemplating, for many long years. Meditating, and understanding.”

“Contemplating what? May I ask?”

“The end of the Twelve Worlds, and the destruction of all things.”

“An epic thought, I can understand why it would take years or more to contemplate such a lofty concept. And now, do you have an answer for us? After all your thought, what have you determined about the nature of the apocalypse?” The Archduke continued to stroke his beard. Rogue thought for a moment, but there was but one thing left for him to say.

“It is time.”___

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2016-05-18 09:19:37 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

A practice for the #WitchesWay charity walk. Seems to be raining, but that's no big deal.
I'll add more photos every mile as the day goes on, so keep checking back.

A practice for the #WitchesWay charity walk. Seems to be raining, but that's no big deal.
I'll add more photos every mile as the day goes on, so keep checking back.___

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2016-05-16 22:25:07 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Children accused of witchcraft, and subjected to torture in the name of exorcism. It sounds like something out of the 16th century, but it still happens in many parts of the world.

This is why I'm supporting Safe Child Africa. Until June 24th, I'm donating £1 from every copy of Sandpaper Kiss sold. And on june 24th/25th, I'll be walking 51 miles, following a route that accused witches were taken to trial in England, 400 years ago.

If you want to help, please sponsor me ( http://www.justgiving.com/Angel-Wedge ) or take a look at my book ( http://hyperurl.co/sandpaperkiss ) and encourage your friends to do the same.

And help spread the word, make sure the world knows that barbarism like this needs to be dealt with.
#WitchesWay

Children accused of witchcraft, and subjected to torture in the name of exorcism. It sounds like something out of the 16th century, but it still happens in many parts of the world.

This is why I'm supporting Safe Child Africa. Until June 24th, I'm donating £1 from every copy of Sandpaper Kiss sold. And on june 24th/25th, I'll be walking 51 miles, following a route that accused witches were taken to trial in England, 400 years ago.

If you want to help, please sponsor me ( http://www.justgiving.com/Angel-Wedge ) or take a look at my book ( http://hyperurl.co/sandpaperkiss ) and encourage your friends to do the same.

And help spread the word, make sure the world knows that barbarism like this needs to be dealt with.
#WitchesWay___

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2016-05-14 22:10:30 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

A kind of diversion from the main story I've been posting for #saturdayScenes  recently. It's a different thread in the same tapestry,I think. Don't be put off by the number 7:00... the numbers are planet:region, not chapter numbers. So this is pretty much a case of "Meanwhile, on planet 7"; though it is a little way in the future

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 7:00¹ / City in Darkness

In a dark cell, in a dark castle, a man slept fitfully. He didn’t have a mattress, he was lying on bare wooden boards with just a folded cloak to give him comfort. He had thought a few times since he came here that it was amazing what you could get used to when circumstances demanded it. Somewhere in the distance, there came the distinctive screech of a chimera as it pounced on its prey. Prisoners were fed to the beast at the same time each day, so in the absence of light thisman h... more »

A kind of diversion from the main story I've been posting for #saturdayScenes  recently. It's a different thread in the same tapestry,I think. Don't be put off by the number 7:00... the numbers are planet:region, not chapter numbers. So this is pretty much a case of "Meanwhile, on planet 7"; though it is a little way in the future

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 7:00¹ / City in Darkness

In a dark cell, in a dark castle, a man slept fitfully. He didn’t have a mattress, he was lying on bare wooden boards with just a folded cloak to give him comfort. He had thought a few times since he came here that it was amazing what you could get used to when circumstances demanded it. Somewhere in the distance, there came the distinctive screech of a chimera as it pounced on its prey. Prisoners were fed to the beast at the same time each day, so in the absence of light this man had taken to using its call as an alarm clock. On hearing the shrill cry, he sat up quickly, quickly tied his hair back, and rolled off his sleeping bench to do a gruelling sequence of push ups, squats, and stretching exercises on the cobbles.

He had no luxury here, but he didn’t need it. He hadn’t even left the room in six days, but he could at least keep himself fit. He did his best to focus just on the exercises, the movements, and analyse how his body felt. He didn’t need to think about the inadequacies of the judicial systems on many of the dozen worlds, or about the path that had brought him here, or about his little brother. Those thoughts were distractions, and wouldn’t make him any more capable of surviving when he eventually decided it was time to leave the castle again.

After the stretches and lunges, he started running circuits of the room. It was only a couple of strides in any direction, but he made sure to touch the wall in every corner before turning. And then with a grunt of effort, his feet were on the stone wall. He could just about cover the length of the wall before he started to fall, and then push himself against another wall. It was a challenge to cover the entire circuit without touching the floor or the minimal furniture, but a challenge was what he needed now. Once he got into his stride, it was easier to maintain the pace. When his bare feet hit the timbers of the door, it rattled on its hinges and he could hear a dozen different locks clanking. He tried to make it a continuous cacophony, getting around the tiny cell before the rattling had died away.

After twenty circuits, he was breathing heavily. At thirty, his muscles were starting to burn with the exertion. Somewhere around fifty, he lost count as he always did. He didn’t know for sure, but it was probably close to a hundred laps around his tiny chamber before there came a heavy banging from the other side of the door. He kicked off against it one last time, kicked the centre of the ceiling with both feet just to prove that he could, and landed with both palms on the bed.

In seconds, he was seated with his legs crossed like some meditating holy man. There was a towel beside his bed, with which he could wipe the sweat away from his back and chest. Then he pulled on a simple black tunic and tight trousers. It wasn’t the most original outfit in the world, but it showed off his muscles well enough. He only had one outfit here, but he was sure the guards would have a clean duplicate prepared for him after he had finished his shower.

About the same time he finished dressing and returned to his guru pose, the guard had deduced from the break in the frantic drumming that he was ready to eat. At the bottom of the door, a panel slid aside to reveal a small slot, and a bowl of gruel was pushed through. It was spicy, unlike the bland porridge he’d been used to on Marke, and contained all the nutrients necessary to keep him alive indefinitely. He ate with every sign of enjoyment, and gave a little thanks to all the spirits and gods that he wouldn’t starve here. It was a better life than many, that much was sure, and over recent months he had been nurturing the philosophy that learning to enjoy what you had was more important than acquiring more worldly luxuries.

Outside in the hall, the guard slammed the hatch closed again. He looked up at the nameplate beside the door, though simply because that was his routine. It wasn’t possible to forget who was in here. And then he made a tick on his list, indicating one meal delivered and no complaints. This particular column had a perfectly neat row of ticks, unlike many of the other people living here. The name at the top of the column, and the name chalked on the plate beside the door, simply read “#229. Menace, R.”___

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2016-05-08 17:13:04 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

I think that's a personal best for speed. Could still do better, though.

#Ingress

I think that's a personal best for speed. Could still do better, though.

#Ingress___

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2016-05-07 07:36:32 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes, another scene from Tomb of Dragons. Again, a very rough draft, so don't think this is indicative of the quality of my published books

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:08² / The Admiralty

The next door turned out to lead into a vast hall, teeming with life. Soldiers walked in every direction, in half a dozen different coloured uniforms to signify different branches of the army. They’d known that this mission would involve coming up against some soldiers and guards, but seeing that they really were right inside the headquarters of the secret police was still unnerving. Red almost backed away, but Rave put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, bro. Look how many there are. Think they know the face of every officer in the building? Look like you know what you’re doing, and nobody will stop you.”

“Unless you saythings like th... more »

For #SaturdayScenes, another scene from Tomb of Dragons. Again, a very rough draft, so don't think this is indicative of the quality of my published books

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:08² / The Admiralty

The next door turned out to lead into a vast hall, teeming with life. Soldiers walked in every direction, in half a dozen different coloured uniforms to signify different branches of the army. They’d known that this mission would involve coming up against some soldiers and guards, but seeing that they really were right inside the headquarters of the secret police was still unnerving. Red almost backed away, but Rave put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, bro. Look how many there are. Think they know the face of every officer in the building? Look like you know what you’re doing, and nobody will stop you.”

“Unless you say things like that without checking who can overhear,” a sarcastic female voice interrupted. They turned to see a woman with flame red hair, in a uniform that was somehow still recognisable as being like the others despite revealing a lot more and highlighting the shape of everything it didn’t explicitly show off. She was looking over the group sternly, but showed no sign of attacking them just yet.

Rave and Leucidia were probably the ones with most combat experience, and both had already decided tha this was a situation for talking; if this officer wanted to apprehend them, then any attempt at fighting would bring hundreds of Markavian soldiers in from the next room.

“It’s not what it sounded like,” Jon offered, “My aide was just speculating that security could be tighter around here.”

“Right. You’re lucky it’s me who found you. Brother Merkel told me to be watching out for you and included pretty good descriptions. I was expecting to have to find you in Vorida, or Kingsfern or somewhere. But the alarms are going crazy, and I overheard that you’re somewhere in the building. Why did you even come in here?”

“You’re with the Gallant Brotherhood?” Red hazarded, not quite keeping up with the speed at which she was changing subjects.

“Alarms?” Rave looked around, as if he could somehow have missed a light or siren down the corridor behind them.

“Yes,” the woman nodded, “Lieutenant General Stavros-Jolie, and you’re my ambassadorial contacts. It’s the easiest way to get you out now the gauntlet is on lockdown. It was me who revealed the existence of the thing you came to retrieve. I had access to it, but always with enough guards around that I couldn’t make a move, so we needed to bring in an outsider. Now, I know you got it because the sensors registered it was outside the lab.It takes them a while to get a fix, and it’s not too accurate, so when I left the emergency briefing, all we knew was that it’sin the Admiralty somewhere. I beat Fellowes and Bandler to finding you because they don’t know what you look like. And believe me, if you knew what they look like, you’d be glad they haven’t found you yet.”

“So what do we do?” Rave asked at she shepherded them through the massive hall. The group’s eyes darted this way and that, wondering if any of the other officers would recognise them. Of course they wouldn’t, they realised. Most of the people here didn’t know what the Aegis Key was, and those who did had no idea who’d taken it. They were also acutely aware that everyone looking at them was watching for Stavros’s expression, rather than theirs. They were ambassadorial contacts now, and even if you weren’t in the military, any Markavian knew what that was code for. It meant imprisoned diplomats, calmly pantomiming that they were here by their own choice in the hope that playing along might get them a more lenient punishment for daring to stand up against the Markavian Empire. No chains, no public humiliation, it was obvious they were prisoners even though nobody wanted to say it.

And this Stavros woman was right; it was the perfect way to smuggle thieves out of the Admiralty.

The Gauntlet was the toughest part. A long, narrow chamber filled with officers arguing over various things, but all armed and all ready to leap into action if any intruders were spotted. The whole room was covered by several gunners, seated behind tiny slits that you might not notice among the complex reliefs and engravings on the walls, or in balconies colloquially known as ‘nests’ which stuck out from the walls to give them a clear view in every direction including below. It was an impenetrable gauntlet for any enemy to get to, but made no difference at all when the group were clearly prisoners being marched through by a General whose identification papers were all in order.

Four times, officers at desks spaced along the Gauntlet checked her ID. Four times, they nodded her through. Four times, the business end of weapons followed the group, but the men holding them were only interested in ensuring that Rave, Red, Jon, Berlan, and Leucidia stayed where General Stavros-Jolie could see them. At the end, they were able to walk right out of the huge whitestone doors, and stood on one of many walkways overlooking the Underhall. Never before had arcs of magical lightning leaping from floor to ceiling looked so inviting.

They had completed their mission, and they were free.___

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2016-05-04 16:41:25 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

___

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2016-05-04 15:55:37 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Today, me and +UndefeatableTwilight​ went on a walk. At the end of June we're going to do a sponsored walk for -Safe Child Africa, and today is our first practice walk. We're going to try upping the distance by 3 miles each week to make sure we're ready. Wish us luck!

In case anyone is interested in some beautiful Lancashire scenery, I took a photo every half mile. And in case anyone is willing to sponsor us and help children accused of witchcraft, I think the page is http://justgiving.com/Angel-Wedge

Today, me and +UndefeatableTwilight​ went on a walk. At the end of June we're going to do a sponsored walk for -Safe Child Africa, and today is our first practice walk. We're going to try upping the distance by 3 miles each week to make sure we're ready. Wish us luck!

In case anyone is interested in some beautiful Lancashire scenery, I took a photo every half mile. And in case anyone is willing to sponsor us and help children accused of witchcraft, I think the page is http://justgiving.com/Angel-Wedge___

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2016-04-30 09:52:17 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

Good morning, #SaturdayScenes ! Our intrepid heroes have beaten the uber-tank, and now they're trying to find a way out of the secret lab. But these tunnels stretch farther than they could have imagined. I wonder where they've ended up...

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:08¹ / World's Largest Administration Building

Five figures ran blindly through endless hallways. It was clear these laboratories were the pet project of some high-ranking government official just from the stone walls. Every tile was precisely cut, every piece perfectly aligned. They had climbed four levels, and hadn’t seen a single example of the bare stone the tunnel had been cut through; so it wasn’t built to the same budget as most government facilities.

The job had been going so well. They’d broken into the Special Jail with minimal difficulty, both because they knew about a fissurein the ro... more »

Good morning, #SaturdayScenes ! Our intrepid heroes have beaten the uber-tank, and now they're trying to find a way out of the secret lab. But these tunnels stretch farther than they could have imagined. I wonder where they've ended up...

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:08¹ / World's Largest Administration Building

Five figures ran blindly through endless hallways. It was clear these laboratories were the pet project of some high-ranking government official just from the stone walls. Every tile was precisely cut, every piece perfectly aligned. They had climbed four levels, and hadn’t seen a single example of the bare stone the tunnel had been cut through; so it wasn’t built to the same budget as most government facilities.

The job had been going so well. They’d broken into the Special Jail with minimal difficulty, both because they knew about a fissure in the rock that wasn’t marked on any map, and because nobody was expecting intruders to break into the most unpleasant jail in the twelve worlds. Then they’d started a riot as a distraction, and that had gone amazingly well, allowing them to sneak into the research facility that was hiding within the jail’s security. They had even beaten a state of the art security system, and emerged with the Aegis Key.

Now, their problem was getting out again. The jail wasn’t an option; from the conversations of guards they’d heard behind doors, it seemed like their distraction had turned into a full escape, and every soldier in the area was flooding in there.So the only option they had was to explore this warren of tunnels and search for an alternative exit. Berlan had been pretty sure that there was another facility in this direction, whose network of security and surveillance screens implied it was separate from the jail. But they didn’t know where they were heading to; all the spirits could tell him was that it was a warren of underground chambers of all different sizes, and that there were a lot of humans moving in some parts of the corridors.

They ran, following one passage after another in the hope that one would eventually lead them to somewhere they could emerge back into an unsecured world. No matter how good they were, how quick or how cautious, their luck wouldn’t last forever if they kept running round Markavian facilities where the militiamen were trained to shoot outsiders on sight.

“Where are we now?” Leucidia murmered for probably the fifth time, slowing down to examine a jewelled goblet on display in a small sconce on one wall. “I mean, we’re not in a jail any more with things like this.”

“Don’t steal that,” Jon muttered reproachfully,using the same tone he’d got used to addressing his daughter with years before.

“I’m not a thief!” Leucidia turned angrily, “But they’re Markavians, the enemy, you know? You weren’t saying anything when we just stole the Aegis thing.”

“That’s different,” Red tried to calm them down, “That’s a component for a weapon of mass destruction. And we’re not taking it for its value, we aren’t going to keep it or sell it.”

“Look, I wasn’t going to take it,” she started stomping along the corridor, “I was just hoping the plaque would give us some clue where we are.”

“I think we can guess,” Rave spoke in an anxious whisper, “We’ve all got an idea, haven’t we.But we’re hoping it’s wrong, because if we’re there then we’re going to  have so much trouble getting past the guards.”

“Where?” Leucidia seemed genuinely oblivious, and the suggestion that she was the only one not to have recognised the place just irritated her more. “We’re in a maze of twisty corridors, all alike. We’ve seen clerks and soldiers, but not overheard anything that helps. Offices and meeting rooms and storerooms, and all with nothing to tell us what the place actually is!”

“The wall panels have been a dozen different colours of rock,” Red commented, “I thought there’s a system behind it, maybe different parts of a building or different offices within a tunnel system. But without seeing the actual colour of the rock behind here, I can’t even guess what part of Marke we’re in. We’ve been turned around so many times, we could be near the jail or miles away.” And then he noticed the pillar Rave was leaning against.

“White,” Berlan commented, “The pillars that support the roof at major junctions are cut from the bedrock, I think. And there’s only one large building that’s hewn out of a natural seam of white rock.”

“Ramuh save us!” Red exclaimed at last, “You could have told me! We’ve been walking around this place nearly an hour now, the guards could have seen us any time and I didn’t even know where we are!”

“I thought you would have realised sooner than the rest of us,” Rave shrugged.

“Yeah, well I wasn’t looking at the pillars. But really?”

“Where is it?” Leucidia asked again, “Maybe it’s a surprise to you, but I’ve never been to Marke before, I don’t know what they’ve built from white stone. Where are we?” Red was the one to answer, as his brother looked away.

“We’re in the Admiralty Chambers. The parliament building, and headquarters of the Markavian secret police and special forces.”___

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2016-04-28 16:42:20 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Amazingly colourful sky, given that rain on the screen is making it hard to use my phone.

Amazingly colourful sky, given that rain on the screen is making it hard to use my phone.___

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2016-04-23 10:49:40 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 9 +1s)Open 

This week, in Tomb of Dragons for #SaturdayScenes , a group of five adventurers are exploring a Markavian dungeon in search of the mysterious Aegis Key. The others have been reprimanding the new recruit for being reckless, but their argument was disrupted by the appearance of an intelligent technomagical tank. Now, it seems they have no choice but to fight.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07³ / Secret Laboratory

“Fine!” Leucidia dived towards the mechanical monstrosity without hesitation, surprising even her allies. One moment her hands were empty, giving her the dexterity to backflip across a lab bench and position herself on the far side of the room. And then without seeming to move there were two long knives in her hands, and her hair blew back dramatically.

Berlan was going to rebuke her for wasting time, posing when she could have been attacking. Itwouldn’... more »

This week, in Tomb of Dragons for #SaturdayScenes , a group of five adventurers are exploring a Markavian dungeon in search of the mysterious Aegis Key. The others have been reprimanding the new recruit for being reckless, but their argument was disrupted by the appearance of an intelligent technomagical tank. Now, it seems they have no choice but to fight.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07³ / Secret Laboratory

“Fine!” Leucidia dived towards the mechanical monstrosity without hesitation, surprising even her allies. One moment her hands were empty, giving her the dexterity to backflip across a lab bench and position herself on the far side of the room. And then without seeming to move there were two long knives in her hands, and her hair blew back dramatically.

Berlan was going to rebuke her for wasting time, posing when she could have been attacking. It wouldn’t have made any difference, he doubted even those long knives would pierce the thing’s metal shell, but then he realised that she wasn’t just posing for the sake of it. He could feel the waves of elemental energy rolling off her body, and then the electrostatic potential across her body was powerful enough to make everyone’s hair stand on end. Lightning arced between the tips of her knives, and in the flickering, strobing light she just about got close enough to tap the blades against two of the machine’s protruding weapons.

It squealed in pain, or whatever a machine’s equivalent would be. It might not have been alive, and even that was uncertain given the ways in which Markavian military scientists were known to push the bounds of possibility, but it was certainly capable of thinking and it must know when something harmed it.

“Of course,” Berlan muttered under his breath, “The magical  defences created by scientists are often less effective against lightning magic, I didn’t sense the imbalance somehow.”

“Less talk, more action!” Rave barked. The enemy was ponderously turning now, too many weapons training themselves on Leucidia. Rave ran forward and focused all of his fighting spirit, jerked his head forward so that his hair lashed out like a whip. He put all  his strength into the attack, expending his life force to make sure the attack connected. The blades in his hair didn’t shred iron and ceramic plates as easily as they did the skin of monsters, but still scored a line on the surface. A heartbeat later, Rave followed up the attack with his fists. He wasn’t foolish enough to just strike metal, but the loose scraps he could grab from the nearest bench might do some damage if rammed hard enough into the joints at the base of its guns.

Red was proving his worth too, running around the enemy in circles throwing whatever came to hand.  It wasn’t clear if he was causing any damage, but whatever artificial intelligence powered the tank clearly thought he was a threat, and directed as many bullets towards him as the closer combatants.

Berlan ducked behind upturned lab benches, becoming visible only to throw jets of magical fire or lightning at the enemy. Many of his attacks made no difference at all, and his thunder was nowhere near as potent as Leucidia’s, but with every attempt he felt his mind slipping closer and closer to the hidden dragon providing that power.

Leucidia was the first to fall. Though she was graceful and elegant, there were simply too many bullets in the air to dodge every shot. A flask of some unnamed reagent caught a shot that had barely missed the young woman, and splattered white-hot flaming chemicals and glass over her back. She fell to the ground and screamed, which seemed to be all the cue the machine needed to focus its attack on the others. Jon took his life in his hands and charged headlong through a storm of energy beams to reach where Leucidia was lying, and quickly smothered the flames before applying a balm to her burned skin. It wasn’t much, but his first aid kit provided enough relief to allow her to fight again.

Berlan was reaching his limit. In his mind, he could reach out to the powerful dragons that inhabited the very rocks  of this world, the spirits that made all magic possible. Greatest of all was the world dragon, the beast that commanded the storms of the Underhall above them. Berlan had channeled a part of that magic, slowly earning the dragon’s trust and gaining access to more of its power. He could feel himself changing as he did so, his mind adapting to think like a thunder dragon. He could see the weaknesses in the enemy’s structure, could feel the paths of least resistance and think like a lightning bolt. As his thoughts grew more and more like those of the untamed element, his thunderbolts became more powerful that Leucidia’s sorcerous conjuring. But still, he couldn’t find the heart of Ramuh, the spirit wouldn’t allow him to wield its true power. And he couldn’t focus entirely on transforming his mind, because Berlan could never stop worrying about the friends around him.

When the monstrosity rolled forward and crushed Rave’s foot under its incredible weight, it was clear right away that there was no first aid kit in the world that could help him. This time it was Berlan who was closest, and he stopped his slowly growing barrage of attack magics to call upon the spirit of the world dragon in a different way.

“Heal my friend,” he whispered, and laid on his hands. And there, at the heart of the alien consciousness he was communing with, he found a spark he would never have expected. The spark of consciousness, of electrical impulses inside a human body. And the compassion of the thunderhead for all the living things it could sense only momentarily as it flowed through them. That was the second element in Ramuh’s heart; a dragon of thunder and of life. It wasn’t for nothing he was called the spark of rebirth.

Rave’s bones knitted in seconds as the power flowed through him. His body twitched and spasmed like he had been shocked, but this time the thunderbolt brought life, not death. When he stood again, he felt a surge of life greater than he had imagined possible.

And Berlan reeled with shock, finally understanding rather than just knowing the love that Ramuh had for the frail humans living within his magnificent body. The whole of Brütland was the dragon, and the dragon was the world. Creation and destruction as one, both sides of the coin, and it wouldn’t be possible to master his magic until you knew that one couldn’t come without the other.

Berlan knew.

Rave got in two fast kicks, bending the very tip of a gun barrel so it couldn’t be used, before the wind swirling around the room and the papers and experiments drove him back. He shouted something, advised the others to stand back, but they could sense the danger as well as he could, and his voice was drowned out by a sudden storm in any case. Everyone dived into cover, while the mechanical guardian turned on the spot, seeking the source of the attack.

“UNAUTHORISED SUMMONING ACTIVITY DETECTED,” its mechanical voice boomed, “INITIATING SAFETY RELEASE PROTOCOLS. ALL SAFETY RESTRICTIONS DISABLED, ALL WEAPONS ACTIVE.” The number of shots it was firing increased two or three times. Heavy lab benches sprouted a hundred holes as the monster sought to deal with the intruders even at the cost of destroying the entire chamber. Unfortunately, it was too late.

Berlan could see into the heart of the world spirit now, and the dragon burst from the ground beneath the tank. It didn’t break through, it didn’t cause any damage to the old stone or tiles. It was partially as if the shape of a dragon was extruded from the ground like a stalagmite, and partly like a lightning bolt leaping from one charged surface to another. The dragon was here, incarnate, and tossing the most powerful defensive automaton in the twelve worlds around like a cat with a toy.

After that, the battle was mercifully short. Berlan felt the gratitude of the dragon, happy to have the chance to serve its people, and at the same time a demand. At some point he would have to pay for the hep it had given, but the dragon owed him for its moment of incarnation. Both sides of a coin, a complex transaction that a human mind couldn’t fully comprehend. And as he rested in one corner, eyes glazed, he realised he wouldn’t be able to remember the intense connection he had formed with the beast. He might know what he had done, but once that connection was broken he couldn’t fully understand what he had learned. If he wanted to summon Ramuh, he would have to build that bond all over again. Maybe it was for the best, a human mind couldn’t hold on to a worldview so different from its own. But more than the tiredness that the battle had brought, Berlan was overwhelmed by a sense of loss.

“You never said you were a mage!” Jon stormed over to where Leucidia was combing through the debris of the battle, “You should have told us what you could do!”

“Why?” she gave a half-hearted shrug, her hands not pausing in their task, “Would it have made any difference? You guys don’t take me seriously either way, you keep on asking if I need to rest every couple of hours just because I’m younger than most of  you. Would I have any respect at all if I’d needed to stop in the middle of the mines to recover my etheric energy?”

“Well,” it was Rave who responded first, “We know now, and we all respect you just as much. I don’t think we could have beaten that thing without you. Now we just need to find this key. And with the room in this state, I think it’ll be even harder than before.”

“No, easy,” Leucidia grinned, holding up a gleaming white crystal, “It’s the only thing that wasn’t scratched at all with the storm and the bullets and everything. The Aegis Key is impervious to all magical or physical harm, right? So I got it.” She slipped the object into her pocket, almost daring anyone to challenge her. The others glanced to Rave for direction, and he just nodded. The girl had earned their respect, and if anyone deserved to be the one presenting it to the Gallant Brotherhood, it would be her.



Hmm... not sure if it's G+ or my browser being weird. When I came to compose the image (using the editing tools within G+), the "Rotate right" button was for some reason displaying the tooltip "Add of Wish". Has anyone else seen this?___

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2016-04-18 18:23:20 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

Created a Facebook page for my author persona… everyone says this is the thing to do, though I don't really get it.
And then I spend more than an hour trying to find a decent profile picture. Think this one will do?

Created a Facebook page for my author persona… everyone says this is the thing to do, though I don't really get it.
And then I spend more than an hour trying to find a decent profile picture. Think this one will do?___

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2016-04-16 18:45:49 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, I present a scene much later in the Tomb of Dragons story. Having recruited Leucidia, spoken to the Gallant Brotherhood, and trekked all the way back to Markavian lands, the party finally meets their first mandatory boss battle. If you want to see what's already happened, check out the collection that this post is in. But be warned, I'm not posting these in order, and the numbers are geographic coordinates, not chapter numbers. Each vignette should stand alone, though.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07² / Secret Laboratory

“Which way?” Rave asked. It was obvious that none of them had ever been here before, so deep in enemy territory. But he had got used to trusting Berlan’s guidance now, the older man seemed to know exactly which way to go in any situation.

“Can’t tell you.”

“There aren’t moreghosts here?” they ... more »

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, I present a scene much later in the Tomb of Dragons story. Having recruited Leucidia, spoken to the Gallant Brotherhood, and trekked all the way back to Markavian lands, the party finally meets their first mandatory boss battle. If you want to see what's already happened, check out the collection that this post is in. But be warned, I'm not posting these in order, and the numbers are geographic coordinates, not chapter numbers. Each vignette should stand alone, though.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07² / Secret Laboratory

“Which way?” Rave asked. It was obvious that none of them had ever been here before, so deep in enemy territory. But he had got used to trusting Berlan’s guidance now, the older man seemed to know exactly which way to go in any situation.

“Can’t tell you.”

“There aren’t more ghosts here?” they went from advancing cautiously to panic in a moment, “You should have said!”

“No, no. Calm down. It’s just that a large enough concentration of magic in one place makes it more difficult for the spirits to associate with physical dimensions in a way that would be meaningful to us. They can find the source of the power, but they can’t say if it matches with what we think of as ‘left’ or ‘right’, you understand?”

“I guess,” Leucidia shrugged, “That means it’s close, though. So we break down doors until we find one that contains an Aegis Key.” She raised her leg to strike without waiting for a response from the others.

“Wait!” Jon stammered, “It’ll make less noise if we just open–” The wood was solid, but a little aged and the hinges weren’t made for holding off an army. Leucidia’s boots were heavy leather with steel rivets and onyx toecaps, and they were built for trampling over an army.

The door sprang off its hinges, revealing some kind of laboratory. Complex mechanisms lay on every surface, electronics and steam devices side by side, and components that not one of the party could even guess the function of. Thankfully there was no-one in the room, and no sound of guards coming closer in response to the noise.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Leucidia turned and smiled over her shoulder. Not for the first time since she’d joined this group, it wasn’t clear whether she was flirting, or joking about the lack of response. She might even genuinely think that was a valid way for an adventurer to think. As soon as they were heading away from Marke again, Rave planned to be sure they were well away from this reckless youngster.They couldn’t leave her down here now, though, so he’d have to put up with her just a few moments longer.

They walked into the room, picked almost at random from a dozen identical doors. Right in front of them were stairs leading down to a gantry, with more steps at the far end down to the lab floor. That must explain how there were so many doors along this corridor, when the room was clearly larger that the gaps between them; half the rooms were above the corridor, and the other half below, making use of all possible space.

When the others reached the centre of the chamber, Leucidia and Red were already examining the research equipment arrayed along a dozen parallel benches. One of them was curious to see what was at the forefront of military science; the other taking any small trinkets that looked like they may be of value. The experiments ranged from the size of a small house, to things that would easily fit inside her fist, so she was pretty much spoilt for choice.

“So,” Rave asked after a quick glance around, “are any of these exhibits signposted ‘Key of Aegis’, or do we need to–”

“HALT!” a voice boomed, loud enough to make Leucidia drop a handful of gilded beads. “UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS PATTERN DETECTED. INITIALISING COUNTERMEASURES.” It wasn’t shouting, and there was no emotion. It didn’t even give the impression of being angry, or of any distinct accent they could recognise. It was simply a calm, nondescript voice with a volume that made the floor shake.

“Hell, no!” Red backed away towards the door, “It’s a Guardian System, the most advanced security golems in the twelve worlds. I read in ‘Swords and Skulls’ that against the GS three hundred series, less than one adventurer in a thousand even gets to leave the building alive.” But as he spoke, a large metal and ceramic box was sliding off two tables and starting to move towards them. It was propelled by metal bands around both sides that turned out to be some kind of studded tracks, and as it hit the ground a dozen panels on its front and top sprung open to reveal all kinds of gun barrels.

“GS-950SE,” the voice boomed again, “SYSTEM READY. PRESENT ACCESS CREDENTIALS NOW.”

“Berlan?” Rave glanced back over his shoulder at the old monk, “Any ideas?”

“It looks to be immune to all normal elements,” Berlan sighed, “so my magic won’t be much help. We’ll just have to see what we can do with our fists.”

“Thanks,” Rave’s reply was probably as quiet as the party had ever heard. But he pulled knives from his coat, and turned to Leucidia. “Ladies first?”___

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2016-04-09 20:18:28 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes  I present a scene from Tomb of Dragons, where the plot is finally starting to get underway. Only one more dungeon and one more boss before they reach the inn where a mysterious NPC will give them a quest...

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08⁶ / Lindeborn Caverns / Peristikan Tunnel Exit

Rave Menace was duelling a flame ghost, Bidren. But they were interrupted by Bidren's hostage, Leucidia, who fights with less honour.

“Rave Menace, you have my blessing to go free from this place. You have no need to resort to trickery once you have shown me your skill, and my part of the catacombs will not hinder your attempts to go. If you take the leftmost path twice, you will find the tunnel that leads to the place of sand and chain, from whence your Dragons first invaded our lands.”

“Invaded?” Rave raised an eyebrow, more surprisedby that than... more »

For #SaturdayScenes  I present a scene from Tomb of Dragons, where the plot is finally starting to get underway. Only one more dungeon and one more boss before they reach the inn where a mysterious NPC will give them a quest...

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08⁶ / Lindeborn Caverns / Peristikan Tunnel Exit

Rave Menace was duelling a flame ghost, Bidren. But they were interrupted by Bidren's hostage, Leucidia, who fights with less honour.

“Rave Menace, you have my blessing to go free from this place. You have no need to resort to trickery once you have shown me your skill, and my part of the catacombs will not hinder your attempts to go. If you take the leftmost path twice, you will find the tunnel that leads to the place of sand and chain, from whence your Dragons first invaded our lands.”

“Invaded?” Rave raised an eyebrow, more surprised by that than anything that had come before, “I thought the dragons had always been here. Just what are you? We may have stumbled into…” but he trailed off as Leucidia leaned back with her full weight again, and he had to dart back to avoid Bidren’s thrashing limbs. This time she wasn’t seeking to threaten the giant, and her eyes were cold with hatred. She fell to the ground as the immaterial figure vanished in a shower of sparks.

“Of course the dragons have been here forever,” she shook her head in derision as she picked herself up, “The caves were a livelihood for my people until a few years ago, and then these ghosts came. They are monsters, pure and simple, and you would do better than to give their stories any scrap of credence.”

“They change shape,” Mizelle confirmed, “They’d say anything to get me out of hiding. Don’t listen to them.”

“We can at least try the directions he gave us,” Berlan said, “Even if they’re wrong, it’s no worse than proceeding blindly.” The others couldn't really argue.

Bidren’s directions, it turned out, were entirely accurate. In just a few minutes of walking, Berlan could feel the familiar background presence of the Dragons reasserting itself.

“We’re out,” he said, “This is a normal passage.”

“We’ve got to save everybody else, though,” Mizelle shook her head, “The whole village got caught by the ghosts, I don’t know how, it’s like nobody was left at all. We got to find them and bring them back here, this is the way out to the Peristikan beach so if we get them here they can ride to Portiston and rest there.”

“No way,” Jon shook his head, “We’re in a hurry to get to the beach, and once we found an exit there’s no reason for you young ladies to go back either. Leave it to the professionals.”

“I’m not some innocent damsel,” Leucidia shrugged, “And I’ve got no interest in sitting back doing nothing, in Lindeborn or in Portiston. If you’re on some quest, like the old stories grandpa always told, then I’m coming with you. I’ve been looking for a way out of this dead end town all my life, and I’m good enough with my fists. Besides, I was here before. There’s a rockfall blocking the passage ahead.”

A granite slab blocked the passage from floor to ceiling, exactly as she had said.

“You had to check?”

“What do you think, Berlan?” Red had to ask, “I mean, Jon’s cell wall looked like solid rock. Can we break through this?”

“Not a chance.” He didn’t say that he was even more curious about the ghosts’ story than Rave had been. Whether it was true or not, whether the accurate directions out gave them a reason to trust what Bidren had said, he needed to hear more about the origins of the dragons. And the fact that Denizen and Alexandr would not acknowledge the question made him wonder if it could have a kernel of truth at its heart. So with Mizelle safely in the centre of the group, they turned and strode back into the chaotic domain of the flame ghosts.___

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2016-04-02 21:38:50 (6 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes I usually try to share a scene from a work in progress. But this time, the scene came out quite long, so this is the second half of a scene I shared last week. Much to my shame, I haven't been back to edit it in the intervening time, either, so the writing is still of first-draft quality.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08⁵ / Lindeborn Caverns / Bidren's Lair scene 3

Story so far: Rave, Red, Berlan, and Jon Beele are exploring a supposedly haunted cave system. They've found a young girl, Mizelle, from the local village, but have then been unable to find the way out. Then they found one of the ghosts, who is both giant and on fire, and is keeping another of the villagers hostage. He says he just wants someone to duel against, though.

Bidren dodged effortlessly, and Rave sailed past to slam against the boundaries of the ring. He hit theinv... more »

For #SaturdayScenes I usually try to share a scene from a work in progress. But this time, the scene came out quite long, so this is the second half of a scene I shared last week. Much to my shame, I haven't been back to edit it in the intervening time, either, so the writing is still of first-draft quality.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08⁵ / Lindeborn Caverns / Bidren's Lair scene 3

Story so far: Rave, Red, Berlan, and Jon Beele are exploring a supposedly haunted cave system. They've found a young girl, Mizelle, from the local village, but have then been unable to find the way out. Then they found one of the ghosts, who is both giant and on fire, and is keeping another of the villagers hostage. He says he just wants someone to duel against, though.

Bidren dodged effortlessly, and Rave sailed past to slam against the boundaries of the ring. He hit the invisible wall, and it felt like his body was on fire.  He was thrown back with such incredible force, like a wall of hard rubber. It was almost the feeling he had expected, proving that this arena wasn’t too different from many others across the twelve worlds,except that the jolt of magical energy released into his body felt like it was composed of pure fire, and his trousers started to smoke as that energy discharged.

Once he’d seen that there was a tangible force keeping the two duellists together, Berlan urged Mizelle forward. They could free the prisoner and get out of here, though the monk was still thinking as fast as he was capable of,trying to find a plan that wouldn’t involve leaving their leader behind.

“Missy, you need to go,” Leucidia urged again as soon as they came within reach, “I don’t know what I’d say to your folks if I got you caught up in this business.”

“You didn’t,” Berlan answered as quickly as he could, “We found her in the caves, just hiding from monsters. We tried to rescue her, but we can’t find the Portiston exit. We need your help to rescue this little miss.”

“I don’t have a choice, then,” she shrugged, “Just get these chains off me. I think they’re some kind of magic, or I should be able to slip out of them.”

They were distracted by a crashing boom, as Bidren slammed against the barrier right next to them. The line around the edge of the dais errupted into a solid wall of flames as he staggered back to his feet and threw a handfull of flames that seemed to burn quite merrily even when deprived of fuel.

“He won’t win,” Leucidia explained as Berlan managed to disconnect her left wrist’s chain from the door, “The flame ghosts rule this place, they can bend space how they want as long as it fits in with some rules. If you even get close to winning, that thing will change the rules. And because you can’t change the balance between magic and science, there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

“Well, we got past one of his tricks,” Berlan tried to look on the bright side, “These chains are enchanted, alright. The person restrained can’t manipulate them, can’t unlock them in any way. But they’re as easily opened as any other once your friends are here,I guess whoever designed them never thought about that.

Bidren slammed into the barrier again. Rave stood in the middle of the arena, blood dripping down one side of his chest and panting with exertion. The giant, on the other hand, looked perfectly fresh. It wasn’t that he was hard to hit, but any injury to his body just seemed to heal of its own accord. He was incorporeal, made of spiritual power, so of course physical blows had no lasting effect.

“Will they work on him?” Leucidia asked, and then shook her head. “Missy, stay here, and if anything goes wrong you run. Right? Don’t get involved, don’t get blamed.” Then her voice was suddenly cold as steel: “You shouldn’t have touched me, ghost. Too many men make that mistake, and seems like the dead aren’t any smarter.”

She didn’t wait for the duel to end. Bidren fell back against the boundary around the field whenever Rave landed a strong blow, but he never seemed to actually be hurt. He just lay on the edge and let the magical barrier flow into his body, as if they were made of the same ethereal fire. That meant that as he lay there, we was partly outside the ring, and there was nothing to stop his prisoner from leaping up and wrapping her chain around his neck.

The chains didn’t pass through Bidren like so many of Rave’s attacks had. The chains glowed white hot, but Leucidia held on tight to both ends, raising her legs so that her entire weight was on the monster’s throat.

“Of course, the restraint enchantment will stop him becoming incorporeal,” Berlan mused, “I wonder why I didn’t think of that.” Meanwhile, the giant ghost screamed in pain, and thrashed in a manner more befitting the loser of a duel. He reached up to swat the girl away like an errant fly, but she rolled to evade the blazing fists while still putting her whole weight on the chain.

“I know this isn’t fair,” Rave spoke slowly, feeling like he still needed to give an impression of being in command while he came to terms with the surprise, “But letting my fists pass through you isn’t part of a normal duel. If you’re using powers like that, I think you’re telling us that anything goes. So… your captive is in charge now. She might be willing to let you breathe long enough to answer some questions, I think that depends on how you’ve treated her.” And then he looked up at his friends, “Do we have anything to gain by interrogating this guy?”

“How do we get out?” Leucidia slackened her grip for just a moment to let the monster answer, though the metal still burned against his glowing flesh, “Is there a way, or do we just have to kill you?”

“My death will not serve you,” Bidren’s breathless gasp was nothing compared to the proud boom he had emitted before, “Save to attract the rage of my brethren. This place will remain distorted to you as long as one of us lives. My life is in your hands, but you have naught to gain here.”

“Then what?” Rave asked, “How do we get out of here?”

“I respect your skill, and so I will tell you. Many of our kind will deal with those who impress them, we are not beyond negotiation though I believe our honour differs from yours. And though we twist the space that we have reclaimed from the dragons, we will not break it. This space and this time is our home, and as such it is sacred to us. Though the passages will not follow the geometries that are familiar to your kind, they do follow rules.  If you walk far enough, you may find your escape. And, may I ask, what is the name of the man who could give me the enjoyment of a fair duel?”

“Rave,” he nodded, and smiled. The ghost wouldn’t have killed them in any case, he was fighting for sport. “Rave Menace.”

“Then, Rave Menace, you have my blessing to go free from this place. You have no need to resort to trickery once you have shown me your skill, and my part of the catacombs will not hinder your attempts to go. If you take the leftmost path twice, you will find the tunnel that leads to the place of sand and chain, from whence your Dragons first invaded our lands.”___

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2016-03-26 21:43:51 (3 comments; 1 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

It's Saturday. It's #SaturdayScenes , and a lot of authors are coming together to share a scene from their current works. Mine this time is part of a longer piece; someone remind me to post the other half next week? Also, a warning that this is very much first-draft quality. Opinions welcome as always.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08⁴ / Lindeborn Caverns / Bidren's Lair scene 2

The tunnel ended in a large chamber that looked almost like some kind of training hall, but built to a giant scale. The stone dais in the centre, fully thirty yards across, was recognisably a duelling circle. To anyone who’d ever fought for money, the intermittent line cut into the ground a few feet back was a sure sign; a second gutter to catch any spilled blood that sprayed beyond the arena, and also a warning for spectators who didn’t want to step within reach of a wild swing from thecombatan... more »

It's Saturday. It's #SaturdayScenes , and a lot of authors are coming together to share a scene from their current works. Mine this time is part of a longer piece; someone remind me to post the other half next week? Also, a warning that this is very much first-draft quality. Opinions welcome as always.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08⁴ / Lindeborn Caverns / Bidren's Lair scene 2

The tunnel ended in a large chamber that looked almost like some kind of training hall, but built to a giant scale. The stone dais in the centre, fully thirty yards across, was recognisably a duelling circle. To anyone who’d ever fought for money, the intermittent line cut into the ground a few feet back was a sure sign; a second gutter to catch any spilled blood that sprayed beyond the arena, and also a warning for spectators who didn’t want to step within reach of a wild swing from the combatants.

Their eyes were drawn past the arena, though, to a figure on the far side. She was chained between two doors on the far wall, each wrist connected to one doorknob such that she couldn’t bring her arms together. At first sight, Rave took her for another child from Lindeborn village, but looking beyond her height showed that clearly wasn’t the case. She was heavily muscled, shoulders broad from a life of hard labour, and the lines on her face said she was closer to thirty years old than thirteen. Her arms were visibly red and bruised around the manacles, though Jon was the only one with enough experience of prison life to wonder whether that was from an unusually rough jailor, or her frantic attempts to free herself.

“Leucidia!” Mizelle called out and started to run around the edge of the room, before the young woman shouted for her to stop.

“Get away, Missy! Get to the village and tell them to lock the gates, the tunnels are blocked, and then get someone to Kriegsmeher to call the guards. We need soldiers here, and we need them now.”

“That’s not so easy,” Rave barked back, “We’ve been looking for a way out, but we’d have a better chance with a local or two in the group.”

“There is no way out,” a voice boomed, as he was almost a third of the way around the room. New, there was a gladiator standing in the centre of the room. He was tall and looked well built, but the far wall and all the weapons hanging on it were visible right through his body. It was like they could see the gleam of firelight on his armour, and the gleam of sweat on muscles that could lift a house, but not the body itself.

“That’s what she meant by ‘flame ghosts’ then?” Red whispered under his breath, backing away towards the passage they’d come in through. The figure met every description of a ghost they’d heard; being clearly magical, glowing, and incorporeal. But none of the rumours had mentioned them being as tall as two men or even three, with limbs as thick as any stalagmite.

“I am Bidren,” the red figure boomed, “And if you would leave this place, you must face me in honourable combat.”

“Fine,” Rave scowled, “I’ll face you. What’re your terms?”

“Don’t touch the weapons!” The prisoner, Leucidia, called out, “It’s a trick.”

Berlan looked around at the walls, where there was barely a foot of space between axes, lances, swords, and other metal pieces. Even without the spirits guiding him he could have sensed the same, that the weapons on display were either ornamental parts of the wall or came with heavy curses. He might have mentioned it when they entered, but he didn’t think any of his companions would have been foolish enough to touch the things.

“They’re cursed,” he said anyway, stepping forward so he could advise Rave without needing to shout, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

“No,” his voice was barely more than a whisper, “But what choice do we have? If he can appear from nothing, we can’t just run. Even if I only keep him occupied for a few minutes, that gives you five a chance to be far from here before he leaves the ring.” He nodded towards the chained young woman, as if it wasn’t obvious who he meant as the fifth member of their group.

It wasn’t clear if Bidren heard their conversation or not. The only word he spoke as Rave entered the ring was “Unarmed?” Then he brought his palms together, and when they separated the red colouring of his body was broken by balls of blue-white fire so bright it was painful to look at them. The strange figure’s mouth quirked into a smile, but his eyes were still watching the area around Rave, as if it expected him to go for one of the weapons after all.

Rave didn’t look twice at the flames coming from the monster’s palms. It was no stranger than the other creatures they’d fought down here, to his mind. He turned away for just a moment, and Bidren rocked back on its heels with a lazy grin. For all his pretense of honour,  the giant ghost just wanted to see someone suffer the consequences of breaking the unwritten rules of this duel. Rave didn’t leave the dais, though, and didn’t reach for any of the weapons on the wall.

He spun around on the spot, long hair that reached almost to his knees swinging out like a whip. It caught his giant opponent in the mid thigh, and the smell of ozone filled the air. The light from the magical discharge wasn’t bright, compared to Bidren’s blazing palms, but it was a clear sign that Rave Menace was prepared to take this fight seriously.

Bidren recoiled, and tumbled to the ground. Even if his body wasn’t material, his muscles reacted like they were real when he was struck, and determining that was the case had been the real motivation behind Rave’s first attack. Bidren was stumbling, but even before righting himself he responded with a low jab that would have burned the flesh from Rave’s bones, had it connected. Rave was rolling across the ground, glowing trails of psychokinetic energy lighting his path and helping him to bound back to his feet just outside the giant’s reach. Jon gasped with surprise, having never really seen the extent of his friend’s abilities before.

The other thing Rave had to do was test the perimeter of this duelling arena. He’d felt the flow of energy the minute he stepped up, but it wasn’t quite clear what it would do. It wasn’t uncommon even in fight clubs not run by ghosts, some kind of barrier that would prevent anyone interfering in the middle of a bout. But he needed to know before the fight ended if this one would prevent him from fleeing if it got too tough;  or if it posed any real hazard to his friends. He wouldn’t normally take such a risk, his daredevil acrobatics normally being guided by advance knowledge of exactly what he was capable of. But Red was here, and their friends, and two girls he couldn’t help thinking of as children. He leapt with a fist and a foot outstretched, ready to grab and to kick. But Bidren dodged effortlessly, and Rave sailed past to slam against the boundaries of the ring.

He hit the invisible wall, and it felt like his body was on fire.  He was thrown back with such incredible force, like a wall of hard rubber. It was almost the feeling he had expected, proving that this arena wasn’t too different from many others across the twelve worlds,except that the jolt of magical energy released into his body felt like it was composed of pure fire, and his trousers started to smoke as that energy discharged.



It'll probably be a long time before Tomb of Dragons is ready for publication. But if you want to see some of the writing that's actually sustaining my existence, please check out http://hyperurl.co/afterhope or http://hyperurl.co/curiosities - Thankyou___

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2016-03-26 14:08:10 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

It would be nice if statements like this weren't necessary. It would be great to live in a world where there's no need to campaign for the rights of any group, because basic human rights should be a default.

We are not going away.  We will not be beaten.

If you support transgender rights, share this image.___It would be nice if statements like this weren't necessary. It would be great to live in a world where there's no need to campaign for the rights of any group, because basic human rights should be a default.

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2016-03-19 21:06:19 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

Something a bit different for #SaturdayScenes  this week. A very rough draft of a rather silly idea, about superheroes and another group of people with special talents…

Presto

They’re an alienated fringe on the edge of our society, even choosing outlandish names to make themselves seem different. They have a moral code that might seem strange to anyone who isn’t one of them. Though they start off just like everyone else, they quickly form circles where they can associate with people they have more in common with. They aren’t set apart by anything so obvious as the colour of their skin, and in fact many of them find that they can make quite an impression by hiding their membership of that exclusive club until they judge the moment to be right.

Most of them like to impress, to make people happy. But like any group whose primary means of identification is inwhat the... more »

Something a bit different for #SaturdayScenes  this week. A very rough draft of a rather silly idea, about superheroes and another group of people with special talents…

Presto

They’re an alienated fringe on the edge of our society, even choosing outlandish names to make themselves seem different. They have a moral code that might seem strange to anyone who isn’t one of them. Though they start off just like everyone else, they quickly form circles where they can associate with people they have more in common with. They aren’t set apart by anything so obvious as the colour of their skin, and in fact many of them find that they can make quite an impression by hiding their membership of that exclusive club until they judge the moment to be right.

Most of them like to impress, to make people happy. But like any group whose primary means of identification is in what they can do, there are a few who start to think that a single talent or ability truly sets them apart, makes them better than ordinary people. It is the secrets that bind them together, and while that usually creates a positive atmosphere of trust, there can be times when knowing someone is so good at keeping their particular secret makes you wonder what they’re keeping from you. A moment’s argument, a tiny rivalry, is all it can take for an open challenge, the kind of contest that the normal people will love to see on the television, even if they have no particular opinion who they would prefer to win.

And then there are some who are on the wrong side of the law. They use those same talents to steal, taking the most guarded treasures without being seen. In a lot of those cases, only others from the same margin of society could have the talents and experience necessary to find them and to track them down.

I am talking, of course, about the prestidigitators. Illusionists, magicians, conjurers. Their tricks need only the smallest tweak to turn the good natured deception of an audience into a ruthless confidence trick, or the art of misdirection into a tool for robbery. They do things so unusual, and are used to thinking in ways that nobody ese would even consider. No wonder the Magic Circles like to keep themselves apart.

Of course, I could just as easily have been talking about masks, with powers derived from alien ancestry or ancient tribal magic, from a religious artefact of unknown provenance or even a direct gift from some obscure deity. Or maybe the people are right who say they are all mutants, and that what appears to be some supernatural power is in fact just a biological property we don’t yet understand, a twisting rather than breaking of the laws of science, facilitated by the twistiest of all molecules: DNA.

Presto, though, was certainly not a mutant. He didn’t like to be called a mask either, not considering himself among the ranks of the superheroes. He had special talents, but they were talents born of hours of practice and a lifetime of dedication, rather than gained  through something as trivial as a shower of toxic waste or a heavy ion storm when exploring the antarctic tundra. His skill was not a boon or a chance occurance, but something he had worked hard for every day of his life. Skill through effort, or what some of his acquaintances liked to call a kung fu.

He wasn’t a mask. He wasn’t a villain or a badge, he was just a performer. But somehow in this modern world, when all the stories that are passed from mouth to mouth deal with supernormal warriors with skills far beyond the norm; somehow people might have forgotten that sometimes the stories in the big city call for a different kind of champion. We need a champion who can keep secrets, as well as the ones who would someday hit the front page with all of their titanic strength. Presto was such a man.

He first knew something unusual was happening when he saw a man in a badly fitting suit in the lobby. It was the opening night of his new show, so he was already a little on edge. This wasn’t some grand auditorium, but the Farthingside Little Theatre, an establishment with space for just a single cinema screen that could be winched away into the gods to allow non-cinematic marvels to be enacted on the stage.

Now, it wasn’t unusual to see suits among the audience members in that theatre. It liked to bll itself as a traditional venue for the common entertainments, and to many of the older people in the area it was quite natural to dress up rather formally for an evening out. And badly-fitting suits were almost the norm in a part of town where maybe one man in five earned enough to buy his suit from anywhere that wasn’t a chain store discount rail. But there was something about this man that made him different.

A lot of Presto’s job was spotting things that didn’t fit in. He was in the lobby now taking a look at his audience, looking for anyone celebrating a birthday, or work parties, or anything he could mention during the show to subtly enhance the air of omniscience. And this guy didn’t fit in at all. He was left handed, but holding a single ticket in his right. He moved slowly across the room, giving a pretty good impression of a bored clerk, wondering if the show was going to be worth his money. His eyes darted constantly around the room, but he wasn’t looking for the rest of his group. He was watching people move, looking to see if anyone was getting close. He was also keeping an eye on the clock, but not impatient at all. Between all the subtle tics and mannerisms, Presto would have bet anything that this man was working; and that his chosen career path at least occasionally involved people trying to harm him.

Presto couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt a magician, but he could recognise those wary glances. He could also see that the man in a suit kept his jacket slightly open, maybe not even realising. He used his left hand to take tickets out of his wallet, and to pay for a coffee, but tickets went quickly back into the wallet as soon as he’d shown them to Meryl on the door, and the coffee went straight into his right hand. He was keeping a clear path between his left hand and his belt, telling the magician – or anyone else so used to reading the slightest behavioural clues – that he usually carried a gun, and that occasionally he’d have to go for it without much warning.

“Looking forward to the show?” Presto knew that just going up and speaking to the man would be a bit dumb. But he wasn’t carrying a gun today, so he was here to talk to someone he didn’t want to spook. Presto liked to think of himself as a celebrity, though his fame didn’t stretch far beyond a half dozen theatres on the local circuit, and he didn’t want anything to happen that might inconvenience his public. He told himself that was because every star loves his fans; though a more cynical internal monologue suggested that he was simply concerned with his only viable source of income.

“More interested in you, Mr Presto,” the stranger responded without turning around. Unless you were close enough to make out his voice, it would have been hard for anyone to notice that they were having a conversation. He recognised the performer, as well, a feat that most of the people in the crowd would prove amazingly inept at. Sometimes it was surprising just how much difference it made not to wear a designer suit and a silk hat.

“You’re more observant than most, I’ll give you that. What’s your business here? As much as I say the customer’s always right, if the customer is likely to be attracting men with guns I’d rather he not patronise my show.  Have to protect my fans.”

“I don’t have to stay for the show. Just want to speak with you. Have you ever thought about using your magic to benefit the people, rather than just entertain them?”

“I’m not a sorcerer, I’m not a mutant. Just a humble prestidigitator, without any kind of supernatural powers. And you’re not a police officer, either, so why are you asking me about serving the public trust?”

“I’m no cop, but I represent an organisation you probably never heard of. We’ve got magic users, and all kinds of supernormals, but we can’t use them for this. They make too much of a splash, the bad guys see them coming. Can even taste when there’s one in the area in one case, no idea how that one works. We need a guy who doesn’t have any powers, but can walk out of a secure building without the people inside knowing anything is missing. I know  your reputation, the master of the moonwalking bear. If there’s anyone can make a guard stare at a priceless blueprint and not notice that it’s missing, we need Presto the Magnificent.”

“Nice title. Bribe for my ego?”

“Just thought it sounds nice. I don’t go in much for all the NLP manipulation stuff, never studied it beyond six months in basic training. No, our group could use a man like you. Maybe you’ll help us, maybe you won’t. My boss probably worked out the probabilities, and his boss probably checked your horoscope. I just put it down to you will or you won’t, and if you won’t I’ve got a list of candidates left to try. But your country needs someone like you, mister Presto. Would you give it a chance?”

Presto gave in. Not because of patriotism, but because he knew how easily crowds could be swayed by some new and interesting fashion. If the public had a new craze and there were more empty seats, then having another job to fall back on could be a lifesaver. And the government here was well known for looking after people who’d done work for them.

* * *

Seventeen weeks after he had first been introduced to the mysterious Mr Johnson, Presto was taking a tour of a security contractor. They specialised in providing bodyguards for the rich and famous, so with a little government loan to help with the cost of setting up a television show, Presto was exactly the kind of customer Universal Security was looking for. When he came to look at their operations headquarters, he gave them some story about how an obsessive fan had sent him threats, said they wanted to test his mythical ability to catch bullets with his teeth. It was the kind of thing some magicians did, so it was just about believable that a fan who had lost touch with reality might shoot their hero just to see if he had real supernatural powers.

Presto didn’t tell the corporate rep that story, though. He dropped a few hints, and said he was worried about his safety before and after the nights’ shows. He built on the responses that the salesman gave him, dropping maybe two or three words to guide the man’s imagination. It was the same cold reading technique he was used to in his Visionary Seer routine. Give the audience member just the subtlest of hints, they make up the story that best fits their past experience, and they come away convinced that he was the one providing all the surprisingly accurate insights into their life. In this case he wasn’t pretending to know all the details about someone else’s past, he was trying to come up with a story that a professional security guard would believe, but the principle was the same.

“Actually,” the salesman – Mister Parker, he’d said his name was, though a slight twitch of his eyes to the left said that nobody in this company used their real names – offered, “If you really want the best bodyguards money can buy, we have a somewhat special service that we can offer right now. It’s got  to be kept secret, but I’m sure you’re no stranger to that.”

And that was exactly what he’d been looking for. Presenting them with exactly the kind of story they wanted, carefully shaping their opinion of him as the perfect customer for what they would never admit was a trial. He mumbled and hedged his bets, using a few glances down to indicate that he could certainly afford what they were offering while his actual words said that he couldn’t be certain until he’d seen it. The next day Presto the Magnificent got a call: Universal Security would like to invite him to a demonstration of the world’s most advanced personal protection system.

Perfect Guards, they called them. The subtext said superheroes. Soldiers, or former soldiers at any rate. None of the promotional literature actually specified where these mercenaries had received their training, but Mr Johnson’s agency was sure they were recruiting ex military personnel, the loose cannons who nobody looked too hard for when they went missing on leave in some exotic foreign country. They weren’t the best of the best, but they were the bad apples that could look so desirable until you found out what was inside.

Nobody knew what was behind the strength of these men. Retroactive genetic engineering, or some kind of cybernetic enhancement. It could be anything, and Universal Security had gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure that only potential clients could even come close to the truth. That was why Presto was here, a rising star with enough fame that nobody could think he might be in the employ of the government.

Mister Parker and Doctor Faz showed him a demonstration of their latest creation, the Advanced Rider System. Their bodyguard could leap impossible distances and catch bullets out of the air, and a direct neural link to his motorbike meant that he  could mount and dismount the vehicle in midair and perform impossible feats of acrobatics. It was half showmanship, Presto could see, many of the spectacles he saw would have little use to an actual bodyguard, but it certainly made the ex-marine look even more impressive than he ever had before. Of course, they wouldn’t tell him how the System worked; but a dishonourably discharged ex-marine was a lot less tight lipped when he was given the right words to bring his resentment to the surface.

When a partial blueprint and the marine’s copy of the manual for the device were discovered missing, they apologised profusely to Presto. They didn’t like to do it, but of course discretion was of the utmost importance, and they had to search every person in the building. They were indeed very thorough, and he was impressed by their attention to detail. There was probably nowhere on his body that something the size of those documents could have been hidden. But there was confidential information missing, and nobody could leave the facility until it was found, so the illusionist just had to wait. Of course, they offered him a discount in compensation for the inconvenience, and then he was left to haggle over the price.

It was more than an hour of searching before the missing documents appeared. They searched everywhere, even in the lab’s secure vaults where the manual had no reason to be. It turned out to be wedged under the bottom drawer in Faz’s desk, where it must somehow have slipped down unnoticed. They apologised to Presto profusely, and said they looked forward to doing business with him. They waved him out through the building’s security with only a cursory search; after all, he’d just been through a full body search no less than three times.

But those searches had been looking for a small book and a blueprint, not the miniscule bundle of electronics he’d lifted from the vault while they were searching there. There were plenty of places that a neurotransetic conducer could be concealed that nobody would think a book could fit. In this case, Presto chose to to conceal a circuit the size of a pea inside a small plush rabbit which – of course, poking fun at the old clichés – he always carried in his hat.

He didn’t know at the time that the Perfect Rider system would tune itself automatically when placed close enough to a receptive brain. But it would, and it did. And that was how Presto the Magnificent became a superhero.___

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2016-03-12 22:39:28 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, a continuation of last week's. Please read, comment, etc. If you like the idea of seeing what different writers are working on, click the hashtag and check out other saturday scenes. If you like this story, let me know. And if you like my writing in general, then make a note to check out A Dozen Curiosities, which should be out on Kindle some time in the coming week.

Sorry it's a bit of a longer one than usual…

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:06³ / Portiston / The Gallant Brotherhood

“So, one of your people’s in the Special Jail?” Rave got right down to business, as usual. “We’ll tell you what we can, but I don’t know we can do that much to help.”

They were sitting around a large slate table in the Gallant Brotherhood headquarters. As they’ve expected, there was a warren of tunnels leading offthe training hall the... more »

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, a continuation of last week's. Please read, comment, etc. If you like the idea of seeing what different writers are working on, click the hashtag and check out other saturday scenes. If you like this story, let me know. And if you like my writing in general, then make a note to check out A Dozen Curiosities, which should be out on Kindle some time in the coming week.

Sorry it's a bit of a longer one than usual…

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:06³ / Portiston / The Gallant Brotherhood

“So, one of your people’s in the Special Jail?” Rave got right down to business, as usual. “We’ll tell you what we can, but I don’t know we can do that much to help.”

They were sitting around a large slate table in the Gallant Brotherhood headquarters. As they’ve expected, there was a warren of tunnels leading off the training hall they had seen before, and no doubt entrances other than the one connecting to the inn. Bishop Nite turned out to be the man Red and Jon had observed walking into the corridor and vanishing, though the two hadn’t offered any explanation as to what they’d been doing prowling around the inn at that time of night.

The bishop with a large man, the loose robes that seemed to characterise the brotherhood pulled tight about his shoulders and biceps. His skin was almost as dark as the rocks around them, a rare quality that meant he had an Arrival among his ancestors within three or four generations. Brother Wirk sat at his left hand, quickly sorting through a stack of papers that presumably might be of some use during this meeting. Red and Rave sat on one side of the table, while Berlen, Jon, and Leucidia filled the other.

“I’m afraid that is not quite the case,” Nite’s answer barely told them anything, save that his barrel chest had given him an almost unnaturally deep voice, “But that is what we were able to tell most of our contacts. Suffice to say that we wish to recruit a group who could gain access to the Special Jail.”

“We can tell you everything you need to know about the layout,” Jon offered, “Berlen draws some pretty impressive maps, and I’d wager he can do even better with good parchment and ink instead of scratching lines in the sand. Don’t know if the guy you’re rescuing will be near the bit we were in, though.”

“I was told you are adventurers,” the Bishop offered after only a moment’s consideration, “Our people have seen at least some of your group visiting the Terminators’ Guild, at least. If it is convenient, maybe you could consider this a bounty such as the guilds usually offer, though the price could be much higher. We seek the retrieval of an item which we believe can be found beyond the Markavian Special Jail.”

“You should have said so in the first place!” Red smiled, “Or just post it in the guild, maybe. There’s bound to be somebody to try it.I thought you were just after information.”

“I’m afraid we couldn’t post in the guilds. Because if the public became aware of the nature of the treasure we seek, it’s possible that there could be a panic on an uncommon scale. And we would appreciate information, but we would be much more grateful for the help of competent adventurers. As those who are stationed here are currently either injured, or known in Marke, and I worry that we might not be able to assemble a full team quickly enough.”

“We’ll consider it,” Rave spoke sharply before Red could agree to any terms, “Once we’ve heard what this treasure is that you’re so  impatient to get your hands on, and once we know price you’re willing to pay. I’d assume one of the guards has it, or it’s something taken from a prisoner. But in the former case I fail to see the urgency, not to mention that all guards could be attacked at some time outside the Special Jail, and in the latter it is more likely to be stored in the Imperial Central Courts depository. However, I am more concerned that you think there would be panic over this item. I must insist that having made such a curious statement, you tell us more.” Nite looked at Rave, met his gaze and stared so intensely that a bystander might wonder if he was reading the thoughts right out of the man’s head.

“We believe this group to be able to act in confidence,” Wirk spoke after three minutes. Nite just ignored him and continued to stare for a minute longer.

“Rave de Araan,” Nite spoke eventually, “I would not trust that man. No elf has such a physique, and no man of Arandell has such pride without being born to an elven bloodline. Not to mention, the people of that Nation are masters of double-dealing and trickery, even among their allies.”

“I am not–” Rave started, well aware that was the name he had put down on the inn’s guest register. He hadn’t wanted to use his real name, for fear of being thought a Markavian spy.

“Rave Menace,” Nite continued after the briefest pause, completely ignoring Raves interruption, “on the other hand, I can trust. A man who does whatever is necessary to rescue his family, even denying his nation and his name, is a predictable man. Not honest, but reliable, and such morals are exactly what we try to instill into the men of the Brotherhood. Do what it takes to save those you care about, and disregard any rules that would seem set in stone. Yes, I will trust you, because you seem like a man who does the right thing. I will give you one more test, but I suspect you will pass it. I ask you, though, are you sure of those you travel with?”

“I am.”

“Then we will take your word as standing for the group. The item we wish you to recover is a weapon, but it does not belong to any guard. In fact, it is not within the Special Jail. You are aware, I assume, that wizards of certain talents can scry into an enemy nation, and can find the places where powerful magics are wrought, or identify the location of a barracks where men learn to marshal their thoughts and their bodies? Using such second sight, mages may direct an attacking force to the place they can inflict he greatest strategic harm to the enemy nation?” He paused only a moment for a series of nods from Rave and his party.

“Then you will know that to prevent their secrets being uncovered by these means, many groups construct shields against observation around their research laboratories, so that every new weapon will be a surprise on the battlefield. And as these shields get more effective, the spells to breach them are similarly advanced. That therefore only the nation with the strongest wizards can hope to keep their new technologies a secret? Of course, you are intelligent men. It is widely known that the inescapable prison is proof against scrying, with some of the best Markavian wizards who have ever lived working on maintaining its defences. Therefore, to someone within the corridors of power at the Admiralty, where better to hide a secret laboratory? By placing it within an existing barrier against clairvoyance by spell or by spirit, they can rely upon an existing team of specialists to protect them, and can ensure that the enemies of their plan do not even know that research is being carried out.”

“An experimental weapon?” Jon looked up, “I haven’t heard of the Markavians having anything like that.”

“You wouldn’t have done. This particular discovery is kept secret even from their own militia, and is under the control of a small group of insane Generals who intend to use it to rise to the top of their own hierarchy once the other Nations are annihilated.”

“Annihilated?” Rave snapped sarcastically, “A bit of a strong word. No new weapon has ever done more than let the armies take a few caves, maybe push the tide of battle a thousand casualties further in one direction.”

“I used the right word,” Nite’s voice was softer than it had been so far. It was the voice of a priest mourning at a remembrance service, rather than one extolling the destructive force of fire and brimstone against the unfaithful. “You may have heard that there have been quakes near the beach, and that Wendland is currently out of our reach. They say service will be restored, but this is not the case. Every man and child on Wendland is dead, its spirits cast adrift. The quakes in the Portiston mines and in other parts of Brütland were but aftershocks, the world moving beneath us as the chain between Brütland and Wendland was slackened. Our seers have now confirmed our worst fears: the Chain Resonance Cannon performed according to the fevered dreams of its first imaginer and Wendland – an entire world – has been split asunder.”

“But that’s …” Red didn’t even know what to say.

“I did tell you those generals were insane,” Nite whispered softly, “You understand now that we cannot allow this weapon to be used again?” There was a murmur of agreement around the table. Only Leucidia thought of the practicalities right away.

“We can’t steal a weapon large enough to destroy a world,” she speculated, “But you don’t need it stolen, you need it destroyed.”

“No,” this time it was Wirk who answered, opening out a book of notes in front of him, “At least seven Markavian scholars know the theory of this device, and would probably be able to recreate it. Destroying it would not be sufficient. Our plan was initially to destry the one component which we believe they would not be able to replicate, a crystal ring known as the Aegis Key. This was formed from a magical artifact lost in a volcanic vent for more than fifty thousand years, which displayed highly unusual properties after the chance shifting of tectonic zones caused it to be deposited within a Griener silver mine.”

“I’ve heard of that,” Jon offered, “It was in the Grienhüs Pastoral Museum as an academic curiosity. I heard it was seized among other treasures by the occupying Markavian force, but then lost between locations.”

“But then,” Rave spoke slowly, deducing more as he proceeded through the sentence, “the Markavians launched an all-out attack against the smallest of their neighbours, a world that’s not made an aggressive move in living memory. There had to be a reason. So someone found out this Aegis Key could be made a weapon, and has the clout to create a secret lab, and to order an invasion?”

“Indeed,” Nite nodded, “We immediately researched ways to destroy the key, and found that there is none. It has both magical and physical resistive qualities higher than any other material ever discovered, as agreed by every scholar who has studied it.”

“So what’s the plan?” Leucidia was straight to the point. Turning to his left a fraction, Jon speculated that if this kept up, she would be either a great asset or a terrible liability at any negotiating table. He had no idea which might be the case, though.

“We have prepared a shaft, within the granite layers. That partially explains our choice of location here; we needed easy access to certain parts of the Portiston mines in order to get our drilling equipment into position. We have spent eight months, drilling a narrow column through the hardest rock that this world has to offer. We will drop the Aegis Key into that pit, and we will have a team of sorcerers working around the clock to flood the shaft with liquid rock, and then we intend to artificially trigger a shear quake along a critical part of the shaft. The Key will be buried, with any retrieval attempt requiring a century of mining or more. It is not perfect safety, but it is the best we can imagine. We would not trust anyone to hold on to an item of this value, even ourselves.”

“A wise move,” Rave nodded, “So, you mentioned a reward. What price will you pay for your world’s salvation?”

“This is another reason, unfortunately, that we cannot list this opportunity with the Terminators’ Guild,” Wirk answered, “We cannot pay a fair price, but maybe we can offer–”

“There’s no reward,” Rave interrupted him, “And that’s the last test. If we say we’ll do it in any case, even if we don’t get paid, then we’re the heroes you were hoping we would be. In that case, we’re allowed to leave this place alive. Am I right?”

There was just a moment of silence, as Red and Leucidia both reached for the places on their belts that would have held the weapons they’d forfeited on entry.

“You are correct,” Nite smiled for the first time, an expression so faint and quick that you might not have noticed unless you were watching for it, “Though in fact, the last test was a test of your cynicism and practicality. A man unable to make that deduction would have a much lower chance of surviving in Marke. Now, I assume you will accept. If so, Brother Wirk will have some equipment to offer you. I wish you the very best of luck, because all our hopes are riding with you.”___

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2016-03-12 14:50:31 (2 comments; 1 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Feedbackpls

Haven’t managed to write many words today. Ten words took me two hours, but I think it doesn’t look too bad.

I want to get the book out, but would appreciate any feedback. I'm not so sure about the whole concept, but it’s pretty much the only idea I’ve got.

Feedbackpls

Haven’t managed to write many words today. Ten words took me two hours, but I think it doesn’t look too bad.

I want to get the book out, but would appreciate any feedback. I'm not so sure about the whole concept, but it’s pretty much the only idea I’ve got.___

2016-03-09 17:56:00 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

It's been a while since my #DailyStory  project ended; but still, sometimes an idea comes to the top of my mind. This one is just the beginning of what I had in mind.Think I could do anything with it?

Forever

It started when Bartrand Colios was too young to really understand what he was doing. That wasn’t too unusual; the young men of that dynasty nearly always cause trouble at the same age, and that is one of the reasons behind their traditional upbringing. Too often, an heir has been in the turbulent throes of adolescence and come to hurt someone close to him, and some of those boys become men who will never quite live down the shame or the regret.

Bartrand didn’t know about this. He didn’t even know how he was going to change when he came of age, the family being of the firm belief that instinct would school a young man in ways that no amount oftutela... more »

It's been a while since my #DailyStory  project ended; but still, sometimes an idea comes to the top of my mind. This one is just the beginning of what I had in mind.Think I could do anything with it?

Forever

It started when Bartrand Colios was too young to really understand what he was doing. That wasn’t too unusual; the young men of that dynasty nearly always cause trouble at the same age, and that is one of the reasons behind their traditional upbringing. Too often, an heir has been in the turbulent throes of adolescence and come to hurt someone close to him, and some of those boys become men who will never quite live down the shame or the regret.

Bartrand didn’t know about this. He didn’t even know how he was going to change when he came of age, the family being of the firm belief that instinct would school a young man in ways that no amount of tutelage could replicate. So they never told him anything about what was going to happen. Maybe if they had told him more, he wouldn’t have put Lily through such an ordeal. But they didn’t tell him a thing, and so he just did what he thought was right when he found himself wanting to make this delicate girl happy.

He didn’t know he was special. He didn’t know how different his way of living was from the experiences of the great many people outside Covendale House. He knew, of course, that the servants didn’t live like he did. Whether they were kitchen maids or butlers, janitors or tutors, or the husbands wives and children of the servants who came with them while they lived in the House, but were never seen to work towards its upkeep. Sometimes, a wife would go out to work in the village, or at other places with exotic names like ‘office’ or ‘factory’. Sometimes they would walk the halls, or sit in their rooms and read, they were great sources of entertainment and education to a curious growing boy.

The children were mostly spared the torment of work, but often had to journey to a place called ‘school’. Bartrand could never quite tell from his friends’ tales whether it was a cage of tedium like the offices some adults spoke of, or whether it served the same purpose as his studies with various tutors. He loved to speak with the servants, and their wives, and their children. They could offer him a brief glimpse into an alien world; and he liked to ask as many questions as he could before they went away, fearful every time that he would never meet someone else with a figurative window into that same world.

It was a month before his eighth birthday when he first met Lily. Her name was actually Lilienne, she confided, but she preferred to be called Lily because she thought a fancy name like that didn’t suit a servant girl. She was quick to remind Bartrand that she was his social inferior, that the rules of society said she would have to defer to him and do whatever he asked when they were both grown. But for all that she was playful, and seemed strangely reluctant to go along with his plans. If he pushed for something, she pushed back. For a few weeks that worried him, because the children who made him feel uncomfortable often seemed to leave sooner, with their parents transferred elsewhere, to some other great house in a different part of the world.

For some reason he didn’t really understand, Bartrand didn’t want to see Lily go any sooner than she had to. When they competed, it made him feel alive. But his concern was misplaced, he knew. Whether she would go next week or stay in the big house until autumn, he had no way of predicting and there was no way he could fight it. Nobody ever stayed here for longer than half a year, whether they were servants or children or general hangers on. Even the old man who drove the bus,picking some of the children up outside the gates to take them to school, changed places with a different old man three or four times each year.

Bartrand didn’t know why this should be, he just knew that somehow he was different. There was no way he could have realised just how much his life would change – how much he would change – when he came of age. He couldn’t even have guessed at the trials and learning that lay ahead, and there was no way he could have guessed how many of his forebears had hurt someone in their youth and never lived it down. He started to resent whatever unseen machinations meant every person who became his friend would be gone in months, but he never would have guessed that the whole point of this endless reorganisation was to prevent him from forming attachments, and to make it easier for him to move on after the day he eventually lost control.

As it happened, he was lucky when it came to his friendship with Lily. Her parents had spoken about him in hushed tones before they ever came to Covendale House, as if he was some monster to be fearful of. So the first day they moved here she had sought him out and greeted him in the hallway outside the observatory where his tutors lectured him on astronomy and astrology. She’d bowed before him, the only time he’d ever seen her on her knees. So they’d got the best part of four months conversation before her mother dropped the inevitable bombshell. She was no longer an older friend, now they were both nine years old.

Bart wondered, briefly, how their friendship would have gone if she hadn’t managed to find him that first day, when his head had been full of the majesty of the constellations and the esoteric mysteries of the magical harmonies between them. Maybe if they’d met a day later, or a week, or two, then she might not have said just the right words when he was in just the right mood. They could have taken a month to build their friendship, and then this strange girl would have been taken from his life before he realised how well they amused each other.

But that didn’t happen. He realised for the first time that the endless procession of different people in his life had left him wanting something. And then for the first time in his life, he wished that someone could stay with him, and be his friend forever. He wasn’t content with his life as it was, and he wanted Lily to stay.He wanted to make her stay, even if it angered the parents he never heard from, or earned him an angry lecture from old Dr Fendiman, who administered discipline when it was called for as well as teaching Bart’s gematria classes. Occasionally he was impatient when waiting for some class, or snuck down to the kitchens to ask for dessert early, but this was the first time Bart had realised that the life he had differed from the world he wanted in any way that actually mattered. He had somethingg to wish for, and he resolved to see it happen.

For any other youth, that might have been the end of it. Some might have kicked up trouble; demanded that their family keep Lily’s parents in their jobs, refused to work or to eat, or even tried to steal away on their car when the time came for them to leave. But Bart wasn’t any other child, because four hundred years before his ancestor had made a deal. It wasn’t quite clear who the deal was with. The family didn’t remember any more, and the details weren’t known even if Bart had thought to ask. But at certain crucial points in their lives, if the firstborn son of the Colios line wished for something strongly enough, their wish would be granted.

Bart knew this, though he hadn’t been told. It had appeared in his dreams, something his instincts told him. He knew something of the rules, of the way he had to string mental concepts together to shape a wish that the mysterious contractor would consider valid. He knew just how hard it would be to correct a mistaken wish if he wasn’t perfect with his formulation. He didn’t know how many of his ancestors had been rusted with this same power, or how many had caused themselves grief by hurting those they truly cared about when they first gained access to it. He should have been able to guess that from his instinctive knowledge of how hard the power was to control.

He knew all that, but still, he couldn’t bear to be separated from the only person who had been in his life for long enough to become a true friend. He made a wish.

Fentiman didn’t scold him, and neither did the divinations and futurism teacher Mistress Proust. Even Medcalfe, old Fentiman’s successor a month later, didn’t say a word about the ill-advised wish.

Lily’s family didn’t leave.  They didn’t mention a change in plans, they simply kept on with their lives. Mr Bold kept on organising the Covendale House library, and maybe seemed to have an extra spring in his step as he grew more familiar with the collection and more able to help anyone find precisely the book they needed. Mrs Bold grew slightly – if less noticeably – more familiar with the hallways and nooks  of the big house, and was able to complete the sweeping and mopping in marginally less time than any of the other domestics because of it.

And Lily, Lily was as joyful as ever. She was aware that Bart must have done something to ensure she would be able to stay, though her parents only ever acted confused when she asked what had happened. She told him that his position, his family, was still an influence that he’d not done anything to earn. She still thought it was unfair of him to flex his political  muscles and influence the house’s decisions so easily, and she hated him for it in the good natured way of a friend who would never stop disapproving of the family’s power, even when she was grateful for his interference.

They remained friends, and occasionally another child or a tutor would stay for a year or more. It was a small but significant change, and yet somehow nobody except Bart himself even seemed to realise that he had done anything. And as he grew through his teens, he sought to get a better understanding of the contract of wishes, so that if he ever had to use it again he would better understand what might go wrong. As he grew older and asked his tutors just what a wish meant, he eventually was granted some of the truths. He knew now that he had endangered Lily by using a wish without thinking through the consequences, and he could only thank fate that nothing terrible had happened as a consequence of his thoughtlessness.

That was until he was sixteen and going to a bar with some friends for the first time. The law of the land said you couldn’t buy beer without being eighteen, but as with so many other aspects of life the Colios family were an exception. He  was allowed to go out, and some friends from the servants’ children had introduced him to their friends from school, and all had decided that his sixteenth birthday was a special enough occasion to show him the night life of the big city, where they were sure his private exception to the law would extend to all his friends as well.

They were outside the first club of the evening, and already he was starting to have second thoughts. There were a lot of boys there, a few girls as well. Some of them were fifteen or seventeen, but most of the group was one age. And they would surely have looked out of place beside the bar’s regular patrons, who were all over eighteen with quite a strong emphasis on the ‘over’ part. Lily was pacing back and forth anxiously too, worried that Bart’s influence wouldn’t be enough to let her be accepted in this culture. He hadn’t thought about it before, but now he realised that maybe she’d only come along because they did everything together.

“I’m not so sure about this,” he mumbled, “You want an evening in the library instead, check out the new collection your–”

“Hey, Bart,” Martin called, a slight swagger indicating that he was about to take the brave step of insulting or challenging Bart. The others didn’t know anything about the wishes – that was something out of old fairy tales, and had no place in the nearly-adult world – but they knew that he was powerful in some way, and that any number of adults would be happy to make their lives miserable if they dared to offend this boy. “Why’d you bring her along? She your girlfriend or something, comes everywhere with you? Or you got babysitting?”

Bart blushed and stammered for just a second, before he remembered how easily he could take this boy down a peg or two. He didn’t, though. He could have the boy kicked out of school, have his family lose their jobs, he could even use a wish if he really felt he had something to prove. He didn’t, though. He valued friendship, and felt the only way he’d be able to maintain it was if he tried to be one of the guys.

“We’re just friends,” he shrugged, “Have been since we were eight, she’s like the only person around here who doesn’t disappear after a couple of months. That a problem?”

“Since you were eight? So how old was she?”

Bart glanced back at Lily. When they’d first met, she’d sometimes suggested that she had some kind of authority due to being the older, and that this might or might not be equivalent to the respect he was due because of his family. Then when his birthday had come around, they’d shared a few giggles, calling it an extra-special party now that they were the same age. He was sure the guys would look down on him for such childish imaginings now, and he didn’t want to mention it.

“We were both eight,” he settled on. But looking at her now, he could see that something was wrong. By all the laws of mathematics, she should have been a year older again the following spring, and his ninth birthday would again have been a catching up party if they’d bothered to hold onto that joke for so long. But that wasn’t what had happened, because when he’dturned nine he had been proud to finally be the older of the two. Now, eight years later, he was turning sixteen. But now she was younger than him, young enough for all their friends to say she shouldn’t be hanging around with them.

“Lily, how old are you?” He couldn’t think of a more sensitive way to ask. Maybe this was the same kind of confusion her parents had felt when asked why they were staying; as if nothing could be other that the way it is.

“I’m eight,” she pouted, not sensing anything wrong, “Surely you know that by now?” And it was true, she looked just like she had when they’d first met. Before all the years of adventures together, at Covendale House and in town once he was old enough to go out. Like she had before he wished that the two of them could stay as they were, together.

Wishes couldn’t change him, of course. That was the cardinal rule. But how could he have been so blind as to miss such a fundamental change in the friend he valued most of all? And how could he possibly explain this to anyone else?___

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2016-03-05 09:29:46 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

This week, for #SaturdayScenes  I offer you a scene from the middle of the night. Some people just can't get any downtime once they start adventuring. Please, leave a comment if you liked it, and then go read some other authors' Saturday Scenes.

If you've been reading my scenes for a while, you've probably also seen one that comes after this. But now you might actually find out why Rave & co. were breaking into a jail they recently escaped from.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:06² / Portiston / The Tourney Inn

“It’s an empty corridor,” Rave turned to his brother, arms crossed. “A little paranoia might help us all stay alive, but a good night’s sleep would do wonders for my health.”

“It’s not empty,” Red answered.

Rave walked a little way down the passage, half expecting one of the inn’s staff to appear at anymoment and reprimand th... more »

This week, for #SaturdayScenes  I offer you a scene from the middle of the night. Some people just can't get any downtime once they start adventuring. Please, leave a comment if you liked it, and then go read some other authors' Saturday Scenes.

If you've been reading my scenes for a while, you've probably also seen one that comes after this. But now you might actually find out why Rave & co. were breaking into a jail they recently escaped from.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:06² / Portiston / The Tourney Inn

“It’s an empty corridor,” Rave turned to his brother, arms crossed. “A little paranoia might help us all stay alive, but a good night’s sleep would do wonders for my health.”

“It’s not empty,” Red answered.

Rave walked a little way down the passage, half expecting one of the inn’s staff to appear at any moment and reprimand them for walking around the building talking when they might be disturbing other customers’ sleep. It was the middle of the night hours, and he’d been looking forward to the first good night’s sleep in a long while when Red knocked on the door and called him over. He waved his hands around a little, as if testing for an invisible presence.

“Looks empty to me. Enough games, what’s the deal?”

“We saw a guy walk down here. Turned left at that corner. A few seconds later we walked past and there’s nobody here.”

“An invisible man, maybe?”

“i’m not that much of a dreamer,” Jon grunted, “But we both saw this guy walk down here and vanish. I can’t explain that. And anything I can’t explain could be trouble somewhere down the line.”

“There’s a dozen explanations –”

“And they’re all trouble,” Red answered, “Transportation magic? Stealth and invisibility charms? If there’s people sneaking around in the night that means secrets, and right now we don’t even want to be near any suggestion of espionage. If it’s someone after us, we need to move. If it’s someone else’s problem we don’t want to get caught up in it.”

“Why is there a hallway here anyway?” Rave mused, looking around, “I mean, it runs between two rooms. There’s some stuff at the side out of the way, but the space would be better used by a storage closet.”

“And the walls,” Jon pointed at the painted wood at the end of the hall, “Timber frame. They use timber to make new buildings where older ones have become too worn, but the back of this hotel is cut into the rock. And in Brütland, it’s a matter of pride to show off stone walls wherever you got them. A building with rock on more sides is a sign of wealth, so why would they pay for wood to cover it up?” Rave met his gaze, admitting that they’d reached the same deduction from different clues.

“Secret passage.”

“Right. Good job, Red. Sorry about… well, I just haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while.”

“So what do we do?” Red shrugged off his brother’s apology, “A hidden door in an inn could just be to stop guests exploring where we’re not welcome, I guess. But it could be something secret just as easily.”

“One way to check,” Rave shrugged, and walked up to the wall at the far end. Then he peered around, examining the walls closely. As he’d thought, there was a point where the ends of the timber beams almost lined up. There was no obvious handle, but a slightly worn spot on the paint indicated that the wall had been touched just beside the line more than anywhere else. There was a lamp just above the mark,and he wondered if it could really be as easy as that. He felt around the lamp until he found a part that turned, something that could possibly be a switch for some unseen system. There was a faint click.

“What can be found but never fed, often taken but never bred?” A voice came from so close that the three men looked around them for the speaker. If it was coming from the far side of the wall, it wasn’t muffled in the slightest.

“Oh, great,” Rave groaned, “Riddles as a password. We don’t have time for games. We heard that if we came here we might meet the Gallant Brotherhood, but the guys on the desk aren’t helpful. I’m guessing you’re who we need to speak to, right? Your man in Bandeste told us to come here, said you need some advice from guys who’ve escaped the Markavian jail. If you want our help then don’t mess us about.”

A moment passed, and then another. There was no hint to indicate whether the mysterious voice was still even listening. Then, maybe five minutes later, there was a click so faint that they couldn’t even be sure they’d heard it. Rave pushed on the wall right beside the line, and a secret door swung open.

To someone who’d grown up surrounded by the single level buildings that filled most of Brütland, the space beyond would have been doubly impressive. It was large enough for four, even five men to stand atop each other’s shoulders. The door led them onto the highest gallery around the walls, although it was quite possible that the chamber could have had another level lower down. In the central space, they could look over the rails and see a dozen pairs of men in monk robes striking at and grappling with each other on the floor below. It looked like some kind of training room, but the number of people walking back and forth was mind boggling.

“It’s like a whole other city,” Jon gasped in awe, “Dug into the rock behind the inn, where nobody would notice it.”

“As you surmised, we are the Gallant Brotherhood. Welcome to our training facility,” they were greeted by a very serious looking man in a simple grey outfit. The robes hung loosely on his frame, though it was anybody’s guess whether they were hiding the body of a wiry fighter or an undernourished clerk. Smooth skin was the only evidence of his youth, and his head was so closely shaven that it could almost have been polished.

“Greetings, Cleric,” Jon took the lead. He was the politician, so the brothers were content to let him talk, “I hope my friend’s directness did not cause any offense.”

“Not at all. As you have come to help us, you could not have known the passwords. But please, call me Al. I may hold the rank of Cleric in the temple outside, but this is not the temple. Here I am simply known as Brother, or Al, or if you prefer to know my full name I am Alvin Wirk.”

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Brother Wirk,” Jon smiled and bowed slightly, “I am Jon Beele, a traveler, and these are my comrades Rave, and Red. We found ourselves falsely accused of spying on Marke in these months passed, and so were forced to escape their so-called Inescapable Special Jail. We heard that might be of interest to you?”

“It would indeed, but I think you would need to speak to Bishop Nite on that business. If you would like, I can show you to one of our meeting rooms?” Rave and Jon exchanged a glance, and then a few words. After getting the approval of their hosts, the three men returned to their rooms, to sleep. They would return – knowing the passwords this time – to speak to Wirk and Nite when all members of their group were awake.___

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2016-02-29 18:11:30 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Well, I guess that's useful?


Well, I guess that's useful?
___

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2016-02-27 22:23:25 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

This week's #SaturdayScenes  is a scene in the middle of a dungeon, for a change. I've also decided that the areas need renumbering, but that's something I can do after I've written all the parts

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08 / Lindeborn Caves

The caves were a warren. Even Berlen didn’t seem able to find his way around easily.

“At least we’ll be able to lose the militia if they follow us this way,” Red commented as they entered a hallway like a dozen others they’d already passed. This tunnel was clearly man-made, with smooth black stone along the walls and square flagstones on the ground. There were even hooks to hang tapestries just below the vaulted roof began, ten feet overhead. There were no tapestries though, not even torches in the wall sconces. The chamber was lit by a dim red light whose origin wasn’t quite clear, maybe areflection of ... more »

This week's #SaturdayScenes  is a scene in the middle of a dungeon, for a change. I've also decided that the areas need renumbering, but that's something I can do after I've written all the parts

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:08 / Lindeborn Caves

The caves were a warren. Even Berlen didn’t seem able to find his way around easily.

“At least we’ll be able to lose the militia if they follow us this way,” Red commented as they entered a hallway like a dozen others they’d already passed. This tunnel was clearly man-made, with smooth black stone along the walls and square flagstones on the ground. There were even hooks to hang tapestries just below the vaulted roof began, ten feet overhead. There were no tapestries though, not even torches in the wall sconces. The chamber was lit by a dim red light whose origin wasn’t quite clear, maybe a reflection of a reflection along the highly polished walls.

“They wouldn’t come here,” the old monk seemed pretty sure, “Something’s messing with space here, making the spirits uncomfortable. You’d have to be a genius to make it through. I think once you come in here, there’s a good chance you’d never get out again, for a soldier. Even with the spirits to guide me, it is hard to pick the right path. I think this confusion is magical in nature.”

“We can overcome it, though,” Rave growled. If they were talking about a living enemy that would have been a threat, but the caves weren’t likely to be intimidated. Red could just see some sarcastic comment crystallising behind Jon’s eyes, but it remained unspoken when they rounded a corner and the polished walls gave way to a wide cave, walls of bare rock that could have been separated by some past quake or shift in the structure of the world. That wasn’t what Jon and Rave were staring at, though.. Their eyes were fixed on what looked like an improvised camp behind a couple of broken barrels.

There was a tent; what could have been a battered riding cloak hooked over the top of the pile of broken timber, with the free corners pierced by a couple of long sticks standing upright in the dirt. It wasn’t much, but it would keep the rough bundle of straw and clothes under it free from any dirt and condensation that dripped from the cavern roof while someone slept there. There was a firepit, too, a hole dug to bare rock a couple of inches down, leaving a pile of loose dirt that could be used to smother the fire if the mysterious camper needed to leave in an emergency. Someone had even tried to make a turnspit from discarded oddments of wood and wire, but it didn’t look like they’d succeeded. Still, it was a place that could have been used by one of the missing villagers to survive for a few days.

“Someone’s alive,” Red did his best to sound cheerful, “Nearby, too. The ashes from the fire haven’t been disturbed by wind or animals.”

“A child,” Rave pointed out, guessing that his brother’s surprise at seeing the camp had stopped him from taking in some of the finer details, “Look at the footprints in the dirt, the size of the impression on that pallet. And blood on the surface, too.”

“Could be a dwarf?” Red was grasping at straws, he knew. He didn’t want to imagine a child down here with the monsters they’d already had to fight their way past, “I mean, that weird scavenger guy didn’t say what race the villagers are. Could be just a short guy, maybe even a travelling merc or something come to hunt the beasts.”

“That’s why we looked around for footprints,” Berlen said slowly, “Dwarves are as tough as they come, and could sleep on a bed that small. But for all the height, they’re stocky built, wide as a grown man and they don’t have child sized feet. An adventurer would probably know how to set up a spit, too, they’d have twine or tape to bind sticks together with if they didn’t want to lug the weight of a proper camp oven or kettle. They wouldn’t be lashing their sticks together with strips of pastel-dyed velvet.”

“Torn off the edge of a skirt,” Jon added, poking at one of the scraps, “You can see where the fabric’s been pleated. I don’t know Brutal fashions that well, but I’d say we’re looking for a girl maybe twelve years old. Impressive, she’s done so well making a camp, but she couldn’t last long when the monsters come. And there’s blood on the bed.”

“Not from a fight, though.” Red felt he should add something to their analysis of the scene, but he wasn’t an adventurer himself and didn’t know how much he could say. “The bed’s just a pile of straw, moss, and whatever spare clothes she was carrying. We can still see the impression where she lay, if there’d been a fight the whole thing would be scattered around. The blood here’s been smeared down the edge of this blanket. Maybe wiping a wound clean on the only piece of clean cloth she had.”

“In that case we need to find her,” Rave made a decision for the group, and nobody even thought to question it. He had the air of a natural leader, and Jon wondered how much the world would have been changed if the long-haired warrior had gone into politics instead. “We’re only here to get through, we told them we wouldn’t rescue anyone. But we can’t leave a child at the mercy of monsters.” All of them were readying their weapons, preparing to explore, when they spun to face a voice from one corner of the large chamber.

“Fair enough,” it was a girl’s voice, presumably the mysterious camper. They hadn’t seen her because she was perched in a crevice high on one wall, with no visible way to access it. “You found me, brave explorers. How do I know I can trust you, and how are you going to keep me safe from the flaming ghosts?”

“We’re not really explorers, but we could–” Rave started, only for his little brother to cut him off.

“What’s a flaming ghost? Are they actually on fire or something?” The brothers glared at each other for a moment, both waiting for the other to give them a chance to speak. The girl watching them from above followed their irritated gazes back and forth, and then made her decision.

“Okay,” she said, vanishing and quickly emerging from another crack in the wall much lower down, “I trust you. The ghosts can change to look like people sometimes, but they’re not that good at acting. My name’s Mizelle.”___

2016-02-27 14:12:56 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

Yesterday, I created a Story with 50 photos in. Today, it auto-created another with only 27 moments, and the names of a few businesses I walked past.

Yesterday, I created a Story with 50 photos in. Today, it auto-created another with only 27 moments, and the names of a few businesses I walked past.___

2016-02-26 18:56:45 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

___

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2016-02-20 20:56:32 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, a bit of variety. The last few weeks I've posted scenes of four adventurers about to get into a fight. This time, they've been walking through an abandoned mine and are just hoping they're out of trouble now.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:06 / Portiston

“Woah, woah, woah!” Jon yelled, charging headlong through a cloud of feathers to grab Red by the wrist, “You don’t need your sword out, we’ve arrived!”

“What’s with these screeching creatures, then? I thought they might be some kind of banshee. And they’re trying to blind us by shedding parts of their coat.”

“No, they’re birds. Miner birds, to be precise. You’ve never seen them before? I’m sure they have them in Arrandell.”

“He’s not really Araan,” Rave pointed out, “Neither am I. Weren’t you listening? I said Iclaimed to be Araan to get thrown in that ... more »

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, a bit of variety. The last few weeks I've posted scenes of four adventurers about to get into a fight. This time, they've been walking through an abandoned mine and are just hoping they're out of trouble now.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:06 / Portiston

“Woah, woah, woah!” Jon yelled, charging headlong through a cloud of feathers to grab Red by the wrist, “You don’t need your sword out, we’ve arrived!”

“What’s with these screeching creatures, then? I thought they might be some kind of banshee. And they’re trying to blind us by shedding parts of their coat.”

“No, they’re birds. Miner birds, to be precise. You’ve never seen them before? I’m sure they have them in Arrandell.”

“He’s not really Araan,” Rave pointed out, “Neither am I. Weren’t you listening? I said I claimed to be Araan to get thrown in that hellhole. We’re both Markavian through and through, but I’m not too proud of their legal system any more. Think the Araan authorities will call that a good enough reason to apply for citizenship?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to go to Arandell if you can’t pass for elven,” and there was just a hint of bitterness in Jon’s voice as he looked Rave up and down. “I could just about pass, but still got my fair share of kickings over the years. But anyway, Marke is about the only place you wouldn’t have come across birds at all. These ones are probably the biggest, they were bred by the Wendlanders to work in the mines there. They use them to pull mine carts, so they call them ‘miner birds’, but these days they’re just about everywhere. They can run a long tunnel faster than anyone, most monsters aren’t quick enough to get the jump on them, and they can haul a fair load, too.”

“Wow,” Red looked the nearest creature again, seeming to be genuinely impressed this time, “I heard of beasts being used to pull things, but I always thought it was just that other nations didn’t have an efficient slavery programme, or something.”

“Maybe that is a matter of understanding,” Berlen tried to be diplomatic, “Marke does have a surprisingly high number of slaves compared to any other world, but some in my age saw that as a defect in their society. You need to think about the experiences of the slaves as well as the masters, I believe.”

“Don’t you have to think about animals?” Rave was almost completely lost in this kind of philosophical discussion, “They seem pretty worked up, and they’re shedding everywhere. Doesn’t this make it harder to work around them?”

“It’s just down,” another voice came from the far side of the room, and at once the four escapees turned to face the sound, “They shed when they’re upset, and being shut up in their pen has them fretting. There’s been a quake, we can’t get in touch with Galestbrugge at all, and now the high road’s closed too.”

“I’d suggest keeping them penned a little longer,” Jon added, “The mines are full of monsters, I think the quake opened up a catacomb.”

“Shmata to Mercze!” The stranger uttered a few choice words in the Brutal tongue, but even without knowing the language the tone of the cursing was clear, “If the smell’sgot them fretting this bad, it’s gotta be a big one. You look like fighters, mayhap you could help sort this mess out? I can’t offer guild rates, but maybe I got a trinket in the old barn I could offer you, that’s got to be worth something.”

“I’m sorry,” Rave shrugged, “But there’ll be other people through sooner or later. I think we’ve overstayed our welcome in these parts.” And shaking their heads, they walked away.

They waited until they were out of earshot before Red exploded.

“What do you think you’re doing? We already fought the monsters! We go back and fight more, we get a reward. We need every bit of help we can get if we want to get to Arandell, or Dolcruz, or wherever we can be safe!”

“We were lucky,” Rave spat back, “I’ve been in plenty of fights, but you’re naïve still. And you’re injured, do you really think you can swing a sword with those burns? You need a proper doctor as soon as possible, and there is no way I’m taking you back down there. I could smell the stink as well as those birds could, we narrowly avoided running into a Malboro.”

“I’m not that green, and there’s four of us here. We could have taken it, and the reward will maybe help us afford a doctor!”

“No, you are. You say you’re learning, but that shows just how far you’ve got to go. You’ve not learned to stay away from the monsters that are too tough.”

“Nobody looks forward to fighting a Malboro,” Berlen confirmed, “Even the toughest knights hesitate.” And Red paused then. Rave, maybe, was being overprotective, but he’d started to see the old monk as a voice of wisdom and he wouldn’t take the man’s advice lightly.

“Fine,” Red said, “But once my arm’s healed we’re checking this guild. If we got to fight monsters, we can at least see we get some gold for it.___

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2016-02-13 23:17:34 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

I know these are out of order, but I think each little passage should stand on its own to some degree. For #SaturdayScenes  this week, another scene of Jon, Berlen, and the Menace brothers exploring the underground kingdoms of Helstadt.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:05 / Lindeborn

“It doesn’t look like anyone comes this way,” Rave knew he was stating the obvious. But even with the patronage of Mikial and his friends in the guard, he hadn’t wanted to stop and ask for directions in the tunnel surrounding the beachhead. There was something inside him that was always reluctant to ask for help from others, his brothers had teased him about it years before, but now they were on the run it was even more pronounced.

“Even the archway was dusty,” Red pointed out, “We need to get to this Portiston place, not go wandering in abandoned tunnels.”

“Westill don’t know who... more »

I know these are out of order, but I think each little passage should stand on its own to some degree. For #SaturdayScenes  this week, another scene of Jon, Berlen, and the Menace brothers exploring the underground kingdoms of Helstadt.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:05 / Lindeborn

“It doesn’t look like anyone comes this way,” Rave knew he was stating the obvious. But even with the patronage of Mikial and his friends in the guard, he hadn’t wanted to stop and ask for directions in the tunnel surrounding the beachhead. There was something inside him that was always reluctant to ask for help from others, his brothers had teased him about it years before, but now they were on the run it was even more pronounced.

“Even the archway was dusty,” Red pointed out, “We need to get to this Portiston place, not go wandering in abandoned tunnels.”

“We still don’t know who we can really trust,” Rave insisted, “Soldiers betray everyone, it’s a fact of life. If Mikial’s friends turn out to be using us for some scheme, it’ll be good to know an empty place where we might hide out.” Then there was a silence that lasted a few seconds. None of them could deny that it was a reasonable consideration.

“Right,” Jon Beele said eventually. He was reluctant to intrude on a debate that clearly had some family history behind it, but he just as much didn’t want to be walking along in the middle of an uncomfortable silence all the way. “We look into this place, whatever it is, and then we follow the signposts to Portiston and meet this Brotherhood.”

“Like that?” Rave gestured upwards. The sign was coated with a visible layer of rock dust, slowly turning into cement in the humid air, but it clearly said the route to Portiston was straight ahead. “Portiston via Lindeborn. Sounds like a shorter route than Portiston via Ferendol, Galest, and Kriegsmeher. Let’s just go this way.”

Everyone else nodded, and their mental itinerary quickly changed to miss out the high city of Brutal fashion and the capital. But then around the next bend, they saw three soldiers in the uniform of the border guards.

“Road’s closed,” one of them said, not standing on ceremony, “Didn’t the priests on the beach tell you that?”

“We must have missed them,” Red muttered through gritted teeth. He could clearly remember a couple of soldiers walking towards them as they approached the door, but Rave picking up a brisk pace to look like someone who knew where he was going and had a right to be there. Always, the problem was his reluctance to rely on the help of strangers. “Is it closed permanently, or just this morning? Do we have to turn back? I’m not used to so much walking, and could do with resting my feet if we do.”

“There’s Lindeborn along here,” the guard shrugged, “But you don’t look like locals. Used to be a nice little café there we could go on break, but since the tunnel to Portiston closed to outsiders, people have been moving away. You can go to the village if you want, but the caves need a key now, and there’s nobody around that might let you borrow theirs.”

“Maybe someone will let me loosen my boots at least,” Red shrugged, “We’ll be back soon enough.” But as it turned out, there was nobody to help. The village of Lindeborn was no more than six homes cut into the rock on each side of the main tunnel, and one side cave with an iron fence over the end that smelled like it once held some kind of animals. One of the buildings had a sign to indicate that food was served, but the door was closed like all the others. There wasn’t a bench to sit down, there wasn’t a door standing open t welcome visitors. The whole town looked shut up, abandoned even.

“What happened here?” Jon muttered in disbelief. He just had to express his surprise, he wasn’t expecting an answer, but he got one all the same.

“They’ve all gone,” a voice from behind him muttered, “Taken prisoner by the ghosts, or so the rumours say.” Rave turned around to look at the stranger, all his military experience giving him the composure to pretend he hadn’t been startled. The others weren’t so prideful, and had no such practise in keeping their mouths closed and eyes fixed on the target.

In this case, the subject of their inspection was a short, elderly man dressed in rough green work overalls. He had no hair on his head, but a few wispy strands on his chin and a whole forest blooming from his outsized ears. For a moment, Red was tempted to ask if the man was human or dwarf, but he suppressed the instinct. Even he wasn’t that naive.

“Name’s Peregrindle,” the wizened homunculus introduced himself, “I pick up bits of stories, here and there. Just like everything else, really, though you understand some things are harder to come by than others in this age, else I wouldn’t be fooling around back here.” He was inside the animal pen that preceded the empty homes and closed shops, but as they watched he slipped out between the stone bars with no obvious difficulty.

“Do you know how to get–” Rave started, but was cut off by his brother.

“Did you say ghosts? They’re a myth, surely, some tall tale supported by a wizard and his illusions to swindle money out of people foolish enough to pay.”

“Aye, that’s what they say. But they say too that there’s ghosts in the caves, the restless shades of the first explorers who wanted to build their city there. They tried and they failed, because the few who made their businesses out here took more gold, closer to the beach. The city in the caves died before it was ever born, without enough people to make it a real concern, but still they stayed on. Six families, they said, and their kids, and their grandkids, until there weren’t enough left to raise another generation.They grew old and died, and the determination that had driven their grandparents to settle there still wouldn’t die. They haunt the Lindeborn caves to this day, so the rumours say, wailing in the empty halls only to fall silent when a living soul comes too close.”

He stood up a little straighter, and beamed. To Jon’s eyes, used to watching people’s expressions, it seemed Peregrindle treated shocked silence like it was a round of applause.

“Wait,” Red broke the spell, “If the ghosts disappear when people come close, how have they kidnapped people?”



If anyone is curious, I've also been writing up the rules for the Tomb of Dragons roleplaying game, as well as stats for all the monsters and a couple of alternate paths through the story. Want to see some of the rules? https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s0VG_p2W3NHPShkwbkCeifTv01_MmpS9e6O30KXx-gY/edit - not as pretty as it could be, I'll rework it on a proper DTP program if it comes to publishing this, but I welcome opinions.___

2016-02-11 10:16:57 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Roleplayers! I could use some help please.
I'm putting together some documents for a tabletop RPG. I've figured that the simplest way to explain the dice mechanic is with a full-page spread, with diagrams and arrows pointing between a couple of dice pools.

I have so far failed at either taking or finding photographs of dice. I'm sure there must be some royalty free ones out there somewhere, but I'm not sure what search terms would find them.

I'm just looking for a set of images of d8, where it's clear what number has been rolled. If possible, isolated with a transparent background so I can arrange them into dice pools. Photos or decent illustrations, either way works. But so far, my google-fu has turned up a few blurry/grainy images, and an awful lot that only roll '8'.

(The game is something I'm running with my friends now,... more »

Roleplayers! I could use some help please.
I'm putting together some documents for a tabletop RPG. I've figured that the simplest way to explain the dice mechanic is with a full-page spread, with diagrams and arrows pointing between a couple of dice pools.

I have so far failed at either taking or finding photographs of dice. I'm sure there must be some royalty free ones out there somewhere, but I'm not sure what search terms would find them.

I'm just looking for a set of images of d8, where it's clear what number has been rolled. If possible, isolated with a transparent background so I can arrange them into dice pools. Photos or decent illustrations, either way works. But so far, my google-fu has turned up a few blurry/grainy images, and an awful lot that only roll '8'.

(The game is something I'm running with my friends now, but I'm hoping that with a few people interested, I might be able to polish up the rulebook, setting, and campaign details into a publishable book. I know there's a couple of people in my  circles who do RPG books and source materials, so maybe one of you knows where I could find something suitable)___

2016-02-08 18:18:16 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

A decent walk today, and some interesting photos

A decent walk today, and some interesting photos___

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2016-02-06 23:49:07 (5 comments; 1 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

Another #SaturdayScenes , another extract from the journey of Red, Rave, Brelen, and Jon across the twelve worlds

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07 / Go Back to Jail

The seriousness of the situation could probably be gathered from the fact that Red and Rave Menace walked in silence, each with one hand on the tunnel wall. Occasionally Rave would look back to check his brother was still there, but aside from that each of them might be alone. They didn’t speak as they crossed the beach from Brütland back to Marke, and tried not to even look at the others. Each of the escapees was a distinctive figure, and the four of them together would undoubtedly be recognisable enough to see them all arrested, if anyone had reported their departure. So they didn’t look at one another as they walked from the beachhead to the barracks town of Great Marke, where any one of the off dutymilitiam... more »

Another #SaturdayScenes , another extract from the journey of Red, Rave, Brelen, and Jon across the twelve worlds

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07 / Go Back to Jail

The seriousness of the situation could probably be gathered from the fact that Red and Rave Menace walked in silence, each with one hand on the tunnel wall. Occasionally Rave would look back to check his brother was still there, but aside from that each of them might be alone. They didn’t speak as they crossed the beach from Brütland back to Marke, and tried not to even look at the others. Each of the escapees was a distinctive figure, and the four of them together would undoubtedly be recognisable enough to see them all arrested, if anyone had reported their departure. So they didn’t look at one another as they walked from the beachhead to the barracks town of Great Marke, where any one of the off duty militiamen could have been a guard in the Special Prison. They walked right through, and along the large cylindrical tunnel that led to Vorida.

When they arrived at the spa, they had seen a mix of soldiers and supporters, all kinds of people. But they had still stayed apart, walking down opposite sides of the boulevard. Brelen had gone into an armourer’s shop to purchase a new sword for Jon. Markavians liked to boast about their nation and how they surpassed others in all regards, but when it came to the manufacture of weapons they really were in the lead. Red wanted to stop and bathe at the spa, having never had any reason to travel to the town before, but he hadn’t said anything. They had simply walked on, staying barely within sight so that nobody could see them together.

In Lower Hall they had attracted some stares, because that area was quiet and poor. The clothes they’d bought in Ferendol weren’t distinctively Brutal, nor were they particularly fancy. They didn’t have ruffed collars, or any kind of elaborate ornamentation or silks on show. But they were new clothes without soot or singe, and they weren’t the simple shifts of the Hall’s workmen. Four of them stood out, and walking a hundred yards apart made it look like they had something to hide, an easy invitation to alleyway robbery. After the first bunch of thugs challenged them, they walked together as a group with Rave in the lead. They were clearly foreign, or at least not from the Underhall, but they knew where they were going. Most of the meek and weak citizens here wouldn’t dare to challenge them, and many averted their eyes to avoid seeing something they might be asked questions about later.

Now they were back in the tunnels, deep below Underhall if Rave’s sense of direction served him correctly. The fissure they’d escaped through was still there, small enough to be unremarked between two stores if you didn’t know it was there. They’d entered one by one, keeping a sharp eye out for guards, but there had been none. And now, they were in the central stairwells of the jail. Three helical corridors led down, each with dozens of tunnels radiating off that led to different sections of the prison. There were so many, Rave began to wonder if it had been some kind of miracle that put him in with his brother. But no, he remembered in the reading he’d done, a block once filled with prisoners was then sealed, and the shaft redirected to another to guard against all possibility of escape. The same cells wouldn’t be used again until all were dead, or until it was convenient for the guards to move them to some other area.

Now they moved slowly and confidently, hoping they weren’t letting any sign show that they didn’t belong. There were many secrets within the Markavian soldiery that nobody wanted to inadvertently challenge a superior. Men who asked the wrong kind of questions disappeared, and for once this could prove to the advantage of the prisoners.

They didn’t want any of the prisons, they were sure of that much. Brelen’s connection with the spirits allowed him to sketch a rough map of the complex, and there were few paths that didn’t follow the same pattern, small complexes arranged haphazardly around the main shaft like the spokes of a badly made wheel. They found one chamber where the clamour of voices suggested a barracks, the guards relaxing between shifts and using whatever magic they had to spy on the prisoners in different parts of the complex. That was a sobering thought, it meant that even if there was nobody in sight the group’s activities might be observed. But they must have been safe so far, because the guards were laughing and joking.

The next place they visited turned out to be the source of the prisoners’ food.  A huge cauldron of gruel was boiling, and a couple of barrows on the far side of the room were clearly used to dispense it down the chutes to the cells. There were two dozen chutes here, as grimy as the intakes of some mechanical engine, so this refectory must be one of three in the complex. The others, presumably, high enough to dispense food to the cells higher on the shaft. They were about ready to leave, and then Red said stop, he had an idea. He took eight stones, and painted a message on each advising the inmates that the main door to each cell block would be unlocked at some time in the day.

“What are you doing?” Rave muttered angrily, “We aren’t here to free others, whether they’re real spies or innocents like you. And we can’t open the doors, anyway!”

“The lock mechanisms are mechanical,” Red shrugged, “We can open the inner seal into the cells from the control wheels on the stairwell. The doors are counterbalanced, and the mechanism won’t allow the inner and outer doors to open at once, but that’s not a problem. We unlock the doors, and then leave these stones just under the lip of the gruel chutes.”

“You’re crazy. The guards would call an alert as soon as they notice, the place would be in panic.”

“I think that’s the idea,” Jon grinned, helping Red to balance stones inside the chutes. “Nobody opens the doors anyway, the guards have no call to go near the actual cells. But the food dried on those barrows looks hours old, they’ll be fed soon, and when the stones go down the shaft all  the prisoners will think there’s an escape. If even some of them try the door and think they have a shot at getting out, the guards panic.”

“It’s a distraction,” Red explained, “Two of the tunnels we’ve still got a chance to try are right at the bottom of the shaft, so we go down there and open the doors on the way. If it’s not one of those, then when the chaos starts the guards will all be on one of the staircases, and we’ll be heading back up another, so we’ll go straight past them. Makes it easier to get through their barracks area without being seen, if we need to get to that tunnel.___

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2016-01-30 22:04:39 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

This week's entry for #SaturdayScenes  is from a tabletop RPG I'm running. I'm writing up both notes on how to run this campaign (including planning several different plot paths in advance), but starting each area with a prose section like this one, describing a "canon" set of player characters through the adventure. No idea if this will end up being publishable or not, or if anyone would be interested, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:04 / Portiston Old Mine

The mines were dark, the tunnels stretching into the far distance. The rock of the walls was the same slate-grey as the rest of Brütland, but the intricate ridged arches and fluted columns had given way to a style that was both more complex and less ordered. These weren’t bare slabs of rock, though there were some walls almost mirror-smooth where therocks... more »

This week's entry for #SaturdayScenes  is from a tabletop RPG I'm running. I'm writing up both notes on how to run this campaign (including planning several different plot paths in advance), but starting each area with a prose section like this one, describing a "canon" set of player characters through the adventure. No idea if this will end up being publishable or not, or if anyone would be interested, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:04 / Portiston Old Mine

The mines were dark, the tunnels stretching into the far distance. The rock of the walls was the same slate-grey as the rest of Brütland, but the intricate ridged arches and fluted columns had given way to a style that was both more complex and less ordered. These weren’t bare slabs of rock, though there were some walls almost mirror-smooth where the rocks had naturally cracked along a layer boundary. Most of these tunnels had spirals and irregular bubbling on the surface, like paint on rusted metal or the complexity of a wasps’ nest. It wasn’t immediately obvious what had caused the damage here, unless you had grown up in a mining community and knew how they worked.

Rock-boring fungi, of which the Brutdelver strain was probably the most popular example, could have the power to split even rock as their underground portions grew stronger. It was a mixture of living tissue that found its way into any structural weakness and grew, and the action of slow but certain noxious emissions from some species. Within walls that many people believed to be solid rocks, the winners in a slow war could have a single fungal body stretching for miles below the surface.

When the environment changed, too hot or too cold, or the massive resilient organism was poisoned by metal salts in the otherwise pure rock, it began to dehydrate and to harden. And it was the solidified remnants of these fungal strata that were mined to provide the staple diet of many Brutal people. Authorities on the subject held that the Brutdelver especially developed a piquant flavour over a decade of maturation as it dried out, and so it was dug out when it was barely distinguishable from an unusual stratum in the rock, that twisted and turned like the branches of an underground bush or grass. The miners could extract every trace of the fossil fungus while leaving the surrounding rock to keep its strength and support the tunnels, using secret techniques that were passed down from miner to minor in the traditional fungus families.  But every child in the towns near here would have played on the edges of the mine at least once, and seen the distinctive curled patterns in the rocky pillars.

Now, the mine was empty. Steel tracks ran along the length of the main tunnel, but there was no sign of fungus remaining in the walls. This vein, an organism that had made a hundred thousand meals over the last decade, was finally exhausted. There were other fungi on side veins, but the me who excavated them weren’t passing this way today.

“There’s something wrong here,” Jon Beele was the first to speak, “I’ve been in the mines in Arandell, and they’re never this quiet. There’s nobody moving here at all, but there’s fresh tracks in the dust. Everybody’s been drawn away.”

“Well, that’s better for us,” Rave shrugged, “We’re not supposed to be here, and if we’re found trespassing we’ll have the authorities down on that Mikial guy as well as on us. We want to get to Päris as soon as is possible. Or anywhere that isn’t going to kill us right away for having a Markavian accent.”

“I don’t think there’s anywhere that’s not on the front lines right now,” Red added, “But if we’re far from home, at least we can try to avoid getting caught up in it. We need to survive, and with the amount of chaos going on around here I don’t think it’s safe to stay. We get through this mine and out the other side while everyone’s dealing with whatever their problem is. Can you find the way?” This last remark was addressed to Berlen, who had now grown used to the brothers’ assumption that he could find his way through any labyrinth.

He placed one palm against the wall, though the dramatic gesture wasn’t really necessary to send his mind into the world of the ethereal dragons. In the past, he had adapted it purely as a cosmetic detail, so the people around him would know he could be deep in a conversation they couldn’t witness. Thoughts came in a rush, panic and chaos that made Berlen physically recoil. Red and Rave were quickly on either side of him, catching him before he fell to the ground and asking what was wrong in an excited babble.

“Quake,” he muttered, after a few seconds to catch his breath, “There’s more, but I don’t understand. I think there’s been a quake, some tunnel collapsed. The miners are fighting to dig people out, loss of life.”

“We have to help!” Red’s eyes were wide, “Where are they?”

“Hold on little brother,” Rave placed a hand on his shoulder, “A mine disaster’s a terrible thing, but what can we do? They’ve got the drilling and cutting machines, they’ve got birds to haul on chains, they’ve got experts in digging and experts in the structures of the rock around here. There’s nothing we could do except get in the way right now. So we’ll be out the other end before they even know we’re here.”

“I guess.” Red conceded reluctantly, but he was smart enough to know that idealism wasn’t going to make any difference here. “So which way do we go?”

“I can’t tell,” Berlen said, eyes cast down at the ground, “The spirits have their own problems, I can’t ask them to help me until they’ve recovered a little strength.”

“We could follow these,” Beele prodded one of the rails on the ground with the toe of his boot, “Mine carts run to wherever they’re mining heavily, and to the exit. There’s got to be at least one line that leads back to Portiston, right?”

They followed the rails, though they had no cart and no miner bird to pull one. The ground was rocky and uneven, and they took slow paces in an attempt not to stumble on an uneven slab or hidden dip. Of course, there was no need for miners to lay a safer floor in a long thin tunnel that would hadn’t been designed with pedestrians in mind.

After a short distance, maybe half an hour walking in the darkness, Berlen was starting to recover some of the unconscious ease he normally walked with. The spirits of the tunnels still weren’t talking, but their connection to his mind meant that he didn’t have to think about where he was putting his feet, and could walk along the heavy steel rails with little trouble. Rave was just about to ask if he could check that they were on the right path, but he never got to say it.

Fire burst out from the walls, and a moment later there were three small creatures blocking the path ahead. They weren’t any kind of livestock or vermin, more like giant mushrooms with a face disturbingly like an animal or human.

“Monsters,” Jon was finding it an effort to stop himself panicking as the apparitions conjured magical fire above their caps. “The quake must have knocked down a wall or something, that’s why there’s nobody down here!”

Rave Menace was a man of few words, but the words he did use had power: “Flare!” magical energy leapt from his outstretched fingers as the battle was joined.



This is followed by 15 pages of notes on the different areas in the dungeon, the monsters to be found there, and various events which may occur depending on player choices. I'm wondering if it might be worth publishing this so other GM's can run the game (and the bits that my players miss don't go to waste)… but while I've put quite some effort into the story side of it, maybe I could make it available separately as a novella too.What do you think?___

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2016-01-30 19:20:06 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

:-p

:-p___

2016-01-25 17:21:14 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Angel Ray Wedge was out walking. He tracked 6.18 mi in 1h:51m:25s.

... why can I autoshare on FB but have to tick a box every time to do it on here?

Angel Ray Wedge was out walking. He tracked 6.18 mi in 1h:51m:25s.

... why can I autoshare on FB but have to tick a box every time to do it on here?___

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2016-01-23 22:06:13 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

Today, for #SaturdayScenes  I present a short scene from Tomb of Dragons ... I'm writing this up as a tabletop RPG, interspersed with scenes of the "canon" characters going through each encounter, from where the GM can draw inspiration for their descriptions. If you like, please comment, and then go to #StaturdayScenes  to see what other authors are working on

Zone 1/03 - The Underhall

The passage twisted and turned through the bare rock, getting steadily narrower. Berlan strode confidently forward, not even caring about the darkness. The others were more cautious, huddling together to let the glimmer of light from Rave’s glowing crown show them any sudden steps and fissures in the ground beneath their feet. And just when it seemed they were going nowhere, they turned a corner and the space opened out around them.

It would be a breathtakingspe... more »

Today, for #SaturdayScenes  I present a short scene from Tomb of Dragons ... I'm writing this up as a tabletop RPG, interspersed with scenes of the "canon" characters going through each encounter, from where the GM can draw inspiration for their descriptions. If you like, please comment, and then go to #StaturdayScenes  to see what other authors are working on

Zone 1/03 - The Underhall

The passage twisted and turned through the bare rock, getting steadily narrower. Berlan strode confidently forward, not even caring about the darkness. The others were more cautious, huddling together to let the glimmer of light from Rave’s glowing crown show them any sudden steps and fissures in the ground beneath their feet. And just when it seemed they were going nowhere, they turned a corner and the space opened out around them.

It would be a breathtaking spectacle to anyone who hadn’t lived their life in Marke. Where most cities had grand plazas and even palaces,or networks of tunnels that boggled the mind with their scale, only Marke had anything like the Underhall. It was thin, that was true. The far wall was close enough to recognise a friend, if there happened to be anyone you were friendly with among the crowds. But it was tall, both sides of the cavern criss-crossed with hundreds of slanting galleries. They were carved into the natural rock veins that lined the hall, and their chaotic patterns could be a maze even to people who were familiar with other parts of the structure.

The most startling part, though, was the clouds. Up at the top of the cavern was like walking through mist, which everyone from other worlds said was against science because mists drift downwards. And between those clouds and the ground, there were constant arcs of lightning. But far from the tantrum of an angry spirit, these were Craft lightning, best understood by the craftsman or engineer. The only interaction of the twin great spirits of this place, Ramuh and Gaulifrey, was to shepherd the errant bolts towards the constant floor of corruscating energy at the base of the chamber.

There were bridges, of course, heavy things blessed with the divine energies of stone, but they were few and far between. Especially here, Rave realised as he looked around. They were in the dim lands, the slums where the stone veins were closest together, and everyone sheltered behind the rails of the galleries as they rushed from one tiny store to another. Half of the caves here didn’t even have an owner, passed from one squatter to another through force of arms over the years. The government would have razed the tiny holes long ago, if not for the unusual hardiness of the Dimsiders, and the determination with which they would pursue any opportunity to earn access to the land directly across from them behind the veil of thunder. The soldiers from the dim lands were the most vicious in the Markavian army, taking out their anger and disappointment on the enemies of the state.

It was something of a dichotomy, the irony of which wasn’t lost on Red or Rave. The people of these halls hated the society that ground them underfoot, and were the most distrustful of the machinations of the Imperial Guard, but they were also its most patriotic defenders as they strove to earn a place elsewhere in Marke. Would these people help a couple of struggling prisoners? It was hard to know, but if they were thought to be foreigners they would have little chance of survival here.

The fissure behind them looked like just another natural crack in the uneven wall, not a guard post. That meant they weren’t fighting their way out through legions of guards and dragon masters, at least. Presumably some of the lower ranked guards had been drawn from the dim population, and had made an unofficial exit from their barracks at some point over the years. They wouldn’t be able to find their way back through all of those twists and turns, but then, who would want to?

They didn’t think about splitting up, either. The group had undergone a baptism by fire as they struggled to leave the Special Prison, and they had decided to stick together without anyone actually thinking that there was another option. They had a couple of clear objectives now: To find some new clothes that wouldn’t attract such suspicion, to restore the magical skills of their comrades who had been suppressed, and most importantly, to survive.___

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2016-01-23 20:47:09 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Today has been a stressful day, of tax returns and lost receipts, but… look at my food! Green curry makes everything better.

Today has been a stressful day, of tax returns and lost receipts, but… look at my food! Green curry makes everything better.___

2016-01-23 11:38:31 (9 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Does everyone else get this? I started out trying to make a map, and have somehow ended up trying to solve a logic puzzle. I'm just wondering what system you use when arranging a world map to fit the constraints of the plot railroad.

In case anyone can offer advice, here's the problems I'm dealing with. 12 locations, connected together by various routes.
* Jedistadt is isolated, and connected to only one neighbour.
* Dolcruz may also have only a single road out.
* Badenfalle is a major travel nexus, and has either 3 or 4 routes out.
* All other locations have either 2 or 3 exits
* The shortest route from Badenfalle to Marke goes via Grienhüs.
* Grienhüs is connected to Marke, as it has just been occupied by the Markavian Imperial Militia.
* Brütland is connected to Marke, Wendland, and Päris
* There is a link from Arandell to Gaidistan*... more »

Does everyone else get this? I started out trying to make a map, and have somehow ended up trying to solve a logic puzzle. I'm just wondering what system you use when arranging a world map to fit the constraints of the plot railroad.

In case anyone can offer advice, here's the problems I'm dealing with. 12 locations, connected together by various routes.
* Jedistadt is isolated, and connected to only one neighbour.
* Dolcruz may also have only a single road out.
* Badenfalle is a major travel nexus, and has either 3 or 4 routes out.
* All other locations have either 2 or 3 exits
* The shortest route from Badenfalle to Marke goes via Grienhüs.
* Grienhüs is connected to Marke, as it has just been occupied by the Markavian Imperial Militia.
* Brütland is connected to Marke, Wendland, and Päris
* There is a link from Arandell to Gaidistan
* There is no groups of 3 locations that are all connected to each other (no triangles).
* Nuking one city will not make any others inaccessible
* These are actually planets in space; and if possible I'd like to emphasise this by having an arrangement such that there is no way to project them onto a 2-dimensional map without lines crossing over.

I've been moving planets around for an hour and a half now, and I have no idea whether my goals are impossible, or if I just haven't found the right arrangement. I guess it's kind of the travelling salesman problem in reverse, in a way. Is this a common problem in worldbuilding?___

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2016-01-19 11:38:02 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

I've been working on cover designs for my next book. This is a progression from my first draft, changing based on people's suggestions each time.

Which do you prefer? Is this a book you'd buy? And can you recommend a better image for the background? (I kind of feel the wall is letting me down)

I've been working on cover designs for my next book. This is a progression from my first draft, changing based on people's suggestions each time.

Which do you prefer? Is this a book you'd buy? And can you recommend a better image for the background? (I kind of feel the wall is letting me down)___

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2016-01-16 20:48:14 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

This week for #SaturdayScenes  I present a piece of a work in progress, Mandala. This is one of four short stories going into a short anthology titled After Hope which will be available shortly. What kind of stories arise, in a city where super powers have been forbidden? I also present a half-finished cover image for your consideration.

Mandala (part 1)

The patterns were elaborate and complex, traced all over Sophia’s back and arms. They exposed it piece by piece as they cut away her paper surgical gown. It was beautiful, they had to admit.

“You’re really giving up such beautiful ink?” Doctor Carolsen was surprised, though he knew the law would have a big problem if his patient had wanted to keep those tattoos.

“I don’t get a choice, do I?” but she still sounded happy about it. She must know as well as the surgical team didthat it would ... more »

This week for #SaturdayScenes  I present a piece of a work in progress, Mandala. This is one of four short stories going into a short anthology titled After Hope which will be available shortly. What kind of stories arise, in a city where super powers have been forbidden? I also present a half-finished cover image for your consideration.

Mandala (part 1)

The patterns were elaborate and complex, traced all over Sophia’s back and arms. They exposed it piece by piece as they cut away her paper surgical gown. It was beautiful, they had to admit.

“You’re really giving up such beautiful ink?” Doctor Carolsen was surprised, though he knew the law would have a big problem if his patient had wanted to keep those tattoos.

“I don’t get a choice, do I?” but she still sounded happy about it. She must know as well as the surgical team did that it would have been easy to hide them from the scans, that nobody would ever have known if she decided to keep them secret. That she’d come forward at the amnesty meant that she had some reason for wanting rid of them anyway. “So, when does the anaesthetic kick in?”

“Doesn’t seem to be working,” he guessed that was the question she was really asking in any case, “Crystalline matrix absorbing it. Can happen sometimes, I guess you already knew that. Guess you don’t get to be the lucky one, but it won’t hurt too much. Maybe talk through it, take your mind off any pain.”

Sophia nodded, though the gesture probably wasn’t particularly distinct while she was lying face down on the table, looking at the floor through a padded hole.

It had started a few years earlier. At the time, nobody had heard of supernormal powers. Nobody believed in magic, and a man who could fly was something out of a comic book. Sophia would be willing to bet that she hadn’t been born with crystal fragments in her bloodstream, and hadn’t picked up powers by radiation exposure. Like a tiny minority of people with powers, hers had been artificially implanted into her body. In her case, rather than a prosthesis or injection of fragments, she had received the abnormal elements in the form of ink.

Sophia had been fourteen when she decided she was going to get a tattoo, which meant that the shop was some place in an alleyway that wasn’t even listed in the phone book. It had been recommended by a friend, who’d said they don’t make too much fuss about your age as long as you can pay. The place didn’t have the normal government safety or hygiene certificates, of course, but at least one person she knew had been there before and hadn’t died.

The shop sold all kinds of incense, religious ornaments, meditation aides, and other ephemera of some oriental faith. She hadn’t paid too much attention, though she’d looked at a lot of the knick knacks while she waited. There were a few seats dotted around between the rickety wooden shelves, but there was little to indicate the presence of a tattoo parlour in the basement if you hadn’t been recommended by a friend. Even the designs adorning every inch of the walls and ceiling could just as easily have been just artwork, or a sign of the store owners’ religion.

She’d picked a design that they said was called a Mandala, and a position right across the top of her shoulder blades. The artist had asked three times if she was sure, and had warned that it would hurt. He’d said the pattern represented some kind of mystical unity, but Sophia hadn’t known half the words he used. It just sounded like the kind of exotic mumbo-jumbo she’d come to expect from a certain kind of foreign businessman. Then he’d applied a transfer of the design to her back, and spent nearly twenty minutes sorting through boxes in the back room in search of the right ink for this design.

She’d wondered about that at the time. Penny had only just had hers done here, and she didn’t see why two red-and-gold tattoos would require different ink. But she’d just assumed that the man knew what he was doing, and let him work. It hadn’t hurt nearly as much as her friends had said it would, though she still found herself worrying how she would cover up the dressing and bandages to let it heal without her parents noticing.

“So the guy crushed up Atlantean crystals for the ink, eh?” the doctor seemed intrigued by the idea. Ever since the crystals had been identified as the cause of the powers manifested by a good portion of people living in the city, the government had been taking blood samples to check for crystal residue either injected, modifying a person’s genome, or taken orally. Some people tried to get around the tests, finding increasingly elaborate ways to hide the crystal residue inside their bodies, but tattoos was one that wasn’t so far on the list. “What does it do?”

Sophia had realised after two days that her tattoo wasn’t quite normal. She’d come to change the bandages, and found that the design was no longer underneath the strips of synthetic material the artist had applied. It wasn’t that the bandages had slipped, or even that they hadn’t been applied correctly. No, the tattoo was clearly not in the position she’d chosen, and she was so sure that it had been exactly where she expected after the guy had finished applying it.

The next day, it was in a different different position again. Her mandala had moved. She’d told one or two of her most trusted friends at school, and they’d all said that she was mad, or assumed that it was some kind of trick. She hadn’t said anything to anyone else.

It never moved while she was watching, but if she took photographs on her cellphone to compare, she’d say the loops and spirals of gold ink moved like a living thing, writhing like the skeleton of some bizarre dragon. It never stopped trying to get to her, continuing its stop motion dance across her body whenever there was nobody paying attention.

It never gave her any real powers, though. That was the part that really rankled. As it grew stronger, she could even feel it moving and growing even when she was active. She could feel its footsteps, she imagined, even though it was an abstract shape with no anthropomorphic features. It just flowed.

She started using words like ‘Anthropomorphic’ too. She just knew them, and the syllables came out so naturally that she didn’t even realise they were words she’d never learned. In a way it seemed like her vocabulary just expanded, and the mysterious words that seemed to have added themselves into her mind always meant exactly what she’d thought they did when she checked on the computer.

“Seems quite an unusual way for a power to behave,” the doctor noted, but she could tell from his voice that something was starting to go wrong. She wished she could see a little closer. But he tried to keep her calm, continuing the unhurried conversation: “And I see what you mean by the impression that it’s trivial. Though I suspect that must have been pretty useful on exams and on recruitment tests.”

Then she told them about the difficulty of keeping those beautiful spirals hidden; about bosses and friends suddenly treating her like a freak when they realised the red and gold spirals on her back weren’t always in the same configuration. As she grew, they started to move more and more, every hour a different design. Never when anyone else was watching, it had that much discretion at least.

Dr Carolsen carefully didn’t mention that the tattoo was moving now. He figured it was probably best to keep her mind off it, as most people with Atlantean crystals in their bodies could control the powers they gained, at least on a subconscious level. The process here wasn’t like regular tattoo removal, they needed to extract every microscopic fragment of the alien material from her skin. That was easier said than done, when the design writhed like a nest of snakes and ran from the probes and scalpels.

There had been good times too, of course. A decade after she’d first got the ink, the public started to become aware that there were people among them who weren’t quite like anyone else. With the Flying Brick in the news, and later heroes like The Vanisher and Captain Ultimatum, it was accepted that some people in Hope City were just special. Then, she’d been able to show off the swirls in clubs, and people had been happy to hang around with her. But that popularity came at a price, because sooner or later people would always ask about her powers.

It really said something about the mindset of the city at that time, that a girl with a moving tattoo who couldn’t fly or project bolts of energy from her fingertips was somehow more of a stretch to believability. Even worse where the times someone noticed the lines on her back or arms had moved, and knew that she had the crystal in her body. But then they would ask for a demonstration of power, ask to see news stories for the people she’d saved. If you couldn’t point to some proof of heroism, you were clearly a villain. Nobody could understand the concept of being a normal person with powers, you had to tend towards one extreme or the other. Once, she’d even been badly beaten outside a nightclub by a group of drunks who’d thought she must be some kind of Machiavellian psychopath, speculating that the spirals of the mandala could imply some kind of hypnotic ability like the infamous Mistress Panther.___

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2016-01-09 23:05:11 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

A scene (or two) from #SevenSkies  for #SaturdayScenes  ... I'll get this story finished sooner or later. Dick has lost both her ship and her crew at this point, so has taken over as acting-captain of Parlick Vandeboom's ship

The Castaway

“Who’s the Master of the Underdeck?” Dick leaned back against the wall, after carefully checking that the ship’s wheel wasn’t close enough to knock inadvertently.

“Nobody,” Arisette explained, “We haven’t had one since before Kolkata, he’s normally the most expendable member of the crew. A good underdeck has experience with sail, with rigging, and with cannon as well. So if anyone else leaves the ship, the Master of the Underdeck takes their role.”

“But your Master of the Underdeck left before Kolkata, so that’s why Barnard is taking over as Master of Sail?”

“Right.Leaving me Master of Marines, s... more »

A scene (or two) from #SevenSkies  for #SaturdayScenes  ... I'll get this story finished sooner or later. Dick has lost both her ship and her crew at this point, so has taken over as acting-captain of Parlick Vandeboom's ship

The Castaway

“Who’s the Master of the Underdeck?” Dick leaned back against the wall, after carefully checking that the ship’s wheel wasn’t close enough to knock inadvertently.

“Nobody,” Arisette explained, “We haven’t had one since before Kolkata, he’s normally the most expendable member of the crew. A good underdeck has experience with sail, with rigging, and with cannon as well. So if anyone else leaves the ship, the Master of the Underdeck takes their role.”

“But your Master of the Underdeck left before Kolkata, so that’s why Barnard is taking over as Master of Sail?”

“Right. Leaving me Master of Marines, so I have to stay with the defenders on the ship, and I can’t lead boarders.” She sounded surprisingly bitter about a promotion. Then again, Dick could easily imagine how some of the lecturers she’d met at university would react if they were made head of department, and told to do paperwork instead of teaching. If you followed a career because it would lead to your dream, then you wouldn’t want to just manage people chasing after the same target.

“So, does the Master of the Underdeck have any duties except being a stand in? We seem to have managed a few months without one.”

“He does rituals, makes sure the Devices work properly. The Cannon and Sail men call on him if anything doesn’t work how it’s supposed to. He understands the writings of Atlantis, and knows how to build a thing from the design they give us.”

“An engineer, then, or a scientist?” Dick guessed, but Arisette just looked confused, “That’s probably what they call them on land, but I guess it’s more of a specialist role here. Well, if we can’t find another one, we’ll have to hope the Devices keep working just a little…” and then she trailed off as she heard sounds of shouting from one side of the main deck.

Two women ran outside to see what was causing the commotion, and Arisette already had both a sword and a pistol drawn. Dick managed to hide her surprise, and didn’t say anything after she realised that among other duties, the Master of Marines was the Captain’s bodyguard. If she ran unthinking into danger then Arisette would be expected to defend her, and Dick immediately realised that knowing that, she’d take a little more care how much danger she exposed herself to.

The only danger here was a ship, the smallest Dick had seen. Maybe it was only a boat; she couldn’t be sure. It had a single mast, a single sail, and no flag. There was no deckhouse and no wheel, just an open deck with a hatch leading below. It might possibly carry enough stores for two people or three at a push, but right now there was only one man on the deck, a Device in each hand from which ropes looped around the ship’s rail and led up to the top corners of the white sail.

It might have been a landsider on some solo yachting challenge, but for the fact that he turned and waved at the ship flying above the surface with a wide grin of hope but no trace of surprise.

“Let down a line,” Dick ordered, “Bring that man aboard, and see what he has to say for himself.”

It took them a couple of minutes to organise a line, while some of the men looked at Dick curiously. Those who hadn’t seen her in action might be doubting their new Captain’s decisions, but they wouldn’t speak out unless she got someone hurt. They were just waiting for that first mistake, she knew.

“Permission to board?” the stranger croaked when he reached the top of the line. Dick nodded, and with a little effort he heaved himself over the rail and dropped to the boards, taking heavy breaths.

“Welcome to the Shepherd of Nights, of the British Pirate Empire.” Dick kept her voice level as she greeted him, not sure what to say. She didn’t want to give her crew any reason to distrust her, and she could see that almost anything she did in this situation could be a mistake in someone’s eyes. “I am Captain Davies, standing in place of Captain Vandeboom while he is injured. You seem to be without a ship, and we are short on men. So I’ll just ask how we should call you, and if you are willing to stand and fight for a British ship.”

“Aye,” he nodded, voice rough and as cracked as his dry lips, “You can call me Jack. And I’ll stand for any nation, against the chaos that has consumed the seven skies of late. I know of your adventures, Captain, and I’ve spoken to Captain Vandeboom before as well, so I’m thanking all the fates that it was you I first came across. I hope that Parlick isn’t too badly hurt.”

“He’s fine,” Arisette lowered her guard a little, and sheathed the sword across her back. Anyone on first-name terms with her brother must be a good man, though she still kept a gun in her left hand in respect to her assigned duties. “Broke his legs when Bavere Island fell, he’ll be back in the deckhouse in six weeks, the surgeon said.” Dick nodded, only now realising she hadn’t thought to ask any details beyond knowing that Parlick would recover.

“You any good on the underdeck?” Dick was right back to business, “I can’t exactly call a lone sailor Master the day he comes aboard, but ours has gone and somebody needs to make sure this ship stays in working order.”

“I can do that,” Jack nodded, and headed in the direction of the lower decks. A few men split away from their groups to show him what was where, and it seemed that for now at least, the crew was willing to accept him. Dick walked back to the deckhouse, already dreading the conversation she knew lay somewhere ahead, about where the stranded sailor had come from.


* * * (a little later) * * *


“Out of all the captains in the sky,” Jack muttered as Dick walked past his quarters, “I ran into you.”

“Lucky me,” she ducked inside, “You know I recognised you right away?”

“Then you should know there’s no great sentient power shepherding destiny. When people said it couldn’t be blind chance guiding the story of their lives, they were right. It was me. So is someone else guiding me now?”

“Maybe,” she shrugged, “I certainly never expected to have the Pirate King on my ship, following my orders.”

“I think you’re the only Captain who would have seen me as anything other than a castaway. They never looked at my face, you know.”___

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2016-01-09 15:45:31 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

I've been playing for a while. Love the new ad ^_^

I've been playing for a while. Love the new ad ^_^___

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2016-01-02 20:24:37 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes , an excerpt from Seven Skies. Joran mutinied some time ago, left the crew and sold landsider (modern world) technology to  the Spanish Pirate Nation. Having just been saved by a Spanish galleon, our heroes are somewhat relieved to find their friend on board…


While the discussion in the big meeting room swung between argument and sharing of information, Joran showed them to his cabin. Tomas was already waiting for them there, though he had even less clue what was going on than anyone else, and there were some tears as he explained he hadn’t seen Shell or Pi since the attack.

The cabin was luxuriously appointed, putting Dick’s or even Captain Brand’s quarters to shame. It looked more like something out of Kubla Khan than a cabin on a pirate ship. But they weren’t interested in the surroundings now. With a few taps at strategic points, apolished br... more »

For #SaturdayScenes , an excerpt from Seven Skies. Joran mutinied some time ago, left the crew and sold landsider (modern world) technology to  the Spanish Pirate Nation. Having just been saved by a Spanish galleon, our heroes are somewhat relieved to find their friend on board…


While the discussion in the big meeting room swung between argument and sharing of information, Joran showed them to his cabin. Tomas was already waiting for them there, though he had even less clue what was going on than anyone else, and there were some tears as he explained he hadn’t seen Shell or Pi since the attack.

The cabin was luxuriously appointed, putting Dick’s or even Captain Brand’s quarters to shame. It looked more like something out of Kubla Khan than a cabin on a pirate ship. But they weren’t interested in the surroundings now. With a few taps at strategic points, a polished brass mirror on one wall changed to show a slightly grainy image of the debate in the room upstairs. They could clearly see the map evolving, showing more and more incidents with some degree of accuracy.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” Joran said, “I just thought if we could give them some of our technology and get into a position of power, I might have a chance at prompting peace talks. I worked out how to get my radio to work with the ship’s power grid. You know most of their technology is nanomachine based? It’s incredible, systems that act like they’re alive. And like the Ghost said, even the smallest element has a single directive, to ensure the Pirate Code is adhered to. But oddly enough, not the code itself. I’m wondering if, once upon a time, Atlantis lost all copies of its prime directive, and asked a human to remind it what the laws should be. The machines obey the Code without question, and there’s no way a hacker could change that without completely disabling them. But a sufficiently powerful EMP, with some backup plan to get at any shielded systems… it’s not unthinkable that someone could change the Code or erase it entirely, and once they have a Code the AI aren’t capable of questioning it.”

“And the guy they asked to provide a backup was a pirate captain generally known as Mad Jack,” Baz grinned, “I can’t see how that could go wrong.”

“Anyway, I was looking at their technology. Some of it they have to go to Atlantis every time they want spare parts, but the engineers here can manufacture many of the parts even though they don’t understand them. And it turns out that like ninety nine percent of what they have uses the same basic technology. The same power distribution systems, the same voltage and frequency, if you get what I mean.”

“So the remaining percent?” Tomas guessed where this was going, but he wanted to hear it from the expert.

“Isn’t from Atlantis. It’s like comparing our technology to the Atlantisan stuff. I can make it work but it’s obvious it wasn’t originally designed to hang together like that.”

“Atlantean,” Dick corrected, suspecting that would be the only thing she could add in this conversation.

“Yeah, that. So somebody apart from Atlantis is feeding these people technology. Long range snipers, more destructive cannons, even something that could be a kind of dirty bomb.”

“All things that will increase the death toll,” Tomas pointed out, “Someone wants the pirate nations to wipe each other out.”

“Why?” Dick answered, “I can see half a dozen dramatic explanations, and none of them are good. And that map down there is starting to terrify me. There’s probably a hundred attacks on it now. They’re scattered all over the world.”

“I know. It was the same when I only had the Spanish and Dutch data, there’s got to be a clue in there but I can’t see it.”

“Do we know what order the attacks were in? Might be useful to join the dots,” Tomas offered. “And what about projection? Dots that look equally scattered on the map might not be so equal on the globe, right?”

“Yeah. I haven’t got a globe here, though. Kind of a surprise, but nobody really uses one.”

“I have,” Baz grinned and opened up his battered bag. It had holes torn in it, but it looked like his laptop computer was intact. “The strategic map on Angels of Vengeance: Special Missions 4 is the real world, and the scripting engine can do mission planning when you create your own maps. It wasn’t designed for this, but if you can get some kind of coordinates for all those attacks, I think I can get an animated globe, maybe that will help us see it better.”

“Good thought! I can’t believe I didn’t think about that. So, let’s get to work!”___

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2016-01-01 13:33:36 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Happy New Year!

This Year’s Revolutions [Thank you, Spellchuck]

Well, I didn’t do too badly last year, so let’s see how this year goes. Anyone suggest anything to add?

1) Reading – read all the books I’ve got from authors I follow in Plusland. And at least one video review per month, probably more (assuming I can get VLC to behave)

2) Writing – 750k words this year. I managed 744k last year, so that shouldn't be too hard.

3) Editing – A book to release every month. I’ve got lots of short stories to collect; but would really appreciate any help deciding which ones make the cut.

4) Walking – An easier goal this time. A mile every day, at least, and keep on checking the #Geohashing coordinates every day.

5) Cooking – Something new at least once a month.

Happy New Year!

This Year’s Revolutions [Thank you, Spellchuck]

Well, I didn’t do too badly last year, so let’s see how this year goes. Anyone suggest anything to add?

1) Reading – read all the books I’ve got from authors I follow in Plusland. And at least one video review per month, probably more (assuming I can get VLC to behave)

2) Writing – 750k words this year. I managed 744k last year, so that shouldn't be too hard.

3) Editing – A book to release every month. I’ve got lots of short stories to collect; but would really appreciate any help deciding which ones make the cut.

4) Walking – An easier goal this time. A mile every day, at least, and keep on checking the #Geohashing coordinates every day.

5) Cooking – Something new at least once a month.___

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2016-01-01 00:26:08 (8 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Year's Resolutions - 2015

Yes;  I'm starting the new year by looking back at what I actually managed. Could also use some suggestions on what to challenge myself to do this year. Goals really help on bad anxiety days.

Release a book every month

Dramatic failure. I managed 2 this year; but at least think I have a better grasp of how to get the number of readers into double figures.


_Walk 50 miles every week*

Started out good, then dropped back. Got 1537.12 miles total, an average of just under 30 per week. I'd like to get back to walking more, though, because walking is good for my mental health. In terms of the #EowynChallenge  thing, comparing my distance to journeys from Lord of the Rings, I've been following Merry's path this year. 1537 takes me from the Breaking of the Fellowship, almost back to Isengard on ther... more »

Year's Resolutions - 2015

Yes;  I'm starting the new year by looking back at what I actually managed. Could also use some suggestions on what to challenge myself to do this year. Goals really help on bad anxiety days.

Release a book every month

Dramatic failure. I managed 2 this year; but at least think I have a better grasp of how to get the number of readers into double figures.


_Walk 50 miles every week*

Started out good, then dropped back. Got 1537.12 miles total, an average of just under 30 per week. I'd like to get back to walking more, though, because walking is good for my mental health. In terms of the #EowynChallenge  thing, comparing my distance to journeys from Lord of the Rings, I've been following Merry's path this year. 1537 takes me from the Breaking of the Fellowship, almost back to Isengard on the return journey.


Do #CampNanowrimo  twice, and #NaNoWriMo  once

Targets 30k in April, 40k in July, and 50k in November.
In April, I wrote Sandpaper Kiss, 30436 words. Subsequently extended to 91284 words, edited (with much help from +Kiba Kurosaki and +UndefeatableTwilight), and published.

In July I wrote Hope City Stories, managing only 38623 words in the month. But I finished it at 90070 words in the first week of November, and am now either waiting for my friends to tell me if it's  any good, or hoping for some other alpha readers to volunteer.

For #nanowrimo  I started working on Tomb of Dragons, but abandoned that on day two and started _Seven Skies with very little planning. That got to 52079 words, further expanded to 52127 after the month ended. I need to get back on the horse and try adding to that again, I think. Or just use the disorganised fragments as a plan, and rewrite it when it comes to next year's Camp Nano.


Write 500,000 other words

Well, I managed that. 744385 words total for the year, which means 510903 excluding the 3 nanowrimo projects. I feel like I should aim for more this year, though. How many is reasonable?___

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2015-12-26 18:17:00 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

Today, for #SaturdayScenes , I'm taking a break from Seven Skies. I've written just over 500k words this year not counting my #Nanowrimo  projects, I thought you might like to see this one, which brings me to a nice neat 733644 words in total. It's a kind-of sequel to the last of my 444 daily short stories, but I think it should stand on its own.

Masks: Kay

An anonymous room in a run-down hotel, that was the way she liked it. A faint trickle of moisture down one wall that might be condensation or might be from a defective window seal in the room above. The management wouldn’t do anything about it either way. The kind of people who stayed in a place like this had spent their lives scraping the bottom of the barrel, and knew there was nowhere else to go. Most of them were hiding from something or someone, whether it was an old criminal record, an ex, or just awor... more »

Today, for #SaturdayScenes , I'm taking a break from Seven Skies. I've written just over 500k words this year not counting my #Nanowrimo  projects, I thought you might like to see this one, which brings me to a nice neat 733644 words in total. It's a kind-of sequel to the last of my 444 daily short stories, but I think it should stand on its own.

Masks: Kay

An anonymous room in a run-down hotel, that was the way she liked it. A faint trickle of moisture down one wall that might be condensation or might be from a defective window seal in the room above. The management wouldn’t do anything about it either way. The kind of people who stayed in a place like this had spent their lives scraping the bottom of the barrel, and knew there was nowhere else to go. Most of them were hiding from something or someone, whether it was an old criminal record, an ex, or just a world that couldn’t support them any more. They’d had a decent life once, most of them.

Kay had been a student, a few months ago. She’d thought her family were reasonably well off, and that she was comparatively poor because she had instant noodles for dinner most days and could only afford takeout once a week. Now that seemed like luxury, imagining a life where there was always food of some kind in the cupboard.

They called this place a hotel, but in reality it was just a room. A place she could pay the rent for daily or weekly, that didn’t ask for a deposit and didn’t check references. A place nobody could find her. Because Kay was on the run too, after the only real crime she’d committed. She didn’t even know if she was guilty. She’d thought she was dreaming, or that her dreams had come true, when she got a ticket to one of the most exclusive events in the upper class’s social calendar. Now her dreams were haunted by greyscale images of a broad-shouldered charmer in a perfectly fitting tuxedo, with black blood pouring from his chest and red footprints in plush carpet.

They were after her. The secret assassin, it turned out nobody else knew how she’d got a ticket either. But she was the woman who’d seduced Prince Phillip and then stabbed him, and left a small bomb as her calling card. Nobody knew her real name, but that didn’t seem to matter. For nearly a month, a photofit image of her had appeared on the news almost every day, and she couldn’t remember. It had only started to come together in her mind when she saw that detectives had found an abandoned shoe, with a place in the heel for a concealed knife.

They were her shoes, and the DNA evidence would certainly lead the police straight back to her. They must have her name by now, she was sure, so she just had to remain anonymous. Would they have put some kind of trace on her passport? Coming to America was probably the best thing she could have done. There were enough people down on their luck here that nobody looked twice, and they didn’t take a foreign monarchy quite so seriously.

She had killed Prince Phillip. The facts couldn’t be denied. She’d gone into that big country house with a ticket she hadn’t expected to receive, trying to remember hasty etiquette lessons from a friend of a friend of a friend, dressed in a costume and mask provided by yet another unexpected friend. Someone had used her, she knew that. She could remember visiting the woman she’d mentally catalogued as ‘Fairy Godmother’ a dozen times, and being too embarrassed to admit she hadn’t caught her name, but she couldn’t remember a moment of the hours they’d spent together. She couldn’t remember the lessons, that were just too boring to recall.

She couldn’t remember being hypnotised, but it was the only explanation that made sense. She could barely remember the Godmother’s face, either. But once she started sketching, her hand moved as if it was on autopilot. The more she drew, the clearer her mental image became. She couldn’t put a name to the face, but quickly convinced herself that she’d never known it. If she wanted to clear her name now, this fairy godmother was the best lead she had.

She’d emailed some of her friends in college, making what she hoped were discreet enquiries. But either they hadn’t responded, or they’d only seen Lue and his friends once or twice. Mac was the best lead she’d got; he’d been the one who actually introduced Luke to many of her other friends. He could say that they guy had been in one of  his Mathematics lectures, though tracking down people in all sixteen of that course’s tutorial groups didn’t turn up anyone who knew him better. Luke wasn’t a student now, and if he was on the college roster it wasn’t under that name. Outside of class, he’d been introduced to Luke by a mutual friend, John, who was on the same course. Luke had asked John where they met, and found it was trying to check the same textbook out of the library for the same research project.

John thought he could remember Luke’s address, in a poky room on campus. Kay sighed and tried to hold back the tears as she realised that even the smallest of those rooms would be twice the size of the space she was occupying now. The next message she got from Mac said that the room was empty, gutted by fire following an accident with a student’s toaster. The building was intact, but the room hadn’t been redecorated in three years. There was no trace of Luke, or of a fairy godmother.

Kay couldn’t quite remember the way to the house where she’d had her training, but she wrote it down as best she could. It was frustrating that she couldn’t get back there now, but she was glad to be far away from an investigation that must be leaving no stone unturned. She could only hope that Mac would be able to follow her directions and find something, anything.

She checked her email every morning, on the library computers. Nothing. It was nearly a week now since she’d heard from him, and she was starting to worry that the police might have hacked her friends’ email even before they announced publicly that they knew her identity. That she might have got Mac arrested, or even worse. She wanted to check on him more than anything, to find out that he was safe, but she knew that contacting him would be the worst possible thing she could do. Today she was even thinking about moving, putting everything she owned back into her backpack and looking for a new hotel in case they could already trace her back here.

She was thinking about it, sitting on the edge of her dingy bed with a city map  in hand, when there was a thunderous knocking on the door.

“Bruce?” she called out, hoping this was just the place’s single staff member coming to check up on something. “Is something wrong? Was I making too much noise?”

“Konstantina?” the voice sounded familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t Bruce, it wasn’t occasional handyman Abe. It wasn’t any of her neighbours, because she hadn’t given anyone her real name. She’d gone most of her life by a nickname, and she was certain she hadn’t even uttered it since she fled the country.

“No, you got the wrong place,” she backed away from the door and did her best to affect an accent. There windows here didn’t  open, and even if they did there was no fire escape on this side of the building. She had no way out except to hope her mysterious visitor went away.

The door burst open in a shower of splinters, and suddenly there was a stocky man in shades and a dark overcoat in her room. He kicked the door closed behind him, and leaned against it to keep it closed.

“You wouldn’t believe the effort I’ve made to find you,” he growled, “And you clearly don’t know how easy it would be if someone else started looking in the right place. Now, I can offer you a more discreet hiding place, but you’re going to explain yourself first.”

“Oh my God…” she gasped, physically shaking in fear, “I don’t know, what… Am I dreaming?”

“No. And that’s one answer more than you deserve. Tell me what’s going on, and you might get to ask another question.” He scowled visibly, but she could tell he really didn’t want to to hurt her. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. She wasn’t sure about anything any more.

“God, oh God,” she sighed and then dived forward, wrapping her arms around his muscular torso and crying into the coarse fabric of his coat. “I didn’t mean to, I don’t understand, they didn’t tell me anything, you’ve got to believe me. Oh, Phillip… I’m so, so sorry.”___

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2015-12-26 00:26:02 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

This is what I got for Christmas once it's unwrapped… amazed at the number of them! Also 3 issues of Doktor Sleepless from my dad… though I'm not feeling dexterous enough to get that out of the packet right now.

This is what I got for Christmas once it's unwrapped… amazed at the number of them! Also 3 issues of Doktor Sleepless from my dad… though I'm not feeling dexterous enough to get that out of the packet right now.___

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2015-12-25 22:27:52 (1 comments; 1 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

This one, day 444, ended up being the end of my challenge to write a short story every day. Now I have the challenge of editing them all to look forward to; if there's anyone out there who might be willing to help (even if just giving your opinion on a couple of stories, saying if you think they make the cut or not), please let me know. Anyway, today I've added the second half to this story, but it looks like it might want to be the start of a longer piece.So what do you think?

Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notableenough ... more »

This one, day 444, ended up being the end of my challenge to write a short story every day. Now I have the challenge of editing them all to look forward to; if there's anyone out there who might be willing to help (even if just giving your opinion on a couple of stories, saying if you think they make the cut or not), please let me know. Anyway, today I've added the second half to this story, but it looks like it might want to be the start of a longer piece.So what do you think?

Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notable enough to be worth quoting. She was sure she’d heard it more than once, probably seen it pasted across some poignant image and reshared online. Maybe it had been a poet, or some famous philosopher, or maybe it had come from the memoirs of a killer, but those words spoke to her today. It was the first time she’d been invited to wear a mask since she was a child, and she found herself wondering if this mask could cover up her natural shyness, stop her from being such a klutz at every moment, and set free the witty and charming debutante she’d always wanted to be.

When she stepped into the ballroom, it was everything she had dreamed of. Coloured streamers criss-crossed the ceiling, which was large enough to be supported by fluted pillars. The music was a mix of classics and classical, played at least in part by a quintet of penguin-suited musicians in one of the large alcoves on the far wall, though to have been heard above the clamour of upper-class conversation in a room so large, they must have a well hidden set of speakers around the room. Konstantina looked around the crowd, and saw that every man was handsome and dashing, while every woman looked incredible in a collection of fine silk and crushed velvet, every one of their dresses different. Knowing the reputation of this gathering, she wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had said that every dress here was personally hand-stitched by a top Italian fashion designer. On a stand in the lounge of her apartment her own dress had looked the height of glamour, but here she wondered if she might be thrown out for being too poor.

She was no fairytale princess, she knew. She didn’t have beautiful blond hair that everyone envied, and though she was slender that came at the expense of curves. Most men in her experience would be quite happy to see a few extra pounds on a woman, as long as it was in her bust. Konstantina’s biggest failing, though, was that she was cute. It was a curse that too few people realised, because the nice guys wanted to protect her more than they wanted her, and the not so nice guys weren’t worth thinking about. If she had the choice, she would happily trade in being pretty and having a nice personality for an option that might involve more than just dancing.

Everyone was masked, of course, so maybe tonight Konstantina could let her inner demons run free. Her mask was simple and black, a web of thin lines that let the natural softness of her skin and eyes shine through. On its own it wouldn’t have done much to hide her identity, and she was sure that if anyone who knew her was here they would recognise her in an instant. The dress would probably do more to render her anonymous. It concealed very little despite the sheer volume of frills, ruffles, lace, and tastefully placed bows; but it was something that nobody she’d ever spoken to could believe she would wear. It was tasteful and stylish, but this was clearly not the kind of outfit a sweet and innocent college girl would wear on the world stage.

“Hello,” a man with a perfect tenor voice greeted her as she stood nervously just inside the vast hall. Everyone was watching here, everyone watching everyone, but he seemed completely at home knowing that every person he spoke to and everything he said would be common knowledge in these circles. Even behind her little black mask, Konstantina knew she would never have that kind of courage.

“Hi,” she gasped nervously, “I’m Kay. I mean, Konstantina Alexandria Johnson-Firth.” She started offering a hand to shake, and then reminded herself that at events like this, the conventions were all different. She started to curtsey, then turned the gesture into a slight bob as she realised that she had absolutely no idea what the proper etiquette in this situation was.

The stranger didn’t seem to mind, though. He was tall, and had the muscled shoulders and arms of someone who rowed competitively. The rest of his body was in pretty good shape too, as far as she could make out under the immaculately tailored suit. He had hair darker than hers, and his eyes sparkled from behind a simple diamond-bordered domino mask that did nothing to hide his jawline. He was the kind of guy who must have every woman in the room queueing up to eat out of his hand in normal circumstances, and even here he seemed to have a few more eyes on him than most of the guests. So why was he speaking to her?

“Pleased to meet you, Kay. My name is Phillip Boschester-Wellington, but I have little patience for long names and titles, so please feel free to call me Phil. I don’t recognise your family, is this the first time you’ve been to one of these little gatherings?” Kay nodded, so nervous that she didn’t think she could utter a word without saying something stupid. She knew her etiquette wasn’t right, she knew she should have recognised him at a glance. It was indeed the first time she’d been to anything like this, and she couldn’t believe she’d thought she could get away with it.

She’d thought she was dreaming when the ticket arrived. She’d said something to Malcolm after a few too many glasses of sparkling perry in the union bar, that she’d always envied the movie stars with their tailor-made dresses and everyone thinking they were gorgeous rather than cute. And he’d said he thought models got an even better deal, because they didn’t need talent. And then she’d said that if she could do anything, she’d rather be an heiress. Not just because they got the fancy clothes from the day they were born, but because with so much old money behind them, they could afford to do whatever they wanted. Nobody would ever stop the second daughter of the Duchess of Barrington-Heisworth if she wanted to be an actress or write a novel. Konstantina knew, of course, that she would always value accomplishment over mere success, so such cheap victories would never have made her happy. But that night she’d been drunk enough not to think about what she was saying.

And then Mal’s friend Luke said how would she like to see how the other half really lived, and he’d introduced her to his friend Ban, who had introduced her to a tall, dark haired lady who liked to joke that she was a fairy godmother. Maybe the first time they’d met Konstantina had been told the woman’s real name, but it was lost in a sea of cheap wine and too many introductions, and she was too ashamed of any behaviour she couldn’t remember to admit her intoxication that night by asking again.

She’d thought it was a joke when Luke delivered that dress, on a mannequin to stop it losing its shape. Then she’d thought it was a very, very expensive and elaborate joke. Then she’d got the ticket, and it had seemed a little more real. She’d still doubted it, not sure if the ticket was real. When the car arrived to pick her up, her estimate of the prank’s cost had gone up again. But the car had really brought her here, and suddenly she wished she’d actually paid attention in the blurred rush of Mal’s etiquette lessons.

As well as the upwardly mobile and business heiresses here, there were the old money crowd who’d probably been born with an innate understanding of these rules. Lords and Barons even. Like the man in front of her now, as she suddenly recognised a name she’d heard before but never really noted. Phillip Wellington, officially Duke of Byrony but possessed of so many honorary titles that it was no wonder he declined to mention them. Duke, Knight, His Lordship, His Royal Excellency Prince Phillip, currently fourth in line to the throne and a genius investor with controlling interest in enough corporations to make any economist listen. A man who nobody dared say ‘no’ to.

Kay could say no, she was sure. There were some areas where her personal rules left no room for interpretation. But why would she want to? If she was presumptuous enough even to assume the great man would ask. For now, he didn’t ask anything. He pressed a glass of wine into her hand, a slender flute cut with such complex, delicate facets that it seemed to have an aura of rainbows around it. The wine looked just the same as the perry she’d been drinking with friends just a few weeks ago, almost colourless and with a gently rising stream of bubbles. But she knew from a single sip that this vintage was many times older than anything the off license on campus could sell, and hundreds or even thousands of times the price.

After she had enjoyed the wine, and Phillip obviously relished the opportunity to share his knowledge about the techniques involved in producing twenty-dollar canapés, and they had exchanged stiff nods with a few minor nobles whose faces she didn’t recognise, Prince Phillip finally suggested that he would like to dance.

There were knots of people dancing around the room, and it wasn’t clear if there was a specific area set aside for it or not. But Prince Phillip knew exactly where he was going. He took her hand, and here that was somehow a gesture direct and intimate enough to set her blushing crimson. She could only hope that nobody would notice beneath the slender mask. She quickly realised that this area, where a few couples whirled in a waltz, was reserved for the higher echelons of nobility. Nobody would come to this part of the room unless their money went back generations, and she was privileged to be admitted. Elegant flowing drapes somehow afforded privacy without detracting from the openness of the room, and very heavily built men who could only be security kept their eyes open from the foot of the pillars. They were dancing on a raised dais, and Kay realised that she was actually managing to dance. Some lessons must have sunk in, even if she barely remembered her crash course in aristocracy.

It was like a dream.

* * *

Some time later, the dream had turned sour and Konstantina decided it was time for her to be heading home. It wasn’t that the ball fell  below her expectations, but she couldn’t keep up with all the new experiences. She felt that she must have made so many mistakes, and the endless supply of high quality sparkling wine had made it hard to remember what she should do and what she shouldn’t. She’d felt on top of the world as Prince Phillip introduced her to many of his family, including a few names she never thought she’d see outside a newspaper column.

Now she walked a little unsteadily along a plush red carpet in one of the building’s corridors. She hadn’t thought anything of it when Phillip had offered to show her how the other half lives. She’d been tipsy, maybe even drunk, and had decided to leave thinking about it for later. As she started to realise that her judgment wasn’t as clear as she’d thought at the time, there might have been space in her mind for a little animosity towards the prince.But she quickly realised that he’d been a little tipsy as well, else he wouldn’t have invited a girl he just met back to his room.

She was a little unsteady on her feet, whether from the wine or tiredness she wasn’t quite sure. Her memory was hazy, too. She could remember getting to the room where Phillip was staying, decorated in a style presumably common to the rest of this massive house. The only personal touches were a few ornaments in various places, and a framed literary quote hanging on the back of the door. He explained that he spent much of his life travelling between three palaces in different parts of the country, as well as official and social visits spanning the world, so he made sure that his servants knew how to arrange the tings that made any place feel like home.

He’d gone to get more wine, or something. She couldn’t quite recall. But she knew she’d been fascinated by the fact that a man with his background in old money would have a perfectly normal-looking laptop on his desk. Of course, he was a self-made millionaire from his business dealings, but that was still a tiny sum compared to his inheritance. It was hard to think of a prince sitting down at his own computer to check his own email. Didn’t he have servants to do that for him? Her mind hadn’t been up to the task of handling this shift in opinion, but the wine quickly suggested that maybe he liked Internet porn. Were royals even allowed pornography? She had no idea, but she had to check. Now, staggering barefoot along a corridor with the thickest carpet she’d ever seen, she regretted the decision even if she couldn’t clearly recall what she’d found.

She looked down, and realised she was barefoot. Leaving a trail of conspicuous footprints, as well, red wine on beige carpet, but only a few specks with each step. It had probably left a trail all the way back to Phillip’s quarters, wherever they were, and she hoped he wouldn’t be angry with her.

For just a second, an image flashed in her mind’s eye. A handprint, vivid on white sheets, and Prince Phillip cursing in an exotic language. She didn’t remember how the wine had got spilled. Just a crimson outline in the shape of her palm, and a few guttural words she didn’t recognise. Other details didn’t come to mind right away. Maybe she should have gone back, just to see him again, but that would probably have been against some of those rules that she hadn’t really learned. She didn’t want to cause a scandal, and she didn’t know just how many staff were in this building now. She had to get back to the ballroom and mingle again.

Konstantina knew she didn’t belong in a place like this, she’d been so lucky to get that ticket. But she was still not quite thinking clearly through the haze of alcohol, and she wondered if people might not be able to see the difference between a drunken noble and a drunken and displaced commoner. It just seemed the right thing to do.

As she returned to the ballroom, the staff seemed to have been instructed not to notice her arrival. She wondered just how often Phillip might show some lady his room, and whether he had a reputation that had somehow been kept from the paparazzi and the general public. It couldn’t just be chance that he’d chosen to entertain her rather than anyone else; there were a whole gaggle of ladies more popular, more famous, more beautiful than her. She wasn’t the kind to catch a Prince’s eye unless it meant something, she was sure.

And then another flash. A laptop screen, a gallery of photographs. It seemed the Prince liked glamour shots, a guilty pleasure for royalty. Not porn, but maybe he kept that elsewhere. He knew what he liked, though. Short dark hair and heart shaped faces, thin red lips quirky smiles. She’d fit perfectly into his collection, so maybe she had a chance of getting a little closer. She remembered that after first drawing that conclusion, she had drained her glass in one nervous gulp. After that, she couldn’t pull back an image of what had come next. Had the thought that she might fit his ideal been enough to make her do  something she was sure she would regret?

For now, though, she had to rush. She didn’t have her shoes on, but she still had most of the elaborate gown. She might look presentable, but she had to fulfil her social obligations before it was time to leave. She was aware of her head nodding slowly in time to the music as she headed back towards the family’s more private space. The room swayed around her, and it took every ounce of concentration to focus on the task at hand. A small parcel from her purse, and she smiled at the security men whose presence was a little more obvious now she wasn’t actually with Phillip.

“Is Magda here?” she asked the first person who came towards her, “Phillip said I should give this to her.” She waved the small parcel helpfully, and a duke whose name she couldn’t recall took it from her and passed it to one of the servants, who conveyed it to a table where a large number of other gifts were on display. Right now she couldn’t even remember who they were for, or what occasion this masked ball was celebrating, because everything else had faded into unimportant background. In her mind this was nothing more than a party that had contained Phillip, but she was content to have ticked off a box on her mental list of things that needed doing tonight. Then she took another drink, the champagne flute in her hand having been refilled at some moment since she last gave it her full attention.

“Would you care to dance?” someone asked. She wasn’t quite sure if she’d been introduced to him, but if she had then it would seem rude to have forgotten so quickly. He had a fussy little moustache, the kind that needs trimming daily to ensure the bottom is neat, and rather more chin than was normal for someone of  his size. He also wore a scarf that didn’t fit so well with his overstarched penguin suit, and an expression of good natured (if slightly oblivious) hope.

“I’d be honoured,” she found that she was still inebriated enough that a cheerful smile was easier than a scathing putdown. She idly wondered, as this perfect stranger took her hand, if this was how a party always went among society’s elite. It hadn’t been what she expected, but then she didn’t really know what she’d been hoping for. This was probably better.

“I think Phillip has taken a shine to you,” her dance partner commented, as her slightly erratic movements brought them closer together.

“Are you related to Dougie at all? Your eyes are the same colour,” he said the next time, leaving her to wonder if she was supposed to reply or not. This guy seemed just as out of place here, but the thick accent gave her the impression that it was socialising in general that didn’t suit him rather than the partygoers’ wealth and power.

“I have to say, it suits you a lot better,” he grinned on his next pass, seemingly proud of having said something witty. Konstantina wondered if her crash course in etiquette had included anything about how to break away from a dance partner without causing offense. Then she caught sight of a clock, and remembered something much more important.

“I’m sorry, I just noticed it’s nearly midnight” she cut off whatever he was going to say as he leaned close to her ear again, “I just lost track of time. I should get my coat, so sorry to cut the dance short.”

He opened his mouth and closed it again, giving the impression of a slightly concussed fish. Maybe he wanted to reassure her that the party didn’t end when the clock struck twelve, or that she could find a guest room if she wasn’t up to driving herself home. She wondered if someone who had a right to be here would even understand the concept of same-day return train fare. Maybe it would  be easier just to say that her fairy godmother had told  her she had to leave by midnight, which was technically true but would undoubtedly lead to more questions. Then an idea struck; honesty wasn’t always the best policy.

“Oh, I don’t want to miss the fireworks,” she said, and hurried over to the gaggle of servants who could presumably reunite her with her coat and bag.

“Fireworks?” the man gaped in surprise, and hurried off to ask other guests if they were expecting a firework display. By the time he found anyone capable of giving a straight answer, the mysterious stranger was long gone. She tripped on the steps in her hurry to leave, and almost dropped her cellphone. Her hands were shaking now, she must have drunk more than she realised. The taxi was waiting for her, though, and she bundled herself into the back before anyone could complain about her prompt departure.

She looked back, and if Phillip had been there she was sure she would have changed her mind. She would have been willing to risk finding her own way home in the morning if she could chat with him again, or whatever other activities he had in mind. But somehow she knew he wouldn’t be there. This had been a once in a lifetime experience for her.

“The station,” she muttered to the driver, handing over the last of the cash Luke had lent her, and added, “Before midnight if you can.”

“Not much chance of  that now, love,” the driver muttered, but he pocketed the money anyway and the car lurched forward a little faster. It was almost twenty seconds before her phone bleeped to signify the changing date. In the background, the big house was topped by a crown of fire. There was a dull boom, and screams, and minutes later the sound of sirens approaching.

“Oh God, oh God, I could have been in there!” Konstantina babbled, tears flowing freely now. Forensics specialists would soon report that a device had been placed in the main ballroom, hidden among a pile of wrapped gifts for the Duke of Erdingham and his new wife Mirabelle. But in the back of a taxi, inhaling the subtle odour of all the night’s previous passengers, the only thing on Konstantina’s mind was Phillip, who’d been so nice to her all evening and had made her feel like she fitted in among the toffs. He was probably dead now, and that was closest as she’d ever come to tragedy. It was impossible to believe; she could imagine his face now, reclining happily on a king size bed, and then she could picture him painted in greyscale shades, handsome chest split open and a fountain of black blood spilling out over the floor.

Sparks floated through the sky, fragments of burning paper and fabric. They weren’t the fireworks she’d hoped for.___

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2015-12-25 13:21:06 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Christmas presents, with many thanks to +mum and +dad and ±Dennis and ±Dave & Jan.

Also, loving the auto-awesome :)

Christmas presents, with many thanks to +mum and +dad and ±Dennis and ±Dave & Jan.

Also, loving the auto-awesome :)___

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2015-12-20 14:11:22 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Awesome €:

I was hoping to have A Dozen Secrets out by Christmas, but it's not looking likely now. One thing I'm wondering; is there a little spike in Kindle purchases from people who got a new device for Christmas? If I wasn't so far behind schedule, would releasing (or running freebies) over the holiday period be a good idea? Would any time be particularly beneficial?

In any case, happy Jólabókaflóð to all the readers and writers!

Awesome €:

I was hoping to have A Dozen Secrets out by Christmas, but it's not looking likely now. One thing I'm wondering; is there a little spike in Kindle purchases from people who got a new device for Christmas? If I wasn't so far behind schedule, would releasing (or running freebies) over the holiday period be a good idea? Would any time be particularly beneficial?

In any case, happy Jólabókaflóð to all the readers and writers!___

posted image

2015-12-20 09:29:44 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Today is the 444th day I've written a short story for my #DailyStory  project. I think this isn't complete, and is just setting the scene, but I wanted to  share what I've got so far.

#DailyStory  № 444 - Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notable enough to be worth quoting. She was sure she’d heard it more than once, probably seen it pasted across some poignant image and reshared online. Maybe it had been a poet, or some famous philosopher, or maybe it had come from the memoirs of a killer, but those words spoketo her today. ... more »

Today is the 444th day I've written a short story for my #DailyStory  project. I think this isn't complete, and is just setting the scene, but I wanted to  share what I've got so far.

#DailyStory  № 444 - Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notable enough to be worth quoting. She was sure she’d heard it more than once, probably seen it pasted across some poignant image and reshared online. Maybe it had been a poet, or some famous philosopher, or maybe it had come from the memoirs of a killer, but those words spoke to her today. It was the first time she’d been invited to wear a mask since she was a child, and she found herself wondering if this mask could cover up her natural shyness, stop her from being such a klutz at every moment, and set free the witty and charming debutante she’d always wanted to be.

When she stepped into the ballroom, it was everything she had dreamed of. Coloured streamers criss-crossed the ceiling, which was large enough to be supported by fluted pillars. The music was a mix of classics and classical, played at least in part by a quintet of penguin-suited musicians in one of the large alcoves on the far wall, though to have been heard above the clamour of upper-class conversation in a room so large, they must have a well hidden set of speakers around the room. Konstantina looked around the crowd, and saw that every man was handsome and dashing, while every woman looked incredible in a collection of fine silk and crushed velvet, every one of their dresses different. Knowing the reputation of this gathering, she wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had said that every dress here was personally hand-stitched by a top Italian fashion designer. On a stand in the lounge of her apartment her own dress had looked the height of glamour, but here she wondered if she might be thrown out for being too poor.

She was no fairytale princess, she knew. She didn’t have beautiful blond hair that everyone envied, and though she was slender that came at the expense of curves. Most men in her experience would be quite happy to see a few extra pounds on a woman, as long as it was in her bust. Konstantina’s biggest failing, though, was that she was cute. It was a curse that too few people realised, because the nice guys wanted to protect her more than they wanted her, and the not so nice guys weren’t worth thinking about. If she had the choice, she would happily trade in being pretty and having a nice personality for an option that might involve more than just dancing.

Everyone was masked, of course, so maybe tonight Konstantina could let her inner demons run free. Her mask was simple and black, a web of thin lines that let the natural softness of her skin and eyes shine through. On its own it wouldn’t have done much to hide her identity, and she was sure that if anyone who knew her was here they would recognise her in an instant. The dress would probably do more to render her anonymous. It concealed very little despite the sheer volume of frills, ruffles, lace, and tastefully placed bows; but it was something that nobody she’d ever spoken to could believe she would wear. It was tasteful and stylish, but this was clearly not the kind of outfit a sweet and innocent college girl would wear on the world stage.

“Hello,” a man with a perfect tenor voice greeted her as she stood nervously just inside the vast hall. Everyone was watching here, everyone watching everyone, but he seemed completely at home knowing that every person he spoke to and everything he said would be common knowledge in these circles. Even behind her little black mask, Konstantina knew she would never have that kind of courage.

“Hi,” she gasped nervously, “I’m Kay. I mean, Konstantina Alexandria Johnson-Firth.” She started offering a hand to shake, and then reminded herself that at events like this, the conventions were all different. She started to curtsey, then turned the gesture into a slight bob as she realised that she had absolutely no idea what the proper etiquette in this situation was.

The stranger didn’t seem to mind, though. He was tall, and had the muscled shoulders and arms of someone who rowed competitively. The rest of his body was in pretty good shape too, as far as she could make out under the immaculately tailored suit. He had hair darker than hers, and his eyes sparkled from behind a simple diamond-bordered domino mask that did nothing to hide his jawline. He was the kind of guy who must have every woman in the room queueing up to eat out of his hand in normal circumstances, and even here he seemed to have a few more eyes on him than most of the guests. So why was he speaking to her?

“Pleased to meet you, Kay. My name is Phillip Boschester-Wellington, but I have little patience for long names and titles, so please feel free to call me Phil. I don’t recognise your family, is this the first time you’ve been to one of these little gatherings?” Kay nodded, so nervous that she didn’t think she could utter a word without saying something stupid. She knew her etiquette wasn’t right, she knew she should have recognised him at a glance. It was indeed the first time she’d been to anything like this, and she couldn’t believe she’d thought she could get away with it.

She’d thought she was dreaming when the ticket arrived. She’d said something to Malcolm after a few too many glasses of sparkling perry in the union bar, that she’d always envied the movie stars with their tailor-made dresses and everyone thinking they were gorgeous rather than cute. And he’d said he thought models got an even better deal, because they didn’t need talent. And then she’d said that if she could do anything, she’d rather be an heiress. Not just because they got the fancy clothes from the day they were born, but because with so much old money behind them, they could afford to do whatever they wanted. Nobody would ever stop the second daughter of the Duchess of Barrington-Heisworth if she wanted to be an actress or write a novel. Konstantina knew, of course, that she would always value accomplishment over mere success, so such cheap victories would never have made her happy. But that night she’d been drunk enough not to think about what she was saying.

And then Mal’s friend Luke said how would she like to see how the other half really lived, and he’d introduced her to his friend Ban, who had introduced her to a tall, dark haired lady who liked to joke that she was a fairy godmother. Maybe the first time they’d met Konstantina had been told the woman’s real name, but it was lost in a sea of cheap wine and too many introductions, and she was too ashamed of any behaviour she couldn’t remember to admit her intoxication that night by asking again.

She’d thought it was a joke when Luke delivered that dress, on a mannequin to stop it losing its shape. Then she’d thought it was a very, very expensive and elaborate joke. Then she’d got the ticket, and it had seemed a little more real. She’d still doubted it, not sure if the ticket was real. When the car arrived to pick her up, her estimate of the prank’s cost had gone up again. But the car had really brought her here, and suddenly she wished she’d actually paid attention in the blurred rush of Mal’s etiquette lessons.

As well as the upwardly mobile and business heiresses here, there were the old money crowd who’d probably been born with an innate understanding of these rules. Lords and Barons even. Like the man in front of her now, as she suddenly recognised a name she’d heard before but never really noted. Phillip Wellington, officially Duke of Byrony but possessed of so many honorary titles that it was no wonder he declined to mention them. Duke, Knight, His Lordship, His Royal Excellency Prince Phillip, currently fourth in line to the throne and a genius investor with controlling interest in enough corporations to make any economist listen. A man who nobody dared say ‘no’ to.

Kay could say no, she was sure. There were some areas where her personal rules left no room for interpretation. But why would she want to? If she was presumptuous enough even to assume the great man would ask. For now, he didn’t ask anything. He pressed a glass of wine into her hand, a slender flute cut with such complex, delicate facets that it seemed to have an aura of rainbows around it. The wine looked just the same as the perry she’d been drinking with friends just a few weeks ago, almost colourless and with a gently rising stream of bubbles. But she knew from a single sip that this vintage was many times older than anything the off license on campus could sell, and hundreds or even thousands of times the price.

After she had enjoyed the wine, and Phillip obviously relished the opportunity to share his knowledge about the techniques involved in producing twenty-dollar canapés, and they had exchanged stiff nods with a few minor nobles whose faces she didn’t recognise, Prince Phillip finally suggested that he would like to dance.

There were knots of people dancing around the room, and it wasn’t clear if there was a specific area set aside for it or not. But Prince Phillip knew exactly where he was going. He took her hand, and here that was somehow a gesture direct and intimate enough to set her blushing crimson. She could only hope that nobody would notice beneath the slender mask. She quickly realised that this area, where a few couples whirled in a waltz, was reserved for the higher echelons of nobility. Nobody would come to this part of the room unless their money went back generations, and she was privileged to be admitted. Elegant flowing drapes somehow afforded privacy without detracting from the openness of the room, and very heavily built men who could only be security kept their eyes open from the foot of the pillars. They were dancing on a raised dais, and Kay realised that she was actually managing to dance. Some lessons must have sunk in, even if she barely remembered her crash course in aristocracy.

It was like a dream.



Interesting.  When I started writing this, I was planning a kind of fairy tale inversion based on a random image from +Dollar Photo Club. But looking back now on what I wrote last night I wonder if it wasn't more inspired by +Bliss Morgan's Dance Me. Weird that I didn't recognise that while I was writing it. If this kind of thing catches your interest, it's worth checking the book out - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00A7JCZRA - which is a lot more polished than anything I could come up with in one night.___

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