Friday, 31 August 2007

ASBO-Boy: The Battle of Dyfatty - Part One

"Helix! Helix! Are the rumours true?"

The crowd of paparazzi brayed and swarmed around the Elementals as they approached the blockade. Vue observed the police presence, their strength and the proximity of the old blocks of flats. They'd need to be moved, he thought, considering the crowd of onlookers.

"Of course not," Helix chuckled amiably, "We're here to raise awareness and oversee a police exercise."

Vue tried not to laugh. Helix's ability to lie with a charming smile never ceased to amaze him.

"So, you don't think this police blockade is a little excessive?"

"Why wouldn't they be here if it wasn't for a terrorist attack?"

"I assure you," Helix said, turning to the crowd with open hands, "this is purely routine. All of your questions will be answered when we return." Helix led his Elementals under the Police tape and through the gate that led into the park at the foot of the flats. Behind them the press shouted after them, but they walked on as if nothing was happening.

When they were out of sight Vue gravitated towards Core and his hand slipped into hers. For five minutes they'd have a little privacy.

"Holding hands in the park," Physic jibed. "People will talk."

"Not if they don't see." Core replied, gesturing to the trees around them. Physic was lanky and wore glasses. He was the very vision of a nerd. His talent was technically classed as the manipulation of complex chemicals. His party trick was encouraging the immune system into overdrive. He constantly bragged that he could cure anything.

Vue looked up at the farthest tower block and thought on the mission. Of course the rumours were true. They always were. Of course terrorists had taken the flats and were threatening extortion and death. Terrorism was a monthly occurrence.

"Seraph – what do you see?" Helix called upwards. In moments they heard the reassuring flapping noise of Seraph swooping into view. He was short for his age, blonde and had enormous white angel wings sticking out of his back.

"Not much." He replied, landing softly on the path. "The curtains are drawn on the first floor. The police have set up a perimeter."

Vue looked over and saw the plain clothes officers setting up behind the concrete barriers. "Have they made any demands?" Helix asked.

"Nope," Seraph replied, his wings tucked in. Vue had to laugh sometimes, the wings were twice the size of Seraph and they forced him into a kind of waddle because of his height.

"I suppose our public relations officer will have to butter them up then," Physic muttered. Helix gave him a dig in the shoulder and laughed.

Physic spent too much time wondering why he wasn't the leader, but to Vue it was obvious. You pick the most good-natured, confident and good-looking one to lead the team. It worked in comics, it worked in real life. Vue's collection was one of the largest still in existence and it was only because he was an Elemental that the Authorities had let him keep it. Apparently they were subversive, dangerous and too close mirror to real life.

The moment of relative peace ended when they reached the concrete barriers. The police were working out of the back of a white van.

"Helix," the officer in charge approached, "We're glad you guys are here. They've holed themselves up pretty well."

"Hostages?" Helix asked.

"You bet. Four familes – all from the block. They're armed with stolen machine-guns. They haven't fired them yet, but we haven't gone any closer than this." The officer led them over to the van where they'd pulled out the schematic drawings for the building.

"Vue, study the drawings and pick a good entry point." Helix directed. Vue scanned the image and spotted the stairwell. He made the calculations quickly and awaited further orders.

"Th Government is lying!" came a scream across the park, amplified by a hand-held microphone. "This is not just a block of flats! It's built on a secret government facility designed to monitor us! They're spying on us!" The voice sounded weak and scared, Vue noted. They dealt with scaremongers on a daily basis. Of course society wasn't perfect, people aren't stupid – they know when their being spied on, but when it's being done in the people's best interest, only the guilty have to worry.

"They've being spouting this rubbish all morning." The officer explained.

"Are you ready?" Helix asked.

Vue nodded, shared a brief smile with Core and closed his eyes. His ears popped and the sounds around him changed. When he opened his eyes he was standing in the stairwell, two floors above the terrorists. Moving quickly he descended and approached the door. He heard voices beyond, muffled, lowered.

A gun clicked behind him.

"Move and we kill one of the hostages."

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Mutagen - Chapter 2

“Any joy?”

Seran jumped where she sat by the desk, nearly upsetting the ink well in the process. Inwardly, she cursed. The thing on the table had her nerves in a vice grip.

“It’s impossible,” she told Reyfe flatly. “The damned thing can’t exist.”

He moved cautiously into the room toward the sound of her voice.

“But it does.”

“Details.” Seran waved a hand dismissively, and then rubbed her eyes. Gods, she was tired. And deeply confused.

Reyfe chuckled and stopped, leaning against the wall. Seran wondered briefly if that was a result of his blindness: a desire to touch something, to keep himself anchored.

“Details indeed,” he said kindly. “Any more important ones, though? How it works, what it is?”

“It’s got –” Seran broke off, biting her lip. “I ran some tests. On the venom from its fangs, firstly.”


“And the protein markers are an almost exact match for lycanthropic venom,” she said quietly. “But,” she added quickly, “it wasn’t exact in any other way. It’s more acidic and far more unstable. And it reacts with too many hormones.”

“I see.” Reyfe stroked his chin with one finger. “A mutated form of lycanthropy, then?”

“Logically,” Seran nodded. “Except that’s never happened before. Ever. And beyond the clearly… mutative… nature of this thing, it bears no resemblance to classic lycanthropy.”

“How so?”

“It was a new moon last night,” Seran said simply. “Lycanthropics produce the hormones relevant for a transformation in accordance with the lunar cycle. No lycanthropic could produce those hormones during a new moon. This thing either managed it, or transformed purely on adrenaline.”

Reyfe groped his way to a chair and sat down. “Which do you think?”

“Adrenaline,” Seran said promptly. “I think it panicked when it was discovered, and accidentally changed. Except, that raises another rather large question: being an assassin is clearly a high-risk job. If this one knew he couldn’t control his own rather dramatic biological change –”

“-then why was he an assassin,” Reyfe finished, nodding. Beneath the dark lenses he looked troubled. “Do you think he knew? Could he have been unaware of the virus?”

“I don’t see how he could have,” Seran admitted. “Let’s keep assuming it’s Weird Lycanthropy. It could only be transmitted through the venom, and therefore a bite. Now in this case, the blood seems to carry something since the Prince Regent is so ill, but even then…”

“You’d notice if you swallowed blood,” Reyfe stated. “Particularly if it made you that ill,” he added. “Although, you did say that the Prince Regent’s body was probably rejecting the virus. What happens when a body contracts it?”

“There’s actually a good chance you wouldn’t notice, until the days approaching your first full moon,” Seran answered gloomily. “Then the mood swings start, and…” She trailed off. “Not that it matters. Weird Lycanthropy doesn’t need the moon, it seems.”

“So,” Reyfe said, pressing his fingers into a steeple. “An assassin who was accidentally and unknowingly infected with… Weird Lycanthropy… is sent to kill the Prince Regent, with inside help from the Citadel. When found, the virus triggers his unorthodox transformation, which regrettably for him is an aquatic form. He’s never transformed before, so he can’t change back, and kills himself in his panic.”

“Yes,” Seran said thoughtfully. “I wonder if he even could have changed back, you know. Lycanthropics can, with self control, but…” She looked at her notes. “There’s something odd about the preliminary test results on his genome. I’ll know more once I’ve tested more extensively, but this is showing signs of being a one-way transformation.”

“How can you tell?” Reyfe asked keenly. Seran smiled.

“With difficulty,” she answered. “But basically, you can test a lycanthropic’s genome in either human or lupine state and all of the genetic markers and protein markers and every other type of marker are there, allowing another transformation. Otherwise, with all the hormonal changes in the world the body couldn’t physically transform: you’d just get mood-swings. It tends to be what happens in people who don’t contract lycanthropy but don’t reject it, either.” She pointed at the assassin. “That thing doesn’t have those markers. Or rather, it does, but they’re all broken.”

“Are you serious?” Reyfe gaped at her. “A permanent change? Into that?”

“Ha.” Seran stood up and walked to the animal on the table, looking down at its neck. “Those gills aren’t open. Even under water, this thing couldn’t have breathed. This isn’t a working evolution.”

“Ah. It killed itself before it finished changing.”

“No,” Seran said quietly. “I don’t think so. The tests wouldn’t produce any sort of conclusive results at all otherwise. I think this evolutionary dead-end is the whole transformation.”

There was utter silence, pure and unbroken for a minute, almost as though the entire Citadel had dragged to a halt to contemplate the news. Then, in the distance, the Chimes rang out eleven o’clock, and Seran sagged. She could barely concentrate anymore, she was so tired, and the adrenaline she’d been living on for the last few hours seemed to be leaving her.

“You’re tired,” Reyfe said, standing. “Go home, and go to bed. We will probably need to call on you again before the day is out.”

Seran nodded, and began to gather up her notes. “How is the Prince Regent?”

“Dying,” Reyfe said shortly, glancing toward the corpse on the table, “although I think it’s probably for the best, considering the alternatives. I don’t suppose you can find a cure?”

“Outside of a silver bullet?” Seran regretted the words instantly, and more so at the look on Reyfe’s face. “Sorry. Sleep deprivation is catching up with me. No, I can’t find a cure. It’s a virus: we can’t kill those.”

“No,” Reyfe said quietly; and Seran saw a shadow pass across his face. “Well; thank you, professor. As I say, we’ll need you again, so get some sleep.”

Seran nodded, and only remembered after he left that she should have answered him verbally.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Chapter Two - The Awakening, Part Four

Tritus was rubbing his hands eagerly. He could feel a sale.

Peace was good for business and war was good for business, but nothing shakes up the economy like a nice shift in power. With Ilstan gone a new aristocracy was going to emerge, rich with new money from Venger's campaigns in the Westerlands. With any luck, he'd be a part of it. A bigger house, more staff perhaps.

Vytrycean gold, Wystian sea-silk, Gythrian whisky… the allure of names and wealth teased him. All he wanted to do was ask questions like a small child.

"I want good-looking, capable slaves. No half-breeds. Preferably trained, but otherwise capable of learning." The Mage named Vyshe continued.

They were standing in Tritus's private booth overlooking the Arena. Below, the morning's fights were underway, around them the mob roared.

"Of course, all of my slaves are obedient and completely Human." Tritus replied, trying to hide the eagerness in his manner. Vyshe was tall, intense and dressed in Venger's dark, rich colours. He'd heard from his sources that Vyshe had played a key role in the capture of the city.

"Good." Vyshe said, staring out into the stands, watching the crowd. "Are you interested in politics, Mr Tritus?"

"In a manner of speaking. Only insofar as it affects business." Tritus said, watching the slaves below in their fight with the Dragon. It was a pale and sallow creature, hardly a Dragon at all, at least in a Classical sense.

"I've spent three years liberating the Westerlands, Humans, Giisi – many of the lesser races. They say this is the end of the line, that Venger's war ends here. What do you think?"

"I couldn't possibly comment." Tritus replied with a nervous chuckle. He was in the company of one of Venger's Mages – one of the Iryan traitors.

"Try." Vyshe commented dangerously. "As you say, your political interest is based on business. Is the name of Venger good for business?"

Tritus coughed. "People are investing, people like yourselves are buying. This is a good thing."

Vyshe nodded. He was watching the action below. The Idjian slave was leading the other slaves, guiding their attacks, circling the Dragon. "What do you think these people want?" Vyshe waved to the crowd, the mingled faces of the mob, all braying for violence and death. Each time a slave fell they crowed and cheered like carrion birds.

"Blood." Tritus said, the hair on his arms standing up.

"Indeed." Vyshe said. "The cry for blood. Stability and peace will not last. Venger's war has been one of vengeance and status. He has brought his army and his name to the doorsteps of the Harzish Kingdoms and the forests of Aelfheim."

The uncomfortable truth disturbed Tritus. He wasn't stupid, it was hard to ignore the proximity of the world's greatest races pressing down on Ymylic's borders. Ffin was a poor city, in a poor province in a poor land. The Human wealth lay elsewhere, across the sea in Idjia, Opello and Luuria.

"Soon, all will have to answer." Vyshe took a step towards the balcony's edge. The crowd was beginning to rise in anticipation. Blows could be heard from the sandy floor of the Arena. Tritus took a step forward and stood next to Vyshe.

"Who is that?" Vyshe was pointing at the Idjian slave who was locked in battle with the Dragon. His club was swinging in sharp, precise arcs, deflecting each blow of claws from the lizard. He was good, very good. Tritus had bought the boy when he was but a child from a Giisi trader in the Idjian capital. They said he's been brought up fighting Aurks. Tritus had believed them.

"That is one of my best fighters –" Tritus's reply began, but Vyshe didn't listen. From within his long navy robes a Staff appeared. For an instant Tritus recognised it, but couldn't think of where he'd seen it. With a clap of energy Vyshe leapt from the balcony and dropped the thirty foot to the Arena floor below.

Tritus swore under his breath and dived for the door. His short legs clattered on the stone as he descended the spiral staircase, shoving past all in his way.

The bright light of the Arena obscured his eyesight for a moment, when they adjusted he saw an incredible sight before him. Vyshe, the slave and the Dragon were engaged in a three-way battle. Thunderstrikes of power boomed around the Arena, prompting a frenzy from the crowd.

Terror gripped Tritus as his sandalled feet moved unconsciously closer to the battle. The slave moved with the grace and energy of a survivor. The Dragon attacked both Vyshe and the slave without prejudice, but Vyshe was only attacking the Slave. His movements were sharp and precise, his staff meeting the Slave's club blow for blow.

Shocked and horrified, Tritus watched as the Slave seemed to gain the upper hand, mastering the Dragon and using the beast against his opponent.

"Enough!" Vyshe bellowed, a wave of light exploding from his staff with a peal of bells. The Dragon reeled backwards, frozen mid-movement by a lyric of magic.

The slave fell, the club falling from his hands. Vyshe approached and picked up the weapon, calmly he examined both staff and club side by side. They were almost identical.

There was a silence from the crowd.

"I knew the man who crafted this boy," Vyshe said dangerously, his voice propelled menacingly around the Arena, "Where did you get it?"

The slave wasted no time, fearlessly he answered, "I defeated him. I took it from his cold, dead hands."

Vyshe's eyes widened, there seemed to be no question of the truth in the matter. Tritus's breath caught in his throat as he looked between Mage and slave.

Vyshe turned to Tritus and smiled, "How much for the Barbarian?"

Saraii's feet echoed unnaturally on the stone floor. Around her, Ilstan's quarters opened out, cave-like. An enormous four-poster bed, plush rugs and tapestries, lounging sofas and enormous open fire. He was standing in the centre of the room wearing only a loose gown.

"Come here, Saraii," his voice boomed, sounding distant and hollow. Her legs obeyed without question, her heart quailed within her chest. This was a mistake.

He took a glass of wine and passed one to her. Her hands stuck to the cold glass as he encouraged her to drink the alien liquid.

"Do not be afraid, child," his voice sounded light, but the words did not, "I am not going to hurt you. I merely wish to thank you for all the hard work you have done for me."

He retreats towards the bed and gestures for her to follow. Slower this time, she obeys his command and sits lightly on the edge of the bed. He looms over her like a storm-cloud, watching and waiting.

"I am very proud of you, Saraii." His hand reaches forward and touches a lock of her hair.

The air suddenly shimmers and her stomach twists…

She's awake and panting. Darkness envelopes her but she can still see the sickening room, his hands, the robe, the wine. Valiantly she works hard to quell the violence in her stomach, the disgust.

Who's were these memories? She wondered. Every night this week she'd dreamed of altenating places. In one, she was in the castle with the monster Ilstan. In the other she was in a house she was convinced was hers, surrounded by trees and cars. She had a brother, family – a happy, perfect life. A dream.

Tired and feeling empty she sat up and looked out of the narrow window. Her room was hundreds of feet up. She could see most of the city from this vantage. In all honesty she felt as detached from the world below as it looked.

From the next room she could hear whimpering then the rushing sound of the bell.

Saraii stood and walked to the door, gathering her robe around her. She opened the large wooden door and entered Attani's room. Candles lit the large bedroom revealing the bright colours and foreign antique toys. It was a playroom, bedroom – an entire universe for the creature that lay on the bed. A slender grey hand gripped the bell pull and Saraii walked over and took it away.

Softly her voice hushed the girl, wrapped up in her blankets.

"Cold, so cold," the girl whimpered. Saraii sat on the bed and drew the girl into her arms, rocking her back and forth. She'd done this every night since she'd been with the poor thing. Saraii would wake up from a nightmare memory and Attani would wake up too having seen an echo of the same nightmare in her own mind.

At first both had been scared. What connected them? How could they share a dream? But no answers were forthcoming to a maid and the girl everyone wished was not there. Captain Kytan and the Mage Scholars at the Academy had all ignored her appeals for answers. Now, they were both tired and wished they could just go to sleep.

"I know, I know," Saraii repeated gently feeling herself warm up slowly.

"I saw his mind. I saw what he wanted…" Attani whispered. Saraii seized up, horrified, and squeezed the girl closer.

Later, when Attani was finally resting, Saraii paced the room and unconsciously tidied things. The toys were put away, all the clothes arranged neatly for the morning. She emptied bed pans, changed the water, re-arranged the curtains, dusted the mantles until finally, she too was exhausted.

Attani called her the tidy-fairy, the imp that comes in the night and does all the things that no one wants to do. Despite herself, Saraii was growing attached to the burden she'd been placed with. Not even Venger wanted anything to do with his daughter. The rest of the staff ignored her, she was free to come and go as she pleased. But, of course, leaving their tower-top apartment meant leaving Attani alone. Over the days she'd watched a reluctant pattern emerge. She'd go down early in the morning to gather what they'd need for the rest of the day so that later, she would not have to leave the girl alone, in a cold room atop the highest tower in a land she didn't know.

From the bed Saraii flinched at the sound of a whimper. Softly she sat on the bed and finally slid under the covers. In her sleep the girl slid closer to Saraii and she lay there, staring at the patterned, childish ceiling of the bed until she too drifted off into the dark, sleep that awaited her.

Karnival. Saraii. Karnival. Saraii.

The words rebounded in Cole's mind like a game of Pong – not that he could visualise what that word meant anymore – the same two words, the same vital urgency, but with each passing second the meaning was slipping. He had memories – he was certain they were memories – of names, faces, places.

"It will all come back to you boy," the Apothecary told him serenely, "Do not worry. The siege made us all a little mad."

Cole was forced to listen to this every time he brought up the question of his memories. To them there was no question of where he'd come from, but Cole knew that he was not of this place.

"A force will remain here and continue to try and retake the city. Expeditions will be sent abroad to muster a counter-attack. Lord Ilstan has gone to Ylic, they say." The General said, confiding in the Apothecary.

Cole listened from the shadows. He kept away from the other soldiers when he wasn't helping out in the infirmary. He listened to the sounds of the camp and the whispers between comrades.

There'll be no help. We're on our own.

If we were any kind of patriots we'd be supporting Venger.

We'll stay until Ffin is ours again.

Rebellion was in the air, the soldiers were lost, split and lacking the leadership to unify them against the war to come. But Cole didn't care. He didn't bellong here and with each passing moment he lost the ability with which to see the details in his own mind. Dread and unease filled the wake left by his dreams.

One morning, a week, a month after his 'arrival', he was handed a pickaxe.

"You'll join the rest of the boys on the front now," a Captain commanded the tent of able bodied madmen, "We're shoring up our defenses for the winter. We need permanent shelter."

"How long will it take?" A small voice cried.

The Captain looked up sharply, his haunted eyes passed over the room. "A month – a year. As long as it takes."

"What about reinforcements?" Another asked.
The Captain shrugged and left them to their thoughts. Cole smiled, feeling the grip of the pickaxe. It felt real and comforting. Maybe the work would take his mind off things – help him remember. Maybe.

Thursday, 16 August 2007


Second random idea I had! Although I can probably stretch this out for at least two more posts since I actually have an idea of story here. Be warned though - the writing may still be rubbish. Appologies, etc.

Seran stifled a yawn as they hurried along, the soldiers silent and tense around her. It was around three in the morning, and every window they marched past showed nothing but black outside, not even starlight piercing the veil. There was no moon; it was a new moon tonight, after all, as Seran well knew. She wondered if it was possible to see the rest of the city from them, but dismissed the thought. They were moving far too fast for her to check. She wondered, not for the first time that night, what exactly the rush was.

They rounded a corner and started up the final corridor. Seran looked between the two soldiers striding in front of her and saw the ornate double doors awaiting them at the end, gilded garishly and gleaming softly in the lantern light. Servants still in their night things lined the walls, looking wide-eyed and scared, and Seran felt a pang of nerves. What had happened tonight? And why in the name of all that was holy was she here?

They arrived at the doors, and one of the soldiers in front of Seran had a hurried, muttered exchange with another standing on guard. He nodded, and slid inside the doors, apparently with slight difficulty: the doors seemed heavy under the gold. Light spilled out into the dimly lit corridor for a moment, and was accompanied by voices – a woman, angry and scared; a man, grim and calm, and the soldier, clanking slightly in his armour. Seran couldn’t make out the words. Then the doors were pushed wider, the soldier behind Seran nudged her forward slightly and she was inside the room, face to face with the Regent of Dalamann.

At first, the obvious gravity of the situation escaped her as she was distracted by the room itself. Seran had never seen so much silk in one place in all her life. The entire production lines for a year of three factories must have made the bed clothes alone, and that was before she noticed the silk-panelled walls and the sheets suspended from the ceiling. The lanterns had been carefully and astutely placed by the windows, she noticed, and a fire burned merrily in the enormous fireplace. The overall effect was of gold, and it was so effective that Seran found her eyes unwilling to look at the room’s other occupants.

It was an effect that did not last long, however.

“Are you the scientist?” the Regent demanded. She looked distinctly dishevelled, her anxiety plain in her sunken eyes.

“Professor Seran Dulann, my lady.” Seran bowed over the woman’s hands. “My pleasure.”

“We have urgent need of you, Professor,” the Regent said, although as she spoke a veil of self-control seemed to be slowly creeping over her. “We were visited by an assassin tonight.”

Seran’s breath caught in her throat. An assassin? Inside the citadel? How was that possible?

The man standing quietly behind the Regent stepped forward. He seemed pale, even more so than the Regent, but he radiated an aura of calm strength that she found somehow comforting.

“It wasn’t a normal assassin,” he said handing a luxograph to Seran, who took it mutely. “We caught him in the act, but before we could engage him he became…that.”

The picture showed a creature that could at best be described as humanoid, but was unrecognisable as anything human. Its entire skull had lengthened, its nose apparently on its way to becoming a snout, whilst its pupils had become slits in its eyes. Its nails were becoming claws, and it looked as though it had torn at its chest and throat with them, leaving gashes that could easily have been two inches deep. Its skin looked wet, slimy almost, and a disturbing grey that made her think of slugs. But its mouth disturbed Seran most. It was open, wider than should have been possible, with a pair of hinged, hollow fangs unsheathed and pointing outward, ready to kill, had someone not, with great foresight and presence of mind, buried the crossbow bolt between its eyes that rose merely an inch from its skull.

“Can you tell what it is?” the Regent asked. Seran glanced up, and saw that the woman was staring at her intently.

“Not just from a luxograph,” she said after a moment. “Although I have a few theories. Do you still have the corpse?”

“Oh yes,” the man said gravely, and Seran suddenly noticed the glasses he wore. He was blind. “It’s down in the dungeons at the moment, under heavy guard. We can take you to it momentarily. But first-”

“First you must see my son,” the Regent interrupted, and marched between them to the massive four-poster bed. Seran followed obediently.

“The boy in the bed was nine, Seran knew, but he looked like a six-year-old. He seemed white, the dark rings under his eyes in stark contrast and highlighting his sunken cheekbones and gaunt face. He looked close to death, and the enormity of the situation suddenly hit Seran. The Prince Regent…

“I’m no healer,” she said, alarmed.

“We don’t require one,” the man responded. “But we do need help with his diagnosis. We thought he had been poisoned, but we’ve flushed his system and performed every check we could think of, given him every antidote. If anything, he’s grown worse.”

The Regent sat gently on the edge of the bed, taking her son’s hand. She didn’t seem to hear them anymore. Seran’s heart went out to her.

“But why am I here?” she asked wretchedly. “I can’t diagnose something that no healer can.”

“Actually we think you may be able to,” the man answered. “Professor, I’ve been a devout follower of your research for the past three years. You’ve done studies into, shall we say, the more controversial aspects of our society with astounding results. And a large part of that research was concerned with Undesirable Viruses, was it not?”

Seran stared at him for a few seconds, and then turned back to the boy, hurriedly sitting on the other side of the bed and pulling up his eyelids. That was one scenario she’d been trying hard to deny, as soon as she’d seen the luxograph. Politically, the ramifications were too much.

“Tell me exactly what happened,” she commanded. “And get me a hand light.”

Surprisingly, it was the Regent who moved to fetch the light. Above the panic, part of Seran’s mind wondered if she’d be executed.

“We think he had help getting in,” the man said. Seran’s stomach clenched, and she quickly took the hand light offered by the Regent, who merely stood back and watched. “No one saw or heard anything, no doors were forced, no windows broken. We’d never have known until the morning if it hadn’t been for a soldier in one of the routine patrols who thought he heard something in the room. They burst in and found the assassin over the Prince. They engaged him –”

“Wait,” Seran said. Pupil reactions normal, and the veins in his eyes seem to be functioning normally. “What was he doing specifically over the bed?”

“There’s the problem,” the man answered quietly. “It was dark in the room, none of the lanterns were lit. They couldn’t see properly.”

Damn. “How long ago?” He’s sweating abnormally, we could test that…

“About four hours.”

“Symptoms?” Check his gums.

What you see,” the man replied. “Or so I’m told,” he added wryly.

“Any entry or exit wounds on him?” Seran asked. Her heart was beating so hard she was surprised no one else could hear it. “Even tiny stratches?” Tilt his head back, can you see the back of his throat?


Seran froze, and looked up at the Regent. She seemed dazed, all semblance of self-control gone.

“It was cleaned up, but they took samples from it. It’s on his side, here…”

She joined Seran, and they both rolled the Prince gently onto his side, his mother tenderly rolling up his night shirt to expose a large dressing over his ribs. Seran carefully peeled it off, and examined the wound.

It was an unusual wound, but not what she had feared. The cleaning had been thorough, and it actually looked healthy enough. The blood supply was fine. Despite his colour, she could at least erase that worry from the Regent’s mind.

“He’s not got Magyarin Anaemia,” Seran said, and she could almost feel the relief that emanated from the Regent. “I mean, I’ll test his blood to be positive, but in my mind there’s no doubt. It’s very fast acting usually, but since he’s exhibiting no symptoms after four hours…”

She trailed off, rubbing her jaw worriedly. It hadn’t really been Anaemia she’d been worried about. Carefully, she picked the hand light back up and circled round to his mouth again. There was something not right there.

“When you engaged the assassin,” she addressed the man, “and he transformed, what happened?”

“Well, it was all very sudden,” the man said. “He heard the guards and looked round, and he went to stand up. But then, all of a sudden, he was bent double. That was when he started changing. He was clawing at his throat and chest, apparently, and screaming, and then one of the guards shot him. It was very fast. No more than about ten seconds.”

“Did anyone notice if the Prince was awake at the time?” Seran asked, her heart sinking fast.

“Yes,” said the man. “Apparently he was screaming too, but then he started choking, and then in seconds of the assassin being killed he fell unconscious. He’s been getting worse ever since.”

Seran stared hard into the boy’s mouth. Back of the throat, back of the throat…there. It was hard to make out, but the skin there was discoloured slightly in one patch. And part of his tongue on closer inspection, and the inside of his cheek…

“I need to see that corpse,” Seran said tightly.


It had been strapped to a table, one probably used for torture under normal circumstances, and was distinctly dead. Seran was glad; she’d been very afraid that it would still be alive, but even from the door she could see that it wasn’t. Quickly, she strode closer to it.

It was hideous. Up close the resemblance to a slug was even more pronounced that it had been in the luxograph, and the stench was horrendous. Its eyes stared emptily up towards the ceiling, and Seran shuddered. The thing was wrong.

“Is it Lycanthropic?” the man asked behind her, making her jump slightly. She shook her head, and then remembered he was blind.

“No,” Seran answered. “Definitely not. Lycanthropy sufferers develop lupine forms only. This…thing, whatever it is, bears no relation to a wolf.”

“What is it, though?” he asked, moving closer. She looked back at it.

“Good question,” she muttered. “It looks like a cross between a man and…something slimy. Except-”

Seran stopped and stared at the claws. She couldn’t think of anything even remotely slug-like that had claws. And those fangs? They were hinged like snakes’ fangs, with sheathes in the roof of the thing’s mouth, although they didn’t seem to have developed properly yet. Carefully, Seran readjusted her surgical gloves and pressed upwards on one of them. A viscous clear liquid oozed out of the end, and she quickly caught it in a specimen jar. Venom? That didn’t bode well.

She looked at the wounds on the thing’s neck and chest next, clearly made by its own claws. Why had it done that? Seran wondered. Even without the crossbow bolt in its brain, the damned thing would have killed itself in mere minutes doing that. What on earth had possessed it to do such a thing? It was almost –

Seran caught her breath. Almost as though it couldn’t breathe.

She tilted its head to the side and up, and there, nestling under its jaw was a set of malformed, closed gills.

“It’s got gills,” she reported calmly.

“What?” The man stood by her elbow and she helped him into a pair of gloves before guiding his hand to them.

“There. Except, they’re not open yet,” Seran said. “When it transformed, I think it switched its breathing system over to the gills, but then it had no air. That’s why it clawed at itself like that. It was trying to get an airway clear.”

“But,” the man frowned, “why transform if what you transform into is aquatic anyway? Even if its gills were open it couldn’t have breathed in that room.”

“I’ve no idea,” Seran admitted. “My best guess is that it couldn’t control the transformation.”

“Ah.” The man nodded. “It didn’t mean to change, and once it had it couldn’t change back.”


“What’s wrong with the Prince Regent?”

Seran closed her eyes.

“I think he may have swallowed some of its blood.”

The man stood perfectly still for a moment, and Seran could hear the wind whistling through a crack in the window at the top of the wall. She knew what he’d ask next.

“Will that infect him?”

“I don’t know,” Seran answered. “It’s possible. If it were simply Lycanthropic, then swallowing its blood wouldn’t have any effect. Only the venom carries the virus. But this thing is something else, and something is definitely wrong with the Prince.”

The man muttered something under his breath. Seran didn’t query it.

“Do you think he’ll turn into this?” he asked heavily. Seran bit her lip.

“Honestly?” she asked. “I think it’s killing him. Even with Lycanthropy, not everyone infected will actually develop the disease. Around sixty percent die as their bodies reject it. Obviously that may not be the case here, but…he’s in a bad way.”

“Tell me what this thing is, Professor.”

The man said it quietly, staring grimly and blindly down at the gleaming corpse on the table.

“I can’t,” Seran answered. “Can I study it a bit longer? If I can run some tests I may be able to turn something up.”

“Take all the time you need,” he said, straightening suddenly and turning to the door. I’ll have our scientists sent down to you, use them as you see fit. If you need me, if you find anything, ask for Reyfe. I’ll be with the Regent.”

Seran nodded, and turned back to the corpse. It was going to be a long night.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

World Map

Chapter Two - The Awakening, Part Three

"I'm sorry child, I simply cannot find any record of you."

The old man was sitting forlornly in the middle of pile of books and papers. Pere's eyes wandered from the smashed hole in the wall to the mass of burned mulch at their feet. Beyond, the city of Ffin glowed in the afternoon light.

Pere nodded and Xete shrugged.

"I really don't know what to suggest. All the Mages who might be able to recover your memory are either engaged with tasks for Captain Kytan or they fled when Lord Ilstan left." A dark look passed over the man's face as he returned to his sorry job of resorting all of the scattered papers. Every moment more and more pieces of parchment floated away with the wind. "In the former case they'll be highly unwilling to help you based on their shifty slip in allegiance, or as in the case of the latter, incapable of doing so due to their untimely absence. My respect for the faculty of this institution flutters away with every lost scroll out of that gods forsaken hole."

Pere rubbed his arms and sat down on the floor. Listlessly he sifted through the papers and began gathering them up into piles. Xete followed the contour of the wall until it ended, below him the floor broke away into a chasm that dropped a hundred feet. They were on the second floor of the Academy, but the Academy itself sat on top of a small cliff overlooking the servant's wing of the castle.

"Watch yourself boy," The Record keeper said, without much energy. Xete retreated, he looked distant.

"So, they call you Pere, do they?" the old man looked up, his wiry hair jutting at all angles, a pair of pince-nez perched on his nose. Pere shrugged.

"That's what Xete calls me." Pere said.

"Oh. Well then, may name is Ustan." He smiled as warmly as he could manage. "I assume you've asked around to see if anyone recognises you?"

"Yes – but we'd only just arrived." Xete said.

"Somebody must have known you…"

Pere shook his head, thinking about all the stolen trinkets now stored beneath his cot. Whoever he'd been, Pere was sure he'd not wanted to draw attention to himself.

"Ah well, welcome to an institution founded by loners, for loners. We all come here for the same reason child – we're drawn by power and the need to be around misfits like ourselves. Of course it was all different back in the Iryan days." He smiled warmly, looking up from his pile of paper. "All of the Greater Races gathered together in search of the ancient secrets left to us by the Elders."

He looked around him, "This Academy is but a pale imitation of it."

"What's going to happen to us?" Xete asked, for the first time his voice seemed to lack confidence.

"You'll be trained up, probably according to a new, Venger approved curriculum and then, most likely, you'll end up serving as Mages in his army." The Record Keeper didn't try and hide the scorn in his voice. "Keep your heads down boys and pray you are feeble and unruly at Magic like me." The Record Keeper seemed to drift away into his own little world, his voice trailing off into a mumble. Xete leaned down and tapped Pere on the shoulder indicating they should probably leave.

Outside in the dark, drafty corridor they stopped, "What do you want to do now?" Xete asked.

Pere assessed his options. One, he could go on searching and dig up a past he may not want; or two, he could forget about the entire thing and start from scratch.

"Forget about it." Pere said finally. Xete smiled and they began walking.

"In that case we should probably go down into the city and buy supplies. I heard some of the girls were going down this afternoon – we could meet up with them. I can tell them all about my Giant lineage." Xete left the suggestion hanging, presumably to see if Pere was interested. He was. Every fibre of his being wanted to distance himself from that room of stolen things. He hadn't thought about his memory loss as a good thing until now, maybe that roof caving in had been a blessing.

"Welcome to a new day! Lord Venger salutes you." The amplified voice of the Cryer boomed through the streets. "Your cooperation and service will be rewarded. There will be work for every citizen, a home for every family. Disorder will be punished. Citizens are encouraged to join the City Guard and serve in Lord Venger's army. Service will be rewarded with tax cuts and bonuses for married couples."

Eonid dropped the box onto the low, hard cot and leaned back. Along her spine she felt the ripple of tiny clicks and wondered when she'd ever got this out of shape. Fortunately, that box was the last.

Sitting down on the cot she tucked Feold into his basket and winced every time a loud noise or a bang drifted by. The walls of the barracks were thick, but the only window allotted for them was four feet from the floor and very narrow. The space felt cold and dark and totally unlike the home they'd been promised.

Between the curtains and hanging sheets that served as dividers, the rest of the company were moving into their own little corners. At least they were all together.

Leaning against the wall was her quarter staff, painted in tribal colours and decorated with feathers and fur, the staff served as a reminder of the past she could only partially remember. True, her skin was darker than everyone else's – but she didn't remember the dusty, hot homeland that everyone seemed to think was hers. Her name was Eonid – it was a Brythic name. She looked down at her son and his light bronze skin and wondered.


Eonid turned her head and held a finger to her lips. Quietly she stood and went to examine her husband in his new Guard's uniform. The dusty old leather was replaced by a dark navy overcoat and an obsidian leather breastplate. Irik smiled wanly. "What do you think? Do I look like enough of a traitor to fool them?"

Eonid shushed him, "No. You're doing the right thing." She watched him take strength from her support and felt herself content.

"This isn't quite the townhouse we were hoping for, is it?"

"Well, at least we aren't living with your mother anymore." Eonid replied. She only had a dim memory of Irik's mother – but it was enough. "I think I really hurt my head the other day, I can't seem to remember anything much from before it happened."

Irik leaned back and held her head in his hands, "That looks like a nasty bump. You should get a salve from the 'cary – there's one around the corner on the banks of the Ffryc." She shook her head free, wearily.

"I'm serious. It could turn nasty." He went to one of the boxes and pulled out a hand-glass and brandished it towards her. She retreated instinctively and held out her hands. "What's wrong?"

"Put it away," she said. Hearing the tension in her voice he put the glass down and hugged her.

"You're still beautiful," he murmured softly, misunderstanding her anxiety. Let him think I'm being silly, she thought, better to think I'm silly than mad. The memory of her image in the puddle on the street returned to her. Her own face, but not her. She shuddered. Around them the small, cramped space leaned in on them; the cold stone floor, the draft from the high window, the noise. Outside the Cryer continued to chant his message…

"Food for the needy, homes for the poorest. Venger's reign will usher in a new age of prosperity for the region. Commerce with his Empire in the Westerlands, opportunities to travel across the sea! All will benefit in the glorious new day!"

They would have made Ean by nightfall. The slope of the forest led them further into the foothills where the density of the trees began to falter. When they found the Ean tributary they followed it northeast until it led them to a secluded valley. In the distance Frank could see lights glowing. His heart brightened for a moment until the wind brought with it an ominous smell. Smoke. A ripple of anxiety spread through the Marauders. Smoke in itself wasn't unusual, but to be able to smell it this far down the valley was a sign. It implied that more than just cooking fires were burning.

Arytar, the silver-haried leader of the Marauders gestured to one of the others, who nodded and disappeared into the forest. The order was simple and obvious enough to understand – scout out the village, bring back answers.

Quietly and steadily they led the survivors into the next valley and found a secluded glen in which the Marauders deemed it safe to start a fire and build a camp for the night. Frank kept his eyes on the survivors and off his wandering thoughts. His hands gripped the bow haft tightly and the rhythm of his leather gloves squeaking over the polished wood kept him atuned.

The survivors talked amongst themselves and eased their bones. Soon, fresh game was brought and the cooking began. Many of the survivors were cooks and they threw themselves into the preparation. Soon, all of the survivors were doing something to contribute while their green cloaked watchers stood around the circle, their eyes and ears waiting for word from Ean. From above the circle of silhouettes the stars shone and the cold of night descended quickly. Wood was gathered and after all had eaten the fire was stoked and smaller ones were started so that the company could sleep.

Frank traced the constellations in his mind and noted the rise of the moon. Soon it would be midnight – the scout should have returned by now. He caught an anxious look from Elai from the other edge of the clearing, with a nod of the head she called him over. Softly, Frank made his way around the sleeping company and tried to swallow the dread in his throat.

"Loosen your arrows," Elai whispered as he approached, gesturing to the group of Marauders gathered in the darkness beyond the firelight. He shrugged the hood of his cloak over his head and joined the group with Elai.

Silently they began to hike over the valley and into the next. When they reached the crest of the valley they got an elevated view of the village. Not a word was said as they watched a column of smoke tower into the sky. At the trees' edge they were forced to move slower, between the shadows of the larger rocky outcroppings which dotted the valley floor. When they were close enough to see the details of buildings it became clear that the village was burned or burning to the ground. Not many houses were left now.

A series of inhuman cries and yells echoed across the valley. Frank felt the hilt of his sword beneath his cloak and waited for the signal to continue. Cautiously they went on until they reached the river. From here they could see the darkened water. Elai leaned down and tasted it from a finger.

"Blood." She confirmed. Bows were notched and swords loosened as they approached now in formation. A confrontation was now guaranteed if the aggressors were still in the village. Possibilities flashed through Frank's mind – but the foremost was the most obvious – a trap.

The closer they got the more details the stench of the smoke revealed. Burning flesh, wood and crops. There were a few signs of trouble, but not much to imply an active defense. They'd been taken unawares.

"The Mana?" Elai whispered to Arytar – who pointed to a low stone cairn carved into the mountainside. The door was broken in and as they approached the hair on the back of Frank's arms squirmed underneath his tunic and guards. The air seemed to throb at the entrance of the cairn and no one dared enter.

"Empty," Arytar muttered, "They've probably taken the Mine. Probably using it as a base." With a gesture he directed them to cautiously examine the buildings and search for survivors in pairs.

Elai and Frank crossed the stone bridge, ignoring the pools of smeared, black blood on the path. It led them to the highest point where the outer houses were surrounded by small barren fields. Beyond a small copse of fir trees lingered like watchers. Frank barely felt the strain in his arm as he kept his arm arm taught against the tension of the bow. Elai moved before him, dagger in hand. The farthest house was a smoking husk built on a flat foundation of stones. The charred, skeletal remains of the house needed little examination. All within were dead.

Another cry sounded out across the valley. This time it sounded more like laughter, and, more importantly it sounded closer. Frank's eyes worked overtime to scour the shadows for movement, but the village was infuriatingly still.

"Frank," Elai whispered, kicking a stick with her boot. He glanced at it quickly and recognised an expended wand. It was a crude single use affair, the echoes of the writing revealed it was used to create fire.

"Matches," he muttered, frowning.

"What?" Elai whsipered.

Frank shook his head.

Suddenly they heard the recall whistle, shrill and piercing. They made their way swiftly back to where the others were gathered. They were standing around the body of one of the Marauders, a long black arrow shaft had pierced his neck. The Marauders on the outer circle were guarding, bows raised to the ridges and tree lines.

"Crude." Arytan commented on the origin of the arrow, "Krytahs to be sure. Made bold by recent events."

His words were cut short by a flurry of activity from the shadows. Ten, then twenty – forty arrows landed at their feet and skittered across the stones. The valley erupted with laughter as dark little shapes moved out of the darkness. The Marauders opened fire. Frank loosed two arrows, finding his mark both times before realising that they were surrounded and outnumbered by insurmountable odds.

He lowered his bow and pulled his sword, its glittering edge dancing in the moonlight. His other hand found its way into Elai's as their backs closed together. Arytar whispered furious orders to them but Frank didn't hear. He was looking for a way to get out alive but the chances were grim.

"Make for the river," Arytar commanded, "Now!"

They moved as one, leaping over the stones and heads of the small leathery creatures in their way. Frank's blade found flesh just as easily as others nicked his own. The valley rang out with the noise of frantic battle as the Marauders fought off the advance of the Krytahs. Watery amber eyes and nasty little daggers winked in the dark, their scattered, broken language crunching the air. They were close to the water's edge when a flash of light shot into the night.

"Wagicka! Wagicka!" The Krytahs screamed while the Marauders looked around for the source of the light.

"Gods," Arytar muttered, "They've stolen the wands – they've got the Mana!"

Frank's eyes widened, his heart stopped just as a scream of energy tore through the air and landed amongst them, scattering the Marauders across the village. Frank heaved himself to his feet and shook the stars from his eyes to see a score of animal-like beings descending on him. Wildly his arms flailed to protect him but their sharp little daggers found their mark and he screamed as he felt burning metal scratch the length of his face and into his left eye.

Pain unlike anything he'd ever felt pounded in his face and a madness gripped his limbs. His legs pounded over the loose stone and through the hoards of Krytahs, his aimless, blind escape took him away from the shouting, and the sounds of battle. More explosions rung out in the night but Frank couldn't see. Desperately he scrambled over the ground, fear and pain fuelling his body. He fell and passed out several times, after each he was awake and running again until he finally fell into the punishing cold water of the Ean and everything faded.

Time seemed to slow around him as the poison in his eye spread into his blood and his mind ignited with visions of people and places.

In that one moment of brief feverish delirium he saw her face again, the girl from his dream. Her name was Sarah and she was here, he knew it. But the moment passed and he drifted into unconsciousness and the wilderness of unknowing darkness that precedes death.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Chapter Two - The Awakening, Part Two

Frank felt himself crushed under Cole's weight. The sounds of the Carnivale invaded the tunnel as they entered the maw of the ride.

Sarah was screaming, her hands on Cole trying to hold him back.

A sound grew in the belly of the beast, lights danced around them. Faces lit up in a frenzy of kinetic movement. Demons and ghosts, violent images.

The sound grew into a scream that absorbed all others.

Then, there was silence.

He woke up to a dead leg.

"Get up!" The gruff voice shouted, moving on to the sleeping lump next to him. He blinked, trying to discern the details around him. A canopy of trees shimmered into focus. A gloved hand wiped his face as he stood up unsteadily.

Frank looked down at himself and tried to piece together the holes in his head.

Beyond the trees he could see a valley stretching out below a ridge. Gentle farmland rolled away into the distance away from the wooded foothills until it reached a smoking walled city sitting atop cliffed plateau. Around it stood the dark moat of the sieging army, trying vainly to reclaim it.

"Ffin," a voice muttered beside him, he turned to face a woman. She was dressed head to foot in a camouflaged cloak of green leaves. Beneath it she wore a tunic of green leather similar to his. "And the Aelf say we can't build beautiful cities." She snorted before turning to walk away. Frank meant to stop her but his voice caught in his throat. Something was wrong. His dream infected him, it had all seemed so real. The last few days blurred together in one long stream of images.

Lined down the path, resting in the shade of the trees was a score of unnumbered people. Bedraggled survivors and refugees worn with marching. The gruelling pace they'd set could be seen in their eyes.

Something definitely wasn't right. Uncertainly he followed his legs up the slope, trying to work the sleep out of his stiff muscles. At the top of the path he found the woman. She was old enough to be his mother.

"What's your name?"

"Elai," she replied with a brisk smile. She handed him a short sword, a wooden quiver and a short bow. Unconsciously his hands strapped them to his body.

"Elai. That's a nice name."

She laughed at him. "Why do you want to know?"

He shook his head, distracted, "My name's Frank." He blurted, ignoring her question. There were things he needed to say, he needed to have said.

"That's a strange name." She replied, handing weapons to another figure dressed in green. "Nice, but strange."

He nodded. He knew it was a strange name

"Are you feeling well?" Elai asked, a look of motherly conern in her bright grey eyes.

He nodded again. In truth he felt fine – better than fine, he felt wonderful and intensely alive. But something sat at the centre of his being like a stone of dread. Bizzarely, this stone had a face. She was young and pretty. He didn't know her name but he knew she was real. Images returned to him from his dream but he couldn't think of the words to describe them.

Frank looked up and saw an old couple stumbling up the path. The man was shaken, his wife was trying to hold him back, but his withered hands were determined to stretch out before him towards the branches of a specific tree. Frank placed a hand on the old man's arm and asked him what was wrong.

"The fruit…" he muttered earnestly, his eyes wide and wet, "The fruit."

"He's a little confused," his wife compensated, her voice frail and worn, "We grew these trees back in the city and made preserves. We worked for Lord Ilstan in the Royal Gardens. He loved the fruit. When his mind was sound he'd enter them in the Karnivale."

Frank leaned up and pulled one of the fruit off the trees. It looked familiar but he couldn't think of the word. "What is it?" He asked softly. Her look was puzzled, as if he'd just fallen out of a tree.

"It's Symblene dear," she replied, "Haven't you ever had one?"

He shook his head, smiled and walked a short distance away. Something fundamentally wasn't right. Why couldn't remember the name of the fruit?

Under the light of the rising sun he adjusted the scabbard at his waist and shrugged the quiver and bow on his back into a more comfortable position. Ahead the rest of the marauders were gathered in a semi-circle around their leader.

"Keep the civvies moving." The silver bearded man addressed the assembled, "We'll make Ean by nightfall."

Frank watched the faces of the marauders. Misfits, grey faces and grey eyes for the most, those without stories or no wish to tell them, they moved away to gather the flock silently.

Why did all of his memories feel like dreams?

Sarah could still hear Cole's voice pummelling in her ears. She'd never seen him like this before. The sight of him, his pupils wide, incensed and all of his massive form driven to violence, terrified her.

Inbetween then and now she must have passed out, she thought, a degree of clarity returning to her. She must have gone somewhere and drunk a barrel of beer to get over it. She certainly felt like she'd drunk enough o floor an elephant. All of her muscles ached and there were defintiely cuts and bruises in places.

Grimly she tried to sit up and assess where she was but it was easier said than done. Her hands and clothes were soaked in some slimy substance. Something was itching her and an entire side of her face felt numb and cold. Around her she could hear noises, clanging, the rushing of feet – high voices.

Her eyes opened slowly and for a moment all she could see was darkness. Light and shadow slowly seperated like oil over water. She was on the floor of a long, smoky stone room. Her nostrils were assaulted by a rainbow of pungent kicks. The floor, she realised, was filthy. Rife with mud and faeces.

Shocked and sickened, she sat up and saw that her hands and dress were covered in the stuff. Wait a moment…


Looking down at the coarse, pale sack-cloth disaster she was wearing in horror, she almost dismissed what was going on around her. Similarly dressed were dozens of men and women bustling around her. The same drab materials, all to-ing and fro-ing across the room.

Across the vaulted space she saw a blazing fire, over it, spit-roasting and dripping with fat must have been an entire pig. Enormous pots were boiling. The air above the floor was rich with the smell of cooking and heat. Everyone was ignoring her. This was ridiculous. How much could she have drunk in order to end up in a medieval recreation?

Slowly getting to her feet, she assessed how she felt. More bewildered than angry – though whoever had put her up to this would pay. Obliquely, ignoring the people around her and rubbing the sore spot on her head and arms she moved through the throng of the kitchen towards the door. Her thoughts lingered on a hot shower, a big breakfast then a consolatory binge of retail therapy, when a sweaty, slug-fingered hand gripped her by the ear.

"There you are, you swine of a gel!"

The hand spun Sarah around until she was face to face with a rotund, greasy middle-aged woman who must have been one of the cooks. The woman's expression curdled from angry to disgusted as she examined the horrific state Sarah was in. "Rolling in muck again, have we? Time enough to clean you I suppose, you lazy slut. The Captain of his Lordship's guard wants to examine you."

The woman's grip didn't lessen as she dragged Sarah through the murky kitchen and into the sharp outside air of a courtyard. The smell out here was so appalling that it made her reel. Dogs, pigs and fowl in all states were hobbled together in pens between four towering stone walls. The narrow chasm seemed to lean in on her, trapping out the light.

"Get over there and get those rags off." The woman commanded. Meekly Sarah began to pull away her dress, wondering whether this was all part of the act. Sarah's mind slugglishly tried to figure out where all of her clothes had gone. When she was down to her petticoat Sarah heard a splashing noise from behind her. She turned to see the imposing woman holding a bucket of filthy water.

"Arms up gel," she sneered before dousing her with the bitter tasting, ice cold water.

The next moments passed in a haze of shock and terror. The effect of the water reduced her to tears, unlocking all of the hidden hurts she'd been valiantly hiding behind for some time. Cole, Robby and Frank haunted her in vivid detail. As the woman rubbed her down with a coarse sheet and rough-handled her into a new dress, the guilt and anger sat in her gut, indigestible and acidic, like bile.

She was led dejected by the hand through the bowels of the castle, along the back corridors and narrow servants passages until she was led out into a wider, plushly decorated avenue of tall windows and tapestries. All the while the austere woman muttered bitterly to herself.

"Why Ilstan ever gave a rag like you the time of day, I'll never know. Private maid, my arse. I wonder how intimate you were with his sheets, you sly cunny." Sarah winced at every remark, every bewildering comment. Her eyes were beginning to blur and her skin was crawling with the sickening rhythm of fever. Was it a hangover? She couldn't remember anything and this charade was beginning to scare her. The intensity of it, the reality. It was like she'd walked into someone else's life.

Two enormous wooden doors swung inwards admitting the woman and Sarah. They were standing in a wide hall, lining both sides were two lines of black armoured knights facing each other. In the centre of the hall stood a tall black knight in a long, flowing cloak. His helmet was adorned with the black tusks of a ram.

The woman bowed deeply and retreated without saying a word, leaving Sarah alone and terrified in the middle of the hall. When the black knight finished looking over a roll of documents he looked up and walked towards her.

"You must be Saraii." He said, his voice echoing mechanically from within his helmet. Sarah blinked.

"I am Captain Kytan." He continued without waiting for a reply. "I hear you served the recently departed Lord Ilstan as his private maid." He was scanning down a roll of parchment and looking to her for verification. Blank with fever she nodded weakly. "Good. I have been sent ahead by my own Lord to prepare for his coming. Top of his list of priorities was the task for which I have you in mind."

He turned and began walking away, like a ghost she followed him unconsciously as if commanded like a puppet. "The new master of this city is a generous man. A man who has been misrepresented and resisted for his beliefs. He's a man of principle and I hope you will come to see that." He led her down the aisle of knights to the end of the room. The light draining in from the wall of glass blinded Sarah momentarily. As the glare cleared she could see the castle sweeping away from them. Towers and keeps rose up with within the walls of castle in tiers. Beyond, a vast and ancient city surrounded it. Sloped tile rooves, thousands of chimneys and a haze of smoke that glowed in the early morning light. Sarah's breath caught in her throat and her hands began to tremble.

"I want what is best for this world. I want to help my master carve its future. Have you heard the motto, Strength in Division?" Kytan said, his voice sounded more alien by the second. This is a dream. A nightmare, Sarah thought. "Most people believe that strength comes from working together. Unity forms a semblance of strength, but it is a mirage, a falsehood. Strength comes from driving the individual to meet its own needs. Ambition, focus and purpose – these are the organs of strength. To this end Lord Venger wishes to distance, himself from someone close to him. Lord Venger has no need of a Maid, but his daughter does."

Sarah barely heard him speak, she only listened to the rhythm, the reality of the fact that she could hear his words. Nothing else seemed real. Nothing else mattered.

What had happened? Sickened and numb she thought of her brother. What on earth had happened?

The Idjian slave sat up in his cot and rubbed his ears. They were waxy.

The earthy bowels of the Arena were hot at this time of the morning. The cattle, slaves, fighters and workers bundled in close proximity created a swealtering heat. He was used to it. It was all he'd ever known.

Around him, the other men and boys were stirring, hanging through the bars of the cells waiting for food. He didn't need food, not yet. Maybe if he lived to the afternoon he might think about it. For now, the gnawing sensation was comforting.
When the time came the guards opened the gates and the slaves of the morning were led out and chained together. They sat in the low armoury that huddled near the gates of the arena.

They'd told him that there was a war going on – that the city had changed hands. New rulers were stepping it. All that didn't matter down in the Slave Pit. People still wanted to see violence and gore and the Arena kept its gates open.

"Barbarians," Tritus, his owner greeted the assembled, "We have come a long way together. You've proved yourselves worthy fighters. I have been told that you embody, in pure fighting form, everything that our glorious new ruler admires in our sickening, putird race. Aelf we are not, Harz we are not. We are Brythic flesh, flawed, infertile and violent to the core."

He looked around at them, admiring each in turn for their reserve, blank and hollow. They were bred to die, they all understood this. A worker shuttled along the lines and unlocked the chains. Every man and woman walked past the the weapons rack. The Idjian slave reached into the rack and found his favourite weapon, the club. Everyone else chose swords or maces or any of the pointed, vicious looking weapons. The Idjian slave liked the feel of the wood flesh. It served him well.

Adjusting his loincloth he stood awaiting the rapture of the fight on the ramp that climbed into the arena. From here they could all hear the roar of the crowd, and just over the top of it, the sound of puking flame. The Idjian slave smiled.

"Barbarians. Die with honour. Today, you fight Dragons!" Tritus bellowed up the ramp and the slaves roared in kind, before running out into the sun.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Chapter Two - The Awakening, Part One

He tasted mud. It lined his mouth like bile, clinging to his teeth and throat with grit and bitterness. It was a sensation with which Cole was familiar. His mind returned to him in lapping waves, recovering fragments of memory and feeling in increments. Slowly he felt his skin was wet. Around him people were shouting, in the distance great sounds bellowed over the wind and periodically, the soft, wet earth shuddered as if in revulsion.

In a haze he attempted to move his body but found that his limbs didn't want to respond. A fatigue seemed to be holding him back. Languidly his arms attempted to purchase the ground beneath him but even they felt weighted and heavy. Shaking his head, Cole opened his eyes and wiped clumsily at the coating of cold soil that sealed them shut.

He was lying in a ditch, gouged from the earth and banked on its higher side with sharpened trunks of wood. Lying in puddles, half obscured by the mire, were bodies.

Panic set in as the details became clearer. The violent sounds were coming from beyond the ditch. Desperate energy compelled him to his feet and he floundered in the mud, uncertain of where to go now. He stumbled over the uneven ground until he found the nearest body and his hands trembled as he turned the bloated corpse over. He needed answers. Images were beginning to return of his last memories. His hands around someone's neck – a dark, gaping chasm lined with teeth – anger unlike anything he'd ever felt.

The man's face was drained of colour, whiter than alabaster and flecked with blood and dirt. His cold yellow eyes stared up into oblivion. From his chest two arrow shafts jutted at violent angles. Cole's head reeled in incomprehension, his hands gripping the dirtied leather tunic of the man pulling him away from the surface of the mud.

This couldn't be real.

Dropping the man Cole stumbled onwards, trying desperately to climb the bank and face whatever horror lay on the other side. An innate sense of danger rang in his mind, he soundly ignored it, wondering instead where his strength had gone. Why was he so fatigued?

His questions silenced in his mind as he faced the sight beyond the ditch. A siege was underway. Great wooden engines were assailing a white city wall that seemed monumentally high. In the intervening no-man's-land a sea of turned earth and pitted crates filled the space. Fields of arrows and embankments of defenses coalesced across the landscape like tufts of grass and shrubbery.

This couldn't merely be unreal, this was impossible.

Violently, Cole's mind sought to betray and deny the compounding sensory evidence before him. Where was Sarah? Where was the Carnivale?

In a wave of nausea and bewilderment his footing failed and he fell backwards into the ditch. He lay there staring up at the sky for what seemed like an age. His eyes roamed the new world around him as if he were watching a movie or a music video. Dimly he observed that he was dressed head to foot in chain mail, soaked leather and a drenched tabbard. Woven into its surface was a embroidered image that he traced with his fingers.

His senses whispered betrayals. You are part of this world, a part of its very fabric and what scares you is that you know this can't be a dream. Nothing this real is a dream.

Even as hands gripped him by the collar and lifted him to his feet, dragging him from the sodden prison, his mind denied the vast terrifying truth that was unfolding around him. Bright eyes looked down at him calling out for recognition and life. Cole could only stare back blankly.

Cold terror gripped his bowels. He began to weep as he was guided down the trench by strong arms, out of the wasteland and into the heart of the attacking army's forces. Faces and bodies passed him by in waves of total unrecognition. His guides found a long tent and lay him down on a pallet. Cole stared upwards at the canvas ceiling as brisk hands examined him.

"He's fine." The field surgeon decreed before moving on. His saviours evaporated into the background and their voices drifted over to him with the breeze.

"We heard him muttering – something about Karnival and Saraii." One of them muttered worriedly.

"Ah." The surgeon sighed, "Pray for him. This war and Venger's evil have unmanned him. His body is fine. Time will tell if his mind has the same strength."

Cole's breath caught in his throat.

"The retreat has been ordered. Pray for us all."

Eonid braced her hands against the stone floor and shook her head. Around her chaos was tearing the city streets apart. Falling masonry; the clambering of people as they sought refuge. For a brief moment though, from the corner of her eye she'd seen something in the reflection in the puddle at her feet.

A severe looking woman with a round ball of thick, kinky hair had been staring back at her, wearing strange clothes no less. The experience left her cold and vulnerable. The woman was her – she was seeing her reflection, but the face she bellonged irrefutably bellonged to someone else. Tentatively she felt the back of her head as the crowds piled around her, jostling her, narrowly missing her fingers on the cold pebbled street.

Standing up she dusted down her skirt and heaved Feold in his basket up onto her shoulders.

Wait. A baby?

For a moment the thought of her having a baby felt abhorrent, alien even. She shook the thought away and felt the back of her head again. She felt woozy and didn't trust her legs to walk very far. Overhead a siege boulder struck a nearby building throwing the street into a cloud of dust and screams. Quickly, Eonid heaved Feold into a recessed alcove that normally housed a market stall. Sitting down on the step she decided to wait for someone who she felt certain was following her. She couldn't remember having heard their conversation though, she just knew he was coming.

Feold slept within the comfort zone of his blankets, soundly ignoring the noise around them and Eonid held him close to her, taking him from the basket.

She felt uncertain, her memories felt dimmed as if she couldn't remember significant pieces of information, but she could – they were all there, tucked within her mind. Gall and fear welled up within her chest in equal measures as her head darted around looking for a familiar face among the crowd.

"Eonid!" A voice cried over the clamouring din. A man emerged from the swathe, tall and dressed in a guard's leather uniform. She recognised him at once, but the sensation was strange, she felt as if she hadn't seen him for years.

"Irik," the name passed her lips in recognition and bewilderment as she and the baby were swept up in his arms.

"I thought you were lost," he muttered his fear into the privacy of their proximity, "Come, we must away. Venger's forces have locked down the city. We must find your Company and get you out." He kissed the baby on the head and held her hand tightly. She felt naeseous at her own fear as Irik led her down the street to an alley. His sure footing and intimate knowledge of the city led them away from the crowds and into the heart of the city's backstreets.

Light and dark mingled in equal measure as the sun tried to penetrate the tall tenements and tightly packed stone buildings. Wooden extensions, fences and scaffold frames interrupted their passage. From above the light was dappled and broken by the cobwebs of washing lines and abandoned clothes. Here, the noise of the chaos was dimmed. Distinctly she could hear the distant roar of the people.

With a sharp movement from Irik they were tucked into a recess, hidden by a wooden wall. Eonid wondered briefly why they'd stopped, then she heard it – the regular rhythm of armoured bodies marching towards them. Through a crack in the splintered wood they watched as black armoured troops filed past them, their alien design and raiment sending erratic shivers down her spine.

Suddenly the soldiers stopped with inhuman precision.

The officer in charge stepped forward. His armour was more ornate; a long cloak flowed from the recesses of his violent looking shoulder pads. The helmet the officer wore bore two Ram's horns making him look demonic.

"Brother soldier," the Officer said, his voice rattling inside his helmet making it sound hollow and metallic. He was addressing someone Eonid couldn't see. "You and your men have fought valiantly, but the war was over before it began."

There came the sound of a struggle, the rattle of armour, a cry and then silence.

"Don't stuggle Brother. It will look bad on your men. Join me in subduing the masses. Lord Venger doesn't want any more bloodshed."

"I wont submit. I wont surrender." The subject gasped against the stretched silence, his voice rattling in his chest.

"This one is dying. You have brought me a dying man. He cannot command." The Officer spoke harshly to his soldiers.

"Kill me." The wounded man begged in an undertone.

"Tell me this soldier," the Officer demanded, ignoring the dying man's request, "Will the people yield?"

"Depends," the soldier replied bitterly, "on your definition of 'yield'."

"Hear this," the Officer replied, lifting the man to his feet, "Your people will accept Lord Venger in time. They hold their lives in too high regard. Your obstinacy is pointless." The Officer's chest swelled with the pride of his thinking. "Venger offers strength. He will make this city strong again, he will stand up for your rights at the Forum of Voices and you will cheer for him in time."

The Officer dropped the man to the dust and turned to his soldiers. "Take him to the Castle."

"Strength in division," the soldiers chorused.

"Strength in division." The Officer replied.

The party departed leaving the alley empty again. Only a long trail of blood led away along the cold stones. Eonid squeezed Irik's hand as he led her tentatively down the valley of stone and into the shadows, the echoes of the Officer's prophecy resounding in their ears.



A hand gripped his face and shook it gently. A wave of nausea rippled through him so intensely that he sat up too fast, his eyes jammed open. He stopped himself from being sick but only through the shock of what he saw around him.

Rubble and books piled like mountains in the gloom. Fires burned in sconces along the walls and in little pockets of destruction scattered around the room. Above him, light streamed down in shards from a hole in the roof.

"Boy!" The face in front of him beamed, all pimples and freckles and blue eyes. "You're alive! By the creator I thought you'd be dead for sure."

Blinking he felt himself being pulled to his feet.

"I can't remember anything." He muttered, his voice rattling in his head.

"One too many knocks to the head, eh?" The freckled boy laughed. "Come, we must gather in the Hall of Runes." The boy dragged him to his feet and towards the door at the end of the room.

"Wait." He muttered, panic setting in at the blankness of his mind. "What's my name?"

"How the hells should I know?" The boy replied brightly, "I've never met you before – I just heard a noise from the library and found you, floundering in the rubble."

Who am I?

"But don't despair, I'm sure somebody knows you. There are hundreds of us after all." The boy responded kindly to his dismay. "Look, my name is Xete. For the time being I'll call you… Pere."

Pere… the sound was familiar. P – p – p…

The newly christened Pere nodded his head and accepted his new name. Xete led him swiftly out of the library and into a narrow corridor, richly carpeted but bear walled.

"My eyes – my vision is blurry."

"I daresay you wear lenses, like most adepts. I have Giant's eyes, of course, one day I will be enormous." Xete laughed. "I think you've learned your lesson about spending too much time with your head buried in books."

Pere couldn't quite find the courage to laugh. So much of this felt new yet familiar, the corridors and stout wooden doors, the bowels of a vast castle, the networks of activity.

Xete led him into the gallery of a large hall. Below, there was activity and a wide stone staircase led them to a line of similar youths of both sexes all dressed in the same blue tunics as Xete and Pere. They took their places briskly and watched as soldiers in black armour discussed things on the far end of the hall.

Screams from outside the castle followed a vast and earth trembling explosion. The sounds died quickly but a wave of sharp breaths rippled through the assembled youths. From among the guards their leader strode into the centre of the hall, his armour rattling in a chorus of sharp clinks.

"Adepts of the Academy, I salute you." The voice of the soldier filled the room, as alien and metallic as his steel skin. "From among your ranks my glorious leader rose. Now, in our hour of triumph I speak to you not as a conquering Captain, but a brother. As your brother I am concerned for your welfare and the endurance of this great institution."

Pere's eyes tried to discern a glimmer of humanity from the cloaked, helmeted figure before him. He watched the swirl of the horns adorning his helmet. Apart from the two arms and two legs, there seemed little to prove he was a man. Everything about his bearing was wrong.

"This Academy will continue its teachings." The Captain continued, "Our Lord Venger will address you in due course but I was ordered to speak to you, to reassure you that your lives are safe, that your new leader values learning and the arts. He has expressed a desire for this institution to move forward and guide its people in the difficult days of transition ahead."

The Captain bowed his head and retreated from them into the shadows. They were ushered from the hall quickly and sent to their quarters by the teachers who prompted them like nervous sheepdogs, nipping their heels anxiously, their voices hushed.

Whispering erupted among the adepts like wildfire and Pere was forced to listen mutely as events swirled around him in confusion.

"Don't worry. We'll find you a healer." Xete muttered, standing at Pere's side while the others gossipped.

"Thank you," Pere replied quietly, his muscles bunched. He didn't know whether to run or cower.

Steadily they were all encouraged into their rooms, small cupboards in the walls lined with straw with a single cot and desk. Xete smiled encouragingly as Pere listed unconsciously towards the only unopened door. Around him the others disappeared into their own rooms, the sound dropped into the background as his hand gripped the door knob and pushed.

Behind him Xete disappered into the crowd. He was alone. Pere closed the door and darkness enveloped him but for a beam of light from a small window in the wall. He turned and breathed heavily against the reality of the door's strong wooden surface.

Frowning he waited for his eyes to adjust to the light. Glimmering in the darkness were trinkets arrayed across the surface of the small desk. Idols, bracelets, cutlery, paper – all manner of junk. His stomach lurched at the sight. Were these his? He couldn't remember anything specific but something told him these things had been taken. Each invoked a curious sensation within him, an association he couldn't quite recall, memories that lingered like shadows behind a veil.

Who am I? He demanded inwardly, sinking to the floor, weeping.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

The Song

Right, appologies - this'll probably start out being semi-well written and become dreadful by the end, but I've decided to use this blog as it's meant to be used - to air an idea. This is because I am lazy, and fed up of not writing anything, so I wrote this all in one go, and I haven't read it back to myself. It will most likely be awful, therefore. But there we are. I don't know where I'm going with the idea, though, so feel free to make suggestions.

Silence, as thick as a blanket, coated the forest, oozing into every crevice and pressing inexorably downwards. Nothing moved; not even the wind breathed through the canopy, leaving every branch, leaf and twig utterly still, almost as though petrified in the slanting golden light of the sunset. No animals stirred, not even microscopic species, and in the centre of Village the water column ceased to run until not even a drip was left. In the clearing, gathered into a circle, a hundred faces stared upwards motionlessly, past the carved, twisting stairways, past the woven walkways that webbed the trees above them and into the yellow sky, now pale and slowly turning green in the west. No one moved. No one spoke. They waited.

Presently, the pale green became suffused with a paler pink, and the crowd gathered below seemed to absorb some of the unusual tincture. Their bodies began to softly glow, in a strange, eerie echo of the sky above them, and the rosy light reflected off them onto the surrounding trees until the clearing almost seemed aflame –

And then, quite suddenly, three moons were picked out in the sky, illuminated by the colour changes, a vibrant, burning orange. They formed a rough semi-circle in formation, the left a crescent, the right full, the middle gibbous. It seemed to be the sign that the watchers had been waiting for: as one, they mimicked the searing shade of the moons, and then softly, so softly, began to sing.


It was during the Dusksong that Lanalil heard it, felt the odd disturbance. It unnerved her. The Faces were in the Cup, already an ominous sign, and they were warning of change. She knew it was change from without and it worried her. She had to focus hard on staying in the Song, picking up the melody only just in time and weaving it carefully amongst the harmonies. It soothed her, and within moments her mind was back in the Song, was the Song –

And then as it crescendoed, the Song buckled and roared around them, tearing at their minds. Lanalil had half expected it; with the Change Portent, the Song had been known to react badly. Steadfastly, they prepared to Sing it back into calm, but as they began it died down to a murmur, and Lanalil realised with a thrill of horror that it wasn’t just a reaction, born of their own nerves and ill discipline. It had been a message.

They ended it, and looked nervously around, expressions changing to shock.

They had all spoken. Every last one of them had turned black.



“Imperfect but breathable atmosphere. Oxygen’s a bit higher than desirable, but we can compensate for that, it’s only just shy of three percent above Earth average.”

“Excellent. Anything that needs filtering?”

“Well, I’m not picking anything up yet, but this is only one spot. I’ll try by the forest we saw as we were coming in, trees are usually a good indication of what an atmosphere is aiming for.”

“Understood. How long will it take you?”

“Twenty minutes? Half an hour? Shouldn’t be longer, it’s not far. How long’s a minute here? We’ve landed on the night side, it could get dark.”

“Approximately one point three of an Earth minute. Take your time.”


The holo-link clicked off, and Rechel quickly mounted the Explorer. She loved moments like these. It was that thrill of exploration, of discovery, of finding the answers that only she could find and being the first to know them. The Explorer powered up and glided quietly over the rolling terrain, its grass apparently a dark green-blue. Idly, Rechel wondered if she’d find any interesting animal life. The last planet they’d appraised hadn’t had much in the way of life of any kind, since it hadn’t long come out of an ice age, but she had found a six-legged lizard that had promptly been christened a salamander, and was now being studied by scientists the universe over as the first known example of a vertebrate with more than four limbs. Apparently, it had had three bones that looked much like a cross between a pelvis and a shoulder blade. It wasn’t much, but it did mean that when they’d assigned it a scientific name, it had been christened Saurus Salamandus Rechelus.

The forest reared up before her, and she realised that it was taller than she’d first thought. The trees were tall and straight, but with thickly woven branches at the top that bore a variety of red and purple leaves. Rechel sped up. It was odd how few planets tended to have trees, and yet whenever they did they seemed remarkably similar. Some things, it seemed, nature had hit a winning formula with.

It was as she approached the edge of the wood that Rechel suddenly realised that something was deeply, deeply wrong. Nothing was moving, anywhere. And there was absolutely no sound, none at all. It was like some kind of vacuum had descended across the world, and, quite suddenly, Rechel felt very alone and very scared. Had she gone deaf? Was that possible? Couldn’t be, surely? Hurriedly, she ran a systems diagnostic, but it returned a perfect working order verdict on her audio circuits. A further check proved that they were still correctly attached to the cyberneural transmitters, and that her brain was receiving all signals. What the sod was going on?

And at that moment, the red flush in the sky picked out a trinity of moons, sitting low over the horizon. Rechel stared at them, momentarily distracted from her rising panic. They were so beautiful, she thought. So perfect, and delicate and powerful…

The music rose, soaring above the trees, almost a physical thing that Rechel could see in a swirling, rising column, despite the fact that visually speaking there was nothing there. And her eyes were organic. Definitely no problem there, she thought grimly. She began a full area scan, and started into the forest.

It was beautiful in there, a fact that Rechel would have appreciated considerably more if she hadn’t been unnerved beyond all reason. How could there be music? How was that possible? Music suggested some form of sentient life form, and they were remarkably rare – not every planet that was even capable of supporting life actually managed anything approaching sentience. And until now, only humans had achieved musical knowledge. What was she getting herself into?

And what was that music? It…felt…alive, almost. Could it be the life form? Living sound waves? Impossible, Rechel reasoned. Not unless it had some way of being held together physically, but the way it was dancing… It had a sound quality all of its own, a sort of cross between a voice, a cello and an oboe, and yet nothing like any of them. And the notes! Such intricate harmonies!

Ahead, a vivid orange glow suddenly lit up the trees, and Rechel climbed off the Explorer. She crept closer, forgetting that she was making no noise, and realised that the light was coming from a large clearing up ahead. It was so bright it almost hurt her eyes. Cautiously, she hid herself behind a tree trunk and peered around.

The music was almost deafening this close, but within moments the sight that greeted her had all but driven the sound out of her head. Thronging in a circle around the clearing stood around one hundred aliens, entirely motionless and just staring up at the sky. They were tall, around seven feet, although as with humans they didn’t have a uniform height. They were, however, roughly quadrupedal, but with the build of something like a giraffe – their ‘arms’ were far longer than their hind legs, making their bodies deeply slanted instead of horizontal. They were incredibly thin, and didn’t seem to be wearing clothes, but they were covered in massive, plate-like scales which seemed to do the trick. Their faces were long and elongated, their mouths almost funnel-like; but they had the most prehensile lips Rechel had ever seen, which seemed to be the only parts of their bodies moving as, Rechel realised, they sang. They were singing.

But far more shocking was their colouration. The vibrant glow she had seen was emanating from them, from their bodies, and as she watched the colours swirled, deep burnished golds, angry reds, the occasional tear of blue. And suddenly, Rechel realised that the music had changed. It seemed to scream, although it sounded as beautiful as before, and she realised that something had been in her mind as it raged about. It made her recoil, panicking as it flew from her head to join the rest of the music, but she could feel that something was wrong, as though she was somehow connected now, every thought and emotion she had. She forced herself to look again at the aliens, and gasped.

The beautiful colours were bleeding from them, almost into the air as they strove to soothe the music, and a deep black was stealing across them. Rechel watched helplessly, knowing that something was wrong. Abruptly, the music died down to a whisper, and she shivered. It wasn’t right. None of it was right. And she had to leave now.

The whispering stopped, and normal sound returned in a rush, the spell broken. The aliens looked down from the sky, and saw themselves. For a moment they all just stood and stared at each other, creatures brighter than the sun reduced to dark in seconds. And then they seemed to panic.

The sight of it nearly broke Rechel’s heart. They all began singing again, but not as they did before: this time the tunes were separate, flowing over each other and occasionally jarring as they fought. Quickly, Rechel checked her scan data of the sound, running an analysis. It was music; but also speech. Tone, pitch, volume, time signatures: they spelt out a complex mathematical code that created a language. She wondered if she’d have time to translate it-

They saw her.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Work doodle

Click for big.