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Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


Yesterday, I tried to stay up late to catch the SPECTRE trailer launch but singuarly failed. However, that's what the Internet is for.

Here you go, watch away:




One frame leapt out at me in watching this, and that's part of the 'personal effects' Bond gets handed from Skyfall. Particularly relevant? This frame:




So here's a Certificate of Temporary Guardianship with Bond's name on it (and he's 14 at the time) and that picture? I'd assumed that the head 'missing' was his mother, but I know it isn't. That's another boy.

That's actually the Bonds' real son.

Brain's been doing somersaults over this since I saw it, and I suspect I'll need a bit of time to digest all the possibilities. I'd like to postulate at this point the following:

  • Craig's character is not the Bonds' biological son. This will allow the writers a gimme out of the big mistake I and many other fans feel they made in Skyfall when it was pretty much stuck in canon that he was the original owner of the name. This also frees them up for when they cast a new Bond (and they will because that's how this franchise works) to give that person the 'name' and the number without consequence.

  • Christopher Wentz' character is in fact the Bonds' biological son. If he was presumed dead and lost with his parents in the accident that befell them (and I'm going to guess that has a link to the cabin we see Bond confront Mr White in, as that picture was clearly taken by Bond's mother in the Alps) he's gonna have some SERIOUS issues about his 'brother' being where he is. That's probably the best 'Motivations to become a Supervillain' I've seen for some time.

I'm REALLY hoping this is what happens, because I've always wanted the number and name to simply be an identifier, and Skyfall was a MASSIVE disappointment in this regard.

Needless to say, Bloefeld and Bond are brothers. Because that's just too perfect not to have happen :D

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Sayers :: During

End of Part One: PART TWO INCOMING.


This is the latest instalment of my first long-form piece, The Sayers. You can find links to every chapter of the Novel at the dedicated blog page. If you notice any grammatical errors I have overlooked, or you have any observations to make on this piece, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.



For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

==

During.






She hurls the goblet across the room with a force that defies her age.

Rudge stands impassive, waiting for the True High’s Sister’s rage to subside. Too much of their intelligence had been fatally flawed: the unnatural relationship between Seed and Assassin hidden so well from everyone, a cornerstone of their plan to control the three independently shattered before Wright was out of the Palace. Greengrass’ anger had been vital as a means to subvert her relationship with Hiltop, but the Physician’s own ignorance had undermined her placement: she had disguised herself too well. He had no idea of her identity until it was too late.

Anastasia’s anger slowly ebbs away, shaking her head at the man she had put so much trust in, that her greatness had been reduced to the reliance on yet another unreliable conduit. These risks had always existed, knowing the need for security and understanding the brilliance of the minds she wished to influence. Sometimes it was necessary to allow circumstance a greater hand in affairs than her predecessors would have considered wise. What she knows remains unexplored is what will form the basis of her next move: all three are aware of the power they wield alone. As long as they remained ignorant of potential combined, there was still a chance for intervention.

She is confident Alexa’s fear of Conflagration will be her undoing. Wright’s Destruction was dormant, untouched, and Hilltop remained an afterthought, another useless man who preferred desire to any overwhelming demonstration of power. These things sat proud and confident in her head: the Earth would know how to combine their weaknesses to her strength. When she did, her army would be unstoppable.

The future will be the Sisters’ to direct, and it is time to make their most damning move.

The samurai stand outside, armed and ready, Forty women, each one’s fealty assured to their cause. The first of many waves of willing, able forces to counter the might of the Junta. Not simply armed and capable, but with minds that could be moved and directed, made to serve a single task.

Their purpose.

This situation can yet be salvaged. Destiny can most definitely be realigned.

The future as a result is very much in flux.


==


For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

The Sayers :: The Sides, Gathered (Five)

Major stuff coming soon.


This is the latest instalment of my first long-form piece, The Sayers. You can find links to every chapter of the Novel at the dedicated blog page. If you notice any grammatical errors I have overlooked, or you have any observations to make on this piece, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.



For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

==


Moonlight illuminates the carnage she has created: Daniel’s task is to remain silent and hidden.

Marion finally emerges from the bushes she was projected into when the Carrier upended, both horses gracefully falling to Alexa’s targeted attack. Consciousness is both alert and seething, anger Woodgrove does nothing to suppress: the woman staggers to the container, checking her prisoner remains incarcerated. Hilltop is neutral, invisible to her ire, only concern the woman who appears from the ditch, launching Mid Lands Steel to within a breath of Marion’s head. This was never a weapon meant to maim, simply to attract attention.

‘I don’t know how you managed this, but don’t expect me to be impressed.’

Woodgrove is suitably defiant: Daniel notes the knife she’ll throw from her boot before running for the gun lying unattended on the road, her own displaced from its holster. Alexa understands, is ready for injury if required, to ensure the woman is where he wants her for a clear shot. His partner’s blowpipe is already primed and ready, Hilltop’s skill on any moving target remaining without equal. Relishing the opportunity to wield his partner’s weapon, waiting was never a problem.

‘The future is not ignorance and firepower, Assassin Woodgrove. It never was.’

‘You didn’t come back from the dead to lecture me, that much I am entirely sure of. You’ll not have the Seed while I still draw breath.’

‘So be it.’

Alexa’s already ducking as the knife flies past her head, Marion away and up to the side of the container: picking up the snub-nosed pistol, firing wildly back over her shoulder. Alexa immediately vanishes: a moment of disorientation that forces movement into range.

The paralytic dart flies silent and deadly, impacting Woodgrove’s exposed neck: she crumples with a scream of pure incandescent rage. Only then does he emerge from the trees, strangely sanguine at what he knows approaches. They cannot leave her here, too dangerous with Direction to accompany them. This time, however, it will not be Alexa who is forced to kill. He will do this deed if only to ensure the narrative the Sisters has attempted to control is shattered, destroyed through exertion of free will.

The now-wakening horses are being released, Alexa purposefully removing restricting harnesses, ensuring there will be minimal delay once their job is complete. Daniel is impassiveness personified, dropping the blowpipe to the ground, kneeling immediately to remove his dart. Marion’s anger has evaporated, fear all encompassing, confidence utterly destroyed by the oldest skill the Assassins taught.

‘You never put much faith in the blowpipe, did you Mistress Woodgrove? Why exactly did you join the Guild again? Did you believe it a suitable profession for a woman?”

Tears stream down the felled assassin's dirt-streaked face: she will be counting the seconds, knowing how long before paralysis is total and potentially irreversible.

‘I have nothing to say to you. You are scum, worthless, enemy of the people.’

‘Ah, but Mistress Woodgrove you are mistaken, I am simply an enemy of the Military. They are not people, but monsters, concerned only with their own desires and aims, as indeed were you. I should hate first for what was conferred to Silas Darkworth, but instead I decide to forgive all your sins, for I understand the lure the florin can have on the narrow-minded.’

Finally, defiant Direction tries to pull him close, so she’ll spit or concentrate energy to try and move a limb: instead he pushes the mind away with a force that surprises with its indifference. He had thought her beautiful once, been distracted until he understood her true preference would never be with him. Her only desire had been Alexa, and she would not lie with her own sex by choice.

‘I will not die at your hands, you bastard.’

‘You’re absolutely right you won’t.’

The shot is a surprise, sudden and decisive, Marion’s Colonial pistol in Alexa’s hand. Daniel stares amazed: he had been prepared to shoulder the guilt, but there is no emotion in his lover’s heart, removal of the disgust she’d felt at Woodgrove’s actions before. This is new from her, at first concerning but then incredible. Her anger is reined, held close and tight, bound purposefully to a heart that focusses solely on the task in hand.

‘I do not remember you, or your name, you are less than nothing. You deserve no honour or recall in this life or any other. In fact, your only benefit is to return to the Earth as quickly as you left.’

Gravel shifts beneath the body, warping of earth then air: sulphur burn and ignition inescapable as the point where the bullet is lodged inside’s Woodgrove’s chest bursts into flames. In seconds her entire corpse is alight, heat enough to make Daniel retreat, inferno raging yet surprisingly contained. When Alexa had fled this ability was untrained, unpredictable: immediate fear that a burst of anger could hurt someone unintentionally. This was anything but. The pyre builds fiercely, body already beginning to disintegrate, Earth itself fuelling rapid decomposition.

Hilltop is immediately chastened: he had urged his lover to seek help, even suggested they find an Apoth for control with drugs, but the fear of anyone knowing what she was turning into made Alexa panic. They had argued, he had pushed her enough to start a fire in their joint quarters… and that had broken them completely. She’d begged to be allowed to escape everything, including his concern.

‘It wasn’t you. Never has been. Always my fear I’m not good enough. Always my lack of confidence. Never your fault’

He can see her, alone in the house she misses so much, learning how to set a fire in her stove. Every morning, without fail: more control, less unpredictability over time. Time shifts: tears streaming down her face, him in her mind as the thatch, furniture within is torched, destroying the sanctity of a home she had preserved long before the Sisters created their plan. Her own life destroyed because of him, as concern within was only for his safety. Their love was the fuel for so much, and not simply before. Devotion held close, indivisible from herself. Unbreakable.

Daniel has to embrace the woman who now shakes with the knowledge of her actions and won’t let go, can’t divide himself from what they are, despite the fact he knows the man they have rescued is destined to live with greater prominence in mind and body. Yet she slips inside his heart, beating simultaneously, promising they are inseparable until his last breath. Both protector and guardian…with this understanding she looks up to him and smiles, assent to his assertion. The mind’s relief is marked, despite the gravity of the moment.

She understands finally what is at play.

Alexa doesn’t release from their embrace, instead shifts briefly before indicating the container, herself and them him.

‘Sight, Light and Might. Now I grasp the reality of the Sister’s plan. They hope to recreate the Triumvirate with us. It might have been more sensible to have asked first. If they genuinely believe that we’re going to usher in a new golden age, I think they are beyond delusional.’

Daniel knows her deduction is correct, and can’t help but smile in response.

‘I’m not sure we need a Holy Crusade at this point, but if the Sisters are attempting to motivate their followers to arms, there are worse ways to do so. I’m pretty certain they’ve not factored in the appetites of their figureheads either. That’s going to take some explaining.’

‘Well, if you will subjugate your prophet using the power of his root, what do you expect?’

‘An unhealthy obsession with desire?’

The response from within the container makes them both laugh, tension of the interception leeching away. Daniel’s mind touches Max, thanks for his assistance at the Crossroads, and feels the man smiling in the darkness, not simply relief that finally he is in safe hands and with people he can trust.

Now the task of rescue is complete, all three can vanish.

==


For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Sayers :: The Sides, Gathered (Four)

Major stuff coming soon.


This is the latest instalment of my first long-form piece, The Sayers. You can find links to every chapter of the Novel at the dedicated blog page. If you notice any grammatical errors I have overlooked, or you have any observations to make on this piece, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.



For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

==


Max stretches, hands above head and admires the fruits of his handiwork.

The small grey paper horse is not perfect, but it will do. He turns the creation over, examining folds, trying to remember any steps that might have been missed in construction, but is satisfied the method remains solid. This task has allowed an opportunity to reconstruct vague areas of missing memory: accepted to the Cartographer's Guild a year after Yuki had disappeared, he was one of the last allowed to study overseas before the Imperial Government outlawed the practice. Travelling on horseback into Europa, he shifted slowly from east to west over one glorious summer. The long rides and countryside between locations made him smile, but not as much as the girl who tasted of apple pastry, sitting on his lap that first night in the mountains...

His evening meal is long-since finished: roasted beef and potatoes, vegetables and chutney, plus a glass of red wine that has made him more than a little unfocussed. Three origami animals have been constructed since and he can sense it will not be long: nerves tickling since dinner was bought refusing to subside. He craves Alexa in his head, amazed at how her presence is missed after such short exposure. Even the thought in his mind increases the heart rate, moves body to arousal. Her brilliance was unlike anything he’d experienced: exposed passion, enthusiasm for the task of inevitable liberation. Max’s interest however lies in the hidden recesses of her consciousness. Anger is buried he understands only too well, dark and dangerous temper that calls for control, restraint…

Paper ignites, shift of Earth that shatters glass and buckles wood, fire burning out of control. The reason why she had run, that made Hilltop pronounce her dead. Not fear of command, but of herself.

Max knows his Directed anger is capable of shattering objects: one of the reasons the Sisters chose to drug him. Hilltop had trained him to focus, destroying several wine glasses, encouraging yet containing during their brief time together. His skill is movement, Alexa’s conflagration, ability remaining rare enough to hide. Prevalent simply by chance, peculiar combination of family lines, and only in later years after the mind had been given time to mature…

Moving from table to the bed, lying to stare at the ceiling, awareness blossoms of a moment in his head, uncovered since her time inside him. Not a memory, but something else. Their possibility. Within the permutations shuffle and divide, infinite outcomes of different pairings: the future being written every second. Hands go to eyes, searching a mind only now fully cognisant: chasing, hunting down factors to provide the final conclusion.

A pen pushes into pliant flesh, ink bleeding through pale, scarred skin.

She rides him slowly, delicate care making every hair stand on end. With each rise and fall of her lower body his mind gives, consciousness awakening the depth of feeling so long suppressed. Every mark on her is a story: cut and scar testament to life spent in a lie. Never meant to be an Assassin, her path was with the Sisters, but their life scared her. What she fought for, then and now, was freedom. No-one had been capable of providing a release. Until him.

His mind was her salvation.

Max breathes, becoming the vision, letting the room morph and disintegrate, naked beneath and hard inside her body. In an exhale he wills himself to release everything, dispense with the Earth completely. The room shimmers, evaporating as they do, breaking down to motes of dust that drift and shift in late afternoon sun. One word, drawn in the air, understanding that good things come, but much must alter before their consummation.

Wait.

The Palace lies below, elegantly drawn by his own hand. Countless weaknesses are exposed, deliberately built, ways and means to enter unseen, many long forgotten. Lucius holds his keys. Max can show him the doors, entrances and egresses, to gain entry to a place now fortified beyond measure. This is his true worth to the Resistance. Nobody cares about destiny any more, all that matters is freedom.

Revolution.

Max sits bolt upright, revelation sudden and damning. The last words Lucius uttered before they’d spirited him from the Palace ring in ears only now capable of hearing the truth.

‘Your mind is the most important weapon we have. Keep it safe, my friend.’

Consciousness tickles, brief warp of air making nerves tense, and there is a noise downstairs, clatter of cutlery and crockery that suddenly puts Max’s whole body on edge. Then Alexa appears, brief yet glorious in his head, with a confidence that surprises him.

Stay in the Carrier.

Greengrass vanishes in a breath, leaving only Direction in her wake.

His prison is suddenly open: Marion standing and shaking in clear agitation, large line of blood across the white silk of her blouse.

'The other two are dead, we're not safe here. We need to move. Get your uniform on.'

Then she is gone, door left open, and Max stares at the empty space in disbelief. Alexa is not close, she waits for them in a pre-arranged spot. He remains the only other living person in the building.

The horror of Marion’s immediate actions on being discovered makes him ill.

Dressing in grim silence, Courier uniform an afterthought, Max angers at the deception that won’t work any more, now he grasps the truth of what has transpired. Moving downstairs, holdall strapped to his back, he finds Woodgrove pouring herself into leathers that are clearly Military issue. He’d observed the new Assassins in the last days before he’d been drugged to oblivion: it is no surprise she counts herself as one of their number.

As he stares the woman’s eyes harden and darken, any remaining affinity she may have had long since dispensed. His question to her comes with a confidence that is a surprise.

'You killed those two men yourself. There was no need to do so. Why?’

'Because I chose to. I can still kill you and justify it with perfect ease. Don't give me a reason.’

‘Tell me what I must do.’

‘Nothing stupid and exactly as you are told. Outside, now.’

She shadows him into the moonlight, towards the stables, where a black Military Carrier waits currently without horses. Marion is edgy, moving in clear concern as she guides Max to the back: her hand is on his arm, pushing hard and deliberately into the wooden door. He is is fairly sure this grip could break the bone if she chose to.

'You and I are going back to the Capitol. I would enjoy your brief taste of freedom, there'll be so many drugs in your system tomorrow you'll never stand up again. I will make sure that you are milked with no pleasure, suffering from multiple hands. Thanks to you I am potentially forced into failure. This does not make me happy.'

He stands supplicant as arm is released and container is opened, moving inside without a word. Shrouded in darkness he listens: preparation of the two horses, briefly comforted by the sounds of tack being shifted and mares first saddled then placed in position. She is planning ahead incase they need to abandon the carrier, he decides, and only because he feels no sensation of Alexa.

Suddenly she appears, inhale inside him, instant blink of orientation.

‘Get out of my head you fucking BITCH!’

Marion screams into the darkness, anger incandescent, Max knowing she doesn’t grasp how far away the woman is and that this distance will be her undoing. Alexa is stretching Earth and back: he wraps himself to the thread she creates, further strengthening the bond. In a moment the carrier is moving, Max thrown to the back, desperately scrabbling for stability. A junction lies ahead, key decision and without thinking he knows they must turn right, heading away from the Capitol and towards the inevitable.

Max closes eyes and acts from instinct, shifting mind outside the Carrier: placing an illusion on the road, duplicating her image as disguise. Alexa’s presence is sudden and seemingly real, forcing Marion’s progress eastwards.

The Carrier immediately lurches, sudden and rapid movement, quickly picking up speed, and Max is tense, aware now of Marion’s panic she’s heading the wrong way, that Greengrass has forced a diversion from her plan. The horses are whipped to his dismay, vehicle going far faster than was either safe or sensible: he wonders how far she can go before the road becomes a hindrance to progress. Inside his head Alexa shows the spool, silk ties in scarlet, two darts loaded to be manipulated by her own mind in flight, just as he had projected the air to look solid and real moments before. She grasped the response, watching through his mind with amazement. Her admiration is considerable, and despite the potential danger he’s in, Max is grinning at her regard.

Brace yourself.

Now there is understanding of what will come and he stretches, hands pressed into each side of the container, waiting for the inevitable. The blowpipe is armed, her mind as one with the darts and silk. An explosion of compressed gas takes everything into slow motion, deceleration decreasing and then stopped, removal of horsepower from the equation that pulls the container past the now unconscious mares and flips the entire carriage onto its side. There is the break of the reins and the box keeps sliding, screech of metal on stone until finally, blissfully, there is nothing.

Max shakes, breathing laboured, understanding prediction has become history.


==


For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Feed Me Seymour


In a revelation to me this morning, but not so much to Science, I realised my brain is, more or less, a gigantic filtration system. To demonstrate, I have borrowed this graphic that somebody else made and relabelled it for myself:


This means that I take in a ton of stuff from various sources (where news is a constant and the reactions can be derived from a large number of sources) and then react to it. The time stuff stays in my filtration unit is directly relateable to the complexity of the issue. Currently my brain is processing an issue for The Other Blog, and I'm finding a lot of stuff floating to the surface of my tank as a result. There's the Cult of Personality, for instance: that bloke that lots of people seem to like who had his TV show pulled because he's allegedly hit a producer. 350,000 people have signed a petition based, I would hope, on the full and detailed explanation of the circumstances behind his suspension to each and every one of them. Nah, didn't think so. You see, thinking is dangerous. In this immediate world, it takes far too long. Also, if you're thinking about it you can't be a part of the spontaneity of Real Life.

That's like reading, and we know NOBODY does that any more.


Thank you to @SingingPaladin for this :D


Words are hard. That's why people are more and more predisposed to go for the visual, to capitalise on the moment, because the attention span of the average person is now so short...


MMMMMM CAKE.

Aaaaaand you get the point.

That's why I wonder why I bother, with a story written weekly that no more than a handful of people will ever read. Except, that doesn't matter. It isn't about making other people happy: if that happens, then its a fabulous, wonderful bonus, that will make me smile and do the baby fistpump. This is about MY HAPPINESS, and that pretty much crucially centres around the ability I have to become a better writer. I don't frankly care if  most of the world would prefer me on a camera, or talking instead of typing. To become a better person a LOT of stuff needs to make it into the filtration tank and be dealt with. My means to do this is via these here letters and words, and as long as that remains the case the argument for blogging remains unerringly compelling. Seriously, I used a word last week in a podcast script and my Editor pronounces he's confident he's never seen this used by anybody else. That's just WRONG.

Education, at some point, will involve everyone just sitting down and listening. There will inevitably be some reading involved too. Maybe, when these happen, instead of just tuning out, you could try paying attention.

You never know what you might learn if you do.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Sayers :: The Sides, Gathered (Three)


More smut incoming soon ^^


This is the latest instalment of my first long-form piece, The Sayers. You can find links to every chapter of the Novel at the dedicated blog page. If you notice any grammatical errors I have overlooked, or you have any observations to make on this piece, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.



For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.



==


With this breath, I am one with the Earth.

Alexa’s mind expands with each inhale, deepening confidence, ground beneath her cross-legged form shrinking as consciousness moves upwards and away, letting currents of air lift and twist her into the glory of a red-streaked sunset. The exercise is necessary, too long since she’d disciplined her own mind outside, and there is a distinct desire to ignore the drugs she carries in favour of her own strength. Moving in air is no different to the currents of water she favours, as the repetition becomes infectious: up and down, across and back. The same principle as drills with a knife or positions with a staff, rhythm to make neurons strong and supple.

Daniel can be observed from on high, finishing the tack change on their fresh horses, panniers being lifted, replaced and secured. They had ridden here in virtual silence, focus solely on making the river before sundown. Now they had arrived and crossed without incident, she senses the weight of responsibility only too well, not simply in her own psyche. His predilection is far more intimate, and with the benefit of time to absorb, actually amusing. He has a secret he must disclose, but is afraid of her reaction.

Opening tired eyes, she looks down at the remains of her evening meal, wrapped in muslin: illicit supplies from Darkworth. The caramel nuts are long since gone, but a vegetable samosa remains. She has missed much from the Capitol over the years, this delicacy in particular. Picking up the pastry parcel she turns it over, recall of a symbol from her childhood. A triangle, circle at each point. The Trinity of Dominance. The Sister’s mantra, their scripture and command: only through mastery of three key doctrines could a body become purely attuned with the Earth.

Sight, Light and Might.

Their falcon wheels noisily above her head, loaded and returning to Silas: they will intercept Max and head further east, to the coast and Wakering Hall. Daniel’s oldest and most trusted friend, senior partner in the Manufacturing Guild, Edward Parsons held camp in a building older than anything the Imperial Army had ever constructed. Their safety can be assured within his compound, and perhaps then there is a chance to regroup and consider a next move.

Even with the tack transferred and their bird in flight, Daniel is fussing, avoiding his rations and her, despite the knowledge of what lies in his head. She’d caught a hint of comprehension when they’d headed north, moment of unguarded concern for their target, and she’d chased him all the way to the river in the hope he would divulge the truth. As they’d waited for the Chain Ferry defences had slipped, and she’d been amazed at the revelation exposed.

He had fellated Max far better than any of the Sisterhood.

‘I’m sorry. I should really have told you sooner.’

The man finally sits, embarrassment almost acute: refusing to meet her gaze, instead going straight for his portion of cold meats. Alexa knows she can’t be angry at his desires any more. Her love for this man remains undiminished: with the revelation he could now be executed for wilful interference with the Seed of Progression on top of everything else, the situation is more humorous than concerning. Her desire pushes utterance of a truth she has dreamt of alone for many nights.

I am still yours.

Direction is meant to catch him off guard, disbelief then amazement and before he can respond she leans over to kiss him. There is no overture to passion, simply the acceptance of history, that what he is has always been what she craves. His hand caresses her face, prolonging intimacy: relief bolsters them both, until the importance of their task shifts back into view. Hilltop lets her go, but maintains his closeness.

‘I did a lot of things I suspect I will regret over time after you were gone, but Max was not one of them.’

‘He does not yet recall your significance in his history, this I know from the time I’ve been within him. It is something I can work with instead of using the Tether enhancer. How did you end up together?’

‘Sometimes, you take your rebellion where you can: mostly he let me wallow in him without asking too many questions. It was opportunism on both parts, in the end, and the fact I think I did the job better than anyone else the Sisters could provide to fellate. He’s a brilliant man, more depth and ability than any of my sex I’ve ever encountered, and yet he’s a blank page. I’d started to train with Direction but events overtook us. Part of my promise was when I came back he’d get properly educated, a way to make use of his strengths.’

‘So you’re telling me he never returned the favour for you?’

‘You made me grasp I could derive greater pleasure sometimes simply by giving. That was a revelation that took a while to fully appreciate, and just after I did the High Sister miscarried, and they locked Max away. At that point I resolved to get him out regardless of the risk.’

‘All of this really is just you keeping a promise?’

‘This is all I have ever done. That’s why I never threw anything of yours away: I knew, one day, I’d find you again. I couldn't grieve because you never really left.’

Relaxing back on the ground, head surrounded by spring flowers, Alexa is conscious of her own failings: she does not need anger and regret impinging her present task. Instead the focus shifts, mind launching again upwards, hoping altitude will expose her target. There is a moment of connection, strength of Direction detected north west. Now she is the falcon, swooping down to the ground, skimming across marsh and reeds before tracking the river west to a cluster of grey stone cottages. Max’s consciousness calls, unmistakeable connection to the man next to her. He is asleep, bathed and sated: the whispers of times past echo in her present, and the ties that bind the two men are far stronger than Daniel has suggested.

‘I’ve found him. He’s dreaming he’s in the Summerhouse. This moment has considerable significance…’

Yes.

Daniel’s Direction is charged, not simply one man deriving pleasure from the memory. Alexa exhales his embarrassment, breathing in need she sensed since they left Darkworth’s shop. He is edgy, nervous as was always the case before they engaged an enemy. This would aid her as well as Max.

The cartographer lies foetal on a four posted bed, naked except for a towel, and Alexa keeps herself in check, refusing to let personal desire fuel the bond required. Instead she reaches deeper into Hilltop’s mind, already loaded, asking him the question.

Show me everything.

This process is simple: emotions make for strong but messy bonds, good for instant messages but bad for detail. Control is the key. Use your own body as the weapon, the focus. She will tie herself first to Daniel and then use the power of the memory to inhabit Max’s mind. He complies in a breath: late summer warmth, birdsong and mimosa, his mouth around engorged flesh, making the man gasp in a manner Alexa has to fight to ignore. At first she can’t watch but the sensations compel, pushing her to indulge in what is being replayed.

She is aware of Daniel’s hands at work, muslin from the food covering exposed sexuality, no embarrassment of self-stimulation in the secluded spot they picked, always a part of his preparation. This was the same man who would regularly proposition total strangers the night before a battle to assuage his nerves, that all that mattered in those moments was the release of pressure, cheap distraction. Except, there is a subtlety to this moment she cannot help but grasp, cadence change that is immediately a surprise.

Breath quickly begins to labour, twin plateaus before the inevitable. Max is struggling with the world within being exposed, layers of paint-peeled walls crumbling around remains of his restrictions and she stares, standing in his mind, funnelling pleasure from both sources. This is her lover,  pleasuring him, in turn rendering both incapable. He can’t release her gaze, willing her to watch, to slip deeper into a compliant mind… and so she dives, circling Max’s fractured soul: constriction together, mental cords binding skin to inescapable release.

The taste of salt sweat is gone: sweetness floods three mouths, rich warmth of caramel, their temptation and her pleasure. Shards of amber that crackle and tumble, caught in the hand and licked from the palm, smeared on breast to be tasted again. Max begins to melt, body shuddering, sensations running, disintegrating to a scream that Daniel rides and amplifies. Alexa’s mouth swallows the pleasure, kiss making both bodies arch, scrambling two separate, drug-free releases to incomprehension.

Eventually both to come to rest, Tie and Tether combined, her focus shifting solely to the Cartographer.

Hello.

His Direction is hesitant and uncertain, frisson of anticipation in her mind. He is sitting now, naked in the setting sun, surprisingly unaffected having orgasmed moments earlier, and doing his level best not to think anything that might now be construed as inappropriate. She smiles inside, gesture he returns and holds, curiosity immediately flooding her body. There is no time for introductions, not in this fashion, she needs to locate Marion and prepare the ground and is impressed when the man is up and heading to the bedroom window. In the courtyard below the room is Woodgrove, practicing drills Alexa taught her years previously.

There is his involuntarily gasp as her consciousness warps and turns, twist and a throw from arms riddled with tiny scars, marks from training and battle indivisible. She instinctively launches out of his head, tied to a disbelieving mind with effortless grace, extending a scarlet cord from his body, tumbling out of the window and down, pulled by the Earth to wrap around Marion’s body. Oblivious to the Tether, encased solely in her own world, she continues with the combat sequence. Max wants to move, incase his complicity is exposed but Alexa’s confidence is infectious, breathless and he lets her take him, use his mind willingly to craft the bond. Now it will not matter where she is in the building, Alexa is bound to them both. She will use Max as a conduit, and when the moment comes Marion will be deceived.

Be ready.

Her connection is broken, withdrawal from his head completely now she knows where he is located. As consciousness returns to the field, Daniel has their map spread at her side, already pinpointing Max’s location. He’d leeched enough from the bond to be able to place the Inn: they would be pushing closer to the Capitol than perhaps either of them would be comfortable with.

This would require considerable finesse from them both.

==

For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Ten Summoners Tales

I'm not a big fan of fads. The Liebster Award comes around more times in Blogging circles than a bout of bad food poisoning, and I've been nominated /counts five times now to do it. This will be the first time I've actually completed the Survey, however, and I've only done so this time because I like the guy who nominated me.

No, I'm not getting anyone else to do this, because. YES JUST BECAUSE. Feel free to brand me a curmudgeon, because I so very am.


Right then. Questions:


==


1. What is your favourite game mechanic?


Oh, this one is easy.

#1 Most used Graphic 2014

Risk makes for the most compelling gameplay, at least in my mind. It is what turns perfectly well-adjusted, calm individuals into rabid, foam at the mouth monsters. It ties players to games for close to a decade. It makes players do terrible, terrible things in the name of a bunch of pixels.


2. Is there a character did you think would be cool when announced or first encountered, but in practice turned out terrible? Who? Why?

Hmmmm.

I think we need, at this point, to establish how I interact with gaming.

I don't often identify with individual characters. The few I do (one from literature springs to mind) is only used as a focal point because what they are is pretty much the direct opposite of what I am. When I read a book, watch a TV show or play a game, I do no look at the 'plot', rather than try and lose myself in it, to find a way to grasp myself within it. So, asking me to 'judge' characters is difficult. However, if I think your plot is lacking or you're being a lazy git by just making things easy or safe, or by borrowing hackneyed or outmoded tropes, I'll be all over you like that hyperactive puppy.


3. If your entire life turned out to be a simulation or part of a video game, would it change your outlook on life? How?


You know, that's more green than blue ^^

Yes, I'd want to take the red pill. Absolutely. I'd fight for freedom, and I'd die trying to defend what I thought was a basic unenviable right: that individuals deserve free will, however narrow minded, bigoted and violent they may be. Because, in the end, Humanity is not just the Good Guys.


4. What is your favourite colour?

#d9cafe.



5. If you were an astronaut and going to space for 6 months, what personal item would you bring with you?

My writer's notebook and propelling pencil.


6. Which of the Seven Deadly Sins is your favourite?





You can't beat a good bit of passion. Lust ftw.


7. Is there a moment in your life where you felt you were finally "in the future"? What precipitated it?

The day I got my first mobile phone. Only equalled by the day I ended up with an iPad.


8. Cliffhangers, good technique, or annoying technique? Why?

Rubbish movie. Oh hang on, that's just the singular.



Any writing technique is acceptable if you do it well. Just don't be a dick, 'kay?


9. Has there been a game mechanic that enraged you or felt supremely unfair? What was it and why?

Game designers make mechanics to torture players. If you don't like the mechanics, go play something else. That's a designer's job :P



10. Tortoise, or the Hare?

I'll take The Crow and the Pitcher instead, please :D


==

Nothing to see here now, MOVE ALONG.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Who are You?


...and you are?

This is a lesson in humility.

You're not an Internet Celebrity. Just because you have a following on Twitter, or a Facebook page, doesn't mean you're all that. No, really, it doesn't. However important you believe you are, there's always someone bigger. If you want to be REALLY famous, there are a number of routes you can pursue. Scandal's always a good bet. Do something despicable. Hurt as many people as possible is also an option, but be warned that this road to fame may not end up with a record deal or a clothing line. Ideally, you just want to be yourself while this happens, because then you can continue to live your life in utter and total ignorance of the effect you can have on others and not really care either way.

Fame is relative. Never forget this. The best exponents of the brief life of the famous person understand that with photo opportunities comes great responsibility.


CHECK HIS HAND, GUYS.

I saw a meme doing a round over this picture a while back: this famous man has deliberately not placed his hand on a high-profile famous lady waist because that would mean contact with bare skin (and would be inappropriate as these two are not an established celebrity 'item'.) This shows a situational awareness of the other famous person that would definitely be lacking in others. Therefore, our Famous Man is doing it Right. There are many lessons to be learnt on your ascent to greatness. The biggest single one is that you're not all that. As you remain a human being, basic courtesy and understanding should come as standard. You are no better or worse than anyone else, and as a result you should be ready to be judged by the same set of benchmarks the rest of Humanity often struggle to attain. Everybody has a brain, after all. Don't think that your celebrity means you don't need to use yours.

Most importantly, fame depends on the size of your bubble.


DAMNING

Getting obsessed with crap is a common human failing. Whether it's the poop gag or the number of followers you had thirty minutes ago, it doesn't matter. Numbers are as relative as everything else in the Universe: infinite followers ain't never gonna happen, gurl. The need to continually obsess about your relative stature is not something to be recommended. Instead, simply enjoy the moments when they happen, and then move on. Because quite honestly you don't know if you'll even be here tomorrow, so what's the point?


Thank you @ayligerwolf :D

If you're going to play any game, whatever it might be, take a moment to understand the rules. Know you'll be under constant scrutiny when you do and be prepared to keep yourself whiter than white as a result. Don't diss anyone else. Know your limits. Don't try and be too clever and always make sure you thank the people who take the time to look out for you. Finally, most importantly of all, learn humility. Understand that just because people like you doesn't give you the excuse to treat them or anybody else as lesser mortals. EVERYBODY is the same, so when somebody does something good for you, ALWAYS THANK THEM.

Oh, and if you're on the Internet, the only way you're famous is if you invented it.

GOD.
Everybody else is on their own.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Sayers :: The Sides, Gathered (Two)


More smut incoming soon ^^


This is the latest instalment of my first long-form piece, The Sayers. You can find links to every chapter of the Novel at the dedicated blog page. If you notice any grammatical errors I have overlooked, or you have any observations to make on this piece, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.



For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

==


Max lies in darkness, still intoxicated with his temporary taste of freedom.

The flight from the Palace had been desperate and frightening, ears still ringing from the massive explosion that reduced the Imperial Summer House to rubble. The area had been eerily quiet until the detonation, then the entire World had shuddered and risen up around him: as he’d hit the ground the woman in his mind had undoubtedly broken his fall, and given him opportunity to finally grasp her identity.

Without doubt, for a brief time, the assassin Alexa Greengrass had existed in his head.

He knew her, face and body already recalled: passionate, intense and ultimately distant, Max surmised early a depth of Direction that would facilitate keeping your own counsel, but was more than aware of her relationship with another. The man’s name currently eludes him, he cannot remember why. Something is not right in all of this, truths possibly missing because of the drugs, as there is the undoubted belief she should not exist in his head at all.

He had been reasonably certain that Greengrass was dead.

The heavy canvas cover is suddenly pulled away: Max squints briefly in bright sunshine. Marion looks down on him with minimal concern, much altered from the last time he’d seen her. Previously elegant hair is pulled back and hastily set, yet this makes her look more severe. Something else niggles that Max cannot quite put his finger on, but he's more desperate to stretch than to worry about details. As he moves from lying to sitting this is no longer the Capitol: his perception of time needs work. The cart is parked in the internal courtyard of a provincial Inn, close to the river: seagulls drift on air currents above, smell of fish and tar somewhere to his left.

'I know you need to stretch, but I’d like you inside. We can't risk anyone seeing you.'

Marion's urgency is apparent, and Max is happy to oblige, following her quickly into the Inn. The place is empty, stripped wood and new bar in sections pointing to renovations: Marion takes him upstairs into a large room with an impressive four posted bed, a large bath and two men filling it. Both smile at their entrance and the tallest embraces Marion heartily.

'Max, this is Jake and Arthur. They’ll be driving us tomorrow.'

Max nods, nerves itching, as the shorter of the two leaves with now empty pitchers. A new set of smells draws him instantly away, salivating then smiling: a selection of foods waits on a table by the window, clearly meant for him.

‘Jake will bring some venison stew, as I'm guessing you've not eaten properly for a while. We may have a long journey tomorrow, so I'd also suggest you get as much rest as you can.’

Arthur leaves yet Marion remains, and Max stares, confident the brief taste of her that morning was distraction, and not an overture of anything else. In fact, the woman’s regard for him is now minimal at best. He knows he inadvertently Directed at her over breakfast: she is aware not simply of his clarity, but ability.

‘The drugs have cleared your system completely.’

‘Yes. I see no more need for deception on your part or mine.’

‘Indeed. You were easy to manipulate before breakfast, but not now. Rudge is right, for an untrained mind your skill is considerable.’

‘And your contempt for me is undeniable.’

‘Make no mistake, Seed of Progression, I have but one task to undertake with you. My reward is what matters above all else. Your life therefore is my priority until it is collected. You weren't rescued, simply relocated.’

The shell around her hardens, mind deliberately inaccessible: despite indifference her skill impresses. As the door closes and locks, Max’s concern is inescapable: this is not free, anything but. Their destination remains a mystery, but his worth is still only biological. Fear floods his chest and this time there is no-one inside to help, presence he’d felt in the Palace both distant and indistinct…

His own mind instead provides a familiar tune to help sooth troubled nerves.

The door is unlocked again, Jake returning with a large bowl across which a length of bread is balanced. Max’s basic skill recognises no malice in this man, simply quiet kindness, grateful when he passes the food into willing hands.

‘Venison stew, extra large serving, just in case the entrĂ©es aren't enough. The bread was baked about an hour ago. I’ll bring you up some wine later, and there are fresh clothes in the bathroom next door.' By the young man’s accent, here is somewhere on the outskirts of the Eastern Capitol. He waits until the door is locked again before finally allowing himself to relax.

This incarceration is a step up from the Palace, that much is obvious: for now Max decides it might just be an idea to eat and bathe before worrying about anything else. Staring at the spread, he decides to begin with the large pile of dried meat. It tastes fantastic, a thousand long-dormant taste-buds lighting up as he finishes the rest of the chunks in short order. The bread is yeasty and sweet, complemented perfectly by a serving of strong soft cheese, piled with dried plums and prunes soaked in a wonderfully piquant liqueur with sharp undertones. He’s full before even trying the Stew, and leaves half the bread as accompaniment, before crossing to the bed.

Allowing himself to fall back, he quietly impacts the mattress before allowing a brief smile of contentment.

Staring upward, the song returns, gentle melody sung with an accent he cannot grasp. Except this is no lullaby as he first thought, instead there is dancing and laughter, joyful spinning in circles, arms stretched wide. From a boy and his nanny memories twist, bounce and burst open, joyful jig in a room full of friends, new pages of history being bound and prepared. The future exposed in a drug-free mind; vivid and bright, passion and feeling. The Northerner, the Roman and the man who is a mountain: strangers all except her, dressed in scarlet so dense Max needs to draw with it, pulling colour from the swirls of silk, detailing his desire on her skin. Alexa is aware of his regard and turns: dress rippling, droplets of colour radiating from the points he dips his pen. Water dragging colour away, leeching the red into clear, cool comfort. The same scarlet is on her lips, cherry sharp, fruit crushed against open mouth…

Max’s mind hands him a red paper square, daring the artist to make it fly.

His Nanny taught the joys of paper-folding: her gift, and ultimately his salvation. The box of kami was pushed into his hands the day she’d been sent away to avoid the first wave of Imperial Repatriations, and he had held it closer to his heart than anything else, even the Solider. Max aches at the love he’d felt for Yuki, need to impress and learn as she taught him ever more complicated Origami. This love of order meant his mind had been ready to endure both torture, imprisonment and death, ahead of her and his family. He goes to his holdall and retrieves the sandalwood box, paper squares he’d preserved so carefully, looking for the colour he craves. The table is cleared and he sits again, working on instinct, instructions for the first ever orizuru written in his head.

The beauty of routine and order, reflected in each fold.

This process gives calm he had forgotten he could experience, body relaxing and mind expanding, consciousness quietly acknowledging the chestnut mare eating contentedly in the stables. Gulls swoop noisily on currents above, groups of water birds paddle quietly near the reeds. Bees efficiently hum between late spring blossoms, the landhand women laugh as they cross the low stone bridge to his left and Max simply dispenses with walls and floors, seeing beyond the restrictions this new prison imposes. He is outside, sitting in glorious late afternoon sun, surrounded by the Earth which now moves around him. This is a lesson his friend had begun to teach: your view can be moved, shifted, barriers discarded by those intelligent enough to grasp the minuscule. Anything is possible if you understand how the Earth is made.

His name was Daniel.

A whispered apology, desperate yearning, fear all too real. The promise he would make things right, to come back to liberate… and now they were. Greengrass lived, had been hidden, to protect what she would become, and now the two of them knew he wasn't safe. They were approaching from the South: as the future whispers its paths, lines and annotations are drawn around them both without thinking.

He who is Might, and she who brings Light.

The Inn materialises back around Max's now shaking form, body aware of what his mind has suggested. They are strong together, but joined with him there is something deeper, immutable.

Invincible.

The word rolls around his mind, summer thunder, future tempting to possibilities he is suddenly afraid to consider. Instead he will strip, bathe, and focus on the past, an attempt to finally reconstruct his current existence.

==

For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Sayers :: The Sides, Gathered (One)


More smut incoming soon ^^


This is the latest instalment of my first long-form piece, The Sayers. You can find links to every chapter of the Novel at the dedicated blog page. If you notice any grammatical errors I have overlooked, or you have any observations to make on this piece, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.



For the previous part of the story, Click Here.
For the next part of the story, Click Here.

==



The Sides, Gathered



Alexa stands on the landing of Darkworth's shop, separating effortlessly three interactions below.

She senses the young boy that guarded her, Junior Assistant with a customer, discussing the best combination of materials to help prevent Black Fly on rapidly-growing vegetables. Darkworth himself is in full flow, heated exchange with a supplier over requirements for the following month, and his concern that the Military were stopping increasing numbers of vital reagents at the ports. However, for now at least, it is the last pairing that interests her the most. Daniel is somewhere at the back of the shop, in a storage area, at least one hand and possibly more inside the robe of the woman he now knows is responsible for altering Alexa’s mind. Hilltop practices what he does best, deflecting the truth with physical distraction. By the level of arousal she can sense, Olivia is no wiser as to his enlightenment.

Both customer and supplier depart in short order, and Alexa makes sure Hilltop knows she’s on the move, touch to his mind that he instantly acknowledges. Then she focusses on where Darkworth stands in the room below her, before sending a simple line of Direction:

Is it safe?

Silas sends the boy to lock front door and draw blinds: when there is no more movement below, she proceeds. Descending into the shop, memories spark of the Imperial Apoth's Emporium in Tamesa, her home for so many years. Neat lines of bottles stacked on shelves, impeccably labelled and presented alphabetically: rows of aged wooden boxes sit, densely packed in hand-made displays running the length of the walls, behind a counter that has seen many spillages over the years.

There are places to sit but no tables, plus what is undoubtedly an extremely expensive and well-provisioned distillation lab that extends up and around one whole corner. The almost omnipotent smell of just-extinguished candles mixes with freshly-baked bread and pork, tonight’s meal being prepared. This area should be darker than it is, Alexa notes, certainly with blinds drawn, but there are a row of small glass bulbs that glow at the back of the shop with a brightness that is a surprise.

'Phosphorescent lights, that activate when a certain level of darkness is reached. We're the first in the arcade to be supplied.' Darkworth pronounces the advance with a touch of pride. He's a small man, Capitol-accented, but despite obvious age wears a long shock of dark hair tied in a neat black plait. He stares at Alexa with familiarity: it takes a moment to insert him correctly into her chronology.

'You used to work for the Guild's Poison Supplier, didn't you?'

Darkworth smiles, and her past again shifts into the present. This man was always decent and loyal, with an expansive heart. He never denied his eye for the ladies, several mistresses but never a wife… easy to see how he would share an affinity with Hilltop.

'You have a good memory, Assassin Greengrass.’

I already knew.

His Direction is unsurprising: less disbelief in his demeanour than Daniel, almost resigned to the knowledge his daughter is complicit in what has transpired. Darkworth comes across the shop and offers Alexa his hand, assistance with the last half dozen steps, gesture which she is immediately grateful for. As their hands touch he provides a simple, damning image. The scroll he shares is the exact same as the one she’d carried from the cottage. He’d seen Olivia hand this message to Riverman as he’d passed through the town, curious himself at the Eye Seal. Silas then grasped that morning via troop communications that the Military Assassin he’d furnished with poison was being sent east to kill her.

His duplicity, supplying both Military and Revolution, had provided the light-bulbs and his safety. Alexa lingers, taking his arm, knowing Daniel’s assertion to be correct. Of the countless players who’d chosen to stack both sides against the other, here was a man who truly did care for the right things.

I trust you.

As she Directs the room ripples, legs suddenly buckling, and Darkworth’s arm is around her waist, his junior suddenly running for a chair.

'You're suffering from the effects of an opiate overdose, it's no wonder you're feeling unsteady. Olivia is brewing what I believe is a comparable anti-nausea compound, it will not be long. Come, sit here.’

‘I am incredibly thirsty, is that likely to be a side-effect?’

‘Indeed, dehydration is normal. Edward, go get a pitcher of water and alert my daughter that her patient is awake.’

The boy places a chair and then scurries away, leaving Darkworth to fuss, attention Alexa has no problems with allowing. He checks her pulse, chestnut brown eyes watching carefully for reaction. At the back of the shop there is commotion, sudden laughter and the sound of running water, then Edward returns, large heavy metal jug and another carafe put to instant use. As Alexa watches him pour and she drinks, Daniel’s presence appears, with another behind him. This woman is sated, warmth and comfort, revelling in the understanding she has been pleasured whilst her partner’s ex lover sat seemingly unaware, contentment radiating from one blissfully oblivious to the the reality of her situation.

Alexa looks up to meet Olivia Darkworth’s gaze for the first time, closing her mind completely. Stunningly beautiful, more intelligent than her father, she carries a small bowl that steams oddly, movements of Earth that do not seem normal.

‘I used chromatography on the residue of the scroll: I’m still not 100% sure what it was the Sisters used, so I've had to guess at what to throw into this solution. Needless to say, if it doesn't work Father has a bucket for you to throw up in, hopefully that might improve your situation regardless.’

There is no welcome, minimal consideration of respect. Her smile covers the lie with considerable skill: to an untrained mind she will appear pleasant and open, without any deceit. Alexa assumes Hilltop will not allow her to be poisoned further, that this mixture will make things better and not worse. The bowl is handed from daughter to father, then to her: she shuts her eyes, taking the liquid in one hit. There is aniseed, charcoal and something else familiar as stomach turns briefly, before the nausea settles, but refuses to recede. Olivia takes the bowl, looking back to her father, already knowing this will not be enough.

‘How do you feel, Mistress Greengrass?’

‘There is still discomfort, though that has helped. Another dose would be useful.’

‘I have brewed a complete batch, knowing it may take several hours for the nausea to completely recede. Edward, please refill this and take care to use the ladle. Do not dip the bowl into the pan as I have seen you do before.’

The boy is clearly afraid, and vanishes at speed. Now concern appears, but it is skill at question, nothing more. Olivia’s pride swells, clearly confident her ability was without equal, simple when you knew what to prepare well in advance. Pulling deeper within, Alexa waits quietly for the second bowl, making eye contact with an impassive Hilltop. She is surprised that he does not look away, but holds the gesture. Her mind focuses on the carried message, a sudden moment of unexpected clarity.

‘We will wait, and bide our time, and when the moment comes, we will be ready to return the Sisters to their true path.'

Alexa replays the elderly female voice echoing within, fragment of somebody else's past given in semi-consciousness, and there is a moment of enlightenment. She knows whose life this came from. The second bowl arrives and is taken without a thought, and nausea leaves her. The room visibly lightens as a result, and Olivia is obviously impressed at her efforts.

'Your colour is returning. I think that second dose was a good idea.'

The phantoms in Alexa’s mind shift and tickle, players in a history being noted and placed. The Imperial Physician is new: Alexa knows him from another place and his loyalty does not sit with Marcus. She asks for more water, time to consider as concern creeps into the chronology. Too many people possess divided loyalties, their own desires far greater than any cause they choose to champion. Darkworth’s daughter is not the exception, but the rule. These are not motivations for freedom, simply negotiation, material gain for no real victory.

There is also no denying her nausea has vanished. Alexa is better, more relaxed than she has been since having left home: the soup having as much of an effect on her well-being as the antidote. In fact, the warmth in her body is a pleasant surprise.

‘Both your Apoth and cookery skills are gratefully received, Mistress Darkworth. Thank you.'

Olivia's smile is genuine: for a moment Alexa wonders if they could have been friends, perhaps if things had been different this would not end up as confrontation. There is a moment that hangs but it is Darkworth Senior who breaks it, clearly focussed on more pressing matters.

'If you don't mind Olivia, I'd like the shop reopened whilst I go talk to our guest in private. The last thing we want right now is any overly suspicious activity.'

His daughter appears perturbed, but nods and heads to the entrance, followed by the assistant who begins to reopen blinds. Alexa moves to the back of the shop, following Daniel into the rear storage area where Darkworth is already preparing her a seat. It is surprisingly spacious, even with low-hanging beams: this will be where business for the Assassins Guild would be conducted when the shop was open. Behind the packing case used as a chair, Alexa feels a draught as she sits, understanding the space has a secret door, down to a basement she’d bet was used as a safe spot for both items and people.

Once settled, Darkworth wastes no time in addressing her.

‘Mistress Greengrass, how much of what now sits in your head are you prepared to share?’

‘This has nothing to do with willingness, I assure you. There is so much, and all intensely personal, I suspect fashioned by the Sisters to try and dissuade me from sharing it openly. My bigger concern is the presence that now exists within me. If I didn't know better I would say these aren't actually memories, it is almost as if someone else is appearing and disappearing in my subconscious.'

‘What I know of my daughter’s research into the Opiates the Sisters have been using for visionary purposes is considerable and may be of some value. For a long time if you asked anyone they'd deny the plant it was created from even existed. The work done in the Far Asias in the last decade is hugely sophisticated and far beyond anything we have here, but elements of it begin to emerge from the Capitol. Cross-propogation, polished sublimation techniques... cutting edge technology. There are several inside the Palace, spies for our cause, and they have confirmed there are areas of the Imperial Garden that survived the Military's influence. I have no doubt what was used on you is very similar to the compound the Sisters utilise to enhance their powers of Vision.’

‘There are similarities with this to other drugs I have willingly imbibed, that I will grant you. You must be aware what Marchant used to communicate over distance: it was too powerful for me to even take safely. But for him… those formulas were lost on his death. His Manual vanished, recipes taken to his grave. The Sisters tried many times to obtain his understanding and failed.’

Daniel remains silent, concern apparent without Direction. He’d shunned the drugs, refusing to be part of the teams that offered to use them, scared at how his mind would react to such exposure. Alexa had suffered for many days, sweats and hot flushes, body painful and wracked with cramps. She is aware that whatever is affecting her now has a lot in common with the side-effects from those last days, after she became Marchant’s Tether from necessity. The distinct fluidity in her lower body was unmistakeable, inhibitions softening and sensations beginning to heighten…

‘I am cautious to share anything until I am certain of all the details, but know I’ve been bought here to protect the Seed of Progression.’

Darkworth’s amazement is considerable, but Daniel already knows, she had told him unconsciously upstairs. Yet now his heart rate rises, adrenaline sparked: Alexa can sense something else at play. An oath has been sworn by her ex-lover that contains hidden meaning: his surprise at her Directed admission upstairs was not at the task she had been given.

He had already promised himself to do the same.

'What if I said the Seed didn't need protecting, that we were already taking care of it?'

Silas turns open-mouthed to Daniel, who seems only mildly apologetic at his friend in response.

'I'm sorry, I was sworn to secrecy. The Green Men have been moving for some time: since the Seed was removed from the Sayer's Chapel to the Palace three months ago there's been a plan in place to free him when they could be sure that he was not under direct Sayer influence. We created a diversion this morning, explosions and an attack planned to look as if it was a threat to the High General. If all is going to plan, they should have the Seed out of the Palace by now, and they'll move him at first light tomorrow to the home of one of Lucius' sympathisers.'

Alexa has stopped listening, languid in the warmth of the afternoon sun, drawn to a moment of her own creation. Sent to protect the Seed, she couldn't remember his name until now. Ridiculous, such small moments eluding her recall, except there is something in this man she’s already grasped. So much forgotten when she fled, all tied to the same sequence of events. A moment in the Palace, hours after Ekhert took the sword from her hands. The Tether drug remained in her system, doing strange things to mind and body. Unable to sleep, she had walked the Palace in darkness, and heard movement from the Stables. There she had found him.

Maximilian.

The Directed whisper invades both men’s minds, compulsion that silences everything except their focus on her, drawing combined psychic strength into her own being. This compound is clever, sophisticated yet subtle, and now Alexa concentrates, boosting her range with those who surround her, task at hand far simpler. This mixture Olivia has provided has not reduced her potency, far from it. Consciousness is further heightened, understanding that what been drunk is actually improving the ability to locate her target…

'Just Max, the rest is a mouthful.'

The man stood, quietly grooming a grey mare. It had struck her as odd that the husband of the High Sister would be doing something so menial, but it had been apparent even without her ability that the simple process of brushing helped him relax, feel safe. She found herself envious, in that moment, of his serenity and calm, how unaffected he could be by the Earth, that to be so was an ability she could only attain beneath the surface of the water.

Then he’d attempted to start a conversation. She'd been rooted to the spot, desire suddenly beyond overwhelming, even though fraternising was forbidden. She hadn't cared then and she didn't now.

The past and present tug insistently, attempting to connect. Passion is what drives her, pleasure from control in all its forms, giving her vision an extra potency upstairs with Daniel. Her future, theirs, tied to two men, making body stutter with undoubted anticipation. Giving into her own arousal from the journey and now, she lets the World around her collapse, concertinaing to a single point of connection.

Max’s mouth is on hers with a force that takes her breath away, brutal kiss reducing the world to a small square of red paper, fluttering quietly away on the warm summer breeze...

'Alexa, can you hear me?'

Daniel is talking, out of direct field of vision, not part of what has taken her brain. She holds up her hand and tells him to wait, except they aren't words from her mouth or Direction but something entirely separate, enough to make Darkworth and Hilltop react simultaneously with incredulity. The command forms in the air, 'Wait' spelt with letters and meaning drawn in the shafts of sunlight from the high, uncovered windows.

In Alexa's mind she still stands in the Stables, oblivious to everything but Max.

The Stables.

The cartographer’s world is parchment, elegantly annotated sheets of facts and figures, folding onto itself: in and out, over and back. Drawings in a folder become living, breathing people, figures in a chase, the taste of adrenaline in her mouth transferred from his kiss, transformed back to her body. His voice, quiet and still, drawing anger away, sliver of calm in the moment of greatest terror.

‘I will always be inside you.’

The Imperial Summer House explodes, massive eruption from basement to roof, unconfined fireball which effectively destroys the entire structure in seconds. The stench of gunpowder is in the air, chaos as she stumbles and falls except she's not her any more, she is him.

Max and her are escaping from the Palace as one.

He's being helped to his feet by a woman, deceiving in serving robes, hand in his as both run towards a low cart, horses scared and impatient. Whoever she is he trusts her, that is apparent, but Alexa needs to see a face, to confirm an identity. Making him slow, holding back, the woman is forced to turn and see why, tugging on his arm, before there is a second of disorientation.

Alexa’s brain takes the present and inserts the past, missing pieces in a puzzle, allowing this woman’s history to interleave with her own. The story of a now-familiar face, their life and times is rapidly drawn, history illustrated, years of shared chronology coloured and illuminated. They had begun as students, together, until one day Alexa had become the teacher…

The air stretches around both women, present moving to past in a breath and it is early morning in the Guild’s Training Yard. Alexa is pulled towards her pupil, through and around, suddenly and decisively at her back with a blade strapped to each hand, beating her again in the simplest of drills. The apprentice has failed to intercept from behind because she refuses to focus. There's no way the teacher is ever going to change this woman's mindset if she won't concentrate on the basics...

'It's a setup.'

'What is?’

'One of the team, those you you sent in to free the Seed from the Palace. They're not allied to the Green Men. They're a double agent, working for the Military.’

The world falls back into place around Alexa's body. She exists fully again in the Storeroom, at least for now. Only a heartbeat is needed to assess everything she's just seen, and the path is clear. This is a direction to follow, points to join. Instinctive understanding, the Green Men's plan is flawed. She puts hands to head, palms hard against temples, willing back recall. Needing to convince Daniel of her sincerity, and it is always the names that fail her. Her mind throws a prompt: conflict after the Coup, smashing of china and glass, anger unbridled and unrestrained, a woman who wanted something she could never have. Whispers from everywhere that she was not to be trusted in those last days, already freelancing for the highest bidder, regardless of their affiliation. A mercenary, without honour or respect.

Desperately Alexa dives deeper, last fateful days at the Palace: an argument, heated and intense, fuelled by desire that went beyond professional appreciation. Marchant’s last and most promising apprentice had told her there was no future in independence, that teamwork was the most pointless of fallacies. Even at distance the venom in her words was obvious, simple focus on one thing alone: herself. Selfishness is a great path to destruction. Alexa knew then that Marion was trouble.

'There is no way I could possibly know who the Green Men had sent to do this job. Two days ago I was dead, no-one knew where I was. Except, it appears, the Sayers. They found me, and sent me a message, because the Seed was being used as a way to allow you to lead the High General straight to Lucius Brown. They understood I'd have an affinity with the spy: after all, I helped train her. Darkworth sent Marion Woodgrove to the Palace to work with Rudge.’

All colour suddenly drains from both men's faces.

Darkworth reacts first, anger exploding from his mind, body struggling to contain the detonation of disbelief and upset that radiates from him unchecked. Alexa needs no explanation: this deception from Woodgrove was different. His daughter’s duplicity in assisting the Sisters had come as no real surprise to him, but Marion had crept into his head, used the older man’s weaknesses as strengths to deceive. His own desire had ultimately undone him. All this she processes in seconds, understanding the drug is doing things to her mind she is increasingly unhappy with maintaining.

‘I’ve known her family for twenty years… I believed her when she said she’d changed, that she wanted to help. Her Direction was sincere…’

‘You were right, Daniel. Only this man can be trusted. Everybody else is complicit.’

Alexa’s statement is a prompt, focussed at Hilltop: suddenly guilt bursts from him in a wave. Grasping her hand he sends her an image: too obsessed trying to locate her, he’d failed to check Darkworth’s choice of personnel. There had been an assumption that Rudge would have raised an objection to her if there’d been one… but now Daniel too grasps revelation. If his loyalty is not for the Iliad…

He moves for the Sisters?

Alexa shows Daniel her past, contact with Rudge outside of the Palace, position as Physician at the Priory north of her village before moving to the Capitol. He had come for herbs, and she closed her mind whenever he did. Every card in this deck seemed stacked, yet the Sisters had failed to anticipate her ability to look beyond the carefully placed chronology. Again these connections weren’t clever, they were clumsy and opportunist.

With all she now knows, this travesty could be exposed for all to see.

Alexa grasps both men’s hands in her own and focuses, willing the room around all three to blossom open, walls peeling apart in effortless removal of the restrictions of the Earth. She pulls the past to her from their memories in the shop and from the Capitol: recalling their plan and placing within the damning positioning from Rudge and Olivia of them both. In a blink there is the future, echo of Riverman before, as Marion’s ‘predicted’ death at Alexa’s hands becomes reparation for treatment of various Sayer sympathisers, using Greengrass to balance the scales.

Max himself sits at the centre, life important above all else. Except, deep within Alexa’s soul, there is a beat that remains, untouched by anyone. The possibility of defiance: Max and Daniel, together.

‘We will always be inside you.’

She holds one close as the other protects, entangled together in lightening dawn, calmness without comparison, minds combined making her ache. What she is pales against their strength.

What they are together everyone will fear.


‘There is no magic in prediction, only the present to be manipulated.’

Alexa lies without thinking, muscle memory recalling the skills to hide what she knows is inevitable but yet cannot accept. They both pulse inside her, coming to rest, orgasms hard and brutal: the future lives untouched. This will happen, and she alone will bind the three, together.

The sides, finally joined.

‘Now I know why what Olivia was brewing smelt familiar. She’s Tethered you to Max.’

When his eyes meet hers Alexa wants to kiss Hilltop, hard and long, ignoring both the situation and Darkworth’s barely contained anger. That had been her problem with the Tether compound the last time, why Marchant had told her to avoid it. It was acting as an aphrodisiac she really didn’t need. The manipulation makes her angry and this will remove the desire, and that too is a reaction that the Sisters had anticipated. Her hatred for those behind this was an issue she would soon need to address.

‘You’re right, I am Tethered. She has placed many things inside my head I could really do without.’

‘You need not worry, I will provide you with an effective antidote, Mistress Greengrass. It is time my daughter's work be given to a wider audience.’

Darkworth moves with grim determination, crossing to a part of the storeroom filled with Alchemical Texts. Without ceremony he pushes a book backwards and there is a click, small drawer appearing under the row of shelves. He reaches inside, and pulls out a slim notebook, before handing it to Alexa.

‘I believe you will find within this book the formulas for both Vision and Tether compounds, delivered by a Priory Sister a week ago to my daughter. She asked for Rose Oil and Menthol two days later. I had assumed it was medicinal. Suddenly many things make a great deal more sense. I am pleased to see my decision to call on assistance now was not misjudged.’

Having temporarily dropped from the Tether bond, Alexa is only now aware of raised voices in the shop, undoubted sounds of an altercation, and Darkworth is gone, moving purposefully. About to follow, Daniel stops Alexa with a hand to her arm, and she understands this is not her fight. This is why he used arousal as distraction. Once Olivia’s complicity was confirmed, the only logical response became immediate action. Silas had called for help, and is dealing with one traitor. Now she and Daniel must confront the other.

With the drama in the shop, speech is at least possible, and voices drop to whispers.

‘The plan is to smuggle him out in the daily delivery cart, yes? The one that leaves from the main Stables? The attack was at the bottom of the south west wall close to where Marcus has his Summer House?'

‘All that from fifteen seconds of shared mind is impressive even for you.’

‘This is far more sophisticated than any Tether compound I ever took. He’s in my head now, under canvas, in a cart heading East. Where’s he going?’

'They're moving him to one of three possible locations on the North shore overnight, depending on how much military traffic is present. I don't know which one she’ll favour, that's Marion's choice. In the morning a courier’s being sent with details of where to go next. It’s considered too dangerous for Lucius to remain anywhere currently for too long, he could be at any one of half a dozen locations. I can arrange for someone to intercept him at first light-’

‘There’s no need. How fast can we get to the north shore?’

‘I already have people preparing what’s required. What I need to know is how capable you are of communicating with Max when the time comes.’

‘I think I’d like a canteen of this enhancement compound to take with us. With your ability for me to draw on and the reduced distance to Max it should be very effective at securing a quick and dirty bond.’

‘I’ll get Edward to bottle it for us once our traitor is dealt with.’

‘What will happen to her? Will Darkworth treat her well?’

‘She is a conspirator with the Sisters, who are not our immediate enemy. However, she cannot be allowed to be privy to anything now that transpires, we don’t trust anyone except ourselves and Silas. He will deal with her. She may yet prove useful if willing to co-operate.’

‘And your feelings for her?’

‘I would be lying if I said my devotion had laid with her for some time. You must know that.’

There is no time left for further emotional distraction, at least until such time as the Seed is secured and safe. In her mind the man is uncomfortable and hungry, but vastly relieved at being freed from the Palace. In time she is convinced she’ll find a way to use Direction to ascertain more.

‘I can work on forging a bond with Max as we travel north. Don’t worry, when the time comes, I know exactly how this plays out, and where. We’ll need to take the Ferry at Cross Keys. I’ll also need Darkworth to provide some specific anaesthetics before we depart… oh, and I could use a blowpipe. Because you know, old habits die hard.’

‘I think that’s all doable. Anything else?’

‘I would like a chance to talk. To you, unhindered.’

Daniel’s mind shifts as she appraises him, events being subtly reordered, and she knows he won’t respond: not simply does he have no idea where to start after five years, there are echoes from the message that she carries splintering throughout his consciousness. What she’s shared affects other parts of his brain, causing reactions he’s trying his best to suppress in her presence. Their intimacy is not at an end, that much is already apparent, but what happens after that is no longer dependant on the other.

Hilltop is acutely aware the Seed ties all three of them to each other.


==

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