DDC Feywild Dreams: 3

Valenia dreams of the hunt. She dreams of tracking her prey with Raine at her side, and her pack close by. It is a simple dream. It is a comfort dream, and it is a dream she shares with Raine. Their dreams are one, with visions overlapping and complementing as they close in on their quarry. They sidestep traps and treacherous terrain. They leap across rivers and weave through trees until they see their target. They are with someone, someone who is bent with teeth at their prey’s throat and who locks eyes with them as they approach.

Odif dreams in shades of grey and flashes of colour. The kindly dragon, the furry man, the wolf woman, the horned cuddles are all there. He is happy.

Caeluma sees their infernal father reaching for them and the holy symbol on their chest. His presence fills their lungs with brimstone, and leaches the strength from their limbs. In a cage at his belt Caeluma sees their mother. Beside it is an empty one with their name on it. As the demonic claw reaches for them, a bright hand intercepts, pushing the infernal one away. Gerlon the Morrowheart, Caeluma’s celestial patron, moves between them and forces the demonic presence back. The Morrowheart’s feathered wings spread to match Caeluma’s father’s leathern ones and the stench of brimstone is replaced with clean summer breezes and the promise of rest. Caeluma wakes, Shriken nestled against them in the shade of a tree, and a single enormous golden feather as long as his forearm resting on their chest.

DDC Feywild Dreams: 2

Kerne dreams of sisters – the Unburned Child and the Feytouched Warlock – and of her own flight from angry and scared villagers. She sees her younger sister learn to fade from sight and move unchallenged, aiding those in need. Her older sister walks in living landscapes and eternal dusk where time flows strangely in all directions. In a hut covered by snow, Kerne sees her brewing potions under the watchful eyes of hunched and dark eyed women. Kerne looks down at her own scaled hands and sees coiling serpentine energies running through her flesh, remaking her from moment to moment. A butterfly lands on her claw, and is still there when she opens her eyes.

Shriken dreams of flying. He dreams of catching up eating butterflies that have prettier wings than his. He dreams of breathing his breath of happiness in everyone’s faces while they sleep to bring them pleasant dreams. He dreams of sleeping curled round his master’s shoulders on a cold night beneath the trees. Shriken thinks he’s dreaming – but he’s never really been able to tell the difference.

DDC Feywild Dreams: 1

Thorin dreams of home, growing up at his father’s knee as he leads the local tribal defences against raiders and beasts. He feels the heat of the forge soften to that of the hearth – and at every turn his father is there with advice, his axe always to hand, or propped nearby. “Remember that you inspire as much at the knee as you do at the front of an army.” He says. Then he lays down his axe and the warmth of the hearth becomes the warmth of the dawning sun on Thorin’s face as he wakes.

Coal dreams of war and death. He sees the living struck down and raised again in undeath. He and his fellow soldiers march from forge to destruction in rigid locks top nonetheless. In his dream he flees and finds his own path, his own friends, his own family – but everywhere he looks he is reminded of the war. He sees elements of his fellow warforged soldiers rebuilt into new forms and with strangers’ faces. Surrounded now by his adopted family he is confronted with the serried ranks of a phalanx of rebuilt and misshapen fallen warforged. They beckon him and call out: “Come back to us. Rejoin the Triumphant Dead.”

Fiction Fragment: The Scribe

In the distance, he could hear the rumble and boom of battle getting closer. Dust fell sporadically, disturbed by the larger explosions, but he kept writing. Nothing stopped the scratch of his pen against paper, unless he needed to brush away debris fallen from the ceiling. Even then it was with an economy’s motion that barely broke the pace of The Work.

The Work would be completed. That had been decided, and so it would happen. Seething fields of probability collapsed into ordered rows of flowing cursive script to make it so. He deftly imposed his will on the process of the composition before him, and allowed himself a smile of contentment.

The moment stretched, poised on the tip of his pen, dragged against the inertia of time, and the shadows deepened around him. Pressure began to gather against his ears and across his skin, defying his steady progress as if the world had begun to hold its breath. Even a particularly loud boom of ordnance detonating right overhead did nothing to distract him.

Then he was done, and the only sound in the chamber was the click of the barrel of his pen as he laid it on the varnished tabletop surface beside the book.

There was another overhead rumble, but he paid it no attention. The future, or at least the moment he had calved away from nature’s flow, was now fixed in place. It spun from the linchpin of his design and this totem of declaration.

His task was done. Now the story would gather its strength and devour all opposition. He looked down, closed the book, and waited for the end.

Writing Nice Things

One of my colleagues has been working for the library for some 25 years now, and it’s always good to mark these things. My boss was nudged to write nice things to celebrate this and so this morning I received a plea for help in composing it. The email was titled: “R Citation”

The original call was for reminiscences but being the garrulous soul I am, I ended up with the following (slightly edited to preserve identities):

I must have been talking to too many Americans as the first thought on seeing ‘R Citation’ in the Subject was to wonder what she’d done now…

First impressions of R were of someone watchful and no nonsense – and then I got to know her and the sheer dryness of her humour was a joy. If we were busy we were given time and space to just get on with it – and if we weren’t then things could be found.

These days when asked to quickly describe R I use words and phrases like “bundle of energy”, “leaping into action”, and “don’t leave old paperwork around or it’ll go in the bin”. R is passionate about her work and about the library service. Watching her work is a lesson in managing to sprint along the tightrope between maintaining strict boundaries with the public, and going above and beyond the extra mile in pursuit of customer care. R’s distinctive voice and genuine interest in the people around her make her truly memorable to the people she meets and works with. Perhaps that’s the key to summing up R: she cares.

R has always been a kind and intuitive listener, even if – as she’ll be the first to tell you – she doesn’t always use the right words. I am now well used to phone-calls asking me to check over draft emails; asked to help turn direct and unvarnished language into considered and not-quite-so inflammatory directives. One of these days I’m sure she will produce some of the original drafts of her emails while writing her memoirs, and we can look forward to the series of explosions across the land.

R’s dedication to fitness is legendary, with swimming, running, and bottles of wine all being regular conquests in the race to keep ahead of the demands of work, family, and escape attempts by family pets. The sight of her bike propped up in Staines Library’s back rooms or corridors has often brought a smile when considering the pile of parcels delivered from Amazon that will then need to be carefully balanced on the return journey.

Perhaps the greatest testament to R is that when you mention her name, people’s faces light up. That’s a rare gift.

So, unsurprisingly my boss has said she’ll probably just use what I wrote. Perhaps I should send a mock invoice.

Short Story: Coal

In his dreams, Coal hears screams and the clink of chains rattling and sliding. Formless flashes of colour resolve into a series of static and disjointed scenes. His mind and body feel trapped in ice, unable to move or affect the parade of images forcing themselves on his mind’s eye. A cold lassitude lies on him, stealing his focus.

He sees the Last War, and the fighting in the streets against the risen dead. He remembers the sorcerous warriors clad in bone. The maniacs who slew the living and commanded their corpses, and the hatred in their eyes. He sees the Titans released. He sees buildings broken, bodies everywhere. He knows them.

Then he sees a face with horns curving from its temples. He hears shouts. He hears metal striking metal and the crackle of flames, and his eyes grow heavy.

Coal wakes. He is in a bed, limbs tangled in blankets and sheets. That alone gives him pause. Waking implies sleep and his kind don’t do that. Yet here he is, in a room he knows but rarely rests in.

Every part of him hurts. The enamels and brass-inlaid surfaces of his limbs are cracked, scorched, and riddled with holes. His joints whirr and crunch as he levers himself upright. His body, forged to fight where flesh would fail, has been greatly abused.

The cottonwool thickness shrouding his thoughts still lingers, deflecting his mind’s streams of awareness. The lenses in his eyes suddenly click and refocus, and with new purpose he pulls the sheet away.

The revealed wreckage of his body leaves him numb. There are rents in the steel plates, and missing panels that reveal damaged conduits, pistons, and cables woven to resemble bundles of muscles. There are scratches and gouges everywhere, and the discoloured blooms of scorching. What has happened?

Coal prods and tests the limits of the damage to his body in the morning half-light. With dispassionate care, he ascertains that he is functional and will heal. The act of assessing his own state allows his mind to start to catch up.

He remembers being restrained by dead things with the faces of friends. He remembers the bite of blades, and tubes being driven into him. He remembers the pale wight directing the corpses, and a man dressed in bones. He remembers the other two figures – warforged like himself – telling the wight what needed to be done.

Above all, he remembers the carcass of the reassembled Titan and what they did to him, and why.

His scream startles a cat-sized dragon snoozing in the rafters and it flees the room as fast as its butterfly wings can carry it.

He hears cries of alarm downstairs. Feet pound on the stairs. He is not alone.

An Evening of Writing

I’ve been doing some more writing this evening, specifically to flesh out one of my short stories to a better length for the planned collection. The piece I’ve selected was around 3000 words when I started, and has now over doubled in size to around 7000 words.

I’m aiming to get each of the stories to between 5000 and 10000 words, though there are some that work as flash fiction that I may preserve. There are also some other seeds of stories that I’ve scribbled ideas or paragraphs for.

All in all then, a successful evening after a slightly tense working day. Hopefully I can keep this momentum up.

Above all else, I have at least managed to resist the temptation to actively write about anyone I know. Honest.

Fiction Fragment: Try Again

“Come back when you’ve got your real face on. You’ve done it once, and you’ll feel better for it.” Robert hesitated at the door, nodded compliance, and closed it behind him. Quiller sat back and let out a sigh he’d barely noticed had been building.

Half an hour later, there was another knock at the door and the sound of someone clearing their throat. This time it was Rebecca, and she looked nervous until Quiller ushered her in and offered to put the kettle on.

She settled in the chair by the window and waited while he fussed with the cups and their contents. The proffered beverage, when it came, was hot and sugary and just the right temperature to warm all the way down. Quiller stayed quiet while she sipped at it, and then opened a notepad.

“Better?”

“Better.”

“Let’s start again then shall we? You said there was something odd going on?”

Fiction Fragment: Break In

He’d been dozing lightly when the alarm went off, his phone screen dazzling in the gloom. He grabbed it and hit the icon that shut the noise off, which also darkened the screen again. Quiet returned to the storage room he’d hidden in.

He was surrounded by racks of clothing; each item shrouded in thin plastic dust covers. Between those and the carefully sealed and labelled boxes, the entire wardrobe inventory of the drama department had been his hiding place. With no performances scheduled for months, he’d been reasonably sure no one would have disturbed him.

He checked the time, more out of habit than anything else, and listened for any signs of life. Nothing could be heard, and there was only a very dim light showing under the door. He decided to risk it, and slowly turned the knob of the lock to prise the door open.

The corridor beyond was lit only by moonlight, with no lights from the windows on the opposite side of the lightwell. The hard-wearing carpet tiles made barely a sound as he moved towards the door at the end of the corridor. Beyond that was the bottom of the staircase to the main floor, but more importantly there was also the offices of the IT team.

Since being cut off from his allowance, he’d taken to stealing opportunistically whatever he could so he could keep flashing the cash around. He’d seen the delivery earlier that afternoon of a load of laptops, and figured it was a sign from the universe. Sneaking in to the storeroom for a few hours until everyone had gone was a small price to pay. He could break in, steal a few, then hide back out until the morning so he didn’t trigger any alarms.

Walking round the next corner, just as a couple of balaclava-clad men were already kicking in the IT engineers’ prep room hadn’t been in the plan…

Fiction Fragment: The Approach

The house was in good condition, with well-maintained greenery and a healthy hawthorne bush trained around the length of the front garden wall. The spikes and shoulders height span were neatly trimmed so as not to snag passers-by. He knew from personal experience how painful it would be to push through.

There was a lot of folklore surrounding hawthorne. Depending on who you asked it was sacred to elves, or fairies, or proof against witches or anything else that went bump in the night. When pressed however, even the most ardent occultist would admit it was usually just planted as a very good deterrent against burglars. If the occasional goblin or young child got snagged in it, well that was just a bonus.

Not being either of the latter, Quiller instead opened the gate, and after securing it behind him walked up the garden path to the front door. If he was as paranoid as Dyers had claimed he could have spent more time looking for problems or traps, but he felt that the odds of there being mantraps or tripwires lying in wait for delivery companies were fairly long.

When he reached the porch without incident, or even being blinded by a security light, he felt justified in that belief.