July 18, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Roost

battlementsThis follows on from last week’s flash, The Sleeping Army.

Artemuse followed the passage, and it didn’t take her long to realise that it coiled upward in a tight spiral. She had no idea where the vaal’kyr roost would be, but it didn’t surprise her that winged creatures might prefer to live above the city, as opposed to under it. Her skin prickled, longing to shed itself in favour of her soft white feathers, and she rubbed her arms to distract herself. She couldn’t fly, not down here.

She wondered how Eddister was getting on, if the Sleeping Army was on the march. Should she still call them the Sleeping Army, or were they now the Awake Army? Artemuse stifled a giggle, and then shuddered. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept. Sleep deprivation must be starting about now.

Without warning the passage opened out into a small chamber, and a thick wooden door blocked her onward progress. A huge iron ring served as a handle, and she hauled on it, fully expecting the door to be locked. Instead, the door swung towards her, and the roar of the wind filled the passage.

Artemuse peered around the door, her eyes confused by the bright daylight beyond. She forced herself out of the chamber and onto a wide platform, bounded by high battlements on three sides. Vast nests, made of ebony and oak, lined the platform along one side, hugging the shelter of the battlement behind them.

Vast empty nests, thought Artemuse.

The vaal’kyr had already left their roost.

Momentary panic seized Artemuse, no longer sure of what to do. She’d thought her part in this drama would end with the ringing of the Death Knell, but the refusal of the Monarch to intervene had forced her to involve Eddister, and the Sleeping Army. He had sent her up here to speak with the vaal’kyr but now they were already on their way to the city.

Speaking of which, where was the city?

Artemuse clambered up the wall behind the nests, digging her fingers and toes into gaps between the stones. She looked over the battlement and gasped. The roost was indeed within the city, and she guessed that it was built into the side of the palace itself. The reason no one had ever noticed such a massive structure was obvious once she looked down at the glimmering, flickering city below.

The roost was on the astral plane. Somehow, she didn’t know how, she’d managed to reach the astral whilst still in her physical body.

The confusion forced her backwards, and she sat down with a thump, pressing her back against the comforting solidity of the wall.

“What do I do now?” She needed to ask the question allowed, yet the sound echoed, sending ripples throughout the astral plane. Artemuse winced. Her plan had never extended this far, and she’d felt comfortable handing control to Eddister. Only she couldn’t do what he’d told her to do, and now he was probably miles away, leading the Army to the Plains. The guards would be worse than useless, and she couldn’t go back to the Monarch…which just left the Queen.

Artemuse kicked herself for not thinking of it sooner. The Queen was the most powerful mage in Rhodenius, and while she didn’t understand astral magic, she’d be able to take charge and allow Artemuse to return to the tower. It was possible that she even knew about the Army, although Eddister’s existence was probably one mystery too far.

She stood, and moved away from the nests. The desire to fly uncoiled in her chest, and she allowed herself to be buffeted by the wind that roared across the platform. Her cloak rippled behind her, and her skin erupted into thousands of soft white feathers. The call of the snowy owl escaped from her throat before her mouth morphed into a beak. Her wings pulled her into the air, and lifted her above the platform.

Artemuse sailed over the battlements, and a loud pop that hurt her ears told her she’d broken the barrier between the astral and physical planes. The cold air rushing either side of her overcame the pressure change, and she spiralled down towards the palace courtyard.

The Queen would know what to do.

To be continued next week!

Clouds image by data9090 and battlements image by ColinBroug. Edits by me.

July 15, 2014

Meet my Main Character

Apprentice_eBook_smallI’ve been tagged in the Meet my Main Character blog tour by Rebecca Clare Smith, so I’ve decided I’ll join in the fun.

Here are the rules:

The taggee must write a post answering the same seven questions about their MC (main character). Then the taggee becomes the tagger and chooses five other authors.

I wasn’t actually sure which to use – Grey O’Donnell, Jyximus Faire, or even Fowlis Westerby, my beloved Cavalier ghost. That said, as The Necromancer’s Apprentice is my most recent title, I figured I’d put Jyximus under the spotlight. He’s the eponymous Apprentice, and the character most readers have yelled at whilst reading the book!

1. What is the name of your main character? Is he a fictional or a historical person?

Jyximus Faire. And fictional.

2. When and where is the story set?

I’m not entirely sure as to the ‘when’ – as with a lot of stories in fantasy settings, the time is that odd hinterland of different eras. I suppose there’s an element of the Victorian to it, but with Renaissance thrown in. It’s set in both the Underground City, which is where Jyx’s family lives, and the City Above, where Jyx studies magic and begins life as an apprentice at the House of the Long Dead.

3. What should we know about him?

He’s impatient. VERY impatient. He has a lot of talent and a lot of potential but unfortunately he knows it – he believes the Academy is holding him back and he studies magick he’s not really ready for.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

Ironically the one thing that should be the start of an amazing life – going to work with the Necromancer General, Eufame Delsenza. She gives him simple tasks and he demonstrates the same impatience that gets him into trouble at school.

5. What is his personal goal?

It would be easy to think of Jyx as being a bit of an idiot, or even arrogant, about his abilities, but his impatience comes from a very innocent place – he wants to do well in life so he can lift his mother and siblings out of poverty. If he can just make it as a mage, or better yet as an assistant to Eufame, then they can leave the slums of the Underground City. He wants power but not necessarily for himself, more what it would enable him to do for others.

6. Is there a working title for this novel and can we read more about it?

It’s called The Necromancer’s Apprentice, and it’s available at Amazon, Smashwords, B&N and Kobo. There is also heaps of extra content available through my Underground City category, where I’ve got links to blog posts that discuss the world building in greater depth. You can also check it out on Goodreads where there are lots of lovely reviews.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

It came out in March this year, and work on the sequel is underway!

Right, so now I’m going to tag…

  • Nerine Dorman
  • Sonya Clark
  • Tony Noland
  • Steven Montano
  • River Fairchild

July 14, 2014

Exploring the Underground City for real!

One of Edinburgh's closes on a fogbound night!

One of Edinburgh’s closes on a fogbound night!

I’ve never been much of a fan of the paranormal TV series Most Haunted, mostly due to their melodramatic histrionics, but I did decide to watch a ten year old episode at the weekend purely because the team were in Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh! I’ve visited the Close myself in March 2012, and it went on to inspire the Underground City in The Necromancer’s Apprentice, so I left it on TV so my mum could see what the Close looks like – and as I’m in the planning stages of book two, it seemed like a good way to ‘revisit’ the inspiration.

Mary King’s Close lies below the Royal Mile in Edinburgh – a close is simply a narrow street, and a whole network of them makes up the city’s Old Town. This particular close was named for Mary King, a prominent businesswoman who lived in the close in the 1630s. Originally open to the air, it was built over during the seventeenth century, and some of its floors now form part of the foundations of the Royal Exchange. Being buried under the Royal Exchange, many theories abound as to what must have happened in its murky depths, from plague victims being walled up alive, to rampant murder. Either way, it’s now a tourist attraction, and visitors can explore the weird atmosphere of the four connected closes (Mary King’s, Pearson’s, Stewart’s and Allen’s Closes).

Whether there are any ghosts down there I really don’t know, but there is something really odd about seeing a street, complete with windows, doors and gas lamps…and no sky above it all. Apparently some of the buildings reach to seven stories high, so that should give you some idea of the scale of the tenements in the Underground City. Many of the alleys in the Underground City are also called closes, and they’re connected by shadowy passages in which dark beings lurk.

For anyone who wants a taste of the street that inspired the Underground City, or they’re just curious about a buried street, then you can watch the full episode of Most Haunted on YouTube.

Otherwise you can read some stories set in the Underground City here, or you can buy The Necromancer’s Apprentice on Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. There is more about The Necromancer’s Apprentice on Goodreads. I’m also starting a merchandise range inspired by the book over on Etsy! Enjoy!

Have you ever been to Mary King’s Close?

July 14, 2014

#FilmReview – Maleficent

Maleficent has long been a favourite cinematic character of mine, as well as my favourite Disney character, and I was originally dismayed to learn that she was to be given her own film. I was even more dubious after the Wicked Witch of the West was so utterly ruined by Oz the Great and Powerful – I was genuinely worried that Disney might sanitise the Mistress of All Evil, or try to give her a romantic backstory. I’ll be honest, the presence of Angelina Jolie is pretty much the only thing that convinced me to give the film a try. Surely a strong woman and a self-confessed Maleficent fan wouldn’t let them ruin her!

Maleficent tells the Sleeping Beauty story from a different perspective to the original cartoon, granting us an insight into why she would go to such trouble to curse a baby – surely her anger at not being invited couldn’t be the only reason. We see her in her original form, as a beautiful winged fairy, determined to protect the magical moors on which she lives. This Maleficent, all eagle wings and long hair, is essentially a fairy eco-warrior, driving back the greedy humans who want to exploit the riches of the moors. Betrayed by the one human she thought she could trust, a young man named Stefan who promised her true love, and mutilated through the removal of her wings, Maleficent’s (justifiable) anger drives her to bring darkness to the moors. Scenes of walls exploding as she passes brought to mind Carrie from the 1976 film – this is a woman for whom anger needs a very physical outlet. Maleficent recruits a raven servant, Diaval (Sam Riley) and begins to spy on the now-King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a man very much in the mould of Stardust‘s Septimus. When Stefan and the Queen have a baby, Maleficent decides to bestow her own gift at the christening.

This is where the film begins to unspool as a version of the 1959 Sleeping Beauty, albeit one from a different perspective. We see Maleficent watching over the young princess – but more crucially, we also see her continue to protect the moors and heal damage. This is not the cruel Mistress of All Evil we might have expected. This is more an angry woman, grieving the loss of her wings and projecting her hatred onto a baby. As Aurora (Elle Fanning) grows up and begins to see Maleficent as her Fairy Godmother, Maleficent soon realises that Aurora is not the enemy – indeed, she’s probably the only one who can finally end the human’s lust for the moors. Aurora becomes the pure-hearted human than Maleficent thought no longer existed. That’s when she ventures into more ‘grey’ territory, as the villain begins to adopt heroic qualities ‘for the greater good’.

In essence, the film turns Maleficent into an anti-hero – and an exceptionally stylish one at that. Despite her anger, she retains a wry sense of humour, and a strange sense of responsibility for the child she has cursed. I genuinely could not see anyone but Angelina in the title role – and I like to think that a lot of Maleficent’s strength comes from Jolie herself. At its heart, Maleficent is a story of disempowerment at the hands of a man – and re-empowerment through the intervention of another woman. Indeed, the whole film is really a story about women and their relationships. Stefan’s betrayal of Maleficent might be the catalyst that sparks the conflict but the rest of the narrative is concerned with the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora, where one is malevolent the other is benevolent, and their bond leaves no space for Stefan, or even the rather wet Prince Philip, who only appears near the end of the film. Where Sleeping Beauty removed Aurora’s voice and gave her a handful of lines throughout the entire film, Maleficent gives her back her voice – so I guess you could argue that the film doesn’t just rehabilitate Maleficent, it also does the same for Aurora (who was originally so insipid she was painful to watch).

I still don’t know how much the Mistress of All Evil needed a back story, and I still think that the treatment of Maleficent in this film tries to insist she’s not evil, just misunderstood. That said, one of the original Maleficent’s attractions was her elegance and her ability to act – both of which are preserved in this film. However, where her actions in the 1959 cartoon seem to be inspired by pure but inexplicable evil, her actions in this version are at least given a context and motivation. However, I think the film’s embrace of women, and the positive relationships that can exist between them, is definitely a step in the right direction, particularly for a company like Disney.

4/5

July 11, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Sleeping Army

romanThis is part four in my Astral Mage serial, following on from The Guardian last week!

Artemuse followed Eddister through a maze of narrow corridors, their ceilings so low that even Artemuse had to duck. In places, Eddister simply crawled. Artemuse fought the rising panic that clutched at her gut, focussing on a point on Eddister’s back instead of the walls that appeared to close in at every turn. She’d grown used to the wide expansive sky surrounding her tower, to the feeling of spring breezes and an owl’s eye view of the world. These cramped tunnels were no place for her.

“Is it much further?” she asked.

“No.”

“Where are we?”

“Far below the city. These tunnels were built by the Death Cult – they originally ran below their central temple.”

They rounded a corner and the passage terminated in darkness. Eddister plunged ahead, disappearing through the doorway into a chamber beyond.

Artemuse’s eyes adjusted to the new gloom, and she found herself in a huge cavern. Darkness replaced the ceiling and the far end of the cavern – she could not begin to guess its size. Yet it was not the vastness of the of the cavern that caught her attention. Instead, her eyes were drawn to the monumental stone statues in front of her. Warriors sat astride giant chargers, and archers stood with huge bows hanging at their backs.

“Arti, meet the Sleeping Army,” said Eddister, sweeping his arm towards them and dipping into a low bow.

“Who were they?”

“Who are they, you mean! They’re only asleep. The Death Cult crafted them as a defence of the city, but as word of the vaal’kyr spread, fewer people attacked, and so they came down here to rest. It makes me wonder that Lord Draumir would take the risk.”

“Perhaps he has forgotten the vaal’kyr. Or perhaps he thinks them no match for his own wraiths.”

Eddister moved away between the statues. Even at his lofty height he still only reached the knee of the nearest warhorse. A flicker of hope sparked in Artemuse’s heart.

“Lord Draumir would stand no chance against such an army as this.”

“Exactly. The Monarch does not even know they exist. Many of the city scholars believe them to be simply myth, so they use the haze of legend to keep them in peace.” Eddister smiled, and Artemuse suspected he enjoyed his role as Guardian. She wasn’t sure what else he did with his days, but the Sleeping Army was a prize worth protecting.

“How do we wake them up?” she asked.

“You’ll have to do that. They’re asleep on our plane, but I assure you they’re wide awake on the astral plane. You’re the only astral mage I know.”

“What do I say to them? How do I ask them to wake up?”

“Explain the situation to them. If you can, seek out Lord Festiniog. He’s the battalion leader. He’ll sort out the rest. This is him,” said Eddister, pointing to a handsome man in spiked armour, sat astride a charger. The streaming mane of the horse was frozen in stone.

Artemuse made herself comfortable on the rough earth floor of the cavern, and closed her eyes. She reached out with her senses, feeling the pull of the astral plane, and clambered out of her mortal body. Seeing with her mind’s eye, the cavern was vast, and its ceiling was covered in beautiful paintings. She had no time to wonder how the Death Cult put them there, so high above the cavern floor.

The Sleeping Army milled about in the cavern. Small groups of men sat in clearings among the statues, laughing and telling stories of their exploits in war. Other men slept, and a few at the far end of the cavern practised their swordplay. Artemuse scanned their faces, seeking Lord Festiniog.

She found him near the doorway through which she and Eddister had come. He had watched their entrance, and he leaned against the wall of the cavern, the very picture of a soldier at ease. On the astral plane she found the Sleeping Army a more regular size, and Lord Festiniog was closer to the height of Eddister.

“I do not know you,” said Lord Festiniog as she approached.

“Nor I you, though I would have need of your services.”

“An astral mage seeking an army? Would you like to play at war?”

Artemuse had little time for verbal sparring, and told the commander what she’d seen approaching the city. She explained how the Monarch had not believed her, and had intended her for imprisonment, and she finished her tale with her visit to Eddister. Lord Festiniog listened carefully, scowling at the Monarch’s inaction.

“These people place a lot of faith in your abilities, Lady Owl,” he said as she finished.

“I know what I saw.”

“Then we must lend you our aid. The city never fell during our time, I see no reason for it to fall now.”

Artemuse hurried back to her body as Lord Festiniog rounded up his men to explain the situation. As she awoke, once again imprisoned in flesh and bone, she realised that Eddister had not moved from his position by the charger. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought that mere seconds had passed during her foray onto the astral plane.

“What did he say?” asked Eddister.

“He’s in. They’re going to wake up.”

“Good. I’ll lead them out, there are other tunnels more suited to their size, but you need to visit the vaal’kyr roost. You need to tell them what they face.”

Artemuse blanched.

“You want me to speak to the vaal’kyr myself?”

“I can think of none more qualified.” Eddister smiled. “Now take that door there, and simply follow the corridor. It will lead you straight to them.”

Artemuse hurried across the cavern towards the doorway. Vast sounds of creaking stone and grinding rock filled the air behind her as she plunged once again into the darkness of the tunnels.

Continues next week…

July 8, 2014

Cinematic Influences of the Magic Born Series

Everyone knows I’m a massive fan of Sonya Clark, and I reviewed her latest release, Witchlight, two days ago. I’m very pleased to be able to welcome her to the Cabinet of Curiosities today, to talk about cinematic influences of the Magic Born series! Take it away, Sonya!

WitchlightBooks and film may be different mediums, but all forms of storytelling can influence each other. In writing the Magic Born series, I was influenced by a few movies in particular that made a deep impression. The series is a mix of things: futuristic dystopian, romance, murder mystery, political commentary, next level urban fantasy, and a combination of magic and cyberpunk that I like to call witchpunk.

When you talk about futuristic dystopias, there’s no avoiding Blade Runner. I first saw this classic sci-fi as a child and it has stayed with me ever since. A massive cityscape, the extremes of privilege and poverty, and the singular image of a neon-filled, rain-soaked night−those things were in my head as I began to construct my fictional city of New Corinth.

In the Magic Born world, witches are identified by DNA test at birth and sent to live in urban zones, with no citizenship rights. Not every city has a zone. New Corinth is home to Magic Born Zone Number Thirteen, known locally as FreakTown.

The film Chinatown inspired the nickname for the zone. The movie’s twist and turn mystery plot with a highlight on corruption and family secrets is textbook noir. When outlining the plot for Trancehack, the first book in the Magic Born trilogy, I knew I wanted some of that flavor. A high-profile murder, a cop set up to be a fall guy, blackmail, politics, secrets and lies−I’ll always think of this book as my 1940s noir set in 2065. No one actually says to Detective Nate Perez, “Forget it, Nate, it’s FreakTown,” but only because I couldn’t find a place to make it fit.

The magic in this series is urban-based. Instead of invoking fire and earth, many of the witches in this world call on neon and concrete. Spelled apps and hex viruses are also part of the magical fabric. Using astral projection to enter cyberspace is called trancehacking, and it is my favorite bit of magic in the series.

So where did that come from? A lot of different sources, but visually it was inspired by imagery that made a lasting impression from another movie from my childhood−Tron. Neon color against a vast electronic night gave me a place to start, but the internet really opened up what a trancehacker could do, where they could go. That freedom was especially meaningful to characters trapped in the magic zones, forbidden by law from traveling or making a better life for themselves elsewhere. Here’s an excerpt:

In a quiet corner of cyberspace, he stopped to rest. In realspace he sat at his desk, eyes closed, stylus wand in one hand and tablet in the other. Pain behind his temple and squeezing the back of his head like a vise tried to kick him out of trance. He breathed through it until it subsided into a dull throb.

Vadim had taken refuge in the murky remains of a defunct site. Curious, he pushed energy into it. A ghostly echo of mournful song rose from the broken code, patchy and falling into silence at odd moments. Faint color rose around his avatar, a washed-out gold that shimmered as magic wafted through the site like a gentle breeze. He could have made sense out of something deleted more recently but this had to be decades old. There wasn’t enough HTML left to figure out the original purpose of the site. Beyond the faded lines of gold lay a vast expanse of velvet black. In the distance, bright lights shone like stars burning in a spectrum of color. A galaxy full of energy and information and worlds he could never touch while trapped in FreakTown. Melancholy rose from that part of himself that still yearned for something more, a part he’d learned over the years to keep locked up tight and hidden away. The emotion filled in the parts of the music skipped by broken code, turning it into a heavy, bass-laden industrial rhythm. Dark as empty cyberspace. Almost as dark as the realspace he existed in.

The pressure in his head told him he didn’t have much time left before he’d have to drop out of trance. As quickly as he could, he crafted a search spell and planted a marker in the site. With a push of will he cast the spell and watched it spread out in a ripple of electric blue. He would return for the information the search spell gathered as soon as he was able to trancehack again.

There is another cinematic influence for Witchlight, book two in the series, in particular. As it’s the middle book of the trilogy, I realized I was going to have to freeze someone in carbonite, but I can’t talk about that without giving away too many spoilers!

Thanks for popping over, Sonya! Witchlight is book two of the Magic Born series, and is published by Carina Press, having been released on June 30, 2014. It’s considered ‘Futuristic Paranormal Romance’, and is available in digital formats from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book retailers.

About the author: Sonya Clark grew up a military brat and now lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter. She writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance with a heavy helping of magic and lot of music for inspiration. Learn more at http://www.sonyaclark.net and sign up for her new releases announcement list at http://eepurl.com/bT3NL.

July 6, 2014

#BookReview – Witchlight

I’ve been a fan of Sonya Clark’s work for a while, and I reviewed Trancehack, book one in this series, back in May. I was quite glad to get my hands on Witchlight, although fans of Nate and Calla, the couple in Trancehack, may be disappointed that the sequel follows a different couple. Here’s the blurb from Amazon

Book two of Magic Born

In 2066, the Magic Born are segregated in urban reservations. The laws do not protect them, or their allies.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden is a powerful player in New Corinth politics, but a closely guarded secret could destroy her life—she’s a hidden Magic Born. Her family has gone to great lengths to erase all her magic-related records, until a trancehacking outlaw discovers the last remaining one…

Vadim Bazarov smuggles Magic Borns through the underground railroad and threatens to reveal Elizabeth’s secret unless she helps him access blank ID cards. Elizabeth wants to hate him for having a stranglehold on her life, but can’t help being attracted to someone so sure of who and what he is.

Vadim initially sees her as a political ice queen, but is intrigued by her suppressed magical abilities. He trains Elizabeth to use her magic, and before long finds himself falling for her. But their newfound love may be shortlived; an anti-magic ordinance forces one of them to make a choice that will change both their lives for good.

I’d always quite liked Vadim in book one, although we didn’t see a great deal of him, and Elizabeth had a cameo during one of Nate’s press showings. She hadn’t made a massive impression on me and I was concerned how well she’d hold up as a main character in Witchlight. She’s an odd character – strong and icy in public, childlike and vulnerable in private, and flirtatious and passionate with Vadim. I suppose it’s testament to Clark’s writing that the combination works, and demonstrates the complex way that personalities work in real life.

Vadim is still as likeable as ever, and equally as complex as Elizabeth. I was pleased to see Nate and Calla throughout the narrative, but Witchlight also deepens the universe in which the books are set. We learn more about the darknet through Vadim’s own trancehacking, as well as understanding New Corinthian politics through Elizabeth’s position as a councilwoman. This is not some random backdrop to a paranormal romance story – New Corinth has its own moods and rules, and is as much of a character as any of the protagonists.

As ever, the parallels with segregation are obvious, with FreakTown becoming a “concentration camp” within the city. Given the breakdown in human relations that we see every day on the news, the world depicted in the Magic Born books isn’t so implausible after all. The magic takes more of a front seat in this book – unlike Trancehack, in which only one of the couple was Magic Born, both Vadim and Elizabeth are magic users, and Elizabeth’s empowerment through embracing her abilities is a positive step forward for women within this genre.

It’s a gripping read – I literally read the final 44% in one sitting. I think I want to dub these books the start of a new genre – witchpunk. Now Clark just needs to hurry up and release book three… *hint hint*

Five out of five!

You can buy Witchlight from Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

July 4, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Guardian

Image by Georges Jansoone (JoJan), via Wikimedia Commons

This piece follows on from last week’s flash, The Monarch. This has inadvertantly turned into a serial!

Word must have spread among the guards as no one stopped Artemuse during her flight from the Palace. She left the shining building behind her and plunged into the murky depths of the Old Town, a crumbling maze of dilapidated tenements and ramshackle shops. She made her way between the usual denizens of the quarter who had crept outside to enjoy the early morning sun. Her cloak of owl feathers flapped around her ankles but she daren’t take flight so early in the day.

The Palace stood at the top of a cliff, and the Old Town clung to the side of the hill as it curves down into the valley. A huge gatehouse stood at the far end of the Old Town, built out of the cliff itself. A narrow iron grille hid in the shadows beside the gatehouse, ignored or unobserved by most who passed by. Artemuse wriggled out of the throng of those heading to the market in the Artisan Quarter beyond the gate, and made her way to the grille. A few whispered charms were enough to make it swing inwards.

Artemuse slipped into the rocky passage that led down to the Catacombs. These were not the Royal Catacombs, hewn from the rock just below the Palace to house the royal dead, but rather the original catacombs of Balzarin, the ancient city upon which Rhodenius was founded.

The air was cool and still in the passage, and Artemuse needed no light to see in the dark. She padded downwards until she could hear running water. The underground stream, rumoured to be a tributary of the mighty Styx itself, marked the start of the Catacombs.

A chamber opened out before her, and doorways were cut into the stone of the opposite wall. The stream ran through the middle of the room, appearing and disappearing through low arches, and symbolically marking the boundary between Life and Death. A figure sat on a stool on the Death side of the stream, a floppy hat low on his head, casting his face in shadow. He wore a woolen cloak of the same shade of grey as the rock around him. A book lay open in his lap, and Artemuse could barely make out the arcane writing on its pages.

“Eddister!” Artemuse hailed the man. He looked up, and she could make out the dim lines of his face. He smiled and closed the book.

“Young Artemuse! How goes it?”

“It’s terrible – I need your help.”

Moving to the edge of the stream, Artemuse told Eddister her tale, culminating in the assistance of the guards and her descent below the city. He nodded as she spoke.

“Yes, the Vaal’kyr have been roused. They will reach Rhodenius by nightfall, I should imagine. However do not worry, you will be no payment for their services,” replied Eddister.

“That’s not what concerns me. We need the Monarch to raise the army. The Vaal’kyr can dispatch the wraiths that Lord Draumir brings, but they won’t have time to stop his warriors as well.”

“The Monarch is complacent, it’s true, but he won’t raise the army because he fears them. If they become war-hungry, he worries they may return from battle in a belligerent mood, and attack Rhodenius itself.” Eddister laid the book on the floor beside his stool and stood. Artemuse had forgotten how tall the Guardian was – at least six and a half feet.

“Could that happen?”

“It’s possible. He’s weak but he’s not an idiot.” Eddister removed his hat, and a cascade of red hair fell about his shoulders. The shade of red made Artemuse think of the foxes she observed by night – and Eddister was just as cunning.

“So what do we do?”

“We wake the other army.” Eddister grinned.

“The other army?”

“You don’t think the Death Cult relied on just the Vaal’kyr, do you?”

Eddister moved to the edge of the stream and held out his hand. Artemuse grasped it, and leapt across the water. He held her hand for a fraction longer than was necessary, before bending to slide both the book and the stool inside his hat. Without a word, he put the hat back on his head, and disappeared through the middle doorway in the wall.

Artemuse followed.

Continues next week with The Sleeping Army!

June 27, 2014

#FridayFlash – The Monarch

throne

This piece follows on from last week’s flash, The Tower.

Artemuse stood in the Throne Room of the Great Palace, hands bound behind her back. She had donned her cloak of feathers before she was arrested in the Bell Tower. Two of the Palace Guards flanked her, brandishing their halberds as though she were a threat to the realm. The guard from the Bell Tower stood to one side, sullen and sporting a new bruise around his left eye, punished for sleeping on the job.

The Monarch sat before them, his throne on a raised dais below a vast stained glass window. He glared at the Bell Tower guard, before turning his gaze to Artemuse. He pursed his lips as though her very presence polluted the Throne Room.

“You rang the Death Knell. Without permission.”

“There wasn’t time to seek permission. Forces approach from the north, Your Majesty.”

“So you say.”

Artemuse scowled. She knew the Monarch was a near-sighted moron whose favourite place to bury his head was the sand, but she had hoped that even he might realise she wouldn’t ring the Death Knell unless it was absolutely vital.

“None of my guards have seen these approaching forces.”

“They’re only looking with their eyes, Your Majesty.”

The Queen leaned across to her husband’s throne, and laid a hand on his arm. She whispered something beneath her breath before she spoke aloud.

“Artemuse is a talented Astral Mage, my dear.”

“So you say.”

The Queen rolled her eyes and sat back in her own throne, a smaller and less ornate copy of the Monarch’s seat of power. Artemuse frowned. The Queen was a powerful mage in her own right, specialising in water magic. If the Monarch wouldn’t listen to her, then he certainly wouldn’t listen to Artemuse. The situation required brutal honesty.

“Your Majesty, if I may be frank, these forces are on their way and they will arrive at the city in two days – maybe less, considering all of these delays. You must raise the army and meet them on the Lesian Plains. The element of surprise will be your best weapon.” Artemuse glared at the Monarch.

“You have rung the Death Knell and so roused the Vaal’kyr. They will be upon us in hours – surely they will be adequate protection?”

Rhodenius was a bustling metropolis, often considered the very epitome of life itself, but it had its foundations within an ancient necropolis, and its roots lay in the old Death Cult that once ruled the area. The Vaal’kyr were the last remnants of the Cult, winged protectors of the city. Legend said they would only respond to the Death Knell – but their assistance often came with a price.

“They will help, but the oncoming forces have their own astral beings. The Vaal’kyr cannot fight the living and the dead at the same time. They need backup from the army to take care of the living warriors.”

The Monarch furrowed his brow, and a flicker of hope sparked in Artemuse’s heart. The spark died as he gave her a customary haughty look.

“I will take what you say under advisement – it is worth investigation at least. However, it must be borne in mind that you have roused the Vaal’kyr without permission or authorisation, and they will demand payment. It seems fitting that we should give them…you.”

“My dear! You cannot give Artemuse to the Vaal’kyr!” The Queen clutched the Monarch’s arm.

The Monarch fell silent and flicked his hand at his guards. They marched Artemuse out of the Throne Room, and along the warren of corridors that led away from the shining heart of the Palace. For a few moments Artemuse could hear the Queen bellowing insults at the Monarch, but the walls thickened as they descended towards the dungeons, and the shouts faded into whispers.

“Is it true what you said, about the banners? And the skulls?” The guard to her right broke the silence.

“All of it was true.”

“That’s Lord Draumir.” The guard to her left spoke now, awe colouring his tones in the dim light of the corridor that led to the cells.

“It is.”

“But…he leaves nothing left alive. Someone has to do something.” The guard to her right fell out of step with her.

“I tried, but you heard what the Monarch said.”

Suddenly her bonds loosened, and her arms fell freely at her sides. She looked down at the severed knot, and turned to face the guards.

“Go. We’ll come up with a story.” The guard who’d cut her bonds gestured back up the corridor towards the square of light that was the lower tier of the Palace.

“What would be plausible?” asked the other guard.

“Tell them that I appeared to faint, and you paused to check if I was still breathing, but then you were both knocked unconscious – you believe that I attacked you on the astral plane. When you woke up I was gone. The Queen – tell the Queen. She will understand what I mean.”

The guards nodded. Artemuse smiled, and turned to run up the corridor. There was one other person in Rhodenius who might help her, and she didn’t have much time.

Continues next week…

Image by Teslacoils, edits by me.

June 24, 2014

#Craftblogclub Challenge – #YouCompleteMe

I’m terrible for starting projects and never finishing them, be they novels or craft-related ideas. I always think I’ll get to something “eventually” but eventually never arrives! So it was quite handy that the latest #craftblogclub challenge was called ‘You Complete Me’, with the idea being that we finished a project we’d had outstanding for a while. Originally I’d planned to finish a knitting project but going away for a week at the end of June put paid to that, so instead I decided to finally finish the pendants I’d made using a microwave to fuse glass (original post is here). The glass pieces were ready back in April…so it’s taken me a while!

ringsUsing epoxy adhesive, I glued the two smallest pieces to ring bases – I felt the orange pear-shaped drop better suited the antique bronze filigree base, and the blue dome looked better on silver. I’m actually pretty pleased with how they turned out!

Next I turned my attention to the pendants themselves.

all

I decided to hang the orange and black lump from bronze chain, so I attached a bronze bail to the back with more epoxy adhesive, while my ‘sail boat’ piece ended up on a silver bail on a silver chain. The other two pendants are on silver bails, but they hang from either white leather cord, or grey leather cord. Here they are in more detail.

closeup

I think the one I’m most proud of is the ‘sail boat’ one. The bottom third is dark blue, the middle third is a mid-blue, and the top third was originally clear, with an orange foil triangle that looks like the sail of a boat. I painted the back of it with pale blue and white acrylic paint to look like sky.

blue pendant

I’m so glad we had this challenge to give me the kick I needed to finish them!

What about you? How do you go about inspiring yourself to finish projects?