Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

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Savage Writing: We Will Not Drown

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There was no set topic this week. After weeks of struggling to write, I finally had inspiration to write a scene from a sci-fi idea I’ve had rattling around in my head. Might write the whole thing eventually but it’s pretty low in my priorities right now…

This is set in the same world as that filthy thing I wrote.

___

The waters kept rising.

The warning had been issued two weeks before: sea water had been detected on the sensors two metres below Tier 3’s structural undergrowth. Those on the edge of the city could look down and see the murky grey shifting not far from their eyes. The cabinet were meeting today to make the decision: start evacuating the citizens en masse to Tier 4, or do it piecemeal, slowly, to ensure the richest and smartest and most valuable people escaped first – as they had done with Tiers 1 and 2. Either way, for safety purposes the power supply to Tier 3 had been immediately cut. If you relied on electricity to stay alive in the lowest level of the city, you were already dead.

So the crowds were out on the streets of the south quadrant in Tier 4, wielding banners and signs, chanting: ‘We will not drown! We will not drown! We will not drown!’ Photos of the people of Tiers 1 and 2 were passed in flyers: couples, families, young children; smiling alive and floating dead. The only remnants of the submerged, apart from what had been fished and scavenged by government forces after the first storm swept most of the lives away. Recycling is a virtue, after all.

The police were there to make sure the protest remained peaceful. Standing with his squadmates on West Cameron Street, Dan’s nerves were on edge. The air was taut with desperate rage. On the other side of the street, a gang had stopped their march to scream abuse at the nearest policemen. As women and men marched past Dan and his mates, they shot them disgusted, envious looks, for the clean clothes and strength of form that could only come from the sanitised water and fresh food of their mid-tier homes. For getting a payslip from those who were making yet another level on top of the city, yet another escape from the endless sea. For being paid to stop migrants at the border roads, paid to imprison those who tried to sneak their way up. Paid to send the penniless back down to drown.

‘We will not drown! We will not drown!’

‘I reckon this’ll blow in a few hours,’ Caleb murmured.

”Course it will,’ Jamie, on Dan’s other side, replied. ‘Look at them. Tier 3’s all but cut-off already, and here’ll be next. They’ve nothing to lose.’

Dan gripped his MP5 tight in his fingers. The streets were getting thicker and thicker with people, wooden signs bashing off of neighbouring heads, children hoisted onto shoulders for safety. Like a blocked artery, the flow of people churning slower, and slower. Passing glares turned into withering, minute-long contemplations as protesters strolled by. He held his neutral expression like a shield as curses flew towards them.

It’s like a gas-filled room, he thought. Only needs a tiny spark. Any one shriek, one impassioned ranter, one step wrong by any of the hundred uniformed men lining the pavements…here it comes, he thought, here it comes, any minute now…

No words or human voice when it came.

BANG.

Every person on the street jolted. Half cowered down, half straightened up.

‘What the fuck was that?’ Jamie said.

BANG. BANG.

The noise hit Dan like a punch to the ribs. Screams. The people began to scatter – only to find their way blocked by everyone else around them.

Jamie jumped onto the bonnet of the car and scanned above the heads. Fury lit his eyes as he spotted something to the north.

‘Motherfucker – gunman, Stirling Street. Can’t see any backup for Harkness – looks like they’re down –’

BANG. Even closer. A sudden surge of panic in the people, and the tide overflowed to the pavement. Dan was swamped by bodies, heat, sweat, shrieks, calls. He heard Caleb shouting orders, telling them not to push, to remain calm, meaningless words in the melange. As soon as he could get breath, Dan added his voice, habitual statements that no-one was listening to, not even him.

The swell passed. Dan breathed again and looked up the street, in the direction of the last shots. It was still thick with citizens – but for one second, a line of sight cleared, and between running bodies and discarded protest clutter he saw a young man with ginger hair place a gun into the breast of his jacket. He was heading towards an alleyway, and he moved without any sign of fear or shock.

‘Over there! Jamie – J – where the fuck is Jamie?’

No-one was standing on the bonnet of the car.

Caleb yelled something, inaudible over the chaos. Somehow three people had come between them since he spotted the gunman.

Dan knew he couldn’t wait. He forced himself through the crowd, hoping that Caleb was somewhere behind him, but knowing he couldn’t count on it. Eyes ahead, on the alley. Another bang, from elsewhere in the crowd, another gunshot. Bastards, Dan thought. What kind of sick minds would plan this kind of trouble?

One last push, and he dived into the alleyway.

The gunman stood leaning against a skip, as if he had been waiting for him.

Dan raised his gun.

‘Drop your weapon. I know it was you. Drop it!’

The man straightened. He looked Dan up and down as if he was inspecting a new car.

‘I said, drop your weapon!’

The gunman raised an eyebrow, and smirked.

Dan’s carbine fell to pieces in his hands, barrel and pins and coils dropping into his fingers, bullets tinkling to the floor.

Before he could feel surprise, something gripped his neck and lifted him from the ground. The world spun. With a crack his head smashed off the concrete, and the gunman was on top of him, fingers clamped around his throat with unyielding, inhuman strength. As Dan struggled to breathe, again the man inspected him as if he was a machine.

‘This one will do,’ he said.

The air behind his head shimmered, and three, no, four people stepped out of it, as if from invisible curtains. Old and young, male and female. All looked down at him with the same impassive expression.

‘Yes,’ an older woman said. ‘He will do well.’

The sounds of panic on the streets had faded. All that could be heard was one woman screaming:

‘We’ll not drown! We’ll not drown! We’ll not–’

BANG.

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Written by G.J.

17/09/2014 at 11:07 pm

Savage Writing: No Negotiation Needed (explicit)

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I made a comment, after the dirty jokes were making their rounds on the last meeting, that we should devote an entire night to erotica and get it out of our systems. Unfortunately, Doug took me up on this idea. We wrote “filthy” stories and swapped them for other people to read. Only a couple of the contributions were truly filthy…this included. So: NSFW.

___

 

Taz Edevane lounged on his leather seat like it was a throne, elbow upon its arm, one gloved hand upright in the air. His fingers made a perpetual dance of flexing and gesturing, giving him the appearance of tourettes (or extreme fidgeting). On second glance, though, one could see how the glove was connected to the graphene screen wrapped around his forearm. With each change in posture, an array of numbers, polygraphs, and 3D molecular images flickered across its surface. Constant, physical 3D input and manipulation of data. It was exactly the kind of brilliance Leda’s company had come to expect from him.

And exactly the kind of brilliance it was hard to focus on, given the beautiful hunk of man-meat standing beside him.

‘It’s good to meet you at last, Ms Ruskin,’ Taz said.

‘The pleasure is mine,’ she said, tearing her eyes away from his guard.

‘I’m sure it is,’ Taz said with a wry smile. Backwards code flashed across his smart glasses. ‘Do you like my latest project?’

‘It’s very impressive,’ she said, nodding towards the glove and bracer, eager to turn her eyes back to the other man.

‘It is,’ Taz said, looking at said other man. ‘Manipulating him takes every inch of my brainpower sometimes – especially when he fights my influence.’

Leda turned back to the guard (or what she thought had been a guard). He was breathtaking, like a Grecian statue given colour. Black hair, lightly curling at the tips. Square jaw. Low eyebrows over deep blue eyes. Powerful muscles barely restrained under a black short-sleeved shirt. And the tiniest twitch in the bottom lid of his left eye.

‘You’re controlling him with that?’

‘Yes,’ Taz said. ‘If I want him to fetch me coffee, he does it. If I want him to pour the boiling coffee over himself, he does it. If I want him to suck my cock, he does it – and believe me, I’ve made sure he’s an expert in that matter.’

She ignored the pulse of pleasure that ran through her at the thought.

‘Are you wondering why?’ Taz asked.

‘It’s not my place to ask why, Mr Edevane,’ she said, resuming her professional attitude. ‘I’m here to make sure our contract goes through. We’re eager to have your skills, and you’re in need of our financial backing.’ Probably because of experiments like this, she added to herself. ‘I’m sure by the end of today we can come to an agreement.’

Taz looked amused.

‘If you’re here to please me so I’ll sign, then listen to why I did this. I don’t want you to think I’m a monster.’

I couldn’t care less if you are a monster, she thought, but she couldn’t deny her curiosity.

Taz swivelled to face the man beside him, hand ever fidgeting. In his look lay hate a thousand miles deep, loathing that sat in his core like a second soul.

‘This man,’ he said, ‘is called Caleb Bell. He was a policeman in the Tier 3 riots two years ago.’

His eyes held bloodlust as intense as a starving dog’s hunger.

‘He killed my wife.’

The man’s eyelid twitched again.

‘So now he does whatever you want,’ Leda finished.

Taz laughed, fingers suddenly working faster.

‘I made a few modifications to his brain. My programs run electrical interference, which in turn affects chemical release. It’s not that his body is willing but his mind is not; rather, his body makes his mind willing…to the most extent.’

Leda scanned Caleb’s face, fascinated, hoping his eyelid would twitch again. She pressed her hand against his chest, and felt his heartbeat, solid and steady under her palm. With her other hand she pinched his bicep, and nothing changed. Harder, violently, muscle tight under her fingertips. Still he did not react.

She struggled to beat down the glee, and the heat, running through her lower body.

‘Fascinating.’

When she turned to Taz, she knew she had been too obvious. A grin split his face wide.

‘Why don’t you try him?’

‘Try him?’

‘You know full well what I mean,’ he said. ‘And I think it would be in both our interests. You get him, and I get another small revenge. I think we’ll both be quite amenable to each other’s ideas for the contract after that.’

‘He is safe, isn’t he?’ she said, taking the chance to run her hand over Caleb’s torso again.

Taz cackled.

‘You think I would’ve risked putting my cock near his teeth if he wasn’t?’

‘Then my answer is yes,’ Leda said.

She pulled Caleb’s head down to hers, and planted a kiss on his lips – and he kissed back, gripping her back like a vice. Panicking, she pulled away.

Taz laughed again.

‘Don’t be scared, Ms Ruskin,’ he called, hand gesturing wildly. ‘He wants you. Please – enjoy him.’

Caleb kissed down her neck as Taz spoke, sending shivers over her skin. Her fear melted under the onslaught of his desire.

With a last smirk, Taz spun his chair to face the blinds.

That was enough privacy for her.

She tore open Caleb’s shirt, but barely touched it before he lifted her onto Taz’s desk. He pushed up the skirt of her dress and yanked down her tights, her high heels flying to the carpet. Willing him to be quicker, she wriggled off her pants herself. Spreading her legs, she guided his head upwards. The anticipation was unbearable as he kissed the inside of her thighs.

The desk was cold under her hips, and his tongue was warm and firm as it pressed against her. A spasm ran up her spine, forcing a moan through her lips. Yes, he knew what he was doing. His hands gripped her hips, allowing her no escape from his relentless motions. Heat throbbed through her. She could barely see his head past her heaving breasts, and greedily she wished there was a second one of him to ogle and touch as she wound higher, and higher. Instead, she gripped the desk edge, calling to the ceiling as waves of pleasure rippled up, and up, and up, until, with a shudder and a scream, she climaxed.

Panting, Leda opened her eyes, and looked down. Caleb Bell’s empty expression stared back at her. Revulsion sprang in the wake of her desire. She kicked him in the chest, and with a grunt he stood, and resumed his sentinel.

She heard Taz sigh, and the sharp glissando of his fly being pulled up.

‘Was I too fast for you, Mr Edevane?’ she said as she sat up.

‘No matter,’ he said. He turned his chair around as she stood and shimmied down her skirt. ‘I’m sure once the contract’s agreed, the three of us will be seeing a lot more of each other. Are you prepared to finalise the details now?’

Leda looked again at Caleb Bell. He gave her a forced, false smile. Her disgust of him gave her lust a spicy tinge, like wasabi in soy sauce.

‘I may need to take another break,’ she said. ‘I feel that was only a taster.’

Taz Edevane grinned again, his gloved hand never resting, his manipulations never ceasing.

‘Whatever makes our work more comfortable.’

Leda smiled and unclipped her briefcase.

Caleb Bell’s eyelid twitched: once, twice, three times…

Written by G.J.

11/06/2014 at 11:15 pm

Excerpt: Checking the Talent

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Sorry Sunday posts have been a bit sloppy. I was working up to finishing Riverboats and then life decided to pull dick moves on me. Sigh.

Another excerpt here. Seriously considering writing this book for NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before. Thought I am a bit reluctant to throw myself into another book when the last one isn’t Good Enough yet…

__

Cherie had taken half an hour to choose her outfit for the day. Most mornings she woke with a feeling for what would suit her that day, and today her feelings had screamed ‘Red!’ while her logical mind had picked that wish apart, along with every other compromise she tried to make. She had to make a delicate balance: it had to be decent, suitable for daytime and not overdressed, and yet she had to be noticeable, and her outfit had to be sexy. Not subtly sexy, in an unapproachable way (as she often liked to be), but sexy-sexy, “come and get me” sexy, in a way that was still appropriate for sunlight. In the end she decided on an old red and white striped dress with a full knee-length skirt, with girlish pumps and a wide-brimmed red hat. The neckline was slightly lower than what was respectable, and she liked that, only wishing that she had the cleavage required for its full effect, instead of her stretch of lightly mounded pale chest.

This was a delicate and important mission, after all. Three weeks had passed since Hugh had last contacted her. He never answered his messages and he was always out of the house when she tried to visit. He wasn’t ill or away on business, as Ms Raeline mentioned him whenever she came for her fittings – oh yes, he was still out in society, probably with some other woman. The blow to Cherie’s ego was harder than she would have liked. A whisper in her ear said it was because she was lacking, said that she was socially below him and somehow deficient and that was why he had dropped her. And of course she had to prove it wrong, didn’t she?

‘How do I look, honey?’ she asked Belle once she reached the kitchen. Her sister was reading over a score, alongside what looked like a history book. Without looking up, she pushed a plate with toast and marmalade in Cherie’s direction, then a glass of apple juice. Cherie took one bite from the toast, and waited for Belle to look at her.

‘Belle, Belly, how do I look?’

Belle’s eyes flicked up, ran up and down the outfit, and turned back to the score.

‘What’s it for?’

Why couldn’t her sister just tell her she looked pretty?

‘I’m going to visit Randi at the base. Do you think it’s too much?’

‘You’re getting dressed up to visit Randi?’ Belle asked with a smirk. Cherie took a swig of apple juice in irritation.

‘As a matter of fact I am, and I’ll have you know that I look wonderful this morning, thank you. I’ll see you later. Have fun at school.’

With that, Cherie grabbed her bag and left the house, not noticing how her sister sighed and pulled the nearly untouched plate of breakfast back towards herself.

She took a dress box, neatly tied with ribbon and a handle as she always made them, but unusually empty. It was for her ruse, if she needed one. She had never been to the new Court Base, so she didn’t know how strict they would be on letting her in; at the Docks, of course, they asked for proof of invitation and seemed immune to her charms, but she had always found that the closer to the Palace one came, the softer the men were. The Court Base was repurposed from the old Embassy building, and so was large and white and remarkably pleasing to the eye, indistinguishable from all the Court buildings except for the uniformed men and women walking around outside. Cherie smiled at everyone she saw and was able to walk through the front door by only flashing her identification. The lobby was cool and dark, and at the large front desk there sat only one person: an older woman who shared the same approach to fashion as Bernadette. Damn.

‘Hello,’ Cherie said, walking to her immediately though the woman was facing her files. ‘I’m looking for Officer Randi? Artemis Randi?’

The woman looked at her and rolled an appraising eye over Cherie and her ensemble.

‘What is your purpose?’ she asked, returning to her paper.

‘It’s very important, see, I have a commission to deliver to her and she was most insistent that it came today so –’

‘Officer Randi is currently training a squad in the East Quadrangle,’ the woman said – a rote speech, considering how little effort she put into it. ‘Very dangerous training involving gem refraction.  Absolutely no civilians are permitted.’

Cherie took a moment to judge how much this woman would permit, and took the chance.

‘I see. Well, this is very urgent – could I possibly drop it off at her locker or somewhere near about?’

‘Check your I.D.’ the receptionist said. After the briefest of glances at Cherie’s card, she nodded at the door behind her. ‘Rooms are on the left. Hers is 221.’

Cherie thanked her and walked away as quickly as she dared, quietly unsettled by the shoddy security even though it worked in her favour. Must be because it’s a new base, she thought to herself. Or, she added as she walked past one of the several mirrors along the wall of the corridor, it’s because a base so close to the Palace doesn’t need much security, since the Queen is nearby…

She calculated which way was east, and walked in that direction, smiling and nodding at every soldier who passed her, certain to make eye contact. All three of them stared after her as she walked past, and her confidence returned with that gaze. Thinking happy thoughts, she soon found the East Quadrangle. A few windows looked out onto it from this side, and her smile grew as she saw row after row of bodies standing in lines – predominantly male.

She pushed open the door and patted the top of her hat as she looked around. About thirty people stood in the quadrangle: two-thirds male. All were dressed in the royal blue shirts and trousers of the sky-mage troop, their signature fingerless gloves weighing heavily in their hands. A few recruits turned and saw her, and nudged their neighbours to look. Nudging and staring was all they could do, since someone at the front was speaking to them in a commanding tone – surprisingly effective, considering Randi’s husky and relatively high-pitched voice.

Cherie walked around to the side of the group with the self-conscious grace of a princess, until she saw the officer herself. She had never seen Randi in her work outfit before, and marvelled at how well she suited having her hair scraped back into a high ponytail – though of course if it was up to Cherie then she wouldn’t be allowed to do anything with such marvellous hair. Randi had said it was a common in the North for people to have naturally white hair, but surely it couldn’t be common for hair to flash rainbow colours in the light? It was like the sun when refracted through a clear crystal; which, funnily enough, was similar to what Officer Randi was teaching that day.

‘You all know the basics of projection,’ Randi said to the soldiers. ‘It’s very important that you make sure your aim is correct before you project – and remember to compensate for the increased weight in your hands from the crystals. You may not think it’s much now, but when you’re trying to aim quickly, it can make a big difference. Now, in order to be an effective soldier, you need to make sure your blasts work with each other, and with your body – you’ve gotta have them in harmony, else you’ll blow yourself one way more than the other. And there is one very effective way to teach yourself to keep the four projections in balance.’

She changed her posture, putting one leg ahead of the other so they were slightly ahead and behind her torso. Palms down, she spread her hands away from her body on either side and, without any visible effort, four rippling, translucent pillars of colour erupted from her gloves and boot soles, pushing her up and off the ground. Cherie’s heart beat a little faster at the sight of Randi hovering two feet above the grass, at such a simple demonstration of the power of the crystals that Artemis Randi – the first sky-mage – had discovered. The recruits forgot about Cherie (that was fine, she forgot about herself) and snapped to attention, eyes shining with the wish that had brought them to this troop: the desire to fly. Randi smirked as she settled back on earth.

‘If you can’t balance the projections, you’ll fall immediately. Don’t think that this is like swimming, or standing slightly higher up – there is nothing to support you but your crystals, and gravity is always waiting for you, so every little movement requires a balancing of effort. Without the same weight on them and support underneath them, your feet can easily slip away from each other – and believe me, you don’t want to fall to the ground doing the splits!’ (Everyone winced, including Randi) ‘Don’t neglect your hands either – they’re essential for support, otherwise you’ll fall right onto your side. And always, always make sure they’re pointing downwards when projecting – you could seriously hurt someone if you don’t. So, today I want you to try what I just did – lift a little off the ground, and then come down. Split into groups of five, and try your best.’

Cherie leant against the wall and watched as the recruits formed teams. With all the movement, everyone who hadn’t previously noticed her now immediately spotted her red-and-white ensemble (she knew trusting her instinct for red was a good idea). Many of them whispered to each other and glanced at her, and she tried to return the gaze of everyone who laid eyes on her. There weren’t any truly handsome men here, only average-looking ones, but a few had cute features or genial eyes or straight and confident posture and that was all she needed. The true test, though, was which men would have the guts to approach her.

Of course, being so visible meant that she did not escape the notice of the commanding officer. Randi saw her and gave her a questioning look, and Cherie merely waved at her in reply, wondering whether she would come over and talk. No. Randi had a job to do, and she wasn’t going to waste her attention on this strange not-friend she had in Cherie. She turned to the teams and watched as they arranged themselves, one of the five preparing to make the hovering attempt, the other four surrounding them, ready in case something went wrong. Within a few moments, one man jolted himself high in the air, flipping over backwards and nearly falling on his neck, barely saved by his teammates.

‘Too much power,’ Randi called to him. ‘Be gentle at first! Just a few feet, remember?’

The next person was more successful, initially pushing herself too high then sinking down to hover above the grass. She looked as if she was on an invisible ice rink: her legs wobbled and threatened the splay apart at any moment, while her arms waved around her body. After a few seconds, she fell onto her back with a smack.

‘Good, everyone see that? Just balance your hands a bit more, and make sure your weight is centred. Good.’

So they continued, and with all the mistakes and falls it was very fun to watch. Many of the recruits glanced at Cherie, and she liked to think that some of those falls were caused by men trying hard to impress her, and choking spectacularly. The shouts of surprise and talk of technique were compounded with low muttering about the spectator. Cherie was happily engaged, watching it all, when Artemis Randi came over to her, pink-cheeked and angry.

‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded. ‘You know civilians aren’t allowed in the base. If I didn’t know you, I might think you’re a spy.’

Cherie raised an eyebrow but decided it would be low to make the obvious response. No-one knew why or how Randi had so quickly turned from spy to Queen’s favourite, or how she had managed to beg forgiveness at all from the monarch. It wasn’t a mentioned thing: only those who had been at the Lowlight Ball knew that she had been a spy, and luckily upper-class gossip normally went ignored by the military. The memory of that night grated on Cherie’s good will, as she remembered how the sky-mage had smashed Bernadette’s jaw and left her permanently scarred. No matter the Queen’s favour and Bernadette’s forgiveness, Randi was forever tainted in her eyes.

‘Oh, don’t mind me,’ she said, making her voice as light and casual as possible. ‘I’m just checking the talent.’

Randi looked confused, so Cherie helped her by looking at the recruits, finding one who was staring at her, and waving at him with her best smile. As the realisation grew on Randi, so did the disgust in her expression.

‘Get out,’ she said.

‘What?’ Cherie said. ‘I’m not hurting anyone, am I? I’m only standing here–’

‘I will not have you distracting my recruits just so you can window shop!’ Randi cried, far louder than she likely intended, since most of the students stopped and turned to them. ‘Get out, and if I ever catch you here again I’ll report you to the Royal Guards!’

Time to accept defeat. Cherie patted the top of her hat and called out to all the trainees watching.

‘I’ll be outside at Maxwell’s Café if you want to see me, boys!’

Randi looked as if she would hit her.

Cherie walked over to the doors back inside, soaking up the whispering as she passed. Before she had shut the door behind her, she heard Randi shouting at the recruits to shut up and concentrate.

She wasn’t going to leave yet. Watching the training was far too fun. So Cherie knelt by the window that looked onto the quadrangle and stayed until the end of session, watching as the group gradually learnt how to balance themselves above ground. As their faces flushed with success and happiness, Cherie couldn’t help but feel a little jealous at their defiance of gravity – the same jealousy she had whenever Belle did something amazing by Singing, a jealousy that would quickly dissipate when she remembered how different her wants and talents were from those she envied. As singing all day and being obsessed with music did not appeal to her, running around all day and being trained to risk your life was opposed to all of her interests. No, better to stay at home with her pins and material, and set her own schedule, even if it meant she could not calm someone with a note or divorce herself from the ground.

At the end of class, Randi gave another speech – this time facing the other direction, so Cherie could see her back and hear her clearly from the window.

‘So today you’ve learnt the basics of balancing in the air, and it’s good to see that most of you got it in the end. I’ve got one important thing to say, though, about conduct. While I applaud your situational awareness, you cannot let yourselves get distracted by every good-looking idiot who comes into your view.’

A few people tittered but Randi did not move.

‘I’m serious. The projections that come from your refraction are really, really dangerous. Yours probably aren’t too powerful yet, since you’re just starting, but once you get in full control, you absolutely cannot let yourself get distracted. Understand?’

A few half-hearted assents were muttered, and that wasn’t good enough for her. Randi raised a hand to the side, and with a crack, a blast of colour erupted from the circle on her palm and slammed into the wall on the other side of the quadrangle. Everyone watching her jumped in fright. Cherie had to move to the other side of the window to see the white plaster of the wall crumble to the grass, leaving a large circular dent in the stone.

‘That was not full power,’ Randi said, as the recruits goggled at her destruction. ‘Get it now? The projections can burn straight through a human body, killing you instantly. This is not a game, guys, so never let yourselves get distracted, or someone could die. Understand?’

The trainee sky mages straightened to attention and said ‘Yes, officer!’

‘Good. You are dismissed.’

Cherie took that as her cue to leave. She was surprised at how shaken she still felt as she walked back along the corridor, past the uncaring receptionist, and out into the sun. Randi’s words – and the implications behind them – had unsettled her, and she wondered if she could have possibly been hit by a stray beam. What would Belle do without her? And their mother…Cherie hated to think what havoc her birth mother would create if she held any wrath against the capital. One war was enough.

‘Ms Cherie, you look great today,’ Augusta said as she reached Mawell’s Café. Cherie’s shoulders dropped, as if those were the magical words she had needed all day.

‘Thank you,’ she said to the waitress as she sat down at her favourite outside table and threw her empty dress box onto her neighbouring seat. ‘Oh, I tell you, I need some creamy tea. Something hot and sugary.’

‘Had a hard day already?’ Augusta said with a suppliant smile. ‘It’s not even midday.’

‘Oh yes, there’s a thought,’ Cherie said, realising it was nearly lunchtime. ‘Be a dear and bring me some cake – a big slice to share. I’m expecting visitors.’

‘Of course,’ Augusta said, before disappearing inside.

Cherie took off her hat, and patted her hair where she could still feel its pinch. She told herself to forget about Randi, and her crystals and flying and treachery. She was alive and safe, unharmed by projections, and her birth mother would never have an excuse to go against the Queen. And, she thought as she spotted three royal blue outfits walking towards the café, it seems my adventure may have been worth it in the end.

Written by G.J.

24/10/2012 at 12:46 pm

Excerpt: The School Showcase

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The concert hall was built like an amphitheatre, with raised seating running in a circle from the stage, leaving empty a large space in the centre of the room. The programme said that the walls were cream to give the optimum amount of colour reverberation without the sparseness of white, while the seats were black so each person could better absorb the sound. The programme also told her that Annie’s class had two sets: the opening piece, and another song three-quarters of the way through the three-hour concert, as well as being part of the finale. Bernadette would have no choice but to sit through the entire thing.

‘Ugh,’ came a voice behind her, ‘what awful colour scheme. You’d think a school with this much money could furnish itself better.’

Bernadette agreed, in her heart, but coming from Cherie – and in her best snobbish tone – the complaint irked her. She felt compelled to point out what the programme said, but, as usually happened when she considered making a response, she quickly decided that there was no point and remained silent.

Most of the families there for the concert consisted of mothers and fathers dressed in underwhelmingly smart clothes: shirts and no suits; blazers with t-shirts underneath; simple dresses and skirts. Among them, the older sisters of Annette Croshaw and Belle Montague stood out like black seats in a cream theatre. Bern hadn’t even considered changing from work, so she was still in her basic war-mage uniform: black shirt, black trousers and combat boots, blonde hair in a low bun and combat knife hidden on the back of her belt. Cherie, on the other hand, looked as if she was going to the opera instead of a school show: she wore a light blue dress with a ruffled asymmetrical hem that swept from above one knee to the opposite ankle, covered in multicoloured sequins in the image of a blue bird of paradise. Her black curls were perfectly styled and she had a light dusting of makeup – enough to make her look fresh and beautiful. Many of the people around her stared, with a large number of fathers stopping in their tracks to goggle at her.

Bernadette wished Annie had picked a different best friend, so she wouldn’t have ever had to associate with Cherie. This was the second time they had met, and Cherie had done nothing so far to assuage the negative first impression she had given a few nights ago. She had come to pick up Belle and take her home – ‘I can’t have her walking alone at night in this area,’ she had said – but then chose to ignore her sister and everyone else in favour of talking to Mac. Stupid Mac, Bernadette thought. She had hoped that any rich twit associated with this school would be too arrogant to pay attention to her brother, but his humble handsomeness had caught Cherie immediately, and he – fool that he was – responded to her attention and charm with the grinning shyness that always signalled the beginning of a crush. It was one of the few times when Bernadette was happy that Grenny scolded him as soon as the guests left.

And now she would have to sit with Cherie for three entire hours. She would have preferred field training in the rain to this.

They filed into their seats – near the middle, on the left side – and said nothing to each other for a long time. Bernadette guessed that Cherie was too busy judging her, or the other people around them, to speak.

‘Belle’s been so looking forward to this,’ she finally said, strange wording in her strange accent (not that Bern or any of her family could talk). ‘I hope it all goes well.’

The lights went down and the headmistress of the school, Ms Angeline Roue, came out from behind the curtains to open proceedings. She was middle-aged and not at all good-looking, but her waist-length, pin-straight hair was bright silver and shone like the moon, and even her speaking voice had a clear, lyrical quality to it. Annie had told her family that Ms Angeline was descended from the Queen; Bern was glad that before she opened her mouth, Grenny and Mac had both jumped in and said that that meant little in such a high-born place. The headmistress gave a few brief words about how grateful she was for everyone to be there, and how thankful she was that they had come to see their children’s progress. Of course we would, Bern thought. We’re the ones paying for this, after all.

With that, Ms Angeline disappeared, the curtains flew open, and Bernadette and Cherie sat forward and looked for their sisters. There Annie was, in the second row, near to their side of the hall. They must have adjusted the dye in her hair today at school again – where she had been tangerine this morning, she was now a burnt orange. The boys wore pale yellow shirts and trousers while the girls had pale yellow dresses, with white flowers in their hair. They were all slathered in makeup (what would Grenny say?). More noticeable than any other feature, they wore huge, painful-looking smiles across their cheeks. One girl sang the first tuning note, and then the opening song began.

It began as a quiet, half-sung chant in unison, which vibrated the air across the hall and became more intense as the volume grew. Finally, at the bridge, the class split into four harmonies and blasted out a forceful tune – and the air in front of the stage erupted into overlapping spheres yellow and orange and red, fireworks of colour. The choir quickly sank into the second verse, upbeat and marching, and the colours split into gaseous strips, flitting and melding and dancing with each other, before exploding again at the return of the chorus. The tone suddenly shifted in the middle-eight, into a chilling minor key with a piercing descant – that was Belle on top, it was clearly her – and the colours changed into blues and greens and shrank, before the bridge built, and built, and burst into the final chorus. The colours exploded not just in front of the stage, but in front of the audience: the air before Bernadette’s eyes was now swimming in translucent yellow, orange, scarlet (she half-thought she was going mad). The choir gave a final crescendo up to the final note, held it – the colours in the air grew and shook with the strength of it – and with a final push, the colours burst into nothingness and the singing stopped.

Bernadette felt curiously like she wanted to sneeze – subconsciously thinking that the colours in front of her eyes were made by coloured dust – but everyone else around her, especially Cherie, was clapping madly. She hadn’t heard Annie at all among the meld of voices, but her sister was there, beaming on stage. The curtains closed – Cherie turned to her and said ‘Wasn’t that a good start?’ – and the wonders continued.

Bernadette had heard some Singing, of course – it was one of the foremost treatments of battle fatigue – but she had never heard or seen it as she did that night. Explosions of colour were shown to be elementary, which was why Annie’s class had been able to do it so easily and as a first treat. The singers of the senior years painted entire tableaux with their voices, depicting the tales they sang, and the orchestra which accompanied them added a layer of depth and emotion that Bernadette had never known from the few country and folk songs she had sung with her family. She had never known it could be used as a form of magical kinetics either: two girls brought various objects – balls, streamers, hoops – out with them and moved them only with the power of their voices, bouncing them backwards and forwards and wrapping each other and acting so comically that everyone in the audience was laughing. But the true power of Singing – the manipulation of emotions – was the dominant display that night. The national songs – the only ones that weren’t sung in Anciene and thus the only ones with understandable lyrics – made her swell with pride and fervour; the ballads – of which Annie’s class sung one – filled her with a torque of longing and happiness and sadness. Finally, just before the finale, the hall went black, one circle of light beamed down on the stage, and one girl – from the oldest class, by the look of her – stepped into it. She had long, stylishly cut electric blue hair, and wore a simple white dress with a black border. And when she sang…

Bernadette had never heard any voice so clear, so inspiring, so angelic. It seemed to spin through the air and burrow directly into her heart. The song was simple, a capella, haunting and yet uplifting at the same time. She was technically perfect, hitting every leap and arpeggio with ease, yet her tone was warm and inviting, and even at the very highest notes she was never piercing or strained. Everyone was transfixed as they listened, carried away to another plane of existence as this one woman sang, and so wrapped them in warmth, in love, in pure beauty.

An unexpected motion is what tore Bernadette out of that place. She looked to her side, and saw Cherie moving her hand to her face. She was dabbing away the tears as she looked at this girl, an expression of intense longing on her face. She cried as if she understood something in the song that no-one else – who only heard loveliness – could ever know.

After her final, thrilling note died away, the applause was sudden and rapturous. Nearly everyone was standing and shouting. Bernadette heard someone say that she was the best Singer who had ever lived. Cherie sniffed and stood as well, clapping with a pained smile. Bern’s hands felt like lead as she applauded, not sure what to feel anymore, not sure who she, or Cherie, or anyone was anymore.

A pause as the orchestra reassembled, and then everyone was ready for the finale. The entire school came together; they took up every inch of the stage, a rainbow of hair colours above sea of white (they had all changed during the previous song, it seemed). A girl from Annie’s class began the piece with a solo, and then gradually more and more voices entered, until everyone was singing in a frenetic eight-part harmony. No explosions, no colours, no movement: pure emotion, pure energy, pure joy. Many of the parents stood up and began dancing and clapping and attempting to sing along, and though Bernadette did not stand, she could not prevent herself from smiling, then tapping her foot, then clapping along as the piece grew, expanded, and ended with one final near-cacophonous flourish. There was a beat of dead silence, and then the parents erupted. The ones who had children in the first year – for whom this was their first concert – were near delirious, whereas the other ones – particularly the parents of the seniors – smiled serenely as they clapped and said to each other ‘It was good again this year.’ Bernadette, after the range and rush of feelings, felt dead tired. Ms Angeline gave her thanks and everyone bowed again – the blue-haired girl got a second thunder of applause – and then it was over. She and Cherie filed out and waited outside as the students began spilling from the backstage door.

‘My,’ was all Cherie said at first. After a moment, she turned to Bernadette with a wan smile and added: ‘Listening to Singing does take something from you, doesn’t it?’

Bern nodded but wasn’t able to look her in the eye for more than a second. She felt raw, as if facing anyone right now would make her break to pieces. Luckily, it took a few minutes for the girls to come running out, and when they did Belle ran straight to Cherie and began talking.

‘What did you think? How did we do?’

‘Oh, it was so wonderful!’ Cherie said, giving her a swift hug, considerably cheerier at the sight of her. ‘You were all fantastic! Though,’ she added, licking her finger and rubbing out some of the heavy red eyeshadow off of Belle’s lids, ‘whoever did your makeup should be shot. Did she use a shovel to put this on?’

‘It’s stage-makeup–’

‘Anyway, I loved it,’ Cherie said, straightening. ‘I’m sure I could hear you the whole time as well, Belle.’

‘Did you hear Annie?’

‘No,’ Cherie said with complete ease.

‘See?’ Belle said with an elbow to her friend, who was standing grinning at them all as if she was still in space. ‘I told you no-one would notice your mistake.’

‘What did’ja think?’ Annie said, turning her wide eyes to Bernadette. Bern smiled and ruffled her hair, nearly knocking the flower off with her clumsy hands.

‘It wuz good, girly,’ she said quietly. Annie beamed, knowing how much praise it was to get even one word out of her big sister in such a place.

‘How come you didn’t have that solo in the last piece, Belly?’ Cherie asked. Belle rolled her eyes.

‘Ugh, I wanted to have it – I was going to have it – but Ms Caroline said I was singing flat, so I couldn’t do it. But it’s not my fault, I never sing flat! It must be this hair, it’s resonating me all wrong – I told Ma’m Dru I should have purple instead…’

She scowled the handful of pale pink hair she held.

‘Or, you’re just singing flat,’ Cherie said.

‘Well I wanted Annie to have it anyway,’ Belle said, tugging on her friend’s arm. ‘You’re far better than stupid Clara.’

‘I’m too quiet,’ Annie said, shaking her head.

‘Well, nevertheless it was excellent,’ Cherie said.

‘What did’ja think of Vicoletta?’ Annie said to Bernadette, who didn’t know who she was talking about until Belle laughed and said ‘Annie cried at her!’

‘Anyone with a heart would cry at that,’ Cherie said sharply. ‘She’s amazing.’

‘She came back from Harimville just for the concert,’ Belle said. ‘She’s been doing loads of concerts by herself – she’s going South to Eritramme to work there for a while. Can you imagine working at the halls there?’

‘She’ll probally go all over the world!’ Annie added.

‘Maybe you should get blue hair, Belly,’ Cherie said, taking her sister and turning them away from the hall, starting the walk home. The girls snorted and disputed this, and the talk of the concert continued as they walked.

‘I like your dress,’ Annie said shyly after a while. Cherie gave her a most gracious smile.

‘Why thank you! I wasn’t sure I would still fit into it – I made it a few years ago as one of my first big projects. Tell you what, if you come to the boutique and sing a nice song for me – one of those uplifting ones that’ll stop me from falling asleep – then I’ll make you your own dress.’

Annie gasped, Belle protested – ‘But you’ve got me to Sing to you!’ – and Cherie ignored them both as she looked keenly at Annie’s hair and complexion.

‘I’m thinking…gold. Something shiny – expensive looking, but innocent in style. Would you like that?’

‘Th-that would be amazing!’ Annie gushed. Bern eyed Cherie’s dress – it was easily worth two hundred, maybe four hundred shards. Surely she couldn’t just give that away! But Cherie kept talking about what Annie’s dress would be like, materials and cut and style, and Annie blushed and Belle complained that her sister never made her dresses, and they all carried on as giving away that much skill and money was easily done without a thought. Bernadette was too stunned to take in nearly anything else, until Cherie and Belle had to split off to their home.

‘Say hello to your family for me,’ Cherie said to Annie.

‘You mean Mac,’ Belle said.

‘I mean the family,’ Cherie said firmly, turning her eyes to Bernadette. ‘Thank you for sitting with me, Ms Croshaw. And Annie, I’m sure I’ll see you soon.’

They waved goodbye and turned towards their street, while Bern and Annie had a long way to walk to their part of town. They said nothing for a while.

‘What did you really think of the show?’ Annie said at last, turning her innocent eleven-year-old face towards her big sister. Poor Annie. Always worried over what she was thinking, when really Bern’s opinion wasn’t worth much.

‘I rilly liked it,’ she said, taking her sister’s hand. ‘But I ain’t used to it, and it’s tirin’. Mac can go with ya next time, and see.’

Annie nodded, slightly cheered. She burst into excitement again when they got home, telling Mac and Grenny about everything that was sung and went wrong and how Cherie was going to make her a beautiful dress in gold, just for her. Bern, without a word to interrupt her sister, kissed her granny on the cheek, nodded at her brother, and went straight to bed, where she tossed and turned for some time, trying to get Vicoletta’s beautiful song – and the image of Cherie crying – out of her head.

Written by G.J.

12/09/2012 at 1:36 pm

Excerpt: Prologue

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Ten years earlier.

 

They climbed over the walls of the compound and left the smoking ruin behind. Over field and wasteland, scratched by bushes and barbed wire and with mud over their ankles, they walked all night to the nearest village. When the grey dawn rose and people began to appear on the streets around them, they knew they both looked a state. Jac covered his face with his collar to hide the dried blood around his mouth.

An old, brown hotel pub, smelling of beer and must and old men, welcomed them; it was the only place of refuge open at that time. Eitan collapsed on a seat while Jac gladly washed his face and hands. They wouldn’t notice splatters on your clothes, after all – not with all the mud and dirt and soot – but your skin was a different story. When Jac came back from the toilets, the two couldn’t look each other in the eye. They sat, silent, staring.

‘No use putting it off,’ Jac finally said, before he went to the bar and asked to use the phone, so he could call his family and ask to be picked up. His face was grim when he returned to his seat; Eitan didn’t need to know how they had taken the news that they were out.

His hands were shaking. The long walk in the cold had dulled him, but now he was sitting in the heat the euphoria, the horrific elation, returned as if it was new,; it buzzed throughout his veins, sparked in his muscles, and kept his breath shallow. As the memories of fire and gunshots flashed through his mind, he was unsure whether he felt more pleasure than pain. When he finally looked at Jac – brown curls plastered on his sweaty brow, cheeks flushed scarlet, his tiger eyes bloodshot – he knew that he must be feeling something similar.

The staff walked around setting up for the day; the two early regulars said little to each other; there was no rain or wind outside, only grey and cold. It was far too quiet after the noise they had left behind.

‘So,’ Jac said.

They looked at each other, at the mess they were, and they laughed at the absurdity of it: they were free. After an entire lifetime – free. Eitan could have laughed forever at the thought.

‘What do we do now?’

 

 

Written by G.J.

02/09/2012 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Excerpt, From the Vault

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