Category Archives: Writing

The Thief and the Seer

A new story, started from an old relationship…

It was a cold night; cold enough to chill the two figures walking along the lonely road to the bone. One, the smaller and thinner of the two, was huddled against the weather, soaked and cold. The other, taller and lankier, didn’t seem to feel the chill, striding along as if it was a summer’s day.

“Dad, are we nearly there?” the smaller figure asked, her words nearly lost in the wind.

“Yeah.” The man pointed. “Next bend. That’s the tree.”

It was indeed a true hangman’s tree, bent and twisted. The man turned off the road as they reached it, stepping onto a smaller track. “Just a little further.”

“You said that aaaaages ago!” the smaller one whined, but continued to follow.

“I’m telling the truth this time,” the older said, and there it was; the house, wide windows lit by a warm glow. Not much of the glade that surrounded it could be seen beyond the outlines of trees bending in the darkness, but it didn’t matter. The house was warm and waiting for them.

He raised a hand and knocked at the door.

And then they waited, the wind in their ears.

“She’d better be in,” the man grumbled, glaring at the woodwork.

“What do we do if she isn’t?”

The man grinned.

“You’d break in to the Seer’s house?” The wind whipped scraggly hair across the teenager’s face and into her wide eyes.

“What’s the problem?”

“She’d know!”

The man gave a mirthless laugh. “Well, yes, that could be a minor…problem…”

The door had opened, spilling light out across them. The woman in the doorway had frozen, and the man’s words tailed off as he took her in. Dark hair streaked with grey and white, and a face lined with years; and bright grey eyes that stared out in shock at the scarred man with bright blue eyes standing on her doorstep.

The seer and the thief faced each other across a threshold for the second time in their lives. And then the seer smiled, and stepped to one side. “Well, as you’ve come this far…you’d better come in.”

 

“I didn’t think you’d be the type to settle down,” the woman said as the man and teenager divested themselves of wet clothes.

“I’m not,” he snapped, scrubbing a hand through his own greying hair. “She got dumped on me.”

The child in question was looking around the cluttered, interesting room with bright eyes. “Mom got fed up of me. Dad’s more interesting.”

“Lying, cheating and stealing?” the woman asked.

“And magic.”

The seer nodded. “By the way, don’t steal anything from here. You won’t like the results.”

The teenager looked at the man, who nodded seriously.

“What are you calling yourself these days?” the woman added.

“Knight. And she’s Dan.”

“You may as well call me Beth.”

The man snorted.

“It’s as good a name as any,” the woman said mildly. “Can I offer you food?”

“You have to.”

That just got a smile from Beth. “You don’t change, do you? Please, come and eat with me. Can I ask where you’re going?”

The man spun from where he’d just put his coat and pointed an accusing finger at her. “Don’t you dare.”

“You could just tell me.” She was still smiling, serene in the face of his irritation.

“I want information! That’s it.”

“Well, come and eat while you think of how to phrase your questions so I won’t winkle the truth out of you with them.” She turned to the teenager. “Bathroom is through there. You must be frozen; I’ll make a hot drink for you.”

 

“So…you two know each other?” Dan asked as silence settled over the table again. They were only halfway through dinner, and she’d never seen her father so irritated. The seer just seemed to find it amusing.

The two adults exchanged a glance. “What does she know?” Beth asked.

“Very little,” Knight snapped, digging into his bowl again.

The woman rolled her eyes and turned to the teenager. “We were enemies. Long ago. I got out of the life and came into this, and your father turned his talents in other directions.”

“It’s a living,” Knight grunted. “So, are you going to give me answers, or have I just eaten something healthy for nothing?”

The woman sighed and pushed her half-full bowl away, laying both hands on the table. “What’s your question?”

“Where’s the secret entrance in the Tombs of the Fallen?” He leaned back. “And what’s your price?”

“Tell me why you want to know.”

There was a pause. And then the man said, “We’re going to the Tomb of Parrun. We’re going to steal the Knowledge.”

“Dad!” Dan protested. “You said not to tell anyone, ever! Why are you telling her?”

The scarred man gave a small smile, tender and amused. “There’s some people I can’t lie to. She’s one of them.”

The teenager turned a glare on the woman. “Why?”

“It’s an old bargain,” Beth told her mildly.

“A foolish one. So, do I get an answer?” the man demanded.

The seer sighed. “I’ll assume you know how to get to the Tombs. Once there, go into Hestion’s Tomb. The second statue has a sword in its hand; pull the hilt and that will open the passage.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you going to stay?” the seer added.

“What will I owe for it?”

“I never dealt in debts, Knight,” Beth told him, something hard coming into her voice. “You and he did. I didn’t. You can stay here tonight, and I’ll give you food in the morning.”

“And you know that I have to pay for it.” Dan had never heard that sort of pain in her father’s voice.

“An answer, then. Do you still think of it, sometimes?” Beth’s voice had dropped, and Dan felt like an intruder.

“Yes.” Her father’s eyes were on the table. “Often.”

Beth reached out a hand and gently touched the back of Knight’s. He turned his, and for a moment, they were just holding hands across the table, sharing a moment that the child wasn’t part of.

And then Knight sighed and leaned back, removing his hand. “Any other scabs you want to pick at?”

Beth smiled, as if she’d expected the sudden harshness. “Not tonight. Beds are up the ladder.”

 

She heard them go, before dawn had even broken; she’d left provisions on the table, knowing that they’d be needed. When she got up to check that the door was shut behind them, she smiled at the apples left on the table. He didn’t like apples. It looked like most of the bad habits hadn’t faded with age.

And then her mind turned to their quest as she stoked the fire and put the kettle on to boil. So someone else was after the Knowledge again? Parrun didn’t lie peacefully for long, did he…

She fingered the scar on her collarbone and sighed as the fire strengthened, warming the small house. Who was it this time who had paid the thief? He wouldn’t want it for himself; Knight wasn’t an idiot. Someone hadn’t read their histories, or thought they were better than everyone else.

She sighed again, standing in her small house and watching the fire. It had been a long time, but…

“Damn,” she said, her voice sounding thin in the silence. “I’m going to have to stop him.”

Dresden Files: Solstice Fight

After a while of focusing my energy on game planning, I’ve had a kick to get back into writing – and this was the result! An odd piece but good action practice.

I’m dressed in my leather jerkin over my shirt and jeans, pirate boots on my feet and my hair flowing around my head. I don’t look anything like a Knight from the real world, but I don’t need to. The acorn around my neck, the silver-woven bracelet on my wrist, the knife at my belt; they are all the armour I need.

The huge field around me is littered with bodies, dead and alive. There’s things from the worst realms of Fairytale here; we’re in the middle of a nightmare of blood and fighting, worse than any human battle could ever be. It’s the Solstice, and the Summer and Winter Courts are battling it out for control of the Table. Luckily, I’m not having to be a general; Nemain’s directing Summer’s forces. My job is simpler. Distract the Winter Knight.

“He comes!” The Little Folk swoop down towards me, squealing excitedly. They love battles. It’s more fun than parties because they get to use their swords.

Apparently you get in trouble if you stab pizza.

The Fae on the battlefield around me scatter, and I smile at the ice-armoured figure stalking towards me. We’re left alone for these duels, which is exactly how I want it. “Sir Knight.”

“Lady Knight.” It’s a familiar voice, laced with excitement and malice. And then without ceremony he throws out a handful of razor-sharp icicles, intended to slice my chest open, leaving me bleeding and screaming on the ground.

I’m already moving, whirling away to one side and calling my sword into existence as I move. As the flaming blade roars into life I throw out my other hand, dissolving the Knight’s next ice shower into warm droplets. “You’re looking very dashing today,” I call lightly.

He snorts and goes for his own sword. “I’d say the same about you-” A clash and fizz as our swords meet, and then I’ve ducked away. I can’t match his sheer strength, so I have to be quick. “Except I’d use the word fuckable.”

“That sounds like an invitation to get you out of that armour.” I’m dancing across the ground, the flame whirling around my head and body as I spin. The life and laughter that I bring with me is one of the best weapons against Winter’s dark and death; the Knight can’t attack this much vitality, and he’s forced to rely on his ice. That I can work with. Plus, it means we battle to lilting snatches of old folk songs and the laughter of long summer days. It really disconcerts him, and I love it.

“You could ask – instead of trying to – carve it up with a bloody piece – of fire.”

“That sounds far too easy.” I whirl the flaming blade around my back and thrust it towards him. This time it does hit in; I’ve already withdrawn and moved to avoid his return blow, but there’s a singed and melted hole in the side of his armour.

“I’ve had easier fucks,” the Winter Knight growls at me.

“It’s more fun when they fight,” I throw back, feeling the chill from his blade across my neck as it slices a chunk of my hair away, leaving white strands across the battered ground.

“You take it to extremes.” I’m forced into a roll by his next blow and I know what’s coming next; he’s so predictable sometimes…

So I’m already letting my sword fade and calling up protection when the ice blasts out, freezing the ground beneath my feet and filling the air around me with freezing fog. It takes a large chunk of energy to resist the chill and I know the Knight is already charging across the ground towards me, using the fog as cover.

But instead of rolling aside as I would usually do, I lunge forward. My arms meet something solid and then I’m out of the fog and into the clear, actually slamming the Winter Knight backwards into the frozen ground. I use my momentum to tuck and roll up over his head before he can grab me-

His hand catches my ankle and I’m jerked to an abrupt halt, my ribs thumping awkwardly onto something. Fuck, that hurt. I kick his ear and then his wrist while he twists on the ground, trying to get a purchase while also not letting me go. We devolve into street brawling too often for my liking, but you can’t have everything.

He’s materialised an ice knife in his fist and is thrusting it towards my foot. I swing my weight and clout him on the side of the head, and get my foot free as he momentarily lets go. He snarls and rolls as I come to my feet and draw my knife, and then we’re both on our feet again. I’m covered in smudges and dirt, while his ice is still pristine. But hey, I’m prettier than he is even with my face covered in mud.

I see Winter’s familiar lust filling the periwinkle-blue eyes; my shirt’s torn at the shoulder and I know he’d love to take advantage of that. I did make the lust win one Solstice, which was amusing; he had actually got as far as dissolving his armour before Mab turned up behind him.

Ok, that wasn’t as fun as I make it sound. I really did think I was going to die when he slammed me into the ground, and being pinned to a muddy battlefield and raped is only slightly preferable to actually dying. I was surprised when Mab interrupted. Figured she’d enjoy watching Summer get humiliated.

But I’ve got other games to play today.

I attack. He’s forced to block, parry, block again as I dance around him, whirling faster than he can move, leaving melted slices across his armoured body. This is the problem with my attacks; I’m simply not strong or powerful enough to get in directly. I have to wear him down and create weaknesses before I can properly do any damage. If the Winter Knight could actually pin me down, he’d overcome me easily – which is why I rely on being fast.

And it’s working. 

The Knight’s on the defensive. He’s trying to attack but he’s using too much strength healing his armour and trying to keep up with my movements to focus more than a few brief showers of icicles. And before he knows it, between one attack and the next, I’ve slammed him backwards with both feet and then I’m on his chest, knife in my fist and blade pressed into his neck.

I lean forward, and I kiss his cold lips.

The sound from his throat is somewhere between agony and ecstasy. The blade’s digging in and he can’t tell how far I’ve pushed it, but my lips are warm and the life surrounding me is intoxicating. He doesn’t dare move but he desperately wants to take me. He’s too busy fighting with himself to focus on me.

I’ve won.

Around us, the battle is ebbing; it looks like Summer has won the Table back and the world’s back on track. I leave the Winter Knight on the ground, blood blossoming slowly at his throat and his eyes despairing as the armour melts from his limbs. Mab won’t be happy with him, because I let him live.

But hey. There’s always another Solstice.

On The Nature of Love and Artificial Intelligence

I was musing with my alpha reader about the plot for No Man’s Stars, and we had a conversation about whether an AI would fall in love with a human. A few hours later, he sent me this random plot bunny…and I loved it so much that he’s given me permission to share!

“–Furthermore, our cooperation in all recent events has unerringly led to favourable outcomes. Unconventional solutions, but favourable outcomes.”

“No news there,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “I already know that I’m awesome, man. Where’re you going with this?”

“All available data suggests that your continued presence will yield further favourable results,” the AI said, “in all relevant current and future pursuits. This, in turn, will lead to continued success with regards to the pursuit of my primary purpose. In essence, by being here, you allow me to fulfil my programming. Your absence, by contrast, would constitute an unacceptable loss of resources–”

“Aaron, you’re losing me. Put it in people terms?”

Aaron was silent for a few a seconds. Then he said, “Your presence in my… ‘life’–” He was still using the implied air quotes. “– has become, in itself, favourable to my existence. To put it in terms that you are more familiar with, I believe that I am in love with you, Jeff.”

I choked on my coffee.

“And losing you would… break my heart. It is unacceptable.”

I held up a hand to inform him that I wanted to say something once I’d finished choking. He kindly let me finish, then I said, “First of all, you don’t have a heart to break in any sense. You said yourself that’s not how it works.”

“I am only trying to relay my observations using terms that you can–”

“Second of all…” I gestured to myself, then the console. “A guy and a computer? I mean, come on, man – think of the kids.”

Aaron’s dry voice dripped from the speakers. “Jeff. Please.”

I lifted my hands in a conceding gesture. “Right! Twenty-sixth century, lose the bigotry, got it…”

“That is not what I meant. I was referring to the fact that, regardless as to the chemical unlikelihood of the two of us producing children, I am not ready to commit to a sexual relationship with you. I said that I was in love with you, not that I wanted to make love to you.”

“Oh, sure. Yeah, that’s–” I hesitated, blinking. “Wait. ‘Sexual relationship’? You mean… you can have sex? I mean, we could– We could bang? That’s a thing?”

“No,” he said. “I was being ironic.”

I stopped looking for any suspicious-looking access ports and raised an eyebrow at the camera. “Seriously?”

“No. Ironically.”

“So, are you just taking the piss, or…?”

There was another silence. “No. My original statement is sincere – I believe that I am in love with you. I am sorry if this is difficult for you to understand.”

I stared for a while, waiting for a punchline. There wasn’t one coming. He was being straight with me (so to speak). I set my coffee mug down to the side and ran my hands through my hair. ‘Difficult to understand?’ I blew out a long suffering breath. ‘Yeah. This is gonna be a long, strange night.’

A snippet of writing: No Man’s Sky

This is a snippet from No Man’s Sky, the second in my current WIP series. Arran’s just tried to reach into a black pool, which turned out to be made of acid. His travelling companion isn’t best pleased..I’m not technically writing this yet, but this scene came to me and I needed it out of my head!

Arran examined his ruined hand, poking at the stump. It was sore, but at least the acid had seared the flesh and effectively cauterized it. It looked odd. The skin just sort of ended in a red, burned line and then nothing. He wondered what to do with it, and settled for wrapping it in his jacket sleeve.

“Well, we’re going to the market anyway,” Maria said, annoyed. “You can buy yourself a new one.”

“How do I pay for anything? I don’t have money!”

“You could sell something. Your winning smile? Your wonderful personality?”

“All right, you don’t have to be sarcastic.”

The woman walking next to him gave him a genuinely amused smile as he caught up. “You could sell your arrogance, maybe? Your asshole nature? That’d definitely help.”

“I need those.”

“Trust me, you don’t.” She stretched, cracking joints that had stiffened during their break. “How about lies? You probably have enough of those.”

“What sort of lies?”

“Anything going.”

“Why lies?”

She gave him a sideways glance. “The Fae can’t lie. They’ll pay handsomely for someone else’s.”

“What would I sell my ‘asshole nature’ for, then?”

The beautiful young witch smiled. “How do you think we make curses?”

No Man’s Land: snippet

A snippet from a work in progress…

“You’re saying,” Marek says in his precise way, “that we have six days until this is all over?”

“No,” Luk corrects. “I’m saying we probably have six days until the height of the disturbances. Then it’ll take just as long to calm down, which means it could still be bad for…” He considers. “Another month.”

We’re in Elise’s neat flat, sitting around her table – and kitchen. Tabor, Marek, Luk and Elise have snagged the chairs. Alvin’s perched on a chair back. Nat has taken the nearest armchair in the sitting room, which puts her near enough to hear but far enough away to dodge punches, and I’m sitting on the kitchen worktop. I think Elise is plotting to disinfect it as soon as I leave.

“How much worse-” Alvin starts.

Luk holds up a hand. “If you’re going to ask me how much worse it’s going to get, I have no fucking idea. This is new territory to me too, ok? It’s Solstice-bad now, but for all I know it’s going to stablise, or get worse, or blow everything up.” He’s going more sarcastic as he gets more annoyed. “If anyone’s got good ideas about how to measure it, feel free to pass them along. After all, you lot are the obvious experts here.”

“That was unfair,” Elise tells him reprovingly. “We are doing the best we can to assist.”

There’s a brief moment of conflict in Luk’s face, and then he concedes. “True. Sorry. You are trying.”

And failing, his unspoken comment adds. But only I know him well enough to be able to hear that unsaid addition.