Tag Archives: Dresden

Dresden Writing: A New Start

This is a new piece, with some older characters…I wanted to play with Dini in a new setting, and Aaron’s an old friend that I wanted to bring in. I’ve got a bunch of backstory that I do want to put in, so I’m going to be interested to see where it goes!

 

“She’s been a bit depressed recently,” Lizzy said as she knocked on the apartment door.

“So what do you actually want me to do?” the young man stood behind her asked nervously.

“She just needs some company, really,” Lizzy said vaguely. “A cup of tea, someone to talk to. She used to be a reporter so tell her about some of the cases you’re helping with. That sort of thing.”

The door opened, but he couldn’t see the person on the other side. “You are welcome to enter as my guests,” a flat, tired voice said from the other side, fading as it moved off into the apartment.

“And maybe some cleaning,” Lizzy added quietly as they entered.

The flat wasn’t exactly that it was a mess, Aaron thought. Just that the few things that had been used from a once-neat home hadn’t been put away, and nothing had been swept, or cleaned, or put out in the bins for…he sniffed. Weeks, certainly.

“There’s tea somewhere, but I don’t have any milk.” It was a woman’s voice, coming from the bedroom, and it sounded uncaring.

“Well, there’s your first task, Aaron!” Lizzy said brightly. “Shop’s two minutes round the corner.”

He opened his mouth, nodded, and took the cash she was holding out.

The shop was only a thirty-second jog, and he got the milk easily. He wondered about biscuits, too; he’d have to check what food she had. Maybe someone else did the shopping…

The door was shut again, and he knocked politely. After a minute, it swung open again. “Please come in, guest.”

This time, he got a look at her. Slightly below his height, with grey eyes that were accentuated by deep, dark circles, and a rat’s-nest of tangled white hair. Her t-shirt hung from her shoulders, and the bones of her thin hand stood out as she held the door. She smelled of sweat and tiredness, and something that he couldn’t place; something acrid and unsettling.

She was giving him a thorough once-over as well, and he suddenly felt very exposed – and very bulky, compared to her thin frame. And then she shocked him out of his embarrassed thoughts. “Which pack?”

“What?”

“Which pack?” she repeated.

“How…”

A faint smile twitched the corner of her mouth, and he knew that he was going bright red. “You look like a cub.”

“I’ve been Changed since I was fifteen!”

“And you still act like a cub?” The faint smile was still there; he wondered if it was meant to be as cruel and mocking as it seemed.

“I’m here to train…”

“Stop baiting him, Beth,” Lizzy said from the kitchen. “He came from York.”

“And that explains everything.” The woman let go of the door, the animation fading from her face, and turned away. “He got milk.”

“He’s going to come round every few days. Just to have a chat.”

The woman sat down in one of the armchairs, ignoring the two books, pile of discarded clothing and a half-full coffee mug resting on the arm. “Sure.” It was said with a tired sigh.

“He wants to be a detective. He’s been helping ____ out with some of her cases.”

Beth took the mug of tea that Aaron held out and immediately put it next to the coffee on the arm of the chair. He wondered if she was planning on ignoring it, as she obviously had with the other. “Anything interesting?” she asked him.

“Uh, well, um, we had a case that-”

“They got to investigate… [something that went all wrong and messed up for Aaron].” Lizzy butted in. “Oh, and last week they-”

Aaron sat down and cringed.

 

“It sounded from Lizzy,” Beth said three days later, as they sat with mugs of tea, “ that you’ve rather made a mess of everything so far.”

Aaron felt his stomach shrink. He’d seriously considered not going to visit again, but Lizzy’s face kept intruding whenever he thought about it, and he knew he’d have to answer a lot of awkward questions if he didn’t. Besides, it looked like Beth could use having someone dropping in. “Um, well.”

Her grey eyes were watching him with more sympathy than he’d expected. “Why don’t you tell me how you landed up here, and what you’ve been doing?”

He looked anywhere but at Beth as he tried to give a few details about his pack in York, his move to Oxford, his training with ___. She’d obviously made some effort to clean, or at least put a few things away – the coffee mug had moved from the arm of the chair to the pile by the sink, although as he’d suspected, the tea mug had remained where it had been put when he last came.

“So you’re not part of the pack here?” her voice asked. She still sounded sympathetic.

“No.”

“So?”

He knew what she was asking, and he didn’t want to answer. “I prefer being on my own.”

Silence. He risked looking up, and found her watching him thoughtfully. She wasn’t judging. Wasn’t asking anything else. She was just considering it.

And then she said, “I know the feeling.”

“You’re not a werewolf?” he risked asking. She hadn’t smelled like one, but she’d clocked him as soon as she saw him…

“No. Grew up around them, though.” The smile wasn’t so faint now, and he felt obscurely pleased. “So what have you been up to this week?”

 

He started going over every few days, in between investigations for ___ and talks with Lizzy. Beth was always there – he still wasn’t sure who did her shopping – and he found that, as he started talking to her about the investigations, she seemed to know a lot about it all. But then, if she had been a journalist…

He risked asking her about that as he tried to collect some of the books scattered around her flat and get them back into the shelves. Beth was curled in the chair, not drinking yet another mug of tea.

“I…yes, I was a journalist.” She’d shut down again, arms curled around herself. “Then I had another job for a bit, and now…I’m here.”

“Where did you…journalist?” Usually his awkward turns of phrase would bring out that half-smile, but she just looked…blank, almost. Tired.

“It’s not something I want to talk about.”

“Ok. Um. How about your other job?”

She just shook her head.

“Um. Ok.” And he went back to sorting books. “So, um, I found out more about that robbery…”

 

The next time he went over, he was greeted at the door by a pale, exhausted Beth, but one who was draped in clean clothes and had wet hair – albeit still in a tangled mess. She was holding onto the doorframe, and managed a half-smile. “Please, come in, guest.”

“Hi.” He stepped in and shut the door, and automatically put out a hand as Beth turned, one hand on the wall. She was visibly shaky today, he thought. “Let me make tea?”

She went through to the kitchen anyway, but conceded to sit on the floor while he made tea. He handed the mug down to her, careful not to let it go until he was sure she’d got it, and then sat down opposite her with his own mug.

Beth put a hand up to her head. “So…can you help me shave my hair?”

He blinked. “Um. Sure. Why?”

The grey eyes looked into his for a moment, frustration and despair warring behind the uncaring mask. “Because I can’t wash it.”

“Um, yes. You might want to wait for it to dry, though. I’ve always shaved it dry…”

Something crossed her face; a flash of annoyance. And then she froze, and he saw pain – just for a moment – before she went to stand, shoving herself up from the wooden floor. Her arm gave way, sending her sprawling; her tea mug tipped, sending liquid across the floor, and Beth landed hard on the wood.

Aaron quickly put his own tea mug down and reached out. “Are you…”

Her shoulders were shaking and he saw her crumple, resting her forehead against the floor as the first sob broke free.

He rested a hand on her shoulder, ready to take it away if she didn’t want him there. “It’s ok. It’s just tea.”

He made out something akin to, “it’s not that,” amongst the sobs.

“Your hair? I’m sorry. I’ll help you. Of course I’ll help you.”

Nothing but sobs from the curled heap on the floor. The hot tea was soaking into her slacks, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sorry.”

Still nothing.

“It won’t take long to do, and we could probably do it wet too. I’ve just never tried.”

“Please go away.”

He would have missed the words without his sensitive hearing. “No. Lizzy asked me to be here, and-”

“I’m asking you not to be.”

He shrank back. The words had enough snap and bite to have come from a pack leader; how had she learned to put that much command into them? “Ok. I’m sorry. I’ll see you soon.”

He left her sobbing on the floor, wondering how much more of a mess he could make of everything he touched.

 

He asked Lizzy about it, wondering if she could shed any light on Beth – either her hair, or her job, or why she lived alone in a small flat and didn’t go out. Lizzy just shrugged. “She left her last job, I think – it didn’t end well. I know her as a friend of a friend, they asked me to keep an eye on her, and they knew her as a journalist. That’s pretty much it. I don’t know why her hair would be such a problem. It’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it? She obviously hasn’t brushed it for weeks.”

He trailed back to Beth’s flat a few days later, wondering if she’d let him in. She did, with her usual greeting, and then followed him into the kitchen. She seemed a bit stronger today, he thought – and she’d made another effort at cleaning. The draining board was full of washed crockery.

“I…I’m sorry,” Beth said as he filled the kettle. “For last time.”

“It’s ok.”

She shook her head. “No. Ok. Look. I…I used to be able to do a lot of things, and now I can’t. And…I’m not ok with that yet. Thank you for…sticking around, I guess.”

“I brought my razor,” Aaron said. And he got the half-smile in answer, the one that was slowly spreading towards a full smile again.

The white hair came off in clumps; Beth wanted it down to the skin, with only a stubble left. The razor did a decent job, and when they’d finished, Beth gathered up all the hair into a plastic bag and then caught his hand. “Aaron…can you do me a favour? I’ll have to owe you. I don’t really have anything to repay them with at the moment.”

He blinked at her. “Are you kidding? You’ve been helping me with the investigations!”

Beth stared at him.

“Um. Everything you’ve said about the stuff I’ve been looking into has been…really helpful.” More helpful than ____. “If anything, I owe you…”

Beth was still staring at him. And then she ran a hand across her eyes, suddenly looking tired again. “Who suggested that you come here?”

“Lizzy.”

“Not ___? Do they know each other?”

“Well, yes, they meet at…”

“That….conniving bitch.” Beth turned away, fists clenching.

Aaron blinked. “I’m sorry…?”

“Not you!” Beth spun back, looking more alive – and more frustrated – than he’d seen her in the previous few weeks. “That was their plan? Send me some rookie wolfcub to get me interested in life and get me out of the house? For fuck’s sake!”

“I didn’t…”

She waved a hand at him. “I know you didn’t.” And then she seemed to catch his expression. “I’m not angry at you, Aaron. Or them, really. I just detest being manipulated!”

“How long have you been here?” Aaron asked quietly, following her into the living room.

Beth turned, and the anger was suddenly swept away to be replaced by a lost, frightened look. “I…don’t know. What…what month is it?”

“September.”

“Fall.” The word had a curious longing. “I…six months, I suppose. Thereabouts.”

“Then it sounds like you needed me.”

She looked at him, then, a proper look that took everything in; baggy sweatpants and t-shirt that skimmed his muscles; cropped hair and serious brown eyes; faint flinch and hasty apologies; quick smile and easy laugh. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I did.” She hesitated, then, and added, “Do.”

“What was the favour?” Aaron asked, wanting to push away the lost, frightened look.

“Oh.” Beth looked down at the plastic bag. “Can you burn this?”

“Um. Yes?”

“It’s important.”

He nodded, but Beth was giving him a frowning, worried look. “I will,” he said, trying to reassure her. “Don’t worry.”

“It’s not that. You don’t know why I’m asking?”

He shook his head.

“Oh, for…” She turned away, and then half-turned back. “Your alpha. The one who sent you away, told you that you were useless. He never told you any of…any of the important stuff?”

Aaron couldn’t help the flinch. You’re useless. “She.”

But Beth was already running a hand over her shaved head, looking frustrated. “But you wouldn’t know what was important until you knew it. You don’t know what you don’t know.” She made a noise of disgust and turned away again.

“I’m…sorry.” It came out as a whisper to her retreating back.

And Beth spun back again. “Don’t – you – dare! Don’t…” She shook her head. “Aaron, you are not to blame. You are not the one who failed. You’re not the one who didn’t teach a cub what they needed to know to fucking survive! Your alpha…” She was still shaking her head, and he wondered where the life, the vitality had come from. She suddenly seemed twice as alive. “Your pack failed you, and don’t you ever blame yourself for that.”

And then she seemed to shrink again, folding back into the too-thin, tired lines. “Come and have tea, and we need to talk.”

 

Fifteen minutes later, he had his hands wrapped around a mug of tea, and was feeling a little scared.

“You see why I was…I’m not angry at you, Aaron,” Beth said, running a hand across her shaved head again. “But you should know this stuff. It’s basic! Is Aaron your real name?”

“Yes?”

Beth made a noise of disgust. “Please tell me you’ve never told anyone else your full name.”

He tried to think. “I’m not sure.”

“Well, don’t. It’s currency to control you. Same as the hair. If anyone got hold of that and some of your name, you wouldn’t even realise you were being controlled.”

“That’s scary.”

“Yes. It is. And now you understand why I’m angry. Have they taught you about wizards?”

“I mean, I know they exist…don’t make them angry?”

“Soulgazes? Don’t look at a wizard’s eyes for more than a few seconds.” Beth sighed again. “I wanted to shave my hair so I could go out. But…” she looked down, into the tea. “I want to be interested again. I know I can’t live my life here, and I think ___ knows that too. She sent you to talk to me, get me interested…and it’s worked.”

“You want to help?”

Beth managed a smile. “If you’ll have me along, Aaron, I’d like to come and see what you’ve been up to.”

 

Crime-investigating duo to the fore! I just need something for them to investigate now…

Dresden Files fanfic – gettin’ it out there!

Ok. So. Having had several lovely comments on a Dresden-Files-ish short story (Winter’s Loan), a kick from both PandaFries and Thalamas, and a good day, I took my courage in both hands and jumped.

While I have previously posted some of my Dresden Files fanfic around the RPG I played up until last year, I’ve never had the courage to post more than snippets. But, since this weekend, the first few complete parts of my Dresden Files fanfic is up on Wattpad, and I’m going to be trying to post another bit each week – probably Saturdays.

And holy f*** does this take more courage than I thought I had. It’s ridiculously exciting – I was on top of the world on Saturday and didn’t shut up thanks to overflowing happy energy (sorry, Swindon FreeWriters) but it’s also terrifying.

I loved these characters. I lived them for over two years. I had them in my head and in my life. I wrote so many words of game write-up or extra story…this is a bit of my heart and my soul, and I’m terrified of putting it out there because I feel so small, and so completely and absolutely judged. I’m scared of what people reading are going to think of me. I’m scared of what it says about me (apart from the fact I have a knack for putting my characters in mean situations). I’m scared of what anyone who reads is going to think. It was fiction, yes, but it was choices that I made for my characters – and having almost lived the situations, I can’t stay as removed from it as I can with my other writing. I was there, having those arguments, laughing at the antics. With the game, at least, it’s not just in my head – and while most of these pieces are just character extrapolations from that (certainly the romance and sex scenes would be a bit of a different roleplay style from the one we played, and probably require less clothing) it’s still got that heart-string tug.

But…I love it. Re-reading, I can’t stop smiling. I love it. And I want to share it.

It will only be the Dresden Files Swindon game that will get shared, and I’m still taking that one story at a time, so there may end up being pieces I don’t put up. I won’t ever be sharing any of the wolfpack games; while I wish with all my heart that I could share Ryan’s writing with you, I can’t get his permission, and I don’t think he’d want it shared. I absolutely adore it – but it’s his, not mine. And so that will stay locked.

But as for everything else… *deep breath* I can do this. I can. So, keep an eye out on Wattpad for new stories, and absolutely please, honestly, tell me what you think!

On games, politics, and blowing up vampires

When I asked the boys – about a year ago – what they wanted their character arcs to be in the new game, Ryan’s answer was to do with Aaron’s leadership, character growth, heroic deeds…

Sam just wanted his food-obsessed werewolf to have eaten at every McDonalds in the local area. I laughed quite hard.

The game and the city for my wolfpack had grown out of the Dresden Files game I’ve played for the past three years or so. We left it in Swindon, but picked up on some unused elements – a pack of werewolf hackers in the Museum of Computing, the Paranet of magical talents, a few new characters, a few revamped old characters (including one unsavoury character called Tom Logan, a derivative from my Winter Knight) and some new arcs. The boys had both settled down in the city, and so for the arc we’ve just played I added some politics and some complications to their heroic do-good quest. So I had Aaron, a lovesick and slightly single-minded hero, and Willy, food-obsessed and sarcastic sidekick, running around Swindon causing every type of havoc there is to cause.

One of the things I loved about the world was the possibility for tangents. Ryan caused one of the most fun ones; I’d included a White Court vampire (who feed off sex) and Aaron had cheerfully gone to see her to try to solve a mystery. She got ‘interested’, Ryan gave me that big grin and said “nope!” when I asked if he wanted his character to get a clue and leave, and after a glossed-over night of debauchery that I definitely wasn’t going to roleplay we ended up with a sex-obsessed werewolf with half a soul and a revenge raid on Foxxies’ strip club that involved a bin lorry and ripping hearts out. As GM, I was sitting there laughing my ass off and cheerfully encouraging them on.

The latest arc was an offshoot from that political mix-up, and says a lot about why I loved playing. The ghouls that had been used by the White Court for people-trafficking were still in town, and people were still vanishing. But despite more cameras, more systems, more checks, the wolfpack couldn’t find any evidence of the victims in the White Court hangouts, which obviously meant they weren’t looking hard enough *GM roll of the eyes*. Incidentally, our heroic heroes were also working for one of the local mafia bosses, innocently assisting with creating drugs and not noticing that said mafia boss might have a hand in the people-trafficking…I swear, sometimes you gotta beat your players over the head with clues!

The game we’d just played was one of the most enjoyable and simultaneously frustrating for me. We were hitting the finale; Aaron’s love interest had been kidnapped, and the wolves had taken the bait to run off someplace else rather than use their heads (all planned, cue GM smirk). They’d finally twigged where she was after an in-game day, and were planning a raid on the place to get her back. I was sat there answering questions on the house layout, letting them wonder if quadcopters could be rigged to carry thermite and how big a sewer was, and knowing that as soon as it got dark I’d be playing my own move. They had so much fun, and I knew it was all potentially for nothing…best-laid plans and all that!

And then as soon as dusk fell, the Red Court vampires turned up with an offer to negotiate. They wanted to see Aaron. Now.

The wolves went. Found the girl. Agreed – reluctantly, and surprisingly without Aaron trying to tear anyone’s head off – that the wolfpack would negotiate a truce with the Red Court, and agree to join forces against Cornetti. Aaron got handed the girl. They left.

And then said girl tried to eat him.

It’s the little things.

I had – as GM – to step in at that point and do a minor amount of meta-gaming. Noelle was Ryan’s creation and character; even though he’d allowed me free rein over her (up to and including killing), I was still reluctant to see her turn Red Court and have her kill everyone, which was one of the options at that stage. And so while Sam dozed on the sofa and occasionally interjected a comment, Ryan nodded seriously and said, “Yeah, I can fit that in. Noelle, you have to go back to safety now, we’re taking you back to the Museum. I love you. And I kiss her forehead.”

“Roll for it. Your conviction against her discipline.” The strength of Aaron’s love against the bloodlust taking over his girlfriend.

And he won.

He got a grin, part relief that all my planning had finally played out and part happiness that he succeeded, and a nod as he started to smile back. “You did it.”

Of course, they still had the Red Court to blow up in revenge…why waste a good attack plan just because you’ve got the girl back? But that was the next session, and that never happened.

So the game ends there. I’ve got notes on the next arc – Ryan wanted to play Logan, a foul-mouthed and selfish wizard who had a tendency to tell everyone to have sex with themselves and push people’s buttons just to piss ’em off, and who was just ridiculous amounts of fun to play. Sam was considering plotting another game using his wizards and secret society, and my planned arc had a secret vault, a stolen book, a shadowy organisation, the world in danger and time ticking down…

Wolf by Paul in Seattle
From http://wolvesbystrangers.com/images/from-paul-in-seattle1.jpg

I miss two people. I miss Ryan, my friend and my reader, my inspiration. And I miss Aaron, ambitious and loyal, athlete, leader, werewolf and absolute bloody idiot. I loved Ryan’s grin when his character did something stupid; his frown when they were trying to make sense of my clues; his emails and pings with another snatch of story or idea for the game. He loved the world and the characters – he wrote fanfiction and short stories, wrote up the snippets of game, gave me ideas, gave himself confidence. I wanted him to run his own game, once he’d got the confidence – I wanted him to learn to GM, knowing that he’d love it as much as I did.

We’ve shelved the game and the world now; I won’t play another game in it, not yet. I need time to let the characters go and let the ideas fade. But I loved it, and I know he did too.

Heartsore

My friend Ryan Rogers, @UnlicensedBrony, was killed in an accident on the 5th January in Stonehouse on his way to see us. He was a regular gamer (aka. every week) with my housemate Sam and I, and he’d often stayed with us over the past year – helping with DIY and gardening, learning to cook and drive, watching films, playing board games, talking about writing and occasionally actually doing some writing. He was someone I considered a very close friend, and someone I spoke to nearly every day.

And now he’s not here.

It still hasn’t sunk in.

I still go to text or email him – I think of something he’d find amusing or interesting, or that I want to get his opinion on. I’m waiting for the text to say he’ll be at Stroud station, or the email from him with a new story or plotline idea. I’ve got notes for the next Dresden RPG game, now abandoned; plans and snippets of ideas that would have been so much fun to play. I’m still expecting him to walk in the door and give me a quick hug before getting sat on by the cat and handed the remote so that he can choose the cheesy 80’s film for the evening.

Everything just ends so abruptly.

I’ve lost my alpha reader, my inspiration, my friend.

I’ve lost the man with an infectious smile, bright eyes, unexpected hugs, thoughtful words. I’ve lost the athlete who beat me easily in a race across Coaley Peak in the sunshine and bright frost with the view stretching out ahead of us, the world at our feet. I’ve lost the adorable idiot who let the cat sit on him until 1am and his legs had gone numb, just so that he didn’t wake the furball. I’ve lost the gamer who sighed in relief when he got his character out of danger and then promptly plunged back into it just for the fun of the game. I’ve lost the reader who loved my stories and somehow got into my character’s heads almost as well as I did. I’ve lost the caffeine addict who was always up for another cup of tea but would always offer me one too, despite knowing I don’t have tea for blood like he did. I’ve lost the opponent who regularly matched three potions before I could, and the colleague who drowned in sand with me as we failed at Forbidden Desert. I’ve lost the quiet company during our walks down the canal and our seat on the lock gate, just watching the leaves and not having to talk. I’ve lost the roleplayer who would chime in with an unexpected grin, a sharp retort, a sneaky plot. I’ve lost the insecure, broken soul who was learning how to speak out about the hurt, and say what he needed to be able to heal. I’ve lost the teenager who laughed with excitement at catching a Pokemon and always knew what they were called. I’ve lost the sleepyhead who curled up in my arms on the sofa and nodded off halfway through Poco Rosso. I’ve lost the derp who drilled through a mains water pipe and panicked at the resulting water fountain, and then learned how to solder to fix the mistake. I’ve lost the singer who corrupted me with Taylor Swift and whose unexpected voice brightened the moments when he relaxed enough to bring it out. I’ve lost the child who sprinted across the park to get the kite into the air and the adult who sprinted back, laughing as it flew. I’ve lost the writer who loved my world so much that he wrote his own stories, delved into parts I never could have created and brought so much life and imagination to a fantasy of a city. I’ve lost the student who would have a go at anything, from making lasagne to using an impact driver for the first time to taking a corner at 40mph. I’ve lost the friend who knew exactly what I was talking about when I talked about depression, about inspiration, about feeling lost, about finding your path.

I’ve lost someone who meant so much to me. I’m still crying every time I think of him; I’ve got a lump in my chest, a cold fog across my thoughts. I can’t focus for long, can’t concentrate. Every thing I see reminds me, somehow, of the person that I can no longer contact, the friend that I desperately miss.

But. The last time I saw him I got that beaming Ryan smile, and my final words to him were, “You’re awesome too. I’ll see you Wednesday.”

He knew he was loved, and that means that every memory I have makes me smile even as it makes me cry. He knew that he was cherished, valued, accepted – I told my friend that I loved him so many times and he believed me, and that’s everything I could ever want for anyone. I’m so glad that I knew him and that I took the time to listen and relax and just be in his company. He was my friend, and I cherish all the time that he chose to spend with me.

Ryan, you’re an absolute derp, and I miss you like hell. I might even finally get round to watching My Little Pony in your honour.

Edit: update here, TW: suicide.

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.