A is for: Any Given Day / Access Restricted

I had a couple of different ideas of how to start off the A-Z month, but a little bit of fiction seemed like a good fit. Then I had trouble picking just the one idea to flesh out. So you get two!

 

“Shades.”

The smart blinds rolled slowly up the windows, revealing the bright blue of the Pacific skies outside the windows, though still muted slightly from full brightness. Van Sant rarely chose to unmute those crystal tones unless he had company, and certainly not when he first woke up.

 

As he stood and stretched, and padded towards the shower, his mind truly began to wake up. The data ghost of his digital consciousness began to check in with his waking mind, slowly drip-feeding the results of the various overnight tasks it had accomplished. After breakfast, when he felt his consciousness truly integrated once more, that drip feed would ramp up in frequency as data began to pour in from across the city and further afield.

Dossiers on various potential contacts and recruits had been compiled, notes on new products had been collated into a single document for analysis before production, the automated stock trading program had noted several potential new investment opportunities and not red-flagged any sudden damage to his portfolio, and the message notification counter for anything requiring more than an cursory response sat well below fifty. All in all, a peaceful but successful night’s sleep.

 

As he ate a light breakfast and drank fine imported coffee, the newsfeeds scrolled through his peripheral vision, articles highlighted for any of his key search terms. He read a handful on pharmaceutical research, one on gang violence flaring in the northern end of the city, one or two on organised crime arrests of black-hat hackers.

Whilst the authorities had been quoted urging for calm in the latter item as the investigation was ongoing, his muse made a note to research software upgrades for his personal and business datameshes, and began to run a more detailed check on any outside access from the last few days for any irregularities.

 

Finally, dressed and ready for the day ahead, Adam van Sant moved to his personal office space, the desk overlooking the city below from the corner of his penthouse apartment.

As the hardware decks began to spin up and his muse began to interface with the various more powerful AIs that inhabited them, he began to respond to his messages from his recruits in the north of the city.

 

Product was being intercepted, protection for further shipments was needed. Van Sant would be only too happy to provide it.

After intercepting a rival’s product shipment, they found he had new lines in pills and stims, images included. Van Sant could provide a dealer for these.

New arms shipments received, the plan went without incident. A joy to hear.

Rivals had been scouting claimed territory, help required. Van Sant had a friend with a lot of arms who owed a favour.

New clients looking for something out of the ordinary. Not an issue, new products based on cutting edge pharmacopoeia available soon.

 

Finally, he opened his bandwidth and activated his voice address and began the tasks of the day.

He needed to replace some employees who had made the mistake of getting caught. The AIs began seeding tests to the mesh networks like a breadcrumb trail for potential recruits to find.

And then the phone began to ring.

“Candyman,” he smiled, “what do you need?”

 

 

* * *

The screen blinked it’s *ACCESS RESTRICTED* message whilst Fletch’s smartbar got to work. Within a couple of seconds, she was through. A couple of taps at her screen and the government access point forgot she’d even tried to gain entry. The white hats would write it off as faulty wiring again just like the day before and she could get to work.

Someone had been leaving a trail to follow in her usual hangouts on the mesh, and other black and grey users were dropping comments all over the darkfeeds and geocache messageboards of other clues to find. Fletch’s curiosity was peaked, but it seemed like a lot of trouble to go to just to find employees.

Then she’d found the encrypted layers to the trail.

Built beneath clues, which were now being called breadcrumbs by everyone who found them, layers and layers of encrypted puzzles had begun to point her to other points of the mesh. It looked like other users hadn’t cracked much of the encryption yet, and she was sure she was definitely the only one collecting data from geocache dumps around the city, data that didn’t look like much but had begun to form a geographic pattern across the city.

Today she’d begun to find the hidden geocaches, ones only pointed to by the pattern of street numbers and names and not by any of the online breadcrumbs. They’d started giving her more to look for, and a lot more to worry about.

And a phone voice address to call once she was sure she’d pieced together the solution to the puzzle. A voice address with a countdown timer.

But there was no fucking solution.

Fletch had spent the day scouring the city in search for the answer, getting increasingly desperate. She’s hacked a handful of blockchain accounts to pay for taxi spinners to take her across the city. She’d accessed all kinds of feeds and meshports looking for any kind of pattern. She’d been popping whiteout stims for the past two days, and it was starting to take its toll.

The voice address self-destructed in a few minutes. Her throat felt dry as she swallowed, and tapped her throat-mic to life.

The connection rang.

Once.

“Congratulations,” said a man’s voice. “You’re the first person to call this number. I was beginning to think today would not be as successful as yesterday. Have you enjoyed the game?” He sounded calm, cold.

Fletch didn’t know what to say. “Y-yes?”

“Good. Now, miss…” he trailed off for a moment, then she could hear his smile in his words. “Miss Fletcher. Good. Do you have a solution?”

How the fuck did he know her name? “N-n-no. That is, there is no solution. Just this number. Is that right?”

There was a long pause. Finally, he spoke again.

“It looks like you are correct, there was no solution for your puzzle Ms Fletcher.” My puzzle? How many fucking puzzle were there? A sinking feeling crept in to her stomach.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked, as cold as before.

“I can make a guess,” she replied. The fucking Candyman. Fuck. Great going Fletch.

“Good,” she could hear his smile again. “Would you like a job, and would you like to be fabulously wealthy?”

Fuck.

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Razir – a continuation

(This piece is part of a work in progress, a continuation of a piece I wrote in 2014, where I spent 20 minutes writing what I had brewed in my head so far.

I’ve since wanted to go back and rewrite that piece, make it closer to how I want it to be. I probably will at some point, and make this into something more fully formed, but I wanted to see what ideas had come together so far.)

 

Razir ran on, tired, sweat on his back drenching his shirt.

He hadn’t slept in two days, having woken screaming. The owner and several guests at the inn had tried unsuccessfully to calm him down. He couldn’t forget the sight of the old, burned warrior lying on the beach, telling him to protect the Queen as he quickly dissolved to dust and disappeared into the sand.

It was all he could think about.

That, and the feeling of the oar handle he had held pressed in a vice-like grip. The icy coldness of it had almost burned against his skin as he’d awoken from the terrible nightmare.

 

But Razir knew enough about the world to know what happened could happen again, at any time. One doesn’t simply wake up in the Deadrealms without dying. Not unless the Queen had summoned you there.

And she only called you before her for one reason – you had some particular skill, some knack that she needed, some thing that might keep the armies of the Fiend away from the cliffs, away from the beach, away from any and all souls of the dead who he might bind to bolster his forces.

Razir had no intention of becoming a deathless soldier in her war. He would no swear her oath, would not become one of her agents in life or death.

 

Razir’s mother had always told him that his father was Oathed. He was never told to which of the Ascended the man was sworn, and no one else seemed to know.

He’d always believed it had been a lie to give his mother comfort when the stranger that was his father had gotten bored and moved on. Many had told the same story to countless other lovers. It was a useful lie.

But one that Razir could never bring himself to retell.

 

And now, on he ran. Perhaps he could find some place of safety, somewhere that the dream couldn’t pull him back. If it could.

Razir didn’t want to take any chances. He kept running, couldn’t let the tiredness take him. He had to reach the old man and ask him. He would know what had happened.

He would know what to do.

 

(That’s about all I have so far. Short, but something. I have some more but it’s not the bit that comes next. Or after that. Maybe after that, but probably not. More soon.)

 

 

 

J is for: Jhomal ab-Braetha, Agent of the Willow Court

“My name is Jhomal. For several years now, my life has not been my own.

I was once a petty thief, but I had dreams. I travelled, trying to keep ahead of any bad reputations. I changed my name more than once, for what little good it did me in the end.

When they caught me, I did not know my fate. I was in a foreign land with no one to vouch for me, save the ones that introduced me to my latest mark. As I waited for justice, I realised they were local thieves who had wanted rid of me, not benefactors for a job. No matter any more.

I waited, and waited. When I felt about to die of thirst, a waterskin was thrown into my cell. When I felt about to die of hunger, I awoke to a dish of gruel by the door. I had to fight the vermin for it.
This went on for a long time, long enough I forgot the passing of days.
I was on the edge of delirium when they came to hand me my justice. But it wasn’t what I had expected.

My mark was a wealthy merchant in the Willow Court, one of the many houses that the Wildfolk divide themselves into. He had seen potential in me, if only because I had almost gotten away with several of his possessions before his own personal army had found me.
He offered me a new job, a new life. Or slow and painful death. I had little choice.

I would be his agent in Queenstown. I understood quickly that many of the Courts had their own agents there, but that most were Wildfolk and thus lacking certain benefits that a canny master might employ.

I was tutored in new skills, which I was to learn quickly or suffer swift punishment. I learned that the gruel they gave me had been laced with an insidious substance, one that they would supply. If I ever ran out of the so called “honey nectar”, I would perish. Painfully. To prove the point, it was once withheld for a day. I would not wish the agony upon my worst enemies.

Or maybe on a select handful.

I was home in Queenstown, but with a different name, different priorities. I had to follow the will of the Willow in all things.
I had new training to fall back on in conversation, bargaining, etiquette, but also the sword, poisons, simple magical rituals and a deeper understanding of the silent craft of the thief, and of the assassin.

I’m not proud of the new life I was forced to lead, or of the things I was made to do.

I worry though. The pain from the honey nectar has not begun, and I haven’t had a sip today.”

Found among the effects of a prisoner due to be thrown into the Whorl, believed to be written whilst he was captive. No escape attempt recorded, no prisoner was executed. Unknown how this script arrived in his effects after it was written.

Writing 101, Day One: 20 minutes of freewriting

His eye jolted open at the sound of a distant screaming. His arms and legs were cold, his clothes and hair stuck to him with water. Saltwater and gritty sand covered his lips.
He didn’t know where he was.

Razir had fallen asleep in his room at the inn, exhausted, fresh into port. He didn’t believe it to be a dream, and couldn’t remember a storm that had washed him overboard.
The air filling his lungs was cold, and he could hear the waves lapping at a beach. The sky directly above was grey, clouds filtering the light of the sun in such a way he couldn’t tell if it was dawn or dusk or anywhere in between.

Lifting his head slowly, he found himself on a beach of grey and black sand, and above sheer cliffs, perhaps once white but clearly scorched and cratered as far as he could see, before a pervasively thick mist covered them from view. From the sands and the shallow waters rose wrecks of many small boats, all made of dark wood, or else burned black themselves.

Another scream, and this time the roar of a great crowd, high above, at the top of the cliffs, and then a sound like none he had ever heard, as if a storm erupted from the throat of some great hulking monster. Strange light flashed high above, and then he found himself running for the cover of the cliffs themselves as great clods of earth and stone began to rain down onto the beach and the waters.

Stumbling over something hidden in the sand, Razir barely stopped himself falling head first into the last of the plummeting materiel, and then, eyes widening, he realised this last was the charred and still smoking form of an armoured man.

Razir fell to the ground, sprawling twice as he tried to hastily crawl backwards away from the thing in front of him. His hand fell on the peg of flotsam he had stumbled over, the handle of some oar or tiller.
A low pained moan arose from the throat of the dying man before him, and all too bright eyes looked towards Razir.
“Run, lost soul,” he barely choked out the words. “His forces have almost made the beach. You don’t have long to escape yourself.”

Eyes filled with terror, Razir once again looked about himself. He understood where he was all too clearly. Razir had awoken in the Deadrealms, at the shores of the Sea of Souls itself. And the wild armies of the Fiend, the Lord of Undeath, had almost broken through the lines of warriors loyal to the Black Lady.
And then the sky lit up again.

I think that went pretty well. It’s something that’s been evolving in my head for a couple of months now, but I needed to throw it down eventually. And I managed to get it all done in twenty minutes. Well, barring that last sentence, when my alarm started to go off.
I’ll try write some more on Razir and the Deadrealms soon.

Check out Writing 101 for more on the daily tasks (not sure if I’ll manage them daily!), specifically this one for day one.

The Nobles and their houses

I’ve been saying I’ll do this for a while, but I never got around to it. No time like the present.

So far, the only Noble households I’ve bothered with are Hawksmoore, Foxworthy, Mandeville, Wenlock and Dabbler. A great many of the nobles are resentful that upstarts with money are now able to buy themselves power and a title, but such is the way of the world.

The Hawksmoores have been the hereditary heads of the city of Queenstown, culminating in the current Margrave, Thomas Hawksmoore. They are also responsible for the manufacturing of any weapons and armour that the Queenstown Militia may need, and own a number of foundries and blacksmiths.

The Foxworthys made their money decades ago, and are heavily invested in the shipping and banking industries. Roughly a quarter of all ships coming into Queenstown are something to do with the Foxworthy family, and they own and lease a great many of the warehouses that merchants use.
Alistair Foxworthy is the current head of the Queenstown Bank, and a great many people are in his pocket because of this. His wife, Melody, is a portly woman with exotic and expensive tastes in food and clothing.

The old warhorse that is Lord Mandeville is an aging old coot, but his much younger wife is the real powerhouse of the family. She manages to keep the family well to do despite little or no industrial connection. Rumoured to be involved in the vice trade in some way, the Mandevilles themselves have no idea the levels that their matriarch has fallen to in order to keep their political clout. A great many of the Queenstown Senators are in the Mandeville pocket.
(A certain barmaid in Kingsmead may or may not be the missing daughter of Lord and Lady Mandeville, as their youngest ran away from home several months ago…)

The Wenlocks officially own the Northwood, the woods outside the North Gate of Queenstown where the nobles do all of their hunting. They own several lodges within the wood that can also be rented.
Always well educated, members of the family do have a habit of long stretches without being seen. It is thought that they travel about the world, and this is true. However, there may or may not be a connection with the Circle, a group of thieves and assassins that prowls the town at night, particularly the rooftops. There’s even a rumour coming out of the port that a similar group operates in the distant City of Festivals, and in the capital of the Northern Imperial Republic.

The Dabblers are a family of new money, having traded their way up to the Noble Estates in the past few decades. Their money comes from various businesses including tanning, shipping, the silk and spice trades, even tinkering and magical services.
Most other nobles resent them and their ability to do well with money. They owe a lot of their success to good dealings with Stonekin both in and out of Queenstown. Their presence in the Senate is still lacking in numbers, despite such a large amount of financial control of the city.

How’s that folks? Sound fun so far?

Queenstown part 4

The pseudo-district of Outwall is a shantytown built up along the main approaches to the city, as well as around the walls themselves. By far the largest outpouring is along the Old Kings Highway, west towards Kingsmead, also close to the Midlands River.
The poorest of the poor and those scraping the bottom of the barrel of their luck are to be found hereabouts, though some residents work inside the city walls and choose to stay by choice (or in some cases, coercion).

The place has none of the amenities of the city – no sewage system, no space for cellars or the frosthouses sometimes built within them t store food, and certainly little to no militia presence. These shortcomings are somewhat made up for by a can-do attitude of many of the residents, as well as beings able to openly bear arms without a formal writ. This loophole is what has let various streetgangs flourish, and it is ironically these and an overarching guild of thieves that keep the streets of Outwall safe (or as safe as anywhere without real law can be).

Hidden within the piecemeal markets, stench of tanners and crash of forges (for there is much industry in Outwall), there are several landmarks hidden away.
The Kingsroad Gate is among the grandest pieces of architecture in Queenstown. The Pit is an illegal coliseum, frequented by the rich and poor alike. The Thieves Guild operate out of Scabber’s Den, a secret safehouse-cum-bar-cum-marketplace. The Riverwitch’s Bridge is an old, now collapsed bridge that crossed the Midlands River at a wider but shallower part of its estuary, and some say the crumbling ruins are haunted.

The characters encountered in Outwall are some of the most colourful in the city, if also the least clean.
Shadrack is a scruffy beggar, often mistaken for a pile of rags when he sleeps. He also seems to know the in and outs of what goes on in Outwall, and in Queenstown itself, though he rarely converses with anyone who isn’t a beggar.
Scabber runs the Thieves Guild with an iron fist, and any who cross him soon find themselves joining the ghosts at the Riverwitch’s Bridge.
The Raven is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. A vigilante, he is only known by his raven-feather calling card, left upon the unconscious bodies of the crooks he encounters.
At any time, a wandering priest of the Traveler will minister to those that will listen, and sometimes more naive priests of the other gods and goddesses will attempt something similar.

That’s all for now, next up will be the nobles and their houses.

Kingsmead character overview part 2

This update is a more in depth look at the Hunter family in Kingsmead.

I tried not to be too detailed. The point is to outline the heads of the family and a handful of important characters. The ones that aren’t so important are at least getting a little plot drop.

Pa Hunter

Ulfrik Hunter, called Pa by everyone in the village, is a grey-haired bear of a man. He is the patriarch of the clan, and runs the Kingsmead Inn. He is known for giving honest prices for his services and wares, and is the man to come to for information on local goings-on.

He is good friends with Haskthrone Brewer and Candle, often playing cards and drinking with the former, and the latter when Candle chooses to drink.

Pa and Ma, along with his brother Derrik, used to go on all kinds of adventures, or so the stories go.

Ma Hunter

Copper-haired Therese Hunter, née Keeper, is the true owner of the inn, as the only child of the Keeper clan. She has been married to Pa for twenty odd years, and has three daughters and a son.

She spent a large part of her childhood away from the village, at the Raethmoore Mage Academy to the north. She is known to use her magical skills to improve her wares at the Kingsmead Bakery.

Angela Hunter

Roughly sixteen years of age, she has recently developed an infatuation with Ronan Brewer, following his return from schooling in Queenstown. She is most normally found in the Inn.

She can sometimes be found in Peony Thatcher’s flower and vegetable garden, where Peony extolls the various virtues of the Lady of the Autumn.

Lorelei Hunter

Roughly fourteen, she has inherited some ability in Arcanery from her mother, though she is unschooled in its use. She is most often found helping her fathe rin the Inn, and is often the one cooking any meals.

Sonya Hunter

Roughly twelve years of age, she has the brightest red hair of the children. She helps her uncle Alder to run the Rabbitry, and is very good with the rabbits. Sometimes she can be seen talking to them in the meadow.

Tim Hunter

The youngest of the Hunter children in the village at about seven years old. He can usually be described as ‘the snot-nosed boy running about the village’. He fetches people and things, and runs about with messages for various people. He doesn’t talk much.

When not running about, he is usually found sat outside the Inn, or doting on barmaid Jessica with childish gifts.

He fell down the village well a few years ago, and now refuses to go near it (though he also refuses to drink anything but the wellwater).

Derrik Hunter

Pa’s brother, Derrik is the village goatherd and a cheesemaker. He is barely a few years younger than Pa, but has never married. It is said that he once had a love, but lost her tragically.

Growing up, he was apprenticed to a local priest of the Darkling Queen, the goddess of death. He is often called upon for funerary services, but he always refuses.

Alder Hunter

Runs the village Rabbitry, is something of a hunter and butcher.

Berith Hunter

Alder’s wife of many years, and Peony Thatcher’s older sister. Runs the bakery with Ma.

Canaan Hunter

Canaan is Alder and Berith’s eldest son. He is about ten or so, and wants to grow up to go on adventures, even if people say something terrible happened to his uncle Derrik.

Canaan has a friendship with Smerrig the Kobold, who is secretly teaching him swordplay.

Special Mention: Jessica Mandeville

Jessica is a runaway from the Noble Estates precinct of Queenstown, and is the youngest daughter of Lord Mandeville.

Whilst he was being schooled in Queenstown, Ronan Brewer and Jessica fell in love. She followed him home, though they have yet to break the truth of her relationship (or indeed her identity) to anyone in the village. She is the only employee of the Kingsmead Inn, at the insistence of Ma Hunter.

Currently, as far as Haskthrone is concerned, the girl that Ronan is far too good for (he had no idea it was a Lord’s daughter) is far away in Queenstown.

Ok, that’s it. If anyone wants to here more about characters, I’ll try and flesh them out a bit more.

I remembered about halfway through that I should have mentioned in my first post – the overall colouration of most of the inhabitants of Kingsmead is a fair complexion with red or copper coloured hair, often with freckling.

My next post will either involve some details of Queenstown, the capital of what is now known as the Old Crown region, or I may drop information on some gods and goddesses. They’ve almost all entirely changed since my first blog post (you may notice discrepancies between posts).