The Writer's Circle

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Hyder
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Wed Jun 08, 2016 12:14 pm

No problem OR, I'll keep posting them here anyway. I should be getting the next chapter up later today.

kerr9000
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by kerr9000 » Wed Jun 08, 2016 12:48 pm

Not written that much lattly but I do kind of have 2 sort of developments in my writing life... One I now have a writting partner who I will be doing some stuff with which I am really looking forward to, shes also my somewhat new girlfriend but we have been friends for a long time, overall its making me very very happy in lots of ways.

The other is someone having seen my work wants to get me to adapt an idea they have in to a story which they can then adapt in to a screen play for an indi film... not sure how far this will go or if I am the right man for the task as what they want is quiet far away from the stuff I do, so it may go nowere but its still kind of cool.

Hyder
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Wed Jun 08, 2016 7:47 pm

As promised...
Life in the End Times

Chapter 7 - Temple

My mind was a haze, a spiralling descent and ascent through some confused landscape of a disturbed dream. I was sat – no, laid on my back – upon the ground of an anamorphic chamber of monochrome grey, and I could hear disembodied voices echoing across translucent walls. The scene was punctuated by strange shifting shapes which eerily floated about, distorting and reconstructing themselves at will, like clay span on a disc. They finally began to settle into familiar forms, like those one recalls from childhood memory but cannot remember their exact purpose or characteristics; shapes which were barely anchored into reality. Then, all at once, I began to remember them all. I could see a table and chair, the shadow of a dangling chandelier, and the glow of candlelight, and two blurry phantoms hunched over together. As I strained to look beyond them the background fell off into a white canyon of nothingness, as a few faint contours heralded this peculiar chasm. The ghostly voices became intelligible as those of a man and woman, and their forms started to come into sharper definition and colours started to splash into my spectrum; the embroidered hem of a lilac dress; the heavy folds of a brown robe; the long luscious curls of black hair falling over bare shoulders. As their aesthetics became clearer so did the voices, and with every passing moment they became more familiar to me. Was it my sister and father? The prefect and my mother? The figures gradually acquired their individuality, but the hushed tones of these two speakers still evaded the identification of my frustrated and confused mind. Were they strangers? Was it the arch-minister and some unknown woman? ‘Theodore’, I heard from the female voice, then ‘daughter’ from the same speaker. It must be my mother and the steward.

With the details sorted, I started to hear more and more, and actually process the words. ‘Tell me what happened’, said Mother, but the response was long. ‘They were upon us… Pelagius had not reached the front in time… City might have fallen’. The words registered, but they were exorcised of any meaning. I willed myself to break out of my semi-conscious quagmire, as part of my mind was still ensnared in a dream-world, whilst the other was clawing back to sensibility. My mother’s voice sounded again, but this time I could start to make sense of her, ‘Saw the walls break apart… the palace collapsed… thought the temple would be next… crying out for Fortune’s favour.’ I could remember the palace and walls falling too. ‘We were stormed… palace precinct could not hold- we fell back to the streets… people started rioting.’ The steward came back again. The logic of conversation started to take hold again, but my recognition of the sentences was still off the mark; sometimes I would catch the words, but some would be disjointed by my sleepy experience of time. The steward continued, ‘Imperial party took off… regrouped at the plaza- emperor needed horses… path was too hazardous- horses confiscated… left the princess.’ Left the princess? I remembered the besieged plaza, the rows of injured soldiers, and the awful destruction. My self-awareness kicked me out of pseudo-sleep. My mother’s furious tone, barely controlled by gritted teeth, met my fully-woken ears.

“You left her with the soldiers? What on earth were you thinking?” She must have been just a few feet away from me, but I dared not open my eyes. Even in anger she maintained an educated inflection. In fact, the anger probably accentuated it.

“I offer my deepest apologies my Lady… none of us could have expected the defences to break so quickly. I had intended to return as soon as I could!” I had never heard Theodore so flustered. “The emperor, your husband, demanded my presence!” He stuttered in response. It was even worse than his embarrassed encounter with the arch-minister by the bay.

“You left my daughter in the dirt, with injuries, and on the verge of a warzone.” She scoffed, and I heard footsteps circle. When she next spoke, her voice felt near, then far, then near again in a cycle. “Marcus – my nephew – died for your negligence, first burnt by smoke and fire, then impaled by one of the barbarians.” She stopped again. The silence was intentional, a contrast to the severity of her invective. “Yet even now, you expect me to let her remain in your care? What pithy arrogance. You may have the court’s ear, but you do not have mine, dear steward.”

“Agatha – my Lady –, you must understa-” To hear him address my mother by name was surprising to say the least. She was part of the imperial family after all, and the use of personal names assumed a position of great privilege. Were they friends? I tried to hold back a growing itch at the back of my throat, but the annoyance was getting too much.

“Be quiet, steward. If I didn’t know better-” I choked, and my body jerked from the ad hoc bedroll I lay upon. My mother dashed around, whatever frustration she bore for Theodore dispelled in an instant. “I am here, my sweetheart.” She glided towards me, taking a seat beside me and taking my head in her arms. The steward stayed rooted to the ground, but displayed a tender smile. Neither of them seem to have realised that I was listening. Between the confusion of my awakening and my curiosity at the conversation I overheard, I had forgotten about excitement for the reunion with my mother. Like my father we had been apart for a long time, but for my father it was understandable. He had duties to attend to and soldiers to lead. What was mother doing? I had been made the charge of the steward apparently, but for what reason? Perhaps it would have been better if I heard nothing of their hushed exchange.

“I’m okay mother…” I wasn’t really. My throat was very dry, my body was aching and sore everywhere. Every few seconds I felt like coughing up my guts, such were the unpleasant convulsions. I spotted a pile of ashen clothes upon the table in front of me, and soon recognised them as my own. It was then that I remembered the escape on horseback, the unbearable heat, the attack, and the witches’ head falling to the ground. I couldn’t recall anything after that. “Where are we?” I coughed out.

“We are in the great temple my dear.” Her voice was an affectionate caress, the kind of sound which brought with it years of association with warmth, comfort and safety.

“To Fortune the Fickle?” I knew the temple, everyone did. Besides the palace, it was probably the largest and most splendid structure to grace the dirty ground of the City and pierce the lofty clouds in the sky. Well, with the palace gone I suppose it now held the prime position. I had been in it only a few time before, on occasions of exceptional worship. From what I could pick out from my mixed recollections of those visits, the temple was so immense that it could host tens of thousands at a time. Its exterior was pentagonal, and upon its five sides rested monoliths of stone, each of them topped by twirling minarets housing the silver carillons of the temple. Its dome was made entirely from stained glass, and it adorned the apex like the crystalline crown of a titan. I used to stare at it from the balcony of my room in the palace, watching as the sunset illuminated the alabaster walls and listening for the bells which jangled from the towers for the dusk worship. I could never understand why something fickle was adorned with such resplendence, and revered so fanatically.

“Come, my sweet, let us see the patriarch. Can you walk, dear?” She said, edging me from the sheets. I winced, failing to hide my pain, and the steward rushed over to take my arms. Together they lifted me to my feet, and with Theodore’s arm guiding me carefully we left the room. I felt bare without my jewelled silk dress and luxurious velvet shoes, which given the circumstances had been ignominiously cast aside in favour of a set of pale grey linens. They were comfortable enough, a little worn by age and moth-bitten by disuse, but I could not complain. I could even boast a pair of fur-lined slippers upon my little feet. As we passed beneath an ornate marble archway into the grand chamber of the temple, I could see that my clothes were a luxury compared to the tattered rags of most of the folk who were crammed into the hall. It was ironic re-enactment of my memories of the place.

The interior was essentially a colossal open space, delineated only by the five towering walls on each side. Spiral stairs ran up the slopes at regular intervals, meeting three layers of balconies which protruded from the circumference, and grew progressively closer to the top. A low sun cast faint multi-coloured rays through the glass crown of the building, bathing the crowds below in an almost divine light, as if Fortune herself were gracing the place. People occupied every open space, every surface, every pulpit and alcove, so that from the upper balcony one might see a ground rippling like the sea lashed before the wind. The temple had turned into a veritable sanctuary for those banished by the sorrows of the war. Families huddled closely together around small fire-pits dug into the marble tiling, shoulder to shoulder with other such unfortunate kin; elders related stories of happy times like they were myths and legends, all while groups of terror-struck children listened on attentively; weary patrols of soldiers aimlessly patrolled about, slogging bloodstained rifles and dulled sabres behind them. Incenses of cinnamon and honey battled with the sheer reek of human sweat and blood, whilst the impassioned voices of the priests of Fortune recited scripture and verse to the flock, bringing their baying to a dim hum. The temple might as well have been the market square of the massacre, or the plaza of the attack, so dense were the throngs of people and so painful their predicament. I wondered if Fortune the Fickle would help spirit these people away.

“Lay down expectation; lay down fear; lay down hope! The Lady Fortune knows no such sentiment!” A booming voice called out from a magnificent wooden lectern. He donned a flowing crimson robe and white scarf, and upon his head was a crescent-moon shaped hat, again red in colour. “Fortune the Fickle, Fortune the Divine, Fortune the Furious; our Lady is One and She is Many, but always She guides the Synecdoche!” My mother was pushing us through the idle droves of people. Despite the preacher’s fervour, few amongst the thousands seemed to care very much. “Preserve your faith! Allow Fortune the Provident to deliver us into safety; allow Fortune the Just to punish our enemies; allow Fortune the Benevolent to shower us with care and love!” His impressive zealotry was marred by the depressed reception of the people, and a disappointed frown flashed upon the priest’s face.

“Blithering idiot…” I heard my mother utter beneath her breath as we approached his perch, and the man arched his back towards us, leaning over the barrier and squinting at us. I could see now that he was very old, older probably than the arch-minister, and I had always considered him to be ancient. His skin was thin and blotched, like a ghostly sheet which draped weakly over the bony contours of his face and hands. This man was practically a corpse, he looked ready to fall apart with the slightest movement. How his lungs and throat had the capacity to project his religious raving like he did, I couldn’t imagine. Around him was an entourage of scribes clutching immense tomes and rolled scrolls, interspersed with a corps of metal-plated guards wielding immense bladed pole arms, members I presumed of the temple guard.

“What- what… who are you people? Did my deacon refuse to sanctify your Wheel? Damned Sebastian… Misfortune upon him!” His voice alone was a creaking mess, but clearly age had also damaged his capacity for conversation. I realised that the preaching from before was simply regurgitation, a reiterated copy of a beckoning he had repeated many, many times before. When it came to actual conversation, he was useless.

“Patriarch Orpheus, please. This is the Lady Agatha and her daughter. They have come to-” Theodore attempted in vain to reason with the old man, but was soon interrupted. No matter how bad his physical state was, the patriarch’s mental condition must have been several orders of magnitude worse.

“What? Nonsense. I told Sebastian… and Alexander… we must – absolutely must – keep sanctifying the holy Wheels! How else can the common folk espouse their faith with Fortune the Arcane?” The patriarch was waving about one of these Wheels as he ranted into the air, a particularly lavish one carved from ivory and decorated with coral inlets along the handle. They were simple things, often illustrated with images of emperors, aristocrats, soldiers, merchants and peasants, and meant to represent the unpredictable path of Fortune, which might spin a soldier into a king but just as quickly cast him into a pauper. Pretty much everyone owned one, and they appeared variously carved from wood, bone, stone or even pearls and other precious stones.

“I knew he would be hopeless, Theodore.” Mother sighed, ready to turn away. The steward tried again.

“Holy patriarch, we beg of you, receive the princess at least!” He urged, advancing towards the assembled priests and soldiers. Some of the guards clutched their weapons, as if an unarmed man like Theodore would suddenly attack. Clearly they were fiercely protective. The patriarch raised a supercilious brow, his expression suddenly calming. Had he momentarily returned to his senses?

“Well, let me see. Bring the princess forward, most exalted steward of the palace.” Mother nudged me forward eagerly, but the patriarch chimed in again in his old tone. “I wonder, can there even be a steward of the palace… when there is no longer a palace to steward? It’s a peculiar situation for you, friend.”

“Get a hold of yourself, you foul old ghoul.” Theodore scoffed. “Now please, anoint the princess.”

“Very well, very well.” The patriarch chuckled, then produced a miniscule pouch from a concealed pocket. He opened it, poured the dusty contents into his hand, and then blew it without warning into my face. I didn’t know what the mixture consisted of, but it was odourless and carried a slight shimmer as it fell across my face and clothes. With that the old man clapped his hands and flicked his wrists, his face blank as he did so, and after a mere second he dropped them again and smiled at me. I could feel Theodore and my mother swelling with glee behind me. Was that it? Was I ‘anointed’ now? I certainly didn’t ask, or care for any of this. At least it made them happy, I supposed.

“Thank you, Orpheus, we owe you a great-” My mother started, but once again the patriarch jumped in, ominously.

“The emperor has arrived, my children.” With that he started to shuffle down the steps of the pulpit, aided along the way by the burly arms of his guards. I turned around to see mother and the steward perplexed. They didn’t need long for their confusion to be allayed.

With the bellowing of a horn the great southern gates of the hall were dragged open, beckoning a column of harrowed cavalry into the temple. The people on the ground hardly had to time to make way as hundreds of horsemen filed into the chamber, their hooves clattering upon the marble floor; on the balconies above, onlookers gathered in their hundreds to witness the event. ‘Make way for the emperor Yuriach! Make way for the Synecdoche!’ I heard a herald shout from the front of the column, hoisting up an imperial standard as he did so. There he was, my father, the emperor, just as the patriarch had said. The column made a shambolic advance to the centre of the hall, directly beneath the glass dome, and I could see that the men were battered and bloodied. Breastplates were split through the middle and riddled with bullet holes; limbs were either heavily bandaged or missing entirely; horses which had sustained huge gashes were drained of life as they struggled on through the torture. Even the emperor bore fresh marks of warfare, as his own lustrous silver plate was cracked and damaged. Beside him was the prefect, and he too was in a state of equal distress whatever combat they had emerged from. Regardless, the emperor tried to rescue some modicum of imperial pomp, driving his majestic steed from the formation and banking before the patriarch’s pulpit, then rearing the horse up in a display of equestrian ability. His voice, clearly exhausted, called out.

“Hear me, my people! Gather your belongings, hold your families close, and put your faith in Fortune! By setting of the final sun of the final day of this week, we shall be upon the waves, sailing for the lands of our Commonwealth!” He circled the central ring of the hall, trying to project his voice to all the thousands of people. But just like the exhortations of the patriarch before him, the audience was flat. The emperor stopped to catch his breath, then came back again, his driving declarations now turned into melancholic admission. “Have faith my people, and trust in Fortune. We are leaving our City behind.”

Hyder
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Sun Jun 19, 2016 4:19 pm

Hello everyone,

I must apologise to anybody who might be following 'Life in the End Times', as since I have returned from uni last week I have been very lazy. I am also going on holiday tomorrow, so this will be postponed until early July when I return. Fear not though, everything is in order for this to continue smoothly, and we are nearly one-third of the way through the story.

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Rik
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Wed Jun 22, 2016 10:32 pm

It's summer which means it's that time of year again where I say I'm going to finish a book, write like three chapters then completely forget about it. BUT hopefully this time I'll actually manage it. Going through what I've already written of Underworld (posted a lot of it here ages ago before I dropped it) and editing bits here and there to polish things up and change some ideas, will probably post them in bulk when I'm done.

@OR that calculator looks really useful, definitely going to dig that out if I ever go back to my medieval fantasy stuff.
@Hyder, I've read up to chapter 4 of your story and it's really good, you have a lovely flowing style of writing with some brilliant description going on. My only advice would be to make sure it doesn't get too bogged down in description to the detriment of moving the plot along but so far you've kept a good balance so keep up the good work!
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Aren142
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Aren142 » Thu Jun 23, 2016 12:02 am

I'm having massive problems with my own novel. My second draft has 2 and a bit chapters and I haven't touched it since March. In that I haven't even opened the Word Document since then. I can't bring myself to look at it for some reason. I was finally starting to get back into thinking about it and renewing ideas. Today I've had a fairly vivid image of a critical fight scene floating around in my head. Things like that. I managed to actually write something relevant to the characters in my writing course on Monday. Thought I might be building up the confidence to maybe go back to it.

And then I had a look at something I'd seen a while ago that my writing tutor brought back to my attention this week. It's called the Snowflake method. It's a thing about using structure to design your novel and pick out any holes in it. Things like that. And it has completely demoralised me. Because it once again reminds me that I don't really have a "plot" or a central concept that I can build around if I were to hypothetically follow that structure. All I have is characters and story events. I don't know how to link the events or what to do with them. I had previously tried reverse engineering a plot or concept from what I had. And that basically resulted in me concluding that the main driving force behind all the events was the main antagonist and the progression of his plans. So thought that could be my plot, but it doesn't fit with what seemingly everyone ever who's written things about novel writing says. Because my protagonist doesn't really want anything. At best, she doesn't want things that happen to her to happen. But she has no active motivation or goals and she and everything else just seem to be pushed along by the antagonist's goals.

All in all, it's a total mess and anything I did now would be totally unrecognisable from the first draft, which is for the best tbh. But to actually d anything GOOD and even worth considering to sent off in an effort for publishing.... I don't think I could get anywhere near that in this situation. I don't want to abandon this idea because it's my baby, but it would have to become even further removed from what it is until it's not even my baby anymore to be able to do anything with it. So yeah, I'm stuck and struggling. And I don't even have any alternative ideas that might be easier to pursue in terms of a story to write. That's partially why I'm so stuck to the current one.
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Aren142 » Mon Jun 27, 2016 1:23 pm

I managed to get something down. Only 500 words. It's another thing that could be relevant, might not be, worth at least trying. I'm not completely happy with it after going over it, but no idea what I could really do more without the context of the rest of the story before it.
I burst into the room and slam the door behind me. I stop and let myself fall back to lean against the door. I can’t breathe. The air is thick with a sickly metallic taste. I reach for my head and pull at the helmet covering it. The lighter air of the room hits me and I fumble, dropping the helmet to the floor with a clatter. My hair falls free over my face and shoulders. I stand and take in the relative freedom. I am not relaxing though. I am still breathing heavily. I can’t slow my heartrate. I’m panicking. I must not lose control here. I have to focus on my breathing. That’s what Lorn tells me. He’s been right about it before. In and out. In and out.

Eventually, my head clears and I start to calm down. I’m so tired. I just need to make it across the room and get into that bed. Then, I can recover. It seems so far away. Has the room always been this big? I try to put a leg forward, but my armour is suddenly weighing me down. I feel too weak to support it. I reach out a hand towards the bed in the distance as I fall. My knees hit the floor and my hands follow as I manage to catch myself. I feel winded as I stare at the grey stone floor beneath me. What’s wrong with me? What happened to me?

My left hand curls up into a fist. I squeeze it and my nails dig into my palm. The spark of pain makes me realise that my gaze is fixated on the armour covering the back of my hand and running up my arm. It is a deep red. Blood red. Blood. Pain. Death. Murder. The image of his terrified face, as the life vanishes from his eyes, appears in my head. I scrunch my eyes up, hoping to make it go away. The image only becomes more vivid and, now, I’m too scared to open my eyes in case it becomes real. The screams echo in my head. I can only beg for them to stop.

What is this? Is it guilt? Regret? Why is it happening to me? Why does it hurt? I didn’t do anything wrong. I was doing as I was told. He was filthy scum and a criminal. He deserved it. It needed to happen to him. If he hadn’t died, I would have. I don’t understand, the pain won’t go away. I can’t even pinpoint what hurts. It’s too much. I can’t take it any longer. The agony draws out the last of my strength and focuses it into a scream. I cry out, releasing every pent up emotion, until my throat hurts and I need air. It’ll catch someone’s attention. Someone will come to help me. I know it. Everyone knows that I’m weak. I’m not a soldier. I’m pathetic. I’m not good enough for what Lorn wants. I’m a failure.
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Wed Jun 29, 2016 5:25 pm

Finally motivated myself to start editing what I already have from my last attempt at this story, got the prologue and first chapter done so far. Ended up not having to change much luckily, just a bit of spit and polish and some minor detail changes.

The Underworld Chronicles
Prologue - The Key
It rained on the night of Jeremy McCantum's death.

The wind howled outside, lashing rain onto the window as he sat in his study. Jeremy paid no mind to the storm, intent as he was on his research. After so many years, he’d finally made a breakthrough. The McCantum family had lived in their remote Scottish mansion for centuries, guarding the artefact hidden in its depths. For what purpose or from whom they guarded it nobody really seemed to know; all that mattered was that it remained within its chamber and out of the hands of anyone but the McCantums.

Although his forebears had seemed content to remain ignorant of the object's purpose, Jeremy had found himself unable to quell his curiosity, and since an early age had endeavoured to uncover the mysteries of his family's most important possession. This curiosity had grown into an obsession over the years, one made all the more frustrating to Jeremy by the lack of progress he had made. It was a key of some sort; that much was clear almost immediately, although to this day Jeremy had been unable to find out what it might unlock or why it was so important. Over the past few years, though, he’d left his research behind, giving up on ever figuring out the truth.

Tonight, however, he felt certain he was on the verge of a breakthrough. On the key was a symbol; seven small circles surrounding six evenly spaced dots. For years this symbol had been as much of a dead-end in his research as anything else, but this morning he had discovered another relic bore the very same image. An ancient shield, housed in a London museum, had been stolen last Thursday, and on seeing its picture in the newspaper Jeremy had been certain it was connected to the key in some way. Now he fervently searched through the notes he had made over the years, trying to draw a concrete link between the key and the shield. The problem was that so little was known about either object.

His research was interrupted by the brief wail of an alarm. He hurriedly left his desk and walked into the corridor. He stopped for a moment, listening for sounds of intrusion, but heard nothing. He ran as quietly as he could to the end of the corridor and into a room filled with security monitors. He scanned the screens, looking for movement, then caught a fleeting glimpse of a figure in the corridor leading to the cellar. A moment later the image flickered and disappeared, the entire bank of screens going blank.

Cursing beneath his breath, he unlocked the metal cabinet next to the bank of monitors and brought out a pistol. He paused, then grabbed the broadsword propped up at the back of the cabinet. Jeremy wasn't entirely sure why he'd bothered picking it up; it was a very old weapon and it felt heavier and more unwieldy than he remembered it being all those years ago when his father had forced him to practice fighting with it. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry. As he gripped the hilt, the sword shimmered, a series of runes engraved along the blade giving off a brief glow before fading once again.

He left the security room and sprinted down the corridor, stopping at the end to pull forward a display cabinet. Behind was an alcove with a ladder leading down to the cellar. Jeremy climbed down as fast as he could, then stepped out into the cellar.

He stopped to listen for the intruder again, then, hearing nothing, flicked on the lights. At the back of the cellar was the door to the family's vault, within which lay the key. He was glad to see it was untouched. Hearing footsteps in the stairwell, he quickly hid behind a dusty old bookcase.

The door opened slowly, and a man dressed in black stepped into the cellar. He walked slowly and silently up to the vault door and began inspecting it. Jeremy clicked the safety off his pistol and left his hiding place.

"Stop right there and put your hands up where I can see them," he said calmly. The intruder froze, then turned to face Jeremy. He was a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, with long brown hair and heavy stubble. He stared at Jeremy with piercing blue eyes.

"So, you're the guardian. I wondered when you'd show your face. I'll ask you now and you won't have to waste my time or your life: open this vault, give me the key, and you have my word you won't be harmed," the young man said, expressionless.

Jeremy fought the urge to laugh. "I'm sorry, but I really don't think you're in a position to make threats. I have you at gunpoint, and I have no qualms with shooting you here and now. So I'll go ahead and ask you: leave now, never come back and I'll let you live."

The intruder sighed. "I take no pleasure in what I'm about to do. This is your last chance." Jeremy didn't respond, only adjusted his grip on the pistol. The intruder shook his head, then leapt at Jeremy with unbelievable speed. Jeremy had time to loose a single shot before the intruder knocked the pistol from his grip and pushed him backwards with tremendous force. His vision blurred as his head smacked against the wall, and when he looked up again the man was no longer there.

In his place was a monster.

Black scales covered its grotesquely muscular body. It stood over seven feet tall, almost having to stoop in the confines of the cellar, and even then its two huge, curved horns scraped the ceiling. On the back of its hands, long, blade-like bones protruded from each knuckle. The creature stared at Jeremy with those same piercing blue eyes, and as it spoke he glimpsed rows of razor sharp fangs.

"I warned you," the creature growled. The creature lunged at Jeremy, slashing at him with its talons. Jeremy threw himself out of the way just in time and snatched up the pistol from where it had fallen. He aimed and fired the entire clip into the creature's chest. The creature staggered, but appeared unharmed and lunged once again. Jeremy wasn't quick enough this time, and a talon ripped across his left shoulder.

Crying out in pain, Jeremy dropped the pistol and snatched up the broadsword from where he'd laid it down whilst he was hiding. He slashed at the creature's face, but the reptilian behemoth simply ducked its head and let the blade scrape along one of its monstrous horns, the runes giving another brief flash. The creature backed away, and the two circled.

Jeremy was aware that his shoulder was bleeding badly, and knew he had to finish this quickly if he were to finish it at all. He darted behind the bookcase and heaved it forward towards the monster. It roared as the bookcase fell, then swept it to one side with a single effortless movement. When it looked back towards Jeremy, he found himself facing six men.

"Weren't expecting that, were you?" the six Jeremys said in unison, and leapt at the monster. It swept its claws at one and the illusion blew apart like smoke almost instantly. The five remaining attackers circled and slashed at the monster. Despite their lack of substance, their strikes did very real damage, and soon the monster was covered in wounds, its blood slowly painting the cellar floor red.

The copies soon began to fall, however. One fell to a brutal slash of the creature's talons. Another was impaled on its horns. A third was killed by his own sword, ripped from his grasp and flung with deadly force. The fourth lunged and tried to stab the creature only for his sword to be knocked from his grasp, left unable to defend himself as the creature grabbed him and effortlessly snapped his neck. Then only one was left, and the creature sensed victory. It strode forward and slashed at Jeremy with its claws, forcing him back until he was pressed against the wall. The creature feinted left, then rushed forwards and stabbed him whilst he was unbalanced.

"I am sorry it had to be this way," the creature muttered as Jeremy slipped to the floor.

Jeremy smiled, and faded like smoke.

The creature stepped back, realising it had been tricked. He heard someone rushing towards him and whipped around, but it was too late to stop the broadsword from stabbing straight through his chest. The creature hissed in agony, then roared and staggered back as the real Jeremy pulled the blade free. He didn't give the creature a chance to recover, stabbing, slashing and hacking at the creature and forcing it to its knees, the symbols on the blade flashing with each cut. As the monster fell forwards and lay still, thick, black blood oozing from its wounds, Jeremy stepped back and dropped his sword, exhausted.

Satisfied the creature was dead, Jeremy went to inspect the vault. Thankfully, it appeared untouched. He turned and walked to the stairwell, only now realising how badly his shoulder was wounded. He needed to stem the bleeding urgently. As he hurriedly opened the door, a sound made him turn.

The man with blue eyes stabbed him through the chest with the broadsword.

Jeremy's head whirled as he slumped to the ground. The creature had been dead. He was certain of it. Yet now he lay staring up at the intruder as his life drained away.

"What... are you?" he spluttered, fighting to stay conscious.

The man didn't answer and walked away. Jeremy heard a huge screeching sound and forced himself to look towards the vault. The effort made him black out, and when the world swam back into focus the vault door had been torn aside. Within the vault, the pedestal which had held the key for so many generations lay empty.

Jeremy sobbed in despair as pain seared through his body. As his life slipped away, his last thought was of how unfair it was to die tonight when he'd been so close to finally unravelling the mystery of the key. Then, with one last desperate gasp for air, all colour ebbed away from the world and Jeremy McCantum thought no more.
Chapter 1 - Luke
"Oi, Luke. Quit staring out the window and answer the questions so I can copy you."

Luke Matthews snapped out of his daydream and turned to roll his eyes at the boy who'd whispered at him.
"You can't copy my answers in the exam, Max. Try doing it yourself for once."

"Spoilsport." Max was a wiry kid with fuzzy black hair and a perpetual cocky grin. He was easily one of the most annoying people in history, but somehow he pulled it off with enough charm to stay friendly with everyone. It was always a laugh when Max was around, and in the few months since he’d moved to the school he'd become Luke’s best friend.

"Well, if you aren't writing anything..." Max leaned over and scribbled all over Luke's test paper. Luke would have done the same back, except the only thing on Max's paper was a doodle of a ninja beheading what appeared to be a giant chicken. Instead he jabbed at Max's hand with his pen.

By now their Biology teacher had noticed the scuffling and promptly sent them to opposite sides of the classroom. Max was sent out five minutes later when an errant paper aeroplane landed in the teacher's mug and splashed tea all over the pile of marking she was working through.

With Max gone, Luke quickly lost focus again and his mind wandered back to the thing that he'd been thinking about all day. He was probably falling victim to an overactive imagination, but he felt like he was being followed.

Over the past two weeks, he’d kept seeing a large man in a black leather jacket. He seemed to be everywhere; in town, outside school, waiting at bus stops along Luke’s route home. Then, on his way back from school last night Luke had noticed the man following behind him. As soon as Luke had seen him, the man had turned down an alleyway, only Luke was sure that he’d seen the stranger again later that night, staring from the bottom of his road. He’d been tempted to tell his parents, but didn’t want them to worry about him. They did enough of that as it was. He’d decided that he’d tell Max if anything else happened, though.

The bell rang and Luke snapped out of his musings again, realising he'd only done half of the paper. He frantically tried to finish at least one last question, but his teacher came and collected it before he could. He left the classroom to find Max waiting for him.

"How'd it go, Einstein? Is it another A-star for Miss Smith's golden boy?" he grinned.

Luke shook his head, annoyed at himself. "Couldn't concentrate, I only did like half the paper."

"Ah well, Bio's crap anyway. Physics is where it's at."

"And yet you don't do any work in Physics either."

"Don't need to. I mean, I'm a Newton, I'm related to the guy who invented gravity. I've got Physics down."

Luke sighed. "You're an idiot."

"I'm your idiot," Max replied.

The two set off to go home, but Miss Smith leaned out of the classroom and shouted after them.

"Max! I want a word!" she yelled sternly. "Come here, I need to talk to you about your grades."

Max sighed and headed back to the classroom. "Wait a minute Luke, then we can walk back together."

"No can do," Luke replied. "Mum and Dad are both working late so I need to get back and take the dog out. Besides, it looks like it's gonna rain any minute and I left my coat at home."

"Fair enough. See you tomorrow."

Luke left school and set off back home. It was early January, but whilst the days were starting to get longer again it was still growing dark early in the evening. Tonight it was even darker, as black clouds rolled over London's skies, threatening a downpour at any moment. Preoccupied with getting home before the storm broke, Luke didn't notice the black haired girl follow him from the school gates.

Luke was halfway home when he saw the man in the leather jacket again. This time he didn't walk away when Luke saw him, instead standing in the middle of the pavement with his arms crossed. Luke looked around, panicking, but the street was empty, no doubt thanks to the ominous clouds overhead.

Relax, you're just being paranoid. Just walk straight by him, Luke told himself. His resolve wavered as he got closer, though; the man was staring straight at him and the closer Luke got the more imposing he became. He looked to be in his early thirties and his jacket did little to hide the bulging muscles of his arms. His eyes were cold and grey, and on his neck was a small, vertical scar that stood out on his pale skin.

Suddenly the man began walking towards him. Luke’s nerves failed him and he bolted for an alley on the other side of the street just as rain started to spatter onto the pavement. He looked over his shoulder to see the man in pursuit. He dived into the alleyway and sprinted as fast as he could, taking as many corners as possible, trying to lose his pursuer in the maze of back-alleys, but every time he looked back the man was getting closer.

He turned another corner and saw that the alleyway exited onto open parkland. Panicking, he sprinted towards it, but before he could get out of the alley the man barrelled into him, knocking him to the ground. The man began to drag him by his legs back into the alley, and Luke desperately kicked out. The grip on his legs loosened and he yanked himself free, scrabbling to his feet and again making a break for it.

The man was too quick though. Before Luke could take more than a step, the man had grabbed him by the hair and pulled him backwards. The man shoved him back down the alley, looming over him. Luke threw a feeble punch, but the man batted his hand down and grinned.

"My, you're a feisty one, aren't you?" he whispered. "I'd keep still if I were you, though. Fighting makes me awfully hungry." The man laughed as Luke shrank back, then suddenly something dark flew into him and he staggered backwards, knocking into the alley wall. Luke whipped around to see a black haired girl stood in the alleyway, arm outstretched.

"Get behind me," she said to Luke. She looked to be around his age, fifteen or sixteen. Her long black hair hung loose, clumped together by the rain. A fierce expression covered her pale face, and Luke quickly did as she’d said, scrambling behind her as the tall man regained his balance.

The girl glared at Luke's attacker. "I don't know what you want with this kid, but attacking an outsider is a serious offense. You've got two choices: either you hand yourself in and get yourself a nice comfy cell back in Underworld, or I beat the living crap out of you and you get a slightly less comfy hospital bed."

The man simply snarled, and Luke watched in horror as his body started to ripple and distort. The man's clothes began to split and for one insane moment Luke found himself worrying his attacker would end up naked. Then the thing that used to be a man ripped off the shredded remains of its clothing and roared, and Luke had other things to worry about.

It was even taller than the man had been before, and where his muscles had been impressive, this thing's were bordering on grotesque. It was like a crude, distorted imitation of the man it had been only a few seconds ago. It had pale, glistening white skin, and as it roared, Luke saw it had two huge fangs in its upper row of teeth. It beat its chest with its hands, which now had jagged talons where the fingernails should have been, then lunged.

"Hospital bed it is," the girl muttered.
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Rik
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Thu Jun 30, 2016 11:53 am

Another chapter done and dusted, actually ended up pretty much rewriting this one unlike the other two.

Chapter 2 - Rescue
Rachel Black's day started badly.

She'd woken up that morning on an old, hard mattress in the cold bedroom of the safehouse, then wandered downstairs to get breakfast, only to find Nate had finished off most of their meagre supplies.

She'd glared at him and he'd shrugged his shoulders, telling her (with a mouth full of toast) that he'd pop down to the shops later. She'd pointed out that they weren't coming back to the house after today and he'd shrugged again.

"Your fault for staying in bed so long," he said.

"It wasn't even a bed," she replied angrily. "It's just a mattress with a few blankets thrown over it in a crappy old room that smells like something's died in there."

"Oh. Yeah, the guy who sorted this out for us did mention something about that. I expected the old owner would've sent around some cleaners after poor old Gladys kicked the bucket, but obviously not. Still, there's a nice view."

"There aren't any windows."

“Well, my room has a nice view, if that's any consolation."

"It's not."

"Didn't think it would be."

She sighed. "Why are we even still in this dump? It's been a week and we haven't seen anyone following the Matthews kid."

Nate swallowed the last of his toast, then stood up. He looked to be in his late thirties, although he was much older. He had short, brown hair and heavy stubble that he always kept finely groomed.

"We’ve been over this. We need to stay here in case our inside source needs backup," Nate said, suddenly all serious now that the conversation had shifted to the job at hand. "They've got the Sense and they've never been wrong before, so we've no reason to doubt what they’re saying about the boy. This is the sort of duty you need to get used to, Rachel. It’s not all action working for the Agency."

So Rachel had made her way to the school whilst Nate went and parked the van outside Luke Matthews' house to watch for anyone suspicious. Knowing there was an agent already inside the school keeping an eye on Matthews, she found a seat at an internet café near the school to keep a lookout for anything suspicious. Around noon Nate sent her a short text. Source says look out for tall man in leather jacket. Seems to be hanging around Matthews. Rachel scanned the street for anyone matching the description, but saw nothing.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Shortly after Nate’s text she caught a glimpse of Matthews near the school’s fence, but he didn’t stay long. He seemed like a perfectly average kid from the looks of him; light blond hair cut short, slightly weedy and thoroughly ordinary. She knew well enough that looks could be deceiving, however. She stayed within sight of the school gates, and when it reached half three she watched the children pour out onto the street, keeping an eye out for Matthews. He emerged a while later, after the throng had died down, and Rachel hurried after him.

He was walking fast, obviously not wanting to get caught in the storm that was building overhead, but Rachel was forced to stay back, not wanting to be seen. He turned a corner and she hurried to get him back in her sight. She came around the corner just in time to see the boy sprinting towards an alleyway on the other side of the street, a man in a leather jacket in hot pursuit.

"Oh, bloody hell..." Rachel muttered, and sprinted after them into the alleyway. She darted through the maze of corners, struggling to keep the boy's pursuer in sight. The man was unnaturally fast, and soon she lost sight of him, left unsure which way to go. There was a yell, and she ran down the path on her left. The man had Matthews pressed up against a wall and was grinning madly.

She whipped her hands forwards and a wave of shadows flew at the man, knocking him into the alley wall. The boy turned to look at her.

"Get behind me," she said, then turned her attention to the attacker.
"I don't know what you want with this kid, but attacking an outsider is a serious offense. You've got two choices: either you hand yourself in and get yourself a nice comfy cell back in Underworld, or I beat the living crap out of you and you get a slightly less comfy hospital bed."

The man didn't say a word. Instead, he snarled as his body began to change. He arched his back and his clothes began to rip before he tore them off, leaving his grotesque, rippling muscles bare. A vampire, Rachel thought. Just my bloody luck.

The vampire lunged, and she had just enough time to mutter "Hospital bed it is," before diving out of the way of the beast's claws. It slammed into the alley wall and roared in anger. Rachel clenched her fists and swung them out in front of her, and the shadows rose up to mimic the action. They smacked into the vampire, sending it reeling, but it immediately lunged again. This time Rachel was only just quick enough, and whilst she dodged the swipe of the vampire's claws she could do nothing to stop it diving on top of her and pinning her to the floor.

It snarled and tried to bring its horrifying fangs down onto her exposed neck, but she grabbed its head and pushed it away. It was too strong to keep away for long, so she pushed her thumbs into its eyes. The creature screamed in pain and Rachel pushed it off her. She sprang to her feet and launched a kick into the vampire's face, knocking it onto the ground.

She heard footsteps behind her and glanced around to see the boy sprint away. The distraction was all the vampire needed. It leapt to its feet and slammed into Rachel again. This time, though, it ignored her and ran after Matthews instead. She scrambled to her feet, ignoring the pain from being knocked over, and ran after it. She dug her phone from her pocket and rang Nate as she sprinted after the two of them.

"Rachel?" he said.

"We're in trouble. There's a vampire." She left it at that and stuck her phone back in her pocket. Nate could track the signal.

Matthews was heading towards a small patch of woodland just ahead, the vampire close on his heels as the rain poured down. Rachel ran after them, holding her palm out in front of her as she did. Shadows poured up from the ground and gathered around her outstretched hand. She moulded them into the vague shape of a knife and flung it just as the vampire sprang at its quarry. The shadowy blade caught it between its shoulders and it stumbled and fell just as it bowled into the boy, blood splashing onto the ground only to be quickly washed away by the rain.

The boy crawled away from the vampire as Rachel ran towards it, another knife at the ready. She slashed at the vampire as it stood, making it hiss in pain as more of its blood splashed to the ground. Its wounds were already closing over though, and it swiped its claws at Rachel repeatedly. She dodged each time, but the vampire's enraged onslaught showed no signs of stopping. It lunged at her again and she rolled out of the way, bringing up a wall of shadows just in time to stop the beast's claws from slashing down at her. She backed away, and the vampire circled her.

The roar of an engine suddenly broke through the sound of the pouring rain. Rachel glanced backwards to see a van careering towards them, skidding through the mud. She turned back in time to see the vampire lunge at her and dived out of the way just as the van roared past, slamming into the vampire and sending it flying. Nate jumped out of the van and shouted to Rachel.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine," she replied.

"Good. Come on, let’s go find Matthews before our fangy friend comes around.”

The pair hurried into the woods and quickly found the boy, slumped unconscious next to a tree. Nate leant over him and pulled a small bronze disc from the boy’s neck.

“Knockout charm,” Nate muttered, pointing at the rune etched into the bronze. “He did well to make it so far before it took effect.”

A roar echoed through the woods behind them. “Sounds like the vampire’s back on his feet,” Rachel said. “And he’s pretty bread and buttered off.”

“Get the kid to the van. I’ll deal with the vampire.”

Rachel grabbed Matthews by his arms and began to drag him back out towards the woods. Nate walked alongside her, unclipping a steel baton from his belt. He tapped a rune at the end and the rod suddenly extended into a long staff. The sound of the vampire crashing towards them grew louder, and Rachel hurriedly dragged the boy away as Nate took up a fighting stance.

All of a sudden Matthews took a huge gasp of air and woke up, breathing rapidly. "Who are you? What's going on?" the boy spluttered.

"I'm Rachel. That guy is Nate. We're the good guys. That," Rachel said, pointing at the vampire as it came into view, “is a vampire. He's a bad guy. Now come on, we need to go.” She tried to haul the boy away, but he resisted, staring transfixed as Nate faced down the vampire.

The vampire swiped madly at Nate, but he dodged each time, calmly sidestepping and ducking, warding off the vampire’s claws with his staff. Furious, it changed tactic, backing off and then lunging again, punching at Nate’s chest with alarming speed. This time he made no effort to dodge, and the blow connected with a dull thump.

Nate barely even flinched.

The vampire looked confused, then pounded at Nate again, roaring with anger. The blow landed, and the air shimmered slightly at the point of contact, as if in a heat haze, but still Nate stood firm. Again and again the vampire pummeled Nate, and still he stood there, hardly reacting. Finally the vampire changed tack once more, lunging at Nate with fangs bared, and Nate moved at last, smacking the vampire in the face with his staff as he sidestepped. The vampire staggered, and Nate pressed home his advantage.

He lunged forwards and punched the vampire square in the gut, the force of the blow lifting it off its feet and sending it hurtling backwards. Its short flight was brought to a jarring halt as it crashed into a huge oak, its heading smacking into the bark with a sickening crack.

“I thought I told you to get back to the van,” Nate said as he hurried back over to Rachel. "That should keep him out of the way for a bit, anyway.”

“Showoff,” Rachel muttered.

“Save your jealousy of my brilliance for later. We need to get back to the safe house.”

By now the boy had slipped back into unconsciousness, so the pair carried him back to the van through the sodden woods and strapped him in as best they could before driving off, leaving the still body of the vampire behind them in the pouring rain.
Edit - and another one

Chapter 3 - Answers
Luke woke in a darkened room, still dressed in his school clothes. For a moment he lay there, confused as to where he was, but then his memory flooded back to him. The man who'd chased him, the awful creature he'd become, the girl who threw daggers of shadow... It all seemed unreal, something out of a dream. Had it all really happened? The unfamiliar room he’d woken up in only served to add to his confusion. Wherever he was, he wanted answers. More than that though, he wanted to get out, to leave this nightmare behind.

He stumbled out of the bed he'd been lying in and, hearing voices from outside, made his way to the door. Luke emerged into a corridor with peeling wallpaper and a musty smell. Following the voices, he wandered into a similarly run-down kitchen where the man and the girl from earlier were sat talking. They stopped as soon as he entered, and turned to face him.

"So, Sleeping Beauty's decided to join us," the man said with a smile. He spoke with a hint of a northern accent. "How are you feeling, Luke?"

"How do you know my name?" Luke asked. He wasn't sure whether to trust these people. Sure, they'd saved him from some sort of monster, but they were still complete strangers, and the things they could do…

The man smiled again. “We’ve been keeping an eye on you for the past week. Some other people who aren’t as nice have been watching you for even longer, and it was our job to figure out why and try to keep you out of danger. Your name’s the least of what we know about you.”

"So that's supposed to make me feel better?" Luke replied.

"You didn't ask me to make you feel better, you asked me how I knew your name," the man replied. "Do you want me to make you feel better? You have nice hair. He has nice hair, doesn't he?" he continued, looking to the girl for agreement. She rolled her eyes.

Luke shook his head, exasperated. "Look, I'm glad you saved me from whatever that thing was-"

"It was a vampire. I already explained that," the girl chipped in.

"Fine, the vampire," Luke continued, "but I have to go home. My parents will be worried sick if I'm not there when they get back."

"They'll be in danger if you go back there now. Trust me, you're better off here," the girl replied.

"Why should I trust you when I don't even know who you are?"

"I suppose we should introduce ourselves," the man answered. "I'm Nathan Anderson, although most people just call me Nate, and this is Rachel Black. As you probably noticed earlier, we can do some pretty extraordinary things. That's because we're mages."

"Mages?" Luke said incredulously.

"People who can use magic, in other words," Rachel replied.

"I know what he means, I just don't get why you're expecting me to believe you."

Neither Rachel nor Nathan replied. Instead, Rachel held up her hand, and in an instant shadows began to fly across the kitchen and coalesce into a writhing, inky mass above her palm. Luke sank into a chair, transfixed. Back in the alleyway, with adrenaline pumping through his veins, Luke could have convinced himself that all of this was some sort of panic-induced hallucination. But now, sat in this dinky kitchen with the shadows twisting in front of him, there was no denying it anymore; these people really did have magic.

Rachel waved her hand and the shadows dissipated, drifting away like smoke. Nathan leant forwards and looked Luke straight in the eye, his jokey manner replaced with seriousness in an instant.

"Listen, Luke, I know you've been through a lot today, and I know that this is going to be hard to adjust to," he said warmly. "But there's a whole world hidden right under your nose, and like it or not you're part of that world now."
Luke's mind was reeling. He needed to get this all straight. "A hidden world? What do you mean?"

Nathan leant back in his chair again, thought for a moment, then began. "As I've already explained, me and Rachel are mages. There are many, many more mages all over the world. Some of them choose to ignore their abilities and try to live a normal life, others never realise they have magic in the first place. The rest of us have our own places to live, where we can practice magic freely without the rest of the world ever knowing. We call this network of magical societies the Underworld.

"Me and Rach are from one such city. It's hidden below London and it's essentially the magical capital of Britain, and it's also our base of operations. We work for the Secrecy Enforcement Agency. It’s sort of like a magical police force; if there are mages or other things - like the vampire you met earlier - who are using magic in activities that could threaten public safety or the Underworld’s secrecy, we're sent in to deal with them. That's how we came across you."

"So which was it with me? Safety or secrecy?" Luke asked.

"A bit of both. We knew somebody with magic was watching you, so obviously you were in some sort of danger, but we also couldn't risk them revealing magic to you or anyone around you."

"But now you've shown me magic."

"And if we hadn't, you'd probably be with some altogether less pleasant people right now, so I'd say it was worth it."

"But what if somebody else saw you using magic?"

"We have people who can deal with that. A few minutes alone with a witness and they can effectively erase any incriminating memories." Nathan looked like he was about to say something else, but then his phone bleeped. He read the message, then looked back up again. "We're due back in the London Underworld in an hour, but first we have to wait for another agent. He's been keeping an eye on you too, so he might be able to help us get to the bottom of all this."

Luke didn't care about "getting to the bottom of all this"; all he wanted to do right then was go home and try to forget all the crazy things that had happened to him. Sometimes he’d daydreamed about things like this, being thrust into a world of magic and intrigue, an escape from his boring life, but now that it was actually happening he didn’t like it one bit. He was confused, his head was pounding from whatever the vampire had done to knock him out and more than anything he was scared witless. He didn’t care who these people said they were or what they’d done for him earlier, he would only feel safe once he was back home.

"I'm sorry, I just can't deal with this," Luke said as he stood up. "I'm going home and I don't care what you have to say about it." With that, he walked out of the kitchen and tried to find his way out. He'd barely made it five steps before a wall of shadows rose up in front of him. He tried to push his way through, but the black mass resisted, not giving an inch.

He turned to find Rachel stood behind him, arms outstretched and with a bored expression on her face.

"Really? You thought we'd just let you walk back out there?" she asked. "Didn't you listen to a single thing we just told you?"

Luke was starting to get angry. Rachel couldn't have been much older than him, yet here she was talking down to him like he was about five. He'd been through hell today and she had the nerve to patronise him because he wanted to go home.

"Take that thing down right now," Luke started, "or else-"

"Or else what?" Rachel interjected. "You'll beat me up? I held my own against a vampire earlier, if you'd forgotten."
Nathan put his hand on Rachel's shoulder. "Cool it, Rachel," he said. "This isn't helping."

"You know what isn't helping?" she shot back. "This kid being such a baby. We saved his life today and he's too busy fretting about getting home to mummy and daddy to listen to a word we say."

That did it. Luke lunged and swung a punch at Rachel's mocking face, but she blocked it deftly with her forearm. Luke tried to punch her again, but she grabbed his arm and pulled it into a painful lock behind his back. Now Nathan was getting angry too. "Rachel!" he shouted. "Let him go right now!"

Rachel hesitated for a moment, then let go of Luke's arm and pushed him away, sending him sprawling to the ground. Nathan tried to help him up, but he pushed the helping hand away angrily and got to his feet by himself. Rachel was still glaring at him, but before he could do anything else Nathan opened a door and pushed him through into another bedroom.

"Stay here. Our agent's going to be here soon and I need to deal with Rachel before he gets here." Nathan pulled the door closed and Luke heard a lock click on the other side. Almost immediately he heard Nathan begin lecturing Rachel, talking about protocol and keeping calm and all sorts of other things, but Luke quickly lost interest.

He still had his heart set on going home, especially after his spat with Rachel. Obviously he couldn't get out through the door - it was locked, and even if it wasn't, Rachel and Nathan would stop him as soon as he stepped out onto the corridor. But now he had another option - unlike the other bedroom, this one had a window that faced out onto an alleyway next to the house. Looking out, Luke saw that he was one floor up, but there was a pile of bin bags stacked up almost directly below the window ledge.

He couldn't quite believe he was considering it, but if he dropped out of the window the rubbish would break his fall slightly. It'd be messy, and he might walk away with a sprained ankle or something, but at least he'd be walking away at all.

Screw it, I'm not that high up, Luke thought, and opened the window. He clambered out so that he was sat half on the ledge and half on the window frame itself, dangling his legs out into the open air. For a moment he hesitated, but then he lowered himself further, grabbing the ledge and dangling beneath it for a moment before letting go. He dropped through the air, landing on the bin bags piled below with a muffled whumph before sprawling over backwards. He stumbled to his feet, relieved to find he was unharmed, then set off out of the alleyway to get his bearings.

It didn't take long to figure out where he was – somehow amid all the chaos his phone had stayed safely in his pocket, and with a quick GPS search he soon had directions home. Within an hour he'd found his way back to his street. The stormclouds had cleared somewhat and the sky was stained orange by the setting sun dipping below the horizon. He felt a pang of guilt as he saw both his parents’ cars parked outside - if they'd got home before him they'd be worried about where he'd been. Not that they'd believe me if I told them, Luke thought to himself.

He walked up to the front door and opened it, shouting hello as he went inside. None of the lights were on, and Luke nearly had a heart attack as something flew at him out of the darkness.

He laughed at his fright as their big black Labrador Ozzy bowled into him, and leant down to stroke him; but Ozzy immediately sprinted past him and out of the door. Luke leant out to see him cowering in his kennel on the front lawn.

Now he really was scared. Something was seriously wrong. Ozzy was acting odd, and now that he thought about it, it was strange that the lights were all out despite his parents both being home. He crept further into the house, heart thumping in his chest, listening for any sound of movement. He checked the kitchen but saw nothing out of the ordinary and moved on to the living room.

Instantly he realised something was wrong in here. There was a repulsive stench hanging in the air, and as his eyes adjusted to the dim light he could make out a figure sprawled face down in front of the sofa. He hurried over for a closer look, then recoiled as he turned the body face up.

His father stared up at him with dead eyes.

There was a horrifying gash on his neck, as if something had torn it open, and the carpet around him was stained a deep crimson by his blood. His face was frozen in an expression of pure terror. Luke stumbled away from the corpse and fought the urge to be sick, leaning on the arm of the sofa to stay upright as his legs threatened to give way.

There was a movement in the doorway and Luke whirled around to see another figure enter the room. He was relieved when he realised it was his mother.

“Mum?” he gasped, stifling a sob. “What… what happened?”

His mother said nothing, just stepped closer. Luke's heart thumped louder. There was something wrong with her, too. Her husband of nearly twenty years was lying dead on the floor of her living room; she ought to have been hysterical. Then she stepped into the light and Luke stumbled backwards in terror.

Her eyes were completely black, and as she stepped forward she hissed, revealing teeth that seemed much sharper than usual, almost like fangs. It was when Luke spotted the scar on her neck that the pieces clicked into place.

The vampire, he thought, then the thing that was once his mother leapt at him.
Ghost wrote:and since when has "being dumb" been a sin on the internet?
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Hyder
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Mon Jul 04, 2016 1:56 am

I have returned from holiday, and so I can now resume writing. 'Life in the End Times' is on a break, as I have decided to offer a different sort of narrative to allow a greater insight into the world of that story. Also, I don't want it to get too stale so veering off into another sort of writing style will help clear up my approach when I return to it.

Thanks Rik for your comments. I am aware that the description might sometimes become too cumbersome, but at the moment I think I have found a suitable balance. In any case, I am consciously elucidating the descriptive sections for stylistic as well as narrative purposes, so I am glad that you like them so far.

Sorry I haven't been offering any of my own feedback, in the next few days I'll definitely read through the recent contributions and offer some thoughts.

Prooimion to the Timeless Chronicle
To the educated reader who turns the pages of this lowly parchment, who looks upon the dashes of ink which create our esteemed tongue, who transcribes their form and meaning upon the mental canvas which creates that disembodied communication which we call ‘language’, to you I offer my must humble thanks and reverent respect. To you I offer my life’s work, my academic masterpiece, the absolute measure of my intellect and scholarly toil; a chronicle to the history of our Commonwealth. Though age has harrowed my bones, tugged at my skin, unwound my muscles, reduced my organs and stolen my youthful vitality, although practically all my physical capacities have been disabled by the irrevocable passage of time, still I maintain the sharp faculties of the mind. It is by the grace of Fortune the Wise that my hand might be used as vassal for the enlightened callings of mere men; I refer of course to the pursuits of the high cultures of the arts, of music, poetry, literature, of the visual mediums of architecture and sculpture and painting, and of course to that most noble study of the human condition, history.

But please do not be fooled my dear reader, for even if my fine calligraphy and advanced prose may seduce the lesser mind, it should stand as clearly as the light of day that I am but a humble man, wholly unworthy of the great title of Chronicler, or let alone the most honourable and prestigious of all offices of the mind, that of the great historian. No, I am but a frail, useless old man, accustomed to the old tomes but undeserving of any higher praise; for what is the utility of the quill, when not cast to the purpose of melody, or aesthetic, or persuasion? Can I truly say that I am proud of this great volume of the past, containing as it does the reigns of kings and emperors and queens and councillors and princes and patriarchs? To that question, I must answer that I am ashamed to release this work into the libraries, for every word upon its pages is an affront to the modesty of the fine art of composition, and neither the greatest rhetor in the land, nor the most inspired priest in the temples, could persuade any well-tuned mind to the contrary. My style is cumbersome, my vocabulary lacking, my tone inappropriate, my pacing inept, and it must only have been by the grace of Fortune the Merciful that I was allocated the imperial requisition, the purple ink of the emperor asking for my service in the realm of words. Yet for all my countless and obvious failings I could not refuse, and so here my sweet reader is the history that I have composed.

But before I can proceed in earnest I must offer some paltry description of my own person, of my education, of my times, of my family and friends, and ultimately of the particulars of the great task which I set upon, and which you now hold in your hands. I am a scholar of the imperial scriptorium, born and raised in a modest family of modest means, but endlessly faithful to Fortune and unswervingly loyal to the emperor. I was born during the latter years of the lord Yuriach the Second, the Saviour, the Deliverer, the Bane of Treason and the Guided of Fortune the Brave, and in my youngest years I recall the news of his death; from then, I was granted another ninety years up to the day that I write these words, so that I now count myself as almost upon my own centenary, such is Fortune’s way that she preserves my old carcass even when my children, and my children’s children, and my children’s children’s children have passed away many years before now, leaving me as the sole scion of my lowly bloodline. By virtue of this lofty age, I have lived through the reigns of six separate emperors, four of them in full, the first of them only in the last years of his reign, and the last of them still reigning in these current times; by order they are Yuriach II, Casimir V, Lysander III, Orpheus VI, Yuriach III and the emperor of my times, Orpheus VII, all of them descendants of the same familial progenitor. I would not presume to know the workings of Lady Fortune, whose desires shift and turn like the blowing of the wind in a storm, or the unpredictable caress of a tear of flame which flitters against thin air, but I suspect that my longevity was subtly allowed by the whims of Fortune’s Wheel so that I might now fulfil the role of imperial historian which has fallen to my hands alone; by my great memory and experience even distant history has not yet been consigned to oblivion, and Fortune the Benevolent has preserved me for this final duty.

In my times the inkwell of the empire has dried up, and even those scholars considered most magnificent are simply shades of greater sires; the poets and writers and sculptors are today simple facsimiles of better times. It is sad to witnesses the receding memory of our people, divorced by generations from our ancestral home, gradually turning their backs upon the immeasurably superior traditions of their predecessors. The Timeless Chronicle of our commonwealth, once carefully tended to by armies of scholars and historians at the Queen of Cities, now has fallen into dereliction, so that until my ink fell upon the expectant pages, the last hands to turn its dusty yellowed leaves had rotted even before the time of Yuriach II. How can I describe the honour conferred upon me, that I must relight the torch of learning, that I must take up the gauntlet of restoring order to our shattered memory, that I must extract the venom of lethargy which has laced the veins of the body politic. I suppose it is no more use blabbering on about my servile stupidity, or my sycophantic submission; here, dear reader, I begin, or rather I restart, the Timeless Chronicle.

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Fabong
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Fabong » Tue Jul 05, 2016 1:39 am

My favourite thread of sonm. Honour to browse its pages, hope to contribute to it some day but until then I'll suffer.
#ff Garf

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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Sat Jul 09, 2016 1:27 pm

The Early Years of Mandos IV
As you will no doubt be aware, the last High Chronicler laid down his pen before he had finished his narrative, and thus I am presented with a disjointed document. Am I to continue his own beginning, or should I take the entirety of my predecessor’s task upon my own shoulders, as is my prerogative as the current steward of the eternal history? After some deliberation, I judged it best to recount in full the uncompleted record of the reign of Mandos IV, imperial predecessor to the great Yuriach II, so as to better present the history of the Synecdochal line which has, in my time, been denigrated by oafish ignorance and intellectual quagmire, as I have already elucidated. The High Chronicler Saleph, my predecessor, had completed his accounts of the emperors Taeron X and Sethos III in full, but the frailty of old age forced him to retire from the inkwell after having only recounted the infancy of the next emperor of the line, Mandos IV. Saleph himself had recorded the life of the eminent Taeron only by a continuation from his own predecessor, the most wise and erudite High Chronicler Daia. It is thus from this precedent of continuation that I claim to revise the last respected contribution of Saleph to the Timeless Chronicle, not because I bear any ill-will for his excellent scholarly work, nor because I harbour any jealousy for his masterful control of the ancient art of calligraphy, but simply because I judge it to be in the best interests of that noble duty of the historian; the pursuit of truth. I know that there are those circles of malcontents who would disparage my work, who would seek to sabotage my reputation, who would petition the Synecdoche to cast me down from my high office, who would seek to exile me from the entourage of Fortune the Wise, and it is due to those concerns that I defend my actions upon these pages, to ward off the poisonous barbs of perfidy and to prove to the world that my cause is just and my purpose sanctioned by providence. Now that I have fully dispensed with my intentions and guaranteed myself against the clamour of naysayers, I can begin in earnest, and I beg you to forgive me for my digressions. Let me start.

Several days before the birth of Mandos IV, it was reported by the captains of the city watch that phantoms and apparitions stalked the moonlit streets of the Great City, and whispered prophesies into the ears of the beggars. This news was relayed to the emperor of the time, Taeron X, known as the Just, who ordered that the beggars in question be assembled at the court in order for the stories to be verified before the emperor, the prefects, the Council, and the Senate, as well as all the other great individuals of the commonwealth. When all the beggars and all the officials were thusly present, Taeron addressed them, saying, “My captains tell me stories of ghosts stalking the streets in the night, and that you people have been made privy to their mutterings. What did these spectres desire to relay to you?” And the beggars responded in unison, saying, “The visitors say that brother will follow brother, but son will not follow son; look to the distant progeny, and there you shall see unassuming greatness, there shall originate the mighty Synecdochal line.” The emperor and his court bid the beggars take leave, and off they went, leaving the audience dumbstruck by their arcane rambling. After some hours of careful discussion the emperor ordered the beggars to be recalled, so that their experience might be better scrutinised, but despite all the best efforts of the city watch they could not be found, as if they had vanished into the ether. Whatever their fate, a few days later the child Mandos was born to Matthias, the son of Taeron, to some subdued celebration, but otherwise unnoticed by the wider peoples of the empire.

As a child he was brought up in the estates of his father on the Lilac Isle, which is located off the shore from the Imperial City, and which hosted many great and illustrious families over the ages, and was thus named for the shade of the imperial colour. In his youthful years the child was trained in the arts of speech and the arts of diplomacy, and also in the sciences of strategy and tactics, such that by his tenth birthday he was said to have made make-believe games of politics and warfare. One story tells that in the weeks before the death of Taeron X, when unexpected crises and invasions threated the health of the body politic, that the young Mandos received a delegation of Senators who pleaded for his mind to be put to the task of preserving the empire, and that after several days of planning the Senators returned to the Capital with a great strategy and battle plan. Whether this story is true or not I cannot fully say, but many people far wiser than I have repeated the anecdote through the years, such that I feel it should be mentioned in the tradition of Mandos’ life and deeds; now I return to the narrative. Despite all the luxuries of his upbringing, the little Mandos could not escape the grief of a father’s death, as it did happen in his eighth year upon the earth. Matthias was snatched away by the unpredictable whims of Fortune, for after sustaining a light wound during a hunting sortie he fell suddenly ill and passed away, no doubt fallen to some grave disease; two years after this sad event, the emperor Taeron himself would pass away, and in the absence of the usual designated successor, the highest office of the state fell upon the shoulders of Sethos III, his brother, and Mandos’ great-uncle, in the year 72 of Before the Flight. In this way, the first part of the prophecy of the beggars was fulfilled, as ‘brother followed brother’ in the imperial dignity.

Under the reign of Sethos, Mandos found himself called to greater duties in the service of the common good of the body politic, and at the age of fifteen was called from his estates on the Lilac Isle to take up noviciate office in the bureaucracy. This was during the fifth year of the reign of Sethos III, who was also called the Bellicose for the many aggressions he waged against foreign enemies since his accession. From his entrance into the government of the country, Mandos became noticed by the high officers of the state, who recalled his intellectual precocity and admired his youthful aptitude for all the task set before him; at sixteen he was charged with the provisioning of the merchant fleet, at eighteen he was appointed commissioner for the urban granaries, at nineteen he became superintendent of the imperial largess, and at twenty-one was granted the unprecedented honour of organising the festival of Fortune the Bountiful. Thus Mandos excelled at all things administrative, and by his meteoric rise to a position of great prestige became personally noticed by his great-uncle, the emperor Sethos. After some debate amongst the Senate and the Council, Mandos was bestowed the high dignity of provost of the Porphyry School, the great centre of learning which was once housed within the great walls of the Metropolis. In this capacity Mandos dutifully ensured that the art of letters and the eloquence of speech were thoroughly inculcated into the minds of the studious, so that under his short tenure the fountain of learning poured forth with its gifts of knowledge, such that Fortune the Wise smiled warmly upon Mandos’ fine deeds. It is known that even in our times the House of Letters, which continues the storied tradition of academia laid down by the Porphyry School, maintains the very same teaching syllabus that was first instituted under Mandos’ provostship, a clear testament to his sharp intellect and force of mind.

As I have already mentioned, Sethos III, the Bellicose, was a great lover of the science of warfare and combat, and was prolific in his search to demonstrate military valour on the field of battle. Not a year of his reign did he spend idle in the Illustrious City, but rather left the matters of government and administration and justice to his Council, and to the Prefects, and also to the committees of the Senate. On every new campaign the Prefects tried to restrain his martial ambition, and even when the arrayed force of the senators implored him to stop his rampaging he could not be stopped. In those distant times, the constitutional arrangements were far different to those we are accustomed to today, and so the emperors often found themselves at odds with the senatorial body, and sometimes even his own lieutenants, the Prefects. Nevertheless, Sethos managed to subvert their attempts to cage him up, and survived numerous attempts to remove him when the biennial reviews arose, much to the chagrin of the Senators who opposed him. Whilst Mandos busied himself as provost, Sethos set about enlarging the territories of the commonwealth, and thusly absorbed many peoples and conquered many lands, taking such places as Neaton, Phormus, Stymax, Monogorgas, Thoa, Lhyssimis, Okharo, Valoros, Umia-Polon, Nortica, and many, many other places. These numerous acquisitions made it so that the territories of the empire sprawled all across Taarus, so that our hegemony now reached all corners of the first earth. Upon the eastern coast our hegemony was absolute, reaching in the south the same coast which looks upon the eastern tip of the Great Isles, and in the north finding its terminus at the end of the Lina Peninsula, where land meets the hazardous Fyrish Straights which separate the first earth from the second earth. So Sethos III, the Bellicose, the Conqueror of Peoples, the Prime Subduer, earnt his epithets, but only at great cost. During the Siege of Lhyssimis his second son, Maros, died, fallen with his comrades as he scaled the walls of the citadel; in the Second Battle of the Blue Spire, just one year later, his first son Kastos was felled in single combat against the archon of Stymax, just when the battle seemed to be won. It is said that Sethos, celebrating with his guard upon returning from massacring the routed enemy, found his firstborn decapitated in the mud and wept openly with his men, and ordered for the defeated archon to be flayed and displayed to his subdued people as punishment. Such were the deeds of Sethos III, although for proper reading one should consult the full record of Saleph who described with far greater tact the same stories I have relayed; I have only repeated what I have in the interest of properly presenting the circumstances of Mandos’ accession to the imperial dignity.

After a busy reign of seventeen years Sethos III died peacefully fifty-five years Before the Flight, aged sixty-seven years old,. His passing brought a crisis upon the great men of the commonwealth, for they worried that the stability and health of the body politic would not be sustained without its great soldier-emperor, and they felt that the Synecdoche might be threatened. Even those senators who troubled the emperor in life saw the danger which lay in his passing. After the untimely deaths of Maros and Kastos, those noble warriors and sons of Sethos who were so mercilessly stolen in the prime of their lives, the supposed line of succession was in turmoil, particularly because even Sethos’ grandchildren had perished at a young age. Thus, the senators considered enforcing themselves as the supreme constitutional power, as they had been before the days of Yuriach I, which was several generations ago. By their craven lust for power, they attempted to cast aside the emperor-family which had supplied the previous four rulers, and called for an emergency summit at the palace, in which they would claim the supreme Synecdochal authority to unilaterally appoint their own emperor. The Senate, together with the treacherous Prefects, arrogantly decided to put this plan into action. At this time Mandos was still provost of the School, and had himself no great ambition to the imperial office, despite the urges of his close friends and allies. Eventually the news reached his ears of this awful plot, and the word was chanted from the rooftops and the towers, and even from the crest of the Great Temple, so that all the common people knew of the injustice of the Senators, and soon a mob was upon the Porphyry School, followed in tow by the former imperial guard of Sethos III and even the ministers of the Council, including the arch-minister. They set upon Mandos and in a jubilant procession transported him to the palace, where the Senators had no choice but to accept his rule as sanctioned by Lady Fortune. He was thusly named Mandos IV, and was handed the Synecdochal seal which had been in his possession of his great-uncle and grandfather before him, and with that he became emperor. In doing so, Fortune fulfilled the beggar’s prophecy which had circulated since the time of Taeron X, for son did not follow son, and instead it was distant progeny, the grand-child, who rose to the greatness of the distinguished office. He was aged twenty-seven, and acceded in the same year as Sethos’ death.

Thus ends the first part of my record of Mandos IV, that is to say his childhood, upbringing, early years, and the path that Fortune forged for his prophesied destiny to be fulfilled. I shall continue the narrative with the first half of proper reign of the emperor Mandos.

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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Mon Jul 11, 2016 6:02 pm

Finally finished the edit, hurrah

Chapter 5 – Underworld
Luke woke to find himself staring up at bright fluorescent lights. His body ached all over and when he tried to move he realised there were various needles stuck into his body, mostly centred around his left hand. He groaned. Needles had always unsettled him.

He noticed a movement in the corner of his eye and tried to lift his head to get a better view. A man in a long, white doctor's coat walked over to him and sat down beside the bed that he was laid in.

"Careful, now," he said in a gentle tone. "You need to rest. You've had one hell of a fight over the past few days."

"What… what do you mean?" Luke croaked.

“That scratch on your hand gave you a very serious infection. You're lucky Nate got you here in time."

"An infection?"

"Vampirism, to be precise. A vampire's fangs contain a substance that is transferred to their victim's bloodstream when they're bitten, much like a snake's venom. The victim then undergoes the process of becoming a vampire themselves, unless they receive swift medical treatment. You're lucky you were only scratched on an extremity - a proper bite to the neck or torso would have turned you almost immediately. As it was, the substance needed time to spread, which gave me more time to treat it."

"It wasn't the vampire though, it was my mum," Luke said.

The man's smile faded. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Luke, but your mother had turned long before we arrived on the scene," he said. "We're treating her as best we can, but she's far beyond the point of no return."

Another time, Luke would have been devastated, but he was too exhausted to muster the energy for emotion. He simply felt numb. "Can I see her?" he asked.

"Once you've recovered fully, yes. You aren't ready yet." The man stood and rolled up the sleeves of his coat. "For now you need to rest. There’ll be plenty of time for questions later, but for now you need to focus on getting better. I'm just going to help with the pain." With that he placed his hands gently on Luke's chest. A warm feeling seemed to emanate from the spot and gradually the aches and pains from Luke's body disappeared. His exhaustion caught up with him again, and he allowed the warm glow to ease him into sleep.

*************************

Nate paced up and down the corridor of the Medical Centre, waiting to hear how Luke was doing. He'd never had much patience, especially in situations like these where he could do little to help. It had been three days since he had rushed the boy to the Underworld, careering through the streets of London with reckless abandon. They'd swiftly reached a tenement block that hid one of the many entrances to the hidden city and rushed Luke into the foyer. He'd not bothered with the usual security checks, leaving Rachel to explain the situation to the guard whilst he carried Luke to the lift at the back wall.

Inside, he'd felt around underneath the control panel until a familiar symbol flared up. The lift began to descend rapidly, rocking slightly as it passed the boundary between the outside world and Underworld. It quickly reached its destination, and as the doors opened a team of medics had bundled Luke onto a stretcher before blinking out of sight, a Teleporter taking them directly to the Medical Centre rather than risking losing time with an ambulance.

So now he waited outside Luke's room, anxious for news of his recovery. Thankfully, he didn't have to wait too long. Within ten minutes of his arrival the doctor emerged, running his hand through his tousled brown hair.

"You'll be glad to hear he's out of the woods," the doctor informed him. "The infection’s been cleansed completely and his physical injuries are well on their way to healing. Now it's just a question of him getting his strength back."

Nate grinned in relief, although he'd had little doubt that Luke would make a full recovery. David Shepherd was easily the most skilled Healer in the London Underworld, and arguably one of the best in the world. He was also an old friend, so he'd agreed immediately when Nate had asked him to take personal care of Luke.

"Thanks, Dave. That's a huge weight off my mind. If he'd turned-"

"Then your Rachel would be in a fair bit of bother," David interjected. "Wouldn't have been a brilliant outcome for her first field mission, would it?"

Nate shook his head. "It's more than that," he said. "I think the Agency might end up blaming her for Luke running off, and then she'll really be in trouble. It could set her back a long way."

"Why would they blame her?" David asked.

“Before Luke ran off, Rachel provoked him,” Nate said. “The reason he managed to get away was that I had to lock him in a different room to break up their fighting, only I didn’t expect him to go and jump out the window.”

David sighed and gave a wry smile. "Why am I not surprised? Given the example you set it's a wonder she left the lad in one piece."

"Hey, don't blame me. She gets it from her mother."

"Yeah, but it doesn't help that her only authority figure solves every problem he meets by hitting it repeatedly in the face."

"I'll have you know my repertoire is much larger than that," Nate answered. "Sometimes I kick them. Or blow them up. I tend to save that for special occasions though."

David laughed, then began to walk away. "I need to get on with my rounds now. See you around.”

Nate left the Medical Centre from the main entrance, stepping out from the calm, quiet interior to the bustling, crowded streets of Underworld. The sky above was a perfect imitation of the outside world's; a clear blue expanse replete with a brightly shining sun and wispy clouds drifting aimlessly on the wind. It was nothing more than an illusion though, albeit an exceedingly well-crafted one. Nate supposed you could say that about Underworld as a whole - if you didn't look too closely, most of it could pass for a normal town.

As he made his way home through the crowds he began mulling over the events of the past few days. Whilst he was worried about what could happen to Rachel's career, he was also preoccupied with everything that had happened surrounding Luke. It had all been strange to start with; a vampire attacking an overworlder wasn't unheard of, but he had specifically targeted Luke and when he'd failed the first time he'd attempted to snare him again. This wasn’t some random attack, it was a planned attempt at abduction.

What complicated matters the most was what Max Newton had seen Luke do. That could only have been accomplished by a Light Mage, but light magic had been extinct for millennia. And if it had somehow returned...

Nate wandered back to the flat he shared with Rachel, lost in thought. When he eventually got home he opened the door and was surprised to find a man in a suit sat on the sofa in the front room, a briefcase propped up next to him. Rachel was sat in the armchair staring at her phone, studiously ignoring their visitor. Displaying your usual masterful social skills there, Rach, Nate thought. She'd never been much of a people person, but then Nate could hardly blame her. She hadn’t exactly had a brilliant start in life, after all.

"Hello, Mister Anderson," the man said. "I need a word with you and Miss Black, if you don't mind." To his credit, he seemed unruffled by Rachel's less-than-hospitable attitude.

Nate inspected the man sat before him. He was young, maybe in his late twenties - although with mages, you could never tell for certain - and wore an expensive-looking dark grey suit. He was cleanshaven and his short brown hair was meticulously combed, not a hair out of place. Nate got the impression he was the sort of person who valued precision in everything he did. Even his speech seemed perfectly measured. "And you are?" he asked.

"Damien Ellis, senior operator in the Secrecy Enforcement Agency," the man replied.

"Don’t think I’ve seen you around before," Nate mused. “You must be new.”

“Yes, I transferred from the Edinburgh Underworld recently,” Ellis said.

Nate sat down in the other armchair. "So, what did you want us for?"

"Doctor Shepherd has informed us that Luke Matthews will be discharged from the Medical Centre within the next few days. As such, the debriefing for the incident is scheduled for Friday afternoon."

Nate glanced at Rachel, who thankfully seemed to be paying attention at last. "Right. Why'd you have to tell us in person though? A phone call or an email would've done."

"It's not quite that simple," Ellis replied. "You are doubtless aware of what Max Newton is saying Matthews is capable of. At present, only yourselves, Doctor Shepherd, the Prime Magus, the Agency Director and a select few others are also privy to this information. Until we are certain of what is going on, we need it to stay that way."

"That still doesn't answer why you couldn't just have called us."

"The problem we have, Mister Anderson, is that somebody in the Agency seems to be leaking information. I'm not in a position to disclose the exact details, but it would appear that some sensitive intel has been shared with the very people we'd hoped to hide it from."

Nate considered what Damien was telling him for a moment. "Could this information leak have been what led the vampire to Luke?" he asked.

"That is a distinct possibility. Max Newton had said in his reports that Matthews seemed highly unusual, so if the mole had access to those reports then they could have led his attacker straight to him. If the leaker has a specific interest in Luke, then all the more reason not to leave any more of a paper trail for them to follow. On top of that, we need to keep this out of the public eye until we've made more sense of it all. If Light Magic has re-emerged, we need to handle this whole situation with great care.”

"Why?" Rachel butted in, seeming to take interest in the conversation at last. "So he's a Light Mage. Who cares? It's not the end of the world."

"That's the exact problem, Rach," Nate replied. "Light magic has been extinct for millennia, but before they disappeared, the Light Mages were hell-bent on changing the face of the earth. If Luke really is what we think he is, then there’s no telling what might happen if the wrong people get hold of him.”

"The problem goes beyond that," Damien added. "We need to keep him out of the wrong hands, true, but we need to keep the public calm as well. As Mister Anderson has pointed out, Light Magic is a potently dangerous force, and we can’t risk the public panicking. We need to be able to show them that everything is under control."

"You don't need to worry about us,” Nate assured Ellis. “We can keep our mouths shut about all this."

"Good. I'm sure the Prime Magus will be pleased to hear you're cooperating," Damien replied. "If that's everything, then I'll see you on Friday for your debrief."

"You will indeed," Nate said, standing to shake Damien's hand. "Nice meeting you."

Damien smiled, shook Nate's hand and held out his hand towards his briefcase. The case flew straight into his grasp as if drawn by a magnet. So, he's a Telekinetic, Nate noted. It's a wonder he's a pencil-pusher and not a field agent. He showed Damien to the door, then went and slumped back into his armchair after he'd left. "Nice to see you making a good first impression," he told Rachel. "Couldn't you at least have tried to be polite?"

"I did try to make conversation with him," Rachel replied. "I just got bored of him."

Nate sighed. "Look, Rach, I know you aren’t great with the whole socialising thing, but you need to keep the Agency on-side. Things are bad enough with Luke in hospital after you picked a fight with him and made him run away. Making the top brass dislike you is only going to make it worse."

Rachel was silent. She'd answer back any other time, but if she realised she was clearly in the wrong she never tried to argue her way out of it. Neither of them spoke for a while, but eventually Rachel broke the silence.

"So, any theories yet? Who do you reckon wants the kid so badly?"

"I've got a few ideas, but nothing concrete yet. Whoever it is we're dealing with, they evidently need Luke specifically, so it's something to do with light magic. That much is obvious. Then we know that they have a vampire working with them. Vampires generally aren't the most obedient individuals, so whoever's in charge must have some very strong leverage over them."

"How do we know the vampire isn't the one in charge?"

"It's possible, but not likely. He was acting too restrained; vampires are impulsive and reckless. The virus hardwires it into their brains. It's what makes them so dangerous - their first response is always violence. If the vampire was working alone, he'd have charged in and taken Luke straight away. As it was, he did some recon first, then tried to take him discretely. When that failed, we saw him act on his own. He went in and butchered one of Luke’s parents and turned the other. That was a completely different approach - far more conspicuous and a lot riskier. That difference is probably because he hadn't had time to contact his superior and was acting on his own initiative."

"So we know there's somebody powerful involved and they're trying to do something that needs a Light Mage," Rachel said. "Anything else?"

"Nope," Nate said. "Doubtless the Agency will be making more progress though. I can only make educated guesses, but they’ve got a lot more information to go off. All we can really do is wait for the debrief and see if they've got any new leads."

Rachel nodded. "Well then, roll on Friday."

Chapter 6 – Feral
Luke walked through the hospital's corridors, struggling to keep up with Doctor Shepherd's purposeful stride. He understood that the medic was used to being in a rush, but he set a tiring pace and whilst Luke had been recovering for the best part of a week he still felt drained. It had been three days since he'd first regained consciousness and over that time the good-natured Geordie and his colleagues had worked hard to bring him back to health, giving him injections, taking blood tests and occasionally easing his pain with a dose of that same soothing energy that Doctor Shepherd had given him on their first meeting.

Now he was finally up and about again, and Luke had insisted that before he went anywhere else he wanted to see his mother. She was the only thing he had left in this strange new world. His father’s murder still hung heavy on his mind, the grief ebbing away at times only to sweep back again later, a tide of sorrow in which he was slowly drowning. Part of him hoped that somehow this visit could give him some comfort, but the doctors had all warned him of what to expect.

Doctor Shepherd stopped outside a door labelled "Quarantine Block A" and waited for Luke to catch up before placing his palm against a device on the wall next to the door. Luke guessed it was some sort of fingerprint reader. The space around his hand glowed, and after a moment there was a beep and the click of a lock disengaging. Before he went through, Shepherd turned to address Luke.

"I know I'm not going to be able to talk you out of seeing your mother – God knows I’d want to if I were in your shoes - but I need to warn you one more time. You aren't going to like what you're about to see," he said. "Unlike you, your mother received a full dose of vampire venom and didn't get immediate medical attention. She's not the woman you knew anymore." Luke nodded, his throat tightening. The doctor watched him for a second, then pushed the door open and led the way once again.

They went down a deep stairwell, eventually reaching the bottom and walking along a narrow corridor lined with white doors. At the end was a door which large red writing marked out as "Containment Unit 16". The doctor knocked loudly, and a few seconds later a short man with greying hair opened it and ushered them in.

"Morning, David," the man said. "I take it this is Mr Matthews?"

David nodded. "Luke, this is Eric Pinkman. He's something of an expert on vampirism. He developed several of the treatments we used for you, and he's doing his best for your mother too."
Luke nodded. "Thank you," he said, not sure what else to add.

"It's my pleasure, young man," Eric replied with a kindly smile. "Now, follow me."

Inside the containment unit were four large windows, each one looking into a padded room that reminded Luke of asylum cells. The first three were empty, but in the fourth a figure huddled in the corner.

Luke approached the window slowly, afraid of what he'd see. As he got closer he knew that the figure inside was his mother. Her hair was matted, her clothes were dishevelled and she was facing away from the window, but it was definitely her. Suddenly she turned, and Luke saw the full extent of the change she had undergone.

Her skin held a deathly pallor, almost as white as bone. Her face was twisted in a snarl, revealing sharp fangs where her teeth should have been. At the end of each finger, her nails, which she had always kept immaculate, had been replaced with vicious, talon-like protrusions. Worst of all were her eyes. They were pitch black, and where once they had seemed to emanate warmth and kindness when Luke had looked into them, they now seemed only to show pure, primal hunger.

Luke felt sick. He placed his hand on the glass to steady himself. Inside the cell, his mother had stood up and was warily approaching the window. She began to sniff at the air as if she had caught a scent, and all of a sudden she threw herself at the glass. Luke staggered back in horror as his mother pounded on the window, screeching inhumanly as her talons raked across the glass.

Doctor Shepherd gently pulled him away from the cell and back towards the door as Eric calmly began to type away at a computer terminal fixed to the wall. There was a slight hissing noise, and gradually the pounding and screeching slowed and then stopped altogether.

"I've had to sedate her for a while so that she'll calm down," the short man explained. "I think this confirms what I'd expected - she's got a bloodscent for you."

"A bloodscent?" Luke questioned, still shaken.

“When your mother tasted your blood, her vampiric instincts marked you out as prey,” the elderly doctor explained. “In short, that means that she will attack you on sight, given the chance.”
Luke was silent for a while. Eventually he looked Eric in the eye.

"Is there any way of curing her?" he asked, although he feared that he knew the answer already.

"There is an extremely slim chance that we may be able to coax her out of the feral state, but I'm afraid that we can’t bring someone back at this point. Once the transformation is complete there’s no way of curing vampirism. I’m truly sorry, Luke."

Luke slumped and stared at the floor, and Doctor Shepherd placed a comforting arm around his shoulders. Nobody moved for several minutes. Finally, Luke eased the doctor's arm away and walked back to the window. His mother was slumped against the wall, looking almost peaceful in her sleep. He took one last look at her, then turned and left the containment unit without a word. He heard Doctor Shepherd thank Eric and follow him out. The two walked back along the corridor and up the stairs in silence. It was only when they returned to the main hospital that Luke spoke again, his voice slightly steadier.

"How is it that my mum is... What did he call it? Feral?" he asked, and the doctor nodded. "How is it that she’s feral but the vampire that attacked me seemed like an ordinary human?"

"The most likely explanation is that the vampire had magic before he was turned. For some reason vampirism affects mages differently to non-mages. The virus almost completely blocks out the human characteristics of a non-mage's mind, but when a mage is infected it seems to prey on their magic instead. This lets them remain almost the same as they were before, although their personality becomes much more violent and unstable."

"Is that how he transformed? That was his magic?"

"Yes and no. Before he became a vampire he could have had any sort of magic, but after turning it seems to be converted into something else entirely. When the mood takes them, a vampire can channel their magic into enhancing their physical form. They undergo a transformation and become stronger, faster and more fearsome, and their metabolism increases exponentially, giving them the ability to heal rapidly. In short, the perfect killing machine."

"And a bloody nuisance to fight," came a familiar voice.

Luke turned to see a young black man, possibly in his early twenties. Luke thought he recognised him, but he couldn't quite place him.

Seeing the confusion on Luke's face, the man smiled. "Oh come on, don't tell me you don't recognise your best mate?" he said, and suddenly Luke knew who he was.

"Max? Jesus, when did you get to be so tall?" he said incredulously.

Max laughed. "I've always been this tall, you just never noticed," he said. When Luke continued to look puzzled he elaborated. "I work for the Secrecy Enforcement Agency, like Nate and Rachel. I was put undercover in your school when it looked like somebody had been watching you. I couldn't exactly go in looking like this, so they gave me a Facade so that I could fit in."

"A Facade?"

"It's an illusion of sorts. It changes how other people perceive you, which is why you've always seen me as a fifteen year old."

Doctor Shepherd stepped forward and shook Max's hand. "Nice to meet you at last, Max. Nate spoke very highly of you."

Max smiled. "I take it Luke's ready to be discharged then?"

The doctor nodded, then addressed Luke. "You'll feel a bit tired for a day or two, but after that you'll be right as rain. You'll be staying with Max until the authorities decide what's to be done with you."

Luke nodded. "Thank you for everything," he said. "And say thanks to Eric too, for looking after mum."

"Will do. You take care now." With that, the Geordie walked back down the corridor. Max showed Luke out of the hospital, giving Luke his first proper glimpse of the Underworld.

At first it seemed just like London, almost perfectly emulating the city far above it - the streets bustled with people, cars rushed along the roads and the sky above was a familiar steely grey. Looking closer, though, there were things that marked this place out as different. A woman leant against the wall of the hospital held a cigarette to her mouth, but instead of reaching for a lighter she clicked her fingers and flame sprung into her palm. Across the road a smartly dressed man dropped his briefcase when somebody knocked into him, only for it to fly back up to his hand immediately. And despite the dark clouds rolling swiftly across the sky above, there wasn't even the barest hint of a breeze to push them.

Max ushered Luke towards a black car with tinted windows waiting on the kerb. "Like the doc said, you're staying with me for now. My place isn't exactly massive, but there's a decent enough spare room for you to stay in," he said as they clambered in. "If you've got any questions, ask away and I'll do my best to answer 'em."

Luke nodded, but remained silent, not sure where to begin. There were too many questions to ask, and he'd had enough to take in already. Seeing Max again had boosted his spirits, but at the same time it was difficult to adapt to seeing him as a grown man. He was somehow exactly the same but completely different, and as with just about everything else over the past few days Luke was finding it hard to deal with.

As the car drove along the streets of the hidden city, Luke's thoughts drifted back to his mother. Seeing her like that had shaken him to his core. Before, some small part of him had hoped that she would be okay and that they could go back to their old lives. Now that hope had been shattered. There was no way back to those happy times; his old world was gone, taken away from him by the actions of a single man.

Suddenly Luke knew what he wanted to ask.

"Does your Agency know who that vampire was?"

Max looked around, surprised at the sudden question. "Yeah, they've been investigating him and they've managed to get his identity."

"What's his name?"

Max glanced towards the driver, then back at Luke. "I can't really talk about it here. It's classified Agency stuff, they could sack me if they-"

"Max," Luke interjected. "What is his name?" he asked, more forcefully this time.

Max sighed. "He calls himself Slaughter," he said after a moment's hesitation. "His real name is James Hemsen, though. He's wanted for over thirty counts of murder."

Both of them were quiet for a while, then Max spoke again.

"Why do you want to know so badly?" he asked.

Luke looked away, staring out of the window at the strange city he'd been forced to take refuge in. "I want to know who's to blame for all this. I want to find him and look him in the eye and ask why he did it." After a moment's silence he spoke again.

"And then I'll kill the bedfordshire clanger."


Chapter 7 – Slaughter
Slaughter moved quietly through the shadows, his footfalls making barely a sound in the silent ruins. There were others here, keeping watch amongst the rubble of the ancient fort. He could smell them, their apprehension a sickly-sweet aroma hanging in the air for him alone to sense. Slaughter's affliction had turned him into a finely-tuned predator, his senses heightened to seek out prey in whatever way he could. That violent, predatory part of him longed to break out of the shadows and kill the watchers, feel their apprehension turn to terror as he ripped and rent and tore, but he had a job to do. He had failed once already; his employer would not accept a second mistake.

He rounded a corner and found himself faced with a man dressed all in black, a balaclava masking his features. He raised the shotgun he was holding but before he could fire Slaughter had torn it from his grasp. He smacked the butt of the gun into the guard’s chin and he staggered backwards. Slaughter grabbed hold of his head and with a quick, savage twist broke the man's neck. The guard crumpled to the ground, and for an instant Slaughter fought the urge to fall on him and drain his lifeblood away. He hadn't fed properly in what felt like an age, but with a tremendous effort he beat back the primal desire.

It was this hunger that had led him here. For thirty years he had been a slave to it, killing indiscriminately to quiet its insistent howling, barely able to sleep for his accursed bloodlust. And then, when it felt like he could take no more, he had been offered a way out. His employer had shown him a path to salvation, promised him what he had never dared to hope could exist: an end to his curse. And so he had served faithfully, obeying his employer's every command, each mission bringing him closer to the end.

Tonight Slaughter stalked this old Spanish castle in search of a dubious man who dealt in dubious goods. The dealer was due to make a trade with a gang leader and had chosen this remote ruin as the location for the deal. Slaughter didn't know what was being exchanged and didn't care; it was the dealer he was after, not his illicit wares.

He continued through the darkness, following the sounds that drifted to him on the light breeze. Eventually he reached a courtyard bathed in light. The atmosphere was tense; two men stood in the centre of the courtyard talking, each holding a case and each backed up by two other men armed with assault rifles. On the edges of the courtyard other men stood watch, gazing out into the night. Slaughter counted a dozen in all - the six men at the centre, three on his side of the courtyard, two at the other side and one stood on a parapet above them.

He clambered over a broken wall and made his way around to the other side of the courtyard before nimbly climbing up to the parapet, easily pulling himself up the wall using the stones that jutted out from the weathered structure. He stalked along until he was behind the guard, then quickly assessed the situation again: the six men in the centre appeared to be wrapping things up, the goods having changed hands, and the guards were still focussed on looking outwards for intruders. Good. They would be easier to take by surprise.

Slaughter clamped his hand over the mouth of the guard in front of him, wrapped an arm around his neck and squeezed until he stopped struggling, then gently lowered him to the ground and eased the submachine gun from his grasp. He looked out over the courtyard one last time and saw that one of the guards was almost directly beneath him.

With a smirk, he leapt over the edge.

He slammed into the guard, knocking him to the ground, and smashed the butt of the submachine gun into the back of his head. The other guard at his side gave a yelp of surprise and raised his gun, but Slaughter was too fast. He sprinted at the gang member, grabbed him by the neck and headbutted him, sending him crumpling to the floor. By now the rest of the criminals had seen him. Before they could take aim at him Slaughter raised his gun and fired wildly, sending them diving for cover. He caught one of the guards at the other side in the chest, but the rest managed to avoid the volley. He dived behind an old stone well as they began to fire at him.

He waited for a break in the fire before leaning out and firing again, this time killing the gang boss as he peeked out from behind a broken wall, a bullet between the eyes instantly stealing his life away. The fire began again and Slaughter was forced to take cover once more. He heard a voice yelling to keep him pinned down, and noted that it appeared to be moving away. He recognised it as the voice of the dealer, and through the thunderous barrage of gunfire he made out the sounds of someone sprinting away, accompanied by that sweet, unmistakeable scent in the air.

Fear.

Slaughter poked his gun out from behind the well and fired again, stopping only when the clip ran out. He tossed the gun aside and began to focus. His bloodlust was rising, that primal roar building within him. Before, he had quelled it, keeping the beast contained within his humanity. Now he embraced it, and the howl of his curse became his own, erupting from his lips as a screech of furious bloodlust.

There was a moment of pain as his body swelled, but as the beast took over it was replaced by rage. His huge, grotesquely muscular form no longer hidden by the well, a bullet flew into his shoulder, and he stood and screamed. The gunfire ceased, the criminals unable to comprehend what stood before them. Slaughter picked out the one who had shot him, and in a single bound fell on him, his talons raking him open with a sickening ease. The man next to him scrabbled away, but Slaughter grabbed him and hurled him at another, both of them slamming into a wall with enough force to send it toppling down around them. Two of the remaining guards began to open fire whilst the third turned tail and fled.

As bullets ripped into his flesh Slaughter leapt at the first gunman and tore the shotgun from his grasp before firing it straight into his chest, then smashed it into the face of the second, sending blood splattering onto the ground.

His wounds already closing over, Slaughter followed the sounds of the guard who had fled. He bounded out of the courtyard, leaping over the walls and hurtling around corners. He couldn't hear the guard's footsteps any more, and stopped, listening, sniffing the air.

There. A stifled sob. The tang of fear.

Slaughter stalked through the ruins until he reached the remnants of an ancient tower. He stopped, then with a roar slammed into and then through it, tumbling onto the quivering gang member. The man screamed, then with a single swipe it was over.

Slaughter stood for a second, panting. The sweet smell of fear was fading, but from one direction it persisted. The human part of him cursed. He had let the beast take too much control and lost sight of his true quarry. He would catch him easily enough though.

Now came the hunt.

He left the castle and began to chase the smell of the dealer. He was moving fast, and the tyre marks on the gravel made it clear he had taken a getaway vehicle. Slaughter sprinted down the road, at first pounding along on two legs but then bounding along on all fours. The lights of the car came into sight quickly enough, and when he drew level he slammed into it from the side, sending the car flying off the road. It tumbled over and over on its side, then came to a stop. Slaughter stalked up to it and tore the roof off before grabbing the terrified dealer and hoisting him out of the driver's seat.

The man screamed, and Slaughter gave a bark of laughter before dealing a blow to his head, knocking him cold. He slung his quarry over his shoulder and carried him a mile or so along the road to where a van was parked, then opened the back doors and threw the man inside. The beast was quieting now, its thirst sated somewhat by the violence. With some effort he forced his primal side down, bringing the man back in control of the beast. His clothes had gradually torn off as his new form outgrew them, and now as he slowly shrank back to his human form he stood virtually naked. The driver of the van was unfazed as Slaughter clambered into the passenger side, merely tossing him a bundle of new clothes to put on.

"Do you have the dealer?" the driver asked, although Slaughter knew it was merely a formality. His employer knew already what the answer would be.

He nodded, and the driver smiled. "Good. You still have your uses." He started the van as Slaughter jumped out and put on the clothes, then drove off after he'd got back in. "I felt your rage, Hemsen," his master said as the van sped through the night. "It grows stronger, doesn't it?" Slaughter nodded again in response.

"It will not be long now," his employer assured him, not waiting for Slaughter to ask his question out loud. "We have the Key and the Shield, and this man will give us the Compass, which shall lead us to the Sword. All we need now is the boy, and darkness will fall."

"Darkness will fall," Slaughter echoed dutifully. "And I will be cured."

"Yes. The Radiant will reward the faithful well."

Slaughter closed his eyes and smiled. He had suffered this curse for far too long, the constant hunger for bloodshed consuming him almost completely. But if all went to plan, and if his employer spoke truthfully, then soon the beast within would be vanquished. He would be a normal man again, a vampire no more, and he would no longer feel that primal, overwhelming urge to kill.

And then at last he could murder on his own terms once again.

Chapter 8 – Max Newton’s Brief History of World Domination
(aka the infodump chapter)
Max tumbled out of bed, clawing at his alarm clock in an attempt to halt its insistent beeping. As usual he only succeeded in knocking it onto the carpet. He groaned, then prodded the snooze button with his toe. Leaning down to pick it up was too much effort for him this early in the day. He crossed over to the window and opened the curtains. It was yet another bleak, cloudy day outside. "Oh, what a beautiful moooooorning," he sang half-heartedly.

After a quick shower had woken him up properly, he dressed and went to get breakfast sorted. He was halfway through frying his fifth slice of bacon when he remembered his guest and went to wake him up.

"Morning Luke," he said as he walked in. Max had expected him to still be curled up under the covers - he was a teenager, after all. Sleeping all the time was their job, or at least it had been when Max had been a teenager. Hope they still get to do that, he thought. One of the real perks of adolescence.

Contrary to his expectations, Luke was already up and fully dressed. He was sat at the spare room's small desk, hunched over something that he was hurriedly trying to cover up now that Max was in the room.

"Whatcha got there?" Max asked, peeking over Luke's shoulder.

"Nothing," Luke replied unconvincingly, but Max snatched away the piece of paper he was trying to cover up. He grinned when he saw what it was.

"Since when were you such an artist, Lukey-boy?" he said, admiring the incredibly detailed sketch; he’d had no idea his friend had such talent. It showed a girl facing up to a monstrous, grotesquely muscular figure, knife-like shadows flying towards it from the girl's outstretched hand. No prizes for guessing what scene this was meant to be.

Luke shrugged, obviously embarassed. His ears had gone bright red, as they usually did when he was uncomfortable. It was quite endearing, really. "I don't really like people seeing the stuff I draw," he mumbled. "It's kind of my private thing, y'know?"

"Fair enough," Max answered, putting the sketch back on the desk. "Fancy some breakfast? I've got some bacon on the go." Luke nodded and followed him into the kitchen, where Max prepared him a mountain of bacon, sausages, eggs and toast. Luke's hidden talent was art; Max's was creating gloriously unhealthy, cardiac-arrest-inducing breakfasts.

They chatted as they ate. Luke seemed a lot perkier than yesterday. In Max's experience a good night's sleep and a full English usually had that effect. He had been worried when his usually good-natured, pacifistic friend had gone all serious in the car. Making death threats was seriously out of character. Luke was a great lad, and Max didn't want some vampire changing him for the worse.

Max had just started the washing up when Luke finally started asking questions. He'd held off a lot longer than Max would've done in his place, but that was just like him. Always sceptical, never wanting to get involved with anything remotely out of the ordinary.

"So what exactly is magic?" Luke asked as Max scrubbed furiously at the frying pan.

"Trust you to start with the difficult ones," he replied. "To be honest nobody's entirely sure. People have been trying to figure it out for millennia and the sum total of their findings is that some people have it, some people don't. There was a time when anyone could suddenly turn out magical, but that was ages ago, before the Romans or the Greeks or whoever. Since then magic's been tied to your bloodline. If your parents are magic, then you inherit one of their Arts. If not, boo-hoo, no magic for you."

"What's an Art? Is that just a fancy word for what type of magic you have?"

"Pretty much, yeah. My Art is gravimancy, also known as world-flipping or wall-walking depending on who you ask. Basically means I can screw around with gravity, hence why you saw me walk around on the ceiling."

Luke made a face. "Please don't do that again."

"It can be quite disorientating if you aren't used to it, I guess" Max laughed.

"So what other Arts are there? What are Rachel and Nate's?"

"Rachel is a Dark Mage, so basically she can manipulate shadows into physical forms. Nate's is quite rare. He's what's known as a Conduit. What that means is he can take in energy from one source then redirect it elsewhere."

“So when the vampire kept punching him and he kind of just stood there, that’s what he was doing?”

“Yeah, that’s one of the big strengths of a Conduit. If they’re good enough at controlling their magic, they can just keep taking hits then send it all back at whoever’s hitting them. They’ve got their limits, though, and it takes a hell of a lot of control.”

"That sounds pretty badass. Remind me not to get in a fight with him."

"I'd be more worried about getting into a fight with Rachel, to be honest. Nate's strong, but boy, she is vicious. Beating the crap out of stuff is like second nature to her."

Luke looked sheepish. "I kind of did get in a fight with her," he muttered.

Max shot him a disbelieving look. "Seriously? You actually had fisticuffs with Rachel Black?"

"Ever so slightly, yes."

Max gave a low whistle. "The Agency ain't gonna be happy about that, I'm telling you. They already think she has an attitude problem, this is just going to add fuel to the fire." Luke looked worried, and for a minute the two were silent as Max continued to scrub the dishes.

"So what's my Art then?" Luke finally piped up. "You said I was a Light Mage or something before I keeled over."

"I'd hesitate to say it, but yeah, I think you are. As well as their Art, some people - me included - have an ability called the Sense. It basically means I can tell what magic other people have. It's hard to describe to people who don't have it, but every Art has a different feeling, and it always hints at what it is a mage can do. Yours feels unlike anything I've ever encountered, and I get a weird... glow from you. When I told the Agency what I thought it got them in a bit of a state."

"Why exactly? What's the big deal? Is Light Magic rare or something?"

"Very rare. Exceedingly rare. By which I mean non-existent."

"Feel free to elaborate," Luke said after a moment.

"It's kind of a long story," Max replied.

"Good job I don't have anywhere else to be, then."

"Fine, I'll give you a history lesson if you're really that eager," Max said as he dried off the last plate. He sat down and began to talk again. "Ages ago, back when people could still get magic at random like I was telling you before, Light Magic was as common as any other. Apart from the fact that it was considered one of the more powerful Arts, it wasn't that exceptional. That changed when some nutjobs who called themselves The Radiant came along and started preaching that Light Magic was the one true Art, that Light Mages were the purest of the pure and should be the ones ruling the world to cleanse it of darkness and impurity, etcetera, etcetera.

"At first nobody really paid them much attention, but they started to gain influence and get more and more Light Mages on their side. Soon enough they'd made their own separate societies and started to build an army. Now, the other mages weren't too happy with this, so they started exiling people who agreed with The Radiant. Turned out that that just made things worse though, cos instead of just spouting religious crap all day they started to force people into joining them through more violent methods.

"By this point they'd grown to be pretty damn powerful, and the next step in The Radiant's path to world domination or whatever it is they were after was to go to war with everyone else. War's not too easy when your people are spread all over the place though, so they went and took over Atlantis."

"Atlantis as in the Lost City? You're telling me it's real?" Luke interjected.

"It was real, yeah. Emphasis on was. I'll get to that in a minute. So the cult goes and takes over Atlantis, enslaves its population and starts indoctrinating them into thinking Light Mages really were the rightful rulers of the world. Once they'd strengthened their position, they set to invading all the other magical settlements. Everyone they took hostage was forced to join them or die. All the other mages by this point were pretty ticked off, so they finally went and organised a resistance. They formed an alliance between the various magical civilisations and started to fight back.

"The Radiant had been recruiting, indoctrinating and enslaving for a long time, so for a while nobody was sure who'd come out on top. Eventually though, the allies started to beat them back until finally Atlantis was the only stronghold the Radiant still held. The allies got their forces together and prepared for one last push to get rid of them once and for all, but before they could march on Atlantis, it fell all by itself."

"What? How?"

"Nobody has a clue. There were huge bursts of light that could be seen from half the world away, and when they faded there was literally nothing left of Atlantis. Whatever happened was so catastrophic that it had destroyed every last trace of the city. Bye bye Atlantis, bye bye the Radiant, bye bye Light mages."

Luke sat and digested the story for a minute. "Surely there were still Light mages who weren't in Atlantis at the time though?"

"There were, but naturally they weren't too popular after all the crap the Radiant had put the world through and they ended up getting themselves killed just because of their Art," Max replied. "A lot of it was lynch mobs attacking people who were supposedly supporters of the Radiant, but there's evidence that even the innocent ones were systematically hunted down and killed. There probably would have been some survivors by the end of it all thanks to the emergence of new Light Mages, like any other type of magic, but it was sometime after the fall of Atlantis that magic stopped appearing in people at random and it had to be inherited. With no source of new Light Mages, they eventually died out thanks to whoever was hunting them down. Since then Light Magic has been unheard of."

"Till I came along," Luke said.

"Yup. So now you know why all the talk about you is extremely hush-hush. If word gets out that Light Magic is alive and kicking, every mage in the world is going to start panicking."

"What I don't understand," said Luke thoughtfully, "is how all of this happened without any of it getting in the history books."

"Even before the Radiant Wars, mages were a pretty secretive bunch," Max explained. "They didn't get on so well with normal people because normal people didn't like the idea of all the power that magic gave, so mages generally lived separately from them. When the Radiant came along, they mostly targeted the magical settlements, so the normal people were pretty much completely unaware there was even a war going on.

"Then after the war, the allies decided it would be best to stay out of the way of non-mages. They reckoned that if the non-magical population got wind of what the Radiant had had planned, they'd be scared that other mages would attempt something similar and just kill them all to stop it happening. Mages are more powerful than ordinary people, sure, but non-mages outnumber them massively, so there was no way they'd survive. So they decided to take the magical world out of their sight. They took all their magical settlements and hid them away so that non-mages would never find them. That was when the Underworld was formed; a network of magical settlements working to keeping mages safe and hidden."

"So that's when they founded the London Underworld?" Luke asked

"Nah, London’s is a lot newer, relatively speaking," Max said. "It's only been around since the 1600s or sometime like that."

"And how exactly did they build a city under London without anyone noticing?"

"Ah. Here's where it gets complicated. See, we aren't technically underneath London. The entrances are, but the city itself is... elsewhere."

"And where exactly is "elsewhere"?"

Max sighed. "It's complicated, okay? I’ll explain some other time. Haven’t I given you enough answers for now?"

"Fine," Luke said. "I suppose I've put you through enough for one day. You've had to talk about something serious for what, ten minutes solid?"

Max laughed. "I can be serious," he said. "I just choose not to be."

Luke downed the rest of his orange juice then went for a shower. He seemed to Max to be taking everything in his stride quite well. For someone who'd just been told he was the first person in millennia who had the same powers as a bonkers cult that had once tried to take over the world, he seemed oddly chilled out. Still, it was an improvement on his moodiness from the day before. He just hoped that Luke would stay this way for the debrief. If he really had been in a fight with Rachel, then he didn't want a repeat incident occurring. The boy had been lucky enough to walk away from round one unharmed.
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Mon Jul 11, 2016 6:03 pm

And the other two because they wouldn't all fit in one post:

Chapter 9 – The Best Laid Schemes…
Nate sat in the conference room that was being used for the debrief, absentmindedly drumming his fingers against the table. He'd insisted on getting there early, but now wished he hadn't done. They were still waiting for Max to turn up with Luke, and the Prime Magus had been delayed by other business. He and Rachel had been waiting for nearly twenty minutes now.

He looked around the room and assessed the people sat around the table for the third time since they’d arrived. There were a few officials from the London Underworld's government sat on the left, all of whom he recognised as senior personnel but couldn’t put a name to. On the right sat Arthur Baristow, the Director of the Secrecy Enforcement Agency. With a receding hairline and a growing belly, you wouldn't have thought that Baristow had once been one of the most revered field agents in the Agency's employ. Despite how badly he'd aged, the steely-eyed man was still as sharp as ever; as pragmatic and efficient a commander as he'd always been.

At Baristow's side sat Damien Ellis, the Telekinetic who had visited Nate and Rachel earlier that week. Nate had never heard of him before he’d come to the apartment, which seemed odd given his presence amongst the elite few gathered for the debrief. Must be a rising star, Nate thought to himself. Hell, maybe he's even a protégé of Baristow's.

Last but not least, sat opposite him and Rachel was Elizabeth Latennes, a strikingly beautiful woman of French descent with dark hair and darker eyes. Like Ellis, she was a Telekinetic, albeit of extremely limited ability. What she lacked in magic she more than made up for in intelligence, however, having risen steadily through the ranks of the Underworld's government over the course of five years. Now she was the Prime Magus' most senior aide, but for all intents and purposes she acted as her deputy, taking on all the work that the PM's busy schedule left no time for. Many Underworlders (including Nate) expected her to end up taking the office of Prime Magus herself at some point.

"How much longer do we have to sit around doing nothing?" Rachel whispered to Nate. "I'm bored stiff."

"For however long it takes everyone else to get here," Nate replied. "Just be patient." Rachel scowled then took her phone from her pocket and started playing Angry Birds beneath the table. Nate resisted the urge to do the same. He was just as bored as Rachel, but unlike her he understood the need to maintain a degree of professionalism.

Just as he was about to give in to temptation, the door opened behind Nate and he turned to see Max and Luke walk in. "Nice of you to join us," he said.

Max gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry, we got stuck in traffic."

Luke rolled his eyes. "If your bed is now classed as traffic, then yes, you got stuck in traffic. I was ready to go and you were still out for the count."

Max glared at Luke as the two sat down next to Nate. "So much for friends looking out for each other," Max muttered to Luke. "Think of all the times I've backed you up when you tried to get out of not doing homework."

"You've never done that, mainly because I always do my homework," Luke muttered back.

"Yeah, but in theory, if you were to need somebody to back you up, I would do it."

Not for the first time, Nate wondered at how Max could switch so readily from being a highly trained field operative to acting like an unruly teenager. He supposed that was why the young man was always chosen for undercover work.

The bickering was cut short as a tall, dark-haired woman in a suit entered the room and sat down next to Elizabeth Latennes. Jennifer Stone held a gravitas that went far beyond her position as the Prime Magus of Britain’s Underworld. She radiated confidence and authority, and Nate knew that when she needed to be she was as fierce as a lion. He glanced sideways and saw Max looking at Stone in awe. Of course, he thought. Very few Earth Mages as powerful as Stone, and he can see it plain as day. Nate didn't need the Sense to tell him how powerful the Prime Magus was. He'd seen her in action before, and it was an impressive sight indeed.

"Apologies for the delay," Stone said, giving the paperwork in front of her a cursory glance before looking across at Luke. "I trust Agent Newton has been filling you in on this little hidden world of ours, Mr Matthews?" Luke nodded, looking nervous. "Good," Stone continued. "That ought to help proceedings go smoothly. Now, as you all know, we're here to discuss recent events involving the attempted kidnapping of Mr Matthews. We need to lay out the facts and decide on our course of action. Agent Newton, would you care to start us off?"

Max nodded. "A couple of months ago, we discovered that Luke's secondary school was being monitored by mages despite the fact that there was no official surveillance being carried out there. A team was sent in to apprehend them and bring them in for questioning, but only managed to capture one of them. He refused to answer any questions, so a Telepath probed his thoughts, only to find that he had extremely strong mental blocks in place. The most that the Telepath could discern was the vague intent of looking for somebody, and that that intent was malicious.

"So I was equipped with a Facade, given a fake identity and tasked with using the Sense to find out if there was anybody at that school who stood out. There were a couple of students who showed weak signs of dormant magic, and one of the teachers seemed to actively practice it, but none of them were particularly exceptional. Then I came across Luke. He'd started at the school a few weeks previously - as it happened, around the same time the mages were discovered watching the school. He immediately stood out - his aura was very powerful, and it was... different."

"Different in what way?" asked one of the officials.

"It's hard to explain. Every mage's aura gives some sense of what their Art is, but I didn't recognise Luke's. It's kind of... glowy."

"Glowy?" the official said, sounding somewhat unconvinced.

Elizabeth Latennes nodded. "I can see what he means," she said. "His aura is certainly unique." Nate hadn't realised that Latennes had the Sense. He supposed it made up for her lack of ability to use magic that she could see it instead.

"So anyway, I became friends with Luke, tried to find out if there was anything else that set him apart," Max continued, "but other than being a bit of an outsider he was pretty much your average teenager. I stayed on anyway, in case the watchers came back, but nothing happened until earlier this week. The mages had come back, and they were doing a better job of blending in this time, but naturally I could still pick them out. So I called in backup."

"And that's where Agent Anderson and Miss Black come in," Stone said.

Nate took that as his cue to speak. "Me and Rachel were sent in for surveillance of our own, to try and find out where these other mages were based. By the time we were set up at the safehouse they'd stopped watching though, so instead we tailed Luke as added security. I watched his parents' house, and Rachel did some snooping at the school. We didn't turn up any leads though. Not until Hemsen showed his face, anyway."

Luke stiffened at the mention of the vampire. Nobody else in the room had noticed, but Nate had always had an eye for the little details.

"Thank you, Mister Anderson," Stone said, then turned her gaze to Luke. "Now, Mr Matthews-"

"It's Luke," the boy interjected.

The Prime Magus nodded. "Luke, we need you to tell us exactly what happened when you met Hemsen."

So Luke began to recount his tale. He told how he had noticed the vampire following him the night before the attack, how he'd grown paranoid about being watched and how that had led him to flee when he came across Hemsen again the next evening. He explained how he'd tried to lose the vampire in the back alleys only to be caught at the last second. Then, with a certain note of admiration in his voice (another detail that only Nate seemed to notice), he recounted how first Rachel and then Nate himself had come to his rescue.

Then came the part Nate had been dreading. Here was the part where Rachel's career could go up in flames. Luke told them how he'd woken in the safehouse and of his introduction to magic.

"I didn't believe it at first, and I was scared, and all I wanted to do was go home," Luke said. "So I tried to leave, but Rachel stopped me, and then we got in a fight."

Arthur Baristow spoke up for the first time. "A fight?” he said angrily. “Miss Black, would you care to explain why you were in a fight with the person you were meant to be protecting?”

Rachel had gone white. "I was only trying to stop him from leaving," she said. Usually she was so confident, refusing to bow to any authority, but now she sat staring at her lap, like a pupil being chided by the headmaster. Becoming a field agent was Rachel’s biggest goal in life. Nate couldn’t imagine what it was doing to her to see that prospect slip away before her eyes.

"You could have used less forceful means, surely to goodness. How on earth can you expect to become a field agent if you can't show restraint in dealing with a teenage boy with no magical ability? I've half a mind to end your training right this insta-"

"It wasn't her fault," Luke interrupted. "I was trying to leave, so Rachel used her magic to block me and then I got angry and tried to hit her. She was just defending herself."


Baristow looked hard at Luke for a second, then turned back to Rachel. "Is this true?" She nodded. He gave her a long, penetrating stare, the kind that Nate had seen the old man use to break the will of countless trainee agents back in the old days, but Rachel seemed completely unfazed. She’d regained some of her former confidence and was staring straight back with that unimpressed look Nate knew so well. Just like her mother, Nate thought to himself. Baristow could never get her to crack, either.

Eventually Baristow broke off the stare. "Then I apologise for my outburst. Now, if you'd continue, Luke."

Luke continued with the story, telling how he'd jumped from the window and run home only to find his father dead and his mother a newly turned vampire. Max had come to his rescue, only to be attacked by Hemsen and left incapacitated. Throughout it all his voice stayed steady, only wavering slightly at the part about his parents. He was evidently made of sterner stuff than Nate had realised.

“The vampire managed to get on top of Max and before I knew what was happening I just kind of pointed my palm at it and there was this rush of heat, then this burst of light shot out and knocked it away. Then Nathan and Rachel arrived and it ran away. I went down to see if Max was okay and then not long afterwards I blacked out.”

“Have you been able to use magic since then?” Elizabeth Latennes asked.

“No. I’ve tried a little bit, but I haven’t felt that heat again.”

Latennes nodded. “It may take some time to get the hang of it. You managed to use it against the vampire because you did it instinctually, but to use magic at will takes a great deal of skill and concentration to master. I’m sure Agent Newton will be more than willing to give you some tuition in the matter.”

Luke nodded. “So what happens next?”

Damien Ellis cleared his throat. “As it stands, we have very little to go on. We’ve tried to trace Hemsen, but he’s gone off the radar, and we’ve had little luck trying to work out who he’s working with. We have managed to get one lead, however. Is anybody familiar with the Atlantan Shield?”

Nate nodded. “One of the few remaining relics from the Radiant Wars. Last I heard, it was in an overworlder museum.”

“Overworlder?” Luke said questioningly.

“It’s one of the terms we use for non-mages,” Nate explained. “So what does the Shield have to do with anything?”

“You’re right, it was in an overworld museum, but it was stolen a few weeks ago,” Ellis replied. “It was looked into at the time, but it was hardly a priority. Now that it looks like somebody’s taken an interest in light magic it’s been investigated more thoroughly. The thief still hasn’t been identified, but it turns out that somebody got in touch with the curator shortly afterwards asking questions about the shield.

“Apparently, the caller was researching a family heirloom, a key of some sort which has the same symbol on it as the Shield. Then last week somebody broke into this man’s house up in Scotland and murdered him.”

“So whoever’s after Luke seems to be going around stealing Atlantan artefacts as well,” Nate said.

“It would seem so,” the Prime Minister said. “What else has the investigation uncovered?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” Ellis said. “We haven’t had chance to send anyone out to his house yet, but we have a team scheduled to go tomorrow.”

“Has the investigation team been briefed on recent developments regarding Mr Matthews?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good,” the Prime Minister replied. “Until we know all the facts we need to limit the number of people who know about light magic’s return. I’ve informed the Prime Magi from the other Underworld hubs already, but this situation must be kept secret until we know that we have it under control.”

There were nods of agreement around the table. Nate cleared his throat.

“Yes, Agent Anderson?”

“I think me and Rachel ought to go with the investigators if they aren’t aware of the full situation. We might have a better idea of what we’re looking for than they will.”

“I was about to suggest the same thing. You and Miss Black will be accompanying the investigators; as you say, you’ll know better what to look for,” Stone replied. Nate nodded and the PM turned to look at Luke.

“Now that that’s sorted, we’re left with Mister Matthews here. I think it would be best to make some more secure arrangements. Luke, after this meeting you’ll be assigned a security detail and taken to one of the Ministry of Defence’s safehouses. We know that whoever is after you has a contact within Underworld, so we can’t risk them trying to kidnap you again.”

“Can I get my stuff from Max’s place first?” Luke asked.

“It would be unwise for you to go back there,” Latennes said. “Agent Newton will bring you your possessions later, but for now I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay where we can keep an eye on you.” Luke nodded reluctantly.

“Well, that appears to be everything,” Stone said. “Agent Anderson, Miss Black, I’m counting on you to get to the bottom of what our enemy is after. Agent Newton, you will accompany Luke to the safehouse. And all of you, remember: this must remain secret until we’re ready to go public. We don’t want to risk a panic.”

At that moment a man that Nate recognised as another of Stone’s aides burst into the office. “Ma’am, we have a problem,” he said nervously.

“What’s going on?” the Prime Magus demanded.

“I don’t know how it started, but somebody found out and it’s spread around the city,” the aide replied. “There’s a crowd already building up outside demanding answers.”

“Answers about what?” Stone asked, but from her face Nate could tell she had already worked it out for herself, as had he.

“About light magic returning. There’s a borderline riot out there and they’re all demanding to know about the boy with light magic.”

The office fell into a stunned silence until Nate spoke up.

“Well, the whole “absolute secrecy” thing seems to be going well.”
Chapter 10 – A Mask Amidst the Shadows
Slaughter watched the masked man approach through the darkness, as wary of him as ever. Usually, his heightened senses rendered everyone he met an open book, their mood betrayed by a scent that hung heavy in the air. This man was different. Instead of the rich scent of emotion, a dull, empty void seemed to hang around him, cloaking his true intentions from all perception.

Slaughter didn’t like it.

The man stepped into the flickering lamplight, allowing Slaughter a proper look at him. He was tall and well-built, and his long, black leather duster was left open to reveal the sturdy grey body armour that lay beneath it. As ever, a hood cast his face in shadow, obscuring the intricate runes etched into his bronze mask from view. The one feature that remained visible in the half-light was the mask’s eyepieces: two lenses which seemed to radiate a dull, sickly yellow glow. There were few things that could unsettle Slaughter, but staring into that cold, dead light never failed to unnerve him.

“You’re late,” Slaughter said. “Abaddon does not take kindly to being kept waiting.”

The man stared wordlessly at Slaughter, and reluctantly he led the way through the darkness until they came to a door which Slaughter unlocked and held open for the masked man. He entered the brightly lit room behind the man and locked the door again.

“Shadowmaster,” Slaughter called. “Your associate is here.” His employer emerged from another room and Slaughter bowed his head in respect.

“Darkness will fall,” he said dutifully, raising his head again to see his employer nod to the masked man in greeting, paying no attention to Slaughter. Abaddon knew well enough that the gesture was an empty one.

“We have acquired the Compass, the Key and the Shield,” Abaddon said, wasting no time in getting down to business. “However, the boy has slipped through our fingers. No doubt he is in protective custody in the London Underworld by now.”

“He is to be transferred to a new safehouse this afternoon,” the man replied, his voice muffled and distorted beneath the mask, betraying no emotion. “My servant has kept me well informed.”

“Can this servant of yours find a way for us to get into the Underworld? We must get hold of the boy as soon as possible.”

“That will not be necessary.”

“Of course it’s necessary,” the Shadowmaster replied impatiently. “You know as well as I do that our plan cannot progress without him. If we don’t get him back-“

“You misunderstand me,” the man in the mask replied, his flat tone cutting straight across the Shadowmaster. “The boy must be acquired. It is your assistance that will not be necessary.”

“Don’t be absurd. Breaking into an Agency safehouse will take at least a dozen of our best fighters, if not more.”

“I assure you, Shadowmaster, the boy will be in your hands soon enough, and our plan will progress as before.”

Slaughter’s master hesitated, then nodded. “Fine. I will leave this to you. Are you certain you have enough manpower to get the job done, though? The Four Horsemen are still lending us their support. With their assistance success would be assured.”

“I have everyone I need, and they are already in the Underworld.”

“Really? How many of these ‘servants’ do you have there?”

“Just the one,” the masked man replied. “That is all that will be required.”
Ghost wrote:and since when has "being dumb" been a sin on the internet?
Pokeforum Random Battle Tourney - come for the battles, stay for the salt

Hyder
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu May 05, 2016 11:56 am

Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Mon Jul 11, 2016 7:43 pm

I've just finished reading through your story Rik and I have to say that I have really enjoyed it so far.

You do well to blend the supernatural with the ordinary with ease, which is a skill in that sort of modern magical genre, so I never felt uncomfortable with terminology that might otherwise be arcane. The world your characters inhabit appears to be well thought through, with a clear backstory which I expect will be enriched in subsequent chapters.

Regarding the cast of characters, I don't want to offer too much comment since I don't think ten chapters is enough to go on to judge what are no doubt complex protagonists/antagonists/etc, but so far I think you do well to present a varied array of personalities amongst the central characters so far. I also appreciate the more subtle characterisation of Stone and the Shadowmaster, with whom you offer little in the way of words but by other means convey a sense of their persons. For me at least, the imagination is ignited.

On your writing itself I found it very accessible, and you get the impression of someone comfortable with the world and characters they have created, and basically enjoying the writing experience. The pacing of the narrative is appropriate to each individual scene, and I never felt that a particular episode or paragraph felt out of place. I suppose an example would be in Slaughter (my favourite chapter), where the sense of fast paced carnage really comes across in a visceral way. In the prologue I could feel Jeremy's trepidation as he stalked through his own home, then the panic of confrontation, and the ultimate detante at the end of the fight. It might seem a basic observation, but I think it is well executed and highly useful ability to be able to control the movement of the story as you do.

Finally, I will offer just one, ever so slight criticism, although you may well take it as a compliment. Although you are very good at balancing discourse and description, I personally would enjoy just a little bit more on the way of the latter. I commend your battle scenes, which I often find unwieldy, because when you do deploy more richly detailed passages you execute them very well and without too much embellishment. All I would ask is that you consider perhaps adding little droplets of information more frequent in an amongst other sections, just to spice it up. But then I am very partial to what I must admit is sometime cumbersome levels of description, so feel free to discard this comment. The lack of my aesthetic preferences certainly do not detract in any way from the overall quality of the story.

I look forward to the next chapter.

Hyder
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu May 05, 2016 11:56 am

Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Hyder » Wed Jul 13, 2016 1:42 am

The Establishment of the Rule of Mandos IV
And so Mandos, acceding as Mandos IV, came into the possession of the imperial sceptre, that is to say the holy Synecdochal seal which confers upon the bearer the supreme constitutional authority. How the circumstances for this precipitous rise in station came about I have just recorded, and having done so I now move chronologically into the period of his presiding over the Commonwealth of our people, and shall discuss that fine rulership in the same fashion as did the most erudite Daia, the greatest and highest of all the High Chroniclers. Thus, I shall comment firstly upon the situation which Mandos confronted in the apparatus of government, such as in the laws and in the organisation of the provinces, and then I shall move on to discuss the policies which he enacted in the realms of foreign lands, and in doing so will provide a clear thematic coverage, which shall do the justice of ultimate truth upon the memory of the emperor Mandos IV. But before any of this I must first relate the way in which the majestic emperor Mandos first came to solidify his rule over the empire, for the times were precarious and hazards abounded from everywhere in the first year of his rightful sovereignty.

Having come into the imperial dignity at such a young and fertile age, there were many in the corridors of power, or should I say gutters of deceit, who grumbled and groaned at the sight of a mere youngster in the royal regalia. Others, whose names were amongst the most distinguished and noble amongst all those in the realm, thought that they might band together like scurrilous thieves and plot to manipulate the young emperor, who at this time was looking this way and that for some sort of succour from the many burdens of his new office, for there were many issues which abounded throughout the realm, so that the very fabric of the body politic was being tugged and torn in every direction. The young Mandos, who was only twenty-seven years of age, was soon overwhelmed by the myriad duties of administration and law-giving, such that even his famous tenacity in all things was soon expended, like the wave which comes in from the sea toppling ships and other sailing boats, but crashes and dissipates into the rocks and loses its previous force and momentum. Such was Mandos’ predicament, but even though he had never asked for the high office and had acceded only due to the acclamation of the people and by the unknowable whims of Lady Fortune, he did not sheath the sword of governance, despite the numerous chances offered to him in those early days.

Around this time there was a certain man, Basil, whose surname was Seraxachos, who wielded not an insignificant amount of sway with the people of the Senate, that distinguished body of quill-priests, and in fact he was the nomophylax of that esteemed body. For him all the apparatus of government was like the instrument which is handled by the master musician, for he played the ministers like strings and ensured that the dissonance of the Senate was brought to its proper tuning, and thus he could compose all the resources of the government to his will. When the aforementioned plot of the Senators was nearing fruition, and when the as-yet uninitiated Mandos was still being assailed in the School, this Basil was attempting to bring over the holy Patriarch of Lady Fortune to his side, so that the institutions of the Senate and the Temple would find harmonious accord, and so that the Senatorial plot might be better effected. On this one occasion Basil was rebutted, for the Patriarch was a wise man and he did not see the justice in moving against the Fortune-favoured, and consequently the events that I previously recounted went ahead without interference from this cunning nomophylax. Regardless of this his malevolent intent was not blunted, and in fact his resentment of the new sovereign grew even greater after this event, and he concocted plans night and day with a multitude of conspirators, their aim being to force the emperor to remove limitations on Senatorial powers, and in doing so bring about a political situation which was favourable to the illegal intentions of that cabal. Such were the enemies who had arrayed against the young Mandos, but Lady Fortune, in all her ineffable glory, ensured that the empire and the Synecdoche would be safely steered through this time of great uncertainty and danger, just like the merchant who risks life and wealth in the Straights of Fyr, but ultimately comes upon the calm inner seas and harbours of the Emperor-City even more prosperous before. How this came to be I shall now relate.

After one year of steady governance of the Commonwealth, for Mandos had soon gathered around himself a retinue worthy of Fortune the Just, an event which carried great foreboding came upon the people of the High City, and all who witnessed or even heard of it were struck dumb by uncontrollable fear, and many priests were quick to proclaim that this event was a great calamity and would bring our ancient people to its knees, and indeed it might have if the emperor had not truly been Fortune-favoured. This event was the arrival of an awful, horrid pestilence, which had made its black route through mountains to the west and ravaged many townships and even cities, killing farmer, peasant, soldier, bureaucrat or priest without discern; its advance was like those snarling obsidian clouds which blot the sky before an ungodly tempest of wind and thunder, and it’s effect was the rage after those clouds tear asunder, when lightening arcs through the sky and sets forests ablaze, for this pestilence was a vast evil upon our people. Hundreds and thousands were felled by the arrival of this manifest Misfortune, that corrupted matriarch to whom we all must offer begrudging respect, for the Scourge was death to the touch. Men withered away within days of their affliction, as first their skin would exude great amounts of sweat, then as if squeezed out of their corporeal form they were drained of energy, then their limbs would be seized by the charcoal-flesh and finally they would succumb to death. In some cases an intervening madness would take hold, and by this psychic distortion they found a mixed blessing, for they lost all human faculties and thus became beasts and died without higher consciousness of their agony. People refused to heed the call of family and friends, and instead shut themselves up so as to avoid the Scourge, but they would be claimed anyway. Thus chaos and pain and disarray and all manner of other pains afflicted the delicate balance of the body politic, but none was more dangerous than the threat posed to the emperor himself, and this threat did not come from that Scourge, but rather it was the Scourge which induced foul men to act in such a way that the emperor might be brought to harm.

When the Scourge was at its height, having ravaged Fortune’s City for one month and reaching the apex of its destruction, and thus the nadir of hellish existence for its inhabitants, that cunning nomophylax decided to enact a vicious plan of his which had come to mind even as his comrades died all about him. For that was the sort of man that this Basil was, being a ruthless advocate for illegal acts against constitutional sanctity, and cold ambition abounded from his every action both great and small; I would say that the nomophylax was a closer incarnation of Misfortune than the Scourge, for whilst the Scourge was bereft of emotional comportment and enforced the will of death indiscriminately, that evil man Basil was deliberate in his actions and utterly immoral in his intentions, and thus his evil was a pure one, unlike the natural calamity. Anyway, the nomophylax set upon the following plan. Due to the unsurmountable crises of the Scourge, which at this point was squeezing the throat of the Synecdoche and threatening to bring down all that was good and civil, the government and the institutions were in disarray, so that the Senate and the Council and the Temple had lost all cohesion and all urban functions were disabled. Basil entreated all the great officers of the state, all the ministers and all the senators, and even the revered Patriarchal priest, to gather themselves and plead for the emperor to relocate to the Lilac Ile before he himself was struck by the disease. All the men present agreed with the suggestions of the nomophylax, for to all those before him his plan appeared conscientious and sensible, and would certainly deliver safety to the crucial personages of the Commonwealth. But all of them were fooled, and the sly Basil in fact desired to drive Mandos into greater vulnerability, whereupon he could assume control of the palace and do whatever he desired with the City and the imperial regalia, and in doing so have the entire power, wealth and prestige of the world in the palm of his hand. This plan did not come to fruition, by what can only be described as the direct intercession of Lady Fortune into our mortal plane.

When the delegation of officials came upon the emperor’s quarters, led hastily by the mendacious nomophylax, and including the arch-minister and the other ministers of the Council and also the Patriarch, they were greeted by Mandos himself rather than any guard or doorman. The emperor beckoned them in, saying, “To what honour do I owe this visit by a company of such elevated individuals?” and the arch-plotter Basil stepped forward bearing the mask of the sycophant, replying, “O Exalted Emperor Mandos IV, we before you have deliberated amongst each other, and together have found it to be the most wise decision to vacate your person from this place of unsuspecting threats, for in every shadow the Scourge may wait to take you in its embrace; please allow us to escort you to the imperial barge.” But Mandos was well aware of the treasonous nature of that fellow Basil, and carefully raised in hand in refusal, instead turning to address the Patriarch, and he said, “Reverend priest of Fortune, reader of the unreadable whims of our Lady, is it not true that this city is the City which is blessed and protected by Fortune?” The Patriarch gestured to the affirmative, allowing his liege to continue, “And yet exactly one year ago today I was invested by Fortune’s favourite medium, the thunderous acclamation of the subjects, and thus I was invested with the Synecdochal seal and anointed by thine own hand; my mandate is still affirmed by the people far and wide, and so the imperial sceptre still lies with my hand.” With this astute reasoning the nomophylax was taken aback, and his mask of lies was shattered by the sharp words of the emperor Mandos IV. “Was it not this man, the nomophylax who sits in the Senate, who implored all you virtuous people to act in this way? Was it not his groomed words which enticed you to act contrary to the mandate of Lady Fortune? That man is treasonous, and his presence in the halls of the administration is worse blight upon the body politic than this Scourge even if it were manifold degrees more severe, for Basil is the rotting nerve which corrupts the good mind.” With that the assembly backed away from the traitor and the guards tried to seize him, but he fled the room like a snake and came upon the walkway which adjoins the emperor’s tower with the main hall of the palace. The momentum of his escape was too great as he skidded from the scene, and a strong gust of wind cast about by Lady Fortune struck for just a moment, jostling the man over the palisade and sending him to a timely demise. And so the conspiracy was dealt with, and soon after the Metropolis and the Commonwealth recovered from its black illness.

It was in this way that Fortune punished the treasonous, and the emperor and the commonwealth were ultimately directed through the perils of the Scourge and of the deceit of the nomophylax, after which they would find renewed glories in the bountiful reign of Mandos IV.

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OmegaPit
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by OmegaPit » Sun Sep 04, 2016 4:14 pm

So, I was bored and after reading too much Jim Butcher I felt like taking up the pen again. Here's a little something I just wrote:
A gnashing of fangs.
A gurgling scream.
Guilt.
I let out a scream as I woke up from the nightmare. My body was covered in a cold sweat and my heart beat a mile a minute. I took a deep breath and rubbed my face with my hands, my chest slowly stopped heaving as I regained control of my breathing. I let out a sigh and got out of bed and walked over to my bedroom window, I leaned against the window and peered at the city which was engulfed in darkness, illuminated only by the odd lamppost. I focused on my reflection, my eyes looked sunken and my forehead shimmered from the thin layer of sweat that covered it. The light from one of the lampposts shone on one half of my face, the other was hidden by the shadows and for a second I could have sworn it was smirking at me. I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead against the window, I focused on the coldness and the faint ambient sounds of the outside world.

The nightmares weren't going anyway, and it wasn't getting easier to deal with them. There was no way of not having them either, well, that's a lie, some nights I'd drink myself into a stupor and just black out. Other nights I just wouldn't sleep at all. But in the end I'd always succumb to sleep, there is no way of escaping tiredness. And it was nights like these when the memories would come rushing back, it's as if sleeping breaks the dam inside my mind which holds them all back. I'd relive those experiences that I've spent so long trying to forget, but the more I fought them the more vivid they seemed to become. The voices were louder and clearer, the details more precise and the sensations even stronger. I let out another sigh and lightly punched the wall out of frustration, there was no way I was going back to sleep now so I decided to take a walk and let the cool autumn air help clear my mind.

I put on a pair of black jeans, a white t-shirt, a pair of black and white Converse and grabbed my leather jacket as I left my house. After locking the door I looked up and gazed at the hundreds and thousands of stars overhead, a half-moon shone brightly which helped illuminate the street slightly. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sounds around me, I could hear the calls of owls in the trees, cats fighting in the distance and the sound of someone's television in one of the nearby houses. I could taste salt on the air, there'd be mist in a few hours, along with salt I could smell the usual, smoke, grease, food, fear and... blood. A tingling sensation rose up from the base of my spine and spread out throughout my body, and I'm pretty sure my pupils dilated. I shook my head and tried to block it all out. I took a deep breath and began walking. Nowhere in particular, I just walked and concentrated on my footsteps, the beating of my feet against the cold concrete.

After a while I found myself walking alongside the park, most people would be afraid of walking around at this time of night alone, you never knew who you could bump into, or what kind of creature of the night might be waiting to pounce. But I'm not most people. And I've definitely seen my fair share of creatures of the night. I consider myself one of them. I changed my course and decided to walk into the park and under the cover of the many oak trees that rose into the night sky. There was nothing I enjoyed more than the crunching sound of dried leaves under my feet and the musky smell of earth. And the smell of blood.

Blood? Here? That's strange. I stopped walking and inhaled through my nose again, like a dog sniffing at the air. It was definitely blood, but I couldn't quite pinpoint where it was coming from, I could smell it all around me, as if it was moving. I furrowed my brow and looked around me, a pointless exercise because the trees blocked out any kind of light but I managed to get a faint outline of my surroundings. There was nothing there. I couldn't decide whether that was good or bad. Then my ears picked something up, movement, above me in the trees. I quickly turned and looked up, before I could react I saw a flash of bat-like wings, a flash of white fangs and the overwhelming stench of blood. The creature knocked me onto the floor and I felt a vice-like grip around my throat. I let out a fierce growl as I struggled to free myself.
“Yes,” it hissed “the more you struggle the more pleasurable it will be to kill you,” it took in a deep breath and smiled, once again revealing those razor sharps fangs.

I felt its grip tighten around my neck, I replied in turn, grabbing a hold of its wrist and squeezing. The creature looked at me quizzically.
“My, my,” it said forcing its strength into its grip and pushing me harder into the floor, “you're quite strong for a human,”
I smiled, which only served to make it look even more confused, and angry.
“That's because” I let out in a gasp, “I'm not human.”

I gripped its wrist even harder and unleashed the animal within me. My senses were the first thing to change, they exploded into life and everything felt more alive. My arms and legs started to grow and the muscle that covered my bones grew and became more tense and hard. Grey fur erupted over my limbs, a huge grey mane similar to that of a lion began to grow around my neck and chest. My clothes began to tear from my sudden growth in size. I felt my face elongate slightly and I sensed the touch of my long incisors against my bottom lip. I slowly began to rise and push back the creature which was squirming and struggling, with its other arm it tried to claw at my face but I grabbed that wrist as well and pushed it down onto its knees.

“I don't take well to having my life threatened,” I growled at it. The creature hissed and squirmed even harder. I should have ended its pathetic life then and there, but I decided against it, a few years ago I made a decision to never hurt those who didn't truly deserve it. Even though he did try to kill me I didn't want to stoop to his level and kill him, and I could have done it. It would be easy. One bite on its neck and so long, its warm blood would squirt out like when you take a bite out of an orange, filling my mouth with its warm metallic flavour, I could already taste its fear in my mouth. It would be so easy. I licked my lips. And suddenly I felt a hard kick against my bottom jaw which sent me rocking back, I released my grip on the creature and in one swift movement it jumped up into the trees and out of my sight.

“Well that was a huge miscalculation on my part,” I heard it say from the treetops, I looked at where I thought I heard it speak but there was nothing there, “I did not expect to encounter a lyncanthrope in these parts, there aren't many of your kind nowadays,” it said, this time it sounded like he was right behind me. I turned but, of course, nothing was there. I finally realised what the thing was.

“I could say the same to you, I honestly thought vampires were extinct,” I replied. I rubbed the bottom of my jaw where he hit me, I'd have a nasty bruise in the morning.
“Yes, well, that's because we usually don't allow our prey to survive and speak of us,” it said in a smug voice.
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Aren142 » Sun Sep 04, 2016 11:59 pm

Joe smells.
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<Princess> that's effort
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<Kaeetayel> The last one doesn't sound too bad

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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Blaxel411 » Thu Sep 15, 2016 12:19 am

I've been gooseberry fool around with an idea for an animated show for a few months now. Written 20+ pages on world building, characters etc. Think about it all the time. God I really hope i can get this made someday. Sadly i don't know anyone that's willing to read through 20+ pages so i don't know if i'm just crazy and everything about this idea sucks. I've forced my brother to isten to me rant about it and he at least thinks it's fairly good. And he's a cynical chelsea bun.
I think we can all agree that i`m a great asset to the human race.
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:25 am

Short thing I wrote at tonight's weekly creative writing society meeting at uni, we were given a list of odd phobias (since it's Halloween) and had to write something about whichever one your partner chose for you; I was given the fear of clocks. Only had about quarter of an hour to do it so it's not much but I'm pretty happy with it, ages since I did a short story and it's nice to do something a bit more grounded than my usual fantasy eton mess.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The sound of the old grandfather clock relentlessly tapping out its stoic rhythm drifted through Dan's troubled sleep. He'd wake occasionally, breathing rapidly and unevenly, trying to block out the clock's noise and rid himself of that horrid, unchanging beat, but with little luck. He didn't know why clocks made him so anxious, despite all the expensive psychiatrists and their therapies. One of them had theorised it was to do with Dan's own sense of mortality, a fear of the unwavering march of time. Dan hadn't even thought of it like that until then, and the revelation had only made everything so much worse. All that time and money and all he'd got from them was that particularly depressing insight, plus a name for his fear - chronomentrophobia.
Normally it wasn't a problem. His house didn't have any clocks; no analogue ones, anyway. But tonight he was staying at a converted manor up in Scotland, dragged away from his safe haven for the sake of a week's worth of eton mess teambuilding exercises and outdoor pursuits that the company insisted would help everyone get along. It wouldn't. The office was full of pricks and they all knew it.
The clock chimed, making Dan physically flinch, shying away from the door and the dreaded ticking beyond. Two more chimes followed, each one accompanied by a wrenching in his gut, as if someone was sat there rhythmically kneeing him in the stomach.
This was his fourth night of fractured sleep in a row. The camping trip last night had seemed like it would provide a break, but still the ticking had pervaded the night, drifting through the thin canvas from somebody else's tent, steadily driving him to despair. He'd had more than a passing temptation to seek out the watch and tear it from its owners wrist, but instead he lay paralysed in the cold, trying in vain to block out the steady, infuriating rhythm.
He couldn't go on much longer, that was for certain. He'd managed to bluff away his tiredness so far, but if any of his colleagues knew the truth of it he'd be the object of ridicule for months. Dan Smith, the man afraid of clocks. Tick, tock Dan. Hey Dan, what time is it? How's your grandfather, Dan? The potential for cruelty was endless.
He drifted back into a fuzzy half-sleep for a while, but was jolted awake again at the sound of another four chimes, each one echoing morosely through his mind. He groaned in frustration. Tonight was going to be another long night.
And he'd be counting every second of it.
Also considering doing NaNoWriMo and finishing Underworld off at last, it's kind of cheating since I've started already but hey if I get 50k extra done it still counts right (also it probably won't happen but hey I'm in a glass half full mood)
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Kriken » Sat Oct 29, 2016 10:22 pm

Decided to rewrite a series I wrote years ago. I could maybe find it on the ONM archives but I'm just going to do it from memory since I will be making huge changes to it (it's basically going to be a different story).

Tricks

Chapter 1

As on most nights, Matt was finding it hard trying to fall asleep. Well, he was listlessly browsing the internet, but he felt that he may as well be up and doing something since he couldn't sleep. And he was trying. Really.

He found the pale blue light that washed over him comforting. A portal to a world of endless possibilities. Like the books he used to read as a kid, except this required much less mental effort and allowed him to occasionally indulge in amusing images of cats.

It was as he was laughing at one of these images - of a serious-looking cat wearing a monocle - that he heard the loud thump from outside. It sounded like it came from his garden.

Matt swiveled in his chair, looking towards the window, at the blackness outside. He groaned, not really wanting to get up and see what it was. But he was curious. He crept downstairs, careful not to wake his family up. Discovering that he was still awake past midnight wouldn't have sat well with his mother, and especially not on a school day.

At the bottom of the stairs he faced the front door, and practically stood in the living room. The garden was at the back, so he turned around and crept through the living room. It was when he was halfway through that he began to hear a faint whistling sound. It was like the whine of an old TV, but he knew it wasn't that and in any case it had an ethereal quality to it. It also had a bit of a rhythm to it, though when he tried to fix his mind on the pattern, it escaped him.

Matt realised he was just standing there and thinking about the sound, and he couldn't have said how long, but he immediately began to inch his way forward again. He was wary. Whatever this was didn't seem sinister, but it was certainly strange.

He entered the kitchen, which had nearly uninterrupted windows stretched across the walls to give a full view of the outside garden. He walked up to the sink and looked out. Looked at the twinkle of light outside, on the ground at the other side. The object that must have made the thump.

It was otherwise so dark though, that he decided to search the cupboard under the sink for the flashlight. The flashlight light flickered faint, but it would have to do.

At the door to the garden he realised he was barefoot and needed to put shoes or at least some slippers on. His pair was upstairs and he wanted to check the thing out now. But there was a pair here, of teddy-bear slippers, that Matt decided to put on with some reluctance. They belonged to his younger sister, and knowing his luck he knew she'd wake up and find him wearing them, and then laugh - partly because they fit so well, perhaps...he thought as he slipped them on, feeling their snugness. Perhaps he would brave the ridicule and the pestering to get them back and wear them around the house from now on.

Matt opened the backdoor and stepped through into the garden, waving the flashlight this way and that. He couldn't rule out there wasn't anyone there, someone who might have dropped the glowing object here, because what was the alternative? That it fell from the sky. Both ideas seemed a bit scary. One more than the other. Or perhaps someone just threw it from a distance. Hoping to get rid of it, maybe. Also a scary thought.

Unsurprisingly, the whistling intensified out here as he got closer, but not to an unpleasant degree. It was actually a somewhat comforting buzz, which is why, really, Matt wasn't that scared about what might happen.

He approached the shining object and went down to his haunches to take a closer look at it. It looked like crystal, except long and thin. It was also red and not clear in colour...so rather, it was more like a ruby, he thought. It was half sunk into the dirt, and must have been heavy considering it made that thump.

Matt had no idea what this thing was, so it could have been dangerous to touch. But something told him it would be okay. That it would be a desirable thing to do, even. So he did. He reached out his hand.

The whistling intensified.

He touched it. And he screamed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You look awful."

"Thanks Sarah."

"I'm guessing you didn't shower," said Sarah, steepling her fingers. That serious, enigmatic look on her face. The sharp green of her eyes.

"Yes, leave me alone," said Matt, head in hand. "I didn't get much sleep, and it wasn't really on my mind. Who are you, my sister?"

"Thankfully not."

They looked at each other and grinned.

They were sitting with the rest of class 10F, for the registration period at school, and sat together at the same desk. As they had done for the past 3 or so years. Sarah was a family and childhood friend, and since the first day of school had decided to sit next to him for some reason. Matt supposed he was thankful, because at first he wasn't exactly popular at school and so he would have been assigned to sit with some random person.

"Just looking out for you, bro. Why are you wear teddy-bear slippers, by the way?"

Matt looked down. "Crap!"

"Um, language please, Matthew," said Ms Gilbert at the front of the class. She fixed him with a stern look, but not an unkind one. Ms Gilbert was nice, just a little parochial at times.

"Sorry miss," said Matt quickly, before turning towards Sarah. "I have no idea how I managed to do this, I swear I took them off..."

Sarah raised an eyebrow. "Why were you wearing them in the first place?"

"Right. Well. It's a weird story. I just needed to put them on at the time."

"Right."

"Now those amused glances I got this morning make a lot more sense. But someone could have told me sooner."

Sarah sighed. "That would have made you late for school. You would have ended up going back home just to change out of them, wouldn't you? Don't even think about doing that after registration, by the way."

"Don't be silly. I'll get my sister to bring my shoes. She's at home sick right now."

"You're despicable. But I suppose that's the best way."

After registration, they waited near the side entrance of the school, which was mainly reserved for cars. But when teachers weren't looking, pupils, or sometimes just anyone, would walk in. Sarah stood against the fence, arms folded, as Matt paced about in the slippers. They were too comfortable, he decided.

They were normally meant to start their first lesson right now, but Sarah pulled some strings. Told the woman at the reception she had to do some urgent work for the school council, which she was the year rep of, and that for some reason she needed Matt's assistance. Despite being known to be the kind of person who would shirk work and responsibility at the drop of a hat. Matt didn't know how she did it.

He stopped pacing suddenly.

"Say," Matt said. "I was thinking about something just now."

"That sounds dangerous and ill-advised."

"Ha ha. It's funny, because you're joking right now, but lately you've been using that same tone seriously. Being overprotective and a bit too helpful. Not that I'm complaining, but you could at least help me with my homework a bit more."

Sarah looked at him askance, strands of blonde hair drifting in the wind in front of her face.

"Matt, any more help and I would be doing all the work. And I know you can do it yourself. In exams where I can't assist you, you've shown that you're not actually an idiot. Kind of."

"Yeah. I mean, I don't need any of this help. I never even ask. Or at least I don't anymore. But lately it's been like you don't want me out of your sight. Did...did someone put you up to this?"

Sarah laughed. "Like who?"

"My mum I guess."

"That's silly," said Sarah. "I guess...you are like a brother to me, Matt. I never had any siblings, and none of the girls here really feel like my sister, so it's nice. Anyway, tell me about what happened last night."

"What do you mean?"

"You said you had to put those slippers on. It sounds important."

"I can't tell if you're joking or not," laughed Matt. "I can tell you that I didn't have to put my special teddy bear slippers on for some special guest. They're not even mine, by the way. They belong to my little sister. I just want to make that clear. Wait...that doesn't make things sound any better, does it."

Sarah shook her head. "Really though. I guess you had to go outside real quick and couldn't be arsed putting shoes on. And then...you fell asleep in them I guess?"

Matt sighed. "Yes, it's stupid. Again, I don't know how it happened. Come to think of it, I don't even remember falling asleep. I just remember being in a lot of pain."

"Matt?" Sarah stood up straight now, turning to him. "What happened?"

"Well, it only lasted for a moment. You see, there was this weird crystal in my garden. It was glowing and making a weird sound and when I-"

Sarah grabbed his arm. "Don't tell me you touched it. No. You did. Oh my god."

She tightened her grip and looked around, frantically.

"No, I can't believe I've been so stupid," she said.

"You're hurting me." He yanked his arm away. "What the hell is wrong? Yes, I touched it, but what-"

Down the road, a car door clicked open and the slender figure of a woman stepped out. Long black hair, black trench coat and beret. They both turned to look at her.

"She's pretty," Matt said.

"We have to go. Now. She's coming for you."

"What? She's not even looking this way. Besides, I'm hardly wearing my best outfit right now."

Sarah groaned and grabbed his arm again, yanking him on past the parked cars inside the school premises. "Come on!"

She was surprisingly strong, Matt thought. But he recognised real urgency and panic in her voice, so he didn't resist. Then she let go and broke out into a sprint. "Run!"

Matt did so, and looked behind him, jumping almost when he saw the woman leap over the fence, and giving chase.

They stayed within the premises of the school, running past the parked cars of the teachers and into the school field and then even further, over a flood bank into a field shared with neighbouring schools in the area.

"Who is she!?" exclaimed Matt.

Sarah stopped running suddenly and turned around.

"A Shroud," she said, and then unslung her backpack and emptied its contents onto the ground. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, it's not like you emptied my stuff on the-"

He stopped as he noticed something. Something very familiar looking amongst Sarah's school junk. But unlike the red crystal he saw the night before, it wasn't glowing. And it wasn't red, it was a yellow colour. Sarah picked it up and grasped it in her hand.

She looked at him, and then they both looked at the woman in black, who was now walking towards them slowly. A slow and confident walk. Hands in the pockets of her jacket. A creepy smile on her otherwise beautiful face.

"Matt, there is some stuff I haven't been telling you," said Sarah as got herself poised, as if to fight. "I'll explain all of that soon, but right now you're going to stay behind me. Stay close but right behind me. Because we can't run away anymore and she'll kill you if she gets the chance. But I'm going to keep you safe."

But Sarah's voice was shaky. Now, Matt was scared.
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Kriken » Mon Oct 31, 2016 6:52 pm

Tricks

Chapter 2

In this terrifying moment, Matt suddenly recalled what happened the night before.

When he touched the red crystal, he screamed, but it was only for a very brief moment. The crystal was very hot and burned the tip of his fingers. But when he examined them, there was no mark. And when he looked back at the crystal, it was suddenly no more. Crumbling away into dust.

He was then hit with a sudden fatigue and struggled his way back to bed, where he instantly passed out. But before that, the slippers had slipped off his feet, meaning... He just put them on again instead of his actual shoes in the morning.

In a less serious situation, Matt would have facepalmed himself. But as it was, he was in an apparently life and death situation. An apparently dangerous and assumedly psychotic person known as a 'Shroud' was just a short distance away from him and out to kill him. And the only thing between this person and himself was just another kid.

But she was clutching a crystal much like the one he had touched the night before, and if she was brandishing it now it was surely useful in some way. In some baffling way.

The Shroud stopped in front of them. "She's wrong when says I'll kill you, by the way," she said. There was a distinctive rasp to her voice. "I don't want to do that. If you would just come with me, no-one here has to get hurt."

"Hah." Matt folded his arms. "You think that I'm going to trust you? It's obvious you're bad."

The woman frowned. "I guess I made a mistake addressing you. Little missy over here understands the situation." She turned to face her. "You know you're not ready to fight me. You're a rookie. How about saving us some time, and saving you a lot of pain? Step aside."

"I'm not afraid of you!" said Sarah. The crystal grew bright in her hands.

The woman's frown curled into a smile, and in one inhumanely fast movement she strode up in front of Sarah and grabbed her arm. Their faces almost touching. Then she twisted the arm and Sarah dropped the crystal...right into the woman's free palm. Then she threw Sarah aside and she tumbled away.

"Incredible!" the woman said with a laugh. "I would say incredible by me, but really it's just the luck I have. Two of the people trusted with the tricks happen to be complete greenhorns and I stumble right into them!" She put a hand to her chest and looked at the both of them earnestly, Sarah lying on the ground in pain and Matt standing there petrified.

"Finally," she said, "the king is going to recognise me, Anastasia Shroud."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Matt said, shaking himself out of his fear. He was shaking with anger now. "But you just hurt my friend, and you took something that belongs to her. Give it back!"

"Oooh," said Anastasia. "You want this? Why don't you come and get it."

"Just give it back!"

The anger roiled around in Matt. This was all he could do. With the anger came a rush of energy, but he didn't know what he could do with it. Useless, useless. So useless!

"Look at you, stretching your hand out like that. As if I'll just hand it back over. It looks like you're at least smart enough to realise this is quite the important trinket, so why do you think that'll do anything? Here, how about a little motivation."

She strolled casually over to Sarah.

"Wait, stop," Matt said. "Don't go any closer."

"I'm going to break her arms," she said with a laugh.

"Stop! Why are you doing this? Just...stop. It's me you want, isn't it? Look, I'll come with you, just don't hurt her!"

Anastasia started to hum. "Hmm, nah." She got up to Sarah and put her foot into her side. Sarah let out a yelp as Anastasia grabbed her arm.

Then Anastasia frowned theatrically and let the arm drop. "You know what, forget about breaking her arm." She slowly turned to Matt with a smile. "How about instead I just go ahead and k-"

Her face lit up, the joy leaving her expression as a thin plume of fire stretched towards her. She leaped back just in time to avoid it.

"Alright then," she said. "Looks like playtime's over. Come with me now, boy. Or I'll show you some real fire."

Matt exhaled deeply. How long had he not been breathing? He had no idea what just happened. In that moment, some instinct took over and he stretched out his hand, this time palm forward. Fire had leaped out, and his hand was still smoking. But there was no pain. Only anger.

He needed to do it again. And he could. His anger pushed at this strange new energy within him. Pushed it out through his fingertips.

It erupted and enveloped his hands.

"How about you come and get me?"

"Fine by me," said the woman, and she thrust out her arms. Flames curled around them, forming fists at the end. She walked around Sarah and towards Matt.

"Okay," said Matt. "Your fire does look a bit better than mine."

"Matt! Don't get intimidated." Sarah sat up onto her elbows. "Yours is the real deal. That crystal chose you. This woman... Is just some grunt. Now, roast this liverpool tart!"

Both Anastasia and Matt looked at Sarah in bafflement.

"What did you call me?" the woman said.

But then Matt remembered his anger. It spilled over and urged him to act now, while Anastasia was surprised.

"Right!" He thrust out both his palms and this time a column of fire shot out. It hit the woman in the side, knocking her off her feet with a scream. She span before she landed hard on the ground. The crystal flew from her grip, and after a moment of shock Sarah scrambled for it.

She picked it up before Anastasia picked herself up and recomposed herself. It glowed once more, and Sarah spun it with both hands. It extended into a staff, smooth and evenly built.

Anastasia snarled and went to chase her, flames curling around her arms once more. Sarah slammed the staff into the ground, a thin wall of light appearing between them.

It wasn't very strong and disappeared on impact, but it had the intended affect of knocking the woman back as she slammed into it.

"Now, Matt!"

Anastasia turned towards Matt as another column of flame rushed towards her. On the ground and in an awkward position, she realised she wouldn't be able to move quick enough.

"Crap."

The flames consumed her, and as they died down they left her there flopped over on the ground, in the middle of a wide trail of burnt grass.

Matt rejoined Sarah. They just looked at each other for a moment, mixed emotions mingling.

"Say," he said. "I'm guessing she must be still alive. Her hair is in tact. And so are her clothes. Not that I'm disappointed about that."

Sarah gave Matt a look. "The thought didn't really occur to me. Anyway, you're right. She's alive. She's a magical being and she'll be equipped with magical equipment. She'll have some resistance to that fire, especially since she has an affinity for it. It won't kill her nearly quite as easily as it would a non-magical person. But it's good that she's alive because we need to capture and interrogate her."

"Oh... How are we going to do that?"

"You won't." With a snarl, Anastasia painfully picked herself up, and then bounded. Again with that inhuman speed. Sarah was fast too, slamming the staff down to form another barrier, but this time Anastasia was prepared for it and clawed it out of the way. It shattered into fragments of light that faded away.

Then she fired back, whipping her arm out towards them and sending an arc of black flame their way. Sarah raised both her hands to form a wide barrier that nullified the blow.

Before she could act again, however, Anastasia had leaped over the fence.

"Next time!" she said, without turning away, running across the road and disappearing behind traffic.

Matt frowned and turned to Sarah. "You let her get away, didn't you? We could have done more to stop her."

"You're right. But even though we could beat her with a surprise attack, we're not strong enough to keep her subdued long enough until backup arrives. I was only talking about capturing her so she would hurry up and get away from us. I didn't want some poor soul stumbling upon us... She would have had to silence them. And it would also make things awkward for us."

"Fair enough," Matt said. "So who's the backup? I guess they'll be able to find her and take her in. More magical people, right?"

"That's right... Kind of. You're being way too calm about this."

"Well," said Matt. "It seems kind of cool. Scary...but cool."

"Yeah." Sarah frowned. "It is scary." She turned away and started walking back towards the side gates. "Come on, let's get back to waiting for your sister. And pray that no-one saw us. And pray that you don't get killed. I have to protect you now."

Matt sighed and walked after her, so they were side-by-side again. "Listen, I'm not going to be that clichéd headstrong guy who insists that they can look after themselves. I know I'm new at this, and I know I'm useless at this and just about useless in general when it comes to anything when you're not helping me..."

"Matt..."

"So what I'll say is, let's do it together. Protect me, that is. Protect us, from whatever's coming to get us. So stop being so bloody gloomy, and tell me more about what the hell is going on."

At that, Sarah couldn't help but smile a little. "Alright, fine."
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Kriken » Wed Nov 02, 2016 3:50 pm

Tricks

Chapter 3

Anastasia let herself soak in the tub, her mind still a tad heady from all the drinking. There's nothing quite like alcohol and a spate of crime to relieve the stress of a failed mission.

She reached over the side for the pocket-sized mirror and gave herself a look in the face. She tongued a small cut on her lip, a souvenir from a spat she had in an alley with another woman, who was lying unconscious at the end of the confrontation. Moving her tongue away, the cut was gone.

Then she dropped the mirror back down the side and climbed out, not bothering to check if it was broken. She reached for the towel, dried her hair and then the rest of herself, before pulling on a pair of panties and leaving the bathroom.

Anastasia stood in the living room. A nice, open and clean space, next to an open kitchen. To her amusement, a number of people had expressed surprise at how clean and neat it was, considering her destructive inclinations and capricious nature. She would smile in response. "I don't care about the wellbeing of property or of people, unless it or they belong to me."

But the place was rather austere. Apart from the expected forms of furnishings like sofas, coffee table, TV and the odd paintings of random countryside scenery, the only distinctive things were the swords on one of the walls.

She walked over to her bedroom, but stopped after a few steps. All was still for a moment and then she turned her head to a dark corner of the room.

"Enjoying the view?"

"Not especially," came a voice. "Put a shirt on, please."

"Afraid I'll put you straight? But whatever you want, intruder." She reached out her hand and after a moment a soft checkered shirt came floating through the doorway of her bedroom and into her hands. She slipped it on, and then with a flick of her wrist turned on the lights in the house. Several lightswitches clicked at once.

Standing in the previously dark corner stood a lank figure with mousy brown hair. Eyes closed, he said, "I was just worried about you. You had been gone for a while."

"Well, I'm fine." Anastasia went over to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water and sat down at a table. The man walked over.

"Mind if I take a seat?"

She took a long sip, glugging down almost all the water before putting the glass down.

"Do what you want," she said.

He sighed and sat down opposite her.

"I'm sorry for sneaking in. I knocked but you didn't answer."

"I was ignoring you. As you can probably tell, I'm not in a very talkative mood."

"What happened?"

Anastasia huffed. "The same thing that usually happens. I got cocky. I got bored. I messed up for no good reason at all. I lost them."

"What is 'them'?"

"The Tricks, Kevlon. They were in my area, two of them. One newly activated by a new user. That's what allowed me to find them, the burst of energy that it gave off. I scouted the area, and tailed the kid I suspected was the new user. Waited outside his school and then, I got even more lucky. For some stupid reason he was outside about twenty minutes later with a girl and it turned out they both had Tricks."

Anastasia exhaled again, turning the glass with the tip of her fingers.

"Go on," said Kevlon. "What happened next?"

"I went after them. The girl was smart. She knew what I was the moment she saw me, and dragged the boy away. Out into an open space where she could fight me without anyone seeing her. But I could tell she was also new at this. Just a feeling I had. And I was right. I beat her. I had her down, and could have taken the boy too. He didn't know how to use his powers yet. Her Trick was in my hand. But then everything that could have gone wrong did, and I had to get out of there."

"I see."

"I see," Anastasia replied in mock imitation. "Of course you're not surprised I failed."

She slammed a fist into the table and a small crack appeared in the glass surface.

"An-"

"Don't," she said. "Don't ask me anymore questions about it. I already told you I don't want to talk."

"Anna, you've got it wrong. I'm not judging you. I couldn't give a crap if you failed or not. You should know that. I'm just worried about you. You put so much pressure on yourself. This is what happens. And it happens not because you lack competence, because that isn't true. It's because you're conflicted about what you're doing, isn't it?"

Anastasia sneered at him.

"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "Questioning the king like that. That's you. Not me. I just wish..."

She stood and paced around the kitchen. "I just wish we would hurry things up a bit. Take the fight to the mortals. It's going to happen eventually so why wait? Why does the king abide by this rule of the Community to keep ourselves hidden from the human world?"

"I've told you before, Anna. It's politics. Get some more disillusioned Community members to join us first. And no offence, but I'm not actually the one who's questioning the king here..."

"Yeah yeah," Anastasia said. "You got me, smartass. But we all know you don't actually give a crap about anything. You're just going along with all this because you're trapped."

Kevlon bit down the temptation to say 'so are you'. There was no arguing with Anna when she was like this.

"Listen, Anna, everything is going to be okay. Let me help you handle this. When you - when we - go to report this incident, I'll help smooth things over."

She made a hmph sound and sat down. She looked over at him darkly.

"You better," she said.

Kevlon smiled. "Grateful as always."
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Thu Nov 03, 2016 11:03 pm

Those are pretty good Kriken, look forward to the next chapter.

Did another thing I liked this week at cresoc, they had us doing those sort of palindromic poems where you can read the lines in reverse order to get one with a different meaning, I'm not that great at poetry but I managed this:

Like the thunder of my mind
The world runs ceaseless, and I don't
Feel so bad, not right now
Some friends call me along but I
Happily decline, too busy, too occupied
Though if I could I would
Life beckons me
For now I sit with my thoughts

Edit - and also thanks to Cresoc a night of word wars has made me finally get another chapter of Underworld done, hussah

Chapter 12 - Detective Work
Rachel began shivering the moment they arrived at the mansion, the bitter wind howling into her, Nate and Samantha.

“Should've brought a coat,” Nate grinned. The cold wasn't bothering him; he was still dressed in his “business clothes”, which were really just a black shirt and tie underneath his usual long coat. Rachel glared back at him, but said nothing. She would have tried wrapping some shadows around herself to keep the wind off, but the front of the mansion was bustling with police and forensic investigators. Teleporting in had been a big enough risk; they’d have to keep their magic hidden while they were here.

Nate led the way, stopping at the cordon of police tape that encircled the front entrance as a policeman stepped forwards.

“I'm sorry sir, this is a crime scene. I can’t let you through without seeing some identification,” the officer said.
“Nathan Anderson, MI5,” Nate said, holding up some faked papers the Agency had given him. “My colleagues and I need to have a look around, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“MI5? What have they got to do with anything? I thought we were just dealing with a murder investigation here.”

“That’s classified, I’m afraid. I need the building to be vacated whilst we conduct our investigation. Could you do that for us?”

The officer looked irritated, but complied. The trio walked into the grand old building as the forensics team streamed out. Once they’d gone, Samantha flopped down on a nearby sofa.

“You two get on with it, then,” she said. “I’m having a rest. Hopping from Underworld always takes it out of me.”

“We’ll head to the cellar first,” Nate said, leading the way. “That’s where they found the body. Hopefully everything’s still left as it was.”

The house was grand and richly furnished, but it smelt musty and damp, as if it had been left neglected for far longer than its owner had been dead. The damp stench grew stronger as they neared the cellar, as well as another, more pungent scent.

Nate pushed open the door to the cellar and led the way in. Rachel saw the body immediately, lying face down in a sticky, dried-up pool of blood. She fought the urge to retch. Here the putrid smell was even stronger. The body had clearly been left here a while.

“You okay?” Nate asked. Rachel nodded, but it was a lie. She’d seen dead bodies in photos before, but this was different. It was right there in front of her, a thing that had once been a man but was now just a lifeless husk, left here to rot in a pool of its own blood.

She turned away for a minute, managing to compose herself slightly. She still felt like being sick, but more from the smell than anything. Nate was still watching her, a concerned look on his face. She gave him another nod.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Right,” Nate said. “Have a look around the room, see what you can find. We’ll come back to the corpse afterwards, then check out the vault.” He nodded towards the back of the room, where a huge metal door hung limply from its hinges. Beyond it was an empty pedestal. “Guess that’s where the key used to be kept.”

They took opposite sides, Nate going left, Rachel going right. At first there didn’t seem to be anything of note; just a load of barrels and boxes stacked up against the walls, a fallen bookcase on the floor and a ragged tapestry covering one wall. Why a tapestry was hung up on display in the cellar of all places she didn’t know. It was as she was wondering this that she noticed it shift slightly as if caught in a breeze. She frowned and reached for the tapestry, pulling it back from the wall. Behind was a small alcove, with a ladder leading upwards.

“Found something,” she called out to Nate. “Looks like a ladder going up to the second floor.”

“We’ll check it out in a sec,” Nate replied. “Come look at this.”

Rachel walked over to where Nate was crouched near the back of the room, inspecting something on the dusty floor. “What is it?” she asked.

“Bullets,” he replied, holding up a handful of lumpen metal shells.

“Are you sure? They don’t look very bullet-shaped.”

“That’s the thing. Somebody must have fired these, but whatever they hit, they just bounced right off. No traces of blood, clear impact damage.”

“They could have just bounced off a wall.”

“Too far away for that. The target was stood right here. My guess is that either the murderer or the victim used magic to stop them somehow.” He glanced towards the corpse. “He might still have his gun on him if he was the one who shot. You ready to take a look?”

Rachel nodded hesitantly. “I’m not touching him, though. That’s your job.”

They went over to the body again. The stench still made Rachel gag, but she stayed and watched as Nate carefully rolled the dead man over onto his back. There was no sign of the gun, but now the murder weapon became clear – the corpse had been lying on top of an antique broadsword covered in blood.

“Look at these runes,” Nate said, running his hand down the flat of the blade. “From what I can tell, they’re designed to strengthen the metal and sharpen its edge.” Suddenly he stood and swung the broadsword at the wall. The runes flashed and the blade embedded itself in the ancient stone with a screech.

“That’s… pretty sharp,” Rachel said. “So why’d the murderer leave his weapon behind?”

“Maybe it wasn’t his,” Nate replied, scratching his stubble the way he always did when he was thinking. “Maybe this was our victim’s backup weapon. When the gun didn’t work he tried fighting the intruder off with this instead, only he ended up getting disarmed and stabbed with it himself.”

“I guess that makes sense. How’d they get the vault door off, though? That thing’s huge. It would’ve taken, like, the Hulk to tear it off like that.”

Rachel followed Nate over to the vault door. It looked just like the ones they used in banks in those old heist movies, a huge, thick steel frame with a wheel at the centre. Instead of being set in its frame, it lay to the side, a deep gouge in the brickwork holding it in place.

“Seriously, what the hell?” Rachel said. “I know there are some strong mages, but this is something else.”

“Maybe it wasn’t a mage. Maybe it was… something else.”

“You think our vampire pal did this?”

“No, not a vampire. Vampires are sturdy, but bullets don’t just bounce straight off them. And if Hemsen had killed that man, he wouldn’t have let the meal go to waste.”

“So what did this?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I have a few ideas, but none of them make much sense.”

Samantha’s voice echoed down the stairwell. “Hurry it up, guys,” she shouted. “The police are getting antsy. Somebody important looking just showed up and she doesn’t look too happy at being kept out in the cold.”

“Try and stall her,” Rachel yelled back. “There’s something else we need to check first.” She grabbed Nate’s arm and pulled him over to the secret alcove. “I reckon this might be how the victim came down to the cellar, tried to get the jump on the intruder. We should see where it goes.”

“Good spot. I’ll go first, make sure there are no rune traps or anything.”

They climbed up the ladder, Nate stopping occasionally to check the way up for runes, but they got to the top without incident, emerging into a softly carpeted hallway. A trail of bloody spatters led to a room up ahead on the right. Nate pulled out his baton, thumb hovering over the rune at its centre, and edged towards the door, listening.

“If the intruder came here after the vault, they might have left a surprise or two,” Nate said, poised to knock the door open with his staff. “When I open the door I want you to give me some cover just in case. You ready?” Rachel nodded and took a deep breath. Shadows began to pool around Nate’s feet, writhing like a mass of snakes.

“Three, two, one… NOW!”

Nate pressed his thumb to the rune and the baton extended rapidly, the point of the staff smashing into the door and knocking it open. Nate pulled the staff back and Rachel lifted her hands at the same moment, bringing a wall of shadows up between Nate and the door. They both waited a second, but nothing happened.

“Well, that was pointless,” Rachel said.

“Better safe than sorry. Come on, let’s see what we’ve got here.”

They edged into the room and found themselves surrounded by broken computer monitors and the smouldering remains of computers. A CCTV camera hung limply from the ceiling in one corner, the lens cracked and its wires spilling out like mechanical entrails.

“Some sort of surveillance room,” Nate said. “Looks like our intruder was keen to cover their tracks.”

“Any chance we could get any of the footage?”

“Don’t think so. They’ve ripped out all the hard drives.”

“There’s got to be something. Come on, keep looking.”

“Hey, I’m the one in charge here.”

“You keep telling yourself that.”

They worked their way around the room, trying to find anything they could salvage, but to no avail. Eventually Nate called a halt.

“The intruder was certainly thorough. Come on, we’re not going to find anything in here.”

Rachel followed Nate out. “Least we can get back to the fresh air,” she said. “It was pretty cramped in there, and don't get me started on the reek in the cellar.”

Nate stopped. “You’re right. It was pretty cramped, wasn’t it?”

He opened the next door they came to, looked inside the room, then turned around and began running his hand along the wall, tapping it with his knuckles every few seconds. “It was cramped. Too cramped. Who builds a room that small in a house this big?”

“Maybe they renovated it or something?”

“I think that’s exactly what they’ve done.” He stopped suddenly, tapping the wall in two separate places a few times, then carried on more slowly, tapping as he went.

“What are you doing?”

“Seeing where the rooms start and end. I can feel where I get more resistance when I knock; that’s where the dividing walls are.”

“Right, Conduit stuff. So what? You planning on doing some DIY SOS in here?”

“I’m not planning on doing any building, but I might need you to knock down a wall.” He stopped and tapped at two spots again. “Just like you said. At some point they’ve made that room smaller, but there’s still a gap between the surveillance room and the bedroom next to it. If we’re lucky, there might be something interesting in there. Care to do the honours?”

“Show me where to hit.” Nate scratched his staff along the wallpaper, drawing a large X. Rachel began pooling the shadows again, then snapped her fist forwards. The darkness whipped forward, smashing into the wall. She punched again and again, until eventually the wall crumbled apart.

“Nice one,” Nate said, wafting away the cloud of dust. “Let’s go see if they were hiding anything.”

He peered into the gap in the wall, shining a torch into the gloom, then reached in and pulled out an orange box with a green light flashing from the top.

“Gotcha. Looks like some sort of modified blackbox.”

“It’s orange.”

“I can see that.”

“Then why’d you say it was black?”

“It’s a device they use in aeroplanes. It records all the flight data so that if it crashes they can find out what went wrong.”

“Still don’t see how that makes it not an orange box.”

Nate sighed. “Point is, this might be just what we’re looking for. This was hooked up to a cable leading into the main surveillance room, so odds are it’s got a backup of the CCTV tapes. Now all we need is a computer to hook it up to.”

They went back downstairs, where Samantha was busy arguing with a woman in a suit.

“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Nate said as they approached. “We’ve finished our side of the investigation. Your people can get back to work now.” The woman began to say something back, but the three of them simply walked straight past her, waving the forensics team back inside. When they’d all gone, Samantha led Nate and Rachel behind an empty police van, grabbed their arms and in an instant they were back in the Agency’s headquarters.

“You guys get what you were looking for?” Samantha asked.

“Yep,” Nate said, holding up the orange box. “We just need to get this hooked up to a PC and see what’s on it.”

“Good, cos I was meant to clock off half an hour ago. See you around.” Samantha vanished with a slight whoosh of air as it rushed to fill the space she’d been in a moment ago.

Rachel and Nate headed for his office, a stuffy little room filled with filing cabinets which seemed fairly redundant considering the mass of files lying haphazardly on every surface. He booted up his computer, connecting the black box with a USB cable, and began to transfer the data across. Once it was finished he trawled through the video files until he found the date that Jeremy McCantum had called the museum.

The video came up as a series of boxes showing the view from cameras around the mansion. McCantum had been at home all day. They watched him make the call to the museum at about half three, then he ran to his study, where he stayed until well into the evening. That was when things got interesting.

At just after eleven, the door to the mansion opened and a man dressed in black strolled in, casually pulled out a gun, and shot the camera in the front hallway. In his study, McCantum scrambled out of his chair and ran for the surveillance room. There he pulled out a gun and the broadsword they’d found him impaled on, before running down the hallway and climbing down the secret ladder.

The intruder, meanwhile, was making his way steadily towards the cellar, the video feed gradually blacking out as he shot each camera. When he got there, McCantum emerged behind him with his gun drawn. The two spoke for a moment, then the man in black leapt straight at McCantum with incredible speed. McCantum managed a few shots but missed, and the intruder threw him straight at the cellar camera, knocking it askew. The feed showed nothing but the cellar wall now.

“Bollocks,” Nate said. “I was hoping we’d get to see what we’re up against.”

A few minutes passed, until eventually the man in black appeared again, striding towards the surveillance room. He entered and began smashing the monitors to pieces and tearing the hard drives from the consoles cluttered on the desk. Finally he turned to the camera in the corner, grinning, and reached up to pull it down. The screen went blank.

Rachel’s heart pounded. “Wind it back.”

Nate looked at her with concern, then did as she’d asked. The man’s face filled the screen. He was handsome, a young man with long hair and heavy stubble. His icy blue eyes gave a piercing stare. It was a face Rachel knew all too well.

It was the face of the man who murdered her parents.
I realise I've not actually put chapter 11 up yet but I'm still deciding on how to end it, they both take place at basically the same time though so doesn't make much difference (apart from Samantha gets introduced in 11) (she is short and can teleport people)
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Re: The Writer's Circle

Post by Rik » Sat Nov 05, 2016 2:15 am

holy eton mess NaNo might actually get me to finish this after all

Chapter 11 - The Quiet Before
Outside the SEA’s headquarters, the crowds had already begun to build. At the front, a few reporters jostled each other, vying for the best position, while other citizens of London’s Underworld milled around behind. Thankfully, most seemed more curious than anxious at the moment, although a few had begun to heckle already, trying to breach the security barrier in front of the granite steps.

Max watched the mass of people from a third floor window, Luke beside him. They were to be taken directly to the new safehouse by a Teleporter once the Agency could call one up, but for now they were stuck here, watching and waiting to see how Stone would deal with the unrest.

“What are those?” Luke asked, pointing to a pair of huge, lumbering grey figures which had emerged from the Agency’s front entrance.

“Golems,” Max replied. “They're basically statues animated by magic. The Agency uses them like hired muscle; crowd control, security, sometimes just heavy lifting.”

“So they're alive?”

“Not as such, no. Just intelligent enough to take orders, but they don't have any sort of sentience beyond that.”

The pair watched as the two golems approached the security barrier. The few agitated citizens still trying to push through started to shrink back as the two stone giants approached. Standing over seven feet tall, hewn from solid rock and given a rough shape that bordered uncomfortably on both the humanoid and the monstrous, golems were often intimidating enough to maintain order even without resorting to their fearsome strength and endurance.

Nate and Rachel joined them at the window. “Things aren't looking as bad as expected,” Nate said. “That Ellis guy seemed convinced we'd be facing borderline riots if word got out.”

“I reckon Stone’s got it under control,” Max agreed. “Long as she manages to reassure everyone out there then I don't think we’ll have any problems. Just have to hope the rest of the Underworld takes the news this well.”

They continued watching without conversation for a while, until Rachel broke the silence. “Thanks for covering for me in the debrief,” she said to Luke quietly.

“It’s nothing,” Luke replied. “You did the right thing, anyway. I should’ve just stayed put.”

Rachel went quiet for a minute, then spoke again. “I… I’m sorry about what happened to your parents, too. I know how it feels, but… it gets better.”

Luke didn’t seem to know what to say, instead just staring silently at the crowds outside. Max decided to change the subject.

“How long till you set off for Scotland?” Max asked.

“Soon as the Teleporter gets back from taking you two to the safehouse. They want us to find some leads as soon as possible so that the Agency can show it’s keeping on top of things.”

As if on cue, a short brown-haired woman in ripped jeans and a leather jacket sauntered up to the group, smiling warmly. “Heya, Max,” she said. “This your new friend everyone’s talking about?”

“The one and only,” Max replied with a grin. “Luke, this is Samantha. She’s one of the best Teleporters working in the Agency.”

“I could hop from here to Sydney and back again before you could say “g’day”,” Samantha said proudly.

“She also can’t reach the top shelf in her own kitchen, so I guess that balances things out,” Max added, earning a reproachful look from his diminutive friend.

“I told you, next time you make a height joke I’m taking you to the Antarctic and leaving you there,” Samantha warned.

“Okay, okay, you made your point the last time you did it. Anyway, we’d best get going.”

“That’s right, change the subject,” Samantha said, grinning. She held her hands out to Luke and Max. “Luke, you’ll need to grab onto me. I need physical contact to teleport other people. Oh, and just to warn you, it might feel a bit weird since it’s your first time.”

The three of them formed a circle, holding onto each others’ hands. Max nodded at Nate and Rachel. “Good luck up in Scotland, guys,” he said.

“Same to you. Keep him safe,” Nate replied.

“Right,” Samantha said. “I’ll be back in a sec for you two.”

Max felt a slight tug in his gut, and the dull grey corridor blurred away to be replaced by a more homely room that would have looked almost normal but for the trio of security agents stood in the corner wearing dark suits and sunglasses. Max was used to the feeling of teleporting, but Luke wasn’t so lucky.

“Jesus,” the boy groaned, doubling over. “It feels like I left my stomach behind.”

“Just try not to throw up on the carpet, they only just redecorated,” Samantha said. “I’d best get back. Nice meeting you, Luke. And Max, try to stay out of trouble till I see you next.” An instant later she was gone again, leaving Max and Luke alone with the suited agents. They walked over as Max helped Luke to steady himself. There were two men and a woman, all three looking to Max like they were planning to audition for The Matrix. The woman held her hand out for Max to shake. “Agent Newton. I’m Chief Samson, head of security at this facility. I’m glad you got here alright. I hear things are getting a bit hairy at the Agency.”

“Nothing the Prime Magus can’t handle,” Max replied as he shook her hand. “Everything set up okay in here?”

“Yes. There are three of us in here with you at all times, two more patrolling the building and eight outside with the golems, plus the usual security runes. The only way anybody’s getting in here is if they bring a small army.”

“Nice. Make yourself at home, Luke.”

The boy flopped down onto a nearby sofa, still looking pale. Max fetched him a glass of water from the adjoining kitchen and sat down opposite.

“So, you thought of any more questions you want answering?” he asked, trying to take Luke’s mind off his first trip with a Teleporter.

“Uh, I guess,” Luke said. “What did you mean when you said Underworld isn’t technically underneath London?”

Max pulled a face. “I thought we could ease in, but no, you go straight for the heavy stuff. You ever heard of ley lines?”

“Aren’t they just a New Age hippy thing?”

“Yes and no. Ley line maps made by non-mages aren’t too accurate, but they do get some of it right. Ley lines tend to link old monuments and stuff, but more often than not that’s just coincidence. The best way I can think of to describe them is as cracks in reality.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, when two or more lines cross, they cause a disruption in the fabric of the world. Most of the time they’re harmless, but sometimes the disruption grows and one of two things happens. First, it can create an opening into another dimension.”

“Like, alternate universes?” Luke said. “This is all getting a bit Flashpoint.”

“What?”

“You know, the DC comics thing where the Flash ends up in an alternate timeline.”

“Trust you to come up with a way of explaining something nerdy with something even nerdier. But yeah, it’s like that. The second thing that happens is that it creates an opening to a rift between worlds, what we call a pocket dimension. Over the years mages have found ways of keeping these entrances open. And since London is riddled with ley lines, it was easy to exploit all the crossings and build this city inside the resulting pocket dimension.”

Luke sat and seemed to mull it over for a minute. “Cool,” he said eventually.

“Cool? I just told you you’re sat in the nothingness between dimensions and all you can say is “cool”?”

“Compared to some of the stuff you’ve told me recently this is pretty tame.”

Max laughed. “That’s fair, I guess.”

“What I don’t get is why anyone would go to this much bother to hide mages away. Can’t you live in normal cities but just not use magic? Like, I’m sure you could manage without forgetting that normal people walk on the floor and not the ceiling.”

“It’s not quite as simple as that. Some of the effects of magic aren’t as easy to control. Take Agent Samson. How old do you think she is?”

“Um…”

“Go on, take a guess,” Agent Samson said, smiling. “I won’t be offended if you get it wrong.”

Luke blushed slightly. “Like… around forty?”

Samson shook her head. “You’re a bit wide of the mark. I’m sixty-seven in a few weeks’ time.”

“Magic doesn’t just give you special abilities,” Max cut in. “It also extends your lifespan. After a certain point, usually your early twenties, you start to age at roughly half the rate of a non-mage. So if mages lived with non-mages, it’d become obvious after a while.”

“I guess,” Luke said thoughtfully. “So how old are you?”

“Only twenty-five. I don’t think it’s quite kicked in for me yet, not so far as I can notice anyway.”

For a while after that they chatted about more normal things. Samson turned out to be a lot more amicable than Max would have expected from a head of security, telling them about her home life and family. He decided Luke would be alright with her for a bit and headed off to get Luke’s things from his flat.

The security measures meant that only Teleporters with the right rune charm could teleport directly into the safehouse, so to save time Max went outside, passing the other guards and several golems on his way out. There he met a bored-looking young man who wordlessly grabbed onto his shoulder before teleporting them to Max’s flat. He quickly gathered up Luke’s scant belongings, making sure to grab the sketchbook from under the bed, then he grabbed hold of the bored man’s shoulder again and they hopped back to outside the safehouse.

The mood seemed more sombre when he got back to Luke and Samson. He dropped the bag full of Luke’s things on the sofa and flopped down next to him. “Did I miss something? You two seem a bit less cheery than when I left.”

“Luke’s just been asking about Rachel’s parents,” Samson said. “I thought I’d let you explain. I only know what I read in the papers all that time ago.”

“I wanted to know what she meant when she said she knew how I felt,” Luke said, a slight tremor in his voice.
“Are… are her parents dead too?”

Max breathed out a big sigh. He’d hoped Luke’s spirits would stay up a little longer. “Yeah, they are. They were both murdered, probably about ten years ago now. It was pretty horrific. Everyone in the Agency knows about it. See, Rachel’s mum, she was a field agent like me and Nate, a woman called Emma Black. One of the best, if you believe what they say. Just before it happened, she’d been involved in a big case; they called it the Unveil Conspiracy. If it weren’t for her there’s every chance that magic wouldn’t be a secret anymore, and that wouldn’t have been pretty.

“Luckily, she managed to uncover the conspirators and stop their plans. Unluckily, they didn’t manage to arrest them all, and a while later one of them decided to get revenge. He waited until Emma Black let her guard down and went out for dinner with her husband, then killed them both. They never caught him.”

“That’s… terrible,” Luke said, aghast.

“It is. Rachel was left an orphan. Only person left to take care of her was Nate. He was Emma’s field partner, see. Those two were as tight as you could get, and she made him Rachel’s godfather. When Emma died, he took it on himself to raise Rachel. Somewhere along the way she decided she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps, so he ended up being her mentor at the SEA as well.”

“From what I’ve heard he’s trained her well,” Samson added. “Top of her class, and the youngest recruit ever to get her field licence.”

“I wouldn’t have expected much else,” Max said. “Nate’s almost as much of a legend as Rachel’s mother was. Teacher like him, she was bound to-“

A sudden crash cut him off. A siren began to wail, and Luke looked around in confusion. “What’s happening?” he yelled.

Samson was on her feet in a flash, ordering her men to different positions within the safehouse. Max stood too, putting himself between Luke and the door as the sound of shouting and gunfire broke out ahead. There came another crash and the whole room shook.

“The perimeter’s been breached,” Samson said, her gun pointed at the door.

“What does that mean?” Luke shouted, panic-stricken.

“It means you need to get ready to run,” Max told him. “Someone’s coming for you.”
Ghost wrote:and since when has "being dumb" been a sin on the internet?
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