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Thorne – Origin

Thorne is my Dungeons and Dragons character, as I will be, after a long period, playing again. I thought I would share what I’ve written, and also it will serve as a record of the game itself, which I am looking forward to. I’m into the things I like without shame and role playing games are incredible ways to interact with others. 


The mornings were my favourite time of day. Wine coloured skies and air so clean its taste is still fresh in my mind.


Lilandra, my wife rose with me and we broke fast. We lived without fear of the future, clothed in the promise of children together. She carried our child inside her, and each morning, my lips pressed against the curve of her stomach before my work took me to the woods.


My hunt took me all over, and sometimes it would be dusk before my return home. The hunt had been plentiful and my pockets were full with coins from the meat sold at Syngorn but it was dark before home fell into my vision.


Beneath the darkness came my doom.




A clan of vampires, and undead allies, travelling south and wreaking havoc along the way. At the time, such news had not reached our part of the world, but my education began with Lilandra’s screams from our home tree.


She was bound at the wrists and ankles, whilst they waited for my return. A pair, male and female, clad in ragged finery and teeth shining with blood. They moved, too fast to be seen and dashed me to the ground.


When my senses returned, Lilandra was drained of blood and one of them took a knife to her belly. She looked up, and there was a shred of something pink at the corner of her mouth.


My mind broke at that point. They left me, insensible and wounded and set fire to my house. As they left, between broken and bleeding lips, my question amused them.




The male, with his bald, pale head smiled and cocked his head, revealing his dripping, sharp fangs.


‘You were home.’


They left me to the flames.


I crawled away and fell to the forest floor, watched my house and wife burn. I laid there for days, waiting to die until a pair of travellers gave me aid and healing. My burnt and broken flesh renewed, but my mind?


No, not all of it healed.


In Syngorn, my remaining time was set to the task of drinking myself to death. Someone heard my oft-repeated tale and took pity on a soul-sick wood elf, which was how Ulrich found me.


He hunted monsters, and the undead were his most hated foe. He listened to me, swathed in a fur cloak with a mastiff bitch at his feet whilst he poured me wine to keep me talking. When my story ended, he offered to take up my cause. In a moment of terrible clarity, I decided a revenge delegated was a revenge denied. I asked him to teach me his ways and he looked at me with disdain.


Two shots with a borrowed shortbow into a wine butt convinced him of my utility. He clapped my shoulder and laughed with surprise. His tutelage was unsparing and cruel but my rage and grief drove me to excel. My expertise as a hunter and woodsman put me in good stead to absorb his lessons.


My first kill was good but it did not ease the call for vengeance which howled in my bones. Vampires were powerful, and so Ulrich taught me the strategies to kill the undead. Before long, Ulrich’s eyes saw less and he walked slower than before. After a long night helping Grimm, his bitch mastiff give birth to a litter of puppies, he fell asleep and did not awake. All but one of the pups died, and Grimm never recovered, and so after burying them all, I returned to Syngorn.


I paid for information on the Crinamorte from the Sparrows. It was not good news, they had power and influence in addition to their undead curse. The undead were growing bolder, and now I had burdened myself with a debt to a guild of thieves.


A boat awaits, and the first opportunity to repay this debt. It will take resources and planning to take them down, allies too, if such can be found.  


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Snow Day


Wasted and Confused

Corrine’s day started as a low grade headache as she looked out at the window and saw the flurries of snow  She massaged her temples and swallowed. Her tongue was thick as she scraped the edge of her front teeth over it.
Corrine looked at the bruising under her eyes from too little sleep or too much dreaming, she couldn’t tell anymore. Her hair was in clumps and locks from where she had tossed through the night. Weeks of bad dreams, words crawling to her as she sat on the toilet, paralysed and clutching her head.


She heard her grandfather call her name and she called back, saying she was in the bathroom. The dreams had been awful, loud and discordant, recalled in pieces which returned to her as she tried to make the most of the snow day. No college but also no distractions from her exhaustion and unrest.


‘No college today, then? Just you getting under my feet, girl.’ he said.


He smiled at her as he pointed towards the kettle and asked if she wanted a cup of tea. She rubbed her eyes and nodded and he got a second cup from the cupboard. He opened the tin which sat on the side and muttered under his breath.


‘Out of tea bags, girl. Want to pop out and get some? Loaf of bread too, I fancy some toast’ he said.


Corrine ran her tongue over her lips as her head throbbed with pressure.


‘OK, grandad.’ she said.


She bundled on a thick coat, gloves which looked like someone had skinned a care bear but kept out the cold, and jammed on a hat before she went outside. The snow had fallen in drifts and she shoved her hands into her pockets as she made a cautious pace down the road.


The pavements were slick, burnished from where children had been skidding across them, and she remembered reading how innocence was still children pulling the wings from flies. Joe Hill’s NOS4R2, which she’d picked up from the library. It was a book which spoke to the malevolence of winter, and standing still in one place, unable to recognise the damage we do to ourselves. She had loved the book but found too much of herself in the main character to read it again. She didn’t have to, she told herself.


She got tea bags and a loaf of bread, relieved she hadn’t slipped over as she walked back as another flurry of snow flew in her face and she squinted against it.


The blue Astra belonged to a neighbour. Corrine had walked past it, grinned with irony at the ‘powered by fairy dust’ decal on the back but there was something different today. Where the snow had gathered on the bonnet, someone had written a message.




Corrine stared at it, looking around her to see if anyone was watching. The randomness of it disturbed her and she walked away from it, grimacing as she tongued the roof of her mouth and recoiled at the taste of sour dreams.


When she got to the house, she saw the front door was open and she ran inside, calling her grandfather’s name and dumping the carrier bag as her heart pounded with alarm.


Corrine heard the clashing sounds from the kitchen. A grunt of concern made her charge forwards, driven by a violent panic as she pushed open the door.


Her grandfather had a deep cut on his right cheek, deep enough to show his teeth through the gap as blood voided down his neck but his eyes were bright with determination as he stared into the face of his attacker.


It had his back to her, showing the insectoid plates of armour which moved and flexed as it struggled with her grandfather. It turned and hissed at her, revealing sharp, uneven teeth protruding from a lipless mouth as its nostrils flared with disgust.


‘She isss alive.’ it said.


Corrine saw the curved nails on its fingers as it sought to overpower her grandfather and her mouth flooded with thick bile and she tasted the bitterness of her nightmare. The sunlight streamed in through the window, and she recalled one image from her nightmare form before her eyes.


It eased the pressure in her head to look at it. She breathed and stared into it, working on a sense of right action, like the first breath after a long time holding it in.


The creature wrestling with her grandfather shuddered as it lifted its chin and screeched as blood streamed from its eyes. It let go of her grandfather and he staggered backwards, reaching behind him for the knife as he squatted into a horse stance and stabbed it upwards into the creature’s belly. It sagged forwards and vomited blood onto the lino before it looked up at Corrine, all feeling gone bar a blind malevolence before its head ripped apart, like wet tissue pulled between two strong hands.


Corrine stood there and watched her grandfather reach down and pull the knife from its stomach. He wiped it on the sleeve of his cardigan and she watched as he poked his tongue through the slit in his cheek. There was a terrible clarity in the aftermath of what she had done.


He walked over to her.


‘Snow days are different. The world we know, it becomes somewhere else. I never thought they’d find us, girl, but they have and we need to get out of here.’ she said.


Corrine stammered as she pointed at the body on the floor.


‘What is that?’


Her grandfather looked down and kicked it as he sneered, opening the wound in his cheek before he hissed and picked up a towel and pressed it to his cheek.


‘A shadow thief. Their souls were extracted and they were altered to hunt you down. If one has found us, they’ll send what they have available.’


Corrine stepped past the body and put her arms out as her grandfather held her with one arm around her as he held the sodden towel to his cheek.


‘None of it makes any sense. I don’t have creatures coming after me.’


He sighed and squeezed her close to him. She felt him grunt with pain and looked up at him.


‘But I do now?’ she said.


He nodded and closed her eyes


‘Your father called you his little princess? There was a measure of truth in it, which was why I chastised him for it.’ he said.


She told him about the shape she had seen and he breathed out a sigh of relief.


‘You’ve come into your gifts. Look for signs which form shapes, they are sources of power.’


He patted her on the shoulder and said they needed to get moving.


‘Where are we going to go?’ she said.


He pulled the towel from his cheek.


‘Stitch this up then run.’ he said.


Corrine shivered as she pulled the hat from her head and struggled with how much sense it made. The restlessness, graffiti crawling along the walls


‘There’ll be more of them?’ she said.


He nodded as he glanced upstairs.


‘We need to pack and get moving. I’ll clean this up.’ he said.


She looked down and grimaced.


‘How?’ she said.


Her grandfather grunted and bent down over the body.


‘Just pack. I’ll be up in a minute. Get clothes in a bag.’


She ran upstairs and grabbed a rucksack, stuffing clothes in without a thought beyond the crawling horror of the moment before she heard the crash of a broken window and spun around as a shadow thief crouched in the doorway and hissed at her.


Corrine felt another image come to her and she sent it into the creature’s stomach like a zen, invisible bullet which made it fall backwards as she grabbed her rucksack and ran downstairs, legs hollow with panic. Everything had gained speed and each moment flashed before her as she shouldered the rucksack and called her grandfather’s name.


He clutched his stomach as the man stood there, too wide and tall as he sheathed the short sword on his hip with one hand as he pulled the helmet from his head. His long blonde hair was matted to his scalp and his skin was mottled with exhaustion despite it being the dark green of chlorophyll as he smiled at her.


‘Your highness.’ he said.


She looked into her grandfather’s face as he stared at her and a symbol pushed into him. He opened to her and she learned about herself.

sigil (9)




Once upon a time, there were two families who fought over the kingdom. They were both much alike in dignity, but blessed with gifts which gave rise to amusing and horrible events. This war receded into the past until a young prince offered the olive branch and the other family, more interested in exploring their powers, focused through images and movements into producing particular effects. The hope of peace had spoken to their new focus on the spiritual.


It was their downfall and at dinner, they were slaughtered apart from one prince, his pregnant wife and their bodyguard. They slipped from one world to another. Somewhere without the florid powers where they could hide and raise their child.


Her parents were pragmatic and adaptive people. The borrowed memories spoke to a heroism which she would honour by surviving. Her grandfather was not hers by blood, but by choice and it did not diminish his love for her.


There were nuggets of knowledge amongst the history. Movements as an expression of magic and her limbs flowed with power as her body moved into position, ready to defend herself.


His name was Yifbam Tow Diglax, a cousin from the other family, interested in the chance to hurt others and persistent. The name and pronunciation came to her lips and she spoke to him in their native tongue.


‘You should have left me alone.’ she said.


This second was too fragile to contain her feelings. Survival mattered as the armoured man came towards her. Corrine felt through the movement and read his intentions before he reached her..


He wanted to take her alive. It was his mistake as she turned her hip around and brought her right arm under his and helped him to the ground, using his momentum against him as he crashed against the floor. He gave a deep moan through a broken nose and jaw, as he spat teeth to his side. She leapt on top of him and pulled the short sword out and jabbed it into the back of his head.


She slipped the belt from around his waist and buckled it up as she put the sword back and shouldered her rucksack. Her grandfather rolled onto his back and reached for her. She came over and kneeled by him.


‘Where do I go?’ she said.


He stroked the hair from her face and gazed at her with a luminous, gentle love.


‘You saw the words in your dreams and felt the distance from who you are. You must follow it through, girl. There are friends here, but you have to find them.’ he said.


She kissed him and he squeezed her in his arms before he exhaled through his teeth and told her to go. Corrine sobbed as she got to her feet and looked at him, bloodied but regal as he pressed his hands against the wound in his stomach and laid down, his watch ending with her alive and aware of herself when she needed to.


‘I love you.’ he said.


‘Now go.’


She ran out of the back and through the gate, there were fields ahead, blanketed by snow and she felt dizziness before the next breath she took reminded her of the will to live. Corrine knew wherever she slept tonight, it would be peaceful and powerful enough to keep out the cold.


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A Bottle of Soul Fire

The floor was hard against my bare knees. My hands were cracked and reddened from the lye Mrs Peters insisted on using. My shoulders and back ached from scrubbing the same spot over and over, creating thick plumes of suds and fumes to make my eyes water.

I had been tasked with the cleaning of the kitchen. It was another of Mrs Peter’s polite cruelties disguised as request. The kitchen collected grease and dust the way a miser hoarded pennies. She took great pleasure in giving me the responsibility of bringing it to a standard since Nan took a turn and had to go back to Warwick.

Her disdain, dressed in decorum had made my month in service feel like an eternity. My references were sound. Mr Lewis was not an effusive man, but he had listed my qualities with clarity.

Mrs Geraldine Peters had set herself to the task of instructing me in misery. She had gone over to Reverend Granger’s house, such was her confidence in my obedience.

Arthur the stable hand had gone with Mr Peters to purchase a colt from auction. So I did not even have him to keep me company. The sun had risen to a great, furious height already when I heard the sound of footsteps.

‘Hello, Miss.’

I glanced upwards. I met his warm, brown eyes. Over the lye-infused steam, I caught the scent of him, his musk, leathery and with hints of sandalwood. He wore a suit of faded velvet, with a silver watch chain dangling from his waistcoat. His shirt was silken, faded to shades of autumn that changed wherever the light struck them. He had mismatched buttons of pearl that were sewn on with practiced care.

‘How may I help you, sir?’

He chuckled and scratched the stubble on his chin.

‘Oh no, Miss, it is a matter of how I may help you. I have useful wares to sell if you’ve a mind to look.’

I stopped scrubbing and sat up, rubbed the small of my back with my palms to alleviate the ache.

‘A mind to look is all the currency I have, Sir.’

He smiled and gestured outside.

‘The finest coin of all, some would say.’

I sighed with amused impatience. He had an easy smile and large, muscular hands. The thought came to me of being caught with him and it made my stomach churn.

‘You should go, sir. My mistress doesn’t take to peddlers.’

He frowned and leaned forward.

‘And you’d rather be here on your knees when you could come outside for a few minutes, find something you’d like.’

He gestured to the warm, bright day behind him. It was his accomplice.

I had worked since breakfast. A moment with him if only to see him off the grounds would be a small reward for her efforts.

I got to my feet. He flashed a grin at me over his shoulder and I followed him outside.

His pack was by the gate, awash with scarves and trinkets tied on. He reached inside and retrieved a bolt of silken material with a theatrical flourish and laid it at my feet.

‘A little theatre brings fire to the soul.’

He moved between the pack and decanted the contents onto the silk.

A handful of button that made wondrous play of the sunlight where each one caught it.

Reels of coloured cotton and needles of various sizes and configurations, gleaming steel and glistening bone.

Silk shirts with monograms stitched into the breast.

A thick shawl woven with rainbow colours and patches of different pieces of fur.

Skirts and bonnets, good but worn from previous use.

If his wares had been too fine, my suspicions would have drawn me away. Yet their quality had weathered a few seasons.

He had one more item to offer. A long necked bottle stoppered with a wax seal. An amber fluid sat at the base, heavy and thick.

‘Trust a tinker to sell a potion.’

He shrugged his shoulders.

‘Regardless of whether I am a tinker or a pedler, I offer wares of import and import. Things that a cunning woman might use.’

I pointed at the bottle.

”What might a cunning woman use that for?’

He picked it up and handed it to me. The liquid was warm through the thick glass of the bottle.

‘The buyer decides before the seller has cause to speak.’

I tilted the bottle, watched the liquid play within it.

‘Unless it’s a salve for my hands, it’s pretty but useless.’


He curved his silken lips into a smile.

‘For a bit of bread and a cup of water, it’s yours.’

Mrs Peters brooked no tradespeople or unannounced visitors, so I was already at risk so bread and water made no difference. I glanced at the bottle, wondering how the seal of wax would crack beneath my fingers.

‘What’s it called?’

Soul Fire.

I blanched and started to back away.He shook his head.

‘It’s no poison. It thwarts despondence and lends adventure.’

I blushed and looked away.

‘Do I look like I need those?’

‘Every woman does.’ he said.

‘A few glasses of ale does that, I find.’

He laughed and closed my fingers over the curve of the bottle.

‘A drop between your eyebrows before bed and you’ll be preaching its virtues.’

The silver watch chain on his waistcoat caught the sun in a sharp flash of light.

‘Or decrying its vices.’

He smiled and took a step backwards.

‘The difference between the two is a matter of opinion, Miss.’

My heart thumped a little faster at the slow curl of his voice.

‘Come, I’ll feed and water you, sir, but not more.’

He bowed from the waist and grinned at me.

‘I like your spirit, Miss, it’s a true beguilement.’

I cut him two thick slices of coarse bread, buttered it in thick layers and drew up cool water from the well. Despite his fancy words, he ate with a primal lack of self-consciousness.

Sharing this simple meal with him put me between duty and pleasure. Duty wore the grim face of Mrs Peters, smeared with dust and kitchen grease.

Pleasure sat across from me. He had a smear of butter on the cleft of his chin. The bottle sat on the table and I kept glancing at it when the caramel pools of his eyes grew too enticing.

‘Try a drop.’ he said

My hands shook at his directness.

‘What if it should render me insensible?’

He laughed and finished the last piece of bread.

‘A drop on the forehead would lend you the vigour to get this kitchen finished.’

His challenge was indirect but implicit. He held no judgements to thwart me and I cracked the seal with a thrill of greed. I decanted a single drop onto my fingertip.

I dabbed it between my eyebrows. The skin tingled and grew warm. The warmth moved downwards, gaining power on its descent. A giddiness enveloped me and the muscles in my body relaxed into a state of utter bliss.

I awoke to the sound of amused consternation. Mrs Peters stared at me in disbelief. I was still at the stool and flinched, preparing to apologise for my slovenly ways.

Until I looked around at the kitchen.

Every visible surface was scrubbed, swept and polished. A pot of stew bubbled happily on the stove and gave off a meaty aroma that made our stomachs yawn with hunger.

‘You’ve outdone yourself.’

The lack of effusiveness did not make her compliment any less surprising. The tinker had gone along with the bottle, but I was too stunned by the state of the kitchen to notice it then.

He had placed it in my effects, with a sheaf of paper wrapped around it.

You did not ask, you simply trusted to your instincts. Consider this a gift, and I give those without expectation of reward or acknowledgement. I will walk in this part of the world again soon and I will call on you.

I hid the bottle. Something of me hid alongside it, flushed and covetous by what had happened.

Three nights later, he returned.

Three nights after that, I left with him.

Mrs Peters would have offered references worthy of being mounted in a frame or adapted to the stage but I had no need of them.

He did not need a maid. Not in the places he took me to.


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House Of The Jinn (The Wild Man Season 3)


Once upon a time, Ahmed came back to the fire with a brace of birds, their plucked corpses swinging from his clenched fist as he grinned through a mouthful of broken, yellowing teeth and uneven beard. He tossed them to the dirt and turned his head to spit. The scimitar hung from his left hip was scarred from years of use, spilling the blood of the Caliphate’s enemies.


‘Allah has blessed my aim.’


Rashid stuck his dagger into the breast of a bird and lifted it from the sand, swiped the sand with a lazy swipe of his fingers.


‘It makes up for having to come to this place but only just.’


He glanced over the flames at where the Lady Asra sat with the queen from across the water. She wore the traditional hijab but her pale hands and red hair were visible. The sight of her aroused his flesh, but he held his faith in good standing. He imagined the curves


Asra could also kill him without breaking a sweat, which made his adherence to chastity easier to bear.


They had ridden out before dawn, accompanying the women on a ride out to Bawwabat Jinn. Asra wore a scarlet silk hijab and long skirts. She mounted a brown stallion. Mirabelle wore a hijab in white and had a small dagger sheathed on her hip. Rashid enjoyed how she mounted the horse, lowering her eyes to avoid tempting the men but with a sympathetic light in her eyes which inflamed him all the more.


Asra led them at a charge beyond the high white walls, out into the desert where the blank majestic scale made Mirabelle gasp with wonder. A clear, blue sky hung above them, bright and sharp as a blade and it hurt Mirabelle’s mind to see it.


‘It’s difficult to imagine anything lives out here.’ Mirabelle said.


Her voice was soft, assuaging the headache from too much time squinting beneath the harsh sunshine. Asra grinned as she sat upright in her saddle.


‘The desert is a test for the faithful. His designs are everywhere.’ She said.


Asra pointed out a crepuscular fox, its wide eyes staring at the group with temerity as its tall, wide ears twitched against the desert wind. Mirabelle cooed with delight but the fox wrinkled it’s muzzle and dashed away from them.


‘Have you been tested by the desert, Lady Asra?’ Mirabelle said.


Asra raised her fingers to her forehead and gave a deep nod in the saddle.


‘Many times, which is part of why I’m taking you out here.’


Mirabelle frowned and fought the bubbling unease in her stomach.


‘You said there’s knowledge out here.’ Mirabelle said. ‘Didn’t we leave behind an entire library?’


Asra adjusted her hijab and pointed across the desert.


‘There will be answers at Bawwabat Jinn.’


Mirabelle’s hand went to the hilt of her dagger. Asra had presented it, telling her it was part of her personal armoury. The blade was volcanic glass, its edges honed to a gleam and the blade etched with symbols. The hilt was a single piece of black bone, hard and pitted like iron with leather wrapped around it. Mirabelle curtsied and blushed as she took the gift and placed it in the sheath. Asra did not point out the cultural prohibition within the Caliphate at arming a woman to her, having won the argument through force of arms a long time ago.


They rode through the morning. Mirabelle saw the shimmering sheets of black glass which scarred the sand in jagged patterns and Asra slowed her horse to a trot alongside her.


‘There were battles fought here against the djinn.’


Mirabelle frowned and Asra flung out her hands as though flicking something unpleasant from her fingers.


‘They wielded elemental forces the way we wield swords. We suffered for it.’


Mirabelle wanted to ask more, but Asra’s expression, melancholic and aggrieved, stopped her.


Bawwabat Jinn was over the next bank of dunes. It was the remains of a rift torn between the dimension of the djinn and the human world, held open by powerful, ancient magic and kept as a fortress from which the djinn waged their war.


‘What will we find there?’ Mirabelle said.


Asra smiled, but it did not reach her eyes.




Bawwabat Jinn was a structure made of black glass, a permanent wound in the world and left abandoned.


It resembled the intestines of some massive creature, spilling out onto the sand from a wound in the earth, a slick tunnel which went deep into the earth. Ahmed and Rashid guarded the entrance, which pleased both men. Ahmed stood the bow at his feet whilst Rashid wielded a dual-bladed pole arm. The black glass twisted and looped, frozen tongues of fire arranged around the entrance. Mirabelle noted how the soldiers hid their relief at being made to stand outside. Asra adjusted her scimitars on her hips and walked down the tunnel. Mirabelle walked after her.


‘In answer to your question, the Djinn feared The Dust and fought against them.’ Asra said. ‘It means they had weapons, strategies and the will to defeat them.’


Mirabelle frowned and touched the hilt of her dagger for reassurance.


‘We have none of those expect perhaps the latter.’ She said.


Asra glanced over her shoulder and smirked.


‘Then we should get going.’ She said.


Mirabelle gazed into the darkness, her heart racing in her chest before she followed Asra into the Bawwabat Jinn.


Mirabelle had faced darkness and all its nuances but this represented a new stage in her journey. She shuddered but kept on walking down into the bowels of the earth.











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A New Reign (The Wild Man, Season 3)

(Previous seasons are here and here. If you have liked this series, please share it because obscurity is overrated)



I write this without expectation you will read it. The control I have is slipping away as my body is changing and along with it, my thoughts are rebellious and demonic creatures now.

Paul’s forearm spasmed and the quill fall from his fingers. He turned his palm outwards, examined the small dark spots underneath his nails and the root-like pattern of infection which blazed underneath the pale, soft skin of his hands. Women endured labour in agonies which lasted days, screaming and hollering until the child was spat out into the air, squalling and bloodied and sometimes died in the aftermath. Paul was subject to an inverted perversion of this, being both infant, vessel and midwife to his own transformation. He crawled from the cell, violated and nauseous as his thoughts clawed at the inside of his skull.

A sick king was a thing of derision, better to die in battle than bed. He laid down and closed his eyes.

The Dust was inside him, mounting an inexorable, silent assault and taking him by inches, merging itself in blood and bone as it altered him whilst maintaining his privilege and position. It had learned a measure of subtlety since transforming Ernst, realising the potential of harnessing a human viewpoint. It had shouted with Ernst, but in its possession of Paul, it had remembered the power of a whisper. By day, it sickened him and at night; it pinned him to the dirt of his soul and showed him the horrors of its world.

Paul awoke to a sky the colour of infected flesh, a liquid, rippling dance of green and yellow, clouds of bruised plum and necrotic black huddled around a malignant, poisoned sun. In the distance, a slick yellow fog blurred the outlines of mountains on the horizon. Beneath his bare feet, damp black sand scratched between his toes and stung the tender webs of flesh. The air stunk of decay, making each breath an insult and recalling long withheld memories of wars he had fought in.

‘Where am I?’ he said.

His voice faltered before the miasmal landscape around him. The air shimmered with heat as he looked around him.


He narrowed his eyes as he looked at the horizon.

The mountains in the distance shifted. Their outlines expanded, broke apart and reformed like ink in water, stirred by a mighty hand before they elongated into things which reached into the sky and extended barbed, slick tentacles. They danced and wavered in delirious triumph before they walked towards him.


Paul turned and fled as the things moved towards him. They did not walk.

Some strode like proud potentates.

Others slid on chains of pendulous teats which oozed black ichor before them, staining and corrupting the sand to ease their passage.

A pair of creatures extended ragged wings and took to the air, spinning and diving with a carnal delight as they grew new limbs and curved claws with which to rend their prey into pieces. They screamed and it made the space behind Paul’s eyes hot with a grotesque pressure. Their throats swelled with a fair of grotesqueries and their new anatomies gave voice to songs which made Paul anxious and prickling with tears. The noise poked dirty fingers beneath his clothes, inside him and tested his wounds, old and new. Paul ran until his legs gave out and rolled onto his back with his hands raised to defend himself but it was too late.

They fell upon him.

Paul recalled rusted blades and the sharp crack of his own bones being reset, the sizzle of cauterised flesh and the dumb tugging of flesh to close his wounds. He tried to scream but a black, dripping tentacle slid between his lips and pumped a thick wad of something wet and wriggling down his throat. Claws tore away his clothes and he enjoyed the brief respite of warm air against bare skin before another chorus of horror fell upon him. His last memory was a blast of fetid breath against his cheek and the drilling sensation of a needle tipped claw spinning against the top of his skull.

He awoke and called for a servant to bring him fresh parchment and ink, water to bathe with and food. The servant remarked at the turn in Paul’s countenance, and how a new zeal had renewed their king.

Paul looked at the incomplete letter and read it as though for the first time.  He chuckled and tossed the scroll to the flames. Love was a useful tactic to draw upon and Paul had returned with a grand and awful vision for the world.

Paul returned to the throne anew.

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Have You Seen Your Heart (The Wild Man Season 3)

Once upon a time, Eilhu awoke from a thin, restless sleep. Beloved had pointed to a stack of cushions and told him he could sleep there. Her tone was light, but authoritative as she peered through the open door, cautious of more visitors. Her braids fell from her skull like vines as she shook her head and shut the door to the caravan.

‘He sends his troubles as single spies, but they arrive as battalions.’ She said.

Eilhu stooped within the caravan but Beloved negotiated the small space with a graceful ease, aware and cogent as she took a stoppered bottle and offered it to him. He took it and uncorked the bottle. It smelled of liniment and honeycomb, turning his stomach as he shook his head and passed it back. Beloved took a deep draught and swallowed with a deep grunt before she shivered with the bitterness.

‘Breakfast.’ She said.

Eilhu glanced around the caravan, hopeful she would produce a good haunch of meat or a crust of bread as a punch line to the general strangeness of the situation.

‘I’ve drunk my share of breakfasts but it smells potent.’

She smirked and shook her head.

‘It speaks to the second heart within you. We drink it every day.’ She said.

He took the bottle back and poured it into his mouth. It was thick, fermented with the pang of brine underneath the herbs and honey, coating the roof of his mouth as he swallowed it. He bent forward at the waist, struggled not to gag and kept it down. He shuddered before the warmth in his stomach smoothed out, turned the churning affront into a smooth, slow balm which made him glow from within. He stood up, banged the crown of his head against the roof of the caravan and winced. Beloved chuckled and opened the door, letting in the harsh curtain of sunshine as she stepped outside.

Eilhu followed her. The air hung with the matted warmth of worked horses, the smell of campfires and cooking meat but the sun hung high overhead and Eilhu appreciated the clean beauty of the morning as Beloved performed a series of stretches as other travellers and merchants acknowledged her with greetings in a variety of languages. Eilhu took a deep breath and glanced up at the mountains shrouded in mist.

‘We travelled far last night.’ He said.

Beloved kept her back to him as she dropped into a horse stance and sucked in the clear air, raising her chin to the sky and extended her arms to either side.

‘There’s no money in resting out here, Eilhu. The Wild Man has no use for commerce but us humans need a coin kept aside for food and shelter.’ She said.

Eilhu recalled the pale, fanged children who chased him through the woods. They had no use for commerce either. Beloved turned her shoulders and looked at him.

‘He sent you. I will train you and offer safe passage until we reach the harbour, but there are things you must offer.’ She said.

‘Such as?’

Beloved’s smile fell away.

‘Your truth. If you are to develop, then I must insist on your truth. Much of our training starts from here.’

She tapped her index finger over her breastbone with a controlled expression.

‘My breath?’ Eilhu said.

‘Your heart.’

Eilhu glanced away and made fists of his hands.

‘There’s no point.’ He said.

Beloved laughed and shook  her head.

‘Have you seen a heart?’ she said.

Eilhu recalled Paul’s knife, flashing in the afternoon light as it hacked into the Wild Man’s chest, how he had plunged his hands into the wet cavern of his open anatomy and pulled out a thick knot of muscle, dripping with blood. He grimaced and Beloved closed the distance between them and struck him. The blow was too fast to avoid and he staggered back, his sinuses sung with pain as he cried out.

‘What are you doing?’ he said.

She stood and appraised him with care, her hands by her sides.

‘Have you seen a heart?’ she said.

He nodded.

‘Can it break?’ she said.

Eilhu fought the threatened thump of his heart, the urge to retaliate charging through his muscles, compelling him to action.

‘You have faced greater odds than grief, Eilhu. The Wild Man raises no fools and I recognise my kin in you.’ She said.

Eilhu frowned as he rubbed his cheek.

‘And hitting me helps?’ he said.

She chuckled.

‘Would she want you to devolve into a mewling worm in her absence?’ she said.

He shook his head as an enormous grief weighed on his insides, like a slab dropped onto him from a great height.

‘ You slapping me changes nothing.’ He said.

She raised an eyebrow and stepped backwards.

‘Unless you try hitting me back?’ she said.

He shifted, uncomfortable with the invitation and appraised her with concern.  He sighed and brought his left hand up, jabbing at her with a speed which surprised him.

Her hands clamped on either side of his wrist and her fingertips found channels of agony which blazed down his arm. His head filled up with white agony and he fought the urge to cry out as he collapsed onto his knees. His left arm flopped down as Beloved relinquished her grip and stepped back.

‘Did you grieve in the moment, Eilhu?’ she said.

He grunted no and massaged his arm as he struggled to his feet.

‘No, can’t say I did. You said we were kin, what do you mean?’

Beloved smiled.

‘The Wild Man does not restrict his rescue efforts to princes, Eilhu.’

Eilhu flexed his left hand and put his hands up to defend himself.

‘Then show me what you’ve learned.’ He said.

She smiled and began his training.

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(Previous episodes are here and here. Please read and share)



Once upon a time the call to prayer awoke Mirabelle. The clean certainty of faith rang out, the notes rising into the sky like morning birds. Shimmering sheets of heat crashed against her skin like waves on the shore, and she reached to the wide flat bowl of water on the pedestal to her left, scooped up cool water and doused her face and neck with it. She threw on the scarf to cover her head and went to find Asra.

Mirabelle had been privy to state visits which were indolent affairs, fat slabs of indulgence and pomp wrapped around a single conversation which could mean shifts in power or deaths on the battlefield. She was not here as a queen, but a student and Asra’s lessons took different shapes. They would meet in the library in the morning and the garden in the afternoon, their routine broken by the regular adherence to prayer. Mirabelle would bow her head and fall silent, whilst people knelt down and prayed to Allah. She strode to the library. Asra was not there, but a servant passed on an instruction to meet her in the second garden.

Asra had buckled her sword belt, the twin scimitars rested on each hip and she grinned at Mirabelle’s confused frown as she wished her good morning. She had high, fine cheekbones and almond shaped eyes, dark with a self-knowledge, the eyebrows shaped to perfect crescents and her skin held a sleek, dusky gleam where the light fell upon it.

‘I’m not a warrior, Asra.’ She said.

She saw a rack of weapons set against the far wall. A bill, the heavy pole arm favoured by the common man  rested next to a spear and a rapier with a carved hand guard. A wooden shield, bound with lengths of dark iron leaned at an angle alongside a short sword with a thin double edged blade.

‘You killed a man, Mirabelle to save your own life. What’s the difference?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle wandered over to the rack and picked up the short sword. What sword play she knew came from observation over experience, but the weapon felt good in her hand.

‘Wouldn’t blunt blades be safer?’ Mirabelle said.

Asra smirked and raised an eyebrow.

‘Yes, but who comes at you with a blunt blade?’ she said.

Mirabelle turned to face her, pointed the sword at Asra and fell into a competent stance.

Asra pointed to her shoulders and knees, barked out to relax the former and bend the latter before she slapped Mirabelle in the small of her back to correct her posture. She told Mirabelle to move the blade slow and watched her in silence. Her hands, warm and strong adjusted her arm and wrist which made the blade feel more natural in her grip.

‘You have knowledge, Mirabelle, but it is useless without intention and will. A sword focuses a mind as a book does.’

Mirabelle kept the point of the blade up as she sighed and swung the sword ahead of her in a slow arc.

‘We’ve the knowledge to know it won’t die by a blade, Asra.’ She said.

Asra told her to aim for the largest part of an opponent. The sword was thin and light, designed to stab and slash in quick flurries of skill.

‘A sword is a tool, the killing comes from the heart and mind.’ She said.

Mirabelle’s reserves of strength and stamina waned with the practice. Her arm ached, but, but the tension pooled in her hips and back as Asra checked her posture and moved her into place.

‘I’m not a swordsman. This insults the men who’ve sworn fealty doesn’t it?’ she said.

Asra looked around her.

‘When night fell, and your guards were outside whilst a man came to murder you, where were they?’

Mirabelle grunted and continued to swing.

‘Where was Eilhu?’

Mirabelle stopped and stared at her.

‘Hunting.’ She said.

‘Where was he?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle’s eyes prickled with unshed tears.

‘I sent him out. Away.’


Mirabelle swallowed, her tongue was fat and thick in her mouth.

‘He knew the woods and he was looking for his mentor.’ She said.


Mirabelle thrust the sword ahead of her, the motion came up from her hips and knees and concluded in a strike which had the flowing snap of competence.

‘I suspected him. I didn’t say but Eilhu knew my concerns.’ She said.

‘You abandoned him? Or did he abandon you?’ Asra said.

Mirabelle shook her head with passion.

‘It wasn’t a matter of abandonment. I wanted the assassin found. I never had to ask Eilhu.’ She said.

‘Ask him what?’

Mirabelle repeated the strike with good form but the transition to a parry proved awkward.

‘To act in my interest.’ She said.

‘Even if it meant capture or death?’

Mirabelle swallowed and lowered the blade. Asra’s hand came up and slapped her across the cheek. Mirabelle flinched from the blow, scuttling away from Asra but she followed her. Mirabelle swung the sword in her direction but Asra ducked beneath it and slapped her again. The blows were light but stinging as Asra’s hand circled around the bones of her right wrist and squeezed, which made the sword fall from Mirabelle’s hand.

Mirabelle bit back her cries of pain and reached for the sword but Asra put her hand on her throat, the fingers biting into the arteries on either side.

‘If you love him despite circumstances, if you believe he lives, then you owe it to him to fight, don’t you?’ she said.

Mirabelle pushed back but Asra slipped from her reach and slapped her again. She cried out and held her hands in front of her face.

‘I can’t. I’m bearing the weight of everything–‘

Asra sighed with disdain and went to grab Mirabelle.

They had been in the garden one afternoon, infected with a wriggling restlessness and drunk on the sight and touch of one another. They fought like cubs, and he had let her exhaust herself against him before Eilhu took her to the grass with a liquid ease, one arm beneath her to cushion her fall as he landed with her. The memory inflamed her and she turned her upper body to one side, grabbed Asra and tossed her to the ground. Asra grunted and rolled onto her side, but her eyes glowed with good humour.

‘See. Heart and mind.’ Asra said.

Mirabelle enjoyed learning, but this was a cruel lesson. Her heart sung with loss but she reached and helped Asra to her feet.

‘You made me act upon a cruel memory Asra.’ Mirabelle said.

Asra bowed from the waist and picked up the sword.

‘If it saves your life, then it is not so cruel.’

Mirabelle ran her tongue over her lips and tasted the fading copper of anguish and violence. She took the sword from Asra.

‘Teach me again?’ she said.

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A Choir Of Guilty Voices (The Wild Man Season 3)

(Previous seasons are here and here. Please read and share because who writes without wanting to be read?)


The Dust called to him in dreams.

It dry whispers caressed his mind until he woke screaming and sweat dripped from his pores, reaching for the flagon of wine he kept by his bed.

It amused itself by alternating between grand visions of realised ambition and prophecies of agonised failures, perfect recollections of defeat designed to mock him until he would stride down into the bowels of the castle and confront it. Despite the subtle tortures of age, Paul’s capacity for suffering was infinite. He stood in its cell and recited the chants to reinforce the barriers which held it in place until his voice gave out and he carried on in a series of dry, wasted barks.

Laughter drifted to him from the darkness and he stood with his head bowed.

‘You’re not the man we thought you were.’ It said.

He raised his eyebrows.

‘Your wit is invaluable.’ Paul said.

It chuckled like the bubbling of blood from a slit throat.

‘We are searching for them. A little joke at your expense amuses us.’ It said.

Paul breathed in through his nose and glared at the shadows.

‘I thought you might have picked up on how they got past you.’ Paul said.

The Dust lashed out at the barrier which made purple and white lightning crack like a whip against the cobblestones.

‘We could ask you the same thing but we know the answer. Your love of the little blonde boy makes you weak.’ It said.

Paul swallowed and turned away, gritting his teeth to hide his anger and fear.

‘We will find them both, Paul. Our covenant is sacred.’ It said.

Paul’s breath became thick like broth in his lungs as he sucked in the thin, cold air to gain control of his emotions.

‘Don’t hurt Eilhu.’ He said.

The Dust laughed at his request but Paul recited a chant which made The Dust squall with discomfort.

‘We understand. Hurting us does not make us any more compliant.’ It said.

Paul was drunk with exhaustion but his will and fear kept him alert. The Dust was quick to take advantage of any weakness in Paul’s defences.

It was a terrible ally but a wondrous weapon to possess. Paul had scoffed at such things before but time and circumstance had made his words into ashes, bitter to the last swallow.

‘Any more than mocking me will allow me to loosen your bonds. This aperture is enough for the both of us.’ He said.

He smiled at the shadows.

‘I have given you my children, Paul. Will you give me yours?’ it said.

Paul shook his head. Ernst had crossed the borders of their lands, or the thing Ernst had become and with it had gone Paul’s hopes for a subtle, quiet resolution to their troubles.

They had not acted within the borders of his lands. His arrangement protected the people from the worst depredations of The Dust and it was one of the slender notions which allowed him to believe himself in control of the situation.

The wound in his shoulder throbbed and as he pressed his palm against it, it gave off a suckling, damp heat.

‘I’ve given enough.’ He said.

The Dust laughed.

‘We decide.’ It said.

Its voice was not singular. Paul heard a choir of different ages and pitches. The frail pleading of an elderly supplicant, the shrill calls of a cornered child and amongst them, some of the sacrifices made on his path to the present.

The Dust knew when to place them ahead.

He heard his brother’s voice now, set like an insect in amber to the volume and tone he used before he died.

Calling his wife’s name as his brother watched the poison take effect.

Her voice was a mocking chime of denial. Laughter at his passion and presumption. She had seen through his use of pity as a weapon to the glacial ambition underneath too late.

She died first because he loved her more than his brother. He wept for them at his coronation.

Fatherhood changed a man. Not for the better, in Paul’s case. A single spark of joy set him ablaze and the years in secret had stolen the light from his soul, made him into the man who would find the names of great and terrible powers and make deals with them.

Paul walked out of the cell. He vowed to find his son and bring him home.

Eilhu would succeed him, even if Paul had to destroy a kingdom to do it.

The call came to him in his dreams and he went down to the cell, eager for news.

‘They found his friend but Eilhu got away.’ It said.

Paul’s heart leapt with hope and he asked if they had captured the Wild Man. He wanted to know the trick of resurrection performed before his eyes.

‘And did your by-blows bring him to ground?’ he said.

The Dust told him no, they had not. Paul’s hands clenched with thwarted ambition.

‘One forest spirit resisted your weapons.’ He said.

The Dust roared with petulance and anger, tested the wards against it until the air shook with its anger.

‘A forest spirit? Do you believe it’s all He is?’ it said.

His sister-in-law’s voice. Beneath its bonds, the Dust knew how to hurt him. Much like she did.

Paul gasped as a bolt of pain travelled up his arm and went into his head, slapping him to the ground beneath its force.

When he awoke, he was not alone in his head anymore.

The Dust was with him.

He tried to speak the wards but his lips sealed shut.

The Dust giggled, close as a lover inside his head. Paul wept but his eyes were dry and when he left the room, something else looked through his eyes.

It’s terrible ambition dwarfed Paul’s and its love, black as pitch, was waiting for this moment. Paul watched it all happen and hoped Eilhu would escape over service to the things which lived beneath his skin.

Paul had sought to rule Hell itself but not become it.

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Benevolence (The Wild Man Season 3)

He stared into the water and hacked at his hair with a knife. He grunted when the blade cut too close to his scalp. The Wild Man plucked leaves and put them into his hand. Eilhu felt the warm sting of the cut on his head as he grimaced.


‘I remember the taste of these.’ he said.


The Wild Man grinned but his eyes were dull with fatigue. There was silver in his fur which caught the glimmering light of the afternoon and glowed like white hot embers.


‘You rub it into your head and they won’t get infected. Makes the blade easier to bear.’


Eilhu sighed and put a leaf to his lips. He closed his eyes and wrinkled his nose at the bitter, dark scent of the leaf. He popped it into his mouth and chewed with a shudder which went deep into the pit of his stomach. Once he had chewed it to a fine paste, he spat into his palm and rubbed it into his scalp.


He finished before dark and rinsed his head then ran his fingers over his scalp and shaved his cheeks and chin. He had not eaten, and the thought made his stomach rumble with hunger.


‘I look like a baby’s ass.’ he said.


The Wild Man chuckled and shook his head.


‘ I have an idea on where you can go.’ he said.


Eilhu stood up, put his hand on his stomach and narrowed his eyes against the last of the light.


‘You’re not coming with me, are you?’ he said.


The Wild Man’s mouth went down at the corners as he shook his head.


‘Your uncle brought something terrible into the world.’ he said.


Eilhu folded his arms and strode towards The Wild Man.


‘You’re abandoning me.’ he said.


The Wild Man leaned forwards and stared into Eilhu’s eyes. The fatigue was there, at war with the determination and all of set into a mind as infinite and expansive as the sky.


‘No. I trust you will follow my instructions but I must gather allies.’ he said.


Eilhu raised his eyebrows and was about to speak when he turned his head.


The Wild Man growled from deep within his throat, alarm flaring in an instant as he reared back and glared around him.


‘North. The caravan which goes to The Black River, get on and find Benevolence. Tell her I remember the taste of sheep’s face and stay with her until I get word to you.’


Eilhu’s heart thumped against his ribs. There were wet growls coming from the woods and the sound of scratching, rapid pattering.


‘I didn’t think it would end this way.’ he said.


The Wild Man lowered his chin and blessed Eilhu with a flicker of a smile before he pushed his chest out and pushed Eilhu behind him.


‘No one does.’ The Wild Man.


Eilhu saw the gleam of something wet in the darkness before he touched The Wild Man’s forearm.


‘I will see you soon, my friend.’ he said.


The Wild Man reached out and pulled a birch from the ground, showering the twilight air with clods of dirt as he clasped it between both hands and swung it before him. Eilhu backed against a tree and searched for a weapon.


It came out of the trees at speed, leaping with a shriek like a boiling child as it reached out for the Wild Man with long, clawed fingers and a mouth open to show its needle teeth. The Wild Man struck the creature with the branches and sent it flying. Eilhu heard the moist splatter of the creature breaking against the trunk of the tree and watched it kick and mewl before falling silent. Another had scaled a tree and leapt between the branches, coming at The Wild Man and screaming its hate for him.


Eilhu found a rock in the dirt and picked it up. It held a good weight and he tossed it into the air before catching it in his palm and bringing his arm back to throw it. He took a deep breath and flicked the stone forwards, putting his entire body behind the action.


The stone caught the creature in the bridge of its nose and sent it falling through the trees.


‘I’ll send word.’ he said.


Eilhu looked for another rock but The Wild Man bellowed as another pair of the creatures leapt towards him.


The dirt offered no solution, so he turned and ran north.


Nothing followed him, good or bad.


He limped into the path of the caravan, carrying goods and travellers from the West on a series of connected platforms, lashed together with rope ladders and led by a pack of horses which were twenty hands at the shoulder, swollen with muscle and breathing thick plumes of air into the night. They had stopped for the night.


Eilhu got directions from a guard and found the platform where Benevolence stayed. He reached for the knocker, a heavy iron thing in the shape of an open hand and slapped it against the door.


The door opened and a pair of clear blue eyes peered out from the darkness.


‘May I help you?’


A woman’s voice, amused but even.


‘He said he remembers the taste of sheep’s face.’ Eilhu said.


She opened the door. Her white blonde hair fell around her shoulders, she had a sharp nose and full lips with golden skin. She wore a woollen robe and her hands were dark with scar tissue across the backs of her hands, across the knuckles. She had the beauty of a winter sunrise, hard and glorious.


‘That’s the most romantic thing a stranger’s said in a long time.’ she said.


Eilhu blinked and staggered against the door as exhaustion overwhelmed him.


‘He sent me to you, Benevolence. I’m running from something terrible.’ he said.


Benevolence glanced to each side before she pulled him into the caravan.


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A Bleak Reassurance (The Wild Man, Season 3, Episode 4)

Once Upon a Time, Carrey stood with Liam, a reassuring hand on his shoulder as they stood before the closed door to the infirmary.  Carrey  wore black chain mail over leather since taking the throne as regent and had his familial sword Dawn sheathed on his hip. He had commanded a small group of guards to accompany him, their fear registered in the metallic tang of their sweat and the liquid, concerned eyes which met his gaze.  Carrey ordered his men to surround the door and enter, he squeezed Liam’s shoulder and pushed him forwards.

‘Whatever’s behind the door, we face it as men, understand?’ he said.

Carrey’s voice carried, lending courage to the surrounding men. The bodies at the inn had their entrails dragged and festooned over the ceiling beams and tables like pink and yellow banners of victory and the one survivor had injuries Carrey knew were common not in the heat of battle, but the aftermath.  Liam raised the guard. Carrey drew Dawn and held it to his eyes, admired the blonde–red sheen of the metal and took a deep breath. A cold, sinking dread which pulled at his insides as he ordered his men forward.

Blood welled underneath the door and the guard stepped back with his weapon drawn as another pulled the door open. They exchanged potent looks before they swept inside.

Carrey smelled the blood and shit, the stink of voided bodies and all of it packed like clay into each breath.  Liam pitched forwards and made a tight, mewling sound at the back of his throat as he held his sword ahead of him.

‘She said there was something wrong with the woman, your highness.’ Liam said.

There was no sign of Gwyneth but the walls and floor as the guards swept through, swords drawn and eyes narrowed to slits. Four men entered, ahead of Carrey. They stopped when they got to the rows of cots and Carrey heard someone gag with revulsion. He pushed past to see what had disgusted them. He regretted his decision in an instant.

It was the woman from the inn.

Most of her.

From collarbone to thighs, she was a wet, glistening ruin. The contents of her stomach shredded and pulled out, with glistening ropes of intestine dangling in all directions. Her last expression was one of  relief. Carrey peered at the remains of her pelvis and glanced in Liam’s direction. He asked him what the woman had said, and Liam repeated the words he’d heard.

There had been something inside her.

It had gotten out.

Carrey saw the horrors men inflicted on themselves and one another, it made him tactile with his children, patient with his wife and earnest with his men but this, much like the inn, showed signs of something inhuman.

The arrow fired without an archer.

Henry driven to murderous intent.

He had the men search the rest of the infirmary. They flipped cots, lit torches and moved furniture with the urgency of fear.

There was no sign of Gwyneth. Carrey strode outside, took a deep breath to fill his lungs with good, clean air instead of the miasma which clotted his sinuses and throat. A guard came to him, asked him for his orders and Carrey stared out into the night.

‘Double the patrols. Send word to the homesteads and huntsmen to report anything strange.’ He said.

The guard nodded and ran to enact the regent’s will.

Carrey wanted Eilhu, Paul or Mirabelle here. The former had a touch of wildness to him, and had manifested displays of prowess at the perfect time, Paul had tremendous wisdom and his daughter took after her father.  He sheathed Dawn, adjusted his gauntlets and walked back to the infirmary.

‘See she’s given a good burial. Find Gwyneth as soon as you can.’ He said.

The guard asked if they should wait until first light but Carrey grimaced and shook his head.

‘I doubt I’ll sleep so let’s use it for a purpose, eh?’ he said.

The guard bowed from the waist and ran to summon men and horses. Carrey waited until he was alone before emitting a slow, tight shudder.

Carrey’s education had been broad and involved. He knew the sigils of the great houses and the signs of a good steward but he also knew how to thread a fish hook and skin a deer. He knew the life cycles of insects and animals, and those lessons returned to him, taught again in the ruined bodies he came across.

Certain breeds bred by guile and force.

Some men too, he thought, but this was no man.  He recalled a species of wasp which laid its eggs in the flesh of others and waited for its young to eat their way out from the inside. His hand touched the hilt of Dawn for reassurance. Carrey had always set stock by the things he could touch or see but the fear which burned in his chest held sway over everything.

He sent a messenger to The Caliphate and another to the High Colleges before he prepared the court for what came to dog their steps. It was dawn before he slipped beneath the furs on his bed and his wife, Susannah woke up to find him staring at her, his eyes shining with tears as he pulled her close.

He pressed himself against her. Susannah knotted her fingers in his as he whispered how he loved her and wanted her. Their coupling was urgent in its passion and soon over but afterwards, he collapsed against her and fell into a deep, thick sleep. Susannah stroked his hair as she wondered what had frightened her husband.

He turned his head in sleep and muttered a phrase which made her flesh prickle with distaste.

‘There will be more.’ He said.