food for the soul

Author: David VC / Labels: , , ,

Marcus was rather tall. He just barely fit on the wooden palletes and stuffed cushions that passed for a bed. Unlike his more successful brother, he avoided useless tufts of facial hair unless they were glued on for a dramatic role, on the stage or otherwise. Similarly, he kept his brown hair cut rather short, but not so low that he could be mistaken for a newly-shorn criminal. His face, at the moment, was pale, and his hazel eyes glazed with a deepening yellow. His shirt was already peeled away, the ribs of his wiry frame plastered with oily patches of brown paper, almost hiding the stab woulds beneath save for the small dark red blooms spread across them. Wren took the little jar that his uncle gave him and waved it under his aquiline nose.

Marcus shot up in his bed, taking a deep wheezing breath. As he coughed, the girl picked up a dark blue jar and a teaspoon from the nightstand.

"Welcome back, Daddy! Take your medicine!"

"Erm...urgghhh.." He waved the spoon away with a numb hand as he shuddered with each ragged breath, his blood rushing in protest back to his heart and outwards in all directions like liquid fire. He coughed. "No thank you, dear. I'll be fine."

"I thought you were going to give up on knife-and-candle, Daddy?"

He leaned foward and groaned as he stretched out his arms. "My friends and I have been doing it for years, Love! I have to stay in practice!"

"It's rather queer that you call them your friends when they keep killing you!"

"Well, mostly we chase the new recruits these days...teach them some manners..."

"Did you see the boatman. Daddy?"

Marcus froze in mid-stretch. "Yes, Wren. I saw the Boatman."

She bit her lip nervously. "Was he...asking about me again?"

"Just think," he said as slid his ivory queen to the knight's square, palming the other piece, "some day, old man, with enough of my metal hearts, you can actually retire!" He smirked at what should be the face of the featureless shadow. "Checkmate!"

"Mmmm...you were mentioned."

"OH! DADDY! I almost forgot! I think we found a MATCH!"

"A match?" He turned and planted his feet on the bowing floorboards in the cramped room and stumbled forwards a few steps to the opposite wall. Wren turned his head to listen, smiling as he fell against the wardrobe and sank to his knees. "Are you sure, Wren?"

"Yes! Just watch!" Wren opened one of the closet doors and rummaged through the pile on the bottom. She covered her hand with a motheaten scarf as a precaution before pulling away the charcoal tattered silks retreived from the Forgotten Quarter.

In her veil of darkness, the stack of bottled souls, in three neat rows of eight against the backboard, shone clearly to her in blue clouds (or was it green? Those names stopped having meaning for her) more vibrant than anything she ever seen when her living heart was beating. She watched the essenses inside squirm and sigh. Meanwhile, she heard Marcus the scrape of wood against wood as he pulled open the drawer beneath the cabinet.

Marcus leafed through a handful of parchments, crowded with row after row of red ink scrawled in the finest and most arcane handwriting. Weighted at the end of each page were smears of impure red and black wax upon which were imprinted seals of the most obscene configurations, forever imprisoning oily ribbons of loathsome hues between the layers. He held up one document and held it close to the souls, as if giving them the opportunity to read.

The inhabitants of the glowing bottles did nothing but continue to stir in their gloom, save for one.

"That's the one!" shouted Wren as she pointed. "I put that paper on top! It's that one! See? He's pointing!"

Indeed, it thrashed about in its glass prison so forcefully that the bottle shook, but not enough to risk tipping over the translucent chambers of the other unfortunates around it.

Marcus put the other contracts away and pulled a green candlestick from the table. He blinked and squinted as he skimmed over unholy stipulatons and contingencies.

"Alright...his name is Anthony Griffiths...lived...lives? It's a year old...in Veilgarden...owner of establishment...a steakhouse? Oh yes, I remember! Tried to compete with the Long Spoon. Place went downhill quickly. Poor bastard must have been trying to save his business!"

After a brief silence, he put the candle stick back on the table and rolled up the parchment. He pulled his pocketwatch from his trousers, flipping it open to glance at the time. "Get me the frock coat, will you sweetie? We're going out for supper!'



Anthony's Steaks had a fading sort of lavishness. The curtains were a bit dusty. In fact the creases on the immaculate but faded tablecloth where Marcus and his daughter sat clung so tightly to the corners that it may have been laying there unused for a year. That is until Marcus spilled his glass of mushroom wine across it, leaving a stain resembling a gray ghost.

"No worries Mister Mason!" Bellowed Mr. Griffiths as he waddled out from the swinging double-doors. He wore a freshly bloodied apron over a white uniform two sizes larger than he had once been. His cheeks burned the deepest red from being forced to smile again, revealing yellow crooked teeth. "I'll get you a bottle from the top shelf!" He placed his tray on the table and presented them with the platters.

"A porterhouse medium rare for special friend! And a filet cut small for the pretty lady! With real potatoes and white asparagus!"

The steam rose from the plates, and that smell along with savory odors that escaped from the kitchen caused a stir in the street outside. Urchins and gentlemen alike pressed their faces to the newly-polished glass, leaving imprints of grime and saliva behind as Marcus taught Wren how to raise a glass to toast.

what the thunder couldn't say

Author: David VC / Labels:

I am standing on the cliff again. This could be sunlight, but the weather only permits jaundiced shadows. The chill in the damp air bids me to raise my eyes. Their backs turned to us, clouds in competing stains of gray and black crash axes against shields. Why is there no rain? Their blood sprays in bright gouts that drains to the surrounding mountaintops.

The cloaked throng stands together, afraid to say what is already understood. Did I see my brother in there? I cannot tell.

I hear a faint shiver behind me. The blindfolded girl. But this time she is on the operating table.

The cloaked ones circle me like medical students, dreading yet eager.

Blindfolded? Yes. Is she anaesthetized? I hold out my palm.

"Scalpel."

My father's chambermaid places the obsidian blade in my hand.

I pull back the sheet. The incisions are fresh. I hear the hiss of gas and the clicking of her mechanical heart. The light of its furnace illuminates her entire rib cage. I smile with pride.

"We've done it, brother!"

The voice meant to be Marcus replies without emotion. "But that's not why we're here."

The sky shudders in rage, furious at my distractions. Enunciate with thunder and accentuate with lighting.

"The human tongue is much better for such things..." I feel a lecture coming on.

Impatience. Disgust. Desperation. As the dream dissolves like breaking clouds into limitless abyss something alien and unseeable hiding behind the last scrap of sky shrieks "NORTH!!"

I wake with a start, still under the canopy of fungus. I was unable to focus my eyes quickly enough to make out the shape that was inches from my face but bolted through the thicket of woody stems. These prints in the sand are bigger than mine. I can't even guess what made them. Is it the onset of pneumonia pressing a weight in my lungs, or is my body revolting to the stench of damp fur?

a night's respite

Author: David VC /

I knew I had to find a place to rest before I became completely exhausted. I wandered into a patch of mushrooms of gigantic size, the smallest ones at the edge of the patch being waist high, which I tried my best to step through without damaging. Their wide caps were concave, allowing me to sip some handfulls of collected dew as I passed through. The cap elevations grew smoothly upwards. I waded through them until it became easier to crouch under them, weaving my way through the white stalks like an endless series of tight doorframes. I was gradually able to walk with a normal gait where the stalks reached twice my height. The ground beneath these fungi was drier than the rest of the swamp, almost sandy like the soil under the pine forests I remembered from the Surface. Large lazy circles of moonish light on the sandy soil traced the gaps in the canopy above.

I dropped the roll of airship canvas form my shoulder. I sat and leaned my back against the largest stalk, and feasted on the previous owner's snack as I spread out the content of the pouch before me. Mostly documents, along with a fountain pen, and the revolver. I predicted there wouldn't be matches of any sort, since the inside of the pouch didn't smell of tobacco. Of course, most tobacco is smuggled into the city along with the tea, therefore a suspicious habit for the rank and file Constabulary. Only the Commisioner's office had the lingering odor of pipe smoke. It looked like I wouldn't be building a fire tonight. Not that I needed one at the moment, nothing to cook and with the last few days of the Neath summer, the weather wasn't chilly at all. I unrolled the canvas and folded it upon itself on the ground enough times to qualify as a mattress. Still a bit long, I rolled the narrower end inwards to serve as a pillow. I lay down there, listening to the songs of the insects of the swamp I kept my revolver in my hand, and closed my eyes, wondering if the nightmares would find me under the thicket of fungi.

From the desk of Mr. Bloodwing

Author: David VC / Labels: , ,

FROM: M. BLOODWING
TO: ALL STAFF
DATE: 16 SEPTEMBER 189X
RE: REVISION OF NEATH LEXICON BY MR. PAGES


NO CONTRACTS SHALL BE WRITTEN USING WORDS INVENTED BY MR. PAGES WITHOUT PRIOR COMMITTEE REVIEW:
  • PER WORD
  • CHECK-LISTED FOR ALL GRAMMATICAL VARIATIONS
PENALTIES FOR UNAUTHORIZED USE:
  • FIRST VIOLATION - SEVERE
  • SECOND VIOLATION - REASSIGNMENT TO FILING ROOM (AS CABINETRY)
  • POSSESSION OF MR. PAGES DICTIONARY - REPATRIATION VIA MOLOCH STREET STATION FOR ESCALATION
REMINDER: NON-ASSIGNMENT ATTENDANCE OF THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS DISRESPECTFUL (OVERTLY OR SUBTEXTUAL) OF THE EMBASSY IS GROUNDS FOR REPRIMAND AND DEMERIT.

(signed) M. Bloodwing

Hanging about Ladybones

Author: David VC / Labels: , , , ,

Once upon a time there was a little girl with blonde pigtails. She was dressed in the nicest second-hand rags, complete with a bluish-gray cap. She was leaning against the modestly sturdy table, stacked far over her head with old serial novels set in an older, alien London - a London where a ball of flame lingered in the sky to return with unerring regularity in a futile attempt to clear the mists from the streets. A London that little Wren, nor any of the younger folk born of the Neath would ever know, or possibly even believe.

"It's for the money...it's for the money..." she whispered to herself as bony fingers reached around her, pulling leather straps and buckles just a little too tightly for her liking.

"Are you ready, Wren?" He hissed in a ragged whisper.

She rolled her eyes behind her round smoked glasses and nodded quickly. She grunted as the gaunt man with the sunken chest stacked layer after layer of newspapers into the wooden crate strapped to her back. She felt the straps bite through the motheaten layers of cloth. She wanted to scream in protest, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction. She'd survived worse. Much worse.

He enjoyed this far too much, she thought.

The man handed her back the slender cane and tin cup. She bent forward a bit to keep her balance, but not far enough where she'd lean on the cane which would surely snap under the extra load.

"There you go, my dear. And please remember it's Unexpurgated. London. Gazette."

"Yes Sir." she feigned a smile without turning her face up to him.

The man shuffled his way forwards through the stalagmites of stacked books and wrapped a skeletal hand around the doorknob. As the lock clicked open and the hinges creaked, he bowed with a condescending smile. She tapped her way out of the bookstore and down the rotting steps, into the bustling walkway of Ladybones Road and the eternal night of Fallen London. He sighed, looking out at the rows of ghostly green candles dancing in the stores all down the lane. He then remembered how miserable his soulless life truly was, and shut the door to go about filling some more invoices. Wren bent forwards (but not quite as far as the gait of her benefactor) from the weight of her cargo that seemed rediculously bulky for one her size, and huffed her way down the street.

"GAZETTE! *gasp* GET YOUR GAZETTE! UNEXASCERBATED!"

A well-dressed banker chuckled as he dropped a fragment of jade into the her cup and took a copy from the stack, his glove brushed against her pigtails.

"Thank you Sir!'

Wren stopped short of a row of merchant stalls and slipped her cane under her arm. She crouched and wriggled the crate down to the cobblestones with a thump, and stood and stretched.

An old woman's familiar voice greeted her. "Good mornin' Wren!" The girl held her palm open and felt a small bag of candied mushrooms (fresh and hot!) plop into it a soft hand still warm from and smelling strongly of candied mushrooms patted her cheek affectionately. She heard rustling as another paper was pulled from the crate.

"Good morning, Mrs. Tucker!" she replied with a smile. The candy-ladies were notoriously cheap, buying only one newspaper in the morning and passing it in sections amongst themselves. But they did buy up her remaining stock at the end of the day for a fraction of the price as wrapping for the next day's snacks. It was always enough to pay for the next stack of papers, with a bit to spare. The real payment, of course, was being allowed to overhear the secrets they traded with each other all day. Well, that and the steady supply of sweet mushrooms, or course.

"GAZETTE! Yum.." She chewed a bit more and swallowed, and rubbed her greasy fingers on her coarse shirt. "GET YOUR GAZETTE! THE UNSUBSTANTIATED GAZETTE!"

She always got peals of laughter from that line, and an extra clinks of rostygold and glim in her cup. At least once a day someone, usually another child with hand caught in the tight grip of a tense parent, would ask her if she was really blind. She'd quickly respond "Yep, the sorrow-spiders got me!" Does she live at Watchmaker's Hill? "Nope! Only men I'm told!" A few times the candy-ladies would hiss at men and call "Constable!" when someone lingered by her a little too long, especially if they started asking her vague questions.

Wren wiped the sugar granules off her face with her sleeve from another helping of mushrooms and rejoined the chorus of merchants who milled about Ladybones to enjoy the spectacle of Neath Justice.

"GAZETTE! GET YOUR GAZETTE! THE UNEXPLAINABLE GAZETTE!"

Wren couldn't see the condemned carried up to the gallows, but she heard their crimes rattled off by the Constables. She heard the cowardly ones screaming as they were carried up before the jeering of the crowd. Then the inveitable clank of the lever and the distinct snap beneath the creaking of the hinges of the trapdoor, followed by the collective gasp and applause. Wren tapped an adult with the side of her cane as she shook her finger. She could hear the flies even before she wrinkled her nose from the stench. "No rats please! They stain the papers!"

"Oh lookie here!" said one of the heavier ladies as she spun the paper back to the front page. "They had an airship crash, they did! A whole quiver o' broadarrows stuck in the mud!" She half laughed, half wheezed. "And that Mason was on it too! The one who..."

Wren felt eyes on her for a moment. Then they nodded to each other with exaggerated whisperes and hasty gestures. As one, they shuddered in disgust.

"Are we talkin' bout the doctor, or the honey-thief here?"

"The doctor! Who'd a known?"

"Are you sure there's two of them? I thought That Mason it was just one bloke!"

"Don' be stupid, Lydia! Oi seen 'em both! Th' doc named Darren gots 'andlebars, roit? Th' other one e' always shaives! Oi saw Marcus 'im in 'Amlet two weeks ago, 'usban took me t' th' dinner theatre fer out anniversary!"

"How was he?"

"E's a HOOT 'e is! Oi nebber loffed so 'ard in me loif!"

"I went to Doc Mason for me...me dropsy once, charmin' bloke up in the years but aged like a fine neath wine y'know...?" She giggled like a schoolgirl, adding a snort for good measure. "Could barely make out a word 'e says tho cos 'e talk so Yankee-like...'use vin-eh-gerrrrr!'" She snorted again, and cleared her throat after an awkward silence. "Too bad about Doctor Mason. It's always the straight ones who's crooked, eh wot?"

Wren kept tight-lipped, wisely not divulging that Marcus had taken her in as his own child after the Fisher Kings abandoned her. Not only was Marcus a talented artist, she would have said, but he's a very accomplished engineer who builds wonderful things to help releive people of excess money! He was especially proud of the gaslamp heart he built for her (with the help of his little furry friends) than Uncle Darien sewed up inside her with a ring of pretty red scars. She'd be permanently dead by now after that fall from the Flit! She was forever glad she couldn't remember being run through on her own fishing pole. Her pupils clouded after the operation, and people mistook them for cataracts, but oh she could still see, up close at least.

"Little Miss, does it have the latest weather report?" Asked Miss Ama.

"Yes'm, same as always." Wren reached down in the bottom of her box and handed Ama the special newspaper. As before, Ama handed her a small silk bag with a few moonpearls...which were wrapped in a rather large denomination of an Echo note. She slipped the sachel under her coat, smiling with the knowledge that she made enough from that one transaction to take the rest of the week off.

The gossip around her hushed as the hulking Clay Man plodded several steps behind Miss Ama. As always. He had an odor of heady dampness around him, like something freshly dug up from a swamp. Something about him made her heart speed up. She could see his massive shadow over the rim of her glasses. He was staring down at her! Could he hear her heart clicking? Could he tell she wasn't completely blind?

The Clay Man silently turned and continued in Miss Ama's footsteps. She and the ladies breathed a collective sigh of relief.

A bell rang from the gallows. "This concludes the proceedings for the day!" shouted the Constable. "We shall reconvene dispensation of Justice at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning! God save the Traitor Empress!"

Wren said her goodbyes to the ladies as she stuffed her day's wages (and an extra bag of sugared mushrooms) under her coat and strapped the now mercifully light crate to her back. She sang to herself in time with the tapping of her cane.

"The Starveling Cat! The Starveling Cat! Look what it did! To your nice new hat!"

She rattled her cup as she wandered back up Ladybones, and earned a few more rosty in her cup as she took the last few blocks home. Abruptly she collided into a man warned who with a concerned tone told her not to continue that way, saying there's some "grownup business" up ahead.

"Thank you Sir. I'll take the shortcut."

She twisted her way through the alleys, a derelict moved his leg so she wouldn't step on it. She heard a squeaking voice near her feet.

"Oi Wren! Howsyou? Whogotsomesugar? Prettypretty?"

She laughed and tossed the bag to the ground. She felt several furry bodies race over her shoes.

"Oi! Shareit!" "Mine!" "Mmmm!" "Tankee Wren!" "Oi Wren! Wegotchanudda capindabrick!"

Wren felt the rough decaying brick of the corner of the building, and delicate fingers pulled back a piece to pull a brass cylinder of hydrogen from the gap behind it.

"Thank you so much, guys!" She reached down to her shoes to pet the rattus fabers that circled her ankles and snuggled against her hand.

"Ahhhh, loveydovey!"

She continued, and heard the grumbling in front of the bookshop as she stopped to listen.

"Oh look, it's his daughter again."

She adjusted her glasses, peering over the edge. In the gaslight she made out three figures, and a still figure splayed out on the doorstep.

"Sorry kid," said the other man. "He lost at Kinfe-and-Candle again."

Wren pouted as she stepped forward and peered closely at him. She sighed. "Oh Father, you fell for the honey-trap again, didn't you?" One of the men coughed nervously.

"Ten rosty for you both to carry him upstairs for me?"

"Sure thing, love!"

The Expedition is Set

Author: Ama / Labels: , ,

Mr Bloodwing plucked the file from her hands as the juniors cleared the antechamber, "Ah, there you are, my Amarantis, and is this is what caused all the fuss?" Amanda brightened briefly at his nickname for her as he scanned the file, then he grunted, "No subtlety here, and such poor craftsmanship... still, even if they make it easy for us, no need in being careless," and the file flashed to flames in his hand, the ashes disintegrating before they reached the opulent Turkish carpets.

He looked up at the entrance of the Clay Man, "Ah, good timing - Ash will be your assistant in your next expedition, sweetling. Walk with me..." Mr Bloodwing escorted her through the Embassy to the front entrance, Ash falling in behind them. Mr Bloowing's arm was casually draped across her shoulders in a carelessly possessive manner, while she took notes on the reports he whispered to her on the way. Such was his usual fashion for similar situations. In the halls, it was harder for someone to have a listening post, and their postures did not invite a third to join in.

"The report came in while you were at the constable's office. His ship has gone down in Bigby's Marshes. Your usual kit will do, as you will have Ash with you. South of the Carnival would be a good place to start, since your father will likely be headed North. We will not be able to bring him straight back into town, as we need to let the rumor mill do its work and drop some scandalous hints about the solicitors behind his arrest. The sooner you get him to that swamp shack of his, the sooner we can spread the word that he left on his own to start the charity clinic."

With the end of the briefing, they had reached the front entrance, Ash holding the door open for them. Suddenly Mr Bloodwing was confronted with the distraction-of-the-moment. This season's flavour was Mademoiselle Jennette, a dancer who was not quite able to manage the innocence needed for the ingenue roles she looked young enough to fill. He patted his assistant on the shoulder, "Run along sweetling, you have work to do."

The actress gave Amanda such a look of poisonous gloating before turning dewy-eyed sweet under Mr Bloodwing's gaze, Amanda had difficulty keeping her face impassive, though she wanted to laugh at the sorry chit. Mr Bloodwing murmured sweetly, "Ah, mon petit chou! Comment allez-vous? Have you considered my offer to lighten your load, ma chere? You know your career will be much easier to pursue without that extra baggage. N'est-ce pas?"

Amanda chuckled inwardly, with a tinge of guilt. Though that girl was a poisonous social climber, the "extra baggage" Mr Bloodwing was offering to take from her was Mademoiselle Jennette's soul. She shivered slightly, then straightened her spine and began a purposeful march to her lodgings. If the girl was not careful, it was none of Amanda's affair. C'est la vie du Neath.

Meanwhile, in the halls of the Brass Embassy....

Author: Ama /

A young lady navigated the baroque and twisted halls of the Brass Embassy, her heels traced echoes off the black polished marble. She ignored the screams reverberating from behind the opulent doors in the next hallway as she clutched the folder tightly against her. She lifted her gaze to the the frescoes of imps gleefully torturing the damned on the vaulted ceiling as she passed the two young succubi from the secretarial pool gossiping in the corner. The two fell in a hush as she hurried by.

She knew she'd be the next subject of conjecture for an hour or two. As the result of endless taunts and worse for features being neither flawlessly devilish nor passably human in her youth, she'd come to expect the worst in all sentients. She smiled as approached room #413, and waited just outside as her mentor argued in his office with two junior devils.

"Listen you two," Bloodwing bellowed as he jabbed a black fingernail into an elongated stretch of parchment on his desk choked with lines of red ink, "I argued this clause for four days and four nights with an angel without pause in the Negev before either of you were conceived!"

Mister Bloodwing stood head-and shoulders over his visitors. He must have been quite annoyed to rise from his favorite chair, she thought. Like most devils, he wore fashions that were as striking as they were scandalous, at least for the souls outside the Embassy's majestic gates. His suit was charcoal black, with shining brass cufflinks ending in spikes that appeared ready for double duty for some more sinister purpose. His shirt beneath was as scarlet as his hair. The long flat necktie...the piece de resistance... was a surprising shade of deep, shimmering violet.

"And guess what?" he snarled as he leaned over the desk, laying his large yet supple hands on their shoulders. "I WON."

Bloodwing was proud of his luxuriant crimson hair, and tied it back while in the office. His face was pale as opposed to the pink complexion of most of the Embassy staff, not a lifeless pallor like the groaning Drowned that clogged the Stolen River, but the austere pale of a marble statue recovered from one of the more decadent reigns of Ancient Rome. Along with the curious outward twist of his horns, nearly twice the length of most devils his rank, it lead many in the Embassy to speculate he was the stock of vanquished royalty from some obscure infernal kingdom annexed before history from the far borders of what is present-day simply known as Hell.

The visitors gulped and nodded. One of them swallowed, and built up the courage to reply. "Yes Sir. We'll...we'll amend this and all future contracts accordingly."

Bloodwing withdrew his hands to cross them over his chest. "Resolved. And one more thing...

She could not hear the rest of the argument, but considering the incidents over the last week, she thought she knew what the topic could be... herself. Mr Bloodwing had a habit of letting juniors know that she was his protege, and insults to her were considered insults to him. It could be a dangerous stance in these halls, where blackmail and secrets were heavy coin in themselves.

Her superior had treated her oddly since she had been recruited for the Embassy. Many devils knew her to be an outsider, raised in the morals of London before the Neath. She had been a foundling, raised by a kind doctor who himself was a transplant to London. Mr Bloodwing treated her with an odd sort of kindness, a confusing attitude. Those who were not in their department assumed he was seducing her, the way he seemed to flirt with her. Indeed, there were tales of how some of his other proteges, her predecessors, had either gone on to be great courtesans or gone mad, sometimes both.

She sighed inwardly as the rumblings inside the office continued. No, Mr Bloodwing had never gone that route with her. She was relieved and puzzled, for she did feel affinity for him, but it was much as she felt for her adopted father.

She frowned, thinking of the contents of the folder she had... retrieved from the court records office. The charges against Father were false, blatantly so, to the point one could calculate the amount and distribution of the bribes in the testimony. She clutched the folder a little tighter as the noises inside her mentor's office indicated the interview was concluding.