Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Audience Adventure 2 - Chapters 33 & 34

Chapter 33

There was absolute silence from the Tingions huddled around the motionless bodies. Only the wind rustling the leaves of the hedgetop could be heard. As it picked up strength, Marine could hear a gentle whistling of wind through branches. She shuddered and her eyes stung from tiredness and the tears building up behind them. Mortglade couldn’t be gone. She just couldn’t be.

Marine turned away in desolation and moved towards the hole in the hedge. She wanted to stand by the river and look at all the water rushing past and try not to think about who was to blame. She knew, deep down, she would decide it was herself. As she stepped towards the gap in the hedge a hand caught her arm. She looked up to see Briar looking sadly at her.

‘Don’t touch me,’ Marine snapped, shaking off Briar’s hand, ‘Let me go.’

Briar’s face hardened and Marine suddenly felt childish and petty. ‘We need to move the bodies.’ Briar said coldly, ‘Before they attract rats or bigger predators.’

‘Let someone else do it,’ Marine said faintly, her stomach had lurched at the thought of touching Mortglade and not having life pulse beneath the older Tingion’s skin. ‘I can’t do it.’ She was barely audible now, staring at the ground beneath her feet.

‘You have to,’ Briar said, more gently than before, ‘There aren’t enough of us to do it without you. Come on, it’s important. It’s for them as much as us.’

Marine sagged, and then turned on her heels to face her dead friends again. Ezria was still crouched by the still forms on the dry mud. Marine could see silent tears edging down her stony face as she stroked Eleff’s face. Even in death Eleff looked gentle.

Eengo and Joshish had prepared two stretchers from branches and springy twigs. They were lined with leaves and looked beautiful. Sadly beautiful. Marine moved towards the little huddle of Tingions.

‘We will wrap them in these oiled cloths,’ Sinfire explained, ‘It will cover their scent so they don’t attract anything that would pester them. Then it’s up to you, we can bury them, we can secure them up in the hedge until you can take them back below ground or we can send them down the river as is our custom.’

All eyes were on Ezria to decide. She looked down at her fallen comrades and then back up to Sinfire, ‘We will send them down river. They died in combat. Their families will not expect them home.’ Her voice was cracked and straining with a higher pitch than usual. Marine could feel the emotion bursting at Ezria’s seams.

‘Ok,’ Sinfire said gently, ‘We will start with Mortglade. Marine, Kurann, Mulling, gently lift this side of her so I can place the cloth underneath.’

The three Tingions crouched as commanded by the side of Mortglade. Marine was near her head and she placed her hands on Mortglade’s head and shoulder, ready to roll her gently as Mulling and Kurann moved her waist and legs. As Marine’s hands made contact with Mortglade’s head Marine let out a shudder and she saw Mulling and Kurann pull their hands off Mortglade as if they’d been burnt.

‘What is it?’ Asked Ezria, looking at Kurann.

‘I don’t know. It’s like, it’s like her skin snapped at me.’ Said Kurann, puzzled, looking down at Mortglade. Ezria’s eyes flicked to Marine.

‘Did you feel it too?’

Marine shook her head. She had felt a curious sucking, pulsing feeling from her fingers. She leant forward and reached for Mortglade again.

‘Careful!’ Half whispered Kurann, his eyes wide with fear. Marine ignored him and gently placed the palm of her hand on Mortglade’s cheek. She felt energy rushing through her skin and into Mortglade. Her head felt fizzy and cold, bigger than it should be for her skin and alive with energy. She watched as her hand seemed to turn a strange blueish hue. Her chest felt constricted and tight, and her vision shrunk until it was two tight pools of sight with a dark black, fuzzy frame around the edges.

Her head felt spikey and heavy, as if her skull had got harder and tighter around her brain. Just as Marine felt like she could take no more she saw Mortglade’s eyes snap open and a great gasping, raspy breath of air shot into her throat on its way to panicked lungs.

Mortglade’s eyes were looking about wildly, her arms starting to twitch and flail. Marine could feel more of her own energy pounding into Mortglade, and she willed Mortglade to sit up. Marine forced life and energy into Mortglade and laughed aloud as she saw Mortglade smile and a single tear escape from one eye.

Eventually, Marine pulled her hand away, feeling the blood pumping in her ears. She remembered the other Tingions in the hedge and looked up to see them all looking aghast from her to Mortglade and back again.

‘I guess I’m back.’ Mortglade said quietly, and a laughing sob escaped Marine’s lips.

‘What was that?’ Said Sinfire, suspiciously, but Marine wasn’t paying her any attention. She darted over to where Eleff lay on the floor and pressed a hand onto either side of Eleff’s cheeks. She could feel the sucking sensation but nowhere near the intensity it had been on Mortglade.

‘Come on,’ she muttered, ‘You have to want it too, Eleff. You have to want to come back. Come on.’ She forced the thoughts and words forward towards Eleff, willing her to hear them - pushing her to want to come back. The chill crept up her wrists and she felt the energy find it’s routes down her arm and out across the flat wide surface of her palms. She pushed with all her might, not feeling the same acceptance from Eleff’s body but not accepting the no she was offered. Marine willed and wheedled, pumping as hard she could through these veins of spirit she didn’t know she had.

Marine focused her eyes on Eleff’s, ‘See the stars again Eleff,’ she whispered, ‘If you just open your eyes again and see the night sky through the leaves you’ll remember all the things you loved and you’ll fight with me to get you back here.’

Eleff’s eyes flickered open and Marine felt the energy run out of her faster, a more regular, pumping now - leaching into Eleff. ‘Come on, come on.’ Marine could hear her voice saying as she felt sweat trickling down her face.

‘Marine stop.’ It was Briar’s voice, at her ear, ‘Marine! Marine stop!’

She could hear them as if they were far away but she ignored the call. She couldn’t stop now, she could see Eleff’s face twitching and moving and waking up. She could feel warmth developing beneath her fingers. If she stopped now, Eleff would slip away again - she wasn’t strong enough yet. Not to stay on her own.

‘Marine, can you hear us?’ Kurann’s voice now, worried and warm. Of course she could hear them, Marine thought irritably, she was right here - but she was busy. Could they not see what she was doing.

Marine looked back at Eleff’s face and then realised she couldn’t actually see it. She could see a faded, fluffy memory of Eleff’s face against a swirling black vortex. She blinked and tried to focus but there was nothing she could do to bring her eyes back to the real world. Marine tried to wrench her hand off Eleff’s face but it felt glued to its position, as if squelching sucking mud held it there.

She tried to focus on her knees on the mud, to keep herself grounded but she realised she couldn’t feel anythign around her except the contact of her hands on Eleff’s skin. She couldn’t feel anything, couldn’t see, couldn’t think. Didn’t really want to think anyway. Marine’s hands fell to her side and she accepted this new state of nothing. 

Chapter 34

The City was too quiet. Vanweer had been expecting relative peace, she had chosen to sneak the 1st Battalion back in significantly before 1st Beats so that there wouldn’t be any Tingions out in the streets. This was even quieter than she had expected though, although it was hard to put one of her many fingers on exactly why. Silence was silence, wasn’t it? Well, not if you were seasoned in military and treachery. Not if you were used to reading every pause and silence in a conversation and learning how to turn them to your advantage. Vanweer was trained in exactly that. A lifetime of climbing and manipulating gave her instincts beyond most Tingion’s understanding.

The 1st Battalions’ boots crunched gently on the hardened, flattened pathways through the city. The centre of the City was laid out in obvious straight lines that crisscrossed each other in perfect order, making navigation easy and traffic unlikely on the small carts Tingions used when they couldn’t travel on foot. Vanweer tried to listen beyond the boots - tried to work out what it was that was leaving her unsettled.

She didn’t like feeling ill at ease in her own city. She had worked too hard to run it to feel like she could be in danger here. The boots crunched, the air lay gently, faint snores could be heard from residential homes. Everything was as it should be… and yet.

Vanweer held up a hand at the front of the column and they stopped in unison. She allowed herself a grin at the formidable obedience. Their prisoners were bound and gagged and being carried aloft by the 1st so that they couldn’t even stamp their feet in protest and attract the attention of the civilians. Not that it would have mattered if they had, Vanweer grinned, she would simply explain that they were Topsiders - evil Topsiders coming below to infiltrate the City now that they’d finally come to their senses and realised that life above was too hard.

Vanweer paused, sensing the air - listening for anything that might explain her sense of unease. There was nothing. She signalled the 1st batallion to proceed with a small wave of her hand and they began to trot forward again. They were heading back to Vanweer’s office - her message should have got back to Talaglashi by now, and with any luck they were already plunging headlong down below ground to retrieve their stolen allies. When they came below, Vanweer would be ready and the stone would be returned.

She thought of the stones she had already retrieved - stored as they were deep, deep below the city in the coldest mud. One by one she had spirited them away - always using a different Captain, a different troupe and always disposing carefully of the Captains after they had completed their tasks. Then it was no trouble to pretend the stones hadn’t been what they needed after all and have them swiftly removed to her secret storage facility.

She didn’t know how exactly to make them do what she wanted - but she could sense their power. She had heard the stories and seen the might of the Topsiders and the stones were connected. They pulsed with life, with enthusiasm for power. Vanweer wanted them. Once she had them all safely stowed it wouldn’t matter if it took her entire lifetime to work them out; they would be hers. She could take her time, safe in the knowledge that no Tingion under the earth knew she had them, and without the stones anywhere else there was barely a chance anyone else could be powerful enough to take them from her.

They were nearing her office now, and she began to relax slightly as the usual guards nodded their hellos to her. In and out before most of the City even knew she had gone.

“In the holding cells.” Vanweer nodded curtly to the 1st Battalion Captain, who understood her instruction perfectly and led the line of soldiers, still carrying their captives, round the side of the building and towards the training door. Vanweer continued along the silent street towards the front of the building and the main door.

As she neared it, she saw a lone figure outside the door. Vanweer squinted, wishing her eyes were a few ages earlier than they were. She couldn’t make it out, but a sigh of disgust escaped her lips as she noticed the figure was hopping from foot to foot nervously and could therefore only be Mavis. Vanweer straightened herself, ready to reduce her mini assistant to tears with a scathing rebuke for being out before First Beats and wasting time dancing about in the streets when there was work to be done.

Why was Mavis in the street? Vanweer asked herself. Suddenly the alarms clamouring in her nerves had a focal point. This wasn’t right. Vanweer looked about her, from left to right and suddenly there was a shout.


Soldiers burst out of doors in front of her to her left and right, but, she realised with lightning speed, she had obviously began to look suspicious slightly too early for the trap laid for her and she wasn’t surrounded. Soldiers were pouring onto the street ahead of her and she turned and fled - slipping down a street to the right and diving left and right on subsequent turns leaving no indication for her pursuers where she was going.

Mavis had turned! Vanweer thought angrily, imagining squashing the impudent Tingion’s skull beneath her boot. There would be hell to pay for her insubordination, Vanweer swore. She ran hard and purposefully - aiming for the outskirts of the City where the streets became twistier and windier and she had more chance of finding an alleyway or a rat run to slip down and hide in. She could hear booted footsteps behind her and she cursed her own arrogance at letting the 1st Battalion leave her side before she knew she was entirely safe.

She looked up, trying to take in her surroundings and then realised she was on the street from where she had personally taken custody of Skylorn’s family. Perfect, she thought through a burning breath, she would hide in their house. As they weren’t using it.


Do Aysmar and Mavis…

  1. Seal off the City
  2. Immediately go above ground
  3. Search the houses for Vanweer
  4. Send a messenger up to the Topsiders but stay firm

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Audience Adventure 2 - Chapters 30-32

 Chapter 30

Aysmar followed Vanweer up the corridor and Mavis paused to unlock the heavy door and let them both in to Vanweer’s abandoned office.

“She didn’t even tell you where she was going?” Aysmar was astonished, she’d never seen her mother do a thing without first screaming at the timid Tingion who had been her assistant since she joined the military.

“No!” Mavis squeaked, looking up with wide eyes at Aysmar. “I made root brew, set it on her desk -“ Mavis stopped to indicate the cup of stone cold root brew still sitting squarely in front of Vanweer’s chair. “And usually, I put it in when I get the nod from the reception that she’s coming in to the building - then I scarper because she… well, she can be a little less patient in the mornings before she’s had it. Any earlier than that and it’s too cold by the time she gets to it and she doesn’t like that either. But if I time it just right then… well, anyway. So I did that and I left it on her desk and then I went to my cubby.”

Mavis poked her head out of the door and indicated to Aysmar a little notch in the wall where a Tingion could just about fit in to work. Aysmar was appalled. She’d never given it much thought but had just always assumed that Mavis had her own office down the corridor - she’d never noticed this tiny little nook.

“And she never showed up?” Aysmar wandered back into the office, but if she was hoping for clues as to what Vanweer was up to she was a fool.

“No! Never turned up. No messages or anything. It took me a while to notice, and then after 3rd Beats I realised she hadn’t shouted at me and I’d actually got through everything I needed to do so I popped my head in to see where she was. She wasn’t here. I went to her house, and she wasn’t there either. Neither… neither was Alliette. I’m sorry. But, listen, you should know Alliette was being well looked after. Much better than. Well, she was being well looked after.”

Aysmar nodded, trying to think quickly and clearly. Trying to think like Ezria. “Are the Skylorn’s being kept here?”

Mavis nodded, “Well, they were. They’re gone too.”

“Damn.” Aysmar smacked a fist into the desk and the cold root brew jumped under the vibrations.

“She has been awfully difficult to work with recently.” Mavis said quietly, and then squeaked at her own bravery: looking around the office as if she expected Vanweer to leap out of a shelf and smack her at any moment.

“Recently?” Aysmar snorted and Mavis let out a yelp of laughter and then quickly covered her mouth with a hand.

“Where would she have gone?” Mavis whispered and Aysmar eyed her cautiously. The tiny Tingion looked like she barely ate, and like she slept less than she ate.

“I don’t know.” Aysmar admitted, “I assume she’s looking for the stone she sent me to retrieve?” Aysmar let that settle on Mavis, trying to gauge her reaction.

“Yes, yes! She has been rather fixated on the stones project. It’s taken precedent over everything else. I’ve so much paperwork stacked up that she won’t even look at.” Mavis sighed and Aysmar smiled fondly at her.

“Do you like working for her?” Aysmar asked, catching Mavis off guard. Mavis turned an intense crimson and her mouth fell open as she hopped from foot to foot staring in bewilderment at Aysmar.

“What a question! What a question!” She stammered, “It is the honour of my life to be working… I think she is a magnificent… you can’t ask me a question like that!”

Aysmar laughed, feeling relaxed for the first time since Alliette had been removed from their house. Vanweer might be on a mission to become all powerful but she was already all hated.

“It’s alright Mavis, she’s my mother. There’s nothing she’s done to you that she hasn’t been doing to me since I was born. She’s a loathsome witch and a bully. I can’t believe you’ve put up with her as long as you have.”

Mavis looked astounded. She actually span around on the spot as though waiting to be clapped in irons and carted away to prison at a moment’s notice. She snorted, and then muttered under her breath and then began to laugh.

“So, who is in charge with Vanweer having abandoned her post?” Aysmar asked, sitting down in her mother’s seat and staring at the minute Tingion before her. Mavis nodded, and seemed oddly more comfortable with having someone in charge and in Vanweer’s chair.

“Protocol is… protocol is unclear, she had changed a few of the… er, smaller subsections during her tenure. And, as she’s not resigned or been killed it’s not, um, absolutely crystal in her… I don’t know.” Mavis ran out of steam and simply looked at Aysmar.

“I think you said she mentioned that she would want me to cover for her if she needed to take some emergency time out for personal issues didn’t she?” Aysmar asked, arching an eyebrow. Mavis broke into a wide smile, and then a frown, and then a grin again.

“She certainly, well, she certainly saw you as her second in command. I will see if I can dig out the paperwork… but, it might take me a while, and we… we oughtn’t to leave the city without… without a guard if we can help it…?” Mavis winked in what she thought was a very conspiratorial manner, but which actually involved the entire side of her face screwing up and stretching out again. Aysmar laughed.

“You’re absolutely right, Mavis. See if you can dig out that paperwork, but firstly - I need you to alert the 2nd, 4th and 5th battalions and tell them to be ready to march Topside. The 3rd need to take over duties in the city, along with the 6th through 10th. Can you do that?”

Mavis nodded, delighted to have the chain of command reinstated. She ducked out of Vanweer’s office, leaving Aysmar swinging in the big chair.

Chapter 31

Marine couldn’t get her head around the range of noises Topside. They had been walking for so long her legs felt wobbly and weak. Her neck was twitchy from where she kept turning to try and spot little noises - birds tweeting or invisible threats rustling were all around her and no matter how much she tried to tell herself that the Topsiders existed up here happily and safely, she couldn’t relax.

There were 8 of them, trekking around the edges of the field and meeting with each of the 12 families. Marine, Kurann and Briar were joined by Eengo, Mulling, Joshish, Ezria and Sinfire.

Marine was walking with Kurann at her side, she hadn’t spoken to Briar since they had left the hedge, despite them trying their best to make amends and speak to her. She was tired - overwhelming tired, the sort of brain and body tired that made her wonder if she would ever fully recover. Even if she could get home and relax for a few days to mend her aching limbs, the world had now been blasted so wide open by everything she now knew that she didn’t think she’d be able to relax again. How could she go back to her trusting way of life, assuming everything would be ok and that she was generally safe?

They had already met with eight of the twelve families and met with no resistance at the idea of uniting to take on Vanweer. Sinfire seemed to know the leaders of each group intimately and they were all struggling with adjusting to life without the security of the stones.

Marine could feel her stone, or the stone she had come to think of as hers, back again in physical form in her pocket. She felt guilty every time she looked at the Topside Tingions who clearly felt so personally possessive of the stones. It wasn’t hers really, should she tell Sinfire she had it? Should she give it back? She knew she didn’t want to.

Marine glanced over at Briar wondering what they had told Sinfire about the stone. Had they mentioned to their mother that Ezria or Marine had a stone? Had they realised that Marine had lied to Aysmar and she did have the stone? If they had said anything to anyone then there had been no repercussions as yet.

This was the kind of confusing mess she wasn’t used to, Marine thought as she mutely greeted the next Topside family and settled down for a greatly appreciated cup of root brew and a bite to eat. She barely listened as Sinfire began the same speech she had used at the last eight meetings. Marine wasn’t used to having so many complications jostling for space within her skull. Her physically exciting feelings for Briar seemed stubbornly unwilling to disappear, despite her mind being furious with them for everything they had put her through. But then her treacherous brain offered solutions for Briar’s behaviour - they weren’t in charge, were they? What choice did they have? Didn’t Briar have an equal right to be angry at Marine for holding on to the stone when it clearly belonged Topside and to a different way of life?

She couldn’t stop thinking about her parents below ground locked up in some cell or other in Vanweer’s offices. Her feet twitched occasionally, as the impulse to make her way back to them and try to free them took over her muscles. Her mind would weigh in again, reminding her that she was attempting to free her parents by uniting the families and taking on Vanweer. It was all the same intentions but just a different plan. Life had been simpler when she didn’t have this many options.

The meeting was over and she got up with the other Tingions, bowing politely in thanks for the hospitality and leaving the hedge gap to carry on with the walk. As she left the hedge and looked at the size of the world, she wondered if she would give this up to go back to having fewer options? She shook her head, giving in to that exhaustion again. Her hand dipped in to her pocket and touched the stone. It felt warm and familiar against her skin.

Kurann came up beside her, “You ok?” He asked gently, and Marine was relived at his presence. She glanced up at the back of Briar’s head as they led the way.

“Tired.” She said, “3 to go, is that right?”

“Yep, not much more now.”

“Just back again afterwards.” Marine laughed.

“How do she know where to find them? I thought they moved around a lot?” Kurann asked, with mild curiosity in his voice. Marine paused, she didn’t know.

“Something to do with the stones?” She posited.

“Maybe.” Kurann considered, “I wish we knew what they wanted with the stones.”

“What do you mean? They’re theirs?” Marine looked at Kurann’s worried face.

“Well, yeah - but what are they for? Are the Topsiders magic when the stones are all here? What if we deliver the stones back from Vanweer to them and then find ourselves invaded by Topsiders?”

“They never did that before when they had them?” Marine felt a tingling of anticipation in her stomach, she wanted to talk to Ezria - to see if she knew what the Topsiders were capable of with all the stones.

The final three meetings with the families went as smoothly as the first nine. Marine was almost a little disappointed that there wasn’t some action, and then reminded herself how incredibly terrifying “action” had been any time she had encountered it so far. It wasn’t the story time excitement she had always felt when imagining it. She pictured the cold water of the river and the terrified look on Briar’s face as Aysmar had held the knife up to their throat. As she thought of it, Briar turned to look over their shoulder and back at Marine from their position at the front of the party. Briar smiled sadly, and Marine couldn’t stop herself smiling sadly back.

Chapter 32

The light was fading by the time the little party found itself near the hedge. The evening was warm and quiet and they were quiet but content with the success of the mission. All twelve families were in agreement that they needed to do something about Vanweer. The disappearance of the stones from the Topside had been gradual, and each time one had vanished they had learned to cope without it - but all were in agreement that it couldn’t go on any longer.

“It’s quiet,” Ezria said, in a low voice and Marine smiled - enjoying the peace that seemed to come with this time of day Topside.

“I agree.” Sinfire growled back, “Too quiet.”

The smile vanished from Marine’s face.

“Where is everyone?” Briar asked in alarm, joining Sinfire at the front of the party, “We should be able to hear cooking and movement.” Marine looked at the Topsiders; they all looked worried. She shared a glance with Kurann who tried to smile reassuringly but it fell short of warming the air between them by some way.

“In line.” Sinfire whispered, “Heads down.” The Topsiders fell into single file behind Sinfire and the City Tingions joined the line at the back - not needing to crouch to keep their heads at the same level as the Topsiders. Marine felt her stomach roiling. Perhaps they had just decided to have an early night in the hedge? She tried to tell herself but not even part of her was falling for that reasoning.

They crept closer to the hedge - every rustling leaf under foot cracking louder in Marine’s nervous ears. The base seemed abandoned - there was no denying something was wrong now. Strained her eyes to see if any of the torches or fires were lit within the hedge - anything glowing just to give her a slight hope that a positive situation could be readable from this. There was nothing.

The silent line crept closer and closer until they were only a foot away from the entrance to the hedge. Sinfire held up a hand to tell the troupe to pause and they shrank silently into stillness. Sinfire and Briar crept forward, barely wobbling a blade of grass and they snuck up to the mouth of the hedge camp. Marine could just about make out their outlines in the dimming light. The change in light was hard to get used to up here: down below ground it was either lamps on or lamps off. Nothing else. Here, the light mixed and mingled and the colours washed in and out of the world. So many colours and it was a shame when they were gone. Marine hoped the morning would always bring them back. In many ways the light was much easier to use to know the progression of the day than waiting for beats. She liked it. But not right now when she wanted her eyes to be sharp and focused. She heard a gasp from Sinfire and Ezria, who had been crouched next to her broke into a run. Marine followed before she’d even considered whether or not she should.

She sprinted the few paces between her hiding place and the mouth of the hedge camp and then skidded to a halt by Ezria’s side. The hedge was abandoned save for two figures. There was chaos: broken twigs and shredded leaves, upended cooking pots and shells and the smashed detritus of a former home turned battle ground. Marine looked around dismayed and then her eyes pulled back to the two figures in the middle of the seating circle.

Eleff lay motionless with glassy eyes staring out at the dwindling daylight although, there was no chance they saw it. Her skin was red and mottled with dried blood and fading bruises. By her side, panting shallowly and being cradled by Sinfire was Mortglade. Ezria and Marine dashed forward at once to be by her side.

“Mortglade!” Ezria breathed.

“My Captain,” said Mortglade, her breathing sounding bubbly and her voice hoarse, “I’m so sorry we couldn’t hold them off.”

“Who did this?” Sinfire growled, looking at the decimation of her home and the murder of her guests.

“Vanweer, of course.” Mortglade half chuckled, “She turned up with the First Battallion looking for the stone. We tried to hold her off… but…” a gurgling cough cut off Mortglade’s sentence and Ezria stroked her damp hair. Marine felt hot tears prickling in her eyes. There was no way the few people at the hedge could have held off an entire batallion, let alone the first battalion - the most intensely trained Tingions in the city.

“Where are the others?” Asked Ezria, and Marine could see her eyes trying to avoid the lifeless form of Eleff. No one wanted to look at the pale face lying at a twisted angle on the ground.

“She took them. They are with her. She left us… me, here as a message. She did… she tried to get information out of us about the stone. She seems to have lost it, she thinks we have it. She really thought we’d know where it was.” Marine felt heavy, oil hot bubbling shame and guilt writhing through her veins as she thought of Vanweer torturing her friends to get information about a stone they knew nothing of, but that was sheltered in her pocket where she enjoyed the might of its power. Her throat felt tight and encased in dry mud.

“Don’t worry about the stone now, the old bitch has mislaid it and forgotten.” Ezria soothed and Mortglade chuckled faintly, “We just have to focus on healing you up. Where is the worst of it? Sinfire, what medical supplies do you have?”

Mortglade’s laugh gained in strength, “Don’t be daft, Talaglashi. You can hear this bubbling in my lungs same as me. She’s kicked me hard enough that there’s no willow bark to be found that will help. Don’t be daft.” She repeated herself gently, stroking Ezria’s hand as though it were her comforting Ezria and not the other way round.

“Did she say where she was going?” Sinfire asked, peering into Mortglade’s clouding eyes; her voice remaining gentle despite the urgency of her question.

“Back below.” Said Mortglade, “She’ll have it out on her terms.”

Sinfire looked pale and drawn; would the 12 families follow her beneath ground? There was a wet noise and Mortglade’s eyes closed. Her head lolled in towards Ezria’s breast and there was a silence within the hedgerow.


What do they do next?

  1. Move the bodies
  2. Go back round the families
  3. Wait for the families as planned
  4. Go straight below ground

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Audience Adventure 2 - Day 29

 Chapter 29

Aysmar left the hedge with a sense of dread settled deep in her throat. The ends of her fingers tingles with anticipation and she wished she could tell her heart to slow. It was if all the training she had done over the years was for nothing now she was on her way to Vanweer. She felt like nothing alone. Let alone a mole, who was acting as a mole. Would Vanweer see straight through her that she was on the side of Ezria and the others?

She found the tunnel back to the city and made her way slowly and cautiously, looking for any sign of troops or Vanweer’s spies. The tunnel was empty, but Aysmar told herself that was normal: the average Tingion never went topside their entire life so it would be odd to bump into anyone coming the other way. If she were to meet with one of Vanweer’s guards then she had her official seal to wave and be on her way.

The tunnel slowly stopped slowly and she felt herself moving along flat ground - she must be nearby, and then she began to see the stronger light of the city glow lamps at the end of the tunnel up ahead.

Aysmar poked her head out of the tunnel first to get the lay of her surroundings. She had known roughly where she would come out in the City and she looked at the guard box and nodded to the soldier guarding. They barely exchanged a word as she flashed Vanweer’s personal seal to her and moved through unbothered by beaureacracy. The guard seemed oddly lax, Aysmar thought and made a note to mention it to Vanweer, and then another note to not mention it to Vanweer when she remembered which side she was now on. Still, it annoyed her sense of professionalism to have a guard so distracted at dealing with Tingions coming in below ground. No wonder those Topsiders had felt so confident abuot kidnapping them from the Cavern without facing any issues if this is what they were used to facing when they came into the City.

She made her way unchallenged to the building that contained Vanweer’s office deep inside its formal walls. Something was wrong though, she noticed when she got within observing distance of the building. The incredible strictness with which the official guards usually handled themselves was missing and there seemed to be a loud argument going on in the reception foyer between a high up Captain Aysmar recognised and someone she didn’t.

She flashed her seal to the guard on the gate who let her through and then went back to watching the argument whilst pretending not to. Aysmar made her way up the steps and into the foyer.

“It should be me!” Bellowed the Captain that Aysmar didn’t recognise. The other one buffed up his cheeks and laughed heartily.

“You’re being unreasonable!” He screeched back, offering the highest insult in Tingion society. No Tingion should be caught being anything less than 90% reasonable if they could at all help it.

Aysmar politely ignored the argument and turned to the receptionist who wore an exhausted looking face.

“I’m here to see Vanweer.” Said Aysmar quietly, trying not to let the argument throw her off. The receptionist looked confusedly from Aysmar to the seal and back again.

“Haven’t you heard?” They asked, and Aysmar went cold.

“Heard what?” She asked, unable to think of anything else that she could say.

“She’s not here.” Said the receptionist, indicating the raging argument behind Aysmar that had now escalated to the Captain she thought might be Captain Renhide calling the other one “illogical” and receiving a rap with a walking stick for his trouble.

“Where is she?” Aysmar asked, panic creeping in. This couldn’t be good.

“No one knows.” Said a small voice, and Aysmar turned round to see Vanweer’s brow beaten assistant Mavis standing looking petrified in the foyer. “She was here, and then she wasn’t. She left no instructions. No messages. Nothing. It’s been… it’s been very difficult.” Aysmar read between the lines at the scale of this underestimation. “I rather wondered, I rather wondered if you would be the one who knew where she was… but now I see you are back and you don’t know either. Oh dear.” Aysmar thought Mavis might cry.

“What about her p- er, guests?” Aysmar asked, her heart beating wildly in her chest.

“Gone too.” Said Mavis, wringing two of her hands and running the other through her hair desperately.

“And she said nothing? No information at all? Is anything else gone?”

Mavis’ large eyes seemed to be trembling along with the rest of her body, “The first batallion.” She said.

Van Weer breathed in the topside air and sighed. She had missed the sky, and it was beautiful. She pulled herself out of the hole and beckoned to the First Commando to follow her quietly.


Has she had enough?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Audience Adventure 2 - Day 28

 Chapter 28

Aysmar stopped walking at the entrance to the hedge dwelling and stood looking expectantly at the stony faced line of Tingions before her. Ezria had her arms folded and her eyes were like granite. Aysmar felt her emotions intensely in her throat and she tried to swallow them down to prevent embarrassment from tears. The heat she felt over betraying Ezria was an intense stabbing pain in her forehead. If she didn’t concentrate solely on Alliette in the clutches of Vanweer then she would lose all the strands of logic that had made her do it.

Kurann and Marine stood to either side of Ezria, like loyal foot soldiers. Which, Aysmar supposed, they were. More loyal than her. But what choice had she had? She owed her loyalty to her wife above her commando any day. Perhaps, she realised with sudden clarity, she had been in the wrong job then - but it was too late for thoughts like that now. Now she was stood topside staring at her former boss and closest confidante who was supported by her new protege, and a man she used to call a friend. Aysmar felt the world shift beneath her feet. She hung her head.

Her eyes filled with unwanted tears and the mud blurred beneath her feet. She was so sick of worrying, there hadn’t been a moment for over a week now when she hadn’t been churned up inside and strung out to the end of her last nerves. Her ears were ringing from the intensity of keeping the sobs in her stricken throat. And then there were arms around her, strong arms and a gentle hushing noise close to her ear. She sagged into the Tingion holding her and let herself cry, letting it come in waves and full juddering exertions. She felt like the anger and sadness and uncertainty had built to un unsustainable level in her head and this was the only way she could get them out.

“I’m so sorry.” She stuttered through the tears, and a hand rubbed slowly up and down her back.

“It’s ok,” Ezria said back, soothing Aysmar as best she could, “I understand. She’s your wife. I would be worried about you if you hadn’t done everything you could. I just wish you had known you could trust me.”

If Ezria had thought those words would stop Aysmar’s tears she was hugely mistaken. The intensity ramped up again and Aysmar was awash with regret and terror of the future. “She won’t stop until she has the stone.” She gasped, unable to see a way things would work out safely.

“If she won’t stop, then we will just have to do it for her.” Ezria said calmly, “But we will need your help.”

Ezria stood patiently and waited for the all encompassing sobs to subside from Aysmar.

Marine watched the scene with a lump in her throat. She wanted to be angry with Aysmar for betraying them, but she kept finding all her anger was aimed at herself. Had she betrayed her parents by not immediately rescuing them and appeasing Vanweer? In her head, she was sure working for Vanweer could only spell even worse disaster in the long run. It’s not like she was going to leave them to rot - the plan was to sort out the Vanweer problem, but just from the outside. But looking at Aysmar, she wondered if there was something wrong with her that she didn’t feel that pull? But then again, her thoughts corrected her, they are your parents; not your partner. Perhaps she would have acted differently had it been a lover she had been robbed of. Her eyes shifted unconsciously to Briar, and then she adamantly looked at her feet; determined not to feel the electricity she felt for them. She was furious about their intentions, and angry and guilty about her actions in rescuing Briar from Ezria. If she’d just let Ezria carry on they could still be below ground right now, working on getting her parents free. Instead, she’d been so carelessly distracted by the excitement of the Topside and of Briar’s intoxicating vitality. What had she been thinking? The trip down the river and subsequent conversation on the river bank had been the wake up call she needed.

Aysmar was nodding and sniffing at Ezria and Ezria held a finger under Aysmar’s chin to lift it to look into her eyes. “You always had my trust.” She whispered.

“But…” Aysmar began, her face shining damply.

“I know. I know what you were doing. But, I have to trust that I am not wrong and then when it came to it, you would have done the right thing. Luckily, we will never have to find out because we are here now and I have you back, and Aysmar, you have my trust.” Ezria held Aysmar’s gaze and stood firm.

Marine tried to concentrate on Aysmar’s aura to see how confused it felt, but she couldn’t access it. There was some sort of vague propulsion coming out from the two of them and she found them both unreadable. She tried to concentrate harder but there was nothing appearing. She wondered if this meant the stone was actually gone from her pocket? Or perhaps, she was just a lot further off mastering it than she’d hoped. It had always worked best when she was desperate and had no other options.

Ezria’s voice broke into Marine’s thoughts, “Let’s convene with Sinfire. Come on.”

The little group followed her into the hedge dwelling where Sinfire was seated in the circle with a few other Tingions, including the raiders they had met in the Cavern.

“Thank you for joining us Briar. Late night?” Sinfire raised an eyebrow and Marine felt a little tinge of pleasure at Briar’s discomfort. Serves you right, she thought. For kidnapping me AND nearly drowning me. They settled themselves into the gaps in the circle and looked expectantly at Sinfire and Ezria. Ezria began.

“You have not all met Aysmar,” she said quietly, indicating the silent, puffy eyed Aysmar “she is my lieutenant and has been at my side for years. She is also completely trusted by Vanweer who believes her to be working for the government. Our plan, is to send her below to tell Vanweer we have the stone and are planning to keep it above ground. If she wants it, she will need to come and get it. Fingers crossed we can lure her up here where, with your help, we have the advantage and can put a stop to her before she has all the stones.”

Ezria fell silent and Sinfire picked up where she left off, “We will put out the call to the 12 Field Families and unite. They will be anxious to have an end to this and have the stones restored. If Aysmar can string the time out below ground then we should have some time to get into formation here and prepare for an invasion. Vanweer will think she is being led to us defenceless and then we spring the trap. We will be lying in wait, with hopefully greater numbers. Once Vanweer is subdued we can find out where the other stones have been removed to and they can come back. I don’t need to tell you how much those stones mean for our survival.”

The Topsiders were all nodding vehemently around the circle and Marine was hoping Sinfire would elaborate for them but she didn’t.

“We will need to send you with a message Aysmar,” Ezria turned to her lieutenant, smiling gently, “You will go to Vanweer and tell her that we are here, and that we are not coming back. You’ll tell her that Marine Skylorn knows how to control the stones. That way she will come wanting the stone and Marine and we can predict her tactics. Aysmar, can you do this? Can you lure her Topside so we can fight on our terms?”

Aysmar lifted her chin to the branches and nodded stiffly, too overwhelmed with emotion to speak. Marine felt a hand slip into hers, she flinched - instinctively wanting to pull it away from Briar’s touch but when she turned to look it was Kurann.

“We will get your parents back, you see if we don’t.” He said, and smiled nervously.