Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gothic by Michael Evans

Chapter One: The Grave of Dreams

It began with the ambassadorial feast. In truth, of course, it began many long years before that, but those ages are lost to antiquity and too little is known of them to tell their stories with any real veracity. Therefore, I start at this more recent commencement of events. Had I known then what I do now, my actions thereafter would have been very different indeed, and a great deal of what was to come could have been prevented. Alas, the actions of birdkind are eternally doomed to fall under the shadow of ignorance, and the culmination of our blind and furious behaviours is always going to be the triumph of chaos.

Perhaps it is truly better that way. Such is the stuff from which nightmares are wrought.

It was a dark and stormy night. It is ever such in the territories of the raptors. Three foreign parties had been extended, and had accepted, invitations to dine at the great hall at House Morr that evening. Nobody had any reservations about the attendance of the first party and, indeed, they were welcomed as the family that they were. I beg the reader's forgiveness for delving into genealogical detail, but the story requires a little of it at this point.

House Morr had two Kings. The senior, the pale eagle owl Entius Morr, had been the ruler of the house for thirty-seven years before this story began. He sat at the centre of the high table of ebony, all black feathers and dark brown hair draped across a dark, silver-buttoned tunic. At his left hand sat the eagle whom he had courted and recently married; formerly Prince Herod Furie, now King Herod Morr. Herod's sister Mary Furie, Queen of the visiting house, was sat at Entius' right hand, her delegation having arrived the previous night in advance of the other guests. The siblings had always looked remarkably alike, broad of shoulder, brown of skin and golden of plume, and radiant in their authority over those around them.

Given the high volume of expected dignitaries, I had been reduced to being seated on table two, with a number of other hawks and a, still-uniformed, buzzard officer. Minor matters of state were discussed; the updating of the genealogical paperwork in the wake of the Kings' wedding, the recent alterations to the guards' shift rotations, the state of readiness of the visitors' bedrooms. All of very immediate, yet not profound, importance. The buzzard stared at her brass goblet with conspicuous ennui. I imagined what thoughts might be dancing behind her eyes; thoughts of herself translated elsewhere, full of lust for blood, sweetly and swiftly decapitating a foe, and tearing his heart from him with her teeth and letting his blood mingle with that which stained her bottom lip. She was a predator, not a steward, and ought not to have been bothered by these domestic tattlings.

The first guests were announced after allowing a short time for this pre-dinner conversation, as was polite and traditional.

“From the banks of the River of Consciousness,” cried the dry tones of the elderly kestrel who stood between the two, vast main doors, silencing the chatter. “From the city of Aurum Spire, please welcome the delegation of the swan King Atrates the Nineteenth, Primarch of the Cygnaean Council.”

Dwarfed by the impossibly tall crane who fell into step at his side, Atrates swept forward the moment his name was called, forcing the announcing kestrel to dodge out of his way rather faster than his ageing wits would have liked. The swan, with hair of darkest black and feathers of whitest snow, was almost overladen with ostentatious jewellery. He wore a long white robe inlaid with intricate gold lace, with a thick, white fur coat above it that almost covered the two sword-hilts at his hips. Behind him came a trio of weak and officious-looking ducks, followed by two heavily armoured goose guards. Last came a male stork, or possibly a heron, dressed in a velvet dress of richest green with a many-layered skirt. Nimbly stepping to the front of the party, he let out the first deep, masculine note of his overture song.

“I fell in love with a swan,
my eyes were filled with feathers,
he filled me with song,
in the reedy river,
in the reedy river.

I in my boat long hours,
he in his royal plumage--
I threw him some flowers,
in the reedy river,
in the reedy river.

Black was the night and starry,
I loosened off my garments
and let forth my hair,
in the reedy river,
in the reedy river.

Sadly we mourned and sighed,
whilst in evening twilight
two Winged glide and fly
in the reedy river,
in the reedy river.

Two Winged glide and fly,
in the reedy river.

I fell in love with a swan...”

Not neglecting our manners, the assembled members of Houses Furie and Morr gave applause as the music ended. The stork sung well, but the tune lacked the power and majesty to which raptors' ears are used. The ducks, geese and stork were led to one of the vacant tables, whilst Atrates and his crane moved to sit on the high table in between Queen Mary and the armoured buzzard she had brought with her; Lucien Kane. He was her permanent bodyguard; tall, powerful, and terrifyingly handsome, his consortship with the Queen was that house's worst-kept secret.

“From the alien plane of the Colour,” came the droning voice of the kestrel again. “From the endless, icy expanse of the Cyan, please welcome the penguin Empress Coryza, ambassador for the Xenos tribes.”

Those conversations which had persisted over the announcement ceased all at once. I couldn't imagine that more than a handful of the Winged here had even seen a Xeno before, and I certainly didn't count myself amongst the number that had.

Swiftly, seven little penguins, none much taller than five feet, ran, tumbled and leapt over one another into the room. Youthful, male and bare-chested, each one had shocking, blue hair that had been made to stand up using copious quantities of grease and belief. Behind them, their Empress sauntered in. Her hair was coloured the same, and fell in long plaits down to her ankles. Her eyes did not have a normal structure, and instead were uncanny, uniform orbs of swirling cyan, and she was clad in thick frost that clung to her skin in the shape of a dress.

“I hope,” muttered the hawk on my right, who was House Morr's primary genealogist. “For her own modesty's sake that she isn't to be seated by the fireplace.” The buzzard snorted at the thought.

With her right hand, the Empress kept a tight grip upon a bizarre sceptre; a twisting mass of metal rods with a bright, pulsating sapphire caught in its cage-like clutches. With her left hand, she clicked her fingers once, and the song of the penguins began.

There were no words this time. At the first beat, signalled by the Empress' clicking fingers, the other penguins all slapped their thighs with both hands. They beat them again and again, tapping out a complex rhythm, syncopating with one another. Then they started to dance.

Their arms indisposed with making the music, they danced with their feet and shoulders. They moved as they did when they entered; tumbling and leaping off one another's backs, making a grand show of their athleticism. Wherever they moved, the always kept the group centred around the Empress who, after eight bars, held up her sceptre and brought it swiftly down to the floor, conjuring a vast, silver wind instrument that seemed to weave itself out of the air. Grasping it by its many slim pipes, placing her fingers over the two arrays of holes in the metal, she put her lips top of it and started to play, sending forth a confusing medley of every possible timbre of wind instrument. Whether or not it was by some kind of dream magic, there was a taste of subdued awe in the air amidst the auditors.

After a few minutes, the song came to an end, and the applause was much more earnest this time. The little penguins were led to another vacant table and the Empress was invited to the seat between King Herod and Idhya, the owl who served as chief librarian and primary advisor to Entius. Idhya, in turn, was sat beside Klatakea, the secretary bird who acted as her constant companion. Both of these Winged were wearing identical academic gowns, made from black feathers woven together with threads of despair. They were engaged in some fervent, whispered conversation, which they ceased instantly once the Empress was seated.

Entius stood. I nearly salivated like a mammal at the thought of the feast which I expected him to now announce.

“Welcome,” he began. The eagle owl's voice was soft and quiet, yet somehow filled the entire chamber with casual ease. “It is our great honour, Herod and I, to accept these noble guests into our House and, as I am sure you are all eagerly anticipating, to join us in feasting. Bring in the plates!”

A team of ospreys, urged on by the hawk who had been given the unfortunate duty of managing them, carried in the vast, silver plates that contained the feast oil. The substance, a particular invention of the owls of House Morr, was always prepared for months in advance of each feasting day. It was concocted from molten dreamstuff mixed with desire, and performed its function with remarkable effectiveness. Each osprey lit a taper on a stick of wrath and, in perfect unison, lowered their lights to the surface of the oil.

The plates burst with orange flame, exuding a sweet aroma through the hall; an aroma to which human dreamers were very sensitive, and inexorably drawn. The ospreys scampered swiftly out through the side doors, and we diners withdrew our cutlery; swords, daggers, spears, and mauls, and waited.

It was then that the dreamers erupted from the floor.

There were men and women, of all the paltry selection of colours and shapes humans come in, but many were children. The oil was most tempting to humanity's young, which was fortunate, because they were also the easiest to frighten.

Only semi-real in this palace of dream, they each took a moment to gaze about them, uncomprehending. Their sense, dulled by sleep and distorted by imagination, all perceived some different environment overlaid onto our hall. Their school, their home, a forest, a fort, in a mine, in the military, on a cliff, on the ocean. Wheresoever it was, conjured up for them by feverish recollections of their waking lives, it had suddenly been invaded by a horde of man-sized, beweaponed predators, who all took advantage of the dreamers' momentary hesitation to strike.

We didn't want them dead. That would have been so terribly wasteful. The souls of the deceased may be a feast in and of themselves, but the souls of the living are an endless fountain of emotion for those who know how to inspire them.

The eagles, Entius, Herod, and Mary, wordlessly clutched the underside of the high table, and threw it before them to land on its front with a deafening crash. The dreamers who would have been caught beneath it scattered and the raptors fell among them, like monstrous Cats chasing through a gaggle of working-class pigeons. The swan followed suit, to my surprise. Atrates drew his brace of weapons and circled a woman who had brought a sword to her dream, swiftly disarming her and tripping her to the floor in a barely perceptible motion. Knowing herself to have been bested by this strange enemy, her eyes began to fill with nervous trepidation. On the other side of the hall, Klatakea was crouched above a boy who was laying on his back, paralysed with terror, as she pushed his chin back with a single claw and brought her other wicked talon closer and closer to the skin on his neck.

I let out a shriek, the kind only a raptor knows how to utter, before raising my blade and leaping over the top of my chair above the nearest dreamer. He clutched his figmental dressing-gown about himself as his wrinkled face drained to a white pallor, tinged with... purple.


I fell upon him and he stumbled away, falling back onto his hands, crawling backwards as his terror made him sweat droplets of glowing violet, radiating sweet, nourishing power. Raw nightmare.

I lifted a clawed foot and clutched the neck of his gown. With a firm kick, I tossed him across the room and rounded on him where he fell. More sweat dripped from his neck; bright pearls of terror that shattered upon the cold surface against which they fell.

I was starting to feel it now, with more and more potency. My chest heaved with the pressure of the emotion as my body soaked it from all around, from the scent on the air and from the screams of dreamers, all believing that they were about to die.

About to die.

Just like me.

There was fear in my blood and hands at my neck. The room was too bright. I clawed at my throat to stop the strangling. Nothing there, no hands. A ghost?

My grip was loosening on my sword. Weakening... no. No.

I had to fight to survive.

I swung my sword right, then left, in a wide arc. Where were they? I clawed at my neck again.

Where were they?

“SHOW YOURSELF!” I cried. I span around, chopped down to the floor.

Blade met blade. I snapped my head upward and gaze met gaze. The buzzard, of course. All that bloodlust in her eyes.

I leapt forward and cut twice through the air, terror submerging strategy. One-step, a dodge. Two-step, another dodge. She was fast.

Blood still dripped down her chin. She struck.

I barely knocked aside her first blow; a lazy blow, not even trying. A predator toying with her prey. A second blow. A third one.

A fourth one.

She was fast, so fast, and she was going to kill me.

Fear bringing focus now. Not weakness any longer. I dived under the table, under the blood-red cloth. She was taller, about a head taller, so she was just ever so slightly slower to get down on her knees and...

Up and over. I pulled myself up the other end of the table onto its surface and dived at her. Sword cut shoulder, crimson fell upon crimson. Rage filled my ears and shook my bones. Up and around. She slammed her blade into mine. I heard it clatter into the corner of the room. Disarmed, helpless.

Helpless. I was going to die.

I curled my hand into a fist. It landed squarely between the buzzard's eyes. The bones in my fingers cracked and she laughed. Her blade slid back into its scabbard.

Not even trying.

She lashed out with a claw and held me tightly by the wrist. The other claw; the other wrist. Cackling as she held me up like a marionette, she slammed her skull into my face.

Shattering and gushing, I crumpled. Almost blacking out, I felt her foot on my exposed throat. My furious pulse thrummed against her claws. My own blood betraying me, yearning to be spilt.

She will kill me. That's what she wants. That's who she is. The constraints of law and nobility are meaningless against the urges of the hunter.

I should know.

I'm going to die.


I was shocked to feel myself waking up. I was propped against a dining chair, my psyche blurred and my body broken... but healing. The raw emotion I had consumed was no longer commanding my thoughts, but was instead pulling together the fractured pieces of my essence. My finest white shirt was irreparable though, I noticed as I looked down, stained all over as it was with my ichor.

I rolled my head around and saw the scene about me. The raptors of the two houses and their guests were attempting a swift reassembly of the great hall, after their depredations had ravaged the furnishings. The penguins remained around their immaculate table, with the laughing dreamers they had sat upon its surface, upon their laps, or on the floor at their feet. Their flightless Winged hosts were entertaining them with jokes, flirtation and, in the case of one blushing apparition, a heartfelt serenade. The Empress had expropriated one of the chairs and was presently surrounded by a retinue of human admirers.

What emotion are they consuming... desire, I suppose?

Blearily, I focused my eyes back towards my table, around which the other hawkish bureaucrats were busily tidying up their attire. I noticed I was far from the only Winged to have bloodied my clothes.

The buzzard returned to her chair, and the last motes of nightmare within me quailed to imagine what she had been doing to the last of the dreamers. She smiled at me, battered and blood-drenched as I was, and muttered, “Some day.”

“Some day what...?” I started to ask, before my words were cut short.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” came the calm, quietening tones of King Entius from the head of the hall. The penguins whispered farewells to their teary dreamer friends, who faded into nothingness as their worldly selves were rudely awoken from their pleasant dream. “I do trust that you enjoyed your meals.” A ripple of cruel, appreciative laughter felt its way amidst the diners. Entius took a pause to re-straighten his crown; a simple marble coronet, identical to his husband's, and a very unfussy badge of office compared to the tall, golden diadem atop Mary's brow. While the crowns of House Morr bore no symbol, Mary's was topped with an ancient likeness of Gryphon himself, wrought from dreamstuff, infused with some of the oldest nightmares man was known to have dreamt.

“It is a tremendous privilege for Herod and I to see such remarkable guests at our banquet these evening, particularly those who throw themselves so readily in our ways of doing things.” He glanced at King Atrates, who quickly ceased whispering something into Mary's ear in order to look up and smile at the complement being paid to him. “I do believe, also, that ours is the first noble house of raptors to play host to our new visitors from the Colour, and I hope that this event serves to herald a long and prosperous future of friendship and of allied power.”

The Empress penguin inclined her head and smiled, and one of her retinue cried, “Hear hear!”

“But now, I am informed, our third and even stranger-seeming guest is here, and is ready to join us for some... light, after-dinner conversation.” Entius' hands, that had been clasped behind his back for his speech, now extended forward towards the great doors. “Sir Cavell, if you would do the honours?” The elderly kestrel, who had returned to his position by the door, his musket still smoking slightly (it must have been fired when I was unconscious, I thought, because I did not recall hearing it go off), cleared his throat several times, before drawing breath.

“Even stranger-seeming”? Who could it be... a mammal? A fish? A real, waking human?

“From the hallowed depths of the Cage...”

In the corner of the room, the Empress stopped smiling.

“...Please welcome the ambassador from the Lost...”

One of the penguins stood up in shock, the banging of his discarded chair on the floor behind him echoing loudly around the chamber.

“...The dodo Theodora Solitus!”

The room was suddenly abuzz with whispers. “A dodo?”, “Aren't they extinct?”, “What does 'Lost' mean?”. Only the penguin table was silent; its members gazing in open-mouthed horror at the individual who was being let in through the doors.

The dodo was short, almost as short as the little penguins, and was stooping awkwardly. Her feathers, all grey, were lank and drooping. I had first thought that she was wearing dark spectacles, but had then realised that I had been fooled by the rings of fatigue around her eyes.

Frankly, she looked half-dead.

She held a small, brown, unassuming pouch in her right claw, which seemed to drag her arm down as though it were tremendously heavy. Her other claw was clenched closed very tightly, as was, I noticed, her beak. This tension was replicated too in her eyes, in which a spark of semi-concealed bitterness was being carefully restrained.

She's hiding it well, but she's just as angry as those penguins...

“Welcome, Ms. Solitus,” Entius spoke, cutting across the chatter. “Can we offer you any refreshment?” The dodo took a few moments, breathing deeply, possibly making a concerted effort to control her apparent temper, before responding.

“No, thank you, your highness.” Her voice sounded like some worn fabric held too taut over a rusted surface; strained and decayed. “I have already eaten. I believe, however, that it is considered customary for a guest, such as myself, to announce their presence with a performance of Birdsong?”

“But of course, we would be only too honoured.”

“Good,” she replied quietly, such that some of the less acute listeners must not have heard her. “It has been far, far too long...”

She paused again to breathe, and then opened her beak, and uttered a poem with her tortured voice.

“The free bird leaps on the back of the wind,
and floats downstream till the current ends,
and dips her wings in the orange sun rays,
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down her narrow cage,
can seldom see through her bars of rage,
her wings are clipped and her feet are tied,
so she opens her throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with fearful trill,
of the things unknown but longed for still,
and her tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze,
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees,
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn,
and she names the sky her own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams,
her shadow shouts on a nightmare scream,
her wings are clipped and her feet are tied,
so she opens her throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown but longed for still,
and her tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

The applause was subdued, and slightly stunned, the audience's attention distracted by the direction of the poet's gaze. Theodora had, throughout her entire performance, fixed her eyes unerringly upon Empress Coryza, the malevolence within them intensifying with every stanza. Coryza stared back, her shapeless eyes impassive, and unblinking.

And that was when the feeling struck me. The urge, the incorrigible need to explore, to discover, to know, calling all the way down from deep within the remnants of the soul I had taken. I had to find out who this Dodo was, why she was here, what was in her pouch, why she hated these Xenos, and why they hated her. I tried to suppress it, recognising it as a desire that was not truly mine.

If only I had tried a little harder.

Friday, February 8, 2013

New Xenos: Quetzals

QUETZALS - Enemies of the Hummingbirds, the green & red Quetzals claim that they lived in the floating bronze Hedron Temple Cities of the Aurum first. Some terrible war, or fall from Grace later, and the Quetzals operate from ruinned, collapsed Hedrons, remnants of both awesome technology & ancient power, left to rot and stagnate. Quetzals have the potential for great power and science if they would just look beneath their own feet... but too many are simply driven by an effort to reclaim the Aurum. Some claim theya re the offspring of great, enormous terrible Gods from the Dream... others pick their words more carefully.
Obsessive, opportunistic, arrogant, ambitious. Quetzals thrive on personal gain, but enjoy the look or value of something expensive, rather than it's use. Quetzals do not have a caste system: all Quetzals are equal, although there is a self-designated Senate, where major decisions and quarrels are decided by knife fight. Quetzals often refer to themselves or other as Quetzal, believing they are one, unanimous people with a single great goal - individual names are only used in times of great anger, disappointment, or arousal.
Scarification and piercings are popular among Quetzals.
Rumours of attempts to summon the Avatar of their endless, terrible patron run deep. Although it seems unlikely, a terrible Avatar of Revenge intent on smashing the Bronze Temples haunts the fears of many Hummingbirds...

Possible Lost: Bustards

BUSTARDS - Once proud members of the Green, the British Bustards were peaceful plainspeople - pacifistic crafters and farmers, whose life meshed well with the Grouse. But the Bustards peaceful ways made them perfect targets for attacking Coteries, and with the rise in human dreams of firearms, they found themselves hunted to death. Their place in The Green was ritually filled by the Cappercailies, who did little to reflect the Bustards' peaceful ways.
Returned, the Bustards simply want life, craft and existence... but are saddened that they have been replaced by monsters.

New Xenos: Pitohui

"HOODS" / PITOHUI - Known as Hoods because of their common need to cowl-cover their faces, Pitohui are a dark shadow in the Bright Xenos world. Often covering their bright Red & White markings, Pitohui are mercenarial assassins and poisoners, removing threats to the Vermillion Jungles for a substantial fee. Often working for Hoatzin, through Toucans, and wielding Emotion supplied by Kookaburras. Unlike the semi-Mythic Cuckoos, Hoods definetly exist, but there is no exact explanation why.
In a strange twist of fate, Hoods are excellent Poisoners and Corrosive Alchemists. Applied theoretical work between them, and Hoatzin could be devastating.
Rumours that Hoods have relations with the distant Empire of Dust are entirely unfounded...

New Xenos: Rhea

RHEA - Rhea are those Emu whose delving into history has brought them closer to their ancestors, sometimes literally. Funerary ritualists, archaeologists and general experts of people past, these scholars find the concept of death fascinating: not the action, or killing, but what happens afterwards, to the Body, Soul, Memory, Belongings, Legacy. Rhea would much rather spend time with an ancient tome, or a mummified corpse, than another Xenos - when out of options, they'd converse with another Rhea, about death. Many Rhea have theories about the Xenos' closely guarded history, although no "papers" or stories have ever exited the parrots' archives - this has led to many rifts between the Rhea and the academic Parrots, who think their delving will uncover madness. Rumours of Rhea associating with, summoning, and even serving Lost are utterly unfounded. Although Rhea celebrate Death - dressing in funeral shrouds and removed plumage, adorning themselves with "memorial trinkets" and speaking on it with excitement - they cannot abide killing: they see Death as the act of coming to an end, to be remembered or forgotten, and intervening in this process can only cause Chaos.
Rhea culture is very basic, as opposed to the otherwise quite advanced and Idea-Song-Oriented Xenos Culture. Rhea live off herbs and distilled Emotion, often developed Alchymerically, much like their Moa ancestors. Their research is very hands-on, quite pre-Renaissance - lots of dissection and exhibition.
Rhea wear an object individual to each person they knew who has ever died. They do not see this as corpse-robbing, but hands-on research. Particularly well studied / elder / unfortunate Rhea are covered in small trinkets.
Rhea, like Emus, don't really do standard gender - they see others as either "Soft" or "Sharp", based on the image and reaction they portray. A Soft person drifts on through life leaving no marks, but a Sharp one leaves a mark. Soft subjects hold no interest for an amorous Rhea.

New Xenos: Ostrich

OSTRICH - Competitive and determined, Ostriches are very fast and very strong, with naturally vicious claws. They may seem like perfect Soldiers, but armies do not breed the pure competition that they thrive on. Instead, Ostriches are all athletes: right from their earliest memories, all chicks know exactly what sport or activity they want to be The Very Best at, and spend the rest of their lives excelling at. Sprinting, Hurdling, Discus, Swimming, Pugilism, Javelin, Synchronized Dancing, Weight Lifting, Archery; Almost all sports and physical activities have, in Xenos history, been invented by determined young Ostriches, simply wishing to be the best at it. Sometimes, these sports and challenges become... extreme, as each athlete tries to outdo their compatriots.
Sprinting... under threat of fire.
Hurdling... over vicious Aquatic Memory beasts.
Discus... with a bladed disc.
The greater the threat, the greater the challenge, the greater the thrill for all involved: Ostriches love watching sport as much as taking part.
Ostriches let nothing stand in their way, not even disfigurement: the more & more extreme the sports get, the more likely it is to become mauled or wounded. This can lead to lost limbs... but that's never a stop for Ostriches, simply something new to accommodate. These "Alter" Ostriches (to a challenge prone Ostrich, there is no such thing as handicap or disability) are treated no different to any other Ostriches, although it is not uncommon for these Alters to become elders in Ostrich society, known colloquially as "Judges" - it is they that have, hands down, achieved the hardest challenges, and often the most.
Ostriches *never* turn down a challenge: walking away is failing, coming last is... coming last. There's always room for improvement. They are incredibly honourable, sportsmanship being their lifeblood. They like to party hard.
Every time the Colour Spiral rotates a "Silver Moon" (A phenomena occurring from light coalescing around the Golden Stream of the Aurum), the Toucans and Ostriches ally to host and run the Argentum Games in the centre of the colossal Silver Bazaar. A huge series of sports games, winners of each game are lauded and celebrated, and even "losing" participants are showered with respect. The great finale comes in the form of the mind-blowingly dangerous Tetrathalon. Those who... do not "finish" the four challenges are given a Hero's funeral, complete with ecstatic parties.


By David Mumford

Outside the House of Ashe, thunder roared overhead. Thunder always roared overhead, outside the Eyrie.
- -

Despite all the locomotion behind , Ysselde continued reading her book. Her piercing eyes purposefully never moved away from the tiny copperplate, dancing in the candle light.

Junther breathed through his beak. Anger slowly built behind his tired, noble eyes. The Hawk on each side of him grasped his arms tight, wrestling desperately with his great white wings despite the Eagle's stony-stillness.

His eyes kept moving towards the tapestry parallel to his throne. It depicted a Monstrous beast, all claws and fur and muscle and beak, roaring at the moon. A breeze swayed it from behind.

Burstrum took a dagger to the leather straps on Duke Junther's breast plate. Whatever passed for steel in the Dream clashed to the stone floor, ringing beautifully for a moment before faltering. Talons tore at Junther's shirt, revealing a network of delicate scars on his white breast. Ysselde let out a small cough, and turned another page.

Burstrum chuckled to himself, his uncombed brown plumage falling over an eye. He reached down and tried to lift his Lord's colossal sword one-handed. Unsuccessful, he applied both hands and dragged it across the cobbles to the rest of his fellow hawks. Junther ground his beak, watching sparks fly as his grandfather's blade was mishandled by a peon.

"Well." began Junther, his deep calm voice resounding around the stone throne room, "I cant say I'm entirely surprised Burstrum. You've always been a parasite."

Burstrum's glee faded instantly, replaced by slow-boiling fury.

"You must admit, your Highness," his lucid, sibilant tones spilled into the room without guilt or reservation, "That this is your own un-doing. You always told us Hawks that... what was it... The Strong Are Nothing If They Are Not Strong...?"

"It was an honest Duel. I lost. It was Noble. Something you wouldn't understand Burstrum." Junther's eyes kept watching the tapestry.

The Hawk laughed, cruelly and in spurts. Without accompaniment, he suddenly stopped and pulled a stern look at his hangers on. They laughed too. Pressure and fear cracked cracked through their raucous roars.

"Noble!?! The Great and Noble Duke Junther Of The Most Ancient House of Ashe Lost a Fight! To a Moorhen! A Bloody Moorhen!"

Junther didn't flinch. "I really don't know what you're laughing at Burstrum. I seem to remember a certain young Hawk running scared from his first encounter with a Goo--"

The clatter of Dream metal. The quick stalk of feet. Talons slashed across the Eagle's face.

Ysselde winced, but kept her Owl eyes on her text.

Burstrum's sneer broke into unbridled rage. "Do not mock me, Duke of Nothing! I am not scared of Geese! One Incident! One! Nothing! See this around you? Nothing Also! This is Over! Finished! Now stands the House of Lord Burstrum Accipter!"

The Hawks roared approval. They didn't feel like they had much choice.

Junther shook, blood trickling down the triplets of rending s over his left cheek. Wary, he lent slightly around the bustling Hawk. The Tapestry still did not reach the criteria he was after.

The Hawk laughed, grabbing the Eagle by the chin. With one hand he flicked open a silvery hip flask, something fluid running down his beak, and shut it again. Burstrum seemed bloated on something, his eyes wide and engaged.

"You can forget about Your Bloody Idiot-Savant Secretary emerging from that woven shit-piece! I sent him off Auditing the number of stained glass windows we have in this primordial heck-hole of an Eyrie hours ago. He wont hear your screams. Not in these Patron forsaken caverns beneath the Eyrie. Damn them. Creepy, monstrous things. Wouldn't see me living in the past, hauling my way through them."

Junther broiled. "Grent's not an idiot. He's my valet. And that's not a "shit-piece". That's Our Lord Gryp--"

As if on cue, one of the other Hawks, in pince-nez and brown waist-coat, tore the weave off the wall, and rent it in half between his claws. Behind it, a terrifyingly narrow corridor blew a chill, whispering wind into the room.

Junther roared at the cloth-divider. "Stayn! I will forgive you if you land yourself on your blade this instant!"

Stayn, a young Hawk, shrugged. More laughter.

Junther winced. "Vespix. Dame Vespix. Where is she?"

"Your Kestrel Bint?" Smiled Burstrum, cruelly, "Oh you know. Out on the moors. Hunting. Arranged for a small Rabble of Green-Bastards to come over here for a trade deal. Of course, now they're in our territory and, well, you know how she feels about territory."

Another Hawk laughed, inappropriately and croaking. "You know Burstrum - Haw! - you could say - Haw! - you could say she's on a - Haw! - Wild Goo-"

Burstrum turned, glared, pointed and spun back round. The Haw!-er shrank in size and silenced.

The inciter adjusted his cravat and plumage. "Anything else, your worship?"

Junther glared, the realisation of weight gathering on his shoulders visible in his eyes. "Ysselde? My closest. My oldest friend."

Everyone turned to look at The Owl. Moments passed before she realised she was being watched. A hand waved hurriedly in the air, still facing away from the commotion.

"Don't get me involved," the prim Scholaress snapped, "I'm just here reading my book.Notes on Inter-species Mating Habits of Birds of Prey 1801-1861. Fascinating Stuff."

The Hawks laughed. Burstrum slapped Junther again. The disheveled Eagle stared out aghast at his scholar, his closest friend. Bloody tears weighed him down as he collapsed to his knees. His two restrainers complained at their sudden task. The one on Junther's right was dragged down with his Lord. The other just swore.

Burstrum drew a blade. "This is the End of Your Dynasty, Eagle..." He murmured half-dreamily, peering at the blade of his sword. The other Hawks gathered.

Junther burst with emotion, all life pouring out him. "Ysselde?" He half croaked again, half-blind with crimson tears.

The Owl put down her book suddenly, and peered over her shoulder. Her huge, round glasses couldn't hide the tear-filled eyes behind. She bit her beak.

"I'm sorry," she mouthed, "It's just politics and power and shit. I'm just so sorry..."

Behind her eyes, something smiled. It was going to work...

"...and you, Junther." finished Burstrum. His small-sword rose-high, then stabbed low into the prone Eagle. Junther didn't flinch, scarlet drops littering his white plumage. The other Hawks roared and joined in.

Junther buckled, the weight of everything bursting from within. Birdsong. "Ysselde!"

The world slowed down around him, the hawks turning grey and insubstantial. Burstrum's manic eyes turning into so many grains of sand in a breeze. The room faded away.

- -

It was just Junther and Ysselde within a swirling mass of emotion. Despair ran deep within it, matching the grey stone work. Ancient Voices rose through the blur as chorus, Grey faces of long dead Raptors, their memories as much part of this place as the "stonework". They sang as one, both enraged at death and enamoured with the emotions springing forth.

She stood up, tears falling onto her velvet dress to confront him. Talons clicked together fervently beneath long sleeves, cuffs tattered and stained.

You know what I want. She lilted at him, half-whispered.

Ysselde! Help Me! Junther roared, clouds of dissolving blood erupting from his pallid form

You know what I can do... A step forward
I am slain without your hand! He beckoned.

You know what I yearn for... Memories of time spent together pushed her onwards.

I will give you anything! He stared longingly, red falling down his beak.
No More Foolish Trinkets... She stroked his gifts of jewelery around her neck.
What I... I do not understand... His Confusion made hesitation roll through his song.

Their voices overlapped and swept over each other. The chorus lifted to a crescendo. She touched his cheek and whispered in his ear.

Your Heart.

Slowly Junther looked up. His blood stained eyes met her cold, tear-stained ones. Slowly, he opened his mouth.

You've had it all along.

- -

Something monstrous within her roared triumph.

Everything was falling into place.

Everything was paying off.

Still in the space between moments, she kissed him gingerly on the cheek, his sanguine tears staining her beak.

The Chorus silenced and waited for her to make her move. The spectral music faded. She stood up straight. Beak parted. Birdsong.

Look I'm Standing Defiant Before You...

But you want far more than my flesh... Added Junther. A sudden blast of pain from material blades came out as a scream.

I can love louder than that last scream... She leaned forward again...
But you can't claim Innocence... Another blast. Another scream. Gryphon! he exclaimed.

Will you be my tether? she asked.

Another blast. Gryphon! Why Do I suffer?

She leaned closer again, arms swept to embrace. If Love is Forever. Your Choice, Now or Never.

He looks into her a last time. I'll be Your Tether.

Arms wrap. Mouths meet, Shadows collide, moving jerkily and freely of their physical anchors.

Something slipped from within her Birdsong into Junther's throat. It slid down all barbs and screams. The Pain was unbearable, but his old friend's tongue was convincing him there were worse things.

She felt the Striikz leave her and enter Junther. Good. It would do him more good than harm. As long as she could keep her Patron pleased. A heart, a soul was needed now. Junther's was out of the question. That was hers.

The Chorus Breaks. The Grey Fades. The World rushes back as the ancestors fade away...

- -

Burstrum hadn't notice her get so close. He exclaimed, shrieking, and drew his blade high.

"Interfering, backstabbing bint! Feel my Wrath"

She looked up, her tongue still in Her Lord's mouth. Terrifying Owl eyes had little on the angered buzzard that was Burstrum's addled rage.

Still, he never saw the Talons.

His body snicker-snacked through the air, collapsing in a bent, red heap against the ancient wooden doors. It rolled around, arms loose and unresponsive, red gushing from it's throat, legs haphazard and wrong-wayed from impact.

The other Hawks stopped and stared. Junther unravelled himself from the ground and Ysselde. Two blades still stuck in him, as inconsequential as buttons on a jacket. He looked the same. Apart from his eyes. Blood red, with the impression of swirling liquid. He lifted his red hand to Ysselde's beak, who started sucking on his talons feverishly.

Burstrum rolled to face his Lord, laughing wetly through his throat. His hipflask had undone, spraying silver fluid, fast evaporating into the room.

"Ad-adventure," he croaked hoarsely, "I'm addicted to it. Got it from a Fa-Fa-Falc-Vulture. Gives you ide-deas. No f-fear. No p-pain. F-fu-fuck Y--"

"Language." Snapped Ysselde, inbetween licking fingers, turning to Junther. The Hawks stared at their risen, should-be-dead Lord with nothing but Terror, "You do not feel complete; Correct?"

When Junther spoke, there were two voices; His Own, proud and strong, and a foul whisper from somewhere very far above, as if it had taken a long time to get there.

"No. There is a void... here..." Junther touched the centre of his chest.

"Good," Ysselde gave one last suck, and let her Lord's fingers drop, "You deal with the upstart junky, I'll sort you out. Go on." she pushed him forward gingerly, briefly revelling in the feeling of his stained plumage beneath her talons.

The Hawks let their Duke pass. They stared dumbfounded, then dropped to their knees, bowing, their faces down. Junther reached Burstrum, and ably lifted his own huge sword from the ground.

"ad-Adventure protects me from your bl-bl-bloo-fuckin' sword" spat Burstrum, pathetic and un-ravelling fast.

"Really?" smiled the new, exhilarated Junther, scarlet eyes flashing, "well, lets see how it protects you..."

The Eagle pressed his thumbs against Burstrum's eyes.

"... from these..."


Ysselde ignored the gargled screams, biting her lip and undoing the neck of her dress. She was getting into this. The chamber was hot with violence and anger and blood. Her dress was hot. But things needed to be done before she could sate herself on what she had desired for years...

"You. Stayn." She grabbed the young Hawk by the shoulder and lifted him to his feet easily. He stank of fear, "What did the Duke ask you to do earlier?"

"Err.." The boy hesitated, Ysselde's hand taking his sword from his belt, "...Fall on my Blade, Ma'am?"

"Good. You remember." Ysselde smiled cruelly, turning the small blade around in her hand, "Do So."

With terrifying ease, she placed the blade at his groin, inserted it, and tore upwards. Stayn shook, life falling from him. The Wrath of Gryphon.

The other Falcons shook with Burstrum and Stayn's screams, but kept their low-bows. They knew their place.

Ysselde casually whistled, turning her torture into Birdsong. Lyrics emerged as she casually dropped the blade and started removing Stayn's bones from his gurgling, shrieking form, filleting him on the spot. More of her song.

I could just pretend that you love me
The night would lose all sense of fear
But why do I need you to love me?

Junther turned, red all up his beak, making him appear as some upstart Robin who had dressed in a hurry.

For I can be All that you hold Dear.

Ysselde beamed content, ignoring Stayn's death rattle, tearing his heart and glistening soul freely from his wet chest, dropping him to the floor. She payed no heed that Burstrum had stopped screaming too, replaced with a fading, whining gurgle.

Junther turned and rose, moving towards her. He flicked his wrist in the air. The Hawks rose, assembled as a group, and started chatting jovially, leaving the Chamber as a happy, if not squabbling bustle. They paid little heed to the numerous red stains on their clothes. They marched out, closing the great doors behind them.

Junther took his scholar in his arms, vermilion stains running into her velvet dress. They necked, her hands roaming his torso, leaving lines; his hands tearing her dress from the neck down. Together, they fed on the soul, sharing it between mouths. Ysselde chewed feverishly, Junther with furious great bites.

"How do you feel?" She asked seriously, inbetween kisses.

Junther paused to think, Ysselde leaving kisses down his chest.

"Alive" he said. She jumped at his mouth, leaving nothing between their bodies as she loosened and discarded what was left of her dress onto the floor.

"That Book you had," he broke kissing to address her, "Had you considered applying it's knowledge in physical practice?"

She grinned, a devilish dark smile, and dragged the Duke of Ashe back onto his throne...


What was left of Burstrum cried. He could move nothing. He could see little. Something twitched on the floor and went silent. Two figures (Fuckers!) engaged directly with each other. In the candle-light, he could see one had no shadow, and the other had two - one proud and tall, another monstrous and hunched, flickering and torn. The pain was getting too much to see. The Adventure was wearing off. He was sure the shock would eventually kill him. He swore their names in what noise he could make.

From the dark, narrow passage way, a tall hunched figure exited, huge talons scraping at already colossal gouges in the passage left by generations of Secretary wanderers. Grent moved silently despite his ungodly claws, the red around his small eyes making him seem far less awake than he ever was - stains littered his old grey robe-suite, torn and ragged, his hands clutching a small ragged book held close to his face, chuckling at it's pages. No-one had ever pointed out the book was upside-down. Grent knew the Eyrie's every passage and hole, and knew parts of the castle old enough that no-other winged had possibly ever seen them. These parts gave even the fearless old bird chills.

One talon landed on what was left of Burstrum. The hawk winced a burbling cry. the old Secretary looked down, staring pointedly at the mess below him.

"Ah." He enunciated slowly and deeply. "2167 Stained glass Windows Lord Accipter. Everyone accounted for. Just give me a moment to pass this report to..."

The old bird looked up, moments passing as it took in the fire-light scene in front of him, face unmoving.

"Ah. It seems the Duke and Advisor are busy discussing Personal Politic. Well, let's not burden them shall we. You appear as to be needing something of a rest, Lord Accipter. Let's find somewhere nice and secluded in the Catacombs, shall we?"

Burstrum gurgled an argument, but Grent simply took it as acceptance, carefully dragging the torn, twisted form into the caverns with him. Moments passed as they faded into the shadows.

"Oh. One thing, Lord Accipter?"

A groan of affirmation.

"Honk Honk."

Moaning trills faded into the passages. Slow, deep, cruel laughter was drowned out by cries of passion and union.

From it's place in The Eagle's shadow, The Striikz watched, all ragged edges and torn darkness. This was a good start.

- -

Outside the House of Ashe, Thunder Roared overhead. Thunder always roared overhead, outside the House of Ashe.

The White Pigeon

The White Pigeon 
By Hannah Earnshaw

The rush of a New York downpour hissed outside the hotel room. Drops spattered violently against the glass, running down and dripping into the room through the open window, to where a damp semi-circle spotted the carpet and a few stray pigeon feathers alike. Inside the room proper was a chill sort of peace, enough at least to allow its occupant his usual two hours of sleep, stretched out on the bed like a corpse. Lines creased a bare face that had once, in his youth, borne sharp features and a fine moustache. Now, he looked in his rest a little like a stern vampire.

The pale woman looking on did not seem to care, and neither did the second person watching her. And truth be told, they were not really watching his physical face - rather his own image of himself - for they were Winged, and they watched him dream, a dream full of light and colour and the grasping confusion that precedes an elusive moment of revelation. The Dreamer held out his arms towards the rippling light, eyes focussed and searching, unaware of his audience.

The second person - or rather, a sharply dressed Mockingbird who went only by the name of Mr Sparks - spoke. Hir voice was smooth and elegant, and strictly business. “Shall we?”

The woman shook her head. “Not yet. I want to stay a while longer.” Her voice was soft. Mr Sparks inclined hir head and resumed watching her.

She was an odd investment, the White Pigeon, but ze had never once regretted backing her cause. And she was a Pigeon - an oddity, born with plumage white as a Dove, with pale grey fingers. That had raised no few eyebrows, but she had taken it as a sign, a reminder of the heritage of the Pigeons who had once, in the mists of time, been Doves of the White Hand. A divine message that the future of peace and unity, of the Chorus itself, lay in progress, in innovation - in the Dirt.

She had declared herself a prophetess - no, more, a manifestation of the Chorus itself. She abandoned her name, in a move which rather endeared her to the Mockingbird who, like many others of hir kind, had done the same, and went only by the epithet of White Pigeon. And when she spoke, you could truly believe that in science and progress lay the way to eternal peace. There is always a buyer for peace, and so Mr Sparks took her under hir wing, ensured she had every resource she needed, and watched with fascination as the Dreamer she selected as her personal project began to change the world. A fine investment indeed.

After a while, Mr Sparks cleared hir throat and spoke again, pausing to select the correct words for the moment. “Don’t you think that your...protege has...completed his purpose? Perhaps it is time to...let him go.”

“He is so close,” she whispered. “I have met no other who has responded to my tuition with such natural understanding. Did you not hear what he said? ‘If you wish to understand the Universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration’. It is a song, it is all of it a song, and the Chorus the cosmos, and you are so close to hearing it, my Nikola Tesla...”

At some point she had transitioned from talking to Mr Sparks to the man himself, who stood perfectly still, just observing his dream, perhaps unaware of their presence or perhaps simply not acknowledging it. From his motionless figure flowed ripples of concentrated Intent that spilled into the Dreaming as small, glassy spheres. The Mockingbird took one up between a finger and thumb to examine - it was Intent all right, always useful in the Desire trade, but shot through with crazed patterns the like of which ze had never seen before, and if ze rolled it through hir fingers it seemed almost to bend and change shape, passing through a thousand different dimensions while somehow remaining a sphere. Raindrops pattered against the inside of its surface.

Mr Sparks frowned at it slightly. “Surely, White Pigeon, he has done enough? He has...ceased to be taken seriously among his peers. He has done so much for your...cause...but he will not live forever. You must now find another to...continue your work.”

“Oh, but the world does not understand him yet,” she replied. “Not yet. They mock him and steal every good thing he has created. Edison grows fat on the riches of my Tesla’s inventions but soon... When he finally opens his eyes to the reality of the world, to the Dreaming, to the Chorus, as he alone amongst humans can, then-”

“Then he will go mad, White Pigeon,” Mr Sparks retorted bluntly, holding up the warped Intent. “He is already half-crazed as he is. The Dreaming is...not for the Dreamers to experience in waking. I acknowledge that I leave his care to you you with it...but you have hindered his developments by exposing him human should know. You have driven him to madness!”

The White Pigeon ignored this tirade. She sat down on the side of the bed and cupped Tesla’s sleeping face in one silver-grey hand. Mr Sparks’ eyes widened in shock as ze saw the blankets shift under her weight. Ze glanced hurriedly around the room, in sudden definition around them, the light and emotion of the dream seeping into the walls and dripping out of the window. The carpet was dusted with a thousand twisted spheres. The Mockingbird grabbed the White Pigeon’s shoulder and shook it roughly.

“What are you doing?” ze snapped in panic, all sense of control lost from hir voice. “Stop this at once, or I will withdraw your backing! This is reality, this is the waking world! You can’t do this. We can’t be here. The Dreaming can’t be here! Not like this!” Ze choked as hir words came out in a rush that sounded more and more like a frantic twitter.

“It can, and we can,” came the reply, as the White Pigeon slipped her fingers between those of Tesla’s left hand. They tightened around hers in the subconsciousness of sleep. There was the sensation of tearing, and in the gaps around them where the Dreaming and Waking began to bleed into each other, small beads of Love began to condense into tiny wire shapes. Mr Sparks watched them form in a moment of realisation.

She loved him. The White Pigeon loved Nikola Tesla, and he loved her - how could such a detail have escaped hir? Ze had foolishly believed that ze knew all there was to know about the White Pigeon, but the vagaries of emotional attachment had eluded hir notice. Ze reached out to touch the wires, which were coiling into the shapes of hearts and butterflies, wondering for a moment if they had touched upon a way to cultivate Love outside the Xenos territories...could it be?

Ze shook hir head - not now. Not like this. To lure a human into the Dreaming in a trance was not uncommon practice, but for Winged to attempt to step their true form into the Waking - it was not only unheard of, and undeniably ridiculously dangerous, but it was impossible...was it not? But then Mr Sparks saw the grey lines of immutable laws of reality begin to extrude into the Dreaming and decided that ze would think about it later.

With a soft sigh of regret, Mr Sparks decided to move to the second phase of the operation early. Ze pulled the White Pigeon apart from Tesla and met her eye. “White Pigeon, listen.” She did, reluctantly, and the world around them wavered.

“The world does not understand Tesla, and they never will. And Tesla does not understand the world. Why do you think Edison and Marconi took the credit for his work? I gave them the idea to take it.”

The White Pigeon looked at the Mockingbird blankly, as if trying to process hir words. “I don’t...understand...” she murmured, seeming almost dazed.

“Tesla had the ideas, sure enough, but Edison - he had the ability to manufacture them, to market them, to profit from them, to spread light across the world and realise their potential. If I had left it in your Tesla’s hands he’d still be out on a hill somewhere making electrical magic tricks with no consideration of how to go about shaping the world. It’s thanks to me his ideas are having any impact at all-”

Mr Sparks was cut off by a wordless cry from the White Pigeon. Face glistening with tears, she suddenly turned and reached back to Tesla, stretching out her hand and grimacing as she pressed through some barrier before her. At her palm, Dreaming and Waking met and reacted and in a shower of lightning bolts her hand passed through, and for a moment a strange juxtaposition of skin and feather, hand and wing, object and concept emerged into the world. Nikola Tesla leaned up, eyes drifting open, reached out his hand for a reality, a truth, an answer just before him, inviting him into enlightenment.

“Beli?” he called.

And then Mr Sparks struck her around the head - a distasteful move, but a necessary one. Ze pulled the dazed Winged back into the Dreaming, and she lost her focus on whatever strange power she had been channelling, the worlds drifting safely apart once more, although the fabric of the Dreaming seemed to sag underfoot as if stretched. Mr Sparks took the White Pigeon into hir arms and left the area, stepping out into the street of the Dirt coterie. Before ze left, ze put up yellow hazard tape around the entrances. The area would certainly be worth further study. Another time.

Ze took up the White Pigeon in hir arms and began to carry her home. She wept weakly into hir shoulder. She was sad, she had not been prepared for hir revelation, and that was a shame. But she would be all right in time. Mr Sparks rocked her gently, and felt some form of vague affection for her. Well, perhaps one day ze would devote some proper study to the workings of Love. Suddenly it seemed rather worth investing in.

In a dark New York hotel room, Nikola Tesla sat up in bed. For a moment, his eyes had been filled with light and colour, and he could have sworn that he had been on the edge of a profound discovery, but as he grasped for the idea it swept from his mind. He looked out to the window. The downpour still roared outside, a thousand tiny spheres of water throwing themselves against the glass. It was strange. For a moment he thought he had seen her. The white pigeon. But the window ledge was empty and he knew, somehow he knew, that he would never see her again.

And he knew without a doubt that his work was over.