Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy what you find here. Whilst you may not agree with everything I post, if you respect my right to my opinion I'll respect your right to disagree with it and we should get along just fine. :)

Disclaimer: the views expressed by the characters in these works may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.

Right then, on with the blog...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #26: An Unwelcome Guest

This episode is number 26 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.

Master Jamieson was halfway across the landing, on his way to discuss accommodation arrangements for the newly-arrived escapees, when the other front door opened and Swazzle stepped inside, the little wyrm at his heels. Jamieson took one look at the beast, let out a very Scottish sounding squeak and fled back into his Butler's Pantry, slamming the door behind him. Swazzle listened curiously to the lock being thrown, the door bolted, shrugged and headed for the stairs.

Botchett was in his kitchen and in a foul mood to boot when Swazzle arrived.

'There are times, Mother,' Botchett said to his wife, 'When I could cheerfully strangle that bloody witch, like.' He cast an angry glance towards the ceiling.

'Yes dear.' Mistress Botchett continued stirring the huge pot of pease pudding on the stove.

'I mean,' Botchett thundered, 'Is it my fault Lady Mandrake's the only person in these parts who could've supplied the amulet we needed? Well, is it?'

'No dear.'

'So Aveena owes her a favour, like. So what? It could have been a lot worse. She's had a few favours out of me over the years, and I'm still here, aren't I Mother?'

'Yes dear.'

'And will you stop saying “yes dear,” “no dear,” “three bags full dear.” This is serious, like'

'Yes de... Oh look, it's Captain Swazzle! How are you, bonny lad?'

Swazzle nodded to Mistress Botchett.

Botchett gave his wife's back a hard stare. 'Aye, well...' he muttered, trailing off as the little wyrm poked its snout around the leg of the kitchen table. Botchett's eyes widened and he leapt backwards off his chair. 'By the god's balls, bonny lad! What's that doing in here?'

'Hello, Master Botchett.' Swazzle indicated the little wyrm, which was now rubbing its head against the table leg. 'What, him? Followed me home from the fairy castle raid. Cute isn't he?'

Botchett had gone pale, sweat beading on his forehead and there was a definite tremor in his voice when he spoke. ' you know what that is, like?'

'Some sort of baby wyrm?' Swazzle shrugged.

'Bonny lad, that,' Botchett pointed shakily at the little wyrm, 'Is a young Welsh Draig.'

'Oh good,' beamed Swazzle, 'I'd hoped you might know what it was. I'm going to need a hand looking after it.'

'Looking after it?!' Botchett's eyebrows climbed into his hairline, his eyes now the size of saucers. 'Looking after it?! It's not stopping here, Captain. No way, like.'

'Why ever not?'

Botchett took a few deep breaths. 'You wouldn't happen to know what Draig's eat, would you, bonny lad?'

'No.' Swazzle skritched the Draig behind its ear. 'I was rather hoping you could enlighten me on that score.'

'Gnomes, bonny lad. Gnomes!' wailed Botchett. 'Pretty much anything else as well, but Gnomes is their favourite, like.'

Swazzle looked crestfallen. This could be a problem, he thought.

'And it's not just that,' Botchett ticked points off on his fingers. 'Draig's only understand Welsh. And need a fire to sleep in.'

Swazzle noticed the Draig eyeing Mistress Botchett's stove covetously.

'And they're totally untrainable,' Botchett continued. 'No, bonny lad, it'll have to go. Off back to Wales with it, and the sooner the better, like.'

'What about the Welsh Gnomes?' Swazzle asked, stalling. 'Won't they object?'

'Aren't none,' replied Botchett, 'Bloody Draigs ate 'em all, like.'

As if on cue, the Draig made a sudden break for the stove, growling and snapping at Botchett as it rounded the table. Mistress Botchett shrieked and fled into her husband's arms as the Draig leapt, squirming into the firebox until only the tip of its tail hung down the front of the stove like a limp, scaly bell-pull.

Botchett glared over his wife's shoulder at Swazzle, who, hands raised in supplication, backed out of the kitchen intent on finding someone who could make him a stout cage with central heating.

* * *

When dawn broke, the wyrms broke off their attack against the fairy fortress and all uninjured personnel set themselves to the task of searching the rubble for survivors. Titania thundered into the courtyard just as Oberon tumbled unsteadily from a hole beneath a heap of stones.

'Seize him!' Titania bellowed, fairies from the nearest rescue party jumping to her command. Grabbing Oberon they dragged him unceremoniously to where Titania stood seething, the guard captain, shirtless and slicked with sweat, snapped a salute.

Titania sniffed Oberon's breath. 'Drunk. Again.' Oberon stared blearily back at her, belched, then grinned. 'Oh, I have had enough of this,' she sighed turning to the fairy guards, 'Hold him still.' This should have been done a long time ago, she thought.

'King Oberon, you have, and not for the first time, been found drunk when this kingdom needed you, when your people needed you. You have run from conflict, endangering your people and your Queen. The finding of this summary court is that you are guilty as charged. Our sentence is banishment.'

Oberon's legs gave way as sentence was passed, a dark stain spreading down the front of his hose. His eyes pleaded with Titania to give him just one more chance, his body sealing his fate by at that moment letting loose a stinking fart that made his guards gag.

Titania raised her wand, flicked her wrist, and Oberon vanished in a cloud of silver sparkles.

Turning to the guard captain, her eyes appraising the rippling muscles of his slick torso, Titania slung a languid arm round his shoulders.


'Plantain, my Queen,' he replied as Titania steered them toward her private apartments.

'Plantain, eh?' she purred, 'I'm not so sure I'm keen on that.' She thought for a moment. 'I know! I'll call you Oberon.'

If Titania had but looked she would have seen the dubious look in Captain Plantain's eyes.


This week also marks the release of the ninth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 9 over at Icy Sedgwick's blog Icy's Blunt Pencil. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #25: Escape and Banishment

This episode is number 25 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.

The last of the prisoners only just cleared the tunnel mouth when the outer wall of the fairy castle shuddered and, with a great sigh, began to slip, falling in a single piece right along its length like the icing from a cake. There was a good deal of sphincter twitching as the Pixies and Goblins raced to outpace the falling masonry. When the wall reached the base of the cliff on which the fairy fortress was built and started to break up, stones the size of cows rained down around the slowest of the group, throwing up a hail of dirt clods as they landed and miraculously missing the last in line by mere inches.

'Close run thing, eh?' shouted Salkeld above the rumble of falling granite.

'Yes,' wheezed Swazzle as he half carried, half pulled Rushalka along. Either she's getting heavier, Swazzle thought, or I need to take more exercise.

The little wyrm capered and gambolled, scampering in rings around the group, gently herding them in the direction of the forest and safety. Suddenly it stopped dead, raised its head, ears cocked and stared into the night sky. Swazzle glanced in the direction the wyrm was looking, his insides turning to ice water as he spied, silhouetted against the moon, a huge flying wyrm bearing down on them.

'Run!' bellowed Swazzle kicking forwards. The company sprinted for the border, Swazzle knowing with a certain dread they would never make it. Behind them, wyrms burrowed and crawled over the ruins of the fairy fortress, winged ones swooping and wheeling above the shattered castle, breathing deadly fire over anything that moved.

The little wyrm dashed towards its flying cousin, wings beating furiously until finally it managed to claw its way slowly into the air, making a beeline for the incoming beast. Its flight seemed ponderous to begin with, the little wyrm rising uncertainly into the night sky, though after a few moments a new confidence seemed to sweep over the little creature and it streaked forward, a small red dart aimed directly towards the head of the larger beast.

Some of the prisoners stopped to watch, and even Swazzle found himself involuntarily slowing down, eyes fixed on the unfolding drama above him while still trying to keep the group moving. He watched transfixed as the distance between the two wyrms decreased rapidly, then his mouth fell open as the larger beast sent a jet of flame right at the smaller one, sending it tumbling over and over in mid air as flames washed over it.

As the fiery breath died away, the little wyrm righted itself and flew at the larger beast again, smoke trailing from its singed tail. Swazzle accepted the inevitable and stopped dead to gawp at the unfolding drama above him. Salkeld ran straight into him and went sprawling just as the little wyrm reached the larger beast, executed a neat wing-down turn above its snout and sank its fangs into the tip of the larger beast's nose.

Bellowing in rage, the larger wyrm abandoned its attack run, wheeling away and climbing over the fairy fortress, the little wyrm clamped firmly between its nostrils. In that instant Swazzle recovered his composure and amid much shoving and cursing got the prisoners moving again, not stopping again until they were through the forest and in sight of the portal. With the last of them through the portal, Swazzle took one last look around before stepping through himself, wondering idly what had become of the little wyrm.

Swazzle had just begun to erase the chalk outline when something caught him full in the chest, knocking the wind out of him as it threw him a few yards up Hangman's Passage. A faint singed smell accompanied the missile, which came to rest tangled in his clothes. Swazzle strained to get air into his protesting lungs as the missile struggled and wriggled, then proceeded to wash his face affectionately with its serpentine tongue.

'Urgh! Argh! Gerroff!' spluttered Swazzle, batting at the little wyrm in a vain attempt to calm it down. The creature was now sitting on his chest, bouncing happily up and down on his bruised ribs. One of its ears was badly burned and there was a nasty gash across its snout, but the little wyrm seemed in raptures to see Swazzle again.

Eventually, Swazzle managed to struggle out from under the creature and clamber shakily to his feet. Struggling over to the wall, he completed removing all signs of the portal, the little wyrm twisting through his legs the whole time. The task completed, Swazzle turned and set off up Hangman's Passage in the direction of Goddess Rising, a sad whimper bringing him up short after only a few paces.

'Come on then,' Swazzle called resignedly over his shoulder, rewarded with the sound of claws clicking on the cobbles and together, Pixie and wyrm strode away up Gallows Close.


This week also marks the release of the eighth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 8 over at Danielle La Paglia's Flash Fiction blog here. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.


Thursday, 14 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #24: Dragonrise

This episode is number 24 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.

Swazzle felt as though he'd been sitting on the damp flagstone floor in total darkness for hours. Rushalka huddled next to him, wrapped in a threadbare blanket. Elsewhere in the chamber, other prisoners sat or lay, the only sign of their presence the occasional cough or groan.

When the door had been slammed shut and the grille obscured, Swazzle had attempted to pace out the dimensions of his prison, for no other reason than to keep himself occupied. Based on his estimate, the chamber probably held around twenty prisoners, though who or what they were, and why the fairies had not returned them to the camps, were questions to which Swazzle did not yet have answers. Presuming the rest of the prisoners were in the same physical state as Rushalka however, Swazzle was sure there could be no assistance for an escape attempt from that quarter. It looked like he was on his own.

Swazzle must have been dozing because he felt a moment of confusion when a bellowing roar echoed along the corridor outside and jolted him awake. There was movement among the prisoners as they shuffled further away from the door as the roar sounded again, and some of them screamed or whimpered as a tremendous bang shook the walls of their chamber. A second thump blew a cloud of what Swazzle presumed was stone dust over him as the wall around the door shifted slightly. The chamber door twisted a couple of inches in its frame, a thin shaft of light illuminating scything across the chamber floor.

The prisoners retreated from the light into the shadows while Swazzle pressed his eye to the gap and squinted into the gaoler's chamber. Torches still burned in the wall brackets, but of the gaoler Stinkweed, there was no sign. Swazzle put his shoulder against the door and heaved. He heaved, pulled, kicked and battered at the door but it would not budge. He had just collapsed, exhausted, to the floor again when there came a commotion among some of the prisoners, who retreated to reveal a small drain in the middle of the floor from which came a faint flickering light.

'Captain Swazzle?' hissed a voice from the drain, 'Are you in there, sir?'

Swazzle dashed over to the drain. 'Yes, I'm here...'

'It's him,' said the voice, speaking rapidly to someone else in the drain passage. 'Start digging.'

The ringing of metal on stone echoed from within the drain.

Swazzle addressed the prisoners. 'It looks like someone's come to get us out. As soon as they break through, you need to be ready to move. I know some of you are very weak, but either we all go together, or...'

A general muttering, which Swazzle took as agreement, came from the assembly as once again a great thumping came from outside the chamber, this time dislodging a stone from the roof that missed Swazzle by inches as it crashed to the floor, stone chips and dust blossoming outwards from where it fell. A few seconds later, the stonework around the drain collapsed in on itself and a pointy hat appeared in the resulting hole.

'Cap'n Swazzle, sir?' asked Salkeld as he stuck his head up into the chamber, lighting his way with a firefly lantern.

'Here,' called Swazzle. 'By the gods, am I glad to see you.'

'We'd better be quick, sir. It seems the fairies was keeping a number of Wyrms captive and somehow they got out. They're raising merry hell and I wouldn't be surprised in the whole castle's about to collapse.'

Swazzle grabbed Rushalka by the shoulders and began steering her in the direction of the hole. A couple of goblins clambered out of the hole, and between the three of them, the prisoners were soon passed down to waiting hands in the drain passage. Swazzle was passing the last of the prisoners through the hole when there came a huge bang as the prison chamber door was hit by something powerful and collapsed inwards. Swazzle swung round in an instant, anticipating combat, but there, silhouetted in the doorway, was something the size of a very stocky rabbit, growling and swishing a scaly tail back and forth.

For a split second, Swazzle simply stared, then the beast let out a series of sharp barks and, claws scrabbling for purchase against the stones, hurled itself forward. Swazzle threw himself desperately into the drain hole, and had only just scrambled to his feet before the creature tumbled in after him, landing in a heap of claws, wings and tail at his feet. Righting itself, the creature sat at Swazzle's feet, thumping its tail on the floor. By the light of Salkeld's lantern the creature appeared to be a very small wyrm, russet coloured and sporting a full compliment of clawed feet as well as a pair of leathery wings. Lowering its head, the Wyrm dropped something cylindrical and wooden at Swazzle's feet. As Swazzle bent to retrieve the object, he was sure the beast was panting, then it flicked out a long serpentine tongue and licked him right on the end of his nose.

'It is!' Swazzle held his wand up to Salkeld's lantern. 'It's my wand! Well done, lad,' Swazzle ruffled the beast's ears and it gazed adoringly at him.

Salkeld coughed softly.

'Yes, you're quite right,' replied Swazzle, 'Let's get out of here.'

Preceded by the goblins, Swazzle, Salkeld and the prisoners made their way along the newly dug tunnel, some of the prisoners walking unaided, others supporting eachother and the weakest carried in makeshift blanket stretchers. Above them the fairy fortress rocked and crumbled as the Wyrms vented the fury of their incarceration upon their gaolers. At one point Swazzle was sure they were done for as the tunnel shook violently before a Wyrm tunnelled straight through it and vanished out the other side. The goblins diverted into the Wyrm's tunnel and they were soon at the mouth of the tunnel, cool night air rushing over them as they crouched, looking out at the scene of devastation surrounding the fairy fortress. Much of the surrounding area was burning as flying Wyrms wheeled this way and that, blasting anything that moved.

Swazzle turned to Salkeld and his Goblins, 'And how are we going to get past that lot?'


This week also marks the release of the seventh episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 7 over at Anne Tyler Lord's Don't Fence Me In. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #23: Rushalka

This episode is number 23 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.


Keeping close to the wall, Swazzle skirted round the edge of the courtyard until he came to a door, which, he presumed, lead into the undercroft of the keep. Judging by the barrel, small piles of ash and partly burned pipe-herbs next to the door, this was where the servants came for a smoke, so Swazzle was relieved when he found the door not only unlocked, but the hinges well greased so it swung open silently. He slipped quickly inside and shut the door behind him.

A wide corridor stretched ahead, firefly-filled lanterns making shadows dance along the walls. An opening in the right hand wall gave onto a set of smooth stone steps leading down into darkness. Swazzle crept slowly down the steps, keeping the side wall at his back until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. The steps seemed to go on forever, the air was cool and damp by the time Swazzle reached the bottom. Stepping off the last step, he flattened himself against the wall and peered into the blackness.

To the right darkness continued unbroken, to the left a faint flickering glow hinted at occupation. After a moment's hesitation, Swazzle started carefully down the left hand passage, keeping close to the wall and stopping every few yards to listen.

A few dozen yards down the passage was a doorway on the right from which came the flickering light and a faint sound of contented snoring. Peeping quickly round the corner, Swazzle saw a portly fairy reclining on a low chair in front of a small brazier, hat tipped down over his eyes, feet up on a stool and swaddled in his wings. Beyond stood a heavy oak door, locked by the look of it, with a small iron grille set at eye level.

Swazzle tiptoed silently to the door and squinted through the grille. There was no illumination beyond, but just enough light filtered into the chamber that Swazzle could make out several shapes huddled together on the floor.

What we need here, thought Swazzle, is a diversion.

Re-tracing his steps, Swazzle set off back down the corridor, past the steps and on into the darkness beyond. Conjuring a tiny flame into his palm, Swazzle found himself in one of the castle's cellars, crates and barrels stacked floor to ceiling. He was pondering how flammable the contents of the store might be when he spotted a small door on the far wall. Moving quickly over to it, Swazzle tried the handle and was surprised to find the room unlocked. Slipping inside, he found himself in a small chamber about the size of Rev Beresford's sitting room and filled to the rafters with piping, valves and arcane looking machinery. The air in here was distinctly warm.

Swazzle was just wishing Botchett were here to make sense of the equipment when he noticed a line of wooden boxes laid out on staging down one wall. Closer inspection revealed a familiar design, the faded and peeling lettering marking the boxes as the property of Botchett and Son. Wisps of steam rose intermittently from the farthest box into a metal hood suspended above the box that in turn connected to the piping.

An icy chill ran down Swazzle's spine as he realised what the boxes held. Cheeky bastards, he thought, they're using them for central heating.

Moving closer, Swazzle nearly jumped out of his skin when something cold and limp brushed his hand. As he fought to control his hammering heart, Swazzle held his light closer to the box, the small flame illuminating the tip of a leathery wing poking out from an aperture on the side of one of the box. Swazzle laid a hand gently on the box. It was cold. He checked the others, all bar one other gave off a gentle warmth.

A grim smile was fixed on Swazzle's face as he moved quickly to the last box in the row and began to loosen the fastenings, the Wyrm within growled low and Swazzle felt it moving about. Undoing the last fastening, Swazzle sprinted for the door and was halfway along the corridor when an unearthly roar reached his ears. He ducked quickly into the gaoler's chamber and in one fluid movement, hoisted the gaoler out of his chair and pinned him against the wall, his wand poked into its ear.

'Now,' snarled Swazzle, 'Get that door open.'

The fairy gaoler could do nothing except comply, blinking repeatedly in fear and surprise as he fumbled with the key to the cell. The door squeaked in protest as it swung open.

'Rushalka?' called Swazzle softly. 'Rushalka, are you in there?'

In reply came a general rustling among the inhabitants of the chamber before, after a few moments, a ragged figure struggled to its feet and shuffled slowly towards the doorway, it's pace quickening as it recognised the questioner.

Rushalka threw her arms around Swazzle's neck, nearly knocking him off his feet. Had he not already shoved the gaoler in front of him, the fairy would have bolted as he lost his grip on him, overwhelmed by Rushalka's grateful hug.

'Well, well, well, what do we have here?' a familiar voice dripping with malice sounded behind Swazzle. He swung round, still almost smothered by Rushalka, to face Twinkle and a squad of fairy guards standing in the doorway to the gaoler's chamber.

'Drop the wand, Captain Swazzle, and back away.' Banshee rifles were cocked and levelled at the doorway to underline Twinkle's order. Swazzle did as he was ordered.

'Stinkweed!' barked Twinkle, 'Get out of there and lock that door at once.'

The gaoler scuttled past him, scooping up Swazzle's wand as he went.

The door slammed and the cell was plunged into darkness. As the key turned in the lock Swazzle could hear Twinkle berating the gaoler. Swazzle slumped to the floor next to the softly sobbing Rushalka.

'It's alright,' he soothed, cuddling her to him. 'There's got to be a way out of here.'


This week also marks the release of the sixth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 6 over at Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.

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