Friday 2 August 2013

#FridayFlash - The Flee Market

Ground smog swirled around the feet of the traders as they set up their stalls. A clock chimed in the cavern of the marketplace to announce the early hour. Humans and trolls lurched back and forth, rubbing sleep from their eyes as they laid out their wares on grubby cloths.

Vyolet lurked in the shadows at the edge of the vault. The Flee Market was a tempting target for a Shadowkin, particularly at four in the morning. The so-called militia, little more than local thugs collecting protection money from the traders, wouldn't arrive until five, and the traders were too distracted by setting up to notice a disappearing bread roll or hunk of cheese. The militia would light the lamps, making shadows scarce, but until then, Vyolet could come and go as she pleased.

Vyolet stole through the shadows in the arches leading down to the docks. Ferrymen carried crates up the steps from the canals, and a gaggle of fishwives trudged along the narrow quay behind them. Vyolet peered into the baskets they carried on their hips, but their treasure didn't interest her. It was mostly worthless detritus fetched by their husbands from the Distant Sea.

She passed an alchemist's stall, and frowned. He wore a pin in the lapel of his threadbare frock coat, and the insignia was that of the local DWS group - Down With Shadowkin. Vyolet fought the urge to tear the pin from his coat as she passed, but instead, she filched a small bag of sleeping sand from his table while he looked the other way. Few in the Underground City had any love for the Shadowkin, but without their abilities, the spy network that kept the City Above at bay couldn't operate.

If it wasn't for rogues like me... Vyolet began the thought, but she couldn't finish it. What was the use in being a rogue when she was forced to steal food from the market between jobs? Still, the Flee Market was a den of opportunity. Named for its status as a haven for those fleeing justice, the vast square, with its vaulted roof and bright green lanterns, was Vyolet's favourite place in the city.

Vyolet spotted a disenchanter across the aisle, and flattened herself against the wall beside his table. The shadow was narrow here, and she barely managed to squeeze herself into the blackened rectangle. She watched him remove the enchantments from cheap tourist wares, separating the imitation esoteric items from their magical sparks. The items ended up in a huge basket behind him, but the sparks went into neatly labelled bottles on the table. One of the items was a scarf, and Vyolet snagged it from the basket while the disenchanter busied himself with a wooden replica of the Abandoned Chapel. She tied it around her hair in the fashion of the worker women from the Trade District, but she knew her shifting skin colour and purple eyes would give her away as a Shadowkin.

Her stomach grumbled as Vyolet wandered among the stalls, sneaking from shadow to shadow, trying to spot a food stall. She passed stalls selling boots, fabric, magical equipment, broken furniture and even books, but no food. The clock chimed again to mark the quarter hour, and panic coloured Vyolet's hunger. She hadn't eaten since the day before, and she didn't have long before the militia arrived. They were all card carrying members of the DWS group, and would take great delight in ejecting her from the market - or worse, ejecting her soul from her body.

Vyolet passed under the vast clock, the only way to tell the time underground, and saw she had just five minutes until the militia arrived to patrol the market. She gazed across the sea of stalls and her heart leapt to see a baker reach his stall. He carried a large wicker basket on his back, while two goblins carried smaller ones behind him. She used the shadows between the cobbles of the floor to cross the open square in the centre of the market, and hid in the shadow cast by the awning of his stall. The goblins dumped their baskets and trudged off in the direction from which they had come, leaving the baker to set up alone.

Vyolet seized her chance and grabbed two fresh rolls while the baker laid out long plaited loaves. She got three yards away from the stall when a large hand landed on her shoulder. The chubby fingers forced her to turn around, and she looked up into the heavyset face of a militia runner. He wore the enchanted goggles that allowed him to see her, even in the shadows, and a lopsided leer that made her blood run cold.

"Thought you'd get away, did ya?" He leaned in towards her, and the smell of his breath turned her growling stomach.

Vyolet saw two more runners on the far side of the square. She twisted out of his grip and threw the rolls across the square, smacking two goblins in the back of the head. They turned on each other, and the runners busied themselves with breaking up the fight. Before the runner could raise the alarm, Vyolet dipped her hand into the pouch on her belt and withdrew a fistful of sleeping sand. She blew it into the runner's face, and melted into the shadow cast by his vast bulk as he fell to the ground.

Vyolet streaked across the market, dipping and weaving through the shadows cast by early shoppers. The distracted runners realised what had happened, and their shouts echoed between the stalls. She didn't dare stop to grab more food - escaping with her life seemed more important than her hunger.

She reached the docks and skipped across the canal in the shadows cast by the wall of the marketplace. As she fled into the sewers, she couldn't help thinking the market was well named after all.

Original image by Sankla1. Edits by me.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Announcement - New Book Coming!

I think anyone who knows me knows that I have a bit of a thing about mummies. You can keep your vampires and werewolves, if there's a bandaged critter lurking somewhere - I can't actually get away from them, either. If I go to a museum, I'll always end up finding the mummies. I love them! I've posted a fair few mummy stories as part of my Friday Flash activity over the past few years, and now I'm pleased to say that I've managed to place a novella featuring mummies with a publisher!

The Necromancer's Apprentice is my retelling of the fabled Sorceror's Apprentice, only it replaces the sorceror with a necromancer, and the overly helpful brooms with blood-lusting mummies. It also features dog-headed men, a fight scene involving a scythe, and a pterodactyl. It's partly set in the Underground City which has appeared in a few of my Friday Flashes (click here if you want another look) and partly in the City Above, where the hapless apprentice ends up working in the House of the Long Dead. I'm not overly sure if it's horror, or dark fantasy, but I'm pitching it as somewhere between the two.

I'm really excited to announce that Dark Continents Publishing, who also published Nerine Dorman's Inkarna and Rab Swannock Fulton's Transformation, will be putting out The Necromancer's Apprentice through their Darkness and Dismay division. My ace new editor, Nerine Dorman, reckons I'm the twisted version of JK Rowling. I'll leave it up to you to decide if you agree when it comes out!

In the meantime, expect more Underground City stories, and definitely more mummies...