Wednesday, 22 March 2017

[Northspell 16] The princess talks to herself

"Why are you pretending to be me?" Irena asked.

"Why are you pretending to be me?" the impostor retorted, in exactly the same voice.

"You're the one that's pretending," Irena protested, desperately searching for something that would mark out the other girl as the impostor she was. She studied the face in front of her and saw nothing untoward there. It was exactly the same as the face she'd seen in the mirror before she left her rooms in the palace and all this trouble started.

"What's your name?" she asked suspiciously.

"Princess Irena Mariya Imaldi," the impostor promptly replied.

"But you CAN'T be..." Irena said, thumping her hand against the door in frustration. "That's ME. At used to be," she said slowly, an idea coming to her that might catch the impostor out. "I'm just called Irena now, so you see, I'm really me and you, you're just a...just an old shadow." She was quite pleased with this reasoning, although she wouldn't have liked to explain it back to Books Mistress.

The shadow looked confused, then she made a face that Irena realised with a shock must be her 'trying not to cry' face. The girl crouched down on the ground, curling into herself. Irena almost felt sorry for her, and knelt down beside her. She wasn't quite sure what to do, especially now that the girl was sobbing quietly and trying not to show it. She thought of what Arkel had done when Gia had her nightmare, and awkwardly draped an arm over the shoulders of the other girl. "Um...there there. Don't cry. Stop it.'ll all be another colour by the morning?" Whatever that meant.

The girl looked up, wiping tears from her cheeks with dirty fingers that left streaks. Irena felt the question before she asked it. "No, I dont know what it means either."

"But if I'm not Irena Mariya Imaldi then who am I?"

"You mean WHAT are you." Irena quickly corrected her, and almost felt sorry for it. 

The girl looked as if she was about to cry again. "I am a person you know..."

"People can't just appear out of nowhere, therefore you're something -I don't know quite what yet-  but you can't be a person." Irena reasoned in a clear-headed manner that Books Mistress would have been proud of. She thought she heard a noise out in the street and peered around the doorway to check. "Stop your crying a moment, I need to listen for Gia coming back..."

The street was empty. She turned back to see Arkel's head poking down through the gap between the door and the wall.

"Are you talking to yourself?" he asked, eyebrows raised.

"No, I'm..." Irena faltered, confused. She shifted her legs in the small space, and stood up, suddenly conscious that she almost missed the other girl who was not her.

"You're crazy." Arkel said cheerfully, before he was pulled away and replaced by Toban's furious face.

"Hush up, the pair of you, or I'll knock your heads together. This is serious business and the two of you sitting there clacking away like a pair of tea merchants."

Monday, 6 March 2017

Beautiful People link up: Em

Em from Glory Brats. She's an awkward half-feral mute child. Beware, she bites.

What’s their favourite book/movie/play/etc.?
She can't read, but she likes looking at the book that Sparrow is using to teach Tekla to read and write. She understands more than she lets on, but doesn't like the way the black marks jump all over the page. Her favourite part is licking the glue off the pages.

Is there anything they regret doing?
She regrets nothing! She lives in the moment and is probably overall the happiest of the Brats. If something bad happens, she generally bites someone and moves on.

If they were sick or wounded, who would take care of them and how?
Bee would feed her syrupy things from their food stash, Zed would tend her wounds, Dee would finger-wrestle with her (and let her win), Tekla would build her a blanket fort and Sparrow would worry about how to get her to a medic.

Is there an object they can’t bear to part with and why?
She is insanely jealous of Tekla's soft toy bird and contantly finds dead things to carry around as a substitute because she thinks that's what Tekla's toy is. She doesn't understand why the others find this objectionable and keep taking her dead things off her.

What are 5 ways to win their heart (or friendship)?
Food, food, food, food and food.

Describe a typical outfit for them from top to bottom.
Frayed wool hat, baggy t-shirt, dungaree shorts with big pockets (for stashing stuff), dirty sandshoes with mismatched laces. Sometimes bandage mittens that Sparrow ties on to stop her scratching, but she tears these off as soon as she can.

What’s their favourite type of weather?
She likes all kinds, but especially storms. She could watch lightning and listen to thunder rolls all night.

What’s the worst fight they’ve ever been in?
When Exchange is besieged by the Outsiders and the Glory Brats sneak into their camp. Em is caught stealing food and starts biting the guards when they catch her, and the others have to rescue her.

What names or nicknames have they been called throughout their life?
She gets called Em at the research clinic because her designation is 'M' - mute. When Bee and Zed first find her, they nickname her 'Rat' because that's what they thought she was when they heard her scuffling around in the store room. Then when Sparrow joins them with her reading knowledge she tells them that the mark on Rat's wrist is a letter called 'M' and the one on Zed's wrist is a 'Z' and Bee's is a 'B'. Personally, she doesn't like the high, sharp sound of 'rat' but she likes the round, happy sound of 'emm'. So she ends up answering to that.

What makes their heart feel alive?
Being free. Climbing to the tops of things. Using the swing that Cap makes for them. Eating food until she's full. Being with the other Brats, but she doesn't realise this until they get to Central and she gets taken away from them all.

If you want to see the other blogs in the link-up then pop on over to Paper Fury

Saturday, 4 March 2017

[Glory Brats] More Bee and Zed

They couldn't break the door. Not even when Zed jammed the back of the chair under the gap at the bottom of the door and tried to lever it open. Exhausted, they sat down in the dim green of the emergency lighting inn silence. Zed stared at the wall. "I didn't know there was anyone else here," he said eventually.

"I wasn't always here." Bee replied slowly. "Before, I was...somewhere else."

"What was it like?"

"Noisier than here."

Zed kicked his feet against the wall. Then he stoped, and scrambled onto his knees to investigate. "There's a grate in the wall here, by the floor, look."

Bee felt around the small metal rectangle with her fingers. "So?"

"So, I can see through it to the other side, into another room. We can get it off the wall and crawl through."

"IF we can get it off the wall..."

"I can get it off the wall." Zed said with quiet confidence. He opened the medicase and removed the set of tweezers. He slid the end of one of the squared-off points into the slot in the first of the screws. It slipped out of place the first few times he tried to turn it, but the grip held, and soon he had the satisfaction of feeling the screw getting looser and looser. It toppled out and rolled around on the floor.

"Is that it off?" Bee asked.

"Just the first one. Another three to go."


Zed didn't say anything, but rooted around in the medicase for a bit. When he'd found what he wanted, he tapped Bee on the shoulder. "Here. Careful - the end's really sharp."

He placed a smooth, flat piece of metal in her hands. She ran her fingers along it to the point. "Ow."

The other end's flat so you'll get a better grip." Zed explained. "You can work on this side and I'll do the other." He showed her where the grate was fixed on to the wall and saw that she could find the tiny gap in the screw.

With both of them working, they got on much faster. Bee finished first. Once she knew what to do, she could turn the screws quicker than Zed could. She held the grate in place so that it didn't fall off the wall as the final screw clinked to the floor. Zed put down the tweezers. "You can take it away now."

Bee put the grate to one side and felt the empty space in the wall with her hands. "It's not very big," she said doubtfully.

"It's big enough."

Zed stretched his arm through the wall to the other side and felt around the opening there. Then he edged himself into the hole, twisting his shoulders round to fit through the gap. Once on the other side, he stuck his head back though.

"C'mon Bee, you can do it."

"Course I can," she said huffily, lying almost flat to feel her way through the space and shuffling forward.

They found themselves in a large room filled with open shelving units. All the boxes on the shelves were sealed shut, apart from one. Zed opened the top of it and pulled out a metal can wrapped in colourful paper. He turned it over to look at the base, and passed it to Bee.

"It's a food can," she said.


"They had them at the other place. It's what food comes in."

Food for Zed came three times a day on a flat plastic tray. He couldn't think why food would come wrapped in metal.

"It's to keep it from spoiling. Going bad. Doesn't taste nice. Makes you sick." Bee sounded pleased that she knew more than Zed about something.

"The picture on this one looks like the green stuff they give us sometimes," he said.

"What does it look like?"

"I just said."

"No, I mean properly."

Zed thought for a minute. "They're small and round. And green."

"What does green look like, smartboy?"

"Bright, um..I don't know, it just is."

Bee crooked a finger into the ring pull at the top of the can and yanked it open. She scooped a handful of the contents out and shoved them into her mouth. She held the can out to Zed. "Peas. They're peas, idiot."

Zed took another can from the box and copied her actions to open it. " Mm, this one's sweet." He passed the can to Bee. "I like this one. What are they?"

She tasted the contents of the can. "Cherries. Me too." She held the can back out, but jerked her arm back as they both heard a scuffling noise from the darkness at the back of the room.

"What's that?" she whispered.

Zed peered through the gaps in the stacked boxes. "I can't see anything..."

"Some use you are." Bee got into a crouch and waved at Zed to do the same. They tiptoed round to the other side of the shelves. "What can you see now?"

"It just looks like a pile of blankets. I can't see anything more without going closer." Zed looked longingly towards the door. "I can get through that lock in no time..."

"Don't be such a coward. It's probably just a rat."

"What's a rat?"

"They scuttle. And like the dark. And food. They bite babies sometimes too."

"We should leave it alone then. I don't want to get bitten."

"It won't bite you. Unless you're a baby about it."

Zed didn't know what a baby was, but he didn't want to be one. Bee didn't make it sound like a good thing to be. He took a step closer, and was going to take another when he froze. "It moved!"

"Where? Poke it."

"You poke it!"

Bee sighed. "Fine. Give me something to poke it with."

Zed looked around and siezed on a long-handled brush. "Here."

"Where am I poking?"

He moved the broom into position, and Bee shoved the end of it into the pile of blankets. Something within the pile squealed and scurried out towards them. Bee flailed the end of the broom around, hitting Zed on the knee. He cried out and grabbed the broom handle, jamming the end of it ender his arm for support.

"Did I get it? Where did it go? Can you see it?"

"No, you didn't get it. You got me!" Zed rubbed at his sore knee, keeping a close eye on the thing perched on top of the shelves, gripping at the metal and baring its teeth at them. "I don't think it's a rat though...I think it's one of us." He kicked at the blankets that had been formed into a sort of nest, and revealed empty cardboard boxes and scattered crumbs.

*** *** ***

Dee soon tired of swinging in the chair. The shelves on the walls only held solid blocks of paper all spoiled by black marks. There was a large sheet of clear paper on the desk, and a bundle of graphite sticks, but after he'd covered the first sheet with scrawling marks he got bored and instead fell to exploring the rest of the room.

One full wall was covered with large plates of glass in metal frames, with smudgy darkness beyond. He tried to break through the glass, but it was too strong. He raised a fist, and pulled it back to punch again, but caught sight of his own blurred reflection. He laughed, then frowned, making silly faces that were mirrored in the vast expanse of glass.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

[Northspell 15] A walk through the city

Toban led them along dark streets and twisting alleys, across empty courtyards and down worn steps. Arkel and Gia called him all the names they could think of, dodging his retaliations easily. The other Irena followed Toban obediently, while the real Irena held back, and wondered why the imposter wasn't struggling or trying to get away. A small part of her thought that she should use this opportunity to escape, but the far greater part was itching to grab the imposter by the shoulders and shake her until she'd explained what she was doing, and why she'd come back so suddenly.

She came to an abrupt stop. Toban had pulled the group ahead into a huddle at the bottom of a flight of steps. She slowly crept as close as she dared before remembering that the others couldn't see or hear her anyway. It still took all her courage to step out of the shadows and move closer towards the group. She strained to hear what Toban was whispering.

"...the watchman. Lead him away from the warehouse and meet us at the...Arkel - you slip in through the roof and let..." he jabbed a finger at the imposter, "You - you wait for us and let me know if anyone is coming, or if the watchman returns too soon."

The imposter nodded meekly. Irena scowled. She herself would have had a thing or two to say to Toban, if he could have heard her. She watched Gia shimmy up the wall and drop down on the other side. Running forward to where the others were, she saw Gia pick herself up and run round the corner of the warehouse. Toban gave Arkel a push in the direction of the stairs, and clamped a hand on the imposter's shoulder. From around the corner came the sound of Gia being chased by the watchman. Toban lowered the imposter down the wall and then jumped down beside her. They turned the corner, and Irena was left at the top of the wall, gazing down into the darkness. She sat down. It felt less high then.

Gia had managed it. Gia wasn't that much taller. Arkel would dare her to do it.

 She slid herself off the edge, remembering at the last minute to bend her knees like Arkel had taught her when they were climbing in the caves. It still hurt though, and she'd scraped all the palms of her hands. She got shakily to her feet and stumbled to the corner. She heard Arkel's voice muffled in the doorway, and then it fell silent. The street was dark, so she shuffled forward, feeling her way along the wall with her sore hands outstretched. The doorway was even darker than the street, and she hesitated before stepping into it.


She stood on something moving on the ground. The thing stood up. The face was at the same height as her own. She looked into the eyes of her double, and saw frightened recognition there.

"Why are you following me around?" It hissed.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

[Northspell 14] Dreaming Reality

For a start, it felt like she'd just woken up. She opened her eyes and found that she could see perfectly well in the cavernous room. Even the bits that had been shadowy corners before were now clear and bright. She heard, but also sensed, Arkel snuffling as he turned over in his sleep, and Gia muttered something about a rockfall and cried out.

Alarmed, Irena ran over and began to shake her by the shoulder, calling out her name, but she was unable to wake her, She went over to Arkel next, loose threads of her clothes catching on the rough wood of the ladder. She was about to call out his name as well, when she became aware of someone or something else down below. At first she thought that Gia had finally woken up, but the noises weren't coming from Gia's sleeping place, but from where she herself had been lying on the pile of rags. She shrank back into the alcove and nudged Arkel with her foot.

"Arkel..." she whispered, "Arkel - there's someone else here. Does anyone else know where you live?"

But Arkel remained fast asleep. Irena kept shoving him with her foot, trying to wake him up, but like Gia, she couldn't shake him out of his sleep. Meanwhile, the figure below was stumbling about in the dark. Irena realised that whoever it was couldn't see as well as she could. She sensed the figure drawing nearer, despite Arkel's curtain obscuring her view of the main cavern.

It was strange, it was almost like she could feel the other person's movements as if they were her own. She felt the texture of the wood beneath her hands, and then the weight of the curtain as it was wrenched aside.

She gasped. The imposter was back. The girl with her face reached down and felt blindly for Arkel. "Arkel, Arkel, wake up." She said, just as Irena had done earlier. "There's someone else here..."

Irena held her breath. Did that mean her? Then she heard loud noises and shouting from the entrance to the cave.

"Oy, wake up you two, there's work to be done."

As the owner of the voice got nearer, Irena saw Arkel roll over and get up on his feet. Everything around her grew darker and darker again, until it was as dark as it had been before. She crawled to the edge of the alcove, feeling for it with her hands. There was more light in the centre of the room, as a strange boy was holding up a stick, the end wrapped in some greasy rags that had been set alight. He was an older boy, taller and more heavily built than either Gia and Arkel.

"Put that light out, Toban" she heard Gia say. "Your eyes will get used to the dark eventually."

"Hey, I don't spend half my time scurrying around in the dark like you tunnel rats," he said defensively.

Gia sighed. "Just put it out, Toban." she said wearily.

"Toban's afraid of the daark, Toban's afraid of the daaaaark...!" Arkel crowed, and Irena imagined him capering around like he usually did, constantly moving.

There was a scuffle, and a sharp yelp from Arkel, and the torch light was extinguished, but not before Toban had cried out, "Hey, there's three of you here; who's this?"

"Oh she's just a girl who ran into trouble and we picked her up," Gia explained. "She's hiding from the guards cos they said they'd cut her hand off if they saw her again."

Toban chuckled nastily, and Irena shivered. "Well, she'd better hope we don't run into any guards tonight ot they'll take both hands..."



Gia and Arkel spoke at the same time.

"Yeah, tonight. Mamata's got a job for us. Your new friend can come too. We'll need the extra help."

The voices faded away and Irena hastily slid down the ladder and followed them down the dark tunnel.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

[Glory Brats] Bee and Zed

The strange, tall girl --Bee-- moved away from him, leaving Zed to follow or not, as he wished. She reached the door and tried to open it, but it was locked. Frustrated, she slammed the flat of her hand against the door. Zed slipped back into his room and pulled a thin length of wire from its hiding place. When he returnened to the corridor, Bee was still banging on the door in frustration. He crept up behind her, and she nearly hit his head as she spun around.

"Don't do that!"

"What, do what?" he cringed back in the face of her anger.

"Come up behind me like that."

"Sorry, I only wanted to..." he held out the strip of metal. When she didn't respond, he took her hand and guided it to the wire. "Here, look. This might work."

"What is it?" Her fingers slid over the metal, gingerly feeling the rough points on the ends where it had been snapped off from the bed frame. He remembered how many hours it had taken him, lying on his back on the hard floor, working the loose metal to and fro with his good hand, listening for the sound of footsteps.

He took it out of her hands and gently tried to push her out of the way. She didn't move. " need to...I need to get at the door."

"Oh." She stepped aside. He crouched down, squinted at the door, then slid the make-shift tool between the door and the frame, just below the handle. Lifting the wire, he flicked it up and to the side, and drew it away from the door. It swung towards them, hitting against their feet.

Bee felt the empty space before her and a frown appeared on her face.

"How did you do that?"

He pressed the wire into her hands again. "It's simple really - the other ones are more complicated. I haven't managed to do them yet..."

"The other ones?"

"The other locks. There's lots of different kinds. This one is the easiest. The ones on our doors are mag locks, but they can be tripped if you break the circuit - that's why they came unlocked when the power went out."

"The power's out?"

"Uh, yeah? The lights aren'" He looked down at his feet, twisting the small bit of wire in his hands.

"So we can just walk straight out of here?" She stepped through the doorway into the darkness and then stopped. "There's another door. Open it."

"I can't. That's what I've been telling you. I've never managed to get that one unlocked. I tried, but they changed the locks, I think..."

He heard her rattle at the door handle, and then the noise of her rummaging amongst the shelves on either side of the small storage area that he knew was there. There was a crash, the sound of smashing glass, and she emerged after a few moments, gripping her arm tight, blood seeping out from under her fingers.

Zed's eye's widened. "You're hurt!

"Yes, smartboy. Can you fix it?" She leant against the wall and slid to a crouch on the floor, cradling her arm against her chest.

"Um, I don't...wait a minute...Can you just...thanks..." He edged past her and into the storage area, carefully avoiding the broken glass on the floor. He spotted the MediCase on an upper shelf, and stretched to grab it down. He took it out to the hall and laid the items out  in the dim flickering light from the emergency system. "Here, this is what you need. Let me see..." He grabbed her hand, and she flinched. "Sorry...let me see where you're injured."

Slowly, she took her hand away from the cut and sat very still as he swabbed it with the cold stinging stuff, then wound a strip of white fabric around her arm. He held the bandage with the grip he had in his weak arm, and used his other hand to cut it free with the scissors in the kit. "There."

Bee moved her arm experimentally, clenching and unclenching her fist, and wiggling her fingers. "Feels better. At least it's not dripping blood now. How d'you know how to do that?"

He clicked the items back into their places in the box. "I watch. And I remember. When they go to fetch the MediCase it never takes them very long, so I knew it had to be somewhere nearby."

She got to her feet. "Smartboy - do you think together we can break the door?"

Friday, 11 November 2016

[Northspell 13] Exploring

Over the next few days, Irena explored every inch of the hideout. She decided that it was much more fun than exploring in the palace because there were no servants to appear and tell you that anything was forbidden, and no nurse or books mistress to stop you from climbing on the furniture. Not that she'd ever thought of doing that before, but she could tell that it would be just the sort of thing that would be forbidden. Besides, it was much easier to climb once she'd got rid of the heavy embroidered coat that dragged her down. The only problem was the lack of light, but her eyes soon adjusted to the darkness and the flickering lamplight.

Arkel, when he was around, watched her progress with interest, and occasionally offered advice and encouragement. "Move your foot left a, don't put your hand's really much easier if you go up the other way..."

The hideout seemed to have once been part of a larget network of tunnels, as other passages led off the main chamber, but these had mostly been blocked off by rubble or securely boarded up.

"What's behind this one?" she asked, banging on the wood and trying to peer inbetween the slats to the gloom beyond. Arkel sauntered over and kicked at the boards with a dusty foot.

"Dunno," he said, "Never been able to get the boards off. 'Sides, Gia says it's dangerous to go wandering off in these places."

"That's right," Gia said, chucking a bag on the floor that clinked heavily as it hit the sandy ground, "You might fall down a mine shaft and never be seen again."

"What's a mine?" Irena asked, as Arkel fell on the bag and started shaking it out over the floor in excitement.

Gia looked over," It's where they dig stuff out of the ground. Useful stuff, or valuable, doesn't really matter. Sometimes it's deep underground and the tunnels are so small they need to use little children to get at it..."

Arkel had spread all the things out around him in a circle and was moving them from pile to pile: small spoons, tiny metal cups, a brooch with a broken pin, a handful of worn coins, and a sash made of some brightly coloured stuff with a heavy metal clasp.

"Use children? How?" Irena persisted, half-fascinated and half horrified.

Gia made a face as if she was remembering something horrible, but couldn't stop herself from continuing."Well, see, they can only dig the tunnels so far by hand, so they send the smallest children through the cracks in the rocks with the spark powder and something to light it with. Then they have to crawl back before the tunnel caves in. Sometimes they don't make it back."

This was the longest speech Gia had made since Irena had known her. Arkel had stopped playing with the contents of the bag and was staring open mouthed at Gia. "You think this is a mine then? Hey, maybe we could find something valuable without having to even leave. I'm small enough to fit through most spaces."

Gia and Irena shared a look that went over Arkel's head.

"What? I am though..."

Gia scooped her haul back into the bag and stalked off, "I need to take these to Mamata's," she called over her shoulder.

After she'd left, Irena and Arkel tried to see if there were any treasures hidden in their mine, Eventually, fingers sore and nails scraped, they gave up, at least until the next day. Irena pulled the largest rag over herself, yawned, and fell into a deep sleep. Her dreams over the last few nights had been of the usual sort, full of strange staircases, guards with hands outstretched to grab her, and that horrible feeling of wanting to run but being unable to move.

This dream was different.