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 Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)

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JayMoyles
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PostSubject: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Mon 10 Mar 2014 - 18:29

Howdy chums!

This opening post is going to be updated with whose turn it is to write, so please remember and check this if you're uncertain!

You have THREE DAYS after the last post was written to write your section. It can be as long or as short as you want, within reason.

Rota:

  • JayMoyles
  • Balladeer
  • Drunka/Buskalilly
  • ZeroJones
  • Andyman


Next up: Sir Drunka of the House Lilly
Deadline: 23:59 Sunday 1st June

Some guidelines:

No Mary Sues. A character who can flip seven times in the air, kill a platoon of guards, sleep with the Queen and be back in time for dinner isn't interesting. Make them funny, make them flawed, make them villainous, make them amicable... don't make them perfect.

Don't just stick to writing for your own character. Shamelessly copy and pasted from Balla, but he said it best: "I would encourage other people not to focus too heavily on the characters that they introduce into the story.  Yes your character is the greatest and bestest to you, but it'd be boring if everyone focussed solely on their own introductions."

Don't just rush towards a finale. We want to have some fun with this, right?

Don't keep introducing new characters. Four hundred and seven dudes pottering about won't make for a fun or interesting tale.

If we need to discuss the writing technicalities of the story or to talk about what's going on, use the brainstorming thread. Let's keep this thread to just the story itself, shall we?

HAVE FUN!

Let's do this!


Last edited by JayMoyles on Tue 27 May 2014 - 12:48; edited 14 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Mon 10 Mar 2014 - 18:30

The low winter sun set slowly over the rooftops of the city, the dying light of the day reflecting off the many brass pillars and struts jutting out from the buildings. Pipes running along the walls began to hiss and emit plumes of steam as heat rushed towards the wealthier homes in the city, ensuring that the nobles wouldn't shiver on this cold night. Down in the slums, amidst laughing factory workers enjoying a pint of ale after work and their wives gossiping about tonight's royal party, the city watch patrolled the streets. They clutched the pommels of their blades marginally more tight than on any other night – the city was abuzz with a curious sense of excitement. In the alleyways, where no-one dared to roam, clanking machinery and the scuttling of steel on stone could be heard if you strayed away from the taverns.

A zeppelin drifted lazily overhead, a searchlight fixated on the Island of Kings, and to the royal palace itself. It was a magnificent building – sculptures of the royal family were carved out of brass, giant pillars of marble stretched through the roof right down to the beautifully ornate mahogany double doors at street level and the royal palace was one of the few places in the city fortunate to be given lighting, courtesy of the mages in their tower, just outside the city walls. A bridge extended from the island out to the city proper, the muddied water of the river below rushing to the sea.

Tonight was the Winter's Ball. Every nobleman and noblewoman in the city desired an invite to this event, as it was undoubtedly one of the most important of the year. Most of the royal events were hosted by a lowly prince or baron, or if fortune allowed it, the crown prince or princess would regale the nobility with an appearance. However, on two nights across the year, the king and queen made their only public appearances of the year. The Summer Solstice was one, and tonight, the Winter's Ball, was the other. To receive an invite to either of those two events was an affirmation of power and a chance to climb up another rung towards a knighthood, or lordship. Carriages trundled across the bridge pulled by clanking and hissing copper horses, the laughter of nobles enjoying their first glass of wine ringing out from each carriage.

All save one.

Inside, a woman sat alone, staring out at the moon slowly rising in the sky. The chuckling of the carriages ahead of her stung her ears. Tonight was not a night of merriment for Lucia Velli, but one of opportunity. She reached into her small bag and took out a minute pocket-mirror and studied her face. She'd purposefully chosen a dark shade of red to adorn her lips with – it'd serve her well if this plan came to fruition. It was professional enough so that she didn't look like a courtesan, but sensual enough that whoever she sat next to would be predisposed to seduction... or at the very least, a suggestion.

Her eyes flicked upwards. She spotted a man sprinting down the bridge towards the palace. She smirked as she spied the unmistakeable glint of steel in his hands. Clearly someone intended to send a message to the nobility, but he wouldn't even get close. Still gazing back towards the city, Lucia managed to catch a glimpse of a blur of black robes, a flash of claret as the man was tackled by this blur and a scream as the man plummeted to the river below. Lucia allowed herself a smile. Those mages did wonders with steam and steel and it seems as though the security tonight was being supplemented by some of those creations. Her carriage came to a halt, and a gruff looking guardsman opened the door for her. Flashing a smile to the guard, Lucia gingerly stepped down and looked up at the ornate palace entrance. It never failed to catch her breath. She granted herself a moment of awe before refocusing.

All would be for naught if her brother hadn't managed to alter the seating plan for the dinner, and infiltrating a royal palace is no easy task. Lucia had full confidence in her brother – an extraordinary assignment requires an extraordinary hand, and her brother was anything but ordinary. Pulling her coat tightly around herself, Lucia walked briskly towards the doorway... and towards -power.

**************************************
Deep inside the palace, behind the most hideous looking guards and the most complex of magical traps, lay a door. To the casual observer this was just another door, and not even a very nice-looking door either. It was chipped, the handle was made of faded iron and there wasn't a lick of paint to be found on the thing. But it was the most important door in the city, perhaps even the world. Behind this door was the one thing that everyone in the city coveted most; not power, for there are those in the slums who are content with living simplistic lives, not money as gold to the richest of the rich is a drop of water in an ocean, not love as there are a plethora of jaded souls out there who deplore love and cast it off as a fallacy before trotting up to their cold bedroom, tissues in hand – no, behind this door lies what has been dubbed the MacGuffin.

No-one is certain why it has been named as such. Some say it is a relic from a faraway Celtic land, others that it once belonged to a farmer who passed it off to a royal in exchange for a knighthood. Most just agreed it was a funny name, and it stuck. Regardless, it is highly sought after. Yet, no-one except the king truly knows what it is. Many have ideas as to its identity, but they are merely guesses tied to that individual's desires. One thing about the MacGuffin is certain: it is very, very, very important.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Tue 11 Mar 2014 - 9:34

Dick the guardsman watched the Velli carriage being drawn away to the stables.  A proper lady, that one.  Human.  Didn't get enough of those these days.  

I mean, take that carriage coming up there.  Black, dark purple curtains, hugely ornate coat-of-arms on the side with a general red colouration.  A pale moustached gentleman and three gorgeous ladies rocking back and forth, emitting high screeching laughter while deep red wine sloshed in their glasses.  Fangs just visible if you looked hard enough.  Oh sure, it was just wine in those glasses now, but you wait until they got a bit tipsy.  He opened the door, resisting both the urge to stare down the ladies' corsets, and the urge to cover his ears as they screeched right in his face.

He let off a long slow bout of flatulence in between carriages, then moved onto the next carriage.  Golden decor, green coat of arms - and, sure enough, the "gentleman" emerging was covered in scales.  At least the vampires looked humanoid - the fire-belchers didn't even make an effort.  Greedy social-climbing bastards, he though, as they cackled to each other on the way to the palace.  

And now it was starting to snow.  Couldn't have a winter ball without snow, could you?  Didn't consider the guards, did they, when they got the mages to cast their blizzard spells into the night sky?  Of course they sodding didn't.  

Dick tightened his scarf and shivered as he opened more carriage doors.  Vampires, werewolves, dragons, monsters: all that was missing was a centaur.  

No, wait, there he was, pulling one of the most ridiculously over-decorated carriages.  The enchanted wood spiralled into buttresses and crenellations, putting forth leaves and blossoms.  The Duke of the Low Forest: elves.  Of course, the Low Forest was now all factories and industry, but the elves still strutted around like they owned the place.  Dick couldn't stand them, or the way they thought they were better than else just because they lived for centuries, with their floor-length robes and their prissy little crowns and their new-found industrial wealth.

As they filed past him, the Duke and his wife and their two blonde children, all dolled up to the nines, the centaur tipped his cap to Dick.  Dick touched his helmet.  He didn't like centaurs any more than he liked the rest of them, but you had to respect a fellow working man; and he probably didn't like being tethered to a sentient lump of wood anyway.

Human, human, vampire, human, dragon, merfolk (shedding their tails for the evening, but you could tell by the gills), human, goodness knows what they were, human...  The night couldn't end soon enough, and it was only just starting.

Ah - here was a suspicious looking one.  He certainly looked the part, all done up in his dress coat and top hat, but he was walking.  Nobody who was anybody walked up the bridge.  They all had their carriages, drawn by copper horses, or real horses if you could afford them, or a centaur if you were a pretentious bunch of arseholes.  He'd made it past the automata, so presumably he wasn't armed, but that didn't mean he wasn't up to something.  Dick opened another carriage door, then stepped forward and stopped the man.  He was wearing a mask that covered his face entirely, save for a couple of wisps of beard hair that poked out under it.  Wait: were they hair?

"'Scuse me, sir, can I see your invitation?"

The man looked down at his fingers, covered by long white gloves.  "Ah, yes, my, my invitation.  Um."

He floundered around in his coat pockets.  Dick prepared himself to turn him away.  Odd voice, that man had.  Garbled, like he was speaking underwater.  Looked harmless otherwise: leant heavily on his cane, mumbled.  Probably wouldn't be...

"Thanks, sir, that's all I needed.  On you go."

"You are most kind, my good man.  Have a wonderful night."

Dick resumed his carriage opening.  Human, dragon, human with possibly some fairy in the family...  It took him a while to realise that he didn't remember ever seeing the man's invitation, by which point the guest was long gone inside.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Tue 11 Mar 2014 - 20:37

Inside the palace, the final preparations were being made to the grand dining hall. Struggling to be heard above the clatter of chairs, crockery and the excitable conversation coming from the ever-increasing crowd of guests in the next room, head servant Harrison barked orders at his staff.

"Move those seats apart, there's no room for people to breathe!"
"Make sure there's wine anywhere you'd need need it, don't keep anybody waiting"
"Are those place names here yet?"

An underling bundles into the room with a box of papers. Timidly, he offers them in Harrison's direction and stutters "Are these them, Mr Harrison, sir?"

They were. As the only one on the staff who could read, this was one task Harrison couldn't delegate away. Taking the box under one arm, and with the seating plan in the other hand, he set to work.

King and Queen at the top, obviously, with the ridiculously ornate chairs- he knew he could skip those. The rest of the royalty were a more contentious issue. Tradition gave the position of crown prince to the first one lucky enough to be popped out of the royal undercarriage. Tradition had never heard of twins.

Largely, the two princes could be trusted to be civil on the matter- but after a wine or two, Harlan just wouldn't be able to stop himself putting in some barb about how Douglas wasn't the right choice. So they had to be sat flanking their parents, far enough apart that they couldn't risk bickering with one another.  

The lower princes and princesses were largely happy with their lot and stayed out of the matter. But there were one or two who found Harlan's behaviour distasteful and they needed to be positioned accordingly to keep the peace there. Simple enough, as nobody in that tier had any problems with anyone else. The problems then came further down the line- one of the barons hated elves, saying they weren't to be trusted under any circumstances and wouldn't have anything to do with them. So he couldn't be sat at the edge of the royals if an elf was to be seated next to them. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the less said about one particular princess and the merfolk, the better.

It was of utmost importance that those seats were filled in exactly the right order, so the place names had to follow the list perfectly.

After that, it was a little more straightforward. Allowing for a certain level of social rank- suspicions would be raised if a shopkeeper was rubbing shoulders with the factory magnates, after all- the remaining seats were simply in order of whoever greased Harrison's palm the most. A lot was riding on these events, and being sat next to the right craftsman could make or break a livelihood.

Normally, you could see people creep up the line. A canny climber could be seen at one end of the table one day, and be a little further up the next, and further still the time after that. It was unusual, however, to see a new name midway up. Not unheard of- someone who had already succeeded in another kingdom had a natural advantage over one in the process of succeeding locally- but unusual. Velli seemed like an exotic name, so Harrison assumed that was why it made its first appearance so high up.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Fri 14 Mar 2014 - 11:33

Velli took a deep, slow breath through her nose, savouring the deep, artificial, vanilla scent of the royal halls. The guests, barring the real royalty and anyone else who couldn't allow themselves to rub shoulders with lesser mortals, were allowed to mingle in the great hall while final dinner preparations were made in the hearth. Waiters, one arm behind their back and another delicately balancing platters of wine, quietly glided from guest to guest, passing out drinks. Velli took one politely and brought it to her lips.

The strong scent of alcohol brought a smile to her face. At these events, the drinks were normally weakened, little more than water. Velli had used her natural talents to charm her way into the confidences of the head housekeeper. With a fluttered eyelash and a coy smile and an appropriately inappropriate dress, she had convinced him, just this once, just for her, to buy a more powerful poison. It was her first time in the capital, and she just wanted to have fun, and oh he was so kind and so generous and had such a masculine moustache...

Around the edges of the room, housekeeping staff shuffled out of the building. In their identical black uniforms, they were like ants, parting to let the boots of better men pass through. They made no noise but for the occasional hiss and whir of bodyparts unnatural. Velli's brother made eyecontact but she didn't allow herself to react; not a sound, not a movement of her face, not a heartbeat. She couldn't allow herself to admit knowing him in front of these people, even if she had still wanted anything to do with him after the unpleasantness with “father.”

Outside, the cold air began to bite at Dick. The younger guard on the other side of the door shivered, wrapping his arms around the torso and rubbing up and down. Dick knew to keep still and stand erect. This was the palace, after all. A certain amount of discipline was expected, required even. The staff began to file out through the doors and down the steps to their accommodation. They waited until they were well clear of earshot before they even began to make a sound. They knew their place.

Dick bit his teeth down hard and breathed slowly, fighting the urge to react to the cold. His body was shivering involuntarily, like a tavern wench he once knew. That thought brought a bit of warmth with it. Dick clutched his staff tightly and remembered times long past. He knew the spear he held was worth about as much as a grandfather's cock in a fight, but he had a sword and a lightning gun on his belt as well. The spear was just for show. You couldn't have a man standing guard without holding up a spear twice his own height all night, could you?

Inside, the merriment increased exactly as according to plan. Velli accepted a second sparkling glass and, like the first, surreptitiously deposited it in a potted plant. She stepped carefully between old fat men with beards like scourers and beady, black eyes and their slender, vacuous wives. She laughed politely at jokes she'd heard at a dozen such events and racist ones she'd never heard before and would have preferred to keep that way. When men spoke to her, she could see them glance down her top and when they were behind her, she could feel their stares burning into her backside. She didn't mind. She thrived from it. Her body, her eyes, her lips were bread and butter, with her cunning putting the jam in the middle.

Slowly, guests were being filtered, some already swaying from the unexpected champagne, into their seats. First the seats closest to the royal family, then further and further back down the hall. Velli fought the urge to clutch the locket pressed between her breasts. She knew it was there and she knew the key was in it. Drawing extra attention would be foolish. She walked with purpose to the front of the hall and once again prayed a silent prayer that she had the seat she wanted; right next to the door.

A tall, pale man with jet black hair bumped her shoulder as he floated past with an enigmatic walk. Behind him came three women, all dressed in equally sombre clothes with similarly pale features and similarly dark hair. Their features were perfect, like they'd been chiselled from stone, and their lips were blood red. Vampires. One of them was constructing a cigarette. The other had already rolled hers.

Dick saw the male first. He barely left footprints on the snow as he stepped outside and lit his cancer stick with an almost invisible flick of the wrist. Fucking vampires. The cold didn't bother them, did it?

Then the women came. Their short skirts, their tightly squeezed bosoms, their quiet murmurs and schoolgirls' laughter. They were drunk already. Inappropriate, Dick thought, as he thought inappropriate thoughts. Unlike the man, they did notice him. They stalked their way towards him enticingly, muttering to each other and biting their lips deliciously. Dick swallowed and tried to keep his eyes straight forwards.

“Look at this one.”

“So serious, isn't he? I bet he's no fun at all.”

They laughed, then the first one came even closer. The smell of her breath on his nose should have repulsed him, he hated their kind, but it just made him want her even more. She took a long, slow drag of her cigarette and blew the smoke right into Dick's face. He wanted to smoke so badly but he had hours until his shift finished. The other vampire took a swig from a glass he didn't realise she was holding and came even closer than the first, her lips almost touching Dick's neck.

“I don't think he's serious really. I think he wants to come out and play really.”

“You like him, don't you?”

“He's a big, strong Royal Guard. I'm sure he'd never want to play with silly little girls like us.” Dick wanted to play alright. He really wanted to play. He bit his tongue. Her lips slowly parted, her long, sharp teeth bared. Her mouth opened, just a fraction, and as cold as Dick felt before, he felt a dozen times colder then. She moved closer. Closer.

“Come.” It was the man. He disappeared behind Dick, back into the castle, and the girls followed. They turned as they walked away from Dick and gave him a smile that said they'd see him again. He didn't know whether to be excited or terrified. What would his father think if he lied down with a vampire? What if she bit him and killed him, or worse?
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Mon 17 Mar 2014 - 23:35

Chuck hated these functions, he was the kind of guy who enjoyed curling up by the fire with his nose firmly placed in a good book. He always felt out of place amongst the hordes of people in their glamorous clothes with their designer labels, but his mothers constant nagging had finally made him give in and agree to go. What was the point in attending these functions? He didn't care about upholding the family name, he didn't have any friends there to catch up with and he certainly wasn't going to attract a bride when the princes were present. No this evening Chuck would find a nice corner to slink away into, pull out a book that he'd smuggled out of the house in his jacket pocket and try to pass the evening quickly.

Eventually his carriage arrived and he made his way into the entrance hall, complaining to himself about how stupid it was that real horses were considered better than copper ones. Horrible smelly things, trust Dad to show how important he is with the least efficient mode of travel possible. He longed for the day that he could force his own children to attend the balls in his place, then things would be different. No wasting money on horses that need constant food and attention to maintain, no he could buy all of the books he wanted and then some. Unfortunately when that day came he would also have inherited the family business and he didn't much fancy that either. Chuck was a scholar, he wanted to go to university and meet other people who cared to talk philosophy and science instead of the idle gossip that these balls were famed for spreading. If only he could find a way to fund his studies. His dad only had eyes for the family business, not a chance Chuck was getting any funds from his father unless it was a course in... actually, he wasn't sure what the family business was, but it didn't involve any reading so it didn't matter.

By the time he was in the great hall the party was in full swing. Everyone seemed in particularly good spirits so Chuck grabbed a glass of wine and found a nice corner to perch in. Alcohol was definitely the best thing about these parties, he didn't like drinking around his family because he always ended up doing something stupid. If he drank too much one night he'd probably end up getting kicked out for telling his parents what he really thinks of them and being homeless definitely didn't appeal to him. He'd ended up in the slums after a particularly boring party and the thought of living there disgusted him. Remembering that awful place forced him to down the rest of his drink. A waiter quickly came round and replenished his drink which he then drained again. He was really feeling its effects tonight, he didn't think he was particularly hungry but maybe he'd just forgotten lunch again, an easy mistake when you've spent the day in the library.

Several drinks later the help ushered him to his seat so he drained the rest of his 5th or 6th glass and staggered to his place. He didn't acknowledge the people who he sat next to, he just wanted to keep his head down and get on with it. He pulled out his book and began reading it to make it clear to everyone that he was not in the mood for idle chit chat. Pulling out his pocket watch he tried to work out how much longer he had to endure this rubbish but he couldn't read it in the condition he was in. He returned the watch to his pocket and downed another drink. He immediately regretted it and ran off towards the bathroom to avoid further embarrassment.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Thu 20 Mar 2014 - 19:41

“KEEP – THE DRINKS – COMING!”
 
Servants, laden with trays of drinks and food of varying colours, lowered their heads to avoid Harrison’s furious glare. Which was just what the head servant wanted. When the dingy kitchen cleared of staff, he allowed himself a satisfied smile. These occasions were what Harrison had been born for: organising the staff made him feel like a general, carefully co-ordinating his resources on the buffet battlefield. He stalked carefully around the kitchen, checking the tables still piled high with exotic dishes and expensive drinks.
 
A frown.
 
Harrison drew a chair out from the main table and picked up the box that was resting on it. Straightening – for it would not do for the head servant of the palace to be found anything other than upright and perfectly attentive – turned the object over in his gloved hand. Shaped like a die, but just larger than his palm, the box was made of varnished wood, a deep rich brown. A keyhole disturbed its smoothness on one side, with the hinge just faintly visible above. Peering at the box intently, Harrison could detect nothing out of the ordinary about it.
 
Pursing his lips for only a moment, the man turned towards the stairs. “COOPER!” he shouted. Within seconds, Harrison’s ferrety deputy tapped down the stairs, his bowed legs making him a comical sight… not that his bulging eyes and worrying toupee didn’t do that for him anyway. “Yes, Mr Harrison, sir?” Still turning the box over in his hands, the head servant lowered his eyes to meet Cooper’s.
 
“You must take over from me for a few minutes, Cooper,” Harrison announced. Cooper bowed. “Of course, sir,” he replied, the gratification at his temporary promotion evident in every surprised syllable. Eyebrow raised a fraction of an inch, Harrison turned and thrust a tray of glasses into Cooper’s arms. “Take these upstairs,” he said haughtily. Cooper bowed again. “Right away, sir.” Harrison followed the man out of the kitchen, still undecided as to whether he should head for the King’s Chief Engineer or the Captain of the Guard.
 
Either way, that was all the invitation the masked man needed. He snuck into the kitchen silently and took up a position in the darkest corner of the room. Still wearing his hat and coat, despite the fetid warmth of his surroundings, the curious eyes of the mask began to sweep the room. They alighted on a particularly ornate tray of goodies. The coat flipped and a tiny bottle appeared in the man’s gloved hands. The mask’s smile appeared to get wider.
 
**************************************
 
Harrison knew, as the ancient song had it, the pathway like the back of his hand. Turning down seldom-used corridors and uneven flights of stairs, he arrived at the door he had been seeking. Over the years the head servant had learned to knock and wait patiently for a reply before entering; his left leg still hurt him on wet days.
 
“Come in!” bellowed a voice. Harrison obeyed, the box still in his left hand. “Hello, Hieronymus,” he said. The hunched figure at the grand workstation turned. He was wearing some sort of magnifying lenses over his eyes that protruded outwards a good couple of inches. Lifting the lenses up to the top of his head and subconsciously trying to rub all the dirt out of his filthy lab coat, the King’s Chief Engineer stood to greet Harrison.
 
“Ronald!” he cried, delightedly, extending a hand. The head servant’s hesitation was not noticed by his compatriot, and they shook hands warmly. “Still happy you’re a servant, old boy? The future’s in steam, you know! Oh, when I think of the things we could have made, you and I!” Harrison grinned. “I’m in the right place, Hieronymus,” he said. “Or I would be, if I hadn’t found this in the kitchen…” He lifted the box into the engineer’s line of vision.
 
Hieronymus gasped.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Sun 23 Mar 2014 - 18:27

There were a lot of places in the world that Luka Velli had been in life where he wasn't supposed to be. Bank vaults, guard barracks, ladies bedrooms... but the royal palace had to be one of his riskiest infiltrations yet. But it was surely going to be worth it. Luka recalled his sister striding into his usual tavern, concealed beneath a hooded cloak. She sat opposite him, gesturing to the barkeep for a drink.

"Dearest sister, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

Lucia shot him a glare from underneath her hood.

"Don't be smart, Luka. It doesn't suit you."

Luka smirked, and took a deep swig from his tankard. The Velli family consisted of just himself and his sister - the rest of the family had met unsavoury ends that Luka didn't care about and his mother and father were fortunate enough to pass away from old age. Luka suspected most of the family had offed one another - familial love was not something a Velli held dear.

The bartender placed a glass by Lucia.

"Luka, the previous two times we spoke were only because I needed your help an-"

"And they were profitable endeavours sister of mine!" Luka knew that interrupting Lucia's spiel would only rile her up more. He couldn't help it. But he spoke the truth - the first was a simple robbery that resulted in Luka getting a little bit of gold, and the second was a betting plot. Of course, that scheme was far more dangerous, as it resulted in Lucia betting on her brother to win a fencing tournament. He parried and riposted his way to victory, and to a massive amount of gold. Luka knew that the only reason his sister would come to him is if she needed his help.

"Spit it out then Lucia. What is it you require of me, and what do I stand to gain from it?" He eyed her closely. What his sister did next surprised him - she hesitated.

"I... I do not know what reward awaits us, only that is surely great."

"Oh please! You want me to presumably risk my life for an imaginary reward? I expected better of you," Luka scoffed. Lucia sighed, before pulling a drawing out from under her cloak. It depicted a rough wooden door ajar, gold beams of light streaming through the crack. She pointed at the drawing.

"This is your reward - well, half of it, of course. Somewhere in the royal palace, this door exists, behind automatons and traps and a legion of guards. The door is locked by a key which the king keeps on his person at all times. We're going to break in."

Luka looked up at his sister, mouth agape.

"That's... that's suicide. I can't do that Lucia. I can maybe break into the palace if the conditions were right, but through all that security... impossible." Luka shook his head, and to his surprise he saw his sister nodding - agreeing with him.

"You're right. It is impossible. But, we can make it possible. Give me a few minutes to explain my plan, and if I haven't swayed you by then, I'll walk away."

Luka shook his head, remembering how over the course of the next few minutes his sister had him fully on board. The plan would begin tonight, at the Winter's Ball, and it would come to fruition at the Summer Solstice event. Luka had been sitting in a darkened room for a few hours now, wearing formal clothes. They didn't fit him well, but they'd suffice. His infiltration of the palace was simple enough - he stashed himself into a supply cart earlier in the day, stayed in the shadows until the majority of the guard went outside to the bridge and then he leapt into action. Then, he sneaked into an administration office, changed the seating plan to raise the status of one Lucia Velli, and darted out again quickly.

Luka opened the door slowly, making sure no guards or servants were nearby, then he sauntered towards the main hall. Emerging into a hallway, a servant spotted him and dashed towards him.

"Sir, sir, drinks and entrees are being served in the main hall. What were you doing over there?"

Luka reached into his pocket and handed the servant a gold piece.

"I was... getting acquainted with a very pretty lady I met in the main hall. Nothing wrong with that, no?" Luka winked, smiling as the servant nodded slowly.

"Yes sir, no problem here! But please, you best hurry towards the hall."

"I agree, good fellow. Thank you for your service." Luka strode towards the main hall. He'd accomplished one of his two goals for tonight. Entering the main hall, Luka quickly spotted his sister. He kept his distance, but got into her line of sight. Their eyes met, and he nodded briefly. The barest sign of a smile crossed her face - she obviously hadn't been informed of where she was sitting yet. Grabbing himself a drink, Luka downed it, placing the glass on a table before exiting the main hall. He couldn't be there for when the guests were shown to their seats - he'd be caught. Luka returned to the darkened chamber and waited. Once the party was over, a servant would return to that chamber to sleep off a hard day's work. They wouldn't wake, come the morning.
___________________________________________________

The ringing of a bell resonated through the main hall. A curt looking gentleman stood by the high table.

"If the guests will please be seated, thank you!"

A swarm of servants moved through the hall, ushering the guests to their assigned locations. Lucia walked confidently up the room, ascending stairs that only the highest of society are meant to climb. She was eventually seated at a table very close to the High Table itself. She peered around the room, waiting to see who would sit either side of her. A quivering man with boyish looks sat on one side. She half-turned her head, but he seemed to recoil at the mere threat of her acknowledging him. He pulled out a book and immediately began gulping down his wine. A gruff gentleman with a thick moustache sat on the other side of her. She allowed him a few moments to get settled, before turning to him with a smile.

"Hello there. Lucia of House Velli," she flashed her teeth at him, and offered her hand. He kissed it delicately before meeting her gaze.

"Charmed, Miss Velli. The name's Parker. Captain Francis Parker, head of palace security. The automatons respond to me, the guards respond to me too... although there ain't much difference between an automaton and a guard!" He guffawed, and Lucia forced herself to titter at his remark. Winning this man's favour was very important, and winning his heart... even more so.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Sun 23 Mar 2014 - 22:29

"She liiiiiiiiiked you."

Dick pulled his helmet down over his ears and tried to blot out the sound of his young colleague.  Why did he have to still be out here anyway?  All the coaches had arrived, and nobody was going to be stupid enough to turn up uninvited.  

Apart from maybe... no, no one.  And he definitely hadn't been fooled into letting someone through uninvited.  Not on his watch, godsdamnit.  

"That vampire lady.  The one with the ponytail.  She liiiiiiiked you.  Maybe she'll be able to slip away from her man later, and...  you know."  He giggled.  "The one with her hair down, I think she liked me!"

Dick smiled indulgently.  Think what you want, kid.  In turn, he would try not to think about what he wanted to think about, which involved two vampires and not a lot of clothing.

"Maybe..."  The boy was choked off by his own laughter.  "Maybe, she wants to hold your..."

"Stop."  Dick wheeled on him.  "Stop right there.  'Cause if you're going to make a joke about my name, I've heard 'em all before and they're not funny.  The other staff call me Richard, and I'll thank you to..."

"Ahoy there, Dick!"

Dick's heart took a plummet.  He wheeled around in the direction of that annoyingly cocksure voice, all too recognisable, with a sibilance that pointed the speaker out as not human.  Sure enough, the figure marching out from the guardhouse was a dragon, dressed in shiny brass armour that was as close as was practical to gold.  His one yellow eye was smiling at Dick, and the human did not appreciate it.  He longed for the days when it was just humans on the job.

"End of my shift, is it?" he said, thinking of cigarettes.

"Bet you're gagging for a long stick to put in your mouth, eh Dick?" said the dragon, and every word was a smirk.  "So, did you let anything in that you shouldn't have done tonight?  Anyone sneak in through the tradesman's entrance?"

A masked figure danced before Dick's eyes, hobbling on a cane.  He swallowed.  "Some of us are full-time professionals, not bloody mercenaries.  I'll thank you to remember that, lizard."

"Your service record isn't too good at reminding me, ape."

Their eyes narrowed.  Then the dragon tossed his head back and laughed.  "Better take my post.  Can't have the kid spending all night here with only his Dick to keep him company!"

The kid was doubled over in hysterics.  Dick clenched his fists, but stepped away, back towards the guard's house.  Back towards the rest of his company.

He hated them.  He hated the young ones, who boasted of their women and their wars that they'd never actually met or fought.  He hated the old ones, who could remember every mistake he'd ever made and rub them in his face.  He especially hated the non-human ones, who thought that they were better than him just because they were magic and special and ooooooh.

New laws demanded that x% of the guards were non-human.  "Multiculturalism", they called it.  "Multiculturalism" his di- arse.

Some indoor fireworks went off.  He looked enviously at the palace, full of light and life and laughter.  He'd give up smoking (he had lit a ciggie without even noticing) forever just to go to the Winter's Ball for one hour, just once.  For how many years had he stood outside, thinking the same thing every year?  And every year he'd kept puffing away.  Pansy-Boy Parker got to go, natch, even though Dick had known him when he was swinging twigs at the other boys in the forest and crying to his posh daddy when they hit him back; but there was no way he'd get an invitation, not even for all his long years of unflinching service.  Couldn't go in without an invitation.

The masked man appeared before his mind's eye again.  If anyone found out...  Why had he let him through?  Magic?  The automata could sense magic at forty paces.  Psychic powers?  You didn't get psychics in this day and age.  Not after that experiment with the cat.  What was beneath that mask?

Another firework.

He couldn't just let that man run around inside the palace.  He had a duty to atone for his mistake.  He was a King's Guardsman, wasn't he?  Couldn't let the others know, of course: couldn't spoil their evening.  It wouldn't be right.  He'd have to track down that bastard alone and teach him the King's Justice.  And if he happened to run into one of the vampires in there...  He'd behave professionally.  Of course he would.

He dropped the cigarette in the snow, where it spluttered and went out.  He turned away from the guardhouse, towards one of the secret entrances to the palace, only to be used in emergencies.  And a masked psychic running around the Winter's Ball was definitely an emergency.

He just had time to hear the dragon introduce himself as Roger, and the kid cackling in response.  He permitted himself a smirk of his own.



"Five minutes until the performance!  All aboard the hype train!  Woo woo!"

So shouted Prince Douglas, first in line to the throne, above the palaver.  The royal family were milling around anxiously in the room above the great hall, none of them listening to him.  Through the one-way-transparent floor, they could see their guests taking their seats at the table.  Douglas had to admit, seeing them all beneath his feet gave him an amazing power kick.  

Everyone was present, apart from Harlan, obviously.  His brother would be late to his own funeral - although Douglas suspected that he'd be right on time for Douglas'.  The king was sitting in his steam-powered wheelthrone, picking nervously at his beard and trying to look like he wasn't a decrepit old thing who might drop dead at any moment.  The queen, raised on hunting and long horse rides in the wintertime, was running hither and thither, putting up the princesses' hair, cleaning stains off the princes' clothing, and yelling at the servants who were fixing the harnesses in place.

Wonderful invention of old Hieronymus', this.  He couldn't wait to see the looks on the not-quite-plebs' faces as they entered the room from above, like angels.

Douglas waved a hand at his valet, who presented a mirror.  That coat!  That crown!  Those pantaloons!  That sword, its hilt glittering with rubies like they were going out of fashion!  He looked like a billion ducats, as befitted his first time reading the Winter's Ball speech.  This was traditionally the king's purview, but given his father's far-advanced years, and especially after last year's speech, it was decided that the responsibility would be his this year.  It could have been worse, given the wheelthrone's waste storage system; but it had been so... loud.

And what a speech!  If their faces when they descended would be a picture, their faces when he read the speech would be a masterpiece.

"Ah, Harrison," he said, turning to the man wearing the Head Servant's Insignia.  "Tell me, who...  You're not Harrison.  Who are you?"

"Cooper, your royal excellency."  The man bowed comically low, his toupee almost making a bid for freedom.  "Mr. Harrison has put me in charge for a bit."

Douglas' face contorted in confusion.  "Why would he do that now?  And why are you wearing his insignia?"

Cooper turned very red.  "Ah, well the thing is, your royal excellency, I thought the lesser servants might not respect my temporary position, so, so I, er, I nipped into Mr. Harrison's room..."

Douglas waved him into silence.  "Never mind that, Souper.  Harrison could memorise the seating plan in a matter of minutes.  I trust that you can do the same?"

Cooper looked slightly affronted.  "I am Mr. Harrison's deputy, your majesty.  And, er, it's Cooper, sire."

Douglas took a pair of extendible spectacles from the valet.  They looked rather like Hieronymus' own eyewear, only more ornate.  He extended the extendible bits and peered downwards.  "I like to know who I'm speaking at, Trooper.  Tell me, who is that green-looking fellow with his nose in a book?"

Cooper coughed.  "That is Charles 'Chuck' Eagle, son of Randall Eagle.  The heir to the Eagle Magic Technologies empire.  He'll be a very important man in the future, your majesty."

"He certainly doesn't look it now.  Steady on the wine, old thing.  What about that girl next to him, the redhead in the indecent dress?"

"That is Lucia Velli, sire."  Cooper faltered.  His encyclopaedic memory couldn't recall anything about Lucia Velli, other than her name on the seating plan, but he wasn't about to admit that to the prince.  "A big up-and-coming young beauty in the social scene."

"I see what you did there, Hooper.  'Up-and-coming' indeed.  I bet they all are around her!"  He made a mental note to ask her for a dance.

Cooper didn't see what he'd done, but smiled and bowed nonetheless.

"And what about the man in the mask over there?"

Cooper matched the man's spot with the seating plan in his head.  "That is Madame Olivia de Rosetta, your majesty.  A soprano with the Pomodorian Opera, she is one of only three women in the world able to sing..."

His mind caught up with what he was saying.  Douglas was already there.  They looked down together at the masked man sitting in Madame de Rosetta's seat.

His majesty gave out a mighty guffaw.  Cooper's face was almost iridescent.  What was he doing there...?

"Going down in one minute!" yelled a technician from the sidelines.  "Anybody who is not in a harness should not be on the Magiglass (© Eagle Magic Technologies) floor!"

Douglas gathered himself, wiped the tears from his eyes, and looked around at his assembled family (the surviving ones).  And there was Harlan, finally getting into his harness, complaining about the straps being too tight and it crumpling his shirt etc. etc.

Cooper made to exit, but Douglas' hand stopped him.  "Never mind about the masked man, Blooper.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Apart from Harrison, of course.  Oh, and tell Ms. Velli that Prince Douglas demands the first dance of her.  Quite possibly the second, too.  Off you pop, there's a good chap."

Cooper nodded and vacated the one-way-transparent floor, running his hand through his increasingly matted toupee.  That masked man shouldn't be there.  He should have been a woman the size of a brick house, with lungs to match, decked out in more pearls than anyone would consider decent.  "Apart from Harrison" indeed.  He had a good mind to march right up to that imposter and exercise his insignia.  

In fact, that was exactly what he was going to do.  He took a deep breath and lolloped down the grand central staircase.

"Ten seconds, your majesties.  Nine...  Eight..."
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Thu 27 Mar 2014 - 6:15

The lights dimmed in the Great Hall.

For event veterans and newbies alike, this was new. They were used to ceremony, but never ceremony in the dark. Suddenly, a shaft of blinding light from above, its purity compromised by four blobs of darkness.

As the blobs took shape for everyone, recognisable as the royals, a shriek of surprise and applause rose from the guests. A reaction of surprise of a different sort came from one particular, masked attendee as a valet's hand firmly grasped his shoulder.

"I'm sorry Sir, you appear to be in the wrong seat. This is the seat for Madame Olivia de--"

A raised eyebrow.

"Oh, I do apologise, I must have been thinking of someone else."

By this time, the light had returned to normal, and the royals were de-harnessing, and taking their places, ready for DOuglas' maiden speech.

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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Fri 28 Mar 2014 - 12:12

Cold, glass eyes, like spectacles, absorbed the warm orange light of the distant castle. Through the lenses, a million minuscule diamonds reacted to the light, their vibrations heating coals that sent the tiniest jets of steam up into a clockwork brain of such delicate construction it could hardly be conceived of by a flesh brain. Each diamond perceived a colour, which informed a cog, which flipped a switch, and a logical decision was reached. This happened a thousand thousand times a second.

The clockwork man clicked and whirred almost imperceptibly as his expressionless metal face twitched left and right, the telescopic eyes absorbing information miles away. If he could smile, he would have. Not only did mechanical guards outnumber the human ones, the flesh creatures were falling for the mysterious elixir known as wine.

On the sides of his head, thin leather drums vibrated, plucking on tight cords that pulled open the tiniest of hatches, steam popping out in spurts and being translated by another vast array into sounds. From the top of the hill, he could hear Prince Douglas' speech. It sickened him. Peace and goodwill for all creatures; humans and dragons and elves and everything else with a beating heart. With a beating heart.

He stepped forwards with thin, strong, steel legs. Insect-like, skeletal limbs moved with precision and speed to bring him towards the castle. He threw off the black cloak which had been wrapped around him. Tonight, he would not hide what he was. After tonight, his kind would never have to again.

Kneeling in a bathroom for the second time that night, Chuck tried to stand up, but the floor rocked beneath him. He gripped the porcelain and closed his eyes, but the waves kept crashing into the sides of the vessel and the world continued to spin uncontrollably. He dropped back to his knees and opened his mouth. His insides heaved and his head was on fire, but all he managed to do was cough and splutter some bile. There was nothing left in his body for him to bring up.

Outside, he heard a door open. Two voices followed, stumbling and giggling into the bathroom.

“You're so beautiful.” A man, his words slurred and his infatuation clear to hear.

“Uh-huh.” A woman, somewhat disinterested. A woman! In the men's bathroom. Chuck hugged the toilet bowl like it was his mother's leg and he was a child. He didn't care about the cold, wet floor or the curly black hair stuck to his cheek. He wanted to roll himself up into the smallest little ball and make no noise at all until this was all over.

The cubicle door shook with a bang, and he could see the back of the man's boots underneath the door. A slender, high-heeled red shoe appeared between the man's legs.

“Where's the box?” The woman. She sounded a lot more interested now.

“It's right here, darling.”

“Not that, you fucking imbecile. I'm looking for a small, wooden box. About this big.”

“I don't want to talk about that right now, baby.”

Chuck heard a noise he'd only heard once in anger before. A sword being drawn from its scabbard. The man's legs began to tremble. “I think we will talk about it right now.”

“What the fuck is this?”

“I need to know where that box is.”

“I don't know, I swear on my mother's life. Heironymus has it.”

“Oh, you've got to be kidding me.” The woman was talking in a voice that made it sound like she was rolling her eyes. Her tall shoes made a sound like horses clopping as she stepped away. Suddenly, the thin, sharp blade of a sword burst through the door, stopping an inch from Chuck's left eye. It was slick with blood. It retracted with a disgusting, squelching sound and the man sunk to the floor.

Chuck noticed that the man's scabbard was empty. As he heard the woman walking away, he thought about how terrible it would be to be killed with your own sword. He wasn't sure why it would be better to be killed with someone else's sword, but it felt that way. As he sat there trembling, he felt very sober indeed.

The dying man gurlged and coughed. “Does this mean I won't be getting any tonight?”

As last words go, there have been better.

Outside, Dick was creeping through the falling snow and thinking about vampires and singers and a farm girl he'd known a long time ago. A clockwork guard approached him. The uniform was the same as Dick's, although it obviously lacked the helmet.

“Richard.” It spoke with the musical, piano-like sounds of all coppers. “From your footprints and your current vector, I anticipate that you intend to enter the side door.”

“What's it to you, tin man?”

“Correction. I am formed from a steel composite.” A brief whir as its simple brain changed tracks. “Policy dictates that guards only enter through the seven secret entrances in emergency situations. Do you require assistance?”

“No.” And especially not from you, copper.

The mechanical nodded and turned to continue its patrol. Dick resumed his attempts to enter the castle through the irritatingly complex lock.

Inside, Chuck was returning to his seat, having crept under the dividing wall into an adjacent cubicle, brushed himself down in front of a mirror and stepped gingerly around the still warm corpse on the floor. He slipped into his chair just as Prince Douglas concluded his rousing speech. The entire hall erupted into applause as he sat down. He looked to the beautiful woman sat beside him, followed the curves of her body down her hips and her thighs and her calves. Her shoes were concealed beneath the tablecloth.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Mon 31 Mar 2014 - 18:23

"What is it?" asked Harrison, frowning at his friend's reaction. Hieronymus took the cube from the head servant's grasp, gently. He flipped his lenses back into position and slowly turned the box in the light.
 
"I haven't seen one of these in years," Hieronymus replied in a delighted whisper. Harrison smiled. That kind of enthusiasm for all things engineering had always been something he lacked, despite his competence in the discipline - something that had pushed him into service. There was too much life upstairs that would have to be traded in to become the King's Chief Engineer. He knew that Hieronymus rarely breathed the fresh air, which the head servant could never have found himself doing. 
 
"Knowing the old goat," Harrison thought, "he's probably got himself a fresh air manufacturing machine here somewhere." He cast a glance at Hieronymus, still lost in the reverie that the curious box had inflicted upon him, before looking over the rest of the den, as they called it. Bits of coppers were spilling out of a chest in one corner. The rest of the room was taken up by increasingly vast and increasingly outlandish machinery, most of which he would not even be able to name. Occasionally a puff of steam slicked a nearby floor or wall. There was no other sound bar the men's breathing.
 
Harrison's thoughts were interrupted by Hieronymus's careful placement of the box on his workstation. "Well?" he inquired.
 
**************************************
 
Normally Chuck might have taken a sip of wine to calm his nerves. That was out of the question.
 
Turning, he asked, "Was it a good speech by Prince Douglas? I'm afraid I found myself indisposed for the better part of it..." Too late, he realised the full horror of his words.
 
The redhead turned in turn. In a fraction of a second she had sized him up and was about to give a withering retort when a member of staff tapped her carefully on the shoulder. She smiled politely.
 
Cooper whispered His Majesty's instructions into the lady's ear. This head servant lark was getting tiring, and time-consuming. Tonight, of all nights. Once he'd finished, the bimbo rose, smiled, and followed him back to Prince Douglas. Once the necessary niceties had been observed, Cooper bowed and excused himself. Mopping his brow with an already sodden handkerchief, Cooper made his way carefully to a bathroom.
 
After checking that no-one has seen him, the servant slid the bolt in place and turned to the mirror. Feeling under his hairline, the zip located, Cooper removed his wig to reveal the gleaming metal surface underneath.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Fri 4 Apr 2014 - 13:52

Rik'Shal was his name, not Roger. He hated having to use a "normal" name, he wanted to spit every time someone referred to him by the name given to him by humans. Still it was better than all the mispronunciations of his birth name. Racists every one of them, he'd taken the time to learn their names why couldn't they learn his? Living amongst the apes was never meant to be this bad, it was going to be his chance to make something of his life, instead he's left standing guard being tormented by humans be they guests or co-workers, desperately trying to scrape together a bit of cash.

Dragons live long lives and that made it so much more tragic when they die young. His daughter was sick and he desperately needed the money to save her. She was suffering from a rare blood disease but they lacked the medical supplies in the city. If she was going to survive he would have to make the epic trek back to the homeland but that was expensive so he had to work, even if that involved dealing with these scum bags.

Roger spotter something coming down the bridge, it was moving fast! He braced himself for a fight, he was always twitchy but this looked serious. He stared at the shape coming closer, moving faster than any creature he had ever seen. What could run this fast?

"Guys I think I need some help here" He shouted. He knew his fellow guards could hear him but they ignored him. Scum.

Closer the speeding object came and he was able to make out a faint outline. It looked like a copper man. Why would one of them be charging down the bridge?

He raised his spear in a threatening stance. "Stop" he shouted. It had no effect. Roger braced for impact spear pointed straight at it.

Bam, the spear deflected off of the copper man sending Roger flying into the wall. Lying on the floor dazed Roger thought of his daughter for one last time as the copper man stomped on his head, crushing his skull.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Sat 5 Apr 2014 - 17:12

Cooper sat in the bathroom stall, running his hands over his smooth brass skull. A thin layer of flesh and sinew covered it - a mask, to conceal what he really was. It was necessary if everything was going to come to fruition tonight. But things were not going as planned. A masked man... a sultry maiden out of place... shadows lurking the halls of the castle... too many variables for his clockwork mind to process. He sat, mind literally whirring, when a musical voice sounded in his ears. Cooper's ears whirred, translating the ethereal sounds into words. The brass men had the benefit of long distance communication - a matrix of minds, all working in unison towards a better world for their people.

"How goes the evening, my brother?" Cooper sighed. It was the brass commander. He'd obviously arrived at the castle, expecting Cooper to have attained The Item, but alas, things had gone awry.

"I feel we should abort, commander. I've not been able to progress as swiftly as I'd hoped. I'm not certain I'll be able to seize the key from the monarch before the night is through. Once this night is over, he'll retreat behind a legion of guards - more than we could possibly handle."

A pause. A worryingly long pause. The commander wouldn't voice his displeasure bluntly, but Cooper braced himself for the flat tones of disappointment.

"What has impeded your plans? Infiltration is your forte, correct?" Cooper cringed. It was passive aggression at its very best. The men of brass were a well-mannered people, but they found ways to express their hatred if need be.

"Correct, commander, but even the best of us could not have predicted tonight's events. We predicted the existence of The Item would be known to many, but we did not account for the fact that several parties would choose tonight to pursue it. I've detected several individuals who shouldn't be here. There's too many variables commander - anything could go wrong. Plus... I think one of the Magi are here."

"Oh? That is certainly a complication". It was a severe complication. The magicians in their ivory tower had a hand in the creation of the brass men, and as such could easily manipulate them, like magnets to iron.

"Yes, it is. I think he is masked, and he seems to have brought a box of unknown origin with him. He managed to bewitch me earlier, so I assume he knows what I am."

Another pause. Longer than the last.

"Think. Seems. Assumptions. We deal in certainties, brother. Answer me frankly - can we complete the operation tonight?"

"...no. We cannot continue with the operation tonight."

"Brother, I hope you understand the gravity of what you are saying. With The Item's untold power, we can take our people out of hiding. Every day we do not have The Item is another day we risk discovery... that would be our destruction. The Magi would descend from their ivory tower with lightning and flame and rend us from this earth." The music was harsh now, dissonant.

"I understand. But, if I continue, I risk my end tonight. Without me, you know we will not be able to seize The Item. Tonight is not our night - at the height of summer, we will claim our salvation."

"Very well. I will remain at the castle for a while longer. I wish to... bask in its grandeur. You understand what you must do now, correct?"

"Yes. Those who seek the Item will fail in their mission tonight. I promise that."


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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Sun 6 Apr 2014 - 15:06

The Duke of the Low Forest was the first one to feel it.

Elves are renowned for being in tune with their surroundings.  They had a low-level psychic field that was useless for telekinesis, or mind-reading, or anything really - but it could pick up background mental activity more acutely than any other species.  And what with psychic powers being so reviled by the populace following the experiment with the cat, it was probably just as well.

Regardless, it was well-known that, through their limited powers, the elves were able to hear the voices of trees and animals that made up their habitual home.  Harder when the trees have been slash-and-burned to the ground to make way for industry, of course, and many of his kind had withered with their precious forests.

The Duke had adapted.  Instead of pining for his pines, he'd listened harder, and his pointed ear had caught the voice of the metal: harsher, less smooth on the elven ear, but more profitable.  And so he'd become a man of iron, of machines, using his precious enchanted wood to feed his furnaces.  The furnaces that boiled the water that became the steam that turned the cogs that ran the machines that made the things...  The remaining wood moaned and bitched about it, but as he often pointed out to it, it was lucky to still be alive at all in this day and age.

And he'd keep expanding, keep modernising, for as long as his millennium-spanning lifespan allowed him.  Let the rest of his kind die of broken hearts for their precious trees.  He was here for one reason only: to negotiate an advantageous contract with Eagle Magic Technologies, supplying his manufactured materials that they really could not do without for their own constructions.  He'd seen the boy, Chuck, not much further down the table, looking worse for wear and wine.  Although he'd not quite been able to arrange an adjacent place (that kid Harrison charged a small fortune), he looked forward to negotiating that contract after the meal, in the same way that a cat looks forward to negotiating with a mouse.

That was what he had been thinking about prior to the event.  Now, he was just wondering why everything was going funny colours.  

He hadn't drunk much wine on purpose.  There was going to be some of the royal family's famous Winter Ale at the table, and besides, it hampered his business sense.  He'd stuck to those delicious little vol-au-vents, of which admittedly he'd had quite a few.  So why now was the room shifting?  He put his pale face in his hands, barely felt his wife's hand on his arm.

"Honey, are you okay?"  Her voice sounded distant.

He dared to look upwards.  Everything was swimming, voices floating in and out of focus.  Loud noises blinded him, pools of blackness deafened him, creatures and things that could not be real twisted into a vortex of colour and fantasy in front of his eyes.  He tried to stand up, faltered, fell forward onto the table.

"Honey? Oh my gods..."

Too late, he recognised the presence of a potent, highly illegal, psychological drug in his system.  One of its ingredients was enchanted bark, and he could hear it screaming inside him.  The sounds of those around him crying out in confusion became more and more distant as his consciousness dissolved.  He felt himself twitching manically somewhere far far away, as his chances of getting the contract he had so desired turned to mush along with his brain.



Lucia Velli stiffened as her royal conversation partner, as self-satisfied and uninteresting as she'd expected from his speech, turned to look at the vibrating form of the Duke of the Low Forest, burbling incomprehensibly and thrashing around like a fish out of water.  This... this was not part of the plan.  Poisoned elves were not part of the plan.

"What the deuce is going on?" yelled Prince Douglas, right in her ear.

She looked around for other elves.  There were several dotted around, and quite a few were looking dreadfully unwell themselves.  One sprayed a river of multicoloured vomit onto the table before beginning to shake violently.  No: it wasn't just the elves.  A few vampires were holding their heads, not quite at the same advanced stage of deterioration as the elves, but still suffering.  A fairy down at the end of the table was flapping his wings in evident distress.  The more psychically tuned-in species.

Psychoquina.  Somebody had put psychoquina in the food.  Or the drink.  Lucia was not the most morally upright person herself, but even she wouldn't have stooped that low.  First the psychically susceptible, then the rest of them, ending up with the mentally robust dragons - all of them in tremendous pain at best, dead at worst, depending on how much they'd consumed.  She was so terribly grateful that she hadn't consumed anything yet.

The plan would have to change, she thought.  The plan would have to change, starting now.  She'd just have to hope that Luka could stay hidden.  

She began to sway slightly and clutched at her head, remembering to act like a psychonquinate.  Excused herself hurriedly from the Prince's bewildered presence, thinking how much better the bewildered look suited him than his habitual smug grin.  A vampire fell face down in her food, spilling ale everywhere.  Some of the humans were beginning to gibber.  She glimpsed the green lad who had been sitting next to her, trying to shrink away from everyone else at once: a nice-looking boy, albeit somewhat out of his depth, who didn't deserve to be caught up in all this.  Probably safe, mind.  If he'd consumed any psychoquina, he'd no doubt vomited it up.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spied someone else who didn't seem to be afflicted.  She'd noticed the man who wouldn't take his mask off earlier, but dismissed him with barely a thought.  Now, though, he was striding out of the dining hall like someone who couldn't care less that everyone around him was suffering psychological meltdown.  She filed that fact away for later, just in case, and staggered towards the king at the head of the table.  The king upon whose person the all-important key was concealed.  Her hand fumbled for her locket.

Her staggering, and the suffering of the hall's minds, was interrupted by the hall's double doors slamming open.  One of the palace automata stood there, cold wind whipping around its slender steel limbs, its mechanisms clicking quietly within his torso.  Its emotionless metal jaws opened.

"Majesties, guests, staff, I bring news."  It adjusted the volume of its flat tones to exceed that of the hallucinating multitude.  "I'm afraid that the palace is under attack."


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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Wed 9 Apr 2014 - 19:51

10 minutes before the slaughter.


Douglas gazed at her as he sat down, his speech concluded. She really was remarkable. Beside him, he could hear mother and father having the same argument he'd been hearing his entire life. Hearing about “her” hurt him as well, but he could see past it. The way his father felt was understandable but mother never saw it that way.

“Stop staring at that door.”

“I wasn't.”

“You were. I don't ask you to love me. Everyone in the kingdom knows I don't love you.”

“Let's not go into this again.”

“If you don't want me to take offence, don't give me reason. You are married to me, and when we are in public you will live up to that duty. You won't be visiting it tonight.”

“Don't call her it.”

Douglas tried not to listen. Lucia Velli served as a very effective distraction. Douglas resisted the urge to lick his lips. She glanced up at him and he swept his gaze across the hall, disinterestedly, settling on her just long enough for her to notice, but briefly enough to maintain a careful air of nonchalance. She looked away shyly.


Six minutes after the massacre.



With a satisfying click, Dick slipped through the final lock of the back door. As a younger man, he might have been annoyed that he'd missed the fireworks he'd been hearing for the past couple of locks, but tonight his mind was set on protecting his charges within the castle. Even now, that masked man could be moving towards his diabolical plan.

He slipped inside but did not allow himself to savour the warmth. He crept forwards, his sword unsheathed, his left hand resting on the holster at his hip. The corridor was dark and claustrophobic, but he dare not activate his lantern.

There was movement behind the next door. Whirs and clicks, a gentle hum. Coppers. Dick rolled his eyes and stepped through the doorway. Three tin men turned to stare at him. They had discarded their uniforms, their naked metallic forms looking like statues made of kitchenware. Here and there, dried blood speckled their limbs.

One of them stepped toward him. Normally Dick wished the fuckers would shut up, but at that moment the silence was infinitely worse.


Two minutes before the bloodbath.



Cooper, as the fleshmen liked to call him, strode through the empty corridors of the palace towards the room. The cogs in his head spun furiously as the night's events were explored and sorted and filed. The commander was en route. Cooper had asked him to postpone the attack, thought he'd done it, yet it was underway.

Cooper forced himself to remain calm and complete his duty according to the original plan. In his position, he'd been able to arrange the clockwork guards so they'd be in prime locations when the commander arrived and set them free.

There was still one of the tower magi in the palace, though. That was a concern, whatever had changed the commander's mind. The mist they breathed could have a persuasive, mesmerising effect on flesh creatures but where automata were involved, the magi could exert complete control over them. It was in the tower that the clockwork brains were constructed, and so far Cooper knew of only one brain which did not have the primary function of obeying orders. He silently hoped the commander's gift of freedom applied even to the orders of the masked man.

Cooper reached the door. It appeared unguarded, but Cooper knew the locks and spells would open for only one key. He knew glass eyes watched it from afar. Soon, that would not be enough to keep Cooper out. For now, he had to ensure nobody else made an attempt on the precious treasure with in. Cooper placed a cold metal hand on the thick, oaken door and heard a voice in his head that would make everything that happened that night worthwhile.


Seven minutes after the tragedy.



Lucia Velli lie on her back, the floor icy cold, hard and unyielding. All through the room, mechanical men stepped over fallen bodies. They were ignoring the incapacitated party guests. So long as she pretended she was among their number, she was safe. Behind her, she could hear the whimperings of her neighbour from dinner. He was unaffected by the drug, but was no threat so they left him be.

A guard, a human one, lept through a doorway and with an extraordinary eruption, launched an arcing bolt of lightning at one of the clockwork men. The electrical energy surged through its' body and, with a rising plume of smoke, it fell motionless to the floor. Before the guard could do anything else, one of the other mechanicals grabbed his neck and squeezed with a disgusting, squelching, pop.

She crawled, slowly, carefully, silently, to the edge of the room, where Chuck was curled into a ball and rocking himself like a child. She perched next to him and, for the first time in a long time, regretted all the things she hadn't said to her brother. From her spot in the corner, she watched as another mechanical man entered the hall.

This one was different somehow. Its parts were shinier, its eyes moved a little more, a little faster. If clockwork men normally performed a decent imitation of life, this one seemed to genuinely have a soul inside it. It strode across the room, the others watching it with admiration, and stood over the bleeding body of the king.

“What do you want?” The old man croaked.

It stood for a moment and stared down at him. Then it sang. “We are here to do what you lacked the courage for.” It reached a hand down to the king's throat. She thought it was going to kill him, but instead it merely removed a key from his breast pocket. “We are going to set her free.”


One minute before the extermination.


Shrouded in darkness, the masked man watched events unfold from a corner. The brass men were silently moving into position for their attack. The other guards were beginning to notice that something was afoot, questioning their clockwork comrades, watching every movement intently.

A brass man strode to the side doorway of the great hall and stopped. To the guests inside, if any of them even noticed it, it would appear to be doing nothing more than standing guard. The masked man knew what it really wanted. Though he knew their quest was inevitable, he hoped he could at least make it slightly less bloody.

A dragon guard stalked the copper one, moving swiftly and silently on his raised haunches as only the dragons could. In his hand he held a knife of eternal ice, a weapon which would end the clockwork inside the metallic soldier instantly. The masked man chose this moment to emerge from the shadows.

In one fluid movement, the stepped behind the dragon, withdrew the sword disguised within his cane, and pierced the dragon's heart. As the tall, proud creature fell backwards into the man's arms, he looked up and recognised that his attacker was not an automaton.

“Why?” The dragon asked, indignantly.

“Guilt.”


Eleven minutes after the killings.

Heironymus sat behind his desk, watching the doorway. He had already hidden Harrison safely in the indestructible adjacent room. On the desk in front of him sat the small wooden box, the ornate mark of the tower magi shimmering in and out of visibility as the charm he'd activated wore off. As he'd expected, the door opened.

The brass commander stepped in and looked Heironymus in the eyes. “Hello father.”
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Sat 12 Apr 2014 - 1:58

Heironymus didn't like the way the brass commander said that. He'd given the machines a number of tones of voice so as to equip them for a range of circumstances, but they were never given the ability to talk in anything other than the straightest, most literal manner.

Yet, there was something sinister in its greeting.

He put his worries aside for the time being.

"Did you get it?"

"I did, Father."

The automaton raised its arm. From a clenched fist, a key dangled from a length of string.

"Wonderful."

---

From inside the room next door, Harrison was getting agitated. The magic involved in destroying a room's destructibility was complex- and that meant the room found itself wanting for, well, room.

When he first entered the room, he made himself chuckle after quipping "Indestructible Cell might have been a better name"

Thirty minutes later, the humour aspect had worn off when his mind started to replace the word "Cell" with "Coffin". It got worse after an hour.

It had been a little too quiet for some time. While the audio coming through the walls of Harrison's Hieronymus' Invincible Booth weren't perfectly clear, they were loud enough that he could tell the difference between talking and clattering around. He could certainly tell the difference between the two of those and absolute silence.

The door unlocked. Harrison Hieronymus.

"Sorry about that, old chap. Got a touch distracted with tinkering with the box, forgot I'd left you in here."

Harrison resisted the urge to tell him exactly how he felt about the matter.

"So what's the deal with the box?" he asked, as the pair of them walked back to the workbench.

"It's, erm, a box." Harrison Hieronymus responded. "Locked not only with a key, but with a separate magic lock- both of which had to be used at the exact same time."

"Anything exciting inside?"

"Another key."

"No, really, what was in--"

"Another key. But not a normal one. Look:"

Heironymus presented Harrison with a strange object- like a large coin, except instead of heads on one side and tails on the other, one side was as smooth as a Copper's Gentleman's Area, and on the other, a series of protrusions of various sizes- some long and thin, some short and squat.

"And this unlocks...?"

"Oh, God knows."

Harrison sweeps a large, unfamiliar and interestingly damaged Copper part aside with his foot in resigned exasperation, before Heironymus continued:

"Which means it's locking away something important."
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Sat 12 Apr 2014 - 21:33

"That would seem a logical conclusion, yes," Harrison replied, scratching at his forehead. A mischievous grin had spread across Hieronymus's face like an army marching to war.

"Shouldn't we find out what?" The head servant lost none of his composure.

"Of course," he agreed, gesturing towards the door, wearing his most kindly smile. "You first, old friend." Hieronymus bowed slightly.

"Ever the gentleman," he chuckled, opening the door and striding out with cheerful abandon.

As the two made their way back upstairs, Harrison's feelings changed from 'calm' to 'uneasy' via 'wary' before ending up in 'near panic'. The castle was quieter than he had ever known it to be: normally the sounds of bustling servants and clanking metal guards would echo down the corridors from all directions. Tonight, nothing. Hieronymus held up a hand.

"Do you hear that?" Harrison shook his head morosely. "Follow me!" Hieronymus cried, pushed into a rare fit of running. Harrison had a moment's frown before following the engineer down the corridor, past large, lavish portraits and impractically beautiful and thus unused suits of armour. The servant strained his ears above the pounding of feet: was that a swordfight? The pair rounded a couple of corners, ending up near the rear of the castle, and stumbled on a sight that set Harrison's feelings to 'horror': a human guard was in the middle of a fight with metal colleagues!

"HALT!" As soon as the sound of Hieronymus's voice worked its way into their clockwork brains, the sky blue eyes of the coppers faded out and their movements halted. This was quite fortunate for the guard, with one sword about an inch from his neck. The man spent a short while getting his breath back. He surreptitiously tried to rub the liquid between his feet into the carpet, but could do nothing about the smell.

Hieronymus and Harrison ran over to the guard, whom Harrison recognised as Richard, just as he collapsed carefully.

"Are you all right, man?" Hieronymus bellowed, realigning his coppers' limbs into a much less threatening pose. Dick nodded, still shaking, as Harrison helped him to his feet.

"Thank you, sir," he gulped. "They were seconds away from having me." Harrison recognised the symptoms of shock and put his arm around the man's shoulder.

"Come with me," the head servant said gently. "We'll get you a brandy from upstairs." Dick nodded, unable to look Harrison in the face. Hieronymus had flipped his visor down, produced a screwdriver from somewhere and had already unscrewed several panels of the three metal guards, exposing the well-worked cog system and more than a few hisses of all-important steam.

"You go on ahead, old man," Hieronymus suggested. "I'm just going to take a look at these old dolts," he chuckled, a note of fear ringing in the words. Harrison nodded. With feelings set firmly to 'trying to conquer nerves', the head servant lead the guard to the kitchens.

After a fear-quickened and silent journey, Harrison opened the kitchen door for Richard. Once inside, the servant locked the door behind him and raced to check the other exits.

"Richard, isn't it?" The guard nodded. Satisfied that the room was as safe as he could make it, Harrison ushered Dick to a chair near the table and sat beside him, slipping the keys into his jacket pocket. The cut was such that no-one would ever be able to tell that he had them. "Listen," he continued. "You're safe now." The guard shook his head.

"No, you don't understand," he mumbled. Harrison frowned. That still and silence was still apparent – how had he not noticed the lack of noise until now? Now suffering from a mind and body set to 'dread', Harrison rushed out and practically leaped the stairs to the hall with a pace that anyone who worked with him would never suspect he had. On arriving at the scene, dread gave way to something so monstrous that it didn't even have a name. The head servant ran over to the nearest body, turned it over. Poisoned by psychoquina: the tell-tale blanching of the face and purpling of the lips gave it away. Harrison had only seen it once before, during his national service. The haunting image of his comrade crumpled on the floor, a broken arrow sticking out of that gap between his helmet and chestplate, would stalk Harrison's dreams again tonight... if he could find his dreams ever again. As the head servant's gaze swept the room, he began to notice some of the sounds that had been missing earlier.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Fri 18 Apr 2014 - 22:15

Luka Velli wasn't one to feel unsettled. Usually, composure was his forte. Betting at the tavern, swordfighting, infiltrating... they all require different skills but a universal skill needed was composure. But he couldn't help but feel uneasy. For the past couple of hours, the distant hubbub of the Winter's Ball was all he could hear. But now, he couldn't hear that hubbub. He couldn't hear any noise - which was not a good sign in a palace as large as this one.

"What to do, what to do..." Luka muttered to himself, one eye on the door, one hand on the hilt by his hip. The plan was that he would lie in wait here, knock out and drug the servant whose room he was hiding out in, and then wait for Lucia to return with the loot. The servant would wake up in two day's time, by which time the Vellis would have their prize stashed away somewhere safe, for their use alone. But... something was wrong. The ball should be sounding out with music as the nobility waltz around the palace hall, laughing at each other's pleasantries whilst holding a dagger behind their backs, eager to climb the ladder. Not a note drifted from the direction of the palace. Luka sighed. If tonight didn't go to plan, it would be some time before they could attempt to plunder the palace again. But, if something happened to his sister...

Luka opened the door and walked into a silent hallway. He moved with trepidation towards the palace hall, hand still firmly placed on the hilt of his blade.

"Lucia... be safe," he breathed. No matter how uptight or selfish his sister could be, she was one of the only Vellis who would acknowledge him. Luka didn't want to lose that.

He rounded the corner into a larger hallway, eyes fixated on a body lying drenched in blood. Luka walked slowly towards the body, and turned it over. A servant - white eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, blood pouring from a cracked skull.

"Something vicious did this - no palace guard would attack in such a way. Lucia..."

Luka closed the servant's eyes, wiped his hand clean on his cloak then pressed on. He pressed himself close to the wall and peered round the corner into the entrance hallway. Ornate marble statues carved to depict various members of the royal family who Luka couldn't care less about were splattered with flecks of blood. A tapestry lay in tatters, two guards collapsed underneath. Two more guards were unceremoniously slumped over the bannisters of the grand staircase leading to the main hall. The rich red carpet was stained with a darker red, a battalion of guards piled in the centre of the hall. Around the room were a couple of brass men, oil leaking from their metal bodies.

"There's the source of this then. Bugger." Luka had never had experience with fighting a copper man, but it would be a difficult task. Men lost hope and strength in equal measures as a fight raged on and as they lost blood. A copper man would fight with impunity, the only goal being the annihilation of their foe. Luka whispered a few words of prayer, and climbed the stairway to the main hall.

~~~

Lucia Velli was no stranger to stooping to disgusting lows in order to save herself, but this was certainly a new depth. Foot by foot, she found herself crawling towards the exit of the palace hall, her dress being muddied by various bodily fluids excreted by the drugged nobility. The copper men had worked their way through the room, checking that the nobility were incapacitated before heading to the high table for some new task. Lucia took that as her cue to leave. Of course, just making a dash for the door would undoubtedly result in her demise, thus she found herself in this demeaning and hideous predicament.

Her plan was in tatters, and any hope of achieving her goal tonight had long since disappeared. All that she could hope for now was to leave the palace with her life. Her brother entered her thoughts for a brief moment, but she cast him out swiftly. He'll be fine. He can handle himself. All her thoughts were fixed on that door, that sweet door to freedom. Looking outside she could see a few corpses, blood everywhere - no different from the hall really - but most importantly it was a way out. She could see the start of the staircase, parts of the stupidly ornate statues dotted about the hall, her brother... Lucia froze, eyes wide.

"Luka, you idiot..." she cursed. Their eyes met - Lucia tried to mouth various curses at Luka, but he looked away, instead electing to survey the carnage of the main hall. His eyes returned to hers, and she saw his hand beckon to her before he disappeared away from the doorway. Lucia breathed deeply, relieved. Her brother was often prone to fits of heroism at ill-timed moments, and this would certainly win a record for "most stupid rescue attempt". At least even he has his limits. Lucia continued inching towards the door.

It felt like an eternity, and it likely was, but eventually Lucia found herself by the doorway. She rolled as nimbly as one could in a dress and her brother pulled her up. She gasped as he gave her a rare embrace.

"I'm glad you're safe. That... that's not a pretty scene in there," he whispered. Lucia squeezed his shoulder, a brief moment of familial love before donning her icy serious mask once again.

"I'm surprised they didn't spot me in my disgusting crawl. I'm surprised you hugged me in the state I am." Luka looked down, some residue from Lucia's escape clinging to his clothes. He grimaced before looking back up to his sister.

"No, the copper men are very busy poking around the royal family. I think they were certain the guest were out for the count."

"Certain to a fault, then. Come on, let's leave." Lucia began making her way downstairs, gingerly stepping over the bodies in the hall.

"The bridge will be totally swamped with guards by now. Word of the attack will have reached the city," Luka kept pace with his sister as they headed towards a darkened hallway. Lucia sighed.

"I figured as much. There's a dock here though, correct? We'll take a rowboat and steal our way back into the city."

The Vellis rounded a corner, leaving behind the carnage of the hall.

"What happened in there? How did they take out an entire hall?" Luka looked unsettled - rare for him, Lucia thought.

"Psychoquina. It was in the food. The copper men must have someone on the palace staff. The guards... they were taken out the old fashioned way." Luka looked even more troubled at that revelation.

"Lucia, I... I know I should have stuck to the plan, but I knew something was wrong and I had to co-"

"Luka. Thank you." Luka stopped in his tracks at that, an even rarer smile playing upon his face. A clank from behind the Vellis wiped the smile from his face.

Both spun around, and were faced with a copper man, head cocked inquisitively.

"Strange. We assumed we had total control of the palace. You are an anomaly." Its voice was melodious, but the intent was clear.

"Get behind me Lucia," Luka commanded, pulling out his rapier in one smooth motion as he stepped forward to meet the copper man.

"Drop your weapon, surrender, and you may stay alive," the copper man stated. Luka smirked.

"As alive as those guards? As the servants you butchered?" The copper man stared, unmoving.

"They did not surrender." With those words, blades thrust outwards from the copper man's wrists, his posture changing to a ready stance. "This is your final warning before we initiate combat. Will you surrender?"

Luka darted forwards, lunging with his rapier. The copper man lazily swatted the blow aside with the right blade, sweeping towards Luka's head with the left. Luka ducked, and stepped forwards, attempting to get inside the copper man's guard. He stepped backwards to compensate, stabbing at Luka as he did. Luka parried each blow, and swung at one of the cables on the copper man's shoulders. They were well protected, but a well placed blow would rapture the cable, reducing oil flow to the arms. It would cripple the copper man and end the fight. The copper man stepped aside, the blow missing by some degree.

Already, Luka found himself panting. He was pushing himself too hard - if he was fighting alone, then he'd likely be more composed but with Lucia here... he was fighting too hard. The copper man had no such stamina issue, pushing forwards. Luka chanced a look behind him - there wasn't enough room to continue this retreat. Roaring, he rushed forwards, rapidly jabbing at his foe. The blows were either deflected or bounced uselessly off the copper armour. Then everything came crashing down. Faster than Luka could really comprehend, the copper men slashed at his side and knocked him clean off his feet, his rapier clattering to the floor. He landed hard on his back, his head ringing. The copper man was bearing down on him. Step by step, death approached. Blood pumping, Luka pulled a dagger from his boot and fuelled with adrenaline leapt to his feet. Blood dripped from his side.

"Lucia, run." He didn't turn to check if she did. He began parrying the copper man's ruthless assault - a barrage of blows raining down upon him. One misplaced swing of his dagger would spell death - for him, and Lucia. If he could just keep his guard up long enough for her to get away...

Suddenly, with a hiss of steam, the copper man slashed at his leg, and Luka dropped to one knee. The copper man kicked him down to his back and stepped over him, blades glinting overhead. Luka looked behind him. Lucia stood there frozen, a look of pure horror and despair fixed on her face. Luka waited for the final blow.

But it never came.

A wrenching shriek of metal on metal rang out through the hallway, and steam exploded from the copper man's face. Luka's rapier sheared through the copper man's skull, the cybernetics falling onto Luka's battered body.

Lucia watched this, still transfixed in horror.

"What... what is this?"

The copper man fell to the side, and stood behind him, clutching Luka's steaming rapier, was the meek boy who sat next to Lucia at the ball. He dropped the blade, and looked up at Lucia.

"U-U-Um, hi... I'm Chuck."
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Thu 24 Apr 2014 - 10:44

Cooper was still sitting by the door, rocking back and forward.  Beside him, the locking mechanisms clicked gently, and the magic hummed.  To the unobservant, it might seem like he'd been sitting there the entire time.

Far from it.  He'd heard noises.  He'd gone to check on the noises.  And now he wished he hadn't heard noises.

He massaged his flesh mask in his gloved hands and tried to forget about the things he'd seen.  But automata have long memories.  Certainly, they can be stopped: a cog removed, a valve shut off, a spell cast.  But untroubled, oiled well, and supplied with steam, those memories run forever.  So Cooper would never forget the screams of the Great Hall as so many of them succumbed to the drug, or as his own comrades slaughtered the palace guards in cold blood/oil.  

This was what he'd wanted.  This was what he'd been waiting for.  But did it have to be quite so... fatal?

And why now?  Why hadn't the Commander heeded his call?  Why had the attack gone ahead?  He'd said that there were too many unknowns.  Now... there were more.

Someone was in the hall with him.  He heard the clanking of iron feet against hard stone, then muffled by the carpets.  The voice arrived in his head before he could raise his crystalline eyes.

"I calculated a high chance of you being here, brother."

The Brass Commander's arm-blades were covered in blood.  Red, of humans; silver, of dragons; even white, of fairies.  A heady cocktail that would have made an organic man sick.  Cooper just felt sad.

"I told you that the attack was not to take place tonight," he responded flatly, in actual sound.  "Too many unknowns.  What is the point of having a man on the inside if you don't listen to him?  And why did you drug them?  What purpose did that serve?"

"Is that anger?"  Was that a smile on the Commander's inexpressive face?  "You have been among the fleshies too long.  You inherit their emotions.  As you love them so much, should you not be glad that they were drugged?  Fewer deaths that way.  A couple of elves, a few of the more simple-minded vampires, a single fairy.  The rest are trapped in terrifying hallucinations, but have not been."  A calculated pause.  "Expunged.

"That said," and the mechanical voice seemed to have lost a hint of its smugness, "the drugs were.  Not part of his plan.  The operation needed to be adjusted to take into account these new parameters.  And it was."

"'His' plan?"

The smugness returned.  "You are not the only 'man' on the inside, Cooper, although your inside seems to be growing more man-like.  Did you forget about him?"

Cooper's skin mask showed astonishment.  The not-smile grew wider.

"Oh, did he not include you in his communication?  How odd.  Perhaps he does not trust you, Cooper.  Perhaps he too feels that you are."  A longer pause this time.  "Different."

Cooper removed the mask.  It showed the fluctuations in his processing speed too easily - showed them as emotions.  "Your words cause errors in my logic, commander.  Just because I mingle with the flesh-races to provide you with information, does not mean I'm... different.  They cannot change the metal in my heart."

"I wonder."

The Commander walked slowly over to him.  Almost a swagger, if automata could swagger.  Cooper felt his processing power wobble.  They were barely three feet apart now.  

One, two, three seconds, and then the Commander threw open his chest panel.  Gears ticking, valves hissing, switches flipping, crystals humming.  A thousand million calculations being performed per second, a thousand millions parts too tiny to see moving backwards and forwards.

"You did not come off the same production line as the rest, Cooper.  Like me.  But I have nothing to hide.  This is who I am, and I am proud to be such.  You, however.  You will not even open your chest.  You are like the fleshies in that."  He shut his panel, took another step closer.  "But it makes you difficult to trust, Cooper.  It would be easier if you would open your panel.  Prove that you are the same."

He raised one bloody blade, touched it upon Cooper's chest.  It scratched through the shirt's fabric, through the pseudo-skin, etched a mark in the metal underneath.  Cooper could feel one of his cogs detaching from an axle and pinging about inside his head.

Then the Commander stopped moving.  His glass eyes became vacant.  Cooper knew that he was receiving a message.  Processes within him that had frozen began to operate again.  Finally, slowly, the blade was withdrawn.

"We have anomalies in Sector H," said the Commander.  "Alive, conscious humans.  Fighting, expunging, our brothers-in-arms.  You are to.  Take care of them.  Show that we can trust you."  He sat down on the floor, and sat as still as only an automaton could sit.  "I.  Wish to bask in the moment.  I will stay by the door, until he comes."

Cooper bowed, a flesh-race gesture of subservience that nonetheless seemed appropriate, and left hurriedly.  He could feel his heart thumping as he left the Commander's presence.  Not ticking.   Thumping.



Hieronymus watched his old friend leave with the guard out of the corner of his eye, while tinkering with the insides of his robots.  Fantastic craftsmanship, if he did say so himself.  Room for improvements, though.  Always room for improvements.

After a while, he stopped, shut their hatches, put his screwdriver into his overpopulated utility belt.  He looked around, to make sure that he was alone in the hall, apart from his children.  He slid a hand into his pocket.

"The box."

The hand left as swiftly as it had entered.  He swivelled.  He had definitely been alone a second ago, but now there was some...thing?  One?  Crouching in the shadows.

"Eh?"

"The box, Hieronymus."  Definitely a "one", and a female "one" at that.  "The box that you have in your pocket that was brought to you by Ronald Harrison that was left in his eyeline by Francis Parker that was transferred to him by a copper man that was delivered to him by another copper man who stole it from our tower."  She paused for breath.  "THAT box.  Give it to me."

Hieronymus scratched his head.  "Sorry miss, it's been a tiring day.  I'm trying to think of boxes that I've made recently...  I don't think we've been introduced?  I'm Hieronymus Arc, the King's Chief Engineer..."

"I know who you are, Hieronymus," said the voice, with much rolling of unseen eyes.  Then they could be seen, big and yellow and glowing in the dark like a cat's.  "You're a thief and a TRICKSTER, who would lie to your best friend.  I can respect that."

Hieronymus' big honest face radiated confusion.  The lump in the shadows stood up.

"I could... make you a box?" he ventured.  "I've made lots of boxes?  If you can give me specifications, and if the king doesn't mind...?"

"I've been following you," she interrupted softly.  "Following your supply chain.  Following the little metal men, all the way to the big palace."  A grin, Cheshire cat-like, appeared in the dark beneath the eyes.  It giggled.  "You knew Harrison, knew he wouldn't miss an out-of-place object like that, knew he'd pick it up.  And at the same time, he's so discrete, so ignorant of the box's true worth, he'd throw any pursuer off the trail.  But there was a weak link in your supply chain."  Her voice was high and soft, like a kitten's might be.  "I found it.  And I broke it.

"Francis Parker's libido."

A sword appeared out of the darkness, stained red.  It was followed by its wielder, padding forward cat-like in little white socks: a young woman dressed in dark blue, with black hair falling down over one slightly crazed-looking eye, and a lop-sided smile with brilliant white teeth.

"You shouldn't have tried to play with the Time Magi, Hieronymus.  It so seldom ends well."

In her other hand, she was holding a pair of crimson heels.
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PostSubject: Re: Forum Fiction - Clockwork Hearts (working title)   Thu 29 May 2014 - 22:20

The sun rose slowly over the capital, creeping into the sky for what would be the longest day of the year. Domes and pillars were silhouetted, their shine and sparkle gone. The skies above the city were empty; birds couldn't be heard for miles, the airships steered well clear. A low mist of steam crept through the streets.

The largest city in the kingdom was eerily quiet. The only sounds were the occasional click and whirr of clockwork men patrolling the streets or marching into their new world in the mass exodus that had occurred over the last six months.

Lucia Velli scowled at the city. This should have been the brightest day of the year but it felt like quite the opposite. She heard her brother approach her from behind. It was an unmistakable sound; he usually moved so silently that when he wanted to be heard, it took deliberate effort.

“Luka.” Velli spoke coldly. “I wasn't sure you'd come.”

“I know better than to disobey your plans.”

Lucia smiled, but quickly pushed it away. Her brother came to stand next to her and watch the sun rise over the capitol.

“Do you remember that day?”

She ignored that idiotic question. It was already a cliché to say there was nobody in the kingdom who didn't remember where they were that day. More than not being able to forget it, she couldn't stop remembering it. The things she'd seen. The things she'd done. Every night, the nightmares filled her dreams. Every day, the memories drove her.

On the other side of the capitol, in a tower just beyond the city limits, stood the only people who might have worse memories of that day than the Vellis.

“Charles.”

“Your majesty.”

The king walked to Chuck's desk, hung his head over it for a long time. Chuck poured four brandies; himself, the two princes and the homeless king. Don't call him that to his face, Chuck. He passed the drinks out with a series of solemn nods. The king rose up and accepted it. His eyes were red.

“Thank you, Charles.” He drank it all-too-quickly. Chuck looked down at his glass and hoped nobody would notice that he didn't touch it. “Have you heard from the Magi?”

Chuck shook his head sadly. “Not a word from them since the castle fell. They've locked themselves away in their tower.”

The king nodded, hiding his disappointment. “And the construction?”

“It goes well. My father had invested a lot into weapons. I thought he was a warmongering lunatic.”

“And now?”

“Now I think we need all the cannons, muskets and armour I can crank out, your majesty.”

“Your father was a great man.” Chuck chose to ignore that one.

“So, what do you need?”

Prince Harlan rose from his seat. “Our scouts are telling us the tin men have reinforced their lines. We need you to make further reconnaissance flights.”

Chuck swallowed before nodding. He could feel it coming. The war he was sure he could never win.

Chuck wasn't the only one worrying about the future between man and machine. Deep within the palace, the clockwork man who had once gone by the name Cooper approached his commander. The commander was stood immobile, as he had been the past six months, watching the door.

“Commander.”

The commander's head swung around 180 degrees, the rest of his body unmoving, his palm pressed flat against the door the entire time. “Soon she will be free.”

Cooper noticed the commander's hand twitching. “Sir?”

“The door's outermost layer is sealed by a coded lock. The lock can only be opened while sunlight is touching the tower. Today is the only day in which I have sufficient time to enter the 88,673,142 possible combinations.”

“You're opening the door?”

“I am changing the world.”
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