Banged Up

Sylvar stooped to pick up a rock and sent it skipping across the open ground towards the edge of the plateau. It bounced three times, sending up little clouds of red dust before flying off the side and toppling into the pit.

He stood near the edge of a circular shelf of dusty red stone a couple of hundred feet wide. Ahead the shelf dropped away into the darkness of what was known colloquially as the shit pit. It was called the shit pit for reasons which became obvious when you took in the complete lack of any hygiene facilities and the large number of people scattered across the plateau. The shit pit wrapped around the rock like some evil-smelling moat just a few feet beyond which were a plethora of bored-looking sentries in a strange open-faced tower.

The walls of the tower were tall, but the inside was open like some ancient ruin so that everyone on the rock could watch as the sentries gambled their wages away at cards, drank themselves into a stupor of more irritatingly, pulled faces and waved their cocks at the people on the inside. It meant those on the inside knew they were being watched at all times but also gave the impression that one could simply step from the desolation of the rock to the safety of the tower in one easy hop. Unfortunately, in Blastrock Maximum Security Prison things were rarely that simple.

“What’s the matter Sylvar? You’ve had a face like a slapped arse all morning” asked Ludo, the huge half-orc his voice like rumbling like a barrel of rocks rolling down a hill.

Sylvar let out a sigh and waved a theatrical arm to take in their surroundings. Broken people dressed in nothing but rags and dirt lay still, waiting to die or scrabbled about like insects scavenging for scraps of food from sleeping bodies. At least he hoped they were sleeping bodies.

“You mean the prison?” asked Ludo, scratching his head with a thick black nail.

“No, I don’t mean the prison,” sighed an exasperated Sylvar. “I mean those clowns.” He jabbed a finger towards a group of sentries who were tossing coins into an upturned helm.

“The guards?”

“Yes, the guards! It’s offensive how little interest they take in us. Don’t they know who I am? I’m Sylvar Theren III, master lover, inimitable thief and menace to the rich and boring. There hasn’t been a prison made that can hold me.”

“This one isn’t doing a bad job so far.”

As the talked a wild-haired man, who looked more skeletal than some of the bodies in the pit dashed towards the edge his tattered robe flailing behind him like a banner. As he reached the edge, he leapt into the air, easily clearing the gap only to crash into an invisible barrier, rebound back and topple end over end down into the pit where his scream cut off abruptly. It was such a common occurrence that neither of the pair even blinked. Instead, Sylvar shot his big friend a scowl before continuing.

“Well, it’s not like I’ve been here very long, is it? Besides can’t they even pretend to be vigilant. It is their job, after all. The real ones stealing in this city are them, not us. Stealing a living from the crown they are. Look at them, drinking, playing cards and not giving me the slightest bit of attention. I have a good mind to escape.”

“Do we have to? We only have one more week in here.”

“Yes, because fuck them and their snooty disdain for my ability. I might even kill one of them on the way out to teach them a lesson.”

“Well, can’t you just…” Ludo waved a thick paw in what he considered a vaguely mystical manner.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, you know magic.”

“I don’t think they will like that. Besides no matter how incompetent they are I’m pretty sure they will notice someone casting a spell powerful enough to dispel that barrier. Unless…”

“I don’t like it when you do that Sylvar,” said Ludo as Sylvar stared into space with a smile on his face. “That look usually ends up with me getting hurt, or robbed, or sent to a maximum security prison…”

“Do you trust me?” said Sylvar.

“Not even a little.”

“Great.” Sylvar picked up a large, rather pointy looking rock and hurled it with all his strength at a Goliath lounging nearby. The rock cracked off the side of his head, leaving a line of red, bright against his grey skin. The goliath spun its face twisted in rage, and Sylvar put his hand in Ludo’s back and pushed. “Good luck.”

Ludo staggered forward-looking over his shoulder to where Sylvar was beating a hasty retreat, and a roar echoed around the prison that shook the walls. Ludo turned just in time to see a giant, gnarled fist rushing towards his face and then he was fighting for his life.

Around the rock, the prisoners started to gather around the fighters. Ones and twos at first and then, when it was clear the smaller man wasn’t going to be hammered into the ground like a nail into a board, at least not immediately, the rest flooded in forming a loose ring. The fight even piqued the interest of the usually indolent guards who gathered in small groups, watching from the safety of the tower.

Ludo slipped a wild swing and hammered a fist into the goliath’s ribs. His knuckles cracked on the creatures iron-like hide, blood flowing, but he heard a satisfying huff of pain that brought a grin to his face.

Sylvar better have a bloody good reason for this, thought Ludo as the beast leapt for him again. He tucked and rolled through its legs, feeling claws rake down his back as he narrowly avoided being crushed like an overripe melon. Chest heaving like a newlyweds bossom he backed away and scanned the crowd for his friend, but he was nowhere to be seen. Ludo circled right, keeping an eye on the frothing goliath as he scanned the crowd. Where the hell is he? Thought Ludo. Then he saw him and stopped his mouth hanging open. Sylvar was off by the edge of the rock squatting down taking a shit. If he did this just so he could have some privacy to pinch one off I’ll… 

Ludo’s vision narrowed to a thing tunnel and stars danced before his eyes, and the last thing he saw before the goliath pounced on his was Sylvar giving him the thumbs up.

Sylvar grimaced and retracted his thumb as the goliath fell on Ludo like a tsunami. With his other hand, he gingerly held the wand that he had recently retrieved from his brown pocket. It was one of the less fun things he’d had in there, but it would be worth the discomfort, assuming it still worked. Holding it between forefinger and thumb, he shook it clean and then pointed it the barrier. “Here goes nothing.”

On his back with a goliath’s hands wrapped around his throat choking the life out of him, Ludo thought about his poor life choices. The one top of mind being getting together with an idiot elf with a bad habit of taking things that didn’t belong to him. The goliath smiled, and ropes of drool slapped on Ludo’sf ace, but he barely felt them. As he slowly died, he saw a bright flash in the sky and wondered if that was a sign from the gods. It turned out it was a sign, just not a divine one.

Get up you idiot the barrier is down. Ludo felt the voice rather than heard it.


The barrier is down, stop pissing about and let’s get out of here before anyone notices.


Is now really the time to talk about this while some big lump chokes you to death!? I used the butt wand okay? The butt wand! Now stop getting killed and get over here.

Ludo lifted his legs, looked up into the wild orange eyes of the goliath and slammed his legs down, arching his back. The goliath shot upwards losing its grip for a second and Ludo grabbed it’s arm twisted and pressed into its elbow with all his strength. There was a crack and a tearing sound, and then the weight was off him, and the goliath was on the floor rolling int the dirt one arm hanging uselessly by its side.

“Sorry about that but I’ve gotta run,” said Ludo before charging through the crowd and pelting it over to where Sylvar stood in the tower waving to him. The crowd turned as one and seeing a prisoner beyond the barrier they went mad. Prisoners threw themselves across the pit as guards scrambled to draw their weapons and all around were screams as men fought to the death. While on the far side of the rock Sylvar and Ludo slipped quietly down the stairs and out into the warm night air.


Last Man Standing

Giles clicked save, leaned back in his chair and let out a long contented sigh. Another 14,000 words added to his magnum opus. Giles Rees-Johnson’s: History of the Twenty First Century: The Capitalist Utopia. It was a blow-by-blow account of the last forty years from the perspective of the world’s richest and most powerful man; Giles himself.

They said history was written by the victors and Giles had taken them literally. And who was better placed than him to document this defining age? No one! Giles was the perennial victor. He’d beaten his twin brother out of the womb, come top of his class at the prestigious Harvard School of Business and had forged a business empire so vast that he currently owned more money than the rest of the globe combined. He wasn’t the one percent he was the one. Presidents bowed to him, dictators held open doors for him and the peasants in the street common folk trembled underneath the shadow of his vast tower in Manhattan.

A shot rang out in the darkness. Giles couldn’t hear the corresponding thud but he was certain there had been one. There was a time when the gunfire had bothered him but not now. It was too common. Too normal. Too boring. Giles didn’t even look up from his screen. There was no danger the gunshot could have come from anywhere. The tendrils of his Panopticon system had eyes and ears everywhere, feeding back data into the vast computer array deep beneath Rees-Johnson Tower. It had been Inspired by the prefect prison initially suggested by Jeremy Bentham in 1791. A prison where the inmates were visible at all times but had no way of knowing if anyone was actually watching them Without being able to tell whether they are being watched the inmates would natural err on the side of caution and behave themselves. Giles had naturally taken it up a notch and using machine learning had made it so that people were being watched at all times.

Businesses had paid him to spy on their employees, husbands to spy on their wives and governments on their people. His fortune practically doubled overnight, and then again next night and the next. Pretty soon he was personally the fifth highest grossing country in the world. There were calls for splitting up his companies, for investigating his taxes but they all went away after a quick search through his databases. Everyone had something to hide. As his power grew he began to use it less defensively and more offensively. Taking down a hostile government here, passing a more business friendly regulation there anything he wanted he got and what he wanted more than anything was money. All of it.

A woman’s scream tore through the silence. Startled Giles tapped at his keyboard and his manuscript was replaced by a murky shot of some derelict street. He tapped a few keys and the shot sharpened slightly as the camera adjusted for the smog. A woman dressed in filthy rags was on the floor edging back from a hulking figure wielding a club. An incomprehensible murmur came through the speakers and Giles tapped a few keys to turn up the volume.

“Easy now love,” said the hulking figure. “There’s no need to make this any harder than it need to be.”

“Please,” begged the woman. “I don’t have anything you need. Just leave me be.”

“That’s where you’re wrong love. You know how long it’s been since I seen a woman? Never mind a woman as fine looking as you?”

He ran a thick booted foot down her leg and she recoiled like she’d been bitten. The man just smiled and licked his lips.

“Oh, don’t be like that. It must have been a while since you’ve been with a man. Not many left nowadays. How about we just have a little fun while we still can eh?”

“If I do this do you promise you won’t hurt me?” asked the woman, her back pressed against the door behind her, no where left to run.

“Not much,” replied the man with a smile.

The woman nodded, tears running down her face.

“You won’t regret this,” said the man setting aside his club and unbuckling his belt. As he lifted what was left of the woman’s skirt and positioned himself between her legs Giles fingers hovered over the keys ready to kill the feed. Before Giles could click the button the woman sat up she and wrapped her arms around the man’s neck and whispered something in his ear. The man started to jerk and spasm, flopping like a fish in the bottom of a boat as the woman held him close then at last he fell still. The woman pulled the small knife out of the mans neck and licked the blood off the blade as the counter in the top right of the screen ticked down.

90,304. That was all that was left of the eight billion people that had called the earth home just twenty years earlier. Global warming had cause floods, famines and mass migrations. Civil unrest had lead to war which had led to more death and disease until first China then Pakistan had pressed the button and doomed the already broken Earth. All that was left now were 90,303 cockroaches scrabbling through wreckage of a broken world and above them all safe in his bunker Giles Rees-Johnson documenting it all for no one. On the screen the woman took the knife and started to butcher the corpse with the ease of long practise. Giles shuddered, clicked and few buttons and his manuscript popped back onto the screen.

Time was running out for everyone. She would be one of the last to die but soon even a predator like her would fall to radiation poisoning or starvation or some less gullible prey. Then it would just be Giles. The richest man in a broken world. The last man standing.

We Can Print

Alex looked up from her laptop, her hands pausing above the keys in the middle of a sentence, as a bell chimed in her earpiece. She smiled and nodded to the hooded figure as he stepped through the, letting out a small breath and feeling her heart slow back to normal. Nothing to worry about. Jason was a regular, big in the D&D scene he made custom miniatures, pretty epic ones in Alex’s humble opinion. Alex’s shop is where he came to do all his printing, she wasn’t the cheapest, but she was the best.

“Got some more miniatures for me Jas?”

Jason nodded causing a lock of thick, black hair to fall and cover his eye. He swiped it out of the way self-consciously and handed her a battered USB stick. Alex slipped the drive into her security machine which scanned the drive for viruses and waited for the green light. Once the green light flashed moved it to her custom analysis machine which served two functions. Firstly, it made sure that the file was complete and provided a cost based on the amount and type of material to be used. Secondly, it checked for potential violations of the 3D Printing Enforcement Act. The scan was required by all 3D printing businesses, in theory, to ensure that nothing dangerous was being printed; gun parts and the like. However, the secondary function was to makes sure that people weren’t printing anything without the permission of the rights holder. Designed your own Mickey Mouse figurine? You better believe that the house of the mouse will not allow that… unless you pay the licensing fee and sign an eternally-binding agreement giving them access to your design for free, forever to do with as they wish.

The screen flashed red showing a 64% match to an existing D&D figurine and Alex raised an eyebrow at Jason.

“Plagiarism Jas? I expected better of you…”

The youth grimaced the blood rushing to his face. “They’ve copyrighted everything it’s impossible to make anything new without it being a little bit like something else. It’s like a band copyrighting the A, G and C chords and then expecting everyone to either make songs without them or pay them for the privilege. It’s stupid.”

Alex held her stern face for as long as she could but faced with the earnest young man blushing and scuffing the ground with the toe of his battered converse she only lasted a few seconds before a smile forced its way onto her face. She tapped a couple of keys, the computer whirred briefly, and the red light turned green. The perk of having a custom machine was it gave you some discretion in applying the law.

“My mistake,” said Alex with a smile. “That will be one hundred and forty credits please.”
On the other side of the counter Jason allowed a brief smile to dance across his lips then he held out his wrist to the scanner. Alex heard the ka-ching noise in her earpiece that the credits had made their way to her bank account and she nodded to Jason.

“Printing is starting right now and-“

She cut off Jason as pushed rudely aside and a pale, manicured hand was thrust into her face a pristine USB drive held between finger and thumb. Her gazed followed the hand, up the immaculately tailored sleeve to a vaguely familiar pinched face behind the darkened pince-nez glasses.

“If you don’t mind I’m in the middle of serving a customer,” said Alex trying to keep the anger out of her voice with limited success. Like all English people there was little she despised more than rudeness and pushing in was the epitome of the ill-mannered.
“Oh, I don’t think he will mind,” replied the man his voice somewhere between a whisper and a hiss. “Do you boy?”

Jason shook his head and took a step back his hands raised.

“I’ll come back later and pick them up Alex okay?”

“Nonsense,” replied the man liking his lips. “I’ll only be a moment. Why don’t you stay a while?” He nodded to a seat in the corner and Jason moved quickly over and took a seat hands on his knees. While not overtly threatening there was something dangerous about the man. It hung around him like a fog of cheap cologne. Something tugged at the back of Alex’s mind but just as she thought she was on the verge of getting it, the man turned his reptilian gaze back on her and her mind went blank.

“Now how about we proceed with my transaction? It shouldn’t take long it is a simple design.” He bent his fingers and waggled the USB in front of her face.

Alex shot Jason an apologetic look then snatched the USB from the man and slipped it into her security scanned.

“Be careful there girl,” said the man his eyes narrowing. “I don’t take kindly to people who disrespect my property.”

“And I don’t take kindly to people who disrespect my customers,” said Alex somewhat less forcefully than she planned. There really was something odd about the man it made her shiver. The security box flashed green and she moved the USB over to her analysis machine. She looked up quickly while the process ran and found the man staring at her unblinking his head cocked slightly to one side, tongue poking out slightly from between his thin lips. She felt like a mouse staring into the eyes of a snake, in terrible danger but unable to move. He held her eye for a long moment then he computer gave a series of odd clicks and beeps and he flicked his gaze away breaking the spell.

Alex almost sagged to the floor when he looked away. Her legs felt like jelly, sweat was pouring down her face and her breath came in short gasps.

“What’s the matter?” hissed the man waving a hand at the computer. “Why is it making that noise?”

Alex looked up at the screen and her brow furrowed. It was an error she had never seen before.

Error 196: Permission withheld.

Her fingers danced over the keys but no matter what she did the same error message remained.

Error 196: Permission withheld.

“I don’t understand,” she said looking up at the man. “I’ve never seen this error before.”

“Well bypass it.”

“I can’t I-“

“I saw you do it for him,” he snapped jabbing a finger over his shoulder to where Jason still sat, hands on his knees, head bowed like a naughty child waiting to see the headmaster. “Do it for me.”


“Do it now or you will regret not doing as I say.”

Looking into his eyes Alex knew that her life depended on what she did next. Without looking away she typed a command and the screen changed from blue to red. The old error message was replaced by a new one.

Error 763: 100% match to IP owned by the Metropolitan Police.

“What is the problem now?”

“It says that this is a match to a copyrighted work.”

“Copyrighted by who?”

Alex spun the screen around, so the man could see for himself. She watched his eyes dart across the screen then the corners of his mouth turned up in what on anyone else would be called a smile.

“So, they think they can claim my work, do they?”

“It’s their work now,” said Alex spinning the screen around and taping at the keyboard.

“They copyrighted the design six months ago.”

“I’ve been using this for almost two years,” replied the man. “It’s really quite distinctive I’m surprised you don’t recognise it.”

“I don’t look at the designs the computer does that…”

“You see that is the problem with the world today. Everyone wants someone or something else to do everything for them. Why don’t you take a look?”

“I really don’t-“

“I insist.”

Alex lowered her eyes to the screen and after a few clicks the file opened. On the screen a distinctive hooked blade spun slowly end over end. Alex mouth fell open and then it hit her. Why the man looked so familiar. She turned and looked at the notice board by the door. Among the advertisements for dog walkers and yoga schools one thing stood out. A picture of a slim man in a long black trench coat with a pinched face behind pince-nez glasses and underneath the picture six words; wanted in connection with multiple murders.

“It’s quite the likeness no?” said the man with a smile. He reached into his coat and came out with a long-curved blade. “Now how about we proceed with my order?”

The Worst Story Ever Written

Trigger Warning: This story contains everything I hate about writing and may include horribleness that should not be read by anyone.

Authors Note: I’ll also be including some writers commentary so anything in <> should not be considered part of the story.

Rosie awoke to the shrill call of her alarm wailing like a garroted goose. She pulled back the covers and slid sensuously out of the silk sheets and pattered across the room, soft as a kitten, to regarded herself critically in the full-length mirror.

<Oh God I’m really going to do this>

Hands on hips she turned left and right examining her naked body in the mirror. She was thirty five but her diet and gym routine meant that she had the body of a twenty year old. She squeezed her ample breasts and smiled, feeling a thrill run down her flat stomach to her sex as she massaged her nipples. 34DD they were everything a man could want. Happy with what she saw, she turned to check out her perfect butt, which was firm as an under-ripe peach.

She let her hand wander down and brush through the thin line of hair above her clitoris, teasing herself for just a second before drawing her hand away. Much as she would love to she didn’t have time for that. The office was calling and as everyone knew if you didn’t go to work you were the worst kind of parasite. A looter stealing from the genius of visionaries like Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch. People who were proven to be better than the average man by their ability to amass their great fortunes.

<Author vomits all down himself>

If she was a man Rosie would have liked to have been a man like Rupert Murdoch. Unfortunately by some terrible twist of fate she had been born just a woman and so she did what she cold to help her own visionary achieve his goals. Whatever it took.

<OK so let’s count the horrors… I make it six counts of terrible writing so far. If you find more I must just be putting the extras in unconsciously I’m not a terrible writer… honest.>

As she brushed her long, blonde hair Rosie turned her mind to the problem at hand. Her Bae was having a hard time at the office. The trade war had, almost overnight, turned into something more significant. It had started with protests in cities that were supposed to be their allies. There were protests wherever he went, effigies being floated above them or burned in front of them. Then the other countries he was bringing to heel like recalcitrant dogs stopped buying US product altogether! Well Bae had done the only thing he could do, he’d threatened to sell them things by force but that hadn’t worked out quite as he’d planned and instead of backing down they had sunk the ships full of iPads he had sent to sell to them. The nerve of those people in shit-hole countries pretending they didn’t want the superior US products…

<Any relation to real people is purely on purpose but this is parody so you can’t sue me you orange mugged goon. Also Bae!? Ugh what kind of word is that…>

To top it all off his wife was now giving him a hard time too. It didn’t make any sense! She should know that such a powerful, impressive man wouldn’t be satisfied with just one lover. I mean its not even like this was the first time,  although she considered herself to be well above some of the porn star, trailer trash scum that he’d dallied with before. Anyway, that was just about relief, this was respect and love he’d told her so himself. Threatening divorce at a time of war? The bitch should be sent back to whatever hell hole she came from, she wasn’t even America after all.

Well she couldn’t solve the war or the wife but she could do her bit to spread his message, and that is exactly what she planned to do. She slipped into a fabulous dress that perfectly showed off her curves, grabbed her purse off the counter and headed to out of the door.


Just as she arrived at the coffee shop her phone gave out a little cheap. She slipped it out of her black PVC handbag, and looked at the screen.

The War is on. Jittery Xi Jinping has crossed me for the last time. I’m going to Airforce One now to plan the attack. Don’t worry you’ll be fine we will destroy them in five seconds and anyone who says different is talking fake news. xoxo covfefe

So it was happening. Those traitors in the newsrooms had been reporting that US troops were on the move, denying her beloved his surprise attack, but she hadn’t expected it so soon. No matter, she had a job to do and that job was to drum up support for her Bae, after all it was an election year.

She opened the door to the shop and looked inside. It was a small space with four small tables dressed with flowery tablecloths. The floor was white and black tile in a chessboard pattern that lead up to a petite glass counter. The counter had a plethora of delicious looking pastries behind it including delicate danishes filled with colourful jams and creams that shone in the early morning light like so many colourful pebbles tossed into a verdant stream at sunset on a warm summers day.

<Well that was boring and didn’t add anything to the story…>

Above the counter the news was showing scenes from the war. Fighter jets crisscrossing the sky, tracer fire lighting up the darkness, soldiers pouring out of amphibious vehicles to spill out onto a sandy beach under a hail of fire and in the top corner the president. Smiling and waving as he boarded air force one, his trademark red cap on his flowing locks.

<Talking about a more interesting story than the one we’re telling? Classic.>

Rosie approached the counter where a pale-faced woman in her early forties stood with her eyes locked on the TV.

“I’d like get a coffee,” said Rosie after it was clear the slack-jawed idiot had noticed her.

The woman flinched like someone had thrown a bucket of icy water over her. “Of course, uh… take a seat and I’ll bring it right over.”

Rosie tutted but took the nearest chair where she leaned in to a greying old man who was also engrossed in the TV which was now showing live footage of missile sites in China opening.

“So what do you think about this election huh? The president is bound to win again right? I mean he is draining the swamp, rebuilding the middle class and doing it all while maintaining a handicap of -3.”

“There isn’t going to be an election! Aren’t you watching the TV those aren’t regular missiles the Chinese are firing they’re nukes.”

“Oh that’s fake news. What are you some liberal snowflake? No-one would dare!”

Outside the sky grew dark. The woman from ran out from behind the counter Rosie’s coffee forgotten. When she got to the door she screamed.

“Oh what is it woman?” snapped Rosie.

“Airplanes. There are so many of them.”

“Xian H-6’s by the looks of them,” said the old man now stood beside her looking up.

“Fake news,” snapped Rosie but a little of the fire had gone out of her now as she looked up and saw them for herself.

“It’s not news lady, it’s just happening.”

The lead Xian H-6’s bomb doors opened and mist of tiny black specks started to fall. Seconds later the other bombers started to drop their loads.

“Nothing bad can happen to me!” shrieked Rosie. “Don’t they know who I am? I’m too important. It’s fake news. Fake news!”

The black specks fell faster and faster growing bigger with each second. By the door the old man took the woman in his arms and patted her back.

“It will be OK. We won’t feel a thing,” he whispered into her ear.

“Fake news…” said Rosie with a shiver. “Fake news.”

<Fade to black…>


Kaiden flipped back the door to the tent and stepped out into field beyond nearly losing his footing in the muddy mess as he did so. An unseasonably wet few days and the five thousand boots of the Camarana, the spear’s tip, had transformed the land from a lush green field into a slick, brown quagmire. Soon they would bring that same destruction to the city. A necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. The law was clear. The God-king asks and his eyes seek. The God-king speaks and hands obey. The God-king commands and his fists destroy. Kaiden was the fourteenth fist of the Camarana and the God-king had commanded. Now the city would fall.

Kaiden looked over to where his men were preparing and allowed himself a moment to enjoy the hum of the camp. The chattering of the men, the crackling of the cook fires and the rhythmic pounding of hammer on anvil, the sounds washed over him refreshing as a summer rain. His house might be a thousand leagues to the north but this had been his home longer than that cabin of rough cut logs.  These men, this army, it was his life and one day it would be his death, but not today.

He caught the eye of his captain, a tall young warrior named Gallas and nodded. Gallas  gave a grim smile and nodded before turning away and shouting for the men to form up. Kaiden watched for a moment then satisfied all was in hand turned away and started out across the field towards the city of Reddington. The city was well placed with a wide fast-flowing river preventing attack from the east and a high stone wall wrapping around the rest of the city. Thirty feet high, ten feet thick and topped with a scurrying army of ant-like defenders. Kaiden knew from long experience the going would be hard and bloody. For every hundred men who threw themselves at the great grey walls, maybe one would make the top and for every hundred that made the top only one in ten would live long enough to see the other side. In war, walls were the great leveller.

Kaiden stopped just by small flag that signified the edge of bow-shot range and looked up at the walls again. From this distance the men on the walls looked bent and broken, moving here and there with jerking twitching movements. A shiver ran up his spine and he imagined a city manned by the twisted monsters of Garstan Holog, the puppet show, common in his homeland that told he story of the world before men when the world was populated by demons, fiends and twisted monstrosities. He was about to turn away when his eyes locked onto a lone upright figure. He couldn’t know for sure at this distance but he felt the man’s eyes on him. The noises of the camp behind him changed as the men left their chores and started to get ready for war. Kaiden could feel the buzz of excitement and fear. The orders were in it was time.

Kaiden nodded to the man on the wall and thought he saw a nod in return before he turned away.


High on the walls of Reddington Lord Calder watched as the man on the edge of the camp turned away and walked calmly back towards the bustling camp. He felt the weight that had been around his neck for the last two weeks settle into the pit of his stomach, where it sat leaking poison that leached the strength from his limbs. He stumbled and caught himself on the wall to hide his moment of weakness. He stood there breathing for a few moments fighting the urge to throw up. They were coming. They were coming and there was nothing he could do to stop them.

“Tomas,” he called surprised to hear his voice so steady.

A stooped figure dressed in ill-fitting armour, made for a man half again his size, and dragging a spear behind him shambled forward. When he reached Lord Calder he slid to a halt and dipped his head in a half bow. Thin silver hair poked wildly out from beneath his helm and he looked like he would fall to pieces in anything more than a summer breeze. Tomas was seventy summers old if he was a day and he was probably the most reliable man he had left. High Lord Rastor had taken all the soldiers and men of fighting age off to war with him. All he had left to defend the castle were boys too young to hold a sword and men well into their dotage.

“Go to the temple and tell the women and children to go now. If they leave by the Postern Gate they won’t be seen. We will buy them what time we can but they must go now. The old man saluted and hurried off marginally faster than lame tortoise.

Lord Calder looked at the frightened faces of the people manning the wall. Garstang the tanner who’d last seen battle two decades before swung his sword in a few achingly slow practise arcs while behind him a boy of maybe twelve held his rough spear like it was a viper his hand shaking. Heartsick he turned away and ran his hands over the rough stone of the wall. Without it they would have been slaughtered in minutes, with it maybe they could hold out for long enough for the women and children to get to safety. If anywhere was safe in this new world where men crossed the dead waste wearing the face of a long-dead traitor. The walls wouldn’t save him but they might save them and for that he said a silent prayer of thanks.

As he finished horns sounded echoing the plains as the wall of soldiers started forwards with shining silver masks and weapons in hand.

“Make ready,” he called drawing his sword. “We hold the wall. We hold it for our wives. We hold it for our children. Every minute we hold they are a minute closer to safety.”

The horn sounded again and Lord Calder gripped his sword tightly it was time to die but he was determined to die well. It was all he had left.

Conversations in the Dark

The thick curtains were drawn leaving Brian sitting in the dark. He didn’t mind though, he liked the dark. Every day after school he ran home, leapt up the stairs and wrapped himself in the darkness like it was a warm blanket. In Brian’s experience, there were no monsters in the dark. The monsters were out there in the light. Out there with their fake smiles, sharp words and cruel fists. In here he could be alone. Well, usually.

Today something was a little different. Today the darkness felt heavier than usual. Pregnant with something out of the ordinary. With a shiver, Brian hugged his duvet tighter and scanned the darkened corners one by one searching for movement. His eyes ached as he looked from one corner to another trying to pierce the gloom. Nothing presented itself but the feeling persisted. Brian felt long, bony fingers caressing the back of his neck. He flinched and spun but there was nothing there, just him and the darkness.

Concerned by this strange change in his usually homely room Brian stood, careful to keep his duvet wrapped around him, and moved to open the curtain. He reached out a hand but before his fingers closed on the thick black cloth he heard a buzzing behind him. He spun his heart pounding in his chest then let out a sigh when he saw the cause. On his desk, his phone was lighting up. He had a message. He waddled over to his desk and picked up the phone, swiping the screen open with his thumb. He read the message and tossed the phone onto the desk with a scowl.


He turned back to the window but as he did he caught something out of the corner of his eye and felt something brush his cheek, soft as a spiderweb. He looked quickly from left to right but still, all he saw was darkness. He hurried forward to the curtain but as his hand brushed the cloth a voice hissed out from the corner.


Brian froze, his heart lurching in his chest. He smelt the acrid stench of sulphur and felt two eyes burning into his back. He wanted to turn, to look and see nothing and confirm that it was his imagination, but he daren’t. What if there was something? It was better not to look. Not to know. So instead, he let his hand fall from the curtain.

“Who… who… who’s there?” he whispered his mouth suddenly dry.

Why don’t you turn around and look?

Brian felt himself turn, though his mind screamed at him not too. He wasn’t in control any more. It was.

When he turned all he saw was the darkness but he felt it there, just beyond his vision. Watching. Waiting. A sly smile on the face, a flash of razor-sharp teeth and just a flicker of a burning red eye. Brian screwed his eyes shut so hard white lights danced in his vision.

Do you know why I’m here Brian? The voice was right by his ear now. He thought he could feel the things fetid breath on his cheek and he flinched, folding in on himself like a hedgehog curling into a ball. Only he didn’t have sharp spines to protect him. He had nothing. No one.

I asked you a question boy.

“N… N… No…” whimpered Brian clenching his fists at his sides to stop them shaking.

The thing chuckled. A low, rumbling cackle with nothing of humour in it.

I’m here because you are a fat, pathetic waste of skin and I don’t like a waste. Here you are snivelling in your room on your own, again. Hiding from the world. Well, I have a use for you boy. You can entertain me. Would you like that?

The silence stretched as Brian stood frozen in place.

I said, would you like that boy?

“N..n…n…n…No,” stammered Brian.


He felt something warm, wet and rough run up his cheek as the thing licked the tears from his face.

Oh, we’re going to have so much fun, Well I am anyway. You… Not so much.

Brian let out a whimper as the things saliva burned a line up his cheek.

Now open your eyes boy, it’s no fun if you can’t see.

Brian felt his eyes opening of their own accord and as they did they locked on something shining mere inches in front of his face. A long thin blade catching a sliver of sunshine coming in from the window. He let out a low moan. Fresh tears sprang into his eyes and his heart pounded in his chest but he couldn’t move. He was locked in place, mesmerised by the shining thing.

Don’t worry I won’t feel a thing said the voice but Brian barely heard it. All his focus was on the blade as it slowly dipped down, lower, lower until it was just below the leg of his boxer shorts. Then it darted forward, fast as a viper and opened a ribbon of scarlet on his leg. For a second he felt nothing, then the cut started to warm. It got hotter and hotter until it burned him like a thousand suns. The thing started to laugh.

The blade darted forward again and again. Each time Brian flinched but did not cry out. Tears streamed down his face in a torrent and his breath came in short sharp gasps but he did not cry out. By the tenth stroke, all his whole body burned and shook. He couldn’t see his whole mind was consumed with the pain and the hideous laughter of thing. Blood ran down his legs, in a warm wave pooling on the filthy rug at his feet but he had no room in his mind for it. All there was pain and laughter.

The moment stretched for an eternity, the blade snapping forward, the searing pain and the laughter. Brian knew that if this kept up he would bleed to death, but it was a distant thing. A worry for another day. Another life. He should stop, but he couldn’t. Wouldn’t. He wasn’t in control. It was in control.

“Brian, your tea’s ready.” The sound of his mother’s voice hit him like a bucket of cold water. The rushing in his ears subsided, the laughter faded and all that remained was the darkness.

“Brian, don’t let it get cold,” his mother called again. “It’s spaghetti bolognese, your favourite.”

“I’ll be right there Mum I’m just tidying up,” he said looking down at the razor in his blood-slicked hand. He wrapped it in tissue paper and dropped it into the bin the slid open his desk drawer and pulled out a length of bandage to cover the cuts on his legs. His mum could never find out. She wouldn’t understand.

“I love you, darling,” called his mother he voice receeding as she walked off down the stairs.

“I Love you too Mum.”

I Love you too mum, mocked the voice in his head.

The Devil’s Bargain

My terrible drawings are back! Hooray!

Grey ran. In the distance his pursuers shouted insults that distorted and reverberated, assaulting him from all sides. Tears stung his eyes, narrowing the world into a series of blurry passageways. Grey ran, and the voices followed snapping at his heels and driving him on deeper and deeper into the abandoned tunnels on the edge of the town.

After an eternity of wild flight, when the voices finally began to fall away, Grey felt his legs turn rubbery, and he pitched forward landing in a crumpled heap. The voices were still with him, echoing in the dark but they were remote now, more whispers than shouts. After a long moment where he lay sucking in lungs full of the musty air, his heart started to slow, and he pushed himself up on a skinned elbow.

Looking around it quickly became apparent that there was good news and bad. In good news, there was no sign of the gnawed bones that would indicate the dangerous beasts that stalked the tunnels. The bad news though, was that no matter how hard he looked, Grey didn’t recognise anything. He was well and truly lost. Grey sat thinking for a long moment, then when thinking didn’t seem to help much, he dragged himself to his feet, picked tunnel at random and started to walk.

The tunnel led slightly upwards, but the air remained musty and still. As he continued to trudge through the semi-darkness carvings started to appear on the walls. Trees, bowing figures and some flowing script Grey couldn’t read. Grey reached out a hand and ran his fingers over the wall, following the lines, and as his fingers brushed the strange writing, they began to tingle. He stumbled and when his hand came off the stone the tingling vanished. Grey wiped his hand on his tattered cloak. Whatever this place was there was power here and out in the abandoned places power trouble.

“Come out, come out wherever you are.”

Grey’s blood ran cold. How had they found him in this maze of tunnels? It wasn’t possible!

“There’s nowhere to run a little rabbit. Don’t make me follow your trail all the way back to your warren.”

Grey looked down. His gashed knees were oozing blood, and he had left a trail of small red drops behind him. Cursing wiped the blood away and bolted up the tunnel. After a few hundred yards, the tunnel levelled out, and Grey burst from the corridor into a tall, round chamber. There was a stone bench in the centre facing an altar that, like everything else in the room was covered in intricate carvings. One of which caught his eye, carved into the wall above the altar was a horned figure wreathed in flame. The details washed over Grey in a second, but he dismissed them. All he saw was what was missing; a way out.

Grey cursed then flinched as it echoed around the room.

“Ho, ho, ho! There you are little rabbit,” called the voice from down the tunnel. “Stay there we will be along to play presently.”

“Please, please, please,” whispered Grey sprinting to the altar. It was rectangular maybe eight feet in length and four feet tall and was covered in a thick layer of dust and on closer inspection he saw it wasn’t an altar at all, it was a tomb the sides carved with lines of flame that whipped up to a thick stone lid that was three inches thick. With a despairing sigh, Grey slid to the floor and pressed the back of his head to the tomb.

“Welcome little one.”

Grey started and spun looking around the room, but he could see no one. Then out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something.  One corner of the tomb had a small hole between the lid, and the base like someone long ago had tried to pry it open with a  crowbar. Curiosity overriding his common sense Grey leaned in closer. A breeze that carried the smell of smoke, dried herbs and ancient things flowed from the hole.

Welcome to my home.

The voice echoed in Grey’s head, a deep musical voice that had nothing human in it.

Please forgive the mess it has been some time since I’ve had visitors.

Grey clapped his hands over his ears as a strange pressure started to build.

Now listen little one. They are coming to hurt you. Coming to break your bones and drink your blood.

Grey dropped to the floor with a groan. Eyes squeezed shut, hands clamped to the sides of his head, the pressure unbearable.

They’re coming little one… to do unspeakable things…

Grey could barely make out the voice over the buzzing in his ears. Then when he was sure his head would explode the pressure vanished, and Grey was floating looking down on the cavern, as five men entered. Four could have been any of the desperate people who scraped a living in town.  Grey’s eyes washed over them and dismissed them, it was the leader who held his attention. He was young but had a man’s size with a barrel chest and arms thicker than Grey’s waist. He had short blonde hair so pale it was almost white and the simple shirt and trousers he wore made him look like a prince compared to his companions.

“There’s nowhere to go little rabbit,” said the leader. “You may as well come out.”

Grey watched as behind the altar, his body started to stir.

“If you make us come looking for you this will go badly for you,” the man looked over at his companions. “More badly I should say…”

Grey’s body sat up jerkily like a poorly controlled puppet. With a sigh, the leader waved a hand, and the men spread out, two going left and two right, cudgels raised. Grey could only watch as his body burst from behind the tomb darting forward to squeeze through the swiftly closing gap. For a second he thought he’d made it, but then they tackled him to the floor. He looked so tiny locked in that cruel embrace that struggle as he might he knew there was no escape. Struggle he did though, and with each bite or swing of his leg, he took a blow with a cudgel or a kick on the chest. They beat him until he lay shaking in a pool of his own blood.

The fight finally out of him the leader stepped forward between his men and stood towering of Greys body a sick smile on his pale face.

“I’ll show you what we do to freaks like you girl,” he said licking his lips.


Grey fell back away from the tomb and looked around in confusion, the room was empty. He rubbed his face with his shaking hands. It was just a dream, or a hallucination, or something but try as he might he couldn’t shake the feeling that was real in some way he didn’t understand. He had the coppery taste of blood in his mouth and the stink of the men in his nostrils.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I can help you, make you strong.

Grey felt an alien presence reaching out for him, the strange breeze caressing his cheek as gentle as a lover.

I can be your second chance as you can be mine. Just reach in and take it.

“No!” cried Grey. “Leave me alone!”

“Or what?”

Grey’s head shot up, and he saw a pale face smiling out at him from under a pile of unruly blond hair.

“No! No! No! Leave me alone!”

“Why would we do that when we’ve been searching so hard for you?” the man nodded his head and his accomplices spread out cutting off Grey’s escape.

“No! Just leave me alone. Don’t make me… Not again…”

The man laughed, a hollow sound with nothing of amusement in it. At his signal, the ruffians started to close slowly in on Grey. “Don’t make you what girl? What are you going to do?”

Grey dove forward thrusting a hand into the gap in the tomb. As the men darted forward to grab him, he felt his hand close on something cold and hard. A great wind seemed to come from nowhere. The men were pushed back, straining to hold themselves up as the wind battered them, blasting exposed skin with like a sandstorm. Then as quickly as it came, the wind died down leaving Grey standing straight behind the tomb palms upraised.

“Call me girl again,” he whispered his voice low and dangerous.

The man ground his teeth, puffed out his chest and took a step forward. “Listen, girl…”

Flames burst into being writhing around Grey’s hands as he locked eyes with the pale-faced man. “Big. Mistake.” Grey’s eyes flashed, and for the next few moments, all that could be heard over the screams of the dying was the young boy’s laughter. Bright, glorious and mad.

Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective.

Yes, I misspelt Detective when I was drawing this and couldn’t be arsed to redraw it because I was happy with the Frodo don’t @ me.

For as long as anyone could remember the children of the Shire had been warned about a most singular and elusive thief. Generations of Baggins and Burrows, Puddifoot and Gamwich and even those rambunctious Tooks all learned to fear this most pernicious and mysterious sneak. Tales were told from hobbit to hobbit, parent to child and those tales grew with every telling.

‘He is a thousand years old and lives in a camp, deep in the woods where even the Trolls fear to tread.’

‘No, no! It’s not a man or even a woman; it is a group. A band of criminals trained and financed by some distant wizard who is intolerant to gluten.’

‘Are you mad? It is the ghost of a  poor orphaned hobbit who used to live with an evil pie maker who starved her to death! Now she goes from house to house stealing pies with hunger that can never be sated.’

Every hobbit had a story, each as unique as a snowflake. The one thing everyone could agree on was that this was no ordinary thief. They were in fact, the lowest, most disgusting and reprehensible pilferer of all a pie thief known as the Pastry Bandit.

As the hobbits grew up and few sightings occurred, they worried less and less about the Pastry Bandit their minds turning to more mundane problems. He was just a myth. A story to scare young children with. That was until the day that he wasn’t a myth anymore.

That day came on the 20th of Thrimidge 2991. The day that Lobelia Sackville-Baggins put a perfect apple pie on her window ledge to cool only to return half an hour later to find it missing. Accusations had flown, and everyone was a suspect. Baggins Tooks and Brandywines all were accused, investigated and exonerated. The following week and the Pastry Bandit struck again, not once, not twice but thrice. First May Gamgee lost one of her rhubarb and blackberry specials, and then both Daisy Boffin and Peony Burrows suffered similar tragedies with their own delicious baked goods. The local authorities were called in, but a thorough investigation turned up no clues, no suspects and worst of all no pies.

By the 14th of Forelithe, the thefts were so common that people were resorting to extreme measures. Fences sprung up like shining silver weeds, every able man was pressed into service patrolling the town, and some even began to empty their safes of gold and gems to make room for their precious pies.

“The Pastry Bandit was on the loose, and there was only one hobbit who could stop him… Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective,” said Frodo as he scribbled into his journal.

“One hobbit Master Frodo?” said Samwise Gamgee with a frown. “What about me?”

“Don’t worry Sam! This is just a working draft. I’ll make sure you get proper credit in the final edit. What do we know?”

“Not much I’m afraid,” replied Sam.

“Pies have been pilfered from all over the Shire and there doesn’t seem to be anything that links the crimes at all. They happen at different times of day and night and there isn’t even a link with the pies, sweet, savoury he will take anything.”

“So what you’re saying is we have no clues?”

“Pretty much Master Frodo, yes. There’s a reason he hasn’t been caught in all these years.”

“Well, you know what the greats do when they don’t have any clues?”

“Go back to the beginning, go over every crime-scene, interview every witness work the case until something comes up?”

“Gods no, Sam. Do you know how much work that would be? They make their own evidence!” With that, he turned away and started back towards Bag End his mind already grappling with the problem.

“What do you mean Master Frodo?” asked Sam. “Master Frodo? We’re not going to frame someone, are we? Are we?!?”




Crouching in the darkness, hidden from the road by a thick row of gorse bushes Frodo surveyed the scene. From his position on the edge of the wood, he had a perfect view of both the road running by the house and more critically pie which sat cooling on the window ledge. The lantern high on the lamppost was lit and cast a warm glow over the scene but fell short of where the two boys lay in wait. They were shrouded in a cloak of darkness while anyone approaching would be lit up like one of Gandalf’s skyrockets.  There was no way that the Pastry Bandit could get to the tasty, blueberry-filled delicacy without being seen.

“Are you ready Sam?”

“Ready Master Frodo.”

“Okay keep your eyes peeled he could show up at any time.”

As if on queue their first suspect came into view. He was a short, fat hobbit wearing a wide straw hat that was pulled low to cover his face. It looked as though he was going to walk on but then he stopped dead and tilted his head. He looked from left to right then his eyes locked onto the pie and a smile flashed across his face. He glanced left then right to make sure no one was looking then stepped darted towards the pie. Frodo felt Sam tense and held out an arm to restrain him.

“Not yet Sam,” he whispered. “Let him take the bait…”

As he reached the pie, the man looked around again and finding the coast clear, leaned down and took a long sniff. Frodo’s heart raced, and his hands shook with anticipation. They had him, the Pastry Bandit! Where countless others had failed Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective had succeeded. Images of parades held in his honour and the mayor draping a medal over his head flashed through his mind.

“That’s a lovely looking pie Mrs Gamgee,” called the hobbit. “You better take it in, or the Pastry Bandit will have it away…”

The images vanished with the retreating back of the innocent hobbit.

“Perhaps this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought,” moaned Frodo slumping back onto a tree stump.

Several more hobbits came into view, and each time the boys readied themselves for action only to be disappointed as the suspects passed without incident. The night wore on past midnight and into the early hours with less and less people going by and no sign of the Pastry Bandit. Sam had fallen asleep some time ago, and Frodo himself was starting to nod when something startled him awake. Somewhat dazed Frodo looked up at the house, and his heart stopped in his chest. His eyes were fixed straight ahead as he reached out and shook Sam.

“Wha… Who… When…” muttered Sam. Frodo just pointed to the house where the pie was floating in mid-air. He watched in horror as a slice of pie floated out of the tin all by itself then vanished in three swift bites.

“Ghost!” screamed Sam. “The Pastry Bandit is a ghost!”

A second slice froze in mid-air then fell to the floor followed quickly by the pie itself but the boys hadn’t waited long enough to see it, they had already bolted for the hills in panic. They ran until their legs gave out and had reached the very outskirts of Hobbiton before they finally collapsed.

“Miss Posey was right!” said Sam between breaths. “The Pastry Bandit is a ghost, and we’ve gone and proved it.”

“I don’t think we proved anything,” sighed Frodo.

“What do you mean we saw with our own eyes!”

“But who will believe us?”

Sam started to speak then let out his own sigh. “Perhaps you’re right. At least we cracked the case.”

“Right!” said Frodo brightening. “Frodo Baggins: Boy Detective triumphs again!”

“Don’t forget about his old pal Sam…” started Sam but Frodo wasn’t listening he was already heading for home.



Bilbo looked up from his book as Frodo pushed his way into Bag End.

“Good night Frodo?”

“Sorry Bilbo,” said Frodo as he crossed the room. “I’ve no time to chat I’ve got to get this down while it’s fresh in my head.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“I caught the Pastry Bandit tonight!”

“Caught him eh? Who was it?”

“Well, maybe not caught exactly but we saw him, well no we didn’t see him but only because he is a ghost!”

“A ghost you say? isn’t that something!”

“Right and now I need to write it all down before I forget. Goodnight Bilbo.”

“Goodnight Frodo.”

As Frodo headed to bed, Bilbo surreptitiously slipped the ring from his pocket and twirled it in his hands. “I guess I should put this whole pie stealing thing to bed before he catches me. Besides, it’s not good for the old physique,” said Bilbo rubbing his large belly. “He’s a sharp boy that one I see big things in his future.”