Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 8

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7


Chapter 8: Meetings and SCIENCE!

“Your Highness, Ezekiel of house Apollo is here to see you.”

“Tell him to come back later,” Diana had arrived at the castle and promptly summoned her Grandfather and the council of elders. They needed to prepare for this threat and mobilize to stop the current invasion.

“He insists it’s important.”

“I don’t care. Unless it’s about the current demon invasion, it can wait.”

Pushing his way past the courtier and into the war room, Ezekiel said, “Yes, it does.” He stood there red with frustration wearing a shirt and underwear but not pants or shoes. He had nice legs.

“Come in then. Can we get him some pants?” She smirked as his anger turned into a blush.

The six council members and the King all looked at him with expressions that varied from scandalized to annoyed. “I was visited in bed. Which is why I have no pants. From a demon. He told me to give this to the Champion of Light and Life.” He lifted a small box no bigger than a shoebox.

“And who is this champion?” asked the King sounding exhausted.

“It said the princess would know who it is.” Ezekiel sighed.

One of the council members suggested, “Must be the King’s Champion” only to be laughed at by the rest of the council. The King’s Champion, Eldric the Elder, had just celebrated his one hundredth birthday and only fought at tourneys. And even then people mostly yielded before there was a fight.

“Let the Princess and her alchemists take care of the box and let’s finish this battle strategy.” The meeting went on for another half hour as they argued. Finally they finalized plans and sent out the troops.

It seemed like they had forgotten about Ezekiel but as he tried to sneak out, Diana ordered, “You. Meet me in my lab. The courtier will direct you. And for the goddess’s sake please put on some pants.”

She hated that the soldiers, monks, and civilians were out fighting, what she thought, was her war. She felt she should be out there with her devices of war, helping people. Unfortunately with Fred helping the citizens, the only person she trusted to find a poison to stop the demons’s healing was herself.

She changed into more casual clothing but didn’t disarm. She made sure her explosive pistols were loaded and that her sword was on her side. Everything else was soft, easy to move in, and comfortable. She didn’t look like a princess, she looked like a scientist.

In the lab, someone had finally gotten Ezekiel pants. As she walked in and said, “See that chest made of stone and metal? Put the box in there.”

“Why?” he asked, obviously confused by both her orders and appearance.

“The box is made of stone and metal but the inside is lined by a crystal so hard it had to be grown in the chest. It’s also spelled against all magic.”

“But I thought we had to give it to the champion?”

“Right. I’m going to hand an unopened box given by the enemy to our best hope to defeat them.”

Ezekiel blushed, “Oh. Right.” To his credit he accepted his mistake and moved on instead of arguing the way most men did when she corrected them.

“I need your help. I can’t deal with this thing alone. Follow my orders exactly and we might be able to save the city. Maybe the world.” She put him to work draining the blood from the demon and putting it into beakers while she experimented on it. She was convinced that the secret to the demons’ regeneration powers were in their blood.

Periodically soldiers came in to tell her how the fighting was going. It seemed the demons were holding back and mostly causing havoc. They were also avoiding the castle.

After a long frustrated time, she agreed to stopping for lunch.

“Have you found the magic that causes them to heal?” Ezekiel asked between bites of chicken and cucumber.

“Why do you think it’s magic?”

“It reminds me of the self-healing hydrogen balloons that my friend Dee designed, and she said she had used a magic that encouraged them to heal themselves. I didn’t understand.”

Diana looked at him, marvelling at the fact that despite her not wearing glasses, she wore nearly exactly what she would as Dee but he still didn’t recognize her. She was starting to think that his disinterest in magic and confusion wasn’t an act but that he was genuinely not that bright. However his idea was a good one. Maybe she should be looking for something mystical and not biological.

Looking at the blood under a spelled microscope she saw the structure of the spell. It was simple and beautiful and it wasn’t just similar to the spell she designed for the airships; it was the same design. There was only one other person who could have known her spell so intimately.

“I have to see what’s in that box,” she said with such vehemence that Ezekiel took a few steps back and didn’t react when she recklessly opened the chest and pulled out the box.

Opening it let out the spell it contained. A doorway spell. A beautiful blue and green light formed a doorway of magic and through it stepped a man with the same dark brown skin as hers and the same jet black hair. He wore a royal formal suit with a sword on one hip and a gun on the other. On his head he wore a crown made of warped and malformed bones. Behind him was a massive army of demons.

“Hello Sister,” he said smirking smugly. “I knew you couldn’t resist opening my present.”

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 7

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6


Chapter 7: Autopsies, Cranky Physicians, and a New Assignment

Demon blood is green and acidic. Artemis stood in shock after being sprayed by what had been a demon before the princess had efficiently shot two large holes into it. Her monk’s robes started to sizzle and that’s what shook her out of the stupor.

The robes were comfortable and loose, they hid her shape and any indications that she wasn’t a man; and they were disintegrating. Between that and the burning on her skin she ran for the well.

There was already a monk at the well splashing people with water to wash off the demon blood.

“Take off your clothes, it’ll limit the damage,” The monk said.

Artemis had to make a decision at that point to either expose herself, in every way possible, or risk permanent scarring or damage. She started taking off her robes. Becoming a master wasn’t as important as protecting the world and the princess.

“All of you idiots stop what you’re doing,” The voice was gravelly and sounded annoyed. The man they came from had dark skin and a grey close cropped beard. He was shorter than Artemis by a head and was thin. Despite his size, he had no problem ordering, and being obeyed by, the fighting monks.

“We need to take these clothes off to avoid burns,” the monk at the well said. He was one of the older monks and didn’t take orders from anyone.

“Unless you neutralize the demon blood, it’ll soak into the ground and contaminate our water. I can both do that, clean, mend, and heal your monks with a simple spell. I don’t need to see their naked bodies while I do it.” He looked over at Artemis and waved his hand. The pain disappeared and her robes looked better than when she’d put them on that morning.

“Thank you Royal Physician,” Artemis said.

“Don’t be so formal, Master. Just call me Fred.”

“Thank you, Fred. But I’m not a master yet.”

He made rude noise and said, “You’re more qualified than these shmucks. Come with me,” They walked back to where the body of the demon was slowly melting. The Princess kneeled next to the body with thick gloves and appeared to be dissecting it. “Couldn’t help yourself Diana, huh? Had to get started?”

“It’s a darn good thing I started. With the pace you move, old man, the body would have dissolved by now.” The Princess looked up at him and they both smirked.

“Good. What have you found?” He bent down and picked up a set of gloves that matched the princess’s and they both started to rummage around inside the demon’s corpse.

They said a lot of science themed words but it might as well have been Troll for all she could understand. As they worked they put things in jars, took things out of jars, and scooped things back into jars. There were a lot of jars.

“Not a master. What do you think?”

“Don’t tease the poor boy,” the Princess said.

“My name is Arty and I have no idea what either of you was saying.”

“Arty huh?” Fred winked at her and continued, “We think that the acid in their blood is a by-product of the magic that lets them regenerate… heal.”

“Okay?” Arty didn’t understand how that was relevant.

The Princess explained, “If we can stop them from healing we’d have a better chance of defending ourselves. Fred thinks he can isolate something that we could tip our arrows with. I want you and,” she pointed at two guards, “you two, stay with him and protect him.”

Arty wasn’t sure if she should or if she could be assigned to the mage but when she questioned a senior Master, he told her to follow the princess. There was an odd avarice in the master’s look.

“Why the long face youngin?” Fred asked as they headed back to the castle. She’d expected some sort of fast transport but he was just walking.

“I’d rather not say.”

“Ah. You’re uncomfortable with the Monks gaining favour with the princess and even more so with you helping that along. I understand.”

“How did you know that?” He was right. She loved the fighting monk’s technics and they had some unique methods, but their pseudo religion based on emotional suppression and misogyny made her uncomfortable.

“Child. I’ve been a healer for three of your lifetimes. I’m very good at my job.” He winked at her. “What I don’t understand is why someone like you would want to become a monk. You started ten years older than most and have almost reached master-hood in less than a year. Frankly, you’re better than they are.”

“I… I’ve spent my life learning how to fight. I’m very good at it.” She smirked at him. “But there are countless orders like the monks that are renowned for excellence. I want to learn from them all.”

“You’ve done this before?” Their conversation was cut off by a scream. “Looks like the monks weren’t so special and the serum will have to wait.” He pointed at a guard, “Get a platoon and tell the princess that I’m going to help the villagers.”

“Sir, I was ordered to escort you to the castle.” The soldier stepped forward to grab the healer.

Artemis was going to block him but the healer said, “Touch me and I’ll make sure you die slowly, in the dungeons, and I’ll use your skull as a flowerpot. Do what I say or go complain to your major. Either way, deliver my message and leave me.” The man’s posture was almost comical. He was two heads shorter than the guard, wearing no armour but his scowl. It was effective. The guard turned and ran.

The royal physician and his now two guards headed towards the screaming.

“A flowerpot?” Artemis couldn’t keep the laughter from her voice.

His only response was an aggressive, “Bah,” and a smile.

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 6

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5


Chapter 6: No pants and a special delivery

The concert had been a wild ride from beginning to end. The performance had been one of his best. The upgrades Di had made to his leg made switching the pedals so much faster. He could control the pedals so fast that he could make completely unique sounds with his guitar. It was both invigorating and everything he ever wanted.

After the concert was pretty awesome too. Arty had come to visit him backstage. That man was amazing with his hands. They were strong and sensual, a lot like the rest of him.

Thinking about the fighting monk made Ezekiel smile and wish it hadn’t been so short. He’d offered to have the man back at his place but he’d refused.

Now Ezekiel was lying in bed in nothing but his underwear, enjoying the early morning breeze. The morning was already warm and it was only going to get hotter. He was happy that he had the day off. He was looking forward to lounging in his apartment and playing around with some song ideas. If there were any emergencies in the office, he lived on the fourth floor and they could easily get him.

He was just contemplating getting out of bed when someone knocked at his door. He lazily got out of bed and attached his leg as the knocker got more insistent.

“I’m coming!” He shouted as he put on a shirt that smelled clean.

The knocking went from insistent to violent. He picked up his pants but dropped them as his door was knocked down. A large muscled green humanoid with four arms stood snarling. He stood seven feet tall and wore nothing but a belt, with a nasty looking sword, and a backpack.

“Heir of Apollo,” the voice was deep raspy and oddly sharp.

“Yes, how can I help you?”

The large semi-naked demon, Ezekiel was certain it was a demon now, pulled a package from its backpack and gave it to him. “Deliver this to your champion.”

“Who?”

“The champion of light and life. Bring it to him.” The demon looked at him with disdain.

Ezekiel couldn’t help but notice the demon’s nakedness. It was impressive in size but any inappropriate thoughts were quashed by the barbs. Shuddering he asked, “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“No I don’t. Your princess will know.” The demon gave him the package and he took it automatically. Then the demon picked him up with his four strong arms and threw him out the open window.

As a child he’d hated his family’s obsession with landscaping. Every branch of Apollo Shipping had to have the same lush plants and trees.

He managed to grab onto a vine and slow his fall. He landed comfortably in a patch of cushy grass. Looking up he saw the demon, in all its naked glory, walk into some sort of portal.

He decided that this needed to get to the princess, but first he needed pants.

It was a good plan, but a scream cut off any further thought. He stood up and looked around to find three fully armoured demons, with only two arms each, attacking random people. The guards were converging but it was bedlam. People were running around and he could smell smoke. It would be near impossible for him to get to the castle fast enough to deliver the package to the princess.

“Oh no…” he moaned having a really bad idea.

The best way to get to the palace would be to avoid the streets and take to the air. There were no airships docked, which left Didi’s glider-cycle. He hoped she’d perfected it because the last time he’d watched her try it, it couldn’t go down or turn left.

Running for the back entrance, still wearing nothing but a loose t-shirt and his boxers, he avoided the panicked crowds.

When he got to the back door he was thrilled to find it unlocked, since his keys were still in his pants, in his room, and on the fourth floor. He wasn’t as thrilled to find that there was a demon running amok inside.

The demon saw him and grinned. Unlike his muscular friend, this one just looked like a square brick of flesh, with gangly arms topped with fists that were bigger than Ezekiel’s chest. He was glad to find that not all demons looked like runway models.

“Pretty!” hissed the demon.

“Stop! I’m the delivery person for this!” He lifted up the package and the demon recoiled and ran through the closest wall.

Scurrying to Didi’s workshop, he met no one on the way and was relieved to see that the glider-cycle was all in one piece. She hadn’t taken it apart, again, and left it all over her lab.

The glider-cylce was a steam powered bicycle with glider wings and a small airship balloon. The balloon doubled as the frame and seat making it look like you were riding an odd bird.

Getting the thing out proved harder than getting to it. He had to pull up the wings and push it through the halls until he was finally out of the building. Maybe he should upgrade Didi to a roof-top lab?

Once outside, he put the package in the basket and strapped it down, then he started the magic. The magic should last two hours. He then started boiler and the glider lurched forward.

The city looked small from the air but the fires were everywhere, as were the specks of green that were the demons. He aimed the glider at the castle and picked up the small radio, “Castle Cillian, this is Ezekiel Apollo requesting emergency landing. I have a package for the princess. Authorization Sigma Papa Golf.”

He didn’t hear the reply; a large winged demon flew straight at him and hit the bike. It destroyed the radio, and worse, broke the magic sigils that helped it fly. He was going down and fast.

“I wish I’d worn a helmet… and pants,” he said to the air as the glider headed down towards the castle.

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 5

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4


Chapter 5: Green With Jealousy and Demon Blood

“…and together with Ezekial the four shall stop the dreaded army of demons from destroying all of Cillian.” The words of the Oracle echoed through Diana’s head as she tried to sleep.

What she was avoiding thinking about was how Ezekiel was pretending to be Zee. She’d recognized the leg she built for him during the concert. He was good, she wished he’d trusted her enough to have told her he was a musician. She had to admit that he looked good up there. The pure joy of performing made his beauty ever more prominent. She wondered if Arty knew about his double life.

Demons are coming, she reminded herself. What had the oracle meant by an army of demons? Wouldn’t they have heard about something like that? She decided to send out a few scout ships just in case. Just to reassure her that nothing was coming.

She had wanted to reassure Ezekiel after the concert but when she’d gotten to the dressing room she found Zee and Arty attempting to exchange tongues. She’d left as Arty had started to take off what little clothes Zee was wearing.

The Oracle was terrible at seeing through disguises; Arty was certainly not Ezekiel, Zee was; Zee was certainly not her Brother, she’d know him instantly; and Arty wasn’t Diana… obviously. She did have one thing right however. They were all pretending to be something they’re not. Ezekiel being Zee, her being Didi, and Arty being a Fighting Monk. The order was dedicated to purity and chastity, two things that were not happening early in the night. Maybe Arty wasn’t even a Monk?

It was petty and hypocritical, but Diana decided to schedule an official visit to the Fighting Monks of Dumas for the next day. That way she could find out for herself if Arty was parading as a Monk or just going against his training.

The army of demons still worried her. Her dreams were filled with waves of angry red demons being led by her brother Paul. She woke up, much too early, in a cold sweat.

***

What am I doing? Diana thought as she inspected the Fighting Monks. What she said was, “Your men are impressively trained.”

“Yes they are, Your Highness,” The senior Master was completely hairless and muscled beyond reason. As he spoke a vein over his left eye bulged offbeat with his words. “Our Masters are always searching for both inner peace and the best way to be of help to others.”

“How many Masters are in the city?”

“We currently have eight Masters in residence and six who are either questing or wandering.”

“And students?” she asked.

“We teach the local boys self-defence and discipline every Saturday. As for apprentices and journeymen we currently have thirty-eight. They we be along shortly for your inspection.”

“That is wonderful. It has always been an honour for the city of Cillian to host the fighting monks. You do us honour.”

His vein pulsed and he almost smiled as he replied, “The honour is ours. You know during the reign of King Castelmore we were the King’s personal guard.”

“Yes and during his son’s reign, your order attempted to take control of the crown.” She smiled at him trying to show amusement instead of annoyance. It was much easier after he sputtered an apology.

The Masters ran through some drills and feats of skill and moved to the side. Then was the time of the students. She easily spotted Arty with his wiry frame, high cheekbones, full lips, and cocky smirk. Her heart fluttered as he was tossed into the air and clashed swords with another student. It was all acrobatics and shows of perfected timing. She heard one of her four royal guards gasp in awe from behind her.

Was she jealous of Arty or of Ezekiel? Or of both? She had spent her teen years working next to Ezekiel and had a crush on him for almost a decade. She’d just met Arty. Maybe it was just lust? She felt foolish about the entire situation.

“Do we pass inspection, Your Highness?” The Master’s vein pulsed and Diana realized why he looked so stressed.

“This isn’t an audit. You have nothing to worry about. I wanted to see how the monks were doing.”

“That’s good to hear. Thank you.” The master relaxed.

A green claw appeared out of nowhere and slashed the master from his neck to his lower back. The master’s eyes rolled back into his head and he fell forward.

A seven foot tall green being in a perfectly pressed suit stood there smiling a sharp toothy smile. “The Prince of Demons says hello.” He lunged for Diana but her guards jumped between them.

As if a spell had broken, the yard was thrown into panic. The observers ran from the space while the monks formed ranks around the demon and the princess.

Her guards fell one after the other but it bought her time to reach into the special folds of her large skirt and pull out her newest model of pistol. These shot large calibre rounds that exploded into alchemist fire on impact.

The monks, in their eagerness to defend her, got in the way of her shot. “Move out of my way!” she yelled but to no avail.

Somehow Arty had fought his way to the front of the pack and was managing to go hit for hit with the large demon. He fought with a mixture of styles that Diana had never seen before and neither had the demon. After four or five blows the demon fell to the ground and someone stuck a sword into it’s chest.

The action over, the monks moved away and started to take care of their wounded. The master was still alive, and with the help of a good doctor, would live.

Looking at the royal pages who had stood useless during the fight she barked out orders, “Get me four soldiers to move this thing. Alert the guards that they need a detachment to protect the monks. Tell the royal physician to get here as fast as possible, we have wounded and I want him to dissect this thing and tell me everything about it. And tell my grandfather to convene a council of churches.” When they didn’t move she shouted, “Go!”

She moved towards the green corpse and shuddered. It had taken out a dozen monks, four royal guards, and injured twice that many. There was no way they could stand up to an army of these. When she was an arm span away, it jumped to a standing position and howled. She shot both pistols at its chest. The rounds penetrated his hard skin and it looked at her like it had tickled.

The rounds exploded and took most of its chest with them, spraying everyone around it in green blood. It died with a surprised look on its face.

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 4

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3


Chapter 4: Flying Fruit and a Oracular Ambush

The master hit her in the head with another orange. “A true warrior can defend themselves blind.”

Artemis, still disguised as Arty, tried to stop thinking about Ezekiel, the Princess, or Didi. What was wrong with her? She’d never been this easily distracted by pretty people before. Blindfolded, she heard and deflected an apple from the master.

“You’re still slow. It’s not the blindfold that has you blind. It’s your distraction, ” the master said and then tutted. “It’s your distraction that blinds you to the universe. Now concentrate.” He launched a grape at Arty.

Feeling the grape flying towards her, she took a deep breath to centre herself, she moved and caught the grape in her mouth. It was sweet but the skin was sour, creating a pleasant contrast.

Maybe it was the forced celibacy of the monastery that made her constantly think about the beautiful people in town.

“Better,” mumbled the master. “Remember that a real man and warrior can suppress his emotions in order to concentrate on the battle. Emotions are what lead you towards distraction and darkness.”

She tuned out the speech, it was the most tedious part of monastery life. The insistence that emotions led to evil was not only ridiculous; it was dangerous. Without the ability to process and understand their emotions, the monks were nearly constantly stressed. It was the reason she tried to sneak out as much as she could.

“You will understand once you become a master. The cleansing ceremony will help you elevate yourself above your emotions.” The fruit kept flying and she wished she had a sword to cut them with; it would have been more satisfying. The cleansing ceremony sounded pseudo-mystical and she couldn’t decide if they had found a way to remove human emotions or if it was just another religious ceremony.

Eventually the fruit stopped flying and she was dismissed. The monks woke with the dawn and were supposed to retire to their quarters for meditation and sleep at sundown. Artemis waited a little and then snuck out.

The same training that had her learn to anticipate what was going to happen and move through it quietly helped her leave the monastery without being noticed. Once outside the gates, she traded her monk’s robes for a pair of comfortable denim pants and a casual button up white shirt.

As much as she wanted to dress as her real self, she was recognized now in town as Arty. If she tried to walk around as a woman, she’d still be recognized. She was thankful for the loose clothing and good breast-band that didn’t bind her but minimized her chest.  The telltale shaved head and sun baked skin of the Monks meant that unless she was willing to wear a wig and more makeup than she could afford, she’d be caught right away. So she’d play at being Arty, the monk in training who was blowing off steam. Running away to go to a concert in town was frowned upon, but secretly being a woman would get her killed.

“Hello young man.” The woman had barely made a sound as she started walking next to her.

“Madam. Can I help you?” The woman wasn’t old but wasn’t young. She had smile and frown wrinkles with blond hair that could be going white, or could have been just pale.

“My dear, I know who you are, Ezekiel.” The old woman stopped and waited. When Artemis tried to walk away, the woman put a hand on her shoulder. A crowd formed around them and Artemis started getting uncomfortable. This was too much attention.

“This boy is Ezekiel, the heir to the Apollo shipping company. He shall marry the Princess and their union shall be blessed by the gods!” That proclamation made Artemis realize that this was the Oracle of Espenson.

“I’m not Ezekiel. I’m Arty, a humble monk.”

“Sure you are dear.” She patted her face condescendingly. Her eyes focused on a face in the crowd and she pulled Didi out saying, “This innocent looking girl is in disguise.”

Didi’s face blanched and Artemis thought she was going to faint.

“This girl is actually the great warrior Artemis, Apprentice to the Hero Haus.” It was Artemis’s turn to go pale. The oracle continued, “She will stop the army of Demons from destroying the kingdom and will marry the long lost Prince of Cillian.”

The crowd was obviously entranced and skeptical as they yelled out variations on, “Where is the lost Prince?”

The Oracle held Artemis and Didi’s arms and didn’t let go. Her eyes were glassy and despite the growing animosity of the crowd, she didn’t move. Artemis was about to break free when the Oracle raised and pointed with both hands at a man who was obviously trying to get by the crowd.

The crowd moved the man closer. He was wearing a tight shirt with ripped denim pants and had a guitar case on his back. He wore large wire rimmed glasses and had a goatee. He looked vaguely like Ezekiel, but more glamorous, but that could have been the makeup.

“This boy doesn’t know it, but he is the long lost twin to our great Princess.”

The man looked like he wanted to run away. “I’m just trying to get to my concert. I assure you that I’m not a long lost anything.”

Unperturbed, the Oracle shouted, “He shall help the Princess rule, marry the Hero Artemis, and together with Ezekiel, the four shall stop the dreaded army of demons from destroying all of Cillian.”

A silence fell over the crowd, there was something in the way the Oracle spoke that made everyone listen and believe. Artemis looked at the other two who’d been sucked into this and shrugged. The three of them burst into giggles. The entire situation seemed ridiculous. The Oracle seemed to think that Didi was Artemis, that Artemis (disguised as Arty) was Ezekiel, and that this musician was the lost Prince. Artemis was glad the princess wasn’t there or the Oracle would have thought she was a sheep magicked into the princess or something equally as silly.

The Oracle gave them a dirty look and walked away; Artemis could have sworn the woman winked.

The crowd, sombre and itching to tell anyone willing to listen, dispersed.

Artemis hoped that the Oracle’s warning was as off-base as her identifications.

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 3

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2


Chapter 3: Special Deliveries and Warnings

Leaning on the counter, Ezekiel let his legs dangle off the stool. The act made him feel like a child again. People often asked if he ever forgot about having an artificial leg and he’d often open his eyes wide and ask, “What artificial leg?” It was a mean joke, people were well-meaning, but they always acted like he was broken when he was just different. His artificial leg sometimes itched and it sometimes hurt, but so did his flesh one.

The changes that Didi had made to his leg let him tap rhythmically. It was going to make things really different tonight if she could get it working. The girl was an absolute genius but she always seemed preoccupied.

Not that he was all that much better. He worked for his father and mother at the Apollo shipping company because that’s what was expected. He was a decent bookkeeper, supervisor, and had a knack of motivating employees, but most of the time he sat at the counter waiting for someone to have a problem. It was boring, but it gave him time to think about his music.

That night he was going to be headlining at the Greasy Cog, the coolest music club in Cillian. His parents hated that he played music but tolerated it as long as he didn’t play in public. He, of course, disguised himself and went by Zed. He’d been playing on street corners and pubs for years until the owner of the Greasy Cog heard him.

If things went well tonight he could be playing for the Princess at her coronation.

“Hey Ezekiel. What’s new?”

As if on cue, she walked through the door to work on her infernal glider cycle. It was an idea that people had been trying to perfect for years. If she could actually make it work it would mean two airships could exchange goods in mid-air without docking or using a complicated anchoring procedure. She’d been working on it, as a side project, for the past two years.

He told her about the leg and she promised to look into it. She was always chipper with her catchphrase of, “Perfection through persistence.”

As she left towards her workshop, she said, “Arty here was looking for you. Take care of him, he’ll be a master soon.”

Turning towards the newcomer, he tried to ask how he could help but it just came out as a strange croak. The man in front of him was dressed as a fighting monk and was quite possibly the best looking man he’d ever seen. His strong cheekbones were made more prominent by the tight bun fashion that the monks put their hair in. The man was attractive beyond the face; his arms, legs, and chest were well muscled in a way that looked sculpted instead of bulky.

“Hi. How can I help you?” he finally managed.

“I was told I have a letter.” There was something in the way the man stood and talked that was familiar.

Ezekiel nodded and headed to the back. It took a little searching but he finally found the letter.

“I’m going to need proof of identity.”

The good looking man blushed and fished in his robes for something. Pulling up a crumpled paper, he smiled crookedly and said, “Sorry. It got wet.”

The paper had an official seal from the Hero Johann Haus but all he could read was an A and some blurry ink stains. Sighing, Ezekiel said, “I’m really sorry, but I can’t accept this.”

“The letter is a replacement for this paper…” the man paused and his brow furrowed. “Please!” It looked like it took a lot of effort to ask. As a fighting monk, Ezekiel assumed Arty didn’t need help very often.

“How about this. I’ll open it and if it’s identification papers I’ll give them to you. If they’re not I’ll call the guard?” It was an empty threat. The man hadn’t done anything illegal.

“Okay!” the man nodded enthusiastically and smiled. The smile and enthusiasm made Ezekiel’s heart flutter.

The envelope held a paper similar to the one Arty had given him and a letter. He checked the paper and it was genuine so he handed the whole thing to Arty.

Instead of leaving or putting the papers away, Arty started to read the letter. Not wanting to intrude or stare any more than he had already, Ezekiel busied himself with some random paperwork; mostly shipping invoices.

“Oh no!” Arty’s voice quavered and he looked like he was trying to decide between panic and joy.

“What’s wrong?”

“She’s coming here.”

“Who?”

“The Oracle of Espenson.”

Ezekiel groaned. The Oracle was nicknamed the Prophet of Doom. When she left her home she always had prophesies that meant terrible things for someone. Worse than the predictions was how accurate she was. It was said the more you fought her prophesies, the more you’d suffer.

“This might give me my Act,” Arty beamed.

“Act?” Ezekiel was wondering if he should maybe take a long vacation.

“In order to become a Master, I have to pass all the tests and perform an Act of Heroism. This could be it.”

The man’s passion was impressive. Between the passion and the panic, Ezekiel didn’t think before he spoke aloud, “You’re hot when you’re passionate.”

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 2

Chapter 1


Chapter 2: A Princess and a Tinker

“That was a wonderful speech dear,” King Nathan said, his voice sounding thin and creaky. He sat in his wheelchair that looked like a throne and was covered in an afghan that Diana knew her mother had made.

“Thank you great-grandfather. You know I could make you an automated chair.” She put her hand on his arm as she bent down.

“Oh, no no. That would be a waste of your time and talents. Plus what would I do without Martin’s sparkling conversation.” The large man who acted as body guard, nurse, and confidant of the king smiled and grunted softly. “See dear, it’s nearly impossible to get him to shut up.” King Nathan gave a soft laugh and then started to cough.

The coughing fit lasted longer than Diana would have liked, but at least there was no blood this time. She’d spent a lot of time worrying about him and trying to find a cure for what ailed him, but in the end it was just old age. At a hundred and four years of age, he’d outlived three wives, all four of his children, and all three grandchildren. He had ten great-grandchildren all between the age of twenty-six and ten. Diana was the eldest and in all but name she ruled the island kingdom.

When the coughing ended, the old man took a deep breath and said, “You don’t have anything on your calendar for the rest of the day. Don’t waste your free time with this old man. Go have fun.” He winked at her. He was the only one who knew.

The castle was built with both servants corridors and secret passages. Diana had grown up in these halls with her cousins and her twin brother. He’d left when he was fifteen, angry that he’d never be king unless she died. Angry at being born a few minutes too late. And mostly just angry. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since he’d left. She hoped he was okay wherever he was.

Navigating the corridors and passages was easy and she quickly made it to her bedroom. Once there, she cleaned off all the makeup she wore to public events, changed into simple overalls, and tied her curly reddish brown hair into a tight bun. Finally she added a pair of dark rimmed glasses to hide her family’s distinctive green eyes. No good disguise is complete without glasses, she thought.

Once changed, she headed out of the castle through a series of complex tunnels. The servants she passed only smiled and bowed.

Once she’d used her rooms as a workshop, but it was hard to explain why the princesses rooms always smelled of grease and smoke. The seamstresses were particularly cross about the stains in her clothing. Her great-grandfather had given her money and told her to find a small space in town. Her parents were suspicious at the time, but her brother’s running away kept them busy until they died in an airship crash while searching for him.

Her head was in the clouds and she wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around her and she ran into a boy. He had the most beautiful golden skin and full lips. The boy glared at her and put his hand on his sword. He had on novice robes from the Fighting Monks.

“What the hell are you thinking?” he asked. His voice cracking part way.

“Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. I really didn’t mean offence and if you challenge me to a duel you’ll be extremely bored and I’ll be extremely dead, so how about you don’t…”

“You’re a tinker aren’t you?”

“Yes I am. Master Tinker Dee. Pleasure to meet you…” she trailed and stuck out her hand to shake.

The man shook her hand and she couldn’t help but admire his strong lean muscled arms. It was definitely too bad that the Monks took vows of celibacy.

“I’m Novice Arty but that won’t last long. I’ll be a master by the end of the year.”

“That’s a lot of confidence there, Arty. Where are you going in such a hurry?” She smiled at him.

“I’m trying to find the Apollo Shipping Company, but this damned island is worse than a labyrinth.”

Giggling a little, she said, “It’s a little hard when you first start, but it becomes second nature eventually. I’m heading there now. I could walk you there if you like?”

The man blushed and it made Diana happy that she seemed to have the same effect on him that he did on her.

The Apollo Shipping Company owned the biggest, best, and more importantly, fastest airships in the world. They delivered packages and mail to everyone who could pay. They were headquartered in Cillian and she rented a workshop from them. The engineers and airship pilots came to her when they were having technical issues. She’d re-designed most of the technology to use solar powered boilers instead of the old coal engines and the patents would have made her rich is she hadn’t already been.

Sitting behind the desk was Ezekiel. He was her best friend and one of the prettiest men she’d ever met. He was the heir to the Apollo fortune but preferred working in the warehouse and dealing with people. He’d lost his left leg when he was young.

“Hey Ezekiel. What’s new?”

Seeing her he smiled widely and furrowed his brow. “I have a bone to pick with you. The new leg worked great until the pistons started going off and I was hoping around like a deranged toad.”

Diana couldn’t help laughing and it turned into a snort. “I have a look at it. You know what I say…” He joined her in repeating her favourite saying, “Perfection through persistence.”

“It’s in your workshop. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks. I should be good. I want to work on that glider-cycle again. I think If I tweek the air-magic I can get more reliable balance.” Remembering Arty, she added, “Arty here was looking for you. Take care of him, he’ll be a master soon.” She winked at Arty and headed to her workshop.

Thinking about them both as she worked she sighed… so much pretty in the same room.

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Devices of Desire (Serial Story) Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Staying Inconspicuous

“And whatever you do, don’t brawl everyone on your way to the Temple.” The last words that Hero Haus had told her echoed through her head as she walked of the ship onto the docks of Cillian.

The place was bustling with activity and Artemis tried her best not to be in the way. She’d been trained from birth to fight, dance, and be nimble on her feet; none of which had helped in the busy streets of Cillian.

“I have to make my way to the Temple and avoid fighting. How hard could that be?” she asked herself as she bumped into a large man who was drunk. He bumped back and she felt his hand on her butt. “Excuse me sir, but if you’re looking for my money pouch, you won’t find it back there.”

“Who said I wanted your money pouch?” The hand that had been on her butt was now holding a dagger at her side and the other hand was around her wrist over the only piece of jewelry she owned. The bracelet was a sturdy gold chain given to her by her father before his death.

Pushing the man’s dagger arm away while simultaneously kicking him in his private area was the easy part. Drawing her sword in a crowded street, now that was a challenge.

The man groaned and looked at her with an evil smile, lifting the bracelet and taunting her. He then turned and ran away. “Coward!” she yelled and started to chase him.

He was a thief accustomed to the city, she was a country child who was determined to follow him. The chase didn’t last long. The loss of the bracelet left her in a sour mood and the chase left her completely lost. This was the biggest city she’d ever seen and spanned nearly the entire Island it was on.

It was beautiful in its architecture, but the people were too close together and everything smelled of shit, mostly horse and cow.

“Excuse me,” she asked the closest person. They were too much in a hurry and ignored her.

A food cart passed by and it looked like the large man in the chef’s outfit was pushing it until she saw the cogs and steam engine attached to it, whatever was in that cart smelled heavenly. Some sort of cooked and spiced meat, thought Artemis.

With nothing better to do and no way of finding the Temple without help, she decided she might as well follow her stomach. The cart moved steadily on and people moved out of its way. Slowly the narrow streets gave way to wider roads with trees and benches.

As they turned a corner, Artemis was amazed to see the castle. It was bigger than anything she’d ever seen. It supposedly had its own hanger and landing strip for airships.

There was a crowd of people standing around a stage. The cart stopped and opened for business. She bought two meat pies and went to see what was going on at the stage.

It wasn’t long before a woman stepped onto the stage and started speaking. Artemis choked on a piece of her meat pie. The woman wore an elegant dress that wouldn’t be out of place in a fairy tale illustration. The dress was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen and the woman managed to be infinitely more beautiful. The dark blue dress contrasted perfectly with the woman’s dark brown skin.

“Wow,” Artemis said, not realizing she said it aloud.

“I know right? Princess Diana is amazing.” said a man next to her. She hadn’t noticed, but the crowd had formed around her. The man who spoke had a strong jawline and ice blue eyes that sparkled. His soft golden skin made her just want to touch it.

“Um… yes. She’s very pretty.” It sounded as awkward as possible and Artemis’s face felt warm. She was in love with both of them. Was that possible?

He hadn’t looked at her yet and when he did, he stammered, “You’re very pretty too. I didn’t me to imply…”

“So are you…” she replied and they both turned away from each other for a moment.

“I’m Ezekiel.” The sandy haired man said.

“I’m…” Artemis froze. “Going to the Temple of the Fighting Monk order of Dumas.”

“Okay. It’s just over there.” He pointed at a tall tower surrounded by small buildings. The entire thing looked ramshackle and not what she expected of a Temple.

“Thank you,” she said and ran away. She’d met attractive people before and even had some that were attracted to her. Not surprising; she was tall, muscled, and had what her father had described as, “a symmetrical elven sort of face.”

But there was something about this man that took her breath away faster than a punch to her stomach. She turned her head as she ran to get another glance at him and saw him limp away from the stage. The mechanism in his left leg, a prosthesis, seemed to have jammed.

Running in a busy city and not paying attention is a quick way to bump into someone and that’s exactly what she did. She collided with a man so hard that they both fell to the ground.

Getting up she held her hand out to the man and he scowled, “Stupid country bumpkin. I’ll teach you what happens when you collide with a Fighting Monk.” The man drew his sword, which crackled with electricity.

“I meant no offence sir, but if it’s a fight you want, I’ll abide.” Smiling Artemis pulled out her own sword.

“Why are you smiling? Are you so daft as think you can win this fight?” The man said as he beat at her sword, testing her defences.

“I’ve had a day where I’ve been off balance for everything. Fighting is something I understand.”

The man smiled in return and they fought. He was absolutely amazing. She hadn’t lost a fight in years, but she knew she was completely out-classed. After a hard couple of minutes, she fell to one knee and placed her sword on the ground, “I yield.”

To her surprise the man laughed and said, “You gave me the best workout I’ve had in months. Thank you and all offences are forgiven.”

She stood and shook his hand. “I was headed to the Temple to train with the monks.”

“You are the most promising fighter I’ve seen. It’s a pity we don’t accept women into the order.”

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