Hornswall Pt. 1: Rise of a King

Hornswall, the most Northern of Kingdoms was the very tip of our world. Royalty – loved, respected and feared sat as the centerpiece, the very heartbeat of the Kingdom.

A vast sweeping domain of cities, woods and seasons, Hornswall had once been a Kingdom fractured by borders and dominated by bloodshed for decades. Since the dawn of the first men, five proud families were raised to become combatants in a perpetual chess game for control. The women, most of them more resilient than the warriors they cared for, lived to raise a perpetual carousel of war-hungry centurions.

The Benjon’s. The Hurvants. The Gilliam’s. The Gome’s. The Draff’s. The Dune’s.

For eternity their ancestors had fought tooth and nail to take the Hornswall Throne. To rule across the Kingdom. Only during the Century of Peace and Progress did the conflict take a backstep to politicking. Only for oceans of bloodshed to flood the shores with a horrifying vengeance.

That was until the rise of King Rendan Hurvant of House Hurvant. The Great Unifier. The King of the Black Kings, who would come to be known to history as the King of Kings. He united the Kingdom as one, breaking down the borders and recognising the possibilities that unification would bring their great land. Once it became clear that the myths about the invading tribes from The Southern Border were no longer that and they were the nightmare incarnate the fables had painted them to be, raping, murdering and pillaging their way through Hornswall, unification wasn’t difficult.

Resources were combined, 5 proud armies became one and the Borders which had once sought to divide now united. They became the sites of historical battles at which hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives defending the honour of their beloved Kingdom. The power their fathers and their fathers before them had warred over for millenia was no longer under threat from each other, but from an unknown, terrifying race. The Barbarian’s from The Southern Border were without morals. They tore through the Province, which sat on the Southern side of Hornwalls enormous imposing walls. The Duffs had owned the Province since the beginning of time and would continue to do so until time was no more. Lead by the charismatic ‘Provincial King’ Lariston Duff, the once noble gatekeeping land of the Kingdom was decimated by millions of maniacal, merciless savages. Duff’s proud armies couldn’t stop the onslaught of depravity from their adversaries who appeared to have no purpose but to seek blood, death and destruction.

In Hornswall they found it in droves. Duff lead what remained of his depleted battalion in tandem with their former bitter rivals, the awaiting army led by ‘The High King’ Huntro Gome. They met them head on. Across the former City of Hallstorm they battled night and day for weeks on end. The once golden roads and fields of Hallstorm were painted red with the blood of men from both sides. The King of Wolves, Walton Dune, and his pack of a thousand Wolf-Men rode out to join the brutal conflict providing a crucial tipping point in the numbers in favour of the defending Hornswall army. It was on the twelfth day of a tumultuous war that Grood Gilliam of House Gilliam, now famously known as The Architect of Desolation for the part he played that day, stood upon the Hill overlooking the chaos before proceeding to slay all before him, beheading the largest and meanest of the Southern Barbarian’s. The tide turned on that day, on that very swing of his sword.

It was that night that King Hurvant joined the battle. Over the following week the allied armies would push the remaining Barbarian tribes back out of the gates of Hornswall, back down through the decimated Province and farther South through The Fernes. It was at The Fernes that the united armies stood their ground and saw off the final, concluding onslaught.

That very night and for the next 3 weeks the army lead by Martal Benjon of the former city of Gern would carry out an operation to restore the Kingdom and the Province to its former glory. This vital and oft overlooked operation earned Benjon the moniker ‘The Burier of Bones’. A fitting but often misinterpreted label which he was happy to wear.

The united Kingdom, backed by representatives from all 6 families, unanimously crowned King Hurvant as their ruler. The Black King quickly sought to name those who had selflessly fought aside him in battle as his lieutenants. Thus, the Black Kings of Hornswall were crowned:

The Executioner, King Losan Hurvant. The brother of the King who had fought side by side with his Royal kin night and day.

King Martal Benjon, the Burier of Bones.

The King of Wolves, Walton Dune.

King Grood Gilliam, The Architect of Desolation.

The High King, Huntro Gome.

The Provincial King, Lariston Draff

The Black Kings would secure the Kingdom of Hornswall and The Province ensuring that no battle like the one which threatened to wipe out their bloodline would occur ever again. Their families, after they were but dust in the wind would continue the tradition. Each Black King made a blood oath before the people of the Kingdom to signify an end to the blood shed by their ancestors and to forever honour the now unified kingdom of their King.

The Unifier, King Rendan Hurvant, the King of the Black Kings sat raised upon his golden throne before his table of loyal lieutenants, The Black Kings. Battle scarred tissue covered his 52 year old face. No longer the powerful warrior he was at age 25 when he lead the final charge against The Southern Border Tribes, he winced, as he did most days, when a flash of bloodshed and a drawn sword haunted his daydreams. Not a day went past when he was not reminded of the battle his kingdom endured. Not a night of slumber had went by without a visit from the men who’s lives he had taken that day. And not a day went past without him visiting the Chantry to give thanks to the Path of the Gods for guiding him to unify the Kingdom either. The act had defined him, not only in title but in character too. It haunted his sanity with every aging day.

“What news from the Province, King Draff?” asked King Hurvant in a gruff tone as he ran his large ring-heavy hand through his thick grey beard. “Nothing to be concerned with beyond the Ferns my lord” replied the beady-eyed Draff. The other Kings banged their large tankards in unison “‘Tis the Path of the Gods” they chanted.

This exchange had opened the counsel since it’s inception. It was the unwritten anguish which plagued every Hornswall family since that momentous day on which the victorious battalions had returned. When would the savages follow again? For more bloodshed, death and brutality. To take the lives of their wives, their lords, their sons, daughters, their lovers, their sisters and brothers. Children with no knowledge of the history of the once fractured kingdom they lived in, had grown up regaled with tales of the brave Black Kings who drove the evil out of the Kingdom back down to the Southern part of the world where no soul dared venture. But the question remained, when would they return?

Somewhere beyond the Southern Border

It was no mirage after all. Liano Roark slumped to his knees and dunked his head deep into the beautiful, blue, flowing water. He stayed under until he could no longer hold his breath. He dropped his satchel and blood stained sword to the ground and considered for a second diving straight into the flowing river. It was going too fast and he knew, given his lack of energy, he’d have been swept away in a wave of beautiful blue relief. His red skin sizzled as he splashed the cool water across his body. He had travelled for what felt like weeks across the barren desert with only the odd scrap of rotten carcass to tame the rumbling he felt in his stomach.

This young warrior, named Maximiliano Roark First of His Name by his mother, aided by the beguiling Princess Junes Hurvant, was to become King Liano Roark: the Ruler of Fate. The King of Autocracy. The Obliterator of the Path of the Gods. And most notably, The King of the Black Kings.

But before all that, he had some savages on his trail and he was in dire need of some food and rest….

The Rain

Hard, cold rain strikes my face and rolls down my cheeks, the thunder crackles and fills my body with dread.

“Not great weather we’re having at the moment is it?”

I nod and shrug and agree and keep my head down. Don’t say anything. What’s the point? Small talk is for other people.

I really need to get out of this rain. It’s chaotic. Its so heavy I can barely see in front of me. I know how to get back, I just can’t seem to find my way. It’s too heavy.

Jeez, what’s wrong with you now?”

“It’s only rain

Everyone else is trying to get home too, you’re not the only one. Why can’t you just deal with it? Do you think you’re special?”

My clothes are soaked, my body aches. I’ve been trying to get out of this rain for hours. It feels like days, months, years. Its rained like this before, I know it has, but it’s still heavy, it’s still frightening.

Lighten up, yes, it’s raining but everyone else is getting on with it

I’m pushed to the ground, trampled on, kicked and laughed at by angry, snarling faces. Chaos surrounds me. I’m trying to get to my feet amongst a crowd of wet bodies.

My body aches. I consider, for a moment, lying here. Just lie there on the cold, wet, hard surface and let it happen. Let them kick me. Let them trample. Maybe if I pass out it’ll pass me by.

There’s something inside of me knows that’s not right. My legs throb, they’re cold and wet, hot and fatigued. My clothes are stuck to me like a second skin. But I push up as my thighs scream out at me. One last push. I’m up. I push my face out of the crowd into the air and take a deep breath.

I emerge to a very different place. No longer am I surrounded by angry, snarling commuters. Its very different.

It’s warm! The sun! It’s here! It’s beautiful! Almost too beautiful! I stumble a little, I’m completely overwhelmed. Slowly, I begin to forget that rain even exists. My clothes are dry. My body feels refreshed. I smile and chat to everyone I meet. Small talk is for me after all. I chat. I smile. I’m alive!! It feels amazing! Almost too good! I feel giddy with glee!

But then.

“Remember that rain?” she asks. “you got soaked didn’t you?”

I smile and chuckle and recoil. I look to the sky and feel the sun’s warm beam fade from my face. NO! One wet drip plops on my cheek. I laugh uncertainly. I wipe it away with my hand and smile. Forget it. Its just one drip.

But it’s not just one drip. The rain, its back. I can’t see again. The thunder strikes. Help. Chaos resumes in a flash, I’m saturated. How did it change so quickly? The once happy smiling people before me are gone. They bang into eachother, faces mangled in annoyance. They hate the rain. No, they hate me. Do they think its my fault?

I DON’T CONTROL THE RAIN!!” I scream at them.

They turn to look at me. Haunting, twisted, snarling, monstrous faces laughing, pointing, taunting me.

I turn to run away. I run and run and run but can’t escape. I’m still in the same place. They’re still there, staring at me, taunting me.

“HOW DO I GET BACK TO THE SUN?!” I shout at them.

I’m met with a snarling crowd of laughs in reply. But then.

“you’ll get there…” says a friendly voice. It’s unlike any of the others. No snarling. No growling. No taunting like the others who surround me. It’s kind, it’s laced in hope. It’s feels warm. Like the sun.

“….why don’t you try this first?” it says.

I look up at the object thrust towards me. Confused, I take the black umbrella and open it. The crowd of monsters recoil all at once.

I laugh in annoyance at myself. Of course!! An umbrella!! I knew that!!

But I really want to get home out of this rain. I want to get back to the sun.”

little steps” she says. “you’ll get there soon”.

Love Buzz – Part 1

“Now come on everyone, repeat after me: We Are Someone’s Paradise.”

“WE ARE SOMEONE’S PARADISE” droned the reply from the crowd.

Wolliver Sting stood smiling before his small group of dedicated followers. Each and every one of them stood to attention, hanging on his every word. He prickled with delight as they repeated his mantra over and over: “WE ARE SOMEONE’S PARADISE.”

“We were born wasps…” he preached, marching up and down like an army sergeant in front of his dedicated followers”….we didn’t choose to be wasps, no more than an elephant chooses to have a trunk or a dog chooses to be a wild eyed idiot. That doesn’t mean we have to be the enemy does it?”

“NOOOOOO” returned the group in unison.

“We don’t need to use violence as a means to get attention do we?”

“NOOOOOO” they replied again.

“What do wasps who use violence get?” he asked

“SWATTED” they shouted back at him.

He chuckled and clapped his antennae together. “Very good!” he said, clearly proud of his recruits.

He pointed to a large jovial looking German Wasp with a protruding honeydew belly “Bernard! How long have you gone without stinging now?”

Bernard looked around with a proud smile across his face. “I’m coming up for my 12 week anniversary” he beamed. “WOOOOOW” replied the group in awe. “You must teach us your ways, zen master” said a young European Hornet named Garth. Bernard chuckled and pointed back at Wolliver. “Wolly here is the real zen master, I just followed his ways. Stick with us little guy, you’ll soon no longer feel the need to plunge your zinger deep into the succulent flesh of the enemy. To hit them once, twice, maybe even thrice. To watch them recoil and slowly realise that they’ve been paralysed by your hand.”

Bernard’s eyes had began to glaze over and his stinger had began to jerk and twitch uncontrollably as he recounted for the group the very intimate details of the encounter he had had with a small house spider 12 weeks ago. As he was reaching a particularly graphic section of his story he suddenly slumped to the ground and began to convulse. Wolliver stood over Bernard’s unconscious body clutching a small taser. “I’m sorry you all had to see that folks” he said with an uneasy smile. “Sometimes it’s best to get in front of our urges, Bernard will be fine, he just needs to sleep off his lust.”

“What do we say when we get the sting lust gang?” he raised his antennae out to the group for the answer – they responded expertly “THE KEY TO PEACE IS SELF-REFLECTION, USE OUR STING FOR SELF-PROTECTION”

“Wonderful” clapped Wolliver in delight.

The tree shook beneath their small antennae and from the small hole in the tree emerged a beautiful, elegant large Asian hornet, flanked by 4 smaller muscle bound hornets, each of them staring and laughing at the group. Wolliver dropped to a knee as the Asian hornet approached him. “Still trying to recruit these freaks to your peace army huh Wolliver?” she smirked. The group all dropped to a knee in her presence. “Good day your majesty” replied Wolliver, his eyes still facing the floor. “Good day your majesty” repeated the group after him. The 4 smaller hornets flanking the Queen sniggered and giggled at this. “What happened to this one?” snarled one of them gesturing his stinger towards a still unconscious Bernard “you all decide to have one last hit together and take out the big one? look at that belly!” The four minions all sniggered and giggled together at this.

“HUSH!” interjected the Queen. The laughing ceased immediately, the Queen’s minions all paused and looked to the floor, scorned. She looked down at Wolliver “I only came to invite you to the unveiling of the new nest tonight, thought you and your peace corps could do with integrating with the rest of us savages. Don’t worry, we won’t try to indoctrinate you, it’s just an evening of celebration.”

“Thank you, your majesty, for the gracious invite” replied Wolliver, still kneeling “we’ll definitely consider it”

We’ll definitely consider it” mocked one of the Queen’s minions in a childish voice. At this the Queen spun in a flash and zapped the minion with her large stinger. The minion hit the ground with a thud, his lifeless body jerking uncontrollably. The group watching on recoiled in horror, some hiding their eyes, others screaming at this assault. All that is, except little Garth. “Coooooooool” he said, stepping a little closer to get a look at the minion lay jerking in the middle of the room.

“Idiot” muttered the Queen. She kicked the body hard, it flew straight out the small hole in the tree and disappeared from view. Garth looked as if he might pass out with excitement. “You and I should talk privately, Wolliver Stings” the Queen said cryptically as she exited the tree with her three minions in tow. “See you tonight” She turned, winked at a stunned Wolliver then flew off.

“Uhhhhh” groaned Bernard from the floor. He climbed to his antennae and looked at the scared faces around the room. “Sting lust again?” he asked Wolliver. “Yup” he replied. The big Wasp began to sob as Wolliver took him in an embrace. “It’s OK Bernie” said Wolliver, “a nest is not built in day, just as inner self reflection is not realised in 12 weeks. We can do this together.” Bernard’s shoulders began to bounce up and down as he broke down into a wild howling cry. “There, there” said Wolliver as he smiled out to the rest of the group.

“Can we go to the party tonight master?” shrieked a clearly still excited Garth, his pre-pubescent voice splitting the tension in the tree. “Well, Garth” replied Wolliver as he helped a still sobbing Bernard into a seat. “I believe you’ve all worked so hard that we do deserve to let our wings down for one night. All I ask is you remain true to yourself and true to my teachings. There should only be wasps there so there shouldn’t be any temptation. We can reconvene tomorrow.” The group rejoiced in celebration and conga lined their way out the tree off to prepare themselves for an evening of celebration. Wolliver chuckled as he watched them go.

He lay down on his bed and let out a long sigh. What did Queen Gojin want with him? what could she possibly want to discuss? There was only one way to find out, he supposed.

40 Seconds

“What do you fink you could all do in 40 seconds Bruce?” asked Larry inquisitively.

“40 seconds?” crooned Bruce with a confused look on his face. “I dunno, mate, make a cup of coffee maybe? Oh no, I’ve got it, give Jennifer Aniston the greatest night of her life” he chuckled. “You’re ‘orrible mate” laughed Larry in response.

“Nah but seriously mate” said Larry “what do you reckon you could do in that short space of time?? End a life?”

“Steady on mate!” replied Bruce, taken aback.

“Take a look at this” said Larry. He pulled a large magic eight ball out of his backpack and whooshed it under Bruce’s nose dramatically. “What on earf is this?” exclaimed Bruce “what are you some sort of magician or somefink, fancy yourself as the next David Blaine do ya?” “Just ‘ave a look mate” Larry said.

Larry raised the magic 8 ball above his head and shook it like he was trying to revive it. Smoke appeared on the screen pooling in a circle, then as it began to clear a bedroom setting filled the face of the magic 8 ball. As the smoke finally cleared it became apparent that this was Bruce’s bedroom. His girlfriend lay on the bed, her head in her hands as Bruce was sat up in bed, deep in concentration on his Iphone.

“What the ‘ell? That’s me mate!” he exclaimed pointing at the 8 ball screen. “And there’s Tiff!”

Larry nodded and gestured for him to continue watching.

“Babe” asked Tiff as she lay in bed running her hands over her face and through her hair in anguish “have you got a sec? I need to ask you somefink.” “Jesus Tiff, gimme a minute yeah? I need to tell Jason where footy is tonight or he’ll not turn up again.” he replied, not taking his eyes off the screen. “It’s just…” she began. “A MINUTE TIFF YEAH?” he shouted back at her, turning to show his frustration. She pulled the duvet over her head and the smoke pooled back up over the scene.

Bruce looked up at Larry. “What’s going on ‘ere mate? You got camera’s in my house you dirty pervert?”

“Did you know Tiff is struggling in that new job of hers mate?” asked Larry. “You heard from her today since you had that little exchange?”

“Um….I dunno actually” mused Bruce looking down at his phone.

“Keep watching” said Larry and he gestured to the 8 ball. 

Next up on the screen the smoke cleared to show Bruce sat at his breakfast table munching down on some cereal whilst flicking through his phone. He pressed the new tweet icon with his thumb and composed the following:

@AceRush that new album of yours is pathetic mate, you should do us all a favour and quit life #disappointing #wasteofbreath

He read it out loud to himself, chuckled and pressed send. “Take that you talentless gimp” he said out loud to the empty kitchen.

“So?” Bruce said to Larry sheepishly. 

“Oxycotin, whisky, tequila, marijuana and cocaine” said Larry, counting them out on his fingers.

“What’s that then? the recipe to a good night out” laughed Bruce.

“No, that’s what Ace Rush all had in his system when they found him.”

Bruce frowned, confused. “Found him?” he whispered to himself.

“What’s next then?” he asked, his face now bright red, beads of sweat starting to form on his forehead. “Oh there’s lots more” said Larry “but I think I’ll just show you this last one. See if you can remember this little exchange at your work mate.”

They both looked down at the 8 ball as the smoke cleared once more. This time it revealed a workplace setting, 30 or so office workers sat in a conference room, their focus on a small stage with a projector on the wall.

“Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to Susan Carrington. She’s just joined us and will be supporting me and managing my calendar. Susan would you mind saying a little about yourself?”

A young woman stepped forward onto the stage and began to introduce herself, her breath giving way every few moments. She nervously tugged at her fingers as she spoke.

Grunts and guffaws of laughter started to fill the air as the woman nervously tried to tell the room about her interests. Right in the middle of where the hilarity had began was Bruce, whispering to those around him, nudging elbows and kicking backs of chairs.

Larry looked up at him as he watched the scene play out. “What was so funny mate?” Larry asked. “Nuffink” replied Bruce shaking his head. Larry pressed the matter, looking him dead in the eye. “What was it mate?” “Alright, alright” said Bruce, hands up protesting innocence. “All I said to Tony next to me was ‘check out sweaty Susan’. Look!” He shouted, pointing at the screen “her pits are all stained!!” he was smirking at Larry, hoping he’d also find some humour in the joke.

“Well, mate, I’m going to tell you all about about sweaty Susan. Susan Carrington is 24 and this is her first real job. She went to Uni after leaving school but she had to drop out a year in cos of anxiety, mate. She literally didn’t leave the house for her first year after leaving Uni. After 3 years intense CBT, therapy and lots of medication changes which really do a number on ya, she was finally ready to try applying for a job. When did this little comedy act of yours happen Bruce?”

“Um….I can’t really remember…” Bruce began.

“It was four days ago mate” snapped Larry. “You seen sweaty Susan since then?”

“I dunno mate, you know what? I don’t fink I have.” said Bruce, looking up to try to rack his brains about when he might have last seen this new girl in the office.

“You ain’t” said Larry in reply.

Larry shook the magic 8 ball again. The smoke pooled, clearing to reveal a parked ambulance and two stationary police cars sat outside a house. Tiff’s mother came running out the house screaming as if she had been tortured. She collapsed in the arms of a paramedic who struggled to keep her upright. “What the…thats Pauline!” shouted Bruce. Larry began to shake the 8 ball again. “Hold on!!” protested Bruce.

The next scene showed groups of solemn looking teenagers stood in front of large black iron gates, behind which a long gravel path led up to a grand mansion. TV cameras and reporters jostled for position in front of the gates. Just in the distance you could make out two Ambulances parked at the front door on the mansion.

“Here, ain’t that Ace Rush’s gaff?” asked Bruce, recognising it from a music video.

Larry shook his head with dismay then finally shook the 8 ball one last time.

The screen revealed a train track during midday, in the distance a train approached. The screen panned upwards to show a young woman stood looking down at the track from the overpass above. Bruce strained his eyes to see who it was but couldn’t recognise her. The woman muttered to herself, wiping tears away from her face. The audio volume increased to reveal the words ‘sweaty fucking Susan’ being repeated over and over. The woman let go of the overpass and fell to the track below.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to improve the mental health of people around the world. The theme selected for this year’s Day is suicide prevention. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds with someone taking their own life every 40 seconds around the world.

We never know what someone else is going through during our day to day interactions and we never truly know the impact our actions might have on others. One little smile, Hi or asking someone how they’re doing might be the highlight of their week.

You

I love you.

We love you.

You spend the most precious thing in life on us daily – your time.

You’re selfless.

I ask you your hobby, you tell me it’s us.

We’re all you think about.

We’re all you worry about.

We don’t deserve you.

Your dedication to us is relentless.

You make us laugh.

You make us happy.

You make us plans.

You make us dinner.

You make us, us.

Without you there is no us.

We love you.

I love you.

The Group

“Wake up!” screamed Andrew directly into his ear. “Wh, wh, what time is it?” he muttered.

He rolled over and pawed at his phone sitting on his bedside table. The bright screen illuminated the room. He squinted his eyes to look at it. 2:37am. He let out a noise situated somewhere between frustration and anger. Rolling over, he flipped his pillow to lie on the cooler side and closed his eyes.

“Remember you need to be awake at 6” nagged Neil as he lay trying to get back to sleep. “He’s probably not even set an alarm” chimed in Alex.

He rolled back over, making the same frustrated noise and illuminated the room once again. Squinting at the brightness of the light he double and triple checked to make sure his alarm was set. “He’s only going to get about 3 hours sleep now” complained Ian. “You’ll be shattered tomorrow!” warned Emma. He folded his extra pillow and pulled it over his head, he began trying to count sheep.

“Jeeeez, you look like death” said Trevor, greeting him as he shuffled through to the bathroom mirror. “Maybe you should just call in sick – that way you won’t embarrass yourself at the interview” suggested Yves.

“Ugh, come on” he said to himself as he flicked on the shower. His eyes were diverted back to the mirror as he scanned his face. “Uh oh, never noticed that mole before” said Andrew “wonder what it could be”. Neil sucked in a long breath of air through his lips “oooh that looks cancerous” he replied. “Oh definitely” agreed Alex. He ran his finger over it again and again. No lump, he thought. “Doesn’t mean it’s not cancer” said Ian. “I’d be googling that if it was me” said Emma.

He picked up his phone with the intention of looking up photos of cancerous moles before he was interrupted by Trevor. “You’re gong to be late for this interview!” he shouted. “And if don’t eat before it, you’ll feel like crap” agreed Yves.

He put down his phone and jumped in the shower. He listened them argue about what he should say in the interview, how he should greet the interviewer, the time he’d need to leave, where he would park, the merits of drinking coffee before it and then if he was even good enough for the job. Andrew questioned if it was even worth going. He shook his head. The incessant arguing never stopped.

After grabbing a banana and a cup of tea to take with him in the car – Andrew had convinced him he would now be late if he didn’t leave right at that minute – he hopped in and turned on the engine. “Do you think that’s enough petrol?” asked Neil. “Oooh” answered Alex “that’s going to be tight”.

He plugged in his phone and selected a laid back playlist of film soundtracks he liked. It settled him. The group sat quietly in the back of the car as he drove contently to the office where the interview was due to take place. After trying to squeeze the car into two different spaces which Ian had convinced him he wouldn’t fit in, he gave up and parked much further away from the building. “You’re going to have to run now” snapped Emma “you’re going to be late!”

Arriving at the reception area looking sweaty and dishevelled he gave his name to the woman at the front desk. She advised him he still had 30 minutes until his interview slot so she invited him to have a seat or, pointedly, suggested he use the facilities to freshen up. He decided to take a walk to the canteen to purchase a bottle of water.

“£1.50 please mate” said the man operating the till. He reached into his pocket for his wallet. “Oh crap, you’ve forgotten it haven’t you?” shouted Yves. “Probably left it in the car” said Andrew. He felt through his pockets and rifled through his bag whilst apologising. He eventually found it in the front pouch of his bag. The group stood crowded around him tutting and shaking their head.

“You know you’re going to be bursting for the toilet if you drink all that” warned Neil. He ignored him and had a small drink. Alex and Ian were still arguing about the types of things he should talk about in the interview whilst Emma snorted and questioned if he even had the skills to get the job.

“OK, we’re ready for you now” interrupted a softly spoken voice. He looked up to see the interviewer with whom he’d met a few weeks previous. They had met for an informal chat to discuss the job he was interviewing for today. Seeing a familiar face helped him relax and the group followed behind him in silence as he engaged in small talk as they all entered the room and sat down.

After some brief formalities about the interview format, the interviewer asked the first question. The group jumped out their seats and all began shouting at once. “You don’t know the answer to that!” they all screamed. He leaned forward, took a small drink and began answering. Dejected, the group got up quietly and left the room.

After an hour the door creaked open and he emerged, smiling. He shook the interviewers hand and made his way out the building. He felt elated. It had went as well as he could have hoped for. He fired off a text to his girlfriend with the smiling face and praying hands emoji’s and made his way back towards the car. He only saw the group a couple times on the way back. Once, they wandered past arguing about the things he should have said during the interview. As he scanned the car park trying to remember where he’d left the car, he heard them again, discussing the possibility of it having been stolen or even towed away. Thankfully he spotted it and made his way over, jumping in the drivers seat.

The drive home was a blast. He sang along to music on the radio, drumming on the steering wheel as he went. There were no sign of the group, he assumed they had decided to make their own way home.

After what had been a stressful day, he decided that when he got home, he would go out a run to relieve some of the built up tension in his body. “You’ll be shattered again” warned Yves. Ah, there they were, he thought. He had expected them back but maybe not as soon as they had returned. “Remember, if you go too far you’ll probably end up hurting your back again” said Andrew. I’ll take it easy, he thought.

The group followed him downstairs and argued amongst themselves as he laced up his trainers. They seemed to debate everything simultaneously: When would he make dinner? When would he hear about the job? How far should he run? Would the house be on fire when he got back? What if he dropped his keys down a drain when out running? Then they were back onto the mole on his face again then onto the nuclear threat from North Korea.

He sighed and shook his head, opening the front door with the group huddled behind him. He began jogging gently at first as the group kept pace just behind him still rabbiting on at each other. As he began to get comfortable he upped the pace. Very soon after, he was gliding along the pavement breathing rhythmically with his stride. He gave a brief glimpse back and realised he’d outran the group, they must have given up, he thought. He smiled and pushed on.

That evening he showered in peace, ordered himself a takeaway pizza and watched his favourite movie. He felt great.

Then, at 1am the following morning:

“WAKE UP!!” screamed Andrew

“You heard about that job?” asked Neil

“Ha, doubt it” scoffed aleX

“Oooh that moles looking bigger” said Ian

“Yep, I’d google that now” agreed Emma

“Probably nothing guys” Trevor suggested

“Nah, looks like cancer to me” said Yves

Exhaling, he rolled over and illuminated the room with his phone. He tapped open the google search bar and listened intently as the group reacted to the images on the screen.

The Planets Series – Uranus

I had been climbing for just over an hour and stopped to catch a breath. Below me was a white mist of nothingness. I had no idea how far I’d come but had estimated before I started that the full climb would take me around 2 hours.

Surprisingly my feet felt fine. I wiggled my toes inside my stiff leather knee-high protective boots and felt some joy in being able to still move them. The sharp crampons pointing from my toes held my weight assuredly against the ice, fighting against the 250 mile per hour winds which were trying to tempt my large rucksack, and by association me, out into the cold white abyss below.

Both arms, wedged into the solid white ice in front of me, were fitted with sharp axes on the forearms to assist against the winds. My hands, protected from the biting cold with specially designed gloves which hugged my wrists in a tight, warm embrace, clenched tightly two steel ice tools to help me on my vertical trek. My grip felt great, no cold and thankfully no sweat either. The insulated gloves were doing their job perfectly so far.

With my feet, arms and hands wedged firmly into the ice, I let go with my right hand and pulled my protective face mask around my mouth open ever so slightly. I swung my upper body almost 180 degrees to face the drone which flew level with my face. “1 hour down!” I shouted against the wind, giving it a reassuring thumbs up. I quickly pulled my mask back over, swung back round to face the ice which held me in place and grasped my tool with my right hand. I was ready to start, what I hoped, would be the 2nd half of my record breaking climb. I had agreed to document this momentous, WI8 graded climb, using a state of the art drone which was live streaming my progress directly back to a PPV paying audience back home. The lucky folks sat in their warm living rooms on Earth would be getting a live stream which included a constant monitoring of my mapped progress, my current health vitals including blood pressure and heart rate with some beautiful panoramic shots of the surrounding landscape for good measure.

When I’d initially announced via my social media sites a year earlier that I intended to change the ice climbing game forever by scaling the great Titan Wall of Uranus, there had been much hilarity and guffawing in the dirtsheets about my ambitions to “climb on Uranus”. The laughing soon stopped when I sold the live streaming rights for $4 million. With an endorsement deal signed with Arc’teryx soon after and an agreement in place with SpaceX, my dream had quickly become a reality.

The eerie whistling of the wind filled my entire face mask as I continued the slow lumber upwards. My hands began to shoot with cramping pains and the fear of being caught by the increasingly powerful winds refused to release itself from the tightening in my muscles and the knotting in my stomach. The hardest thing to overcome with ice climbing was never the actual wall you intended to scale, it was the fear. Fear of falling. Fear of missing a foothold. Fear of the crampons slipping and taking you tumbling downwards. This fear radiated around the body, often leaving you feeling like you had competed in a much more physical, violent sport in the days after. Unfortunately for me, once I reached my summit I would still have a solo flight home to navigate, albeit with the assistance of SpaceX’s finest remote pilots guiding the way.

In the last few minutes I had began to feel a peculiar rumbling in the ice. A kind of vibration as I stabbed my tools, arms and feet into it. As it increased I felt as I was scaling some sort of giant speaker belching out a repetitive rhythmic bassline. Increasingly my body shook in time with the force of the pattern.

Just as quick as it had arrived, it stopped. My head snapped forward in a whiplash-like motion and I tightened my grip on my tools. Looking up I could still see nothing but white, however when I reached out to plunge my tool in there was no more ice to meet it. With a rush of adrenaline I pumped my legs upwards and threw my aching body onto a solid rocky ledge. I threw my rucksack off my back and jumped up and down, screaming out into the white sky. I pointed at the drone which buzzed along level with me and threw up the V for Victory sign.

I turned to take in the breathtaking panoramic view around me. As I did, I bumped hard into something solid. Looking up, I gasped and stumbled backwards as a large man, maybe 9 foot tall towered over me. His long red robes and large, thick majestic grey beard blew wildly in the winds.

“wh, wha, whaa” I blurted out incoherently.

“YOU STAND BEFORE I, OURANUS, THE PRIMAL GOD OF THE HEAVENS. YOU HAVE SCALED THE TITAN WALL OF MY PLANET” he bellowed out into the world.

“NOW THAT YOU HAVE CONQUERED MINE, IT IS ONLY RIGHT THAT I NOW CONQUER YOUR ANUS”

As he began to unbuckle his robes, the last thing I remember was his bellowing laughter shaking the entire mountain as I dived off the side into the depth of the white below.