Both are magical fantasy novels aimed primarily at young adults, with anti-bullying themes.
The sequence below was inspired by the murder of Sophie Lancaster. The character of Josie is an alternate version of Sophie...but in this case there were otherwordly saviours on hand to save her.
The fighting that ensues was inspired by Krav Maga, especially the way the heroes don't announce themselves until they have to, with the first "baddy" getting ambushed rather than faced in the open.
It's set in Jephson Gardens, a beautiful park in the centre of Royal Leamington Spa, where I live. It's actually locked at night, but please forgive my artistic licence.
The artwork is by the ever tremendous Paul Rose.
Excerpt from the The Sunder of the Octagon.
Josie’s feet thudded across the wet grass as the rain poured down. Her breath was raw in her throat. The yells followed behind her. The gang had stopped her at the Jephson Gardens park entrance. She’d seen them before but stayed away. Tonight they were drunk and they had wanted to chat. She’d tried to be nice, her heat hammering in her chest and at first they’d been polite. She’d even given them a couple of cigarettes. Then as she walked away she heard one of them say, “Let’s get the freak!” Josie had run then, knowing that this would happen and praying she could make it to the main road through the park in time.
It was around 3am and no one was around to help her. There were seven or eight of them. She didn’t stand a chance. As she ran past the closed café she saw the lights in the distance, outside the old pump rooms. The rain was heavy but she ran faster, her old leather boots limiting movement and her long braided hair soaking wet.
Suddenly she skidded and tumbled forward on the wet tarmac. Josie fell hard, the wind rushing from her lungs and then they were around her, snarling.
“Well, well! Looks like we caught the freak!”
“Shouldn’t go out looking like that, you’re a disgrace.”
Josie looked up, tears burning her eyes as they stood around her. “Please, just leave me alone,” she said weakly, holding out one hand, the black nail varnish chipped on the first two fingers where she’d fallen. They laughed at her.
She looked up to their ugly, hateful faces. The circle around her got smaller. She could smell the beer on their breath.
“Shouldn’t be here,” one said raising his fist.
“Not in our park,” said another.
She put her hands over her face and tried to curl up away from their hate and their beer and their violence, wishing she was anywhere but here. “Please!” she said again in a whisper.
As they moved in laughing and one drew back his foot to kick her he was suddenly yanked backwards, vanishing into the darkness of the bushes. The others looked around in shock. “What the hell…?” The circle broke, the teenage thugs looked around wildly. The lad emerged again, trying to get free from something that was holding him.
“Help me!” he screamed as he was yanked back briefly and then he seemed to fly from the bushes and sail over their heads, screaming in fear before landing with a splash in the ornamental lake in the middle of the park.
As the lads looked around, Josie took her hands from her face and looked to where a huge figure emerged dripping wet, his face hidden in the shadows of a hooded robe. Next to him was a smaller person, also hooded.
The leaves on the trees rustled in the wind but then there was silence except for the steady rain.
The taller figure then spoke slowly. A deep voice that was edged with menace. “You would attack a woman? What manner of animals are you?”
The boys simply stared, dumbstruck at this change in fortune. They glanced to their friend in the lake, splashing and yelling for help, then back to the newcomers.
The nearest lad overcame his fear and sneered back at them. “Think you’re hard do you? No one messes with the Bury Boys!” He clicked a knife open, the blade shining wetly in the artificial lights.
His friends regained their bravado for a moment and sniggered. One said, “Go on Steve, show them!”
Steve moved in smiling and the hooded figures separated. The other lads came at them, fists flying in wild, erratic curves. As Steve swung his flick knife the tall man blurred into motion, trapping his arm and throwing Steve over his shoulder and onto the ground with a crunch. Steve yelled and dropped the blade. He staggered to his feet but with a shove he was thrown sprawling onto the tarmac again. Two others tried to jump the man from behind but his hand darted out, faster than a snake and caught one by the throat. The lad’s eyes bulged as he was pulled off the ground, his legs spinning. As the other attempted to punch the hooded attacker, he kicked out without even looking over his shoulder. His foot caught the lad in the chest, who flew back gasping, hitting the metal fence. He span backwards over it and landed with a sopping thud in the wet earth.
Josie sat up, watching spellbound at the fight before her. Even though there were so many of the thugs, they were posing no threat to her saviours. She saw it as if in slow motion, time blurring as the two strangers punched, blocked and kicked out at the gang, effortlessly beating them back.
The smaller figure was facing three at once. He darted about on the balls of his feet, never letting himself get between them but keeping them to one side all the time. He struck out at the nearest, catching him in the head, then kicking him hard in the guts and the lad fell. The other two came to their senses and turned and ran, their trainers splashing on the wet ground. The hooded figure extended his right arm and with a click, a block of what appeared to be smooth wood and bright metal suddenly appeared from his sleeve into his open palm. As Josie watched mesmerised, the block changed shape. Warping, twisting and clicking into alignment. A tiny crossbow, merged with his gloved hand. He reached to his belt and slid a bolt into the firing groove of the weapon. Dropping to one knee he whispered a strange few words and the bolt glowed.
“No way,” he said quietly as he glared at the retreating figures. The arrow’s wicked point dripped as he paused to aim.
His partner whirled. “BUE! NO!!!”
The arm wavered; the figure cursed then lowered his aim a fraction. He triggered the weapon and the bolt sang out. As it flew it separated, with a flash of golden light, into two arrows and with an almost simultaneous thud, landed in the backsides of the two runners. They sprawled forward, screaming in pain as they rolled around.
Steve had managed to crawl towards his knife but as he turned holding it and tried to stand, the tall man simply kicked him in the hand. The knife span into the dark shadows and Steve shrieked, clutching his ruined fingers.
Josie looked around, the rain was heavy and it blurred her vision as the huge figure turned. He stood over her, green eyes glowing like fires in the depths of his hood. Gently he reached down and after a pause she took his hand. Helping her to her feet he asked, “Are you hurt Miss?”
She looked at him, then at Steve and then to the screaming lads on the ground 30 metres away, still trying to pull the arrows out. She looked further across to the lake and the lad who had been thrown there was splashing to the shore, yelling in fright and clearly having trouble.
For the first time she saw the huge sword, sheathed on the figure’s back, the hilt shaped like a kneeling woman with her hands clasped in prayer. His friend returned to them, his crossbow hidden once more.
She looked from one to the other and then slowly said, “No, I’m fine. Thank you."
The taller figure spoke again. “Come. Let us escort you to the gates.”
As they walked either side of her in silence, the rain dripping off their clothes she felt she was dreaming. She wanted to ask them who they were but couldn’t. Her voice was stuck in her throat. They were slowly scanning the area ahead and around as they walked. They passed the ornamental flower beds and she saw the fountain to her right. When they reached the gates the shorter figure spoke. “There you are young Miss, you’ll be safe now. Don’t worry about them; they won’t bother you or anyone else like that again.”
She looked at them, silhouetted in the light from the main road opposite the library and finally asked, “Who are you?”
The same one chuckled and said, “Friends. Now, please go Miss. You’ll catch a fever in this rain.”
She walked over the road to the libray. As she turned they were gone, just the entrance to Jephson Gardens standing open in the pouring rain.
As she walked away up the road the taller figure turned to the other and said, “We need to find Our Lady.”
The other chuckled and replied. “Couldn’t she have put the portal nearer to where she lives?”