Saturday, 14 April 2018

Chapter 43. Part Two: Interview with the Necromancer

Thanks for stopping by to read this week's installment! The normal caveats apply.

Katherine looked up at him. “So what now?”

“You did ruin my jacket.”

“I’ll buy you a new one. I have a lot of money, I think.” It seemed like an odd thing to say, but that seemed to be par for the course with Katherine.

“Money from horribly murdering people, or something?” Stirling guessed

“No, it was left to me.”

“I guess that’s alright then. Well, since I’m not exactly turning people away who want to join me in the fight against the forces of evil, I guess we can work together. Welcome to the team. You walk in front though.”


There was a long beat as they looked at each other.

“So you want to pack that thing away?” she asked, nodding at the shadow whip still in his hand. “Your algere is showing.”


“You’re creeping me out,” she clarified, “and between us, I’ve got enough baggage to deal with without adding more stress,” she said tapping her temple.

“Oh, right. Shields up.” He began the mental process of hemming in his deathly aura.
“What was it you called it, Algeersomething?”

“Algere. It’s an old term.”

“What does it mean?”

“The original word meant, to feel cold. It ended up being used to describe the aura around a necromancer. I don’t remember it being so strong. It has been a long time since I’ve been around any of your kind though, and my memories aren’t exactly reliable. Why, what do you call it.”

“My Frakezone.”

“Your Freakzone?”

“No, it’s a step past freak to frakey. You know, like Johnathan.”


“I’m superfrakaey,” he said doing his best Rick James imitation.

“You’re odd.”

“And you’re not a fan of Rick James or Star Trek.”

“Whatever. We should move,” she said, beginning to walk through the gravel lot toward the broken fence. After last night, the Guild will know there’s a necromancer in Vancouver. Their diviners will be on the lookout for you. It takes some effort, but they can track you by your algere.”

“They can?”

“They did it during The Dust Wars and nothing has changed that would make me think they can’t do it still.”

“You could just say, yes.”

“Then, yes.”


“Did you know about that?” he asked Magnon as he trotted over to the bent gate in Katherine’s wake, making sure to keep her in front.

“There was suspicion during the war, but we were never completely sure. I’m curious how she knows such an important Guild secret though. If we can find a way to get the information out of her it could be really important. Sharing Guild secrets is beyond dangerous. Just happening to hear them can get you a death mark. We’ll have to be subtle when we question her though.”

“Hey, so, how do you know so much about the Alchemist Guild?”

“Smooth, Stirling, ”

“That friend who Knox killed was an alchemist. I picked up a lot from her.”

“Ouch, didn’t mean to open up fresh wounds. Sorry.”

“Me too.”

“Ask her who it was.”

“Who was your friend, by the way?”

“Elanor of the Red.”

Magnon emitted an abbreviated squawk from his spot on the fence and Katherine cocked an eye at him.

“Looks like your crow knows who that was,” she said with a bitter grin. It was the first smile Stirling had seen her make and it wasn’t a pleasant one.

“Elanor of the Red was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of necromancers up and down the west coast of North America and all across the Aether. She was a certified nightmare. She was on the Guild’s version of a ruling council. I’m not sad to hear she’s dead, but it brings up a problem.”


Magnon hesitated a long moment before responding. “If I tell you this, you can never repeat it. This is a secret that literally thousands of people have died for.”

“Roger that.

“No.” As before with the crow, the mental link carried more than just simple meaning. Accompanying the word was a sense of loss, pain, and deep, deep, rage. It was so strong that when only the barest edge of it brushed at his mind and Stirling lost all sense of himself. When he became aware again, he was face-down in a tuft of frost-wilted crabgrass on the side of the road.
He looked up to see Katherine looking down at him with a raised eyebrow. She offered him a hand up, and he was so rattled that he took it without thinking.

“Sorry, still a bit clumsy,” he mumbled at her. His jaw felt like it had been hit with a lead brick.

“What the fuck was that for?!” he sent to the crow who was resting on a roof ledge ahead of them.

“This is a topic where I won’t, I can’t, accept a flippant answer, this is beyond serious.” grated back Magnon’s mental voice. “You think that what you’re facing right now is bad? It’s not. Your pain and suffering up to this point amounts to a fart in a tempest—less than that. You are one single person who has lately had their life slightly inconvenienced.” Stirling considered arguing that a sucking chest wound was a bit past inconvenient, but decided to let it pass. The crow appeared to be upset. “Imagine the lives and dreams of literally thousands of people just like you. Now imagine all of them murdered because there was the slightest possibility that they might be aware of this powerful secret. If you can’t treat this with the seriousness and reverence it deserves, I’ll wish you well and leave you to your own devices.”

It didn’t take Stirling long to decide. “I won’t say I understand in the way you do, because I don’t, but I’ll give you my word that I’ll treat this as though my life depends on it though.” He tried to push his sincerity along the connection to the crow. He wasn’t sure how well he managed since sincerity had never really been a thing he'd been all that good at, but it seemed to do the trick because Magnon’s voice began speaking in his head again.

“The bodies of Alchemists at her level are so heavily saturated with Panacea that, for all intents and purposes, they’re immortal. The fact she’s dead means Knox knows that, given the right circumstances, necromantic magic can undo Panacea.”

“So, that secret is the main reason the Dust War was ever even fought to begin with.” Magnon took the mental equivalent of a deep breath before going on. “You have to understand, the Alchemists have built their power and influence by selling health and long life. It’s the ultimate currency in the arcane community across all the worlds of the Aether. Money, precious metals, gems, none of it means anything next to the ability to extend life. If it was ever known that the effects of Panacea could be nullified, there would be doubt and panic all across the Aether.”

Stirling mulled through the implications of what Magnon had said as he walked.

“Did your crow fill you in?” Katherine called over her shoulder.

Stirling had fallen a few paces behind as he thought and he jogged to catch up. “He recognizes the name,” Stirling told her casually.

“But you don’t?”

“I’m new to this, I still have my junior necromancer training wheels on.”

She snorted.

“So, it looks like you already know about my talents, what’s your knack?”

“Good question,” she said but didn’t elaborate.

“Well, I’m glad you’re not being vague or anything. I’d hate for there to be a lack of trust and understanding between us. You might hurt my feelings.”

“Out of curiously, which of the Thirteen is he?” she asked out of the blue, pointing a finger at Magnon.

“Huh?” was the best rejoinder he could come up with at the sudden shift in conversation.

“I mean since it looks like we’re trading personal information.”

A sense of profound shock tinged with fear cut through the mental connection he shared with the crow. It wasn’t as strong as the emotional feedback he’d felt at the news of Elanor’s death and Stirling barely missed a step. When the crow did speak, the voice in Stirling’s mind was thready and weak. “Be very careful here, knowledge of the Thirteen is something that is only held a tiny handful of people. This woman either knows more than she should or…

“Or What?” Stirling asked silently.

“Or she’s someone who shouldn’t be slumming it with a fledgling necromancer, that’s for sure. What’s really concerning is that she’s not afraid to let us know she knows.”

“I’m going to say that being rational isn’t her strong suit.”

“That doesn’t make this situation better.”

“So, what? Think I should run?”

“Are you kidding? Did you see her bend that pole? Besides, I believe her when she says she’s got a grudge to settle with Knox of the White. As long as she keeps that in mind we’ll probably be alright.”

“Possibly, yes.”

“So what should I tell her, then?”

“Tell her the name you gave me. I don’t think there’s anything she could gain from knowing who I was, but I didn’t think she could know about the Thirteen either. Let’s play this smarter than we have so far.”

Stirling gave her what he thought was his best clueless expression, but in reality, it made him look like something in his fridge smelled off. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. His name’s Magnon though.”

“Maybe now it is.”

Stirling shrugged in reply. “If he decides to share his personal information with you that’s going to be up to him, I’m not Mark Zuckerberg here.”

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Chapter 43, Part One: Interview with the Necromancer

Hey everyone, thanks for stopping by to read this week's installment of the rough draft! The usual warnings apply. Hope you enjoy!

Stirling’s first reaction was to dash away, but after all he’d been through in the last day, the best he could do was to flop onto his chest, his legs quivering and useless beneath him.

I have no legs, and I must run. He rolled over and hefted the fist-sized stone he still held in his hand. He eyed it speculatively and threw it at the courier. It was a feeble throw, and it struck the fence five feet to the right of the woman before rolling away.

“Run!” Magnon urged him.

“Don’t you think I would if I could!” Stirling shouted back at the circling crow, frustration welling up inside and making the words come out angrier than he intended.

Magnon meanwhile, began diving at the woman and buffeting her head with his wings.

“Wait!” she cried, bringing her arms up to fend off the bird. “I’m not going to hurt him!”

“I have three big fucking holes in my best winter jacket that say otherwise,” said Stirling over his shoulder as he began to crawl away. He didn’t know if it was the burst of adrenalin at seeing her, or if he was just feeling that sick, but he was finding it hard to coordinate his limbs. Time to step up his game. He began to loosen the tight mental barriers he habitually kept in place.

“I’m sorry, alright?!”

“You’re sorry you tried to kill me or you’re sorry you stuffed me in a barrel to die?”

“I’m not in the best mental headspace right now,” she said, fending off another attack.

“Normal people try aromatherapy or exercise before they move all the way up to homicide!”

“Enough!” The sound of flapping behind him stopped and Stirling turned his head to see that she’d snatched Magnon out of the air and was holding his wings against his body. He didn’t look injured, but he wasn’t going anywhere.

He was pecking at her fingers for all he was worth but it didn’t appear to be having any effect. She was wild around the eyes, and having her hair styled by an attacking crow hadn’t done anything to make her look any more well-adjusted.

“If I wanted to kill you, I’d start by crushing the life from your emissary here,” she said between gritted teeth, giving Magnon a little shake. She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I tried to kill you, alright?”

Magnon stopped pecking at her fingers and cocked an eye at her. His voice projected calmly into Stirling’s head. “Hey, Stirling. I’ve been thinking. Maybe you should sit down and talk with her. Grab a coffee or something”

Stirling hummed the opening bars to Gloomy Monday and familiar cold began to flow off his body. It was like stepping into a cool shower after a long, sweaty day of hard work. The weakness and shakiness washed from his limbs and he stood easily with a sigh of relief. He pushed his sweaty hair out of his eyes and faced her.

She looked him carefully and took a half step back. “You seem… improved,” She said.

He exhaled a lazy plume of breath into the air, it was dense and white. “I’m feeling much better, thanks.” A puddle next to his foot, still half-filled with the previous day’s rain, began to rime over with ice.

“Why don’t you let the crow go and we’ll talk. Deal?”

The courier suddenly looked a lot less sure of herself. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, I’m just a bit surprised at your sudden recovery. You were close to passing out five seconds ago.”

“I was, now I’m not. Listen, between the two of us, I’ve got the most reason to not trust what you’re selling.” He fingered the hole in the front of his jacket. “If you want to talk, we’ll talk, but first you have to drop. The fucking. Bird. Alright?”

The woman carefully placed Magnon on the ground. As soon as he was free, he flapped back to his spot on the fence.

“Great! Now, what was it you wanted to say? It might not look like it, but I’m actually pretty busy.”

She took a step in his direction and as she did the light in the parking lot dimmed. A thick whip of shadow dropped from his palm to coil on the ground next to his boot. The gravel turned white with frost where it touched.

She held up her hands up in front of her. “Hey! I just want to talk!”

“I can hear you from there. Honestly, you probably don’t want to come closer anyway. I’ve been told that I can make people uncomfortable when I’m like this and I’m pretty fired up right now.”

“Fine. I’m sorry I tried to kill you.”

“You said that part already.”

“Yes I did. I did what I did because I recently had someone close to me murdered using… your, um,  kind of magic,” she said, indicating at the black whip in his hand. “When I felt you using it at Strangefellows, I sort of lost control.” She took in a deep breath and let it out. “I was wrong.”

“Well, that’s very big of you to admit. Are we done having this Hallmark moment?” The cold was already beginning to make the long muscles in his legs quiver. He hoped this wouldn’t take long.

“Wait! I think we have a mutual cause. I think the person who killed m-my friend also kidnapped your Rebbecca.”

Stirling narrowed his eyes at her. “How do you know about that?”

“You were talking with your crow and I have really good hearing. Listening to you talk was how I decided that you probably didn’t deserve to die.”

“Probably!? I probably didn’t deserve to die?!”

“It’s nothing personal, I’m not in the best head-space right now. I’m honestly not a hundred percent sure of a lot of things.”

“Uh huh. So other than freakishly good hearing and a willingness to stab first and ask questions later, what other qualities would you bring to the table?”

She looked around and pointed at the gate as though for permission. Stirling gave her a bemused shrug. She walked to the gate, gripped the vertical steel pole with both hands and calmly folded it in half.

“Well there’s that, I guess,” Stirling conceded.

Stirling looked over at Magnon and indicated with his whip hand in a puff of cold fog, “Is that normal? I mean even with the rest of us freaks?”

“No, that’s definitely not normal.”

“Good to know.”

He turned back to where the courier stood waiting. “What’s your name? I just can’t keep thinking of you as Stabby Gabby the Homicidal Bike Courier.”

“Katherine. You can call me Katherine,” she said, returning to her spot.

“Alright, Katherine, you’ve advanced to the bonus round. Say I agreed to go in with you on this tag team malarkey. What do you see as your final goal in the enterprise? What do you really want out of this? Bonus points will be awarded for the words, ‘massacre,’ and ‘viscera’ in this question.”

“That’s dark.”

“Necromancer,” he reminded her. “I’m supposed to be darker than a Goth locked in a box at midnight. Now answer the question, Claire.”

“Honestly? I just want my own life,” she said, her voice was dull as winter overcast, “but knowing Knox is out there and free of consequence for all he’s done is like trying to pretend everything’s fine with a nail in my foot. It’s all I can feel and think about. I don’t think I can enjoy anything or even grow as a person until I know he’s been repaid for the harm he’s caused.”

Stirling started to reply, but Katherine continued over him with a note of surprise at her own words. “Do you know, if I could make a fire from my own heart, I would use it to slowly burn Knox to the ground, inch by inch, and smile the whole time. I don’t think I’d even be sorry that it was my heart. Isn’t that a strange thing to say?”

“Yes. Yes it is, and you call me out for being dark. How about this though, we leave our hearts where they are and use Knox’s heart as kindling instead? Sound reasonable?”

Katherine shrugged noncommittally. “As long as he burns.”

“It’ll be a squad goal,” he said.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Chapter 42, Part 2: Death, the Universe, and Everything.

Hey all, Happy Easter! Here's the conclusion to chapter 42 in all of its rough draft glory.

If you find you're enjoying this twisted little fable, why not tell your friends? I'm attempting to hit the ground running by building an audience in anticipation of the happy day this finally gets edited and published. Having people already in place who like the same messed-up stories I do would be a huge benefit.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy!

Bone leered at him for an uncomfortably long beat before being finally pulled by his wife out of sight.

This couldn’t be happening. This was his mess, not Rebbecca’s. He wanted to scream, to bring them back, anything to make them wait. Each footstep receding in the distance was a spike of failure driven into his conscience.

 Stirling willed himself to stand, but in the confines of the barrel found the best he could do was to latch the fingers of his right hand on the edge of the opening. It was a start. After a monumental effort, his left hand followed. That left him panting with a cold sweat prickling out all over his body. He heard the sound of a metal rolling door closing somewhere in the warehouse with a muffled thud. Fuck!

About the only good thing about his situation was that whatever was making him feel ill wasn’t getting any worse. After some wiggling, he found he was able to rock the barrel, the contents sloshing thickly around his ankles. Once, twice, three times, before the barrel slipped off its wooden pallet and crashed on its side to the cement floor.

Stirling was decanted with much of the remaining contents of the barrel with a noisome sploosh. It felt about as good as it sounded.

“Here we see the miracle of birth on the African Savanah,” he wheezed to himself in an overblown Australian accent, his cheek pressed against the cold floor.

He braced himself on the toppled barrel and slowly got to his feet. The room tilted around him and it took him a long pause before he felt he could move without falling over. He searched the nearby racks for the medicine bottle, but it was gone. Presumably, it rested in Rag's had pocket now.

He staggered down the deserted aisles of empty barrels using the empty steel racks to steady himself him as he went. On the far east wall of the warehouse where the series of loading bays. The sound of a truck pulling away from the lot drifted inside.

He didn’t think he’d be able to lift one of the rolling doors, but thankfully there was a side door and he stuck his head out just in time to see a large moving truck turn right onto the street and accelerate away. It was nearly obscured by a swarm of souls swirling in its wake. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he caught sight of Rebbecca’s form once or twice in the swirling mass. Double Fuck!

He sat down heavily on the cement stoop. What now? He could slowly feel his strength coming back, but he wasn’t going to be hitting the gym anytime soon.

Magnon glided from over the building to land on the top of the chain link fence that surrounded the property fifty feet away.

“Wow. Look at you. If you were anyone else, I’d consider eating you before you went bad. What happened in there?”

“That redheaded temptress of darkness lied to me!” he spat a last glob of blood out of his mouth. “She said I’d get a second chance, but when she sent me back from that miserable little office I was right in the middle of dying again. Now look at me,” he said gesturing down at the bloody mess that was his entire front. “On top of it all, they made ‘Becca into one of those gin and she just left with the rest of them on that truck,” he said gesturing weakly toward the road.

“Woah there. Let’s back things up a second. If Merciful Death didn’t bail you out, how are you here? You look pretty alive to me.”

“Well, it’s no fucking thanks to Emily!” He said “Emily” like other people would say “rancid slug semen.” “I’m talking to you right now because I pulled my own spuds out of the oven.”

“And just how did you manage that?”

Stirling used the stair rail to pull himself to his feet with a grunt.

“There was a medicine bottle filled with this red shit next to the barrels. One of the spirits in there said he thought was Panacea, but that it had something extra added. I don’t know what else was in it, but it definitely had some of my own magic in there. I had it in my pocket when I went into the barrel. Right when I was about to die, I took a little drink. Fixed me right up.”

He began to walk drunkenly toward the exit of the parking lot. The gate was a chain link panel on pneumatic tires, which Madame Rage and Mister Bone had been good enough to lock up after them when they left. Damn their security-minded eyes.

“Until it didn’t. You don’t look that hot.”

“I don’t feel that hot. Whatever that stuff was, the hangover is even worse than it tasted, and it tasted like I rimmed a skunk. I feel absolutely wrecked.”

He chose a baseball-sized rock from the ground, took a feeble swing at the lock, and nearly dropped it out of sheer fatigue.

“Maybe she knew it was there and she sent you back so you’d have a chance to drink it.” The crow didn’t sound all that certain.

He swung the rock again and connected, a small scuff appeared on the steel body of the lock.
“Sorry, I’m not buying it. It was sheer luck that I even remembered I had that bottle in my pocket. She backed out on the deal. Only explanation.”

“Sure, sure. So what are you going to do now?”

“I heard them saying something about Memorial Park and Asphodel. They have ‘Becca with them, so that’s where I’m going. Some assholes just need killing.”

“You’re doing it again, you know.”

He cocked his head up at the bird, panting. “Doing what?”

“Reacting to them.”

Stirling took another unsuccessful swing with the rock. “I fail to see what else I can do. They have one of the few people I actually give a shit about. I’m going to go and try to get her back.”

“How about a real plan, unless you really think the “Hulk smash” strategy is really the best thing going forward.”

Stirling glared at the bird and hefted the rock. “Talky bird have clever mouth, Stirling fix and smash with rock.”

“All I’m saying is that thinking your way through a problem is a great way not to get stabbed and stuffed in a barrel to die.”

“Can’t you go and do something useful like get me a Red Bull or something? You’re so chatty.”
He swung at the lock again and sent the lock swinging on the chain, still undamaged. “Besides, I’m a linear thinker. I see a problem and I fix it.”

“How about extending the line a bit further along than your immediate next step then? Your ancestors developed the gift of abstract thought and planning. Let’s put some of that to work.”

Magnon actually had a good point, and any excuse to sit down was difficult to resist. “Fine. Let’s think this through.” Stirling slid down to sit at the base of the fence. He wasn’t making any progress with the lock anyway. "Rag, Bone, and the funky bunch have yanked out Rebbecca’s soul and hijacked her body for their own nefarious ends. I need to get her soul back into her body. I’m also nearly positive that their boss, Knox, used the magical energy I put in my hunting decoys to make the potion that made it possible.”

“It’s actually called an Alchemical Philter.”

“And that changes the problem, how?”

“It’s fine as long as you’re happy going around sounding like a slack-jawed rube.”

“Let’s save the editorializing for when we have the time, sound good?”

“It’s your show. How do you think you’ll be able to help her?”

“I know where Memorial Park is. I can make a plan on the way.”

“That’s a good start. Did you also know that Memorial Park is the location of the main portal to Asphodel?”

“No,” he admitted.

“Do you remember what Asphodel even is?”

“Isn’t it that place you go when you die, or something?”

“Or something. It’s also the biggest cultural and commercial hub in the Aether.”

“So what are they going there for?”

“That’s a great question. Maybe we should find out.”

Stirling jerked away from the gate as the lock shattered next to his ear. Magnon launched himself away with a squawk of fear.

Stirling rolled on his side in the gravel to find himself looking up into the face of the bike courier who had nearly killed him in the warehouse. Triple Fuck. This day just kept getting better and better.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Chapter 42, Part One: Death, the Universe, and Everything.

A bit later than I wanted this week, I love me some writing, but sadly, it doesn't pay the bills. The usual warnings apply. This is an unedited draft so expect grammatical errors, hackneyed dialogue, dropped plot lines and general fuckery. Thanks for reading!

It came as a shock when Stirling woke, not because he was alive, but because when he did, there was no pain. One eye wouldn’t open—from the feel of it though, it was just gummed shut with dried blood. About the worst he could say of his current condition was that it felt like he had the mother and father of all chest colds.

“Holy crap, you’re alive?” the front of Rebbecca’s head was mere inches from his nose.
He flinched back from her glowing face and tried to speak, but in the process only managed to wheeze. He held up a finger and coughed out what seemed like an imperial gallon of partly clotted blood.

“Ewww. That’s so nasty.”

Stirling took in a deep gulp of air, even in the stuffy, stinky barrel, it felt wonderful to be able to completely fill his lungs. Judging from the oxygen-deprived tingling at the tips of his fingers, that elation would be short-lived if he didn’t get out of the barrel soon.

“Is there anyone out there with you?” he croaked. “Psychotic bike couriers? Homicidal giants? Sadistic size queens? Anyone like that?”

Rebbecca’s head disappeared briefly, then reappeared. “Nope, the coast looks to be clear.”

 In a rare case of good luck, the lid of the barrel was irregularly-shaped moulded plastic with indentations for spigots that made for useful finger holds. Once he got it moving, the top twisted off easily and cold air flooded into the barrel.

He trusted Rebbecca at her word but was still cautious as he slowly lifted off the lid and looked around. The room was quiet but for the hum of the lighting fixtures and the dripping of preservative from nearly empty barrels. Rebbecca was the only spirit he could see. He rose to his feet and stepped out of the barrel.

“You look like you’ve been through the fucking wood chipper,” she commented.

Stirling looked down at himself. His entire front was blood-soaked and there was a ragged tear in his jacket where he’d been stabbed. He ran his hands over his torso looking for holes but only found sticky blood and unbroken skin. As a matter of fact, the headache and bruises from the car accident were all missing as well. He felt oddly energized, as though he’d spent a full week’s rest on a beach drinking oat grass smoothies and doing yoga, or whatever it was that really healthy people did.

He took out the medicine bottle and looked at it again. It was still half-full. He’d barely touched it to his tongue and now all of his injuries were healed. He’d need to keep this stuff on hand for future emergencies. Lloyd claimed that it was somehow adulterated, but beyond it tasting like shit sauteed in cat vomit, it seemed to work as well as he could hope.

A door opened somewhere in the warehouse behind him and the sound of voices and footsteps echoed through the open space, growing closer by the moment. Stirling looked around in panic and Rebbecca gestured frantically at his vacated barrel. It clearly hadn’t occurred to her yet that, beyond Stirling himself, nobody could hear her.

He got a single leg back into the barrel, nearly catching a testicle on the rim of the barrel in his hurry before he remembered the medicine bottle. If whoever was coming started looking for it… He considered his options for a long beat before reluctantly placing the bottle back on the steel rack where he’d found it.

He ducked down into this barrel and wished he hadn’t. As bad as it might be to be standing in the dregs of someone else’s preservative fluid, their barrel wouldn’t have globs of coagulated blood clinging to the sides and bottom.

He grimaced and tried as best he could to get comfortable in the confined space. As he settled in, his stomach twisted uncomfortably. It didn’t feel like hunger.

Rebbecca’s head appeared above him looking down into the barrel. “I can’t see anyone yet,” she whispered to him. He nodded resignedly. She’d get used to the living not being able to hear her soon enough.

Something twinged in his belly more violently. It felt uncomfortably like something was wriggling around inside of his abdomen. What the hell?

“It’s that couple who grabbed me!” she hissed into the barrel. “What’s their names? Mister Bones and that bitch-face… Rag.” Her head disappeared from view again.

The movement inside of him became more insistent, it wasn’t painful, it was like something was trying to shove him aside from the inside for more space. As much as he wanted to convince himself it was just gas, he knew on a deeper level it wasn’t. Something was badly wrong.

A cold sweat sprung out on his brow and he let more of his weight fall against the bottom of the barrel. He suddenly felt terribly weak and it was all he could do to keep his head up.
As the voices drew closer, he was able to pick out words in the echoes. “…the gate. Every last one of them.”

This was followed by a basso profundo grunt that could only have come from Bone’s chest. The footsteps began to grow fainter as Rag and Bone passed their row of barrels.

“Hey, what’s wrong with you? You look bad. I mean you looked bad before but now you look worse.” He raised his head to see Rebbecca staring down at him.

He shrugged and felt an uncontrollable shiver run through his body. His teeth chattered uncontrollably and the inside of the barrel vibrated like a drum.

“You know, you really suck at this rescue thing. You show up after the princess has been eaten by the dragon and spend most of your time hiding in a barrel.”

A few moments later, Rag’s voice rang out through the warehouse. “The time has come, my little ducklings! Follow me to the loading dock and file into the back of the moving truck. There are a lot of you, so feel free to pack in as tight as you can. We’re all friends here, no need to be shy.”

There came the shuffling sound of many feet on the concrete floor.

“The new one too,” came Rag’s voice from close-by. "Himself wants them all."

“Not awake yet,” came Bone's voice.

“Dose her and put her in the back with the rest. She’ll be up by the time we get to Memorial Park.”
There came the sound of gushing liquid as the barrel next to him was tipped over.

“Stirling!” Rebbecca wasn’t whispering now. Her face was panicked as she looked at something happening beyond the edge of his barrel. “Help me! They’re putting something in my mouth!”
Stirling tried to sit up, but all he managed to do was to flop around weakly in the slippery bottom of the barrel.

The sound must have been enough to alert Rag because a moment later her head replaced Rebbecca’s at the opening.

“Well goodness me, Mister Bone, what a nice surprise! Come see who it is! I could hardly recognize him under all the lovely blood.”

Bone’s face appeared next to Rag’s and regarded him. From Stirling’s angle, gravity made the flesh on Bone’s face look more jowly and threatening than usual.

“It’s him that keeps getting away from us.”

“Indeed it is! Though from the looks of it, his running days are done.”

Bone nodded in agreement. “Someone’s done for him. Maybe that one we chased off. Thought she smelled like blood.”

Rag nodded and turned her attention back to Stirling. “It’s a shame, really, Himself was so looking forward to meeting you.”

She put her head closer to the opening and lowered her voice as though sharing a confidence with him, “I too was very much looking forward to a conversation about some unkind things you may have said to me.”

Stirling clenched his teeth to stop them from chattering and did his best to glare at her. If they wanted to believe that he was still dying, he wasn’t about to disabuse them of the idea. Actually, he wasn’t sure that wasn’t still the case. He felt wrung out and wretched. Still, he let his breath wheeze in his throat.

“That’s a brave face, Pet. It’s all water under the bridge now though, isn’t it? It’s not like I can kill you twice, more’s the pity. You may have heard, but Mister Bone and I quite enjoy watching people die. You might even say it’s a hobby of ours, but we’re a bit pressed for time today.”

“Are we?”

“Sadly, yes, Love,” Rag said putting an affectionate hand on Bone’s cheek. “No time for the lovely japes today. We’ll have ever so many corpses to make in Asphodel though.”

Bone smiled revealing yellowed teeth the size and shape of tiles from a kindergarten mosaic.
“We’ll leave you to it, then,” said Rag with an encouraging smile. “It shouldn’t be too long now, I’m surprised you’re still with us at all.”

Something ratcheted tighter inside of him and he groaned.

“A cough, a gush of blood and it’ll be all over,” she said reassuringly.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Chapter 41, Part Two: A Grimy Place of Dying.

Thanks for reading. Here concludes the rough draft of chapter 41, hope you enjoy!

“Hey, is it me, or does that sound like it’s getting faster?” He asked.

“Blood loss does that.” She cocked a critical ear at the sound of the heartbeat. “I’d give you a minute at most until you suffer a myocardial infarction.”

“You said infarction.”

She snapped her fingers repeatedly in front of his face. “Focus, Stirling.”

“So, it sounds like we’re at the part of the conversation where I get the high-pressure sales pitch.”

“Good guess. I know you’ve been thinking of heading back the Skeleton Club and waiting this out. That’s not going to work for me.”



“How come?”

“What you’ve seen of Knox’s operation is just a small fraction of the whole. He’s personally responsible for the enslavement of thousands of spirits. As someone who’s charged with helping the dead pass over, that offends me on a very personal level. I want it fixed.” She spoke the word with the tone of finality that left no question to the meaning.

“Seems reasonable,” he said cautiously, “but I have a couple questions first.”

“Better ask them fast.”

“Don’t take this as me complaining, but how come you don’t deal with this mess? I’m a magic nerd who taught himself some homemade tricks in his backyard shed. You’re Merciful Death; she who makes the sun black as sackcloth. It seems to me you’d be a lot better suited for a job like this than I am.”

“I’m not allowed to interfere, none of the incarnations are. Death is impartial. I don’t get to choose who dies or when I just oversee one of the aspects of Death.”

“Uh huh, and out of all the millions of people who die on a daily basis, why choose me?”

“That’s not a huge intuitive leap, you already play for team Death. Most magic uses life energy, but a necromancer’s talent draws magic from the absence of life, the downward turn of the wheel. You’re just being officially tagged in.”

She sat on the edge of the chair and crossed her legs again. It was difficult to keep his eyes on her face. She grinned at him in a way that made it clear she knew exactly what effect she was having. He gave her a mental salute. For a young guy whose sex life was rarely off life support, it was a smart strategy. Stupid glands.

“Listen, you‘ve already told Knox to fuck off once, all I want from you is more of what you’ve already done.”

“Yeah, and I’ve been so great at it that I’m about to die of blood loss inside a plastic barrel.”

“You sound like you actually want to pass on.”

“No, I’m just trying to see all the angles here. If The Twilight Zone taught me anything, it was to check the fine print when you make a deal with Death. What exactly are you offering?”

“Work for Death, get a second chance.”

“Work for you?”

“Calm your hormones, Romeo. Not me, my boss. I’ll be the go-between.”

“Can I meet them? I sort of want to meet my potential employer.”

“Sorry, you don’t rate that high. Did you miss the part where you’re dying? No time. In the rare case something needs attending to that we can’t do ourselves, we’ll call you in.”

“What if I don’t like the job. Can I say no?”

“You can always say no.”

“But that would be bad,” he guessed.

“The deal being offered is that you work for Death, in return you get to live. If you refuse, the offer gets taken off the table.”

“Now, tell me if I’m way off-base here, but the only thing you’ve said you can’t do is to kill folks, right?”

“I did say something like that.”

“So, I’m guessing that when you do call on me, I’m not going to be called in to pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread from the store.”

Thump… … thump.

The room around them wavered like the heat haze on hot pavement for an instant.

She gave the room a worried look and rushed ahead. “Stop Knox. Free the souls he has captured.”


“You’re smart. Use your head.” She was speaking quickly now.

“Fine, but I want Becky to get her body back.”


“Rebbecca, my friend. She got caught up in this and Knox got her. I want her to get her body back.”

“I can’t do…”

“That’s my price.”

“If you die, your soul will pass over and there will be no you to make this deal.”

Stirling glanced around with a bored look on his face and inspected his nails.

“Fine. I’ll do what I can. Now can we…”

“What’s your name?”


“Your name? Merciful Death is just too much of a mouthful.”

She furrowed her brows at him, nonplussed. “Emily.”

“In that case, Emily, I agre…”

With a jolt that felt like every particle in his body was being smashed together at the speed of sound, he was back inside the barrel. Blood was drooling out of his mouth to run down his front and his heart was pounding painfully in his chest. He couldn’t breathe, it felt like he’d been holding his breath for a minute. He breathed in hitching gasps that brought no air to his lungs.

Whatever Merciful Death planned on doing clearly hadn’t worked. He was still dying. Panic seized him as he gasped for air. His brain raced. What had gone wrong? Why was he still dying? His heart felt like it was trying to pound its way out of his chest, each beat a painful blow against his sternum.
He clasped his arms around himself in an attempt to squeeze out the pain. In the confined space his forearm knocked something solid in his jacket pocket. It was the medicine bottle he’d picked up off the rack next to Rebbecca’s barrel. Lloyd had said it was like Panacea, but that something was wrong with it. As though thinking of it caused it to wake, the contents of the bottle suddenly resonated with his entire being. It was like the feeling he had when he’d sensed the possessed bodies in Strangefellows. His own power was part of whatever was inside the bottle.

Not having any other plan, but lacking anything else to do, he fumbled the bottle from his pocket with clumsy fingers, uncapped it, and brought it to his lips.

Even above the smell of his blood and leftover preservative, there was a sudden melange of scents inside the barrel. The first was the smell of living things that brought to mind the first mist of green on tree branches on the first warm day after a long winter. Wrapping around it all though was a sickly corruption, not decay, but a stomach rolling burned-bone sweetness that made him nauseous, even over the pain.

Even as the liquid seeped over his tongue, his arm was instinctively withdrawing the little glass bottle.

“Too late,” whispered a little voice in his head.

He tried to spit out the drops, but they evaporated on contact with the warmth of his flesh. The sensation reminded him of a high-end Scotch he’d once sampled, sadly, that was as far as the comparison went.

The flavour blossomed in his mouth like a combination of burned syrup and rotting fish. It was so overwhelmingly foul that he momentarily forgot the pain in his chest. His stomach heaved, and the agony of it made his vision tunnel in.

A feeling of jagged heat radiated out from his mouth, washing down his body. It felt like what he imagined having ice crystals form in your blood would feel like if they were on fire and shaking themselves to pieces at the same time.

He clenched his arms around himself even more tightly, trying to keep himself together in the face of this new pain. He gasped out a spray of blood that he dimly saw run down the inside of the barrel before true blackness covered his vision.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Chapter 41, Part One: A Grimy Place of Dying.

Thanks for dropping by this week! This is one of those chapters I'm unsure of. I give it equal odds it will make it to the final copy without being completely rewritten. Hope you enjoy!


It was becoming difficult to draw even half a breath and Stirling could taste copper blood misting his tongue on the exhale. His chest gurgled when he tried to breathe like somebody had left an egg to boil on the stove. Now that he had one of his very own, a sucking chest wound sounded way cooler than it actually was. His heart thudded hard in his chest, so hard he could feel in in the back of his throat. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut.


He opened them again, expecting to see the faint glow of the warehouse fluorescents weakly filtering through the side of his plastic barrel, instead, a blurry rectangle resolved into a motivational poster of a kitten clinging to a tree branch with a caption below reading, “Hang in there.”

Wait, what?

He blinked again. Yup, no doubt about it. There was a kitten poster hanging a few feet in front of his nose.

Wait. He knew that poster. It was the same one that had hung unironically at the office of the gas station where he’d worked during high school. The thing that made this poster slightly different from the original was that immediately below the kitten was the open throat of an industrial wood chipper, the blades blurring with motion. That was a bit fucked up.

Just to the left of that poster, there was another, this one just as familiar. It showed a grinning man wearing colourful skydiving gear, spreadeagled in free-fall against a clear blue sky. Where the poster had once read, “Reach for your dreams!” the caption now read, “If at first you don’t succeed, bouncing doesn’t count.”

Stirling took a pace back and felt mildly surprised that there was no longer the plastic curve of a barrel at his back. The wall he was facing was filled with familiar posters with all-new captions. The poster with the closeup image of a snowflake resting on a frying pan. “You can be replaced,” was written in large swirly script above.


His heartbeat came again, but it felt far away, unimportant.

A shuffling sound came from behind him and he turned to find Magnon perched on the back of a stained cloth office chair. It wasn’t just the posters that were familiar, this was the manager’s office at his old gas station. It was identical down to the huge, old-style computer monitor and neon-haired troll dolls lined up on the windowsill. Even the air had the same whiff of refrigeration, burned coffee, and stale nacho cheese.

“What is this?” Stirling asked the crow.

“No idea, it looks like a shitty little office to me,” said Magnon, eyeing the stacks of hard copy and cardboard files.

“Okay, why are we here then?”

“The boss wants a word,” replied Magnon.

“The boss?”

“The embodiment of finality in the universe,” explained Magnon. As before when speaking with the crow, with the words in his mind came meaning. The meaning behind these words wasn’t just the familiar everyday death of living things as they grew old or sick. In this case, “Death” carried the notion of a force that caused galaxies to wind down, and old stars cough themselves out into empty space.

“Wow. Really? Capital ‘D’ Death wants to meet me? I should let you know now, I’m shit at chess, so if he wants to game it’ll have to be Risk, or possibly Settlers of Catan.”


The door at the back of the office opened and Death stepped in. Whatever Stirling was expecting to see, the figure in the doorway was not it. Death didn’t wear a black hood or carry a scythe. What Death did was look a lot like was an attractive girl around his age.

She was petite with bright red hair, and not surprisingly, was extremely pale. Between his pale complexion and hers, Stirling was sure they could have kept multiple sunscreen companies in the black. Death wore dark eye makeup, had cranberry coloured lips, and a wore a black skirt that cut off just high enough to be professional, but low enough to be interesting. She walked in and extended a hand to him. “Merciful Death,” she introduced herself. “Nice to meet you.”

Stirling shook her hand and stood dumbly as she sat in the swivel chair and crossed her legs. She gestured to a plastic folding chair across from her and he sat. 

“You’re Death?” Stirling blurted.

“An aspect of it,” she said. “You seem surprised.”

“When Magnon told me Death wanted to meet me I was expecting more of a Witch-King of Agnor look. I salute your unconventionalism.”


Death paused to look at him, he had a distinct impression that she had heard his heartbeat as well.
When she finally spoke, she said, “You named him Magnon?” she asked using the hard g English pronunciation.

Stirling nodded.

Death’s lips pressed tight together, and at first, Stirling thought she appeared to be angry. Instead, she began to laugh. Her laughter was genuine and at one point even contained a snort. It went on for some time, and Stirling couldn’t help but smile along.

“Oh shit,” she finally got out, “that is going to irritate a lot of people. One of the thirteen gets named Crow Magnon.”

“It was either that or Hecubus,” he said modestly.

Death cocked an eyebrow at him. “There’s a chance you’re taking this as seriously as you might.”

“Probably,” Stirling agreed, “but I just died, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m feeling a bit whimsical.”

Death shrugged, “You’re not dead yet. Listen.” She held up a finger for silence. After a long moment…


“There it is.”

“I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that there’s something I can do to get me out of this little pickle I’ve found myself in.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Oh, come on? Really? Look at this place, look at you. I mean, just look…”

“Humour me.”

It was Stirling’s turn to cock an eyebrow at her. He looked around at his surroundings and back at her. “Fine, this office for one. I remember this place. This is the gas station where I worked on weekends all through high school.”


“So, by then I’d had my little accident and nobody could stand to be around me. I’d already been fired from a bunch of other places, but I was convinced that if I could keep this one shitty job then somehow I wouldn’t be such a loser. Nobody wanted to work with me, so I got stuck working by myself on the graveyard shift every single weekend. I worked twice as hard as any person there just keep this job. It didn’t matter though, the manager tried to get rid of me every chance she got. I had to check in every day to see if my schedule was the same because they’d change my shifts without telling me. In the end, the manager made me work with a guy who she knew was selling cigarettes to underage kids and fired both of us.”

“Sounds rough.”

“Then there’s you,” he continued without pause. “You laugh at my name for the crow, and trust me, even the few people who get that joke think it’s lame.”

“Hey!” Magnon protested.

“Well, it is,” Stirling said.

“You come in looking like the love child of Emma Stone and Shirley Manson, both of whom I’ve had a crush on nearly since I was old enough to have crushes. My guess is you’re betting on me being so distracted by not revealing my imminent boner that I’ll agree to whatever you want. So, what’s the deal?”

By the end of his speech, she was smiling sharply at him. Even though he knew he was being played, Stirling couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to kiss her.

“Really? You think I’m pretty?” Death asked playing with a strand of red hair.

Stirling fixed her with a level look.

“Yes, Stirling. You’re right, I do have something I’d like you to help me with. And this setting,” she said nodding her head and taking in the grungy office, “was designed to put you in the right frame of mind.”

“But all this,” she said gesturing to herself and beaming a smile at him, “is just me. Thanks for the compliment. A girl likes to be told her looks are having an effect.”

Stirling ran his fingers through his hair, which was unkempt and oily from a day with no access to a shower, and began to pace. “Riiight. And I’m supposed to believe that? You, the avatar of death are a twenty-something redhead with perfect skin? Hell, I’ve read more believable lies In The World Weekly News.” He held up his hands to make air quotes, ‘New Batboy Slim Jim diet makes you lose weight fast!’”


“Shut it, Reaper Girl, I know you aren’t all…all… this!” he said gesturing toward her. “In real life you’re probably some tentacled horror with strange geometries that would break my mind were I to merely gaze upon you.”

“That’s not how it works, this isn’t a Lovecraft book.”

“Yes, your tentacled hotness,” he said, flopping back against the wall.

She sighed. “I’m not a tentacled anything. Listen, what it boils down to is that I’m just one of the representatives of Death on Earth, and the one closest geographically to you.”

“One of them? There are more?”

“Not all death is merciful.”

“Good point. So, how many of you Deaths are there?”

“It varies, but usually a dozen or so at any given time, and that’s just on Erde. Every world of the Aether has representatives.”

“Death, we’re everywhere you want to be,” said Stirling. So, when you’re not snuffing people in the nicest way possible, what do you do?”

“I’m an attending doctor in the ER.”

“You’re a doctor? Isn’t that sort of a wildly inappropriate career for an incarnation of Death?"

“I’m Merciful Death. People who come into the ER are the ones who need my services most.”

“Wow. Talk about putting the hypocrisy the Hippocratic oath. Whatever happened to ‘do no harm?’”

Her expression turned serious. “When you’ve worked in the ER for any length of time you understand that there are people who can’t be saved. My day job is to preserve life, and I’m damned good at it. I also preserve dignity in death when it’s called for.”


Monday, 5 March 2018

Chapter 40, Part Two: A Worrying Premonition of Ominous Foreboding.

Hi everybody, thanks for dropping by! Hope you enjoy this week's installment. The usual warnings apply.

In the end, it took longer for Inspector Viscounti to pick the splintered chunks of door out of her hair than the original conversation had. The gun had been loud, especially in the confines of the office. The alarm brought on by the noise was still sloshing through the Armoury like water in a jostled aquarium but things were now beginning to calm down. In a detached way, Aleph was actually pleased when Visconti had brought out the gun and pulled the trigger. It showed she would commit to action in a bad situation. All things being equal, Alpeh would have preferred the gun hadn’t been pointed at her, but she could appreciate the guts it took from an objective standpoint.

Emerald Visconti was an industrial dryer of a woman with short dark hair and mahogany skin. If they’d been on Erde, Aleph would have pegged her as Thai or Vietnamese. The heavier than usual dentition, amber eyes, and the auburn tint in her hair told Aleph that if she was Vietnamese, it was from a Vietnam quite a few worlds up the cosmic ladder from Erde—maybe from Ys or Cibola.

Right now, Inspector Visconti sat at her splinter covered desk with a slightly stunned expression while Aleph laid out the situation in short, concise sentences.  Aleph wasn’t holding anything back, there was no point seeing as Visconti was the only one with even the slightest chance of seeing them through this shit storm. A trapped-ferret expression was beginning to form around her eyes as a result.

When she had finished, Viscounti looked at her helplessly. “So what am I supposed to do?” Her words were crisp, emerging from her mouth like the snap of static shocks. She obviously came from a verbal tradition that took enunciation seriously.

“I can’t tell you that. My position has always been outside the normal chain of command because I’m limited in what I can do to help. Do what you think you should, but I’d do it fast.”

Visconti’s caged look began to sublimate into a look of pure terror.

“Aleph?” Sam asked.

She turned to raise an eyebrow at him questioningly.

“Speaking hypothetically,” he began, “what would you do if you were caught in a situation similar to, but, and let me stress this point, not quite the same as this one?” He’d put on a newscaster’s smile and spoke like someone in a bad corporate training video.

“What an excellent question, Sam, I’m so glad you asked,” said Aleph, catching on immediately. She gave him a too-wide smile, her white teeth gleaming against black lips and gums like the nightmare of all toothpaste commercials.

“If I was in charge around here, I’d give some serious thought to field promotions for some of the more capable members to plug the holes blown in the rank structure.”

Sam turned and gave Viscounti a meaningful look.

To her credit, Inspector Viscounti only looked back and forth between the two of them for a few seconds before sweeping the detritus off her desk and locating a small tablet under the shards of splintered wood. Aleph paused for her to load a recording app before continuing.

 “Well, Sam, I’d make sure that I’d gathered in every last person in uniform to the Armoury; all the Market Barkers, all the Constables, right down to the guy who cleans the toilets. Everyone. I’d activate the Special Weapons and Tactics, and the Special Magics teams. I’d make sure they were on standby as soon as possible.”

“Fascinating,” said Sam. “Tell me more.”

“If I was ever in a situation similar to, but positively not this one, I’d say that it would be important to delegate authority to competent people who can be trusted to carry out their orders. A smart leader surrounds herself with capable followers who can not only carry out orders, but also are capable of using their initiative.”

“Very good point there, Aleph.”

“Thanks, Sam. The Corps Sergeant Major would be someone I’d definitely want to keep very close by for advice and support. Don’t forget Prospero and the other watchworkers were bought as surplus from the Great War. Those guys are the only ones here who have seen real combat. They would be an invaluable asset if it came to a real fight. I would make sure that the biological members of the Duke’s Own were made very aware that their survival in the coming hours will depend heavily on how the watchworkers are utilized.”

Sam nodded, “Because a lot of the members see constructs as pieces of thaumic tech, possessions at best, and a threat to their jobs at worst.”

“Right you are Sam. It’s comforting to think that we stand in a place where all the countless, possible worlds of the Aether merge and even here, we can still find assholes. In this hypothetical situation, the assholes could be a problem. Division in the ranks could be the difference between a bloody victory and a bloody defeat.”

Sam’s smile slipped a bit at her words and his next words were less animated. “So you’re sure that there will be a blood, a battle?”

“Absolutely positive, Sam. Let’s look at the extremely theoretical evidence. Someone has spent decades subverting thousands of desperate people so when the time came they would have their very own standing army.” Aleph wasn’t stupid enough to throw around names while being recorded—especially if those names happened to be attached to an alchemist. No matter how positive she was that Knox of the White was behind the current situation, the legal dogs would have her for lunch if they got their hands on a copy. “The very same day the army is activated, key members of the command and control staff of the Duke’s Own are removed,” she continued. “Armies don't get activated to stand around and drink coffee.”

“So we’re screwed.”

“What we’d be looking at in this very hypothetical situation is the degree to which we’re screwed, and whether we can do any screwing of our own back.”

“So, Aleph, how would you propose we do that?” said Sam, regaining his announcer's voice.

“Well, Sam, I’d speak to any technomancers we had laying around.” Here she grabbed Dimitri’s upper arm and shoved him toward Visconti. “And I’d see if I could break through the communications problem we seem to be having to get word to any off-duty members. I’d make sure to tell them to get here as quickly as they could. If you manage to do that, I’d begin trying to get word out into the city for people to keep their heads down.”

“That sounds like a reasonable course of action.”

“That’s not all, Sam. I’d send out runners into the Market telling people to get out. I’d get those same runners to empty the Black Market of anything that we could use during the fight; Food, water, medical supplies, and anything to burn in the Armoury’s crucible. There’s a chance the Char Witches might need to hold out for a good long while. I expect we’re going to going to be going through a lot of fuel once things kick off.”

“That sounds like a lot of work!” said Sam.

“It is,” Aleph agreed. “And the sooner begun, the better.”

“But what about the Assistant Commissioner,” Visconti blurted out.

Aleph turned to her.

“What about him?” she asked in her normal voice.

“The Duke was attacked. I thought he was the traitor.”

“I don’t know about that. He’s a dick, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that he’s involved, but take into account that Nigel’s also a gutless weasel. I don’t see him having the balls to go after the Duke. I think the real traitor, or traitors,  are still around.
 “Of course, this is all hypothetical,” said Aleph, beginning to walk toward the empty door frame that led back out into the hall. “I would never presume to give advice of any kind to a mortal in this situation because that would be wrong and against the rules.”

“Oh, of course,” Sam agreed, starting to follow her out of the room. “I was just curious in case this kind of thing ever happened again.”

“Good thinking, Sam, you can never be too prepared.”

Aleph was nearly over the office threshold before Visconti called out to her back. “Sergeant Major, where do you think you are going?”

Aleph turned at the unexpected tone in the inspector’s voice. Visconti had come around the desk and was now wearing a grim smile.

“I’m going to find the Corps Sergeant Major.”

“Do that, and bring him back here to see me. Since you have given,” she turned to look at Sam, “Sam right?” He nodded. “Sam here, such good advice, I’m promoting you to my Aide de Camp.”

“I can’t interfere…”

“Yes, I know, you can’t interfere with mortal affairs in your capacity as a diving being. If I can’t get a goddess, what I can get is a competent member of the Duke’s Own who can take orders and use her initiative. You are competent?”

Aleph’s back straightened at the words. “Yes.”

“And a member of the Duke’s Own?”

“Supernumerary…” she started to say.

“And I can already see you can act on your own initiative,” she said waving a hand toward the shattered doorframe. “You’ll be perfect.”

Aleph stared at her for a long beat before a slow smile began to seep across her face. “This could end up being interesting after all.”

Visconti was smiling her own tentative smile back when a bird’s-eye view of Memorial Square suddenly flashed into Aleph’s mind. Thousands of men, women, and children, were pouring out of the lit square. They spilled into the streets to the northeast filling them like a rising tide of mindless humanity.

The smile faded from Aleph’s lips. “Get the runners out now. We have an hour at most before they’re at the Market Gate. They’re coming.”