Sunday, 31 December 2017

Chapter 31, Part One: A tale of Candlewax.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas! As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter. See you all next year!

So, a Great Fire?” said Stirling, raising his eyebrows at Magnon. Magnon cocked an eye at Candlewax uneasily but went ahead.

“I’m not sure if you know this, but a sacrifice has always been a source of magic. Human and animal sacrifices are frowned upon lately, but that’s a recent development. The thing is, it isn’t just human or animal sacrifice that can be a source of magic. Anything that a person has put energy and effort in retains a bit of that energy. It can be used.”

“Back when buildings were mostly all made of wood and there weren’t such things as fire hydrants, a fire in a city could get out of hand fast. If a fire managed to kill someone who had magical talent, and if it took in enough human effort, it often became…” The crow paused to consider the right word, “aware.”

“They are the fires that somehow grew too fast to stop, or jumped streets to be a get a few steps ahead of the fire brigades. All the energy locked up in buildings, and all the people consumed get funnelled into a single being. It doesn’t happen often now, but there is a group of powerful beings that were born from some of the fires. Tokyo, Chicago, Boston, Chernobyl, Old London and New London, Dresden, Rome, San Fransisco, and ah, Vancouver.”

“So this guy…”


“Not to be a dick,” said Stirling, noticing Candlewax’s flames had banked down again, “but why are you here.”

“I’m here because of that greasy little shit, Cordova, betrayed me.”

Stirling looked to Magnon for clarification.

“They were partners back in my time,” said Magnon

“What, like civil partners” He made the universal symbol for humping with his circled thumb and index finger.

“Eh? What’s this now?” asked Candlewax.

“Business partners!” Magnon quickly clarified.

“I’m going to need more background before I’m ready to think about springing Howling Mad Murdoch here,” he said nodding at Candlewax.

Candlewax squinted at him. “As you will, young master.” He took a seat in the nearest chair, his feet out in front of him, the bottle of rum held loosely on his knee.

“So this story goes back a ways. By the by, what year is it? With no light or dark in here, I must admit I’ve lost track of my days.”

“Two Thousand Eighteen.”

“Go on, don’t fuck with me now, lad.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Well blow me. Has it been that long?”

Candlewax sat back in his chair and puffed out his breath.

“Two Thousand and Eighteen, you say?”

Stirling nodded.

Candlewax looked at the bottle. “This thing’s a fucking antique!” he exclaimed. “Just like me now, I suppose. To your good health.” He raised the bottle to his lips and drained it in a long pull. Blue flame began spurting out of the fissures all across his chest and shoulders. He tossed the empty bottle over his shoulder to have it shatter on the wall behind him.

Stirling handed him another, which he accepted with a nod and an, “I thank ye.”

“So why am I here, with this very pretty prison chained around my leg?” he asked, his mouth limned with blue alcohol fire. “Well to answer that I need to go back to the days when I was younger. Back in those days, the arcane demimonde was not what you’d call, well-organized, and Vancouver itself was a ruddy mess.”

“Aside from being freshly burned to the ground, the arcane were working out in the open, bold as brass. There were Char Witches working openly as stokers on riverboats and the Fey acting like bloody native guides for the lads coming up for the Gold Rush. Something needed to be done about it. Much more of that malarkey and all the old secrets would’ve been out, and then we’d all have been right fucked.”

“Since nobody else was willing, I stepped up, and for the longest time, it was I doing the rounds about town. I made sure that the wheels stayed greased between us and the mundane, and if someone needed a fire lit under them, I was the one who oversaw the task. In return, I collected a small fee, nothing onerous you understand, just a pittance, a stipend for a job well done from the grateful community.”

“It went along like that for years until the winter of 1918 when a likely lad, Mormal de Cordova was his name, shows up on my doorstep. He was a bit green around the gills, but I loved him like the sickly son I never knew. My very own influenzic Tiny Tim. I raised him, taught him what I could, and for a while we were living in clover, he and I. It was good times until the Alchemists started to settle.”

He paused to uncork the second bottle and raised it to his lips. “That lot didn’t feel the services I provided were worthy of the cost, and they refused to contribute to the community pot when the collection plate got passed around. Now, I’m not the kind of man to it take well when the ones what can afford it most are the ones who give the least, and I made my displeasure with the situation known to them. We came to an accord, which is to say, they began to toss in the occasional shekel, the same as everyone else. What I didn’t know was that even then, the lying dogs were seducing my Cordova, whispering bitter poison in his ear, dazzling him with shiny baubles and buying his soul a drop at a time with their wretched potion.”

“When the Dust War was done and all your kind were dead or hiding,” he said sloshing the bottle in Stirling’s direction, “Cordova comes to me and says he’s got the last set of guest keys to the Skeleton Club, and why don’t we use it to have one last toast to the glorious dead.”

“Now, I always had a soft spot for you deadies, and it struck me hard to see your kind laid so low, so I agreed. One last piss-up at the Skeleton Club to send your lot off in style.

A dreamy look crossed his face. “It was a grand affair, all my crew were here.” he said, gesturing to the room, “It was a party the likes of which stories are told about for years after. We were all well into our cups when the crew starts disappearing one by one. I didn’t think much of it until it was too late for them. I was getting ready to make my own excuses when Cordova pulls out a bottle of rare Scotch Whisky he brought for the occasion and wants to share with me. I had an affection for the lad, and for whisky, so I decided to stay for just one more drink.”

“Now, I love me a drink or two, but it takes a strong spirit to put me on my back on account of how I burn it off faster than I can drink it.” He illustrated by taking another pull of the bottle and blowing a long plume of blue flame past his lips like a blowtorch.

“I can only guess that it was his Alchemist friends who made the brew, because it took me faster than any drink ever has, and before I knew it I was on my arse.”

“It can’t have been long but when I came to, I was in the lamentable state you see before you here,” he rattled his chain idly, “and in front of me are all the fucking Alchemists all lined up neat in a row.”
“It was Knox and Crocker of the White, Philip, and Elizabeth of the Gold, and Elanor of the Red, all with smiles on their mugs, wide as you please. Standing with them, the traitor Cordova, coughing into his new silk monogrammed snottinger like he was born to it.”

“They tell me the chain on my leg is their own foul work, planned in advance, and that heat will only make the metal stronger. It’s a pretty cage they’ve made for me and they know it. Since we used the last guest key to get in, and since by that point Necromancers were as rare as a sincere fart in church, they figure I’m good and fucked. To tell the truth, they weren’t wrong. Still though, I’ve got my crew, and a finer bunch you’ve never seen, or will again. If there’s a way to spring me, they’ll find it sharpish.”

“Now, as they joined my little club, I gave each new member of the crew a golden ring, a badge that that says here’s a stout lad or lass, worthy of trust and respect. That's when the Alchemists start pulling out the rings and tossing them to the ground in front of me. Seventeen in all, and the smell of blood still thick upon ‘em.”

“I’ll admit that at that moment I felt lower than a snake’s belly in a waggon rut. Chained with little hope of escape, my crew murdered, and in my enemy’s power. Still, they were ascared of doing me in right then, me being a Great Fire, and them not wanting to insult the others. So they took the craven’s route, they left me to burn out.”

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Chapter 30, Part two: A measure of Brandy.

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

“I can’t believe you’re letting them see this,” the crow complained.

“Spooky? What do you mean spooky?” asked one of the waitresses, an Asian woman with a black apron tied around her waist and a neat ponytail.

Stirling walked to the door and gripped its tarnished brass knob, it had the mellow feel of real tarnished metal and felt solid in his hand. “Spooky like this,” he said, turning the knob. At the click of the latch, the door pulled open as though yanked from the other side. Air rushed into the room on the other side, taking with it a number of unsecured cloth napkins from a nearby rack. It was like whatever was behind the door was taking in a breath after being trapped underwater.

As the door swung in, it continued all the way around and slammed against the unseen wall on the other side with a tremendous crash. Behind him, Stirling heard the sound of several feet thundering back up the stairs to the restaurant.

“Eighty years?” Stirling asked.

“Eighty years.”

The open doorway revealed a patch of dark polished hardwood floor, lit only by the overhead light in the basement. Beyond crouched only blackness.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream,” he said.

When he didn’t get a reply he looked over at the crow. “That’s Shirley Jackson, you know.”

Stirling approached the entrance, his heart still beating fast. He was pulling out his smartphone to use the flashlight app when an old-style sconce on the wall lit with a warm yellow light that flooded the room beyond the doorway.

The light revealed an entrance with what appeared to be a coat check and a wide carpeted staircase that curved up and to the right. The head of what could only be described as a carnivorous moose was mounted on the wood panelled wall opposite and snarled down at him. Well, that wasn’t going to be any help in lowering his heart rate at all.

Under the mounted head was an engraved plaque with the words, “Alces Alces Infernalis.” Even more creepy than the snarling head, was the fact that someone had taken the time to taxidermy the front legs and had them mounted underneath its head. The result was that it made it look as though the creature was in the process of leaping through the wall. Here was a random act of fuckery nearly a century old that Stirling would have been proud of producing himself.

Magnon sprung off his shoulder and flapped up to the first landing and out of sight. Stirling followed, his boots sinking into a thick Persian area rug as he stepped across the threshold and into the room. He looked back to see the stunned look of the remaining staff staring at him from the basement.
“Be right back, I should check this out.” He swung the door closed on the restaurant staff and followed Magnon up the stairs and into a large open space.

On entering the room, Stirling felt like an archaeologist opening the door of King Tut’s tomb—if the tomb had all the decor and opulence of a turn of the nineteenth-century club decorated by Alistair Crowley.

It was a long room with tables and comfortable chairs set far apart for privacy. Lining the sides of the room was a series of alcoves with an assortment of tables, chairs, and couches. Each was separated by carved wooden screens of slowly shifting whorls and shapes that looked like a one night stand between a fractal and a Celtic knot.

Around the top perimeter of the walls, paintings depicted a ring of people, living and dead, men, women, and children, dancing together and holding hands.

Everywhere were esoteric items that were clearly magical. A trio of finches fluttered up from the floor to land on a light sconce. Where their breasts would be on a regular finch though, there were tiny golden cages, each imprisoning a wisp of bright scarlet flame. Next to him, an engraved brass basin of water silently reflected the earth, from what Stirling took to be the surface of the moon.
The room tickled Stirling’s memory, and it took him a second to realize that The Skeleton Club reminded him a lot of Strangefellows. In a sudden burst of insight, he realized that it was the reverse that was true. The Skeleton Club didn’t remind him of Strangefellows, Strangefellows reminded him of the Skeleton Club. In that instant, he’d have bet his good right testicle that it was Strangefellows that had borrowed from this place in an attempt to echo the atmosphere and not the other way around.

“So, I’ll be safe here?” Stirling asked Magnon, who had been eyeing the finches critically from the back of a high-backed chair.

“Safe? No, but here it will be impossible for anyone to locate you magically. It doesn’t mean they won’t figure it out eventually though. You’ll need to find a way to make them stop trying to hunt you.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

“I couldn’t help but overhear part of your conversation,” a roughened male voice said distantly from one of the far shadowed niches, “and I think we might just be able to give one and other a helping hand.”

Magnon let out a caw and flapped to perch on an overhead chandelier.

A man, six feet tall and change, rose from his seat at the far edge of the room which had been facing away from them. He groaned and put a hand to the small of his back and rotated his neck with an audible crackle. When he finally turned to look at Stirling, there were traceries of orange ember flaring across fissures in his exposed and partly blackened skin. His beard was in a state of constant low burn, orange filaments of hair glowing briefly to be consumed, but never flaring up. As Stirling watched, the glowing orange crawled through the capillaries his eyes and across his forehead.
His clothing looked like it had come from the rough side of the early nineteen hundreds. He wore a brown bowler hat and vest with a pair of baggy pants held up with suspenders and scuffed leather boots. A cloud of grey smoke that drifted lazily away from him, disappearing as it left his immediate presence.

He began slowly walking toward Stirling, working the kinks out of his arms and legs as he came. There was a clinking sound on every right step and Stirling saw a blackened manacle with a heavy silver chain attached to his ankle. The chain disappeared into the shadowed corner where he’d been sitting.

“Finally, a genuine member in good standing of the Skeleton Club,” he said with a grin, doffing his bowler with a puff of smoke. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you at last.” His way of speaking reminded Stirling a bit of the pirates from those Johnny Depp movies; here was a man that liked to dwell on the Rs as he spoke them.

The chain around his ankle pulled him up before he was ten feet away, and he looked down to give it a sour look.

“If you could do me a favour and pass over one of them bottles, I’d be in your debt.”

Stirling noticed for the first time that the tables in this part of the room had been set up in a ring. On each of the tables was a bottle containing a different kind of alcohol, and all of them were about ten feet out of reach of the chained man. Now that he was aware of it, he could see the wear line in the floor that marked the length of the chain. Kudos to whoever had chained him here for that inventively petty act of assholery.

Stirling took the closest bottle and handed it over. It was an unopened bottle of rum with a label he didn’t recognize. In a little under five seconds the man had the lead foil seal off and the bottle uncorked. He took a long pull with his eyes closed and sighed out a long streamer of blue flame in contentment. 

 “Candlewax is my name.” He said at last, shifting the bottle and holding out his hand for Stirling to shake.

Stirling grinned back and went to shake his hand, and he would have, if not for Magnon dropping down suddenly from the ceiling and flapping and cawing in his face. He flapped his own hands above his head to ward off the crow and took a wing to the mouth.

“Gah! What?!” he asked, spitting out a feather.

“Don’t! He’s dangerous.”

“Well duh, look at him, he’s on fire and he’s all chained up. The only thing he’s missing from the outfit is a pitchfork and horns. If he had a handlebar moustache, he’d be fucking twirling it. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be polite.” Stirling tossed his jacket over the back of a nearby chair. “Sorry, don’t mean to be rude, trouble with the staff.”

“Not to worry. Good help and all that.”

“Stirling!” the crow protested. “He’s one of the Great Fires!”

This brought Stirling up short. “You say that like it should mean something to me.”

“Stirling, is it?! A fine how do you do then, young Master Stirling.” said Candlewax. He turned to Magnon, and very clearly, Stirling heard Candlewax’s voice inside his head.

“Ah, but you’re right of course, my fine, feathery, chum. I am dangerous, and indeed I am one of the Great Fires, well spotted there.” The embers under Candlewax’s skin began to glow more brightly like a blast furnace was beginning to spool up in his rectum. Waves of heat began to shed from his body. Even from where he stood a good two meters away, Stirling still needed to take a step back from the heat. “But all that amounts to less than a fart in a tempest whilst I’m stuck in this fucking place!!” he thundered, rattling his chain.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Chapter 30, Part One: A measure of Brandy.

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

The familiar form of Magnon alighted on the bare branches of a nearby tree and cawed loudly at him.
“You have to be fucking with me!” he told the crow, drawing looks from several passers-by.

“Get away from that alley. Honestly, the one place I tell you to stay away from is the one place I find you.”

“No shit! what was that?”

“I don’t know her real name, but everyone calls her Lucy Cobbles. Blood Alley is hers. You should avoid her.”

“That’s a fucking understatement. Where were you?”

“I was scouting.”

Sensing that he’d get nowhere with it, Stirling chose to drop that line of questioning for the moment and motioned to the restaurant. “And, this is the place where we’ll be safe?”

“Welcome to the Skeleton Club.”

“The Skeleton Club,” he said flatly. “It says L’Abattoir, it’s a restaurant.”

“And Strangefellows says A&M Transmission on the outside. Don’t believe everything you read.”

“Isn’t it all a bit on the nose? L’Abattoir? Blood Alley? It won’t take a genius to figure out that there’s a bit of a deathy vibe going on here.” He said, beginning to walk toward the front door of the restaurant.

“Sure, the Guild knows where The Skeleton Club used to be."

“So why are we here then?”

“Two reasons. They don’t know it’s still here, and even if they did realize it’s still around, there’s no expectation that you could know about it. They have no idea I’m still around.”

“Alright, if it’s like Strangefellows, how do I get in?”

“Go inside and ask the bartender for a measure of strong brandy, then tell them you’ll pay on the way back.”

“Will I?”

“Will you what?”

“Pay on the way back.”

“That’s up to you. The brandy isn’t important.”

“Says you.”

“It’s a pass-phrase, it’s also what the condemned asked for before their trip up the scaffold steps to see the hangman. Incidentally, back in my day, the gallows was just a few hundred feet from here.”

“That’s a bit macabre.”

“You talk to ghosts, macabre is hand in hand with the job,” the crow reminded him.

“And smart-assed crows, apparently. Hold on a second though,” He stopped on the sidewalk outside the eatery. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m the first necromancer in a while, yes?”

“Yes, eighty years, give or take.”

“Then why, in the name of Angelina Jolie’s pouting, yet supple lips, would the barkeep know about the password. It’s been the better part of a century since it was used.”

“They might not,” the crow conceded, “but there’s a chance they might. When this place was first built, it was written into the building’s deed that all future employees were to know about the password, sign a contract explaining what to do should it be used, and swear to keep it secret. It was to be passed on from owner to owner as a condition of the sale. Can we go in now?”

“Let’s do it. The absolute worst thing that could happen is that I get a glass of brandy.”

Magnon hopped onto his shoulder and Stirling opened the glass door.

“Or they could kick you out for looking like a transient who French kissed a vacuum.”

“They’re mostly back to normal now,” Stirling said, touching his only slightly swollen lips.

Warm air smelling like the best kind of coffee, sausages, and pancakes wafted over his face, and Stirling was reminded it had been a long while since he’d eaten anything more substantial than a hot dog. The warmth was at odds with the arcane coldness he could feel getting stronger as he made his way deeper into the building.

He crossed the black and white tiled floor to stand at the bar made of a blond wood. Behind the bar, there was a truly exceptional assortment of bottles, and Stirling decided, Skeleton Club, or no, that he would have to come back and check it out what it had to offer in his free time.

The bartender did a double take when he saw Stirling, whether it was from his slept-in clothes, his swollen, yet kissable lips, or from the crow that rode on his shoulder, Stirling couldn’t decide.
The barkeep approached briskly, wiping his hands on a white hand towel, he was a man in his mid-thirties with a trimmed beard and wearing a red plaid shirt. “Out, no birds allowed,” said the bartender, waving a finger at Magnon.

Magnon lifted a wing as though seeing it for the first time, and rocked back on his talons in a pantomime of being surprised.

The man blinked at the bird. Magnon blinked back.

Ignoring the interplay between barkeep and crow, Stirling took a seat at one of the stools and looked directly at him. He hoped this worked, he really wanted that glass of brandy.

“I need a measure of strong brandy,” he told the man, “I’ll pay on the way back.”

That stopped the bartender dead. His eyebrows went up, and Stirling knew he was in luck at last.
“Say that again?”

Stirling did.

“Right,” said the bartender pausing for a few long beats, looking stunned now. “Um, yeah. Follow me.”

“I’d also like a brandy.”


“A brandy, it has been one shit show of a few days.”

“So just to clarify, you want a brandy.”

“And the other thing as well,” Stirling confirmed.

The bartender looked uncertain.

“Look, let’s start this again.” He held out his hand. “I’m Stirling.”

“Brian,” the bartender approached and they shook.

“Brian, I’d like a measure of strong brandy, I’ll pay on my way back. If you know what I mean.” He gave him an exaggerated wink. “I’d also like a glass brandy because in the last two days I’ve been robbed, had part of my house burned down, been framed for murder, and nearly kidnapped.”
“Uh, which one first?”

“Robbed, I guess.”

“No, the brandy first, or…” Brian trailed off here.

“The real brandy, then we can deal with the other thing,” said Stirling.

Brian went to the wall of bottles and scanned what was there, Magnon and health code violations now apparently forgotten. “Do you have a favourite?” he asked, looking at the wall of bottles in front of him and dry washing his hands.

Stirling could tell that Brian was just itching to begin geeking out about how long this one had been in the cask, and where the fruit from that came from. He was going to have to crush his feelings.
“Right now, it’s whatever you’ve got that’s strongest, Brian.”


There was still a pleasant heat swirling in Stirling’s belly as he followed Brian around tables filled with people enjoying a late brunch, and to the rear of the kitchen to where a trap door with a black iron ring set into the wooden floor waited.

While he’d been drinking his brandy at the bar with Magnon, Brian had quietly left and spread word to the rest of the staff. Apparently, the password and the instructions on the deed had fallen into the realm of staff legend. When Brian announced his intention to go and speak with the staff of the Irish Heather, a pub across the road, which had until a few years ago occupied the space L’Abittoir did now, Stirling put his foot down. He let it be known that it was a secret that could get them into some serious trouble. While he spoke, he let a whiff of arcane BO seep out, hoping a bit of fear dampen Brian’s enthusiasm.

Whatever he was going to find, he didn’t think he’d be able to keep it secret from the staff here, but with the Alchemy Guild, and who knew how many others looking for him, the fewer people who knew, the better.

Stirling was lead down a set of worn wooden stairs to a basement supported with massive wooden beams the size and thickness of which he’d only seen on old wooden sailing ships. Following them were as many of the staff as could get away from the business of looking after the customers, watched and followed.

Brian clicked on a dusty overhead lamp to reveal a space filled with steel racks stacked with boxes of spare cutlery, mixing bowls, and all the other things a busy restaurant might need in a pinch. None of that was what caught Stirling’s attention though, because in the very centre of the room, in a space miraculously free of storage boxes or spare industrial-sized mixers, was an upright wooden door.
It stood on its own, a black-stained oak door with grinning skeletons carved in relief on its upper panels. Stirling knew as soon as he saw it, that it was one of those things that he could see and that the others could not. It exuded the kind of arcane vibe that he’d felt around ghosts, his hunting decoys, and up until recently, the gun safe in his workshop.

Brian looked at him expectantly. “It’s treasure, right? There’s treasure buried in here.”

“No treasure guys, but I’ll give you fair warning, if you need to pee, go to the bathroom now, this is going to get spooky.” Nobody moved.

“It’s your drycleaning bill.” He walked the last few feet to stand in front of the door.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Chapter 29, Part 2: Gastown and Other Oddities.

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

The train let off under Waterfront Station, a neoclassical building built a century before, with high ionic columns and the kind of interior space that was unthinkable to modern architects. Sure, it looked nice on the postcards, but what kind of financial return could be expected on the surplus space the open air room occupied? It was a relic of a time when architecture uplifted, and Stirling felt a phantom nostalgia for a time he’d never known.

As he made his way through the building, Magnon let him know that their destination was a brick building at 217 Carrall in Gastown. Since it wasn’t raining, and because he was getting sick of the moistened confines of public transit, Stirling decided to walk the rest of the way. A bit of fresh air would help burn off some nervous energy.

The street outside was busy with people coming and going. It was the last shopping weekend before Christmas, and there was a hint of desperation on the faces of the crowd as they went out in search of those last few presents.

Magnon eyed the clear sky and informed Stirling that he would be going off to scout out the area and maybe see if he could find something is to eat.

“What’s at 217 Carroll?”

A high-end restaurant."

“I’m not dressed for fine dining,” he said indicating to his slept-in clothes.

Don’t worry, you won’t be a customer. Wait for me out front, and don’t go into the alley next to the building.


You wouldn’t like it.

“There are lots of things I don’t like. Why is this different?”

I shouldn’t be long,” said the crow, deigning not to answer. “There’s usually something to eat around here.

Before Stirling had time to ask more, the crow launched himself off of his shoulder and was out of mental shouting range in seconds.

Stirling was hungry as well but passed by the many food trucks that commonly stopped outside the station in favour of a sausage from a well-bundled street vendor manning a barbecue along the way. He planned to let the crow know that he’d missed out on his very own hot dog in revenge for ditching him.

The buildings Stirling passed were mostly late nineteenth-century red-brick affairs, built after a brush fire with delusions of grandeur became The Great Fire of Vancouver. The blaze destroyed most of the city and killed an unknown number of people, records at the time not being scrupulously kept.
Stirling crossed Richards Street and arrived in the strange six block chunk of waterfront that was known as Gastown. Back when Vancouver was mostly still forest, Gastown sprung into existence for the simple reason that it was the one and only place in all of Vancouver Harbour where you could find a drink.

The Globe Saloon was erected in the middle of the mosquito-infested swamp by Gassy Jack Deighton, a Yorkshireman turned steamboat captain with an eye for making money. Gassy Jack had a deep and abiding love for the sound of his own voice, which is where the “Gassy” in “Gassy Jack,” and the “Gas” in Gastown came from.

Despite the absolute shit location, the promise of whiskey soon drew in sailors, mill workers, prostitutes, loggers, vagrants, and criminals. Alcohol was the boozy little seed that sprouted Gastown from a swampy patch of forest infested with mosquitoes and skunk cabbage in the eighteen-sixties, to the bustling centre of the arts, tourism, poverty, and drug addiction it was today.

Stirling stopped outside of a two-story brick building that looked like an old converted fire hall. He didn’t need to look at the address in the window to know when he’d arrived. A cold feeling that wasn’t just physical permeated the whole block, but its source was inside the building to his right.
The cold was similar to what he felt when he sensed his own power, and he’d noticed it here before. He hadn’t investigated because his own power was to a cold shower what this was to a bidet of pure liquid nitrogen blasting directly at his arcane nethers. Whatever was inside there was bigger, stronger, and could kick his eldritch ass. He was curious about his power, not suicidal.

Number 217 was one of three addresses that shared the same building and Stirling had to double check just to make sure he hadn’t misread the name on a plaque on the corner of the building. He hadn’t, it was right there on a black and white plaque attached to the brick at the alley mouth, “Blood Alley.” The real icing on this very disturbing cake was revealed when he checked the name of the business at 217. It turned out to be an upscale restaurant with a blue neon sign above the door reading, L’Abattoir.

“That’s not in the least bit perfectly fucking ominous,” he said to the window.

Since he wasn’t sure when Magnon would arrive, he decided to walk the street outside the restaurant, mapping out the perimeter of the cold feeling. He discovered that it faded quickly as he passed the north edge of the building, but was strongest at the mouth of Blood Alley. The alley Magnon had warned him not to go into.

A homeless woman further down the alley dressed in layers of old winter clothing, and whose dental state only barely qualified her as a potential mate, called out, “Change for coffee!” to a couple walking past.

He looked into the alley, it didn’t look sinister. After being confined by two brick buildings at the mouth, the alley opened up into a wide open rectangle shape with old granite cobbles. The sun was shining brightly and if Stirling hadn’t been experiencing a full-frontal blast of spooky death energy, it would have seemed like an alright place. Look, there were lamp posts, and even a few trees planted in there. They didn’t look dangerous or creepy. No place could be completely bad with trees and lamp posts.

“Change for coffee!” the homeless woman cried again, this time to the empty alley in general.
He took a step into the mouth of the alley. The ground ahead was a patchwork of torn up red cobbles patched with asphalt. He took another step. The cold he’d been feeling began to hum inside. The cracks between the cobblestones began to darken, a black mist welling up from underneath. Sounds became quiet, the light dimmed, and Stirling pulled back the booted foot he was about to place on the first of the cobblestones.

He looked around, a constant trickle of people walked back and forth along the sidewalk. He was far enough into the alley that he didn’t think anyone would bother him. He bent his knees to look at the ground in front of him, careful not to get too close to the cobblestones. The cracks between the tightly fit stones were darker than the black at the end of time.

“Change for coffee!” He flinched at the nearness of the voice and nearly fell forward. The rag-bundled woman had shuffled over to see what he was doing. Her face was red from the cold and had a look of permanent concern on it.

“Do you see that?” he asked her pointing to the black mist that moved in the cracks.

She looked at him and said, “Change for coffee?!”

He had no change, but in a moment of inspiration pulled out a Starbucks card from inside his wallet. It still had a good five dollars still on it.

He showed it to her and her eyes lit up. “Do you see that?” he asked her again, pointing at the street.
She looked and shrugged. He sighed, stood up and moved a few paces away, holding out the card for her. Whether she could see the black mist welling up from the cracks he didn’t know, but she moved toward him in a way that made her have to step around the affected area. Her path to him wasn’t in a straight line.

He grinned at her. "Thanks."  She took the card out of his hand and shuffled away to the corner of the alley.

He felt deep into his jacket pocket and came out with what had once been an orange tic-tac, but was now the same colour as the teeth of a heavy smoker. He tossed it onto the cobblestones aiming for one of the darkened cracks. He missed. It bounced and landed in the middle of one of the brick-red stones. Shit.

He was exploring his pocket for something else to toss when a slender hand worked its way up from between the cracks in the cobbles. It was a woman’s hand, pale with slate blue nails. They were the hands of a drowned person.

The hand groped around on the stones like a spider until it discovered the fuzzy treat, gripped it between thumb and forefinger, and disappeared back under the street.

Stirling straightened and backpedaled at the same time, nearly taking out a family of American tourists in the process.

“Change for coffee!” the vagrant screeched again, shuffling away from him down the street. Stirling thought it sounded like she was laughing at him.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Chapter 29, Part 1: Gastown and other Oddities

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

Breaking every stereotype of Vancouver in winter, morning sunlight elbowed it’s way through the streaked bus window to fall with irritating cheeriness onto his face. His phone was buzzing in his pocket and the 90s country hit, Achy Breaky Heart was blasting through his earbuds. He ranked his enjoyment of that song in the same neighbourhood as testicular cancer, but it was guaranteed to reliably wake him—if for no other reason than to make it stop.

From looking out the window, he guessed he was somewhere in Vancouver. “Wher’r we?” he mumbled to Magnon, who was sitting on one thigh.

On a fucking bus, remember?”

He began to remember his partially-hypothermic rationale of the night before. It has something to do with his notion that it was harder to hit a moving target. He’d given a bus driver a fifty to ignore the crow and let him stay on and sleep in a seat above the heater.

He stretched and yawned. “What’s wrong with you? Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays.”

I’m on a fucking bus,” the crow repeated.


And, we crows aren’t known for squeamishness, roadkill is part of a balanced breakfast where I’m from, but I’ve eaten the ass out of dead cat that smelled better than some of these people.”

“They’re not that bad,” Stirling demurred, looking around at the other passengers. “As long as your shots are up to date you’ll probably be just fine.”

Some of his fellow passengers were beginning to cast furtive glances at him. He adjusted his earbud and grinned at them in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.“So, where are we?”

Almost back where we started. Your cunning plan to ride the bus for five hours has had us looping through Richmond all morning.

“Exactly where they’d never expect to look,” Stirling agreed, sitting up in his seat. His neck was stiff, his head was throbbing, and he badly wanted a shower.

You're no Sun Tzu.

“I’m a results-based kind of guy. I got some sleep and I’m alive. That’s a check in the ‘wins’ column in my book.”

It was another ten minuted until the bus loop came into sight and he shuffled off the bus.

“I thank you for your hospitality,” he said throatily to the bus driver, “I’ll definitely be leaving a glowing review on Yelp.” He spun on his heel and skipped out the door. Magnon had to grip on tight to hold onto his perch.

You can’t help it, can you?” asked Magnon.


Fucking with people.”

“Oh, it’s not so bad. They know I’m just a lovable scamp.”

Stirling began slogging in the direction of the stairs to the train platform above. Magnon leapt from his shoulder to fly a distance ahead of him.

A ghost, barely visible in the bright sunlight on the median, began to scream obscenities at him. Stirling slowed to listen to the ranting with a critical ear. She wasn’t bad. She was using creativity and imagination with her insults rather than the just the usual permutations of the word “fuck.” As he approached, she retreated into a concrete pillar.

“Eight points,” Stirling called to the cement column. “Full marks for creativity and the excellent use of consonance in the words, ‘penis pustules.’ You lost points on the delivery though. Next time enunciate, and work on your projection. Remember we project from the diaphragm.” He clasped his hands below his rib cage to demonstrate. This brought a fresh volley of abuse from the ghost.

“You’ll never insult people at Carnegie Hall with that kind of attitude,” he called back to her.

I’d have given her 9,” said Magnon, swooping back in.

“Oh right, you can see the drifting idiots too. Why don’t you go and move her along to the spirit world, or whatever it is you crows do?”

We usually don’t bother with them unless they make a nuisance of themselves. Ghosts are just fragments of soul that sometimes get broken off at death. Soul shrapnel. That’s why talking with them is so frustrating, there’s not enough there to have much of a conversation with. They usually just dissipate by themselves after a couple years.

“You’ve been hanging around in my backyard eating my peanuts for five years, and not once you thought about letting me in on stuff like this?”

I couldn’t talk to you until you knew you were a Necromancer. I was just hanging around on the off-chance you realized it on your own.”

“That’s dumb. I honestly feel more stupid from just hearing that reason.”

That’s the way it is. Know thyself, and know the gods.

Stirling stopped on the sidewalk, held out his arms to the sky and flung back his head. “I’m absolutely convinced that I’m Bill Gates,” he yelled to the clear sky. After a beat, he opened an eye and looked around.

“Didn’t work.”

That’s because you’re a necromancer, not a billionaire computer geek.

“Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, you know.”

Why Bill Gates?

“The guy is richer than God, and he’s married to that sex bomb, Melinda. All being a necromancer ever got me is no sex, no friends, and a rampant case of high-functioning sociopathy.”

Stirling started moving again. “So do those other crows you hang with have the same job as you?”

Magnon didn’t get back to him for a few seconds and when he did, there was a tinge of embarrassment to his thoughts. “No, I guess you’d call them intimate acquaintances.

“Crow groupies! Good for you, man. At least someone at my address was getting some action.” He sent the crow a mental high-five. He was new to the mental communication thing, but he was pretty sure that the crow left him hanging.

“So you’ve been in this business for a while?”

A very long time.” With the words came the impression of the ocean of time the crow had sailed upon. He felt old sadness as friends and colleagues grew old and passed on as Magnon continued to exist.

“Wow, so are all crows all so ball-saggingly old, or is it just you?”

There are twelve others like me.

“Thirteen crows,” Stirling mused, “now that sounds seriously metal. I believe I’ve just found my new band name.”

You don’t play an instrument.”

“I didn’t have a name like Thirteen Crows before either. Now, because of you, I want to learn to play drums.”

Stirling tapped his transfer on the card reader and made his way through the gate and up an escalator to track level. Magnon landed on the railing behind him.

Stirling looked around at the people around him. “I seriously need to get my car, if I keep using the public transit I’m going to start wearing hemp and grow my hair out.” This got him a dirty look from a skinny guy with a beard and ponytail carrying an acoustic guitar in a nylon case.
“I wasn’t talking to you. Eyes front, Sea Shepherd.”

Stirling took his phone from his pocket. It was a quarter after ten. He boarded the next train north, garnering some curious looks, many of them from the female passengers. He wasn’t self-deluded enough to think that the new attention was anything but an interest in Magnon, who was again riding his shoulder, but he’d take what little female attention he could get. Granted, you typically didn’t go looking for hook-ups on public transit unless you were into dreadlocks and alternate forms of deodorant, but after a decade of near-celibacy, Stirling wasn’t picky. His list of requirements in a potential relationship had shrunk over the years to now requiring applicants to only be nominally female, and have at minimum a single working tooth in case he wanted to take her out for dinner. Everything else was negotiable.

Chapter 28: The Fog Came on...

In a darkened alley of South Vancouver, a yellow car jerked drunkenly to a halt on top of something soft, wet, and unpleasant. In the last two hours, nearly every panel of the car had been dented or scratched and one headlight was smashed and dark.

On a nearby dumpster a large, striped grey tabby observed the car with eyes that flashed green in the light cast by the car’s one remaining headlight. There was a long moment when nothing happened then the passenger door clicked and was pushed open from the inside. It swung just wide enough to admit the cat who slunk down the side of the dumpster like striped mercury and disappeared into the heated interior of the car.

The door closed and the engine revved before the car clunked into reverse and wove its way out of the alley, knocking over a stack of wooden loading pallets as it did. The car braked hard, the horn honked, and the engine revved again before it lurched back onto the main road and disappeared into the pre-dawn darkness.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Chapter 27, Part 3: Killer 'Splosion Drones.

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

“So, that was scary,” said Dimitri. He lifted a hand to wipe his brow and looked in surprise as it trembled. Sam could feel his own body shaking in reaction to the adrenalin.

“The really scary thing is that unless I can think of an alternative, we may need to end up killing them all, innocent or not,” said Aleph.

Sam felt his throat go dry.

Aleph reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a smartphone. She fiddled with the screen and pressed it to her ear. After a few seconds, she pulled it away and looked at the screen.

“Are either of you getting any service?”

“Sam looked down at his phone, the words “no service” were now displayed in place of the reception bars. Dimitri shook his head.

“Since when is Senak the land of no bars? There isn’t even any wifi,” said Dimitri.

Aleph glanced back into the square and swore.

“I want you two keeping your eyes open. If you even think someone is acting suspicious, call it out.”
She began to lope across the cobblestones and quickly passed the row of short cast iron posts that separated the square from the avenue that ran along its perimeter.

Parked next to the posts were a conga-line of cabs that Aleph completely ignored. When Sam asked her about it, her troubling response was that red lights made it too easy for assassins.

Like the rest of Asphodel, Senak was a dark city. There was no sun, no stars or moon, and no real weather aside from an occasional breeze. Temperature didn’t really work here either, and anyone who tried to measure it with a thermometer would get a random number between absolute zero and one hundred and forty-two decillion kelvin. Despite this quirk, the atmosphere felt universally comfortable to all that visited, regardless of species. It was never too hot or cold, it just was.

All around, monumental architecture soared into the darkened sky like the finest cathedrals of the Old World juiced-up on construction methods that Sam thought had to be magical.

 In the absence of daylight, the original builders incorporated lights into the structures themselves illuminating them to best advantage. Colour, light, and shadow were expertly applied to give their creations depth and form. It was a unique aspect of cities of Asphodel, and the result gave Senak a glowing, multicoloured, otherworldly, aspect.

After growing up in Dublin before moving to Vancouver, not to mention visiting places like London, New York, and Winnipeg, Sam liked to think of himself as at least partially street-savvy and urban. Every time he came to Senak though, he felt like the Country Mouse’s mule-kicked brother the redneck side of the family didn’t like to talk about. It was an effort not to continually crane his head to look at the sights as they slipped by.

Once on the street, the crowds became more compressed and they had to weave their way past beings that Sam had only the most passing familiarity with. There was something that looked like an oblong mound of dough that had spontaneously sprouted tentacles. It was sitting on a bench playing Candy Crush on a tablet. Perched on her? his? its? head was a Christmas tree patterned crocheted hat. Its stubby pseudopods waved idly over the edge of the bench while it swiped at the screen with another.

Dimitri nudged Sam in the ribs as they passed. “There’s a honey for you. Go get her number.”
Sam shook his head in exasperation and sighed.

“What? Got something against BBTs?”

“BBTs?” Sam asked.

“Big, Beautiful, Things,” Dimitri explained, continuing his acronym spree.

“That’s not even a real thing. Besides, I don’t date girls with pseudopods,” said Sam.

“Your loss. Those are the best kind of pods.”

 A goblin-looking something that appeared to have had sprung whole from the head of Jim Henson, marched past at waist level. It looked harried and irritable in a modern silk business suit.

For some reason, the thing that really threw Sam in all the strangeness wasn't the strange creatures or alien architecture, it was the Christmas decorations. Golden bells, red bows, oversized candles, and pine boughs decorated the street lamps. Twinkling lights and painted pipe-smoking snowmen stared out of aerosol snow-bedecked storefronts in all their kitschy holiday splendor. The whole scene was like seeing hot red lipstick, mascara, and stiletto heels on a Bull Mastiff. In their own element, the shoes and lipstick were just fine, on the dog, they were more than a little unnerving.

Dimitri smacked the back of Sam’s head making his hair poof out. “Stop staring.”

“Not staring,” he said a bit too quickly.

Aleph trotted up a side street to a popular coffee house that went by the name Da Vinci’s and paused outside once again poking at the screen of her smart phone. Sam could hear a jazzed up Christmas carol flood onto the street as a collection of spindly crab-like conveyances made from brass and copper scuttled out of the door of the cafe. Each of them had an illuminated glass sphere nestled into their backs where a jellyfish-like Hydrozoan was piloting the construct. The largest had a red Santa hat perched on top of its glass dome at a jaunty angle.

Aleph swore at her phone, and Sam wasn’t positive, but he thought he caught sight of a wisp of blue smoke rising from it as she put it away.

“What’s up?” asked Dimitri, failing to take much notice of the family of Hydrozoans.

“There’s no service, I can’t even get onto the web with Da Vinci’s wifi.”


“So, I need to make a call,” she explained slowly.

Dimitri raised his eyebrows at her. “Helloo-o? Technomancer here.” He reached into his pocket, unlocked his phone, and tossed it to her.

“You said you didn’t have any service.”

Dimitri scoffed. “I don’t. Service is for chumps who aren’t Technomancers.”

Aleph glared at him. “We’re going to speak about this later.” She dialled a number and turned away from the two of them to have her conversation.

“Do you ever get the feeling that she doesn’t like sharing information?” asked Dimitri.

Sam looked at Aleph’s back and nodded. “She does keep things close to the vest.”

Sam glanced around at the crowds going past. Even at this early hour people were out looking for last minute Christmas presents.

In the last century, Christmas had spread across the Aether like oral herpes at a kissing booth, infecting world after world with its peppermint-scented contagion. Since Asphodel was the only realm accessible from every other part of the Aether, it took the brunt of the holiday madness.

Members of the arcane community jonesing for their yuletide fix of deferred credit consumerism would descend from every known place in the Aether into the cities of Asphodel, the reward centres of their brains alight like a lab monkey with a banana of solid crack. It would only be in the post-season January doldrums that the financial and neurological hangover would arrive with the bills.

 The sheer commercialism of the holiday with all of its many attendant financial perks had accomplished what nothing else before it had had. It brought together beings, irrespective of background, beliefs, or species from all across the Aether for the single purpose of fleecing holiday shoppers for all they were worth.

It was from one such crowd of these shoppers that Sam noticed three people split off and begin moving purposefully toward them. As best he could tell, each was human, though one was markedly broader than the others with a more pronounced brow ridge. Sam tugged on Dimitri’s coat to get his attention. “KSDs!” he hissed.

Dimitri flinched when he noticed them and tapped Aleph on her shoulder. She looked around, still continuing her conversation and sighed.

“I need to go,” she said into the phone while eyeing on the approaching trio carefully. “Tell the main gate to look for me. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She ended the call and tossed the phone back to Dimitri who nearly fumbled it before putting it back in his pocket.

“These three are probably the distraction,” Aleph said to them. Keep an eye open for the sucker punch.”

“Hey, Knox, not sure if you can hear me in there,” she said, walking briskly toward the three. “But just because I’m a bit conflicted about hurting the innocent, doesn’t mean I won’t kick your drone’s asses so hard they’ll need to part their hair to take a shit.”

Dimitri chuckled nervously as he looked around for threats.

“Not this again,” Sam groaned, beginning to summon Gobshite to his hand. He pulled back the sleeve of his jacket as heat waves began to ripple away from his palm.

Around them, the crowd, sensing trouble, began to pull back from the action.

The first two drones, a man and a woman dressed for a night out on the town, crowded in close. In their eagerness to attack, they blocked the final drone’s path to Aleph. Aleph kept her promise in realigning asses with a snap kick at closest of the drones, connecting right between her legs.

Sam could actually feel the thump of impact as it travelled from the foot buried between the drone’s thighs, down Aleph’s leg and into the cobblestoned ground. The drone’s expression shifted from blank, to what Sam could best describe as, “straining pug.” She took flight from the force of the kick, describing a nearly vertical line, launching a good five feet into the air before falling into a jelly-kneed heap on the street.

No man who had ever suffered a blow to the crotch could see a kick like that and not feel a twinge of sympathetic pain. A kick to the nethers, even one directed at a woman, activated a primitive part of the male hind-brain that didn’t differentiate between sex, race, or culture. There is a universal solidarity among all men when witnessing a hit like that and both Sam and Dimitri involuntarily clenched their thighs and groaned. Theirs was not the only groan as other men in the crowd joined the chorus.

Alerted by the sound, Alpeh risked a glance back at them and called out, “Stop watching me and keep a look out!”

Sam looked around guiltily. There didn’t seem to be anyone twirling a handlebar moustache in his vicinity and his eyes were irresistably drawn back to the fight.

While the crotch-shot had been impressive, the kick had given the drone’s partner time to close on Aleph. He got off a quick kick of his own, attempting to kneecap her. Aleph turned her leg in time to absorb the blow and caught an arm that had been swinging a haymaker at her head. She continued the momentum of the strike and began to swing the drone around, lifting him off the ground with the centrifugal force.

If Aleph’s strength hadn’t been obvious before, it was on full display now. She swung him in a full 180 degree arc and brought his dress-shoe-clad feet into contact with the final KSD’s face. It struck with terrific force, smashing him to the ground. The shoe went spinning off, but Aleph wasn’t finished. She continued to rotate faster and faster, the rush of disturbed air from the drone’s passage becoming audible as the speed increased. The crowd, including Sam and Dimitri, instinctively ducked below the level of the swinging drone’s legs. Sam was sure he heard the pop of a dislocated shoulder before Aleph gave one last grunt of effort and let go of the drone letting it impact halfway up the side of a nearby three-story brick building. Even from thirty feet away, Sam heard a definite crunch as the drone hit. He winced as the limp body toppled to the ground.

Wiping off her hands, she calmly walked to the drone who had taken the foot to the head and was just now regaining his feet. He had a heel-shaped crescent on his temple and blood was seeping freely onto his collar. He growled at her and actually bared his teeth as she approached. Aleph rolled her eyes and swept his leg in a move so fast and violent that he nearly flipped over in midair and hit the ground face first. In the near-perfect quiet of the shocked crowd, she dragged both of the weakly struggling drones to a nearby bike rack, passed a set of handcuffs through the metal rack, and clasped their wrists together.

With a pop of sparks, Gobshite appeared on Sam’s palm and the nearby crowd let out a collective gasp and drew away.

He grinned sheepishly. “Whoops.”

Meanwhile, Aleph had pulled a badge out and was addressing the crowd, "I don't have time to answer questions. Go home and stay there. The city isn't safe."

Predictably, people in the crowd began to shout questions at her, but she'd already turned her back on them and was making her way back toward them.

“Wow, you can really kick some ass!” said Dimitri, trotting up to Aleph.

“Come on, we need to get the Armoury fast.”

“How come?” asked Sam, joining them. He’d decided to keep Gobshite around for the time being.
 Aleph began a quick lope to the south.

“I called the Armoury. There’s no phone or Internet in all Senak, it’s gone dark. Knox has somehow shut down everything. It wasn’t a bluff, he’s going for the whole city.”

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Chapter 27 part 2: Killer 'Splosion Drones

As usual, warnings apply. This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

PS I went back and did some minor editing on the first part of this chapter so if you are confused where Marion came from, The KSD has a name now. I got tired writing, "the woman."

By the end of the speech, Marion was trembling and Aleph insinuated herself between the two of them. “That’s fine, Dimitri, I think Knox is aware of your feelings on the subject now.”

Dimitri shrugged. “Whatever, advice is free.”

Marion’s eyes raked from Dimitri to Aleph. “Whatever you think you know doesn’t make any difference. Senak and its duke will fall. Make it easier on the people of Senak, convince your duke to abdicate. I’ll allow both of you to leave. There doesn’t need to be any bloodshed.”

“Except the blood you already shed at Strangefellows.”

“And what about the people you souljacked,” said Sam. “Are you going to free them?”

“Those people were the victims of a necromancer. In order for a hero to rise, there must be a villain to overcome.”

“Oh my fuck!” said Dimitri, “next you’re going to tell us we need to ‘kneel before Zod!’”

“No, now I’m going to shoot you in the belly.”

The hand holding the pistol Marion had concealed at her waist whipped up faster than Sam could blink. As fast as she was, Aleph was faster.

Aleph blurred as she crossed the distance between herself and Marion, slapped the pistol away, and trapped her arm in a painful joint lock. As Aleph’s hand connected, the gun went off with a deafening crack. The bullet hit the cobblestones and chips of stone spalled off into the darkness, humming as they went.

There were shrieks and calls of alarm as people dove for cover and scrambled away. The customs agents spaced throughout the square began corralling people away, while others began converging on them, their truncheons drawn and held their sides.

Dimitri scrambled after the pistol and picked it up, holding it down at his side, before returning.
Aleph had Marion’s arm trapped under an armpit, while her hand pressed up on her elbow. Though it must have been painful, Marion’s expression betrayed no discomfort.

“You might be able to terrorize the people here, but you don’t impress me,” Aleph said into Marion’s ear. As her breath brushed against the woman’s skin it condensed into wisps of heavy mist.

“Look at you, a jumped-up crow barely a century old and already presuming to talk down to her elders,” spat the oily voice using the body’s lips. “Let me explain something though, you might take a guess at who’s controlling this body, but you have no proof. Without that you can’t touch me. Here’s more truth. Penhold is old and growing older. He might have been the right person for the job seventy years ago, but he’s long since ceased to be effective. I mean, look at his help,” he said sneering at her. “The daughter of war criminal whose ambition for power was so great she went outside her own species to get it. If that’s not desperation, I’m not sure I know what is.”

A hard look came into Aleph’s black eyes and she adjusted her grip on Marion’s arm. “Words can hurt, Knox, but maybe not as much as this will.”

“What do you think you are doing?” Marion asked, sounding darkly amused and not in the least bit worried. “You won’t kill this body, not while there’s a chance the owner can get it back.”

“Maybe,” Aleph said with a feral smile, “but I have a feeling that while you’re just controlling the other bodies remotely, you’ve got a more intimate connection with this one.” Aleph gave the arm she was holding a quick jerk. There was loud crackling and Marion howled in pain.

“You bitch!”

A smile slowly parted her lips. “Absolutely,” she agreed warmly, bopping Marion gently on the nose with a corpse-white finger. She released her arm and stepped back. Marion staggered and hunched over her injured limb.

They were surrounded by customs agents by then and Aleph pushed Marion into the waiting arms of the nearest pair who made short work of getting her on the cobblestones and handcuffed.
“Dimitri’s had his say, now it’s my turn. You’re a sad, small man who wasn’t ever able to grow past the limitations of his age. Like a child, you believe the world owes you something for your mere existence, all the while desperately trying to compensate for your shortcomings. Without your Guild to prop you up you would be nothing more than an unsightly stain on the bedsheets of history; dead through your own incompetence centuries ago.”

“Leave now and take your toys with you. You won’t have any luck here. The Guild might be able to protect you for a while, but in the long term even an alchemist can die.” Here she paused and fixed Marion with a meaning look. “Just ask Elanor.”

“What do you mean, ask Elanor?” asked Marion from the ground, as though nothing untoward was going on.

Aleph gave her a tv host’s wide smile that showed her teeth and inky black gums and winked. If she’d given Sam that smile he didn’t know if he’d be more likely to fall in love or run screaming.
Aleph turned and began to walk away from the clump of customs agents.

“What do you mean, ask Elanor!” Marion screamed.

Aleph looked over her shoulder. “Just a feeling I have. Alchemists of the Red are hard to kill, life finds a way, Knox.”

Sam jogged to catch up to her as she swept away. “That was from Jurassic Park,” he hissed at her.
She glanced sideways at him. “Yes, but Knox wouldn’t know that.”

Dimitri began to laugh.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Chapter 27 pt 1: Killer 'Splosion Drones.

Late again this week (sorry!) This chapter was always going to be rewritten and it wouldn't have made sense with some of the changes I made later on.

As usual, warnings apply. This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!

Sam stumbled into blackness, and as he did it felt like he’d run into a screen door the size of the universe. It didn’t hurt, but feeling his body trickle through a billion billion holes randomly scattered across all the infinite spheres of reality wasn’t something he relished.

He was a particle, a wave, a random scatter of photons encompassing the length and breadth of time, and that freaked him out more than just a bit. As he watched, bodiless and helpless in the void, each of his individual quarks, gluons, and electrons were taken apart, cleaned, buffed, polished, given an oil change, then flung out again to body-surf in the quantum foam. Then, as though called, all of his trillion component pieces came zipping back together through tiny pores in the skin of the multiverse. They smashed together at the speed of light, and in the process, it felt like his soul took an uppercut to the testicles from the mighty fist of the cosmos.

Sam wasn’t given the opportunity to come to terms with the experience. Despite being disassembled and put back together again, his component particles still remembered the shove Aleph had given him on the Vancouver end of the gateway. Inside each them they carried the transferred momentum of that shove, so as he exited into this new world, Sam found himself off-balance and stumbling forward.

He staggered into a large square roughly the same size as the Memorial Park he'd just left. The square was rimmed with dozens of ornate stone gates, each attended by a uniformed customs agent. Old fashioned lamp posts with orbs burning brightly in glass globes surrounded the square. Though off-balance, he had the impression there were enough people walking around to call it busy, but not enough to call it a crowd.

He did a kind of cross-legged hornpipe trying to catch up to his balance which seemed to keep just a pace ahead of him. He would have ended up on the ground had he not suddenly collided with an ass the size and shape of two fleshy mooring bollards. He straightened and yanked back his hands as though he’d just touched a hot stove to look into the eyes of the owner of the arresting posterior.

The ass in question was the property of a man with a dense head of curly hair and a white-streaked beard so wild and massive that it looked as though he was being attacked a hirsute parasite in the process of consuming his face from below. His eyes were like reflective black glass beads that glittered from under his brows in the subdued light. He was wearing the black that all those in service to Penhold wore, but on top of his uniform also wore a bulletproof vest and had a set of cuffs in his belt that were inscribed in sigils. The crest on his shoulder was a crest that showed a shield surrounded by a wreath of nightshade leaves under the ducal crown. At his belt there was a holster with the handle of a softly glowing truncheon poking out. He also smelled as though he bathed in, showered with, and seasoned his food with Drakkar Noir.

The man gave Sam a hard look and adjusted his coat.

“Whoops, sorry,” said Sam, giving him a sheepish smile and wiping his hands on his pants.
“Sam! What did I tell you about consent?” asked Dimitri, who had just at that moment emerged through the gate without so much as a stumble. Behind him, Aleph materialized and the two strode into Asphodel like the eldritch version of the Right Stuff.

“We’ve spoken about this, Sam,” Dimitri scolded him. Dimitri turned to the liveried man. “Apologies, he’s just a lovable scamp,” said Dimitri over Sam’s protests, “he sees a guy in uniform and he can’t seem to keep his hands off the old man-ass.”

The bearded man glared at them and began what sounded like a scripted speech. “On behalf of Briar Penhold, Duke of the free city, Senak, I welcome you. Anything to declare?”

“Huh?” Sam asked, still disoriented from the trip. People beginning to look his way and he could feel sweat beginning to prickle on his scalp.

The man glared and repeated more slowly, but just as loudly, “Anything to declare?”

“Sorry for grabbing your ass?” Sam guessed.


Sam wondered if the man was deaf.

“It’s alright Pat, these two chucklefucks with me.” Aleph appeared from behind the bearded customs agent to put her hand on his shoulder in a familiar gesture.

The customs agent straightened when he saw her. “Ma’am, welcome back.”

“Anything happen while I was away?”

“Heard about the Necromancer?”

She nodded wearily, “Yeah, I heard about the Necromancer. Anything else?”

Pat shrugged his shoulders noncommittally. “It’s busier than usual, but it might just be Christmas shopping,” he trailed off.


“I don’t know, some of the people coming in, well, this is going to sound strange, but they smell weird,” he looked like he was embarrassed to say it.

Sam thought he had a right to his embarrassment. How someone smelling like a frat boy’s laundry basket thought he held the moral high ground when it came to critiquing other people’s fragrance choices was beyond him.

Aleph looked at him intently. “What kind of smell?”

Pat shrugged again, “I don’t know, it’s a sort of chemical, alcohol smell. They all seemed to be out of it. Drunk maybe. ‘Tis the season, right?”

“Anyone still here that smelled like that?”

Pat scanned the area and pointed. “Yeah, that woman sitting on the chain over there,” he said pointing to a woman in grey track pants and hoodie who was perched a hundred feet away on one of the lengths of chain that stretched between cast iron pillars all along the border of the square.

The three of them turned their heads to look. The woman appeared to be expecting it because she grinned widely and waved them over.

“That can’t be fucking good,” Dimitri murmured.

“KSD, you think?” asked Sam.


Aleph led the way over with Sam and Dimitri trailing in their wake. The woman swung idly on the chain and had a lollipop stick coming out of the corner of her mouth. She was in her early thirties and trying to hide the fact under a layer of bronze makeup. Sam only noticed because her makeup was in need of touching-up, even to his untrained eye. Sam knew that he was normally oblivious to such things, and if even he could notice her makeup was messed up, it had to be pretty bad.

Her nails were long, manicured, and had that white strip across the tips that Sam had seen before, but didn’t know the purpose of. Her hoodie had “Juicy” embroidered in a kind of gothic script on the pocket and she smelled worse than a science classroom after a dissection lesson.

“You’re already too late, you know.” The sound of the voice was normal, it was the tone that was completely at odds with what Sam was expecting. It was greasy, self-possessed, and it was familiar. It came to him that the way this woman spoke was a near-perfect match to the voices he’d heard coming out of the mouths of the KSDs in Memorial Park. The words seemed less like a recorded message now, though.

“Hello, Knox. What do you want?”

The woman drew the lollipop from her lips in a vaguely obscene way and languorously put a hand to her chest in mock surprise. “Is that who I am? If I was Knox of the White, that would be a dangerous accusation for someone in your position. If you were wrong and the Guild caught wind you were dragging the name of an alchemist through the dirt… well, goodness, it wouldn’t just be you to suffer, I’d imagine your duke would also. For the sake of this conversation, you can call me Marion.”

Sam snorted.

“What?” asked Dimitri, looking confused.”

“Knox made a dad joke,” said Aleph flatly.

“Other than make shitty jokes, what do you want?” Aleph repeated. “You called us over.”

Marion inspected the lollipop and gave it another lick and winked at Sam. He felt nauseous with just a hint of guilty thrill. “You probably won’t believe it, but I’m here to help you save lives.”

“You’re right, I don’t believe it.”

“Yes, I thought you would lack the imagination. Let me explain. This city is going to be mine.”
Aleph laughed. “You’re going to try and take Senak?”

“Take it? Goodness, no, I’m going to save it from the vile necromantic threat. Once the good Duke’s forces are destroyed valiantly protecting the city, of course.”

“Dude, have you even read the Evil Overlord list?” asked Dimitri.

The Knox hand puppet held up a manicured finger of silence to Dimitri. “When you’re spoken to. Your betters are speaking.”

“Oh my god, you’re too much,” said Dimitri laughing. “Look at you, sitting there wearing your brand new meat suit, licking your lollipop and putting out this temptress vibe. I mean it’s just so cute.”

Marion clenched her jaw but otherwise didn’t deign to so much as glance at Dimitri. A faint smile traced Aleph’s lips.

“I mean, I get it,” Dimitri continued, “who wouldn’t interested in what the other half has going on under the hood, am I right?” he gave Sam a grin and a nudge with his elbow. “If I had the chance, I’d take that for a spin just to see what it’s like. What you’ve got going on here isn’t that though,” he said motioning up and down with an arm. “You got all up in this salon-jockey’s skin suit and you’re trying to act like how you think a real woman would.”

The woman’s lips had thinned to nothing and there was a slight, but noticeable tremor in her right eye.

 “It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. You couldn’t be more of a cartoon if your name was Jessica Rabbit. You think you’re being all sexy-scary, but you’re just a sad Buffalo Bill wanna-be with bad makeup and who smells like shit.”

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Chapter 26, Part 2: A Plum Pudding of the Damned.

This week's entry is coming a bit late. A client needed a number of articles written in a hurry and as fun as blogging the story is, a bit of extra money around this time of year is always a good thing.

Warning: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy this week's chapter.

It took a few seconds, but even in the light rain, the fire, fed by the preservative still in their bodies, began to consume hair and clothing. As it spread, the flame shifted from an alcohol blue to a yellow that cast the shadows of the trees around them in a frenzied dance. The smell of burning hair and worse began to hang heavily in the air.

As she fought, Aleph noticed something disturbing, as their skin charred and flaked off, she could see healthy skin appearing underneath healing as fast as the flames could consume it. They paused to wipe away the flames from their faces but it wasn’t a pain response she realized, their efforts were only so they could better see to continue the attack.  It gave her an idea.

She continued to weave her way through the blazing fray, in constant movement, instinctively finding the best path through and striking where she could. Fists and kicks passed harmlessly through the spaces she was a fraction of a second before. She dodged and twisted in perfectly timed and deliberate motions behind the screen of flaming bodies.

“This is so unbelievably fucked up,” Sam said with a sick look on his face. The light of the flaming souljacked attackers began to brighten and light up the path. To his credit, Sam kept his attention focused on growing the flames. Aleph knew from her own experience it was a lot easier working with existing fire than it was creating fire from thin air. Now that it was going, it was like a rock rolling down a hill and gaining momentum of its own. Still, the attackers struck and kicked at her as she dodged.

With an expression of sick reluctance, Sam held out his hand and pale orange flame began to dance in his palm. It was about time. Inside the flame, the shadow-shape of a salamander could be seen moving around. With a resigned sigh, Sam tossed the little ball of fire toward the closest of the flaming attackers. The flames merged and the little salamander began scrambling over the head and shoulders of the burning man. The fire consuming him, and his slack-jawed friends immediately intensified and began to roar with inrushing air.

Sam gagged, spat, but kept his attention focused. 

Dimitri glanced at Sam and seemed to come to some inner decision. “Whatever, fuck these guys.” With that, Dimitri charged the group. He planted a foot into the lower back of one the flaming forms and knocked him to the ground. The rest of the group ignored their fallen companion as Dimitri continued to work him over, little puffs of flame erupting at every kick. “It’s not!” kick, “nice!” kick, “to hit,” kick, “girls!” kick, kick, kick.

Two things happened almost simultaneously. There came a cry of alarm from the direction of the forensic tent, the police had finally seen them. The second thing that happened was that a storm of crows erupted out from the centre of the flaming mosh pit.

The crows cawed, pecked, scratched, and buffeted the attackers with their wings. Flames swirled and writhed in the wind from the wingbeats. The sound of cawing and the flapping of wings was deafening, and the little morning light that had been seeping in past the trees was obliterated by the mass of black feathered bodies.

Sam and Dimitri fell back from the corvid vortex, covering their own faces. The needn’t have worried though, in mere moments the crows had moved on. The attackers, many of whom were still ablaze despite the sudden wind of crow wings, staggered drunkenly around the path. It wasn’t until Sam looked closer that he noticed the truth. Bloody tears ran down the cheeks of every individual, but there wasn’t a single eye left whole among the group. The crows had blinded each and every one of them.

The sound of heavy footsteps approached their position and Dimitri grabbed a horrified Sam by the shoulder to pull him off the path and into the shadows. Uniformed police officers began to appear in the firelight. Some threw their jackets over the flames to try and put them out. Others tackled the flaming individuals to the ground, using the wet path and soggy grass help to extinguish them.
As the police came into contact with any of the blinded group though, they were immediately attacked. Soon, there was a decent little brawl going on with the police trying to subdue a dozen blinded and flaming berserkers. The police had the advantage of sight, but the group had the numbers, and they looked fairly evenly matched. Sam and Dimitri did their best to silently make their away from the action.

The crows, meanwhile, began to descend in a tight circle around the war memorial next to the visitor centre, narrowing down to a single point. Soon they were gone, and a familiar shape motioned them over.

Aleph looked none the worse for wear.

“Well, that was fucking disturbing,” Dimitri said, as they arrived at Aleph’s side. Sam nodded emphatically, not quite trusting himself to speak yet.

“If that’s the worst thing you see in the next few days, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.” She turned to look at the grey granite cenotaph and lay her fingers on the smooth surface. It was a three-tiered monument set on a stepped cement platform. On its side were carved a maple leaf and the words, “To the memory of the Men and Women who served in the defence of their Country”

“Let’s get moving,” Aleph said, looking back to where the police were still attempting to subdue the blinded group. “The Sand Network is going to be all over this in no time, and I cannot be here when they show up.”

She stepped up onto the cement platform and began walking around it in a counter-clockwise direction. Some of the old folks still called it walking the path widdershins, just like they talked about casting spells instead of throwing tricks. Times changed and language changed with it.   
Sam and Dimitri fell in close behind her. As they walked, Aleph began to feel a chill on her cheeks that had nothing to do with the weather. The further they walked around the memorial, the colder it got. Slowly, the cold was accompanied a grinding feeling vibrating through her chest, as though two stones were grinding against each other. The morning, which had just begin to lighten, became dark again as though the world was on a dimmer switch.

Aleph began humming a rhythmic tune, then after a few seconds began to sing softly, “Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

“What?” Dimitri asked.

“Just an old poem my father used to say whenever we used to go to Senak. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it in years.”

“Wow, that’s so neat. So, now that you’ve had a look at them, what are those things,” asked Dimitri, pointing back at the ongoing melee.

“Like we guessed, they’re some flavour of necroalchemical abomination.”

“Yeah, but what do we call them, because ‘necroalchemical abominations’ is a bit of a mouthful and NA is already taken.”

“Alright, let’s run down the list them,” said Sam, as they began their second circuit around the cenotaph. “First question, are they alive or dead?”

“Alive,” provided Aleph.

“So that rules out Zombies, Wights, Revenants, and Draugr.”

“What the what?” asked Dimitri.

“Second question, do they have free will.”

“Nope, you saw the way they spoke. Definitely souljacked, probably by a single controlling being,” she replied.

“So alive,” Sam counted off on his fingers, “no free will, and a hive mind.” He paused to think. “They’re drones, they have to be, nothing else matches.”

“Drones? That’s so boring,” complained Dimitri. “They’re mindless killing machines. Can’t we call them something more horrific and awesome than drones?” He paused to think. “How about killer explosion drones?”

“You’re the one that said alchemical abominations was too much of a mouthful.”

“Fine, let’s make it into an acronym. How ‘bout KSDs?”

Sam continued to walk for a time, his brow furrowed. “I give up, what does the ‘S’ stand for?”

“‘Splosion. The ‘ex’ part is silent. Duh.”

Sam shrugged, “Works for me.”

Aleph rolled her eyes.

They’d completed three circuits around the granite monument now and Sam and Dimitri stepped around to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. The world had taken on a thin ice transparency as though if you didn’t step carefully, you might fall right through. Only feet in front of them was a yawning hole in the air as though someone had pushed a pencil through the pages of reality. The broad maples lining the path were barely visible, only to be partly seen when a faint breeze stirred their bare branches. There was no sound of rain in this place between, it had been replaced by a white-noise hush that Aleph associated with a heavy snowfall.

“Ready to go?”

“I hate going to Asphodel,” sighed Dimitri, eyeing the hole in the world.

Beside him, Sam nodded in agreement. “Why couldn’t it be a wardrobe or maybe even a locomotive. I’d settle for riding in a train with a bunch of obnoxious teenage wizards for six hours if it meant I didn’t have to travel this way.”

“I know, right? Everyone talks about how Senak is sooo great. It’s not that great.”

“And it’s always dark,” added Sam. “I get enough dark here in the winter without wanting to go to a place where it’s dark 24/7. Give me white sandy beaches and drinks with umbrellas in them.”

“Amen, brother.”

The two bumped fists.

“Are you two done?” Aleph asked.

“We were just saying Asphodel’s not all that,” complained Dimitri.

Putting her pale hands on both of their shoulders, she gave them both a good shove right into the portal.

“Hey, wait!” was all Dimitri managed to get out before he disappeared into the unrelieved blackness of the portal.

Aleph sighed, gave Vancouver one final look around, and strode into the gateway.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Chapter 26, Part One: A Plum Pudding of the Damned.

Warning: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy this week's chapter.

The dark tree-lined path ahead of them opened onto a visitor’s centre, beyond that Aleph could just make out the outline of the war memorial in the dim light being cast from the forensic tent.

Most of her children were in the air now, winging their way to their daytime haunts, but it would be another fifteen minutes before the first of them could make a flyover. By then this would be all be over. Though her side still twinged from their last encounter, she wasn’t willing to wait.

Shadows separated from the darkened maples in front of them and began lining up on the path. Aleph, Dimitri, and an uncomfortable-looking Sam stopped, the smell of preservatives, which hadn’t been noticeable to anyone with a human-level sense of smell, bloomed in the air as the group continued to gather. By the time they’d finished assembling, there were over dozen arrayed before them.

They were of no particular skin colour, young, old, men, women, and children, and none of them wore any expression that couldn’t be best described by using some form of the word, “slack.”
Dimitri must have noticed the same thing because she heard him mutter, “It’s like a United Nations delegation of potheads.”

The front of Dimitri’s jacket began to suddenly bulge and Aleph was strongly reminded of the scene from the original Alien movie. Instead of an acid-filled killing machine though, Minnaloushe reared up from where he’d been tucked inside the front of Dimitri’s coat. The Kellas Cat freed the top half of his body, wrapped his long-fingered hands on either side of Dimitri’s head and screamed directly in his face.

Dimitri stumbled back and fell wetly onto his ass. Minnaloushe scrambled over his chest, snatched the car keys out of his hand, and tore off back down the darkened path the way they had come. The little bastard was laughing as he ran off.

“That ungrateful shit!” Dimitri spluttered, as he got to his feet and wiped off his wet pants.
“He’s got my keys!” Sam said disbelievingly. “Why did he take my keys?”

“I know, right? Your car’s a piece of shit,” said Dimitri.

They were distracted from the question of the missing keys as words rang out into the rainy morning. “If you try to pass again, you will be killed. You will not pass.” The words had come from the group blocking their way, but they weren’t said in chorus, instead each word came from a different member. The timing and tone were perfect from one individual to the next, but none of the faces that spoke betrayed any of the emotion that was in the words.

“It’s like The Borg Queen and Gandalf had a baby,” Sam whispered.

“Are they brainjacked, or something?” asked Dimitri. “Like the ones at Strangefellows? Because those guys never did that,” he said waving an arm in the direction of the mob. “And what do they mean, “again?”

“They were here when I came through from Senak last time. We tussled. To answer your first question though, brainjacked I could handle, I’m pretty sure these guys have had their souls removed from the driver’s seat altogether.” answered Aleph.

“Definitely time for fresh undies,” Sam opined.

“If you try to pass again, you will be killed. You will not pass,” came the message.
The time for talking was coming to a close. Before that though, she needed to cover her ass. The thing about enjoying the powers of a duly appointed officer of the law in this part of the Aether was that it came with a lot of dos and don’ts. For instance, she couldn’t just plough through this little gathering leaving a trail of blood and viscera for her children to feast on. As gratifying as that would be there would be questions. It was time to read them the Riot Act. Literally.

She drew herself up and said in a clear voice, “I say this as a duly appointed member of the RCMP and as a representative of her Majesty the Queen: Her Majesty the Queen charges and commands all beings being assembled immediately to disperse and peaceably to depart to their habitations, home realms of existence, or to their lawful business on the pain of being guilty of an offence for which, on conviction, they may be sentenced to imprisonment for life. God save the Queen because I’ve already got enough on my hands. Bitches,” she added at the end for verisimilitude.

Now that, that was out of the way, she gave the group a glare, “On a personal note, I’ve had a long night, and if you refuse to move your slack-jawed, smelly, expressionless, asses out of my way, I’ll take enormous pleasure in doing it for you.” She flexed her fingers and her black fingernails lengthened and curved into talons.

“Holy shit,” said Dimitri from behind her. “She’s hardcore.”

“Alright, Sam,” she said. “As we discussed.”

Sam shuffled forward to stand next to her.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked uncertainly. “I mean it’s not like they’ve hurt us, they’re just trying to stop us.”

Instead of answering, she began to cover the distance between herself and the group.
“I’m not stopping, Sam. I need to get to Senak, and I need you and Dimitri with me. Lives depend on this.”

Aleph advanced on the group, her heels beating out a steady rhythm on the wet path.
“Aleph, hold on a second!” called Sam, taking a few hesitant steps of his own.
“I have responsibilities, Sam, and so do you.”

When she came within arm’s reach of the group she dove in, punching and kicking. Sam lost sight of her as she was swarmed under. All around her fists and elbows swung at her. She avoided the worst of the blows, ducking and dodging away, but Sam, bless his timid little heart, needed yet more motivation. She let a few of the lighter hits make contact. She might have grunted a bit more on impact than was called for, but let it never be said that she wasn’t beyond some mild theatrics to get the job done. She had a strong hunch that she would need Sam as something more than a passive piece of baggage, and she’d learned to pay attention to her hunches. It was time for him to get involved.

“Do it, Sam!” she heard Dimitri yell.

In the space of a slow heartbeat, wavering blue flames the size of a man’s thumb began to wink into existence on the crown of each of the attacker's heads. Aleph had the sudden impression that she was in a fight with sentient candles. The illusion was broken almost immediately as fire rippled down over the hair and faces of over half of the individuals, their features limned in eerie blue flame in the darkness. It was just like a plum pudding. A plum pudding of the damned.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Chapter 25, part 2.

Chapter 25 continues! The usual warnings apply this is a rough draft so expect the occasional grammatical faux pas. Also contains adult language and situations. Thanks for reading!

Sam led the three of them out of Strangefellows and around the corner to a gravel parking lot to where a sunshine-yellow car was parked. It looked like the unwanted result of an alcohol-fuelled liaison between a Teletubby and a toy car from a Mc Happy Meal.

“What’s that?” Aleph asked.

“It’s an Aztec,” Sam replied, unlocking the doors.

“Does it run on bubble juice?”

“Heisenberg drove one,” said Sam, folding himself into the driver’s seat.

“And you think that owning the same shitty car as a fictional Meth kingpin is a selling point?”

“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts. Not every car has pyromantic script etched onto the engine block.”

“It still looks like a toy.”

Sam shrugged, “Better than a VW Beetle.”

“Not that it has any bearing on the current crisis, but sure, I’ll bite. Why not a bug?”

Sam gave her an incredulous look. “The Bug was designed by Hitler. It’s fascist transport.” He said this as though he was explaining water was wet.

She blinked and looked at Dimitri for confirmation.

“Pretty sure he’s right. At least about the design part,” he said, casually aiming himself at the front passenger-side door.

Aleph gave him a little jerk of the head, Dimitri scowled and diverted to the rear door.

“Sure, but it’s what people did with it that counts, nobody that I know of committed genocide from inside of a Volkswagen,” said Aleph.

“Would you wear Hitler’s sweater?”

“Probably not,” she admitted.

“Point and match.”

“Millions of hippies would disagree with you,” she said to Sam, getting in herself and arranging Minnaloushe on her lap.

The Kellas cat had regained consciousness back in Strangefellows. He was sore and refused to speak beyond a few words. There were a couple local vets and doctors who would work off the books on off world beings, but he would get better care in Senak.

They lurched out of the pot-hole pocked parking lot and filtered through narrow side-streets until they hit Bridgeport and merged onto the Knight Street Bridge heading toward South Van.

It wasn’t Aleph’s favourite route, but she didn’t ask Sam to divert when she realized where he was taking them. It was the most direct way to Memorial Park and she could deal with some discomfort for the sake of speed.

The Knight had been guarding the bridge since it opened to traffic in the mid-seventies and had been a fixture on the old Fraser Street Bridge years before that. It was about as close to being a real knight as she was, but since it guarded the Knight Street Bridge, and since, given the option, people would always fail in their attempts to be clever, the name had stuck. It was one of the few things around that was capable of killing beings like her, and she could happily admit that passing it made her skin crawl.

The construct, and a few others like it, had been created at the same time as the coastal gun emplacements during the Second World War when the fear of invasion from Japan had been a very real thing. The war hadn’t just been about bombs and bullets, the arcane community on both sides had been heavily involved.

Since the war, the Knight had been largely left alone, siphoning kinetic power from the Fraser River as its currents slid past a sigil-covered bronze cartouche attached to the bridge footing below. Its one duty since The War had been to require anyone over a certain metaphysical weight to check in on their way over the Fraser River. This morning that meant her.

She saw the Knight in the distance as they ascended the slope of the bridge. It stood planted on the edge of the pedestrian path towering a good dozen feet above the bridge deck. It had made a roughly human-shaped body for itself out of sand-smoothed branches, frayed mooring rope, and old fishing nets. On its driftwood shoulders it had placed the bleached skull of a seal. As they approached, it turned darkened eye sockets toward them and the challenge hit her like an unexpected medicine ball to the face.

She just knew she’d have a headache for the rest of the morning. She gathered her scrambled senses, passed on her credentials, and waited.

She might be imagining it, but its challenge seemed to be sharper than usual this morning. The Knight hadn’t denied her crossing before, she didn’t recall anyone having been denied, but it as the seconds ticked past she couldn’t help but become concerned. They were approaching the centre of the bridge doing north of eighty kilometers an hour and they would be past the spot where it stood guard in mere moments. She didn’t know what would happen if she didn’t have permission to pass before they reached that point, but she didn’t want to find out.

Just as she felt her fingers circle around the handle of the e-brake, she received a mental nod of acceptance. She let out a held breath and took her hand off the brake. The empty seal skull swivelled to track them as they zipped past.

Sam gave a set of cheery beeps of the horn, unaware how close he’d been to disaster. Like anyone with a drop of arcane talent, he was able to perceive The Knight, even if it chose not to interact with him. She didn’t like to think about what might have happened if it decided that she couldn’t pass.
The Knight was immensely powerful but hadn’t shown anything in the way of brains or initiative before. It was more of a worrying landmark than it was a threat. It was the cooling tower of a nuclear reactor in the distance; Concerning, but seen so often that it melted into a background of other more demanding worries. Now, Aleph had to wonder how aware it was of the world around it. Old tricks left to their own devices sometimes got quirky and ended up developing personalities. Was the Knight aware what was happening in the arcane community? It was was a worry for later, she had enough in front of her to think about.

They passed over the north shore of the Fraser and began up the hill into South Van, passing houses, apartments, and gas stations as they went. In a little under ten minutes, they were pulling into a poorly-lit parking lot that annexed Memorial Park from the west. There were still a number of police cruisers and forensic vehicles in evidence. Off to their right, Aleph could still see the diffuse glow of the forensic tent.

Ahead of them, the shadows of bare maple trees reached up in the darkness on either side of the paved pathway. Whoever had designed this place really had a thing for tree-lined paths. While it might be great for a bit of shade in the summer, Aleph knew from her last time here that they also made ideal hiding spots for an ambush.

Just as those thoughts occurred, a faint breeze disturbed Aleph’s hair and brought to her nostrils the faint scent of alcohol and formalin.

“Hey Sam, Dimitri!” Aleph called over her shoulder, stooping over to look at the ground. “Come here and have a look at this.”

Dimitri trudged up to her with Sam close behind. He leant in to look at the bare pathway where she was pointing.

“What? It’s the ground. I’ve seen it before.”

“Look closer,” she grated.

The two men crouched in around her to examine the undistinguished bit of darkened asphalt. Being as furtive as she was able, Aleph carefully pulled Minnaloushe from where she was holding him inside her jacket and urged him into Dimitri’s arms.

“What are you…”

“Shut up. This is an ambush. Sam, give him your keys.”

“Sure,” said Sam, putting action to words. “Um, why did I give him my keys?”

“Because unless we’re up against angry robots, a Webmage and an injured Kellas Cat aren’t much good in a fight.”

“Technomancer, and I’ll kick the asses of whoever gets in my way.”

“Sure, tough guy, whatever you say. If it gets hairy I want you to take Minnaloushe back to Strangefellows and hole up there.”

“I’m not really that great in a fight either,” Sam admitted, trying to search the darkened trees, without being obvious about it. “Shouldn’t we all go back? There’s strength in numbers.”

“Maybe there is, but I have an idea that fits in nicely with your skills. Have you ever lit a plum pudding at Christmas?”

Sam looked confused.