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.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Chapter 25, Part 1.

Well, it has been a crazier month than usual. Between needing to rewrite a bunch of chapters, a crazy amount of seasonal work, a mini-vacation,  and a death in the family, I've had my hands full.

Here's the long-awaited first part of chapter 25. As usual, this is a rough draft. There's bad language and worse grammar. You have been warned. 

“Penny for your thoughts?” asked Sue, approaching with a cup of coffee. Aleph was leaning against the unfinished cinder block wall at the back of the staff room. Arachne had gone back to her friends, Minnaloushe was unchanged, and the only sound in the room was the gentle roar of the crucible.
“People aren’t acting the way they’re supposed to. It’s irritating,” Aleph said accepting the cup and taking a sip, black, no sugar, the way she liked it. “Wait, that’s not right. People are acting the way they’re supposed to, but I don’t know why.”

“Like who?” said Sue, taking a sip from her own cup.

“Knox of the White. In one night he’s done two impossible things, and both go against everything he’s ever worked for. I’m missing something that I just know is going to come back to bite me in the ass.”

“Want to talk it out? I can be a good listener.”

“I remember.” Aleph straightened and sighed.

“Twice tonight Knox has put his position in the Guild at risk. The first time was by killing Elanor of the Red.”

Aleph heard Sue gasp. Her hearing was acute enough that she also heard a double gasp from where Dimitri and Sam sat on the couch listening in halfway across the room. Whatever. It wasn’t like everyone wasn’t going to know soon enough. Even if there wasn’t a body, news of a missing Red was going to cause a splash when it got out.

“He killed Elanor?!”

“Did you know her?”

“Well, I knew of her. She’s been a fixture in East Van forever, sort of a local celebrity. There aren’t that many Reds to begin with, but she was ours.”

“Only twenty-one in all the aether,” Aleph put in wistfully. “Twenty now until the Guild promotes another.”

 “She seemed alright for an alchemist.”

“She was, but Knox used a tricked knife that somehow burned her Panacea. It should have been impossible, but he did it.”

“What could do that? More Necromancy?”

“Looks like it, and that brings me to the next thing. This is a problem he’d to have been working on the problem for years.” She rubbed her forehead. “As much of a chucklefuck as he is, Dimitri’s right,” she said watching Dimitri’s back straighten where he stood pretending not to listen. “This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. Hell, this wasn’t a spur of the decade thing, Knox has to have been working on this for years. He had to have a source of necromantic magic to experiment with, and everyone knows how the Guild feels about death magic. It’s taboo for them, they chop off heads first and ask questions later. It’s been that way from the very start.”

Sam and Dimitri drifted closer, any pretense of not listening in now gone.

“In one night he’s done two things that put him directly at odds with the Guild— The Guild he’s spent the last century and a half trying to move up the ranks in. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe he’s tired of trying to suck up the Guild and branching out,” suggested Sue.

“No, I have to believe that Knox still wants to rise up in the Guild. He’s been at it for too long to cash in his chips now.”

“Maybe it’s a False Flag,” said Sam.

“What’s that now?” asked Sue.

“So I’m a big loser of an alchemist with no prospects,” Sam began enthusiastically, “and I’m also a complete dick. I know that the corrupt guild I work for has a murder-boner the lone necromancers that pop up every few decades, and I, being the slimy shit I am, want to capitalize on it.”

“Less editorializing, more explanation,” said Aleph.

“Fine, fine. An untrained necromancer isn’t much of a threat to anyone. Exposing them isn’t going to make the kind of splash Knox wants, not enough bodies on the ground, not enough public outrage. So, he prepares and waits for the day for when one finally shows up. While he waits, he builds himself an army of zombies. When our unsuspecting necromancer finally appears, he commits a series of sensational murders to blame on him, and when it’s time to take out the big, bad necromancer, he makes sure he’s the one who does it. Instant celebrity in the Alchemist Guild and the community.”

“That’s…” Aleph thought about it. “That’s actually not bad.”

If the ones who had attacked Strangefellows earlier also happened to be gin, there might be more to Sam’s zombie army theory than he knew.

“On top of it,” Sam went on, “once he dispatches the big, bad necromancer, everyone’s wondering why he’s still Knox of the White and not it’s not Knox of the Yellow or maybe even Knox of the Red? There are some serious PR points to be gained in a move like that. The Guild is big on PR.”
“It still has problems, like where did Knox learn to mix alchemy and necromancy? That’s forbidden knowledge. Knox is a spineless douche, he isn’t brave enough to carry on those kinds of experiments on his own.”

“Forbidden or not, it’s still just knowledge,” said Sam. Maybe someone told him how, maybe he found a book, maybe there’s a Youtube video. You don’t need to know how a gun works to use it,”

“It works as a theory, but I think it’s still missing something.”

“You’re the goddess, you tell us then,” said Dimitri.

“Being divine doesn’t mean I know everything, it just means I get to nudge collapsing wave functions on a macroscopic level.”

Dimitri looked at her blankly for a long beat. “So anyway, it’s been fun, but it’s time for me to go now.”

“Nope,” said Aleph over his words.

Dimitri eyed her. “I did what you wanted, I got to Stirling before Rag and Bone did. If he decided to have a great big necromancer coming out party, it’s not my fault. You and I are square.”

“This is bigger than the Guild chasing down a necromancer. Whatever Knox has planned is going to affect a lot of people. Penhold should be warned.”

“So warn him them, you don’t need my permission.”

“No, I need witnesses, that means you two,” Aleph said pointing to Sam and Dimitri.

“Why me?” asked Dimitri. “Why not bring Sue? She saw it all. Better yet, bring that necro chick. She’s even got video. I’m done.”

“Uh, Char witch here, someone has to hold down the fort,” Sue said.

“Using the testimony of someone who self-identifies as a necromancer, no matter how false the claim, isn’t going to be a reliable witness,” said Aleph. “Arachne’s out.”

“Yeah, well, thanks, but no thanks, I’m already in enough trouble with the Guild. I’m not making it worse by talking to the cops.”

Aleph sighed inwardly, she wondered what Dimitri had thought he’d been doing for the last hour if it hadn’t been talking to the cops.

“Mister Singh,” she said, putting on her professional face. “Let me spell this out for you. Rag and Bone are hunting you. You might be able to avoid them in the short-term, but the odds are on their side. They will catch up to you some dark night, and when they’ve finished with you, you will believe in your heart of hearts that your death will be the single best thing that has ever happened to you. If that’s not enough for you, I can also get you dragged in and charged.”

“For what?!”

“Unauthorized use of a computer and possession of a device to obtain computer service, or did you ask permission to infect James on all those operating systems?”

Dimitri’s mouth opened and stayed that way.

Sue touched his shoulder. “Listen to her, Dimitri, she’s right.”

“You also reek of Panacea,” Aleph went on. “You were recently given a large dose.” It wasn’t a question. She moved in close and inhaled. “Fifty years, or close to it. Congratulations, that must have cost you a pretty penny. But don’t kid yourself, you won’t be getting any more. By now, Knox knows you’re working against his people and whether what he’s doing is legal or not, that means you are working against the Alchemist Guild. Any chance you, your friends, contacts, or family had of getting more was gone the moment he came after you.”

“But that’s not my fault,” he pointed, as though suddenly recognizing her, “that’s your fault! If you hadn’t made me tail Stirling, I’d still be safe.”

“And what do you think the Guild will say to you when you tell them that?” she asked him. “Do you really think they’ll take the word of a twenty-something webmage over the alchemist who has been a guild member for the last two centuries?”

“Whether you knew it or not, you’ve chosen sides. Right now you have nothing to lose by speaking with us. As a matter of fact, the Duke of Senak is the only person in the entire Aether who might be able to keep you and everyone you know, safe.”

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Chapter 24, part 2: Shaving the Cat.

Running a bit late this week. I'm getting to the point in the story where the changes I've made further down the road are affecting the parts we're getting to now. A lot of this is now new material. Still rough drafty, but new. Again thanks for reading!

A narrow hallway led to a well-lit room where the crucible that powered Strangefellows quietly roared. A woman with bright yellow and red hair had her arms up to the shoulder in the burning charcoal, her face less than a half foot from the glowing embers. The updraft and flame from the inferno blew the hair back from her face making it look like her head was reentering from orbit as she felt her way around the inside of the clay container. A streak of ash ran from her nose up her forehead. A man with dark features sat in a lawn chair against one wall with his head held in his long-fingered hands.

“This doesn’t look good, Dimitri, the woman was saying. The temperature rose too fast, some of these sigils are seriously fucked. Holy crap! This Ehwaz is acting like a Mannaz now. I’m not even sure how we’re still getting eighty percent efficiency. We’re going to need to begin work on another one ASAP.”

Sam cleared his throat and Sue finally turned her head to see Aleph standing in the doorway. “Aleph!” carolled Sue, pulling her arm from the crucible and brushing off a few live embers back into the clay vessel. Dimitri lifted his head to look at them with tired, haunted eyes.

Sue straightened and dashed toward her with her arms wide. “Oh my god, it’s amazing to see you!”

“You  never get tired of that joke, do you?” Aleph asked, smiling and holding her own arms open.

 Sue threw her arms around Aleph’s shoulders and burst into tears. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she sobbed into Aleph’s shoulder. “It was horrible.”

Aleph held her and let her cry for a few long moments before carefully untangling herself. “I want to hear all about it, I really do, but I need to speak with Dimitri first.”

“Dimitri?” Sue sniffed, looking over at him.

Dimitri stood from the couch, his hair was standing up in all directions and his face looked ashen.

“What happened?” Aleph asked.

“Yeah, Dimitri. Tell her,” Sue challenged him. “Tell her how your new friend nearly got everyone killed.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Dimitri shot back.

“It was exactly like that,” Sue hissed, advancing on him. Behind them, the crucible began to roar noticeably louder. “People I liked are dead because of you. You brought him here and those things followed,” she said jabbing a finger at his chest. Tears began to leak down her face again, but now she didn’t look in the least bit sad. Maybe homicidal.

“Prove it,” Dimitri demanded right back at her. Aleph winced. That was the wrong tactic. Sue looked like she was ready to launch herself at him and claw his eyes out. The crucible began to howl like a tortured soul.

Dimitri’s eyes flicked to the glowing crucible and grew wide. “Or are you honestly trying to tell me that you think someone managed to get that many brainjacked zombies together on a moment’s notice?” he quickly continued. “This wasn’t something someone could just pull off in a few hours, or even a few days, this was a planned attack with lots of legwork.”

“Zombies, Dimitri, doesn’t that tell you anything? How many people you know can make zombies, because I’m thinking there’s only one kind. Necromancers.”

“Why would he make them just to kill them all again. It makes no sense.”

“How should I know?”

“I know you’re pissed and scared, but use your head! Who has been chasing him? Who has been trying to recruit him? With my own two eyes, I saw Rag and Bone try to snatch him. We all know who those two work for.”

 Sue glared at him, but Aleph could see Dimitri was getting through to her. She waited to see if, between the two of them, they would put the rest of it together.

Sue just glared at him. “Maybe,” she finally admitted, “but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t here because of him, it just means that he’s got organized enemies.”

“Sure, I’d be willing to admit that might be true, but I believe Stirling when he tells me he’s clueless, I mean, just look at the guy. He shaved his head and put on a charcoal bag as a disguise. Those aren’t the actions of an evil overlord. Maybe a doofus, but not a new Francis King. I think what happened here tonight is about something bigger. I think tonight has a lot more to do with an old alchemist than it does with a new necromancer.”

A loud banging came from the door at the end of the hall and Sue broke her glare at Dimitri to answer it. She rushed back into the room with one of the gothy-looking necro girls from the common room carrying a bundle wrapped in a long woollen jacket. She looked to be around seventeen, had asphalt coloured hair, wore pale makeup and a stud in her nose. Sue directed her to the coffee table in the centre of the room and cleared off the remotes and books with a swipe of her arm.

“Sam! Get the first aid kit!”

 She carefully set the jacket on the table and opened it to reveal a limp black furred form. It had a strange mix of human and feline features and it looked like it had been run through Satan’s wood chipper. One eye was swollen shut, patches of fur were ripped out, and open cuts oozed blood from a number of deep gashes.

Dimitri came to stand next to the table.

“That’s part of the barkeep, right?”

“Minnaloushe!” Sue corrected him, giving him yet another glare.

“Minnaloushe,” he agreed.

Sam arrived in a storm of flannel, a heavy plastic first aid kit in his hand. “This isn’t the first time I’ve had this out tonight. I haven’t had time to restock it,” he warned, “but you can use whatever’s there.”

“He was hidden under the bar,” said the necro girl, whose name Aleph knew was Arachne. “We couldn’t take him to the hospital, you know since he’s part cat and stuff. Do you think he’ll be alright?”

Sue had snapped on a pair of blue latex gloves and was running her hands over Minnaloushe’s limps.
“His breathing sounds alright, he’s not bleeding out, and I don’t feel any broken bones. He might be bleeding inside though.”

“Oh!” Arachne put her fingers to her lips. “Poor thing.”

Aleph walked over and looked down at Minnaloushe. He was a Kellas Cat, and they could be complicated. She carefully opened an eyelid and examined his moon-shaped pupils. The right side of the pupil was dark against the golden iris and only a horned moon remained in the far left. It was a waning moon. That was not a good sign.

Minnaloushe’s body suddenly arched, he let out a keening whine but didn’t wake. Sue held up her hands and started back.

“I didn’t do anything!”

“I know. Where is the rest of him?” Aleph said to Arachne.

“The rest of him?”

“He’s a Kellas Cat. There are always nine of them. They can be spread out miles apart, but they’re still a single mind.”

“Oh my god, that is so cool!”

“There were only two of him on shift tonight,” said Sam.

“Where’s the second one then?”

Sam looked to Arachne, but she only shook her head. “That was the only one I found.”

“This member looks beat up but otherwise fine. I’m concerned with what’s happening to the rest of him.”

The room went quiet for a moment. “So what happens when there aren’t nine anymore?” Dimitri said.

Aleph shrugged. “No idea, but it can’t be good for him. Either way, this member is going to need stitches.” She began to rummage through the first aid kit and take stock of what was still there.
Dimitri nudged Sam. “She said, ‘member.’” Sam rolled his eyes.

“Shave and disinfect the area around the wounds,” she told Dimitri.

“Yup, got it.”

“Does anyone have a laptop?”

“Use mine,” said Sam, going to a bookcase and unplugging a large black laptop from its power cord. Aleph took the computer from his hands, sat down, twiddled with the touchpad and typed in some words. A few moments later guitar music rose from the little built-in speakers and she sat watching intently.

Arachne had been standing off to the side came over to watch. “I love your makeup,” she said.

“Thanks,” Aleph responded distractedly.

“You’re learning how to tie sutures on Youtube?” Sam asked with a note of reproof tinging his voice. He paused to watch more. “From a survivalist channel!?”

Aleph shrugged. “He isn’t going to bleed out, I have time to learn.”

“You haven’t done this before?!” he asked, his voice going up an octave. He’d clearly lost his earlier sense of awe.

“Nope. Closest I’ve come is Grey’s Anatomy. Now shut up, I’m trying to watch.”

Sam was able to keep his mouth closed for nearly a whole ten count before he said, “You aren’t talking about the medical book, are you? You’re speaking about the television show.”

Aleph sighed loudly, rolled her eyes, and paused the video. “He’s a Kellas Cat from Fey, it’s not like we can take him to the vet or the hospital. We deal with it ourselves or not at all.” She flipped her fingers at Sam in a dismissing gesture, “Now fuck off, I’m trying to watch.”

It took another half hour to shave, disinfect, then stitch Minnaloushe’s many wounds. This included the time it took Aleph to refine her suturing technique on a dried-out pomegranate they found lurking in the back of the staff fridge. Minnaloushe had to be held down during the procedure, but Aleph didn’t think it was from the pain of being stitched.

By the time they finished, the areas of newly-shaved skin around the wounds made the cat look to Aleph as though, after plumbing the secrets of the universe, Stephen Hawking had decided to take up pet grooming.

“Will he live?” Sue asked in a subdued voice.

“He isn’t dying,” replied Aleph, “I’m not going to commit to more than that.”

Sam eyed Minnaloushe critically where he lay at the epicentre of clumps of fur and bloody gauze. “We should have shaved him all, at least then he’d be even.”

“Do you have any idea how pissed he’d be?” Aleph asked.

“Pissed yes, but I ask you, is there anything funnier than a pissed, newly shaved cat. That’s comedy gold.” Sam smiled expectantly at her.

“If you want comedy gold, draw a dick on his forehead with a marker,” Dimitri chimed in. “That one never gets old. Wait, would it be a cat dick or a regular dick?”

“What is wrong with you two?” asked Sue over the snickers of the two men. “He’s been attacked and injured in defence of this place, where’s your empathy?”

Sam looked a bit shamefaced, but Dimitri kept right on going. “Hey Sam, you know what we just did, right?” he raised his eyebrows suggestively at the shaved cat and grinned. It took a second for his meaning to sink in.

“No. Dimitri, just no.” Sam buried his face in his hands.

“We shaved a…”

“Don’t say it, man.”

“Oh, come on, it’s funny.”

Sue rolled her eyes at him and Arachne began to laugh.

“See, she thinks it’s funny,” said Dimitri pointing.

“No, I’m just laughing at what a creepy douche you are,” she said while still managing to smile brightly.

“Sometimes Dimitri, you can be such a dickhole,” Sue added.

Before things devolved further, Aleph brought up the thing nobody had been speaking about. “So, where is he now?” she asked looking at Dimitri.

“How should I know? I’m not his babysitter.”

“You should know because I asked you to keep an eye on him. You should know because you’re the Webmage who can track people, remember?”

Dimitri shrunk in on himself. “Yeah, but I’ve been a bit busy, and besides, I didn’t mind keeping an eye out when he was flying under the radar. With that display tonight, he might as well strapped on a skull jock strap and marched in the necro pride parade. I’d be surprised if the Alchemist guild hasn’t already erased his ass. He’s made himself radioactive.”

“Oh, you mean Kingsford?” Arachne asked, seeming to finally catch on.

“Kingsford?” Aleph asked.

“Uh huh!” Arachne pulled out a smartphone and cued up a video file that showed a grainy, but very recognizable figure wearing a charcoal bag on his head. He was snapping black necrotic whips at people walking around with obviously fatal injuries. Over the dull roar of the crucible in the background, she could hear a tinny, “Pew! pew! Come out of the phone’s speaker.

“Oh no.”

“Come on now, it’s not that bad! I’ve already got over five thousand hits!”

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Chapter 24, Part 1: Shaving the Cat.

Hi, Everyone! The usual warning applies here, this is still a rough draft with adult language and situations. Thanks for reading!

The arcane community in Vancouver wasn’t large because magical talent was common. It was large because many of its members did their very best to avoid injury and death at all costs. The community spent more time concerned with things like dental hygiene, home insurance, and dietary fibre than they did on things like calling down lightning and battling the forces of darkness.

They stuck to hobbies that were specifically chosen to keep them away from physical or mental distress. Macrame, bonsai, and for the more adventurous, cheese making, were some of the most popular activities among the ancient and long-established. These were the stalwarts of the arcane community, many of whom had long since navigated their first centuries of existence with the steady deliberation of a heavily-medicated librarian.

This isn’t to say that nothing interesting ever happened in Vancouver, it often did, but it was a safe kind of interesting that you could comment on in the morning and forget by the afternoon. The community had the feel of a very old and well-tended garden.

Not everyone could be as sensible, of course. Every garden, no matter how well looked after, attracted its pests, the young, the transient, and the apt to die. Even so, things usually wrapped up by nine o’clock on weeknights so everyone could get home and settle in with a cup of milky tea.
On a night like this one with a chill wind blowing, and rain coming down in sheets, most of the community were in their warm beds, or failing that, sipping at a hot toddy and exclaiming at the horrendous weather.

This is why it was such a surprise for Aleph when she came through the door of Strangefellows to find the place buzzing with activity and the coppery smell of blood heavy in the air. She had a strong suspicion that whatever had happened here involved Stirling Haig.

The place had been utterly wrecked. A mound of destroyed furniture was piled against one wall, and the floor looked like it had been used as a canvas by a blood-frenzied Jackson Pollock. There were perhaps fifty people still in the room, some sitting, some standing, but all with expressions that ranged from shock to outright weeping.

The club’s dragon was prowling around the back of the room and lashing its tail in agitation. Aleph had known Strangefellows had one, but she’d never expected them to need it.

A man with bright red hair, wearing an unlikely combination of flannel robe and partly laced work boots, was mopping the floors with a bucket of water that looked at least half blood. Aleph recognized him as one of the establishment’s Char Witches. Heads turned and conversation quieted As she came into the room.

She walked up to the man with the mop. “Sam, right?” she asked.

He straightened when he heard his name and flinched back when he saw her face. Maybe she should have worn her makeup after all.

“Uh, yes, what can I do for you…?” he seemed unsure how to address her. She got this a lot.

“Aleph is fine,” she said, though he didn’t look totally convinced.

“What can I do for you, um, Aleph?”

She made a point of looking around at the wrecked furniture, blood-spattered floors and bucket of bloody water before reaching into her jacket and pulling out her badge.

He looked at it blankly then back up at her. A look of realization dawned on his face. “Oh right! Sorry, I’m still a bit shell-shocked.”

“Did you see what happened here?”

He swallowed. “Everyone did.” He stalled, as though wanting to speak but not knowing where to begin.

She gave him a second to compose himself while she took out a pen and notepad before fixing him with her eyes.

He saw her black eyes fixed on him, swallowed and began.“They were all customers we’ve had in here before, a few of them were even regulars. They just came in and started beating on people. I’m not talking about just throwing a punch or two. No, they were actually trying to kill.”

She’d been pumping people for information like this for decades and in very little time she had the story out of him, at least the parts he’d tell her without more prodding.

“I’m assuming Stirling Haig was the one with the charcoal bag on his head?”

“What? No! Who?” His reaction might have been comical if the situation wasn’t so serious.

Aleph gave Sam a very direct look. “He had an empty bag of charcoal on his head. You are a char witch. Where would he get such a thing?”

Sam opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

Aleph sighed and paced through the room. Near the centre, she came to a sudden stop and held out her free hand in front of her. She waved it gently through the space at chest level and made a pinching movement as though plucking a thread from mid-air. She turned back to where Sam watched and blew over her fingertips. Her breath turned to heavy mist for the space of half a heartbeat.

“Stirling Haig,” she said again. “I’m guessing he got the empty bag of charcoal from the back room where you keep the crucible?”

Sam’s eyes had turned a bit wild and he looked around to see who was close enough to hear. Maybe he had a point. The middle of a club probably wasn’t the place to speak about rogue necromancers. She decided to change the topic for the moment.

“Have you seen Dimitri Singh tonight? He and one other were to meet me here tonight.”

“Oh, right! Yeah, Dimitri’s here.

When he didn’t move, she gave him an “after you” kind of gesture and he led her to a battered "employees only" door. The door opened out, but someone, or many someones from the look of it, had tried to pound it down from the outside. Amatures.

Sam nodded mutely and held the door open for her.

A narrow hallway led to a well-lit room where the crucible that powered Strangefellows quietly roared. A woman with bright yellow and red hair had her arms up to the shoulder in the burning charcoal, her face less than a half foot from the glowing embers. The updraft from the fire blew the hair back from her face which was facing away from them as she felt her way around the inside of the clay container. A streak of ash ran from her nose up her forehead. A man with dark features sat in a lawn chair against one wall with his head held in his long-fingered hands.

“This doesn’t look good, Dimitri, the woman was saying. The temperature rose too fast, some of these sigils are seriously fucked. I’m not even sure how we’re still getting eighty percent efficiency. We’re going to need to begin work on another one ASAP.”

Sam cleared his throat and Sue finally turned her head to see Aleph standing in the doorway. “Aleph!” carolled Sue, pulling her arm from the crucible and brushing off a few live embers back into the clay vessel. Dimitri lifted his head to look at them with tired, haunted eyes.

Sue straightened and dashed toward her with her arms wide. “Oh my god, it’s amazing to see you!”

“You  never get tired of that joke, do you?” Aleph asked, smiling and holding her own arms open.

 Sue threw her arms around Aleph’s shoulders and burst into tears. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she sobbed into Aleph’s shoulder. “It was horrible.”

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Chapter 23, Part 2

A bit late this week, but this chapter was still in such a mess that I needed some time to put it back together. The usual warning applies. This is a rough draft with adult language and situations. Thanks for reading!

Stirling staggered through the door of the gas station with Magnon perched on his shoulder, arms wrapped around himself, and colder than he’d ever been in his life. He stumbled to the coffee bar and chose their largest cup. He did his best to pour with cold-numbed hands and managed to get a little over half of it in his cup on the first try.

The attendant behind the counter fixed a hard look at him, the crow on his shoulder, and the mess he’d made of the coffee bar. Stirling dug into his pocket and with unfeeling fingers, pulled out a ten.
“K-keep t-the ch-change, just let me w-warm up inside f-for a few m-minutes.”

The attendant slid the ten back over the glass counter of scratch lottery tickets. “Fine, just clean up after yourself, and if the bird makes a mess, you’re out. Alright, buddy?”

Stirling nodded his agreement and the attendant went back to reading a novel he had stashed behind the counter. Stirling wrapped his hands around the cup and sipped hot coffee. It burned deliciously as it filled his mouth and trickled down his throat.

By the time he poured his second cup, the shivering was slowly subsiding and is hands and feet were beginning to tingle uncomfortably with returning blood.

“S-so, how do I put the hurt on this cockbag of an alchemist?” Stirling finally asked when he felt he was no longer in danger of succumbing to hypothermic shock.

“Huh?” the attendant asked, looking up from his novel.

Stirling looked at him over the racks of chocolate bars, pulled his cell phone from his pants pocket, and put it to his ear upside down.

“I’m on the phone,” he said to the man.

The attendant looked confused.

“Smooth,” said Magnon’s voice in his head.

“I know, right?” he said, turning to look at Magnon, and not caring that the words were more than loud enough to reach the ears of the gas jockey. “He’ll never suspect I’m actually talking to a bird.”

“So, how about it? How do I get some payback on this eldritch ass monkey? This guy needs to learn that stealing my magic isn’t cool, mine most of all.”

“You don’t,” said Magnon.

“Oh, come on. He’s a guy with a chemistry set who happened to learn magic. How tough can he be? You saw how useful those zombie things were against me.”

Stirling took a deep pull off of his coffee and nodded happily at the attendant who was still staring over at him.

“If it is Knox of the White, he’s a vicious bigot with a persecution complex over two centuries old. He’s got more money than God, but those aren’t the reasons you shouldn’t mess with him.”

“They aren’t?”

“No. He’s also a member of the Alchemist Guild, and that’s a group that one does not, under any circumstances, fuck with. Any attack on one of their own, they see as an attack on the whole guild.”

“What? Are they powerful or something?”

“They control all access to Panacea. Beyond the riches and influence, that monopoly has brought them, cross them just once and they won’t just cut you off, they cut off your friends, your family, anyone you have had the briefest of relationships with.”

“That’s no problem, I hardly know anyone who even knows what Panacea is.”

 “Do you remember Sue, that char witch who works at Strangefellows? She has two kids at home. Say she gets in a car accident or gets a really aggressive cancer. What then?”

“Why would the Guild go after her? She doesn’t even like me.”

“So what? Anyone on the Guild’s shit list becomes the equivalent of a plague ship. Anyone you come into contact with is screwed.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Maybe, but nobody, and I mean nobody, goes up against an alchemist.”

“Here’s another fact. A hundred years ago there were thousands of necromancers across the Aether,” Magnon continued. “Now there aren’t any, and the Alchemist Guild is the reason why. They hunt down and kill anyone suspected of being a necromancer.”

“Except me,” Stirling said.

“Trust me, if you decide to go after Dr. Robert Knox, you won’t be here long either.”

“So this Guild must not be very popular, then.”

“You don’t understand, the Alchemist Guild can literally grant life and death. It doesn’t matter if they’re popular, they’re the only game in town.”

“Sure, but you said it yourself, what he’s doing is illegal. Necroalchemical magic is off limits, right? Illegal and unethical, that’s what you said.”

“It’s illegal only if he gets caught, and lucky for him, with a brand new necromancer in town, he’s got a lot of reasonable doubt in his corner. You, on the other hand, are just one of the usual suspects. The only thing we’ve got going for us is that he won’t want his own people digging too deeply. He probably won’t call in Guild assassins.”

“Back up a sec. If these Alchemists are so good at hunting Necromancers, how come I’m still around? I’ve been making decoys for years, not to mention using my power to exterminate pests. I’m literally advertising online.”

“They weren’t looking for magic ducks or dead rats, they were looking for people who talk to ghosts.”

That took Stirling aback. “Why would anyone want to talk to ghosts? Ghosts are assholes.”

“Because,” said Magnon, with the slow patience of someone explaining the obvious, “Every deadhead in the last eighty years has begun their career in one of two ways. Either they try to make a buck by speaking with the dead and passing on messages to the living, or they end up in the nuthouse because they hear voices. The alchemists have learned to monitor mental patients and the talk show circuit. Now, this might come as a surprise, but not one necromancer has ever come out to the world by carving enchanted ducks. I mean seriously. Ducks? How did that even come up as an option?”

“Easy. People don’t like being around me, so starting a business where I need to actually deal with people face to face isn’t an option, and even when I thought I might be crazy, I kept keep a lid on it. From there, ducks were the logical choice.”

“No, they weren’t,” Magnon objected. “The only time carved ducks is the right answer is when the question is, ‘what’s wood but also looks like a duck?’”

“Says you.” Stirling took another long drink and refilled his cup a third time. “So if you don’t want me going after him, what am I supposed to do?”

“We find a place to lay low until ten.”

“Why ten?”

“Because there’s only one place in two hundred miles you’ll be safe, and on the weekends they don’t begin serving brunch until ten.”


Though it was dark, Katherine’s eyes easily picked out the man loping awkwardly down the darkened street away from Strangefellows. The partially torn charcoal bag he’d discarded was now clutched in her damp hands. Ever since she’d felt that cold magic in Strangefellows, her mind had been in a haze of numb detachment.

She recognized the feel of his power. It had animated those bodies in Strangefellows, it had filled the black whips he’d used to kill them, and it had been in the knife that burned away the Panacea from Elanor’s blood.

In Elanor’s memories, she’d met any number of gods and goddesses, but she’d never felt that her fate was controlled by any one of them. Now though… What were the chances that she’d run into this necromancer tonight when she hadn’t even heard of any active since Nineteen thirty-eight?
Thoughts whirled in her mind like leaves caught in a strong wind. She gripped the hem of her jacket and squeezed. Her fingertips broke through the thick nylon. Whatever she’d decide, she couldn’t let him out of her sight. She padded silently behind him into the wet darkness.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Chapter 23, Part 1

Thanks for reading! The usual warning applies. Adult language and situations.

Stirling pushed through the outer doors of Strangefellows and out into the rain. There were still a few people clustered around the entrance with worried expressions on their faces. When they saw the charcoal bag on his head their expressions became even more deeply concerned. He nodded at them as he passed.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good fucking night.”

He rubbed his hands together, shoved them in his armpits and staggered into the rain. He’d gotten a bit too carried away with the mojo and he needed to find somewhere warm and dry before the possibility of hypothermia became a hard reality. Normally, he’d have a ceramic heater, a hot shower, and as much coffee as he could drink to warm him up. What he had now was a damp rain jacket, a dangerously low core body temperature, and a wet December night. Not good.

As he left the pool of yellow light at the entrance to the club, he pulled off the paper charcoal bag and tossed it away with a trembling hand. Cold rain pattered against his newly bald scalp. He did the best he could to wash away the charcoal dust from the inside of the bag before pulling on his hood.
He glanced at his phone. There were still four hours of night left and he was positive each one would only suck more than the one before.

Wet gravel and cracked pavement crunched under the soles of his boots as he loped around the blocky garage and back onto the street. A pool of orange sodium light marked an intersection a few hundred feet ahead and he pointed himself in that direction. A flicker of shadow caught his eye between himself and the streetlight. He could just make out the silhouette of Magnon perched on a darkened stop sign as it settled his feathers.

Great job at keeping a low profile. Would you like me to let you know how spectacularly fucked you are, or would you like to start?”

“It’s not that bad. I was in disguise.”

You cunning fiend! Nobody will connect the stranger who suddenly appeared at the doors of Strangefellows with the stranger who left wearing the same clothes and a charcoal bag on his head. Bravo.

“You know, you’re kind of an asshole. Most of the people who saw me come in were gone by the time I left. Besides, that mess was my mess to clean up. Those things were animated with my magic.”

The crow let out a defeated sounding mental sigh. “No, not just your magic. Couldn’t you smell it? The whole place stank of alchemy. That was a Necroalchemical binding.”

“Whose the what now?”

Necroalchemical. A fusion of alchemy and necromancy. Illegal, unethical, and really damn effective. Didn’t you see the souls?”

“Well, Duh. There were ghosts all over the place in there.”

I said souls, not ghosts,” said Magnon slowly, as though explaining to a young child.

Stirling gritted his teeth. He wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or from the irritation. “I’m a little foggy on the whole ghost, soul thing. Want to give me the Cole’s Notes version?”

Ghosts are like the spiritual shrapnel that get left behind when a soul goes to the other side. As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, they’re about as smart as a sack of rocks. A soul, on the other hand, is the whole nonphysical identity of a person. They’re the intellect and personality of the person that continues on after they die.

A horrible thought occurred to Stirling. “So, when I was using my whips back there, I was killing souls? Why didn’t you stop me!”

In your dreams. You have to be a powerful necromancer to even scratch a soul. It’s a good thing too, I’d rather be standing at ground zero at a nuclear test site than be in the same place as a sundering soul. No, all you were doing was sending them on to the other side. Trust me, you were doing them a favour.”

“They didn’t seem to think so.”

Stirling staggered level with the crow’s stop sign. He hadn’t warmed noticeably.

Well, then that just goes to show that death doesn’t stop you from being a dumbass. Didn’t you see their wounds? That was what the binding did to them. The spell created spiritual parasites to bite off little pieces of the soul’s energy. The parasite infests the physical body and uses the energy to control and animate them. It’s a really efficient little set-up.”

“What would happen if the parasite used up all of the soul?”

What’s one minus one?


Stirling chafed his forearms to bring some circulation back as he mulled it over in his mind. Magnon beat his wet wings to land on the slick power lines overhead.

“Who made the parasites? Do you think it was that Knox guy?”

It’s a good question. A better question though, is who is controlling them? Since it wasn’t you, it had to be an alchemist. Knox of the White would be a good guess.”

“Since it wasn’t me!? What’s that supposed to mean?!”

I did say necroalchemical, right? If you break the word apart, it has two different words hidden inside. Those undead back in Strangefellows were created by alchemical, and necromantic magic. You can come at the problem from either side of the fence with nearly identical results. Don’t think for a second that the alchemist who created them didn’t know that, either.”

Of course an alchemist couldn’t do it by themselves,” Magnon went on. “They’d need someone dumb enough to leave necromantic magic lying around where anyone could find and use it,” the crow continued. “An enchanted wooden duck, for example.”

“I’m beginning to think I might have fucked up.”

Very introspective of you.”

“This is really interesting, and I’ll be happy to admit that I screwed the pooch as much as you want later on, but right now I need to get somewhere warm,” Stirling said through chattering teeth. “I can’t feel my fingers or toes.”

Magnon cocked his head down at Stirling. “You do look cold. There’s a gas station in a couple blocks. You can get a coffee or something. I forget how inefficient new necromancers can be with their spells.

“I’m not n-new, I’ve been d-doing this for years,” Stirling got out between shivers as he staggered forward.

It was either call you new, or call you shitty,” replied Magnon. “Which would you prefer?

“I had t-to teach m-myself,” Stirling protested. A thought struck him and Stirling glanced up at the crow. “How does a c-creature who sees r-roadkill as a n-nummy snack, know so much about n-necromancy?”

Crows are psychopomps.

“Psychopomp?” Stirling was suddenly treated to the mental impression of dark funnel clouds writhing against a wind-torn landscape beamed directly into his brain. Each of the twisters was made from tens of thousands of wheeling crows. He couldn’t see details, only the black shadows of crows as they flew, silhouetted on a backdrop of a glowing green sky. Stirling knew that each of the crows contained a soul of the newly dead, and through the eyes of memory, watched as they swooped in and released their charges into the heart of the vortex. As they were released, the souls made their spiralling way down the sides of the funnels until they reached the base and moved on from this reality into the next.

“Th-that’s your j-job?”

It’s the job of every crow. Death feeds us at her table, and we repay our debt by being couriers of souls.

Stirling thought about it. “That’s a nice p-piece of s-symmetry, there.”

Deep Magics are usually like that.”

The glowing sign of a Husky gas station slowly came into view, and Stirling staggered through the door with Magnon perched on his shoulder. He stumbled to the coffee bar and chose their largest cup. He did his best to pour with cold-numbed hands and managed to get a little over half of it in his cup on the first try.

The attendant behind the counter looked hard between him, the crow on his shoulder, and the mess he’d made of the coffee bar. Stirling dug into his pocket and pulled out a ten.

“K-keep t-the ch-change, just let me w-warm up inside f-for a few m-minutes.”

“Fine, just clean up after yourself, alright, buddy?”

Stirling nodded his agreement and the attendant went back to reading a novel he had stashed behind the counter. Stirling wrapped his hands around the cup and sipped hot coffee. It burned deliciously as it filled his mouth and trickled down his throat.

By the time he poured his second cup, the shivering was slowly subsiding and is hands and feet were beginning to tingle uncomfortably with returning blood.