Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Chapter 13, part 1






Aleph looked out the window of her office and past the outer wall onto the lights of the Black Quarter. The room was on the fourth floor of the Armoury, three floors higher than anything else in The Wandering Market so the view was exceptional. She needed to go back to Vancouver soon, but she knew taking a moment for herself now would pay off later.

The market beyond the window was as quiet as it ever was, but it was a brittle, tripwire quiet that was made only to be broken. It was the deep breath before the plunge. She forced her shoulders to relax and looked over the market she’d helped to shape. Memories of years long past insinuated themselves in her mind and she let them come.

Back when she’d first arrived it had been the perfect place for a young woman who’d lost everything to finally lose herself as well. If she’d come just a year earlier, she might have even succeeded.
By the time the Second World War was kicking off back on Erde, The Wandering Market, once the wonder of the many worlds, had become a place you only went when you were of a mind to have the shit kicked out of you by beings from across the length and breadth of the Aether. There was organized crime at the top of the food chain, gangs at the bottom, and everyone else being squeezed in the middle. It was the best place in all the Aether to get in over your head quickly.

It would have worked if her arrival hadn’t coincided with Penhold’s; The newly-raised Duke who had been charged with bringing order back to the Market.  With war breaking out on Erde and spilling over into the nearby worlds, the Alchemists had decided the Market was too great a strategic asset to fall into the wrong hands. Aleph hadn’t ever discovered whose hands those were, but she had some very unkind suspicions. Penhold had served them well in the Dust War and the Market would be his reward, if he could hold onto it.

Accompanying the Duke, came the Duke’s Own Police, veterans from the war who became a moderating influence on the more bloodthirsty and avaricious elements of the market. Over the course of the next few decades, they administered their own cheerful brand of impartial violence to all who would break the peace of the market. Truncheons were introduced to recalcitrant skulls, the glory of the Market was burnished anew, and order was snatched from the jaws of chaos. By the end of it, and despite all her efforts, she was still more or less whole.

The ducal residence became known as The Armoury, and it sat like a huge stone spider in the exact centre of The Wandering Market. Granite-cobbled streets spun off from its reinforced cement walls into the four quarters like the threads of an enormous web.

The Armoury itself was designed in the spirit of oneupmanship that made the Cold War years that followed such a relaxing and carefree era. The building was a near-identical copy to the home of the Seaforth Highlander Regiment which had claimed a spot on Burrard Street in Vancouver since the mid-nineteen-thirties. The only real difference between the two buildings was that the Ducal residence in The Market was twice as large because overcompensation is an imperative to the fragile male ego without regard to place or species.
The Armoury was a castle in the Scottish Baronial tradition, a tradition which in itself was best known for taking elements of defensive architecture and shrinking them down to the point of uselessness. Increasing the size of the building hadn’t improved the situation, it had just made battlements and crenellations that were small and useless, slightly larger, but just as useless.

While keeping the forms, if not the function of a military castle intact, the architects had also cleverly failed to include any modern upgrades that would have made the reinforced cement building slightly more livable. Central heating, electricity, and phone lines were completely ignored during its design and as a result, the building was cool enough to serve as a walk-in fridge with no way to call for help once you invariably became lost in the dark.

Eighty years on, and almost all of the oversights had been ironed out. All throughout the building members of The Duke’s Own went about their tasks. Constables booked the latest to be arrested for a stag party gone wrong in the Red Quarter or followed up leads on a pallet of Panotii antiques that had gone missing in transit. It was the usual Friday night for a police department in charge of the largest transit point for goods and services in the Aether.

Somehow along the way Aleph had been swept up in the momentum of the Market’s renaissance and had even come to a grudging friendship with the Duke. She couldn’t forgive him, but there were times when she forgot long enough to actually like him.

Now with Yatagarasu back, she couldn’t think of him as Crow Magnon, all the old misgivings and memories stirred in her mind. She was ecstatic to see him again, but it would have been so much simpler if he’d stayed in the past.

A deferential knock came from her door, breaking into her thoughts.



Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Chapter 12, part 2

The interlude continues with the culmination of Katherine's first chapter! Like all the others, this is a first draft, so expect errors.

For the first time I had over a hundred individual hits on the blog last Wednesday, so thanks again for reading!






It only took half a block of walking for Katherine to realize that the town drunk in an old-timey Western movie would kick her ass at a roadside sobriety showdown. After ten blocks of sore hands and skinned knees, her walking was improving, but she was also sure there were bottles of wine that were improving faster.

Without her umbrella to steady her, she didn’t think she would have made it five steps out the door. Her progress was frustratingly slow and painful. What kept her going was that every step she took was progress. Each staggering, lurching, stride was a tiny improvement over the one before and every step she took was one closer to paying Knox back.

 The knees of her jeans were wet and torn, and her shoes slapped clumsily on the cement sidewalk. A slowed down version of the ooga-chaka, chorus from Blue Suede’s, Hooked on a Feeling, was repeating on a loop in her head. She didn’t even think she liked seventies music, though being only a few hours old she was willing to admit that her opinions weren’t set in stone. The song kept ooga-chucking along, and she timed her awkward steps to it.

It was dark, but that didn’t mean she had any idea what time it was. In Vancouver, at this time of year, it could be anywhere from four thirty in the afternoon to eight in the morning. From the far-off muted roar of the traffic, her best guess was that it was probably in the small hours of the morning.
She could feel her shoulders tighten as she shuffled her way down the dark streets. She wasn’t in a bad neighbourhood per se, but with her torn-out knees and staggering gait, she wasn’t exactly broadcasting, “Evildoers beware! here is a strong and capable woman!” No, the very best that she thought she could manage was, “Here is a staggering pisstank, please victimize me.”

Of course, she wasn’t just any normal staggering pisstank. For example, your standard pisstank couldn’t dent steel posts with their bare hands, not unless said pisstank also happened to be Spiderman. Or her.

She’d discovered that new perk while using a lamp post to help balance her after she’d stumbled and nearly fallen. In a fit of frustration, she’d given the unoffending post a good smack with the heel of her palm. The blow had nearly knocked her off her feet, but the inch-deep dent she’d put into the steel was the more surprising of the two results.

Even with all of Elanor’s alchemical knowledge, she had no idea where her strength had come from. There were some alchemical homunculi who had that kind of power, but homunculi were almost all smaller than she was. Also, they took months to make and required way more horse semen than Elanor could have easily put her hands on in such short notice. Alchemy wasn’t suited for those with a squeamish disposition.

She made her unsteady way into a residential neighbourhood. The streets were lined with bald trees whose black silhouettes rose like river deltas, draining up into the hazy sodium-orange night sky. It gave everything an unreal feeling which dovetailed nicely into Katherine’s overall state of mind.
There were definite attractions to living in Vancouver, Katherine reflected, but the weather in winter was not one of them. A state of near-constant rain, combined with the wet air off the Pacific Ocean, made the winter air cold and heavy. Every October the clouds driving in off the Pacific crashed up against the Coastal Mountain Range like a soggy traffic accident and stalled there, usually until early summer.

One hundred and sixty days of average annual rainfall aside, there was something special about Vancouver. Over the century she’d lived here, Elanor had put together a theory why the supernatural had flocked to live in, what was, after all, a temperate rainforest. She’d called it her Liminal Theory of Transitions.

The idea revolved around the idea that edges encouraged possibility and possibility was the grease that eased the gears of magic. Edges were transitions, and the more transitions there were, the more possibilities opened up. Where the shoreline turned to the ocean, you had to go left, right, or get wet. Either way, a decision was made and those decisions branched away into countless possibilities.
Every major city there ever was, was built on an edge. London became the Thames, Paris wrapped herself in the Seine, New York transitioned into the Hudson and the Atlantic. All transitions to other places, other states of matter, other realms.

In Vancouver though, the continent, the ocean, the mountains, and the sky, were set like precise gears that spun possibility into the very air and stone of the place. In Vancouver possibility was simply more possible.

It was a running joke in the arcane community that the province’s tourism motto, “Super, Natural British Columbia,” just needed to remove a comma to get it right. There were more sorcerers, mystics, alchemists, magi, ghosts, Fey, lesser gods, and plain weird shit in Vancouver than almost any place outside of the Old World where such creatures had thousands of years to accrue.

At the edges of old maps they use to write, “Here be dragons,” but even dragons like to come in from the cold for a good cup of coffee now and then. Vancouver was at the edge of a lot of different maps, and it had the dragons to prove it.

Katherine was on her way to Strangefellows, one of the places where the dragons were known to drop by, and it wasn’t by choice. In her position there were no good choices, just ones that were slightly less bad.

She gave it even odds that Knox would go back to the lab, whether to gloat, to steal more of Elanor’s treasures, or for both reasons. A hundred and twenty-five pounds of missing flesh would be pretty a pretty conspicuous absence. Even Knox, the asshole that he was, would eventually put it together and that was her problem. She needed to avoid him at all costs and that made her next moves predictable.

Even in a place like Vancouver that attracted the supernatural like Hipsters to a sale on moustache wax, there wasn’t such a large community that it would be easy to just blend in. She needed to avoid scrutiny, partly to avoid Knox, but also because of her nature.

The bias had already been there before she’d ever put pen to paper, but it was Mary Shelly’s novel that had given voice to the movement that had stripped away the rights of the magically created. Shelly had written her book to cast a light on the cruelty sometimes visited on magical constructs, but it had the opposite effect. Now, after so many years, her intent hardly mattered. Stories of Golems and Homunculi running amok were grist for the mill.

It hadn’t helped that the most common tricked constructs were brainless automatons created by inept masters. They were attack dogs that could accept a series of simple commands. Those commands were rarely anything healthy to trespassers. There had been some messy and spectacular fatalities.
Like all constructs, if she was killed there would be no murder charge. At best, her killer might be hit with a fine for damaging property, and that was only if she belonged to someone first.

The fact that she even looked human broke a dozen different laws, though it was the only reason she was even considering trying to rejoin the arcane community and not walking into the ocean.
Strangefellows was an oddity in the arcane community. They were one of the few establishments across the Aether who held the Guild at arm’s length, and that was just fine with her.

It had started out as a social club for sorcerers; the majority of people with magical talent but without the money, motivation, or connections to be trained at one of the schools. Strangefellows was the place where sorcerers could buy, sell, or trade their half-learned tricks from three-ringed grimoires photocopied at Staples over a beer.

Over the years, the club had attracted more and different flavours of arcane practitioners, but it had always maintained its reputation as a place for outsiders and independents. Elanor had visited once and not returned. Knox wouldn’t be seen within a hundred meters of the place. For Katherine though, it might be a place to keep her head down, assuming she could even get an invite.

The last Elanor had heard, the club was squatting in an empty garage in Richmond—if they hadn’t already moved on that was. Even since the Great War, the club had the habit of pulling up stakes and moving every six months. Unless she wanted to hijack and old age pensioner on an electric scooter, it would mean a long, wet walk.

She stopped walking to look down the street. Patterns of grey rain shifted in the streetlights like Damascus steel. Water ran down the slope toward the dark ribbon of the Fraser River. On the other side was Richmond. Blue Suede began ooga chucking a tiny bit faster in her head and she continued on through the night.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Chapter 12, part 1

The interlude continues with chapter 12. This picks up where chapter 1 left off. The usual warnings apply.  Thanks for reading!



Ch 12









Elanor was dead. Dead as a doornail. Dead as the Dodo. Dead as a Norwegian Blue Parrot. That should have been it, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, go directly to the grave, and that’s mostly what happened when Knox stabbed her with his tricked knife, but only mostly. It was that “mostly” that was really getting up Katherine’s nose.

Up until about five hours ago, she hadn’t existed, now that she did, she was having serious doubts that the new gig was all that it was cracked up to be. So far, her first taste of life was undercooked, squishy, and smelled like old fish. If life had been a restaurant she’d already have walked out without paying the bill.

Her brief existence had been filled with things that ranged from mildly irritating, to soul-wrenchingly painful. Sure, there might be joys and triumphs, but from where she stood, they were the decorative rainbow sprinkles on top a giant turd cake.

Katherine placed the blame for her rough start squarely in Elanor’s lap. When shuffling off their mortal coil most people were content to let out a terminal sigh and slump to the ground. Not Elanor. No, she had to go and complicate things. Using the skills she’d collected over four centuries of study, her last act was to create a construct using her own flesh as a sort of macabre modelling clay. Katherine was the well and truly freaked out result.

That by itself might not have been so bad, she could have come to terms with how she was made given some quiet time alone, and maybe some self-help books; Chicken Soup for the Golem’s Soul, or, I’m a Magical Construct, and that’s Alright.

When you got right down to it, people were made of the same old stuff that had been eaten and recycled by plants, animals, and fungi for millions of years. Everyone had protein in them that had once belonged to other animals, protein that at some point had to have once belonged to other humans. It was all part of the well-mixed biological stew every living thing was made from. It was nasty to think about, and it would have taken some time, but Katherine would have eventually come to terms with the unusual method of her creation, except for one thing.

Elanor had downloaded all of her four hundred plus years of memory and experience into Katherine’s skull with one massive, brain-pulping shove. The process was like being force-fed every single episode of a four hundred season reality television show, except you could never look away, never pause, and there were no bathroom breaks. From where Katherine stood, Malcolm Mc Dowell in A Clockwork Orange was a howling pansy who had absolutely nothing whatsoever to be upset about.

The process had been so traumatic that there were large chunks of her borrowed memory that were simply absent. Whether she’d ever get them back, Katherine didn’t know. The memory that was absolutely crystal clear in her mind though, was Elanor’s final transformation. There was no getting around it, no possible doubt. She was made from one hundred percent, post-consumer recycled Elanor.

Her brain shied away from the thought and she focused on her senses and what they told her. Compared to the second-hand memories, her current state didn’t seem much different. Cold was still cold, though maybe it lacked the bite it had in Elanor’s memories. Her senses were sharper, colours were deeper, but that was to be expected. As a rule, Golems were more durable and came with better senses than your standard version 1.0 human. It was helpful to have durable subordinates who could aid in dangerous experiments.

She couldn’t help but listen to the voice in her head that told her that all she was, was a magic doll with someone else’s memories stuck in her head. Where did she begin, and her maker end? Was she a person, or did it just feel that way? It was with these thoughts in her head that she sat, cold and naked looking over the destroyed laboratory.

Neat and orderly rows of familiar glass tubes, retorts, and pressure vessels were overturned and shattered. The mass spectrometer that was only three months old, the centrifuge, microscopes and stills, all smashed and scattered across the room. She reminded herself that they were Elanor’s things, and that made it slightly more bearable.

 Elanor had been absolutely right there at the end when she discovered that, yes, as a matter of fact, dying really did suck. The only thing that could possibly suck more at this point would be to experience it twice in the same night. Knox was out there, and worse, he had Madame Rag and Mister Bone with him. If they came back for whatever reason, Katherine would be in a very bad situation.

She rose to her shaking legs, took a hesitant step on unfamiliar feet, wobbled, and fell on her face. She should have known better. Coordination was one of those things that needed to be earned.
Infants took months and years to burn in the neural pathways that made moving second nature. Most of that time was spent thrashing around in bouncy seats and pooping indiscriminately, which was exactly the point. It took the brain time to figure out how to pilot a new body. It was the same with alchemical constructs, if a much faster process. It would likely only take hours to really get the hang of things rather than months. In the meanwhile, she wouldn’t be winning any gymnastics competitions—not unless they needed a pommel horse.

She used the edge of Elanor’s desk and shuffled around to sit on the office chair that was still placed neatly behind. It didn’t take much coordination to push off with her legs, and soon she was rolling on the chair through the vandalized workshop. Glass and ceramic shards jabbed into her feet unnoticed as she rolled her way through the room. They were pushed out of her flesh just as quickly.
The laboratory was a large space with high ceilings, a curious mixture of high tech medical-grade equipment housed in a medieval-style workshop. Bright lights made glowing islands over individual workstations spaced along chemical-stained wooden trestle tables.

The workstations were just as likely to have a smashed Confocal Microscope as they were to have a dusty copy of The Six Keys of Exodus laying next to a mortar and pestle.

Explosions of yellow sulphur, white alum, red iron oxide, and blue copper sulphate lay over the mess and gave the destruction an incongruously festive feel. At least Knox and his crew had been thorough. She’d hate to think that they hadn’t put a full effort in.

She expected nothing less but was still dismayed when she came to the steel door that was the entrance to the vault. The door itself was largely undamaged, but the hinges were a melted ruin. The door was propped crookedly against the wall, and steel ran like wax down the wall to puddle on the stone floor. There was faint heat radiating from the solid puddle even now.

The steel that made the vault door was Elanor’s own creation and was far stronger and purer than any steel modern science had yet come up with. Just the tempering process for a piece this size was a feat only a hair on this side of impossible. She knew metallurgists who would gladly trade their mother for the chance to examine this door—then begin casually looking around for other people’s mothers who might be laying around unattended.

As durable as the door was, it melted at the exact same temperature as regular steel, and any alchemist of any colour knew how to run a heat still.

She paused outside of the vault, knowing what she would see, but still not wanting to confront it. Gritting her teeth, she pushed her chair with its juddering wheels past the ruined door and into the vault.

The interior was a shambles, bright lights glared down on ransacked chests and lockboxes that had been torn open and dropped to the floor like discarded candy wrappers. All of Elanor’s most important successes, every alchemical marvel she’d ever created had been stored here. Some of it was still present, inscribed cogs and broken lenses peeking out from under the ruin. Empty spaces on the shelves showed where Knox had carried off something he liked. None of the objects had been any less than years in the making.

Most worrying of all were the now-empty shelves where Elanor had kept her notebooks. Nearly five centuries worth of hard-fought knowledge were in those books. That thought galvanized her like nothing else had. Knox could not be allowed to gain that kind of knowledge.

At his current advancement in the Guild Knox was like a poorly behaved house cat. He could act all pissy, scratch your furniture, and throw up the occasional hairball to show his displeasure. Deadly to the mice, but if he got too out of hand the Guild would be there with a spray bottle and rolled up newspaper to take him down a peg. With the knowledge contained in those books though, Knox would become a cat the size of a pickup truck. It would be a PR disaster for the Guild and a catastrophe for the arcane community.

Elanor had taken her notes in code, but no code was unbreakable. To make matters worse, Elanor hadn’t been nearly paranoid enough. With the use of a gifted technomancer she could have made her code near-unbreakable, instead, her code was merely difficult. Knox needed to join the ranks of those who no longer paid taxes before he broke those codes.

The idea of killing the alchemist surprised her as she thought it, not because it was coldblooded or dangerous, but because Elanor would never even have considered it. Elanor had lived with the bone-deep belief that you simply didn’t kill other alchemists. Katherine felt no such constraint. In her opinion, any world where Knox no longer drew breath would be an inherently better one.

Thankfully she wasn’t starting from the ground up. Elanor had not survived as long as she had, navigating the murky politics of the Alchemist’s Guild for all those centuries, without a healthy dose of paranoia. The first rule of surviving a long and healthy life was to never, ever put all your eggs in one basket. Elanor had many different baskets, and Katherine knew exactly where all the eggs were hidden.

First things first though, she couldn’t do much without clothes, and here again, Elanor would provide. In the lab there were a hundred ways for a shirt or pair of pants to meet an untimely end. Flame, corrosive vapours, acids, reagents, and even a good old-fashioned explosion could take their toll. These types of occurrences, while extremely rare, weren’t as much a concern as they might be in a conventional lab. With Panacea, it was easy to become complacent when it came to workplace safety. Safety glasses were created for people who couldn’t quickly grow a new set of eyes.

Getting dressed, Katherine wasn’t surprised to find that she was the same size as her creator. Unfortunately, Elanor hadn’t considered socks, bra, or panties to be emergency wardrobe necessities and Katherine was forced to go commando. That was just as well, she wasn’t at all sure about wearing another woman’s panties. Once finished, she was dressed in a pair of comfortable jeans, t-shirt and zip-up hoodie.

With the help of her chair, she carefully stood upright and shuffled toward the exit of the workshop. Already, her body was becoming more coordinated.

She passed by the blackened portion of stone floor and Katherine felt her eyes beginning to swim. Elanor had been a decent person, she hadn’t deserved this. Nearby lay the knife Knox had been too squeamish to recover. Its tip was still stained with Elanor’s blood.

Katherine stooped carefully to pick it up. It was a single-edged affair made of acid-darkened Damascus steel. Its blade was four inches long, curved and tapered from a long drop point. The handle was a dark grained brown wood and the finish made her think it was a high-end piece of equipment. Regardless of its quality though, it was a knife meant for slicing, an all-purpose knife, not a stabbing weapon, not a weapon for fighting. No assassin would choose a knife like this one—no competent one at least.

She held it in her hand and closed her eyes. For a moment she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to feel anything, but faintly, ever so faintly she could make out a faint pulse of a magical resonance over the white noise of her own consciousness. If she hadn’t had Elanor’s memories twisting through her brain she would have doubted she felt anything at all, but it was there, and maybe she could use it. She wrapped the blade in a piece of printer paper and pocketed it.

 At the door, she slipped on a pair of running shoes, chose a good rain jacket, and picked up a sturdy wooden umbrella. Straightening slowly, she carefully let go of her rolling chair to stand on her own for the first time. She was gratified to find that she wavered only a little bit.

When she opened the lab door, a gust of cold wind blew inside and swirled around her hood. She could smell the faint scent of Elanor’s hair in the cotton, and couldn’t help but think that from now on the smell, and everything that had once made Elanor a person would fade out of the world. All except her. Using the umbrella as a cane, she walked slowly and carefully out into the cold night.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Chapter 11 part 2

This is a first draft so expect some errors. There is adult language and humour, in this segment. Thanks for reading!




Alex waited all morning, then all afternoon, then all evening for a call that he’d suspected from the start would never come. The interviewee, whose name, oddly enough, was Tony Danza, had been sacked after five troubled years on the job with The Duke’s Own Police Department.

While the Duke’s Own hadn’t publicly given any reason for his dismissal, it was an open secret that Tony had been tossed out only when the most recent in a long line of female co-workers grew tired of waking up to discover photographs of his penis in her inbox.

Tony was a part of that segment of the male population who’d never come to grips with the concept that their genitalia was not universally admired. This was a group to whom it was unthinkable that, upon sharing pictures of their most favourite appendage, they should not be showered in dick-related compliments, high-fives—or better yet, pictures of the recipient’s own genitals in the spirit of giving and reciprocity.

They weren’t delusional creeps with an over-inflated opinion of their penises, they were dick-pic Santa Clauses, bringing joy to the world, one .jpg file at a time. That the rest of the world couldn’t recognize this self-evident fact was a tragedy on the scale of the Hindenburg.

Alex was thankful in an odd sort of way, the urge to record one’s genitals, be they in the form of dick-pics or sex tapes, was a phenomenon transcended time, class, political affiliation, and space. Even in the polarised environment of political writing, it was only a matter of time until someone on the other side dropped trou in an effort to answer the age-old question: at what camera angle was the essence of their penis really best captured? Without men so blindly enamoured of their trouser-tackle, whole battalions of writers, himself included, would have to find other things to write about for an additional two months out of the year.

Alex spent most of his day engaged in online time-wasting, not really feeling motivated enough to begin anything new while waiting for the call from penis photography’s answer to Ansel Adams. He’d taken several different quizzes, and as a result now knew that his makeup bag should include winter colours, that his vocabulary was in the top point zero five percentile, and that his spirit vegetable was the self-reliant squash.

He imagined he could hear the cries of his brain cells as they slowly committed ritual suicide as he answered each new question. He was ready to do something else, anything else, as long as it would get him out of the office.

He put a stub of a cigarette to his lips and inhaled. Waiting for the call from the dick pic guy had been part of the effort to put the last touches on a story he’d been working on for the last few days. Another in the long line of articles addressing The Duke’s fading influence and mismanagement of Senak. It wasn’t the kind of story people read to learn anything new, it was the kind of story that let people soak up the warm glow of righteous moral outrage. It was the kind of article that let people feel superior for having the same opinion as the writer. It would win no awards, would crush his flattened beer can of soul just a tiny fraction thinner, and would pay his bills for another month.

He stared out his apartment window, in the distance, he could just make out the pin-prick sparks of Abeam and Windward as they swam serenely over The Wandering Market. Maybe he should call it a day and grab a coffee at Da Vinci’s. The Wandering Market was unusually close, and waiting for an interview with a man whose one claim to fame was sending unsolicited images of his manly bits via the Internet, didn’t seem like any better use of his time. Maybe a walk and some caffeine would shake some inspiration loose.

Being a freelance journalist let him set his own hours, but articles didn’t write themselves, and the hours pissed away drinking coffee and doing online quizzes would still need to be made up later. He crushed out his cigarette on his plate from lunch.

Fuck it.

He rose from his desk and picked up a tan overcoat from where he’d left it draped across the back of his couch half-way across his studio apartment. He shrugged it on and jumped involuntarily as his door made a loud metallic crunch. His doorknob fell off, bounced, and rocked drunkenly on the floor. The door silently swung open to reveal Mister Bone, still gripping the matching outer doorknob in his massive fist. Behind him, Alex could just see Madame Rag peering around the edge of her gargantuan spouse.

“Whoops,” said Mister Bone, deadpan. Alex wasn’t sure, but he thought the giant looked slightly more homicidal around the eyes today than usual. There was a tire mark on his shoulder.

“Who the fuck is going to pay for that?” Alex yelled pointing a finger at the knob. Alex knew enough not to show weakness around these two. Admittedly, being strong hadn’t ever helped much in the past, but at least this way he got to yell as he was being slapped around.

Bone ducked his head and turned to fit his shoulders through the doorframe, Rag followed close behind.

“We come bearing gifts, just like Father Christmas come early,” Rag exclaimed in her high, girlish voice.

“Like Greeks,” Bone added. Rag’s smile went slightly stale.

“Aren’t I the lucky one,” Alex said warily.

“You are,” she agreed, smiling at him so he could see the shape of her skull. “The biggest story of the past five decades and we’re dropping it right in your lap. All you need do is type it up. The work of a mere hour.”

“And what will it cost me?”

“Why nothing, we’re simply doing our part to keep the community safe.”

If Alex didn’t completely understand what cognitive dissonance meant before, he most certainly did now. “Uh huh. So you guys are suddenly on the side of the angels?”

Rag ignored him. “There is a Necromancer in Vancouver,” she said, as though she’d just told him the location of the Venus Di Milo’s wristwatch. Alex tapped out a fresh cigarette and lit it. To be fair, it would have been earth-shattering news if not for the fact that there were nightclubs and bars crammed full of “Necromancers” all throughout Vancouver and Senak.

The Necro subculture was merely the latest evolution in the endless line of movements created by the youth to horrify their parents. For much of the last decade you could have set your calendar to the release of some outraged article in the media on the topic of the lost youth of the Necro subculture. Alex had even penned a few himself. There was nothing like cashing in on the rabid moral outrage over the excesses of youth to bring the page hits flowing in.

From what he could tell, there hadn’t been a legitimate Necromancer anywhere in the Aether for over eighty years. Being a Necromancer these days meant you held seances in your parent's basement, got an hourglass and crossbones tattoo, and wore a lot of black.

When he was younger he’d embraced fluorescent colours and acid wash. His most prized piece of wardrobe had been an eye-molesting pink and yellow jacket which he’d worn for over a year. Based on that decision alone, he’d long since decided that he lacked the moral authority to judge how the youth should dress.

As for the other part, sure, sometimes the seances worked and they managed to snag some poor, clueless ghost, but so what? Claiming that they were necromancers was like saying, fish had two eyes, the Necro kids had two eyes, therefore the Necro kids must be fish.

“What? Did some kid buy a tricked Ouija board? I don’t have time to write an opinion piece, I’m waiting on an important call.”

“Don’t become too familiar, my dear Alex. We do in fact bite,” said Madame Rag, slowly stepping toward him.

“We bite, we chew, and then we swallow,” clarified Mister Bone.

Alex felt the back of his thighs hit the arm of his couch. It always came to this. Ever since he agreed to write articles for "The Sentinel," an online news site with strangely deep pockets, Rag and Bone had become semi-regular visitors with suggestions on what his next article should be.

Rag stepped in close enough that he could smell the reek of formalin on her clothes. She reached up and dragged a fingernail roughly down his unshaven cheek. “I don’t speak of some callow child play-acting. I speak of the real thing. You should know me well enough to know that I do not mess about. I’ll give you the details and you’ll have something out on your little gossip site in the next hour.” Rag pulled out a folded sheet of printed computer paper and handed it to him.

“This will be buried,” Alex said skimming the paper, “There’s nothing to back any of this up, it’s unfounded speculation.”

“That might be true if you were the only person we visited this evening. We all know that if one news site reports it, it’s fluff. If two sites report on it, it’s a story. If ten report it, and enough of the right people spread it around, well, that’s news, and news is the truth.”

Alex glanced back down at the paper and what was written there. Almost against his will, his brain began massaging the information into the shape of a story. He couldn’t really blame it, the poor thing, it was what he’d trained it to do, after all.

“Oh dear, will you look at the time slipping away from you and your, as yet, uneaten fingers!” Rag exclaimed, looking at the non-existent watch on her wrist in mock surprise. “I do hope you fail to have the story written up in time. I have to admit to being a wee bit peckish. I’ve hardly had a thing to eat today. Fifty-nine minutes,” Rag sang out.

“Tick tock. Crunch, crunch.” Mister Bone added.

Alex took off his overcoat and sat back down at his desk. His fingers felt uncomfortably sensitive on the keys as they hopscotched over his keyboard and words began to appear on his monitor.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Chapter 11 Part 1


As usual, this is a first draft, so expect some errors. Thanks for reading!





Madame Rag breathed in the stale air of the derelict home. Every city, no matter where it was on the globe, had places like this. Places, that if not abandoned, were at least left deserted for long stretches at a time. Madame Rag and Mister Bone knew them all, and in the rare case one couldn’t be quickly found, they simply created the vacancies required. That was just part of the fun.

It wasn’t that they didn’t enjoy the modern perks of hot running water, warm food, and comfy beds, it was simply that things so often seemed to become complicated when they brushed shoulders with “the normal folk.”

They mixed less well with the public than sea birds did with ruptured oil tankers. The end result in both cases were rows of dead things, be they migratory sandpipers, or uniformed hotel staff. Their clients didn’t like these little complications, and they were above all else, professionals.

She’d decided years and years ago that to maintain a healthy breeding population of hospitality workers, that they would strictly curtail their contact with the world of the regulars—especially Mister Bone, who admittedly had impulse control issues. Whenever they were called in for a job that required more than an afternoon to complete, they would simply retire to the closest abandoned motel, condemned home, or recently-depopulated flop house to await their orders.

When their employer was Knox of the White, as it often was, this arrangement was even more desirable. Being around Knox made both of them feel as though they were walking on eggshells made of unstable high explosive. This was likewise agreeable with Knox, to whom the idea of any kind of familiar relationship with “the help,” was unthinkable.

This evening found the two of them sitting by lantern light on the mouldy cushions of decomposing deck furniture at the edge of a stagnant indoor pool. Emerald moss and black mildew clung to the tiled walls in streaks, and floating in the centre of the once-luxurious pool was a large hummock of brown stringy vegetation. The cold air was moist and held the dark stink of decomposing fungus. Both Rag and Bone were silent. It wasn’t a companionable silence. It was the tight expectant silence of an impending unpleasant conversation.

Rag looked Mister Bone over. In his time he’d been shot, stabbed, poisoned, drowned, and defenestrated. He’d lived through Cholera, Typhus, and Plague. He’d been set upon by hunting dogs and burned by acid. He’d been buried up to his neck in the hot desert sand and left for dead. He’d had limbs caught in steam-powered machinery, and been hung by the neck on no less than seven separate occasions. Being nearly crushed under a car though was something new, and judging from his sullen silence, the novelty wasn’t a welcome one.

As he sat, he marched a large brown spider across one set of his knuckles then the other. They’d once seen a street magician do the same trick with a coin, but he insisted that his way was better.

“Want to know something?” he finally asked Madame Rag in a dolorous voice, “Being run over really hurts.” He rubbed at his shoulder where tire rubber was still visible against his pale skin.

“It was a small car,” she said tightly. “I was crushed by an omnibus. Remember that Shillibeer in Westminster? Three times the weight, and three sets of pounding hooves. I had scars for a week and a day.”

Bone released the spider on a cracked resin table and peered down at her curiously. “Healed fine,” he said, fingering open a gap in the buttons of her top. He leered in an expression of happy lust down at her and attempted to squeeze a cucumber-sized finger between the gap in the buttons.

“That’s not the point,” she replied, slapping away his gargantuan hand. “We were caught unprepared and our quarry has gone to ground. Himself will not be happy,” she predicted.

 Bone’s expression fell limp as an overcooked noodle at her words. He shrugged and stared at her with an expression like a bucket of still water. After a moment, he began to try and relocate his spider.

There would be no help from that quarter. No, Bone’s main contribution to any conversation lay in being someone other than yourself to speak to while you ordered your ideas. One didn’t expect to a canyon to echo the answers to your questions back at you, and that was Bone, an immovable feature of the landscape, not a fount of sober advice.

Sometimes when Madame Rag was in one of her less charitable moods, as she was now, she imagined that Mister Bone’s brain as of those fattened veal calves farmers kept in those little plastic igloos. The meat all tender and wobbly from lack of use. It was well that Mister Bone’s mind was not the feature that most attracted her.

She flipped idly through an old back issue of Scientific American. If Mister Bone wanted to sulk, that would be his affair. She eventually came upon an article that claimed that the act of smiling itself could improve one’s mood. With all that had gone pear-shaped that afternoon, she felt that she could do with any quantum of positivity she could bring to the impending conversation.

She smiled, and her skin stretched tight as a piano wire across a bike path. After a few more minutes of reading, she looked up at her husband. “This periodical claims that the act of smiling itself can improve your mood. They believe it affects the chemistry of the brain,” she said with a lunatic grin. “You should try it.”

He stared at her, the spider on his hand seizing on the moment of distraction to escape.

She gave him and encouraging nod, her fleshless face contorted into a death’s head grimace.

Mister Bone’s lips curled up revealing his teeth and gums.  

She wasn’t able to give any more instruction because at that moment her pocket chimed in the digital imitation of an old telephone bell. She didn’t need to see the caller ID. She’d only given the number to one person, and after last October’s debacle, the surviving telemarketers had spread the word around that her number wasn’t to be disturbed.

Rag closed her eyes and assumed a smile that revealed so many teeth that if anyone had seen her they might have been forgiven for thinking that she was the product of an experiment meant to fuse Julia Roberts with a Great White shark.

She pressed to accept the call on the third ring. “Hello, Doctor Knox, and how are we on this fine winter evening?” she asked, face contorted into a rictus of manic joy, her voice the smooth obsequiousness of rancid fat. “Yes, yes, we did, in fact, catch up with him…” she stood and began to pace in a circle. “Sadly, no. I have to report that I was quite unable to detain him, another party interfered. They proved to be quite the handful of rusty razorblades…” At this last, she glared at Mister Bone who was too focused on his spider to notice a thing. “The Webmage, Dimitri Singh… Yes, the very one.” She took her seat again and sat completely rigidly while she listened.
“I’m afraid I have another small morsel of bad news,” she said, her eyes a-twinkle with enforced cheer. “Our quarry was able to escape with the notebooks that we’d procured earlier…” The phone’s metal casing began to indent and Rag tried to smile even harder. It wasn’t easy, the muscles in her cheeks began to twitch under the strain and her molars were becoming visible.

The smile was not having the desired effect on the conversation she had hoped it might. There might be a time in the not-too-distant future when the staff of Scientific American received an unexpectedly lively visit to discuss the veracity of what they chose to publish.

Bone finally looked up at her with the slack expression that passed for curiosity before going back to his spider. It appeared to have fewer legs than it had only moments before.

Rag stood so abruptly her chair zoomed and skittered across the tiles behind her before crashing into a wall with an echoing boom and the sound of shattering ceramic. She began to stalk around the stagnant pool. “Might I humbly suggest that taking the mark out for drinks and the cinema may not be playing to our strengths? We do ever so well with a spot of slaughter and mayhem… No, I would, of course, never presume to tell you your business, I simply refer to our past successes…”

The smile on Rag’s face slowly asphyxiated and slumped over into a snarl. “In three centuries of being in the business, we have never failed to complete a commission. We will complete this one. One has a certain professional reputation to maintain, you see… Yes, I know of it… Very well, I’ll ensure they are made aware… I must say that when that news gets out the cat will be among the canaries… Is there anything else?…” Rag’s face suddenly became blank and inexpressive. “All of them? You would like me to wake all of them?… No, I was simply making sure I received your instructions correctly… Very well.”

For the first time in the conversation, Rag’s expression began to slowly melt into genuine pleasure. Mister Bone knew that expression, it was the expression that let him know that soon, hopefully very soon, he’d be able to get his hands wet, red, and sticky.

Rag completed her phone conversation and joined him next to the pool. She looked down to the table where the spider’s dismembered body now sat neatly next to a row of twitching legs arranged from largest to smallest. The spider’s abdomen still moved in tiny shifting twitches, as though it could somehow wiggle away.

“Shall we go, my dear Bone? We have a good deal of work to be about.”

“Good work?” Bone asked.

“The very best,” Rag confirmed. “Murder and skulduggery, Mister Bone! Murder and skulduggery.”

Bone nodded solemnly in reply.

Rag paused a moment and carefully picked up the legless spider between a thumb and forefinger to examine it. After a moment of thought, she popped the dainty into her mouth, puckered her lips, and began to gently suck on it. They left the room without a backward glance.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Chapter 10 part 2





As always, this is a first draft, so expect some errors. Adult language ahead, and thanks for reading!





They drove east into Burnaby and into an area with the soulless architecture that marked it as a business park. Dimitri put on his turn signal and they pulled off the street and into the parking lot of another McDonald’s. Stirling looked around.

“Are you hungry?”

“Actually, I am, but I need to chat with Aleph first. She owes me some answers.”

Dimitri walked toward the edge of the lot where the trees rose black against the orange glow of the streetlights reflecting on the cloud cover and continued into the darkness.

Stirling followed closely after. Once they passed through the bubble of light cast by the lights of the parking lot, the darkness under the trees was surprisingly complete. He followed the sound of Dimitri’s passage through the soggy turf and bare undergrowth for a long minute until they came to a gravelled path that ran along next to a noisy stream. Here Dimitri stopped and looked around.

“This should do it,” said Dimitri I a hushed voice.

Stirling looked around, nothing seemed to indicate that there was anything special about where they were.

“This is where constable goddess lives?”

“No,” said Dimitri, taking his phone out and activating the camera’s LED, “but it’s where we can talk to her.” He shone the light up into the branches of the nearby bare trees.

At first, Stirling didn’t notice anything unusual, but as he looked closer, he began to see that the branches all had irregular shadowy lumps on them; Hundreds of them, all around, in every single tree. When one of the lumps shook itself, he saw a familiar silhouette and understood.

When he’d gone through his own private hell with the local crows, Stirling had done some research on the birds. He discovered that all the crows around Vancouver would flock every evening, flying up to forty minutes to roost in the same place each night. Upwards of six thousand birds would arrive in the Burnaby roost around twilight and leave each morning to go back to their territories. Presumably, they had things to do there that crows found necessary and life-affirming. Pooping on cars and begging peanuts being the two Stirling was most familiar with.

Stirling had known they had a roost somewhere close to the Trans-Canada highway, but until now, he didn’t know exactly where it was.

“Close your eyes for a sec,” said Dimitri. “I need to get her attention.”

“Wha…” Stirling began but was interrupted as Dimitri snapped his fingers and a blinding flash of light originating from his fingers exploded out into the trees. There came the sound of hundreds of pissed-off and half blinded squawking crows from the trees all around them.

“Now that I have your attention, I need to speak to your mistress, Aleph, The Lady Crow, she of the black eyes!” Dimitri called into the night.

“A bit more warning next time!” said Stirling, trying to blink the spots out of his eyes. “My eyes, the goggles do nothing!”

Dimitri ignored him as the crows slowly settled. Soon only the sound of the stream and rain could be heard, and nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for another minute.

“Maybe she’s busy,” Stirling ventured.

“Dimitri, is that you?” They were perhaps the most horrifying four words Stirling had ever heard in his life. Each sound of each word came from a different crow perched in the trees around them. The hair on the back of Stirling’s neck rose at near escape velocity, and he couldn’t help but try and track the voice as it continued speaking through the crows all around them. “My children don’t see well in the dark.”

The words could be understood, but it was like the crows were trying to force out sounds they had only the slightest idea how to make. It made the intonations strange and inflexions oddly random. The sheer alienness of the sound put Stirling's teeth on edge and kept them there.

Dimitri turned his phone’s LED on his face. “We need to talk.” He swung the light over to shine on Stirling.

Not knowing what else to do, Stirling waved into the darkness. “Hey there!”

“You saddled me with a fucking Necromancer!” Dimitri shouted into the trees. “A Necromancer!”

“So?”

“So you could have told me what his knack was!”

“Then you wouldn’t have gone to help him.”

“That’s exactly my point!”

“Don’t be a child, Dimitri. You know as well as I that something is happening. I don’t know all the details yet, but the arcane community in Vancouver is quietly under attack. Rag and Bone can’t be the only ones responsible. Too many have been taken.”

“How many is many?” Dimitri broke in.

“Seventy-one in the last ten days.”

“Yeah, alright, that’s a lot.”

“You and Mr Haig here, are the only loose ends I’ve uncovered.”

“Have you looked into the angle of the guys with their ghosts on the outside?” Dimitri asked with the obnoxious tone of one revealing a bit of vital information he was sure the person he was revealing to didn’t know.

There was a long beat of silence.

“It seems Stirling here has noticed a few of them tonight, and each one of them tried to attack us. Might be important.”

Stirling nodded to confirm it. “It’s true, their ghosts were out of their bodies, they’re really freaky-looking too.”

“So, what do you have to say to that, your all-knowing goddessness?” Dimitri asked, smirking.

“Stop being a dick, Dimitri,” came the voice from all around them. “This is important, and it isn’t the kind of conversation we should be having out in the open. Meet me at Strangefellows as fast as you can get there.”

“No way, Rag and Bone are still after both of us. There’s no way I’m poking my head up until all this is in last week’s news. I’m digging a hole and crawling in. If Stirling here knows what’s good for him, he’ll join me.” He paused to consider. “You might think about it too.”

“There’s strength in numbers, Strangefellows has that. They also have two char witches and a crucible you helped design if I’m not mistaken. It’ll be safe for a quick visit, then you can go hide.”

Dimitri appeared to consider. “Fine, but I’m not happy about all this.”

“As long as you do it. In the meanwhile, you two clearly can’t be trusted to be left on your own.”

There came the sound of wings and a familiar-looking, yet soggy crow swooped out of the darkness to alight on the sodden ground in front of them. It eyed them both and cawed loudly.

It only took Stirling a started moment to recognise the crow. “Magnon!” said Stirling, crouching down.

“What?” came the startled, yet mildly pissed-off voice from the trees.

The crow cawed again repeatedly. It sounded like laughter. No, it was laughter. Stirling could simultaneously hear the crow cawing and a laughing in his mind and a wave of dizziness came over him. What the hell?

The crow hopped toward him and without thinking, Stirling held out his hand for the crow to perch on. His black feet and talons felt cold and wet.

“You know each other?!” came the directionless voice.”

Of course, Pretty Girl,” the laughing voice in his head said slyly.

There was a stunned silence from the trees.
“Yatagarasu?!”

Not since we last parted. I’m Magnon now.

“Huh?” asked Dimitri, clearly unable to hear the crow’s side of the conversation.

“I thought you were dead! Wait…” the unseen voice from  the darkness suddenly became flat, “Magnon? Your name is Crow-Magnon?”

Stirling stifled a laugh.

“What are you laughing at?” asked Aleph's voice a bit sharply.

“It’s been like five years since someone other than me got that joke. It’s got to be the most delayed punchline in the history of lame jokes. I just thought it was funny.”

“I don’t get it,” said Dimitri.

I like it. It’s whimsical,” said Magnon.

“It’s a horrible joke, it lacks the sense of gravitas you deserve.”

I’ve discovered I enjoy shitting on cars,” said the crow. With the words came a mental image of an enraged red-faced man standing next to a shiny yellow Hummer with a large white splat of crow turd on the hood. “The name contains all the gravitas I desire.

“Who are you two talking to?!” demanded Dimitri of the darkness.

“The crow,” said Stirling.

“The crow can talk!?”

“It’s a telepathy thing, I think. I didn’t really understand it all, but I think they used to know each other.”

“Well, duh he’s a crow, she’s the Lady Crow. Wait, you can hear it too!?”

Stirling nodded.

“Why didn’t you come to me?” asked Aleph’s voice from the darkness, sounding a bit hurt. “I missed you.”

You know how it works, Pretty Girl. I’m limited in what I can do until they’re aware. I believe it’s the same with you now.”

“Now Magnon here is being all cryptic about why he didn’t talk to her,” said Stirling to Dimitri, indicating the crow perched on his hand. “I think he wants to keep me out of the loop,” he added in a stage whisper.

Only for the time being,” came Magnon’s voice addressing him in his head.

“Talking long distance like this isn’t the best way to have this discussion. My children need their sleep,” said Aleph’s voice from a dozen sources. “Meet me at Strangefellows, we’ll catch up there.” She paused and addressed Magnon again, a bit hesitantly, Stirling thought. “Welcome back. A lot has changed since you left… You might not like all of it.”

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Chapter 10 part 1





A bit late this week, but there were a few things that needed to be ironed out.

As always, this is a first draft, so expect some errors. Adult language ahead, and thanks for reading!





Dimitri screamed back at the panhandler through the glass of his window, brown stained teeth and yellowed beard mere inches from his face. The ragged man reared back to punch at the window and Stirling had a sudden flashback to the woman smashing Dimitri’s window out in the parking lot of Greys and raking his face. Maybe Dimitri did too because he cranked the wheel over and bounced the SUV up and over the concrete divider, knocking their would-be assailant on his ass. Dimitri laid on the horn and gunned it up the oncoming lane and into the intersection, barely avoiding a city bus as he did.

“Okay, James!” Dimitri shouted, “I hate doing this to you, but clear the way!”

“On it,” came a slightly nasal male voice over the SUV’s speakers.”

Ahead of them, the lights which had been turning from amber to red went a solid flashing green. So did the ones in the intersection after that, and the one after that. They flew past the confused expressions of motorists wondering what happened to their turn to go.

After a few blocks, Dimitri took his foot off the gas and they blended back into the regular nightmare of evening traffic. The lights continued to be in their favour though.

“James?” asked Stirling, lifting an eyebrow.

“He’s my plastic pal who’s fun to be with,” said Dimitri.

When Stirling only looked blankly at him, Dimitri just shook his head in disgust. “This is what happens when nobody reads the classics anymore,” he grumbled.

“So you said you were a technomancer,” Stirling tried again. “That includes talking cars and making stoplights turn green when you want?”

“Sometimes.”

“I don’t remember that being in your list of knacks. There’s no ‘T’ for technomancer in ‘demean.’”
“Technically, I’m an enchanter,” Dimitri said shortly. “I infuse objects with different kinds of magic. Specifically, though, I’m good at enchanting tech. In the business, it’s called being a technomancer.”

“Technomancer,” Stirling said, tasting the word. “Holy balls! That has got to be the best goddamn professional title ever!”

“I know, right?” Dimitri flashed a grin at him.

“That name on your business card must be like a free pass to an all-you-can-eat woman buffet!” Stirling said, gazing in admiration.

Dimitri’s grin faded, “I get by.”

Stirling noticed the look, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not gay myself, but even I might look twice if I met someone who called themselves a technomancer!” He struck an action pose and hissed, “Technomancer!”

“Dude, No! it’s not like that!” Dimitri sighed and collected himself before saying, “Yeah, being a technomancer sounds pretty cool, but in the end, you’re just a computer geek who uses magic. How many computer geeks you know are drowning in a sea of female attention?”
“Does online porn count?”

“No,” he said emphatically. “No, it doesn’t”

“Yeah, alright then, you may have a point,” Stirling conceded.

“Besides, the only people who call us technomancers are other technomancers,” Dimitri admitted glumly.

“What do other people call you?”

“Webmages,” Dimitri muttered, barely audibly.

“Webmages?!” Stirling let out a snort. “Sorry, you’re right, it’s not funny at all.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

They whooshed through another green-lit intersection.

“Hey don’t feel too bad,” said Stirling, feeling he should say something. He took out his phone and poked at it for a time before the picture of a middle-aged woman glowed into existence on the screen. He showed it to Dimitri.

“Who’s that?” Dimitri asked.

“This sexy beast right here is Melinda fucking Gates,” said Stirling. “She is a sultry maven of tech whose looks are only surpassed by her smarts and philanthropy. She’s married to Bill Gates, the nerd-king of computer geeks.”

“So? What does that have to do with anything?”

 “Well, if Bill can find someone, you might too.” Stirling chucked him gently on the shoulder in what he imagined was a fatherly, chin-up, sort of way.

“Bill Gates is a multi, multi-billionaire, and she’s old enough to be my mom.”

“Three kids,” Stirling continued, reading from her Wikipedia page. “That’s only one less than Hugh Hefner.” He inhaled in a faux-orgasmic way and gave his eyebrows a suggestive waggle. “She and Bill are probably in Seattle right now going at it like a pair of pre-lubricated weasels.”

“What the fuck, dude!?” Dimitri sounded outraged, but there was a hint of a wry smile there too.
“Anywhoo, I noticed that this isn’t the way to Richmond,” said Stirling, looking out the window.
“Quick side-trip,” said Dimitri with an amused note in his voice. “I have a bad feeling that bum was looking for us, and I want some answers.”

“I prefer, Gentleman of the Road,” said Stirling.

“Huh?”

“There were months after I got out of school when I was a paycheque away from being him.”

“He tried to break my fucking window! I’m not worried about offending his sensibilities.”

“Weird thing about him though,” Stirling continued, unruffled, “he was wearing his ghost on the outside.”

“What?! How does that work?”

“I know, right? I thought it was weird too. He’s like the second person I’ve seen doing that today. That woman who broke your window in Grey’s parking lot was rocking the same look. Her ghost looked like it had been in an industrial accident though.”

“And this was something you couldn’t have mentioned earlier?”

“I’ve been distracted,” said Stirling.

“What does that even mean, ‘their ghost was on the outside?’”

“I don’t know.”

“But you’re the necromancer.”

“Maybe, but I’m not a very good one. An hour ago I didn’t even know what a knack was. Anyway, it’s not like ghosts go out of their way to talk to me. Mostly they tell me to go suck a dick. Mostly.”

“So is there anything else you need to tell me.”

“No, but I have another question.”

“How could I guess.”

“What’s with your face?”

“My face? What do you mean?” Dimitri lifted his butt off his seat to look at his face in the rearview mirror.

“Well, that woman in the Greys parking lot raked you with her nails pretty good, but I don’t see a mark. Also, that shoulder doesn’t seem to be bothering you all that much. What are you, some kind of Desi Wolverine?”

Dimitri looked at him consideringly. “Sometimes I forget how much you don’t know. Most sponsored have barely hit puberty when they get tagged into the arcane ring. Someone your age should know this shit already.”

He took a deep breath. “Alright, you know what the Philosopher’s Stone is?”
“Yes.”

“Well, the alchemists never found it.”

“Oh. Okay. That’s good. I guess.”

“What they did find instead was almost as good though. It’s stuff called Panacea, and it makes you temporarily immortal.”

“Temporarily immortal? Isn’t immortal the opposite of temporary?”

Dimitri took a hand off the wheel and waggled it at him. “It works out that a drop of this stuff is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of wear and tear on the body. It’ll grow back limbs, cure most diseases, and next to printer ink, it’s about the most expensive stuff in existence. I got a ten-year dose of it two months ago.”

“Holy balls! You’re like Connor McLeod, immortal swashbuckling highlander for the next ten years!”

“Dude, your geek is showing.”