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.