Library Vignette #2 (2019)

“Trevor!  It’s been a time.  To what do I owe the visit?”

Trevor Miller flashed a smile.  Only Nancy Fernandez would call two weeks “a time” as if years had passed.  He ran a hand over his shaven pate, scattering some drops of rain.

“Every hour away is like a week, Nancy.  How has Paul been?”

“At our age, we’re not allowed to complain.  Every day is a little miracle.”

Trevor chuckled.

If Nancy was a day over 55, he’d be shocked.  Her people often exceeded two centuries before old age took them.  But, she always tried the old lady gambit to play on customer sympathies.

“I heard from a little bird that you found an authentic, first draft, Yao.  If it’s original and really his, I’d be in the market.”

“What are you offering?  No, doesn’t matter.  If I did have possession of such a thing, it would not be for sale.  At any price.”

“You’re sure?  I’d be able to offer six figures right now, seven in a few days.  Possibly a favor or two too.  I could probably get that authorized.”

The diminutive, stout, Latina pretended to consider the offer for a couple seconds.

“No.  Not even for you.  If we even had a Yao, which I’m not saying we do.  Not even for the . . . place you work.  Yes, Paul did some digging, he still has connections and contacts.  We know who you work for, Trevor.”

Trevor paused, reassessing.

“C’mon, Nancy.  If you know that, then you know the Chief’s been looking for years.  She’ll send someone else.  It could get nasty.  You know I’m warning, for your safety, not threatening.”

Library Vignette #1 (2019)

“Mr. Jonson?  Hildegard Blair, assistant to the Chief Librarian.  We spoke briefly when Librarian Liu interviewed you.”

Hildegard leaned back in her chair, surveying the young man across the broad plain of her desk.  Around the buttes and plateaus of papers and ledgers, she saw an unremarkable man, in appearance.  But, there was something about him.  Liu was right.

“Librarian Liu and I agreed that you are a good fit for the position he has open.  So, welcome to the Library and congratulations.”

She stood and extended her hand.

Pale, slender fingers wrapped around hers in a mediocre shake.

“Thank you, Master Blair!”

“Librarian Blair, please.  We have no masters here.”

The young man, John Milton Jonson, she remembered, nodded and paused, like he was filing information away.  Like he was actually listening and remembering.

It was vaguely disturbing.

“You’ll be in the Mundane Collection, under Librarian Liu.  Those are the safest of our texts.  Nothing magic or dangerous.  Most new trainees start there.  I’ll take you over, after we get your room squared away.  There is a map of the mansion in your room, with the public areas and dining room marked.  The doors to the Mundane Collection and Visitor Hall will work for you, but not the other collections.  Any questions?”

She glanced out a window, noting the early buds on the trees.

“No, I don’t think so, yet.”

“You might want to get an extra layer.  The Mundane Collection’s in late winter, I believe, right now.  Winter lasts a couple months longer there.  It can be a bit drafty.”

General Vignette #3 (2019)

Greywood Institute

It felt like it should be dark, near midnight.

With a storm raging and lightning flashing in the sky, punctuated by the rolling clash of thunder.

But, it wasn’t.

Nor was it a lab in the tallest tower of a gothic castle.

No.

It was a clean lab in the heart of the Greywood Institute, in North America.

Alex McGuire felt that moment deserved some drama.  The greatest experiment and discovery in magical history deserved recognition.  Some pomp.  Some notice.

Not hidden in a secret lab.

He heaved a sigh

C’est la vie.

Time to get started and make history.

“Aimée, Wil, complete the circle runes.  Then positions one and three.”

He nodded in satisfaction as two assistant broke from their huddle to follow his direction.

“Valentyna, the volunteers.  Then position four.”

As his assistant led in half a dozen people, Alex turned to the rest.

“Miroslav, two.  Nanna, five.”

Alex stood in the center of the activity, ignoring the quiet economical moved.  He felt around, feeling for the well of magic the Institute sat upon.  Greywood had been built on the site for exactly that reason.  He tapped the well, filling and exceeding his own reserves.

The five aides reached their positions just as Alex felt the wave of power wash over him.  The volunteers had spilled blood.  The raw power available was heady, but decades of practice kept Alex in control, riding the ebb and flow of the waves.

In seconds, his assistants started a low chant, repetition of the same six syllables.  The sound helped Alex focus, to channel and guide the incredible amount of power at his fingertips.

He first sent a narrow stream into the circles and runes that surrounded the focal point.  Protection and containment flared bright for those with the ability to see.

That was the easy part.

The second element would require the lion’s share of the power, and the finesse of a delicate touch to shape a complex network.

Alex allowed the chant to fade from his consciousness.  It would still help the others focus, but now he needed to sink deeper than the repetitive sound would go.

He let the monumental energy build and infuse his being.  The euphoric state could only be maintained for a limited time before the power began to rip its vessel, his body, apart.

Years of preparation had gone into the spell, Alex reminded himself.  He would not let it crash by rushing, nor by waiting too long.

In a forced calm, the sorcerer began mentally drawing lines of energy into shapes.  This part, he had spent seven months rehearsing and refining.  For the last two months, he had even worked them in his dreams.  Drove everyone on the team nuts.

Two hours later, the final piece was in place.

Alex siphoned off a trickle of energy to revive his flagging assistants.  Then he opened the metaphysical flood gates into a channel, funneling power into his construct.

As the last drop left his body, he brought himself back to awareness of his surroundings.

The chanting had fallen silent.

In the exact center of the circle, a blue oval shimmered.  It was suspended a couple inches off the floor, like a mirror hung in midair.  Every couple seconds, a pulse rippled the surface.

The experiment seemed to be a success.

General Vignette #2 (2019)

Once, Nica thought, the neighborhood had been a nice area.  A beacon.  A place where women didn’t worry about walking alone day or night.

Those days were long since passed.

Not that she worried.

The last time Psezpolnica, now Nica Radcliffe, had been afraid to walk anywhere alone, this city had not yet been born.  In fact, she added, the country hadn’t been more than a mark on an obscure map drawn by the Northmen.

The faint scrape of a boot sole on concrete brought a smile to her lips as she turned down an alley.

Feeding time.

Nica turned around to the shing of steel leaving a scabbard.

Or not.

A lesser person, or even a lesser shtriga, might have been frozen.  The alley mouth was blocked by a middle aged man illuminated by one of the few working street lights.  He had a good six inches, and sixty pounds, on her, clad in jeans and combat boots.

And in his hands . . .

“What the hell is it with you people and Japanese swords?” Nica said.  “The Nepali kukri and French falchion are perfectly able to separate heads from shoulders.  Even a hardware store machete will do a serviceable job.  So, why the fetish for the katana?”

While she spoke, Nica stretched out with her other senses.  All it took was a few moments to confirm that he was alone.  And that confirmation was all she needed.

It was over in seconds.

Nica continued down the street, licking the last drops of her meal from her lips.  Not a bad night, she thought.  Both a meal and one less hunter of her kind in the world, the only time she ever killed her prey.

General Vignette #1 (2019)

Origin Legend

In the beginning, so the stories say, there was Man.

After millennia passed, in which Man changed in form and knowledge, a new man was born.  This man, whom we call the Progenitor, displayed abilities, faculties, powers beyond those of his fellows.  Or her, the stories are unclear.  Where these powers came from is also unclear.  Some legends suggest they resulted from mutations.  Others believe the intervention of outsiders, whether interplanetary or interdimensional, was involved.  A diminishing few believe the Progenitor was divine in origin.

Alone in the world, a world that feared and worshiped them, the Progenitor took a succession of mates from amongst the humans.  Each was outlived, but each produced a child with the Progenitor.  Today, we call them the Second Generation.  Their names are recorded in legend as: Ananya, La’ibum, Manywe, and Golga.  Each possessed part of the Progenitor’s powers.

Ananya lived in seclusion for many generations.  Eventually, she took a child of Manywe as mate.  From their union, two children were brought to the world.  The eldest was the first Fenix, a child of the Second and Third generations.  The second was the first dragon.  According to some, a third child was born, but no tales hold this child’s name or traits.

For his part, Manywe studied the natural forces of the world.  He took to wife a number of human women, whom he outlives, as an immortal or near immortal.  With those mortals, Manywe produced six children, each inheritor to a fraction of his power, as the Progenitor’s line was diluted.  These six, of the Third Generation, were the world’s first true magicians.  They studied under their father, with each mastering one of the modern magical arts.  In time, Manywe’s eldest would marry Ananya and produce the immortal races.

Like his sister, La’ibum left the settlements of men.  However, he did not spend his time in seclusion and contemplation.  Rather, he studied the birds and beasts.  He learned to incorporate their traits and strengths in himself.  La’ibum never married, but he did sire five children, four with humans and one with a beast.  The youngest returned to the realms of Men and adapted her father’s teaching and talent.  La’ibum’s children became the first of the shifters, before the almasti and wargs diverged.

Of the last of the Second Generation, Golga, the surviving legends say nothing beyond her name.  The silence feeds speculation among scholars and the public alike.  Many believe she was struck from the record, disowned by the Progenitor.  Others think her line of descendants removed her from the stories to hide or protect themselves.  Most believe she simply disappeared, easy enough to do in the ancient days.

Ashford Vignette #14 (2009)

Ben Henningson looked around the room that would be his for the last year he spent at Ashford.  Honestly, he thought, 2-A was no different from the other rooms, only the layout of the dorm space was altered.  It was the same size with the exact same simple furnishings of his last four rooms.

Then it hit him.

This was his last room and his last year, unless he decided to teach, or spend years doing research.  Neither option appealed.

After this year, it was back to the family compound to be sent wherever they decided he was needed.

Just like generations of Henningsons before.

The irony struck him, standing there.

The family had been bound to Niedrah, an entity of chaos and adaptability, for centuries.  That in itself, he admitted, was ironic.  But, for all their service to Niedrah, the elder Henningsons were amazingly bound to tradition as well.

“Maybe it’s time things were shaken up a bit,” he muttered to himself.

A wave of his hand sent the contents of his pair of bags flying to their places around the small room.  Another absent gesture caused sheets to stretch themselves over the narrow mattress of the bed.

Ben flopped down, hands behind his head, and stared at the ceiling.

He realized that for the last four years he had never consciously thought about what he wanted to do when he left Ashford.  He just accepted that the family would decide the rest of his life, as it had for his parents, and their parents, and his cousins.

That probably explained why his cousin Jace was always so unhappy, borderline resting pissed face.  He’d been a really good illusion artist when he was younger.  But, the family needed someone to oversee its west coast business interests when he graduated, so that’s where Jace went.

Four Corners Vignette #6 (2019)

“A lot of people want to believe in an afterlife because they’re looking for something better than this world,” Jacob Ellwood said, as he set the translucent figures between his hands rotating.  “I say, there’s no guarantee of an afterlife, or that if there is one it’ll be like you think.  This world’s the only sure thing, so take what joy you can from this world and this life.  Some take joy in getting stuff, others in seeing the world.”

He nodded toward the illusory scene formed, floating, between his palms.  Subtle changes affected the figures.

“I take joy in practicing, creating, and perfecting ephemeral art,” Jacob said, then nodded across the manicured park.  “I’ve been coming out here off and on for seven years now.  Every day, Winston has been here, rain or shine, caring for the trees and shrubs.  It’s what he enjoys.  Does that answer your question?”

He sat in silence for a few minutes.  Both Jacob and his companion outwardly focused on the older man, Winston Tykma, moving amongst the trees of West Park.  A couple local kids, no older than eight or nine, trailed along behind him.  The breeze, funneled by the buildings around them, set branches swaying.

It was, Jacob reflected, nice to get out of the apartment studio occasionally.  Even if it meant being accosted by people from time to time.

“Mr. Woodbine?”

His companion, introduced as Esmond Woodbine, shook himself.

“It is certainly something to consider, Mr. Ellwood.  But, it doesn’t answer my question about how what you do relates to the entity Aedolan.”

“Yes.  Caught that, did you?  Well, that’s a whole other day’s talk.”

Ashford Vignette #13 (2019)

“Mornin’, English!”

Verner Thornton looked up from the pile of papers on his desk.  Seeing the translucent speaker, once a pale brunette, he sighed and plastered on a smile.

“What can I do for you, Maeri?”

Maeri Read had died seven centuries earlier.  He had never learned how, or why she was bound to Ashford.  Usually, she stuck to the libraries, unless Evelyn Lake, the head librarian, sent her with messages.

“Madam Lake says she needs the item from number nine.  And that you would know what she means.”

He nodded, “I do, Maeri.  I will bring it to the main library this afternoon.  It will take some time to get out.”

“She says the first floor library.”

“In that case, the first floor.  Please tell her to expect me around two.”

He sat for a few minutes after the ghost left, his eyes focused on the blank wall.

The room was deliberately devoid of decoration or adornment, part of its security.  Only one desk and a door in each of the four walls.  It was also the only room of the vault’s nine that remained stationary.  Room nine was the most secure and difficult to navigate.

Finally, Verner decided he had best get it over with.

He rose smoothly to his feet, locking the outer door with a gesture, and looked at each inner door in turn.  Choosing the correct door would help retrieve the librarian’s artifact.  In fact, navigating the vault’s shifting room was one part experience, one part intuition, and several parts luck, since there was no pattern to its movements.

Satisfied, the middle-aged witch decided on the door directly behind his desk.  It felt like the shortest route to room nine.

Four Corners Vignette #5 (2019)

Nica turned down the proper street and found the door she’d been informed of.  It looked plain and simple, no different than any other door on the street.  But, that was the point.  With a moment’s thought, she tapped the lintel stones in the pattern she’d been told.

As the door closed behind her, Nica found herself not in a building, but on a wide pedestrian street.

Looking as she walked, she decided the Four Corners was quaint.  It had a certain Old World feel, reminiscent of the nicer parts of 18th century London, she thought.  But rather cleaner.  Better sanitation.  The whole place couldn’t have been more than two centuries old, though.

Nica consulted her mental map, as she took in the cacophony of sounds and scents while weaving along the crowded street.  The place could give the City of London a run for its money in terms of foot traffic.

After a short distance, she spotted the street.  First right.  Twycross.

Nica scanned storefronts as she walked the less congested avenue.  Most appeared to be printers and writers, professional researchers and private tutors.

But, there, nestled between an antique dealer and a scryer, was the place she sought.

House Ross’s office.

The House was younger than her, but it paid to follow the niceties and rituals.  Kept shtriga from killing each other.  Mostly.

She opened the royal blue door set in a whitewashed frame.

Inside, a young man sat behind a heavy mahogany desk.

He smiled brightly when she walked in.

“Welcome to House Ross.  I am Lucien del Rio.  How may we help you?”

Nica nodded.

“Nica Radcliffe.  I’ll be visiting for a good week.  Just paying my respects to . . . Harrison Ross.”

“Excellent!  There is, of course, no need to see Lord Ross directly.  Just sign this book here, with your expected purpose of visit and anticipated length of stay.”

As Nica wrote, he continued.

“House Ross has no feuds, and is completely neutral, politically speaking.  As such, violence against shtriga and non-shtriga alike is forbidden, except in clear cases of self-defense.  Have you seen the brochure?”

He handed Nica a tri-fold pamphlet.

“Panel two has all the places where shtriga are allowed to feed.  Do you have lodging?  No?  No matter.  Panel three lists some places that are shtriga friendly.  The back lists the office’s open hours as well as business and after-hours contact information, should you have any trouble or questions.”

Nica simply stared in silence.

In nearly five centuries of life on two continents, traveling to hundreds of House territories, she had never been through an introduction so . . . business-like.  It felt like a chamber of commerce greeting, not that of a House of blood drinking immortals.

The Lucien’s suit and the décor hit her.

Camouflage.

Blend in and set the mortals at ease.

“Any questions?  Or anything we ca do to help?”

Nica shook her head, both clearing cobwebs and answering.

“No.  I think that will do.  Thank you, Lucien.  Oh.  Does Lord Ross meet visitors anywhere?  A little old fashioned, I know, but . . .” she shrugged depreciatingly.

“Not at all, Lady Radcliffe . . . Nica.  He does spend time at the first restaurant on the list on Tuesdays, usually one to four in the afternoon.”

“Thank you,” Nica said, before turning to escape.

Ashford Vignette #12 (2019)

One moment, Mary Bennett had been in the basement of a closed bar that had seen better days.  Only the fact that she had a letter of instructions and a dozen other people her age were with her got her in the building.

The next moment, a step through a doorway, she found herself in a tall, sprawling ballroom of gothic stone and Georgian mirrors.  Mary didn’t get a good look at first, because a young Middle Eastern woman in a hijab nudged her.  She and Radia al-Am, who was from Michigan, had only met an hour before, in the bar, while waiting for others.

As they moved aside to let others through, Mary noticed a second door to her left.  Most of the men and women around it were pale and dark haired or of clear Indian-Pakistani descent.  They all stage whispered enough that she caught a bit of a brogue.

For her part, Mary stood with Radia, both looking around the room and pointing out details.

After a couple minutes, a hush fell over the assembled newcomers.  A young woman, probably in her mid-30s, stood on a small riser.

She talked for a bit, warnings at first, then:

“Black robes are students.  Brown robes are staff.  Any other color are faculty.”

Mary looked around, spotting a dozen figures in brown robes.  They looked like hooded monks, she decided.

Then Radia was nudging her again.

“C’mon.  Maybe we’ll be in the same dorm!”

Mary followed along in the wake of Radia’s pale rose headscarf.

She arrived in time to hear a male voice saying, “Al-Am, 3-B.  Bennett, M., 3-B.  With Mr. Zane, over there.”  He pointed to a figure three over clockwise.

Nodding, both women shoved through the crowd back to their bags and toward their guide.