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.

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.”

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.

Four Corners Vignette #4 (2019)

Juniper Smythe looked across the main room of Murphy’s.

The lunch crowd wasn’t quite in, but it was starting.  The couple dozen already seated around the room represented all corners of the continent.

And not a local among them, aside from the rest of the staff.

Even so, she found a familiar face coming in the door.

“Stan!  Irina!”

Two familiar faces.

Juniper met the couple halfway across the room.  She was instantly enfolded in a three-way hug.

“I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow.”

Irina shrugged her shapely shoulders.

“That was the plan, but Stan’s schedule opened up.”

“Let me get you guys a table,” Juniper glanced around.  “Over there, best we have available, right by the bar.”

As she led them over, Stan looked at the tables.

“How’ve things been?  Looks like the place is working out.”

“Sort of a niche market, but a big one.  And a loyal one.  The reputation and word of mouth from shoppers and tourists has been great.  How about you two?  It’s been a while.”

Irina smiled as she sat.

“Hunting hasn’t been great, lately.  But, Greywood headhunted Stan, and may have a field position for me in a couple months, so not too bad.”

“Greywood Institute?  Are you sure?”

Stan shrugged, “Well, the non-disclosure agreement is a bit . . . strict, but the pay and resources are . . .”

“. . . something we can’t discuss,” Irina finished.

Juniper waved over a waiter.

“”Sorry, guys.  The lunch rust is starting.  Maybe this evening?”  Then, to the waiter, “Take good care of them, they’re old friends.”

Four Corners Vignette #3 (2019)

“Hernán, where are we on the Tierney contract?”

Hernán Wilcox, half of the founding members of Howey & Wilcox, looked up from his desk.  He scratched his greying beard.

“Kyrah took the down payment just this morning, I think.”

His partner, Theodora Howey, nodded to herself and made a note on the pad before her.  Her bushy tail, that marked her as a jager, swayed as she thought.

“Given the job and subject matter,” she said, “I think I’ll see if Katrina’s available to consult.”

Hernán paused a moment, his eyes unfocused in thought.

“Rathmell?  Yes, yes, she would be a good asset.  Haven’t’ seen her around in a while either.  Be good to talk with her again, always has some interesting new find.”

“I’ll confirm payment with Kyrah and drop by her office in a bit then.”

These days, Theodora reflected, most of the research was kept in house, now that the firm had grown enough to employ a fair variety of people.  But, in the early days, they had outsourced a number of jobs to people in her extensive network of expert specialists.  Of course, Hernán had done a considerable amount on the magical side of things, as she had done on the more mundane research side.  They had agreed early on, though, that they would bring in experts as necessary for things they did not feel as qualified to be gathering data on.

The Tierney contract certainly counted.

Getting the current information it called for was right up her alley.  But, the client was looking for a couple centuries worth of information, and Katrina Rathmell, with her knowledge of spirits, was the best historian they had on call for consults.