Interlude- Ireland Part Five

August 5th 2014 – Molly

I woke up cold, wet, naked, and in the middle of a blasted wasteland filled with burnt corpses. All in all, it wasn’t the best morning I’d ever had. It also was only a morning by the most generous definition of the word, the sun hadn’t yet begun to peek over the horizon. I started to get up, but paused, wincing, when I discovered just how sore I was. I was laying across two head-sized boulders, and that definitely had not made for good rest. Nor had being rained on. I was soaked, but apparently the hillside wasn’t on fire anymore, so that was something. Gotta be thankful for the little things in life.

I had soreness in parts of my body that I didn’t know could get sore. I stood up anyway, I had to get moving, sooner or later someone would be coming to investigate the fact that I’d burned half the hillside to ashes. Actually, upon further inspection, it was probably a bit more than half. There was a small circle of green around me, but beyond that about twenty feet of the hillside was charred black, save where it was covered by the grey ashes of vegetation. Corpses, including two that were clearly far too large to be human, dotted the landscape. Most of them were piled up like sandbags in a ring around me, but about two dozen lay lower on the hillside. Further down the hill twisting black lines were burned, marking where Guenwhyvar had passed during the fight.

Wait, where was Guen? Had the mob finally managed to bring her down? Did she dissipate after I passed out? I couldn’t feel any trace of the presence that had lurked in the back of my mind during the battle with the Slaugh.

I spent a moment just standing there, unsure if I wanted to spend my limited time looking for Guen or venture into the tomb to find whatever it was I’d come here for. So, I did the only thing that made sense. I got dressed and finished dinner. The tent had rolled over on it’s side at some point during the battle, but thankfully hadn’t caught fire. My clothes were laying on the floor, marginally dryer and less muddy than they had been last night. I put them on, shivering. I found my lighter and spent the last few dregs of butane to start a small fire in little circle of hedge around me. What was one more little fire after everything I had put the countryside through?

I found the rest of the roll of chocolate-covered biscuits at the bottom of the tent. They were pretty much dust, apparently I stepped on them at some point last night, but they were still delicious, covered with chocolate, and full of calories. I found the little package of precooked sausages I hadn’t been interested in the night before and took those out too. I didn’t have a grate or any sticks, so I just ate them cold and huddled around the little fire. A tiny expenditure of power kept it from spreading any farther. Now fully clothed and fed, huddling around my fire, I had to think about the elephant in the room. Or rather, the tiger that wasn’t on the hillside.

Guen was gone. I hadn’t had her for long, but she had been my cat damnit. Hell, she’d been a better person than any of the people I’d ever met. But she wasn’t coming back. I knew that cat would never have abandoned me just as surely and instinctively as I knew she would’ve burned me if I tried to pet her. If she wasn’t here, she wasn’t anywhere. And she wasn’t coming back. She must have… Fuck, my face was wet. From the rain, of course.

I turned to face the barrow, I’d come this far already, I’d see this through, no matter what. Not that I had much choice in the matter. Being homeless is bad for normal people, but it’s worse for mages. Homeless mages get eaten. I suppose homeless normals might sometimes get eaten too, but I’m pretty sure it’s less likely.

The barrow’s entrance was a slit in the hillside about one and a half times the height and width of an average man. Unfortunately, it was mostly blocked by rubble and greenery. Around the edges of the archway there were hints of what might have been intentional stonework, at least before the centuries of wind and rain. There was an uneven border, and what looked like a keystone near the top. Uniform scratches that might have been writing a very long time ago dotted the stones around the edges of the opening. I traced the writing with my fingers, feeling the smooth grooves. It was definitely old, but I had no clue whatsoever what it said. I could barely manage the most basic of modern Gaelic street signs, this was the domain of anthropologists and archeologists. I might not have an army of unpaid undergraduates with cameras, but I did have the sight. I opened my metaphorical 3rd eye and gave the entrance furtive a once-over.

It was a fear ward. I almost laughed. It’s not that it wouldn’t be an effective way to keep peasants and grave-robbers at bay, I was just expecting something more King-Tut curse and less Emo-Mage home security. I’d had plenty of experience dealing with these during my apprenticeship. My dear old master had used them as magical childproofing. I had been expected to push my way through similar wards every time I wanted to get into the kitchen for a snack. It took the better part of a decade before the bastard taught me how to actually dispel the damn things. He’d used a similar approach to teach me to deal with charm and enchantment, occasionally making halfhearted but still frighteningly effective attempts to charm me into doing nasty chores. And to make me do other things. He really hadn’t been a nice man.

But he had been an effective teacher. I climbed the pile of moss-covered rocks and broken beer bottles and shoved my backpack through the little hole that opened into the tomb. I went next, shimmying in backwards, feet first. I felt the ward take effect when I was about halfway in and paused for a moment. It started subtle, my heart beating faster than it should have. Then came the familiar pressure on my chest, the sweaty palms and the trembling fingers. The bitter taste in the back of my mouth, the pounding in my head. I closed my eyes, and focused on separating the symptoms I was experiencing from the emotions I usually associated them with.

And then I got on with shimmying my way through the gap. Knowing it was magic that was affecting you definitely helped, but there’s nothing like years of practice when it comes to pushing through magic designed to ensnare the mind. Well, actually some new research suggests that the sex, age, and personality of an individual are the best metrics for gauging resistance to various forms of mental magic. Personally, I just think they didn’t train their experimental group properly.

I found footing on the inside of the barrow and slowly lowered myself in. It hadn’t been too tight a squeeze, but a man, or someone with more sizeable… boobs, might’ve been in trouble.

It was dark and musty inside the barrow. A thin sliver of light crept in from the gap I had climbed through. Every time I moved I could see the accumulated dust of centuries dancing in the thin ray of light. The short entryway opened into a small burial chamber. A stone tomb on a raised dais dominated the space. The tomb had been roughly hewn from some sort of grey stone. It hadn’t been weathered anywhere near as much as the stonework on the outside and still retained it’s inscription. Not that I had any hope of reading it, between the dim light and it being, y’know, probably written in a dead language.

I kinda figured it was a few verses extolling the virtues of whatever poor fellow was interred here and the standard warnings of eternal damnation for grave-robbers. The usual stuff you’d find on a pre-christian tomb. I checked it for magic, it was clean. Well, it was slightly dingy. Everything in the tomb was very modestly magical, but nothing overtly threatening stood out about the tomb. So, I got on with what I was here for. I’d bought a crowbar shortly after landing in Dublin, seeing as I’m tiny and rocks are both heavy and inflammable. After a few tries I managed to find a spot where I could lodge the straight end between the heavy stone lid and the lip of the tomb. I had a hard time getting the lid to move, after several thousand years to settle it was practically glued to the tomb itself. Eventually I succeeded in wiggling the crowbar in deep enough that I could pry the lid far enough upwards for gravity and normal force to slide it a bit to the side. It was easier from then on, every inch I shifted the lid gave me more and more leverage. Eventually I had shifted the stone cover almost a third of the way to the side. I gave it one more good wedge upwards, and it started to fall.

The lid landed with a resounding, earth shaking, crash. Dust and soil rained from the roof of the cave. And the tomb lay open before me.

At that moment, what I was doing really hit me. I was about to defile that last resting place of someone who had been beloved enough that those who survived him had literally carved out a hillside as his final resting place. Or her, it was too dark to make out much about the mummy lying before me. The bones were a dark brown color, even more withered than the zombies outside had been. Everything in the tomb was covered with a gray-green dust, at least I really hoped it was dust. The body was taller than me, maybe six and a half feet, but I couldn’t tell anything about the build or gender of the mummy.

Most importantly, and disappointingly, there were almost no personal effects in the tomb. I say almost no, because there was clear evidence there had been some. There was a long thin piece of what had one been wood a very long time ago, which dissolved into bug-filled dust the moment my hand brushed up against it. It might have once been a stave for a bow or spear, but it wasn’t anything anymore. There were also piles of, well, organic matter, that might have once been clothing. And there was a piece of black metal, pitted with rust and roughly the length of my forearm. Maybe a spearhead, or part of a dagger. I didn’t know, and didn’t care. I put it in the bag.

Mission fucking accomplished. There was nothing else of interest in the tomb, and my employer had mentioned nothing about wanting bones or dust. I left the tomb the same way I came in, this time unmolested by the fear ward.

All this for a goddamn oversized nail. Fuck this country. As if in response to my unspoken curse, the grey sky above me rumbled. Every so often lightning flashed ominously in the distance. I threw my backpack over my shoulder and started walking. I really needed a drink. Or several. However many was enough to forget about the scabs all over my body and the cat that had almost been mine.

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Interlude- Ireland Part Four

August 4th 2014 – Molly

Just one step though. It wasn’t like I was about to get in a wrestling match with an undead giant and his horde of shorter minions. I just wanted a better view of the hillside. Between my sweaty fingers, I could feel the little oaken statue that would be my trump card. If it worked. If it didn’t, I’d probably die horribly looking like an idiot. No point dwelling on that, either my craftsmanship was good enough or it wasn’t.

I filled in the spaces between the fires around the edge of the plateau, creating a solid half circle of flame. It didn’t take much power or time to spread the existing fire around, even in the damp hedge. Ireland was also a bit more magical than the states, I could probably throw around quite a bit of power here before I really started feeling the effects. Especially if I was able to draw out the battle, and avoid using too much mana in any one instant. A long battle was definitely in my favor here, the longer I went without dying, the thicker the ring of flames around me would get. Eventually it would be impassable to the undead, letting me lob spells at them with no risk of retaliation.

At least, that was the plan. Dozens of considerations rushed through my head in the moments before I acted. It was amazing how calm you could get when your life was on the line.

I swapped my lighter over to my right hand, squared my feet, and took a breath. Using untested magic against a bunch of undead giants. This is what I live for. I defy you to show me a drug that can match the high you get from literally holding your life in your hands. I could feel blood on my shin from where one of the zombies had grabbed my earlier. I rubbed the wet blood all over the statue, clenching my teeth through the sting. I could feel the blood between my fingers, filling in the cracks where I had carved runes into the little wooden tiger. Even without a circle, I could feel the connection forged by my blood, a sign I had enchanted the statue properly.

Feeding mana into the statue was like watching an impossibly intricate fountain get filled with water for the first time, or seeing a building constructed in time-lapse. It wasn’t as much a visual thing as a sense of a geometric shapes and complexity, of the lines of a diagram being drawn on an infinite plane just beyond your vision. It was a surreal experience that dragged on forever, yet ended in a moment, as the basic structure of the spell surged into life. The scaffolding, or the outline, waiting to be filled in. The targets steadily approached, the frontrunners of the horde were now less than a hundred feet from me.

I had chosen to use the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet because it was old enough to have metaphysical weight, but translated phonetically into English. It also had no curvy lines, which made it so much easier to carve into an uneven surface with a pocketknife than English letters. I had written, translated, and carved the spell myself. It wasn’t about precision, the enchantments on the statue already provided enough structure to shape the spell. The spell, the runes, the carving, the blood, all of it was to build a connection. Thaumaturgy is an art, not a science. I spoke aloud the words I had carved as I threw the statue forward towards the horde. It was less of a incantation than a prayer, but they were my words, and that was what mattered.

“I am the fire in the heart of the darkness”

The statue reached the apex of it’s flight.

“Torch, Aegis, Companion”

For a fraction of a moment, I thought I saw a flicker of orange light around the statue.

“My blood shall make your body, my strength will shape your form, and my will shall anchor your reason!”

On impulse, I added another line.

“Sic em Guenwhyvar!”

Hey, it’s another personal connection. A girl’s allowed to have heroes. And cats should have names.

I lost sight of the little tiger statue as it went tumbling into the night. I caught sight of it again, just before it touched the ground. It was glowing orange. I smiled, faith in my handiwork restored. As the little carving touched the ground in front of the horde, it burst into flames. A large part of the power fueling the spell came from me. I could feel the little statue draw strength from me through the connection between us. It wasn’t like the normal strain of working magic, it was more of a steady exhaustion. If burning out after a major working was like collapsing after sprinting a mile, then this was more like having weights attached to every limb, or being kept awake for hours on end. It wasn’t fun, but the drain on my strength was manageable.

The flames around the statue coalesced, shaping and reshaping until they reached a form the spell was happy with.

A tiger composed entirely of swirling flames stood between me and the horde. It’s fur and flesh shifted through every shade of orange imaginable as it flexed it’s muscles. It’s stripes were dark gray, continually shifting as if they were composed of bands of smoke. It’s eyes and claws were black embers tinged with crimson heat. It’s tail swished back and forth idly, igniting the hedge around it. Satisfied with it’s shape, the tiger turned to it’s, our, enemies. And it roared, the deep voice of a jungle cat mingling with the roar of a forest fire. The giant in front, the one animated by the spirit of the little girl, recovered from the surprise first. He, or she, I’m not really sure how gender pronouns work with possession, dropped into a crouch, and charged at my tiger. Works for me, I already decided to kill that one first.

Guenwhyvar retreated up the hill with blinding speed, leaving a trail of tiny fires in her wake. The charging giant threw itself to the side, avoiding any contact with the fire. I could feel Guenwhyvar in the corner of my mind. I didn’t have any real control over her, but I could dimly sense her mood. The giant and the tiger circle each other, each waiting for the other to move. Neither me nor the rest of the horde of undead intervened. We all understood that this wasn’t our battle. Yet. I had no problem at all with waiting, and letting the brush-fire spread further.

The giant moved first, clambering forward toward Guenwhyvar. He covered half the distance between them in a single motion, then swung his impossibly long arm around like a club. Guenwhyvar dropped back, easily dodging the massive arm.

Unfortunately, it was just a feint. At the apex of the swing, the giant opened it’s hand and released the rock hidden beneath it’s massive fingers. Off balance, the tiger couldn’t move quickly enough to dodge the heavy rock. The stone tore through Guenwhyvar’s fiery flesh, leaving a ragged gap above her right shoulder. I could feel pain and anger seeping through the link between us. I could hear a little girl giggling. The giant’s mouth wasn’t moving. I looked at the fires strewn across the hillside, trying to find a way to distract Guen’s opponent. It wasn’t necessary. The ragged hole was slowly closing, as the Guenwhyvar absorbed the magical fires she had set in the hedge around her.

Okay, that was fucking awesome. I needed to make another of those statues. The self-healing kitty made of fire was definitely my new favorite toy. I got a strangely mixed response through the link, a combination of pride, elation, and contempt. Was… Guenwhyvar upset at being called a toy? Could she hear my thoughts?

“Bad Kitty! Stay dead!” The giant shouted with the voice of a little girl. Oh dear, it was developing a sense of humor. And learning from it’s mistakes. The giant had rocks in both it’s hands now, and was keeping Guenwhyvar outside it’s massive reach. Every time the tiger threatened to pounce, the giant gave ground and swung it’s long arms inward, forcing Guenwhyvar to retreat.

I turned away from the stalemated fight and took stock of my more immediate surroundings. The ring of flames had expanded both toward and away from me. Now the barrier was several feet wide and getting dangerously close to my tent. I reached out to the fire and pushed it away from me. It took much less energy than expanding or creating flames. After the fire slid a few feet towards my enemies, I had a nice semicircle of ashes that would prevent the flames from growing back towards me again. Unfortunately, the horde took that as a signal to join the fight. Two of the human sized frontrunners headed towards me, leaping across the barrier of flames. One’s legs gave way as he tried to jump, and he fell short. Right into the ring. I ignored him, turning my attention to the one that had actually cleared the ring. I brought my wand to bear as he got up from his crouch.

“Fuego!” The wand blast caught him near the top of his chest, sending him tumbling backwards into the ring of flames. I kept watch on him out of the corner of my eye, but the spirit animating him didn’t have the presence of mind to try a suicidal charge at me. I swung my wand around like a conductor’s baton, moving it between the zombies standing just outside the ring of fire. The two zombies who had fallen into the fire screamed in their death throes. Even after the charred bodies stopped moving, the voices of the ghosts continued to scream into the night sky.

A flash of concern from Guenwhyvar tore my attention away from the mob on the far side of the circle. Half of the zombies, and the other two giants, had headed for Guenwhyvar instead of me. Two of the giants used their incredible reach to prevent her from closing to melee range, the rest of the mob threw stones at her. Most of the stones fell far short of their target, and the ones tossed by the human zombies didn’t have very much force behind them. Unfortunately, Guenwhyvar’s fiery body wasn’t very solid. Every stone that hit gouged deep tears in her flesh, and each new hole was slower to close than the one before it. The third giant, the one that had first engaged her, kept itself positioned to prevent Guenwhyvar from retreating toward me and the ring of flames.

Guenwhyvar gave ground freely, brushing against plants wherever possible. The undead weren’t able to safely touch even small fires, and were forced to spread out, preventing them from flanking Guen. It wasn’t enough. The damage caused by the stones was adding up faster than she could create new fires to replenish her body. If she tried to get close enough to do deal damage, the horde would bury her under the sheer weight of bodies.

She hadn’t been around for long, but she was my flaming kitty damnit! The mob chasing Guenwhyvar was too far away for me to easily reach with fire magic. The blasts from my wand would reach them, but they would barely be a distraction against so many. I needed to take down the giant between us, if Guen could get to the ring of flames she’d be able to replace the flesh she’d lost. I think. I felt approval and agreement through the link, apparently she agreed. Guen’s remarkable healing ability hadn’t been an intended part of the spell, neither had her apparent sentience. I sure wasn’t complaining.

“Fuego!” I launched a blast of force at the giant, catching him between his shoulders. He stumbled forward, but otherwise appeared unharmed. Living giants were supposed to be pretty resistant to magic, apparently that applied to dead ones too. Fortunately, that was all the distraction Guen needed. As the giant stumbled forward, Guen pivoted to the right, turning to face him. She leapt, shifting into a blur of flames as she crossed the distance between her and the giant in an instant. Guen stuck to the giant’s chest as she landed, digging in with her clearly solid claws. She tore and raked at the giant’s flesh, starting small fires as she thrashed around. The giant brought one of it’s arms to bear but Guenwhyvar shrugged off the blows. The giant changed tactics, falling forward to try to catch and smother Guenwhyvar between itself and the ground.

Guen was far too fast for that, and slid forward like an oiled piglet as soon as the giant tried to turn on it’s stomach. With the giant that had been in her way sprawled on the ground, she bounded up the hill, easily outpacing the rest of the horde. As Guenwhyvar reached the ring of fire, the flames started to flow out towards her like a liquid flowing downhill. The new fire snaked up Guen’s legs, seeking and filling the holes in her body. In a few moments, she was good as new. She padded over to stand beside me. I almost tried to pet her, before remembering that heat rises. I settled for standing a comfortable distance away from her side.

The rest of the mob was slowly making it’s way over to the far side of the ring of flames. The giant that Guen had savaged had recovered and as leading the horde. The magical fires barely found purchase on the giants withered body. As soon as Guenwhyvar had retreated, the flames had begin to die down. There was clearly some damage, black burn scars crisscrossed the giant’s torso, but nothing serious. I wasn’t sure whether it was because of the innate magic resistance of the giant itself, or the greater power of the spirit animating it. Either way, the giants would be more formidable foes.

Giants are unusual. I’m sure you knew that, since I doubt you’ve seen one in real life, or know anyone who has, other than me I suppose. But that’s not entirely what I meant. While primary sources on giant populations are obviously hard to find at the best of times, it’s generally agreed giants have been pretty uncommon since before the birth of Christ. Almost every pre-christian culture has stories about them. There are even some credible stories of giants in the northern wilds and the far corners of Asia and Africa as late as the fall of the Roman Empire. However, since the Renaissance, giant sightings have been almost unheard of. Giants were the first group of supernatural humanoids to fall into decline with the rise of the modern world. There are a bunch of theories about why, ranging from giants being dependent on high densities of ambient magic to survive, to them just being too large and warlike to hide from the growing human populations. The one thing everyone agrees on, is that they pretty much dropped off the face of the earth well before people started telling their kids stories about magic beanstalks.

To find the corpse of a giant is impressive, that’s a rare find on the level of a mundane archeologist stumbling upon a perfectly preserved T-Rex. But to animate one, to restore unlife to something that lived and died back when the world was a much wilder place, that takes power. That took the sort of power that hasn’t been common among ghosts for a very long time. This was starting to look less like an unfortunate run-in with a greater undead, and more like someone deliberately sent me on a suicide mission. Meh. At least I could blame them if I was accused of setting a horde of zombies loose on County Sligo.

With Guenwhyvar closer to my source of fire I was feeling much more confident about this battle. My particular brand of magical combat really isn’t what you’d call subtle. Creating fire on the fly takes a lot more power than a comparatively novice elementalist like me usually has on tap. As a result, I typically need to rely heavily on magical tools and mundane weapons. It’s a real treat to be able to let my hair down like this, so to speak.

I reached out to the fire surrounding me. It was, for lack of a better word, famished. I could feel the fire’s, or rather, the spirits within the fire’s, overwhelming hunger. As an element, fire is rarely predictable or placid, but the undead are pretty much it’s favorite food. It might sound like I’m giving an inanimate object too much credit, but even small and fragmented spirits like you’d find in an untended fire really do have a mind of their own.

All they needed me to do was provide the means for them to act.

I raised my hand in front of me, curling my my pinkie and ring finger inward. I bent the other two fingers and curled my thumb in along the edge of my palm. I always liked this gesture, it feels like something a witch from a Grimm fairytale would do right before she cursed someone. Sensing my intent, Guenwhyvar slowly walked into the ring of flames. I pointed my scrunched up claw of a hand at the little girl in a giant’s body who had started this whole mess.

“I almost wonder what happened to you so long ago, that you still can’t let it go. What made you need an army of monsters to feel safe at night.” I said.

The giant with the soul of a little girl responded by picking up a rock. Yeah, that wasn’t going to lead to any sort of meaningful dialogue. It’s not like I’m some kind of ghost-therapist or something, but I know when negotiations have broken down.

I twisted my hand upside down, and swiped it around in a little half-circle. I finished the gesture by flourishing my two extended fingers upward. There was some complicated magicking that went along with hand motions, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Guenwhyvar leapt, and the flames followed her, twisting outwards and upwards like a solar flare. She landed directly on the chest of the little girl giant, and immediately started trying to rip her arms off. The tongue of fire that extended out from the ring decomposed around her, flooding out with a vengeance. The flames actively sought out zombies, clinging to every undead thing within a few yards of the embattled giant. I could feel the strain of the working beginning to set in, but I kept up the attack. I swung my hand horizontally, bringing up a wave of flames the engulfed the first few ranks of zombies. They charged and leapt en-mass, the desperation of the Slaugh compelling them to ignore even their mortal fear of fire. The first few fell far short of clearing the now massive ring. One especially athletic specimen leapt nearly six feet into the air, high enough to easily clear the ring. As he began to come back down, I dragged the fire up to meet him. He came down in a flaming, thrashing, heap.

I dealt with the next few waves of jumpers in a similar fashion. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

“Get the hell off my hillside you damn ghosts!” I shouted. I could hear a little girl screaming in the distance, the sound brought a smile to my lips. Guenwhyvar was holding her own against two of the undead giants, using the fire she’d carried from the ring to control the flow of the fight. She danced in and out of the patches of burning hedge, forcing the giants to risk immolation every time they tried to attack. Both the giants were badly burned, one of them seemed to have lost part of it’s arm.

A rock bigger than my head whizzed by, missing my face by inches. That wasn’t good. I brought my wand to bear, ready to blast or dodge the next one. It must have come from the third giant, who had retreated to a safe distance and was alternately lobbing rocks at me and Guen.

The tide had begun to turn now, with the battlefield was engulfed in flames I was able to easily keep the horde from getting close to me. Guenwhyvar was having similar luck, using her speed and the spreading flames to prevent her opponents from fleeing or landing a decisive blow.

They should’ve ignored the cat and rushed me while the ring was still manageable. Or they should’ve just left me alone altogether. Either way would have ended better for them, the attrition and theatrics the Slaugh would normally use to bring down it’s prey had given me the opportunity to get my defenses up and running.

From here on out it would be smooth sailing.

Hah, famous last words.

As Guenwhyvar finally managed to cripple down one of the giants and fully turned her attention on the remaining one – the apparent ringleader with the voice of a little girl – the entire horde went berserk. Sensing that their master was in danger, zombies rushed headlong into the flames, trying to reach me or smother Guen. Most of them didn’t even have the presence of mind to jump, they just ran into the flames, scrambling across the bodies of those who had gone before them. For a moment, it looked like they might smother themselves a path with sheer numbers. Then I turned up the heat. Actively fed, the wildfire raged higher than before, reaching dozens of feet into the night sky. Zombies caught light from the flames around them even as they crawled across the charred bodies of their predecessors. Black began to creep in around the edges of my vision. I got lightheaded, my fingers tingled, and what I could see started changing colors.

I kept up the wall of flames, praying to someone, anyone, that the horde would run out of bodies before I ran out of power.

Heh. Someone was going to have to explain to the local media why this hillside was filled with dozens of burned corpses. And three dead giants. Wait, where were the giants?

I tried to find them, but I couldn’t see anything beyond the wall of flames. A few moments later, I could barely see the flames, I just felt that my front half was warm and tingly, and my back half was just tingly. I don’t know when I stopped standing, but I could feel something hard beneath my shins.

My last thought before I passed out, was that someone was definitely going to try to blame me for this…

Interlude- Ireland Part Three

August 4th 2014 – Molly

After some fumbling, I managed to get my combat gear out of my backpack. It was a lot harder to gear up naked. I didn’t realize just how much stuff I usually keep in my pockets until I tried to hold it all in one hand. I generally tinker around with my armaments a fair amount, and I hadn’t brought any especially heavy weaponry to Ireland, what with airport security being what it is. There are probably a few practitioners gifted enough to charm their way through an entire security checkpoint, I’m not one of them.  Aside from my age, my utter lack of skill at enchantment was the main reason I wasn’t a full member of the Association. That meant I hadn’t brought anything metal with me. On the bright side, most of my toys were wooden anyway. One of the perks of being a pyromancer.

In my left hand, I held my still burning lighter, and a small wooden statue of a tiger. The statue had runes carved into almost every part of it’s surface other than it’s face. In the firelight, it gleamed crimson as if was painted with blood. Which made sense, because it was painted with blood, mine in fact. I held my favorite wand, a thin stick of maple older than I was, between my teeth. In the firelight, I could see the shambling silhouettes grow larger as they approached my tent.

I finished unzipping the door moments before the first zombie arrived. I call it a zombie, but it wasn’t really. The remains of what had once been a large man leered at me from the darkness. His skull barely was covered by the shreds of leathery skin pulled impossibly taut against it. The rest of his wasn’t much more than a skeleton held together by strips of sinew and dried flesh. His left arm was missing below the elbow, not much more than a sharpened nub. In his right hand, he held a hatchet that looked like it predated the Roman Empire. With every shambling step he took, his body crackled so much I half expected him to collapse into a pile of limbs.

I leveled my beat up old wand at the zombie’s head, and carefully pronounced the command word.

“Fuego”

You’d be amazed how many idiots assume a magic wand with the command word “Fuego” is going to shoot some sort of fire at them. I might really like fire, but I’m not a one trick pony. In this case, the zombie didn’t appear intelligent enough to try to counter my attack anyway, but you can never be too careful.

The blast of pure force that hit the zombie’s head sent it flying. Or it might have outright obliterated it, it was hard to tell in the darkness. I didn’t feel any bits of gore splatter against me, so I assumed it went flying. In either case, the zombie-thing staggered backward, cleanly beheaded. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear inconvenienced in any way by the loss of it’s head. With the same awkward, stumbling gait, it kept moving towards me. I slipped out of the tent, taking advantage of the distance created by my wand. Once I got outside, I got a better view of just how screwed I was. My tent was pitched on a small plateau outside the entrance to the barrow. I could see shapes in the darkness moving towards me from every direction, slowly climbing up the hillside towards me. They weren’t moving all that fast, I could probably make a break for it and slip between two of them. However, I’d already underestimated the Slaugh animating these bodies once tonight. I weighed the possibility of escape against the possibility of being dismembered and eaten alive.

After a moments reflection, I decided to play it safe. I’m pretty numb to danger, but the thought of a mob of rotting corpses gnawing my limbs off gave even me pause. While I wasted time imagining my gruesome death, the headless zombie had closed the distance between us.

He lifted the hatchet in his functional arm above his head, preparing to swing at me. I didn’t let him follow through on the strike. I brought my still burning lighter between, and fed the flame a burst of mana. The little fire flared into a short lived burst of light and heat between us. I mentioned earlier that there are certain rules about the supernatural world that usually hold true. Another good one to add to that list is that if living things like it, dead things don’t. I’ve never met a vampire or zombie who wasn’t at least uncomfortable around light, fire, homes, running water, thanksgiving dinners, holy magic, and the like.

The headless zombie shied backwards, reflexively turning away from the light and heat. I stepped in as he retreated, following up with a snap kick to his chest. Beneath my foot, his chest felt oddly light and springy, like it was made of green wood. The zombie gave ground freely, trying to keep his balance. When he finally got his feet back under him, he had fallen back nearly half a dozen steps. The little plateau I had pitched my tent on wasn’t that large, there were barely a few inches between him and the incline behind him.

“Fuego!”

I helped him over the edge with another blast of force. The hillside wasn’t that steep, it was maybe a 50 degree incline at most. It was a royal pain to hike up, but not exactly hazardous. Unfortunately for the zombie, once he started rolling down the hill, he didn’t have the coordination to stop himself. I lost sight of him after he fell off the lit plateau, but I could hear him roll down the hill until he crashed into something solid.

I crept closer to the edge, trying to get a good luck at just how many of the animated corpses were climbing the hillside. Even just an hour after sunset, the hilly landscape around me was swathed in darkness. The uneven terrain cut down on the amount of artificial light that filtered in from nearby towns. Behind me, the hill was steeper, almost an unclimbable rock face, broken only by the entrance to the barrow. To the other three sides, the shallower hill extended as far as I could see. Which really wasn’t that far, the light cast by my lighter extended barely a dozen paces into the blackness. I couldn’t clearly see very far, but I could make out at least a dozen patches of moving shadows. I was considering spending some power to get a better view when I felt something brush my ankle. I could almost feel my heart in my throat as visions of dismemberment danced through my head. I leapt back on instinct, but the withered fingers locked around my ankle and held fast. I fell backwards, and found myself face to desiccated face with another zombie.

“Fuego!” I shouted, pointing my wand hand at the zombies face. Nothing happened. For a terrible moment, I thought my wand had gone dead. Then, as the zombie started to crawl toward me, I realized my wand hand was empty. I kicked with my free leg, trying to buy time, but the damn thing just ignored the hits. The zombie was incredibly light, closer to a mummy really, age had stripped it of most of it’s flesh. Unfortunately, it was durable enough to shrug off my kicks. The more I struggled, the more it’s bony fingers cut into my leg. I couldn’t see my wand in the tall grass, and didn’t have time to feel around for it. So I used the only other weapon at my disposal.

I took a deep breath, as much to calm myself as to bring in air. I held it, drawing magic in from the air around me. I hated using this trick, without words it didn’t really count as a spell, there were so many ways it could go tragically wrong. I suffused the breath with as much power as I could muster. With one hand, I braced myself, keeping steady. With the other, I brought my lighter up in front of my face.

I pursed my lips and made like a dragon. There’s a lot of technique that goes into breathing fire with kerosene or ethanol, and it’s even harder with magic. I suffered some truly nasty burns on my lips and inside my mouth before I mastered doing it with mana. As the charged breath left my mouth, it expanded into a glowing cone of flames. My body was, for the most part, below the fire, sparing me from horrible burns. My assailant wasn’t so lucky. He scrambled to get back the moment the fire left my lips, but he wasn’t nearly fast enough. The flames clung to him as he fled, the dry ribs crackling like pine needles. He tore at his skin, ripping chunks off in an effort to extinguish the flames before they consumed him. The fire spread quickly, engulfing his arms and torso. As his flesh started to crumble into flakes of ash, the zombie began screaming. It was an eerie sound, I could hear the deep, cracking voice of the body, and the scream of an adult woman mingling together. Even though it had been trying to kill me, I felt like I was intruding on something intensely personal.

As the screaming body fell apart, the spirit animating it was destroyed. There’s a reason even powerful and incorporeal undead fear fire. It’s not just physically destructive, it’s cleansing, purifying, and powerfully aligned with life. My enemy, the Slaugh, was an entire host of spirits, together they formed a powerful and near indestructible monster. Slaugh aren’t like normal ghosts, they aren’t bound to a cause, a regret, a place, or even to the memory of one person. They’re as close to alive as something undead can ever get, free to roam across the countryside, growing and changing as they spirit away the infirm and impious. In other words, an absolute bitch to fight.

To something like this zombie, or rather, to the fragment of the Slaugh animating it, even mundane fire is dangerous. And magical fire like mine, which can’t be extinguished short of jumping in a river, is terrifying. This was the first time I’d done real damage to the overghost itself, rather than just forcing it to expend energy. Unfortunately, considering the number of voices I’d heard talking earlier, I was probably barely making a dent. I’d just have to convince the ghosts that eating me wouldn’t be worth the casualties.

I gathered my wits and my things before another zombie could reach the plateau. A few small fires had started in the damp hedge, marking where the zombie and tossed it’s burning scraps of flesh. I reached out to them, feeding them enough to overcome the damp and become self sustaining. I let my lighter finally go out, it was probably nearly empty by now. If I let it get empty that would cut down on my offensive options until I got back to my room at the hostel. With the light from the new fires, I easily found my wand jammed between two rocks. I crept back to the edge, much more carefully this time, and took another look around. The shadows were massing halfway up the hill, closer to twenty of them now. Some of the newly arrived shadows were massive, if they were human, they must have been larger than NFL linemen in life.

One of the massive shadows stood up. I realized it wasn’t huge man, the zombie was actually pretty skinny. He was just around ten feet tall, so he looked huge crouched down. I wasn’t sure what to make of this anymore. I knew Ireland had stories about giants, but even back centuries ago they weren’t exactly common. And there were three of them standing on the hillside, each almost twice my height. Where the hell was the Slaugh finding all these bodies?

“Okay, that’s actually kind of terrifying.” I said, to nobody in particular. The tallest of the giants, the one standing in the center of the undead horde, chucked in response. It was incredibly eerie how smoothly the voice of the massive man, and the ghostly young girl animating his body, merged into one.

Okay. He, or she I guess, would die first. For a few all too short moments, everything stood still. I knew the horde was waiting for me to move, to run, to fight. As soon as I did, they would swarm me. Well, I wasn’t going to disappoint them.

I tightened my grip around the small oaken statue I’d kept clutched in my left hand. It would only work once, if it worked at all, and it had taken me nearly a week of work. Of course, I didn’t have that many cards left to play.  The whole reason I brought the statue was to deal with a situation like this.  I’d hoped not to need to play my trump card before I’d even entered the barrow though.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” I asked the giant-zombie-girl. She didn’t reply. I reached out to the fires around me, willing them to spread.

The moment I started drawing magic, the horde began rushing towards me. Some of them leapt half the distance in a single bound, others marched or crawled. The three giants lumbered towards me at a stately pace, covering yards with a single step.

I smiled, and took a step forward, closer to the oncoming horde.

Interlude- Ireland Part Two

August 4th 2014 – Molly

At first it was just one man’s quiet moaning. Then a second, younger, voice joined in. The third voice was a little girl, giggling at a joke only she could hear. With each new voice, a shadow flickered across the tent in front of me. In one moment, the shadow of a man the size of a bear loomed over the entire tent. The next, the silhouette of a young girl with pigtails stood facing me. With every rise and fall of the shadow’s chest, I could feel a cold wind, her breath, on my neck. A cold breath coming from behind me. I swung around, bringing the tiny little flame between us, but she was already gone. She giggled again, at me this time.

More and more shadows poured into the crowded little tent. They came from all walks of life. Some spoke English, others Gaelic, and still others languages I couldn’t hope to identify. They clamored, desperate for attention.

“Why do you hide little girl?”

“Join us.”

“Nil me saille.”

“Where’s Seamus?”

“Don’t be afraid, I love you.”

With each new voice, the world around me seemed to get darker and colder. The cozy little tent seemed to grow as more and more spirits poured in. The shadowy corners of the tent loomed in the distance, and the door seemed impossibly far out of reach. Even though the walls were far out of the reach of the lighter’s little flame, they were still illuminated by the warm light. And more and more shadows danced across them by the moment.

“Swear fealty to Connacht!”

“Don’t trust them, they’re all liars!”

“Tawm ngra leat.”

“What did you do to Seamus!”

“I won’t hurt you little one.”

The voices shouted over each other trying to be heard. The noise was deafening, and the warped world within the tent had grown large enough that their cries had begun to echo. I shut my eyes, I didn’t know what to do. The voices just got louder.

“Feall ar tu an laochra de na Fianna!”

“I loved you like a brother!”

“Seamus!”

“How dare you! Do you know who I am?”

“Don’t worry, you can trust me.”

I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Shut Up!” I screamed. And they did.

I could hear my voice echoing through the vast expanse my cozy little tent had been transformed into. The shadows vanished from the walls. After a moment, even the echoes of my voice faded. In the vast space, the silence was oppressive. The tent was freezing now, I could see my breath in front of me. My lighter flickered, struggling to stay lit in the darkness. I bolstered it with magic, feeding the tiny flame scraps of mana through my fingertips. I didn’t know what would happen if it went out, but I had never been so terrified of the dark as I was in that moment. I huddled naked beneath my blanket, holding the fire close to my chest. I felt like a little girl, but the monsters weren’t under my bed anymore. They were all around me, circling, even if I couldn’t see them anymore. The light on the walls began to fade, the darkness closing in all around me. The massive space became a void, even if I had dared to move, I could no longer see the floor more than an inch in front of me.

When they spoke again, they spoke in unison. I heard, loudest among them, my own voice.

“We won’t hurt you little one. Join us, cast off your chains. Run the nights with us. You will never be cold and hungry again. Forget what you were, forget where you came from. We will be your family, we will defend you, we will avenge you against the world.” The chorus of voices said. And it pissed me off.

“If you think I want to forget who I am, you clearly don’t understand me half as well as you think you do. I went through Hell to get here, and I’m not about to give up my identity to run around this backward-ass country with a bunch of ghosts who lack the fucking decency to haunt a single place! You think I’m cold and hungry? I’ve got cookies, something you idiots will never have again. As for the cold…” I gave the fire more power. In a moment, it had grown too large for the lighter. I transferred the nascent fireball into my right hand. “Why don’t I show you just how hot I can make it!”

I threw the fireball down onto the ground in front of me. The fire surged into a circle around me, following the lines of power I laid out for it.  Then I let loose.

I poured every drop of power I had on tap into next burst of mana. The circle didn’t just expand, it exploded outward in a storm of flames. The massive warped space around me was thrown into lurid relief by the light of the fire. The canvas on the floor twisted and melted where the flames burned hottest, the impossibly high ceiling sagged under the heat. I kicked the flaming blanket by my feet into the fire. I twirled around for effect, the reflected light from the fire coloring my pale skin.

“Is this the best you can do? I’ll burn your pathetic little world to ashes!” I shouted. Then I gave them my best insane cackle. It wasn’t half bad, I’ve had a lot of practice.

Unfortunately, the world didn’t collapse. I really hoped that the Slaugh wasn’t actually reshaping the world or pulling me into a demesne. I probably couldn’t break the latter, and I shouldn’t even be trying to break the former. At this point, I was committed to the committed to my initial plan though. I drew more power in from the space around me. I started to sweat, and not just from the heat. My eyes began to water from the strain, and I began to lose feeling in the tips of my fingers. The human body wasn’t meant to draw in power this quickly.

I fed the fire every scrap of magic I could find, the flames climbing to impossible heights. The tent had to be an illusion, no pack of scavenging ghosts had the kind of raw power it took to remake the world like that. And there was only one way to beat an illusion, to deny it. I’d burn it to the ground, or knock myself out trying.

I could feel my body giving out under the strain of channeling this kind of power. There was no longer a world beyond the circle of ground I kept clear of the flames. Scraps of the impossibly massive tent crackled and twisted all around me. I couldn’t see anything other than the fire, there was no longer a tent, there had never been a world outside the tent.

Black crept in around the edges of my vision. I didn’t know if it meant that the illusion was breaking or if it meant my body was. The pleas and whispers of the ghostly host had devolved into a cacophony of screams. I didn’t have the energy left to think anymore. I fell forward, and the last thing I saw before my vision went black was the fire blackening my numb flesh.

With a jarring snap, everything changed. I was back in my tent, which was no longer large enough to fit an entire circus. Nothing was burned, I wasn’t utterly drained of magic. In short, it was like nothing had happened. Well, not quite.

I sat in the middle of my tent, the unburnt blanket around my shoulders, cookie crumbs in my lap. I still held my lighter in my hand. My shadow flickered on the wall before me. It was cast in the wrong direction. I remained sitting. It stood up.

“If you will not join us, you will feed us.” The shadow spoke with my voice. Even in the tiny, real, tent, it’s voice echoed. This was no ordinary swarm of wandering ghosts. It had ignored the runes on my tent as if they didn’t exist. It had created an entire separate world that had nearly killed me.

This wasn’t over yet, not by a long shot. Round two was coming, and I might just be in over my head. I scrambled through my bags, looking for something, anything, that might help me fend off the Slaugh.

My shadow laughed at me. Behind it, a host of silhouettes gathered. And I had a sinking feeling that these shadows were cast by some very real bodies.

Scripture of the Blue Wizard: A Gospel of Bushwick- Verse 2

A Song of Giovane

And so Giovane had come into prominence and much import amidst the youths of his tribe, as many of the elders had taken to illness during the freezing months. They had become mulch for the worms, creeping closer to the barrier by the day. He was the reclamation of an identity, a forlorn soul rationed to its searchers. He was an archeologist of the world’s mystery. Within days, the culture consumed them, the soul o’erbearing and bursting through the bellies and ears of its collective host, letting hope slip onto the streets of the society known as Bushwick.

They deemed him a king, a spiritual guide traversing the post-inferno landscape with on fire bars. He let the bravura push his entity through the derelict homes. He raided the Bodegas, the clan castles, the parlors, the Narrows, the recurrent temples of the venerable MacDonal’s, where the food, by miracle of the patron saint Ronald, still remained edible through however many years of nothing. Giovane eluded his own mortality by rumors of his immortality. Lo, could ever they be called rumors, but obersvances onto the nature of divined men.
They sang his songs through the streets. They sang it to the glowing eyes so far above them, the ambitions of Giovane and his society. They sang it so that the shadowy beasts lost to the shadows of an abused history could hear it from their graves. They sang it, worshipped it. He mastered the tracks of his sermons, sickened the beat, and dropped the freshest rhymes that could emulate the prophetic voices. But so many questions remained: Who were these police and these ghettoes that so vibrantly colored the landscape of the olden worlds? Are the worlds they inhabited now these sacred ghettoes? Through what means can one attain either the perfect beat or passage to the Planet Rock?

On one particular day, the choirs assembled in the park titled He’nandez, and they circled round their glorious hero and sung:

Glory to the fresh king, to the slickest G

Magnanimous, fly snow to skyscraper

Sky scraping, skiddin’ between the suns

Reppin’ that he be the truest son,

Our native son, hand on the illest gun

The Holy Glory, no better story

Ever told than the founding,

The best motherfuckin’, never hunky-dory

Automatic Illmatic S-O-B

The magnanimous G-I-O,

Can’t believe til you see

One sight make your chest go “oh!”

Handsome is he! Sexy is he!

And so it goes. Truly, the verses, this incomprehensible and meticulous half day effort, this Concert, as it was known, endured until the sun set and even Giovane himself tired of the praise. But it was good. Admittedly the scribes were fledgling, but surely, with the guidance of their king, they would compose the sickest EP of the new world in honor of him. The Song of Giovane would be the cultural masterpiece of this society.

Interlude- Ireland Part One

August 4th 2014 – Molly

If there is one thing you should remember about Ireland, it’s this. It’s really fucking green. There’s a bunch of other interesting stuff about the Emerald Isle. Ireland has a long history, a relatively high level of ambient magic, several native traditions of practitioners, and some very strange fauna, including a few fauns. It also has a pretty staggering unemployment rate, excellent beer, and a drinking age of 18. But mostly it’s just green. Anything that isn’t a road or a building is covered in grass or hedge. I cannot stress enough how much they weren’t kidding about the whole Emerald Isle thing.

Anyway, unreal levels of greenery aside, there actually was a reason why I was in Ireland. I was going to raid a tomb. No idea who’s tomb, or what I was raiding it for. Now, I’m not a total novice, I’ve done some research. The tomb in question was located in County Sligo, about thirty miles south of Carrowmore. Unfortunately, that didn’t really tell me much, Ireland has a long past, and Sligo has been inhabited by humans off and on for over four thousand years. And, according to the Wikipedia article on Irish mythology, by other things for much longer than that. From the Fomor to the Tuatha De Danaan, Ireland has no shortage of mythological humanoids.

Personally, my money was on the tomb being one of theirs. I was kinda hoping it belonged to the people, the Fomor would probably be more likely to leave behind nasty surprises in one of their burial sites. Not that any of my money was really riding on who’s tomb it was. I just knew where it was, and that I would be paid five thousand U.S. Dollars for retrieving any and all personal effects interred in the barrow. All I knew about the tomb itself was it’s gps location, that it was entirely below ground, and that it displayed clear traces of active magic. So, basically nothing.

Anyway, that’s how I ended up slogging through miles of mud-soaked foothills with grass up to my knees. Oh, there’s one thing I neglected to mention about Ireland. It’s always raining. I was wearing a poncho and had boots, but they were no match for the sheer volume of water falling from the sky and the sheer depth of the mud. Under my poncho, all my clothes were thoroughly soaked. And I didn’t bother to pack a spare set in my (Thankfully) waterproof backpack. After around eight miles of wet, muddy, and miserable hiking, it was finally starting to get uncomfortably chilly as the sun went down. I kept on walking, following the tiny gps beacon provided by my employer. For the trillionth time that day, I wished I had a car.

Unfortunately, you need to be 25 to rent a car in Ireland. And I can barely pass for 18, let alone 25. I’m also not all that great at enchantment. I had asked my anonymous employer to rent a car for me and leave it in a convenient location, but he had pretty much laughed me off. I think. The only communication we’ve had has been through email and spy-movie style safety deposit box dead drops. The tone of his email suggested he laughed at my request though. Asshole.

Since I didn’t have a car, I took a bus from Sligo to Ballysadare, and then I started walking. The first couple of miles weren’t bad, but then the roads started to turn into dirt paths. Then the paths stopped, and my only company for the the next six miles of hills were the occasional sheep. Some of which were nearly my size. Luckily, I didn’t encounter anything even remotely magical on my hike. No territorial druids, no mobs of Slaugh, no pre-christian ghosts, not even a leprechaun. It would have been nice if I wasn’t soaked, dirty, and itching in places I didn’t know I could itch. It was however, finally over. Or, about a third over I guess. I still had to raid the tomb and then get back to civilization, but I had at least gotten to the tomb. It didn’t look like much, but it was clearly a barrow. Cut into the side of the hill in front of me was a stone door-frame. It was covered about a third of the way with debris, but unlike everything else I’d seen today, it was clearly magical. I couldn’t really tell anything more specific about the spells on it at first glance.

So, I put it out of mind and started setting up camp. Even though it was only about ten miles of walking total, getting to the tomb had taken me most of the day. Thankfully, I had planned for that. My flight home from Dublin wasn’t until Friday, giving me three days to raid the tomb, walk back to civilization, take a bus back to Dublin, and get drunk enough to forget that I just desecrated a grave. I also had brought a tent. It wasn’t a big tent, it was only designed to sleep one person, two if they were my size. However, it was waterproof, non-flammable, and airtight, and therefore completely awesome. It also had some basic protective runes on it, which had come in handy on more than one previous camping trip.

Before I started to set up my tent, I took off my poncho and set it between some rocks to collect rain. If I went to sleep with this much mud on me, I’d probably wake up a terracotta soldier. Then I set to finding two square feet of hedge without rocks to pitch my tent on. It was impossible, so I found a mostly clear spot and piled the rocks off to the side. I could use to make a circle later. Or I could just leave them there. I wasn’t sure if laziness or paranoia would win out on that one. It didn’t take me long to pitch the tent, it was a canvas tube with clearly labeled holes for the fiberglass supports. Completely idiot-proof. I’d also practiced, you never knew when you’d end up in a situation where your life depended on assembling a shelter before nightfall. Especially in Europe, this continent has too many goddamn vampires.

I threw the rest of my stuff, a blanket, some food, and assorted magical gear, into the tent. Then I went to shower. It was still raining, I had a poncho full of water, and I really wasn’t all that worried about peeping toms since I left behind civilization miles ago. Ireland is weird like that, just a few miles off the road and you wouldn’t guess you were in an inhabited nation. Eventually I got the mud off me, it took a while, and I slammed my head into the rocks several times trying to wash my hair in the poncho-sink. While I washed, the sun finally started to dip below the horizon. The atmosphere changed almost the moment the bottom edge of the sun touched the horizon. Ireland is an old country, places like these aren’t safe for practitioners to be outside after dark. I hurried into the tent. After a quick wring, I zipped up the tent and hung my clothes on some little cloth loops attached to the ceiling on the tent. The tent was pitched on a bit of an incline, and the clothes hung over the lower side, so hopefully I wouldn’t get too wet tonight. Satisfied with my laundry, I cuddled up under my blanket and looked for dinner.

By dinner, I really mean two packs of those chocolate covered ‘digestives’ that Europeans call biscuits even though they’re clearly cookies. I’m pretty much the poster girl for why kids shouldn’t be allowed to buy their own food. I think I put some sausages in the bag too, but I really wasn’t all that keen on looking for them. Because chocolate. Between my ridiculously fuzzy blanket and those biscuits, today was finally looking up. Then I heard something rustle outside. I froze for a moment, then recovered and pulled out my lighter. I flicked it on.

The small flame cast eery shadows inside the tiny tent. The side of the tent I faced was brightly lit, but I could see the shadows I cast on the wall out of the corners of my eyes. Every time I turned my head, they shifted slightly. I tried to ignore the shadows and focus on my biscuits.

That’s when I heard the moaning.

Kindling 1.5

August 15th 2014 – Molly

Beep… Beep… Beep…

Something was making noises. How rude, some of us were trying to sleep… It should shut it’s pie hole… Or I would… I drifted off again.

Everything was fuzzy. Not the bad fuzzy like when a shag rug tries to eat you, but the good fuzzy. And it was warm… Except my toes, those were cold. I snuggled up and started to fall back asleep. Then I stopped. I wasn’t dead. I’m not dead! I’M NOT DEAD MOTHERFUCKER!

I tried to jump out of bed. It didn’t work all that well, I had a cast on my right shin and forearm, so I just ended up kinda rolling to the right and slamming my head into the bed rail. Bed rail? I finally looked around and took stock of my situation. I was in a hospital. The room was kinda dingy, the walls and most of the fixtures had been painted white, in another lifetime. Now all the paint was yellowing, peeling in an unsanitary looking sort of way. I was lying in a raised bed in the center of the room, bars on both sides of the bed keeping me from falling out. There were cabinets everywhere, filled with all sorts of medical supplies. Another botched job, another shitty hospital.

I was attached to a monitor on my right by a bunch of wires, and to an IV bag on my left. Pretty normal for a hospital. I also wasn’t handcuffed to the bed rails, which is a bit of a first for me. Normally when I lose consciousness and wake up in a hospital, the police have at least a few questions for me. I was wearing one of those silly looking greeny-blue and white hospital gowns with the weird print. And bandages, lots of bandages. I was pretty much a mummy under my gown, and I felt about as flexible as one. The bandages chafed uncomfortably whenever I tried to move. I started looking through the cabinets behind me, as much as I could without pulling off my leads. I had to get out of here soon, I couldn’t afford another ridiculous hospital bill.

I removed the tape keeping my IV in place. The bag was finished anyway. Then I pulled out the catheter, and slipped a pad of sterile gauze on it. After giving it a moment to stop bleeding I wrapped it in the sticky gauze. I’ve had some practice with this sort of thing, way too many of my jobs have ended with me in a hospital with no memory of the last week. At least it wasn’t a central line. I’d removed one of those before, in front of a mirror. I bled like a stuck pig all over my bedroom. It was bad. My landlord had not been happy with the large bleach spot in the middle of the carpet.

My clothes were nowhere to be found. Which was hardly surprising. If they hadn’t been burned, I would have been a bit surprised. And I’d probably need to find them and burn them, ugh, that’d be a pain. Another thing on my to-do list. If I didn’t… I shivered, bad things happened to people who were careless about bodily fluids. In the magical world, unintended pregnancy was by far the least of your worries. People leaving body fluids willy-nilly found themselves turned into ghouls, targets of curses, tracked, influenced, compelled, stuck in mirrors, and generally in unpleasant situations. One of the few upsides of relying on pyromancy is that it often renders that sort of thing a bit of a non-issue.

I’d miss that jacket though… I suppose it was a bit gaudy, but it had been warm. It was also a nice reminder of one of my more bad-ass moments, it had belonged to some poor hothead midget biker. I liberated it from him after we had a disagreement regarding the disposition of a certain goblin. I also liberated the goblin. And his wallet. I’d wanted to take his bike too, but I gave up on that pretty quick. My first attempt to ride it ended with me taking a turn too slowly and sliding clear across the other lane into a ditch. Ever since then, get a class M license and steal a bike has been on my to-do list. It’s somewhere below pay rent and somewhere above get health insurance.

I checked out the chart at the foot of my bed, more out of curiosity than anything else. It was nice to find a hospital that still used paper charts. Trying to walk behind the nurses station in a patient’s gown was always so very awkward. I was registered as ‘Jane Doe’, that made sense, my wallet was in my backpack. Which was burned to a crisp. Shit, now I needed a new passport. Well, new new ones. That was an actual passport, I just happened to have had more than one. I’d lost passports and licenses before, enough so that I’d started buying them in bulk. I knew a guy who knew a guy who had some poor government official charmed so badly he thought was forging passports for God. I’m not sure how that works, or why the big guy would need a U.S. Passport, but the guy will copy your passport for a few hundred bucks. Anyway, that was my last fake passport. I had the original in some safe somewhere, or maybe in a filing cabinet. Look, it’s somewhere, and probably in my apartment. Probably. I’m not all that big on organization.

Anyway, the chart said I had suffered four broken ribs, pulmonary contusions on two lobes of my left lung, a closed displaced fracture of my right ulna, contusions across most of my abdomen and thorax, and an open shaft fracture of my right tibia. My head CT was clear, according to the note. I suppose that’s a plus, it’d be kinda anticlimactic to survive yesterday just to go and die from a brain bleed. However, the chart was kind of worrying. Not the injuries, those weren’t too bad, particularly considering what I’d been through. I was more worried why my injuries weren’t more severe. There was blood everywhere on the runway, way too much to be just from some scrapes and one open fracture… There weren’t all that many options. I suppose I could have suddenly developed some sort of superhuman healing ability, but lets face it, the universe doesn’t like me that much. Or my chart could be faked, unlikely, since I would still have those injuries… My memory could be wrong, but I didn’t have any head injuries… It might be possible to alter memories with magic, but I’m not sure how that works. It’d be futile to consider anyway, if I can’t trust my memory, I’m screwed. That leaves the most likely possibility, given who was left standing at the end of the fight on the runway. Less-than-divine intervention…

Not good. Not good at all. I couldn’t remember the exact wording of my deal with the demon, but it was starting to look more and more like he had taken several miles in addition to the explicitly offered inch. I didn’t even want to consider the strings that might to attached to being physically healed by a demon. I’m pretty sure that’s how several strains of vampirism got started, that’s one of the few factoids that stuck with me from all those lectures on the history of the magical world. I needed to find a priest really fucking soon and figure out what the hell was going on. Demons were the Serbian loan sharks of the supernatural world. Except, instead of breaking your legs and stealing your kidneys, they slowly corrupted you into a horrible unholy abomination and ruined everything you ever loved. And then they made you watch them eat kittens. So, priest, I need one, asap. I don’t like priests, they’re all hypocritical assholes. But, hating lawyers doesn’t make it a good idea to defend yourself in court. Same principle applies.

I got out of bed, and smoothed the covers as best I could. I silenced the alarms on my monitor, then started pulling the cardiac leads off my limbs. I pitched the leads, and hung the blood pressure cuff and pulse-ox back on the hanger by the monitor. I was about to ditch a hospital without paying, no need to be an ass about it. There wasn’t any bag of personal stuff in my room, and I couldn’t exactly ask a nurse.  I’d just have to hope for the best on that count

I straightened my gown, and walked out through the curtain onto the hospital floor.  First I saw the beds. And then I saw the television screen.

God… What the hell have I done…

(For more of Turniper’s work, please visit https://blazewebserial.wordpress.com/ )

Kindle 1.4

August 9th 2014 – Molly

For an beast cast from eight thousand pounds of cold iron, the golem was remarkably spry. It loped across the runway on all fours, like a giant metal gorilla of doom. With every step it took, concrete shattered and the earth itself groaned. And it gained several feet on me. I flew down the empty runway, less running towards anything as trying desperately to avoid being beaten to death. In hindsight, jumping out of the window probably wasn’t the best idea I ever had. Every bone in my body ached, I had a pounding headache, and it felt like my chest felt painfully tight every time I took a deep breath. I kept running anyway, there really wasn’t much of an alternative.

The runway extended as far as I could see forward, it had to be at least a mile. There was nowhere for me to run there, I’d be caught and pulped. The airport wasn’t much better, there were a few service entrances, but they all looked like they had locks, which would stop me, but not my pursuer. I looked back ahead, and that’s when I saw him.

I’ve seen some shit in my time, but this, this took the cake. A man in gray rags stood before me in the middle of the runway. He was pale, he didn’t exactly look like a corpse, but it wasn’t a health complexion. His long black hair covered most of his face and draped down his back. His eyes were dark, I couldn’t really tell much more than that with his hair covering them. The rest of his features looked eastern European, caught somewhere between handsome but scary and young Slavic mob enforcer. Except much more… dignified. He was wearing rags, but he still had a presence that dwarfed that of any businessman or teacher I had ever seen. The naked sword in his hand probably helped with that. He seemed entirely unconcerned by fact that a teenager and an iron monster were rushing towards him.

He didn’t look like he was going to step out of the way, so I shifted my path a little to the left, aiming to pass him. I wasn’t looking backwards at the moment he moved, but I turned as soon as I heard the crash. I stumbled to a stop and looked behind me. The ragged Slav had stepped between me and the golem. And the golem had ground to a stop, barely, leaving a skid mark that looked like someone had taken a giant ice-cream scooper to the concrete. The Slav held his sword out in front of him, head height for a normal person, chest height on the golem. The edge was about two feet from the golem’s chest. Both of them held unnaturally still, waiting for the other to do something.

The Slav in rags spoke first “Give me the relic.” His voice was soft, almost quiet, and a little raspy. And it raised hairs all over my body.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Names have power.” He replied. Well, that’s not ominous.

“My mother always told me not to deal with strangers” I said.

“Dear, you do realize that my presence is the only reason you aren’t a smear on the tarmac don’t you? You are not in a position to make demands. Give me the relic, and I will prevent the construct from harming you.” He offered.

Honestly, in my situation, that’s a pretty nice offer. I tried to catch my breath, tried to think through all the implications of what he was offering. My oxygen starved brain wasn’t working quite as well as it normally did. The golem wasn’t pushing the issue, but that might not be a good thing. Also, he didn’t say anything about not harming me. He refused to tell me his name, so he might be unable to lie. Or he might just be screwing with me.

“Are you human?” I asked, trying to buy time.

“No.”

“What are you?”

He didn’t answer. More support for the no-lying theory.

“No classification, no deal” I continued.

“IT IS A DEMON” The golem grated out, in quieter voice, insomuch as that was possible for something that only had two volume settings: bellow and roar.

The Slav made no motion to deny that statement.

Oh dear. There goes the neighborhood. Demons have gotten some pretty good press recently. Television shows like Buffy and Supernatural have painted them as laughably incompetent minions, used them as metaphors for teenage angst, and hell, even used them as love interests. Even the Catholic Church has eased up on reminding the world every few years that demons are evil. As a result, people, even otherwise competent practitioners, have made horrible mistakes after forgetting one very simple truth. Demons are evil. Evil. EVIL. EEEEEEVIL. Has that gotten through your skull yet?

To deal with a demon is to deal with something wrong on an incomprehensibly fundamental level. You don’t give a demon your full name. You don’t have it part of your name. You don’t give it an alias. You don’t give it the time of day. You don’t look in it’s eyes. Actually, you don’t look at it period. If you’re in a situation where it’s possible for you to look at it, you’ve fucked up pretty badly. These truths are drilled into the heads of every practitioner with an even moderately responsible teacher. Hell, the magical community explains this to janitors for Christ’s sake. Even biggest screwups in the magical world will, if asked, tell you that they would never ever ever interact with a demon if it was at all possible to avoid doing so.

However, it’s easy to say demons are evil. Its a lot harder to refuse to fulfill a relatively innocuous request from one when the alternative is getting beaten to death. By someone you recently subjected to the experience of being burned alive.

“Give me the relic or I will step aside.”

I hesitated, trying to weigh everything I knew about demons, about how to safely bargain with them, against being beat to death by a giant metal gorilla. I hesitated too long. The demon stepped aside.

The golem wasted no time in closing the distance. It swung one pillar of an arm at me, I lunged to the side. It caught me across my trailing leg, thankfully there wasn’t anything for the golem to push against since I was in the air. Unfortunately, the sheer force of it still sent me spinning end over end. I practically bounced along the concrete, dazed. And then the pain hit me. I opened my eyes just barely in time to see the golem above me, it’s bulk blocking out the sun, take a second swing. I couldn’t move in time, all I could do was curl into the fetal position. It didn’t help much. Again and again it slammed my side, knocking me across the runway. At the third hit I started to wish for a plane to land on me. At the fifth, I something in my chest cracked, I stopped screaming. Some point after that, I lost count.

I felt wet. And cold. I didn’t try to move between blows anymore. Everything hurt, and everything was quiet, but the noise still hurt my head. I could feel something in my throat, and every time my head hit the ground a little more skin scraped off, a little more blood leaked out. The ground felt warm, I felt like I was melting into it. Then I was rolling again, wanting to vomit, but nothing would come up because my stomach hurt too much. Then it would stop, I would bleed, and the rest of me would hurt again.

“Enough” Raggy-slav was standing over me. “My offer remains, give me the relic, and I will ensure the golem cannot harm you”

The golem glared at him, but kept it’s distance. I wanted nothing more than to just give the fucking thing to the demon. It wasn’t the rules that stopped me, I didn’t give two shits about those. I didn’t care much more about the whole ‘dealing with demons contributes to destroying the world’ thing either. I just live here. It was the sinking feeling, no, the certainty, that he would kill me once I did. He wouldn’t be asking if he could simply take it.

I didn’t learn much from my master. He was… not an ideal role model. But there was one lesson that even now, I still remembered. It didn’t involve any of the normal horrors that were customary parts of his curriculum. He just looked at me, and, as if imparting an interesting tidbit, and told me “By the way, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are about to fall into the clutches of a demon, you should kill yourself.” It was all I could think about. The words echoed around in my head, falling in and out of order.

Demon yourself clutches…

Fall into the way by….

Find situation way…..

Kill yourself…..

Wait, what was I doing again?

“If I give you the relic, will you let me go?” I asked the golem. He chuckled. It sounded like someone was trying to play a pair of steel drums filled with rocks. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t remember how. I just wanted it to stop. Wanted to sleep.

“Hey demon, the shard is yours if you make sure I survive today without permanent injury or disfigurement.” It was the best I could think of. Then I threw the damn shard away. It was a pitiful throw. Maybe fifteen feet. After I let go, my arm locked up, and it hurt. I felt like someone had poured liquid metal along my bones. I pulled it to me, cradling it, trying desperately not to move it. That only made the rest of my chest hurt. Every time I tensed up in response to the pain, I just hurt something else.

The golem and the demon both went for the shard, finally leaving me to bleed in peace. I relaxed into my puddle of blood and watched them. I didn’t have much of a choice there, I was laying facing them, and I couldn’t remember how eyelids worked. They moved with surreal speed, the golem moving it’s massive, ungainly limbs with a swiftness and coordination they had previously lacked. The moment the shard had left my hand, it had stopped mid-swing, pivoted, and launched itself after the shard with enough acceleration to shame a corvette. I hadn’t even seen the demon move. One moment, he was standing over me and I was trying not to look up his kilt of rags, the next he was gone, passed the demon, leaning to snatch up the shard before it had stopped rolling.

The golem was a bit pissed about that. Well, maybe more incensed or infuriated than pissed. It was launching blow after blow, swinging like a madman at the pale Slav. He roared, and I could hear it resonating in my bones, loud enough to hurt my whole body. Every strike was so fast it was barely visible, tearing gouges in the concrete when they landed. Shaking the earth all around him, even yards away I could see the vibrations in my puddle of blood. Dust flew everywhere, and every few seconds a block of concrete bigger than my head went flying towards the demon as if launched from a catapult. The demon-slav didn’t even get his rags dusty. Or, dustier than they already were. He leaned back half an inch, letting a block of concrete rush by his head, then slid back, letting the pillar of iron pass harmlessly in front of him, barely rustling his robey-thing. He was toying with a golem that probably weighed more than most elephants. The demon held the relic in one hand, his dark grey longsword in the other. He hadn’t bothered to try to strike or parry, he just dodged, slowly retreating. In the space it took me to realize he was leading the raging golem away from me, keeping his promise, he dodged nearly a dozen blows. Or maybe twice that, or half.

I couldn’t follow the series of strikes and dodges, but I felt the moment the demon decided he was far enough away to start attacking. His power oozed out of him, spotlights exploded in clouds of yellow sparks, conveyor belts ground to a halt, and the facade of the terminal exploded outwards, every panel of glass shattering at once. It was more than that though, the atmosphere at the runway changed the moment he attacked, the sky subtly darker, the air heavier, the ground wetter. It felt like my skin was covered with a thin sheen of grease. Breathing became more difficult, as though the very air I was trying to pull into my damaged lungs had thinned, but grown heavier at once. It was a thousand changes at once, and none at all. You might not have noticed it if you didn’t realize they happened the moment the glass shattered.

His blade whipped back and forth, sparks flying as it danced across iron flesh. It barely cut. It didn’t need to. Everywhere the sword touched, iron rusted. He danced around the golem, spreading blood colored rust across it’s skin. Soon, the entire upper half of the golem was coated in rust. Every time he moved he showered the runway with flecks of his body. Every time he raised his arm for another strike, his body screeched in protest, and he slowed down just a little more, slowly grinding towards an inevitable halt. The golem’s driver eventually realized what was happening, and gave up trying to exchange blow for blow. Instead, the golem ducked low like a lineman, arms out wide to the sides, trying to catch the demon in a bear hug.

The demon was having none of that. He allowed the golem to close to within a step of him, then brought his sword down in a vicious two handed blow, severing the iron arm at it’s elbow. Another wave of greasy power oozed out as he danced around the golem, landing stab after stab on it’s massive torso. With every puncture flakes of rust bled into the air around them, animated into flurries by a seemingly sourceless wind. The golem stood against the onslaught for a few moments, but it was a futile fight. It was reduced to a modern art emplacement. Then cleaved into scrap metal. Ruined. Ruin.

The Choir of Ruin… He was of the fourth choir… Or was Ruin the third? Had to be Ruin… Couldn’t remember genesis… Have to… Bible…

Ruin moved.

He stood over me, smiling.

My last thought before the darkness claimed me, was what the hell had I done…

(For more of Turniper’s work, please visit https://blazewebserial.wordpress.com/ )

Kindling 1.3

August 9th 2014 – Molly

Having already stopped and dropped, I rolled around. I’m not sure if my jacket caught fire or not, but I try not to take chances about accidental self-immolation. Burns are some of the nastiest injuries a human can sustain, they take forever to heal, are prone to inflicting secondary hypovolemic and septic shock, and they always leave major scars.

Wanna know the shittiest thing about being a gifted pyromancer? It doesn’t come with any resistance to fire. It is, frankly, a tremendous miracle that I still have any skin at all. I didn’t have any skin exposed to the blast, other than possibly the tips of my ears. I don’t have any feeling in them, so I’m operating under the assumption they’re still attached. I really hope they’re still attached, I like having ears. Now reasonably certain that I wasn’t on fire, I opened my eyes. The duty-free section of the airport was a burning wreck around me. My tentative guess at property damage was mid five figures, not counting the constructs. Those things could run ten to twenty grand apiece each.

Now, they were expensive man-shaped blobs of wax loosely attached to the shelves. It looks like they were more wax than flesh, judging by the extent of the deformation. Marbleface himself still looked largely intact, though his face was so distorted he looked more like something out of one of those wax-doll horror movies than a real human. The construct was futilely trying to stand up with one arm trapped under a heavy shelf and one leg looking like it had broken off at the shin. The constructs owner had clearly given up on manually piloting his doll after being lit on fire. I’m no expert on building constructs, but most of the literature I’ve read mentions that it’s difficult to impossible to operate one of them manually without building in some sort of rudimentary equivalent to a nervous system. I’ve been told that piloting a nerveless construct is slightly more difficult than possessing a fish. I’m not sure if that analogy helps, but I don’t really have any experience with creating creepy magic dolls. Or possessing fish for that matter.

Thankfully, this dollmaker fellow seems to have read the same literature, he certainly screamed like he was burning alive. People screaming like they’re being burned alive, that I do have experience with. Anyway, the situation in the airport was pretty terrible. The burning shelves had set off those sprinkler things on the ceiling, and the fire, being magical, proceeded not to give a fuck. At least for the next ten minutes or so. I hope. I’m not actually sure how durable I made that fire. People were screaming, because, y’know, fire.  They were also running around like headless chickens, because, y’know, people around an uncontrolled fire.

All in all, the airport was pretty much a riot. I really hoped I wasn’t blamed for this. The (Honorable) Association of Magisters Arcanae already doesn’t like me, not that I can really blame them. I’m pretty sure I hold some sort of record for most incidental property damage caused by a living minor. I don’t try to break things, but sometimes, shit happens. And, well, their patience with me has kinda been wearing thin since that whole fiasco at the Texas State Fair (Look, I had no idea that fried food trucks were explosive hazards). Anyway, I really could do without a third incident of first degree magical arson in a public space on my record.

I tried to stand up, and promptly vomited. Then my whole body suddenly went limp and I fell in my own vomit. That’s me, grace incarnate. Thankfully, the only thing I’d eaten in the last twenty-four hours was a bagel. Slower this time, I stood up and brushed the chunks of half dissolved poppy seed bagel off my jacket. I was really starting to feel the effects of using that much power, if I kept this up, there was a good chance the next time I tried a major working I’d just keel over and wake up in someone’s custody. I stumbled over to the melted remains of Marbleface and grabbed my backpack. Then dropped it again, it was covered in molten Marbleface. The damn shard of metal fell out, along with my books. I grabbed the shard, and started stumbling out of the store. A couple of shelves had fallen, but most of them had fallen away from the aisle I was in because of the angle of the blast.

As I scrambled out of the store, I finally got a good luck at the rest of the concourse. Nearly everyone had abandoned the nearer terminals, running away from security, away from the burning store. Apparently a fire in the building wasn’t enough for the TSA to breach protocol. Some actual police officers, and men in plainclothes with guns, probably Air Marshals, had joined the TSA wannabe-cops at the security station. One of the police officers shouted at me. I have no idea what he said. I did nothing. He shouted again. Two of them pointed their guns at me. I got on the ground, stuffed the metal spike up my shirt, and put my hands behind my head. I’ve been shot by cops before, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I’m kinda, nervous, around them.

“I didn’t do anything!” I shouted for good measure.

I squeezed open one eye, trying to see what the cops would do next. Unfortunately, I never got to find out. At that moment, the northern wall of the terminal exploded inward, sending x-ray machines and officers flying. The wall was made of Plexiglass panels, and the… thing… just pushed through them like they weren’t there. Each panel was a four foot sqaure, and the thing sent six of the panels flying as it tore into the building.

Superficially, it looked kind of like a large black man. Black like the color, not like black people black. And large might be a bit of an understatement. The fucker looked pretty damn close to nine feet tall, but bent it was bent so far forward it’s arms scraped along the ground. It’s… His… chest was absolutely massive. His arms were almost grotesque, it looked like someone had tried to sculpt a human form, then just given up and started throwing clay on the upper body wherever it would fit. It’s head was misshapen lump of iron, bulging in strange places with only the barest hint of features. Instead of the normal binocular setup, a single glowing red eye sat smack in the middle of it’s head, right where the nose should be.

It turned to stare straight at me, it’s massive body screeching like iron nails being dragged across a chalkboard as it’s metal joints ground against each other. With a crunch like breaking bones, the golem’s jaw snapped downward, transforming it’s mouth into a gaping chasm wide enough to fit my head inside. It’s voice was unlike anything I had ever heard, grating and deeper than any human or animal. I could almost hear the ring of hammers punctuating it’s words. The entire building shook as it spoke.

“I’M GOING TO CRUSH YOUR SKULL, BITCH!”

I peed myself. I couldn’t move, I just lay there on the floor, terrified and trying to control my bladder. There is absolutely nothing I can do to a monstrosity like that. It was going to kill me, horribly, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was going to die horribly in a fucking airport terminal over a fucking oversized nail. The police officers, bless their souls, turned right around and started shooting. They accomplished absolutely nothing of course, other than encouraging the four ton golem to turn around and swing one pillar of an arm down at the nearest officer.

He was turned to pulp. His head popped like an overripe grape under the weight of iron, his chest hopelessly crushed, white and red bits everywhere. There was so much blood, crimson coated the wreckage all around the poor officer, spilled out along the floor. A woman screamed, breaking the silence that had fallen in the concourse.

Everyone started moving at once. Officers screamed orders, some began firing again, most backed away, one insane TSA agent charged the monster, baton raised high. The golem lumbered into screeching motion, and the crowd panicked. There was nowhere for them to leave, the fire escapes barely putting a dent in the mass of people. Some people beat on the windows, some fought towards the fire escapes, trampling others in their panic. And some remained frozen, gaping or stuttering, desperately hoping against hope that their eyes and ears were deceiving them. Me? I ran right at the golem.

No, I’m not crazy, I just saw what everyone else in terminal didn’t. The only way out of here was either through those busted windows, or through the wreck of security. Both behind the monster.

I made a run for it. I ran right across the concourse, fire behind me, a monster ahead. I ran right past police officers, right by the golem. It took a swing at me, but it reacted too slowly, I ducked under an arm that took out another section of the wall. I ran right off the edge of the building. I landed hard on the concrete, I felt nothing but the impact, saw nothing but stars, and heard nothing my own pulse, pounding in my ears.

Until one noise cut across that roar.

“GET BACK HERE BITCH!”

I stumbled to my feet. Stumbled ahead, putting one foot in front of the other, throwing an arm to up catch myself when the ground wasn’t where I thought it was. I hadn’t made it a dozen yards when the earth shook. Scraps of concrete flew by me, dust billowing out from the crater where the golem had slammed into the runway. I ran. And four tons of black iron barreled down the runway after me.

(For more of Turniper’s work, please visit https://blazewebserial.wordpress.com/ )

Kindling 1.2

August 9th 2014 – Molly

Surrounded by a bunch of magical animatrons designed to track and (probably) kill me, I did what any reasonable and informed person would do. I pushed by them and walked back to my seat with a polite “Excuse me sirs”.

And they dispersed back to their own seats, Marbleface continuing to stare at me. Look, they’re not all that bright, but they have rules determining what they can and can’t do. And as any roboticist, AI programmer, or alchemist could tell you, trying to approximate intelligent behavior through rules is a futile, and really frustrating task. I’d give you some sort of witty analogy about how hard it is, but if you don’t believe me, just try to do it yourself. Either you’ll stop doubting me, or you’ll accidentally revolutionize several sub-fields of computer science and magecraft. And then you’ll send me a gloating e-mail me about it, and I’ll steal your work. Win-win.

Anyway, now I had a better idea of what was going on. There were five Marblefaces on this plane, they all knew who I was and where I sat, and judging from what had happened so far, they had rules.

      1. Don’t take unprovoked aggressive action against me on the plane
      2. Don’t allow me to leave their sight
      3. Avoid performing actions that draw excessive action to themselves where possible

And, that’s all. I could probably add a couple more corollaries, but I wasn’t sure what they weren’t allowed to do, and what they were too dumb to do. Actually, thats not all that much information. So, I sat down, clicked my seat-belt together, stowed my tray-table in the locked and upright position, and started planning how to lose my stalkers.

At 10:04 in the morning, we touched down in Atlanta. And then we disembarked the plane. By we, I mean me, my stalkers, and a large crowd of people completely oblivious to how close they had come to sleeping with the fishies. I had lost most of my checked luggage in Ireland, I really didn’t have much other than my backpack, filled with books, my rusty metal spike meal-ticket, and some tissues. I’m not sure where they came from, but they looked used. I also had my lighter and wallet in my pockets. Thus were the contents of my arsenal. Yeah, look at me, the mature and prepared wizard, fear my dirty tissues.

Anyway, we all shuffled off through the jetway and onto the terminal. My first impression of the Maynard Jackson International Terminal was that it was white and large. It was really white, and most of the things that weren’t white were either alive, windows, or advertisements. It also was rather non-flammable looking, lots of metal, and faux-wood, tile floor, plenty of open space. The jury was still out on whether or not that was a good thing.

Tactical considerations aside, it was a pretty nice space, especially if you were a fan of international style architecture. Personally, I prefer Gothic buildings, but mages as a whole are pretty renowned for being several centuries behind on art and architecture. We’re a reactionary bunch. As we exited terminal twelve, I cut to the left, trying to get out of the crowd. Marbleface was waiting for me, the illusion draped around him probably making the rest of the world think he was a responsible father waiting for his daughter. The rest of the world sucks balls sometimes.

As I passed Marbleface, he turned and started following a few steps behind me, swinging his battered briefcase like a damaged metronome. I could almost feel the glass eyes of his brothers from across the concourse, rushing to keep up with me as they exited the plane. They followed straight down the stairs and into the duty-free store. Being mindless automatons, they clearly hadn’t read my file. My posse of defective marionette kidnappers followed me straight into the section of the store that contains hopelessly overpriced high proof beverages. For once the enchantment of un-noticeable-ness around Marbleface numero uno worked in my favor, as nobody questioned why a teenage girl was ripping bottles of Johnny Walker out of their plastic cases. Some poor policeman was probably going to have a heart attack when he watched the footage of me tomorrow. After pulling the fifth bottle of 210 dollar blue label from it’s annoyingly extensive casing, I started cracking the necks of my bottles. Then I gave my followers a remarkably expensive golden shower. They didn’t react, apparently being doused in alcohol didn’t count as an offensive action. At this point, I was kinda surprised that some the clerk or some TSA wannabe cop hadn’t started bothering me yet. I really needed to get someone to teach me whatever spell had been placed on Marbleface, that would make so many illegal activities substantially easier.

Suddenly, Marbleface decided he was tired of the whole ominous muteness thing. “What the hell do you think you’re doing to my dolls?”

That caught me off guard, so I said the first thing that popped into my head. “They smell better this way” Yeah, I’m gifted at witty repartee.

“Stop screwing around and give me the relic girl”

“Or what?”

Marbleface lurched forward and grabbed my backpack, and his posse started to surround me. I tried to pull back, but Marbleface stepped closer to me. He got both his hands on my backpack. He was nearly a foot taller and probably fifty pounds heavier than me, I didn’t have a chance. He ripped the backpack off my shoulders, pushing me back. Two of the still unintelligent constructs caught me, grabbing my shoulders. Suddenly, he brought his briefcase up and around, and slammed my head with the thin side of it. I tried to dodge, but I only succeeded in leaning back far enough to catch the blow across my jaw. I tasted blood in my mouth,

“Or that. Thanks doll, I owe you one”

I spit my blood at his face. Or, I tried. In movies, it looks all badass and defiant, when I did it, all I managed to accomplish was soiling a pair of bargain bin pinstripe pants.

Ethanol alcohol is remarkably flammable. Unfortunately, whiskey contains water; and as you are probably aware, water is not flammable. Its a common misconception that molotov cocktails were made with vodka. They weren’t, the Poles were smarter than that, they used vodka bottles filled with petrol or napalm, probably with tar to get it to really stick to whatever unfortunate tank they were lobbing the bottles at. That being said, as Marbleface was about to discover, you really should avoid open flames when doused in 80 proof whiskey. Ethanol vapor produces a beautiful burst of blue and orange flames, and a respectable 1.3 million joules of heat per mole combusted. Its not quite as good as butane or diesel fuel, but still quite enough for what I had in mind.

I held my lighter out. I I really wish I could have seen the expression on Marbleface’s navigator when he realized what I was doing.

With a quiet whoosh, one and a half liters of ethanol blazed into brilliant life in front of me. Literally. I felt out the newborn fire with my mind, and fed it magic, drawn from the my body and the air in the concourse. As it gorged upon my magic, the fire changed, growing beyond a simple combustion reaction, becoming a living thing. It wasn’t that impressive of a fire at first, only the small fraction of airborne ethanol igniting in response to my lighter. That tiny indigo flare gorged itself on the mana I wrapped it in, growing without any apparent source. In a moment, my now crimson flame had grown large enough to surround Marbleface’s torso.

I staggered forward, feeling like I had just sprinted a mile; the dolls holding me going limp as they reverted back to their default instructions. The poor man controlling Marbleface screamed, the sensory feedback from his construct overwhelming him with pain. The now raging fire quickly evaporated the water content of the whiskey, consuming his both the alcohol and the shirt it was on. I reached out to my fire one last time, this time forcing mana to condense in the center of the flame. Then I dropped to the floor, face down, with my hands between my thighs. Then I released my spell. It wasn’t much of an explosion, more a whooshing noise than a blast, but it looked more impressive than it sounded. When I stopped holding the magical energy in the center of the fire, it immediately rushed outward, seeking to diffuse into the surrounding space. And the already magical fire consumed and followed it, rushing outward in every direction, igniting the wooden shelves of the store and the other businessman dolls.

Part one of my brilliant plan, commit arson in heavily guarded public space : Check! Time for part two, scream like a little girl and run away. Its not dignified, but I like living too much to have dignity.

(For more of Turniper’s work, please visit https://blazewebserial.wordpress.com/ )