Follow the Ashes – Catastrophe, but Not Before a Drink

Cas looked around at her former cohorts, memories of her time with them gradually returning. She blinked, tried to shake the fog from her head, and sighed.

“Be kind to yourself, friend,” Bertie said, stepping forward. “We know you’re not on the most even footing, so to speak, and things are coming back gradually. For the best, you know, since unlocking all of your memories at once would be quite dangerous.”

Maeve scoffed. “What kindness did she afford us? Were we not but pawns in this ordeal?”

Bertie opened his mouth, but stopped short as Cas raised a hand.

“I barely remember you,” Cas said. Maeve’s lips curled into a sneer. “It would seem I’ve wrong you in some way, however, and I’d be open to discussing that further.” She hesitated.

“Beyond the injuries I caused you recently,” Cas added. “I’m…Er, I’m glad to see you appear to have recovered.”

Raph stepped between the two. “See? What nice progress this has been.”

Bertie chuckled. “We’re on something of a tight schedule, I fear,” he said. “Gavin’s untimely expiration is undoubtedly a sign that Vittorio something’s amiss.”

Cas shook her head. “What is it you need from me next, then?” she asked. “I know it’s my fault the Earth is burning, but what can I do now?”

Bertie chuckled softly, the sound a sour humor–sadness mixed with his amusement. “The best person to answer that is dead,” he said. He smiled. “You took his eye, though, didn’t you?”

Cas reached into her pocket and found what she was looking for by a familiar cold to the touch feeling. She removed Gavin’s cybernetic eye from her pocket and held it up. It vibrated gently in her grasp as small points of light traced paths along the eye’s surface. The pupil lit up, dim at first, and then shot forth a beam of light that pointed ahead.

“Best not dally,” Bertie said. “Battery life on those was never terrific without a power source. We’ll wait right here for you.”

“That’s a conversation for you and Gavin only,” Raph said in response to Cas’ raised eyebrow.

Cas took a step forward along the corridor as she followed the light from the eye. The beam went to the end of the hall, visible as a point of red light where it stopped. When Cas reached the wall, the eye unexpectedly swiveled in her grasp. She nearly dropped it, but managed to hold fast. It pointed to the left-leading corridor, and so Cas followed. She reached the corner, and followed the corridor to the right until she reached another corner. The eye lead her to the halfway point of the corridor and then swiveled to face the wall.

The point of light, Cas noticed, was larger and now formed a flickering X.

“Marks the spot, I suppose,” Cas said. She pressed the eye against the wall, expecting some explosive response. Fanfare. Drama.

Instead she was met with a soft click. A section of wall retreated into the ceiling, and beyond the opening it left was a modest office space. A wooden desk sat in the center of the room. Cas approached and could see it was hand-carved, meticulously and with love of the craft. A small, metal tree stood devoid of leaves on the left side of the desk. A semi-spherical indent interrupted the mess of branches at the tree’s crown.

Cas inhaled as she placed the eye into what looked to be its resting spot, and watched as its light went out.

“Shit,” she muttered. “Tell me the damned battery died.”

Light poured forth from the eye, focused on a single point. It build upwards from the floor, gaining depth and definition until a very lifelike holographic projection of Gavin stood before Cas.

“Hello, Commander,” the projected Gavin said. “If you’re seeing this recording, you likely know I am dead.”

Cas sighed. “And it’s likely my fault.”

The holo-Gavin rolled his eyes and huffed. “I figured I could milk that joke for at least another line or two of dialogue, but no,” he said. “You had to go and rain on my parade. When did you get so dour?”

Cas blinked, stepping back.

“Memory core in the old eye,” holo-Gavin said. “Good for one last conversation. Before we get too far into this…” He gestured at a shelf built into the wall. There were several books and file folders, all analog which was a curious sight given that most everything else was stored in the form of data.

“The one titled ‘The Mysteries of the Isles’,” Gavin instructed.

Cas pulled the book from its resting spot and was surprised it had as much weight to it as it did. She carefully placed it on the desk, and when she opened it she was not met with pages but two crystal glasses and a small decanter.

“Might as well break out the good stuff,” holo-Gavin muttered. “I figured we’d be enjoying it under different circumstances, but I was never very good at gambling. Have a glass for me, would you? You’ll hate it.”

Cas complied, not fully certain as to why. She opened the decanter and was met with a smell like fire and rotting wood. She wrinkled her nose as she poured a modest measure into a glass, then held the glass up and swirled its contents. Before she could let her reservations get the better of her, Cas took a long drink from the glass. It tasted as it smelled, and burned her mouth in a way that made her eyes water and her nose run.

“One of the last bottles of scotch from Earth,” holo-Gavin said. “No age indication, as there was no need. It was one of a small handful. Cost me a small fortune.” He chuckled.

“I told you that you’d hate it, though,” holo-Gavin added.

Cas winced as she powered through the rest of the glass. She poured herself a second one. “To you,” she said as she held it aloft. She sipped it this time, and noticed it was less offensive. Less painful.

“I have so many questions,” Cas conceded.

Holo-Gavin shook his head, motes of dust moving through him where he stood. “If only we had the time.”

“Humor me,” Cas said. “Even just a little.”

“Perhaps, but only a little,” holo-Gavin said. “One question, and then I tell you what you need to know. Then…”

Cas frowned. “Then it’s goodbye, yes?”

Holo-Gavin nodded. “There you go getting all dour again,” he said. “What’s your question? Make it count.”

Cas considered her options. Ever since she had woken up to only the command for her to follow the ashes, and ever since Gavin had begun to pursue her, he had remained something of a mystery. Even with her memories coming back, she wasn’t sure who the real Gavin was or what motivated him.

Holo-Gavin tapped his wrist, and a small timer displayed in the air. It did not have much time left to it.

“I know,” Cas said at last. “Don’t laugh at me, though.”

“Oh ho ho, this should be good,” holo-Gavin said.

Cas held up a finger, and holo-Gavin stopped chuckling.

“Very well,” holo-Gavin said. “What’s your question?”

Cas hesitated, but forced the words to leave her mouth. “Was there a time we were friends, Gavin?”

Gavin smiled. It was a smile of genuine happiness, and for a moment it was as if he had come back to life. “That’s one hell of a question,” holo-Gavin said. “We were far more than friends, though. We were practically family.”

Piece 20 – Two Pieces with One Fracture in Reality

“Curian! Is it really you?” Sophia gasped. “By the Gods, it has been a strange and taxing day.”

Curian smirked, shaking her head. “I had quite the trip myself, you know,” she replied. “Space. I only got a little taste of adventure out there…” She trailed off.

“I’ve got to get back home before I go thinking about the next adventure,” Curian muttered.

Sophia frowned. “I suppose you’re right,” she said. Her expression warmed significantly. “It looks like sorting out this world business was beneficial after all.” She pointed to the altar.

A fragment of the Prognosticarium floated in the air just above the altar. A dark aura emanated from it, points of light like stars visible in the dimness.

Curian laughed. “Go figure,” she said as she retrieved the piece. “One step closer.”

“I’m sure Lady Rhimeghast will be very pleased,” Sophia said. “We’ve got a bit of a journey back. Perhaps you could tell me more of the space you visited while Captain Warpt was here in your place?”

The duo exited the chapel and began walking back towards Rhimeghast Palace.

“Seemed to me like they found entertainment in magic, but not the kind we have,” Curian said. “I was in a vast, haunted mansion, but it wasn’t real. At least it wasn’t supposed to be. There were proper goblins and kobolds that made it over into their world.” She looked down at the piece of the Prognosticarium in her hand.

“How did Alistair come across something so powerful,” Curian wondered aloud. “And why would he just let me have it? It makes no sense.”

Sophia paused. When Curian didn’t notice, she cleared her throat.

“There is a great deal of speculation surrounding the Prognosticarium,” Sophia explained. “I’ve barely scratched the surface in what little reading I did before we embarked on this…well, this rather perilous journey. A common thread, however, seems to be the Prognosticarium has a will of its own to some extent.”

Curian turned the piece over in her hand, staring at it intensely. “Why me, then? I’m no one special?”

Sophia chuckled, drawing a confused look from Curian.

“The people who say things like that are almost always special in some way,” Sophia said. She paused, as if she had caught herself, and added, “Or maybe I’ve read too many novels lately.” She braced against a frigid wind, shuddered, and visibly tried to shake off the cold.

“Suppose we should get back to Rhimeghast Palace,” Curian said. “Don’t want to catch our deaths out here.”

The rest of the walk back to the Palace was largely in silence. Sophia guided the way, and Curian tried to not let the scale of the place distract her too much.

Two heavily-armed ghouls greeted them at the gates.

“Her Ladyship is busy, but wished us to congratulate you on a task well completed,” one ghoul said.

The other held out a hand, palm down, and nodded to Sophia. She reluctantly responded by holding out a hand. The ghoul placed a Piece in it, and the two turned and entered the gate without a word before sealing shut.

“How fortuitous,” Sophia said.

Curian wrinkled her nose. “Doesn’t pass the sniff test for me,” she said. “Did you happen to see any other ways in? I think we’ve got a bit of sneaking around to do…”

Follow the Ashes – His Name Was Gavin

It was a dreary day, like many had been for the better part of a year. The rain drew trails along the outer panes of glass, any debris that had settled on their surface the night before burned away by the acidity of the rainwater. Bright, phosphorescent lightning bolts split the otherwise night-dark sky though it was only just past noon local time.

“Commander Cassiopeia.”

Cas snapped back to attention. She blinked, looking around to take in her surroundings. She was in an office, pristine and meticulously organized. She turned around. The desk behind her–her desk, she surmised thanks to a simple, black and white name tag–had a computer that looked in need of replacing, and an empty picture frame with a metal dog tag draped over it.

The officer who had entered wasn’t one with whom Cas was familiar. He stood at attention, and saluted when Cas acknowledged him.

“At ease, Captain Wilkins,” Cas said after returning the salute. “What can I do for you?”

Some of the tension left Captain Wilkins. “You’ve been assigned a new lieutenant, ma’am.”

Cas sighed. “I’d told them I don’t need a glorified assistant,” she replied abruptly. She paused, and considered her next words with care. “Forgive me. It’s been a taxing day.”

Captain Wilkins waved off the concern. “No apologies needed, Commander,” he said. “Keeping up with the protective coatings on the base to keep the constant weather anomalies has many of us a bit…Well, unfiltered I suppose. Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Appreciated,” Cas said. “And is this new lieutenant here?”

Captain Wilkins nodded. “Just outside,” he replied. “Shall I bring him in?”

Cas acted as if she was weighing her options in her hands, prompting a chuckle from the Captain.

“I suppose so,” Cas replied finally.

Captain Wilkins turned and motioned to the new lieutenant. He offered a salute and left as the Cas’s newest cohort stepped into the room. When he entered, Cas blinked a few times.

He was slightly shorter than Cas. His hair, a raven shade of black, was swept neatly back and held with product. He was thin–a sign he did not come from money, and therefore had limited access to food. A bandage covered one of his eyes, and the other one probed at Cas.

“Commander Cassiopeia. Let me just start by saying what an honor it is to be assigned to you, and to such an important project,” the lieutenant said.

Cas nodded. “The Ellipse is proving to be quite an undertaking. I hope you’re not easily frightened by long hours, difficult problems, and insurmountable odds…Sorry, what was it again?”

“Apologies, Commander. Lieutenant Gavin Redford, reporting for duty,” the lieutenant, Gavin, replied.

Cas studied Gavin. “Do you have a brother, perhaps?” she asked. “Another relative I may have crossed paths with, perhaps?”

Gavin shook his head. He frowned. “I can’t say I do,” he replied, adding, “My condolences for your loss. I’d heard about your husband’s passing in the line of duty.” He nodded to the frame and the dog tag that rested atop it.

Cas shook her head. “He died in a skirmish over water reserves,” she replied. “Killed by some of his own men, no less.”

“Pardon my asking, but I had heard you chose to not seek the death penalty as is customary in such…events,” Gavin said. “Why is that?”

“A bit of a bold question on a rather heavy subject,” Cas said, a finger raised. “Perhaps we can talk about this once I’ve learned if you’re up to snuff for this project. What happened to your eye?”

Gavin smiled. “Cybernetic eye,” he said. “Still healing, freshly installed and everything. I had a suspicion it could come in handy. Time will tell, though, won’t it?”

Cas snapped sharply back to the present upon feeling the cold metal of Gavin’s cybernetic eye in her pocket. As her vision returned to focus, she realized she wasn’t alone.

“Raph,” Cas said. “It’s so good to see you. We’ve got a lot to discuss, and not much time to do so I fear.”

Raph saluted in response. Maeve and Bertie stepped into view.

“My dear friend,” Bertie said. “We’ve got far more to discuss than you could possibly imagine.”

NaNoWriMo Victory (and returning to serials)

I told myself I wasn’t going to write tonight because, quite frankly, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) kicked my ass. Thoroughly. We’re talking minimal sleep for the sake of hitting or exceeding par each night.

So I clearly lied to myself to write this because I was raised Catholic and wear that guilt like a damn cape. So here we are with me writing a blog post on my phone. Yep.

And I DID IT. I met my goal! I won NaNoWriMo! I concluded this year’s NaNoWriMo at 50,034 words and I feel terrific about such a victory. Here’s the details worth sharing:

  • A Princess, A Lich, and Some Murders (a tentative title) is an idea I’ve been playing around with for a while. Close to a decade at this point.
  • I had written about 100 pages of its true first draft some years ago, then scrapped it.
  • This story kept popping up in the forefront of my thoughts throughout 2020 until I decided it would be what I use for NaNoWriMo.
  • The most hectic night of writing resulted in me going into a workday with around 3 hours of sleep. Would not recommend.
  • The story is only about halfway done. I’ll be easing my way through the rest of this draft.

What next, then? The serials will return, right?

Yes! Of course! Just not this week. My wife’s birthday is Friday, and my focus will be on making her fantastic food and doing what I can so she has a nice, low key day.

The four serials so many of you have shown such love will return next week. Looking forward to resuming those adventures together, folks.

Stay safe out there and take care, folks.

Where have all the serials gone?

“Happy Friday!” is a thing I often shout across the void of the internet. It’s already almost halfway through November! How time certainly flies when the world is on fire and the President is actively casting doubt on the very bedrock of the voting process. Such fun.

By now some of you have noticed an absence of Fantasy Friday and Sci-Fi Saturdays. On the plus side, this reminds me that people are actually reading them – thanks for that! On the downside, it means I should’ve made up my mind sooner. I owe some explanation as to what happened.

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s that magical time of year during which people try to write 50,000 words – the equivalent to an average length novel. After taking last year off, and with a great deal of encouragement from my wife, I decided to tackle this beast of a challenge. During a Presidential election cycle that has been nothing short of off-the-rails. While also still working my day job.

I am not a clever man.

My original goal was to continue the serials uninterrupted, but it became very clear that was not going to happen within the first week. Writing novels is exhausting. I’ve been staying up past midnight to hit the average word count needed to make it to 50k by the end of November (approximately 1,667 words per day).

So what does this mean for the serials? Glad you asked, hypothetical reader. The serials will resume in November. I’m still working hard on ideas for them as their stories aren’t complete and some of the details are whim decisions.

Sorry to surprise folks with this sudden pause, but I promise I’ll make it worth it when they resume.

Stay safe out there and take care, folks.