No new chapter or commentary will be posted this week. Digital Magic will return next week with Chapter 9. I hope everyone had a very Patrick Swayze Christmas this year and a wish everyone a Joyous New Year!
Lance and I leave the Steacie Building and head towards the Rideau River. With the weather turning cold, few people spend time out here, and few buildings have windows facing it. By going under the railway bridge, we're even out of sight from the O-Train passing. Besides, the campus is closed while they try to get the heat back. It's chilly. The spray from the river doesn't soak through my jacket, but it also hits my hands and face. I try not to shiver.
First thing Lance shows me is his grafitti removing trick. I watch closely as he performs his magic. Both hands up, hands touching, and a phrase. Did he really just say, "Marks away, paint job stay"? I give him a disbelieving stare.
"What?" he asks.
"That's a magical incantation?"
He shrugs. "You were expecting me to say it in Latin?"
"I was expecting something more . . . more . . .." I roll my hands as I try to find the right word.
"Yes." I force my hands to stop moving. I can be a spaz later. "What sort of spell is that?"
Lance points at now clean part of the bridge. "It worked, didn't it?"
What once would be done with telephone calls, emails, or even letters can now be done through some form of instant messaging. When I wrote the start, I had Trillian and its interface in mind, but no specific messenger. Since getting the chat into a text removes the formatting, it doesn't matter. At the time, I hadn't seen how other writers handle the exchange. Because of the nature of the chat, I went with the transcript instead of describing Jackie typing out her responses and waiting for Lance to reply. The key to the scene was what they were talking about.
Jackie is freaked out and taking a leap, but she's not stupid. Trish is now her backup plan. Trish doesn't hear from Jackie after an hour and the cavalry gets called in. It's not that I've got a masquerade deliberately happening. It's more that, for most people, magic isn't real. Jackie was one of those people. This also comes up in Heaven's Rejects, but Digital Magic isn't as cynical, thanks to not having Nadia around.
Lance does the only thing he can to show that magic exists. He uses magic. And with Jackie setting the venue, there's no way for him to have set up an illusion beforehand. No time, no way to know where Jackie will choose. Jackie has no other option but to believe, though Lance implies she has a choice not to, despite everything going on.
This may be why I like the Shadowrun setting. In Shadowrun, magic exists. The stuff of legends, like dragons, vampires, and spirits, are real. Magic is measurable and repeatable. There is no masquerade; there's no need for one.
Paradigm shifting without a clutch, in Digital Magic Chapter 8.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, a seasonal entry as I try to fix Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Jacinda_9: Lance, are you there? Jacinda_9: Lance? Jacinda_9: Lance? Lance179: I'm here. What's up? Jacinda_9: What's going on with the game? Lance179: What do you mean? Did the server crash? Jacinda_9: No. It's . . . Lance179: It's . . . ? Jacinda_9: You won't believe this. Lance179: Try me, Jac. Jacinda_9: Promise you won't laugh. Lance179: How bad could it be? Did it turn your computer into a toad? Jacinda_9: Not funny. Jacinda_9: Really not funny. Lance179: Sorry. What happened? Jacinda_9: My mouse is purple. Lance179: It's purple? That's it? Jacinda_9: Before I started playing, it was grey and silver. It has always been grey and silver. It was never available in purple. Lance179: What happened? Jacinda_9: I don't know! I was playing Valor Quest, testing the gloves, and fighting some sort of invisible badger. Lance179: That would be the jackacoati. Jacinda_9: Whatever it is, okay? Not important. I felt my hand ache a little, so I stretched. That's when I saw my mouse had changed colour. Lance179: Did you see it change? Jacinda_9: No. Lance179: Anything else different around your PC? Jacinda_9: No. Lance179: Is the game still running? Jacinda_9: In the background. It pauses when minimized, right? Lance179: So I've heard. Jacinda_9: What happened to my mouse? In fact, ever since you gave me the links to the game, I've felt like I'm being stalked. What's going on, Lance? Jacinda_9: Lance? Lance179: I'm here. Just checking something here. Jacinda_9: What's happening? Lance179: Magic. Jacinda_9: . . . Lance179: Jac? Lance179: Jacinda? Jacinda_9: I'm being serious, Lance. What the hell is happening? Lance179: I am serious, Jac. It's not something I can explain well online. Jacinda_9: TRY. Lance179: Can you meet me in fifteen minutes? Jacinda_9: Not without an explanation, Lance. I'm being stalked and you're the prime suspect. Lance179: We can meet someplace relatively open. There's a few things I want to show you, but we can find somewhere that gives us privacy but still lets you call for help if you want. You choose. Jacinda_9: All right, how about Carleton in front of the Steacie Building? Lance179: It'll take me longer, but I'll be there. Jacinda_9: I'll be inside out of the cold. *** Jacinda_9 signed off.
Jackie needed time to recover. There's no way she would want to stay at her apartment for long after what happened in Chapter 5. Her parents' home is a safe spot, even if she has moved out. Of course, that leaves the question, why did she move out if her parents live so close. The answer, the one I came up with to answer that question for myself, is that she didn't want to be that far from school. Jackie lives in biking range, though she prefers to drive in the winter. She and Trish share the rent.
Jacinda returns! I swear, I probably should have focused on the split between Jackie's adventures and Jacinda's. However, I was aiming for a romance, not strictly SF/Urban Fantasy. But I needed the Jacinda scene to get to the payoff, that Jackie can perform magic. There's some action in there to break up the pace a bit. The key part, though, is the mouse. Poof, it's purple!
Wait, this is a romance? Where's the romantic parts? It's Chapter 6! Jackie got hit on once, by Steve, and Lance has appeared briefly. There's not even a romantic chemistry between Jackie and Trish. What gives? Is this a slow build up? Not really. I got more interested in the magic side of the plot that the romance fell from A-plot to tertiary back-up subplot. Oops? And, well, romance is difficult, at least as planned. Naturally, when I decide that romance isn't something I can write well, Brenna has one in The Soul Blade, leading to a gap in the time spent writing as I try to figure out how to wrap up what was supposed to be a subplot while the main plot is coming to an end. Maybe Digital Magic, despite being what I feel is a failure, gave me the experience to handle Brenna and Officer Matt properly.
The first thing I notice when I wake up is an extra weight in my bed. I hear someone else breathing evenly beside me. My heart races. I open one eye to see who's in my bed. Relief competes with embarrassment when I see Trish beside me. I must have fallen asleep before she was done her shower last night.
Trying not to wake her, I roll out of bed. I get the change of clothes I brought out of my backpack and take them into the bathroom with me. A quick shower later, and I'm set for the day. I tie my hair back into a loose pony tail, then leave the steamy bathroom. As I go downstairs, I hear Trish waking up.
Dad's already up and getting ready for work. Mom prefers to sleep late when she can. I kiss Dad on the cheek when I pass him to go into the kitchen. He already has the coffee on, so I grab a mug for myself. Trish stumbles down soon after, her hair still a mess from sleeping, her eyes squinting. "Morning."
Trish mumbles her reply and makes a beeline for the coffee pot. She fills a mug and drinks it black. "Mmm." Her free hand runs through her unruly hair. "Morning." Trish's voice sounds like falling gravel.
"First sleepover here where I've slept." She manages to open her eyes wider. "It's Tuesday, right?"
"Last I checked."
"Oh, God, I have to meet with a project group this morning." Trish buries her face into the palm of her hand. "It's too early to deal with that."
Jackie is officially freaked out. Eyes where there shouldn't be any and now someone trying to enter her apartment. Jackie called in the big guns - her mother. In retrospect, this is a pattern for me when writing. A solo lead character will tend to gather a large supporting cast that comes somewhat organically. Brenna's family expanded in The Soul Blade and even Ione had a good-sized supporting cast in The Devil You Know. I've fleshed out characters' family, friends, and schoolmates for a work in progress. People don't live in a vacuum. The ones who try tend to be the ones who aren't firing on all cylinders to begin with.
Time has once again destroyed a plot element. Trish and Jackie have a landline phone. Today, two university-aged young women probably wouldn't bother with a landline and stick with smartphones. Jackie would be texting her mother instead of calling, not risking a noise. Well, other than the new message notification. But phones do have a volume control.
The problem with hinting at the supernatural is that unless the characters have a reason to believe, like in LTV Paranormalists, they're going to work out a mundane explanation. Eyes appearing on walls and in mirrors? Jackie's overworking herself. Someone outside the door trying to break in? Random burglars. Even if not random, then they are possibly connected to Steve, if one of them wasn't him. And when presented with the unusual that could be dangerous, most people aren't going to jump in to fight it without looking. They're going to retreat to safety to regroup.
Tomorrow, life must go on, in Digital Magic Chapter 6.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, fixing Sonic the Hedgehog.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, fixing Eegah!
It takes over an hour to get back home. Street lights blaze as I walk to my apartment building. I can't believe how late it is. Lance and I talked longer than I expected. Not a bad way to end the day, really. It means that I'm off on my assignments, though. Good thing I give myself an extra day to waste somehow when I do my homework.
I unlock the apartment door and step in. The place is dark; Trish isn't home yet. I turn on the main light. There's a couple of newspapers on the floor that weren't there when I left. Trish must have bought them on her way home this afternoon. I pick them up and take them to the dining room table. She'll find them there eventually. I set my backpack down in my bedroom then return to the living room. I think about going back to the game, then decide against it. I don't feel like getting the gloves to work with my computer tonight.
Instead, I flop on to the easy chair and turn on the TV. Mindless entertainment sounds good right now. I flip through the channels, trying to find something decent. The networks are still trying out their new shows, but nothing interests me tonight. I set the channel to CBC Newsworld to act as background noise for now.
I get up and go over to the bookcase. Reading sounds better than watching TV right now. I scan past Trish's fantasy novels and my murder mysteries. I settle for a Rita Mae Brown book here. I've read it enough times that the spine is worn, but it has always worked as a comfort read when I need to unwind.
I return to the easy chair and curl up in it. The heat comes on, hot air blowing noisily through the vents. Within a few moments, I'm warmer and engrossed in my novel.
The door rattles. I look up from my book, waiting for the sound of Trish's key going into the lock. The rattling continues. I set down the novel. The sound of voices comes through the door, but I can't make out what they're saying. It's two people, though, both men. I uncurl myself and lean forward in my chair, ready to dash into my bedroom if I have to. The door handle rattles again, more violently this time. As soft as I can, I get out of the chair and pad in sock feet to the phone.
A restless night for Jackie, who may or may not be overreacting. Ever since she got that game, things have been getting weird. It's odd that she hasn't made that connection, but technology and magic tend to, at least in fiction, not play well together. Sure, there are exceptions, but technology is usually treated as the equalizer. And, really, who suspects a computer game of being nefarious without being a right nutter?
The benefits of using a city I live in as the setting is knowing what's around. For an American city, I'd have people walking around with Starbucks cups. At the time of writing, Tim Horton's would've been the most likely cup to see. There's always a Timmie's around, and there's one on campus. Today, it's a toss up between Tim's, which has really expanded in downtown Ottawa since 2007, and Bridgehead, a local chain that now outnumbers national chains in town except for Tim Horton's. And if anyone from a café wishes for product placement in a future story, leave a comment below. It might not work for a fantasy, but if you want the girls from Unruly or even your chain to be available in an interstellar empire, I can work it in.
In 2007, the local weather was starting to fluctuate a bit, but not to the extremes over the past few years. Jackie was exaggerating about sunbathing in February, but we've seen thirty to forty degree shifts in temperature over the course of a day or two, going from deep freeze to spring-like weather. We also see it going the other way, from fall to Arctic, is the same amount of time.
Of course, when the weather can follow the city limits, then there is something weird going on. Not that anyone would notice here unless they actually took a closer look. During some of the storms from the remnants of hurricanes this past summer and fall, Ottawa somehow had a rain shield. Rain hit all around, but nothing got into the city. At a past apartment, I've seen rain hit a part of the city while leaving my area dry. In the story, though, the weather acting odd is a hint that something is up.
Jackie's hope for the bus is also dated. Of all the things to have gone pear-shaped in the past twelve years, I wouldn't have expected the bus service to tank. It was having problems in 2007, and the O-Train, now called Line 2, was a pilot project at the time. The O-Train was also the first major improvement in transit service to Carleton University in decades. People were using the bus. A year after Digital Magic was written, the bus strike of 2008-2009 struck, and things started going downhill from there. Today, good luck getting anywhere by bus. Massive service cuts coupled with an LRT not ready for prime time. I have a full rant to write up post-NaNo on this, but for now? Jackie shouldn't complain too much about the bus service she's getting.
The eyes in the window came from a lucid moment while either falling asleep or waking up. It was just too cool to not use, even though I really don't write horror. Urban fantasy, though, can use the element. This is a scene that I could easily salvage from the story for use elsewhere. Right now, that's the fate of Digital Magic, to be taken apart for the good ideas. The rest can lay quietly in a folder somewhere. I'm sure that I've used Jackie and Trish, not by those names, in another work as it is. Professors in Computer Science liked to mention code reuse. I'm just taking the concept to another field. It's not plagiarism if I give permission to use my own work.
Lance finally appears in person! Took him long enough. I can now try to work on a love triangle. I've seen enough anime to know how those work. I've watched Marmalade Boy, which had love polyhedrons. Of course, the issue isn't just tossing potential points in. There needs to be chemistry. Remember this for later chapters.
I wake up with a crick in my neck from using couch's arm as a pillow. It takes me a few moments to realize that I'm in the living room. I sit up and look at the time on the VCR. Still early in the morning; I haven't slept in this time. I stretch, working out the kinks, then look over at my bedroom door. My clothes, books, laptop, everything I need for the day are still in there. Maybe I was seeing things last night. Eyes don't just appear in a mirror.
Taking a deep breath, I walk over to my bedroom door. I reach for the doorknob. The handle is cool to the touch. I'm not sure what I was expecting. The feel is normal, I think. Probably. I open the door, letting it swing in slowly. Nothing jumps out at me. I let out my breath and enter.
Opening with a half-remembered dream was my attempt at getting readers prepared for the magic that comes later, plus the dangers of the antagonists. Jackie still doesn't know she has the capacity to perform magic, here. Mild spoiler that, yes, but it's in the title, too. She brushes it off as dehydration, one of the causes of a hangover.
I'm still working on describing surroundings beyond, "It's a 10x10 room with a chest in the middle." I wanted to give Jackie and Trish's apartment a lived-in look by two young women who really need to find time to clean. I'm sure they do have time, and they can clean their apartment up when needed, but they've let it go with the semester's crunch time.
With Steve having been the first potential romantic interest introduced in body, it's time for Lance127 to make his proper appearance. What's a romance without romantic rivalries? But that only works if there's two men around. Otherwise, Jackie can romance Steve while sexting Lance127 and there's not much conflict that can be drawn out of that in a narrative.
The in-game invasion was a test by the game admins to see who figured out how to get the effective spells. The goal the admins have is to see who has the curiosity and who can make the approrpiate gestures to find the hidden menus. It's not quite a sword in a stone, but the admins aren't looking for just one new mage, they're looking for many.
While Jackie is the main character, she has her own supporting cast. No one lives in a vacuum. There's always family, friends, co-workers, classmates, the friendly barista who knows your order better than you do, the surly passenger on the bus, and so on. Introducing Jackie's family here was more to make sure that Jackie seemed more rounded. She loves her mother, but she wants to be on her own now that she's an adult.
Time has not been kind to the story. Amalgamation was pushed through without thought of how it would save money by the Government of Ontario under Mike Harris, who was trying to push off any provincial service he could to munipalities. While the former Regional Municipality of Ottawa- Carleton had major problems, such as direct accountability to the voters, the merge was done without considering the full effects. We're still paying for it now. The other problem is that Mexicali Rosa's no longer exists. I'm not sure what happened, but the individual restaurants became independants, then also disappeared. The one at the Dow's Lake Pavilion changes names every few years. I probably should have just made up a name.
The weather weirdness also didn't survive the twelve years since the story was written. Thanks to climate change, extreme weather changes in Ottawa are regular. We've been having record highs, record lows, and record temperature changes. For at least two winters now, Ottawa has seen highs of -30 for a (frozen) solid week or two, followed by a sudden increase to around freezing for a few days before again dropping back down to -30. A few years ago, Ottawa had a much greener Christmas than it did a summer, thanks to a drought followed by an unusually warm winter. So, the bizarre weather Jackie's seeing isn't really an indication of something odd happening around her.
Fortunately, the faceless eyes in the mirror are timeless.
Tomorrow, the new challenger appears, in /Digital Magic/ Chapter 4.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, fixing The Crawling Hand.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, fixing Sonic the Hedgehog.
I wake up with the uneasy feeling of a half remembered nightmare. Disjointed fragments still race through my mind, images of me running from a woman I don't know and couldn't describe, of Steve shirtless and holding me, and of a vortex of ones and zeroes. My head throbs a little, in part from the nightmare, in part from waking up, in part probably from dehydration. I roll out of bed and look at my alarm clock. Ten-thirty in the morning. Still slept in, but nothing like yesterday.
Still wearing my night clothes, I pad out on bare feet. Trish is already awake and eating breakfast. I join her in what passes as a dining room for us. We've made it double as a study area, extra storage, bar, and, yes, an eating area. I sit down at a clear area on the small table we have. "Morning."
"Morning, Jackie," Trish says between bites of her omelette. "I've got coffee on."
I get up again and shuffle to the kitchen. I hear the perculator gurgle as I enter. Instead of coffee, though, I grab a glass from the cupboard and the orange juice from the fridge. My throat's still dry and my headache is threatening to become piercing. I fill the glass and drain it in one shot. As I refill the glass, I consider what to eat. Trish's omelette smelled wonderful, but I think I want something more. Maybe a western sandwich. I start gathering what I need, eggs, onion, ham, and spices.
As the western is frying on the stove, I finish my second glass of OJ and put the glass in the dishwasher. My head is starting to clear again. I put on toast for the sandwich and wait as the different parts of my breakfast cook.
The smell of coffee is too enticing to ignore any longer. Once my breakfast is ready, I pour a mug of coffee and bring everything back to the dining room. Trish sets her fork down on her plate with a clatter as I sit down. "Anything planned for today?" I ask my roommate.
Things I regret - writing a romance from the first person point of view. Welcome to the commentary for Digital Magic Chapter 2.
Chapter 1 established Jackie as a home body, someone more content to stay in than go clubbing. I also established that her BFF Trish was her opposite in that department. Naturally, one of them had to win, and for the sake of plot, it was Trish. Hard to meet the designated romantic interest without going out.
Or is it? I'm still setting up a few plot points in a somewhat clumsy style. The video game does come into play, I promise. It's kind of implied by the title. Lance179 is already getting a lot of screen time for being an online gamer. Jackie just hasn't met him in person. At this point, I had a few ideas going on in my head on where the story was going to go. It helps to have a direction to go in. No ending in mind, but I had the core elements started.
To make things easier on me, I'm using Ottawa as Jackie's hometown. That was one less thing to research. I've done the same with later works, including LTV Paranormalists, though that has the added bonus of adding weirdness to the city. Ottawa needs more weird. However, Shattered doesn't exist. I placed it in the Byward Market in a location where a restaurant is, so I know the surroundings. If I can visualize what's happening, I can write it. Digital Magic is how I learned that trick. The other locations mentioned do exist, even after twelve years.
Steve is the first potential romantic interest in the flesh. He and Jackie hit it off, at least for a random encounter. I have no idea if Steve's approach would work. What I was trying to do is have him seem like the ideal man, one who can listen to a woman and put her at ease. One who doesn't push himself on Jackie. I'm not sure, even now, how he comes across, though. Feel free to leave a comment below about him.
I mentioned at the start that I regret writing /Digital Magic in the first person. The big reason is that I am now restricted to Jackie's view point. I can't show what everyone else is doing and I don't want to info dump by having characters monologue. It's not a problem here at Chapter 2, when I'm still setting up the threads. Later, though, I probably could have used an outside view. Live and learn.
The video game elements gave me a new idea while I was writing this one, an idea that still involved Jackie but also her Jacinda character. The game takes character emoting to an unusual level. Extra details that would probably be patched in a few months after release these days. Jacinda is almost alive at points, showing emotion. There were points where I found myself wanting to write her story instead. Again, live and learn.
Tomorrow, sober second thoughts, in Digital Magic Chapter 3.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, fixing The Raven.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, fixing The Crawling Hand.
I wake up with the sun streaming through my window. The back of my mind is telling me that something is wrong; the sun streams in only in the afternoon. Crap. I slept late. I know it's Saturday, but I had some plans. I roll out of bed, still in the t-shirt and jeans I had on last night. Crap. Crap crap crap. Okay, time to get moving, salvage the remains of the day, finish the damned assignment, get a life. First, a shower. I grab clothes for today; underwear, an oversized plain black t-shirt, and a pair of track pants. Should do for all my afternoon errand running. Then I can sit down and figure out what I did to the game.
Clothes under my arm, I leave my bedroom and head towards the shower. Unfortunately, Trish is in the living room and notices me. "Finally," she says.
"Morning," I mumble. If I can just get to the bathroom . . ..
"Jackie, we need to talk."
So much for escaping. "Trish, I don't --"
"Yes you do. I was expecting to see you last night. Instead, I find you here in the apartment looking the same way you did when you left yesterday morning. You're turning into a hermit, Jackie."
I half-sit on the arm of the couch. "The assignment took longer than I thought."
Trish arches a perfect red-tinged eyebrow. "It's not even due this weekend."
"I had a thought I wanted to follow through with before I forgot it. I lost track of the time, that's all. By the time I got the program to work, it was too late to bother going out."
"And how long were you online after that?"
I feel my cheeks grow warm. "I don't know."
Trish shakes her head, disappointed. "Jackie . . . you need to get out. It's been too long since you had a date."
Digital Magic was my second ever NaNoWriMo project back in 2007. I figured a SF/fantasy/romance mashup should be easy. Ha! This is what I will call my glorious mess. Romance isn't easy.
The idea I had was to mix magic, video games, and romance. Sounds like it should be at least interesting. What you'll see is that I got focused on one element at the cost of the other two. But, there's stuff in the story that I feel I can salvage for use elsewhere. Not a complete loss, but disappointing in retrospect.
The first scene is on Jackie's favourite game character, one of her own devising. She's playing a nameless MMO, one not based on any that existed at the time. To be honest, I don't play MMOs. If I want to go slay monsters with friends, I'm pulling out D&D or some other RPG. The MMO is more or less what I want to see in one, not what exists commercially. And, given that there's a twelve year gap between when I wrote Digital Magic and today, there's a tech gap as well.
Chapter 1, like many of my Chapter 1s, presents the main character, in this case, Jackie, in a typical day in her life. I realized in later works that I do this to show when things start going weird for the character. There's dropping a character /in media res/ to get the action going, and that works if weird is normal for the character. Here, though, Jackie is a student, not a spy or a mystery writer. Heaven's Rejects can get away with the weird coming up early; that's Nadia and Ian's job. Digital Magic needs the slow build up.
The not-quite-off screen sex scene just happened. I tend to pants my way through writing, so if something came about organically from the scene, I went with it. Trish is the more outgoing of her and Jackie. There's backstory, and some of that comes out later. They are friends, but Jackie is well aware of who Trish is, and vice versa.
I may have been asking for trouble writing in the first person. Thing is, I couldn't figure out how to work a later scene in third person. While I pants, if I get an idea of something to add, I will work my way up to it, using the idea as a guide post. The advantage of first person is being in the character's head and knowing what she thinks and feels. The disadvantage is that you're stuck with that character. The character has to be interesting. While Jackie did go digging through the settings, I'm hoping her thought processes help keep things fresh.
Tomorrow, girls' night out in Digital Magic Chapter 2.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Expanse Season 2.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, fixing and remaking The Raven.
Jacinda stopped as the trees thinned to a clearing. She knew her quarry lurked in the plains ahead. The dragon had been terrorizing the area for far too long, and the mage remained determined to put an end to it. It would be easier if the rest of her group had survived with her; one by one, they succumbed to wounds. The serpent had allies, enough to toss at her and her friends to slow them down. With a determined look on her face, Jacinda stepped out into the open. The beast would pay for its ravages.
A lone man came running from the distance. "Flee! It's unstoppable!"
Jacinda stopped. The wind teased her long golden hair and her light robes. The foul creature had found a new victim. Jacinda vowed that the man running would not fall to the dragon. "Over here!" she called.
The sprinting man changed course and ran towards the fair magician. "Get out of here! Run while you still can!" Behind him lumbered an impossibly tall creature Jacinda had never seen before. "Go!"
Jacinda stood her ground. She held her hands in front of her, elbows bent outward, fingers taut. A wisp of flame appeared between her hands. The fire grew in size and intensity, but never burning the magician's hands. She released the flame. The fireball blazed overhead and struck the creature true in the chest. The beast kept moving, unaffected by the inferno that had hit him.
"It's immune," the man panted as he reached Jacinda. "I tried the same thing."
"We can't outrun it." Jacinda held her arms straight out, her palms facing the ground. The ground rumbled. Bits of earth erupted from the ground to form a human-like mass. Jacinda pointed at the approaching creature. "Delay that!" The elemental trod towards its target.
"That can stop it?"
"Hell no. It's buying us time." The magician held her left arm straight over her head. A green glow appeared, surrounding her hand. A similar glow enveloped the monster as the elemental neared it. "Do you have any spells that can help?"
"Everything I have is fire-based."
Jacinda eyed the fight. Her elemental traded blow for blow, but looked more battered than the creature. "Right." She brought her hands together in front of her. A pattern of energy zipped around her interlocked fingers before streaking at the beast. The whirling energy changed from fire to lightning to ice to raw magic, clawing at the monster. As the maelstrom ravaged the beast, Jacinda cast another spell. Blades fell from the sky, piercing the monster's hide. "It's weakening! Get it before the spells end!"
The man produced a shining sword and leapt at the creature. He swung his sword in a wide arc. The blade cut deep into the monster's chest. The elemental kept pounding its rocky fists on the creature's leg. Still away from the melee, Jacinda cast another spell, one that sent a stream of swords into the creature, stunning it. Unable to defend itself, the monster fell and lay unmoving.
I push the keyboard away. So much for the dragon. Damned newbies going around a new area and aggravating new monsters. I should have dropped an area effect spell on both the monster and the newb. Why I thought this game would relax me is beyond me right now. I should have played the Sims – no, wait, I wanted to keep track of time.
On screen, my magician, Jacinda, stood waiting for me to do something. There's times where I think she's annoyed with me for being so slow. Of course, those are also the times when I've had too much to drink. I probably should just shut down the game and return to my assignment.
A flash on my monitor catches my eye. I look closer; someone in the game wants to chat with me. What's surprising is that the gamer is using proper English. What the heck, why not see what he wants. If he wants to cyber, I'll just shut down anyway.
Are you still online?
Okay, not much to judge grammar by, but he did type out "you" in full. I type back that I am.
Sorry for dragging you into my mess. I should have been able to handle it without dragging anyone else in.
That's different. No one's ever been sorry for screwing up another player's plans before. I type back, That's okay. I was probably going to be killed tonight anyway.
The way you handled yourself? Most players I've seen would have kept using their most powerful spell and hope that it's enough.
He's got me there. Thanks.
Let me make it up to you. I've got an invite for a new game in development and they're looking for beta testers. I think you'd give the game a challenge. Interested? I can send the links by email.
Beta test? Oh, why not? Who knows, maybe I can get a job with the company when I finally get my Computer Science degree. I type in my throwaway Hotmail address. So who should I be expecting in my inbox?
Lance179. And thanks again for saving my bacon. And with that, he leaves the game. Not a bad idea, really. I quit as well. I stifle a yawn. Must be later than I thought. Before I can check the time, I hear the front door unlock. Probably my roommate, but I better check.
Padding on bare feet out of my room, I see my roommate, Tricia Halliwell, pulling her key out of the lock. I have no idea how she's remaining steady on her stiletto heels and not show her ass in that barely-there skirt of hers. Her cheeks are flushed rosy. "Did it turn cold out?" I ask.
Trish looks over to me, staggering a little, causing her red curls to bounce a little. She titters at her mis-queue. "Jacqueline Hart, what are you doing home? I thought you were going to meet us at the bar." Her eyes are unfocused as she stares at me.
"What are you doing home so early?"
"What early?" Trish giggles. "It's past three." As I glance at the clock and see she's right, she continues, "You weren't playing online again, were you?" She shakes her head at me, then adds an admonishment. "Geez, Jackie."
I feel my cheeks grow warm. "I was going to, but my assignment took longer than I expected. Have a good time?"
Trish's laughter trilled. "Would have been better if you were there. You should have seen some of the guys there. Mmm. Oh, wait." She stepped out for a moment, then dragged a sandy haired guy into our apartment. "Jackie, this is Simon. Simon, my roommate Jackie."
Simon gives me a half-wave. "Hi."
I try to smile. "Hi." So much for getting to sleep right away. Trish is, how can I put it, enthusiastic in bed. Ear-piercing levels of enthusiastic. I head to the kitchen. "Anyone else want tea?"
"No, thanks." Trish still has a hold on Simon. It looks like they're trying to merge into one. Simon's hand disappears behind Trish, eliciting more giggles from her. I turn away so I can roll my eyes. "Don't be that way, Jackie," Trish admonishes.
I make a show of getting out a mug and a teabag. "What way, Trish? I just want a tea before I go to bed." I hope that Simon won't last longer than it takes me to finish drinking. Without turning to see either Trish or her boy toy, I fill the kettle and put it on to boil.
"We'll talk tomorrow, Jackie."
I hear Trish's bedroom door slam shut. My shoulders relax a little. Maybe she's drunk enough that she won't remember wanting the talk. A shriek of laughter erupts from the bedroom. Simon isn't wasting anytime. By the time the kettle boils, Trish is already moaning in rhythm.
All right, I'm being hard on her. Naturally curly hair, good figure, legs that won't quit, and constantly being hit on by men. The only thing I have on her is height and cup size, and she even manages to beat me out on the latter by being perkier. If Trish wasn't my best friend since kindergarten, I'd probably hate her.
Trish's moans have climbed up an octave and have grown louder. I give up on focusing on my tea. There's no way I can pretend I don't hear the chorus coming out of her bedroom. With any luck, Simon won't be able for another go. I pray that he won't be. I just want to go to bed. Trish reaches her loudest, then stops.
I finish the last few drops of my tea and trudge back to my own room. At last, quiet enough so I can get to dreamland. Trish starts her moaning again; this time I can hear her louder and clearer through the thin wall between our rooms. I groan. Fine, Trish can get her groove on all night. I've got something else I can do. Lance179's email. I can grab his link, download the play test files, and see if the game is decent. In the meantime, I set my iPod to shuffle and try to isolate myself with music.
The earphones don't completely muffle Trish's cries. Please, Simon, do give her more so I can get to sleep sometime before the sun rises. I refrain from hammering the wall. Never has helped before. As the download completes, I stare outside. Fat snowflakes float like autumn leaves, settle on the window, and melt. Odd, since the forecast called for clear and well above freezing. I bring up Environment Canada's webpage and check the conditions. The forecast hasn't changed, but the current weather does say light snow. Not to mention that Trish didn't complain about the cold, especially in her outfit. Weird. Global warming, go fig.
The download finishes and I start the installation. Nice and smooth, no glitches, no odd questions, registration is painless, and five minutes later, the game is running. Graphics are impressive, but that's a given these days. The title screen calls the game "Valor Quest: The Test of Lord Tottenheim". A nice intro movie explaining the world starts; I watch it to see if anything inspires me. The back story could use some work. Right now, it's a Tolkien rip-off, with a great evil threatening to spread throughout the world. I suppose it's good enough for now, but I'd be disappointed by it if I had, you know, paid money for this.
I'm jarred out of the game when Trish climaxes. She should have gone into musical theatre; wouldn't even need a microphone. I turn down the volume on my iPod and wait to see if there's another encore from next door. With no sounds of love making coming after a minute or two, I leave the iPod's volume down and let a out a sigh.
Back to the game, I check what options I have. Looks like the usual: warrior, wizard, rogue, priest, and variants of each. I'll try my favourite character type, the sorceress, like Jacinda, to see how well she can be done.
Navigation is nice; the choices are easy to find and easy to click. I have several choices of wizard; generalist, summoner (here, Spot!), necromancer (ew, no), invoker (hmmm), and illusionist (maybe if I was fully awake). Jacinda has always been a generalist, using all sorts of spells, so that's what I'll try. I can modify her appearance, but the selection of hair styles and robe colours isn't that big. That's something that the developers can change, though. It could be that they're trying to test game play and will worry about details later. Still, something to bring up. I get Jacinda version nine done. Yeah, I've played her in many games, including The Sims; she was a little vixen there and now has far too many grandchildren to keep track of in Veronaville.
Off to the virtual world I go! Jacinda Nine materializes in the middle of a city near an ornate fountain with streams of water coming out of a trio of dolphins. Nice touch, that. I'm not overly happy with her grey robe and the plain staff in her hand I get Jacinda to walk around the the market to see what's there and to see how well she moved. Her hips have a bit of a wiggle to them. The boys will enjoy that touch. Me, not so much, but I've seen worse. Walking and running animations are flawless, though, wiggling notwithstanding. Time to see if she can talk to the locals and spend some of the gold in her belt pouches.
As I start to click on a local merchant, my finger slips somehow and an options menu appears on screen. I read through the list of changeable attributes, looking for something that won't cause a fatal crash before I've saved anything. Colour looks to be the safest. I try entering a number in the field then apply it. Jacinda's bland robe turns pink. She is so not a pink. I change the number again, trying to remember my colour codes. My memory isn't so good at this hour. Whatever this hour is. I check the time on my alarm clock. The glowing numbers are trying to tell me it's 4:07. Or the secret of the universe. Way past bedtime, at least. I type in what I hope is the correct code for light blue and apply the change. Jacinda's robe is now a deep blue. Close enough. I close the attribute screen and think about sending an email to the development team. Of course, what could I say? "This screen popped up and I changed my character's outfit colours but I can't say how I did it?" Tomorrow, I'll try getting the pop up again and make note of how I did it. For now, though, I exit the game and turn off the monitor. Without changing, I drop on to my bed.
Heaven's Rejects was fun to write. I had no plan, just characters and a broad concept that let me send my cast wherever I wanted if the whim amused me. The series wasn't serious, as the animated Elvii can attest to. The goal was to try a new twist on the masquerade a lot of urban fantasy tries to maintain. The masquerade is blown, so let's have a camera crew follow a team!
The characters helped a lot. They had strong personalities that carried a few chapters alone. Demona was fun to write - half-succubus, half-Catholic, all librarian. Nadia turned into her Demona's opposite, mortal, flawed, and perpetually cranky. Ian was the fun-loving one of the group, the stable bedrock for the other two. The dynamic kept things fresh for me.
Drawbacks, though, were the lack of planning and the subsequent pacing issues. I had to rein in the desire to get to the punchline with the Elvis impersonators in the third arc. The second arc had things boiling up without a solution until I started digging into American history. The chapter length should've been shorter in a few cases. Hindsight leads to learning if viewed properly, though, and the problems I had while writing Heaven's Rejects should be smoothed over in the future.
The lack of planning, though, also lets me take into account weirdnesses that come up while I'm writing. The zombie Elvii were inspired by the bingo cards created by the local municipal liaisons. I'm not committed to a specific ending if something better comes up. There's a trade off between planning and pantsing, and while pantsing takes effort during the act of writing instead of off-loading some of it before writing begins, it also feels more organic. I had an outline for By the Numbers that I kept to until the end, where the direction of the story meant Numbers leaving. The story was kept in a steady direction, but it didn't feel right at the end of writing. It works now, after the passage of time. Meanwhile, stories like Unruly and The Soul Blade had the story grow organically, leaving me more satisfied at the ned.
One thing that I may not do again is include character asides with their pics. The formatting takes time, and I'd want a greater variety of images to reflect the characters' moods. It was an experiment with Heaven's Rejects. If I could draw, I might have gone that route. I do like having pictures to refer to with my characters, even if I have to build them in a video game. The act of describing the character forces me to consider elements I'd have never thought of.
NaNo is coming, so I hope to remember what I learned with Heaven's Rejects.
This past week has been hectic. Can*Con ran all last weekend, forcing a delay in my usual weekend chores. That wouldn't have been so bad, but Monday was election night, and I didn't have time before work to find my poll, so after work it was. By the time I was done and home, I was too tired to go back out and do laundry, which was getting needed. Tuesday, laundry, because it was needed. Wednesday had a quick grocery run, something else postponed from the weekend, plus finally getting to watch the planned review for Lost in Translation.
In short, I am beat. I managed to get the writing I wanted done - the commentary and the review. But I am behind, so this is what I can do for today.
The plan, though, is to start a new serial next week, and one last commentary for Heaven's Rejects while still getting next week's review properly researched and prepping for NaNo. I should be caught up just in time for NaNo to take over my life. I also want to get an index set up for both LTV Paranormalists and Heaven's Rejects so that they can be found more easily. There's also a new edition of Shadowrun out to test character creation for. I have ideas.
The blog will go on and on and on, but I just need a breather.
Tel Aviv, Israel, chosen because it counts as two words during NaNoWriMo, three if I include the country name. The best city for that might be Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam, but the idea I had for this arc wound up going to the Mediterranean.
First, though, Episode 11 was the last full chapter written before I ran out of steam during NaNo 2018. I broke past 50k words and kept going a little further, but between having to do the research I wanted and the sheer marathon NaNo is, I ran out of steam. Heaven's Rejects gets added to the other unfinished serials as to-be-done-when-ideas-recharge. NaNo is fulfilling, but exhausting. I maintained a good average for the month, about 2000 words/day until I hit the wall.
The research I got into was all on mermaids. I wanted to find out where the first mermaid legend was and got the Eastern Mediterranean, near Assyria. A bit more research and I worked out the general plot. The catch, though, is keeping the cast from figuring out what's happening too fast. Fortunately, there are many reasons for people to go missing off the coast of Israel and neighbouring countries. Demona's guess of a water bender causing waterspouts to pick up sharks comes from crossing Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Sharknado series, so she's not even close yet.
Turns out, Ian loves a good bad B-movie. Demona just wanted to keep hip to what the kids who went to her library were watching. Shakrnado is just cheesy and deliberately so. It became a brief phenomenon and carried on from there. Having a character watch it made sense. It ties them into the real world just a little more.
Nadia's reputation precedes her. She tends to leave a bit of a wake behind her. There are a few places she's not allowed to go to anymore. Israel isn't one of them, but the Section Chief is well aware of her proclivities. He also keeps notes. Lots of notes. More notes than I do.
Next week, I'll add a commentary for the story overall. Thanks you for reading and please feel free to comment on the parts, even if it has been months.
The threat to Las Vegas is over. The bodies are back in the morgue. The casinos are cleaning up to get back in business. And I am finally out of Las Vegas. If one more person said that I wasn't allowed to be there, I think I'd have kicked them in the crotch.
Fighting the animated dead is tough. And we added to the difficulty by trying to not damage the bodies too much. Their loved ones would be thankful, if the John Does are ever identified. What happened after all that, though, well, shit show is too kind.
There's another player on the scene. No idea who. No idea what they want, except the necromancer. I was a step behind in all this. I want to blame myself, but Demona pointed out that there wasn't a way to predict what happened. An army of dead men dressed as Elvis out to destroy Las Vegas? Another group of people stealing the necromancer from the local cops just before we could? Team One One Seven is going to follow up in Las Vegas. My team gets a new assignment.
Nadia stood behind Demona, who sat on the office chair on the other side of the Chief. "Seriously, Chief? This isn't a joke?"
The Chief glared at Nadia. "Do I look like I'm joking?"
"Not at all." Nadia smiled. "I've always wanted to go to Israel."
"All of you are up on your immunizations? And you all have valid passports?"
All three agents nodded. "What's the mission?" Ian asked.
"Our teams in the Middle East are reporting people disappearing along the Mediterranean coast. No one country is losing more in these disappearances. And since they're spread out, local authorities aren't aware of a bigger problem."
Demona raised her hand. "What sort of disappearances?"
The Chief slid an brown envelope across the table. "Details are here. You'll have plenty of time to read on the flight to Tel Aviv."
I was pushing it, having three groups of shambling Elvis impersonators menacing Las Vegas. The fight scenes were starting to feel the same to me. I wanted a different way to deal with the last group. The solution happened off-screen, though, which irks me a little. My leads didn't come up with the idea, but there were also busy trying to deal with Elvis being everywhere. Team One One Seven had to do something other than watch.
Why "Gangnam Style"? Why not? The song is popular and has a dance move that that vast majority of club-goers can do. I also set up Demona as being a fan of PSY earlier, with her ringtone being "Daddy". The other catch is that, overall, Heaven's Rejects isn't supposed to be serious. And fighting Elvis with PSY falls right in with that concept. Along with zombie Elvii dancing.
Nadia finally gets her explanation on why there are so many demons in security and why Demona isn't allowed in the city. Demona's mother almost brought the arrangement crashing down by being herself. It took until this chapter to give Demona's mother her name, and that took some research to have it sound authentic. If I planned things out, I'd have known what Meleri's name was long before I started. I never expected the name to come up, though.
To add to the fun, I introduced a new element to the setting. A group that is at odds with the Agency, because why should there be just one secret organization lurking about. The idea here is that I introduce them now, bring them back as background elements in a few episodes, then have the big confrontation that leaves the Agency reeling. It's a long-term plan. This organization knows exactly what words to use to stop pursuit, though American security paranoia is high, overreacting to false positives.
I hate it when the opposition thinks things through. The necromancer made it difficult to stop the animated John Does. Demona figured out what was powering them, but grabbing gold chains while fighting off something that can't be killed isn't easy. Not to mention, the necromancer split her army of the dead into three groups. We're not going to get out of this without injury.
I got scratched up in the last fight. It stings a little, but it's not so bad right now. Definitely will have to see a doctor later. The dead aren't known for their cleanliness. I don't want to be sidelined by an infection. Nadia shoiuld've brought some of Team One One Seven with us. The more people we have, the faster we can stop the Elvii.
Just what did Mom do here? Two security guards have yelled at me for just being in Las Vegas. Why? Because of Mom. I never had the chance to do anything. I didn't even want to come here. She owes me for this.
Nadia, Ian, and Demona dashed across the Strip, heading to the last casino suffering from a walking corpse invasion. Ian pointed out the SWAT team setting up near the necromancer's white moving truck. "Our time's almost up," he said.
"Ignore them," Nadia said. "They can't do anything useful."
Demona caught up to Ian. "I need the stun stick again."
"It won't work on the John Does. It's a little late to try to restart their hearts."
Ian pulled the stun stick out of his gym bag. "Clubbing them isn't going to do much, either."
"It's not for them." Demona took the weapon from Ian. "Wait, does gold conduct electricity?"
Nadia slowed her pace while she thought about the question. "I think it does, but it tends to melt."
Demona grinned. "Good."
The three agents arrived at the casino. Its main doors were destroyed. One hung from its hinge, the other lay on the floor, huge rents in it. Beyond in the lobby, security guards sprawled unmoving on the floor. Others tended to their fellows. One noticed the agents enter. "Get out! Get out while you can! Bullets don't stop them!"
The army of undead Elvii are running amok. Good thing Nadia and her team are around. The necromancer became a character when I realized that someone had to be animating the Elvii. Her motives are somewhat shallow, but the serial isn't supposed to be serious. Someone using dark magic to punish sinners hits the irony button and adds to the theme that the real danger tends to be the human element.
Vegas, at least in the setting, is an unusual city where the supernatural is part of the scene, at least in the touristy areas. "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" and all that. Demons can get jobs or go out for a bit of harmless fun. Demona's mother forgot about the "harmless" part in the past and earned herself a lifetime ban. The ban got passed on to her daughter.
I toyed with the idea of giving all the Elvii a name based on a song by Elvis. Blue is named after "Blue Suede Shoes", Teddy Bear after the song of the same name, Lonesome after "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" Then I realized that I'd have to name at least twenty Elvii and there are way too many Top 40 Elvis songs. Just naming three was enough.
The one thing I was starting to regret was the length of the chapters. These are longer than what I have for other purpose-made serials, like Unruly. This makes a difference on when to wrap up an entry, to make sure that each one is more or less the same length. With novel chapters, length isn't as important as content and purpose. Posting a regular chapter week after week, though, has a different requirement. Too short, what's the point of visiting. Too long, and it's easier to download and read later. And differing lengths add some uncertainty when there shouldn't be any. Next serial, I get the chapters a little shorter, giving me less space to fill.
Friday, if it's stupid but it works, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 10.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Convoy.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Feast of Legends.
I'd have thought seeing zombies would be, well, scarier. These guys, though, I don't know. It might be the silver jumpsuits. It's hard to take anyone wearing a silver jumpsuit seriously.
What sort of sick person would change the look of a corpse? Pompadours, jumpsuits, gold chains. There's a limit to performance art and taste.
Zombie Elvii. Man, what a trip.
Nadia looked around for a police officer. Spotting one several yards away, she pushed through the crowd. "Hey! Hey, you! Officer!"
The cop turned his head to find who was calling him. "What is it?"
"I need to get through."
"You and everyone else, lady." The cop pointed at the phalanx of shambling Elvis impersonators. "No one's getting through until they're gone."
"And who's going get rid of them? That's why I'm here."
"Yeah, you and everyone else here."
Nadia rolled her eyes. "Look--"
"Attention denizens and visitors if Sin City!" A woman came out of the white moving truck, a microphone in her hand, letting her be heard over the general din. "You have benefited from the wages of sin for far too long! Now the bill comes due!"
Heck of a place to leave off, with zombie Elvii. This was the moment I had in mind when I started the arc. I tried not to rush the build up, making sure that I had everything I needed laid out so that when the undead Elvis army started marching, it wasn't going to be a joint face-palm by the audience. I had to make sure that the missing bodies more or less could pass as Elvis, and that Demona didn't jump to that conclusion. She had no reason to suspect an Elvis impersonation theme.
Leading up, I realized that the anti-magic blanket couldn't have been done by the person animating the Elvii. Doing that would inhibit their own goal of sending the army of undead Elvii through Vegas. I figured that out soon enough that I could bring in Byron. His reasoning was that if there's bodies going missing, someone might want to raise or animate them and cutting off the magic would at least delay them long enough for his team to find them. He forgot about Nadia, which was not a good idea.
Demona asking about which Frankenstein goes back to my other main project, Lost in Translation. Demona, though, comes to the question because she's a youth librarian who has to explain to students that watching the movie adaptation doesn't always work as a substitute for reading the original work. Frankenstein is a great example of why - the book never goes into how the Monster is brought to life and adds the fear of fire. The Monster is different in the movie, being more child-like.
Nadia is a speed demon. She's pushing the SUV's limits. The SUV was chosen because I needed a vehicle large enough for the cast plus the camera crew, so a seven-passenger SUV it is. Passing a cop while doing 30 over tends to get attention, and you don't have to outrun the cop; you have to outrun the radio. Said cop also comes back as a way to stop Nadia from catching up to the antagonist too soon and as a way to just end the scene. Camera goes off, scene ends. Part of the framework of the story.
I took a different approach to the zombie invasion. I'm assuming people are genre aware here. Zombie movies and TV series have been around for some time. Las Vegas is known for its entertainment, so a zombie invasion there may just look like just another spectacle. No one is going to run away right away. Once the zombies attack, there will be people in the crowd willing to draw a gun and try for headshots. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Things would not go well. Then add police, including SWAT, moving in.
Starting the catch up now. The past couple of weeks have been busy and something had to give. Unfortunately, it was this blog. That's past, it distracts from the now. On we go!
A little bit of fun, at least for the writer and, hopefully, the audience at the beginning. Nadia thinks she's been seduced and taken advantage of by Demona. Yes, Nadia has a few prejudices to work through, but she hasn't run into any half-succubi. Full ones, yes; half, no. This let me get out a bit of background about Demona. If sleeping with a succubus leads to one's soul being drained, what does sleeping with a half-succubus result in? If the other half is Catholic, guilt. Incredible guilt. That, or Demona just has really lousy luck when it comes to sex.
The other side of the scene is the question of nature or nuture. Demona is part demon, but her father raised her well. The core of her beliefs is the ideal of forgiveness. Demona doesn't want to hold grudges and, generally, she is a decent sort. The nicest person in the story is a half-demon. Nadia, the most acerbic, is fully human. Tends to be something I play with - see also The Devil You Know.
Ian did some investigating off-screen. If this were a visual medium, he'd get a montage of walking around and talking to different people. Here, I skipped past it because it wasn't the current focus. Nadia's break down and Demona being a friend were. Ian gets to deliver the summary, which is some good news for Nadia.
The bit about Nellis Air Force Base is a nod to B-grade horror and monster movies, where the military exists either to create the horror/monster or to be completely ineffective at stopping it. Nadia is just making sure that things aren't getting out of hand, and having Nellis on alert is way out of hand.
I wound up using Google Streetview to get an idea of what the highway Nadia's driving on looks like. It's handy, especially when getting out to a location may be difficult. I did the same with with LTV Paranormalists and Kristi's hometown, Moose Island. It's not as good a first-hand experience, where I'd get not just the sights, but the sounds, smells, and temperature, but considering that I'd probably burst into flames in the Nevada desert sun, I'll live with it.
I'm dropping the previews for the next chapter. Turns out, when I wrote the chapters, I bookended them with character asides, either wrapping things up or hinting at the coming chapter already. So, it's just extra work retrofitting it in. I'm leaving them out for now, at least for Heaven's Rejects.
Apologies for anyone expecting commentary today. This week got away from me to the point where I lost a full day somehow. I am taking this week off from posting here, so no new commentary today and the next chapter of Heaven's Rejects will be a week delayed. I hope to get everything back on track for this time next week.
Friday, no chapter, but Heaven's Rejects will return next week.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, thoughts on a Battlestar Galactica reboot.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Flash 1990.
I took a field trip with Demona to find out just how far this blanket cutting me off from the flow of magic went. Far enough, but it's shrinking. That gives me time to find the /kelev/ responsible and feed him a personal part of his anatomy.
It was just us girls going out of town. Nadia loosened up a bit, though after what happened in the morning, there wasn't much left to be bared. When she gets a chance to relax, Nadia can be nice, in her own way.
I went looking around Las Vegas trying to find what happened and the people behind it. I came up with nothing. That's going to be the focus now. Team One One Seven can keep looking for the missing John Does.
The next day, Nadia, Ian, and Demona split up, each following up on different leads. Demona remained holed up in her hotel room, going back to her online research. Ian walked around Las Vegas, looking into the smaller venues to see if there was anything amiss. One had a magic act cancel at the last minute, but beyond that, he found nothing out of the ordinary. Nadia drove around the city in the rented SUV, working out the edges of the blanket cutting her off from the flow of magic. Through trial and error, she worked out approximately where the blanket was centered. In the afternoon, she drove to a local high school not far from the Strip. With school still in session, Nadia could only drive past and make note of the parking lot.
The three met up again in Demona's room to share their findings. Demona had a Power Point presentation ready to go, much to Nadia's annoyance. Ian sat down for the report, giving his feet a rest. Nadia only paced. Demona's report showed a pattern in when the John Does went missing. The morgue needed to have at least four unknowns arrive, with the missing John Doe being either the second or third of the night. She didn't have any information that could lead to exactly when the bodies were removed from the morgue, though.
Demona's smartphone rang, playing the chorus from PSY's "Daddy". She answered it, then passed the phone and Kaye over to Nadia. A few minutes later, plans were made for Kaye and one of her teammates to meet in the buffet for dinner. The meeting broke to let everyone clean up.
Nadia, with a clean black t-shirt to match her jeans and her boots, was the first to arrive at the hotel's restaurant. She let the hostess take her to a large table. Ian arrived not long after, trailed by the camera crew. The crew set up so that no other table would be in the shot. Ian, wearing a polo shirt that stretched over his frame and a pair of grey slacks, sat next to Nadia, ordering a draft beer while he waited for the rest to arrive. Demona slipped into the restaurant, trying hard not to be seen, Even her clothes, a silver cardigan over a grey t-shirt and floor length floral skirt, were meant to not attract attention. She saw Ian and Nadia and joined them.
As the waitress took Demona and Nadia's drink orders, Kaye Ortiz arrived with a taller man with a dark complexion. Kaye led the man over to the table. "Hi guys," she said. "This is Byron Calhoun, Team One One Seven's magic expert."
Nadia stood up. "HI. Nadia Wallach." She shook Byron's hand. "This is Ian Markowitz and Demona Bell. Please to meet you."
"I've heard about your team," Byron said.
"And you still came? You're brave." Nadia sat back down. "I figured the buffet would keep everyone happy. There's something for everyone."
The waitress returned with Nadia's gin and tonic and Demona's diet cola. She left with Kaye's request for a glass of white wine and Byron's order of a sour apple martini. Once the group was alone again, Nadia asked, "How is the John Doe case looking?"
Kaye shrugged. "Still looking. Demona's been helpful, crunching numbers. I've managed to get all the information she wanted. It still feels like something is missing."
Byron grinned, his teeth gleaming under the restaurant's lights. "Other than the John Does, that is."
"We figured." Nadia leaned in closer. "Have any more gone missing in the past couple of days?"
"One, last night," Kaye said. "Thanks to Demona, the guys at the morgue were able to tell me when they noticed. No deliveries, no visitors, nothing else happened before they discovered another John Doe left the building."
Demona frowned. "That's not possible. Someone had to be there."
"Unless it's an inside job," Ian said. "Is that possible?"
Kaye shook her head no. "The night shift guys have been there for years. The newest guy on the team came on two years ago. Someone would notice if any of the others are taking bodies out."
"Just a thought."
"We've been following up a new problem," Nadia said. She looked over at Byron. "Two days ago, someone dropped a blanket of sorts that cut off the flow of magic. We've been trying to find whoever's responsible."
"Oh, well, you can stop looking." Byron beamed. "I did that."
Nadia launched herself over the table, knocking over her drink. Before anyone could react, she had a grip on Byron's shirt. "You what!?"
Kaye grabbed hold of one of Nadia's arms. "Hands off my people!"
Ian wrapped his arms around Nadia's waist. "Let's hear him out first, Nadia."
"Do you know how many people you screwed over with that stunt?" Nadia ignored the people pulling on her.
"Nadia, people are watching," Demona said. "They're going to kick us out."
Nadia piushed Byron back into his seat. "That stunt of yours let every practicing mage and who knows how many supernatural entities know that you're in town. How does it feel to have a target on your tuches?"
Kaye got herself between Nadia and her teammate. "If you have a problem with anyone on my team, you bring it up with me."
"Did you know that he was going to do something stupid?"
Byron adjusted his shirt. "It was a preventative measure. If someone was taking the John Does to animated, then I delayed them."
"But cutting off the flow of magic in Las Vegas?" Nadia sat back down. She worked to get her volume under control. "You closed off a method of finding the thief. What sort of mage are you?"
"I'm not. I'm an alchemist."
Nadia rolled her eyes. "And you didn't think to ask a mage if your idea was a good one?"
"Do you have a better idea?"
Ian formed a T with his hands. "Time out, everyone." He looked over to Nadia. "We found out who cut off the flow of magic. One less mystery." He turned to Byron. "How about giving all agents a heads-up before you do something like that again. Maybe you can't feel the flow, but cutting it off sent up a flare. If there were supernaturals in town that weren't aware there was an Agency team in town, they do now. That's going to make it harder for all of us."
"There's a bright spot in it, thought." Demona shrunk back from Nadia's glower. "Whoever is stealing the John Does isn't using magic, right? They couldn't have last night, but a body went missing."
Nadia bit her lower lip. "The rookie has a point. There's no magic involved."
"Unless they used a potion or an amulet," Byron said. "Those wouldn't be affected. The magic's already in the item."
"But can you create something to animate the dead?" Demona asked.
Byron shrugged. "Probably? It's just a matter of working out the matrix needed."
"No, you'd still need to infuse the body with magic, even with an amulet," Nadia said. "Magic items can't store enough magic to do much more than getting a corpse to sit up. It also takes time to create these things. How many missing John Does are we up to now?"
"About a dozen," Kaye said. "Probably more."
Ian drained his beer. "Unless there's a Frankenstein process involved, that's going to take to prepare."
"Which Frankenstein, book or movie?" Demona asked.
"There's a difference?"
Demona smiled. "A big one. Mary Shelley didn't go into the details of how the Monster was brought back to life. The movie used a lightning bolt. We're in a desert. Who is going to count on a thunderstorm to hit here?"
"No one, but Hoover's Dam isn't far from here," Kaye said. "Maybe an hour out of town at most, depending on traffic."
Nadia looked over to Ian. "Did you get your gear in yet?"
Ian nodded. "It arrived around noon yesterday."
"You're thinking of checking out Hoover Dam?" Demona asked. "I thought /Frankenstein/ was fiction."
"It is, but that doesn't stop anyone from doing something stupid. Kaye, call your team. We'll meet them there. We're going to eat before we go."
Nadia urged the rental SUV faster down the freeway, passing traffic like the cars were standing still. Beside in the front passenger seat, Ian braced himself, making sure his seat belt was fastened properly. He watched as a sedan swerved out of the lane. A loud honking followed. Demona clutched at her door handle in the back seat, her knickles turning white. "Slow down!"
"I'm not even thirty over the limit," Nadia called back. "The rental company must have put a limiter on it. It's bad enough that it's an automatic."
"You almost hit that car!"
"I missed, didn't I?"
Ian looked back. "I think we just blew past a cop going the other way."
"Yeah, and?" Nadia checked the rearview mirrors. "It's not like he's gonna catch up with us."
"The police have radios," Demona said. "He could call us in."
"And say what, there's a speeding truck?"
Demona rolled her eyes. "If we're stopped, I don't know you."
"If we had my car, we could check the police frequencies," Ian said.
"If we had your car, Demona would be strapped on top," Nadia counted. "Look, we need to get to the Dam."
"Why the rush?" Ian winced as the SUV came within inches of sideswiping a semi. "We don't know that anything's happening there."
"Kaye and the rest of Team One One Seven are on their way."
Demona looked out the back window. "We passed them ten miles back."
Nadia held down on the horn to get a Corvette to move out of the lane. "They're still on their way." She let out a low whistle. "We're too late." She pointed over to a bright display of light coming from Hoover Dam. Actinic light played along power lines. Over the Dam itself, lightning surged skywards then arced back down. Thunder cracked. Winds buffeted the SUV. Nadia gritted her teeth as she fought to stay on the road.
Coaxing as much speed as she could out of the Ford SUV, Nadia raced to get to Hoover Dam, cutting off a camper as she exited on to the Dam's access road. The light show dimmed, but didn't end. Nadia eased off on the SUV's speed on the double-laned road. There was no traffic ahead of her, though, letting her still drive above the speed limit. As the SUV neared the last bend before the Dam, a white moving truck roared by. Nadia put the SUV into a bootlegger turn, throwing Ian, Demona, and the camera crew into the side of the Ford.
"What was--" Demona's question got cut off as Nadia floored the accelerator. Tires squealed before they found traction. "I missed something."
"Hoover Dam's visiting hours ended at five. It's well past that. So why is there a delivery truck coming from the Dam?"
Ian shrugged. "Late delivery?"
"And just happens to be leaving after the light show?"
"Makes perfect sense to me," Demona said. "If I was a delivery driver, I'd leave, too. No one gets paid enough for that."
"Okay, you two, answer me this. If they were running away, would they have passed us sooner, like when the light show began?" Nadia waited a moment for an answer. "The average /shlmiel/ would have taken off when everything went nuts. Even if they froze at first, they'd be gone before the light show ended."
Ian nodded in agreement. "So what's in there? The missing John Does?"
"Got a better suggestion? Oh, shit!" Nadia stood on the brake. The SUV screeched to a halt, its front bumper half an inch from a Nevada Highway Patrol cruiser, its lights strobing blue and red.
The state trooper walked around his car to approach Nadia. "Care to explain why you were so far over the speed limit?"
Nadia produced her license and the rental agreement. "Hello, Officer."
The trooper glanced at the paperwork. "I'm waiting."
"This might be above your pay scale, Officer."
"And you want my supervisor." The state trooper glared at Nadia. "Just who do you think I am?"
Nadia smiled. "Look, Officer, did you see the fancy light show with the thunder and lightning just now?"
"Was that your handiwork?"
"Just how fast do you think I was going?"
"At least eighty miles per hour. I wouldn't be surprised if you hit a hundred."
Nadia glanced back at Ian. "Maybe I was too harsh on this car." She turned her attention back to the state trooper. "To be honest, I didn't think it would go that fast."
The trooper brought out his ticket book. "Just consider yourself lucky I'm not hauling you-- Is that a camera? Hey, are you recording me? Turn it off. Turn it off now--"
The biggest obstacle we face in the Agency is law enforcement. We are told to not break the law but there are times when we bend it. A lot. Speeding is minor considering everything else we do, but when it gives the cop a reason to search our car, then it gets a little sticky.
I am not taking the blame for this. I was just a passenger. Nadia has a lead foot. I knew she'd be pulled over.
It'd be easier to do our jobs if we could just pull out a badge that trumps these cops. Or use some sort of code. But the Agency wanted to be secret, so no. At least Kaye arrived to help out. She has some pull around here. I gotta ask her how she managed that.
Nadia followed Kaye back into Las Vegas, driving at a more sedate pace at the speed limit. The urge to pass Team One One Seven and their full sized passenger van gnawed at her. She was sure something was happening in the city. Just what, Nadia didn't know, but there was something happening.
Ian turned on the radio. He flipped from station to station until he found an all-news broadcast. The news announcer droned on about the day's news. Ian looked over at Nadia. "It's quiet."
The news announcer gave way to the traffic reporter. "A truck has blocked the Las Vegas Boulevard at East Tropicana. Police have set up roadblocks in the area. Traffic is halted in both directions."
After exchanging a glance with Nadia, Ian got out his smartphone. He sent a quick text to Kaye. Team One One Seven's van sped up. Nadia followed suit, passing the van. Demona grabbed on to Ian's seat. "What's the rush? Wasn't one lecture from a highway patrolman enough for one day?"
"Ian, start the timer," Nadia said, ignoring the question. "We have fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes?" Demona turned her attention from Ian to Nadia and back again. "Fifteen minutes until what?"
Ian shifted in his seat to look at Demona. "Police are already on site. That means people will wonder what's going on. The Strip is a tourist attraction, so there's going to be people with phones out taking pictures. What do you think will happen when they see the John Does walking around?"
Demona shrugged. "Run away?" She sat back in her seat. "No, wait, they wouldn't. Not right away. This is Las Vegas, entertainment capital. They'll think the zombies are part of a show and move in to get photos. If the zombies attack, then people will get hurt and a panic happens."
"There's more," Ian said. "One person posting about a zombie apocalypse might not be noticed. Hundreds posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media? That gets noticed. Hashtag zombies hashtag Las Vegas. That will bring in the wannabe zombie hunters, who will get in the way."
"Hashtag headshot hashtag morons." Nadia managed to fit the SUV between a pair of semis. "Crowd control is hard enough without having the helpful in the way." She glanced down at the speedometer. "We should be there in about ten minutes, giving us a really slim margin to get past the police and find whoever stole these John Does."
Nadia pushed the Ford SUV to its limit, never easing up on the throttle until well inside Las Vegas city limits. Even then, red lights and stop signs were more suggestions than requirements. It was only when the traffic came to a dead stop that Nadia did, too. The three agents jumped out of the SUV. Ian ran to the back to get his gym bag. Nadia and Demona pushed their way through the gathering crowd. The white truck that had eluded them at Hoover Dam blocked the road ahead.
Ian caught up to the two women. He stared at the spectacle in front of him. "Huh. You don't see that everyday." Shambling away from the truck and the roadblock were a score of dead men, each with a pompadour, each wearing a silver jumpsuit. "Zombie Elvis impersonators."