A Prison of Worlds

Book One of the Chained Worlds Chronicles  Ybinsample 

His friends are dead and now Derek is trapped as a human and branded by magic. Not that he has anything against humans, after all, some of his best friends were human, however, it's just not for him. Now thrown out of his own reality he has to find a way to break his bindings and find a way home. Although he is an accomplished psychic Derek realizes that perhaps this may be the wrong skill set to bring to bear on ancient magics and devilish dragons. Now he has to explore the very building blocks of magic to take control of his destiny. Unexpectedly, while he's taking control, events occur that may lead to the end of the world as we know it. Mad mages, hordes of demons and unfortunate explosions follow him as he attempts to save the world. Which begs the question, what does happen after the apocalypse?

A Dragon at the Gate

Book Two of the Chained Worlds Chronicles Ybinsample

The apocalypse came and went. While civilization picks up the pieces, Derek concentrates on breaking the runic bindings placed on him by expanding his magical expertise. Cut off from the influence of their undead god, vampires are going feral as they come under the influence of a less respectable god of the dead and undead. Another thing on his list of things to do. Then there is the rogue demon lord who is due to incarnate and pick up his plans to rule the ten chained worlds where he left off. He should look into that as well...

 

 

 


A Shuffling of Planets

Book Three of the Chained Worlds Chronicles Ybinsample

After a well-deserved slumber, Derek wakes up to a few changes. His elf went off on a quest to save the elementals without him. Despite his concerns that this may lead to another disaster for someone, he has to admit there's a lot requiring his attention. New portals open, new possibilities and horizons lay before him. It is time to find out where the other permanent portals go to. This may incidentally narrow down where the army of demons is headquartered in, however with the dimensions locked down and chained up, he may have to travel the hard way. So many things to do. So little time.

With the second demon invasion on the horizon, Derek attempts to get a coalition of allies to face it. At least in between his more important research projects. However new threats continually distract him, such as vampire gods, aliens, and interplanetary attacks. Why is it always so hard to get a moments peace to read a good book?

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A Prison of Worlds

 

Book One of the Chained World Chronicles

 

By Daniel Ruth

 


 

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Dedication

 

To the three wonderful women in my life, Wendy, Krystal and Amberlyn

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A Prison of Worlds

Book One of the Chained Worlds Chronicles
Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Ruth
All Rights Reserved

ASIN: B00R9ZBF62

ISBN-13: 978-1530599493

ISBN-10: 1530599490

Revision 9

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Chapter 1

The huge scaled claw grasped me around the waist and bore down.  At this exertion, the last feeble energies that made up my shield collapsed and the sharp digits, each at least a half foot wide, slowly began to sink into my hide.  It was excruciating and added more to the panic and terror erupting within me.

I had already summoned my barrier several times throughout the battle, only to have this forty-foot-long, scaly brute seemingly, almost lazily wear it down and then sink his fangs or claws in my flesh.  At this point I was tapped out. Exhausted of all my resources, I beat on my captor’s grasping hand with all my remaining strength.  My arms spun like scythes, restricted from full strength by the positioning of the hand grasping me, but still respectable in my own eyes.  Bruises and shallow cuts formed and healed almost immediately.  Damn dragon regeneration.  Of course, my own similar regeneration was the only reason I was still alive.

Through my adrenaline and fear, I was overjoyed not to feel the claws sink into my body inch by inch.  I had blocked the pain from my wounds at the start of the battle and I really couldn't decide whether to curse myself or not; it also meant I had exhausted my energy reserves a tiny bit sooner.  A small part of me idly decided I was glad.  If this thing was going to kill me, and it really looked like it wasn't avoidable, I could at least try to keep what was left of my pride and dignity by not screaming like a piglet.

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Out of psionic tricks, I tried one last ace in the hole and fuzzily willed my body to make the transition from the scaly form I wore to a formless cloud of mist.  I saw a movement from the corner of my eye and then the universe went black.

I think I was conscious for a minute or so before I actually realized it.  The world seemed surreal, the gigantic leering dragon face hovered over me like one of the old time derelict human construction cranes I ran across in one of the city ruins.  So absurdly huge, I felt I had been shrunk to the size of a mouse for a moment.  As things came more into focus, I noticed the incredible pain in my head and some red liquid pouring into my eyes and over my body... and of course the ever present spears of pain piercing my side.

A low rumbling reverberated around me and it took me a moment to realize that the dragon was speaking to me. “Finally awake?  I was afraid I broke you prematurely.”

I really wanted to say something sarcastic and witty, but it was all I could do to keep my eyes focused on that huge face.  In fact, the creature was even larger than I remembered it being during the battle.  My muddled brain tried to grasp this oddity.  Did he use some sort of spell to grow?  Why would he?  He had already won.

It suddenly dawned on me.  My skin was pink; well, what I could see of it under the blood.  I was in my

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human form.  Now I was really confused. I definitely did not remember changing into anything.  The last thing I remembered was being sucker punched while I was planning my escape as a cloud of animated gas.  There was absolutely no human form involved in my plan.

“I see you noticed your new condition, my little trespasser,” the dragon stated in his rumbling gravel tone.

“Huh,” I angrily mumbled through a jaw I could swear was broken.  Even when you heal as fast as I do, see if you can come up with something smart to say when you feel like your head, sides, and chest are going to explode or burn up respectively.  Honestly, I have been hit with fusion grenades and walked away feeling better.

“Your companions were merely human, so I simply eliminated them.  I expect no more or less from vermin.”  The giant paused in thought.  “You, however, are another issue.  You are from a branch that I thought had died off, but still, a dragon is a dragon.” The creature’s next pause was filled with menace.  “A dragon should know better than to trespass on another's territory, even a hatchling such as yourself.”

“Hrphhgr.” I filled the pause with my broken jawed wit.  Okay, even I didn't know what I had tried to say.

“I have been experimenting with the older magics, from the time of the birth of our race.  Lesser beings tend to explode when you apply them, but you... you came at a good time.  I think these won't kill you,” he stated 

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gravely while his other massive hand came into my view and painfully poked my chest.  “But they will expand my understanding of how they interact on ... well... you, and help keep you out of my home.”

Looking down to my chest where the dragon was tapping, I suddenly realized there were new symbols etched there.  Marks emblazoned and appearing like red tainted scars.  The two new symbols on my chest were not my work; however, looking at them I instinctively knew what they were.  One was the symbol for ‘human’ and the other was the symbol for ‘anchor’.

A slow surge of panic percolated through my numb brain.  I had no idea what language these were in, but I had an instinctive knowledge of numerous things, many of them mystical in nature, and somehow I knew what these meant.  And somehow, deep down I knew I was screwed.

“Yes.  I see you understand.”  A rictus grin stretched across the thing's face as it realized I knew what he had done.  “No more changing shapes for you.  You came to my home as a human and now you'll stay as a human as you leave.”

He still had one hand wrapped around my waist and his claws embedded deep in my body.  This filled my attention as he stood up straight, and I jerked up in the air like I was a marionette, or more aptly, a hooked fish.  It elicited a low moan.  The motion hurt quite a bit.  Damn, guess that technique I used to banish pain had worn off while Mr. Evil had been at work; we hadn't 

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been formally introduced so that was how I thought of the creature.

He turned away from me, and my panicked eyes feverishly darted over the area we were in.  We were in a clearing and there was no sign of the fight, nor thankfully the remains of my friends.  That would have hurt more than this guy’s talons in my gut.  What did catch my attention was a rather large circle chiseled into the ground.  My handy instinctive knowledge triggered and I knew that the circle was meant to open a dimensional portal.  Once I realized this, I spread out my senses and realized that we were smack dab in the middle of two ley lines crossing, a point of enhanced power and incidentally a weak point in the fabric of reality.  I was starting to get a bad feeling for what this guy’s plan was.

“When I get back I am going to rip your guts out and feed them to the demons,” I finally spit out as my jaw healed enough for me to garble out.  There were always demons slipping through the rents and tears of our battered world.  Might as well get some use out of the horrid things.

I think he understood because his other hand came out in a blur and broke my jaw again.  Did I mention I am a moron?

“You are really exceptionally powerful for one so young.  It is unfortunate you had to try your hand against me.” I could almost hear mirth in his voice underneath his natural malevolence.  “You will find that I am likely to be the most powerful dragon you'll ever know, at least 

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until I send you to meet the dark dragon god.”  I had kinda figured that out.  We are hugely territorial, but I had met a few others... briefly.  Mr. Evil was in his own class.  He must have been at least ten millennia older than anyone I knew of.

I am not really up on the nuances of various world religions, but I would have to be raised in a box not to understand his reference to the patron god of evil dragons.  I think he was promising to kill me.  I suppose this was only fair since I had just threatened something similar, if more graphic.

“By the way, you will be staying exactly where I send you until I come to see the results of this little test.  The second rune will ensure this.”

My eyes went a little wide at this.  Rune magic was a very powerful lost art that was said to be forbidden to learn.  I guess being a bad ass ancient dragon makes you fearless in certain areas.  As Mr. Evil was gloating, he reached the circle and began the process of activation. 

I stared hard at the circle while he absentmindedly waved me around in the air.  I couldn't draw this circle, or any other, but part of the hereditary knowledge that allowed me to know what it was also told me that the specific squiggle there was the place you put the coordinates that controlled where this thing went, and more importantly, where you were in relationship to it.  I rallied my wavering concentration to impress this information on my brain.  If that old lizard was right then I wouldn't be able to use my own powers to 

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teleport back.  I would have to do it the hard way.

I think that Mr. Evil got tired of me wriggling around.  Admittedly, he was about three times stronger than me and way healthier, but I like to think I was strong enough to distract him from the more complex magics involved in creating a portal.  I even tried to bite his hand, but human necks turn out to be pretty inflexible.  One moment I was upright craning my neck towards his talons and the next I had been flipped upside down and I was seeing the ground race towards me.

I woke up covered in sweat and engulfed in almost complete darkness.  That's okay, I see in complete darkness, but the trip hammer of my heart and the laborious breathing was definitely not normal.  Or at least it hadn't been before an ancient creature killed all my friends, trapped me in human form, and then exiled me to another dimension.  I guess that's what growing up is all about.

Without turning on the light, I looked at the barely luminescent clock and noted that I had gotten two hours of sleep.  Not comfortable but plenty for me.  Sighing, I trudged to the kitchen and got out a roasted ham I had bought from the store and stuck in the cooler for later.  Precooked, it really does taste better in human form that way.  Who knew?

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Slowly the sweat on my skin evaporated and the energetic heartbeat slackened as my body realized it wasn’t about to die.  I was too young for this crap.  At my age I should still be mindlessly throwing myself into stupidly dangerous situations, not waking up in the middle of the night scared of some scaly boogieman. 

I walked back to the study and used a trickle of mental energy to lift one of the books from the pitiful remaining stack of less than twenty ragged hardcovers leaning up against the wall.  They varied in age and condition from the newly printed synthetic nupaper to the old yellowed and barely legible acid stained paper of bygone ages.  There was a slew of furniture options to choose from in the cozy room, but I slouched into my favorite overstuffed faux leather chair.  My hands were still greasy from dead pig, so as I finished off the last bit of meat and licked the juices off my hands, I levitated the book, moving it in front of me and read.  I flipped through the pages rapidly, my eyes scanning the page in a second before moving to the next one.

This massive tome was a more recent copy of a copy. After about 20 minutes, I felt a mild throbbing as the concentration I was investing in the levitation and memorization of the book started to wear on me.  I was tempted to just ignore it and continue, but memories bubbled up where injudicious overuse of even minor abilities had caused my resources to run dry at critical points.  Grunting in slight dismay, I floated a towel from the kitchen to me and wiped my hands clean while allowing the book to fall lifelessly into my grasp. 

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I know bibliophiles that would kill me for touching a book without thoroughly washing my hands, but I was too dispirited to worry.  The book I was reading was what this world had to supply regarding magic.  It was written by a quack.  A really verbose quack with diarrhea of the mouth, or quill in this case.  When one of my kind are born we get a lot of baggage and a cornucopia of gifts.  We inherit the general memories of our forefathers and some truly staggering physical gifts.  That’s not to say that I remember what my father ate fifty years ago on a Tuesday, but I get a seed of their skills.  I know how to make a pie, add, subtract and multiply, whack people with some basic skill with a sword and even know Ohm's Law for electric circuits. My parents must have been true Renaissance people.  I can't say I am an expert at any of these things, but with a little practice these seeds can grow more rapidly than you'd expect. 

The skill I most value from my inheritance is knowing what to do with my psychic power.  All of my kind, and in fact all of our breeds, have it bubbling up inside us, much like our magic.  Most don't do much more with it than toss around balls of energy, form a sword, or move furniture around.  Basically, flashy parlor tricks. 

Someone in my ancestral line must have been a true pioneer because once I started to actively develop my skills, I found entire repertoires opening up from my hard work and meditation.  Not to boast too much, but I haven't met anyone better and may never unless I ever actually meet my ancestors.  Moreover, I truly enjoyed exploring the powers of the mind, delving into the 

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sleeping potentials and teasing them out, working with it until it blossoms into a true gift.  That’s what psionics are to me and I love them.  This actually is more than a little odd for one of my kind of any age, since to be honest, we relate more to magic.  Heck, in so many ways we are magic.  I still had my instinctive knowledge of magic and that was once more than enough.  I took to my budding memories of my psychic potential like a duck to water and never looked back.  Until I got exiled here.

Nowadays the love of my life isn't all that helpful.  Psionics are great for mind over matter, controlling minds, healing, short distance teleportation, and many other tricks, but I have yet to see a psionic bridge the dimensions with the power of his mind alone.  For that, you need magic.  Even my digging into my ancestral memories didn't hint at future skills in this direction.  My inherent ability to move between the gaps between the dimensions had been stifled by whatever rune the ancient dragon had placed on my chest, and my only hope to get back or even leave this dimension was to learn magic myself or find a friendly mage.

The problem I was having was that as far as I could tell this dimension didn't know squat about magic.  The place that I had called home before I got stuck here was what this world would consider a post-apocalyptic wasteland.   The particular town I came from was a little stunted when it came to science; however, it was crawling with magic users of a multitude of varieties.  In that tiny corner of the scorched earth, the people and 

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whatever assorted riffraff that had fallen through the cracks in reality had rediscovered magic and used it to pick up civilization by its bootstraps and trudge onward. 

I looked once more at the book in disgust.  Here everything I had found was cloaked in religious nonsense and generally useless.  I had avoided magic in my old home for the most part, but the part of me that made my race what we are just knew what was real magic and what was fiction.  I was tempted to throw the book to the ground but lacked the emotional energy.  I simply sighed, and dropped it back to the reject pile and pulled another from the larger stack.  Tomorrow I would go to the antiquities bookstore on my way about the city and give these away.  Books were rare enough in this new world that I would feel guilty to remove one from existence.  Even if it was just a piece of crap.

I was just settling down for another long read when a pounding came from my front door.  Dropping the book on a nearby table and getting up from the comfortable overstuffed chair I had situated myself in, I trudged to the door and opened it.  Squinting a little at the rising sun, I looked at my visitor and was a little surprised to see a thin, twenty-something young man with mousy brown hair peering down at me from a few inches of advantage, swaying on his feet and looking like he was about to collapse any minute. 

Frowning in concern, I moved forward to support him and led him into my home, noting in passing that he was dripping blood on my carpet.  Oh well, I keep all my nice things in my other apartment.  I kept telling myself 

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that as I avoided looking at my carpet being ruined.

“Jeremy... I wish you' be more careful.” I shook my head sadly.  I had Jeremy on an ongoing contract.  In my opinion, he was the best private eye in the city, and he liked dressing the part.  He wore an old baggy trench coat and a wrinkled off-white dress shirt.  Unfortunately, he had a bad habit of playing the hero; I think his clothes were in better shape than he was.  He was also a good friend despite his lack of fashion sense.

“Hey, the job’s dangerous, jealous boyfriends and all that.”  He gave a small breathy laugh that quickly turned into a groan.  “Sorry to wake you.”

By this time we had reached the kitchen, the hardwood floor guaranteed that no more of my rug would be damaged, and I casually tore the coat he was wearing off to expose a bloody gunshot wound.  A slight resistance told me it was actually an armored cloth.  Probably resistant to heat and stiffened on impact to dissipate kinetic energy.  It was likely why he was still alive and not spending the night being resuscitated in the local hospital.

“Hey, that was my favorite coat,” Jeremy jokingly whined.  It looked out of place on his six-foot-four wiry frame and rugged features.  How he got here with that wound boggled my mind; it's not as if we're close neighbors.  He lived at the edge of the bad part of town, nicknamed the Blight by those that knew of it and couldn't avoid thinking about it, whereas this house was in a middle class suburban area of Arch.  “Turn on the 

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damn light.  It feels like a tomb in here.”

“Yeah, well you obviously haven’t spent much quality time in a tomb if you think that.  You can have my old coat.”   I turned the light on and then ripped his shirt open to expose the wound.  “And shirt.  Now hush, this takes some concentration.”

Taking a deep breath, I opened my inner eye to examine the damage.  Within a few minutes, I knew exactly what was wrong with him.  “You need to stop smoking, that's going to kill you sooner that some punk's gun,” I quipped, only half joking.  He didn't have cancer or anything; these days no one did, but he did smoke.  Humans are pretty fragile and they really shouldn't tempt fate.  They may have to regrow his lungs someday if he ignores it.

“Then I'll die free.”

“The way cigarettes are taxed?  Dream on.”  During our banter, I was readying my hand over his wound, and when I thought he was distracted I slipped it in, my hand passing through his skin as if I was a ghost. 

“You know, if you took my offer you could heal this yourself,” I muttered as my hand found the bullet.  At my touch, it too became insubstantial and I lifted it out if his body with no resistance.  As my hand pulled out, I could see the wound closing up.  “Okay, psychic surgery complete. I hope your insurance covers this.”  The tiny slug was completely flat.  The coat must have almost completely stopped its momentum, unless Jeremy’s hide was a lot tougher than I thought. 

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“No way, I have enough on my table as a PI,” he said as his fingers ran down the side where the wound had been.  “Good work as usual, Professor.”

“Stop calling me that,” I snapped.  “I hate nicknames.  If you cracked a book occasionally, it wouldn't be such a shock that someone actually wants to look at one.” These days the ‘old tech’ was a holographic display, and everyone looked at you as if you were a human anachronism if you didn’t have a neural interface.  My entire home was a museum.

“Ah, come on, I heard someone calling you that already.”  I winced at hearing that.  Too late to discourage it I guess.  Probably some smartass bookstore owner.  I hate smartasses... other than me, I mean.  “Besides you play it down, but you have some serious powers.”

“Well, I play it down because the fewer people know what I can do the fewer idiots I will have after my head.”  I waive a finger at him condescendingly, only half teasing.  “Besides, there's always someone stronger than you.”

“Voice of experience?”

“I really don't want to talk about it.  You saw the aftermath yourself.”

Jeremy was one of the people that found me some time after I had been thrown out of my world.  Apparently, I was quite a sight at the time. 

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“I thought you just got caught in a mugging.” I grimaced at the thought.  What the hell did he think could have done that to me?  A delinquent velociraptor looking for a score?  To be fair, at the time he had no clue of my less than mundane state. 

“Oh no, it was... er... I guess you would call it a demon.” How do you describe an ancient dragon and a magic portal to a guy whose only frame of reference was the contemporary 2090 AD urban landscape and perhaps a few fantasy and science fiction books?  Well, and old movies.   “Anyway, I don't really want to talk about it.”

 “Damn, should have known that you had a story behind it,” Jeremy offered.  Now I knew he was fishing.  I was only slightly annoyed, he's a PI, being nosey is his life.  Fortunately, he handled me not talking about things gracefully.

“Oh, come on, I've known you for almost a year.”  Okay, maybe not always that gracefully.

“Maybe I'll tell you later, now shut up,” I grunted.  This world was weird.  I had heard things could be different in the various dimensions.  Back home the ambient magic was so great that my very structure oozed with it, fortifying me and my abilities and psionics. So much so that I could take a small nuclear bomb at ground zero and get up again if I was near a node or a ley line.  Here, I had all my abilities sans the ones that the runes repressed, but I wasn't nearly as tough as I once was. 

“So who is it that's calling me 'Professor'?” I tacitly changed the subject. 

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Jeremy wasn't fooled, but he let it drop.  “You know people in the bad parts.  If you're going to take on the muggers, you better expect people to talk.”

“Crud,” I grumbled.  I have been using the same shape and face to visit the poorer parts of town to get my books.  I guess people were finally starting to notice that if they try to mug that guy he's going to hand you your ass.  I could change faces, but then I would have to deal with the additional mugging attempts.  Yeah, some parts of town were so bad you knew you were guaranteed to get jumped.  For a city that was named to be the pinnacle of the modern concept of a megalopolis, Arch had some pretty crappy places.  Some of them are pretty darn close to the upscale places.

“Oh well, how bad could it be?” I asked philosophically.

“I heard some rumors,” Jeremy offered quietly, as he walked over to the sink and started using a wet cloth to get the caked blood off his skin.  Great, another thing I need to buy.  I hate shopping.

“The mayor is thinking of forming a new police force using supernaturals,” Jeremy said, while frowning at the stains on his pants.

I am not sure if it contributed at all to parts of the city sucking so hugely or it was just natural for a city this large, but people have been saying that ever since the vampires and the various shifters came out of the shadows, and somehow got civil rights, the city has 

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gone to hell and the police can't control them.  Both are almost immune to normal weapons, so who can say they are wrong.

“Well, that sounds like a good idea.”  I looked at him closer.  He didn't seem pleased.  “Okay, I give up.  Why isn't it a good idea? This city is hell on earth in some areas.  Just because I don't want to play hero doesn't mean it's not a good thing if someone else does.”

“There's talk about him cracking down on freelancers and vigilantes.”

“Okay, that is going to suck for some of the other more hated vigilantes but I still don't see how it's that bad.  If anything it'll burden the police even more.  It will probably go back to normal in a few weeks after enough police drop dead.”  Jeremy gave me flat look.   I shrugged; if mortals want to make stupid decisions then by their god, Darwin, they will be weeded out.

“Yeah, it's going to be bad for everyone, but I think you should be worried about yourself... Professor.”

I was momentarily distracted by thoughts of the bloodbath.  It was then that his words finally reached my brain.

“Profess... wait a damn minute here,” I exclaimed hotly.  “I am not a hero or vigilante.  I have work to do!  I don't have time to waste.”  My words faded away as I saw Jeremy raise an eyebrow.  “Okay, it's not a waste, but I have other things on my plate. I don't have time to spend chasing after supernatural genetic waste.” 

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“So you say, but you have had your share of heroic actions since you got here.”

“That was all self-defense.  They were in my way,” I complained.  I think there might have been a hint of a whine in my tone.  I hated that.  I may be young for my race, but I am still manly.  “Let the police hire a few werewolves they trust.  That should balance the system a bit.”

“And Kingston,” Jeremy asked as he moved into the living room and put his feet up on my table.  Damn, he is such a slob.  If he tried to light up, I was going to toss him out on his butt.  Then I froze.  Kingston?  He knew about Kingston?  I knew Jeremy was good, but how did that happen.

“You're guessing,” I accused.

“I was until you responded,” he grinned smugly.

Kingston had been a fairly successful mob boss that had disappeared off the crime scene about six months ago.  That was when I had come into a very significant amount of cash.  Okay, I suppose it really wasn't that big a stretch when someone goes from living out of the YMCA and the government provided housing, to owning several properties and placing Jeremy on permanent commission. 

What had actually happened was less than glorious justice.  I had knocked out one of the lower level thugs, checked his mental health, and then merged my mind with his.  After that, I had shape changed into his form 

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and walked into Kingston’s hideout.  I had to work my way up the ladder a little, but they really didn't have any defenses against a psychic shape shifter. 

The only really hard part was the actual mind merge.  This is a grueling mental talent where you and the target actually share all your memories with one another.  For the next few hours you know everything that your target does.  It's also incredibly dangerous.  If you bond to someone that is insane, it is very likely you will come away suffering from the same mental illness.  If he is nuts enough and your unlucky enough, he may just put you in a coma.  I had to be very careful picking my targets. 

The other down side is that the bonding is a full exchange.  For several hours they know everything about you too.  I had to force my ‘donors’ into a temporary coma.  When it wore off in a week they didn't remember a thing about me.

The other hard part was once I was close to Kingston, and I examined his aura, I realized that, yes, he was nuts.  So I abducted him, forcibly cured him of his psychosis through another very exhausting and time consuming psionic procedure and then bonded with him.  The cure I know is only temporary without reams of therapy afterward, and it doesn't really change that you’re a bad man.  I put him in a temporary coma, transferred his money through several accounts, changed faces, walked in a bank and physically walked out with it, changed faces again and moved it bit by bit into other accounts.  I did this using Kingston's own 

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skills as a very unscrupulous but imaginative bookkeeper to cover my tracks and set up alternate identities.  He was a very talented man.

I never did figure out why he vanished afterward; when I left him, he was safe and sound in a hospital occupying a temporary bed in the coma ward.  I looked into it afterward and he checked himself out a week after I checked him in, and then just vanished.  His organization sort of fell apart, and I am guessing another good fellow took over.  I did all of this not because I wanted to be a hero, but because I was destitute and needed to change this status without harming anyone that didn’t deserve it.  I am still not sure whether to be guilty about what I did, so I usually avoid thinking about it.  Denial is comfort food for the brain.

So when Jeremy dropped his bombshell I suppose it was silly to be surprised.  I have always admired his skills as a sleuth, and although strangers may not have noticed anything, to him I may as well have been waiving a red flag.  After a moment’s reflection, I just sighed. “No comment.”

“Anyway, if people ever find out that you took out Kingston they may jump to conclusions about your orientation.”

Damn, I hate politics.  Back home in post holocaust-ville all I had to do is worry about whether our patrols would run across hostile neighbors.   

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“I'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  I have plans in place but I kind of like my life as it is.”  I paused a moment to clarify this statement. “As frustrating as my research is.”

“Dead end,” Jeremy prompted politely, as he got up and walked into the back room.  Once he left the room, I surreptitiously sidled over to where he had sat and noted the scuff marks on the table.  I was going to have to buff that out as well as get the carpet cleaned.  Sometimes, friends are a real pain in the butt.

He came back a moment later with a shirt and jacket that vaguely fit him, though perhaps a little baggy.  He usually wore loose clothing so this was actually not a big change for him, except the better quality material.  “Well, not completely.  I am going through the last stack.” I winced at the thought of the last twenty books.  “But I think in the time I have been looking for something real about magic, I have found maybe five books.  And they weren't very helpful,” I added sourly.  A couple cantrips and wards for evil spirits.  I could light a cigarette with my thumb; home dimension here I come!

“It could be that I have a lead for you,” the rumpled PI dropped with nonchalance.

This perked me up right away.  “You found something?  Why didn't you say something sooner?”

“I think there was something about bullet wounds,” he said, with a slight edge to his voice. 

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“Er... right, sorry about that.”  I kept forgetting humans got worried over this stuff.  People have actually called me insensitive.  Jerks.

“There's a new shifter in town.  Girl called Mei Ling.  Some kind of hot shot martial artist bounty hunter.”

“And she interests me how?” I prompted.  Not that I doubted the man, I am just like that.

“She's hunting some kind of witch or wizard.”

“Huh?” Disappointment flooded through me.  “The wizard is a villain?  That does me no good.  An evil wizard is more trouble than they are worth.  They are notoriously close-mouthed unless you swear eternal servitude to them or some such garbage.”  I felt myself on the verge of pouting.  “Are you sure it's actually a witch or wizard?  I thought they hadn't been outed yet.”  I am sure they exist, but they hide far better than the other supernaturals I had found in this world.

“Not officially, but anyone who's not a halfwit can guess some of what's offstage ready to come into the spotlight.  Besides, can't you…” Jeremy tapped the side of his head suggestively.

“Bah, you can't take magic by force... well unless you're some whack job of a blood mage.” Agitated, my handed gestured to try to get the point across.  I had seen Italian mafia in movies do it and it seemed cool.

Jeremy barely ducked my swinging hands, muttering curses under his breath.  It's his own fault, he was the 

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one that insisted I see The Godfather.

“Well, wizards would have books about magic, right?  You're bound to get better stuff that what you’re combing through.”

That thought stopped me.  He was right.  Anything had to be better than the useless time-wasters I was looking at now. 

“So are you interested?”

“Okay, this seems a good lead.”  Getting down to business I continued. “Five hundred credits in your account now.  If this pans out, one thousand more credits.”

“Great.  She is staying at this address,” Jeremy said, while pulling a stained folded square of nupaper from his pocket. I gingerly took the rather abused sheet between my thumb and pointer finger, and noticed rather fresh traces of blood on it.

“Okay...” Slightly nonplussed at the tattered state of my directions, I unfolded the cheap plastic textured sheet and began to read.  “She's at the Hotel Riviera?  That’s across town in one of the upscale neighborhoods.”

“Well, not everyone stays at the YMCA when they first visit the city.”  That earned him a glare.

“By the way, I assume you took care of the problem you had?” I asked while gesturing at his side where the bullet wound had been. 

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“Yeah, it was just a misunderstanding over a client's possession,” Jeremy said nonchalantly, waving away my concern.  “Anyway, I have to head home, I need to sleep.  We can watch Mad Max later.”

“You should get some better protection if you won't let me show you a few tricks.”

“I was wearing protection. That coat you ripped off me kept that thing from tearing me in half.”

Looking guiltily at the coat lying on the floor in pieces, I glanced back at him.  It hadn't felt that armored.  “Okay, buy another one.  On me.  Maybe have a force field built in it.”

He snorted.  “That is restricted military technology.  I'll have to settle for armored coats.  These days it seems the only time the military lifts a finger to do anything is if they find someone using their tech.”

I walked him to the door and looked out as he rode off in his old beat up blue car.  It was such an old piece of junk that I don't think anyone ever tried to steal it despite it being an antique.  He had once extolled me with a detailed description of its history and why it was such a fantastic find.  I think I purposely blocked out that memory.  Hardly anyone used street cars these days, although with the recent renewed interest in 20th-century fads that may change. 

The sun was well up and the city around me was now active.  I suppose some people just like working at night.  Just to stretch my legs I walked out and made a leisurely 

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tour around the block.

The mostly deserted neighborhood was squarely middle class in appearance and well laid out, which most likely was one of the reasons the crime rate was so low.  The streets were wide and empty of cars on the surface; there were no hidden nooks and crannies for criminals to hide.  The other reason may have been that I had bought most of the houses around me so there are fewer potential victims.  A piercing, high-pitched whine came from the distance, and I saw a mag-lev commuter train barreling by on the tracks several thousand feet away, so fast that it was almost gone before the noise reached me.  I frowned.  I came from a city full of magic users of various flavors and even now the technologically oriented city threw me off if I paid too much attention to it. 

I turned my attention straight upward to see the various air cars, bikes, and scooters flying high above the street.  At regular spacing, there were floating buoys that acted as traffic beacons.  I used to love flying.

Absently fingering my chest where the runes lay under my shirt, I scowled at the hover cars as I turned back to the house.  A faint humming sound swiftly grew behind me reached the door.

“Are you the Professor?” A voice drifted from the lawn at my back and I hunched my shoulders.  Damn, I hate it when Jeremy's right.

Turning around, I was somewhat surprised to see a fully uniformed police officer, complete with rigid light body 

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armor and automatic rifle.  “I have heard some people calling me that.”  He didn't look hostile, just a bit officious.  The armor couldn't be comfortable, even if the morning was relatively cool.  Yep, looking closer, a fine sheen of sweat covered his brow.  Maybe the ‘advanced’ technology required for refrigerated armor was restricted to the military too.

“Sorry sir, I just had an address and a title.  We couldn't find your phone or vid number,” the officer said pleasantly.  It didn't look like I was being arrested, but heck if I knew what he wanted.

“I don't have a phone, er, working phone,” I said shrugging.  The police man just looked at me like I was a madman.   Most of the people I know look at me the same way.  I can't stand the things, always making weird noises just before they vent a foul smelling gas.  I used to know some psychics that had a special relationship with technology.  I am not one of them and never even tried to develop such a thing.  I almost have to be in a meditative state to keep my energies from interacting with the new chips.

“Um, right.” He seemed a bit flustered by my flat response.  “I am Officer Cromwell.  Er... well, Lieutenant Monahan asked me to see if you'd mind consulting on some crimes.”

This took me back a bit.  “Me?  I don't have any background in criminology.” 

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I understood now.  It's not like the city didn't have its hidden magic users, it’s just that most of them were very much like mystics or shamans.  They had an instinctive knowledge on how to cast specific spells.  To learn more, they would meditate and become ‘enlightened.’  Useless.  They had no idea how magic worked, just how to contemplate their navel.  Perhaps that was harsh, but there was some truth to it.  I couldn't cast verbal spells yet, but I knew magic, felt it in my bones... and it didn't hurt to have lived in a city full of braggart mages.  Damn, I missed them.

So basically the reason they needed me was very similar to why I was looking for educated wizards.  If a crime involved magic then either a supernatural entity committed it, a mystic did it, or a wizard did it.  Basically, they needed me for my ‘academic’ reputation rather than my vigilante experience.  My mind flashed back to my conversation just a few minutes ago.  A captured wizard would leave books behind.  Surely the nice police officers wouldn't need all those books.

“Okay.”

“The crimes involve magic, sir.” 

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I understood now.  It's not like the city didn't have its hidden magic users, it’s just that most of them were very much like mystics or shamans.  They had an instinctive knowledge on how to cast specific spells.  To learn more, they would meditate and become ‘enlightened.’  Useless.  They had no idea how magic worked, just how to contemplate their navel.  Perhaps that was harsh, but there was some truth to it.  I couldn't cast verbal spells yet, but I knew magic, felt it in my bones... and it didn't hurt to have lived in a city full of braggart mages.  Damn, I missed them.

So basically the reason they needed me was very similar to why I was looking for educated wizards.  If a crime involved magic then either a supernatural entity committed it, a mystic did it, or a wizard did it.  Basically, they needed me for my ‘academic’ reputation rather than my vigilante experience.  My mind flashed back to my conversation just a few minutes ago.  A captured wizard would leave books behind.  Surely the nice police officers wouldn't need all those books.

“Okay.” 

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Chapter 2

The air traffic was rather intense, and I assume there was no real time crunch, because the officer only used his siren once to bypass the gridlocked air cars.  I enjoy flying under my own power, but sitting in a ceramic and plasteel can, surrounded by other floating boxes, was boring as hell.  I am trying to keep a fairly low profile, but if I could still shapechange into something with wings I would probably just shrug my shoulders and tell everyone I was a mutant vampire, just to freely fly around.  There was an old cartoon about gargoyles; I could have faked being one of them.  Some branches of my species can fly with or without wings.  I ain't one of them.

Still, it wasn't really far, and the closer we got the less traffic we saw until we were the sole car in the sky.  Can you say target?  When I first noticed the traffic go away, I looked down and saw we were over the Blight.  If you're not familiar with the city, then let me just say it's insanely thick with unsavory types. Oddly enough, from up here I could see large areas of the slums newly cordoned off behind semi-translucent tents. That just had to push all the transients, homeless, and gangs into smaller areas.  I winced.  That can’t end well.  This worried me since this was where I buy my books.

Technology allows a minimum level of lifestyle to almost anyone.  If you, for some unknown reason, don’t want to fit in, are antisocial, or perhaps just bat shit crazy, you can go to the cities only free ranging insane 

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asylum we call the Blight.  You can play gangster, road warrior, homeless, or anarchist to your heart’s content.  If you die, you will be taken to the city hospital and resurrected, assuming your brain is intact, then sent on your merry way.  The area is largely unpoliced since, crazy or not, the people have cobbled together some pretty slick jammers and EMP generators.  It’s safer just to leave them alone, and not worth calling in the military.

When my sixth sense went off, I knew we were about to be attacked; sometimes, I love clairvoyance.  This wasn't really one of them.  I knew a good minute ahead of the fact that we were going into trouble but didn't know how, when or why.  It was a very frustrating feeling.

“Officer...” I began and then trailed off.  How do you tell a non-psychic that you feel bad vibes and something unfortunate is going to happen?  And, by the way, you can't say what.

“What can I do for you, Prof?” the officer asked good-naturedly.

“Um.”  Hemming and hawing may occasionally work, but it wasn't exactly productive in this case.  I scanned the area below us for what was triggering my senses, the adrenalin rush seeming to slow the world slightly as my eyes flicked from point to point, the sense of danger slowly growing in the back of my mind.

All I saw were mostly vacant decaying buildings, most with windows broken, some with holes in walls where shattered brick and wood facing gaped open.  There 

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were people down there, most ignoring us, some glaring as the vehicle of the law flew above them.  With a moment of clarity, I saw the source of my discontent.  Below us, seemingly waiting for us, was a rag tag group of rough looking youths with tubes of some sort pointing at us.  While I am not a technophile, Jeremy has brought over enough movies in the last six months to fill in most of the holes in my knowledge with this dimension's Earth culture.  That, and they looked a lot like the hi-tech outlaws and hostile colonies who used to shoot at us, back home.  There’s a certain intense, crazy look in the eyes that gives them away.

“Missiles,” I shouted, while pointing over his shoulder.  I was a little too late since I saw five separate flashes and the too familiar sight of torpedo-like objects rising through the air towards us. 

I really have to hand it to Cromwell, he really knew how to fly.  Well, I think he did.  At least the car bucked and twisted and flipped a lot.  I didn't have my belt on, and I got thrown around a lot until I managed to shove my hand through the armored door and anchor myself in place.  Hopefully, my pilot would be occupied enough not to notice this.  I was trying to stay just a minor human psychic with an education in the occult, not one of the ludicrously strong supernaturals that the city teemed with.

There was a whine and a pop as faint smoke filled the back seat.  That was probably the kinetic dampeners that were supposed to keep us from being tossed around.  The fact that they conveniently just self-

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destructed was most likely my fault.  While sad, I suppose I should just be happy we were still in the air.  I tried to think tranquil, enlightened thoughts and dampen my energies.  The sound of one hand clapping and all that jazz.  Officer Cromwell had his harness on; sometimes being truly old school pays.

We avoided the first barrage and I situated myself in a stable enough location to actually look outside again.  I was just in time to see another set of five fly towards us.  The thought whispered through the back of my mind that this meant there were at least ten guys with launchers down there, because there is no way those things can shoot twice in a row.  At least I hoped not.  I hated technology sometimes.

Now that I had gotten my bearings, I placed a hundred-foot-wide psionic bubble between us and them in time to take that volley.  It was pretty sturdy but still went down at the fifth hit.  I hope that confused them at least.  My force fields are invisible, unless you can sense psychic energy or see the unseen in some way.

The car rolled over again, still doing those neat evasion rolls that had sent me spinning like a ping pong ball through the back seat.  I took advantage of the very clear view of the ground through the window to place a third, smaller force bubble directly around the bad people shooting at us.

The next thing I saw was a very bright light show below us as another set of five missiles rose up, only to impact the interior of the telekinetic wall surrounding the youths shooting at us.  Okay, I guess those things can shoot multiple times.  You learn something new every 

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day.

Wincing in sympathy, I looked to see the shield go down.  Did I mention that my race can see things that are invisible?  They kind of glow blue to me. I am not sure how others that can see these things or perceive them.  My glowing bubble popped as the missiles hit them.  I tried to keep an eye out on the location as the car continued to make like a roller coaster.  When the debris and smoke finally cleared I noted that five missiles exploding fifty feet from a human isn't a good thing.  There was no one still standing beneath us.  On the good side, I didn't see body parts or blood blanketing the area so maybe they were still alive.

“Are you alright sir?” my dear friend Officer Cromwell called from the front.

“Yeah, just a little motion sick.  I think the car got hit with something though,” I said innocently.  It's never too soon to cover your butt.

“Well, we can fix the car.  Good thing their ordinance misfired.  Saved our asses.”

“Yeah, thank goodness,” I muttered with mixed emotions.  Since the officer had offered a good rationale, I planned to jump on it. 

We landed and got out.  I started checking the injuries of the people that were caught under the explosion.  Cromwell stayed back after verifying I actually had some medical knowledge, apparently calling in the event to the station.  Maybe he should have been securing the 

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perimeter or something, but I have no idea what standard protocol for having missiles shot at you was.

I walked over and frowned at the first fellow I was starting to tend.  Serious burns and bruising, blood from the ears.  I looked over at another.  A broken bone at least.  Bah.  I should have stayed over by the police car; now I felt guilty.  Sighing in defeat at the assault of my conscious, I knelt down and touched the first punk, focusing a tiny bit of my power on him to smooth over the burns.  Not enough to have the guy jump up and make a break for it, but enough to keep him out of the critical care ward or a resuscitation tank.  I wasn't that guilty.

I had heard this neighborhood was bad, but shooting missiles at police were a first.  None of these kids were supernaturals, either.  While I was contemplating the situation, I knelt next to the next victim of misplaced anger.  Bones were a pain; I had to straighten it out and then apply the energy to speed the natural healing. 

I moved on to the next unconscious guy, straightening his limbs out in preparation for a little flesh manipulation.  Afterward, I smoothly set the broken bone, and with a quick application of energy healed it enough to forgo a splint, though he wouldn’t be doing athletics any time soon.

I admit that I have an ego the size of a planet.  My entire race in all its myriad facets, light and dark, has this condition.  But sometimes the universe really does revolve around you for just a few seconds.  It’s a scientific fact.  I read it in a magazine, so it must be true. 

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However, it did make sense to me that statistically it would be more likely for people to be shooting missiles at me rather than at random police.  If I had more time, I could do a light telepathic probe on these guys and find out why they would take such a huge risk.

“Looks like you did a good job of sorting these punks out.” I jumped at the words behind me.

Spinning, I noticed that Cromwell had finished his report over the communicator, and was showing the newcomers from the floating paddy wagon where the downed criminals were. 

“Can't believe our luck,” Cromwell said, while gesturing to the youths that were being carted into the van.  “If one of their launchers hadn't misfired we would have been nothing but burning wreckage on the street.”

“Yeah, luck was with us,” I said, trying to keep the irony from my voice.  My acting skills must have been enough, since Cromwell turned back to the car.

“I know it's been a tough day for you Professor, but would you mind going on to take a look at things?” the officer asked, contritely over his shoulder.

Once more, I was surprised.  I was never in any real danger; why would I mind going on to look at the crime scene?  I got a hold of myself just before I said anything.  Sometimes, it's hard to remember who you're pretending to be twenty-four hours a day.

“Yes, well as upsetting as this incident is, we can't let the criminals get in the way of your investigation.”  God 

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that sounded pompous.  Something then occurred to me.  “Did this attack have anything to do with your case?”

“Doubt it,” Cromwell stated definitively.  “Totally different MO.  You'll see.”

“Oh, seems a bit of a coincidence.” I trailed off.

“Not really, I recognize that gang from their colors.” I must have looked befuddled.  “They all wore red jackets with the stylized 'X'.  That gang was raided last week, and the gang members that are still free vowed vengeance on the police.”

“Vowed... vengeance,” I said wonderingly.  Okay, maybe this was a complete coincidence and I was being paranoid.  “I hadn't realized it was that bad.  These guys seemed really well armed.”  I had no idea what they were, but the missile launchers looked more advanced that what I usually saw on the vid.  Of course, Jeremy and I mostly watched movies almost a hundred years old.  Maybe I should watch the news more.

“Yeah, it's getting bad out here,” the officer said darkly, as he smoothly raised the hover car into the air.  “The missiles are new.  I don't think they are common on the street... thank God.  Usually, we can handle the normals, but the supernaturals are getting worse too.”

From what Jeremy said, I suppose the Mayor agreed. 

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Chapter 3

There was no more excitement on the way to our destination.  This just happened to be in the middle of the Blight.  I was actually surprised; I had heard from Jeremy that no police would dare to go there.  Even if it was a first, considering the welcome we got on the way, it's amazing that anyone called the police, and more so that someone actually came.

We landed outside the remains of an old tenement house from the 2060's.  The windows looked blasted out and gaping holes covered the walls; bricks and mortar littered the ground outside.  It looked only a little worse for wear than the apartments on either side. The original damage was probably from the Aussie Meltdown riots, the rest from time and abandonment.  

As we approached, I started to get a crawling sensation on my skin.  The aura of the city had always been... dark, violent.  It was why there were so few true psychics in town.  It was a very uncomfortable feeling to be engulfed in the emanations of millions of very unhappy people that had lived, and died, in the city for decades.  Or perhaps the city was built over some evil pre-Aztec temple.  Who really knows what happened?  However, it was significantly worse in this building.  My tolerance for this kind of thing is pretty high.  Being a creature of magic with many supernatural traits, my kind has lived and thrived in some very harsh environments.  Still, I felt edgy, like there was some supernatural evil just around the corner.  No problem. 

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Outside the door, a shattered police buoy rested on the ground.  Apparently, the locals didn’t like the police leaving their markers in place.  Continuing up the stairs, I noticed claw marks in the stone and mason of the walls.  I paused a moment to look closer, and Cromwell quietly paused next to me and let me examine the gouges.  I placed my hands close to the wall, and the officer coughed.

“Excuse me sir, but please don't touch the evidence.” I was about to make a sarcastic remark when he continued. “Wouldn't want your genetic evidence to get mixed up with the perpetrators when the scanning crew comes through.”

Ah.  Genetics.  That would be a problem for me.  “Yeah, wouldn't want that.”

“Here use these,” he offered helpfully, while handing me a pair of disposable gloves.  I was starting to feel like an official deputy.  It felt far too familiar for my comfort. The difference between now and back when my team was alive was at that time I was the junior member.

After rolling the gloves on, I felt them react to the heat of my hand by shrinking into a skin tight film. Raising my hands again, I compared the marks in the stonework to my own.  A little larger but not that much.  I did the same to the marks just a little over and found them smaller.

Without saying anymore, I walked up to the next floor.  Walking through the door with all the old style sticky warning tape surrounding the area, I saw a scene from a bad horror film.  Bodies covered the floor, some torn 

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apart, some simply sprawled on the ground.  All seemed to be adults, which was a welcome miracle, but other than that there seemed little else in common.  The corpses ranged in age from late teens to probably over sixty and numbered around twenty.

Walking over to one of the more intact male bodies, I noted there was only a little blood, though the bruises on the neck and protruding tongue made me think that he was choked to death.  Smudges on the forehead caught my attention, and I drew a startled breath in recognition.  I deeply regretted this, and the breath that I had been holding was expelled as I drew some not so fresh air into my lungs.  I can hold my breath for a very long time and was extremely sorry for letting my surprise release it.

I immediately got up and staggered to the window to suck in a breath of fresh air.  I hate the smell of rotting meat.

“It's hard to believe that one human did this to another,” a deep baritone sounded behind me.  Turning around, I scowled at the figure.  I was getting surprised too often for my comfort.  Perhaps I was getting too dependent on my sixth sense to keep me aware of my surroundings.

Behind me stood a very large man with the physique of a body builder.  A body builder wearing a heavily armored SWAT style bodysuit.  He looked like a pumped Arnold Schwarzenegger ready to crack down on evildoers everywhere. 

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“Geez man, why do you wear that thing,” I complained.    It was hard to take someone seriously that looked a hair breath away from walking off an old Robocop movie.  I don’t know where he got the armor, but it was definitely not standard.  “Can't you wear long johns like every other respectable hero?”  I heard a gasp behind me as one of the other officers on the scene goggled at me mocking the most respected officer of the city.

“It works,” was all the man in the armored suit said. 

“Right.  Whatever.” I love that human catch phrase.  It conveys the perfect amount of dismissal.  We had met a while ago. He was one of the few officers with the nerve to go alone into the Blight, and while we were far from friends we had gotten used to one another’s quirks.  He seemed to haunt the bookstores and more specifically the occult section.  I would have thought he was staking it out, but he is not at all subtle in that armor.  He also knew how I felt about his tank of a suit.  I tease him about it almost every time we meet.

“So if you're done criticizing my wardrobe, perhaps you could give us your opinion of this,” Officer Conrad asked seriously.  He did everything seriously.  It probably came from being the first official shifter on the police force.  A shifter in armor is the very definition of over the top.  I was betting that if the mayor had his way, he would be the center of the new supernatural department.  I believed this because he had been on many news clips.  He was the mayor’s favorite and seemingly the new face of the police department.  Jeremy insisted on showing me the reruns.

“Well,” I drawled. This was the tough part, so I kind of 

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put it off.  “Do you believe in magic?”

“I am familiar with Faramond,” he stated simply.  That stopped me cold.  Faramond was a vigilante in the city, famous for having the power of a champion of fairy.  He was reputed to be monstrously strong and a nigh invulnerable hulking brute of a man. But that wasn't why I turned away and groped the window sill as I desperately tried to keep myself from breaking down into a giggling mass. 

You see, where I come from, fairies are tiny magical humanoids about a foot or two high. The good fairies are notorious for playing relatively harmless magical pranks on humans while the evil fairies play rather deadly tricks.  I had never actually met him, but the mere thought of a champion of the little clowns just cracked me up.

“Are you all right, Professor?” That calmed me down fast.  Even the flipping pinnacle of officialdom was calling me the Professor.  Gathering myself, I wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes and slowly turned around, putting a serious look on my face.

“Yes, it's just the tragedy of all of this finally hit me,” I said seriously.  It was indeed sad to see the dead lying about me, but it's hard for me to get emotional over humans unless they are close friends.  I still mourn my friends killed by Mr. Evil, but dead strangers just don't do much to me even if the smell was a bit much.

“Yes, but we'll find the people that did this and bring them to justice,” Officer Conrad said, his voice quivering 

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with determination. He was a very serious man.

“There may be a slight hitch in that plan,” I cautiously offered.  I hate to get between and man and his dream.  “What did this wasn't people.”

“What do you mean?” he said, spearing me with his eyes.

I opened my senses and scanned the area around us quickly to confirm my suspicions, and then locked down my senses again from the unpleasantness around me.

“Notice the general lack of blood from these corpses?” I asked, waving my hand to encompass the bodies around us.  “Only these two corpses actually bled anything.  The others were just torn apart while fighting.”

“Torn apart?  While fighting?” Conrad seemed startled, but at least he wasn't calling me an idiot or charlatan yet.  The day was still young.

“This body actually has a part of a circle inscribed in blood on the forehead.” I trailed off in thought.  “Looks like it wasn't completed.”

“What wasn't?” the shifter officer asked, confused.

“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled.  “Got ahead of myself.  Zombies.  Most of these are zombies.” Gesturing to the two bloody corpses, I continued.  “Except for those two.  Looks like the ritual got interrupted.”

“So someone was creating zombies and someone else broke in and killed them all,” Conrad asked, looking as if he was coming to grips with the situation. 

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“Well,” I paused for a second. “No.”

“Then what?” he asked, starting to get an impatient note in his voice.

“Zombies take some time to animate from the dead. All of these were already up and about.  Only those two were fresh and the ritual seems to have been interrupted.”

“So someone was creating zombies and someone else broke in and killed them all,” Conrad repeated.

“I said no,” I said, slightly miffed that he had ignored that part.

“Then what...”

“I was getting to that part,” I interrupted.  “A bunch of humanoids with supernatural strength broke in and tore the zombies apart, and probably drove the maker away.”

“Okay, so how is my interpretation incorrect?” the supernatural officer asked with reined-in patience.

“Well, the zombies aren't dead and although the two on the ground look dead, in a couple of days they'll be up and about again.”

“That doesn't sound good,” the officer deadpanned.

“It gets worse,” I offered pessimistically.  He just gave me a long stare.  In the background, I heard the police shuffling around nervously.  This was beginning to sound like a grade B horror movie. 

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“Yeah, the zombies will pull themselves together and go seek their master soon, unless they have other orders,” I started to say.

“They're wearing the colors of Baron Samedi,” a very pale Cromwell offered.

“The whosis?” I asked.  These human packs were impossible to keep track of.  And that name sounded familiar.

“They are a gang of thugs that are a bit infamous for their blatant operation outside the law.” The officer gulped as he put together the pieces in his mind.  I looked at him puzzled.  I had thought everything was blatantly open and illegal in the Blight. “Murder, drugs, extortion, you name it, they do it.  Out in the open and fearlessly.”

Looking at the temporarily inanimate zombies around us, I nodded. “Fearless.  The dead don't know fear.” I corrected myself.  “Sorry, the undead.  Actually they are animated dead.  I am not sure how they are classified.  Amusing, that he took the name of the vodoun spirit of the dead.  At least he has a sense of irony.”  I had read some books on the subject; it was just as misguided as most of the other ideas, but it had some interesting insights to spirits.

“So how bad is this?” Officer Conrad took control of the conversation again.

“Well, the zombies are bad,” I admitted.  “They can only be damaged by silver and killed by destroying the body with fire.  I think you have to separate the head too.” 

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“So they can be destroyed.  The police can...” I coughed to interrupt him.

“Ahem, invulnerable juggernauts of supernatural force,” I inserted as a reminder.  “I think you may need some of the supernaturals help on this, unless you shoot them from the air with silver bullets.  And I think we have seen that the police shouldn't fly around here too much,” I said, looking knowingly at Cromwell.

“Still, we can work this,” the well-built shifter stated confidently.

“Against the zombies, probably,” I nodded thoughtfully.  “I really think the vampires could possibly cause a problem though.”

I admit I play to the crowd just a teeny bit.  Moments like this, the people surrounding me with their jaws agape, were the times I lived for.  I guess I'm petty, but I do enjoy it.

“Wait a minute,” Officer Conrad spluttered.  It was the first time I had seen anything resembling uncontrolled emotion in his face since I met him a few months ago.  “Zombies and vampires?  Together?  That’s a bit hard to believe.” 

I had been wondering where the suspension of disbelief would end.  People that deal with the rational, even the not-so-rational of shifters and vampires, technology and super science and so forth, always draw the line at magic.  He'd lasted longer than I thought.  I shrugged eloquently. 

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“At the same time? That's stretching probability,” Officer Conrad floundered on.

“Well, it's not really a coincidence,” I said, catching his attention again.  “It's fate.”

“What?” he barked, once again agitated.  I loved it.

“No, just kidding,” I offered brightly, ignoring his low growl.  “Seriously though, the zombies have obviously been around a while.  Officer Cromwell has known of the gang for a bit. I doubt they were all turned yesterday.”  Cromwell thoughtfully nodded his head.  He looked like he had swallowed something sour.

“Vampires tend to enter a place and entrench. They make themselves a home and...”  I paused here for a moment to think.  My information on vampires was flawed.  In my own dimension, vampires were an evil plague that started from a single extra dimensional entity and spread to human minions, and soon you had a horde of thousands of nearly mindless vampires.   In short, they held an eerie similarity to how the zombies and their maker operated. 

When I had heard that vampires and shifters had been granted protection under the law, I almost swallowed my tongue.  Images of a land controlled by vampires had flitted through my mind in several nightmarish variations.  Shifters were one thing, after all except for a few animal instincts, a mild pack mentality, and occasional unfortunate hygiene incidents, they were mostly human, for better or for worse.  Vampires though... I had to see this.  I had made my way to one of the vampire clubs to see how the heck this had snuck 

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into society, and been completely surprised.  These variations were definitely supernatural undead creatures, but it was hard to deny they had culture; no dead bodies littered the alleyways or the club nooks and crannies, and most important... they didn't radiate evil.  Being psychic, I can feel that entire evil thing when it's in unnatural things.  Humans and other non-mystical races are harder to detect the evil vibe from.

“They are also pretty territorial,” I said, picking up my train of thought where I had left off.  “This looks like the start of a turf war.”

“Would they as bad as the zombies you mentioned?” Cromwell interjected.

“Worse actually.”  I waived my hand at the carnage around me.  “These guys didn't stand a chance.  They share a few invulnerabilities, but on the undead supernatural food chain the vampires are several rungs higher.”

“What makes them worse?” Officer Conrad asked.  He seemed to have gotten over the idea of his city being infested with supernatural horrors and was ready to get down to business on how to get rid of them.

“Well, that depends actually.”  I paused and waved my hand at the carnage around us.  “Because they are territorial, they almost had eliminated competing undead.  Is that a bad thing?  Well, only you can decide I guess...”

“This place looks like a butcher's workshop, how can it 

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be good?” Conrad growled out, the animal in him inching towards the surface.

I ignored it, though Cromwell and the other officers edged back away from the armored man.  “Look at it this way.  Every zombie is most likely a murder victim.  They have no personality and obey the zombie creator without question, who is the one that most likely killed them.  The magic that animates them also will likely make them immune to any resurrection techniques.”

“Do they have souls?” Conrad asked, in a tight voice.

“I have no idea, ask a priest.  I don't even know if vampires have souls.” I shrugged.  Humans worry about the silliest things.  I didn't even know if humans had souls.  Or care.

Conrad looked startled at the question, the others just looked vaguely nauseated.  “So what, are these vampire vigilante heroes?”

I gave him an annoyed glance.  “How the heck should I know?  They could even be a rival gang.  You can book them for taking the law into their own hands, but frankly everyone here was already dead when the vampires came in and kicked butt.  The master got away, so they didn't actually kill anyone, but apparently a mass murdering zombie master got away.”

“So they allowed the 'zombie master' to escape,” Cromwell slowly said, as if trying to get a hold of the situation in terms he could understand.  I had no idea if the vampires were heroes or villains.  Considering this was the Blight, it was likely just a rogue vampire gang moving in. That would be just as bad or worse than the 

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zombies.

“Do the police actually have a procedure for this?” I asked the flustered cop.  Conrad looked at me with a thoughtful frown.  I could see he already knew where I was going with this question.

“Well, if there's bodies or evidence,” he muttered to himself.

“What happens when the murder victim gets up and tells the police officer there's no problem and to run along?” I asked, seeing the poor man wince.

“That’s why the mayor is trying to form the new department to deal with these things.” Conrad’s deep voice reassured the younger officer.

I had my doubts of the effectiveness of such a department unless some of the older vampires and werewolves joined it.  As we had found here, unless you can identify what the hell you're actually seeing, having a division of police officers with supernatural strength isn't going to do squat.  Perhaps my doubts showed on my face.  I never claimed to have a great poker face.

“It will be one step in the right direction,” the large man elaborated while staring at me.  I just shrugged.  Who was I to ruin his dream?  “So how do we track the zombie master down?”

“That is the easiest part.  Follow the bodies,” I stated triumphantly.

“We can't wait for this guy to kill again and raise a new 

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army,” Cromwell squawked indignantly.

“New army?  Why would he need a new army?” I asked, puzzled.

“Oh no.” I saw Conrad looking around with a new eye at the crime scene.  Cromwell just looked confused.  The poor smuck.

“Oh yes.  What part of the 'only can be destroyed by fire' shtick did you not understand?” I know I had mentioned this part before, but I can forgive these guys for suffering information overload.   It would be a lot to take in if you weren't used to it.

The police officers who had been standing around, trying not to look like they weren't hanging onto our words, almost danced away from the bodies.  Conrad stayed put, though he was keeping a cautious eye on the corpses and pieces of corpses.  It probably helped his peace of mind immeasurably to know that he was strong enough to tear them to pieces if they made a grab at him.  I know it made me feel better.

“When...” He cleared his throat as he thought about his question. “When will these things come alive?”

I held up my finger dramatically, and then dropped it and shrugged.  “Not a clue.”  Watching the mixed emotions flit across his face entertained me for a few seconds before I mercifully continued.  “However, if I had to guess I would say before tonight, you have a decision to make.”

“Decision?” the shifter asked as if he wouldn't like the answer.  He was right. 

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“Yes.  My educated guess that sometime before sunset these parts are going to start pulling themselves together and once they do, they are going to make a beeline for their Sammy’s location,” While I was describing this, my fingers were making little walking motions.  I am not sure if Italians were quite so emotive with their hands, but I figured it would be even better to get the point across.

“Baron Samedi,” Conrad muttered a correction, deep in thought.

“Oh my God.” Cromwell made a soft groaning noise in the background.  It startled me that the man was almost blasé about the missile attack and so squeamish about animated corpses.  I saw Conrad give him a small frown, though I couldn't tell if he was concerned about the man or disgusted at his unmanliness.  If it was the later, he would have seen an echo of Cromwell's unease in the other officers in the room as they shuffled from foot to foot, subtlety shying away from the bodies as if they would come alive and tear them apart.

“So...” the armored man prompted softly.

“So... you either gather up these pieces and burn them before they pull themselves together, assuming your police procedures allow it,” I said to Conrad, subtly reminding him that he had some rules to thread. “Or you follow this army home to the master and perhaps into the arms of a second army of zombies.”

“I think we can come up with a compromise.” Conrad's posture changed as he came to a decision.  “Cromwell, 

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get these parts tagged as hazardous waste.  See if we can get the paperwork completed to incinerate these without having to go through decontamination ourselves.  Use the nanite infection protocols.  You may have to have the chief contact the mayor or it may take too long.  Leave one complete corpse here.  We will follow it back.”

I coughed slightly to draw the attention back to me. “And the ambush that may be waiting for you?”

“What would you suggest?” Conrad looked at me thoughtfully.

“Only you and other supernaturally strong creat... er... people are anywhere near strong enough to defend themselves from one of these, let alone do enough damage to them so you can burn them.  If you have people tagged for that new department, I suggest you call them in.  Otherwise, you'll need a posse of werewolves and vampires.”

I could see the shifter's lips pursed as he mouthed the word posse.  “Posse?” he whispered a moment later.  I looked at him in confusion.  Jeremy and I had just watched a cowboy movie the other week, and the concept was very clear.

“Yeah, a posse.  Where you deputize a gaggle of strangers to bring some poor SOB to justice.”  I gestured with my hands.  “You know, a legalized mob!”

“Right, a posse.”  I could have sworn I saw a slight smile cross his face, but it was probably my imagination since it didn't crack. 

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“So is there anything else I can do for you, or are we done here?” I asked.

“I think we are done.  Thank you for your consultation.  I will have a check drawn up for your time.” Conrad nodded to me and I paused in confusion.  What was a check?  Wait, I was getting paid for this? 

“Um, thanks.” I had mixed feeling about getting paid for giving advice.  On the one hand, it’s the standard way mortals deal with one another; on the other hand it seemed to cheapen my advice.  I figured I would deal with the emotional conflict by using the money to buy something to put in my house.  Maybe a gem or bit of gold.

“Oh, before you go, does this zombie master have access to any other magic?” the shifter casually asked.  I froze, a storm suddenly going off in my head.  There was no reason the zombie master would restrict himself to raising the dead.  He could very well be a caster of another type as well. 

Looking around the room with a fresh eye, I looked at the walls and ceiling to see if lightning or fire had marked the surface, gradually becoming somewhat disappointed in the obvious lack of such damage.  I would have noticed it coming in, but hope springs eternal.

“Doesn't look like he used any blatant magic other than the zombie thing.  If you see any glowing walls or fireballs or sheet lightning you should call me right away.”  If he did that, maybe he would leave some 

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books behind.  Something other than zombie-raising books.  Humans are common enough; why would you want undead humans running around too?

“Is that likely?” Cromwell asked nervously. 

“Well, he is a magic user,” I said thoughtfully.  “There's no real reason he couldn't use non-necromantic magic, but he might not have gotten the hang of it yet.”  I nodded confidently.  “Yes, he could definitely do that, though since he didn't do it here I would be more worried about magic circles.  He actually does use those in his rituals so he must be somewhat conversant in them.”

“What can he do with circles?” Conrad asked.  Ugh, that was a tricky question.  There is an entire school of circle magic.  Some are simple protection circles, others summon and control elemental forces.  They take a lot longer than the more conventional ‘wave your hand’ and toss a lightning bolt but they are probably more powerful.  Not terribly transportable though.

“A lot,” I admitted slowly.  “It’s pretty rare but you can do tornados, instant death, fireballs, lightning.  You name it.”

“Do you have any advice?” Conrad asked solemnly.

“Well, don't step in any big circles on the floor.” I started ticking points off on my hand. “Be careful of rugs and carpets that may cover these same circles from sight.  I suggest you have a magic-sensitive with the group.  I hear some werewolves can smell magic?” I asked tentatively. 

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“Some can,” the armored man said shortly.

“Okay, make sure you bring one and don't go on the carpet.”  At this, I heard a muffled chuckle from one of the nameless officers in the room.  I frowned; I really preferred when I said something funny on purpose.  I made a mental note to ask Jeremy, he was better at catching nuisances.  It’s a culture thing.  “If he is a circle master he will hold up in a big room with circles in it.  Stay out of line of sight and shoot him from cover.”

“I am not sure how practical that may be,” Conrad frowned.

“Well, he's going to have a lot of advantages.  Your only other option is to destroy his circles.  That’s easy if they are chalk but if he has built that room from scratch he could have had everything etched in the floor.  Also, once a circle is activated they are pretty durable.”

“What about gas?” Cromwell volunteered.

“Good idea, but zombies are immune and there exist circles that will shield him.  Damn, I hope this doesn't turn into a siege.”  Still what were the chances that a necromancer ritualist had a fortress full of other ritual magic?  I mean, necromancy is a niche that most wackos are happy to stay in.

“Anything else you can think of?” Conrad asked.  I could tell he wasn't sure if he wanted to hear more.

“Anything more would be sheer guesswork,” I admitted.  “All we know for sure is he raises zombies.” 

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“If you find any books, I suggest you have me come by.  Some special books are trapped.”  Not only was this true, but I may be able to have the police do all the retrieval work while I get to do the research.

“We will send Cromwell to get you if we find anything.” Conrad nodded in dismissal.

I nodded back and headed out with one of the nameless officers as my escort.  Looking around and called over my shoulder.  “I would hurry up on gathering these parts. I think I saw an arm twitch.”  I think I heard some scrambling behind me.

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