Monday, October 25, 2010

Evaluation: Under the Surface 3

Wrote quite a bit this week, relatively speaking (as much as the last two together, but still only one page). It deals just with how Anna made her fortune, and next up is her follower base. I've been plotting a few things for later, though the general plot is still hazy. I'm not sure how much I want to happen now and how much later, but it seems likely this one will turn into a series.

I still need to solve the specific antagonists, but I have a decent idea for that. It involves factions! Of beings! Who, um, fight the other factions. Which I suppose is what factions in general do. Anyway, yeah. There's gonna be a group to which our not quite heroine doesn't belong messing things up. Probably.

On the subject of not-quite-heroism, I find it a bit annoying that Anna's ethics are a tad too reminiscent of my Vurok Pathers. The basic "hurt those that hurt people, cause they deserve them" thing. Not that she would ever be as kill-happy as Void or La Sangrienta, they don't have the same targets, but it's the general method that bugs me. I should be able to come up with different ways to be morally ambiguous, right? I mean, I can pull off psychotically indifferent to humans with Mielen (you don't know her), ethically-muddled death-obsessed with the Pathers, Anna should have a new angle. The original idea for her was "lax about ends justifying means", but that is too generic. I should work on personalising that, maybe a few likes and dislikes, and how she justifies it to herself. That one's supposed to be big for her, really, not the same way the rest simply stop giving a shit. So, that's probably a good approach, I'll see how I can write it.

And that's it for tonight, see you when I do, which is never, most likely. I'm still not sure you exist, for one.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Evaluation: Under the Surface 2

Oops, almost forgot to write this one. Not that it would make much of a difference, didn't really make much progress. I would like to blame something other than my lack of motivation, possibly the Welsh, but no such luck.

Though the week only saw a few sentences of writing and then me getting stuck at the end of a scene, I had a couple ideas earlier today. I'm still iffy about them, because they move the series into more of a typical urban fantasy setting and less into, um, whatever it was before. I was in distinct lack of any specific details, but what I wanted to do with it was more philosophical and original. 

As it turns out, though, I can't expect my every work to be deep, original, and well-written. So far I have more or less failed at all of those, particularly the last one. And the whole point of this exercise is to become a better writer, not assume I already am one. Best predictor for success is practice. It is an unavoidable fact that I am not at the level I want to be, or near it, and that I won't get there without writing more. And I can't write more if avoid the things that will be fun to write, even if not as original as I want, in favour of vague promises of deepness that I have no idea how to make concrete.

It is not without some regret that I decide to take Under The Surface in a new direction, it feels like killing off potential. But, as I keep reminding me, I can write deepness later, when I, y'know, can write at all and have an actual idea to work with. Satan's chosen tool sounded like a great way to start that, but I'll find others. If something I don't lack, it's vague general ideas. It's the specifics of the plot that I need, and I can work that much better in the admittedly more familiar context I'm going with. Sad but true. Hopefully it will get better.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Methods of Rationality

I've mentioned this one in passing before, but it deserves more comment. "This one" being Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a Harry Potter fanfic. Yes, I know. Bear with me for a minute.

While I've been a Harry Potter fan for, erm, quite some time now (roughly half my lifetime) I was never into fanfiction. I think I've read two entire HP fanfics, one of them specifically because it was horribly bad (you probably know this one). So, saying that HP&MoR was the best fanfic I ever read would be very faint praise. Instead, I'll say that it's easily one of the best works of fantasy literature I've ever come across, and that I do not say lightly. Though calling MoR fantasy sounds like an odd fit.

The idea is as follows: Petunia married a biochemistry professor, instead of an abusive plot device, and Harry grew up as a child prodigy with a particular interest in science and rationality. Who then finds out that magic is real and the way he thought the universe worked is not. Bit of a nasty shock, but he got better..

Harry goes to Hogwarts and starts looking at magic with a sceptical eye, bringing some disappointments but also pretty significant discoveries. I'm not going into which ones, but apparent rules of magic are broken and, at age eleven, Harry seems to have potential to be the most powerful wizard/scientist ever. But, you can't just power-up the protagonist and leave the antagonists as they were. That way lies the Pitfall of Sue.

Which leads me to one of my favourite things about MoR, Professor Quirrell. The original Quirrell was a weak pawn of the Dark Side, whose main thing was pretending to be a stuttering nobody while secretly being Voldemort's host (if that was a spoiler, I don't know why you're reading about HP fanfic) . MoR Quirrel is badass. And also, the only wizard that seems to get, on the same level as Harry, the power of Muggle science and rationality.

Many are the literary merits of MoR, and I'm not the best person for enumerating them. I'll just say, f you ever read PS/SS (that being the first Harry Potter book), you'll find MoR hilarious, exciting, and possibly fascinating. But that's only half the reason I'm blogging. MoR is rationalist fiction. The fiction part is excellent, but the rationalist part is really what I loved.

I considered myself relatively good at being rational. I'm an atheist, I don't fall for new age bullshit, I could probably refute most arguments for paranormal phenomena from memory, etc. But, it's easy to be "rational" when the rational conclusion is handed to you on a silver platter. I really didn't know nearly as much as I thought about how I was tricking myself.

I went into MoR expecting mostly familiar arguments, science I already knew about, biases and fallacies I could easily name and give examples of. I was wrong. I found so much more. Just to give the biggest example, I barely knew anything about Bayes' rule and how to apply it before reading MoR. I only had the vague notion that there were a few common probability problems I didn't know how to solve yet. That turned out into quite a significant discovery

Eliezer Yudkowsky, the author of MoR, introduced the concepts covered in the fanfic in LessWrong, a  collaborative blog dedicated to rationality. I've been spending quite a lot of the last few weeks there, and it's been a learning experience of the kind I haven't had in, um, ever. Only my discovery of FSTDT comes close, and that was much more spread out in time, and not quite as powerful. Though it did set up my interest in rationality in the first place, so it can't be totally separated or discounted.

But I digress. If you have even the slightest interest in cognitive bias, science, reasoning, and other related topics, I strongly recommend reading MoR. Odds are, you'll learn something new. Or several somethings.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Evaluation: Under the Surface 1

So begins work in a new Psychflare. As mentioned in the comments for Ananke, it's the sequel for Graduality. It's narrated by Anna (the baby born at the end), which marks the first psychflare whose narrator's first name is known (Denise might count, but her original first name is never stated).  I keep track of stuff like that for some reason or another.

As of now, I'm not entirely sure as to what should happen. The plot is a very vague cloud of uncertainty, which you might deduce gets in the way of actually writing the story. Right now, Anna's mostly rambling and developing her character while I figure out which events should take place. Much like what was the beginning of Void and then got transplanted into Reflections.

Two particular events I have already figured out, both serve to establish Anna's resources, so to speak. Money and followers, particularly. I'm considering what the source of conflict might be, options being human, demonic or angelical. That in turn will develop the specific conflict and from then on it all becomes much easier. Hopefully.

Some point, preferably soon, I should create an actual index page for Psychflares, should happen when I become less of a lazy bastard. Don't hold your breath. And that's all I have for now.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Psychflare: Ananke

[See comments for notes. Previously in series: Void, A Vurokian's Reflections]


New Headquarters

“You can't keep going through life just reacting, you know”


Void sounded confused. I tend to do that. Confuse him, I mean. And everybody else, but he's the one that bothers to pay attention to what I say,

“Reacting. Taking action only because of outside prompting. Not thinking things through. Getting into a 2-on-1 fight against trained paranormals without figuring out how to get some sort of advantage. Any of that ring a bell?”

“So what exactly do you think I should've done? Sat on my ass for three hours contemplating a plan that properly took into account every variable while 'Edge and Machi were being sold out to the pissers?”

“Yeah, OK, be like that. The choice isn't “jump into the action or do nothing”. You can spend a few seconds of your time to consider that hey, maybe you should take a weapon, or ambush them in a darker place, or not announce your presence immediately.”

“Look, I...” he started to yell, but then stopped. “No, you're right. I didn't think it through.”

I wasn't sure if he was honest or just quit arguing because he knew it wouldn't get anywhere. I'm supposed to be good at knowing people, knowing how they'll act, but Void prides himself on being unpredictable. I've known him almost since the moment I became a paranormal, and he's still unreadable.

“You two done?” Lightedge asked. “Because we have business to take care off. We have been left leaderless once again, need a job, and the pissers are pissed at us, unfunnily enough. Anybody know of some way to deal with any of that?”

“The pissers were never exactly our best buds, 'Edge,” Machi replied. “They might not like the fact a double recruitment and quadruple capture were ruined, but that doesn't make them any more of a problem than they were before.”

“As for the other two problems,” she continued, “I suggest we take care of choosing a leader first. It will make it easier to deal with any jobs that we get.”

“Not to mention give us someone to blame when we don't have money...” Lightedge added.

“OK then, this should be fairly simple,” Void said. This time, I could see very, very clearly what he was going to say next.

“'Edge doesn't have the balls to lead anyone, so he's out. No offence meant. Neither Machi nor myself are any good at making quick decisions, she takes too long and I make stupid mistakes, so we're both out. And since most other members of the team are dead, that leaves us with Ana as the only choice.”

And there it was. And of course, Lightedge and Machi agreed. I was the only one with some sort of long-term planning skill, and honestly I was considering suggesting myself before if nobody else did. Not that I wanted the job, per se, but someone had to do it, and arrogant as it sounds, I was the only one who had a shot out of the four of us.

Established as leader, though, I had to deal with the rest of our problems. First and foremost, money. We still had the contract we had suspended for our last “job”, and minor deal though it was, it was something. Plus, it never pays to have a reputation for not living up to your side of the agreement. So we resumed planning for that soon after I was “formalised” as the new boss.

* * *
The residence of Dean Bosot-Doe

“Target seems to be in. Can you confirm?”

“Everything says we have the right one. Let's do this. Void, cover. Basic, not thorough.”

Darkness covered Void and me. Since it wasn't his ESP-proof bubble, my other senses worked while inside it. Allowing me to locate the lock in the door in front of us and give it a couple TK twists. I then floated us a few centimetres above ground (no sound of footsteps if you're not actually stepping) and moved us through the house, which, thankfully, wasn't too big. When we located the study, I signalled Void to shift the bubble to complete, while I opened the door right before losing all sense of its location.

Dean Bosot-Doe was hard at work when the door of his study opened untouched by human hand, but he was completely oblivious to that, partially because his current occupation absorbed his attention and partially because of the effects of the Spirit of Darkness. He also failed to notice the man holding a spike of pure darkness which pierced his heart moments later, and then it was too late for him to notice anything at all.


“Good. Lightedge,” I said over the coms, “have getaway ready. Void, grab the computer, I figure it's the only thing worth stealing in this place”

* * *


Machi was reading some arcane treatise or another, while Lightedge tried to look through Bosot-Doe's data on several projects. Eventually, he gave up, and asked her the question that had been distracting him.

“Does it ever bother you, killing people for money?”

Machi didn't look away from her book. “I don't kill for money, I hang around people who do. And occasionally help them.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do. The answer's no, it doesn't bother me, for a variety of reasons. But, I was trying to point out that you'd be better off asking Void or Ananke. I can hide behind “indirect consequences” and other technicalities. They are the ones who deal with it in person.”
“I would ask them, but there's something... it's hard to define. Like they don't hold themselves accountable to what anybody might say about killing.”

“Hasn't Void ever given you the Pather speech?”

The puzzled look on his face was the only reply needed. “Seriously? I suppose you haven't been around that long, but... anyway. Void and Ana are pretty hardcore about the Blood-Stained Path. The whole “Better society through killing the worst motherfuckers” thing. Far as I know, they'd been working together for years before meeting Slasher, based on that philosophy.”

“So... they don't care about killing, because they're killing people they don't like?”

“People they think the world is better off without, more like. Yeah, I know, how do you judge something like that, etc. etc. They're not saints, but hell, we aren't either. And they do try to keep each other in check”

“Look, I'm not saying I'm better than them, 'cause I'm not. Just, people don't find a comfortable philosophy and then suddenly stop caring about killing.”

“Most don't. There's always the weirdos.”

“Comforting thought, that.”

“Arguing about our relative insanity?” I said as Void and I entered the room.

Lightedge seemed like he was trying to develop invisibility powers really, really fast, but Machi's calm was not perturbed.

“Heya, boss. Heard much of that?”

“Enough to make a decent guess as to the rest.” Actually, I'd heard all of it, as my ESP at the moment had decided to be superhuman hearing. And had shared the tasty bits with Void, of course.

“So, 'Edge, I haven't regaled you with the fascinating description of my personal morality system yet? What an unforgivable slight on my part. Come, we have much to discuss...”

“Cut the crap, dear,” I said. “I'd rather 'Edge did his job right now, rather than spend the rest of the week fearing an intimate conversation with you”

“Uh, actually, on that front...” Lightedge said, slowly recovering. “I've found a few things that might be interesting. And I don't mean the 5 gigs of girl-on-girl”

“What could possibly... I mean, go on.”

“Well, I can't be sure, but some of this stuff...” He opened a file, rows upon rows of obscurely labelled numbers and references to “procedures” and “subjects” and whatnot. Something was familiar about those numbers. Nothing direct, but the general pattern reminded me of something I couldn't quite place.

“I've seen some of it before,” Lightedge was saying. “It's looks like an induction project”

Induction. Click. The phrase activated memories of weeks of digging after pointless leads, and mostly of rumours. The data made sense all of a sudden and I started following a tiny strand of possibility. If this was the genuine article and the numbers meant what I thought then someone had... but the odds were not in our favour plus how could the dead guy have this but then it would explain why the hit but it didn't match...

“And what does that mean, exactly?” As Machi spoke I was pulled out of the vortex of speculation. “Besides being some sort of number-heavy subject”

“Sorry, induction projects are one of those fringe theories running around the net. Basically, a PRC experiment to turn normals into paranormals.”

“Oh. I thought you had something useful.”

“Well, I'm not saying that's what it is, or that it's even real. But the data... well, in conspiracy circles, there's always someone who says they have a leak from some classified source or another. Most of it is bullshit, obviously, but sometimes they have the real thing. A few sources that are more reliable than others, like this one guy who spread the word on the Gottersen act months before they went public with it. Other stuff too. Point is, this guy once published something like this file. A lot like it, actually, but different numbers, and a few different procedures. And that was most definitely an induction project, and likely a real one.”

“Likely? Because he got some stuff about Gottersen right?”

“Because, if you checked the numbers, what he had was a failed project. Nobody bothers to fake that.”

“Oh gimme a break...”

“No, he has a point,” Void interjected. “The pissers are involved in research on the cause of paranormals. That much is public knowledge, hell, it's supposed to be their major objective. If they found anything that might look like a way of creating us out of norms, they would almost definitely try it out, if only to see if it works. That is simple deduction. It's likely they haven't succeeded yet, for plenty of reasons. So a report of a failed experiment would, by itself, be nothing of note. So who would fake it?”

“And who would publish it if it was legit, then? Would you crack a secure government facility, find something trivial, and then risk getting caught by making the crime known, despite the information being useless?”

“They already have an established reputation for that,” Lightedge argued, “one more count would make no difference. Plus, I don't think they knew the data was a failure before leaking it. It's not exactly meant for everyone to read it, it took days for most people to work out what they meant.”

“We're getting sidetracked, “ I said. “'Edge, here's what I need to know. Can you find the old data again?”

“Sure, I'll just...”

“Good. In your opinion, do both sets of data refer to the same thing?”

“Sort of. The one we have seems to be a later experiment, of the same kind, but testing different methods.”

“Good enough. We can check that later. What are the odds we have a legit thing?”

“Eh... 25%, with what we know right now. Gimme some time to check and I can give you a better approximation.”

“Do that, after you send me a copy of everything you have from here and the leaked data. And, finally. If this thing is real, does it work?”

“I'll get back to you on that. Like I said, it took days to figure out the first time. Should be quicker now, but still nothing is immediately obvious.”

“OK. Look, guys, this might just be a bust. But if it's not, then we just found ourselves a major job”

“You know something you're not telling.” Void. Of course.

“I have a hunch. There's something that doesn't fit, or rather, would fit better... Sorry, can't get into details. Lightedge, you have work to do. Machi, go talk to our client. She still has to pay the rest of our fee, and if we're lucky you might find out something useful. Void, get in touch with 7dash or Masker, see what they know about this.”

“If we have something, shouldn't we keep it, erm, private?”

“Mostly, yes, but if this is what I think then we are gonna need help from at least one of them. Of course, I expect you to exercise discretion.”

“Aye, captain”

* * *

Lightedge had sent me a lot of stuff, and I suppose I could've been focusing on it, but I don't work that way. My powers sort out all the information available on their own. It's like having two minds, only one of those is disturbingly alien and separate from my conscious perspective. I can see what it does, and how it does it, but I don't see it as something I do, and the way it thinks is not quite human. So, while one mind was busy plotting out the possible interpretations of all the data, real or fake, we had collected, the other one, i.e. me, was left to ponder other subjects. More specifically, the argument I'd had with Void earlier.

Everyone has flaws, that much was inescapable. Void didn't plan ahead when fighting Solomon, but at least it worked out for him. Me, I had been too scared to suggest betrayal the moment I realised something odd was going on. I could've taken us all out of that situation if I had dared mention to Void that Solomon could be setting us up.

But it wasn't about specific instances, rather long term patterns. Machi and Lightedge weren't worth much without time to prepare. I couldn't fight against an opponent if I couldn't predict them. Void couldn't integrate his raw power with his stealth and versatility in a single combat style. All of us needed to drastically reconsider our skills and strategies, especially if I was right about this whole induction business.

What we needed was a few extensive sessions of... what? Training? Focusing on our weaknesses? It was hard to be specific, but there was the seed of an idea there. That had to wait at the moment, though, since Machi had just returned from her assignment

“So, how did things go with Icarus?”

“Good news is, we got paid. Less satisfactory news, I did a bit of subtle mystically-aided probing. Icarus has a mage working for her, so emphasis on the “subtle” part.”

“I'm not expecting a detailed essay. What do you have?”

“Personal interest. Not political. Elements of revenge are mixed in, but they are more of an afterthought than a driving force. I'm guessing she wants something that dead boy prevented her from having, and her primary motivation was removing that obstacle, though she's also happy he's dead.”

“There's also anticipation and fear, strongly linked with each other,” she added. “She's doing something soon which might backfire terribly.”

“Anything else?”

“Those are the reliable parts, and even then they are sketchy. The rest is a lot of noise. Could mean anything.”

“Hmm. While interesting, I can't say it helps us directly. But it is useful for future reference... should we ever deal with her again.”

Though, come to think of it, that seemed more and more likely with each passing moment.

“Yeah, I suppose... sorry I couldn't get more. Changing the subject, is your boytoy back yet?”

“No, and I don't think he'll be any time soon. He's been wanting a chat with 7dash for ages, you know.”

“Oh. Well, it's just this idea I've had. I need him to test it, but...”

* * *
7dash's Workshop

Like most of its kind, the building was in a part of the city it's generally considered unsafe to walk through during the night. Or during the day, for that matter. That might have discouraged many of 7dash's clients, but it was his policy that if you weren't willing to risk a little, you had no use for his services. Void reflected on this as he walked unnoticed amongst groups of probably violent youths and considered stabbing a few. Usual temptations, ones he had practice in resisting, but it was hard not to slip, sometimes Especially when they came so close you could smell them (ugh), and only some artful dodging avoided painful and bloody collisions.

Ignoring his instinct to gut the idiot, he entered what seemed an empty shell of concrete, shaped into a few rooms with connecting holes. He walked seemingly without aim to one room which couldn't be seen from outside, and touched one specific place in the wall. A trapdoor opened to his left, revealing a staircase he ignored. Instead, he twisted part of the door itself and opened another one, two metres left from the other one. This one he walked down, deliberate skipping a number of steps in a given sequence. He kept walking in unusual manners and touching random parts of the floor, walls and ceiling for a few more minutes, past a hallway and three doors, until he reached a door which was already open.

Void was greeted by a man whose face was almost certainly once human, but now was obscured by the fact three quarters of it were completely cybernetic. As well as all of his limbs and part of his torso, made quite noticeable as he was naked from the waist up.

“V! What a lovely surprise.”

“Hi, Dash. And what do you mean, surprise? I thought I had triggered at least one alarm back then”

“Well, three. I meant the moment I saw you on the cameras, not right now.”

“Of course. Business doing good? Paranoia still functional? Dreaming of electric sheep?”

“Yes, I resent the term, and no. Come in, will you?” He added with a smile “It's dangerous, out here in the open.”

Void chose a chair and made himself comfortable, wondering how to best start the conversation. Dash wasn't going to babble... but then you can never be sure of anyone, even family and friends. Or maybe that was just the paranoid ambiance talking.

“So,” 7dash started, taking the problem away from his hands “I hear Slasher got killed?”

“Oh yeah. Got found, pissers raided us. Slasher wanted to go out with a bang, he got nine or so of them too.”

“Daaaamn. So who's boss now? Solomon?”

“Solomon's dead.” Void's expression darkened instantly. “I killed him.”

“Oh, fuck. Sorry”

“S'OK. Fucker tried to sell us out first chance he got. Pissers threw Sidestep at us.”

“Jesus. I was going to tell you how I lost my other kidney, but I don't think I can top that.”

“Wait, you lost both? I thought you said you couldn't get the artificial ones to work right.”

“Bah, solved that weeks ago. Though I was strapped to dialysis for an hour or two...”

Half an hour of story-swapping later...

“Look, Dash, truth is we've come across something and we need to find out a bit more. So, to put it bluntly, how much do you know about induction programs?”

“... you've come across an induction program?”

“Maybe. Skip the “it's obviously a scam” part, we know that. Assuming it isn't, though, what can you tell me?”

“No, I mean, actually... well, I've been hearing news. The, um, underground medical community, if you will...”

“Oh. If you can't say anything, it's not a problem.”

“No, no, I have quit a bit to share. It's just that it was unexpected coming from you. Independent verification is nice.”

“Anyway,” he continued “the latest rumour is that there was a breakthrough on that particular front. The basic theory is that there's something, nobody quite knows what, around Vurok. And high concentrations of that are what results in paranormals.”

“Please, that's not a breakthrough. They've been kicking that one around for years, nobody ever specifying what that something could be or how to do anything with it.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, that's not the news. Anyway, some genius thought, hey, if these guys have a high concentration of this V substance, that's what they call it, then maybe we can give it to other people and see what happens, by taking stuff out of paranormals and putting it into norms.”

“The mad surgeon approach. Nothing new, still.”

Please let me finish. Seriously.” After a short pause, he started again. “They tried that for a while, organs and blood and whatnot. But usually nothing happened. So, they said they needed more to force a reaction, but you can't really buy paranormal body parts in bulk. The project was dead for a while, until a month or so ago. Apparently, someone figured out a way to get a big source of V and pump it into people. And, what do you know, something happened.”


“A bunch of test subjects died. Actually, all of 'em.”

“Ouch. So, they have a very expensive way to kill people? That doesn't seem too useful, we've always had a surplus of contract killers around.”

“That's not the end of it, and really, do you have to interrupt every five seconds?”


“Hmph. So, they have a lot of corpses, but they know this thing does something. Just not quite what they expected. So someone says that maybe not everyone can deal with this thing all at once, that you need to give people some time to adapt. And then they start the latest version of this program, which is a bit long-term, but the basic idea is to start low-level exposure until someone dies or starts flying, whichever happens first.”

“So, the big thing is the source.”

“Precisely. There's five dozen theories, each crazier than the last, so don't expect to figure out what it is soon, but that's the one thing that might change the game. Everything else is old ideas being rehashed”

Void hugged the cyborg. “Thanks, Dash. I'm hoping Ana can make sense of this, I know she's got something that might give us very definite advantage.”

“No problem, kid. Just remember, if you pull this hit and need a biotech expert...”

“You're first on the line. I wouldn't have talked if there was no plan to get you in on this”

* * *


Void had spent the last few minutes filling us in on 7dash's ideas. A source of V, and a lot of dead people. Fitted perfectly.

“So, oh chessmaster,” Machi asked, “what now?”

“The next move is talking to Icarus again. But I think that should be tomorrow. Right now, we should test your idea.”

“Right. If the subject consents...”

“Mad science, eh? I thought that was 'Edge's area,” Void remarked.

“Usually, but tonight, we deal with the mad science of magic. And that's my area.” She continued, “Before your fight with Solomon, I had just figured your Dark-buddy was what we call a Symbol-entity. A magical manifestation of a mental category. And further figured that your trick, like the rest of the spirit-catchers, is to harness that specific magical manifestation. Essentially, the theory is that you guys become the equivalent of mages highly specialised in your Symbols. That might still be true, but apparently there's more to it.”

“The news being, that I can catch spirits that aren't symbols?”

“Exactly. Solomon's spirits were specific aether patterns with limited functionality...”

“Spare me the technicalities”

Fine. Point is, whole different kind of thing. Because we call both “spirits” you might think they are related, but they exist and work in completely different ways. Try a symbol spell on them and it won't work at all. But whatever it is you do, it works both on Symbol-entities and created aethers. So, it is possible it might work on other things.”

“Such as?”


The full implications seemed to have hit Void right at that point.

“If... if you can call any kind of spirit, and I can catch them and get new powers....”

“We need to test it first.”

“OK, what do you need?”

Machi showed him an elaborate diagram she had traced on the floor. Typical “runes inscribed in a circle” deal. Most of it was glowing, except for a part in the middle that looked somehow incomplete.

“See that crescent-in-circle next to the eight-point star? You need to trace a curve in your own blood from there to the nearest ankh. Like, see that pat over there?” She pointed at a similar drawing elsewhere in the diagram “Like that.”

She handed him a knife. Void didn't seem disturbed by the idea, but then a bit of blood was something he usually liked seeing. Plus, working with witches, you get used to it.

“OK, good, now stand right on top of the curve and, I don't know, prepare your powers in whatever way you usually do.”

“That sounds so reassuring.”

“You've been using them for a decade or so now. So excuse me for expecting you to know better than me how to handle them. Now shut it, I need to focus.”

Machi started with the weird chanting and hand gestures, while parts of her rune circle alternatively flared and dimmed. Moments later, the entire diagram went glowy, then dark. Then, a huge blast of light illuminated the room, and a mist started to coalesce around Void. He sort of sucked it in, and the light went off.

And then, he burst into flame.