• flash fiction,  How to Survive the Vestige World,  in character,  urban fantasy,  vestige

    Go Deeper

    By Vadren Skycastle

    So, you’ve learned that the supernatural world exists. And that you’re stuck. You can go back to your ordinary life, but it won’t be the same. Now you’ll glimpse doors in walls where they shouldn’t be, see masked changelings striding through the streets on mist-grey stallions, and notice towering, horned figures in crowds.

    And you are the only one to see them.

    Then, there are the predators. Perhaps, as you walk along the street, there’ll be a man in front. In the next heartbeat, he vanishes. And then there’s a glimpse of something big and hulking dragging him into a nearby alleyway, and if you rush forward to investigate, you’ll only see trash blowing in the breeze.

    And no one will believe you when you tell them these things. 

    That’s why many leave the borders and go deeper into the world.

    To stay safe, you’ll either need to join a faction, acquire a vestige, or both.

    Factions are political blocs. Their goal is to keep the supernatural community stable, and the borders between the worlds intact. You may have heard of a few—the Undying Queen and her Court who maintain order in the city, the Amaranthine Lodge which investigates secrets and even the Lucky Twelves, a coalition of criminal and gangsters that are very good at policing themselves.

    And a vestige? That word gets thrown around a lot—in fact the supernatural layer of reality is also called the ‘Vestige World’ as well as the Indigo World or the Twilight Realm.

    A vestige is how you get magic. It’s a difficult process. So many things can go wrong.

    You’ll need to make a pact with a being from another dimension. Someone who once roamed freely during the Age of Magic, and who’s now trapped. These beings want to conduct schemes and intrigues in the mortal world, and for that they need agents. Once you meet such a being, and you agree to a pact, you’ll receive a vestige—part of the other entity’s soul attached to yours, and through this, you can wield arcane power.

    Patron and agent relationships are complex. You might be treated like an honorary employee, a knightly champion, or a son or daughter. Or worse, chattel or a meagre pet. 

    You get one shot at making a pact. Like at a job interview, you’ll need to as the right questions and make sure that you’ve met the right patron.

    Unlike a regular job, there’s no resigning… Or not that I’ve heard.

    Next, we’ll talk about the type of patrons you might meet. And what you can become.

  • flash fiction,  in character,  Newsletter,  writing

    The Labyrinthine Library – November 2022

    man standing in a mysterious library, digital art style, illustration painting

    Being the Ongoing Adventures of a Librarian Attempting to Tame a Feral Magical Library

    The Word Mines

    Have you ever wondered where stories come from?

    No, writers don’t make them up. That would be silly.

    Instead, ideas are mined.

    Underneath the strange multi-dimensional space through which the Labyrinthine Library runs, are the Caverns of Possibility.

    I was trying to find books on dragon slaying to get rid of that pesky beast in the Smoking Room, took a wrong turn, and found myself here.

    Around me stretches the glittering gray stone, studded with glinting shards of crystal. Lit by the glow of my pipe, tiny scenes dance and burn within the visible veins of glowing ore. I glimpse castles and clouded skies, angry forests writhing in the wind, angular ruins piercing the air and rain stabbing down over cities, whose towers writhe like spider legs.

    I wander through a maze of tunnels and switchbacks, watching princesses lean across castle parapets looking out to sea, and frenetic machines with a thousand parts whirling between the stars. My stomach rumbles.

    I don’t know how to return to the Library, and my pot of lemongrass tea.

    My librarian powers aren’t working. Is the Library being temperamental? Or am I in a space beyond its influence?

    Ahead, something rings and clinks. Rushing forward, I stop at the edge of a cavern.

    Miners work the glittering stone, teasing out the crystals and carefully placing them in floating ore carts. The workers aren’t human, elf or ogre—not even a dwarrow, as you might expect. Instead, they’re beings shaped from rock and metal itself—roughly formed figures of granite, basalt, marble and pyrite. Also, they’re wearing yellow hardhats, hi-vis vests and bulging leather shoes; the gear at odds with their rocky exteriors.

    While humanoid, they lack discernable faces, so it’s likely they haven’t seen me as they drill and tap at the crystals—

    “There!” A rough, gray figure points at me. “An intruder! You! Stop at once!”

    I gather my librarian robes and tear off into the tunnel.

    Perhaps this is the way out here!

    I recognize this t-junction.

    Maybe I can—

    A roughly hewn sandstone shape squeezes out of the wall in front of me. “Halt!” they intone in a rumbling voice. A stomping sound rings behind me, and a granite form with a head that’s river-stone smooth cuts me off. Their yellow hardhat offsets their blank, menacing expression.

    “Wait,” I raise my hands, apologetic. “I didn’t mean to stumble upon your mines, good, uh, person. I’m a librarian for the Labyrinthine Library and I got lost and—“

    “It is not a criminal act to watch us mine,” the figure rumbles in a gravelly voice. “However, you are incorrectly attired for the area. You are not wearing correct PPE for conceptual space. You could be sucked into a idea void, or be infected by dangerous memes.”

    “Oh. Well, if you could escort me away from the mines—”

    “No, we must follow the operating procedures. You are to remain on site until you read, and comply with all safety protocols for the Caverns of Possibility.”

    “Certainly!” After all, I’m a librarian and I love books. It won’t take long for me to get through a few technical manuals.

    They march me to the cavern where the rest of the miners work.

    “I’m Ivarlis. What’s your name?”

    “We do not have individual names,” the sandstone humanoid behind me says as we walk through the narrow tunnels. A nearby crystal depicts a desert griffin descending on a silver-horned antelope.

    “What do you call yourselves then?”

    The shape sighs. “We are… gnomes. Stone elementals. I am not fond of our depictions in the modern world. We do not have beards, red caps and jolly expressions. Such things are inefficient for mining operations.”

    “Uh, I see.” I smooth my wispy hair and regard the bright fluorescent pink vest of the gnome in front of me. “Do elementals working in a mine, even one such as this, need PPE?”

    “It is a question of correct process,” the granite gnome says. “We strive to comply with standards of excellence.”

    They lead me through a breakroom—where a sign on the wall says ‘1,000 years since the last OH&S incident’ and where off-duty gnomes sit at metal tables, consuming plates of gravel and talking about regulation tool sizes—to an enormous cavern crammed with stone tablets. There must be thousands here! I pick up heavy tablet and read: “Section 20034B. Ensure that safety shoes are worn at all times. These ensure that idea crystals are not damaged upon your approach. Allow for a gap of five centimeters at the end of the shoe—”

    “Look,” I tell my guides. “There’s an awful to get through here. Could I return to my Library and have some tea?”

    “No,” the sandstone gnome says. “You will stay until you have read all the documentation, and you agree to comply with the standards.” He blocks the entrance with a menacing air.

    Bother. I’m trapped! At least I’ll be very safe…

    Hopefully, I’ll escape in time for next month’s update. Until then, be careful around the safety gnomes…

    Reflections on the Anniversary of My Descent: Part Five

    Oh yes, while reading about the best way to polish and care for one’s mining pick, I’ve taken a break to read the latest chapter of our ongoing serial!

    Vex made a pact with a demon to avenge her boyfriend! Only to find that her supposed true love may have lied to her about everything. To find out the truth, Vex returns home to the Diamond Ward to dig up uncomfortable secrets…

    Episode #5 [requires newsletter membership; may not work at some point when Vex decides to re-write the manuscript for publication]

    Grab your back issues here:

    Previously on….[requires newsletter membership; may not work at some point when Vex decides to re-write the manuscript for publication]

    How to Survive in the Vestige World

    And what’s this? Mr Skycastle has written another blog article about surviving in the supernatural world. You can join a faction, or make a pact. (He doesn’t mention staying in bed, that’s always worked for me…)

    How to Survive, Some More

  • flash fiction,  in character,  Newsletter,  urban fantasy,  writing

    October 2022 Newsletter

    The Labyrinthine Library – October 2022

    Being the Ongoing Adventures of a Librarian Attempting to Tame a Feral Magical Library

    man standing in a mysterious library, digital art style, illustration painting

    Greetings, Ethereal Entities! ‘Tis I, Ivarlis the Librarian, with another missive.  

    Of late, the Library has been eating technology. (I wish it would devour that dratted dragon, but alas, the brute is still there on its hoard of purloined books.) I haven’t seen my phone for some time after I mistakenly left it at the front desk. The coffee machine is gone, replaced by an ashen scar in the kitchen. And a miniature goldfish in a bowl replaced the advanced microfiche machine (at least the Library has a sense of humor).

    I have tried to remonstrate with it. “Listen, please stop eating devices. Perhaps you’re upset that people embraced technology after the Age of Magic ended, but they really had no choice! If we are to get new members, they will want to use their advanced PDAs and radios!”

    At that, the Library sent a tremor through the Main Hall, and I’ve spent the entire morning re-shelving toppled books.

    Curious at what has been causing the Library’s ill-humor, I explore, as new rooms have a habit of appearing. Sure enough, I locate a new room near the Aspen Corridor, with a sign that says ‘Computer Room’.

    How did it get here? Strange things always happen in these multi-dimensional spaces. I open the door. Inside, is a dark, dusty room crammed with junk. A male dwarrow in a flannel shirt sits at a computer, tapping a keyboard. Cups of cold coffee rest within his reach.

    “Excuse me?” I asked, one hand on the door. Another tremor rocks my feet. “Who are you, and how did you attach your room to my Library? It’s not thrilled.”

    “Vadren Skycastle.” The dwarrow wears cutting edge, mirrored sunglasses. “I’m a reality hacker.” 

    I sniff the air. He smells of rigid lines, and straight angles, like a cataloguing system. Ah, he’s a nephilim. He’s made a pact with the angels to put the world in order. Unfortunately, what a bunch of abstract entities consider ‘order’ is rather different within the meat and grit of the physical world.

    “For what purpose?”

    Mr. Skycastle drinks his coffee. “I’m also a reporter. Writing a series of articles on how to survive your first encounters with the supernatural world. Your Library offers unique distribution and promotional opportunities for my internet journal.”

    “You hacked into my magical Library to promote your blog?” I’ve heard of how desperate writers can get, but this is really something.

    Mr. Skycastle adjusts his mirrorshades. “It’s a necessary service. The Vestige World is mad and broken. People fall into it by mistake. Look at what happened to Lukie and Vex. I’m going to make it easier for people to cross over by giving them information.”

    I notice my phone on a nearby desk. Perhaps it’s not that the Library has been eating devices, only that Mr. Skycastle’s illicit reality hacks have caused everything to congeal in the Computer Room (still, no sign of the coffee machine or microfiche device in here). Feeling peevish, I call Lukie’s number on my phone.

    The sound of rock music nearly drowns out my voice.

    “Hello, Lukie?”

    “It’s me, Ivarlis! The Librarian!”

    “Hi!” She must be at a night club.

    “Apologies if you’re in the middle of solving a mystery! Listen, do you think reading an introductory blog article about the supernatural would have helped during your adventures?”

    “Where would I have had time in Final Night to read a blog? I didn’t even know about the internet!”

    I make my farewells and hang up. “See? Our fine protagonist did not need your help. Peddle your articles elsewhere.”

    “I’m sure someone will find them useful.” Mr. Skycastle taps frantically at his keyboard at hacker speed.

    Sigh. Mr. Skycastle’s entry is on the Blog. Invoke it by clicking on this link. I fear he may write more…

    Reflections on the Anniversary of My Descent: Part Four

    A stack of scribbled papers arrived in the mail. It is the next chapter of Miss Vex’s ongoing serial. Time to brew a pot of lemongrass tea and see how Miss Vex continues on her quest for vengeance! (I penned a missive to see if she would like to visit us in the Library, but as at the time of writing, have not had a response.)

    Vex, trainee vengeance (half) demon, must pass her final exam or die.

    Her assignment? Hunt her boyfriend’s surviving murderers.

    The problem? Finding them first.

    Her quest takes her from the glamor of the Diamond Ward to the city’s dark underbelly. But the truth she uncovers may be more than she can handle…

    Download this exciting story today!

    Episode #4 [requires newsletter membership; may not work at some point when Vex decides to re-write the manuscript for publication]

    Grab your back issues here:

    Previously on…. [requires newsletter membership; may not work at some point when Vex decides to re-write the manuscript for publication]

  • flash fiction,  How to Survive the Vestige World,  in character,  urban fantasy,  vestige

    How to Survive in the Vestige World

    by Vadren Skycastle

    Welcome to the first article in this series, designed to introduce newcomers to the supernatural world. If you’re confused, or have questions, these entries should help you out.

    Let’s start slow. You must have so many questions.

    Last year, I lived in the ordinary world. I took all of it for granted: cars and skyscrapers, burger restaurants, airships, smartphones and watches. I grew up surrounded by stories of an age of magic, but it was all folklore and hearsay.

    This is what I thought:

    It was reasonable that there had been a tyrant called the ‘Dark Emperor’ who had reigned two thousand years ago, head of an advanced civilisation. I can see his castle from my studio window, and can make out the tour buses heading up the mountain for the top. There’s ruins and towers everywhere. You can’t dig up a piece of land in Storm City without uncovering some ancient brick or arrowhead or historical temple.

    And it’s also reasonable to assume that there had been an epic war to stop the Emperor, and the famous General Hawkbow had killed him, or at least had the credit for it. This what history tells us.

    But it was unreasonable to think that there had once been an age of magic. Where was the evidence for it? Where were the dragons and unicorns? Where was the crystal city of Reladon, and the wizards that had guided the world from the Crystalspire? What happened to the magic swords? Every archeological dig only returns bricks, quartz fragments and old coins. No weird skeletons. Lab tests don’t return artefacts that have strange or unique properties. Everything can be explained neatly and precisely.

    No, it was very reasonable to believe that the ‘Age of Magic’ was a story, and the real history was a brutal struggle that people had embellished.

    When I was a journalist, I thought that way. Until I went too far, chasing the story of a lifetime. There’s a thin barrier that separates the ‘Golden’ world of the mundanes, and the ‘Indigo’ world of the supernaturals. And once you cross that barrier you can’t cross back.

    The Indigo World isn’t like a separate dimension. It’s a different layer. Like a filter on a camera, or having a superuser password that unlocks more features. For a start, you can see things. Monsters that weren’t there before. People using magic.

    And it’s not a nice world. People are out for themselves, or are driven to serve extra-dimensional masters in exchange for magic powers. Magic is trapped in old crystals and relics, and these are fought and squabbled over by ‘occultists’, a crazy group of people who consider themselves the heirs to the wizards of the Crystalspire. There are factions, gangs, shifting alliances and deals.

    As a person who’s crossed over with no powers—they call us ‘borderers’—you’re not protected any more. People in the Golden World have ancient enchantments keeping them (mostly) safe from the supernatural. We don’t. We’re the lowest rung on the supernatural ladder, ‘meat’ for the rest.

    You only survive if you make contacts, or play your cards right.

    Next post I’ll explain how you can do this as soon as possible.

  • flash fiction,  in character,  Newsletter,  urban fantasy,  writing

    September 2022 Newsletter

    The Labyrinthine Library

    A man standing in a mysterious library, digital art style, illustration painting

    I’m Ivarlis the Librarian. Perhaps we’ve met before. I hope your visit to the Reading Room is going well. Sorry, I can’t stay and chat about new releases. I’m in a spot of bother at the moment.

    There’s a dragon in the Smoking Room.

    My dream is to return the Labyrinthine Library from a feral place that occasionally devours readers and rooms, to something civilised. And what could be finer than a Smoking Room, where you visitors in your dinner jackets and fine gowns may puff away on your cigars, cigarettes and pipes of choice?

    Vintage 1900 fashion man with beard. Smoking tobacco pipe. Standing in old wooden room. Wearing a black dickens hat.

    Only after having entered the Smoking Room to clean it, I’ve been distracted. Right over there is a giant, red-scaled beast filling this interdimensional space only the way a magical creature can. And it’s coiled up on a pile of books, scrolls and illuminated manuscripts. Aside from this purloined ‘hoard’ of literature, the room is full of trash. Old television sets, a gramophone and a newish coffee machine.

    The dragon cracks a yellow eye open. A puff of smoke trickles from one nostril.

    If it breathes fire in here, all of those books are in danger.

    Being the Librarian, I have access to certain powers. And what I need is a dragon slayer: a knight to rid me of the dread beast so I can return the books to the shelves. I reach for pen and ink, and fill out a card to call forth for my champion.

    There’s a thump. A new figure appears next to me, holding a phonographic record. It’s a young, blonde woman in a red leather jacket, with dark sunglasses covering her eyes. She’s half-elven, like myself (although human on her other side rather than ogre). The smell of ice and darkness drifts off her–a sign that she’s empowered by Tenebra, the dour Underworld. She’s a revenant: those who return from the grave to fulfil their unfinished business.

    The last revenant I met stole a book; I hope this young woman is more refined. She looks around, curiously, holding the record to her chest. My problem is she doesn’t look like a dragon slayer, although one must never judge by appearances in the Indigo World.

    “Sorry!” I raise my hands to show I mean no harm. “I’m the librarian here. I summoned you. Are you a dragon slayer, by chance?”

    “No.” She studies me, then the beast and the room. Luckily, she’s taking this all in her stride. “A musician. I was at the record store, and now I’m here.”

    A musician? Is that what I need? The dragon watches me, like a cat studying a mouse. The tip of its tail twitches.

    “Ah, do you know songs that would make a dragon sleep?” (I’m rather dubious at this; her voice is a little husky for someone I need to have the tones of a nightingale.)

    “Lots of 70s and 80s rock. If you think music will work, I’ll need a guitar, or—” She looks down at what she’s holding. “A record player.”

    “Quickly! There’s a modern gramophone over there!” I say. “I’m sure the LIbrary summoned you for a reason.”

    As we talk, the dragon rumbles a warning. The room shakes.

    Hurrying, the young woman places the record on the turntable. A terrible blare of wailing guitar, synthesiser, and modern drums emerge from the speaker.

    “No!” I reach to stop the cacophony.

    “Wait!” the revenant says. “I think he likes Outside Sky.”

    Sure enough, the dragon is tapping one claw in time to the horrendous beat. Definitely distracted.

    “I have to rescue those books.” I reach forward to rescue the tomes the dragon is sitting on, but the beast rumbles and puffs smoke again. A lick of fire kisses the air.

    “How about we leave?” the revenant whispers.

    “This isn’t over,” I tell the dragon as we escape to the Foxglove Reading Room.

    The young woman introduces herself. “I’m Lukie.”

    We shake hands. “A pleasure to meet you.”

    “How do I get out of here?” Lukie asked. “I was going through the old records at Final Vinyl, and there were a few boxes to go through before closing time.”

    I clear my throat. “I’m afraid the Library is temperamental. It enjoys collecting stories from people. I’m sure if you tell it something interesting, it will grant you membership, and you can leave.”

    Lukie leans back in her chair. “A story, hey? How about this one? It’s about death, love, murder, high school and revenge. I’m sure the Library will dig it.”

    “That looks exciting. I hope the ethereal spirits enjoy it.”

    Sure enough, after Lukie finishes her tale, the Library grants her membership. She puts the card in a pocket. “I’ll be seeing you, Ivarlis. You owe me a record.”

    Final Night now available in hard, ethereal and phonographic, er, audio versions! Review it on your favourite store, Goodreads or Storygraph if you enjoy it (or in your electrical journal of interest).

    Review copies available upon request.  Just don’t disturb the dragon..