Heller Manor- Chapter 3

Vic set a steaming cup of tea on the table and gently placed their hand on Kristal’s shoulder, “Kristal, wake up.”

The woman tensed as her eyes shot open and she expected to see something lurking above her. In a moment, she was already opening her mouth wide to scream before remembering what Vic looked like. She relaxed, but only a hair, and pushed herself up to sit against the arm of the sofa. “How long did you let me sleep for?”

Vic sat across from her on the sofa with a mug of coffee, brown like sugar–thick and sweet. “Half an hour. You need more, but you need this lesson even more. It gave me time to ward the place, make sure nothing comes in.”

Kristal picked up her tea and nodded her gratitude.

Ok, so here’s the deal. You live in a world with monsters and witches and magic. The fact that you most likely did not know this for certain, and certainly did not know the precise nature of it, is credence to the efficacy of the Vow of Silence, which is the deal struck by the supernatural community to not reveal their existence to humans so that humans would not come after them with pitches and torchforks,” Vic quipped. “Broadly speaking, there are six major lineages, and then there are the anathema. There are also varieties of each lineage, but you’ll get the basic idea. There are the werethings. They call themselves the lycanthropes because none of them came from Greece originally, and so they don’t care about Greek. There are the vampires, you know what those are, I’m sure. There are the automata, which are artificial beings. Adam, the Golem, androids, that sort of thing-”

Adam?”

Er, Frankenstein’s monster. He was named Adam.”

Oh. …he wasn’t real, was he?”

Yeah, he was. His lot are called Frankensteins. Reputedly, he did not much care for that, but it stuck.” Vic sipped their coffee before continuing. “There are leviathans, creatures which descend directly from the chaos dragon mother of monsters Tiamat, or people which ate leviathan flesh, and then there are transhumans, people which made themselves more than, and witches, people who adapted their heart and soul to magic. I save transhumans and witches for last because there’s honestly a good deal of overlap.” Vic looked Kristal over for any sign of acceptance or final mental snap. “With me so far?”

Yeah… and that’s it?”

Well, no, there are also the anathema, creatures which typically hail from the other realms, and refuse to get with the program. Demons, goblins, fae, evil plants, zombies, monstrous animals like chimera and swarms, and so on. But for that, we need to talk about the other realms. There are three worlds beyond the mortal coil we grew up on—the Dark Reflection, or Limbo—Hell, for all intents and purposes; the Gloom, or Mictlan, a world of death and cold; and Maya, the Dreamworld, realm of monstrous beasts and sapient plants.

Every supernatural draws power from one of those realms. For example, as a Baal, I draw my power from Limbo, it allows me to conjure flame, and gives me the magical energy to use to see auras, like you do. As a warlock, I also have spells, but those are somewhat separate, and require learning from tomes. Powers are mostly innate, though they can be learned as well.”

Can normal people learn spells?”

It’s possible, but there are really two strata of ‘normal people,’ Luminaries and the chaff. Luminaries are people who have some extra spark—if you saw people emanating golden light, those are Luminaries—which the chaff do not. This spark means that when they are turned into a supernatural, they retain their individuality and sapience, becoming a full supernatural. When chaff are turned, say by a vampire, they become near-feral beasts called spawn. Or they just die, if they’re left for dead by a lycanthrope. When a normal person attempts to learn magic, they typically learn, at best, one spell or power, and have poor control of it, and they’re referred to as cultists, since they usually learn magic through a cult or are quickly grabbed hold of by one after they learn their magic.”

Am I chaff?” Kristal asked, mortified.

No, you’re a Luminary. If you were chaff, well, I’d have basically been required to kill you. Trust me- it’s better than the alternative would have been. But no, you are a Luminary, and you’ve basically been made a Baal. The Limbic energy of the pot basically burned out your soul. …sorry.”

So… souls are real.”

Vic made a face of theological discomfort, “Yeah, but it’s not really what you’re probably thinking. There are a lot of ways for supernaturals to come back from death, and none of them—even leviathans and werewolves, who don’t lose their souls in their transformation—have said anything about any kind of afterlife beyond Mictlan. There are some people who wind up in Limbo when they die, usually because of mucking around with stuff from there, and there are people who wind up in Maya when they die, but most people become ghosts in Mictlan.

Soul, as we use the term, really refers to a core of humanity which basically makes one react badly to magic. If you get changed into a vampire or lycanthrope, your soul is changed, and your powers don’t really do you any harm. If you’re an automata or leviathan, you have a different kind of soul, which doesn’t react poorly to magic—at least, not as badly as a human soul, which has a tendency to make its owner go insane when magic hits it. Transhumans change their own souls, and witches, well, we destroy ours. Dryads replace their hearts with magic seeds that turn them into something more akin to a plant, khaibit turn themselves into something more like an animate corpse, and Baali, well, we just fucking burn our souls out.”

Kristal’s home evinced no particular devotion to God, but a small piece of her, verging on a racial memory of devoutness and religious superstition piped up inside her. “But… so… what will happen to me when I die?”

Vic sipped on their coffee again, looking over the top of it at Kristal. “Well, that rather depends on what you do while you’re alive. And I don’t mean in a general good deeds and bad deeds sorta way.” Vic pulled their shirt collar aside, showing a complex brand and tattoo just below their collarbone. “See, if I die, this thing here will do a quickie one-time rez on me-”

Rez?”

Oh, sorry, resurrection. There’s a power-slash-spell, it’s called all kinds of things when you’re looking at it as a spell, when it’s just a power someone has, it’s called Restoration—very original, I know—which returns a person to life. It’s a one time thing, and I have to make sure I have I have the mojo to let it do it’s thing, and if I’m impaled or my head’s been separated, I need to be taken down or reassembled, but basically, this puts me back on my feet so I don’t sit around as a ghost waiting for someone to come along and convince them to do it for me.

So, if you get one of these—I can put you in contact with the people who do ’em—then when you die, you come back after a few hours as a ghost. Or, if you make the right friends, one-a them can do a Restoration on you.

If you mean metaphysically… well, you will probably become a ghost in Mictlan until you’re pulled back. If you die in your sleep, well, then you become what’s known as a Jalus, the lost soul of a person who died while their mind was in Maya. If you give a demon or a goblin claim to your soul, you get pulled into Limbo. But notably, none of this prevents you from getting Restored.”

So…” Kristal tried to muster a response to all of this, “so wait, does God exist?”

Not so far as I know. There are a load of potent fucks claiming to be gods, and, yes, there are demons, but every mythos has evil fucks who want to take what is essentially you, so it’s not like that’s a sign of God’s existence. Hell, having thought on it, and seen enough, I’m starting to think a load of the supposed gods were just powerful supernaturals. You see a guy throw a bolt of lightning up another’s ass, and suddenly Zeus is a lot more human-seeming.”

Ok… so… about the seeing things?” Kristal said, still trying to cope with the new world she’d been thrust into.

Ok, so that’s a power, typically called Aura Perception. It’s pretty much the primary thing you get when you become a witch. It lets you peer into the shallows of other worlds, and see the true auras of supernatural beings. Because you’ve been transformed by an artifact of The Dark Reflection—Limbo—you’ve got your eyes stuck on that world. Each world has the Shallows and the Deeps, with the Shallows being basically an overlay of the mortal coil, and the Deeps being just that world.”

How do I turn it off?”

You just do. You just decide to not use it anymore. You didn’t know what was happening to you, so you didn’t know you could do that. Hoping for something to end and turning it off aren’t the same thing. So, take a deep breath, focus on your eyes—closing them may help—and will your eyes to see only the mortal coil.”

Kristal did as she was told. She closed her eyes, and focused her attention on the darkness behind her lids, and then… “Wait, how do I will something to happen?” she asked, her eyes still closed.

You decide it’s so.”

Oh.” Kristal focused on that blackness again, and just… decided that she wouldn’t see the demons of Limbo and auras of the supernatural.

Ok, open them, and look at me.”

Kristal slowly opened her eyes, and looked at Vic.

Oh.” She said.

What?”

I mean… I… didn’t know you were a woman.”

Um. Ok, yeah, sure, physically, yes, I’m female,” Vic said.

Kristal just looked at them quizically.

Vic sighed, “Yes, my physical sex is female. I’m transgender, meaning I identify differently from my physical sex. Specifically, I’m gender queer, I identify as both male and female.”

Oh.” Kristal considered for a moment. “Are all Warlocks-”

No. This is a person thing, not a supernatural thing. I mean… if you look at history, there was often complicated gender stuff ascribed to the magic people and spirit talkers of various non-abrahamic cultures, but no, there are a lot of witches who are male or female and a lot of warlocks who are male or female. Warlock is just my preferred term for my status as a magic using person. Just like I prefer to be seen as and referred to as ‘them’.”

Oh. Ok, so I can turn my visions off. Could- Could I turn them on again?”

Vic smiled inwardly for the return to the talk of the supernatural world. “Yeah, same way. You just decide to turn it back on. You need to keep in mind how much energy you have in you. Now, unless you have a secret life as a murderer that you’re very successfully hiding, I’m going to assume you’re a Lunar witch, which is to say, you gain energy from the rise of the moon. It doesn’t have to be full, it just needs to rise. And you’re specifically tied to the moonrise schedule of your home, meaning the Pacific timezone. You could be in Egypt, and be filled with energy in the middle of the day because the moon rose here.”

How much energy do I have?”

Well, it’s not like it’s in tangible units… but generally a new supernatural can, say, activate Aura Perception 13 times between recharges.”

And I recharge when the moon rises?”

Most likely, yes. There is a possibility that you recharge by inflicting harm on people, which is unlikely, as you would probably have run out of power and had the visions stop for that reason. There’s also the possibility that you are on what is known as a ritual power schedule, which requires you to spend two hours doing something specific. Such as absorb energy from the pot. That’s entirely possible. How much time have you spent in or around the kitchen since you got it?”

Well… actually the pot was in my room originally. I moved it down here just a night or two ago when the nightmares got really intense.”

Well, then it’s even more likely,” Vic said. “You can always experiment, and may want to, since it’s good to know when and how you get your power, and you’ve got some new capabilities to learn to use.”

So, what else can I do?”

Well, that’s very vague. You get to see auras, you can push people around, and you can manipulate peoples’ memories. Beyond that, it really matters more what you learn. So I’d recommend taking a much needed rest, get some sleep, and then start getting to know that pot. It’ll be the source of your initial sorcery, then you can learn spells later. Each witch walks their own path, and all the others are no more than guides.” Vic stood, slipping their coat back on. “So, get some sleep. Get to know your pot. Take two magic-acid-trips and call me in the morning.”

Kristal stood to walk Vic to the door. “Thank you. Do I owe you?”

Stepping out of the house, Vic reflexively pulled a white cigarette from her case, where cigarettes alternated regular white and black clove, and lit it. “Well, this was an intro to the world of supernaturals. My usual rate for that is $100, more if it takes particularly long, or I get mauled because it’s some out-of-control werething with a deadbeat sire—happens more than you’d figure—so paypal it to me.” Vic considered and sucked on their cigarette, “plus $50 for the warding and mirror-sanding. Oh. Speaking of, it may be hard to see in your mirrors for a bit. I mean, I didn’t sand them, with, like, sandpaper. I just magically embedded sand into them—it’s how you nullify infernal magic, sand. It’ll be absorbed, should be fine in a day or so.”

Ok. One-fifty. Glad I have savings.”

Good. Wait’ll I introduce you to the society,” Vic said.

Eesh,” Kristal grimaced, “What’ll that cost me?”

Eh, I just charge ya twenty bucks and gas money for that. The Syndicates pay for the actual intro since it encourages us to actually introduce you guys.”

Ok. Imma go sleep now…”

You do that.”

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Heller Manor- Chapter 2

Vic pulled up to the curb of the house in the suburbs of Portland. Looking around, they held open the door for Diavolo to hop out. Diavolo took wing, circled around, and landed on Vic’s shoulder. “I’ll bet plate,” Diavolo said.

Eh, she emailed me, so she should be expecting me.” They walked up the path to the door, and knocked. When no reply came after a couple minutes, they knocked again, clearing their throat, “Kristal, this is Vic, I’m here to help.” With no response, Vic sighed, and stomped their cigarette out before placing their hand on the knob. “I’ll bet…” they considered a moment, “knick knack.”

You’re on,” Diavolo responded.

Vic tried to turn the knob and found it locked. “lokunc” they whispered, rewarded with a click, and they turned the knob, raising their voice as they entered, “Kristal? This is Vic, we talked online, you asked me to come over now and deal with the things you’re seeing. OK?” They announced as they looked around.

Vic gingerly stepped through the living room, looking around. They silently opened their eyes to the energies of magic and other realms. “Oh yeah, definitely not-fun-things happening around here,” they said as they surveyed the entryway and living room, broken knick knacks and mugs littering the edges of the room, a large crack running through a mirror over the fireplace, a mysterious—but coffee-scented—stain on one wall. The house looked fairly normal beyond that, provided you’re well off enough for a young woman owning a house on their own to be normal.

They turned toward the kitchen, sweeping their eyes over it before they narrowly dodged something that shattered against the wall behind them.

Diavolo looked back, “Plate, you owe me a filet.”

Vic glanced back, “Bullshit, that’s a commemorative plate, you owe me a spell.”

Hey, I just said plate, I didn’t say what kind.”

Commemorative plates are knick knacks,” Vic contended, before turning in the direction of the thrower, “Kristal, it’s Vic. We talked.”

No! You’re another fucking demon! What the fuck is happening to me!?”

De- oh. Goddamnit.” Vic sighed. “Look, Kristal, I’m not going to say what you’re seeing isn’t real, because it is, but it can’t hurt you. What you’re seeing is in another layer of reality, ok?”

But you can see me! And you’re talking to me! How can-”

I get it, I have a lot to explain to you, but I need you to calm down, and understand I won’t hurt you, ok?” Vic slowly approached, “I’m here to help, ok? Once you understand, it’ll be better, I promise.”

Kristal looked uncertain, her eyes still wide with fear. “Wh-what are you?”

Vic rubbed her eyes and pinched the bridge of their nose, “I’m what’s known as a Baali, a witch who gets their magic from energies from, well, Hell, essentially.” They crouched to level their eyes with Kristal, “But I won’t hurt you, ok? I can help you with this.”

Kristal’s eyes scanned around, as if looking for escape, before locking with Vic’s. “Ok,” she said, a little hollowly, then she reached out to take Vic’s proffered hand, “OK,” she said again, firmly, as Vic helped her up from the floor.

Sitting down at the table, Vic gave Diavolo their arm to remove their coat, switching arms mid-way, and place the coat over the back of a chair, where the crow hopped over to perch. “So, first things first, Kristal, this is Diavolo, my familiar. He can talk, and is as much a person as you or I, so please remember that to avoid faux pas that would go unthought of when talking about a normal bird.”

Kristal blinked. “Um, hi?”

Diavolo bowed his head, “Hello, Kristal.”

So, you’ve been seeing demons? Describe to me what you’ve seen. I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on, but I need to narrow things down a bit.”

Kristal swallowed, “Um, well, I see…Can I get you some water? Or something?”

Vic nodded, “Yes, please, there will be a lot of talking, and a smoker’s throat dries quickly. Please, continue,” she said, pressing the reluctant woman.

Ok,” Kristal got up to retrieve water, hesitating, but putting her head down to charge ahead in the explanation, “I see… women… eating ashes. Skin like a porcelain doll, but cracked and fractured, being repaired, but they scream horsely…” Kristal set the water down.

Asura,” Vic nodded, “A pitcher might be a good idea. I need you to tell me about this as uninterrupted as possible.”

Kristal could swear she could see Vic’s left eye flash red, but, given the circumstances shrugged it off. As she filled a pitcher, she continued. “When I’m out… when I used to still go out… I would see… well, like, monsters, but like they were being worn by people. Like, people with giant snake heads, or who looked like they were wearing wolf-suits…”

Yes, aura perception allows you to see the true auras of supernaturals. Tell me more about the creatures you would see that weren’t being worn by people. That’s why you saw a demon when you looked at me.”

There were these giant… things. With horns. Or extra arms. Or twenty legs and no arms.”

Got it.” Vic said. “Ok, think back before you started seeing these things. Did you come into possession of any strange objects? Did you have any strange dreams? Did you come across a book that detailed how to achieve immortality? Alternatively, have you found yourself with holes in your memory from childhood, or realizing that some childhood memories were false, or remember strange events from childhood?”

Um,” Kristal stared blankly at Vic.

No, seriously. I need to know if any of that has happened, and which of those things it was. Look, you’re talking to a warlock, who brought their crow familiar in with them, I myself have burned out my soul to obtain magic from Hell, believe me, I’ve kind of seen it all.”

I guess the only really strange object is a souvenir pot my uncle sent to me from some tourist trap in the Middle East.” Nicole said uncertainly.

Vic raised an eyebrow, “Can I see the pot?”

Kristal pointed a thin finger to the window over her sink. A clay pot, deep red in hue, with depictions of ritual torture etched into it and filled in black. Vic stood and looked it over, “Oh yeah, that’s definitely some major Baali shit.” They gingerly picked up the pot, which radiated smoke under the perception of auras. “So, the Middle East. I’m going to guess your uncle is in… Hm, what would you say, Diavolo, Iraq?”

Ur. Southern Iraq,” the bird replied, starting Kristal.

Yeah. Ur.” Vic carried the pot back to the table.

So… that pot is making me see things?” Kristal said uncertainly.

In a way,” Vic replied.

Kristal quickly rose and backed into the corner.

It’s done its thing.” Vic said, setting it on the table, “You can sit down, it won’t hurt you.”

Kristal reluctantly sat back down, but straddling the leg of the table, as far as she could be from the pot.

So, yeah, this is definitely a Baali thing. Most likely, it was used by an ancient Baal to gather blood from the sacrifices they used to recharge their energies.” Vic looked at Kristal who had gone from just uneasy to uneasy and puzzled. “Ok, short version- the pot is why you’re seeing shit. You have a power that is commonly known as aura perception, which allows you to look into the next layer of reality and see things there, as well as see the true auras of supernatural beings, and, if you know what to look for, magical items. The things you’re seeing could hurt you, but they’d need to get into this world first. Provided you haven’t mucked around with mirrors, I don’t think you could let any through.” Vic looked side-long to Diavolo, silently telling him to not correct her.

That’s the short version. I’m going to leave this here on the table, and you’re going to go sit on that nice, comfy couch in your living room, and I will bring you some tea, and we’ll go over the long version, ok?” Vic soothingly told Kristal, their eye flashing red again as they put a little measure of power into the words.

Will the tea make me not see things anymore?” Kristal asked weakly.

Well, I could give you tea that would do that, but that would entail blinding or killing you, so, no, I’m going to teach you, and you will turn off the visions yourself, ok?”

Ok.” Kristal stood, slowly and mechanically, as if she were being driven by remote, the metaphorical distance between her body and mind becoming a vast chasm. As she entered the living room, she shrieked.

Vic stood and shot into the living room, hand already clutching a sachet of sand from her coat pocket. They looked around, before locking eyes with a fiendish visage in the mirror over the fireplace. She pocketed the sand, and maneuvered in front of Kristal, between her and the mirror, “Kristal, it’s in the other world. It can’t come through that mirror. You’re ok.” Vic looked around to find a blanket on the sofa, and nodded to Diavolo, who flapped over, and picked up the blanket in his beak, dragging it over to the mirror and carefully covering it with the blanket, delicately perching on the rim of the mirror and tucking one end behind it, wobbling slightly with the awkward task, then hopping down to the ground, and picking up the other end of the blanket to do the same on the other side, and then tuck the middle behind it.

It’s still there…” Kristal said, on the verge of tears.

Yes, yes it is still there, in the shallows of Limbo. IT CANNOT CROSSOVER THROUGH THIS MIRROR. I promise you,” Vic said, “Trust me.”

Kristal looked up to Vic through tear-welling eyes, and nodded. Vic guided her to the couch, and sat her down.

Diavolo, stay with her.” Vic said, returning to the kitchen.

Diavolo ducked his head in a nod. “Won’t leave her for anything.”

Vic filled the kettle with water, and rummaged through the cabinets, looking for a green tea. “She’s a fucking wreck,” Vic muttered, “probably hasn’t slept proper in weeks. She needs to relax, but she needs energy.” Vic pulled out a box of generic Asian-themed packaged green tea, and a mug. They also set up the coffee maker for themselves. “I owe you coffee” they said, their voice raised so Kristal could hear. The woman grunted a vague acknowledgement.

Vic walked back out while they waited for water to boil. Kristal sat on the couch slouched forward. Vic placed their hands on her shoulders, softly rubbed when she flinched, and pulled her back and down to recline against the arm. “It’ll be a few minutes. Close your eyes for a bit, Diavolo’s watching you.”

Can he make the monsters go away if they come?”

He can peck their damned eyes out and raise a fuss that makes me come running, then I blast the ever-loving fuck out of them,” Vic reassured her. “You need rest. Tea is on its way, but just close your eyes for now.”

Vic let Kristal doze. They took the kettle off the burner, and just let the coffee brew. “Half an hour won’t hurt. It’s not as much as she needs, but it’ll be more help than just a mug or two of tea,” they whispered to Diavolo. “I’ll do the standard warding stuff.”

Vic poured themselves a mug of coffee, and went out to their car to retrieve a larger bag of sand from their trunk.

After setting a large glass of water from the filtered fridge spout on the coffee table, they set to work on every reflective surface in the house with the sand and their levitation magic.

Vic- Occult Investigator: Heller Manor

This is the other main writing project I’m working on. It still doesn’t have a definite title, but it focuses on an warlock who makes a living as an occult investigator, who goes by Vic. The setting is somewhat loosely draw from an indie tabletop RPG titled After Sundown, which itself takes place in a horror version of the real world.

Vic is genderqueer, and prefers “they” pronouns, so if you’re confused by the constant use of “they,” that’s the reason.

I’ll be posting chapters individually, hopefully, but I may also just post individual scenes.


S-Stygis sidsim hotu!”

Vic’s hands glowed red and the light resolved into a disc of crimson between them and the gushing pipe. The disc became a portal that harmlessly drank the torrent of water and sent it to the underworld.

The drenched warlock stepped back, feet sloshing in ankle high water. They looked down at their soaked t-shirt, and futilely flapped their arms, shaking droplets of water off their thin arms.

Want me to start bailing?” a crow perched on the bathroom mirror croaked, followed by a cawing laugh.

Vic glared at their black-feathered familiar, “You know I could transmute you to a form that could, Diavolo.”

Diavolo bobbed his head, “I’ll shut up.”

Thank you.” Vic turned to the water around their bare, delicate feet, “Ewaka, qaua,” she muttered, hand glowing green-streaked blue, the light extending to the water, and a waist-high form roughly humanoid in shape and composed of water rising in response. Vic’s hand, nails smudged with alternating red and black polish, thrust a bucket into its hands, “gather the water in the bucket, empty it into the sink,” they commanded the elemental. “When you’re done, climb into the sink and wait.”

The form nodded it’s head-like orb in response and set to its task… and stalled at the “gather water” step as it ran around the small bathroom trying to gather all the water into the bucket.

Vic sighed. “Stop.” The elemental stood up holding the full bucket in it’s hands. “Fill the bucket with water, empty into the sink, repeat. When no water remains” Vic shook their head, “when you can’t fill the bucket, climb into the sink and wait.” The elemental nodded again, dipped the full bucket to fill it, and lifted it to the sink to empty it. As it repeated the task, Vic turned and stepped up into their tiny apartment’s back hallway.

They grabbed a towel from the small nook next to the bathroom and fished their phone from their pocket, drying it off as they headed to the bedroom to change. Their thin fingers tapped in the number of the super. As the phone rang she tapped the button for Speaker, “Vehor,” they said, releasing the phone into the air as they peeled their shirt off.

A click indicated someone’d picked up on the other end. “What do you want, girl!?” the super’s voice crackled through the phone.

Vic stared daggers into the phone as they tossed their shirt down the hallway to splash into the flooded bathroom. “A pipe burst in the fucking bathroom, Chuck. I want you to fix it or send someone who can.”

The super muttered something vulgar and barely audible on the other end, “No can do, I’m booked solid. You interrupted me in the middle of something urgent,” Chuck said, and the creak of an office chair and clinking off an open belt was just audible. “Hey, yer a witch, aincha? Use your magic to fix it.” Chuck laughed at what passed for his wit.

Well, you know, I could, but the demonic laborers and Dissian steel pipe they’d use would probably curse your whole shiteshack—I mean building.” Vic replied as they rubbed the towel over their chest and tried to warm their glass-cutting nipples back up.

They were rewarded with silence on the other end before Chuck responded. “Well, look, you pay your rent for this month, and I’ll consider it. You’re not late—yet—but looking at the last… year, yer gonna be. So that doesn’t make me too eager to get down to yer shit-smelling apartment and do shit for you.”

Well, you could fucking evict me,” Vic said as their drenched pants fell in a squelching heap on the floor, “but you’d have to give me a month to move out, and would have to fucking fix the damned pipe anyway before you could try to rent this place to the non-existent masses that are clamouring to live in your slum—I mean apartment.” They stood a moment, trying to decide if their underwear had gotten wet enough to bother changing, before sighing and peeling it off too, and closing the door.

Aww,” Diavolo croaked outside.

Chuck sighed on the other end of the phone. “Look, I’ll do it when I get around to it.”

Let me put it this way, Chuck. You charge me for the fucking utilities, and there’s water gushing out of my wall. You charge me for water this month, I haul your ass to court with documentation—just like last time. The sooner you fix this, the sooner you can bill me for water,” Vic arched an eyebrow and channeled a few of her ancestors, “Capiche?”

Fuck-sake…” Chuck muttered, followed by a lower mutter that was to muffled to be heard, “fine. I’ll get right down there and take care of it. Gimme fifteen minutes.”

Really? Fifteen? You always struck me as more of a two-pump-chump, Chuck” Vic smirked as they buckled new pants on.

Fuck you,” the super groaned as he hung up.

Vic pulled a new shirt on and opened the door to check on the elemental. The watery being was sitting in the bucket and the floor was covered with only a couple inches of water. Vic looked Heaven-ward, muttering, and sighed. “Lesep,” they said, waving their hand, the form collapsing into water. Vic emptied the bucket into the sink. They reached up to the portal that was carrying the gushing water into the underworld, hooking a finger into it. They pulled it down and closed the shower door behind it, letting the pipe gush into the shower. Vic pulled the dish-sized portal down level with the floor and let the remaining couple inches of water drain into it. Once the floor was merely soaked, rather than flooded, they waved their hand over the portal, “Talpor sleoc.”

So I have to go outside, I take it.” Diavolo croaked.

Yeah, I’d say let’s just go out, but… I don’t trust Chuck in here alone… I don’t have the money for new underwear if I let him fix this unsupervised…”

Doesn’t he have a key?” Diavolo replied as he stepped onto Vic’s outstretched arm.

Yes, but I have discouraging magic on the door. And he doesn’t care enough to have a way to overcome it.” Vic walked to the kitchen window to let Diavolo out, “in fact, even if there were a fire in here and this whole shithole was at risk of burning down, he’d rather collect the insurance than rush in here to put it out, so a discouraging ward is as good as locking spell with him.”

Thank the divines for greedy bastards, eh?” Diavolo croaked before taking flight out the small window.

They kind of make the world go round,” Vic muttered in reply, smiling as their familiar flew off. Crows in flight always made them smile. They half thought they were a valkyrie or shield maiden in a past life. Vic walked back and grabbed her soaked shirt off the bathroom floor, wringing it into the sink. “Let’s see… elemental dismissed, portal closed… no effects active elsewhere in the house… Diavolo out… …unmentionables…” Vic craned their neck out to the hallway, scanning it for underwear or in-discrete toys, then looked out to the common room for the same, “not in sight,” they nodded and hung the shirt over the towel rack. “Ok, we’re go-”

A clicking behind her stopped with a slight scrape and a ruffle. Vic turned to regard their animated book stand, struggling slightly under the weight of several of their harder to explain tomes. “Ah, right. Thanks, Podia.” Vic stepped over the animate-furnishing and opened a cabinet stuffed with books, a small hollow in the middle, books forming steps to. “Gotta hide you too.” Podia responded with the sound of ruffling pages and climbed the book-steps up to it’s nest, settling down inside as Vic slowly closed the door behind.

Vic walked back to their bedroom where their phone still hovered. “Annnnd you.” They sighed, “I can’t keep track of this shit.” They plucked their phone from the air and checked the time of the call to Chuck. “Still five minutes, which means at least ten.” Vic padded out to their desk and plopped into the chair, spinning the frankenstein-ed office-papasan around to face their computer. As they opened their email, a knock sounded through the room. “…or none.” Vic stood back up, catching their cat Pasha as he scampered off, and cradling him in their arms. They opened the door for Chuck, “Thank you for your prompt response, sir.”

Chuck pushed past them, narrowly missing Vic’s knees with his rusted toolbox, “Yeah, yeah.” Chuck walked back to the bathroom, “You got somewhere to be? I can lock up.”

Vic plopped back into their chair, “Nah, it’s fine, was going to do some writing anyway. I mean, I gotta make rent,” they smirked.

Chuck got to work with a steady stream of swearing and pounding in the bathroom as Vic turned back to her email. Typical spam filled the folders, and they clicked over to folder that received all mail including “Esoterica” in the subject, marking it as related to their blog.

Most of the emails were digests of comments, the blog was set to only email her once a day with shortened versions of all the comments from that day. Job offers were slim, as most people thought her blog was creative fiction. Vic didn’t disabuse people of the notion. It was safer that way. The syndicates were not fond of people who tried to tell the de-luminated masses about the truth. However, when people found the supernatural on their own… Vic was there, ready to help for a fee. It was a grey area of the Vow of Silence, that leaned heavily on the Law of Misdirection. Vic could help people with their troubles, but could not clue them into the true nature of the four worlds.

Of course, their blog skirted the Vow of Silence as well. They had to make certain changes, or gloss over some specifics of the cases they wrote up, and occasionally pay off some syndicate authority who checked up on it, but Vic got by.

Today there was a single email with the subject “ESOTERICA—CASE.” Vic opened it, knowing there was a fair chance it was nothing but a paranoid mundie.

You have to help. I NEED you to help me. I see things that make me think your blogs aren’t just stories. I don’t know what I see… I just see… people, shapes… monsters.

I’ve seen the doctors about it, but they can’t figure it out. They say there’s nothing wrong with my eyes. They’ve sent me to shrinks, and they gave me meds. I still saw shit. Now they want to commit me, but since I’m not a danger to others yet, they can’t do so against my will. So please, help me. I know this isn’t just in my head.

I need you to help. You’re my last resort.

-Kristal.

Chuck shouted a garbled FUCK from the bathroom as a fresh gush of water sprayed him in the face, as if Vic needed the encouragement for the job.

Vic sighed, and lit up a cigarette, “CLOSE THE FUCKING SHOWER DOOR CHUCK, I ALREADY BAILED THAT CURSED BATHROOM ONCE TODAY!”

Three slams responded before a small click was nearly drowned out in the sound of rushing water, and the drenched, form of Chuck, a tall man, normally-gelled hair plastered to his forehead, typically pressed work shirt drenched and stuck to his moderately fit torso, squelched into the common room in sopping sneakers.

I gotta turn off the water,” he scowled, and walked out of the apartment.

Most people would do that before working on the pipes,” Vic muttered behind him, cigarette dangling from their lip, as they turned to respond to the email. They sighed. “Great…”

Kristal-

You’re right, my blog isn’t fiction. You’ve come to the right place.

I think you’ve some how acquired the ability to perceive auras. This allows one to see into other worlds, as well as detect supernatural creatures, and a certain type of person which is better able to conduct supernatural energies. It can also detect active magic. This could mean a few different things, so I’d like to meet with you, so we can discuss the matter, and I’ll see what I can do.

Please let me know when is good for you, and where you’d like to meet.

Vic hit send and took a sip of their now-cold coffee they’d poured before having to deal with the burst pipe. Gmail popped up a message telling them a response had arrived by the time they set the cup down.

NOW. My home- 5034 Barnes Way. You’re in Portland, right?

Vic sent a quick response confirming they lived in Portland, but would need about an hour before they could meet.

Fifteen minutes passed, and while the water had been turned off, Chuck hadn’t returned.

Fuck it.” Vic groaned, scribbling a note to Chuck to post on the door, in case he came back, and grabbed a coat, made of thick olive-drab canvas, covered in patches depicting arcane sigils and anti-establishment emblems and sentiments, and shrugged it on. They leaned their head out the kitchen window, “Diavolo! Case!” they called. The bird flapped down and through the window as Vic finished sorting themselves out to leave.

Anything interesting?” he cawed.

Mundie with aura perception,” Vic replied, “or a new transhuman. Or witch. Who knows. We’ll find out.”

Chuck fix the pipe already?” Diavolo cocked his head.

Vic answered with a look that said “what do you think?” as they fished a phone out of their pocket. “I’m going to call Mare. She’s got a key.”

Diavolo perched on Vic’s shoulder as they locked the door and stuck the note to Chuck on, “Her plumber’s crack is also much more attractive.” he cawed. Vic just laughed as they dialed.

Mare answered after only a couple rings, though her voice was distant. “Vic? What’s up, I have you on speaker.” A clang in the background told Vic that Mare was under a car again.

I’ve got a burst pipe, and an incompetent super.”

A short laugh sounded over the phone, then the sounds of the phone being picked up and Mare pushing herself out from under the car. “Want me to come fix your pipes, eh?”

Yeah, I’ve got a case I’m running out for, you’ve got the key still, go ahead and let yourself in. I’ll be back before too long. I hope.” Vic folded their long limbs into the driver seat of their car that could be better described as a land-yacht as Diavolo perched on the window opening before hopping down into the passenger seat. Vic switched their phone to speaker and set it in the cup holder.

Anything major? Should I worry about horsemen of the apocalypse?” Mare scratched something on a pad, “hold on a sec,” she said before shouting something to someone else at her shop, “k, I’m back.”

Nah, just someone who stumbled into the world of beasties. Worst case scenario, we’ve got some ghosts to worry about.”

Oh, so I should make sure I pay the rent on my shop, then?”

Well, until I find an apocalypse in the next month… yes. Alright, pipe’s in the bathroom, water was turned off, hopefully Chuck doesn’t forget and turn it back on, but… we’ll see. I’ll talk to you later, thanks Mare.”

No problem. You’re paying me back for this right?”

I’ll buy dinner?”

Mare sighed in mock irritation, “it’s a start. Ok, go set that poor fuck right.”

Vic laughed, “will do, best as I can, anyway… talk to you later.”

Diavolo pressed the call end button for Vic. “So who fucked themselves how?” he asked.

Some mundie has found a magic book, or a ritual, or a smokeheart, or otherwise opened themselves for witchcraft, or they’re a leviathan that got lost and no one’s watching them to tell them about the fish and the bees, or they’re stuck in the Shallows with a working computer. The last one is the least likely, given that they haven’t been eaten yet.”

Seeing things?”

Yep.”

Those are always fun. Mostly when they throw things at you. And after you’ve sorted them out but they’re not yet sure what’s going on.”

Vic smirked around their cigarette. “Ass.”

I am as you made me,” Diavolo said, spreading a wing and ducking his head in a bow.