Mister Flames

Talking about past incidents and visiting friends has got me thinking of doing something a little risky.  I know the Ways to get in and out, but it’s another case of bearding the Lion, especially concerning old stomping grounds.  But I think it’s time to properly investigate my Sponsor’s departure from this world. 

The trouble with that is that my Sponsor was a professor of Theoretical Thaumaturgy as well as an instructor in Unified Thaumaturgy at the North American campus of ICSUT.  Various nations have their own campuses, and these tend to be situated in spots where they can form links to each other via Ways so as to not disturb people with corpse lights, crop circles, and flying saucers through apportation. 

The Ways tend to be considered the province of the Serpent’s Hand, but I was a familiar for a GOC Magus, so don’t think they are merely a private means of getting around.  But I digress…

The North American campus rests hidden in what is jestingly referred to as “Lovecraft County”, or Western Massachusetts by more mundane cartographers.  Seeing as I’m a member of a “para-environmental terrorist organization” and a “known threat entity” by the Jocks, it may be tricky for me to move around my old haunts.  Fortunately, the campus itself is considered neutral ground, since the Centers will teach anyone who gives the oaths, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watched.  

Yes, I’m rambling a bit, and I’m a little nervous.  I’ve got friends and contacts, and plans and paths…  but that doesn’t mean I’ve thought of everything.  To make the gods laugh, all you need do is make a plan.

Tonight I’m prowling around the old campus where my patron did his studies and research, and I’m doing something odd for me: I’m not cloaking myself with enchantments.  

This is something I picked up from my studies in a couple of ways.  First off, a magical cat at a Unified Thaumatology campus would be as attention getting as a flashlight in a darkroom.  But secondly, passive senses can pick up active detection before the converse.  I can see the lines of enchantments, circles and wards, and so either avoid secure areas I’m not interested in, or trip them in such a way that a feral house cat might while searching for prey. 

That is also tricky, though, since it wasn’t all that long ago that I was a part of the campus, albeit more of a research project rather than teaching tool.  I know why I came into this world, I’m not bothered by it.  But I am concerned about the trail being cold and possibly obscured.  I don’t think it was the ‘leadership’ of either the Hand or the Jocks that did my Patron in.  The Jailers wouldn’t do it, either, since that would kick off all sorts of tensions and what few thaumaturgists go their way would probably go off to warmer climes.  
That leaves the Merchants and the Madmen among the larger human agencies.  There are also Outsider Intellects, but I don’t consider them as likely since my Patron was a Magus, retired from the Coalition and a veteran of the Seventh Occult War.  I discarded the idea of my Patron’s spouse, since she was not a mage nor all that interested in the occult.  She was also in Manhattan at the time, at the Museum of Modern Art which tied into her own interests.  

It wasn’t anything my patron was doing, he was merely reading, not doing ritual or anything active.  I had been prowling around the house, making sure to keep it clear of pests as well as to earn extra snacks for myself.  We lived in an older farmhouse, but one that had been changed for a more modern life with electricity and enchantments.  I liked it, and I still miss it, even if technically I were in bondage.  It didn’t feel like bondage to me, I was a treasured companion.  

I had just caught myself a little mouse who made the mistake of coming in here from out in the cold when I felt things collapse.  Electricity went out, and the wards that protected the house were breached by something.  I sensed other minds out there, but since this was a frightening occasion I sunk into the mindset of a small house cat rather than a potent practitioner, and hid.  I heard noises, faint even to my ears, and a crackle more felt than anything else.

Then the connection snapped.  I tore out the cat door…  which had been closed, now that I think about it.  It was cold outside, and I didn’t need to go outside for sanitary reasons, so the doors were often shut against the elements.  I remember…  an obstacle of some sort?  But that didn’t even slow me down.  I ran and took to the trees, and made my way to the Ways that I instinctively knew about.  I didn’t take a direct path anywhere, I stayed low to the ground and hid, eventually ending up in the Library.  

The wards of protection against such things as scrying and clairsentience no doubt gave the adepts of the Coalition as much trouble as they did me when I first went back, but that was the point when I was certain my patron was dead.  His spouse went to live in Manhattan, but I saw no reason to visit her.  Our relationship wasn’t a warm one, and I knew she would remain under Jock observation.  It was time for me to part ways from the Coalition, since I was no longer a Controlled Construct and didn’t wish to return to that state, or the state of… shall we say the Possible instead of the Observed.  

After a time, I found people who needed help through the Serpent’s Hand, and I’ve been here ever since.  I still make mistakes, and people do get hurt because of those mistakes…  but I try to do better.  

More rambling…  I don’t often regard the past, but since I’m investigating the past seems close at hand to me. 

Casper. Merlin. Clemens.
If you trust me, meet me in the old office.

And here I am, merely three kilos of cat.  An endlessly curious cat, as anyone will tell you.  Which may well be why I was made to manifest within a cat.  The voice was not my idea, though, but I did allow my patron his whims.  

The old office…  it’s after hours, and still seems empty after several years.  The wards are diminished, having been neglected, but I still feel the presence of the old man.  Or perhaps those are just memories of the past.  A gentle touch of nostalgia… and maybe a little blossom of ancient grief.

I am going to be disappointed if there’s a cat carrier involved.  There’s a trick with shadow that I can do that works like a limited apportation, where the Universe goes along with the idea that I was always here instead of there.  The true answer to Schrodinger’s conundrum is that a smart cat will no longer be in the box when it is opened.  

Yes, it is “Spider”, sitting in the visitor’s chair.  She looks a bit different than she did when she attended my patron’s lectures, but her aura shines as bright, as does the soul within.  My gut instinct has me move forward and rub my side against her leg, mingling scents.  Softly, I purr as I do so, a rather complicated sound in its way.  

"It’s been a while, Spider," I say in the soft, sussurant alto that I have.  "I just hope that you’re not being literal with your designation."  


It wasn't hard getting away from my unit. I had leave built up. Getting onto "Miskatonic University" was harder.

"I can’t stay long," I tell her. "And technically, I’m supposed to shoot you on sight. On the other hand, you’re not here as a Serpent’s Hand member, are you? And I’m not here as a GOC Agent, either. We’re both here as students of Thaumatology… and students of The Professor."

The sand timer around my neck lets another grain of silver sand fall from the upper bulb to the lower. As it hits the bottom bulb, the grain of sand turns from pure silver into dull grey silica. I have until the sand runs out before my working ends, and the GOC can track my location again.

"All right, let’s get started." I pick up the seven-clawed cat in my arms, and remember not to touch her tummy without permission: it’s been years, but I remember that she doesn’t like that. Odd how little facts pop into your brain after all this time. Midnight gets put into my duffel bag, which I leave open so that she can ride along with me with her head sticking out. I give her head a quick pet as I do so. As I recall, she likes that. 

I’m not really in the mood to be petted, but I see it as an attempt to be soothing rather than patronizing, so I say nothing.  Just as I say nothing about being scooped up and sacked like a jug of milk.  It’s one of those human instincts, I’ve learned.  People like to pick house cats up, and I’m forever being carried even by people who should know better.  I do admit that it’s ofttimes convenient, to be sure, since I don’t have the hominid endurance.
"I do have some information to share, both on and off the subject.  The first is a bit of news I doubt anyone on your side would be aware of:  None of the works of the Professor remain in the Library."  I wait for that to sink in.  "Someone’s been making him into an Unperson."
"And off the subject and to cover your ass, so to speak… it is quite likely that there’s a Manticore on the Eastern Seaboard.  I can tell you this because he’s a predator to humans, although not to the degree that the Kumiho would be if she got loose…  and that I don’t know if you’d ever be able to catch him, even if you knew he was there."  Manticores are as stealthy as they want to be, they could sneak up on someone with VERITAS and Invisibility Cloaks.  

Manticores. Someone trying to unperson the professor. This is going to be an interesting evening…  "I guess you’d better lead, then," I tell Midnight. "I’m not exactly welcome in the Wanderer’s Library these days. And that’s really the best place to start."

I’ve got all of the Professor’s writings in my satchel. If I’ve got something that isn’t in the Library, that could give us a clue as to who took out my mentor, and why they’re trying to remove his existence from the world. 

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of returning to the Serpent Hand’s stronghold… I haven’t been there since the United Nations put their Mark on me. And Hand agents don’t exactly look kindly on the Global Occult Coalition.

"Getting to the Library shouldn’t be a problem.  So long as you don’t call attention to yourself, no one should pay you any mind."  The Archivists and Docents will notice Spider the moment she walks through the Way, but so long as she’s quiet, they shouldn’t hinder her.  People will see me with her, which may cause questions, but I’ve enough credit to bring to bear.  

"Although…"  I poke my head into the satchel.  Books, a potential bargaining chip.  "You do have something of value here, if need be.  Most of the time, travelers trade books to the Library for considerations.  Never hurts to have a bribe, although I doubt it will come to that."  I hope not at least.

The Way to the Wanderer’s Library is almost mundane, a utility closet in the campus Library.  There’s a lot of traffic between this place and that.  The ritual to open the Way is a quiet one, as befits both places.  The smell of the Wanderer’s Library would be the stuff that bibliophiles dream of; ink, leather, and paper with that dusty musk that knowledge holds.  
"The Professor’s works would be in the Arcane section where it abuts Theoretical Psychology."  The Wanderer’s Library is confoundingly non-Euclidean in the sections directly dealing with magic.  Some people joke about things like L-Space, but I don’t think it’s the books so much as the Library’s desires.  "I know his notes on the Formation of Construct Intellect were incomplete, although I don’t recall everything, either."  

I hop out of the bag once we get to the Arcane section of the Library, and lead onward to where the Professor’s writings were organized.  There were several gaps in the volumes, although the Pages had been by to tidy things up.  A few people have given us the eye while we walked through the area, but the Docents didn’t bother us.  I know we were being watched, though, since a Page always seemed to lurk above in the dim light.  
"His textbooks are still there, but since those are either co-authored or edited by him, I don’t find that so surprising."  His later works, all gone, especially the writings concerning me.  Nothing about True Names was listed, of course, thankfully, but the discovery of Words is another art with many sources.  "I thought…  wasn’t there a copy of his studies in the differences between evolved, created, and evoked minds?"  That was groundbreaking work, when he wrote it back in the 1950s.
"Checked out, cat," from a voice low to the ground.  
"Oh?"  I look down, and see one of the Lib Rats, sapient rodents who nest in the Psychology department.  "Did you see who did it?"  

"Sure."  Standard opening:  I have information you want, so what have you to offer me?

It’s not hard to find the Professor’s section. That’s because it’s the only part of this endless bookshelf that has an actual gap in the books. Fully half of one shelf is missing.

"That’s… not good," Spider mutters. "Was it like this when you first found it?"

She reaches out and picks up the last volume on the shelf, her brow furrowed in worry, as she continues to flip through the empty book.

"The gaps had been closed by the Pages, but this has been further reduced,"  Mostly textbooks now, I think to myself.  I hop up to the nearest shelf so I can read over Spider’s shoulder; climbing up her torso doesn’t seem like such a good idea.  

The book ends in media res.

… it was shortly afterwards that I decided that my next task would be practical application of the theory I had formulated. To do so, I determined that I would create for myself a familiar. Although I had not needed one before, if my theory were correct, then the end result would be a true constructed intelligence unlike any before seen. I chose, out of some small measure of self-indulgence, to use the form of a black cat, and gave it the voice of my favorite childhood actress,

And that’s it. The next page is the back cover of the book. No flyleaf. No “to be continued.” Not even any torn pages. It was as if the second half of that journal had never existed.

"That’s…  wrong.  The Professor was a veteran of the Seventh Occult War, and one of the people who oversaw the neutrality of Dunwich and the Ancients there."  I never liked visiting Dunwich, although its position made it vital if you were traveling toward That Which Is Not.  "True, my voice matches that of an actress in her most famous role, but that program is less than fifty years old."  I always avoid Her name, for reasons too esoteric to go into.  But Spider knows the allusion.

I consider a moment, then look the book over carefully.  It’s not a new book, something recently printed.  The musty scent is too ingrained within it, and it appears to be older than I am…  ”This is a book that Never Was, a replacement.”  Those happen but rarely; more likely you’ll see Nevers with the written works of authors, like variations of a novelist’s craft or books they never got around to writing here…  but somewhere else.

My eyes move back down to where the Library Rat waits for the hook to finish setting.  ”Spider, you wouldn’t happen to have a snack on you, like peanut butter crackers?”   

"… I’ve got some pocky, I think, Don’t judge me, they’re tasty. Are rats allowed to eat chocolate?" I look down at the rodent and smile at it awkwardly. "I guess it would be okay." I reach into my purse and take out the little red cardboard box and pop it open, before tearing open the little silver bag and pulling out one of the chocolate-covered cookie sticks out and handing it to the rat. "Hope this works. These are the good ones, the dark chocolate ones."

The fact that the Prof isn’t just being deleted from the library, but replaced, is troublesome. Either someone is actually changing reality… or they’re trying to convince the universe that a lie is true. Maybe this rat will give us some answers.

"Oh, that’s good stuff, yes!" The Rat replies.  She seizes the cookie in her paws and takes a taste.  "All right, cat, that’ll do for a down payment.  My mates will want more, but you know the price."  I do, indeed.  Chocolate isn’t harmful to rats, they can eat anything a human can.  Unlike me, of course.  

"People have been coming by this section pretty often the last two moons.  New people we’ve not seen have checked out a book, then never came back.  The book didn’t, either, but replacements like the one your chum has showed up instead.  Might fool a Page, or even a Docent, but I doubt an Archivist would be taken in.  Unfortunately, they don’t leave the Library, but that’s why they give out Cards."  

I know about the Library Cards, I have mine with me.  The interesting thing is that it acts like a True Name, even if you don’t give your proper name to the Archivist.  Doesn’t matter, when they make the Card, they link it to you.  I’ve held other people’s Cards, I know the power within them.  Even the Wards the Jocks use on themselves wouldn’t block the link.  

"All right, I’ll have Garcia set you up with…  let’s say five pounds of Brazil Nuts and a bucket of drumsticks.  I’ll have Azi come by with his own bucket, so he can get some sketches if you remember that."  Yeah, I’m overpaying her, but keeping the rats happy with me costs a bit more.  

They’re not Patrons, so I could hunt them if I wanted.  It’s why they keep their numbers limited, and they make sure to do no harm.  But I’d rather use the carrot than the stick approach; pressing for information gets you bad information, but selling bad information is bad news for the rat, since that’s their livelihood.  An interesting dilemma, one I try to solve with kindness.  

"No, no…  that’s all right." The rat smells nervous, although she ought not be.  Azi’s carnivorous, but she wouldn’t make more than an hor d’oeuvre.  Plus, his own bucket of chicken would work well for him.  

"Anything else you can think of?"  I ask this to both Spider and the Rat.  I don’t always think of everything, after all.  


If I could think of it, I would… but as it currently stands, I'm drawing a complete blank here. All I know is that someone out there is trying to remove the Professor from existence. And I have a feeling that it doesn't end here.

"If all of this has nothing to do with you, I'll be incredibly surprised." I say this to Midnight as I take down every book I can find on the Professor and lay them on a nearby reading desk. "Look at this. Every single one of these texts ends about when they get to the part involving your creation. And … they've all got some kind of misinformation in there too."

I guess, in the end, there's really nothing else I can do here. I've been trying to avoid this… the Docents don't look kindly on vandals… but I'm starting to realize that I might have no other choice. "Keep a watch out for me," I tell Midnight, as I take my leather-wrapped packet of knives from my bookbag and lay the athame next to the books on the reading desk. "I'm going to see if I can get a read on who it was that did this."

Thankfully, it's not going to require me to actually carve a magic circle into the desk… I don't think that the Docents would look kindly on that, and I have no desire to spend the rest of my life as an Employee of the Library. The use of the athame is mostly ceremonial this time, as I wave it over the books and symbolically slice through the threads that connect them to the rest of the world, then wrap and weave the invisible threads of force around my fingertips, as if I were playing (heh) Cat's Cradle.

All of this is nonsense, of course, but it helps with the working. And as they say, if it's nonsense, but it works, it isn't nonsense.

I leave the athame laying on the desk and draw my secespita across my thumb a single drop of blood wells up, and I let it fall, a single, dark drop, onto the page.

It vanishes the moment it touches, its energy sublimated into my spell.

I can only hope that my spell brings up something useful.


While Spider gathers the Professor's books, I take a moment to let Garcia know about the rat and settle payment with him. Yes, I have mystical and secure means to communicate with people. No, I'm not going to describe them, since that falls under secure. The Library Rat departs back to wherever she keeps her nest, and I return my attention to Spider.

I do envy tool use. At home, I have prepared ritual space, although it's not quite as good as what Spider does with her blades and blood. That's the difference between the general and the specific, after all. I open my vision to the aethereal, and the visions flow from the circle.

Each book tells its tale, in a cacophony of sound and images, but there are similar notes to be plucked out of the din. Each new book is brought and shelved by the same person, their features obscured by the din, but the aura consistent. Spider might be able to draw a match to that, or I might see something in my own travels. The persons who abscond with the originals, however, are different and dim, spectral and sepulchral.