Storme Crow: Preface and Chapter 1

A short preface — I’ve been working on Storme Crow for a while, and it is approaching a state of completion I’m getting pretty happy with. It is the story of a young medical examiner, a competent programmer, and a witch, or magi to be consistent with the mythology here. Storme Crow is the first book of the series.

I’ll be publishing chapters periodically until the manuscript is done. This is both a chance for people to get an early “in progress” read of the story, and give me a chance to gather feedback from readers. Once done, I’ll likely archive these and put up new stories, while publishing the final form on Amazon. I’ll also periodically put up notes and background material as appropriate.

Feel free to comment on style, errors, or inconsistencies. This will ultimately end up being a multi-book series (five currently planned) so keep that in mind. Also feel free to let other people know about the Storme Crow Series.

One final note. The world I describe here is a work of fiction, in a setting that at first glance looks much like like our own but is not. It is not an endorsement of, or attack on, any particular religion or political belief, and should not be seen as such. I do explore a number of historical, legendary and mystical concepts along the way, but their intent here is only to further the story. Any character or organization described herein is purely coincidental.

And now, without further ado, Chapter 1:

The compiler belched out screen after screen of red highlighted warnings and error messages, lines with cryptic names such and assembly_make and gnugibberish.asm, taunting me with the same basic message: Briannen, you screwed up.

I let out a long, slow breath, removing my glasses and rubbing at my sore eyes (even as I heard the ghostly voice of Gran telling me to “stop that, it’s not good for you!”).

I had no doubt left a semi-colon off a build script somewhere, and was more than likely going to spend much of the rest of the night tracking down which of about three hundred files had the offending lack of character. The clock on my screen read oh-dark thirty in my slightly blurry vision, and even after putting my glasses back on the time was well past the witching hour of midnight.

The one advantage of having a program go sideways was that it forced me out of my usual programming trance state, with my body pressing on me all the demands that I’d ignored for too long — a much needed bathroom break, then a quick rummage in my tiny excuse for a kitchen for food.

The rummage alerted Pixel in the bedroom, who immediately decided that it meant that as I was in the kitchen rather than staring at the funny not-book that was my usually perch, that I must be preparing food for her. The smoky gray cat, no longer quite a kitten began her dance around my legs, going “bbbrrrrrup” and making herself entirely too much of a cute nuisance for me to say no.

“All right, all right. Yeah, I’ve been neglecting you too.”

Five minutes later, she was happily munching away at wet canned cat food, while I realized that the pizza I’d had in the fridge was growing its own mushrooms — — eeewww. Ramen it was then. I went to make a note on my paper todo list to do shopping soon, then grimaced when I realized I’d already written the same reminder to myself three times in the last three days.

I had one last pack of the good stuff, the ramen noodles I bought from Cassie’s store downstairs rather than the dried cardboard that had been one of my staple food groups in college.

“Yes,” said to Pixel, now daintily cleaning of the food from her fur with her tongue. “Auntie Cassie had threatened bodily harm if I didn’t start eating better, that simply because you could buy a closet full of cardboard ramen for a couple of bucks did not mean that it was really food.”

Pixel eyed me dubiously, then went back to grooming herself.

“Well, okay, she was probably right.”

‘Auntie’ Cass was my adoptive sister, really, but because her father was my grand uncle, I quickly started teasing her with being Auntie Cassiel. The name stuck even though I was a year older than she was.

I put on the teapot and let the water boil first, rather than just nuking water and noodles together in the microwave, looking up as the pattering of the rain against the kitchen window suddenly became a staccato blast, just before a gust of wind blew the window itself open and making me pour bowling water on my arm rather than in the ramen bowl. I unleashed a torrent of curses in Aramaic.

“Crap! Where the gehimmon did I put the m’kulal medkit?”

In teeth clenching pain, I finally located my medical bag under the pile of books on my table, instead of from the niche in my bathroom where it was supposed to be.

“Ow, ow, damn that hurts!”

Awkwardly, I flipped the medkit open one handed, trying to extract the aloe vera and medical gauze from it with my weaker right hand, while waving my injured arm and my good hand in the air. From there it was back to the sink, running the burn under cool water, tears streaming from my eyes even as the rain came pelting in from outside, then gingerly applying aloe and cotton bandages to the injury.

“Damn! Damn! Dammit that frickin’ urrghh — — “

Shivering, soaked in rain, I finally got the window closed again, latching it awkwardly. Then I stood for a couple of minutes, trying to still my breath, repeatedly muttering the incantation “giatró, na therapéfsei ton eaftó sou” — Physician, heal thyself — in Greek. It was not my strongest language, but then again, it wasn’t my strongest spell either. It didn’t completely heal the burn, but that, with the Aloe, went a long way to turning the pain into a dull ache — and kept my skin from blistering. I’d mastered the first healing glyph after I had begun my weekly workouts with Bjorne Ironwood a year ago, and it had become ingrained in my mind, though I did wonder more than once if a bottle of ibuprofen wasn’t just as effective.

Pixel meeped at me with either concern or mocking laughter — it was always hard to tell with a cat.

“Yeah, I’m okay. It’s just quite a storm out there.”

My kitchen window overlooked the back parking lot of Cass’s small bakery, coffee shop and specialty grocery store, as well as the wooded parkland just beyond it. Tree branches whipped back and forth in the bluster as the winds stripped the oak and maple trees of their leaves. We’d be seeing a lot of downed branches by morning, I suspected. I concentrated for a moment on one of the wards I’d set up downstairs, a ward which would tap the ley lines running beneath the store in the case of an outage. I normally didn’t like doing it — I was effectively tying myself into the circuit with the ley lines, which usually left me with a headache afterwards, but at least the frozen goods wouldn’t spoil if we lost power.

Running into the bedroom, I stripped off my rain soaked flannel shirt, bra, and jeans, throwing them into the disturbingly large “to be washed” pile, then dug out from the rapidly shrinking “clean pile” my oversize t-shirt with a picture of a giant Owl-Cat next to a young girl holding an umbrella, her little sister in her arms. It was definitely a Totoro night.

Pixel watched me carry the now steeping noodles to the table. I pulled out a pair of the good quality chopsticks that Cassie had gifted me with last year, and finally began to eat under her concerned gaze.

“It’s okay. Mommy’s just a wee bit distracted tonight.”

She yawned, wrapping herself into a croissant shape with her paws tucked under her head but she continued to watch me dubiously.

I was distracted. The storm had me on edge, there was something about it that had even my very weak prescience quivering. Part of it was that was I stymied trying to master one of the glyphs in my magic book in its conversion to software.

My “magic book” had been a gift to me from my father, before the accident had taken both his life and my mother’s. Father, Dr. David Ravenwing, had been a mathematician with the University here in Seattle, though he also did consulting work with the Federal government on occasion. That was always a tense time. My mother, Lily Storme, was never far from father when the agents came from the other Washington, and after the explosion I had begun to realise that her actions were less typical of a slightly nervous wife and far more like that of a professional bodyguard. It was perhaps that which made me realize my parents were not quite what they seemed, even to a ten year old’s somewhat hazy perceptions.

The book sat in front of me on the table, its presence anchoring the rest of the seeming chaos on the table. It was hardbound and printed up using LaTeX software, yet I suspect that he had only created the one copy of the book. The raw manuscript was on a flash drive that he normally kept on his person, and to this day I wasn’t quite sure why it hadn’t been on him when he died. As I began to realize the significance of his book, I made sure the drive was kept in a very secure place.

I opened my hand, and breathed the word “Ayef” out, infusing it with power. A sphere popped into existence above my hand, and Pixel immediately went alert, her eyes wide as she took in the spinning ball. Ordinarily, the sphere would have been invisible, since the three color cones in human eyes couldn’t see into the ultraviolet. I was something of an anomaly, even among Magi — I had five cones in the photoreceptors of my eyes. I could see magic. Cats could see into the ultraviolet as well, having evolved as night hunters, and they were very sensitive to magical energies, which often produced ultraviolet radiation as a by-product. It was one reason that cats were so popular as familiars among Magi.

Father’s contention in his book was that magic was essentially the operating system for the universe, and that each of the glyphs that constituted the various magical forms used by the various peoples of the outer realms was in effect a representation of a multidimensional brane in superstring theory — and that the ability of Magi and Fae represented the ability to create a resonance with these branes. Stack the branes together into a superposition of states, and you could get the universe to do anything.

His book was not a recipe book, though the detailed shadow drawings of the various glyphs sang to me as I looked at them, but rather was a book of theory — very deep mathematical theory, not surprising. However, the implications of that theory, especially if it could be encoded in a Turing machine, was both intriguing and more than a little disturbing.

When I was a young girl, at a time in my life when most other kids my age were learning that three times two was six, I was being taught trigonometry and calculus, and by the age of fourteen was able to do work with differential topologies and Hilbert spaces. Graph and set theory was as natural for me as breathing. I may have been just a bit too precocious for my age.

I worked my way up through the glyphs, one at a time, until I came to Shem. This was the hardest for me yet to master, partially because it felt to me like there was some pressure blocking me. I had understanding and control, but I’ve never had much power and Shem was an indispensable building block for nearly all subsequent magic.

The power went out. It took a moment for me to register that as I was still a little blinded by the glyph in my hand. The sense of foreboding that had been dogging me all evening kicked into high gear. I felt the wards that I maintained into the shop turn over, drawing power from the ley line, even as the glyph in my hand began to destabilize. Pixel let out a powerful screech and jumped from the table as the air around me glowed, stinking of ozone.

The window, the damned kitchen window, shattered as brilliant light flooded the room, and for a moment there was no sound at all, before I was picked up and flung across the room into the wall.

Chapter Two