Ash

“Ash to Gold”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

Content Warning: CHILD ABUSE, MISOGYNISTIC LANGUAGE, MISGENDERING

It was almost four a.m., and Ash wasn’t even close to being able to sleep—which normally would have bothered him. He liked to make sure he got his three-and-one-quarter hours of sleep every night (three-and-a-quarter being the optimal duration he’d settled on after nearly a decade of manipulating his consumption of nutrients, minerals, and alchemical substances to maximize his body’s energy efficiency).

But right now, he couldn’t care less about sleep.

Instead, he kept watching Valentine’s new video, which he’d downloaded to his laptop, over and over.

It still seemed kind of unreal. But there was no mistaking. Valentine was cosplaying Ash in this video.

It was a good cosplay, too. Ash had really thought for a half-second that he was looking at himself when he’d first opened the video on his phone’s small screen. But on closer inspection, the version of him in the video was gorgeous, in an impossible, otherworldly way—because it was Valentine’s elegant bone structure between those curtains of hair, Valentine’s long neck and limbs in the black sweater and pea coat, Valentine’s eyes hypnotizing Ash even through solid black contacts.

The YouTuber started out in front of a moody background almost as black as their turtleneck. Instead of bedroom pop this time, something like an old German hymn played on a pipe organ lent a sacred vibe to the soundtrack. Valentine-Ash tilted their head to one side, blinked big black eyes at the camera. Hooked a long white finger in their black turtleneck—gave it a slight, suggestive tug.

The music swelled. A swirl of multicolored light bloomed across the background as Valentine-Ash shrugged off their coat, removed their glasses, pulled their sweater over their head and discarded it—bared a perfectly androgynous torso, an immaculate marriage of angles and curves. Closed their eyes, ran their hands lightly over their porcelain arms and chest.

The background flushed suddenly from color to dazzling white.

Valentine-Ash opened their eyes, revealing irises that were now starbursts of shimmering gold.

A rapturous D major chord progression underscored the final tableau: the transformed Valentine-Ash framed from the waist up, naked against the white backdrop, which was spangled, along with their pale skin, with light of every color in the rainbow. Their black hair streamed in slow motion as if caught in a gust of breeze. A halo of twinkling crimson and gold rays radiated from their crown.

“Nigredo, albedo, rubedo,” Ash whispered to himself, fingertips softly brushing the screen. “Ash to gold.”

Who was this beautiful stranger who seemed to see him—who knew the deepest wish he’d never shared with anyone?

In little moments of spare time since he’d first found Valentine’s YouTube channel, Ash had continued analyzing metadata from the videos, and had—as he’d somehow known he would—discovered a code. So far, translating it had yielded only vague references to the philosopher’s stone and the Magnum Opus, the mysterious process by which it was said one could create the stone—all things with which Ash was already deeply familiar.

But with this new video, once Ash finally tore his eyes from this mesmerizing vision of himself and dug into the metadata, what he came up with—using the exact same code from the other videos—was something he didn’t expect, or understand:

TRISTAN LEES PIPE ORGAN

“Tristan Lee?” Ash muttered to himself. “…The Babel-dot-biz guy?”

Ash had been wondering why Valentine had encoded so many terms in their videos that any alchemist worth their salt would already know. Whether taken separately or all together, none of it had seemed to point to anything new. He’d concluded maybe the videos themselves were just some creative form of sigilwork—artistic vehicles for the manifestation of Valentine’s own desires.

Now, Ash considered that they might also be intended as a kind of Rosetta Stone—a key enabling someone with the right skills and knowledge to decipher Valentine’s code…and then follow their breadcrumbs.

The first of which, Ash supposed, had just dropped.

What a richer-than-God mundane tech tycoon’s pipe organ could possibly have to do with the alchemical Magnum Opus, Ash had no idea. But he was chomping at the bit to get to Philly, find someplace with good herbal tea and Wi-Fi, google it, and find out.

•─────·☾ ☽⋅─────•

Normally on a Monday, Ash would have had work. Today, though, the alchemy labs were closed, like every other place of business in Arcadia, because the city was still in mourning.

That didn’t mean Ash didn’t have things he had to do before he hit the road. There was an emergency assembly of the Black Pyramid later that morning he’d unfortunately have to attend. Before that, there was hand-to-hand combat training—mandatory for all rookie Martial Magi—at the Enforcement compound. While other institutions around town were taking a few days off to grieve and heal, Enforcement was working nonstop responding to the newly-emerged threat.

Ash also needed to do a little research on the next phase of the investigation before heading out. But he wanted to get to Philly as early as possible—which would mean leaving right after the Pyramid assembly. So when five a.m. rolled around—about an hour before Scipio usually woke up—Ash quietly washed up, got dressed, packed his satchel for the day, and sneaked out.  It would get him in trouble, he knew, skipping out on the daily morning ritual of Dad watching him prepare and consume his concoctions. But there were days when, to Ash, consequences felt irrelevant, and today was one of them. Today, past and future seemed unlikely, time a coat he could shed. Today, each passing moment was a vagary, infinite to itself.

He did muster up just enough sense of concern for his future well-being that he took the time to leave a note, folded and propped like a rooftop, in front of Dad’s place at the breakfast table:

The ongoing murder investigation requires me to be at work early this morning. Don’t worry; I won’t forget to take my medicine. –Ashton

Ash’s first stop that morning was Enforcement, where he pulled all the files on the Philly magic gang known as the Leeches.

After reviewing them with keen interest, and more than a little surprise, he paid a visit to Arcanus Library to collect as many volumes as he could fit into his satchel on the obscure topic of vampires.

•─────·☾ ☽⋅─────•

Today in hand-to-hand training, Ash was paired with Aria Jha, another up-and-coming Martial Magus just a few years older than himself. She was the closest rookie in weight class to Ash, and still she was a lot bigger than him. Her coal-dark eyes burned holes in him from beneath a wall of thick, straight bangs.

Normally, Jha’s size and athleticism, and the way she always glared and growled, threw Ash off his balance. Whenever he had to fight her, her bared teeth were all he could seem to think about.

But today, there was this sense that he wasn’t reacting to her aggressive mannerisms, or scrambling to defend against her strikes—he was simply moving with her, his own dodges, feints, and strikes part of a continuum with hers—give and take; push and pull. Wherever one of her limbs lashed out, Ash’s own was there to meet and deflect it, with just the needed amount of force.

“Look alive, Jha!” yelled their trainer, Staff Sergeant Katopodis, from the sidelines. He was about thirty, big, blond, muscle-bound—a Dude with a capital D, but pretty much a puppy next to most Mercurii men. A lot of Arcanus folk talked about him behind his back because he’d once been a Khmunite. Ash didn’t dislike him. “Grenville’s giving you a run for your money today. Kid’s more than fifty pounds lighter than you, and waaay less in shape. You gonna take this off him?”

Jha let out a snarl of frustration, lashed out with a strike that was—uncharacteristically for her—overly broadcast, and left her wide open to attack. Ash deflected it easily, got in a hard jab straight to her well-built diaphragm area. She doubled over gasping, the wind knocked out of her.

Ash backed up, panting. Blinked down at his hand.

…My first-ever hit.

“Nice one, Grenville!” Katopodis clapped his hands. “Time’s about up. I think that’s good for today.”

Ash stepped off the mat, every cell of his body tingling.

Katopodis clapped him on the back, startling him out of his victory buzz. “Good hustle, Grenville. I think you’re finally starting to get the hang of it. Jha, I expect more from you. Now, now, don’t let it get you down. I know you’ve got what it takes.”

Jha shoulder-checked Ash on her way out of the gym.

“Hey, bad sportsmanship!” Katopodis yelled after her.

Ash stopped back into the library on his way to the Black Pyramid, this time to take advantage of a washroom he’d once discovered in one of the edifice’s barely-trafficked sections, so he could both wash up a bit and remove the homemade packer he always wore just for training, in case a sparring partner ever came into contact with a certain telltale part of his anatomy.

Finally, reluctantly, he made his way to the secret entrance to the Pyramid, which was a camouflaged teleportation circle located in a little-used conference room in back of the Council Hall, accessible only to those tattooed with a special seal. Once inside, he joined the crowd of Brethren descending the long, dark stair into the vestibule, with its colossal, nightmarish bas relief of the warlike Adamus Mercurius, full-bearded, sinewy, silver and torchlit, grimacing down on the assembly from his horse-drawn chariot, his spear held high.

There was a large dressing room off the vestibule, where Neophytes were tasked with helping the ranking Brethren don their ceremonial robes. Ash had done this job, along with other service duties, when he himself had been a Neophyte. He didn’t remember those days fondly. It was Mercurii culture to bully and haze other Brethren who were smaller and weaker than oneself, including—maybe even especially—the children. Ash, needless to say, had been a popular target, before he’d perfected his stoic mask.

Even after that—even after his initiation as a Frater at the customary age of thirteen, he’d had a bull’s-eye on his back, presumably because he was small, underdeveloped, unassertive. One thing Ash had noticed ever since his combat alchemy demonstration three months ago was that nobody seemed to fuck with him so much anymore. They didn’t talk to him or include him either—but he was perfectly okay with that.

Once he had on his belted black cassock over his everyday clothes and had collected his white Catamitus mask—a signifier of Frater rank—Ash moved back into the vestibule, joined the other Brethren lined up outside the tall arched double doorway of the Grand Ritual Chamber. The thirty-three Grand-Maesters, with their gold Iuppiter masks, stood at the front of the line, followed by the hundred-plus Maesters with their silver Hercules masks, and at last the Fraters, who were the most populous rank.

Ash spied his father among the Maesters, his chair being attended by an unlucky Neophyte. When Scipio’s gaze began to swing in his direction, Ash quickly slipped out of sight behind the Brother in front of him.

The gong sounded, and a hush fell over the assembly. The Brethren donned their masks and raised their hoods as the huge oak doors groaned open to reveal the torchlit ritual hall within.

“Mercurius invictus est,” intoned the High Grand-Maester, taking an ever-burning torch, with its adamantine handle, from its sconce by the door and holding it aloft.

BURN, BOY, BURN! Creuch crowed, as Ash shoved away a high-def mental image of a mutilated man being devoured by raging blue flames.

“Mercurius invictus est,” the whole Brotherhood echoed.

The High Grand-Maester began to lead the way into the chamber, one Neophyte swinging a censer on his right, another on his left ringing a large bell.

“Non ducimur, ducimus,” the High Grand-Maester proclaimed.

“Non ducimur, ducimus,” the Brotherhood responded, as they filed slowly through the great archway.

“Oderint dum metuant,” the High Grand-Maester sang.

“Oderint dum metuant,” the Brotherhood replied, and continued repeating the chant:

Mercurius invictus est.
Non ducimur, ducimus.
Oderint dum metuant.

Three ornate concentric circles adorned the obsidian floor. The Grand-Maesters took their places along the innermost of these, as the Maesters did the one surrounding it. The Fraters came to occupy the outermost circle, while any Neophytes not currently performing duties lined the perimeter of the chamber.

Ash’s father ended up a little ways off to Ash’s left on the second circle—scanned the third circle with his hawk eyes till he finally spotted Ash over his right shoulder. Locked onto his son with a baleful stare and started muttering under his breath, his scarred fingers tracing the engraved circle on the arm of his chair.

Burn, boy, burn! Creuch cackled, as Ash, against his will, suddenly bit down on his tongue so hard he tasted blood.

Then kill him first, Caren’s voice echoed in his thoughts.

Mercurius invictus est.
Non ducimur, ducimus.
Oderint dum metuant.

The chanting continued as the three Templars, in their onyx Adamus Mercurius masks, entered the chamber. The lower ranks parted before them as they made their way to the center of the innermost circle, beneath the great globe-lit dome of the ceiling, on which was frescoed a lavish depiction of Adamus’s mythic conquest of Iuppiter: the cunning Mercurii hero’s thong-clad foot bearing down on the once-supreme-god’s neck, his spear slick with Iuppiter’s blood, his bearded jaws split in a fearsome victory roar.

The Templars took their place at the center of the circle, and the Grand Templar, recognizable by the gold accents on his mask, raised his fist to silence the Brethren.

He then intoned, in a throaty basso that resonated throughout the chamber,

“DIES IRAE.”

The Brotherhood took up the incantation, low and ominous, slowly increasing in speed and volume:

DIES IRAE.
DIES IRAE.
DIES IRAE.

“We gather today,” the Grand Templar declared, his voice magically enhanced so as to be heard above the chanting, “to answer a grievous wrong inflicted on our Arcanus brethren.”

The Neophytes with the bell and the censer began circumnavigating the chamber.

DIES IRAE.
DIES IRAE.
DIES IRAE.

“We call upon the Celestial Man, Adamus Mercurius, to smite the villain known as Lex,” the Grand Templar cried.

“SMITE!” echoed the Grand-Maesters, over the continuing chant of Dies irae.

“May Your Holy Vengeance wipe him from the face of the Earth,” the Grand Templar growled.

DIES IRAE.
DIES IRAE.
DIES IRAE.

“And may we, Our Father, who aspire to Your Holy Image of Ultimate Divine Power, be exalted, as ministers of Your Eternal Vengeance, as deliverers of Your reckoning. Grant us, Your worthy sons, the power of Your mystery, to bring the world to heel!”

A handful of the Brotherhood’s best daemonologers broke ranks, began chanting in fevered Enochian as they paced between the first and second circles, waving their athames and wands. The torches that lit the room flickered and dimmed, and the air beyond the outermost circle shivered and warped as if hot—though Ash knew this mirage-like shimmering wasn’t because of heat, but because the veil between Aether and the material world had grown thin. Dark visions half-coalesced, dream-like—daemonic forms ranging from the disturbing-yet-familiar to the mind-fuckingly incomprehensible. Several of the younger Neophytes burst into tears.

“We charge you, spirits, in the name of Adamus Mercurius,” roared the Grand Templar, “with the enactment of His Holy Vengeance against Lex, and with the glorification of this Fraternitas Mercurii, this noble order of His most worthy sons, as the protectors and keepers of the Earth. Take this charge, spirits, and GO FORTH!”

“GO FORTH!” echoed the Grand-Maesters.

The daemonologers loosed a cry in Enochian, swept their wands in a synchronized gesture, banishing the daemons back to the Aether.

The torches sputtered, then flickered back to their full height. The room went silent.

“Brethren,” said Grand Templar Yves Baptiste. He lowered his hood and removed his mask. The rest of the Brotherhood followed suit.

The Grand Templar was in his late fifties, tall, slick, handsome, with a youthful glint in his warm dark eyes; thick black eyebrows; impeccably groomed salt-and-pepper hair.

“Brethren,” he said again, and smiled. “It is only in the face of tragedy and hardship that true greatness becomes possible. Though we mourn, we must not squander the opportunity that lies before us, nor the power that is ours by divine right. This is our moment to rise to the occasion, to remind the arcane world that we are mighty, that those who stand with us will benefit from our strength…and those who oppose us had better watch their backs.” He chuckled, baring even white teeth. “We strive ever higher, my Brothers! Be strong; be tenacious; be watchful. And as ever, dear Brethen”—he arched one mischievous eyebrow—“be cunning. Adjourned.”

Ash more or less hurled his cassock and mask into the dressing room, made a beeline across the vestibule toward the long stair, hoping against hope that Dad had gotten it out of his system already, and Ash would be allowed to just leave.

…A hope that evaporated as daemonic laughter echoed through Ash’s skull, and, against his will, his body turned, started walking back in the direction of the hall.

Other Brethren were just beginning to disperse into the vestibule. Ash’s legs carried him straight toward his father’s wheelchair, where Scipio sat waiting for him, feverishly tracing the circle on the arm of his chair, bloodshot eyes smoldering.

Out of nowhere, Grand Templar Baptiste stepped into Ash’s path. “Frater Grenville,” he said warmly. “Might I have a word in private?”

Ash could almost feel his father’s shock in the way Creuch suddenly gave up control.

But the imp, Ash could tell—and therefore Scipio himself—was intently watching.

“Of course, Grand Templar,” said Ash. He sensed someone other than Creuch watching—glimpsed Yves Baptiste’s oldest son Bram, a tall, morose boy with hollow dark eyes, standing some distance off with a few other Brethren, aiming a bitter stare in his direction.

“Let’s go for a walk.” Yves Baptiste beckoned with a tilt of his head.

Ash felt blank, vaguely wary, as he moved with the Grand Templar into the labyrinthine corridors of the Pyramid, obsidian ceilings, floors, walls reflecting the dim spectral globelight; as the chatter in the vestibule faded behind them. Creuch was still spying—and had a command, which it had had since Ash was a baby, to protect Ash in the event of an assassination attempt—had in fact done so on several occasions when Ash was younger.

Now, of course, Ash had the means to protect himself. In fact, he hoped Creuch wouldn’t take over if self-defense was required. Now that he’d taught himself a powerful martial magic, it would be better if, in dangerous circumstances, he could keep his own faculties.

That said, he wasn’t expecting a direct physical attack from Yves Baptiste himself. The man wasn’t a Martial Magus, he was a diviner. And he surely had far more discreet ways of getting Ash out of the picture, if that was what he wanted.

So him asking to speak with Ash alone was completely unexpected, and Ash couldn’t even begin to guess what it was about.

“I won’t beat around the bush with you, my boy,” said the Templar presently, as if reading Ash’s mind. The pair’s footsteps echoed in the stagnant air. “You’ve racked up some very impressive accomplishments in recent months.”

“I have,” agreed Ash.

Baptiste chuckled. “I imagine you’re wondering why this hasn’t earned you a few bumps up in rank by now.”

Ash looked at him, then once more aimed his eyes ahead. “Frankly…yes, I am, Grand Templar.” He paused. “Though I’ve got my theories.”

Yves Baptiste arched his eyebrows. “Would our little ‘family feud’ be one of them?”

Again, Ash looked at him. “Yes.”

Baptiste let out a hearty laugh. “You’re too honest for this place, do you know that?”

“I have an inkling.”

Baptiste’s laughter faded to a chuckle. He then sobered. “Scipio thinks it was me who ordered the hit that killed your mother and put him in that wheelchair. Doesn’t he?”

Ash stopped in his tracks. Stared at the elder.

Baptiste eased around, stood facing him, hands still buried in the pockets of his robes.

“Are you saying it wasn’t?” Ash asked finally.

“I am. Though I understand if you don’t believe me. There was bad blood between my father and your grandfather, and generations of our respective families before them. I myself had no intention of keeping that going—no offense, but I never saw your father as a threat—but I always assumed Scipio must believe I was the one responsible.”

Ash eyed him. “If it wasn’t you, then who was it?”

Baptiste shrugged. “Can’t say that I know. I could hazard a few guesses. Any one of the Templars at that time would have had a pretty good reason to go after you.”

“After me?”

“Yes, you. Why do you think it was your pregnant mother they targeted?”

“I just…thought she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Ash searched the elder’s face. “Why me?”

“Well, this is where it may have been at least indirectly my fault.”

Ash listened expectantly.

“I cast the bones that year,” Baptiste went on. “Received a prophecy that I’m now more convinced than ever was about you.”

Ash stared, uncomprehending.

“To paraphrase a bit,” continued the elder, “it said a child would soon be born to one of the great families, who would ‘exceed all pretenders, and attain to the highest mystery, gaining the power to recreate the world.’”

“Ash to Gold” started playing on a loop in Ash’s head.

When he finally found his voice again—“What makes you think this prophecy was about me?”

Baptiste laughed. “False humility doesn’t suit you, Frater. You’re the most talented alchemist we’ve seen in generations, as you recently proved before the Council. And the timing of your mother’s pregnancy lined up. Which I suspect is the reason she was targeted. Again, no offense, but no one would have bothered themselves about House Grenville otherwise. Your father’s paranoia and his grandiosity are sides of a coin. Pardon me if I’m blunt—but the man’s a pathetic little stain on the dignity of your ancient house.”

Ash’s thoughts whirred. “Since you’re saying you weren’t behind it—which I still don’t necessarily believe—then who else knew about the prophecy?”

“I performed the divination on behalf of the Pyramidion, as part of a quarterly ritual. All the Templars at that time witnessed it.”

“So you, Philetus Meillassoux, and Louis Treloar.”

“Right. And the prophecy remains on record in the Index of the Pyramidion, so current Templars would have access to it as well. Not to mention Philetus Meillassoux may very well, at the time, have told his son, Orison, who now holds his former office. I suspect this is why there’s been resistance to inducting you into the deeper mysteries.”

“There were a number of attempts to kill me in my youth,” murmured Ash. “I was always told it was because of the family feud. I guess it would make sense if it was actually because of your prophecy. But no one’s made an attempt on me in years. Why would they stop?”

Baptiste shrugged. “Treloar and Philetus Meillassoux kicked the bucket. I suppose Orison and Borges are taking a different tack.”

Ash ran some quick calculations in his head. The timing did more or less line up. “And why, once you learned that, unlike my father, I am a contender, didn’t you try to eliminate me yourself?” he pressed, looking the Grand Templar in the eye.

Baptiste raised his eyebrows, grinned. “I realize this is a very un-Mercurii response, but…I wanted to see what would happen.”

Ash stared at him.

“I’m a diviner, Ashton Grenville. A good one,” the Grand Templar went on. “I know better than to pit myself against the Fates. If there’s a young man among us destined to ‘attain to the highest mystery’ and gain ‘the power to recreate the world,’ well…I’d sure as hell rather be with him than against him.”

Ash eyed him. “What does that mean…‘be with’ me?”

“You obviously deserve to move up through the ranks,” said Baptiste. “Be granted access to the deeper mysteries of the Pyramid. Of course, that decision isn’t up to me alone. The other two Templars may take some convincing.”

“And what do you want from me in return for your support?”

Yves Baptiste smiled, crow’s feet forming at the corners of his handsome eyes. “Just a place in whatever new world you create, for me and mine.”

Ash continued to fix him with a stare.

“I do have a little suggestion for you, though,” Baptiste added.

“What’s that?”

The Grand Templar leaned closer. “Your old man’s holding you back. My two cents? Ditch the dead weight.”

•─────·☾ ☽⋅─────•

As Ash moved through the still-crowded vestibule toward the exit, Bram Baptiste followed him.

“What did my father say to you?” he hissed in Ash’s ear.

Ash kept moving. “None of your business.”

“He’s just using you, you know.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I’m not kidding, okay? You should watch your back with him.”

“Don’t pretend to be on my side. Just be less mediocre. Then maybe your dad will stop kissing my ass.”

Ash didn’t look back to see Bram’s reaction.

As he started up the steps to the exit, Creuch suddenly hijacked his body.

Fuck.

Ash found himself marching back through the vestibule, into a shadowy alcove, where Scipio waited.

“I know—you heard everything,” muttered Ash.

His own hands formed a vise grip around his throat.

“I swear to God, bitch, if you turn against me,” Scipio slurred.

Ash’s eyes began to water. “Then you’ll have nothing left,” he croaked.

Scipio stared at him.

Gradually, Ash’s grip on his own throat loosened. His control of his body returned.

He gulped air into his lungs, coughed. “Obviously I don’t trust Baptiste,” he spat. “I’ll get in good with him, use him to get into the Pyramidion, and dispose of him.” Ash eyed his father coldly. “You wanted me to demonstrate cunning, and a will to power? This is what that looks like.”

Scipio looked at his son like he’d never seen him before.

Ash steeled himself, leaned low over his father’s chair. “As for you,” he said softly, “I have no reason to turn on you—if you don’t get in my way.”

He turned and walked out.

•─────·☾ ☽⋅─────•

Beyond Arcadia’s bounds, it was yet another drizzly, misty December day. Ash arrived in Philly to find the city frantic and humming—retail stores packed to overflowing, some smaller dining establishments closed with special holiday hours posted. Old World folk generally didn’t celebrate Christmas, so it hadn’t occurred to him till now that today was Christmas Eve.

After a little research, he found a spot called FUEL Healthy Kitchen where he could grab a lunch that more or less conformed to his dietary needs. Settled into a booth near the back of the restaurant, texted Caren (who he was ninety-six percent sure would still be asleep at this hour), and connected his laptop to the Wi-Fi.

A quick Google search turned up an article in the Chester County Press proudly announcing Tristan Lee’s donation of what was believed to be the first pipe organ built in North America to the Organ Museum at Longwood Gardens. The article included a standard AP headshot of the billionaire next to a photo of the organ, which Ash downloaded, zoomed in on, enhanced.

Engraved on the top of the music stand was a symbol Ash was pretty damn sure was the circle-within-the-square-within-the-triangle-within-the-circle that signified the philosopher’s stone.

Ash put in a call to the Organ Museum; found out they were about to close early for Christmas Eve and would be closed all day tomorrow for Christmas, but the day after—Wednesday the 26th—they’d be happy to have him visit. Ash made an appointment for a guided tour.

This done, he indulged in one more viewing of “Ash to Gold,” this time on YouTube.

On impulse, made an account with the display name cinderboy12341 and typed a comment:

Loving the game, but I wish you’d just talk to me 🎹🎶🙃

His body gave a little spasm as he clicked the Comment button, then immediately closed the tab.

He inhaled deeply, exhaled, shook it off. Got out the books he’d pulled from the Arcadia Library that morning; got to work on his research.

For all the mundane popular media’s obsession with vampires, they were rare creatures, and fairly little was known about them. That Philadelphia had a major crime gang made up of all vampires and their thralls had been major news to Ash.

A couple of hours and three cups of white tea later, Ash displayed his finished Google Slides presentation while Caren, Nathaniel, and Sicko Mode gathered around:

“Let’s talk about vampires.”

EPISODE TWELVE COMING 9/29/22
PREVIOUS EPISODE: CAREN – “LONG NIGHT MOON”
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