Issue #30: Strange Times At Dayspring College

This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 5

The view from the former library doors told Occult the whole of the tale. At least one… thing loomed outside, its form a mere outline of staticy whiteness. It was twice as tall as a man, with a head shaped like an anteater’s and trunk-like arms that it used to batter the bike rack out front flat.

“What the hell is that?” Warrick was looking out an unbroken window. From his vantage point, he could also see a smaller quadruped, looking like a splay footed giraffe with a birdlike head, galloping face first into a hedgerow and tearing it apart.

Occult pointed at Augustus. “You. We need to get the Book out of here.” She crossed the distance that separated them and reached for it. A painful spark leapt from the Book to sear her fingers. Startled, she flinched from it.

Augustus couldn’t believe what was happening. The book was clearly pressing itself further into his arms, like a frightened animal. He wanted nothing more than to toss it to Occult and bolt, but for some reason, his arms refused to obey

A transformer just outside the window exploded in a flurry of angry sparks. The coursing electricity revealed a creature that had been directly in front of the window the entire time.

“Another one!” Juniper exclaimed needlessly. A four legged, low slung monstrosity with a pair of flat fingered hands and a leonine head stood there. The lights in the library died.

Occult chewed her lip in the shadows of her illusory disguise. Kareem? She probed telepathically. Are those creatures Astral entities?

Kareem answered in the affirmative, which gave her more food for thought. They were almost certainly ghosts, but the presence of the Book of Passions was doing something to them. Electrical current revealed them and they stayed visible for at least a while. She glanced over at Facsimile, poised to go back into the fray.

“They’re retaining charges.” Occult announced out loud as if she was certain, “That’s how we can see them.” She pointed to Facsimile authoritatively. “I’ll hold them off. Get the guy with the Book and the little girl to safety.”

Facsimile gave here a look that told her she’d pay for ordering her around later and half leapt, half glided to the desk and seized Augustus under one arm. She held out a hand to Tammy. “Come on, Squirt.”

Tammy pealed her eyes off the rampaging ghosts long enough to shake her head furiously. “No way! I’m not going to miss seeing my—“

Warrick quickly clamped a hand over her mouth. “Heh, she’s got the separation anxiety. We’ll find someplace safe to hide, Fax—I mean Facsimile. Don’t you wor—ow!” He cut off as Tammy bit the silencing hand.

“Don’t put your dirty hand over my mouth!” Tammy shot him an accusing look.

“Suit yourselves, puny citizens.” Facsimile shrugged. “Out the side way then?” She asked Augustus.

“There is no side way!” Augustus said breathlessly.

Facsimile flexed her free arm and a two foot long blade of bone nearly as hard as diamond emerged from the back of her wrist. “There will be in a minute!” She crowed jovially as she took wing.

Watching them go, Occult turned back to the remainder. This had all sorts of awkward potential. She’d chosen not to reveal her identity as Occult to her friends, but Cyn had found out anyway and Kareem had probably always known. But Warrick and Juniper were still in the dark and having no reason to trust Occult, had every reason not to become Alloy and Facsimile in front of her or the little girl she now realized was Warrick’s sister.

“You three go hide.” She said, observing the three monsters still rampaging outside. Soon they would press forward into the library. “I think I can hold them off until the Descendants arrive.” She only hoped that she had dropped the hint that she couldn’t do this alone sufficiently before she barged out the door, casting a spell to attract the beasts.

Even before Occult was out of sight, Tammy set a hot glare on her brother. “What? You’re going to let another hero save the day? Why didn’t—“

“It’s complicated, Tammy.” Juniper said in a soothing voice. “We can’t show her who we are, even if… even though she’s another good guy?”

“But you’re just going to sit here and not do anything because of your secret identities?” Tammy looked on the verge of tears.

“No one ever said that.” Warrick said. His metal sense picked up the two large, white painted racks behind the reception desk. “Though the library’s probably going to wish we had. “ He hurried around the desk and pressed his power against the racks, causing books to shower down around him. Within seconds, a breastplate, pauldrons and visored helmet took shape around him.

It was somewhat less impressive than his usual fair because of the pealing paint all over. Alloy frowned down at his creation. “Man, why couldn’t we have been born like a hundred years ago when they had lead paint?”

Tammy only nodded her approval and turned to Juniper. “So what are you going to do? Are we going to have to go down to the car and get your stuff?”

Shrugging, Juniper put a hand over her face, freezing the humidity in the air into a crude rendition of Zero’s usual half mask. The room became unbearably cold as a thin layer of what Tammy could only call ‘freezer fuzz’ obscured the yellow floral print and blue jeans she was wearing. “I’ve learned to improvise.” She declared as if she’d said and done something mundane.

Testing her movement, she gave an apologetic look to Alloy. “I’m going to be a little stiff in this.”

“Best we can do.” Alloy nodded.

“Cool!” Tammy beamed. “Now what am I going to do?”

“Stay here.” Alloy said sharply.

“You can’t be serious!” Tammy whined.

“I’m totally serious. You heard mom and dad: no prelating until you’re out of school.” Secretly, he hoped the parental kibosh on Tammy’s superheroic activity considered ‘school’ to include college. He loved it, but he didn’t like the idea of his sister risking life and limb. “Besides, this isn’t a good idea for your first fight. We don’t even know what these things are.”

“We know being shocked lets you see them!” Tammy said after a split second of thought. “And I’m the only one here with electric powers.”

“Occult can probably cast Bolt2 or something…” Zero thought aloud.

“Not helping.” Tammy said with irritation to the older girl.

“Not coming.” Alloy stepped in. “Stay. Put.” He motioned for Zero to follow him toward the ‘side entrance’ Facsimile had cut. Isp and Osp unfurled from his arms as he went.

Alone now, Tammy pouted. It wasn’t fair at all. A real, live hero-on-monster battle was taking place and she was left watching on the sidelines like… not even like a sidekick; more like a towel boy. No one ever let her prove herself at anything, especially not her powers. If she had a chance…

Across from her, she saw something that gave her a brilliant idea. After all, Alloy had said that she couldn’t leave the Library. He never said she couldn’t join the fight…

***

From the Astral side, the monsters were clearly visible, with or without the illumination of electrical current. Kareem saw all four, plus the glowing astral forms of his friends. Occult’s blue glowing form was moving toward the intersection of the brick covered Library Walk and the flagstone paved Campus Lane.

At some point in time, a gazebo had set at the center of that intersection. Kareem didn’t know how long it had stood, or when it had been torn down, but it had been the crux of so much emotional energy, its astral body remained full and solid.

“You can see it too, can’t you?” He asked Occult. With a thought, he was next to her, keeping pace despite being on the other side of the planar divide.

“The powerful concentration of astral energy?” Occult’s reply came. She was holding a blazing torch of crackling red energy in her hand, a beacon of some sort that felt very similar to what he sensed from the Book of Passion. For Kareem, it was no different to receive mental communiqués than to hear the words. “Yeah, part in parcel of the whole witch thing. I’m hoping I can use it as an anchor for my spell.”

Kareem, for a moment, was speechless. He’d never considered how the Astral came across to those who sensed it from the Material Plane. Occult… Lisa didn’t know that the ‘build up of energy’ was a tangible thing to him, built from the emotional resonance of dozens, possibly hundreds of people. But now was not the time to contemplate the philosophy of the situation. He was there to act. And to help.

“I will try and stop them from attacking you.” He informed her. “You can stop drawing them to you now.”

“Thanks, Ephemeral.” Occult assented, both verbally and mentally. With that, she threw the beacon to the ground where it lay guttering like a torch on wet stone. “Wish me luck. Not that we need it; looks like the cavalry has arrived.”

Kareem turned to see the blazing white aura and twin dingy grey auras that were Alloy, Isp and Osp, followed by the nearly solid, blue aura of Zero. He was thankful to see them, but knew that they had no hope to even touch the Astral based enemies.

He must have been thinking this though particularly hard, because Occult replied verbally, “They will in a minute…”

There was no time to ponder what she meant; the fastest of the four ghosts; the giraffe-with-a-bird-head was bearing down on the beacon and was poised to go through Kareem if necessary. Exercising control over the shape of the Astral, Kareem threw up a palisade of pillars before the oncoming creature, which slammed into them with a painful din.

Shaking its head, the bird-giraffe clamped onto a bar with its beak and much to Kareem’s surprise, began tearing it from the ground.

***

Alloy, with an assist from Isp, landed behind the hexapod with the wide hands and lion head. “I don’t know which one of you things attacked me and that girl, but I kind of figure all of you did something or other to deserve a beating over the past two weeks, so allow me to introduce my assistants, Isp and Osp, who have a few words to say to you.”

Both tentacles snapped out, their leading edges forming wicked blades as they crashed through the monster’s shoulders. ‘Through’ being the operative word, as neither found anything to physically contact. But the electrical charge built across the ghost’s body found ground and a surge of painful electricity tore through both Isp and Osp and into Alloy.

Wincing in pain, Alloy registered the ghost’s static covered outline fading away only vaguely. The ghost, however, turned its focus on its attackers. The first invisible blow slapped Osp into the ground. The second actually dented Alloy’s armor and threw him on his back. Isp quickly latching on to the ground and pulling saved Alloy from an attack that cracked the brick walk.

“What happened?” Zero asked, coming to his side. Her own attempt at throwing ice daggers into the strangely distracted giraffe-bird had been totally ignored.

“It disappeared.” Alloy coughed and reformed the dent in his armor. “I think we discharged the electricity.”

“So we can’t touch them?” Zero asked, “How are we supposed to fight them?”

“I don’t think we can.” Alloy got to his feet, only to take another invisible palm to the chest, which slammed him into a lamppost. “But discharging them gets their attention.” He realized, more than stated. “Maybe we can buy time for Ephemeral and Occult to come up with something.”

“How am I supposed to discharge them?” Zero asked, confused.

Chemistry class, plus knowing Tink, multiplied by the general realities of being a metal manipulator allowed Alloy some understanding of conduction and water, even ice was conductive. The problem however, was that the ice Zero created was undoubtedly very, very pure, having been coalesced from water vapor, and pure water had a very low conductivity.

There was very little likely hood of finding a salt water aquarium in the next thirty seconds, but another source of the necessary salts and metals mixed with water came to mind. It wouldn’t be plentiful, especially given the particular source, but it should be enough to get the ghosts’ attention.

“Z, this is going to sound really gross…” He dodged and ducked randomly to avoid attacks from the invisible attacker that was still focused on him. “But you’re going to have to use your sweat for ice.”

Even under her ice mask, Alloy could see her blanche at the idea.

***

Occult didn’t stop running until she was standing at the approximate center of the build-up of Astral energy. Despite really wishing for a chance to catch her breath, she knew she didn’t have that luxury. For whatever reason, the local ghosts around Dayspring College had become extremely powerful feeding off the emanations of the Book of Passions.

And like lab rats, the supernatural detritus given semblance of life had learned that their newfound ability to interact with the physical realm allowed them to create more emotions to feed on. Every second they continued to engage the others; they fed on a little more emotional energy and became a little more resilient. Her whole plan hinged on them still being vulnerable to the one thing the Book of Reason seemed to think no ghost could survive: Reality.

In her hand, she held a wooden chit cut so that it was easily broken into five equal parts, each marked with a magical symbol. The Book of Reason called them instantaneous runes, though it took upwards of two hours to make just one. It was worth it though, because otherwise she would have to take half an hour to draw out the proper runes whenever she wanted to use ritualistic magic in the field.

She used her fingernail to scratch a line across the chit, completing the ritual purposefully left unfinished. The rune cracked into its five constituent pieces and each rocketed on a silvery tail of flame toward the five designated points of what would soon be a pentagram.

Nodding to herself and trying to remember the incantation, Occult prepared to get down to some serious magic.

Series Navigation<< Issue #29: Little Girl LostIssue #31: It Came From a Warped Star >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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