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 6

With a last snap of its beak, the bird headed giraffe pushed through Kareem’s barricade and loped toward him. The disembodied psionic was ready for it, having ensconced and armed himself in an astral-wrought equivalent of roman legionnaire armor along with a spear and shield.

“I do not know if I can defeat you.” Kareem beat back the razor sharp beak with the shield. “But I will not allow you to pass me even so.” With that, he jabbed with his spear. The blade failed to penetrate the monster’s tough hide, but it was knocked off kilter.

His broad sense of the astral plain alerted him to an attack from the side.

A fourth monster, looking like a gigantic spaniel with an oversized, slack lower jaw and long, slender arms tipped with three talons each sprouting from its back, leapt at him, pressing its full weight on the shield and forcing him to take a knee.

The beaked ghost took advantage of his plight and charged his exposed flank. Kareem turned a baleful glare upon it and even as he pushed the spaniel away, he formed a wall out of the Astral stuff as high as its legs. Shrieking, the ghost went down face first.

With the time he’d just purchased, Kareem struggled to his feet and put the spear to the doglike ghost with little more success than he’d had before. Occult hadn’t been exaggerating how much stronger the Book of Passions had made them. The spear simply couldn’t penetrate their bodies.

Whirling, he brought the shield up to fend off the bird-thing. Except, there seemed to be no need. A tremor rant through the thing’s body and it swiftly cut off it’s assault in favor of setting its sights on the astral form of Zero.

***

“Okay…” Zero looked at a thin dart made of ice formed of her own sweat with disgust. “I hit it… and now we don’t seen any of them. And we can’t touch them.” She gave an imploring look at Alloy. “What are we supposed to do now?”

Her answer came with Isp unfurling and pulling her aside just as an invisible force tore up the hedgerow behind her.

“We keep moving.” Alloy breathed, dancing a zigzag pattern only just ahead of what seemed to be sourceless explosions in the ground around him. “And we hope Occult hurries up!”

The attempt to spur her on was noted, but in no way welcome as Occult continued to chant what to her were the nonsense syllables that set the form and purpose of the circle. The pieces of the instantaneous rune sketched silvery patterns in the air, driven by the words of the spell.

A pentagram was traced, a symbol of the five elements. A circle followed, each point of the pentagram touching part of the circle. Then came a smaller circle, centered within the larger. One circle to define the formula for effect, one circle to define the parameters; who, what, when and how.

Shapes, some geometric, some sinuous, some incomprehensible to the untrained eye, were drawn into the circles. The formulae that would take effect. Finally, all five chits returned to the air above Occult and drew two overlapping squares; a symbol of confinement and control, followed by an intricate knot at their center, a sigil of activation.

To this, Occult spoke a word she did know. “Abralo.” The moment the command word was set, the entire magic circle pulsed a brilliant white before disappearing.

“Was that it?” Alloy asked, taking a hard blow that knocked him on his side. “What’d you do?”

Occult glanced around the area, using sight no other human possessed. The magic circle was still there, just not active. “I’ve set it up.” She said, hurrying to get out of where the circle was sketched. “But I have to explain some things first.”

“We can’t see what we’re fighting!” Zero said, narrowly avoiding another unseen attack that cracked the planks in a bench nearby. “We need help now, please!”

“Then listen up.” Occult said, “I’ve set up an Astral Gate, which allows things to cross between this world and the Astral Plane. You see—“ She didn’t get to explain before something grabbed her across the arms and waist and lifted her off the ground.

Osp immediately lashed out in her defense, swinging blindly at whatever was holding her. But as before, its sharp edge found nothing to cleave. In desperation, it wrapped Occult herself and pulled her free, sending her crashing to the ground.

Another attack came Zero’s way, coming so close that it scrapped frost from her clothes. She weighed her options and found she had none left. They were fighting against enemies they couldn’t see or even touch, but who could see and very well kill them. Kareem was obviously unable to kill them from the Astral side, and Occult was now trapped into the same deadly dodging scenario as she and Alloy were. She hopped Facsimile would return soon, but couldn’t think of a way she could help.

She was pondering her situation so hard and was so focused on dodging about at random, she didn’t hear Alloy shout and almost caught what was coming toward her in the back.

What rolled by her was a metal book cart, trialing an umbilicus of braided extension cords. Hastily taped to the case was a pile of office supplies pillaged from behind the library desk; staplers, paper clips, metal rulers and virtually any other metal odd or end Tammy could find on such short notice.

Zero followed the umbilicus with her eyes to find the girl herself, disguised by a long, grey jacket and purple scarf pilfered from the lost and found box. Stripped wires were wrapped around her bare hands and a look of concentration was obvious in her eyes.

“Alloy…” Zero started to say, but saw that Tammy had caught his eye as well. He realized at once what his little sister had planned and gave her a thumbs up.

With a happy exclamation they couldn’t hear at that distance, Tammy held up the wires and concentrated. White sparks began to erupt from the collected metal, followed by purple lighting bolts arcing wildly into the air.

Instantly, the electricity revealed the staticy outline of the lion-thing. It was standing with the cart partially overlapping it’s body, its hands raised to slam Alloy.

“Now I see you, jackass.” Alloy said easily dodging before rushing in to grab the cart. “And now let’s see the rest of you.” Isp and Osp leapt out, whipping the air in crackling arcs across the entire intersection. The electricity revealed all four ghosts.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have told her to stay inside.” Zero said, now easily avoiding the beaked creature.

“Just don’t tell her that.” Alloy replied.

Now able to see the threats, Occult to was able to easily dodge. “Whatever you did,” she opted not to ask the obvious question of ‘who is that’ to save Alloy a lot of grief. “Thanks. Now, like I was saying, we can’t beat them on this side and by now, they’re probably too strong even for Ephemeral to beat them on the Astral.”

“Good news, please.” Alloy said, directing Isp and Osp to swing at the ghosts. The cart and its payload was starting to blacken, curl and magnetize as Tammy’s powers slowly destroyed them.

“The Astral Gate lets things move from one side to the other. If we can get them on this side, it’s like a fish out of water: they’ll dissolve and die because Astral entities can’t keep themselves together on this side.”

“Wouldn’t that be more like sugar in water than a fish out of water?” Zero asked.

“I just punched reality in the throat and told it to call me queen.” Occult said dryly, “Can I get a break on my turns of phrase?”

“Yes, if you open the thing now.” Alloy said, diving to avoid a giant hand aimed to slap him.

Occult nodded and turned toward where the gate would open. “Just remember; do not step into the circle. It’s very easy to get lost on the Astral and I didn’t add anything to the spell to fix that.” She didn’t give them time to answer before clapping her hands over her head. “Abralo!”

A pillar of light erupted from the ground at the exact center of the circle and streaked toward the heavens, widening as it did until it filled the area of the magic circle. Alloy looked at Zero and found her looking back. They nodded as one and struck off for the pillar of light. Their respective attackers came for them in hot pursuit.

Occult glared at the bipedal beast that had stalked her and spat out a short phrase in and arcane tongue. A minor provocation spell, it had its effect instantly. Now I’m depending on you, Ephemeral. She sent to the astral based psionic. We can’t get them into the gate without you.

***

One the Astral Plane, the gate manifested itself as five blazing fires, arranged in a pentagon, whose flaming tongues twisted and danced together in a chaotic circle. Stray sensation crossed over and tempted his senses. The smell of mown grass, the warmth of the sun, even Zero’s perfume reached him through the breech in what had been his universe for more than a year.

Before him, the spaniel thing padded back and forth at a safe distance, a missing eye a reminder that the spear could still punish it. Beyond it, Kareem saw the others and the astral forms of his friends coming hard across the rosy landscape.

The gate wasn’t that far behind him, but he’d have to deal with the spaniel creature first and the creature hadn’t even gotten close enough to use any of his Astral trickery on it since it had lost the eye. An idea came to him.

All the ghost-dog’s barely formed mind saw was that the hard to overcome shield and deadly spear were gone. It leapt for its prey. But its prey was one step ahead of it. Kareem leapt over the creature, using his command of the Astral to wick away his perception of gravity. Instead of a tasty morsel, the spaniel-beast found itself landing on hundreds of perfectly smooth, round stones that had formerly been Kareem’s spear and shield. It’s own momentum, combined with a kick from Kareem sent it sliding through the gate.

With no time to enjoy the results of his work, Kareem thought fast to deal with the other monsters. Conjuring all of his will, he threw up two solid walls of astral-stuff, the corridor between them funneling the beasts directly toward the gate. He hoped that would be enough, because he felt completely spent.

***

Alloy took the left route around the circle while Occult and Zero took the right. Before they were even a quarter of the way around, there was a flash within the circle and the spaniel creature manifested physically in the material world. It’s true color, a mottled red and brown, was largely concealed by a brilliant halo of rose colored fire that surrounded and seemed to burned. Strangled and panicked noises came from the pathetic thing as the material world’s physics introduced itself by tearing it apart on a basic level.

“That’s one.” Alloy said, letting Isp and Osp swing him to the far side of the gate. “So we just wait for them to cross over and catch fire?”

“Hopefully.” Occult nodded, still on guard. “As long as—“

“Please don’t say ‘as long as’.” Zero murmured.

A brilliant flash signified the arrival the behemoth with the anteater head on the material plane. The rose flame was weaker on it, only burning in one or two places along its grey furred body and on one side of its bone colored head.

“As long as they haven’t been made too strong by the energy they’ve picked up.” Occult finished. “In which case, it’ll take longer for them to be broken down.”

The corporeal ghost stomped forward, intent on the veritable feast of emotional energy arrayed before it. It made noise between a snort and a slurp before parting its crusted lips and snarling “Terrifying!” With that battlecry, it reached for Alloy.

Isp wrapped it’s arm and applied crushing force. “Oh.” Alloy said, “So that’s which one you are. I didn’t like having a bench tossed at me, guy. Isp, return the favor.” The tentacle obeyed, looping down to find a fulcrum point on the ground before tossing the monster over Alloy’s head and into a bench.

Another flash revealed the lion headed thing. Alloy nodded to Occult and Zero. “I got this one. You two can deal with that guy and his friend.” He headed off to deal with the bipedal ghost.

At the same time, the leonine monster roared and charged toward the two women, huge hands ready to deal out pain.

Occult and Zero stood their ground and prepared to meet the attack.

***

Watching from the roof of Grant Hall, the dormitory nearest Library Walk, Facsimile grimaced as she watched the horrible creatures materializing through the gate. She glanced over at Augustus, who was wide eyed with fear and clutched the book like a lifeline. “I don’t know what the hell just happened, but they need me. Stay put. You’ll be safe here.”

Barely hearing her words, Augustus nodded. “This is my fault.” he muttered.

Facsimile narrowed her eyes at him. “Yes! Yes it is! You and that stupid book. Don’t you get it? All your angsting is getting turned into a power up for those things!”

Hot anger flashed on his face. “And making me feel worse is helping the situation how?”

Facsimile snarled and bared sharpened canines. “Never mind. I’m going down to help them. Think happy thoughts or something.” She spread her golden wings and leapt from the roof.

For his part, Augustus really wished he could think of something happy to stop what was happening, but found it impossible. Slowly, he sank back to sit on the incline of the roof. That’s when he sensed he wasn’t alone.

He looked up, but the sun behind him turned the man there into a silhouette. All he could even get a sense of was a necklace of rough, yellow stones and an animalistic posture. “Who—“

“Do you really want to know? Do you really care? I don’t. Everyone is so concerned with names and not with the important things in life.” The figure moved his fingers and Augustus felt himself standing without trying.

“What are the important things in life?” he found himself asking. He didn’t want to know and worse, he had a feeling he knew the answer.

“Come on, Auggie.” The figure flashed a wolfish smile that Augustus felt rather then saw. “Don’t you want to learn more about your book? Like why only you understand it?”

End Issue #30

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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