Issue #31: It Came From a Warped Star

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Isp looped around the forearm of the bipedal ghost and hauled hard, bringing it into range for a furious uppercut from Alloy.

Pink hued flames danced across its frame, as the monster bellowed in rage. It caught the armored prelate up in one massive hand and hurled him and his bothersome tentacles away.

Meanwhile, Zero coated the ground beneath the leonine horror’s feet with ice while Occult assaulted it with flashing arrows of fire from the end of her staff. Thrown off balance, the monster toppled over, exposing its underbelly to attack.

“Alloy needs help!” Zero watched the behemoth knuckle toward her prone teammate.

“This one’s not finished, and there’s the fourth that hasn’t crossed over yet!” The corporeal ghost Occult was attacking used her distraction to catch her with a flailing foot and knock her down.

With difficulty, it managed to stand and reach out an oversized hand to grasp the fallen prelate. Zero would have none of it, and caused a wall of ice rimed with razor frost to grow between it and Occult.

Using her staff to lever herself up, Occult slammed the butt of the weapon against the ice wall. “Crystalline Reign.” The ice crystals grew and spread with sudden vigor and celerity, reaching and then encrusting the monster’s hand in a matter of seconds. Where the ice gripped it, the hand was engulfed in even more intense rose flames until it finally withered away.

Down the street, Alloy had gotten to his feet and deconstructed a manhole cover to form a sword. It might as well have been a backscratcher, as the brute, despite being in searing pain, knocked it aside with ease.

One elephantine foot came down to pin Isp while a knobby fist caught Osp. The other hand grabbed Alloy himself and brought his head toward the anteater-skull head, which scissored open to bite.

Seeing what was coming, Alloy psionically strengthened his helmet as the jaws closed on it. Like a dog worrying a rabbit, the thing shook him, trying to separate his head from his body.

Isp and Osp picked that moment to remember that their forms were essentially fluid and ooze their way out of their respective restraints only to lash out with bladed edges to draw a painful X in astral fire across the creature’s chest.

The twin attack worked, causing the monster to release Alloy’s body, but his head was still caught in its jaws. Alloy willed the metal to warp and twist until his head came free of the helmet lodged in his mouth. Too late did he realize that he was twelve feet and change above the ground.

The fall knocked him senseless.

***

Something had knocked out the power during a rather passionless lecture on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the adjunct professor had declared class dismissed. Tink considered it a lucky break and an opportunity to get ahead in her homework for her Biomechanics class at the library.

At least, she did before the Armored Defender, the Modern Knight, Mayfield’s one and only Alloy had landed hard on Library Lane, just off the footpath she was on.

Her first reaction was to take out her phone to get a few pictures. But then she saw the reason he had fallen. A gorilla-like monstrosity, inexplicably on fire, was knuckling down the street after its prey.

Tink wisely took cover behind a hedgerow.

Alloy called up a sword as if from thin air, but he was quickly overcome by the bestial onslaught. His tentacles were disabled and he was lifted to the might jaws of the beast.

She’d read in the paper that Mary Northbrooke of the Mayfield Scribe was offering cash for pictures of prelates in action to run with her weekly column about them. But as tempting as two thousand dollars could be, the horror of the scene stayed Tink’s hand, even as she couldn’t look away.

But Alloy wasn’t beat yet. The tentacles, which she’d read theories about on PrelateWatch, slashed the thing across the chest, spreading the pinkish fire even more. Wrenching free of the slavering jaws, Alloy fell to the ground, his helm lost to the monster’s jaws.

The tentacles released a tortured sound of metal squealing on metal before stabbing forward like two gigantic railroad spikes, impaling the thing through the chest and head. It disappeared in a gout of pink flame.

But something else held Tink’s interest. She leaned forward to steal a rare to non-existent glimpse at the true face of a hero…

***

In the months since his inadvertent shunt onto the Material Plane and the emergence of his new ability to not only communicate with minds but connect with them , Kareem had learned much about the clusters of overlapping, constantly jabbering voices that made up the human mind when ‘viewed’ through his powers.

For example, each one was wholly unique and easily identifiable. So when shock and uncertainty ignited in a mind not far from him, he easily recalled it from the many times he had encountered her mind around Freeland House: Christina Carlyle.

Still weakened from his vast alteration of the Astral landscape, he nonetheless sought her out.

The emotions radiating from her, and the thoughts now boiling on the surface of her mind weren’t of fear and the accompanying fight or flight response. They were instead dozens of unanswered questions that sprang into her mind and overwhelmed her in the moment she saw Warrick’s face beneath Alloy’s helm.

This situation had been a common subject when Kareem and Warrick talked. Kareem advocated openness and truthfulness if Warrick really did feel as strongly for Tink as Kareem already knew he did.

But Warrick waffled on the subject. He worried that she wouldn’t like him anymore if she knew who he was, or worse, that the knowledge would put her in danger. The exact danger that was increased by this knowledge as opposed to her continuing to date him in ignorance was never stated, but based solely on the common trope he read about in the comics, Warrick was certain the danger was very real.

The argument always ended with Warrick saying he needed more time to think on the subject and Kareem respecting his wishes.

It seemed now that the decision had been made against both Warrick and Tink’s will. In Tink’s mind, disbelief warred with logic while thoughts of betrayal were routed by understanding. And ever did the questions boil and jockey for position. Why hadn’t Warrick told her? Was there a good reason, or did he just not trust her with his secret? Could she be trusted with his secret? Had she ever given him reasons for or against? Hey, she was a super hero’s girlfriend! Was that a good or bad thing?

In that moment, at the speed of thought, Kareem made a decision he knew he would feel guilty about no matter which way the coin landed. This was no way for Warrick’s secret to be revealed; no way Tink should have to find out. He had to do something.

The loudest voices, those closer to the surface, were conscious thoughts, constantly drawing on much deeper seated unconscious thoughts in the form of memories. Much like thoughts, the memories too were layered upon each other, constantly shifting as thoughts pulled some closer to the surface, and others were similarly pushed under and buried.

It was a fresh memory, prominent and shining, with no signs of wear, fading or mutation that Kareem grasped for with his power; the memory of witnessing Alloy’s fight with the behemoth. Like tearing away a piece of cotton candy, Kareem terminated the memory at the moment the beast lifted Alloy off the ground.

At the same time, he impressed a new thought into Tink’s subconscious; sleep.

The thoughts slowed in their endless waltz and settled, leaving the stragglers, especially the now orphaned thoughts connected to the now expunged memory, to weave together into strange dreams and metaphor.

“Ephemeral?” Occult’s mental voice cut through the haze of fatigue so surely that he was glad that she hadn’t called to him while he was in Tink’s mind. “The other three are down, where’s number four?”

They hadn’t all passed through the Gate by now?” Kareem examined the place where his blockade met the spiraling fires that marked the astral side of the Gate. In theory, an astral creature could pass through the gap between them, as they were essentially as formless as smoke, but these ghosts had been so gorged on emotional energy, that he doubted it.

He stepped closer to the Gate, hoping to see more. In doing so, he was careful to avoid the ball bearings he’d created to force the spaniel-ghost through.

“There’s students coming, Ephemeral, I have to close it.” Occult sent with urgency.

“I can’t tell…” he sent no more. He felt the astral presence behind him where it hadn’t been before. He turned. “This is not something your kind is capable of.” He addressed the four legged bird as it loped toward him. “Occult,” he addressed the witch, “This was no fluke. Someone sent these creatures!”

The monster leapt for him even as he struggled to form a shield. What astral matter he’d managed to pull to him dispersed as the beak closed on his arm and he was propelled toward the Gate.

***

Occult was just about to relay Ephemeral’s warning when the gate flared with white energy again. Her relief turned to horror when she saw Kareem cross over along with the bird monster.

Rose flames already formed a corona around them as the both tumbled, boneless to the ground just outside the circle.

“Kareem!” Zero screamed, too shocked to care about code names and secrecy at the moment. But there was nothing she could do. There was a burst of otherworldly flame and both the beast and the hero were gone. She struck off running for the last place she’d seen him.

Dumbstruck, Occult only had the wherewithal to make the hand sign to disconnect the Gate to keep Zero from passing through it in her mad rush to try and render aid. Beyond that, she found herself unable to move.

“What’s going on?” Facsimile finally reached the scene of the battle, landing next to Occult. “Did we win?” She noticed Zero going down on her knees and seemingly searching for something. “Is Z okay?”

Occult couldn’t answer.

“Why won’t anyone tell me anything?” she put a hand on Occult’s shoulder, which seemed to jolt her back to her senses.

“I-it was my gate.” She stammered, swaying on her feet. “I killed him.”

Facsimile tried to turn the other prelate around, only to have her slump into her arms. “Occult?” then, in a whisper, “Lisa?”

Though her glamour didn’t let it show, Occult’s voice betrayed that she was weeping beneath her cowl. “Kar—Ephemeral. He went through the Astral Gate. He couldn’t… nothing from the Astral…”

“Hey!” Someone shouted from the direction of the library.

Still not knowing why, Facsimile hugged her friend. “What do you mean he ‘couldn’t’” she tried to get more information.

It took a few moments before Occult could collect herself to explain how astral creatures couldn’t survive on the Material Plane.

In response, Facsimile shook her head. “No, that’s not right…” her voice betrayed her uncertainty. “He’s come across before. He was fine.”

“I saw it…” Occult managed.

“No.” Facsimile said firmly. “You saw a fireball. But people leave all kind of poofs and markers when they use powers. He probably went right back to the Astral…”

“Hey!”

Alloy, propped up by Isp and Osp and sporting a hastily created metal visor, approached. “Please tell me you guys got the rest of those things.” He said, holding his head. Through the thin eye slit, he finally made out the state the others were in. “What happened?”

“Occult thinks her Gate may have hurt Ephemeral.” Facsimile said.

“He’s gone.” They heard Zero moan from where she had been searching. “There’s nothing…”

“But that’s crazy, right?” Facsimile insisted. “Tell her. It’s happened before; when we were exploring the gate the Mauler came through. It happened only a few months ago.” More sternly, she added, “He was fine.”

“Hey!” Alloy looked up to see that the speaker was his sister, still following the letter of his rule to stay inside the library while waving a phone. He wondered when she’d gotten hold of it and remembered tossing it aside so he wouldn’t rip out the metal innards while armoring himself.

As for the other news; he couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it. That was that. He took several deep breaths. He had to believe that. “Don’t mention any of this to…” he noted Occult’s presence. In a moment like this, ignoring his own secret may have been an option, but he still needed to protect his sister. “Spark.” He made a silent apology to his parents. “I need to get her out of here.”

Facsimile nodded to him, giving unspoken consent to leave everything in her hands. Once he’d left, she got Occult back on her feet. “He’s not dead. You understand?” Occult didn’t respond, only lowered her head. “He’s not dead, but if he’s gotten lost or something again, I’m still going to make that Augustus dude pay out the nose for it. And if he really is a crazy magical villain, I need you to do it.” She directed her sharp tongue at Zero too. “And I need you to help.”

Something in what she’d said must have reached Occult. “That guy… he can’t be the one. I didn’t sense anything special at all about him besides the potential for magic. He’s never practiced. There’s more too; before… before it happened, Ephemeral told me that those creatures weren’t here by accident. Someone sent them.”

“Why?” Zero asked, making her way over to join the conversation.

“I think they wanted to get the Book of Passions.” Occult replied. “Facsimile… where’s that guy?”

Facsimile traced her invisible gaze back to the roof and promptly uttered an expletive.

***

Meanwhile Alloy, made his way back to the library and his sister. “A lot just happened.” He said without preamble, “I need you to hide somewhere, drop the costume and get to the car.”

Spark ignored him, instead holding out the phone. “It’s for you.”

“I don’t have time, Tammy.” He said sternly.

“Oh yes you do.” She pressed the phone into his hand. “I saw what happened too.”

It worried Alloy that his sister might be so morbid as to not be phased by what she’d just seen, but he took the phone on instinct. “Hello?”

“Warrick.” The voice was strained and hoarse, but Alloy knew it instantly.

“Kareem.” He said, in a state of dull shock.

Series Navigation<< Issue #30: Strange Times At Dayspring CollegeIssue #32: Ahead/Behind >>

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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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