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

Part 2

After that, it took Alloy a moment to find his voice again in the wash of relief and confusion that followed. “Kareem? But Fax said…”

Kareem’s voice was strained, but still carried the tone of calm and optimism it normally did. “I’m fine. I’m at home, but I can’t speak long, so please listen; you must tell Occult that someone is helping those creatures.” He took a deep breath. “And you should go back to where you woke up. Make sure Christina gets home safely.”

“Christina… Tink? What—“

“It hurts to speak. Please, just do this.” Kareem didn’t wait for an affirmative before hanging up.

“What’s going on?” Tammy demanded as Alloy clicked his phone closed.

“We’ve…” For a second, he considered explaining the situation to her, but thought better of it. There was a time and place for that. “Change of plans, kid.” Alloy tried to sound every bit the quintessential big brother he was, “Get out of that get up and get to the car, okay? We’ll be with you in a minute.” Tammy noted the seriousness in his tone and didn’t argue as he strode out of the library toward the others.

“What are we going to do?” Zero fretted, tears freely flowing down her cheeks.

“Nothing.” Facsimile snapped. “We’re going to find and pound Augustus and get the Book, then Ephemeral’s going to turn up a little frazzled because of ‘astral shear’ or something caused by that spell. It’s going to turn out fine.”

“What if it doesn’t?” Zero almost shouted at her. “He’s not here. He’s not answering when I try and talk to him in my head…” The temperature began to drop as her anger rose. “It’s not going to be okay, Cyn. I watched it happen and—“

Facsimile’s arm stretched out and grabbed Zero’s collar. With impressive strength, she dragging the other girl so their faces were very close together. “Facsimile.” She said sternly. “Facsimile. Zero. We’ve still got something horrible going on. And after that’s done, Ephemeral,” She made a point to sound the codename out, “Is going to be fine. Safe and sound.”

She reached out to put a hand on Zero’s shoulder, but the other girl pushed away from her. “Don’t you get it?! I saw it! I saw him! He’s—“

“He’s at home.” Alloy rejoined the group.

“Wait, what?” Facsimile let more relief show than she intended.

Alloy nodded. “He called my cell. It’s our number and everything.” Isp reached out to give Zero the tentacle approximation of a hug. “He doesn’t sound good, but he’s okay. We should go make sure he’s alright as soon we make sure everything’s okay here.”

“He’s okay.” Zero murmured. “He didn’t…” She smiled a small smile and closed her eyes. After a few seconds of deep breathing, she seemed to be back to her old self again, a drastic shift from her ranting earlier. “I’m glad. I don’t want anything to happen to any of you.”

Facsimile raised an eyebrow at this, but let it pass. “I told you he’d be okay.” She said, but she didn’t let herself lose sight of the other issues at hand, “But there’s a problem…”

“I know.” Alloy said, “He said someone’s been helping those things.”

“Augustus.” Facsimile growled.

“No.” Occult said, breaking her long silence. “I sensed the ability to use magic in him, but he doesn’t actually know anything. Pulling something like this off isn’t top tier complex, but it’s like asking a toddler to do trigonometry.”

“Then it’s another caster.” Facsimile said. “Morganna? She’s like that cat from that song, only more destructi—she’s exactly like that cat from that song.”

“I’d know if Morganna was back.” Occult said quickly. “This definitely isn’t her. It’s got to be someone else.”

“It’s a good thing Chaos isn’t here to hear that.” Zero said, her serenity apparently completely regenerated. “He’d be pretty angry.” She looked in the direction of The Hills and then at the slowly assembling band of gawkers come to stare at the end result of a super-brawl. “Still, finding out who it is sounds like it’ll take a while and Alloy said Ephemeral didn’t sound so…”

“Go tend to your friend.” Occult said. “None of you knows magic anyway and that’s the only way to track this guy. I’ll contact you when I pinpoint him.”

“Thanks.” Zero said, offering a sheepish smile.

“Nothing of it.” Occult said, “You’d do the same for me.”

“I’ll meet you guys at home.” Alloy said, “There’s something Ephemeral asked me to take care of, okay?”

Facsimile looked puzzled but nodded. “No problem, we’ll take care of the Spark until you get back.”

Alloy turned back as Osp latched onto a lamp pole to swing him over the crowd. “Please don’t call her that to her face.”

***

“Miss? Are you alright?” The voice was partly muffled, partly reverberating, like the speaker was yelling into a trashcan.

Tink opened her eyes and was startled to find herself face to face analog with a metallic snake. At least that was the closest approximation her mind could come up with.

“Uh, I’m over here.” Trying to keep one eye on the snake (how was it looking at her without eyes?), Tink turned to see a true knight in shining armor kneeling beside her. The only thing that kept it from being a classic pose was the two metallic tendrils extending from gaps in the armor over his arms. “Are you hurt? What happened?”

Wincing at a brief headache as she adjusted her glasses, Tink got herself up on her elbows. “It’s you. I mean: No, I’m fine… I think.”

“No idea what happened?”

“None. I was watching you and that thing and I guess I fainted.” She frowned. “That doesn’t sound like me though.”

Inside his helmet, Alloy frowned with her. No, it didn’t sound like her. He’d have to ask Kareem when he was feeling better. Before long, he realized that a full minute had passed in silence. “Say, you’re that girl from the construction site thing. I saved your boyfriend.” It was awkward to say, but it least it broke the silence.

“Yeah, that’s me.” Tink wondered if she needed to remind him that she’d temporarily defeated him as well, but decided against it.

“So… this place is going to be crawling with cops and media in a few minutes, how about I take you home?”

Tink gave him a suspicious look. “I’ve got a boyfriend. You just said it.”

Alloy tried his best to act taken aback, and act that was inhibited by his armor. “Whoa, it’s a ride, nothing else. I’m one of the good guys, remember? I’d never think of putting the moves on some other guy’s girlfriend.” He tapped his plated chest. “Besides, how much contact can you get through an eighth of an inch of steel?”

Chewing her lip, she considered. Sure, Alloy may not think anything of it, and she certainly wasn’t looking to get involved with anyone else, but what would Warrick think if he heard about it?

She almost laughed out loud when it occurred to her that he would think it was the coolest thing ever. The fact that his girlfriend had ‘gone for a swing’ with a prelate, especially Alloy, who he seemed to hold in high esteem, would impress him so much that he wouldn’t even consider any other ramifications. With a shrug, she nodded. “Sure, why not?”

Alloy chuckled at that. She had a way with words that could make anything seem to be a casual happenstance. “Cool. And to ensure there’s no concept of hanky-panky…” He turned on his knees while willing the plates that guarded his back to sprout handles, just like he’d done for Zero and Hope during the times he had to carry them.

“Heh.” Tink shook her head. “A super piggyback ride. Never heard of those before.”

“I’m an innovator.” Alloy laughed

***

The next time Augustus had his wits about him, he found that he was sitting at his own kitchen table, his hands resting on the cover of the Book. It felt warm, almost alive in its own right. For a moment, he wondered if everything he’d seen hadn’t just been a dream, perhaps guilt over taking the book home.

But then he heard the hum of the rehydration oven on the other side of the kitchen. Looking up, he saw the man from the rooftop watching the oven like a cat watching a crippled mouse. In a less harsh light, he finally got a good look at him.

Of average height, the man was dressed in a black t-shirt with a wide neck and white block letters that read ‘I Don’t Think I’m Better Than Everyone, Just You.’ and jeans. Both garments were too big for him and worn awkwardly. Long, straight, black hair was pulled back from an angular face with a broad, chiseled nose.

The necklace of yellow stones wasn’t a necklace at all; they were embedded in his tanned skin. Not only did a group of them follow his collar bone, but there was one embedded in his forehead and larger stones in the palms of his hands and on the backs of his wrists.

“What just happened?” Augustus found he couldn’t manage the anger and indignation he knew he should feel for this violation of his home.

The stranger didn’t answer until the oven dinged and he had extracted a piping hot dish of orange chicken and rice from it. “Would you be more comfortable with my telling you that I called upon an ancient power to pull us through the hellish nothingness between this world and the Astral Plane, seeking out a place you recognize as safe and secure in a variant of a ritual whose name translates to English as ‘Hide at Home’?” He picked up a piece of sauce coated chicken and popped it into his mouth. “Or should I shrug and say ‘magic’?”

“I don’t think I’d be comfortable with either.” He looked down at the Book of Passions. “Magic’s not real.”

Pulling up a chair, the stranger held out a hand dramatically. The yellow stone in his palm glowed intensely. A yellow blob of light emerged, changing shape until it had become a square edged utensil of some sort, which he used to lift some rice to his mouth. “That’s a fact then?”

Augustus fell silent.

“I can’t say I’m surprised you don’t believe.” The man continued as he at. “I’m looked around here. The things your science does… the ovens that turn frozen, inedible blocks into tasty, tasty food.” He gestured at the rehydration oven, “Storage boxes for food that keep it cold—not only cold, but various degrees of ‘cold’—I can go on and on and I’ve only been here a month or so. I still don’t know the full potential your ‘computers’ and ‘holography’ have. If you can do that on your own, I can understand wondering why you should bother with magic.”

He let Augustus stew in this while he savored the chicken. “I could go on for a long time about why you should, but let’s be honest, Auggie…” He tapped the leather bound Book fondly with the end of his utensil. “Magic is bothering with you.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Augustus said quickly. “I just wanted something to read and found this.”

“And you make a habit of reading books you’re not even supposed to take out of the Library Vault?” the stranger smiled at Augustus’s discomforted look. “No, the Book chose you, called out to you.”

“What do you know about this?”

“I know a lot.” The stranger took another bite of his meal. “They weren’t always Books. For my people, they were Songs. It doesn’t matter what form they take, they’re older than Mankind and form the pillars of our magic; Tranquility opposing Madness, Reason opposing Passions. The way I here it, it’s the struggle between the 4 that creates magic on this world.”

The reverent tone in the stranger’s voice made Augustus very conscious of the ‘alive’ feeling he’d gotten from the book earlier. He quickly took his fingers away from it.

The stranger laughed. “That’s not going to avert destiny, Auggie. The Book of Passions wants you to use it.”

“You know so much about, it, why don’t you use it?”

More laughter. “It doesn’t want me. Plus, that’s magic of this world. I’ve got my own.” He reached up and pulled down the neck of his shirt. Beneath, there as a large stone similar to the ones on the rest of his body, flanked by three smaller ones arranged around it. “Fragments of another world that fell on this one back when I was your age. The elders had a name for that place. In English, it means ‘The Warped Star’. They called me Warpstar after it.”

He grinned at the incredulity on Augustus’s face. “It lets me copy the essence of a thing; not what it actually does, but parts of its metaphysical nature; and graft them onto myself. That’s how I know about your country and your language after just a month.”

“That can’t be for real.” Augustus shook his head. Even with what he’d seen, he couldn’t accept it. “You’re just a really weird psionic or something. So were those thi—guys at the college that the Descendants fought.”

Warpstar scraped the last rice and sauce out of the dish and chewed it thoughtfully. “These psionics… now that’s something I didn’t believe in myself. But science is its own magic, I suppose.” He dropped the utensil into the dish and set back. “But I think you do believe me, Auggie. It’s just that you’re scared. Scared that you’ve got a destiny you can’t fight—that’ll make other people think you’re crazy.”

“I’m… starting to think I’m crazy myself.”

“Probably.” Warpstar shrugged. “But it can be worth it. Magic’s a nice thing to have, no matter what it comes from. Get good enough at it and you can have anything you desire.”

“If I make enough money, I can have anything I desire too.”

“Anything, Auggie?” Warpstar laughed. This one was a crueler, mocking laugh. “Do you honestly believe that? And even if it were true, what’s the guarantee that you’ll make all this money? Magic can get you money too, you know?”

Augustus caught himself caressing the Book’s cover and quickly moved his hands away. “Why are you telling me this? What do you get out of it?”

“Good question.” Warpstar admitted. “Truth is, I believe in the principle of power in numbers, and there aren’t a lot of spellcasters around anymore. If we do this right, there are going to be people trying to stop us; trying to take the Book from you, and pry the stones out of me. But if we can work together, we can stop them, Auggie. And we can have whatever we want.”

Unbidden, images of fame, fortune and women flickered in his mind. He hadn’t been able to keep a girlfriend for more than a few months before, Deborah being only the last in a long string of strikeouts. On top of that, his college was a huge financial strain on his family. He had no real prospects and really nothing to lose. Why not see if the magic Warpstar promised could help him with all his problems?

He agreed to Warpstar’s offer, even as a small part of his mind wondered if those thoughts were really his.

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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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