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 3

“Stay here and wait for Warrick, little sister.” Cyn said, entering the Freeland House kitchen first, giving it a quick once over. What she was careful not to say was that if Kareem was badly hurt, she didn’t want the fourteen year old to see it. “Jun, with me please?”

Juniper tried to give Tammy a reassuring smile as she brushed past to follow Cyn into the downstairs commons. For her part, Tammy only nodded and obediently took a seat.

“About earlier…” Juniper said as soon as the kitchen door was closed behind her. “I’m really sorry.”

“Water and bridge stuff.” Cyn replied, flashing the other girl a smile. “Don’t worry about it.” She looked around the commons and then at the twin sets of stairs leading to the upstairs. “Where are the landline phones in this place?”

“I don’t think there are any.” Juniper said, then added, “I didn’t mean what I said, and you turned out right.”

“How the hell could Kareem have called Warrick then?” Cyn asked, looking for any obvious clues.

“I’m really glad you were right too. Kareem’s a really nice person and–-“

Cyn put a finger to Juniper’s lips to quiet her. “Jun, stop. Please. I wasn’t right; I was in denial, okay? This is like… my family, seeing I never had a real one. And you told me one of them was dead. I wouldn’t have accepted it even if I saw it, okay? I was scared. The same kind of scared you were, okay?”

Juniper nodded.

“Good. Right now there’s nothing to be scared, or worried or sorry over. Kareem isn’t dead. But he may be hurt; Tammy and Warrick said he sounded real bad. We need to find him before he gets worse. So where would he have to go to call Warrick’s phone?”

“There’s no landline.” Juniper said again, “We all use cell phones, we don’t need one.”

Cyn suddenly brightened. “Wait; there is one person that makes calls without a cell. Ms. Brant calls her friends in other countries with voice over IP. Come on!” She raced up the stairs with a hand clamped firmly to Juniper’s wrist.

Sure enough, the door to Laurel’s workshop was open. A trial of blood drops led to it from the upstairs commons. The lights were all off except for the main monitor, which only showed operating system’s main screen and an open voice over IP session. Kareem—not the astral entity they had known for over a year, but the flesh and blood person they had never met, was slumped in Laurel’s chair, wrapped in the sheet from his bed.

Cyn instinctively adjusted her eyes to the dimness. The sheet was stained with blood, but not enough to be dangerous. The source was a tear in Kareem’s arm; probably from pulling his IV out. He had staunched it by ripping the sheet and tying it off. A much smaller trickle of blood came from the side of his mouth. He had also removed his feeding tube.

“Is he okay?” Juniper couldn’t see any of this and sounded as if she was forcing her trademark optimism to its limits.

“I don’t know.” Cyn said. She touched his face and felt warmth. “He’s still alive at least. And breathing. We should get him back to his room and call Laurel; we need Melissa back and we need to hook him back up to his machines.” Increasing her upper body strength, she reached down and lifted him gently out of the chair.

Kareem stirred at the touch and the conversation. “…Fine.” He managed after a few false starts.

“You don’t look fine.” Cyn was already marching down the hall toward his room. “Weren’t all the treatments Laurel was giving you supposed to stop the entropy?”

“Atrophy.” Juniper corrected helpfully.

“That.”

“It did.” Kareem managed, “I’m just so tired. Strained my powers.”

“And you ripped your arm open coming to help. We need Melissa.” Cyn reached Kareem’s room. She could have followed the blood drops if she didn’t already know the way. The machines that usually crowded the bed had been pushed roughly aside. The bloody IV needle dangled to the floor and the feeding tube leaked a small but steady stream of bright yellow nutritional supplement across the sheets. The other monitoring and care devices were similarly tossed aside.

“We can’t put him here.” Juniper noted, “Not until we clean the place up.”

“We’ll put you in Warrick’s room for now.” Cyn grew a third arm and used it to open the door. “Man, you’re arm’s bleeding bad. We don’t have time to call Melissa. Jun, call Emergency.”

“No.” Kareem said, letting Cyn sit him on the edge of Warrick’s bed. “Just…” His head dipped as he fought off the extreme fatigue, “First aid kit. Bring me needle and thread.”

Juniper was already headed for the upstairs commons where the previous owners had stored one of the many wartime era first aid kits in Freeland House.

“You’re not going to stitch your own arm up.” Cyn blanched. “I don’t think you get how much that’s going to hurt. We don’t even have anything for the pain.”

“I can’t.” Kareem said, gesturing with his good arm to show how he couldn’t properly reach. “You have to.”

“Oh hell no.” Cyn said, “I flunked Home Ec at the Academy. I sewed my hand into a pillow on accident.” Her apprehension only mounted as Juniper returned with the first aid kit.

“You have to.” Kareem said softly. “I… help you. My mind.”

“I heard his parents talking one time when they were here.” Juniper said, producing sterile wipes, surgical cotton and a needle from the kit. “They were on the run for a while before his parents managed to come here. His father taught Kareem all about survivalism.”

“Yeah, but he can’t teach us that now.” Cyn said, “He said his powers are strained, trying that might brain-blow him.”

Juniper looked past the medical products she’s produced to Kareem’s increasingly out of focus eyes. “I can do it.” She said.

“What, your parents were survivalists too?” Cyn asked.

No eye contact was made as Juniper sprayed a topical anesthetic/antiseptic on the wound and readied the needle. “Something like that.”

***

“First rule of magic:” Warpstar was walking slightly ahead of rather than beside Augustus as they crossed a footbridge connecting Twin Timbers, where Augustus lived, to Wagner Park and the Southwestern edge of Mayfield, “There are three core types of it: magic that comes from yourself, magic that comes from a Source, like a field or leyline, and ritual magic.”

Augustus was happy that Warpstar had finally decided to leave his home, given that he had no idea how he would have explained a gem encrusted magician to his mother or older brother. On another level, he was engrossed with the idea of magic and everything it could do for him.

“Self-magic is usually either personal, like changing your shape, or short lived; most low power attack spells, minor prestidigitation; those are self-magic.” Warpstar offered a friendly smile to a female jogger who stopped to gawk upon hearing his casual dissertation on the occult.

“Sourced magic usually just channels the source; elemental fire makes fireballs, flash arrows, fire barriers, and so on and so forth. Specialists usually tap a lot of sources just to have variety. My people; they were masters at Source magic, even when most of the world became hell bent on rituals and self-magic.”

“And rituals?” Augustus found himself asking. They skirted the park and were walking the wide sidewalk running parallel to it. Across Wagner Avenue, upscale stores had sprung up to cater to those rich enough to afford park views.

“Rituals are the most powerful, but the most difficult. This world runs on rules and if you do certain things with certain elements—I’m talking metaphysical elements, of course—in a certain way, maybe at a certain time in a certain place…. Well, you can make some really interesting things happen.”

“Like what?”

“I’m glad you asked that, Auggie, because now it’s time for the demonstration element of today’s lesson.” He stopped and turned. They had stopped in front of the jewelry store. “Stones, especially precious gems, have a lot of power because people’s minds give them power. As in this world as in…” He tapped one of the yellow shards in his wrist. “Others.”

“I didn’t really explain these to you, did I?” Warpstar asked.

Augustus stared at the window displays of diamonds. Was Warpstar going to rob it? Ask him to rob it? Could he bring himself to do such a thing?”

Oblivious, or simply uncaring of Augustus’s thoughts, Warpstar continued. “Like I said, I can take the essence of a thing and graft it to myself. Pretty useful, except I only have so many stones, some essences take up multiple small stones, and only the bigger ones are reusable and those aren’t permanent.” He scowled at the jewelry store as if it were the cause of his problems. “So it’s really a pretty finite power, don’t you think?” Casually, he walked to the corner and waited for the light to change.

“Sort of, but it still seems nice to me.” Augustus admitted.

“Only because you don’t get the magnitude of what’s landed in your lap.” Warpstar obeyed the walk signal and brought Auggie to stand in front of the display window. “You still don’t do you? I mean, Passions chose you. There is something essentially you about you that Passions wants and it chooses to open up all magic to you.”

“I thought we were talking about ritual magic.” Augustus said. For the first time, he finally really felt panic and unease. The Book was worried about Warpstar too, he realized.

“We are.” Warpstar put a hand against the glass in front of a perfectly arranged diamond necklace. “For example, did you know that many arrangements that are pleasing to the human eye also hold occult significance? It’s like we’re wired for magic, to paraphrase scientists who would never mention magic.” The stone in his hand glowed.

“Diamonds, for example, Auggie, mean control. I’ve found that if I use them, I can control the essences I take.”

“Why would you need that now?”

“For this, Auggie.” Warpstar turned and placed a hand on Augustus’s head. “Combine to the power of the Warped Star.” He intoned in a much deeper, much more predatory voice. There was a shudder in the air as yellow ribbons of light flowed from Augustus into one of the stones under Warpstar’s shirt.

When it was over, both were still standing.

“Wait.” Augustus backed away. “Did whatever you did not work?” He bumped into a man who had himself stopped at the sight of Warpstar’s lightshow.

“I said, I gain the essence, Auggie, I never said you loose anything.” Warpstar shrugged casually. “Which is why I have to do this.” With viper speed, the strange magician threw a right cross that knocked Augustus on his back.

He hadn’t even hit the ground before Warpstar took the Book from him. “And now I’m the one who has that thing that Passions wants.” He mused, pushing his way through the growing crowd. Amid the confusion, he tapped the power held in one of his stones and took a new shape, one less conspicuous.

***

Only a few blocks away, Alloy was traversing the Shuster Street Bridge, on his way back from making sure Tink got home safely. Rows of townhouses had proven less than conducive to swinging and the two had been forced to walk the blocks from the bridge to Tink’s house like normal people. Wryly, he noted that such things didn’t happen to prelates who could fly.

Osp set him down on the last bridge tower so he could get the lay of the land. Taking Tink home had been a nice diversion, but what had happened earlier in the day wasn’t lost on him. Someone had used ghosts to attack the college and seriously hurt Kareem. And the prime suspect, a freshman he knew from his work at the museum, was still out there.

Months of patrolling and visually scanning the city from on high kicked in even as he was only trying to focus himself on the task at hand. There was a large knot of people crowded around something on the ground about three blocks away, in front of a jewelry store where he and Chaos had caught a pair of jewel thieves a month and a half before.

“Bad guys never learn.” Alloy sighed, mentally directing Isp and Osp to take him there.

***

His head hurt. Augustus was actually relieved to realize that he was finally able to have something at the forefront of his mind other than that damn book. Book. He corrected his own mental capitalization.

“Just lay still son.” An older man’s voice said and a large hand pressed on his shoulder to keep him from getting up. “The paramedics will be here any minute.”

Slowly, Augustus opened his eyes and saw that he was surrounded by people. A middle aged man, the one who was keeping him still, was kneeling beside him. Other people were gathered around, probably waiting for the show.

“Who was that guy, kid? Some kind of psionic?” A young, Asian woman, not much older than he was asked, “Should we call the Descendants or something?”

“Fast, easy service with a smile.” A metallic tendril looped through the bystanders, it’s end melting and reforming into a tripod as it flexed and lowered the armored form of Alloy into their midst. Alloy nodded to the girl. “What do we have—“He spied Augustus on the ground. “You.”

His tone must have been more threatening than he thought, because the man beside Augustus moved to place himself between those two. “Whoa, Alloy. This boy’s been attacked. He’s not the bad guy here.”

“Maybe not here.” Alloy said, having Osp gently lift the man out of the way. The tentacle took extra time readjusting his coat and dusting it off. “But there was a big brouhaha at the Dayspring campus this evening and this guy’s the prime suspect.”

A shrill siren announced the arrival of the paramedics, the sleek, new vertical take off and landing ambulance coming down in the street. Isp gently wrapped Augustus’s arms and legs and lifted him.

“Wait, he needs a doctor.” The girl objected. “Some loon with crystals in his hands did something to him, then punched him out and stole his book!”

Alloy took a closer look. Augustus was, indeed missing the book Occult had been some worried about. “Fine, the EMTs can check him out, but then I’ve got questions.” He had Isp carry Augustus behind him as he made his way to the ambulance.

As the paramedics looked the young man over, Alloy stood guard should anything magical happen. He didn’t expect the magical happening to be Occult teleporting in. She didn’t look very surprised to see him.

“I got Auggie.” Alloy said as she turned her shadowed countenance toward him, “But—“

“I know.” Occult said, holding up the Digi-book of Reason. “I finally know everything. About the 4, about why Augustus was drawn to the Book, and why someone else wants it. You, me and him need to have some quality time, along with your teammates. Ever teleported before?”

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

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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