The Books of Magic: Changeling Unmasked, Chapter 3: Teamwork

by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza

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The girl watched the happenings with a wide grin at first. Those meddling boys, she said as things started to turn. They’re ruining all my fun!

She never expected a fledgling adept this early in the year, much less a group of them with such daring and disregard for danger. After the last time I was here, I thought for sure that doing this before hell week would yield the best results.

Then young Hunter had unveiled a nasty surprise of his own. He had some degree of focused talent that she had never seen before in a first-year student. These boys have to be disposed of quickly! She waited for her chance as the Mares of Diomedes rushed back into the bestiary; the animals no doubt were setting up an ambush. If things went as she planned, Gallowglass would preside over five more funerals before the day was out.

***

The group of boys regarded the quiet zoo. The animals seemed to be watching their efforts to corral the escaped wild horses. Adam Frankenstein held a bag of darts and the blowgun that he had retrieved from the front supply cabinet. “You stay here,” he told them. “Keep watch.”

Kirk Pike flatly refused to stay on the sidelines. “I’m going in whether you like it or not, Adam,” he said.

“What about detention for disobeying?” Josh Cantrell asked. “Peel can be downright ruthless. Believe me, I know!”

“Detention with Peel’s a challenge,” Kirk replied. The others just stared at him with disbelief.

“You’re crazy!” said Gray Murphy. “But we started this together, and we’ll finish it together.” The others nodded.

Adam looked at the determined faces and decided it would be better to have them with him and close than to have them running about on their own. Of all the boys, Kirk was the one who would never back down when he thought he was in the right. Adam admired that, but thought it would likely get the boy killed if he wasn’t careful.

Tim Hunter stood near the Arioch pasture. He stared at the landscape blankly as the white bull cropped the grass thoughtfully. He was missing something. They were all missing something. What could it be? How would Batman, or his sidekick Robin, go about this? They would flush the horses out or figure some way to blow their cover. At least the Batman would. Tim mused on his half-baked idea.

Maybe they could make it work if he had a way to implement it. All he really knew was how to freeze things. What else could he do if he put his mind to it? Could he do this? He decided to try.

Tim closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt motes of himself flitting through the strange zoo. He was everywhere and nowhere for a moment. Then he was himself again. The young boy smiled when he saw the results of his work. The Mares of Diomedes were surrounded by magical sparks that brought attention to their hiding places with their constant buzzing.

Adam Frankenstein darted three more of the predators before they realized he knew where they were. They charged out to engage the groundskeeper and his five helpers.

One went down in a roll of thunder when Josh Cantrell punched it in the side of the head. One chased Gray Murphy until a small tree fell on it. One went after Alfred Twitchell but found that the elusive boy was always just out of reach before it could bite or stamp. A dart in the hindquarters brought it down swiftly. One went after Kirk Pike, who swung up on its back before it quite knew what he planned to do. He had a handful of mane and slapped his horse’s rump. The startled equine began to buck furiously under the rough treatment, trying to throw the boy to the ground.

Raising his hands as two of the herd ran at him, Tim managed to form blue sparkles at the tips of his fingers. Suddenly, the horses were covered in thick ice as the magic worked its way on the atmosphere.

Tim Hunter smiled slightly. He felt ten feet tall and bulletproof. He had frozen two horses in their tracks with a wave of his hands and an extreme mental effort. He wondered if it would get easier.

Looking around, he saw that his older friends had things in hand. He had underestimated them. He should have known better. Kirk and Josh had herded the remaining horses together, blocking them from the rest of the Academy. Murphy and Twitch had grabbed tree limbs and used them as prods to help keep the animals back. Adam aimed the blowgun and put one more to sleep with a breath.

Tim focused on one of the remaining horses. He called forth the energy again, and energy raced from his hands and flew at the predator. It reared as the spell buzzed by its head. Distracted and annoyed by the attack, it ran back into its enclosure. The other horse stared at his fellow, until Adam exhaled a dart in its hindquarters. It fell over after a second’s surprise at the pricking.

The boys looked at each other. “We won!” said Murphy. “Wa-hooo!

“Hold that thought,” said Kirk, looking at the gate to the enclosure.

***

“I thought I told you to stay out of the portal,” Simon Belmont said, pulling the sword from the empty robe.

“Abby is missing,” Rose Psychic said. “Her cane was left behind in the clock room.”

“You think she stepped into a portal?” asked Belmont.

“If she did, someone replaced whichever source file she used,” said Rose.

“I see,” said Belmont, sheathing the sword.

“Can you find her?” asked Rose.

“Not from here,” said Belmont as he walked to a door leading off the second-story landing.

“Could we go back?” said Rose, following.

“I am not done yet,” said Belmont. He pushed the door open, whip ready.

“Abby might be in danger,” Rose said.

“Quiet,” said Belmont. “We’re in danger, and there isn’t a might about that.”

The keeper of the clock tower started down an open hall to a door at the other end. His brown eyes glared at the hedges bunched up against the metal picket fence as he moved. Rose followed silently. The winged Death was evidence enough of Belmont’s point of view.

Belmont pushed through the next room, revealing a rose garden around a central pillar and the edges of a circular room. Circular windows allowed the wan moonlight to shine on the plants. Belmont pushed against the second door to the other side. He went up some stairs to gain access to a hall, where stained-glass windows portrayed all manner of courtly life, from knights to fair maidens.

As they looked around, Rose gasped when she noticed that some of the figures in the stained glass were moving.

Suddenly, the stained-glass knights came to life and burst into the hall, attacking the two with swords. Belmont didn’t pause as he struck with his silver whip, smashing the stained glass with several blows.

Heading for one of several doors, Belmont opened it with a key. “Inside,” he said, waiting for Rose to limp past before shutting the door and locking it. The room was small with a cask against the far wall. Belmont sat down on the edge of the platform the cask stood on. He peered in his supply bag until he pulled out a brown bag. Pulling out a wrapped sandwich, he handed it to Rose.

“Eating?” Rose asked, examining the thing.

“Yep,” Belmont said, pulling out a sandwich for himself. “It’ll do wonders for your leg.”

Rose bit into the sandwich, and slow warmth bled through her system. The ache and pain drained from her leg as she ate. “What is in this?” she asked.

“Bat,” Belmont said.

“So what’s going on, Belmont?” Rose Psychic asked, finishing her sandwich. Her leg felt much better than it had earlier.

“My niece is being held in a tower off the central keep. I am going in and getting her.” Belmont threw his wrapper in his bag. “Coming or staying?” he asked.

“I’ll go,” said Rose, throwing her own wrapper in the bag. “How do you know if this is true?”

“I heard the rumor back at Grimoire and asked the Ferryman on the way over,” Belmont said. “Actrisse had him ferry them over a few days ago.”

“You trust this information?” Rose asked.

“I trust he saw what he saw and told the truth,” said Belmont. “The rest needs to be verified.”

“Understood,” said Rose.

“Ready to go?” Belmont asked.

“Yes,” said Rose. “Which way?”

“We’re going to go left to the next door, along that room to the door on the end, down the stairs to the doors at the bottom,” said Belmont. “We’ll take a breather outside, then try an easy way across the hedge maze.” Rose nodded, memorizing the directions. Belmont threw the door open and stepped into the hall. Rose followed closely.

***

The boys helped Adam Frankenstein with carrying the horses back into their fenced pasture. Gray Murphy and Alfred Twitchell held their legs, while Adam carried the beasts in his arms, assisted by Josh Cantrell. Kirk Pike had found something of personal interest about the gate. He wandered away from the work, his fierce gray eyes on the ground. Tim Hunter followed him, wondering what other trouble he was getting into now. The two boys walked slowly along some kind of trail that Kirk saw in the disturbed grass.

“What exactly are we doing?” Tim asked.

“Tracking,” said Kirk.

Tracking?

“It’s a hobby of mine,” Kirk said irritably.

“Interesting,” said Tim.

Kirk Pike paused under the branches of some kind of oak tree. He looked up into it before circling it and striking off at a random angle.

“What exactly are we tracking, Kirk?” Tim Hunter asked the intent boy. His limbs shivered from the reaction to the earlier roundup of the Mares of Diomedes. He thought his knees would give out at any moment.

“Whoever busted the lock on the gate,” Kirk said, his mind on the task he was performing, not on his companion.

“Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous?” Tim asked.

“Only for them,” said Kirk. He had already set his mind to the deed and would not be swayed except by force of arms. Tim could read the signs of intent in his face and posture like a textbook.

“Maybe we should wait for Adam and the others,” Tim said.

“Don’t be a baby, Tim,” Kirk said, pausing in confusion. He glanced over his shoulder, then back at where the trail led. Kirk stalked toward the administration building, his eyes on the floor, seeking some sign of where to go. Tim wondered if Kirk was right. No one should have been in the administration building, since class was out for the day. Only the infirmary was in use until Patsy Ambrose got over that spore infection. Kirk knew that, too.

Kirk knelt on the floor, examining it. He frowned at what he saw. Looking at the other end of the hall, he stood up, brushing his knees off. Kirk started walking down the hall, Tim following quietly. Kirk was leading them to the infirmary with his quiet assurance, and Tim frowned at that. He didn’t think Kirk thought enough of Patsy to visit her while she was sick. Some other reason must be behind his sudden interest.

Tim thought about the condition of the gate lock. He wondered if he could conjure protective clothing in case Kirk was about to get him in trouble.

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