The Books of Magic: Changeling Unmasked, Chapter 5: The Castle of Actrisse

by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza

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Patsy Ambrose blinked furiously from the flash of light. These boys are causing too many problems for this human form! she thought. It is time for a change of identity. She surrounded herself with a glowing aura as she cast a fear spell on the boys to keep them back. She sprouted wings, her skin became a scaly purple, gray ran through her blond hair, she gained two feet in height, and a third eye opened in her forehead.

Suddenly, she a right foot kicked her in her face, then the left in her chest, then the right in her stomach.

Patsy glared at her attacker, who was spinning in the air and delivering another kick to her face. Kirk Pike was still on his feet, and he wasn’t afraid like the rest. The fourteen-year-old was angry, furious, almost berserk with rage, and he was attacking viciously with everything he had learned in his short life.

The demonic Patsy Ambrose grew tired of being a punching bag for the enraged Kirk Pike. Purple ichor ran from where he had cut her skin and smashed her nose. She inhaled air and exhaled a glowing spray that threw Kirk against the far wall. She then turned her attention to the other boys, who had been affected by her working. She heard Josh Cantrell say something, felt the wall behind her wrench from some unseen working. Then thunder rolled, and she crashed through the wall, taking the window frame with her to the ground. And then the rest of the wall fell on top of her.

“Jeez, Murphy,” Josh said, looking down at the rubble on the grass.

“Why does everybody blame me for stuff like that?” Gray Murphy asked out loud.

“Because you have a reputation for being a jinx on people you don’t like,” said Alfred Twitchell, pulling himself together and helping Tim Hunter to his feet.

“Oh, sure,” said Murphy. “One light falling on somebody, and they never let you live it down.”

Joshua Cantrell stood at the edge of the hole in the infirmary’s wall. A magic blast had changed his clothes to resemble the costume of his hero, Captain Marvel, except the lightning bolt was pointed upward. He smiled for a moment before he turned back to the unpleasant task before him.

Leaping from the building as Patsy Ambrose tried to dig her way out of the rubble that had buried her, Josh repeated his magic words over and over as he fell. “Kami Nomi Kai!” Sparks ran up and down his body in little swirls, and he stomped on the pile of fallen masonry and wiring. A thunderclap announced the release of all of his energy in a single blow. A crater was dug by the pile of debris being driven into the ground by the red-clad boy. “Give up?” he asked mildly, listening to the stones feebly shift under him.

“Let’s get down there,” said Kirk Pike, swinging over the edge of the ruined floor and flipping to the ground.

***

Rose Psychic concentrated. Mental energy hurled the foremost spider-women out of her way, allowing her to push forward. A ring of blue fire erupted to show that Simon Belmont was still fighting. The hybrids caught in the display burst with spraying clouds of fluid.

She joined the old fighter, suddenly realizing that, while she had thought they were contemporaries, since she was chronologically in her late eighties, he could actually be much older than her. She was briefly wondering how many monsters were a lot when the adventurer kicked an arriving spider-woman in the face to clear the way to the gold door marked with the sun.

Belmont pressed a red card to the door, causing it to slide out of the way. He stepped inside to make sure it was clear, turning to pull Rose across the threshold. “How are you doing, Rose?” he asked, checking his travel bag.

“I’m fine,” said Rose Psychic. “Where are we?” She looked around the empty room, trying to enjoy the feel of air being pushed by fans in the wall while trying to ignore the smell that came with the air.

“We’re under the main part of the castle,” he said. “Things should be easier from here on in.”

“How do you want to do the rescue?” Rose asked.

“We’re going to take an elevator up to the tower entrance. Then Actrisse will make some kind of proposal. Naturally, we’ll turn it down. She’ll be mad. A fight will break out. First chance you get, you take my niece and teleport out to the Forest of Silence where the portal will be, hopefully. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

Belmont pulled a set of cross-like daggers from his bag and dropped the empty sack on the floor. He wrapped the bandoleer over his shoulder and hooked it together. “Sound like a plan to you?” he asked as he adjusted the fit of the bandoleer so that it was comfortable on his lean form.

“Yes,” said Rose. “Let’s go ahead and get this done.”

Belmont nodded, leading the way.

The pair moved cautiously through the next door. Belmont led the way down the hall, kicking a skeleton on a motorcycle into a wall. The bike caught fire as metal buckled on impact. Belmont turned the corner, rushing for a door in the middle of the cross hall. A second rider was at the end of the cross hall. It charged forward into an invisible wall erected by Rose and exploded on impact.

Yanking the door open, Belmont ran inside to a vast white room, then headed for a set of stairs to a gate. Pulling the gate open, he ran into the next room, pausing let Rose catch up. A cylinder as wide as Rose was tall rested on a stone and wood trestle on the right. A rectangular column lifted into the ceiling. Another set of stairs rose up across the room.

Belmont went to the folding gate in one side of the column and pulled it open. “We’re going upstairs,” said Belmont.

“Let’s,” said Rose, stepping into the revealed elevator

Simon Belmont triggered the elevator. He kept glancing outside the cab as much as possible. He felt trapped in the thing, but it was the quickest way to where they had to go.

Actrisse wanted him up there, but she didn’t want to make it too easy. She wanted to make him sweat. Too bad it was impossible to slip Rose into the main tower now. Actrisse would already have been told about the woman traveling with him. It was just a way to up the ante, a convenient hostage of fortune to keep him moving forward. If he left Rose by herself, they would hunt her until they could bring her back or kill her on the spot if they felt like they didn’t need her any more.

The elevator lifted out of the top of the column, clumping to a stop. The gate creaked open. The adventurers paused long enough for Belmont to examine the best way forward. He ignored the two bridges, one broken and warped, that stretched from massive doors on either side of the elevator shaft. Rose looked over the side and saw a boiling green fluid cast fumes in the air far below.

“How are you at climbing?” Belmont asked.

“I am fair, I suppose,” said Rose, who had grown up in a mountainous region with her adoptive mentors.

“You see that skylight up there?” Belmont said, pointing. “That’s where we are going.”

“How do we get up there?” Rose asked. She knew she could step into the astral plane and back past the glass and wood she saw.

“We are going to have to climb the wall and then hand over hand to the sill,” said Belmont. “Think you can handle it?”

“I think so,” said Rose. “Why don’t we use the bridge and just walk out?”

“That way leads to the Werewolf dueling towers and the lava pit beyond,” explained Belmont. “This way leads to the outer wall of this tower, allowing us to bypass a lot of trouble with a minimum amount of danger.”

***

The rubble that covered Patsy Ambrose exploded outward. She growled at her attackers as she readied her powers to destroy those meddling kids.

“What’s going on here?” asked a chilly voice from behind her.

Patsy looked over her shoulder at a grim Headmaster Gallowglass, who stood glaring at them, one blue eye cold as an arctic plain. She took to the air, spinning and unleashing her called power at the headmaster. But she gasped as the fireballs froze in midair.

“I won’t ask again!” Gallowglass said.

“Kirk and I followed this trail from the bestiary,” Tim Hunter said, eyeing the floating fireballs absently. “We found this in Patsy’s bed, and she went crazy on us. We started fighting, and then the guys showed, and Murphy knocked the wall down on her…”

“Hey!” interjected Murphy.

“And that’s the truth,” finished Tim.

“Is it?” said Gallowglass mildly.

“Yep, Murphy knocked the wall down on her,” said Kirk Pike.

Gallowglass rubbed his chin in thought, and his right eye twinkled maliciously. “I’ll think of some worthy punishment later for the five of you,” he said. “Right now, I am in a meeting. Please go about your business until I am done.”

“What about her?” demanded Kirk Pike, pointing at the hovering demon thing.

“I don’t think that’s any of your concern,” said Gallowglass.

“Come on, Kirk,” Josh said, pulling on his friend. “Could we talk about this with you later, sir? I have some questions about what we can do to ask you.”

“Certainly, Mr. Cantrell,” said Gallowglass, folding his arms. “I’ll be done with my meeting shortly. I’ll have some time to answer your questions then.”

“Thank you,” said Josh. The boys walked away, while Gray Murphy vigorously remarked on being blamed for the collapsed wall.

“What did you do with Miss Ambrose?” Gallowglass asked the demon.

I’ll never tell,” the false Patsy exclaimed with a smug grin. “She’s in a broom closet in the hall.” The demon placed her hands over her mouth in shock.

“Thank you,” said Gallowglass, and the demon exploded in a burst of white fire.

Gallowglass thought the building should be the way it should be and that Patsy should be stronger and sleeping in the infirmary, and both things were true instantly.

The boys were already walking outside as things returned to the way Gallowglass wanted them. “This is pretty cool, Tim,” said Gray Murphy, gesturing at his black costume with a white cat’s-head on the chest. “But I would like to get my own clothes back.”

“You notice Twitch didn’t get one at all,” said Kirk Pike, cracking blue-gloved knuckles as he walked.

“I need a lot more practice,” said Tim Hunter. “If the guys hadn’t come along, that thing might have killed us.”

“You guys had it under control,” said Josh Cantrell with a smile. “I noticed Twitch got a regular suit instead of a costume.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Alfred Twitchell. He tapped the breast of the black suit jacket he wore. A muffled metallic ping answered him. “It just looks like a suit with a tie.”

“Let me see if I can recall our regular clothes,” said Tim, stopping in place. “Then I think I need a nap.”

“See if you can rig it so we can change back and forth,” said Kirk. “If we have to take detention with Mrs. Peel, I want every advantage I can get.”

Josh nodded in agreement, wishing he had been wearing some armor when he had spent his week with the slave-driving gym teacher.

***

Simon Belmont led the way up the wall, testing each grip and foothold before proceeding to the next. Rose Psychic climbed behind in a calm way, trying to remember the lessons she had learned when she and Doctor Occult had started their training under the auspices of the Seven.

“Wait here,” Belmont said, gripping an outcropping of the ceiling.

“Right,” said Rose, trying to relax against the wall.

Belmont swung out, using his momentum to swing from handhold to handhold until he reached the square frame around the skylight that had been the target of the climb. He braced himself against the frame. Then he wrapped the whip around his hand and smashed the glass out with a single sharp blow. He let the glass fall to the burning water below before swinging out of sight.

A second later, more glass fell out of the frame, and then Belmont was hanging upside down, half in and half out of the window. “I’m going to throw you the end of my whip,” Belmont said. “Catch it, and I will pull you up.”

“Go ahead,” Rose called.

Belmont flicked the silver whip out gently. Rose caught it on the first try. She swung away from the wall, frightened by the whip stretching down as she moved. She was going to hit the top of the elevator with her feet when Belmont yanked her clear with his surprising strength and speed. He vanished from the window, and she was slowly pulled upward to safety.

The old monster-hunter helped Rose through the frame, coiling his whip as he scanned the surrounding buildings. He wished he had better information than the Ferryman’s. Still, he had encountered Actrisse before and knew she wanted the high ground. There was no higher place than the master keep.

He walked to the edge of the roof, peering at the tower that beckoned slightly in the enshrouding fog. A huge gap across the invisible ground stood in the way. Belmont frowned as he searched for access to his target. Then he saw it.

Belmont went along the edge of the roof until he was rewarded by a jutting gargoyle just below the roof line. It was perfect.

“What are you thinking, Mr. Belmont?” Rose asked.

“Hush, woman,” Belmont said, his mind on the problem in front of him and not on his companion. “How much can you carry through that astral plane of yours?” he finally asked.

“Maybe two-hundred pounds,” said Rose.

“Here’s the plan,” said Belmont, flexing his body, listening to his bones crackle. “You teleport over to the roof of that tower with the steps running up to the final one on the end. I am going to take the long way around and climb up that staircase. I go in. A metal wall is supposed to slide down to keep people out, so I will be alone with whomever is there.”

“You want me to come in after you and get your niece out while you’re keeping them busy,” said Rose, understanding instantly.

“You’re brighter than I thought,” Belmont said, leaping to the gargoyle, then vanishing into the fog.

Rose Psychic stood on the indicated tower, probing for weak spots in the other tower with her mind as she waited for Belmont to appear. Suddenly, the crotchety old man lifted himself out of the fog. He pressed against the heavy door, pushing it inward. He vanished inside, door shutting behind him.

She stepped across to the roof of the other tower, then focused all of her attention on the stone roof. The symbol of the Seven appeared against the dark blocks. Mists appeared along the lines of the mystic circle. The roof fell inward under the melting force.

Belmont took advantage of the distraction to side-kick a male vampire in the gut, then shove him away with two of the dagger-like crosses in his chest. A pale woman in a black dress and hat raised a staff, projecting a fog full of crystals up through the hole in the ceiling. Rose ducked back to let the blast go by, sensing the working of a spell.

The silver whip cracked against the woman’s crystal shields, smashing them apart as Belmont took advantage of the distraction. She turned to freeze him in his tracks, pointing her staff. Rose leaned forward, thinking hard. The symbol of the Seven trapped the mist against Actrisse’s skin, forming a crystal shell around the villainess.

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