by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza
Abby Cable thrilled to the sensation of being flown through the air toward her destination as she approached the west cliffs of Grimoire Island. The past few hours had gone by in a whirl, and she still found it hard to believe that she had traveled back through time to witness the events that had led to the creation of the Grimoire Academy way back in 1951. Since she’d met him, she had thought Gareth Gallowglass to be nothing but a bitter old man. But she had learned after he had saved her that he did care about others, but perhaps too much. And now she knew why that was, and what those seven statues in Memorial Park really meant to him. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Books of Magic: Times Past, 1951: Founding Fathers.]
The young woman had been carried by an other-Earthly super-hero called Captain Marvel, specifically the 1951 version of that hero, and Abby felt a tearing at her body as they came in for a landing. She spotted five colorful figures walking toward the clock room. Then she saw Headmaster Gallowglass on his way to the park. The old man she had seen earlier also stood in the park, evidently waiting for Gallowglass to return.
“Holy moley,” said Captain Marvel in her ear.
“Something wrong?” Abby asked.
“That’s the wizard who gave me my powers!” said Captain Marvel. “I wonder what he’s doing here.”
“Let’s find out,” said Abby.
Captain Marvel landed in Memorial Park, gently placing Abby Cable on her feet as he looked at the seven statues. These were the Sentinels of Magic, he realized as he made sure she could stand on her own before he took his hands away. “Hello, wizard,” he said to Shazam with a genuine smile.
“Hello, my son,” said Shazam. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“He brought me home, sir,” said Abby. “I had an accident and needed a hand, so to speak.”
Gallowglass arrived in the park. He had certainly changed a lot from the bitter teenage boy that Captain Marvel and Abby had helped in 1951, but in some ways he had not changed at all. Still, his one blue right eye danced merrily, while the black crystal in the other socket glinted in the sun when he saw them both.
“Hello, Captain, Mrs. Cable,” he said in his gravelly voice, not at all looking surprised to see them. In fact, he rather looked as if he were expecting them. “We were just discussing you, Mrs. Cable. I was wondering if you wished to be released from your contract early.”
The boys burst into the park at that moment. “I told you it was Captain Marvel!” Josh Cantrell said to the others with a voice of wonderment.
“These are some of my students,” Mr. Gallowglass said. “Josh Cantrell, Kirk Pike, Timothy Hunter, Gray Murphy, and Alfred Twitchell.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Josh said, sticking his hand out.
“Thank you,” said Captain Marvel, shaking the offered hand with a smile.
“I thought you liked Mary Marvel for her legs,” Murphy whispered. Before anything could be said, something thumped against Murphy’s cat helmet with a loud crack. He staggered a little, looking angrily at Kirk Pike and rubbing the back of his head.
“Excuse our friend,” Twitch said. “He’s taken quite a thumping today.”
“We have some business to discuss, boys,” said Mr. Gallowglass. “Move along, please.”
“Yes, sir,” said the five boys with their varied expressions of relief, disappointment, and a single headache.
“Could I get an autograph?” Josh asked.
“Later, Josh,” said Abby Cable. “I’ll make sure of it.” The four adults in the park watched the five boys walk away, Josh Cantrell looking over his shoulder at his hero.
“I thought you eschewed the teaching of magical talents over the scientific world,” Shazam said, rubbing his bearded chin.
“I do, at least for most of my students,” said Gallowglass, a small smile pulling at the network of scars under the glass eye. “This group decided to go after an impostor in the student body. They were winning, too. The armor seems to be something Mr. Hunter came up with. He’s been showing signs of being an adept. Amazing for a first-year, really. But then again, when he was recommended for admission by Mister E and Zatanna, how could I go wrong?”
“This impostor?” asked Abby Cable, flinching at remembered fireballs against her body. “Did it take Patsy Ambrose’s shape?”
“Yes,” said Gallowglass. “The real Patsy has been returned to the infirmary, and no one seems to have been bothered, except for the Mares of Diomedes.”
“I was sent through the portal by that thing,” said Abby. “Oh, I was supposed to wait for Rose at the clock room.”
“The false Patsy has been dealt with permanently,” explained Gallowglass. “Take a few minutes to freshen up, and come back here. We’ll go ahead and have a short meeting and then discuss arrangements about releasing you from your contract, if that’s what you would like to do.”
Abby nodded, her cane suddenly in her hand. She walked slowly toward the bungalow she shared with Rose Psychic.
Actrisse’s eyes grew wide as she tried to burst from her prison. Simon Belmont’s booted foot smashed her through her crystal prison into the wall beyond, then his right hand landed against her face, as swift as any snake.
Belmont went to the young girl bound to the coffin at one end of the tower room. He pulled her gag away before untying the ropes around her arms. A deep rumbling started, loosening pieces of the ceiling to fall into the room.
Rose Psychic dropped down from the hole she had made. “I’ll take her and come back,” she said as she dashed to Belmont’s side.
“Go!” Belmont said, thrusting his niece into Rose’s arms.
Rose stepped to the roof, then to the top of the other tower. She and Belmont’s niece watched as the tower collapsed into the fog that hovered around the castle. “Do you see him?” Belmont’s niece asked quietly.
“No, I don’t,” said Rose heavily. What would she tell Gallowglass? “What is your name?” Rose asked her charge.
The thin girl shook her head to clear her mind, her wide eyes on the cloud of dust rising from where the other stone tower had collapsed. “It’s Carrie,” she finally said in a weak voice.
“My name is Rose. Let’s get away from here.”
“Let’s do that,” said a voice from behind the pair. “I didn’t go to all this trouble to have my niece become monster-kibble.”
“Uncle Simon!” Carrie exclaimed, hugging her relative in relief.
“Easy, half-pint,” said Belmont with a wince. “Rose, take her back to the pick-up point through the astral plane. I’ll follow as fast as I can. Hopefully, by the time I get there, I’ll have a way to open the portal again.”
“Right,” said Rose. “We’ll be waiting for you.”
Belmont nodded, watching the two vanish into thin air. “Now to get down from here,” he said, trying to figure out the direction of the outer wall from where he stood. Finally, he made a decision based on the position of the ruddy moon and cracked his whip into the ghostly night. He pulled the weapon taut before jumping off the tower and swinging into the unknown. Time to exit stage left.
Rose Psychic and Carrie Belmont stepped through the astral plane in short hops. Several times she had to use the symbol of the Seven to ward off unexpected bats and glowing shades bent on mischief. She was surprised to see Carrie make a throwing gesture, and a fireball splashed against a bat, sending it into the ground. She raised her eyebrow but urged her companion back into the astral plane instead of commenting.
They arrived at the correct spot in the Forest of Silence without being harmed. Several skeletons burst from the ground and were dealt with as the pair waited on Simon Belmont, a man who seemed as much a stranger as when Rose had first arrived at the Grimoire Academy years earlier.
Fat raindrops began to fall on the pair as they waited. Several lightning bolts ripped through the nearby trees, splitting them asunder. Rose stretched out her mind, perceiving Belmont approaching the outer wall with a series of swings using his whip. He seemed to be cutting a nearly straight line toward them through whatever was in his way.
The boys stepped into the clock room, discussing the events of the day in small voices, unaware that the keeper was absent at the moment. Tim Hunter slumped into the closest chair, weariness pulling at his bones from all the energy he had drawn on.
Josh Cantrell sat across the table from him. He had used his training more in this one day than he had all of last year. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, listening to the faint crackling residue from channeling the lightning as he had done.
Gray Murphy stood by the door, looking at the park. He wondered aloud if Mrs. Cable would actually leave.
Alfred Twitchell climbed the stairs to the third floor silently. The thought crossed his mind that Mr. Belmont should be all over them with his irritable disposition.
Kirk Pike stood next to a shelf. He seemed completely unaffected by their recent experience. His eyes watched the room, the path outside, and the stairs in quick darting movements.
“I think we have a problem, guys,” Twitch called from upstairs.
Kirk started up the stairs two at a time. He was still ready to fight and little cared who should receive his wrath. He paused at the top of the staircase. Twitch stood in front of the podium, while Miss Psychic and some girl with gray hair stood on the other side of the clock face. A dark forest stretched out on either side of them. Animated skeletons burst out of the ground around the two. Some held bones in their fleshless hands as clubs.
Not hesitating any further, Kirk plunged into the portal, striking with the kung fu he had learned from watching Richard Dragon, among the others he had studied and memorized since January. For a moment, to Twitch, it seemed as if the red eagle across Kirk’s chest had become a maleficent spirit instead of a symbol for liberty as the boy broke bones with devastating punches and kicks.
“It’s one way,” Twitch told the other boys as they rushed to the top of the tower. “They’re over there, and if we go over, that thing shuts.”
“We throw them a line,” said Josh Cantrell, radiating calm as he looked around the top of the of the tower.
“Got it,” said Tim, running down the stairs to a broom closet. He returned a moment later with a coil of rope.
“Thanks,” Josh said, tying one end around his waist with practiced speed. “Who wants to take the other end?”
“I will,” said Twitch, looping the other end around one arm and holding on to it with that hand as tight as he could.
“We will,” said Tim.
“Damn skippy,” said Murphy, causing the other boys to look at him.
The trio leaped into the battle. Tim triggered the mystic flash as soon as he could draw a bead. The skeletons paused as the light washed the night away for an instant. Then the sides of the trail washed away. Trees fell across the skeletons in a moment of sudden misfortune.
“Get a move on,” Murphy said. “The meter is running.”
The group plunged back across the portal interface en masse as the bony warriors tried to pull themselves together.
“Thank you, boys,” said Miss Psychic.
“Uncle Simon?” said Carrie, looking back into the portal.
“Uncle Simon?” said the five boys in unison.
“This is Carrie Belmont,” explained Rose. “Please take her to my bungalow until we can get her situation straightened out.”
“I’ll do it,” said Murphy. “You guys get ready to help Uncle Simon.”
“I wouldn’t call him that to his face,” warned Tim.
“Don’t worry, Carrie,” said Rose. “Your uncle will be at the portal, and we will pull him through.”
Carrie examined each of the boy’s faces, at least what she could see of them that was exposed by their masks. She knew from their eyes they would never give up and were formidable in their own right. Carrie nodded quietly. This group, these Sentinels of Magic, would do what was necessary. She gestured for the boy in the cat costume to lead the way.
Rose watched the forest scene intently. The boys waited patiently around her. She heard knuckles crack and knew Kirk had flexed his hands as he readied himself to fight again.
Simon Belmont appeared on the trail, crushing something that looked like a humanoid frog under his heels. His whip smashed three skeletons apart with ease, as he forearmed a fourth and hurled a dagger at another who tried to get in his way.
“Grab the rope, guys,” said Josh Cantrell. “It’s my turn at bat.”
Josh rushed into the screen as the others grabbed hold of Twitch. He said something that no one heard, then he was back at their side with Belmont in his hand in a second.
“What do we have here?” said Belmont, examining his rescuers, dripping rain water on the floor. “A costume party?” The kids just laughed.
Simon Belmont urged the group out of his clock room after finding out the location of his niece. The boys headed for their barracks, Kirk Pike supporting a bone-weary Tim Hunter. Rose Psychic headed for her bungalow, assured that Abby had returned from her adventure in one piece. High overhead, Captain Marvel streaked back into the past of 1951 to meet his own appointment with his destiny on his own Earth.
Abby Cable showered and got fresh clothes to replace the ones burned in her encounter with the false Patsy Ambrose. She returned to the park to finish her talk with Gallowglass and the old wizard. They were asking her to make a hard decision about her own future.
“If you’ll please sit, Mrs. Cable,” Gallowglass said. “This is my predicament. Shazam would like to enrol two people that he feels needs a new lease on life as teachers here to give them time to recover from a certain amount of personal stress. Typically, I would say no and move on. The academy is not used to switching teachers in mid-year, and this time of year will be particularly bad for newcomers.”
“I assured Gareth that the two people I have in mind will be able to handle any crisis,” said Shazam.
Gallowglass nodded and continued. “Out of all the teachers here, you are the one in the worst physical shape and are also awaiting the return of your husband, Alec Holland. In any case, you will be ill-prepared to deal with the upcoming strife next month, in my opinion. The offer is for you to retire for the year with full pay, return home to rebuild your life with Mr. Holland, and reestablish ties and so forth.”
“Can I have some time to think about this?” Abby asked. “I’ve just got back into the routine again.”
“Yes,” said Gallowglass. “Do you have any questions?”
“Not right now,” Abby said with a shake of her head. “I just need some time alone. In all the excitement, I forgot Alec was on his way home.”
“Would a week be enough time?” asked Gallowglass.
“More than enough,” said Abby. “Thank you for asking my input before you actually decided.”
“You’re welcome,” said Gallowglass.
Abby stood and left, head awhirl with thoughts and feelings. Gallowglass and Shazam watched her leave.
“Nothing to do but wait,” Gallowglass said. “It was a pleasure seeing you again, Shazam. I’ll let you know what the decision is when I know.”
“Do not forget to give young Cantrell his souvenir, Gareth,” Shazam said before vanishing.