by CSyphrett, with Martin Maenza
In the brush nearby, moments before, a platinum blonde woman fell to the ground, hard, as she materialized from thin air. “Ooofff!” she cried. Abby Cable got painfully to her feet, still weak from her recent illness. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Books of Magic: Fever of Death.]
She took a quick assessment of herself. Those fireballs had burned marks in my clothing, she thought, picking up a broken tree branch to use as a makeshift cane for support. She glanced around her. Still on the island. At least I didn’t end up halfway around the world.
Suddenly, Abby heard a thunderous clap in the sky and the sound of a rushing wind. What the…? She hobbled to where the sounds came from, a clearing nearby.
There, a lone boy was fending off a storm. And as the young man turned his face, Abby caught his profile long enough that she could make out his face. She immediately noticed that his left eye was missing.
“Gallowglass?!” she exclaimed. She didn’t recognize the others around him.
Then the ground rocked under her feet. Something had moved slightly. She could sense expectation and a hungry want. It was doing something with what the others felt, feeding on it.
Abby Cable winced as the man in the red suit flew into the young Gareth Gallowglass with a terrific punch. The attacker reminded her a bit of Superman.
The boy flew backward a few feet, then stopped in midair. He rotated to a standing position, suspended by his mind. The flying hero flew into Gallowglass again, almost immediately to press his advantage. A small fist smashed him into the ground as the psionic blocked the charge.
The thing shifted under Abby. She felt the rage pouring off the boy in a near-berserker frenzy. Someone was bound to get hurt if he kept building up his energy to express his anger. She limped forward carefully.
“Stop it!” Abby yelled over the roar of the battle. “You must stop your fighting!” She held her hands away from her sides, trying to look non-threatening to both sides of the conflict.
All parties turned at the newcomer. “Who is she?” asked Margo the Magician, still trying to hold up the shield with Yarko the Great and Doctor Mist.
“Gallowglass?” asked the woman. “What are you doing? The whole island is coming apart!” The fighters paused at this interruption by a platinum blond woman with a black streak in her hair.
Gallowglass frowned, still lit by the glowing aura that suspended him in the air. “Who are you? Have you come to attack me, too?”
“Please!” Abby Cable begged, keeping her eyes on Gallowglass. “You all must stop fighting!”
“I won’t leave my friends here!” said Gallowglass. “I won’t leave them alone!”
“Can you explain?” Abby said. “I don’t understand. What friends? Are you talking about the Sentinels of Magic?”
Doctor Mist gathered the magicians and Captain Marvel together while Abby was distracting the teenager. Explaining himself, he had the others extend their mystical powers to help the woman, since she seemed to be persuading the maddened boy. If they could help Gallowglass believe her, perhaps they still had a chance to end this.
“The Sentinels still remain here,” said Gareth Gallowglass sadly. “They can’t go to their final rest.”
“Tell me about them,” Abby Cable said, seeing that the boy’s rage was easing.
Doctor Mist nodded. That explains the boy’s anger. The look on the other’s faces told him they were drawing the same conclusion. Could they negotiate with him?
The African sorcerer telepathically contacted the others. The magicians spread out in a circle, with Captain Marvel watching out for the woman in case things went bad. They began to exert their influence on the landscape with the various disciplines at their disposal. Silence reigned as a feeling of calm was spread, held in place by the four masters.
But the question remained whether this woman could talk Gallowglass into leaving.
“They were my friends,” explained Gallowglass. “When my parents died, they took me in and gave me shelter. They helped me when my telekinetics first started. Mac and Harv made sure I got some book knowledge, knew about things like science and math. They gave me a place to belong and a name — Gary the Miracle Boy. And then they came here.
“The demons were supposed to kill them all, but they didn’t. Only Harry, Hal, and Roland were killed as planned. John and Harv instead sacrificed their lives to reverse the initial spell. Mac blew himself and 99 up with his power pack.”
“How do you know this?” Abby asked.
“The Book of Answers,” said Gallowglass, indicating the book at his side. “It knows everything that people have learned over the years that humanity has walked the Earth.”
Abby frowned at this, considering the implications. “Who am I? Would the book know that?”
“Sure,” said Gallowglass, not quite smiling, not quite angry. Pus still leaked from his empty left eye socket. He began flipping the pages of the Book of Answers with his thumb as the young woman approached.
Kneeling down, Abby absently wiped his face with the sleeve of her shirt. He accepted the treatment with a grimace as he looked through Doc Yale’s book.
“Abigail Cable?” Gallowglass said finally. “You’re the only one listed at the end of humanity. I think that’s because you haven’t been born yet.” He showed her an entry topped by a small line drawing of her face. Her entire history up to the point of her arriving in the present year was placed down on the paper in a small, neat script.
“Do you think the Sentinels would want you to stay here like this?” Abby asked him. “Alone and sad?”
“They say they want me to leave, but I’m not going to,” said Gallowglass. “Things would have been different if I had been here when things had gone wrong. Instead, I have to live with that.”
Abby frowned. There was something there, something unsaid by Gallowglass. Something else held him here besides the memory of his friends, something about the island. In her own time, he never visited the outside world, even though he could if he wished. What could the answer be, and how was she was supposed to get it out in the open? At least the magicians were giving her a chance to try.
“Why are these others here, Gallowglass?” asked Abby.
“They say things are being caused by the island’s existence, and they want to put a stop to it,” said the boy. “The problem is they can’t.”
“Because the Sentinels have bought this island with their blood, and there is no way to overcome that except by trying to destroy the island itself, and the things that live here won’t allow that.”
Abby thought about the creature in the ground who had been watching the battle. She mulled over the whole situation, thinking she had a good compromise if she could sell it to the magicians. She just needed a way to show them that the course that had to be taken was viable and necessary. “Let me talk to the others,” said Abby. “I think things will work out.”
“Go ahead,” said Gallowglass. “As long as the island stands, I won’t leave.”
Abby nodded. Gathering the magicians together in a huddle, she examined their faces. She knew before she said anything that Gallowglass had been at least partially right in his assertions. “What do you think?” said Abby.
“It depends on what was used to call this place up,” said Doctor Mist. “We might not have the ability to send this place back, especially if a blood sacrifice was involved. We might be able to limit its influence on the five Earths it touches.”
“That’s iffy at best,” said Doctor Occult. “It’s pretty clear that a gate is open here, and it’s letting demons out in the world.”
“I don’t think it’s just a gate,” said Margo the Magician, pushing a strand of hair from her face.
The others looked at her, seeing implications that Abby had missed. Captain Marvel seemed to only have a grasp of what she was implying, even though he was not a magician himself.
“I think it’s a piece of Hell,” Margo said.
“Actually, it’s a piece of the Darkworld that’s being used as a bridge from Hell to the earthly plane,” explained Doctor Mist.
“Let’s say that is the case,” said Doctor Occult. “It explains the demonic attacks and the atmosphere that I am picking up. How do we deal with it?”
“Can we deal with it?” Yarko the Great asked. “There are many connections here. Some of it is because of what happened then, but I think the boy has also formed a link to it. As long as he is present, whatever we do will be opposed by him in one way or the other.”
“I think he will let you try,” said Abby Cable. “The problem will be what you will give him in return if you can’t do it.”
“What do you mean?” Doctor Occult asked, pushing his fedora back.
“I think he won’t interfere if you leave him alone here,” said Abby. “That is, if you don’t succeed.”
“No way!” balked Doctor Occult. “It’s much too dangerous!”
“She’s right,” said Captain Marvel, drawing upon the wisdom of Solomon. “It’s the only chip we have, and there’s no other way to get around it. Otherwise we fight, and he’s proven that he can take what we dish out and come back for more. A peaceful end to this mess is what’s needed.”
“Let’s set the thing in motion,” said Doctor Mist. “We won’t know until we try.”
Abby Cable and Gareth Gallowglass were held aloft by Captain Marvel as the magicians prepared for the spell they were undertaking. A deal had been struck with the boy for them to at least make the attempt. If they failed, they would have to leave him alone or come up with another way to accomplish their goal. It was all or nothing in one attempt.
The magicians gathered in a circle of linked hands. Doctor Mist called on their will to seal the land away from the sight of men. Strokes of light erupted from the ground as they tried to bend reality to their will.
A hand of dirt the size of a Buick emerged from the ground, followed by the rest of a giant body. A glowing symbol spewed a vile cloud in the air. Other things appeared, digging their way out of the ground. They had various shapes and sounds. None of them appeared to be happy.
“Put us down,” Gallowglass said. “I’ll take care of the woman, while you keep those guys back.”
Captain Marvel flew low enough to put them down as he headed for the growing army, cutting through their ranks like a red thunderbolt while the spell continued to work. Bodies flew across the makeshift battlefield as the strength of Hercules took its toll on the horde.
Grim Island began to break up into chunks as the magicians kept going with their spell. The trees and grass died under the stress. Cracks ran across the ground as the earth sheered along the edge of their wills.
Suddenly, the effect reversed itself, flinging the magicians to the ground in different directions. The island seemed to pull more earth onto it as it repelled the effort to shift it.
“Plan A is out,” said Doctor Occult, spraying mystical flames across the approaching horde. “Anyone have a Plan B?”
“Join with me,” counseled Yarko the Great, scratching symbols in the dirt. Light ran in the symbols as they summoned the forces he needed. Doctor Mist and Margo the Magician concentrated their abilities on assisting the mightiest magician of Earth-Four. Doctor Occult raised the symbol of the Seven high, letting it draw their will together in a manageable form.
Captain Marvel kept the demons away with mighty blows as green energy became a column of light around the magicians. Suddenly, the swirling column began to wrap fiery tendrils around the assorted creatures. The monsters were sucked into the whirlwind and held as the miasma whirled in place. “What do we do with them?” the world’s mightiest mortal asked.
“We still have our problem,” said Doctor Mist, gazing at the swirling energy trapped by the group of magicians, “and proof of a capable counterattack if we try to release the island. Any suggestions?”
“We could create a barrier of wards around the island,” said Yarko the Great. “I don’t think it would last long without monitoring, though. Not with the amount of power we have seen displayed.”
“If we could do that, it would be great,” said Doctor Occult. “The island could stay, but threats to the outside would be negligible. The only thing needed is to warn shipping away from here.”
“We would all have to stay to make it work,” said Margo the Magician, frowning. “I know I could make that sacrifice, but could all of you?” The others grumbled about commitments and responsibilities of their own.
“Could I make a suggestion?” Abby Cable said quietly. “I think Gareth would be able to watch over anything you put in place. It would grant him the solitude that he wants and give him a task to keep him busy.”
“I think that would be dangerous in the extreme,” said Doctor Mist. “If he were to lose control, it would endanger our Earths.”
“I think it would be worth a try,” said Captain Marvel optimistically. “Everyone needs a second chance. I’ll come by and check on him every once in a while, that kind of thing.”
“He’ll need more than that,” said Doctor Mist. “He’ll need constant supervision.”
“I don’t think so,” Gareth Gallowglass spoke up. “I’ve done fine on my own for the last three years. That’s the way I would like to continue.”
“How about a compromise?” Margo the Magician offered before Doctor Occult could say what was on his mind. “Gareth stays here and does something with others here, like a farm or sanctuary?”
“Um… how about a school for gifted children?” suggested Abby.
“That would be extremely dangerous,” pointed out Yarko the Great.
“And I don’t know anything about teaching,” Gallowglass said uneasily.
“You’ll learn,” said Abby knowingly. “Have faith. If anything, I’m sure you will be far better at it than you think.”
“And you won’t have do it alone,” said Margo. “We’ll help you get started, and maybe you can teach us a trick or two.”
“There is a large population of magically gifted people from our Earth that would be grateful to have a safe place to mingle with those from outside their community,” explained Doctor Mist, taking to the idea.
“You can’t be serious about this!” said Doctor Occult. “You’re suggesting that we send innocent children to a school based in a piece of Hell!”
“Don’t discount it so quickly, Doctor,” continued Mist. “Remember, it’s not actually from Hell, but from the Darkworld. Instead of letting it remain a bridge from Hell, we can turn it into a cork that stops up the ‘bottle’ of the Underworld. To do that, we need a substantial population of mages to act as sentinels who can assist young Master Gallowglass in his efforts, as well as provide a service to the magically gifted from each of our worlds. As I was saying, the Homo Magi, as they are called, already have a school system in place that is bursting at the seams because of too many students. If all goes well, I might be able to convince a few Homo Magi teachers as well as parents to help set up this new school. I’m sure each of our Earths have such worthy individuals that would benefit from such a school.”
“I suppose such a venture might work, if responsible elders were able to sponsor this school,” agreed Yarko the Great. “I can’t imagine anyone agreeing to send their children here without such a structure already in place. Based on the number of students, we could have dormitories or houses set up to cater to the specific needs of each Earth, with a couple that might be specially formed from a mixture of all five worlds, or a combination of the two most populous houses.”
“A new name for the island might be the first step,” suggested Margo. “Few might wish their children to visit a forbidding-sounding place like Grim Island, but something similar, like Grimoire Island might work.”
Abby Cable smiled, standing off to one side of the small group. The magicians and Gallowglass were haggling about the details, but the idea was in place. Even the reluctant Doctor Occult was no longer trying to shut it down, instead listening to the ideas and offering some of his own. All it needs is nurturing, she thought. Still, she was confident that it would come to bear. It has to! Otherwise, how could I be here? Even so, she felt a bit sad. If only there was a way back to the future.
She did not want to have the accept the fact that she would be stuck many years before she was even born. Then a light bulb flashed in her head. The Book of Answers! Maybe it would know a way to for me to get back home! “Gareth?” she said, pulling him away from the group. “Could I borrow your book for a moment?”
“I guess so,” Gareth said. “What do you need?”
“I was wondering if there was a way to return me to my own time and place,” Abby said.
“I’ll take you home easy enough,” Captain Marvel said with a smile after overhearing. “The crisis is over. I think I can be spared for the trip.”
“You can?” Abby said, blinking. It was as simple as that? “Thank you!”
The world’s mightiest mortal hoisted her in his arms. “Hold tight,” he said as he took off into the sky with lightning-like speed. The pair headed for the one place where he knew he could travel through time and space. “The Rock of Eternity!”
Abby Cable gazed in wonderment at the mighty rock that jutted up before them. “A rock can get me home?” she asked.
“Just watch!” Captain Marvel said. They began to fly about it. The starry firmament that surrounded the Rock of Eternity reeled past like a drunk falling down a set of stairs.
She had spoken with Captain Marvel, telling him the year she’d come from as they sped away from Grim Island. The Captain grinned calmly. He had assured her he would check on Gareth Gallowglass when possible. He seemed a man of his word to Abby, and sincere.
They sped around the Rock of Eternity twice and then headed back to Earth. It was as simple as that? she thought with a doubt. Abby recognized the continents as they sped past, and then they headed over the Pacific Ocean toward the island known in her time as Grimoire Island. Are we going back? Did it fail?
That thought washed away the moment she saw the familiar buildings approach at a blinding pace. “It is the Grimoire Academy!” Abby exclaimed. “Head for the park with the statues, please.”
Captain Marvel nodded, looking for the indicated spot with his eagle eyes. “You’ve got it, miss.”