by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza
Two lovely women, both around thirty years old (or so it appeared), walked up the stone path toward the clock room at the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge.
“I’m not going too fast for you, am I?” asked Rose Psychic.
Abby Cable, who was using a cane to help her walk, shook her head. “No, I’m fine,” she said. “Just a little weak after that ordeal. Gallowglass said my strength would return a bit more slowly, as I had it a lot worse than the poor students.”
“Yeah, kids have a tendency to bounce back quick,” Rose said. “Nothing slows them down for very long. Still, take your time.”
“I’d rather not,” Abby said. “Simon asked for me to come around as soon as I was up for it.” Both women knew without saying it that it was unusual for the tower keeper to request to see anyone. He preferred his privacy. Abby frowned, hoping it wasn’t because Simon was mad at her. After all, he had allowed Abby to leave the school against Gallowglass’ wishes.
Then it hit her. Could he be calling in the marker for his favor so soon? Abby hoped not. She’d barely had a day home before that spore virus put her on a rampage. Gallowglass insisted she recover on the island, where he could watch her. It had all seemed for naught.
Simon Belmont was on the top floor of the clock tower when the ladies arrived. “Join me up here, please,” he called down when he saw it was them. The older man wore leather armor, his whip coiled at his hip, and a short sword strapped to his back. He hoisted a satchel to his shoulder just as the women walked up the stairs.
He was also smiling. Both of them decided that was not good sign.
“Hello, ladies,” Belmont said. “Thank you for coming so soon.”
“What’s going on?” Abby asked, already sure of the answer.
“I’m going away for a while,” said Belmont. “Some sudden personal business. I need someone to keep an eye on the room and open a return portal for me when I get back to the pick-up point.”
The women glanced at each other in surprise. Belmont actually leaving his tower? It was unheard of. “You want me to do that, don’t you?” said Abby.
Timothy Hunter sat at a table by himself in the common room at Zatara Hall. He held a bottle of soda pop in his one hand, staring at the glass container intently. Come on, he thought.
Tim closed his eyes tightly, thinking that the bottle was full of ice. He wanted it to be full of ice. It must be full of cold, wonderful ice.
He heard a buzzing around his hand, then a clink, then a small crackle. He opened his eyes widely and was amazed by what he saw. His bottle was full of tiny ice cubes from top to bottom.
Tim smiled. His experiment had worked. He had been able to make ice appear out of nowhere and fill his bottle. It was just as he had done when he turned the discharge from a fire extinguisher into a shell of ice to hold his maddened friend, Josh Cantrell. Can I do that again? Can I do other things besides making ice out of other things? How would the others react if they knew? All this weighed heavily on the mind of the young first-year student from London.
The twelve-year-old student glanced around at the other boys in the common room. Most of the class had scattered across the academy grounds, but Kirk Pike was watching a television documentary on Richard Dragon, copying the moves he saw being performed. Gray Murphy and Alfred Twitchell played poker at a card table. They seemed to be taking turns winning the pot.
Joshua Cantrell lay on his bunk, reading a history book. He had recently suffered a frenzy brought on by a strange plant, but he seemed to have recovered faster than the others struck by the same thing. Josh said it was because his heart was pure, and he had the strength of ten. The other guys laughed at that notion.
Mrs. Cable was on her feet with the help of a cane and some assistance. Tim was glad of that, as he was rather fond of the botany teacher. The other victim, the first-year student Patsy Ambrose, was still in the infirmary, weak as a kitten.
Tim sipped his frozen drink and decided he needed some privacy to think about this new ability. Maybe try to experiment somewhere he wouldn’t attract attention. Part of him wanted to tell his best friend, Rick Billings, but something inside of him told him that wouldn’t be a good idea, at least yet. Only a small percentage of the students here at Grimoire even had the capacity to perform magic, and first-years were supposed to be utterly inept at it. The last thing Tim needed was his best friend feeling jealous over his natural talent for magic.
“Are you sure about this?” Rose Psychic asked quietly.
“A niece of mine has surfaced and is in trouble,” said Simon Belmont, pulling a folder from the shelf. “I’m going to get her and bring her back here. Nothing complicated.”
“Best laid plans,” said Rose. She had some idea that danger was involved in some way. Richard isn’t the only one who can play detective, she thought. Belmont taking his weapons on the trip was a major clue.
“I know,” said Belmont lightly. He didn’t feel like dwelling on that point further. “This is the picture you’ll need.” He reached to one of the shelves and pulled out a photograph, showing them a scene of a castle on a lake. A path went up to the main gate, while trees densely packed the edges of the packed earth.
“Place it on the stand, thusly,” Belmont said, demonstrating by doing just that. The scene shimmered in the clock faces when he did so. Abby Cable saw a bat fly through the dark sky as the picture came to life.
“Do this every day at sundown until I get back,” instructed Belmont. “Shouldn’t be more than three days at most. To activate the portal, place your hand on the wall. Whatever you do, don’t step across. The portal will close behind you. Got that?”
Abby and Rose nodded. “You can count on us,” Rose said. She was willing to help her roommate out, given her current condition.
“All right, then.” Belmont nodded as well and walked to the screen. He paused to wave. “See you soon!” And, then he vanished into the scene.
“I didn’t think Belmont had family,” Abby said, placing the photograph back in its folder. She placed the file back on the shelf, but someplace that they could easily find it later.
“This is extremely sudden,” said Rose Psychic. “Almost too sudden.”
“What do you mean?” asked Abby.
“He suddenly finds out about family right after a plant poisons you,” said Rose. “Not to mention Dracula. Richard said things would happen, but he didn’t mention a concerted attack against the staff and students.”
“You think this is a trap for Belmont?” said Abby.
“Almost certainly,” said Rose. “Something let him know about this niece. I don’t think altruism was the motive.”
“We’ll wait,” said Abby. “If we don’t hear from him by sundown tonight, I’ll ask Mr. Gallowglass to look into it.”
“Right,” said Rose. “I have to take care of some things. Are you going to wait here, or would you like to go somewhere else?”
“I think I’ll do some research,” Abby said. “Maybe read a little.”
“I’ll be back at sundown,” promised Rose before leaving the tower.
Abby limped to the shelves, running her finger over the titles of the files as she read. How often do I get an opportunity like this? she thought to herself. Besides, if I have to remain at this school, I might as well find out a bit more about those who work here.
After a half-hour of looking, she frowned. She could not find a file on either Gallowglass or Belmont. That’s odd. She paused at a file marked archive. She wondered if this was what she was looking for.
She placed the file on the podium and opened it. She thumbed back through pages to the front of the document. On the clock faces appeared the images of desperate battles, last-minute rescues, and the birth of heroes and villains, forming a rapidly changing kaleidoscope until she turned the top page and saw a rapidly forming island appearing in the ocean.
Headmaster Gallowglass waited in the Memorial Park, a grassy spot with seven statues, for a visitor. Given its isolated nature from the rest of the school, it made for an appropriate meeting place. And though it was a bit early in the school year for such a thing, the principal made it a point to meet with this particular visitor twice a year. That had been pretty standard for as long as the academy had been open on Grimoire Island.
“Hello, Gareth,” said an elderly man with long white hair and a long beard. The robed visitor appeared in the well-kept park in a shimmer of light. The man smiled softly and extended his hand in greeting.
“Hello, Shazam,” said Gallowglass, shaking his hand carefully. “How’s Billy?”
“He’s fine,” said the old wizard as he moved slowly toward one of the stone benches. “How has the island behaved so far this year?”
“Nothing major yet,” said Gallowglass. “Nothing that couldn’t be dealt with easily enough. Hell week is still a month away.” The two men sat. “You’re early this year.”
“I know,” said Shazam. He glanced about the Memorial Park; Billy Batson had told him what the statues signified, and every year this was where he would meet with the school’s principal. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Go ahead,” said Gallowglass.
Shazam had seen Gallowglass’ bitterness and anger soften into a form of compassion that hid behind a mask of detachment and heartlessness over the years. The school had been good for the man, though. The wizard wondered if Gallowglass would ever reach the stage where he would rejoin the world outside Grimoire and close the school for good. Probably never, he thought.
“I would like for you to take on two teachers,” Shazam finally said, coming back to the matter at hand.
“Are you sure about that?” Gallowglass said. “Hell week is the worst part of the year. They wouldn’t have a lot of time to adjust to the island’s nastiness. This job isn’t a walk in the park, after all.”
“They need a fresh start and a chance to start over with their lives,” said Shazam. “They have earned that.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Shiva: Representatives.]
Gallowglass rubbed the edge of his crystallized eye socket in thought. “Tell me about them,” he finally said.
Abby Cable stared at the interface on the walls. Before her eyes, land emerged from the blue-green ocean waters. She saw twisted shapes become rocks and trees on an island, really a plateau, surrounded by the sea. Then the men arrived from the air just before a swirling vortex opened in the land. “Fascinating,” she said.
After a moment, Abby recognized the men from their statues in the park. She knew she was looking at their last moments alive. “This is incredible! Almost like a movie!” She felt a little awkward as she continued to watch. The masked men fought something coming out of the ground that bled demons. Then there was a flash, and the hole closed into a cross in a circle.
Abby turned the page, and the scene continued. Eventually, a sea plane arrived and landed on the shore. A boy disembarked from the craft. One of his eyes wore a bandage, probably covering a recent injury of some sort. “Poor child,” Abby said. The boy ran up to the site of the battle. Abby winced at the cry of outrage and grief the boy released.
The boy gathered up a book and a dial that had been dropped by the combatants. He refused to leave when the pilot said it was time to go. The pilot grabbed the boy by the shoulder to take him back. The ground exploded furiously at the boy’s command. His one good right eye was almost white in his fury. The pilot left with upraised hands.
Abby Cable turned the pages in the file. She stopped when she heard someone walk up the stairs behind her. She turned, smiling at the newcomer. “Hi,” she said. “I’m surprised to see you.”
The person raised her hand; a glowing ball of energy leaped from her hand and slammed into Abby’s chest. The instructor flipped over the podium with a loud thud, landing heavily in front of the portal interface.
“I would say I am sorry to see you go, but I’m not,” said the attacker. Another glowing ball slammed into Abby, pushing her through the portal into the past.
The attacker then took the folder and placed it back on the shelf. That caused the portal to close instantly. She looked around the tower’s top, satisfied she had left no evidence to point directly at her. Now to get ready for Rose.