Poetry: Ten Minutes, Really?

I know you want me to follow along
But I’ve seen this all before, again,
And I really can’t bring myself to care
At this point, I might as well stayed at work
Sweeping the floor for the third day in a row
At least that would help me get a better board
But as things stand at this very moment
I might as well get up an make a sandwich.


Art: Study Group


I used two dilutions to make the gray this time, but I think I left the water out for too long (I let the water I’ve been using to dilute sit in an open jar for several weeks, using it for multiple picture) and something got into it, which made the pigment separate, causing the uneven colors you see on Alexandria’s shirt.  Still, at least I now know that two dilutions should be enough.

I also messed up the filters this time, so instead of a uniform white background, I got a bunch of gray spot on the page.  Still, at least it’s a learning experience.  I also used the eraser tool to get rid of the pencil marks for the first time on this drawing.

The wall scroll says “three men make a tiger,” a Chinese idiom warning against believing something just because most people do.  Architecturally, I was thinking that the wall behind the viewer had a window, with the wall opposite being shared with another apartment.  The doorway to the left leads to the kitchen, and the wall on the right isn’t shown enough to have features.  But now that I think about it, it could very well block off the public hallway.

Occulted: Summation

StudyGroup“They used Plant as an Anti-Idea of Animal, the specific plants all had Purity-type ideas associated with them, and the magic in the blood powered the process.”

Jessica, Emily, Alima, Eric, and Alexandria had all met at Miss Karas’s apartment, to discuss what they knew about Ixxqura, the alien mud that had been causing problems for the Occulted around town.  The mud had first arrived on Earth in 1918, when it had been sealed away by the then-faculty of their school, along with rather significant help from a student of the time.  That student would go on to give birth to Jessica, and although she had forgotten much about the incident in the near century that had passed, she still sent what information she could to her daughter.

“Wait, hold on, how does the fusing thing work, again?” asked Jessica.  Alima started rifling through the papers on the dining table.  In addition to the letter sent by Jessica’s mother, there was also the old notes that had been left at an used-book store in town, and half a dozen interviews with the old Occs that had witnessed the original events firsthand.

“Ah, here,” said Alima.  She began to read off the negative of the old paper, “‘As mud can be the medium by which small pebbles can be joined together into a single, larger stone, the alien entity, whose physical form resembles mud, can fuse together animals into a more powerful creature by using mud as a metaphor to invoke the Idea of binding things together.'”

“It’s weird to think about magical aliens,” said Eric.

“If magic can exist on Earth, is is really so strange to think it can exist in outer space as well?” asked Alex.

“Can we let Alima continue, and discuss any weirdness of our situation later, please?” said Jessica.

Alima nodded.  “‘I believe that it has only members of the animal kingdom because it is restricted to planes other than the Surface.'”

“What the hell does ‘planes other than the Surface’ even mean?” asked Emily.

Alima explained, “‘Planes,’ in this case, refers to the slightly disconnected spaces that are both large enough to possess their own horizons, and have a each point corresponding to a point on another plane, or a set of them.  The Surface means the space that the normal people can live in without becoming Occulted.  It’s also called the root world, or the core, and is, presumably, the plane that the other planes, which the mud can exist on, corresponds to.”

“So when Jessica an’ me went in ta the basement and released the thing, that was another plane?”

“I would call it a sealed space, personally, because it was a closed room and not big enough to have a horizon.  I suppose ‘plane,’ here, could simply refer to any Occulted space, though.”

“Wait, is it possible to slip into another plane on accident?” asked Eric.

“Around here it is.  You would have to be Occulted in the first place, I think, and it’s really only in places where the local geometry is fucked.  I think what the mud being locked to other planes mostly means is that it mostly causes problems for the Occulted, and that because animals are much more likely to only exist on one plane, it has an easier time acting on them.

“Anyways, the notes go on to explain how a girl the writer knew got into a deal with the entity, how she researched a spell to get the girl out of the mud’s fusion, and a copy of what’s needed to preform the ritual, and how the girl reacted to getting taken out.”

“What was the girl’s reaction?” asked Karas.

“Basically, she made this huge apology, because the mud offered the girl a chance to get with a guy she’d been going after, and the mud somehow made that so that she tried to kill this other girl that had also been going after him.  The whole take away is that the mud offers a deal, and if somebody accepts it, it fuses them with a bunch of other stuff and makes them start killing people.”

“What is getting that deal even like?” said Jessica.  “And would animals have to accept the deal, too?  I mean, it’s not like they can talk.”

“Well, I think I actually got an offer from it,” said Alima.

“What?  When?”

“Oh, it would be about a month ago, now,” the brown-eyed girl said.  “I was reaching under the sink of my workplace’s bathroom for a new roll of toilet paper, when I felt something cold on my hand.  Next thing I knew, I was…aware, I think would be the best way to describe it, of the cold spot offering me the power to control my life.”

Jessica asked, “And then what did you do?”

“I tore off my arm, ran out of the bathroom, and told the boss about it.  I’m not dumb enough to accept offers from strange things I can’t see.”

“You tore off your arm?” asked Alexandria.

“Yeah, it grew back,” said Alima.  “Here, look.”  Alima reached up and tore off her left arm.  It crumbled to dust in her hand, the stump dangling from her short sleeve, dessicated on the end.  Everyone else was shocked.  Miss Karas recovered first.

“How long is it going to take for your arm to grow back?”

“A couple of hours.  Why?”

“Because this isn’t a flower shop being swapped around a set of identical cousins.  People are going to ask questions.”

“Oh.”  Alima looked down at her stump.  “Oops.”

“Too late to do anything now.  What can you tell us about the spell Jessica’s mother created?”

“Well, let’s see here,” said Jessica, “In her letter, Mom didn’t explain how she found the spell, probably because she didn’t want me to go looking, but the notes describe the process in detail.”

Anyway, the spell described involves drawing a sigil on the ground, mixing by blood into a cup with the plants and poisons listed in the spell, and reciting the poem while I set the the blood and plants on fire.  The blood’s mostly just there as a power source, I can bleed more if the spell needs more power for some reason.”

“Doesn’t the thing we’re dealing with use blood itself?” asked Eric.

“Blood itself holds a lot of magical energy in it,” said Alex.  “I think a vampire’s blood, like Jessica’s, has even more than usual.”

“Oh, it does,” said Alima.

“Ah.  Anyway, the important thing is the plants and the sigil.  The first two are basic herbs that can be bought just about anywhere, but wolf’s bane is the biggest problem.  The other plants’ toxic properties aren’t going to harm anything much bigger than bacteria, but aconite is really dangerous.  It’s so poisonous, even the famed regeneration of werewolves can’t handle the stuff.”

“So what’s the poison doin’ in the spell?” asked Emily.  “And would the spell work better if we took the other things, not the wolf’s bane, out?”

“I don’t think just taking out the other herbs would be a good idea,” said Alex.  “Their Ideas of a relatively safe poison would be used to stabilize the primary poison from the wolf’s bane.  We would probably have to find something to replace them, and the sigil is mostly to make sure that the power doesn’t accidentally help Ix- the thing.  I think that’s how it works, right Jessica?”

“Yeah, looks like it.  I think that’s what the sigil’s doing, at any rate.  The thing I’m not sure about is how we can make sure that we’re acting on the right plane.”

“Wait, wouldn’t we just need to be on the right plane ourselves?” Eric asked Jessica.

“Well, maybe.  The problem is that there’s seems to be a part that where my mother got help with tracking down the thing.  It doesn’t really explain who helped her, but considering that the school was keeping the thing under control…”

As Jessica trailed off, the students turned and looked at the Latin teacher.  “Don’t look at me, the other teachers aren’t explaining shit to me.”

Jessica let out a sigh.  “And even with the school being no help, there’s another thing to consider.”

“Tohu wa-Bohu,” said Alexandria.

“Yeah.  The kid that attacked Alima, Emily, and me in the basement of the bookstore is still out there, and we have no idea what he wants with the mud.  It would be nice to figure out something about him.”

“So, what’s the summery here?” asked Miss Karas.

“The first thing,” said Jessica, “is that we are dealing with an alien mud that is powered by blood being shed in its name, and can fuse animals together Idea of mud.  We have a spell that can undo the fusion, at least, but it’s slightly incomplete, because the mud could be on multiple planes and we have no way of tracking which one.  This plane shifting, coincidentally, also means that normal people aren’t going to be aware of what’s going on, because the mud can’t enter their world.”

“What else?”

“There’s also a group of Occs called Tohu wa-Bohu running around, and their involved in this thing somehow.  We need to find out more about them, while also finding a way to track the mud and collecting the things we need to perform the spell.”

The oven beeped from the kitchen.  “Sounds like my oven’s done warming up.  How about we take a break while I make everyone dinner?”

“I admit that I could have been more forceful in trying to teach her, I believe that being to insistent carries the risk of frightening her away from us.”

“Hm.  I understand why you wish for the girl to drive her own training, she is not inquisitive enough for that.  If given the option, she would simply wade in the shallows of the stream, not even caring that the depths even exist.”

“True.  I guess there’s nothing for it, I’ll have to go to her next time.”

“Very well.  As the next order of business, I should inform the Assembly that a minor customer of mine, Fivi Karas, seems to be looking into our activities.  Of particular note about Miss Karas is that she is in the employ of the Headmaster.”

“Do you believe that the school has decided to act against us?”

“That’s the odd thing.  When she visited me, she brought along a girl with her, seemingly a student.  At first I had believed that she had merely been taken under Miss Karas’s wing, but my customer told me that she was looking into this matter for her sake.”

“This girl, did she have black hair and pale skin?”

“Yes, what of it, Child?”

“I suspect that that girl was Izcacus’s descendant, the one it used to release the entity.”

Muttering, muttering, muttering.

“Lord of the Blacksmiths, would your customer be willing to aid us?”

“I do not know.  I only know that she is interested in the past, and learning what really happened in it.  I have not spoken one word to the girl, either.”

“Nevertheless, would it do any harm to signal them?”

“Why are we dealing with this, anyway?”

Eric had gone out for a walk while Miss Karas made supper, and Jessica had joined him.  She hadn’t particularly needed the fresh air, but it was a chance to be alone with him.  Although that might have worked better if they hadn’t found themselves on the busiest street during the busiest shopping hours.

“What do you mean?” asked Eric.

“I mean why are bunch of high schoolers making plans to take out an alien that looks like mud.”

“Well, it’s not like we wouldn’t be involved if we weren’t pushing into this.  We’ve all been affected by the thing, one way or another.  Right?”

Jessica glanced into a store window as she passed it by.  “Yeah, Emily and I got attacked by an elk thing, and before that we released the thing.”

“When you interrupted the ritual, you mean?  Why did you even do that?”

“It wasn’t something we really had a choice in,” said Jessica.  “I got taken over by an ancestor of mine- they only exist as some kind of mind virus that takes over their descendants occasionally- and it made me walk over to the ritual and throw Emily into it.  We didn’t even know that the ritual was there.”

“And this ancestor, what’s happened to it?” asked Eric.

“Well, nothing really.  I started to look into it, but I’ve gotten distracted by this whole thing with the amalgams.  And to think, the public schoolers are worrying about grades and dances.”

“Yeah, midterms are coming up, aren’t they?” said Eric, as he looked down the street.

“Hmph.  Can’t say I’d be worried about that.  What about the other thing?  Do you have your eye on anyone?”

“Nah.  I’d feel weird about asking somebody out, anyway.”

“Really?” said Jessica, turning her head to him, “Your never going to get used to it if you don’t try.  And besides, it’s not like you have to really worry about girls turning you down.  Hell, Alexandria’s been eying you all evening.”

Before Eric could respond, the press of people shoved the two of them into a side alley.  Jessica looked over to her tall classmate.  He gazed out into the crowd, like he was thinking about his place in the world at large.

“Hey, Eric,” she said.  He turned and looked her dead in the eye.  “Let me feed on you.”

“Okay.”  Jessica stopped, surprised it was that easy.  Before the chance could escape, she threw Eric against the wall.  She let her tongue explore the side of his neck, both spreading pain-dulling saliva and searching for the right spot to sink her teeth into.  She let out her fangs, and broke the skin.

The coppery taste of blood spread into her mouth.  She moaned from the sensation, shoving her body into his, trying to feel every swell and dip through the fabric of their clothing.  After a too short eternity, she broke off her feeding, letting the puncture wounds heal.

“Wow, Eric, that was great,” Jessica said.  “I feel like I should do something to thank you.  You want to go somewhere private, or should I just suck your dick right here?”

The werewolf stumbled over himself.  “Wh-what?”

“I’m joking, of course.  But seriously, I’m going to fantasize about you later.”  Jessica turned back out to the street, happy with the knowledge that she had left the boy both drained and excited.  She nearly skipped through the crowd, as she started to make her way back, letting Eric try to catch up to her.

Then, while she was starting to walk through the crowd, she was suddenly pushed back, like a windstorm appeared from nowhere.  A line of light had appeared in the windward sky.  Jessica stumbled backward, only keeping her balance because she had managed to fall into Eric’s chest.  And then, all was silence.  Nobody else on the street seemed to have noticed the phenomenon, or even been affected by it.

“Was that- was that something on another plane?”

Linda blinked away the dark afterimage the light had left on her eye.  “Hey, Lin?” said Milly.  “Are you okay?  You’re just kinda…staring off into space.”

“Yeah, I do that sometimes,” said Linda.  “Haven’t you noticed?”

Milly nodded and looked away.  “So, about Kayleigh…”

Linda shrugged.  She hadn’t known the girl nearly as long as Milly had, so she wasn’t really sure if Kay had gotten quieter recently or not.  But the three of them were still friends, even if they had only fallen in together because they all thought running around and shouting seemed like fun, so it was the least Linda could do to hear Milly’s thoughts out.

“Yeah.  All we can really do is be there.  It just sucks that we’re growing apart.”  Milly jumped off the jungle gym.  “Will you be okay on your own?  I think I just need to stew for a while.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Linda.  “Just stay safe on the way home.”

As Milly turned to leave, Linda finally addressed the spirit that had been lurking behind her for most of that conversation.  “Alright, now what do you want?”

Linda didn’t turn to face the spirit.  She had glimpsed its eye-covered foot earlier, and that was enough to tell her that looking directly at it would be bad news, just like every other spirit that put too much emphasis on eyes.

“That conversation invoked an Idea you should know about,” the spirit said.  It sounded like it had three mouths.  “That girl has fallen beneath the Surface, and has come into the influence of eyeless men.”

“Which girl?  Milly or Kayleigh?”

“The one not present.”  Among other unpleasant habits, spirits weren’t willing to just come out and say what they meant.

“These eyeless men, do they mean her harm?”

“They are dangerous to her.”  That would be code for the eyeless men, whoever they were, were going to hurt Kayleigh through stupidity, rather than malice.

“Thanks for the warning.  Got anything else on these eyeless men?” asked Linda.

“Look for the many-pointed star.”  With that, the spirit left, leaving Linda to figure out what the hell it was talking about.

Apparently, Linda really had seen flashes of magic around Kayleigh.  They didn’t last for very long, they were always gone by the time she had really looked at her.  Linda wasn’t sure how that had happened, or where they went afterward, but the important thing was that Kayleigh was in danger.

Linda didn’t remember anything about ‘eyeless men’ from the spirits.  They usually just showed up and started yammering at her about whatever it was they felt like bothering her about.  But the spirits weren’t the only source of magic in the world.  There were others like her, and her mother and grandmother, living their lives, and some of them could be eyeless.

And so, for the first time in her life, Linda had to care about the glowing people beyond her immediate family.

<<Previous                                                                                                                               >>Next

I liked reading my characters just talking to each other.  I didn’t need to herd them anywhere specific, I didn’t need to show anything specific about them, I was free to just let them be.  Anyway, because of that, this chapter went quickly, even though I decided to change the title.  This is good, because the next chapter is going to be a doozy.

Poetry: Whatever Point You Could Make

You’re calling work boots kitten heels?
You’re looking for a reason to complain
I know true offence
The sting of
“Be what I say”
and “Yes you are”
This isn’t it
I can see the quivering of your seven chins
As you rail at the injustices that befall others
But whatever point you could make
About acceptance and respect
Is undermined and discredited
By your desire to be enraged.

Sketchbook: Kayleigh Smithson


I’ve been trying to get a handle on drawing Kayleigh now that I’ve decided that she has messy bangs.  It feels weird to draw a character I haven’t had rolling around in my brain for years, but it’s good practice.  I made the eyes to narrow in the surprised face (upper right), and I made the hips too tall in the full-body sketch.  I also continue to have issues with drawing hands a feet large enough.

I did some interesting things with the colors in that figure.  The jacket (Kay seems fond of jackets) was intended to be moss green, but I got a lighter color that I like better.  I got this by first shading the area with an olive green colored pencil, then shading the result with sea green.  I also tried to give a subtle hint of orange, by drawing lines of it between the pen marks, like highlights.  I used a similar technique with the colored faces.

Having an Audience is Weird

Somebody reading something that you have written is the weirdest damn thing, because sometimes they see something in there that you didn’t intend to be.  Even weirder than that is how you can’t actually say that it isn’t there.

Perhaps even stranger is that there are things you can’t put into the story, even if you mean to.  Sometimes a conversation simply doesn’t flow into the questions you want to answer, and sometimes there are things you want to show that don’t fit in the story.

But the strangest thing is seeing things that you didn’t put into what you written.  Sometimes, you decide to write a character in a way that you didn’t first intend, and decide to just roll with it, like how I noticed Kayleigh’s reluctance to ask questions.

Even though I have complete control over what I write and what I show, I can’t fully appreciate what I have written.  That’s something I should keep in mind with the magic system I compared to language, it can easily allow for unintended consequences.

Poetry: Are You Surprised

You see the world you want to see
Never truly looking at the world or me
When you become angry at the truth,
And demand that I lie
Are you surprised when you’re met with silence?

You see the world you want to see
Always telling others what they should be
When you try to scream people into
Tiny, little boxes
Are you surprised when you’re met with violence?

Art: Simultaneous Triptych


This chapter art depicts two scenes from Instruction, although they happen at the same time.  I had originally planned to show three scenes, which is why the lines at the top of the picture go in a sawtooth pattern, but the last two simply folded together naturally.

This picture is the first time I’ve really used perspective, especially with how Angelica, Miss Karas, and Jessica all kind of line up.  However, I did not use a particularly mathematical method to find the perspective, and that sawtooth pattern predates my use, so the end result is really off.

I also let my ink brush get a little out of Karas’s shorts, so there’s a funny little black mark protruding out where her pocket would be.  I need to learn how to control my brush better.  But I also learned how to make a lighter line with my ballpoint while inking this picture.  I have a tendency to death-grip my tools, which leaves my fingers sore.  Learning how to press lighter will really help with that.

Occulted: Instruction

SimultaneousTriptychVanessa Griffin hesitated at her friend’s door.  Angelica was her friend, and it was normal for a girl to be worried about a friend that had been looking morose over the last week.  Vanessa wasn’t quite sure why she needed to tell herself that.  Perhaps it was because she was feeling guilty about not talking to her before.

“The door’s open, Van,” said Angelica’s voice from within the room.  Vanessa jumped.  As her heart rate returned to normal, she reached out and opened the door.  She stepped through the small TV room that every dorm room had, and walked over and pushed open the door to Angelica’s personal room.

Angelica was sitting in her bed, still wearing her pajamas.  Underneath the sleeping clothes, Vanessa saw hints of red and black sleeves and leggings.  A stranger would probably wonder why Angelica was wearing them, but Vanessa had spent enough time with her to know what they really were.

“H-hey, Angie.  How are you doing?”

Vanessa hated herself for how weak she sounded.  She hated only giving half an effort, and letting her fear and laziness getting the better of her.  She knew that it was her own fault that it took so long to actually do anything.  She wished she could be more like Angelica, who even sulked passionately.

“I’ve been getting better.  What took you so long to ask?”

Vanessa flinched.

“Hey, don’t worry about it.  I know how hard it is for you to talk.”

Vanessa felt her heart sink into her stomach.  “Well, can I at least do something to make you feel better?” she asked, as she walked over to the desk chair.

“I don’t know.  Maybe.  Do you even know what I feel bad about?”

“Well, I would guess that it’s because we still don’t know what happened to Dave and Johnny.  We didn’t really get a chance to ask that girl anything…”

Angelica shifted on the bed.  “No, it’s not quite that.  I mean, fucking up like that does suck, but the fact that the kid played us like that is even worse.”

“Well,” said Vanessa, “I suppose we could try getting revenge on him.”

“Good luck with that,” said Angelica, “we don’t even know where that fucker went to, and it’s not like we know how to trace him through a wormhole.”

“So, let’s learn.”


Vanessa fell silent.  She looked down, ashamed.  She was useless again, not even being able to– No, no, find something that you can do!

“We can still find stuff on Dave and Johnny, can’t we?  We can still talk to that girl, right?”

Angelica looked up.  “Hey, you’re right.  It something better to do than just sitting around moping, anyway.”  Her arms and legs twisted and stretched.  They became long black and red tubes, snaking their way out of her clothes.  The limbs reached for the closet, and Angelica’s body slithered into a sleeveless hoodie and a denim skirt.

“Thanks, Van.  I feel much better now.”

Vanessa was so happy at being useful that she didn’t notice that Angelica had abandoned her in the room.

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Sunlight streamed through the branches onto Jessica’s exhausted form.  She would have curled up in a dark corner somewhere else, but she was simply too tired.

“Done catching your breath, Iessica?”

The girl turned her head to look at her Latin teacher.  Miss Karas stood in the sunlight, dark hair shading the pale skin of her face, not bothered by it at all.  “Well, I suppose I can let you rest.  You’ve done your stretches, after all.”

Making an indistinct throat noise, Jessica threw herself into a sitting position.  The nickname, arising from a joke about how the Greeks and Romans pronounced letters, annoyed her today.  Actually, she was just in a bad mood.  “You,” Jessica gasped, “you, made me run around in the sun.  On a Saturday.”

“You asked me how I stay in shape.  You need to keep your aura as weak as possible during exercise to make sure you’re actually using your muscles, and not letting your magic do the work.”

Jessica’s breath began to even out.  “Why the hell am I even weak to the sun?  Why are we weak to anything?”

“Hm,” said Miss Karas.  “What do you know about why are we strong?  What gives one of us the power over the plants and the forests, when another Occ can transform themselves into a tea kettle, or other such things?”

“Dunno,” admitted Jessica, “My father told me that we have our own powers and Kryptonites.  I know that these can be passed down to children from their parents, but I never really thought about how.”

“Ah.”  The teacher sat down beside her student, helping the girl to sit up.  “Iessica, did your father ever mention ‘Forms?'”

“Like, the shape our auras take?”

“Not quite,” said Miss Karas, “The word I’m actually thinking of is eidos, which actually mostly means ‘kind of thing’ or ‘sort of thing.’  ‘Forms’ a traditional translation in the context of Plato, which is mostly where this vocabulary seems to come from.”

“We can keep calling them ‘ethos’ if you want.”

Karas blinked.  Apparently, Jessica had butchered the Greek language with a single word.  “Well, everyone winds up making up there own word for these things, so one person might know them as Forms, another group might call them Ideas, or Concepts, or Templates, or… whatever, never even minding the non-Western traditions.  Let’s call them ‘Ideas,’ they don’t actually have form after all.

“So each Occ can be said to possess Ideas within their auras, changing how the other Occulted perceive that aura and defining what abilities that you can use.  For example, your aura possesses the Ideas of ‘fang,’ allowing you to grow fangs, ‘blood,’ allowing you to safely suck blood and insure that your donor isn’t harmed beyond the blood loss, and ‘Jessica Albright,’ allowing you to heal quickly”

“Wait, what?” said Jessica.  “I’m an Idea?”

“Hm,” said the teacher, “well, we talk of the Ideas to explain why our powers are alike in someways and different in others.  Because the power to heal quickly is so widespread, I suspect that everybody innately possesses the Idea of themselves.  Now, possessing an Idea gives you power.  What can take that power away?”

Jessica took a moment to think, and said, “Possessing a different Idea.  I guess we could call the first kind of Idea an ‘Idea of power,’ and the second kind an ‘Idea of weakness.'”

“Very good,” said Miss Karas.

Jessica frowned.  “But that doesn’t explain why we have Ideas of weakness in the first place.”

“Ah, true.  All I know is that there are rituals to manipulate the Ideas in a person’s aura, but I’ve never tried it myself, and I’m given to understand that great danger accompanies these.  Perhaps the weaknesses can appear from there rituals?”

Jessica nodded.  A moment of silence passed between them, the sun drifting across the sky as wind blew across her skin.  “Hey, did you ever find anything out about those chaos people?”

“Maybe,” said Karas.  “Have you ever taken the Green line bus out to the edge of town?”

“Been meaning to,” said Jessica, “I’ve got a friend that works out there.  Why?”

“Because there’s someone I want to ask about things out there,” said Miss Karas, standing up.  “Would you like to come with?”

Jessica stomach growled.  “Can we have lunch first?”

Kayleigh stepped off the bus, into the outskirts of town.  She still wasn’t sure how she felt about the kid using Angelica as a patsy, on the one hand, it wasn’t like the blonde had ever done anything to earn Kayleigh’s sympathy, but on the other, it wasn’t like using her to sneak into somewhere he wasn’t wanted was completely ethical.

Well, it wasn’t like she really had anywhere else to go to learn about the magical world.  At least he had directed her to someone else, so she had sometime to clear her head over this.  It was sometime before she was expected to meet that person, however, so she decided to wander around a little.

There were a few buildings scattered around, Kayleigh had never really had a reason to visit them, mostly only coming out here to watch the fireworks in summer.  The view of the lake during the day was wonderful, making her wish she could paint just so that she could capture the feeling of the contrast of green and blue.  She took a picture, but it was a soulless thing.

There was a large glass structure, attached to a brick storefront.  Kayleigh had never realized that there was a greenhouse around here, but she had never come this way on her own before.  She decided to visit it, hoping to find something small she could carry back home with her.

Inside the store, flowers and seeds, ferns and reeds, spread out before her.  The array was baffling, not just in variety, but also in purpose.  It was like they sold anything, as long as it was a plant.  Curious, Kayleigh began to curl her fingers together.

“Love, honor, beauty, unite!”

The world exploded into color, the green of the plant life joined by the auras of the individual plants.  What the shapes and colors of those meant was unknown to Kayleigh, but what she could tell, was that nearly everything on sale had some kind of magical power.

As Kayleigh’s aura went back to sleep, one of the clerks approached her.  She had hazel eyes, shifting from brown to green as the light hitting them changed.  She was only a little taller than Kayleigh, tanned, and her hair was loose and…was it possible for hair to be hazel?

Anyway, she paused for a moment, seeing something she didn’t expect, but recovered and spoke, “Welcome, my name is Andria.  Are you looking for anything specific, or would you just like to browse around?”

Kayleigh leaned over to look as something on Andria’s apron.  “Your name tag says Alex.”

“They’re, both short for Alexandria.” she said, annoyed.  “Sometimes I’m one, sometimes I’m the other.”

“Oh,” said Kayleigh.  It was weird how she came up to her and started talking.  Don’t stores usually just let the customer’s look around for a while?  “So, uh, you working for commission, or something?”

Alexandria sighed.  “Yes, I am working for a commission.  Now could you please help me out and tell me what you’re looking for.”

“Who says I’m looking for anything, Miss Pushy?” said Kayleigh.  “For you know, I could just be looking around.”

“Oh, great so you’re just no.  No, Andria, you can’t lose your temper with the customers.”

Kayleigh had never seen someone slam the breaks on their emotions like that.  It almost seemed like she became a different person, more withdrawn and aloof from the world.  The visitor could almost see her eyes turn greener.

“Um, sorry, Andria?”

“It’s Alex, right now.”

“Oh.  Um, sorry for just wandering in here?”  It felt weird to be apologizing for not wanting anything.

“It’s fine.  We-I’m just eager to make my first sale, is all.”  The clerk brushed herself down.  “Look, if I saw what I think I did earlier, you understand what I mean when I say that we have some special plant for sale, yeah?”

“Um, yes.  Well, I think I should learn a bit more about these things, before I go playing around by myself.”

Nodding, the clerk let her customer go.

An incessant whine of machinery echoed from within the building.  The brick walls quieted it, but like the smell of the smoke, it surrounded the building, echoing out the back and polluting the outside with its ugliness.  “We aren’t going to have to listen to that while we’re asking questions, are we?” asked Jessica.

“What, the hydraulics?” said Karas, “No, we aren’t going to try to yell over a decibel level that can leave people deaf.”  She moved to enter the building, going through the door underneath the sign proudly declaring the entrance to ‘Caulwell’s Forge,’ and clearly expected her student to follow.

The inside was a well-kept reception spaces, although empty for the weekend.  The door was flanked, on either side, by two chairs and a reading table, presumably so visitor’s could rest their feet while they waited.  Behind the counter were two doors, and judging by the muffled buzzing and occasional ring of metal on metal coming from behind one, it probably lead to the forge proper.

A large man stepped out from behind the other door.  The oddest thing about him was, easily, that he was wearing a welding mask for no apparent reason.  Jessica would have wondered what he was wearing a mask for, but quickly, she began to suspect that there was Nothing beneath it, just like that kid from the bookstore.

“Ah, Fivi,” said the man, with a low, resonating baritone, “you’ve caught me at an awkward time.  I have to be on my way to another appointment.”

“Oh, don’t worry, this will only take a moment of your time,” said Miss Karas.  “I’m wondering if you could tell me anything about an organization called ‘Tohu wa-Bohu.'”

The man stopped.  Slowly, he walked up to the teacher, leaning in close to her, visor to eyeball.  “I’m afriad, Miss Karas,” he said, “that I have never heard of such a thing.”

Miss Karas took a step back.  “Ah, well,” she said, “perhaps you could tell me about a certain child?  About ten years old, likes to wear a rubber mask and play around with a puzzle box?”

The man seemed to blink behind his mask.  “Well, I’m not going to say I don’t know anything about him,” he said, “but I’m surprised that you haven’t met him already.  And while you have every right to make your inquiries, I’m not sure you should be bringing one of your students along with you.”  He looked at Jessica, pointedly.

“Don’t misunderstand, I’m not bringing her into this, it’s the other way around.”  The man’s expression was unreadable, thanks to his damned welding mask.  “Regardless, it seems that you don’t wish to speak of this, so we’ll leave you to your other meeting.”

As they left the building and the mechanical whine once again assaulted Jessica’s ears, she asked her teacher, “What was that all about?”

Without looking back to her student, Miss Karas replied, “Did you notice that star made of arrows in the corner of the sign?”

Jessica looked over her shoulder, and sure enough, in the bottom-right corner of the sign, there were eight arrows, arranged into a star.  “I do now.  What does that mean?”

“Modern fiction has given it a meaning of chaos, anything goes, everything allowed to go in every direction.  But historically, such symbols have had a different meaning, especially among the Occulted: all things, emerging from a single point.”

“The origin of the universe, tohu wa-bohu.

“Correct,” Karas smiled to her student, “now that you’ve identified the symbol, what can you do with that information?”

Jessica spun around to look at her teacher, and held her chin.  “Well, one reason you would display a symbol like that is to declare yourself an ally of someone, without just coming out and saying it.  If we look around, there might be other companies with it in their logos.  We might find someone willing to talk there…”

Jessica stopped, and squinted into the distance.  She thought she had seen a flash of red and black, like an aura, throw itself over the barbed wire above the fence of Caulwell’s Forge.  “Was that Angelica Spritz?”

Karas turned around to follow Jessica’s gaze, and furrowed her eyebrow.  “That’s right, her grounding ended to day, didn’t it?”

Kayleigh found herself at the back of the building.  Enormous blue dumpsters, so tall that the girl wasn’t even sure anyone alive could see over the top, stood near the chainlink gate, where she had been told to wait.

“Out there, on the edge of town, there’s a place called Caulwell’s Forge.  I know the man that owns and runs the place, I’ve even collaborated with him on some, but not all, of my greater works.  You should meet with him, I can arrange it for you.  He’ll want too meet with you behind his property, he doesn’t like it when non-customers use the front door.  Look for the sign of the many-pointed star.”

Kayleigh stood there, listening to the whine of the machinery and smelling the residue of the smoke drifting from the chimneys and garage doors in the back of the building.  What did they make?  Were all of their customers Occulted or did they also do jobs for normal people that just happened to find them?

Suddenly, somebody was behind Kayleigh.  Surprised, she spun around to look at a large man, wearing heavy work clothes and a welding mask over his face, standing a fair bit away and staring at her.  “You’re– you know that kid that hangs out in that gap at the mall, right?  The one you have to be Occulted to find?”

“I do,” said the man, “and I assume that you are Kayleigh?  That’s the name of the person he said he was sending to me.”


The man nodded.  “Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Caulwell, although you may have heard of me under the overly flattering title ‘Lord of the Blacksmiths’ – something other people decided to call me, I assure you – and I am given to understand that you have questions for me, about magic and our fellowship?”

“Well, I haven’t been asking as many questions as I should have,” said the girl.  “Hell, I haven’t even asked the kid his name.”

“I believe that it is ‘Malcolm,'” said the smith.  “I forget his surname at the moment, but I do know that he is also called, for rather complicated reasons that I don’t fully understand, the ‘Child of All Ages.’  Hasn’t he volunteered any information?”

“Well, we went over the distinction between superpowers and spells,” said Kayleigh.  “We were about to go into Metaphors and Ideas, but…things kind of happened.”

“What has that fool doing?” Caulwell asked no one in particular.  “These Metaphors and Ideas, what did he explain about them?”

“Not much,” said Kayleigh.  “I know that they have something to do with spells, and Ideas can be put into an object’s aura, but I didn’t really get it then, either.  Why do you want to know?”

“Learning about magic,” said the man in the welder’s mask, “isn’t something that should be done recklessly.  Just like you haven’t told anyone about magic, there are other kinds of knowledge that can change a person, and not all of them are as gentle as that.”

Angelica shimmied open the window, and slithered her arm in.  Good thing the Idea of Tentacles comes with a side order of bonelessness.  Carefully unlatching the window, she lifted herself through, and found herself in an office, with books on the shelves and a computer on the desk.

She had been lucky to find somewhere displaying the many-pointed star.  The kid had let slip that it was a symbol that the sorcerers used to invite conversation with the Occulted without having to actually say anything.  If she poked around in here, she might actually find out what that kid was up to.  Looking around, Angelica sized up the best place to look.  He wouldn’t keep what I’m looking for on his computer, he wouldn’t want to destroy anything.

The books would probably be more productive.  She had to be careful, though, a sorcerer’s books were not something for the uninitiated.  She would be fine, though, her Gran had been teaching her about magic since she was six.  Gran had also been trying to teach how to be a good person, but those parts of the lessons never really seemed to stick.

As she reached up to pull out a book, she began to do the exercise Gran had taught her, to make her mind ready to receive information.  She envisioned her mind spreading, loosening and preparing to have things pushed into it.  My mind is open, open to the world, my eyes are open, I see the world, my mind accepts the world, the world is as it is, I see the world as it is, my mind is open…

It was fortunate that she was prepared to let things in.  At the turning of a page, the knowledge of the book leapt on to her, wrapping itself around her and forcing itself onto her.  Angelica expanded around it, a pleasant feeling of fullness spreading through her, a fire consuming her and changing her, forcing her to acknowledge it, and denying her ability to decide what was true.

“Miss Spritz,” said a voice at the door, “I’m sure you realize that breaking and entering is a crime.”

“What…what is that like?”

“It’s like having a part of your mind being pulled out of you, getting turned around, and jammed back in.  The overall experience is…unpleasant.”  Caulwell rubbed the back of his head.  “Nobody comes back from that completely unchanged, and the lucky ones don’t have to deal with knowing two contradictory things at once afterward.”

“How is that even possible?” said Kayleigh.  “I mean, how do you even find this stuff?”

“Books, pictures, I glimpsed something in an old piece of iron once.  I trust you begin to grasp how fortunate we are for such things to be hidden from the Surface world.”

Kayleigh shuddered.  The thought of her friends getting their minds twisted around like that…  “How can I avoid…things like that.”

“First, perform your own experiments,” said the smith, “second, if you must look for information beyond yourself, do so from someone you can actually talk to, preferably in person.  They’ll have an easier time judging if you can handle it.”

“Alright, what if you don’t know how to experiment?”

The man tilted his head.  “You mean like you don’t know where to start?  Well, awaken your aura for me.”

Obeying, the girl curled her fingers together.  “Love, honor, beauty, unite!”  She looked up, seeing the auras of the world.  Flashes of light appeared behind Caulwell, like the sparks off a hot piece of iron, being pounded into shape.  “Ah, you have a smithing Idea in your aura, don’t you?”

Angelica’s aura made Jessica uneasy.  It was red and black, the same as before, but it had been steady, the checkerboard pattern slowly expanding and retracting through the moments of time.  Now, ripples had appeared before it, a buzzing like soundwaves traveling across the image, like sound through the air.

Angelica started to make nonsense sounds.  There was rhythm and a melody to them, almost like scatting but with the syllables flowing into each other like hisses, the tones clashing against each other like rocks.  Trying to reach out to the blonde, Jessica found that she could not move.  The song had paralyzed her.

“Goddamn, just learning how to do that would have made the trip worth it, never mind the other stuff I’ll find.”  Silently, Angelica prowled towards the women.  Her smug gait brought her to the space between them, where she looked over them, admiring they’re helplessness.

“Spritz, did you learn this just from looking at that book?” asked Miss Karas.

“Yeah, the having the information shove itself into my was fun.”

“Oh? Most accounts use words like ‘violating’ or ‘horrifying.'”

“There are ways to prepare yourself for it.  Seems like it feels good if you are,” said the blonde.  Jessica strained against her paralysis, trying to move her body through sheer force of will.  And it was working.

As Angelica passed in front of Jessica, the pale girl grabbed at the black-and-red clad arm, holding it, trying to tear it off.  Frightened, Angelica made those dissonant, syllabant sounds again, forcing Jessica’s hand back to her side.

“I’ve heard you had experience with mind control.  I shouldn’t be surprised you have an easier time resisting mine,” said Angelica to herself.

Kayleigh’s aura fell back asleep, and the sparks behind Caulwell faded.  “That was it?” he asked.

“What was it?”

“Your aura only lasted for a few seconds.”  Caulwell walked up to Kayleigh, looking her over.  “What have you been using it for?”

“Not much,” admitted Kayleigh, “I’ve mostly been doing it to look at the pretty pictures that appear around people.”

“So your Reservoir should be completely full,” said Caulwell.

“My what?”

“The reserve of magical power that the Occulted draw from to use their powers, either instinctively or through ritual.  It’s filled by certain actions, depending on who it belongs to, from staying up late to deliberately making people suffer.”

Angelica sang her prisoners out of the building.  Their suffering, annoyance from being out done and fear of what Angelica would do with them next, was delicious.  Her parents always told her off for farming, always telling her that there was enough suffering in the world to keep her Reservoir full, but honestly, just looking for miserable people wasn’t any fun.

Once they had gotten out of the building, she made her prisoners turn around and look at her.  “Now, what am I going to do with you.  Any suggestions?”

“If you let us go now,” said the teacher – Ms. Karas, wasn’t it? – taking advantage of the prompt, “you could get off easy.  Just finding a new toy and trying it out, and nobody got harmed.  And besides, it’s not like you can keep this up forever.”

Oh?  Hasn’t she looked up how I feed?  Although there were other reasons she would have to stop at some point: her throat getting sore, breaking her prisoners completely, needing to go do something else- Oh yeah, that reminds me.

“Hey, Jessie,” she said, “what happened to Dave and Johnny?”

“The goblin and the giant?  Well, Dave wound up making some kind of deal with…some kind of entity, and he got fused with a spider, and started ranting about killing all of the normals.  Johnny got kidnapped by Dave, and I have no idea where they are now.”

It seemed that Jessica didn’t know anything, but that was about what she expected.  Shepherding her captives down the street, Angelica thought about how surprisingly willing Jessica was to ask for help.  I had her pegged as the kind that would be too proud to ask anything from anyone.  She also didn’t realize that Jessica was quite so powerful by herself, which would mean that she didn’t need to prove anything.

Now, however, Angelica was screwing with the leech more out of her own pride than anything.  Seeing a bridge over a shallow stream, the blonde decided to try an experiment with Jessica.  Vampires were supposed to be unable to cross running water, after all.

“Okay, if pretty much everything can fill my Reservoir, my aura should be going just constantly, right?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” said Caulwell.  “For one thing, your Reservoir can only hold so much power.  For another, more relevant in your case, is that your aura can only produce so much Pressure.”

“So Pressure is what, how much power I can put out at a time?”

“Roughly,” said the smith.  “Everything is mediated through the Ideas, but in general, the fewer ways you can fill your Reservoir, the more Pressure you can put out.”

Once again, Jessica found herself wondering why she had to have Ideas of weakness.  The water was twenty feet beneath her, but it was running fast, and with her head hanging over the side of the bridge, her head was swimming, like motion sickness.  At least there’s no one else around, thought Jessica.  And if I do vomit, it will be taken downstream.

That blonde bitch was giggling.  Jessica tried to tear her eyes away from the stream, and she succeeded, a little, but only enough to see Angelica force the teacher onto the bridge.  This was enough to see that she was distracted.

It was an opportunity.  Jessica pushed, sending out her aura as hard and as fast as she could, not trying to create a physical effect, but simply creating a vast jet of magenta above her.

Eventually she stopped, unable to risk spending any more blood than she already had.  Her face turned toward Angelica.

“What did you just do?” asked the captor.

Jessica chuckled.  “Come on, can’t you tell?”  Angelica shoved her over the water once more.

“Although in your case, I think it has more to do with the pumps needing some oil after being left untended, so to speak.”

“So my aura is weak because I’ve lived my life un-Occulted,” said Kayleigh.  “Is there some kind of exercise I can do to strengthen it?”

“There are somethings that only you can discover, I’m afraid.  But,” said the man, “what was that mantra you used?  ‘Love, honor, beauty?’  I think you might already have an affinity for those Ideas.”

Kayleigh sucked in her lip.  “You’re just guessing, aren’t you?”

“It’s an educated guess,” said Caulwell.  “But at any rate, it’s somewhere to start.  Can you think of anything that could be affected by any of those Ideas, safely?”

Thinking back to where else she’d been that day, the girl said, “Flowers.”

Alexandria stared at where the geyser of aura had been.

“Hey, Alex,” asked Andria, “That was Jessica, wasn’t it?  Do you think she needs help?”

Getting a nod from her other self, Andria went to help her friend, before getting redirected to ask her boss for a break.

“Just so,” said the smith.  “Now think of a spell that could affect them, and cast it.”

“Um, Mr. Caulwell?” said Kayleigh, “I don’t know how to cast spells.”

“Really,” said the man.  “Well, sorcery is a bit like a language: there are a lot of ways to say something, and everyone uses a different one, but as long as they’re understood, it’s fine.  As for actually creating a spell, think of a Metaphor – objects and actions that make sense to you – and Fill them with your aura.”

“And what does a Metaphor do, exactly?”

“Hmm, how do I put this…Well, I suppose it something to make you think of the right Idea.  Aura is a tempestuous thing, not readily controlled by the conscious mind.  Instead, most have to use something, either their instincts or a Metaphor, to make sure that they are invoking the correct Idea.”

“So a Metaphor is something that brings an Idea to mind?”

“Just so.”

Kayleigh smiled, and wondered if that Alex girl was still working.  She was going to need to buy something from there, and it seemed like she could have used a bit of luck that day.

“What’s going on here?” asked Alexandria.  They were wondering why the Latin teacher was holding Jessica off the side of the of the bridge, dangling her over a shallow river that would probably kill her if she fell.  The probable answer to that question – Angelica Spritz, judging by the blonde spiky hair – simply turned to the newcomer, and sang a song to ensnare her too.  Big mistake.

The girl didn’t stop moving, not like the song commanded her to.  Instead, her head swayed a bit, like she was dizzy or sick, and her hair turned a definite brown.

“What the fuck?” said Andria, jumping at the blonde.  As she sailed through the air, her fist became covered in rock, which then slammed into Angelica’s rather surprised face.  The girls rolled across the bridge, the music stopping, and giving Miss Karas a chance to pull Jessica back over the railing.

Andria stood back up, and Angelica looked at her.  “You little shit,” the blonde said, rubbing her face.  Her arm became a tentacle, stretching out and wrapping around Andria’s neck.  Unfortunately for her, that neck also belonged to Alex, and just like the brown-eyed girl had the power of the earth, the green-eyed had power of wood.

Branches and thorns tore through the limb, leaving a tattered mess of red and black.  Annoyed, the blonde threw herself at the short girl, butting her in the head, kneeing her in the stomach, and using her other limb to constrain and strangle Alexandria.  They summoned their strengths to fight back, sticks of straggly wood and skin-covering rock lashing out and protecting, giving them enough time to start throwing punches into Angelica’s gut.

Someone grabbed Andria’s elbow, stopping from throwing any more punches.  Alex looked back, showing them both the face of Miss Karas.

“One more,” she said.

The old smith watched the girl leave, without having said a word about Tohu wa-Bohu.  As dangerously uninquisitive as she proved to be, it wasn’t nearly as disturbing as the Child of All Ages seemingly abdicating his duty to teach her.

It was his plan that would put her in danger when the time came.  The idea that he would just use someone as a sacrifice was disturbing.  There was nothing to do but to ask the Child himself about his plan, for he alone knew that answer to that question.

Miss Karas dragged the gagged Angelica down the sidewalk.  Jessica had tired of laughing at the sight, so the four of them – Jessica, Miss Karas, Angelica, and the twins – were walking together for the moment.  As they passed the greenhouse, Alex turned to the teacher and said, “Well, I should be getting back to work now.”

“Wait,” said Miss Karas.  “How did you break the enchantment?”

Alex fidgeted, and looked away.  “Well, um, I guess you could say I have multiple personalities?  Well, it’s not like we forget what happens when the other one is doing things, and our thought overlap, I mean, we think the same things sometimes, not like two people thinking the same thing, I mean that it’s like we’re share a brain, which is actually what’s happening.  I guess the easiest way to think about it is, Alex and Andria are two parts of Alexandria, but we aren’t distinct parts, if that makes any sense?”

Karas blinked.  “Well, okay then.”

“What, you don’t even have a guess at that?” asked Jessica,  “Like, how that even happens, or something?”

Karas looked at her student, and sighed.  “I’m sorry, Jess.  There are some questions nobody knows the answer to.”

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This chapters even longer than the first attempt, but without Kayleigh’s part it would have been much shorter.  It’s also a lot more complicated than the first attempt, with the intercutting of Kayleigh getting exposition and the fight with Angelica.  The fight is a little flat, but this chapter is long enough as is and I’m kind of sick of writing it.