Sketchbook: Alexandria Silvestri

AlexandriaSilvanoSketch

I thought you should get a good look at Alexandria before I set them aside for later.  I tried various ways to show two emotions on the same figure, like having them on different sides of the face at the top middle, or combining calm body language with an angry face in the black-and-white body, but they all seem to meld into a single expression.  Which is kind of appropriate, now that I think about it.

I tried to show what I meant by hazel hair in the full body picture (which I made a bit to thin), but the brown over powered the jade green I used as an undercoat.  The colored faces show the eyes and hair switching color (brown for Andria, green for Alex), which is how I originally conceived the character’s coloration working.  I thought it was too obvious for the kind of world I wanted, but now I’m reconsidering what kind of world I’m wanting.

Happy Birthday

Cake

The House Apart is one year old today, so I drew it a cake.  Well, I suppose that I created the thing earlier, but this is the eleventh of September is the first day I posted anything, so I’ll start counting from there.  I didn’t really know anything about WordPress back then, and I’m still learning, and all I really did was talk about my desire to write Occulted.

Of course, when I started to write, I just kind of…started writing.  I didn’t have a plan, or an outline, or even much of a plot.  All I had were a bunch of characters in my head that I wanted to let out.  I didn’t even come up with Ixxqura until I realized that the mud that Jessica was forced to release should have been important somehow.

This explains why most of the early chapters introduced a new character, or at least were focused on someone that hadn’t been focused on yet.  The first five or six chapters all followed this pattern, even when it was detrimental to the story as a whole.

This is the reason I introduced Alexandria to the story when I did, you see.  I wasn’t thinking about her arc, or whether or not the chapter needed her to be introduced.  I simply thought that I should introduce a character, and I choose Alexandria.  The result was the first chapter I found really unpleasant to write, and a character I had trouble figuring out what to do with afterward.  This is why I’m going to cut them from the next draft.AlexandriaGetOnTheBus

And as for that next draft, well, that involves my plans for the future.  As I said, I just started writing one day, without a plan, just some vague notion of publishing a bunch of linked stories, one every week.  In time, I began to think of these stories less as independent works and more as a part of a single book.  This meant that I wasn’t publishing stories as much as writing a book in public.

There were a few problems with this.  The first was that the chapters were too long for the internet.  What I, personally, have noticed from my own reading habits is that I balk when I see a piece of writing that’s more than a few hundred words.  I simply don’t have the time to read that much writing during my day, because I have my own things I want to work on.  The internet needs rather short stories, that people can read, have a few thoughts sparked from, and then go about their day.

And while this might have been a nice idea to get feedback as early as possible, it didn’t quite work out that way.  The most information about people’s reactions to this project has been how many views each chapter has been getting, but a difference of four or five views isn’t statistically significant.  Between this and the fact that the prose stories aren’t particularly popular, and that the page for Occulted is kind of a pain to maintain, I think I’m going to write my next draft offline.

That’s not to say I’m going to stop posting, of course.  I’m still going to compose poetry and draw, but for Wednesdays, I think I’ll try writing a few essays that I’ve been wanting to.  These should be much shorter than any chapter I posted, and I might try writing some short-stories, less than a thousand words a piece.

StoryDNA

As for Occulted, it think I want to try actually making an outline this time.  I couldn’t do that at first, I had to dive right in and start writing before I could figure out where I wanted to go, but I already have some idea of what the chapters are about.  However, there is something awkward to plan for.

I only came up with Kayleigh after I had completed the original draft of the story and noticed that it could really use someone to have things explained to.  At first, I had intended to use Jessica for that, but no, I want her to be entirely to clued in to the Occulted world for that to work.  Trying to make her naive about the world just made her characterization suffer, trapped between someone born into it and ready to work, and someone just learning about magic for the first time.  With the second function passed off to Kayleigh, Jessica would be free to be herself.

But there’s still the fact that they have two different plot threads twisting around each other, only meeting at the beginning and possibly the end.  I’m not sure on the ending, I suspect that if I do the rest of the story right, it will simply pop out by itself.  But at any rate, I think I do want there two be two stories, with two protagonists, with different but overlapping themes.  I guess I’ll just make two outlines, one for each plot, and figure out how they cross later.

I think I also want to find an editor, not immediately, but once I’ve gotten to the point that I’m just fiddling with word choices rather than throwing out entire chapters, it would be good to get someone else to look at it.  Any suggestions?

Occulted: Preparation

TheShadowsDrawNearKayleigh crossed the sticks over each other, cried “Manulael!”, and poured her aura into them.  She set them on the ground, and closed her eyes as the aura of the spirit washed over her and the grass around her.  The many-eyed being entered her house, to seal it off from the kid, and others that would teleport into it.

As the light faded from the yard, the short girl heard Linda walk up to her.  “The sealing’s going to take a while.  You wanna go some where while we wait?”

Kayleigh stretched her arms over her head, letting her spine pop.  “Yeah, sure.  Let’s go for a walk.”

She opened her eyes and turned, seeing the auras of the world, of the houses and the pavement, the subtle transparencies that made the familiar surroundings seem so alien.

“Hey, your aura’s lasting a lot longer now, isn’t it?” asked Linda, as the girls walked down the street.

“Yeah,” said Kayleigh, “The exercises have been helping a lot.  Especially once I figured out how to do the finger-curling thing in my head.”

After rescuing her friend from the Child of All Ages, Linda had helped Kayleigh figure out a way to train her aura.  She had asked her mother, looked in the old books, and just plain helped her when Kayleigh was practicing.  Between the two of them, they had gotten Kayleigh’s magic to stay awake for several minutes at a time, which could even be extended if the awakening ritual was preformed before time ran out.

“I still need to do it in real life if I’m just starting it though,” said Kayleigh.  “You know, it’s kind of freaky how much I was missing before.  It’s like I was only seeing half the world.”

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic,” said Linda, “The only thing you were really missing were things like that little nook over there.”

Kayleigh turned and looked down a pathway that she had never seen before.  That’s not to say that it hadn’t been there, merely that she had been unaware of it.  But with her eyes now open to the other half of the world, she saw the the space, wreathed in an aura of red, olive, and blue.

And then she saw a flash of light move over the path.  She looked closer, and saw that the light was the aura of a strange creature, like an inflated sack moving on bat wings.

“Is that…one of those things that have been attacking people?” Kayleigh asked her friend.

Linda peered at the creature, as it moved into a hole in a hill.  “Yeah, looks like it.  Well, it’s not like we have to worry about it.”

Kayleigh stopped, and made a decision.  “Kay?  Where are you going?”

“To kill that thing,” the short girl said over her shoulder.  “Before it can hurt someone.”

Linda stared after her friend.  “You don’t need to worry about that, you know?  It’s not like its going to hurt anyone right now, except for whoever’s in that hole I guess.  And I’m sure that somebody else will deal with these things…”  Linda sighed, and went after her friend, fully aware that she had no idea who that ‘somebody else’ would be.

Kayleigh looked into the cave.  It was dark, of course, but in the fading daylight, she could barely make out a series of uneven steps leading down into the ground.  It looked like it would be pretty easy to climb down and back up, if there wasn’t a huge drop somewhere deeper.

“You’re really thinking of going down there, aren’t you?”  Kayleigh jumped a little, and turned to Linda, who already had her black hair draped over her face.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’ll back you up, but…well, I climbed down a hole like this before, when I was little.  It was the freakiest goddamn thing.”

Kayleigh nodded.  “Thank you.  I’ll be careful.”

She climbed into the cave, her jeans scrapping across the bottom of the opening.  Slowly, carefully, she got to her feet, using the wall to push herself up.  She found that even she couldn’t stand up straight; her head would scrap against the roof, otherwise.  Leaning on the wall, she slowly began to walk down the steps.

Kayleigh looked over her shoulder, checking that Linda was following.  She had decided to crawl, staying on her hands and knees, even as the tips of her hair caught the kicked up dust.  That dust was just loose enough to slide on, just a little, which cause Kayleigh some worry with the unevenness of the steps.  Worse than that, however, was how the floor suddenly stopped existing.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!”

Kayleigh screamed as the cave opened up beneath her.  She fell, every split-second stretching out to a forever, the new floor rushing up to meet her face before she stopped, something pulling on her arm and wrapping around her chest.

The short girl looked back, into the black locks of her friend.  She was holding onto the ledge with one of her claws, two of the talons over the edge and the thumb buried horizontally into the wall.  Her other claw was grabbing on to Kayleigh’s wrist, and her legs were clutching the brunette’s body.  The creature’s green-black aura was reaching backward, like it was grabbing on to the wall to help support their body weight.

“Kay, I’m gonna have to let you down,” Linda said.

Kayleigh looked at the floor.  It was about a foot below her.  She sucked in a breath.  “Go ahead.”  The legs loosened, letting her slide down through them.  Her feet found the ground, and once she was carrying herself, Linda let go, releasing her arm and dropping onto her feet.

The cave had opened into a maze of brick walls, with the even dustier floor made not of brick or stone, but of smooth concrete.  Even stranger than that, however, was the ceiling, which seemed to be made of some kind of rocky foliage.  Light streamed through the branches, coming from small, crystalline nodes nestled within.

“So, where to?” asked Linda.  The three paths before them had no indication what was down them, not even tracks in the dust.  And though the thing they were looking for was floating, they would still need a way to find their way out.

“Well, you know that trick with holding your hand on the side of a maze?” said Kay.  “Let’s try that.”

And so, they walked down a path, with the wall on their left side.  Turn, turn, straight, open chamber, turn, straight, turn.  They went on like this for a while, barely even noticing the spider webs.

“We’re wasting our time,” said Linda, “Let’s just head back.”

Kayleigh sighed.  “Okay.”  The girls turned around, finding a spider that was bigger than they were.

Kayleigh didn’t scream; her throat was blocked off by her heart.  In that one, perfect second, the spider raised its forelegs, waving them as if to feel something in the air.  It took a step forward, legs curling and stretching as it moved, as petrification slowly spread out from its eyes.

The stone traveled across the body and down the legs, leaving a perfect, unmoving statue in the arachnid’s place.  At least, until the legs snapped, leaving the body to roll around on the ground, with small, rocky sticks scattered around it.

Kayleigh looked at her friend, as Linda’s hair fell back over her face.  “You work pretty fast, don’t you?”

“I suppose I do,” said Linda, “but it isn’t like there was much to for me to deal with.  Now, if there were hundreds of the things, I might have a problem.”

On cue, hundreds of spiders entered the tunnel, dropping from the branches, crawling on across the concrete, or even tearing through the bricks.  Some were smaller than a fingernail, others were larger than a horse, all crawling across each other, legs clicking against backs, a wave of exoskeleton and fangs, advancing on the girls.

“Run!” shouted Kayleigh, grabbing her friend by the wrist and pulling her deeper into the maze.  They lost themselves quickly, all thoughts of keeping track of the walls lost in their rush to escape immediate danger.  Something skittered over their heads, and dropped down to cut them off.

“Blood for Ixxqura!” the green-faced thing screamed.  Kayleigh stopped, letting Linda snap past her.  Hair flew, and the Linda gazed at the thing.  Dozens of spiders were streaming out of its mouth, crawling up its face and covering its eyes, even as they dropped, petrified.

“Shit,” Linda cried.  But even as she did so, Kayleigh saw something coming behind them.  It looked like a large, bald man, except for the eight, spindly limbs stretching from his back and the black eyes and mandibles hiding his face.  Linda attacked the enemy in front of her, swiping and dodging with it, unaware of the danger behind her.  Kayleigh wished she could have done the same, done anything as the fusion of man and spider reached out to her and…stopped.

In fact, the whole world had stopped.  Motes of dust hung in the air, trapped in the air, perfectly still.  Kayleigh could move, but sluggishly, like whatever had stopped everything else had decided to only slow her down.  As the short girl shifted and looked around her, she saw her tall friend moving in the same manner that she was, like they were forcing themselves through thick air.

“What the hell is going on?” Linda asked from behind her dark hair.

“To put it simply, I stopped time.”  Linda and Kayleigh turned to the speaker, stepping out from behind a wall.  He was a child, wearing a sky blue hoodie and a rubber mask over his face, and in his hands, he held a puzzle box, with one of the corners misaligned.

“You?” said Kayleigh.  “What the hell are you even doing here?”

“I’m here to request your help,” said the kid.

“Didn’t I already say no?”

“I suppose you did,” said the kid.  “But if you want to take your chances with the amalgams, well…”

The arachnid monsters still loomed around the girls.  “You son of a bitch.”


Vanessa had snuck into the room.  She knew that Angelica was basically grounded, and not allowed to talk to anyone outside of class hours, but this was important, and Angelica deserved to know about what was happening Underground that night.  It involved Dave and Johnny, after all.

The blonde girl’s eyes somehow tracked something invisible.  “Van?  Is that you?”

Vanessa was startled.  She knew that her invisibility wasn’t perfect, that she could be found by the signs her motion left in the environment, but it was dark in the room, illuminated by little more than the desk lamp that Angelica had been working under.

“Uh, yeah,” said Vanessa, letting her invisibility fall, “how did you know it was me?”

“I have my ways,” said the blonde.  “What did you come to visit me for?  I mean, I appreciate the break in my boredom, but you’re risking your neck for this.”

Vanessa sighed and walked over to sit on the bed.  “There’s no one out there.  Watching the room I mean.”

Angelica sat up straighter.  “What?  Where did everybody go?”

“Well…”  Vanessa went over to her friend and grabbed her hands.  She didn’t pay attention to the grime that passed between them.  “You feel aura, like I do, right?  Can you feel how all of the teachers are gathering in the basement?”

Angelica moved her eyes in thought.  “Oh, yeah, now that you mention it.  What about it?”

“Well, Albright and her group went down there, too.  I can’t feel them anymore, but if they’re helping out, we should be allowed to, too, right?  I mean, it’s our friends that are stuck in the mud.”

Gears turned in Angelica’s head, as she fingered the lock on her neck.  “You can get me out of here, right?  And through the teachers?”

“I suppose…”

Angelica looked up and smiled.  “Let’s get ready.  This is a big job, and we can’t pull it off with out preparation, now can we?”

Vanessa nodded, and tried to ignore the offers rapping on the back of her brain.


There was a black dais sitting in the middle of the chamber, the glimmering lights of the crystals in the stone foliage illuminating the girl drawing on it.  Dragging the chalk across the surface, she made a design clearly meant for a magic ritual, a fact made even more obvious by how the people around the platform were running about, preparing for something.

“So, what are we doing with them?” asked Linda, eager to be done.

The kid looked at her and Kayleigh, who could just about see the smile underneath his mask.  “The first thing you need to understand is what those kids are doing.  What’s your best guess?”

Kayleigh peered down, looking into the bottom of the bowl.  “Kids?” she asked.  “Are…are those students from Darkwood?”

“Yes, actually,” said the kid, “I’m not sure how the hell they talked the teachers into helping with all of this, but I do know that there are…unusual circumstances.”

“What circumstances?” asked Linda.

“Well, that girl drawing the diagram is some kind of genius, apparently,” he said.  “And do you see the pale girl with the black hair, wearing the white robe?  She’s the one that released the entity.  That means her contagion link is even stronger than yours, Kay.”

Kayleigh strained her eyes, and saw that there was someone with black hair wearing a simple, white robe.  She seemed kind of familiar, but from that distance, she couldn’t be sure that it was anyone she knew.

“So, what does the diagram tell you?”

“It’s, um,” Kayleigh began, “it’s a grid, that’s like, a filtering symbol, yeah?  And there a symbols of animals and people in the grid, I think?”

“So they’re going to use the grid to filter out the animals and people from something,” continued Linda.  “Not sure why, though.”

“Really?  Not even after I saved you?”

“…Those were people.  Those things were made out of people, and they’re trying to make them normal, again.”

Très bien,” said the kid.  “Now, how can we use this diagram for our purposes?”

Kayleigh’s eyes trailed from the diagram, to the kid, and to the Darkwood students.  She said, “We won’t,” and made a dash down into the bowl.  Gravity lent her speed, pulling her forward even as it tried to trip her.  Careful not to fall over, she followed the curve of the ramp, managing to scream at the group at the bottom, just as she was snapped back to the top.


Jessica snapped her head around, her raven-black hair brushing on the collar of her white cotton robe.  “What was that?”

“Sounded like a scream,” said Emily, “like sum’un jus’ tried to cry fer help and got choked off.”

The principal looked at Emily from behind opaque glasses.  Fear and aggression played across the twins’ face, as Miss Karas stood up straighter, alert.  Alima kept drawing her pattern, when Eric, straining his ears, spoke.  “I think I still hear something.  Up there.”

Jessica looked up the ramp he indicated.  There was movement there, like people were talking.  As she wondered who to ask to look closer, the principal made the decision for her.

“I’ll go.”


“Huh?” she said.  “Linda, why didn’t you stone him?”

“I did,” Linda said, “it’s just that…he suddenly wasn’t.”

“Setting up something to let me skip the hour I spent petrified was a pain,” said the kid, “but well worth the effort.  Now, I’m going to have to ask you to never do that again.”

“Don’t worry,” said Kayleigh, “I think they already heard me.”

The reason she said this was the man that had landed behind the kid.  He was an old, bald man, wearing a black suit and glasses that hid his eyes with their glare.  The kid slowly turned around to face him.  “Headmaster.”


Alima stood and stretched.  “Alright, everyone.  The diagram is done.”

“So, do we do the purification now?” asked Andrea.

“Soon, just let me change and let the feeling come back to my legs.”

As Alima walked down the stairs of the platform, Jessica decided to have a word with her teacher.  “Hey, Miss Karas?  What do you think the scream was?”

Karas shrugged.  “I have no idea.  Maybe the mud’s making plans against us.  Maybe it’s the result of an old sin, coming back to haunt us at the worst possible time.”

Jessica tried to keep her face calm, like she didn’t have any old sins that could come back to haunt her.  Although it would be kind of funny if the girl she had abandoned to deal with the whole Ixxqura thing did show up just as she was about to put it away.

The facade cracked when Kayleigh, the girl she had brought into the Underworld and possibly turned into a vampire, made her way down the ramp.

“Oh!  It’s you!”

The short brunette was followed by a friend, who Jessica didn’t recognize, but she was tall, with long, straight black hair, and an dark aura, that hung around her like a blanket of oil.  This friend, hearing Kayleigh’s exclamation, looked at Jessica and narrowed her eyes.

Jessica withered under the glare.  “Ah.  I suppose our mutual friend told you about me?”

The girl prowled forward, shifting to her monster-form.  The black hair fell over her face like a curtain, leaving only a hint of her left eye visible.  Her fingers fused, thickened, and the nails grew and sharpened into wicked claws.  She spoke, and there was an odd rumbling beneath the sound of her words.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of you.  You mind telling me exactly what happened when you met?”

Jessica backed away, her hands up in warding.  “Ah, well,” she started glancing over to her teacher as a clash like lightning resonated through the labyrinth.  “Well, we were just walking along and hanging out, when this other girl, started bothering us, see?  Well, this girl, she did some things, and we wound up trapped in this-”

“Did you feed on her?” asked the tall girl.

“Linda!” Kayleigh called out, as another boom suffused the world, closer now, rattling Jessica’s teeth in her jaws.

“Well, it’s not like I broke the skin, or anythi-”

The girl lifted her right claw, poising it to come down and cut into Jessica’s flesh.  Painfully slowly, the pale girl began to step backward.  Whether or not this would have been completed fast enough to avoid the attack, Jessica would never know, for her teacher had jumped in to the fight, holding the other girl, Linda, at the elbow.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I can’t let you fight my student.  Not right now.”  Another wave of sound echoed in the air, shaking the breath in Jessica’s lungs.

Linda stared at the teacher beneath her hair.  “What do you mean, ‘right now’?”

In response, Karas just pointed.  There, above the dais, the principal and a kid in blue were fighting each other, their blows making echoes like thunder as the others desperately tried to keep the ritual space, the markings and the materials, in some semblance of order.

The kid screamed over the noise.  “You believed once!  You saw how much good could come from breaking down the wall between realities!”

The principal shot back, “It was a delusion!  Enlightenment can’t be forced on others!”

“We can still try!  The amalgams, the Entity can bring the world together!  We can figure out how, if we experiment!”

“Well, you aren’t going to get that far,” said a new voice.

Everybody stopped what they were doing to look at its source.  It had come from a girl with short, spiky, blonde hair, dramatically posed on top of a piece of rubble.  She was wearing sleeves and leggings striped red and black, and she had a lock dangling from her neck.  The expression on her face was rather…unhinged.

“Angelica Spritz?” said Principal Darkwood,  “What the devil are you doing here?”

“This!”  Angelica turned her arm into a red and black tentacle, and another girl up from the rubble.  Vanessa wiggled in her friends grip, as the blonde’s other arm stretched and deformed, becoming another feeler, its newly formed tip reaching for the back of the bespectacled girl’s head.  When the tentacle withdrew, gray muck covered the end of it.

Suddenly, Angelica barked out,  “AN BATU, AL LAKU, AB NINSU!”

A gentle wind began to blow to the blonde.  Amalgamations emerged from the cracks and valleys of the sealing space, moving toward the mud on Angelica’s tentacle.  More and more emerged, and the wind grew stronger.  Soon, the wind wasn’t merely moving with the amalgams, but picking them up and carrying them into a swirling vortex.

Angelica stood at the center of that vortex, with her muck covered tentacle raised high above her head.  She was smiling, as she disappeared underneath the swarm of amalgams.  Those amalgams began to fuse and combine, becoming a single mass of animals and people, thrashing out at everything around them.

The ground shook, and the layers of the sealing space began to break apart underneath the feet of the students, the teachers, and the sorcerers.  The walls of the bowl shattered and fell away, revealing the amalgams that had been collected by the rituals before.  Mud and flesh flowed around them, gobbling up Angelica and her friend.

The slab of concrete at the bottom of the bowl was carried by a wave, slamming Kayleigh into Jessica.  They rolled around on the ground together, until the vampire enhanced her strength so that she could bury her fingers into the concrete beneath her, grabbing the short girl with her other hand.  The slab pitch and yawed, but the young vampire managed to keep them in one place, until the slab came to a relative rest.

Jessica got to her feet, and yelled “Who’s still here?”

“I am,” said Alima.

“‘S me,” said Emily.

“I’m in one piece,” said the principal.

“I am with you,” yelled Karas.

“I’m okay,” said Eric.

“Me too,” said Linda.

Jessica was glad that so many of her friends were okay, but she soon became afraid, as one question arrive in her head.  “Where’s Alexandria?”

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I don’t have good feelings about this chapter, but a lot of this is just because it’s part of the ending.  I’m not happy with a lot of what came before, partially from the weaknesses of my first draft, and partially from trying to wrap another plot line around one that was meant to stand on its own.  But I still want to finish this draft of the story, if only to have something to show an editor.

Occulted: Reflection

InAnotherSpaceThe subway burst into sunlight, crossing the bridge from Desmond to the city.  Alexandria looked to the right of the train, awed by the beauty of the waterfall.  Rocks worn away by millennia of erosion flanked it, adding their own patterns to the scene, and framing the flowing water that refracted light into colors and shapes rarely seen.

“Hey, Jessica, look,” she said, but her friend was in no position to enjoy the scene.  Instead, she had collapsed into her seat, clutching her stomach and trying not to puke.  “Oh my god, are you alright?”

“Yeah, it’ll pass.  Going over rivers always makes me motion sick.”  Alexandria stayed with her friend, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.  When the subway moved back underground, Jessica straightened back out, inhaling deeply.  “Whew.  Should’ve checked where the route was going.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Alex.  “I chose this route because it goes over the river and I heard the waterfall was beautiful.  Does that happen every time you cross running water?”

“Well, it depends on how much water there is, and how far away from it when I cross.  If I’m in an airplane, I barely notice anything, and if the water’s underground when I cross, I don’t really feel anything. The aura of the dirt blocks the aura of water, apparently. ”

Alexandria and Jessica had decided to head into the city to check out the light that had appeared the previous evening.  They were only taking a quick look around, not making a serious investigation, so they felt safe going with just the two of them.  The others had various kinds of homework to do, but Jessica had finished all of hers in study hall, while Andria just didn’t want to be trapped indoors after school.

The train rolled into its station, and with the click-swish of the doors opening, the girls made their way to the top of the stairs, out into the sunlight and the crowds of the afternoon.  As they moved through the people, dodging and weaving, Andria turned to Jessica and said, “Hey, this is your first time here, isn’t it?  Want to…?”

Jessica wasn’t at her side.  The twins looked around, and caught a shimmer of magenta.  Going to it, she found Jessica crouched over the ground, counting leaves.  The vampire craned her neck to look at them, embarrassed.

“This, uh, this is another of my weaknesses.”


Kayleigh counted the blossoms on the right.  There were eighteen more than on her other plant.  She had bought them immediately after she had spoken with the smith, to experiment with the sorcery, like he had told her to.  The hazel-haired girl wasn’t there, unfortunately, but she still found two nearly identical plants to practice manipulating the Idea of beauty with.

She was experimenting with beauty because that seemed like the safest of the three Ideas she had an affinity for.  Compared with love, which was concerned with the emotions between people, and honor, which covered what people wanted to be and what they were willing to do, mere aesthetics seemed like a relatively harmless thing to manipulate.  Of course, there was still a chance that she could disfigure what ever it was she was working on, so she was working with plants.

The brunette lifted up the right vase, and pulled out a small slip of paper with a Chinese character on it.  Chinese calligraphy seemed like an obvious Metaphor, especially with the connection of art and beauty.  Besides that, learning how to control the brush enough to write beautifully was fun.  Strangely, though, she couldn’t push her aura into a completed letter; she had to do it while dragging the brush across the paper.

Suddenly, there was a thump from her room.  The house was empty that day, her father and mother having work to deal with, and her brother going out with friends earlier that day.  Kayleigh herself had plans to go out with Linda later that day.  Rushing upstairs, she found a child, about ten years of age, lying face-down on the floor. He was wearing a light blue hoodie and a rubber mask over his face, but Kayleigh knew exactly who he was.

“Oh, hello, uh, Malcolm,” said Kayleigh.

Bonjour,” said the kid.  “When did I give you my name?”

“You didn’t, your smith friend gave it to me.”

The kid said something under his breath.  Something that sounded a lot like “idiot.”

Quickly, Kayleigh asked, “Why didn’t you use the front door?”

“I didn’t want to run into one of your relatives,” said the kid, pushing himself off the ground.  “I don’t want to think about how awkward that conversation would be.  Are they around?”

“Nah, they all had stuff to do today,” said Kayleigh.  “What brings you here, anyway?”

“Well,” said the kid, “I’ve been wondering what you’ve been up to since you’re visit with my friend at the edge of town…”


Belfry let the mirror return to it’s normal view.  The cafe was mostly empty, between lunch and not yet ready for the evening meal.  He enjoyed taking an afternoon break here, watching the other customers, enjoying his coffee with a hint of orange oil for flavor, but unfortunately, he needed to watch for those that would be looking for his signal.

He looked into the glass for a moment, contemplating what to do with the girls arriving from Desmond.  Most likely, the one with dark hair and the need to count leaves was the descendant of Izcacus, who had been used to release the entity that had been inconveniencing the Occulted lately.  If she was, then his signal had done its job, and the next part of his plan, to learn of her beliefs and intentions, could begin.  The phase after that, unfortunately, would have to be played by ear.

The sorcerer glimpsed someone watching him in the mirror.  The girl had short brown hair and spectacles, young enough to be a classmate of the girls he had been watching.  He turned around to get a better look at her, and found nothing there.  He turned back to the mirror.  The girl seemed to be gone, but looking closer, he saw something; the barest hint of an aura, tracing an outline of someone crouched behind the wall.

He picked up his mirror, and slowly walked backward, keeping the reflection of the aura in his sight.  He moved around the wall separating the bathrooms from the tables, and saw the girl’s reflection properly.

He spoke, “Become visible, would you?  It’s awkward too speak into the mirror like this, and I do not wish to be stared at for my odd behavior.”

The girl complied.  Belfry turned around to look at her properly, and said, “Thank you.  Now, who are you, and why were you staring at me?”

The girl did not answer.  Instead, she looked down, shifting her head from side to side, like she was looking for the perfect answer.  Belfry would have known; he had done the same when he was younger.

“Hey.  Relax, just let the words flow.  I’ll ask for clarification if there is something I do not understand.”

Confused, the girl began to speak.  “My name is Vanessa and I’m a friend of Angelica who is a girl that one of you Tohu wa-Bohu jerks used and abandoned when he needed something from a bookstore that didn’t want him to come.  He looked like a little kid, the jerk, I mean, wearing a rubber mask.  So yeah, I guess I’m here to ask what the hell all of that was about.”

Belfry took a moment to parse what she had said.  It seemed that she was here at the behest of the girl that the Child of All Ages had used to steal notes from that bookstore owner he was feuding with.  Now that he thought about it, he remembered that the Child had said that there were two girls involved in that: a girl that could turn invisible, and one who had almost killed someone.

Granted, that someone, due to the actions of another, had made a full recovery within minutes, according to the child, but it still brought the invisible girl’s choice of company into question.  Vanessa, who seemed to be the girl in question, was certainly out of things enough to miss very obvious signals about a person.  Still, it was still possible for her to learn to look closer at people, as long there was someone there to teach her.

“Vanessa,” said Belfry, “why were you watching me, specifically?”

“Well,” the girl said, “I came into town to check out that huge light, that went up last night, like those girls you were looking at in your mirror.  Um, I know why they’re here because I was spying on them last night.  That’s also how I know that you’re one of those Tohu people, they were talking about it last night and they kind of figured things out.”

“So, those girls?  They are coming to look for me?”

“Well, kind of?  They don’t know who you are.  I was only looking at you because you were watching them.”

Even if they weren’t looking for him specifically, the fact that they were investigating simplified things.  It also meant that Belfry knew where they were going, and that there was a good chance that, if approached correctly, they would be willing to talk to him.

But there was still the girl in front of him.  “Vanessa,” he said to her, “how did you find me?”

“I felt your aura,” she said. “It wasn’t hard to follow it back to you.”

Belfry raised his eyebrow.  “And besides the spying, what is your relationship with those girls?”

“Uh,” said Vanessa, looking down, “not much, I guess.  Why?”

“Because I intend to go talk with them.  Would you like to come along?”


Kayleigh lifted the brush from the paper, letting the last tackiness of the ink break before cleaning the brush of in her water jar.

“So, your drawing, more than writing?” said the kid.

“Yes.  I don’t speak Chinese, so I can’t string the symbols together to make a story, or a poem, or anything like that.  I guess I’m limited to making single characters, like this.”

Pensive, Kayleigh collected her brush, jar, and palette, taking them over to the kitchen sink to scrub them off with soap.

“Well, it’s not like your bound to using the Chinese characters,” said the kid, over the rush of the water faucet.  “There’s no reason you can’t look up English calligraphy, and start using that for your Metaphors.”

The girl hummed in acknowledgement.  “Or I could learn how to draw pictures, or write poetry.  As long as it’s beautiful, there’s really nothing I can’t use.”  Setting down the last of her utensils to dry, she turned to her guest.  “Why does Caulwell want you to help me practice, anyway?”

A pause.

“It’s not like you were ever really worried about how fast I was learning.  What is it that you two are worried about?”

The kid got up, out of his chair, and walked toward Kayleigh.  “Well, Kay, do you remember that thing that attacked you, when you learned how to see auras?”


A wave of aura flashed from the bald man’s mirror.  Vanessa wasn’t one of those people that could actually see aura; instead, she felt it, like a pressure at the back of her skull.  Each pressure had its own texture, some were pinpricks, others were were a solid mass pressing down, and a few were leaves, gently brushing across her brain.  The upshot of all of this was that Vanessa didn’t need to be looking at someone to know exactly where they were.

He was trying to signal those other girls, the ones who had been around the last time Angelica had gotten in trouble.  Even if she couldn’t get away from the sorcerer, Vanessa could still make Angelica laugh by screwing them over.  That was why she had agreed to help the man, by getting close to the girls and watching them, looking to see how they reacted to anything he did.

That hazel-haired girl noticed first.  She snapped her head around, tapping her friend on the shoulder, looking towards the balding man, standing at the top of concrete steps, expecting them to see him.  They looked at him, and then conferred among themselves.

“That was the chaos star, wasn’t it?” said the pale one.

“Yeah,” said the green-haired, “what do you think he’s planning?”

“Not sure,” said the pale, “But let’s be ready to take him from both side, yeah?”

The girls stepped toward the sorcerer.  He retreated, moving into a mirror in the side of the road, which Vanessa followed him into.  Inside the mirror, the man’s reflection surrounded him, every wall and ceiling covered in silver glass.  Vanessa felt aura from those mirrors, some of them sucking to trap things within them, some feeling like open air, leading to other places, and some of them were nothing more than solid barriers, reflecting aura and images equally.  Light came in through the entrance, and that light was bounced around, illuminating the room in every direction, so that nowhere was either bright or dark.

Vanessa knew that she should have been taking a more active role than just watching and being invisible, but even if she could get away from the sorcerer, it wasn’t like her disappearing act was good for much else.  As it was, she was lucky that her power hid her aura, too, else she’d be sticking out really obviously to every Occ that wandered by.  As it was, she could only tell him what she overheard in what little time there was before-

The two girls entered behind Vanessa.  She felt them only as they entered the mirror, their auras suddenly snapping into existence.  Still invisible, Vanessa turned, seeing them spreading apart, the pale girl, Jessica, striding to the right, while the hazel-haired girl – Alex? Andria? – stalked to the left.  The pale girl spoke first, taking charge, like the world itself would make way for her.

“Hello there.  Was that you that was flashing the chaos star at us?”

The sorcerer smiled behind his sunglasses.  “It was indeed.  Allow me to introduce myself.  You may call me the Mirror of the World, and I am part of the organization you know as Tohu wa-Bohu.”

“You’re friends with that munchkin from the bookstore, aren’t you?” said Jessica.  “He trapped me in a ring, you know.  That’s not something that really inspires trust.”

“An unfortunate coincidence, arising from nothing more you being in a room that he needed empty, I assure you.”

“His friend implied otherwise.”

“Who, Spritz?  Come on, surely you can see that she was nothing more than a tool, to be lured in with a false promise and cast aside when her foolishness no longer served a purpose.”

At that comment, Vanessa made up her mind.  Anybody that talked about her friends like that was going to find themselves having a very bad day, no matter how hard Vanessa had to try to get off her ass and actually go after them.

“I suppose that does gel with how the kid treated her,” said Jessica.  “So, what do you want?”


“Yeah, that thing with the mouths.  Did you ever find out what that thing was?”

Kayleigh didn’t realize it, but she stood on the threshold.  She didn’t have many secrets to keep now, but as she learned more, the wall between herself and the world she knew would keep getting thicker.  Of course, if the plan succeeded, the wall would disappear altogether.

Malcolm fiddled with his Box in his pocket.  “It was an amalgamation.  You see, about a hundred years ago…Are you ready for a history lesson?”

“I’m not going to have to take notes, am I?”

“No, no not at all,” Malcolm said, waving off the joke.  “Anyway, a hundred years ago, a meteor came down around here, and brought with some magical, sentient mud.”

“Wait, what?” said Kayleigh.  “Did you just say ‘magical, sentient mud?'”

“From outer space, no less,” said Malcolm.  “Anyways, this mud, or mud-like alien, I should say, it needs energy, just like every other living creature.  It’s getting this by fusing animals together into things called amalgams and having them attack people, and feeding off the energy of the bloodshed.”

Kayleigh blinked.  “So, how dangerous are these things?  I mean, I know that you dealt with that thing pretty easy, but I haven’t heard anything about anyone being attacked.  That, that would get on the news, wouldn’t it?”

“You’re frightened for your friends and family, aren’t you?  What if I told you there was a way to use this thing to give them the power to protect themselves?”

“What?”

“This mud, it can be used as a Metaphor for combining things.  With the right ritual, we can use it to tear down the wall between the Occulted and the normal world, erasing the difference between the ‘us’ and ‘them.'”

Malcolm paused, waiting for the girl’s response.  Which was to bolt out the back door.


“What I, or rather, we, Tohu wa-Bohu, desire is, ultimately, an end to separation.”

“That doesn’t explain anything,” said Andria.

“Forgive me if I’m not getting to the point fast enough for your liking,” said the Mirror of the World,  “I simply thought that I should explain our ultimate goal so that you can understand why I am making an offer to you.”  He paused, “Although I suppose beginning with the metaphysical is a bit too far back.

“Very well, let me start with what we desire with the mud entity that the descendant of Izcacus released.”

Jessica scowled.  “That not something I had a choice in.”

“I know this,” said the balding man.  “Now, this entity, you can see how it could be used to form a bridge between the Occulted and the Surface, yes.”

“By using it’s conglomeration Idea in a ritual,” said Alex.  “But that wouldn’t just form a bridge, would it?” asked Andria.  “No, that would be more like slamming the two worlds into each other,” said Alex.

“True,” said the man.  “In fact, that’s exactly the kind of world my associates and I want: one where the difference between the Surface people and the Occulted, light and dark, does not exist, each person simply exploring the mysteries of the world as they liked, without caring what others are doing or exploring.”

“Wouldn’t that,” asked Andria, “wouldn’t that make a lot of people go crazy in the process?” asked Alex.

The man snorted.  “Do you know what kind of people lose their minds from just learning about us?  It’s the same kind of people that scream at each other over the internet.”

“I suppose the world could do with less screaming,” said Jessica.  “But this ritual, what would it entail?”

“Do you agree to help us?”

“No.  I simply wanted to see how much you would tell me, before I stopped you.  And I don’t think you’re just going to let us go?”

“Not a chance.”  A square of reflective glass appeared behind him, and over the entrance.  Jessica launched her attack.


Kayleigh leaned on the tree, letting her breath even out.  She was already suspicious of the kid, even if meeting that blacksmith had reassured her some.  He, at least, had seemed descent, willing to help people that asked for it and simply living his life otherwise.  Good friends implied good people, or so Kayleigh had heard.

But it wasn’t like the kid wanted something bad, at least, it wasn’t bad by itself.  If every one could use magic, if everyone was Occulted, what would that mean?  Kayleigh wasn’t sure, she didn’t know much herself.  But at the very least, everyone would talk less.

Kayleigh had noticed what simply learning about magic had done to her, how reluctant she was to talk with her friends now.  That thing at the mall had destroyed her, a little, taking away her old joys, and shoving them back into her wrong, as the smith had put it.  Seeing herself altered like that was bad enough, but if it was Milly…

Kayleigh shuddered.  Hearing a rustle in the bushes behind her, she turned to see the kid pushing his way through them.  “Oh, hi.”

“Hi yourself,” he said.  “Why’d you run?”

“I needed time to think.”  Kayleigh fidgeted with the edge of her smock.  “And, well… I don’t think turning everybody into Occulted would be a good thing.”

“That’s not what we want,” said the kid, like he had heard that statement far too many times.  “What we want is for the line between the Occulted and the Surface to disappear, seamlessly bringing together both and letting everybody take from each pool as they like.”

“Would…would that work?” asked Kayleigh.  “I mean, I changed really fast, like, I awakened my aura after the change.  What I’m really scared of is people being forced to change like that, forgetting how much they like spending time with people and just… falling silent.”

He was silent for a long moment, his blank, rubber mask expressionless as his body language.  Finally, he took out that box of his and said, “Looks like I’m gonna have to get your help the hard way.”


Jessica was expecting the force of her punch to be reflected back at her.  She stumbled back a bit, quickly regaining her footing from the rebound, thankful that the light was too diffuse to cause her problems.  The distraction from her first attack gave Alexandria time to flank him, setting up a pincer attack where he was going to have to let one of them through.

But then, the old guy snapped his fingers, splitting his mirror into dozens of shining discs.  Jessica didn’t know how many discs there were, but as Andria went into the attack by herself, the vampire dropped to her knees and began to find out.


The kid twisted the side of his box.  The world shifted, turning into a barrow of tunnels, with openings on the sides, of all kinds of sizes, leading to somewhere and letting light in from outside.  Kayleigh found herself on her backside, trying to scramble her way back to her feet.  She bumped into the wall, and realized that the kid was coming toward her, that box still in his hands.

Kayleigh pulled herself up on the wall.  The masked boy was doing something with his box, flipping open a corner to manipulate something within.  Kayleigh knew she couldn’t let him keep doing whatever it was, so she threw her body at him, knocking his hands aside and shoving her way past him.  Not looking back, she ran into the tunnels, not caring which way she was going or if she could get back, only trying to get away from him.

She didn’t know how long she ran, but when she stopped, she finally had time to think and collect her bearings.  The tunnel was still dark, with the illumination still coming in through those holes.  Outside the holes, there was grass, trees, streets-  That’s home.  The real world is out there.

Looking through another hole, Kayleigh saw someone knocking on a door.  That door was the one to her house, and that someone was Linda, coming over for her friend.  Briefly, the short girl was disappointed that she would miss her friend, but that was quickly replaced by the awareness that the kid had found her.


Branches and glass broke each other.  The green-hair – well, her hair was almost brown at the moment – rushed through the shards and splinters, using them as a distraction as she struck at the Mirror of the World.  The pale girl was still counting the small mirrors on the ground.

Vanessa sat and watched, invisible.  She told herself that she was sizing up the situation, that she was waiting for the right time to interfere in the fight and stab the sorcerer in the back, but she knew it was a lie.  She was simply standing at the side, doing nothing but watching.

The girl with the nature powers broke through the sorcerer, leaving him behind, with thorns and stones jammed through his bloody feet, as she ran toward her friend.  She grabbed Jessica by the waist, pulling her up off the ground, away from the glass discs.  Jessica halfheartedly struggled against her grip, letting herself to be pulled away, despite her compulsion.  Vanessa wasn’t sure where they were trying to go, and she never got a chance to find out, because in the middle of all this, the girls tripped over her, leaving them all sprawled out on the ground.

This, needless to say, left Vanessa fully visible.  They all stared at each other, baffled by the collision.  The Mirror turned to them, picking bits of wood out of his feet.  “Well, Miss Griffin, I must thank you for distracting my targets.  This will make restraining them much easier.”

No, no, don’t tell them I’m with you! thought Vanessa.  Setting her glasses aright, she scrambled to her feet, panicking, and grabbed the other girls by their upper arms.  “This way!” she shouted, pulling them through a mirror that she felt led somewhere, away from that damn old man.

The brunette did not like what she found.

“Hey.”

The new room was a long hallway, with mirrors lining the walls an each side, extending far into the distance, leading to innumerable rooms and cells, like a prison, or rather, like a zoo.

“Hey.”

Each mirror-cell held a strange creature, like each one was made up of other animals, glued together, fused into a jumble of limb, heads, organs, and skin.  The hallway was an menagerie of amalgams, a collection of the mud’s servants, collected for some, unknown purpose.

“HEY!”

Vanessa looked over to Jessica, who had grown to shout at her.  “What’s your name?”


A panel on the kid’s box slid around, and Kayleigh’s arms were pulled to her sides, a sideways heaviness paralyzing her limbs.  As her knees were brought together the same way, the girl lost her balance and fell backward, her back resting on the side of the chamber.

“I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t have you running off on me again,” he said.

Kayleigh tried to move, grits of dust and dirt getting into her hair.  “Why, why are you doing this?”

The kid shrugged.  “I’ve wasted way too much time arguing with people.  Sometimes you just need to drag people along, even if they don’t want to.”

He sounded guilty when he said that, like he knew he was doing something wrong.  An idea appeared in Kayleigh’s head, a desperate plan that had only the barest sliver of working.

The first thing she did was to curl her fingers together.  “Love, honor, beauty, unite!”  Kayleigh’s aura activated, revealing a world of images and colors surrounding her.  The clock-face image surrounding the kid approached her, and spots of black floated through the blue-green of the air.

Kayleigh couldn’t let herself get distracted, she didn’t have the time.  She had to flip herself over, she needed to be able to see her fingers.  She scribbled a word in the dust on the wall, though faint, pouring as much of her aura into it as she could.

Honor.

Light flared from the letters.  As her aura began to fall back asleep, Kayleigh looked around, seeing the kid still approach her, even as the black dots drifted away from his path.

He paused, looking around.  “What did you just do?”

“What?” Kayleigh asked.

“The spirits in here, those little black dots you see floating around?  What did you do to them?”

Kayleigh didn’t know.  She didn’t even know what the spirits were.  But the question soon became meaningless, as something at the edge of the world broke, and in stepped a creature with sharp talons and black hair draped over her face.


“How about you just call them Lexa?”

Jessica needed to keep the three of them moving.  The sorcerer was tougher than he looked, and judging by how easily he was pulling out Alex’s thorns, his feet were going to heal quickly.  He would be coming after them soon, and they were still in his territory.

“Lexa?” asked the twins.

“Well, she needs a way to refer to both of you, and Alexandria’s such a mouthful to say.  Where are we, anyway?”

They were still in a pocket world, that much was obvious.  There was a collection of amalgams running down the walls, most likely trapped by the man with the mirror powers that they left behind.  What he was collecting amalgams for wasn’t so clear, but whatever it was he wanted Ixxqura’s servants for, it wasn’t good.

“I’m not really sure,” said the new girl, Vanessa.  “I kind of just ran somewhere that felt like it went somewhere else.”

Andria turned to her, and said, “You felt like there was an opening?  What other kinds of things can you feel?” said Alex.

“Well, it’s mostly just aura,” said the girl with the glasses, “you know, like this place is full of magic, and I just kind of traced the flow of it, you know?  I can guess at what an enchanted object does sometimes, like how these mirrors all have a prison power.”

Jessica walked over to one of the glass panels, and looked at the dog-bird-rat thing trapped inside.  It appeared to be in front of her reflection, snapping at her through the reflective surface.  “Can you feel us a way out of here?”

“Not really,” said Vanessa, “I think the only way we’re getting out of here is through that guy.”

“Seek, and the door will appear, I suppose.”  The Mirror of the World stepped through the glass at the end of the hall.  He was limping a bit, still a bit injured from Alexandria’s assault earlier.

Jessica attacked.  She came in low, trying to drop beneath his defenses, but it didn’t work.  A mirror appeared in front of her, and shattered into regularly shaped triangles.

No, thought Jessica, even as she dropped to her knees.  No!  Despite herself, the vampire reached out to the pieces, and began to count.  One…two…three…

The sorcerer moved, like a blur, to the twins, something over his shoulder shining into their face.  It did something to her, she stumbled and wobbled, and was grabbed by the Mirror before she could tip over.   Eighteen…nineteen…twenty…  Two rectangles slowly rose on either side of them, and then Jessica noticed something odd.

“Hey, Vanessa,” Jessica said, managing to spare a sliver of concentration from her counting.  “What the hell are you just standing around for?”

“Oh, well…”  She looked down, like she was thinking about how to put her thoughts into words.  “Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do really.  All I can really do is disappear.  That’s not really useful for much else, really.”

“Oh, for the love of-” Jessica muttered to herself.  With a supreme act of will, she tore herself from the glass, and looked Vanessa dead in the eye.  “You can still feels things, can’t you?  Go and find something you can use!”

Jessica couldn’t wait for the brunette to respond; she had to get back to her counting.  The shards had been scattered again, so she would have to start all over.  Vanessa walked forward, disappearing and knocking over a stack Jessica had just made.  And then the screaming began.

“GGYYYAAAAHHHH!”  The piercing shriek came Alexandria.  The pale girl’s head snapped over to the mirrors and the sorcerer holding her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry about that,” said the Mirror.  “I’ll try to be more careful from now on.”

Alexandria continued to sob.  The glass beside her were ringing, aura passing between them and the twins, stretched like piano wire and moving back and forth like floss.  Forty-three…forty-four…forty-five…

Jessica’s friend was hurt, and she was counting.  The mirrors would stay in her mind if she left it uncounted, thumping inside her head with the need to know, the blind spot in her knowledge growing to an obsession that might never leave her.  Hundred and six…hundred and seven…hundred and eight…

But it would still be there if she left it, and she had started over before.

It had taken everything she had to stop counting long enough to talk to Vanessa before, but that wasn’t enough to leave the counting entirely, so she reach inside herself and found more.  Rising to her feet, desperately ignoring the uncounted pieces, and began to run to her friend.  She thrust her fist into one of the glass rectangles, her aura shattering it, and protecting her from the shards that flew away from the impact.

The Mirror of the World was surprised, and completely unprepared for Jessica picking him up and throwing him down the hall.  She embraced her sobbing friend, forcing herself to remember that this was more important than her counting.  “It’s okay, I’m here now…”

The other glass fell away and disappeared, and Jessica looked down the hallway, at the sorcerer.  He rose to his feet, flanked on either side by long rows of mirrors, each holding one of Ixxqura’s amalgams.

“Well, it seems I underestimated you,” he said.  Before he could elaborate, the glass on each side of him began to warp and crack.  The mirrors began to shatter, releasing the monstrosities within, which immediately descended upon the bald man.

Beside Jessica, a girl faded into view.  “I, uh, I found the release switch.  Should we run?.”

In the chaos of the amalgams release, the girls managed to escape into the Surface world, leaving the sorcerer behind them.  As the twins started to calm down, Jessica said, “Vanessa.  Thank you.”

The girl with the glasses fidgeted, awkward and annoyed.  “Well, I didn’t like that guy anyway.  And you were kind of mind-controlling me.”

Jessica stopped.  “Wait, what?”


“Eyeless man, eyeless man, more like an eyeless boy,” said Linda.  The creature was Linda, the voice was the same, if you ignored the echo behind it, and so were the clothes.  Kayleigh was surprised, but happy, that she was could tear through dimensional boundaries.  She hadn’t even know that Linda was Occulted, for Christ’s sake.

“Who the hell are you, and how did you get here?” said the kid.

Linda pointed a sharp claw at Kayleigh.  “I’m a friend of hers.  The spirits told me about you, and showed me the way in.”

Linda and the kid circled around each other, the tall woman positioning herself in front of Kayleigh.  “Well, ain’t that a shitter,” said the boy in blue.  “Guess I’ll have to talk with them later.”  He started to pull on his box, but before he could do anything with that, Linda’s hair rose and pulled back from her face.

Kayleigh couldn’t see what it was, Linda was standing with her back to her, after all, but the kid seemed horrified.  But maybe, that was just because he was turning to stone from seeing it.  It started with his fingers and toes, the petrification spreading into his chest and up his neck, before finally reaching his eyes.

“Huh.  It’s never happened like that before,” said Linda.  She shrugged, and turned around, her hair drawing back over her ear, revealing her normal face.  Her claws, too, returned to normal, the talons shortening into normal fingernails, fingers splitting back to normal hands.

“Hey, Kay,” Linda said, dropping to her knees.  “Are you alright?”

“It seems so,” said Kayleigh, stretching her arms and legs, making sure that they worked right.  “Um, how…?”

“Spirits warned me that you were in danger.  I wanted to talk to you about that, actually.”

Kayleigh shook her head.  “No, I mean, you’re Occulted?”

Linda blinked.  “Occulted?  I’ve never heard that term before.”

Kayleigh stopped.  “Wait, what?”

<<<Previous                                                                                                                 Next>>>


I rewrote this chapter entirely.  I always felt that the original version was too long and unwieldy.  I realized it as soon as I realized that I wouldn’t be able to write the thing in a single week, and had to split it into two chapters.  This one’s still a mammoth, but it isn’t the size of two normal chapters.

Art: Study Group 2

StudyGroup2

In the spirit of revising my work, I decided to go back an learn how to use the filters properly.  I managed to get rid of the black spots speckled over the page, but now the picture feels a bit washed out for some reason.  I also still had to do a ton of manual erasing, especially on the shadows.

Also, if it looks like I’m being lazy, it’s because next weeks chapter is going to need a complete rewrite and I want to have as much time possible to work on that.

Art: Study Group

StudyGroup

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.

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.”

“How?”

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.”

“Yes.”

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.