Sketchbook: Ink Sketching


I tried sketching using a pen, because I noticed that the ink could be as gray as my hard pencil sometimes.  Ballpoint pen can’t really do filled in areas, unfortunately, and I’m still learning to accept that.  One thing about sketching in ink is that there’s no way to convert it to a finished picture, so I just have to accept what I did the first time.  This means that I have to actually learn how to sketch, without worrying about what the end result would be.

I took the opportunity to practice my proportions, especially of the hands and the head compared to each other and the body.  I also zoomed in on the woman from last week’s picture.  I’m a bit happier with her hair this time.  All in all this was a good learning experience for me.

I drew the snake at the bottom because I felt like drawing a snake.

Art: Miss Karas


Doing something to get me back into working on Occulted, while also trying out colored pencil on the good, thick paper.  It’s a bit of a waste, but I wanted to see how my fixative worked outside of a sketchbook.  There isn’t any bleed-through with the thick paper, of course, but what I did find interesting was how the spray seemed to lie on top of the paper rather than soaking into it.

Colored pencil doesn’t smear like graphite does.  This means it doesn’t need to be fixed as badly, but this also means that I can’t really smooth out the roughness of it.  These means that I just have to leave things like the line on 3’s face.  I also have to accept the skin tones not being even.

For Miss Karas’s design, the overriding idea is someone who is beautiful, even if she can’t be bothered to comb her hair.  I also wanted to try something out.  5 is an example of how I’ve been drawing Miss Karas up until now, complete with her proportions being off.  (See how much shorter her left arm is than her right?)  The stark black and white, inspired by the lampad nymph, is striking, but I think it might stand out a bit much, and more importantly, Jessica’s already rocking the raven-and-ivory look.

So, to make her look a bit less undead, I tried to give her skin some color and make her hair brown.  I like how her skin turned out, but I think she still looks better with black hair.  Her solid black eyes are alien looking when her skin’s colored in, but I think I like that.

More generally, I need to practice drawing legs.  And the rest of the human body, but my legs are particularly bad.  Now that I have found a way to control length by giving myself time to look at a piece with fresh eyes, I need to find a way to do the same with shape.

Occulted: Destruction

ChaosConfusionAndOrderSomewhere in the city, a man with pale skin and red eyes realized that the world was shaking.  This wasn’t the earth’s crust moving, this was a quake in the fabric of reality itself.  He’d seen shit like that before, and it was never a good idea to stay close; even if there was someone you were worried about, it was better to make sure they had somewhere safe to escape to first.

He got dressed, drank a packet of blood from his fridge, and headed down the stairs.  He got into his car, and drove out into the street.  Some kind of mud was flowing between the cracks of the buildings, and most of the people didn’t notice, even when it landed right on them.  Some people, though, the ones with auras, they noticed.  Some of them panicked, and others calmly tried to escape, the same as he was.  A few even seemed to welcome being carried away in the flow.

And then the monsters appeared.  Out of the mud, they splashed out.  Some of them resembled something, a cat, a bear, a human.  Others didn’t look like much of anything at all, just a mess of limbs and body parts.  These monsters grabbed at the people they could, the Occs getting dragged off into the flood, the normal barely noticing, except when somebody disappeared on them.  The damn things even tried to smash up his car, but he just flared his aura and smacked them away, letting their shattered bodies smash into the ground.

So it went, at least for a little while, at least until he wanted to turn left, and signaled right.  He tried to reach up to switch the lever the right way, but he found that his hand didn’t respond.  He tried to move the steering wheel, and step on the brake, but his body just kept on going the way they wanted.  Whoever was driving, it sure as hell wasn’t him.

Jessica ran over to the edge of the slab, taking in the writhing mass of the muscle and bone, the result of…whatever it was that Angelica did.  It seemed that there were animals of nearly every species in there, birds, spiders, even a few people.  Unfortunately, one of those people was a girl with hair that was either brown or green, depending on how the light hit it.

Jessica ran over to Alima and grabbed the front of her tau robe.  “We have to do the separation ritual now!”

Alima looked around, panicking.  “Okay, um– you two!”

Kayleigh pointed to herself.

“Yes, you.  Do you know what’s going on with the diagram?”

Kayleigh collected herself.  “The grid is a filter.  The symbols in the grid are the things you want to pull out.”  Kayleigh ran over to the dais, to take a closer look at the diagram.  “Somethings missing.  You’re going to need more power than this thing can contain.”

“True,” said Alima.  “I’m going to get the power from Jessica’s blood, and I’m going to use a chant to control the rest.”

“And how are you going to prevent the interference of outside forces with only three corners?” said the bald man.  He was dragging that black-haired Occ up by the shoulders.  She was still in monster form, even as she found her feet.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.  If either of these girls knows what to do, we can have them take Lexa’s place.”

The principle looked the two of them over.  His eyes scanned down the Occ he had just lifted to her feet, taking in her aura and her attitude, then he turned to Kayleigh, and Jessica saw something that she had never heard of.

“Kayleigh, did your aura just gutter?”

The short girl looked at her hand.  “Ah, dammit!”  She curled her fingers together, muttering something underneath her breath, and light flared back up around her.  “Sorry about that.  My aura’s kind of…unstable, I guess?”

Jessica had no idea how that happened, but she had other things to worry about at the time.  “So, Principal Darkwood, what happened to that kid you were fighting?”

“He ran off once he realized that he couldn’t do anything of note,” said the principal.  “But never mind that right now.  Miss Bey, what do you plan?”

“Right, right,” the girl said.  She looked at Linda.  “You.”

“What, me?  I’m not the one that knows what you’re doing.”

“Ah, that’s fine,” Alima said, “You just kind of need to stand…”  She guided Linda onto the dais, and made her stand in a particular place.  “Here, and think protective thoughts while making your aura into a shell.  You can do that, can’t you?”

“Is…is that really all it takes?”

“It will have to be.”  Alima turned to the others.  “Alright everyone, get in position!”

Linda still needed a little coaching to get her aura to line up with the others, but in the end, they still managed to seal off the ritual from outside interference.  Eric stood across from Linda, the principle stood across from the teacher.  Jessica and Alima stood in the middle of the dais, facing each other, while Emily and Kayleigh stood on the slab outside, watch for dangers of a more physical nature.  The ritual space so composed, Alima began to move through the motions of the spell.

“Blood.  It all begins with blood.”  Having said that, Alima stepped from Jessica’s front to her side.  There, she took a knife and cut the insides of Jessica’s forearm, silver-edged steel easily cutting through aura and flesh alike.  “Blood is the source of power, both your’s and mine,” said Jessica, as Alima walked around her back, to take her place on Jessica’s other side.  There, she cut the other arm, in the same manner as the first.

Then, Alima stepped back, to watch the vampire’s blood as it fell to the ground.  The sticky, red liquid began to run through the pattern, forming symbols of power, contained in the circle, contained in a grid that brought to mind both a filter and a prison. “It’s working,” breathed Alima, too excited to contain the words, despite their potential to interrupt the spell.  Seeing Jessica’s wide eyes, the spellcaster quickly moved on to the next part of the spell.

“By your name…” began Alima.

“We bind you…” finished Jessica.

“By your name…”

“We deny you.”

“By the power you seek…”

“We control.”

“By the power you seek…”

“We liberate.”

Now, both girls began to recite the word together.  “Three times we bind you, three times we deny you.  Three times we control, three times we liberate.  Ixxqura, Ixxqura, Ixxqura.”

The mass of creatures let out a hiss.  Slowly, the mud began to recede, and some of the smaller animals, flies and worms, began to break away.  Jessica felt a chill move up her arms as heat was carried away by her draining blood.  Each drop of the red liquid that fell to the ground added to the pattern, the lines growing into symbols and symbols growing into power.  More creatures broke from the mass, these ones larger than before.

“Keep bleeding, Jess,” said Alima.  “It’s only going to take a few minutes for enough blood to collect, and then everything will be out of there!”

At least it seemed that way, until a sound like shattering glass echoed through the sealing space.  A car descended through it, a slowly falling meteor into the sea of beasts.  Out of the window, a white and black blur jumped.  The blur sailed though the air, slowly resolving into the shape of an albino man in black clothing.

Emily approached him, yelling at him to stay still, but he didn’t listen.  Instead, he punched her in the gut, throwing her aside like a rag doll, and moved on to those forming the barrier.  He went after Linda first, kicking her in the back leaving her lying on her face.  The barrier was broken, then, so Miss Karas and the principal went after the intruder.

The Latin teacher reached him first, going after him with a flurry of strikes.  He blocked the worst of them, letting the weaker blows bounce off of his aura.  He counterattacked, forcing the woman back with a single, heavy strike, and then hitting her with his knee, while she was distracted with the first attack.  Miss Karas crumpled, clutching her arm like it was broken.

White chains emerge from the ground, wrapping around the albino.  He turned and looked at the principal, the bald man chanting something and clutching something on a change.  The intruder looked the principal dead in the eye, and said, “Do not interfere with my actions.”

And the principal stopped.  He simply stood there, like he couldn’t even try to disobey.  Satisfied, the albino man turned to the middle of the circle, slowly striding towards Jessica and Alima.

“Wh- what the hell?” said Jessica.  “Why the hell did you decide to break in here?”

“It’s that lock around your wrist,” said the man.  “You really over did it.  Not just cutting off you own power, but me as well.”

And then, Jessica realized who she was talking to.  “Izcacus.”

“In the flesh,” said the Progenitor.  “Well, I’m actually borrowing this body, but you understand what I mean.”

Jessica swallowed a breath.  “Why?  What do you get out of all of this nonsense with Ixxqura and mind controlling me?”

“A break from my boredom, mostly,” said Izcacus, “things were getting damned dull, you know?”

Something launched itself over Jessica’s shoulder, bringing a lock of hair over her shoulder.  Eric attacked Izcacus’s host, white fangs gleaming, sinking his claws and teeth into a white-skinned arm.  Calmly, the host’s other arm came up and broke into the werewolf’s skull.

“What’s this? Healing already?” Izcacus said to Eric.  “Well, I still can’t have you interfering anymore.”  With that, he threw Eric aside, limbs splaying and head bleeding.

Behind her Jessica heard Alima chant, that strange guttural sound she made when trying to control more than her own power.  The aura around her, of herself, the diagram, and the blood, took shape, driving into the amalgams, separating them, pulling them apart, returning them to their original forms.

There was no way Izcacus wouldn’t have noticed.  Aura flared, and white hand clutched at Alima’s jaw.  It clenched, and her lower face disintegrated, leaving the back of her mouth exposed.  Desiccated flesh surrounded the empty hole leading to her throat, and dust came off it with her breath.  “Do nothing but watch what’s happening,” the Progenitor commanded.

And through this all, Jessica caught Kayleigh’s eye.  Kayleigh had been to stunned to move when Izcacus made its appearance, only standing there with a wide-eyed stare.  She watch the violence, watched what it did to the magic of the ritual.  When she saw Jessica’s glance, a plan formed between them.

Jessica grabbed the silver-edged knife from Alima.  She turned attacked Izcacus’s host.  “Oh?  Trying something crazy, now?” said the controller.  She was getting desperate, but she didn’t need to win; she just needed to make him bleed.  She slashed with the knife, taking care not to look into his eyes.  He stepped back, and Jessica threw a left hook, to control where he could go.  She spent some blood to improve her reflexes, and when he stepped back, she stabbed, and–yes, it sunk into his arm!  He was bleeding!

“Well, that’s going to be a mess in the morning,” Izcacus said, letting more blood fall out.  “But now you’re unarmed.  What are you planning on now?”  Jessica smiled, as behind the host, Kayleigh walked up the dais, and recited,

“Covered in filth, I am still I,
Recall you place, beneath the sky,
Your heart and mind are yours alone
So please, see us and come back home.”

The magic of the symbol, of the ritual, of the blood, was shaped by Kayleigh’s poem.  It swooped up, then back down, tearing into the amalgam, tearing apart the muck and the creatures within.  They sailed away, up through the edges of the sealed space, freed from Ixxqura and able to return to their lives.

And then the magic reached the platform, pushing it up and nearly tearing it apart.  The forces brought them upward, even as the ground beneath them shuddered and knocked them down, and all was enveloped in a horrible light…

Kayleigh sat outside, enjoying the cool air of the fall.  She turned to the sound of footsteps on the floorboards, seeing Jessica’s pale face in the moonlight.

“So, uh,” she began, “Sorry about abandoning you after we first met.  I had wanted to talk to you again, but all of…this happened, and I’ve been dealing with that.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” said Kayleigh.  “These last few weeks have been hectic for me, too.”

The conversation had a lull after that.  Kayleigh would have found the silence awkward, once, but now it was just kind of comfortable.  She still broke it, however.  “How’s your friend?”

“Alexandria?” said Jessica.  “She’s going to be alright.  I mean, she’s still shook up, but she’s going to be alright.”

“I’m glad.  She was so nice when she sold me flowers.  Confusing, but nice.”

“You…you met them?” asked Jessica.

“Oh, yeah.”  Kayleigh ran her finger across the ground.  “Actually, I’ve met a lot of the people back there.  Just a single meeting, here and there, but still, it’s pretty amazing how close we got to meeting.”

“Yeah, it really is.”  Another lull descended.  “So, uh, we can get you a ride home.”

“Oof.”  Kayleigh clutched her stomach.  “Mom’s going to be so pissed when I get back.  What am I going to tell her?”

“Tell her that you ran into some friends and you lost track of time.”  Jessica flipped a lock of hair over her shoulder.  “That’s pretty close to the truth, isn’t it?”

“She’s still going to be angry.”  A lull, and then Kayleigh stuck out her hand.  Jessica helped to her feet, and they turned to leave.  “Wait!”

Jessica stopped, and looked back.

“Can I get your phone number?”


Have you ever want to just phone something in, but something inside keeps making you make too much effort?  That how I felt while I was writing this chapter.

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.


“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.


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?”

<<Previous                                                                                                                               Next>>

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: Liberation

AtTheRiverKayleigh rested her head against the orange brick building.  Linda sat under the cherry tree, the red fruits scattered on the ground around her, hands folded.

“Is it here, yet?” asked the short girl.  They were waiting for the spirit that had told Linda about Kayleigh, about how she had learned of magic and was in danger from who she was learning it from.

“No,” said Linda, opening her eye to look at her friend.  “Did your aura fall back asleep again?”

Kayleigh stuck out her hand and curled her fingers together.  “Love, honor, beauty, unite.”  An oily green-black surrounded Linda, a reminder of her other form.  Kayleigh spoke, “I can only keep it awake for like, twenty seconds at a time, but that’s gotten longer recently.  That was around the time I started to learn to cast my own spells, actually.”

Linda got up and crawled over to her friend.  “So what, it’s like a muscle?  Use it and it gets stronger?”

“Seems like,” said Kayleigh.  “You really don’t know anything?”

“Like I said,” said Linda, dropping back onto her feet, “I’ve never really paid attention to the others.  Beyond, you know, Darkwood being a dumping ground for rich kids.”

Kayleigh shuddered.  “Hey, don’t be too hard on Jessica–”

“Why not?  She’s left you.  That’s why you wound up talking to the kid,” said Linda.

“We didn’t exchange phone numbers, or anything,” said Kayleigh.  “We didn’t have away to contact each other.”

“She could have looked you up online.”

Kayleigh had to grant her friend that.  She didn’t really understand why she was defending Jessica, it’s not like she actually knew the girl, beyond that one afternoon.  Maybe it was an aftereffect of drinking her blood, but Kayleigh still wished she could meet her, just one more time.

“When is your friend going to get here, anyway?” asked Kayleigh.

“Right now,” said three voices coming from above and beside them, just as Kayleigh’s aura died out.  She looked around, looking for the voice, but finding nothing without her aura sight.

“Don’t look!” Linda shouted.  Kayleigh stopped turning her head, and locked on to her friend’s worried eyes.

“Sorry, she can’t see you right now,” Linda said to no one in particular.  She listened to something, then said to Kayleigh, “You can’t hear it either, can you?”

Kayleigh shook her head.  Linda glanced to her side, and said, “Okay, do your finger ritual again, and make sure that you keep looking where I am.”

The brunette reawakened her aura, keeping her head turned to follow Linda’s gaze.  An aura of light streamed out from the other direction, covering the world in a blanket of gold.  Kayleigh wondered just what kind of power would let her see something she wasn’t even looking at.

“Can she hear me now?” said the three voices.

“Yes, for a little while.”  Kayleigh had started to glance over her shoulder, only to have Linda grabber face and physically pull her eyes back.  “Uh, thank you for warning Linda about the kid.”

“I receive your gratitude, and am happy,” said the voices.

“Um, right,” said Kayleigh, “speaking of which, that kid teleported into my house today.  I want to keep him from doing that.  Do you know a way?”

“Take two…”  The voices faded out, and the light behind her dimmed.  Startled, Kayleigh woke her aura back up.  “…and say, ‘Manulael.’  In this way, I can aid you.”

“What? What did he say?  My aura went out and I missed all that.”

Linda made a face.  “That’s going to be annoying.  We’ll do a ritual later, and then that thing will help us out, basically.  Is there anything else you wanted from him?”

“Wait, yes.”  Kayleigh started to turn toward the spirit, but stopped and shielded her eyes from the light.  As she blinked away the dark spots, all she could remember of its physical form was an impression of eyes.

“Hey, you,” she said to the spirit, “How did you know about me?”

“I see many things,” said the three voices, “people and places, things and events, some near me, and some far away.”

“Okay, so,” said Kayleigh, “there’s this person I’d like to know about…”

Miss Karas’s office was surprisingly messy, papers and books scattered around, archeological artifacts around the edges, no rhyme or reason or organization apparent.  The books were piled so high in some places that the sunlight couldn’t come through the windows, and besides the shelves, the only furniture in the room was a desk and two rather bare chairs.

Jessica had just finished explaining to her teacher about what she had found in the city, the sorcery, the goal of Tohu wa-Bohu, and the invisible girl that had helped her escape.  Now, they sat in silence, Miss Karas thinking about her story while Jessica fidgeted.  “Is there something else bothering you, Jessica?”

The pale girl played with her lapel.  “Well, maybe, I guess, I mean…I think I want to check some things out before I tell you.  I don’t want to waste your time if I’m not sure, even if this is something you could help with, but I’m supposed to find these things out on my own, and not tell anyone about—”

“Jessica, Jessica,” said Miss Karas.  “It’s fine.  You don’t need a reason to keep secrets.”

Jessica exhaled, calm.

“Now,” said Karas, glancing at the clock, “I think you should hurry to the cafeteria, if you are to have time to eat anything.”

Jessica picked at her lettuce.  Clouds were rolling over the sun, and it was starting to rain.  It could rain suddenly and hard around here, Jessica thought, not like her home.  She was used to the weather being a lot more predictable, where a day that started sunny would stay sunny, or at least only get cloud cover in the afternoon.

“Hey, Jessie,” said Emily, from across the table, “You alright?  Yer eatin’ even less than usual.”

Jessica looked at Emily, and decided to try an experiment.

“Emily,” said Jessica, looking her roommate dead in the eye, “Go running down the street shouting, ‘I’m a vampire,’ repeatedly.”

The rain had come in hard and sudden.  Perhaps the observers on the street would think that was why the student from Darkwood wasn’t wearing anything heavier than her uniform’s jacket as she ran down the street.  They would have thought that she simply going out for her own lunch.

Indeed, nobody would have noticed, remembered, or cared that the girl was running down the street in the rain, except for what she was shouting as she did it.


Jessica brought her knees to her chest and curled into a ball in her chair.  She tried not to sob.  Tears stained the hem of her skirt, and the girl wondered how she looked to the other students.


Her head snapped up at the voice, and turned to it to see large brown eyes, filled with concern.  “Oh, hey, Alima,” said Jessica, trying to smile, “what’s up?”

“You’re crying,” Alima said, “and Emily just ran off for some reason, that’s what’s up.”  The brown-eyed girl slid into the seat beside Jessica.  “Are- are you going to be alright?  Can you talk about it?”

Jessica looked away, struggling to collect her thoughts.  Finally, she said, “Alima?  What would you do if you found out that you could do something horrible to people?  And that you might have already done it?”

Alima looked confused.  “Like, the evil eye, or…?”

Just then, Emily came back up to the table.  “Hey, Alima.  Jessie, why did you tell me ta do that?”

“It was the most ridiculous thing I could think of,” said Jessica.  “But I think the real question you should be asking is, ‘why did I decide to do it?'”

“…I, I don’t know,” said Emily.  “Well, you should listen ta yer friend’s requests, shouldn’t ya?”

Alima shifted in her seat.  “Did…did you just mind control her?”

“Yeah,” said Jessica.  She laid her face in her arms, and let out a whimper.  “I’m sorry, Emily.  I had to be sure I could do it.  I didn’t mean to do it the first time, and then I found out about that I could, and now I’m using you as a guinea pig, and…”

“Jessie, Jessie,” said Emily.  “Yer babblin’.  Now, what’s upsettin’ you the most?”

Jessica blinked her eyes clear.  “The first time I think I used my mind control powers, I guess.”

“Okay, now, what happened when you used them?” asked Emily.

“I, I think I made someone give me blood.  It was the first time I got it fresh, too.”  Jessica started to tear up again.

“Hey, Jessie, Jessie.  Stay with us,” said Emily, grabbing her roommate’s arm.  “Who did you feed from?”

“Eric,” said Jessica, brushing a strand of hair from her face.

“The werewolf?  So, don’t you think you should talk to him about this?” asked Emily.

“I guess I should,” said Jessica.  She paused, and then, “I hate Izcacus.”

Emily and Alima glanced at each other.  “What?” asked Alima.

“I’m descended from a Progenitor named Izcacus.  You remember, don’t you, Alima?  It’s their genes, or whatever, that gave me these powers.  They could take me over at anytime, too, so I have that hanging over me all the time.  I wish I could just lock it all away.”

“Wait, what?” asked Alima, straightening up.

“…’I wish I could just lock it all away?’  What about it?” said Jessica.

Alima didn’t answer.  She simply sat there, lost in thought, until the bell rung.

The clouds had cleared up by the time school let out.  Jessica shuffled out into the sunlight, shielding her eyes.

“Hey, Jessie?”

She turned to see the call come from a tall boy exiting the building.  When Eric caught up to Jessica, he said, “We need to talk, don’t we?”

Jessica turned back around.  “Yeah, I suppose we do.  How’d you hear?”

“Eh, word gets around, what with how you were acting at lunch today,” said Eric.  “And Emily came up to me and told me to talk to you.”

Jessica gave a small snort of laughter.  “That girl doesn’t like leaving things to chance.”

Eric scooted around in front of Jessica.  “So, you want to go somewhere with less people?

They went to the side of the river.  There was a road there, where the trucks would come in the early morning to make deliveries of wares and supplies to the stores pointed in the other direction.  The road was abandoned in the late afternoon, so it was a good place to find somewhere quiet to talk.

Jessica stood at the railing, letting the sunlight glittering on the water bother her.  She had needed to make sure that she wouldn’t waste time.  There was something she had needed to say, and she needed Eric’s response to it.  When they were done, then she could step away.

“Jess,” he said after a while, “could you please look at me?”

Well, thought Jessica, that’s exactly what I didn’t want you to ask.  Still, she complied.  She turned around and looked Eric in the eyes.  Eyes that were, strangely, more apologetic than upset.

“I guess I would be angry with you for mind-controlling me,” Eric said, “y’know, if you’d done it on purpose. But, that’s not what happened, was it?”

Jessica looked down.  “I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.  I just tell someone to do something, and…poof.”

“What does it feel like?” asked Eric.  “Using your mind-control, I mean?”

“It doesn’t feel like anything,” she said, “I could use it on anyone, at anytime, and I wouldn’t even know that I did.  The only reason I even know I have this power is because someone else felt my aura when I did it.”

“So, isn’t that the only time you’re sure you mind-controlled someone?”

Jessica looked up, and stepped toward the boy.  “What?  What do you mean?”

“I mean I don’t think you mind-controlled me.”

Jessica blinked.  “Huh?”

“Er, well, it’s like,” Eric said, scratching the back of his head, “Remember that time I transformed, in that empty house, and you managed to fight me off?  Well, it really helped me sleep.”  He leaned over the railing.  “Knowing that there was somebody strong enough to do that, I mean.  So, I figured…If you can help keep me under control, I can help you stay strong.  And I heal fast, anyway.” And then, very quietly, “And it’s not like I hated how you fed off of me.”

Jessica felt herself blush.  “Thank you,” she said.  She looked away, trying to look like she was flirting, “And from the sounds of things, you’ve been thinking about my offer, haven’t you?”

Eric went completely red.  “That’s-I mean-well-yes- Oh god!”

Jessica was elated at his embarrassment.  It made her feel happy, powerful, in control.  Strange how it did that, when directly reaching into his mind and making him do things made her feel like a monster.  Well, maybe it would be best for their relationship to be give and take, neither of them dominating the game of check and countercheck.  In those terms, it wasn’t too different from Eric’s deal.

Eric managed to collect himself.  “Well,” he managed to wheeze out, “if you want to do it again, I’m up for it anytime.  Neck biting, I mean! Not, uh–”

“Thank you,” said Jessica, “I’ll definitely keep you in mind.  You know, if I can’t find anyone else.”

He made a play of grabbing at her, giving her plenty of time to skip away.  They grabbed, skipped and chased, all the way back to school grounds.

That evening, there was a knock at the door of Emily and Jessica’s room.  Jessica leaped to the door, Emily following behind, and when she opened it, she found Alima, looking incredibly excited about something.

“Yes, you!  I need you, right now!”


Alima took a breath and calmed down a little.  “Okay, Jess, it started with what you said at lunch today, about locking your powers away.”

“Yeah?  What about it?” asked Jessica.

“Well, sealing is a frequently used and well understood branch of magic, so I went asking around for information.  Now, sealing away an Occ’s magic is actually a pretty common practice, usually when the Occ can’t turn something off and it’s constantly draining their reservoir.  Now, I figured we could also use the lock metaphor to keep a power from activating accidentally, so I bought you this.”  Alima held up a small belt that looked like it was sized to go around somebody’s wrist.  Small crescents of gold were attached by chain near the ends, and instead of a buckle, there was a padlock to keep the loop closed.

“Now, right now, this is just a bracelet, we still need to enchant it and bind it to you.  Well, call a spirit to do that; I’m not sure how to do it myself yet.  We can do it right here, on the ground, I’m already carrying everything I need,” Alima said, gesturing to her bag, “but I going to want you to bleed a bit, to represent your power.”

“Waitaminute,” said Emily, from deeper in the room, “do ya remember what happened the last time you used Jessica’s blood fer a spell?  This isn’t goin’ ta make the room explode, is it?”

“I’m only using the blood as link, not a power source, so no, not this time.”

Emily was quiet, lost in thought.  “Well, Jess?  How about it?”

Jessica said, “I’ll…I’ll try it.  It’s not like it could hurt, really.”

With Jessica’s approval, Alima took out a small folding table, so low that the only way to sit at it was crossed-legged, and set it up on the floor of the room.  Alima sat on one side, and Jessica sat at the other, with her forearm resting on the table so that the Alima could put the belt on her wrist.  Emily stood, watching the proceedings.

With the bracelet locked, she lifted her arm for the paper towels that would keep her blood from spilling.  The arm rested on the towels, palm up, as Alima took out a pair of sticks, like chalk or crayon, and drew two circles on either side of Jessica’s arm, one red, one blue.  In the red circle, the large-eyed girl drew a flag and a kneeling man, while in the blue, she drew a feather and an eye.

“Okay.  Jessica, Emily, be ready.”  Emily shifted, and Alima took out a scalpel.  Jessica relaxed, and forced her aura to let the blade through to break her skin.  As crimson fluid began to well through the small cut on her forearm, noises, deep and guttural, came from Alima’s throat.  Using the scalpel, she lifted some of the blood and smeared it on the padlock, the strange sounds still emerging from her mouth.  The orange streaks of the Egyptian girl’s aura streamed into the blood and the lock, as if to push and sew them together.

Suddenly, Alima stopped, both voice and body.  She dropped the knife, crossed her arm above Jessica’s, and shrieked, “Manulael“.  Her aura withdrew, snapping back into her and leaving a void around the lock and the bracelet.  The emptiness stayed there for a moment, but slowly, a light started to creep through the room, washing the surroundings in gold and stabbing Jessica in the chest.

Jessica heard herself choke.  She stopped breathing, pain coursing through her every time she tried to move her lungs.  The light was like the sun, or a church, an existence hostile to her own, penetrating her body and tearing apart her insides.

Emily stepped between Jessica and the source of the light, her shadow letting the vampire breathe.  Blessed darkness covered her, letting her strength return, even as Alima stared at her in horror.

“I am lucky that you were here, O one born of pieces,” said three voices from behind Jessica, beyond Emily.  “And I apologize for being incautious with my aura.”

Jessica felt Emily start to step away from her.  “You-”

“NO! Don’t step away from her!” the voices cried.  “You’re the only thing keeping that girl safe!”

Emily stopped.  Jessica gasped, “You…can you finish things?”

Jessica’s arm and bracelet were still lying in the auraless void.  “Yes.  Just let me be careful and try not to move.”

All three of the girls stayed very still as the light twisted around and landed on the lock.  The blood dried and disappeared, absorbed into the metal.  Jessica felt a force on her wrist, squeezing it and making her arm feel heavy.  Doubly strange, because its actual weight was supported by the tea table.

There was a clash like a cymbal, and the force disappeared.  The light stopped twisting around.  Jessica lifted her hand to look at the charm.

“You, wearing the lock,” said the voices.  “Are you Jessica Albright?”

Jessica turned, wincing as the light hurt her eyes.  Before she could respond, Emily said, “What’s it to you?”

“Hm,” said the spirit.  “Somebody who’s life was changed by Jessica Albright asked me to look for her.”

“Oh,” said Jessica and Emily, “oh, shit!”  Jessica turned around, back to the table, where Alima just looked.

“Uh, hey, Ally?  I know this is interesting, but…this is my problem, you know?”

“Oh.  Okay.”

“I will take my leave now,” said the voices.  “Please, stay safe.”  The light dimmed, and disappeared.  Emily and Jessica relaxed.

“I’m really sorry about that,” said Alima, “I should have made sure about what I was calling to.”

“True,” said Jessica, “but I survived and got what I wanted, so I’m not to angry.”

Alima sighed.  “I guess the only thing left is to make sure that the lock works.”

Jessica smiled, stood up, and turned around.

“Emily,” said Jessica, looking her roommate dead in the eye, “Go running down the street shouting, ‘I’m a vampire,’ repeatedly.”

“Fuck off,” said Emily.

<<Previous                                                                                                                               Next>>

I actually rewrote a lot of this one, despite how happy I was with it.  I added in Kayleigh’s part, took out a bunch of pointless summarizing, and rewrote Eric’s dialogue.  I don’t like the personality I gave him the first time around.

But the biggest change is that I actually went through the sealing ritual.  I actually know how ritual magic works now, and my original version was just lazy, anyway.  I still have misgivings about this chapter, but that’s mostly how it links up with what comes before and after.

Art: Study Group 2


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


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.

Art: Simultaneous Triptych


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

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

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

Occulted: Instruction

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

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

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

“H-hey, Angie.  How are you doing?”

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

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

Vanessa flinched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, let’s learn.”


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

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

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

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

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

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

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

“Done catching your breath, Iessica?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like, the shape our auras take?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very good,” said Miss Karas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Love, honor, beauty, unite!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um, sorry, Andria?”

“It’s Alex, right now.”

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

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

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

Nodding, the clerk let her customer go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What…what is that like?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was it?”

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

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

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

“My what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandria stared at where the geyser of aura had been.

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

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

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

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

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

“And what does a Metaphor do, exactly?”

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

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

“Just so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One more,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

Karas blinked.  “Well, okay then.”

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

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

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