Occulted: A Scene I Should have Written

A bit of paper hit Kayleigh’s arm. And then another. “Stop that!”

Ziggy shrugged at her. “Sorry, Milly was getting desperate.”

The four of them, Kayleigh, Linda, Milly, and Ziggy, were sitting in the library during study hall. None of them were really worried about their homework, it was easy enough, and as long as they finish by tomorrow, it would be alright, so they had fallen into what they always fell into: gossiping.

At least, most of them had. Kayleigh turned to her friend. “Sorry, I’ve had things on my mind recently.”

“What kinds of things?” asked Milly. “Has a new guy entered your life?”

“No, not this time.”

“A new girl, then?” Kayleigh shot Ziggy a dirty look. That Jessica girl had been on her mind, but only in the context of the world she had shown to Kayleigh – a world of magic and monsters, hidden beside the world she knew, just out of sight. She hadn’t been able to meet with the pale girl again. Without her last name, Kayleigh couldn’t filter out all of the other Jessicas in the world, or even in Desmond. She had even tried calling Darkwood Academy, but the private school had been less than eager to help an outsider look up one of their charges.

“So what is it?” said Milly.

Kayleigh looked away from her friends. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not anything important.”

“Hey, Linda,” said Milly. The tall girl snapped her head up from her fingernails. “What do you think Kayleigh’s worried about? She won’t tell us.”

Linda bent over to look Kayleigh in the eye. “She looks likes she’s focused on us now, so it’s not something she has to worry about constantly. I’m guessing there’s no time limit?”

Kayleigh smiled. “No, nothing urgent.”

Linda folded her fingers under her chin. “No time limit, and it’s not something that you can’t be distracted from, so I’m going to say that it’s not a family issue. Someone around school, then? You kind of have the look of someone that’s been asked to keep a secret by someone you don’t know. Like you made a promise, but you also want to break it, like it would be so much more fun if you did.”

She was right, in a way. Something inside of her was keeping her from talking about the Occulted, even if she hadn’t promised anything. It was more like something had changed, and now she simply decided not to talk, even though she wanted to.

“Well, if you made a promise, I’m not going to push you,” said Milly. “Oh, hey, did you hear about what Cody McMillian did with his dad’s car?” “Oh?” “Yeah, he took it to a party out of town over the weekend, and there was booze there, ya know? And things went late and at the end of it, there were a bunch of drunks that needed to be driven home, yeah?” “Oh, dear.” “Now, Cody swears that he hadn’t had anything to drink that night, of course, so he decided to do them a favor and…”

Kayleigh found herself getting exhausted. She turned back toward the window, desperately trying to avoid thinking about how much she wanted to ask her best friend to – not shut up, she wasn’t that annoyed – but to simply stop talking.

I never did explain what Kayleigh lost when she learned about magic, or why she was so upset with the kid for trying to reveal it to the world.  I wrote this scene to show what had happened to her, and what she was afraid would happen to everyone else, to be inserted between Kayleigh meeting Jessica, and the introduction of the kid.

Art: Kayleigh Perspective


Have you ever had an idea for a picture you wanted to draw, only to forget what it was by the time you got around to drawing it?  That’s what happened to me with this picture.  I had an idea of drawing Kayleigh practicing magic for almost a week, but I got sidetracked by thoughts of practicing perspective and I forgot to do anything to show that she was doing anything magical, and had to draw in her aura at the end.

As for the perspective, I did that poorly too.  I tried to hide Kayleigh’s legs beneath the table, but they end up just looking like they don’t exist, and she isn’t as hunched over as I thought she was.  I did the drawing implements poorly, the potted plant was another obvious last minute addition, and I didn’t draw the girl’s chair.  At least it was good practice.

Art: Chaos, Confusion, and Order


I suppose I should start by pointing out that the person figures in this piece are poorly drawn.  Well, Jessica is alright, but I went way to stiff with the others, even if Kayleigh back there is the first time I’ve drawn someone at a distance.  Other than that, I’m not enjoying the platform their all standing, mostly because it’s based on the background from last week’s picture, and I didn’t like how that one turned out.

But behind the platform, where animals are being thrown out of the waves of mud, into the light streaming in from the Surface world, turned out fairly well. The shadows underneath the crests of the mud and between the rays of light required diluting ink, which I now believe I can to consistently.  I don’t know why I drew the giant octopus, besides that I got board drawing waves.

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: In Another Space


This week’s chapter has a picture that’s more symbolic than usual.  Because both Jessica and Kayleigh found themselves in pocket dimensions, I drew something that plays on that.  The lines in the foreground represent the mirrors that Jessica dealt with, while the background is the tunnels that Kayleigh was taken to.  I had originally intended to make the mirrors triangular, with a line separating the girls down the middle, but I came to realize that the angles I had made with the first set of lines I drew already made for an interesting pattern.  And then I started to fill in the background.

Painting in the background was fun, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be to control how dark the ink would be.  I had a hard time diluting, my palette doesn’t have particularly deep wells, and ink has a tendency to thin out as you use it.  Still, I managed to give texture to the walls and floor, and I enjoy how the light seems to vary as you travel across the page.

As for the figures, I drew them with the overriding emotion that I wanted to portray in their parts of the story, Jessica is resolute, and Kayleigh is terrified.  I’m mostly happy with how my shading effects turned out, but I’ll have to practice some more.  I also drew Jessica’s forearms freakishly long, the result of me deciding to ink my sketch too early.  I’ll have to be more careful about that in the future.

Occulted: Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“His friend implied otherwise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you agree to help us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brunette did not like what she found.


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“What?” Kayleigh asked.

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

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

“How about you just call them Lexa?”

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

“Lexa?” asked the twins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica stopped.  “Wait, what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kayleigh stopped.  “Wait, what?”

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

Sketchbook: Kayleigh Smithson


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

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

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.