Thanks to Justin and Matt for collaborating on this post!
The church on the edge of the Claremont estate has a certain quiet power. It no longer serves the Catholic faith, but one can feel the energy of generations passing through it, how it withstood the fire that burned away the last iteration of the school, when it was for teaching wayward boys. Its multileveled frame cast deep and angled shadows as the light passed through stained glass. In the neve were three students: Angel, a black girl from Chicago with a light inside of her that could change the world; Aaron, a white boy wizard-in-training who knew that precision and rules were the key to victory; and Deaglan, a transfer student who came from the faerie realms.
Aaron waited a moment, looking for someone to say something. As the quiet just started to crest into awkwardness, he decided to break the tension. “So Angel, first off, thanks for the bailout on detention day. I know I owe you, name your price.”
“Hey now, consider that paid. You’re the one who helped get that party going. Besides, we magical folks have got to stick together,” Angel looks from Aaron to Deaglan, then back. “But what’s up, boys? You’ve got your serious faces on.”
“Well, let’s be blunt. What do YOU remember about Adnan “Storm King” Homsi?” Aaron’s head tilted towards Angel, almost in accusation, but definitely looking for a firm answer.
Aaron’s expression falls a bit. “Yeah, exactly. Something, some force or actor, is removing everyone’s recollection of one of our fellow students. Hey Deaglan, do you remember what room he was in this year? I’m not sure anyone’s checked there yet.”
Deaglan shrugged. He knew Adnan, but little of where he lived.
The wind rustled through the pews and candles and flowed around Angel for a moment; the rosy-stained light shining brighter for a second. “The breeze isn’t carrying that name, but the shine feels like it should know.”
Aaron’s eyes light up as if he were seeing something incredible for the first time. “You have to teach me that one some time, but back to the matter at hand. At least one student is straight up GONE as far as most of the student body is concerned.”
The light dimmed even more as Angel focused on the two boys and allowed herself to fully hear them. “That’s really scary. Does the administration know? Who else have you talked to? What do you want me to help with?”
“I’m not sure Admin knows. Schism was going to talk to Summers, but I haven’t caught up with her. As to what we’re doing here, I leave that to Deaglan. He was kinda leading this endeavor.”
Deaglan simply nodded along with Aaron’s remarks, his hand fidgeting with a small silver coin. “Well, I have nothing for Adnan, but I have a focus I created for whatever it was that was giving us visions last week. I’m worried that it won’t be enough, but I’m pretty confident I captured something of the essence of what was invading our minds.” Deaglan held out the coin, a small silver ducat worn from continuous handling. “I captured it when Jeff was under the effects of the vision.”
“Whoa, can I see that?” Aaron says, looking close without touching or even reaching for the coin.
“Yeah,” Deaglan grinned, holding it up for Aaron to see. “I tried scrying it on my own, and the most I could pin down was that, whatever it is, it’s on this plane of existence…”
Aaron shook his head, looking confused. “That doesn’t quite add up. I know I saw something extraplanar with influence on our plane.”
Angel took the coin and placed it on the floor. “Alright, that won’t help with tracking Adnan, but maybe we can make something work. Alright yous guys, let’s form a triangle around this.” Angel quickly unsnapped her backpack and began taking items out and arranging them around the coin: incense, bones, glyphs. Aaron jumped in. His eye quickly finding every slight mistake and adjusting where needed. Deaglan watched the two intently, offering a hand when needed. Angel pulled out one of Claremont’s textbooks and checked the positioning of the stuff on the ground versus the diagrams in the book. With a quick nod she signaled it was complete. She sat down and the two boys took her hands, forming the points of the triangle.
As everyone sat, Angel began chanting. The incense lit themselves and their heady aroma suffused the space. The smoke lazily rolled over faces, obscuring vision. Every so often, through the fumes, the two boy’s trained perception could make out a white light flashing from inside Angel, and being reflected by the coin. Time passed. Sweat beaded on skin as the heat of the flames mixed with the effort of holding arms up for an extended period. Still, the droning went on, and the three keep up their part. Words unbidden started snaking their way out of Aaron and Deaglan, adding harmony and dissonance to the buzzing repetition of Angel.
The spirit and wills of the three mages began pulsing out of themselves with the rhythm of the ritual words. Pulse, pulse, dimming; pulse, pulse, dimming. Those wills wanted to find a way out, they just needed an outlet. The ritual kept building. The fires flickered in response. Pages flipped in an unfelt wind. The book didn’t matter anymore.
The ritual had its own strength and purpose. Caged, hungry, the wills needed a way out. The items laid out at the beginning hedged them in like walls of spears. The three forces tumbled into each other. They needed a way out. They slammed, collided, bounced, collided again. No way out. The fires blasted hotter and whipped back and forth. There, the coin!
The wills pushed into the coin, and hit the ground. There was nothing there. The three mages can feel it. The coin captured nothing. It was just a coin carried by a faerie boy. There’s no way out, just metal, a bottle-cap to contain a tornado. No way out. The energies raked out like clawing tendrils. Aaron is unmoved; perfect, perfectly still, perfectly written, perfect, and cold. The light inside of Angel rose up to meet the lashing tempest. It surges against her. Her words don’t stop, but the chanting becomes distorted. Her mouth twists and bites down almost against her will. Blood leaks out. The words don’t stop. Her tongue is bitten open.
Deaglan feels the lash on him. He looks at his friends. They don’t look back. They’re focused. He can’t let them down. He remembers what he’s been taught. He uses the concentration techniques Elflight taught him. It twists inside him though: Seelie patterns in Unseelie frames; faerie magic on human lips. It twists and surges. He can’t hold it. He loses his head.
The other two see the head roll into the center but don’t stop, they can’t stop. The wills whip around: a cold front from Aaron, a heat wave from Angel. They spin and twirl, they need a way out. There it is, the head! The head that saw those things. Deaglan’s mouth keeps chanting and the wills surge down into it. Underneath him, Deaglan can feel the melting metal of the coin as it sizzles and sets part of his hair aflame. He can’t respond yet, though. It’s time for the vision.
The fire of Angel finds purpose and form. In the vision, it is once again the towering figure of flame and rage. It burns forever in a world of captivity and hate. Around Deaglan, four other students of Next Gen stride forward. They’re binding the beast with their words. As they do so, it feels like the words are coming from the three mages’ mouths, however, it’s wrong. These weren’t the words that will be said. The cold within the vortex found a place to speak and used the three mages to say words that were said before.
Aaron and Deaglan: “To protect the world from icy wrecks.”
The monster replies through Angel: “Why are you…”
Aaron and Deaglan: “To unite two siblings under one paycheck.”
Angel: “Do we have to do this right…”
Aaron remembered this moment. His mind tried to focus on specifics, tried to wall itself off for a moment to just remember any detail, but then, the walls open up, like elevator doors, and the thought is burned away as Hell is revealed. He remembers this moment, and with it, the shame and guilt as he put everyone in danger, real danger. Deaglan and Angel are there, with him. The three souls intertwined. Next to him, someone begins shouting something. Maybe it’s about closing the doors, but what they hear is:
Smooth Woman’s Voice: “We had a breach last night: the Lower Levels.”
Bassy Masculine Voice: “How low?”
Smooth Woman: “It was a breach of THE Lower Levels.”
Bass Voice: “…And the children?”
Smooth Woman: “Shaken, but okay. Amnesiatics, have been applied. This actually might help us.”
Bass Voice: “And the intruders?”
Smooth Woman: “A harmless prank. They ran away without realizing a thing.”
The lights on the elevator flash for a moment and then the elevator started to drift down, move down, accelerating, falling, plummeting into the lake of hellfire below. Lava pours into the elevator. It burns! The three awakened. Deaglan’s head is on fire. His arms flail about, searching for his head. He yelps as the flames lick at his cheeks, frantically glancing between Angel and Aaron.
“OH DUGHLUNG! ITH OKAH!” Angel smothers Deaglan’s head and helps put out the fire. "I don thunk the coin wath goo.”
“Oh. Hell.” Aaron deadpans. He looks concerned as he’s getting everything cleaned up and put away. “We touched Hell.” Concern gives way to a wicked grin. “We touched Hell!”
Deaglan’s head glares at Aaron. “Why are you so excited about that? That’s like touching Balor’s backside!”
“But come ON man, we flew close enough to the metaphysical sun to nearly touch it, and we’re all still here! This is awesome! "
After a few moments of fumbling, Deaglan secures his head, brushing away singed hair from his scalp. He glances at them both, looking them both over for any similar flames or afflictions. His eyes stopped on Angel. There’s some blood that’s been ineffectually wiped away. Pitifully, she massaged her jaw.
“OW. Thith reawwy thtingth. I nee’ to thee the nurthe."
“What’s wrong!? I could speak your name, if you’re wounded?” He stuttered, quick to clarify what he meant. “To heal you, I mean!”
“Yeth pleath! Thith ith bad. I thound like an idiot and can’ do a lo’ of spe’ with a voith like thith. Wha’ if a demo’ attaths?”
Aaron cut in, a grave look in his eyes as begun speaking slowly and enunciating every word. “Deegs, I wouldn’t. What we just did was beyond any of us individually, and probably just inside of our potential united. I’m not sure Avalon’s magic can oppose it.”
“I’d rather shake hands with a Fomorian than not try to fix this. This is my fault!” Deaglan frowns, collecting his head and his thoughts, before looking back to Angel. “Right. I will…” He breathes in, reaching for Angel’s hand. As soon as he has a connection, he begins, speaking her name clearly and concisely.
Aaron backed away, watching, worrying. Angel smiled as a glow suffused her. Deaglan’s magic wiping away her scrapes and exhaustion, and then her face twists and grimaced. Her mouth bulged for a moment before the cough. Blood bursts out covering her clothes. Brutal embarrassment welled up on her face, as more blood kept pouring out. She could feel their eyes on her. One hand went to stop the torrent, while the other lunged for her bag. Not looking at anyone, she rushed out. A small trail of red marking her wake.
“Angel, wait….crap.” She was already out the door. Aaron shrugged. “So, I’m pretty sure that just broke…three of the new ‘laws’ I’m supposed to be observing.”
Deaglan’s eyes bulge at the sight, horrified by the result. He stumbles to his feet, looking to Aaron and then to the trail of blood left in Angel’s wake. “Laws?” He asked incredulously. He turned and started after Angel. “We can worry about breaking the law later. We gotta get help!”
“One capital-L Law, and two, Not-For-Initiates strictures.” Aaron pulls out a small notebook and makes three tally marks on a page already nearly full of them. "It’s going to be a busy year "
“Deegs, when one of us loses his head, it’s permanent.” He hasn’t even looked up from the notebook, but seems to be silently counting the tallies. Seemingly satisfied, he pockets the notebook and finally looks Deaglan in the eyes. “But you’re right. Nurse’s office?”
As they rushed out, they find Angel twenty yards away. She’s pale and leaning against a wall, listing back and forth. The blood was slowing down..
Aaron takes a half-step, then reconsiders. “Go ahead and find….yeah, that.” His next words were louder. “I’ll make sure that rift actually closed and catch up.” Aaron makes a small gesture and whispers a word in a language that only one other student speaks, staring intently at their ritual space.
“Yeah. We should bring h-” Deaglan swears, looking back to Aaron. “Aaron, come help me!”
Aaron dismissively waved his hand, dispelling the effect. As he ran out of the church he came to a stop as he saw Coach Boomer approaching; a look of alarm on his face.
“Are you ok?” Coach Boomer said slowly helping Angel forward. His attention drifted over to the two boys “What happened here?”
Aaron and Deaglan both go to speak but Deaglan’s babbling pushed through. “There was a fire. Things were bad. A fire elemental started attacking and there was chanting. We were trying to trace the thing giving us visions, and-” his hand gestured vaguely at Angel.
“…and, you punched her in the mouth?!”
Aaron follows, having to half-jog to keep up with Boomer. "Not gonna bother with the usual CYA BS, Coach. Ritual went south right before we pulled out of it. Angel’s hurt, needs the nurse. Bit her tongue, I think.” He gulps. “…bad.”
Deaglan turns bright red. “No! Somethin-” he gestures to Aaron in agreement. However, at the mention of biting her tongue, he shakes his head vigorously, nearly losing it in the process. “No, I tried healing her, and it was working, but it got worse, I made it worse!”
“…ritual? OK, I think I’m getting an idea of what happened. Are either of you hurt as well?” The coach turns from Aaron to Deaglan, than skewers his face as he sees the burnt hair. As neither of them respond, he reaches out a hand for Deaglan’s shoulder. “Calm down son, once we see to Angel, then you can relay what happened, and freak out then.”
Aaron glanced at Deaglan and looked again at the Coach. "We’ll be fine, Angel needs attention.”
Quickly, the group made their way to the nurse, as she was hustled away, Deaglan cast one last worried look to Angel, followed by an apologetic one to Aaron. Hands in pocket, he muttered “Tá, Máistir…”
Coach Boomer looked at Deaglan, “To master what?”
Deaglan shakes his head. “Er, yes sir. It means ‘Yes, sir’.”
Quietly, Aaron slipped out his phone and began typing. tap tap tap (to Angel) “Hope you’re OK, let me know if you need anything” tap tap tap (To Bluebird) “Back to Summers’ office, see you later…maybe…I hope” The phone beeps several times, each quieter than the last, before it’s silent. Aaron slips it in his pocket. “Okay Coach, let’s face the music.”