by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza
The girl observed the scene with a wide grin initially, but it quickly faded as things took a turn. “Those meddling boys,” she muttered, frustration lacing her voice. “They’re ruining all my fun!” She never anticipated encountering such talented students, let alone a group of them so audacious and unafraid of danger. After the last time I was here, I believed launching this plan before Hell Week would yield the best results. However, young Hunter had unveiled an unexpected surprise. His exceptional abilities were unlike anything she had ever witnessed in a first-year student. I must dispose of these boys swiftly! She patiently awaited her opportunity as the Mares of Diomedes retreated to the Bestiary, plotting an ambush, no doubt. If all went according to plan, Gallowglass would preside over five more funerals by day’s end.
The group of boys contemplated the quiet zoo, aware of the animals observing their efforts to corral the escaped wild horses. Adam Frankenstein clutched a bag of darts and the blowgun he had procured from the front supply cabinet. “Stay here,” he instructed them. “Keep watch.”
Kirk Pike flatly refused to remain on the sidelines. “I’m going in, whether you like it or not, Adam,” he declared.
“What about detention for disobeying?” Josh Cantrell asked. “Peel can be downright ruthless. Believe me, I know!”
“Detention with Peel’s just another challenge,” Kirk replied with a shrug. The others stared at him in disbelief.
“You’re crazy!” Gray Murphy exclaimed. “But we started this together, and we’ll finish it together.” The rest nodded in agreement.
Adam surveyed the determined faces before him and concluded that it would be wiser to have them by his side than running around on their own. Among them, Kirk possessed an unwavering determination when he believed in his cause. Adam admired that aspect of him, but also feared that Kirk’s zeal could get the boy killed if he wasn’t careful.
Meanwhile, Tim Hunter stood near the Arioch pasture, gazing blankly at the landscape as the white bull grazed thoughtfully. He knew something was amiss. They were all missing something. What could it be? Tim pondered. How would Batman, or maybe his sidekick Robin, go about this while on a case? They would flush out the horses or figure out some way to expose their hiding place. At least Batman would. Tim considered his half-formed idea.
There might be a chance to execute it successfully if he found a way to put it into action. Freezing things was the only power he knew for certain, but he’d done other incredible things without really trying. What else could he accomplish if he applied his mind? Could he do this? He made up his mind to give it a try.
Tim closed his eyes, his young face etched with determination. He could feel the essence of himself fluttering among the peculiar creatures in the zoo. In that fleeting moment, he was both everywhere and nowhere. But then, as if pulled by an invisible force, he returned to his own body. A triumphant smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he beheld the fruits of his labor. The Mares of Diomedes were now surrounded by dazzling magical sparks, their once hidden locations now unveiled by the constant buzzing of the sparks.
Not far from Tim, Adam Frankenstein swiftly darted three more of the predators before they finally caught on to the fact that he had discovered their hiding places. In a flurry of movement, the carnivorous horses charged toward the groundskeeper and his five helpers.
“Kami Nomi Kai!” Josh Cantrell shouted, his voice echoing through the air with the magic words. In an instant, he felt an incredible surge of power run through his veins, his muscles expanding and growing stronger. With a thunderous boom, he unleashed a devastating punch that struck down one of the fearsome beasts.
Gray Murphy, renowned for his misfortune-bringing aura, cunningly led another predator on a wild chase. With a quick maneuver, he tricked the creature into being crushed beneath a fallen tree. Murphy always seemed to attract bad luck wherever he went.
Alfred Twitchell, ever elusive, had been pursued relentlessly by the third predator. Somehow, the pudgy boy managed to stay just out of its reach, his luck never failing him. That is, until a dart swiftly embedded itself in the creature’s hindquarters, causing it to stumble and fall. Twitch was undoubtedly born under a lucky star.
Meanwhile, Kirk Pike, known for his audacity, devised a daring plan. In one swift motion, he flung himself onto the back of one of the horses, gripping onto its mane for dear life. With a resounding slap on the beast’s rump, he sent it into a frenzy of bucking, desperately trying to rid itself of the tenacious boy. Kirk was a force to be reckoned with, never one to back down from a fight.
Tim Hunter, standing his ground, faced two charging horses with his hands raised and his focus unwavering. Sparks of vibrant blue magic danced at his fingertips, threatening to consume him. In a breathless moment, the horses were ensnared within a layer of thick ice, their movements frozen by the sheer power of Tim’s spell. It was clear that he was already on his way to becoming a great magician someday.
A faint smile spread across Tim Hunter’s face. In that exhilarating instant, he felt invincible, as though he could conquer anything that stood in his way. He had frozen two horses in their tracks, all with a simple wave of his hand and an extraordinary effort of his mind. He wondered if his newfound abilities would become easier to control with time.
Glancing around, Tim realized he had underestimated the older boys. They had everything under control. Kirk and Josh had successfully herded the remaining horses together, effectively preventing them from infiltrating the rest of the academy. Murphy and Twitch, armed with tree limbs, acted as makeshift barriers to fend off the creatures. Meanwhile, Adam aimed his blowgun with precision, putting yet another horse to sleep with a single, gentle breath.
Tim’s attention shifted to one final horse that remained. Summoning his energy once more, he focused all his willpower into his hands. A surge of power erupted from his fingertips, hurtling toward the formidable predator. Startled and annoyed by the sudden attack, the horse reared back, its eyes locked with Tim’s. But before it could retaliate, it darted back into its enclosure, seeking a safe haven. The other horse, witnessing its companion’s retreat, hesitated for a second before succumbing to the sting of Adam’s dart, promptly collapsing to the ground.
The boys exchanged looks, their hearts still pounding with adrenaline. “We did it!” Murphy exclaimed, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. “Wa-hooo!”
“Let’s not celebrate just yet,” Kirk warned, his gaze fixed on the gate to the enclosure.
“I thought I told you to stay out of the portal,” Simon Belmont said, his voice stern as he pulled the sword from the empty robe.
“Abby is missing,” Rose Psychic explained. “Her cane was left behind in the Clock Room.”
Belmont’s brows furrowed with concern. “You think she stepped into a portal?” he asked, his mind racing with possibilities.
Rose nodded, her voice filled with a mix of anticipation and uncertainty. “If she did, someone replaced whichever source file she used,” she replied.
Belmont’s eyes flashed with understanding. “I see,” he murmured, sliding the sword back into its sheath.
“Can you find her?” Rose asked, anxiety evident in her voice.
Belmont turned to her, his gaze filled with determination. “Not from here,” he said, his voice steady and resolute. Without another word, he walked toward a door leading off the second-story landing, beckoning Rose to follow.
“Could we go back?” Rose suggested, her voice laced with concern.
Belmont halted for a moment, his voice filled with a touch of impatience. “I am not done yet,” he stated firmly, his hand on the doorknob. He pushed the door open, whip ready at his side.
“Abby might be in danger,” Rose said, a knot of worry tightening in her chest.
“Quiet,” Belmont snapped, his eyes piercing the darkness. “We’re in danger,” he emphasized, his voice low and urgent. “And there isn’t a might about that.”
The keeper of the Clock Tower led the way down an open hall, his steps purposeful and determined. His brown eyes glared at the hedges bunched up against the metal picket fence as he moved, a sense of foreboding washing over him. Rose trailed silently behind him, her heart pounding in her ears. The menacing presence of the winged Death was evidence enough of Belmont’s conviction.
Pushing through yet another room, Belmont revealed a breathtaking sight — a rose garden encircling a central pillar, bathed in the soft glow of moonlight filtering through circular windows. Belmont, his senses heightened, pushed against the second door, eager to uncover the truth that lay on the other side. Climbing up the stairs, he entered a grand hall adorned with exquisite stained-glass windows depicting scenes of splendor and chivalry.
As they took in the mesmerizing artistry surrounding them, Rose couldn’t help but gasp, her eyes widening in disbelief. Her gaze fixed upon one particular stained glass, and to her astonishment, some of the figures within seemed to be moving.
Before she could fully comprehend what was happening, the stained-glass knights shattered the tranquility of the hall, bursting to life and attacking Belmont and Rose with their gleaming swords. Belmont wasted no time, his silver whip crackling through the air with powerful strikes, shattering the stained glass and scattering it into a thousand pieces.
“Stay close,” Belmont ordered, dodging a swing from a glass knight.
Wielding the Symbol of the Seven, Rose summoned a barrier to deflect another attack. “Are these illusions or something else?” she wondered aloud.
Belmont swung his whip with precision, shattering another animated knight. “Doesn’t matter now. We deal with them first, figure out the rest later!”
The stained-glass figures continued their assault, each swing and clash echoing through the ancient hall. Belmont and Rose fought side by side, their movements synchronized in a dance of defense and retaliation.
“This is not your typical Tuesday night,” Belmont grumbled, delivering a powerful blow that sent a glass knight sprawling.
“I miss typical Tuesday nights,” Rose quipped, sending a burst of energy to disintegrate another assailant.
As the last of the glass knights shattered, the room fell silent, save for their heavy breathing. Belmont scanned the area warily. “Don’t let your guard down. There’s more to this place than meets the eye.”
With a glimmer of anticipation in his eyes, Belmont fished a key out of his pocket and smoothly turned the lock. The door swung open, revealing the mysterious room beyond. “Inside,” he softly instructed, a slight edge of caution in his voice. He waited patiently for Rose to gingerly limp past him before shutting the door with a decisive click and securely locking it.
The room they found themselves in was dimly lit, its small dimensions almost claustrophobic. Against the far wall stood an intriguing cask, promising unknown secrets within. Belmont settled himself on the edge of a platform adjacent to the cask, his gaze immersed in the possibilities that lay before him.
Delving into his supply bag, Belmont rummaged around until he triumphantly retrieved a brown paper bag. A secretive smile played on his lips as he unwrapped a sandwich, offering it to Rose.
“Eating?” Rose asked, casting a skeptical eye over the proffered meal.
“Yep,” Belmont said, pulling out a sandwich for himself. “It’ll do wonders for your leg.”
Eagerly sinking her teeth into the sandwich, Rose was immediately enveloped in a comforting warmth that spread throughout her body. With each bite, the ache and pain that had plagued her leg earlier began to dissipate. “What is in this?” she inquired, her voice filled with wonder and gratitude.
A mischievous glint danced in Belmont’s eyes as he replied, “Bat.”
As Rose finished her meal, the soothing sensation lingered, leaving her leg feeling remarkably rejuvenated. Looking at Belmont, her expression ablaze with curiosity, she wasted no time in getting to the heart of the matter. “So, what’s going on, Belmont?”
“My niece is being held captive in a tower off the central keep. I’m going in and bringing her back,” he explained simply, tossing his sandwich wrapper into his bag. “Coming or staying?” he asked.
Rose paused for only a moment to consider her decision, then disposed of her own wrapper in Belmont’s bag and met his gaze with steely resolve. “I’ll go with you,” she declared firmly. “But how do you know if this is true?”
Belmont’s voice resonated with certainty as he revealed, “I heard the rumor back at Grimoire and talked to the Ferryman on the way over. He confirmed Actrisse’s presence a few days ago.”
A skeptical frown etched itself between Rose’s brows as she anxiously probed, “You trust this information?”
Belmont’s response was unwavering, as if etched in granite. “I trust what he saw and told me. But we need to verify the rest ourselves.”
Rose nodded thoughtfully. “Understood.”
Sensing that they were both fully committed to the mission that lay ahead, Belmont sought confirmation. “Ready to go?” he asked, his voice brimming with both anticipation and concern.
“Yes,” Rose replied, preparing herself mentally for the challenges that awaited. “Which way?”
With a decisive air, Belmont shared their next course of action. “We’re going to head left to the next door, then move through that room to the door at the end. From there, we’ll descend the stairs and reach the doors at the bottom,” he explained, his voice guiding them through the labyrinthine castle they found themselves in. “Once we’re outside, we’ll take a breather, then try an easier path through the hedge maze.” Rose listened intently, etching every step carefully into her memory.
A surge of adrenaline coursed through their veins as Belmont flung the door open, beckoning Rose to follow him into the darkened corridor beyond. Without hesitation, she followed closely, her heart pounding in sync with his as they embarked on this formidable journey.
In the sprawling fields of the Bestiary, the group of boys, with their muscles strained and sweat on their brows, diligently worked together to return the horses to their designated pasture. Gray Murphy and Alfred Twitchell propped up the horse’s legs while Adam Frankenstein, with his imposing figure, carried the majestic beasts in his arms. Josh Cantrell offered assistance, eager to be of help to Adam. Meanwhile, Kirk Pike, the natural leader of the pack, discovered something that piqued his curiosity, pulling him away from the others.
Intrigued by Kirk’s sudden divergence, Tim Hunter followed closely behind, his mind brimming with questions. The boys swiftly tread along a faint trail, carefully carved amidst the disheveled grass, prompting Tim to inquire about their purpose.
“What exactly are we doing, Kirk?” Tim asked.
“Tracking,” said Kirk.
“‘Tracking’?” asked Tim, his eyebrows raised.
“It’s a hobby of mine,” Kirk replied, his tone revealing a hint of irritation.
Curiosity sparked within Tim’s eyes. “Interesting,” he murmured, struggling to keep up with Kirk’s determined pace. As they reached the cover of an oak tree, Kirk halted, briefly scanning its branches before veering off in another direction.
“What exactly are we tracking, Kirk?” Tim inquired, his voice betraying traces of exhaustion. The recent exertion from rounding up the Mares of Diomedes threatened to give way beneath his trembling limbs.
“Whoever broke the lock on the gate,” Kirk retorted, his attention solely focused on the task at hand. He disregarded Tim’s presence, absorbed in studying his surroundings.
“Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous?” Tim asked.
“Only for them,” Kirk responded dismissively. His mind was set on uncovering the truth, willing to confront any obstacles in his path. Tim observed the unwavering determination etched upon Kirk’s face and sensed the unyielding resolve in his stance.
“Maybe we should wait for Adam and the others,” Tim suggested, hoping to dissuade Kirk from proceeding further.
“Don’t be a baby, Tim,” Kirk snapped, pausing momentarily in his tracks. Confusion momentarily clouded Kirk’s features as he glanced over his shoulder before resolutely returning his gaze to the trail. He strode purposefully toward the administration building, his eyes meticulously scouring the ground for any traces. Tim began to ponder Kirk’s intentions. After all, school hours had ended, and only the infirmary remained occupied until Patsy Ambrose recovered from her spore infection. Kirk had undoubtedly taken note of this fact.
Kirk knelt on the floor of the administration building, intently examining the surface. A deep furrow formed on his brow upon what he discovered. Rising to his feet and brushing the dust off his knees, Kirk proceeded down the hall, his stride unwavering. Tim followed in hushed footsteps, observing Kirk’s assured demeanor. He couldn’t help but feel that Kirk’s sudden interest in the infirmary had little to do with his concern for Patsy’s well-being. There must have been some other motive lurking behind Kirk’s calculated actions.
Considering the state of the gate lock, Tim contemplated the likelihood of conjuring protective clothing. It seemed necessary now, as Kirk appeared to be leading him into more trouble than he had anticipated.