by CSyphrett, with Martin Maenza
In the midst of the lush brush, a platinum blonde woman emerged, falling to the ground with a painful thud, as if she had materialized from thin air. “Ooofff!” she cried out in pain. Abby Cable, still weak from her recent illness, struggled to her feet, gritting her teeth against the ache that surged through her body. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Books of Magic: Fever of Death.]
Taking a moment to assess her condition, she sighed, noticing the singed marks on her clothes. Those fireballs really did a number on me, she thought, wincing as she picked up a broken tree branch and used it as a makeshift cane for support. Glancing around, she realized she was still on the island. Well, at least I didn’t end up halfway across the world, she mused.
Suddenly, a thunderous clap echoed through the sky, accompanied by a rush of wind. Abby’s eyes widened in astonishment. What on earth is happening? she wondered, hobbling toward the source of the commotion, a clearing nearby.
There, she spotted a lone boy standing his ground against a raging storm. As the boy turned his face, Abby caught a glimpse of his profile, and her heart skipped a beat. She could make out his face, and her eyes widened in recognition. His left eye was missing.
“Gallowglass?!” she exclaimed, unable to contain her surprise. She scanned the unfamiliar faces surrounding him.
Suddenly, the ground beneath her began to tremble, a tremor spreading through her feet. Whatever was causing it, Abby sensed an insidious hunger, an expectation filling the air. It fed off the emotions of those present.
Abby winced as a red-costumed man wearing a white cape launched himself toward the young Gareth Gallowglass, landing a powerful punch. Except for the color differences, the attacker reminded her of Superman.
The force of the blow sent the boy hurtling backward, but he defied gravity, hovering in midair and swiftly turning to face his adversary. A small, determined fist pounded the attacker into the ground, the sheer strength of the psionic blocking his charge.
The thing beneath Abby shifted ominously. She could feel the waves of rage emanating from the boy, teetering on the edge of a berserker frenzy. If he continued to harness his anger, she knew that someone would inevitably get hurt. Gritting her teeth, she pushed past the pain and limped toward the chaos.
“Stop it!” Abby’s voice rang out above the clamor of battle, her urgency palpable. “You must end this fight!” She carefully held her hands out, trying to look non-threating to both sides of the conflict.
All heads turned toward the unexpected arrival. “Who is she?” Margo the Magician asked, her voice strained as she struggled to maintain the shield alongside Yarko the Great and Doctor Mist.
“Gallowglass?” the woman inquired, her voice filled with concern. “What on earth are you doing? The entire island is crumbling around us!”
The fighters paused in their battle, taken aback by the interruption from the platinum blond woman with a striking black streak in her hair. Gallowglass furrowed his brow, the ethereal glow enveloping him as he hovered in the air. “Who are you? Have you come to attack me, too?”
“Please!” Abby Cable pleaded, her eyes fixed on Gallowglass. “You all must stop fighting!”
“I won’t abandon my friends!” Gallowglass protested. “I won’t leave them all alone!”
Abby interjected, her tone filled with confusion. “Can you explain? I don’t understand. What friends? Are you referring to the Sentinels of Magic?”
As Abby distracted the teenager, Doctor Mist took the opportunity to gather the magicians and Captain Marvel together. He explained his plan — to unite their mystical powers and assist the woman in persuading the enraged Gallowglass. If they could make him believe her, perhaps there was still hope of putting an end to this chaos.
“The Sentinels remain trapped here,” Gareth Gallowglass said sadly. “They can’t move on to their final rest.”
“Tell me about them,” Abby urged, noticing the anger in the boy’s demeanor gradually subsiding.
Doctor Mist nodded in understanding. So that’s the source of his fury, he thought, noticing the shared realization on the faces of the others. Could they really negotiate with Gareth Gallowglass?
The African sorcerer mentally contacted the rest of the group, creating a circle with the magicians while Captain Marvel stood guard, prepared for any potential complications. They began to exert their influence over the environment, utilizing their respective disciplines. A profound silence settled as they spread a tranquil aura, skillfully maintained by the four masters.
But the question lingered in the air, hanging between them like a heavy fog. Could this woman, Abby, talk Gallowglass into leaving? The weight of his past clung to him, etched into every fiber of his being.
“They were my friends,” Gallowglass began, his voice filled with a mix of gratitude and sorrow. “When I lost my parents, they took me in, offered me solace and protection. They nurtured me, helped me understand my abilities when my telekinetics emerged. Mac and Harv, they pushed me to expand my knowledge, taught me about science and math. They gave me purpose, a place I could call home. They even gave me a name — Gary the Miracle Boy. But then everything changed when they came here.”
Gallowglass’ voice quivered with a hint of pain as he continued his tale. “The demons were supposed to kill them all, but they couldn’t. They only managed to kill Harry, Hal, and Roland as planned. John and Harv instead sacrificed themselves to reverse the initial spell, and Mac — he detonated himself and 99 with his power pack.”
“How do you know all this?” she tenderly asked, with genuine curiosity.
Gallowglass’ hand gently brushed against the worn cover of the book that lay by his side. “The Book of Answers,” he replied, his voice carrying a hint of reverence. “It knows everything that people have ever learned since the birth of mankind.”
Abby’s skepticism etched onto her face as she contemplated the implications. “Could it tell me who I am?” she pondered aloud, her voice tinged with both hope and uncertainty.
“Sure.” A smile tugged at the corners of Gallowglass’ lips, incomplete but present nonetheless. Pus continued to seep from his empty left eye socket, a grotesque reminder of his past. His thumb skillfully flipped through the ancient pages of the Book of Answers as Abby approached, her heart aching for his pain.
Kneeling down beside him, Abby absentmindedly used her shirt sleeve to wipe Gallowglass’ face clean. He accepted the tender gesture with a grimace, his focus still trained on Doc Yale’s book.
After a moment of searching, Gallowglass’ voice broke the silence. “Abigail Cable,” he said, his tone filled with a mix of certainty and wonder. “You’re the only one listed at the end of humanity. But I think that’s because you haven’t been born yet.” He presented her with a page adorned with a small sketch of her face, her entire history up to the point of her arrival in this year meticulously documented in elegant handwriting.
A sense of responsibility surged through Abby as she took in the profound revelation. “Do you think the Sentinels would want you to stay here like this?” she questioned gently, her voice laden with compassion. “Alone and burdened by sorrow?”
Gallowglass’ resolve shone brightly in his eyes as he shook his head determinedly. “They say they want me to leave, but I won’t,” he declared, his voice filled with quiet determination. “Things could have turned out differently if I had been here, if I had been able to prevent the tragedy. But I can’t change the past. I have to learn to live with it.”
Abby frowned, peering at Gallowglass intently. Her heart ached for the teenage boy, the weight of his past and the guilt he carried so heavily. She could tell there was an unspoken truth lurking behind his words. Something more significant tethered him to this island than just the memory of his friends. A mysterious force seemed to hold him here, and Abby was determined to uncover the truth. She knew that in her own time, he rarely ventured beyond the island’s boundaries, even though he possessed the ability to do so. What was he hiding, and how could she coax it into the light? Luckily, the magicians had given her an opportunity to unveil the enigma.
“Why have these others come here, Gallowglass?” Abby asked, her voice filled with curiosity and determination.
“They believe that the existence of this island is causing disturbances, and they want to put an end to it,” Gallowglass explained. “But the problem is, they can’t.”
“Why not?” Abby prodded eagerly, her eyes fixed on him.
“Because the Sentinels paid for this island with their blood, and no force can overcome that,” Gallowglass responded, “except by destroying the island itself, and the things that live here won’t allow that to happen.”
Abby recalled the strange creature that had been watching the battle from beneath the ground. The pieces were slowly falling into place in her mind. She carefully considered the situation, believing she had devised a potential compromise that could satisfy both parties. The tricky part was convincing the magicians that her plan was not only feasible but also necessary.
“Let me talk to the others,” Abby proposed, her voice filled with confidence. “I think I may have a solution that could work.”
“Go ahead,” Gallowglass replied stoically. “As long as the island stands, I won’t leave.”
Abby nodded resolutely, gathering the magicians into a tight-knit huddle. She scrutinized their expressions, knowing that Gallowglass had spoken some truth. “What do you all think?” she asked, her voice projecting both authority and curiosity.
Doctor Mist pondered the question for a moment before responding, “It all depends on the means used to summon this island. If a blood sacrifice was involved, our power alone may not be enough to send it back. However, we might be able to contain its influence on the five Earths it touches.”
Doctor Occult chimed in, skepticism lacing his voice. “That plan is rather uncertain. It’s evident that a gateway has been opened here, allowing demons to spill out into the world.”
“But I don’t think it’s just a gateway,” Margo the Magician said, her eyes gleaming with insight as she pushed a strand of dark hair from her face. The others turned to her, realizing that she had uncovered a hidden implication, one that had eluded Abby. Only Captain Marvel with his Wisdom of Solomon seemed to guess what she was implying, despite not being a magician himself.
“It’s more than just a gateway,” Margo declared, her voice filled with conviction. “I think this island is a piece of Hell itself.”
“Actually, as I have recently learned from my little imp friend, it’s a piece of the Darkworld that’s being used as a bridge from Hell to the earthly plane,” explained Doctor Mist, his voice steady but full of urgency. “That is, if we can trust his claim.”
“That’s a big if,” Margo countered.
Doctor Occult furrowed his brow, absorbing the information. “Let’s say that is the case,” he said, his tone contemplative. “Whether it’s a piece of Hell or a fragment of the Darkworld matters little, except that it explains the demonic attacks and the oppressive atmosphere that I am picking up. The question now is, how do we deal with it?”
Yarko the Great, his voice laced with trepidation, questioned, “Can we deal with it? There are so many connections here, some tied to the past and others formed by the boy who is now linked to it. As long as he remains present, any attempt we make will be countered in one way or another.”
Silence settled over the group as they weighed Yarko’s words. Abby Cable, always the pragmatist, finally broke the silence. “I think he will let you try,” she said cautiously. “The problem lies in what you’ll offer him if you fail.”
Doctor Occult leaned forward, pushing his fedora back as his eyes searched Abby’s. “What do you mean?” he asked.
A small sigh escaped Abby’s lips. “I think he won’t interfere if you leave him alone here,” she explained. “That is, if you don’t succeed.”
“No way!” Doctor Occult protested, his voice filled with conviction. “It’s much too dangerous! Leaving him unchecked could have catastrophic consequences.”
The room fell into a tense silence once again, the weight of their predicament pressing down on them. Then Captain Marvel spoke up, drawing upon the Wisdom of Solomon.
“She’s right,” he said, his voice resonating with authority. “It’s the only chip we have, and there’s no other way to get around it. The only other option is to fight, and he’s proven that he can withstand whatever we throw at him. A peaceful end to this mess is what’s needed.”
Doctor Mist, the voice of reason, threw a determined glance toward the others. “Let’s set the thing in motion,” he declared, his resolve unwavering. “We won’t know until we try.”
Abby and Gareth were suspended in midair, their bodies supported by Captain Marvel’s great strength. They watched intently as the circle of magicians, their hands linked, began their preparations for a spell that held everything at stake. A deal had been struck with the boy, one chance to achieve their goal, and failure meant leaving him alone or devising a new plan.
Within the circle, Doctor Mist called upon their collective will, urging them to seal the land away from the sight of mere mortals. Brilliant strokes of light erupted from the ground, tangible evidence of their attempt to manipulate reality itself.
As if emerging from the very depths of the earth, a massive hand of dirt reached toward the sky, followed by an entire giant form. A sinister symbol emitted a noxious haze into the air, and other creatures clawed their way out of the ground, each one with an unsettling appearance and a disquieting sound. None of them were happy.
Gareth broke the silence, his voice determined yet cautious. “Put us down. I’ll take care of the woman, while you hold back those creatures.”
Captain Marvel nodded and lowered them to the ground before shooting forward to confront the growing army. His movements were a blur of red as he cut through the horde with the Strength of Hercules like a bolt of lightning. Bodies littered the makeshift battlefield as his relentless assault took its toll.
Meanwhile, the spell continued, the strain on Grim Island becoming evident. Trees withered and grass wilted under the immense pressure. Cracks snaked across the earth’s surface, the very ground betraying its fragile existence as it resisted the magicians’ powerful will.
Suddenly, the spell backfired, hurling the magicians in different directions and rendering them helpless. The island seemed to reject their attempts to manipulate it, pulling even more of the earth onto itself.
“Plan A is out,” Doctor Occult declared, conjuring mystical flames to ward off the approaching horde. His voice brimmed with urgency. “Does anyone have a Plan B?”
Yarko the Great stepped forward, his face etched with determination. “Join with me,” he advised, scratching symbols into the dirt. A radiant light emanated from the symbols, summoning the forces he required. Doctor Mist and Margo the Magician focused their abilities on aiding the mightiest magician of Earth-Four. Doctor Occult hoisted the Symbol of the Seven high, allowing it to unify their collective will.
In a dazzling display of power, Captain Marvel repelled the demons with mighty blows, even as radiant green energy formed over the magicians’ heads, moving swiftly until it became a swirling column of light. Then fiery tentacles of energy thrust out from the whirlwind to ensnare the monstrous creatures, forcefully trapping them within the vortex.
“What do we do with them?” asked the World’s Mightiest Mortal, his eyes fixed on the trapped monsters as they struggled in vain to break free.
Doctor Mist, his gaze captivated by the swirling energy that encased the demons, contemplated their predicament. “We still have our problem,” he replied, his voice laden with concern. “And if we attempt to release the island, we must be wary of a formidable counterattack. Any suggestions?”
Yarko the Great stepped forward, offering a glimmer of hope. “We could create a barrier of wards around the island,” he proposed. “But such a defensive measure would require constant monitoring to ensure its effectiveness. The magnitude of power exhibited demands our unwavering attention.”
Doctor Occult nodded in agreement. “If we can manage to accomplish that, it would be a tremendous achievement. The island could remain intact, while the threats to the outside world would be rendered negligible. All we would need is to issue a warning to shipping vessels, diverting them away from this perilous area.”
Margo the Magician furrowed her brow, her expression betraying an internal struggle. “But we would all have to stay to make it work she stated, her voice laced with worry. “I know I could make that sacrifice, but can all of you?”
The other magicians grumbled, voicing their own concerns about personal responsibilities and conflicting duties.
Suddenly, a soft voice broke through the tense atmosphere. “Could I make a suggestion?” Abby Cable spoke up. “I believe Gareth would be capable of watching over anything we put in place. It would grant him the solitude he desires and provide him with a purpose to occupy his time.”
Doctor Mist’s expression turned grave as he addressed the potential danger. “That idea harbors extreme risks. If the boy were to lose control, it could spell disaster for our Earths.”
Captain Marvel, ever the optimist, interjected with hope. “I believe everyone deserves a second chance,” he asserted. “I can personally check on him every once in a while to ensure everything’s still running smoothly.”
“He would need constant supervision,” Doctor Mist argued, his voice tinged with caution.
Gareth Gallowglass, the enigmatic presence among them, finally spoke up. “I’ve managed just fine on my own for the past three years,” he asserted, his voice resolute. “That is how I’d like to continue.”
Before Doctor Occult could offer his input, Margo the Magician proposed a compromise. “How about this,” she said, her tone suggestive. “Gareth stays here, working alongside others to create something meaningful. Perhaps a farm or a sanctuary?”
Abby, however, had another idea, a glimmer of possibility. “What about a school for gifted children?” she proposed.
Yarko the Great immediately expressed his concerns. “That would be extremely dangerous,” he warned, caution evident in his words.
“And I don’t know anything about teaching,” Gallowglass said uneasily.
“You’ll learn,” said Abby with a knowing smile, her eyes filled with confidence. “Believe in yourself. I have no doubt that you’re capable of more than you realize.”
Margo chimed in, her voice filled with enthusiasm. “And you won’t have to face it alone. We’ll be right there with you, ready to lend a hand. Maybe you can even teach us a thing or two along the way.”
Doctor Mist, intrigued by the idea, spoke up. “There are countless magically gifted individuals on our Earth who yearn for a safe haven, a place where they can connect with others from different realms. This could be a wonderful opportunity for them.”
Doctor Occult, however, was less convinced. He scoffed, his voice dripping with skepticism. “You can’t be serious! You’re suggesting that we send innocent children to a school that’s based in a fragment of Hell!”
“Don’t dismiss it so hastily, Doctor,” Mist persisted. “It’s not actually from Hell, but from the Darkworld. Instead of letting it remain a gateway to Hell, we can transform it into a shield that seals off the Underworld. To achieve that, we need a substantial number of mages to act as guardians, aiding young Master Gallowglass in his mission and providing services to the magically gifted from all our worlds. The Homo Magi, as they are called, already have a thriving school system that’s bursting at the seams due to the high number of students. With proper persuasion, I believe we can enlist Homo Magi teachers and parents to help establish this new school. Each of our Earths surely has remarkable individuals who would benefit from such an opportunity.”
Yarko the Great nodded, pondering the possibilities. “Perhaps this endeavor could work if responsible leaders agreed to sponsor the school. Parents would hesitate to send their children without a proper support system in place. Given the number of students, we could arrange dormitories or houses tailored to the unique needs of each Earth. Additionally, we could have a couple of houses that are a blend of all five worlds or a blend of the two most populous realms.”
“A new name for the island would be a good first step,” suggested Margo, her voice thoughtful. “Few would want their children to visit a place with such a foreboding name like Grim Island. However, something slightly similar, such as Grimoire Island, might be more appealing.”
Abby Cable smiled, standing off to one side of the small group as she observed the magicians and Gallowglass engaging in a lively discussion about the finer details. The idea had taken root, and even the reluctant Doctor Occult had shifted his stance, going so far as to offer a few ideas of his own.
This idea just needs nurturing, she thought, her face beaming with hope. I know it will come to fruition. It has to, otherwise, how could I even exist here? Despite her confidence, there was a twinge of sadness in her heart. If only there was a way back to the future, she sighed.
Abby’s heart began pounding in her chest as she desperately tried to come to terms with the fact that she might be trapped in a time long before her own era. Panic welled up inside her, threatening to consume Abby as she realized she had no idea if it was even possible to return to her own time. But then, in a sudden burst of inspiration, a lightbulb flashed in her mind’s eye.
“The Book of Answers!” she exclaimed, grabbing Gareth’s attention and pulling him away from the group. “Gareth, could I borrow your book for a moment?”
Gareth looked puzzled, but handed her the book. “Sure, what do you need it for?”
Abby’s voice trembled with hope as she asked, “I was wondering if there’s a way for me to return to my own time and place.”
Before Gareth could respond, Captain Marvel chimed in with a reassuring smile. “No problem, miss! I’ll take you home. Now that the crisis is over, I can spare some time for the trip.”
Abby blinked in disbelief. She couldn’t believe her luck. “You can?” she asked, her voice filled with gratitude. “Thank you!”
The World’s Mightiest Mortal gently lifted her in his arms. “Hold on tight,” he said, his voice filled with determination. In an instant, they shot up into the sky with lightning-like speed, heading toward their destination. “We’re heading for the Rock of Eternity!”
As they approached the towering rock that was suspended in midair like a silent sentinel, Abby’s eyes widened with awe. “A rock can take me home?” she asked incredulously.
Captain Marvel chuckled. “Just wait and see!” he exclaimed, guiding their flight around the majestic rock. As they circled it, the starry expanse that surrounded the Rock of Eternity whizzed past them like a drunken man stumbling down a flight of stairs.
During their journey, Abby had shared her story with Captain Marvel, revealing the year she had come from as they raced away from the mysterious Grim Island. The Captain had listened intently, his face calm and composed. Abby found herself trusting him, believing that he genuinely intended to check in on Gareth Gallowglass from time to time as he had promised.
After completing two full loops around the Rock of Eternity, they began their descent back to Earth. Doubt crept into Abby’s mind. Could it really be this simple? Was she truly going back home? Those anxieties, however, vanished when she caught sight of the familiar buildings approaching at breakneck speed.
“It is the Grimoire Academy!” Abby exclaimed, joy and relief flooding her voice. “Please, head toward the park with the statues.”
Captain Marvel nodded, his sharp eyes scanning for the designated spot. “You got it, miss.”
Abby held her breath as they rocketed toward her destination, feeling an overwhelming sense of hope wash over her. The familiar structures of Grimoire Island passed by in a blur as they soared over the Pacific Ocean. In that moment, all doubts melted away, replaced by the certainty that she was returning home.