written by j. leigh
Well, Kala didn’t actually see it burp, as the gelatinous mass of black, gurgling ooze known as an ink monster wasn’t actually, physically, there. No, the being that was perched, spitting and oozing, halfway up the library wall and wedged in the narrow, two-foot space between bookcases did not exist in the physical realm. Kala sensed it burp, as she sensed it was there, through her third eye, the psychic eye, the force that tingled all around her head. She stood and weaved through the obstacle course of alabaster tables and mahogany chairs to plant herself opposite the creature. Focusing her will as she had been taught upon its prescience, she attempted to divine for certain that it was, truly, an inhabitant of the ethereal plane, and not some poking figment of her imagination come to the surface due to the abject boredom that had resulted from her sitting alone pondering texts on the history of leek weeds for the past three hours.
It burped again.
Ink monsters are a lesser demon, creatures born from magical abuse, emotional pain, or, more rarely in these post-wartimes, environmental disaster. The latter were actually so rare that no one had seen one in about two thousand years; though they did have a reputation for use as the brunt of bad jokes. Kala herself had many-a-time insisted to some of the younger and messier acolytes that their rooms would surely attract environmental ink monsters should they not straighten up a bit. No, the bubbling creature before her was of the first type, an entity come to Feed from fear, sorrow, or anger, the emotions that serve the dietary needs of demons. Even then, she could feel the press of fear that the beast projected out at her; a tiny lick of an emotion, not real in it of itself, but realistic enough to break open the reservoir of true emotion inherent in every living being, and cause the ignorant to fall deep within themselves and despair. She shoved the emotion off, a nearly effortless flick of the conscience wrist.
Yet, what such a beast was doing in the middle of the University Library of Tar’citadel, the Holy City of Ice and Light, and the seat of Spirituality for the entire continent was beyond Kala’s grasp of rationalizing, despite her six years of study within those very walls. Someone must have been puttering around with things beyond their understanding, and recently, too, for none of the staff would let such a creature go unchecked. Kala shrugged off her ignorance; perhaps there was something more to learn on the motivations of ink monsters in the next four years of study she still had to transverse before she was to become a fully accredited Daughter of Desmoulein. For the moment, the beast was regurgitating its digested emotional states all over the library wall- if left unchecked, it could attract more ink monsters, then more of the lesser demons, and perhaps even create a tear in the ethereal plane that would open up into a vortex, and then it would really be a problem. There would be first-year acolytes sobbing their hearts out all over campus and none of them would know the better of it.
The eighteen-year-old acolyte sighed and straightened herself, her long, mint-green sleeveless shift of spun silk wavered only slightly as she planted her feet apart. Midnight blue eyes framed by tresses of auburn narrowed defiantly at the demon, her heart preparing for battle. Her mastery might lay in Desmoulein’s Way, the Way of the Healer, meant for cures and soft touches, but Kala had scanned the Way of Rhean as well, the Way of the Protector, and thusly the hierarchy of Demons was not unknown to her. She had been schooled as well in the five Abilities from trading stories with acolytes of the Way of Rosin, the Mistress of Mages, and had learned from her own Way how to channel the Power of Spirit. She knew how to kill it.
At least, she had a general idea.
Planting her open-toed sandaled feet further apart, the young woman bit down lightly on her tongue and breathed outward through her mouth, which sent an airy, hissing breath toward the demon, expelling permanently its attempts to force despair upon her. Easy enough, she mused to herself and then bought her slight body up to its full height, expanding her senses in preparation for the feat she was about to attempt. Reaching outward, she collected the buzzing energy that pooled all around her; it existed in the stone of the walls, the texts upon the shelves, the licking flames that wavered in the light fixtures, in the two third-year students on the far side of the library who peeked up at her with interest, and within the very air itself. She gathered it all, forcing it into a ball that she pushed downward along the center of her body, along the invisible meridian that runs through the human soul, alighting and clearing each of her chakras until her entire body was aligned, grounded into the earth itself. She was Aware, aware of all movement and life that buzzed on both sides of the Veil between worlds. It was easy; she did it everyday before attempting to heal with the very will of her hands. What she attempted next was new for her, though.
Reaching further outward, she called to the true power, the Power not of merely Desmoulein, but of all of the Children of Spirit- all twelve of the Avatars- and then beyond, to Spirit Itself. Kala felt it then, the warm of it, and the tingling, fresh sensation of being wrapped in the presence of God. It was powerful and vast, and caused the ink monster to expand and contract in spiky, hiccupping spasms of fear, while Kala trembled and her midnight eyes teared in the awesome awe of it. Remembering suddenly her purpose, she steadied herself and forced her hands upward, aiming at the spasming ink monster. Then, she pulled.
Kala was merely the conduit for the Greater Force, and it whirred out of her like pressurized water freed by an unplugged drain. It hurt too, the unspeakable strain of it, and she squeezed her eyes shut to the pain, unable to unlock her body from the stance she had taken, subject to the whim of the magic blasting through her mortal form, helpless to sever the connection. Finally, she felt the inevitable snap of the release, her soul unable to carry any more of Spirit’s Life and Power. Kala gasped and slumped sideways, finding solace in leaning against the cool, milky surface of the alabaster inlay of the table.
After a fluttered moment, and quietly regarding the rushed and panicked sounds of the vacating students, she dared to open her pretty eyes and survey the sight around her. To her dismay, Kala found an eight foot by five foot gaping hole in the side of the library wall, which gave her an unobstructed view of what was left of the mediation garden beyond, the other nicely-sized hole through the dividing wall on the far side of the pond, and as well as the indented trench of dirt spread between the two. She was also greeted with the blinking stares of about two dozen or so students and staff, who regarded her with varying degrees of awe and annoyance.
Then, to Kala’s unending horror, out from the side of her hole stepped forward Mistress Shallen, Headmaster of Tar’citadel, and believed to be an Avatar’s Aspect in her own right. To her credit, Shallen stepped over the remnants of her prized and sorely loved roses with perfect detachment, scanning instead with her gold-flecked turquoise eyes the damage done to her library. She brought with her the Great Calm, a deep, bone-melting ease that seeped into every pore of Kala and everyone else near- twas one of the great powers only Avatars or their Aspects could wield, and Shallen tended to carry it always, giving ease and comfort to all those near and dear. In this instance, it completely negated any eruption of panic amid the compound that Kala’s unprecedented show of brute force would inevitably cause.
“My sweet Kala,” she spoke, her voice was rich and velvety and carried no hint of reprimand. Nor did a single infection of agitation stain her poised body; she stood in earnest in her shimmering robe of white silk spun with inlaid threads of bullion, her long, liquid-gold curls trailing in the rubble, and youthful features concerned. “Might I ascertain as to why you felt the need to swat a fly with a cannon?”
Kala bit her bottom lip and hung her head in shame, the expression of Shallen’s peaceful, innocent question far more detrimental than any screaming reprimand. “I…I don’t know, Master,” she stammered, “I just…” The acolyte blinked tears away as she stared up at her teacher, completely unable to explain her irrationality.
Shallen smiled softly, sensing her thoughts. “Ink monsters are actually rather clever, more so than most give them credit for. They do not merely poke at fear, sorrow and anger, my dear Kala, but shall betimes stir in us lesser emotions that lead to larger ones. Pride, for example, can lead,“ she gestured to the crumbling plaster overhead, “To destruction as easily as fear or anger. That is something,” she eyed Kala with the first stern look thus far, “which is taught to acolytes whom study to master along the Way of Rhean in their second year. Now, remind me again, for I may have forgotten, which Way where you dedicating your life to?”
Kala hung her head yet again, “Desmoulein. The Way of the Healer.”
“That is what I believed.”
Somewhere, at the far end of the garden, an ink monster picked itself up and slinked away, burping up ooze as it went.