Pushing and shoving through the halls, Asterisk very slowly made it from the entrance to room 114. The crowd was tight around that door, children and teenagers and teachers huddled up to it to try and see inside. No one made a move to get out of the agent’s way, or even paid any attention to him, whatever identification he showed, or what growled authority he cited. But eventually he got to the door and slammed his badge against the slim vertical window above the handle.
The teacher inside, who had been kneeling over an inert body on the floor, came to let him in. She was older, thick-set, dowdy. Much like Asterisk himself, but without the grim air of unquestionable clout he had about him. She unlocked the door and twisted the handle anxiously, and the onus ended up being on the agent to get in and get the door closed without letting anyone force their way inside.
“They said if this happened again to call your department,” the teacher said in a hushed tone, lightly accented. Somewhere Eastern European.
Asterisk moved past her to see the body. It only looked like an insensate teenage boy, maybe unconscious after a fight or maybe ill. But if Asterisk had been deployed to carry out the assessment, then it of course couldn’t be. He knelt and felt the knit of the body’s hooded sweatshirt. It was convincing enough, but the artifice was just detectable. He recognized the strange powderiness of the texture for what it was.
“Describe…” he said to the woman. “Happen. Describe.”
She was a little confused at the strangeness of his speech, but, as an immigrant herself probably wrote it off as language barrier.
“The floor opened up,” she said. “it opened all the way down to magma, and there were voices. And there were teeth. And he came up from it, but he was like this, he was already…he was dead. And it closed.”
That all sounded right. The gullet had opened, the teacher had ushered the children out. Their desks were pushed to the edges of the room, and some had probably fallen in. Those would be sealed up, crushed flat by the closing bedrock below. No students had gone with them, though; otherwise, it wouldn’t have been Asterisk’s department.
“It has before,” he pressed her, as he opened his kit and began setting out his instruments and candles around the head of the boy-thing.
“It has. In Estonia. It was much wider, and it took my home. Then in England.”
Asterisk lit the candles and put a drop of different chemical in each of the six vials in the rack.
“Not this here?”
“No – someone on the board heard about me, and came to me to give me your number. But the last time was twenty years ago. I thought it was over.”
He placed the candles at the key points and turned the boy’s head to the side. His face was unremarkable. Ashen gray and slack.
“It follows me,” the teacher said. “doesn’t it. This opening. It’s tied to me, and it will keep opening and keep spewing out…these.”
The agent looked up at her. Her jaw was set, her eyes serious but dubious.
“Will. Your blood.”
“I don’t have blood. I’m…an orphan.”
Asterisk couldn’t suppress a flashed smile. The woman didn’t know what she was. What lineage had bound her to the realm below.
“What words?” he asked. The mists that operated his speech struggled to form the words he needed. “Say, when opened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Was something. Was key.”
The agent double-checked the candles, and then poured the contents of the six vials onto the linoleum floor in front of the nerveless mouth. The skin drew taut, eyes opened.
“What is this?” the woman asked. “What is he?”
Asterisk, breaking with propriety, pressed a hand to his chest.
“Same,” he said.
The teacher, who was a summoner, was shaken when she saw the new vessel’s eyes, their strange quality.
“You aren’t the government, are you,” she said in a hush.
“I am,” Asterisk said. “Not yours.”
The candles flickered. Their flames bent and then tilted, energies drawn to the mixture on the floor. A thin mist rose from that, and was drawn into the boy’s lungs. He stood, clumsily, seeing and feeling and balancing for the first time.
“You will remember what said,” Asterisk said. “And you will bring more. Responsibility.”
The woman watched him help the new vessel limp away, protect him from the curious mass outside. She didn’t understand now, but she would come to. Summoners always came to understand. And she would be happy to aid in the cause. Her duty would be grand.