A new Mackintosh University story.
“Here we are!” announced the driver “Your ring of old rocks.”
“Thank you Jenkin. The Exford Circle is more than, as you would say, a ring of old rocks!” stated Professor Armstrong. “This is going to be something we’re not likely to see again in our lifetimes.”
“As you wish Prof.” replied the driver. The rodentine Jenkin had been with the university for as long as anyone could remember, he was renowned for his surly nurture but always treated the Head of Thaumaturgy with respect. Some said he was frightened of the powerful mage while others believed Armstrong had saved him from a strange shape-changing curse.
“Come on Winslow.” piped up Ellery Brillo while gesticulating at a scrawny student. “Pinchbeck, bring those cases tout suite.”
Madame Blavatsky shook her head. “Ellery this will be like faerie light, your camera it will not catch, you may as well try to capture reflection of vampire.” She informed him in her heavy accent.
“Well I’m jolly well going to try.” retorted the Lecturer in Parapsychology huffily.
“We should get on, the sun will be down in a hour.” suggested Armstrong.
Madame Yelena Blavatsky, an exotic Bohemian who was Mackintosh University’s Senior Lecturer in Folklore, had been reading an arcane manuscript and made an astonishing discovery. At the nearby Exford Circle on the Winter Solstice and during the correct alignment of certain stars would open a path to a world of thaumaturgic energy resulting in a phenomenal display rivalling that of the aurora at either pole, checking with the astronomy department Yelena was overjoyed to find out the correct alignment would be this coming solstice. She had mentioned it to Professor Armstrong who was quite besotted with her and keen to please her had organised a field trip without question and invited eight of the most advanced students including of course Derek Scuttle, Gwennie Poole, Esther Hilditch and her ardent admirer Trevor Wilkins. Brillo on finding out had invited himself and his protégé Albert Pinchbeck too.
“Do you think old Blavatsky’s right?” asked Gwennie bouncing alongside the gangly Derek as they walked to the stones silhouetted against the horizon. She was well proportioned and very worldly, he was at times awkward and prone to gaffes but they had been a couple for a year now. Well-heeled Trevor who was athletic and handsome but not the sharpest tool in the box, had been wooing the haughty but beautiful Esther (born with a golden, not silver spoon in her mouth) for roughly the same time but she played him along as it suited her. “Have you and Trev, you know… done it yet?” whispered Gwennie catching her up, despite their very different backgrounds the two young women had become firm friends.
“No!” answered Esther abruptly.
“You’ve never done it have you?” Gwennie often pulled her leg about this.
“Shut up!” she snapped.
Trevor walking with Derek was watching the two girls. “You know Derek I envy you, Gwennie might be a bit of a unit but she is good fun.”
“Yeah.” had Trevor just indirectly insulted his girlfriend? “So Esther’s still playing hard to get then?”
“You’re not kidding! I mean she’s always telling me she’s not sure if I’m the one.” He gazed at the object of his desire. “I wouldn’t care what number I was.”
While Brillo set up his recording equipment Armstrong gathered his group just inside the perimeter of the ring apart from Jenkin sat in the coach reading a lurid detective novel. “Now ladies and gentlemen pay attention, when the sun vanishes it will mark the beginning of the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, before it was appropriated into Christmas along with Yule, Saturnalia and the birthday of the Roman god Mithras, was a very important time to our forebears. They believed when the stars were at the correct alignment on the shortest day of the year gateways would open between our world and another stranger plane of existence allowing dark forces and spirits to roam the earth and they built these circles of stone to mark them and charmed them to hide them from sight. We in our more magically enlightened times know they are but blowholes periodically releasing thaumaturgic energy into the world and without these outlets refreshing our resources our abilities as mages would soon dwindle away, the magic would run out as it were. Now nothing unpleasant will come from this magical “geyser” but beware, it has an attraction that can draw you in, if you enter you will find it hard to leave and if the portal should close you are there forever!” now we will wait until nightfall and Madame Blavatsky will recite an ancient incantation to reveal the hidden phenomenon.
The assembled group watched as the sun slowly sank down towards the horizon. “Well Yelena, are you ready?” he turned and cried in surprise. “Heavens above woman! Where are your clothes?”
“This has to be done correctly Winslow.” now sky-clad (much to the amusement of some of the students) Madame Blavatsky strode towards the heel stone, its silhouette clear against the fading light to stop at a distance and chant. “An ál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha.”
As the sun disappeared a veritable torrent of “magical” light hurtled up into the night sky to swell out from the heel stone until its circumference reached the bare toes of Yelena Blavatsky. The funnel of thaumaturgic energy repeatedly changed through all the colours of the spectrum with a deafening crackling sound reminiscent of an immense static discharge.
“You gauged the extent perfectly Yelena.” Armstrong yelled above the din.
“Yes Winslow any closer and I would be inside it, it is quite ticklish.”
“You were right Madame the camera is only recording you.” said Brillo excitedly. “But the thaumometer is off the scale!”
“I trust you will respect the Lecturer in Folklore’s dignity and not show the footage of this?” asked Armstrong. Then the professor saw that Trevor Wilkins entranced by the glowing display was walking directly towards it. “No you don’t Wilkins.” He shouted grabbing the student by the arm. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Uh I err…” he replied dazedly.
“It’s alright I’ve got him sir.” said Esther in her “fingers down the blackboard voice” she too seemed enthralled.
“Right both of you get back and join the others at a safe distance.” he looked admiringly at Madame Blavatsky standing illuminated by the coloured light.
“Magnificent isn’t it?” she shouted to him.
“Quite magnificent.” he replied, his attention not quite where it ought to be. “How long will this last?”
“I have no idea. It’s getting a bit chilly Winslow, could you be a dear and fetch my cape?”
The professor joined the students to retrieve her cloak from Gwennie. “Is Wilkins alright now?”
“Oh I don’t know, Esther took him off somewhere.” Derek replied.
“Really, where?” he asked.
“Does anyone know where Hilditch and Wilkins are?”
“I think I saw Esther leading him around the other side of that.” a student called Riddermore informed him pointing to the glowing column.
“Oh no, they couldn’t have?” he ran quickly Yelena. “Two of the students have gone missing.” He informed breathlessly her slipping the cape over her shoulders. “I’m worried they might have been drawn in.”
“The portal is still wide open someone could enter and find out.” she replied warily.
Armstrong ordered the others to search for the missing pair then after going to the coach returned with Jenkin holding a coiled tow-rope. “Do you think it’s strong enough?” asked the worried lecturer on hearing the pair had not been found.
“If it’s strong enough to tow the bloody coach, two students and a portly professor shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll tell you something though, it ain’t bloody long enough to reach that glowing bugger let alone enter it.”
“Leave that to me Jenkin just loop this end around this rock.” Armstrong fastened the other around his waist then announced. “Tandem viribus cresceret detineat!” he walked towards the edge of the glowing field, the rope stretching as he did so without becoming thinner. Upon reaching he looked at Madame Blavatsky’s worried face. “Wish me luck Yelena.”
“Don’t stay too long Winslow it’s starting to fluctuate!” she answered anxiously.
Armstrong took a deep breath and prepared to enter the unknown.“Here it is I knew I’d dropped it somewhere.” said a voice that set his teeth on edge.
“Hilditch?” yelled Armstrong.
“My brooch came off when I grabbed Trevor’s arm…” she started.
“Where the hell have you been?”
“We went for a walk, didn’t we Trev?” she replied flushing slightly.
“Yes sir went for a walk.” her beau replied.“Didn’t you hear us shouting for you?” asked the professor.
“Couldn’t hear a thing above all that noise professor.” replied Wilkins in all honesty as the phenomena collapsed leaving an unearthly silence.
“Well everything is alright now Winslow, let’s pack up and get back to the university.” suggested Madame Blavatsky.
Gwennie Poole regarded Trevor’s grin as the couple re-joined the group and as Esther adjusted her blouse to look coyly at her, remarked. “Christmas come early?”
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