Chapter 11 - Insurrection
I was sitting on my bridge, Terra sitting beside me. We were both letting our feet dangle in the water of the river. Was it my imagination, or was the river much deeper than I remembered? We spoke, though I can’t remember what about. Whatever it was must have been funny, because she was laughing. As the suns began to set, she leaned against me and took my hand in hers. Everything was perfect; I should’ve known it wouldn’t last.
Without warning, an enormous plush hand shot from the river and slammed into the bridge. I grabbed Terra and leapt away moments before it swung toward us.
As we backed away from the hand, the rest of the giant Plush One rose from the river. Pointing a dripping wet finger at me, it commanded, “Jimmy! It is time to awaken!”
I stood there, unable to move, unable to do anything but hold on to Terra. In a blur of movement, the doll grabbed Terra and pulled her away, shouting, “You will never have her if you don’t wake up right now!”
As the giant doll pulled her down into the river, I dove toward her and managed to grab her hand. I held on as tightly as I could, but it wasn’t enough; with a final jerk, One pulled us both into the river.
I awoke in some kind of medical room, a dozen life monitors on my bare chest. Teria was sitting beside me, her head resting against my arm. From the look of her, she had been sitting beside my bed for quite awhile.
I tried to push myself up without waking her, but her head jerked up almost instantly.
“Jimmy! Thank the Creator.” She whispered, running her hand across my cheek. “I’m right here, Jimmy.” Glancing behind her, she shouted, “Doc! He’s awake!”
A Rimstakken man with multi-lens glasses approached us, an eager look on his face. “Ah,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “The hero awakens!”
“Don’t call me that.” I said reflexively.
He chuckled. “Yes, your lady-friend has been in the telling me of your dislike of the, how is it you say, hero-ish aspect of your chosen lifestyle.”
“What happened?” I asked him. “It feels like I was hit by a truck.”
“It would being of appropriateness.” The Rimstakken said. “You were hit with a maximum setting kinetic energy burst.”
Still holding my hand, Terra told me, “It didn’t hurt you, but you got a concussion from hitting the wall. You’ve been unconscious for three hours.”
I put a hand to my head, where I could feel a large bump beneath a thick bandage. The pain at my prodding came a moment later.
“Ow!” I muttered, quickly taking my hand away.
The Rimstakken man coughed politely. “We are being extraordinarily on the apologetic for the transpiration. As to some of our younger representative combat personage, they are being, what is the word? Joyful about the triggering mechanism? Yes, Arc is most completely filled with the fiery hotness of the unaged.”
“Arc? Arc Skylad?” I don’t know why I bothered to ask; I should have known it was him. I sat up, one hand pressed to the side of my head in an ineffectual attempt to hold back the headache.
The Rimstakken smiled, showing me a full array of pearly white teeth. “Are you having met him?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Terra demanded, “Where is he?”
Her anger caught both of us off-guard. I’d like to think that wherever Arc was at that moment, a shiver ran through him.
The Rimstakken replied shakily, “I am not of the believing that telling you would be in all of best interests.”
“Terra-” I began.
“That reckless twerp could have killed you.” She fumed. “When I catch him, I’m going to yank that little smooth-skin’s ears right off!”
I caught her as she started toward the door, and pulled her into an embrace. She resisted, but only for a moment.
“We’ll deal with Arc later.” I whispered. “For now, let’s focus on why we came here ... okay, my love?”
She flushed, but didn’t reply. I made her look at me and kissed her. When we released, she said, “If we do find him … five minutes. That’s all I ask, just five minutes.”
We turned back to the Rimstakken. “Pardon me,” I asked, “But what is your name?”
“Eh? Oh, I am completely of the forgetfulness! I am being Kanook Gleangrind, being the leading force of the Technological Preservative Society.”
“Well then, Kanook,” I said, knowing from my youth that Rimstakkens prefer informal greetings to fancy titles (even they think their language is long-winded), “What is going on here? Naidyr looks like a town under siege!”
“Ah, the townsfolk. Yes, we are regretting that accidentally periodic involvement. We have tried to be on the guard of damaging, but the Magical Dominance committee is sometimes causing much havoc with our countermeasures.” Kanook sighed. “They are truly not meaning for it to happen either, but are unused to operating the sensitivities of technology that they are having control of.”
“So what is going on?” I asked as Terra helped me off the medical bed.
“Well, it is being of much complication. Perhaps it would be in the most interest for my next-in-line to explain. Please, will you be kind enough to accompany?” He rose and motioned for us to follow.
He led us through the parts of the center of Knowledge that his faction controlled. The area was like a war-zone; people of all races running along the corridors with odd machines and weapons. Some of the students were even younger than little Traysia.
“It is as you see; all consuming war.” He said loudly as a troop clomped by us, “We are of indeed hoping that it will be ended without bloodshed, but it isn’t in the happenstance of probability.”
He eventually led us to what looked like a robotics lab. All around us, mechanical arms and legs twitched, spun, and moved. Most were assembling weapons, but one was tuning a red-haired Galden man’s cybernetics. As we entered, a Galden child stopped Kanook and whispered something in his ear. I couldn’t make out what the child said, but whatever it was wiped the smile off of Kanook’s face.
“My assistant will be able to provide the information you are seeking.” He told us, pointing at the red-haired man. “As for I, I am having business elsewhere, though I am sorry to be leaving so suddenly.”
“Is something wrong?” I asked, my hand brushing against my side, only to find Glint was gone.
Kanook shook his head. “It is uncertain as of yet, but must be investigated. I will be returning with more information in the near future. If you will be excusing me.”
I bowed my head as Kanook left the bay. Once he was gone, my hand drifted back to where my blade normally rested against my side, only to find it still absent. “Terra, where is-”
I turned to Terra only to see her holding up Glint, a crooked grin on her face. “Looking for this?”
“Thanks.” I took the belt and started to strap it around my waist when I realized I was wearing my hakama again.
Glancing at Terra, I asked, “Did you dress me?”
She blushed, but met my gaze straight on as she handed me my keikogi. “I know you couldn’t stand that adventurer getup. Besides, I like the way it looks on you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I slipped on my keikogi and turned my attention back to Kanook’s next-in-command. He was using some of the sophisticated machinery to fine-tune his cybernetic arm, a Jarvis model by the look of it.
The red-haired man glanced up at us. “You’re up, eh? About time.”
Terra snorted. “Yeah, no thanks to that little piece of-”
“I’m fine.” I quickly told him, my voice a little louder than I intended.
He looked from me to Terra for a moment. “Look, if you’re looking for Arc, he ain’t here. He disappeared after the battle in the lobby, not that I’m surprised. The kid’s been running off for months.”
“Actually, we were wanting to know how the situation came to pass.” I asked, as it was unlikely a search for the rascal would be possible at the moment.
Shaking his head, he said, “The situation is that the magic side of the Center is trying to get rid of the lot of us. Think this Center should be converted into a magic-only school.”
“I don’t understand.” I said, tapping the side of my cheek as I considered his words. “Aren’t all Centers a mix of both? I mean, a center can lean toward magic or technology, but they never outright ban one or the other.”
“You’re right … normally. Unfortunately, things aren’t always as simple as they ought to be in Wenapaj.”
The machine adjusting the man’s cyberware turned away and began helping the others making weapons. The man flexed cybernetic arm, which was every bit as thick as his real one. “Ah, much better. You have no idea how annoying it is to not be able to control basic motor functions.”
He was right; I had no idea. Fortunately, he didn’t expect a response.
He hopped off of the workbench and held out a hand to me, saying, “Zeigfried Selmod. Call me Zig.”
We shook hands. His cybernetic hand squeezed just a bit too hard, but I bore it patiently.
“I’m Jimmy Sakamota, and this is my girlfriend, Terra Branford.”
“You’re a lucky man, Jimmy.” Zig said, eyeing her. I was a little bothered by it, as was Terra, who slipped her hands around my arm and held on tightly.
Stretching his artificial arm, he said, “Well, I’ll start at the beginning: Our Seed was Melchoir Thamasa, a nice if a bit strange Galden wizard appointed to the post by King Iniagus. He may have been an odd duck, but he did a hell of a job keeping the Center balanced between Magical and Technological research. Unfortunately, he was obliterated during a magi-tek experiment last week.”
“Is the new Seed causing problems?” I asked.
The man paused uncomfortably. “There is no new Seed. Melchoir was to test the two candidates; Kanook, who you’ve already met, and a spellshaper named Golbez Roshik. Unfortunately, he got himself vaporized the day before the trial was to take place. We decided to go ahead with the contest anyway, but that bastard Golbez brought his cronies to make sure he won. We stepped up to the challenge.”
Zig sighed. “You can probably guess that things got out of hand. Now we have the entire school split down the middle, both sides trying to overcome the other.”
“I’m guessing from your tone that Golbez can’t be reasoned with.” I said.
Zig let out a short, bark-like laugh. “Last time I tried to reason with him, I had to get my little upgrade here.” He held up his hand meaningfully.
“How do we know that you’re telling the truth?” Terra asked. “I mean, for all we know, it was Kanook who started the conflict.”
“Except Kanook doesn’t want to be the Seed. He’s already made it clear he has no intention of succeeding Thamasa, and has sent messages to the other Centers saying as such. He just wants to work on his research in peace, preferably before this conflict starts claiming lives.”
“That certainly sounds Rimstakken to me.” I said, nodding.
Terra looked at me a long moment. Not for the last time, I got the impression that she could read my mind. Finally, she nodded, saying, “If you believe them, then so do I.”
“Oh, I didn’t say that.” I eyed Zig. “If I learned anything with that whole ‘dragon’ business, it’s that things can be surprisingly complicated. Still, I’m more inclined to believe those who provided assistance to me.”
It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Flip or Ell. “Speaking of which, where are Ell and Flip?”
When they didn’t respond (other than to stare at me blankly, which doesn’t count), I let out an exasperated sigh. “You can’t have forgotten them already. The guy’s practically a giant, and Flip’s bright pink!”
“Ell and Flip!” Terra said suddenly, as though it had only just occurred to her. “I completely forgot about them when you were injured!”
Fortunately, Zig had slightly better news. “Last I saw, he was holding off some kind of summoned demon. Doing a damn good job of it too, but I haven’t seen him since.”
“Well, I guess that’s where I’ll start looking.” I said.
“We’ll start looking, you mean.” Terra punched me playfully in the arm, adding, “I have to protect my bondmate, don’t I? Especially when he’s shown such skill in attracting trouble.”
I glanced around for a moment before asking Zig, “Er, which way is the main lobby again?”
“I’ll show you the way, but what makes you think he’s still there?”
“We’re a team.” I told him. “If he had made it back, He and Flip would’ve met back up with Terra already. Since he didn’t, the best place to start looking for him is where he disappeared.”
Zig shook his head. “Well, all right. I’ve gotta warn you, though; the lobby’s neutral ground at the moment. If the Magi-sect has anyone scouting there, we’ll have another fight on our hands.”
As Zig lead us through the Tech-Sect areas of the school, Terra asked me, “Are you sure you’re up for this?”
“Yeah, I’m good. I barely have a headache anymore.”
She looked as though she wanted to say something more, but bit her lip and nodded instead.
“Is something wrong?” I asked concerned.
“Maybe … maybe you should let me go in first when we get there, just to make sure everything’s clear.”
“You think we’re walking into an ambush?”
“Maybe. If we are, it’d be better if I go in first, right? I do have the spurs, after all.” She hefted the handles of her weapons meaningfully, the energy blades activating for a moment before the barrels twisted up into a more pistol-like appearance.
“Ah, right.” I nodded. “It’s a good idea, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable sending you into a dangerous situation first.”
“I’ll be fine.” Terra assured me. “Just hang back for a sec, and I’ll let you know if the coast is clear. Okay?”
I wanted to argue with her; as the leader, it just seemed natural for me to dive into the dangerous situations I always seemed to find myself in. Looking in her pleading eyes at that moment, however, I realized that she was genuinely worried about me. Not surprising, I suppose; I had gotten a concussion during our last outing.
“Jimmy?” She asked, snapping me from my thoughts.
“Uh, sure. I mean, if you’re okay with it.”
Smiling, she leaned over and gave him a kiss. “Don’t worry, baby.” She said, rubbing against my side. “I promise to leave a few for you to whack with Glint.”
When we reached the lobby, Zig gave us both a nod. “Straight ahead; remember, we’re on the second floor.”
With a final nod at me, Terra slipped through the door and closed it behind her.
After a few moments, I glanced at Zig, asking, “You aren’t heading back?”
“Well, you might need the help. Your friend helped most of our people escape when he took on the demon. Besides, you might need some backup.”
I didn’t respond; if anything, he seemed to reinforce Terra’s concerns about me.
“Don’t get me wrong.” He quickly added, as though reading my thoughts, “I’ve seen what you can do with that blade.” He nodded approvingly at Glint. “Still, the more the merrier, right?”
“Right.” I said, nodding. I drew Glint from its scabbard and gathered energy for a Force Edge; it came almost instantly at that point.
Nodding at my glowing blade, Zig asked, “You know a lot of tricks with that?”
“Just Force Edge.” I replied. “I’ve been meaning to continue my Streaming studies, but what with repairing the Saybaro and Bethany’s training regiment, I don’t have much time.”
“Well, let’s change that; any Streamer able to charge up a Force Edge that quickly can definitely handle a Force Blast.”
He clenched his metal fist. After a few moments, a halo of energy surrounded the metal appendage, similar and yet slightly different than that which surrounded Glint. Instead of making a broad swing, he instead made a quick jabbing motion at a what remained of a display cabinet. To my surprise, the stream energy blasted a hole roughly a foot across in the glass, yet didn’t seem to affect the rest of the cabinet.
“You’re a streamer too?” I asked, genuinely surprised. Seeing a cyborg display a magical skill was unusual, especially considering the Center’s current situation.
“Pretty much anybody can learn the basics. Hell, it’s one of the few magical disciplines that doesn’t require natural talent.” He coughed, and quickly added, “That’s not to say some people aren’t better at it than others. I only know a handful who coulda let one off like you did against that dragon.”
“You saw that?” I asked, surprised that someone in Naidyr would know about that final desperate attack against Cid’s dragon-machine.
“Me and half of Rimstak. Some of the hackers managed to piece together most of what happened from the camera feeds at the park, and being Center kids, naturally they uploaded it to the Weave.”
I honestly wasn’t sure what to say to that. Fortunately, Terra’s return saved me from having to think of a response.
She poked her head back through the door. “Looks clear.”
“Any sign of Ell or Flip?” I asked.
“No, but I only gave the area a quick glance-over.”
I nodded and headed for the door. “Then let’s take a closer look.”
The lobby was in surprisingly good repair for the scene of a firefight between techs and magi. I wondered about it until I noticed one of the reasons skitter out from under an award display case.
There were six or seven skrievers running around the lobby, putting the finishing touches on cabinets and tables. They looked as though they had been retrofitted with cleaning equipment instead of the usual fusion cutter tail and collection container. One even seemed to be buffing the floor; it zoomed by us without taking notice.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Zig said, grinning, “It took us awhile to find enough parts to reassemble them, but I’m glad we did. This place would be dust without them maintaining everything.”
“How do they run without a CIC or access to a Glyche power core?” I asked curiously.
“We built a mock CIC that keeps the little buggers charged and lets us communicate with them. It was a bit of a shock when it turned out they had full AIs, but fortunately they all just seem happy to have something to do. As for power, we installed a bunch of docking stations for them to recharge. You’d be surprised how much one of the little guys can do on a single charge.”
“Not really.” I muttered under my breath. Shaking my head, I asked, “How much of the Center does the Magi-Sect control?”
“Right now? I’d like to think we have an edge, but we’re pretty evenly matched. The main center is pretty much split down the middle, though tower control is all over the place. Honestly, the real area of dispute is the central tower.”
“Why is the central tower so critical?” I asked.
Terra answered, “That’s where the Seed’s office is.”
Seeing my questioning glance, she added, “I came here for a few terms to sharpen my skills as a Shadow. I tried to take a few classes in stream theory, but it was all a bit above my head.”
Zig rolled his eyes. “Stream science isn’t that hard. Now the Glyche on the other hand-”
“Glyche tech isn’t that complicated.” I told him. “Unit construction and power management aren’t that different from stream generation.”
“Are you joking? Have you ever even seen a core unit?”
“As a matter of fact …” I began, when Terra put a hand on my arm.
“There.” She whispered, pointing at a small ornamental cabinet. “Can you hear it?”
“No, but my ears aren’t as big as yours.”
She looked at me, a distinctly annoyed expression on her face. I kissed her cheek and added, “Did I mention I love you?”
Smiling despite herself, she snuck toward the cabinet while Zig and I kept our eyes peeled. She put her hand on the cabinet door, and glanced back at me. I nodded, drawing Glint and gathering energy for a Force Edge, in case I needed it.
She counted to three silently and threw the door open to reveal Flip. She was curled up in the corner of the cabinet, her trembling wings closed tightly in front of her.
“Please!” Flip said, eyes clenched shut. “Don’t kill me!”
“It’s me, Terra.” Terra knelt down and reached tentatively toward the yulias. “Are you okay, Flip?”
Flip hesitantly opened her eyes. Seeing Terra, she leapt into her arms and huddled there, shivering.
Terra smoothed Flip’s ruffled fur and feathers, whispering soothingly, “It’s okay, Flip. You’re all right now.”
Zig glanced at me for explanation.
“That’s Flip.” I told him. “She’s kinda Ell’s voice.”
“Ell!” Flip said suddenly, looking straight at me, “Ell’s in trouble! They took him, I saw it!”
“Did you see where?” I asked, kneeling down so I could look her in the eyes.
She pointed a shaking paw to the western door on the other side. “They hit him with some kind of blue field that made him just freeze in mid-air!”
“Freeze ray.” Zig let out a sigh, and scratched his head. “This is problematic.”
I turned to him, asking, “What is it?”
“Well, they probably thought he was one of us, which means they’ll try to get information out of him.”
“B-but Ell can’t talk without me!” said Flip, still shivering.
“They have empaths, but that’s not the problem. The magic sect has a way of controlling the minds of their prisoners and using them as foot-soldiers. We’ve already lost ten of our best that way.” He shuddered. “That was no small demon Ell took on; I really don’t want to face that guy in battle with anything short of a heavy mech-suit.”
“Agreed.” I turned back to Flip and asked “Did you see where they went? Did they say anything that might’ve give us a hint?”
“I t-think they said something about the Kindred. Something about some kind of stone they needed.”
“Zagarat tower.” Zig replied instantly. Noticing our questioning glances, he added, “That’s where we store most of our Kindred and Glyche artifacts.”
“Okay,” I said, “how do we get there?”
Zig pointed to the western stairwell. “There’s a teleporter in Sentient studies at the top of that tower. It’ll be guarded, but maybe they won’t be expecting us.”
As we headed up the stairs, I heard Flip tell Terra, “I feel so useless.”
“Nonsense!” Terra told her, “I saw you clawing a man easily ten-times your size!”
“But it was Ell who knocked him out. If I was big and strong like you or Jimmy, maybe Ell wouldn’t have been taken.” She curled her tail around her feet and bowed her head, a sad look on her tiny face.
“Oh, you mean strong like when I was out cold on the floor?” I asked, flashing Flip a grin.
She smiled a little. “Still, you were trying to do something big. I can’t do anything.”
“You avoided capture.” Terra told her, petting Flip’s soft pink fur, “and you managed to give us a clue as to where Ell was taken. That’s hardly nothing. That little punk Arc, on the other hand …”
Zig chuckled. “Arc’s just a bit full of himself. His parents filled his head with that ‘bloodline of heroes’ nonsense. Then he gets a letter from Iniagus, and comes back saying he’s destined to be a hero. Can’t really blame him for getting a bit anxious when there’s a chance to prove himself.”
Snorting, I told Zig, “I got the same letter from Iniagus, and you don’t see me making his life difficult.”
“You did? Huh. So you really are a h-…”
“If you finish that sentence, I’m going to hurt you.”
Zig fell silent, a big grin on his face.
We climbed to the second floor with no problem, but the moment I touched the handle on the western door of the second floor landing, a loud claxon began to sound.
I pulled my hand away and promptly tried to block out the noise by covering my ears. “What the …?”
Zig slapped the side of my arm. “Proxy alert. Don’t stop; they’ll have people here in seconds.”
We rushed through the doors and down the adjoining corridor. I didn’t have time to admire the beautiful tapestries; as Zig had predicted, a group of robed figures appeared at the other end of the hallway mere moments after we entered it. I drew Glint, still running full tilt. Barely taking a moment to gather the necessary energy, I swung a Force Edge at the mages and sent them flying like bowling pins.
Zig gave me a thumbs up. “Nice!”
I didn’t have time to reply; Terra had both pistols out and was firing behind us at the mages following us. Her shots sent them flying for cover and bought us some time, but I knew it would only be a matter of moments before they started throwing spells.
“Where the heck did they come from?” Flip yelled, hiding behind a small cabinet.
“Must’ve been hiding somewhere near the lobby to catch up to us so quickly.” Zig nodded toward the far side of the corridor. “Let’s get moving!”