Chapter 12 - High Magic
We rushed down the corridor as Terra laying down cover fire as she followed. The first spells came moments later; I ducked just in time to avoid a fireball aimed at my head. Zig deflected a magical burst with his arm before firing a blast down the hallway that missed the mage but took a sizeable chunk out of the wall.
Terra was amazing; she dove around, ducked, and dodged every shot with a speed and grace I couldn’t help but envy. She managed to hit quite a few of the magi (fortunately for them, she was using the stun setting), but there were still plenty more bearing down on us.
We dashed through another set of double doors, this time leading to some kind of alchemy lab. There were stones and crystals on scales, strange liquids in bubbling beakers, mysterious gases suspended in tubes, and crystallic dust everywhere.
There was also a single mage sitting at a complex-looking set of tubes, an Idestan with dingy blonde hair and a heavily patched robe. He just sat in silence, hunched over whatever it was he was working on.
Zig welded the doors shut with his arm. “That’ll hold ’em for a few minutes!” Seeing the mage behind us, he lifted his arm cannon and shouted, “Don’t move!”
The mage turned and smiled at us, showing an set of teeth that were so heavily stream-stained, I thought they were actually blue. “Whoa! The Zigster’s here!”
Zig lowered his cannon-arm, a relieved look on his face. “By the Creator, Smokes, you scared the nocturnes outta me.”
As we approached, I noticed a strong odor coming from the Idestan that made me feel a bit hazy. Terra must’ve noticed too; she had pinched her nose shut. The reason was made clear a moment later; the mage was smoking some sort of hand-rolled cigarette, a bluish-green smoke rising from the lit end.
“Oh, good … you’re high.” Zig said. Strangely, he didn’t sound like he was being sarcastic. “Seal the doors, would ya?”
“Null problem, dude.” He snapped his fingers. Every door in the room promptly vanished. The walls just seemed to spread over the doors until there was nothing left.
“You’re a spellshaper?” I asked.
Smokes finally noticed the rest of us. “Whoa! It’s like, Longshoran hotness and a ninja! Hey, where’s your cowl, ninja?”
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I instead held out my hand, “Jimmy Sakamota.”
“Tewwa Bwanford.” Terra said, still holding her nose. Flip was trying to cover her nose with less success.
“Sakamota, Sakamota.” Smokes said as though trying to remember where he’d heard the name before. His eyes suddenly lit up. “Whoa, you mean like, Dragonslayer Sakamota?”
“That’s me.” I said.
“And you’re really there?”
“Er, I think so.”
Smokes beamed at me, but Zig cut the idestan off before he could say anything more.
“Smokes, we’re looking for a big guy, had a big spear.” Zig told his friend, “We think he might’ve been taken to the Northeast tower.”
Smokes nodded. “How could I miss him? It took six of the buggers to carry him when the freeze ray wore off. I think they said they were gonna use the scrambler on him.”
Zig’s face went pale. “By the Creator.”
He turned to me. “We have to go, now. Smokes, open the west door for us, okay?”
As soon as the door appeared, Zig and I ran for it with Terra and Flip close behind.
“What’s a scrambler?” Flip asked fearfully.
“It’s a kindred artifact that polarizes thought according to what the user wants. It’s what the magic sect has been using to brainwash people to their side. It takes a while for the indoctrination process to take hold, but we’d better hurry if we don’t want to end up fighting him.”
We hurried down the next corridor until we got to a classroom labelled ‘Sentient studies’ but the door was locked. Zig knelt by the door, his arm reconfiguring into what appeared to be a fusion cutter. “This is gonna take a few seconds.”
I glanced nervously down the hallway. “Good thing we’re not in a hurry.”
He went to work on the lock, muttering to himself as we kept an eye out for our pursuers. I clenched Glint in anticipation, adrenaline pulsing through my veins.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. With a wild shout, I spun about, Glint at the ready.
It was Smokes. “Dude! Chill out a bit, man!”
Without glancing up, Zig said, “We’re gonna have major trouble following us, Smokes. It’s probably better if you stay out of it.”
“Sounds boring. Besides, no one’s heading this way after I set off the alarm on the third floor. They’ll be like totally thinking you’re trying to get to the crystallic storage room.”
“You …” Zig chuckled and shook his head. “Nice one. All we need now is to get through this door.”
Smokes took another hit off whatever it was he was smoking and offered it to me. I blanched and shook my head. With a shrug, he held a hand toward the door. It promptly melted into a pile of lemon-scented goo, leaving Zig sitting there, his transformed arm still frozen in mid-air.
He slowly stood, turned around, and fixed Smokes with a glare. “Thank you.”
Smokes smiled a little goofily. “You’re like totally welcome.”
“I’ll hang outside.” Terra told me as she checked the energy levels of her weapons. “Just in case trouble comes a-knocking.”
“Be careful.” I said before giving her a kiss.
The inside of the room was crammed full of Galden technology. Wires ran from every console to a set of circular rings in the center of the room. It reminded me of a CIC Core, only much smaller and without the central sphere. There were marks of wear and tear, but it still seemed functional.
“Galden portal tech?” I asked curiously.
“Recovered after Sir Windstar and his crew shut it down. We’ve had the pieces for years, but only recently managed to get it working right.” Smokes took another hit of whatever he was smoking before saying, “You really outta have a blow before stepping through. It’s totally cosmic.”
“All right.” Zig said, approaching the main console and rubbing his hands together, “I got this covered. Y’all just stand back and watch a pro.”
As he went to work at the consoles, I asked Smokes, “Not that I’m ungrateful, but why are you helping us? Aren’t you with the magic faction?”
Smokes snorted with laughter. “Golbez and his cronies are too uptight. Magic’s great, but technology’s got its place too. I use tech all the time in my experiments. It’s all good.”
A fireball flew past the doorway and hit the far wall, making everyone present jump.
“Terra!” I shouted, starting forward.
She ran through the door before I could take another step. She didn’t appear to be injured, though I could tell their sudden appearance and attack had taken her by surprise.
“Looks like Smokes’ diversion fell through.” She told us. “There are a lot of mages heading our way.”
“Zig?” I asked, hoping he was finished.
“All right!” Zig said, “Everyone step away from the rings.”
The air in front of us began to twist and bend, as though some invisible hand had grabbed a hold of the fabric of reality and started twisting.
With a burst of light, a circular hole appeared, showing a different room.
“All right,” Zig said, “Everyone in! I’m gonna close it behind us!”
I braced myself and leapt through the portal into a room that looked identical to the first. A glance out of a nearby window showed that we were indeed in one of the towers floating above the Center. I could see the courtyard far below us.
Terra was next, followed by Flip and Smokes. Zig appeared shortly afterwards, moments before a group of mages appeared at the door to the portal room.
Zig pulled what looked like a can of soda from his belt and tossed it through the portal as it started closing.
“Everyone, down!” He shouted.
I put my arm protectively around Terra as we dropped to the floor. Just before the portal closed completely, a blast rocketed from the other side and sent a burst of fire shooting over us.
As we stood up, I asked, “A Gineran soda bomb?”
Zig grinned. “Oldie but a goodie.”
“Doesn’t that mean we’re stuck here?” Terra asked, a worried look in her eyes.
“Not necessarily. It’ll take some time, but with a bit of luck, I should be able to reset the portal location.” Zig popped his neck and added, “For now, let’s focus on getting your friend back.”
“We’ll set it to one of the Tech-controlled towers when we leave.” As we headed for the door, Kanook’s voice suddenly rang out through Zig’s radio.
“Zig, where are you?”
Zig held the device to his mouth and replied, “The south-east tower.”
There was a long moment of silence. Just as we started to move, Kanook said, “I need you to return back to base immediately.”
Zig shook his head, saying, “That’s a negative. We’re too near our objective.”
“Zig, you are needing to be listening to me. You’re swift and expedient return should be a priority. There’s a serious problem with …”
Zig turned off the communicator and slid it in his pocket. Looking at us, he said, “Like we don’t know they’re after us. Everyone ready?”
“Wait a sec!” Flip interrupted. “What was that guy on the radio talking about?”
Zig shrugged. “Could be anything … maybe the mage sect is making a move on the tech side. All the more reason to hurry up and rescue your friend.”
“I don’t know, man.” Smokes said, running his hand nervously though his already messed up hair, “It sounded kinda important. Like something was seriously, mega-wrong.”
I’d be lying if Kanook’s message didn’t trouble me, but I was thinking along the same lines as Zig. “We’ve already come this far. We might as well get Ell before heading back.”
“Agreed.” Terra said, nodding at me. “Let’s keep moving.”
I slowed down a bit as everyone else passed through the door. Catching Terra by the arm, I whispered, “Keep an eye on Zig. If he starts acting strangely, stun him.”
She seemed surprised by my request. “You think he’s hiding something?”
I shook my head, saying, “I don’t want to think so, but better safe than sorry.” Before heading through the door, I added, “Let’s hope I’m just being paranoid.”