Chapter 13 - Hostile Intention
We walked up the large, spiral staircase, slower now but still cautious of possible ambush. There were rooms set at regular intervals, mostly empty classrooms and storage rooms full of dusty boxes. I took a glimpse out of a window in one room and immediately regretted it; we were quite high, and knowing that the tower wasn’t actually connected to the ground did little to calm my nerves.
Some of the equipment stored bore the crystals and glyphs I knew to be associated with the Kindred. For a moment, I wished Arc was with us; Kindred tech was his speciality. Still, given Arc’s recent antagonism, any information he’d give would be suspect.
Terra glanced back at me several times as we made our way up the tower, a worried look on her face. No doubt the partial bond between us let her feel my concern. I tried to force my worries out of my mind, but I can tell it didn’t work. I wasn’t the only one worried, however; as the minutes ticked by, Smokes started growing more and more nervous. His hands shook, and his eyes darted toward every doorway.
We eventually reached the top of the tower, where a large, steel-clad door blocked our passage into the large room beyond. There was no handle, no keypad, no anything: just a wide steel door. Zig and Terry both tried their weaponry to no effect.
“What now?” Terra asked, her eyes on the stairs behind us.
Zig patted Smokes on the back and gestured toward the door. “Have at it.”
Smokes nervously made a gesture at the door. A weak spark shot from his finger and hit the door with no response.
“What gives?” Flip asked, hopping from Terra to me so she could get a better look at the Idestan mage. “You knocked that other door out like it was nothing.”
Smokes shook his head. “I don’t know, man; this one’s a lot bigger than the other one. It’s a lot of pressure, y’know?”
“Come off it, Smokes!” Zig said, massaging his friend’s shoulders with a little too much vigor, “You can blast this apart, no problem. Just take a second and have a smoke, okay?”
“Ugh. Not again.” Terra muttered, grabbing her nose.
Nodding, Smokes pulled another hand-rolled joint from his pocket and lit the end with the shaking tip of his finger. He took a deep hit and breathed it out. His nervousness on his face faded in moments, replaced with the blissful look of tranquility of one whose mind and body just became one with the universe. “Let’s see now; this door … yeah, I think I remember.”
He put his hands against it. Moments later, the entire tower began to shake. I nearly fell backwards, but Terra grabbed me to keep me from taking a painful trip back to the bottom of the tower. Holding on to her as Flip cowered between us, I could only watch as Smokes’s hands slowly sunk into the metal.
“I think … yeah, that should do it.” The tower stopped shaking abruptly. Smokes pulled his hands out of the door and turned back to us. “It’s a bit slap-dash, but the amount of power shoved into the spell matrix definitely makes up for a lack of subtlety.”
“Well, can you open it?” Zig asked, a touch of annoyance in his voice.
“What? Oh, right. Yeah, give me a second.”
He thumped the door with his finger. The door promptly shattered into a million pieces. I looked at Smokes with a new respect; drugs or no, he could easily wipe out the lot of us if it crossed his mind. I sincerely hoped that it wouldn’t.
We entered the room at the top of the tower. Artifacts lay about, some reassembled and presumably functioning while others lay in pieces. I recognized a few Glyche pieces here and there, mostly old skriever parts and a few console boards; more intriguing were the artifacts of the Kindred; I had only seen one Kindred artifact in person, namely Arc’s Sword, but even I had heard much about the ancient benefactors of Vinta.
Unfortunately, studying the artifacts was not an option, as my attention was diverted by the sight of Ell sitting silently as though in meditation in the center of the room, his spear resting across his lap. The unconscious bodies of several mages lay about the room like broken dolls, their wands and staves broken and splintered.
“Ell!” Flip said as she started to run forward, “Thank the Creator!”
Smokes quickly caught her, and pulled her back, “Wait, little one! His aura’s totally off!”
“Get off me, you smelly jerk!” Flip said, struggling to get free.
“He’s right, Flip.” Terra said, backing away slightly. “Something’s wrong with him.”
“Damn.” Zig cursed. He raised his blaster arm.“He’s been brainwashed already.”
Ell’s eyes opened. He rose to his feet, spear in hand.
Flip’s eyes went wide. “No! Ell, stop!”
Ell tossed the massive spear at Terra as though the giant hunk of metal weighed nothing, taking her by surprise. I moved with out thinking, Glint barely parrying the spear aside and deflecting it into the floor hard enough to drive it clear through the wooden boards.
“Ell!” I said, my sword arm shaking slightly from the force of the blow. “C’mon, man! Wake up!”
If Ell heard me, he gave no indication. He tore the spear from the boards and pressed forward. Again I deflected the blow, but the force of the blow nearly made me drop the blade.
Fortunately, I had bought enough time for Terra to draw and activate her weapons. Firing both pistols in tandem, she managed to peg Ell full in the chest. Much to my chagrin, it didn’t seem to do much more than knock him back, likely due to a mixture of size and his vuestan blood.
He thrust his spear at her, only for Terra to leap onto the shaft and run toward him. Placing a single finger on his forehead, she whispered, “Sleep.” Instantly, the big fellow collapsed to the ground.
As I sighed with relief, Flip ran forward and nudged Ell’s unconscious face. “Ell! Ell, are you all right?”
“He’ll be okay.” I told her, my eyes meeting Terra’s. “He’s just asleep.”
She blushed; I hadn’t known it at the time, but she had used the same spell on me several times shortly after we met. While most of her magical talent was centered around distraction and illusion, she had a real skill with magically-induced sleep.
We didn’t get to enjoy our victory for long, however; as I knelt beside Ell, Zig started firing his arm cannon at the stairwell.
“What is it?” Terra asked, taking up a position beside the door, “Have they found us?”
“Looks like it. They sent some sort of possessed doll to scout us out!”
“Possessed doll?” I hurried to the door and looked where Zig had been firing; sure enough, a few seconds later, One poked his head over the stair, his button eyes wide and a tiny white flag in his waving hand.
Zig raised his arm to fire, but I quickly forced it down, “Don’t shoot him! He’s with me!”
“It’s … it’s complicated. Just trust me on this, all right?” I hurried through the door and down the steps, calling out, “One! One, it’s okay!”
One sighed with relief as he saw me approach. “Jimmy! Oh, am I glad to see you!”
I picked him up and hurried back to the others. As we entered the room, I pointed to my new friends. “Smokes, Zig, Flip, and Ell. Guys, this is Narrator Number One of the Elsewhere Incorporate; he’s possessing the doll.”
One waved cheerily at them. Flip was too concerned with Ell to return the gesture, and Zig only stared at One with an unreadable expression on his face. Only Smokes returned the wave. “S’up, little Dreamer dude.”
I gave One a curious look. He shook his head, saying, “It’d take way too long to explain. I’m guessing you don’t have that kind of time, seeing as your buddy there just tried to blast me.”
Zig blushed and rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry.”
“It’s a long story.” Terra told One, kneeling down so she was somewhat closer to him. “The Seed’s presumed dead, and the school’s split along magic and tech.”
“Ah. Age old conflict.” One said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Looking back at me, he asked, “Whatever happened to the witch?”
“Still in the tower. We tried to find a way in, but she’s got the moat enchanted. We came here for a spellshaper.”
“Well, you could’ve just waited for me if that’s all that was stopping you.” One said, a hurt look on his plush face. “Magic is magic, but I could’ve just altered the fabric of reality.”
I opened my mouth to reply when I realized I didn’t have anything to reply with. Now that I thought about it, One himself would have been able to easily make a solution, even with his limited power as a doll.
One threw up his hands. “Well, whatever. We’re here now, so let’s focus on that. So, what’s the next step?”
“Get back to the portal room, and return to base.” Zig said, helping me pick up Ell, who was every bit as heavy as he looked.
One nodded. “Okay. Terra, be a dear and carry me, would you?”
She started to, but Flip beat her too it, extending a wing for One to mount. “I’ll carry you!”
One seemed pleasantly surprised by the offer. “Cool! Thanks, Flip!”
The two of them looked very strange as they walked down the steps. I was reminded of a picture I once saw of one of the forest rangers that patrol the Idestan woods, only much smaller. They chatted amicably with each other while Zig and I carried Ell, Terra kept watch, and Smokes ... well, smoked.
Finally, we managed to lug Ell back into the portal room. As Zig and I lowered Ell’s mass to the ground, Smokes dropped what was left of his joint and ground it into the stone floor with the heel of his sandal. “So it’s over, right? You got your bud, and we can slip back to safer ground?”
“That’s the plan.” Zig said, moving to the control console.“Good; they haven’t repaired the other portal room yet. I’ll just-”
Zig froze, his eyes locked on the screen.
“What?” Terra asked, “What’s wrong?”
After a few more moments of silence, Zig shook his head. “Nothing. Nothing is wrong. Give me a few minutes to reset the portal location.”
As he worked at the console, I noticed One giving Zig an odd look. He whispering something in Flip’s ear, who nodded and immediately pounced on the panel.
Zig jerked back, surprise quickly turning to anger. “What are you doing?”
One hopped off of Flip and started working the panel. “You’re setting the Z axis way too low.”
Zig grabbed the lever One was pulling. “I know what I’m doing!”
One shoved the lever back the other way. “I don’t want to end up encased in rock or swimming in the Myriad Abyss!”
Zig’s face turned dark red. “Look, I’m sorry about trying to shoot you, but you don’t know how touchy these machines are.” He pulled the lever back toward him.
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” One yanked it his way once again.
“A possessed toy. I’m apprenticed to the head tech professor!” Back toward Zig.
“So what? I was around when this technology was invented!” One yanked it his way yet again.
I became so intrigued with watching the cyborg and the plush doll fighting over a single lever that I barely noticed that Flip was nudging my leg.
I glanced down at her. She didn’t say anything, but the alarm in her face made it all to clear.
“Terra! Now!” I said loudly.
Terra lifted her pistols to stun Zig. Realizing what was happening, Zig backhanded One into Terra with enough force to knock the breath out of her. As she collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath, he started working the console again with uncanny speed.
I started toward Zig with Glint already swinging (with the blunt side of course, though some might argue swinging sharp-side first would yield the same result). In the end it didn’t matter,; he grabbed Glint with his cybernetic hand without even turning to face me. His wrist spun, tilting the blade until my grip forced me to either let go or get lifted into the air. Naturally, I found myself hanging from my sword hilt moments later.
“What are you doing?”
“Completing my objectives.” Zig replied, his voice strangely calm.
He started at me, his eyes eventually focusing on my PIM. Without another word, he flung me, sword and all, into an inactive console. I crashed through the flimsy table and fell to the floor as what was left of the console collapsed around me.
Trying hard to ignore every muscle in my body that was crying out in pain, I noticed Smokes still standing at the door with a vacant smile on his face.
“Smokes!” I said with some difficulty, “Do something!”
“I’m on it!” Smokes said. He pulled out another joint, and lit it. After a deep pull, bits of lifestream energy began swirling around him. “Oh, yeah!” He said, raising his arms, “Step back whilst I whip out some magicks!”
I never did find out just what he was about to do, for at that moment Terra had recovered enough to take a shot at Zig. Her aim was perfect, but the shot bounced off of the energy shield that sprang to life around Zig. The reflected shot caught Smokes in the face, flinging him against the wall with a surprised “Auugh!”
Zig kept his blaster arm at the ready as his other hand quickly danced across the controls. In a matter of moments, a new portal formed within the swirling rings of the machine.
As I staggered to my feet, I felt One tugging on my hakama. “Throw me at him!”
There was no time to question it. The plush doll passed through the energy shield with no difficulty and promptly latched onto Zig’s face.
“What the … hey! Let go!” Zig stumbled backwards, his hand smashing into the console. The portal fluctuated, growing larger and more erratic by the second. Slowly, everything in the room that wasn’t firmly held to the floor slid toward the active portal.
Zig was the first to be pulled into the swirling depths of the portal, One still firmly latched to his face. Smokes slid through moments later, still stunned from Terra’s shot. Flip nearly made it to the door, but made the mistake of taking a running leap; once in the air, the portal pulled her back before she could even register surprise.
I stumbled over to Terra and held her close as the portal grew larger and larger. We tried to move toward the doorway, but the pull of the portal eventually dragged us back.
There was a rush of color, with a feeling of being pulled in a hundred different directions at once. Despite both of us holding on to each other with all our remaining strength, Terra and I were wrenched apart.
“Jimmy!” She screamed, still reaching for me.
“Terra!” I shouted, desperately trying to catch her hand, but it was too late. The world exploded into a blur of color and motion, and moments later, darkness.