Syche: The Dark Element

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Chapter 20: The Hive

Apply enough pressure and time and you can get anyone to do anything. People like us have unique vantage points when viewing things like that.

Of course Kaeza relented eventually and went along with my scheme to reanimate a corpse.

###

An endless abyss of platelashers stretched out before them. Beyond the farm, deep back in the cave Zagan had retreated, Avonly had brought them to a cliff. And in the deep of that cliff, shrouded in that dark expanse massive, writhing platelashers glinted and then disappeared.

“You’re telling me Zagan came this way?” Joshua asked incredulously.

“He had to have,” Avonly said. “And Niles followed him. Jumped right over the ledge. That was the point where I turned around and came to find you.”

Kael stooped over the edge and sent a line of energy far down into the depths. The pit lit for a mere second in an orangy hue. Inside, a mass of squirming, glinting platelashers. The abyss looked alive. Every inch of it covered in those monsters, the floor shimmering and alive. The largest had to be three, maybe four times the size that Joshua and Gianna fought.

Kael tapped his foot in frustration, looking out over the expanse. What could possibly be beyond this? They couldn’t jump in. That was absurd. But still. . . . Kael looked to Gianna and Joshua. Combustion Syches were useless here and Joshua was, well, Joshua. And then he looked to Avonly, a memory blossoming in his head and putting a grin on his face. “I know how can get across. Avonly can float us. On a plate of metal. Just like our sparring practice.”

Avonly drew herself up to full height and cross her arms with a grimace. “You want what now?” Kael remained silent staring her down. “This is crazy!” she yelled. “You almost died an hour ago. Zagan threatened some sort of awfulness. We need to leave.”

“This,” Kael said, sounding like a snake,” is why we’re here.” He approached Avonly and look down. “This is what you signed up for. Fun right? Remember? Let’s have some fun.”

Avonly stood hesitantly, briefly looked to Joshua for help, and then slouched down, heading back into the temple’s depths. In the span of a few minutes, she returned with a sturdy-looking sheet of metal that could fit them all. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said, pulling it through the air and setting it down on the edge of the cliff. She took a deep breath and held it in.

One by one they stepped onto the rectangular platform and moved to the middle. Finally, Avonly started breathing again and joined them. She closed her eyes and the metal rose off the ground. After a slight hesitation, it began moving over the abyss. In a matter of seconds, the cliff was lost to view as both Kael and Gianna lit a small Sy field for visibility. Below, the low tenor of the platelashers erupted into a frenzied yalp. The platform wobbled for a second and then continued.

Kael reached up and brushed some sand out of his hair. He grunted and increased the brightness of his flickering light, looking up. As the rays bounced off the hulking, cavernous walls he realized they were moving as well. The ceiling moved in a different fashion altogether. It rocked gently like the ocean. The metal-sea! They were under it. It swayed above them, seemingly suspended in mid-air. Everyone but Avonly, eyes locked straight ahead, gaped at the sight.

“That’s impossible,” Kael said.

“It’s a Sy Field; it doesn’t need support,” Joshua answered back.

This place was nothing like they had ever seen. How did something like this even get created?

Gianna closed her eyes and breathed in a relaxing breath. She looked up with a peaceful smile. “There’s a weird energy ahead. It’s. . . nice.” Kael closed his eyes and reached out as well. There was something ahead. It stretched out in gradients, getting stronger the further he felt. It was warm to his soul but alien at the same time. Kael wasn’t so sure he liked the feeling as much as Gianna, but it was certainly novel. He had never felt anything like this.

Everyone looked forward expectantly but could only see darkness above and below. Still they stared, something was ahead. In a matter of seconds, the light of Kael and Gianna’s explosions bounced back from two distinct spots. Before them, on either side, rose two massive pillars of pitch-black metal, the sheen of light ever so faint. The sculpted pillars depicting something that was not quite a platelasher rose from floor to the metal-sea, gargantuan in size. As the group passed through them, their lights now gleamed off a thousand distant points. Buildings. Pure metal buildings. They weren’t the ugly stone blocks on the surface, but intricately crafted and shaped, each with their own unique design. They spiraled and swirled, stood at odd angles, and some seemed to spit on gravity itself with the structure so obtuse and lopsided that it should fall over or rip itself in half.

Gianna inched to the side of their platform and looked down. “Platelashers are all gone,” she hollered. She quickly ran to the opposite end. “They don’t go past the pillars it seems.”

Avonly breathed a sigh of relief and set them down. The last few feet losing control and sending them every which way as they crashed to the ground.

###

“Do you really think Niles and Zagan came all the way over here?” Joshua asked, still laying on his back and looking lazily at the ceiling. He absolutely loved how the metal-sea looked from down here, even if it terrified him just a little being under it. Seeing everyone else’s questioning glares, he kipped himself up and dusted off.

“That was way easier than I thought it would be. You guys are heavy but. . .” Avonly broke off and looked around. “Really does feel like something else around here. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this strong before.”

“I wonder if it’s the book we’re feeling?” Kael asked, already walking past the group and further into the city. “This is the sort of place you’d hide an ancient artifact if ever I’ve seen one.”

“Niles and Zagan?” Joshua asked. “You think they’re here?”

“I don’t see how either of those two could be around here,” Kael said, closing his eyes and reaching out again. “I can’t sense very far. The air here is dense with Sychakenetic energy.”

“Mmhm,” Gianna agreed. “So weird.”

“Really?” Avonly said stretching. “I can feel for miles. There’s definitely one other person down here.”

The group moved slowly along keeping pace with Kael. This underground world was like an empty graveyard with headstones but no bodies. An empty sea of mausoleums. Street by street, the wave of sameness that surrounded them. Each building was different and unique, but quickly began to blend into a bland mesh of reflective polish.

There is no rust, Joshua thought. How strange.

The buildings began to grow larger, subtly at first but then clearly minutes later. And then a massive construction arose before them, a giant domed building with four corkscrew spires equally placed around. For once in his life, Joshua had no opinion to give; he was ecstatic to take in this alien world. Avonly, however, broke her long silence. This was exactly the sort of thing she had joined the adventure for and couldn’t stop remarking every detail.

Everywhere they went, there wasn’t the faintest sign of a book, a page, or a written word. Nothing organic. Nothing that couldn’t last a thousand years in the open air. Right as Kael’s frustration grew to the point of suggesting they split up, a loud noise rung through the cavern, gurgled by the distance and acoustics. They climbed a smaller building and looked over the expanse to where it had come.

Nothing. About to give up, they came to a screeching halt as an astounding arc of lightning arced through the air and then back to the ground five or six blocks away.

“That can’t be Niles,” Kael said incredulously, denying the obvious. “Lightening is notoriously impossible to create or control, it takes an expert just to manifest it externally.”

“One direction is as good as the next when you have no heading,” Joshua shrugged, “let’s angle that way and find out. I’d say keep an eye open for Zagan, but there is no way he could survive power like that.”

They slipped down onto the streets one at a time and continued their search in that direction, deeper in, further from the pillars. Joshua turned to look and couldn’t see those giant way-points anymore.

They ignored building after building, determined to reach Niles until Avonly yelped excitedly: “I see something!” The group looked around wildly, preparing for a fight. “Look at that door,” she said while pointing to two massive doors with a variety of symbols etched into the gleaming black metal. They had a flow, a repetition. “It’s words, I think.” With a flick of the wrist, she sent the door groaning inwards. With a little too much force, perhaps, as the hinges groaned and the doors collided with the walls ringing out a metallic note for the whole city to hear.

Kael shoved his way in front and entered first. Joshua craned his head and looked into the direction they had seen lightning but that quadrant of the city stayed dark. He followed in last, into a building that was entirely different. Once past the first two rooms, there were books. Huge shelves of books. Hundreds, thousands of books. They looked old and decrepit, but here they were all the same.

Joshua ambled over to the first bookshelf he could see and bent over to look at the largest book around. He used his sleeve to brush away the dust revealing some strange symbols on the spine. They looked more like a sequence of geometry patterns more than any alphabet, certainly not any language Joshua was familiar with. As he picked up the book the binding cracked and the pages seeped onto the floor as dust.

“Too ancient of a library,” Joshua moaned.

Avonly and Gianna had discovered this too as they opened their own books. They sighed and walked on with Joshua through the veritable hedge maze of dust. Rising up in the middle of the building and reflecting the crimson light that Gianna cast, a giant metal globe spanned the first and second floors. It was tilted on its axis and showed what should have been the middle of the ocean, but there was a fifth continent. The other four continents looked slightly different than on the present-day maps, a few different coastlines, an island here or there that had moved a few miles, but nothing radical.

“How old is this place?” Joshua asked astounded.

He paced around the artwork in the center and then tripped unexpectedly. He caught himself on his hands and forced himself back to his feet. He turned around and looked through the hazy red light at what had caught him. A purple vine was strewn across the floor. Odd. It was about as thick as a man’s leg and had faint reticulation patterned along its length. As he stared, the vine shuddered and pulsed. Cautiously, Joshua inched closer and tapped it with the toe of his shoe. Nothing dramatic happened, but the fleshy substance gave some way to his touch and it seemed alive.

As Joshua looked up and realized the light was fading away. He could hear the footsteps leaving and followed after that. Just about to rejoin the group, the sound of footsteps behind him prompted him to turn the other way. Gritting his teeth and knowing he would regret it, Joshua ran off in the other direction, following along the disgusting purple tendril. It reminded him of a giant earthworm. The most disgusting creature on the planet.

He paused in the dark. It wasn’t total dark, but he needed to keep his hands out in front as he followed the faint reverberation of steps from above. He clawed his way along the wall and felt his foot stub the first level of a staircase. One step at a time, Joshua felt his way up, gaining on the noise. He reached the second floor in time to see the faint orange glow of a light to his right sight. He turned and chased it up yet another flight of stairs. The light was all around him now, bathing the stairway in it. The stairway twisted slightly, and Joshua lurched forward into a vast expanse of open darkness.

Joshua emerged onto the roof with a flashlight pointed at his face. He shielded himself and tried to look at the wielder.

“Oh, it’s you,” the faux cheerful voice of Niles said. “He lowered the light and an outstretched hand. For just a second, Joshua could see the faint hint of electricity bounce between his fingers. As the hand dropped to his side, Joshua now noticed the faint trickle of blood running down his wrist and the torn sleeve.
“Was that Zagan or the platelashers?” Joshua asked, jogging to keep up as Niles was already off.

I can’t find Zagan. We’re too close, the air is too dense with power. I can’t feel a thing.” Niles took a pause and actually scowled. “Well. I just don’t know. The deeper you go the more dangerous it gets. There are creatures in the city but they aren’t the same. I’m not sure they are platelashers.”

“Wait?” Joshua stammered. “There are creatures in the city?”

“Little ones. Very fast. Heavily armored. They can take quite a few volts before dropping.” Niles paused looking out over the darkness, his flashlight was useless compared to Kael or Gianna. “I happened to bump into something that might interest you,” he continued. “Let me just orient myself and I’ll show you.”

“Are you going to tell me or do I have to wait?”

Niles chuckled as he began walking again, dropping down to a nearby roof. “It’s a map. A map with what I can only guess is some important book on it.”
“The Book of Light?”

“That came to mind, yes.”

“Cool, let’s get going,” Joshua said, dropping down with a reverberating thud on the next roof.

“That’s it? Cool?” Niles looked back skeptically. “I thought you would be elated. Of course, you don’t really care, do you? Kael wants the Book and you just want to help him.”

“That is. . . .” Joshua stammered to a halt. It was true, but how could he admit that to anyone? He stayed silent as they traversed the next few buildings and dropped to the street. “Why do you always smile. You said it was a cultural thing before?”

“That?” Niles looked back to Joshua surprised. “Well yes, it is. My people have a long history of fighting for survival. It’s just my theory, but I think that hardens a people. Makes them strong and resilient.”

“I’m following.”

“The best way to be strong is to keep your enemies confused. If you are weak, you need to make yourself seem as strong as possible. And if you are strong, the best way to utilize that is if you appear weak.”

“Seems obvious so far,” Joshua said, squinting and seeing another purple tendril down an alleyway. He did a double-take seeing a shadow streak by at incredible speed. It happened so fast he couldn’t even be sure he had seen it a second later.

“So as a people who always need to be strong we apply that in every area of our lives. Once again, that’s my theory of how it started. The strong should appear weak and the weak should appear strong. If that idea really takes root in a group of people, everything becomes subterfuge. If you are miserable you should always appear happy. And if you are a happy person it’s polite to be somber.”

“You’re trying to tell me you are depressed?”

Niles sighed deeply and shook his head. “Let me finish. It’s all about balance. Those that cause misery should also appear happy you see?” Niles paused to flip his blood-red cloak into the air. “And a killer should wear colors so that everyone else knows what he is. To announce himself to his prey. I’ve always thought white makes the most sense, but somehow we came out to this.” Niles waved his arms extravagantly.

“So you’re just as much an assassin as the Dark Element. And your society is just a bunch of contrarians?”

“It’s obviously all a bit deeper than that. But we’ll say yes for the time being.”

“Are you Dark Element? Or maybe were you?” Joshua stopped to consider the wisdom in asking about this man at all, but decided he was interested enough to take the risk.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Opposites right? So that means you are,” Joshua deduced.

Niles chuckled, still walking forward. “If I want you to believe something untrue, I will tell you the truth. If I want you to believe something true, I will present it in a way that is not entirely true. It’s not so simplistic as ‘yes’ is ‘no’”.

Joshua scratched his head. It felt like he was being tasked to complete complex mathematics. Agassa had forced him to learn the functional basics for everyday life, but this was something else. “I’m confused.” It was the only conclusion he could be sure of. He also had never heard of any group of people that behaved in this way. He had traveled the globe since he was thirteen and had seen almost everything, but he hadn’t seen this. “Just where are you from anyway?”

Niles scratched his chin and shined his light down an ally. “You’ve heard of the floating continent of course? How about the city lost to the sea?”

“I’ve heard of both of these things.” Indeed, he had. Clouthous was a massive chunk of land that floated in the southeast of the globe and was notorious for the lack of information people had on it. The city Niles talked about could only be Lithuria. You grew up hearing children’s stories of some great civilization disappearing overnight into the ocean, but that’s all it was. “You’re saying you’re from one of these places?”

“No. I’m saying there’s an astounding lack of information people have on their own world. I could be from practically anywhere.”

“I’m confused.”

“Exactly. So my people’s ways are working, and our secrets remain safe.”

Joshua stopped and peered at the monolithic building before them. He didn’t even need Niles to say it, he knew this was the place. It was starkly different than the other buildings in a way he wasn’t sure he could describe quite right.

Together they entered silently and climbed to the second floor. It sure looked like the other buildings on the inside.

Niles swung his flashlight around and pointed at a table. A gargantuan table that should probably have a different name than a table, but Joshua knew no such word. He walked up to it and glanced it over. It was made of metal, go figure, but it was crafted into a landscape. Little metal figurines that looked like child’s playthings were placed with clear intention across the landscape in lines of silver and gold. They were army men of sorts. Swords, spears, bows and arrows. It was the battle plan for some ancient conflict. Joshua paced around the table, his fingers sliding absentmindedly along its edge. Where is the Book? Kael will kill me if I can’t find the Book. Joshua approached the far end of the map where three giant mountains rose with sharp peaks cutting into the air. Joshua stooped down and looked at the backside of the mountains as Niles joined him with the light. The mountains, all three, were hollow. Inside, more golden men were arrayed in a circular pattern around a man. A golden man who held a golden book.

“Where are these mountains?” Joshua asked, touching the army men one by one. “Could it be Dania? They are hollow.”

“Hm? How should I know?” Niles said, patiently waiting to the side.

“Based on your cultural whatever, you do actually know then? Questions are the most useful way to lie.”

Niles gave a real, earnest chuckle at Joshua’s words. “No. I don’t think any society could function like that. Still, clever.” Niles sat patiently as Joshua continued to walk around and observe the setting over and over again. As the minutes passed, Nile’s cheek twitch breaking his perfect smile momentarily. “Those look like words don’t they?” he said, finally speaking up.

Joshua looked up inquisitively and then back down at the table. It was true. He had been focusing too much on the scene. The placement of the silver attackers and gold defenders. The mountains, the lines of metallic trees. Along the edge of the table, there were inscriptions in whatever bizarre script these people had used in years passed. Joshua looked it up and down but couldn’t make heads or tales of it. Was it the location? The date? They could be anything but they were also the only clue to find the Book of Light. Joshua had to figure them out or they had nothing left and five years of work amounted to nothing.

“Do you think you should write them down?” Niles said pointedly, losing patience quickly. “I have pen and paper,” he said patting the pockets of his cloak.

“Yes!” Joshua screamed in sudden excitement. “We can find someone to translate it later. Give it here.”
Niles pulled out a pen and small notepad from somewhere. “Get it all down, and I’m sure Ell can help you. He’s a smart guy,” Nile’s said handing them off.

As Joshua took the writing utensils, his eyes wandered to Niles’s cut wrist caked with dried blood. “Where did you run into those monsters? We’ve been walking around forever and haven’t seen a peep.”

“It’s those purple tendrils,” Niles said. “As soon as I touched one, an entire host of monsters came en masse to kill me.” The swordsman Joshua twiddled between his fingers dropped to the ground with a chink as Joshua looked to Niles in bewilderment, understanding of his words washing over him and leaving a heavy weight in his gut. “What did you do?” Niles asked.

“I tripped over one. At the library. Right before I left with you.”

“And who else was at the library when we left?”

“Everyone else.”

Niles’s eyes grew wide and his thoughts turned inward, but only for a second. “I’ll go ahead and keep them alive if they still are. You finish here and join me as soon as you can.” Niles tossed Joshua the flashlight and sprinted off into the darkness at inhuman speeds, even for a Lightening Syche.

Joshua fumbled with the flashlight in a panic and finally put it down on the table, ready to begin recording the geometrical patterns around the edge. He had to hurry and help the rest, but Kael would never forgive him if he let their last and only clue go to waste. As pen glided along the paper crafting two sloppy triangles overlapping, Joshua halted. There was a sound. Wasn’t there? His ears pricked listening. Whatever monsters were in the city, they had no reason to come here, did they?

There was a sound. Not the sound of tentacles, thousands of tiny feet, or whatever horrors lied this deep underground. It was the sound of footsteps confidently approaching. Joshua could hear the swagger in their rhythm. Once again fumbling with the flashlight, Joshua brought it up to face whoever it was, the light shaking in his hand. Through the door frame, a man appeared. Giant, hulking, death in his eyes.

“Zagan,” Joshua mouthed soundlessly.

“I couldn’t help but hear,” Zagan started, “that you desperately needed to write something down.” His eyes casually glanced at the table and a smirk crossed his face. “How stupid. Still, I was ordered to piss you off the best I could without killing you or Kael. To take something from you. I was planning on maiming someone. Killing if I could. But imagine my surprise when I hear how important this. . . ” he waved his hand across the table, “thing is.” Joshua backed away, his eyes scanning the room. He had beaten Zagan before, he could do it again. He just needed a plan. Zagan advanced and looked down at the table. “Maybe I’ll still maim someone, but this is a start.”

A slender whip of blood sprung from Zagan’s wrist. His hand rose and brought the bloody weapon down with a horrible crack splitting the table in two. He looked down ground his teeth. “But it was these symbols here you were after right?” The whip regrouped and crystallized into a short blade. With one clean heft, he dug the blade into the metal and carved an entire line of symbols from existence.

Joshua looked on horrified, and that expression only encouraged Zagan more. Joshua watched helplessly as Zagan took a swing and then another and then another, wiping thousands of years of history and knowledge from existence. The blood softened into a liquid and wrapped around his arm before disappearing.

“Now then,” he said, clapping his hands together. “How about that maiming?”

Joshua was sprinting for an exit before the words were even said. It was too late for the Book, he just needed to get away. He slipped down the hallway, picked himself up, and made for the stairs. He took them as fast as he could and jumped the last five, landing on the ground with enough force to make his ankles groan. He sprinted into the open hearing the heavy footfalls of someone right behind.

Where are they? Niles had told him to find them as if he could. Joshua had no clue where they may be. The city was too big with no clear direction laid out. His flashlight flung down streets and alleys as he charged forward picking headings at random. If he could find the pillars, at least he could orient himself. In a sudden explosion of noise, Joshua looked to his left. That was a combustion Syche, no doubts there. That would be his direction.

As he ran, he dared a peek behind and the beam of his light could just make out Zagan stumbling through the dark just at the fringes of his sight. And in that moment, Joshua tripped. Not randomly or for no good reason. As Joshua turned on his side, he saw the purple tendril pulsing at his feet.

“Oh no.”

Joshua took off at a pace that made clear what he feared more-- Zagan or the monsters waited in the darkness. It was the monsters by a landslide. Making a quick judgment call, Joshua took off down an alley and chomped down on the flashlight with his teeth. He jumped and hit the wall of a smaller building at full speed. As his feet caught against the metal, he jumped up and just barely caught the edges of a roof with his fingertips. He pulled himself up, his teeth grinding on the flashlight. He would never lose Zagan with that broadcasting his location, but he had bigger issues to preoccupy him at that moment.

Joshua jumped the gap between two roofs and then looked back to see Zagan use a tether of blood to snag a protrusion on the roof to sling himself up. Then again, maybe he should be more worried about Zagan.

Ahead, a sudden arc of neon lightning ripped to the left of a tall building rising perhaps fifty feet into the air. Another arc shot out to the right side followed by a smaller building losing a corner of itself in an explosion. Everyone else seemed to be in just as much danger, but Joshua preferred company under those circumstances.

Zagan screamed a bloody cry and Joshua hesitantly turned to look. The giant was on the ground, flat on his back, and something was pinning him down. Niles wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t a platelasher, but it was similar. It was a long, giant, snake-like creature with an uncountable number of legs. Metal plating coated the top of its hide giving it the total effect of a giant silvery centipede. Whatever protection it had on the top did not exist underneath as Zagan suddenly sheered the creature in half with a swing of a crystalline sword of blood.

Joshua continued forward, seeing shadows on either side of him and hearing the screams of fighting ahead at the tower. There were more explosions and lightning now. On his right, Joshua could see the silvery monstrosities gliding along the streets to either side. And those tendrils. There were more now. They covered the street. Out of his peripherals, Joshua could even see them pushing up and wrapping around a nearby building. What was happening?

Joshua’s boots screeched to a halt on the metal roof as one of the small plated creatures climbed onto the roof in front of him. Its legs scratched and jostled faster than his eyes could see. Eyeless but intentional, the thing lifted its head for a second and revealed rows and rows of sharp teeth underneath. It was just one big mouth-- one big mouth with thousands upon thousands of horrendously sharp stabby bits.

How did they even sense their prey? Joshua would just have to guess. Rising the flashlight above his head, he slammed it down to his right as hard as he could as he broke left. The creature jumped in the air at the flashlight’s location as Joshua leapt to the next roof. The light from the battle ahead would be enough; he was only a block away. And now he could be fairly certain these things hunted with either sound or vibration.

Joshua looked up and could make out everyone: Kael, Gianna, Avonly, and Niles. Those disgusting tendrils worked their way up the side of every building and were beginning to cover the tower as well. A variable horde of the metal centipedes were snaking their way up the tower, and in groups were dispatched by Gianna lobbing explosions in the air, Niles shooting lightning like no Syche Joshua had ever seen, and Kael out of place lobbing what looked like bits of furniture as grenades. What’s Avonly doing? He could just make her out. Crouched in a ball, tucked away from the edge of the building. She’s hurt and it’s my fault. Joshua didn’t want to be selfish, but along with that thought came the most important thought of all: how were they going to leave this place without her?

Joshua skirted from one building to the next. Climbing this way, jumping that. He couldn’t get any closer and he couldn’t stop moving. He heard Zagan give a ferocious yell somewhere back in the darkness.

“Josh!” Kael screamed from above, launching a chunk of metal imbued with energy at a cluster of beasts groping their way up.

“How badly is Avonly hurt?”

Kael hesitated looking to Avonly and then back to Joshua. “She isn’t, but we’re going to need to find another way out of here.”

What did that mean? Was Avonly completely spent? Joshua grunted and jumped to the next building, looking behind and seeing two monsters curving their way to him. The nearest building was too far to jump to; that would be insane. Crouching low with every choice taken from him, Joshua prepared to leap for the lowest window when a bolt of neon lightning struck behind, searing the creatures who let out a pitiful whine.

Whatever good that did. Joshua wasn’t sure how long any of them could keep this up. He had run out of places to jump or run. The creatures clawing their way at the tower were making ground and would reach the defenders on top soon. Joshua looked around hopelessly.

“Am I going to die here?” he asked himself, looking around in a sudden stupor. He suddenly found an odd peace with that. “Just as good as any place else. And the timing makes sense. Any chance we have of finding the Book of Light is gone.” Joshua took a deep breath and felt peaceful. It was weird, he knew, but he couldn’t help himself. He looked on the fight as a kind of spectacle ready to see how it ended when his head just about burst at the seams in pain. His fingertips dug into his scalp in agony. He’d been having headaches since coming back home, since the tsunami really, but this was an entirely new level.

It wasn’t alone. With the pain, the desire to live, to fight came to him. His heart pounded louder than it ever did and his body came alive with adrenaline.

As his vision cleared, Joshua heard the succession of clinking as hundreds of tiny feet clawed behind him. He turned and saw three beasts slithering their way onto the roof now. He looked to his empty hands. He had nothing heavy to throw. He looked to the far window; it was now covered in those tendrils. Finally, he looked up the tower, expecting to see Niles or maybe Gianna help, but they were in trouble by their own right. The creatures were upon them and Joshua watched Gianna drop kick one off the side in a daze. A hissing sound approached from behind and sent a chill up his neck.

He knew he didn’t have time to turn and that it didn’t matter. Joshua closed his eyes, smiled, and fought against the building pain in his head.

And then the pain transferred into a completely different type. Even through closed eyes, the light hurt. He put his hands up to block the sudden attack. He stumbled and steadied himself, trying to see what was happening. All around, the creatures slunk back and disappeared into the dark depths. Ahead, between the two pillars that stood guard over the city, the giant Serian airplane hovered, floodlights bathing them.

That can’t be right, Joshua thought, and yet it was exactly what was happening. The engines lay horizontally and the machine seemingly floated at that one point in space.

It wasn’t long after the initial shock wore off that the ship lowered itself enough to pull them one at a time into the open cargo bay. Joshua was last, with some difficulty as they were so low, and finally stepped to safety into the cargo bay, completely overwhelmed with whatever was happening. He turned to look out over the city, perhaps the real Dania, as the cargo bays closed and saw one last sight that made him shudder. Something in the far back beyond the city, the bright pure white lights of the ship reflected off something strange. Something alive that really shouldn’t be. Something that Joshua wouldn’t understand for some time to come.

Shaking off the confusion and having more important things to focus on, Joshua moved among the others as Ell and his crew did the same, checking for injuries, making sure everyone was alright. And surprisingly enough they were. Even Avonly was unhurt, even if she was still curled into a ball sitting down in the lounge.

She hadn’t been injured. She hadn’t even been exhausted to her breaking point. She hadn’t done anything at all. As Kael told it, when things started getting bad, really bad, she shut down. She just stopped doing anything and sat there. They needed her to strip off some metal and make a platform for them to escape but she couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She did absolutely nothing as they almost died.

Joshua wasn’t sure how to deal with that just yet, so he didn’t. Instead, he did something almost as hard and explained to Kael that their dream of ever finding the Book of Light had died. Zagan had taken that from them. Kael didn’t believe it, but that would take time.

As Joshua and Kael stood before the window discussing it, Kael looking for any possible angle they could have missed, the ship lurched forward and made its way into the platelasher’s abyss. Then to Joshua and Kael’s surprise, it started moving up towards the metal-sea. Joshua stood confused and alarmed as the aircraft shot right for it. A slight impact shook the ship and gray particles with hints of bronze and copper scraped at the windows, and the next thing they knew they were flying in open sky again.

“The hull is lined with electricity,” Ell said walking by and seeing Joshua and Kael with mouths open. “Electricity disrupts the flow of Sychakenetic energy. Stops Metal Syches from pulling us down and lets us even push through a dense Sy Field relatively easy, as long as you have enough power.” He grabbed each boy’s shoulder, in what was probably meant to be a comforting, friendly motion but wasn’t, and said, “Time for you to uphold your end of the bargain. Let’s take down Taerose.”

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