Syche: The Dark Element

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Chapter 4: Prison Break

Chapter 4: Prison Break

Come back to this once you have perspective, Joshua. How drastically could your life have changed if you made a different choice today?


Joshua Rasgard was engaged in performance art. Not the pretentious, showy kind. Merely the slow, self-absorbed, self-entertaining kind. He whistled a merry little holiday tune and pulled his hand-knitted scarf tight. His work came to a stop as did the snowball he rolled as he struggled to lift and place it on top of the snowman; little by little his masterpiece came together, and little by little he grew increasingly frustrated.

Not far off in this lone glade on a desolate glacier, the mouth of a cave sat stark and inviting. On its own, the protrusion was both obvious and suspicious, but Joshua knew the mysteries it held. Not an hour ago, Kael and he, hiding on a far off ridge, watched dark robed people both enter and leave. If ever there was a secret fortress for the Dark Element, this was it. A fact that Kael quickly confirmed; he could feel dozens of Syches in the mountain around them if he stretched far enough.

So Joshua cursed under his breath, not at the cave of course, but the complete lack of foot traffic. It made sense that they wouldn’t post a guard this far in the wilderness, but he expected a black robed assassin to pop out at some point. The plan worked better if they could be lured out. Running blind into a dark cave seemed poor in terms of planning. Joshua’s breath rattled both from the cold and the prospect of it. The plan would have to be very good indeed if they were going to make it back out of this den of superpowered murders.

So Joshua rolled his snowmen for them just as much as himself. Hoping it would be a good enough plan.

“Perhaps I should have picked a warmer medium,” Joshua muttered, teeth chattering. Shrugging, he peered around the wooded glade for some suitable arms for his snowman.

As Joshua walked towards the nearest pine tree, two newcomers, similarly garbed in black robes, slid down from a higher ledge and into view. Joshua paused and watched as they angled over to the cave. His shoulder drooped and a gurgle escaped from beyond his lips. How dense could they be? He stomped around for a moment looking at the low-hanging branches until his eyes spotted two healthy specimens. He was average height and stood on his tiptoes to snag the first branch ringing the glade with a loud, crisp ’crack!’. He found being average height the worst. There were practical applications to being short and even more for being tall. What good was it being the height everyone expected you to be?

As the last echoes hushed off the mountains, Joshua looked back to the guards. And oh boy, were they coming. In fact, based on how close they were now, he had to imagine they started for him the second he turned his back to grab a stick. Joshua quickly scuttled back to the snowman and hung near it as close as he could. That was key.

Trudging through the snow, the two guards cautiously looked for an ambush behind every pine tree. “Who are you?” one bellowed nearing the boy.

About time. They couldn’t see it, but under his scarf, a thin smile crossed his lips. In a mock accent Joshua began to answer,“I am how you zay, un arteest. Zis is, eh, my art ere,” the boy motioned extravagantly to the snowman. “This znow in zis very basin. Ohhhhh! It is just vat I need for--”

His blathering never found its conclusion as a burly fist plunged into his gut. He uttered one final guttural gasp and then collapsed into the snow.

“Why is there a random Syche in the mountain?” one guard asked the other, thoughtfully looking down at Joshua.

“Just go put him in with the others,” the first man shrugged. “New boss can decide when he arrives.” With the matter decided, the guard picked up the boy and threw him over his shoulder. “I’m going to look around. I only felt this one but something is wrong here.”

With a heaving grunt, the second guard struggled with Joshua for a full five seconds before finally managing to throw him over his shoulders. Together they made their way into the cave before they were swallowed by the dusky grayness that waited inside.


The guard that remained put his hands under his armpits and looked around. He was no combustion Syche and didn’t appreciate the cold. What was going on? he asked himself again and again. Some smart alec brat in the mountains? Who was a Syche no less. Something was very, very wrong here.

So he did what any good Syche did. He closed his eyes and used his powers. He felt the energy flow around him and reached out to--. Wait. He didn’t need to reach out at all. He could still feel it. There was another Syche here. That first kid wasn’t a Syche at all. He was on top of someone else, hiding them.

Unfortunately for the guard, it was the sort of realization that happens instantaneously, instinctively. The kind of thing you need a few seconds to understand. But that extra time never came.

In a maelstrom of ice and snow, the giant bottom ball of the snowman burst open and Kael javelined out, aimed right for the man. He had him by the neck as they went down into the snow together.


Inside of the cave, the other man trudged along with Joshua through dimly lit, stony passages taking turns seemingly at random followed by descending some crudely hewn stairs in the black stone. Opening the next door, he stepped into a narrow corridor where a faint, electric hum hung in the air. In a chair immediately to his left sat a man in his twenties. He wore similar black clothing but nothing covered his face and stringy blond hair. The caves weren’t warm, but they were habitable.

“Open one,” Joshua’s man ordered the guard sharply.

The prison guard nodded, flipped a switch, and the humming ceased. The guard dragged Joshua through the narrow corridor. The screeching rend of twisting metal revealed an open cell. The guard heaved Joshua into the prison.

As the groan of metal sounded alongside receding footsteps, Joshua spat dirt and straw. Daring, he squinted one eye open. He was alone in a claustrophobic block. Across the aisle, in two separate cells sat two other people: one a dark-haired girl resting against the hard stone, the other an older gentleman, huddled in the corner wrapped in a tattered blanket. The old man was dressed in skimpy rags for clothing, while the girl had some wear to her clothes but was matched disturbingly similar to the black-robed gang scattered throughout these caves and mountainsides. He fumbled to his feet and looked back to the solid metal bars sealing him in.

“Is he gone?” Joshua mouthed. The girl and the man nodded. Joshua rubbed his stomach, massaging the pain away. “Name’s Joshua Rasgard, pleased to meet you. I’ll be your hero today.”

Faint and high pitched, the buzzing vibrated through his cell bars once more.

The man in the corner hugged his blanket tighter and looked away; however, the girl gazed at him with her deep hazel eyes, almost transfixed.

“I’m Gianna, what did they get you for?” she asked, a little too enthusiastically.

Joshua chuckled at this. “They didn’t get me. I snuck in here.” The old man scowled momentarily before once again looking away. “It still counts if they helped me sneak in here. I got in, and that’s what counts.” Joshua waited for a response, but the man had given up any pretense of conversation. “Fine. You in the rags. Doctor Bartholomew, correct?”

This seemed to get the haggard man’s attention. “Is this some kind of new torture?” he moaned.

“No…?” Joshua dawdled. “No,” he said more forcefully. “Here’s the deal, we break you out of here; you answer all of our questions. And I mean all of them.” Joshua lowered his voice at the end, checking to see if the man in the chair could hear him.

“But who are you, and how did you even find me?”

Joshua sighed as his foot tapped and fingers fidgeted. “It would be horribly redundant to explain. Let’s just get you out of here and you can go see your daughter.”

“My daughter is here?” The man gasped.

Joshua twitched in befuddlement as if he was that stupid, as if Kael got to make all the decisions. “We dropped her off at an orphanage in the capital. After this is all over, you can go and get her.” He paused turning back to the outside of the cell as the sound of footsteps rang down the staircase. “And here we go.”

The door down the hall squeaked open. A newcomer slunk into the room with his eyes fixed upon his feet. In three steps he crashed into the prison guard, knocking him down and sending him off on a tirade.

“I’m so sorry,” the new voice said timidly. “I’ll be more careful next time.” There were some more sounds of clutter as the footsteps began again. In dark robes, veiled and shadowed, the new person walked by with a shiny object between his index and middle finger. With a flick of the wrist, the object sailed through the bars and into the cell and the figure continued.

Picking up the small iron key at his feet, Joshua turned to his captive audience with a grin. “And this,” he paused for dramatic effect, “is how we get out.” Nothing but self-satisfaction in his voice.

“And just what does that go to?” Gianna asked with a hint of smugness in her voice.

Joshua double taked at Gianna’s seemingly roulette wheel of expressions before carrying on. “The cell door, obviously.” Joshua rolled his eyes.

“What door?” Bartholomew asked.

Joshua stared at the solid bars transfixed looking up and down for a keyhole, a padlock, anything; it was solid metal from bottom to top. His smile transformed into a look of pure bewilderment in an instant. “Then what does this key go to!?” Joshua yelled loud enough to startle everyone on the floor. Not waiting for an answer, Joshua yelled down the hallway, “Kael! Get back here! The key does not open the cell! I repeat! I cannot open the cell! Code red!”

At the other end of the hallway, the guy who had thrown the key stopped and took a deep breath, his teeth grinding against each other. He turned his head in time to see the prison guard sprinting at him.

“Are you kidding me, Josh?” Kael shouted back as he took off running, disappearing around the corner.

As the guard rounded the corner in pursuit, a bright light and loud crack split the air. A body crashed against the wall and crumpled over. Kael walked over to the downed guard and lightly stamped on his chest, squelching a few stray cinders that still burned. He strode up to the bars and glared at Joshua. “You idiot, there is no room to dodge in this corridor. He could have killed me.”

“Well you had to go and give me a key that doesn’t work,” Joshua shot back. “Learn to take responsibility for your own mistakes.”

“You didn’t realize it either until I told you,” the girl behind Joshua noted sadly. Her speech always off with what she was saying.

“A little gratitude?” Joshua spat back.

“Whatever you say, hero,” the girl answered, sounding oddly genuine.

Joshua glared at her for a second unable to decide whether she was mocking him or genuinely nuts. The tone of her voice was strange. Almost replying to find out if it was a joke at his expense, he instead turned back to Kael. “It’s electrified so you can go ahead and shut that lever off over there,” Joshua said. “I suspect they did that to stop any Syches from manipulating the metal bars. With enough power running through it could even stop a Combustion Syche’s explosion.”

Without speaking, Kael looked back to Joshua and nodded. Joshua’s eyebrow raised in turn. Kael’s head bobbled from side to side to a second before holding up five fingers which prompted Joshua to nod once again. And that’s all it took for the plan to once again take motion. Kael walked to where the guard previously sat and threw the lever, and the dreadful humming ceased. His job done, Kael turned heel and walked down the hallway and around the corner.

Bartholomew stood up now and clasped his hands together. “I take it you two have a plan?”

“Yup, we have five minutes to get out of this cell. After that, we’ll have a tiny opening to make it back outside before getting caught. Kael is going to make a distraction-- I think,” Joshua finished, taking a large breath.

“And how do we get out of this cell?” the Doctor asked, his hand motioning to the solid bars.

Joshua opened his mouth wordlessly and then paused in thought. Just then, a responding crash shook the walls and their bones. Joshua looked over to Gianna’s cell. The metal bars that were still there were twisted and warped with a giant hole punched through the center. “Combustion Syche?” Joshua asked Gianna excitedly. She nodded as he scooted to the back of his cell, closed his eyes, and clapped his hands over his ears. Two tremors later, he turned around to find himself and the Doctor free.

“So you didn’t plan for this?” the Doctor asked, standing back as his cell melted in a bright neon haze. “If it was just you and I here, we’d be stuck?”

“There’s always a kink in the plan,” Joshua replied. “It happens. Wait until you hear the story of how we found your daughter.”

As the three escapees turned to the stairs, a voice from behind halted them. “Hold on,” the prison guard’s haggard voice scratched.

Gianna swung in front of Joshua and Bartholomew, her palms opened towards the guard.

The man held up his hands in surrender. “Take me with you. I can’t be here if you escape.”

Joshua placed a hand on Gianna’s wrist, lowering her arms. “Name’s Joshua. Happy to save whoever I can.” Joshua casually strode forward and offered his hand.

“Joseph,” the guard said, grabbing Joshua’s hand and steadying himself to his feet. He grimaced as he stood as straight as he could.

The party of four made their way to the stairs and began to climb with Gianna leading. Bartholomew looked back on Joseph with a slight snarl. He wasn’t about to argue with Joshua, he would be still stuck in his cell without him, but he could ensure that his former captor knew where he stood. At the top of the stairs, they arrived at a long dark hallway and moved to a corner. One by one, they flattened their backs against the cold stone wall in a line, waiting for a group of darkly dressed shadows to move by.

Up the flight of stairs, Gianna quickly explained how she had ended up in a cell. She had attempted to escape from this organization. To find a boat. To get off this island.

Joshua said, “So you made it that close before they caught you?”

“Barovitche is the closest city to this base here. And there’s always boats there,” Gianna said. “Just not when my group made a break for it. The Dark Element caught us within an hour of arriving in the city, and then I got thrown in prison. The other three dead.”

Bartholomew looked to Joseph who gave a simple shrug.

“Going to be an example no doubt,” she continued. A faint shudder ran down her body. “What if they had done something to my elbows? The thought makes me uncomfortable.”

At the top of the stairs, Joshua placed his ear against the door. He nearly jumped when he felt the slight rap, rap of Bartholomew tapping his shoulder.

“Smoke?” Bartholomew hissed, his brows furrowed. Sure enough, a thin black smoke was creeping up the staircase from the depths below.

“Kael needed to do something to distract them and setting stuff on fire is always a valid choice,” Joshua responded.

“It’s true,” Gianna added, quite emphatically. Joshua pointed to her in affirmation.

Wordlessly, they continued through the maze under Gianna’s instructions-- pointing this way or that. They had to halt almost immediately, however, as footsteps sounded further ahead. Ducking into a small room, they once again held their breath. By now, the smoke had become thick on the ceiling, the sheer volume of it oppressive. All around, shouts rang through the stony fortress as it descended into chaos.

Joshua stood at yet another door with his ear listening to the clamor and couldn’t help but smile. Bartholomew looked at him as calm as he had always been. Gianna was. . . it was one of those moments where it was entirely unclear what she was thinking. Joseph looked appropriately worried.

“Boy,” Bartholomew said to Joshua, “you are enjoying this too much.”

“It took three days to hike out here. I am going to enjoy myself” Joshua retorted. “But anyway, I think all the noise is moving towards the lower levels, we can probably get out of here now.”

“Yup,” Gianna said, “we are close to the exit now anyway. It’s straight ahead and to the right.”

“No it’s to the left and up one more flight of stairs,” Joshua said. Gianna looked like someone feigning shock. Joshua could see that Bartholomew was about to support her so he pressed forward: “I was paying attention when they brought me in. It’s not like I knew someone from this place would be guiding us, or that said person who literally lived here, wouldn’t know their way around.” He stared at Gianna as these last few words left his mouth. Joshua couldn’t even be sure that she was angry, a slew of emotions crossed her face in a fraction of a second and he had to admit that there was no reading this girl.

“The boy is right,” Joseph chimed in, and this seemed to satisfy Bartholomew.

Sliding the door back open, they stayed low and slunk to the upper level of the labyrinth. Following the thinning smoke, the group burst out into the bright white light of day, cringing in pain momentarily.

Before they could even see again, the scream of a man met their ears. The guard who had captured Joshua was out by the trees dragging his fellow guard, stark naked, back to the base. He dropped his fellow and sprinted towards them.

“Hey Gianna, sic ’em,” Joshua said, pointing to the sentry. She took a step forward and raised a foot bringing it down on Joshua’s foot, hard. “Ow. Sorry. Sheesh.”

Bartholomew quickly looked to Joseph who was still clasping his smoldering chest in pain. “If you don’t mind,” interrupted Bartholomew, “one of you will need to do something, quickly!”

“The guy without powers has got it,” Joshua said, stepping forward. “Relax.”

As the sentry bore down on them, a thin red rope of liquid pooled out of his skin and twisted together-- blood. A minute distance between the two parties, Joshua sighed and reached underneath the folds of his clothes at the small of his back as if to draw a firearm. The attacker immediately jumped back, the blood spreading in front of him and crystallizing to form an opaquely red shield. Jumping forward, Joshua crashed foot first into the bloody shield as he threw himself over it. “Sike” he yelled, bringing the heel of his foot down onto the sentry’s face.

Prepared to say a quick one-liner he had prepared that morning, Joshua turned and a dark shape ripped across his vision. It grazed his head and knocked him off his feet. Joshua fought for a second before his body lapsed into unconsciousness in the thick snow.

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