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Lady of the Ring (Part 1)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure

Lady of the Ring




Part 1


Monday, October 24, 2016 - 1:20 pm
On the way to the Crystal Hall

It’d been a while since Caro approached a random stranger within the cafeteria to ask for something. But maybe it was because she was in such high spirits, she felt more than capable for whatever reason or was starting to take a more proactive and wanderlust approach to the magic that had once ruined her life, she felt compelled to ask. “Excuse me…” Caro said, somewhat taken aback as the heads of the girls nearby turned her way. Fortunately, one or two she could recognize, if only by a couple of degrees of separation.

“Yes?” The girl, Morgana, codename Dragonsfyre according to Chris and Gwen, answered by cocking her head in confusion. From the outside, the girl could’ve passed off as a sophomore, or even a junior. Tall with a nice complexion and hair that was a vibrant dark red that despite its lack of proper care could’ve placed her in the popular girl’s table within her old school. Yet there was something about her body language, an underlying insecurity that, truth to be told, she found somewhat endearing, reminding her of both Chris and Gwen from last year…

Nevertheless, she was letting her gaze get carried away, and knew that in turn the other girl had been studying her own appearance in comparison. She needed to clarify her intentions and did so with her still work-in-progress approachable smile.

“Sorry. My name is Caroline Hersebeth, and I’m a friend of Chris, Christina from Poe.”

“Chris? Cool skater girl Chris? That one!?”

“The same one,” Caro said. “I’m sorry to be this upfront, but I have to ask. Your powers are dragon-based, right?”

“Well… um, yes? You aren’t a dragon slayer, right?” Morgana asked, staring up at Caro’s horns as if debating if they were real or props, before noticing her other inhuman features.

Caro shook her head. “Can I ask for your help?”

Morgana looked back all the more puzzled as she glanced back at her friends, all of whom shared her confusion on the matter, some either preparing to step in as if Caro was some sort of threat. The girl must’ve been through quite a lot to demand that response, especially within the first months.

The fortune came in as Tanya Wright, ‘Invictus’, interjected. “Guys, chill. She’s from Whitman and the FSHA. I know her. Hey Caro.”

“Hey Tanya,” Caro said, finding herself more at ease. “Would you vouch for me? I just want to have a quick talk with Morgana here.”

“Sure… Um, guys, should we carry on? Otherwise, we’ll be running late,” Tanya encouraged. And the girls and a few boys began to walk out.

That could’ve gone smoother, Caro thought to herself, I think the last time I approached someone like this was back in my old school when I was the queen bee. And the reaction was certainly much more different like this.

With just the two of them, she felt she was losing the girl’s attention at an exponential pace but she was polite enough to stay by and listen. “What did you need my help with?” Morgana asked

“Yes. For the sake of keeping this short so you can go back with Tanya and your friends,” Caro said, already thinking it would be a moot or even counterproductive to explain all the things that led her to pitch this idea. “I want to create a trinket. An enchanted trinket.”

“Oh, like some of the artifacts we had to appraise in class a couple of weeks ago?” Morgana answered.

Caro nodded. “And for that I need strange ingredients that reflect the desired strengths and properties.”

“So, you want to get the powers of a dragon?” Morgana completed as she became a bit more hesitant, taking a step back.

“I do… And I know you’ve realized this by now. For this I need to ask you something…” She took a deep breath. “Blood would be a good alternative.”

Morgana frowned, despite knowing the offer was coming. “That’s an extreme request to bring up from the blue.”

“I know. But I figured I should try to be straightforward and transparent about it,” Caro said, trying to channel Gwen’s approach, “Besides, lending someone else your blood is a big deal for the Mystic Arts faculties. If it were worked into a curse without your permission, it would be terrible for me if found out.”

“Probably not as terrible for the cursed person.”

“That too,” Caro said, shaking her head. “Either way, I don’t plan to get into trouble and want to avoid mincing words or intentions. I want a sample of your blood to have it fashioned into an artifact or accessory of power, one I can use in self-defense without needing to overspend my own mana.”

She added that last part so that her spiel didn’t sound as covetous as it might have.

“If you so wish to, I can offer you a payment. I can also promise to help you study for some of the more challenging topics of magic, since I’m one of the top mages in my class. Or I can promise you an enchantment or a copy of whatever artifact I make.”

To that, Morgana remained in a pensive manner for a moment. Inwardly deliberating on the offer. “Well… I want to learn more about myself, and what my blood can do… for reasons,” Morgana said, seemingly distancing herself from the present back onto a seemingly past incident. Though I can’t do it now,” Morgana added, subtly pressed for time.

“It’s fine. I just came up with the idea today. I wanted to know if I could count on your help when I needed it, with the previous schedule, that is. I still have to investigate the ways of making the thing, consult with Mrs. Grimes, talk about using a forge on campus and all that preparation needed.” She then produced her phone. “Though we could exchange numbers so I can consult with you.”

“Can do,” Morgana said, answering with her own phone.

And on cue, the two girls deftly exchanged information.

With the first and biggest hurdle of her upcoming project cleared, Caro made a list of what else could be needed. She would need a forge, fire, hammer and anvil, also metals, chisels, paper and pencil. So much detail and work put into the endeavor. What would come out of it? She wondered.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016 - 10:51 am
Magic class, year 2

“Now, Peppercat. That was a good display of esoteric elemental ritual magic using an element that diverges from your practiced one. Results not-withstanding,” Mrs. Barton praised, as she encouraged the poor catgirl to step back to her seat. The student's black hair and tail were covered in light frost as her hands rubbed her arms in an attempt to regain heat. Around her feet were shards and stars made of opaque ice, both irregular and brittle. “I do applaud the attempt for flashiness. But you need a little more training and insight before you can emulate what you see in your ‘animes.’”

The mere utterance of the word got chuckles out of some of the students and all Marlene could do, once she recovered from the cold aftereffects of her exhibition, was retun to her desk and sink into her seat, trying to look dignified. Though the way her ears laid flat against her hair was a pretty clear giveaway. Still, Caro tried to reassure her fellow Whitmanian.

“I think you did a good enough job,” she said. “Those shards of ice did look like the ones Emilia used in… was it the third episode?”

“You’ve been watching?” Marlene asked, her ear flickering as Caro reached up to dust bits of snow off them.

“Inevitably,” Caro sighed. She’d been hanging with Chris over the past couple of days and the enthusiastic Poesie had roped her and Gwen into watching that anime… what was it called? Re:Zero? And as a good friend, she was obliged to tag along. And that must’ve been Chris’s plan as Caro, admittedly, got herself surprisingly invested after the first four episodes. Not that she would admit it as easily.

“I just thought it would be nice to incorporate a move like that when I moved over to do some professional public cosplaying.”

“You were already looking good during those anime showings,” Caro said.

Mrs. Barton’s chair whirred as it moved back to the front of the classroom, as mana gathered in her fingertips. And with the utterance of a spell and the wave of her hand, magic spread out and melted down the ice shards that remained from the exhibition stage. The water was nudged and pushed towards the gutters along the side of the wall, where the water reservoirs rested, ready for the use of any student that needed it as a medium for a demonstration.

The teacher today was Mrs. Vanessa Barton, once known as Vanity Girl. Once a famous superheroine along with her husband, who also taught history in the school, she had suffered an injury that left her as she was in her current state, bound to the most elegant and advanced wheelchair Caro had ever seen. But it was still a wheelchair, nonetheless. A grim reminder of the dangers of superheroing. Something that gave Caro pause, having found herself roped with the Future Superheroes of America club track on a bet.

The idea of a resignation letter was quite real for Caro whenever she saw the instructor.

Mrs. Barton seemed downtrodden and taciturn at times, even as she tried to hide it and focus on her work. And yet with her focus on teaching and the ability to still use magic, she undertook the task as dutifully as could be, if not so strictly. And yet, there was a clear difference this year when compared to the last. Her attitude had become more spirited and lively, if only for brief moments, giving them a glimmer as to what Vanity Girl must’ve been like before the incident… Rumors were that it was because of a new addition to her family.

“Alright class,” Mrs. Barton instructed. “Today, being the first week of November, we’ll be starting our first project. This time, the theme is to work with lingering magic by way of enchantments. Something that creates an effect despite you no longer being present or actively channeling spells.”

Groans escaped some of their classmates, though they were for the most part restrained and tempered by the teacher’s quiet bemusement. Truth be told, they all knew that she needed to give them the directed assignment just to minimize the risk of explosions on campus and cottages.

Mrs. Barton then proceeded to list out indications and suggestions, and it wasn’t long after that bell chimed the end of class. “That would be all. You know my tutoring hours, so you can drop by to run your ideas by me or if you find yourself stuck.”

“Oh…” Marlene muttered, still somewhat dejected after her failed exhibition. “Well, I guess enchantments are something I can do… I think…”

“Maybe you can finally come around to work on that flying broom or iron the last kinks in your transforming costume,” Caro noted, producing her notebook for the class to sift through the half- and nearly-cooked ideas she might use.

“I just don’t want to think about that for now.” Marlene sighed. “How about you? This sort of thing should be a cakewalk for you.”

“I suppose it will,” Caro said, taking a moment to realize, to wild personal surprise, that she was on top of things now. In her old school, she used to criticize the work ethic of the nerd, but now that she was trying to actually be a good student, she had come to see the value of being ahead of the pack.

“Do you have an idea?” Marlene asked.

“I do…” Caro said, hesitating for a moment before sharing her book with her. “Latest page.”

Marlene obediently flipped through the pages, seeing how each had seen its own fair share of erasing and scrubbing, filled to the brim with scribbles that took the form of seemingly unconnected thoughts. Through glimpses and glances, she could make out a pattern about some of them. Spells that were weaved in the form of poems or contracts. Some that appeared inspired by folklore and short stories while those that were earlier in the developmental stage were but lists of conditions and clauses. Illustrations were aplenty and the words weren’t constrained to a linear fashion. It was creative chaos.

When the other girl reached the latest one, the one Caro had pointed out, she got the idea of the project. To the point that it got her to chuckle, especially as she read detailed notes about its construction that filled the page.

“Are you really going to do that one?”

“Yes,” Caro decided, already understanding, in hindsight, her reaction.

“But it looks like-”

“Don’t… I know what it looks like, and my roommate has already made the joke,” Caro said.

“It even has the markings in there! Is that elven?”

“It’s abridged magic speak. A shorthand. I use it when I don’t have the room for long stanzas. It just happened to be the more functional way.”

“I’m torn between wanting to wear it and throwing it into the fires of-.”

“It’s not that!” Caro said, snatching the book. She picked up her things and walked away. . She knew that Marlene didn’t mean to mock her, and did so in good faith… but she still needed to get used to this aspect of no longer being atop the social food chain.

And she would be as popular as a highborn lady when her project worked. Her eyes fixed themselves onto the pages of her book and saw the sketch of a simple band, with no discernible feature at first glance by the smooth surface of what would be gold sitting tentatively.

She couldn’t help but begrudgingly admit that Marlene was somewhat right…

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 3:04 pm
Crystal Hall Cafeteria,

“You’re going ahead with it?” Morgana noted.

“Yes, this Saturday.” Caro reiterated. “I’ll be reserving one of the forges to work on it. So, I was wondering if I can still rely on your blood as the sample?”

“My blood?” Morgana said, reminding herself of the rather extreme request. With a bit of hesitation her gaze dropped down to her own arm and wrist before looking up at Caro. “Sure, you can count on me. On one condition.”

“And what is it?”

“I want to be present. I don’t know much about my blood and its properties, much less since I manifested. And, well, people have wanted it in the past.” Caro could only nod. Imagining if it was some power of dragons it might be sought after. “So, I want to see what makes it special and how it can be used. And maybe learn one or two things about your magic.”

“Fair enough. You have my word that I won’t use your blood for nefarious purposes. I’ll just use them to create a trinket meant to help the wearer,” Caro said, only to realize her words weren’t clear of the scale of shadiness. "If you want, I can make an oath or something?"

Morgana bit her lips as she thought. "Actually... Well, I don't want to seem rude, but I think a written contract might be safer, just in case."

"Sure, we can do that. The Magic Department has a standard one for students to use, we just fill in the details."

Morgana looked relieved. "That sounds fine."

“If anything, it would be great to have an extra pair of hands,” Caro said, relieved that the conditions weren’t harsher. “Do you have any experience in forging?” she said, clearly as a joke.

“Not really… buuut, I’m pretty much fireproof, so if you drop something into the fire, I could pick it up.”

“Sounds perfect,” Caro said with some envy. “You’ll be the perfect helper then. It’ll be on Saturday at four o’clock, is that a good time?”

Morgana frowned for a moment but finally gave an agreeing nod. “Got nothing urgent. Might need to move some stuff around but I’m free.”

“Cool, I’ll text you the location of the forge once I get it assigned,” Caro said, producing a couple of permit papers. Unlike the ones issued by security, these ones had the elegant font and the seal of the Mystic Arts department.

After ironing out a couple of details, the two girls parted ways. Caro walked away from the half-empty M3 table down the stairs. Whilst the group often received backhanded comments and quiet glares from other students who labeled them as upstart if not self-important for having their own table up above, Caro was one of the few that weren’t bothered by it, and it meshed positively with them.

“Are you really going to offer your blood just like that?” her roommate, Bianca, noted. “Is that the sensible thing? After you-know-what?”

“I don’t think anything bad can happen. I mean, the school has forges designed for extreme heat, right? And I’ll be there to step in if anything goes out of hand.”

“Besides,” Jimmy added, “it would be cool to see a ring that gives anyone a fraction of your powers.” To that, Tavi held up a match before blowing to it, breathing out flames of pixelated sprites that appeared straight out of a 16-bit video game. Evidently, high-def flames were off the table for the mischievous ferret.

“Yeah… as long as they don’t burn themselves,” Morgana said once she stopped chuckling at the AI’s antics.

A couple minutes later, most of the occupants of the table excused themselves, having to go to their next class or to meetings. Today, though, Morgana lingered for a moment or two. All this matter about blood and her powers, particularly at the idea of experimenting with it, evoked some bad memories and left her thinking as to what came before and, worse, what could go wrong after. Having the lingering concern that it might not be good enough… or that she might’ve misled Caro in her plan.

She considered reaching out to Caro and clarifying the matter, while also reminding herself that she had agreed to meet up with Bianca and Laura later.

At that time, Morgana’s gaze drifted towards the ground floor.

Past lunch and still early to dinner, people were few and far in between, leaving the walking space clear. There was a group of girls sitting by the side, among which Morgana recognized one or two Amazon members. A group of lesbian girls that were dedicated to promoting radical toxic feminism off into the various cottages. And true to form, among them were girls that didn’t belong to Poe.

Up ahead, a bit closer to the cafeteria’s ordering module, was another guy sitting by his lonesome at a table, with a large spread of pieces of metal, practice and glass. Clearly a student that had forgotten or pretty much disregarded the rules about not using the cafeteria as a workshop. Definitely either a devisor or a gadgeteer, so absorbed in his work that had pretty much been left alone by the classmates he arrived with.

While not versed in the who’s-who of the labs, Morgana could at least identify him as Stark, a devisor who had a tendency of dricking out. One time, Laura had to use her neural neutralizer to stop him during one of his episodes. What was he working on, she wasn’t sure. At a simple glance, it resembled more of a super-soaker: a gun meant to fire off pressurized jets of liquid.

But it was far more complex than the regular toy, with nozzles and pipes that wrapped themselves around the nozzle ready to come in contact with the firing stream. For a moment, the concern that the guy was working on a flame thrower was apparent, and that was probably tame when compared to what Laura had told about her misadventures at the lab.

Soon after, in his tinkering, he turned the devise and allowed her to get a peek of the tanks, oozing and slushing with a tar black liquid.

It felt like trouble in the making, prompting Morgana to vigilance, just to know whether to avoid it or dare step in.

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At this time, students were already done with the cafeteria. Having stuffed themselves and replenished their energies, they’d set off to the next part of their days. Be it after school activities or projects. So few lingered about in the cafeteria at this time outside of those late for lunch. And there was no one there to object to Bergholt “Stark” Stuttley’s presence tinkering nor his reckless experimentation.

What was he working on that they might find objectionable? That was the question he imagined reporters would be asking once his deeds were made relevant.

It was a good question. He’d spun and racked his head, trying to come up with ways of using more malleable sources of energy. Liquid batteries was the idea he landed on. After a small incident that he had landed on after that one time when one of his lab-mates had tripped and landed on an energy cell in the labs, smashing it and resulting in a wonderfully flashy explosion with surprisingly few injuries.

He realized conventional batteries were somewhat overrated. So his idea was something simple: to manufacture an alternative way of storing energy, as high potency liquid and as such pumped in through the veins of a devise, like a strange form of blood.

The solution was evident. Whale oil, oil in general. The predecessor to electricity. There was something about it that carried the resting energy and that could open the gates to a greener, or bluer future. So he spent the next few days working around with his devised electrolyzed version of whale oil. Synthesized oil, mind you; he was not keen on attracting the ire of PETA once he went public.

The end result was a strange, stinky black oil that wasn’t strong enough to house a current stronger than a truck full of potatoes. Thinking there was more that could be done, and not because he was now saddled with a whole tank of devised black liquid, he benched the concept and switched tracks.

Now, he was tinkering with the idea of a multipurpose liquid. One that could accomplish many things simultaneously. With the addition of a particular agent the consistency and properties would switch almost instantly.

“That’s what I’ll answer,” he punctuated as his reply to the imaginary ‘what are you doing?’ question. Truth be told, he found himself much more into the idea, given that the current project on the table was but a huge pro-level water gun, and his fingers itched to pull the pressurized trigger.

In his hands was a marvel of hydraulics, even if he were to say so himself. A large hunk of reinforced plastic molded into a sick shape, with the density and weight on the structure being an indication of the strength and pressure at its disposal. At the butt of it was a semi clear tank that showed the oily black fluid sloshing about, with vials of colorful fluids and reagents stuffed onto the sides, ready to be applied in mid-stream to change the properties. One of them would supposedly make the resulting compound sticky, another would harden it. Another would make things super slippery and one last one would clean it all up. He also had assorted ideas on how to electrify it or make it explode.

Trial testing couldn’t come any sooner. At the moment, it was all analog, with the digital and electronic parts planned for the next iteration, but as it was, only with a couple of parts added and screws affixed, it would be ready for a trip to the gun range.

The compressor and vacuum chambers were installed onto the underside of the barrel, requiring careful yet strong twists of the screwdriver– for which Stark didn’t have the strength in a lone hand to do. In his mind, this had to be the last part needed to complete phase one.

A vindictive laugh escaped his lips as he was already imagining himself outdoing his lab-mates in a devisor contest. Fortunately there was no one nearby to hear him as most of the students present had already moved back onto their tables or were in line waiting for their takeout foot to be dispatched.

One of them was Firestep, a girl from Whitman’s non-GSD side eagerly awaiting for her energy-replenishing order. The speedster’s bare foot tapped impatiently at the risk of already starting to catch fire.

Stark remained focused on the task. Turning the screwdriver, he started to meet resistance. Usually, this would be a good point to stop, but Stark’s manic side took over, not allowing for what he considered ‘half-measures’ to remain. Such words bothered him. So instead, he leaned forward, pressing his body against the oil gun and using both hands to secure the gasket. In his mind, he believed that the little screw was being insolent.

Twist, twist and tw-oops.

Whether it was a faulty part, a bit of his multipurpose oil slipping off the table, or him getting mildly startled by a celebratory scream that reached the edge of his perception, the gun slipped under Stark. The screwdriver scratched the plastic and, like a slippery dull stab, it sent the trinket skidding out of the way.

Two spins the device gave over the table, making its way almost to the edge, but fortunately stopping before it could fall off. For a moment, Stark had averted a crisis… but it was a fleeting moment.

The vacuum charger and the compressor creaked as one of the screws he’d actually failed to tighten popped, and a gush of the black oily liquid spewed forth, chancing to intercept Firestep just as she was on a light-stepping trot path back to her table and her friends. With her tray of food, she dismissively sidestepped Penny’s pet zombie, only to be blindsided by the splash of black sludge that stained up her red deco-style shirt.

And taken by surprise, what other thing could she do than drop the food she was carrying and let out a startled scream as she was sludged. The stream eased out soon after, leaving a mess and a clear sticky black line to the guilty party. Stark could only look at the mess he made with a disappointed look. “Crap…” he said, mostly directed towards the setback in his design.

“You…” Firestep hissed as she walked up to Stark… or at least tried. Her foot touched the edge of the sludge, which had her foot slip off to the side and the rest of her follow. Fortunately, being an empowered runner, she knew how to deal with falls and prevent them. Her hands, quick on the uptake, caught her before pushing herself away, only to slip off and almost fall onto the splatter zone. She ultimately made it out, but it was still a funny wild dance, awarding her a couple of chuckles from the onlookers, which included upperclassmen, Morgana, and a couple of the staff members doing the cleaning. Even some of Firestep’s friends were part of the echo behind her back.

“My sample! Careful with it!” Stark gasped, his mouth speaking before common sense could hijack his mind.

“What-why?” Firestep gasped freezing up. If there was something someone with a certain degree of pyrokinesis dreaded, it was to be close to chemicals, even more so if they were stepping on it. “Don’t tell me this thing explodes.”

“Explodes? What are you talking about? No, it doesn’t. You’re contaminating my sample! Careful with your step!” Stark blurted out, his experiments having rendered the liquid inert and nonflammable… unless exposed to one of the other chemicals on his gun. All of that was in theory, of course.

“What do you mean contaminating your sample!? You contaminated my shirt!” She snapped, gesturing at her outfit that now had an oily smear that stretched all over her right shoulder down to her pant leg. With the way her clothes clung down to her skin, it was much like a dirty wet T-shirt contest. “Ew! Ew! It’s oily and yet sticky! How is that possible?! This better not be toxic!”

“Of course it's not toxic!” Stark said offhandedly as he stepped away from the table with a strange rudimentary gadget at hand, one that resembled a shoddily put together bellow but did the job regardless, sucking up the black liquid.

“Hey! Are you listening to me?!” Firestep snapped. After a squeak of her foot confirmed that her friction wasn’t affected, she launched herself forward in a short-distance dash so the side of her leg would meet up with Stark’s rib.

“Hey! What gives!?” the devisor snapped as he pushed himself up. His face turning red as he fixed his goggles. “I’m in the middle of cleaning!”

“I should be the one demanding an explanation! Why did you slime me!?”

“I… I didn’t.” Stark snapped, only to trail off as he got a good look at Firestep’s shirt. “I was just doing fine when the thing slipped.”

“You still had your project here! And you still caused this!” Firestep pressed on the issue, once again bringing the attention over to her marred shirt, while also trying to cover herself.

“I already said it wasn’t my fault. My hand slipped!” Stark snorted, growing visibly uncomfortable with the subject.

“And I don’t care! It is your fault!” But Firestep wasn’t about to let it slip. As Stark was pushing himself back up and walking away, her hand landed on his shoulder and he was whipped around to face her. “No, you’re not going just yet! You have to pay me!”

“I don’t have to pay you anything!” Stark snapped. By now, the Diedrick's had begun to set in, and now he was giving a glare that encapsulated the words 'How dare you!?’

In that brief moment where distance was put between the two, the devisor reached out behind his back for his holdout. He wanted to channel in his inner gunslinger but his focus was sorely lacking, instead, he found himself fumbling to put his finger on the trigger. By the time he finally managed, Firestep was forewarned, she sped up to the side.

Fortunately, for everyone present, Stark had been so focused on his recent project that he’d neglected providing proper maintenance to his tools. So the end result, instead of a pressurized blast of electric nonlethal plasma, was more like a blue cloud that, at worst, would tickle the skin.

Though that didn’t detract from the intention.

“You tried to shoot me!” Firestep blurted out, almost in disbelief.

The girls from Firestep’s table rose up from their table and were already on their way to support their friend.

“Beat him up! You can claim self-defense now!” One of them exclaimed while other students, who were bystanders to the situation, were already going out of their way to notify campus security.

“Self-defense? I didn’t attack you… first!” Stark corrected himself, not lifting up his glance from the gun, as he searched the deep pockets of his coat for parts. With nimble fingers, the nozzle of his gun was ejected and replaced by another that would hopefully do the job. But by then, Firestep had already closed the distance and grabbed him by the wrist to force his aim down.

And her fist was already raised and ready to meet up his face when someone called out. “Enough, you two!”

It was a member of security that had stepped into the fray. Young, in his mid-twenties or so. He'd been standing around the side with a high posture that gave away how proud he was of his uniform, though the displeased look on his face pretty much summarized the repeated realization that he was stuck sorting out food fights between teenagers in a school cafeteria. Evidently, he expected to be doing a more relevant job.

“Alright, break it up. No need to escalate things. This is the first and last warning,” he grumbled, his hand subtly reaching down for the high-powered stun gun. These were kids, but security had with them a list of the potential troublemakers and what to expect. And there was no shortage of horror stories regarding what could happen if one of these little scuffles got out of control.

The guard’s presence got every viewer and watcher to try to step away, except for the two students at the center of it. Firestep had managed to fly under security’s radar for the most part whereas Stark was experiencing the worst case of tunnel vision that might ever have been documented.

“Come on, step away,” The guard repeated the instruction and Firestep had no other choice but to humor him. Taking two quick strides back, enough so she was a step away from taking cover from the devisor. “You, too,” he repeated to Stark.

When the boy didn’t answer, the guard cursed his luck under his breath before adopting a quieter tone. “It’s okay. There is no need to be angry.”

“She was about to hit me! You saw that, right?”

“I didn’t get to punch or kick you, though. You tried to shoot me,” Firestep snapped, only to get shushed by the guard.

“I’d prefer it if this didn’t get any worse. It would be a lot more work on my plate, and I want to avoid it. And I’m sure none of you would want to get sent to Security to give an explanation as to who fired a laser gun in the cafeteria, right?”

“Electrified solid plasma beam!” Stark snapped. Despite what everyone expected, he didn’t raise the gun. Fortunately.

“Right, plasma gun, whatever,” The man corrected. “We can just chalk this up as a minor dispute that got resolved and no one has to get into trouble, alright?”

Most present knew this was a bluff to calm the guy down and make things easier for everyone. After all, there were some violations involved, most of which would be on Stark, so a reprimand was to be expected. Still, his words were fortunately working as the nozzle of the gun touched the table and before long the rest of its form laid flat against it.

“What?! Firestep snapped, stepping up in front, stretching the fabric of her soaked stained shirt. “But he ruined my shirt and you’re telling me he’s just walking? I’ve seen girls that get in trouble with security for much much less!”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Stark said as he was close to reaching for his gun, or at least would’ve if the guard hadn’t stepped between the two.

“Listen, listen… You’re…”


“Prefer codenames.”


“Firestep. Listen… Would an apology suffice?”

“An apology? My shirt is ruined? I’m soaked in who knows what… This better not be toxic.”

“Please. It’s completely safe…” Before insecurity crept up onto his voice, “I-In fact might be good for your skin.”

“I look terrible, and I’ll have to walk all my way back to the cottage. What’s left? To have a bucket of feathers thrown onto my head?”

“What would make you feel better?” The guard asked, his patience starting to ebb as the belligerent girl refused to back down. He really hoped things would get sorted out fast, and yet she appeared determined on getting them unwound.

“Oh!” One of Corrine’s friends, a girl with auburn hair wearing a light sports attire, chimed in. “Have him pay you for the laundry and the cost of the shirt, three times over!”

“Also, also!” Another girl, this one standing tall and athletic with black hair “Have him go down to his knees and grovel! He has to ask for forgiveness properly.”

“I’m not doing that!” Stark snapped.

“Well, you did ruin her shirt,” The guard conceded, especially as the girls had now drawn closer, and from the top of his head, he could identify them as an energizer and a ‘brick’. They weren’t making it any easier to de-escalate the situation.

“Did not,” Stark snorted stubbornly.

Firestep walked forth and stretched out her garment. “Look at this and tell me it’s not ruined! Ugh, it’s starting to dry up!”

“It’s not ruined. I can fix it. You know how I know? I’ve dealt with it and developed this solution. If the oil is exposed to a specific wavelength of light, it’ll vaporize in an instant. It’s how I’ve managed to keep my lab clean.” There was the impression that Stark was holding back the ‘from my messes’ from his sentence. And instead, he reached into his desk and produced a thick metallic device that resembled the MIB neuralizer, and a pair of shades which he just held onto his eyes.

Pretty much everyone who singled out Stark as a deviser stepped back, including the guard whilst the girls were pretty much taken aback and too late to react.

“Wait, what is he doing?” Firestep gasped as the device charged up with a fast and thin whistle and whirl up. As a reflex, she lifted up her hand to block her eyes.

With an unmistakable sound akin to a souped up whistle rang out, and a light flashed out from the cylindrical lightbulb at the top.

“My eyes!” One of the girls screamed out, in a rather dramatic tone.

“Chill… it’s just a fancy flash with a filter!” Stark snapped.

“I’m only seeing sparkles… colorful sparkles,” Another girl said with some irritation.

Truth be told, it barely reached the level of ‘blinding’, but it was enough to cast away nearby shadows, and did so in a strange pinkish tone. On a first glance, it barely appeared to have had some effect. But of course, with devisor trinkets, one could barely be certain.

“A warning first!” The guard clarified. By now, the kid was stretching the limits of what was permissible, and as much as he wanted to finish this matter without any escalation or detention, it would cross the line of neglect soon. He could even feel the eyes of other members of security arriving at the scene.

“If I happen to forget something important, you’ll be in trouble!” Firestep blurted, looking over at her shirt just to see the dark liquid rapidly drying in an effervescent manner, releasing itself into the air in a gray fizzy cloud bearing a deep tar like smell. While it wasn’t as bad, it didn’t appear something that couldn’t be removed through a wash, at least that much Firestep hoped for. In fact, the stain and its viscosity pretty much disappeared.

“Why didn’t you mention it right away?” The guard asked.

“Oh, it’s because I was trying to pick up the rest of my fluid from the floor when… My fluid!” Stark exclaimed looking at the spill on the ground, now a fleeting stain as the oily liquid dried up, leaving bits of ash-like dust in its place.

“Corrine!” One of the girls nearby called out startled.

“What?” Firestep blurted out only to get her answer right away, with the sound of a crack coming from her shoulder.

Not only had Stark’s fluid been dispersed by his experimental light, discoloring the shirt’s natural color, but it’d also super dried the fabric of her shirt, like stuffing a ton of starch within its wash cycle. A simple movement from her arm produced a crack on the shirt’s shoulder that quickly spread and crumbled. And all motions were just making it flake away.

“Eeeek! My clothes!” Corrine screamed, trying to cover, only to the effect of peeling more of the fabric.

“Here!” One of her friends produced a jacket and tossed it to Corrine, just as her shirt crumbled up to the shoulder’s height, revealing the strap of the bra. With a hastened move and a swift motion, pretty much destroying the remainders of the stained half of her garment, she wrapped herself tightly in it.

“What the hell!?” Firestep snarled, her face now far redder than her late shirt, out of deep embarrassment. “You ruined my clothes!”

Stark was no different, though in his case, a glare was replaced by a fleeting dopey smile spelled out how much of a glimpse he managed to catch. “Well… that was a reaction.”

“That’s all you have to say?!” Firestep said, as she finished zipping up the borrowed jacket.

“What else can I say? I never tried it on cotton!?” Stark muttered, his look drifting south. “Or denim, for that matter.”

“What do you…” Firestep almost had a panic attack as she remembered that half of her pants got themselves splashed by the thing. The black oil struck by the light had dried up as well, no longer sticking to her skin… however, it’d instead hardened into a sort of stamp mark, one that was at the biggest on the hip before splattering down to the rim of her pant leg. Interestingly enough, the markings had a bit of a spot or a shimmer about them. “Huh…” Firestep could only say so as to not utter the words ‘not bad’.

“You still owe me a shirt!”

“And you owe me my fluid. That took more effort and money than the pressed stamp on a tacky shirt,” Stark snapped.

“What?! Why you-” Firestep tried to run forth but found herself stopped by a limb.

“Alright! That’s enough,” The guard, now done playing Mr. Nice, grabbed the girl’s hands and immediately pulled her arm behind back so as to keep her still. Heeding his signal, the other members of security stepped in. “You two. Will you come to the security offices nicely or will we do it the hard way.”

“Ugh… Fine fine,” Stark grumbled raising his hands, seemingly having done this rodeo once. “No one better mess with my stuff.”

“What?! That’s not fair! I’m the victim!” Firestep struggled. “And I still haven’t had my meal!”

“Easy there, Corrine. It’s not worth angering them,” The girl by her side said in an effort to placate the problem. Though not by any means absolving Stark, her words still convinced her.

“Fine. Fine… I won’t struggle,” To that, the members of security gave her enough room to let her go, though still clearly expecting her to follow. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, and he’ll learn his lesson, one way or the other.”

Stark, sidelined by two of the members of security, watched as they picked up his inventions and walked out of the cafeteria, all the while repeating how his invention isn’t by any means dangerous and that he needed to drop it in the lab tunnels. Followed by the arresting officer and Firestep who’d chosen to remain in begrudging silence as long as she was being accompanied by her friends.

“Well, that was unfortunate,” Morgana muttered, having witnessed the scene from above. “But that won’t be the end of it, right?” she hazarded a guess.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 4:49 pm
The tunnels, Forge room 5 (B1)

“Rental of the forge for Saturday along with the energies, electric and magical required. An authorization to open the flow of essence and converge down to the center of the foundry and the tools designed for fine smithing and jewelcrafting,” said Riley Callahan, also known as Radiant, the teacher’s assistant for the Mystic Arts department, said, reciting the notes from her clipboard. “Not something I see often done with students, much less from sophomores. But if Mrs. Barton has approved you, I suppose you’re a responsible student.”

“Thank you,” Caro said, taking a deep breath. There was something about the scene that brought forth the excitement of her project. A place like this made it feel all the more official. A large room stacked with tools one would expect to find within a fantasy smithy. With emptied fountains that were meant to be filled with molten metal, magma or water, surrounded by bellows to liven up the fires. Pots, funnels, pipes and tongs that would make quick work in handling the dangerous materials rested against the ledge.

Aside from the foundry the rest of the room was destined for workshop and craftsmanship. Anvils of different sizes adorned the center, along with sturdy tables with hard iron clamps and presses that were rudimentary, but elegantly made and meticulous enough for the fine job ahead. By the wall were several other haphazardly littered pieces of equipment. On one side were stacks of basic molds for different parts of the armor and racks that were completely stacked with tools. From chisels to hammers of different sizes, going as small as what could be considered as “joke” size that could only be held by three fingers to large sledgehammers that were as big as any normal person standing. All of them glowed with red rune markings that connected the head of the hammer to the overstretched hooks that held them in place.

Caro didn’t need to get any closer to deduce it was an anti-theft spell and Radiant soon demonstrated it, gripping the shaft of one of the mid-sized hammers and trying to pull it. The thing was as hard-fastened as it could be even if they were only simple squared hooks.

“Since you’re making a small Class D-4 item, you’ll need something from this range.” With that, Radiant uttered a twisty little syllable as she tapped with her fingers the heads of three hammers, just a couple of ranks above the tiny one. And following her words, the red aura and markings that wrapped around them faded and they became fit for the taking. “Do you need me to prepare or enchant them?”

“Say no,” Grimma whispered in Caro’s ear, her voice bearing a tinge of giddiness as the shadow only visible to the girl’s eyes moved around the hammers like someone on a shopping spree. “This one is interesting, but I’d prefer to test things out on my own.”

“I… I think I can handle it.” Caro said.

“For a ‘DIY’ job, you can do it on the table there.”

The teaching assistant pointed over to the table that resembled a cylindrical pedestal, adorned by lines and bearing scattered writing implements on top. It was ready for the inscription of runes and glyphs, awaiting for the channeling of magics.

“The hammers are eighty percent silver, twenty percent mithril, so keep that in mind, being wary of the dangers of magical resonance,” Radiant explained, giving Caro a brief rundown of the dangers and effects the materials can have when doing the work. Fortunately, none of the issues were applicable to her project, so she allowed her focus to drift off, spying around the space and seeing the various mechanisms at play. From the foundry controllers that could open up to the above levels

“In the off-chance there is a problem,” Radiant noted as she moved over to the entrance’s wall. Next to the long list of warnings, do’s and don’ts of the forge there were also emergency supplies. Things like a turbo-powered fire extinguisher, and a water rune, both of which were bound to the wall via thick plastic safeties, a button that read ‘Flash Freeze emergency shutdown’ and another that said ‘Help!!’, next to which Riley, Radiant, gave a warning look. “And if you’re unable to deal with it, this will ring the alarm back into the faculty offices of the Magic Department. Is that clear?”

“Yeah, clear enough,” Caro noted, confident that she wouldn’t press that button, even if there were problems abounding.

“Now, as to the materials,” Radiant said. She guided the tour over to the last wall of the place, where chairs and tables laid, shelves of books decorated the corner and mannequins that were meant to be fashioned with the results of the labor stood. There at the ground of the corner laid a small chest bearing the same glow and energy of magic that was supposedly meant to keep it sealed.

Effortlessly, Radiant opened it to reveal stacks of ingots of different colors. Some as long as her forearm, whilst others were as big as her thumb. All of them had a smooth surface and a uniform color, denoting a sense of purity and quality, gleaming in shades of the rainbow under the halogen lamps of the room. As the teaching assistant’s hand reached over to pick one of them, Caro could hear the metals sing as they clinked against each other.

“For what you’re aiming to do I can recommend these pieces.” Radiant held up three different gleaming metal bars. “Half and half steel and lead. Fairly basic, ideal for restraining and containing power.”

“Though it dulls the effects, right?”

“You know your metals.” Radiant gave an approving nod.

I just heard Grimma, Caro thought as the caretaker continued.

Radiant moved over to show off the brightest and shiniest of all the bars, with its yellow-ish color giving away its material. “An alloy of gold, iron, with a little bit of copper, it’s expensive but has its fair share of good properties among which is that it’s very malleable,” she then showed up the third bar, one that held a strange meld of orange color mixed in with tinges of dull moldy green when viewed under the light. “Or a mixture of brass and silver, with a little bit of mithril. As stable to contain and employ powers, even if the magic stored within them degrades over time.”

“Sungold is strong for fire, associated with dragons, and would make for a compelling binding,” Grimma noted.

“Are you sure?” Caro whispered to the side

“A dragon wouldn’t want to ruin its treasure.”

“I’ll take the gold.” Caro said. “How expensive is it?”

“Quite a bit,” Radiant noted. “But the Mystic Arts department does lower the cost since this is for research purposes. It should be at a fee of two hundred fifty dollars.”

“Fine… I’ll take it,” she said, spurring herself to go on. Fortunately, she’d been saving her allowance for any damage that could be incurred as a result of her powers. Given how well it had all been going for her for the past couple of months, she felt she could splurge a bit. Plus she could always talk with Mrs. Barton and ask for the department of Mystic Arts to give her a bigger reimbursement. “Though I would have to be mindful and come up with a way to make the money back soon.”

“Alright, I’ll have the department bill you,” Radiant said, offering the ingot to the girl.

She certainly didn’t expect to be handed over the bar of gold then and there, but once in her hands, she was immediately tempted to look at the thing with nascent haughtiness, even greed. It felt quite valuable.

“Do I have to keep it with me?” As much as she wanted to flaunt it to her cottage-mates, she now dreaded imagining what would happen if she’d happen to lose it.

“You can leave it here and lock the room under the key,” Radiant said as she stashed the other bars into the chest and locked it, once again with magic. “No one else has this spot reserved so only you will be allowed in.”

“I think it’ll be for the best,” Caro said, placing the brick of gold within the desk’s drawer.

“Do you need any particular instructions as to how to manage or tend to the forge?”

“I can manage it,” Grimma mused, only for Caro’s ear, who relayed the message. “I’ll be fine.”

“I’ve seen blacksmiths tend to their work for so long, I’m sure I can do as well as Annatar himself,” Grimma mused.

“You also need to don standard issue protective gear at all times during the process. It’s a set of personal protective equipment that is enchanted against flames and explosions. I’ll be sure to leave it here for you and your assistant.”

“Very well.”

“Finally, any finished creation you make must be vetted by me or one of the on-duty teachers, if it’s to leave this space, is that clear?”


“Good. You have the instruction manual, and the guide of emergency protocols. I recommend you read up on it in the upcoming days,” Radiant said, moving over to the door. “Anything else, be sure to buzz in.”

And with that, she summarily left the room, leaving Caro standing in her new provisional forge, with a little slate of gold and tools to use. At times, she could only think of the perks of having these resources at her disposal, almost making her thrilled over the magical aspect that changed her life. Whilst in the other, she wondered if she was undertaking so much unnecessary work for an assignment that she could half-ass with her powers.

“You got us a forge… I’m impressed by this school,” Grimma mused, out of the corner of her eye, Caro could see the shadowy incarnation take form by the wall of hammers, grabbing one. Grimma, being non-corporeal, couldn't interact with it. Instead, she pulled back her hand, creating a shadow and light copy of the hammer. The silhouette flipped it up into the air only to catch it with such realistic weight. “Though, inevitably, I can only say I’m a tad disappointed.”

“Why?” Caro asked as she strolled around the room, her finger touching and caressing the pedestal’s surface, feeling how its surface seemed to drink off her essence lighting up the blank guiding lines. “Did you expect me to go off on an adventure searching for the proper ingredients? For me to seek out some Norse village for the hammer that belonged to the dwarves that forged Mjolnir and find a forge in the middle of an Italian volcano?”

“Something like that,” Grimma joked as she strolled around. In the corner of her eye, Caro could spy her spirit threading near the side of the forge, sitting by its currently cold edge as if gazing upon a fountain. “Just imagine the kind of adventures you can find yourself drawn into… heh, the things you could learn. This school sometimes makes it all too easy.” Then an exaggerated sigh escaped her lips as she lay down alongside the stone edge. “But alas, I suppose this is fine as well… Not every endeavor must be an odyssey and not every project can be your Caladfwlch.”

“Sometimes, I feel like you go out of your way to cause me trouble, just because you think it makes life interesting,” Caro said bluntly, in a spiteful mutter that was inevitably heard by the spirit she was bound to hear.

“Well,” Grimma mused. “Recall what I said during our first meeting?”

“I don’t,” Caro lied.

“Why? I asked if you wanted power, riches and friendship. We made a promise seeing how you had a desire for chaos but also a sense of justice and fairness, even if it was hidden from everyone else, even yourself. That you would get what you wanted if all you would do was release me.”

“And in turn, you gave me horns and scales. Turned me into a freak.” Caro shook her head. “And the more I think of it, the more I wonder if you even needed to do it.”

“It did what I expected, didn’t it? Your life was bound towards the dead stagnation of a mireland, where you would be a lily pad in the mud upon which vapid frogs would wait for flies to land on. Instead, you might as well be a dragon hatchling preparing to spread your wings, deciding between benevolence, harmony, greed or chaos. It’s all interesting to watch.”

“I’m glad you’re finding it amusing,” Caro said sarcastically.

“As it should be if you are to be a sorceress of fables. Besides, it’s not as if you haven’t benefited from this. I see that glimmer of desire to experiment with magic in you.”

“I… I…” Caro said, before huffing to look away. “I’m only doing this because of an assignment and because I’ve already ran out of mana twice already this school year. I need a backup in case it happens again… Or for whatever trouble you get me into.”

“If that is the way you wish to spin the words, I’ll concede,” Grimma mused. “So, you’ve decided and set up the artistry for me. Are you feeling ready?”

“Ready? Ready to work with molten gold? Not in the slightest.” Caro sighed. “But I really want to make this good.”

“Fishing for the teacher’s admiration?” Grimma teased. “If only I were to receive that same appreciation. Though I respect your efforts and, as per our agreement, I’ll help and guide your hand.”

“And it’s completely safe, right?” Caro said as she strolled over to the hammer rack and picked one whose shadow Grimma picked. A thin elegant thing that felt surprisingly lighter in her hand than she expected. Made with a thin shaft that bore a criss crossed mesh of black metal to keep it from slipping under her grip. The angular thin head that rested ready to carve lines on steel while the other was prepared to ring the steel. Its surface was smooth and polished, with hints of the magic that had been inscribed once.

“You yourself wrote the spell.”

“And yet, I’m always worried that you might exploit a loophole I accidentally left in,” Caro said. She swung her arm in the air, pretending to hit an invisible anvil before her. By the third swing, she spotted a shadowy version of herself, moving at the same rhythm and mimicking her actions perfectly.

“I’ll do as you ask and make a ring for you. Nothing less,” Grimma smiled, taking a break from mimicking the girl’s actions to stand before her. Her body wrapped in shadow and smoke, the glowing slashes that made up her eyes arched pleasantly. “After all, I gain nothing by sabotaging my avatar, and everything from seeing you grow.”

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Thursday, November 3, 2016 - 6:44 pm
The tunnels, in between labs (B3)

It took a good chunk of the day yesterday, a light punch to Stark’s wallet to pay for the damage of a simple shirt and a whole lot of unfelt apologizing to security.

Regardless, with him getting this process down to a formula he could repeat without a problem and having just withdrawn his items from campus security in a record time, he could confidently declare that the matter was now behind him and he shouldn’t nor needn’t care about it anymore.

Having been forced to disassemble his artifact to prove his invention wasn’t anything but a glorified water gun, much to his ire, he now had to carry the pieces back to his lab in a cluster. The weight of that plus the opaque flasks containing heavy oil forced his walk back to the lab to go at about a snail's pace. Every now and then, forcing himself to take a break or pause.

Usually, he would ask someone from the labs to help him on this, but everyone was busy with their own projects (the voice within him tried to label them as inferior out of scorn, but he managed to reel it in), so he didn’t wish to impose tonight.

Tonight, he decided to take tunnels a bit off the way from his usual pathway, but still a direct pathway between Kane Hall and his work spot. That plus being devoid of people would make for an accident-less trek. At least that was the idea that didn’t account for the maze-like structure these places tended to have. A couple of steps in and he was already second guessing his sense of direction.

Not that there was much wrong with a little exploration, hoping to find old abandoned labs with things to draw inspiration from. An experience today was only bogged down by the extra cargo he had to deal with.

Few people traversed these areas, and when they did their steps were ever present and easy to pinpoint. He could hear steps ahead in the distance, human boots walking around, giving him a hint that he would soon be entering the more transited areas. There was the sound of mops either rustling against the ground or tapping against themselves as the clean-up crews began to make their rounds, the drilling reverberations of the machines nearby along with chatterful exclamations and, oddly enough, the reverberating meow of a cat.

All noise, all distant; he didn’t think much about it as he traveled down the tunnels. In this particular area pipes went up and down around the walls of the corridor, tying over to the schools underground canals and sewers.  It was not just for sanitation, but also for a whole wing of water research and treatment that some students took advantage of.

The pipes had a constant drumming as the machines pushed in the water or sludge through them and the lights occasionally flickered in a more foreboding sense.

He made his way over to a junction that felt all the more familiar to his steps.

He turned around the corner and almost let out a startled gasp. Up ahead under the flickering lights stood three girls: a fiery redhead, a blonde and a dark-haired girl. None of them looked the least bit happy to see him, but at the same time they appeared thrilled, quite menacingly so. A look that he’d seen people like Jack-in-the-box or other devisors of ill-repute get.

“Um… evening, girls?”

“I told you he would be taking this path,” the blonde girl said, ignoring him.

“It’s not a matter of where but when. I didn’t want to spend more than twenty minutes waiting for him to show up.”

“You can thank Eurydice for the tip,” the blond girl said, raising up her hand and manifesting an orb of light of a soft amber glow. It floated above her fingers, heeding its controller’s whims. “So are we going to do this?”

“Excuse me… Um… Do what?” Stark muttered, playing dumb just to get some time as he tried to back away. “I don’t know what you want?”

“Are you serious? After the humiliation you got me through, you’re going to pretend I forgot?”

“Oh, that was you? I didn’t… recognize you with that shirt…” He might’ve been playing stupid, but this was pushing it to the limit. Firestep’s face soured. “I mean, I mean, I know. I know. I ruined your shirt… and almost left you naked… Fine. I said I was sorry. Isn’t that enough?”

“What? You think a half-assed apology like that will cut it? I’ve seen guys caught cheating in the act with more believable words,” she said, stepping forward. “A simple ‘Sorry’ doesn’t cut it if you don’t learn the lesson. You just stay in there and complain to the rest of the guys about how mean the girls are and they just let you go with a slap on the wrist. Well. I’m the one who will make sure you get a good kicking.”

“Oh, eff off,” Stark snapped.

“No, screw you,” Firestep was channeling the sense of outrage and entitlement the Amazons had. “You’re getting your good lesson on not slighting us.” She then turned towards her posse. “I think that’s enough preamble, right?”

“I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve done this,” the girl to her side said with a shrug. Her body was charging up with a sheen of light and energy.

“Then, perhaps you should back away, do your research and come back when ready. How does that sound?” Stark ventured to say but he was already reaching behind for his holdout.

Of course, as he was carrying a large collection of metallic pieces in his arms, any motion, no matter how subtle, would be painfully obvious as he lost his balance and dropped things.

The girl’s sphere of light soared through the air and struck him squarely on the bunch of pieces he held, his oil gun from the day before. It was much like getting hit by a soccer ball at full speed, a feeling that he wasn’t a stranger to, sending him falling back. He lost the grip and let them fall, clattering about. From the nozzle to the trigger and the containers of the strange synthesized oil, which fortunately survived crashing down against the concrete.

He got his hand around his custom-made holdout gun, about to take aim, as the ball of light flew back to its creator. Not as a reprieve, but to give way for the next attacker. This time, the girl, Firestep, sprinted forward, easily covering the seven-meter distance in two seconds with nary a need to stop as her knee, dressed up in a padded kneecap, shoved Stark back.

“Learn the lesson. Pay up for the damages and never bother us again,” Firestep said.

“What? I already paid you the cost of a new shirt, with an extra.”

“Twenty bucks does not make up for it!”

Stark tried to reach out for the gun that had been dropped onto the other end of the corridor and she immediately ran over to kick it, sending him skidding on the ground and away. When Firestep spotted him trying to get a glimpse at a nearby camera, she scoffed.

“Please, you think we would be doing this without the insurance that no one will see us?”

“How did you do it?” Stark asked with a frown.

“Turn them off? I happen to know an upperclassman who has her ways of freezing the cameras… I think she can even control the blast-doors.” Firestep snorted.

“I heard,” chimed the girl with the blonde hair. “That shutting off the security grid is one of the first things devisors usually accomplish.”

“He’s obviously not at the level,“ the girl with the glowing protection mocked, echoed by the other girl to the side. All that brought back memories of mockery for the young unbalanced devisor, striking painfully at a nerve.

“Of course, I’m at that level! I’m a great scientist, one of the smartest. I deserve nothing but respect. Just you wait! Give me time and a box of scraps and I'll make something that will definitely shut down the power across the state. And then I’ll have my way.”

“No, I will,” Firestep said as she pulled back her leg to deliver a couple of kicks to the boy. Fortunately unpowered, so as to avoid dealing some serious damage, but still as painful as could be.

After the second one, she pulled back before spotting something on the ground near the pile of the trinkets and components of the gun. It was the cylindrical MIB-inspired neuralizer devise that he used the day before to evaporate the oil yesterday.

But that was only one of its functions. In theory, it was meant to work just like in the source material, but considering the recent outburst that took place in the labs involving Jack-in-the-Box and mind control technology, he’d had to switch gears on the go. As it stood, the devise produced multiple frequencies of light, including a flashbang and different sorts of colorful lasers.

So, it was all the more painful for Stark when Firestep’s foot came crashing down onto it, snapping it in half, with the last bits of its sizzling energy fading underneath her fireproof boots.

“No!” Stark snapped, calling out, almost to the point of tears. Angered, he snatched a distracted Firestep’s leg and angrily yanked it away, effectively sending the girl down to the ground. And, abandoning all pretense of civility, he pulled back his fist, preparing to drive it into Firestep’s face. The girl was still reeling from the fall but recovered just in time to see his intent.

There was a bit of shock and fear about it in that brief second. Almost as if she never expected to face pushback, much less to actually get hurt about it.

Whether he was trying to wind back his attack, or because he was hesitating after seeing her expression, Stark took too long to hit. The ball of light came flying to the rescue, striking him on the side of the cheek, and sacrificing itself to release an explosive shockwave that still pushed him out of the way and deeper into the corridor.

“You were trying to assault her! You men are pigs!” the brick girl exclaimed, her body charging up further, as if preparing to step in… or to defend her comrades.

An opportune guess. Stark being sent deeper into the pathway effectively got him ever closer to the gun and he knew it. Even before he stopped, his hand was reaching for it.

“Corrine! Behind me!” the brick girl blurted out, throwing herself front.

Firestep quickly pushed herself up whilst Stark was fiddling with the side controllers on the gun. Whether he was calibrating or shifting through modes or maintenance, it was uncertain, and whether the thing could fire or not was something the girl was unwilling to wager. So the first chance she received, she immediately dashed back to the hallway far ahead and behind her friends.

But it was the right call. The moment she took her second step, a loud whistling sound emanated from the gun, a rising pitch that forewarned the incoming danger. Once it reached its climax, a loud fizzle of an explosion followed and then a concussive blast.

The bright flash and shockwave crossed through the empty corridor, creating and spreading cracks along the walls, and hitting way too close to the girls for their comfort. There was no telling how bad it would’ve been against Corrine, but it struck the water pipe with pressure much more than the rivets could handle and, as a result, caved under the pressure. It broke, releasing a stream of water, which one could only hope was just muddled, judging by the color.

 The water oozed off into the middle of the hallway, creating a puddle under the pressurized stream. With no clear line of sight to let the girl hurl energy orbs, and a slip hazard for the speedster in play, they realized there was no way around without problem. And that was much to Stark’s luck as, with the tumble the gun took and the hastened charging, its barrel now sported a blackened mark on the side and leaked out a white smoke from within the seams. And was, potentially, useless now, not that they knew it.

“You tried to shoot us,” one of the girls blurted, while at the back another tried to rein them in. The sound of alarms rang in the distance and, in the area outside of this corridor, they could see the blaring red lights of an alarm ringing.

“The pipe is burst, maintenance will come to check it. We should leave,” the girl that manifested the ball of light said whilst covering her nose.

“Fine,” Firestep conceded and, at her word, the other girls began their retreat. She soon followed, though not without issuing the threat. “You better not be a coward and tell them what happened. If you’re as much of a man as you think, you won’t even dare.” Firestep left the words in the air as they disappeared.

Stark stared back at them with a frustrated look in his eyes. He needed to prove to them, he needed to show them he was greater than them. He would make them pay. The ache down on his stomach and arms where he blocked the kicks were just fueling up the frustration he felt.

Maintenance arrived soon after to find the leak. Though they were unable to fix it on the spot and instead ran over to hydraulics on the other side so as to halt the flow.

Needless to say, the incident left some cottages without water for a couple of minutes due to emergency repairs.

All the while security assessed the damage on the spot. Unfortunately, to them, it was clear the connection lay between the broken devisor’s gun and the pipe. Whether they were hiding the fact that the cameras appeared to have malfunctioned at the time or that they hadn’t checked the fact, it was uncertain, and Stark made no effort to point the finger at his attacker .

Unknowingly, Firestep’s last taunt and threat had worked. He wasn’t going to accuse them of the assault, but instead, his mind was desperately piecing itself together with the sort of things he could do to stand up to them. “I’ll show them. I really will… and they will regret it!” he thought to himself It took great force of will to avoid verbalizing it before Security.

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“Gianni? Gianni?” said the voice within the radio in between the communication beeps. It wasn’t the sort of high-end fancy equipment he thought he would be using when he got to Whateley, but at the same time couldn’t blame them. Janitors didn’t need anything fancy.

The voice belonged to a woman by the name of Rhonda that served as the resource manager of the utilities staff, so he knew that he was about to be given a job. It was not something that he was particularly looking forward to, but he had no choice but to attend to it. After hearing her voice call for his name a couple of times, he answered.

“Ey, babe, what can I do for you? And you can call me Johnny. We know each other enough by now.”

“Fine,” Rhonda said with a pause, whether she was taking her breath for patience or resting or laughing on the side. He wasn’t a stranger to either reaction. “Johnny, you’re needed in the third basement tunnel, quadrant A4E. A pipe has burst.”

“A burst pipe?” Johnny grumbled. Janitors were bound to deal with this in regular schools. A bully giving a boy a swirly, or a sink broken when one of the students tried to climb on top of it, he could understand it… but he was really starting to get frustrated by how often this just happened. “You're goin' too easy on these kids by not having them clean up their own messes. They should learn to take some responsibility.”

“Good one, but that is exactly your job.”

“I know. I know… Third level, A6, you said?”

“Nice try. A4. They already know you’re on your way. Better hurry… they say it stinks.”

“Alright… are they going to activate the ventilation system?”

“Once you’re done with the cleaning.”


“Sorry, but they’re working on fixing the flux. Activating the ventilation without the proper setup might end up stinking the whole area. We don’t really need to wait to start cleaning.” Rhonda answered before the distant muffled garble drew her attention. “I got to go. Get going. They say that now the entirety of the hallway is flooded.”

And with that, the communication on the radio went silent.

“Just great… Just all the more freaking great.” Johnny grumbled as he grabbed his supplies from the nearest storage closet. Three mops, two large buckets, a whole pack of rags and a gas mask would be used that evening.

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Friday, November 4, 2016 - 4:36 pm
Imp’s Art studio

One line traced down from two connecting points. It revealed the space between the arm and shoulder, but at the same time, it didn’t feel good enough. The curve went out of its way and stretched into an even more cartoonish form, as opposed to the reference image.

How professionals did this and still had the time to work on other panels or pages in the same week eluded Vic’s comprehension as he reached for the eraser and ground it against the page. This would be his twentieth sweep on the same section of the illustration, and it was starting to show as the page was now prone to wrinkling and the rubber became incapable of erasing everything.

“This won’t be good,” he thought to himself as he crumpled the piece of paper and threw it over to the trashcan on the other side of the table. He happened to miss and hit the rim, letting the piece of trash slip off onto the ground, just to add to his growing frustrations. Originally, joining the art club was supposed to be an outlet. To ward off the stress that his own ambition was driving him to. It was pretty much falling victim to the same mindset.

And that didn’t go unnoticed as the Imp stepped up, her tail swishing down and slapping the side of the crumpled paper to send it bouncing up against the wall. She caught it in her hand whereupon she unfolded the thing before Vic could beg her not to.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” she uttered with a studious look at the image. “Having some trouble committing to your work?”

“I-I don’t have trouble committing. I just want it to be good. This is good,” Vic said, showing up his tablet. Itt was opened to a DeviantArt account showing an elegant anime-inspired representation of a character from a current TV show. “I can never get it done well.”

“Yeah… I’ve been watching you. Drawing and erasing, drawing and erasing. Is this all you have to show?” she asked, tapping the paper.

“No… I mean, yes but it’s not good enough,” Vic tried to explain. “I keep on making more mistakes and I’ll probably rip all the paper of the sketchbook.”

“I can see that,” the Imp said with a bit of a smile as she asked for permission to pick up the Ipad. Once she got it, she held the two images side by side with a studious look.

It all made Vic feel all the more uncomfortable. Almost as if he was under evaluation, even if this wasn’t an assignment. So, he had to say. “I can never make it look as perfect.”

“Perfection is never fun. I mean, there are some things that are off. For example, the face structure is a tad too blocky, even for the anime standard, and the hair is lacking a little bit of weight… but it’s not like you have nothing to work with. But why didn’t you finish it?”

“Because it looks bad?”

“So? Were you thinking of sharing this one? Put it up in a gallery behind a velvet curtain for the reveal at an art show?”

“No,” Vic admitted.

“Then, don’t worry. If you’re going to draw something, commit to it. Perfect is boring, and stiffness is unrealistic in nature. Just let your hand guide you as it’s natural to you.”


“Also, do you wish for them to be exactly alike?” the Imp mused as she spied more carefully at the two images. “Don’t get me wrong. You have the drive for the attention to detail like any forger might have, but they do it as their job, not out of joy. Do you know what it’s like to try and replicate a signature perfectly? Or how much of a pain they feel when they don’t get the lines within a watermark right? It’s infuriating… plus the rulers, stamps, seals and other tools you have to keep track of. Don’t try to copy. Instead make your own attempt to copy. Is that clear?”

“Yeah…” Vic nodded. Thinking of an old lesson he got from his mother that he must’ve forgotten along the way. “Though I’m still not sure how to work with anatomy and all those details.”

“Right… we haven’t boarded that subject in a while,” The imp nodded. For the time being, the only other student from Vic’s age range was Koichi, who was still focusing on drawing landscapes, also from a reference image. “Should probably fix that sometime soon. Okay, I can have Josephine tutor you and teach you some tricks if you want,” The Imp said, casting her glance over to the nearby easel where the senior student’s work usually rested. For the moment the space was empty, as Jo was off to her weekly gig as art tutor for the daughter of Berlin’s mayor.

“Alright!” the teacher added, clapping for attention. “Listen up. We’ll start anatomy instruction soon enough, but we might need a model to make it work. I know we have some wooden models to play with but rather than having the boring ones, I just came up with an incredibly fun idea for it and… Laura? What brings you here… What did you do now, missy?”

People turned towards the door where the shade of blue was immediately recognized by Vic. It was none other than his classmate, Laura, also known as Cerulea, Founder of the Mutant Mayhem Machine, who also worked part time as a babysitter for some of the teachers’ kids.

And holding onto her arm was Karma, the Imp’s own daughter, bearing a smile from ear to ear that was equal parts amusement and mischief. Her clothes, once theoretically clean, were sporting dust stains of multiple colors in such a mishmashed mix that it was almost all colors and none.

“She happened to visit me in my lab. How did she find it? I have no idea,” Laura explained. Her own arm was also stained with the colorful dust so as to show that she was a victim. As she did, her eyes crossed with Vic and the two gave each other an acknowledging nod.

“Nuh-huh!” Karma said sheepishly looking around the studio with piqued interest. “Popsicles? Are there popsicles?”

“No popsicles for you. And don’t change the subject.” The Imp sighed moving over until she was towering over the rambunctious child. “What did you do with your clothes? I just had them washed.”

“Apparently, she’d been drawing the hopscotch ladder along the tunnels and somehow ended up in the labs. And then she proceeded to throw the remnants of color chalks into the compressor.”

“I wanted to make smoke grenades! Smoke grenades of rainbow colors!” Karma giggled searching her pocket to produce something. From Vic’s point of view, it resembled some sort of perfectly round pebble, all the colors mixing themselves to turn into gray at the distance.

“That’s not how you make smoke bo-”

And yet, before Laura could reach over to grab the thing out of her hand, the girl threw it down to the ground, where it exploded with an audible paff, and a cloud of smoke raised into the air. Despite her intention of making a rainbow explosion, the end result was mostly gray and black, with a bit of color spread about as dust motes.

Fortunately, the cloud didn’t make it far enough to bother the other students.

Of course, this sort of trick was barely a problem for some. “No. Just no, missy,” The Imp said flatly, trying to contain the coughs and gags from the explosion before emerging from the cloud. The art teacher was now wearing a set of goggles and a mouth cover while leading Karma out by the wrist. “Drawing chalk is not exactly a good material to make smoke bombs out of. For starters, it’s not the same as baby powder.”

“Does it itch?!” Karma asked in a bit of panic.

“Oh, it does, terribly,” The Imp joked just to see a little bit of panic in her daughter’s face. “But I don’t have a change of clothes for you with me, so you’ll have to wait till I’m done with the afterschool workshop.”

“But Mom!”

“No buts. You should’ve thought about it first.” The Imp said as she led Karma towards the sink, with her tail searching along the rafts and holders for a clean rag to douse in water. “Now you have to stay here where I can keep an eye on you.”

“Are there any more popsicles?” Karma asked again as she had dust cleaned off her face. A clear and blatant attempt to change the topic that got chuckles from the students.

“No,” The Imp said, still taking her daughter’s protests and minor struggles with a bit of amusement.

Not long after, Laura made it around the clouded area, patting herself to release the bits of dust off her clothes.

“Laura?” the Imp said as she wiped her daughter’s nose and forehead. “Can you please let the Codys know that Karma is here? They must be panicking right now.”

“I already gave them a message on the way here. They’re relieved.”

“That’s good. I’ll have to apologize to them, again,” the Imp said, patting Karma’s head to get as much chalk out as possible.

“Mom! The tunnels are huge! There has to be a treasure!” Once again Karma chimed in, blatantly trying to change the subject again.

“Yeah, they are.”

“Have you explored all of them? Do you have a map?” Karma pursued the topic.

“No. I don’t think anyone has.”

To that, Karma looked up towards Laura. Knowing the girl was a tinkerer that happened to spend a lot of time down there, she figured the blue girl might have a better answer.

“Not even I know the length of the place. We only use a fraction of it, the place is huge and old.”

“Are they, like, ruins?!” Karma squeaked out, growing all the more excited.

“I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I think there are some places that haven’t been explored before.” Laura noted.

“I’ve heard stories of how some places down there go deep and wide.” the Imp added to the conversation.

 “My labs are usually close to the surface, and I share them with other students. So most of the places there are accounted for and surveyed by the security. Though, it’s not surprising when devisors, gadgeteers, mages or even clubs go deeper into the tunnels and either build themselves their own centers of operations or claim the already existing ones.”

“Yeah, there’s a whole trove of unknown stuff down there,” Laura mused, now mostly talking with the Imp, and forgetting about Karma who was paying far too much attention. “I’ve heard stories about everything from Mrs. Cody and the other students. They speak of old experiments or summoned creatures that linger about, clubs that stash their special items down there and forget about them, and even stories about money or gems from ages past lost down there.”

“I doubt there is merit to some of the legends. For starters, I don’t think devisors would willingly leave their belongings… But they are absentminded at times,” Laura paused in consideration, getting the Imp to snicker. “Maybe it’s not impossible.”

“Well, that won’t be the case for me. I’ll try to take everything with me after I graduate. Good or bad, try to get a patent,” There was a bit of a muffled cough on the side as Koichi choked in the middle of drinking his bottled tea. Laura evidently noticed it but tried to carry on. “I still find it hard to believe that not even the school has full knowledge of it.”

“It’s safer to just keep an area under strict monitoring… to the best of their knowledge…”

The conversation shifted slightly, going over the knows and knows-not of the security staff. With the Imp providing helpful, if not mischievous tips on how protocols and such could be sidestepped whilst Laura told anecdotes of things that had happened in the lab. From an emergency flooding that happened a couple of days ago to the mysterious sounds that she heard when working late at night whenever she unplugged herself from ‘the tinkering zone’.

All the while, some had their ears attentive to the narration. One of them was Vic, who picked up on the details of forgotten experiments and creatures, along with a story about strange meowings being heard in the night. His mind went over to that cat creature that he’d seen weeks ago and how little time he’d spent down there.


To Be Continued

Read 1373 times Last modified on Monday, 24 April 2023 03:40


3 weeks ago
hmm promising to do no less isn't as reassuring as promising to do no more
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