Tuesday, 22 August 2023 00:00

Lady of the Ring (Part 6)

Written by
Rate this item
(11 votes)

A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure

Lady of the Ring




Part 6


Friday, November 4, 2016 - 6:48 pm
The tunnels, (B3)

It was certainly the most action this place, a room that was supposed to cater to the learning members of the water maintenance staff, had seen in quite a while. The trio of girls followed their quest out the door, leaving the place trashed in every sense of the word.

At the back of the room was the pile-up of disasters, to the dismay of any janitor or custodian sent to deal with the matter. A broken water pipe spilled a puddle on the ground by the wall, which had fortunately stopped the liquid's progress as the emergency protocols kicked in and closed off the defective part of the circuit. The desks and chairs that had been part of the room were thrown and crushed into pieces, completely broken as gravity sent them crashing. They would need to be replaced, although the school administration just hoped that whatever created the distortion in the depths would take that part of the job, as it often did with the lights and power.

Then at the back was the sealed metal door that bore a modest gash up at head height, as if someone had driven a huge axe into its surface. Trouble would come once the blast doors were retracted.

Still, it was all new and strange for a certain creature that stepped into the room. A strange creature born out of magic or science, it nervously paced into the room. Its ears perked and its eyes wide, moving from side to side, attentive to its surroundings. The past couple of hours had been trying for it. This would be the most experience it'd had with other beings since it had first woken up. It'd all begun when, while playing about with the rattling toy, it realized that there was someone looking its way—none other but the boy it’d seen before during its little trip outside of the tunnels that it called home. The trips that it associated with a ringing ball in its teeth. A thought spurred there that caused it to take notice of him. It sensed the boy’s friendship and felt curious enough to let it step in… however, the world was changing. Its ears felt it happen and, in a slight moment of fear, it opted to slip out and find safety for itself.

Admittedly, the creature wasn’t heartless, and the moment he heard the boy scream in panic as the world turned dark, it regretted the decision. It rounded back upstairs to find that 'upstairs' had disappeared, and the boy with it. This place was treacherous; it knew as much and one could end up lost for a good while. Even for it, who often preferred to cross these spaces as fast as possible.

Mew had learned that it was best to keep quiet, to stay low and unnoticed, but when it had to call out, it could meow. It called now, but no answer came.

Rather than immediately running back, it lingered about. But the trace had gone cold. The next thing it knew was that it spotted a furry figure slightly taller than Mew, turning around the corner and disappearing. The experiment’s heart thrilled as something new to investigate had entered its world and, ever curious, it decided to stalk this other visitor—a ‘cat’ the memories of its instruction told it.

Did she want Mew’s toy? No! The creature stashed the bell before making its approach.

However, no sooner had Mew stepped too close, then the she-cat turned around, startling Mew into fleeing. The strange she-cat gave chase, calling out in feline mews and even speaking out in human tongue, something it never knew the animal could do. But Mew didn’t let that detail dissuade it and immediately hid itself with the ability it always used, shaking off its pursuer.

Tired of the chase, it resolved to escape as things turned more chaotic. Explosions happened in the surroundings and distance, all the while a presence hovered in the darkness. So Mew determined itself to remain quiet and out of sight, even as two girls with friendly aura about them passed by.

Backtracking for the exit, with a small detour to recover its toy, it found the path closed by metal plaques. These sort of things weren’t an insurmountable problem for it… but it put it in an uneasy mood. Not seeing meant distrust to Mew. So, instead it bounced off from pathway to pathway hoping to find an exit that wasn’t blocked.

Eventually Mew came across the current room. Its instincts and senses told it to be wary as it spied the surroundings. The destruction and monstrous markings left on the ground, wall and ceiling gave it the image of a greater predator lurking about. Even so, the room bore a gap in the door through which it could escape. Suddenly feeling safer, it took its time to drink some of the spilled water before sharpening its claws up against the large wooden pieces.

And not long after, its attention was called upon a discarded object on the ground, a broken round object covered in colors and displaying an image that had been cut in two. Each piece bore a strange inscription that sputtered and struggled to keep itself relevant even as its contract came to an end.

Curious, Mew played with the thing, pawing it from side to side, enjoying the sound of the metal scratching against the concrete. Finding a sense of primal enjoyment, it did so again and again until, either by sheer luck or design, the two halves of the button came together and suddenly a glow surrounded the circle.

The creature’s reaction was to immediately dart away before, then to break into a sprint towards the exit the moment a horned girl appeared out of nowhere. “The spell!” the girl called out, scaring the creature further. It was already covering itself in shadows, leaping from table remnant to table remnant, before leaping into the open gash on the iron door to freedom.

linebreak shadow

“No, no, no!” Caro repeated, her gaze wildly flashing around the room before settling upon her hand where, as part of the enchantment, the two pieces of the button rested together. She saw the lines of her enchantment flicker as it lost its power, taking the medium and item with it as the colored tin surface became brittle and dark.

“Where are… we?” Shisa asked.

The girl-cat sniffed the air, spotting something familiar but strange.. Her nose led her to turn around, only to find the familiar sight of the broken blast door and piles of wood on a puddle made around a pipe.

Her eyes narrowly missed the tail of shadows as it disappeared behind. “We're back!?”

“We are. I can’t believe this.” Caro could only groan in frustration as she tossed the spent trinket to the ground, watching it shatter. “Can’t believe it… How? I mean how could this even work? Did a rat come by and push the pieces together?” She suddenly gasped. “Morgana! We have to help her!”

Shisa nodded and set her enchanted golden eyes upwards in the general vicinity where she expected to see the ring, only to gasp. “Can’t see it…”

“You can’t?” Caro muttered. “We might be out of range. Doesn’t matter, let’s retrace our steps and find the path back to the first floor… Hope that she’s still standing.”

“Morg… strrrong,” Shisa said, choosing to abbreviate the Poesie’s name.

“I know she is…” Caro reassured as both she and Shisa moved down into the corridor, retracing their steps as best as they could. However, they were on the third level, so by the time they reached the point where they should’ve been climbing up the stairs, all they found was a dead end.

“Crud…” both girls said.

linebreak shadow

Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 6:48 pm
The tunnels, (B1)

Morgana raised her fists, ready to put her BMA training to the test. Caro and Shisa might’ve disappeared, but the ring in Gianni’s hand was practically a bracelet at this point. Confident that her powers gave her the advantage, she launched forth on the assault. A throw, a stunning blow or a grab and lock was all she needed to make it.

Oh, but it wasn't going to be that easy. The Janitor raised his arm in a boxer's defense, keeping her from getting any closer to landing a hit. The moment she reached to grasp his arm, the man just reversed the action by gripping her wrist and sending her to the ground.

Gianni was definitely someone with some combat training. His moves were crude, but there was a certain brutality or grit behind them that gave Morgana cause for concern. The moment after his first block, a grin appeared on the man’s face. This encounter would be much more difficult than she expected.

“Sorry, missy,” Gianni said in a casual manner. “I know I’m not supposed to beat up girls… However, if it’s to protect my precious, I’ll be an advocate for equality. So, I’d suggest you leave.” His demeanor shifted slightly towards frustration as the widened ring got in the way of him making a fist.

Morganna didn’t say anything. Instead she thrust her hand forth, reciting a quick spell from her repertoire. The end result was a bright flash that emanated for her hand. Coming as weak as a slap, it was incredibly distracting for the eyes.

Gianni recoiled back, shielding himself and, in doing so, putting the ring-bracelet within view. Morgana splashed up and back on the attack, seeking to swiftly grab onto the band and pull it off.

Even as her eyes adjusted first to her own blinding attack, she found herself narrowly missing the man’s hand. Gianni just sidestepped and managed to connect an outstretched arm down to her stomach before stepping back.

“I’ve been blinded by a flashbang before. I’ll tell you, it’s the sound what really gets you,” Gianni said, blinking as the flash effects passed.

“Good… I guess that just means I can cut loose,” Morgana boasted with dry breath, hunched over from the gut punch but refusing to go down. Despite being strong, she felt herself weakened from the punch. Fortunately, the sensation was fleeting and she could push through. “I guess I’ll have to try a little bit harder until the reinforcements arrive,” she said boastfully while inwardly mumbling: “Where are you, Caro?”

She indeed needed the sophomore magic student as she saw the ring slowly start to shrink back into his grasp, much to Gianni’s relief.

“There you go, little treasure,” Gianni mused.

“Oh no,” Morgana muttered as her job became much harder. Still, she soldiered on, raising her hands and taking it a step further, channeling the magical power that bound her to the plane, getting her into her dragon form. She had reservations about using it against a baseline… but this was probably the best way to beat and restrain Gianni if she couldn’t take the ring. She hoped it wouldn’t get to the point where the janitor would lose his finger.

Morgana leapt into action, no longer underestimating her opponent’s skill and, as some blows were landed and received, she also began to ease up on her restraint. Gianni wasn’t a perfect fighter, but he had guts and drive. The ring seemed to feed and bolster it as, whenever struck, he would reply in kind.

“Lady, you’re really fighting someone out of your league!” Gianni laughed as he took a step away and slung a fireball that hit Morgana’s face. He did so mockingly, aware that fire did little to the girl, but the concussive blast of its explosion had her stagger. “How’s that? You know us baselines are not to be underestimated. Just because the school gives you fancy martial arts, that doesn't mean it’s perfect.”

And as if to exemplify it, he tossed another conjured fireball, a large one, down at Morgana’s feet. The girl leapt to the side thinking she was safe, but it exploded with a wild boom that made her trip in the water.

“Better leave me, missy. I gotta find your friend to make a commission she can’t refuse,” Gianni said smugly as he took a step towards the nearby exit. “Wherever she is… she can’t have left these tunnels, could she?”

Morgana was only half paying attention to his words. She instead thought of the explosive fireballs Gianni seemed to create with such ease. “Ugh… Firestep didn’t have this sort of ability. The ring must adjust to the wearer’s wants.” Her gaze moved down to the spot where the fireball hi. There was a clear mark and a crack on the concrete, but no lingering fire unlike with Firestep’s altered feet. “And he likes explosives.”

“Wait,” Morgana called out as she got up. “Caro alone can’t make the ring. It’s my blood that did it.” Gianni stopped and turned around looking at her, intrigued, before glancing down at the ring on his hand. In that brief moment, Morgana spotted a figure moving down the nearby corridor at a rushing speed. “If you want more of them, you can’t just have one of us.”

“Hm that’s true, the ring resonates with you… Which makes things more troublesome,” Gianni said with a slight groan. “Alright, alright, this is what we’re gonna do—” His proposal was interrupted as a girl emerged from the hallway behind.

It was Corrine, Firestep. With a war cry, she came in fast, leaping past the puddle of water and latching herself onto Gianni’s back, her hands trying to reach for the ring fruitlessly as she screamed for him to hand it over.

Giani wisened up to her presence and reached over to grab her by the back of her combat uniform before throwing her out of the way.

Corrine hit the ground with an awkward splash but was, for the most part, unscathed. She pushed herself up while giving Morgana a scoff and a glare, but soon shifted her focus to the ring.

“Hm… you seem like a troublemaker,” Gianni noted as he assumed a fighting stance.

“And you have something that belongs to me,” Firestep snarled, stomping her foot for a steam splash. “Hand it over or… or I’ll have you reported.”

“No. This could’ve been yours once, but you know what they say: ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers.’ That’s how the rules of the underground work,” Gianni said, snapping his fingers to produce another of his explosive fireballs.

“You’re a janitor and insane!” Firestep, evidently blind to the hypocrisy. “The ring is mine!”

“Like I care, all that matters is this new power. Mine, not yours.”

Firestep frowned. “Fine, then I’ll make sure you lose it so it can be mine again. Just don’t come crying when I take off your finger.”

“Think you have the stomach to do it, missy? But sure, I want to see you try the ring with no hand.”

“Oh yeah, I-”

“Enough!” Morgana screamed. She couldn’t take it anymore. “The ring belongs to neither of you!“

“She’s right!” Another voice, this one a boy’s, came in from another side of the room.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!”

Morgana buried her face in her hands as she realized it was none other than Stark. The devisor that had been gone from their sight for the past couple of hours was back now, having paid a visit to a backup stash he kept in the area. The tool belt, emptied and broken during their first encounter, rattled as if restocked with tools and gadgets, and strapped to his thigh was what could be described as a modded water gun, with the transparent tank sloshing with a black oily fluid that Morgana recognized from a couple of days ago… the catalyst of this disaster. “This is the worst!”

“Morgana is right,” Stark said, dismissing the girl’s complaint as he approached the four-way standoff with a smug look on his face, believing himself the wise-ass that brought a gun to a fist fight… even if his wasn’t exactly a real gun. “None of you deserve the ring! Because by right it’s mine! It came to me first, and then you sore losers tried to take it off my hands.” He pointed to Morgana and Firestep.

“You might’ve found it, but I gave it much better use,” Firestep said, raising her leg to send out a splash towards Stark.

He answered by drawing his oil gun and pulling the trigger, sending a stream of blue fluid at Firestep’s feet. The girl leapt as if the thing was electric. And maybe it was because, for a brief moment, everyone present could hear the sizzle of current that died off almost immediately as it made contact with the water.

“Huh… It seems like this variant doesn’t mix well with water,” Stark muttered as he tweaked the settings.

“Why you!” Firestep was ready to charge right at him when Morgana raised up her arm to bring her to halt.

“Enough! The ring doesn’t belong to you or you or you. If anything, I have a much greater claim to it since I helped make it!”

“As funny as this might be,” Gianni said, “I don’t have time for this. You kids should get some help to deal with your interpersonal issues.”

“Sorry, WE are getting the ring out of your hand one way or another!” Morgana let the flame ripple through her body, flashing the puddles at her feet into vapor.

“We?” the two sworn enemies blurted out in unison. They glared at each other for being in agreement for once.

“You heard me! He has the ring, and we all want him not to. And he’s given me more trouble than both of you combined, so unless either of you think yourselves too high and mighty to not need help, you will accept it if you can’t walk away.”

Firestep and Stark looked at each other, then at Morgana and their common foe. Their eyes lingered on the ring on his hand for too long to be reassuring. Stark was the first to break himself from the trance as his hand tweaked the settings on his gun whilst the other moved around the pouches of his tool belt.

“I’ll work with you… to get the ring,” Stark said.

“Fine…” Corrine agreed sullenly. “Just don’t get in the way.”

Gianni eyed this new alliance uneasily. Even if at first he feared none of them, the idea of the three mutant students joining forces against him to steal his powers got him to grit his teeth and take them seriously. “You think you're so tough? Sorry, kiddos, but I don't have time for this. The adults have bigger things to do.” He turned around to leave down the tunnel when an object flew in his path.

Old reflexes had him make an inhuman leap to the side, expecting a frag explosion or a blinding flash. Nothing was out of the limits for this kids, and certainly the same was true with expectations, as, instead, all it did was release a gooey substance that splattered around the surroundings. The stuff force in mid-air as its surface lost color and turned into a sorta concrete material.

These walls were thin and could be easily destroyed by one of Gianni’s exploding fireballs, but it was enough of a distraction to let Morgana step in. Her fist launched itself for an attack that managed to connect to Gianni’s shoulder and started a new exchange of fists between the two. All the while, Firestep ran around the outer edge of the puddle of water as her steps picked up the pace until she launched herself with a flying kick.

She ultimately missed but, in doing so, Gianni put himself within the range of another punch from Morgana. The fist landed, but before the follow-up could come, something rolled itself up to their vicinity; a devised grenade!

There wasn't even time to swear; all Morgana did was react, desperately leaping out of the way onto the soaked floor as the bomb went off. The fast-drying concrete goo covered Gianni’s leg, hardening fast, much to the man’s frustration. But he didn’t have the time to break free as, instead, he had to block Firestep's next flaming kick.

“Watch it!” Morgana called out as she pushed herself back up.

“My bad,” Stark said disingenuously.

Of course, Morgana knew this was a tenuous alliance. That they would try to stab each other in the back the moment the ring slipped off… and if either of those nutters managed to slip it on, it would be an encore she really wasn’t looking forward to handling on her own.

linebreak shadow

Despite her misgivings about working with the ring-tempted, there was no denying that it was, at the very least, effective. Even if they were going to go at each other’s throats the moment Gianni was taken down.

They each took turns to press the attack. Morgana went in for a brawling fight, with her dragon form allowing her to tank some of the hits whilst delivering some of her own. Firestep jumped in on the action, coming in for hit-and-run attacks while Stark kept the man guessing with his multipurpose goo.

It must’ve been about five minutes of a fight that felt like it went on for half an hour. Fortunately, things appeared to be winding down for a finish as Gianni’s movements started to lag behind from the constant barrage of heavy attacks. And, while the ring protected him, it appeared to be taking its toll out of the man’s stamina.

Still, he made his stand, conjuring up two fireballs that were thrown after a retreating Firestep. The shockwaves hindered her steps and almost tripped her up.

“We need something to get the ring off! Without cutting his finger,” Morgana barked at Stark. “Do you have something for it? Maybe some sort of oil?”

Stark raised his eyes fromhis tinkering. Momentarily elated to be asked for help by a cute girl (the memory of her trying, up close, to wrestle the ring from him forgotten), he found his words before Morgana needed to repeat herself. “Y-Yes, I think I have what we need.”

From his belt pouch, the boy produced one of the grenades he’d been using. He spun the side to reveal a mini control panel. “I have the needed setting here. Just wait for it,” Stark stalled as he held the buttons. Through the glass, they could see the inside of the grenade change color, going from pale grey to dark black.

“There!” he exclaimed, and before Morgana could say anything, he was already throwing it into the field.

Once again, Gianni saw something at the edge of his sight and assumed the worst, immediately leaping out of the way. This time, it was a good call because when the grenade hit the ground, it exploded, spreading out like a splattered bug. The goop stuck to everything whilst swelling into a mound of dark semisolid liquid.

“Um… that’s not slippery,” Morgana pointed out as the janitor managed to pull his arm out of the puddle, with a whole lot of the stuff clinging to it. After a couple of shakes, the man made a motion, as if lighting a lighter and, just like that, the tar burst into bright red flames that meant nothing to him, thanks to the protection of the ring.

“Interesting… seems like Variant SLD is very reactive to fire…” Stark muttered before realizing that Morgana was glaring at him. “I mean, wrong configuration… One moment,” he said, fumbling with another grenade.

“Told you that having this guy was a bad idea!” Firestep called out as she dodged and weaved away from Gianni anid his immolating arm.

“Shut up you…”

“Focus!” Morgana hissed.

“I got it. I got it this time,” he declared triumphantly as he pulled his arm back.

“Wait, wait. Let me get into position!” She backed away. “When I tell you, you go in.”

“Got it!” Stark said, preparing himself for the throw.

Soon after, Morgana was running head-first into the danger, reaching into her imaginary spell book for a piece she’d prepared for the next time her powers accidentally started a wildfire. At first glance it didn’t appear to do much. No flash and no pomp, but soon it became apparent as the flames that burned on Gianni’s resistant skin lessened more and more until, by the time she engaged, the simple movement was enough to put out the flames.

Morgana took a hold of the janitor’s arm and managed to hold it up against the wall, to make it an easy target for Stark, even if she herself would be in the splash zone.

“What are you…” Gianni seemed to realize what was about to happen and struggled to pull the girl away when Firestep came in to grab the other arm and leg to keep him in place.


Stark was already taking steps in closer. His arm pulled back to lob forward the goo grenade with so much flair, Morgana thought he would end up missing by a wide margin. Fortunately, it was just a narrow margin, forcing her to throw both Gianni and herself onto the ground just to be within range. The dragon girl closed her eyes and braced herself for the impact, half expecting Stark to have cocked up and accidentally thrown her some acid… fortunately that wasn’t the case.

A clink. A boom and then a splat. Morgana felt herself get splashed by the cold oily liquid that had been contained and pressurized within, making for one of the ickiest showers she’d ever experienced. But there was no denying it was a lubricant that already made her feel like everything would just fall off her.

In fact it did, as her feet and Firestep's easily slipped out of place and the whole group awkwardly fell down.

“Hurry! It’ll only last two minutes!” Stark called out.

“What?” Morgana gasped wrestling to keep Gianni’s arm within her grasp.

“It’s not easy to make a multipurpose malleable compound!” Stark complained, muttering something along the lines ‘I might quit this idea soon’ before raising his voice again. “After two minutes, it’ll dry up!”

“Great!” Morgana mumbled a curse under her breath as she reached up to try pulling the ring from his fingers with the hand that was spared the slippery splash. Stark’s compound was no joke; she was having a hard time getting a grip on the golden outline, even as Gianni struggled to get up. But every time he placed his weight on the ground, it resulted in a slip and a fall for everyone involved.

And yet, Morgana didn’t ease up; she just persisted. Fortunately, it paid off, just before she resorted to using her claws in a more visceral manner, and the ring slipped free.

“Yes!” Morgana exclaimed, kicking the wall and letting herself slide away, across the oiled puddle like a penguin.

“No! It’s mine, you thieves!” Gianni called out from the ground, as the fire that exuded from his body began to die out. “I’ll get what’s mine, report security on you and then—” was as far as he went as the exhaustion and the backlash of the ring’s sudden removal hit him, forcing him to slump against the wall.

Morgana hoped that Caro had put safeties onto the ring’s enchantment for cases like that… but she couldn’t get up and check on the janitor just yet. She felt the weight of the ring's power, her own power, in the palm of her hand. More importantly, she felt the eyes of others upon her.

“Now, where were we?” There was a cracking noise as Firestep pushed herself up from the patch of drying oil.

“Give me the ring, and I promise I’ll go easy on you,” said Stark. His index finger was idly switching through the settings of his oil gun.

“It’s my treasure.” Firestep stamped her foot, releasing a roar of flames that failed to intimidate, because Stark's attention was elsewhere.

“And here I honestly didn’t think I would be the one trying it out,” Morgana told herself as she took a step back. Between her fingers, she felt the ring, the object that bore a piece of her essence and the work of her new friend merged into one, suddenly gaining the power to warp the body and mind of those that laid their eyes on it. And it did nothing for her.

She heard no tempting voice nor enticing promise of power, much less any impulse to wear it. Even as the ring enlarged itself to slip onto her draconic claws, Morgana felt that it wouldn’t do anything for her, that the thing didn’t have anything to offer to her.

Still, she reasoned that wearing it would be the safer option.

Just before she could slip it onto her finger, a stream from Stark’s gun came splashing up against her side. Of a light blue color, this one packed copious amounts of electrical current that immediately wrenched control of her movements, forcing her into spasm. A terrible memory within her had her react in the usual way and cover herself with fire in an explosive blast… but the liquid that covered her doused some of the heat in exchange of reducing the intensity of the compound.

Of course, that meant nothing, as all it took was for Stark to reload the oil canister on his gun and shoot again, covering her in the sizzling electricity that sapped away the control of some of her muscles.

“Grrrg…” was all Morgana could say. Stark might’ve been trying for the non-lethal option, at least she hoped so, but this was much more as her mind flashed back to her tortures after she manifested. Even the explosive purging fire that wanted to emerge wasn’t enough to get the liquid away, or at least wasn’t burning it as fast as she hoped it would. What she needed to do was to run. She had the ring in her grasp, all she needed to do was to run… head back to the forge to cast the ring into the fires from which it came from. That should be enough to destroy it.

But obviously, first, she would need to get rid of the two “ring-tempted” as they kept on the pressure, in particular thanks to the electric goo. Despite being splashed by a second full tank of the oil, she wasn’t getting any better at ignoring or overcoming the spasms. If anything, she felt herself already losing potency, these explosive flare attempts were taking more out of her than she expected.

Still, the moment Stark stopped to reload she turned, her hand outstretched as she called forth fire onto her hand, sweeping it about with the hopes to create a moving wave of flames that would buy her some time.

However, the plan was quickly dashed away as no sooner had the flames flown off her fingertips then Corrine dashed into view. Her leg came down for an axe-kick that, while it missed striking Morgana's hand, still stamped out the flames as intended. After that, the speedster stepped back to avoid retaliation.

“She’s weak to it, keep at it!” Firestep snapped back to Stark.

“I don’t take orders from you…” He snorted as he screwed in another tank of oil into the butt of his gun. “And I’m not going to keep on attacking from afar just so you can swoop in and take the thing.”

“Fine, I don’t need your help!” she threw back at him.

“Oh yeah?” Stark raised his reloaded gun and pulled the trigger in a swinging splash that appeared directed towards both girls.

It was a predictable move that surprised neither girl. Morgana and Firestep leapt in opposite directions, getting each other apart. “You ass!” Firestep snapped, only earning a raspberry from the devisor.

Morgana saw this as her chance, now that the electrified liquid had broken down just enough to be a minor prickle comparable to static electricity. She tried to make her way to the exit in the back of the room. And yet, she could only curse her luck as she caught a fleeting glimpse of another person in the corridor.

Still, she didn’t get to say or do much of anything as one of Stark’s grenades landed in her path, this one with the gray liquid visible on the display glass. Her heart froze as she recognized the devisor’s color code. Even if she didn’t, it was still a grenade, so her reaction was to just leap back as the large explosion happened and the splatter spread out to the air, freezing itself practically instantly. It was like a giant malformed sea urchin had made itself present to stand between the paths. And feeling more than uneasy at the needles, she was uninterested if she, in her weakened state, could break them. Morgana changed tactics and moved onto the side for the other entrance to the side, towards the one that had been blocked by Stark during his earlier attack.

Though by this point, in between the explosions and by what she guessed was its usual degradation, it had begun to fall apart. Hopefully a punch would open the avenue for her. She moved herself closer, avoiding both the splatter of Stark and his electric variant whilst trying not to step on the oily black tar that he’d accidentally thrown before. Unlike all of the other variants she’d seen from him, this one was still holding onto its structure, still spilling itself onto a side of the room, only having melted a pinch with its surface still appearing as sticky as before.

It was also an accelerant, Morgana remembered as she thrust her hand into the thing and produced a gooey ball. Firestep, who was just a couple of steps from initiating a flying kick, forced herself to stop as she knew what Morgana was thinking.

She squeezed the substance and lit it on fire. The end result was a light that was comparable to a flare. It burned so much that even Morgana was feeling the heat, and the flash was even more distracting. “Stand back!” she said, holding it out.

“That thing burns fast,” Stark observed, almost smugly as he was already reaching behind for his belt pouches. It seemed he'd run out of canisters for his gun, and as he pulled a grenade, a short curse gave away the fact that this was all he had left.

“Yeah… just have to wait,” Corrine muttered, keeping herself on the move in case Morgana threw the ball of fire… because that was all she had. Since one of her hands was closed into a fist to contain the ring, the other one was holding the burning torch, and that would burn out soon. She couldn’t reach down to grab for more at the risk of lighting the whole pile on fire… which while that might be good for her, it could do some damage.

“Just stand back,” Morgana called out. “The ring is coming with me one way or the other… This thing is too dangerous.”

“No, it’s my power!” Firestep snarled.

“It’s my retribution for all the bullies,” Stark piled on.

“You could get security or talk with the house parents… I’m sure that would’ve been easier than… bugger,” Morgana blurted out as the ball of fire on her hand sputtered and burned out. Like the flag thrown at a race, it was a signal to the two rivals to make their move before she could grab another chunk.

Firestep launched herself into an unpowered kick to cross the distance and engage Morgana in hand to hand combat, constantly aiming for the girl’s left hand where the ring was closed in a fist. She'd refused to use that side out of concern that an accidental slip might force her hand open and the ring revealed, and the girl from Whitman picked up on it as she relentlessly used her powers to boost her movements and hits, seeking to flank her.

Morgana’s eyes strayed to the pile of accelerant. “Maybe I should jump in and burn myself in it. Would certainly keep them at bay,” she thought as she raised her arms just in time to block one of the kicks. It was an option that would leave her naked, but could it buy her time? That is if she didn’t melt through the floor.

“All this stops if you give me the ring!” Firestep yelled.

In the distance, Stark let out a laugh. “Perfect! Freezing grenade, coming up!”

The focus of the two girls shifted immediately towards the devisor. A grenade at hand and a wicked grin announcing his intentions, he pulled his arm back for a pitching throw. Firestep reacted quickly, disengaging and making a couple of quick powered leaps back… while Morgana was always the intended target, and wouldn’t be able to slip out. So she braced herself for what she expected to be a very cold blast as the grenade slipped from Stark’s fingers.

Time seemed to slow down, especially for Morgana, as all anyone could see was the grenade flying straight towards her, ready to hit her on the spot and she couldn't dodge it in time. Out of nowhere, an orb of energy flew through the air, in an intercepting path towards the grenade, whereupon it bloomed and expanded itself creating a strange field that tinted the world through and everything caught in it in a soft blue… and it froze the grenade in the middle of the air.

No, it didn’t freeze it, just slowed it. That was a power that Morgana had recalled seeing in Poe once or twice.

A sophomore girl emerged from around the concrete urchin. With a thrilled smile to her and a characteristic streak of purple and white, she stepped in at uncanny speed, wrapped in a reddish aura.

She made it to the grenade just as it neared the edge of the slow speed bubble and, with a supply-closet broomstick, she swung like it was a baseball bat. It connected and sent the grenade flying through the disappearing blue field and into a different corner of the room. It exploded in blue fluid that solidified into a clear sheen up against the wall, cracking from the temperature flux as the frost lingered in the air. Morgana didn't fancy her chances, if it had actually hit her.

“I don’t know what’s happening here, but throwing grenades and explosives is a very bad idea,” said the girl as she spun the stick, making a show of it to those interested. Morgana recognized her as none other than Christina Cobryn, a sophomore from Poe and a part of the fabled ‘Terrible Trio’ of her year, along with Caro and Gwen. “Also, did someone mention a ring?”

“The ring? It’s mine!” Stark shouted as he moved closer with the intention of throwing in a punch. “Do you too want to make fun of me and steal my new treasure?”

“I… I wait… is this a bit or something?” Chris looked confused. Regardless she still raised her fists in defense. “That’s a strange answer.” She turned and noticed Morgana, in her dragon form and what little remained of her clothes. The pile of black goop and the knocked-out janitor were hard to miss, too. “Morgana?! What’s going on? Where’s Caro?”

“I-It’s a long story,” Morgana said. While she appreciated the help, she was aware of the ring in her hand and was already concerned what would happen if someone with a little more skill were to become obsessed with it. “Chris! I need you to stay a-”

The moment Morgana was distracted, Corrine closed the distance and delivered a surprise kick to her waist. Then she shifted her direction and drove the hit up, even as Morgana's power flared to invoke some dissuading flames, but the hit forced her hand open. The smoldering ring landed in one of the puddles of black tar.

“Yes! It’s mine!” Firestep blurted as she dove for it. But just a couple of steps away, she found her world turned blue and her movements suddenly becoming awfully sluggish.” Wha-” was as far as she got.

Just a short distance away, Chris knelt atop a subdued Stark with her hand outstretched and wreathed with the blue energy.

“What’s yours?” Chris's eyes strayed downward, only to cringe from a bright light come to life on the middle of the floor. “What is that?” And yet before she could see the ring’s outline, her sight went pitch black as Morgana threw a ball of tar in her face.

“Sorry,” Morgana called out as she moved over. She recovered fast enough to grab Corrine, just as Chris's field dissipated. It was a complete success, leaving the speedster with her stomach pinned down to the ground and her arms behind her.

“Morgana! Why the hell did you do that?!” Chris called out, still keeping Stark against the ground as she tried to wipe the tar of her eyes. “Wait, what's that sound?

That was what had concerned Morgana the moment she caught the flash in the corner of her eye. The black tar had been ignited by the magical ring, burning indiscriminately in a bright red and white. Her blood chilled as she saw it sink into the ground and, leaning just a little bit closer, she saw what she feared: a small round hole that went all the way down.

“Crap, crap, crap! It’s gone!” Morgana screamed

“Can you tell me what’s going on? Why are these two acting crazy, attacking people and talking about a ring like they’re Smea…” Chris trailed off as she realized. “We have a Smeagol situation!?”

“Eh… Pretty much,” Morgana said, relieved that this abridged many of the points she needed to address.

“And the splatter of the black goo is because…”

“I didn’t want you to also fall prey to the ring. Everyone who sees it falls under its power and goes crazy.”

“Like Smeagol,” Chris noted with geeky pride. “Could you at least have given me a heads up? I don’t even know if this stuff is toxic.”

“It’s… not,” Stark managed to clarify. “I’ve had it spilled on me many times and the worst I got was a rash…”

“Then I’m glad I closed my eyes before it touched me…“ Chris mumbled as she dragged Stark closer to Firestep so as to keep them both pinned under. “Can you search the supply closet for something to tie them up? They have to have at least a pair of zip ties for trouble students… right?”

“Um… I guess,” Morgana muttered. She was hesitant to leave a half-blinded Chris to deal with the two troublemakers… but she appeared to have everything in order, plus the two were too focused on bickering with each other to coordinate a combined effort.

“Hurry up, this stuff is starting to itch,” Chris urged.

Morgana lost no time and made her way past the destroyed door and came back with a pair of zip ties and piece of rope.

Before long, the two students were all tied up and she could move on to the unconscious janitor. The moment Morgana had Stark in order, Chris stumbled her way across the puddle of the room and somehow managed to find the only spot on the wall where water leaked from the broken pipe.

“Ah… I can see again,” Chris sighed relieved as she washed the tar off her eyes. After refreshing herself with the clean water, she moved back to the remnants of the room where Morgana was lying on the ground with her eye fixated down on the hole left by the ring’s passage.

“I can’t see it.” She sighed in disappointment. “I think I lost it. Again.”

“So, where are we going next?” Chris said as she trudged back, pulling the diluted sludge from her eyes.

“We? You can’t go. If you see the ring, you’ll turn on us.”

“But how are you going to find it?” Chris said, pausing to consider before snapping her fingers. “Maybe I can help with that?”

When Morgana lifted her gaze, she saw that the Poe Sophomore was crouched to the side with her hand resting on the ground as if watching something, even though her eyes were closed.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m ‘seeing’,” Chris answered with a slight gasp. “I see the ring!

“You… see it?” Morgana muttered confused, unsure if the senior student was pulling her leg or was actually seeing it.

“The ring has melted its way through the ground to the floor below,” Chris said. “It’s… It’s burning so bright, I can’t get a good image… I see it, I see the ring… and it’s still covered in goop and melting its way down past it…”

“So, it’s going down to the third floor,” Morgana muttered as she slowly got up and raised her hand to aim for the girl's neck. “How do you feel when you hear that we, Caro and I, want to destroy it?”

Chris cocked her head curiously, seemingly unaware of her immediate surroundings. “I think it’s a shame… mostly because Caro was so excited about it, and I wanted to sample it… But I see the problem it causes. So, I’ll help.”

Morgana sighed relieved. “Good, you’re not under the effects of the ring, I think.”

Chris's eyes snapped open. “Were you about to brain me?”

“Can you blame me? You've seen what happened to those that have seen the ring,” Morgana sighed.

“Well, maybe they have to see it with their own two eyes?” Chris said. “In my case, it’s a mixture of imagining and seeing it. Not seeing-seeing. Do you get me?”

“I don’t think so,” Morgana told her. “And what was that you did? Scrying magic?”

“I wish.” Chris shook her head. “Nah, I’m actually a clairvoyant. I have sight beyond sight. It’s not something I broadcast because it’s not as flashy as being able to slow or accelerate things… but it does come in handy in small ways. Like letting me know if there’s someone outside my room or if I’m about to hit someone around the corner.”

“That does still sound incredibly handy.”

“Another reason I don’t include it in my business cards is because I prefer to keep that element of mystery… So I would appreciate it if you didn’t share.”

“Got it.” Morgana sighed as she stood up.

“So… Still think I should stay behind?” Chris said, with a welcome tinge of amusement in what was already an exhausting situation. There was no denying that, without Caro or Shisa, Morgana would need Chris’s clairvoyance to search.

“Alright… but you can’t look at it. I don’t want to have to fight you.”

“All I would have to do to get possessed is look at it, right?”

“Well, yes. That’s what I’ve seen.”

“Hm…” Chris tapped her chin pensively. Just for a moment, because she suddenly perked up as a lightbulb turned on in her head. “Gimme a moment!” she then said excitedly, making a run for the supply closet for some frantic rummaging.

Not long after, she emerged from the little room, the detached stick of a broom in hand and loose bandages around her neck.

“How about this? I can’t fall to the ring’s power if I don’t see it!” Chris mused as she pulled the bandages up around her eyes and tied a knot behind to fasten them. Then she brandished and waved the broomstick like it was a quarterstaff in the hands of some pro martial artist. “I get to play the blind monk in this adventure. Not exactly Tolkienesque… but it’s the only thing I could think of.”

“Um… are you sure about this?” Morgana asked.

“I can handle myself… ish.” Chris said, tapping her staff onto the ground as she finished her display. “Going about blindfolded like this isn’t something I do often, but you do need someone who can keep track of the little thing and… uh oh…”

“What is it?” Morgana asked.

“The ring, it’s melted its way down to the third floor.” Chris reported.

With a sigh escaping her lips, Morgana nodded, getting herself up and moving down the corridor. “We better hurry or this fun night will never end.”

“That’s the spirit, I guess.” Chris's laughter echoed in time with the tap of her walking stick


Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 7:14 pm
The tunnels, (B3)

“Not… right,” Shisa said. Her ears drooped as they came up to another dead end… for the third time in their attempt to find the stairs up to the second level. “No stairs…”

“Of course…” Caro muttered as she tapped the wall, to confirm it was solid. “They call this section of the tunnels the tangle because there are distortions that get worse the deeper you go. It’s basically a living maze.”

“Your lab?” Shisa asked as she moved by Caro’s legs, her eyes and ears glancing up, as they did every now and then to make sure the ring was still there… Although it seemed to have stopped.

“My lab? You mean my workshop?” Caro said, reminding herself of Shisa’s limited vocabulary when she lacked her speaking aid clip. “Well, it is on the second floor, so for the most part it is safe… That being said, more than a couple of times I found some corridors moved to the side a step or two…” She pondered for a moment. “It would be nice if I could summon my workshop down here… but that should be tried another time.” She shook her head. “Focus Caro, now it’s not the time to let your mind wander… I have to help Morgana hunt down my own creation to destroy it.”

Shisa remained quiet for the most part and just followed Caro as she stepped to the side to try another route. The corridors appeared the same, making for a realistic maze as they moved back and forth in the same path. They were certain that, sooner or later, the tangle would stop hiding the stairs that they knew were in this area.

“Sorry I got you roped into this, Shisa.”

“It’s… fine,” she said, clearly trying to be nice. “Bored afternoon anyway… Save school.”

“Yeah… save school.” Caro remained unmotivated. “This wasn’t supposed to go like this, you know? I didn’t expect that the thing would gain that specific set of properties and that it would be too hard to catch. Now the best I can hope for is that I don’t get into trouble for creating, potentially, a weapon of mass destruction.”

“Your magic… grrreat,” Shisa tried to say. “Different…”

“You think so?” Caro sighed.

“Saw what happened to Corrine,” Shisa said. “Her feet…”

“I know… I saw it as well,” Caro said slowly, she knew what interested Shisa. “But you know it’s a side effect of a botched enchantment… It’s not something I have control on.”


“I know what you’re going to say. That I still did it, that I altered her physiology, that it’s something… that maybe I can do something small… The thing is, I’m scared that it might do something to you. Maybe leave you worse or changed? I hear all these tales about attempts and using this sort of magic to alter one’s physiology and how disastrous the results are. I haven’t lived through them myself so all I know is the fear of others and the worst case scenario.”

“But…” Shisa said, her ear flickered as it heard something, but she was dealing with Caro's doubts.

“But in the end, I did it. I saw Corrine’s feet work perfectly and made her faster than she should’ve been. Maybe that was due to Morgana’s essence. Maybe I just allowed her to put the pieces together to make the change, which means I didn’t do anything but make it so that the user wouldn’t explode when using the piece… but even if that's true, where does that leave me? Can I, or can’t I?” Caro muttered as she lost herself in consideration, just as Shisa’s ears flicked again, directing her behind them.

Something had entered the hallway, several steps behind them, at the corner of the hallway. Shisa turned around to see drips of red hot liquid oozing from a hole on the ceiling and a splatter down on the floor where something burned bright and loud.

“…Ca-Caro?” Shisa spoke up.

“Would you want that? Perhaps one of the items can have a better chance of opening some sort of leeway… before I move on to try to craft a ‘curse’ that could help you?”


“But then again… First, I have to make it out of this mess unscathed… wouldn’t you agree?”

“Caro! The rrring!” Shisa was already sprinting towards the fallen object even as Caro realized what was going on.

The two girls pinned the talk for another day and ran after the fallen object as fast as they could.

Shisa made it first, but stopped just short of the puddle of burning liquid that coated the ring as it continued to sink in through the concrete, melting it like it did with the ceiling. She tried to use her telekinesis to scoop up the enchanted band but to no avail. Not only could she not maintain her constructs for more than a couple of seconds, the ring had already sunk through a hole much smaller than she could reach. “No…” Shisa mumbled just as Caro caught up with her. “I missed it…”

“What happened? It was the ring?” said the fairy-tale witch as she leaned in closer towards the hole on the floor. The remnants of the tar began to lose their bright color in between the liquified plaster that had been dragged down from the ceiling above.

“The ring… Coated with something… melt through. Still going.” Shisa leaned in closer to peek down the hole only to be pulled back by Caro before a drop from the burning oil could fall on her.

“Oil?” Caro muttered as she looked upwards at the hole from which it came from. “I hope Morgana is okay… She has to be, right? How else would the ring have made it here?”

“Ring survive?” Shisa formed a telekinetic construct that poked the burning stains, getting it to hiss and release a trail of smoke upon contact.

“The ring will survive? I think it will,” Caro said. “I have to make sure.”

“Went down,” Shisa grumbled.

“I know… from what I’ve heard, anything past the third basement is an abstract maze of horrors,” Caro answered, adding under her breath. “Please let that be a joke they told to scare me out of getting the lab.”

She was already looking into the corridors for a way down. “This’ll be the last one,” she swore, already making her choice of path, hoping that the place would at least grant her an easy way down if it was going to make ascending that difficult. “You can stay here Shisa. I’ll find the ring.”

“But…” Shisa gulped looking up and down at the two holes it’d left behind, her eyes and ears keeping track of the ring’s location as it descended through the earring. “You no ring track-er. Going too!” Shisa called out as she bounded after.

linebreak shadow

Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 7:20 pm
The tunnels, (B2-3)

“Ah!” Chris gasped as her foot missed its date with the next step down with gravity, It would have taken her down with it if it hadn't been for Morgana's arm and shoulder being there to support her.

“Careful!” Morgana said.

“Sorry. I guess multitasking my focus while I walk down stairs with a blindfold on was a stupid idea,” Chris said sheepishly. She reached up for the bandage and lifted it just above one of her eyes to see where she was stepping.

“No objections there,” Morgana answered.

“Alright.” Chris sighed as she loosened the knot of the bandage just enough to pull the blindfold up to her forehead. “I’ll pause my recon for now. Mapping the corridors is exhausting.”

“But if you see anything gold, slip on the blindfold as fast as you can,” Morgana noted as she took point.

“So… Back to where we were. First, it was that boy, Stark, who used the ring to beat up the girls that bullied him… then it fell onto the hands of the bully, who we also left bound in the room, and lastly fell into the hands of that poor janitor that was knocked over,” Chris recapped as she followed Morgana down to the third level.

“That would be correct… I half expected for the third time to be the charm, but I guess that only applies to Caro, and she disappeared right before the fight began. No idea what caused it.” Morgana shook her head. “Actually I do have an idea as to what happened there… but it just didn’t seem possible.”

“When you eliminate the possible, whatever remains, however impossible, must be the answer. Sherlock Holmes, right?”

“Yeah, it still just feels incredibly unlucky,” Morgana grumbled. “I mean, not only did my blood cause this, but this just keeps on getting worse.”

“Don’t say that. Maybe what’s ahead won’t be as bad,” Chris noted.

“How do you figure?” Morgana asked.

“Well, for starters, judging from what you told me, people don’t seem to come down here often. So, if we just tied Firestep, Stark and the janitor up, and before that, you and Caro took care of Li'l Miss Hot-Pants' friends, so who's left to wear the ring? If we’re lucky, all we need is to pick the thing up and I can map out the nearest path to the exit.”

“You’re an optimist, right?”

“Well, I grew up practicing it.” Chris had a sheepish grin on her face as she pulled back the blindfold over her eyes. “Maybe a little bit too much.”

After a bit of a wander around the third level of the tunnels, Chris held out her hand to stop Morgana and direct her down a different path. “If we go ahead, turn to the right and then left, we should come across some stairs down to the lower level…” She paused with a gasp. “Oh wow, the fourth level is certainly something different.”

“Different how?”

“Ever been to a dungeon?” Chris asked.


“Oh, sorry I mentioned it… I should’ve said a catacomb or lost city. It’s just… Oh crap…”


“Oh that can’t be good,” Chris muttered.


“Someone found the ring… and I don’t think you're gonna like this.”

linebreak shadow

Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 7:24 pm
The tunnels, (B4)

The fourth level of the tunnels was an improvement from the one below, though not as comforting or vanilla as the ones above. The corridors were a mixture of wide and narrow, making Vic think of streets and alleys. It certainly made the place feel wider as he moved through, no longer having to wade through the waters, and the arched ceiling made the place look much higher than it was supposed to be… which only made the exit feel more impossible to find.

Vic must’ve been wandering for some time, trying to make sense of the architecture around himself, especially as he found one or two darkened holes that presumably led to the canals below. That struck him as odd, as he didn’t recall any hole towards the fourth level while he was trudging through the fifth basement… Outside of that convenient one he must’ve fallen through to get down two levels. It was enough to make him think that the place was messing with him.

Still, he carried on, walking around for quite some time, searching for pathways or stairs he could use. Much to Vic’s surprise, there appeared to be many more locked doors in the vicinity, which gave away the idea that the places were being used for something. And he wasn’t desperate enough to use his powers to lockpick them… yet. He still hoped that he would find the stairway around the next corner.

“Come on come on, we’re this close to when it all stops being funny,” Vic told himself. According to what he understood, the lower one got, the worse the distortions became. All he needed to do was make it up one more level, back to where he was before, and hope the earth wouldn’t swallow him again. His ascent from then on up would be easy. “Can’t say this has been entirely horrible…” He went quiet as he glimpsed something in the distance, a golden light unlike the orange and yellow incandescent lights that illuminated the walls around.

“Is it a rescue party?” He’d pressed the app’s panic button a while ago. Hopeful, he picked up the pace. “I’m here!”

But as he got closer, the more he realized he’d seen that bright gold and white light shimmer before. And as he was a step away from the corner, the figure emerged .The light surrounding her eased up for a moment as she touched down to the dungeon floor. Much to Vic’s dismay, it was none other than Gwen, his stepsister, in training attire and bearing a look of shocked exasperation to mirror his.

“What…” both blurted out at the same time, and did so again, after a pause, “What are you doing here? You first.” Then neither of them did, for a moment that grew longer in direct proportion to their building embarrassment.

Vic sighed, being the first to break the competition of silence. “I just decided to explore the tunnels.”

“Just like that?” Gwen asked, suspicious.

“Yeah, just like that… and then something happened, and I ended up down one floor below. Been trying to get myself out of here since.”

“Did you really get lost?” Gwen scoffed, but with a bit of amusement.

“It’s not funny! This place is scary weird. I’ve spent the past hour exploring places I didn’t need to see, like out of some urban exploration video channel,” he answered.

“Like those cryptid hunters?”

“Yeah, like those… but worse.” Vic cast a small glare towards Gwen and raised his phone’s flashlight. “Now, it's your turn. What are you doing here? Butting into other people’s business, as usual?”

“Why, I’m here for Caro,” Gwen said, trying to adopt a slightly sassier tone, but quickly correcting herself. “You remember I told you about Caro, right? She was making some new creation and Chris and I were coming to check on her. Although that was over an hour ago.” With that, Gwen took the time to explore the hallway around them with curiosity.

“It’s not like you to be that late.”

“We weren’t… exactly late. Chris did take her time in the parkour lab and the shooting range but then there was this lockdown when we got to this section of the tunnels that made it-”

“Wait, back it up. You said lockdown?”

“Yeah… I don’t know what happened exactly but according to the security guard, everything in this area went dark. The blast doors around these sections of the tunnels suddenly closed down and locked. Plus, the internet has been jammed. A blackout protocol, really.”

“I guess that would explain why the map app isn’t working properly.” Vic looked down at his own phone, as its battery was drawing closer to the limit. “So, if there’s a lockdown, how did you make it all the way down here to the fourth basement?”

“Eh…” Gwen was always a poor liar, and it was never more apparent than in the preamble as her eyes briefly tried to avoid his. “After we… ahem, snuck in, we made it to Caro’s lab only to find no one was home. So Chris and I split up to search for her after we scouted the second level. She went upstairs and I went down.”

“Down here? Willingly?” Vic was unsure if he should be amused or annoyed. All he could do was hold back any comment as Gwen continued.

“And then, I was barely a couple of steps off the stairs when I came across a room with this huge squared hole in the ground.”

“You came across it? It didn’t open under your feet?”

“No, it was just there. I guess it was meant to transport heavy pieces of equipment between levels, so I just flew in.”

“Well, probably would’ve done the same if I could fly.” Vic sighed before blinking. “Wait, how long have you been down here?”

“I don’t know, about three or five minutes?”

“Gwen! Could you do me a huge favor?” Vic asked, trying to conceal his desperation.

She sighed. “What do you need?”

“Can you fly me back up through the way you came from?”

“Can’t find the stairs?” Gwen saw the chance to take a couple of friendly jabs at him.

“It’s not funny. This place is a maze that changes at every turn. I’ve spent a good chunk of time wandering with the app on and it still can’t draw a map outside from a couple of steps behind. Whatever road I follow makes no sense,” Vic said, showing her his phone.

“Alright alright…” Gwen said, nudging his phone away. “Alright alright, I’ll fly you up.”

“So where was it?”

“Back here.” Gwen waved him to follow her back the way she came. “Honestly, I can’t believe it. This isn’t some Escher drawing, you know? I mean, sure, it can be a little convoluted but still-”

Five minutes later…

“I swear it was right here…” Gwen blurted out.

“Of course it was.” Vic sighed as he paced around. He didn’t want to be a pessimist, but he’d expected this to happen.

Their wanderings got them to a simple squared space that was the intersection of two of the street-sized corridors. The only thing that made it different was that there was no light at the center of the sunken up ceiling, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that there was once a hole in place.

“When Caro told me that her new lab was located in the freakier part of the tunnels, I thought she was exaggerating…” Gwen muttered as she coated herself in light and flew up to the ceiling, tapping the concrete surface. “This is unsettling…”

“Think you could break through it?”

“It’s concrete and school property.” Gwen hesitated as she descended. “We can call it plan B. There should be another way out just around the corner.”

“I can tell you that we need plan B now,” Vic noted as Gwen landed.

“I-I’m sure we can find a path.”

“Sure,” Vic had to concede looking down at his phone. Still no signal. “Best bet, in any moment, this blackout will work itself out and we’ll be able to ask for help… before I run out of battery.”

“Well,” Gwen said, trying to act standoffish. “Since you’ve been here longer than I, why don’t you lead the way?”

“Sure, at least you’re much better company than my own shadow,” Vic noted as he set off, following his gut in one of the directions he hadn’t explored.

“Have you really been on your own here?” Gwen muttered uneasily.

“Well… not exactly. I did have a run in with this girl from Poe.”

“From Poe?” Gwen perked up.

“Yeah,” Vic paused for a moment. “I think her codename was Summoner.”

Gwen gasped. “Oh! Lillian is here?”

Vic nodded and began to recount his encounter with the Junior girl, just as he made it to the fourth level. “… I offered to tag along if she was going to carry on in the fourth level, but she clearly didn’t want me over. So I just followed the lead she gave me and wished her luck, and we parted ways.”

“That’s… understandable,” Gwen defended. “Lilian’s a good person, I think… but tends to keep a bit to herself. She’s bothered by her past… like everyone.” She added that last part with an awkward smile.

“Is she-”

“I can’t say! Let’s leave it like that!” Gwen interrupted.

“Fine, fine.” Vic sighed. It might’ve been just a little bit of a conversation, but it already changed the mood around. “Things have been going quite differently. It’s a new adventure that has only lasted a couple of months or so. New friends and all that. I’m starting to understand why you didn’t talk much to us during the last year.”

“I know. You sit up on the second floor of the cafeteria, fancy. Just be aware that eventually, you and your friends will have to defend that prestige.”

“Not sure I’m looking forward to it.”

“You did well last time you stepped into the arena.”

“That’s because it was a bit of a sham fight. At least on my end,” Vic had a small laugh at the memory. “So, how’s your boyfriend? I still dread the next time he’ll decide there's something he needs to berate me over.”

“Dereck?” Gwen actually sounded surprised. “He does have a bit of a strong personality, but he’s actually really sweet inside.”

“I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell.”

“Just be glad that he hasn’t found out about my arm…”

“I’m sorry about that again.”

“It’s fine.” Gwen sighed. “Hurt a lot… maybe someday I’ll repay you the favor.”

Vic winced at the idea. “So Dereck has no idea it was me?”

“Nah. And hasn’t brought it up in a while after I asked him. So, hopefully, the matter was put to rest.”

“What of your friends?”

“They know. I told them about our little tussle… assured them that it was water under the bridge, and they seemed to understand… and that’s a relief, because you don’t know devious Caro can be with her payback plots.”

“How devious are we talking about?”

Gwen thought for a moment. “Hm… I once saw her turn a student into a frog.”

“Yuck.” Still, he managed a relieved smile. “Your friends do seem pretty cool.”

“Yeah, they are.”

And with that the conversation trailed off again.

“So…” Gwen said to break off the silence again. “I saw you hanging around with Tanya from the trip. Are you two a couple?”

“Ah…” Vic stammered, at a loss of words for a moment. “I-I… well, yeah. I mean, not yet, but I have to ask her… just not sure how.”

“Don’t ask me. I could never get to doing it, even when I was on the same side as you.”

“Must’ve been so nice when you came here as the new girl,” Vic noted, earning a surprised look from Gwen before he clarified. “I’ve heard other students talk about you. You’re Miss Popular. Quite sure if you weren’t with Dereck, lots of guys would be jumping at the chance to date you. Must be nice.”

“Nice?” Gwen said with a bit of outrage.

“I mean, you’re not expected to be the one to take charge. Guys would come to you, heart in hand, to ask you out. The ultimate decision is up to you,” Vic said.

“And you think it’s easy to endure that whole pressure? Could you turn down someone who, as you describe, just tries to endear you and you have to always think about what others will say about you when it happens.”

“I guess I couldn’t…” Vic admitted. “Although it doesn’t feel like it’s something that could happen.”

“Neither did I.” Gwen sighed, letting a moment of silence settle in.

“For the record,” Vic said, letting out a sigh, “I’m happy you have friends and a boyfriend that care for you that much.”

“Thanks…” Gwen sighed. “And, truth be told… a part of me is glad that I haven’t had to approach a girl to confess my feelings… probably wouldn’t have moved a bit.”

“I guess some things don’t change. Neither of us are social butterflies…”

“Completely agreed.”

“But you fake it pretty well,” Vic said, giving Gwen an elbow nudge.

“He-hey, it’s called being nice.” Gwen giggled. “If you want, I can nudge Tanya a little bit during our Capes meetings.”

“Heh, it’s okay. Whatever happens, will happen, I guess.” Vic tried to push the embarrassment out of his mind as they carried on.

A couple of turns and intersections later Vic asked, “Any sign of the stairs?”

“No… and I agree… as much as I like the quietness of the place… it’s getting a little bit unnerving…” Gwen trailed off as what sounded like a dry holler echoed in the distance, coming from around the corner. “What was that?!” The young heroine inched in closer to Vic, who met her from the opposite direction.

“I don’t know… Never heard that kind of sound in all the time I’ve been here…”

The two pushed on, taking two more steps and turning around the corner just to find that the lights flickered and ceased to work, as did the ones in the other corridors they might’ve taken.

“Could it be that Summoner is playing some trick or prank. We should keep on looking for… a way… out…” Vic trailed off as, in the dimly lit corridor, just a couple of steps away, something was visible around the twilit corner: a light. A reddish light that wavered as if alive, in the same way as a flame would… at about the height of a person.

A lantern? It seemed to waver like one.

“Um… is that something you’ve seen before?”

“No…” Vic said slowly as they began to notice sounds: the wild crackle of embers, shambling steps against the rough concrete and in between all that, the sound of heavy mouth-breathing. It was a strange mixture that Vic couldn’t place, until he eliminated all other possibilities. “Is it Summoner?”

“Sounds like…”

Even if they agreed that it was the Junior girl from Poe, the wavering of the light gave them a bad feeling. The figure stood like a shadow under the light… It was humanoid in figure but incredibly thin and without a hint of clothing about it, just charcoal black skin. Its movements were awkward and stiff, almost spastic as a crunching sound seemed to follow them. After the first step out, it stood hunched over as the momentum carried it… until it stopped, slowly raising itself up.

Its craggy and solid skin cracked as it raised its head.

“Um… that’s different,” Vic whispered slowly.

And the figure heard him as its head suddenly turned to stare at them with bright red eyes that appeared to be made out of magma. A mouth opened, cracking the outer shell of black and revealing the bright orange underneath, like a wide demonic smile.

Vic and Gwen jerked back in shock, their startled gasps stretching into almost screams. At the sound of their surprise, the body of the thing spasmed and jerked. Its skin cracked and further sloughed away to reveal red veins that glowed in the dark.

Its body twitched loudly and it took eager steps towards them. Its arms were outstretched and with cracks forming themselves to give away the outline of its fingers. A hollow growl escaped its mouth, spitting out flames with each ‘breath’.

And following it, the light from around the corner introduced itself further, coming in the form of a mob of those same carbonized figures, thin emancipated bodies, covered in flames of crimson darkness that escaped the charcoal shell. Calling out in hunger, they joined the shambling run.

Neither of them could take the horror anymore. In one voice they screamed as a quartet of the charred things came after them.

Gwen shook herself free of the terror-induced paralysis and immediately wrapped her arms around Vic before jumping back and using her powers to pull both of them up into the air and away from the pursuers. As a flier, she was quite fast and, even in the narrow pathways of the tunnels, it wasn’t long before she had gained a lot of distance on the monsters, leaving them far behind and around the corner.

Once Gwen and Vic found themselves safe and away, getting whatever charred puppets to lose track of them, she landed them at the turn of the corner, and both were allowed to catch their breath. “What… what the hell was that!?” Gwen blurted out, only to feel Vic's hand against her lips.

“Sh!” he hissed before letting her talk.

“Right… sorry,” Gwen whispered. “I have no idea… Not sure if they are zombies or… or some sort of demons,”

Vic held his breath as he spied around the corner. Much to his concern, the light of the unnatural flames could be seen wandering about far in the depths of the corridor, moving as a crowd of figures that bent themselves and moved unnaturally to the beat of a twisted pacemaker… well, for the most part. The more he focused, the more he could make out a figure that stood upright at the center of it all. In between the flames and shimmers that filled the background, it was a shadow that moved at its own pace, with fluid lifelike motions, standing with the head held high.

The figure in the center… could it be Summoner? Vic wondered as he saw the mystery figure raise their hand. Some of the charred puppets fell to the ground, only to be replaced by heftier beings rising from below. These ones looking a bit heftier than the ones that were unsummoned.

“No way… It has to be…” he whispered, growing all the more concerned.

“Vic.” He almost screamed in surprise as Gwen called quietly from around the corner. “We have to leave.”

“I’ve been trying to leave for the past hour,” He hissed. “It’s not that simple.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Gwen hissed pointing towards the other side path around the corner. Vic leaned onto the side to peer in, and right away got Gwen’s source of concern: a dead end. They were caught between two corridors of closed-up walls.

Had they reached the edge of the tunnels, or was whatever thing that moved the spaces around just toying with them? The only way out was to turn around and step out into the open and face the crowd.

Gwen seemed to have read his mind, as she just nodded with resignation.

Vic sighed and tapped to the side of his head before reaching out with his hand. Gwen immediately understood what he meant and accepted the offer, establishing the telepathic link.

<Probably would’ve been better if we’d made this link beforehand,> Gwen thought-spoke.

<It could get tiring… besides, it would’ve just been us walking in the tunnels in silence. I would take the echo of our voices over this,> Vic explained.

<Fair enough…>

<So what do we do now?> Vic peeked around the corner. The figure and the faux-dead had taken a couple steps closer in their direction. As he did though, he spotted a new route, a side corridor that was, for the time being, closer to her than it was to them.

<Well… we’re on a dead end and other paths would put us in the open, I have no doubt that they would see us and chase us again.>

<But you can deal with them, right?”

<Me? What about you?> Gwen asked, her face reflecting her indignation.

<You know what my powers are.> Vic showed off the bottle he’d been carrying. <This is all I have with me, and they’re covered in fire.>

<Shouldn’t that make it easier?>

<I’m not fighting them like this… What about you? Shouldn’t you be able to blast them back with one of your ‘star blasts’?> Vic said.

<I… I haven’t had the chance to recharge after an afternoon in the parkour lab…> Gwen admitted. <Chris got me to practice my beam and blasts in the range and now I just used it to break through the lockdown. I’m at less than a quarter of my usual charge…>

<Just great.>

<Hey! I didn’t think I would be fighting zombies down here… Do you… do you think that they infect you through bites?> Gwen gulped before shaking her head. <Dumb question. If anyone had some zombie virus power, that would be a one way ticket to a lock-up in Hawthorne in perpetuity…>

<Besides, aren’t you an exemplar with skin far tougher than others. You know what, just don’t let them bite you. I wouldn’t even know how to face a powered-up you.>

<Don’t joke about that…> Gwen leaned onto the side, peering around the corner herself. <I see a person at the center of the things… that’s her, right? Why don’t we try to talk things out.>

<I don’t think that’s a good idea.>

<Don’t worry. Summoner is a pretty reasonable girl.> Gwen was about to slip out only for Vic to grab her wrist.

<Something feels wrong,> he pointed out, letting Gwen release her arm. <Has she been known to create an army like this before? Think I saw about a dozen of them.>

Gwen shrugged. <I never counted. So maybe? This does seem a little outside of her usual summons. But maybe we can reason with her.>

In that moment of silence, they heard the faint sound of a girl’s laughter in the distance. “Oh Ammy-Whammy-Mammyzons. You play prank and prank and prank upon me and my friends, however few I might have. And you think I won’t retaliate or make you answer for it? I had this whole plan to get back at you lot through security and maybe use the dorm mom's name? For whatever good it would do. But now, your stupid joke has helped me make a new friend. A treasure of massive strength. I don’t need to play the subtle game anymore. Not when I can create a monster as strong as each of your rank members and burn a nice reminder into your hides.” She cackled as her charred puppets spasmed and twitched until one of them exploded in a fiery whoosh, judging by the flash of light and the crackling, splatter and gurgle that went about.

<That’s definitely Lillian…>

<She doesn’t seem stable,> Vic thought.

<Maybe… maybe she’s angry? But she’s not unreasonable,> Gwen said, and before Vic could stop her, she’d already stepped out from around the corner.

<Hey! Don’t-> Vic called out, but it was a moot point as he heard the shuffling sound of the charred summons stiffen as the stranger came into view.

“Lillian? Is that you?” Gwen called out in the friendliest tone she could muster.

“Gwen?” The reply was surprised and cordial, if not embarrassed by the little theatrical monologue she played out. “What are you doing here?”

“I… I mean, we got lost,” Gwen said before giving Vic a mental hiss. <They’re not attacking. You should come out now so as to not make it awkward later.>

<I guess you left me with no other choice.> Vic inwardly grumbled as he took in a deep breath and a step outside from their hiding place.

The charred puppets immediately swiveled their heads to look at Vic’s entrance. The dark flesh of their necks broke off to reveal more of the same magma-like substance that adorned the wide demonic grins plastered on their faces. The soot of their breath soiled the air, and their arms twitched in preparation to lunge forward… But they did not. Most remained in place like statues, with only two stepping aside to allow Summoner to walk forward. The girl passed between the shimmer of flames but did not fully reveal herself... almost as if she were hiding something.

Still… despite the unsettling company and situation, the girl appeared quite jovial about it all. “Well, this is such a chance surprise…” She then noticed Vic. “Oh… it’s you too. Tidestriker, right?”

“Yes,” Vic affirmed as he gave her a small wave.

“I see you didn’t find the exit. This place is really treacherous. Got me lost for so long that even Warg couldn’t lead me anywhere.” Summoner passed her hand over to the head of one of the charred puppets, completely unaffected by the heat that exuded from it.

Now that he had a better look at the horde, Vic could see that it was comprised of a dozen or so bodies of varying shape and size, going from the skeletally emaciated to a few of almost athlete level. All of them covered in fire, all of them moving with spasmodic twitches that created cracks across their skin. Despite their numbers, they didn’t wander off or split away from the group, even if they appeared to be looking around constantly. Just a couple of steps away from Vic was a pathway through which he and Gwen could make it out. They just needed to beat the undead to it.

Seemingly reading each other’s mind without actually making use of thought-speech, the two took a step forward.

“I hope you managed to find what you were looking for,” he said, feigning ignorance about the little monologue from before.

<What happened?> Gwen asked discreetly.

<Some people supposedly played a prank on her, hiding something of hers in the tunnels.>

<Amazons…> Gwen thought bitterly.

<You know them? What’s their deal?>

<Something I can’t talk about.>

“Oh, I found it,” Summoner said almost proudly, patting her pocket. “And so much more. Now I definitely feel like my day is in the win column.”

“Really? That’s good,” Gwen said as she took another step closer. Probably a little too much for the critters as they moved in response, but still refused to take a step forward. “Is that why you were looking kinda down this morning?”

“It was… those damn Amazons took something from my room and thought it would be funny to leave it down here.” Summoner snorted. “Just wait till they see my new gift.”

“Your new gift?” Gwen asked.

Summoner nodded. “As you can see, my powers have taken a leap forward thanks to my new treasure. I’m…” She paused for a moment for dramatic purpose and choosing the right words. “So attuned to the primal powers of fire am I now, it comes so easy that I can make up an army of followers. No one will step on me, on us—speaking for all the girls in our wing of the cottage—again.”

<I think we should be getting out of here…> Vic thought-whispered.

<I second the idea,> Gwen replied before answering out loud. “I’m honestly impressed… but I’m so desperate to find a way out of this basement.”

“So, mind if we’re on our way?” Vic completed.

For a second, he feared that Summoner would snarl back at them, or send her army of charcoal puppets after them on a whim. The things were getting more fidgety as the conversation went on. But the girl from Poe relented, nodded, albeit with some disappointment. “I’ve been looking around for the exit for some time. Thought we could go about it together… even if for now, I’m not sure whether it is a good idea for me to have company.”

“It’s no problem,” Gwen said as she took two steps forward, just one closer towards the exit. This time the forewarned puppets stood their ground. “Hey, if we split up, we can cover more ground. One of us will find an exit. If we do that, then maybe we can get help for each other?”

“Sounds like a fair deal,” Summoner said. But they were just a couple of steps away from the exit when she broke the silence, with dry, harsh words. “Gwen?”

“Yes?” Gwen said as Vic caught up with her.

“I was wondering… the Amazons. They bother you a lot… don’t they?”

<They do?> Vic whispered in her mind.

Gwen tittered. “No um… I mean… they do, every now and then. But it’s not a big deal.”

“You lie… but fortunately, you’ve been lucky to always have your friends with you, willing to stand up to teach them a lesson, right?” Summoner said. “Haven’t you thought about what it would be like to make them pay. Make them really pay for all those cruel pranks and tell them that we won’t tolerate them? Wouldn’t you want that?”

“I… I have.”

“What do you say? Would you join me? With my new power and the way people trust you , I’m sure we’ll be able to teach them the lesson they woefully deserve.” She punctuated her words with a raised hand. The two stepsiblings stood in place as the ground before the charred puppets turned magma red. The bricks and concrete cracked apart, and two new figures emerged. To Vic, they were copies of Warg, the summoned wolf he’d seen before, only these were made of black rock and magma, with no eyes and long, pointed muzzles. “Imagine letting these two at them, hearing their pleas as they begged for me to call off the attack. Wouldn't you like to see? And not just you, but all the girls of our wing.”

“I…” Gwen stammered, considering the answer before giving it. “I can’t do that. It’s not right.”

<Gwen!> Vic chastised.

“Right…” Summoner sounded disappointed. “You’re still a staunch member of the Capes. You wouldn’t allow anyone to teach them what is owed.”

Gwen hesitated for a moment before answering. “It’s not that. I dislike the Amazons as much as you. I feel like they need to be taught a lesson… but attacking them just to see them suffer. Would that be the right thing? Why not just report them to security?

“That won’t do it, you know it. I had a plan to get back at them for this little prank they played on me… but now nothing feels good enough. If they manage to get away, then what? Don’t you believe it’s overdue for someone to teach them with their own methods?” The more Summoner spoke, the more she appeared on edge… and so did the charred puppets as their expressions grew sharper and their postures lowered themselves in preparation to lunge. The two summoned elemental wolves growled with the gurgling of the orange liquid that coursed through their flesh.

<Say you agree and get us out> Vic ushered.

“I…” Gwen couldn’t get the words out. In the end, it was Summoner who had the last word.

“I can’t let you go if you’re likely to rat me out, Gwen.” And with a snap of her finger, the creatures fell into a more aggressive stance, each taking a step forward. “I feel strong enough to take on an army… but I would still like to face only one faction at the time. I can’t let you leave.”

“What are you going to do?” Gwen gulped.

“I won’t hurt you… Just find a good way to stash the two of you for a day or two,” Summoner said, quite serious and uncaring in her words. The facade of normalcy dropped to reveal something more insidious.

“Summoner, this isn’t funny!” Gwen called out while receiving a message from Vic.

<Gwen! We’re moving now!> As he grabbed her hand and pulled her into the side alley, the elemental dogs broke off into a chase, followed by the charred puppets.

His stepsister recovered her bearings and took the lead, using her powers to wrap herself in a pale light that let her hover faster than they could run, then picking Vic up for a flight down the tunnel. All the while, she was charging her fist and delivering concussive blasts at the pursuing fire-zombies.

Despite missing the two canine elementals, the hit proved to be incredibly effective against the emaciated ones. An ugly red grin was shattered as its wearer was knocked back into the crowd, thin limbs shattered into embers of red.

It was a small victory, quickly swept away as the procession of evil crushed their fellow summon underfoot.

“Fly, you fools,” it amused Summoner to say, even as Vic and Gwen had slipped in around the corner.

<I told you so!> Vic lectured.

<Don’t make me drop you!> Gwen snapped as she turned them around a corner. <This isn’t normal at all.>

Vic held his tongue as they dove deeper into the maze of tunnels. The sound of fire behind them appeared to not want to ease up after them.


To Be Continued

Read 2027 times Last modified on Monday, 21 August 2023 19:01

Add comment