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Lady of the Ring (Part 8)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure

Lady of the Ring




Part 8


Saturday, November 5, 2016 - 8:23 pm
The tunnels, (B1)

A magical shockwave was released the moment the magic ring broke. It reached out far and wide throughout the underground, intangible and unnoticed to anyone but those that had been touched by the ring’s influence. The corruption and influence that had warped the wants of those tempted burned itself up, like the last fizzle of gunpowder in a trail.

And it felt not quite unlike receiving a volleyball directly to the face.

For Stark, the surge ended in a sharp bump as his body spasmed and smacked his head against the marble. “Ow…” 

“Oh… quiet, you,” another voice muttered, somewhere in the distance beyond his consciousness and awareness.

“What… what happened?” Stark awoke to the bruised feeling. Even if he didn’t know that the ring had protected him from much greater damage, he was all the more surprised by the gap in his memory. One moment, he was crying in the room of the tunnels after his challenge, and suddenly he was feeling the panic as he tugged his arms, only to find them bound by thick plastic bindings behind his back. “Why… why am I tied up!?”

The gap in his memory was concerning to an obsessive mind, so he made the effort to trace things back. He’d called Corrine, Firestep, down to the tunnels to settle their score. What was it? Something about destroyed clothes? Probably something stupid, according to him. And then she showed up with her friends for a fight. He’d expected that obvious cheat and had prepared accordingly. He had the girls up against the ropes but… he ultimately lost.

There was a knot of frustration in his stomach of the sort that usually presaged a full-on Diedricks as he remembered how he was left after the fight. He got a good beating from the girls, his body bruised and his inventions destroyed. Tears poured from his eyes as he sobbed like a desolate child. At the time, he was aware he still had an extra cache of weapons and tools in a closet that was just a couple of corners around, but his fighting spirit had been extinguished.

“Pathetic.” His voice carried a bit of embarrassment and a whole bundle of self-scorn at his last clear memory.

After that, he didn’t remember what happened. All he could feel in the gaps were general feelings and emotions, but nothing concrete. The image of a golden circle appeared in his mind, though he was not sure why exactly. It was something that carried with it a longing that was puzzling to him, as the thing was incredibly simple by design. He, as a devisor, would’ve thrown in a more advanced flair, maybe the ability to crack open and pull out other stuff. Maybe that could be the next idea after he was done with that oil stuff. Aside from the increasingly fleeting memory of that golden shape were the abstract feelings it carried with it: a strange sense of euphoria, like the good side of whenever he had a Diedricks power trip.

That was all. He couldn’t make out anything else.

So the only thing that was left that could make sense was that he’d fallen asleep or somehow got himself jumped and kidnapped by someone… which appeared more likely than anything as he looked around and confirmed he wasn’t even in the same room where he’d set his trap. This one was emptier, but had seen its own fair share of damage from a fight. The pipe by the rear wall appeared broken and poorly patched up with a bundle of rags, dripping down to feed the growing puddle that would eventually reach him. Some parts of the floor and many square inches of the nearby walls bore scorch marks, as if black powder explosions just happened to go off. But it was the pieces of debris and tech that littered the floor that caught his attention, the remnants of his own grenades, clearly used and detonated, leaving the splatter of dried variants in their wake.

Was he fighting? Or someone used his stuff? More questions popped up in his head, but he felt more than hard pressed to ignore them. He wanted to leave this matter behind him, to make it back to his room and rest. The past couple of days had been a nightmare. Maybe other chances for revenge would show themselves to him… if he still cared about it. With all the problems it had caused, it just didn’t appear worth it, or within reach.

And yet, as he tossed and turned in his restraints, trying to break or wear them down, he rolled over to discover in surprise that he wasn’t the only person in the room. There, just a couple of steps away was the reason for all of his strife this week. The girl who made a scandal that got him in trouble with security and still came around to jump him in the corridor. Corrine Leigh, or rather Firestep.

She lay on her side with both hands behind her back as well. It wasn’t hard to guess that she was also bound… although that raised the question as to what was going on, as the two of them were in a similar position. Stark recalled her as wearing the same generic combat suit to their encounter, so that certainly wasn’t a dream.

“Well… boy woke up,” said someone behind her, just a couple of degrees to the side. It was a janitor, at least that much could be surmised by the uniform despite the burns and scorch marks that covered it.

‘Johnny,’ according to his name tag, rested his back against the wall to the side of a corridor. The man was looking quite drained. Actually, both him and Corrine looked beaten up, if not downright busted, especially the older man that rested against the wall, which made Stark wonder how bad off he was himself.

“Um… what happened?” Stark asked.

“Beats me… I woke up about a couple of minutes ago, then the lady here regained her senses and then you. Though she hasn’t been in the most talkative of moods,” said the janitor in a lax east coast accent that felt quite reassuring to Stark.

“Told you I wanted answers,” Firestep said, casting a glance over her shoulder. She appeared to be more than willing to step away or run but clearly had some trouble getting up.

“And I told you I don’t know them,” Johnny snorted back, still in a more relaxed mood than one would expect. “As you can see, the lady here doesn’t like to be talked to.”

“Yeah, I know her,” Stark grumbled. “She jumped me in the tunnels a couple of days back… and today.”

“Oh, so she’s one of those troublemakers they talk about?” Johnny said, much calmer than was expected from a staff member that just heard of one of the kids assaulting the other.

“Yep,” Stark said, much more comforted.

“No no,” Firestep snapped. “He started this.”

There was something about seeing smartass Corrine Leigh lying down with her hands bound behind her back and her hair matted against her cheek that sort of grounded the image this girl seemed to have, one that, under different circumstances, he would be drooling after. Watching her shake herself just to get it unstuck from her skin got Stark to crack a smirk. Firestep frowned. “What’s so funny, goop boy loser?”

“Who are you calling goop boy loser?!” Stark tried to turn around and deliver a kick to Corrine who replied in kind, fortunately without use of her powers. Either she was out of personal juice or willingly holding back before a witness.

“Ey! Ey, ey!” Johnny called out, trying to get up to break the fight only to realize that his leg had fallen asleep, not to mention aching like hell. All he could do was shift on the spot thanks to the difficult position. “Knock it off, you two!”

At least that little theater got the two kids to stop their bickering and their attempts to kick each other. “That’s not a way to treat your classmates.”

“At this rate, we’ll be arch-enemies before the end of the year.” Stark answered, only to get a sort of agreeing snort from Firestep.

“Aw, ain't that sweet,” Johnny said with a bit of a mock before reminding himself he was the adult of the room. “Even so, a young man shouldn’t attack a young lady without a provocation.”

“Well, she and her friends did jump me in the tunnels.”

“Be glad that pipe burst, and all that stinking water got in the way.”

“Broken pipe… with stinking water?” Johnny muttered. It didn’t take him long to put the pieces together.

Usually, he would be much angrier at the kid after that revelation. After all that was the news that practically destroyed his afternoon that day and filled him with nausea that ruined his dinner and the next day’s breakfast.... but for some reason, something happened between that mind lapse as he was fixing the pipe and then woke up that had left him in a more mellow, if not relaxed mood, as if he’d really let go of his recent frustrations. “So it was you who did that,” was all he could say in the end.

“See? He is nothing but trouble,” Firestep said, sounding so assured that Johnny would take her side.

“It was an accident! A result of her attack!”

“But you still need to act more like a lady. Afterall, you jumped him.”

“Why should I act like a lady? Ladies are servants.”

“Really? I see it the other way around,” Johnny chuckled in return. “It’s a matter of respect. How do you expect others to treat you well if you don’t do it to them first?”

“That just means you get suckered into servitude first,” Firestep snorted.

“Maybe so, but if you think so, then don’t go about demanding respect from others,” Johnny told her. That left Corrine with her mouth hanging, about to say something but instead finding herself without a proper answer. So she just looked away.

“And what caused this feud?” Johnny asked as he adjusted himself on the spot, having already stolen a glance to all of the connecting paths.

“He/She attacked me!” both kids repeated only to frown at each other.

“And before that?”

“What does it matter?” Corrine frowned.

“It does because… See. I know from my line of… I mean from my previous occupation, I know that you don’t go out of your way to ‘punish’ someone unless you have a reason. You know why? Because it’s such a hassle. The planning, the set-up of the scene, get ready to get hurt, which seems like both of you had already been through, and then deal with the consequences.”

There was sullen silence from the two students.

“How about you, Missy? If what I gather is correct, you’re the one with the earliest attack on the timeline.”

Firestep would’ve gladly walked away, but both her hands and legs were tired. Whether it was by accident or because it was someone who knew that her legs were the strongest asset, she would be stuck there in the meantime. Holding her silence just made her look worse. “He ruined my shirt… disintegrated it in the cafeteria.”

“I told you it was an accident,” Stark defended.

“That doesn’t really count much.” Firestep snapped.

“Well, I said it was an accident. What else do you want from me?”

“An apology maybe?”

“Well, I…” Stark stumbled.

“She’s not wrong, you know?” Johnny said. “Saying that it’s an accident is just another way of saying ‘sucks to be you’ if you don’t say the magic word.”

“Abra kadabra?” Stark said.

“The word is ‘sorry’!” Firestep snapped about to deliver him a kick… but relented.

“Fine… I… I’m not that good with this kind of thing,” Stark muttered. “I have to apologize so often at home. About ten times more since I manifested and began to mess up with experiments that should have... So I just got tired of doing it constantly.”

“Look, no one likes to apologize.” Johnny held his sigh to a minimum. “It’s something you inevitably do. Just do it, bite the bullet, and then try to not repeat the screw-up. But never consider yourself above it… unless you think it’s not worth doing… But here it’s always worth it, especially if you’re going to be dealing with a classmate.”

“Fine… fine,” Stark muttered as he turned to face Firestep. “I know this won’t mean much after all this but… I’m sorry for ruining your clothes.”

“Thank you…” Firestep noted. “Even though it might be a bit too late for that.”

“Just accept the apology,” Johnny interjected. “It’s not like you’re all that clean, either way. What sort of school girl would jump a classmate?”

“In my old school, a girl got her sweater ruined as a prank by a guy from the class and then…”

“And did they gang up with their other friends and beat the guy responsible?”

“Well… no. They just egged him… or at least tried to,” Firestep grumbled.

“Look, I get it. This is Whateley, where you get sent because your powers make you special and nothing is normal. I mean what other school has kids devising goo that disintegrates clothes?”

“That wasn’t the intended chemical reaction,” Stark chimed in.

“That’s not the point.” Johnny snorted. “This is the place where this kind of thing happens, same teen problems as any high school, only with several degrees of intensity added to the mix. That also means that security is far more extreme than regular school. Do you get it? So what reason did you have to actually attack your classmate?”

“Um…” was all Firestep said, letting the moment of silence linger far more than expected.

“If you can’t admit your reason with pride… very likely it wasn’t a very good reason at all.” Johnny held his tongue as he sized the reaction. Some headway seemed to have been made into the peace negotiations.

“I… I guess…” Firestep conceded before trying to find another avenue of arguing. “But what about what happened after?”

“What happened earlier?” Stark repeated.

“Well after that, ahem, encounter today, Wisp, Thumper and I were in the process of trying to find an exit. I hope they’re well,” Firestep added to the side, realizing that her friends were nowhere to be seen. Still, she carried on. “Anyway… We came across the blast doors at a checkpoint and then…” She trailed off. All this time, she’d been staring at Stark’s face for any sort of hint of remembrance, but the kid appeared just as puzzled all the way through. “Don’t you remember…”

“Remember what?” Stark asked.

“Um… nevermind,” Firestep muttered.

“You just said you saw blast doors closed?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah… Numbnuts here built some sort of blackout device that locked us here.”

“Hey!” Stark reacted with a couple attempted kicks, not noticing how mild the insult was compared to before.

“Huh… So that's what happened?” Johnny gasped, much like a detective that reached the needed epiphany of the case. “And can you undo whatever lockdown you caused?”

“Um… I don’t have my clicker. That’s the device I created to activate this,” Johnny noted. “It should reset at some point soon.”

“I certainly hope so. Someone has to notice this, right? It’s only Saturday evening,” Johnny said, trying to be optimistic.

“I really don’t want to spend my evening here,” Firestep added.

“Me neither,” Stark muttered. “I hoped to watch some stuff on the internet and then play around some video games.”

“Those are your plans?” Firestep scoffed.

“What about yours?” Stark challenged.

“Was going to go hang out with friends,” she said factually.

“And do what? Gossip?” Stark scoffed back.

“Okay, okay. That’s enough.” Johnny was not interested in hearing them bicker the rest of the time they had in. So, wishing that there should be some sort of merit badge for reconciling problem students, he thought of pushing things out. “How about we keep on the conversation to pass the time. I know, you two say something you like about the other?”

“What?” the two kids asked.

“Or not. I can’t force you. I just think it’s better than lying here in awkward silence.”

Still, that’s what ended up happening as the two kids held their own for what felt like more than a minute. In the end, it was a Stark who broke the silence. “You are a very scrappy fighter… In a good way. I feel like even if your friends hadn’t been there back then, you would’ve eventually beat me, six out of ten times.”

Firestep was taken aback by the comment and could only look away. “Well… um I don’t think that was the case… we barely won that fight. Considering what you accomplished in such little time. I have a little respect.”

“See? Isn’t it nice to put the grudges behind?” Johnny said, mostly to himself. Both kids reacted by ignoring him.

“There’s one more thing…” Firestep sighed, almost as if it pained her to admit it. That got Stark’s attention. “Do you remember the pants you splashed on Thursday?”

“You mean the ones you were wearing that day when I disintegrated your shirt?” Stark said before correcting himself. “Again… sorry about them?”

“Yes… those,” Firestep said dryly after being reminded of that unfortunate incident… that long since felt like the smaller slight in this sequence of escalating messes that had, somehow, left her tied up on the floor. “The thing is, while my shirt fell to pieces after you splashed that oil and flashed it with that light… the spots it left on the pants leg became more like a print on the denim. And… at some point between then and now, I realized how much sturdier they became, even when exposed to fire.”

“Interesting,” Stark muttered. “So denim plus the light treatment and… Do you mind if I do some tests?”

“Not on my clothes!” Firestep chastised, much to Johnny’s amusement.

And, at that moment, the sound of footsteps came in from the wall to the side, echoing clear enough so that everyone could hear it.

“Ah! At last!” Johnny sighed relieved as he glimpsed the light of a flashlight moving around a corner. “We’re here!”

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The school was thrown into a moment of panic on Saturday evening.

At first, none of the supervisors noticed that the cameras within the section of the tunnels dubbed ‘the Tangle’ had spontaneously frozen. That is, until the checkpoint guard barged into the main office to give the announcement, after being lost on the path for a good half-hour. It happened to coincide with the calls they received from the staff above commenting on how the water in the pipes lacked the proper pressure.

Needless to say, by that point, the school's security was on covert high alert.

School staff suspected the worst, that it was a real emergency that triggered the lockdown and was jamming the local network. Even if they had no information on the matter, they had little to no idea. Some expected it to be some sort of attack while others imagined it was some biohazard experiment that had broken containment.

So, they made an armed mobilization around the enclosed perimeter, checking the doors for a path of access around the first two levels. Fortunately, before they needed to explore deeper than the third level to find an access point, the problem seemed to sort itself out as comm lines in the area were reestablished and the lockdown was lifted from the security booth, allowing the members of the school to step in. According to their app readings, there were a couple of panic button presses located down there.

In the first level, they came across two students, a girl from Whitman and a boy from Emerson- and a member of the service staff, all bound and tied near each other using some of the zip ties that were kept in the supply closet. One item of note was that both students had been featured in an incident report earlier that week, an altercation, but were now in slightly better spirits with one another. All three individuals seemed to be having some trouble recollecting the events of the evening, having lapses in their memories. Fortunately, aside from some bruises and superficial injuries, they appeared to be in good health. Still, they were ushered to Doyle Hall for a checkup.

Members of security took notice of the area. The room the three were found in clearly had been the setting of a fight. About half of the floorspace was covered in water from a pipe leak that had been shoddily patched with towels and duct tape. Strange substances that resembled concrete and sludge were splattered about at the place. With pieces of equipment, namely grenades and a gun with an empty canister at its rear, plus the file report from a previous incident earlier that week, they deduced it to be the boy’s doing.

The other damages were more puzzling. More apparent were the remains of what appeared to be black powder explosions scattered about on the ground and on the walls, especially near the supply closet where the door blew off its hinges. Additionally, a spot of the floor seemed to have suffered a heavy burn, with the ground surrounding the spot turned a charcoal black where a pile of the sludge had solidified into igneous crud.

The janitors of the next shift would take power tools to it.

After it they progressed deeper into the tunnels, where they ran into a group of students making their way up. This one consisted of one junior student from Poe who appeared to be filled in on the events by the other members of the group: three sophomores from both Poe and Whitman and three first-years from Poe, Whitman and Twain.

The freshman girl from Poe, Morgana Jones, was naked, covering herself with what appeared to be one of the fireproof safety aprons that were doled out to those who rented the forge. Considering the previous incidents on the girl’s record, the security officers didn’t ask many questions on the matter.

The girl from Whitman was Shisa, who was about ninety percent cat thanks to her Body Image Template. Despite currently being on the watch list and probation, the officers abstained from asking any questions, partly because she was having a hard time talking without her usual aid, and because the other students interceded on her behalf.

The boy was Victor Rivera, from Twain, who for the most part had slipped under the radar of security’s interest. He sported moderate to severe trauma to the joints of his ring and pinky fingers as well as a hairline fracture below the elbow of his right arm. According to the data from the mapping app, the panic button press had come from him. Later, when the information was synched and compiled, it revealed how he’d been wandering down in the lower fifth levels after taking a fall.

When interrogated on the spot, many of the students claimed no knowledge on the matter. Some of the group members got lost within the Tangle and the rest formed a search party. The injuries resulted from subsequent falls between levels. Although some of the officers had reason to believe the students were hiding something they had no real claim on the matter. So, considering they appeared desperate to get out of the tunnels (in particular Victor and Gwen Silver, one of the sophomore girls), they were escorted the rest of the way.

Last report on the case came in at an hour past midnight when the search party came across two more girls wandering the tunnels of the third level. They claimed that, up to half an hour ago, they’d been left bound by something they couldn’t see, something that suddenly let them go. They were quick to claim they were physically overpowered by the boy found in the first level of the basement, Stark.

The claim came across as almost instantly dubious, given that the boy was a devisor with no enhanced strength and, at the same time, was found on the spot with no sort of exoskeleton to allow him to accomplish the feat. On the other hand, one of the girls in question, Gayle Barker, was a combat-oriented exemplar.

Furthermore, both girls appeared to be new recruits of the Amazons, a group on campus that was notorious for its history of misandry, so their stories were summarily dismissed. In the end, though, considering the time, they were allowed to leave after taking their statements and noting their involvement.

For the sake of expediency, the head of the search party opted to use the simpler answer, which was to believe the group of students got lost in the tunnels at around the same time a grudge match was taking place.

When confronted with the accusation of being the main troublemakers and instigators of the lockdown, both Stark and Firestep conceded that they had a part to play in it. Both were given community service on campus, but for the most part, they appeared to have put the grudge behind them.

Still, there were details that lacked an explanation. Things like the story of mass amnesia and bindings the students found themselves in. The damage sustained to the room signaled the result of a fight and the strange holes that appeared about in parts of the tunnels before they regenerated.

And in particular, there was this one room in the third level where all the pieces of furniture appeared to have been totaled and thrown against the wall, where a checkpoint door was broken and unable to open. The cause for it was a disturbing gash in the steel plaques. Not far from there rested a bundle of large water pipes, one of which featured a hole from which the water escaped to form a puddle, explaining the outage reported. But the most concerning element of the room was the set of distinctively inhuman footsteps that marked the surfaces of the floor, wall and ceiling in furious steps.

And so, the legend of the mind-controlling, fire-breathing lizard experiment lurking down in the Tangle was born among the members of staff and as well among the students.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 5:15 pm
Whateley Campus

“So that’s what happened? For real?” Tanya asked, equal parts amazed and intrigued.

“It’s pretty much how it went down,” Vic admitted, unable to keep himself from smiling as he looked up. Things appeared to be perfect. The day had bid good night to the sun, hiding it behind the clouds in the horizon while it didn't appear to be close to raining anytime soon. The wind blew placidly and the bench they’d settled themselves on had a great look at the flower bed that rested in front.

And he got to enjoy it with Tanya, sitting right next to her. With the wind and cold air pushing them closer and closer to one another. He could almost feel her head rest up against his shoulder.

Truth be told, he didn’t really want to have a talk with her until his finger injuries were fixed and he could take off the splints. But she just happened to run into him during their usual daily jogs and there was no way of keeping it hidden for much longer. And the sad irony, he thought, was that they weren’t hurting as much by then.

The moment was perfect, he thought, knowing he would make a move soon. The guy is always the one who makes the move, but he didn’t know for certain if that’s the way she felt for him… even if some feeling assured it.

“So,” Tanya took a deep breath. “To recap, if I got this right… You decided to take a walk down the tunnels, got swallowed to the lowest depths by the ever-shifting structure. Ran around in its depths finding rooms with strange things and creatures… although you just happened to not want to disturb the feng shui, so you left without anything.”

“I mean, I didn’t find the exit until much later… so I didn’t prefer taking anything big. And I didn’t think about bragging about it.”

“Until now? You began your story by saying you went out exploring,” Tanya nudged him playfully. “And then told me this fantastic story.”

“You can ask Gwen, Chris, Caro and Morgana for the other details,” Vic pointed out.

“No wonder they were mostly cagey about the events of the weekend,” Tanya laughed. “I believe you.”

“Phew,” Vic said, getting a slight push from the lavender pint-sized power.

“So continuing with the adventure. You managed to find a way up and ran into Gwen. The two of you got lost and then were attacked by a horde of fire zombies. Zombies that were created by a girl from Poe who came across Caro and Morgana’s enchanted ring that had an ability to twist people’s mind into temptation. It’s such a mess.”

“What? It’s confusing?”

“Well, I do need the other parts to get the better picture,” Tanya smiled. “So yeah, you, Caro, Chris, Gwen, Morgana and Shisa teamed together to get the ring out and destroy it… How is that not the One Ring?”

Vic could only act smugly at his own adventure.

“You’re like Samwise if the ring didn’t affect you,” Tanya teased.

“Sam?” Vic scoffed. “Couldn’t I be like Faramir or Aragorn?”

“Well, in the movie Arwen is the only character who uses water magic,”

“Oh, please,” Vic laughed along as he looked up to the sky only to feel a droplet of water fall on his nose. “Aw… it’s about to rain.”

“Well, I should probably get back to Whitman. Maybe ask Caro about it while at it.”

“I’ll accompany you,” Vic said as he caught a drop on his exposed arm, moving it to the tip of his finger to start up a water umbrella… though it would take time.

Tanya seemed to get what Vic was trying to do and waved her hand. “No need, I can make it faster if I fly.”

“Oh,” Vic said, somewhat dejected. “Alright, I do have to go to the doctor to get the splint removed.”

“Alright,” Tanya said, a bit pensive. “Any plans for later? Joining the M3 chatroom?”

“Heh… sure. I was going to log in anyway, to talk with Danny and Lizzy.”

“Your friends from Rhode Island?” Tanya asked.

“Yeah,” Vic said as he leaned to the side to grab his bag. “We talk every now and then.”

“You seem like good friends,” Tanya said. Vic didn’t notice, but she took a couple of steps closer to it.

“We are, we just lost contact a while back… so it’s kinda strange… but nice.” Vic said as he turned around.

And as he turned around, he felt a pair of lips on his cheek, coming in close to his own lips. It was a quick feeling as they were immediately pulled away just as they turned to face each other.

Tanya had already taken a couple of steps back, seemingly surprised by what she just did, but still bearing the hints of a courageous smile, which wanted to make itself wider as Vic replied in kind, only held back by the embarrassment that dyed their cheeks of a blush.

“I’ll… I’ll just get going,” Tanya said as she took a couple of steps back, walking with a bit of upbeat and jitteriness in her step. Both of them smiled to each other, blushing deeply, taking the answer and look given as a confirmation but still too nervous to carry on for today. “I’ll see you later, Vic,”

He couldn’t answer with anything other than a nod as he heard her footsteps get faster and faster until he saw a figure take off to the sky covered in an aura of lavender.

Vic stared for a couple of seconds, his hand reaching over to caress the side of his cheek. It really happened, he could hardly believe it was real. And now, he was uncertain of what to believe or do about it. Would it be too soon to talk about it? Should he? Did this mean they were officially a couple or… or was it just the start of it? He still needed to take the step, right?

He thought all of this with a sense of joy about, as the weights and doubts on his mind. By the time he snapped out of it and reminded himself that he actually had a check-up in Doyle, the water umbrella was now covering his palm and expanding outward in a shield that, for a moment, appeared heart-shaped.

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Sometime later…

Vic had stepped into Doyle practically skipping, still high on joy as he wondered what he could talk about Tanya in his next meeting, whether he could broach the subject or act normal until he could make the next move and if so, what could I be? The possibility that he might be overthinking it crossed his mind.

Still, all that was pinned for later as, what he thought would be a simple clear from the doctor turned out to be somewhat more unsettled.

In front of him sat Dr. Gutierrez, a petite doctor with clear Mexican ancestry, with her gaze deep into Vic’s medical file and x-rays with her brow slightly furrowed.

It began with him visiting Nurse Tanuyan to check on his fingers and replace the splint. However, her usual standoffish and automated attitude stopped as she noticed something about the checkup. She immediately handed Vic over to Doctor Gutierrez to perform some examinations. There was a level of confusion in the air that concerned him. After taking a good look at his hand, they gave him a superficial x-ray scan and asked him to perform a grip test. That also included the regenerator’s prick test, which came out as normal as before.

¿Dígame doctor, volveré a tocar piano?” Vic said. It might be a bit of a stereotype to assume that someone named ‘Gutierrez’ knew how to speak Spanish, but he felt the need to practice his second tongue.

Escucho ese comentario cada semana,” she answered in kind, giving out a smirk. “A veces con trompetas, o guitarras.”

“Guitars, I should’ve said that one.” Vic gave a sheepish grin in return. “So… is everything alright?

“Everything appears alright,” Dr. Gutierrez reassured. “Even better… maybe a little bit too well.”

“What do…”

“I mean?” the doctor completed. “Usually, with this sort of injury, broken fingers and trauma to the elbow as a result of an applied arm twist, it’s more of a nerve and joint damage, which takes time to heal. At this point, Nurse Tanuyan expected to still see some around the affected area. More than that, she expected to see some trembling and weakness… which isn’t the case.”

“Oh… I thought I was given some special treatment to heal it faster,” Vic said, though a part of him thought it wouldn’t be the case.

“That was just some ointment. Wouldn’t work THAT well,” Dr. Gutierrez noted as she looked at the pieces of papers. “From what I see, you aren’t an exemplar, nor do you have a regenerative trait. And you said you hadn’t had any of your friends heal you, right?”

“I don’t think I have.” Vic answered.

“Well, it’s probably nothing, but I’ll schedule you a redo of your power testing, just in case. Now,” the doctor added, lowering the file to look at him directly. “Since we’re here, is there anything else bothering you lately? Always a good thing to ask with you all.”

He gave the question the appropriate amount of thought. His experiences with the Ring had definitely bothered him, but first, they weren’t telling anyone in a position of authority about that mess, and second, it probably was a matter more for a priest than a medical doctor. Nothing else sprang to mind, either. Except… well, it was a minor item, a nothing-at-all, but as his legal guardian Caroline kept reminding him, little things could become big problems soon enough, so get stuff checked out early.

“I guess… well, it’s probably just my combat suit, but I’ve got this itchy spot on my arm…”

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Monday, November 7, 2016 - 4:20 pm
Just outside of Poe Cottage

At this time, and on this day in particular, the outside of the cottage appeared as relaxing as it could be, with the regular group of troublemakers either taking a visit to their club house or busy with something else. Either way, with no Amazons around, it was safe to bring in the hot-headed boys that could actually give them a run for the troubles they caused.

Dereck Seaver was one such case. The son of the renowned hero Gigaton, Megaton had inherited his father’s strong, prideful stubbornness and wouldn’t suffer the sort of insults that were traded about. Even if it was an upperclassmen that threw them his way. And by his side was Gwen, among the more notable sophomores of the year.

“Supposedly, I can now bench press over three hundred kilos easily with the use of my powers,” Dereck said, culminating his anecdote from the power testing class. “Now you know that if anyone comes in to mess with you, you can just call for me.”

“My hero,” Gwen said, forcing herself to smile, even if the events of the weekend were still pestering her in the back of her head.

“Thank you,” Dereck said, missing the somewhat playful sarcasm in his girl’s words. “They say my dad could lift twice as much at my age. But I think I’ll catch up to him… eventually.”

“That’s good.” Gwen spotted Chris leaving the cottage’s front door, gliding on her rollerblades as she was about to leave for her afternoon skate.

Still, at the wave of her friend, the Poesie changed course to meet them. “Hey you two. How’s my favorite literal power couple?”

“Doing fine,” Gwen mused.

“Just dropping her off at the cottage. Said she wasn’t feeling the mood for a casual Monday date.”

“Is she?” Chris said curiously, giving Gwen a look.

“Yeah… did something happen on Saturday evening?” Dereck asked bluntly, getting Gwen to do a double take.


“I’m just worried, you know. You weren’t answering your phone and I just heard from Torero that one of the security guards told him about a blackout that happened in a part of the tunnels. Something about a telepathic lizard creature that escaped off campus. So I just wondered if there was a connection.”

“Nothing happened,” Gwen reassured.

“But then why can’t you tell me what you were doing?”

“I…” Gwen stammered but fortunately Chris answered.

“She was helping me with my history homework and just happened to lose track of her phone’s charge.”

“Y-yeah,” Gwen agreed.

“Alright, alright,” Dereck said, looking somewhat alleviated. At that moment, his gaze moved over to his own phone to check on the time. “Then I’ll be on my way. The boys at Emerson are planning a fun movie and game night. Wouldn’t want to lose it.”

“By all means, have fun,” Gwen said with a slight smirk as Dereck leaned in for a kiss and she obliged. Chris casually looked away so as not to offend anyone with the face she was making.

“See ya tomorrow.” Dereck waved off as he stepped away from the path and resumed a jog back to the main campus.

“You haven’t told him about Saturday?”

“Eh… I didn’t think he needed to know. It wasn’t exactly my proudest moment. Not even sure if he would’ve even believed me anyway.”

“He seems like the kind of guy who would think he’s too good to fall for the ring. Thinks he’s an Aragorn, turns out to be a Boromir. Not that that’s a bad thing!” her friend hastened to add. “Boromir was awesome! Except for, you know… That last bit with the One Ring.”

Gwen winced, shuddering at the idea of what would’ve happened if she actually hadn’t opted to go to the parkour lab with Chris and instead headed down to Caro’s workshop with Megaton instead. “Thanks Chris.”

“Don’t sweat it.” Chris shook her head. “I know how into you he can get… and we all know how he already dislikes Vic. Wouldn’t want to give him the wrong impression.”

“Please.” Gwen shook her head. “As if we were anything more than acquaintances.”

“Us guys wouldn’t see it that way.”

Gwen rolled her eyes. “Well, anyway, thanks for not telling.”

“Even if it tortures me to never say I played the blind monk in a Whateley retelling of The Lord of the Rings. And yes, I know that’s a bit too fantastical for Tolkien,” Chris said, mostly laughing at herself. “Does it still bother you?”

“Yeah…” Gwen admitted. Even though Vic sent her a quick text earlier that day telling his fingers appeared to be fully healed, her heart didn’t feel any better. “I know it was the ring… but most of the things said were actually truths for me.”

“It does sound like you want to bury whatever grudge the two of you have.” Chris said, as vaguely as her understanding of the subject.

“Maybe. I’m still mad at him for the things he said to me. About the way he ignored me and even then, broke my arm.”

“But you almost broke his.” Chris raised her hands in apology when she saw Gwen’s expression. “Sorry.”

“And that’s kind of the thing. Maybe it wasn’t as one-sided? I think both him and Josh had a hard time while I was at Whateley last school year.”

“Well, can you blame yourself? I mean, we were quite far away and very busy.”

“I know… it still doesn’t feel like a good reason.” She let out a long sigh. “So maybe, I do want to mend bridges.”

“I’m no social butterfly like you…” Chris admitted. “But maybe I’d suggest you start with small things? Maybe asking about plans for the Christmas break?”

“I guess it would help out to know where he is staying? To at least know that he still isn’t hanging out with bad company.” 

“How bad can it be? Well, we can always ask Tanya how he’s doing.”

“Noted,” Gwen said. She let the silence linger, to let it be known that the subject was over for now.

“Now.” Chris cleared her throat as a preamble to a topic change, before giving Gwen an innocent smile. “I know I said you were helping me with the history homework as a cover… but I do really need it.”

“Then what are you doing, going out skating?” Gwen said as they moved towards the cottage.

“Building up inspiration?” Chris said sheepishly as she rolled after her friend. “Oh… and you won’t believe what I just saw on the board in the Crystal Hall!”

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Monday, November 7, 2016 - 5:51 pm
The tunnels, (B4)

“Do you have everything?” Morgana said as she inspected the smithing and jewel crafting hammer Caro had used to create the original ring. Out of curiosity, she tapped the metal chisel and the flat head before weighing it on her hand. They made a dull, clinking sound.

“Yeah, I have everything” Caro sat upon the forge’s empty basin, just enjoying the fountainside seat as she cast her eyes about the place. Before her was the rest of the school forge where the problematic ring had been created and this whole problem had begun.

“Alright.” Morgana let the word fall into a brief silence. She’d run into Caro on the way to the tunnels and offered to tag along. Why? Caro wasn’t sure, but she had no reason to distrust the girl who’d helped her through the mistake.

But it was all mixed feelings to her. The experiment went wrong because she didn’t know something about one of the ingredients or payments she was using for the ritual. Morgana hadn’t been clear with her, but hadn’t known all the details, herself. She was supposed to be the older student present, so it wasn’t the fault of the girl from Poe. After that, with every person affected and flights of stairs traversed, her excitement for her own enchanted trinket was eroded down to the ground. It was a thing Grimma picked up when she re-emerged late in the night of that same day. She wasn’t happy but wasn’t about to lecture or punish her avatar-dash-pupil on the matter… yet.

And yet, despite all that they went through, she still remembered the actual process of forging, prior to the disaster, quite fondly. The singing of the steel, her idea taking shape, and then to hold it between her fingers in the moment.

Morgana looked down at the gutter in which the ring fell through. “Hm… The place sustained less damage than I imagined.”

“Only a couple of trays got dented from the explosion… but that’s about it.”

“Well, that repair enchantment you had prepared really did seal the deal,” Morgana noted, lifting up the tray to show its fixed state.

“Yeah. Well, I had all of Sunday to think up a way to sort out the damage. Fortunately, no one has accessed the place since then,” Caro said with a slight smile. Despite the ordeal and the loss of her project, things didn’t get any worse for her. All of the victims of the ring had dissociated from their actions while under the influence, thinking of it as a bad dream, and those that hadn’t fallen for it, plus Gwen, agreed on a story to sell to both Lillian and security.

This kind of incident should’ve landed her in greater problems. Fortunately, ever since she began to plan countermeasures, she’d managed to slip out unscathed.

Well, her pocket still got affected, with half of the gold money gone and a donation of two hundred dollar bills to Morgana for a new outfit or two. Still, it would be something she might be able to recover soon.

Checking her clock, the time marked that it was near six, meaning that she should probably get going to meet up with her friends in the Crystal Hall. Caro produced a piece of paper from a folder between her arms: the inventory list with all of the items checked in and accounted for, and next to it was the magical occupancy contract for the loan of the forge, with a box on the side where her finger print should seal the deal.

“Should get going.” Caro got up and stretched in an effort to put the sour experience behind. “Quite a nightmare, the day before yesterday.” Alas, she still failed at small talk.

“It was quite a night.” Morgana agreed, just to at least try to salvage the mood of their failed experiment.

“I guess it was, in hindsight. That’s about what I needed to hear,” Caro admitted. “How are you doing?”

“I’ll just say that, unlike the Balrog, the remnants of the Ring did pass, and let's leave it at that,” Morgana said.

“That’s a relief.” She settled the contract on the anvil and fetched a marker from her bag of items. “Still, thanks for helping me organize the workshop before I hand the key back,” she said, coloring her index fingertip before pressing it against the square box. The lines that comprised it glowed and, by the time Caro removed her finger, a blue thumbprint was left in place.

“And it’s done. Now I just have to give this back to Radiant and call it a night.”

“So…” Morgana chimed in as she followed Caro out the door and into the corridor. “What are you going to do with the other ring?”

Caro thought for a moment, and then reached into the depths of her bag’s pocket to produce a golden band, the exact double to the one that Morgana had swallowed. After all, the mold used to create the troublesome ring was meant to create a set of two. It was a little thing that bore no enchantment but was a nice piece of jewelry.

“I’m not sure. Maybe come up with a slightly simpler enchantment or something like that?” Caro said, rolling the ring between her fingers.

Morgana gave a slight nod as it was now her turn to fish into her pockets. “Well, in case you wish to give your idea another try, I thought of giving you this.” She produced a tiny vial, about the size of her little finger, filled with crimson: the blood of a dragon/demon/elemental/whatever.

“Are you sure about that?” Caro asked.

“Let’s say that by now I trust you enough to confide this with you,” Morgana told her. “Plus, after talking with my girlfriend, well, she gave me a couple of tips on how to quell some of the chaotic nature of the blood.”

Caro was at a loss for words as she held the vial between her fingers with the ring on her palm.

“Well,” Morgana said, breaking the silence and taking a couple of steps away. “I have a date later tonight, so I have to get going. All I ask is that you take the proper precautions and let me know how it goes if you decide to go with it,” she added as she disappeared around the corner.

The sophomore enchantress stood there for a moment as she glanced down at the items that rested on both hands. The ring and the vial of blood, the two pieces she needed to try again.

Could she go ahead with it? Risk everything again? Or would she chicken out? Shadows formed in the corners of her eyes, as if sensing what the answer would be. Both thrill and fear, confidence and lack thereof balanced themselves in the moment in her eyes.

“I’ll make up my mind later,” she finally decided. She slipped the ring around the vial and placed both into her coat’s pocket. “And hope that whatever choice I make is better than the alternative. Either getting Grimma to pester me, or risk it again.”

The end

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