“I hope you get sent to the deepest darkest void there is asshole!” Tom screamed to himself as he slipped back into existence.
I’m in your brain aren’t I? That’s about as terrible as it’s going to get.
“Gods you’re such a smug bastard!”
Are you going to calm down anytime soon? I only took the reins for like a minute.
I guess that’s a no on the not slinging obscenities at me, even though I not only saved your ass, I helped you save two of your friends. Oh well, whenever you’re done, I’d like to point out that we’re back now.
In the campus. You know that place you were bitching to get back to for the whole ten seconds we were gone. Tom looked around, as if noticing his surroundings for the first time.
“That can’t be right.”
“This place is grown over if we were only gone for a few seconds there would be fire everywhere and no plants. Look, you can see plants everywhere here.”
…Yeah about that… I may have skipped us ahead a bit.
“Ahead? To when?”
“Don’t move!” A female voice shouted at him from behind. Tom was caught completely off guard. He had been so caught up yelling at his unwanted passenger that he had failed to check if the area was actually safe. This could be anyone. Some lackey of Lee’s perhaps or maybe the lackey of some other malevolent force he didn’t know about. But one thing was for sure this was totally someone’s lackey. Tom raised his hands deciding whoever it was is probably going to have a bad day when he turns around. “Wait… Tom?”
The once threatening and authoritative voice seemed to soften into a confused tone. Tom, deciding the only way to know for sure who this mystery woman was is to turn around. So he did so. Tom was surprised to see Leah on the other end of this voice.
It was Leah. Although she looked different than he remembered. Her fairly long hair was tied back into a ponytail keeping it neatly behind her back. She had also swapped the skirt she normally wore for a pair of pants, probably to allow greater mobility. And over all the normally clean and tidy person that she was had a general grunginess, like she hadn’t bathed in a while.
“Nu-uh, I think I would remember something like that.”
“Tom, I know you’re prone to random bouts of disappearing at critical times, but its been a year. You were declared dead along with all the other missing mages after The Sundering.”
“The Sundering, that’s what everyone calls that night. Tom, where have you been? We needed you.”
“I got thrown into the time-stream. What happened? Where’s everyone else? How many survived?”
“Tom is that you?” Leah was interrupted first by a section of weak wall that collapsed. Followed by two people walking through the newly formed hole. It took him a second to recognize the brothers.
“Denis? Deon?” He definitely knew them. It became even more clear when they reacted to the names. Like Leah, they also looked very different from the last time he had seen them. Denis used to be a fairly heavyset guy. Although his sudden discovery of diabetes had spurred him along to begin losing weight. It had been a challenge even after they had been transported to this plane, but he had evidently lost a lot of weight and seemed to have gained a little muscle too. He still managed to maintain his braided hair as well.
Deon on the other hand had had a bit of weight on him was also a stronger guy. He also seemed to have become leaner and more muscular with recent events whatever they may have been. His beard was trimmed back some from the normal length Tom had been accustomed too seeing, and he still wore that black do-rag of his. Tom could see other changes in them, but he saw many things that had stayed the same.
“Hey man long time no see.”
“Yeah, What are you guys doing here anyway this place looks empty?”
“We abandoned the campus.” Leah interjected before either brother could respond. She then turned to them. “Denis recall your perimeter we’re returning to the truck.”
“Roger.” Denis responded a little defeatedly.
“Come on Tom we have a long drive ahead of us.”
“Drive? Since when did we need to drive anywhere here?”
“Since we moved to a new location a very long way away. Now come on, I can explain more while we head back. People are probably going to be happy to see you.”
The drive was indeed very long. They rode in a massive red truck with wheels large enough to handle most terrible terrains. It allowed for relatively easy off road travel and was probably a mudder’s wet dream. If Tom had known anything about cars he would have been able to tell that the owner probably invested a great deal of money into it and likely wouldn’t have given it up easily.
When they had first gotten to the truck several wolves had appeared surrounding them. It had triggered more than one alarm in the back of Tom’s head. Until they had bounded up happily to Denis and acted almost like dogs. Once the wolves were loaded up, Leah had both brothers sit in the bed of the truck with them while Tom and her were in the front cab. Whatever she wanted to talk to him about seemed like she didn’t want to have interrupted again.
They drove in silence for the first hour of the trip. It was an uncomfortable silence that had a level of foreboding that the Izzet ‘walker did not like at all, but he remained silent a little longer before he could muster up the courage to speak.
“Why a year?” Leah suddenly blurted out
“You said you got thrown into the time-stream that night. Why did you come out a year later? Why not a day or a few hours? You have control of some time based magic did you cast the spell?”
Ooh yes please tell your friend that the eldrazi living in your brain took over your body and flung you forward in time to gut the monster you created before it ate you. I’m sure she’ll love that.
“I was fighting Lee and got hit with the rebound of one of my spells. Then that thing appeared and I had to escape. So after exhausting my ability to fight it… I sorta suspended myself. I didn’t really know where I was going or how far I just drew enough power to release me when the spell was fully cast. One Year Later I popped back with you shouting at me, and no idea what happened.” It was a lie, but at least a believable one. “What happened Leah? A year ago Denis and Deon were barely D ranked mages. They weren’t even allowed to enter the tournament because of stability issues in their magic. Now Denis has a pack of wolves at his command? And their both going on what I assume are missions? What happened to our other high ranking mages and planeswalkers. I can’t imagine you being sent this far out to play babysitter.”
“They’re dead Tom.”
“Everyone. The highest ranking mages that survived the attack are Me, Mike, and Nick. Everyone else is gone.” Tom felt his chest tighten as if someone were slowly crushing it. He struggled to breath. After several long moments of silence he responded.
“Are you sure? I saw Zach and Sandra make it into a shelter.”
“Nick told me afterwards, but he was tracking their progress up until the explosion. Several shelters were breached by that thing, those that were had no survivors. After the explosion though, we have no idea. You’re the first survivor we’ve found in a year. Everyone else we have we found within days. Nick still sends patrols to the campus in hopes of finding others but until today nobody has ever appeared. And it’s getting harder for him to justify to the council to keep sending us. My patrol had to last two weeks because of restrictions on sending people out.”
“Hold on, what do you you mean restrictions? When did we have restrictions to leave anywhere?”
“Since always?” Leah replied somewhat surprised by his silly question. “Leaving campus was always restricted due to safety concerns. Mages with a certain level of competency weren’t restricted and non-mages could go to area’s that were deemed safe, but over all we were never allowed to explore. Didn’t anyone tell you?”
“Anyway, since we founded our new city the council decided we shouldn’t attract any unwanted attention. So people are only permitted to leave with council approval.”
“And that works?”
“So what’s this council you keep mentioning?”
“It’s just the surviving board members from the campus. We lost a few members in the attack including president what’s his name. You know the head of the college who was in way over his head. Anyway after he passed the board reorganized itself and renamed it the council. They even held in house elections for a new leader.”
“It’s not Nick is it? Please tell me it’s not Nick.” Tom felt a brief moment of panic at the thought of Nick or whatever that thing was taking over everyone who was left.
“What? No. Nick’s the most junior member of the council and half the age of the second youngest member. They’d never elect him to lead the city. Not that he wanted it. He’s still on the council though, but from what I hear he’s basically beating his head against a wall now.”
“You don’t know?”
“Tom, I’m a busy person, and I don’t sit on the council.”
“I thought you and Nick were… well… you know…” Tom felt like an awkward school boy trying to get the latest gossip out of people without directly saying it.
“No Tom. Stop it. You know it’s nothing like that. No we haven’t. He taught me magic and is a good friend that’s it. Weren’t you and Zach…?”
“Leah we both know Zach was a straight straight man. Innuendos aside it would never work out.”
“Wait, why are we talking about this? This has nothing to do with anything important.”
“What are you talking about, our love lives are very important to some people.”‘
“Anyway we’re here.” Tom had stopped paying attention to his surroundings a long time ago, but when he looked out the window he could see a massive grey stone wall easily forty feet high encircling what he presumed was the city. On top of the wall itself Tom could make out guard towers placed at regular intervals all around it, with tiny people walking the length of it while others remained stationary inside the towers. The city itself was situated inside of a large valley with a river that flowed under one section of wall and out another, and was probably their main source of water.
Originally they had been driving straight for town, but as they got closer the truck began to veer to the left around the wall to a small one story building almost a mile away from the city.
“Where are we going?”
“To the labs. Magical research is banned inside the city limits. Anyway Tom, welcome to the city of Volst.”
Inside a brightly lit board room Nick sat at a large oak table with about a dozen other people. One member or another sat droning on about food shortages. It looks like they’ll have to ration again. Even though Nick had already pointed out that the labs had figured out a way to increase crop yield and get perfectly edible meat. But he was shot down due to magic restrictions inside city limits.
The sitting president of the council Leland Archer sat at the head of the table listening to the meaningless discussion, that everyone knows will end in food rationing by a third if they don’t allow the mages to bolster the food stores. He was younger than most of the other members here, but had an aura of both energy and experience. His greying brown hair was neatly combed with not a single hair out of place. He was surprisingly well dressed for their current state and always managed to be clean shaven. But other than his surprising amount of charisma what unsettled Nick most was his icy blue eyes that had an intensity that he didn’t care for even on a good day.
If you gauged relative power based on seating, President Archer held the most at the head of the table. While next to him on his right side near the head, was his number two William Bray. A balding man in his fifties probably riding Archer’s coattails. And his biggest supporter. He was one of the few people left in the city that actually managed to stay over weight in spite of rationing and the physical labor they had to endure to get this far. Sometimes Nick swore he was more pig than human and he sat there patting his head with a handkerchief to remove the sweat that had gathered in the cold but stuffy room.
He looked down the line of other members and at the other end on the left side he sat as far away as possible from the head. It was probably meant to be an insult to him, but Nick frankly didn’t care about the subtleties of politics and sitting position. Here his words meant little, but in the city itself is where he managed to do the most good.
At some point the conversation had shifted to a vote that he hadn’t been paying attention too.
“All opposed?” No one raised their hand. “Abstaining?”
Nick’s lone hand raised.
“Let it be known then that the food stores will be rationed by a third for this month.” A quiet knock on the door echoed through the room. Nick stood up, placing weight on his left hand as he stood to answer the door. He cracked it just enough to poke his head out. On the other side one of his assistants stood. She whispered what she needed to tell him and quietly walked away. Afterwards Nick walked back to his seat and eased himself into it. “Well?”
“My scouts have returned.” Nick quietly stated in a matter of fact tone.
“Do they have anything to report? Or was this another useless venture?” Archer’s underling asked in a smug tone.
“I have no idea. They just returned to the labs. I’ll find out after the meeting.”
“Please do Councilor, and let us know at the next meeting.”
“Of course President Archer.”
“Now then unless anyone has anything to bring to the table. Do I have a motion to adjourn?”
“I do.” One council member said.
“Do I have a second?”
“I second.” Nick stated. With no one opposing it the meeting disbanded with some quiet chatter between members. Nick himself slipped away before being bogged down by anyone. Not that anyone on the council ever wanted to talk to him. After The Sundering and Nick’s own disastrous attempt at leading the defense of the campus his relative position had slipped much lower than what it used to be. What was worse is opinions on mages had also diminished and many non-mages had begun to feel threatened by their mere presence. After all if one mage could do so much harm what would happen if more mages slipped and began exerting power over them. As a result Nick had to make many concessions just to keep public opinion from dropping. The least of which was moving all magical research to the outside of Volst.
“Nick, there you are. Wait up.” A man called from across the courtyard as Nick exited city hall. The Councilor stopped walking and looked over to see Mike pushing through the crowds. when he got closer Nick continued walking while Mike matched his pace.
“What else is new? Don’t worry it’s going to get a lot worse soon.”
“Don’t tell me…”
“Yep food rationing again.”
“Did you suggest the mages increase yield and bring in more food?”
“Let me guess, the standing magic ban inside city limits states magically produced goods could draw unwanted attention and shifter attacks.”
“It’s been a year since the last attack, and we built the damn city from magic.”
“Oh that’s a popular line in there. I get lots of flustered responses followed by a “no” when I bring that up.” Nick had eventually made it into the streets and was heading to his apartment. In spite of the cold weather people were still outside some mingled while others were rushing to get to work on time
After they had built the city many of the amenities the residents had grown accustomed to simply didn’t reappear in the new location. Meaning they had to be produced by other means. Luckily the mages they had to train were able to at least create indoor plumbing and electricity. It was a stretch convincing the council that the power was from the river and not the labs but he managed at least that. He wasn’t so lucky with things like textiles and food though. And some of the more complicated things they just didn’t have the technical know how to make.
Nick passed by a militiaman that patrolled the main roads. Since the move, mages had also been relieved of their policing duties. Nick still had them police themselves since an average person wouldn’t really be able to do anything if a mage really tried to break the rules, but as far as the normal citizenry were concerned mages had no authority outside of themselves. The militiaman was tall and powerfully built. He’s was the normal sight of every other one of them big, strong, obedient, and most importantly distrustful of mages. He eyed Nick and Mike as they traveled down the road not even trying to hide it, and continued to do so until they had rounded the corner into the sight line of another militia man patrolling his section. All was an average day in Volst.
“Have you heard? The scouts came back.” Mike finally mentioned as they continued onward. Almost casually.
“They’re two days early.”
“You know what that means.”
“They found something.”
“So why are you heading to your apartment and not the Labs?”
“Because I need to change, and whatever they found will keep for another hour.”
“What?” Nick snapped, feeling tired and more agitated as this conversation continued.
“Your sleeve came undone again.” Nick looked over to his stump of a right arm. The sleeve was unbuttoned and was freely flapping in the wind. He grabbed it and began rolling it back up. “Here, let me.”
Mike grabbed a hold of the sleeve and finished redoing the button.
“Thanks… I’ll get over there soon, I just need a moment.
“Alright, I’m heading over there now. I’ll let them know you’re on your way.” Without another word, they parted ways at the entrance to Nick’s apartment in the mage district.
Once they arrived at the small building dubbed “The Labs” they drove to the west side of it through a massive steel door into what Tom assumed was a garage of some sort. After Leah had told him about what had happened, she had barely said a word to Tom until they had parked and gotten out.
“Denis, square your wolves away make sure they’re all tagged before you release them. Deon, check the truck and equipment back in and make sure its secure this time.” Leah had immediately began ordering her two subordinates.
“Yes ma’am.” They both muttered as they began doing their assigned tasks. Tom himself got out of the passenger side of the truck and began to follow Leah without being told. As they walked he tried his best to take in all of what he was seeing at once. There were many people running around, and a few flying. They looked like they were doing maintenance on vehicles or the garage itself. Tom who thought he was pretty good with faces didn’t recognize any of them.
Leah pushed past a few people in the chaotic garage, and talked to others, and even yelled at a few more from across the room. But she never stopped moving to the doors in the back. When she lead him through it was a surreal difference in environment. Everything went from noise and chaos to a quiet almost muted hallway. People were traveling through almost wordlessly. Some moved large creatures, others had equipment on carts traveling to other rooms. The hall was brightly lit with florescent lighting and with white walls and tiling. There were also large windows lining the hallway peering into rooms as he walked by Tom snuck glances in each of them.
One had several mages standing around a strange gorilla monster. It seemed perfectly calm as they stood around it one took notes while the other looked closely at it apparently feeling rather safe with it’s arms and neck chained against the wall. Then the one writing dropped his pen, something seem to drive the animal berserk as it bashed the one in front of it into the window with a muted thud. The other hit a button on the wall and was zapped and completely docile again. The mage that was thrown simply stood up and continued examining it beast as if nothing had happened.
“Ape monsters from the old moon that Zeke had built. We stumbled on a colony of them a few months back and decided to study them.” Leah said to Tom. Usually they’re safe to be around, but occasionally they get triggered and do stuff like that. Don’t worry he’ll be fine it’s not the first time its thrown him across the room. We’ve also been searching for Zeke’s laptop at the old campus hoping it could shed some light on them since he made them apparently.” Leah mentioned to the Izzet mage without breaking stride.
“Sure.” In another room two mages stood around a small girl with short wavy blonde hair and blue eyes that helped add to an expression of perpetual boredom, as she sat calmly in a chair. They threw one spell after another around her. As they whizzed by they seemed to grow randomly in power and impact with some invisible barrier in front of them. The girl not the least afraid yawned as a fireball passed inches from her face. and exploded rather spectacularly off the shield spell. “Wow, they’re pretty good.”
“Those two? They’re D-ranked mages.”
“No way unless you raised the requirements I’d say they would be C-ranked close to B by their spells.”
“Nope scale hasn’t changed since you last saw it. They’re using pretty low level spells. You know lighting bolts and fireballs mostly. What’s making the spells so strong isn’t that casters at all.”
“Then what?” The exchange continued for a few more spells till something caught her attention and the girl suddenly stood up as the mages fired lightning bolts at one another. The spells slightly clipped her but instead of harming her they continued onward even stronger than before and breached both shields sending the two researchers researchers flying into opposite walls as fire suppression systems sprinkled water all over the room and smoke filled the area inside as well. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope.” A door in the hallway swung open and a trail of smoke filled the hall as well. Soon the same girl that was bored sitting in the other room walked out to greet them.
“Leah, you’re back early. Does that mean you found something? Is it more of us? Survivors? Were you attacked by shifters? Hi Deon.” Tom looked around for Deon who should have still been in the garage, and didn’t see him until he realized the girl had been talking to him.
“Oh sorry you’re not Deon. You all look alike sometimes.”
“We look nothing alike. I’m not even…”
“She means humans Tom.” Leah interjected before things got hostile.”
“Nope. Her and a bunch more suddenly appeared after the Sundering. They claim to not be human, and that they didn’t even exist before that event.”
“So what are they?”
“We call them Dolls. It seems kind of mean, but when we first met them they had no cloths, no knowledge of how to survive on their own, and no emotions. Nick convinced the council to let them join us saying the added numbers couldn’t hurt. They normally have to live in their own district however and have limited travel rights in the rest of the city. The Labs are the only place we let them really go unrestricted.”
“Own district? Like…”
“Segregation yes, it was a condition Nick had to agree to for security reasons to let them live with us. It’s only been a year it’ll probably loosen up soon. I mean the city is divided into four major districts anyway. Doll, Mage, Human, and Downtown the first three are the living areas and they each surround Downtown where the city council resides and commerce happens. The only thing outside of the walls are the Labs and the farms we’ve raised.” Wow your favorite fake mage has been busy hasn’t he. One year and he’s already got us hating each other. Tom ignored Weaver.
“Doesn’t that seem a bit like racism and old timey America?”
“We’re working on it. The attack didn’t do us any favors. Nick had been balancing some delicate issues without us knowing appa…”
“Hello? I’m still here.” The girl suddenly cut in, obviously not liking being ignored. She’s going to get annoying I bet.
“Sorry, Tom this is Beatrix. Beatrix, Tom.”
“Hi.” Tom said to the girl.
“Hi.” Oh like that character from that silly game you liked so much. You know the one with the monkey tailed main character. What a dumb name.
“We stumbled across Tom in the ruins of the old campus. He had apparently just come out of the time stream. I’ve been catching him up on events since we found him.” That’s not all you found sister.
“So you were right? There are other survivors. Maybe even more of us.” Beatrix said suddenly excited. “I’m excited right? I was going for excited.”Of course not Tom here is very talented at randomly killing things. I bet he got every one of them. Hell, I had to pull his ass out of the fire or he would have off’d himself too.
“Tom’s kind of a special case.” Leah opened another door leading to a small room that might be some kind of apartment flat. It had an almost cozy feel to it with a couch against one wall a table and chairs against another. A small kitchen could be seen through a doorway. And shoved in a corner is a full size bed neatly made and looking very inviting. I bet she’s gonna lock you up here until they question you. I bet good old F’Nick is gonna try and bury you so you don’t expose him. “Anyway, Tom you can stay here until we find you some living arrangements in town. If you need to go, the bathroom is down the hall. You’re free to explore just try not to get in the way. We’ll talk more when you’re rested.”
Damn, well that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Leah closed the door behind him and Tom hopped in the bed. It felt like all he had been doing was sleeping lately. He lied back on to his pillow and starred at the ceiling. With a flick of his wrist small lights danced across it. Then soft music began to play. A song from his memory. The lights continued to dance to the melody of the song and grew brighter and darker with it. So that’s it. You’re just going to ignore me now? I thought we established I’m very annoying when you try to do that.
“Shut up Weaver.” Tom rolled over onto his side starting to feel a lull as he relaxed into sleep.
You know they can’t really control you if you don’t let them. Heck I bet you could run this town if you wanted.
“I know. Now let me sleep just for a bit.”
Fine, but mark my words this is far from over.