“We knew a castle in the forest was a bad sign, but we didn’t know half of it.
“We didn’t get very far into the castle before we fell into a pit trap. Fallor was already there waiting for us. I’m not sure what you guys did, but… he didn’t look happy. He was about a second away from killing us before we got out.
“Everything we saw looked like it was being prepared for a war. And I can guess who it’s with.
“We’ve got to deal with this now. He’s crazy and a planeswalker; I don’t know what he’ll do if we let him. So we’re going to form teams and go in.
“Nick, Maytee, Quiet Joe – you’re going in as team one.
“Zeke, James, you two are coming with me.
“Lee, you’ll go in with Peepers and Zac.
“Everyone else – unless you have something you can use to help infiltrate the castle, you’re going to stay behind. Mike will manage the defense if Fallor decides to attack. Chebon and Alex should begin preparing backup infiltration teams in case something goes wrong.”
The instructions understood, everyone set to their own part.
Tom and Lee identified the snares as far in as they had been, and navigated around the pitfall. Beyond that point, there was a three-way forked corridor, and that was where the teams split, finding themselves in a maze of twisty little passages.
Nick led his group straight ahead, into the heart of the fortress. There were a few turns, but it was navigable. After they had walked for some time, Nick stopped and stared ahead into the darkness of the corridor. He held out one hand and signaled for the others to follow his lead, then quickly pressed himself against the wall. They followed suit, and no sooner had they done so than something large swung down from above, slamming right through where they had been standing.
“Does he think he can catch us with tricks like that?” Nick said, continuing on. A wide doorway waited just ahead. Once all three were through, there was a great shaking; they turned around too late, as the floor began to move, carrying them up toward a ceiling too far away to see.
Tom’s team went left, and soon began to feel as though the walls were closing in. The width of the corridors varied wildly, which had a disorienting effect.
In fact, the changes were so random and distracting, none of them noticed when the floor of the corridor dropped ten feet, taking them with it.
“Is everyone alright?” James asked, picking himself up. The other two took a bit longer.
“Yeah, it’s…” Zeke began, but suddenly started coughing violently. James tried to see if he could help, but Tom stopped him.
The room was filling with a black cloud. All three of them were feeling a bit different now. Tom started coughing next, then James. For some time, all three were paralyzed by hacking coughs.
Finally, Zeke managed to compose himself, and cast a spell. The coughing faded.
“Hissing Miasma,” Tom commented, remembering this spell.
“He didn’t really think that would stop the best biomage on campus, did he?” Zeke asked. “Anyway, we should be…”
Here once again he stopped, eyes widening. He doubled over and covered his face.
“What’s wrong now?” Tom asked. Zeke didn’t answer. Unable to stand, he collapsed into a writhing heap.
James looked around, trying to find a way back up the sheer drop. “I’ll go get the others -” he began.
“No,” Zeke managed to say, gasping in pain. “Keep going. I’ll be fine. I’ve known this was coming… for a long time.”
“But what’s happening?”
“Miscast spell… when we started using magic…”
“Then should we stay with you?” Tom asked.
“No. Go on. Find Chris. I’ll catch up. I just look like I’m in intense pain and am because all of my body’s systems are being twisted out of shape – some more permanently than others.”
Zeke said no more, so Tom nodded to James. “Let’s get going.”
Lee’s group had gone right. This way looked more or less like an obstacle course that a fitness instructor might establish, but made entirely of stone.
As they passed a doorway, there was a loud scraping noise behind them. The last one through, Lee turned too late to act. A metal grate came crashing down over the door they had just passed, and fixed itself tightly there. He drew some cards out of his pocket and bombarded the grate with spells, to no effect – it remained apparently undamaged.
“Guess we just keep going forward,” Zac said, already sizing up the next climb.
“But we’re going the wrong way,” Lee pointed out. “Otherwise the grate would’ve been in front of us.”
“Well, you can teleport out if you want to, but we don’t have much choice. We’ve got to go this way.”
As Zac neared the top of the wall, a face popped out of the space he had to climb through, nearly startling him into releasing his grip.
Lee peered up at the boy. “How’d you get here ahead of us?” he asked.
“Uh, hi, remember me? Alexander O’Connor? How do you think I got here ahead of you?”
Lee shrugged. “Point taken.”
“You’re supposed to be back on campus,” Zac pointed out as he climbed past Alex and through the opening.
“Maybe, but I’m not.”
“It’s clear up ahead. Fallor’s not very good at setting traps, so I’ve already taken down most of them.”
Zac nodded and beckoned to the others below. “Come on,” he said, “gotta go forward in order to go back.”
There was a small corridor in front of Nick – it looked like they could get through, but it didn’t look like it was designed for humans. Deep within, something was glowing. Whatever it was, it was also moving toward them.
“Out of the way,” Nick said, standing aside as a huge, luminous moth fluttered into the room. It fluttered around the low ceiling, and several others joined it. A softly glowing dust fell from the wings of the moths – on contact with the ground, small flames, like weak candles, lit and immediately extinguished. Nick edged carefully toward the corridor, and as he did so, the moths suddenly turned toward him and approached.
Being focused on Nick, they didn’t see Maytee casting a spell; stone spires erupted from the ceiling and floor, piercing and caging the moths. “Wow, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be,” she commented. Joe nodded in agreement.
The floor of the corridor proved to be hot – obviously the result of the moths flying through it. It wasn’t so bad, except for the dimensions of the corridor. Touching the ground was painful, but standing was nearly impossible. Still, they couldn’t stop moving until they reached Fallor.
The corridor terminated near the ceiling of a much larger room. This room was nearly filled with the same moths, with piles of eggs on the floor. The three infiltrators paused briefly, considering the scene, before, together, they began casting.