The progress on the construction of The Moon was quick. It was nearly complete by the time Zeke visited it, several days later. Of course, it wasn’t hard to build; mostly, construction meant retrieving materials of the correct density so that when the satellite was complete it would have the correct gravitational pull, as per calculations that had already been made, and sticking them together. Zeke placed his addition into the mass, and examined it. He added a few spells – for good measure. Several other mages had done similar things, enchanting the thing against any kind of catastrophe that could occur.
That only left catastrophes that could not occur, and really, what were the chances of that?
Zeke paused at a juncture of the maze to look around him, examining the maze, estimating its dimensions. He had found the approximate distance to the west edge; he had already checked the east, and he had entered from the south. This was basic information, but everything he learned he could put to use somehow. The path in stopped shortly after the entrance, and he couldn’t find the break in the hedge he needed to continue. Rather than just run back and forth until he found it, he should pause to map out what he had already seen in his head, and from there it would be simple. Surely, that was what anyone would do, if they had the time, but as quickly as he could work it out, he couldn’t stop while the enemy had such a head start.
Very well. If he couldn’t find a path, he would just have to make one.
He approached the hedge blocking his progress to the north, and placed a finger on it. Focusing on his spell, he hastily called, “Move aside!“
The hedge trembled a bit, and slowly an opening appeared. As Zeke started to step through, however, something larger than himself hit him, knocking him off his feet.
“Sorry, had you found a shortcut?” said Jyan’us Hyiel, tauntingly. “Not that it matters, since it’s not enough just to make it to the end!” Before Zeke could climb to his feet, the creature had sped off – and Zeke found that the maze was shifting around him.
At least fifty mages and half the campus gathered to put The Moon into orbit. Lacking Earth’s aeronautic technology, the best way to get it where it needed to be was with one big spell. As the casting began, Zeke slipped away – he wasn’t part of the spell, it wasn’t his forte, and he no longer felt he needed to watch.
It took a few hours to complete the spell. Auras flared, a multicolored cloud swirled around the object, and then it was gone. After that, The Moon could be seen drifting high over campus. In reality, it was still within the atmosphere, kept aloft by at least a dozen different spells designed to ensure it would not come crashing down anytime soon. It was moving imperceptibly toward the ocean, as per the specifications. Everyone agreed that this whole thing had been well-planned and executed – though the one responsible for most of the planning was, oddly enough, nowhere in sight. As everyone discussed the event, soon they became aware of something; a sound, harsh to the ears, slowly rising to drown out their voices.
It was an odd, squealing sort of sound, accompanied by a scrabbling noise of some sort.
All present began searching for the source of the sounds. They didn’t have to search long. In the distance, a black wave was expanding along the ground toward them, with sharp, pointy teeth. Those nearest the mass of rats reacted first, scrambling to move in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. Before long, everyone was panicking, and a jumbled mess was made of the gathering.
Okay, so he couldn’t make a hole… not unless he could distract Jyan’us, anyway. But at least he could track her. With a quick spell, he was able to see a thermal trail, and it suddenly occurred to him to wonder at the fact that his opponent apparently had body heat, despite having a body seemingly made of stone.
No time for that now, though. He took off in the direction the trail led, first one way, then another. The trail began to fade, and on a hunch he cast another spell to sharpen his senses – and sure enough, he could smell which way she had gone, as well.
Even temporary hypersensitivity would come with a price, but he’d deal with that later. Right now, finding her was the highest priority.
He skidded to a halt as he spotted something – a path, barely visible. The scent trail told him that Jyan’us had gone straight here, rather than turning, and yet he couldn’t help wondering why this path would be hidden, unless it was important. Of course, it could be a fake-out, leading to a trap… but there were no other traps, and a dead end here wouldn’t fit the rest of the new maze stylistically, as wrong turns seemed to always lead to loops – not that these were any great bases for hypothesizing, but the odds seemed against something truly unpleasant. Deciding to chance it, he leapt nimbly through the gap in the hedge.
There it was, just up ahead. The exit. It was a great stone door, and perfectly circular. It appeared to be shut tight, however…
This time he was ready. The Mistress of Passages attacked from behind and missed him by the narrowest of margins, and he turned to confront her.
As the rats swarmed, a few individuals watched from the roofs. One stood atop the Campus Apartments; another was perched on the Administration Building, and the two most distant from the scene waited, grimly, upon the Campus Center.
The most level-headed people attending the event quickly took action. The administration sent several teams of mages to check all the buildings on campus and find anyone they could. Another team would remain here to try and hold off the attack, while the faculty attempted to calm the frightened people and get them to safety. Maytee, meanwhile, gathered a few of the most powerful mages. This attack was obviously not natural; so they were going to find the one responsible.
The search was simplified considerably when a pillar of light erupted from the Campus Center.
Maytee’s team rushed in, and spread out to search each room. Maytee herself crept into the Carpeted Dining Room, and found someone hunched over and chanting. As the person straightened, Maytee saw the large ears, saw the reddish fur, and she froze in shock.
“What’s the matter?” a facetious voice asked. It was coming from Zeke, but it had an odd, murky quality to it that Maytee didn’t recognize. “Something… happen?”
“…you know what happened,” Maytee said. “You did it.”
“Yes, I’m surprised anyone fell for that we-need-to-build-a-moon shtick. We’ve all seen the same movies, haven’t we?”
“Call them off.”
“No. Say, has it ever occurred to you to wonder how rats, despite all their capabilities, and outnumbering humans so greatly, have never been the dominant species on our planet?” Zeke asked. “Well, it’s a situation I’m going to remedy. You see, while the moon was being built, I slipped in a beacon, which… well, essentially, it links all rats within range to me in a sort of hive-mind. I had to summon some myself, but that was no problem. The important thing is I have an army now.”
Maytee shook his head. “Who are you.”
“Stupid question. I’m Zeke.”
“No you’re not.”
Zeke let out a single “ha”, before turning and drawing close to Maytee. “Very well. I suppose you could say I’m a… creation of his. You see… well, a bit of advice. If you want to reintegrate two parts of the brain that are working out of sync, making one smarter won’t accomplish it.” He chuckled, shaking his head as if in amusement at the very notion. “But it gave me a chance to do… what I’m doing now, actually. You see, I’m going to turn this world into a rat’s paradise. It’s already underway – once the few mages of this school have been overcome, nothing will stop me.”
“Forget that. I’m stopping you now,” Maytee said, readying herself. “I’m one of the best mages on campus, I’ve helped keep things running this whole time – it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone is safe.”
“Responsibility?” Zeke repeated with a bark of laughter. “Ha! Give me a moment and I’ll show you just what your ‘responsibility’ means!”
Before Maytee could react, she was set upon by Zeke, employing fangs and claws to strike as with daggers. She tried to block, but the attacks ripped at the flesh of her arms; she tried to dodge, but there was nowhere to dodge; she tried to cast a spell, but Zeke wasn’t giving her time. With one final blow, Zeke sent her reeling back until she hit the wall and slumped.
In retrospect, charging in to confront Zeke without a real plan might have been ill-advised.
“I told you, didn’t I, that just finding the exit wouldn’t be enough?” she said. “Now, it’s time for the true test!”
Sure of her meaning, Zeke sprung at her, only to be tossed aside easily. He attacked a few more times and met the same result.
“Aren’t you going to cast any spells?” asked Jyan’us.
“I already did,” Zeke replied, and applied the finishing spell. Vines snaked over the places where their bodies had made contact, and pulled her toward the hedge.
With an amused chuckle, Jyan’us faded into the hedge behind her, and as she did, the branches sprung toward Zeke, battering him. He shook it off and started running, back into the main part of the maze.
A bulge formed in the hedge to his right, keeping pace with him. As he tried to think, figure out what to do now, Jyan’us burst from the hedge, ramming him as she passed, and disappeared into the hedge opposite.
Zeke was off-balance, and Jyan’us was ready to strike again. He cast as quickly as he could; a cloud of white leaves formed, swirling around one arm. He raised it against the next attack. Jyan’us attempted to plow into him again, but the leaves generated a solid force between them, which was able to push her aside.
“Clever,” said Jyan’us. “You’re still going to lose, though.”
Suddenly, the hedges on either side of Zeke slammed together, sandwiching him between them. He couldn’t move – couldn’t see anything but leaves, could only hear Jyan’us approaching…
Several strikes followed in rapid succession, and then the hedges parted. Zeke was now on his knees, gasping for breath, barely even conscious.