“Are we there yet?”
“How ’bout now?” Tom let out a sigh.
“I don’t even know where we’re going. How can we be there if I have no destination?”
“This seems like an ill thought out plan when you put it that way.” Tom sighed again. It had been like this for three days since he had escaped the Labs. He had driven almost non-stop except for bathroom breaks and one time to sleep. Other than that he kept himself magically awake and fed as he drove east.
“Do you have a better idea?”
“I thought you were doomed if you took your better in every way’s advice.” Weaver chided.
“So you don’t.”
“Hey I’m just a passenger here. If you want to see how long your tires, and gas hold out that’s your prerogative.”
“Apparently I have a full tank still.”
“Must be broken.”
“Probably a new source of energy.”
“Let’s hope s…” Weaver was suddenly cut off as something landed on the hood of the car. It was a giant red insect looking thing probably a shifter. It had large bug wings under its carapace that it quickly began to flap as it latched onto the partially collapsed hood of the car. Tom already on edge fired a large wooden stake from his hand through the windshield into the shifter’s head. with a squishing sound it died, but not before splattering a greenish mucus on the windshield completely covering it.
“Nasty.” Was all Tom could say before more bugs latched onto the car from other angles. One with its sickle like appendages began stabbing through the roof at the targets inside. Another shattered the driver side front window as Tom rummaged through his robe’s many pockets. He threw gag props from rubber chickens to shoes and a even a wig or two all over the car.
“Can you concentrate on driving for once or at least kill these things?”
“Shudap.” Tom yelled as he punch the red bug in his window before searching again. Finally, he found a strange cup shaped thing he vaguely remembered using one time. He immediately pointed it to the roof of the car that was now littered with even more bugs, and fired. A giant beam of orangish blue energy shot out of the end of it completely incinerating the roof of the vehicle and every bug on top. Tom then unfastened his seatbelt and jumped out of the moving car leaving Weaver behind as it crashed into a large boulder.
Now flying Tom noticed that there were dozens of the things as he fired more spines at the ones flying at him. Several died, but more just replaced them. He concentrated real hard and fired again, this time hundreds of wooden stakes released from his tree branch-like arms as they made a sweeping motion. Now with his arms held above his head he brought them back down in another flap downwards at them firing even more stakes that caught fire. Some survived the onslaught but many more lied skewered on the ground below him. The last few continued to fly at him. With barely a thought he cut them to shreds with his hands.
“Are you crazy?! You could have killed me!” Tom heard and incredulous voice as he landed on the ground next to his newly destroyed car.
“Gods I can only hope.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say to someone you haven’t seen in a year asshole.”
“Wah?” Tom craned his head to find the source of the voice. He wasn’t imagining it. There a few feet to his left stood the young mascot alive and definitely not dead from speeding cars or otherwise. “Alex!”
Tom immediately pounced on the long lost friend.
“Mind telling me why, and more importantly, how your driving Nick’s car in the middle of no where?”
“Hehe funny story about that…”
“Really, you don’t need to visit every day.” Leah muttered from behind the book she had been reading. It was one of the few that had survived the blast that destroyed much of the campus, and was very well worn.
“Sure I do.” Nick said as he scribbled something down on a clipboard that was rather precariously balanced in his lap. “Just because you’re stuck here doesn’t mean you get to weasel your way out of work.”
“I don’t think almost dying in a building fire counts as getting out of work.” Nick looked up from his latest batch of paperwork.
“Probably, anyway you’re not the only one I visit here, and I’m actually here on business today.” That peaked her interest.
“Oh? How’s Mike doing?”
“He’s stable, and from the last reports he’s woken up.” Leah was relieved. Mike had suffered severe burns on his chest and arms. He had apparently managed to shield his face from whatever had caused the blast. Although the force of the explosion had knocked him unconscious and had buried him crushing both his legs, and caused swelling in his spine. He had been in a coma ever since the incident, and no one knew if he would wake up or even if he did if he would walk again.
The loss of Sandra had set their magical healing back to almost the beginning, and the lack of real medical doctors only made the situation worse.
“What about his legs?”
“Almost fully healed. The regeneration spell while weak seems to be working. The swelling hasn’t gone down much though, but I’m hopeful. With a little luck he might be able to walk again. Anyway, he refused to speak to anyone other than me when they tried to debrief him. So I’m going to drop by when I leave here.” The clipboard slipped from his lap an clattered on the floor. “Shit.”
Nick muttered to himself as he leaned over and picked it back up with his left hand. Leah felt a pang of guilt. They hadn’t spoken about the injury he had suffered saving her. After their escape she could barely bring herself to talk to him and had worked even harder to make up for the loss of his limb. She had thought she had learned from her mistake, but after what happened during the fire she wasn’t so sure. She had rushed in under prepared trying to save Mike and had almost not only gotten herself killed, but Nick again as well.
“I’m sorry…” Leah quietly mumbled almost in tears. She didn’t want him to see her like this. Weak and unsure. She didn’t want to look at him, but didn’t know where to look either. Her eyes eventually settled on the book now sitting open in her lap.
“For what?” Nick sounded confused. It was as if he didn’t have any idea what she was talking about.
“Everything… It’s my fault you lost your arm, and almost died. And even in the fire you had to come and rescue me because I didn’t think about the magical suppression field. It seems like every time I try to help I drag you down and almost get us killed.”
“Maybe… but you’re being to hard on yourself. It was just an arm. It’s not like I died. Besides, that was two times. In the past year you have been the one running things. Without you and Mike we wouldn’t have survived this long. You rebuilt our magic training program from the ground up. We have stable power, homes, and regained a lot of lost knowledge.”
“But those two times were serious. What if it happens again? What if I actually get one of us killed? I don’t know if I can live with that.” She looked up at Nick. He was standing now.
“Then don’t let it happen again. Don’t act so rashly, but don’t freeze either. Learn. I won’t always be here to save you, and may need you to return the favor some day. You have a lot of potential. I just wish you would see it too.” Leah choked unable to respond to his words. “Look, I’m sorry, but I have to go. We can pick this up later. Just don’t beat yourself up about it. Everything is going to be okay.”
Leah’s eyes sank down again, and after a few seconds she heard him leave. She wasn’t sure if his words were very comforting, but she definitely didn’t think something like this would be okay. Her lungs were almost healed. She’d have to go back to work soon. Although she didn’t know if she wanted to after what happened.
After Tom had relayed some of his story, they left the field he had been driving through, and headed down a cliff face several hundred feet deep. Alex lead the way carefully edging down on a narrow path maybe a foot wide. It had been nearly invisible to Tom until they were right on top of it. Tom while he considered himself a talented mage, he at no point in time had ever considered himself outdoorsy or a very good climber. Tom felt his footing slip some as the wind picked up. He had only been saved from falling by Alex who slapped his chest and knocked him back against the wall.
“Careful the climb is a bit dangerous!” The boy yelled over the howling wind.
“You don’t say?!” Tom yelled back more than a little agitated. “Why are we doing this again?!”
“You wanted to see where we live now right?!” Alex called back.
“No, I mean why are we climbing down this dangerous-ass mountain when we can fly?!”
“Because it’s fun!”
“We have very different interpretations of the word fun!” Without another word Alex grabbed Tom by his shirt sleeve and pulled him over the ledge screaming. The sudden act of Alex throwing him over the ledge had completely caught the Izzet ‘walker off guard. So much so that he had forgotten how to fly.
Tom soon found his world had completely changed as he phased through the ground and kept going. Then he stopped. He wasn’t falling or dying, Tom simply found himself floating several feet off the ground in some underground chamber. Before cutting off and him hitting the hard stone floor. Seconds later Alex landed right next to him from the ceiling.
“Welcome to Argolis Tom.”
Mike sat alone starring at the ceiling as time ticked away little by little. He had been awake for several hours now and was very bored already.
The injured Mage shifted his gaze from the barren room to the open door as people walked by almost muted from where he lied. Standing vigilant next to the door stood his guard. A militiaman sent by the council with a dozen others when word of the fire had gotten out. This one had apparently been assigned to watching over Mike since he refused to talk to anyone other than Nick about the fire. Whatever his purpose was, Mike was positive that he wasn’t here to protect him.
He didn’t care though. In reality, the non-mages only had as much power as they were allowed. If it ever came down to it, they wouldn’t be able to stop a mage. Which is why they needed the cooperation of people like himself and other ranking mages.
Mike soon left his thoughts as he saw a familiar face walk in the door.
“Well, you look like shit.” Were the first words out of Nick’s mouth with a grin. Mike had to suppress a laugh. It still hurt to breath.
“Yeah well let’s see how good you look after an explosion.”
“Damn good compared to you apparently.” Mike gave him a less than amused look. “Anyway you said you wanted to talk to me about the incident?”
Mike suddenly felt himself being very wary of the guard at the door and gave him a glance.
“I think we should wait till we have more privacy.” Nick turned around to take a look at the guard.
“Oh him? Nah he thinks you’re sitting alone in here very quietly like a good patient. He can’t even see me. So come on tell me.” His friend took a seat in a nearby chair placing a clipboard on his bedside table.
“Tom caused the fire.” The councilman leaned forward in his chair with a suddenly very concerned expression on his face.
“You’re sure?” He asked wary of the answer as if he hoped Mike was mistaken.
“Tell me everything you remember about what happened.”
“Well after what Tom did to the labs we decided to err on the side of caution and Leah placed him in an null magic room for questioning. I arrived on site with orders to question him. So after talking to Leah and getting her report. I went to talk to Tom myself. He was subdued at first. He didn’t seem very sure of what happened. And when I explained it to him he grew more agitated.” Mike leaned over to his bedside table and took a sip from the glass of water that had been placed there. Easing his suddenly dry throat.
“Was there anything specific about his behavior that you remember?”
“Yeah, he was convinced he had been attacked, and when given evidence to the contrary he was then suddenly sure there was a conspiracy against him. He went so far as to accuse me of being in on it, or a double for the real Mike.”
“The real Mike?”
“I don’t know. To be honest it seemed like he was out of it. He was Tom, but not all of him was there anymore. At first I thought he was in shock, but now….” Mike trailed off for a moment. He was unsure if it was a good idea to delve any further into this. Nick simply sat there a moment waiting expectantly. When it became obvious Mike wasn’t going to continue he spoke up.
“I think he suffered from a psychotic break. I’m not a doctor so I cant be sure, but he was showing some of the symptom that I know of. He may have suffered from a hallucination in his room that he mistook for reality and…. fought them.” Just looking at him Mike could tell Nick did not like what he heard one bit.
“Lovely.” His voice gave an edge of vinegar and sarcasm he was trying to hide, albeit poorly.
“Now, you recover. I have reports to file. I’ll see you tomorrow Mike. Get well soon.” Nick stood up and turned to leave when Mike grabbed his hand. The action was one of the most painful things he had ever done as the nerves in his healing skin cried in protest, but he endured it a little longer.
“Nick, this can’t get out. Say it was a lab accident or something, but if the truth gets out the council will bury us.” His friend turned back and and gave a weary smile at him.
“No Mike, they’re going to bury me either way.” And with that Nick slipped loose of his grip and walked away.
Tom walked astonished at the sight he was seeing. Alex had brought him to a small city underground. It was dizzying the difference between the labs of Volst and the city of Argolis. In the massive cave he could see multiple levels carved out into the stone, with probably thousands of doors or openings dotted along the paths. As well as multiple suspension bridges crisscrossing the gap to other parts of the city.
On the bottom floor with him Tom could see small farms with various crops covering the ground in stark contrast to the stony surface around them. And far above them on the ceiling a massive orb floated above them brightly illuminating the area and giving off warmth like a small sun.
“Neat huh? One of the shelters fell inside after the evacuation, and that’s how we found this place.” Alex commented without looking over.
“It’s impressive.” Tom muttered, allowing a little bit of amazement slip into his voice.
“Thanks, digging the tunnels and cultivating the crops wasn’t to hard. The biggest challenge really was making that sun. It took Joe months to make that.”
“Joe’s alive? Wait which Joe?”
“Both, but I’m talking about Quiet Joe for the sun. Loud Joe… Let’s just say major projects aren’t his forte.” Tom felt himself get hugely excited over the prospect of more of his friends being alive. He put up a tough front for Weaver, but he had started to doubt the farther away he had gotten from Volst.
You hear that? You failed to kill two more of your friends. We’re going to have to have a chat about your record. This simply will not do.
Tom ignored the irritating voice in his brain as they walked up a side ramp to one of the higher levels. Each room they passed seemed to have something different happening inside. Some seemed to be doing various magical studies, while others had more mundane purposes such as classes or jobs. Tom spotted a few lower ranked Mages he knew in both magical and mundane oriented rooms. Overall society seemed to have accepted both aspects of life on the plane of Volst. Tom began to wonder what else was different.
“So what happened to you guys? How did you go from The Sundering to living in a giant cave network?”
“The attack on the campus.”
“Oh, I’m a bit fuzzy on details. One minute I’m with Nick holding off a bunch of monsters and suddenly I go unconscious. Next thing I know I ended up here a few days later.”
“What about the others?”
“Story for Jason is he answered a call from Nick and headed over, next thing he knows something blows up behind him and he’s out cold. He got out okay, just doesn’t know how. Joe’s story is a little weirder he doesn’t like to talk about what happened, but he died in the battle and his spark awakened. He showed up here much later than us.”
“So wait Joe’s a planeswalker too? What’s that like eight now?”
“S-something like that.”
Ha it’s more like 4 now.
They continued walking up the path until Alex suddenly turned leading him deeper into one of the tunnels. It was well lit even without the artificial sun more doors were spaced at regular intervals each had numbers marking the doors these were in the 400’s and rising. eventually Alex stopped at a door marked 487, and knocked. He waited a few seconds and knocked again. When no one answered He just shrugged.
“Joe must be sleeping, he did get off watch only a few hours ago. Anyway you hungry?”
“Good follow me.”
“Did you find him?” Nick asked as he poked his head into the quiet lab. Inside a man roughly his own age sat at a desk looking over a map.
“I think so the signal has been getting wonky the further away he gets.”
“That’s fine let me see it Max.” Nick walked in and took the map off the table. It was a simple sheet of paper the size of a poster. It was fairly plain looking with what looked like hand drawn shapes creating landmarks for the map. They then completely erased themselves and redrew adding more to the area on a larger scale with a single red dot marking what looked like some kind of canyon. “How far is this?”
“Far. I’m pretty sure he’s been driving nonstop since he left. You’re lucky he stole your car and not one without a tracker on it.”
“Right, so has he stayed here long?”
“Not really, but I think the tracker rubbed off on him. So I think he left the car. Data we’ve been getting suggests he crashed it.”
“Great.” Nick muttered irritably. “So what else do we know? Has he come into contact with anyone?”
“No idea he’s gone farther than any of our scouts have before.”
“Okay how much farther till he’s out of range?”
“No idea. Honestly, I’m surprised its tracked him this far we’ve never dealt with these ranges before.”
“Well it’s settled. Max take a Ty and Cecil and track him. If you come across any other survivors from the Sundering make contact get a head count and message us. Direct your messages to me, Leah, or Mike. I don’t want the council getting word just yet.” Nick could see the giant Adam’s apple move as he gulped nervously.
“But I’m not a combat mage and I’m barely C ranked, Ty isn’t even a mage, and Cecil is just a doll.”
“So? Ty is immune to magic, you’re the only one with sufficient skills with the tracking spell to find him, and Cecil can amplify your spells. We haven’t seen any shifters since the Sundering. You’ll be fine I’ll clear you to take a car and get whatever supplies you need.”
“What about the council? There’s no way they’ll clear another expedition so far away so soon. especially with what happened.”
“You let me worry about them you just get ready to leave I want you guys gone in an hour.”
“Trust me, you’ll be glad you left.”
“And that’s the cafeteria.” Alex said as they sat down at a table. Tom had a massive pile of chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and a cherry coke. He immediately began eating. He realized he hadn’t eaten much since he had arrived back on Volst. He almost immediately began shoveling food into his mouth.
“So… How have you guys been running things? Have you come across anyone not from the campus?” Tom managed to ask between mouthfuls of food and drink.
“Well we elected a mayor about a month after we got here. They pretty much run everything.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Nah, Nick might’ve since they were on the board together, but I doubt you would.”
“Anyway, what did you….” Alarms suddenly went off cutting Alex off mid-sentence. Tom struggled a minute to swallow his food. Before speaking.
“What’s going on?”
“Shifter alarm, we’re under attack. Don’t worry about it I’ll right back just wait here.” Alex said as he stood up to leave.
“The hell I will. I’m coming too.” Tom said after washing down the last of his food.
“Fine, follow me.”