The last step of the staircase squealed upon Rebekka stepping on it. She paused, adding no more weight to that foot, listening. She heard nothing at first but then there was a rustle… the tinkling of metal… and a low moan?
Rebekka couldn’t stop herself and raced into the study.
There, in the farthest corner, in his blue steel cage was Acidine.
“Oh, what have they done to you?” Rebekka whispered in pity.
Acidine sat against the bars of the cage farthest from the light, but his eyeless face was looking right at the staircase Rebekka and Mason were coming from. Around his neck were three Axon collars, but one of them was a vibrant static blue. Since the last time she saw him, he had grown twice his size and was in perfect health. There was no way telling what the Factory was capable of, but at seeing Acidine’s condition, Rebekka could tell it was far greater than mere pittance.
Acidine moved into the light and clung unto the cage. Cautiously Rebekka began to creep to him.
“Rebekka what are you doing?” Mason whispered.
“I only want to see,” Rebekka replied.
“See what? You can see it from over here.”
“I just want to know what they’ve done to ‘im.”
“T-they’ve done nothing from-m the looks of it,” Mason shuddered in fear. “Fed him well probably. We really should just get out of h-here.”
“But Mason he’s just sitting there–” She stopped an arm’s length away from the cage and looked back at Mason, “alone.”
“And what are you planning? Letting him out?”
“No… I just want to let him know.”
“Know what? It’s not like you can speak to it!”
Rebekka looked back into that gruesome, grisly, ghastly, sightless charcoal grey face and didn’t think so.
“…to tell him everything will be fine,” she said. “That, I haven’t forgot about him and that I… I feel his pain.”
As she said this, that glowing white handprint became visible on Acidine’s forehead. She checked her own hand and saw that it was glowing also. What she expected was true; she and Acidine were somehow connected. How so, she could not say.
“So you’re the one,” a voice came from within the dark near Acidine’s cage. The person that the voice belonged to came into existence a moment later. He was outstandingly tall and brawny, yet slightly stooped. Shaggy brown hair hung from his head and he wore a sleeveless dark green robe.
“Yessss… I could see the empathy link, but I wondered who… or what was the second half,” the man slavered. Slowly, Rebekka took a step backward. When the man stepped forward, Acidine snarled and threw himself against the cage. “Hm… From the way he is reacting… the link is strong. Possible protective interests… yessss interesting, yet I wonder…” He reached out a massive meaty hand. “Why you?”
“Mason run!!” Rebekka shouted and ducked away from the man’s grasp.
“Not so fast,” the giant said and suddenly a bright purplish light flashed.
“Rebekka!” Mason cried. She had been entangled in a set of clay hands and was pinned to the wall.
“Try one of your charms!” Rebekka said and ducked another one of the man’s grabs. She took up the stool near the desk and threw it his way, but he swiped it away with ease.
“I can’t!” Mason exclaimed. “I’ve always used my hands to create charms!”
From hearing the edge of desperation in Mason’s voice and faced with fighting a giant of a man, Rebekka knew she had to do something quickly. But without a weapon, her options were fairly limited. She had to resort to the one thing she had vowed she wouldn’t used in combat. Magic.
“Mason,” she said backing from the man, “Close your eyes.”
“Now?” Mason asked incredulously.
“Alright they’re closed!”
“Mantid Curdiv!” Rebekka shouted and swiped her hand out in front of her in an arc. A streak of black and yellow spread in front of her and expanded into a web. The man thew himself over but was too slow to miss most of the web’s range. It clung unto half of his face and stuck unto the back of his robe. Rebekka watched the next moments in horror.
Her magic began to hiss and sizzle against the man’s skin and ate away into his flesh. He released a blood curdling scream of pain and staggered backward. Rebekka pulled herself from her horror and began breaking Mason from her clay prison.
“Curse you! Curse you! Curse you, you miserable witch!” the man howled pitifully. “You miserable, miserable witch!! When I get my hands on you, you’ll wish you were never born!!”
“Hurry, hurry!” Mason spurred. “He’s getting up!”
“I’m going as fast as I can,” Rebekka exclaimed pulling at the last clay encirclement around Mason’s body. After one last heave, it broke free.
“Got it! Go, go, go!! Up the stairs!” Rebekka looked over her shoulder before following Mason up. The giant was trying to get to his feet, holding a hand over the bloody side of his face. But Acidine, poor Acidine, he stood against his cage, seemingly watching Rebekka’s escape. She wanted to do more for him, but she knew the impossible when faced with it. For now, she would have to leave him where he was and hope he’d forgive her the next time they met.
“Rebekka we have to go!” Mason shouted down at her. Ignoring the strong pang of guilt in her stomach, Rebekka began up the stairs.
In the quiet and dim candlelight of his library, the Wizard searched endlessly for books containing the knowledge of Cicaria. He had read nearly ten over the last few hours, learning much about the Cicarian environments, cultures, kingdoms, and magical histories. All of the knowledge delighted him, but the one piece of information he was searching for eluded him, no matter how many books he searched through.
He was pulling a rather dusty leatherbound volume from the shelf when he felt it. It was almost like the push of a breeze, yet it didn’t move through air. It was a Magical Ripple. The book he held slipped from his hand and fell to the floor.
A Magical Ripple was somewhat uncommon and only occurred when a witch or wizard cast a spell and applied too much or too little energy to that spell. In other words, a novice’s mistake. An inward pull of energy, or an inward ripple, meant the spellcaster’s spell energy wasn’t enough to satisfy the spell’s demand. An outward ripple, however, meant the spellcaster applied too much energy to their spell.
The size and strength of the ripple was different based on the energy expelled, but each could only be felt by a senior spellcaster or natural magical being. The Wizard had felt many Magical Ripples in his lifetime, all of them so light and nearly undetectable, but never had he felt an outward ripple as powerful as now.
Aman appeared next to him a fraction of a moment later.
“Father,” he rasped but the Wizard held up a finger.
“Yes, I know,” the Wizard said. “I felt it just as you did. I know where it came from.”
“Where but not who?”
“Yes, where. It’s hard to say exactly who.”
“Shall I investigate?”
“No, it won’t be necessary. I have a feeling we’ll be receiving a visit from the Alchemist soon.”
Rebekka ducked into an alley after Mason and flattened herself against the rough stone wall next to her. They took some time to gain their breath.
Once they had escaped from the Factory, they headed deeper into the slums as fast as their legs could carry them. There was no use looking for Finch; Rebekka had told him not to wait for them. She didn’t want him to get caught by the authorities just because of them. Now, she realized she really hadn’t thought everything through.
“What do we do now?” Mason asked.
“We get back to the garrison,” Rebekka replied.
“Out here, where there’s Body Snatchers?”
“This is why I didn’t want you to come.”
“Hmph! Like you would have made it this far without me.”
“Urgh, I don’t have time for this. We’ll stay out of the open and have to keep a sharp eye out for anything out of the ordinary.”
Mason hugged herself and peered anxiously into the darkened end of the alley. “Like what? Everything looks out of the ordinary.”
Rebekka peeked around the corner of the alley. At first she saw only an empty street, but the more she stared, the more she saw. Shadows with pale, moon white faces started to appear. She saw one, then there was two. The next moment it was five and the next, fifteen.
“Rebekka what is it?” Mason asked. “What do you see?”
Rebekka backed away from the wall corner and turned to Mason. “We have to leave this area now,” she whispered. “We shouldn’t be far from the Sect. Can you–”
At the other end of the alley, more of those shadows appeared.
“Can I what? What, Rebekka, what?”
“…A charm of levitation. Can you do that?”
“Levitation? I-I don’t think I can do one of those. I don’t even know a good one.”
A screech filled the air and the shadows bolted forward towards their prey. Startled by the shriek, Mason spun around.
“It’s the Body Snatchers!” she cried in terror. Rebekka spun her back around. Her eyes were large as saucers.
“The charm. Try it now!” Rebekka commanded. But Mason was too terror stricken to even think. The Body Snatchers were nearly upon them and once again Rebekka was weaponless. She could try her magic again, but something told her magic would have no effect on these unearthly beings.
Suddenly there was a flash of blinding white light that filled the entire alley. A multitude of unnatural screeches and wails filled the air and then all was silent. The light had vanished and so had the Body Snatchers. Several yards down the alley a door opened. A figure stood in the doorway holding a lantern that cast a sliver of yellow light on the dark ground.
“Hurry!” they called. “Hurry before they return.”
Out in the street, Rebekka could hear the shrieks of the Body Snatchers gathering and getting closer. Quickly, she and Mason hurried to the open door. The moment they had slipped inside, Rebekka heard the door close and a bolt slide in place. She glanced around at their surroundings. It was too dark to see much of anything, but she did spot a fire roaring in a hearth.
A silver haired man hobbled past them without word, leaving them to stand where they were in the dark. Soon Rebekka began to hear low voices, but before she could investigate, the man returned followed by two other women, one young and the other elderly.
“Why they’re around my age,” the younger woman said. “Father you can’t just let them go out again.”
“Quiet Ulleve,” the older woman said. “Your father never said such a thing.”
“They’ll have the basement,” the man said. “From what they wear, they belong to the Sect.” Both of the women gasped. “They will leave in the morning before dawn when it is safe. It is all we can do. Mardethia, take them there. Ulleve come with me.”
“Please this way,” the elderly woman, Mardethia, said and began down a hallway to the left.
“Here are some blankets,” Mardethia said handing a stack of them to Rebekka. She was careful to keep her eyes down and avoid any eye contact.
“Thank you,” Rebekka replied. “We are grateful of your kindness. I’m Re–”
“No! Please! I do not wish to know who you are. It’s dangerous for us to know. We kindly help you and hope that the heavens may smile upon us because of our good deeds, but please withhold your identities from us.”
“Because they will want to know.”
But the woman didn’t say. She bowed, covering her mouth with a hand, and backed away out of the small room, closing the door behind her.
“How strange…” Rebekka commented and turned to Mason.
“What if they find us?” Mason blurted.
“Then they find us, but I don’t think they will.”
“This family wouldn’t be sheltering us if they would.”
“But they could, right?”
“Yes, but they won’t.”
“Mason, ‘tis best not to worry over such things. Here,” She handed over a stack of blankets. “We better get to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day and we’ve already wasted more hours than we could spare.”
Mason took the blankets and began making a sleeping pad on the hard-packed floor. Rebekka watched her for a moment before starting on her own.
Mason settled in without word, but before Rebekka blew out the candle left behind by Mardethia, she quietly said, “Rebekka….”
Rebekka paused in her action. “Yes?” she asked.
“The spell you casted in the Factory…”
“What about it?”
“Was it a dark spell?”
Several moments passed before there was a reply. “…… Yes, I believe it was.”
When Mason didn’t say anything more, Rebekka blew out the candle.
(to be continued…)
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