Hubby vs. Wifey vs. Friends #19: Lightning Magic Man
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
April 2021: We decided to come back to this prompt and continue it as our challenge this month! Amanda and Andrea had not joined our group for this previous prompt, so they wrote entirely new stories. Jake, Patrick, and I continued our own from last year. Hope you enjoy!
March 2020: Our picture this time comes from Jake's Pinterest board. I picked it, and he told me that it's a character from Magic the Gathering (a trading card game). The character looked cool to me! It's funny that Jake's and Patrick's stories turned out so similar, though as Jake said, they forked hard at the very end. Read on to find out what we came up with...
(You also might find it funny to know that we decided to do our writing while our very young daughters were still up, and the results were interesting, to say the least. At one point, Jake looked at me, laughed, and said, "You literally have children crawling all over you." What writers do to write! Ah well, we had fun. Check out the results of the Distracted Writers Guild - what I'm calling us tonight!)
A man in deep blue robes with red and gold trim sat at a workbench, tools in hand, slaving over minuscule trinkets strewn about before him. Sparks flew as two bare copper wires brushed against each other. An arc of blue energy shot in front of the man's face. He jumped back and blinked hard. Had the energy been directed at him, he would have been much too slow to avoid it. It was simply out of habit that he flinched. He had been shocked more times than he could count during these experiments. His body had taken quite a toll in the last few months to the point that he could no longer feel most of his left arm. Most of his experiments had failed - some of them catastrophically - but this time, things would be different. A young woman dressed all in white with pale skin jumped slightly from her chain in the corner of the room. She tiled her head toward the man and frowned. "I know, Regina. I know. I don't enjoy it either. But it is necessary." The man set down his tools and took a step back to admire his work. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his good hand. Miniature electrodes and capacitors decorated a metallic arm piece in a meticulous layout. Copper wires with rubber shielding stretched and zig-zagged through the joints and components in seemingly erratic patterns. But everything here had been placed with a purpose. Months of work and years of planning and study had led to this moment. The man chuckled to himself. "I think this will work..." his voice trailed off. Cautiously, he slipped his right arm into the mechanical device he had created. He gave a slight pause just before snapping it into place. "If this doesn't work," he glanced over his shoulder to Regina, "See that Doctor Roywin comes here straight away." She gave a small nod and shifted her weight anxiously. The man took a deep breath and set his arm firmly into the device. He waited...but nothing happened. A nervous and excited noise escaped as he exhaled. "So far, so good," he declared more or less to himself. "And now for the fun part..." Beside the work space was a heavy device roughly the size of a large traveling pack. It had a series of belts set on one side arranged so the man could wear it on his back. He gingerly slipped into the harnesses and fastened them around his waist, careful to avoid the bronze colored tubing connecting it to the arm piece. He stood up to test his balance. It slowly began to slide to one side. He quickly leaned back against the table propping the device on top. "And that is why we make adjustable straps," he muttered to himself. After a few tugs, he was stable and mobile. "Now then, where is that...ah, yes." He lumbered across his study and picked up a small parcel wrapped in thick paper. From it he removed a cut of beef using only the tips of two of his fingers. He held it as far away as his arm could manage as he brought it back toward the workbench. Brushing aside some scrolls and a few tomes, he set the meat on a small tripod that stood roughly six inches off the table. He looked around disgusted for something to use to clean his fingers. He settled on the blue banner adorned with a red falcon and gold lion - the symbol of the royal family - hanging over the workbench. Yanking it down unceremoniously, he wiped his fingers on the edge and threw it to the floor as he made his way to the opposite side of the room. "Now to try it out!" His voice was shaky with anticipation. The girl in the corner drew her knees up to her chest and pulled her face down behind them. "Let's just start with the lowest setting, just in case." The man pressed a button and twisted a dial on his arm piece. A noise emitted from the device on his back that grew steadily in pitch and volume. A low hum harmonized with a high pitched whine that filled the room. The man stood on the balls of his feet and bounced both excitedly and nervously. "Alright, here we go. Three...two..." he glanced over at the woman. Her eyes were closed and her head was buried in her arms. "One..." he glanced upward and offered a short prayer to the gods. He gritted his teeth and threw his right hand out toward the cut of meat on his desk. In response, a blue jolt of electricity shot out and collided almost instantly with it. There was a deafening *crack* and a puff of smoke from the desk. The man jumped again but with much more energy. His hands flew up in front of his face and he chuckled stupidly. The woman dared a peek at the room. He stepped forward to survey his work fanning the thin smoke out of his face with his hand. The slab of beef had been blown into several smoking chunks that were thrown about the table. Each piece was blackened around one edge but completely raw on the opposite side. The man fell silent as he inspected each piece in turn. He turned back to the dumbfounded woman and glanced between her and the charred meat in his hand. "It worked!" he said elated. "It actually worked." Realization crossed his face and his demeanor darkened. "You know what this means?" The woman sat up straight and nodded solemnly. "Go inform the Counsel that Master Ciaiphus has finished an important project and requests an emergency demonstration." The woman nodded again and walked gracefully, almost gliding toward a window. She stepped up onto the ledge and as she did, her body shrank. Her dress melted into her body and erupted in tufts of feathers. Within moments her form had shifted into a snow white barn owl. "Wait for me there," Caiaphus added. "I'll be along shortly." He waved dismissively and turned back to his table. Regina spread her wings and fell out the window into a dive before turning toward the center of the collection of towers that made up the Northern Academy.
Caiaphus reached back and pulled a small mask from the side of the back device. Through some of the small tests he had learned the powerful stench accompanying burnt flesh. He fixed the device in front of his mouth and nose and took in a deep, untainted breath. "For years, I've been waiting," Caiaphus mused. "Told I was a fool. Shut down time and time again by the Council. Well, now they'll see. NOW they'll see..." A knock at the door interrupted his thought. "What is it?" he half shouted without turning. A thin voice came from the other side of the door. "What was that noise in there, Caiaphus? Did another one one of your test explode again?" "It's fine, Rufus. Leave me be." Caiaphus recognized the voice as one of his classmates and a favorite of the Council. Rufus' works were mundane and redundant, always predictable and never pushing the limits of the Academy's knowledge. He was an idiot, but also conceited. Caiaphus had figured that made him a shoe-in for a seat on the Council. "Oh, did something else go numb?" Rufus mocked him. "Was it your head this time? Or could you even tell since it's so thick?" "Don't you have someone else's work to copy for a report or something?" Caiaphus retorted. "Oh no," Rufus' voice was shrill and dripping with sarcasm, "I came to make sure you were all right. I'm going to come have a look at you." A dark grin spread across Caiaphus' face. He turned up the dial on his arm piece. A deep thrum started up again. "Don't you dare," he provoked. The latch on the door clicked. Caiaphus threw out his arm just as the door opened fully. There was just enough time for him to watch Rufus' face turn from a derisive sneer into shock and horror before his body was thrown back against the stone wall of the hallway. There was crash like thunder and Rufus' body exploded into smoking, steaming chunks all through the corridor. Caiaphus stared, his eyes wide and his jaw slack. He felt faint as laughter welled up from somewhere deep, dark inside his soul. Mania overtook him and for a few brief moments, he felt the bliss of vengeance and uncontested power. The moment passed and Caiaphus regained some control of himself. He had work to do. This was only the beginning. The Council, the kingdom, no...the world would soon know of the brilliance and might of Master Caiaphus the Electromancer.
“Dahlia, did you hear that?” Venoville, a tall, lithe woman sat bolt upright in her bed wrapping a thin, sky blue nightgown around her shoulders. Her familiar, Dahlia was already at attention slowly brushing the straight auburn hair out of her eyes with dark fingers.
Both women sat still staring anxiously at the door to the small personal chamber. The woman was breathing heavily despite herself. A shiver tickled her spine; the kind that comes when you are woken late at night by an unfamiliar sound.
“Did you hear something?” She asked again.
Dahlia’s eyes darted between the woman and the door. She shifted her weight as Venoville slowly, gently made her way to the door and pressed an ear against it.
A sudden pounding on the other side of the door nearly gave Venoville a heart attack. The door half opened to show a fully armored Academy guard.
“Tallus?” Venoville blurted out the guard’s name reflexively tugging her nightgown tight around her.
Tallus kept his eyes to the ground but spoke earnestly. “There’s word of an intruder. Keep to your chambers until further notice.” He left without waiting for a response.
Dahlia leapt to the middle of the room on all fours, back arched and gave a low growl.
Venoville put a hand to her head trying to gather herself. “Quite the night, isn’t it, Dahlia. And of course, the night before an exam.”
Dahlia remained transfixed on the door to the chambers.
“Dahlia, it’s fine. The guard will alert us if we need to evacuate. They are trained for this.”
Again, Dahlia’s eyes flashed to Venoville and back to the door.
The chill returned to Venoville. “What is it?”
A sudden shout from somewhere in the halls beyond made both of them jump. Tallus was calling out commands to other soldiers nearby. There was a flash like lightning that shone under the door accompanied by a roar of thunder.
Venoville’s eyes went wide. Fear gripped at her mind, but curiosity got the better of her. She stepped lightly to the door and inched it ever so carefully open. Through as wide a gap as she dared, she could see smoking, sizzling bodies of several guards thrown about the hallway. Standing over them was a student in the Academy’s blue, gold, and red colors. He glanced up and though most of his face was covered in a breathing apparatus, she recognized the pale eyes and grey streaked hair. She knew too that he had seen her.
With the speed that comes from focused adrenaline, she slammed and bolted the door. In two quick leaps she crossed the chamber to a workbench in the far corner and retrieved a device from one of the drawers.
"Dahlia, get to the Counsel immediately. Tell them Caiaphus is killing students and guards.” With a flip of a latch, the device folded in half exposing a hollow metal shaft opposite a polished wooden handle. She slipped a cylinder into an intricate metal chamber at the hinge point and snapped it closed. She pulled back a small lever positioned above a gently curved trigger and turned to face the door. “I will do what I can, but I don’t know if I will be able to stop him.”
Dahlia ran to the only window and grabbed hold of the ledge but froze in place. She glanced back at Venoville with glistening eyes. She sniffed as a single hot tear dripped to the floor and evaporated in a wisp of steam.
“I know, Dahlia…I know.” Venoville resisted the urge to look for fear of losing her own composure. Finally, she broke, and their eyes met. Venoville drew a shaky breath but was cut short by an explosion that shook the room and splintered the door. A flash of light like the sun at noon instantly filled the room and retreated. Venoville caught sight of the tip of a green and red drakling tail dart just beyond the window.
Caiaphus stood in the broken doorway blinking rapidly and rubbing a hand to one eye. His other hand was raised and supported a crackling device pointed directly at Venoville who in turn directed her pistol at him.
The two classmates stared in silence, neither daring to move.
“Why, Caiaphus?” Venoville went first.
“You of all people should know,” he responded.
There was another momentary pause accentuated by the crackling power on Caiaphus’ arm.
“So, it’s like this then?”
Caiaphus’ breath hissed out in a shallow sigh. “I guess it is.”
“Rai. Rai.” The sound of my wife’s sweet voice broke through the zapping lightning of my dream and I slowly came to consciousness. My eyes opened and I gazed upon her face. The sun peaking through the windows glimmered through her golden hair as she leaned over to kiss me.
“You were dreaming again.” She leaned over me and stared into my eyes as if she was trying to see the remnants of the visions that faded from my memory almost instantly. “What were you dreaming about?” she finally asked.
I stared thoughtfully into her piercing eyes, the eyes that had always been able to see through my every thought. “You know, I don’t remember. It must have been nothing.” I kissed her again and brought my hand to her rounded belly. “And how are we today? How are you, my son?” I leaned over to kiss her stomach and she giggled.
“We are both well today, thank you.” She sighed peacefully. “We’ll get to meet him soon, Rai. I can’t wait.” She kissed me again and stood up from the bed. As she moved, I gazed at her in awe. How could this woman before me really be mine? She smiled at me as I watched her leave the room and descend the stairs.
I gazed out the window as a bundle of clouds began to creep across the blue sky aiming for the sun.
“It looks like we may get a storm later,” I called after my beloved.
The light from the sun was nearly gone as the clouds commandeered every inch of the sky. The wind had begun to quietly rage through the tree that stood in our yard. I stared through the window of the front room gazing out at the gloom above, the sound of my love in the kitchen. My eyes were suddenly drawn by a figure running quickly toward our townhouse.
“Rieta!” I called to my wife.
I recognized the figure even from far away and ran to the door, throwing it open as the figure ran up the walkway.
“Tomomi,” I called, “what is it?”
Tomomi bent over and breathed heaving, exhausted breaths. “It’s The Executioner, Rai,” he said through gasping breaths. “He’s coming. You don’t have much time. You need to take Rieta and get out of here.”
Panic began to set in. I reached for my friend's shoulders and lifted him to face me. “How long do we have, Tomomi?”
“Not long,” he heaved. “They were going to come straight here. I’m so sorry, Rai.” Hopeless, exhausted tears began to spill from Tomomi’s eyes. “So sorry.” He bent his head in defeat.
Rieta was at the door now and I could see the terror in her eyes. “Rai….” Her voice was questioning, pleading.
“Rieta, we have to go now. We don’t have time. Grab what you need quickly and let’s get out of here. Tomomi, get in here before you’re seen!”
Tomomi scrambled inside and collapsed in the front room. I quickly shut the curtains of the window and raced to grab the essentials, throwing everything haphazardly into a duffle bag. Sweat began to gather in my hair as the fear and desperation set it. I had to get Rieta to safety. Nothing else mattered.
Rieta came down the stairs as quickly as she could, a bag in her hand and a coat in the other. I grabbed the duffel and threw it over my shoulder and joined my wife at her side. The harsh pattering of rain had begun outside and the wind blew even more violently. I placed my hand on the small of her back and guided her toward the door. I stopped for a moment to peer at Tomomi in the front room, still exhausted from the exertion it had taken him to get here.
“Tomomi, stay here until after dark. Do not be seen, no matter what, do you understand?”
“Yes,” he breathed. “Now, go!”
I kissed my wife on her cheek. “You ready?”
“Yes,” she replied, fear intertwining with her words, coloring her reply with desperation. “I love you.”
I opened the door and a flash of lightning shot across the black sky, all trace of the sun gone. With the sudden light, the menacing shadow of a man was revealed standing at the foot of the door, an entourage of people standing amongst him.
“Rai,” the shadow sneered. “Where do you think you are going?”
Thunder like the crack of whip echoed the inescapable doom I knew I could not escape.
The night was black. Rain fell hard from the sky, pummeling the earth with every drop. Cold, water-soaked air reached toward anything it could, stretching its fingers with its icy touch. A bright flash of lightning shot swiftly across the sky illuminating the shadows below it. With the sudden blast of light, a hooded figure emerged from the shadows of the alleyway and lifted his face toward the sky waiting. He counted silently. “One. Two. Three. Four,” as the sky returned to darkness. Finally, as he reached the number fifteen a rumble of thunder bellowed across the sky. The figure returned his gaze to the ground and kept walking further into the city.
The streets were empty except for the occasional straggler running through murky puddles to return to the comfort of their homes. The cobbled streets glistened with the fallen rain; the warm glow of the street lamps reflected on the watery stones. Keeping to the shadows, the hooded figure pressed forward, resolute in his mission. Another flash of lightning whisked across the sky and again the figure counted. “One, two, three, four.” Another grumble. Thirteen. He still had time.
The man turned a corner onto an empty street with townhouses rising adjacent to the road on both sides. Street lamps shone brightly welcoming the lone visitor. As he passed each one, they dimmed ever so slightly, their energy waning and then returning in an instant. He moved purposefully until he came to the front of one townhouse. Another burst of light from above revealed a bronze number 213 above the gray door. The front of the house was peppered with tan and red brick and a grey roof angled proudly above. No light shown from within. The small lawn before it was bare except for a single tree, gnarled and blackened from base to top. Not a single branch bore a semblance of life. “One, two, three, four,” he whispered gazing intently at the house. As he reached ten, the thunder roared, and a voice from behind him spoke.
“You shouldn’t have come back here, Rai,” said the voice.
The man known as Rai bent his face toward the ground with a sigh. “You knew I would not be able to stay away, Tomomi.”
“But why come back?” Tomomi replied. “Why torture yourself with the pain of the past? They are not here. They will never be here again. Your mission is now complete; they have been avenged. It’s time to move forward. Time to stop chasing storms.”
Rai turned to face his friend, his hood falling off as he lifted his head. His black hair streaked with white caught the falling rain, but he did not seem to be bothered by it. A gold mask attached to a cord was affixed firmly to his face. More cords looped beneath his cloak. He stood and gazed toward Tomomi with stark white eyes. He looked tired and defeated, though defeated he should not have been. He had indeed completed his mission. His wife and unborn son’s murderer had finally been defeated.
“Oh, Tomomi,” Rai said, “I have not come to torture myself. I have come to grieve.”
“But why do you grieve? With The Executioner’s life completed, your life can now begin again.”
Rai stood silent for a moment, lifting his head to the sky as another flicker of lightning buzzed overhead. Wordlessly, with his eyes on the sky and cold drops of rain falling onto his tired face, he counted. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.” CRACK went the thunder as if a thousand fireworks had been released into the sky. Still gazing above, he spoke.
“I lost much that day, Tomomi,” Rai said as tears began to fall from his eyes, mixing with the drops from the sky. “When The Executioner arrived on our doorstep, I was not strong enough to stop him. When he tied me to that tree, I begged him not to kill her. I begged him to kill me instead. And after I watched as he stole her life away from me, I begged for death, but he would not grant it. He left me there. But the gods were not finished with me. They granted me strength when I had none; strength, that I used to avenge them.”
Another flash of light burst across the sky as Rai counted. “One, two, three, four.” BOOM the thunder roared. The energy was elevated and more and more rumbles of thunder drew near. It was close. The time had almost come.
“Even with all of this power,” Rai continued, “even with The Executioner dead, I do not have the strength to go on. I cannot go on without them. So, I have come to end this, once and for all.” A small gust of wind blew Rai’s cloak to the side revealing a second and third metallic cord.The second cord was attached to a thick metal cuff wrapped tightly on Rai’s right arm; the third cord looped and attached to a golden orb with a glass face that stirred with electric energy. All three were connected to the oxygen that kept Rai alive since the attack he and his family had faced years ago, the day he was struck by a lightning bolt that should have killed him. Instead, it had given him immense power to manipulate electricity; the power to defeat his enemies.
“You don’t have to do this,” Tomomi said as a bright burst of light showed high above. “You can go on, Rai.” The thunder bellowed, drowning out the rest of Tomomi’s words.
Another flash and another roar. Another flash. More thunder. Only seconds apart.
It was time.
“Goodbye, Tomomi. May the gods bless you as I have been blessed. I go to kiss my wife and meet my son.” Rai, still facing his friend, took the metal orb into his hand and raised it to the sky as another flash burst into view.
The lightning connected with the orb as a peal of thunder so powerful wailed throughout the night.
The Roll of the Dice
Deliver the package to the following address.
1451 Storm Drive
Stokeworth, VT 05458
Leave the package on the front porch.
“So, we just really leave the package on the front porch? Aren’t they concerned about people stealing their packages off the front porch?” says Biff.
“That is what the note says. Really though, this place is in the middle of nowhere. I would not be concerned about someone from the neighborhood stealing my stuff. There is literally no neighborhood here,” says Rasha.
“Ha! That’s because no one would be able to steal anything from you.” Jorge looks pointedly at Rasha. "You always take from others, miss sticky-fingers.” Rasha smiles wide at the nickname Jorge calls her. She gives a bow and winks.
“Why thank you Jorge, you say the nicest things.”
“Let’s get this over with,” says Reign.
The four couriers make their way up the lane towards what they hope is the right house. “This person really does not have the lane marked well. It’s like the perfect opening scene from a horror movie,” says Biff. As the couriers continue up the lane, a grand estate comes into view. The estate is a gothic inspired three-story mansion. The black stone makes the estate feel sinister despite the beautiful craftsmanship. The solid dark oak door has beautiful scroll work and an intricate lock on the door handle. As the couriers arrive in the courtyard, a feeling of dread passes among the group.
(9) This should be an easy one.
“Biff, this place feels wrong,” says Jorge.
“What do you mean, Jorge?” says Rasha.
“I mean this place feels wrong. Let’s leave the package on the front porch like the note says and leave.”
Reign looks at Jorge. “Aren’t you the least bit curious about this place?”
“Reign, Rasha, leave him be,” says Biff.
Rasha looks over to Jorge. “Jorge, you may think this place feels wrong; I think this place is a gold mine. I mean, look at the lock, it is just asking to be picked.”
“For once in your life Rasha, can you just do what you are told!” says Jorge through gritted teeth.
“Alright, let’s get this done,” says Biff. The couriers move up the porch.
(4) Oh, boy.
Jorge trips over the bottom step and lets out a grunt as his shins slam into the next step. “Watch it, Jorge,” says Reign.
“You never were one to move silently,” says Rasha.
Biff takes the package out of the satchel and sets it on the front porch. “Alright, let’s go.”
(6) Okay, on to the next thing.
Rasha looks at the door and leans down to inspect the lock.
Don’t do it Rasha, just complete the job. (15)
The temptation is too strong as Rasha attempts to pick the lock.
(7) “Why can’t I figure this out,” mumbles Rasha.
Because you are not supposed to go in there. (20) Never mind, I guess we are doing this.
“Ah! There it is.” The locking mechanism clicks, and the door silently opens.
“Well done Rasha.” Reign whispers.
“Shall we check it out?” Reign looks at Rasha and the glint matches in Rasha’s eyes.
“We shall, Reign, we shall.”
“Where are Reign and Rasha?” says Jorge. Biff turns back from the car and looks at the door to the estate. Biff shakes his head and sighs.
“They should really learn to control themselves. Come on Jorge, let’s go make sure they don’t get into trouble.” Biff and Jorge slowly make their way up the front steps and into the estate to catch up to Reign and Rasha.
(13) “We need to be quiet; we know nothing about this place, and I have already told you something does not feel right. The air feels wrong,” says Jorge. You should listen to Jorge.
“What do you mean wrong?” says Biff. “I mean it feels wrong, charged, like that moment before you get shocked,” says Jorge.
“Reign, look at this place. We’ve hit the mother lode!” Rasha does a little jig in the front foyer. “A little premature for celebrations, isn’t it Rasha?”
Reign looks at Rasha and raises her eyebrow in question. “Oh ye of little faith, Reign.”
(8) Oh yes, definitely premature in the celebration if you continue further.
“The silver alone in the front hall will fetch a pretty price.” Biff looks to Rasha.
“Only if we can get it out of here.” Rasha stops and thinks for a moment. “True,” she says. “What we need is the safe. I cannot even imagine the valuables a place like this would have.”
(20) “The safe will most likely be in the study,” says Rasha.
“Well, then let’s go find the study,” says Reign.
“For the record, this is a terrible idea,” says Jorge.
“We know, Jorge.” Reign looks over to Jorge. “But, without us, you would have nothing of value. We do appreciate you trying to be the voice of reason, but the payday from this place could set us up for years.” Oh, you really don’t want to look for the safe. Listen to Jorge.
(15) You better pray the dice rolls are high. The group slowly starts to move up the side staircase.
“You know, for how fancy this place is, it sure is lacking in security,” says Rasha.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” says Reign. “It makes our job easier.”
“No, it makes you careless,” says Biff.
“Let’s just finish this and be done with it,” says Jorge. (19) Out of the frying pan an into the fire.
Reign looks back to the rest of the group. “This is it.”
(17) Biff goes over to the door. “Wait!” whispers Rasha. “This door is trapped. Something doesn’t look right with the handle.” You really should leave. Do not open the door. Rasha grabs her lockpicks and begins working on the lock. “This really is a beautiful lock,” says Rasha. “Okay, we should be good now.”
Biff slowly opens the door and peers inside. (16) You really should leave…just leave. “This looks like the study alright. Let’s see if we can find the safe.” As Biff, Rasha, and Reign begin looking for the safe, Jorge scans the papers on the desk. (16) This is a bad idea.
“Um, guys?” says Jorge.
“Ssh…not now Jorge, I think I’ve found the safe,” says Reign.
“Guys, we really need to go. Now!” Jorge says more forcefully, but still at a whisper.
(3) Oh dear. Well, that’s not going to do it, now is it? “This is the strangest lock, I’ve ever seen. I honestly do not know how to tackle this one,” says Rasha.
“Well, I never thought I’d see the day that the great Rasha would be bested by a lock,” smirks Biff.
“Oh, stuff it,” says Reign. “She is still learning. Let me see it, Rasha.” (7) Still not going to work, would you like to try again? “Wow, this is strange,” says Reign. “Hey, Jorge. Do you think we can get this safe out of here?” says Reign.
“Not easily,” says Jorge. “But like I said before, we need to leave. Now!” (20) This is going from bad to worse. Biff moves over to a panel across from the desk.
“Reign. Rasha. Come look at this.” Reign and Rasha move over next to Biff. “What are the chances that the safe is a fake and this is the real safe?” Rasha looks over to Reign and then to Biff. “Only one way to find out,” she says. (7) Whoopsie. Rasha kneels before the door and gets her lock picks ready. Suddenly an arc sparks out from the door blasting Rasha five feet away from the door. “Ouch. That is going to leave a mark,” she says as the door slowly begins to creep open.
Why does nothing go as planned? Seriously, it was so easy. But not now. Now it is complicated. They chose their direction and now we will see how it goes.
The air in the room begins to thicken and crackle. Almost like the air is full of static just waiting to strike. A deep voice rings out from the open door. “The note said to leave the package on the porch. It did not say enter my estate. It did not say touch my things. It did not say steal from me. Now, we will have a lesson in manners and following directions!” (9) See what happens when you don’t follow directions.
“Who are you?” says Biff. The figure slowly opens the door and steps out into the study. He is a tall man with ebony black hair and streaks of silver running through the black like a lightning bolt. His tunic is a dark cobalt blue, and an arcing blue light seems to dance over his body. He looks at Biff with a scathing sneer.
“Who I am is the master of this house. My name is not your concern. My position is not your concern. What is your concern is if you will make it out of my estate alive!” He raises his hands and the door to the study slams closed and relocks. (10, 3, 6, 4, and 15) You think you are really ready for this? Let’s see then. “Now, what should I do with trespassers? Ah, yes. Let’s see what you have managed to take while wondering my estate.”
(9) Nope, not this time little thief. Rasha tries to move to the door and finds herself unable to move. (14) Missed it by “that much.” Biff raises his arms and sends a bolt of energy out towards the man, but the bolt goes wide and slams into the wall leaving a streak of black. (11) Jorge sends a ball of fire towards the man, but it also goes wide and hits the wall next to the man. (20) Reign palms a dagger from her holster and throws it at the man. The dagger soars through the air and sinks into his shoulder (4). The man chuckles darkly as he pulls the dagger from his shoulder. “Well at least one of you knows what they are doing; sadly, it is not enough.” He raises his arms and sends a bolt of electricity straight into Reign’s chest (17). This will hurt a little bit, okay, a lot. Reign screams in pain (9).
(14) Just what are you hoping to accomplish? Rasha breaks free from the floor and rushes over to Reign. “We need to go. We need to go now!” The man laughs louder.
“Leave? You can’t leave: you are my guests. You should have listened to your friend when you had the chance. Now the choice is no longer yours.” (1) Oh, this is going to hurt. Biff tries to send another bolt of lightning as he moves for cover, but instead he trips over the edge of the carpet the bolt goes wide and shatters the bookshelf behind him as he lands hard on his side. (20) Jorge fires another fireball at the man. The fireball hits him in the chest (10). The man looks at Jorge and says, “Well done lad, you are learning.” (17) Reign palms another dagger and launches it at the man as he taunts Jorge. “Ugh.” The man grunts as the dagger sinks into his opposite shoulder (3). The man looks around the room. “Well, this has been fun, but I have grown bored and have other matters to attend to.” He raises his hands and the energy in the room begins to swirl and concentrate on his palms. The static grows thicker, and the arcs are becoming thicker and darker as the energy condenses and the crackling becomes louder. (17) This is going to hurt you more than it will hurt me. He releases the concentrated stream of energy and it hits Biff in the center of his chest and immediately arcs through Biff and into Jorge. The beam continues through Jorge and splits into two separate beams and hits both Rasha and Reign in the chest. (68) Well, what have we learned from this experience? The party collapses on the floor writhing in pain from the heavy burst of electricity. The man looks at the group. As their hearts slow and eventually stop he says, “Next time just leave the package on the porch.”
“Dude! That was so not fair. Really? A TPK on the first night?”
“Well,” I said smiling at the group. Being the DM really does have its perks, and this is payback for all the other times you didn’t follow the path I wanted. “You are the ones who decided to take on a level 20 warlock instead of just dropping off the package. What did you think was going to happen? Two rogues, a sorcerer, and a wizard. All at level one. You didn’t stand a chance. Next time just drop off the package. Roll for new characters.”
Ransen was the stoic. He was the one that his friends called "boring" and "type A" and "stick-in-the-mud." He was also the one who embraced these nicknames and strove ever more to cling to the reputation they gave him: reliable Ransen. Responsible Ransen. Reachable Ransen.
What he never liked was chaos.
Not in people, not in companies, not in design, not even in weather. The word "chaos" was as detestable to him as pecans in brownies - probably even more so, if that was possible.
So when Yancy came to him that dank November day with his proposal, Ransen almost threw him out of his office.
But responsible Ransen would never throw someone out of his office - that would be so untidy and dramatic - so instead, he sat back in his chair and glowered the politest glower that was possible for his face muscles.
"You don't like my idea?" Yancy was basically a mind-reader. "Come on, Ransen! Even a fuddy-duddy like you can surely see the implications here! Endless energy! An answer to our energy crisis!"
Ransen placed his fingertips firmly on the desk in a calming gesture - for himself, not for Yancy. "'Endless energy'?" he sighed. "Exaggerating, Yance."
Yancy smoothed his rumpled suit and looked frustrated. "Barely, Ransen, barely! Can't you see it? This machine could solve so many problems! Not just here, but in third world countries! We could save the world!"
Ransen puckered his lips. So dramatic, he thought, but politely refrained from saying so. Instead, "It's too early to even think that," he said disapprovingly.
Yancy threw up his sweaty hands. "Of course it's early! I brought it to you first! And now you're shutting me down!"
"I'm not..." Ransen started, but he was interrupted by a knocking on his heavy oak door.
"Tea, Mr. R.?" his secretary called.
He pinched his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. "Yes. Please."
He waved Yancy to the chair in front of his industrial desk that was tidily organized in neat files and color-coordinated folders. Yancy took a deep breath and forgot to let it out as he sat down jerkily, waiting to be served.
When the door closed again, Ransen started. "Look. I'm sorry, Yance. Perhaps if you hadn't sprung it on me like that."
Yancy laughed disjointedly. "Sprung it?" He sighed. "I suppose. I should know you better. I just thought...even you would be excited by something this monumental."
Ransen cautiously allowed himself to explore the feeling, excitement. It was uncomfortable. He pulled back to the safety of rationality. "The prospect, the initial hypothesis is...compelling, certainly." He typed some numbers on a calculator that matched the tone of all the other metal in the room. "It would be very profitable - if it worked - and quite economically stimulating, to be sure." He tapped his desk contemplatively, frowning, and took a giant leap of faith - for him. "I think it's worth pursuing."
Yancy's face had been growing steadily more hopeful the more Ransen talked, and when Ransen expressed cautious approval, Yancy let out a gusty breath and grinned ear to ear. "You won't regret this, Ransen! It's going to change everything! I know it."
"Do the preliminary tests and write up the paperwork for me," Ransen said tolerantly, waving him away.
"I'll do it to your utmost satisfaction," Yancy promised, his face bright as he exited, almost frolicking, out the door.
He had a headache. Yancy was well-meaning, but he did tend to bring on headaches for Ransen. It'll all probably die out in testing, he thought. It's too extreme an idea for society yet. We're not ready.
His prophecy certainly seemed to be fulfilled over the next several months as Yancy returned many times with piles of paperwork (sometimes charred or slightly smoking) and looking increasingly more disheveled and forlorn.
"Almost there, almost there," he'd mutter, but his eyes said otherwise. Ransen maintained a neutral tone and look, foregoing to say, "I told you so" or even look like he was thinking it. His self-control was truly admirable, he told himself.
But then came the day that Yancy threw open the door to his office, emanating a fierce joy, and Ransen's heart sank into his well-polished shoes.
"Well?" he asked, trying to sound neutral.
"It worked," Yancy panted, a manic glint in his eye. "For two seconds and forty-three milliseconds, it worked. I knew it would. Here's the paperwork-" he threw a small, pristine stack onto Ransen's desk, "to approve the next step in testing."
Ransen was silent for a moment. "What happened after those 2.43 seconds?" he asked slowly.
Yancy ran his fingers impatiently through his already-mussed hair. "Does it matter? It worked for longer than the parameters to move it to the next step. I'm telling you, Ransen, this is it!"
Ransen looked doubtfully at the other man's wild eyes and kneaded his impeccably pressed pin-striped trousers against his thighs. "What happened, Yance?" His voice was low and quiet.
Yancy threw up his hands. "We're going to have to move labs, ok? But that's not the important thing here! What are a few explosions in light of solving the energy crisis? We're on the brink of -"
"A few explosions?" Ransen raised his eyebrows and slowly stood. "I don't remember other explosions in your paperwork." He rifled through the papers on his desk. "In fact, I don't remember any, even from this one...that you just gave me." He carefully withdrew a single sheet of paper between thumb and forefinger.
Yancy turned pale.
"Yancy." Ransen was almost whispering now. "How...accurate...have your write-ups been?"
Yancy didn't answer, only collapsed into a chair, putting shaking hands over his face. "Please," he started in a desperate tone, "please, Ransen...You know what this project means to me."
Ransen felt the emotion pity and withdrew from it quickly. It was very uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Yancy. I'm shutting you down." He sat and pulled a form from his top drawer, jotting down some words and numbers in the blanks. He rang for his secretary.
"Take this and make three copies," he ordered. "You know who to give them to. Bring one for Mr. Cloric here."
He glanced at Yancy and felt again the pity. This time he let it color his voice as he said, "There will be other projects, Yancy. You just need to pick yourself back up and..."
"Stop, please," Yancy said hoarsely, uncovering his face and raising his head. Ransen was taken aback by the look in his haunted eyes. Yancy stood and walked haltingly toward the door, like a man sleepwalking.
"Yancy," Ransen said, reaching out involuntarily, but the door closed before he could say more. He sunk back into his correctly cushioned chair and pondered, then tried to go back to work.
When it was time to go home for the evening, he still couldn't shake his unease. Yancy wasn't just an underling, he was a very hardworking, valuable underling. He was also a friend, of sorts. Ransen buttoned his peacoat carefully, bottom to top, took his black umbrella in his hand, and turned left out of his door instead of right: toward the back stair to Yancy's department instead of to the elevator that led downstairs to the front door.
As he descended purposely, he wondered briefly what he should say. Why was he going to see him anyway? To apologize? No. Why then?
To check his status, be sure he was fine.
It was an awkward mission, one that Ransen was unaccustomed to, but Yancy was a very valuable underling. Friend. Yes, friend.
When he got to the metal door labeled with a clear warning sign, he knocked twice, then entered. The lights were still on, so that meant Yancy was most likely still here. He was always the last to leave, much like Ransen. They both felt the same passion for their job - perhaps that was why they (usually) got along so well. He turned a corner in the silent lab, avoiding the metal tables and sheeted areas and doors that said "KEEP OUT."
Finally, he called out, "Yancy?"
No reply. He decided to check one last place before giving up.
"Yancy?" he called again, pushing open the door to the final lab. "Are you-"
The room was filled with blue light. Ransen stopped talking to shield his eyes as a bolt of lightning shot across the room and sizzled out on the wall beside his head.
His ears ringing, he blinked and looked at the source.
Yancy was bent over a canister on a table, frantically making adjustments as more lightning zagged out of the canister, illuminating the deep lines in his determined face.
"Yancy!" Ransen yelled, fear filling his belly. "What are you doing? That's not -"
But it most certainly was - and as Yancy jumped at the sound of his voice and looked over his shoulder, the canister exploded with an earsplitting boom, and Ransen saw no more.
He awoke later, unsure of the time, even unsure of the place until he had peered blearily up at the sterile white ceiling pockmarked with black scorch holes and divots. His eyebrows contracted, and he became aware of a blinding headache that was causing the blurred vision and confusion. Waking felt slow, hearing came slower. He realized his ears were filled with a faint static noise that wasn't going away. He grimaced and turned his head. Slowly, walls came into view. More white speckled with burnt black and brown. Then, as he turned to the other side, a table, a gold canister with one end blown out, its jagged edges curling over on itself. Memory began to return to him, one image at a time. Yancy...
Another patch of white and brown: a labcoat this time...a heap on the floor.
Ransen closed his eyes again.
Sometime later - surely hours, but not yet morning - he woke again as if he had not slept. The static in his ears was still there, but his vision was sharp this time. Something else had changed: his resolve. He rolled onto his side, pain stabbing his right ribs as he did so. He curled into a fetal position for a moment, gritting his teeth and squinting against the hot agony in his side. Broken ribs, if anything he'd ever read was accurate. This was why he never tried extreme sports, he thought sourly. Or even regular sports for that matter. And here he had stumbled into an accident that brought extreme discomfort to him through absolutely no fault of his own. Angry, he uncurled and staggered to his feet, reaching for a table, avoiding the sight of the lab coat heap on the floor to his left. As his fingers grasped the metal, he felt something slide through him in a fizzly, raw way. Suddenly the floor beneath the metal table legs popped and exploded black singe marks in circles emanating from the point of connection. He let go of the table, aghast, knowing with absolute certainty that it had been him that had burned the floor through the table. The amount of energy necessary for that to happen was immense, incalculable for his cushy office position. He gazed at his shaking hands, raising them palm up, his pupils contracting in fear.
His gaze slowly slid to the canister on the table across from him. Its gold glinted in the stark glare of the lab lights.
He walked zombie-like toward it, reached out a hand, and above him, he heard footsteps, voices.
As uncertainty raced through his usually decisive mind, blue light shot from his fingertips, bathing the room in a bold, messy, uncomfortable neon.
“Magister Chester?” The distant, almost metallic sounding voice echoed across the roof of Magister Esmond Chester’s laboratory. The magical construct’s brass eyes looked towards the Cruxan night sky, eyeing the dark clouds and oncoming lightning with trepidation for his own body.
“Lucian you must stop worrying!” The magister’s own voice rumbled from one edge of the roof to the other where Lucian was situated. The human man turned with a flourish, producing a black cloak in his hands. Making his way over his robotic assistant, he draped the cloak around his creation’s metallic shoulders before pulling it tightly around him. “Magically enchanted. Should keep the lightning away from targeting you.” Esmond smiled, the flash of lightning behind him made him look more manic than Lucian knew the mage was.
Esmond turned on his heel back to the roof’s opposite edge. The construct spied the invention that his master had created: a large brass canister strapped to his back, with purple vae crystals situated at each end. He wore a large matching brass armband connected to the canister by a tube. A small pole that came to a point protruded from one of the ends of the canister, pointing into the darkened sky. Lucian’s hands creaked quietly as he grabbed the edges of the cloak. Part of him wished his master had fashioned something like it for himself. He knew the magister’s plan and he knew it was quite dangerous, but he was unlikely to convince the human to a safer one. No innovation without danger, dear Lucian! He would say and likely repeat if Lucian brought up his concerns with the magister. No one save for the magister’s dear husband—who was on a diplomatic visit to the Tower of MAGI—could’ve stopped the man from potentially completing this experiment.
“Tonight’s a good night for discovery, eh?” the magister yelled, shoulder’s squared, hands on his hips as if he were ready to face the coming storm like it were a physical creature.
“Something like that, Sir.” Lucian responded, face unmoving as most spelltech constructs’ faces were wanton to do. Esmond peered over his shoulder, a smirk on his face.
“What’s with the worry, Lucian? I haven’t died to a single one of my experiments yet!” Yes. Yet. Thought Lucian. He’d worry that one of these days, one of Esmond’s experiments would go wrong in a way Esmond didn’t predict, and his master would end up dead and that he’d have to be the one to tell his master’s loved ones about it. At least they could cry; Lucian wasn’t built with that capability, none of the constructs were, though emotions certainly became apparent within each’s own vaen brain.
The robot felt the clink of his master’s hand against his cloak-covered shoulder. Esmond bent over slightly so the two were closer to the same height, his eyes meeting the brass orbs meant to represent the robot’s own.
“It’s very kind of you to worry about me, Lucian, but innovation must continue onward, and I’ll be damned to the nightrealm if any of the other magisters were going to do it,” he winked, standing back up and clapping the robot on his shoulder. In a way, Lucian knew he was correct. Progress wouldn’t be made without someone taking the leap, and none of the other magisters would do it. They already disliked Esmond enough due to his own inventions making their own families’ look like old news by comparison. The other magisters would rather play around in their ballrooms, reliving their ancestors’ successes to the amused and delighted clapping of fanciful folk who hadn’t done even a fraction of the work of innovative mages and engineers like Esmond or his dear husband's. The announcement of their relationship had even caused quite a scandal, a magister marrying a non-mage and an engineer at that? The horror. They were the talk of the magisters’ courts for some time after, though not for good reasons.
Still, despite the magistrate’s attempted politicking against them, Esmond hadn’t cared and remained dedicated to his research and the use and application of vae crystals. When Esmond had told Lucian of this experiment, Lucian’s first question was, why? and the magister’s answer was, to see if I can.
Lucian was brought out of his thoughts by the prick of a raindrop on his metallic headcase. Here we go, he thought, pulling the hood of the cloak his master gifted him over his head and then pulled the edges closed on the frontside of his body. The previously distant rumbling of thunder grew closer as did the lightning that bore it. Esmond returned to his ‘heroic’ pose, ready to face down the beast of booming electricity and torrential rain.
“Come on…” Esmond gritted his teeth, hunching over slightly, eyes trained above him as rain pelted harder and harder with each passing second, matting down his black and grey hair.
Just then, several blocks from his own laboratory, a strike of lightning collided with the stone roadway between the uptown’s estates. “Nearly there…” Esmond tightened his jaw and clenched his fists.
Closer and closer with every second, flashes of light, flashes of brilliance. Brilliance that would propel him closer to success. Just then, as if melded with his own mind, a flash of light pummeled the canister’s pointed tip. Ringing filled the magister’s ears as spots filled his vision as he closed his eyes instinctually. He couldn’t feel his own body, unspeakable pain shot through him, but also a light tingling beneath the skin, especially around his gauntlet.
Lucian looked on in horror, as time seemed to slow down around the magister. He watched as a vortex of lightning spun around the human. Part of Lucian found the sight oddly beautiful. The shocks of light whirled around Esmond’s hunched body as if he were the centerpiece to one of the traveling troupe’s magical lightshows. Yet the seconds became hours as Lucian watched in equal parts wonder and fright, but as soon as he was sure his master would find his way to the nightrealm, laughter began bubbling from Esmond’s throat. The magister clenched his hand and extended the gauntleted arm outward to the clouds above. From the gauntlet shot a bolt of light into the night sky, as if retaliating against the gods’ own attack against him. A moment later, Esmond fell back onto his bottom, sparks spinning around the gauntlet, and Lucian looked on in wonder as he saw electricity spinning almost in a sphere within the canister.
The spelltech construct rushed forward, removing the cloak from himself and attempting to cover his master as best he could around the rather awkward canister. He found the button his master had told him of earlier, and pressed it, causing the tipped point to retreat within the canister’s casing.
Esmond laughed almost maniacally, “Lucian! We did it! Good job, old boy!” He smiled despite the immeasurable pain Lucian was sure he was feeling. “But we did it!” He grasped onto the cuff of Lucian’s shirt to pull himself up as Lucian moved to support his master’s weight. “Now that that’s finished, maybe you should arrange for a healer to visit as soon as possible, yes?”
Lucian laughed internally. His master had likely messed his own body up in some way yet again thanks to his experiments, but at least he was still alive and seemed still himself. That was as much as Lucian could ask for.
The carriage currently occupied by two humans trotted down the road, led by two metal horses steered by Lucian, Magister Edmond Chester-Arkwright’s magic-mechanical assistant. The Magister and his husband, Grey Arkwright-Chester, sat in the carriage, tearing through the pile of mail that had piled up over the past few months. Mostly business propositions for Edmond’s work from hopeful Ignian politicians seeking to glue their name onto something they didn’t put any actual work in.
Now, Edmond, Grey and Lucian were on the road to an outpost near the wall surrounding the magical wasteland of Xandria where the excavation team hired by the two humans had unearthed something very extraordinary on Vaecrux. A pillar of pure Vae crystal. Nobody had the boldness, that some would call madness, to send teams into Xandria in hopes of recovering something of worth, but nobody in Ignis had quite the mind of one Esmond Chester. He had spent months carefully scouting out miners and stoneweavers for this excavation. At the end, a dwarf woman named Dagma who listened more to Esmond’s coin than his pure passion for the discovery of what could be done with the crystalline pillar. Still, she was talented, in mining, stoneweaving, and leading a group of others. She was a perfect candidate for this expedition, especially so when she heard about the increased payment there would be for the whole excavation team.
“Sirs? We have almost arrived.” Lucian’s brassy voice sounded from the front of the carriage. Esmond turned his head to peer out the front window of the carriage past Lucian’s sharply dressed metallic body. A towering building jutted out of the largely green landscape, but even more stark than that was the large metallic silver box next to it.
“Looks like our excavators were indeed successful,” Grey piped in. Esmond looked back to his husband with excitement in his eyes.
“Can you hurry the horses up, Lucian? We must make it there posthaste!” Esmond enthusiastically requested.
“Yes, sir magister.” Lucian cracked the reins and the metallic horses pulling the carriage sped up considerably.