Kyle ran out of the clean room under a cloak of darkness. He didn’t feel the power requirements of his spell ripple, so he assumed he hadn’t been hit by any offensive magic. Still, he kept running when he was out of the room in case there were more guards. He went down a corridor that looked kind of industrial, through a pair of doors that were under positive pressure and that had been festooned with a dozen official looking notices, and into another slightly more generic hall.
It looked empty, and he stopped there, leaning against the hall and breathing heavily. Merv was still in his arms. The cat gave an angry rumble and tried to wiggle out for a bit, so Kyle gave him an awkward stroke. For his trouble he got a scratch. Still, Merv settled down a little once he’d managed to chastise Kyle for his thoughtlessness.
Kyle considered his options. Basically, he needed to run over to wherever the Children were, stomp all magic in the area, and keep it stomped until help arrived. All of which was easier said than done. He didn’t have the slightest idea where the Children were and the facility seemed pretty large. Fortunately, he had a spell for locating people.
Kyle looked down at the ball of blackness still hovering above his hand and decided he would have to sacrifice it. He could have summoned the spell behind tekhnikos percipere with the darkness spell still active, but it would have confused his magical awareness to have both spells in his head at once. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be any more fire.
He triggered the spell to prevent the formation of argon fluorohydride. An image of the facility he was in painted itself in his head in shades of how much magic was being used. He was on some sort of corporate campus comprised of dozens of buildings. There were warehouses, offices, and other factories. It was huge, and Kyle doubted it was anywhere near Spokane, though the desert of eastern Washington had the space for the facilities he was sensing.
It was also empty. The buildings, save for the one he was in, were unoccupied. There weren’t any janitors working the bathrooms or accountants trying to do a late run of payroll. That seemed odd. But perhaps, it was a security thing; it’s easier to watch a workforce when they’re all keeping the same hours.
In his building, five people fought in a big room behind him. Or at least they ducked and darted around one another. Kyle was pretty sure that was the clean room he’d just left, and he wanted to go back and help. He shoved that impulse down. Jessie and the bounty hunters were more than competent fighters, they had their adversaries outnumbered, and Kyle was still the only one who could stop magic.
There were a few people moving on their own through the halls of the building. Each person was holding something cylindrical in one hand, and something smaller and more complex in their other. He focused on one person’s equipment for a moment, but of course, that made his awareness of it fade. Still, it hadn’t been like anything like any weapon he could think of.
Kyle was on the first floor of the building he was in, but it had a lot of sub surface levels. The basements went down seven, no eight, floors. That seemed excessive and once again suggested a security consideration. The lowest level had another knot of people. It also had active magic, or at least it had clouds of space where percipere wasn’t working correctly.
He decided go there, banished the spell, and made for the nearest stairwell.
Several floors down, and several more checks with percipere made Kyle think the Children had gathered in some sort of control room. There was equipment in the rooms all around him, big machines and narrow corridors between them. Something about it was a little odd. It contained tubing that drank his magic fairly aggressively when he performed his percipere spell, but he didn’t have the time to worry about that. The room in the center was his focus. It was a control room of some sort, or at least it had desk and computer shaped holes in the argon, and that was where the Children had gathered.
Kyle was sneaking down a corridor towards it. The corridor looked like what you’d fine anywhere in any building in corporate America. It had grey high traffic flooring, off white walls, and fluorescent lights set in a perfectly unremarkable drop ceiling grid. The only thing unusual about the whole hall was the faint scent of glue and a lot of humidity in the air.
Not far from the control room, the hallway had a closet. The closet had a bunch of broom shapes, mop shapes, and jugs. Presumably it was a janitor’s closet, but maybe the facilities executive suit was oddly furnished. Either way it was Kyle’s destination.
He doubted the Children in the control room had realized their guards above had been attacked. After all, cell service is hard to come by nearly 100 feet underground. As such, he assumed they’d finish whatever they were doing and then leave so they could trigger it. When they walked by the closet he’d give them a 10 count and then turn off the local magic. They’d trigger nothing.
Which luck, they wouldn’t even know they’d been stopped until the nightly news failed to report some sort of attack on the facility.
The first hitch in the plan came when the janitor’s closet proved to be locked. Kyle had carefully scanned the control room, made sure no one was even facing the door, and then hurried down the hall to it with his breath coming fast and his heart hammering in his ears. Only when he twisted the nob to the closet it refused to move.
“Shit,” Kyle swore, under his breath.
He probed the area, but couldn’t find anywhere else to hide. There was the control room, the mechanical floor, and the closet. It didn’t seem like a level that was ever heavily occupied. Whoever had designed the building had probably only built in a closet because they had some left over space and wanted its contents out of the way.
At least no one had moved to the control room yet. Kyle flipped his hand open and said “Flare.” A ball of light popped into being above it. He turned away such that his body sheilded Merv’s eyes and then focused the magic down and narrowed it until it was a tiny sliver of light about the size and width of a dime- a dime or the bolt of a door’s lock.
He slid that between the latch and the strike plate into the metal of the bolt, and then fed it power hard. The hall behind him was briefly lit with bright light as though there had been a lightening strike around the corner. Something went “tink” inside the door.
He gave it another tug. It opened and the burnt off bit of the metal tumbled to the floor. It was still hot enough to singe the floor. A black spot formed and the smell of burnt plastic joined the glue in the air. Hurriedly Kyle, kicked the hot metal back into the closet and then stepped in after it pulling the door shut behind him.
For a moment, he just stood there. His breath sounded loud in the tight space. Here the air smelled like bleach. The room was more cramped than he had realized. He had to stand awkwardly not to knock anything over. Had he given himself away?
He poked out with percipere again. No, he decided, he was still safe. The figures in the room were facing away from each other and moving around in a way that suggested they all had their own tasks. As he watched, they finished up. One figure turned from where it was sitting in front of a computer, stood, then the others stood and faced it. There was a moment of standing and facing, and then they all walked to the door.
Kyle tensed. As they entered the hall his breathing seemed too loud. It, and the pounding of his heart, drown out the snatches of conversation beyond the door as people made their way down the corridor. He opened his mouth wide and tried to take deep slow breaths. As far as his own ears were concerned, it didn’t help much but the people in the hall didn’t stop. Instead they rounded the corner, passed through the stairwell door, and everything got quite.
Using percipere he watched them start to ascend the stairs. No one stopped or turned back for a forgotten wallet or pen. He gave Merv a few strokes that were intended more for his own comfort than the cat’s and then slowly eased open the door. The hallway was empty. Of course it was, he’d known there wasn’t anyone there.
He tiptoed down it to the control room door. It wasn’t locked. That was nice, though apparently he could have opened it anyway. He wondered if it was never locked or if domestic terrorists just weren’t very good about shutting things up after themselves. Probably the latter.
He slipped into the room and found he’d been right that it was a control center of some sort. It was more practical than impressive. There were enough desks for about a dozen people arraigned in an open plan. The only thing that set it apart from a secretarial pool or call center was there were about 4 monitors on each desk and there was a big window out on to the factory floor.
He crossed to the window and spent a few seconds looking through it. The room was dark and he had to peer past his own reflection to see into it. Merv made a small cat noise and batted at his reflection. Kyle couldn’t really figure out what the equipment might do. His best guess was that he was looking at a chemical refinery of some sort. At least it seemed likely it carried out a complex manufacturing process from end to end without much human interaction. Well, that and whatever was being manufactured was a liquid. There were a bunch of pipes, but no conveyors.
Turning his attention to back to the control room he examined the spell the children had set up. There was some sort of symbol painted on the wall over and over. It took him a moment to notice it because the “paint” was something clear, but it was still wet and that made it slightly darker than everything around it. Kyle had never seen it before; It was a jagged thing that seemed somehow threatening. He doubted in meant health and good will.
Kyle also suddenly had a pretty good idea what the container and object the Children he’d seen wandering the halls were: whatever they were painting and a paint brush. The symbol was probably now gracing walls all over the facility. Why it was concentrated in this room, he didn’t know. Still, the symbol could only be part of the spell. No matter how jagged it was it wouldn’t be triggering anything without magic, and with the Children gone the magic could only be coming from one source; an autocaster.
Kyle set Merv down and, as the cat began licking itself, searched the room for an errant bit of magical electronics. Fortunately, it didn’t take long. A small ‘caster had been placed under a desk that was also home to a particularly dense nest of wires. It would have been pretty had to find had he not known what he was looking for. He needn’t have rushed in locating it, however. When he woke up its screen the display informed him that a spell, identified only by it’s UUMID, was set to go off in 20 hours.
Right in the middle of the Monday work-day; that couldn’t be good.
Fortunately, it was no longer going to happen. He punched the cancel command on the display. It popped up a password prompt. Alright, Kyle thought, so this won’t be effortless. He flipped the caster over and checked the battery compartment; it had been glued shut.
“Oh for crying out loud,” Kyle mumbled. He stabbed out with percipere. He didn’t have much more time. The fight had finished upstairs and the clean room was almost empty. That was good, it meant they wouldn’t be discovered just instantly. However, presumably the children would realize their guard hadn’t just taken off to find better work. They’d begin to search the building, and someone would come back here.
Alright, he could take it with him. That should work, unfortunately it would involve hauling around a device with who knew how much hostile magic on it. He could simply break the autocaster. It wasn’t that tough, but it might shatter the battery and all of its magic being released at once would be similar to an explosion. Then again, he could deal with that, couldn’t he? He sucked in a bit more magic, sort of topping of his internal tank, then set the autocaster down on a desk and walked back to his familiar.
“Hey Merv,” Kyle said. Merv looked up at him past an extended back leg he was busy grooming in that weird cat yoga pose. Kyle could have sworn Merv raised his eyebrows. “Tenebrescere Cattus!” Darkness smoked up around Merv’s tail, then lights flickered in the air for a moment and an anti-magic spell washed away from the cat.
The result was, at least momentarily, undramatic. Beyond Merv sitting up and stiffening his tail away from himself the room remained the same. The autocaster, still visible where it sat on the desk, began to flash an amber warning symbol and with the text, “Insufficient magical charge for requested operation.” Kyle grinned. Now he could carry it safely, and he doubted the Children had a backup.
Then an alarm went off. The sound of it washed over Kyle with so much force that it felt more like a wall than a noise. It was coming from speakers set in the walls of the building, and it was apparently unrelated to the Children’s sabotage; probably there was some sort of important magical circuit that needed to be active during operation of the facility.
Kyle scooped Merv back up then grabbed the autocaster. If they heard it at all, the alarm was most likely to just chase the Children off, but there was a chance they’d come to check on their spell. If they did that, Kyle wanted to be long gone. He hurried down the short corridor, and out to the stairwell. But he was too slow. Now the fact that he’d gone to the control room as soon as it was clear worked against him. He’d worked quickly enough that the children must still have been in the stairwell when he triggered the alarm. As soon as he opened the door to it he heard their descending footfalls.
It didn’t matter, there’d be time to make it to the seventh floor and from there he could loose himself elsewhere in the building. Kyle bolted up the stairs two at a time trying not to jostle Merv too badly. The seventh floor door was locked! Should he break the lock? Make for the sixth?
There wasn’t time for any of that. A yell came from up the stairs, “Kyle!” He looked back, Alexander, Murrow, Alison, and Agent Sandborn were coming down the stairs. Kyle wasted an instant being annoyed, but not really shocked, that Sandborn was working with the Children. To get his hands free he dropped Merv. The cat leapt lightly to the ground and scampered behind him and out of the path of the on rushing humans. Next Kyle held up the autocaster. “I’ll break it,” he yelled.
The group came to a halt, but Sandborn just raised his eyebrows, “Go ahead. Now that you’ve opened the Room I can go get another if I need it. Where did you think I picked up that one in the first place?”
That, Kyle thought, was a depressingly good point. Murrow and Alexander started advancing down the stairs again. Kyle dropped the ‘caster and gave it a kick sending it bouncing down the stairs and out of sight. He didn’t watch it go.
Instead, he flipped open his hand and said, “Flash!” This summoned a small ball of light which he shot out into the group. He’d intended to flood it with power and blind everyone. It didn’t work that way. Instead the spell got a few feet from him and then fizzled out into nothing as it hit the start of the magic denial field that Merv was still maintaining. While Kyle had been living with the Children he’d figured out a way to sort of pulse the spell so it would move with him. That had seemed really clever at the time.
The universe had a good enough sense of comic timing that Alison finished chanting something at just that moment and tossed a hand forward at Kyle. Nothing happened, of course, and she called, “He’s blocking magic somehow,” to the rest of the group.
Kyle could have summoned a second ball of light and flared it above his head, but he didn’t have the time. That was when Murrow and Alexander made it to the landing he was on. Fortunately, in the tight confines of the stairs, they really couldn’t hit him with much coordination. Instead Alexander came in just a bit in front and swung a big, sloppy, heavily telegraphed blow at Kyle.
Kyle dodged that blow by leaning back and letting it whistle past his chin. Then Murrow got around Alexander by crouching and rushing past him. Murrow tried to make a grab for Kyle’s legs. That was a bad idea. Kyle kicked him. He was aiming for Murrow’s face because he wasn’t going to play nice in a two on one fight, but the fact that he was already staggering backwards made him miss. The blow went low and caught Murrow in the shoulder. Still, Murrow staggered back and tangled Alexander’s footing for just a moment.
Kyle used the pile up on the stairs to hurry down first flight and into the hallway in the lowest floor where at least he’d have firm footing to fight. Unfortunately, Merv used the same distraction to dart up the stairs and on to parts unknown. Kyle felt a strange wrench as his magic started to twist away, then his control over Tenebrescere Cattus failed, the anti-magic field dropped, and it all came back with a rush.
Again, Kyle tried to get together a flash spell, and again he failed because Alexander and Murrow kept coming at him. This time Alexander came in first swinging hard for his face. Kyle threw up his hands not really doing anything more than trying to avoid eating his own teeth by pushing Alexander backward. But his training was there, and he managed to move fast enough to touch Alexander’s chest before the punch landed. When he made contact, he released the magic he’d been holding.
There was a huge flash, a burst of heat and kinetic energy. There was a pretty good chance that part of the loud crack that was briefly audible over the still sounding alarm was one or more of Alexander’s ribs breaking. Alexander was thrown backwards clear to the stairwell where he went through the still open door and landed on a stair banging his body and head.
Kyle wasn’t really paying attention. He hadn’t been tossed nearly as hard because his hands had been the only part of his body to take the shock, but he still had to stagger several steps to recover.
Unfortunately, Murrow hadn’t been directly behind Alexander. He’d been moving to flank Kyle and by virtue of that managed to avoid being hit as Alexander went backwards. Still, it looked like the hit Alexander had taken was more than Murrow expected. He stopped and gave the still staggering Kyle a wide eyed look.
For a moment, as he got his feet back under him, Kyle hopped Murrow would just back off. At this point, Kyle was fine with the Sandborn and the Children getting away. Hell, they could even keep the stupid Room of they wanted. If they were smart and didn’t cause any more trouble they could probably use it to escape permanently.
Then Sandborn ruined it by shouting over the noise of the alarms, “That was probably the last of his magic. Get him!”
Murrow set his jaw and jumped forward rushing Kyle with his shoulder lowered clearly hoping to just ram Kyle while he was still off balance. Unfortunately, Sandborn had been correct. Kyle hadn’t really controlled how much magic he’d thrown at Alexander and he was dry. He got his feet under him and managed to step out of the way of Murrow’s rush throwing a low hard stomping kick at Murrow’s ankle as he passed.
That connected. Off balance, Kyle hadn’t been able to put enough force into it to break the ankle, but Murrow yelped and slammed into a door that led to the factory floor. The hit was enough to crack the window set into it and a thin thread of green gas began to leak through the crack. Kyle took a couple of steps backward switching his attention back and forth between the Murrow, Sandborn, Alison, and the gas now leaking into the hall wondering just which one he should worry about the most.
“Murrow,” Sandborn snapped almost like he was summoning a misbehaving puppy. “Get over here.”
Murrow turned toward Sandborn, his back stiffening visibly, but he obeyed anyway returning to the stairwell where the others stood. There was a distinct limp to his step. Kyle was pretty sure whatever was about to happen wouldn’t be any good for him.
He was right. Sandborn produced a jar of some clear liquid from one of the pockets of the suit he wore. He tossed it up and down a couple of times with one hand, getting a sense for it. Then, in a fit of sudden violence, he whipped it toward the already fractured glass of the door. It was a good shot, and the window shattered. The green gas began to drift into the hallway much more rapidly. It occurred to Kyle to wonder if the still blaring alarm had something to do with the gas.
Sandborn confirmed his suspicion by saying, “I think the fluorine can handle this better than we can,” and shutting the stairwell door.