Fifteen minutes later it sounded like someone was making popcorn in the basement as the troves flared bits of energy. It smelled like it to, at least it did if you assumed they’d let it go too long and start to smolder and also, maybe, if they’d poured some strange chemicals over it first. It really wouldn’t have been a good way to make popcorn.
Even just filling the troves had consumed most of the energy some of the Children had. Kyle was standing across from Fern and he thought she looked somewhat wilted. Bob didn’t look distressed, but he was rubbing his head now and then – grinding two fingers into his forehead between his eyes like he wanted to massage away a headache. Lynn, perhaps unsurprisingly given his tremendously long meditation sessions, seemed just as strong as when he’d started, and Alison was cool and unflappable.
“Alright everybody,” Alison said taking charge of the group again, “we’ve got a pretty good charge here. If anything will wake the spell up, this should do it.” With that, she proceeded to walk to where the dangling thread of the binding almost reached the symbol for Quintessence and connected them.
Something happened. That much was obvious as the spell on the wall began to draw the full power of the combined bindings. What it was doing with all that energy was less obvious. The symbols began to glow visibly, not just Quintessence but the others as well and a small circle on the floor where Kyle had identified the location of the gravity anomaly. However, if the dull blue light they emitted was consuming all the power they were feeding it, it was the least efficient light spell of all time.
Without any discussion, Alison returned to the Trove she’d been feeding and started pushing energy into it again. Kyle’s own was also drained far enough it could hold more, so he began to power it as well and the rest of the children followed their lead. Another five minutes passed before Kyle noticed something odd. The door to Bob’s room was standing open. It was, as always, dark in there but when they’d started he’d been able to see into it enough to identify the foot of a bed and a stretch of carpet. With the spell active, when he glanced over he realized he couldn’t see anything more than a couple of feet past the door. The carpet seemed to end in a sweep of pure black darkness.
Kyle doubted walking out of the room was an option any more. Hopefully, completing the spell would fix that.
Power flowed into the spell for another few minutes. Several of the children were definitely not keeping up with the rate at which their magical reservoirs were depleting. Fern wasn’t pushing out much magic at all. In fact, the not gate in front of her had broken and she was now feeding power into Lynn’s trove as hers sputtered out the last bits of it’s energy.
Gravity in the room suddenly weakened. It was the strangest sensation. At first, Kyle couldn’t have even said what he was feeling. It was a sort of cross between being energized and being really dizzy. In fact, he only realized what was happening when he raised his hand to his head and he ended up moving faster than he had intended because his arm was soo light. The glow from the symbols remained unchanged but there was a sudden darkness in the glowing circle where they hoped the Door would appear. It looked like a shape had been briefly described in a puff of smoke.
“I think we’re getting it,” Alison called, excitement obvious in her voice.
Fern’s trove ran out and the portion of the line connecting it to the larger spell collapsed. A jolt ran through the room. Everything, and everyone, stretched and distorted for an instant. The room, the furniture, even the other people seemed to stretch, though no one reacted as though they felt anything. Then there was an instant of crushing gravity. It passed before it was even enough to knock them off their feet, but Kyle wouldn’t have wanted to guess at how powerful it was.
None of that was so bad because it passed in an instant. What was bad was that something changed and it seemed they were wrapped in a mirror. Suddenly, looking past Fern, Kyle could see his own back. He spent a moment thinking the back of his haircut looked silly before realizing that wasn’t right. If there had been a mirror, or any reflective surface behind Fern, he should be looking at her back. Even if there was a second mirror behind him he should see first the reflection of her back, then one of his face, only after that would he see a reflection of a reflection of his back. The ray of light must somehow be traveling directly from his own back to his eyes.
The room beyond the distortion was still visible, but everything looked a lot further away. Perhaps the light was only wrapping through their bubble once? If so they were still somewhat attached to the normal universe.
He wasn’t eager to find out would happen if another one of the troves cut out.
He looked down at his trove. He thought it was probably OK in terms of charge. That was based purely off of the amount of outflow he’d allowed on it and the amount of magic he could normally shift; this particular binding didn’t give a visible indication of its charge beyond the sudden discharges at the top end of what it could hold. Kyle was regretting that at the moment, but he didn’t think pausing to play around with the bindings would be a good idea.
He looked around the circle. Everyone wore nervous expressions. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who had noticed the direction their spell had taken. He eyed the troves and the Magi manning them. Lynn was in good shape, it even sparked once as he watched. When Fern’s line had failed over she’d begun filling his and the power coming from Lynn’s hands was nearly as bright as what Kyle was managing.
Bob’s trove was still flowing, but his line had failed over into Alison already, and as he watched the amber light around Bob’s hands sputtered. He wore a tight expression Kyle remembered from his own days of magic wage slavery. Alison was still composed, and the light from her eyes was even. Kyle wasn’t sure how much that told him. She was always composed.
Without asking, Kyle stepped over to Bob’s trove, drew a quick line in the air to fill it, clenched his teeth, and let go with all the energy he could muster. A slender needle of pain slid into his temple, but he was managing quite a bit more inflow to the trove than outflow.
Alison had apparently noticed the same thing Kyle had, because she caught Lynn’s eye and tilted her chin toward Kyle’s now unmanaged reservoir of power. “Can you take over for Kyle?”
“Sure dude,” Lynn said sounding absolutely calm. He moved to where Kyle had been standing leaving Fern alone on his original. For just a moment, the flow of power across the gap in the line to the trove faltered as the not gate prepared to switch. She staggered a bit, caught herself, then held both her hands out and summoned enough energy to once again overcome the resistance of the small gap in the line and begin filling the trove again though not nearly as fast as it was discharging. Still, it would hold for a bit.
Kyle looked back to the center of the circle where they hoped the door was taking shape and was gratified to see its shadowy form had grown considerably clearer. When he’d last checked, it hadn’t looked like anything. Now, the shadow was a distinct square and he thought there were internal details as well. Perhaps those things there were panels, and that bit there was almost certainly a doorknob. Yes, certainly, a doorknob. It congealed as he watched.
They were going to make it.
Then Alison’s trove cut out. She and Bob had been keeping their gate open, but apparently they just hadn’t been matching the outflow of the trove. There was a series of sharp pops as the power they were releasing started flaring into nowhere. Kyle barely had time to noticed that, as the confines of their universe jolted forward at the same time. After Kyle moved, Alison had been standing across from him. Suddenly she was standing across from him and behind him. Her back bumped into his hard and they both went staggering. Kyle almost lost his hold on magic and a migraine flared behind his eyes as it faded, but he mentally scrambled after it scared of what would happened if any more of the flow to the troves failed and he managed to maintain a tiny thread of energy.
When he was done with that fight he looked around, and realized the walls of the room were gone. They now appeared to be floating in blackness. Light, from what source Kyle couldn’t guess, seemed to be wrapping around endlessly now and so there were dozens of images of each mage stretching off into infinity into the darkness. The alchemical symbols now hung in the air unsupported and considerably closer than they had once been. Each was burning with an intense light, and heat rolled off of them in waves. Just to make it clear ordinary physics had been utterly suspended there was only one image of each symbol.
Alison had fallen when they bumped. She pushed herself up. What she pushed off of was another mystery. There was nothing under her, but apparently it was a breed of nothing that was willing to support her weight. She hadn’t quite lost her magic either, though only the weakest of glows came from her eye’s. Kyle darted a look at Bob and saw he also had magic. That was good. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if anyone failed now.
“Fern’s trove,” he hissed out past gritted teeth.
Alison and Bob both got the message and moved, which looked strange against the blackness, to where Fern stood and joined their energy with hers. Kyle looked back to the center of the circle where the door was forming, hoping that he’d be able to see it against the blackness. He could. The door now looked almost solid though it had some white mist twisting around it. It was a great heavy heavy thing made out of wood that seemed to have turned black with time. It had an ornate door knocker in the shape of a lion and a heavy brass knob. There were also transoms above and they glowed with a bright white light as though it was day outside. Perhaps that was the light source he hadn’t been able to find earlier; at least it made as much sense as anything.
As he watched the handle on the door twisted, without anyone touching it, and swung open until it was resting just slightly ajar. More light spilled from the crack, obscuring anything which might have been beyond it. The last of the white mist which had been swirling around the door was sucked into it as though there were a vacuum positioned just beyond, and the drain on the troves fell to almost nothing.
Unfortunately, that was all that changed. They were still hanging in the middle of nothing, and though the door wasn’t marked “Exit” it seemed to be their only option.