CHANCED ERASURES: PART TEN
Para ducked as the sparkles rained down on everyone in the room – though she did it more because everyone else was ducking, rather than out of genuine concern for her welfare. After all, sparkles wouldn’t hurt, but if ducking was a human reaction, she really wanted to keep fitting in. Besides, Para had to admit, it was also possible that they knew something she didn’t know.
The sparkles seemed to shimmer and disappear, rather than end up on the floor. Para looked around, wondering if anything had changed – something did feel off. She looked back up, at where the gun had exploded. That’s where she saw the crack. It wasn’t a crack in the ceiling though. It was a crack in reality.
“Okay, stay back!” the robed receptionist(?) called out, from where he was now sitting on the floor. He must have stumbled back and fallen down. He began to fumble about in his clothing, evidently looking for something.
“Again, pretty sure we’re on the same side here,” Sam said, clasping his hands behind his back. “Not Council. Not shutting down the dimensions.”
“Speaking of,” Para began, lifting her finger, but Sue cut her off.
“That was Polsit’s gun,” Sue said, striding over the desk. A pair of legs was there; apparently the real receptionist had been knocked out and left back there. “He’s got it enchanted so that if anyone else fires it, he swaps consciousness with them. You’re lucky something nullified the effect, Mister – what is your name anyway?”
“Marlin,” the man on the floor said. He pulled a short stick with a star on the end out of his robe. “And I’m getting out of here, like it or not!”
“First, more information on the, you know, lady you said was caught, maybe?” Chartreuse requested.
“We should definitely compare notes,” Sam agreed. “Maybe Marlin’s seen Sir Thred too.”
“Also,” Para attempted again, “we had better–”
“Put that away,” Sue snapped at Marlin. “If a wand was really a weapon of choice for you, you wouldn’t have tried using the gun. Also, where did you even get that?”
Marlin, who had managed to stand back up, was now pointing his wand around at everyone in turn. He paused with it levelled in Sue’s direction. “It’s mine,” he retorted. “The other end of my escape passage opened into a room that contained a lot of stuff, including what had been taken from me. And my wand might be recharged, so don’t come any closer!”
Sue, who had taken a step forwards, now paused. She looked towards Sam. “Maybe you should handle this,” she suggested. “As a way of proving you can be one of the group.”
Sam cleared his throat. “At this point I’m not sure I’ll accept any offer I get, but yeah, I really do think Marlin should tell us everything. After that, he’s free to leave.”
Marlin frowned. “You expect me to take your word on that? What guarantee do I have?”
Chartreuse smiled. “How about the fact that we’re totally here to rescue someone ourselves? I mean, you saw you’re not the only prisoner here, yeah? Besides, do we look like a crack team of Council guys?”
He seemed to consider that. “Alright.”
That’s when the small plush kitten fell from the crack near the ceiling, startling everyone.
“It’s like I was trying to say,” Para said in the ensuing silence. “There’s a dimensional rift opening. Where the gun exploded.”
“Huh. That could be a problem,” Sue said. A mite redundantly, in Para’s opinion.
“That wasn’t me,” Marlin said. Para couldn’t tell if he was amused or concerned, but his tone implied he thought maybe it was his fault after all.
“How often does this sort of thing happen around here?” Sam asked.
“It doesn’t,” Sue said. “We’d better contact someone.”
“Thinking we should, you know, hear Marlin out first?” Chartreuse insisted. “Because otherwise we might, like, all get thrown in jail while they sort things out.”
“That’s… unlikely,” said Sue. Her tone that implied she wasn’t so sure.
A second plush kitten fell, landing next to the first. The first one had been black, this one was grey. Para clicked her metronome on.
“Fine, if it gets me out of here faster, I’ll explain,” Marlin said, eyeing the crack.
He quickly summarized his situation – how he’d been an initiate for a group of wizards, which led to participating in a form of “dimensional roulette”, which had dropped him into the school gym here. He’d been spirited away, questioned, left in a cell with a strange girl calling herself ‘Alice’, and the both of them had eventually escaped into a set of passages.
“I feel like I understand your situation very well,” Sam said dryly. Only then did it occur to Para that Sam being a possible candidate for the Dimensional Council here was an imperfect parallel to what Marlin had gone through to be an initiate.
“So, like, what happened to Alice?” Chartreuse said, nonchalantly.
“She put on a robe and went out into the mystery room on the other side of the wardrobe,” Marlin explained. “She must have hidden when a couple people arrived, as they didn’t mention Alice during their talk of shutting off dimensional travel. But when one of them left, I heard her make a break for it, and she got caught by the woman still in there.”
“What mystery room?” Sue demanded.
“The mysterious one,” Marlin shot back. “Do I look like I have a map? Anyway, I reversed course, come out of a shelving unit, found my stuff in the room I was in, and used a simple teleporting spell to get myself across that big open section on the other side. Which got me as far as the front desk here.”
Sam nodded and lifted his hand, as if to show someone’s height. “Did you see a guy, about this tall…” He went on to describe Sir Thred.
“I don’t know, I was fleeing for my– wait, yes. You know how the big section has those rooms off to the side?”
“They don’t know anything,” Sue sighed. “Fine, quick version of the layout, this reception area, leading to the big section, which has a lab, a couple classrooms, and an archive area on the left, then an interrogation room, prison section, and artifact area on the right.”
“Whatever,” Marlin grumbled. “Point is, as I was scouting the big area before teleporting, I saw Alice being taken into, I guess the interrogation room. Assuming I was in the artifact area. As she went in, I saw your guy was inside already.”
Which was helpful, Para mused. If Alice and Thred were in the same place, the group’s interests were still aligning. She glanced at her metronome as a fifth plush cat fell, joining the previous four. This one was rainbow coloured.
“Was Thred being interrogated?” Sam questioned.
Marlin simply shrugged. “Beats me. Look, my part is done now, so I can go, right?”
“Hmm. If you’re fine with leaving the only place that can access to your dimension, sure, leave,” Sam agreed.
Marlin’s nod became a narrowing of his eyes. “What?”
“Stands to reason that this place, which can open a rift to plush cats, can also open one to your home,” Sam observed. “In fact, if we find the devices that manipulate rifts inside the lab here, maybe we could use one to send you back at the same time as we seal this thing up. Assuming you’ve been behaving yourself.”
Marlin’s look became a full-on glare. “Is this blackmail?”
“This is me trying to use the tools I have available to get the best outcome,” Sam objected. “Including your wand. That said, whether you stay or go, it’s your choice.”
Marlin fumed, but he didn’t speak up again, nor did he attempt to go to the door.
“So, we, like, need a plan then,” Chartreuse decided. “How do we get to the interrogation room without being seen, to save Thred and stuff?”
“Hello? THAT thing is our priority,” Sue reminded, pointing at the rift near the ceiling. “We need to talk to someone back there, not sneak about like thieves. Usa’s a pretty understanding lady. If we look for her first, I don’t think she’d throw us in jail. Rather, she’d congratulate us for making her aware of the rift problem.”
“Would she?” Sam mused. “See, I think the best case is we fix the rift, while worst case, we get ahold of this place’s rift devices, and use them as a bargaining chip. To insist that Thred be set free. I mean, they can’t shut off this rift so long as we have their devices, right?”
“You want to blackmail the Council?” Sue boggled.
“Oh good, he’s an equal opportunity blackmailer,” Marlin remarked.
“Hey, like it or not, we’re tied to this dimensional rip,” Sam said. “As scapegoats, if nothing else. In that case, we need to be proactive, not reactive.”
“Except you’ve forgotten about their, you know, dimensional travel shutdown thing,” Chartreuse reminded them. “Couldn’t they activate whatever they’ve, like, got for that to turn off the rift?”
“I still can’t believe anyone would prevent further travel,” Sue insisted.
Sam shrugged. “If they have a device for doing that, presumably it’s in the lab with everything else.”
“If it helps,” Para offered, as another plushie tumbled to the floor, “I estimate that this room will be completely full in less than two hours.” She turned off her metronome. “I can’t be more mathematically precise as the arrivals are random, but there is at least one every couple minutes.”
“We’re on the clock then,” Sam said, cracking his knuckles. “Let’s get to the lab. At that point, we can decide if this is something we can handle ourselves, if it’s better that we talk to somebody, or whether we need to resort to threats.”
The route to the lab turned out to be clear. Nobody was out in the large main area.
“There were only three guys there last time,” Marlin admitted. “And they might have been science people.”
“Guess security is largely in the main school,” Sue mused.
“Keep to the shadows anyway,” Sam muttered. The main lighting came from overhead; the walls were somewhat darker. They carefully made their way around in single file. Once they got to the door of the lab though, they each looked through the small window, and then kept going. Since Para was bringing up the rear, she was the last to know about the problem.
There were five people inside the room, near the door, including the Shay guy from Alice’s holo-interrogation. They weren’t going to be able to sneak in. They could, however, potentially get to the dimensional devices – Para was assuming that’s what was stacked at the back – before anyone could stop them. It would be five on five, and only Shay looked to be armed.
Para was sure that was foremost in Sam’s mind as he muttered to the rest of them, “Okay, hold up one finger for storming in and taking over, two fingers for checking the interrogation area in the hopes of talking to Usa.”
VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY NOV 26th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Sparkles causing mind swapping would have switched Marlin with Polsit (as Sue alluded to), but also Chartreuse with Sue and Sam with Para. To reverse the effect, they’d need to go to the lab. Sparkles bringing the ferns to life would have revealed one as a sorcerer who’d had a spell bounce back on him. Fern-Sorcerer would know information about the Council, and have directed them to the lab, perhaps to regain his body. (The other fern would likely just make snide remarks or say “Oh no, not again”.)
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
The vote to end Part Eight, where “Alice gets caught”, involved her running for the plant/exit, and failing to get there (explained in this part by Marlin). Had Marlin been caught, Alice would have used yarn from her robe to distract the cat woman and escape, while Marlin would have been captured trying to get his wand. Had both of them been caught, it would be as Alice stayed put – but Marlin would have charged the cat woman, resulting in both of them being found.