Para

5.10: Rip Tied

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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.”

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

“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.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY NOV 26th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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.

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5.09: Spell Check

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART NINE

“You planning on attacking someone with a tuba?” Sam asked, looking skeptical.

Chartreuse glanced down at the instrument she was clasping to her front, then back up at Sam. “I might not be able to throw it far, but, like, playing it could be enough,” she offered up.

“Right.” Sam still looked unsure.

Chartreuse cleared her throat. “It’s, you know, a fair point. Maybe I’ll stick to crystals.” She smiled and set the tuba aside.

Honestly, going back into the instrument storage area had been a ruse anyway. Chartreuse had wanted to contact Fate, at the Epsilon Project, to give her an update. After all, where they were headed, things could go very badly.

CHARTREUSE VERMILION
Commission by Ruuari

On the communications channel, Chartreuse had quickly summed up the contents of the holo-disc that they’d seen, mentioned the presence of the secret area behind the music room wall where Alice was possibly being kept… and admitted that they were going in. They now knew the correct access sequence.

It was not because Sam had worked out the code, however. Rather, he had decided that it would be safer to lay low, and see if Usa Staling returned. She had. Sam had then watched her enter the hidden area, having pressed the symbols from the rooms they’d been in to spell out ‘SECRET’.

Upon hearing the – admittedly rushed – report, Fate had offered to pull them back. However, Chartreuse reasoned that vanishing at this point would simply raise alarms, plus despite all that they knew, there was still no guarantee that Alice remained on the premises.

And there was one other cause for concern. Usa hadn’t returned alone – she’d been leading a blindfolded Sir Thred. At least Chartreuse’s earlier bad feeling regarding Sam’s friend had apparently been justified.

That’s when Sue had suggested bringing possible weapons with them into the hidden area, which she’d further admitted was an elevator to an entire hidden part of the school.

“A tuba could make a good shield though,” Sue said, crossing her arms and leaning back against the wall.

“Now we’ll need a shield too?” Chartreuse mused, as she took her quartz crystal back out of her neon red stocking. “Will you ever get, you know, a little more specific about what we’re in for?”

“We may be facing defenders of the Council,” Sue elaborated, much to Chartreuse’s surprise.

“Council?” Para inquired. She’d grabbed a metronome. Chartreuse felt like that wouldn’t be of much use, but you never knew.

“The one Usa referred to during that holo-recording you saw of Alice,” Sue admitted. “Except, they shouldn’t have any interest in Thred, since all he did was grab that security guy’s hat. Unless… there’s things going on here that I don’t know about.”

Sam hefted his music stand. “You know, Sue, it might be helpful to know more about what you DO know about,” he stated. “And, I mean, apparently you wanted me to be part of this organization too, so does it really matter whether I find out now or later?”

Sue ran a hand through her short hair. “It’s not you I’m worried about. If only we’d done this alone…” She glanced sidelong towards Chartreuse.

“…then you, you know, wouldn’t have had the key to get into all the rooms,” Chartreuse pointed out. “Also, you’d have had the symbol for the gym, meaning Sam’s decision of hiding to learn the combination wouldn’t have, like, been a thing, and we wouldn’t know about Thred.”

“You are so amazingly shady,” Sue said, sullenly staring. “Damn it, crystal girl, every time I think I’ve figured you out, you say or do something that switches my theory.”

“Would it help if me and Chartreuse went into one of the soundproof practice rooms?” Para offered. “To let you two talk? If you think Sam would be better off knowing more, that is.”

“Bah, you can probably lipread,” Sue grumbled. She pushed off from the wall, and began to pace back and forth. “But know what? At this point, screw it. If you’re my enemy, I bet you’ll get information from me eventually, so by saying something now, we’re doing this on my terms. Because if you’re not my enemy, you should know what you’re up against too.”

Chartreuse wondered if she should insist that they weren’t enemies, but decided to simply see where the other girl was going with this.

With one final glare towards the pink haired mystic, Sue turned back to Sam. “See, those of us with abilities, like my invisibility? There’s a reason we come to this school. It’s because magic is possible here. On this site. Owing to the magic wars a couple centuries ago. It’s why Fenduro built the Academy.”

Sam seemed to consider that. “Your invisibility is a magic power then?”

Sue shook her head. “Not… inherently? But the magic can enhance it. I think. Actually, the Clover Club, they look into ways of integrating residual magic with science, and with me being kinda undercover, I don’t get to attend their meetings.”

Sam put his music stand down and leaned against it. “And why isn’t this magic stuff public knowledge?”

Sue shrugged. “The same quality that makes this place a great site for us to study magical effects also makes it a danger magnet. Would you want to send your kids to an actual dimensional observation hub? Plus there’s the ethics of the Council erasing the memories of people who find out.”

Sam flinched. “Whoa, whoa! Mind manipulation?! That’s strictly illegal.”

“Yeah, no idea who started doing that decades ago, but it’s pretty common practice now,” Sue sighed, rubbing the back of her head. “To keep everything under wraps. When word finally gets out, there might be hell to pay.”

“So, like, if I’m understanding you,” Chartreuse broke in, “if we fail here, your Council could tamper with our memories to make us forget any of this ever happened?”

“It’s possible,” Sue admitted. “I mean, they sure as heck won’t let Sam publish any of this in his newsletter. That’s kind of why I was hoping we’d get him inducted before he was inclined to say anything publicly.”

Chartreuse was abruptly reminded of the urban legend she and Sam had been talking about on the roof, after her arrival. About an otherworlder who had been brought to the school, and then ‘erased’ from existing. Could it be that only their memory had been erased? Leaving them as a member of this dimension, because they didn’t know any better? Perhaps it was even the reason for a genetic pool of ‘gifties’, if this sort of thing had been going on for decades.

Or maybe she was simply overthinking things.

“So,” Sam said, after a moment of thought, “maybe Thred saw something that he wasn’t supposed to. And the Council’s taking that memory away from him.”

“But all he saw was the security guy, right?” Sue objected. “A thing which could have been explained away easily enough. There’s simply no reason for Usa to have pulled Thred back in there. Unless they’re being extra paranoid tonight, and as such, plan to interrogate him and then wipe his memory of having done that.”

“An interrogation which may well bring our names into this,” Para realized.

Sue gestured in her direction. “Exactly. Between the drugs in the infirmary and all the security there’s some sort of epic cover up going on here, and I don’t like it. This is not what I signed up for when I came to this school. It’s almost like someone else is pulling the strings today. Someone shady.” She peered in Chartreuse’s direction again.

Sam pointed towards the wall. “Okay, so now we know. Sue, how do you propose we charge in and save Thred? You’ve been down there already.”

“To be clear, I haven’t seen all of it,” Sue admitted, looking back to him. “We only have access to the research lab area. Though, if you do get caught and thrown into the holding cells, there’s another puzzle on the walls there. It works the same as here on the music room wall. To see if you stumbled in by accident, or whether you really know what you’re doing.”

“You think that’s, like, where Thred got taken?” Chartreuse mused.

Sue shrugged. “I’d say no, but everything’s felt off tonight. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that as soon as we get in there, we’ll learn this has all been one big misunderstanding.”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“What can we expect to see first then?” Para asked.

Sue sighed. “Okay, so, there’ll just be the one guard on duty. Sam and I can explain about being here for solving the breadcrumbs puzzle, which will bump things up to Usa, or maybe even Shay, the local Council liaison. We’d then be held in a waiting room pending an emergency meeting about bringing Sam in, or making him forget about all this.”

“Maybe that room is where Thred is being held too?” Sam suggested.

“I’m hopeful,” Sue agreed.

“So what’s, like, the deal with the weapons then?” Chartreuse asked.

Sue pursed her lips. “Yeah, so, if the guard tries anything funny, we clock him, and I use my invisibility to go deeper and get Thred out of there. The Council’s not all about memory wiping, you know. There’s non-disclosure agreements. I’m hoping we can escape, lie low, and bargain for that outcome.”

Sam nodded. “Anything else we should watch out for?”

Sue shook her head. “No. Wait – yes. Don’t assume that anyone who’s unarmed isn’t a threat. Spells can get tossed around, and all the Council defenders need is a line of sight to you.”

“Aha, thanks for spelling that out,” Chartreuse said, nodding. Everyone turned to stare at her, Sue looking particularly annoyed. Chartreuse smiled back. “I’m, you know, defusing tension.”

“Let’s just do this,” Sam suggested.

“Please,” Sue muttered.

Sam picked his music stand back up and went to the wall, entering the SECRET code that Usa had used earlier. There was the sound of wind chimes, and the fifth door appeared. They all walked in.

Once the door was shut behind them, the elevator ran automatically down. Another door soon slid into position on the opposite side of the wall. Sam reached out and opened that one too, carefully poking his head around the corner first. “Oh. Um, hi,” he remarked.

Sam swung the door open wider, allowing Chartreuse to see a small reception area. There were even a couple of potted ferns near the one desk. At the desk, behind a panel of switches and dials, stood a nondescript twenty-year old with blond hair, wearing some sort of dark robe.

“Don’t come any closer!” the man said, bringing a gun into view.

Sam carefully set his music stand down and moved sideways along the wall, followed by everyone else.

“This student solved the entry puzzle,” Sue remarked, holding her hands up to show she was unarmed. “Albeit unconventionally. Also, are you new here?”

“Is that the way out then?” the man said, waggling his gun at the door.

This was when Chartreuse noticed the legs sticking out from underneath one side of the desk. Someone was unconscious back there. “You don’t, you know, work for the Council,” she realized.

The man shifted his aim towards Chartreuse. “Look, I don’t care about whatever your mystic Council is doing. Just let me out before you shut down dimensional travel!”

“Shut down… we wouldn’t do that,” Sue said, taken aback.

“Also, we’re not Council,” Para supplied helpfully. She waved her metronome in the air.

The blonde guy came around the desk. “Don’t con me,” he said, heading for the door that would lead back into the Academy. All the while motioning with his gun that they should continue to keep their distance. “I was in the wardrobe, I heard everything. You won’t catch me the way you caught that other lady.”

“Oh, caught who now?” Chartreuse asked, standing straighter.

“What wardrobe?” Sue said, frustration creeping into her tone.

“Could it be that we’re on the same side here?” Sam proposed.

“Just keep back,” the robed man said. He pointed at the ground in front of them and fired, presumably as some sort of warning shot. Except instead of the gun discharging, it let out a high pitched whine.

Sue’s eyes went wide. “Magic ownership override. Get rid of that,” she called out to him.

The man stared at the gun in surprise, and then perhaps more out of some self-preservation reflex than having heard Sue, threw it up into the air. The whine culminated in a “pop”, the gun raining a shower of sparkles down onto the entire area.

WHAT DO THE SPARKLES DO?

Options:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY NOV 12th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Rather than having a standard “Alice runs for it; Alice stays hidden” sort of vote, the outcome you voted for last time (who is caught) reverse decided what she ended up doing. Since we haven’t seen/heard how Alice got caught yet though, I’ll hold off on my explanation. That said, the group breaking in encountered Marlin, as opposed to Alice (if he’d been caught) or Usa (if they’d both been caught).

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
When the vote at the end of Part Six resulted in “Sam doesn’t figure it out (cut to Alice)”, Thred’s fate was sealed. Sam was destined to eavesdrop on Usa bringing him in to learn the access code instead.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I think I’ve covered all the loose plot threads by this point (aside from the shadow committee’s ‘shut down dimensional travel’ climax piece). Please let me know if you think I’ve missed something. Even though I’m making this up as I go along (seriously, that otherworld urban legend thing coming back wasn’t planned), I am trying to keep everything internally consistent. Thanks very much for reading!

5.06: Strange Cymbals

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART SIX

Chartreuse pursed her lips. “I’m sure you’re right. Let’s, you know, head for the music room,” she decided after a moment of thought.

Sam flashed her a smile in response. “All right then. Back out through the vent.”

“Of course you’d pick his side,” Sue muttered as she walked past Chartreuse. Thred simply shrugged his shoulders and thrust his hands in his pockets, apparently willing to go along with the majority.

For her part, Para wasn’t quite sure what to make of this “scavenger hunt”. The chain of room numbers that were leading them around – did they truly connect to the fact that Alice had been interrogated here in the infirmary? And to the fact that there was a guard in the hall? And if so, what would there be in the music room?

More to the point, if not, then what was the significance of these rooms to the school? That felt like a question that deserved a more immediate answer, whether it connected to their mission at this academy or not.

In particular, while the Clover Club inscription had been on the wall, the security office had used a filing cabinet, the infirmary had used a bed, and the roof apparently involved a sculpture. All items put in place after the building had been built. So, put in place by whom?

Wait, hadn’t this academy been built on a burial ground?

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para approached Chartreuse as Sam and Thred stood on the desk to access the ventilation grate once again. “In your later reading, did you learn anything else about why this school had been built on this location, of all places?” Para murmured.

Chartreuse turned. “Hmm? Oh, right, I guess we never, like, compared notes after our history browsing. There wasn’t anything in your book?”

Para felt her bunny ears twitch. “Officially something about this being the cheapest place in the growing municipality. I was hoping you had more.”

Chartreuse bobbed her head. “Yeah, well, it was cheap because they’d buried the casualties of the magic wars here, or something.”

Para’s ears twitched again, but her depression remained at a minimum. “My reading was mostly confined to local government and the like. Elaborate on these wars?”

Chartreuse glanced towards Sue, whom Para noticed by now was looking back at them. Presumably wondering if they were going to travel ahead of her, as they had last time. When they didn’t immediately approach, Sue’s eyes narrowed, but she simply turned away and boosted herself up towards the vent. Perhaps hoping that they would be left behind.

“I hyperlinked around through, like, a bunch of books,” Chartreuse admitted, as she headed towards the vent herself. “But the gist of it, and, you know, the reason they don’t like dimensional travellers here, is because a couple hundred years ago, a magic dimension came in conflict with this Earth.”

Para nibbled on her lip. “And they buried the victims of it on this spot?”

“Yeah, but eventually there was a treaty or something, and I think the bodies were, you know, dug up and returned. Still, the whole area was kind of a dead zone until a few decades ago.” Chartreuse paused before climbing on the desk, cocking her head at Para. “Why, is that important?”

Para shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something about this hunt we’re on doesn’t make sense to me. I thought maybe that was it.”

“You think this whole rooms thing is, like, a trap?”

“I don’t know,” Para admitted. “Let’s just get going.”

As Chartreuse climbed up though the opening, Para noticed a map of the school sitting in a corner of the desk. She quickly pulled it over, tracing her finger on it as she recreated their path. The clubs area was in the east wing. Security was to the south, the infirmary was to the north, the roof access was south again, and the music room… was roughly central. Nearby, as Sam had said.

Para traced her finger again. If she were to go to the west wing at the end of her movements, instead of centrally, she could create a five pointed star. Coincidentally, the west was where the gymnasium was located. Was there a connection to Sue’s rantings about their equipment?

Para pushed the map away. Perhaps she was seeing patterns where there were none. Though if she wasn’t, at least the single point of the star was up, implying good, rather than down, for evil.

Para hurried to climb through the vent and rejoin the others.

***

There was another security guard outside the music room.

Sam shook his head. “It was Hypno vials in the infirmary, I wonder what’s in the music room. Anyone know of a convenient vent access?”

“No. Also, this is getting too dangerous,” Sue decided. “Why don’t we come back tomorrow?”

“Because we’ve got Para’s skeleton key now,” Thred reminded them.

Para winced. “I just happen to know some of the morphing codes. Which, I admit, might not work on another day.” After all, there was a good chance the combinations would be changed again, if the insertion and subsequent deletion of her and Chartreuse to the database was remarked upon.

Sam turned to look at Chartreuse. “You have any other good ideas, or crystal balls you can use?” he asked.

Chartreuse rocked on her heels. “Maybe? A reading’ll, like, take some time though.”

“I definitely would not trust whatever she comes up with,” Sue stated.

Sam turned to Sue and frowned. “Can you stop? Chartreuse has been nothing but helpful to me all day, you know.”

“Which means it’s my turn to help now.”

The voice had been that of Sir Thred, and as Para turned to look at him, he strode around the corner of the hallway and towards the guard.

“Damn it…!” Sam gasped.

Sue reached out to grasp Sam by the shoulder, preventing him from following. “Too late. Thred’s made his choice.”

“Hi there!” Sir Thred said, his voice carrying down the hall. “Forgot my trombone. Could you open the door?”

“The school is closed,” the guard growled. “Leave, before you get yourself in a heap of trouble.”

“What are you doing here anyway?” Thred said, continuing his approach. “Are you a new teach–”

“LEAVE.”

What happened next was a brief scuffle and the sound of Thred running, followed by the sound of the guard’s footsteps as he called out in anger.

“Thred just grabbed the security guy’s hat,” Sam whistled. “He’s pulling the guy away from his post – now’s our chance. Come on!”

“This reeeeally isn’t a good–” Sue cut her voice off and simply ran after Sam, who had already taken off around the corner, Chartreuse on his heels.

They all seemed to have forgotten that Para was the one with the morphing key; she hurried to catch up. It wasn’t until they were all actually in the music room that she was able to remark, “That guard is probably going to be all over us as soon as we try to leave, yes?”

“One problem at a time,” Sam said. “Come on, let’s look around for the next clue and room location.”

“Why are, you know, the lights already on in here?” Chartreuse remarked. Para didn’t have an answer for that, and neither Sam nor Sue even acknowledged the question.

Sam was the one who located the strange symbol and the letter “S”, carved into the bottom of the main podium, but there was no room number this time.

“I guess this is the end?” Sam mused, as he stood back up. “But what does the word RECTS signify? Rectangles?”

“Maybe the next room number is, you know, somewhere else in here,” Chartreuse suggested. “Along with a symbol.” She peered under the high hat for the drum kit.

“Unless the Clover Club wasn’t the first room?” Para murmured, tracing her star pattern in the air again. Maybe the gym hadn’t been their next stop – maybe it should have been their first. She looked over towards Sue, who seemed to be chewing on her lower lip in thought.

“Huh. So we’re trapped in the music room without knowing our next destination,” Sam realized. “That kind of sucks.”

That’s when there was a sound of wind chimes, and Para saw Sue’s eyes go wide.

“We have to hide, now,” the dark haired girl said, her gaze flitting around the room.

Rather than question the statement, Para quickly moved to the side, ducking down behind the upright piano. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chartreuse diving for the instrument storage room, one of four rooms that seemed to be self contained inside the music area. The other three looked like soundproof practice rooms.

Then there was the fifth room. The mystery room, the secret room, the one that hadn’t displayed a doorway until right at that very second. It was located just past the other four, in the corner. When it opened, Usa Staling, the academy head of security, strode out.

Para could only just hear Usa grumbling about a ‘stupid old wizard’ in the time it took Alice’s interrogator to march straight across the room and out the main door.

When Para looked back at the mystery doorway, it had disappeared again. Even so, she only stood up when she saw that Chartreuse, Sam and Sue had come out into the main area once again.

“How did Usa not see us?” Sam muttered. “Were we standing so still that we looked like music stands??”

“No,” Chartreuse said. “Somehow you two, you know, conveniently disappeared from sight in the time it took me to blink.” The mystic then looked pointedly at Sue.

Sue let out a breath through clenched teeth. “Fine. You want to hear this?” Her body went transparent, then she disappeared altogether, before slowly reappearing. “I’m a high level giftie.” She raised her finger to point at Chartreuse. “Which is how I know YOU are NOT one, hmmm?”

Chartreuse winced, as Sam took a couple steps backwards, ending up closer to Para. “This… this is impossible. Sue, you… you’re in classes with me.”

Sue lowered her arm, chewing her lower lip again as she looked at Sam. “Yeah. I’m kinda so gifted that even my peers aren’t sure about me, hence why I’m enrolled… undercover, if you will? Thing is, Sam, I see such potential in you. And there are people as high up as me who DON’T have extra abilities, aside from their intelligence. You could be one of them. I’m sure of it.”

“Then this WAS all a test,” Para concluded. “Starting at the gym and culminating at that mystery door here. A test for Sam.”

“I didn’t design it,” Sue was quick to point out. “I didn’t even know all the specifics, like where the clues were. But yes. Our group simply seems to have chosen the worst possible day to try this out, when SPIES and TRAITORS were in our midst.” She didn’t look directly at Chartreuse, but then, she didn’t have to.

Chartreuse shook her head. “Sue, please, I’m not… not those. Though I did, like, have my own reasons to be exploring the school, I guess.”

Sam held his head. “Okay, never thought I’d actually say this, but I can’t deal with this just now. Maybe I should go and give myself up to that security guy like Thred, figure it out tomorrow.”

Sue took a step closer to him. “You can’t. It’s too late for that now, it’d probably jeopardize any chance you’d have of getting in with the elites. Sam, you need to finish the puzzle tonight. Preferably before Usa comes back from… whatever SHE’S off doing.”

Sue advanced again, and Sam took another step away, almost bumping into Para.

“Can you tell him the missing pieces from the gym, Sue?” Para asked softly, bringing Sam up short.

Sue’s hands clenched into fists, and she slowly shook her head. “No. I’ve said too much already. Besides, you’ve already seen what you need to do here. So do your best, based on what you’ve got.” She peered back at Chartreuse. “And you? You can’t watch him. Even you,” she added, looking back at Para, “I’m a bit nervous about.”

“We can’t, what, watch him solve a puzzle?” Chartreuse asked, bemused.

“No, because solving the puzzle is what opens the door,” Para reasoned. “The mystery door we saw. That has to be it, as those symbols we saw from the other rooms, a lot of them are engraved on the wall, along with the more traditional musical notations as camouflage.”

“Definitely nervous about you now,” Sue decided.

Sam sighed. “So, what, I have to tap the wall over there in the order of the symbols we saw? When I don’t even know the first ones to use?”

Sue clenched her jaw, and said nothing more.

“Fun. Hey, anyone want to toss out words that end in -rects? Directs? Resurrects? Erects?”

Para reached out to touch him gently on the shoulder; he flinched very minimally. “Remember, Sam. Many of the rooms with clues are totally off limits to students,” she reminded. “Maybe this is something you CAN work out without having every piece.”

Sam frowned. “It WOULD be difficult to get every piece in order, the way we did,” he agreed. “And even then, it’d be more of a physical thing than a mental challenge.” He walked over to look more closely at the wall. “So perhaps it’s more about the locations within this scrambled jumble of symbols?”

Sue looked hopeful at that. Para still had her doubts.

WHAT’S NEXT? (Do you know what Sam needs to do?)

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT MONDAY SEP 24th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Going to the roof would have had them run into an investigation of Chartreuse and Para’s arrival earlier in the day, resulting in a chase sequence. Going to the gym would have involved overhearing a conversation, and filling in the missing part of the star Para was tracing. The music room meant they’d have to work things out without the gym piece, which it turns out also meant Sue needing to explain herself. There was originally going to be a box locked with a cipher, containing a key, but I went this route instead. So will there be more than two votes this time? Please do spread the word about the serial, and thanks for reading.

5.05: Medical Alert

Previous INDEX 5 Next

CHANCED ERASURES: PART FIVE

“Whoops, we can’t go this way,” Sue remarked. She ducked her head out of the nearest corridor, back into the school stairwell.

Chartreuse felt a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. Why had Sue led them here, only to turn them around? “I thought you knew the janitor routes,” she reminded. “Isn’t this, you know, why you’ve been in the lead?”

“That is not a custodian,” she answered. “It’s Usa, or one of her people. Keeping watch over the corridor down to the infirmary.”

CHARTREUSE VERMILION Commission by Ruuari

Which was a perfectly reasonable explanation, but then why was Chartreuse feeling uneasy about Sue once again? Though, she’d felt queasy in the afternoon, and there had been that unspecified reaction to Thred earlier. Perhaps her mystic systems were simply going a bit haywire, for whatever reason.

Sam crossed his arms. “They’re definitely hiding something, hmm? I wonder how we can get past that guy to check it out.”

Sue flashed her friend a smile. “Maybe our ‘giftie’ here could draw his or her attention away,” she said, jerking her thumb at Chartreuse.

Chartreuse shook her head. “Security has no reason to, like, treat me nicer than any of you.”

Sue smirked. “Oh, I know.”

Sue was definitely the most likely candidate for messing up their chances at locating Alice. Before Chartreuse could formulate an answer to the other girl’s remark though, Para spoke up.

“Couldn’t we get to the infirmary another way? Not through the corridors?” she proposed.

Thred clasped his hands together. “Yes! We get to do a ventilation shaft run, like in the movies. Cool.”

Para’s nose twitched. “I was thinking a window.”

“Nah, they’ll be bolted. Thred’s right,” Sam agreed, snapping his fingers. “All we need to do is snip the wires on the grate in the bathroom around behind the infirmary and use the duct.” He cleared his throat as everyone turned to look at him. “Not… that… I’d… know…?”

“You’ve been, you know, planning this information gathering mission for a while, huh?” Chartreuse divined.

Sue hmmphed. “More like he already tried that scheme once. Except that’s when he was trying to get OUT of the infirmary.”

Sam winced. “Ahh, no, you heard about that?”

“Read it. You’re not the only newsletter in the region,” Sue remarked. She then shot another glare towards Chartreuse, though Chartreuse wasn’t sure why.

This time Thred spoke before Chartreuse could speak. “Oh, right! That time you got heatstroke, but wanted to capture footage of the sunbathing protest outside.”

“It was for my article, not to see the people,” Sam insisted. “Anyway, nothing was proven, I could have twisted my ankle any number of ways while in the infirmary itself… let’s just circle around and get on with this investigation, all right?”

“Good idea,” Para agreed, again jumping in before tempers could flare. “Because at this rate, we’ll still be here when the building gets locked up. Which could be a problem.”

***

It didn’t take them long to bypass the security man’s location and get into the restrooms. Chartreuse idly noticed that were marked gender neutral – yet there still seemed to be a couple of urinals? To help save water, maybe?

“This trash can should work for getting us up to the vent,” Thred said, grabbing the object by the door and flipping it upside-down. Paper towels spilled out. So that part of society was recognizable, at least.

“By all means, lead the way then,” Sue said, leaning back against the wall, clasping her hands behind her head.

Sam blinked at her. “Are you not coming with us?”

She half smiled. “Don’t worry, I am, but last. Nice try at having a chance to look up my skirt though.”

Sam opened his mouth, then simply closed it and rolled his eyes as he turned his attention to the vent. For her part, Chartreuse looked down at her pleated school authorized skirt. Good point. The skirt wasn’t short, but crawling through a vent… “Guys can totally go first,” she agreed with a nod.

Sue gave her another look. Chartreuse divined the intent – they were about to have it out. Sure enough, once Thred, Sam and Para had climbed in, the dark haired girl’s palm fell upon Chartreuse’s shoulder. “I’ve figured out your game, you know,” she murmured, eyes narrowing.

Chartreuse couldn’t prevent her natural instinct of darting her gaze from side to side, as if seeking an escape. Had Sue figured out that they were off-worlders? “Like, what?” she managed to say, smiling as sincerely as she could manage.

“Please. You’re not a real giftie,” Sue continued. “Not here, at least. I’d know. Trying to make a name for yourself with this school, are you? Think this ‘Alice’ affair is the way to do it? Think again. Sam’s the one who will be seeing things through to the end tonight. He’s earned it. You, not so much.”

Chartreuse felt a measure of relief at the accusation, though again she tried not to show it. It seemed like Sue had fingered her as someone from a rival newsletter, perhaps even a spy from a rival school… and while having her cover blown wasn’t great, there were worse alternatives.

“Got it,” Chartreuse assured the other girl. “No sweat, with any luck, you totally won’t hear from me ever again after, you know, tomorrow.” Likely not even in the student records, if Beam was to be believed.

Sue’s expression became a grimace, perhaps not liking the quick agreement. She jerked her thumb towards the vent. “Whatever, like, y’know, hurry up and get in,” she snarked. “I want to see what Sam finds in the infirmary.”

Chartreuse didn’t hesitate. When she crawled out the other end of the passage – which was easier thanks to a nurse’s desk up against the wall – she found everyone else still seemed to be getting their bearings. She took a quick look around herself.

They were near the back of the room, in fact the same area that had been pictured for Alice’s interrogation. Off to the side were a couple of beds for students to lie down on, with curtains that could be drawn for privacy. Towards the front of the room was a possible reception area, with another desk and some chairs. And there were a few cabinets in the room for supplies.

One of them was open. A number of bottles and vials were spread out on a small table.

“Yeah, that’s weird, huh?” Thred said, as Chartreuse stepped closer to see. “That guard out there isn’t doing a very good job, someone’s already ransacked the place for medicine.”

Sam turned his attention from a poster of the skeletal structure on the wall to the curious table. “Have they? Is it my imagination, or are these vials not school issue?” He pulled out a handkerchief and picked one up, peering. “This one actually reads Hypno– and the rest is torn off.”

“Well, that’s damn sloppy,” Sue grumbled as she hopped down from the desk. “I wonder why those were left out.”

“So is it even legal stuff?” Thred gaped, looking over Sam’s shoulder. “I mean, maybe it’s whatever they gave that Alice person, in order to make her more obedient or passive or something.”

“So someone left it here as, like, a frame up,” Chartreuse guessed.

“To incriminate a nurse? Why?” Sam asked. He wrapped the vial in his handkerchief and put it back in his pocket. “And why the guard outside, if not to guard this?”

“Maybe for a totally unrelated reason,” Para offered. “Possibly something the guards themselves weren’t even told about.”

“Right! Could be that Alice girl is being held nearby,” Thred proposed.

Chartreuse exchanged a quick glance with Para before speaking. “Let’s, you know, see if anything else was left behind from that interrogation.”

“More to the point, why the video feed here was on the fritz,” Sam reminded them. “That’s the main reason we came, yeah? It wasn’t for the stuff on that holo-disc, though it’s a nice secondary.”

“I’m starting to think a few events are connected,” Sue observed, throwing Chartreuse another look.

Chartreuse busied herself with checking out the floor where Alice’s chair had been. She didn’t spot anything though, and a pass over it with her quartz crystal didn’t yield her any mystic impressions. Thred was the one who located a microdot near the camera; he left it there, Sam taking a quick picture.

Para beckoned to Chartreuse, as the other three gave the room one more sweep.

“I think that recording we saw took place about twenty-four hours ago,” the bunny girl murmured. She gestured back towards the solitary window to the outside. It was dark, but there must have been a lamp in the courtyard, allowing some light in. “That shadow on the wall from the IV stand, it looks very similar to how things are now, whereas in daylight, it would have looked very different.”

“You think all those bottles and things were just, I dunno, left out here for a day then?” Chartreuse asked, scratching her head. Granted, it did seem more likely than the idea that they’d watched a video that had been recorded less than an hour ago. Because how could the disc have ended up in security so fast?

Para shrugged. “Maybe. Or we’re not the first ones here this evening.”

“Oh, yay.” That didn’t bode well. Though it might at least explain the guard.

“Hey, check this out,” Sam said, motioning to them. Everyone came to join him, where he seemed to be again looking at the poster of the skeleton. “Do you see what’s wrong?” Sam asked.

Chartreuse, Sue, Para and Thred all exchanged glances. “Bad colour scheme?” Thred proposed after a short silence.

Sam lifted his finger to point. “The ossicles. The bones in the ear. This poster lists a fourth bone, the torus. That’s nonsense.”

“Ooh, yeah, that’s totally an astrological sign instead,” Chartreuse agreed.

Sue mumbled something under her breath, then louder stated, “In latin, torus can refer to a bed. Did we check the beds thoroughly?”

Sam shifted his attention to the nearest bed, then got down on his hands and knees to look underneath. “It’s funny,” he remarked. “I’m sure I’ve looked at that poster a half dozen times before when I was in here, and it never registered. We’re being trolled by the nurses.”

“Yeah, um, I’m still stuck on our ears having icicles,” Thred said, frowning.

“I’ll be damned,” came Sam’s voice moments later. “Like the previous rooms, it’s another symbol, the letter “C”, and the word “roof”… I’d have thought it to be graffiti, but now we know better.”

“R-E-C?” Para spelled out. “Something to do with recreation?”

Chartreuse pursed her lips. “I’m not, you know, keen on heading up to the roof. It’s pretty open. And what if we get stuck up there?” It also didn’t feel like a useful step in locating Alice.

“Well, I HAVE been suggesting the gym since the beginning,” Sue offered, leaning back against the wall again. Which was true enough, and she seemed to have Sam’s welfare in mind – but that wouldn’t help them with Alice either. Would it?

Sam pushed himself back out from under the bed, dusting off his hands. “No problem – it all makes sense now! On the roof, when the sun hits that weird sculpture a little before noon – the shadow it makes gives the number for the music room. I always wondered about that. That has to be next.”

“Was there a letter and a symbol too?” Para wondered.

Sam rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess? Maybe there was a “T”? I wasn’t looking for it.”

“Sounds like we might want to double check,” Thred decided. “To the roof, with a flashlight? You know how to get up there, right Sam?”

“Ugh, roof’s dangerous. I still say the gym,” Sue mumbled. “I know we can get THERE without being seen or getting in trouble.”

“No, no, I’m sure the music room would be our next stop after the roof, and it’s nearby,” Sam assured. “We don’t need either of those other places.”

“Sam, are you so keen on this scavenger hunt then?” Chartreuse wondered. “I mean, I thought you were in just this to, you know, go after the Clover Club.”

“Oh, we’ve stumbled on something far more interesting now, I’m sure of it,” Sam said. He grinned at her. “So, being one of the elite, which of those destinations do you think we should head for next?”

Chartreuse shifted her gaze towards the ventilation grate. Well, the roof was the more dangerous option, the music room the more logical one – assuming Sam’s memory held – and the gym… could it tell them more about Sue? She was becoming a problem, and maybe it would pacify her.

Either way, it seemed like none of the destinations related to Alice. Unless… well, which one was more likely to have more information about the security guys?

WHAT’S NEXT?

Options:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT MONDAY SEP 10th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Getting stopped en route would have involved the group interacting with that guard fellow, possibly including a chase scene or something. When they got to the infirmary, there wouldn’t have been the drugs. Ending up somewhere before the infirmary wouldn’t have had anyone think of the vents, the alternative destination likely being one of the three in the current vote. And, incidentally, a tied vote would have split the party. It figures I’d have an idea for a tie on a vote where things are unanimous. So, where to now? Please do spread the word about the serial, the votes are close. Thanks for reading.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I now have a 2018 nickel. Also, the ConBravo commissions of Sherlock and Peaches (from “Time Untied”) are up in posts on my personal blog.

5.04: Missing Links

Previous INDEX 5 Next

CHANCED ERASURES: PART FOUR

Alice Vunderlande knew an interrogation room when she saw one. And this was not an interrogation room. In fact, it looked a lot more like a medical room. Was that good? Alice nibbled on her lower lip – the former head of the Epsilon Station decided that the fact that she seemed to have been strapped into a chair implied that this was bad.

Having somehow realized that Alice had regained consciousness, a woman stepped into her field of view. The curves of the uniform she had on implied she was a woman, at any rate, her face was somewhat obscured by sunglasses and a shawl. Was she local security? She carried with her a clipboard, sitting down at the desk which Alice was facing. “Your name, for the record,” the woman said in a bored tone.

“Alison Vunderlande, but I go by Alice,” came the answer, before Alice really had a chance to think about it. A hint of a frown played about her features – she felt like she’d been compelled to speak there. Had she been drugged? “And what’s your name?” Alice added as a follow-up. So she could still speak freely, nice.

“None of your business,” the woman answered, still looking at her clipboard.

“Okay, I’ll call you Salt, as in Salt-n-Pepa,” Alice chirped in response.

Alison Vunderlande As commissioned from: Cherry Zong

The woman didn’t react, implying that either the singing group hadn’t recorded the ‘business’ song in this reality, or that Salt here wasn’t a fan of their music. Well, Alice was doubly pleased to learn that she could still free associate, that was useful. People often had trouble following her train of thought, so if this was about to be an interrogation… Alice let her mind drift.

Having written something on her clipboard, Salt looked back up. “Okay, Alice. Who sent you to this reality?”

“No, Who’s on first,” Alice chirped back. Again, it had happened before she’d had a chance to think, but here the ‘truthful’ answer had been on her terms.

The woman seemingly stared for a moment, from behind her sunglasses. “Pardon?”

“Oh, nice. If you’re granting me a pardon, I’m absolved of guilt. Can I leave?” Alice smiled hopefully.

“No,” Salt said, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. “Alice, tell me about your mission.”

“Oh, my mission’s impossible,” Alice asserted. “I’m like Tom Cruise, but better looking.”

Salt shifted her gaze to stare at someone behind Alice. “You gave her the treatment, right?” The unseen person out of Alice’s view must have made some sort of gesture in response, because Salt looked back down at her clipboard, and then back up. “I suppose Alice has been trained in resistance techniques. This a battle of wits, is it, Alice?”

Alice had no idea what resistance techniques that Salt was alluding to, and strapped into the chair as she was, she couldn’t turn around to look at Pepa. So she simply smiled back, saying “Wit’s up, Doc,” before she could stop herself.

“Mmmm. At least I understood that reference,” Salt said, setting her clipboard aside on the desk.

“Oooh, Captain America,” Alice murmured. She recognized the quote.

Salt slightly pulled down her sunglasses. “Does your world have an America then?”

Alice nodded. “Both North and South.” She wondered about bringing up Australia or Antarctica.

“Really…” Salt leaned back. “How did your civil war end?”

“Captain America had it out with Iron Man.” The movie had been okay.

“Iron… what?”

“Atomic number twenty-six,” Alice asserted. The second most common metal, at least for most dimensional Earths that she was aware of… she managed to avoid saying that.

“No, stop, who is Iron Man?”

“No, Who’s on first,” Alice said, pleased for the chance to reuse the phrase.

Someone cleared their throat. “You’re losing the thread here,” came a male voice (Pepa?) from somewhere behind her.

“Yes, thank you, I’m aware,” Salt snapped back. She pressed her fingers to her forehead, glanced again at her clipboard, and then resumed staring at Alice. “Are you acting alone?”

“Oh, I can’t be acting, I never saw the script,” Alice protested. She wasn’t that much like Tom Cruise, surely.

Salt grit her teeth. “Alice, is your world trying to steal our technology?”

“It’s in a hell dimension, so I doubt it.” Alice held back a sigh – she hadn’t really been able to tangent away from that part of her past. But Salt probably lacked context.

“Hm, so it was that sort of dimension… how did you get here, Alice?”

Alice made an effort to shrug. “Oh, well, I assume you brought me here.”

“You mean we pulled you into this dimension?”

“No, I meant you brought me in this room.”

“I didn’t mean the room, I meant how did you get to our dimension.”

“Carefully?” Salt hadn’t quite asked a question that time, which was why Alice felt like her non-answer was reasonable. Care had certainly been required.

Salt snickered back. “Not carefully enough.”

“We were a few emotions short of a full care bear stare,” Alice yielded. Great her free association was working again – those animated bears did care fully.

Salt straightened. “Wait, you know emotional magic?”

“Oh, I was never THAT invested in Magic: The Gathering,” Alice said dismissively. It was hard to get into a multi-player card game when you mostly spent time by yourself. Wow, rambling thoughts were easier when she had only a vague idea of what Salt was talking about anyway.

Salt seemed to grit her teeth. “Alice, is your world magic based, or technological?”

“Yes,” Alice hedged, given the ambiguity.

Salt leaned forwards. “It’s both?”

Alice frowned. “No, I think ‘Both’ is a Drake song.” Or maybe Drake was featured on the song? She honestly wasn’t sure.

“That’s a…” Salt pulled off her sunglasses. “Damn it Alice, WHAT is your DEAL?”

“Three green mana, a blue-eyes white dragon, and the jack of spades,” Alice fired back quickly. “Do I win?”

“No.” Salt leaned back again, crossing her arms and staring.

“She seems to have won so far,” came a mutter of the male Alice had dubbed ‘Pepa’ from behind.

“Shut it,” Salt snapped. “Let’s try this. Alice, tell me about your home.”

“It’s between my lungs, above my diaphragm.”

Salt stared. “…the hell?”

“Also an apt description of my home, a hell dimension, we discussed this earlier,” Alice agreed.

“She means home is where the heart is,” Pepa snickered.

“Look, are you going to help, or laugh at me?” Salt shot back at her partner.

“You said you had this,” Pepa remarked. “As long as she’d been treated.”

“Treated?” Alice gasped. “I think I was tricked. Is it October 31st?”

Salt slid her palm down her face, dislodging her sunglasses. “Listen, Alice,” she began anew. “Either you answer my questions, and probably get a simple memory wipe and a zap back to your own dimension, or you go with HIM,” – she gestured back towards the unseen Pepa – “back to the Council, and you are potentially never heard from again. Now, which will it be?”

Alice licked her lips. On the one hand, that was daunting, on the other, she really couldn’t let talk of Epsilon slip out. And who was this Council? Maybe she needed to know more about that. “I thought I was answering your questions,” she managed to say.

“Answer my questions SENSIBLY,” Salt clarified.

“Sensibly,” Alice repeated, swallowing.

Salt nodded. “Now, what was your mission to this school all about?”

“Sensibly.” It was the only answer Salt had seemed to want, right?

Salt seemed like she wanted to punch something. “Oh, you are good.”

“And you haven’t even seen me in the bedroom yet,” Alice said, stifling a giggle. There hadn’t hadn’t been a question there, after all, so she could speak freely. Though she did start to wonder if she was getting delirious.

Salt clenched her fist. “Good grief, Alice, how can you still be such a pain?!”

“Sensibly.” That had been a question.

Salt threw the sunglasses she was holding onto her clipboard and stood back up. “Fine. I give up. You win. Shay, take her away and do whatever you like.”

Pepa – or rather, Shay – stepped slowly into view as Salt stalked off. He was a dark skinned man with a moustache, also wearing shades. His clothing implied that he was a doctor of some sort, but for all Alice knew, that was a disguise to get him in the room.

“So you can handle a mental battle,” Shay remarked. “What about a magical one?”

Alice cleared her throat. “Vunderlande power, make up! Let’s play, pretty cure modulation! Raising Heart, onegai!” she fired off. Nothing happened. She hadn’t really expected any of those to work, but when in travelling in another dimension, you never knew.

“Mmm hmmm,” Shay concluded. He snapped his hands up. A series of sparkles erupted from his palms. The light was intense enough that Alice tried to turn her head, closing her eyes – only to find that she couldn’t open her eyes again. Moments later, she slumped back in the chair, unconscious.

That’s when the holo-recording turned off.

***

Para didn’t speak at first. She knew she needed a way to ask questions about the video (holo?) content they’d just witnessed, ones which didn’t reveal that she had no idea of the answers. After all, both she and Chartreuse were supposedly familiar with the school. Yet what had all that been about?

Sam spoke first. “Okay,” he mused. “Apparently the incident a couple days ago might have been a bigger deal than I thought. Was that Alice girl caught by Usa? And who was this Council she referred to, why wasn’t Usa at the top of the chain of command here?”

“Usa?” Chartreuse said, canting her head.

Sam turned to her. “Usa Staling, head of security?”

“Ohh, that Usa,” Chartreuse said, bobbing her head.

Apparently that had been the name of Alice’s interrogator. Para was tempted to ask why this school needed such a high level of security, but maybe it was related to the multiverse work of the “gifties”. She opted to take the conversation a different direction.

“I didn’t recognize the last guy, that Shay,” Para stated. Which was a bit of a gamble, but based on what Sam had said…

“Yeah, me neither,” Sam admitted. He shook his head. “Anyway, I’m going to get a copy of this, it could be a massive scoop…” He pulled a device out of his pocket and plugged it into the base of the disc.

“Are you done there then?” Thred asked, taking a step closer and jerking his thumb towards a corner of the room. “Because you might want to take a look at this next.”

The something that had caught the attention of Sam’s friend turned out to be on the far side of one of the security filing cabinets. When Para went to check it out, she saw that someone had engraved things there, much like on the wall of the Clover Club. And again, it was a symbol, the letter “E”, and a room number. Notably, it was hard to see unless you were peering into the corner at just the right angle.

“That’s the room number for…” Para paused, as if trying to recall.

“Yup, the infirmary,” Thred supplied. “Same place where that holo-recording was playing out.”

“Which is interesting,” Sue broke in, having turned from her scan of the video monitors. “Because I can’t seem to pull up anything from said infirmary. There’s interference. Weird, huh?”

“Our next stop is totally the infirmary then,” Chartreuse concluded.

Sue rolled her eyes. “Joy. Granted, we only have about five minutes before someone comes here for a systems check. So whatever our destination? We should get a move on.”

Sam put down the holo-disc as he uncoupled his device, glancing towards the filing cabinets with a sigh. “Agh, I really wanted to have time to go through those… but okay, it sounds like this story continues where the doctors hang out. I’m game if the rest of you are?”

“Lead on, great one,” Thred said, gesturing towards the door with a bit of a bow. Sue simply shrugged, while Chartreuse and Para simply nodded.

As the three students filed out, Para took a moment to exchange a glance with Chartreuse. For the moment, it seemed like their hunt for clues about Alice was aligning with the hunt that Sam and the others were on for conspiracies in the school – yet what were they to do if the two groups found themselves at cross-purposes?

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT MONDAY AUG 27th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
I’d had the prior Alice poll in mind since the start. On the face of it, a physical battle would have resulted in a tie (maybe she’d be left in a cell), whereas Alice could win a mental battle (maybe get away) and would lose a magical battle (having no magic). With both the last chosen (tie vote), I effectively chose to show mental – but she still lost in the end. There was also some behind the scenes maneuvering for who was involved in taking Alice in those decisions (the Council), but we’ll see more on that later. Please do spread the word about the serial, the votes are close. Thanks for reading.

5.03: Cabinet Shuffle

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART THREE

For Chartreuse, blending in was relative. It’s not like she went out of her way to stand out, but at this school in particular, she sensed she was a little different than the others. And not merely due to the neon red stockings she was wearing, or the fact that she didn’t want to drink the purple milk that seemed to be on sale. Maybe it was her mannerisms, or the way her increasingly queasy stomach made it hard to smile?

Fortunately, most of the others in the cafeteria were focussed on eating or socializing with their own friends, only tending to give her a quizzical look. The one time someone had approached her with a snark, Chartreuse had been defended by someone with a bright flower in their hair – someone else seeking loopholes in the school uniform, apparently. Chartreuse had murmured a thanks and moved on.

CHARTREUSE VERMILION
Commission by Ruuari

Unfortunately, the few conversations Chartreuse had been able to overhear were of no use towards her mission of tracking down Alice. She finally retreated to the library and sat quietly until she felt better.

“It’s not like my results were of any more use,” Para reassured, after they’d reunited at the end of the school day. “If the faculty know anything about recent dimensional encroachments or the Clover Club doing strange activities, they don’t talk about it openly.”

“You were, you know, able to get the room key though,” Chartreuse pointed out. “That’s something.”

Para smiled sheepishly. “One key fits all, as long as you know the morphing codes. We’re simply lucky they were updating the codes today.”

“Mmmm.” Chartreuse’s gaze drifted to the sky. “Unless the update matches, like, security upgrades from Alice coming here,” Chartreuse said, crossing her arms. She sighed. “At least my insides have quietened down.”

“You’re sure it’s more than just nerves? That the ring artifact’s not doing it’s job properly at acclimating you?” Para pressed.

Chartreuse shrugged. “Makes, like, the most sense. Anyway, the library was, you know, a nice place for down time too. Not many people in the stacks, they all just, like, e-book themselves or whatever. Hey, did you know this school was built on a burial ground?”

Para frowned. “No. That seems ominous.”

“History section seemed like it’d be helpful,” Chartreuse said, grinning. She produced a couple of paper books. “We might as well do some more light reading until it’s time to meet that Sam guy.”

Para nodded. “Okay.” The 8pm statue meeting could only have meant the statue of the school’s founder, a guy named Fenduro. “They do lock the building up after 9pm,” Para added. “So hopefully it doesn’t take long to find a lead.”

The two of them settled in to catch up on the local history and customs. Chartreuse didn’t find any mention of clovers.

***

When they reached the statue, they were met not only by Sam Depas, but also two other students. A girl with short, dark hair that Sam introduced as Sue Morts, and a tall boy with red hair who proudly proclaimed that he was Sir Thred.

“These are the two loons who convinced you to go up against the gifties, huh?” Sue said scornfully as she sized up Chartreuse and Para. “Seriously, we’d be SO much better off looking for evidence of corruption in the gym. There’s no WAY they buy that equipment on their budget.”

“Hey, what Sam says goes, the guy’s a genius,” Thred objected. “And the people who read his newsletter are counting on him.”

Sue simply rolled her eyes, realizing she’d be outvoted if she pushed her point. She looked sidelong again towards Para. Chartreuse decided that Sue was going to be the one to keep an eye on; Thred mostly had eyes for Sam.

Sam knotted his tie a little tighter. “Yes, well, if the Clover Club room doesn’t work, there’s still time to look elsewhere,” he asserted. “You two have the key?”

Para simply nodded.

“Okay then,” Sam said, taking a few steps towards the building.

“Ugh. Well, if you persist in your stubbornness, let’s at least go on a route that minimizes the chance of running into the automated janitor algorithms,” Sue said, jerking her thumb the other way.

Chartreuse blinked. “How do you know the janitor routes this late in the day?”

“Because my dad’s a janitor,” Sue shot back. And Chartreuse honestly couldn’t tell if that was a snark, or the truth. She’d thought ‘janitor algorithms’ meant they were artificial intelligences. Unless this was a world where AIs could give birth? After all, that holographic Beam girl had seemed pretty real…

“Good idea,” Sam said, quickly placing himself between the two girls. “Lead the way, Sue.”

Sam’s dark haired friend at least knew what she was talking about, as they had no issues reaching what Chartreuse divined to be the club area of the school, or the door of the Clover Club. The big four leaf clover on the door being something of a tip-off. After looking at the door number, Para tapped a combination into the device in her hand, and the end morphed into a key, which she inserted into the keyhole and turned.

The lock clicked open.

“Weiiiird. I’m surprised the gifties don’t have a better electronic lock,” Thred mused, leaning in to regard the mechanism as Para moved out of the way. “Like, with two factor authentication or something.”

“Which could trap anyone inside during a power failure?” Sue said. “I mean, have you forgotten what happened last time the weather grid went haywire? Not to mention the hacking issues if every individual club member had the access key…”

“Fine, fine,” Thred said, raising his hands. “Just, it seemed a bit too easy.”

“We did recruit someone on the inside,” Sam pointed out, motioning to Para.

“And if it helps, I do have, like, an uneasy feeling,” Chartreuse piped up. “Though it’s specific to Sir Thred.” She’d almost missed it, being so focussed on Sue, but he’d chanced to bump her slightly when stepping back from the lock.

Thred turned to look at her. “Is that good?”

Chartreuse tried to smile back. “No?” It had been hard to pinpoint. She wondered if she should have bothered to mention it.

“I’d have thought you needed to throw crystals at him or something, giftie,” Sue said, glaring.

Before Chartreuse could respond, Sam sighed. “Oh, stop. Look, anyone is welcome to stay out here, I’m going to at least pace the room, to see if it matches what the blueprints say.” He reached out to push the door open, then paused and looked back at Para.

Sensing Sam’s need for verification, Para reached out to open the door herself. Nothing happened.

Sam walked in and clicked on the light. “No one touch anything.”

The room looked like a typical club room, as far as Chartreuse could tell. There was a table in the middle with some chairs around it, a cabinet against the side wall that seemed to have it’s own lock, a video screen on the wall next to the door, an access point for a computer system on the table, and a few clovers posted up on the walls.

If this was the headquarters of an organization dedicated to inter-dimensional shenanigans, they weren’t being overt about it.

“Never easy,” Chartreuse murmured. As Sam paced the room taking occasional photos, with Thred and Para hanging back by the door and Sue ignoring Sam’s advice by moving the chairs to peer under the table, Chartreuse turned her attention to the cabinet. She knew there was probably no chance of opening the lock, but there was something tickling at her senses…

“The floor,” Para murmured.

Chartreuse saw it then. Scuff marks, as if someone had tried to move the cabinet to the side. She bent down to examine them, aware of Sue coming up next to her to look as well.

“Secret passage behind this?” Sue muttered.

Sam joined them. “Doubt it. The room sizing checks out. Unless there’s some sort of warp field back there, they probably just made a mess redecorating in here.”

“I dunno,” Chartreuse murmured. She reached into her stocking to pull out a small piece of quartz. Normally she’d need meditation for a future reading, but if there was enough of a vibe at the location… holding the crystal flat in her palm, she felt an urge to move her hand to the side. It gravitated towards one of the screws holding the cabinet together.

“What the heck is she–”

“Shhh,” Sam murmured, cutting Sue off.

Chartreuse pushed the screw. Which apparently wasn’t a screw at all, but a button, as it gave in. With a click, the cabinet slid slowly across the floor towards them, over the scuffed area. Thred led out a low whistle. Sue humphed, muttering, “Bet she’s a member of the Clover Club and knew about that all along.”

Sam went to the other side of the cabinet, to see what the movement had revealed. As Chartreuse replaced the quartz and came to join him in his crouch, she saw that the wall didn’t show anything resembling a passage. Merely a strange symbol, then the letter “R”, a room number, and a string of digits.

“That would be the room number for security,” Sam remarked. “Possibly with a valid combination to get us access. Impressive.”

“Oh, daaamn,” Thred said, jerking his gaze around the room. “Is the Clover Club spying on people? Are we being video recorded in here? Do we need to go there to erase the hologrid?!”

Sam pushed himself back to his feet. “That room’s definitely our next stop. Unlike the roof, I could never crack that code, and if there is a secret room linked to this Club, we’re sure to see it monitored there. We can also erase our presence from any recordings, if we chance to see them.”

“We are never getting to the gym,” Sue moaned.

Chartreuse and Para exchanged a glance. They both shrugged. If there was a way of locating Alice, being inside the school’s security room seemed like the best plan, so they might as well continue to play along.

***

The string of digits worked with Para’s key morph device, and gave them immediate access. Sam opened the door for the security room cautiously, half expecting a guard, but everything was automated. To a degree.

“Someone’s coming by here in about 20 minutes for a check, if I’m reading this sign-in sheet correctly,” Thred remarked, looking at the form next to the door.

“Okay,” Sam asserted. “Sue, you look at that bank of video monitors, see if you spot any room you don’t recognize, or any area that you should see, and don’t. Thred, have a look around for anything the Clover Club might be secretly doing in here, including a way of recording anyone being in their room. I’ll look through these file cabinets for any documents to photograph. And Chartreuse, you and your friend…”

“I totally need to view this disc,” Chartreuse broke in. Without even using the quartz, her eye had been drawn to what she recognized from her library readings was a holo-disc that had been left on the small end table underneath the sign-in form. She reached over and held it up so that Para could see the label, which simply read “Alice”.

WHAT’S NEXT?
(Along with more school exploration, so feel free to suggest an area they should go to next by commenting or tweeting!)

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT WEDNESDAY AUG 15th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The vampire faculty would have avoided the time skip, looking a bit more at actual professors with Para to flesh out that rumour. There might have been an added religious angle too (for crosses and holy water). The ghost rumour would have jumped to 8pm as this entry did, but we’d be looking at more of a supernatural story, perhaps with a possession in the club room. The winner being the mystery room, we got more technological, with this secret chamber/treasure hunt story. Please do spread the word, the votes are close, I will not object to you telling your friends to come and back you up on your choices!

EXTRA ASIDE:
Sorry for the two day delay in posting; the voting period will still be about 8 days, as normal. The good news is it’s because I was spending the end of July doing more with “Time Untied”, finally concluding the pivotal scene I left hanging back in December (I’d done more edits in the meantime). Meanwhile, my 7-week-old daughter tends to take priority over everything else… I can only handle one creative endeavour in a day. In vaguely related news, I got my first 2018 coins recently, in late July (dimes). Followed by a loonie late last week. Thanks for reading!